Audiobook Blitz and Giveaway for September (Pride and Joy #1) by Robert Winter and Narrator: Kale Williams


Title:  September

Format: Audiobook

Series: Pride and Joy, book 1

Narrator: Kale Williams

Author: Robert Winter

Publisher:  Robert Winter Books

Release Date: February 7th,  2018

Heat Level: 4 – Lots of Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 10 Hours 01 Minutes

Genre: Romance, May December, hurt comfort, second chance

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A May-December contemporary gay romance for lovers of second chances

David James is smart, successful, handsome… and alone. After the death of his lover, Kyle, from cancer, he buried himself in his law practice and the gym. At forty-eight, he is haunted by his memories and walled off from the world. When David injures himself working out, he’s assigned to Brandon Smith for physical therapy. The vibrant young therapist is attracted to David and realizes he needs a hand to get back into dating. What begins as a practice coffee date escalates to friendship, passion, and maybe something more, as they navigate a new relationship in Washington, DC, and the gay mecca of Provincetown.

But David remains trapped behind the barrier of fear and guilt. Will he remain loyal to Kyle’s memory if he moves on? Can he and Brandon manage a twenty-two-year age gap? Brandon thinks he understands David’s concerns, and for him, the answer to those questions is yes. He wants to be with David, and he believes he can overcome David’s barriers. But Brandon fails to account for the world’s reaction to a handsome young man attached to an older, wealthy lover.

David’s memories, Brandon’s pride, and an unexpected tragedy might cost them something very special…

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Meet the Author

Robert Winter lives and writes in Provincetown. He is a recovering lawyer who prefers writing about hot men in love much more than drafting a legal brief. He left behind the (allegedly) glamorous world of an international law firm to sit in his home office and dream up ways to torment his characters until they realize they are perfect for each other. When he isn’t writing, Robert likes to cook Indian food and explore new restaurants.

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Meet the Narrator

Kale Williams lends his voice to bring to life romance books of all stripes. Known for his distinct characterizations and natural intimate storytelling, he is as comfortable with the cowboys on the prairie as he is with the cops of the big city, from the slow burn to the hot steam to the HEA. Love is love is love.


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Release Blitz: Three’s the Charm (Maths #3) by P.A. Friday (excerpt and giveaway)


Title:  Three’s the Charm

Series: Maths, Book Three

Author: P.A. Friday

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: February 12, 2018

Heat Level: 4 – Lots of Sex

Pairing: Male/Male, Male/Male Menage

Length: 57800

Genre: Contemporary, LGBT, menage, college professor, musican, film-maker, promiscuity

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James, Laurie, and Al are settling into a surprisingly easy life as a triad. Finally, things seem to be going well for them. But when an unscrupulous journalist takes advantage of Al’s blossoming film career and the men’s unusual relationship to write an exposé article, cracks begin to show. Can the three survive with their love, their careers, and even their sanity intact?


Three’s the Charm
P.A. Friday © 2018
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One

The text was brief and to the point.

I hope you’re behaving yourself. L.

Al glared at his phone, as if it were his boyfriend Laurie himself. Up until that point, he’d been fairly successful at forgetting that he’d been driven to the point of madness the night before by his lovers, who had made him beg and then refused to allow him the satisfaction he was craving. Okay, that ‘forgetting’ bit wasn’t entirely true. He’d managed to deal with the fact that he was absolutely fucking desperate for a wank, or to get off in some form or other. And then bloody Laurie sent that, just reminding him. Rubbing it in.

Al wanted to rub one off, not have things rubbed in. But Laurie, who was not ‘just’ a boyfriend but—when they both chose—his Dominant, had ordered him not to. To wait for this evening. Scowling so hard at his phone that his boss, Fenella, asked him what the matter was (“Nothing”), he sent a one-word reply.


There was silence for an hour. Laurie was probably giving a lecture at the university about filmography or something. Probably doing it well, too—Al had been to a couple of Laurie’s lectures in the past, and he was a good speaker, and knowledgeable. Al should know, as well: he was a prominent short film-maker on a minor level, though it was not a career which allowed him to devote himself to it full-time. Hence the job in the wine shop. During the text silence from his boyfriend, therefore, Al talked to various people about wine, advising them on which bottle might suit them best, and managed to ignore the worst of his frustration. Then the phone buzzed again.

Are you hard? L.

Al seethed. Well, if he hadn’t been before, he was now. He was bloody hard and fucking desperate. Laurie knew it—he knew precisely what he was doing, damn him. Al was tempted not to answer, to just leave Laurie hanging. But on the other hand, Laurie would be in charge once he got home. Provoking him to further teasing was a seriously bad plan. Hating his boyfriend, he sent the same one-word answer.


The ‘fuck you’ wasn’t explicitly written afterwards, but Al was pretty sure Laurie would get that too. Ruffled, he texted James. James, his other boyfriend. Laurie’s boyfriend, too.

Your boyfriend is a fucking sadist.

Al smiled apologetically at Fen, who was looking unimpressed by the amount of texting going on in work time.

“There’s no one needing serving at the moment,” he offered.

She snorted and shook her head. “I suppose you’re texting your many partners,” she said, trying to sound grumpy but not quite managing it.

As far as Fen was concerned—and it was fairly close to the truth—Al slept with pretty much anyone who offered. He certainly had sex with a lot of people, but not only did he live with James and Laurie, he was also in love with them, which made rather a lot of difference. And, he admitted grumpily, the sex was best with them. Partly because Laurie was the best Dom Al had ever come across, and the only one he’d thoroughly trust with the submissive part of himself; and partly because…well, (a) they were both bloody marvellous in bed, and (b) all right, yes, because he was in love with them and it turned out that that did make a difference, just as everyone claimed. Damn them all.

His phone buzzed again.

Needing a wank? J.

Al had the distinct temptation to smash his phone hard against the counter. James was supposed to be showing a bit of sympathy. Which that was not.

Fuck off.

He got another hour, that time. An hour in which to calm down and to think about wine, and talk sensibly to a customer about which white wine might be the optimal choice to go with a nice fish dinner (“What sort of fish?” “Dead,” said the customer, helpfully.)

It was Laurie, again, when the text came.

You’re going to have to beg. L.

Al hated how much that turned him on. How much he wanted to be on his knees to Laurie, pleading to be allowed to come. Hated the visions which were flooding his brain after reading it. Fen was giving him a peculiar look, and he excused himself to the toilet. Not to touch—he knew better than that—but to try to compose himself a bit. He could hardly serve customers with a raging hard-on, and at the moment all he could think about was sex. Fuck. Bloody, fucking Laurie. Fuck. Al pushed a hand firmly (painfully firmly) between his black jeans-clad legs, squeezed his eyes shut, and tried to think about other things. Awful things. Running out of money at the end of the month. Stepping in a deep puddle and getting a trainerful of water. Anything. Anything but the thought of Laurie making him beg. Jesus. Eventually, he knew he’d have to come out or face Fen’s wrath.

“Sorry,” he said apologetically. “Not feeling my best.”

“Hmm.” Fen’s lack of belief would have been mortifying at any other time, but at the moment, Al was too busy trying to deal with his rebellious cock.

You’re hot on your knees. J.

Al hadn’t even heard that text come in. He’d picked up the phone to check the time—to see how long it was before he could go home and persuade his boyfriends (his absolute bastard boyfriends) to allow him to get off. He’d not replied to Laurie’s last text—potentially dangerous in itself, but he was damned if he was going to plead over his phone. Bad enough that he knew bloody well he’d break down and do it in person the first second he saw Laurie; he was not going to humiliate himself in writing as well. And now James, too. James, who knew him too damn well, and knew what a text like that would do.

Thought I told you to fuck off, he wrote.

The response was quick; presumably James was home from work.

Sorry. Thought you asked me to fuck you. Or was that last night? J.

It wasn’t murder if your boyfriends had asked for it, was it? Al had a sudden memory of the previous evening, where he had indeed done as James had suggested. And James had acted like he was going to give in, and then not done so. Fucking tease.

Al gave an involuntary moan, and Fen looked at him, eyebrows raised. “Anything wrong?”

“Told you,” Al said, hoping he wasn’t blushing. “Not feeling great.”

Unexpectedly, she looked sympathetic. “You can head home early if you like?”

Oh, bloody hell, that was worst of all. Laurie and James would rip the piss out of him something chronic if they knew about this. Fen offering to send him home early because he was so ‘unwell’. He’d never live down the fact that he’d been so desperate for them that he hadn’t been able to finish a day’s work.

“No,” he said, knowing his face was definitely red, and quite probably radish-coloured. “I’m fine. Honestly.”

“Okay. Let me know if you need to leave, though, Al. Honestly, you don’t have to suffer.”

Tell that to my boyfriends, Al thought bitterly. Apparently they delighted in making him suffer.

“Thanks,” he said curtly.

Thankfully, they left him alone for his last hour at work. Al was beyond relieved: today had been more of an ordeal than he’d ever had at the wine shop. It wasn’t taxing work, and usually he enjoyed the banter with customers; but today, with the constant erection pushing at his trousers, distracting his attention, making him need things he couldn’t have…it had been horrendous. He was halfway out of the door before the final text came.

Come in, take off your clothes, and kneel by the sofa. L.

Laurie had timed it deliberately for the moment he left work. It left a strangely warm feeling in Al’s chest that Laurie knew to the minute when he would be leaving the shop; he was angry with himself for getting so much pleasure from that thought, but at the same time it was very hot. The texts, he realised, showed that he’d been on Laurie and James’s minds as much as they’d been on his. They wanted him. His cock throbbed hard at the thought.

When he got to the flat, there was no one in the sitting room. Obeying his instructions, he folded his clothes up and knelt naked by the empty sofa. Where were they? What were they doing? As Al got used to the sounds of the house, he realised that Laurie and James were in the kitchen. He could hear voices, and then the sloppy sounds of kisses. The noises got closer, and he glanced up to see that they were in the doorway between the sitting room and the kitchen, arms around each other, frotting up against one another as they kissed passionately. God, they were hot like that. And, Al realised, with frustrated fury, they knew he thought so. This was a show put on entirely for him…well, maybe not ‘entirely’—James and Laurie were shamelessly obsessed with each other at any time—but the fact that they were simulating sex somewhere he could see them and not be part of it… They were deliberately teasing him, even more than they’d been doing all day. A frustrated growl burst from his lips.

James looked over, the faintest smile tracing his lips.

“Al’s home,” he told Laurie, as if it were a surprise.

“Mm-hm?” Laurie sounded supremely uninterested, going back to touching and snogging James as if there was nothing more he wanted from life.

And Al was going to bloody die if he didn’t get any attention soon. His lovers were stripping each other’s clothes off, kissing any part of each other which they could reach as they did so. James’s mouth on Laurie’s nipple, Laurie’s head thrown back in pleasure, a hand behind James’s head, encouraging him. James’s hands busy on Laurie’s trousers as he sucked, pushing them down, exposing Laurie’s hard, heavy, large cock. They were distracted enough that they wouldn’t notice if Al just had a quick touch. He couldn’t bear it any longer. His left arm slid round from its required position behind him to take himself in hand, and he gave the tiniest hiss of relief at the sensation of fingers against his erection. Too quiet for anyone else to hear, you would have thought. Except that Laurie, with some psychic instinct, was suddenly gazing down at Al, a feral expression on his face.

“Oh, no, Al,” he said, his voice dark and measured, his hand slipping from James’s head. “That won’t do at all. Did yesterday teach you nothing about obedience?”

James turned to look at him too, and Al swore under his breath. He was so, so fucked now.


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Meet the Author

P.A. Friday fails dismally to write one sort of thing and, when not writing erotica and erotic romance of all sexualities, may be found writing articles on the Regency period, pagan poetry, or science fiction. She loves wine and red peppers, and loathes coffee and mushrooms.

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New Release Book Blitz for Ibuki by Kathryn Sommerlot (excerpt and giveaway)


Title:  Ibuki

Author: Kathryn Sommerlot

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: January 29, 2018

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Female/Female

Length: 26000

Genre: Fantasy, LGBT, lesbian, fantasy, cleric/priestess, magic users, abduction, royalty

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Ibuki: the gift of healing through breath. Chiasa has possessed the ability since childhood and shares it with her father as they care for their Inuru community. Chiasa has never doubted the stability of her simple life. That is, until Namika, a water-gifted priestess, shows up outside the Ibuki shrine gates with information promising Chiasa’s doom.

With Namika’s help, Chiasa is determined to find the secrets behind the ritual that will claim her life, but her growing feelings toward the other woman reach beyond her control, adding to the confusion. Time is rapidly running out, and Chiasa can’t seem to sort out the lies woven through the magic of Inuru and its emperor.

Caught in a tangled web of immortality, betrayal, and desire, Chiasa must find the right people to trust if she hopes to stop the ritual—or she will pay the consequences.


Kathryn Sommerlot © 2018
All Rights Reserved

When Chiasa first saw the young woman standing outside the shrine, her throat seized in fear around a single thought: the emperor is dead. A moment later, she realized the woman appeared far more nervous than grief-stricken, and she relaxed, only to wonder why a seseragi priestess would be on her doorstep before the sun had fully risen.

The woman was unmistakably one of the water-chosen. Her hands were fidgeting and pressing tiny creases into the telltale blue of her silk robe, its pale folds hanging uneven above her shell-lined sandals, and above the short collar, a silver clip in the shape of an ocean wave held her hair in two overlapping plaits. She glanced down either side of the empty road, shoulders bowed, before starting up the stairs.

Chiasa hung back to observe.

It took the woman a minute or so to climb the steps that led to the small fountain, and with the shrine deserted, her footsteps echoed through the grounds. Her hair seemed to have been hastily done as an afterthought—long strands had come free and hung down her back like splatters of black ink across parchment.

She did manage a jerky half bow when she reached the slotted board holding the wooden ladle, though most of the water she then tried to pour over her hands ended up splashing onto the front of the blue silk, a testament to the shaking in her arms. Chiasa let her continue without interruption until she reached the top of the stairs and clapped her hands together before the silver bell. Any farther, and the seseragi priestess would make her way inside the sanctuary, to where the ibuki power-stone was held, and the thought was unsettling enough to push Chiasa forward.

“If I can help you with something,” Chiasa began, slipping out from her hiding spot between the side of the sanctuary and the hall of worship where she spent many hours praying in solitude.

The young woman started, nearly tripping on the hem of her robe. One hand went to her mouth as she stared far longer than was comfortable, and then she bowed again, the force of the action throwing the loose tendrils of hair over her head.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t send word, and…well, I know it’s strange for me to be here, but I must speak with an ibuki priest, please.”

Chiasa took a step back, one corner of the hall’s intersecting wall panels jabbing between her shoulders.

“My father is the head priest, but he’s not here. He’s out with the herbalist to tend the sick. If you wish, I can leave him a message for when he returns—”

“It’s urgent,” the other woman whispered. “Please.”

At a loss, Chiasa looked around the shrine grounds she knew by heart. There was no one else to summon. Her father wouldn’t be back until much later, perhaps even after midnight, and old Isao was seldom of much use anymore, relegated to menial groundskeeping tasks and selling talismans. As the morning breeze broke through the tree line and nipped at the exposed skin of her cheek, she felt acutely alone.

Chiasa tried to imagine what her father might do were he present as the young woman, still bent in an awkward bow, began to shake with the exertion of it. Chiasa, afraid she would topple over entirely, sprang forward and dropped the broom she was holding, the tool clattering noisily across the pathway.

“He’s not here,” Chiasa repeated, though she wanted to help the woman when she was in such a state. “But please don’t panic, I will not send you away. If you’d like, I could make you some tea?”

“Yes,” the woman said. Her hands went to her face, cupping cheeks that were tinged with an uneven smattering of powder. As Chiasa watched, her gaze seemed to get lost in nothing, until she finally blinked and focused once again, settling on Chiasa’s face. Again, there was something sparking in her eyes that Chiasa couldn’t entirely read. The woman lowered her hands and nodded. “Yes, I would appreciate it. I’m sorry to intrude.”

Chiasa thought briefly of disagreeing, but it felt best to avoid lying. Instead, she led the seseragi priestess into the hall of worship and through to the small back room where they kept a low, small table and supplies unrelated to the shrine itself. There was a heavy iron kettle, which was so old that one side of it was slightly lower than the other, making the whole thing lopsided. Chiasa placed it onto the small fire in the center of the room with care and waved the smoke up into the open flume built into the roof’s small, soot-blackened bricks. Her strange guest knelt at the table, smoothing her silks beneath her knees.

“I don’t know when my father will return,” Chiasa apologized as she waited for the water to bubble. The other woman deflated somewhat, her shoulders curving in and over on themselves as she ran a finger over the grain of the table.

“Is there no one else?” she asked. Then, a half second too late, her eyes snapped up, wide and frightened. “I didn’t mean… I meant no offense. I’m sure you are quite capable at the breath—”

Chiasa waved her apology away. “I’m not offended. But I am afraid there is no one else. It’s only my father, myself, and old Isao.”

“Then, your father is part of the emperor’s circle?” the woman asked. The expression on her features changed from nervous to suspicious, and Chiasa couldn’t follow the reasoning behind it. Her guest tapped her fingers against the tabletop as she pursed her lips together, and her gaze shifted away from Chiasa and the teakettle. “Perhaps it was unwise to come here. I thought there were more in the ibuki shrine.”

The kettle whistled its completion, and as she poured the fragrant hibiscus blend, Chiasa frowned, puzzled by the transformation in both the conversation and the woman’s demeanor.

“My father is not advising the emperor today,” she said, again, in case it had been missed, as she handed the other woman the small teacup of hollowed bone. Her guest held the cup between her fingers, but didn’t sip from it. Her gaze seemed lost again, her eyes focused on something far beyond the table and the crackling fire pit, in a place Chiasa could neither see nor touch.

After quite some time, the woman raised her head once more. “My name is Namika. I suppose with your father too close to the source I should not have asked for him at all. You are the youngest within the shrine?”

“Yes,” Chiasa answered, though she regretted doing so in the next heartbeat when the oddness of the question fully registered.

Namika’s brow furrowed as her fingers knit together around the bone cup. “Then I must tell you of my discovery.”

“Discovery?” Chiasa repeated.

“I’m afraid it’s not good news,” Namika said and grimaced. “I was tasked with sorting through our cellar, where many of the old texts and records are kept. The majority of them are simply logs of visitors to the shrine and the actions our priests performed at the emperor’s command. But within the piles, I discovered what seemed to be a set of entries detailing the truth behind the emperor’s longevity.”

“The gods have seen fit to bless him with immortality,” Chiasa said, but she felt suddenly very cold, crossing her arms over her chest and running her hands over her sleeves. The small room seemed to constrict even further around them, squeezing the air from Chiasa’s lungs until she was gasping for it. They should not even be discussing the emperor. They were far too young and unimportant to think they had more wisdom than a man who had been ruling Inuru for nearly three hundred years, and despite their solitude within the shrine, Chiasa got the distinct feeling someone, somewhere, could hear them. The sensation sent toe-curling shivers down her back.

“No,” Namika said. She leaned forward, like she, too, was reacting to the sudden chill permeating the air. “It’s unnatural, his lifespan— He is stealing it, all of it; he is stealing his life.”

“That’s impossible,” Chiasa snapped. “No magic could grant a mortal so much time.”

Namika shook her head and set the cup of tea down, still just as full as when Chiasa had handed it to her. “He is stealing it through blood. He’s drinking blood to absorb the life within it and add it to his own.”

Chiasa stood so suddenly that the table shook, splashing tea across the surface. The scent of steeped flowers and herbs grew even stronger.

“You’re lying,” she said through clenched teeth, hands curled into fists at her side. The flash of indignation that flared up beneath her skin came from a source she couldn’t identify, but she knew from years of practiced obedience that it was necessary. “My father is on the emperor’s circle, and he would never allow such a thing, even if it were possible.”

“But that is why I had to come!” Namika exclaimed. “It’s written in the documents, by the seseragi high priest himself. I swear to you I did not come here with a lie!”

Chiasa wove her hands through her hair, tugging bits of it free from the tortoiseshell clasp holding the twist snug at the nape of her neck. Her father couldn’t possibly be implicated in such a monstrosity—and beyond that, the insult to the emperor weighed like a stone within her gut. The emperor protected them all. The emperor loved them all.

“It’s impossible,” Chiasa said, letting her hands fall back down to her sides. “What blood could possibly grant such—”

“Those with the breath!” Namika cried out and then sat back on her heels, cheeks flushed and pink. As Chiasa stared at her across the table, the unwanted and uninvited woman with the poison-tipped tongue of lies inhaled deeply and then pushed the air back out, slowly, through red lips.

“He is drinking your order,” she said. Her voice was far quieter, filled with something that sounded an awful lot like sympathy. “He is drinking the blood of ibuki priests.”


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Meet the Author

Kathryn Sommerlot is a coffee addict and craft beer enthusiast with a detailed zombie apocalypse plan. Originally from the cornfields of the American Midwest, she got her master’s degree and moved across the ocean to become a high school teacher in Japan. When she isn’t wrangling teenage brains into critical thinking, she spends her time writing, crocheting, and hiking with her husband. She enjoys LGBTQ fiction, but she is particularly interested in genre fiction that just happens to have LGBTQ protagonists. You can find Kathryn on her Website.



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


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

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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.


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.”


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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.

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BLITZ Tour for Beneath the Surface (The Outsider Project #1) by Rebecca Langham (excerpt and giveaway)


Title:  Beneath the Surface

Series: The Outsider Project, Book One

Author: Rebecca Langham

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: January 15, 2018

Heat Level: 2 – Fade to Black Sex

Pairing: Female/Female

Length: 93700

Genre: Science Fiction, Fantasy, Sci Fi, interspecies, captivity, teacher, politics

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When a change in collective conscious sends the Outsiders, a group of aliens, to the shadows below the city, humans reason that the demonization of their peers is simply more “humane.” There’s no question, nor doubt. Just acceptance.

Lydia had embraced that sense of “truth” for as long as she can remember. The daughter of a powerful governor, she has been able to live her life with more comforts than most. Comforts can be suffocating, though, and when the opportunity to teach Outsider children in their private, “humane” community becomes available, she takes it.

What she finds beneath the city is far from the truth she had grown to know. There she meets Alessia, an Outsider with the knowledge and will to shake the foundation of all those who walk above ground. The two find a new and unexpected connection despite a complete disconnect from the technological world. Or perhaps in spite of it.

Still, it takes a lot more than an immutable connection to change the world. Lydia, Alessia, and a small group of Outsiders must navigate a system of corruption, falsehoods, and twists none of them ever saw coming, all while holding on to the hope to come out alive in the end. But it’s a risk worth taking, and a future worth fighting for.


Beneath the Surface
Rebecca Langham © 2017
All Rights Reserved

Alessia’s mother roused her from a peaceful sleep. “Darling,” Rey whispered. “They’re coming for us. We need to move.”

Alessia blinked several times, forcing the tiredness from her eyes as she looked about the dimly lit cave. Outside, an owl hooted and tree branches fought back against a gust of wind, but she heard nothing else.

“We’ve talked about this,” her mother said, guiding her up from a nest of blankets and cushions. Alessia had never heard Rey so concerned. “You need to get moving.”

“But I want to stay with you,” Alessia replied. Her mother, and the reality of the situation, were coming into focus.

“I know, Lessi. But if you do, it’s more likely they’ll track us all down. Start down the eastern tunnel. Go carefully and try to stay as quiet as possible. You know where to meet us when they’ve left.”

Living in a cave may not have been especially comfortable, but at least they knew their way around in the area closer to the cave mouth. Within minutes of leaving her mother’s side, she felt lost, having no experience of navigating this area of the system.

Alessia slid a hand along the smooth, slime-covered rock of the cave wall. Shuffling along at a snail’s pace, she played a life-threatening game of hide-and-seek. The edge of her shoe acted as a poor guide, but it was all she had to help her avoid any sudden drop-offs. A depression in the stone could be anything from a small trench to a gaping hole one could fall through for hundreds of metres. Caves were like wild animals. They could protect you, take small bites out of you, or swallow you whole. For a moment, she wasn’t sure what was more terrifying: being captured, or trying to find a place to hide.

She inched along the wall as quietly as possible, until the echo of hurried footsteps brought her to a halt. Her legs felt like hollow reeds, liable to snap at any moment. Be calm. It’s just how sound works down here. The humans could be anywhere. You’re safe, she told herself, it’ll be all right.

The footsteps faded, leaving only the steady dripping of water from stalactites. Alessia put a hand to her chest and willed her heart to slow its exhausting pace. She didn’t want to pass out before she had moved deep enough to avoid detection. It took all her strength not to call out for her parents, to see if they had been rounded up, or if they’d managed to find somewhere to hide.

Get moving. She probed forwards with her foot once more.

No matter how many times she blinked, Alessia’s eyes would not adjust to such thick darkness. Her family rarely ventured so deep underground, and for good reason. Supplies were scarce, reserved for passages closer to the surface, and not to be wasted in such labyrinthine zones. With no food, water, or even so much as a torch, she had to move far enough into the tunnels to hide, but not far enough to lose all hope of finding a way back out.

The ground gave way, and her leg plunged through the earth, taking her courage with it. Her arms flailed as she fell, seeking something to stop her fall, but they found no purchase. Alessia cried out as her backside hit the wet rock, her leg lodged in the hole she had fallen through.

An icy sense of fear stabbed at her chest. They’d probably heard her. With eyes clenched shut, she forced herself to take slower, deeper breaths. One. Two. Three…she counted to twenty before she let herself believe no one was running towards the sound she’d sent reverberating through the space.

Finding the ground, she pushed herself up. A bolt of pain shot through her thigh. The unpleasant sound of fabric tearing frightened her more than the warm blood gushing over her knee. Alessia bit her lip to hold in another cry.

Damn it to hell! The thought screamed its way through her body. She felt the waxy indignation of it in every muscle. She pictured her mother’s face, paler than ever, as she had pulled Alessia to her just before they parted ways; a tight hug goodbye before tossing their wrist-lights to the ground. Alessia shook her head, banishing the image. Rey, her mother, was fighting her own battle somewhere else. She couldn’t even hazard a guess as to why her father wasn’t there when she’d been roused. She was on her own.

Alessia needed to focus on reality. It was pointless to wish they’d stayed together.

Trying to pull her leg out again might cause more damage, and then she might be unable to walk, which meant death. If she didn’t, though, she would be trapped in that spot, left to her own thoughts until her body gave out. There wasn’t a choice. She had to free herself and it was going to hurt.

A flash of light swept across the wall in front of her. The sudden severity of it burned her eyes and she clenched them shut. When she opened them again, two more beams of light joined the first. She had been walking towards a dead end draped in sand-coloured sulphurous flowstone. And now they’d cornered her. It was over.

“Boss! I’ve found one!” came a bombastic voice. “Down there. Looks like a teenager.”

Heavy footsteps moved closer, dashing through puddles and navigating uneven ground. They’d found her. The human government had changed its mind about her family’s freedom, as they’d been bound to do eventually, and they’d hunted them down. Her fear evaporated with each outward breath, with each jump or sweep of the torchlights. The terrifying darkness that enveloped her had been broken, and for the moment, that was all that mattered.

“It’s the daughter,” said another voice, more mature than the first. Alessia glanced at the dancing beams of light, two of them growing larger and rounder as the United Earth Alliance’s bounty hunters closed in on her.

Alessia’s leg throbbed. She bent her elbows, leaning back to rest on her forearms. Tightness had taken hold of her body, and it brought on a manic kind of exhaustion. Two men approached and stood before her. The older of the two, a sweaty beast of a man, took another step forwards. He bent down and examined what could be seen of her leg before dimming the light and turning it towards her. After the dense darkness, it was too bright, and she turned away.

“Well, then. Premier Abel will be pleased we found you all alive, Alessia.” His voice dripped with pleasure at his own achievement. She released a soft sigh. The UEA had gone back on its promise to her family. They’d get nothing from her.

Dropping the light between his legs, he leaned forwards and rocked on the balls of his feet. Stale remnants of musky cologne made Alessia’s stomach clench, but she kept her face as still as she could. Her discomfort belonged to her alone.

“It’s for the best, girl,” he told her. “This isn’t exactly an ideal way to live, is it? In the dark. Now, let’s see about getting you out of this hole.” The man stood, removed a handkerchief from his pocket, and then wiped the condensation from his glistening forehead.

“You’re not going to kill me?” Alessia asked, her mouth dry.

“Kill you?” he laughed. “Of course not! We’re not monsters.” He faced the other man. “Spray the wound and get her out of there, Mick. Let’s see about taking these people somewhere safe and protected.”


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Meet the Author

Rebecca Langham lives in the Blue Mountains (Australia) with her partner, three children, and menagerie of pets. A Xenite, a Whovian and all-round general nerd, she’s a lover of science fiction, comic books, and caffeine. When she isn’t teaching History to high schoolers or wrangling children, Rebecca enjoys playing broomball and reading.

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Release Blitz for Life After Humanity (Thorns and Fangs #3) by Gillian St. Kevern (excerpt and giveaway)


Title:  Life After Humanity

Series: Thorns and Fangs, Book Three

Author: Gillian St. Kevern

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: January 15, 2018

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 119000

Genre: Paranormal, vampires, supernatural beings, werewolves, alternate universe, cliffhanger ending

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Ben is a recovering vampire determined to pick up the pieces of the life that came to a halt when he was murdered over a year ago—even if that means distancing himself from his few remaining friends. Nate, struggling to navigate his new identity as a Class 3 Unknown paranormal, knows it will take more than mastery of his affinity with plants to convince Ben they belong together.

When Ben’s application for human status is denied, he must fight to leave the paranormal world behind him while Nate’s generous impulses drag him into conflict with a werewolf pack with designs on ruling New Camden. As Ben’s vampire family draws closer to finding him, his vampire instinct awakens—throwing his continued existence into jeopardy. The hunt for the missing werewolf continues, and Nate and Ben become pawns in Councilor Wisner’s plans to take control of the city. Their only hope is each other—if they can see that before all is lost.


Life After Humanity
Gillian St. Kevern © 2017
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One
Someone had broken in.

Ben stood in the doorway of his New Camden apartment. The door swung open at his touch, even before he’d fished his key out of his pocket. Beneath his feet, the protective wards laid around the apartment throbbed like an open wound. Someone had forced their way past Ben’s carefully laid defenses—someone who was still there.

Damnit. Ben set his briefcase down noiselessly beside the door. Just one day. One day without anything supernatural happening. Is that too much to ask?

He didn’t move, using his senses to probe the darkness beyond the door. Vampire—or werewolf? He hadn’t felt any interference with his wards until he’d reached his apartment. That ruled out a magical practitioner or any lesser supernatural being that would have needed to unpick the spell piece by piece. Please, not another demon. None of the boxes dotted around the living room were big enough to hide an intruder. Unless they crouched behind the sofa or pressed against the wall in the shadows, they weren’t in the living room.

Keeping his attention focused on the apartment, Ben fished for his umbrella stand and the cane leaning against its back. It looked benign, as if it had been forgotten by an elderly visitor, but when Ben twisted the handle, he released the long blade hidden within.

Not Ben’s first choice of weapon—the blade was too long and too dainty—but it was a weapon, able to stand up to vampire or demon. If this is a werewolf, I am in serious trouble. The stale air of his apartment lacked the distinctive ripe odor of werewolf. Still, Ben couldn’t rule it out.

Why would a werewolf break into my apartment? True, Ben had a past as a supernatural investigator for ARX and had killed a few werewolves in his time—but that was the past. There was nothing linking his life now to ARX—was there?

Ben slipped noiselessly into the dimly lit living room, heading for the sofa. Nothing there—or in the shadows. He scanned the room, but everything looked as it had that afternoon when he’d stepped out to meet his accountant. All I did was my taxes! Where’s the harm in that?

But bringing his financial records up-to-date for the year he’d been dead had taken all of the afternoon. Ample time for whoever it was to find a hiding place. Ben stood motionless in the living room, straining with his senses for any clue to the intruder.

The open doors of his apartment were in deeper shadow than the rest of the living room. Reaching for the light switch was tempting, but Ben’s eyes were now accustomed to the dark. Readjusting would cost seconds he wasn’t sure he had. His eyes fell on the stacks of paper on his living room table.

At first glance they seemed undisturbed, but a closer look revealed a few papers had drifted to the side. Disturbed by a breeze? Ben turned to the kitchen door. A sliver of light was just visible through the crack beneath.

A trap. There was nothing of interest to any supernatural being in the kitchen, so it would be the last place he searched. His guard down, his senses dull, he’d be unprepared for whatever waited beyond. Or—Ben frowned as he approached the door—was there another explanation?

A faint sizzling sound emanated from beyond the door, followed by the heavy smell of garlic.

Ben’s nose twitched. A werewolf would not cook an enemy dinner. A demon wouldn’t know how. A vampire might—but a vampire would not use garlic.

I’ve got a bad feeling about this. Taking a deep breath, Ben slowly levered the handle down and let the door drift open. His fear was confirmed.

Nate stood at the counter, his back to the door. The strength implicit in his broad shoulders and muscular arms was softened—but not disguised—by the domesticity of his actions. As Ben watched, Nate lay down the knife and used the chopping board to slide his neatly diced peppers into the frying pan. At his elbow a pot boiled merrily.

Far more dangerous than any werewolf. Ben swallowed, finding it hard to speak. He felt as if he were caught in a spell, unable to do anything but watch.

Absorbed in his task, Nate seemed unaware of Ben’s presence. He was dressed down, wearing a faded T-shirt that hugged his torso. The edges of his jeans were frayed, hanging down over his bare feet. His hair hadn’t been styled, and it curled up at the base of his neck. Finished adding the mushrooms to the pan, he stirred its contents and then stretched out a hand to the basil growing in a pot on the windowsill. The window reflected his smile, inward and alarmingly personal.

Ben swallowed. Nate had broken in—so why did he feel like the intruder?

Dangerous. Ben dug his fingers into his arm. Focus! Casual worked annoyingly well for Nate, made more effective by the knowledge that Nate made a point of looking good. There were few people who got to see Nate dressed down. But Ben couldn’t think about that, or how right Nate looked in his kitchen. He had to get Nate out of his apartment before it was too late.

“What happened to seeing less of each other?”

Nate started, snatching his hand back from the basil. He turned, and Ben’s initial flash of triumph gave way to alarm. Nate’s eyes were a great weapon. Hazel and framed by dark, almost decadently soft lashes, they radiated whatever Nate felt with an immediacy that was hard to resist.

“Jesus, Ben! You scared the shit out of me—” He came to a halt. “Is that a sword?”

Ben looked down at the blade in his hand. It wouldn’t help him now. “It’s a family heirloom. Used to be my grandfather’s.” He turned back toward the front door.

“And you just keep it there by the door?” Nate followed Ben to the kitchen door to watch.

“In case of intruders.” Ben sheathed the sword and dropped the cane back in the stand. He shut the door. His heart raced. Ben took a moment to summon all his anger. I was this close to a day without anything supernatural happening! “You’d better have a good reason for breaking into my apartment.”

“I do.” Nate stood in the kitchen doorway, one hand resting against the frame.

“Let’s hear it then.”

“I had a bad feeling this afternoon. A premonition.”

Not this again! “It wasn’t a premonition.”

“It felt really real. I was just watching TV and all of a sudden, these words popped into my mind. You were gone and I wasn’t going to see you again. It really freaked me out.”

“Enough to add breaking and entering to your criminal file?”

Nate radiated hurt. He wrapped his arms around himself. “I had to see you. No one answered the door, so I tried calling. When it had been a couple of hours and you hadn’t answered your phone, I—well, I got worried.”

“And that’s when you broke in?” Ben pulled his phone out of his pocket, tapping in his pin.

“That was an accident. I had my hand on the door, and I was thinking about how much I wanted to be on the other side, and the door just…relaxed.”

Eight missed calls… Ben jerked his head up. “Relaxed?”

“I tried the handle and it opened.” Nate’s eyes settled anxiously on Ben’s. “Did I break anything?”

Ben looked down at the welcome mat beneath his feet. He didn’t need to lift it to know what he would find. His runes, intact but faintly smudged. “Only the natural laws regarding the magical properties of runes.”

Nate scratched the back of his neck. He dropped his gaze, shuffling his feet, but was unable to keep from looking up to check Ben’s expression. “Are you mad?”

Embarrassment looked wrong on Nate. Ben was reminded of a dog caught doing something he knew he shouldn’t be—and felt the tight knot of anger in his stomach undo. Curse him! If Ben was going to get out of this encounter unscathed he needed his anger. “Of course I’m mad. My apartment is my place. Coming home to find someone’s forced their way in is…not good.” Not good? That wasn’t going to convince anyone—least of all anyone with Nate’s perceptive nature.

It was hard to read Nate’s expression. “I made dinner. As an apology.”

At least he realized he needed to apologize— No! I have to be firm. “I think your apology is burning.”

“Shit!” Nate ducked back through the doorway to attend to the frying pan.

Ben took the opportunity to escape.


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Meet the Author

Gillian St. Kevern is spending Christmas in her native New Zealand, where the seasonal festivities include pavlovas, walks on the beach, and a distinct lack of sweaters, seasonal or otherwise. She will almost certainly get sunburnt at some stage.

Gillian reads and writes a variety of genres. She’s a huge fan of paranormal with an emphasis on vampires. The third and fourth books in her vampire series, Thorns and Fangs, are due for release in January and February 2018. She also explores Welsh Mythology in the on-going Deep Magic series. In 2018, she plans to explore another beloved genre―vintage mysteries. She loves discovering new books and authors, so please get in touch if you have any good book recommendations to share!

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


Title:  The Calling

Author: M.D. Neu

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: January 1, 2018

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 108300

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

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

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


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

Chapter One
What is death?

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

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

That was my case.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I would find out why soon enough.

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

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

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

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

Second, the waiter came to my table.

“Sorry about the drink,” I said.

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

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

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

“No.” I shook my head. “I’m fine.”

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

“Are you sure?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I moved toward her.

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

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


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Meet the Author

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

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

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

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Book Blitz: Blackwelder 2164 by Christopher D. J (excerpt and giveaway)


Title:  Blackwelder 2164

Author: Christopher D.J.

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: January 1, 2018

Heat Level: 2 – Fade to Black Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 51200

Genre: Science Fiction, military, gay, war, aliens, romance

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When it comes to hitting his target, Spencer Blackwelder can’t miss. But when it comes to hitting the mark in other areas of his life, his aim is way off, which is definitely a problem when you’re a military sharp shooter preparing for war with an alien species.

As penance for past mistakes in friendship and in love, Blackwelder makes the bold choice to relocate to Fort Felix, a military base on Neptune’s moon, a decision that could end up costing him his life. Once there, he meets: Juan Miguel Arías, to whom he takes an immediate liking; Vernita Burton, a true friend; and the men and women of Brant Squad, a group of lovable losers that he eventually takes under his wing.

Blackwelder is surprised to discover he has something to live for again, but all of that is threatened when war finally arrives on Fort Felix’s doorstep. Can Blackwelder find the hero within in time to save his squad, his planet, and the man he loves?


Blackwelder 2164
Christopher D.J.© 2017
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One: Out of the Dark

“All right, Jinx Squad, listen up,” said First Lieutenant Robby Macke as he stood before Sergeant Spencer Blackwelder and the other crew members. “As you know, an abandoned Elumerian starship floated into the Barack’s space sector forty-eight hours ago. It’s been subjected to long-range and short-range drone scans, and we know that the propulsion and guidance systems are damaged beyond repair. There are several vacant exterior ports, suggesting the crew evacuated. Zero life signs on board. We are the lucky squad who get to be the first to dock with it. Our mission is to search the vessel, determine its threat level, collect any useful data, and return to the Barack. Any questions?”

“Just one, sir: with those giant sat dishes Miller uses for ears, there’s no need for us to actually dock, is there? He can just conduct an audio scan from here,” said Mudunuri. The other squad members laughed as Miller, the pilot, whipped his head around to shoot Mudunuri a scathing look.

“Is this the comedy hour? Or are we here to do a job?” Blackwelder asked. “Knock it off.”

“Sorry, Sergeant Blackwelder.”

Macke smirked. “Don’t be absurd, Mudunuri; Miller couldn’t possibly pull that scan off from here. He’d need to be, what, at least three clicks closer?”

Miller shook his head from the cockpit. The other soldiers sniggered.

“Lieutenant Abernathy, com check, if you please.”

Abernathy adjusted her headset, then pressed and held a yellow button until it turned green. “This is Jinx Squad on Raider-1 to Barack actual. We’re conducting a com check; do you read, Barack?”

“Raider-1 this is Barack actual, we read you. Coms are go, over,” said a voice over the open channel.

Satisfied, Abernathy slid her hands along the console to a different cluster of brightly lit buttons. “Jinx Squad, internal com check, channel three. Confirm.”

“Coms are go,” they all said in unison. Over her shoulder, Blackwelder could see several lights flash green on Abernathy’s console.

“Coms are go, Lieutenant,” Abernathy said to Macke with a wink.

Raider-1 was a small ship with cramped quarters. There was a cargo hold beneath the floor of the ship, but its capacity was limited, not that they were expecting much of a physical salvage. Four soldiers shared the seating compartment with Blackwelder. Macke stood over the backs of the pilot and Abernathy, talking navigational tactics. They sat close together, their knees touching and occasionally banging into one another as the ship jostled. Several lit panels—some with loose-hanging cables—beeped above their heads. Expecting the atmosphere aboard the Elumerian ship to be completely inhospitable, the Allied Earth soldiers were wearing their space suits, sans helmets, and held their heavy-duty laser rifles at the ready.

The air was rife with tension; they had joked before, but Blackwelder knew it was a weak ploy to cover their mounting fear. None of them had ever stepped foot onto an alien, enemy vessel before. Blackwelder felt the concern himself, of course, but had to master it. Macke might have been the one giving the orders, but Blackwelder knew he’d be the one to keep them on point.

“Don’t forget to breathe, Jinx,” Blackwelder said to them all. “This is nothing more than a standard recon mission. You’ve trained for this.” A couple of them nodded, but they seemed little put at ease by his words. He took a quick look at Macke, though the lieutenant didn’t turn to meet his glance.

“And if any one of you shoots one of your own, I guarantee you you’ll be eating nothing but veg-ox for a week.”

A couple of them chuckled at the comment. “But what if you like veg-ox?” one of them said softly.

“Shut up, DeFrank,” Mudunuri said.

“Target in range, LT. Better get strapped in,” Miller said. On screen, Blackwelder could see a massive vessel that was rounded and bulbous on one end and through the middle, but that tapered off toward the tail. Cascading rows of spikes adorned the middle of the craft on both sides. The spikes, rounded at the edge and faintly glowing from their center, could almost be mistaken for fins. In fact, the whole ship had the look of a mutated whale, which reminded Blackwelder of the aquatic life they’d discovered years ago in some of Earth’s more polluted oceans.

Macke nodded and turned to take his seat, the only available one being next to Blackwelder. Blackwelder looked up at Macke; he kept his expression blank, but inside he was laughing. He could see a moment of nervousness sweep over Macke’s face, but he mastered it immediately and took his seat. Blackwelder couldn’t help himself; he found Macke’s discomfort utterly amusing. Raider-1 docked with the Elumerian ship shortly thereafter.

Macke stood up quickly from his seat and grabbed his helmet “Miller, Abernathy, you stay with Raider-1 and monitor us. Mudunuri, you’re with DeFrank. Pazmiño, you’re with Sergeant. Blackwelder and Wine, you’re with me. We’ll split up, clear the ship section by section, and rendezvous on what we’re eighty-seven percent sure is the bridge. Questions?”

Mudunuri opened and closed his mouth. Blackwelder could see the confusion mounting as he childishly raised his hand. “Uh, sir? Normally in the incursion scenarios, I partner with Pazmiño.”

Jumping to his feet, Blackwelder cut across Macke before he could answer. “This isn’t a scenario, dusties! In live missions, you take the orders given to you.” He took a step closer to Macke and leaned in to whisper: “Though, sir, the familiarity of the old pairings may be an advantage for us in this situation. One less thing for them to think about. Unless there’s a particular reason you want to readjust the teams?”

Macke glanced at Abernathy, who was close enough to overhear them. Her expression was quizzical, as she too seemed to be confused by the sudden change in the lineup.

“Besides,” Blackwelder said, “it will be easier for me to keep you alive if I can watch your back.”

“Yeah, okay,” Macke said impatiently. “Old pairings: Mudunuri/ Pazmiño, DeFrank/Wine, and Wellie, you’re with me. Let’s get in there and get this done, people.”


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Meet the Author

Christopher D. J. was born and raised in the South, calling multiple cities home between North Carolina, South Carolina, and Florida, but none more so than Daytona Beach, where he graduated from Mainland High School. Christopher went on to complete his BA at Duke University and his MPW at the University of Southern California. Christopher is the author of Blackwelder: 2164 and Between Two Brothers. He briefly worked in the entertainment industry before turning his attention full-time to higher education; he currently has the pleasure of serving first-year students and families at California State University, Los Angeles as the Assistant Director for New Student and Parent Programs.

Christopher lives in Los Angeles, CA, where he enjoys comic books, movies, cheeseburgers, French fries, and not having to worry about mosquitoes.

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


Title:  Run in the Blood

Author: A. E. Ross

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: December 25, 2017

Heat Level: 2 – Fade to Black Sex

Pairing: Female/Female

Length: 78700

Genre: I

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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.


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.


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

“Aye, Captain?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The king nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What do you want from me?”

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

“I knew your father,” he said.

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

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

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

She didn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Meet the Author

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

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Book BLITZ Get Up by Reece Pine (excerpt and giveaway)


Title:  Get Up

Author: Reece Pine

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: December 25, 2017

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 69500

Genre: Contemporary, LGBT, MM, contemporary, wilderness, child abuse, mental illness, PTSD

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Recently dumped (again) for being cold, Guy gladly accepts his publisher friend’s request to go to a remote hut in wintry Nunavut to find out whether aspiring novelist Cam Campbell is a plagiarist. By agreeing also to help the eccentric ecologist survey wildlife for a month, Guy buys time to assess Cam’s innocence and hear stories about Cam’s late father–Guy’s favorite fantasy writer and the man whose book Cam is accused of stealing.

Guy’s investigation is soon biased by his attraction to Cam and the growing concern about Cam’s odd behavior. At times, Cam dissociates and is icier than Guy could ever be, yet he’s the only one who’s ever recognized, at a glance, the emotions burning beneath Guy’s surface. Guy knows he’s the best person to help Cam abandon the dangerous wilds outside and address those in Cam’s head, but he also knows that he’ll lose the chance if he comes clean about his ulterior motives for getting close to Cam. How can he convince Cam to come in from the cold… and why are they both really out there anyway?


Get Up
Reece Pine © 2017
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One

At least he wasn’t nervous about meeting the kid anymore. He’d stopped feeling anything at all besides dread and the wheels of the suitcase he’d slung over his shoulder bruising his numb ass with every stumble. Finally, Guy glimpsed smoke wisping from a rustic pipe chimney a hundred yards farther than the thousand miles he’d already come. His brogues, so iced over they looked like glass slippers, skidded on the porch’s wooden boards. The leather-gloved hand he threw forward to balance himself rattled the doorframe with a thudding knock, sending ice shards showering behind him from the rafters overhead.

“Hell-lo?” he croaked. “Cam-meron C—”

The alluring burst of firelight that greeted him as the door opened was immediately extinguished by someone squeezing the swollen wood shut behind themselves as they stepped forth. Guy was suddenly too surprised to be awestruck over meeting Alessandro De Carli’s son at last. He was glad his frozen eyelids couldn’t blink, because the guy—the specter, presumably Cameron Campbell—might disappear if he did. For a second, he wondered if he’d knocked on the wrong gingerbread house door, only there was no other shelter for fifty miles.

Cameron Campbell was known to be even more reclusive than his late father, but he wasn’t actually supposed to be mythic. The tiny guy blocking the door with sturdy, unlaced boots looked like a wood nymph. Eyes as blue as distant stars stared at him unabashedly. Maybe the reason no journalists had ever snapped pictures of the kid, and why he had no online presence, was because he couldn’t be caught on film.

“Incredible.” Cameron must have read Guy’s mind, and he pressed rosebud lips together in exasperation. “Are you alone? Did you hitch here? There’s no corpse in a cab parked on the highway I need to go rescue? Insane.”

Guy respectively nodded and shook his head, hoping the well-earned insult was aimed at the driver on his way west who’d dropped him at the side of a barely used road, far from the highway. Guy had considered himself lucky to thumb a ride at all out of the tiny settlement of Ipasila, built around a gas station, which was the closest town to Campbell and two hours’ drive from the Hudson Bay hamlet of Arviat in southern Nunavut. In hindsight, the man had been almost as reckless as Guy himself had been for not driving him straight to the police. Instead, Guy had been let out of the relative safety of a truck armed with nothing more than the GPS tracker Guy had brought with him and prayed was accurate.

“C-Cameron…” Not Cameron, Guy revised. A Cameron was a strapping guy—like a Brad or a David—or a blonde woman. This pixie prince was either a Cam or a question mark. His eyes looked magnified behind the lenses of large glasses, the arms of which must have burned cold against his temples because Cam removed them—only for his naked eyes to be comically large. It was still possible he wasn’t even De Carli’s son, since he looked nothing like him. Wrote nothing like him either, which was why Guy was here. “You’re C-Campbell, right? De Carli’s s-son?”

It was Campbell’s turn to draw back in surprise. “Are you from a newspaper?”

“Am I s-selling subscriptions?” Traipsing from cabin to cabin after dark? “D-does it matter? Let me in.” Heat from indoors infused the porch floorboards and bled into Guy’s damp soles, announcing itself as pain in his brittle toes.

“I don’t do interviews about my father.” Cam reached inside the hood of his puffy coat, just a shade lighter than his luminous, creamy skin, to pull a long coil of black hair forward. It hung like gossamer over the gray scarf around his shoulders.

He’d let down his hair, so now Guy could enter, right? “Do I l-look like a journalist?”

“Nah, you look too honest.”

Guy’s brows were too frozen to frown at the sarcasm. He knew damn well he had a poker face. That was the problem; now that he was literally incapable of moving his face he probably looked normal, not dangerously hypothermic.

“I’m with your p-publisher.”

“You’re from Ames? In that case, first, tell Claire she should be fired and charged with attempted murder for sending you. Secondly, and for the hundredth time, I canceled the submission for Close to Home. I didn’t mean to send it to you guys in the first place. Third, stop hounding me about it.”

“Fourth, f-fuck off,” Guy anticipated his next order. “I c-can’t. And I’m from F-Fairbanks Press.”

“Ha! Are you guys even still publishing me?” Cam swept his bangs behind an ear, which was slightly pointed at its tip.

Of course, it is. “You’re the one who n-never answers emails.”

“Internet’s intermittent out here. And there’s nothing wrong with that manuscript that isn’t Fairbanks’ fault.” Cam pursed his lips, which were tinging blue before Guy’s eyes, and nuzzled his chin into his scarf. Guy was torn between thinking it served him right to be cold and wanting to offer his firstborn as passage to the gatekeeper who halted Guy’s shuffle forward by holding up a gloved palm. “Uh-uh, no way. You ought to know the drill, New Yorker. You are, aren’t you?”

Guy was as native a New Yorker as anyone who’d moved there in adulthood and would never live elsewhere. A load of the population was in the same burned boat as him, so yes, he could claim to be from New York, but that was irrelevant while the heat fleeing his eyes stung.


“So the same rules apply here as there,” Cam continued, as though this were a holiday home in Connecticut. “You know, I met a hiker from Texas here who’d never even seen snow before, but he knew enough about it to come in September, not March. Why do you think I can’t get any volunteers to assist me at the moment?”

Because not only did this waif conduct questionable wildlife research in the middle of nowhere while purportedly editing a novel, but he also lived at the end of a spur trail a mile west of an icy road to nowhere.

Cam stamped his feet, blowing into hands he cupped over his mouth. “Come on.”

What did the little sylph want? For Guy to roll a seven? Produce a magic key?

“For God’s sake, guy, you need to strip!” Cam finally twisted the door handle behind him, spilling back into an amber glow. Guy tumbled in after, out of the deadly night air.

Instantly, his coat became the warmest bath Guy had ever had the pleasure of sinking into. Flames in the hearth curled into come-hither licks Guy’s jellied legs couldn’t obey. There was enough ecstasy to be had where he wilted against the closed door. The sensation wrenched him from numb to overwhelmed in a blink, and thrust him the closest to an imminent powerful orgasm he’d been since…he didn’t want to know.

Cam busied himself over at a kitchen counter, ignoring Guy, who stood, shaking in the doorway, suddenly struggling with a boner that had sprung from pure physical shock, surprising and mortifying him. He had to admit he could see how post-hypothermia blood rushing around could cause such a phenomenon, but man, did it have to? Thankfully, melting into a hunch helped hide it when Cam reappeared in front of him wearing only a few layers of sweaters and brandishing two steaming mugs of coffee.

Its intoxicating aroma further confused his senses by going straight to Guy’s cock. Now, there’s a new kink. He failed to convince himself his hand quivering was an aftereffect of the cold, not the sight of the now gloveless, pale hand offering a chipped mug with the handle out for Guy to grab. Cam raised an eyebrow at Guy’s taking it with his left hand.

“Oh, you’re a lefty?”

“I guess,” Guy said, distracted by just how fine Cam’s fingers were…and how Cam’s palm was apparently immune to the hot ceramic he held courtesy of calluses, frostbite, or immortality. “Looks nice….”

“Not too strong?” Cam asked, a smile curling the corners of his mouth.

“N-no such thing.” Guy slurped half the treacly concoction before gasping, “Thanks.”

“Sit.” Cam nodded to a couch piled high with blankets resembling a laundry pile. There was nowhere to sit except on top of them. “And I wasn’t kidding before. You need to strip, like, five minutes ago. Show me some skin.”

“What?” Skin?

“And a business card.”

Shit. Guy had no such thing—he should have made Huw make him a mock-up one before coming. If Cam was astute enough to ask questions like that, it might be hard to deceive him as planned. Plausible excuses whirled in his mind, but were as hard to grasp as the snowflakes he ruffled loose from his hair, stalling for time. He was surprised they hadn’t melted, since his scalp was beginning to burn….

“Of course, I’d prefer skin first. And so would you,” Cam said.

“I’m here to work,” Guy retorted, reinforcing the lie to himself.

“How do you know De Carli was my father?”

Guy blinked. “Isn’t he?”

“My pen name’s Cameron Stewart. I know my real name’s on the contract I signed with you guys, but that’s Cameron Campbell.”

“That’s De Carli’s son’s name.”

“It’s also as common as mud. How do you know I’m him?”

“Because…” Heat surged through Guy’s veins, and flashes from the fireplace in his periphery blinded him. Flames shot up his spine, turning his thoughts to smoke. His erection stirred as he willed it to subside. Instead, his heartbeat faded, which was a lot more alarming. “Because…”

Struggling to balance his tilting mug on the surging, damp footwell he slumped down upon, Guy bit at his glove to peel it from his roasting hand. It dangled from his lip, and he batted it away to better claw at his collar, trying to escape its stranglehold. Sweat made it slippery in his shaking hands, and he panted more feverishly than he had while staggering outside, where everything was white—as white as everything was turning now.

“Hey, stay with me, guy.” Cam rose from his slouch against the back of the sofa, surrounded by a blizzard of stars that swarmed Guy’s vision. He was warmth personified, the most enchanting thing in the dreamscape Guy had navigated to get here, and he was still miraculous, even now that everything had become a nightmare. His own sharp intake of breath echoed from afar as Cam lunged toward him through the static.

“I hoped you were him,” spilled in a murmur from Guy without his control. Strangely, Cam seemed to slip farther away the closer he got, as Guy sensed himself falling. It looked like he wouldn’t manage to save De Carli’s son after all. Well, he thought as all light vanished, at least he’d managed to meet him. And he got to die in the arms of a beyond-beautiful man.

No, forget that, his consciousness broke through. De Carli’s son was stunning, strange, and fascinatingly all the way out here. Never mind the fact Guy couldn’t write, he was going to live and find out what made Cam tick if it was the last thing he did.


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Meet the Author

Reece is allegedly a descendant of Ann Boleyn. If you have any ancestors who were in England circa 1500, then there’s a 50% chance you too are distantly related to Anne Boleyn. In fact, if you’re of European descent, then you and everyone else of European descent share a single ancestor, who lived around 1400. And in 3,000 years’ time, all of humanity will be able to trace their lineage back to someone who is alive today. Reece thinks it would be cool if that person was G-Dragon.

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