Cheryl Headford on Worldbuilding and her release Fairies at the Bottom of the Garden (guest post, excerpt, and giveaway)

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Title:  Fairies at the Bottom of the Garden

Author: Cheryl Headford

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: November 13, 2017

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 84700

Genre: Fantasy, Romance, gay, fairy, British humour, fantasy, abuse

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Worldbuilding by Cheryl Headford

I was born, brought up, and still live in the Welsh Valleys, surrounded by mountains, woods and fields. There are many “secret” places and everyone knows there are fairies everywhere and you have to keep part of your garden wild for them. The place where Draven has his unusual picnic is based on a place I used to go to a lot. It’s called Nant-Y-Gwyddon (roughly translates as Mountain Stream of the Druid (or knowledgeable one)) Very sadly, the last time I went there a flood had washed away the path and collapsed the tree that held up the side of the valley at that point. The stream is still running as far I know but there’s no way to get down to it or any bank to sit on if you could.

I’ve never been to the precise city where Keiron lives. I’m not sure it exists. However, it has all the things cities have, like Italian restaurants, parks and smog.

Through various circuitous routes, I’d been led to remember a lilac tree I had outside my window when I was growing up and that led to me thinking about the whole garden, and in particular the bushes at the end where the fairies lived. At the time (until I was 16) we had an outside toilet, at the end of quite a long garden path, and I will never forget running up and down it at night, with my lantern watching for fairy lights or goblins trying to trip me up with their long, knotty fingers.

That night, I had a dream about a fairy peeping out from those bushes into my old garden and watching a man. The fairy sneaked closer and closer but was never caught. The next day, I painted a picture of the fairy and wondered what would happen if he got caught. Of course, it was set in my old house, but not the place I used to live, which wasn’t a city. I will never live in a city because I am far more fey than human in that respect.

As far as plot was concerned that was pretty much as far as it got before I started to write. I had a very strong connection with Draven from the start, and I knew him very well from all the fairy stories, tales, memories, musings I have collected over my years of interest in fairies and folklore. Keiron, I came to know more slowly. As I am a pantser rather than a plotter, the rest pretty much wrote itself as I went along.

Synopsis

All Keiron wants is a quiet life. Fat chance with a boyfriend like Bren. But if he thought Bren complicated his life, that was nothing compared to the complications that begin when he opens the door to what he thinks is a naked boy claiming to be his slave.

Draven is a fairy with his sights set on the handsome human who keeps a wild place in the garden for fairies. When Draven slips through a fairy gate into the city, he sets in motion a series of events that binds him to Keiron forever, and just might be the end of him.

While Draven explores Keiron’s world with wide-eyed wonder, Keiron does everything he can to keep Draven’s at bay, until the only way to save Draven and bring him home is to step into a world that should exist only in children stories.

Excerpt

Fairies at the Bottom of the Garden
Cheryl Headford © 2017
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One

Keiron hurried home at the end of a very long day, anticipating some peace and quiet. He liked a quiet life, so what had possessed him to take on a boyfriend like Bren Donovan was anyone’s guess. Whatever else it might be, life with Bren was certainly not quiet, and it was slowly wearing Keiron out.

It was almost a relief Bren wouldn’t be staying at the flat that night. Although they were practically living together, Bren had his own place and sometimes felt the need to stay there. This was usually because a member of his family—or particularly flighty friend—was coming to stay. It wasn’t as if his family wasn’t aware of their relationship, but Bren was shy about “rubbing it in their faces”. Keiron didn’t understand because Bren’s mother seemed to like him a great deal and considered him to be a stabilising influence on her son.

Keiron was a conservative person and so different to Bren, they might as well live in different worlds. As for Bren’s friends, they were usually very like him—loud, messy, and irresponsible. Keiron couldn’t stand them. He was lucky if nothing got broken, and they always left the flat in a complete mess. If Bren wanted to live in a pigsty, so be it. He could do it in his own home.

This weekend, with the bank holiday, Bren was getting both. His friends were congregating on Saturday. Then his parents and sister were coming on Sunday, and staying through until Tuesday morning. Keiron had a Bren-free weekend and was looking forward to it.

If it hadn’t been for their differences on this point, they’d have moved in together a long time ago. Bren chafed for it, but Keiron couldn’t handle his flat descending into chaos, and it wasn’t even as if Bren helped tidy up afterwards. Keiron cringed at the thought of having that chaos and therefore stress every day.

Not only that, but Bren was the most jealous person Keiron had ever come across. Keiron was constantly accused of looking at other men, and God forbid he spoke to one. Bren was a firebrand, completely living up to his fiery red-headed Irish-descended promise. Sometimes it was exciting, even invigorating, yet at other times Keiron longed for the peace and stability he used to have before Bren burst in on him. Maybe at twenty-two, he was just getting old.

Keiron ordered takeaway and, while he waited for it to arrive, wandered down to the bottom of the garden, a beer in his hand, his hair damp from the bath. The sun was still high and warm enough for him to be wearing a thin T-shirt and shorts. The smell of a barbecue drifted over from a neighbouring garden and his mouth watered.

Savouring his drink, he sank onto the stone bench under the rose arbour. It afforded a good view of the whole garden. It was a big one. A long lawn stretched ahead of him to the decking immediately outside the house, where a large wooden table, a number of items of garden furniture, and a shiny silver gas barbecue sat.

Sometimes, he had Bren’s friends around for a barbecue. They weren’t so bad out here in the garden, although they made such a mess of the barbecue itself that it took him days to get it properly clean. He smiled to himself. Sometimes, living with Bren was like having a teenage son. Fortunately, Bren was very good at things he’d hate to think any son of his could do.

The lawn was bordered on either side by flower beds and bushes, which hid the wooden fences separating his garden from the ones on either side. To his left, screened from the arbour by a yew hedge, was a garden pool with a rock fountain and fat koi swimming under lily pads. There used to be more fish—before Bren’s friends found the pond. He pursed his lips at the thought.

To the right was a shrubbery. A large variety of plants made up a wild area of about thirty square feet. Bren loved it, of course. He’d burrowed into it and, within a week, had made a green cave right in the middle. He’d floored it with an old piece of carpet he’d found on a skip. It had taken a long time and a lot of carpet-cleaner to persuade Keiron to enter it, but he had to admit, making love outside under the bushes in the darkness was something he’d come to enjoy very much.

Bren had been surprised he had such a wild place in his neat garden, in his neat life. Perhaps it was the thing that sealed the deal with Bren, who’d been reluctant to get involved with someone so unlike himself, and likely to “cramp his style”.

“But why?” he’d asked. “It doesn’t seem like you to have a wild place like this. It’s so out of place—with the garden and with you. Why haven’t you ‘tamed’ it? Everything else in your life is tame. You’re the most vanilla person I know—except for this.”

They were in the “cave” at the time. It was dark but warm, and they were holding each other in the afterglow of amazing sex. Keiron had smiled lazily and sighed.

“My mother used to live out in the country somewhere when she was a child. My grandmother never took to city life. She told me once there was no room in a city for life, real life. Nowhere for roots to reach the earth. No place for the fairies.”

“Fairies?”

“Oh yes, she was very superstitious about fairies. Never had anything made of iron in the garden. Put out saucers of warm milk if there was a deep frost or snow. And always had a wild place in the garden—for the fairies.”

Bren had smiled at him. “I never thought you had any of that in you, Keiron. I guess there’s hope for you yet.”

Keiron had grinned and held Bren tightly in his arms.

Keiron smiled at the memory and took a drink of his beer. Something caught his eye, and he turned towards the shrubbery. He was sure he’d seen something move, shooting across his vision, behind the trees. He stared hard, but there was nothing there. It must have been a squirrel. He saw them now and again, scrabbling for nuts under the hazel tree or acorns from the enormous oak that overhung the garden from next door.

With a sigh, he settled back and took another drink. His stomach rumbled, and he glanced at his watch, wondering when his pizza would get there. The deliveryman was a regular, and if there was no answer at the door, he’d text to say he’d arrived. So Keiron could relax and not worry about—

There was definitely something there. It moved again. He’d seen it—a flash of white. A cat? Most of the neighbours had cats, and they liked to hang about in the shrubbery, waiting to pounce on unsuspecting birds. It had taken a lot of work to get rid of the smell of cat pee from the carpet.

Ah well. Although…something nagged at the back of his mind. It wasn’t a cat. It couldn’t have been a cat because it hadn’t looked like a cat. It had looked like a person. A small person with a pale pointed face. But it had only been a fraction of a second, a flash, an impression. It was nonsense, of course.

Maybe it was one of the fairies. He smiled.

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Meet the Author

Cheryl was born into a poor mining family in the South Wales Valleys. Until she was 16, the toilet was at the bottom of the garden and the bath hung on the wall. Her refrigerator was a stone slab in the pantry and there was a black lead fireplace in the kitchen. They look lovely in a museum but aren’t so much fun to clean.

Cheryl has always been a storyteller. As a child, she’d make up stories for her nieces, nephews and cousin and they’d explore the imaginary worlds she created, in play. Later in life, Cheryl became the storyteller for a re enactment group who travelled widely, giving a taste of life in the Iron Age. As well as having an opportunity to run around hitting people with a sword, she had an opportunity to tell stories of all kinds, sometimes of her own making, to all kinds of people. The criticism was sometimes harsh, especially from the children, but the reward enormous.

It was here she began to appreciate the power of stories and the primal need to hear them. In ancient times, the wandering bard was the only source of news, and the storyteller the heart of the village, keeping the lore and the magic alive. Although much of the magic has been lost, the stories still provide a link to the part of us that still wants to believe that it’s still there, somewhere. In present times, Cheryl lives in a terraced house in the valleys with her son, dog, bearded dragon and three cats. Her daughter has deserted her for the big city, but they’re still close. She’s never been happier since she was made redundant and is able to devote herself entirely to her twin loves of writing and art, with a healthy smattering of magic and mayhem.

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Matthew J. Metzger on Side Characters and his latest novel Walking on Water (guest post, excerpt and giveaway)

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Title:  Walking on Water

Author: Matthew J. Metzger

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: November 13, 2017

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 88300

Genre: Fantasy, fantasy, mermaids, trans, magic, fairy tales, bisexual

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Matthew J. Metzger on Side Characters

My favourite characters are always my side characters.

I know that sounds a little crazy for an author, and I swear I love my main characters as much as anyone else, but—there’s just something special about side characters!

In my latest novel, there’s a whole cast of side characters built out of their own names. The novel is set in a fictional German kingdom. I was learning a bit of German from my helpers at the time, and loved the way a German translation changed the way a word looked and felt. So Doctor became Doktor, but would have been a different word entirely if someone said, “Call a doctor!” Therefore, our hero—who speaks no German at all—takes that to be his actual name. This also happens with a captain and a small child, whose ‘name’ actually means ‘my son.’

I love the visual look of a word, so the switch from Doctor to Doktor made the character for me. His German ‘name’ looks spikier and harsher, so the character became that way as well. By contrast, the long dip of the J in Janez (the prince) made him softer than the original draft, more refined and gentle than I’d originally pictured.

With main characters there’s only so much their name can influence them—they have to be the way they are for the plot, after all—but with side characters, I find there’s more room to mould them into exactly what I see in the name. So Doctor might have been a kindly sort of person—but Doktor is acerbic, harsh, begrudgingly caring, and uses threats and trickery to work his art. The one time he is openly warm in the entire novel is after the queen jabs her brother-in-law in his wounded thigh with a pin to stop him trying to get up before he’s ready. Doktor approves heartily of such methods, and a flash of warmth and even charm is glimpsed. (Then, obviously, it vanishes once more.)

Something similar happened with Captain Kühe. I drew the character out first—this pompous, blithering idiot of a man who’s far too self-important to fit inside his uniform properly—and went straight for an animal I don’t like to name him. Cows. I hate cows. They’re only good for beefburgers, in my opinion. So the name came so beautifully well-packaged: clumsy to pronounce in my accent, difficult to write without a German keyboard thanks to the umlaut, and too short to support its long letters. Gorgeous.

By the time I’d finished the novel, I had a cast of side characters either born from their names, or their names born from them, in a far more raw way than I can do with main characters, who I not only have to like but I have to write their name over and over and over, so it has to be a good one, and a fitting one. That’s much harder.

But my side characters? That’s where the fun really lies.

Synopsis

When a cloud falls to earth, Calla sets out to find what lies beyond the sky. Father says there’s nothing, but Calla knows better. Something killed that cloud; someone brought it down.

Raised on legends of fabled skymen, Calla never expected them to be real, much less save one from drowning—and lose her heart to him. Who are the men who walk on water? And how can such strange creatures be so beautiful?

Infatuated and intrigued, Calla rises out of her world in pursuit of a skyman who doesn’t even speak her language. Above the waves lies more than princes and politics. Above the sky awaits the discovery of who Calla was always meant to be. But what if it also means never going home again?

Excerpt

Walking on Water
Matthew J. Metzger © 2017
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One

When the sand settled, only silence remained.

The explosion had gone on for what felt like forever—a great boom that shuddered through the water, a shadow that had borne down on the nest like the end of the world had come, and then nothing but panicked escape from the crushing water, the darkness, and the suffocating whirlwind of sand and stones. In the terror, it had seemed like it would never end.

But it did end, eventually. When it did, Calla lay hidden in the gardens, deafened and dazed. She was shivering, though it wasn’t cold. An attack. They had been attacked. By what? Orcas and rival clans could hardly end the world. And what would wish to attack them so?

She took a breath. And another. Her attempts to calm herself felt pathetic and weak, like the desperate attempts of a mewling child. Where was Father? Her sisters? Where even the crabs that chattered and scuttled amongst the bushes? She was alone in the silent gardens, and Calla had never been alone before.

Slowly, she reached out. Slipped through the towering trunks, to the very edge of the gardens, to where the noise had come from. Drew aside a fern and—

Ducked down, clapping a hand over her mouth to prevent the gasp.

A giant beast lay in the courtyard.

Still. Oh, great seas, be still. She held her breath and closed her eyes. It had to be an orca, a beast so huge, and it would see her if she moved.

Yet even in her fear, Calla knew that wasn’t quite right.

Orcas didn’t come this far south—did they? Father had said they would be undisturbed here. Father had said.

She peeked again. Daring. The beast didn’t move.

Nor was it an orca. It was impossible, too huge even for that. Oh, she’d not seen an orca since she’d been a merling, but they’d never been that big. It had squashed the courtyard flat under its great belly, its tail and head—though she couldn’t tell one from the other—spilling out over the rocks and nests that had been homes, once. It would have crushed their occupants, surely. What beast killed by crushing?

Hesitantly, she drifted out of the garden. Her tail brushed the ferns, and she wrapped her fins around them, childishly seeking comfort.

The beast didn’t move.

In fact, it didn’t breathe. Its enormous ribcage, dark and broken, was punctured by a great hole, a huge gaping blackness longer than Calla’s entire body, and wider by far.

It had been slain.

Bloodless. It was quite dead. How could it be dead, how could its heart have been torn out so, without spilling blood into the water? Where was the column of red that marked its descent? Where was—

Oh.

“A cloud!”

It was no beast.

Calla fled the safety of the gardens in a flurry of excitement. No, that great oval shape was familiar. How many had scudded gently across the sky in her lifetime? How many times had she watched their passage from her window? Beautiful, dark, silent wonders. Oh, a cloud!

She rushed closer to look. How could a cloud have fallen to earth? Father had said they were simply things that happened in the sky, and no concern of theirs. But this one had fallen, lay here and near and so very touchable—and now Calla wanted to touch the sky.

It was—

She held her breath—and touched it.

Oh.

Rough. Sharp. Its body was dark against her pale hand. And hard, so very hard. She had imagined clouds to be soft and fluid, to walk on water as they did, but it wasn’t. Huge and heavy, it was a miracle that it walked at all.

And a home: tiny molluscs clung to it. As she walked her webbed fingers up the roughness and came over the crest of its enormous belly, she mourned its death. This must have killed it. Such a deep, round belly—clouds were obviously like rocks and stone, but this one had been cut in half. Exposed to the sea was a sheer, flat expanse of paleness, with great cracks in the surface. A column stuck out from the middle, and two smaller ones at head and tail. It had been impaled by something, the poor thing.

“Calla!”

The hiss reached her from far away, but Calla ignored it. The poor cloud was dead. It had been slain, and whatever had dragged it from the sky must have been immense, to wield spears like those jutting from its body. And it wasn’t here.

Clouds were harmless. Dead clouds, even more so.

“Calla, what are you doing?”

“Meri, come and see!” she called back to her sister and ducked to swim along its flattened insides. Great ropes of seaweed, twisted into impossible coils, trailed from its bones. Vast stains, dark and pink, smeared its ragged edges. When Calla peered up into the sky, at the stream of bubbles still softly rising from its innards, she could see the gentle descent of debris. It had been torn apart.

Orcas? But an orca pack would have followed it down. Sharks? Calla had never seen a shark, but Father had, long ago when he was a merling, and he’d said they were great and terrible hunters. Were sharks big enough to do it?

“Calla!”

That was not Meri’s voice. Deep and commanding, it vibrated through the water like a blow. Calla found herself swimming up the side to answer automatically, and came clear of the cloud’s gut barely in time to prevent the second shout.

Father did not like to call a second time.

“Here. Now.”

She went. At once. The immense joy at her discovery was diminished in a moment by his stern face and sterner voice, and Calla loathed it. She felt like a merling under Father’s frown and struggled to keep her face blank instead of echoing his displeased expression.

“You should stay away from such things. The guards will deal with it.”

“But Father—”

He gave her a look. She ducked her chin and drifted across to join her sisters at the window. The window. Pah. What good was the window, was seeing, when she had touched it?

“What is it?” Balta whispered, twirling her hair around her fingers.

“A cloud,” Calla said in her most impressive voice and then pushed between Meri and Balta to peer out. The guard were swarming over the cloud’s belly, poking more holes in the poor thing’s body. “Something killed it.”

Meri snorted. “Talk sense, Calla.”

“Something did!”

“You sound like a seal, grunting nonsense.”

“I do not!”

“Girls!”

They subsided under Father’s booming reprimand—although Calla snuck in a quick pinch before stopping—and returned to watching.

“Clouds don’t fall out of the sky,” Meri whispered. “It must be a shark. There’s nothing so big as a shark. Father said so.”

“Father also said sharks don’t come this far north,” Balta chirped uncertainly, still twirling her hair.

“That’s a cloud,” Calla said and peered upwards to the sky, her eyes following the great trail of bubbles, “and I bet something even bigger killed it.”

Purchase

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Meet the Author

Matthew J. Metzger is an ace, trans author posing as a functional human being in the wilds of Yorkshire, England. Although mainly a writer of contemporary, working-class romance, he also strays into fantasy when the mood strikes. Whatever the genre, the focus is inevitably on queer characters and their relationships, be they familial, platonic, sexual, or romantic.

When not crunching numbers at his day job, or writing books by night, Matthew can be found tweeting from the gym, being used as a pillow by his cat, or trying to keep his website in some semblance of order.

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Release Blitz for Tiki Torches and Treasure (Gabe Maxfield Mysteries #2) by J.C. Long (excerpt and giveaway)

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Title:  Tiki Torches and Treasure

Series: Gabe Maxfield Mysteries, Book 2

Author: J.C Long

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: November 6, 2017

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 60000

Genre: Contemporary, contemporary gay, romance, private detective, cozy mystery, law enforcement, Hawaii, humor

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Synopsis

Gabe Maxfield has reached a comfortable point in his life. His past troubles in Seattle are all but forgotten, he co-owns his own business, Paradise Investigations, with his best friend Grace Park, and he’s happy in his relationship with sexy cop—his neighbor—Maka Kekoa. Maybe the best part is, no one’s pointed a gun at him in weeks.

Knowing his luck, that is bound to change. Lack of clients and money forces Paradise Investigations to take a job helping Edwin Biers search for a treasure he promises will be worth their while. Gabe has a knack for finding trouble, though, and find it, he does.

Excerpt

Tiki Torches and Treasure
J.C. Long © 2017
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One

I was drowning.

Salt water burned my nose as I flailed my arms and legs in the ocean, trying desperately to reorient myself. Every time I started to surface, the ocean waves broke over me again and again. I was done for.

When I finally surfaced and the water drained from my ears, I could hear my companions laughing at my expense—my best friend, Grace Park, sounded like she was going to asphyxiate herself from laughing too hard. My boyfriend, Maka Kekoa, at least had the decency to attempt to hide his laughter from me.

“I’m glad my near-death causes you such amusement,” I growled, glaring at them as best I could with salt water from the Pacific Ocean stinging my eyes. “I knew surfing lessons from you two was a bad idea.”

The three of us were floating in the ocean a ways off from the shore of Waikiki Beach in Honolulu, Hawaii, the city I now called home. Well, I was floating in the ocean, which was where I seemed to spend all my time in these lessons. Maka and Grace effortlessly straddled surfboards, Maka also keeping a tight grip on mine so it didn’t get swept away by the waves.

“Don’t get frustrated,” Maka told me supportively once he’d schooled his face to mask his laughter. “No one does it well on their first try. It’s kind of like sex.”

I didn’t take much comfort from his words.

“How about the four-hundredth time?” I grumbled, swimming to the surfboard. I managed to heave my body onto it, feeling the sun warm my skin. I’d gotten tan in my month of being out and about in the constant sunshine of Hawaii, and my hair had gotten longer, almost enough to give me the surfer image. Now if I could just stay on the damn board.

“Don’t be grouchy, Gabe,” Grace chided, splashing water my way. She looked beautiful in the morning sunlight, her dark skin glistening. She wore a teal bikini that showed off her trim, fit form, toned from a lifetime of exercise and the surfing she’d taken up in Hawaii. She was half Hawaiian and half Korean, which is what drew her to Hawaii after we both graduated college in Washington.

“We’ve been at this for two weeks, and I have improved exactly zero percent.” I probably sounded like a whiny kid complaining to them, but I couldn’t help it. I hated not being good at something. “I think I’m just not meant to be a surfer.”

“Everybody’s meant to be a surfer,” Maka said, as if I’d made the most ridiculous remark ever. Grace nodded her head in emphatic agreement.

“Easy for you to say,” I scoffed, flailing my arms wildly as a wave nearly displaced me from my board again. “You were a professional surfer, remember? And you,” I rounded on Grace, “were basically born incapable of being bad at something. Me… I’m just me.”

It felt strange having a pity party in the ocean on a beautiful mid-October morning. Hawaii was paradise in a lot of ways—the sunshine seemed constant, and at a time when Seattle would already be plunging into a chill that heralded winter, it was warm and pleasant in Hawaii. I wasn’t a morning person, though, and Maka and Grace insisted we have these lessons before work. That meant we were usually in the ocean by a quarter to seven.

“You’re more than ‘just you’ to me, babe,” Maka assured me with a wink, making me blush.

Maka was full-blooded native Hawaiian, and he had the complexion to prove it, bronzed by a life spent frolicking in the sun and waves. He had broad shoulders and narrow hips and was taller than my five foot eight, with perfect black hair and lush, full lips that were utterly kissable. His deep brown eyes always seemed to twinkle, as if a powerful light danced behind them.

“Ugh.” Grace rolled her eyes and pretended to gag.

“You’re jealous,” I teased, sticking my tongue out at her.

“Jealous of you having to eat the same meal every night, so to speak? I don’t think so.”

“Hey, if I could eat prime rib every night, I would,” I said.

“Did you really just compare me to ribs?” Maka asked flatly.

“Huh? What? No—I was referring to eating the same meal every night…” I trailed off, realizing how it must have sounded to Maka, even though I didn’t mean it that way.

“If I’m anything,” Maka went on firmly, “I’m loco moco.”

I gaped at him for a moment. He had a problem with being called prime rib, but wanted to be a rice bowl topped with a hamburger, a fried egg, and gravy.

“Actually,” I said after a moment, “I can see that.” And I could. Loco moco was something you wanted to splurge on, something that was decadent, almost sinful. That description fit Maka to the letter.

I tried to give him a smoldering look, but a rogue wave rocked under me, catching me off guard and dumping me once more into the sea.

“Can we please call it a day now?” I pleaded once I was back on my board.

Grace looked like she was in no hurry to bring my suffering to an end, but Maka took pity and checked his watch.

“Actually, we should call it a day. I still need to shower and get to work. It’s going on nine, now; I can only justify going in so late a few times a week, or the chief gets pissy.”

“We also have office hours,” I reminded Grace for what felt like the tenth time that week. She was really good at what she did—we were private investigators—but she didn’t have the mindset necessary to run a business. That had been handled by her partner before me, and Grace was still getting the hang of being in charge of both sides of the business. Well, partially, since we equally shared ownership and those responsibilities.

“This is what we have a secretary for,” Grace pointed out, though she reluctantly began paddling to shore, Maka and I following suit.

“Poor Hayley’s only been with us for a week,” I panted, tired from the lesson and making it back to shore. “Give her a break.”

“Best way for her to learn is to just throw her into the pool,” Grace said once we were back ashore.

I didn’t respond immediately; I was too busy sucking in sweet, sweet oxygen and hoping my wobbly legs didn’t give out as I trudged through the hot, sun-baked sand to the place we’d left our towels.

“I guess it doesn’t matter so much,” I said when I could. “Business has been pretty slow since we hired her. Not good, considering the office we’ve got now. Rent’s a bitch.”

When I’d agreed to be Grace’s partner at the private investigation firm she’d been co-partner in, Paradise Investigations, I helped finance a move to a new building, worlds nicer than the one she’d been in before.

We’d had a keen interest in us the first week or so after the move, considering how we were constantly in the news regarding the murder mystery I’d solved to get Grace off a murder charge. The interest had died down in the following weeks; as it stood now, we hadn’t taken on a new client in five days, and we’d finished the current projects three days before, which meant three days of no billable hours, and thus no money coming in.

“We could always fire her,” Grace suggested, tossing me my towel. “It’d be one less salary we needed to pay.”

“That doesn’t seem right,” I said, though I’d probably consider it after another week of no income being earned. “I’m sure we’ll get by.”

“We could always take an ad out on TV,” Grace suggested suddenly.

“Isn’t that tacky?” Maka wrinkled his nose a bit.

Grace shielded her eyes from the sun, squinting at Maka. “It’s not like we’re lawyers.”

“Even if it isn’t tacky, we can’t afford it,” I reminded her as I wrapped my towel around my waist and gathered my board under my arm for the trek back to our cars. “We’re going to have to pray someone comes in and offers us a job that isn’t finding a lost cat or staking out seedy motels—something we can get some money out of.”

Grace grunted, her spirits somewhat dampened by my pragmatism, but I knew she would get over it. This was our relationship, often consisting of her being flighty and dreamy and me being the cord that pulled her—sometimes forcefully—back down to earth.

“Okay, I’ve got to go,” Maka said when we reached his car. “Already running late.”

“See,” I said, pausing long enough to take a quick kiss on the lips—though I wanted much, much more than a quick kiss—before continuing. “This is yet another good reason we should just stop these morning surfing lessons.”

“Not gonna happen. Seeing you dripping wet is worth being late to work.”

And again, in the space of ten minutes, I blushed.

“You two are disgusting,” Grace muttered.

“Shut up, Grace.”

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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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Love Historical Romance? Check Out the Latest Release The Valet by S.J. Foxx (excerpt and giveaway)

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Title:  The Valet

Author: S.J. Foxx

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: October 30, 2017

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 50300

Genre: Historical, 1920s, historical, jazz age, class difference, high society, england, aristocracy

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Synopsis

After scandalising his family name, wealthy brat Hugo is kicked out of his parent’s home in NYC, and tossed into the English countryside. There, he must live with his extended family and learn what it means to be a “gentleman,” or be cut off and left without his inheritance.

Brattish, reckless, and out of control, it seems that Hugo may never learn his manners. That is, until he meets his match: a stoic, no-nonsense valet, Sebastian.

Hugo and Sebastian are swept up in a forbidden fling, and they play a game of power.

Can Sebastian get a handle on his master? Or will Hugo’s foolishness leave him penniless?

Excerpt

The Valet
S.J. Foxx © 2017
All Rights Reserved

One: Mahogany & Silk

The day was like smudged charcoal, and the sky poured with rain that hammered against a bottle green car roaring over the hills. In the back of the automobile, Hugo Bentley slumped lower in his seat, vastly unimpressed by his welcome to England. He pulled his fedora down over his face and closed his eyes against the waterlogged scenery.

Everything in this country, so he had heard, was miserable. From the stiff upper lip and cold shoulder the British were renowned for, right down to their lifeless taste in fashion.

The young man had left behind the buzz of New York City, where jazz filled the streets and pretty girls in cocktail bars wore feathers in their hair. He’d spent his nights in smoky halls with a cigar between his lips and a deck of cards in his hands. There he’d thrived amongst glitzy lights of Times Square, with wind in his hair as he hummed down the streets in the back of a Revere.

Life had been late nights and side-splitting laughter, with the occasional bottle of moonshine to pass around his circle of young educated men.

Unfortunately, Hugo’s hedonistic existence had been discovered by his enraged parents but only after it had been discovered by the press. The twenty-year-old heir to a steel business had been found in bed with the wife of his father’s business partner. A simple tip off to the papers had led to the devastation of the Bentley family’s hard-earned good name.

Sickened by the very sight of him, his parents had sent Hugo packing. They’d shooed him to the English countryside, where he could redeem himself under the watchful gaze of his aunt and uncle, Ethel and Henry Harrington. With their help, Hugo could learn a thing or two about being a gentleman.

With the bleak green backdrop of the moors replacing the distractions of a big city, his parents had decided it was the perfect location to stop Hugo from getting himself into trouble. This was his opportunity to fix things. He either straightened up his act, or he’d be cut off. He just prayed the Harringtons weren’t too awful.

Exhausted from his week-long trip, the lull of the motor and the drifting of his thoughts sent Hugo to sleep.

When he next woke, the sky had darkened into an indigo blue and the rain had subsided into a haze that made the air thick with a sticky moisture. He pushed his fedora back onto his head and turned his heavy-lidded gaze outside. The stark silhouette of Finchley Hall loomed in the distance, behind wrought-iron gates.

It was surrounded by endless green lands and a patch of woods that stretched out as far as the next village. It was a foreboding home with ivy garlands creeping up the pristine white walls. A great marble balcony overlooked the driveway with cascading steps that led to the front door, polished and black with a silver knocker in the shape of a lion’s head.

Potted trees, groomed to precision, were lined up like guardsmen alongside the gravel path. Hugo groaned and turned away. These were the types of homes that the prissiest, insanely wealthy people owned. Aunt Ethel had married well. He was certain her husband was going to be insufferable.

The car weaved around the stunning marble fountain, the soft sigh of the falling water a sweet song that resonated in the surrounding silence. They followed the gravel path and the car began to slow, tyres crunched over the stones until they stopped outside what was to be Hugo’s home for the next year.

On the flagstone threshold, a welcoming party waited to greet him.

“Welcome to Finchley Hall, sir,” a plump silver-haired man with a jolly face said as he opened the car door. Behind him stood servants. There were valets, footmen, and maids alike, lined up shoulder to shoulder like an army platoon, straight-faced and pristine. Hugo could only assume this man was their butler. Their commander in chief.

“Thanks,” Hugo replied flatly. Removing his hat, he ruffled up his sandy-blond curls and clambered out of the car with the help of a gloved hand, then turned his chin to observe the band of servants with interest.

Their uniforms were extravagant. The men wore white bow ties and beautifully tailored black tailcoats, with gleaming brass buttons. The valets wore forest green waistcoats, and the taller footmen wore grey. The maids were attired in simple black dresses and white aprons with ruffled edges, their hair pinned back into neat, simple buns.

The Harrington family appeared at the door then. First was Aunt Ethel, a mirror image of his mother, with copper curls all swept up into an elegant bun. She was a little thing with ivory skin and soft green eyes like his own. Her thin mouth pulled taut when she looked at her nephew.

“Hugo,” she said stiffly, as if the word tasted sour. She folded her arms across her chest and wrinkled her nose.

Hugo turned to look at her and glowered. Turning the rim of his hat around in his hands, he gingerly approached the grand prison. “Ethel,” he grumbled, equally unimpressed.

“Show some courtesy, boy.” Ah, and there was Uncle Henry, barrelling through the door shortly after his wife—a robust man who enjoyed one too many sweets. He had a hardened, weather-beaten face like tanned leather. The trenches had been hard on him.

“You’ve disgraced your family and gotten yourself into a damn mess, Hugo. We’ve been kind enough to take you into our home and this is how you greet my wife?” he scoffed.

“Henry, not out here on the balcony,” Ethel snapped. “The servants are listening. What is the matter with you?”

Hugo’s fingers tightened around the rim of the hat, and he straightened his back, drawing his shoulders in against his neck. This was the man who was supposed to help him become a gentleman? Goodness.

“Apologies, Uncle, Aunt Ethel. It’s been a long trip. Tiredness has gotten the better of me,” he said and pinched the bridge of his nose. He felt rather like a chastised infant.

“I won’t hear any excuses, Hugo. If we are to do this for you, you will show us the respect we deserve, or we’ll send you straight back home and you can forget about your damn future.” Uncle Henry’s big hands were turning white as they tightened around the balcony frame.

“Henry,” Ethel hissed.

“I understand. I meant no offence, honestly,” Hugo said. It was hard to try to keep his tone even, to keep the venom out of it. What a ridiculous overreaction.

His uncle looked back at him blankly, his gaze roaming across his clothes until his face wrinkled into a frown. “Funny choice of attire, no?” he grumbled, raising a brow, trying to change the subject, no doubt. Perhaps he could feel the beady eyes of his wife burning into his temple.

Hugo tugged at the sleeve of his mustard tweed travelling coat, grateful for the new direction of conversation. “Fashion is very different in New York, Uncle.”

“I’ll say!” Henry said, looking down at the hat he clutched to his chest too.

From the corner of his eye, Hugo caught the flickering expression of a servant, whose forehead creased and brows knit together, puckering up his face as though he’d bitten into a lemon. He was eyeing up his mustard tweed too.

Hugo met his gaze and the slightest hint of a smile lifted the footman’s mouth before he looked away.

“Hugo!”

His curly-haired cousin came bounding out of the door and hurried down the steps to greet him in the courtyard. She opened up her arms and wrapped them tightly around his shoulders, squeezing. Scrambling to try to reach, she pushed herself onto her tiptoes and planted a quick kiss on both of his cheeks.

“Dear Arabella.” Hugo gave her his best smile, rather cheered by the contrast in greeting. He took her by the shoulders and leaned back to get a good look at her. The only Harrington he’d previously met, she’d visited America with her maid a couple of times in the past. “Goodness, you shot up! You were the size of a bunny when we last met.”

“I’m a woman now.” She preened, giving a little twirl. Her coral dress fanned out, circling around her.

“You are not a woman until you find a suitable man willing to marry you,” huffed Aunt Ethel, shaking her head.

“I’m only sixteen, Mama! I don’t need to find a husband yet.”

Ethel only sighed. “Now, let us not dilly-dally outside, talking nonsense. Hugo has had a long trip. Edward will carry up your things, Hugo, and once you feel rested, we will introduce you formally to everybody else. For now, you only need to know Edward. He’ll be your valet for the duration of your stay, and Thompson, he’s in charge of the household staff.” Ethel gestured to the jolly-faced man who had greeted him.

Hugo’s gaze flickered back to that tall man with the mischievous smile, but it was the shorter man beside him who nodded his greeting.

Inside Finchley Hall, it smelled of polished wood and the greasy duck that was cooking away in the oven downstairs.

Chandeliers drenched in crystals hung from the wooden buttresses, and beneath them, a beautiful Persian rug filled the hallway floor space.

The grand staircase was carpeted in plush red, complemented by the wrought-iron banister, fashioned into curling roses that spiralled alongside the stairs.

Edward scurried up the stairs. He had a shock of blond hair, a button nose, and the mannerisms of a mouse. Edward showed him to his room without speaking a single word other than goodbye.

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Meet the Author

SJ hails from a quaint, modest town in the north of England. However, for the past three years, she has been swept up in the whirlwind of London life, where people don’t make eye contact. Admittedly, she only moved here for the theatre.

A self-confessed geek; lover of the history, travelling and musicals. SJ loves to spend her weekends in museums, wandering around antique bookshops, or finding new, quirky places to explore. She feels blessed to be from a multi-cultural background, with an Irish mother and an African father.

Soppy as she is, you can be sure to find light-hearted, fluffy books from this author, with just a light sprinkle of feels.

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Release Blitz for Sweet William by Diane Hartsock (excerpt and giveaway)

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Title:  Sweet William

Author: Dianne Hartsock

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: October 30, 2017

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 15800

Genre: Historical, student, dub con/non con, historical, abduction, romance, gay

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Synopsis

William Wilkerson leads the life of the privileged rich. Head of his father’s shipping business, he indulges to his heart’s content in the pleasures of the flesh with Boston’s finest young men.

That is, until he reunites with Fredrick: his former tutor and the one man who captured his heart. But William’s father has declared Fredrick off limits. And Fredrick, himself, believes he’s beneath the attention of the Wilkerson heir.

After having lost his current pupil to graduation, and with no prospects of a replacement, Frederick is homeless, hungry, and easy pickings for the men on the docks. When Frederick is shanghaied into service on William’s own merchant ship, will William discover his plight in time to rescue him?

Excerpt

Sweet William
Dianne Hartsock © 2017
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One

Fredrick held up his glass and stared at the candle’s flame through the amber liquid. He took a sip and savored the rich, biting taste on his tongue, welcoming the burn down his throat. This was the very last drink he could afford, and he had to enjoy it.

A giggle erupted from someone out of sight on the back staircase, and a smile tugged his lips, despite the dire state of his wallet. The laugh had been carefree, joyous, naughty. Fredrick shifted on the cushioned bench. The lunch hour had passed, and he was the only customer in the dining room. He wondered if the innkeeper up front would notice if he adjusted his cramped cock as it throbbed in sympathy with the bright laughter that reminded him of his own ardent affair.

Rather than risk it, he watched the fruit vender outside the window beguile a customer. Another giggle and stifled moan floated down to him and he grinned, even though the laughter emphasized his own loneliness. It had been far too long since he’d had someone in his bed.

Fredrick looked up at the clatter of footsteps, distracted from his memory of lush lips, white skin, and wide hazel eyes. He caught a glimpse of red hair and an embarrassed cheek before the gentleman crammed a hat on his head.

“Damned Wilkerson,” the man muttered as he passed him, face averted.

With conscious effort, Fredrick loosened his hold on his glass, but he had no way to stop the wild hammering of his heart. Wilkerson? Could it really be…? Perhaps not, but the Wilkerson family he knew had strong ties to Boston. At least, the father often traveled there. But did William come now? He had to know. Before he lost his courage, he stood and swallowed the last of the brandy and then crossed the room to the staircase.

He shook his head at his eagerness. It had been three years, after all, and they’d parted in anger. Would William acknowledge him? A man stepped onto the landing and Fredrick allowed his gaze to travel up the white spats and checkered trousers. Blood heated his face when he found the silk vest and shirt open at the throat to expose soft white skin.

A sigh brought his gaze up to the attractive face that stirred his dreams. Rich brown curls surrounded lovely hazel eyes and full, pouting lips. Panic swept the pretty face, and then a delighted smile revealed the even white teeth that had nipped his collarbone on more than one glorious occasion.

“Freddie, is it you?”

He hasn’t forgotten! Fredrick stored away the joy to visit later. God knew his pleasures were few and far between these days. “How are you, William? I had no idea you came to Boston.”

“On occasion.” William stepped off the landing, only a slight sway in his lean body betraying his inebriation. Fredrick’s heart skipped. The top of William’s head barely reached his shoulders—perfect for Fredrick to rest his chin on if he gathered him close. To his surprise, William didn’t hesitate, clasping Fredrick in his arms and stretching for a light kiss. Fredrick’s hold tightened instinctively, but William didn’t seem to mind, winding his arms around Fredrick’s neck. He licked Fredrick’s lips, his sweet tongue seeking entrance.

Fredrick laughed, breathless with the need that swept him, but moved his head back, denying the kisses sure to topple the defenses he’d built against this man.

He chuckled wryly at William’s delicious pout. “You promised not to tease me.”

“That was years ago. I made no promises today.” William nibbled at Fredrick’s lips, but eased away when he resisted.

Fredrick glanced over his shoulder at the innkeeper watching them. “William, what are you about? Anyone could have seen you. This is dangerous—”

“It was only a few kisses, but perhaps you’re right.” A scowl darkened William’s face. “The proprietor is paid handsomely for his discretion, but it’s possible I’m growing careless.”

Distracted by William’s open shirt, Fredrick closed his hands into fists to resist the urge to embrace him again. Memories stirred of the slide of fabric under his fingers: images of cool sheets and creamy skin. He longed to run his tongue down the exposed flesh of William’s neck and revisit the delights he’d enjoyed, once upon a time.

“How is Lord Wilkerson these days?” he asked instead, throwing that barrier between them. A shutter seemed to close on William’s eyes, his gaze becoming less warm. In sudden panic, Fredrick touched his arm, afraid William would walk away. “Forgive me. This is hard for me.”

He trembled when William put a hand over his. “For me, as well, darling. I had no idea you lived in Boston.”

“Or you would have stayed away?” Fredrick regretted the jealous words the instant they left his lips and looked aside to hide the blush he knew reddened his face. He always played the fool with William.

“My father’s been ill for some time. I’ve taken control of the shipping portion of the estate and come to Boston from time to time to check the wares from the Orient. We managed without incident these past ten years, since eighteen seventy-four, but recently we’ve had an increase in damaged goods. My presence at the docks seems to deter clumsiness.”

“Of course.” Fredrick chewed his lips as he searched for something to say, his heart heavy.

“And what is my former teacher doing in this wild town?” William asked, his voice kind.

Fredrick shrugged, not about to tell him he’d run as far from William as he could when Lord Wilkerson had humiliated and dismissed him. “I’ve been tutoring Lord Anadaile’s daughter.”

“For truth? That must be hell on earth. A more spoiled child I’ve yet to meet.”

“She has a good heart, but this position is soon over, anyway. Miss Cynthia comes of age next month, with her debutant party in June. No need for me after that.”

A cough from the innkeeper at the far end of the room caught their attention. As if recalling his state of undress, William buttoned his shirt and did up his vest. Fredrick groaned inwardly as he remembered doing similar service for William after an afternoon spent undressing him.

William gave a brilliant smile as if sharing the memory and took Fredrick’s hand. “Will you have a drink with me at the club?”

Longing almost overcame discretion, but the barrier of their positions couldn’t be ignored, by either side. “Forgive me. I’m not dressed appropriately for your friends.”

William’s beautiful eyes widened as if seeing the frayed brown suit for the first time. Fredrick’s heart warmed. William had the fine trait of seeing a man behind his outward trappings. Rank held little interest for him. For an instant, the ugly thought that William could well afford the fine principle pricked him, but he knew it was his own poverty that prompted the emotion. William had a true heart.

He watched in fascination as a blush tinted William’s porcelain cheeks. William kept his gaze on their clasped hands, and his words started an ache in Fredrick’s chest. “Damn convention and society can go to hell. I’ve missed you, Freddie. I want to see you. Not at the club, and not here.” A flirtatious glance. “I wouldn’t want to bring scandal to my favorite tutor.”

“It’s better we don’t—”

“Probably.”

William leaned up and kissed Fredrick full on the mouth. A sweet tongue slid passed his lips to tangle with his, tasting and teasing. Caught unawares, Fredrick opened to him, drowned in memories of sultry afternoons, bodies entwined. William’s scent surrounded him, spiced with tobacco and whiskey and expensive cologne. Underneath, there was the heady fragrance of heated skin.

Fredrick groaned as lust swamped his defenses. His cock swelled to life for its lover, ached for the touch it had missed for far too many lonely nights. He returned William’s kiss with fervor, forgetting where they were, his position, everything but the need to taste again this man he loved with all his being.

William broke off their kiss and leaned against the wall, his chest heaving. They stared at one another and Fredrick bit hard on his lip. Dearest Lord! William stood before him, everything he desired in life, intelligent and beautiful. Mine! Fredrick’s heart broke, while agony twisted in his gut. He had nothing to offer the eldest son of one of New England’s finest families. He’d known that three years ago. Nothing had changed his circumstances.

William had always been able to read him, and he set his pretty lips in a firm line. “I’m in Boston through the week. I want to see you, Freddie. Please don’t be cruel. Meet me at the pier in two hours.”

“But—”

His protest went unheard. With a flash of anger in his eyes, William strode past him without another word.

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Meet the Author

Dianne is the author of paranormal/suspense, fantasy adventure, m/m romance, the occasional thriller, and anything else that comes to mind. She lives in the beautiful Willamette Valley of Oregon with her incredibly patient husband, who puts up with the endless hours she spends hunched over the keyboard letting her characters play. She says Oregon’s raindrops are the perfect setting in which to write. There’s something about being cooped up in the house with a fire crackling on the hearth and a cup of hot coffee warming her hands, which kindles her imagination.

Currently, Dianne works as a floral designer in a locally-owned gift shop. Which is the perfect job for her. When not writing, she can express herself through the rich colors and textures of flowers and foliage.

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Don’t Miss Out on the Halloween collection of stories from NineStar Press! (Giveaway)

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Get in the holiday spirit with the Halloween collection of stories from NineStar Press

Releasing between October 9th and October 23rd, don’t miss a single one!

Available October 23rd

Synopsis

It’s been twenty years since the quiet Midwestern town of Lakeview was struck by tragedy. But every year on the anniversary of the event Teddy returns home for ‘The Reunion’. Lakeview, like Teddy, has secrets and not all mysteries should come to light.

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Synopsis

The path to true love is never easy, especially when you are on opposite sides of the world’s greatest theological debate.

It’s Halloween, and the Demon of Masturbation—Dom, for short—has come to Earth to collect sins and souls for his boss. But a representative from the Interfering Angel Network—Ian—has been sent to put a crimp in his plans. Frankly, though, the two seem less interested in sins and souls than in the three bottles of tequila they down during the night. Alcohol can lower the inhibitions, but it also impacts judgment, and Dom and Ian soon find themselves in the world’s most awkward threesome with a young mortal virgin.

Forget battling for his soul—their real passion seems to be for each other. But Halloween night is waning fast, and the veil between the worlds is only lifted for one night. How can two beings from opposite sides come together when they know they are destined to forever be apart?

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Synopsis

It’s Halloween time in Hawai’i and of course Gabe Maxfield is in business. Gabe owes lu’au owner Hiapo a favor (read Tiki Torches and Treasure to find out why!) so when weird things start happening at his lu’au, strange enough to frighten off his hula dancers, he comes to Gabe for help. Skeptical as always, Gabe steps into a creepy mystery where things are going missing or getting moved around and people are disappearing left and right. Can he solve the mystery before everyone he knows falls prey to the woods?

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Synopsis

Kicked out of private school, Allen has to brave a public high school where most of the kids don’t know supernatural creatures exist. He expects to be miserable, but he finds himself romantically pursued by two people: a shy, but fascinating boy named Jeremy and a spunky girl named Chloe. The demon in Allen wants to feed off Chloe, but the human part of him is falling for Jeremy. Which will win?

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For all Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words Reviews, see the links below.  We highly recommend them all for your reading pleasure at Halloween or any time of the year:

Hula Dancers and Hauntings by J.C. Long

The Reunion by M.D. Neu

Second Level by Drew Martin Frayne

Half Breeds by Sara Codair

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

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Title:  On the Way to San Jose

Author: Jere’ M. Fishback

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: September 25, 2017

Heat Level: 2 – Fade to Black Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 53900

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

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

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

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

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

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

Any advice you would like to give to aspiring writers?

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

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

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

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

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

Synopsis

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

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

Excerpt

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

Chapter One

Levi McKane studied an Internet drive-away listing:

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

The listing provided a phone number.

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

But his life was not perfect.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Positive, asshole.

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

So, the pregnancy floated in limbo.

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

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

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

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

“It’s actually a van, not a car.”

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

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

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

They talked money.

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

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

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

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

More silence, this time for about thirty seconds.

“Are you still there?” Levi said.

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

“About what?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why?”

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

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

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

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

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Meet the Author

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

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

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Title:  Golden

Author: RL Mosswood

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: September 25, 2017

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 33500

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

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Synopsis

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

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

Excerpt

Golden
R.L. Mosswood © 2017
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

“A new resident? To our wing?”

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Meet the Author

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

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

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Title:  Figure Study

Series: Chiaroscuro, Book Two

Author: Suzanne Clay

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: September 25, 2017

Heat Level: 5 – Erotica

Pairing: Female/Female

Length: 19900

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

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Synopsis

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

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

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

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

Excerpt

Figure Study
Suzanne Clay © 2017
All Rights Reserved

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ainsley envied that to the very depths of her soul.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Meet the Author

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

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

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Title:  A World Apart

Author: Mel Gough

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: September 18, 2017

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 51900

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

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~ Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words Interview with Mel Gough ~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Synopsis

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

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

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

Excerpt

A World Apart
Mel Gough © 2017
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hence the handcuffs?” Ben asked drily.

Jason nodded, smirking.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Turn around,” Jason said gruffly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Go ‘head.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is he trying to come up with a lie?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hold the line.”

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

“Is this Stacy Miller?”

“It is. Who’s asking?”

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

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

“And he attended?”

“Yes.”

“What time was his appointment?”

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

“And how long was he there for?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Nope.”

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

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

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

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

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

Purchase

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Meet the Author

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

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

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

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

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Tour Schedule

9/18 Divine Magazine

9/18 My Fiction Nook

9/18 Stories That Make You Smile

9/19 A Book Lover’s Dream Book Blog

9/19 Boy Meets Boy Reviews

9/19 Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

9/19 Zipper Rippers

9/20 Happily Ever Chapter

9/20 Outrageous Heroes of Romance

9/21 Bayou Book Junkie

9/21 Drops of Ink

9/21 Love Bytes

9/22 MM Good Book Reviews

9/22 Xtreme Delusions

Giveaway

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In addition Mel Gough has the following giveaways for our readers to enter:

A giveaway for her book release.
As well as a couple of giveaways during Mel Gough’s Facebook launch party. Please visit this link: https://www.facebook.com/events/116042149068904/

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