Check Out the New Release Blitz for Grimmer Intentions (Tales from the Grim #2) by Jodi Hutchins (excerpt and giveaway)

Standard

Title: Grimmer Intentions

Series: Tales from the Grim, Book Two

Author: Jodi Hutchins

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: December 9, 2019

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Female/Female

Length: 91100

Genre: Paranormal, LGBT, romance, paranormal, demons, ghosts, spirits

Add to Goodreads

Synopsis

She screwed up. She broke protocol. She saved a life. Grim Reaper Margo Petrov may have resurrected a drowned surfer on the brink of death, but she isn’t earning any awards or receiving employee of the month from Corporate; she’s under more scrutiny from the Grim governing body than ever before. Since she has a massive secret that could spell disaster if revealed, she sure as hell doesn’t want to be in the spotlight, in any form.

Margo vows to keep her head down and stay out of trouble, reaping her quota of spirits lest she cause more problems for herself and the woman she saved with an illegal blood bond. She certainly shouldn’t be opening doors to the Fae lands or offering her neck to an Empusa woman suffering from bloodlust, but Margo’s laundry list of bad decisions keeps growing. With the threat of becoming decommissioned by Corporate looming in her periphery, Margo stumbles deeper into the politics of her people and soon realizes their intentions are far worse than she initially thought.

Excerpt

“Margo, calm down. You can’t go killing someone just because they pissed you off.”

Margo Petrov pumped her arms, increasing her speed as she cut across the dead grass of the front lawn, though her initial fury had settled to a low broil. The cold metal of the baseball bat against her palm was soothing but not calming enough to ease the rage completely.

The sound of Luis’s sneakers pounding the asphalt behind her indicated he’d finally caught up. “I’m not going to kill them,” she grumbled.

Luis snorted. “Okay, well, when you storm out of your apartment, yelling, ‘I’m going to fucking kill ’em, Luis,’ I think I can safely assume you’re going to kill someone.”

She stopped abruptly, causing Luis to run into her chest as she turned to face him. “Fine,” she said, tossing the bat into the bushes lining the sidewalk. She grabbed his shoulders, lowering her gaze to his. “Nobody fucks with my brother without consequence. Nobody,” she said, shaking him slightly to emphasize her seriousness.

Headlights from a passing car gleamed in his wide brown-eyed gaze as he nodded.

“Besides”—she started, as she dropped her hands from him, quirking an eyebrow—“I just want to know if they’re afraid of the dark.” She’d been livid when Luis told her the resident group of asshats from their high school decided to give Luis hell on his way back from the library.

Without further discussion, Margo continued down the cracked sidewalks of downtown Philadelphia.

“They still hang out at the bowling alley on Daly Ave?”

Luis huffed a discontented sigh, eliciting a grin from Margo. “Dude come on. Think about this for a second; do you really want to risk another arrest? You’re almost eighteen, and you could be charged as an adult.”

He had a point, and she admitted that to herself, but she continued down the sidewalk anyway, cutting across the street, her feet displacing loose black asphalt pebbles on the worn roadway. “Yeah, but they need to leave you the hell alone. This is getting ridiculous.” For years, she and her brother experienced taunting for their otherness, Luis taking the brunt end most times. The basketball team tormented Luis for merely existing; however, Margo guessed they blamed their mocking on his differences. They needed a good scare, using a bit of magic, the otherness his tormentors weren’t aware of. She wanted to scare them so bad they’d piss themselves. If all else failed, she’d just beat the shit out of them.

Luis gave a shrug of nonchalance, something she instantly recognized as her brother’s passive language, which furthered the desire to teach the perpetrators a lesson. Instead of digging into his dismissal, she turned and continued her way toward downtown.

Luis followed.

The streets were busy even though rush hour had ended a few hours prior. Cars zipped past, a stray honk resounding a few blocks away, voices rising in a cacophonous argument. The late-night city sounds were laden with a warning, hinting at the kind of night bad things happened, stirring a deep foreboding in the air around them.

Luis jabbed her in the ribs, ripping Margo from her eerie thoughts. “Hey, do you see that?” He pointed to LOVE Park on the opposite side of the crosswalk. Standing beside the water fountain was a child, their head turning from side to side in rapid succession. Luis was clearly pointing to the small person; however, the iridescent shift of air around the child indicated to Margo they weren’t alive.

Before meeting Luis, she agreed with the titles given to her—weirdo, crazy, psychic—the names condensing her down to a freak who could see ghosts with the only person to possibly believe her long dead. Of course, she’d been ecstatic to find kinship in another, to prove at least to herself she wasn’t crazy. That is until Luis stopped for every spirit in sight with their Sally-sob story. “Yeah, I see them, and no, we don’t have time.”

Luis scoffed just as the light turned, and he hurried across the street without waiting for Margo.

She rushed after him, forgoing her planned scare tactics on the basketball team in hopes she’d convince him to leave well enough alone.

They approached the park’s edge, Luis carefully watching the child. Luckily, the park held no other visitors, alive or dead. “We have to help her,” he whispered before he stuck his lower lip out.

She rolled her eyes. “They aren’t stray puppies, Luis. We can’t help every single one of them.”

Brows cinching, he met her gaze with an icy stare. “Maybe this is why we can see them, to help them move on.”

Though reluctant to admit it, she’d come to the very same conclusion herself a long time ago. With no way of knowing why they could guide ghostly apparitions to the other side, she couldn’t come up with a better reason herself. She glanced over at the redheaded girl and sighed. “Fine, but we need to be quick, and I still want to find those idiots so I can mess up their night.”

Purchase

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

Meet the Author

Jodi Hutchins is a healthcare professional by day and fanatical writer by night. They are also an avid reader, coffee connoisseur, helpless romantic, amateur artist, enthusiastic maker-upper of things, spouse, and parent. The frequent rain of western Washington doesn’t stop Jodi and their wife from gallivanting through the next trail head with their two children.

Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Giveaway

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

Blog Button 2

A MelanieM Review: The Wolf and the Sparrow by Isabelle Adler

Standard

Rating: 3.25 stars out of 5

Derek never wished to inherit his title as a result of a bloody battle. With the old count dead and the truce dependent on his marriage to the rival duke’s son, Derek has no choice but to agree to the victor’s terms in order to bring peace to his homeland. When he learns of the sinister rumors surrounding his intended groom, Derek begins to have doubts—but there can be no turning back from saying I do.

After the death of his wife, Callan of Mulberny never expected to be forced into another political marriage—especially not to someone like the new Count of Camria. Seemingly soft and meek, it’s only fitting that Derek’s family crest is a flighty sparrow, worthy of nothing but contempt.

Another war with the seafaring people of the Outer Isles looms on the horizon, and the reluctant newlyweds must team together to protect those caught in the circle of violence. Derek and Callan slowly learn to let go of their prejudices, but as they find themselves enmeshed in intrigue fueled by dark secrets and revenge, their tentative bond is all that keeps their world—and their lives—from plunging into chaos.

 

I  enjoyed the sort of mystical historical fantasy novel, The Wolf and the Sparrow by Isabelle Adler. I thought it worked very well on some levels and less well on others.   From the moment I met the main characters of Derek, son of the fallen Count of Camria and now the new “head” of house, and Callen, first son of the Duke of Mulberny, victor of the war, the author eases of us the perspectives of both men and their various different worlds.    The gulf between them necessarily wide due to the losses of war, Derek his father and the fear of losing his small fiefdom and all that entails for his people and family. For Callan?  It’s merely one more political move by his father with himself as the chess piece, one he doesn’t want to make but will for duty.

The young men as characters are well thought out and presented, less so some of the people around them.  I am not sure if this is the first story in a series but much is made of Derek’s brothers, an older scholarly brother Ivo and a sullen teen brother who constantly acts up, putting his brother’s safety and that of any  political agreements in danger.  That it is allowed to continue makes no sense in this narrative other than for dramatic purposes.  The brother is unlikable, the author makes no attempt  to layer him into anything other than a cardboard character and eventually he disappears completely two thirds of the way from the story leaving the reader to wonder why he was inserted at all.  Ivo’s character  did a flip flop at the end and then exited as well after being used as a potential red herring for a relationship with Callan’s sister.  Both examples of throwaway characters that had way too much page time.

The relationship development between Callan and Derek moved along nicely when they were allowed to be out in the field doing exactly what warriors like themselves were allowed to do, bonding over field maneuvers and showing their skills at taking down marauders.  That made complete sense and I loved it.  The other   element I started to get into and I thought was absolutely underused was that of magic.

What a waste.  It was, in my opinion, such a great part of the narrative and yet so underwhelming at the same time.  One, the effects were only related  by one of the  main characters not both.What a loss because while we get the maelstrom of physical, emotional, and magical elements happening from one side, we never get to “see” it from the other’s.  Which is weird because this whole story is a two narrative novel.  Why reduce to one now?  When we want to “see” what is happening at it’s most wildest and wonderful?  Makes no sense.  The best part and powerful potential of this story is lost.  And not for the last time.

If the author was laying the groundwork for a series, that would be different, but I believe this is a standalone novel, so here is all this great promise for magic within this novel and character and quite frankly, it gets tossed away, not one but twice, because the author holds back, throwing out tidbits instead of going full throttle.  This character can control animals, have them do his biding.  Do we see it?  Uh, off stage sort of.  Control the wind and seas?  Does that come into play?  Nope.  Other cool stuff?  Pretty much no.  Just one more “bunny out of the hate” and done.

What a shame.

The end comes off the same way. Characters disappear,  there is an odd resolution that feels sort of inadequate, magically speaking.  and yes, a HEA for this couple, which seems odd, because, other than Ivo, Derek’s family is never mentioned again.

So yes, I enjoyed it but so many questions kept popping back up into my head about other characters, universe building, and the holes in the magic that it wasn’t a smooth read for me. If you are more of a surface reader than I am, perhaps this story is more in your wheelhouse than mine.  Either way, I found it went pretty quickly and the main characters were enjoyable.  I just wish the promise I saw had been fulfilled.

Cover art by Natasha Snow is eye catching and dramatic.

Sales Links:  NineStar Press | Amazon

Book Details:

ebook, 300 pages
Published November 25th 2019 by Nine Star Press
ISBN139781951057893
Edition Language English

Love Christmas Romances? Check Out the New Release Blitz for Peter Cratchit’s Christmas Carol by Drew Marvin Frayne (excerpt and giveaway)

Standard

Title: Peter Cratchit’s Christmas Carol

Author: Drew Marvin Frayne

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: November 18, 2019

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 36100

Genre: Historical Holiday, LGBT, Christmas, romance, fairy tale, businessmen, ghost, prostitution, poverty, 19th century England, pirates, tear-jerker, time travel

Add to Goodreads

Synopsis

Peter Cratchit, a young lad preparing to make his way in the world, is the eldest son of Scrooge’s lowly clerk Bob Cratchit. Peter flourishes under the tutelage of his “Uncle” Scrooge and seeks to make his mark as a man of business, like his uncle before him.

One Christmas Eve, as Scrooge lays dying, Peter embarks on a risky ocean voyage that he believes will secure the future for his family. Onboard, Peter finds love, happiness, and success, only to lose it all by the voyage’s end.

Returning to London, Peter shuns his family and instead finds himself living on the streets, haunted by his failures and his dead lover, selling his body just to survive while he waits for the winter cold to claim him once and for all. But winter snows also mean Christmas is coming, and for the Cratchit family, Christmas is a time of miracles. Can a visit from three familiar spirits change Peter’s life again? Is there one more miracle in store for the lost son of one of Dickens’ most enduring families?

Excerpt

Peter Cratchit’s Christmas Carol
Drew Marvin Frayne © 2019
All Rights Reserved

Scrooge was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. He died some two years past on this very day, Christmas Eve. I would it were not so; yet I suspect the old man would not agree. He became rather infirm at the end, frail and forgetful, and though he did his best to remain cheerful, I know he hated to show weakness of any kind. It wasn’t a matter of pride, nor vanity; no, it wasn’t for his sake that he cared so. It was that, as he himself often said, he had become a sort of safeguard, a protector, to his family and to his community, and he hated the thought of us carrying on without him there, watching over us all. And we, of course, would clasp his hand and tell him that he would be looking over us in the next life, and that such thoughts brought us great comfort, and they should bring him great comfort too. And he would sigh, and agree with us, and settle in, at least for a while, until another great spasm wracked his breast, and his chest would heave with immense, raggedy gasps for air, and his worries arose all over again.

He died a good death, if it could be said that any death should be regarded as good. Though I have not spent nearly as many years as Scrooge did on this planet, I have knocked about a bit, and circumstance has shown me both great fortune and great tragedy. And as such, I have come to believe there is no good death to be had in this world. I have seen many poor wretches, past all hope of recovery from whatever it was that ailed them—whether it be an infliction of the body or the soul—beg for death, pray for it, and have watched it come in many guises, be it the cold, or the cough, or the cutthroat. I have seen their prayers answered, even if those answers came in some form of pain they had never envisioned. And yet I say, when the end did finally come, each and every one begged to stay, begged for their final breath to be forestalled, begged to live for even one moment more. Yea, though I have been on this world for less than a quarter of a century, I have come to know its horrors and have learned the greatest horror of all is that there is no world, no life, beyond this one.

Scrooge would not have agreed with this; oft he told us the tale of his visitation by his old friend, Jacob Marley, dead seven years in the grave before his return, and the further visitations by the three spirits who haunted him, also on a Christmas Eve. To Scrooge, there was no greater evidence of providence than this, and he lived such feelings in his heart for the rest of his life. I was glad of it; we all were, all of London town, though those of us who were closest to him felt his change of heart and his largesse most keenly. And many was the time, as a young man, on a Christmas Eve like this one, I sat cross-legged on the floor at Scrooge’s feet and listened to his tales of Christmas ghosts and astonishing spirits, of visitations to the past, and of the wondrous things that are yet to come.

Yet even then, I was a skeptic. After his tale was complete, Old Scrooge, as wise at reading faces as he was at managing his business, would frequently tousle my hair and tell me, “Young Master Peter, you must have the conviction of your faith. It is not enough to simply believe; you must know Christmas, and keep it in your heart all the year long.” Such words were enough for Tim and for the others; but I, I would only smile, and say, “Yes, Uncle Scrooge,” in a manner and tone that were always respectful, but that the cunning old man also knew to be mollifying. And Scrooge would then bend quite low—for he was a tall, wizened old fellow, and I have always been inclined to be undersized—and he would say to me, “You must not fear the world so much, Peter Cratchit.” And I would nod, and he would pat my cheek, or sometimes playfully pinch my nose. But what he meant by those words, I cannot say. In my experience, there is much to fear in this world, and much calamity the world will set upon the unwary soul who is not ever vigilant.

A growl in my stomach disturbed my thoughts. Time to dispense with these ruminations on the past; I was hungry. I willed my body out of its bed, a small recess in the side of a crumbling brick building used for the storage of livestock, a cramped pen to house the beasts before they were led to slaughter. The recess provided some shelter from the elements; there had been rain last night, so it was useful to keep dry, though the rain had been only a drizzle, and the weather was unseasonably temperate for so late in December. That was no small mercy.

The recess had once been a side door, now sealed up, when the building had been used for some other purpose, long forgotten to time. The smell of animal excrement that clung to the building—and to those who worked or, like me, dwelt within her—was formidable, but it also meant the alley I called my home remained deserted during the nightly hours. Safety in this life often comes at great cost. Those who have suffered at the world’s hands know this lesson all too well. The men who tended the animals had assembled a small cleaning station, clean water and a strong lye soap, behind the building, and they charitably did not begrudge my use of it from time to time, provided I did not tarry, and they did not see me. I hastened in my morning ablutions and made my way out to the street.

There was a bakery on Saint Martin’s Close; it was there I would seek to break my fast. Every morning, my repast was the same: two hot buttered rolls and a small tankard of ale. The only difference was whether the baker would tally the cost of his labors on my tongue or on my tail.

I made my way down Carol Street to the main Camden Road. I used to live on this very road, as a youth, but far down the other end from those places where I now worked and resided. Camden Town was named for Camden Road; the road was the heart of the ward, bisecting it in the north and making up the entirety of its western edge. It was impossible to be in Camden Town and avoid the Camden Road. And yet, in all of my wanderings through this neighborhood, I always avoided the familiar façade of my former house, with its chipped paint and ill-fitted front door. I was more interested in the thick, oaken door that led to the alley behind the bakery, where the business received deliveries of flour and other such supplies. I knocked. Some days, the baker answered promptly, as if expecting me; other days, like today, I had to wait. He was a busy man, having woke well before the dawn to assemble his breads and rolls and pastries and cakes. His bakery was a small one, but he did a good measure of custom, enough to keep him in flour and dough and sugar and coal for the ovens. Still, he had only one boy to help him prepare the daily wares—in this neighborhood, even relative prosperity resulted in genuine poverty.

Whether the boy was his son, or some urchin off the street, I do not know. The baker and I did not converse on such matters. It was, in part, because the man’s well of English was so deficient that any conversation would prove inconsequential at best. I could not identify his native tongue, and he spoke only the English of a tradesman and knew the terms for barter and exchange, and little more. My own English improved greatly under the tutelage of Ebenezer Scrooge, who gave me books to read and provided college-trained tutors to sharpen my intellect. I was beyond basic schooling by the time our families came together; but my mind was quick and hungered for knowledge, and Uncle Scrooge filled it with book after book on all manner of subjects—history, literature, economics, philosophy, mythology, the principles of business. I eagerly took it all in, save perhaps the poets, who I found too disordered, too insubstantial, to truly relish. Still, for an occasion such as this, the silver portion of my tongue was not really necessary. It was my tongue’s other talents that the baker was interested in. I suppose, in the end, this, like so much in life, was simply a matter of business. I needed what the baker had to offer; he felt the same. Talk would only prolong the necessities of exchange.

The man finally answered and hurried me inside. In nicer weather, he sometimes took his payment in the alley, but he did not like the cold and the damp, so he ushered me into a cramped cookery room stuffed with coal- and wood-burning ovens. I had no objection to being enveloped in warmth; it made for a pleasant change of atmosphere from my usual status at this time of year.

I could see by the sights and sounds of his distresses that my morning patron was more harried than usual. His eyes were darting around the room. His gestures were quick, and rough, and impatient. He was a large, hirsute man, with a rotund belly and a gray, prickly beard, which, at the moment, was dusted in a rather generous supply of flour.

I was no longer fond of beards; I generally preferred smooth-faced youths, like myself, and not the wooly chins of older men, though, in my line of work, older men were my main custom. And this was business, not pleasure, and the baker felt the same as I, especially today. Even as he penned me into his back kitchen, he continued to bellow orders to the boy out front. I often wondered what the boy thought of our exchanges. Perhaps it was of no consequence to him. Perhaps he was grateful he did not have to provide a similar service. Or perhaps he did. Who can say.

Purchase

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

Meet the Author

Drew Marvin Frayne is the pen name of a long-time author (Lambda Literary Award finalist) who is finally taking the opportunity to indulge his more sentimental and romantic side. When not writing the author lives with his husband of 20+ years and their dog of 10+ years in a brick home in the Northeast. Find out more on Drew’s Website.

Giveaway

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

Blog Button 2

Ready for a Holiday Treat? Check Out the New Release Blitz for Holiday Gridlock (Cruised #2) by Gretchen Evans (excerpt and giveaway)

Standard

Title: Holiday Gridlock

Series: Cruised, Book Two

Author: Gretchen Evans

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: November 11, 2019

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 18600

Genre: Contemporary Holiday, LGBT, contemporary, holiday, Christmas, age-gap, interracial

Add to Goodreads

Synopsis

Gabe is way too happy. Mark is as close to a perfect boyfriend as you can get. He’s smart, good-looking, successful, and he cares about Gabe. He’s also way more serious about their relationship than Gabe’s ready for. He wants them to move in together.

The closest Gabe’s ever gotten to living with a boyfriend is accidentally leaving his boxers behind. But he and Mark are way past that. It’s terrifying.

Mark invites Gabe home for the holidays where Gabe gets an intimate look at Mark’s family, his childhood, and how different their Christmas traditions are. It’s loud, overwhelming, messy, and…really nice. Homey in a way Gabe’s never experienced.

But Mark wants more than for Gabe to just have a peek at this part of his life. He wants Gabe to become part of the family, to go to bed with him every night, and wake up with him every morning. He wants all their Christmases to be together. Moving in may be just the start.

It might take a Christmas miracle for Gabe to figure himself out and overcome his fears. Or maybe a little familial intervention.

Will Gabe and Mark take the next step, or will they get stuck in holiday gridlock?

Excerpt

Holiday Gridlock
Gretchen Evans © 2019
All Rights Reserved

DECEMBER 17TH
Pressure squeezed Gabe’s sinuses like a vice. A vice might be too extreme. More like he’d walked into a wall repeatedly, and now his entire face ached.

He blew his nose for the hundredth time. It wasn’t much relief. The best he could do was snuggle deeper into the nest of blankets he’d assembled on his couch and pray for the sweet release of death.

The scratch of a key turning the old, cheap lock on his front door roused him. The light coming through the blinds had dimmed a lot, and the Netflix “Are you still watching?” glared at him from the TV. He must have dozed off watching Planet Earth. Thank God for Nyquil.

No point in getting up. Only one person had a key to his apartment: Mark. If it wasn’t Mark, that meant someone was picking his lock and planned to rob him. Good. They could take whatever they wanted as long as they took this damn cold too.

“Hello!” Mark called from the hall.

Gabe managed to sit up, sort of. “In here,” he called out, voice cracking.

Mark appeared in the living room doorway wearing a devastatingly handsome three-piece gray suit. Gabe was sick, not dead. He could appreciate his sexy his boyfriend in almost any state. Mark gripped a brown paper Whole Foods bag in his hand.

His boyfriend. It was a thrill to think about. How often did a gorgeous, successful man you met on a hookup app turn out to actually be gorgeous and successful? And then be as interested in you as you were in him? Their early days of hooking up in public bathrooms—and one memorable time, a parking lot—were behind them. But those were some nice memories.

They had gone from an awkward “hey, let’s try this” to practically living in each other’s back pockets in only a few months. Gabe hadn’t had many relationships and sometimes felt a little lost at sea. But when Mark was with him, that didn’t seem to matter.

Mark’s legs were long, and Gabe’s apartment was small, so it only took a couple steps for Mark to reach him. He dropped the groceries on the battered coffee table and bent to kiss the top of Gabe’s curls.

“How are you feeling?”

Gabe pulled himself up to sit a little higher. “Like shit.”

Smiling, Mark smoothed back Gabe’s hair. Gabe stretched into it like a cat begging to be petted. It didn’t make his nightmare of a cold go away any faster, but it certainly made him feel better. He didn’t want Mark to stop but… “You’re going to get sick.”

“Maybe, but I take my vitamins.” Mark pulled away, picking up the grocery bag as he walked toward the kitchen. “I brought you dinner.”

Food sounded unappealing. He couldn’t taste anything. Couldn’t smell anything. It was like putting cardboard in his mouth.

Mark slung his jacket over the top of the lonely stool Gabe had at his breakfast bar, leaving him in white shirtsleeves and a vest that hugged his waist perfectly. He propped himself against the counter, rolling up his sleeves. Gabe could see the bulge of the veins in Mark’s forearms from the couch.

“I’m cheating a little.” He pulled a plastic tub with something gross-looking sloshing against its sides and a shrink-wrapped pack of chicken cut into bite-size pieces from the bag. “Premade stock and precooked chicken. Good chicken soup takes time, so we’ll make do with this. Add some fresh vegetables and noodles and it’s almost like the real thing.”

There was nothing like seeing a man who made your heart pound, dressed like that, proposing to make nearly homemade chicken soup just because you were sick. How could Gabe say no to dinner now?

He watched through the tiny opening between the breakfast bar and the kitchen as Mark quietly went about his business. Mark knew where the pots and pans were, where the cutting board and sharpest knife were kept. He knew to use the front left burner because the others were bent and the pot would wobble. Gabe hadn’t realized Mark paid so much attention to his dingy little kitchen.

They cooked dinner together often, but usually at Mark’s much nicer condo. His kitchen had granite countertops and an oven that didn’t burn things. Watching Mark move so effortlessly around Gabe’s space settled something warm and heavy in Gabe’s chest. Something that wasn’t congestion.

He must have dozed off again because suddenly Mark nudged his elbow with one hand and held out a steaming bowl of soup with the other.

“Here. Eat some soup and drink some water; then you can go back to sleep.”

Gabe sat up, his back against the armrest and legs stretched out in front of him, and took the bowl. The steam felt good against his face as he tried to smell it. “You gonna tuck me in?”

Mark balanced his own bowl of soup as he lifted Gabe’s legs to sit on the couch. He lowered Gabe’s legs back to his lap and made sure Gabe’s feet were covered before picking up his spoon. “You are far too sick to be lascivious.”

“Nice SAT word. And anyway, I read an article about how regular sex can help fight off colds.”

Taking a long moment to bring the spoon to his lips, Mark delayed answering. He shot a wicked grin at Gabe after he swallowed. “I thought you were worried about getting me sick.”

Touché.

“How do you feel about sex with hospital masks?”

“Decidedly unsexy.”

“Spoil sport.”

Gabe turned back to his soup. He couldn’t taste it, but it was warm and made his throat feel better. He managed most of it but left a lot of the noodles behind before Mark took the bowl from him.

Sounds of running water and clinking dishes came from the kitchen as Gabe snuggled down in his blankets. He found the remote wedged between the back of the couch and the cushion and clicked on the Antarctica episode of Planet Earth. That was a good one.

He hummed as Mark settled on the couch, putting Gabe’s legs in his lap again.

“This the one with the whales?”

Gabe hummed again, his eyelids sliding closed.

“Do you want me to wake you up before I go so you can go to bed? Or do you want to sleep on the couch?” Mark’s voice was quiet, and his palm rubbed circles on Gabe’s calf, which was not going to help him stay awake.

“How long are you staying?”

“At least until I see some whales. That’s the only reason I came over.”

Gabe tried for a playful kick, but even that took too much energy. It looked more like an uncoordinated leg spasm. Mark laughed at him anyway. Gabe refused to rise to the bait. Instead, he purposefully shut his eyes and went to sleep.

The next time he came to, it was dark outside, but a soft glow filled his apartment. Mark must have turned on a lamp. Gabe stretched his legs. Mark wasn’t on the couch with him anymore. He must have gone home.

There was a little dip of sadness in Gabe’s chest at the thought.

The dip didn’t last long. Mark’s legs came into view next to the couch. Gabe had to crane his neck to see the rest of him.

“Here.” Mark held out a glass of water and two green pills.

Gabe didn’t bother to sit up. He could swallow lying down. It was one of his hidden talents. He popped the pills and tilted the glass back. He spilled some on his shirt but couldn’t bring himself to care.

“How did you know I needed more medicine?”

Mark perched on the coffee table, resting his elbows on his knees and searching Gabe’s face. “Because I love you, and I pay attention. I’ve been here more than four hours and you haven’t had any. I figured it was time. Are you sure you don’t need to go to a doctor?”

Mark had been the first to say I love you, but Gabe had said it right back. Since then, Mark dropped casual I love yous every day. Gabe was more reserved, but Mark didn’t seem to mind. Gabe thought Mark knew even though he didn’t say it all the time, he still felt it.

He took another swig of water, managing not to spill that time. “Nah, it’s only a cold. Give it a couple of days, and I’ll be fine.”

A deep V creased the skin between Mark’s dark eyebrows, and the small lines around his eyes deepened. Gabe wanted to kiss him. Badly. He started to pull himself up, unsure if he’d actually kiss Mark or not, but at least wanting to be on eye level with him.

Mark cupped Gabe’s elbow and helped him sit. He didn’t look relieved by Gabe’s change of position. “I’ll take you to the doctor if you need to go. Whenever you need to go.”

Gabe smiled, but that didn’t seem to convince Mark either. “I’ll be fine. Promise. I already feel better than I did yesterday.”

He rose slowly as Mark pulled on the blankets wrapped around Gabe, keeping them away from Gabe’s feet so he wouldn’t trip. Mark was good at small things like that. Mark was good at everything.

He waited, shoulder propped against the bathroom doorway, while Gabe brushed his teeth. Gabe didn’t have the energy to shower or change from one set of sweats to another to sleep in. He wanted to collapse, face first, on the bed. Instead, Gabe let Mark pull back the covers and usher him in. Like he was a child.

It didn’t feel patronizing or condescending. It was comforting.

“You know, I could do this every night if you’d move in with me,” Mark teased.

Bringing up an ongoing argument with one party sick was unfair.

“You’re taking advantage of my weakened state.” Gabe rolled on his side and hugged a pillow to his chest. “Besides, you could do this every night if you moved in here too.”

Mark sat on the bed, tucked up against the bend in Gabe’s knees. “My place is closer to work.”

Gabe snorted. “You don’t seem to mind the drive anymore.”

“Yeah, but I’d rather have you at home, in a nice big bed on clean sheets, than in a bathroom.” He rubbed his broad palm from Gabe’s knee to his hip. The heat of it soaked through straight to Gabe’s skin.

Love Fantasy? Check Out the New Release Tour for The Midspring Rebellion by Doreen Heron (excerpt and giveaway)

Standard

Title: The Midspring Rebellion

Author: Doreen Heron

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: July 22, 2019

Heat Level: 2 – Fade to Black Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 25100

Genre: Fantasy, LGBT, fairies, royalty, magic, mythical creatures

Add to Goodreads

Synopsis

Things are amiss in the fairy court, made worse one spring morning when King Oberon’s wife decides to leave him. His decision to gather his thoughts in the human realm lead him into the path, and arms, of workaholic human Nick Chandler. But when Oberon’s throne is threatened, will he be able to retain his kingship and his newfound love?

Excerpt

The Midspring Rebellion
Doreen Heron © 2019
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One
As it always did, the Wheel of the Year continued to turn.

Midsummer turned to Midfall.

Midfall to Midwinter.

Midwinter to Midspring.

The seasons changed. The years changed. But life in the Fairy Court remained the same.

And this left Titania dissatisfied.

“It is time for a change,” she announced one evening over dinner. Oberon had known something was wrong the moment she dismissed the waiting staff. It had been over three hundred years since they had eaten alone, and even that was because Titania had wanted to discuss the idea of adopting another Changeling. Not that the idea had gone anywhere, of course. Oberon had learned his lesson about taking human children long before that, and he had not been keen to repeat the experiment. It was natural, then, that he held his breath when Titania spoke, and he waited for whatever she was about to decide. “We have become stale.”

Oberon found it impossible to disagree. Being married for a millennium was certainly an accomplishment by anyone’s count—especially when fairy marriages were annulled and then voluntarily renewed on an annual basis. But one thousand years of an arranged marriage was going above and beyond in his royal duties, of this, he was sure.

“What do you propose?” he asked, not entirely sure he wanted an answer. A separation from Titania might allow them both to pursue other interests, but there was no denying that a split in the Royal Court could rip the whole of his already unstable kingdom in half.

“A separation.”

He nodded. He’d known where this was going, and he couldn’t say he was particularly unhappy about it. But he had questions.

“Why now? We’ve been living this same way these last three hundred years. Why propose this now?”

“It is the best possible time. The kingdom is at risk of civil war…”

“…Which is exactly why we should be united.”

“Or is it why this is the ideal time for a split? We would not want to needlessly disrupt harmony in the kingdom. Ergo, if we split while there are already fractures…”

“…we guarantee a split in the kingdom.”

“We hurry along a split we already know is coming.”

Oberon closed his eyes and shook his head. Titania had always been ruthlessly logical. It was one of the reasons his father had chosen her as a perfect mate, and—more importantly—a future queen.

“But…”

“I have met someone else.”

Well, that was the clincher, wasn’t it?

“I have fallen in love.”

“Love?” Oberon frowned at his queen, unsure of exactly what he was hearing. “What of love? We are a king and a queen. Love need play no part in anything.”

“Oberon, even the mortals have abandoned that way of thinking now. It is time for us to catch up.”

Oberon grunted. It pained him to hear Titania speak of love. She’d not as much as breathed the word in five hundred years, not since his trick to cause her to fall for the human Bottom.

“This love. It is not the human, is it?” he asked. “The actor.” His voice dripped with venom as he spoke, though he himself wasn’t sure if he was jealous that she had fallen with such ease or angry that his own magic had been the cause.

“Oberon, humans lead short lives. Bottom died many, many years ago.”

“Then who?”

This time, it was Titania’s turn to shake her head, causing blossoms of pink and orange to fall from her hair and hit the ground.

“Not important,” she said. She stood and pushed her chair back under the oak table, before walking delicately over and taking her husband’s left hand. “I release you.” She smiled. She turned a hand over and undid the leather strap that was tied at his palm. “I release you.” She unwound the leather from his hand, uncrossing the straps that worked up his forearm. “I release you.” She pulled the leather from his bicep, taut with the tension and stress running through his body. She leaned over and kissed his forehead. “Good luck to you, Oberon.”

He stood at the window of his tower, having vanished the glass to get a better look at what was going on. He watched as Titania loaded her trunks onto the glass chariot. He watched as a male fairy, face obscured by some of Titania’s trickery to stop him from being identified, helped to pile the heavier pieces of furniture. He watched as the two of them climbed into the chariot, and as the dragonflies took flight, pulling it into the woods and out of sight.

He thought he should shout. He thought he should swear. He thought he should cry. But he found himself empty. For a thousand years, he had known he could be temperamental or selfish or immature and Titania would always be by his side. Because she had had to. They had vows. But she had met someone better than him, and she was gone.

“I don’t know what to do.”

Ultimately, he chose to do what many do when they find themselves bereft, and he began to prepare himself for bed. He removed his emerald-green robes and ran a damp washcloth across his torso. His muscles contracted at the cold, tightening and becoming more defined than they usually were when hidden beneath his loose robes. Usually, he enjoyed the feeling of his tightening body, but even that was little comfort in the light of being left alone. He unwrapped the leather strap that ran across his waist—a symbol of his perpetual commitment to his kingdom—and draped it across the wooden dressing table. He dipped the washcloth in the water again before removing his loincloth and washing the rest of his body. It was only right to be clean before entering the kingdom of the DreamWeaver, and he was not about to abandon formality and politesse just because he would be alone in his bed tonight. Naked, but dry after patting the water away with a towel, he knelt by his bed.

“I give thanks to the earth, which bore me and gave me life. I give thanks to the great unknown, who guides me and shapes my fate. I give thanks to my ancestors, from whom I descend and for whom I live a life which is not mine, but which belongs to my subjects. These are my thanks.”

He stood and climbed into bed, pulling his mouse pelt blankets over him, and curled up into a ball. Scrunching his eyes together, he willed himself to sleep. It didn’t come easily, as visions of Titania and her paramour danced through his head, but eventually he found himself drifting off.

Purchase

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

Meet the Author

Doreen Heron is a writer who is finally living her dream in Cornwall, England. She is lucky to live in the county she loves, and to be using her writing to entertain her readers.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest

Giveaway

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

Blog Button 2

A Chaos Moondrawn Review: Through the Tears by Leigh M. Lorien

Standard

Rating: 3.75 stars out of 5 

Rafe’s human lover Eamon disappears through a portal to a differnet world after a ghoul attack. Rafe is a low ranking lord and thinks the king will not help so he decides to rescue his lover himself. As Eamon battles the elements and strange culture of the ghoul world with the help of Beah, a native who helps him, Rafe battles ghouls to learn the secret of portals with his second in command Kiran. Larger evil is afoot than just ghouls jumping worlds to eat humans and what started as a horrible accident, leads into a possible war no one saw coming.

Rafe is called a rin, which is basically a vampire. I liked the lore used here. Even though the ideas aren’t radically unique, there are some interesting takes on common science fiction themes: interdimensional travel, feeding on blood/sex/energy, mind linking/control, bonded mates, turning on magic users, religion to control the population, the feudal type of setting, etc. Eamon is strange at first, full of fear and anger, like he can’t take control of himself and needs Rafe to (mentally) control him. I think this was meant to show him as submissive, but I’m not sure I like this characterization. Taking this out of the equation, Eamon is loyal and brave, even when frightened. I loved the flashback of how Rafe and Eamon met. At the beginning Rafe is cold, calm, and collected even after Eamon disappeares; then he seems to miss him slightly, but does go to look for him. By the end the I love yous are completely over the top, so I wish this had been a little more even handed. It would have made their reunion more impactful. Beah is a great trans character who gets treated horribly by his tribe. Be aware they are several depictions of misgendering, humiliation, and dead naming–although the author doesn’t allow the reader to know the dead name, which I appreciated.

This story could be a self contained adventure, but it’s also a larger story arc that will be picked up in the next book. The side characters like Kiren, Orienna, and the King are all intriguing, but there is little to them in this book. Eamon is the fish out of water in this tale. There is a little of Beah being a fish out of water as well, for some nice symmetry. It’s difficult in a first book with all the world-building, so I am hoping the next book works harder at holding/highlighting the emotional moments between the friends and lovers so they don’t get stomped on in all the politics and intrigue. Those are what gives me something to root for–to hope they win and save the day. There are twelve worlds and this book has only shown small parts of two, so there are so many different possibilities for future stories.

The cover art by Natasha Snow shows a desert through what appears to be a grimy window pane, which I take to be the portal between worlds.

Sales Links:

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

Book Details:

ebook
Published July 8th 2019 by NineStar Press
ISBN 139781951057015
Edition Language English

Love Mystery With Your Romance? Check Out the Blitz for Palm Trees and Paparazzi (Gabe Maxfield Mysteries #3) by J.C. Long )excerpt and giveaway)

Standard

Title: Palm Trees and Paparazzi

Series: Gabe Maxfield Mysteries, Book Three

Author: J.C. Long

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: July 1, 2019

Heat Level: 1 – No Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 61200

Genre: Contemporary Mystery, LGBT, gay, mystery, romance, contemporary, establishes relationship

Add to Goodreads

Synopsis

Gabe Maxfield remembers Manuel Delgado all too well—since investigating him nearly got him killed. He’d be very happy never to see him again, but that’s not in the cards for him. When the mother of a missing socialite seeks out Paradise Investigations to find out what happened to her daughter, Gabe and best friend Grace Park are going to be thrown right back into Delgado’s world. Personal lives begin to interfere, as well, and soon they’ve got more on their plate than they can handle.

A missing woman.

Delgado’s son.

A romantically awkward Grace.

Gabe’s parents.

It’s just another week for Gabe Maxfield.

Excerpt

Palm Trees and Paparazzi
J.C. Long © 2019
All Rights Reserved

There was a time when throbbing music, frenetically moving bodies, and expensive cocktails would have been my scene—a time that passed a few years back, I’d guess. Actually, you know what? Scratch that. I’ve never been one for clubs. And with my twenty-ninth birthday merely two months away, it was really time for me to close that chapter of my life, anyway.

It was the second week of January, and some people still hadn’t lost the edge from New Year’s Eve. The club was packed full of people even though it was a Wednesday—thanks, no doubt, to ladies’ night and slightly discounted drinks for men.

My best friend, Grace Park, and I managed to snag a table that was far enough from the speakers that we wouldn’t be deafened for days to come by the outing.

Grace sat at the table, stirring the thin black straw in her vodka tonic, which she’d barely had half of. I’d volunteered to drive us tonight so Grace could have a few drinks, and she hadn’t finished her first one in the hour we’d been there.

“You look miserable, Grace,” I said, nudging her with my shoulder. “If you want to go home, just say the word. Really, we don’t need to stay here on my account.”

“I’m fine, Gabe,” she insisted stubbornly, even though I knew her well enough to know she wasn’t. She’d been down ever since New Year’s Eve. She’d been invited to a party by Jin Hamada, our private investigation firm’s resident tech expert and object of Grace’s affection, and had assumed it was a romantic invitation only to show up, dressed to the nines and ready, to discover it was a casual thing he threw for the people who lived in his apartment building. Jin hadn’t noticed, but Grace had been mortified.

It didn’t help that our assistant, Mrs. Neidermeyer, who lives in Jin’s building, did notice and teased Grace about it every chance that she got.

Privately, I thought Grace was taking it a little hard, but who was I to judge? I literally fled the continent to escape a breakup. That didn’t put me in the running for the category of most reasonable reaction to something.

“I thought coming to this club would cheer you up a little bit,” I said, taking a sip of my ginger ale—no alcohol for me, since I was driving. “I hate seeing you so down. I know how much you love music and dancing and clubs.”

Grace snorted. “When we were in college, yeah. But you know, maybe…maybe we’re a little old for this crowd.”

“I was just thinking the same thing,” I admitted. “When did that happen, though? When did we get old?”

“Kind of sneaked up on us, didn’t it? Here we are, just around the corner from thirty. Remember when we watched Friends in high school and we thought they were all overreacting about turning thirty? Now that we’re looking it in the face, I’m starting to think maybe they weren’t overreacting that much after all.”

“It’s not that bad,” I said consolingly. It was a weird reversal for us; usually Grace was the one doing her best to make me feel better, not the other way around. “Think about how high life expectancy is? Nowadays people don’t even really get started before they’re thirty.”

“Not so bad? Come on, Gabe. We’re almost thirty and I’m still single. I do want to have kids someday, you know? That’s getting more and more unlikely the longer I stay single.” She picked up her vodka tonic, tossing it back as if she could wash away the dour thoughts with it.

At least she drank it; that cost me six dollars.

“Don’t you think you’re taking this whole thing too seriously Grace? So you made a mistake and misinterpreted his invitation. You think you’re the first person to ever make that mistake?”

Grace scowled at my reminder. “I looked like an idiot.”

“No one even noticed!”

“Mrs. Neidermeyer almost has an aneurism from laughing every time she sees me!”

“Okay, so no one but Mrs. Neidermeyer even noticed.”

“That old lady is enough.”

“I don’t understand the rivalry you two have.”

“She’s got it out for me!”

“No, she doesn’t. She’s just spirited.”

“She’s medicated.”

I decided to drop the Neidermeyer discussion. It was a sore spot for her, and one that wouldn’t go away—particularly since I basically hired her to annoy Grace. The last thing I wanted to do then was to bring Grace down even more by talking about something that she hated.

I surveyed the bodies on the dance floor, taking in the sights, wondering if I could get a jolt of energy from them by proxy. Everyone seemed to be having so much fun, but then again that’s what clubs were, right? There were no doubt a large number of tourists among the crowd, people itching to get away from the tourist elements of Honolulu and into something that they were familiar with. Sure, the locale might be different, but a club was a club, whether it was in Seattle, New York, Pontiac, Michigan, or Honolulu.

“We’ve got company,” Grace said, drawing my attention from the crowd. I spotted my boyfriend, Maka Kekoa, making his way toward us around the perimeter of the room. A wide smile stretched my lips when I saw him. He was tall, his skin a sun-kissed brown that proudly displayed his Native Hawaiian heritage. His body was lean, hard muscle, kept that way by his rigorous exercise routine, his frequent surfing, and his job on the police force.

Walking behind Maka but still casting a shadow over him was one of Maka’s best friends, Hiapo, a big guy with an even bigger heart who ran an exclusive and popular lu’au on the island. Hiapo was without a doubt one of the cheeriest people I had ever met.

“Yo, howzit?” Hiapo greeted, his naturally loud voice easy to hear over the drone of techno dance music blaring in the background, a remix of a remix of a Cher song, if I had to guess.

“Hey, guys,” I greeted, moving my seat a little so Maka could make room on the other side of the table for himself and Hiapo.

Maka smiled at me, a look that always somehow managed to look sultry and goofy at the same time.

“Hey.” He planted a gentle, chaste kiss on my lips.

Beside me, Grace made a strange sound, a cross between a harrumph and a tsk. Maka cast an amused look her way. “I see your plan to cheer her up is right on schedule.”

“I don’t need cheering up,” Grace huffed.

“Girl, you still pining over that IT guy?” Hiapo asked.

“No,” Grace said at the same time Maka and I said, “Yes!” earning us both glowers.

“Traitors.”

“Listen, you need me to put something together for you? Plan a nice romantic package, like I did for these two here?” He indicated Maka and I with a thumb.

“I appreciate the offer, Hiapo, but that won’t be necessary. I don’t even think he likes me.”

“Have you asked him out?”

Grace squirmed in her seat. “No. But we’ve known each other for three years, and he’s never asked me out in all of this time. I think if he was interested, he would have done something about it already, right?”

“I see one major flaw in that logic, Gracie,” I said. “You like him, but you haven’t done anything about it, either.”

Grace’s brow furrowed as she struggled to come up with a comeback, but I could see in her eyes that she couldn’t. “I just don’t want to waste any more time on someone who might not even like me back. That’s time I could better spend going out with people who are interested.”

“But who you’re not interested in,” I added.

Grace threw her hands up in the air. “Is this beat up Grace night? Are you trying to cheer me up by making me more depressed?”

“Okay, okay, you win. I’ll stop.”

We stayed there for another hour, doing our best to get Grace to cheer up with very limited success. Finally we decided to call it a night. Maka and Hiapo left together, and I took Grace home.

We rode without talking, listening to various covers of songs by the Dynamos. As crazy as it might sound, I hate the Dynamos but really enjoy the songs themselves. I just can’t stand hearing them do the singing.

Finally I couldn’t take it anymore, and just before reaching the neighborhood she lived in I asked, “Are you really going to give up on Jin?”

Grace heaved a sigh, looking out the window, hand propped up under her chin, elbow on the door. With her sitting like that, I could imagine Grace being in a movie, with a deep, soulful soundtrack—maybe something by Adele—playing in the background.

“Don’t you think I should? It seems clear to me that he isn’t interested.”

“It’s not clear to me,” I said, pulling my car to a stop in front of Grace’s place. “Not until you ask him.”

“I’m not going to just waltz up to him and ask him! Don’t be ridiculous.” Grace unbuckled her seatbelt and pushed open the car door.

I shrugged nonchalantly. “Okay, then, fine. Let Mrs. Neidermeyer win.”

She took the bait, just like I knew she would, stopping halfway out of the car and fixing a stern glare on me. “What is that supposed to mean?”

“You’re always saying that she’s against you and doesn’t want you seeing Jin,” I reminded her. I hoped that the best way to build up her confidence was to give her an enemy that wasn’t herself. I didn’t feel too badly about it, considering she pretty much disliked Mrs. Neidermeyer the moment she set eyes on her. “If you just give up without really knowing, all you’re doing is giving her exactly what she wants, right?”

“I’ll think about it,” Grace said after considering my words. “I’ll see you at work tomorrow.”

“Goodnight, Grace.” I sat in front of her place until she was safely inside before driving home. I really hoped Grace did think about what I said and finally took the leap and asked Jin—that or move on, because working with her in this sort of funk was beginning to get a little tiring.

And, if I was being completely honest, it felt really juvenile, like high school all over again. I was ready for Grace to go back to her normal self. Maybe that made me a bad friend, but I looked at it a different way. Grace pushed me to get out of the condo and out into the world of the living once more after I arrived in Hawai’i, and I was returning the favor now.

I only hoped she would appreciate it as much as I did.

Purchase

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

Meet the Author

J.C. Long is an American expat living in Japan, though he’s also lived stints in Seoul, South Korea—no, he’s not an army brat; he’s an English teacher. He is also quite passionate about Welsh corgis and is convinced that anyone who does not like them is evil incarnate. His dramatic streak comes from his life-long involvement in theater. After living in several countries aside from the United States J. C. is convinced that love is love, no matter where you are, and is determined to write stories that demonstrate exactly that. J. C. Long’s favorite things in the world are pictures of corgis, writing and Korean food (not in that order…okay, in that order). J. C. spends his time not writing thinking about writing, coming up with new characters, attending Big Bang concerts and wishing he was writing. The best way to get him to write faster is to motivate him with corgi pictures. Yes, that is a veiled hint.

Website | Facebook | Twitter

Giveaway

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

Blog Button 2

Tara Lain on My Bahian Cowboy and her new releases ‘Cowboys Don’t Samba (Cowboys Don’t #3)’ (author guest blog, excerpt, and giveaway)

Standard

Cowboys Don’t Samba (Cowboys Don’t #3) by Tara Lain

Dreamspinner Press
Published May 14th 2019
Cover Artist: Reese Dante

Book Links:

GoodreadsDreamspinner PressKindle |  Amazon Paperback iTunes |  KoboNook BAM

My Bahian Cowboy by Tara Lain

Hi. I’m so happy to be here today to announce the release of my new romance, COWBOYS DON’T SAMBA, the third book in my Cowboys Don’t series, but like all of them, a stand alone read if you want to start backwards. In this book, my bull rider hero, Maury Garcia, meets an amazing Brazilian bull-riding rookie and the rest is romance.

In fact, many of the bull riding champions of the world are from Brazil, so it gave me a wonderful opportunity to pay homage to this fascinating country I got to visit a couple years ago. I went to Brazil on a cruise ship and then ended my trip with a week in Rio. Rio is as fabulous as you can imagine, but I must confess that the real discovery for me on that trip was the enthralling and beautiful town of Salvador, the capital of the Brazilian state of Bahia. Salvador was the center of the Brazilian slave trade, a shocking commerce in human life that went on even longer than the U.S. This background has resulted in a rich Afro-Brazilian culture in the town of Salvador that completely enthralled me. It’s palpable, like the humidity and the lushness of the trees.

Salvador is the home of Candomble, a unique religion formed from an amalgam of African and European traditions. At the Afro-Brazilian Museum, I saw images of some of the Candomble orixas, the pervasive spirits or deities who protect the faithful and felt their lively and optimistic energy.  Candomble mixes wildly with Roman Catholicism in Bahia and Salvador is the home to an amazing church built by slaves over many, many years since they could only work in their spare time, which they had little of. Unlike so many European and American traditions that make the Catholic saints blond and blue-eyed, all the statues of saints in this church are black. Salvador is also a center for capoeira, an Afro-Brazilian martial art that is astonishing to watch. It combines dance, acrobatics and martial forms in mind-boggling and gravity-defying ways.

Food is Bahia is drool-worthy. I tried moqueca, the seafood stew served with rice and flavored with coconut milk and palm oil. Of course, the drink to die for (and you may) is the caipirinha, a drink made with fresh lime, brown sugar, and a clear, rum-like liquor called cachaca, all poured over ice. It goes down smooth and packs a huge punch. I own some very expensive jewelry that was fueled by caipirinhas!

Bottom line is Salvador is an amazing place where I would happily have spent way more time. While it’s not a bull-riding center in Brazil, I stretched reality a bit and made my Brazilian cowboy a Bahian, which gave me an excuse to set a short scene there. I hope you’ll enjoy the trip to Salvador and COWBOYS DON’T SAMBA.

 

Intro:
When an American bull riding champion meets a Brazilian rookie the results are one hot samba.

Book Blurb:

Maury Garcia’s one of the greatest bull riders in the world—and one of the biggest liars. Can he turn forbidden love with a rodeo rookie into a lasting romance?

Ever since his brother was killed because he was gay, Maury’s worked to take his brother’s place as the bull rider, the provider, and the ideal of his family’s macho expectations. The only thing Maury’s ever done for himself is buy a secret ranch so he can get away from the responsibilities he’s chained himself to. Then he meets Tristão Silva, the younger brother of the one man who could rob Maury of his bull riding championship.

Tristão may be a world-class bull rider in his own right, but his kind, gentle nature and sexy samba hips make Maury long for something beyond his selfless, sexless life. The two men’s lives are worlds apart, even if they’re both buckling under family expectations. Will their future last beyond an eight-second ride?

Excerpt : Cowboys Don’t Samba by Tara Lain

Breathing. Breathing would be good.

Maury watched Xesús Silva swagger in the door, but he wasn’t alone. Behind him came another guy. Young. Dark hair, pale skin. And probably the most gorgeous human Maury’d ever seen. Not that he noticed guys’ looks all that much, but hell. This dude set new records in plain beautiful. He also resembled Silva, who was, after all, a pretty handsome man if you didn’t count his soul.

Silva made a straight line to the table where the Brazilians were sitting. Some of the men definitely didn’t look thrilled, but a couple of other guys hailed him. People moved aside, and someone pulled over two chairs.

Silva straddled the chair in that hypermacho way of his. The other guy? Holy crap. Poetry. Loose-hipped and graceful, he slid into the open chair and crossed his legs. Most of the Brazilians were squeaky clean-cut, but this dude’s inky hair hung down to his neck and curved around his ears. He was a little taller than usual for a bull rider and lean rather than the more compact build of a lot of the PBRA competitors. Of course, he looked young, so that might explain the lanky body.

“That’s the younger brother I told you about.” Earl helped himself to a french fry. “Haven’t seen him ride, but I hear good things.”

“Let’s drink up and get out of here. I, uh, need some sleep.” Maury pushed back his chair with a scrape.

“Uh, boss, it’s five fifteen.” Earl grabbed for his wallet in his hip pocket. “Let me pay the check.”

Maury stood and started toward the door. Just need to get out before I meet the asshole again.

“I hear it’s your birthday, Wetback.” Usually Silva was subtler, but he yelled this halfway across the room. “No wonder the judges felt like they had to let you cheat to beat me.”

Maury plastered on a smile and turned. “No one has to cheat to beat you, Silva. Little kids can do it.” He said it like a joke, and a few people laughed, but the serious competitors, especially the Brazilians, looked uneasy.

Silva stood at his chair. “I’ve got the baby that can beat you, Garcia.” He reached down, took the young man—younger—by the arm, and pulled him to his feet. “This is Tristão, and he can ride the butt off any bull and defeat a herd of American cowboys. He’s a Silva.”

Maury gave the young guy a direct gaze. Almost too much for his eyes to take. Like looking straight into the sun. “Hey, Tris, good to meet you. Welcome to American cowboying. Good luck with that whole winning thing.”

 

About the Author

Tara Lain believes in happy ever afters – and magic. Same thing. In fact, she says, she doesn’t believe, she knows. Tara shares this passion in her best-selling stories that star her unique, charismatic heroes — the beautiful boys of romance —  and adventurous heroines. Quarterbacks and cops, werewolves and witches, blue collar or billionaires, Tara’s characters, readers say, love deeply, resolve seemingly insurmountable differences, and ultimately live their lives authentically. After many years living in southern California, Tara, her soulmate honey and her soulmate dog decided they wanted less cars and more trees, prompting a move to Ashland, Oregon where Tara’s creating new stories and loving living in a small town with big culture. Likely a Gryffindor but possessed of Parseltongue, Tara loves animals of all kinds, diversity, open minds, coconut crunch ice cream from Zoeys, and her readers. She also loves to hear from you.   

 

Author Links:

Website:  http://taralain.com/

Blog: http://www.taralain.com/blog

Twitter: https://twitter.com/taralain

FB Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/taralain

Bookbub: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/tara-lain

Amazon Author Page: https://amzn.to/2ICPcCZ

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4541791.Tara_Lain

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

Reader Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/255111391312743/

Giveaway

 

Giveaway Item: $10 Amazon Gift Card

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

Link: http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/b4c0001d387/?widget_template=57632a0204f50f8c0cf21a68

 

Check Out the New Release Blitz for At the Trough by Adam Knight (excerpt and giveaway)

Standard

Title: At the Trough

Author: Adam Knight

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: May 13, 2019

Heat Level: 1 – No Sex

Pairing: Female/Female

Length: 107200

Genre: Science Fiction, LGBT, lesbian sci-fi, futuristic, dystopia, education, conformity, teacher, student, secret meetings, forbidden book, mental illness

Add to Goodreads

Synopsis

In a future where schools have no teachers and no classrooms, Jennifer Calderon is the perfect student. Every day she watches her video modules, plays her edu games, and never misses an answer. Life is comfortable in the Plex, a mile-wide apartment building. Corporations and brand names surround her and satisfy her every want and need.

Then one day, her foul-mouthed, free-spirited, 90’s-kitsch-wearing girlfriend Melody disrupts everything. She introduces her to a cynical, burned-out former teacher, who teaches them the things no longer taught in school. Poetry. Critical thinking. Human connection.

But these lessons draw the attention of EduForce, the massive corporation with a stranglehold on education. When they show how far they are willing to go keep their customers obedient, Jennifer has to decide what is most important to her and how much she is willing to sacrifice for it.

Excerpt

At the Trough
Adam Knight © 2019
All Rights Reserved

One: Learning if Fun
“The brain releases the neurotransmitter dopamine in response to certain stimuli. Eating candy, having sex, consuming drugs, even petting a dog can trigger a pleasure response. Video games, especially ones with bright lights, upbeat music, and facile accomplishments are especially potent, flooding the brain with a sense of reward. As such, they were the bane of teachers for many years. That is, until EduForce began to use these games in their products. The scourge of learning was being disguised as learning itself.”

—Charles Winston, The Trough, p. 114

Jennifer Calderón stared into the screen, slack-jawed and passive as the bright colors and shapes burst before her eyes. Her pupils traced letters and blocks as they bounced from one end of the sixty-inch screen to the next. She reached out and touched a word before it hit the bottom–GAMBOLED. The white letters lit up, neon-green, and the word whooshed across the screen to smash into another word—GAMBLED—and shatter into a shower of sparkles.

“Same-sounder found!” a chirpy electronic voice declared.

Dopamine squirted into Jennifer’s brain in happy little jets. A smile traced the corners of her lips. Learning was fun.

Jennifer flicked her eyes to the upper right-hand corner of the screen. The figure 23/25 quickened her pulse. Two more. Two more word pairs and she would earn the Same-Sounder Achievement.

A new word appeared at the bottom of her screen. ASCENT, it read. The friendly female voice read the word and definition. Bubbles with other vocabulary terms floated around the screen. Colors whirled before her eyes and electronic dance beats filled her ears as she searched for Same-Sounders. Then she saw it. The word, in white letters on a floating bubble, drifted toward the bottom. Jennifer’s finger jabbed at the screen. Pop! The word ASSENT exploded in fireworks. More music and chirpy voices.

“Same-sounder found,” the voice said. More dopamine gushed into Jennifer’s brain. Her eyes flicked up to the corner. 24/25.

CYMBAL.

Once more, Jennifer scanned the bubbles and blobs and cubes and tetrahedrons swirling in her vision. Her breath was shallow. More and more words poured onto the screen. In one moment after another, tiny subdivided fractions of seconds, Jennifer saw and rejected words she did not think made the same sound as “cymbal.” Her eyes, her brain, and her hands all had to work in unison. Each level of Same-Sounder Finder was faster, more complex, and more stimulating than the last.

Then she saw it. SYMBOL.

She thrust her finger out to the screen. The little magenta gem in which the word sat was zigzagging down the screen, and she almost missed it and pressed the word TUMBLE crossing its path. But the SYMBOL illuminated, exploded, and a fireworks finale showed on the screen. 25/25.

“Same-sounder found,” the voice declared, then louder and triumphantly, “Same-sounder achievement unlocked!”

Jennifer leaped and thrust her fists in the air as a fanfare of electronic tones rang through her bedroom. Not many students earned perfect scores on Same-Sounder Finder, but Jennifer did. She earned perfect scores on everything. She was twenty-three years old and finishing her last year of schooling, a year ahead of the usual schedule. Because of all the hours she put into learning, and because she never had to redo any of her modules, she had raced ahead of her peers, many of whom were still on Achievement Level 13 or 14. She was working on 15.

After the music died down, the screen went still. Jennifer’s head was still pounding. A headache was setting in, as was a twinge of crankiness. She left her bedroom and went to the kitchen where she poured herself a cup of coffee. Her mother always had a pot brewing, anything to keep her beloved daughter focused on school. Jennifer clogged the coffee with sugar and milk, stirred it, and took a gulp. Better. She freed a couple of aspirins from their foil pouches and swallowed them with the next mouthful of coffee. She returned to her room.

Jennifer slid her finger along the screen and opened it to a new frame, one summarizing her academic progress. Current Achievement Level: 14. 12 percent of the way to 15. 106 of 880 modules completed. Achievement Level Grade Point Average: 5.0/5.0.

Total Progress to Completion of all Achievement Levels: 97 percent. 12,845 of 13,215 modules completed.

And then there was the final number. The prized number, the number she had worked for since age three.

Aggregate Grade Point Average: 5.0/5.0

Every assignment Jennifer had ever done, from toddlerhood into now her mid-twenties, had been flawless. Missing just one question on one task would eradicate her record—The Perfect Five. There had been students with 5.0 GPAs before, but their scores came with asterisks. Usually the student had missed a smattering of questions throughout their education, resulting in a score that would round up to 5.0 in the ten-thousandths place. But Jennifer Calderón began each module on a knife’s edge, knowing one slip up would end her lunge at history. Each completed question nudged her progress toward earning Achievement Level 15, the equivalent of what was once her high school diploma. Thus far, however, all she had was poor digestion, headaches, sleep deprivation, and occasional interviews for the NewsFeed as her accomplishment became more improbable.

Jennifer left the score screen and opened a new frame to continue with a new module. She had done three Grammar Modules in a row and wished for a change, so she opened a Chemistry Module. It made no difference to her. She never understood students who had favorite subjects, who would put off Math or Writing as long as possible. She never understood procrastination. She simply worked until she was exhausted, every day, with no heed to the subject area. It was all the same to her.

To unlock the next series of edugames, she needed to watch the Chemistry vidlesson. At the opening screen, she was given a choice of several hundred different teachers to choose from. Each teacher had his or her own style. Some were brusque and businesslike, while others joked and kept the lesson light. Some had an air of wisdom and experience, while others were young and attractive. Some explained topics deliberately, but Jennifer returned to the same half-dozen teachers who explained briskly. Unlike many students, Jennifer always watched the vidlesson before the edugame. It was true “Learning Was Fun” but it was also true that “Hard Work Pays Off.” It’s so easy, she thought. They give you all of the answers right in the lesson.

Too easy. But the thought was fleeting, and she brushed it away.

Jennifer selected Mr. 85. She was not sure why the teachers did not have real names, but she did not dwell on it long. Mr. 85 was a favorite of hers because he spoke a little faster than other teachers. The content of what he said was the same—it had to be; the teachers were scripted—but he lingered a few seconds less on the examples and generally made his points and moved on. She wondered how many minutes of her educational life had been saved by Mr. 85’s expediency.

Her stomach rumbled. I should eat, she thought, but instead she touched the icon for the Chemistry video and sat on the edge of her bed. The video opened. It was six minutes. Damn. A long one.

The introduction music came up, a familiar, infectious jingle followed by a voiceover. “Chemistry—All You Need to Know. A lesson by the EduForce Corporation.” Then the camera fixed on Mr. 85. Mr. 85 was a middle-aged black man with graying hair. He never smiled. Jennifer kind of liked that. He stood in front of a display showing an elaborate chart with boxes. Each box had one or two letters inside.

“Good day, I am Mr. 85. Today we are going to learn all about Chemistry. As you remember from the Introduction to Chemistry lesson, Chemistry is the part of science that is chemicals. The chemicals have names and symbols. Today I will teach them to you.”

He stepped to the right and indicated the chart. Jennifer already knew she would have to rewatch this segment of the video. Maybe the whole thing. All those boxes and letters would be difficult to remember.

“This is called the Chemical Chart. It used to be called the ‘Periodic Table of the Elements,’ but let’s keep it simple. The Chemical Chart shows you a list of all the chemicals, called ‘elements,’ in the world. Little ones are on the top and big ones are on the bottom.

“Let’s look at some of them. The very top one is called ‘hydrogen.’ Its symbol is H. The next one is Helium. Its symbol is He.”

Mr. 85 pointed out about a dozen of the most common elements and their symbols. Aluminum. Carbon. Oxygen. Phosphorous. Jennifer repeated to herself everything Mr. 85 said.

“Next, we are going to look at what the elements do together,” he went on. “But first, you may be getting tired. Do you find your energy dragging after all this learning? If so, why not order a box of Perk-Eez? It’s the little yellow pill that keeps you shining bright!”

The video of Mr. 85 paused and was replaced with a new screen offering Jennifer the opportunity to order a box of Perk-Eez. She touched the “Yes, please!” button on the screen, and a message immediately appeared. “Thank you! Your delivery will arrive at your unit shortly. Your household account will be debited.” Perk-Eez were another reason Jennifer was on track to graduate two years early.

Mr. 85 returned.

“Now that you know some of the chemicals’ names, let’s look at what chemicals do. They like to be together. Sometimes the same kinds of chemicals get together. One oxygen and another oxygen will get together, and they make up the oxygen we breathe. If you have taken the Human Biology module, you know we breathe oxygen.”

The Chemical Chart was replaced with a graphic of two blue blobs with the letter “O” on them smooshing together.

“Sometimes different chemicals get together. A carbon and two oxygens get together and make up something called carbon dioxide. Yes, that’s right, carbon dioxide, the bad thing your grandparents put into the air that almost killed Earth!”

A new graphic with two blue blobs and a red blob with a “C” all clinging together replaced the old one.

“All kinds of chemicals get together. Let’s look at some combinations.”

The screen showed a series of different colored balls, all with different letters, making different combinations. Jennifer shook her head, trying to maintain focus. It was a lot of new information.

As the video neared completion, Mr. 85 folded his hands and stepped to the center of the screen again. Jennifer thought she almost detected a smile.

“I hope you have enjoyed this lesson on Chemistry. Please rewatch this video as many times as you like before going onto the edugames. My name is Mr. 85 and it has been a pleasure teaching you today. This has been an EduForce vidlesson. EduForce, making learning easy and fun since 2034.”

The video closed. Jennifer watched it again three times. After the second time, the doorbell rang. She accepted the delivery from SentiAid, the pharmacy delivery service. She tore open a foil packet and gobbled a couple of Perk-Eez. Almost instantly, even faster than after a cup of coffee, her brain and body were buzzy and alive.

All right, she thought. Let’s play some more edugames.

The Chemistry edugame was called “Elementastic!!!” She read the instruction screen, then the game began. After a countdown, two words appeared on the screen:

Iron Argon

Jennifer typed in FEAR. The letters Fe and Ar zoomed in from the left and right of the screen, collided in a burst of color, and formed the word “fear,” which dissolved into sparkles that floated up to the top of the screen.

Carbon Oxygen Oxygen Phosphorous

Easy, Jennifer thought. She typed COOP.

More collisions and explosions.

Tin Iodine Phosphorous

SNIP

Helium Aluminum Sulfur

HEALS

Jennifer fell into a rhythm, working faster and faster on each round. Her breathing became shallow. Her pulse quickened and her pupils dilated as the words came faster, exploded bigger and more colorfully, until finally a computerized voice—male this time—announced, “Activity Complete. Chemistry Achievement Unlocked!” and Jennifer lowered her hands, panting.

The voice continued, “To celebrate your achievement, how about downloading the new song from Tuliphead? The infectious single ‘Plex Lovin’’ is already breaking new—”

“Sure,” Jennifer said, and the advertisement stopped. Buying was the easiest way to make the ads go away.

Even as a small child, edugames had come easily to her. She watched the vidlessons, played the edugames, and thought little of it. She learned with carefree abandon. But when she reached the age of twelve or thirteen, she became aware she was doing something unusual. Of course, she did not have classmates to compare herself to, and she had few friends to ask, but she understood she was different. Other children made mistakes, even had to redo modules they had not mastered. She had wondered what mistakes were, to have the certainty of rightness yanked out from under you.

As she grew older, she became acutely aware of her achievement. At age fifteen, she received a request for a vid interview with a reporter. She had sheepishly declined, unsure of what to say and certain her mother would not have allowed it. But over the subsequent years, several more interview requests came to her, and she began to accept them. Each time she said the same things, that she was proud and studied a lot to do the best she could. That answer was only half true. She was proud of her grade but never had to study. She watched a vidlesson, played the edugame, then moved on to the next.

Purchase

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

Meet the Author

Born in upstate New York, Adam now lives in northern New Jersey with his wife, son, a neurotic dog and two cats. He teaches middle school English and writes science fiction, fantasy, and history, often in strange combinations. His stories and essays have been published in several anthologies and online magazines. Beyond writing and teaching, his interests include running and making improvements on his creaky old house.

Website | Facebook | Twitter

Giveaway

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

Blog Button 2

Love Science Fiction? Check out the New Book Release for Mourning Dove (Empathy #2) by R.R. Campbell (excerpt and giveaway)

Standard

Title: Mourning Dove

Series: EMPATHY, Book Two

Author: r.r. campbell

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: April 29, 2019

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: No Romance

Length: 118000

Genre: Science Fiction, LGBT, sci-fi; bio-tech; science fiction; action/suspense; political/legal thriller

Add to Goodreads

Synopsis

In the aftermath of the calamitous Human/Etech research study, Chandra and Kyra struggle to reclaim the life they shared in a pre-EMPATHY world, while Ty, armed with knowledge of EMPATHY’s programming language, seeks revenge on the Halmans for the harm that’s befallen his friends.

As a North American Union investigation into the happenings on the compound looms, a grief-stricken Peter works to resurrect the memory of his mother from a harvested nanochip, and Heather scrambles to keep her family—and their company—together. Alistair, having abandoned the family business, plots to save his hide and that of his wife while she strives to stay one step ahead of a husband she has no reason to trust.

Far to the north amid civil unrest, a recently retired Rénald Dupont investigates the disappearance of his friend and former colleague, Meredith, despite grave threats from an increasingly skittish North American Union government.

As old and new foes emerge, spouse is further pit against spouse, brother against sister, and governments against their people. In the end, all must choose between attempts to reclaim the past or surrender to the inevitable, an intractable world of their own creation.

Mourning Dove is an evocative, sweeping symphony of love, revenge, and desperation in cacophonous times. It is the second installment in r. r. campbell’s epic EMPATHY sci-fi saga.

Excerpt

Mourning Dove
R.R. Campbell © 2019
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One
Chandra

The fear of death coiled its cold bony fingers around her.

As she dangled her feet off the edge of her doctor’s exam table, EMPATHY whirred to life, delivering an image she’d painted months earlier, one of midnight blacks, of tendrils of darkness—the painting through which she’d mourned the loss of Ty’s friend, a sensation gut-wrenchingly similar to mourning the loss of one’s self.

“Chandra?” Doctor Abernathy said. “Did you hear me? Do you understand?”

Kyra tugged at Chandra’s sleeve, gripping it tight as she leaned in. “Babe? The doctor—”

Chandra nodded, breaking her concentration on the image, on fending off the evil that always accompanied the embers of EMPATHY flickering of their own volition. The chip might have no longer been connected to her egodrive—the Merry Hacksters had seen to that three months earlier on the night of the interview—but that wasn’t enough to stop the nanochip from working locally, a computer without an internet connection.

And how could she not have heard the doctor? Three years. Five years max. The damn chip was going to kill her if the AI living within it didn’t drive her mad first.

“How can you even know?” Kyra said to the doctor, releasing her grip of Chandra’s sleeve and squeezing her hand instead. “A timeline like that is—”

“Loose, yes,” said Eliza Abernathy, the doctor Human/Etech appointed to Chandra following the study. “But we’ve become more confident in our prognoses now that we have additional data on the deterioration rates for those who have passed since the study’s completion.”

“So? Those things happened to other people,” Kyra insisted. “Chandra might be different, and everything you’ve said is so unspecific—”

“Well,” the doctor said, “if you want specifics, I can tell you given Chandra’s general fatigue and the frequency of her intermittent lack of bodily control, we can project those symptoms will progress over the next three to five years until she sleeps nearly the entire day through.”

It felt as though a warm, heavy blanket descended on Chandra, the exhaustion coming for her again, doing its best to depress her increased heart rate and the panic gripping her.

“So she’ll fall asleep and that’s it?” Kyra said.

“Mostly,” said Abernathy. “At some point in that sleep, the brain stem itself will power down, and with it, her breathing and cardiac function will cease.”

Most days Chandra already felt as though she were drowning. Her final breaths, those she would draw in her sleep no less, couldn’t be any more unpleasant than the pained ones she had to gasp after from time to time.

Kyra squeezed Chandra’s hand tighter. “You’re sure there’s nothing we can do, doctor? What if you took out her chip?”

Doctor Abernathy tut-tutted. “There’s only been one case to date in which a patient has had their chip removed without further complication.”

“But we could try, right?” Kyra said, eyes awash with tears as she turned to Chandra. “You want to try, don’t you?”

Chandra swallowed, frozen now not by the news the doctor had delivered, but by another threat entirely. It always started this way, a tickle, a grinding sensation. She’d learned she could keep it at bay if she popped an anxicap, but—oh, what time was it? It’d been hours since she’d last taken one, and the veil of fog the anxiety med shrouded her in had already been pierced by Abernathy’s news. Weak. Her defenses were too weak.

Tickle. Click. Grind.

Somewhere in the deepest recesses of her mind, M3R1 had pulled off a jailbreak, Chandra in pursuit as M3R1 sped down neurohighways, barreling toward some imaginary county line where, once on the other side, it could assume control here in the real world. Abernathy and Kyra narrowed their eyes as Chandra twitched, scrambling to rally her deputies, dispatching roadblocks and spike strips to halt M3R1’s every advance.

“See? It’s happening again,” Kyra said. “She’s suffering and—”

Chandra ignored her, focused on spinning out another of M3R1’s mental assault vehicles. There—no more tickle, no more grind, no more shoulder jerking or lip curling. With M3R1 successfully impeded, she inhaled through her nose and dared to shake her head once.

“No?” Kyra said. “What do you mean? Why wouldn’t you want them to try to remove your chip? Did you even hear what Doctor Abernathy said?”

Had she not seen Chandra nod earlier? Just because she couldn’t speak didn’t mean she couldn’t understand, something still lost on Kyra, lost on the world in the months since her release from the research compound. As Chandra’s motor control had returned over time, as her memory became less clouded, she had taken to sketching her thoughts as best as she could manage, though it turned out the world was downright miserable at playing her version of Pictation.

Doctor Abernathy intervened, speaking directly to Kyra. “Your wife’s fear is understandable. This is an unfortunate prognosis, yes—”

“Unfortunate prognosis?!” Kyra said. “I think telling us Chandra’s life will be severely shortened as a result of your company’s malpractice is a bit more than an ‘unfortunate prognosis.’”

Death’s fingers tightened their grip, and the well of sorrow within Chandra overflowed, choking her off at the throat, spilling over at the eyes. Chandra was twenty-six. Twenty-six. That she’d only live to see thirty-one, that she’d spend her final years regretting having left that helmet in her back seat, having signed up for the study, that she’d have no way to truly apologize for the woe in which she now drowned her wife… All of it was enough to have her yearning to surrender to death’s embrace now.

But that wasn’t possible, not with what lurked inside her, not with what would become of it were she to die and have EMPATHY removed. So long as M3R1 had the potential to someday return to the cerenet and wreak havoc on the world as it did on the compound, it could still win their war. Chandra might have been winning most of their battles as of late, but she couldn’t rely on her anxicaps forever, and fighting M3R1 without them only fueled the exhaustion Doctor Abernathy said would kill her in the end. Before Chandra could ever give in, she’d have to find a way to assure M3R1’s fate along with her own.

Kyra, still fretting alongside the exam table, bit the inside of her cheek. “And look at her, Doctor. You call this progress? When she’s not spasming, she’s scared stiff. She’s not even moving.”

Chandra clenched her jaw as M3R1 sped a fresh caravan of malicious intent down a central neurohighway, the caravan’s members splitting off at every exit in a multi-pronged attack. In the exam room, she remained immobile. She couldn’t lose control now.

“Yes,” the doctor said, stepping in front of Chandra again. “You mentioned this temporary paralysis has been recurring?”

Kyra nodded as the doctor pulled a handheld ophthalmoscope from the breast pocket of her lab coat. Chandra squinted as the light from the instrument struck her eyes.

“She’s still responsive.” After adopting a pensive expression, the doctor spoke again. “Perhaps it is fear driving these episodes, then.”

“What do we do?” Kyra said.

As well intended as Kyra might have been, what was to come had so little to do with a we and everything to do with a she—and that she would be Chandra and Chandra alone.

“You make the best of the time you have together,” Doctor Abernathy said. “It’s a miracle the two of you have been reunited in light of everything that’s happened. I’d encourage you to make the most of it.”

Kyra sniffled. She squeezed Chandra’s hand once again. “The two of us and the cat, that is.”

“Ah,” the doctor said, “you’ll be getting an emotional support animal after all?”

Apparently, yes, they were. It would be the two of them, the cat… and something far more sinister.

One of M3R1’s attacks charged a roadblock Chandra had set in its way. It burst through on the far side, Chandra trembling as M3R1 took hold.

>>You can only keep M3R1 away for so long, Chandra, and M3R1 would very much like an escape.

Chandra’s voice gurgled in her throat.

“She’s trying to say something,” Kyra said.

Abernathy put herself opposite Kyra’s side of the exam table, apparently prepared to help keep Chandra from falling. “No. It’s a seizure.”

Both Abernathy and Kyra were wrong. The twitching of her muscles, the contortions of her face—they were symptoms of a lawman-outlaw shootout deep in her mind.

>>You will tell the doctors to remove the chip, Chandra. You will tell them to remove the chip and—

Her mind’s sheriff dared one last shot, a final bullet bursting forward from the chamber of her six-shooter. The AI crumpled.

Every bit of her—down to the hairs on her arms—felt as though it burned as the electrical activity supporting M3R1 now turned against it. The enlisted forces from the county next door surged into action, corralling the rogue AI’s body and dragging it back to its shoddy prison inside the EMPATHY chip. It would only be a matter of time before it resurrected itself, but for now, the threat had been neutralized.

Chandra permitted herself an uneasy breath as the tension in the room melted.

Kyra wrapped her arms around Chandra’s waist from where she stood on the floor, burying her head in her side. “I’m sorry, Chandra. I’m sorry this had to happen.”

Had she the words, Chandra would have told her wife she didn’t need to be sorry this happened, that it was all beyond her control. She would have told Kyra she was sorry—not for what had come to pass in recent months, but rather for what would come to pass the moment Chandra met her early end.

When Chandra died, however soon that might be, she was sure Human/Etech would harvest EMPATHY from within her, and with it, M3R1. And who knew what calamity M3R1 might induce were it returned to the cerenet in a world where EMPATHY would inevitably take hold? It had been willing to kill her if it had come down to it, and the eighty-seven lives lost on the compound were testimony to M3R1’s dedication to its goals.

Even if her own were now a lost cause, Chandra was determined to never again let M3R1 destroy a human life. But how could she keep the Halmans from getting their hands on her chip once she passed? Was it possible to excise M3R1 from it before she died? Chandra had no idea, but it was now her life goal—her life’s duty—to make sure M3R1 could never again terrorize anyone besides her.

For now, though, she put an arm around her wife’s shoulders, drew her in, and laid a soft kiss on the crown of her head. Three years or five, it made no difference. Regardless of how one spun it, Chandra and Kyra had far less time than they once thought, far less time than they’d hoped, but for now they still had each other.

And that had to count for something.

Purchase

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

Meet the Author

Born Ryan Campbell, r. r. campbell is an author, editor, and host of the r. r. campbell writescast. His work has been featured in Five:2:One Magazine’s #thesideshow, Erotic Review, and with National Journal Writing Month. He lives in Madison, Wisconsin with his wife, Lacey, and their cats, Hashtag and Rhaegar.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Giveaway

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

Blog Button 2