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

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Title:  Run in the Blood

Author: A. E. Ross

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: December 25, 2017

Heat Level: 2 – Fade to Black Sex

Pairing: Female/Female

Length: 78700

Genre: I

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Synopsis

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

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

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

Excerpt

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

Chapter One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Seabitch!”

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

“Aye, Captain?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The king nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What do you want from me?”

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

“I knew your father,” he said.

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

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

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

She didn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Purchase

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

Meet the Author

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

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

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Title:  Get Up

Author: Reece Pine

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: December 25, 2017

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 69500

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

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Synopsis

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

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

Excerpt

Get Up
Reece Pine © 2017
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One

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

“Hell-lo?” he croaked. “Cam-meron C—”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Nah, you look too honest.”

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

“I’m with your p-publisher.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“S-so?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh, you’re a lefty?”

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

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

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

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

“What?” Skin?

“And a business card.”

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

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

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

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

Guy blinked. “Isn’t he?”

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

“That’s De Carli’s son’s name.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Purchase

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

Meet the Author

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

Website | Twitter

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In the Spotlight: The Deadly Lies (The Delingpole Mysteries #2) by David C. Dawson (excerpt)

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The Deadly Lies (The Delingpole Mysteries #2) by David C. Dawson
DSP Publications
Cover art by LC. Chase

Available for Purchase at

DSP PublicationsAmazon Kindle US  | Amazon paperback US.    | Apple iBooks  | Barnes & NobleKobo Books |  

Goodreads 

Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words is happy to host DAvid C. Dawson here today on his tour for The Deadly Lies. Welcome, David.

✒︎

The Deadly Lies is the second in the Dominic Delingpole Mysteries series. The first The Necessary Deaths was published a year ago, and won an FAPA award for mystery and suspense.

Blurb

Dominic and Jonathan are on their romantic Spanish honeymoon, and things are perfect… except Dominic has kept a secret from his husband. He’s failed to tell Jonathan that he plans to meet his former lover, Bernhardt, who is speeding on his way from Germany to present Dominic with a mysterious gift. 

But Bernhardt is killed in a suspicious car accident. Shortly before he dies, he sends Dominic a bizarre text message that will take the newlyweds on a hair-raising adventure. 

Lies upon lies plunge Dominic and Jonathan into an internet crime that could destroy the lives of millions of people. What is the mysterious Charter Ninety-Nine group? And will their planned internet assault force Dominic to choose between the fate of the world and the life of his lover?

Excerpt

“What the hell are you two doing down here?”
Steve pushed his head past Sinon’s naked torso, to see a short, red- haired female flight attendant staring furiously at them.
Sinon levered himself up on Steve’s chest and poked his head out from the tiny bunk bed situated eight feet above the floor. It was one of fourteen similar bunks in the compact crew quarters hidden below the plane’s economy deck. “I can explain, really. Charlie said—”
“I don’t for a minute believe Mr. O’Donnell gave you permission to come down here to—” The flight attendant struggled to find words. “— do that.” Her voice, hardened by the edge of a strong Glaswegian accent, seemed to explode across the cramped cabin.
“Right, gentlemen,” continued the flame-haired woman firmly. “You have exactly one minute to put your clothes on and get back upstairs. Otherwise we’ll be getting the flex cuffs out to restrain you two reprobates for the rest of the flight.”
Sinon jumped down from the bunk bed, stretched out his arms to the flight attendant, and grinned. “Flex cuffs? Yes, please. A bit of bondage is always welcome—” He peered at her name badge. “—Margaret. Didn’t know you were such an accommodating airline.”
Margaret looked Sinon up and down with disdain. “I thought that tall boys like you were supposed to be well-endowed. I was clearly misinformed.” Sinon dropped his arms and reached down to pick up his clothes from the floor. Steve jumped down beside him and began to dress. In the cramped space of the crew compartment, he towered over the diminutive woman.
“Well, love,” said Steve, “you should know more than most that size doesn’t matter. It’s what you do with it that counts.” He winked at Margaret, pulled up his briefs and bleacher jeans, and reached for his polo shirt.
“Margaret? Are you all right?” At the sound of a man’s voice, Steve turned. Another member of the cabin crew had joined them. His name badge showed him to be Charles O’Donnell, In Flight Services Manager. O’Donnell looked to be in his early forties, with crew-cut salt-and-pepper hair and a deeply tanned face and forearms. He looked past Margaret, saw Steve and Sinon, and rolled his eyes.
“It’s all right, Margaret,” he said. There was a strong Northern Irish accent in his voice. “I’ll take care of this.”
Margaret looked from her boss to the giggling figures of Steve and Sinon. “If I had my way, I’d tan their backsides,” she said and pushed past O’Donnell to climb the stairs back to the passenger deck.
O’Donnell folded his arms, leaned against a bulkhead, and closed his eyes. “Of all people to discover you, it had to be Margaret the Mouth. I’m really going to be in the shite now.” He opened his eyes. “Couldn’t you two wait a few more hours until you were back on the ground before you got your dicks out?”
Sinon finished buttoning his fly. He stepped forward and clumsily tried to hug O’Donnell. “Sorry, Charlie boy. But you did slip me the key. I didn’t think we’d been spotted.”
“With him dressed like that?” O’Donnell pushed Sinon away and refolded his arms, glowering at Steve. “Shaved head, tattoos, braces, Doc Marten boots—”
“Grinders, Charlie,” interrupted Sinon. “Steve’s got a really smart set of Grinders.”
“Whatever,” Charlie continued. “It might be an attractive look for some people—”
“People like you and me, Charlie,” added Sinon, grinning. “You know it makes you horny.”
“All right, all right.” O’Donnell sighed. “Look, I’ve had several people ask me why we’re allowing a Nazi thug to y with us. He’s been scaring the life out of my passengers. Couldn’t he have toned it down? Just for a few hours?”
“Why should I?” asked Steve, stepping forward. “Why should I be forced to dress like everyone else? I’m Steve, by the way. And for your information, I’m not a Nazi thug. I’ve been a member of Unite Against Fascism since I was sixteen. Just because I like the look—as do you by the sounds of it—”
Charles O’Donnell’s face flushed red.
“—doesn’t mean I like the politics.”
“That’s a bit naïve, isn’t it?” replied O’Donnell.
“No, Charlie boy,” Sinon said. “What’s naïve is judging people by appearances. Just because someone’s wearing a smart suit and tie doesn’t mean they’re a good little boy.” He turned to Steve. “You should have seen Charlie in his leathers during London Fetish Week. On Masters and Slaves night, he had them eating out of his—”

“Enough, you little shite,” said O’Donnell, holding up his hand. “Get up those stairs, the pair of you.” Steve and Sinon squeezed past him, kissing O’Donnell on the cheek as they went. “And keep a low profile, please,” he continued.

When he heard the hatch slam shut at the top of the stairs, O’Donnell leaned back against the bulkhead and closed his eyes. “For my sake. I’ve got a boyfriend and two Yorkshire terriers to feed.”

 

Links to The Necessary Deaths – The Delingpole Mysteries: Book One 

A young journalism student lies unconscious in a hospital bed in Brighton, England. His life hangs in the balance after a drug overdose. But was it attempted suicide or attempted murder? The student’s mother persuades British lawyer Dominic Delingpole to investigate, and Dominic enlists the aid of his outspoken opera singer partner, Jonathan McFadden.

The student’s boyfriend discovers compromising photographs hidden in his lover’s room. The photographs not only feature senior politicians and business chiefs, but the young journalist himself. Is he being blackmailed, or is he the blackmailer?

As Dominic and Jonathan investigate further, their lives are threatened and three people are murdered. They uncover a conspiracy that reaches into the highest levels of government and powerful corporations. The people behind it are ruthless, and no one can be trusted. The bond between Dominic and Jonathan deepens as they struggle not only for answers, but for their very survival.

Dreamspinner https://www.dsppublications.com/books/the-necessary-deaths-by-david-c-dawson-321-b

Amazon Kindle US https://www.amazon.com/Necessary-Deaths-Delingpole-Mysteries-Book-ebook/dp/B073Q86B5Q/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1473457953&sr=1-4

Amazon paperback US https://www.amazon.com/Necessary-Deaths-Delingpole-Mysteries/dp/1634774507/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1473457953&sr=1-4

Apple iBooks https://itunes.apple.com/gb/book/the-necessary-deaths/id1135889190?mt=11

About the Author

David C. Dawson is an award-winning author, journalist and documentary maker. He lives near Oxford in the UK with two cats and his beloved Triumph motorbike.

He writes mystery & suspense, with men in love at the heart of each story. His books have been described as “real page-turners” and “un-put-downable”. His debut novel The Necessary Deaths, won a FAPA award for Mystery & Suspense.

One reviewer for his latest book The Deadly Lies described it as “very sexy”. He campaigns hard for equal rights, and sings with the London Gay Men’s Chorus.

SOCIAL LINKS

Website http://www.davidcdawson.co.uk

Blog http://blog.davidcdawson.co.uk/#home

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/david.c.dawson.5

Twitter https://twitter.com/david_c_dawson

LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/DavidCDawson

Tara Lain on Snow Balls (Balls to the Wall #6) and her Series (author guest post and giveaway)

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Snow Balls (Balls to the Wall #4) by Tara Lain
Dreamspinner Press

Cover Art by Reese Dante

Book Links: 

GoodreadsDreamspinner Kindle  | iTunes  | Kobo  | Nook  |  

Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words is happy to host Tara Lain here today on her tour for Snow Balls

 

Hi everyone. Welcome to the holidays and the celebration of my re-release of Snow Balls, one of my most popular stories.

Recently someone asked me if I base my books on myself or my own life. And, of course, the answer is yes, great pieces of me are transmitted in my books. My belief in true love, my quest for authenticity, my enjoyment of humor is all in there big time. And, of course, actual events also make it onto the page. Bits of people I know, places I’ve been. A lot of details about the town where I lived for 28 years, Laguna Beach, CA, are included in many of my books. And —, oh yes, my hatred of skiing! This latter detail has occupied a complete scene in my brand new re-release, Snow Balls. My hero, JJ LaRousse, who is pretending to be more alpha male than he is, goes cross country skiing with the man he has a passion for. He’s never been skiing, but keeps hoping it can’t be too hard. HA!

Yep, hatred is a good word. I have only been skiing once. It was plenty. Like JJ, I pictured myself shushing along the frozen pathways enjoying the beautiful scenery and the crisp air. Oh so wrong. I spent more time in a heap on the snow with skis tangled like pickup sticks. I could not stay upright for more than a few minutes before I would fly once again into a giant pile of Tara. Painful and humiliating. Not surprising, however. While I am moderately athletic — hiking, walking, Pilates, Yoga — I have always been terrible with anything attached to my feet more challenging than a pair of Jimmy Choos. Even as a kid, roller skating and I were only on passable terms and I never learned to ice skate. Give me a bike and I could go anywhere. On skates, I barely made it down the sidewalk. And skis were even more miserable.

Now, I’ve inflicted this calamity on my poor hero from Snow Balls. And he, like me, has to face the skiing instructor who stares down at his tangled mess of a body and says, “Let’s get organized!”  LOL.

I hope you enjoy Snow Balls and, despite the humiliation I put him through, enjoy rooting for JJ and his happy ever after.

Blurb

JJ LaRousse looks like a quarterback but acts like a queen. He’s trying to be proud of who he is—until a robbery at the famous Laguna Winter Fantasy brings JJ face-to-face with tough cop Ryan Star. JJ hears Ryan likes manly men, so he drops his voice an octave, colors his pink hair, and tries to pass as a football fan.

Ryan Star may be tough, but he keeps his sexuality to himself at work. He learned in New York that being a gay cop can be deadly. His attraction to JJ threatens his secret, but he’s finding it hard to back away from a guy who’s so totally his type. Then, during a ski trip and a confrontation with JJ’s biggest nemesis, all the façades come crashing down. In the aftermath, can Ryan love JJ for who he really is? More importantly, can JJ?

Excerpt

JJ stuck out his fist. Ryan looked a little startled, then bumped it. “So maybe I’ll see you Sunday.”

Ryan nodded. “Yeah. Yeah.”

Star turned and walked a couple of steps. He stopped and looked over his shoulder. “Hope so.” And he walked away toward the entrance to the grounds.

O. M. G. JJ wanted to sit down in the middle of the sawdust. Did he really see that look in Ryan Star’s eyes when the guy said those two words “Hope so”? Something that looked like he cared if he saw JJ again?

JJ certainly cared if he saw Ryan again. But what the hell? A Chargers game? How could he ever fake his way through that?

He took off at a run and made it to the booth in seconds. Rodney was talking to a few customers and David was on his cell, fingering the twinkle lights in JJ’s display. JJ took a deep breath. Finally, David hung up and JJ pounced. “Oh my god of the last kid chosen for kickball, Ryan Star asked me out.”

David grinned. “Of course, I’m a champion matchmaker.”

But what if…. “Actually, I’m not sure it’s a date. I mean, he asked me to go with him, but it could be just a guy thing, you know?”

“Tell me what he said.”

“He said he could pick me up, or we could meet somewhere.”

David screwed up his smooth forehead. “Hmm. That’s too neutral to tell. What else? Where’s he taking you?”

JJ’s grin defined sheepish. “A Chargers game.” JJ grinned anxiously. “That’s football, right?”

“You’re joking, darling?”

“It’s not football?”

“Yes, it’s football, but you’re seriously considering going to a football game?”

“Yes.” JJ’s hands started to flutter. “Oh God, David, what am I going to do? I don’t know anything about it at all.”

“About what?” Rodney stepped up next to David.

David glanced at his miniature friend. “Football. Somehow JJ has managed to get himself invited to a football game.”

JJ wailed. “And I don’t know the first thing!”

Rodney shrugged. “Simple.”

JJ frowned. “What’s simple?”

“Just ask Jerry. He’s the magical knower of all things boringly athletic. He will be your guru of football. Mick might help too.”

Of course, their good friends Jerry and Mick could cram some facts into JJ’s head.

David threw an arm around Rodney’s shoulder. “Brilliant. You’re brilliant, my dear.”

Rod smiled, then looked up at JJ’s head. “And speaking of football, where on earth did you get that ridiculous cap?”

JJ shrugged. “Ryan Star bought it for me.”

David whooped. “That’s it. In answer to your question, Detective Star is taking you on a date.”

 

 

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Series Info:

Series’s Name: Balls To The Wall

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Bk #1 Links:

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/33349613-volley-balls

Amazon: http://amzn.to/2imkfqv
B&N: http://bit.ly/HighBallsNookTL
Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/volley-balls-1

iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/volley-balls/id1189190904?mt=11

Dreamspinner: https://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/books/volley-balls-by-tara-lain-8014-b

Bk #2 Links:

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/33796355-fire-balls

Amazon: http://amzn.to/2k5WIuf
B&N: http://bit.ly/FireBallsNookTL

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/fire-balls-1
iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/fire-balls/id1193306447?mt=11

Dreamspinner: https://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/books/fire-balls-by-tara-lain-8126-b

Bk #3 Links

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/34774527-beach-balls

Amazon: http://amzn.to/2q5BXlp

iBooks:  https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/beach-balls/id1218355957?mt=11&ign-mpt=uo%3D4

Kobo:  https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/beach-balls-1

B&N:  http://bit.ly/BeachBallsNookTL   

Dreamspinner: https://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/books/beach-balls-by-tara-lain-8440-b

Bk #5 Links:

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35214758-f-a-s-t-balls

Amazon: http://amzn.to/2sFwv94

iBooks: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/fast-balls/id1231549302?mt=11

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/fast-balls-1

B&N: http://bit.ly/FASTBallsNookTL

Dreamspinner: https://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/books/fast-balls-by-tara-lain-8651-b

Bk #6 Links:

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36098493-high-balls

Dreamspinner: https://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/books/high-balls-by-tara-lain-8904-b

Kindle: http://amzn.to/2fNezpg

iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/high-balls/id1275142177?mt=11

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/high-balls

Nook: http://bit.ly/HighBallsTLBN

Paperback

Paperback  bk 1 & bk2

Volley Balls & Fire Balls

Amazon: http://amzn.to/2rD3VoU

B&N: http://bit.ly/VollyAndFireBallsPbTLBN

About the Author

 

Tara Lain writes the Beautiful Boys of Romance in gay romance novels that star her unique, charismatic heroes. Her first novel was published in January of 2011 and she’s now somewhere around book 40. Her best-selling novels have garnered awards for Best Series, Best Contemporary Romance, Best Paranormal Romance, Best Ménage, Best LGBT Romance, Best Gay Characters, Best Romantic Suspense, and more. In her other job, Tara owns an advertising and public relations firm. She often does workshops on both author promotion and writing craft. She lives with her soul-mate husband and her soul-mate dog near the sea in California where she sets a lot of her books. Passionate about diversity, justice, and new experiences, Tara says on her tombstone it will say “Yes”!

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

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

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Release Day Blitz for Love By Number by DJ Jamison (excerpt and giveaway)

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Title:  Love By Number

Author: DJ Jamison

Publisher: DJ Jamison

Release Date: October 12, 2017

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 31,000 words

Genre: Romance, LGBT, m/m contemporary romance

Amazon

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Synopsis

Aidan doesn’t have the best record with relationships, but he’s had a lifelong love affair with baseball. Player stats and computer simulations make sense. People don’t. But when he needs a ride to the World Series, he must rely on another person: a sexy artist who is as spontaneous as Aidan is predictable.

Jesse doesn’t care about baseball. As an artist, he’d rather paint a player than watch him at bat. But his grandpa loves the Kansas City Royals, so he takes him to every home game. He has no idea a fender bender in the parking lot is about to deliver new inspiration in the shape of a man with a whole bag of quirks.

Despite their differences, Jesse and Aidan hit it off, and their sexual chemistry is fantastic. But when Aidan’s numbers betray him, Jesse isn’t prepared for the fall-out. If Aidan continues to put his passion for baseball stats above everything else, he could miss out on the most important numbers in life: the number of smiles, kisses and laughs they could share in a lifelong journey together.

Excerpt

Aidan clutched at his hair, heart hammering in his chest. The front driver’s side of his black Saab was crumpled. The wheel well took a direct hit, the force of the collision pressing it into the tire. He could tell from just looking that the axle must be bent, if not broken, by the way the tire tilted at the wrong angle.

It’s not drivable, he thought, and his heart hammered harder. He felt his hands trembling, and not as an aftershock of the accident. Well, not from experiencing the accident, at least. He was shaking because his plans had just been thrown in the blender.

“Hey, you okay?”

He looked up, gazing blankly at the figure approaching him. A man, but his features were lost in the shadows. Not that Aidan could focus on something like facial features right now. That wasn’t easy on a good day, much less in a moment like this.

“It’s not that big a deal,” he muttered to himself, as he’d learned from his therapist years ago. “It’s not. It’s not. But …” He groaned and clutched at his hair some more. “How am I going to get to the World Series now? I have to get there!”

He’d wrapped up so many hopes in getting to that series, in watching the Royals perform in high-stakes games. It was the perfect time to prove out his math. It might not be rocket science, but Aidan still wanted to watch his math come to life on the baseball field, in the most important series of the season. In person.

A hand touched his shoulder, and he flinched away.

“I’m sorry. Are you hurt?” a voice asked. A nice, mellow voice. He liked the raspy quality of it and the cadence of the man’s words. His tone calmed Aidan.

He managed to drag his gaze from the damage to the man’s face. “I’m …”

Sexy Artist Guy.

He faltered when he recognized the dark hair tinted with maroon highlights, dark eyes and sculpted lips — all coming together in a perfect symmetry. A perfect representation of geometry in nature, really. And the freckles splashed over his nose, highlighted now by the security lights overhead? They somehow added to his sex appeal instead of detracting from it.

Aidan had seen an open sketchbook on this man’s lap more than once when passing by on a bathroom break. He mostly drew portraits, from the look of it, but Aidan had only caught a glimpse. It made sense he was an artist since his entire appearance was like a work of art to Aidan’s eyes. He couldn’t imagine being so creative with his hair or his wardrobe or his skin, where Sexy Artist Guy had embraced both tattooing (his right bicep) and piercing (both ears and right eyebrow).

“I’m so sorry,” Sexy Artist Guy said again. “I saw an opening and went for it. I didn’t see you coming, but my grandfather was distracting me—”

“Blame it on the old man, why don’t ya?” a hoarse voice boomed loudly enough to make Aidan jump.

“Gramps, not now, huh? The guy is freaking out.”

“I’m not freaking out,” Aidan said sharply. The fascination with the stranger’s face faded as he remembered why he was in this situation. He gestured to the damage. “There’s no way I can drive that.”

“We can give you a lift,” the old man said, at the same time the handsome stranger said, “We’ll call you a tow truck.”

“But look at my car!” he said, not sure they understood the direness of the situation.

Artist Guy frowned, then glanced behind Aidan. Following his look, he realized they were blocking traffic. A line of cars snaked through the parking lot, headlights shining on Aidan’s personal disaster.

“I should move my car.” He glanced back at the bent wheel well, frowning. He hoped he could move the car.

“Jesse,” the old man spoke, “you help him push. I’ll get in and put it in neutral.”

They all took their positions, and with some work managed to push the car into an empty space next to the Lincoln Towncar that had so cruelly crunched the Saab. Aidan cringed at the scraping metal sound as his car rolled out of the lane of traffic.

Once off to the side, Jesse pulled out his wallet. He handed his license to Aidan, who stared at it. He took in all the details: 6-foot-1, 175 pounds, brown hair, brown eyes, born one year after Aidan, making him twenty-six.

Jesse cleared his throat, and Aidan glanced up.

“Aren’t you going to take a picture?”

Damn. He’d been staring. The old saying popped into his mind: Take a picture, it’ll last longer.

He flushed. “Sorry.”

He started to hand the license back, but Jesse looked at him as if he had a screw loose. Then it clicked. Take a picture. For insurance. Right.

He dug out his phone and clicked the pic of the license, and then of the insurance card that Jesse handed over. He was still rattled by the accident, thrumming with bottled-up anxiety.

“You okay? You’re pretty twitchy,” Jesse said. “I’m sure the insurance will cover the damage.”

“Yeah, but it’s my car.”

“Yeah?”

Aidan waved to his car, unsure how to make Jesse understand.

“It was reliable.”

“Um, won’t it still be reliable when it’s fixed?”

“The World Series is in two days.”

“So …”

“Jesse, stop being thick,” the old man interrupted. “Obviously, he was going to drive up to St. Louis, and a Saab is a foreign car. He won’t be able to get the parts locally. Maybe not even the mechanic. They don’t make those cars anymore. He can’t get it fixed in time.”

“Oh.”

“I have to go to that game. I go to all the away games within driving distance. I always do. And this is the World Series. I’m going to have to take a bus, and, oh God, I can’t stand to ride the bus—”

“Jesse will drive you.”

Aidan looked at the older man. He had a bushy head of white hair and enough wrinkles to give a Shar-Pei a run for its money, but his tone was confident, the kind of confident that brooked no nonsense. He’d heard that tone from his own mother too many times to count.

“He will?”

“I will?” Jesse echoed. “Gramps, I’m sure Aidan doesn’t want—”

“That would be great!”

Normally, Aidan wouldn’t want to ride long distance with a stranger, but when contrasted with a bus full of strangers, he jumped at the opportunity. Besides, Jesse and his grandfather had been at every home game. If Jesse were some kind of predator or bully, he’d have shown it by now. Right?

He’d only had one other interaction with Jesse. He’d walked up to Aidan once, when he was trying to quickly record the stats from the latest play and compare them against what he’d predicted for that player’s performance. Aidan had been too distracted to make conversation, especially small talk with a stranger. But he couldn’t help noticing his great smile. Jesse was one of those people who smiled with his whole being, not just his mouth. His eyes brightened, his cheeks dimpled and his body even seemed to vibrate with happy energy.

Aidan liked that because it was easy to see Jesse’s happiness. It wasn’t subtle, which would be lost on him, or confusing — like when people’s mouths smiled but their eyes stayed cold. He didn’t understand that. Was he supposed to respond to their mouth or their eyes? And then there were some people who just smiled all the time, even when they said mean things. What did that mean? Smiles could be confusing, but Jesse’s wasn’t.

“I have tickets to the games,” Gramps was saying now. “I was going to ask you to go, as a favor to me.”

“What? But you said in the car—”

“Hush,” Gramps said, a gleam in his eye. “I’m not up for that kind of travel. I want you to go in my place, so you can tell me all about it. You take this nice young man. It’s the least we can do. Watch the games for me, and tell me all about it when you come home.”

Aidan pulled out his phone to call the tow truck, watching the two men in a staring stand-off. He made arrangements for the tow and disconnected in time to see Jesse sigh and nod.

“Okay, Gramps. For you.”

“Good boy,” Gramps said, clapping him on the shoulder.

Purchase at Amazon

Meet the Author

 

DJ Jamison grew up in the Midwest and worked in newsrooms for more than 10 years, which came in handy when she began writing stories centered on a series of love connections between small-town Kansas newspaper staffers, their sources and their readers. It was the perfect entrance into the world of fiction, and she has since branched out into ERs, health clinics and other settings to tell the stories of characters who are flawed but loveable. She writes a variety of queer characters, from gay to bisexual to asexual, with a focus on telling love stories that are more about common ground than lust at first sight. DJ is married with two sons and two glow-in-the-dark fish that are miraculously still alive.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | DJ and Company | DJ’s Newsletter

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Author Jere’ M. Fishback on Writing, Books and their latest release ‘On the Way to San Jose’ (author interview, excerpt and giveaway)

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Title:  On the Way to San Jose

Author: Jere’ M. Fishback

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: September 25, 2017

Heat Level: 2 – Fade to Black Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 53900

Genre: Contemporary, LGBT, College, bi, gay, contemporary, road trip

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Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words Interview with Jere’ M. Fishback

Have you ever left any of your books stew for months on end or even a year?

I wrote my first novel, Josef Jaeger, in 2004-2005. I subbed it to agents and publishers for about a year with no success. I let it sit for about a year. Then I re-wrote the entire book, nearly 100,000 words. The first time I subbed it to a publisher they bought it. So, sometimes stewing helps.

What is the most important thing about a book in your opinion?

The characters and events taking place in a story must be genuine and believable. All of my main characters are flawed, without exception. And since I don’t write fantasy, I want to be sure that the story reads like real life. No one ever gets exactly what they want, and they have to work hard at finding love and happiness.

Any advice you would like to give to aspiring writers?

Don’t expect to sell your first book to an agent or publisher right out of the box. It takes a great deal of perseverance to break into the publishing business, especially if you don’t write spy novels, murder mysteries, legal thrillers or romance for heterosexual women.

What did you want to become when you were a kid?

As soon as I saw the movie, To Kill a Mockingbird, at age twelve, I knew I wanted to be a trial lawyer like Atticus Finch. And that’s exactly what I became. I tried civil cases for over twenty years.

Did you ever think you would be unable to finish your first novel?

Yes. Whenever I’m writing a novel I hit a point about 60% through the story where I hit a brick wall. It happens every time. I don’t know where I want the story to go and it’s frustrating, But I have learned I just have to sit at the keyboard and write and eventually the path to a satisfying conclusion opens up.

Synopsis

Terrence, a socially inept clarinetist whose driver’s license is suspended, needs his panel van driven from Orlando to San Jose, where he plans to start a new life. Levi’s a Stanford University student with Asperger’s Syndrome who answers Terrence’s Internet drive-away listing.

The two start out as strangers, but as their journey westward progresses a friendship is kindled, one that will change both boys’ lives in profound ways.

Excerpt

On the Way to San Jose
Jere’ M. Fishback © 2017
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One

Levi McKane studied an Internet drive-away listing:

Need vehicle driven from Orlando to San Jose, CA. We can split the gas. I want to leave ASAP.

The listing provided a phone number.

Levi was twenty with an athletic build, cobalt eyes, and sandy hair that grew to his shoulders. He would start his third year at Stanford University in two weeks. He’d earned himself a full academic scholarship to the California school after graduating second in his class from Merritt Island High in Brevard County, Florida two years before.

But his life was not perfect.

When Levi was four years old, a child development specialist diagnosed him with a mild form of Asperger’s Syndrome, a disorder causing difficulties in social interaction. So, despite his high intelligence, Levi had never mastered the art of human communication. At school and home, he said little. He kept to himself and avoided eye contact. Conversations, even with family members, seemed like thickets to Levi. He had no close friends in either Brevard County or California, and until recently had never dated. In truth, he felt the happiest fishing by himself on his parents’ dock with a six-pack of beer at his side.

“Leave him alone,” his dad must have told Levi’s mother a thousand times. “It won’t be long before he figures himself out.”

Over summer break from Stanford, Levi had saved up three thousand dollars while working at his dad’s auto repair business on Merritt Island. He could have flown to California if he chose to, but didn’t want to waste part of his summer earnings on airfare, not with the problem he faced.

He’d met a girl named Taylor back in June. She waited tables at a beachfront grill that Levi sometimes patronized after surfing at the Cocoa Beach Pier. Taylor wasn’t the subtle type; right away she let Levi know she liked him. And Levi, being a socially artless boy, let her take him down a path he hadn’t walked before. One thing led to another, and now Taylor was pregnant.

While he studied his computer screen, Levi thought of the phone call he’d received from Taylor a month before: “As of yesterday, I was late on my period two weeks. I knew something was wrong, so I bought a testing kit, and now it’s for certain. What’ll we do?”

“We?” Levi said. “Are you even sure it’s mine?”

“Positive, asshole.

They discussed abortion. Taylor wasn’t inclined, as she was Catholic. Then they discussed marriage. Levi wasn’t inclined, as he was due back at Stanford. And though he didn’t tell her so, Taylor wasn’t exactly someone he’d want to share life with. A girl of limited intellect and shrill voice, she was rough around the edges, and Levi knew she’d wear the pants in whatever marriage she made—a union he wanted no part of.

So, the pregnancy floated in limbo.

Levi studied the Internet offer again. He had drive-away experience. At the end of last school year, he’d driven a retiree’s Crown Victoria from San Francisco to St. Petersburg. The old guy even kicked in two hundred bucks for gasoline. Levi made the cross-country trip in five days and delivered the car to the owner’s Florida condo where Levi’s mom picked him up and drove him to Florida’s east coast.

Making the three thousand mile trip by himself had not bothered him. He liked listening to the Crown Vic’s radio while traversing the never-ending brownness of southern Arizona and New Mexico, and then the ceaseless hill country of west Texas. The whole experience made him feel like the characters in one of his favorite books, On The Road by Jack Kerouac.

Now, seated at his parents’ kitchen table, Levi swung his gaze to a pair of double-hung windows with a view of the Indian River. He scratched his chin stubble while watching a shrimp boat cruise past his family’s dock, likely headed to Sebastian Inlet. The boat’s gauzy nets fluttered like dragonfly wings. Sunlight reflected in the boat’s wake that ruffled the river’s otherwise glassy surface. The time was close to 9:00 a.m. and already the day was heating up. By noon, the temperature would hit ninety-two; the relative humidity would likely reach a similar level, and Levi was glad he wasn’t working at the garage that day. He could stay in the air-conditioned comfort of his parents’ home.

When Levi punched up the phone number in the drive-away ad, a boy answered on the second ring, his voice a scratchy tenor. He answered Levi’s questions in a rapid-fire cadence, as though he couldn’t get the words out of his mouth fast enough.

“It’s actually a van, not a car.”

“No, it doesn’t have air-conditioning.”

“Yeah, I’d be riding with you to San Jose. I can’t drive; my license is suspended.”

When the boy asked Levi how soon he could make the trip, Levi said, “I can leave the day after tomorrow. I’ll still need to pack my things.”

They talked money.

“The whole trip’s 2,800 miles,” the boy said. “The van gets twenty miles per gallon on the road, so we’ll burn about three hundred dollars’ worth of gas. And then we’ll need to rent motel rooms for at least four or five nights, so I figure—”

“I don’t do motels,” Levi interjected. “I tent camp in parks and cook my own meals on a propane stove; it saves a lot of money.”

The boy was silent for a moment. Then he said, “I guess I could sleep in the van, but I don’t really know how to cook.”

“We can split the cost of food,” Levi said. “I’ll cook and you can clean up afterward; how’s that?”

More silence, this time for about thirty seconds.

“Are you still there?” Levi said.

“Yeah,” the boy replied, “I’m just thinking.”

“About what?”

“Are you somebody I can trust? I mean, I’ve never done this before. How do I know you’re not some kind of psycho?”

Levi drew a breath and then let it out while he fingered the edge of his cell phone. “I go to college in northern California. I can show you my university ID. And I’m a good driver—I’ve never had a ticket—so you don’t have to worry about me. I’ll get you and your van there safely.”

They traded names and e-mail addresses. The boy’s name was Terrence DeVine; he lived in east Orlando, not far from the Orange Blossom Trail.

“I’m moving to San Jose,” he said, “to live with a friend.”

They agreed Levi’s mom could drop him off at Terrence’s house at 9:00 a.m. two days hence, a Thursday. “We can hit the road as soon as I load up my stuff,” Levi said. “We should make it to Alabama by dinnertime.”

“Sounds good,” Terrence said. “I’ll see you then.”

***

Levi and Taylor faced each other in a booth at Taco City in south Cocoa Beach, just a mile from Patrick Air Force Base, where Taylor’s dad served. The restaurant was a Brevard County institution; it served tasty Mexican cuisine and draft beer so cold it numbed the back of your throat on the first swallow. The crowd that night was a mix of surfers, condo dwellers, young families with kids in high chairs, and servicemen sporting crew cuts.

Taylor looked nice enough in her short shorts and a tank top. Her straight brown hair was parted in the middle; it draped her shoulders. Her dark eyes focused on Levi while she toyed with her uneaten burrito.

“This is both our responsibilities,” she said. “I can’t believe you’re running off to California while I’m stuck here with this…situation.”

Levi lowered his gaze and rubbed his lips together while his brain churned. Why hadn’t he used a condom? He’d never even asked Taylor if she was on the pill before they started having sex. He’d just assumed as much, and how stupid was that?

“I’m on scholarship,” he told Taylor. “I can’t just not show up.”

Taylor glanced here and there. Then she said, “You could enroll at UCF’s campus in Cocoa. At least that way you’d be here when the baby arrives in April.”

Levi shook his head. “It’s not going to happen.”

“Why?”

“Stanford’s one of the best schools in the country. I won’t walk away from there just because you’re pregnant.”

Taylor squirmed on her bench while she twirled a strand of her hair around a finger. “You’re dumping this whole thing on me, you know, and it’s not fair.”

Levi wasn’t in the mood to argue, so he didn’t respond to Taylor’s last remark. Instead, he told her, “I’m leaving tomorrow, but I’ll call you from the road Friday night. Think again about an abortion; I’ll pay half.”

Taylor didn’t say anything; she only stared out a window at traffic passing on A-1-A.

Purchase

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

Meet the Author

Jere’ M. Fishback is a former journalist and trial lawyer who now writes fiction full time. He lives with his partner Greg on a barrier island on Florida’s Gulf Coast. When he’s not writing, Jere’ enjoys reading, playing his guitar, jogging, swimming laps, fishing, and watching sunsets from his deck overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway.

Website | Facebook

Tour Schedule

9/25 Love Bytes

9/25 MM Good Book Reviews

9/26 Stories That Make You Smile

9/27 Zipper Rippers

9/27 Divine Magazine

9/27 Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

9/28 Bayou Book Junkie

9/28 Wicked Faerie’s Tales and Reviews

9/29 Boy Meets Boy Reviews

9/29 Happily Ever Chapter

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In the Spotlight: Golden by RL Mosswood (excerpt and giveaway)

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Title:  Golden

Author: RL Mosswood

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: September 25, 2017

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 33500

Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, LGBT, Romance, fantasy, paranormal, gay, captivity, magic users, mythology, sailors, slave

Add to Goodreads

Synopsis

Harem boy might not be the most appropriate role for someone who’s never really seen the appeal of sex, but Elin’s status as dahabi: golden in a land of tan and brown, has marked him for The Dragon’s service since birth. He’s content enough with his life of uncomplicated, if restrictive, luxury, until an unremarkable chore becomes a case of love at first sight.

Mysterious newcomer Hathar, a roguish “merchant adventurer” from far-off lands, ignites an exploration of Elin’s first taste of physical desire, as well as a desire to experience life beyond the palace. Now, they must find a way to escape before Hathar’s ship departs, stranding them forever in The Dragon’s harem.

Excerpt

Golden
R.L. Mosswood © 2017
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One

Elin woke in his usual place on the silken pallet between Nikil and Rian. The haram was dark, and the night sky outside the elegant, grated windows was still inky. He wasn’t sure what had roused him. He couldn’t recall a dream, and the room was quiet but for the usual nighttime chorus of the men’s sighs and snores.

A moment later, he realized he could hear something else. Not in the room, but maybe down the hall or from the floor below, he could make out rough, raised voices. A fight? But who would it be at this hour, and in this part of the palace? He propped himself on his elbows a little and scanned the room—all the beds seemed to be filled. The men of the haram knew better than to fight anyway, at least not that kind of fighting, with yelling and tussling. The Dragon didn’t take damage to “her boys” lightly, and anyone caught inflicting that damage was likely to disappear without notice or explanation.

He listened a little longer, trying to make out words or recognize a voice, but whatever was happening was far enough off to make that impossible. Finally, he heard a door slam, and that seemed to be the end of it.

He rolled over and drifted off, still puzzling over what he had heard.

*****

At breakfast the following morning, everything seemed normal. The hall was filled with the groggy murmur of men beginning their day, the rich aroma of coffee, and the tap of wooden cutlery on fine china.

Elin, as usual, sat on his own, thoughtfully chewing a honeyed pastry. Though it was hard to ever be truly alone in the haram, his tendency to quiet contemplation left him out of most of the livelier interactions the other men favored. He wasn’t much for sport, which was one of the main entertainments among his comrades, and his thoughts tended to follow slow and dreamy pathways that didn’t lend themselves to clever banter.

As he was pondering the particular play of light on the grain of the highly polished tabletop, a shadow moved into his peripheral vision. One of the guards, a man named Emun, was approaching. The guards of the haram were in a unique position: They were, in most ways, subordinate to the residents they guarded, so they spoke in polite tones, made requests rather than demands, and would usually do whatever was asked of them. At the same time, they were in charge of keeping the men in their place—generally not a hard job. Who would want to escape the lap of luxury, after all? But it was known that, if pushed, the guards would muster force to keep order, which lent an edge to all their interactions with their charges.

Elin finished his bite and looked up, inviting Emun to address him.

“I’ve got something for you to do after breakfast,” he said. “A new resident who needs some cleaning up.”

“A new resident? To our wing?”

Elin was used to being assigned chores considered beneath the more favored men of the haram, but this was unusual. His wing was inhabited by the twenty-one- to thirty-year-olds. They had all entered the haram as children, as soon as they’d been found by The Dragon’s collectors, or ceded by their parents. New arrivals had trickled in through their younger years, a few carefully hidden late arrivals into their early teens, but it had been nearly a decade since anyone had joined the group Elin had grown up with.

“Yep.” Emun cut his thoughts short. “City guard found him skulking around the palace walls and assumed he was an escapee, but we’ve never seen him before. He’s The Dragon’s now, of course. Pretty rough around the edges though. Weird accent, needs a scrub and a shave. See what you can do. Jurah will have him waiting for you outside the baths after you’re done here.”

“Sure. Okay.” Elin wasn’t sure what else to say. How did a fully grown dahabi end up wandering outside the palace? Did he mean to get caught? He supposed he’d have a chance to answer all his questions soon enough, and returned to his breakfast as Emun returned to his post near the door.

*****

Outside the baths, Jurah was waiting as promised. With the guard was a man who could only be the new addition, looking much worse for wear than Elin had anticipated. His hair was so filthy and matted that Elin was surprised the city guard had known him as dahabi at all, and there was blood caked down his cheek and through his stubble from an angry split on his brow. He hadn’t come voluntarily, then. The sturdy rope binding the man’s wrists only reinforced that fact.

“Emun asked me to come down after breakfast,” he said, not quite ready to volunteer what he’d been asked to do. Maybe Jurah had a different understanding of the matter.

No such luck. “Yeah! I’ve got quite a job for you here,” the guard replied jovially, indicating the filthy man by tugging lightly on his bindings. The “job” in question scowled slightly, but said nothing.

“Does he, uh, need to stay bound like that?” Helping with a bath was one thing, but Elin didn’t think he had it in him to wrestle anyone into submission.

“Oh, no. Our friend here has settled down quite a bit since last night. He’s going to be on his best behavior for you. Right?” With that, Jurah elbowed the other man for a reply.

He looked up from under his brow, directly at Elin as if the guard wasn’t there, startling him with moonlit-silver eyes. “I’m no threat to you. There was just a…misunderstanding with these other gentlemen earlier, and they don’t quickly forget.”

Elin found, thankfully, that he believed the man. “Let him go then. I can’t get him cleaned up with his hands tied together.”

The guard did so and then hesitated a moment, as if unsure what do to next. “Would you like me to come in there…with you?” The guards usually gave the men of the haram their privacy in the baths—it was their job to protect, not to ogle—but Jurah clearly didn’t feel the same faith in the stranger’s intentions that Elin did.

Elin looked again into the strange, pale eyes. Seeing no malice there, he said, “We’ll be fine. You can watch the door to ensure a little privacy for our new guest, and I’ll call out if I have any need of you.”

Jurah looked uncertain, but released the man, clearly feeling himself on the subordinate end of the equation in this interaction.

Elin stepped forward and opened the door to the baths, gesturing for the man to follow. “It’s just a bath, really,” he said to the skeptical Jurah as he closed the door behind them.

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RL Mosswood lurks in the depths of the Pacific Northwest rainforest, where they dabble in queer fiction in an attempt to add a little magic to their otherwise mundane existence.

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RELEASE DAY BLITZ: Figure Study by Suzanne Clay (excerpt and giveaway)

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Title:  Figure Study

Series: Chiaroscuro, Book Two

Author: Suzanne Clay

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: September 25, 2017

Heat Level: 5 – Erotica

Pairing: Female/Female

Length: 19900

Genre: Contemporary, LGBT, erotica, contemporary, lesbian, artist, teacher/student, age-gap, interracial, light D/s, edging, spanking, rope bondage/shibari

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Synopsis

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

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

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

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

Excerpt

Figure Study
Suzanne Clay © 2017
All Rights Reserved

 

The last time Ainsley made breakfast for someone she was procrastinating for her senior show. There had been paintings to finish, an artist statement to make foolproof, and a final defense to prepare, and ultimately, it had been too much for her. A warm body and a kind smile had helped for the night, but the morning after had been too soon for Ainsley to jump back into the fray. On that day fifteen years ago, her delaying tactic had been blueberry muffins. This morning, it was blueberry pancakes.

The fruit felt cool and firm in Ainsley’s hand as she poured them into the pale batter. She lingered for a moment, considering their fullness and the way they floated on the surface. There was a striking color contrast emphasized by the sunrise cutting through her kitchen’s picture window. It felt shameful to ruin it. But ruin she did. With one stir of her wooden spoon, she watched the berries disappear under the surface, leaving behind divots that rapidly filled with the batter again.

Moments like this struck her on a daily basis, and not for the first time, Ainsley wondered why. Was it from her artistic sensibilities, appreciating the difference of colors and the play of textures and the shifting of shapes? Or was it from yet another night of insomnia? Did her exhausted mind make everything feel a little more visceral, look a little more striking? She wasn’t sure. And while she found appreciation from these little things regardless, she also felt uncomfortable that maybe, just maybe, it was something she shouldn’t be pleased by.

She was making these pancakes to delay waking the girl in her room. She was making coffee to avoid sleeping so she wouldn’t risk sensual, aching dreams about the woman she still wasn’t sure she regretted touching.

Ainsley paused by the pantry with the syrup bottle loose in her grip. She sat at the breakfast table cradling the bottle safely in her hands.

Fifteen years ago, she made blueberry muffins to avoid her final university projects. And Noma, the girl dreaming so peacefully in her bed, had left kindergarten only a short time later. God, that puts things in perspective.

Ainsley sacrificed a pancake’s perfect golden-brown color to pour some coffee and drink it—too hot, too bitter, and too strong. The taste was enough to drown out the burgeoning worries in her head, and the burned edges of the pancake were enough penance to set Ainsley’s heart at ease again. Ainsley would eat it. She never much minded eating things everyone else wanted to throw away.

By the time Ainsley brought the tray full of pancakes and coffee and syrup into the bedroom, her mind was clear again. Noma looked like she hadn’t moved an inch in her sleep. She lay on her stomach, hands fisted by her face, and the pinks and purples that Ainsley had painted on her back were perfectly intact. She hadn’t stirred from the sounds of Ainsley moving pots around or the grinding of the coffee beans. She slept perfectly. Peacefully.

Ainsley envied that to the very depths of her soul.

After setting the tray on the end of the bed, she sat next to Noma and caressed her arm. The play of the color contrast between their skin—Ainsley’s blue-white paleness against Noma’s umber brown—stirred her imagination toward painting, but her thoughts silenced as Noma moved under her touch and made a low sound. Ainsley gently squeezed her arm and smiled. “Good morning.”

“Mmnh…” Noma squinted up at Ainsley, came up on her elbows, and rubbed her eyes. “Morning.” She froze, hand still in a fist, and grunted. “God, I’ve still got my makeup on. Did I really just pass out last night?”

“You did,” Ainsley said with a chuckle. “You must’ve been out of it.”

“Yeah, well…” Noma’s cheeks flushed a dark rose as she collapsed flat again. “I mean, y’know, I had a pretty good night and all.”

Ainsley tipped her head to the side. “Yeah?”

“Yeah.” With her cheek resting on her bent forearms like a pillow, Noma peeked up at Ainsley, half her face still obscured. “You?”

Ainsley had spent a long night sitting at her breakfast table staring into the darkness and remembering over and over again what she’d done: crossing paths with Noma at Ainsley’s gallery showing, getting Noma’s safeword, painting her skin, tasting her sweet arousal—all without ever asking herself if it had been wise to move so fast. Ainsley considered her response. “I think it went rather well,” she finally said as she pushed her hair over her shoulder.

Noma stared at her intently. “You think so, huh?”

There was something Noma wasn’t saying—something Ainsley couldn’t pick up on as much as she wanted to. It was like Noma was hedging her bets until she knew exactly what Ainsley wasn’t saying. Ainsley narrowed her eyes, weighing her thoughts, and shook her head. “Didn’t I used to be able to read your face a lot better?”

“That was a long time ago,” Noma said, smiling. “I’m not quite the girl I used to be.”

“No, you’re not,” Ainsley murmured. “No, you’re a woman now.” She flicked her eyes down Noma’s body and took in the swell of her rear end, the stretch marks over her hips, and the smoothness of her skin. “Do you want to know a secret?”

Noma sat up on her elbows. “Yes, ma’am.”

“That’s part of why I didn’t sleep last night,” Ainsley said. “Just from trying to reconcile the idea of you as a woman instead of a student.”

The smile Noma gave was more tentative than anything, no doubt still trying to figure out her place in Ainsley’s bed. “Makes sense. Guess I gotta do that too. I keep seeing you as Miss Edwards.”

Ainsley smiled back. “Is that why you called me ‘ma’am’ just a second ago?”

Noma seemed flustered for a moment, her cheeks flushing even more. “No, that’s, uh…no, I think that’s from last night.”

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Meet the Author

Suzanne is an asexual woman with a great love for writing erotica and enjoys spending her time confusing people with that fact. She believes there is a need for heightened diversity in erotic fiction and strives to write enough stories so that everyone can see themselves mirrored in a protagonist. She lives with her husband and cat, and, when not writing, Suzanne enjoys reading, playing video games poorly, and refusing to interact outdoors with other human beings.

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Release Tour for A World Apart by Mel Gough (excerpt and giveaway)

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Title:  A World Apart

Author: Mel Gough

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: September 18, 2017

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 51900

Genre: Contemporary, NineStar Press, LGBT, drugs, HIV, AIDS, TB, familial abuse. Bi, gay. alcoholism, hurt/comfort, law enforcement

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~ Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words Interview with Mel Gough ~

How much research do you do when writing a story and what are the best sources you’ve found for giving an authentic voice to your characters?

I like to write about medical issues, so I do a lot of research on that. I’ve got a basic understanding of medicine because I started a degree course in biomedical studies. I can usually pick out a topic I want to explore based on my previous knowledge, and then I go and read up on in in detail. Usually I use the internet, in particular to find out about medicines. I use places like WebMD, drugs.com and the NHS website. I like to write about people who are degree-educated, a little bit intellectual, and bookish. Though I step outside that comfort zone with relish: Donnie, in particular, is very much not like that, yet I still love writing him.

Because I prefer writing about Americans, there’s a very real ‘voice’ challenge. I try and watch TV programs and films that are set in the area of the US my stories are set. For ‘A World Apart’ it’s of course perfect that I’m rewatching The Walking Dead whenever I can! Right now I’m watching The Wire and Law & Order, because one of my characters in the book I’m writing is am NYPD cop originally from Baltimore.

What’s harder, naming your characters, creating the title for your book or the cover design process?

I don’t really like making up titles. I love the design process (basically me telling someone else what to do lol). And character names are fun. There are great tools to make silly names with.

How do you answer the question “Oh, you’re an author…what do you write?”

I tell people I write gay romance. If they want to hear more, then I don’t hold back. I’ve decided that I can talk openly about what kind of books I write since I’m very lucky to live in a very liberal, progressive place where LGBTQI issues are topics anyway. And I talk about fanfiction, too. The stigma has mostly disappeared over the last few years.

Synopsis

Ben Griers is the darling of Corinth Georgia’s Police Department—intelligent, handsome, and hardworking. Thanks to his beautiful wife and clever daughter, Ben’s family is the envy of the town. Yet desperate unhappiness is hiding just below the surface.

When Donnie Saunders, a deadbeat redneck with a temper, is brought to the Corinth PD as a suspect in a hit-and-run, Ben finds himself surprisingly intrigued by the man. He quickly establishes Donnie’s innocence but can’t shake the feeling that Donnie is hiding something. When they unexpectedly encounter each other again at an AA meeting in Atlanta, sparks begin to fly.

With his marriage on the verge of collapse, Ben is grateful for the other man’s affection. But he is soon struggling to help an increasingly vulnerable Donnie, while at the same time having to deal with the upheaval in his own life. Ben eventually realizes that they cannot achieve happiness together unless they confront their darkest secrets.

Excerpt

A World Apart
Mel Gough © 2017
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One

“What have we got, Lou?” Ben asked as he stepped up to the reception desk at Corinth Police Department. He glanced at a handcuffed man sitting on a nearby bench and staring determinately down at the scuffed linoleum floor. The man’s strawberry-blond hair was disheveled, falling low over his forehead and brushing his reddish eyelashes as his eyes flicked up nervously at Ben. He looked to be in his mid-thirties. One knee was jiggling nervously, and his jaw worked as if he was biting the inside of his mouth repeatedly.

“That guy was driving the vehicle involved in the hit-and-run yesterday,” Lou, the gray-haired desk clerk, said, jerking his thumb at the man on the bench. “Browne and O’Donnell brought him in. They’re with the captain.”

Just that moment, the door to the inner sanctum of the station opened, and Jason Browne strode out of Captain Buckley’s office. The sleeves of his uniform were rolled up as usual, to show off his muscular, tanned arms.

“How was court, brother?” Jason sounded cheerful, but his gray eyes were cold. In Ben’s partner and best friend since high school, that was never a good combination. Ben gave Jason a long look, then shrugged.

“As expected.” He didn’t want to think about the peculiar effect the defendant’s words had had on him, and he sure as hell wasn’t going to discuss it in front of a suspect, or Lou.

“You missed all the excitement.” Jason gestured toward the handcuffed man, who was staring at the floor again. “Saunders here knows some pretty colorful language, and he was none too happy to accompany us, neither.”

“Hence the handcuffs?” Ben asked drily.

Jason nodded, smirking.

“Wasn’t me that hit that kid,” Saunders suddenly muttered, his dark voice shaking slightly with suppressed anger. “Told y’all I wasn’t in town.”

Jason sighed, folding his arms across his chest with exaggerated impatience. “And I told you this: We got witnesses placing you at the scene, smart-ass. It’s your word against theirs. Who’re we gonna believe, some deadbeat, or the boy’s mother?”

Ben frowned at his partner. They had been in the radio car on their usual route the day before when the call about a hit-and-run near Corinth High had come over dispatch. O’Donnell and Myers, the department’s other two sergeants, had been closest and responded to the call. Last night, back at the station, O’Donnell had told them that the boy had a broken leg from being flung off his bike, but that he would undoubtedly survive. There really was no need for Jason to be so aggressive about the issue.

Saunders suddenly sat up straight on the bench, glaring at Jason. “It wasn’t me! Why’re ya not listenin’?” His dark blue eyes were wide with fury.

Ben, knowing Jason’s thought processes and impulses nearly as well as his own, stepped in his partner’s way. Gaze fixed on his friend, he said loud enough for Lou and any bystanders to hear, “Why don’t you and I take Mr. Saunders through to the interrogation room for a statement?” He put special emphasis on the last words, hoping Jason would get his meaning: Anything other than a polite request for an official statement from the suspect would be out of order at this point.

Taking Jason’s reluctant jerk of the head as assent, Ben turned around, intending to escort Saunders to the interrogation room. But as soon as his back was turned, Jason stepped nimbly around him and grabbed the man hard by the upper arm.

Saunders flinched, but Jason’s grip on him was like a vise. Saunders’s eyes met Ben’s, and there was pure animal fear in them, as well as something Ben couldn’t quite place. Anguish, perhaps?

He stepped up close behind Jason. “If you dislocate his shoulder there’ll be an awful lot of paperwork to fill in for both of us, brother.” Ben kept his voice quiet and even, but Jason knew him well enough to detect the steely undertone. After a moment, Jason huffed, then let go of Saunders and took a step back. There were finger-shaped marks on Saunders’s well-defined bicep, just below the rolled-up sleeve.

Now Ben stepped forward, and Saunders looked at him. He was still breathing fast, but the fear was beginning to fade from the indigo blue eyes.

Ben motioned at Saunders to stand, then pointed down the corridor. “Would you come this way, please?”

Good cop, bad cop. Ben really hated playing this game, but Jason had left him no choice. Saunders got up. He was no taller than Ben, who just about scraped five foot ten. Jason towered over them both, still glowering. Saunders gave him a quick, disgusted look, then preceded Ben down the dreary-gray hallway, handcuffed arms held stiffly behind him. As Ben followed, he noticed that Saunders’s shoulders were unusually broad for a man his height.

At the door to the interrogation room, Ben let Jason draw ahead. He followed the two men inside and closed the door. Jason approached Saunders, who had backed up against the one-way mirror.

“Turn around,” Jason said gruffly.

Saunders ignored him and stared straight at the bottle-green linoleum floor. Ben spoke before Jason could get angry again. “Sir, the sergeant will move the handcuffs to the front so you can sit down more comfortably.” The indigo blue eyes that met Ben’s were still full of mistrust, but after a moment, they softened and Saunders turned obediently.

“Sit,” Jason said when he had shackled Saunders’s arms again in the front. Saunders sat down heavily in the single chair on one side of the square floor-bolted table. Ben and Jason took the two chairs opposite.

Leaning forward, Ben waited until he had the suspect’s attention. “Do you mind if we record this conversation?”

“Yer arresting me?” The narrow blue eyes were suspicious again, but Saunders sounded more wary than belligerent. And he completely ignored Jason, his gaze never wavering from Ben.

“No, we’re not,” Ben said quietly. “But having a record of what we talk about will aid your cause.”

Saunders chewed this over, trying to decide whether Ben was telling the truth. Eventually he gave a small shrug.

“Sir,” Ben said. “Please state for the protocol: Do you mind if we record this conversation?” Forcing the police procedural on this man was surprisingly distressing. Saunders gave him a pained look.

“Go ‘head.”

Jason pressed the digital recorder button on the small panel in the tabletop to his right. But it was Ben who spoke again. When they interrogated a suspect together, Ben usually started off the interview. His milder, calmer demeanor tended to relax the atmosphere better than Jason’s hot temper. For now, Jason seemed to have gotten all his anger out by playing scary cop in front of Lou and sat quietly back in his chair.

“Statement protocol, September twenty-second, eleven forty-five a.m. Officers present: Sergeant Ben Griers and Sergeant Jason Browne.” Ben nodded at the suspect. “Please state your full name for the record, sir.”

“Donnie Saunders.” The man’s voice was quiet, and he sounded tired.

Ben waited for Saunders to look at him again, and nodded his thanks. Then he glanced at Jason, eyebrows raised, reminding his partner with his most level stare to act appropriately. “Officer Browne will now ask you a few questions.”

“Alright,” Jason said. Ben took this as the opening of the interview and an affirmation that he would stay calm. “Mr. Saunders, your pickup truck was seen driving away after hitting Dennis Mallory on his bike while he was riding home after school yesterday afternoon at about three thirty p.m.”

“I told y’all three times now, it wasn’t me. Why is it that ya can’t hear me?” Saunders’s voice had risen again in volume, but there was a strange quiver in it, too. He leaned back in his chair as far as he could, regarding Jason from eyes narrowed in anger.

Before Jason, who looked ready to explode again, could respond, Ben said quickly, “Let’s rephrase the question: Sir, where were you yesterday at three thirty p.m.?”

Saunders didn’t immediately reply. His eyes darted nervously around the room, never meeting Ben’s, and ignoring Jason completely. Then they settled on the shackled, tightly folded hands in his lap.

Is he trying to come up with a lie?

Eventually, Saunders said, “Was in Atlanta. Had an appointment at the DFCS.” His voice was very quiet, and he didn’t look up. It didn’t sound like a lie, but a truth the man was reluctant to share.

Ben decided not to press for details. It was none of his business why the guy had been summoned to the Division of Family and Children Services. As long as he could determine that Saunders had been forty miles away from the scene of the hit-and-run, he had done his job.

“I need to know who you were there to see,” Ben said just as quietly, and wasn’t surprised when his gaze was met with one of suspicion again. He added in explanation, “A phone call to the person you had the appointment with will clear you.”

Saunders gave a small jerk of the head in understanding. “Stacy Miller.”

“Thank you.” Ben looked at Jason, considering his options. Could he leave these two alone for a few minutes? His partner’s steely gaze never wavered from Saunders, and Ben could feel Jason’s tension. But if he told Jason to make the phone call, would he try very hard to get at the truth? No, Ben would have to call the DFCS himself. He’d just be really quick about it.

“Jason, stay with Mr. Saunders. I’m going to call Ms. Miller.”

Not waiting for Jason’s acknowledgment, or asking permission from Saunders to make the call on his behalf, Ben got up and left the room. He went back to the front desk. “Lou, find me the number for Atlanta DFCS.”

The desk clerk looked grumpy for a moment but then started hacking away at his keyboard without a word. Finally he picked up the phone, dialed a number, and held the receiver out to Ben.

“DFCS switchboard,” a tinny voice announced in Ben’s ear. “How can I help?”

“Stacy Miller, please,” Ben said, ignoring Lou, who was trying hard to look like he wasn’t listening in.

“Hold the line.”

Ben half turned away while he listened to the annoying phone queue music. After a few moments, there was a click and a crisp voice said, “Medicaid assessment team. How can I help you?”

“Is this Stacy Miller?”

“It is. Who’s asking?”

“Ms. Miller, this is Sergeant Ben Griers, Corinth PD. Did a man by the name of Donnie Saunders have an appointment with you yesterday afternoon?” Ben mentally crossed his fingers that the mention of his rank would suffice to elicit this piece of fairly innocuous information. Legally, he had no leg to stand on, but his experience had taught him that a courteous yet firm manner often got you surprisingly far.

And his experience held true again. After only a moment, the woman on the other end said, “Yes, he did.”

“And he attended?”

“Yes.”

“What time was his appointment?”

“Three p.m. But we were running late, so I think I started with him around three fifteen.”

“And how long was he there for?”

“About forty-five minutes. Officer, is Mr. Saunders alright?”

That was a surprising question. State employees usually had no time or interest to worry about the hundreds of people that passed by their desks every week. But then, here Ben was himself, trying to help Saunders as well, as quickly and with as little delay as possible. Maybe some of us do still care.

“He’s fine. Ma’am, if I were to check your office’s visitor register for yesterday, would the record back up your statement?”

“It would,” Ms. Miller said composedly. “And you’d find a parking permit in Mr. Saunders’s name as well. We don’t have much space out front, so clients get timed permits for the parking lot at the back.”

That was more than good enough for Ben. “Thank you for your time, ma’am.”

“You’re welcome, Officer. Have a good day.”

“And you.”

Ben put the phone down, nodded at Lou, and swiftly turned his back before the desk clerk could make a comment or ask any questions.

As he walked down the corridor toward the interrogation room, Ben’s mind was on the phone call, even as he kept telling himself that, beyond establishing a suspect’s alibi, what he had just learned was none of his business. But he couldn’t help wondering about it. Why had Saunders gone to the Medicaid office? He didn’t look ill. Of course, there were a dozen possible reasons. A sick family member. An old injury that no insurance would cover. Or even trying to get at some extra state assistance for no good reason at all. None of this was relevant to the case, and as he reached the interrogation room, Ben tried his best to push the thoughts from his mind.

He opened the door but didn’t rejoin the other two at the table. “Mr. Saunders, your alibi for yesterday afternoon was confirmed by Ms. Miller. You’re free to leave.”

Jason looked around at Ben, scowling. Ben ignored his partner and kept his eyes on Saunders, who, after a fleeting look of surprise, raised his shackled wrists. “Ya gonna let me keep them as a souvenir?”

Surprisingly, he didn’t sound aggrieved. Ben had been prepared for righteous indignation and anger, and wouldn’t have blamed the man for it. But Saunders just sat there, looking kind of tired and defeated. He held his arms out without comment as Jason leaned over with the handcuff keys. Once he was free, Saunders got up and, without a glance at Jason, walked toward the door. When he drew level with Ben, he stopped, eyes on the floor in front of him.

“Thanks,” he muttered quietly, then strode out of the room.

Ben glanced after Saunders as the man continued down the hall, shoulders hitched, face averted from the people milling around the lobby. A strange sensation rose up in him. Was it pity? He tried to tell himself that it was only natural to take an interest, feel something, after what Jason had put this man through without a single good reason.

And for Ben, the whole thing wasn’t over yet. Turning to his partner with a scowl, he asked, “Why were you so sure it was him? You practically had him convicted already.”

Jason shrugged. “Witness said they saw a dark brown pickup, same as Saunders has. And today, he was just sort of hanging around the gas station on Fullerton. Thought we should check him out.”

“Did you have anything else to go on? Description of the driver, partial number plate, anything?”

“Nope.”

Jason sounded smug, and Ben had to take a deep breath to keep his voice level. “Did he maybe behave in a suspicious manner?”

“Maybe,” Jason agreed as he got up. In Jason-speak that meant: Just didn’t like the look of the dude.

Jason sometimes got like this; he was all guts and instinct and reaction. That had its uses in policing, too, and Ben usually made excuses for his friend’s hot-headedness, because it mostly came from the right place in his heart. But somehow, this time he couldn’t. Maybe it had happened one time too many. Or maybe, because this time Jason’s ire had focused on a completely innocent party, he’d simply rubbed Ben the wrong way.

As he followed Jason out of the room, Ben hissed, “Since this was your party, brother, you can write it up for the captain as well, alright?” This would annoy Jason more than anything. He hated writing reports.

Without another word, Ben strode past the other man and out into the parking lot. He needed a moment to calm down or else he might well punch his partner and best friend in the face before the day was done.

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Meet the Author

Mel was born in Germany, where she spent the first twenty-six years of her life (with a one-year stint in Los Angeles). She has always been fascinated by cultures and human interaction, and got a Masters in Social Anthropology. After finishing university she moved to London, where she has now lived for ten years.

If you were to ask her parents what Mel enjoyed the most since the age of six, they would undoubtedly say “Reading!” She would take fifteen books on a three-week beach holiday, and then read all her mom’s books once she’d devoured her own midway through week two.

Back home in her mom’s attic there’s a box full of journals with stories Mel wrote when she was in her early teens. None of the stories are finished, or any good. She has told herself bedtime stories as far back as she can remember.

In her day job, Mel works for an NGO as operations manager. No other city is quite like London, and Mel loves her city. The hustle and bustle still amaze and thrill her even after all these years. When not reading, writing or going to the theater, Mel spends her time with her long-time boyfriend, discussing science or poking fun at each other.

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Release Blitz for Fate Heats Things Up by Sarah Hadley Brook (excerpt and giveaway)

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Title:  Fate Heats Things Up

Author: Sarah Hadley Brook

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: September 18, 2017

Heat Level: 4 – Lots of Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 15600

Genre: Contemporary, NineStar Press, LGBT, bartenders, firemen, contemporary

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Synopsis

Scott Dwyer meets hot, new fireman Adrian Campbell in an embarrassing incident one evening and can’t stop thinking about him. While bartending at the local hangout for Station 39, he sees Adrian with this colleagues about once a week. He thinks Adrian might be interested in him, too, but every time they find a chance to talk, something gets in their way.

When rash of arson fires begins the same week Adrian starts at the station, the rumors fly about whether or not he is responsible for them.

Things are heating up in town, but will they heat up between the two men as well? Will Fate ever allow them to be together?

Excerpt

Fate Heats Things Up
Sarah Hadley Brook © 2017
All Rights Reserved

Tonight has to be the night, Scott swore to himself as he wiped down the long wooden bar top and snuck a glance at the entrance once more. He should have been here by now.

A strong hand clapped him on the shoulder, startling him out of his thoughts.

“You wouldn’t by any chance be looking for Adrian, would you?”

Scott narrowed his eyes and tried his best to glare at his boss, but when Tony only laughed, he knew he had failed miserably. He shrugged and tried to ignore the blush he knew was spreading across his face. “Why would you think that?” he asked, attempting to sound blasé.

“I’ve got eyes, don’t I, kid?” Tony gave Scott’s shoulder a quick squeeze before letting go. “You’ve been mooning over that man for the last month.”

Scott swallowed hard and silently chastised himself. He had been so sure he’d hidden his crush from everyone. Apparently not.

The bell over the door chimed, and before he could stop himself, he looked over at the double glass entry doors. His hope was short-lived, though, because it wasn’t Adrian. The chuckle he heard irked him, and he spun around to face his boss.

“For your information, Tony, I had already decided to do something about it tonight,” he huffed, irritation gnawing at him.

“And what would that something be?”

“I’m going to ask him out,” Scott admitted, pinning his gaze on Tony, just daring him to tease him again.

“Well, all right then! It’s about time, kid,” Tony proclaimed and grinned before heading toward the back room.

Scott couldn’t help it. He smiled back, shaking his head. When he’d first started working at the bar, it had irritated him that Tony called him a kid. He was twenty-five years old, for Pete’s sake. By the time he had a few days at Smokey’s under his belt, he’d realized that Tony referred to pretty much everyone under the age of thirty as a kid, so he’d stopped taking it personally.

He agreed with his boss—it was definitely time to do something about Adrian Campbell, and Scott was going to put it all out on the line this very night, even if the thought scared the shit out of him. Adrian should be arriving with his group of friends any second, just as he had been doing for the last few weeks. Scott felt a flutter in his stomach and tried to shake away the nerves by getting back to work. The bar would be filled with customers soon, and he still had to get some things done. The last thing he needed was to give in to his anxiety.

Of course, if the past was any indicator, he would be smart to worry. From the very first time he’d met Adrian, something had always seemed to prevent them from getting together.

That night, Scott had left a friend’s house and was heading home in his piece-of-shit car, as he lovingly referred to his 1989 Acura. It was late and he was on a dark, narrow, and winding two-lane road with no streetlights. Even the nearly full moon had been partially hidden behind some clouds. Dense woods butted up to the road on both sides for miles and oversized branches bowed out over the cars.

As he turned into another sharp curve, his tire rolled over something. His car lurched and the sound of dragging metal on concrete hissed out into the dark.

What the hell is that? He’d pulled his foot off the gas and turned his music down. He’d checked his rearview mirror and gasped at what he saw. Three massive shapes were barreling toward his car. The brake light cast a red glow on the moving figures, and his mind instantly flashed to all the horror movies he had watched over the years.

“Shit!”

He looked around frantically and realized there was nothing to do but floor it. He had no idea who they were or why the maniacs were chasing him in the dark, but he wasn’t about to stick around and find out. When he stepped on the gas, the screeching sound grew louder and his car jerked hard, just before a loud crunching noise echoed into the night. Crap! Was that my tire?

He’d frozen, unsure what to do. Did he try to keep driving? Should he continue on or pull over? He could hear his father’s voice in his head lecturing him on how he’d destroyed his car by not stopping. That did it. Scott had been more terrified of what his father would say than the chance of being murdered, and he pulled over, even though he knew it was probably the most idiotic thing he had ever done in his life. In any horror movie, this would be when the audience screamed at him to get the hell out of there, but it didn’t change his mind. As he set the brake, he glanced in the mirror again. The figures had gained ground on him and by this time were easier to see. All three appeared to be wearing matching long coats and boots, like a uniform of some kind. There was something familiar about them. One more glance and his heart dropped to his stomach.

Fuck! They were firemen and they looked furious. What the hell was going on? Relieved they weren’t three crazy escaped convicts that were roaming the woods looking for someone to kill, he rolled his window down. They were obviously pissed, but he was fairly certain he wouldn’t be murdered.

“Fucking lunatic!”

“Do you have any idea what you just did?”

Hmm. He reconsidered his escaped convicts theory. They weren’t making any sense. Scott tried to speak, but two of them just wouldn’t let him get a word in. They were screaming at him through the window while the third guy was crouching next to his front tire.

“All right, I’ve got it.” The guy by the tire stood up with something in his hand. “Here, Hernandez, take this back to the fire and see what you can do with it.”

Scott looked at the two men at his window and swallowed hard. “Um, did he say fire?”

“Yeah, you idiot! You ran over a coupling and dragged the damn fire hose down the road and out of our hands! Tore it off the fucking hose!”

“A what? I don’t understand,” Scott said, bewildered. He raked his fingers through his hair and shifted uncomfortably in his seat as he darted his eyes between the two angry men. “What did I do again?”

Apparently, they were done screaming because they just glared at him.

“Guys, go on. I’ll catch up with you in a minute. I need to get some information for our report.”

Scott slid his gaze over to the third man again. Even in the dark, it was easy to see he was good-looking. Tall. Scott liked tall men.

The other two turned to leave.

“Fucking idiot. Could have killed someone,” Hernandez muttered.

Scott was mortified and started to shake. “I’m…I’m so sorry,” he said as he climbed out of his car and moved to talk with the only man still there. “How did I…I mean…fuck, I don’t know what I mean.” He ran his hands through his shaggy blond hair. “I don’t even know what a…what did he call it?”

“A coupling,” the fireman explained, his deep voice calm and reassuring. “It connects two hoses together when we need to lengthen the line. The house we’re working on is really far off the road.”

“Oh my God, is there anyone in it? Shit, what if someone dies because of me?” Scott felt sick and doubled over, fighting the urge to vomit. A full-blown panic attack was brewing up inside him.

“Hey, it’s fine.” The fireman moved closer and put his hand on the small of Scott’s back. “It’s an abandoned house. A really old, ramshackle house. Nobody lives there, so don’t worry. Just breathe through it. You didn’t hurt anyone. Hell, to be honest, this was as much our fault as yours.”

The fireman began to rub his large hand in small circles on his back, calming him down and at the same time sending warmth spreading through him. “What do you mean?” he whispered.

“I mean that Sanders shouldn’t have hooked up the lines in the street. We pulled the firetruck pretty far off the road and we hadn’t set out cones or lights around the area yet. But I’m new here, so I can’t really tell him he was wrong. For some reason, he left it there and went to check on the hydrant and then you hit it and dragged it down the damn road!” He chuckled a little as he drew his hand away from Scott’s back. “Shit. Never seen that happen before.”

Scott cleared his throat and pulled himself to a standing position, leaning his hip against his car.

“You feeling better?”

Scott nodded and started to reply, but as soon as their gazes met, his breath hitched in his throat. Shit. The man was gorgeous. Deep chocolate-brown eyes stared back at him and Scott couldn’t tear himself away.

“I’m Adrian. Adrian Campbell,” he said as he offered a hand to Scott.

He swallowed hard and shook Adrian’s hand. “Scott Dwyer.” Electricity jolted through his body as if he had touched a live wire, and Scott yanked his hand back.

Adrian quirked an eyebrow at him but kept silent.

“Um, yeah. I should be going. Thanks for…well, thanks. Sorry about the…the hose thing,” Scott stammered as he opened his door. “Wait…should I drive my car?”

“Yeah, the tire’s fine. The coupling and hose were dragged but then it looks like the coupling banged around in the wheel well for a bit.”

“Okay. Thanks. I don’t know a lot about mechanical things,” Scott admitted as he turned back to his car.

“Hey, Scott?”

“Yeah?” Scott looked at Adrian.

“Do you live or work around town?”

Scott smiled tentatively. Why was he asking? Could Adrian be attracted to him? “Yeah, actually both. I have an apartment in the center of town—over Gina’s Pizza Oven. And I bartend at Smokey’s Bar & Grill.”

“Smokey’s? The guys were telling me about that place. Said they all hang out there pretty often.”

“Yeah, they do. It’s sort of Station 39’s hangout. The owner, Tony, used to be a fireman.”

“Campbell! Get your ass over here!”

Adrian grinned. “Guess they need me. The fire was almost completely out by the time you dragged the hose, but I better get going. See you around, Scott.”

Damn. Scott tried to hide his disappointment as he nodded and slid into his seat. He checked his rearview mirror and was frustrated that he couldn’t see Adrian. Either it was too dark or he had moved too far out of vision. He shook his head and tried to ignore his intense longing to have Adrian touch him again. It had struck him that maybe fate had brought them together. As he drove off that night, he wondered how soon he would see Adrian again. He’d never really believed in fate before, but something told Scott it wouldn’t be long before they connected again.

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Meet the Author

Sarah Hadley Brook lives smack-dab in the middle of the Heartland and is the mother of two wonderful young men, as well as two cats. During the day, she works in the non-profit world, but reserves evenings for her hobby-turned-passion of writing, letting the characters she conjures up in her mind take the lead and show her where the story will go. When not working or writing, she can be found reading, working on dollhouses, trying her hand at new recipes, or watching old movies and musicals. In her ideal world, Christmas would come at least twice a year, Rock Hudson and Doris Day would have co-starred in more than three movies, and chocolate would be a daily necessity to live. She dreams of traveling to Scotland some day and visiting the places her ancestors lived. Sarah believes in “Happily Ever After” and strives to ensure her characters find their own happiness in love and life.

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