Two Publishers Announcements

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Two Publishers Announcements

 

📚First from Painted Hearts Publishing formerly known as Dark Hollows Press:

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Dark Hollows Press is thrilled to announce an exciting new change! As of 02.14.2017 we are now Painted Hearts Publishing! Who we are remains the same, but we believe our new name to be a better reflection of our diversity. From sweet to erotic, from paranormal to contemporary, from male/female to LGBT, we remain committed to bringing you the best in romance publishing today.

Visit us on the web at www.paintedheartspublishing.com

📚Secondly and sadly, from Samhain  Publishing, a final announcement:

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Greetings, Samhain Readers.

It’s with a heavy heart that we announce Samhain Publishing will be closing at the end of February. Due to the declining sales we’ve been experiencing with this changing market we’ve come to the sad conclusion it’s time to call it a day.

 

The last of our new titles launch February 21st; I hope you will check them out and support them as you have so many other Samhain titles through the years.”

 

Our site will go dark at the end of the day, February 28th. Please take a few moments and visit, buy what you might have been planning on getting someday in the future, but download and back up your bookshelf because you won’t have access to it after February 28th.

 

Thank you for all your support through the eleven years we’ve been open. It’s been a pleasure to bring to market new voices in publishing and new works from familiar authors. From start to finish, we’ve always kept what the reader wants in mind and hope you enjoyed what we had to offer.

https://www.samhainpublishing.com

 

This is the second time we’ve had a closing announcement from Samhain  Publishing but it looks to be their final one.  Last time, they pulled back and tried to stay open but as you can see, it didn’t work.  Again, we bid them farewell.  Those of you who still have books there or books you wish to buy, please make note of their deadline to backup your Samhain bookshelf.

 

 

 

A Free Dreamer Review: Lost Souls by Barbara Sheridan and Anne Cain

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Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

Lost SoulsCan love survive when immortality doesn’t last forever?

Blood Brothers Series

More than a hundred years ago in old San Francisco, Kabuki actor Ryuhei Nakamura and vampire Kiyoshi Ishibe cemented an immortal love. Then at the dawn of the twentieth century, their lives were torn apart by tragedy. Now Ryuhei’s hope is reborn in the form of Jesse Shigeta, a gifted musical student. The young man is so like Ryuhei’s murdered beloved, that he believes fate has been kind in reuniting them once more, this time for eternity.

But Jesse is full of secrets. As a child, the supernaturally gifted young man discovered Kiyoshi’s soul still bound to Earth. His every intent was to reunite his ghostly friend with Ryuhei, but when Jesse falls in love with the vampire himself, he will stop at nothing to keep his place by Ryuhei’s side.

Even if that means calling upon ghost hunters to destroy Kiyoshi.

Vampires, ghosts, gay romance AND Japan all in one book? I just had to read this book. Unfortunately, the blurb promised a more interesting story than the authors actually delivered.

The premise as such was intriguing. It’s not often that you come across a ghost who once was a vampire and is now hopelessly pining for his lover. I think Kiyoshi’s pov would have been the most interesting of the three, but unfortunately he got the least on-page time.

The world building was sadly lacking. I’m not entirely sure how the whole vampire and ghost business works and how well known the supernatural is to the normal population.

The love story was a bit hard to relate to. Jesse’s feelings for Ryuhei never felt very convincing and I honestly quite disliked him at times. I did not like how he treated poor Kiyoshi, once they were in Japan.

The parts about the Kabuki theatre and playing the Shamisen were very interesting and I would’ve loved to read more about that. Unfortunately, Jesse quickly lost any interest in his studies once he’d met Ryuhei.

The HEA for everybody involved came a little too easily for my liking. It didn’t feel very realistic.

Long story short, “Lost Souls” didn’t quite live up to its very promising blurb. The parts that actually focussed on the Japanese culture, as well as Kiyoshi’s pov were very interesting, while the love story and the HEA didn’t feel very realistic.

Still, it was a nice little story with a unique idea behind it. I might take a peek at the other books in the series eventually.

The cover by Anne Cain is a very pretty, artsy picture of Ryuhei and Jesse kissing, with Kiyoshi ominously looming in the background. I really like it.

Sales Links:  Samhain PublishingAmazon

Book details:

ebook, 240 pages
Published July 15th 2008 by Samhain Publishing
Original TitleLost Souls (Blood Brothers Series)
ISBN 160504069X (ISBN13: 9781605040691)
Edition LanguageEnglish
SeriesDragon’s Disciple/Blood Brothers #6

A Free Dreamer Review: Labyrinthian by Sunny Moraine

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Rating: 4 stars out of 5

LabyrinthianA hunter should never fall for his prey.
A hunter’s heart should never fall prey to his quarry. 

Still nursing his latest post-mission hangover, bounty hunter Theseus jumps at a high-paying, high-risk job that sounds ridiculously easy. Yet from the moment he nabs the alleged supersoldier with sedative gas, nothing is as it seems.

On the run from the facility where he was created and raised, Taur is desperate to locate his genetically engineered brothers and sisters. To rescue them—and himself—from slavery. Waking aboard Theseus’ ship, his fury is tempered by curiosity about his captor.

Despite his doubts about his prisoner, Theseus figures it’d be risky to let Taur go—until they’re thrown together by a shared betrayal. They declare a tentative truce as they flee from a shadowy and immensely powerful organization that will stop at nothing to find them.

But as they wrestle with their growing feelings for each other, Taur and Theseus face an even greater danger. A lethal threat lurking inside Taur’s own body, waiting to explode…

“Labyrinthian” is my second book by Sunny Moraine. It’s set in the same universe as “Line and Orbit”, but definitely works as a standalone. It’s not part of the “Root Code” series, since it’s set in a different part of space, with completely different MCs.

I quite enjoyed this book. It’s fast, fun, and action packed. There’s a healthy dose of violence with some gore, so beware. Personally, the gore was a little too much for me at times. I do not need to read in detail about Taur ripping out another man’s arms, thank you very much.

Still, I liked the tough personalities of both MCs. Taur definitely has a very soft core, which was a bit of a surprise. It’s not something you’d expect when first meeting him. But he has people he really, really cares about and doesn’t shy away from doing whatever necessary to save them.

Theseus was quite likeable as well. He’s still recovering from a bad break-up and now he just loves his job as a hunter and his ship.

I liked how uncertain Taur was when it came to social interactions, especially love and romance. It was really quite adoring at times. And Theseus was more than happy to teach him all about sexuality. So sex happened, but it definitely wasn’t the main focus of the book, nor was the romance. Mostly, “Labyrinthian” focused on the wild chase through the universe, to find Taur’s siblings, and to get away from the people who created him.

The world building was well done and very interesting. Phae, a minor character and also Theseus’ ex-girlfriend, added spice to the mix. She had a unique and interesting personality. It never gets boring with her around.

Overall, “Labyrinthian” was an enjoyable space opera that could have used a touch less gore. I liked it and I definitely like Sunny Moraine’s writing. Looking forward to reading more by her.

The cover by Kanaxa shows Taur and Theseus, a solar system and a dark landscape. It’s very pretty.

Sales Links:[ Samhain | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | Google Play ]

Book details:

Kindle Edition, 290 pages

Published January 20th 2015 by Samhain Publishing, Ltd.

A Lila Review: To Live Again (The Distance Between Us #6) by L.A. Witt

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Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5

To Live AgainGreg Douglas moves in with friends after his wife of almost twenty-five years asked him for a divorce he didn’t expect. After they finished moving Greg into the house, Rhett and Ethan — MCs in The Distance Between Us — decided to take Greg out, giving him the opportunity to explore his bisexuality.

At Wilde’s, Greg is overwhelmed by the amount of men around him and how comfortable they all seemed with their sexuality. He tries to escape the chaos and instead meets Samoan deejay Sailo Isaia. The attraction between them is mutual and instantaneous. And from that night on, we think about them as an item.

The story concentrates on how Greg deals with his divorce, his sexuality, his grown kids, and his new found relationship with Sailo. We get to see his day-to-day struggles and how Sailo becomes the force that gives him the strength to move forward.

To Live Again is a story to read in one sitting, especially if you enjoyed all the previous books in the series. This installment is all about Greg’s journey after his divorce, and Sailo is an integral part of it. They’re great together and from the beginning, we get to see how much they will mean to each other.

Their relationship starts as a one-night stand, but before the end of the night, it turns into something more. They didn’t label it, just live their relationship day to day. Greg’s life is morphine as the chapters go by and Sailo is his only constant. He’s always there for him, letting him talk, experiment, and giving him the type of relationship he missed.

As with the other books, the sex scenes are smexy and significant. Each time they were together they got a little closer. It also allowed Greg to discover something new about his body and sexuality. Yes, he gets his bisexuality really well, perhaps too fast, but we get to see the questions behind his actions.

The author did an excellent job portraying Greg and Sailo according to their age. The blurb mentions a difference of almost twenty years, but it’s actually ten. They think before they act and even when some of their decisions can be considered irrational, they took the time to look beyond their individual wants and needs. Sailo’s son was always his priority.

The ending was rushed and the central conflict between Greg and Sailo a little over the top, but it worked. I’m not a fan of the issue between Greg and his ex-wife, it felt unnecessary in relation to their previous encounters. But his relationship with his grown children compensated for it.

All the new characters take an important role in the story, and the returning cast makes us feel like we are meeting with old friends again. We also get snapshots of the lives of the main characters in the previous books. We learn a little about where their lives are at the moment and how their relationships evolved.

Overall, a nice, easy read.

The cover by Angela Waters matched the previous books in the series. Plus, the two men on the cover are exactly as described in the story. Very well done.

Sale Links: Samhain | Amazon | ARe

Book Details:

ebook, 253 pages
Published: April 12, 2016, by Samhain Publishing
ISBN: 9781619231733
Edition Language: English

Series: Wilde’s
Book #1: The Best Man
Book #2: The Distance Between Us
Book #3: A.J.’s Angel
Book #4: The Closer You Get 
Book #5: Meet Me in the Middle
Book #5.5: Missionary
Book #6: No Distance Left to Run
Book #7: No Place That Far
Book #8: To Live Again

Its All About the Heart’s Perspective in The Heart As He Hears It By A.M. Arthur (excerpt and giveaway)

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The Heart As He Hears It (Perspectives #3) by A.M. Arthur
 Release Date: April 19, 2016

 Goodreads Link
Publisher: Samhain Publishing
Cover Artist: Lyn Taylor

Blurb

While most of his friends have moved on to “real” careers, Jon Buchanan is content skating through life as a part-time waiter and gay porn star. Firmly single thanks to a previous relationship disaster, he focuses his spare time on Henry, a dear friend dying of cancer.

And with Henry’s happiness paramount, Jon is on a mission to help Henry meet his recently discovered grandson.

Isaac Gregory hasn’t set foot outside for the past year. He has everything he needs delivered, and his remaining family knows better than to visit. When a complete stranger shows up claiming to be his grandfather—with a distractingly handsome younger man in tow—his carefully structured routines are shaken.

Despite his instant attraction, Jon senses Isaac is too fragile for a relationship. Yet tentative friendship grows into genuine companionship. And when Henry’s health begins to fail, they realize Fate brought them together for a reason.

 

Pages or Words: 253 pages
Can be read as a standalone

 Also available in audiobook format with Guy Locke as the narrator
 Categories: Contemporary, Fiction, M/M Romance, Romance

Excerpt

Jon studied him, his gaze taking in…something. “May I ask you something?”

“Of course.” His chest flushed with anticipation.

“How do you feel when you’re with me?”

Isaac tried to push aside the anxiety still attempting to blur his thoughts, an old friend that wanted to be part of the conversation. Only anxiety wasn’t allowed in, not this time. He shuffled through different words, emotions and adjectives, searching for the one that best described how he felt about Jon. How Jon made him feel, despite being a near-stranger, bigger, stronger and far more experienced in pretty much everything. Jon still made him feel… “Safe,” Isaac said.

Jon’s eyebrows crept up. The corners of his mouth quirked into something not quite a smile. “Really?”

“Yes. The first time I saw you on my security feed, I noticed how beautiful you were.” His cheeks warmed.

Jon flat out grinned. “Yeah?”

“You’re kind and patient, and I feel safe because you don’t try to fix me, and you don’t act like I’m broken. My family thinks I’m broken, and I don’t want them to fix me. I just…” Something in Isaac shifted, accepting this new truth. “I need to feel safe, Jon. That’s why I hide. But you make me not want to hide.”

Jon’s eyes glittered. His expression melted into something so warm, so sweet, that it burned in Isaac’s blood in a way he didn’t understand at all. The strange sensation urged him to reach out, to initiate contact of some kind. Deep-rooted fear kept Isaac still, unable to make that first move. Unable to do anything except soak in the wonderment on Jon’s face.

“I think that’s the greatest compliment I’ve ever gotten,” Jon said. His voice was hoarse, strange. Almost difficult to hear, so Isaac paid more attention to his lips. “Is it cheesy to say your strength makes me want to be better too?”

Isaac shook his head. “I’m not strong.”

“You’re stronger than you think. You proved that by letting me and Henry in two weeks ago. You proved it again by going out to rescue a kitten. Twice, by the way. You told me you want to get better, get into the world, and that takes a fuck-ton of courage when you’ve lost as much as you have. I know it won’t be easy, but I still want to help you do that.”

“I know you do. I want that too.”

  Buy the book:  Amazon  | Barnes & Noble

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Meet the Author

A.M. Arthur was born and raised in the same kind of small town that she likes to write about, a stone’s throw from both beach resorts and generational farmland.  She’s been creating stories in her head since she was a child and scribbling them down nearly as long, in a losing battle to make the fictional voices stop.  She credits an early fascination with male friendships (bromance hadn’t been coined yet back then) with her later discovery of and subsequent love affair with m/m romance stories. A.M. Arthur’s work is available from Samhain Publishing, Carina Press, Dreamspinner Press, and SMP Swerve.

When not exorcising the voices in her head, she toils away in a retail job that tests her patience and gives her lots of story fodder.  She can also be found in her kitchen, pretending she’s an amateur chef and trying to not poison herself or others with her cuisine experiments.

Where to find the author:


Tour Dates & Stops:

Parker Williams, Divine Magazine, Oh My Shelves, Unquietly Me, The Jena Wade, Full Moon Dreaming,

Making It Happen, Book Lovers 4Ever, BFD Book Blog, The Hat Party, Alpha Book Club, V’s Reads,

Two Chicks Obsessed With Books and Eye Candy, Bayou Book Junkie, My Fiction Nook, Happily Ever Chapter,

Wicked Faerie’s Tales and Reviews, Sinfully Addicted to All Male Romance, A.M. Leibowitz, Outrageous Heroes,

Elisa – My Reviews and Ramblings, Nephy Hart, Boys on the Brink Reviews, MM Good Book Reviews,

Molly Lolly, Gay Media Reviews, Kirsty Loves Books, Jessie G. Books, Havan Fellows, Anna Butler Fiction,

Dawn’s Reading Nook, Fangirl Moments and My Two Cents, Mikky’s World of Books, Inked Rainbow Reads,

Scattered Thoughts & Rogue Words

Final

Giveaway

Enter to win a Rafflecopter Prize: An e-book from A.M. Arthur’s backlist
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A Barb the Zany Old Lady Review: Rag and Bone (Rag and Bone #1) by K.J. Charles

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Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Rag and BoneIt’s amazing what people throw away…

Crispin Tredarloe never meant to become a warlock. Freed from his treacherous master, he’s learning how to use his magical powers the right way. But it’s brutally hard work. Not everyone believes he’s a reformed character, and the strain is putting unbearable pressure on his secret relationship with waste-man Ned Hall.

Ned’s sick of magic. Sick of the trouble it brings, sick of its dangerous grip on Crispin and the miserable look it puts in his eyes, and sick of being afraid that a gentleman magician won’t want a street paper-seller forever—or even for much longer.

But something is stirring among London’s forgotten discards. An ancient evil is waking up and seeking its freedom. And when wild magic hits the rag-and-bottle shop where Ned lives, a panicking Crispin falls back onto bad habits. The embattled lovers must find a way to work together—or London could go up in flames.

Set in the world of A Charm of Magpies, this is the story of Crispin Tredarloe and Ned Hall, who according to the author’s note, were featured in her short story “A Queer Trade” within the Charmed and Dangerous: Ten Tales of Gay Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy anthology. Though I didn’t read this short prequel, I was easily able to follow this story as a standalone.

Crispin is a graphomancer, a practitioner of blood writing, a rare talent. Graphomancers use writing and drawing to practice their magic and can draw an injury or death for those they wish to harm. But Crispin doesn’t have good control over his skill, and after having been used by the infamous warlock Mr. Marleigh to assist him in his evil mission, he’s more than happy to take the advice of the justiciars and study with Dr. Sweet, a visiting professor who is well-versed in graphomancy. Crispin needs to learn how to use his talent without relying on the pen Marleigh directed him to create, a pen which uses his own blood to write. And he’s trying to do all this under the watchful eye of the justiciars, many of whom believe he’s a warlock and unable to learn a non-threatening way to use his gift.

Ned is a waste man, collecting paper from all over town to sell for a penny a pound. His quarters—a small corner of his part of a store he shares with a rag-and-bottle shop—are filled to the brim with paper and the accompanying paper dust. But he has a little corner in which his bed is squeezed, and it’s there that he and Crispin find their moments of happiness in the deep of night. And on one of those nights, they discover a burning heap in the middle of the rag-and-bottle shop next door, and the heap turns out to be Mr. Voake, the owner. The other mystery surrounding the burning corpse is the presence of a jug from which the song Scarborough Fair seems to be originating. The only one who can hear it is Ned, a man who is not born to the world of magic. But it appears he has a rare talent for hearing things related to magic that others cannot.

Ned sets off alone to discover if any other rag-and-bottle shops have reported a death and is dismayed to find that there were indeed more. In fact, Ned’s discoveries lead him to the conclusion that evil magic caused the deaths. When Ned disappears, he’s able to connect with Crispin through Crispin’s magic and, together, the two have to fight off a very ancient and very malevolent spirit that has managed to come to life. The story is very exciting, complex, and intriguing from that point on, not only due to the frightening discovery they make, but also due to the consequences the men face when a justiciary investigation, led by Stephen Day, uncovers the magical power unleashed by Crispin as he and Ned fought for their lives.

Though I enjoy this author’s work, it took me awhile to get into this story. I believe it’s due to the fact that I didn’t enjoy this couple, as a couple, as much as others in the Magpies world. Tristan was very unassuming, with low self-esteem and a high quotient for misunderstanding the comments others made about him. Ned was smart, but very defensive about being a person of color in the world of magic, including the dreaded justiciars. Possibly due to the circumstances and time period of the story, neither man was overly demonstrative with the other, and I just didn’t feel the loving bond of a strong connection as I did with Stephen and Crane, or with Jonah and Ben (Jackdaw).

If you are a fan of KJ Charles’s work, by all means pick this up. The history and feel of the era, the complexity of the mystery and magic, and the chance for a quick revisit with Stephen Day and Mrs. Gold, all make this one well worthwhile. Though I personally didn’t connect with the MCs, I still enjoyed the story, and I’m looking forward to more tales from this world.

~~~~~

Cover Art by Angela Waters clearly depicts both MCs in period attire. Though it’s in color, it gives the impression of having been done in daguerreotype, thereby making the photo appear authentic.

Sales Links eBooks:  Samhain Publishing | ARe | Amazon

Book Details:

ebook, 146 pages
Published March 1st 2016 by Samhain Publishing, Ltd.
Original Title:Rag and Bone
ISBN139781619234734
Edition LanguageEnglish

In the Spotlight: Charley Descoteaux ‘Torque’ (character interview, excerpt and giveaway)

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Torque by Charley Descoteaux
Release Date: February 23, 2016

Goodreads Link
Publisher: Samhain Publishing
Cover Artist: Kanaxa

Today I’m very lucky to be interviewing Charley Descoteaux author of Torque! Hi Charley, thank you for agreeing to this interview. Tell us a little about your current book.

**********

Torque is a Romance featuring a bisexual man, a man on the ace spectrum, and a trans woman with no plans to transition surgically. Most of it takes place in a working wrecking yard, so no glitz or glamor, but a lot of angst. Thank you for inviting me to visit, I’m thrilled to be here! Instead of hogging the spotlight, I’m turning it over to Mick, the main character of my novella, Torque.

  • What do you find attractive in a man?

Mick: Confidence. I like that in women too. 😉

  • The first thing that went through your head when you saw Scotty Bell.

Mick: How much trouble I was in. Same with Mercy. Both of them turned my crank in ways I never expected and didn’t think I’d be able to resist.

  • Do you think you’ll insist the author visits you again?

Mick: I don’t know. It was hard enough making it through the one story, not sure I’m up for being tortured like that again. I already have more than I ever thought to want, so I’ll probably let her move on and drag another poor sucker through the mud and the grease instead of calling attention to myself again.

  • Before you met Scotty, what was your ideal man?

Mick: Before I met Scotty I didn’t think there was such a thing as an ideal man. I also thought it didn’t matter—I’d never have a man anyway, so what good would it do to think about what kind I wanted?

  • You’re going out for dinner. What’s your favorite food?

Mick: One I didn’t cook! Ask Scotty, I can’t cook for shit, even with instructions right on the box. Seriously, though, I love Mexican food and could live on burritos. And pizza.

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Blurb

Sometimes letting things get complicated is the best way to figure it all out.

Mick Randall is on the run, from the biker culture he grew up in and his impossible vision of love. Alaska should be far enough to escape his old life—until he rolls into a wrecking yard and gets lost in a pair of pale, bottle-green eyes.

Scotty Bell has spent years learning to channel his fiery temper into the heat of a welding torch. His sexual heat has always been slower to ignite, but one look at Mick rouses confusion alongside desire. In all his life, he’s only been attracted to one other person—his best friend, Mercy Taylor.

Mick lands a temporary job at the yard, and finds an uneasy crash pad at Scotty’s place…where the ragged ends of his emotions get tangled up in Scotty and Mercy’s relationship.

But when Mick hears a Harley engine from his past bearing down on him, his first instinct is to go back to the half-life he’d been living. Lest his secrets destroy the only two people who’ve ever made him feel whole.

Warning: Contains references to abuse, subversive ideas about sexual identity and gender expression, and a free-range bisexual on a mission.

 

Pages or Words: 47,337 words
Categories: Bisexual, Contemporary, Fiction, Ménage/Poly, Romance, *Trans, Asexual, LGBTQ+ Fiction

Excerpt

Copyright © 2016 Charley Descoteaux
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication

Mick slept on the couch for two weeks before Scott let him get dinner. Mick brought a pizza, hot wings and a six-pack. When he offered Scott a beer, Mick thought for a second he was about to get decked.

“No thanks, I don’t drink. But you go ahead.”

Mick put five bottles in the fridge and popped the top on the sixth. The long pull of rich beer felt like cool water after he’d been walking for weeks in the desert.

“Never?”

“Nope. I got enough of that before I was even born, I don’t need any more.”

It only took half a beer for Mick to get past the uncomfortable feeling he should’ve asked Scott to tell him more, or that he should’ve switched to Mountain Dew. Scott rented an On Demand movie, something forgettable with vampires, and they sat in their places on the couch and divided their attention between the movie and the pizza for the next two hours. Tom camped out in his usual spot between their thighs, graciously accepting all the chicken and pepperoni tributes offered to him.

After the movie was over they watched another one on HBO, but didn’t pay much attention to it. Mick had a nice buzz going and was happy to sit back and listen to Scott talk about his project—the VW Microbus he was converting into a flatbed. A warm, fuzzy feeling Mick almost didn’t recognize as happiness set up camp in his gut, and life was good.

He thought, more than once or twice, that Scott leaned toward him in a way that was a little more than friendly, but it had to be the beer.

Too bad.

Mick jerked in surprise when he realized he’d started to lean toward Scott. He had no right to be “more than friendly” to Scott. None at all.

Scott reached out to grasp his shoulder. “You okay, Mick?”

“Uh, yeah.”

“Are you ready for bed?” Scott kneaded his shoulder, sending a current through his body.

“The movie isn’t over.”

“It’s not very good. If you don’t want to finish it, that’s okay with me.” Scott smiled and sat back against the couch, releasing Mick’s shoulder.

He couldn’t help himself, he leaned forward. Only a little bit. He didn’t want to lose Scott’s touch. In that moment, he couldn’t think of anything more important than Scott touching him, not even self-preservation.

Mick Randall wasn’t a stranger to self-medicating with alcohol but before he found Bell’s he hadn’t had a lot of money to spare, and lately he hadn’t had the time. Together, those circumstances had turned him into a lightweight. That had to be the explanation for why he saw a come-on in every glance and heard innuendo where surely Scott didn’t mean any. He’d have to be a lightweight to want so badly to respond to Scott’s touch with an embrace.

Maybe I should quit drinking.

Mick wasn’t capable of walking in a straight line by the time he hit the can, but it didn’t matter. Four beers was plenty and he’d take the other two out of Scott’s fridge the next day and remember not to bring more. If he wanted a drink, he wouldn’t have to drive far. When he left the bathroom his thoughts centered on that warm, happy feeling, and what he could get up to the next day. Before he knew what was happening, Scott had him backed against the wall, both hands spread across his chest.

All that fuzzy warm happiness disappeared, replaced by a tiny shiver of panic mixed with a side of relief. The relief tangled with a mix of “fucking finally” and “what the fuck” that made Mick dizzy. Or maybe that’s just the beer.

“Scott. Maybe I should sleep somewhere else tonight.”

“Yeah. Like in my bed with me.”

“I was thinking like my car, or a motel.”

Scott frowned and pushed him back against the wall harder, caressing his chest and shoulders as he did. The contrast of the unyielding wall against his shoulder blades and the man in front of him spun Mick’s head around once. “You don’t feel anything like Mercy. I knew you wouldn’t.”

“Don’t you think Mercy would—”

“She wouldn’t care. I’m not the only one she fools around with.” Scott leaned against him, chest to chest, close enough to kiss.

“Let me go.” Mick took hold of Scott’s shoulders and tried to push him back, but Scott was stronger than he looked.

“No. I don’t want to.”

“What am I supposed to do now?” Mick couldn’t see a clear path to the door. Panic reared up in the back of his mind—he had no game plan for this, no idea what his part should be.

“You can let me blow you. Or you can blow me. I don’t care who goes first. You want me, don’t you?”

Mick tried to speak but couldn’t. He couldn’t get a decent breath either, not with Scott’s hands on him. He nodded and tried to pull himself together.

“Haven’t you ever hooked up before?”

“Yeah.” Liar.

“Well, so have I. I’m not a little kid. You don’t have to—”

“I know you’re not.” Mick squeezed Scott’s shoulders, anxious to learn how his skin felt over those hard muscles, how those muscles looked when he moved. “I know.”

“So why—”

“I’ve hooked up before.”

“So why not with me?”

“Because it’s different with you. I mean, it would be— I can’t…”

“You think I’m an idiot? Too dumb to know what to—”

“No! No. That has nothing to do—” Mick saw something in Scott’s eyes that made the rest of that sentence turn to dust in his throat. He swallowed hard and was about to—no idea what he was about to do, but he couldn’t stand there forever—when he saw something else that stopped him. “You’re shaking.”

“Yeah.” Scott’s voice had a hard edge so when he surged forward, his erection pressing against Mick’s thigh, it was unexpected.

“Are you okay?”

“I’m trying to keep from punching you in the face.”

“Why do you want to punch me in the face?”

“Because you’re pushing me away. I thought you liked me.”

“I do like you. But—”

“Don’t say it’s not right. I’m dumb but I’m not—”

“I didn’t say you were dumb. You’re not dumb.” Mick could barely speak past his desire, so his last few words came out as breathless as he felt. He’d started panting and the sound filled the short hallway. “Please don’t punch me in the face.”

Scott frowned, but fear and pain was mixed up with the anger and desire showing in his light bottle-green eyes. Mick felt it all right along with him.

“Maybe I should go.”

When Scott didn’t respond Mick slid against the wall, sideways. In just a few steps, Mick wasn’t supporting all of Scott’s weight anymore, didn’t feel his tense muscles or his heat. Mick gingerly pushed off from the wall and walked backward, toward the living room.

“You don’t have to.”

“I think I do.” Mick sat on the sofa to pull on his boots and Scott dropped onto the cushion beside him. Mick straightened, one boot on and one off, and Scott grabbed him and kissed him.

Buy the book: SamhainAmazon USAll Romance eBooks

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Meet the Author

Charley Descoteaux misspent a large chunk of her youth on the back of a Harley, meeting people and having adventures that sometimes pop up in her fiction. She grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area during a drought, and found her true home in the soggy Pacific Northwest. Charley has survived earthquakes, tornadoes and floods, but couldn’t make it through one day without stories.

Where to find the author:

 


Tour Dates & Stops:

23-Feb

Boy Meets Boy Reviews, Scattered Thoughts & Rogue Words, Book Lovers 4Ever, Book Reviews, Rants, and Raves, Elisa – My Reviews and Ramblings, Posy Roberts

1-Mar

The Novel Approach, Velvet Panic, Three Books Over The Rainbow, Hearts on Fire

8-Mar

Louise Lyons, Foxylutely Book Reviews, My Fiction Nook, the Twins: Talon ps & Princess so, Inked Rainbow Reads

15-Mar

Full Moon Dreaming, Elin Gregory, Alpha Book Club, Bayou Book Junkie

22-Mar

Butterfly-O-Meter, Kirsty Loves Books, Fangirl Moments and My Two Cents, Unquietly Me

29-Mar

Jessie G. Books, QUEERcentric Books, Wicked Faerie’s Tales and Reviews, BFD Book Blog, Love Bytes

5-Apr

Book Reviews and More by Kathy, Divine Magazine, Prism Book Alliance, Molly Lolly

12-Apr

Nephy Hart, Happily Ever Chapter, MM Good Book Reviews

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A Free Dreamer Review: Line and Orbit (Root Code #1) by Sunny Moraine and Lisa Soem

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Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Line and OrbitWhat he’s been taught to fear could be his destiny…and his only hope.

Adam Yuga, a rising young star in the imperialist Terran Protectorate, is on the verge of a massive promotion…until a routine physical exam reveals something less than perfection. Genetic flaws are taboo, and Adam soon discovers there’s a thin line between rising star and starving outcast.

Stripped of wealth and position, stricken with a mysterious, worsening illness, Adam resorts to stealing credits to survive. Moments from capture by the Protectorate, help arrives in the form of Lochlan, a brash, cocksure Bideshi fighter.

Now the Bideshi, a people long shunned by the Protectorate, are the only ones who will offer him shelter. As Adam learns the truth about the mysterious, nomadic people he was taught to fear, Lochlan offers him not just shelter—but a temptation Adam can only resist for so long.

Struggling to adapt to his new life, Adam discovers his illness hides a terrible secret, one that the Protectorate will stop at nothing to conceal. Time is growing short, and he must find the strength to close a centuries-old rift, accept a new identity—and hold on to a love that could cost him everything.

 I’m always a sucker for some good sci-fi/fantasy and “Line and Orbit” definitely did not disappoint. It was funny, addicting, creative and unique.

Adam has it all: lots of money, a successful career, perfect health. That is, until he has to go through a health check for a promotion. The doctors find a small problem with his heart. Nothing life threatening, not in this day and age, but anything other than perfection is simply unacceptable and Adam suddenly finds himself without job, money and a rapidly deteriorating health. With his last bit of money he buys an old spaceship and leaves his home.

Lochlan hates the very thing Adam stands for, but when Adam literally falls in his arms, half dead and on the run, he saves the man’s life and takes him to the Bideshi homeship.

I absolutely loved the idea of the Bideshi. They’re space nomads, outsiders, exiles, outcasts and yet they have a rich history and a deep understanding of the stars, of their line and orbit. They’re magical. It’s not something I’ve ever encountered before and the authors did a wonderful job describing everything in great detail, without making it feel like an info dump, leaving me with a sense of wonder and a longing to join the Bideshi. That’s an example of excellent world building right there.

The romance is very slow to develop. It’s a bit of enemies-to-lovers, a trope that I really don’t like. That’s the only reason I didn’t give this a five star rating. But the slow pace suited the story. The two protagonists are so very different, everything else would have felt unrealistic to me. And I’m always thrilled when an author actually takes the time to develop a real romance, and doesn’t take the easy option of insta-love. Sex did happen, too, but it wasn’t explicit, and that kinda fit the story as well. The romance part was very balanced with the rest of the plot.

At times I wasn’t too sure if I like Lochlan, but he always won me over. Ultimately, I think I really like him, his character just takes a bit of getting used to. Adam, on the other hand, was somehow immediately likeable.

“Line and Orbit” does get a bit violent at times, so beware. Personally, I think fantasy isn’t really fantasy when you don’t get at least one battle scene and this book didn’t disappoint. I liked the spaceship battles, it’s not something I’ve read before.

Long story short: If you like a mix of romance, fantasy and sci-fi, you should read “Line and Orbit”.

I couldn’t help comparing this book to the truly epic “Song of the Navigator” by Astrid Amara. While “Line and Orbit” wasn’t quite as epically awesome, I can definitely recommend this to fans of “Song of the Navigator”.

I’m definitely going to read the rest of the series. I really enjoyed this.

Cover: I really like the cover by Kanaxa. It looks delightfully mysterious and the planets fit with the overall theme of the book.

Sales Links:  Samhain Publishing | ARe | Amazon

Book Details:

ebook, 325 pages
Published February 5th 2013 by Samhain Publishing, Ltd.
ISBN 1619212196 (ISBN13: 9781619212190)
Edition LanguageEnglish
URL
SeriesRoot Code #1

Series: Book 1 of the Root Code Series

Heidi Cullinan’s Talks Airship Pirates, Inspiration and ‘Clockwork Heart’ (guest blog, excerpt, and giveaway

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CH blog tour horizontal

Clockwork Heart (Clockwork Love #1) by Heidi Cullinan
Samhain Publishing
Cover Artist Kanaxa

RELEASE DATE: Feb 2, 2016
Book Page (with buy links) • Goodreads

Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words is happy to have Heidi Cullinan hear to talk about her latest novel, Clockwork Heart and a major inspiration behind the story, airship pirates. Welcome, Heidi.

 AIRSHIP PIRATES by Heidi Cullinan

When I began writing Clockwork Heart, I honestly thought it would only be a quick short story, a sort of steampunk Romeo and Juliet cast with a soldier and a tinker. What the story quickly became, however, was about pirates. Airship pirates, to be exact.

I blame, as I do so many things, Neil Gaiman, because I went through a serious Stardust binge, both book and movie, before I wrote this book. He has airship pirates in that story as well, men who sail through storms catching lightning to store in barrels for sale. He also put the burr in my consciousness about how pirates must always have two faces, the tough shell for boarding and maintaining control, and the truth beneath, the human who simply ended up in the role through a quirk of fate.

In the world of Clockwork Heart, airships are the preferred mode of transportation, but because the world is ruled by an endless war, armies and pirates rule the skies alongside a few shuttlers of goods and passengers. Pirates are always symbols of freedom and independence; in the world of Clockwork Heart they have an extra element of escape as they sail through the air. Not bound by land or sea, they go wherever the aether in their balloon will take them.

The thing I hadn’t counted on in writing my airship pirates was how quickly they would become a family. Working closely on a ship means relying on people, knowing and trusting them. I’d meant to only have this one book be the story, but as I wrote the airship pirates, I couldn’t resist their lure to ride off on The Brass Farthing and tell another tale. And another. And another.

I hope you enjoy your trip on my airship in Clockwork Heart, your ride over the Alps, through Calais in a daring attempt to save a life, in a desperate castle rescue. And of course, off into the sunset to the next adventure.

* * *Clockwork Heart

About Clockwork Heart

Love, adventure and a steaming good time.

As the French army leader’s bastard son, Cornelius Stevens enjoys a great deal of latitude. But when he saves an enemy soldier using clockwork parts, he’s well aware he risks hanging for treason. That doesn’t worry him half as much, however, as the realization he’s falling for his patient.

Johann Berger never expected to survive his regiment’s suicide attack on Calais, much less wake up with mechanical parts. To avoid discovery, he’s forced to hide in plain sight as Cornelius’s lover—a role Johann finds himself taking to surprisingly well.

When a threat is made on Cornelius’s life, Johann learns the secret of the device implanted in his chest—a mythical weapon both warring countries would kill to obtain. Caught up in a political frenzy, in league with pirates, dodging rogue spies, mobsters and princesses with deadly parasols, Cornelius and Johann have no time to contemplate how they ended up in this mess. All they know is, the only way out is together—or not at all.

Warning: Contains tinkers, excessive clockwork appendages, and a cloud-sweeping tour of Europe. A little absinthe, a little theft, a little exhibitionism. Men who love men, women who love women, and some who aren’t particular.

* * *

Buy it here from Samhain | ARe | Amazon

Excerpt from Clockwork Heart

March, 1910

Calais, France

Though Cornelius Stevens had thumbed his nose at his father’s international conflicts since he was old enough to understand what the word war meant, the night he rescued the Austrian soldier from a pile of dead bodies was the first time his disobedience had gone as far as treason.

He’d gone out, as it happened, to spite his father, who had ordered Conny to attend the local magistrate’s dinner party. “A good friend of mine will be there and is looking forward to meeting you,” his letter had said, and then it had gone on to promise Cornelius a hefty raise of his allowance and the set of Italian tools he’d been coveting in exchange for his presence at the event. Normally that would have been enough to lure Conny into even the most dull official gathering, but the letter had arrived with the evening paper, whose headline celebrated the archduke’s victorious conquest of Switzerland in the name of France. Cornelius had been put off his breakfast at the thought of how many innocent people had died so his father could supply the worthless, lazy emperor in Paris with cheap aether, and he’d burned the letter from his father in his brazier, vowing he’d join the Austrian Army himself before he’d attend a dinner party where he’d hear nothing but the glories of the French forces.

Cornelius was not his father. He saved lives instead of taking them. He was a tinker-surgeon, apprenticed to the best tinker in France. He was a master of clockwork. He saw at least three veterans of his father’s horrible war each week, and he gave them surgeries for free and clockwork for cost, or for whatever the soldiers could afford. He was his father’s son, but he was a bastard son, in blood and in spirit. He would never celebrate the Empire’s appetite for war. He donned his white armband for peace with pride. He wouldn’t attend a dinner party where he knew they’d be celebrating more death.

So that evening Conny dined with friends and drank wine, enough to make him glib about the sirens’ warning of an invasion on his walk home, chalking it up to more hokum from his father. Until half a kilometer from his flat he heard the shelling.

Calais, the city that never saw much more than a dust-up between sailors on leave, was being invaded. Uncertain how to respond, Cornelius moved into alleys and side streets to complete his journey. He climbed barrels and stumbled over cats, sobering with every step as he made his way home through fog tinged with the tang of gunpowder. He wove his way into an industrial area, following the path of a service canal—and that was where he found the raft of dead Austrian soldiers.

At first he thought he was hallucinating. It happened more often than he cared to admit, if he worked too long without stopping to eat. But he’d eaten both lunch and dinner, and it had only been one bottle of wine, no absinthe. Also, he’d never hallucinated smells before. Gunpowder. Sea muck. Sweat. Blood.

Death.

As a tinker-surgeon, Cornelius knew the scent of life recently ended all too well. The small barge heaved with a stack of dead soldiers, almost six feet high. Each wore the same green-gray uniform with the Austrian insignia, now caked with blood and mud. Some stared sightlessly at the sky, some twisted to their side, gazing at a distant eternity. No one living rode along to shepherd the dead. They simply drifted along with the rest of the night garbage waiting to be disposed of downstream at the city incinerator. No need to guard dead enemies. No need to afford them courtesy.

It was the most horrific, inhuman spectacle Cornelius had ever seen.

This is the work of my father. This is the fruit of Archduke Francis Cornielle Guillory’s terrible, endless war.

Cornelius swallowed the lump in his throat. He’d spent the day erasing the poor Swiss invasion victims from his imagination only to stumble upon barges full of fuel enough for a lifetime of nightmares. Hundreds of men, dead at his father’s hand. It didn’t matter how many lives Cornelius saved in surgery, how many wounded soldiers he gave new life to with surgical clockwork. He realized, standing on the bank of the canal, his entire life was but a pebble in his father’s ocean of blood.

Shutting his eyes, Cornelius put a hand to his mouth and fought the urge to retch. A watery cough made him open his eyes again, and he saw a hand raise and lower feebly on the top of one of the piles of corpses.

One of the soldiers was still alive.

With a cry, Cornelius sprinted across the street, hopped over the rail and vaulted onto the barge.

He climbed the dead men, the soft squish of their faces and necks and creak-cracks of their bones making him shiver as he scaled the heap. Another cough from above spurred him on, and then, at last, when he grasped an arm for purchase, it tensed and flinched under his grip.

Life. I have found you.

“It’s all right. I’m here.” So much blood. The soldier’s legs were broken at odd angles, and the right one had a seeping stain that told Conny it was bleeding out. Shrapnel protruded from the man’s belly and chest, and one great piece of metal appeared to have gone through his left arm entirely. His left eye was a scarred, mangled mess—it wasn’t missing, but it had been highly damaged. If he could see at all out of that side, it wasn’t much. Though that wound wasn’t fresh. However he’d partially lost his sight, it wasn’t from this battle.

The soldier murmured something in slurred German and tried, weakly, to push Cornelius away.

Cornelius stilled him with one hand as the other continued his examination. “You’re badly injured. But everything here is treatable, I think. Certainly I could give you a new eye without any trouble. Your left arm must go, and I can’t promise good things for your right leg, but…well, you floated by the right one for the job.”

The man gasped in pain and tried again to shove Conny. This effort was even weaker, though, and when Cornelius’s hand brushed his, the soldier’s fingers tightened around his own.

Cornelius threaded their fingers together. “I’m so sorry this has happened to you. This is wrong. This war is wrong, this barge is wrong—you shouldn’t be here if you’re alive. You should be at a prisoner-of-war camp, and you should be accorded respect.” He swallowed a bubble of bitterness. “You should be at home. If you came to Calais, it should be for a holiday.”

The man opened his good eye and gazed at Cornelius through a haze of pain. Though he spoke in German, no translation was necessary for the look on the soldier’s face.

I’m going to die, and I’m afraid.

Cornelius drew the man’s hand to his mouth and kissed the bloody, dirty knuckles. “You aren’t going to die. I’m going to save your life.”

Letting go of the soldier, Conny hurried down the corpses and up the bank with his blood pumping as his mind raced through potential plans. When he spotted a small surgery on the corner down the way, he dashed to it, picked the lock and burst inside. Needles, medicine, antibiotic went into his bag, as well as three rolls of bandages. The surgeons had a gurney as well, bless them. Leaving a hefty pile of bank notes on the counter by way of apology, he dragged the gurney outside and toward the barge, which had by now drifted almost out of sight.

His lungs burned as he climbed up a second time, and he feared he would find the man dead after all—but no, the soldier babbled slurred, panicked German as Cornelius arrived.

Calmez-vous.” Cornelius wished he could offer reassurances the man would understand. He gave him an injection of painkiller, another of antibiotic, and then, to make things easier, he dosed the man with just the faintest bit of aether.

He was glad for it, because even with the gas, the soldier cried out as Cornelius tried to set his limbs. Unfortunately, Conny quickly realized all the soldier’s extremities were crushed except for his right hand. Cornelius bound the wounds as best he could, devised splints out of bits of the ferry rail, and then, with great effort, rolled the man onto the gurney pallet and strapped him in, hoping against hope the shifting didn’t incur too much additional damage.

Getting the pallet off the heap nearly sent them both into the canal. The soldier was broad and tall, and Cornelius was not. Essentially the only way to transport him was to slide the poor man on the pallet as if it were a sled. Clamoring after, Cornelius hoisted the pallet back onto the gurney, unlocked the wheels and rattled into the alley toward his apartments above Master Félix’s shop.

Only God knew what Cornelius would have said if he’d run into anyone on the streets—but he didn’t. Everyone hunkered in cellars, praying they weren’t set upon by soldiers. There were no soldiers on the streets, however, save the one Conny wheeled into the night. Once back at the shop, he found Master Félix wasn’t at home, and the maid was long gone for the night, so Cornelius simply rolled the gurney into the elevator in the back, primed the crank and rode with his patient past the first-floor general tinker shop into the second-floor surgery.

As an apprentice to the most celebrated tinker-surgeon in all of France, Cornelius had seen his share of dire patients, but he’d never faced anything as intense and critical as this soldier, and he’d never done such an intensive treatment alone. He did his best to push his nerves aside as he washed his hands, donned his surgical apron and dosed the soldier with so much aether he wouldn’t feel any pain well into the next week. Once that was done, he stripped the patient down and cleaned him head to toe.

So many wounds. Shrapnel in his belly and chest—some had gone into a lung, Conny was certain of it. The legs did have to go. Both of them, sadly, though the left leg only to mid-calf. The left arm too. For a moment, Cornelius wondered if he shouldn’t help the man cross over, instead of yanking him back to life. Then he remembered the look of naked terror on the man’s face, and resolve gripped him like a vise.

No. I am a healer, a fixer. I hate war and weep for all humans in pain. I will save this soldier. Whatever it takes. And I will give him clockwork so grand he won’t miss the flesh he’s lost.

Amputating and cauterizing the man’s mangled legs stopped the worst of the bleeding, though Cornelius did transfuse some blood into his patient to be certain he hadn’t lost too much. Perhaps it had been a bit of fancy to use his own blood from the stored pints, but he was a universal donor, was he not? Cornelius got rid of the soldier’s burned, crushed arm and sealed up that stump too. He wrapped the belly, then shifted his focus to the collapsed lung.

That was when he saw the bit of metal sticking out of the soldier’s chest, right above his heart. It was so low he’d missed it the first time, tangled in the man’s thick pelt of chest hair. But there was no missing it now.

It was the mortal wound. Conny skimmed his hand over the man’s thigh, scanning his patient’s body with new eyes, taking in the wounds old and new. It was the metal in the man’s heart killing him. Cornelius had healed everything else. If he healed that too, and fixed the lung, the man wouldn’t die.

Cornelius drew his bottom lip into his mouth as he stared at the stub of iron.

Seeing to that wasn’t simply cleaning him up. It was surgery. Clockwork surgery. And to finish the job, Conny would need to give the man a clockwork heart assist. That would be improving. Organ upgrades barely allowed to the gentry, given to an enemy soldier.

That would be treason.

Cornelius sucked his lip deeper into his mouth, biting nervously on the soft flesh.

Going any further than what he’d done was too much. He should give the man an overdose of aether and send him sweetly into death. He should do his duty, then find a pretty thing in a dockside bar or a stalwart sailor willing to let him cry on his shoulder before making him forget the shadows of war.

Cornelius let his gaze rest on the soldier’s big, battered body, his surprisingly pretty countenance beneath the scars, so innocent in sleep. Conny remembered the look of terror on his face and those whispered pleas. The weariness only war could bring. He thought of the dead Swiss men and women and children, who had done nothing but live in a country rich with aether the archduke needed to fuel his war.

He couldn’t save those victims. But he knew, if he let himself cross the line, he could save this one.

Probably he’ll die in surgery, Cornelius told himself as he washed his hands and sterilized his kit. He’ll die, and I can say I tried. Treason with no witness or lasting effect.

Except Cornelius did more than simply try.

Putting the Austrian on the Lazarus machine when the surgery went south was wrong. Siphoning off another pint of his own blood was foolish, because it made him woozy. Setting a tiny assistant pumping mechanism into a dying man’s chest was pointless—careless, even, since he’d end up burying thousands of dollars’ worth of intricate machinery if the man died, which he was highly likely to do.

But breaking into Master Félix’s vault to steal the clockwork heart once the pumping gear wouldn’t turn—that was certainly the most terrible thing Cornelius had ever done.

The clockwork heart was Félix’s masterpiece. He’d only shown it to Cornelius a month ago, after an evening of too much wine. “This is my masterwork, Conny, not that anyone can ever know about it. A clockwork heart. Not an assisting device but a fully clockwork organ, the first and only of its kind. Completely replaces an organ made of flesh, and very possibly functions better than the pump God gave us. It would run forever, until the body gave out. It might well make a body perform better than a flesh heart could. It could change the world.”

“But that’s wonderful!” Conny had touched the clockwork heart reverently, imagining all the good it could do. “It could save so many lives. You should make more of them.”

“I will never make another one as long as I live, and no one will ever use this infernal machine. I only have it here because it was no longer safe where it had been hiding. Soon I must move it again. Unless I can work up the courage to destroy it.” Félix turned to Conny, sodden with wine but burning with intensity. “You must never tell anyone about this. Not a single soul. Not ever.”

Cornelius hadn’t told anyone. Not even Valentin, his longest, dearest friend. But he knew the heart hadn’t yet moved on to wherever Félix intended to hide it next, and he hadn’t destroyed it. As the Austrian soldier lay dying, his heart of flesh too damaged to beat on its own, all Conny could think of was the perfect substitute locked away downstairs, lying useless with its owner vowing never to let it see the light of day.

Surely the safest place to hide the heart was inside of someone. A man who would not live without it.

Cornelius set the clockwork heart next to the mechanical pump, coaxed it into working independently before sewing it up inside the thin gold cavity he made in the man’s chest. He made a flesh-seal and tucked the access port under the man’s right arm, sealing it up with a cap that could pass for a mole to anyone who didn’t get close enough to see this mole had a tiny hinge. He stood over his patient, his own still-human heart thumping madly as he realized what he’d done.

Then it occurred to Conny, since he’d crossed one line, there was nothing stopping him from breaking as many rules as he needed to not only save his soldier but give him every advantage in whatever the next chapter of life brought him.

And that is precisely what Conny did.

 

* * * * *

 

Johann Berger was fairly certain he should have been dead.

He couldn’t yet be sure he wasn’t dead, though that he had a headache and ached all over seemed a good indication he was probably still alive. Death seemed like it would either not hurt at all or hurt a hell of a lot more, to pardon the pun. But Johann’s aches felt muted. Annoying, but tolerable. His left arm and his legs felt very odd. His mouth tasted like ash, and his chest felt…strange. He was warm, however. He lay in something soft and fragrant. Inhaling, he caught hints of lavender, sage and the lemon tang of a cleanser. He could not, for the life of him, imagine where he was or how he got there. Hoping for visual cues, he opened his eyes.

After drawing in a sharp breath, he closed them again. Tight.

When he opened them once more, his pulse beat hard against the back of his throat. He could see. Out of both eyes. Not a blurry haze out of his left which his right eye had to ignore. He saw, with crystal clarity, though his left eye saw everything with a sharp-edged tinge of yellow-brown.

He raised his hands to his face. Through the amber edging, he could see his right hand looking normal, his arm bare and scarred and marked with service tattoos. He also saw his left hand, which did not look like a hand at all. In any kind of light.

Oh, there were five fingers, true enough. But they were made of copper casings, not flesh. Tiny wheels held every joint in place and larger gears made up what he could only call a wrist. More wire and more clockwork comprised a forearm he could, technically, see through. What should have been his left arm was now a delicate machine. But even stranger than his new appendage was the discovery that when his brain told his left arm to move, his left wrist to turn, the fingers of his left hand to curl—they responded in kind. He let out a shaking breath and touched his left hand with his right. The clockwork arm didn’t register sensation in the way his right hand did. It felt like a slight fuzzing on his brain, an odd tickle that resonated more in his elbow than in his substitute fingers. He noticed, too, that his movements weren’t as smooth or dexterous with the mechanical arm as with his real one.

This was clockwork. Incredible clockwork. He’d seen some clumsy versions on a few officers who’d lost limbs, and once his unit had been stationed near Italy, where Johann saw a nobleman wearing gears on his flesh arm, but the kind of clockwork fused to Johann was like nothing he had known could possibly exist.

How had this happened? He tried to recall his last memory, but everything felt blurred and confused in his head. Had he ended up back with Crawley? He couldn’t see how. The pirates had left him, the commander had found him, and they’d put him straight onto the front lines. Onto a special assignment, the regiment sent to storm Calais.

A suicide mission. He remembered now. A distraction so the English airships full of Austrian troops could land on the eastern shores. Something about destroying a weapon. Or finding it. Or something. Nothing to do with him—his job was to be cannon fodder for the French.

So how had he ended up in a nice-smelling, soft bed with a yellow eyeball and a clockwork arm?

His belly curdled as he remembered the rumors, the warnings the sergeants had taunted them with at camp. The French are turning their war prisoners into automatons. Don’t let them catch you alive, or they’ll make it so you can never die and can’t do anything but fight for Archduke Guillory.

Terror brought back missing pieces of Johann’s memory. It had been fear of that story that had made him fake death and swallow his cry of pain as the French soldiers had tossed him onto the corpse barge. He remembered lying cold and trembling in the foggy night, waiting for death, knowing being burned alive would be better than the future they had in store for him as a prisoner of war.

And then a pretty young man had climbed the corpse heap, touched his face and whispered in French.

The curtains around Johann’s bed parted, and the pretty Frenchman from his recollection smiled down at him, head backlit by gaslight, his features outlined in a strange amber hue in Johann’s left eye.

Voilà, vous êtes réveillé enfin.

The Frenchman sat on the edge of the bed and smiled kindly down at Johann. As he spoke more lyrical words Johann had no hope of comprehending, he touched Johann everywhere. His face. His neck. He laid a hand over Johann’s chest, pressing gently—it was then Johann realized that flesh was slightly numb.

They have captured me and turned me into their slave. That is why I have the clockwork arm and God knows what else. I am an automaton. He began to panic.

The pretty man shushed him, petting his shoulders and entreating Johann once more in French. He didn’t sound like an enemy doctor intent on hacking men into reusable pieces. In fact, Johann hadn’t heard anyone speak with this much tenderness since he’d left his mother.

It was a little drugging. He decided he would gladly fight for Guillory’s army, if it meant this man would croon to him at the end of every battle.

The pretty man explained the mechanical arm, with slow French and pantomime. Johann got the idea the man had installed it, or designed it, or something, because he was intensely proud and could explain how to work it even without a shared language. “Nerf,” he kept saying, tracing a line from Johann’s elbow to his brain. He said nerf as he touched Johann’s left eye too, putting Johann’s right hand up there to feel the strange metal socket placed over the hollow where his mangled eye should have been.

He had Johann sit up, which was when Johann saw his legs.

The Frenchman hushed him once more when he cried out at the sight of his lower half—his right leg was entirely machine, steel and copper skeleton rising almost to his hip. His left leg was natural to his calf, where he had something which looked much like the foot version of his left arm. It was more intricate than the right side by far.

He had no legs. No feet. He was more clockwork than man.

Though Johann wanted to panic, it was difficult to remain upset with his doctor soothing him in what tonight had to be the prettiest language on Earth. The man hugged Johann’s shoulders and spoke quietly into his ear, his lips gently brushing the skin and wresting Johann’s attention away from his artificial limbs.

Tout ira bien, mon chéri. Croyez-moi. Je vous soignerai.

Johann shut his eyes, wondering how that worked when one was basically a copper lens. It did shut, though, when he told it to. In fact, all the clockwork parts seemed to respond to his most casual thought.His, not the Frenchman’s. The question was, would it remain that way?

Would he care, if it meant this man would continue to be so kind to him?

“I don’t know what you’re saying or what you’ve done to me, but…” He leaned helplessly into the man. “Please…don’t stop talking. Or touching me.”

With a soft French coo, the man prattled on, his tone even gentler and sweeter now. “Je m’appelle Cornelius. Quel est votre nom?

Name, Johann’s rusty brain offered up in translation. He wants to know your name. “Johann Berger. Of the Austrian Army’s 51st regiment.”

A shiver ran down his skin as the man—Cornelius—threaded fingers into Johann’s hair. Johann decided he liked it, but it was strange. His mother always said the French had odd ways. He hadn’t realized they were such touchy ways.

Probably he’d have run away to France when he’d first deserted the army, if he’d known.

Bienvenue, Johann Berger. Sur mon honneur, je jure que je vous protégerai.”

Johann felt a kiss on his hairline, and he curled his mechanical hand instinctively at the touch.

As he lay in the embrace of the Frenchman, Johann recalled his mother. Her gentle hands on his face, her tears as she said goodbye. They’d both known it would be the last time they saw one another. Johann wondered if she had put him out of her heart the way he’d sealed off her and the rest of his family, his life in Stallenwald. It hurt too much to remember a time when life had been good.

In the Frenchman’s arms, Johann broke the seal. He let himself feel the ache of loss, let himself acknowledge how much he missed love and light in his life. A sense of purpose that wasn’t futile. A future filled with hope, not despair. It was a fever, no doubt, that let him turn the incomprehensible French coos into something to latch on to. He had no idea to what purpose this man meant to assign him now that he was a clockwork man, but in that moment he didn’t care. However it happened, whether or not it was real, right now he felt safe and peaceful.

He’d been a son, a soldier, a pirate, a human sacrifice. If it meant he could keep feeling like this, he’d be whatever the Frenchman wanted him to be.

***

Heidi Cullinan head shot (1)

About the Author

Heidi Cullinan has always enjoyed a good love story, provided it has a happy ending. Proud to be from the first Midwestern state with full marriage equality, Heidi is a vocal advocate for LGBT rights. She writes positive-outcome romances for LGBT characters struggling against insurmountable odds because she believes there’s no such thing as too much happy ever after. When Heidi isn’t writing, she enjoys cooking, reading, playing with her cats, and watching television with her family. Find out more about Heidi at heidicullinan.com.

Contact/follow the author at:

Twitter,  Facebook Author Profile,  Facebook Fan Page,  Goodreads, Spotify,  and Website

***

Giveaway

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A Stella Review: Out! (The Shamwell Tales #3) by J.L. Merrow

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RATING 4,5 out of 5 stars

Out!When the costs are added up, will love land in the black?

Mark Nugent has spent his life in the closet—at least, the small part of it he hasn’t spent in the office. Divorced when he could no longer deny his sexuality, he’s sworn off his workaholic ways and moved to Shamwell with his headstrong teen daughter to give her a stable home environment.

His resolve to put his love life on hold is severely tested when he joins a local organization and meets a lively yet intense young man who tempts him closer to the closet threshold.

Patrick Owen is an out-and-proud charity worker with strong principles—and a newly discovered weakness for an older man. One snag: Mark is adamant he’s not coming out to his daughter, and Patrick will be damned if he’s going to start a relationship with a lie.

Between Mark’s old-fashioned attitudes and a camp, flirtatious ex-colleague who wants Mark for himself, Patrick wonders if they’ll ever be on the same romantic page. And when Mark’s former career as a tax advisor clashes with Patrick’s social conscience, it could be the one stumbling block they can’t get past.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have another winner from the amazing JL Merrow! She is one of my favorite authors and The Shamwell Tales series is really great. Out! was a great addition to an already well done series. It was engaging and English like all JL’s works.

Out! was a light story, there was really nothing too heavy, making it perfect for a pleasurable reading time. As always the characters were all well defined and enjoyable, but it’s probably the first time with this author, I have to admit that I liked the secondary characters, Lex and David especially, more than Mark and Patrick.  In fact I’d like to beg JL to please, pretty please, write Lex’s story. They deserve it.

What I particularly appreciate in Out! is that I felt everything about the story was real and authentic, in Mark’s struggles with his teenage daughter Fen, in the development of his relationship with Patrick and in their different points of view of important things. The funny dialogues often reflected the ones I have in my RL, so it was easy to empathize with their lives and everyday issues.

I want to highly recommend this story and the whole series, it’s fun, light and easy. Don’t miss it!

Just a note: all books can be read as a standalone.

The COVER ART by Kanaxa is not my favorite of the artist and in the Merrow’s series. Most of all I can’t see my MCs in the model on the cover. But it’s clearly well done.

Sales Links:  Samhain Publishing | All Romance (ARe) | Amazon | Buy It Here

Book Details:

ebook, 322 pages
Published January 19th 2016 by Samhain Publishing
Original TitleOut!
ISBN 1619229935 (ISBN13: 9781619229938)
Edition LanguageEnglish

The Shamwell Tales series – with links to Stella’s reviews: