An Ashlez Review: The Island Angel by Alex Slorra

Standard
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Jessica was a successful IT Director, but now she is on the run. Accused of fraud and orchestrating her company’s downfall, she travels as far as the island of Lindisfarne in Northumberland before breaking down.

There, an American, Anna Meyer, takes her in and offers kindness without questions. As they become closer, Jessica soon discovers Anna has her own much bigger problems and a past that comes knocking.

I’d say more 4.5/5 since there were a few slow moments, but holy moly this book was mostly fast paced and intriguing.  I love going into these fast paced books knowing not a whole lot, and I’m so glad I did.  I must say my fav character out of the book had to be Kermit, I honestly have a soft spot for animals in books and Kermit was an absolute joy to read about.  The interaction between the mains (Though kinda instalovey .. like most books) was really sweet and affectionate.

I loved the edition of another individual in their lives to care about, and I have to say the last 80% of the book I could not put it down, I knew things were going to come to a close in an exciting fashion, and they did .. explosion ! BAM kick you in the neck fun.

I never thought anything of the tides in the book (but heck it sounds like a great place to live, I’m a homebody) and the farm/fixer upper/lost soul just warmed my heart!

Definitely worth a read!

Cover – The background behind the girl really told a story, I thought the cover didn’t much need a woman on it, though maybe 2
Sales Links:   NineStar Press | Amazon
Book Details:
ebook
Published December 10th 2018 by NineStar Press
ISBN13 9781949909630
Edition Language English

Verity Croker on Writing, Characters and her new novel ‘ Jilda’s Ark’ (guest post)

Standard

Jilda’s Ark by Verity Croker

Harmony Ink Press
Cover Artist: Kanaxa

Sales Links:  AmazonBarnes & Noble | Harmony Ink Press | Dreamspinner Press

Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words is happy to host Verity Croker here today answering our author questions and talking about her latest story, Jilda’s Ark.

✒︎

 

Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words Interview with Verity Croker

Why do you write? With so much going on in the world today, do you write to explain? To get away? To move past? To widen our knowledge?

I write because I feel compelled to. An idea jumps into my head and then I become consumed by it and just have to write about it. Jilda’s Ark, my latest YA novel published by Harmony Ink Press, is about climate change and environmental refugees, important issues in this day and age, and I hope readers might think about the consequences of climate change for both humans and animals, while enjoying the romance at the center of the story. May Day Mine, my previous YA novel published by Harmony Ink Press in 2015, was an attempt to understand how a family who lives in the town where the mine collapse takes place reacts to and copes with the situation.

Does research play a role in choosing which genre you write? Do you enjoy research or prefer making up your worlds and cultures?

With May Day Mine, I had to do some research as it was based on a real event in Tasmania, Australia, where two miners were trapped in a very small space underground for two weeks after a rock fall in the mine. I wanted to get the facts right, as even though the story was fictional, the background event really happened and was extremely traumatic. I altered some of the facts, particularly related to the men involved, in order to disguise their identities – I changed the number of men trapped and killed, so that no one character matched a particular person. Jilda’s Ark is purely fictional, set in the near future, and it all just poured out onto the page like I was writing down the movie I was seeing in my head.

How much of yourself goes into a character?

The characters come to me and become real people as I write their story. Sometimes they amaze me with what they do, as I didn’t plan that or see it coming. The characters take over and I just go along for the ride, watching what they get up to and the decisions they make. I’m not sure whether parts of myself are in the characters, or they are completely independent. Perhaps I need to see what others who know me think about this, as I am too close to my characters.

How do you choose your covers?

I am incredibly lucky with Harmony Ink Press, as they allow me so much input into the cover design. I have a lot of opportunity to give feedback on different versions of the cover until both the designer and I are happy with the end result. I have been thrilled with the covers of both May Day Mine and Jilda’s Ark, and so pleased that I have been allowed so much input into the look of the final design.

If you could imagine the best possible place for you to write, where would that be and why?

I would love to write at a huge picture window in a house on a clifftop overlooking the ocean, so whenever I looked up from my computer I could see the waves, sand and sky. When I needed a break, I could walk on the beach and rejuvenate myself ready for the next chapter.

How do you feel about the ebook format and where do you see it going?

I think the ebook format is a great alternative to a paperback, or hardback, as you can carry so many of them around on your device, especially when on vacation. But, a physical book is so much better to read on a beach, as you don’t really want to get sand in your device, and the sun shining on the screen makes it difficult to read. And you don’t need to worry about battery life with a book! Another plus is you can easily share your books with your friends.

What’s next for you as an author?

I am in the middle of writing a book set in Antarctica, with romance once again at the center. I would like to keep writing young adult novels, as I find it so enjoyable and rewarding.

Blurb

What was supposed to be a sixteenth birthday celebration cruise for identical twins Jilda and Rosa quickly turns into a nightmare. While her mother and sister are enjoying an excursion on a Fijian island, Jilda, who is unwell and remains onboard, finds their ship has sailed off, leaving most of its passengers stranded on shore.

An unknown group has overtaken the ship. After a few days, they collect thousands of new passengers from a distant archipelago, making conditions onboard overcrowded and uncomfortable. Nobody seems to know where they are headed, so the mood on the ship rapidly deteriorates. Though Jilda is desperate to reunite with her family, she meets someone who comforts her and will completely change her world. But how will her new friend Jade feel when she learns Jilda has a boyfriend back home?

About the Author Verity Croker

Verity Croker writes across a variety of genres. Her novels for young adult readers, May Day Mine and Jilda’s Ark are published by Harmony Ink Press, US, and her chapter books for 8 to 12 year olds, Cyclone Christmas and Block City, are published by Sunshine Books, NZ. She is also a published author of short stories, newspaper articles, poetry, and travel articles. She teaches International students at the University of Tasmania in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia.

Social media:

https://veritycroker.wordpress.com/

https://www.facebook.com/veritycrokerwriter/

https://twitter.com/veritycroker?lang=en

Release Blitz and Giveaway for Bitten By Her (Regent’s Park Pack #4.5) by Annabelle Jacobs

Standard

 

Buy Links: Amazon US | Amazon UK
 
Length: 43,000 words approx.
 
Cover Design: Natasha Snow
 
Regent’s Park Pack Series
 
Book #1 – Bitten By Mistake – Amazon US | Amazon UK
Book #2 – Bitten By Design – Amazon US | Amazon UK
Book #3 – Bitten By Desire – Amazon US | Amazon UK
Book #4 – Bitten By The Alpha – Amazon US | Amazon UK
 
Blurb
 

Brought together by fate, torn apart by family.


Rachel Tregarrak, Penwith pack beta and daughter of the alpha, has always called the rugged Cornish coast her home. With its beautiful landscapes, bracing sea air, and vast spaces to run, she can’t imagine living anywhere else.


After years of living with her mother in her grandfather’s pack, Sara Gallen returns to Penzance to be with her alpha father and her brothers. She wants to build their relationships, get to know the rest of her family better than occasional visits allow.


When their paths cross on the full moon, the attraction is immediate and instinctive. But Sara’s father refuses to allow such a union and forbids any further contact. Sara finds solace with her grandmother in her alpha council residence, and Rachel is sent to a London pack to keep her out of trouble. Both women feel the desperate ache of an uncompleted bond, but unless they find a way to be together, it’ll fade to nothing and their connection will be lost.

Annabelle Jacobs lives in the South West of England with three rowdy children, and two cats. An avid reader of fantasy herself for many years, Annabelle now spends her days writing her own stories. They’re usually either fantasy or paranormal fiction, because she loves building worlds filled with magical creatures, and creating stories full of action and adventure. Her characters may have a tough time of it—fighting enemies and adversity—but they always find love in the end.
Twitter – https://twitter.com/AJacobs_fiction
Website – www.annabellejacobs.com
Email – ajacobsfiction@gmail.com
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/ajacobsfiction 

Giveaway

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

Hosted By Signal Boost Promotions

 

RELEASE DAY BLITZ EXPOSED ANTHOLOGY (a novel taken promo)

Standard

Title: EXPOSED: A Romance Anthology

Publisher: Karen Stivali

Release Date (Print & Ebook): March 13, 2018

Length (Print & Ebook): ~400k words

Subgenre: contemporary romance/mixed pairings

Of note: This collection contains m/f, m/m, f/f and menage stories, some of which contain BDSM

Order:

Amazon http://amzn.to/2C8PkWV
iBooks 
https://apple.co/2BR74KR
Barnes & Noble 
http://bit.ly/2Bln8U3
Kobo 
http://bit.ly/2nWp6lz

Book blurb:

Hot. Naked. Guys. Reading.
When the sexiest Top 30 Under 30 men agree to pose naked for the “Expose Yourself To A Good Book” charity calendar, their hot bodies aren’t the only thing that gets EXPOSED. Nine brand new romances with M/F, M/M, F/F and menage pairings from bestselling and award winning authors, there’s something for everyone in this limited release anthology.

Annabeth Albert
LEVEL UP

When Landon, a genius physicist, is picked for a charity calendar, he must deal with an inconvenient attraction to Bailey, his rising-star photographer. Can he slay enough demons from his past to ensure a future together with him?

Karen Booth
WISHING

Jobless and painfully single, Samantha agrees to drive musician Duncan to a photo shoot. He’s in town for only five days, so sexy, and she’s eager for a no-strings fling. But Duncan shoots straight for the heart, making her unsure how she’ll ever survive his goodbye.

Amy Jo Cousins
KATE LIKES GIRLS

Garden center manager Kate Rhee is on a mission. No more hook ups with women or second-guessing her recent break up with an unavailable man. Too bad the foxy, pink-haired bar owner she meets at a naked calendar photo shoot has sworn off girlfriends. Because Kate isn’t doing casual. She can totally resist that temptation. Totally.

Robin Covington
GHOST

Oliver Burns publicly bragged he’d sign the reclusive artist “G”- creator of the First Nations graphic novel, Ghost Warriors – to his comic publishing company. But that gets tough when “G” is Gareth Rain – the man he pulled a post-one-night-stand runner on years ago and the man he’s never forgotten.

Vanessa North
RIGGED

For Kaitlyn, seeing her best friend Gordon naked is no big deal—until watching Sean tie him up changes everything.

Tamsen Parker
THROWN OFF TRACK

Teague has been License to Game’s bassist for over a decade, during which time he’s slept with almost everyone in his path. But it’s always felt like going through the motions. Until he sees his bandmate Christian naked at a charity photoshoot and suddenly, he knows what it is to want.

Roan Parrish
NATURAL ENEMIES

When buttoned-up botanist Stefan Albemarle meets freewheeling urban gardener Milo Rios, it’s hatred at first sight. But hatred quickly turns to lust as Milo shows him how exquisite it can feel to lose control. When opposites attract, love blooms in unexpected places.

Tiffany Reisz
THE WATERMARK

Jason “Still” Waters’ life looks perfect from the outside—money, fame, and the words “World Champion Bull-Rider” after his name. But Jason has a secret, one he never planned on telling anybody…until he meets Simone. She’s the kinky girl of his dreams…and his conservative family’s worst nightmare.

Karen Stivali
LEGAL BRIEFS

When organizing a naked charity calendar puts Rose’s tenure bid in jeopardy, the last person she wants help from is Michael, the gorgeous, arrogant lawyer she butted heads with during his shoot. He’ll defend her for free, but if their secrets come out they could both pay with their hearts.

“The authors of this anthology are hoping to show readers that romance series, like the real world, should reflect our society and should feature the stories of people falling in love without regard to their gender and sexuality. That is why you’ll find m/f, m/m, f/f and menage stories all within this collection.” –Karen Stivali, Curator and Publisher, Exposed: A Romance Anthology

One of my favorite things about my friends in the romance community, aside from their stellar writing skills, is their passionate commitment to having romance novels depict healthy, loving relationships featuring people of all orientations falling in love in varied combinations. The premise for this anthology is that indie bookstore owner Emma Davis and her best friend, college professor Rose Everheart, both owe a debt of gratitude to the literacy foundation that changed their lives. When they’re trying to come up with an idea to raise money for the foundation, they combine the viral popularity of Hot Dudes Reading with the enormous success of the Naked Rowers charity calendars and the idea for Hot Naked Guys Reading is born.” –Karen Stivali, Curator and Publisher, Exposed: A Romance Anthology

“The calendar will feature men who are not only irresistibly sexy, but have been named to Top 30 Under 30 lists in their respective fields, posed in famous libraries throughout the country. The Expose Yourself to a Good Book campaign draws the attention of photographers, reporters and other professionals. People often find love where they least expect it, when they’re not looking for it, so this anthology explores the journeys of not only the models but the crew, the organizers and all the people brought together in the creation of this charity calendar. Readers will find m/f, m/m, f/f and ménage stories, told by award-winning and bestselling authors from the romance community in this limited-release collection.” –Karen Stivali, Curator and Publisher, Exposed: A Romance Anthology

Teaser from Karen Stivali’s LEGAL BRIEFS:

“I missed you.” He murmurs the word as he kisses his way back up to my neck and latches on, his erection pressing into me, making me wish our clothes would magically disappear.

His phone rings and I feel the vibration against my hip.

He fumbles to grab it and glances at the screen. “Shit. I have to take this.” He swipes at the screen looking worried and barks, “What?”

I can’t hear the other side of the conversation, but his face quickly relaxes.

“No, it’s fine. I just can’t talk. I have a…pressing matter to attend to.” He rolls his eyes and I can see him willing the other person to stop talking. “Okay. Call you tomorrow.”

“Everything okay?”

He slides the phone onto the counter and returns his hands to me, grinding against me again. “Yes. Just my brother. Nothing important.”

“Did you refer to your dick as a ‘pressing matter’?”

He grins and kisses me, rubbing against me again. “Is it pressing?”

“Yes,” the word comes out as a groan as he hits just the right spot.

“Does it matter?” He swivels again, and I sigh, dropping my head against his chest.

“Yes.”

“I rest my case.”

About the authors:

Annabeth Albert grew up sneaking romance novels under the bed covers. Now, she devours all subgenres of romance out in the open—no flashlights required! When she’s not adding to her keeper shelf, she’s a multi-published Pacific Northwest romance writer.  The #OutOfUniform series joins her critically acclaimed and fan-favorite LGBTQ  romance #Gaymers, #PortlandHeat and #PerfectHarmony series.

To find out what she’s working on next and other fun extras, check out her website: www.annabethalbert.com or connect with Annabeth on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Spotify! Also, be sure to sign up for her newsletter for free ficlets, bonus reads, and contests. The fan group, Annabeth’s Angels, on Facebook is also a great place for bonus content and exclusive contests.

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

Connect with Annabeth: Twitter | Facebook | Facebook Group | Newsletter | Instagram | Website

***

Karen Booth is a Midwestern girl transplanted in the South, raised on ‘80s music, and forever envious of Judy Blume. She is the author of more than twenty sexy contemporary romances.

Connect with Karen:

Website https://karenbooth.net

Twitter https://twitter.com/karenbbooth

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/karenboothauthor/

Pinterest  https://www.pinterest.com/karenbbooth/

***

Amy Jo Cousins writes contemporary romance and erotica about smart people finding their own best kind of smexy. She lives in Chicago with her son, where she tweets too much, sometimes runs really far, and waits for the Cubs to win the World Series again.

Connect with Amy Jo:

Website: http://amyjocousins.com/

FB: https://www.facebook.com/AmyJoCousins/

FB reader group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1583199461964237/

Newsletter sign-up: http://amyjocousins.com/newsletter/

Bookbub: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/amy-jo-cousins

Twitter: https://twitter.com/_AJCousins

GR: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/259275.Amy_Jo_Cousins

***

A USAToday bestseller, Robin Covington loves to explore the theme of fooling around and falling in love in her books. Her stories burn up the sheets. . .one page at a time. When she’s not writing she’s collecting tasty man candy, indulging in a little comic book geek love, hoarding red nail polish and stalking Chris Evans.

  

A 2016 RITA® Award finalist, Robin’s books have won the National Reader’s Choice and Golden Leaf Awards and finaled in the Romantic Times Reviewer’s Choice, and the Book Seller’s Best.

 

She lives in Maryland with her handsome husband, her two brilliant children (they get it from her, of course!), and her beloved furbabies, Dutch and Dixie Joan Wilder (Yes – THE Joan Wilder)

 

Drop her a line at robin@robincovingtonromance.com – she always writes back.

Connect with Robin:

Email: robin@robincovingtonromance.com

Website: http://www.robincovingtonromance.com

Facebook Profile: http://on.fb.me/YSW9n3

Facebook Page: http://on.fb.me/1fCyWuQ

Twitter: https://twitter.com/RobinCovington

Tumblr: http://robincovingtonromance.tumblr.com

Instagram: https://instagram.com/robincovington/

Pinterest: http://bit.ly/1c1Tm5u

Amazon Follow: http://amzn.to/1L2PrAG

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5812874.Robin_Covington

Street Team: http://on.fb.me/1hZdeEu

Book+Main Bites: https://bookandmainbites.com/users/1756

Bookbub Follow: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/robin-covington

Newsletter sign up: http://bit.ly/1hde9GD

***

Vanessa North is a romance novelist, a short fiction geek, and a knitter of strange and wonderful things living her own HEA in Northwest Georgia with her husband, twin boy-children, and a very, very large dog.

Connect with Vanessa:

Website: vanessanorth.com

Facebook profile page: facebook.com/AuthorVanessaNorth

Twitter: @byVanessaNorth

Goodreads: goodreads.com/VanessaNorth 

Patreon: http://patreon.com/vanessanorth

***

Tamsen Parker is a stay-at-home mom by day, USA Today bestselling erotic romance writer by naptime. Her novella CRAVING FLIGHT was named to the Best of 2015 lists of Heroes and Heartbreakers, Smexy Books, Romance Novel News, and Dear Author. Heroes and Heartbreakers called her Compass series “bewitching, humorous, erotically intense and emotional.”

She lives with her family outside of Boston, where she tweets too much, sleeps too little and is always in the middle of a book. Aside from good food, sweet rieslings and gin cocktails, she has a fondness for monograms and subway maps. She should really start drinking coffee.

Connect with Tamsen:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/tamsenparker

FB: https://www.facebook.com/tamsenparker/

FB Reader Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1585025098209507/

Website: http://tamsenparker.com/

Newsletter Sign-Up: http://eepurl.com/8GBJX

BookBub: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/tamsen-parker

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Tamsen-Parker/e/B00PMCWTDC/

***

Roan Parrish lives in Philadelphia, where she is gradually attempting to write love stories in every genre.

Connect with Roan: website | newsletter | facebook group | twitter | instagram | pinterest | bookbub | amazon | goodreads | book+main bites

***

Tiffany Reisz lives in Lexington, Kentucky with her husband, author Andrew Shaffer. She has won a RITA Award (The Saint), a Lambda Award (The King), and two RT Booklovers Editor’s Choice Awards (The Siren and One Hot December). Find her online at TiffanyReisz.com.

Connect with Tiffany:

TiffanyReisz.com

facebook.com/littleredridingcrop

instagram.com/tiffany_reisz

***

Karen Stivali is the multiple award winning author of over twenty straight and LGBTQ+ contemporary romances. She writes novels about love…like real life, only hotter.

Connect with Karen:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/karenstivali

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/karenstivali

Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/karenstivali/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5170527.Karen_Stivali

Reader group: Stivali’s Steam Team https://www.facebook.com/groups/671373056322979/

Blog: http://karenstivali.com

Newsletter: http://eepurl.com/csUiGr 

B+M: https://bookandmainbites.com/KarenStivali

Giveaway information:

Prize: Enter to win one of three e-copies of any backlist books by any of the contributing authors.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

https://widget-prime.rafflecopter.com/launch.js

Direct Link: http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/88d45f0351/

New Release Blitz for Sweethearts by Gemma Gilmore (excerpt and giveaway)

Standard

Title:  Sweethearts

Author: Gemma Gilmore

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: January 29, 2018

Heat Level: 2 – Fade to Black Sex

Pairing: Female/Female

Length: 62600

Genre: Contemporary, LGBT, YA, high school, friends to lovers, alcohol use, visual arts, coming out, teen pregnancy, coming of age, slow burn

Add to Goodreads

Synopsis

When seventeen-year-old Ingrid Harper realizes she may not have the talent to pursue a scholarship for the most prestigious art school in Australia, she turns to pink hair dye as a distraction.

Her new hair captures the attention of a fellow art student, Kat, who introduces Ingrid to the LGBT clubbing scene, and although Ingrid enjoys partying with her new friend, she becomes caught up in confusion about her sexuality. Her fear is overwhelming—she can’t think about anything else.

Until her best friend, Summer, reveals that she is pregnant.

As her best friend faces the realities of being pregnant at seventeen, Ingrid is shown the true definition of courage. It motivates her to come out about her sexuality—she likes girls. Only girls. Now she just has to work out what that means for the other areas of her life.

Excerpt

Sweethearts
Gemma Gilmore © 2018
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One
I am desperately trying not to attract attention.

My arms are folded across my chest. My chin is tucked into my neck. I am leaning against the brick wall as I watch her sing. It takes every ounce of strength I have to keep my face still, hiding any expression that bubbles to the surface. Any reaction I have to her lilting voice is shoved down, adding to the pit in my stomach.

The younger students are sitting respectfully in their seats. They are still too naive to question the teachers when they are told they must be present. I know better than to think that this school performance is anything special to Amber Freeman. She’s been singing since before she could walk, and although I am always the first viewer, her YouTube videos are gaining more and more popularity with every upload. This is just practice to her. A warm-up.

The spotlights are trained on her, and she throws her hands up whilst the climax of the song cascades from her talented lips. I let my eyes flicker shut and Amber’s voice surrounds me, caressing my ears as she sings deeply. Her voice is crashing through me, tingling across the skin on my arms and seeping through my body, calming me.

My head has fallen back against the wall, and I remain frozen there as I listen to her sing. In this moment, nothing else matters. With my eyes closed, she’s right next to me. Singing softly, untying the knot that’s sunken deep into that pit in the bottom of my stomach.

“Ingrid? What the hell are you doing?” The voice that hisses right next to my ear jerks me out of my daydream.

I jump with shock and wrench my eyes open, tearing myself away from the peaceful moment. In front of me, my best friend Summer stands, her arms folded across her chest and her eyes wide in that you are busted expression.

“Jesus,” I mutter. “I thought you had better things to do than sneak up on people. Way to give me a heart attack.”

“I thought you had better things to do than stand here creepily at the back of the gym listening to Amber sing,” Summer challenges me, an amused smile dancing across her full lips.

“You snuck up on me and you’re calling me the creep?” I snort. “Come on, let’s get out of here.”

The quicker I can get Summer outside of this gym, the quicker I can shove away the fact that she caught me watching Amber’s performance. We duck behind the last row of seating and out of the door in the corner of the room, swiftly ignoring the Emergency Exit Only sign. We’ve done this so many times now that it’s like second nature.

Outside, the rain lashes against the building. The wind howls so loudly that I’m surprised no one noticed our little escape from the gymnasium—then again, they never do. For Summer, there’s more to life than just sitting in a desk at school. Any chance my best friend has to escape the mundane restrictions of life is an opportunity she must take. She’s never been the kind of girl to follow the traditional paths.

Then again, neither have I.

My thoughts still spin as we duck through the car park and head out to the tin shed at the back of the school. Summer knew exactly where to find me during Amber’s performance. She knows that I watch Amber. While everyone else in our grade snuck off to make out in abandoned classrooms or smoke cigarettes behind the main building, I followed the crowd into the gymnasium with one intention.

Why did I need to watch her?

“I had a headache and the gym was dark.” I shrug off Summer’s curious stare as we take shelter under the tin roof. The rain really lashes down now, bouncing off the pavement and whipping through the trees. “It was better than watching you make out with Jackson for an hour straight.”

My snide comment is low but, right now, I’ll do anything to take the attention away from me.

“You had a headache, so you decided to listen to Amber sing?” Summer rolls her eyes at me. “Makes sense.”

She fidgets with her oversized tartan scarf, staring out into the rain. Maybe I’m not the only one who is trying to avoid things today.

“You were in there too,” I argue half-heartedly. “What’s your obsession with her?”

This time, Summer does turn to me. “I’m obsessed?” She snorts. “Ingrid, honey, if I’m obsessed, then you’re deranged.”

“Then I’m deranged.”

Summer rolls her eyes, signalling the end of that particular conversation. “Whatever. Your deeply disturbing issues are the least of my problems right now. Look, Ingrid, I think I’m going to have to take a test.”

Red splotches gleam against Summer’s pale cheeks, and I watch her carefully. She tugs on that scarf like it’s strangling her.

“Like an STD test?”

“Are you stupid?” I know her voice is harsher than intended, and I brush it off with a blunt laugh. “A pregnancy test.”

“Oh, for god’s sake, here we go again. You and Jackson really need to invest in some efficient birth control because this I’m pregnant freak-out that you have every month is getting boring.”

“Trust me, I know.” Her tone is suddenly tense, and she blinks back emotion. “But right now, I’m pretty sure I have the devil’s spawn growing inside of me, so I’m allowed to freak out. I’m two weeks late.”

I raise my eyebrows. She’s never been this late before. “Jackson is not the devil’s spawn. You know he loves you. But I highly doubt you’re pregnant. It’s all the stress from thinking you’re pregnant every month starting to get to you.”

“Yeah, okay, whatever.” She says, throwing her hands up in defeat. “I knew I shouldn’t have said anything. I don’t know what you’re moping about—we got a free class and you got to watch Amber singing. It’s a damn good day for Ingrid Harper right now.”

“Listen, I really did just have a headache. I don’t care about Amber’s singing. And you and Jackson were quite obviously distracted. You didn’t seem to have pregnancy on your mind during that public make-out session. Or maybe you did. Either way, I think it’s a damn good day for both of us, don’t you think?”

I know what Summer is doing. She is the ultimate denier of reality. More than that, she is aware that I will follow along with every topic change she throws at me. I get distracted easily, apparently.

Summer laughs, but the smile doesn’t quite reach her eyes. Distraction is inevitable right now, for both of us. These are not issues we should be faced with at seventeen years old. Summer’s mother is getting married soon, so that’s just one more thing to top off what I’m coining Summer’s Distressing Summer.

We stand silently as the rain pours over the sides of the flimsy tin roof. Muddy water pools right to the edges of the door. It’s mid-December. While politicians are throwing around the term climate change like it’s currency, I stare at the pools of water near this emergency exit, wondering if our town has sufficient flood safety plans.

“Come over tonight,” she murmurs. “Please, Ingrid.”

“You’re buying me McDonald’s.” I sigh in return. The truth is, I have my own things to worry about, whether Summer is pregnant or not. She’s been with Jackson for three years—that’s three years they have successfully been together and prevented pregnancy. It’s not a possibility. It just isn’t.

Summer is wild, just like her name. Her light-brown hair is constantly tangled, but her dominating blue eyes seem to distract everyone.

But today, she stares out at the grey sky and nervously chews at her lip, clutching that damn scarf so tightly that I know she’s already certain about this pregnancy. More so than I’ve ever seen before. Her blue eyes don’t seem so bright today.

“I heard Jackson was thinking about transferring to the art school. I didn’t think that boy had an artistic bone in his body.” I smirk, desperately trying to relax Summer. I don’t know what to say when she’s so shut off like this. My lie is smooth, slipping off my lips easily.

“Yeah, he does comics. I don’t know, I guess they’re funny.”

“It’s our last year of high school. Surely he’s left it a bit late?” I frown in earnest now.

What Summer doesn’t know is that I’ve known Jackson a lot longer than she has. I know that he’s been wanting to do art since he started high school, but his military-driven father would never allow it—he’s all about physical education, mathematics, and science. He used to drill that into Jackson every time I was around; none of this fairy fluff nonsense, he would say pointedly.

“Look, Ingrid, I don’t really want to talk about Jackson right now,” Summer snaps, finally releasing the titan grip on her checked scarf and running a frustrated hand through her frizzy hair.

“Do you even want me to stay tonight then?” I throw back. “I can’t deal with you when you’re being like this. Either let me in or let me go. I’ve got shit to do.”

To my complete surprise, Summer snorts as she turns to face me. “Just shut up and come and sleep over at my house. I need your brutal honesty, but I also need you to do literally everything I say right now. You know I’d do the same for you.”

I don’t bother telling her that to be in her position, I’d actually have to get closer than two feet to a guy, but I think she already knows that.

“Look, I don’t like that you called Jackson the devil before. I don’t care if he’s annoying sometimes, if you are…pregnant…it’s definitely not the devil’s spawn that could be growing inside of you. And that’s all I’m going to say about that,” I huff.

“Okay, I didn’t know you were Jackson’s number-one cheerleader, but whatever.”

“Yeah, whatever.”

Purchase

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

Meet the Author

Gemma Gilmore is graduated from university with a degree in Journalism and a passion for writing and travelling. In 2016 she was awarded a highly competitive residency with the Tasmanian Writers Centre. When she’s not writing YA fiction, she’s spontaneously booking trips across the world so she can draw inspiration from new cultures and places.

Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

 

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 Free Dreamer Review: Olympia Knife by Alysia Constantine

Standard

Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Born into a family of flying trapeze artists, Olympia Knife has one small problem: When her emotions rise, she becomes invisible. Everyone in the traveling circus has learned to live with this quirk; they banded together to raise Olympia in a loving environment when her parents vanished midair during their act, never to return. But the same fate befalls Arnold, the world’s shortest man, followed by one act after another, until the show is a crumbling mess of tattered tents and terrified troupers. Into this chaos walks Diamond the Danger Eater. Olympia and Diamond forge a friendship, then fall in love, and, together, resolve to stand the test of time, even as the world around them falls apart.

The first word that comes to my mind when I think about Olympia Knife is strange. Closely followed by sad. And kind of creepy. I’ve never read anything like this and I was a bit unsure whether I liked it or not. But it’s so unusual and memorable, I just had to give it the full five stars.

First things first: This is classified as literary/genre fiction and as such doesn’t have much of a love story and definitely not your run-of-the-mill HEA. The ending is very open and leaves many questions unanswered. I’m not always a fan of open ends, but in this case it fit the tone of the whole book perfectly.

I love circus settings, especially historical ones. They give you so many possibilities. It can be utterly magical and charming or it can be utterly terrifying and creepy. Olympia Knife was definitely more creepy than charming, though it did have a bit of a magical air.

People keep disappearing in the middle of their acts, Olympia keeps turning invisible and there are some other otherworldly things going on, so I guess this would qualify as Fantasy. The circus acts, especially those in the sideshow, are all fakes and don’t have any magical abilities. The correct genre correct is probably magic realism, combining reality with some fantastic elements. It’s an unusual genre and I really enjoyed it.

There isn’t all that much action but I didn’t mind. This was a very slow book and it was all about the atmosphere of the book. I was completely immersed into the world and it sometimes took a while for me to resurface.

At times, this book does get pretty brutal and very intense. It was a hard read and it really took a lot out of me. “Olympia Knife” is such a gritty, intense and heartbreaking read. It’s one of the most extraordinary books I’ve ever read.

If you’re looking for an easy, magical romance, this is definitely not the book for you. I think this is a case of love it or hate it. And I loved it. I’ll have to keep an eye out for future releases by this author. If you’re easily triggered, you might want to check out the content warnings on the publisher’s page.

The cover is utterly gorgeous. It’s the kind of cover that I’d love to have in my physical bookshelf, just to show it off.

Sales Links:  Interlude Press | Amazon

Book details: ebook, 212 pages

Published November 2nd 2017 by Interlude Press

A Julia Review: Ardulum: Second Don (Ardulum #2) by J. S. Fields

Standard

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The Charted Systems are in pieces. Mercy’s Pledge is destroyed, and her captain dead. With no homes to return to, the remaining crew sets off on a journey to find the mythical planet of Ardulum—a planet where Emn might find her people, and Neek the answers she’s long sought. Finding the planet, however, brings a host of uncomfortable truths about Ardulum’s vision for the galaxy and Neek’s role in a religion that refuses to release her. Neek must balance her planet’s past and the unchecked power of the Ardulans with a budding relationship and a surprising revelation about her own genealogy.

Ardulum: Second Don blends space opera elements and hard science into a story about two women persistently bound to their past and a sentient planet determined to shape their future.

Ardulum: Second Don by J. S. Fields is the second book in the Ardulum-series of sci-fi novels. After reviewing the first one, I was curious to see how Neek’s and Emn’s journey would continue.

Just like with the first novel the worldbuilding is very impressive. There is a great variety of different alien species each with their own unique cultural and societal customs, technologies, appearances and ways of communication. Humans in general take a rather backseat role in this one with the plethora of other species able to shine, which I greatly appreciated. Though I’m usually not an avid reader of sci-fi, I could tell that the author put a great deal of work into constructing alien technologies and abilities that seemed plausible and followed clearly defined rules. I also enjoyed the use of gender-neutral pronouns in the case of species that were either officially gender-neutral or separated gender into three different categories.

From the start, I became a fan of Emn and how her character was developing throughout the story. I loved witnessing her maturing into a brave and determined young woman. However, I found that Neek’s character fell a bit short in comparison to Emn’s and was a bit of a step down from the first novel. She had just seemed somewhat more adamant before and at times her motives or line of reasoning would confuse me a bit. The same goes for Nicholas. I wished his own personal motives, troubles and opinions would have come through more. For the most part he felt like the nice guy who was coming along just for the heck of it.

I also had a bit of a problem with the way Neek’s and Emn’s relationship was unfolding. Though they were both clearly attracted to one another, Neek was rather hesitant about dealing with her feelings and openly acknowledging them in front of Emn for quite a while. She claimed that she did not know how to behave towards Emn because of her people worshipping Ardulans like Emn as gods. That just seemed a bit too out of character for me considering Neek’s attitude and behaviour from the first book. Now I don’t mind a slow build up towards a romantic relationship at all. However, I’m not a big fan of “delaying the inevitable”, so to speak, once it comes to the point where the mutual attraction between two characters is obvious not only to the readers but to the characters themselves. On the other hand, I did very much appreciate how open and direct Emn was from the start concerning her interest in Neek – it greatly added to her character for me.

Like in the previous entry, the point of view changes quite a bit between a handful of characters. I rather liked some of the new ones who got introduced like Arik.

All in all, I enjoyed the book though it didn’t capture my interest quite in the same way the first one did. I would definitely recommend this series to fans of sci-fi and space adventures since there is a lot of detailed worldbuilding to be appreciated. Readers looking for some hot, romantic action might want to look elsewhere though.

The cover by Natasha Snow is pretty to look at and the colours certainly pop. However, it strikes me as a bit generic and bland. I’d have preferred it if it featured a more direct connection to the story or art of a particular character instead.

Sales Links:  NineStar Press | Amazon

Book Details:

ebook, 278 pages

Published October 9, 2017

by NineStar Press

ISBN: 978-1-947139-95-4

Edition Language: English

A Julia Review: Figure Study (Chiaroscuro #2) by Suzanne Clay

Standard

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Ainsley and her former student Noma face the aftermath of their unexpected one-night stand in this second story of Chiaroscuro.

The night Ainsley spent gently dominating Noma was far more intimate than any scene she’d ever been in before. The intensity of playing with someone she’d taught and cared about was a completely different experience–and twice as intimidating. She’d had two options: turn Noma away and never see her again, or let her stay for a few hours more.

The years away from scenes have left Ainsley eager for play but unsteady in her role. And memories of a younger Noma, when their relationship was student and mentor, only add to the confusion. A return to familiar ropes and knots, an erotic bondage play, helps Ainsley regain a sense of control and face her vulnerabilities. She must learn to see Noma as an adult woman in every way, risking a dangerous power imbalance, even as her heart begins to yearn for intimacy she’s long hidden from.

As they delve into new scenes, Ainsley and Noma confront past pain and baggage. Only by facing their fear of opening up can they learn to trust each other and share something deeper.

Figure Study by Suzanne Clay is the second part in the Chiaroscuro-series of short stories featuring painter and art teacher Ainsley and her former student Noma. After reviewing the first entry a while back, I was excited to come back to this. If you plan on reading this series, you should definitely start with previous story “Painting Class”.

The story picks up right where the previous one ended as Ainsley finds herself making breakfast after sharing an intense body painting session with a former student of hers. Since this is a short story the entirety of it takes place in Ainsley’s house over the course of half a day. The author threw in some nice details of Ainsley’s living space to get a better picture of her personal habits.

Normally I dedicate only a short paragraph to the sex scenes but in this case they are tightly interwoven with the progression of the plot as well as character development. As Noma and Ainsley continue to intimately explore each other’s needs, bodies and desires, they also get closer to one another on an emotional and very personal level. That is why I will go into more detail about the erotic aspects this time – and they are definitely worth it.

Just like the previous one does this story focus on BDSM scenes with Ainsley acting as the domme and Noma as the submissive. The author did quite a good job in dealing with the subject as the more experienced Ainsley is easing Noma into it, so even (or especially) someone who is not too familiar with the subject can get into it. I very much liked the emphasis on open communication and mutual respect for the other person’s boundaries. And not to mention, the sex scenes themselves are of course quite hot and wonderfully explicit.

Noma also talks a bit about some negative experiences she had that shaped her initial expectations of dominance and submission. It is quite heart-warming to witness how she opens herself up and is truly touched by Ainsley’s care for her. Ainsley in turn is dealing with her own trepidations in returning to the position of domme after having been inactive for quite some time as well as the responsibilities (and pleasures) that come with it. I found the careful dance between those two as they try their best to make each other feel safe rather engrossing. All the while there is the underlying, unspoken question of whether there is any hope for this relationship to continue beyond this one encounter of passion. You very much get the feeling that both women want it to but are unsure on how the other person feels.

The continuation of this story certainly did not disappoint. This entry has definitely made the characters much more endearing to me to the point where I’m rooting for them and their blossoming relationship. I loved how the author told us so much about them within this brief period of time through their interactions and care for one another. I’ll be looking forward to reading and reviewing the next chapter of their story.

The cover art by Natasha Snow is very beautiful and spot-on just like last time. I love the way the rope just pops out but at the same harmonizes wonderfully with the colourless body and emphasizes its contours.

Sales Links:  NineStar Press | Amazon

Book Details:

ebook, 58 pages

Published September 25, 2017

by NineStar Press

ISBN: 978-1-947139-90-9

Edition Language: English

A Julia Review: Painting Class ( Chiaroscuro #1) by Suzanne Clay

Standard

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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.

Painting Class by Suzanne Clay is the first, short introduction to former teacher/student-couple Ainsley and Noma and (possibly) the start of their future relationship. It almost reads itself like the first couple of chapters of a novel. And I am intrigued to read more.

Ainsley is an art teacher as well as an artist who amongst other styles focuses on bodypainting. It was good to read about a character who has so clearly found her passion in life despite still being nervous about presenting her art pieces to the public. Noma on the other hand appears at first glance to be very sure of herself and her ambitions (especially those concerning her former teacher). I liked how the two of them started getting to know each other again, after Noma had been Ainsley’s favourite student a few years back.   

Despite their roles as former teacher and student, it seems very much like Noma is the one who is much less nervous and totally in control – at first, that is. I really enjoyed the dynamic between those two and how they both seem to engage in a bit of a power struggle with Ainsley clearly gaining the upper hand later on (and not at all to Noma’s displeasure). The author did a lovely job at highlighting how the tables can turn once the setting is moved from a public to a private one and Ainsley finds herself more confident and at ease when practicing her art.

The body-painting-turned-sexual scene between those two is rather explicit and involves light elements of d/s. It is quite endearing (and hot) how these two discover each other’s experiences and preferences in that regard. And the painting aspect adds an additional layer of sensuality to it.

I quite enjoyed reading Painting Class though I was surprised by its length. Since the author intends to continue the story of Ainsley and Noma, it’s not really a self-contained short story. And it is also too short for a novella or novel. But then again, the quality and potential are definitely there and I am looking forward to learning where Ainsley and Noma will go from here.

The cover art by Natasha Snow is very beautiful and a great combination of colours and tones. I like how the glitter mixes well with the darker, more ominous body paint.

Sales Links:  NineStar Press | Amazon

Book Details:

ebook, 34 pages

Published June 5, 2017

by NineStar Press

ISBN: 978-1-947139-18-3

Edition Language: English