BLITZ for Diamond Heart (Cherrywood Grove #2) by M.A. Hinkle (excerpt and giveaway)

Standard

Title: Diamond Heart

Series: Cherrywood Grove, Book Two

Author: M.A. Hinkle

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: February 4, 2019

Heat Level: 1 – No Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 60900

Genre: Contemporary YA, LGBT, contemporary, YA, high school, twins, arts/music/theater, gay, ace, panromantic, gender-bending, learning disability/social anxiety, family drama

Add to Goodreads

Synopsis

Gareth has a problem. He got expelled. Now he and his twin brother, Morgan, have to start over at an artsy new private school, and it’s all Gareth’s fault. Not to mention Morgan’s crippling social anxiety and Gareth’s resting jerk face aren’t making them any friends, and their father is furious with him. Gareth could live with this, but Morgan’s mad at him too, and Morgan is the only person alive who can make Gareth feel guilty.

Good thing Gareth has a plan. Cute, bubbly Felix, a student at their new school, has a crush on Morgan, and they both want to act in their school’s production of Midsummer Night’s Dream. Gareth figures it’s the perfect way to help Morgan come out of his shell and set him up with Felix. Then, maybe Morgan will forgive him, and Gareth can go back to not caring about anything or anyone.

But Gareth has another problem. He’s been cast as Oberon, and Felix is Titania. Oh, and Morgan doesn’t like Felix back. And maybe Gareth is enjoying the play and making new friends and having a good time at his new school. And maybe—just maybe—he’s got a crush on Felix. Can Gareth keep up his tough-guy act long enough to repair his relationship with Morgan, or will Felix get caught in the fallout of Gareth’s dumb schemes?

Excerpt

Diamond Heart
M.A. Hinkle © 2019
All Rights Reserved

Everything started when I punched a guy in the face, but I only realized this was more than a regular Tuesday once my twin brother Morgan got home from school looking like he’d been hit by a truck.

Not literally. Morgan resembled the guy on the cover of a romance novel—not Fabio, the Twilight knockoffs, where they were angsty instead of buff. Morgan’s hair was always windswept, except when he pulled it back as per the school dress code. While our school had a dress code, at least it was gender neutral, so anyone could wear whatever they wanted as long as their skirt hit below the knee and their hair was kept out of their face.

Morgan’s hair is always kept out of his face, is what I’m saying.

I was hoping word hadn’t gotten around school, but what a stupid hope. Morgan was ashen. I got to my feet. “Morgan—”

He shook his head without changing his expression.

Crap. I tried to stand still as Morgan went through his getting home ritual: shoes placed in a neat straight line next to the door, tie loosened but not taken off, laptop removed from bag, bag hung on the hook next to the empty one where mine belonged. I put my hands behind my back so he wouldn’t see me digging my fingernails into my palm.

Morgan finished and turned to me. I couldn’t read his expression. “So what happened this time?”

I tried to make my mouth work. But for one thing, I had a bad feeling Morgan already knew the answer. For another—

If he didn’t already know, explaining would be impossible. This went deeper than being dumb and teenage and angry. This was about Morgan and his nerves and me protecting him the only way I knew how. If I could explain it out loud, I wouldn’t have been in this mess. I could have talked things out with Warren Beauregard III (really, truly his name in the year of our Lord 2016) the way Sesame Street taught me, and we would sing a song, and everyone would have gone home happy after learning about the letter of the day.

But before I could figure out how to put it into words, my father came downstairs.

My father—excuse me, Dr. Trevor Lewis, PhD and some other fancy letters—was a professor of Welsh literature. He spent most of his time buried in books written in a language barely anyone spoke, writing papers seven other people would read. Whenever he tried to tell me about it, my soul left my body from sheer boredom.

I didn’t see him much. In order to focus on his research, Trevor taught night classes, which meant all the good people working full-time jobs and going through school snored their way through his English 101. Therefore, he was at home while I was in school, and I was at home while he was at school. It worked well. I didn’t have to see him and remember we looked alike and I hated it, and he didn’t have to see me and remember the family disappointment.

“Let’s sit in the parlor, boys.” His voice was cool.

The change of scenery wasn’t for anyone’s comfort; the furniture was so old it doubled as a torture device. Morgan and I took our usual spot on the couch, Trevor in the chair across from us. Morgan chewed on his lower lip. I wanted to do the same, but I also didn’t want Trevor to see he had me over a barrel.

“The principal decided to avail me of a number of things about you, Gareth,” said Trevor, after a long, long minute of staring at me. He still hadn’t raised his voice. “He said you are, in most respects, a brilliant student. A leader in class discussions, consistently high achieving on standardized tests, and well liked by your teachers. I was aware of all of this.”

I did not relax. Before everything else, Trevor was a rhetorician. He was not reassuring me; he was laying out background before he launched into his thesis. According to family legend, when he defended his dissertation, the evaluators only asked one question apiece because his argument about whatever he studied was so watertight.

“What I did not know is you have also been consistently on the verge of expulsion from the moment you started high school. I don’t see the point of going into detail of the reasons. I’m sure you’re aware—swearing, uniform violations, lashing out at other students.”

The expulsion part was news to me, which was not going to help my case.

Trevor waited, not to see if I wanted to respond. He was pausing for effect. “And it has only been by the grace of the aforementioned good qualities and my not inconsiderable donations to your school that you have not been run out for conduct unbecoming a member of their academy.”

I bit my tongue. Literally. It hurt. Sometimes, I appreciated Trevor’s frankness. Take when he talked about college. He always said, “I expect both of you to attend either the school where I teach or the University of Wisconsin, unless you get into an Ivy League college.” It might sound controlling, but I knew exactly where I stood with him—in the garbage.

“You’re getting kicked out?” Morgan asked, as though I should have led with it when he came in the door.

“I guess, but I just found out too.” I didn’t even know my school expelled people. Then again, I was the only kid ever written up for fighting on school grounds.

Morgan stiffened like we were going over the first drop on a roller coaster, only there was no track at the bottom to catch us. “I can’t stay there by myself.”

Now that was news to me. Among other things, Morgan was valedictorian, first chair violinist in orchestra, and student council secretary. (He’d be president, but then he’d have to talk.) All the teachers thought he was God’s gift to academia, and he’d been fielding college recruiters since we were in eighth grade. And everybody adored Morgan. Girls wanted to bang him, guys wanted to be him/possibly also bang him, nonbinary people high-fived him, et cetera. I wasn’t exactly an outcast, but I wasn’t anyone’s first choice for gym, either.

Trevor’s expression was unreadable. Behind his glasses, his eyes were the color of a freezing winter sky. My father had never been cuddly, but he used to talk to us more, before my mom killed herself four years ago. Suicide should have been the low point, but things only went downhill in our family from there. After the funeral ended and all the flowers were thrown away, we never talked about her again. I hadn’t bothered trying, but Morgan had, and Trevor dismissed him. Not in so many words, maybe, but we got the hint.

Anyway, as long as Morgan was calm and under control, he and Trevor had long and involved conversations about books and crap. But the second Morgan faced something more complicated than precalculus, Trevor was out the door faster than blinking, leaving Morgan alone with his deep-breathing exercises. And me. I always cleaned up the mess, whether or not I made it.

To be fair, I usually made it.

I got to my feet, one hand clenched in a fist. I wasn’t going to hit Trevor—no use. It wouldn’t get a rise out of him. But the pain helped me concentrate so my voice would come out calmly, the same way it did at fancy dinner parties when one of Trevor’s too-rich friends asked me a question that drove me up a wall. I knew Morgan hadn’t meant to say anything out loud, nor would he appreciate it if I answered him right now. So I put on my best Trevor face and pretended Morgan wasn’t hyperventilating beside me. “Well, this is all pretty shitty. When do I find out?”

Trevor’s expression hadn’t changed an inch; he might have been staring at one of the insipid paintings hung on the wall. “You’ve been suspended for the rest of the week while they decide. In the meantime, I suggest you research alternative options. I have enough work preparing for midterms.”

I bit the inside of my cheek hard enough to taste blood so I wouldn’t answer. Morgan was about ready to barf all over the fancy Persian rug, but he almost always was. I couldn’t tell if it was worse than usual.

“You wanna help me search?” I asked. If I didn’t give Morgan some kind of out, he would sit there until the end of time, caught in his own head.

Morgan stood, jerkily. He nodded at Trevor and followed me upstairs.

Purchase

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

Meet the Author

M.A. Hinkle swears a lot and makes jokes at inappropriate times, so she writes about characters who do the same thing. She’s also worked as an editor and proofreader for the last eight years, critiquing everything from graduate school applications to romance novels.

Website | Facebook | Twitter

Giveaway

a Rafflecopter giveaway
https://widget-prime.rafflecopter.com/launch.js

Blog Button 2

New Release Blitz for High Time (The Solomon Mysteries #2) by Keelan Ellis (excerpt and giveaway)

Standard

Title: High Time

Series: The Solomon Mysteries, Book Two

Author: Keelan Ellis

Publisher: NineStar Press, LLC

Release Date: September 10, 2018

Heat Level: 2 – Fade to Black Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 55400

Genre: Contemporary Crime, contemporary, police/detectives/law enforcement, crime procedural, family drama

Add to Goodreads

Synopsis

When skeletal remains turn up in Baltimore’s Leakin Park, Detective Paul Solomon is pessimistic about their chances of solving the case. But a clue discovered near the bones soon leaves his partner, Tim Cullen, in little doubt as to their identity. As the case leads him close to home, Tim struggles to find a balance between professional responsibility and family, testing Paul’s patience and loyalty in the process.

In his personal life, Paul wrestles with his own increasingly precarious balancing act. His friendship with David Haygood threatens his new relationship with Owen, and he finds himself questioning not only his own judgment but his motivations as well. When Paul makes a choice that may irreparably damage his budding romance, the only person he can think to turn to is his ex-lover and friend Andy.

As Paul and Tim sift through details of the short life of a young woman who died over a quarter of a century ago, what eventually emerges from the web of connections and coincidence is a story that’s both shocking and sadly familiar to the seasoned detectives.

Excerpt

High Time
Keelan Ellis © 2018
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One
“It’s huge,” Paul said. “Won’t it be too much for the space?”

“No, the simplicity of it will keep it from overwhelming. I think it might even make the room seem bigger.”

It was a chilly Sunday in March, and Owen had dragged Paul to the studio of a friend of his from his art school days, promising to find him something to put on the large expanse of blank wall in his apartment. Paul wasn’t sure he really cared, but he knew it was the kind of thing that bothered other people. He liked having art on the walls and furniture that looked nice, but he wasn’t gifted with an eye for any of that. His ex-boyfriend Andy had handled all that stuff for eight years, and now he had Owen to help him with it.

Paul had been dating Owen for almost four months. It worked out pretty well because Owen worked in a bar and usually had to be there until the end of the night. It was a relief for Paul not to feel guilty when work kept him late. Sometimes Owen would knock on his door at two or three in the morning, and Paul would stumble out of bed to let him in. He sometimes thought, in that sleep deprived state, that maybe he should just give him a key. That idea rarely made it to the light of day.

“Can I even afford it?” Paul asked.

“Well, what else do you spend your money on?” He eyed Paul up and down in a conspicuously critical way. “Not clothes, that’s for sure.”

“Ha,” Paul said, rolling his eyes.

“Your apartment is a one bedroom on the second floor, next to a house full of stoners in Charles Village. Come on, Paul. Be an adult and buy some art.”

“Yeah, well…” Paul stopped himself before he could say something he’d regret. It was kind of ironic to hear Owen telling him to grow up, but it wasn’t worth getting into. “Never mind. Fine. You’re right, I should spend money on something real.”

“Great!” Owen pulled Paul over to his friend Ara and helped him work out the details. When she went to wrap up the painting, Owen said, “Don’t think I don’t know what you were going to say before, by the way.”

“What are you talking about?” Paul asked innocently.

Owen smiled and shook his head. “I don’t want an argument. I just want you to know that I know.”

Paul studied his face for a moment. He didn’t look pissed. He looked a little bit smug, but that was fine. “I don’t want an argument either,” Paul said. He snaked an arm around Owen’s waist and pulled him tight to his side. “I still need you to hang this picture for me.”

“I understand,” Owen said. “I have a few requests myself that I hoped you could help me with.”

“Will I need a hammer?” Paul asked, grinning.

“Always.”

Once Owen had the picture up, Paul had to admit it improved the look of his modest apartment quite a bit.

“Thanks for doing that,” Paul said.

Owen shrugged. “No big deal. It looks great, don’t you think?”

“Yeah. Thanks for picking it out for me.” Paul put his arms around Owen’s shoulders. “We should go out for dinner. Anywhere you want.”

“I kind of want to just stay in tonight. Would you mind? We could just order food and find something on streaming.”

After a pause that went on slightly too long, Paul said, “Uh, yeah. Sure.”

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” Paul said, shaking his head. “Sorry. I was just thinking of where we should order from. You want Indian food?”

With a slight frown, Owen said, “Sure, that sounds good. Do you have a menu?”

Paul wasn’t sure what had shown on his face that caused Owen to react, but there’d been a second when Paul felt a twinge of panic. It made no rational sense. Staying in and ordering dinner was exactly the kind of thing Paul usually wanted. His job was tiring, and he didn’t like crowds. But coming from Owen, for some reason, it bothered him, and Paul knew it was unfair.

“I’ll go get it,” Paul said. “You pick out something on Netflix.”

Paul put his unease aside. They watched an entire season of Luther, which Paul loved. He assumed it was as full of inaccuracies as most American police dramas, but because it was English, he wasn’t clear enough on the details of their system to be annoyed by it. Plus, Idris Elba. Owen ended up falling asleep with his head on Paul’s leg by the end. It was as domestic as any evening he’d ever spent with Andy, but instead of making him feel content and comfortable, he only felt restless. He prodded Owen awake and got him into bed.

It was still dark out when Paul was awoken by the phone in the middle of a confusing dream in which he was at a baseball game at Camden Yards with his dad, while somehow simultaneously on the field, playing shortstop for the Blue Jays. His dad was rooting against Toronto, of course, but every time he made a play or got a hit, his dad would say, “That’s okay, son, I love you no matter what.” Not the most subtle dream he’d ever had.

He groped for his phone on the nightstand and picked up. “Solomon.”

It was his boss, Lieutenant Cherise Masters. “I’m sorry to call you so early. I need you to meet Tim and the forensic team at a scene in Leakin Park. I’ll text you the coordinates.”

“Someone dumped a body?”

“You must be psychic, Solomon. Buried it, actually, and a long time ago by all accounts. Pretty much just bones at this point.”

Paul sat up and put his feet on the floor. “Wait. Bones? Seriously? You’re calling me in early on some cold case whodunit?”

Masters was silent, no doubt in an effort to intimidate him. Paul waited her out, and she finally sighed in resignation. “Human remains were found by a couple of guys with a podcast who are apparently doing a series of episodes on the so-called ‘bodies of Leakin Park’.”

“You have got to be shitting me.”

“The last thing we need is another goddamn Serial situation. It has to be done properly.”

“Yeah,” Paul said. “I’m on my way.” He hung up and looked over at Owen.

“You have to go right now?” Owen mumbled.

“Yeah, sorry. I hate to do this to you, but you have to get up. I’ll drop you off at home.” Paul pushed the hair out of Owen’s face and gave him a kiss.

Owen stretched and then burrowed further into the blankets. “I don’t have to work until four. I’ll just hang around and take the bus from here.”

“That would be fine, except you won’t be able to lock the deadbolt when you leave. Come on, get dressed.”

“Don’t you have an extra key?” Owen asked.

“No,” Paul lied. “I’m sorry.”

It was obvious Owen wasn’t buying it. He narrowed his eyes and said, “You said that already.”

Paul looked at him and realized that some kind of fight was brewing, and it wasn’t one he particularly wanted to have at the moment. Things between him and Owen had been great, for the most part, but that was going to change if they had to have the relationship conversation. It wasn’t a question Paul was in any way ready to answer. Regardless, he didn’t have time for it. He had to get to a crime scene. “I really need to get going. Can we do this later?”

“We could, but we probably won’t,” Owen grumbled. Still, he got out of bed and pulled his clothes on.

The silent ride from Charles Village to Mount Vernon was mercifully short, and when they pulled up in front of Owen’s building, Paul grabbed his wrist before he could get out. “Hey,” he said, “I don’t want to be in a fight with you.”

Owen sighed. “We’re not in a fight, Paul. You just hurt my feelings. I feel like you don’t trust me in your place.”

“It’s not that,” Paul said. “Look, it’s early. We’re both not in the best of moods. Can we do this later?”

“Sure.”

“I had a nice time yesterday. Thanks for helping me with the painting. It looks great in my apartment, and there’s no way I could have picked it out myself.”

Owen smiled. “I had fun too.”

“Are we okay?” Paul asked.

Owen leaned over and kissed him. “More or less,” he said. “I’ll call you tomorrow.” He got out and walked into his building.

Purchase

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

Meet the Author

Keelan Ellis is an author of romance and detective fiction, who is always seeking to expand her literary horizons. She is a lover of music and food, and has an intense love/hate relationship with politics. Her stories reflect her passions.

Website | Facebook | Twitter

Giveaway

a Rafflecopter giveaway
https://widget-prime.rafflecopter.com/launch.js

Blog Button 2

New Release Blitz for Love it Like You Stole It by Ki Brightly (excerpt and giveaway)

Standard

Title:  Love It Like You Stole It

Author: Ki Brightly

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: July 9, 2018

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 99400

Genre: Contemporary, contemporary, blue-collar, mechanic, classic car love, age-gap, mobsters, crime, family drama

Add to Goodreads

Synopsis

Michael Levine is backed into a corner. He started tearing apart cars for the local mob with the best of intentions—to save up money to pay for his mechanic certifications and impress his crush and mentor, Ben. But Michael soon finds himself in way over his head. He knows stealing is wrong, but it’s only cars, and the insurance will pay to replace them, right? What started out as a small job to make some extra bucks soon turns into a nightmare he’s not sure he’ll ever be able to find his way out of.

Ben Jelen isn’t sure where his life is going. On the surface everything looks fine. He has a successful business, he’s raising his niece into a strong person, and he has a boyfriend most guys only dream of—sexy and rich. But nothing feels right. The only things that really keep Ben’s attention anymore are his classic Road Runner, his niece, and Michael—his Meeko. Ben took him under his wing forever ago, and their love of old cars and fast driving has forged a strong bond. Ben’s days don’t feel right if he doesn’t get to see Meeko at least once. But something seems drastically wrong in Meeko’s life, and Ben hopes he can put the pieces together to help him before it’s too late.

Excerpt

Love It Like You Stole It
Ki Brightly © 2018
All Rights Reserved

Prologue
BEN JELEN

“It’ll be a month, Bennet.”

I clutched the small silver bolt so hard it cut into my palm. The pain wasn’t enough to distract me. Rick’s bottom lip jutted out. It always did when he was on a roll. He crossed his heavy arms, eyes shadowed by his ball cap. With a sigh, I ignored my big brother, cutting my attention to the object of our current bitchfest. Vandi, his daughter, lounged nearby with tiny pots of fingernail polish out on the dusty, paperwork-covered desk.

“I’ll be good, Uncle Ben,” she chirped, her bow mouth turned up into a wide smile. She almost wasn’t a little girl anymore. It wasn’t long ago that I’d sit with her and do the painting. The sun cutting into the garage through the open bay door lit up her gold curls making them shine brightly. Her eyebrows furrowed in concentration as she dabbed a little brush covered in pink paint at her thumb. In her white summer dress, she couldn’t have looked more out of place.

I bent back over the motor of the beat-up, blue Ford Taurus and stared at it without seeing much of anything.

“It’s damned good money. They need mechanics for when the machinery goes down. If her mother hadn’t—”

“Rick,” I warned. Vandi’s head snapped up at the mention of her mom. I had no intention of mopping up tears today. He leaned a hip against the front quarter panel of the car and rested an elbow there, sending me a winning grin. It was the same bullshit one I used when trying to get my own way. “I’ve known you your whole life. That shit don’t fly.”

He chuckled, but his smile didn’t waver as he leaned in close, pushing his cap back with a thumb. I caught a whiff of the cologne I used and sighed. He’d raided my dresser again. Looking at him was like looking in a mirror—his brown eyes and long face with its blunted nose were just like mine, except mine was cocked a little to the left. He wiggled his eyebrows, and I blew out a hard breath.

“Those oil rigs are dangerous, and ask next time you steal my stuff.” I poked him on the shoulder with my ratchet as he shrugged, not at all bashful about his thievery.

“It’s a month on, three weeks off. And with the bonuses, I could be pulling in over a hundred grand next year. We can get the garage set up right, get more clients in…I won’t do it forever.”

I frowned and rubbed at my chest. He winced and scowled right back, like maybe he understood why I was upset. The idea of Rick being away for more than a few days made me nauseous. We’d always been a little too close, and it only got worse after Mom died. I sneaked a look at Vandi to see what she was thinking about all this, but she didn’t seem to be listening.

“I’m not sure it’s worth it,” I muttered. Shit. Money. We sure could use more of it.

A low humming started up from Vandi—a familiar song from the radio. “Check it out!” She flashed her pink fingernails at us. Rick turned and nodded at her.

“Real pretty, baby doll,” he said fast, not quite covering up the irritation in his tone. Her smile vanished.

I smacked his arm, but he was back to cajoling me with his half grin. I smacked him upside the head, sending his ball cap flying, but he ignored it and patted my cheek.

“I want this garage to get off the ground,” he said, “and so far, we’ve only been getting in about five or six people a week because we don’t have a lift. I had to send Mrs. Hopper to fucking Firestone because we didn’t have the right size tires.” He waved his hand toward the empty space stretching out behind us that practically begged to be filled with equipment. “We don’t have half the shit we need…”

“What if you’re out there in the middle of the ocean and there’s a hurricane or a blowout or—”

“Get back here you four-eyed fuck!” someone shrieked from outside. The low voice cracked on the swear word.

“What the hell…” I turned to look over my shoulder, and the bolt from the oil filter slipped from my fingers. With a ting, it disappeared into the abyss of hoses in the engine. “Shit.”

I slammed my ratchet down on the motor casing, and the air compressor at the rear of the work area chose that moment to kick on, filling the old cement-block garage with its chugging clatter. I strained my ears, but the voices outside were drowned out. “Turn that off, Rick.”

Nodding, he headed back to flip the switch. Vandi craned her neck forward to look out the wide door.

“He thinks he’s too good to talk to us. Mickey Mouse won’t open his mouth.” The bully’s voice dipped deeper on that last word, and an instinct for trouble sent me striding out the door into the gravel parking lot, past the few sad vehicles waiting for their turn in the repair shop.

Across the small side street, three teen boys surrounded another one on the sidewalk. He was hunched in on himself with his arms crossed protectively over his gut, his stance practically screaming, “Hammer me.” One of the boys—short, with a mean twist to his lips and a cheap buzz cut on his carrottop—smacked the glasses off his prey. Sparkling in the late afternoon sun, the lenses sailed in an arc and landed in the street.

“Should we do something?” Rick’s long shadow loomed near mine, arms crossed.

“Come on, hit ’em back,” I muttered, clenching my fists. “Protect yourself.”

Instead, the kid just rubbed at the bridge of his nose with one hand. He was coltish and stretched thin, like he’d grown too fast. But he was tall, and if he would throw a punch, he’d have reach. He didn’t move to defend himself or say a word, though, simply stared at his feet. I glanced at Rick, but when I looked back, the tall boy was shaking his head. Sunlight caught and glimmered on blue highlights in his black hair. The short asshole shoved him hard while the other guys circled, grunting out guttural encouragement that puffed up Mr. Attitude.

Outrage propelled me toward them at a fast clip.

“Ooooh, fuck,” Rick said on a chuckle.

I hadn’t planned on anything more than bitching out the bullies—until the short kid threw a hard jab. The tall one gasped and staggered back a step at the blow, but one of the kids in the circle shoved him upright so he could take more abuse. Wincing, the tall kid shook his head so hard he seemed to make himself dizzy. He staggered to the side but righted himself at the last second.

“You’re no better’n me—us.” The short kid hopped up and down imitating a wet chicken, darting his gaze around the circle. “You’re no better than us!” He screamed out a war whoop as he lunged forward to land the next punch. The tall kid took it on his left cheek and—pow!—crumpled to his knees.

“You little shits! Knock it off!” I ran toward them, hands pinwheeling, but had to slow down as a car shot by, going way too fast on the narrow street, separating me from the teenagers. Crunch. I winced and sighed as I jogged past the flattened glasses. No coming back from that.

The kids stilled as I approached—became panicked, malicious little statues. But when I stepped onto the sidewalk, fists balled up at my sides, my shadow fell across them, and the obnoxious brats scattered, helter-skelter—like I might actually chase them down and dish out a taste of their own medicine.

“You better run, you little pricks. Stay off my block!” I yelled after them. “I’m badder than you’ll ever be!”

Purchase

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

Meet the Author

Ki grew up in small-town nowhere pretending meteor showers were invading aliens, wild flowers were magic potions, and secret agents hid around every corner. (Ki probably read more than was healthy.) They had one amazing best friend, one endlessly-out-of-grasp “true love,” and a personal vendetta against normalcy.

College was a catapult out of that sleepy little hamlet into a slightly larger, more entertaining city—Erie, Pennsylvania.

In their adopted hometown they enjoy the sandy beaches, frigid winters, and a wonderful fancy water addiction. Ki shares life with two sweet Muses, their Sugar Plum, and two children. Every day with these wonderful people is full of adventure.

Website | Facebook | Twitter

Giveaway

a Rafflecopter giveaway
https://widget-prime.rafflecopter.com/launch.js

Blog Button 2

New Release Blitz for The Merchant’s Love (Chronicles of Tournai #6) by Antonia Acquilante (excerpt and giveaway)

Standard

Title:  The Merchant’s Love

Series: Chronicles of Tournai, Book Six

Author: Antonia Aquilante

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: June 18, 2018

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 106100

Genre: Paranormal, Fantasy, fantasy, paranormal, shifters, cats, magic users, demisexual, bisexual, family drama, royalty, friends to lovers, slow burn

Add to Goodreads

Synopsis

Faelen, cousin to the prince and son of a diplomat, has finally come home to Tournai after years away. The pull to return was almost tangible, and the sense of rightness at being back is absolute. He wants nothing more than to put down roots and build a life among family while pursuing his linguistic studies. Becoming involved in magic meant to protect Tournai isn’t part of his plans…but falling in love is even more unexpected and unfamiliar, but he finds himself doing just that as his friendship with Maxen deepens into something more.

Maxen, second son of a wealthy merchant family, longs to leave Tournai and see everywhere he can. All his life, he’s found places on maps and dreamed, planning out routes to get to them. For now, he’s tied to Tournai’s capital city by family obligations and his position in their shipping business. Someday, though, he’ll be able to travel. His sudden attraction to Faelen shocks him, but their friendship soon becomes a necessary part of his life. Love, however, has no place in his plans, especially not love for a royal cousin with secrets who wants nothing more than to stay in one place.

For Faelen and Maxen to build something real between them, they must resolve their differences, but when magic goes awry and all Faelen’s secrets are revealed, will Maxen remain at his side?

Excerpt

The Merchant’s Love
Antonia Aquilante © 2018
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One
In the last decade since his father was appointed ambassador to the kingdom of Teilo, Faelen had been on the grounds of Tournai’s royal palace three times, if he included today. The relief, happiness, and utter sense of home flooding through him as soon as he stepped off the boat had been shocking in its intensity, but not surprising otherwise. Sometime in the middle of the journey, he’d been hit with the bone-deep certainty that he needed to be back in Tournai. He’d mentioned it to Alexander, who admitted feeling the same—which Faelen was happy to hear from his twin, even if it did make the whole thing stranger.

He tried not to dwell on it, which was made a bit easier because of his discomfort that they were arriving unannounced and uninvited.

Well, not entirely uninvited. Faelen’s cousin Etan was getting married in a couple of weeks, and the entire family had been invited to the wedding, but Faelen couldn’t imagine Philip, the crown prince, and Amory, his husband, expected them to descend on the palace for it. Faelen certainly hadn’t expected them to make the long trip to Tournai, but Mother had other reasons for bringing him, Alexander, and Thibault back home.

He and Alexander would be staying in Jumelle longer than that if they had their way.

They alighted from the hired carriage at the palace, a servant handing Mother down and the rest of them following. If the servant was surprised to see Princess Edine and her three sons (and quite a few trunks), he didn’t show it, even if their arrival would cause a scramble to ready rooms for their party.

Faelen stopped as soon as his feet touched the stones of the courtyard and looked up. The palace towers soared above him, white stone glowing in the afternoon sunlight. Like something out of a tale. He’d always thought so, and no amount of visits could end that fancy.

Alexander leaned into his shoulder, just enough to divert Faelen’s attention. He looked into his twin’s face, nearly identical to his own. Alexander’s eyes were without their usual gleam of mischief. “Come on. No time to daydream.”

“I’m just looking.” Still, he set off walking quickly at Alexander’s side, but not so quickly that they’d catch up to Mother and the others who’d gotten well ahead of them. “I always think I’m exaggerating how beautiful it is in my thoughts, but I’m not.”

“No.” Alexander smiled slightly as he trotted up the stairs to the open doors. “We’ll get to see more of it now. Unless we get shipped off to Grandfather with Thibault.”

Faelen went cold all over. No. He loved Grandfather, but he didn’t want to be stuck so far from Jumelle and the university. He and Alexander had been pursuing their studies at the university in Teilo before Mother insisted they return to Tournai. Thibault would be going to Grandfather to help him with running his modest estate, which would one day be his. Faelen and Alexander had no part in that, and Faelen refused to give up all he’d accomplished so far and all he hoped to because of the move.

Alexander clasped his hand. “Don’t worry. We’ll stay in the city.”

The “somehow” was unspoken. Their parents didn’t keep a house in the city. Before the marriage, Father’s family wouldn’t have been able to afford it. With what Mother brought to it, they could have, but it would’ve been pointless with Father’s diplomatic ambitions. Faelen and Alexander couldn’t afford a house on their own at this point, and Mother had made no mention of providing lodgings in her hasty, yet vehement, instructions that they pack everything. Faelen and Alexander had discussed it in whispers on the boat, wondering whether they could take rooms together in the university quarter. They’d talked before about returning to Tournai on their own, but Mother had surprised them before they’d made any plans.

“Of course, we will,” Faelen responded.

“Faelen, Alexander. Don’t dawdle.” Mother’s voice floated back to them, not loud but still echoing in the enormous entry hall.

Alexander rolled his eyes eloquently, and Faelen forced back a smile and nodded. Nevertheless, they obediently quickened their pace to catch up. Mother sailed through the palace corridors, her heels tapping on the marble floors with authority, as if she wasn’t following behind a servant leading them somewhere.

Which turned out to be a small parlor in the guest wing of the palace. Mother’s lips turned down in a slight frown, but Faelen wasn’t sure what she’d anticipated. No one expected them. It was unrealistic to think rooms would be waiting for them at all times.

“Have the princes been notified of our arrival?” Mother asked the servant.

“Their Highnesses are being notified now, Princess Edine. I’ll bring refreshments for you.” He bowed and left at her dismissal.

“I’ll suppose we’ll have to wait, then. I’d prefer to have been settled in our rooms first, but we’ll have to make do.” Mother seated herself in a velvet-cushioned chair near the fireplace where a small fire crackled. Thibault took a chair near her, but Alexander wandered to the windows. Faelen paused for a moment, indecisive, and then drifted over to where Alexander stood.

The windows looked out over the garden, their position one floor up giving them a decent vantage point. In the falling dusk, lanterns had been lit along the paths closer to the palace, and Faelen caught sight of a couple strolling along one of them, the men holding hands and seemingly in no hurry. He squinted, trying to see who they were in the shadows, but the door opened before he could.

He turned to find not a maid with the expected refreshments but Philip and Amory. Philip was Faelen’s cousin—his father had been Mother’s oldest brother—and he’d come to the throne only about five years ago after the sudden, untimely death of his parents. Faelen and his family had returned to Tournai for the funerals and the coronation, the first time he’d been back since they’d left for Teilo when he was all of ten years old. They returned again when Philip shocked everyone by marrying Amory, a man and a commoner. Faelen liked what little he’d found out of Amory then, and Amory had certainly won over Tournai in the meantime. Faelen was hoping to get to know him better—and Philip too, as the last he’d spent time with Philip he’d been a child and Philip just into his teenage years. He looked forward to meeting their son, Julien, as well.

Philip had the look of Tournai’s royal family—something Faelen and Alexander strayed from slightly—with his dark hair and classically handsome features. He carried himself as the ruler he was, and his hazel eyes were sharp as they took in the room. Amory was a match for him in looks with his dark eyes and shining auburn curls. He seemed to have grown into his role, carrying himself with more confidence than Faelen remembered at their wedding.

“Aunt Edine,” Philip said as he came into the room, and they all bowed or curtsied. “And Thibault, Alexander, and Faelen. What a surprise. We didn’t expect you.”

Mother didn’t move to embrace Philip. She wasn’t the type for demonstrations of affection, especially to the crown prince, even if he was her nephew. “We left Teilo quite suddenly. A boat was about to depart that would get us here in time for Etan’s wedding.”

“Etan will be happy you’re all able to attend.” Philip didn’t mention that no one had dreamed they would. “And, of course, Amory and I would be delighted if you would stay here at the palace while you remain in Jumelle.”

“Thank you, Philip. We’d be honored to accept your hospitality.” She left it unsaid that she’d certainly anticipated the invitation. Faelen doubted there had been a thought otherwise in her mind.

Purchase

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

Meet the Author

Antonia Aquilante has been making up stories for as long as she can remember, and at the age of twelve, decided she would be a writer when she grew up. After many years and a few career detours, she has returned to that original plan. Her stories have changed over the years, but one thing has remained consistent—they all end in happily ever after.

She has a fondness for travel (and a long list of places she wants to visit and revisit), taking photos, family history, fabulous shoes, baking treats (which she shares with friends and family), and of course, reading. She usually has at least two books started at once and never goes anywhere without her Kindle. Though she is a convert to e-books, she still loves paper books the best, and there are a couple thousand of them residing in her home with her.

Born and raised in New Jersey, Antonia is living there again after years in Washington, DC and North Carolina for school and work. She enjoys being back in the Garden State but admits to being tempted every so often to run away from home and live in Italy.

Facebook | Twitter

Giveaway

a Rafflecopter giveaway
https://widget-prime.rafflecopter.com/launch.js

Blog Button 2

New Release Blitz for On a Summer Night by Gabriel D. Vidrine (excerpt and giveaway)

Standard

Title:  On a Summer Night

Author: Gabriel D. Vidrine

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: April 2, 2018

Heat Level: 1 – No Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 56200

Genre: Contemporary, LGBT, contemporary, YA, trans, bisexual, asexual, coming-of-age, coming out, family drama, HFN, #ownvoices

Add to Goodreads

Synopsis

Fourteen-year-old Casey is determined to have fun this summer going to camp with his best friend, Ella. His overprotective mother frets that attending this one instead of trans camp like he’s always done will cause problems, but Casey has his heart set on going stealth anyway.

His mom just might be right.

All Ella wants is love for her best friend, and she’s determined to set him up with someone, despite Casey’s protests that he just wants to have fun, not get involved in a summer romance. But things get complicated when camp bully Ryan focuses his energies on the two friends. At least Casey’s cute bunkmate, Gavin, appears interested in getting to know him better, making Casey rethink the whole romance thing.

Until he finds out Gavin and Ryan are good friends.

Summer camp turns into so much more when Casey has to decide if Gavin is worth pursuing, friend of a bully or not.

There’s just one more problem: Ryan knows Casey is transgender.

Excerpt

On a Summer Night
Gabriel D. Vidrine © 2018
All Rights Reserved

“Do you have your socks?” my mother called up the stairs.

“Yes, mother!” I shouted back down at her. Of course I had socks. But I double-checked the large footlocker anyway, scrabbling through it until I found them. They were buried under my binders, but there they were.

“Don’t forget towels!” came another shout up the stairs.

She knew me well. I always forgot something. I went back to my bathroom and rummaged around in the linen closet until I found enough towels for the trip.

When I got back to my room, Mom was staring down into my trunk, her hands on her hips. “Anything else?” she asked, eyeing how much was in it.

“I hope not.”

I tossed the towels in the trunk, only to be crushed into a hug from her. “I’m going to miss you Casey,” she said into my hair.

I patted her awkwardly. She meant well, but ever since I announced my desire to transition two years ago when I turned twelve, she’d gotten super overprotective and clingy. “I’ll miss you too, Mom.” I did mean it, but it was going to be a relief to be away from her for almost two weeks. Even though I’d never been away from my parents that long before, not even at trans camp.

She squeezed me harder until I gasped and then let me go. “Are you sure you want to do this?”

“For the millionth time, yes,” I said, rolling my eyes.

“Okay. I’ll get your dad to get this down the stairs,” she said, and then she was gone in a whirl of brown hair and scarves.

I shook my head at her back and pulled out my phone to text my best friend, Ella.

Me: Almost ready. U?

I knew she wouldn’t answer right away (she actually hated her phone, the weirdo), so I nervously went through my list again to make sure I hadn’t forgotten anything. I needed a distraction.

While I was rummaging, my dad, a big guy who had prematurely gone bald so he always wore an ugly hat, had lumbered up the stairs and was frowning down at my trunk. “Are you sure you need all that?” His voice was very deep.

“Yeah, Dad.” My phone buzzed in my pocket, but I ignored it. “It’s almost two weeks.”

“Twelve days,” he said.

“Yeah, I know.” I scratched at my head, slightly embarrassed to talk about my transition stuff with my dad. “I, you know, need some extra stuff.” I thought of the binders lying next to my socks.

He glanced at me and nodded, and then looked quickly away. He hadn’t been as supportive of my transition as my mom. When I first told him, he blurted, “But you’re a girl.”

We stood there in awkward silence for a moment as I wondered what I should say to him, father to son. But he hadn’t yet called me his son.

He cleared his throat, still not looking at me, and then crouched and heaved up the trunk onto a roller cart he’d carried up the stairs. It was going to be a pain getting it down on the cart, but at least he wouldn’t kill his back picking it up this way.

I helped him maneuver it down the stairs, wishing not for the first time I could start hormones. I wanted to be as strong as my dad, but I wasn’t old enough yet. Well, I was, but my parents wouldn’t approve it until I was sixteen. I figured Dad was the one holding out, because Mom would give me whatever I wanted.

Two more years.

When we finally got the trunk down the stairs, I pulled my phone out. Ella had texted back.

Ella: Yeah, loading the car. Are you ready?

Me: Yes! Just gotta say bye.

Ella: We’ll be there soon.

“Ella and her parents are going to be here soon,” I told my parents.

Mom had argued long and hard about how I was getting to camp. She wanted to take me, but I wanted to go with Ella and her parents. My friend and her brother had been going to this camp for years, and her parents knew exactly how to get there. Mom pursed her lips and crossed her arms over her chest. “Okay. Are you sure you have it all?”

Annoyance flared up. “Yes!” I said.

“Don’t take that tone with your mother,” Dad warned.

I closed my mouth and let the anger subside. It wouldn’t do to get into an argument with them now. They’d probably not let me go, whether or not they had already paid for my spot. And summer camp wasn’t cheap; I’d seen prices on the website.

“Sorry,” I mumbled, and Mom pulled me into another hug.

“Be safe, okay?” she said. “I wish you wanted to go to the trans camp instead.”

“Mom, please!”

“Okay, okay, I know. You want to go to regular camp like any regular boy.”

“I went to trans camp last year,” I said.

“I know, and you loved it. That’s why I wish you’d go again.”

“Stop worrying so much, Mom,” I told her. “The kids won’t hurt me.”

She didn’t look convinced when she finally let me go. It was true; trans camp had been fantastic. But everyone there knew I was trans. I wanted to go someplace where I didn’t always feel trans. I knew it was impossible, but I wanted a shot at it. All the other kids at trans camp had loved it, because they’d said they could shed their trans identity there. Since everyone was trans, we got to talk about other things. It made it less special, which was, in reality, a relief.

And that was the problem for me. I just wanted to be like any other boy. And all the other boys went to summer camp like the one I was going to, not to trans camp. I wanted to be a boy with the other boys.

Purchase

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

Meet the Author

Gabriel D. Vidrine is a trans masculine scientist, dancer, and writer but is working towards reversing that order. They teach and perform belly dance all over the country, but still manage to cram in writing time whenever and wherever possible.

They are an avid reader and writer, and love science fiction, fantasy, horror, and paranormal romance, but will give any genre a try.

Gabriel lives with their husband, video game systems, and ridiculous cat, Selina, in Chicago, IL.

Website | Facebook | Twitter

Giveaway

a Rafflecopter giveaway
https://widget-prime.rafflecopter.com/launch.js

Blog Button 2

New Release Blitz for The Moth and Moon by Glenn Quigley (excerpt and giveaway)

Standard

Title:  The Moth and Moon

Author: Glenn Quigley

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: March 19, 2018

Heat Level: 2 – Fade to Black Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 63000

Genre: Alternate Universe, Historical, LGBT, historical, gay, friends to lovers, sailor, baker, pirates, family drama

Add to Goodreads

Synopsis

In the summer of 1780, on the tiny island of Merryapple, burly fisherman Robin Shipp lives a simple, quiet life in a bustling harbour town where most of the residents dislike him due to the actions of his father. With a hurricane approaching, he nonetheless convinces the villagers to take shelter in the one place big enough to hold them all—the ancient, labyrinthine tavern named the Moth & Moon.

While trapped with his neighbours during the raging storm, Robin inadvertently confronts more than the weather, and the results could change everything.

Excerpt

The Moth and Moon
Glenn Quigley © 2018
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One
Mr. Robin Shipp pulled his cap lower as he took a deep breath of salty morning air and watched the sun emerge from behind the headland. Stepping from the pier into his little boat, he ran his heavy hand across the prow, catching his coarse fingers on the loose, chipped paintwork. He picked a jagged flake off the wooden frame and held it up to the light, the vivid scarlet catching the pinks and oranges of daybreak. He let go and it drifted through the air, carried away on the gentle breeze, before settling on the soft, lapping tide. Most of the paintwork was in some state of distress. Deep cracks marbled the entire hull, belying the fisherman’s profound affection for his vessel. Bucca’s Call had seen better days.

“I’ll paint you tomorrow, Bucca, I promise,” he said.

He made this very same promise every morning, but every day, he found some reason to put it off. Before too long, he was humming to himself and hauling his well-worn oyster dredge over the stern of Bucca’s Call.

“Beautiful!” he said as he emptied the net into a nearby tub. The shells clattered against one another as they fell. The boat bobbed about gently on the waves while gulls screeched and circled overhead. Her nameplate was missing a couple of letters and her white sails were truthfully more of a grimy beige these days, but she was as reliable as ever.

He was close to the shore and could see the whole bay—from the headland to the east, down to the harbour, past the pale blue-and-white-striped lighthouse that sat out at sea on its desolate little clump of rocks and scrub, and over to the beautiful sandy beach curving around and out of sight to the west.

The little fishing village of Blashy Cove sloped up the hills beyond the harbour, and with his gaze, he traced the low, stone walls lining each cobbled road. It was the only significant settlement on the tiny island of Merryapple, the southernmost point of a little cluster of islands nestled off the Cornish coast. The village had everything one would expect to find, except a place of worship. No lofty cathedral had ever been built there, no church of granite and glass, not even the smallest wooden chapel. When the empire of the Romans had fallen a thousand years earlier, its church had fallen alongside it. The invaders hadn’t lingered long on the mainland, and had never set foot on these islands. Once they were gone, the people picked through the remains, seeing the value in certain aspects and thoroughly disregarding the rest, scouring the regime clean from the face the world and consigning it meekly to the tomes of scholars and students. In its absence, the old gods returned to their forests and deserts, their mountains and streams, their homes and hearths. Spirits of air and land and sea. Woden and Frig, The Wild Hunt and the Bucca, piskies and mermaids, the Green Man and the wights, all were changed, made kinder and gentler by their brief exile. On these islands, the old ways had been the only ways, but even these had mostly died out, sloping into traditions, superstitions, and habits. It was now August in the year 1780, and people believed in themselves.

At this time of morning, sunlight hit the brightly painted houses and sparkled on the gentle, rolling waves. The village’s livelihood mainly revolved around the sea, but there was more to life than just luggers and lines and lobster pots. The Cove had long been a haven to those of a more creative bent. Painters and sculptors, engineers and inventors, they all found their home there. Some of them had come from the nearby Blackrabbit Island, which wasn’t known for its love of the finer arts. This abundance of skill, and the nurturing of it, meant Blashy Cove had adopted some innovations not yet common in the rest of the world.

Robin had been out for some time by now and, as usual, had already eaten his packed lunch. Soon, his substantial belly rumbled and he decided it was time to head back to port. Packing away his nets, he heaved in his empty lobster pots, secured the tub filled with this morning’s catch, and sailed the small craft homeward. As he did, he noticed a thin, grey line on the horizon.

“Looks like some bad weather on the way, Bucca,” he muttered to the little boat.

The stern of the curious little craft sat low in the water, due equally to the weight of the morning’s catch and the significant heft of Robin himself. While at first it appeared to be a traditional lugger, the kind of boat used by most fishermen in this part of the world, Bucca’s Call was actually much smaller and faster, a one-of-a-kind built many years previously.

Huge ships from the mainland drifted past, their enormous sails billowing in the breeze. Merryapple was part of a small group of southerly islands, and the last sight of land some of the mighty vessels would see for weeks, or even months.

Merryapple Pier was the oldest one anybody knew of. The brainstorm of a local fisherman many years earlier and copied by many other villages since, it might well have been the first of its kind. This clever fisherman realised if there was a way for larger boats to offload their cargo directly, rather than having to put it onto smaller vessels to ferry back and forth between harbour and ship, it would increase the traffic through the little port. The pier stretched out past the shallower waters near the coastline. Little sailboats like Bucca’s Call could dock right up close to the beach or even on the sand, if need be, while bigger fishing vessels could use the far end, in deeper waters. The pier was constructed from huge boulders hewn from the island’s cliff face and supported by a framework of long wooden poles from the woodlands. In the evening, bigger boats from the village fleet usually dropped anchor in the bay, while smaller vessels stayed moored to the pier.

At the shore, some children were chasing each other around a pile of crab pots, hooting and hollering while May Bell finished her deliveries for the bakery. May was around the same age as the other children, but she was of a more industrious bent. She saw Bucca’s Call approaching and ran to help Robin secure his mooring line as he lugged the tub of oysters onto the pier. When he clambered up the weathered stone steps, he steadied himself with a hand against the wall. The steps were wet and slippery, with dark green mould threatening to envelope his heavy boots should he linger too long.

“Morning, Mr. Shipp,” the girl called as she finished tying the worn rope around an old, pitted stone bitt.

“Mornin’, May! Thanks for your ’elp,” he called back, waving to the girl as he lumbered past. Taller than any man on the island, he dwarfed the little girl, drowning her in his shadow.

“Time for food already?” she asked.

“Oh yes,” replied Robin, “an’ I know just the place to get some!”

His legs were stiff from sitting in the boat all morning. He knew he was supposed to get up and move around a bit every once in a while, but when he was out on the water, the chatter of the gulls, the lap of the waves, the smell of the sea air, it was all so relaxing he just didn’t notice the time going by. Only his stomach growls marked the hours.

Mrs. Greenaway, wife of the village doctor and a friend of May’s parents, happened to be passing by on her way home from the market. Seeing their exchange, she scrunched up her face, adjusted the bow on her bonnet, and seized the little girl by the arm, leading her away from the pier and avoiding Robin’s disappointed gaze. He knew May from the bakery, as the master baker was one of his very few friends, but it wasn’t uncommon for people to avoid him.

Robin heaved the awkward tub full of oysters up and marched towards the bustling market, which was a collection of simple wooden stalls selling everything from food to clothes to ornaments. He edged his way through the crowd, past various stallholders and shoppers as he struggled with the heavy container. Finally, he reached the largest stall, which sold all manner of fresh seafood, all caught in that very cove. Robin specialised in inshore fishing, whereas the other boats concentrated their efforts farther out to sea. He was one of only two oyster fishermen in the village. The other, Mr. Hirst, was ill and hadn’t been out in his craft for almost two weeks. He was married, with a young family to feed, and the village had rallied around to help and make sure they didn’t go hungry. The lack of competition, however, meant Robin was securing a bumper crop.

A tall, thin man in a white coat was scribbling notes onto a wad of yellow paper. In front of him lay a collection of various local fish, in everything from buckets to barrels to battered old copper pots.

“Got a nice batch for you this mornin’, Mr. Blackwall.” Robin beamed, holding up the tub so the fishmonger could get a good look.

“Yes, these will do fine, I suppose, Mr. Shipp. Put them down at the front.” Mr. Blackwall was notorious for not getting too hands-on with the product or with much of anything, really. He kept his distance from the beach and fairly resented having to be even this close. Wet sand upset him greatly, as it had a tendency to cling to his shiny boots and sometimes it even marked his pristine coat. He didn’t do any of the actual work with the fish, instead leaving it to his assistants. He’d often said he didn’t see the point of having a stall at all when he had a perfectly good shop on Hill Road. But the market was a tradition in Blashy Cove, and so he had no choice but to participate or lose out. He jotted some numbers down on his paper and then chewed the end of his pencil as he tried to add them up. He always did this, and he never did it quickly. Robin stooped and laid the tub on the ground as instructed, grunting as he straightened.

“Joints sore again?” the fishmonger asked out of sheer politeness, not looking up from his calculations.

“No more’n usual,” Robin replied, rubbing the small of his back and rotating his shoulder. Working the sea wasn’t easy, and it had taken its toll over the years.

Ben Blackwall reached into his inside pocket and produced a fistful of polished coins, which he delivered into Robin’s large, callused hands. Robin nodded appreciatively and stuffed them into the pockets of his calf-length, navy-coloured overcoat. Tipping his floppy, well-worn cap to his long-time buyer, he turned and headed away from the dock.

He passed by other villagers going about their morning routine and jumped out of the way of a horse and cart loaded with apples from the orchard over the hills as he headed straight for the immense building dead ahead. It was a massive, ungainly lump, set in the centre of a spacious courtyard, all crooked wooden beams and slanting lead-paned windows. Every now and then, a shabby bay window or wonky dormer jutted out at funny angles. It was hard to tell exactly how many floors it had. Five, at least, the topmost of which sat like a box that had been dropped from a great height onto the rest of the structure. Rumpled, uneven, and crooked, this odd addition had one large, circular window on each of its four walls. On the ground outside, wooden tables and chairs were arranged, and heavy planters overflowed with hardy, perennial shrubbery. A couple of fat seagulls noisily argued over a few crumbs dropped near the windbreakers. This pair were here so often, they seemed to be part of the building itself. The locals named them Captain Tom and the Admiral. Captain Tom was the leader of a particularly noisy and troublesome band of gulls, and the Admiral was his main rival. They would often fight over even the tiniest scraps left on the ground, and both were marked with more than one battle scar.

As he pulled on the heavy oak door, the sign hanging overhead creaked and groaned in the wind. Painted on chestnut from the nearby wood, the bulk of the sign was older than the village itself, but it had been modified many times. Formed of several expertly carved layers, it now looked more like a child’s pop-up book rather than the simple plank of wood it had once been. The overall effect was of peering through a forest, out over the cove at night. The outermost tier resembled a ring of tree branches, gently moving up and down. Behind that layer were the turbulent waves, which clicked from side to side. Finally, there was the static crescent moon with a single cerulean moth flying slowly around, completing one revolution every hour. The whole sign ticked and whirred endlessly as its springs and cogs went about their work, and had to be wound up twice a day using a long, metal key kept tucked behind the tavern’s main door. The name of the establishment was weaved around and through the artwork in gold.

This wasn’t simply a place to drink or gather with friends; it was a place to conduct business, a place where people married, and a place where people mourned. It was a refuge from bad weather and jilted lovers. This was the heart and soul of the little village.

This was the Moth & Moon.

Purchase

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

Meet the Author

Glenn Quigley is a graphic designer originally from Dublin and now living in Lisburn, Northern Ireland. He creates bear designs for http://www.themoodybear.com. He has been interested in writing since he was a child, as essay writing was the one and only thing he was ever any good at in school. When not writing or designing, he enjoys photography and has recently taken up watercolour painting.

Website | Twitter

 

Giveaway

a Rafflecopter giveaway
https://widget-prime.rafflecopter.com/launch.js

Blog Button 2

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

Standard

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

Add to Goodreads

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.

Purchase

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

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.

Website | Instagram | Tumblr

 

Giveaway

a Rafflecopter giveaway
https://widget-prime.rafflecopter.com/launch.js

Blog Button 2

A Barb the Zany Old Lady Audiobook Review: Smoky Mountain Dreams by Leta Blake and John Solo (Narrator)

Standard

Rating: 5 stars out of 5

It’s hard to decide where to start for this audiobook review but I feel I’d be remiss if I didn’t immediately note how beautifully John Solo narrated this story. In fact, he didn’t just narrate it—he brought it to life. The voices—both male and female—were all unique and the emotions were powerfully and poignantly portrayed. Kudos Mr. Solo! Nearly fifteen hours to this story, but it went by quickly thanks to your skillful narration.

Christopher Ryder is a sweet, young man with a beautiful voice who gave up on his dream of stardom in Nashville when it became obvious he wasn’t quite as good as the top country singers of the time. But he’s very talented and lands the job of backup to the headliner at the Smoky Mountain Dreams Amusement Park. Christopher has an interesting extended family—from his estranged mother and her Bible-beating preacher husband, to his deadbeat father, whom he hasn’t seen in years, and his terrific sister and brother-in-law, both of whom are very supportive of him, even though he’s gay. But most of all, Christopher is close to his gran, a sweet little old woman who invades his thoughts even when he’s not able to visit with her in person. She supports him 100% and has already told him her house will be his when she passes. She doesn’t care one iota that Chris came out as gay when he was younger—for her, that is no reason not to love her grandson wholeheartedly.

Because the feeling is mutual, he wants to get his gran a very special gift for the Christmas holiday this year so he approaches Jesse Birch, a talented jewelry designer. Jesse is bisexual and one look at Christopher convinces him that the country singer is not straight and that they may have some mutual fun at some point if he can find the time. He’s a full time jewelry designer and full time father to two young children in the preteen age range. His wife was permanently injured five years before in an auto accident and is now in a medically sustained coma. The only reason she hasn’t passed yet is that her sister holds an end of life document which his wife signed years before the accident. It doesn’t matter to her religious sister that she had changed her mind and that she had told Jesse she never wanted to be kept alive by machines. Though they continually battle over the issue, Jesse has yet to win the case and so life goes on in limbo for the whole family.

Now, as he and Christopher become friendly and eventually start a relationship, life is even more complicated. Jesse’s daughter seems to think her mother can come back to life and refuses to become friendly with Christopher. In fact, she believes in a story about making a thousand cranes to grant a person’s fondest wish and she’s on a quest to complete two thousand by Christmas. At first, Christopher didn’t realize Jesse’s wife was still alive, so it’s a major hurdle for him to continue a relationship with Jesse when he finds out. There are so many family issues in this story that one has to concentrate and listen carefully in order to keep everything straight and to make sure not to miss an important point.

As I said at the beginning, the audio is very long—nearly fifteen hours—so the story is highly complex, but it’s really a wonderful love story that needed every moment to build all the relationships it contains. And it doesn’t end on a perfect note with a perfect family scene, but it does end in a very satisfying manner and winds out to a beautiful Christmas season where family of origin and family of the heart hold an equal place.

I highly recommend this to all lovers of MM romance, especially slow burn, men with children, family drama, and more.

~~~

Cover art depicts a photo of two bare-chested men in a sweet loving embrace superimposed over a photo of the Smoky Mountain Range. There’s also a white paper crane in the foreground that is set up to be flying over the words in the title. All are key elements to the story and tie together to make a cohesive summary of this beautiful love story.

Buy Links: Amazon US | Amazon UK | Audible US | Audible UK

Audiobook Details:

Listening Length: 14 hours and 46 minutes
Program Type: Audiobook
Version: Unabridged
Publisher: Leta Blake Books
Audible.com Release Date: October 17, 2017
Language: English
ASIN: B076FFW2XD

A MelanieM Release Day Review: The Reunion by M.D. Neu

Standard

Rating: 5 stars out of 5

It’s been twenty years since the quiet Midwestern town of Lakeview was struck by tragedy.  But every year on the anniversary of the event Teddy returns home for ‘The Reunion’. Lakeview, like Teddy, has secrets and not all mysteries should come to light.

I read The Reunion by M.D. Neu last of the 4 stories I had and I’m glad I did because I’m still thinking about it.  It’s beautifully written, I fell in love with the characters and the format in which the story is told is guaranteed to leave a chill in your heart and your mind running in circles.

I thought I knew where the author was going with the story and time after time, they proved me wrong.  And that ending….

Yes, this is a must read.  Grab it up now.  And let me know what you think!

Cover art by Natasha Snow is perfect.

Sales Links:

NineStar Press | Amazon | Smashwords | Barnes & Noble

Book Details:

ebook
Expected publication: October 23rd 2017 by NineStar Press
ISBN139781947904156
Edition LanguageEnglish

TOUR: Whitecott Manor by Emma Jane (excerpt and giveway)

Standard

Title:  Whitecott Manor

Author: Emma Jane

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: September 11, 2017

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 65300

Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal, NineStar Press, LGBT, contemporary, British, paranormal, intrigue, family-drama, ghosts, friends to lovers, humor

Add to Goodreads

Synopsis

Alistair Ellis is the proud gardener for beautiful fifteenth-century Whitecott Manor, in England’s West Country. His life changes forever following a gas explosion at the manor, in which his boss—and love of his life—dies. However, his boss hasn’t exactly gone for good and Alistair still finds himself involved in conversations with the deceased.

Circumstances improve when he meets Noah, the handsome dog groomer for the manor’s new owners. Although there are some issues: Noah is already engaged and Alistair suffers from cynophobia—an acute fear of dogs!

Excerpt

Whitecott Manor
Emma Jane © 2017
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One

Once I was aware of the cuts, they stung like a bitch. I should’ve worn gloves, really, but it’s so much easier not to. I was almost finished anyway, and the Harpers’ rose borders were nearly ready. They’d look beautiful when they flowered in the summer—they always did. White and red rose blooms flanked the path to the tennis court. I just had one last bush to prune and then I could stop for a cuppa. The cuts were itching now too, right where the thorns had snagged and ripped my skin. I sucked the flesh between my thumb and index finger, tasting blood and mud, and stood there, secateurs in hand, watching the house.

It was a fifteenth-century manor—a beautiful listed building made from warm-yellow stone. It’d been revamped inside, a strange mixture of modern and ancient, and was currently—unfortunately, in my opinion—on the market. I didn’t want it to sell; I didn’t want to lose my job. The Harpers assured me that whoever bought the place would keep me on but, well, it wasn’t down to them.

I took my hand from my mouth and watched as the estate agent led a middle-aged couple from their car—some sort of old classic; light blue with a soft-top—to the front of the manor. Even at this distance, I could see the look on their faces as they gazed up at the building before entering. They loved it already. Everybody did; it was such an impressive place. Bloody hell, I’d buy it if I had a spare eight million lying around.

I glowered to myself and turned back to the last bush, reaching into the branches to snip it into some sort of order. I cut myself on another thorn and swore impatiently.

“Language.”

I turned to see Mr Harper—Emmett—watching me. He stood there, smiling, his hands tucked in the pockets of his ridiculous purple corduroys. He always reminded me of Colin Firth, though he didn’t look particularly like him. He was a similar age, I suppose, and had that same clipped accent and no-nonsense manner.

I tossed rose clippings into my wheelbarrow. “Sorry. It’s these roses. They’re full of thorns.”

“Ah, the roses. Yes. I thought perhaps you’d spotted Mr Daniels showing the Scrantons around.”

“Scrantons?”

“Mr and Mrs Scranton. I don’t know their first names, and I don’t care. Lottery winners, apparently.”

I scratched at my cheek with the edge of my thumbnail and then wiped the back of my hand across my brow. “You really want Whitecott Manor bought by lottery winners?” I asked. It wasn’t really any of my business, but I didn’t want to see the place sold on yet again because the Scrantons squandered all their money and ended up bankrupt within a year.

Emmett shrugged. “My dear, I don’t care who buys it as long as they cough up the money. You know I can’t afford to keep the place.”

I knew. Emmett was swimming in debt. His daughters—all five of them—had now moved out and he had to pay for everything on his own since his wife had left. Old Mrs Harper, Emmett’s mother, lived in the house with him, but she was in her eighties and, I think, had about as much money as he did. They wanted to move to a little cottage somewhere, with a nice granny annex and a garden that didn’t require much attention. Certainly not enough attention to take me with them.

I hadn’t said anything. Emmett came and put his hand to the small of my back. “Whoever ends up here would be mad to let you go. They can see how beautiful the gardens are.”

I nodded and stared into the rose bush.

“And you’re beautiful,” he added. “Who would not want you around?”

“You don’t need to flatter me.” I snipped at the bush and tossed branches into my wheelbarrow.

Emmett chuckled and moved away. “Cheer up, Alistair! You’ve got your whole life ahead of you. I’m off to take Mother her tea.”

I watched him stroll back to the house as if he didn’t have a care in the world. I’d miss him most of all. Well, maybe he wouldn’t move far. I’d probably still see him around—at the local fair or plant show perhaps. Besides, house sales took ages; I knew that from experience. If the Scrantons bought the place, it’d be a while yet before they moved in. And if they decided they didn’t want a gardener—if—then I had plenty of time to look for a new job. I could always audition for the X Factor and see where that got me—Emmett said I had a great singing voice, and I’d often dreamed of performing on stage.

I picked up the wheelbarrow and went to empty the clippings on the compost heap. I was just trundling back to the roses when I spotted the estate agent leading the Scrantons out into the gardens. I’d make myself scarce; I didn’t want to have to smile politely while they stood and gawked, so I downed tools and headed to the potting shed.

The cabbage seedlings were coming on nicely, I noticed, but my beetroots were depressingly small. I’d never had much luck with beetroot. They never grew much larger than rat testicles. I shrugged out of my overalls and tied the arms around my waist, singing an Elvis track softly beneath my breath.

I’d just reached for a watering can when an almighty bang made me jump out of my skin. The windows blew out the front of the manor, followed by tongues of fire licking the frames. I stared, heart frozen and mouth open. Then my heart started again, blood thumping in my ears. I threw open the shed door and ran.

“Emmett!”

I dashed towards the building, pulled open the door, and hurried down the hall to where the explosion had come from—the kitchen. Flames crackled in the room, red and angry and louder than I would’ve expected. Smoke and heat billowed outwards, and I coughed and covered my nose. My eyes watered.

“Emmett!” I yelled again.

Something crashed—maybe part of the ceiling falling—and I took a step to go after Emmett when somebody grabbed my arm and hauled me back.

“Mr Harper’s in there,” I shouted at the estate agent, fighting the man’s vice-like grip. “Emmett! Emmett!

The estate agent pulled me away, forcing me bodily back down the hall and outside. He was speaking—shouting, I think—but I yelled too, my voice hoarse, and I couldn’t hear him, couldn’t see, couldn’t… Emmett.

Sirens screamed in the distance, and then I saw the lights flashing through the trees that flanked the lane beside the manor. Fire engines arrived in a cacophony of noise and colour. The estate agent held me in a bear hug, and all I could do as firefighters jumped from their vehicles was stare at the flames roaring from the broken windows.

Purchase

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

Meet the Author

Emma Jane has been writing stories since primary school, some of which still survive in notebooks in her dad’s attic, and wanted to be an author as soon as she realised it was a possible career choice and ‘Pony’ or ‘Ninja’ weren’t viable options.

Her first short story, Club Freak, about an anonymous woman’s determination to find her husband’s killer, was published by Park Publication’s Debut magazine in May 2009. Since then, she has gone on to write many short stories and poems for various small presses and has achieved an Honourable Mention in the 2011 Writers of the Future competition.

In 2014, writing as Emma Jane, she signed her first publishing contract for not one, but two novels. Otherworld formerly published by Torquere Press, and Shuttered by Dreamspinner Press.

Website | Twitter

Tour Schedule

9/11 Books,Dreams,Life

9/11 Drops of Ink

9/11 The Novel Approach

9/11 Happily Ever Chapter

9/11 Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

9/12 Stories That Make You Smile

9/12 Southern Babes Book Blog

9/13 Love Bytes

9/14 Wicked Faerie’s Tales and Reviews

9/14 Two Chicks Obsessed

9/14 Erotica For All

9/14 Bayou Book Junkie

9/15 MillsyLovesBooks

9/15 A Book Lover’s Dream Book Blog

Giveaway

a Rafflecopter giveaway
https://widget-prime.rafflecopter.com/launch.js

Blog Button 2

Save

Save