Release Day Blast for Mama, Me, and the Holiday Tree by Jeanne G’Fellers (excerpt and giveaway)

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Mama Me and the Holiday Tree

Jeanne G’Fellers is sharing the cover for her new enby/pansexual queer paranormal fantasy book: Mama, Me, and the Holiday Tree.

A dozen handmade holiday ornaments, that’s all, but it might be an impossible task.

Centenary Rhodes and her mother are at constant odds. It’s one of the many reasons Cent left home when she was eighteen. Mama’s difficult for anyone to manage, but now that Cent’s back home, she has to try. Mama, however, won’t acknowledge who Cent’s become, even though she’s repeatedly been shown the truth.

It’ll take more than popcorn strings and paper snowflakes to heal the rift that’s formed between Cent and Mama. It’s going to take bushels of patience, heaps of magic, and assistance from everyone on both sides of Embreeville Mountain to reset the Balance between them.

But with Yule and Christmas just around the corner, it might already be too late.

Join Cent and her Mother for a heart-warming, magic-filled holiday tale of acceptance, family of choice, family of blood, love, magic, and patience all served with a queer Appalachian twist.

Warnings: This novella broaches the subject of mental illness, specifically Schizophrenia, within families and the relationships struggles therein.

About the Series:

Four elements plus one, four seasons, over a hundred lives – Centenary Rhodes has returned home to discover she isn’t who she thought. Join her on a journey through history, family of blood, family of choice, and love that renews. The mountains are alive, y’all, everything hinges on the Balance, and a little moonshine can cure what ails you in this identity-exploring, imaginative queer Contemporary Fantasy series steeped in Appalachian magic and folklore.

Mountain Gap Books | Amazon | Amazon UK | Amazon CAN | iBooks | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | Smashwords | Goodreads


Giveaway

Jeanne is giving away two eBook copies of the first book in the series, Cleaning House, with this tour. Enter via Rafflecopter:

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Excerpt

Mama Me and the Holiday Tree

Chapter One

A Cedar in the Corner

December 19, 2017: 5:30 p.m.

This is what I get for marrying an earth elemental.I stare with dismay at the dirt trail leading across the porch and through the front door. I don’t get rare gems or sparkling geodes placed lovingly at my feet by my elemental spouse. No, I get a cedar tree, bare roots caked with half-frozen mud, wedged into the living room corner.

Stowne’s dragged a holiday tree into our home while I was at work today.

“No one saw you do this?” I scratch my head as I consider the leaning mass of fern-like, scaly, sticky needles. “And I thought we’d talked about getting a tree tomorrow.”

“No one was here.” Stowne’s grinning ear to sandy ear. “It is a surprise. You have worked so hard lately that you have forgotten how close it is to Yule.”

Yeah, Yule. About that.This is my first Yule with Stowne. No, let me correct that. This will be my first Yule celebration thislife, and they’re trying to make it special for me, so I can’t sound as upset as I’m feeling at present. “Two days. I know. Thanks, honey, but can we do something about the mess?”

 

“I’ve got it.” Stowne’s fire elemental friend, Pyre, rolls into the living room on a cloud of white smoke, and they’re holding the old half-barrel planter from beneath my Aunt Tess’ trailer’s back porch. “I found something to line it.” Pyre holds up a faded canvas tarp they’ve found Gods know where.

“Thank you.” Stowne’s smile still spans their face. They’re happy about this, about the tree in the corner, the leaky planter, and faded tarp, so I try my best to look happy too. “Go to the kitchen, relax, and drink some coffee, Centenary. Pyre and I will finish setting up the tree.”

“Sure.” I tuck my messenger bag under my arm and head to the kitchen, where Rayne is waiting for me, an earthenware mug of steaming coffee in their translucent, watery hands. Water elementals make wonderful coffee, by the way. Rayne claims the secret is spring water filtered through their form, and I’ve no reason to doubt them.

“Stowne’s really excited about the tree.” Rayne gives me the mug and takes my bag, setting it on the kitchen table. It’s a huge piece of well-loved furniture, a good eight-foot-long trestle, and handmade from American Chestnut, a species that’s widely considered extinct. “They’ve been looking for the perfect one since Samhain.”

“They have?” Who knew there was so much to Yule? Certainly not me, at least that I can remember. See, I’ve got this whole multiple-lives thing I’m sorting through. Most of those lives, I’ve been with Stowne, and I remember a lot, but some issues, like their excitement over holidays, have eluded me. I’ve been reading about different Yule traditions online and in the stack of magical books I left behind, but I feel I’ve barely scratched the surface, and I’ve been asking Stowne questions every night while we cuddle in bed. “They’ve gotten excited every sabbat and esbat since we’ve been together, but they seem even more excited about Yule. Why is that?”

“You don’t remember?” Rayne shifts the lower portion of their form to what resembles flowing blue pants, making it easier for them to sit. “You’ve celebrated Yule with Stowne for centuries, and during your last two lives, you actually let them bring in a tree every year as long as it could be replanted afterward.”

“Yeah, Stowne told me.” I sip my coffee then rise from the table in search of the quart of cream we keep in the homestead’s old Kelvinator fridge. “But that doesn’t explain why they’re so happy.” I add three heaping teaspoons of sugar to my cup, deep in thought as I stir. I remember that Stowne and I built this homestead together in the early nineteenth century. That version of me was Irish and desperate for a home that resembled Ireland, and this place certainly looks like pictures I’ve seen. My motivations might change each life, but I’m in many ways the same, and I always try to come here, to reach Stowne and this mountain. That’s what I’m told, anyway, but I don’t actually know.

My heart, however, says this is correct.

Here’s the thing about me and my memories. This life, I left Northeast Tennessee when I was eighteen years old. Actually, I didn’t just leave, I ran. I ran from my mother and her chronic mental illness, from everyone I thought wouldn’t accept me as genderqueer, from the magic I wasn’t ready to understand, from the looming pile of memories I’m now sorting through. But mostly, I ran from myself. Now I’m back, and I’m trying to cram three thousand years into my head, but I sometimes think space is running out.

“Stowne loves every sabbat, but especially Yule.” Rayne shrugs hard enough to fling water across the table top. “Oops.”

“It needs cleaned anyway.” I return with a dishrag, sitting across from Rayne as I wipe up. “Why Yule?”

“It represents rebirth.” Rayne stares at me with their blue eyes wide and one pale, translucent brow cocked, the look they always give me when I should be remembering something. “Re-birth.” Their stare becomes hard.

“Oh.” I bite my bottom lip to hide my embarrassment. Sure, rebirth. Myrebirth. Stowne sees Yule as a chance to celebrate my return to Embreeville Mountain. I’m almost thirty years old, a tiny blip in the grand scheme of time and infinitely younger than Stowne, even when you add all my lives together, but they want to celebrate like it’s something new. More so this year because it’s our first Yule together as eternal lovers.

Yeah, I’m immortal now too, but that’s a story for some other time.

“So…” I take a deep breath and scratch beneath my undercut at the stubbly hair that’s already growing back. “What do I need to do?”

“Act happy and don’t get in their way.” Rayne takes the dishrag to the old enamel sink, wrings it out, and drapes it over the side before turning to face me. “All elementals love the Winter Solstice, what you call Yule. Even death elementals like Exan. But you don’t remember that either, do you?”

“Afraid not.” I finish my coffee and go to the sink to stand beside Rayne, looking out the window to where the mountain rises behind the house in shades of tired brown splashed with winter evergreen. “I wish I did.” And I really do. It might help me to understand all this. “It’s like Christmas, isn’t it? I mean they’re similar, right?”

“In some ways, yes. But others…” Rayne shakes their head, this time slinging water from their deep blue locks. “Drains and dribbles. I’ll call it back.” They chant low, drawing the water to their form, smiling as it disappears into their bare, puddling feet. “I think you need a holiday refresher.”

“A refresher?” The house smells like cedar so I breathe deep. It’s not a bad smell. In fact, it’s fresh, clean, and familiar. Yes, I remember having a tree in this house before and Stowne’s joy each time. “Are you going to tell me about all those holidays?”

“You’ll do best to remember for yourself.” Rayne smiles as they glide toward the living room. “That tree needs water.”


Author Bio

AUTHOR PHOTO - Mama Me and the Holiday Tree - Jeanne GFellersBorn and raised in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, Science Fiction and Fantasy author Jeanne G’Fellers’ early memories include watching the original Star Trek series with her father and reading the books her librarian mother brought home. Jeanne’s writing influences include Anne McCaffrey, Ursula K. LeGuin, Octavia Butler, Isaac Asimov, and Frank Herbert.

Jeanne lives in Northeast Tennessee with her spouse and their five crazy felines. Their home is tucked against a small woodland where they regularly see deer, turkeys, raccoons, and experience the magic of the natural world.

Author Website: https://jeannegfellersauthor.com/

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New Book Blitz for Green Death by Madeleine Ribbon (excerpt and giveaway)

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Title: Green Death

Author: Madeleine Ribbon

Publisher: Self-Published

Release Date: November 2nd

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 100,000 words

Genre: Romance, Science Fiction, Dystopian/post apocalyptic

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Synopsis

As poisonmaster to the Oligarch, Tryg Sant knows a lot of things others shouldn’t. But when he discovers his family’s darkest secret, his brother tries to kill him.

When Tryg’s lover pushes him out of a helicopter and into the poison-filled Exclusion Zone, Tryg finds himself trapped in a dangerous new world, entirely different from the one he expects. Now, Tryg has to learn to survive nearly-feral humans and his own disintegrating mind. Luckily, he’s found an ally in Riot, one of the victims of the Green Death…

Excerpt

Everything felt muffled. My injuries, my emotions, my thoughts, the sounds from outside. The heavy, rhythmic, mechanical thumps from somewhere above me were so loud they radiated through my chest. My mind barely registered the noise, even if my sternum did—maybe because there was something strapped over my head, digging into the top of my skull and trapping warm, sweaty air over my ears.
All I cared about, in the moment, was that I wasn’t being hit.

The ground shifted under me, tilting just slightly, shooting my equilibrium all to hell. The only things that kept me from toppling over were a wall on my left, propping me upright, and straps across my shoulders and chest and hips. They dug into my bruises with a steady, fuzzy, ache.

I tried to tug at the straps, hoping to release the pressure, but my arm didn’t work right.
I should have hurt a lot more. I was pretty damned sure I ought to be screaming from just trying to move my arm, but all I felt was thick haze and a low heat over almost every inch of my skin.

“Tryg, wake up.” The headpiece I wore transmitted the words directly into my ears, but even with the amplification, I could barely hear it over the whump whump whump coming from overhead.
I opened my eyes. Well, my left eye, since the right lid didn’t seem to work.

I tried looking around, but my neck didn’t want to move either. So far, the only thing responding to me was a single eyelid.

Someone had given me something—a drug or a poison of some sort. That was the only reason I wasn’t writhing on the ground, screaming. I could feel my injuries, the places my brother had cracked bones or ripped into my skin with his obnoxiously large ring, but only a little. Like a wad of cloth had been shoved somewhere between the injuries and my brain, so the signals from my nerves couldn’t make it through at full strength.

I tried to focus, tried to direct my wandering mind to the list of substances Vodayn had requested from me over the last ten years I’d run the laboratory.

Nothing. Probably just strong painkillers, unless he had outside sources for a new poison.

Outside sources. My blood ran cold. Is that what Arris had been talking about, when I overheard them a few days ago? This pricked at my pride. For a moment, it didn’t matter that my brother had starved and kicked the shit out of me and was sending me to my death. I was angry at him for going elsewhere for poisons when I could make him almost anything he wanted, a hundred times better and far more discreetly than anyone else.

But I’m not his poison master anymore. The thought came crashing down around me, heavy on my shoulders. I slumped forward, though the straps kept me from folding in half.

And then realization struck me, harder than any of my brother’s blows had.

He’d always planned on getting rid of me. Even before I’d found the damning documents. If he was looking elsewhere for poisons, he’d been looking for a replacement. That’d been what Arris’s comment to him had been about.

“Come on, Tryg. I hate that I have to do this job, but it’s a damned good thing for you. Anyone else would have just pushed you out by now. I want you to be functional.”

Arris. My whole body started to shake. Arris was here. He’d save me. He’d make sure I was okay. He cared about me, as much as anyone ever had. More than anyone, since Dad died.

I finally managed to twist my neck a few inches. Arris’s scarred, tanned face slowly resolved before me, headset obscuring his short black hair.

He was frowning just a little. It was the most emotion I’d seen on him, outside of sex.

“There we go. Welcome back.” He leaned forward and brushed his thumb over my cheek. Searing fire ran though my face. I hissed and tried to jerk back, but most of my body still didn’t want to obey my directives.

“You… Why?”

My words slurred. Apparently my lips worked fine, though my tongue was taking its sweet time catching up. I hoped the drug didn’t wear off too soon. I wasn’t prepared to face the damage done to my body. Not until I knew what in the dark depths of hell Arris was planning.

Arris watched me with soft eyes. He never had soft eyes. Passionate while we were fucking? Yes. Inquisitive? Rarely. Ice cold when in his official capacity? Always. But never soft.

“This is occurring because Vodayn demanded that you die. Telling him what you found was a stupid move. The stupidest. He’s been increasingly paranoid over the last year. Surely you haven’t missed that, as smart as you are?”

“Paaa…noy?” My half-numb tongue fumbled over the word. I shook my head. I hadn’t had time to notice anything.

For the last year, Vodayn’s requests of me had gone down, yes, but when he did give me a project, he had been making obscure and incredibly difficult demands I’d worked hard to fulfill. A substance that, once ingested, made hair change color permanently, with no other effect. One that made the victim cry irrationally for days. One that mimicked a heart attack’s symptoms perfectly. I’d succeeded in crafting them all, though the crying draught lasted for only thirty-six hours.

I’d been proud of my success. I’d managed everything he asked.

Arris hummed a little. “Very paranoid. You always were a bit too focused when you were working.”

“How’djou know?”

The lines between his brows grew deeper. “Know what?”

“What I told him.” Words were slowly becoming easier to pronounce.

“Because I was there when he received your report. I only got a glimpse of it while he read it, but I know what it means. We suspected that the Sants had been behind the poisoning ever since it happened. There’s a reason I was stationed in the household, and my father before me. I was supposed to find proof. And you hand-delivered it to him.”

The words Arris spoke now did not match up with what I’d known of him over the last few years. My heart seemed to think that now was a great time to start thundering as fast as it would go. “Who’s we?”

“The resistance.” Here, Arris smiled, and the deepest scar, the one that ran over his cheek, pulled and wrinkled in a dozen places.

He’d been my brother’s right-hand man and main assassin for almost three years, and never once had I seen him smile. It scared me more than anything else. I wonder if all his victims got to see this horrible, wonderful expression.

Because that’s what I would be. His victim. He was letting me see another side to him, now, and that meant I was a dead man.

And then the meaning of his statement filtered into my mind. The resistance. That’d been wiped out with the bombing, hadn’t it? Or tainted with the poison, at least, and driven crazy?

“The resistance survives? Truly?”

He nodded. “We have been trying to find justice for almost a hundred years. The exclusion zone is still the center of it. Most of us had family there, when it was poisoned. My great-grandfather’s entire family got walled inside, except for him. He’d been at a friend’s for a sleepover during the bombing.”

“I’m sorry,” I said. “Did any of them… survive?”

“A few, for a while.” He looked away from me, and then his face tightened, the smile vanishing. “We’re almost there. You’re getting dropped in. I pushed for this, instead of using the Black Daydream on you until you were crazy enough to cut your own throat. Vodayn wanted you to die in agony, and I argued this would be the most effective and ironic way. He came around to my line of thinking eventually.”

“Where? Dropped in where?”

He reached past me and tapped on the surface to my right.

I turned my head, my neck still protesting the motion. I suspected that without the painkillers I’d been given, the movement would hurt a lot more.

A window. And beyond it, the sky. Clouds. We were high. I’d never been so high. I never had permission to leave the Sant compound, much less go somewhere that required air transport.

Then again, if all air transport was like this strange, rusted, rickety, noisy vehicle, I doubted I’d missed much.
Arris leaned forward. “You’re wearing a parachute. Do you think you can pull the ripcord yourself once you’re out?”

My heart clenched. I tried to flex my hand, and then lift it. All I managed was a finger-twitch. “I don’t think so.”
“The drug?”

“Yeah. What is it?”

“Just a mid-level painkiller from Professor Marita’s lab.”

“Oh.” Marita—there was that name again. Professional jealousy twisted through me. “Thanks.”

“I’ll pull your ripcord for you when you jump, if you’re not up to it now. We’ll be so low nobody will notice the parachute, thanks to the poison.”

“The—oh green-damned hell, the poison.” Arris’s statements finally sank into me. He’d asked my brother to dump me into the exclusion zone. And my brother had agreed, even before he’d started to beat me senseless.
“Here. Hang on to the handles if you can.” He lifted my arms up, his grip gentle, and hooked my hands over smooth, cool plastic. “This will steer you once you’re in the air, if you can find the strength. Pull which way you want to go. Try and land in a flat place, but close to the taller buildings. You won’t be able to get out of the exclusion zone and go back to regular life, but you’ll have a good chance to survive down there if the right people find you. I’ve already put out an alert. I can only hope you make it, Tryg. I don’t want you to die. You’ve been the closest thing to a friend I had in that mansion. Please believe that.”

Arris looked so damned serious, giving me my death sentence with such care. I knew I wouldn’t last. I wasn’t a fighter—not without my poisons, anyway.

“Don’t pull the chute,” I said, holding his gaze. “Let me fall. It’s kinder.”

Arris shook his head. “I can’t, even if I agreed with you. You have to live. You’re our best hope now. I didn’t want to do this to you, but it’s the only way for Vodayn to leave you in peace.”

A blast of static filled the compartment, and Arris scowled and leaned back. He tilted his head. Whatever he listened to, it didn’t repeat in my headset. I tried moving my neck again, and this time I was able to turn maybe an inch farther to the right. More glass and sky.

The transport vehicle had to be well over three hundred years old, if it still had glass windows and rotors that made this much noise. The Eastrend military forces had used these to monitor the huge political protests, way back before the Green Death happened. They’d been passed on to other government agencies, like the one that monitored the poison levels here. Nobody would think this air transport looked out of place. At least not until I got pushed out of it. And Arris seemed to have already thought of that.

I pressed against the window and looked down. The only thing below us was a foggy haze, the green color lurid against the gray of the surrounding city. It was the hue present on some of the creatures in the Menagerie, almost acid-bright.

We were over the exclusion zone. A dozen small drones in a variety of styles hung just over the fog, film crews focusing on the action down below. There had to be another riot, if so many drones were out here. I hated watching the news on the nights they focused on Greenies fighting, but the rest of Eastrend seemed to love eagerly watching the violence, treated like war footage from somewhere unreachable.

All around the green air, a tall wall—bleak and gray and three city blocks thick at its narrowest point—rose a hundred feet higher than the fog, trapping the Green Death into what had once been a hotbed of political resistance. The place where Arris’s family had once lived.

I looked away. Seeing the exclusion zone—really seeing it, not just on a documentary or the news—made me want to scream. My great-grandfather had singlehandedly caused it. All the pain and agony, all the rage, all the violence—he’d created the chemical that caused it. And I might have, in another life, been able to create a way to neutralize it.

Not anymore.

“I truly am sorry, Tryg. You’ve been the only reason I still have my sanity, working for Vodayn.” Arris tilted his head, gaze sharpening, and then turned to the window next to me. “The fighting has died down. The drones are moving out. Three minutes and we start moving too.”

“Won’t the drones catch me getting pushed in?” I stared up at Arris. My lower lip wobbled in an embarrassing fashion, and I dropped my gaze. I was twenty. I didn’t need to cry. Especially not in front of him.

“The drones will be over the wall by then. Any remaining behind will already have their cameras off or pointed away. The fight’s over. They have their news clips for the day. If Vodayn tells them not to talk about it, they won’t. But if an unregulated source does draw attention to your drop-in, the story is that you’re a researcher sacrificing yourself for data on the Green Death and what it’s doing to the environment. It wouldn’t be the first time an idiot has gone in willingly and can’t get permission to go through the wall. Researchers never get permission.”

“Oh.” I shuddered. Vodayn was probably the reason for the research block. The darkness of our family secrets bled into so many other people’s lives.

Arris frowned, and then he dug something out of his belt. He held up a small, black handgun, the kind that shot little bursts of plasma—the same weapon he’d dug into my back days ago, when arresting me in the lab.

“It’s fully charged, but the safety is on. Red’s dead.” He flicked the little lever back and forth, showing me a red dot beneath it. “Only use it if you absolutely have to. The sound will call all the wild ones to you if you don’t watch out.”

“Wild?”

“They’re the most violent Greenies. They have no tattoos on their faces,” he said. “I’m tucking the gun in your back pocket. I really do want you to survive. I know you haven’t fired one often, but you’re smart. You’ll figure it out. I’ll do my best to check in on you when the Oligarch isn’t watching my every move again, okay?”
He kissed me, bruising, no more than a clash of teeth and lips.

That, more than anything, broke me. We’d never been kissers. I didn’t mind the denial, despite desperately wanting to feel what a kiss was like, mostly because I’d never imagined him being the kissing type. And now, when my banishment and potential execution was so near? Now he gave me what I wanted for so damned long.

When he pulled away, his face was a blank slate, and the chill in his gaze reappeared.

I repressed the urge to scream, to grab at him, to beg to stay in the transport. He might have been my lover, but right now, he was my brother’s top assassin.

These well-wishes and the gun would be the best I’d get from him.

“It’s time” he said as he shoved the gun into the back pocket of the torn, filthy protective work pants I still wore. “There. Brace yourself.” Arris hunched over and fiddled with the metal panel below my window. He grabbed the straps across my chest, and then a great whooshing noise filled the cabin, and the thumping of the rotors above us increased to an alarming volume. Air buffeted my face, ice cold against my cheeks.
And there was no longer any glass between me and the Green Death.

Arris shifted my weight until I sat just on the edge of the seat, tilting out into the nothingness around the transport. The haze hung just below us, the cloudy surface broken in a few dozen places by narrow metal tubes.

“Live, Tryg. Fight for it.” His words rang loud in my ear. Then he yanked my headset off. The noise beat at my eardrums, nearly pounding me senseless.

He shoved, and I was flying.

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Meet the Author

Madeleine began writing professionally in 2012. She loves stories with hints of paranormal, fantasy, or sci-fi in them. When she isn’t writing or working the day job, she homebrews beer, attempts to cook, and plays video games. She loves going to Renaissance faires, anime conventions, or beer festivals on the weekends.

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New Release Blitz for One Step Back by Edie Danford (excerpt and giveaway)

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Title: One Step Back

Author: Edie Danford

Publisher: Edie Danford

Release Date: October 23, 2018

Heat Level: 4 – Lots of Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 85,000 words

Genre: Romance, Enemies-to-lovers, coworkers, workplace, stepbrothers

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Synopsis

When you fall for a guy who’s about to become your stepbrother—do you listen to your heart and risk everything? Or listen to your head…and take one step back?

In high school I had a hundred reasons to steer clear of my soon-to-be-stepbrother, Joe Beneventi. He was a hothead, and I was reserved. His life was football,
mine was academics. He wanted to be out and proud, and I desperately needed to keep my orientation secret.

But when we fell in love, my heart took the wheel, and I took every risk to be with Joe. Then one horrible night our secrets shattered. Joe disappeared—wrecking our
families and breaking my heart.

Eleven years later, I landed a challenging job at a premier PR firm. And the hotshot publicist who’s been assigned to my first big account? Yep. It’s Joe.

Fate truly hates me because now Joe and I have three days to hole up in a Chicago hotel room and nail down a deal that could make or break our careers. He
keeps distracting me, but I’m too jaded to fall for sexy smiles, bedroom eyes, and his impossible-to-ignore body. Except…

I like being close to him again. A little too much. Working together 24/7 is showing me sides of Joe I’ve never seen before.

And when we touch, being together seems like the only step worth taking.

Excerpt

I take a deep breath. Gotta prepare myself for being up-close and personal with the force of nature that is Joseph Vincent Beneventi.

“Hey, Joe,” I say, my voice cracking. Not how I’d wanted to sound.

His sexy mouth curves, and I get hit with the full impact of his attention-sucking energy. It zaps across the entryway. Through the guesthouse and the five-acre yard. All of Chicagoland. The state of Illinois, the entire Midwest…

Yeah, you get the picture. Joe has <em>it</em>. Chemical hoodoo-voodoo oozes from his pores and makes you forget whatever it is you’re doing, whatever happened to be on your mind. And all you can do is stand there and stare at him. And listen to the ridiculous shit that comes out of his gorgeous mouth.

I’ve had to cope with this Joe-phenomenon for three years now, as long as his mom and my dad have been dating. Weekends and vacations together at first, and then mostly full time as of last year, after Kim and Bernie got engaged and bought this monstrosity of a property together.

Wedding-planning and “a home where we can be a family” was supposed to bring us stability. Wishful thinking, because things between my dad and Joe’s mom—between all of us, really—seem rockier than ever.

“Hey, you.” Joe leans against the door jamb, killer smile flashing.

He’s a big, glossy beast, and he lights up the night that I’ve tried to darken. I look away from his shining eyes, but his jacked chest and abs, his maybe-too-tight board shorts, his legs, his feet, aren’t any easier to ignore.

“Why didn’t you tell me you’d be home tonight?” he asks. His deep voice has a slight throb, like he’s actually hurt. “You didn’t answer my message. Any of my messages. I get why you didn’t want to show for my amazingly fucking boring graduation, but… I was hoping to hear about your plans. For the summer.”

He reaches up to brush damp hair from his face, the movement popping every muscle from shoulder to wrist. Matty actually sighs from behind me. I try not to notice how the longer hair and the scruff on his chin make Joe look hotter than his usual smoking hellfire.

He spent his senior year at a therapeutic high school here in the Chicago area and the place didn’t demand buzz-cuts the way the military school did. The longer black waves do amazing things for his cheekbones, his squared-off chin, his sin-dark eyes.

I’m supposed to be saying something. So I open my mouth and a lame excuse comes out. “I wasn’t sure about flight times. Until the last minute. Storms in New York.”

He nods, head tilting as he scrutinizes my features. He wants to believe me even though it’s obvious I’m lying. The sky had been clear when I’d jetted away from LaGuardia, my freshman year of college complete.

I’d been avoiding all contact with Joe since Christmas break. I’d figured he’d understand why I didn’t respond to any of his messages today. Or at least take the hint. <em>Hey, Joey, after I don’t answer your two-hundredth-and-seventieth voicemail, maybe that means I don’t want to communicate with you. </em>But Joe is thick in more ways than one.

His dark eyes get warmer as they take me in, the dimple in his right cheek popping. His thumb traces the sand-dollar tattoo under his left nipple, a move I’m sure he’s making unconsciously. I do the same thing sometimes. I have a matching tattoo; we’d gotten them in Mexico during Christmas vacation two years ago. The ’rents had been very confused when both of us suddenly wore rash guards 24/7 for the rest of the break. Joe had come up with a BS-but-brilliant excuse about stingray sightings and the angle of the sun and the chemicals in sunscreen lotion killing off coral reefs.

And, okay. I’m not being fair. Joe isn’t thick. He’s probably smarter than me. He just doesn’t know how to rein in a lot of the bad shit that constantly roams his head. I’ve actually tried to help him figure out some stuff, given him some pointers about how to focus and prioritize—

There’s a crashing noise from the pool area. More shit breaking.

“Fuck,” he mutters, looking over his shoulder.

“You better get back there. Broken glass. Blood. Nastiness. It’s all gonna happen.”

He sighs—a shudder wracking his six-five frame. “Should’ve never invited anyone over.” His smile is crooked. “Your fault. I wouldn’t have had to get up to shenanigans with Bran and Troy if I’d known you’d be here tonight.”

And, there it is.

The reason why he always, <em>always </em>manages to piss me off. I’m not responsible for him. Not responsible for his feelings, for his actions. I refuse to be.

“Not my fault,” I say, my voice cracking again, damn it. I take a step backward, my hand pulling the door closed.

“Asher, come on. You know I didn’t mean it like that—”

I shut the door in his face. Then I pull the blinds closed, blocking out his beauty, blocking out his hurt expression. Maturity can go fuck itself, because literally closing off Joe from my senses will be the only way I can survive the summer.

“Wow,” Matty says.

“Yeah,” I agree.

#

It’s probably a few hours later when something jolts me awake. It’s Joe looming over me. I must’ve passed out after Matty left. I’m sprawled on the big chaise in the guesthouse’s living room, Joe standing so close his knees are touching the cushion’s edge.

There’s only one light on, a yellow glow coming from the glass-fronted cabinet that displays Joe’s shell collection. It creates weird, streaky shadows across his super-defined chest and abs.

His shorts are dry now, not as tight on his thighs or his package, but I can see he’s erect, a righteous bulge that’s impossible to miss. And, when I look up into his face, my gaze snags on his parted lips, his heavy-lidded eyes .

The house is quiet. No more party outside. When Joe inhales suddenly, I can feel the sharpness of his breath in my own lungs.

I sit, swinging my legs to the side of the chaise, planting my feet on either side of his. He takes my face in his hands. His fingers are warm, familiar, his touch so tender it makes me want to cry.

And, God, when our gazes connect, and I immediately fall into that dark brown and gold I dream about, tears clog my throat, for real.

“Ash,” he whispers, his voice so hoarse I can barely hear it. The pad of his thumb passes over my lower lip. I lick away the taste of him and he sighs. “Damn, I missed you.”

I nod. I can’t speak. It hurts.

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Meet the Author

Edie lives in Vermont with her husband, two sons, and random creatures that might or might not be pets. She loves libraries (where she’s found play, work, and love since she was a kid), long walks (unless ice is involved), lewd language (in the right context), luscious romance (of any variety), and alliteration.

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New Release Blitz for Out in the End (Out in College #2) Zone by Lane Hayes (excerpt and giveaway)

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Title: Out in the End Zone

Series: Out in College #2

Author: Lane Hayes

Publisher: Lane Hayes

Release Date: October 10

Heat Level: 4 – Lots of Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 44000

Genre: Romance, New Adult, Bisexual, College romance, Football, Coming out

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Synopsis

Evan di Angelo is an upbeat, good-natured goofball who loves his friends and family… and football. A traumatic accident may have ended his hopes of playing professionally, but he’s made the most of his four years on the field at a small Southern California college. He’s learned the hard way to embrace change, take chances and try things outside of his comfort zone…like agreeing to play fake boyfriends for someone else’s senior project.

Mitch Peterson knows that being his authentic self is the path to true happiness. He’s grown from a shy, quiet kid from a broken home to an out and proud budding internet sensation bound for grad school. An awesome senior project is the key. It’s unlikely anyone will believe the hunky, straight athlete is Mitch’s new lover, but it’s worth a shot. However, as their tentative friendship blossoms into unexpected attraction, the lines between reality and fiction blur for both men. Evan is forced to face old demons and decide if he has the courage to take the next step and come out in the end zone.

Excerpt

Mitch scoffed. “Cooperate, please. This is your intro. Maybe you should put your arm around me and kiss my cheek.”

“Now?”

“Yes. This is a rehearsal, so…go for it.”

I moved to his side, slipped my arm around his waist, and kissed his cheek. His scruff threw me off stride. It wasn’t noticeable because his facial hair was blond, but I could feel it. He smelled and felt different from anyone I’d ever kissed before. Sure, I’d kissed male relatives. I was part Italian. No one in my family shied from physical contact. But a hug and kiss on each cheek from my Uncle Gianni was different from kissing an attractive man. I caressed his cheek impulsively and then leaned in to sniff him the way I’d wanted to since the party. “Mmm.”

“What are you doing?” he asked.

“You smell good. I’ve never kissed a guy I wasn’t related to who had a five o’clock shadow.”

Mitch gave me a funny look. “You kissed me yesterday at lunch.”

“Yeah, but you haven’t shaved since this morning, right? The texture is like sandpaper but in a good way. I like it,” I assured him.

He looked flustered for a second but recovered quickly. “Well, that’ll make the real kiss easier then.”

“Right. When do we kiss, and what’s the intensity level supposed to be? G, PG, PG-13? Or are we going straight to the nasty?” I teased.

“Ha. G is peck on the cheek, which we just covered. PG is peck on the lips. So somewhere in between that and PG-13 works.”

“Got it. Maybe we should practice first,” I said.

“Um…sure.” Mitch turned around and gestured toward the bar stools at the island. “We can sit there, and I’ll set up the tripod a foot or so from where you’re standing now.”

“We don’t have to be in exact position. I just need to get used to touching you. It would be the same with anyone. Guy or girl.”

Okay, fine. I wanted to do it again. I’d thought about him nonstop since the party last weekend. And that throwaway kiss yesterday at the restaurant had opened a Pandora’s box. I was consumed now. I didn’t want to practice kissing him. I had to or I’d go crazy.

“Maybe you’re right. Um…okay. You can kiss me,” he said in a low voice.

“Well, you have to participate,” I chided as I stepped into his space.

“I’m…yes. Do you want to go first? Like…” Mitch set his hand on my hip and inched closer still. “This?”

I lifted my right hand and hovered it above his ear for a moment before threading my fingers through his hair. He suddenly looked nervous, which somehow worked in my favor. I held his gaze, then moved forward and gently pressed my lips to his. And fuck, it felt amazing to be here again. I tilted my head slightly, loving the intoxicating contrast of his soft lips and scratchy chin. Mitch closed his eyes and hooked his arms around my neck so we stood toe to toe and chest to chest. All the ways this felt different no longer applied. I knew what to do here. I was practically a fucking expert.

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Meet the Author

Lane Hayes is grateful to finally be doing what she loves best. Writing full-time! It’s no secret Lane loves a good romance novel. An avid reader from an early age, she has always been drawn to well-told love story with beautifully written characters. These days she prefers the leading roles to both be men. Lane discovered the M/M genre a few years ago and was instantly hooked. Her debut novel was a 2013 Rainbow Award finalist and subsequent books have received Honorable Mentions, and won First Prize in the 2016 and 2017 Rainbow Awards. She loves red wine, chocolate and travel (in no particular order). Lane lives in Southern California with her amazing husband in a newly empty nest.

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New Book Release Blitz for A Dance of Water and Air ( Elemental Magicae #1) by Antonia Aquilante (excerpt and giveaway)

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Title: A Dance of Water and Air

Series: Elemental Magicae, Book One

Author: Antonia Aquilante

Publisher: NineStar Press, LLC

Release Date: October 1, 2018

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 83600

Genre: Fantasy, Romance, fantasy, trans, magic, elements, court intrigue, arranged marriage, friends to lovers

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Synopsis

Edmund is heir to the throne of Thalassa and a wielder of Water magic. Devoted to his kingdom and his duty to it, Edmund can do nothing but acquiesce to an arranged marriage with the queen of a neighboring kingdom. The marriage and the child it is required to produce will seal an alliance between Thalassa and Aither that is vital to Thalassa’s safety, and far more important than Edmund’s personal misgivings.

Arden is the younger brother of Aither’s queen and a wielder of Air magic. Raised in the politics of the court to support his sister’s rule, he understands the alliance is important to Aither, even as he worries about his sister marrying someone she’s never met. When Edmund arrives in Aither to prepare for the wedding, Arden is tasked with helping him settle in at court. As they spend more time together, Edmund and Arden develop a close friendship, then stronger feelings, but with Edmund’s wedding approaching, they must hide their feelings, even from themselves.

When someone tries to assassinate the queen, Edmund is blamed, and Arden rescues him before he can be executed for a crime he didn’t commit. To prevent a war between their kingdoms and protect them from a dangerous enemy, Edmund and Arden will have to discover who wants to pit Aither and Thalassa against each other and mend relations between the two kingdoms as they evade those searching for them—all while finding a way to be together.

Excerpt

The Dance of Water and Air
Antonia Aquilante © 2018
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One
Edmund swam, long limbs slicing through the clear, warm water. His mind quieted in the repetitive motion, in the weightlessness and the comfort of being surrounded by his Element. Everything washed away, leaving him calm and relaxed, the only time he ever was lately.

If only he could stay there.

He imagined it for a moment. Spending his life swimming and sailing. All his time in the soothing embrace of the water, or at the shore or bank, feeling Water’s power, learning to use its magic. It was a lovely dream. A lovely, impossible dream. With that thought, tension—the tension his morning swim had briefly dispelled—came flooding back. He stopped swimming and flipped onto his back, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath before letting it out in a long sigh.

The sigh had barely left him when he heard the scrape of a shoe against stone. He bit back another sigh and flipped over again to straighten and tread water in the center of the large pool. His secretary stood on the tiled terrace. Peregrine knew better than anyone that this time was Edmund’s and wouldn’t disturb him unless it was urgent. Disaster or grave injury were top of the list.

“Good morning.”

“Good morning, Highness.” Peregrine would never call him by name when someone else might hear, and Edmund would never try to convince him otherwise. Edmund was far too aware of the dictates of his own position. And far too grateful to have found a friend in Peregrine to quibble overly about how they had to behave in public. “I apologize for disturbing you, sir, but the king has called for you.”

A summons from Father certainly counted as a valid reason to disturb him, especially with the rising tensions between Thalassa and their neighbor, Tycen. It seemed Edmund would be cutting his swim short this morning. He struck out for the terrace where Peregrine waited, swimming with steady but unhurried strokes. He wouldn’t dawdle, but if there had been reason to rush, Peregrine would have said.

Soon enough, he reached the terrace and pulled himself up to sit on the edge. Peregrine handed him a towel. He wiped his face first and stood to strip off his soaking wet swim pants and dry the rest of him. Peregrine wouldn’t care about Edmund’s nudity, and he didn’t worry that someone else would come upon them. The pool he chose for his swims wasn’t the largest of the many on the palace grounds, but it was the most private. The terrace they stood on was the only one that connected to the palace, and it was shaded from view. The rest of the area was screened with trees and shrubbery. The smaller terraces on the side opposite them were even more secluded. He’d spent much time in the pool, which was fed by the same underground spring as the rest of the palace waterways, and on the terraces over the years.

Once Edmund was dry, Peregrine handed him the robe he’d left hanging over the back of a chair when he’d arrived. He’d also left a book there—he’d been far too optimistic about his time when he came down here, apparently. He thanked Peregrine and shrugged into the blue-green silk. It was new, something he hadn’t really needed, but he liked the color against his brown skin and the feel of the smooth, cool silk.

“Any idea what my father needs?” Edmund stepped into his sandals and picked up his book from the table.

“None.”

He raised his eyebrow at Peregrine in surprise. Edmund could always rely on Peregrine for more information than seemed possible about everyone from the maids to the king. He’d long since gotten over any misgivings about Peregrine’s seeming omniscience and begun to rely on it. For Peregrine not to have an inkling of what was brewing… Odd. And slightly disturbing.

“I guess we’ll find out.”

Not immediately, of course. A summons through official channels called for more formality. Edmund couldn’t appear in the king’s presence in nothing but a thin robe and sandals. Peregrine kept pace as Edmund walked to his rooms, informing him of other court news and gossip that he might find interesting or useful as they walked.

Edmund’s rooms were a floor up from the garden pool. A guard stationed near the door jumped to open it for Edmund as he approached. He nodded but didn’t slow as he sailed through the door, Peregrine at his heels. His sandals made soft tapping sounds on the green and white tile of the entryway. His sitting room opened up in front of him, curtains fluttering in the breeze blowing in off the ocean below. He had no time to relax there or even to eat the breakfast that was sure to be laid out in the dining room. Instead, he turned left, taking the short hallway leading to his bedchamber, dressing room, and bathing room.

He went directly to the bathing room. Wide windows let in sunlight over the large tub, empty because he usually bathed after breakfast. There was no time to fill it, let alone soak. He settled for rinsing the salt from his skin with water from the basin and briskly rubbed a towel over his shoulder-length hair. Having it drip all over his clothing while he met with Father just wouldn’t do. When he’d squeezed as much of the water from it as he could, he left the towel and went to the dressing room.

Peregrine was there, laying out clothes.

“That isn’t your job,” Edmund said.

“I’m aware.”

“I can select my own clothing.”

“I’m aware of that as well. Put them on anyway.”

Edmund laughed and did as he was told. Peregrine was only saving him time and knew what would be appropriate for him to wear, considering the meeting with Father and the day ahead. He pulled on undergarments and slim gray pants and dropped a sleeveless white shirt over his head. Peregrine held out a dark teal jacket for him, helping him shrug into the embroidered silk. Edmund murmured his thanks and fastened the jacket over his chest, fingers working quickly over the row of little silver buttons. When he was finished, he stepped into shoes and fastened the silver and aquamarine drop earrings Peregrine had just pulled from their box into his ears. It was the only jewelry Peregrine had chosen, and as he looked in the mirror, Edmund had to admit he was probably right in that. The clothing didn’t need more.

“Thank you,” Edmund said.

“My pleasure, Edmund.”

“Perhaps I should have you dress me every day. You have an eye for it. Much better than anyone else. Do you think you’d prefer it to being my secretary?”

Peregrine sent a stern frown at Edmund. “Funny.”

It was, for any number of reasons. Only one being that Peregrine was frighteningly efficient in his present position and far too good at it to do anything else. In fact, he was far too skilled to be anything except a royal secretary, and it was Edmund’s good fortune to have him.

“Shall we?” Peregrine didn’t mention that Edmund shouldn’t keep Father waiting, but he didn’t have to.

“Yes. Catch me up on any changes to my schedule as we walk.”

Peregrine did so, barely consulting his notebook. Edmund listened carefully as they left his rooms and strode through the palace corridors. His own wing, reserved for the rooms of the royal children, was quiet as it was only occupied by him and Kerenza. His sister would still be abed—she preferred to rise late when she had the opportunity—and he had no appointments that might bring anyone to his office until later in the day. When they passed out of the wing, the entrance marked by a three-tiered fountain decorated in mosaics of blue and green tiles, the corridors became more populated. But everyone gave way for the prince and his secretary, bowing as Edmund passed them.

Father’s office was near the council chambers and other administrative offices in the main block of the palace. He worked sometimes in the small private library attached to his rooms, but all his official meetings took place here. If Edmund had any doubt that today’s summons was serious and formal, it would have been dispelled by the location of the meeting.

Peregrine knocked when they arrived, and a moment later, the door was opened by Father’s secretary, who bowed and stepped aside. Edmund bowed slightly as soon as he entered the room, then walked closer to Father’s desk. Peregrine remained back near the closed door. Father looked up from the papers he was examining to study Edmund with a keen eye. Edmund was sure Father was cataloging every detail of his appearance from his attire to his still damp hair.

Father was dressed formally, as Edmund would expect. His jacket was green, heavily embroidered in gold and white, the color vivid against his dark skin. The circlet of his rank sat on his head amid black curls now streaked with gray. Edmund had not worn his own circlet, deeming it unnecessary for the day he had planned; he hoped he wouldn’t regret that decision. The set of Father’s features caused Edmund’s stomach to churn unpleasantly.

“You called for me, Father?”

“Yes. Come sit down. I need to speak with you.” The seriousness of his tone did nothing to alleviate Edmund’s sudden concern.

Edmund took the chair across from Father’s desk, hoping he properly concealed his anxiety. He’d been trained all his life to mask every emotion, so he’d best be able to. He looked at Father and waited for him to speak.

“As you know, we’ve been pursuing an alliance with Aither,” Father said.

And, of course, Edmund did know, though he hadn’t been involved in the negotiations. Aither sat at their western border. Theirs was generally a friendly border to begin with, trade flowing freely between the two countries, but Father and his council had hoped that the looming threat of Tycen’s aggression might worry Aither’s young queen as much as it had them and would tempt her into an alliance. Edmund hadn’t been informed about the state of the negotiations in some time. Had they gone horribly wrong?

“We’ve come to an agreement with Queen Hollis.”

“You—” Edmund stopped. He’d been so sure Father was going to say just the opposite that he couldn’t believe what he’d heard. “That’s wonderful, Father. Did the final agreement go as you’d hoped?”

“We got what we needed from it.”

“Good.” And yet the relief Edmund should’ve been feeling didn’t come. Father didn’t look as if he’d just concluded a successful negotiation, didn’t look as if he was pleased by the outcome. Or…no, not as if he was displeased, but too serious. “Is something wrong?”

“Not at all. However, the promises of increased trade and mutual protection were not enough on their own to secure the alliance we needed.”

Edmund wasn’t surprised, though he hadn’t been privy to the particulars of what Father wanted, aside from Aither standing with them should Tycen press their aggression. “What did they ask for?”

“Queen Hollis and her advisors required more assurance of our compliance, and truth be told, I wasn’t upset to have more of theirs. They’re Air wielders, so they’re different from us, but Water and Air are compatible. Even if I would have preferred an alliance with no deeper entanglements.”

“Father?” A rush of cold spread through Edmund’s veins.

“You and Queen Hollis will wed with the expectation of a child being born within two years. The alliance will be secured by blood and all the stronger for it.”

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Meet the Author

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

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

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

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New Release Blitz for Professor Adorkable (Domesticated Inc. #1) by Edie Danford (excerpt and giveaway)

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Title: Professor Adorkable

Series: Domesticated Inc, Book One

Author: Edie Danford

Publisher: Edie Danford

Release Date: September 18, 2018

Heat Level: 4 – Lots of Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 90,000 words

Genre: Romance, Boss, Housekeeper, Best Friends, Nerd

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Synopsis

What happens when a star-gazing professor falls for his hot young housekeeper? One heck of an earthy explosion…

Professor Marek Janos’s genius at analyzing stellar explosions doesn’t apply to his own disordered world. Forgetting to eat, sleep, and leave his lab has triggered some epic personal disasters. When his family insists he hire live-in help, he discovers home life has awesome benefits. His new housekeeper’s smile sparks more energy than a supernova. And the way he moves? It rocks Marek’s galaxy.

Pete Schulz took a tough fall from his high-flying life in Hollywood. But how does a guy whose best skill is getting dirty clean up his act? His new gig with Domesticated Inc seems like a great first step. Keeping house for a nerdy young astrophysics professor is exactly the low-key, no-chance-for-trouble job he needs, right?

Living together is surprisingly easy for both men. And fun. And more than a little hot. It’s when they’re faced with the idea of living apart that the truly messy work begins…

Excerpt

“I made the mess,” I tell my housekeeper. “So I will clean it up.”

“Yeah, I know you can clean it up if given several hours,” Pete responds, his smile crooked. There are no signs of exasperation on his face or in his tone. No signs that he’s upset I’ve woken him up with the sound of breaking glass, and that his once-pristine kitchen floor is now covered with a mess I could have easily avoided if I’d been paying attention. “But it’s my job. Tomorrow morning your job is to go teach a class. You’ll sleep until eight, eat a good breakfast, and then be off.”

I raise my eyebrows. “That is exactly how it will happen?”

“I’ll make sure of it.”

“What if I want to negotiate?”

“Negotiate?”

“Yes. Things can be negotiated in a democratic household, yes?”

“Democratic?”

I smile. “We have no dictators here. Or kings or queens.”

“Well.” He snorts. “There is that matter of your uncle signing my paycheck. But I get what you’re saying, I guess. What were you interested in negotiating?”

“Tonight I feel…antsy? Unable to relax.” I move my shoulders up and down to show him all this tension I’m experiencing. “I’ll go upstairs and sleep, but first I would like company. To hang out with you. For a while.”

His mouth droops as he folds his arms across his bare chest and stares at me. “So you’re saying you’ll let me do my job. But only if I give up my free time for you?”

“Um.” It’s cool in the kitchen, but my face suddenly becomes steam-burn hot.

Damn. I’m incredibly bad at talking to him—or any guy—I find attractive. Doesn’t matter where I am—Prague, Pasadena, Chicago. My language barrier isn’t about Czech versus English. It’s about my head versus my tongue.

What I want with Pete is complicated, not simple. But, as usual, I’ve said words that could be construed as—

God, I don’t even know what.

“You suck at negotiating, Marek.” He says it with a kind note in his voice.

“Yes.” I clear my throat. “I do.”

He sighs and runs his hand over his short hair—hair I want so fucking badly to touch. Is it bristly, soft? Would it sift through my fingers easily, or would it be like my hair and cling to my skin?

“I suppose we could listen to one Harry Potter chapter,” he says, lacking his usual enthusiasm for the idea. “But just one. And if you fall asleep or if I fall asleep or if we both fall asleep, it will be your job to wake up and go back to bed. No sleepovers. That’s a rule that’s not allowed to change.”

I swallow. Ordinarily I would give him shit about the unreasonableness of his request—if we’re asleep, how will we know we’re asleep and thus breaking his rules?

But I keep quiet tonight. I know I’m pushing him. I know he’s beginning to figure out I want more than just his company. So much more.

If this were a work-related matter, I would get my way with a few basic words. Logic applies in my lab. When it comes to my personal life, however, logic rarely applies. Basic words never seem to work.

If I tell Pete what I really want—to take him into his room, to put him on his comfortable bed, to kiss his clever mouth over and over and over, to blow him until his sweet hotness spills down my throat, to hold him tightly and use friction to excellent effect (inside or outside our bodies, I don’t care) until we both come—then he would say “no” quickly and firmly, and quietly shut that detestable door in my face. And I’ll be lucky if he’s still around in the morning.

The situation between us is confusing. I hope this is more than just his workplace. We are friends. He’s my best friend, actually. And he’s the one who makes this place a home.

Occasionally, I have a hard time understanding…what had my language tutor called it? Nuance. Nuanced meanings. Pete and I have a lot of nuances happening between us.

“One chapter would be good,” I tell him. “Chapter Twelve. ‘The Tri-wizard Tournament.’ I need to know all about it.”

He nods and tips his head toward the open door to his suite. “I’ll meet you in there.”

My heart bounces around in my chest—more zaps from that ionizer—but my head doesn’t like the take-care-of-business look on Pete’s face. No smile, no teasing, no dancing notes to the way his boots clap against the tile floor. He checks the locks and the deadbolts on the back door and walks toward his room.

He glances at his doorway and then me, his eyebrows rising. He looks as though he’s holding his breath, maybe holding back a sigh.

Maybe it would be better to give him space tonight. Better for me to be apart from what I want so much, but can’t have. I should walk away, go back to my room without bothering Pete.

My damp toes stick to the cold floor. I want to be more than a job for him. I want to be more than some guy he feels sorry for, some guy who can’t even say what he wants.

I walk over to the sink and retrieve a glass from the nearby cabinet. I fill the glass half full at the tap and then drink. I set it down carefully. The water is cold, but my skin feels hot. I can feel Pete watching me, waiting.

My eyes shift to the hallway. But my feet carry me toward Pete.

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Meet the Author

Edie lives in Vermont with her husband, two sons, and random creatures that might or might not be pets. She loves libraries (where she’s found play, work, and love since she was a kid), long walks (unless ice is involved), lewd language (in the right context), luscious romance (of any variety), and alliteration.

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New Release Blitz for Sentinel (Until You #2) by Karrie Roman (excerpt and giveaway)

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Title: Sentinel

Series: Until You, Book Two

Author: Karrie Roman

Publisher: NineStar Press, LLC

Release Date: September 10, 2018

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 71700

Genre: Contemporary, bodyguards, hurt-comfort, grief, men with children, rescue operation

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Synopsis

Never allowing anyone too close, Ethan Stone has lived a solitary life since he was disowned by his family when he discovered their darkest secret. He spends his days as a quiet sentinel, protecting others to make up for the ones he didn’t. Love, friendship, and family have no place in his world.

Ben Cronin is a warrior, haunted by a past he excelled at, which almost robbed him of his humanity. He became a professional bodyguard to save lives rather than take them. And he has loved his stoic colleague, Ethan Stone, from the day they met.

When Ethan’s sister suddenly comes back into his life in desperate need of his help, Ethan doesn’t hesitate to do whatever he needs to do. To his surprise, Ben—the man who makes him want things he shouldn’t—is right there beside him, risking everything to help him and finally coaxing Ethan’s feelings back to life.

A desperate race to find his missing nieces leads Ethan to a place he never thought he’d be and takes Ben exactly where he wanted to be—in a life filled with love and desire. But how long can they keep it when evil stalks their every step?

Excerpt

Sentinel
Karrie Roman © 2018
All Rights Reserved

Prologue
“Last question.”

“What now for you, Ryan?”

“Um…the short answer is I really don’t know. I’m going to take some time with Lucas while the show is on hiatus and think about what’s next for me. I hope people will understand why I’ve chosen to step away from the spotlight and will be gracious enough to give me the space I need to work out where to go from here. But for right this minute, Lucas and I are getting on a plane to locations unknown and we’re going to relax and enjoy being us.”

The press conference was a compromise between the very intrusive media and Lucas and Ryan. They wanted some peace, some space to recover from the events of the last couple of months, and now that their show, Witches’ Hammer, had wrapped up for a break, and Lucas had been given a clean bill of health, they were taking some time for themselves. Nobody deserved it more after what they’d been through.

Ethan watched, ever vigilant, as they stepped down from the podium and walked hand in hand toward the waiting car. His gaze rested on their joined hands for a second or two too long, but it was hard to look away from something that he desired for himself so very much. Not that he wanted either Lucas or Ryan. They were both great men and smoking fucking hot, but they weren’t for him. What he wanted was what they had—intimacy and love.

After years of self-imposed isolation from anything resembling a close relationship, Ethan wanted more.

Once his two charges were settled in the car, Ethan climbed into the passenger seat and gave the nod to Max. The big car roared to life and Max deftly drove them toward the airport and their waiting plane.

His former bosses, Patricia and Roger Krispin, had let Ethan go from their security agency when he called to resign, as he’d breached their no-skeletons-in-the-closet rule, but Lucas and Ryan had hired him as their personal bodyguard and had kept the Krispin’s professional teams as backup whenever needed. Ethan would be traveling to Australia with them, and Harry and Christina would meet them there for extra security, if needed.

“Looking forward to the Aussie girls in their bikinis, Ethan?” Ryan asked from the back seat.

“I’m more of a man in…what do you Aussies call them…boardies type of guy.”

“Oh, shit…sorry. Well, there’s plenty of them too. Maybe we can find a hot lifeguard for you while we’re there.” He didn’t need to turn to know Lucas and Ryan would be giggling to themselves, no doubt planning some kind of setup for him. He loved working for these two men and often wondered at his good fortune, especially after the shit had hit the fan following the revelation of who he was.

For almost four weeks, Ryan and Lucas had dominated the front pages and headlined the news. When the media had discovered that Ethan Lockard had come out of the woodwork and was somehow embroiled in the Lovers saga, the scrutiny had begun to border on the ridiculous. Ethan had offered to resign and had given serious thought to running again. It would be harder to pick a new identity and hide this time, but he’d manage. He was so tired of running and so fucking tired of being lonely.

Eight years ago, he’d lost his entire family, and though he hadn’t allowed any of them to get too close, the men and women he’d worked with over the last few years had become a family of sorts. He wasn’t going to let his brother take another family away from him this time.

“Okay, jet’s fueled and ready. Wheels up as soon as you arrive.” Paulina’s voice sounded in his ear.

“Copy. We’re about ten minutes out. All clear,” he replied. Despite the press coverage and the revelations that had been made about him, nobody from Krispins had seemed to care. They’d all accepted his apology for lying to them and admitted they’d have probably done the same if they were in his shoes.

The only person he hadn’t seen or spoken to since his true identity had been discovered was Ben. He hadn’t been back to see Ben since that day at the hospital when he’d been exposed. Ben’s brother, Cameron, had called to let him know the doctors had successfully woken him and called a few more times with updates, but Ethan had refused when Cameron had told him Ben had been asking for him to visit. He was such a fucking coward, but he knew he couldn’t bear to see disappointment in Ben’s eyes. What if Ben hated him for lying and keeping his past quiet? Ethan could stand anybody else’s hatred—but not Ben’s.

The private jet was waiting on the tarmac as promised, and Max drove them virtually to the open door. Ethan scanned the area as the car pulled up. He expected no trouble, and thankfully, he found none. Once satisfied, he stepped out and moved around the front of the car so he could open the back door nearest to the plane. Lucas stepped out, closely followed by Ryan, their hands immediately re-entwined as soon as they were both clear of the car. Ethan felt that pang of envy bite into him again at the intimacy the two men shared. God, he wanted it.

It wasn’t the first private jet he’d been on, but it was one of the nicest. Lucas and Ryan were already seated on the sofa that ran along one side of the cabin by the time he boarded. Ethan took the single seat across from them. He’d seen the bedroom toward the back of the plane as he’d entered the jet and wondered, with a sly grin on his face, how long it’d take before Lucas and Ryan made use of that.

“How are you with flying, Ethan?” Lucas asked as he continued to settle himself in and clip his seat belt.

“No problem with it. I can’t say I’ve done a huge amount, but I don’t mind it. Once the captain turns the seat belt sign off, I’ll pop this chair back, shut my eyes, and keep them closed until we touch down.” Ethan didn’t miss the look the two men opposite him shared, no doubt delighted they would, more or less, have the jet to themselves.

The engines had been idling since they’d boarded, and Ethan both felt and heard them roar to life now.

“All passengers, please ensure your seat belts are engaged and prepare for takeoff,” came a disembodied voice over the PA. The jet eased forward, slowly rolling toward the runway. It turned easily—nothing like the clunky turns of much larger passenger planes—before coming to a brief stop.

As the engines rumbled louder and louder and he was pushed back into his seat as the jet surged forward, increasing its speed to get it off the ground, Ethan had a sudden, inexplicable urge to run to the door and jump from the moving craft. He knew deep in his gut he was leaving something—or someone—behind.

He was sure he had everything he needed, and anything he’d forgotten he’d be able to buy in Australia, but he couldn’t escape that feeling of loss. Then, as he looked over the lights of the city below, he thought about pale-blue eyes that were usually dancing with laughter or mischief but had instead been filled with pain and determination the last time he’d seen them open, and he knew in his heart what he’d left behind—or rather who.

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Meet the Author

Karrie lives in Australia’s sunshine state with her husband and two sons, though she hates the sun with a passion. She dreams of one day living in the wettest and coldest habitable place she can find. She has been writing stories in her head for years but has finally managed to pull the words out of her head and share them with others. She spends her days trying to type her stories on the computer without disturbing her beloved cat Lu curled up on the keyboard. She probably reads far too much.

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Release Blitz – Buckle Up by Karen Botha (excerpt and giveaway)

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Title: Buckle Up

Series: Commitment 1

Author: Karen Botha

Publisher: Karen Botha

Release Date: September 3rd 2018

Heat Level: 4 – Lots of Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 237 pages 43800

Genre: Romance

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Synopsis

Passion, lust and desire are the fuel that drives us. So, buckle up for the ride of your life.

Elliott Judd is a superstar race car driver and hotter than hell. Men and women fall at his feet and he enjoys the easy pickings. No one has tamed this wild stallion, but is he ready to settle down for the right person?

Kyle Beaumont, a straight mechanic with a body to die for joins the racing team of his dreams, and with his mind fixed on the job, he doesn’t realise that he is Elliott’s next trophy of choice.

As the racing season and the fight to be the world number one starts, so too does Elliott’s game of seduction.

Will Elliott crash and burn, or will Kyle succumb to this gorgeous man’s onslaught?

Buckle Up is the first book in a gay romance series by Karen Botha and a story of unlikely love. The series is free on Kindle Unlimited.

Download your copy of Buckle Up now.

A note from Karen

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this and my other series, it’s always great to hear what readers say directly. All my contact details are on my Amazon Author Page, feel free to message me.

Excerpt

His forehead is almost touching mine, our mouths millimeters from meeting. I want to pull away before I lose myself, but whatever my mind is saying my body is doing its own thing. My breath is fast and light, my head swimming with unspoken possibilities.

And yet I’m still unprepared. When his mouth covers my lips, it’s firm, not an innocent tease, but with his lips tight and unwavering, demanding my response. He’s shaved, but still his chin bristles against mine. And he’s taller than a woman. I don’t have to stoop, and his hair, although long for a man, doesn’t tangle in my mouth.

He presses his tongue into the seam of my lips and as they meet, an almighty crescendo cascades down from my head as the pent up tension of the last twenty-four hours releases into the pit of my stomach. It somersaults, my emotions bouncing, my breath catching, mingling with his.

My senses tingle and I don’t even realize I’ve placed my hands on his hips. His muscles ripple as he presses deeper against my body, matching my form on every level. Drunk with desire, my only need is to touch his taut muscles under the formality of his uniform so my hands creep around his back, pulling him into me. The pressure of his heart beats into my own chest. God, he’s rock solid. Everywhere.

Purchase at Amazon

Meet the Author

 

Ooh, where to start? I used to work in a proper job that was KILLING me — slowly! I packed it all in and retrained as a massage therapist and reflexologist which meant I had downtime to fill and I knew just the thing.

So, now I spend more hours than I work in my office conjuring up all manner of sex scenes and scrapes. I say I’m so happy because I have whichever imaginary friends with me, doing exactly what I like, when I want. Who could ask for more? Hah!

By the way, now I have NO downtime.

Please follow me, I’m on Facebook and Twitter Twatter and Instagram and I have my own website, http://www.KarenBotha.com. It would be great to get some interaction from you guys. Much as I love my imaginary friends, it’s great to speak to real people too.

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New Release Blitz for 2230: The Perfect Year by CM Corett (excerpt and giveaway)

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Title: 2230: The Perfect Year

Author: CM Corett

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: August 6, 2018

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 30600

Genre: Science Fiction, time travel, research lab, scientist, aliens, fated mates

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Synopsis

Alex Coulson spends his days as a lowly laboratory assistant. At night, he watches movies in his lonely apartment and dreams of exciting adventures and handsome leading men.

When an electrical fire breaks out in the lab, an experimental machine malfunctions and Alex is caught in the explosion. He awakens, injured and confused, to learn he has traveled two hundred years into the future—to the year 2230. Under the care of the gorgeous Doctor Baylin Davies (a definite contender for a leading man) Alex recovers quickly, and his feelings for Baylin deepen each day. Baylin is handsome, sexy, caring, and a verified genius—everything Alex could ever dream of. Add in the whole concept of living in the future, and Alex soon decides the year 2230 is the perfect year to begin his new life.

But then there’s the major…

Whenever the intimidating military man, Major Marcais, is near, a strange power overcomes Alex’s senses, clouding his mind and weakening his desire to be with Baylin.

When the major reveals he is an alien and declares Alex to be his life mate, Alex must find the strength to resist him. And while fighting for the man he truly desires, Alex just might discover he’s the leading man in his own adventure.

Excerpt

2230: The Perfect Year
CM Corett © 2018
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One
Alex Coulson’s sports shoes made a loud squawk on the polished floor. His step faltered. Had anyone heard? He scanned the cavernous office foyer. With gray marble floors and clusters of expensive couches, it looked nothing like a scientific research center and more like an exclusive hotel. An empty hotel. Of course it was empty; only the truly dedicated work on Sunday. Actually, the dedicated and people like him—sad, pathetic losers without a life. He shook his head.

Okay, Alex, quit the self-pity party. No one likes a whiner.

After another quick glance around the foyer, he strode forward and headed down the long corridor lined with identical doors. The small panes of glass in each one allowed him a glimpse inside the research labs—all empty. He appeared to be the sole, sad, pathetic person here today. At the end of the corridor, he stopped in front of the door labeled “Authorized Personnel Only.”

One wave of his security pass over the sensor and the lab door slid open. The sharp smell of smoke and plastic invaded his senses. His nose twitched. Crap! Electrical fire! No doubt about it. As the wire’s plastic coating melted, it gave off a distinct smell. He scanned the room, searching for the source, but everything appeared normal. He dashed through the main room and into the smaller lab.

Like an early morning fog, a veil of smoke hovered near the far wall, centered over the control panel. In seconds, his heart rate hit full throttle. “Crap! Crap! Crap!” The Accelerator control panel! His focus flicked to the partition wall protecting the experimental machine from prying eyes. Good. No sign of smoke there. That would be bad. Very bad. He dashed into the thickening cloud of smoke and headed toward its source.

With short, gasping breaths, he swallowed and choked on the thick acrid air. What about the fire alarm? Why hadn’t it triggered yet? He slammed his hand onto the control-panel power button and then stepped back. No shutdown. Nothing. Like ocean buoy lights viewed through the fog, the faint glow of backlit buttons and switches remained. He blinked rapidly as his tear ducts reacted to the invasive smoke, creating a torrent of tears. From beneath the watery veil, he focused on the computer screen embedded in the wall. What the hell? Why was the program running? Had he forgotten to close it the previous night? His boss would have his—

A flame erupted behind the control panel.

“Oh, God!” Coughing, he stumbled backward. What should he do? Brave the flames and try to turn off the program? Call the fire department? Fire extinguisher?

Yes! Fire extinguisher.

He spun around and grabbed the red cylinder hanging on the wall. Maybe he could put the fire out before it caused too much damage. Maybe it wouldn’t even come to the attention of management. He ripped off the safety guard thingy, pointed, and pulled the trigger. The white substance spewed out toward the flames, dousing them in a cozy blanket of white powder. “Ahhh, yes. Against all expectations, Alex Coulson saves the day!”

His boss would be pleased with him. Okay, not pleased exactly because he had most likely left the Accelerator program running, but pleased because a major fire would have brought their unauthorized work to the attention of management. “And that would be bad.”

With a few short blasts of the fire extinguisher, he completed the blanket of white over the control board. He frowned and contemplated the scene. A little more wouldn’t hurt. Better to be safe than sorry. Crouching down, he directed the nozzle under the desk and pulled the trigger. Just in case.

He stood up and surveyed the room. Okay, it could have been worse. The whole lab could have gone up in flames, destroying countless hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of equipment. Not to mention the oh-so-secret data his boss guarded as if it held the answers to the universe. Yes, it could have been much worse.

He drew in a deep breath…and doubled over with the force of a violent coughing fit.

Crap. Smoke. Not a good idea to take deep breaths.

Fire extinguisher still in hand, he stumbled back to the main lab. His breath rasped in his throat, forcing its way past raw, inflamed flesh. At least the air in the main lab remained relatively smoke-free. In a few minutes, he would re-enter the inner lab and clean up the mess. With a bit of luck, the damage would be minimal. Maybe he could fix it himself. Clean up the fire retardant, replace a few wires, and—hey presto! Good as new with no evidence of the program he left running—no cause to fire him.

The shrieking of an alarm pierced the air, assaulting his eardrums with shrill vibrations. He closed his eyes and mouth, scrunching and squeezing his face as if trying to block the sound from entering any other orifice. A millisecond later, a deluge of water erupted from the ceiling sprinklers like an unexpected shower of summer rain. The muscles in his jaw slackened, and his mouth fell open.

Oh, crap!

Water drummed on his head and shoulders, seeping under the collar of his jacket. Mini rivers flowed across computers and desks before cascading to the shallow lake forming on the floor. The fire extinguisher hit the ground beside his foot with a waterlogged clunk.

I’m a dead man. Not to mention fired!

His shoulders slumped. Could his life get any worse?

The floor shook, sending vibrations up his legs and into his queasy stomach. Oh shit. Rule number one: never ask if it could get any worse. What the hell? An earthquake? Light exploded from the inner lab, propelling bright sparks through the doorway like tiny shooting stars. Water sloshed around his feet as he stumbled backward. The Accelerator! “Oh, shit, shit, shit!”

So. Not. Good.

A loud humming joined the vibrations. It pulsed through his body, loud enough to be heard over the sprinklers and fire alarm, shaking him to the core. Paralyzed, he stood transfixed. The inner lab glowed with a pulsating green light, matching its beat in harmony with the tremors running through the building and his body.

The vibrations were so intense he couldn’t move his legs. His head hurt and numbness crept over his face. He clutched his head and squeezed his eyes shut. Vibrating, pulsating, and humming. Could his brain explode? Would they find his gray matter splattered all over the lab and floating in the newly formed lake?

As he opened his eyes, a fresh shower of sparks shot toward him. Burning! His arm burned, stinging like the devil at a precise spot on his forearm. He slapped the sleeve of his jacket like a maniac until the pain receded to a dull ache.

Okay, time to run.

In his mind, he stumbled toward the door, but his body refused to cooperate. He looked down. His legs were—

What the hell? His body appeared pixelated and a few sections were…missing? Whoa! There was some weird, scary shit happening.

The humming intensified, sending a wave of nausea through his stomach. He couldn’t feel his legs. Were they still attached to his body? The world tipped and then faded around the edges. No, no, no! He’d seen the experiments, and he had no way to stop the Accelerator from frying him—like those rats.

So. Not. Pretty.

At least no one would miss him.

Oh, God, that’s a sad and pathetic fact.

Searing hot pain exploded in his head like a—

“Ahhhhh!”

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Meet the Author

CM Corett is an Australian author of M/M romance who has given up on trying to limit herself to one sub-genre. She writes contemporary, historical, sci-fi, and time travel… and she may have a few paranormal drafts hidden under the bed! An avid writer and reader of love between men, she has lived in the USA and traveled the world gathering inspiration for her stories. She loves movies, superheroes, and video games with awesome graphics. She hates housework and anyone who expects her to notice (or care about) the dust on top of the fridge.

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New Book Release Blitz for Death Days by Lia Cooper (excerpt and giveaway)

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Title: Death Days

Author: Lia Cooper

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: August 6, 2018

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 70000

Genre: Paranormal, college, teaching, magic, dark, slow burn, age gap, vampires, shifters

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Synopsis

By day, Professor Nicholas Littman works as an itinerant professor at a small college in the Pacific Northwest. He teaches seminars on mythology and the intersections of folklore and magic in the ancient world. By night, he’s the local necromancer, a rare magical talent that has left him alienated from other practitioners.

All Nick wants from life is to be left alone to run his magical experiments and teach kids the historical context of magic without anyone being the wiser. Unfortunately, his family is sworn to sit on the council of the Order of the Green Book—a group of magicians dating back to the Crusades—and they aren’t willing to take Nick’s no for an answer.

As though that wasn’t bad enough, a coven of Night Women has arrived in town, warning Nick that there are wolves at his door he had better take care of. But what can one necromancer do when every natural and supernatural card seems stacked against him?

Excerpt

Death Days
Lia Cooper © 2018
All Rights Reserved

One: The Professor
“Today we’re talking about the elision that occurs between Thoth worship in pre-Ptolemaic Egypt and early Greece. Let’s break into four groups for seminar,” Professor Nicolas Littman said, eyeing the half-empty teaching theater. He divided the room with a sweep of his arm and glanced at the clock on the back wall.

“We’ll meet back here in thirty minutes to discuss your thoughts as a group. And I want every small group to come up with a question to pose to the rest of us.”

He felt gratified at the way they began shuffling together into little clusters without further prompting.

“One of you should go use the lounge outside,” he said, waving absently at the small group at the very back of the room.

He didn’t care if they took the direction or not. He trusted in every student’s desire to escape the four walls of the classroom given a millimeter of freedom. All that mattered was that he now had thirty minutes of his own time in which to play hooky.

Nick grabbed a book and the vape out of his bag, and slipped out of the left-hand exit.

Why someone in the administration had decided to give him a corner theater for this class was beyond him. Four credits on Hermetic Mythologies and Cosmologies was hardly in demand. Especially when it was offered as a four-and-a-half-hour option on Saturdays. But if it meant they got a spacious room and the otherwise empty SEM II C building to themselves, he shouldn’t complain. His students could spread out to their hearts’ content, leaving him to steal outside to smoke without anyone around to gripe at him.

“Not even a proper smoke,” he muttered, flicking the round silver device on, warming the metal under his hand.

Nick sat on the concrete with his back to the building’s cement exterior and his knees bent, pressed the tip of the vape between his lips, and held down the button for a long, comforting drag. He closed his eyes to the bright sun and tipped his head back against the wall. Vapor streamed out of his pursed lips in a thick, fragrant cloud and pooled in the air above his head.

“Hiding from the students again?” an amused voice asked from above.

“I’m not hiding,” Nick grumbled.

A thin body lowered itself down onto the ground next to him, all long spidery limbs that folded with the kind of soft careless agility Nick hadn’t felt in a decade or two.

He looked over at his—teaching assistant wasn’t the word. Technically, Josiah didn’t work for him at all. He was just an independent contract student working on an eight-credit history project, but he let Nick use him like a TA so that’s how he always thought of him.

“What do you call this?” Josiah asked, knocking their shoulders together.

“Seminaring.”

Josiah’s face crumpled up with amusement. His flexible mouth stretched into a laugh while his shoulders shook. Nick held out the vape on offer and waited for Josiah to notice.

“Is it peppermint?” he asked.

Nick nodded.

“No thanks.”

“I’m not buying cake or whatever it is you like.”

“Are you trying to say there’s something wrong with cake?” Josiah returned Nick’s stony look with a nonplussed expression.

“It’s unna—”

“First of all: I don’t remember tobacco ever coming in ‘peppermint flavor’ before, and second: everything you do is unnatural, so that’s not a valid argument coming from you, Professor Littman.”

Nick grimaced. “Don’t call me that.”

“Nick.”

He sighed and took another long drag off his vape, waiting for the nicotine to soothe the flutter in his heart that Josiah’s words had kicked up. Nothing he did was natural. The kid had no idea just how right he was. Nick glanced down at his empty hand, automatically checking his nails for pesky traces of dirt, but there was nothing unusual to see. He’d scrubbed up hard the night before. Done a thorough job not to leave any of those unnatural traces that might have given Josiah a better-formed picture of what his professor and academic adviser got up to in his free time.

Shit, even in his head, he sounded like a pervert.

“You’re wrong. Some things I do are perfectly natural.”

“Like what?”

Nick gave the young man a slow look. “You have a very active imagination, Mr. Wexler.”

“The imagination is a hungry organ, seeking perpetual nourishment. I like to think that it’s not so much I’ve got an active imagination, but rather a well-fed one.”

“That you feed on thoughts of me?” Nick smiled, playing the comment off as a joke even though it left something low and hot in his body to sit up with interest. A curl of amused interest that quivered at the thought of a bright young man captivated by thoughts of him, even if they were merely frustrated or prurient or the passing whim of childish fancy, as he suspected was the case.

“Sometimes,” Josiah admitted, looking away.

The two of them sat in companionable silence until the phone in Nick’s pocket hiccupped its alarm to let him know that the requisite thirty-minute small group had passed, and he had to return again to face the lethargy of his classroom.

“Did you need something?” he asked, using the wall to push himself to his feet, and slipped the vape back into his pocket.

Josiah pulled out a sheaf of printouts from his backpack and held them up for Nick to take. “Two new chapters. I wanted to get your thoughts on them before I continue. It took a—the narrative took a direction we haven’t discussed before.”

“All right. I’ll see what I can do.”

“Thanks.”

“Do you want to come in?”

“Nah, I’ve got to meet Jen. Talk to you next week?”

Nick nodded.

Above them, the sky had dimmed as sure as if someone had taken a dimmer switch to the sun. Dark clouds cast a clear, watery gray light over campus, the edges of the quad hemmed in on all sides by towering dark trees that only helped to feed into the illusion of night creeping over them. The air smelled as though it were about to rain, bitterly cold and damp.

“Do you think it’s going to snow?” Josiah asked, climbing to his feet.

Nick shook his head. “Not a chance.”

He filed back into the teaching theater behind the stragglers. Sixty minutes for discussion and in-class readings, and then he’d be free for the rest of the weekend. Nick perched his feet on the edge of his desk, saw the streaks of mud clinging to his shoes, and dropped them again. He cleared his throat and looked out at the crowd for the first person to meet his eyes.

“Ah, Amelia, why don’t you start us off with a brief summary of what your group discussed.”

He folded his arms over his chest and listened with half an ear while his focus strayed repeatedly to the darkening sky and the promise of rain.

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Meet the Author

Lia Cooper is a twenty-something native of the Pacific Northwest, voracious reader, pop-culture addict, and writer. She cultivated an early interest in writing through fandom and completed writing her first full length novel with the help of NaNoWriMo.

In the years since, she’s dabbled in catering, barista-ing, and working as a pastry chef before finally returning full time to the thing she loves most: storytelling.

When she’s not glued to Scrivener, Lia enjoys playing video games with friends and reviewing books for her booktube channel.

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