A MelanieM Review: We Still Live by Sara Dobie Bauer

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Running from a scandal that ruined his life, Isaac Twain accepts a teaching position at Hambden University where, three months prior, Professor John Conlon stopped a campus nightmare by stepping in front of an active shooter.

When John and Isaac become faculty advisors for the school’s literary magazine, their professional relationship evolves. Despite the strict code of conduct forbidding faculty fraternization, they delve into a secret affair—until Simon arrives.

Isaac’s violent ex threatens not only their careers, but also John’s life. His PTSD triggered, John must come to terms with that bloody day on College Green while Isaac must accept the heartbreak his secrets have wrought.

***WE STILL LIVE is a standalone M/M friends-to-lovers romance featuring detailed adult content, graphic violence, hurt/comfort, and mental illness.

What an incredible story! Full of current, tough topics and damaged characters, elements  guaranteed to make one think, flinch, and often weep, as well as a romance that encapsulates some of the best and yes, worst that love can bring out in us.  In short, We Still Live by Sara Dobie Bauer is an amazing work of contemporary fiction, romance fiction is just a part of that.

Domestic shootings, whether it is at schools, workplaces,malls, or events, has, unthinkingly and horrifically, become part of our lives.  Here in We Still Live, author Sara Dobie Bauer exams what it means to have survived one of those shootings ,not just the main character’s trauma ,but that of an entire campus’. Bauer’s vivid descriptions of a darkness that hangs  heavy over the town, campus, and people is so real that it creeps over the reader page by page until you feel it just as Isaac must.  We are coming into the situation just as he is, almost an interloper, an outsider who slowly starts to become part of their neverending landscape of pain, loss, and regret.

I can’t begin to find the words as to how beautifully written this story is.  Or how achingly subtle and fragile her characters.   Both in their strengths and their vulnerabilities.

The true measure of the damage done to Professor John Conlon is only slowly revealed here, layers peeled away as core truths come to the surface.  And not just for John.  Because Isaac has his own demons he has brought to the campus.  Ones just as current today, given the rising conservative values and his own religious background.  Bauer has developed these themes and woven them flawlessly into her narrative and romance, bringing me to tears multiple times as well as to laughter.

It’s not just the main characters that are so well developed but all of them, from those with minor parts to those with larger supporting roles like Tommy, John’s best friend professor who lived through the shooting too.   This is a story that will stay with you, lines that will haunt you, from a dedication in a Student literary magazine to the last lines of this novel which I will leave for the reader to read for themselves.

It’s life affirming as well as wrenching.  It’s so damn real.  It will be on my Best of 2019 list this year.

Cover art by Natasha Snow,  Honestly I expect more from this artist than a bunch of trees (while I get the symbolism), especially with this exceptional book as inspiration. Meh.  Feels like a stock photo you can purchase anywhere.

Buy Links

NineStar Press  |   Amazon UK  |  Amazon US  |  Paperback 

 

Book Details:

Kindle Edition, 1st edition, 233 pages
Published December 9th 2019 by NineStar Press (first published December 4th 2019)
Original Title We Still Live
ASINB082BJDX2P
Edition Language English

Join Us for the Blog Tour with Excerpt for We Still Live by Sara Dobie Bauer

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BLOG TOUR

Book Title: We Still Live

Author: Sara Dobie Bauer

Publisher: NineStar Press

Cover Artist: Natasha Snow

Release Date: December 9, 2019

Genre: Contemporary M/M Romance

Tropes: Friends to lovers, hurt/comfort

Themes: Coming out, depression, anxiety, PTSD/post-traumatic stress, mental illness

Heat Rating:  4 flames   

Length: 62 000 words

It is a standalone book.

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Buy Links

NineStar Press  |   Amazon UK  |  Amazon US  |  Paperback 

 

To escape the past, accept it.

Blurb 

Running from a scandal that ruined his life, Isaac Twain accepts a teaching position at Hambden University where, three months prior, Professor John Conlon stopped a campus nightmare by stepping in front of an active shooter.

When John and Isaac become faculty advisors for the school’s literary magazine, their professional relationship evolves. Despite the strict code of conduct forbidding faculty fraternization, they delve into a secret affair—until Simon arrives.

Isaac’s violent ex threatens not only their careers, but also John’s life. His PTSD triggered, John must come to terms with that bloody day on College Green while Isaac must accept the heartbreak his secrets have wrought.

***WE STILL LIVE is a standalone M/M friends-to-lovers romance featuring detailed adult content, graphic violence, hurt/comfort, and mental illness.***

 

 

Excerpt

Close as they were to the foyer, Isaac was the first to notice the front door opening. A student walked inside. The kid dragged a heavy-looking suitcase behind him. Dressed as he was in a slim-fitting button-down, Isaac immediately assumed preppy, although that assumption altered and changed when taking into account the tight black jeans, Converse sneakers, and shaggy hair the color of caramel and chocolate—a mass of waves and curls that fell down the back of his neck but not quite to his shoulders. 

The kid pushed his hair out of the way and looked up, eyes finding Isaac and flashing a moment of panicked nonrecognition before seeing Tommy.

“Um.” Isaac pointed toward the new arrival.

Tommy turned and shouted, “John! My man!”

Not a student, then.

Tommy wrapped John in a hug that actually lifted his feet off the ground. Isaac imagined it wouldn’t be difficult. The new guy might have been average height, but he was gangly, skin and bones. 

Tommy ruffled his hair. “Have you lost weight?”

John grumbled and scratched his face with his middle finger. “What are you freeloaders doing in my house?” His voice was surprisingly resonant for someone Isaac considered “pretty.” At John’s pronouncement, crows of approval rang from every direction.

“Come meet Isaac,” Tommy said.

John wiped his palms on his jeans before reaching out to shake, and Isaac’s large hand dwarfed his. 

“Isaac Twain is the newest addition to our special corner of Hambden hell. Isaac, this is John Conlon.”

John brushed more hair out of his face. “Nice to—”

“John Conlon?”

John and Tommy froze.

Isaac jerked his thumb over his shoulder. “The books on the shelf. Those are yours?”

John’s face, immobile in what looked like dread a moment before, melted into relief, tinged with a bit of blush. “Oh, yeah. You’ve read?”

“No, but I should. You’ve published a lot of books. You must be good.”

John’s nose wrinkled, and he looked away. 

Tommy shook him by the shoulders. “John is an amazing writer. He had a story published in The New Yorker when he was, like, five. Are you working on anything right now?”

John glanced at the bookshelf. “Not lately.”

“You need a drink,” Tommy said.

John’s eyes widened on a big breath. “God, yes, I do.”

“Nice to meet you,” Isaac said, but John just nodded quickly, smile thin, before allowing himself to be herded farther into the house toward the sound of quiet laughter and clinking bottles.

Isaac felt it then—an outsider’s emptiness. He became a nervous-looking coat rack in the corner, a terrified tree waiting for the ax. As the party doubled in auditory volume, he bemoaned his spilled wine. Was it okay for him to leave? It wasn’t like he was supposed to make a speech. He was only there because he figured it was the easiest way to meet everyone before the first official faculty meeting, but he’d been standing around too long. He wanted to run.

Out of curiosity, he reopened John’s book from earlier and read the front flap. It was a coming-of-age story about a gay kid in the Midwest. He flipped to the back, and a picture of John stared back at him. He’d assumed the guy was tired when they first met, but no; apparently, John had perpetual bedroom eyes, and his hair was always an artful mess. He skimmed…creative writing professor at Hambden University…gay rights activist…Converse-wearer and “old-people music” enthusiast.

All arrows pointed to John’s probable sexual preference for men. A spark of interest flickered but quickly went out. True, John Conlon was what most people would consider beautiful, but he wasn’t Isaac’s type. John was the kind of man butch guys fought over in gay clubs, but he was too small for Isaac, too fragile-looking, girly. After all he’d been through, the last thing Isaac wanted was someone feminine.

A thin figure ducked into the library and literally hid against the doorframe. He took a long drink of something brown and leaned his head back. “It’s not good when you want to hide in your own house.”

“Library is the best place for it,” Isaac said.

John kicked away from the wall. “Tommy mentioned you just moved here? I’ve been in Lothos forever, so if you need anything…” He examined Isaac from his brown boat shoes to the top of his blond head. John’s large eyes, dark green, seemed bottomless—drowning pools of intellect and soul—only slightly overshadowed by his thick eyebrows.

 

About the Author  

Sara Dobie Bauer is a bestselling author, model, and mental health / LGBTQ advocate with a creative writing degree from Ohio University. She lives with her hottie husband and two precious pups in Northeast Ohio, although she’d really like to live in a Tim Burton film. She is author of the paranormal rom-com Bite Somebody series and Escape Trilogy.

 

Photo credit: Bill Thornhill

 

Author Links

Blog/Website  |  Facebook  |  Private Facebook Group

Twitter  |  Instagram  |  Newsletter Sign-up  |  BookBub

 

 

Follow the tour and check out the other blog posts and reviews here

 

Hosted by Gay Book Promotions

 

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

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Title: Grimmer Intentions

Series: Tales from the Grim, Book Two

Author: Jodi Hutchins

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: December 9, 2019

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Female/Female

Length: 91100

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

Add to Goodreads

Synopsis

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

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

Excerpt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luis followed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Purchase

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

Meet the Author

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

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

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Rating: 3.25 stars out of 5

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

What a shame.

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

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

Cover art by Natasha Snow is eye catching and dramatic.

Sales Links:  NineStar Press | Amazon

Book Details:

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

Love SciFy Fantasy? Join in the Blog Tour for A Broken Winter by Kale Knight (Exclusive Excerpt and Giveaway)

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Title: A Broken Winter

Author: Kale Night

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: November 25, 2019

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 81000

Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy, LGBT, Fantasy, futuristic, hurt/comfort, soul mates, re-incarnation, political terrorism, prison, religious extremism, scientist

Add to Goodreads

Synopsis

General Auryn Tyrus is tired of serving an emperor who turns political dissidents into expensive steak and claims to have swallowed Ankari’s sun. He is fed up with pretending not to know Emperor Haken is buying biological weapons and collecting taxes for a war that doesn’t exist. Auryn’s role in the entire mirage leads him to drastic choices, but unexpected news halts his plans. Seven-year-old Keita Kaneko, the son of a former lover, is captured by the emperor’s special forces. Auryn secretly intervenes and spares Keita from execution.

Keita changes everything. Instead of feeling helpless and oppressed by a self-proclaimed living god, Auryn works to expose the emperor as a fraud. But he knows exactly will happen if he’s discovered, and the extent of Emperor Haken’s lies is worse than anticipated. If Auryn expects anyone to believe the truth, he’s going to need proof. And a lot of help.

I’m sharing an exclusive excerpt of a deleted scene from A Broken Winter. The plot of A Broken Winter is rather complex and over the years I’ve spent working on the novel I’ve made a concentrated effort to reduce the complexity wherever possible. This scene got cut because I took out the idea of Tiernan being “tagged” (implanted with an enchanted chip of crystal) for the sake of simplicity. It’s unfortunate, because I like the interaction between Tiernan and Ari. Tiernan is a wounded paladin who’s traumatized by his previous mission and Ari is a Magus who takes an interest in helping him.

Excerpt

Exclusive Excerpt:

Tiernan couldn’t remember the last time he’d had company. He couldn’t think of anyone whose company was a favourable alternative to his own. Not since Cappa died.

  “You live here alone?” asked Ari, gazing around the large three story house. “My father’s a carpenter. He’d love this house.” It was constructed from wood rather than stone, unlike most other dwellings of comparable size; Tiernan’s mother liked the aesthetics of exposed wood grains and parallel beams. To her it felt warmer, more welcoming, and his father leapt at the opportunity to please her.

“It’s a lot of room for one person, but …” Tiernan shrugged. “I don’t know. It works.”

“You don’t get lonely?”

“No. I’m used to living alone. I don’t spend a lot of time around other people, unless I have to. Most people make me uncomfortable.”

“Do I make you uncomfortable?” asked Ari, hands delving into the depths of his pockets, the white fabric of his robes standing stark against the reddish brown undertone of his skin.

“No.”

Ari gestured towards a velvet-upholstered stool. “Have a seat. And take your shirt off, please.”

Tiernan sat. A look of brief confusion crossed his face in response to the latter part of the request, but he complied nonetheless. “Well, since you asked so nicely …”

“The most likely place for a tag is your upper back,” explained Ari, taking on a faint flush of embarrassment. 

He instinctively cringed when Ari touched him, shoulders hunching, retreating into an invisible shell.

“Sorry,” murmured Ari. His fingers curved around Tiernan’s shoulders, kneading.

Tiernan slowly withdrew from his shell, inhaling deeply. Ari’s fingers traced slow lines over his shoulders, barely grazing the surface of his skin, searching for anomalies. The movement was methodical, leaving a brief tingling sensation wherever Ari touched him.

Ari found what he was looking for close to Tiernan’s left shoulder blade. “Here. I can feel it underneath the skin.”

“Cut it out.”

“Do you have anesthetics and surgical tools lying around the house?”

“I have a sharp knife and a bottle of 80-year-old scotch.”

Ari sighed audibly. “We can go back to the hospital.”

“No, thanks. I’ve served my time there.”

Ari pressed close to him, long hair grazing his shoulder. “Stubborn,” murmured Ari. His fingers continuing to wander even with their objective accomplished, caressing Tiernan’s lower back.

Tiernan closed his eyes, envisioning Ari’s hand taking its exploration of his body elsewhere, invading his pants, capturing his cock and pumping it into submission.

Stop that. Ari doesn’t want you. You’re a source of curiosity, that’s all. Like a three-legged dog. How long do you think that’s going to last? He’ll get sick of you any day now, and he’ll disappear.

Tiernan slid off the stool with more force than expected, nearly toppling it. “I’ll be right back.” He left the room, returning with a cloth, a knife, iodine, cotton swabs, gloves, tweezers, and a bottle of scotch.

“What did you use to sterilize these?” asked Ari, eying the implements critically.

“They’re clean. Don’t worry. No need to close the wound. It’ll heal on its own.”

“What am I supposed to do, sit here and watch you bleed?”

“Sure. It would make an interesting side-show act.”

Ari put on the gloves and disinfected the site with iodine. When he went to make the incision, he hesitated.

“What’s the problem?” asked Tiernan.

“I don’t want to hurt you.”

“Give me the knife. I’ll do it.”

“The angle is all wrong; you won’t be able to get at it. I’ll be faster, and I can dull some of the pain.”

Tiernan opened the bottle of scotch and took a long swig. “So can I.”

Get on with it. The sooner he leaves, the better. Even if he did want you, you should be atoning for what you’ve done, not letting a man who should be immortalized in marble play with your dick.

Ari sliced, using an enchantment to minimise the pain. A razor thin sliver of bluish crystal became visible. He held out his free hand, a flare of energy circling each fingertip, sensing the nature of the inscription. Ari lowered his hand hastily, applying pressure to the wound. “I can’t remove it.”

“Why not?”

“It’ll kill you. There’s another incantation woven into the tag. If I try to remove it, it’ll send a jolt of electricity straight to your heart.”

“Wouldn’t want that.” Tiernan brought the bottle to his lips and drank deeply.

 

 

A Broken Winter
Kale Night © 2019
All Rights Reserved

 

 

 

Purchase

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

Meet the Author

Kale currently resides outside a small town in northern Alberta, where she works in a library. She’s an avid reader with an English degree from the University of Calgary. In her spare time Kale loves playing video games, making chain maille, watching anime, and cultivating a steadily expanding bonsai collection.

Website | Facebook | Twitter

Tour Schedule

12/2 Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

12/3 The Blogger Girls

12/4 Love Bytes

12/5 Diverse Reader

12/6 MM Good Book Reviews

12/7 Mickie B. Ashling

12/8 I Love Books and Stuff Blog

12/9 Valerie Ullmer | Romance Author

12/10 Matt Doyle Media

12/11 MM Midnight Cafe

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Into December and Our Holiday Stories. This Week at Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

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Into December and Our Holiday Stories

It’s officially December and our holiday stories, in all formats, are here for our reading and listening pleasure!    While some of us may have returned to our comfort reads this holiday season, there are plenty of wonderful new stories out there to add to your reading festive list!

One of mine this year has been Mr. Right Now by Annabeth Albert!  How I loved that sweet contemporary fake boyfriend story!  If you are in the mood for audio?  Try this one, especially if you are already a fan of RJ Scott’s Texas series.  I loved listening to Home for Christmas (Texas #9) by R.J. Scott  and Narrated by: Sean Crisden.  Barb, our Zany Old Lady, just loved Mr. Naughty List (Home for the Holidays #2) by Leta Blake while I just finished the wonderful No Place Like Home by Annabeth Jacobs (which I will review this week) and The Christmas Oaks (Laurel Holidays #1) by V.L. Locey.

Peter Cratchit’s Christmas Carol by Drew Marvin was recommended by two of our reviewers!  Not to be left out?

A Christmas Wedding by A E Ryecart
717 Miles Christmas by Sophia Soames
A Boyfriend For Christmas by Jay Northcote
Yuletide Treasure (Goddess-Blessed #3) by Eliot Grayson
Mr. Frosty Pants (Home for the Holidays #1) by Leta Blake and John Solo (Narrator)

 

Some of these stories we have reviewed already, some will be reviewed this week.  And there will be more to come.  What stories have you read or listened to that you have loved or enjoyed this holiday season?  Ones that have made your   annual  Holiday List?  Comment and let us know!

 

This Week at Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

Sunday, December 1:

  • New Release Blitz with Excerpt for Starlight (Dark Space #3) by Lisa Henry
  • Into December and Our Holiday Stories. This Week at Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

Monday, December 2:

  • Review Tour – Annabelle Jacobs – No Place Like Home
  • COVER REVEAL Rialto (Unbreakable Bonds #8) by Jocelynn Drake & Rinda Elliott
  • BLOG TOUR A Broken Winter by Kale Knight
  • A Lucy Review: Snowdrop in a Storm (Snow Globes #3) by Ava Kelly
  • A MelanieM Review : No Place Like Home by Annabelle Jacobs

Tuesday, December 3:

  • RELEASE BLITZ Stocking Stuffers, A Holiday Themed Romantic
  • Release Blitz – Eli Easton – Angels Sing
  • BLITZ Pattern for an Angel by CJane Elliott
  • An Alisa Review I’ve Got You (True-Blue #2) by Becca Seymour
  • A MelanieM Review: Boy Next Door (Hot Off the Ice #4) by A.E. Wasp

Wednesday, December 4 :

  • Release Blitz – Warrior’s Way by M.J. Calabrese
  • Release Blitz, for V.L. Locey – The Christmas Oaks
  • TOUR Becoming Us” by Becca Seymour
  • An Alisa Review Becoming Us (True-Blue #3) by Becca Seymour
  • A MelanieM Review: Boys of Summer (Hot Off the Ice #5) by A.E. Wasp

Thursday, December 5:

  • Release Blitz  – Awakening (Wild Oak, Book 1) by JJ Harper
  • Release Blitz – Waxing Poetic for Christmas by Mara Townsend
  • A Lila Review Peter Cratchit’s Christmas Carol by Drew Marvin
  • A Chaos Moondrawn Review: Honour by A.F. Henley
  • A MelanieM Review: Skater Boy (Hot Off the Ice #3) by A.E. Wasp

Friday, December 6:

  • Cover Reveal – What Works For Us by Colette Davison
  • Review Tour – Jay Northcote – A Boyfriend For Christmas
  • An Alisa Review Rules for Santa (Davey’s Rules #3) by Susan Hawke
  • A Stella Review : A Boyfriend For Christmas by Jay Northcote
  • A Melanie Review The Wolf and the Sparrow by  Isabelle Adler

Saturday, December 7:

  • Release Blitz Request – Red Popcorn Strings & Gumball Rings – Nell Iris

 

New Release Blitz for The Wolf and the Sparrow by Isabelle Adler (excerpt and giveaway)

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Title: The Wolf and the Sparrow

Author: Isabelle Adler

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: November 25, 2019

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 72000

Genre: Fantasy, LGBT, fantasy, nobility, arranged marriage, abduction, enemies to lovers, witches, magic users, action/adventure, family drama, pansexual

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Synopsis

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

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

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

Excerpt

The Wolf and the Sparrow
Isabelle Adler © 2019
All Rights Reserved

“Derek, you lucky devil,” Macon said. “A marriage proposal the minute you inherit a title. How propitious.”

Derek ignored the note of bitter mockery in his brother’s voice. Instead, he focused on the letter lying on the table in front of them. Words were scribbled across thick paper in an almost careless hand, with nothing to indicate its earth-shattering contents at a casual glance. The red wax seal bore the emblem of a wolf’s head, and an unpleasant jolt went through him as he recalled the same sigil splashed over black-and-silver banners streaming above a bloody battlefield. Pain flared in his injured shoulder, as if in response to the memory, and Derek shifted uncomfortably in his chair, adjusting the sling that held his left arm. He made himself focus on the words again, tracing them as if they could somehow magically rearrange themselves into a different message upon rereading.

“Macon, this is not helping,” Lady Casea chided.

Macon threw their mother a sullen look that clearly indicated he wasn’t there to help. He was sixteen, the age when everything was painted black and white, right and wrong, with nothing in between. Both Derek and their mother knew all too well how washed-out those colors became with time.

They were all sitting at the round table in Lady Casea’s drawing room. The upheaval of the last few days hadn’t seemed to reach it, unlike the rest of the keep. Embroidered tapestries lined the walls, displaying flowers in fanciful patterns, and the chairs were lined with soft cushions. A familiar scent of lavender and sage permeated the warmth from the fireplace. How strange it was to discuss the grim future of their family in this cozy room, with the only reminder of the presence of death in the gray mourning ribbons tied around their sleeves.

“Let us go through this again,” Ivo said, picking up the letter. His tone was neutral, as if he were discussing a passage from a recently read book. He was the scholar among Derek’s siblings, but Count Johan had long refused to send him to one of the royal colleges in Oifel, the capital. Father hadn’t approved of bookishness, especially not in a nineteen-year-old man who was perfectly capable of holding a sword.

“Duke Bergen offers Lady Casea condolences on the passing of her husband, and asks for Derek’s—the new Count of Camria’s—hand in marriage to his eldest son and heir, Callan, ‘to secure the recently signed truce in hopes of reaching a standing peace treaty between our fiefdoms and show goodwill.’”

“‘Passing,’” Macon sneered. “‘Goodwill.’”

“Derek, have you even met Callan?” Ayleen asked, turning to him. “I had no idea he was interested in you.”

“I doubt he’d know me from a signpost,” Derek said dryly.

He’d only ever seen Callan in passing while visiting the Royal Palace a few years ago, and they had paid each other little heed. Undoubtedly, Callan had been in the field along with his father, Duke Bergen, when they fought Camria’s forces, but fortunately, Derek hadn’t encountered them directly, and neither of them had been present during the signing of the truce, delegating it instead to their field commander.

Ayleen was only twelve, and still somewhat charmed by the notion of romance. Derek was a little sorry to disillusion her, especially so soon after all the other shocks she’d had to endure in the past few days, but it was better if she knew exactly what was going on. Ignorance and pretense weren’t going to help any of them when their situation was so precarious.

“The proposal isn’t coming from Lord Callan, but from his father. There’s nothing to it but politics.”

Ivo looked up. “I fear Bergen’s essentially trying to annex us. Derek would keep the title while he lives, but with him being a lower noble, it’d eventually pass to his husband or to their heirs. Not to mention that his spouse—whoever they are—would be an equal ruler of Camria while Derek lives.”

While he lives. The words sank into Derek’s mind, laden with meaning. The marriage contract would still be valid, even if he were to die, effectively passing the fiefdom of Camria to the duke’s family. And with Derek out of the way, they’d be free to do what they wished with it.

He said nothing aloud.

“Can we possibly refuse? Find some pretext to decline the offer?” their mother asked.

Ivo shook his head. “I cannot see how. This is not exactly an offer. More like an order, if courteously worded. The letter continues on to stipulate that the wedding take place as soon as possible. In fact, as soon as it would take Derek to arrive at the duke’s ancestral castle at Irthorg.”

“What about postponing it, then?” Lady Casea turned to Derek in concern. “You’re badly injured. Surely, they cannot expect you to stand at the altar, still bleeding. At least a few months, until you’re well. It will give us time to petition before the High Queen. This is nothing short of coercion under duress.”

There were fading bruises on her neck peeking above the collar of her dress, a yellow imprint of fingers that had nothing to do with the recent battle. Not for the first time, Derek thought that perhaps their father’s death was more of a blessing than a tragedy. It felt treasonous to entertain such notions, as though he was betraying his father’s memory, but he hadn’t imagined the relief in his mother’s eyes when the messenger delivered the awful news. He was ashamed to admit, even to himself, that he’d felt the same relief.

But it also meant he was now the head of the family. It was his duty and his responsibility to protect them after Count Johan had failed to do so. Even if it meant marrying a man he’d never met, who’d nearly destroyed everything he held dear, who might still want him dead.

“I’m not hurt that badly,” Derek heard himself say. “Besides, I hardly think they’d care—or if the Queen would see it quite the same way. The truce expires in a week. If I don’t give an answer by then, I’m afraid there will be no long-standing treaty.”

Casea frowned and was about to say something else, but Derek forestalled her.

“I don’t see any solution other than conforming to Duke Bergen’s wishes. I’d rather not aggravate him while his troops still have free rein within our borders. There would still be an opportunity to do something when we’re not in such dire disadvantage. A marriage can always be annulled should the Queen prove sympathetic to our case.”

“So, we just roll over and give the duke our land?” Macon said. “That’s what he’s really after, isn’t it? He basically threatens us with another war, and he has the audacity to call it a gesture of goodwill!”

“It is goodwill,” Derek said quietly. “He doesn’t need this union to take the land away from us. In fact, nothing is stopping him from storming the keep and killing us all when the truce ends. It would be his right to do so since he was provoked, and frankly, we’ve already seen that Camria cannot hold its own when it comes to military strength.”

As a warrior himself, Derek was loath to admit it. But Camria was a small fiefdom, and its contingent consisted of the Count’s Guard, which numbered only two hundred men, while the rest were mostly peasants who had been hastily called to arms and had little to no fighting experience. That was hardly a match for Mulberny, a much larger and more prosperous domain with a long and bloody history of fending raiding sea pirates off its shores. But of course, these considerations had meant little to his father in the face of a perceived slight.

“You seem very eager to go through with it,” Macon sneered. His eyes were rimmed in red and recessed in deep shadows. “Can’t wait to become the bed toy of our father’s murderer?”

“Macon!” Casea said sharply. “Watch your tongue.”

“I will not!” Macon slammed his hand against the table, making everyone save Derek jump. “He’s only trying to save his own hide while his new husband turns us out of our own home!”

“Will you stop that?” Derek said levelly, fixing his gaze on Macon. He kept a tight rein on his anger. There was no point in getting into a shouting match with his brother, whose grief was perhaps the most acute of all of them. “No one said anything about turning you out. I’m trying to keep all of you safe, and it would be much easier to do from within the duke’s castle than from the chopping block.”

“Yes, much easier for you! You’d be the duke’s lapdog while the rest of us are reduced to beggars!”

Derek’s patience, already frayed, finally snapped.

“Maybe Father should have thought about that before he waged war on Bergen over a fucking river dam and got himself killed!”

Macon rose to his feet so abruptly he knocked over his chair. Without another word, he stormed out of the room, slamming the door with enough force to rattle the flower vase on the side table.

There was an awkward silence while everybody avoided looking at one another.

Derek sighed and ran a jerky hand over his face. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.”

Lady Casea got up from her seat. “I’ve had quite enough of this squabbling. There are still soldiers’ wages and widows’ allowances to be distributed, and I have work to do. Ayleen, come.”

With an apologetic glance at Derek, Ayleen followed Casea out the door.

Derek slumped on the table, propping his head with his right arm. He wasn’t used to being in his mother’s rooms without her there; however, he was in no hurry to leave. They were all tired, hurt, and confused. Derek had barely slept since signing the temporary truce between Camria and Mulberny. The nagging ache in his shoulder had worsened, and now his head was throbbing as well. But he welcomed the pain. It was the only thing keeping him from numbness—and he couldn’t afford to sink into it at the moment.

This was not how he’d imagined coming into his inheritance. Shouldering responsibility was not unfamiliar to him. His father had been more than happy to let Derek handle the more mundane affairs of daily life in the keep and the surrounding villages—though Derek sometimes thought it was so he’d have someone to criticize. But this…this was almost too much to take on. He was good with a sword and possessed sound common sense, which was perhaps enough for a minor ruler of a small fiefdom, but now he had to admit he was in over his head. Despite trying to present a solid front to his family, he had no idea what to do to prevent more harm coming to them.

Ivo coughed delicately, drawing his attention.

“I didn’t want to say anything in front of Mother, but there is something you should know before you make a decision.”

Derek raised his head. He didn’t like the sound of that, but what could possibly make this entire affair worse than it already was?

“What is it?”

“Did you know that Lord Callan was married before?”

“No.” Derek straightened in his chair. He didn’t like the look on Ivo’s face, the one that said he was troubled. It was a bad sign. Unlike Macon, Ivo was rarely visibly upset over anything.

“Well, he was. To an Agiennan clanswoman, no less. I don’t recall her name, but it was about two years ago. Apparently, the duke has a thing for offering his son in marriage to secure his peace treaties.”

“What happened to her?” Derek asked, already knowing he wasn’t going to like the answer.

“She died. Some sort of accident, but…there were whispers about something not being quite right with that story.”

“And you know all of this how?”

Ivo smiled faintly.

“Unlike you, dear brother, I pay attention to rumors. Most of them are nothing more than idle gossip, but some contain a kernel of truth.”

“All this might be just that—nothing more than gossip,” Derek said.

“I’m absolutely certain he was married,” Ivo repeated. “Accidents do happen even to the most lofty, but you’d better be careful. Some people have an unfortunate tendency to bury their spouses all too often.”

“What are you saying?”

“You should consider why Callan wants to marry you—or why his father wants him to. Camria is a well-off fiefdom, but it’s hardly of much strategic importance. The duke’s heir could set his eyes on a much more advantageous match, striking a union with a foreign noble, or even marrying into the royal family. Your nuptials could be nothing more than a stepping stone for whatever larger scheme he envisions.”

“He can’t subjugate Camria based on a marriage contract alone, not until Callan and I either name or produce heirs. The law is clear—if something should happen to me, the fiefdom would pass to my next-of-blood kin. To you.”

“I am not yet of age to inherit. Your husband could be legally appointed regent, and if that is what they’re after, they don’t need you for any longer than your wedding night.” Ivo shrugged. “Once you say your vows and the marriage is consummated, he could contest the inheritance of your fiefdom at the Queen’s Court if you happen to die under tragic circumstances. And then Callan is once again free to take another spouse. Maybe someone more lucrative.”

It appeared Derek had not been the only one to have thought of that, but again, Ivo had always been the smartest of his siblings, and the most astute, despite his age.

“You make him sound like some sort of fairy-tale villain,” Derek protested, out of some stubborn determination to refuse to be intimidated, whether by Ivo or by his own apprehension.

But he couldn’t help feeling there was something odd about the proposal. It seemed entirely extraneous. Whatever treaty Bergen wanted to sign would have been achieved without a marriage contract to strengthen it, given that Camria was at a dire disadvantage. And Derek entertained no illusions about being so desirable a match as to be of particular interest to the other party. Moreover, while arranged marriages were par for the course among the aristocracy, nobles of similar rank (in this case a newly minted count and the heir apparent of a duchy) did not usually enter such unions for precisely the same considerations of seniority of inheritance Ivo had voiced earlier. If this was all about upholding the peace, it would have been much more reasonable for Duke Bergen to ask for Ivo’s hand in future marriage for his son, as he was the only one of Derek’s younger siblings close enough to the age of maturity.

“I’m saying that by agreeing to accept this proposal you might be placing yourself in danger,” Ivo said.

Thanksgiving Week and This Week at Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

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Thanksgiving Week and A Growing List of Things to Do!

 

For those of us in the US or for expats abroad its Thanksgiving week.  We are making lists, trying to figure out menus, baking, and getting ready to travel or getting rooms ready for visitors to arrive.  And  then it is on to Yule and December.  Yes, time is flying.

Between the family obligations this week, water main breaks, and more RL events, well, let’s just say my lists grew a little bit larger this week quite unexpectedly.  Luckily my audio books kept me company along with my fur kids.  I have some wonderful audio books to review for you this week.  There are also several holiday romances here bringing with them all things Christmassy and joyous.  I hope you all are making your TBR lists for your Holiday Reading.

Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Rogue’s wishes everyone a safe and wonderful Thanksgiving.  Happy Reading and Listening.  Meet you all back here, full of leftovers after the holiday is over!

Now where did I put my list?

This Week at Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

Sunday, November 24:

  • Thanksgiving Week and This Week at Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

Monday, November 25:

  • Review Tour for Promise (Single Dads #3) by RJ Scott
  • Release Blitz – Magic & Mirrors by L.M. Brown
  • Review Tour Little Love by Siobhan Smile
  • An Ashlez Review: Little Love by Siobhan Smile
  • An Alisa Review: Kindred Spirits by Sloan Johnson
  • A Barb the Zany Old Lady Review: Promise (Single Dads #3) by RJ Scott

Tuesday, November 26:

  • Release Blitz for Annabelle Jacobs – No Place Like Home
  •  Release Day Blitz: Love and Linguistics by Tara Lain
  • Blog Tour Adore by Ella James
  • Review Audio Tour for Today (Single Dads #2) by RJ Scott
  • A MelanieM Audio Review: Today (Single Dads #2) by RJ Scott
  • A Lucy Review: Husband Hunters by Rick R. Reed
  • A MelanieM Audio Review: Red Dirt Heart 3 by NR Walker and Joel Leslie Narrator

Wednesday, November 27:

  • Release Blitz – Jay Northcote – A Boyfriend For Christmas
  • BLITZ The Wolf and the Sparrow by Isabelle Adler
  • BLog Tour Roxy’s Recovery by Kim Breyon
  • An Alisa Review: Nuttin’ But Trouble (College of United Monsters #4) by C.B. Archer
  • A MelanieM Audio Review: Home for Christmas (Texas #9) by R.J. Scott t and Narrated by: Sean Crisden
  • A Stella Review: Roxy’s Recovery by Kim Breyon

Thursday, November 28:

  • Review Tour – Garrett Leigh – Hometown Christmas
  • GUEST POST But by the Grace of Dog by AF Henley
  • Book Blast – Body Parts And Mind Games by Jude Tresswell
  • An Alisa Review : Hometown Christmas by Garrett Leigh
  • A Lucy Review: But By the Grace of Dog by A.F. Henley

Friday, November 29:

  • Mr. Right Now by Annabeth Albert  Blog Tour and Review
  • Blog Tour Unfettered by Kate Hawthorne
  • Audio Blitz – A.E. Via – Prophesy II: The Bringer of Wrath (The King & Alpha Series)
  • A MelanieM Review: Mr. Right Now by Annabeth Albert
  • An Alisa Review: Weekend at Bigfoot’s by Addison Albright
  • A Stella Review: Just the Thought of You (Mann of My Dreams #3) by Tinnean

Saturday, November 30:

  • A MelanieM Review: Boy Toys (Hot Off the Ice #2.5) by A.E. Wasp

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

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Title: Peter Cratchit’s Christmas Carol

Author: Drew Marvin Frayne

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: November 18, 2019

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 36100

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

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Synopsis

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

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

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

Excerpt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Purchase

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

Meet the Author

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

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

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Title: Holiday Gridlock

Series: Cruised, Book Two

Author: Gretchen Evans

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: November 11, 2019

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 18600

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

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Synopsis

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

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

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

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

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

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

Excerpt

Holiday Gridlock
Gretchen Evans © 2019
All Rights Reserved

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

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

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

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

“Hello!” Mark called from the hall.

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

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

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

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

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

“How are you feeling?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Touché.

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

“Decidedly unsexy.”

“Spoil sport.”

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

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

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

“This the one with the whales?”

Gabe hummed again, his eyelids sliding closed.

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

“How long are you staying?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How did you know I needed more medicine?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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