On Tour with Ardulum Series by J.S. Fields (excerpts and giveaway)

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SERIES-GRAPHIC Ardulum

J.S. Fields has a new lesbian sci fi book out in her Ardulum series – Third Don:

The Ardulum series blends space opera and hard science into a story about two women persistently bound to their past, and a sentient planet determined to shape their future.


Giveaway:

J.S. Fields is giving away an eBook copy of books one and two, AND a special collector’s edition First Don enamel pin to one lucky winner, via Rafflecopter:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Direct Link: http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/b60e8d4711/?


About the Books

Ardulum: First Don (book one)

Ardulum: First Don

The planet that vanishes. The planet that sleeps.

When Ardulum first appeared, the inhabitants brought agriculture, art and interstellar technology to the Neek people before vanishing back into space. Two hundred years later, Neek has joined the Charted Systems, a group of planets bound together through commerce and wormhole routes, where violence is nonexistent and technology has been built around the malleability of cellulose.

When the tramp transport Mercy’s Pledge accidentally stumbles into an armed confrontation between the Charted System sheriffs and an unknown species, the crew learns the high cost of peace—the enslavement and genetic manipulation of the Ardulan people. Now a young Neek, outcast from her world for refusal to worship ancient Ardulans as gods, must reconcile her planet’s religion with the slave child whom she has chosen to protect—a child whose ability to manipulate cellulose is reminiscent of the ancient myths of Ardulum. But protecting the child comes at a cost—the cultural destruction of her world and the deaths of billions of Charted System inhabitants.

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Ardulum: Second Don (book two)

Ardulum: Second Don

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

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

NineStar Press | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | QueeRomance Ink

Ardulum: Third Don (book three)

Ardulum Third Don

The planet wakes.

Atalant is torn between two worlds. In uncharted space, head of a sentient planet, the new eld of Ardulum now leads the religion she once rejected. Emn is by her side, but the Mmnnuggl war brewing in the Charted Systems, threatening her homeworld of Neek, cannot be ignored. Neek must return to the planet that exiled her in order to lead the resistance. She must return home a god, a hypocrite, a liar in gold robes, and decide whether to thrust her unwilling people into the truth of Ardulum, or play the role she has been handed and never see her family, or her world, again.

NineStar Press


Excerpts

First Don (Book One):

“Were we just attacked?” she asked incredulously. Neek took a closer look out the viewscreen. The rectangular cutter that sparkled with pinpricks of light and the wedge-shaped, agile skiffs, were Risalian. The pods—both the smaller purple ones and the frigate-sized, maroon ones—were unfamiliar. Their fomations were just as strange, stacked in columns like stones on a riverbank instead of in pyrimidal and spherical formations like Systems ships would. “Are those all Charted Systems ships?”

Yorden threw up his hands in disgust. “They’re not just Charted Systems ships—they’re Risalian ships. The cutter and skiffs are, anyway. No clue on the pods. What those blue-skinned bastards are doing out here with fully weaponized ships, I can only guess. However, they’re firing lasers. If we lose our armor and take a hit from any of those, we are space dust.”

“Comforting,” Neek mumbled. She hadn’t noticed the laser ports on any of the ships, but now that she looked closer, all of the vessels were covered with armor plating and had at least two laser turrets each.

Neek continued to watch as the pods begin to cluster around a Risalian cutter. A pod ship zipped beneath the cutter, firing wildly at its underside, before making a quick right turn and heading back to a larger pod. Five others followed suit. The cutter’s shielding began to splinter, but the ship remained where it was.

Neek leaned into the viewscreen, still unsure what she was seeing. “The Risalian ships aren’t chasing, they’re just defending. What is going on? If they’re going to appoint themselves sheriffs of the Charted Systems, they could at least fight back.”

Yorden smacked his hand against the wall, loosing a shower of dust. “Something on that Risalian ship is holding their attention. Get us out of here, before either of them gets any closer.” He pointed to a cluster of ships to Neek’s right, and her eyes followed. Little flashes of bright light sparked and then died intermittently as ships were destroyed, their flotsam creating an ever-expanding ring. A large piece of metal plating floated past the Pledge’s port window. The edge caught and left a thin scratch in the fiberglass as it slid off.

“What are they protecting that is so damn important?” Neek wondered out loud and then snorted. “Something worth more than our hold full of diamond rounds and cellulose-laced textiles?” she added cheekily.

Scowling, Yorden pushed Neek’s hand away from the computer and began his own scan of the Pledge’s systems. “Communications are still up, but I don’t think either party is listening right now.” Frustrated, he kicked the underside of the console. “Try one of them. Better than being crushed.”

“Captain, come on. We are dead in space. If another one comes at us, why don’t we just fire at it? It’s better than being rammed.” She pointed upwards at a circular hole in the ceiling. “What’s the benefit of flying a ship so ancient it falls apart if you’re not taking advantage of the grandfathered weapons system?”

Yorden’s terse response was cut off when a short burst impacted the ship. Another group of skiffs flew past, depositing laser fire as they did so. The Pledge banked to port, carrying momentum from the impact. From the direction they had come lay a trail of shattered ship plating.

A panicked voice called down from the laser turret. Neek bristled, steeling herself against the inevitable irritation that came whenever their Journey youth spoke. “That skiff just fired at us. How does it even have weapons? I thought we were the only ones in the Systems with a ship older than dirt.”

Neek wrapped her right hand back around the steering yoke. Each of her eight fingers fit perfectly into the well-worn grooves, and the brown leather darkened a shade as her naturally secreted stuk smeared from her fingertips. She smiled to herself. Flying a geriatric tramp was still better than flying nothing at all.

“Look, Captain,” she said, keeping her eyes on the battle. “I can steer this thing if we get pushed, but that is it. We don’t have any other options. They have guns. We have guns. Well, we have a gun. Why don’t we use it?”

Second Don (Book Two):

“You have to tell her,” Nicholas said. He pushed himself out of a lean and pointed to where Emn’s blood had fallen. She’d been interfacing with the ship all the way through the wormhole and hadn’t noticed Nicholas return to the cockpit. That meant Emn was getting a lecture, one way or the other. Annoyed, she tugged at the fabric across her chest, the sensation something she was still getting used to, and turned to look at Nicholas. She’d have much preferred a lecture from Neek.

Nicholas’s eyebrow rose. “This is the fourth time I’ve seen you bleed from interfacing with the ship. If your physiology is so incompatible with it, then Neek needs to know. We need to find another ship.”

Emn dabbed at her ear with a finger, ensuring the canal was clean, and then straightened the front of her dress. She’d already stopped the bleeding. The blood vessel breaks had been small—only minor capillaries affected—and healing was simple first-don stuff. Except, each time she synced with the ship, the pain was worse. What had started as a light buzzing during her time on the Mmnnuggl flagship Llttrin, during the Crippling War, was now a pressure that thumped between her skull and brain. It was ever-expanding, pulsed behind her eyes, crushed blood vessels, and had her leaking maroon from her ears and nose.

After sitting down against the black paneling, Emn looked at her lap. The dress, which she’d managed to keep mostly clean of blood, was tight in areas she’d not anticipated. It clung to her hips and chest, highlighting the most notable changes since her metamorphosis. It was… Could something be uncomfortable and yet comforting at the same time? She was an adult. There was no denying that, not with something so formfitting. Emn enjoyed the visual reminder of who she had become.

“For me to discuss any of this with Neek, she’d have to actually talk to me. Right after the Crippling War, I thought we had broken through that layer of self-doubt, or whatever makes Neek so rigid around me, but I guess not.” Emn went to pull at the front of her dress again before catching herself.

Nicholas ran his hands through his thick hair and shook his head. “You’re telepathically connected. You don’t have to be in the same room to talk.” Just as he had when she was in first don, Nicholas plopped beside her so she could lean into him. The reminder of their friendship helped ease the thumping in her head. She was forever grateful that Nicholas didn’t seem at all uncomfortable with the changes she’d undergone.

“Do you think it looks all right?” Emn asked, looking down at the front of her dress.

Nicholas snorted. “You look like a woman in a dress, Emn. It fits well. Your chest looks normal, if that’s what you’re asking, although you’ll crease the fabric if you keep pulling at it like that. If you want more specific feedback, there’s a different person you should ask. I know you don’t have a perpetually open connection, but even if she’s closed down, you could still nudge her. It’s good for her.”

Emn returned the half smile, imagining how Neek would react if she just started chatting to her through their link about mundane things, like constellations or cellulose biometals, or if she actually asked about the dress…

As if Neek had been listening, the door abruptly slid open, and the room was filled with the distinctive sound of booted feet. Emn and Nicholas stood up.

Neek took a moment to stretch, reaching her hands up over her head and letting her sixteen fingers, eight per hand, brush the ceiling. This was the only room in the small Mmnnuggl pod where any of them could stand upright, and it was blissful to do so. Stretching pulled the fabric of the flight suit taut against Neek’s chest and Emn let her eyes linger, careful to ensure the image did not leak across their bond. They needed Neek in the cockpit, captaining, not hiding in her room. She didn’t need to know about Emn’s burgeoning…something. Not yet, anyway. Still, Emn followed the tightly braided red-blonde hair to her narrow shoulders and then to her wide hips partially hidden in a baggy flight suit. Neek had her sleeves rolled up to her elbows, and Emn wrinkled her nose without meaning to. The lighting in the pod did not go well with Neek’s olive-brown complexion. Realizing that she had probably stared for a bit too long, Emn walked back to the viewscreen.

“Looks like such a harmless planet from out here,” Neek said as her arms fell to her sides. Currently filling the floor-to-ceiling viewscreen was Risal, its orange algae oceans and brown landmasses looming above them. Risal’s two moons, the red Korin and white Rath, buffered the planet on either side. At their current position, the shadows from the sun overlapped Risal in two intersecting crescents, leaving a thin hourglass shape of lit land. Two cutters were in orbit around Korin, docked next to one another near the moon’s north pole.

Emn knew more than she cared to about those moons. She had no firsthand memories, but being synced to the late Captain Ran’s cutter had given her data on both. Rath was used as an andal plantation, although it was not a very successful one. Korin, in contrast…Korin was likely where she had been born. Emn probably had had siblings there, perhaps other genetic parents as well. They’d be dead, of course, like all the Risalian Ardulans, but that didn’t make the moon any less oppressive.

Her focus was suddenly returned to the cockpit. Confused, Emn blinked, trying to clear her vision, and then realized what was happening. Her thoughts must have leaked. Now, instead of Korin, she was seeing herself through Neek’s eyes, their connection taut. It was strange to see herself from the back—a woman in a knee-length, gray dress with shoulder straps and a flared hipline, tracing a finger over the moon’s image. Her black hair held only hints of the red that shone in her youth, and the moonlight highlighted the dark veins that streaked across her translucent skin. Patterns emerged, if one looked long enough—and Neek was—patterns of geometric shapes bound tightly together, distorted and intersecting. Several words bounded across their link despite Neek’s best efforts to rein them in. One in particular struck Emn as odd.

Beautiful.

Except, calling the markings such belied their daunting mythos and marginalized Neek’s history. Emn tossed the word aside, conscious of its relevance but unwilling to call it to Neek’s attention.

Third Don (Book Three):

I dislike this flight suit,Atalant muttered as her stuk absorbed into the rough material. The Ardulans did not refine the andalrayon as much as Charted Systems manufacturers did, and the fabric was full of rough, lumpish slubs.

If you could find some time for us to be alone and do away with the memories for a few hours, I’m sure I could arrange for my dress to make an appearance. The images that accompanied her statement flushed Atalant’s cheeks.

Maybe if we met onboard the Scarlet Lucidity , in orbit around Ardulum, where no one could interrupt us and I felt a bit freer… Atalant’s thoughts drifted into that delightful possibility. The Lucidity had soft chairs in the cockpit, wide beds in the quarters, a small bin of andal in case Emn got hungry…

Andal! Atalant’s priorities came crashing back down around her. The planet caught her wandering and whispered dreams of its own, dreams of saplings in open fields, of thick rains and busy pollinators. The collective consciousness of Ardulum sent a yearning desire for family, for a new place to call home.

“Home is overrated,” Atalant whispered.

“I don’t think so. What about your parents, Atalant?” Emn whispered into her ear, misunderstanding Atalant’s words. “Your father and your talther miss you, I’m sure. Your brother is there, waiting to see his sister.” Emn’s lips brushed Atalant’s forehead. “All the things you said at those political rallies, all the times the president cut you down, your exile, your uncle’s teachings… Could you just let all this hang? Can you let the truth, that you worked so hard to uncover, remain a mystery to the rest of your people?”

Atalant didn’t answer. When Emn didn’t press further, Atalant reached over Emn and lifted the window open to its full height. The sounds of reptiles croaking filled the silence between them. Atalant let the heaviness of her eyelids sink her into drowsy memories. She thought of the Lucidity, berthed and awaiting her return in a suburb of the capital. She thought of the gold robes she now regularly wore, of their similarities to the Heaven Guard robes she had so coveted in her youth. She thought of her brother, his pursuit of andal science over Ardulan religion, his urging her to join the Heaven Guard of Neek. She thought of soil barren from andal plantation farming, the decline of the forests on her homeworld, and the death of the Keft ecosystem. She thought of her uncle, the High Priest of Neek, of his teachings, the holy books, and of what the return of living gods could do for her stagnant planet.

The sound of Emn’s even breathing relaxed the remaining tightness in Atalant’s shoulders. As she drifted off into sleep, her mind wandered to the possibility: what would it be like for Ardulum to return to the planet Neek? What havoc would the mystic, traveling planet play on her world’s religion? On her family? Would she be welcomed as a hero, or still branded a heretic? Would she be shot on sight? Gold robes of the Eld or gold robes of the Heaven Guard? Did it matter?

What would it be like for her to come home?


About the Author

AUTHOR PHOTO - J.S. FieldsJ.S. Fields (@Galactoglucoman) is a scientist who has perhaps spent too much time around organic solvents. She enjoys roller derby, woodturning, making chainmail by hand, and cultivating fungi in the backs of minivans. Nonbinary, but prefers female pronouns.

Fields has lived in Thailand, Ireland, Canada, USA, and spent extensive time in many more places. Her current research takes her to the Peruvian Amazon rainforest each summer, where she traumatizes students with machetes and tangarana ants while looking for rare pigmenting fungi. She lives with her partner and child, and a very fabulous lionhead rabbit named Merlin.

Author Website: http://www.jsfieldsbooks.com

Author Twitter: https://twitter.com/Galactoglucoman

Author Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/16484795.J_S_Fields

Author QueeRomance Ink: https://www.queeromanceink.com/mbm-book-author/j-s-fields/

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

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Title:  Sweethearts

Author: Gemma Gilmore

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: January 29, 2018

Heat Level: 2 – Fade to Black Sex

Pairing: Female/Female

Length: 62600

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

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Synopsis

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

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

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

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

Excerpt

Sweethearts
Gemma Gilmore © 2018
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One
I am desperately trying not to attract attention.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then again, neither have I.

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

Why did I need to watch her?

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Then I’m deranged.”

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

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

“Like an STD test?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah, whatever.”

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Meet the Author

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

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

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Title:  Run in the Blood

Author: A. E. Ross

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: December 25, 2017

Heat Level: 2 – Fade to Black Sex

Pairing: Female/Female

Length: 78700

Genre: I

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Synopsis

Raised on the high seas as an avaricious corsair, Aela Crane has turned her back on her roots, but she can’t seem to stem the ancient magic that courses through her. Del is a soft-spoken soldier who seems to know more about Aela’s inherited powers than she does. Brynne’s the crofter’s daughter who’s reluctantly learning to become a princess, if she could just get a certain swashbuckling someone off her mind.

Originally hired on (okay, blackmailed) by the King of the island nation of Thandepar, Aela’s light monster extermination gig takes a fast turn into kidnapping-for-profit. Del tries to ignore family issues by searching for a long lost friend, and ends up getting both for the price of one. Brynne’s prepared to give up her heart for her country until her own personal heartbreaker shows up with the most terrible timing.

As the three of them become more entwined in their own political predicaments, and each other’s lives, they may discover that the legacies their parents have left them aren’t as solid as they seemed. In fact, they may just slip through their fingers, leaving all three fumbling to forge their own future, before the kingdom comes crashing down around them.

Excerpt

Run in the Blood
A.E. Ross © 2017
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One

A sharp blast of seawater hit Aela Crane square in the face, soaking her curls. As she gripped the rim of the crow’s nest with dark knuckles, the surface of the ocean seemed to rise up to meet her as the brigantine listed at a dangerous horizontal angle. The captain was throwing out all the stops to catch up to the mercantile cog just ahead of them.

Just below, her shipmates flew through the rigging, raising and lowering the sails as the ship made a shuddering turn to the right. On the deck, she could see a familiar spark of flame as their archers held lit arrows nocked to their bows, ready to release them into the air.

The corsair ship, faster and sleeker, gained on the struggling cog. Aela knew that their captain, the infamous man named Dreadmoor, would not give up his quarry. He did not like to lose. She heard his voice call out gruffly from the fore as he ordered the archers to release the flaming shafts. The arrows arced up and over, some sinking into the cog’s starboard side with a dull thunk, while the truer ones found their targets. Screams rent the frigid air as the brigantine finally veered within spitting distance. Several grappling hooks sank into the cog’s side, stabilising the two vessels.

The dull sound of boots on soaking wood thundered below her as the corsairs swarmed across a boarding plank, their swords ruthlessly singing with the blood of the merchant sailors. Aela leaped down from the crow’s nest; her hands burned on the coarse rope as she swung herself down to the deck where her own salt-weathered boots landed with a wet thud. The rigging above her head shook as the lookout boy scrambled down, eager to cross the planks and join in the fray. He landed beside her and slipped a dull blade from his belt. Shaking back his shaggy red hair, he grinned up at her. She clicked her tongue in reply and hefted her speargun with muscular arms, scarred by the marks of a dangerous life. Knife wounds and near misses were etched into her powerful limbs, evidence of her trade.

A corsair almost since birth, Aela Crane had grown to womanhood in the crow’s nest, her only masters the sea and the sword. She and the freckled boy, Timlet, made for the gangplank and the merchant ship, but as Timlet took a step onto the cedar board, it lost its purchase on the other side and fell free, crashing into the ocean below. Aela grasped Timlet’s arm and pulled him stumbling backwards before he could follow the plank down into the waves.

“Thanks.” Timlet smiled graciously, blushing. Aela released him as he took several steps back, readying himself. He burst forward towards the side of the ship and then leaped off the edge and across the gap to land safely on the other side. Not a moment after landing, he flew into the fray, confronting a young merchant sailor who had naught but a trowel to defend himself.

Aela stepped back, considering the jump. The gap between the ships wasn’t large, but she didn’t have the same acrobatic knack as Timlet, and above else, valued style over substance. She aimed her speargun into the mast of the merchant ship and let it fly. The spear arced through the night sky, and the spear tip buried itself deep into the mast, pulling the line taut. Aela took a run and swung herself across the gap to land up on the aftcastle.

Knees bent, she scanned the action. Her fellow corsairs fought man-to-man on the deck below. She could see Timlet dodging the young sailor’s trowel, bobbing and weaving as he prepared his attack as she had taught him. He ducked and danced away from his opponent’s lunges, letting him tire until he could get in behind and slit the throat. As he pulled his knife across the boy’s neck and released his blood, the body fell backwards, collapsing onto Timlet. Aela shook her head. The boy still had a lot to learn. As Timlet struggled to free himself, another man fought his way along the deck, past the body of the young sailor.

The man swung and jabbed at every corsair he could reach, seeming to search the boat until his gaze met Aela’s as she stood on the aftcastle. Here was the captain of the vessel. It was clear in his purposeful stride, which hastened after he saw her and made his way towards the stairs. Trying to think quickly, she tugged on the line of her speargun and flipped the retraction lever as the steel tip came free of the mast. The line reeled back into the gun and the sharp metal shaft came shooting back towards her, clicking as it locked back into its place in the barrel.

The merchant captain was almost upon her as she pulled her long dagger from its sheath and turned to block his first swing. She scanned his form. He wore a vivid purple coat. Its crest featured the North Star, a sign of his patronage to the king of Thandepar, the frozen country in whose waters they currently sailed, and whose merchants they currently slaughtered. She smirked as he lunged again, and blocked him easily.

“Don’t worry. We’re here to relieve you of your extra cargo.” She grinned, lowering her gaze as she flicked his curved sword away with her blade. She circled him, daring him to strike again.

“What goods? We’ve nothing but a hold full of bodies, thanks to you.” His hair was grey, and his skin was sickly pale. Still, there was something familiar in the ridge of his nose and the set of his brow. The captain tried to gauge her skill as she stepped around him, dancing away as he tried another strike. She clicked her tongue at him.

“Oh come on. You’ve got to have something good down there, sailing in the dead of night like you are. No lights. No noise. Quiet as a thief.” She lunged in with her blade, not to cut but to tap him on his waist, teasing. Furrowing his brow, he jumped back out of his range, a curious look in his pale blue eyes.

“So quiet we were, one almost wonders how you found us.” He raised an eyebrow and stepped aside quickly as Aela pounced forward for a true strike. He was spry, which surprised her. He was much sharper than he seemed, in his delicate purple coat.

“Come closer,” she said, still taunting. “I can make you a free man.” Her tongue brushed her lower lip as she stepped in close, tucking her blade between his arm and abdomen. “One plunge of my dagger and you’ll have no king but the patron of the dead.” Aela jumped back rapidly as the captain struck at her shoulder. She was too quick, and his sword cut only air. He sneered.

“You corsairs are all the same. You think you are the only free people in this world.” His voice was strained.

“Yes, as that is the case.” She mocked him smugly as she sidestepped another blow.

“Ah, but is it? I have land, I have a lord, and I have—” He stepped in towards her, catching her off guard. “—a family.” He thrust his blade against her outer thigh, pressing its sharp edge through her rough trousers, splitting threads and drawing blood, but barely wounding. “And your lifestyle will not allow you those things. Is that freedom?”

Aela jumped back, feeling his blade slide free of her flesh. She gave a quick glance down to the deck to see Timlet scrapping with another sailor.

“What is it you people say?” the captain continued. “I pledge allegiance to the sea. Landless, lawless, honour free?”

She spat at his feet. “My crewmates are my family, and this ocean is my land.” She thrust forward, but the captain stepped free of her blow. She was becoming irritated, and she knew that it made her vulnerable to attack, but she pressed onwards, striking again and again but failing to land a blow. He had made her angry, and the heat rolled off her body, warming her blade, fueling her fire. She tried to blink it away, but it was too late—she could not recover her concentration. The captain lowered his sword as he gaped at her. She knew that her eyes had blazed from their usual deep brown to a candle’s twin. Blazing orange, flickering like a flame, and the pupil ringed with blue. Before this moment, she could have been any woman to him, from any place. Her complexion was not unusual; deep brown eyes with skin the colour of a sequoia tree, its strength echoed in her muscular frame. Her head was crested by a bluster of curls, the sides haphazardly shaved for ease of maintenance at sea. Besides the profiteer’s attitude, the sea-dog smell, and the uncanny bloodlust, she would have been passed without notice in any marketplace.

Monster.” He choked out the word. His eyes were locked on hers. She allowed herself a moment to hate the familiar fear in his gaze before she lunged forward, striking at him, forcing him to defend himself.

“Do you want to keep staring? A second ago, you wanted to kill me.” Aela sliced into his leg, letting the blade bite before ripping it back.

She burned on, forcing him backwards. She had him up against the railing of the aftcastle, her dagger at his throat, the sea at his back, ready to finish him off when she heard a noise behind her. She glanced back, expecting a sailor come to defend his captain, but she could see the battle had ended. It was only Timlet, scrambling up the stairs towards her. That one look back cost her the chance for a killing blow. The captain pushed her back, and before she could strike him, he leapt over the railing and into the sea, swimming clear of the rudder and away from the cog. Timlet joined Aela at the railing as they stared out at the sea and the merchant captain swimming away in the waves. Aela’s eyes still burned.

“You little bastard, you let him jump!” She swore at Timlet, and a red blush spread under his freckles as he edged away to avoid her wrath.

“It was an accident! I was only coming to make sure you were all right!”

“I protect you. It doesn’t work the other way around.”

“Well, he’ll never make it to land anyways! He’ll just bleed out in the water or get speared by a narwhal or somethin’,” Timlet stammered. Aela stepped towards him and he flinched as if expecting a blow. Instead, she let out a laugh. The fire faded from her as she put a hand on his shoulder and squeezed.

“Speared by a narwhal? You’re ridiculous.” She gave him a slight push backwards and turned back to the sea. She pulled her speargun from its holster on her back and set it on the railing to steady her aim. She found her mark through the sight and pulled the trigger, sending the metal spear flying through the night. It landed with a thunk in the captain’s back, as his desperate swimming ceased with a shriek. His body bobbed on the frigid waves, spear sticking out like a dorsal fin.

She cut the rope that connected the spear to the gun. She would buy replacements on their imminent return to port, and had no desire to keep this one as a reminder that she had failed to keep her cool. Timlet squeaked behind her. She turned to see him rocking on his heels.

“He wouldn’t have made it far before drowning,” he remarked to his feet. Aela returned her gun to the holster and stepped towards him. She could hear the sound of the other crewmates’ celebratory hoots as they carried goods from the merchant ship back to the brigantine.

“Ah, but drowning is a long and painful death.” She shrugged and guided Timlet back down, across a new gangplank, and onto their ship. They would break the cog, sinking it with the sailors’ bodies inside, and find a less conspicuous spot to spend the night.

They chose a deep cove to drop anchor in until the morning. Its patchy evergreen forest was part of a small strip of land along the southern coast of Thandepar that its people referred to as the green belt. That coastline was one of the few fertile places on the northern continent where crops could be grown in abundance. The only others were a handful of deep river valleys tucked between the glaciers, the meltwater carving out hollows where the people of Thandepar had settled their major towns. It was a country made beautiful by its desolation. The valleys and the green belt produced the majority of the food for the small nation, but its trade wealth lay elsewhere.

Dreadmoor directed his corsair crew as they carried their bounty deep into the brigantine’s hold. It contained a rich cargo: gold from Thandepar’s deep mountain veins and vibrant dye squeezed from its tundra lichen. The refugees from Old Ansar had found it that way when their ships arrived on its shores. Empty. They came from southeastern lands of heat and spice, overcome with brimstone, to a world so penetrated by frost that it could scarcely feed their children. Gradually, they rebuilt their civilization, digging deep in the mountains for gold to trade and squeezing what little life they could out of the permafrost. Their capital, called Ghara, was built in the ruins of a stone stronghold they found etched into a high peak, its previous inhabitants long gone. But not entirely gone…

Aela floated on the surface of the ocean. Her evening swim was a chance for solitude. She could reflect on her thoughts without interruption. Heat radiated from her body, warming the water in her perimeter, another aspect she had inherited from unknown ancestors.

Tiny chunks of ice bobbed by, lazily melting as they entered her range. She tried to rein in her feelings, considering how the merchant captain had broken her practiced cool. He had known what she was, so she had killed him.

Aela dipped her head back into the warm water, letting it pool around her temples and in the hollows of her ears. It would have been a lot more therapeutic if she wasn’t jolted to reality by the sound of Timlet hollering at her from the deck. She jerked upright, flipped onto her stomach, and swam towards the rough rope ladder that hung down from the deck.

She climbed up, hoisted herself over the edge, and grabbed her worn pants and light-weight tunic from where they lay, then pulled them on as Timlet waited patiently. He had his usual expression of half-cocked excitement, but there was an odd pall behind his cheerful expression. He had seemed alarmed when she killed the merchant captain, although he himself had dispatched a young sailor only minutes earlier. He was easily her favourite crewmate, maybe because he was so different from the others. There was no question of their archetype—like her, life under the sign of the Corsair had made them reckless, charming and avaricious. Timlet, on the other hand, seemed like he might be more at home under the sign of the Merchant, working at a bakery or a grocer. He was a fair-weather fiend, but a true friend—almost like a younger brother. Aela didn’t think she’d enjoy her days half as much without the chance to ruffle his ginger hair or coax out his ragged smile. She meant what she had said to the merchant captain. Her crewmates were her family, for better or worse.

“Captain’s called a moot in the galley,” Timlet said, sweating slightly as he averted his gaze from the damp linen hugging her form. Aela considered him for a moment with a wry grin and then made her way to the meeting.

As soon as Aela stepped into the ship’s galley, she was hit with a hot blast of salt, sweat, and aging pork. The furnace was lit, the flames roaring behind Dreadmoor as he shouted orders at the crew.

“We’ll make port tomorrow morning at the city docks. If any one of you shit-brained amateurs draws the attention of the guard, you’re on your own.” Brine-aged ale sprayed from his tankard as Dreadmoor slammed it down on the table. Aela smirked. As much as he played the rough sea dog, she knew that the captain was a family man at heart. After all, he was the closest thing she had ever known to a father.

She rested her forearms on the cool surface of the ice box, listening to her crewmates chatter about the prospect of fresh food. After weeks of nothing but stale bread and salt pork, Aela was salivating at the prospect of a nice ripe orange or a handful of figs. She couldn’t wait to slip unnoticed through the dockside souk and grab some fresh piece of paradise, letting the juice of the fruit run past her teeth as she bit through its flesh. But those weren’t the only fruits she was looking to pluck. While every port had its own special delicacy, the city of Marinaken held her favourite—a crofter’s daughter by the name of Brynne. Aela traced her teeth with her tongue as she thought about the smell of hay and the warmth of sunbeams that highlighted scattered freckles, that thread of common themes came to Aela each night as she slept. She always woke with a fleeting internal warmth that could never seem to be replicated during her waking hours.

“Seabitch!”

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

“Aye, Captain?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The king nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What do you want from me?”

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

“I knew your father,” he said.

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

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

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

She didn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Purchase

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

Meet the Author

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

Website | Instagram | Tumblr

 

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A Free Dreamer Review: A Question of Counsel (The Republic #1) by Archer Kay Leah

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Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

Life hasn’t been easy for Aeley since she arrested her brother, and her role as a political leader leaves her feeling isolated and lonely. Days before her brother’s trial, she meets Lira, a quiet and modest scribe who makes Aeley want more than just a professional relationship. When she attends the trial and leaves with a marriage contract, Aeley doesn’t know what to do. She must choose one of two brothers, marrying into a family she doesn’t know.

Then she discovers that Lira is part of the same family-a sister to Aeley’s suitors and the family’s disgrace. And not at all opposed to an intimate relationship. Except random acts of violence against her people test Aeley’s ability as a leader, and a web of lies and deceit threaten not only her chance at happiness, but her life…

A Question of Counsel is one of my very first F/F books. I’ve never really liked books with female leads, no matter the genre, so I never thought to read a story with a lesbian couple. But my reading tastes have evolved over the years and the blurb sounded so tempting, I just had to give it a shot. And I’m glad I did.

I quite liked Aeley from the beginning. She’s a tough woman and definitely no damsel in distress, but she’s not perfect either. She drinks too much and can be a little grumpy at times. And she’s apparently not very good at flirting and courting women. She made me laugh a lot.

I loved the flirtations and courtship between Aeley and Lira. Loved the sexual tension as well. And the one explicit sex scene we get was absolutely scorching hot.

While I liked both protagonists and the romance between them, the rest of the plot fell a bit short. The beginning starts right in the middle of things and I felt like I missed a prequel or something. I’d hoped there would be more explanations as the plot moves on, but I always felt a little lost. So much happened before the beginning of the book, it just left me with a big fat question mark.

Another issue I had with this book was the world building, or rather the lack thereof. Throughout the book, I was left wondering just what genre this book was trying to be. A sort of historical AU? Fantasy? Or something completely different? It had a historical feel to it, but there’s four Goddesses and homosexual relationships are perfectly normal. It just had me completely puzzled.

So while I enjoyed the romance part of the book, the rest was just confusing. Still, I did quite enjoy the book for the most part and there’s definitely potential for an interesting sequel.

While the cover by Natasha Snow looks pretty cool, it might give the wrong impression. There is no BDSM in this book.  As long as you don’t take the blindfold too literally, it does fit the book, though.

Sales Links:  Less Than Three Press | Amazon

Book details: ebook, 184 pages

Published May 27th 2015 by Less Than Three Pres

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

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Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sales Links:  NineStar Press | Amazon

Book Details:

ebook, 58 pages

Published September 25, 2017

by NineStar Press

ISBN: 978-1-947139-90-9

Edition Language: English

RIPTIDE TOUR Avon Gale on The Love Song of Sawyer Bell (A Tour Dates novel)

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The Love Song of Sawyer Bell (Tour Dates #1) by Avon Gale
Riptide Publishing
Cover by: Natasha Snow

Read an Excerpt/Purchase it Here at Riptide Publishing

 

Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words is happy to host the tour for The Love Song of Sawyer Bell (Tour Dates #1) by Avon Gale.  Check it out below and don’t forget to enter the giveaway.

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About The Love Song of Sawyer Bell

 

Victoria “Vix” Vincent has only two weeks to find a replacement fiddle player for her band’s summer tour. When classically trained violinist Sawyer Bell shows up for an audition, Vix is thrilled. Sawyer is talented, gorgeous, funny, and excited about playing indie rock instead of Beethoven. Their friendship soon blossoms into romance, even though Vix tries to remember that Sawyer’s presence is only temporary.

 

 

Sawyer’s parents think she’s spending the summer months touring Europe with a chamber ensemble. But Sawyer is in dire need of a break from the competitiveness of Juilliard, and desperately wants to rediscover her love of music. Going on tour with her secret high school crush is just an added bonus. Especially when Vix kisses her one night after a show, and they discover that the stage isn’t the only place they have chemistry.

 

But the tour won’t last forever, and as the summer winds down, Sawyer has to make a tough decision about her future—and what it means to follow her heart.

 

Now available from Riptide Publishing

 

About Avon Gale

 

Avon grew up in the southern United States, and now lives with her very patient husband in a liberal Midwestern college town. When she’s not writing, she’s either doing some kind of craft project that makes a huge mess, reading, watching horror movies, listening to music or yelling at her favorite hockey team to get it together, already. Avon is always up for a road trip, adores Kentucky bourbon, thinks nothing is as stress relieving as a good rock concert, and will never say no to candy.

 

At one point, Avon was the mayor of both Jazzercise and Lollicup on Foursquare. This tells you basically all you need to know about her as a person.

 

Connect with Avon:

Giveaway

To celebrate this release, one lucky winner will receive a signed paperback copy of The Love Song of Sawyer Bell! Leave a comment with your contact info to enter the contest. Entries close at midnight, Eastern time, on September 30, 2017. Contest is NOT restricted to U.S. entries. Thanks for following the tour, and don’t forget to leave your contact info!

Words from International Literacy Day and Updated Recovery Links. This Week at Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

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Words from International Literacy Day and Updated Recovery Links.

 

Last week we were focused on Hurricane Irma as she left a swath of devastation across the Bahamas, the Virgin Islands, the Keys and Florida.  Recovery is going to take months, if not years.  The pictures that come from the path of the hurricane are heartbreaking as are the stories of the people just getting back into to their neighborhoods to see what’s left of their homes.  I’ve included an updated list of organizations where you can donate if you so wish below:

Charity Navigator – Your Guide To Intelligent Giving | Home

Charity Navigator’s Approved Lists for:

Hurricane Harvey

Hurricane Harvey made landfall on Friday evening, August 25th, as …

Hurricane Irma

Hurricane Irma made landfall in Barbuda on Wednesday …

Charities with Perfect Scores

Army Emergency Relief – Religion – Last Chance for Animals – Health

Also, I’ve not forgotten our International Literacy Day! Because of the Hurricane Irma our results from International Literacy Day slid to this Sunday. we had some wonderful comments that I wanted to include below from our readers:

 

📚 From H.B.I think it’s important to get children active in reading early in life. Here in the states it’s easier to do but I feel promotion should be upped so communities know when a event or program is occurring. As for abroad I suppose the same can be done. Also if we had more volunteer programs not just missionary organizations go abroad and/or raising money for equipment and videos may even help some communities.

As for me I’ve always read. My sister use to force me to do it, I wasn’t allowed to watch tv when I wanted to. Instead I would be forced to sit down and read or write. It was my main source of entertainment. It fed my imagination, served as an escape and stress reliever.
humhumbum AT yahoo DOT com

From Jen:I think the biggest thing we can do to promote literacy is to read to kids. We read to our kids starting when they were infants and they are both avid readers now. Supporting library programs, school programs etc. where books are read aloud. We also have the opportunity to donate books to our school and to a program for underfunded schools via Scholastic Books.

I’ve read a lot ever since I was young. Books open up new worlds to me and also teach me about people and cultures I might never know otherwise.

From Purple Reader:

Thanks so much for your attention to literacy. It is a necessary part of education, which I believe so strongly in. Being able to read really does free a person. That was true for me, and I’ve seen it in others. A whole new world opens up. Then comes the critical thinking skills to make sense of it all, the decision making skills to do the right things with it, and all in the context of a well grounded value system.

Reading is the first step, it opens the door that would otherwise be closed. But most times people cannot do it alone. I try to do my part by volunteer tutoring GED students at the LGBTQ center here. The people’s growth is amazing and I’m so proud of how they become solid citizens of the world.TheWrote [at] aol [dot] com

and from

Ami:

Well, I live in Indonesia, where the level of people reading is pretty low. It’s a sad situation really. We don’t have a very established libraries — I always feel jealous when I see one abroad. I guess my way of promoting literacy or books usually by speaking about it on social media. Or donate books when I can — cannot exactly donate my MM romance collection, different culture and all. Because books definitely change my life. I actually discovered about my asexuality by reading books!

Announcements: Our winners of the International Literacy gift certificates are Ami and Jen.  Congratulations!.

Next week we start to move forward into things autumnal, things scary and always bookish.  Until then happy reading.  Here’s a peak at this week at Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words.

 

This Week at Scattered Thoughts and Rogue

Sunday, September 17:

  • Words from International Literacy Day and Updated Recovery Links
  • This Week at Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

Monday, September 18:

  • Review Tour – Clare London’s Between A Rock & A Hard Place
  • Dreamspinner Promo Jacques N. Hoff on Tufted and Tatted
  • BLITZ Fate Heats Things Up by Sarah Hadley Brook
  • An Ali Release Day Review: Off the Beaten Path by Cari Z
  • A MelanieM Review: Murder and Mayhem (Murder and Mayhem #1) by Rhys Ford
  • A Karen Review: Between a Rock and a Hard Place (London Lads #5) by Clare London
  • A MelanieM Release Day Review: Tramps and Thieves (Murder and Mayhem#2) by Rhys Ford

Tuesday, September 19:

  • Dreamspinner Promo BA Tortuga on Finding Mr. Wright
  • TOUR A World Apart by Mel Gough + giveaway
  • RIPTIDE TOUR and Giveaway: Covet by Yolande Kleinn
  • A Caryn Review: The Druid Next Door (Fae Out of Water #2) by EJ Russell
  • A Lila Audiobook Review: Manny Get Your Guy (The Mannies #2) by Amy Lane and John Solo (Narrator)
  • A MelanieM Review: Pop Tart (Asian Idols #2) by Shawn Bailey
  • An Alisa Review: Cursed (Alpha’s Warlock #1) by Kris Sawyer

Wednesday, September 20:

  • RIPTIDE TOUR & Giveaway: Bad Boy’s Bard by EJ Russell
  • Review Tour for Amy Tasukada’s Year One
  • TOUR Torin by Lance Withton
  • A Barb the Zany Old Lady Release Day Review: I Heart Boston Terriers by Rick R. Reed
  • A Lila Review: By Fairy Means or Foul: A Starfig Investigations Novel by Meghan Maslow
  • A MelanieM Release Day Review:  Waking the Behr (Foothills Pride #7) by Pat Henshaw
  • A MelanieM Review: Year One (Would It Be Okay to Love You? #2) by Amy Tasukada

Thursday, September 21:

  • BLOG and Review TOUR Someone To Call My Own by Aimee Nicole Walker
  • BLITZ Figure Study by Suzanne Clay
  • A Free Dreamer Review Fortitude Smashed by Taylor Brooke
  • A Barb the Zany Old Lady Review: Leaning Into Love (Leaning Into Stories #1) by Lane Hayes
  • A VVivacious Review: Caught In Between (Daniel and Ryan #8) by Tamryn Eradani
  • An Alisa Review: Someone to Call My Own (Road to Blissville #2) by Aimee Nicole Walker

Friday, September 22:

  • Dreamspinner Promo Jodi Payne on Creative Process
  • RELEASE BLITZ Waking the Behr by Pat Henshaw
  • Review Tour for KA Merikan – Manic Pixie Dream Boy
  • Review Tour for Marshall Thornton’s Night Drop
  • An Alisa Release Day Review: Why I Love Bodyguards (Why I Love… #3) by T.A. Chase
  • A MelanieM Review: Night Drop (A Pinx Video Mystery #1) by Marshall Thornton
  • An Ali Review:  Manic Pixie Dream Boy by  KA Merikan

Saturday, September 23:

  • A MelanieM Audiobook Review: Mahu by Neil S. Plakcy and Joel Leslie Narrator
  • Release Blitz Tour – Amy Tasukada’s Would It Be Ok To Love You
  • Release Blitz for Tour: PROPHESY by A.E. Via

 

A Julia Review: Heat Wave (A Seasons of Love story #3) by Elyse Springer

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Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Sara Walker’s life is going nowhere fast: she has a job she enjoys but doesn’t love, friends who are too busy to hang out with her, and no boyfriend in sight. Then a phone call on a lonely Friday night changes everything, and suddenly she’s spending her weekends with Laura. Newly single and openly bisexual, Laura makes Sara think decidedly not-straight thoughts.

Laura Murphy, with her red hair, freckles, and killer curves, is any guy’s wet dream. But Laura’s done with guys for now, and it’s Sara who can’t stop dreaming about her. When Sara finally gives in to the curiosity, Laura blows her mind and pushes her further than she’s ever gone before.

But Laura makes it very clear that this is only a rebound fling, and she’s still planning to move to California. She’s more than happy to tie Sara up, but she’s not ready to be tied down. If Sara wants to keep her, she’s going to have to work hard to convince Laura that New York is worth staying for . . . and so is she.

Heat Wave by Elyse Springer is the third volume in the “Seasons of Love” series which I got hooked on after reviewing the second entry “Thaw”. Though having read the previous books will certainly enrich your experience due to the reappearance of several characters, it is not necessary to get into the individual volumes. I’d still recommend checking out all of them as it is well worth it.

What I find particularly appealing about this series is that it features characters from a range of different sexual orientations and addresses this fact in a natural and genuine way. This time the story is told from the point of view of Sara, who is now faced with being sexually and romantically attracted to another woman after she has thought of herself as being exclusively heterosexual her entire life. Sara is a character many can sympathize with, in my opinion. She is relatively content with her current living situation but is also in need of new and more profound experiences both in her work and love life – even if she does not quite realize it or can openly admit it to herself at first. She is a strong person who enjoys organisation and efficiency as well as testing her own limits (though she is still hesitant to give it a try in certain areas).

Sara is made aware of her own ambitions and hesitations when she gets closer to Laura who is by now the ex-girlfriend of Sara’s ex-boyfriend. Laura, who identifies as bisexual, is a very open and direct person who makes no secret out of her physical attraction towards Sara and the fact that she is only looking for a friendship with sex and nothing more (at least at first). Her directness challenges Sara to re-examine aspects of her life and herself that she had previously thought to be set in stone. And it was just the thing that Sara needed in her current situation. It is inspiring and quite admirable to witness how Sara finds at last the motivation to give it her all and take her life into a new direction she had not anticipated up to this point – especially her fight to keep Laura in it.

As I mentioned, we also encounter other characters from throughout the series – most notably Nathan, the protagonist of the first book and Sara’s best friend, who acts as a source of encouragement and support. I found it quite endearing to meet familiar faces again and learn a bit about how they have been getting on with their lives.

The sex scenes here are much more numerous and explicit than in the previous book (which is only appropriate considering the characters involved). We are treated to some steamy lady on lady action with light elements of sexual submission and domination as well as a cheeky scene of public sex in a dance club.

While I greatly enjoyed the previous entry to this series, I enjoyed this one even more. The author has a clear, expressive style of writing that gives the characters very distinct voices. They are depicted as realistic and relatable with their own individual sets of strengths and challenges. The frequent reappearance of characters – one time as a protagonist facing the ups and downs of their own relationship troubles and another as a supporting friend – makes you invested in them more and more. I can honestly recommend this series to anyone who enjoys a heartfelt and motivational love story.

The cover design by Natasha Snow is quite pretty and fits in well with the rest of the series.

Sales Links:  Riptide Publishing | Amazon

Book Details:

ebook, 262 pages

Published July 31, 2017

by Riptide Publishing

ISBN: 978-1-62649-515-9

Edition Language: English

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

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Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sales Links:  NineStar Press | Amazon

Book Details:

ebook, 34 pages

Published June 5, 2017

by NineStar Press

ISBN: 978-1-947139-18-3

Edition Language: English

In Our Spotlight: The Wrong Woman (Toronto Connections #4) by Cass Lennox (Riptide Publishing Tour & Giveaway)

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The Wrong Woman (Toronto Connections #4) by Cass Lennox
R
iptide Publishing
Cover Artist L.C. Chase

Read an Excerpt/Purchase it at Riptide Publishing

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Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words is happy to host Cass Lennox on The Wrong Woman tour.  Check out the latest in the Toronto Connections series!

✒︎

About The Wrong Woman

As an independent filmmaker, Katie Cherry is used to difficult shoots—but a band’s music video in a tiny lesbian bar is proving worse than most. Stress-busting, expectation-free sex with Zay, the calm, gorgeous bartender, seems just the ticket. But then she and Zay discover the band’s lead singer beaten into a coma in the bar bathroom. They need an alibi, but playing girlfriends is a role Katie’s never excelled at, so she can’t see this ending well.

Zay Fayed-Smith is finally getting her life back together after her junkie ex broke it apart. She’s working part-time while pursuing her dream of being a lawyer, and definitely keeping things chill on the girls front. Of course, that’s when a crime happens in her bar and her ex shows up wanting to try again. “Dating” Katie seems like the best way for Zay to keep her head down and teach her ex a lesson.

Except pretty soon, the charade begins to feel less and less like acting. And when the attacker turns his attentions toward Katie, they have to cut through the lies to discover what’s real.

Now available from Riptide Publishing

About the Toronto Connections Universe

The winters might be cold, but hearts are warm in Toronto. Canada’s largest city is home to a big lake, a big tower, and a big queer community. People here are trying to get by like everyone else: pay the bills, deal with life in the city, and maybe find some happiness along the way with someone who’s sweeter than maple candy and more constant than a Canadian’s love for Timmie’s coffee.

For some, falling in love is a real challenge. For others, falling is the easy part—it’s the happy ever after that proves a little more difficult. But in the end, love is worth every complication, misunderstanding, and occasional swear word.

Check out Toronto Connections! http://www.riptidepublishing.com/titles/universe/toronto-connections

About Cass Lennox

Cass Lennox is a permanent expat who has lived in more countries than she cares to admit to and suffers from a chronic case of wanderlust as a result. She started writing stories at the tender age of eleven, but would be the first to say that the early years are best left forgotten and unread. A great believer in happy endings, she arrived at queer romance via fantasy, science fiction, literary fiction, and manga, and she can’t believe it took her that long. Her specialties are diverse characters, gooey happy ever afters, and brownies. She’s currently sequestered in a valley in southeast England.

Connect with Cass:

Blog: casslennox.wordpress.com/

Facebook: www.facebook.com/Cass-Lennox-1704635609768647/

Twitter: twitter.com/CassLennox

Giveaway

To celebrate the release of The Wrong Woman, one lucky winner will receive a $15 Riptide credit! Leave a comment with your contact info to enter the contest. Entries close at midnight, Eastern time, on May 27, 2017. Contest is NOT restricted to U.S. entries. Thanks for following the tour, and don’t forget to leave your contact info!