Cover Reveal for Ties That Bind by Alex Whitehall

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Ties That Bind by Alex Whitehall
Less Than Three Press
Cover Artist: Kirby Crow

Release Date: April 23, 2019

Sales Links:  Less Than Three Press

Blurb:

For Chel, Tomlin, and Mathias, life is simple but good. They share a home and a love, and despite a few conflicts of personality, are happy. Mathias runs a magic shop, where he makes magic items and potions for his customers, and Tom is his familiar, helping supply his magic. Chel, who’s not magical, works at a bookshop and makes sure dinner is on the table for his lovers.

When Mathias suddenly comes down with a mysterious illness, Chel and Tomlin seek out answers. As Mathias’s familiar, Tomlin can sense that nothing is wrong with the magical parts of him, but when a trip to the doctor’s indicates nothing is wrong with him physically either, they start to worry.

Then Mathias collapses, and the search to find the truth becomes urgent.

 

About the Author

If there are two types of people in the world, Alex Whitehall probably isn’t one of them, despite being a person. Their favorite pastimes include reading, horseback riding, sleeping, watching geek-tastic television, knitting, eating, and running. And wasting time on the internet. And spending glorious evenings laughing with friends.

While Alex prefers sleeping over doing anything else (except maybe eating), sometimes they emerge from the cave to be social and to hunt for food at the local market. They can be found blogging, contemplating tweeting, and tending after their aloe plants.

Connect with Alex:

A Free Dreamer Review: Empire of Light(Voyance #1) by Alex Harrow

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Damian Nettoyer is the Empire’s go-to gun. He kills whoever they want him to kill. In exchange, he and his rag-tag gang of crooks get to live, and Damian’s psychokinetic partner and lover, Aris, isn’t issued a one-way ticket to an Empire-sanctioned lobotomy.

Then Damian’s latest mark, a suave revolutionary named Raeyn, kicks his ass and demands his help. The first item on the new agenda: take out Damian’s old boss—or Raeyn will take out Damian’s crew.

To protect his friends and save his own skin, Damian teams up with Raeyn to make his revolution work. As the revolution gains traction, Damian gets way too close to Raeyn, torn between the need to shoot him one moment and kiss him the next. But Aris slips further away from Damian, and as Aris’ control over his powers crumbles, the Watch catches on.

With the Empire, Damian had two policies: shoot first and don’t ask questions. But to save the guy he loves, he’ll set the world on fire.

Buckle up and hold on tight, you’re in for one hell of a wild ride with “Empire of Light”. And don’t forget the hard hats and bullet proof vests! Oh, and do take a look at the trigger warnings on the publisher’s website, there’s a lot of violence and other stuff going on.

Usually it’s a bad sign when a book makes me wince. That means the writing is so bad, it physically hurts. But here I was wincing in sympathy with poor Damian, who’s constantly getting beaten up or shot. Not that he’s an innocent victim, he doles out his fair share of violence as well. Now, I’ve never been beaten up or shot, but the author did such a brilliant job at describing it all, I could almost feel the pain.

The plot is full of action and leaves you kind of breathless. There’s always something happening and our heroes never get to really catch their breath. This makes for an extremely addicting read. I had to force myself to put the book down and get some sleep.

The setting is quite dark, very much a dystopia for adults, with plenty of blood, sweat and tears. And some sex, but no romance in the traditional sense. Honestly, the romance kind of broke my heart.

But despite the action packed plot, there was a lot of feeling as well. It really affected me and I had to swallow back tears once or twice. And I really rooted for the three MCs. They probably don’t qualify as nice guys and they did some pretty bad stuff, but it made sense in the context.

I enjoyed the world building, I think it was really well done and made a lot of sense.

Honestly, I loved everything about this book. And the best part: This is the start of a new series, so there’s more to come! The ending definitely left potential for more, but there’s no cliffhanger. I still can’t wait for book two.

The cover by Natasha Snow is aesthetically very pleasing, but I’m not sure it quite fits the story. I’d expect a space opera, not a dystopia set in a futuristic New York.

Sales Links:  NineStar Press | Amazon

Book details:

Published February 25th 2019 by NineStar Press

Kindle Edition, 350 pages

New Release Blitz for Empire of Light (Voyance #1) by Alex Harrow (excerpt and giveaway)

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Title: Empire of Light

Series: Voyance, Book One

Author: Alex Harrow

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: February 25, 2019

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 102000

Genre: Science Fiction, LGBT, gay, pansexual, demisexual, sci-fi, romance

Add to Goodreads

Synopsis

Damian Nettoyer is the Empire’s go-to gun. He kills whoever they want him to kill. In exchange, he and his rag-tag gang of crooks get to live, and Damian’s psychokinetic partner and lover, Aris, isn’t issued a one-way ticket to an Empire-sanctioned lobotomy.

Then Damian’s latest mark, a suave revolutionary named Raeyn, kicks his ass and demands his help. The first item on the new agenda: take out Damian’s old boss—or Raeyn will take out Damian’s crew.

To protect his friends and save his own skin, Damian teams up with Raeyn to make his revolution work. As Aris slips away from Damian and his control over his powers crumbles, the Watch catches on. Damian gets way too close to Raeyn, torn between the need to shoot him one minute and kiss him the next.

With the Empire, Damian had two policies: shoot first and don’t ask questions. But to save the guy he loves, he’ll set the world on fire.

Join NineStar Press Authors Alex Harrow, L. A. Ashton, and Tash McAdam on FACEBOOK for a virtual launch party of their releases, EMPIRE OF LIGHT, ECHOES, and WE ARE THE CATALYST!

Find the party HERE. The event is February 25th from 8-10 PM CST, but feel free to drop by and stay as long as you wish!

For more info on each author and their books, visit:

EMPIRE OF LIGHT by Alex Harrow
ECHOES by L.A. Ashton
WE ARE THE CATALYST by Tash McAdam

Stop by for exclusive snippets, character takeovers, prizes, and swag!

Excerpt

Empire of Light
Alex Harrow © 2019
All Rights Reserved

One: Shootings with a Chance of Explosions
Funny how I always had to be the guy who ended up with a gun to his head.

“I thought you said this was going to be easy,” Aris said somewhere to my right. His voice was thick, the words choked out past the gun shoved underneath his jaw. The two Reds who kept us pinned were all broad shoulders and raw muscle. Huge white guys. Buzz cuts. Built like fucking tanks. In the low light of a fading sunset spilling into the empty warehouse, their leather coats gleamed like congealing blood.

The run had started out simple enough: get in, dump the cargo—a couple dozen barrels of diesel and some tech we’d snatched off a derailed train—and get the hell out. The place’d been abandoned for years, just another slouching ruin on the outskirts of Low Side. The perfect hiding spot to stash away things you didn’t want the Watch to find, while waiting for the highest bidder to jump the gun. A surefire way to some quick and easy cash and still get to my real job for the night.

Standing there with my face mashed against the crumbling brick wall, a gun barrel against my skull, it looked more like a surefire way straight to a cell in the Finger of Light.

If we were lucky.

The guy above me seemed happy to put a bullet into my brainpan and chalk both Aris and me up as “casualties, resisting arrest.” The Watch, safeguards of the Empire, the Consolidated Nations at their best. To protect and serve. Right.

I couldn’t just tell our dear upstanding Reds to go ahead and stick their guns and handcuffs up their asses because we kind of were on the same team. I might be running the Empire’s off-the-books hits for extra cash, but officially, I didn’t exist. Blurting out I was on their boss’s payroll wouldn’t get me anything but a bullet to the head and my body dumped into the East River. Talk about employment perks.

That’s what I got for double-booking myself. Fucking Murphy’s Law.

And worse, I’d dragged Aris into it.

“Guess Jay was sugarcoating it a little when she said there might be slight complications.”

Someone ratted us out. No way the Watch had just shown up here, far from their usual patrol routes, without any reason. The whole thing’d been a sting from the get-go, and once I found out who’d set us up—

My fingers twitched for my Colt. My Colt that lay cold and useless five feet away from me. Slim chance I’d be able to shoot both Reds before one of them got to either Aris or me, but I might get lucky and get the drop on one of them. Especially if I could piss him off enough he got stupid. At the very least I could distract them from Aris.

“You know, I kind of need to be somewhere. And I’d appreciate a little more leg room here,” I said and squirmed under the Red’s grip.

Honestly, by now I probably should’ve memorized some of the regulars’ names or something. To me, they all looked the same. All fists ready to punch and guns ready to fire; neatly wrapped in black uniforms and their trademark red coats. Not like this was the first time either. By now, the Watch should issue us a punch card for frequent visits, maybe something with a rewards program.

“Shut up.”

The Red jerked me around and slammed my head into the murky stained-glass window to my right. Point taken. A distant rushing filled my ears. Spots started to slow-dance in front of my vision. I went down hard, twisting away from the Red’s reach and blindly fumbling for my Colt. I’d barely moved before his boot came down on my fingers with a dry crunch. I bit back a grunt that came out more like a breathless scream.

“Next time it’ll be your head,” the Red—I mentally tagged him as Captain Crunch—said, towering above me, gun aimed at my forehead. If he shot me from that angle, there wouldn’t be enough of my head left for Aris to scrape out of the wall cracks behind me.

Here was hoping he had more fun beating the shit out of me than making shooting me look like it’d been his only option.

The Red didn’t shoot me. Instead, his knee dug into the small of my back, his free hand going for a pair of handcuffs. “In the name of the Empire of Light, I hereby place you under arrest for—”

“Oh, I don’t think so,” Aris said.

He’d been standing perfectly still, his head slightly bowed, a model of the “hands above your head and don’t make a move” arrestee. The unthreatening kind. The kind who came quietly and wouldn’t even think to make any trouble for our dear upstanding officers of the Watch who only did their job.

When he straightened, brushing away a few errant blond curls that’d slipped out of his loose ponytail, a slow smile curved his lips. A dangerous smile, turning positively radiant until it teetered on the edge of manic as he glanced from the guy above me to the one holding him.

“In fact, I’d suggest you two start running. This is going to get messy.”

His eyes flicked to me. “Damian, stay down. And get out.”

And like that, all color drained out of his eyes until they were a stark, milky white.

Oh shit.

“Aris, no!”

Too late.

The Red pinning me tensed. He slapped his hand on his right ear to call out for reinforcements. His headset shorted out with a buzz and the burned-copper smell of fried electronics. The guy holding Aris cursed and flinched away, as if he’d been zapped by a high-voltage fence.

Aris didn’t move. His expression wiped completely blank, like someone’d snuffed out the lights behind his eyes, now fixed on some point far above me.

Then he blinked.

I felt the zing of the Voyance crack through the air like a power surge. The window wall at my back blew up in a shower of broken glass and toppling bricks.

Sacred, bleeding fuck!

I managed to duck and roll away before half the wall collapsed on top of me. I flattened myself onto the ground and then scrambled to my feet, cursing and coughing through a cloud of red-brick dust settling on the crumbling remains scattered all over the cement floor and the cracked pavement outside.

The explosion hit the Red above me completely by surprise. I only spared him a quick glance to make sure his hunched form wasn’t moving, and he wasn’t faking being unconscious. Or dead. A slow trickle of blood ran down his temple where one of the flying bricks must’ve hit him. People died from less. I didn’t push my luck.

I grabbed my Colt, its weight solid and familiar against my stiff, throbbing fingers.

“Aris?”

“Over here.” His voice was a thin thread, fraying at the edges. “Told you to get out.”

I ignored that last bit. Aris stood only a few feet away from me, his back pressed against the remnants of the wall. His face was gray, and he was trembling badly; he probably would’ve fallen over if not for the second Red who kept him pinned.

“Fucking Voyant,” the Red snarled, gun shoved against Aris’s temple, ready to put him down. As if Aris was nothing but a rabid animal.

Aris stood perfectly still, blood running out his nose—a steady drip down the collar of his shirt. Looking at him, knowing how easily I could lose him, hurt worse than all the bruises and broken bones any Red could ever give me.

“Damian—”

The Red’s finger tightened around the trigger. I shot him in the head. His body sagged sideways and hit the ground with a meaty thud, his gun slipping uselessly from his fingers.

“Just to be clear,” I said to the body at my feet. “He’s my fucking Voyant, so back the fuck off.”

Purchase

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

Meet the Author

Alex Harrow is a genderqueer, pansexual, and demisexual author of queer science fiction and fantasy. Alex’ pronouns are they/them.

When not writing diversity with a chance of explosions, Alex is a high school English teacher, waging epic battles against comma splices, misused apostrophes, and anyone under the delusion that the singular ‘they’ is grammatically incorrect.

A German immigrant, Alex has always been drawn to language and stories. They began to write when they realized that the best guarantee to see more books with queer characters was to create them. Alex cares deeply about social justice and wants to see diverse characters, including LGBTQ+ protagonists, in more than the stereotypical coming out story.

Alex currently lives in Salt Lake City, Utah with their equally geeky wife, outnumbered by three adorable feline overlords, and what could not possibly be too many books.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest

 

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A MelanieM Release Day Review: Ithani (The Oberon Cycle #3) by J. Scott Coatsworth

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

The Oberon Cycle: Book Three

Time is running out.  After saving the world twice, Xander, Jameson and friends plunge headlong into a new crisis. The ithani—the aliens who broke the world—have reawakened from their hundred millennia-long slumber. When Xander and Jameson disappear in a flash, an already fractured world is thrown into chaos.  The ithani plans, laid a hundred thousand years before, are finally coming to pass, and they threaten all life on Erro. Venin and Alix go on a desperate search for their missing and find more than they bargained for. And Quince, Robin and Jessa discover a secret as old as the skythane themselves.  Will alien technology, unexpected help from the distant past, destiny and some good old-fashioned firepower be enough to defeat an enemy with the ability to split a world? The final battle of the epic science fiction adventure that began in Skythane will decide the fate of lander and skythane alike. And in the north, the ithani rise….

After finishing the book, I knew writing this review was going to be frustrating.  Why?  Because it’s going to be hard to find the words to describe just how incredible Ithani, the final story in The Oberon Cycle truly isJ. Scott Coatsworth left himself quite the task in pulling together all the plot threads and overall monumental trilogy arc and bring them all to all rousing conclusion that not only is beautifully imaginative, but thoroughly satisfying.

But the author accomplished that task and then went further.  This book is magical in its reach and edifying in the joy and depth of its conclusion.  It stretches out past time and space,  it encompasses the past, present, and future with equal verve, heart-stopping action and suspense. It brings to many a deep abiding love in so many forms, a search for self and what that means and, oh, yes the astonishing winged aliens of several species.  Plus the probable end of not one but two worlds.  There are multiple cultures, languages, sciences to understand and embrace along with all the characters that Coatsworth has created.

It’s an absolute tour de force.

I am certainly not giving out any details.  Even now, thinking back on elements and tiny narrative jewels the author will deliver to the reader, I remain so grateful and stunned at the twists and turns he built into Ithani.  Ones that even now continue to astound and delight.  I’m a fan of Coatsworth’s science fiction series the Liminal Sky and, here we find a major storythread that links this trilogy to that one.  For a reader that is not familiar with the Liminal Sky Series, will they feel lost?  Not at all.  This element is beautifully explained and threaded into the plot line, it’s important and as vital as any element in the narrative.  But that it’s linked to another series altogether?  Only those who know and adore the Liminal Sky  will be dancing in dazed joy over this narrative inclusion.

That’s just the way this whole novel goes…like dancing lights above a lake.  It will entrance you, pull you in, leave you to wonder at it all.  And then make you want to take the journey all over again.

I highly recommend the entire Oberon Cycle trilogy, starting with Skythane, then to Lander, and finally to this magical, incredible conclusion Ithani.  It’s February and I already have an addition to my Best of 2019 list this year.  That would be Ithani and the Oberon Cycle.

Cover Artists: Anna Sikorska.  I love the drama and eyecatching colors of this cover.  Great job.

Sales Links:

Buy Now: Dreamspinner Press Buy Now: Amazon KindleBuy Now: AmazonBuy Now: Barnes and NobleBuy Now: KoboBuy Now: iBooks

Book Details:

Paperback and eBook 290 pages
Expected publication: February 19th 2019 by Dreamspinner Press LLC
ISBN 1644051125 (ISBN13: 9781644051122)Available on: February 19, 2019
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genres: Romance, Sci Fi
The Oberon Cycle:

Skythane

Lander

Ithani

Looking for Your Next Contemporary Romance? Check Out Kicking Up My Heels…in Heels (Kev #3) by Liam Livings (excerpt and giveaway)

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Title: Kicking Up My Heels…in Heels

Series: Kev, Book Three

Author: Liam Livings

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: February 11, 2019

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 67300

Genre: Contemporary, LGBT, gay, Cross-dressing, drag queens, AIDS, new adult

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Synopsis

It’s the year 2000 and Kev’s twenty. He’s a proper grown up now. Maybe. He knows what he’s doing. And what he’s doing isn’t what he wants to be doing. He’s working in TK Maxx and instead he wants to be singing and dancing and bantering and laughing on stage. He. Loves. It. And they pay him too!

Kev’s continued search for his Prince Charming leads him to look in all the wrong places for all the wrong men and, inevitably, gets him in something of a pickle: physically, emotionally, and medically too.

But his mum and friend Tony are there to help pick up the pieces when it all falls apart as it so often does with Kev.

Optimism, a plan, and being really good at performing on stage, drive Kev forward. After all, he’s been performing off stage all his life.

Contains gay pride marches, multiple incidents of alcohol-induced idiocy, friends and family who stick with you no matter what you do, a lot of showtunes and camp humour, and a complete absence of smartphones and social media. He’s Kev, fly him.

Excerpt

Kicking Up My Heels…in Heels
Liam Livings © 2019
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One
November 1999

Kieran and Jo were back from uni in London for half term, autumn term, or some term or another, and I met them in Salisbury for a drink and a good gossip. I met them in full Ginger Spice outfit. During the day. Yes. Part of the I am Kev hear me roar approach Tony and I had come up with, I was trying this new fearless, notice the fear and do it anyway thing, on for size. It seemed to suit me actually. It was also two big fingers up at my ex-boyfriend Aaron and his vile comments to me about dressing up, and the whole Arthur or Martha thing. Well, I wanted to dress as both Arthur and Martha, depending on how the mood took me, so Aaron and anyone else who didn’t like that could stick it.

Ever since Daddy Do Nothing, as Mum and I referred to him, had come back into my life, then disappeared again, just as quickly, it has spurred me on to dress more. It was a sort of two fingers up to Daddy Do Nothing too. An “I don’t need your approval, I know what I’m about, and I am fabulous, so you can disappear to your village and back to your new girlfriend and stepdaughter, and I’ll be fabulous over here”. All of that. His rejection to my cross-dressing had inadvertently brought out the flag waving slightly military—as in strong, organised, standing up for my rights not as in part of the actual army—drag queen in me.

Some people in my life had been more accepting of it than others. Jo, in particular, was always a bit sniffy about what I wore, and when I wore it, but he wasn’t really one of my friends, he just came as a set of two with Kieran. Of course, I wouldn’t ever tell Kieran that, I’d never want to upset him, so I simply bit my tongue and ignored Jo’s comments, or how he sometimes excluded me from things with his subtle and slimy excuses. It wasn’t worth making a fuss, not for Kieran’s sake. But today, when I was meeting both Kieran and Jo, I knew what I had to do. I knew I had to dress to both impress and make an impression. If I could stand on stage and sing to a packed pub, I sure as hell could walk into a pub dressed like a real woman and order a few drinks.

I finished my realistic makeup, adjusted my red wig with a bleached stripe, just like Ginger Spice’s hair. I checked there was enough padding for my bra to make an impression under the little Union Flag dress I’d run up for myself exactly like Geri Halliwell had, by sewing a tea towel onto the front of a little black strappy dress. I pursed my lips, reapplied red lipstick, added a touch more blue eye shadow in both a homage to the blonde one from Abba, and Geri, obviously, and I was ready to go. I clumped my way downstairs in the black platform boots I’d bought with my staff discount from TK Maxx.

I swept past Mum in the kitchen.

She was drying some crockery at the sink with a spotless tea towel. She put the mug down. “Don’t take this the wrong way, love. You look fabulous. Honestly, it’s the ginger one from that girl group, isn’t it? Where do you think you’re going like that, love?”

“I told you. I’m seeing Kieran and Jo, in town.”

“Singing afterwards?”

“Nope. Just them, then I’ll be home. It won’t be a late one. Promise.”

She looked me up and down, trying to take in what she saw before her. She pursed her mouth. “So, what’s with the outfit, love? Seems like a lot of effort for a drink with some friends. I worry about you, what people say. Some others are like that Aaron you went out with.” She paused, clasping her hands together in front of herself. “Sadly.”

I’d already explained to her my I am Kev hear me roar, and she knew how upset Dad’s disappearance had made me, so I simply said, “I am not letting people like Dad or Aaron, make me ashamed of who I am. I am who I am and I’m doing it more and more.” I put my hands on my hips and thrust my fake bosoms towards her. “All right?”

She nodded slowly. “Just you take care, love. I don’t want anyone hurting you. Watch where you park. Walk where it’s lit. Don’t cut along by the river. That’s dark this time of year, and you never know the sort of people who hang around the industrial entrance out the back of Argos. Watch yourself.”

“Promise.”

She tapped her cheek.

I kissed her cheek then jumped into my car, checking my reflection one last time in my mirror, brushing aside a minor doubt about whether I was doing the right thing, and drove to the nearest car park to the sports pub where I’d asked them to meet me.

There was no need for me to worry, I was well used to doing female impersonations by now in public. Kieran and Jo were full of uni talk, as expected, but they seemed to be enjoying it, so I was pleased for them. Jo gave me a few looks and made some comments, as I knew he would, but I easily brushed them aside. And a man mistook me for a real woman, so that made my day. I’d passed, as they say in cross-dressing circles. My first passing.

I only felt slightly scared once as I tottered loudly on my heels back to the car, using the long route through town. I came across a big group of teenagers on the corner by the bank on the way to the market square. I debated crossing the road and then decided they’d know I was scared, so instead, flicked my hair over my shoulder, stuck my fake bosoms up, and clip-clopped through the middle of them with a few words about being sorry and could I squeeze through. A few of them looked up and looked back at me again—I saw them in the reflection of shop windows as I continued tottering to the car—but no more. I held my head high. If anyone had started anything, I was in a busy bit of town, which even that late was full of people, and after a few loud screams, I was sure they’d have run away, most bullies being cowards in disguise really.

So, battle fought and won, now for the next one.

Purchase

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

Meet the Author

Liam Livings lives where east London ends and becomes Essex. He shares his house with his boyfriend and cat. He enjoys baking, cooking, classic cars and socialising with friends. He has a sweet tooth for food and entertainment: loving to escape from real life with a romantic book; enjoying a good cry at a sad, funny and camp film; and listening to musical cheesy pop from the eighties to now. He tirelessly watches an awful lot of Gilmore Girls in the name of writing ‘research’.

Published since 2013 by a variety of British and American presses, his gay romance and gay fiction focuses on friendships, British humour, romance with plenty of sparkle. He’s a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, and the Chartered Institute of Marketing. With a masters in creative writing from Kingston University, he teaches writing workshops with his partner in sarcasm and humour, Virginia Heath as http://www.realpeoplewritebooks.com and has also ghost written a client’s 5 Star reviewed autobiography.

Website | Facebook | Twitter

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New Release Blitz for Escaping Mortality (The Escape Trilogy #3) by Sara Dobie Bauer (excerpt and giveaway)

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Title: Escaping Mortality

Series: The Escape Trilogy, Book Three

Author: Sara Dobie Bauer

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: January 28, 2019

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 33100

Genre: Paranormal, LGBT, bisexual, gay, vampires, polyamorous, British nobility, established couples

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Synopsis

Their ocean journey was successful, and Andrew and Edmund found an Elder just in time. As they wished, Edmund is now a vampire like Andrew. They have eternity together, but first, they must visit Edmund’s ailing mother in the English countryside with their flock of immortals, including the Elder, who has taken an ominous liking to his new creation.

When they arrive at Edmund’s family estate, his sick mother and her loathsome best friend await them. While ducking religious curses, Edmund struggles to harness an unexpected power gifted him by the Elder. Andrew fears for his beloved as Edmund becomes more and more monstrous—but vampires have always been monsters, haven’t they?

A battle is coming, for Edmund’s heart and his soul, and Andrew will lose neither. He escaped island exile and a near tragedy at sea to be with Edmund, the beautiful young sailor he loves. Andrew will do anything to keep Edmund by his side, but his most dangerous adversary may be Edmund himself.

Excerpt

Escaping Mortality
Sara Dobie Bauer © 2019
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One
Edmund tries desperately not to shiver, but he forgets himself every minute or so and allows a full body shake that vibrates the wet edges of his hair. We’re back on deck after our desperate leap into the ocean, my sailor and I. A half-hysterical Michelle wrapped us both in the heaviest fabric she could find once we were both safely lifted back onboard with our new passenger: the Elder.

He sits across from Edmund at a large table in our ship’s common area while I stand and glare. Michelle and Felipe linger silently to my left and right.

This Elder is nothing more than a rotting skeleton, covered in loose, hanging flesh. He smells of dead fish and refuses to take his dark eyes off the man I love.

“You are dying,” the creature says, his voice like the swinging of a rusted gate.

Edmund chuckles. “Yes. So you understand why I need your help.”

“Why do you want this gift, dead man? Power? Prestige?”

“No.”

“Then, why?”

“Love.”

The creature’s gaze momentarily swings up, and I stand straighter. For the first time since we escaped the rolling waves, the Elder addresses me: “How frustrating for a strong vampire such as yourself that you cannot save the one you adore.”

I’m about to respond when Edmund speaks first. “I would prefer to keep this conversation between the two of us, if you don’t mind. It is, after all, my life we discuss.”

The Elder studies Edmund and says nothing. For a long moment, he merely observes. Although the blanket covers Edmund’s black, infected flesh, it’s impossible to miss the green pallor of his skin, the purple circles around his eyes, and the color of his lips, now practically white. All signs of the healthy young man I first met are gone.

“You have no fear right now, dead man. Strange for one with so little time left. I tasted it underwater, your fear. Quite a strong bouquet.” A tongue like a slippery snail pokes out from the Elder’s mouth to lick cracked lips.

“You tried to pull me under.”

“You offered yourself.”

“I needed to get your attention.”

I’m not sure, but I think the Elder smiles. He shows his teeth anyway—long, pointed fangs bigger than any I’ve seen. “And now, you have it, dead man.”

“My name is Edmund. And you?”

Again, those eyes—so dark as to be almost black—glance at me. “Brien.” He growls the R. “If the world is still how I recall, Edmund, nothing is free. You woke me with your dying flesh because you need something.” He opens his hands before him, skin wrinkled, sharp fingernails like weapons. “What do I get from you?”

Edmund shivers and groans. When he bends over in pain and rests his forehead on the table, Michelle stops me from rushing forward. “What do you want?” Edmund asks.

As my darling struggles to find the strength to sit, Brien watches with interest—I assume. It’s difficult to tell with the sagging, wet flesh. Logic says the Elder should be dry by now, but he continues to drip foul water as though made of the stuff.

“You can have anything,” Edmund says.

Brien leans forward and sniffs, seeking Edmund’s scent. “I want to kill you.”

I step toward them. “No.”

The Elder stares at me. “No?”

“Edmund requested I do that.” I could say more about how I want to taste his soul, how I want that moment to belong to me and me alone. I want him in my arms the moment he takes his last breath. So many things do I want, and this monster of the sea would steal it all.

“Dead man?” Brien practically purrs.

“Damn it.” Edmund closes his eyes. “Fine. My life is yours.”

“But—”

“It is better than the alternative, love,” Edmund mutters. “Is that all you require?”

“I will travel with you wherever you now go.”

“Michelle?” Edmund says her name but doesn’t turn. I don’t think he’s strong enough to move anymore.

My old friend—once enemy, now leader—steps forward in her sweeping skirts. “Of course, Elder Brien. We are at your service.”

“You might want to…” Edmund coughs. “Find something to wear. They frown upon naked corpses walking around London.”

Felipe laughs—one short burst of amusement.

“Do we have a deal?”

Brien lowers his head. “Yes, Edmund.” He looks up and shows his teeth. “Ah, there it is—the smell. Now, you are afraid.”

Edmund’s eyes are red. I don’t know if he cries from pain or from the thought of his own murder at the hands of a hideous monster. Perhaps he found comfort in the thought of me doing it because he knew I wouldn’t let him hurt. Brien appears liable to chop off each of Edmund’s fingers before letting him die—but I will not let that happen. I will be at his side. I will hold Edmund’s hand as his heart stops beating. Thinking of this, my own chest begins to ache.

My God, what if this doesn’t work? What if the Elder kills my darling and jumps back overboard? What if these are the last moments I have with the only creature I have ever loved? I lean down quickly and kiss Edmund’s forehead.

His hand finds my face. “I’m ready,” he whispers. “Are you?” He smiles at me.

I pick him up and carry him to our room. The others follow close behind. In fact, the entire crew stands in the hall, watching us pass. What’s about to happen hasn’t happened in centuries, and I suppose everyone wants a view.

By the time I rest my shivering love in the center of our bed, someone has given Brien a cloak, although it does little to hide the emaciated ground meat of his face. Michelle comes in but locks everyone else out, for which I am thankful.

I kiss Edmund, and Jesus, he smells almost as bad as the Elder. I kiss his lips softly as he whispers he loves me.

“I love you too. I’ll be right here.” I squeeze his hand and kneel on the edge of our bed.

From across the room, Brien watches me again with what I suspect is delight. I want to bark at him and ask what on earth could be so funny, but I bite my tongue. Now is not the time to provoke the only man who can save Edmund. As he leans forward, I lean back, paying the Elder respect.

He looms over Edmund, but strangely, instead of beginning his feast, he rests on his side and touches Edmund’s hair with his pointed nails. “I am going to kill you now, but I will give you a new life. One without sickness or death. Do you accept this gift I give?”

Edmund nods.

“As I feed, I want you to think. Picture yourself healthy—the way you were before this. Perhaps, the way you were when you first met your vampire.”

“Half drowned on a beach?”

Although I can’t help but smile, the Elder seems confused. “Perhaps not. Picture yourself how you want to be, and in a little while, it will be so. Do you understand?”

Edmund nods again and flails for my hand. I entwine our fingers.

“Thank you for your offering,” Brien says. He then moves faster than even my eyes can manage to follow.

 

Read Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words’ Review here!

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Meet the Author

Sara Dobie Bauer is a bestselling author, model, and mental health / LGBTQ advocate with a creative writing degree from Ohio University. Twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize, she lives with her hottie husband and two precious pups in Northeast Ohio, although she’d really like to live in a Tim Burton film. She is author of the paranormal rom-com Bite Somebody series, among other sexy things.

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New Release Blitz for Half Life by Gregory L. Norris (excerpt and giveaway)

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Title: Half-Life

Author: Gregory L. Norris

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: January 21, 2019

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 14300

Genre: Paranormal, LGBT, witches, zombies, gay, magic

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Synopsis

Whitney Abbott travels to the seaside Maine town of Window to begin a new life in his uncle’s home. Robert Abbott is well-to-do and owns several high-end restaurants. Whitney will start at the bottom and work his way up at the flagship. But from the moment Whitney exits his car in the drive of the big, brooding house, he senses the sinister atmosphere surrounding his relations.

His cousin November, princess of the estate, feigns joy at having Whitney in town. And November’s handsome athlete boyfriend, Griffin, is an enigma. Soon after his arrival, Griffin warns Whitney to leave. With nowhere to go—and certain that his attraction to Griffin goes both ways—Whitney is drawn into November’s malevolent plans. Plans that will pit Whitney against dark supernatural forces in order to save both his and Griffin’s lives.

Excerpt

Half-Life
Gregory L. Norris © 2019
All Rights Reserved

I hit the switch. The familiar cold, white glare from the overhead lights rained across the kitchen, prep station, and the industrial dishwasher, scenes of so many long shifts and leg cramps. The light did little to remove the greater darkness that hung over the back of my uncle’s restaurant. The gloom swirling outside had followed me into Abbott’s Table, one of your finer dining establishments along this part of Maine’s Rocky Headlands. Rain pelted the oblong window above the prep-station sink, where I’d cleaned and breaded untold thousands of shrimp. The ghostly aroma of garlic, lobster, and grilled meat hung over the place. Cloying, with an edge of lemon cleaner.

“Hello?” I called.

My heart hammered against my ribcage. I imagined my balls shriveling up against the root of my dick. An icy finger stroked my spine.

“Anyone here? It’s me, Whitney.”

Identifying myself made the creeping sensation even worse. The darkness had pursued me, constantly there at the periphery hiding in shadowy corners. Here in my uncle’s flagship restaurant after hours, the unwanted attention from sinister powers was more tangible, more intimate. I choked down a heavy swallow to find my mouth had gone completely dry.

“Griffin, it’s me. I saw your truck in the lot,” I said, aware of how my lips risked a smile at the mention of his name. Griffin. My heart raced for different reasons after that. “Griff?”

I checked the kitchen—empty. Willing my legs forward, I pushed past the rightward pair of swivel doors, hearing the awful voice of the restaurant’s manager, Marc with a c—Always keep to the right, that’s how it’s done at Abbott’s Table. The dining room sat dark and empty, chairs stacked upside down over tabletops, the floors swept, mopped, and shiny under the green glow of the exit lights.

I checked the bar and both of the public heads, finding the same result: no Griffin. My pulse continued its mad speed. Danger juice soured in my bloodstream. His truck in the far corner of the Abbott’s Table parking lot could have meant a hundred different things on any other night—Griffin out having fun with some of his hockey league buddies, late fun, guy stuff. I knew he wasn’t with the Ice Queen. No, after what had happened and the kiss that followed, Griffin wouldn’t have gone back to confront my cousin, November Abbott.

That kiss…

For a wonderful instant, the storm cloud dissolved, and I was in my car again, his big hand cupping my cheek, his mouth crushed over mine, claiming me as his and offering me all he had to give in return. I remembered the warm scent of pinesap, of Griffin’s magnificent body, the swell of his erection pressing against me as we kissed, and the certainty that what we both felt, while undeniably physical, went past simple attraction. Dare I again think it? Love.

I loved Griffin, and he loved me.

The rain pounding the world outside the restaurant’s windows unleashed eerie silver dapples across the dining room. I stood pondering, waiting for a sound, a sign. When none came, I turned and hastened back in the direction of the kitchen exit.

“Whitney…”

I dug in my sneaker treads on the rubber mat set between the kitchen and rear door, at first thinking I’d hallucinated Griffin’s voice. But then I faced the direction of the sound and found myself staring at the one corner of the restaurant I hadn’t thought to search: the walk-in refrigerator and freezer.

Reaching the big stainless-steel door seemed to take longer than the actual few seconds. I tugged on the latch. The door resisted, as though someone was pulling at the same time from the other side. The inner voice that had told me a week earlier to turn around, to not travel north to the town of Window, Maine, was back, urging me to get out. Just leave. Run!

I drew in a breath, smelling the rain, the kitchen’s funk, and the trace of clean, athletic sweat from the T-shirt I wore—Griffin’s sweat, and Griffin’s shirt, borrowed on an afternoon that now felt part of another decade. I pulled harder. The door released. A gust of cold, foggy air billowed out.

The front part of the walk-in was already lit up from inside, even though the light switch was off. I pushed through the long plastic strips of the freezer curtain and into the wide space that housed expensive cuts of tomahawk steaks, bins of heirloom tomatoes and other fresh produce from the local farmer’s market, and, I discovered, one sacrificial altar.

I froze, my eyes recording details—the waxy candles, three, burning around the body on the folding table, the sprigs of Datura stramonium Devil’s Snare flowers draped around the nude man’s corpse laid out in a funeral pose. I recognized the patch of hairy, athletic lower leg, upon which a winged lion had been inked.

“Griffin,” I gasped.

A breeze that hadn’t been there the previous second whispered through the walk-in, stirring the leaves of bunches of basil, parsley, and other fresh herbs. My paralysis broke. I moved beside the table, my eyes wide, not blinking. Griffin, naked, his hands folded over his midriff. Even as I reached my trembling fingers toward his and the voice in my head screamed for me to run—run from the restaurant, from Window, Maine, and, above all else, from Griffin—my eyes recorded the pallor of his skin. Griffin’s flesh was gray in the flickering candlelight.

My hand covered his. A chill raced up my fingertips. He was icy to the touch. No, impossible—hours before, in that other era, he’d held me, kissed me. And I had seen proof of our tomorrow together even as the storm clouds raced over our heads. Griffin had pledged his love and promised to return.

I glanced at Griffin’s big jock feet—still sexy despite their grayness, up his legs, past his junk, and all the way to his eyes, clamped shut. I gripped his hands, the fingers interlaced in prayer, and squeezed.

“Griffin!”

The dead man’s eyes shot open. Gone was their beyond-blue color—what I’d come to think of as twin sapphire gemstones. What focused upon me now was a pair of predator’s eyes with a wolf’s silver sharpness. The hands beneath my fingers abandoned their illusion of prayer and seized hold of my arm. I shrieked, attempting to pull away. Right before the corpse’s legs swung out and the altar collapsed, toppling candles, I saw Griffin’s mouth open. He licked his lips. His teeth chattered. The dead man salivated hungrily.

And then his weight spilled on top of me, and he was snapping at my throat.

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Meet the Author

Raised on a healthy diet of creature double features and classic SF television, Gregory L. Norris is a full-time professional writer, with work appearing in numerous short story anthologies, national magazines, novels, the occasional TV episode, and, so far, one produced feature film (Brutal Colors, which debuted on Amazon Prime January 2016). A former feature writer and columnist at Sci Fi, the official magazine of the Sci Fi Channel (before all those ridiculous Ys invaded), he once worked as a screenwriter on two episodes of Paramount’s modern classic, Star Trek: Voyager. Two of his paranormal novels (written under my rom-de-plume, Jo Atkinson) were published by Home Shopping Network as part of their “Escape With Romance” line — the first time HSN has offered novels to their global customer base. He judged the 2012 Lambda Awards in the SF/F/H category. Three times now, his stories have notched Honorable Mentions in Ellen Datlow’s Best-of books. In May 2016, he traveled to Hollywood to accept HM in the Roswell Awards in Short SF Writing.His story “Drowning” appears in the Italian anthology THE BEAUTY OF DEATH 2, alongside tales by none other than Peter Straub and Clive Barker. Follow his literary adventures at http://www.gregorylnorris.blogspot.com.

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New Release Blitz for Unlocking the Doctor’s Heart by Liam Livings (excerpt and giveaway)

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Title: Unlocking the Doctor’s Heart

Author: Liam Livings

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: January 21, 2019

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 50800

Genre: Contemporary, LGBT, Doctor, nurse, contemporary, friends to lovers, child illness, gay

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Synopsis

Headstrong nurse Davie Penrose has moved to London from a small village in Cornwall to start work in the children’s transplant ward. He left to progress his career, but also to escape the painful memories of his ex-boyfriend, a workaholic doctor.

Ambitious Doctor Leo Westbury is in charge of a ward for now, but he has plans to be a medical director soon. Making use of his charm and avoiding commitment due to a painful past, he enjoys temporary relationships with male student nurses.

Clashing over a request to look around the ward before he starts work, Davie thinks Leo pompous, while Leo finds Davie bossy. Becoming friends over a shared passion for helping children on their transplant wards, they get closer through the inevitable ups and downs of caring for sick children. Physical attraction pulls them together; their pasts push them apart.

Both damaged and hurt in different ways, they might just find their happy ever after together.

Excerpt

Unlocking the Doctor’s Heart
Liam Livings © 2019
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One
“Davie Penrose, senior staff nurse on Twinkle Ward, starting on Monday,” he said into the phone speaker at the ward’s entrance.

“Sorry, can’t let you in. No ID, no entry.”

“I’ve got this letter.” Davie held the letter to the camera.

“Not the same as a photo ID. They’ll get that sorted for you on Monday.”

“I only wanted to have a look around, see the lay of the land. Where the staff room is, how many beds, that sort of thing.” Davie bit his lip, starting to wish he’d not listened to his friend persuading him to apply for the job in the first place.

“Go on, stretch your wings. You don’t want to be stuck in Cornwall forever do you?” Davie’s friend had said.

Now, that sounded like quite a nice place to be stuck. “Couldn’t you make an exception, ask another member of staff to walk around with me?” Davie held his room key up to the camera. “I’m in the nurses’ accommodation. Room 1004, see?”

After a long sigh, the voice at the end of the speaker went quiet, he was obviously discussing something with another colleague.

A deep, posh, man’s voice came onto the speaker. “Now, let’s see if I can sort this little mess out.” He coughed. “Davie, is it?” Without waiting for a response, he continued, “It’s doctor Westbury here. I’m the senior consultant on call this weekend. I do have other pressing matters to deal with rather than policing the ward entrance.”

Charming! “It won’t take long. If you just look at my paperwork.” Davie held the letter to the camera hopefully.

“One thing at a time, please. Let me finish, will you?”

Disappointed, and frustrated enough to be screaming in his head and wondering who’d died and left this doctor in charge, Davie knew it would be pointless to ask him, because technically as the senior consultant on call, he would be in charge. Instead, Davie said, “I have my passport in my pocket too. Proves who I am. Can’t you check a list somewhere, or something, or other?”

“As I said, one thing at a time. So, I hear you’ve got yourself in something of a situation and you’d like us to bend the rules to let you in.”

“I don’t think it’s bending the rules. Not if I can show you who I am and that I have a job offer here even if I’ve not yet technically started.” Puffing himself up a bit, feeling he was on a bit of a roll now, Davie said, “And besides, I only want a quick look around, see the lay of the—”

“Land, yes, I know. Thing is, see that’s what some old random would say wanting to get inside and make mischief. Or worse. In fact, last week—” Doctor Westbury paused. “—I’m coming out to meet you. Wait there.”

A short while later, after a buzz of the door, Doctor Westbury arrived in a white coat, stethoscope hanging around his neck, brown hair giving the impression he’d just woken. And such deep blue eyes. “Sorry about this, but I can’t bend the rules and let you in.” He folded his arms across his broad chest and shook his head. “I believe you’re starting on Monday, but I can’t take a chance. I don’t know if you noticed, but this isn’t exactly the nicest part of London. Notting Hill it ain’t.” He laughed and raked his hands through his hair. He coughed and looked Davie up and down.

“If I was a random person wanting to get in, why would I have this letter.” Davie waved it theatrically in the air. “And a key to the nurses’ accommodation block.” Jangling it loudly he stared deep into the doctor’s blue eyes. “It’s not bending the rules then, is it? Besides.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out his passport. “Look, same name on the letter and passport.”

“I hear your concerns, but as the consultant in charge it would be on my head were anything to happen as a result of this… infraction shall we say.” Carefully checking the passport, letter, and keys he shook his head and tutted loudly. “Seems a bit odd to me, someone wanting to have a look around before starting. Plenty of time for that after you’re properly inducted into the trust.”

“Can’t you use your judgement? I’m sure it must be pretty sound as a consultant.” It was do or die, and Davie needed something to bring this bloody doctor out of his fixation on the damned rules.

Holding his head high, the doctor said, “Of course. My clinical judgement is second to none. I have a fantastic record here and received the highest clinical excellence award possible for the last two years.”

“Very impressive. Well then.” Was it working? Had he taken the bait?

He adjusted his stethoscope around his neck and flattened the collar on his white coat. “I’m thinking. Considering the facts. You.” He looked Davie up and down with a smile.

“Rules are rules for a reason. I’m sure they are. I do know. I have worked on children’s wards myself. Where everyone has to be police checked and all that. But really, honestly, do I look like a random. Can’t you just use some of this amazing judgement and let me in. Please?” Davie smiled.

“You’re not going to take no for an answer, are you?”

Davie shook his head. He usually never did, so why start now with this high-handed doctor? Why did doctors always think they ran the whole hospital if not the whole world? Thinking better than to voice that out loud, he simply held his letter and keys for the doctor to see. Bringing his judgement into the equation may have just worked…. Davie held his breath.

He sighed, raked his hands through his tousled hair and said, “Tell you what. I’ve looked at the evidence you’ve presented to me and I’m satisfied you are who you say you are. But you’re to stay with me the whole time. No wondering off, all right?”

Davie nodded excitedly. He’d done it! He’d won! One nil to Davie!

Entering the code into the keypad, the door opened, and the doctor opened the door. “After you.”

Now, that’s a surprise, Davie thought, expecting the doctor to be something of a me-first-damn-everyone-else man.

Following Davie through the door, the doctor said, “Now, let’s see if we can’t give you a quick tour. I’ll take the flack if I don’t see you back here Monday morning.” He flashed Davie a smile, and butterflies began to stir in Davie’s stomach.

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Meet the Author

Liam Livings lives where east London ends and becomes Essex. He shares his house with his boyfriend and cat. He enjoys baking, cooking, classic cars and socialising with friends. He has a sweet tooth for food and entertainment: loving to escape from real life with a romantic book; enjoying a good cry at a sad, funny and camp film; and listening to musical cheesy pop from the eighties to now. He tirelessly watches an awful lot of Gilmore Girls in the name of writing ‘research’.

Published since 2013 by a variety of British and American presses, his gay romance and gay fiction focuses on friendships, British humour, romance with plenty of sparkle. He’s a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, and the Chartered Institute of Marketing. With a masters in creative writing from Kingston University, he teaches writing workshops with his partner in sarcasm and humour, Virginia Heath as http://www.realpeoplewritebooks.com and has also ghost written a client’s 5 Star reviewed autobiography.

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Love a Bit of Horror? Check Out the New Release Blitz for Stalker/s by L.J. Hasbrouck (excerpt and giveaway)

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Title: Stalker/s

Author: L.J. Hasbrouck

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: January 14, 2019

Heat Level: 2 – Fade to Black Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 113600

Genre: Horror, horror, new adult, gay, trans, post-apocalyptic, zombies, survival, island

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Synopsis

Brian Jameson doesn’t even get a chance to pick a college before a worldwide pandemic breaks out—and his home is Ground Zero. After losing his parents and sister in a whirlwind of devastation, Brian’s war-veteran grandfather takes him under his wing. But when desperate looters attack Brian’s new home, he and his grandfather must flee into a wintery Midwestern wasteland now populated by intelligent infected known as “Stalkers.”

These ghoulish creatures don’t shamble in hordes—they hide in the darkness waiting to strike, teeth bared in ghastly grins. And they laugh while they’re ripping you to shreds.

But with his grandfather’s training, Brian makes it to the home of his estranged childhood friends, twins Louis and Eva. And Brian gets a chance to experience something else he nearly missed: falling in love. Drawn to the determined—and ruthless—Louis, Brian escapes with him in search of an island paradise away from the relentless snow and infected.

But even if they make it there, it may not be the haven they’re hoping for.

Excerpt

Stalker/s
L.J. Hasbrouck © 2019
All Rights Reserved

12/19, Topeka, Kansas

Jameson Residence

1:06 a.m.

The light from Brian Jameson’s tablet danced across his face in varying degrees of intensity: somber blues, soothing greens, and sometimes the alarming tinge of blood-red. The show’s layered soundscape coursed through his earbuds. Drizzling rain enveloped the muted dialogue of two detectives, their shoes crunching against gravel as they hunted an elusive killer. Somewhere offscreen, a gun exploded. Brian’s pulse pounded so hard it blended with the strengthening downpour.

Jesus, I didn’t expect that.

Brian waited for the scene to change, for stunned gasps, for those dainty footsteps to accelerate into a frantic sprint, but the pair of detectives continued their discussion as if they were taking a stroll through a scenic garden.

Brian paused the video and plucked out his earbuds. Silence. Darkness. A small square of light with an image frozen in time tilted against his knees.

Am I going crazy? I swear I heard a gunshot.

Abrupt knocks shook his bedroom door. Brian’s tablet fell to the bed as he swiveled his legs over the edge, muscles tensed—

“Bri! I heard a buncha loud sounds an’ I’m scared!”

Brian clicked his lamp on and rushed to open the door for his younger sister, stumbling over a still-packed suitcase. After he ushered her in, he shut the door. His racing heart slowed as he gripped her fragile shoulders. We might have heard the same thing. Thunder, or maybe fireworks from the redneck neighbors.

“It’ll be okay, Becks. Tell me what happened.”

Becky’s thin eyebrows knit above glistening pale-blue eyes. “A boom woke me up an’ I ran to Mommy and Daddy’s room, but I heard another boom in there an’—”

“Wait—in their room?”

Becky nodded.

Brian jerked his cell phone from the charger. He pressed the “9” from the emergency screen, Becky’s fearful gaze locked on his. A whimper escaped her as footsteps creaked in the hall outside. Shadow sliced the sliver of light beneath the door.

Brian abandoned the phone to reach for the door lock—but someone twisted the knob before he could get to it. A sturdy figure burst in and knocked Brian back. Becky cried, “Daddy!” and flung her arms around their father’s stocky legs. Their mother pushed into the room after him, collapsing to her knees as their father slammed the door and locked it. Brian caught the glint of a gun wrapped in her shaking hand.

While his father paced the room, phone pressed to his ear and daughter wrapped around his legs, Brian guided his mother onto the edge of his bed. Her distant gaze frightened him—she seemed to be looking at something only she could see. A memory, perhaps, something keeping her from the present. Her auburn waves clung to her shoulders in sweat-matted strands. Blood spatter stained the pink and yellow flowers of a nightgown. It framed four crimson gashes gleaming from her porcelain chest.

In the background, Brian’s father spoke to a muffled dispatcher. “My kids are terrified, we’re locked in my son’s bedroom, and there’s a fucking dead guy on my bedroom floor! Why? My wife shot him, that’s why! All I know is I woke up to gunshots, my wife screaming, and some nut springing out of our closet. He scratched her—even tried to bite her! He was out of his mind, stank like…I dunno. I dunno. Can you hurry, please? I’m worried about my wife.”

Brian’s father slumped onto the bed and ran a hand through his close-cropped hair. Becky squeezed between their parents, tiny hands clutching their father’s flannel pajama sleeve while he listened to the dispatcher. His free hand curled into a fist above his bouncing knee, knuckles tightening to white.

Brian’s skin grew clammy. Tingly. He tuned out the sights and sounds around him until they became a blur and buzz, a spinning funhouse tunnel of disorientation. She shot him. This crazy guy that broke in. God, he could’ve come after me and Becks if she hadn’t…

Distracted by the motion of his mother setting the gun on his bedside table, Brian looked at her. He recognized a forced smile he’d seen many times before. “We’ll make it through this one step at a time. We always do.” She glanced down at the bloody slashes, then back up to Brian. “I know this looks nasty, but it’s only a couple of scratches. I’m okay. I promise.”

She pulled Becky to her, giving her the attention their father couldn’t. Despite his muscular build and booming voice, Brian’s father often wilted in stressful situations—like the time he lost his job at the Topeka mall and Brian and his mother found him foaming at the mouth with an empty pill bottle beside his outstretched hand.

Brian’s father lowered his phone and looked at his wife and children, scoffing. “We have to stay in here and wait for them, barricade the door. The dispatcher said we’ll be safe and that we shouldn’t disturb the scene. Can you believe that? They made it sound like you were more of a criminal than the asshole you shot, Ellen!”

“Joel, language.” Brian’s mother covered Becky’s ears. She rested her chin atop Becky’s head and lowered her hands to stroke Becky’s lank hair. Brian’s father sat beside them, staring at the thin blue carpet between his bouncing knees.

“Brian, move your desk in front of the door.”

Any other time, Brian might’ve found his father’s condescension infuriating, but he was happy to have a distraction from the questions stirring within him. He dragged the desk over to the door, hyper-aware and jittery like he’d had too much caffeine.

When he finished, Brian sank onto the foot of his bed. He swept his tablet away, certain he’d never want to finish the episode frozen within it, and curled a quaking hand around his mother’s shoulder. “Mom, tell me what happened. Please.”

She nodded, taking in measured breaths as she threaded her fingers through Becky’s auburn curls. Becky took after their mother both in appearance and spirit. Although Brian possessed the same golden-blond hair and tan complexion as his father, he’d also inherited his tendency toward escapism.

His mother kept him going. She kept them all going. Even though she’d been hurt, she still held her daughter to her, still gripped her husband’s hand in hers, still smiled at Brian.

“Someone must’ve broken in while we were at Nana and Poppa’s,” she whispered. “He hid in our closet, waited until we were asleep… I-I don’t know why he attacked me. But I…I had to protect my family, so I…”

She didn’t say anything else. Becky’s unbearable whimpering forced Brian to voice the panic bashing against his skull. “Who the hell was that guy? Was he some homeless guy that broke in to get out of the cold? Why would he hurt Mom?”

“Bri, if I told you what I saw, you and your sister would have nightmares.” Brian’s father finally looked up and met Brian’s gaze. “Your mother and I will already have them, I’m sure of it. All I know is it was self-defense: they’ll clear your mother, get her checked out at a hospital, and we can go back to normal.” His lips tightened into a strained smile. He’d been fighting to earn Brian’s trust back ever since they found him on that locker room floor, but the sacred trust built between parent and child had been shattered irrevocably.

Brian’s eyes fell from his father’s. They drifted into silence and awaited the police. His gut soured and every nerve in his body tingled until the tips of his toes and fingers felt numb. One second, he’d been watching a by-the-numbers police procedural, the next he might as well have been starring in an episode of his own.

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Knowledge-seeking animal-lover, supporter of diversity, and OG Floridian. Lifelong gamer who grew up drawing Disney characters, whales, and dinosaurs. Proud INTJ (which I share with the likes of Hannibal Lecter, Batman, and Ellen Ripley).

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On the New Release Tour with Valhalla by L.A. Ashton (excerpt and giveaway)

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Title: Valhalla

Author: L.A. Ashton

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: December 31, 2018

Heat Level: 1 – No Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 17900

Genre: Fantasy, Valkyrie, war, WWII, Norse Mythology, gay, historical fantasy

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Synopsis

Sakuma has served as a Valkyrie for centuries, smoothly escorting thousands of souls to the grand halls of Valhalla. While the world tears itself apart during WWII, he is summoned to retrieve the soul of a fallen Japanese soldier, Ishii Hiroshi. To Sakuma’s surprise, Ishii refuses his invitation to eternity.

The two meet again and again as the war repeatedly sends Ishii to death’s door, and what should have been a fleeting encounter becomes something much greater for the both of them.

Sakuma is determined to give Ishii the reward he so deserves, but Ishii’s stubbornness may condemn him to an eternity outside Valhalla.

Excerpt

Valhalla
L.A. Ashton © 2018
All Rights Reserved

Sakuma stared down through the floor, past his feet, through the crack in his dimension. Beyond the collisions and splits of galaxies, Earth’s thrumming pulse called to him. There lay his charges—the human souls he would collect so they might rest easy in Valhalla.

He felt the tug in his chest, the pull of someone destined for his collection, and spread his wings wide before plunging through the rift that linked their worlds. With wings tucked at his sides, stars became burning streaks of light. The universe blurred and twisted, an orb of hazy blue its only clear constant.

Earth had erupted into a time of war, and Sakuma and his fellow Valkyrie labored for the sake of human souls. They saw the hidden crevices and shadows of war no one wanted to see. The world wilted before their eyes, and the bloodstained present turned the future bleak, and dark. But they also saw triumph, and sunrise after sunrise starting the day anew. They saw the look on every soldier’s face as they realized death wasn’t the end.

It was worth it.

Sakuma punctured Earth’s atmosphere, and the smells of the lands and seas gusted against his face. His eyes softened at the reflective sparkle of the ocean; it was a beautiful sight, an unchanging thing that rose and fell under the press of the moon rather than the press of humanity.

The ground approached fast. Sakuma felt the tremble of the soul before his eyes could discern who it belonged to, but then—yes. Sakuma’s wings flared outward, body halting so immediately it dissolved the idea of impossibility.

Tanks, empty bullet shells, and discarded guns were strewn across the ground. Machines and bodies littered the battlefield as if they carried the same value. The acrid stench of gunpowder resisted the wind and hung in the air, a trail left in the wake of Axis and Allies. Sakuma looked down at his charge. The man stared up at him, eyes wide and unblinking. He was bleeding, his uniform more crimson than not, and he shook with such ferocity that Sakuma could hear it in his breaths.

Sakuma knelt down and offered his hand. The man blinked, his lashes coercing loose the tears still clinging to his eyes.

“You’ve done well,” Sakuma told him. He held his outstretched hand steady as his wings flapped at his back. “Let’s take you away from this.”

The soldier gawked at Sakuma’s wings before bringing his eyes down to the offered palm. He immediately grabbed hold, the sensation firm and warm against Sakuma’s skin. Good. He’s ready.

Sakuma curled his fingers around the man’s hand and lifted. As the soldier rose, the flesh of his hand fell away and lowered to the ground. What was left gripping Sakuma’s hand were tendrils of light in the purest, lightest blue.

Strings of energy knit together to form fingers, and arms and shoulders wound away from the confines of a body to become iridescent limbs. Sparkling light ghosted from the soldier, lifting past his body as his human form sighed its last breath. The human didn’t notice the transition. He only smiled, and that smile was lit with the radiant energy of life. Sakuma grabbed his other hand to steady him, and there was a discernible purr of peace.

Sakuma spread his wings, took a breath, and shot them into the air.

He kept his eyes up as they sailed through the Earth’s sky and broke through the seal of the atmosphere. But once they were careening through space, breaking apart time and dimensions, he liked to watch their faces.

Every man thought he knew true beauty. And then every man saw the infinite expanse of space, and they realized they’d been wrong.

Gas, dust, and rock were turned perfect and ethereal in the silence of space, backlit by millions of stars. Galaxies wound into spirals, blues warmed into reds around a sun, purple and green congealed in overheated leftovers of a supernova.

Sakuma watched the faces of the humans he brought, their newly transcendent form experiencing their first taste of eternity.

Eventually, he left them at the gates of Valhalla. There they could take the seat reserved for them—a place promised to true warriors for the rest of time.

Hands now freed, Sakuma turned to gaze into the black. Somewhere beyond that void, there was a pulse. Another life had found a heroic end. Sakuma smiled, spread his wings, and plunged back toward Earth.

Purchase

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

Meet the Author

L.A. Ashton is an LGBT+ author writing LGBT+ fiction. They enjoy rock music, traveling, and anything else that adds color to their daydreams. They believe in the healing properties of art and of having a cat firmly stationed on one’s lap. Their official site can be found at http://www.LAAshton.com.

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