Check Out the New Release The Empress of Xytae by Effie Calvin *excerpt and giveaway)

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Title: The Empress of Xytae

Series: Tales of Inthya, Book Four

Author: Effie Calvin

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: December 30, 2019

Heat Level: 2 – Fade to Black Sex

Pairing: Female/Female

Length: 83500

Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy, LGBT, royalty, new adult, magic, paladins, gods, goddesses

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Synopsis

Crown Princess Ioanna of Xytae has kept her truthsayer blessing a secret for twenty years. In any other nation, her powerful magic would be cause for celebration. But Xytae’s patron is the war goddess Reygmadra, and the future empress is expected to be a brutal warrior.

Reserved and peaceful by nature, Ioanna knows the court sees her as a disappointment. She does her best to assuage their worries every day, working quietly beside her mother to keep the empire running while her father is away at war. But when news of the emperor’s untimely death reaches the capital, Ioanna finds herself ousted by her younger sister Netheia, who has the war magic Ioanna lacks.

Princess Vitaliya of Vesolda has come to Xytae to avoid her father’s upcoming wedding, which she sees as an affront to her mother’s memory. Vitaliya has absolutely no interest in politics or power struggles and intends to spend her time attending parties and embarrassing her family. But when she saves Ioanna’s life during Netheia’s coup, the two are forced to flee the capital together.

Despite their circumstances, Vitaliya enjoys travelling with Ioanna and realizes that the future empress’s shy and secretive nature is the result of her unhappy childhood. Ioanna is equally unaccustomed to being in the company of one as earnest and straightforward as Vitaliya, for she has spent her life surrounded by ambitious and cutthroat nobles.

Ioanna cannot allow her sister to continue their father’s legacy, and plots to rally supporters to her side so she can interrupt Netheia’s coronation. Vitaliya knows she ought to leave Xytae before the nation is ripped apart by civil war but finds she is unwilling to abandon Ioanna. But Ioanna’s enemies are always watching…and they’ve realized that Vitaliya is a weakness to be exploited.

Excerpt

The Empress of Xytae
Effie Calvin © 2019
All Rights Reserved

Reygmadra

The Imperial Palace at Xyuluthe buzzed with anticipation. Empress Enessa had finally gone into labor, and the heir to the Xytan Empire would be born within a few hours. The archpriest of Adranus and the archpriestess of Pemele were both there to aid with the birth along with countless members of the imperial court who would bear witness to the historic event.

Reygmadra, Goddess of Warfare and Eighth of the Ten, waited just outside the empress’s chambers, unseen by all who passed. She would not deny she was beginning to grow impatient. She was only here to bless the child, the future empress. Then she would be on her way.

If the child ever arrived.

Reygmadra had no tolerance for children, nor for the tedious conversations that always surrounded a birth—discussions of size, weight, and bodily functions. She had left the empress’s room because she had grown tired of the pointless hysterical screaming, but this was undoubtably worse.

Unfortunately, she could not grant a blessing to a mortal until after it had taken its first breath. This was one of the rules she and her fellow gods had agreed upon when they’d first set out to create Inthya. Even Reygmadra could see the value in this one, for if babies could use magic in the womb, nobody would ever risk giving birth ever again.

Emperor Ionnes was occupied, as always, by his campaign in Masim. He would not return to meet his new daughter for several months. Some of the members of the court were muttering about this, but Reygmadra did not see the trouble. What help could Ionnes be right now? He would only be in the way if he tried to help. At least in Masim, he was serving his nation by leading the army.

She longed to be there, whispering ideas in his ear as he slept, soaking up the power she received when tens of thousands of warriors prayed to her in unison. Of course, the prayers would find her no matter where she was on the mortal realm of Inthya or in the celestial planes of Asterium. But there was nothing like experiencing it firsthand.

Babies seemed to bring out the stupidest, weakest aspects of mankind. One of the Xytans was now relaying a tale of someone else’s labor, and Reygmadra decided to take a walk before she lost her temper and stabbed someone.

She moved through the palace like a specter, her face unseen and heavy footsteps unheard. She was dressed as she usually did when she manifested on Inthya, as a common soldier with short sword and breastplate. If someone did somehow see her, they would think nothing of her.

One of the rooms led out into a garden, and Reygmadra decided she had been indoors for too long. She stepped out into the sunlight, into the fresh air.

Reygmadra didn’t think much of gardens—they were really just a waste of space—but this one was empty, so she would stay for a while. As she moved, she kept an ear to the palace, hoping she would soon hear distant cheers.

“Still waiting?”

A woman dressed as a Xytan noble stood there among the flowers. She had olive-toned skin and long, wavy ebony hair, and her face was impossibly, supernaturally beautiful. The dress she wore was simple but elegant, all wine-colored silk that perfectly emphasized wide hips and a narrow waist. Despite her disguise as a mortal woman, Reygmadra recognized Dayluue—Goddess of Love and Seventh of the Ten.

“It will be a while yet,” said Reygmadra. “Why are you here?”

“I’m feeling neglected,” Dayluue said. “You haven’t come to see me in ages.”

“I’m busy.”

“You’re always busy.” Crimson lips pressed together in a pout as Dayluue adjusted the neckline of her dress aggressively. “Maybe I should call on someone else. I wonder what Nara is doing.”

Possessive rage seized at Reygmadra, and Dayluue began to laugh. But the sound was cut short when Reygmadra grabbed her by the shoulders. A moment later, she had Dayluue pressed between the garden wall and her own body.

“I love it when you get jealous,” Dayluue said breathlessly. “Kiss me?”

Reygmadra brought her lips to Dayluue’s throat. Dayluue tilted her head back, hands clasping at Reygmadra’s hair, and laughed again. “I have missed you,” she said.

“I don’t believe you,” said Reygmadra because expecting strict monogamy from Dayluue was like expecting a bird to refrain from flight.

“I’ll prove it, then.” Dayluue’s eyes sparkled.

“No. I’m busy.”

“I never took you for the sort to get excited over a birth. Or are you finally realizing what I’ve been saying about the population—”

“No. I’m just giving her a blessing, and then I’m leaving.”

“It might be a while,” warned Dayluue. “Labor can last an entire day.”

Reygmadra shuddered. “Awful.”

“Well, they wouldn’t have to do it so often if you didn’t keep convincing them to kill one another.”

Reygmadra rolled her eyes. “Did you come here just to argue?”

Dayluue pressed her lips to Reygmadra’s. “Only if you really want to,” she murmured into her mouth. The scent of her mortal body, flowers and sweat and pheromones, was intoxicating.

They were antithesis to each other, and yet, there was an undeniable symmetry to their domains. They were two primal forces, mindless impulse given sentience. And sometimes the fiery lust Dayluue elicited from her felt identical to the thrill of battle.

Perhaps that was why Dayluue always returned to her. Perhaps that was why Reygmadra did not object to Dayluue’s wandering.

When they met like this in Asterium, it was a union of selves, of auras and magic, and two becoming one in the way none but their own kind could hope to understand. It was delightful to have Dayluue’s energy surging through her, to feel her own spirit within Dayluue. Reygmadra always came away from these unions feeling softer, lighter. But not weaker. Never weaker.

On Inthya, with warm bodies made of blood and flesh, things were different. On Inthya, Dayluue was in control, and Reygmadra was helpless under her expert fingers.

“Kiss me again,” said Dayluue. “But lower, this time.”

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Meet the Author

Effie is definitely a human being with all her own skin, and not a robot. She writes science fiction and fantasy novels and lives with her cat in the greater Philadelphia area.

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Check Out the New Release Blitz for Grimmer Intentions (Tales from the Grim #2) by Jodi Hutchins (excerpt and giveaway)

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Title: Grimmer Intentions

Series: Tales from the Grim, Book Two

Author: Jodi Hutchins

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: December 9, 2019

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Female/Female

Length: 91100

Genre: Paranormal, LGBT, romance, paranormal, demons, ghosts, spirits

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Synopsis

She screwed up. She broke protocol. She saved a life. Grim Reaper Margo Petrov may have resurrected a drowned surfer on the brink of death, but she isn’t earning any awards or receiving employee of the month from Corporate; she’s under more scrutiny from the Grim governing body than ever before. Since she has a massive secret that could spell disaster if revealed, she sure as hell doesn’t want to be in the spotlight, in any form.

Margo vows to keep her head down and stay out of trouble, reaping her quota of spirits lest she cause more problems for herself and the woman she saved with an illegal blood bond. She certainly shouldn’t be opening doors to the Fae lands or offering her neck to an Empusa woman suffering from bloodlust, but Margo’s laundry list of bad decisions keeps growing. With the threat of becoming decommissioned by Corporate looming in her periphery, Margo stumbles deeper into the politics of her people and soon realizes their intentions are far worse than she initially thought.

Excerpt

“Margo, calm down. You can’t go killing someone just because they pissed you off.”

Margo Petrov pumped her arms, increasing her speed as she cut across the dead grass of the front lawn, though her initial fury had settled to a low broil. The cold metal of the baseball bat against her palm was soothing but not calming enough to ease the rage completely.

The sound of Luis’s sneakers pounding the asphalt behind her indicated he’d finally caught up. “I’m not going to kill them,” she grumbled.

Luis snorted. “Okay, well, when you storm out of your apartment, yelling, ‘I’m going to fucking kill ’em, Luis,’ I think I can safely assume you’re going to kill someone.”

She stopped abruptly, causing Luis to run into her chest as she turned to face him. “Fine,” she said, tossing the bat into the bushes lining the sidewalk. She grabbed his shoulders, lowering her gaze to his. “Nobody fucks with my brother without consequence. Nobody,” she said, shaking him slightly to emphasize her seriousness.

Headlights from a passing car gleamed in his wide brown-eyed gaze as he nodded.

“Besides”—she started, as she dropped her hands from him, quirking an eyebrow—“I just want to know if they’re afraid of the dark.” She’d been livid when Luis told her the resident group of asshats from their high school decided to give Luis hell on his way back from the library.

Without further discussion, Margo continued down the cracked sidewalks of downtown Philadelphia.

“They still hang out at the bowling alley on Daly Ave?”

Luis huffed a discontented sigh, eliciting a grin from Margo. “Dude come on. Think about this for a second; do you really want to risk another arrest? You’re almost eighteen, and you could be charged as an adult.”

He had a point, and she admitted that to herself, but she continued down the sidewalk anyway, cutting across the street, her feet displacing loose black asphalt pebbles on the worn roadway. “Yeah, but they need to leave you the hell alone. This is getting ridiculous.” For years, she and her brother experienced taunting for their otherness, Luis taking the brunt end most times. The basketball team tormented Luis for merely existing; however, Margo guessed they blamed their mocking on his differences. They needed a good scare, using a bit of magic, the otherness his tormentors weren’t aware of. She wanted to scare them so bad they’d piss themselves. If all else failed, she’d just beat the shit out of them.

Luis gave a shrug of nonchalance, something she instantly recognized as her brother’s passive language, which furthered the desire to teach the perpetrators a lesson. Instead of digging into his dismissal, she turned and continued her way toward downtown.

Luis followed.

The streets were busy even though rush hour had ended a few hours prior. Cars zipped past, a stray honk resounding a few blocks away, voices rising in a cacophonous argument. The late-night city sounds were laden with a warning, hinting at the kind of night bad things happened, stirring a deep foreboding in the air around them.

Luis jabbed her in the ribs, ripping Margo from her eerie thoughts. “Hey, do you see that?” He pointed to LOVE Park on the opposite side of the crosswalk. Standing beside the water fountain was a child, their head turning from side to side in rapid succession. Luis was clearly pointing to the small person; however, the iridescent shift of air around the child indicated to Margo they weren’t alive.

Before meeting Luis, she agreed with the titles given to her—weirdo, crazy, psychic—the names condensing her down to a freak who could see ghosts with the only person to possibly believe her long dead. Of course, she’d been ecstatic to find kinship in another, to prove at least to herself she wasn’t crazy. That is until Luis stopped for every spirit in sight with their Sally-sob story. “Yeah, I see them, and no, we don’t have time.”

Luis scoffed just as the light turned, and he hurried across the street without waiting for Margo.

She rushed after him, forgoing her planned scare tactics on the basketball team in hopes she’d convince him to leave well enough alone.

They approached the park’s edge, Luis carefully watching the child. Luckily, the park held no other visitors, alive or dead. “We have to help her,” he whispered before he stuck his lower lip out.

She rolled her eyes. “They aren’t stray puppies, Luis. We can’t help every single one of them.”

Brows cinching, he met her gaze with an icy stare. “Maybe this is why we can see them, to help them move on.”

Though reluctant to admit it, she’d come to the very same conclusion herself a long time ago. With no way of knowing why they could guide ghostly apparitions to the other side, she couldn’t come up with a better reason herself. She glanced over at the redheaded girl and sighed. “Fine, but we need to be quick, and I still want to find those idiots so I can mess up their night.”

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Meet the Author

Jodi Hutchins is a healthcare professional by day and fanatical writer by night. They are also an avid reader, coffee connoisseur, helpless romantic, amateur artist, enthusiastic maker-upper of things, spouse, and parent. The frequent rain of western Washington doesn’t stop Jodi and their wife from gallivanting through the next trail head with their two children.

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BLITZ for Double Six (Rowan House #5) by Brenda Murphy (excerpt and giveaway)

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Title: Double Six

Series: Rowan House, Book Five

Author: Brenda Murphy

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: November 18, 2019

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Female/Female, Female/Female Menage

Length: 63500

Genre: Contemporary, LGBT, Contemporary, romance, BDSM, interracial, ménage, switch, edge play, knife play, pain play, extortion, kidnapping, Oslo, Norway, Isle of Skye

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Synopsis

Elaine MacLeod, the most feared and revered Mistress of Rowan House, is frustrated. Overworked, still hurt and angry over the departure of her long-term lover, she refuses to admit Rowan House needs another Mistress to accommodate their guests. Unconvinced anyone will be able to meet her high standards, Elaine grudgingly agrees to audition the sole applicant, Petra Grendhal.

Robin Broadacre would do anything for the woman who rescued her from certain death at the hands of her previous employers. When she volunteers to assist Petra with her audition, Elaine is forced to reckon with her desire for Robin. Drawn to Petra’s fiery strength and icy demeanor as well Robin’s devotion, Elaine finds herself torn between her passion for both women. When Petra disappears on a trip to Oslo, Elaine and Robin’s search leads them to menaces from Robin’s past and a fight for their lives.

Excerpt

Double Six
Brenda Murphy © 2019
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One
“Are you sure this is what we need?” Elaine lowered the hairbrush and shifted her gaze to Martha’s face, reflected in the dressing table mirror.

Martha quirked her mouth. “We’ve been over this. Just give her a chance. You can’t keep up with our client requests.”

Elaine tossed the brush on the top of the dressing table. “Because you and Lucia don’t help.” She swept her titian hair back and up into a high ponytail.

Martha handed her an elastic. “We’re not having this argument again. Lucia and I are finished with that side of the business. We can’t keep putting people off or they’ll find other houses to visit.

Elaine knotted a hunter-green ribbon in her hair. “Oh please. Like they could find anyone like me. Or what we offer here.” She shoved away from the vanity and turned to face her sister. “Fine. We’ll see how she handles herself. But the timing sucks.”

Martha placed her hands on her sister’s shoulders. “We had to work with the dates she gave us. Lucia thinks she’d be a good fit. We’ve had our trip planned for a long time. We trust you to make a good decision.

Alone. Again. “I’m not worried about making a wrong decision. Who’ll sub for her? Benita and Fallon are on holiday. No one else likes heavy pain play.”

Martha grinned wickedly at Elaine. “Maybe you could give it a go?”

Elaine rolled her eyes at her sister. “The switch gene is not in me. Go on, go on your holiday. I’ll figure it out.” Somehow. Damn, I miss Roxy.

Lucia and Myfanwy stood next to the car, their breath visible as they chatted in the frosty gray morning. Millie loaded the last of their luggage into the trunk and closed the lid gently. Martha placed her hand on Elaine’s forearm. “You have our itinerary. We can return if it’s an emergency”—she straightened to her full height and squared her shoulders—“but we are not to be disturbed unless it is.”

Elaine rolled her eyes at her sister. “Yes, sister dear, goddess forbid I interrupt your honeymoon. Like you haven’t already had one. I won’t bother you.” She let the devil show in her eyes. “I expect you’ll be tied up.”

Martha settled her fedora on her head. “I’m not going to waste my time replying to that, and please for the love of all that’s good, try to get along with Petra. We don’t have any other candidates.”

“So we should settle?” Elaine placed her hand on her hip.

“No one is saying settle. What I am saying is do not make a snap judgment. Or piss her off so much she leaves.”

Elaine shrugged. “If she can’t stand the heat…”

“Martha, we need to leave now.” Lucia spoke over Elaine, her voice a soft command. “I’m sure Elaine and Petra will sort things.”

“See, even your Miss agrees.” Elaine smirked at Martha.

Martha smiled at Elaine, not giving her the argument she craved. “Try it some time. You might find you like it.”

“Ha. A cold day in hell. Go now or you’ll miss the ferry.”

Martha gave Elaine a quick hard hug before she hurried down the steps to the car.

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Meet the Author

Brenda Murphy writes short fiction and novels. She loves tattoos and sideshows, and yes, those are her monkeys. When she is not swilling gallons of hot tea and writing, she wrangles two kids, two dogs, and one unrepentant parrot. She writes about life, books, and writing on her blog Writing While Distracted.

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Join us for the New Release Book Blitz for Stray by Nancy J. Hedin (excerpt and giveaway)

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Title: Stray

Author: Nancy J. Hedin

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: August 12, 2019

Heat Level: 2 – Fade to Black Sex

Pairing: Female/Female

Length: 65800

Genre: Contemporary, LGBT, New adult, contemporary, family drama, lesbian, gay, vet, farm, homophobic beating, church, politics, social worker, mystery

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Synopsis

Lorraine Tyler should be in vet school, but she stayed behind in her home town of Bend, Minnesota to care for her nephew, spend time with her lover, Charity, and give her momma a chance to complete nursing school.

Lorraine is content until her momma brings home a steady stream of bachelors to straighten her out. Charity is out of town more and more, and Lorraine’s brother-in-law is looking for a new mom for Little Man. To make matters worse there’re new people in town. A politician is drumming up fear and hate, a social worker is flirting with Lorraine, and Lorraine’s new friend, Ricky, is beaten into a coma.

Lorraine suspects Ricky was beaten because of being gay. Lorraine is determined to find out who did it, protect Ricky from the hater who might try to finish the job, and she’s worried she might be next on the hater’s list.

Stray is a story of politics fueling hate, competing romantic interests, and regular people examining their hearts, souls, and hormones. Will the people of Bend harbor the fear-rattled haters of some, or will they provide sanctuary for all?

Excerpt

Stray
Nancy J. Hedin © 2019
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One
It was supper time on a weeknight and there were two vehicles I didn’t recognize and a hearse parked next to our farmhouse. It wasn’t really a hearse, it was Pastor Grind’s tan Toyota, but any visit from him meant bad news. God how I hoped Momma had started a book club or extorted people to attend a Tupperware party. More likely she was bringing me a parade of potential husbands. She wanted to straighten out her queer daughter, me. I didn’t know if she was acting alone or if she’d again claim she had God on her side. Maybe she got Pastor Grind to agree to marry me to one of those men on the spot.

“Lorraine, Lorraine!” Momma came rumbling out of the house onto the open front porch, waving her arms. “Don’t change out of your college clothes. We have guests for dinner.”

It’s not like I routinely changed clothes in the yard. I parked my truck in between Dad’s beat-up pickup and Momma’s dented station wagon. Momma had parked on half the pink flamingo pair of lawn ornaments Dad had installed the day before.

“We’re having chicken. Ricky wants to learn to make my gravy.” Momma wiped her hands on her denim apron.

Before I could ask her who Ricky was—like I didn’t already know he’s some guy she found at college and deems him a good husband for me—the only requirement being a penis in his pants—she put her hands on her wide hips like she had more to say. “That Charity girl is here too, but she’s not staying.” Momma swiveled around and marched to the house.

My girlfriend, Charity, was there. Finally, some good news. At least it meant she was driving her dad’s car and he wasn’t with her. There was no way that holier-than-god man would come to the queer’s house and have his daughter with him.

Dad and my three-year-old nephew, Little Man, came out of the barn with the dogs, Sniff, Pants, and Satan. Dad was telling Little Man some damn animal story—something about what they can tell from smelling another dog’s pee. Little Man and the dogs came running to me. “Raine, Raine, we’ve been throwing balls for the dogs.”

Most days I took care of Little Man, but Tuesday was a school day for me at the junior college where I had enrolled in as many math and science classes as I could manage until I left for Grayson School of Veterinary Science in Duluth. Grayson wasn’t a top ten veterinary school, but it was my first choice because I didn’t have to have a bachelor’s degree before entering their program. That was good for me since I had already delayed my college entrance by a couple of years because of the needs of my family.

Grayson accepted two years of college level science and math and allowed degree candidates to take summer classes for the entire four years of pre-veterinary science programs. It floated my boat, but what really got me excited was if I was short on the college level courses, which I was, they’d let me take skills and knowledge testing which would count toward coursework. All those things I’d learned from helping Twitch with his vet business could be parlayed for course credits. Sweet.

Little Man hugged my legs. When I looked at him and Momma and Dad, I had a hollow ache in my chest for who was missing. My twin sister, Becky, was dead. She left behind a dope of a husband and the sweetest little boy I could imagine existed in the world. My brother-in-law Kenny’s truck was gone. He must have still been at work at the lumber yard.

I scooped up Little Man. He wore the matching blue and white T-shirt and pants I’d put him in early in the morning, but he was filthy from playing. As I kissed his doughy neck, I sniffed him to know what he’d done while I was away. I detected the scent of outdoors, dogs, dirt, and snickerdoodle cookies, an average day.

I dropped him off in the mudroom. He climbed the green plastic, frog-faced step stool so he could reach the mudroom sink to wash his hands, and I looked for Charity. Charity leaned against the kitchen counter. Damn she looks good. I forgot all about supper. My whole body hungered for her touch and the sweet things she always said to me. I wanted to wrap my arms around Charity and kiss her until my lips fell off.

No kissing for me. Momma came back in the kitchen looking like she owned and ran the place, which she did. Momma and Charity were as far apart from each other as possible in the room and despite the temperature outside being near eighty degrees, the air temperature between them was colder than a well-digger’s lunch, as my dad would say.

“Hi.” I touched Charity’s shoulder. “I’m glad to see you. Why are you driving your dad’s car? You about scared me to death.”

She smiled and squeezed my hand quick, her eyes glued on Momma. “Dad needed my truck to help somebody move some boxes or something.”

I smelled her shampoo and she’d just put on some lip gloss I wanted to methodically taste and remove.

Momma gave the queer girls only cursory attention. I almost snuck a kiss, but I realized half a man twitched and kicked on the kitchen floor. The other half of him was tucked in the cabinet under the sink. When the top of him emerged I about lost my mind.

Christ, she’s at it again. This time the man was old enough to have possibly signed the Declaration of Independence, or at least the Constitution.

“Momma, I hope you haven’t been trying to find a date for me again.” Next, I addressed the fossil under the sink. “Ricky, I’m sorry you come all this way for nothing but a busted sink.”

Just then Little Man came in the kitchen. Momma’s face brightened as she whisked Little Man into her arms. He dried his wet hands on the front of Momma’s good apron—the full-length one with chickens embroidered on it and pockets on both sides of the skirt. Next Momma pulled me into the utility room with her and Little Man. “Excuse us.” She slid the accordion door closed.

Oh Christ, she’s going to murder me. No. She wouldn’t murder me in front of Little Man and so many witnesses in the house, but there was a fair chance she was going to lecture me and possibly brain me with one of her sacred books. She appreciated the Old Testament shock and awe. She didn’t much go for the patient tolerance of God’s later work or “the mushy parts,” as she called them. However, she did like the way her slim New Testament fit in the oversized pockets of her denim apron, and she liked the way it fit nicely in her hand when she wanted to swat someone, usually me. But she didn’t hit me. Instead, she reminded me of the way her mind worked and how she got everything done with speed and efficiency.

“That’s not Ricky. It’s Harold. Has it ever occurred to you, Lorraine, that we needed the sink replaced?”

That’s Momma for you. She could probably kill more than two birds with one stone. She weaseled getting our sink fixed and paraded a bachelor for my appraisal. She was so efficient, I was surprised there were any birds left.

Momma continued, “Besides, you can’t marry Harold. He’s already engaged to a gal from the square-dancing club.”

“Square dancing,” Little Man said.

Little Man, at three years old, needed an interpreter. I caught most everything he said because I listened to him most days. He had acquired a new habit of repeating parts of whatever he’d heard somebody else say.

“Well, do-si-do and an allemande right if I’m not relieved.”

“Smarty pants,” Momma said. “Behave yourself. It wouldn’t hurt you to try to make friends with our guests. Supper is almost ready.”

“Great. I want to sit by Charity.”

“She’s not staying.”

What? Hadn’t we made any ground at all? Couldn’t my girlfriend at least enjoy a meal at our house? It’s not like we would make out at the dinner table.

Momma pushed me out of the utility room, put Little Man down with half a cookie, and helped Harold get up off the kitchen floor.

“Can’t you stay for supper?” I asked Charity.

Charity glanced at Momma. Then she looked at her feet and bit her lip.

Those lips. I knew how pillowy soft and warm they were. The first time she ever kissed me it felt like I had known her mouth forever.

Charity turned her back on Momma and she half whispered and half gasped, “Lorraine, are you ever leaving for college? This is too small, too much.”

“How can something be both too small and too much?” I tried to joke, but Charity wasn’t having it.

“I don’t know, but Bend is and you need to decide. I’m going home.” Charity headed to the door.

I wanted to remind her I was moving as fast as circumstances would allow. I’d enrolled in as many science classes as the junior college offered while I worked with Twitch…and I minded Little Man. But I didn’t speak up for myself.

“Are you still coming over tomorrow?” I whispered. “Little Man has some new plastic animals. I’m thinking of decorating the kitchen like an African safari.” My scheme kept Little Man busy and allowed me to study animal physiology and anatomy at the same time.

“See you tomorrow.” Charity called over her shoulder with very little enthusiasm.

I watched Charity through the window walking away. My heart raced. I almost ran after her, but then Momma grabbed me and harped at me to go sit in the dining room and talk to the guests. Why is everybody so mad at me? Why is everyone pressuring me to move faster or be different? Momma wanted me to not be queer and marry a man. Charity wanted me to leave Bend before I had Little Man settled. I took deep breaths and prepared to enter the dining room.

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Meet the Author

Nancy Hedin, a Minnesota writer, has been a pastor and bartender (at the same time). She has been a stand-up comic and a mental health crisis worker (at the same time). She wants readers to know that every story she writes begins with her hearing voices.

In 2018 Nancy’s debut novel, Bend was named one of twenty-five books to read for Pride Month Barnes and Noble, and was named Debut Novel of the Year by Golden Crown Literary Society and Foreword Indies Honorable Mention for GLBT Adult Novel of the Year.

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Check Out the New Release Blitz for At the Trough by Adam Knight (excerpt and giveaway)

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Title: At the Trough

Author: Adam Knight

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: May 13, 2019

Heat Level: 1 – No Sex

Pairing: Female/Female

Length: 107200

Genre: Science Fiction, LGBT, lesbian sci-fi, futuristic, dystopia, education, conformity, teacher, student, secret meetings, forbidden book, mental illness

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Synopsis

In a future where schools have no teachers and no classrooms, Jennifer Calderon is the perfect student. Every day she watches her video modules, plays her edu games, and never misses an answer. Life is comfortable in the Plex, a mile-wide apartment building. Corporations and brand names surround her and satisfy her every want and need.

Then one day, her foul-mouthed, free-spirited, 90’s-kitsch-wearing girlfriend Melody disrupts everything. She introduces her to a cynical, burned-out former teacher, who teaches them the things no longer taught in school. Poetry. Critical thinking. Human connection.

But these lessons draw the attention of EduForce, the massive corporation with a stranglehold on education. When they show how far they are willing to go keep their customers obedient, Jennifer has to decide what is most important to her and how much she is willing to sacrifice for it.

Excerpt

At the Trough
Adam Knight © 2019
All Rights Reserved

One: Learning if Fun
“The brain releases the neurotransmitter dopamine in response to certain stimuli. Eating candy, having sex, consuming drugs, even petting a dog can trigger a pleasure response. Video games, especially ones with bright lights, upbeat music, and facile accomplishments are especially potent, flooding the brain with a sense of reward. As such, they were the bane of teachers for many years. That is, until EduForce began to use these games in their products. The scourge of learning was being disguised as learning itself.”

—Charles Winston, The Trough, p. 114

Jennifer Calderón stared into the screen, slack-jawed and passive as the bright colors and shapes burst before her eyes. Her pupils traced letters and blocks as they bounced from one end of the sixty-inch screen to the next. She reached out and touched a word before it hit the bottom–GAMBOLED. The white letters lit up, neon-green, and the word whooshed across the screen to smash into another word—GAMBLED—and shatter into a shower of sparkles.

“Same-sounder found!” a chirpy electronic voice declared.

Dopamine squirted into Jennifer’s brain in happy little jets. A smile traced the corners of her lips. Learning was fun.

Jennifer flicked her eyes to the upper right-hand corner of the screen. The figure 23/25 quickened her pulse. Two more. Two more word pairs and she would earn the Same-Sounder Achievement.

A new word appeared at the bottom of her screen. ASCENT, it read. The friendly female voice read the word and definition. Bubbles with other vocabulary terms floated around the screen. Colors whirled before her eyes and electronic dance beats filled her ears as she searched for Same-Sounders. Then she saw it. The word, in white letters on a floating bubble, drifted toward the bottom. Jennifer’s finger jabbed at the screen. Pop! The word ASSENT exploded in fireworks. More music and chirpy voices.

“Same-sounder found,” the voice said. More dopamine gushed into Jennifer’s brain. Her eyes flicked up to the corner. 24/25.

CYMBAL.

Once more, Jennifer scanned the bubbles and blobs and cubes and tetrahedrons swirling in her vision. Her breath was shallow. More and more words poured onto the screen. In one moment after another, tiny subdivided fractions of seconds, Jennifer saw and rejected words she did not think made the same sound as “cymbal.” Her eyes, her brain, and her hands all had to work in unison. Each level of Same-Sounder Finder was faster, more complex, and more stimulating than the last.

Then she saw it. SYMBOL.

She thrust her finger out to the screen. The little magenta gem in which the word sat was zigzagging down the screen, and she almost missed it and pressed the word TUMBLE crossing its path. But the SYMBOL illuminated, exploded, and a fireworks finale showed on the screen. 25/25.

“Same-sounder found,” the voice declared, then louder and triumphantly, “Same-sounder achievement unlocked!”

Jennifer leaped and thrust her fists in the air as a fanfare of electronic tones rang through her bedroom. Not many students earned perfect scores on Same-Sounder Finder, but Jennifer did. She earned perfect scores on everything. She was twenty-three years old and finishing her last year of schooling, a year ahead of the usual schedule. Because of all the hours she put into learning, and because she never had to redo any of her modules, she had raced ahead of her peers, many of whom were still on Achievement Level 13 or 14. She was working on 15.

After the music died down, the screen went still. Jennifer’s head was still pounding. A headache was setting in, as was a twinge of crankiness. She left her bedroom and went to the kitchen where she poured herself a cup of coffee. Her mother always had a pot brewing, anything to keep her beloved daughter focused on school. Jennifer clogged the coffee with sugar and milk, stirred it, and took a gulp. Better. She freed a couple of aspirins from their foil pouches and swallowed them with the next mouthful of coffee. She returned to her room.

Jennifer slid her finger along the screen and opened it to a new frame, one summarizing her academic progress. Current Achievement Level: 14. 12 percent of the way to 15. 106 of 880 modules completed. Achievement Level Grade Point Average: 5.0/5.0.

Total Progress to Completion of all Achievement Levels: 97 percent. 12,845 of 13,215 modules completed.

And then there was the final number. The prized number, the number she had worked for since age three.

Aggregate Grade Point Average: 5.0/5.0

Every assignment Jennifer had ever done, from toddlerhood into now her mid-twenties, had been flawless. Missing just one question on one task would eradicate her record—The Perfect Five. There had been students with 5.0 GPAs before, but their scores came with asterisks. Usually the student had missed a smattering of questions throughout their education, resulting in a score that would round up to 5.0 in the ten-thousandths place. But Jennifer Calderón began each module on a knife’s edge, knowing one slip up would end her lunge at history. Each completed question nudged her progress toward earning Achievement Level 15, the equivalent of what was once her high school diploma. Thus far, however, all she had was poor digestion, headaches, sleep deprivation, and occasional interviews for the NewsFeed as her accomplishment became more improbable.

Jennifer left the score screen and opened a new frame to continue with a new module. She had done three Grammar Modules in a row and wished for a change, so she opened a Chemistry Module. It made no difference to her. She never understood students who had favorite subjects, who would put off Math or Writing as long as possible. She never understood procrastination. She simply worked until she was exhausted, every day, with no heed to the subject area. It was all the same to her.

To unlock the next series of edugames, she needed to watch the Chemistry vidlesson. At the opening screen, she was given a choice of several hundred different teachers to choose from. Each teacher had his or her own style. Some were brusque and businesslike, while others joked and kept the lesson light. Some had an air of wisdom and experience, while others were young and attractive. Some explained topics deliberately, but Jennifer returned to the same half-dozen teachers who explained briskly. Unlike many students, Jennifer always watched the vidlesson before the edugame. It was true “Learning Was Fun” but it was also true that “Hard Work Pays Off.” It’s so easy, she thought. They give you all of the answers right in the lesson.

Too easy. But the thought was fleeting, and she brushed it away.

Jennifer selected Mr. 85. She was not sure why the teachers did not have real names, but she did not dwell on it long. Mr. 85 was a favorite of hers because he spoke a little faster than other teachers. The content of what he said was the same—it had to be; the teachers were scripted—but he lingered a few seconds less on the examples and generally made his points and moved on. She wondered how many minutes of her educational life had been saved by Mr. 85’s expediency.

Her stomach rumbled. I should eat, she thought, but instead she touched the icon for the Chemistry video and sat on the edge of her bed. The video opened. It was six minutes. Damn. A long one.

The introduction music came up, a familiar, infectious jingle followed by a voiceover. “Chemistry—All You Need to Know. A lesson by the EduForce Corporation.” Then the camera fixed on Mr. 85. Mr. 85 was a middle-aged black man with graying hair. He never smiled. Jennifer kind of liked that. He stood in front of a display showing an elaborate chart with boxes. Each box had one or two letters inside.

“Good day, I am Mr. 85. Today we are going to learn all about Chemistry. As you remember from the Introduction to Chemistry lesson, Chemistry is the part of science that is chemicals. The chemicals have names and symbols. Today I will teach them to you.”

He stepped to the right and indicated the chart. Jennifer already knew she would have to rewatch this segment of the video. Maybe the whole thing. All those boxes and letters would be difficult to remember.

“This is called the Chemical Chart. It used to be called the ‘Periodic Table of the Elements,’ but let’s keep it simple. The Chemical Chart shows you a list of all the chemicals, called ‘elements,’ in the world. Little ones are on the top and big ones are on the bottom.

“Let’s look at some of them. The very top one is called ‘hydrogen.’ Its symbol is H. The next one is Helium. Its symbol is He.”

Mr. 85 pointed out about a dozen of the most common elements and their symbols. Aluminum. Carbon. Oxygen. Phosphorous. Jennifer repeated to herself everything Mr. 85 said.

“Next, we are going to look at what the elements do together,” he went on. “But first, you may be getting tired. Do you find your energy dragging after all this learning? If so, why not order a box of Perk-Eez? It’s the little yellow pill that keeps you shining bright!”

The video of Mr. 85 paused and was replaced with a new screen offering Jennifer the opportunity to order a box of Perk-Eez. She touched the “Yes, please!” button on the screen, and a message immediately appeared. “Thank you! Your delivery will arrive at your unit shortly. Your household account will be debited.” Perk-Eez were another reason Jennifer was on track to graduate two years early.

Mr. 85 returned.

“Now that you know some of the chemicals’ names, let’s look at what chemicals do. They like to be together. Sometimes the same kinds of chemicals get together. One oxygen and another oxygen will get together, and they make up the oxygen we breathe. If you have taken the Human Biology module, you know we breathe oxygen.”

The Chemical Chart was replaced with a graphic of two blue blobs with the letter “O” on them smooshing together.

“Sometimes different chemicals get together. A carbon and two oxygens get together and make up something called carbon dioxide. Yes, that’s right, carbon dioxide, the bad thing your grandparents put into the air that almost killed Earth!”

A new graphic with two blue blobs and a red blob with a “C” all clinging together replaced the old one.

“All kinds of chemicals get together. Let’s look at some combinations.”

The screen showed a series of different colored balls, all with different letters, making different combinations. Jennifer shook her head, trying to maintain focus. It was a lot of new information.

As the video neared completion, Mr. 85 folded his hands and stepped to the center of the screen again. Jennifer thought she almost detected a smile.

“I hope you have enjoyed this lesson on Chemistry. Please rewatch this video as many times as you like before going onto the edugames. My name is Mr. 85 and it has been a pleasure teaching you today. This has been an EduForce vidlesson. EduForce, making learning easy and fun since 2034.”

The video closed. Jennifer watched it again three times. After the second time, the doorbell rang. She accepted the delivery from SentiAid, the pharmacy delivery service. She tore open a foil packet and gobbled a couple of Perk-Eez. Almost instantly, even faster than after a cup of coffee, her brain and body were buzzy and alive.

All right, she thought. Let’s play some more edugames.

The Chemistry edugame was called “Elementastic!!!” She read the instruction screen, then the game began. After a countdown, two words appeared on the screen:

Iron Argon

Jennifer typed in FEAR. The letters Fe and Ar zoomed in from the left and right of the screen, collided in a burst of color, and formed the word “fear,” which dissolved into sparkles that floated up to the top of the screen.

Carbon Oxygen Oxygen Phosphorous

Easy, Jennifer thought. She typed COOP.

More collisions and explosions.

Tin Iodine Phosphorous

SNIP

Helium Aluminum Sulfur

HEALS

Jennifer fell into a rhythm, working faster and faster on each round. Her breathing became shallow. Her pulse quickened and her pupils dilated as the words came faster, exploded bigger and more colorfully, until finally a computerized voice—male this time—announced, “Activity Complete. Chemistry Achievement Unlocked!” and Jennifer lowered her hands, panting.

The voice continued, “To celebrate your achievement, how about downloading the new song from Tuliphead? The infectious single ‘Plex Lovin’’ is already breaking new—”

“Sure,” Jennifer said, and the advertisement stopped. Buying was the easiest way to make the ads go away.

Even as a small child, edugames had come easily to her. She watched the vidlessons, played the edugames, and thought little of it. She learned with carefree abandon. But when she reached the age of twelve or thirteen, she became aware she was doing something unusual. Of course, she did not have classmates to compare herself to, and she had few friends to ask, but she understood she was different. Other children made mistakes, even had to redo modules they had not mastered. She had wondered what mistakes were, to have the certainty of rightness yanked out from under you.

As she grew older, she became acutely aware of her achievement. At age fifteen, she received a request for a vid interview with a reporter. She had sheepishly declined, unsure of what to say and certain her mother would not have allowed it. But over the subsequent years, several more interview requests came to her, and she began to accept them. Each time she said the same things, that she was proud and studied a lot to do the best she could. That answer was only half true. She was proud of her grade but never had to study. She watched a vidlesson, played the edugame, then moved on to the next.

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Meet the Author

Born in upstate New York, Adam now lives in northern New Jersey with his wife, son, a neurotic dog and two cats. He teaches middle school English and writes science fiction, fantasy, and history, often in strange combinations. His stories and essays have been published in several anthologies and online magazines. Beyond writing and teaching, his interests include running and making improvements on his creaky old house.

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

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Title: Blood Lust

Author: L.E. Royal

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: February 18, 2019

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Female/Female

Length: 73200

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

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Synopsis

The sequel to Blood Echo.

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

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

Excerpt

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

Chapter One
“Pick it up.”

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

“You’re scowling, Princess.”

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

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

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

She yawned.

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

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

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

Pick up the apple.

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

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

“Your turn.”

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

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

“Why is this even important?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You’re not a monster, really.”

She scoffed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I shrugged, unsure.

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

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Meet the Author

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

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New Release Blitz for Push Me Pull Me by Amanda Rhodes (excerpt and giveaway)

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Title: Push Me Pull Me

Author: Amanda Rhodes

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: July 30, 2018

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Female/Female

Length: 20000

Genre: Contemporary, lesbian, pansexual, BDSM

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Synopsis

At twenty-four, Mallory Grant is still struggling with adulthood. She can’t seem to make it in to work on time and deals better with her Tumblr friend on the other side of the world than a face-to-face with a real live human. But when her boss threatens to fire her as a rental agent, Mallory has to buckle down with her new client or end up jobless.

Corinne Ibori is moving to the Chicago area and needs a place to call home. Mallory’s goal is to find just the right location for Corinne’s needs and show her boss she’s turned over a new leaf. Corinne is thirty-five, self-confident, beautiful, flirty, has a French accent, and knows what she wants.

Mallory is finding it hard to believe that what Corrine wants might be her.

Excerpt

Push Me Pull Me
Amanda Rhodes © 2018
All Rights Reserved

Today has to be a new record for me. Forty-five minutes late for work and I’m sitting in the Dunkin’ Donuts drive-thru behind a line of cars at least a half mile long. One might think I have no respect for punctuality. And they’d be right. I’ve been on a losing streak lately with my alarm clock. It tries so hard to wake me up with the beeping and the screeching.

I have to have my coffee before I meet the day head-on, though. Therefore, I wait. Might as well be productive while I sit here. I text Helena, asking her if she’s seen my Tumblr post with the new pictures of Charlize Theron. She’s cut all of her hair off, and it’s sexy as fuck. Maybe she did it for a new movie role, maybe just to torture me. It’s hard to say.

Helena replies back, “Duh, Mallory. Of course, I’ve seen it.” She immediately saved it to her hard drive for safekeeping. This is why we are friends. Unfortunately, though, she lives on the other side of the ocean so most of our conversations are in the form of emails and texts.

I don’t really do so well with live humans unless I’m getting paid to customer-service them. I’m perfectly content with the friends that live inside my computer as far as my personal life goes. Helena gets me, and I make her laugh. Works out perfectly.

A few more cars move, and I’m almost to the ordering screen. I check the clock. 9:15 a.m. Yikes. This is super late, even for me. Silently, I pray that my boss isn’t in this morning—still traveling or has tripped on her kids’ Legos and sprained her ankle.

“Mallory, I’m sorry, but I’m not going to make it in today. You’ll be able to hold down the fort without me, right?”

“Absolutely, Shelly. You can count on me. I’ve been here for hours now. Everything is going smoothly.”

“Perfect. You’re an amazing employee. I’m definitely giving you a raise and maybe even an expense account. Also, I think you should take a month-long vacation when I get back. Honk.”

HONK. HONK. HONK.

The person who’s waiting behind is obviously super pissed by my delayed response.

“Sorry!” I yell from inside my car where no one can hear me. I wave, hoping they forgive my idiotic daydreaming.

Quickly, I pull through, order my coffee and the bagel I swore to myself I wouldn’t get.

When I make it to work, I realize that my daydream was exactly that. There’s a sticky note lying on my desk from Shelly.

See me when you get in.

There’s no “Thanks!” or her name with a smiley face. She knows that I’ll be aware of exactly who wrote the note. And she knows that I’ll be aware of exactly what I need to see her about.

The sense of dread I feel at moments like this never motivates me to do the right thing (i.e. show up on time), but only serves to remind me of how much I suck at life. That nasty little voice in my head is chanting “loser alert!” over and over.

Staring at the note, I take a minute to contemplate my next move. I could fake the stomach flu, invoking her pity. Well, at least temporarily. I’ll have to face the facts at some point, and that some point might as well be now. Sucking it up, I throw my things on my desk and do the walk of shame to her office.

I could easily walk through this maze of dull gray cubicles with my eyes closed. I’ve done it so many times. The chatter of twenty different people on the phone, scheduling apartment viewings, fills the air. Ben’s giant pair of green foam Hulk hands sit atop his bookshelf. I give them a fist bump. Ben glances up from his phone call, nods, and winks. He’s the only tolerable human here.

Almost every desk has one or two framed pictures of loved ones, boyfriends, kids, husbands. A candid of a group of friends at a wedding taunts me as I walk past Tracy’s desk. She also has a Post-it note holder in the shape of a red high-heeled shoe. She thinks it’s cute, and I think it’s hideous.

Each time I have to make the trip from my desk to Shelly’s, I’m forced to think about the absence of pictures and mementos on mine. Yeah, I could frame a picture of my brother or of my childhood dog, Scrabble, but I don’t actually want anyone here to know that much about me.

Peeking around the corner, I check to see if the boss-lady is on the phone or possibly reaming some other poor soul a new asshole, in which case I can hightail it out of here. No such luck. She peers up from her desk, her face the picture of annoyance. She extends her hand, waving me in.

“Hi, Shelly! You wanted to see me?” I ask cheerily.

“Save it. Sit down. We need to talk.” Her tone isn’t angry, just fed up. Honestly, this makes me feel even worse. She used to like me. And she’s stuck her neck out for me more than once. I’ve disappointed yet another person in my life. I might need to start a spreadsheet in order to keep track.

Awkwardly, I take a seat across from her, trying to work out if I should cross my legs or leave them uncrossed. Which leg position makes a person seem less like a failure?

“Listen,” she says, sighing deeply. “I know this isn’t your dream job. Nor would I expect you to treat being a leasing agent as such. But I do expect that you show some respect for me. I don’t make office hours for shits and giggles, Mal. You had an appointment this morning with a client. She sat in the lobby waiting for you for almost an hour.”

Fuck. Me.

“Exactly.”

I didn’t realize I’d said that out loud.

Purchase

NineStar Press | Amazon | Smashwords | Barnes & Noble

Meet the Author

Amanda Rhodes watches way too much TV and has a ridiculous amount of books on her to-be-read pile, yet she keeps buying them. She’s been writing since… well for a long time. Amanda loves the paranormal, sci-fi, and fantasy but could never ever write it herself. She’ll leave that up to the weirdos who do it best. Amanda lives in Chicago with her wife, four children, and pitbull who is a lazy bum.

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BLITZ for Teacher’s Pet Anthology by Multiple Authors (giveaway)

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Title:  Teacher’s Pet

Author: Kashmira Majumdar, S.A. James, Asta Idonea, Hudson Lin, Aila Alvina Boyd, Valentine Wheeler, Damian Serbu, Jack Harbon, Arden Powell

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: March 12

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male, Female/Female

Length: 88500

Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal. Sci-Fi/Fantasy, age gap, contemporary, Fantasy, paranormal, romance, teacher/student

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Synopsis

Nine Stories of Lessons Outside the Classroom

By Virtue Fall by Kashmira Majumdar – The rules have changed…and so have the consequences for breaking them.

Striking Gold by S.A. James – Sometimes when we think we have no choice, life brings something brighter.

Full Marks by Asta Idonea – When Jacob seeks out his favourite lecturer at a university reunion, will he get full marks?

Lessons for a Lifetime by Hudson Lin – A second language, a first chance at love.

Welcome to Ms Skinner’s Freshman Composition by Aila Alvina Boyd – After auditioning for a play, professor and student find themselves cast opposite each other as romantic leads.

Piece of Cake by Valentine Wheeler – All Richard wanted was a nice, quiet retirement. His kids aren’t going to let that happen.

Professor Ghost by Damian Serbu – An otherworldly mentor might be his way out.

Bare by Jack Harbon – When a passion for art turns into something more.

The Botanist’s Apprentice by Arden Powell – Don’t get too close to the flowers.

Excerpt

By Virtue Fall by Kashmira Majumdar
Jonah Shapiro is no model student, even by the lax standards of his preppy New England boarding school. His penchant for rule-breaking and leather makes him the bête noire of his teachers—except the earnest, tea-drinking, cardigan-wearing Mr. Donovan, who’s determined to not give up on Jonah. Life used to be simpler five years ago when Mr. Donovan was just Head Boy Nick and Jonah’s best friend. Easier, too, for Jonah to kiss him when it was dark and no one was watching. Now the rules of the game have changed, and so have the consequences for flouting them…

Striking Gold by S.A. James
The day Daniel met Silver shone brightly for a number of reasons. It was the last day of high school, but it was also the day he realized he could never leave home. Being the son of an alcoholic mom didn’t leave many choices for Daniel. He could only hope that life and love would treat him kindly.

Full Marks by Asta Idonea
Jacob Corby decides to attend his university reunion for one reason only: Professor Hobbs. Arthur Hobbs is surprised to see loner Jacob’s name on the attendance list, but it is enough to make him change his mind about going to the event. After all, he’s always harboured forbidden feelings for his favourite student.

Lessons for a Lifetime by Hudson Lin
When high school English teacher Patrick signs on to teach an adult ESL course on the weekends, he doesn’t know his life is about to change. Into the makeshift community center classroom walks Salim—tall, soulful, a refugee from Ethiopia with a heart for storytelling and a talent for music.

A midwinter offer to drive Salim home after class one week leads to the breakdown of the student-teacher boundary. As their relationship grows, the prospect of moving in together brings out both their insecurities about commitment and money. But working through differences makes them stronger and Patrick soon realizes that perhaps he had been the student all along.

Welcome to Ms Skinner’s Freshman Composition by Aila Alvina Boyd
After auditioning for a college production, a first year professor finds herself being cast as the romantic lead opposite her least favorite student. Just as it appears as though the production is going to be an utter failure, something clicks. From there on out, chemistry between the two of them no longer needs to be faked.

Piece of Cake by Valentine Wheeler
Richard’s daughters are worried about him, alone in his house after retirement, so they sign him up for a cooking class at the local community center. But what he ends up finding is more than just baked goods.

Professor Ghost by Damian Serbu
Antonio arrives on campus for his first day of college a little overwhelmed from the experience of moving from a rural area to the big city, not to mention that he firmly planted himself in the closet and intends to stay there. When a ghost appears before him on the first night, his terror gradually gives way to curiosity, as this hot specter promises to mentor him toward a better, and out, life at college.

Bare by Jack Harbon
Before his best friend went away for vacation, Levi Singh promised her that he would take life by the balls and live on the edge. So, when the nude model for his art class doesn’t show, Levi takes it upon himself to volunteer. To his surprise, no one seems to be staring too long at him. No one, that is, except for his professor.

When Noah Rose suggests working with him on an assignment after class, Levi suspects he might be looking for something else. Something Levi will happily give him.

The Botanist’s Apprentice by Arden Powell
Graduate student Eli Katz approaches the accomplished botanist, Robert Lord-Harding, to request access to his greenhouse of magical flora. Though Lord-Harding is reluctant to take on a new apprentice after the scandal of his last one, he is intrigued by Eli’s academic work, and agrees.

Eli is primarily interested in the violet man-eater, a carnivorous plant that preys on men by emitting a certain pheromone, luring them in close and then devouring them. Eli wants to return the man-eater to its classic status as a sexual performance enhancer, and spends his days studying the plant. But is it as safely secured in Lord-Harding’s greenhouse as they both believe, or will its pheromones wreak havoc with their new apprenticeship?

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Blog Tour for Sum of the Whole by Brenda Murphy with our Author Interview (Excerpt and Giveaway)

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Title:  Sum of the Whole

Author: Brenda Murphy

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: June 19

Heat Level: 4 – Lots of Sex

Pairing: Female/Female

Length: 50000

Genre: Contemporary, Contemporary, BDSM, age gap, interracial, businesswoman

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~Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words Interview with Brenda Murphy~

Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words is happy to have Brenda Murphy here today talking about writing, books, and her latest story Sum of the Whole!, Welcome, Brenda!

 

When did you write your first story and what was the inspiration for it?

The first story I submitted for publication was 1500 word short story and the inspiration came from a news headline. It was rejected but the editor gave me very good feedback and encouragement.

Do you have a writing schedule or do you just write when you can find the time?

I stick to a strict writing schedule and write from nine AM until one PM, Monday through Friday when my kids are in school. During the summer and when they are on break I write in bits and pieces, making use of whatever time I have. If I am deep into a story, I will write after they go to bed. I wrote my master’s thesis between the time they were born (I have twins) and when they were one. I learned how to write fast and make progress with little bits of time.

Briefly describe the writing process. Do you create an outline first? Do you seek out inspirational pictures, videos or music? Do you just let the words flow and then go back and try and make some sense out it?

I do a lot of pre-writing, backstory and such, coming up with my characters and the setting for the story. I make a playlist choosing a theme song for the lead character, and choose songs that create a mood for the book.  Once that is in place I create goal/motivation/conflict sheets for each character, write up a brief physical description and find a photo that will represent that character. After that I create a scene list writing down ideas as they come to me. Once I have a list, I transfer the scenes to 3×5 cards with a sentence or two about what has to happen in that scene to move the story forward. I lay them out and rearrange them on the floor of my office until the story flows. I know that a scene is about a thousand words so the number of cards used is about my word count, eighty cards would equal about eighty thousand words. I transfer the final organization of cards to Scrivner and then start typing.

Where did the desire to write LGBTQIA+ stories come from?

As a gender non-conforming queer woman I write the kind of stories I want read. Growing up there were very few books that featured LGBTQIA characters, and the ones that existed portrayed the characters in very negative ways and never had happy endings. 

How much research do you do when writing a story and what are the best sources you’ve found for giving an authentic voice to your characters?

I love to travel and talk to people. I always keep a travel journal and take notes/photographs to use in my stories.  To give my characters authentic voices I read ethnographic research, oral histories, and blogs. When I write outside my race/ethnicity, I have lovley friends who are willing to read my manuscript and give me feedback about my characters.

Synopsis

Jaya Pomroy falls desperately in love with Sarah while vacationing at an exclusive BDSM pleasure house. Unwilling to become Jaya’s possession, yearning for independence, Sarah refuses to leave with her and they part after a bitter fight.

Six years later they meet again. Fighting to leave her past behind, but unable to resist her attraction for Jaya, Sarah agrees to try again. Jaya has to cope with new rules and new roles. When a former client threatens to expose Sarah, Jaya risks everything to protect her.

Can their love survive in the real world filled with vengeful ex-lovers and deadly secrets?

Excerpt

Sum of the Whole
Brenda Murphy © 2017
All Rights Reserved

Jaya scrolled through the messages on her phone, rereading the instructions from the owner of the house. Her palms were sweaty in spite of the air conditioning. She shifted her hips, trying to find a comfortable spot on the broad leather seats.

“Do you wish to stop, Mistress? It’ll be at least an hour before we reach the house.” The driver’s husky voice matched her stocky build and ruddy face. Jaya appraised the thick hands wrapped around the wheel and the way the chauffeur’s livery draped her broad shoulders and considered it. The woman made eye contact with Jaya in the rearview mirror, one eyebrow raised and lips in a closed-mouth smile. Jaya imagined saying, “Yes, let us stop somewhere and I’ll flog you until we’re both satisfied,” but the instructions from Rowan House were explicit and interactions with the staff were not permitted outside the house.

“No.” Jaya kept her voice soft and let her gaze rest on the woman’s face in the mirror. “I’m tired of people staring at me.”

“You’re a sight, Ma’am, if you don’t mind me saying so.”

“You’d think they’d never seen a woman in a suit before.” Jaya left out the word “dark-skinned.”

“It’s your height, Ma’am. And you’re fetching in that suit. I imagine out of it as well.”

Jaya looked down. She had not flirted like this in years and it was wonderful, even if she knew it was not going to lead to anything more.

“Do you always flirt with your guests?” She relaxed her shoulders and sat back in the seat.

“Only the ones I find—” The driver looked at Jaya in the mirror. “Stunning.” She turned on the radio and went back to piloting the long, black town car through roundabouts as they left Armadale. As they traveled farther from the city, she was occupied dodging rough spots and the occasional mud-splattered sheep wandering along the edge of the single-track road.

Jaya sank into the soft leather seats, grateful for the distraction of the driver’s banter and the tinted windows, dark enough to hide her face from anyone who might try to catch a glimpse of the car’s passengers. On the ferry to Skye, she had caught more than one mother reminding her children not to stare. The curious faces of the children were better than the hard looks she got from the men on the ship. Half of them looked like they wanted to fuck her; the other half looked like they wanted to kill her. Some probably wanted to do both.

She had not anticipated how angry she would feel under the gaze of the other passengers. She had almost wished one of the rude men would start something so she could finish it. She had worn this suit to her father’s funeral, to her brother’s dismay. An orphan again at thirty-five. The high from the banter with the driver wore off and she slumped in her seat. She sifted through her memories of the last two years. Her father’s illness and slow death, her brother’s anger, and Deidre’s departure blended into an oppressing melancholy. What the hell was I thinking? Why am I looking for comfort here?

She could have chosen another venue for her adventure, but Jaya wanted to experience this house. The house Deidre spoke of as her home. She lied to herself, telling herself she chose this house because it was highly recommended as a discreet, old-school establishment dedicated to unique and personalized experiences.

Deidre. The woman of sorrows. Never was a woman more truly named. Jaya scrolled through the photos of Deidre on her phone. Brutal memories of their life together filled the emptiness of the ride. As they traveled farther into the country, the battery on her phone quietly expired. Jaya tucked it into her bag and let the rocking of the car soothe her as they drove past rough stone walls and rocky pastures.

Purchase

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

Meet the Author

 

Brenda Murphy writes both short stories and novels. She is a member of Romance Writers of America. Her non-fiction and fiction work has been published in various collections—most recently, “Whole Again” in First: Sensual Stories of New Beginnings (Ladylit Publishing, 2015).

When she is not writing or teaching cooking classes, she’s attempting to train an unrepentant parrot, much to her Ohioan family’s delight. She writes about life, books, and writing on her blog, writingwhiledistracted.com. She shares recipes and celebrates food on her blog, quinbykitchensideshow.com.

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Tour Schedule

 

6/19    Love Bytes – http://www.lovebytesreviews.com

6/19    Boy Meets Boy Reviews – Boymeetsboyreviews.blogspot.com

6/20    Scattered Thoughts and Roue Words – https://scatteredthoughtsandroguewords.com/

6/20    Liz’s Reading Life – http://lizjosette.blogpsot.com

6/20    Erotica For All – http://eroticaforall.co.uk

6/21    Happily Ever Chapter – https://www.facebook.com/happilyeverchapter

6/21    My Fiction Nook – http://myfictionnook.com

6/22    MM Good Book Reviews – https://mmgoodbookreviews.wordpress.com/

6/23    Wicked Faerie’s Tales and Reviews – http://wickedfaeriesreviews.blogspot.com

6/23    Divine Magazine – https://www.divinemagazine.biz/

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Release Day Blitz for Painting Class by Suzanne Clay (excerpt and giveaway)

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Title:  Painting Class

Series: Chiaroscuro, Book 1

Author: Suzanne Clay

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: June 5, 2017

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Female/Female

Length: 10300

Genre: Contemporary, erotica, contemporary, lesbian, artist, teacher/student, age-gap, interracial, light D/s

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Synopsis

Ainsley’s first gallery showing is way out of her comfort zone. After teaching high school art for over a decade, she can’t think of anywhere else she’d rather be than the classroom, and especially not in front of a crowd of strangers ogling her paintings.

Salvation comes in the form of an insightful young woman who coaxes Ainsley to open up about her inspiration, her drive, and her sexuality. Sparks fly before Ainsley realizes that the young woman is her former student, Noma, freshly graduated from college. As Ainsley fights to reconcile her memories of Noma with the woman she’s become, they fall into a playful game of dominance and submission that will change their relationship forever.

Excerpt

Painting Class
Suzanne Clay © 2017
All Rights Reserved

“You look like you might need this.”

Ainsley looked at the glass of wine hovering in front of her and smiled at her deliverance. “Thank you, Brent,” she murmured, exhaling shakily as she lifted it to her lips. Sipping carefully, she let the bouquet bloom on her tongue and checked that she hadn’t left a lipstick stain on the glass. “No one told me it was going to feel like this.”

“What, success?” Brent chuckled as he fit against the wall beside her, his hand tucked into his pocket, his suit neatly tailored as always. “Yeah, I feel like you probably should’ve anticipated this.”

Ainsley shook her head. Her bangs fell in her eyes as she ducked behind the rim of her glass. “I wouldn’t call this success. It’s a gallery showing.”

“That happens to have an open bar, an excellent setting, and a room full of people analyzing your work.” He gave her a look. “Babe, please, you’ve got something in your hand here that not a whole lot of us get.”

“Jealous?” she asked as she met his eyes and quirked a brow, trying to hide the curve of her smile.

“Oh, miserable,” Brent said dryly. “No, yeah, I absolutely wish I’d gone this route and not the one that got me my giant house.”

“Ouch.” Ainsley elbowed him. “You know, some of us weren’t lucky enough to bag a rich husband right out of college.”

“And some of us weren’t lucky enough to have actual talent,” he shot right back. He tilted his glass toward one of Ainsley’s paintings. “You worked with what you had, and I worked with what I had. Turns out you had the drive, and I had a rockin’ bod. And y’know, I think it worked out pretty damn well for the both of us.”

Ainsley laughed as she leaned into him. “You’re ridiculous.”

“Yeah, but it got you smiling, didn’t it?”

It had. Ainsley was thankful for Brent, really. These little bursts of comedic cattiness were a mask he hadn’t worn around her since they were in college, but it made her feel young again, not like they were nearing forty and trying to figure out where their lives had gone.

“You’ve gotta get back out there, kid,” Brent murmured near her ear. “Schmooze with the best of them.”

“Can’t you do that for me?” she whispered back.

“Boy, I wish,” he drawled. He touched a hand to the small of her back and nudged her. “Go on; get yourself some exposure. Sell some of those paintings. I wanna see one of them hanging in Madonna’s house by the end of the year.”

“Or it’ll be a wasted year,” Ainsley quipped back. But she let Brent guide her onto the gallery floor anyway. It’d be easier to hide in the corner and let her batteries recharge, but it’d also be a shame to waste this opportunity, especially if this was going to be her only gallery showing ever.

Ainsley hadn’t regretted her time working as a teacher. She really hadn’t. If she had to choose between every one of her paintings on the walls here and the thousands of students who’d come through her door, she’d pick the students a million times over. In her younger days as an undergrad, when she would quietly set up in a studio, picking the perfect paints for her canvas and thrilling herself with the feel of a brush in her hands, she might’ve said she craved the life of a gallery artist. But she’d changed. It felt like too selfish a life.

Should she have believed her art would change the world? She valued beauty. She valued a high aesthetic. Her statements were softness, silence, and warmth. And she’d be a fool if she pretended these were anything unique or groundbreaking. No, Ainsley found it more important to empower the next generation to create whatever statements they chose in whatever medium they preferred.

Still, Ainsley liked scratching things off her bucket list as much as the next person. She never imagined this show happening when she’d reached out on a whim, but it had, and now that she was here, she might as well soak it all up.

She approached her favorite piece, a lush field of flowers and two couples having a picnic within it. The two men were dressed in soft bowlers and fine suits, and the women, on their separate blanket, were lovely with their parasols and lace. Each couple had their hands gently knitted together between them, and their backs were to the viewer as they sat considering the sunset.

Perhaps she made more of a statement than she believed.

“Man, that’s really something.”

Ainsley smiled at hearing the soft voice behind her, at how low it was, how warm. It sounded exactly like she wanted her paintings to feel. She wondered if the speaker knew she was the artist and decided to take the risk they didn’t. But when there was no immediate response, no one the speaker had been sharing their thoughts with, Ainsley turned to take a look. A young woman stood there in a bright sundress. Her hair was teased out in a dyed green afro that played off the hazel of her eyes beautifully.

She was lovely. Ainsley immediately felt the itch in her fingers to paint again. It felt like coming home, but she couldn’t place why.

Purchase

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

Meet the Author

Suzanne is an asexual woman with a great love for writing erotica and enjoys spending her time confusing people with that fact. She believes there is a need for heightened diversity in erotic fiction and strives to write enough stories so that everyone can see themselves mirrored in a protagonist. She lives with her husband and cat, and, when not writing, Suzanne enjoys reading, playing video games poorly, and refusing to interact outdoors with other human beings.

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