Highlight Tour for Mercs by Dorian Dawes (excerpt and giveaway)

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Title:  Mercs!

Author: Dorian Dawes

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: June 4, 2018

Heat Level: 2 – Fade to Black Sex

Pairing: No Romance

Length: 72100

Genre: Science Fiction, sci-fi, military, gay, trans, aliens, space

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Synopsis

Famous bounty hunter Talisha Artul is not having a good day. A hostile alien planet full of bandits and refugees, an entire group of mercenaries all told to kill her and take her armor, and it’s barely even noon. All she wanted was to earn a paycheck and make her mother proud. They’ve barely shared a kind word since she came out of the closet as trans and took her mother’s name.

Now she’s travelling with an android cowboy with split-personality issues and an eight-foot-tall warrior woman to beat a group of vengeful pirates and the galactic federation’s military forces to uncover an ancient alien temple. Talisha soon learns that despite her legal standing, there is little that separates her from these marginalized cutthroats and outcasts. They’re all victims here, all pawns in their shadowy employer’s game.

Excerpt

Mercs!
Dorian Dawes © 2018
All Rights Reserved

“Were these seriously the best mercs you could hire?” The cigarette moved in the corner of Madame Inspector’s mouth as she spoke. She flicked her fingers across the pile of folders strewn across her desk. “Absolute rubbish.”

A little man with lily-white skin stood fidgeting with his spectacles in the doorway, clutching a briefcase close to his chest. Madame Inspector scared the living hell out of him. She liked it that way and would have smiled at his discomfort if she thought it’d make him squirm just a little bit more.

He took a tentative step, but she held a palm up and he froze where he stood. Good dog.

“Madame Inspector, I assure you they are highly qualified.” The overhanging lamp cast a glare over his glasses. “I’ve assembled before you the most dangerous individuals in the galaxy.”

Madame Inspector scowled, spreading out the files and pictures of each motley outcast passing themself off as a mercenary. “These bozos are more danger to themselves than anyone else, Mr. Snidely. Crooks and ruffians.”

“That’s why they’re perfect for the position,” Snidely said. He mustered up the courage to give her a wicked smile. “They’re completely disposable. Should be easy to turn them on one another when we’re done.”

Madame Inspector leaned back in her seat. She tapped the ashes of her cigarette into the tray and stared at him until his smile melted into open-mouthed fear. She said nothing, waiting for him to wither before the cold deadlights of her eyes.

“Mr. Snidely,” she said, a voice like gravel. “Not once have I witnessed one with as much audacity…or initiative. Good work. You’re dismissed.”

Snidely bowed his head and ducked hurriedly out of her office. She frowned as he left. The kid had gumption, ambition. They could be useful qualities in the right doses. She’d have to test him.

Archimedes IV, a war-torn rock populated by refugees and outlaws. It’d been deemed unfit for life by the Council of Thirteen following a resource war that’d decimated the planet and irrevocably altered the landscape. Some forests remained, having evolved to meet the harsh environmental conditions. The trees had become predators themselves, feeding off unwary travelers.

With its constant dangers and inhospitable environment, Archimedes IV had been abandoned by the Intergalactic Peacekeeping Federation, which made it the ideal location for all sorts of criminal scum to stash their ill-gotten gains. So long as they hid away in backwater filth, the law paid them no mind. It was out of their jurisdiction.

Talisha Artul had no jurisdiction. If the job told her to go, she’d go. The IGF had found her as reliable a resource as her mother. Abandoned science station deemed too dangerous to send in a full squad? Talisha was there with her arm cannon and jet pack.

Becoming a space-faring licensed bounty hunter had a few perks. The pay was decent—a huge bonus considering over half her funds were split between expensive hormone treatments and helping support her mother’s orphanage. Being able to traverse the galaxy and visit other worlds definitely ranked high on the list. Getting shot at on a daily basis was a minor drawback in comparison.

Reservations about this latest assignment scratched at the back of her mind as she sorted through the information provided to her on her tablet. An anonymous corporate employer had contacted her, leaving the legality of the assignment in question. She’d have to make a call to the appropriate channels to make sure her licensing fees had been taken care of. New information presented itself that she’d be assigned to a task force after previous assurances that she’d be working alone.

She threw the tablet against the ship console. “Shit!”

Talisha preferred working alone for multiple reasons. Silence kept her head clear and victory assured in any firefight. Other people introduced far more variables than she was comfortable with.

Maybe Mom would know what to do.

Talisha grabbed the headset from a compartment just above her and slipped it over her head. She made a sour expression at the tablet as she slumped back into her seat. A few moments later, her mother’s voice crackled into her feed.

“Talisha? Thought you’d be on-world by now,” Ms. Artul said.

“Mom, when is it okay to back out of an assignment?”

“Uh-oh. What happened?”

Talisha filled her in on the particulars of the assignment, making notes of the new last-minute information.

Her mother thought about that one for a while. “Your reputation is pretty strong right now. You could probably afford to back out.”

“What about you?” Talisha asked. “How’s the orphanage doing?”

“Expensive. Feels like there’s new orphans every day. People keep dying and leaving behind their little ones. This planet’s in need.”

“Do you have enough to make it through the month?” Talisha propped her elbows against the console and scratched the back of her neck with one hand.

Ms. Artul muttered under her breath in Swahili, then spat out, “Don’t you dare. If you don’t feel good about this mission, don’t take it.”

“You can’t order me around, Mom. I’m just being stubborn and paranoid…like you.”

“I wish you hadn’t called then.” There was a lengthy pause. “Fucking hell, kid.”

Talisha’s eyes watered. These were the types of conversations that drove people to drink. She gritted her teeth and pursed her lips, fingers shaking.

“I’m taking the job,” Talisha said, then threw the headset against the console.

Bluebird had seen her fair share of overcrowded dung heaps in her time—claustrophobic messes violating every single fire safety law in the galaxy; easy places to get stabbed and looted before you even had a chance to know what had happened. Folks in a hurry could trample your corpse without even noticing. By contrast, the spaceport on Archimedes IV was practically empty. A dumpster left at the back end of the long passage looked like it’d been overflowing for years. Shit and graffiti marred the walls, and it was nearly impossible to see through the teller’s window for all the grime and filth covering it.

Bluebird sniffed. She might come to like it there. Smelled just like home.

The poor terminal worker did a double take at her through the glass. “P-p-passport.”

By this point, Bluebird had become well accustomed to most people’s reactions to her appearance. She was proud of the severe scarring that marred one side of her face, the mark of a fine battle. Bluebird also knew that most people had never seen a Karstotzkiyan in their lives and were unaccustomed to seeing eight-foot-tall women with striking blue hair and hardened jowls. It’s where she’d gotten the nickname Big Ugly Bluebird. She liked it.

“Identification provided!” She slammed a meaty hand against the counter and slid a thick wad of papers through the slot beneath the window.

He stared at the mess of documentation and sighed. There were official licensing documents in the scattered heap to be certain, but there were also receipts to fast food joints, hair salons, old concert tickets dating decades back, etc. Bluebird grimaced, feeling a twinge of guilt. It’d take this poor man hours to sift through it all. She rummaged around in her pockets from some additional cash and deposited it atop the mess of documentation.

He sighed. He gulped, staring at the blue veins bulging beneath her thick muscles and the giant satchel strapped to her back. She did her best to give him a reassuring smile but was certain she only came across as even more imposing. Oh well, it couldn’t be helped.

He put a stamp on top the chaotic mess of pages and handed them back to her. “You know what, this is fine. Have a lovely stay on Archimedes IV.”

“You are most efficient. Thank you!” She gave him a thumbs-up and snatched the documents beneath her arm. She sauntered out the spaceport with a satisfied smile.

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Meet the Author

Dorian Dawes is a self-described social justice witch and full-time gender disaster who never grew out of their goth phase. In addition to fiction, they have also written for tabletop rpgs and several published essays on feminism and LGBT issues. When not writing they can be found playing video games and plotting the revolution of the proletariat.

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New Release Blitz for The Vampire’s Angel by Damian Serbu (excerpt and giveaway)

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Title:  The Vampire’s Angel

Author: Damian Serbu

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: March 19, 2018

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 106400

Genre: Paranormal Romance, LGBT, historical, gay, paranormal, vampire, revolution, magic

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Synopsis

As Paris devolves into chaos amidst the French Revolution, three lives intertwine.

Xavier, a devout priest, struggles to hold on to his trust in humanity only to find his own faith threatened with the longing he finds for a mysterious American visitor. Thomas fights against the Catholic Church to win Xavier’s heart, but hiding his undead nature will threaten the love he longs to find with this abbé. Xavier’s sister, Catherine, works with Thomas to bring them together while protecting the family fortune but falls prey herself to evil forces.

The death, peril, and catastrophes of a revolution collide with a world of magic, vampires, and personal demons as Xavier, Thomas, and Catherine fight to find peace and love amidst the destruction.

 Exclusive Excerpt

The Vampire’s Angel
Damian Serbu © 2018
All Rights Reserved

Garden Meeting

Back at his church, Xavier worked in his small garden even after darkness fell and the nearby lantern barely illuminated the street around it, let alone his humble plants.

“Abbé?”

Startled, he whipped around.

“I’m sorry to startle you again.”

Xavier cleared his throat, nervous. It was the man from earlier in the day, with the long black hair, piercing brown eyes, and American accent. “I didn’t hear you approach.” Xavier wiped his hands on his robe.

They stared at each other until the stranger broke the silence. “Perhaps I should introduce myself. Thomas, Father. Thomas Lord.”

Xavier cocked his head, quizzical. “You’re not from Paris.”

“What gave me away?”

“Your accent. And complexion.”

“I’m here on business.”

“Welcome to Paris. Let me know if I can be of any assistance.” Xavier wanted to say more, to keep the man near him, but he was at a loss for words. How strange.

“I—I wondered if… Can I go to confession? With you.”

Xavier smiled. “You’re not Catholic, either.”

“No,” Thomas said. “I’m not. I’m not Catholic, nor of any religion. And I’m not in Paris on business. I’m here by myself and felt lonely. I saw you protect that little girl earlier this evening and thought perhaps you could show me around Paris. I’m from America and wanted to see the rioting.” He stopped. “Sorry to babble.”

Xavier studied Thomas, noting his musculature, even in the dark. It prompted the most sinful of thoughts. “I doubt you’ll find Paris too welcoming these days, but I’d be happy to show you around.” He paused, considering. “You needn’t lie anymore. Just ask if you want my company.”

“Can you forgive me, Abbé? I was confused about your being a priest and what etiquette to use,” Thomas said, watching for Xavier’s response.

“You weren’t sure if I had the time for a heathen?” Xavier smiled. “Or did you fear some divine judgment? Well, don’t. As I said, I’d be delighted to show you Paris.”

“You don’t mind that I’m not Catholic?”

“Not all of us are so narrow-minded as to demand a certain brand of faith from everyone we meet. All of us are God’s children, after all.”

“What am I supposed to call you, then?” Thomas asked, picking at the sleeve of his coat. “Abbé? Father?”

“Since you don’t seek spiritual counseling, and so long as you promise not to enter my confessional, how about Xavier?”

Thomas grinned and a strange little spark danced down Xavier’s spine. “Agreed,” he said. “What would you think of starting my tour of Paris at the Seine? I love the breeze and view of Paris from there.”

“I’d be delighted.” Xavier nodded and smiled in return.

They sauntered toward the river, engaged in easy conversation. Xavier told Thomas about the riots, about the king, and about his view of the revolution. They chatted about mundane matters with no particular destination or motive. Xavier hated that the night ended when they returned to his church and bid adieu. He hoped, with butterflies in his stomach, to see Thomas again, but his fear of rejection kept him from saying anything further.

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Meet the Author

Damian Serbu lives in the Chicago area with his husband and two dogs, Akasha and Chewbacca. The dogs control his life, tell him what to write, and threaten to eat him in the middle of the night if he disobeys. He previously authored several novels now out of print, and is excited to reignite his writing with Ninestar Press!

Coming this fall, his latest vampire novel: The Vampire’s Protégé. Keep up to date with him on Facebook, Twitter, or at http://www.DamianSerbu.com.

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New Release BLITZ A Matter of Justice (Hong Kong Nights #3) by J.C. Long (excerpt and giveaway)

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Title:  A Matter of Justice

Series: Hong Kong Nights, Book Three

Author: J.C. Long

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: February 26, 2018

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 80600

Genre: Contemporary, LGBT, criminals, gangs, law enforcement, action, reunited, contemporary, enemies to lovers, kidnapping

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Synopsis

The battle between the Dragons of the Eastern District and their bitter rivals, the Twisted Vipers, is reaching a dangerous point. The Anti-Gang Task Force is hard at work trying to bring down the Vipers. Tensions ratchet when Johnny Hwang guns down a prominent inspector on the task force, and Conroy Wong, Wei Tseng’s second-in-command is a witness. Now, to keep him safe long enough to locate a second witness and put Hwang behind bars, Conroy is forced into close quarters with Allen Hong, a man who once fought side by side with the Dragons until he turned his back on them by joining the police, betraying them. As sparks fly between them once more, the two men must put aside their differences and work together, because the Twisted Vipers aren’t going to let Hwang go down without a fight.

Excerpt

A Matter of Justice
J.C. Long © 2018
All Rights Reserved

Prologue
Inspector Richard Yang was not at all surprised when he received word from Johnny Hwang’s people that Johnny wanted to see him. Actually, he wondered what had taken Hwang so long; he’d made the arrests three days ago, and they’d been all over the news and in newspaper headlines.

Hong Kong Police Department Anti-Gang Task Force makes headway with the arrests of three highly influential and well-placed members of the Twisted Viper triad. It was long and wordy, as far as headlines went, but it spared anyone the need to read the damn thing. No one read newspapers nowadays, especially with the Mainland trying to crack down on the press.

Yang debated whether or not he should take Hwang up on the offer, finally deciding that it would be amusing to hear, if nothing else. Just after six in the evening he left the apartment he shared with his wife of forty-one years and made his way to the meeting place Hwang had suggested, a ye shi not that far from Aberdeen.

The night market was just beginning to see a lot of visitors when Yang arrived, but there was still parking space available near the market’s entrance so he didn’t have to walk that far. It wasn’t that he couldn’t; he was a tough old bastard, even at sixty, and got more than his fair share of exercise as a member of HKPD. He wanted to have a quick getaway available for him in case Hwang decided to pull some shit.

He doubted he would, it being a public place and all, but he’d learned in his years on the force to be very careful with criminals, especially the crafty ones. And Johnny Hwang was about as crafty as they came, at least in Hong Kong. Still, the market was a very public place, and if Hwang were to do something, it would cause a lot of complications, so Yang didn’t expect trouble.

Hwang’s message said to meet him near a noodle stall called Mrs. Chu’s Noodles. Considering how many food stalls went up in the night markets, Yang thought it would be a problem, but almost as soon as he entered, he saw a sign over a large noodle stall that read “Mrs. Chu’s.”

Mrs. Chu’s stall was easily twice the size of the other stalls around hers and had about the same advantage in customers. Behind the stall an older woman with slate-gray hair in a hairnet bustled about, tending to her customers, who were seated along three sides of the square that was her stall.

“Mr. Yang.” A young man—thirty-three or -four at the oldest, young by Yang’s standards—in a well-tailored suit approached him, giving him a polite and respectful bow of his head. “If you would come with me, Mr. Hwang is waiting for you.”

“Well, at least one thing can be said for your boss,” Yang said as he followed the man to where Hwang sat in the farthest seat along the right side of the square, where he could be partially concealed by the stall itself. “He’s got you puk gai trained to at least pretend to be human beings.”

If his words irritated his escort, he didn’t show it.

Johnny Hwang was almost finished with a bowl of ramen when Yang joined him, a cloth napkin covering the front of his dress shirt. Slurping a long line into his mouth, Hwang gestured toward the chair next to him.

“You’ve got to try the noodles here.” Hwang motioned toward the woman—presumably Mrs. Chu—who immediately moved to dip out a bowl of noodles for him.

Yang shook his head to signal to her he didn’t need anything. “I’m not here to sample the fare with you, Hwang. So why don’t you tell me why I’m here—not that I don’t already know.”

A vein throbbed in Hwang’s temple at Yang’s words, but he otherwise showed no reaction. “Straight to business, then? Yes, of course—I imagine you’re quite eager to get back home to your lovely wife.”

The observation was not made with any particular tone, but Yang recognized it for what it was: Hwang making it clear he had done his homework on Yang. It also reeked of the potential for a threat. The implication that his wife might get brought into this did not have the effect Hwang most likely desired. It just pissed him off.

Yang could feel the heavy gaze of the Twisted Viper’s leader as he observed him, looking for some sort of reaction.

Making sure to keep his words and expression casual, Yang replied, “Something like that, yeah.”

“Well, I guess we’re both busy men, so I will cut right to it, since you insist. Your Anti-Gang Task Force recently arrested three men—”

“You’re referring to the three members of your triad that I brought in for possession of illegal weapons and drug trafficking, right? Just so we’re clear.”

Hwang’s lips drew back in the slightest sneer. “I do believe you’re purposefully irritating me, Mr. Yang.”

“Not at all, Hwang.” Yang left out the respectful prefix, ensuring that it was glaringly noticeable in its absence. “Perhaps you’re simply not used to people calling you on your bullshit. I’m not one of your underlings, so don’t expect me to act like it.”

Over his shoulder, Yang could hear the sharp, angry intake of breath from his escort. Hwang, though, just sighed melodramatically. “This would go so much faster if we could just be civil to one another.”

“This would go so much faster if you’d just say what you came here to say,” Yang replied. “But since you want to just beat around the bush, let me save you the trouble. If you’re going to ask me to release your men, the answer is hell no.”

Hwang finished the last of his noodles, pushing the bowl away from him and giving his stomach a satisfied pat. “Delicious. Mrs. Chu’s noodles are truly the best I’ve ever had in Hong Kong.” He made a motion with his right hand, smooth and simple. Yang’s earlier escort stepped over to Mrs. Chu and paid Hwang’s fee.

“And no,” Hwang went on, crossing his legs as he relaxed back, no doubt to ease the tension on his stomach post eating. “I don’t give a fuck about those three—they got caught; they deserve what happens. What I want from you is for you to turn your attention elsewhere. Leave the Twisted Vipers alone. There are plenty of other triads on the island you can take off the streets. It would certainly look better for you to get some victories, wouldn’t it?”

“What’s wrong, Hwang? Can’t handle the heat?”

“I’m not scared of you or your task force, Yang.” Hwang sneered, straightening. “However, it is becoming a slight inconvenience as far as my business interests are concerned. Naturally I don’t like it when anyone messes with my money. It’s a simple request: take the Twisted Vipers out of your sights for a while, clean up the riffraff wannabes on the edge of the island, or the Dragons. Just stop focusing on me and mine.”

Yang couldn’t help it; he laughed, a deep, rumbling belly laugh that moved through his whole body. “I’m curious, Hwang. Did you really think I was going to say yes to the offer?”

Hwang’s face had gone cold when Yang began to laugh. “You should think about this seriously, Mr. Yang. You’ll live longer.”

“My mother-in-law was Korean. My wife makes kimchi damn near every day. I read somewhere that kimchi is one of the healthiest foods in the world. I like my chances of living longer.”

Yang stood, and Hwang did the same. “You have a good night, Hwang. Try not to do anything illegal.”

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Meet the Author

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

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New Release Book Blitz for Ibuki by Kathryn Sommerlot (excerpt and giveaway)

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Title:  Ibuki

Author: Kathryn Sommerlot

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: January 29, 2018

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Female/Female

Length: 26000

Genre: Fantasy, LGBT, lesbian, fantasy, cleric/priestess, magic users, abduction, royalty

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Synopsis

Ibuki: the gift of healing through breath. Chiasa has possessed the ability since childhood and shares it with her father as they care for their Inuru community. Chiasa has never doubted the stability of her simple life. That is, until Namika, a water-gifted priestess, shows up outside the Ibuki shrine gates with information promising Chiasa’s doom.

With Namika’s help, Chiasa is determined to find the secrets behind the ritual that will claim her life, but her growing feelings toward the other woman reach beyond her control, adding to the confusion. Time is rapidly running out, and Chiasa can’t seem to sort out the lies woven through the magic of Inuru and its emperor.

Caught in a tangled web of immortality, betrayal, and desire, Chiasa must find the right people to trust if she hopes to stop the ritual—or she will pay the consequences.

Excerpt

Ibuki
Kathryn Sommerlot © 2018
All Rights Reserved

When Chiasa first saw the young woman standing outside the shrine, her throat seized in fear around a single thought: the emperor is dead. A moment later, she realized the woman appeared far more nervous than grief-stricken, and she relaxed, only to wonder why a seseragi priestess would be on her doorstep before the sun had fully risen.

The woman was unmistakably one of the water-chosen. Her hands were fidgeting and pressing tiny creases into the telltale blue of her silk robe, its pale folds hanging uneven above her shell-lined sandals, and above the short collar, a silver clip in the shape of an ocean wave held her hair in two overlapping plaits. She glanced down either side of the empty road, shoulders bowed, before starting up the stairs.

Chiasa hung back to observe.

It took the woman a minute or so to climb the steps that led to the small fountain, and with the shrine deserted, her footsteps echoed through the grounds. Her hair seemed to have been hastily done as an afterthought—long strands had come free and hung down her back like splatters of black ink across parchment.

She did manage a jerky half bow when she reached the slotted board holding the wooden ladle, though most of the water she then tried to pour over her hands ended up splashing onto the front of the blue silk, a testament to the shaking in her arms. Chiasa let her continue without interruption until she reached the top of the stairs and clapped her hands together before the silver bell. Any farther, and the seseragi priestess would make her way inside the sanctuary, to where the ibuki power-stone was held, and the thought was unsettling enough to push Chiasa forward.

“If I can help you with something,” Chiasa began, slipping out from her hiding spot between the side of the sanctuary and the hall of worship where she spent many hours praying in solitude.

The young woman started, nearly tripping on the hem of her robe. One hand went to her mouth as she stared far longer than was comfortable, and then she bowed again, the force of the action throwing the loose tendrils of hair over her head.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t send word, and…well, I know it’s strange for me to be here, but I must speak with an ibuki priest, please.”

Chiasa took a step back, one corner of the hall’s intersecting wall panels jabbing between her shoulders.

“My father is the head priest, but he’s not here. He’s out with the herbalist to tend the sick. If you wish, I can leave him a message for when he returns—”

“It’s urgent,” the other woman whispered. “Please.”

At a loss, Chiasa looked around the shrine grounds she knew by heart. There was no one else to summon. Her father wouldn’t be back until much later, perhaps even after midnight, and old Isao was seldom of much use anymore, relegated to menial groundskeeping tasks and selling talismans. As the morning breeze broke through the tree line and nipped at the exposed skin of her cheek, she felt acutely alone.

Chiasa tried to imagine what her father might do were he present as the young woman, still bent in an awkward bow, began to shake with the exertion of it. Chiasa, afraid she would topple over entirely, sprang forward and dropped the broom she was holding, the tool clattering noisily across the pathway.

“He’s not here,” Chiasa repeated, though she wanted to help the woman when she was in such a state. “But please don’t panic, I will not send you away. If you’d like, I could make you some tea?”

“Yes,” the woman said. Her hands went to her face, cupping cheeks that were tinged with an uneven smattering of powder. As Chiasa watched, her gaze seemed to get lost in nothing, until she finally blinked and focused once again, settling on Chiasa’s face. Again, there was something sparking in her eyes that Chiasa couldn’t entirely read. The woman lowered her hands and nodded. “Yes, I would appreciate it. I’m sorry to intrude.”

Chiasa thought briefly of disagreeing, but it felt best to avoid lying. Instead, she led the seseragi priestess into the hall of worship and through to the small back room where they kept a low, small table and supplies unrelated to the shrine itself. There was a heavy iron kettle, which was so old that one side of it was slightly lower than the other, making the whole thing lopsided. Chiasa placed it onto the small fire in the center of the room with care and waved the smoke up into the open flume built into the roof’s small, soot-blackened bricks. Her strange guest knelt at the table, smoothing her silks beneath her knees.

“I don’t know when my father will return,” Chiasa apologized as she waited for the water to bubble. The other woman deflated somewhat, her shoulders curving in and over on themselves as she ran a finger over the grain of the table.

“Is there no one else?” she asked. Then, a half second too late, her eyes snapped up, wide and frightened. “I didn’t mean… I meant no offense. I’m sure you are quite capable at the breath—”

Chiasa waved her apology away. “I’m not offended. But I am afraid there is no one else. It’s only my father, myself, and old Isao.”

“Then, your father is part of the emperor’s circle?” the woman asked. The expression on her features changed from nervous to suspicious, and Chiasa couldn’t follow the reasoning behind it. Her guest tapped her fingers against the tabletop as she pursed her lips together, and her gaze shifted away from Chiasa and the teakettle. “Perhaps it was unwise to come here. I thought there were more in the ibuki shrine.”

The kettle whistled its completion, and as she poured the fragrant hibiscus blend, Chiasa frowned, puzzled by the transformation in both the conversation and the woman’s demeanor.

“My father is not advising the emperor today,” she said, again, in case it had been missed, as she handed the other woman the small teacup of hollowed bone. Her guest held the cup between her fingers, but didn’t sip from it. Her gaze seemed lost again, her eyes focused on something far beyond the table and the crackling fire pit, in a place Chiasa could neither see nor touch.

After quite some time, the woman raised her head once more. “My name is Namika. I suppose with your father too close to the source I should not have asked for him at all. You are the youngest within the shrine?”

“Yes,” Chiasa answered, though she regretted doing so in the next heartbeat when the oddness of the question fully registered.

Namika’s brow furrowed as her fingers knit together around the bone cup. “Then I must tell you of my discovery.”

“Discovery?” Chiasa repeated.

“I’m afraid it’s not good news,” Namika said and grimaced. “I was tasked with sorting through our cellar, where many of the old texts and records are kept. The majority of them are simply logs of visitors to the shrine and the actions our priests performed at the emperor’s command. But within the piles, I discovered what seemed to be a set of entries detailing the truth behind the emperor’s longevity.”

“The gods have seen fit to bless him with immortality,” Chiasa said, but she felt suddenly very cold, crossing her arms over her chest and running her hands over her sleeves. The small room seemed to constrict even further around them, squeezing the air from Chiasa’s lungs until she was gasping for it. They should not even be discussing the emperor. They were far too young and unimportant to think they had more wisdom than a man who had been ruling Inuru for nearly three hundred years, and despite their solitude within the shrine, Chiasa got the distinct feeling someone, somewhere, could hear them. The sensation sent toe-curling shivers down her back.

“No,” Namika said. She leaned forward, like she, too, was reacting to the sudden chill permeating the air. “It’s unnatural, his lifespan— He is stealing it, all of it; he is stealing his life.”

“That’s impossible,” Chiasa snapped. “No magic could grant a mortal so much time.”

Namika shook her head and set the cup of tea down, still just as full as when Chiasa had handed it to her. “He is stealing it through blood. He’s drinking blood to absorb the life within it and add it to his own.”

Chiasa stood so suddenly that the table shook, splashing tea across the surface. The scent of steeped flowers and herbs grew even stronger.

“You’re lying,” she said through clenched teeth, hands curled into fists at her side. The flash of indignation that flared up beneath her skin came from a source she couldn’t identify, but she knew from years of practiced obedience that it was necessary. “My father is on the emperor’s circle, and he would never allow such a thing, even if it were possible.”

“But that is why I had to come!” Namika exclaimed. “It’s written in the documents, by the seseragi high priest himself. I swear to you I did not come here with a lie!”

Chiasa wove her hands through her hair, tugging bits of it free from the tortoiseshell clasp holding the twist snug at the nape of her neck. Her father couldn’t possibly be implicated in such a monstrosity—and beyond that, the insult to the emperor weighed like a stone within her gut. The emperor protected them all. The emperor loved them all.

“It’s impossible,” Chiasa said, letting her hands fall back down to her sides. “What blood could possibly grant such—”

“Those with the breath!” Namika cried out and then sat back on her heels, cheeks flushed and pink. As Chiasa stared at her across the table, the unwanted and uninvited woman with the poison-tipped tongue of lies inhaled deeply and then pushed the air back out, slowly, through red lips.

“He is drinking your order,” she said. Her voice was far quieter, filled with something that sounded an awful lot like sympathy. “He is drinking the blood of ibuki priests.”

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Meet the Author

Kathryn Sommerlot is a coffee addict and craft beer enthusiast with a detailed zombie apocalypse plan. Originally from the cornfields of the American Midwest, she got her master’s degree and moved across the ocean to become a high school teacher in Japan. When she isn’t wrangling teenage brains into critical thinking, she spends her time writing, crocheting, and hiking with her husband. She enjoys LGBTQ fiction, but she is particularly interested in genre fiction that just happens to have LGBTQ protagonists. You can find Kathryn on her Website.

 

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

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Title:  Sweethearts

Author: Gemma Gilmore

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: January 29, 2018

Heat Level: 2 – Fade to Black Sex

Pairing: Female/Female

Length: 62600

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

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Synopsis

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

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

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

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

Excerpt

Sweethearts
Gemma Gilmore © 2018
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One
I am desperately trying not to attract attention.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then again, neither have I.

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

Why did I need to watch her?

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Then I’m deranged.”

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

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

“Like an STD test?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah, whatever.”

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Meet the Author

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

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BLITZ Tour for Beneath the Surface (The Outsider Project #1) by Rebecca Langham (excerpt and giveaway)

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Title:  Beneath the Surface

Series: The Outsider Project, Book One

Author: Rebecca Langham

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: January 15, 2018

Heat Level: 2 – Fade to Black Sex

Pairing: Female/Female

Length: 93700

Genre: Science Fiction, Fantasy, Sci Fi, interspecies, captivity, teacher, politics

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Synopsis

When a change in collective conscious sends the Outsiders, a group of aliens, to the shadows below the city, humans reason that the demonization of their peers is simply more “humane.” There’s no question, nor doubt. Just acceptance.

Lydia had embraced that sense of “truth” for as long as she can remember. The daughter of a powerful governor, she has been able to live her life with more comforts than most. Comforts can be suffocating, though, and when the opportunity to teach Outsider children in their private, “humane” community becomes available, she takes it.

What she finds beneath the city is far from the truth she had grown to know. There she meets Alessia, an Outsider with the knowledge and will to shake the foundation of all those who walk above ground. The two find a new and unexpected connection despite a complete disconnect from the technological world. Or perhaps in spite of it.

Still, it takes a lot more than an immutable connection to change the world. Lydia, Alessia, and a small group of Outsiders must navigate a system of corruption, falsehoods, and twists none of them ever saw coming, all while holding on to the hope to come out alive in the end. But it’s a risk worth taking, and a future worth fighting for.

Excerpt

Beneath the Surface
Rebecca Langham © 2017
All Rights Reserved

Prologue
Alessia’s mother roused her from a peaceful sleep. “Darling,” Rey whispered. “They’re coming for us. We need to move.”

Alessia blinked several times, forcing the tiredness from her eyes as she looked about the dimly lit cave. Outside, an owl hooted and tree branches fought back against a gust of wind, but she heard nothing else.

“We’ve talked about this,” her mother said, guiding her up from a nest of blankets and cushions. Alessia had never heard Rey so concerned. “You need to get moving.”

“But I want to stay with you,” Alessia replied. Her mother, and the reality of the situation, were coming into focus.

“I know, Lessi. But if you do, it’s more likely they’ll track us all down. Start down the eastern tunnel. Go carefully and try to stay as quiet as possible. You know where to meet us when they’ve left.”

Living in a cave may not have been especially comfortable, but at least they knew their way around in the area closer to the cave mouth. Within minutes of leaving her mother’s side, she felt lost, having no experience of navigating this area of the system.

Alessia slid a hand along the smooth, slime-covered rock of the cave wall. Shuffling along at a snail’s pace, she played a life-threatening game of hide-and-seek. The edge of her shoe acted as a poor guide, but it was all she had to help her avoid any sudden drop-offs. A depression in the stone could be anything from a small trench to a gaping hole one could fall through for hundreds of metres. Caves were like wild animals. They could protect you, take small bites out of you, or swallow you whole. For a moment, she wasn’t sure what was more terrifying: being captured, or trying to find a place to hide.

She inched along the wall as quietly as possible, until the echo of hurried footsteps brought her to a halt. Her legs felt like hollow reeds, liable to snap at any moment. Be calm. It’s just how sound works down here. The humans could be anywhere. You’re safe, she told herself, it’ll be all right.

The footsteps faded, leaving only the steady dripping of water from stalactites. Alessia put a hand to her chest and willed her heart to slow its exhausting pace. She didn’t want to pass out before she had moved deep enough to avoid detection. It took all her strength not to call out for her parents, to see if they had been rounded up, or if they’d managed to find somewhere to hide.

Get moving. She probed forwards with her foot once more.

No matter how many times she blinked, Alessia’s eyes would not adjust to such thick darkness. Her family rarely ventured so deep underground, and for good reason. Supplies were scarce, reserved for passages closer to the surface, and not to be wasted in such labyrinthine zones. With no food, water, or even so much as a torch, she had to move far enough into the tunnels to hide, but not far enough to lose all hope of finding a way back out.

The ground gave way, and her leg plunged through the earth, taking her courage with it. Her arms flailed as she fell, seeking something to stop her fall, but they found no purchase. Alessia cried out as her backside hit the wet rock, her leg lodged in the hole she had fallen through.

An icy sense of fear stabbed at her chest. They’d probably heard her. With eyes clenched shut, she forced herself to take slower, deeper breaths. One. Two. Three…she counted to twenty before she let herself believe no one was running towards the sound she’d sent reverberating through the space.

Finding the ground, she pushed herself up. A bolt of pain shot through her thigh. The unpleasant sound of fabric tearing frightened her more than the warm blood gushing over her knee. Alessia bit her lip to hold in another cry.

Damn it to hell! The thought screamed its way through her body. She felt the waxy indignation of it in every muscle. She pictured her mother’s face, paler than ever, as she had pulled Alessia to her just before they parted ways; a tight hug goodbye before tossing their wrist-lights to the ground. Alessia shook her head, banishing the image. Rey, her mother, was fighting her own battle somewhere else. She couldn’t even hazard a guess as to why her father wasn’t there when she’d been roused. She was on her own.

Alessia needed to focus on reality. It was pointless to wish they’d stayed together.

Trying to pull her leg out again might cause more damage, and then she might be unable to walk, which meant death. If she didn’t, though, she would be trapped in that spot, left to her own thoughts until her body gave out. There wasn’t a choice. She had to free herself and it was going to hurt.

A flash of light swept across the wall in front of her. The sudden severity of it burned her eyes and she clenched them shut. When she opened them again, two more beams of light joined the first. She had been walking towards a dead end draped in sand-coloured sulphurous flowstone. And now they’d cornered her. It was over.

“Boss! I’ve found one!” came a bombastic voice. “Down there. Looks like a teenager.”

Heavy footsteps moved closer, dashing through puddles and navigating uneven ground. They’d found her. The human government had changed its mind about her family’s freedom, as they’d been bound to do eventually, and they’d hunted them down. Her fear evaporated with each outward breath, with each jump or sweep of the torchlights. The terrifying darkness that enveloped her had been broken, and for the moment, that was all that mattered.

“It’s the daughter,” said another voice, more mature than the first. Alessia glanced at the dancing beams of light, two of them growing larger and rounder as the United Earth Alliance’s bounty hunters closed in on her.

Alessia’s leg throbbed. She bent her elbows, leaning back to rest on her forearms. Tightness had taken hold of her body, and it brought on a manic kind of exhaustion. Two men approached and stood before her. The older of the two, a sweaty beast of a man, took another step forwards. He bent down and examined what could be seen of her leg before dimming the light and turning it towards her. After the dense darkness, it was too bright, and she turned away.

“Well, then. Premier Abel will be pleased we found you all alive, Alessia.” His voice dripped with pleasure at his own achievement. She released a soft sigh. The UEA had gone back on its promise to her family. They’d get nothing from her.

Dropping the light between his legs, he leaned forwards and rocked on the balls of his feet. Stale remnants of musky cologne made Alessia’s stomach clench, but she kept her face as still as she could. Her discomfort belonged to her alone.

“It’s for the best, girl,” he told her. “This isn’t exactly an ideal way to live, is it? In the dark. Now, let’s see about getting you out of this hole.” The man stood, removed a handkerchief from his pocket, and then wiped the condensation from his glistening forehead.

“You’re not going to kill me?” Alessia asked, her mouth dry.

“Kill you?” he laughed. “Of course not! We’re not monsters.” He faced the other man. “Spray the wound and get her out of there, Mick. Let’s see about taking these people somewhere safe and protected.”

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Meet the Author

Rebecca Langham lives in the Blue Mountains (Australia) with her partner, three children, and menagerie of pets. A Xenite, a Whovian and all-round general nerd, she’s a lover of science fiction, comic books, and caffeine. When she isn’t teaching History to high schoolers or wrangling children, Rebecca enjoys playing broomball and reading.

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Release Blitz for Life After Humanity (Thorns and Fangs #3) by Gillian St. Kevern (excerpt and giveaway)

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Title:  Life After Humanity

Series: Thorns and Fangs, Book Three

Author: Gillian St. Kevern

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: January 15, 2018

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 119000

Genre: Paranormal, vampires, supernatural beings, werewolves, alternate universe, cliffhanger ending

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Synopsis

Ben is a recovering vampire determined to pick up the pieces of the life that came to a halt when he was murdered over a year ago—even if that means distancing himself from his few remaining friends. Nate, struggling to navigate his new identity as a Class 3 Unknown paranormal, knows it will take more than mastery of his affinity with plants to convince Ben they belong together.

When Ben’s application for human status is denied, he must fight to leave the paranormal world behind him while Nate’s generous impulses drag him into conflict with a werewolf pack with designs on ruling New Camden. As Ben’s vampire family draws closer to finding him, his vampire instinct awakens—throwing his continued existence into jeopardy. The hunt for the missing werewolf continues, and Nate and Ben become pawns in Councilor Wisner’s plans to take control of the city. Their only hope is each other—if they can see that before all is lost.

Excerpt

Life After Humanity
Gillian St. Kevern © 2017
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One
Someone had broken in.

Ben stood in the doorway of his New Camden apartment. The door swung open at his touch, even before he’d fished his key out of his pocket. Beneath his feet, the protective wards laid around the apartment throbbed like an open wound. Someone had forced their way past Ben’s carefully laid defenses—someone who was still there.

Damnit. Ben set his briefcase down noiselessly beside the door. Just one day. One day without anything supernatural happening. Is that too much to ask?

He didn’t move, using his senses to probe the darkness beyond the door. Vampire—or werewolf? He hadn’t felt any interference with his wards until he’d reached his apartment. That ruled out a magical practitioner or any lesser supernatural being that would have needed to unpick the spell piece by piece. Please, not another demon. None of the boxes dotted around the living room were big enough to hide an intruder. Unless they crouched behind the sofa or pressed against the wall in the shadows, they weren’t in the living room.

Keeping his attention focused on the apartment, Ben fished for his umbrella stand and the cane leaning against its back. It looked benign, as if it had been forgotten by an elderly visitor, but when Ben twisted the handle, he released the long blade hidden within.

Not Ben’s first choice of weapon—the blade was too long and too dainty—but it was a weapon, able to stand up to vampire or demon. If this is a werewolf, I am in serious trouble. The stale air of his apartment lacked the distinctive ripe odor of werewolf. Still, Ben couldn’t rule it out.

Why would a werewolf break into my apartment? True, Ben had a past as a supernatural investigator for ARX and had killed a few werewolves in his time—but that was the past. There was nothing linking his life now to ARX—was there?

Ben slipped noiselessly into the dimly lit living room, heading for the sofa. Nothing there—or in the shadows. He scanned the room, but everything looked as it had that afternoon when he’d stepped out to meet his accountant. All I did was my taxes! Where’s the harm in that?

But bringing his financial records up-to-date for the year he’d been dead had taken all of the afternoon. Ample time for whoever it was to find a hiding place. Ben stood motionless in the living room, straining with his senses for any clue to the intruder.

The open doors of his apartment were in deeper shadow than the rest of the living room. Reaching for the light switch was tempting, but Ben’s eyes were now accustomed to the dark. Readjusting would cost seconds he wasn’t sure he had. His eyes fell on the stacks of paper on his living room table.

At first glance they seemed undisturbed, but a closer look revealed a few papers had drifted to the side. Disturbed by a breeze? Ben turned to the kitchen door. A sliver of light was just visible through the crack beneath.

A trap. There was nothing of interest to any supernatural being in the kitchen, so it would be the last place he searched. His guard down, his senses dull, he’d be unprepared for whatever waited beyond. Or—Ben frowned as he approached the door—was there another explanation?

A faint sizzling sound emanated from beyond the door, followed by the heavy smell of garlic.

Ben’s nose twitched. A werewolf would not cook an enemy dinner. A demon wouldn’t know how. A vampire might—but a vampire would not use garlic.

I’ve got a bad feeling about this. Taking a deep breath, Ben slowly levered the handle down and let the door drift open. His fear was confirmed.

Nate stood at the counter, his back to the door. The strength implicit in his broad shoulders and muscular arms was softened—but not disguised—by the domesticity of his actions. As Ben watched, Nate lay down the knife and used the chopping board to slide his neatly diced peppers into the frying pan. At his elbow a pot boiled merrily.

Far more dangerous than any werewolf. Ben swallowed, finding it hard to speak. He felt as if he were caught in a spell, unable to do anything but watch.

Absorbed in his task, Nate seemed unaware of Ben’s presence. He was dressed down, wearing a faded T-shirt that hugged his torso. The edges of his jeans were frayed, hanging down over his bare feet. His hair hadn’t been styled, and it curled up at the base of his neck. Finished adding the mushrooms to the pan, he stirred its contents and then stretched out a hand to the basil growing in a pot on the windowsill. The window reflected his smile, inward and alarmingly personal.

Ben swallowed. Nate had broken in—so why did he feel like the intruder?

Dangerous. Ben dug his fingers into his arm. Focus! Casual worked annoyingly well for Nate, made more effective by the knowledge that Nate made a point of looking good. There were few people who got to see Nate dressed down. But Ben couldn’t think about that, or how right Nate looked in his kitchen. He had to get Nate out of his apartment before it was too late.

“What happened to seeing less of each other?”

Nate started, snatching his hand back from the basil. He turned, and Ben’s initial flash of triumph gave way to alarm. Nate’s eyes were a great weapon. Hazel and framed by dark, almost decadently soft lashes, they radiated whatever Nate felt with an immediacy that was hard to resist.

“Jesus, Ben! You scared the shit out of me—” He came to a halt. “Is that a sword?”

Ben looked down at the blade in his hand. It wouldn’t help him now. “It’s a family heirloom. Used to be my grandfather’s.” He turned back toward the front door.

“And you just keep it there by the door?” Nate followed Ben to the kitchen door to watch.

“In case of intruders.” Ben sheathed the sword and dropped the cane back in the stand. He shut the door. His heart raced. Ben took a moment to summon all his anger. I was this close to a day without anything supernatural happening! “You’d better have a good reason for breaking into my apartment.”

“I do.” Nate stood in the kitchen doorway, one hand resting against the frame.

“Let’s hear it then.”

“I had a bad feeling this afternoon. A premonition.”

Not this again! “It wasn’t a premonition.”

“It felt really real. I was just watching TV and all of a sudden, these words popped into my mind. You were gone and I wasn’t going to see you again. It really freaked me out.”

“Enough to add breaking and entering to your criminal file?”

Nate radiated hurt. He wrapped his arms around himself. “I had to see you. No one answered the door, so I tried calling. When it had been a couple of hours and you hadn’t answered your phone, I—well, I got worried.”

“And that’s when you broke in?” Ben pulled his phone out of his pocket, tapping in his pin.

“That was an accident. I had my hand on the door, and I was thinking about how much I wanted to be on the other side, and the door just…relaxed.”

Eight missed calls… Ben jerked his head up. “Relaxed?”

“I tried the handle and it opened.” Nate’s eyes settled anxiously on Ben’s. “Did I break anything?”

Ben looked down at the welcome mat beneath his feet. He didn’t need to lift it to know what he would find. His runes, intact but faintly smudged. “Only the natural laws regarding the magical properties of runes.”

Nate scratched the back of his neck. He dropped his gaze, shuffling his feet, but was unable to keep from looking up to check Ben’s expression. “Are you mad?”

Embarrassment looked wrong on Nate. Ben was reminded of a dog caught doing something he knew he shouldn’t be—and felt the tight knot of anger in his stomach undo. Curse him! If Ben was going to get out of this encounter unscathed he needed his anger. “Of course I’m mad. My apartment is my place. Coming home to find someone’s forced their way in is…not good.” Not good? That wasn’t going to convince anyone—least of all anyone with Nate’s perceptive nature.

It was hard to read Nate’s expression. “I made dinner. As an apology.”

At least he realized he needed to apologize— No! I have to be firm. “I think your apology is burning.”

“Shit!” Nate ducked back through the doorway to attend to the frying pan.

Ben took the opportunity to escape.

Purchase

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Meet the Author

Gillian St. Kevern is spending Christmas in her native New Zealand, where the seasonal festivities include pavlovas, walks on the beach, and a distinct lack of sweaters, seasonal or otherwise. She will almost certainly get sunburnt at some stage.

Gillian reads and writes a variety of genres. She’s a huge fan of paranormal with an emphasis on vampires. The third and fourth books in her vampire series, Thorns and Fangs, are due for release in January and February 2018. She also explores Welsh Mythology in the on-going Deep Magic series. In 2018, she plans to explore another beloved genre―vintage mysteries. She loves discovering new books and authors, so please get in touch if you have any good book recommendations to share!

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Hannah Carmack on Tagging, Writing, and her new release Seven-Sided Spy (guest blog)

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Seven-Sided Spy by Hannah Carmack
NineStar Press
Release Date: January 15th

Buy at NineStar Press

Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words is happy to have Hannah Carmack here today to talk about her new release Seven-Sided Spy and her thoughts on writing, tagging and unhappily every after.  Welcome, Hannah.

Hannah Carmack on Unhappily Ever After

At first, I thought the tagging was a mistake. The manuscript was back from the proofer and below Heat Level: 0 (Which is a measure of spicy romance scenes, not general warmth of the novel’s content,) was a list of tags:

Abduction, historical, spies, no HEA or HFN, revenge, gay, lesbian, eating disorder, secret agent, graphic violence, m/c dies.

M/C DIES. My immediate thought was ‘Uh, spoiler?’ As fast as my fingers could type, I wrote my editor asking if there’d been an error in tagging. I was surprised to learn that there hadn’t. Now, my editor is the bomb.com and my press is flippin’ the best, so I was surprised that they’d include a tag that gave away so much. Especially in a book where the ending is so emotionally charged. Coupled with the no HEA or HFN (which stand for Happily Ever After and Happy For Now,) I was certain that we’d given too much away.

Then, it happened. As I sent the Advance Reader Copies out, tags included, I had a reviewer write me back. They expressed immense gratitude that I’d included the spoiler-y tags and decided that they needed to pass on the novel at this time in their life. Which I completely understand, respect, and applaud them for. Self-care comes first, kids.

The tags that I initially pushed back on were in fact that the tags that mattered the most. Had I not included them, my book, whose goal it is to bring pleasure to readers, could have hurt someone. In the times we’re in, it may be best to take the Adam Silvera Approach. Being completely upfront with your readers about anything that could be seen as upsetting or distressing –Dog deaths included– is one of the kindest things you can do. 

Blurb

In the midst of the cold war, the CIA’s finest and most fatal female agent, Diana Riley, vanishes. Kidnapped by the KGB and taken to the backcountry of North Carolina, she and her team of unsavory partners are forced to undergo illegal experimentation.

But, when the experiments leave them horribly deformed and unable to reenter society without someone crying monster, the previously glamorous and high-maintenance spies must escape KGB captivity and avoid recapture at the hands of Nikola, a ruthless KGB agent with an intense and well-justified grudge against her former flame.

New Year’s Day Release Day Blitz for The Calling by MD Neu (except and giveaway)

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Title:  The Calling

Author: M.D. Neu

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: January 1, 2018

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 108300

Genre: Paranormal, paranormal, gay, dark, immortal, magic users, psychic ability, vampires

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Synopsis

Being a nobody isn’t Duncan Alexander’s life goal, but it’s worked for him. He has a nondescript job, a few good friends, and overall he’s content. That’s until one fateful trip to San Jose, California, where he is “Called” to meet the mysterious Juliet de Exter. Juliet is a beautiful, wealthy, powerful Immortal who is undertaking The Calling—a search for a human to join her world of Immortals. Inexplicably, Duncan’s calling is more dangerous than any of the Immortals, even Juliet, ever thought it would be.

There is more to this nobody, this only child of long-deceased parents, than anyone thought. When Duncan experiences uncontrollable dreams of people he doesn’t know and places he hasn’t been, Juliet and the other Immortals worry. Soon, his visions point to a coven of long-dead witches. The dreams also lead Duncan to his one true love. How will Duncan navigate a forbidden romance with an outcast Immortal? How will he and the others keep the balance between the Light and Dark, survive vicious attacks, and keep the humans from learning who they truly are? More importantly, who is this implacable foe Duncan keeps seeing in his dreams?

Excerpt

The Calling
M.D. Neu © 2017
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One
What is death?

I once believed there was only one definition: your body stops functioning, your soul leaves and what’s left turns to dust. That was what I thought, until it wasn’t.

I’ve discovered when you’re a nobody, the world can be an amazing place if you want it to be. Your life can change in a heartbeat and not make the least bit of difference to anyone but you, or so it would seem.

That was my case.

I’m by no means whining or complaining. I had a job, a small place to live, and friends, but no real family, and that was something I desperately missed and wanted. My life wasn’t bad and I was happy. However, I was just a random person, one of the many faces you see on the street and never glance at twice. It was dull. Of course, as with me, the majority of society didn’t know our world had hidden secrets, unseen by most.

The other important thing I want you to realize about me is that before I met her, I wasn’t a lucky man, not with money and certainly not with love. I made enough to live on, but never enough to take fancy trips. My idea of travel was staying at home and watching movies. That was my price range. And as for love, it was forgettable.

The day my life changed was like all the others, until it wasn’t. It was August 19. The year isn’t important. But we had finished celebrating the Olympics, and in a few short months, the country would be picking between the lesser of two evils for president.

I sat at an outdoor café in Santana Row. I’d spent the afternoon going on a tour of the Winchester Mystery House. Once my stomach had started to growl, I decided to grab a bite to eat.

I had come to San Jose, California for a vacation that I couldn’t afford and didn’t particularly want to take. Why San Jose? Why not San Francisco or Monterey or Vegas or Yosemite? To be honest, I don’t know, but it’s like everything inside and around me pulled me there. Out of the blue, I got emails from the San Jose Visitor Bureau. My dreams were filled with images of the city and the surrounding hills and mountains. It seemed that old song, “Do You Know the Way to San Jose” by Dionne Warwick constantly played. Still, San Jose isn’t the place most people consider for a ten-day vacation, especially someone alone who had never been to the Bay Area before.

Despite my appreh, from the moment I arrived, I immediately felt at peace. I’d never been this calm or relaxed anywhere before, not even at home. There was another reason for me coming here, one I didn’t understand yet, at least not on a conscious level.

I would find out why soon enough.

I don’t want to get things out of order, so back on point. I sat at this Italian-style outdoor café watching people walk by, enjoying the scent of roses and vanilla that filled the air. The aroma tickled the back of my brain. I smelled it everywhere, which should have been my first clue that something was different.

After enjoying my Italian-style chicken marsala, and while I sipped my strawberry lemonade, I felt a sharp pull in my brain. It wasn’t like I heard voices—it was more like vague images filled my head: a house, a woman, gardens, a gate, hills covered in trees, and a pair of eyes. My hands shook, and my glass fell to the floor and shattered. An intense pressure grew between my eyes, and I pinched the bridge of my nose to ease it.

When the tug came, three things happened to me at once.

First, I had the realization that I had an important meeting in Los Altos Hills. I had never heard of Los Altos Hills and even had to look it up on my phone to see if it was real. I would have to check my GPS when I returned to my rental. I knew the address of the house and who I was going to meet. She had blonde hair and mysterious eyes. I knew her, but I didn’t understand how.

Second, the waiter came to my table.

“Sorry about the drink,” I said.

He gave me an odd look and informed me my meal had been paid for and to enjoy my evening. Flabbergasted, I stared at the server.

I glanced around the café and wondered who paid the bill and why. I wasn’t even done yet.

“Mr. Alexander, are you all right?” The waiter scanned me up and down. “Do you need me to call someone? You look pale.”

“No.” I shook my head. “I’m fine.”

How did the waiter know my name? Stranger still, when I checked the table, my drink sat there and nothing had fallen to the floor. I wasn’t sure what was happening.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. Sorry. Just a headache,” I said.

“All right. I hope you have a pleasant afternoon.” He smiled and started to walk off but turned back. “Oh, I almost forgot. I’m supposed to remind you about your meeting tonight.”

A lump stuck in my throat, and I nodded. It was spooky, but I wasn’t scared.

The last thing: I got a text from my closest friend, Cindy Martin. Good luck tonight. I’m sure it’ll be you.

I remember thinking, What does she know that I don’t?

I’ve known Cindy for years, and for her to say anything that short and sweet was rare. In fact, I don’t suppose I ever got a message from her without any emoticons.

As bizarre as all of this was, I realized that no matter what, everything and everyone I cared about would be okay. Clearly, there was something more to this trip and my being here. I didn’t know what. But it wasn’t just some free meal. It was bigger than that. If I was selected for what? I had no clue. And if I wasn’t, then I would get to see them again. There would be no questions.

Part of me wanted to worry, but I wasn’t bothered, which in itself surprised me. I’ve been a pessimist for as long as I can remember. It probably had to do with the strange death of my father when I was a kid. A death never fully explained. So, for this not to make me worry was one more mystery. What was about to happen was something that would just be. Instead of freaking out and worrying, I was calm and accepting of whatever adventure or fate awaited me.

Even though I was short on time to get to the house in Los Altos Hills, I wanted to enjoy my lunch. Reflecting on it now, I’m pretty sure that was the cynical part of my brain trying to exert some kind of control. I took my time, finished my meal, and when I was done, I tipped the server and left.

I walked back to my rental car. I wanted to take in as much of the classical European architecture and lush landscaping of the outdoor mall as I could. I managed to get a few decent cell phone pictures of the place.

I stopped my lollygagging and got moving. I had someplace to be and what appeared to be no choice in the matter. Before you go crazy, understand this wasn’t like one of those stupid movies that you watch, shaking your head, yelling at the screen for them not to go into the dark forest or spooky house or whatever. It wasn’t like that.

I’d like to hope I’m explaining this well enough so you don’t sit there and think, “Oh this is stupid. I’d never do anything that dumb.” It wasn’t like I had a choice. I had to go—something compelled me to her. I had to meet this woman, calling me. It was hard-wired into me, no matter how much I tried to slow down or stall, I moved forward.

I moved toward her.

When I finally got in the car and took a breath, I wasn’t clammy or shaky, and my heart wasn’t pounding in my chest. I should have been anxious, but I wasn’t. I was fine.

Knowing without understanding what I had to do, I headed to the freeway.

Purchase

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Meet the Author

M.D. Neu is a LGBTQA Fiction Writer with a love for writing and travel. Living in the heart of Silicon Valley (San Jose, California) and growing up around technology, he’s always been fascinated with what could be. Specifically drawn to Science Fiction and Paranormal television and novels, M.D. Neu was inspired by the great Gene Roddenberry, George Lucas, Stephen King, Alfred Hitchcock and Kim Stanley Robinson. An odd combination, but one that has influenced his writing.

Growing up in an accepting family as a gay man, he always wondered why there were never stories reflecting who he was. Constantly surrounded by characters that only reflected heterosexual society, M.D. Neu decided he wanted to change that. So, he took to writing, wanting to tell good stories that reflected our diverse world.

When M.D. Neu isn’t writing, he works for a non-profit and travels with his biggest supporter and his harshest critic, Eric, his husband of eighteen plus years.

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Book Blitz: Blackwelder 2164 by Christopher D. J (excerpt and giveaway)

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Title:  Blackwelder 2164

Author: Christopher D.J.

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: January 1, 2018

Heat Level: 2 – Fade to Black Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 51200

Genre: Science Fiction, military, gay, war, aliens, romance

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Synopsis

When it comes to hitting his target, Spencer Blackwelder can’t miss. But when it comes to hitting the mark in other areas of his life, his aim is way off, which is definitely a problem when you’re a military sharp shooter preparing for war with an alien species.

As penance for past mistakes in friendship and in love, Blackwelder makes the bold choice to relocate to Fort Felix, a military base on Neptune’s moon, a decision that could end up costing him his life. Once there, he meets: Juan Miguel Arías, to whom he takes an immediate liking; Vernita Burton, a true friend; and the men and women of Brant Squad, a group of lovable losers that he eventually takes under his wing.

Blackwelder is surprised to discover he has something to live for again, but all of that is threatened when war finally arrives on Fort Felix’s doorstep. Can Blackwelder find the hero within in time to save his squad, his planet, and the man he loves?

Excerpt

Blackwelder 2164
Christopher D.J.© 2017
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One: Out of the Dark

“All right, Jinx Squad, listen up,” said First Lieutenant Robby Macke as he stood before Sergeant Spencer Blackwelder and the other crew members. “As you know, an abandoned Elumerian starship floated into the Barack’s space sector forty-eight hours ago. It’s been subjected to long-range and short-range drone scans, and we know that the propulsion and guidance systems are damaged beyond repair. There are several vacant exterior ports, suggesting the crew evacuated. Zero life signs on board. We are the lucky squad who get to be the first to dock with it. Our mission is to search the vessel, determine its threat level, collect any useful data, and return to the Barack. Any questions?”

“Just one, sir: with those giant sat dishes Miller uses for ears, there’s no need for us to actually dock, is there? He can just conduct an audio scan from here,” said Mudunuri. The other squad members laughed as Miller, the pilot, whipped his head around to shoot Mudunuri a scathing look.

“Is this the comedy hour? Or are we here to do a job?” Blackwelder asked. “Knock it off.”

“Sorry, Sergeant Blackwelder.”

Macke smirked. “Don’t be absurd, Mudunuri; Miller couldn’t possibly pull that scan off from here. He’d need to be, what, at least three clicks closer?”

Miller shook his head from the cockpit. The other soldiers sniggered.

“Lieutenant Abernathy, com check, if you please.”

Abernathy adjusted her headset, then pressed and held a yellow button until it turned green. “This is Jinx Squad on Raider-1 to Barack actual. We’re conducting a com check; do you read, Barack?”

“Raider-1 this is Barack actual, we read you. Coms are go, over,” said a voice over the open channel.

Satisfied, Abernathy slid her hands along the console to a different cluster of brightly lit buttons. “Jinx Squad, internal com check, channel three. Confirm.”

“Coms are go,” they all said in unison. Over her shoulder, Blackwelder could see several lights flash green on Abernathy’s console.

“Coms are go, Lieutenant,” Abernathy said to Macke with a wink.

Raider-1 was a small ship with cramped quarters. There was a cargo hold beneath the floor of the ship, but its capacity was limited, not that they were expecting much of a physical salvage. Four soldiers shared the seating compartment with Blackwelder. Macke stood over the backs of the pilot and Abernathy, talking navigational tactics. They sat close together, their knees touching and occasionally banging into one another as the ship jostled. Several lit panels—some with loose-hanging cables—beeped above their heads. Expecting the atmosphere aboard the Elumerian ship to be completely inhospitable, the Allied Earth soldiers were wearing their space suits, sans helmets, and held their heavy-duty laser rifles at the ready.

The air was rife with tension; they had joked before, but Blackwelder knew it was a weak ploy to cover their mounting fear. None of them had ever stepped foot onto an alien, enemy vessel before. Blackwelder felt the concern himself, of course, but had to master it. Macke might have been the one giving the orders, but Blackwelder knew he’d be the one to keep them on point.

“Don’t forget to breathe, Jinx,” Blackwelder said to them all. “This is nothing more than a standard recon mission. You’ve trained for this.” A couple of them nodded, but they seemed little put at ease by his words. He took a quick look at Macke, though the lieutenant didn’t turn to meet his glance.

“And if any one of you shoots one of your own, I guarantee you you’ll be eating nothing but veg-ox for a week.”

A couple of them chuckled at the comment. “But what if you like veg-ox?” one of them said softly.

“Shut up, DeFrank,” Mudunuri said.

“Target in range, LT. Better get strapped in,” Miller said. On screen, Blackwelder could see a massive vessel that was rounded and bulbous on one end and through the middle, but that tapered off toward the tail. Cascading rows of spikes adorned the middle of the craft on both sides. The spikes, rounded at the edge and faintly glowing from their center, could almost be mistaken for fins. In fact, the whole ship had the look of a mutated whale, which reminded Blackwelder of the aquatic life they’d discovered years ago in some of Earth’s more polluted oceans.

Macke nodded and turned to take his seat, the only available one being next to Blackwelder. Blackwelder looked up at Macke; he kept his expression blank, but inside he was laughing. He could see a moment of nervousness sweep over Macke’s face, but he mastered it immediately and took his seat. Blackwelder couldn’t help himself; he found Macke’s discomfort utterly amusing. Raider-1 docked with the Elumerian ship shortly thereafter.

Macke stood up quickly from his seat and grabbed his helmet “Miller, Abernathy, you stay with Raider-1 and monitor us. Mudunuri, you’re with DeFrank. Pazmiño, you’re with Sergeant. Blackwelder and Wine, you’re with me. We’ll split up, clear the ship section by section, and rendezvous on what we’re eighty-seven percent sure is the bridge. Questions?”

Mudunuri opened and closed his mouth. Blackwelder could see the confusion mounting as he childishly raised his hand. “Uh, sir? Normally in the incursion scenarios, I partner with Pazmiño.”

Jumping to his feet, Blackwelder cut across Macke before he could answer. “This isn’t a scenario, dusties! In live missions, you take the orders given to you.” He took a step closer to Macke and leaned in to whisper: “Though, sir, the familiarity of the old pairings may be an advantage for us in this situation. One less thing for them to think about. Unless there’s a particular reason you want to readjust the teams?”

Macke glanced at Abernathy, who was close enough to overhear them. Her expression was quizzical, as she too seemed to be confused by the sudden change in the lineup.

“Besides,” Blackwelder said, “it will be easier for me to keep you alive if I can watch your back.”

“Yeah, okay,” Macke said impatiently. “Old pairings: Mudunuri/ Pazmiño, DeFrank/Wine, and Wellie, you’re with me. Let’s get in there and get this done, people.”

Purchase

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

Meet the Author

Christopher D. J. was born and raised in the South, calling multiple cities home between North Carolina, South Carolina, and Florida, but none more so than Daytona Beach, where he graduated from Mainland High School. Christopher went on to complete his BA at Duke University and his MPW at the University of Southern California. Christopher is the author of Blackwelder: 2164 and Between Two Brothers. He briefly worked in the entertainment industry before turning his attention full-time to higher education; he currently has the pleasure of serving first-year students and families at California State University, Los Angeles as the Assistant Director for New Student and Parent Programs.

Christopher lives in Los Angeles, CA, where he enjoys comic books, movies, cheeseburgers, French fries, and not having to worry about mosquitoes.

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