New Release Blitz for Ignite (Unbreakable Bonds #7) by Jocelynn Drake & Rinda Elliott (excerpt and giveaway)

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Title: Ignite

Series: Unbreakable Bonds #7

Author: Jocelynn Drake & Rinda Elliott

Publisher: Drake & Elliott Publishing LLC

Release Date: July 26, 2019

Heat Level: 4 – Lots of Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 73,000

Genre: Romance, Thriller/Suspense

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Synopsis

Two of Noah’s Army buddies are dead.

Someone has taken shots at Noah.

And now Noah’s former lover, JB, is a target.

Noah, Rowe, and JB team up to track down a killer trying to take out all of Noah’s old Army team in hopes of covering up a dark secret.

But this trip to Washington, D.C. threatens to unravel the perfect life that Rowe and Noah have built over the past three years. JB’s arrival in their lives have Rowe and Noah wondering if they want the same thing for their happily ever after.

Rowe is sure of one thing—nobody threatens his man. And he sets out to show anyone with a hidden agenda what a bad decision that was.

Excerpt

Noah smiled to himself as he watched Rowe drive them home. His hands slid easily along the leather wheel. Soon those strong hands would be stroking down his body. The way the man kept looking at him during the wedding had him half-hard all evening. He knew it was the wedding—all the romance in the air.

A lingering worry had nipped at him earlier in the day that Ian’s wedding would bring back painful memories of Rowe’s own wedding, but he seemed fine and Noah couldn’t be more thankful.

So, he watched those hands. Being touched by Rowe was like nothing else in this world. The man worshiped his body with an all-in intensity that frankly awed Noah. And he knew that wouldn’t change, no matter how long they were together. He took in his dark-red hair, lit by moonlight, disheveled as usual, and his ripped shoulders and arms. The man filled out a suit well, but he couldn’t wait to peel him out of it.

“Keep staring at me like that, and I’ll be finding a secluded spot to pull over,” Rowe murmured, giving him a steamy look.

“That’d be fine with me. Did I tell you how hot you are today? You should wear suits more often.”

“Soon as we get home, I’ll show you my birthday suit.”

“That’s my favorite suit of all.” Noah grinned.

Rowe pulled to a stop at a red light and turned toward him, his green-eyed gaze hotter than the sun. “You clean up nice yourself. Come here.”

Noah leaned over to kiss him. Brakes squealed sharply. Noah jerked his lips away from Rowe’s before they could touch. A car had pulled up, perpendicular to theirs, in the middle of the intersection. A loud bang quickly followed and the ping of glass breaking. Startled, he looked at the windshield to find a small hole in it.

“Shit, get down!” Rowe grabbed him and shoved him into the seat, covering him with his body just as another shot broke through the windshield.

“Someone is fucking shooting at us!” Rowe stretched over him to reach the glove box where he kept his gun. He yanked it out but stayed down. “Are you hurt?”

Noah couldn’t believe the man covered him, but that was Rowe. “No, I’m fine. You?”

“I’m good.”

Tires squealed again and the roar of the car engine grew softer. A knock on the driver’s window had them both jerking upright. Rowe aimed the gun in that direction, ready to put two in whoever was stupid enough to be standing there. Noah rose, ready to jump out of their truck and attack.

The woman outside screamed and ducked away from the window. “I was just making sure you were all right!” she yelled, and Rowe immediately lowered his gun. “The person shooting drove off, but I got a good look at the car. I’m beside you at the stoplight. The driver just pulled right into the intersection and someone shot out of the front passenger window. Is everyone okay? I called 9-1-1.”

Noah looked out the windshield to find the first hole directly in front of him. He turned and found a matching bullet hole in the seat. It would have pierced his heart. Whoever shot at them had one hell of an aim. Or at least, they would have if Noah hadn’t leaned over to kiss Rowe at that moment. <em>Holy fuck</em>, <em>that was close!</em>

His stomach was in knots as he met his boyfriend’s gaze. “What the hell?”

Rowe rolled down his window, apologizing to the woman for scaring her. “What kind of car was it?”

“A black Volkswagen hatchback.”

“Did you see anyone in the car? Could you tell if either person was a man or woman?”

“The passenger looked like a man. I’m sorry, I didn’t get a good look at the person’s face.”

Sirens sounded in the distance, getting steadily closer. Rowe put his gun back into the glovebox and they both got out of the truck to look at the damage. Two police cars arrived with a roar of engines. The first cop opened his door and stood with his gun at the ready.

“The shooter drove away,” the woman yelled. She was certainly helpful and brave to have gotten out of her car at all. Her red Honda was still parked at the light beside them with several more cars stalled there as well. None of those people had gotten out of their vehicles, but now they did as the police gathered.

Rowe and Noah answered questions but because they’d ducked, they had less to offer by way of explanation than the woman who’d witnessed the whole thing.

“Was more than likely a drive-by,” one of the cops said as he made a few notes in his little notepad. “We’ve had a few of them recently. I’m glad nobody was hurt this time. The others weren’t so lucky.”

But Noah had a feeling it wasn’t some random drive-by.

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Meet the Author

Jocelynn Drake and Rinda Elliott have teamed up to combine their evil genius to create intense gay romantic suspense stories that have car chases, shoot outs, explosions, scorching hot love scenes, and tender, tear-jerking moments. Their first joint books are in the Unbreakable Bonds series.

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New Release Blitz for Deadly Dorian (Ward Security Series #3) by Jocelynn Drake and Rinda Elliott (excerpt and giveaway)

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Title:  Deadly Dorian

Series: Ward Security Series #3

Author: Jocelynn Drake & Rinda Elliott

Publisher: Drake and Elliott Publishing LLC

Release Date: April 13, 2018

Heat Level: 4 – Lots of Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 87K

Genre: Romance, Thriller/Suspense

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Synopsis

Someone is trying to kill Marc Foster.

Attempted poisoning was bad enough, but when the would-be killer messes with the brakes on Marc’s precious Porsche, the art dealer admits he needs help. He just wasn’t expecting help to be quite so dark and sexy.

Royce Karras loves his job at Ward Security. He’s making up for a lifetime of bad decisions and a bloody past he’d rather forget. But Marc isn’t the spoiled rich boy he thought he’d be protecting. Sticking close to Marc as his “boyfriend” gives Royce insight into his toxic family, but it also reveals a brilliant, compassionate man who completely disarms Royce. Against his better judgment, Royce finds himself falling.

But can they find a way to make it work when Royce’s past threatens to tear their lives apart? Their future hinges on a lost Renaissance painting, six Bichon Frises, and a pornographic Robin Hood.

No worries, right?

Excerpt

Marc Foster rose from one of the outdoor couches and came toward him with his right hand out. There was no missing how he shifted his left hand slightly behind his body, but Royce already caught sight of what looked like a bandage. He stood taller than Royce by several inches, his shoulders broad, his body slim. He wore a fashionable suit that probably cost more than a month of Royce’s salary.

But his damn face—that was going to be a problem.

He had the most fascinating combination of features Royce had ever seen. Sharp was the first description that came to mind. He had thick, black, slanting eyebrows over piercing, blue eyes, bladed cheekbones and chin—all of it coming together to form a stunning, intense face that was completely belied by the softest-looking, fullest lips he’d ever seen. The dichotomy of severe and overly sensual startled, sending a punch of surprising lust into Royce’s gut. Marc wore his dark brown hair long on top, and it looked like he’d been running his hands through it, because it curled back off his face in soft waves with one strand falling over his eye.

It was the perfect length for gripping.

“Royce Karras?”

“Yes.” He wanted to say more, but he felt momentarily tongue-tied and shocked. Rich playboys were far from the kind of men he usually liked to get rowdy with, so his gut reaction to this one made him feel off. He’d never been much of a talker, though. He hoped the man didn’t want a chatterbox for a pretend boyfriend.

The smile that stretched those full lips revealed teeth that went along with the program: sharp and flawlessly white. But the smile softened his features, making him seem more welcoming.

And…somewhat devastating. Royce would have no trouble pretending to be attracted to this man.

Marc nodded then, his gaze running down Royce’s body.

Royce wondered what he thought as he took in his black vest over the white button-down shirt tucked into dark jeans. Black motorcycle boots completed the look. He’d also rolled up his sleeves, leaving the tattoos on his left arm in plain sight. He’d trimmed his black beard close to his chin. Normally, he wore the company’s polo or T-shirts on jobs, but Andrei had asked him to “hot it up” a little so he’d appeal to a rich playboy.

He watched that rich playboy now as he eyed him, then turned back to Quinn. Royce followed his gaze to find his coworker standing silently, watching them with a funny smile on his face.

“He will work,” Marc said in a no-nonsense tone. “My acquaintances won’t question me wanting him.”

That particular word choice sent a blast of heat to Royce’s groin, and he ruthlessly ignored it. But the image that had surged into his mind had been this gorgeous, haughty man kneeling before him, and that was harder to push aside. He’d look so pretty like that, his head back, mouth open, waiting on instruction.

Royce knew, without a doubt, that he could have this man on his knees, that he could easily overpower him despite his taller form. If there was one thing that always played out in Royce’s favor, it was the steely strength he carried in his compact body. It had been the reason he’d been a very successful shylock for a bloodthirsty bookie in Virginia. He came with the element of surprise—always underestimated, always triumphant in a fight. He didn’t have the special martial arts training of a lot of his coworkers, but that didn’t matter. There was something to be said for sheer determination.

“You aren’t going to question if he’s big enough to fight someone off for you?” Quinn asked. “He gets that a lot.”

Marc smirked and brought those astute blue eyes back to him. “I have absolutely no doubt this man can protect me. Anyone paying close enough attention would see that he could easily take them down.”

Royce hoped the lust coating his last three words was only in his own imagination. A quick glance at Quinn told him it was not. And the IT guy was finding this situation highly amusing as he lifted one eyebrow behind his black-framed glasses.

Purchase

Drake and Elliott Publishing LLC | Amazon

Meet the Author

Who are Drake & Elliott?

Jocelynn Drake and Rinda Elliott have teamed up to combine their evil genius to create intense gay romantic suspense stories that have car chases, shoot outs, explosions, scorching hot love scenes, and tender, tear-jerking moments. Their first joint books are in the Unbreakable Bonds series.

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New Book Release Blitz for Dantès Unglued (Ward Security Series #2) by Jocelynn Drake and Rinda Elliott (excerpt and Giveaway

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Title:  Dantès Unglued

Series: Ward Security Series #2

Author: Jocelynn Drake and Rinda Elliott

Publisher:  Drake and Elliott Publishing LLC

Release Date: January 26th

Heat Level: 4 – Lots of Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 72k

Genre: Romance, Thriller/Suspense,

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Synopsis

When private investigator, Shane Stephens, is hired by the mayor of Cincinnati to track down the hacker who has been threatening him, Shane is sure this is the opportunity to launch the Merleau Detection Agency into the big time. He even convinces Rowe Ward of Ward Security to loan him one of his best IT specialists, Quinn Lake.

Shane, a man who prefers casual intimacy, is surprised by his attraction to the moody computer geek, but when Quinn suggests they have fun for the month he’s on loan, Shane happily agrees. Both men are expecting nothing more than a good time.

But the investigation takes an unexpected turn and they quickly discover they are facing more than a hacker out to ruin the mayor’s re-election chances. And as they spend more time together, they realize their relationship may be a lot more than just a good time.

With only weeks until the election, Shane and Quinn race to gather the proof they need while dodging bullets and possibly…falling in love.

Excerpt

After one quick knock on Rowe’s door, he stepped inside without waiting for him to call since he was already expected. But he stopped short when he saw the tall man standing next to Rowe’s desk, his hands on his slender hips as he grinned down at Rowe. Quinn couldn’t stop his eyes from quickly sweeping over his broad shoulders and chest that tapered into a narrow waist. His eyes snapped back up to find a pair of brown eyes that twinkled as they finished checking him out as well.

“Sorry,” Quinn mumbled, instantly taking a step backward. “I can come back.” Rowe rarely saw clients. He had customer representatives that handled talking to the clients. Of course, with Rowe’s lack of a filter, it was better if he didn’t talk to the new clients directly.

“No, come in, Quinn,” Rowe said sharply. He stood behind his desk, drawing Quinn’s gaze to his shorter but broader frame. His dark red hair stood up slightly as if he’d been running his fingers through it. Quinn never took that as a particularly good sign.

With a quick jerk of his head, Quinn stepped in and shut the door behind him. The other man was smiling at him, that assessing look still in his eyes, and Quinn didn’t want to think about the fact that he was dying to take another longer look at him, but not with the freaking boss in the room.

“Quinn Lake, this is Shane Stephens. He’s a private investigator with The Merleau Detection Agency,” Rowe introduced.

Shane extended his hand to Quinn and Quinn clenched his teeth, trying to hide his discomfort at taking Shane’s hand. His own palms were sweaty, making the momentary contact awkward. Why the fuck was he always so damn awkward around hot guys?

“Rowe tells me you’re the best,” Shane said, releasing his hand.

Quinn couldn’t help the skeptical look he shot at Rowe, who only shrugged as he sat down again. “Well, I said you <em>and</em> Gidget are the best.”

“Is this about a job?”

“Sit, Quinn.” Rowe absently waved toward the two chairs in front of his desk. He shuffled some papers around without seeming to actually look at them, placing them in piles at the edge of his desk.

Shooting one last uncertain look at Shane, Quinn moved to the farthest chair and sat, his tablet clenched in both hands. His mind raced as he tried to figure out why he’d been called into this meeting. Clients didn’t meet with Rowe, and Quinn didn’t meet with clients unless they’d already been assigned a bodyguard. And while they’d worked with some private investigators in the past, Rowe wasn’t usually involved. He had a company to run.

“Shane recently acquired a client who is the victim of a hacker,” Rowe started.

Quinn looked up at Shane, who was still standing beside Rowe’s desk, his mind finally turning away from too many questions to a problem he could understand. “Identity theft? Bank accounts drained?”

“No, not yet.” Shane shook his head, some of his dark curly hair falling forward against his temple. “At least, not that we’ve uncovered.”

“Then how do you know this client was hacked?”

“There are other signs…but I can’t go into it.”

Quinn frowned for a second. That certainly wasn’t going to make his job easier. “Well, do you just need improved protection? Alerts on accounts? We’ve got a comprehensive list of things we can do to help shore up the client’s account protection and privacy.”

“Shane isn’t looking for protection from the hacker for the client.” Rowe paused until Quinn looked back at him. “His client has hired him to track down the identity of the hacker.”

“Whoa…” Quinn said on an exhale, sitting back in his chair. That…that was not an easy task. Most hackers were pretty damn good at not being found. You had to be if you wanted to survive as one. If you sucked, you were usually snagged by the FBI pretty damn fast. Quinn would know. He’d started hacking at a young age—not stealing other people’s money but just breaking through security systems because he could. It took the feds a solid five years to catch him. But his boss knew all this. Rowe knew everything about the people working for him.

“We’re not equipped to handle this level of…” Shane frowned at Rowe’s computer as if he blamed it for his problems. “Well, we’re not staffed yet to handle computer things like this. I can do some of the forensic research in accounting matters, but I need a computer genius like you.”

“That’s why I agreed to loan you to Shane and his business partner, Ethan, for one month,” Rowe announced.

Quinn was out of his seat in a shot, hovering over the edge of the desk as he looked down at his boss. Pain shot through his chest, and he was suddenly having trouble catching his breath. Panic clouded all of his thoughts. He loved working for Ward Security. He’d been there for just less than two years, and he’d never found another place where he’d felt like he fit so damn perfectly. This was home. These people he worked with, they were his friends. He didn’t have to hide or pretend or feel uncomfortable.

And Rowe…Rowe had always been amazing. Sure, he could be cranky and a little crazy. He was always loud and tended to speak before thinking. But Quinn always knew exactly where he stood with Rowe. He always felt like Rowe had his back.

But this…

“Are you getting rid of me?”

“What?” Rowe snapped. “Where the fuck did you get that idea?”

“You’re hiring another IT person. I saw the listing. And this? Putting me ‘on loan’?”

Rowe groaned and scrubbed a hand over his face. With a heavy sigh, he pointed back at the chair Quinn had just vacated. “Sit.” Grudgingly, Quinn followed direction while Rowe looked over at Shane. “Can you give us a minute?”

Purchase

Drake and Elliott Publishing LLC | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | iTunes | Smashwords

Meet the Author

Who are Drake & Elliott?

Jocelynn Drake and Rinda Elliott have teamed up to combine their evil genius to create intense gay romantic suspense stories that have car chases, shoot outs, explosions, scorching hot love scenes, and tender, tear-jerking moments. Their first joint books are in the Unbreakable Bonds series.

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In Our Contemporary Spotlight: Every Breath You Take by Robert Winter (excerpt and giveaway)

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Title:  Every Breath You Take

Author: Robert Winter

Publisher:  Dreamspinner Press

Release Date: May 5, 2017

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 221 pages

Genre: Romance, Thriller/Suspense

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Synopsis

When Zachary Hall leaves Utah for a job in Washington, it’s finally his chance to live as a gay man and maybe find someone special. In a bar he meets Thomas Scarborough, a man who seems perfect in and out of the bedroom. But Thomas never dates. He never even sleeps with the same man twice. Despite their instant connection, he can offer Zachary only his friendship, and Zachary is looking for more.

Thomas is tempted to break his own rules, but years before, he became the victim of a stalker who nearly destroyed his life. Even though his stalker died, Thomas obsessively keeps others at a distance. Despite his fascination with Zachary, he is unable to lower his barriers. Frustrated, Zachary accepts he will never have what he wants with Thomas and soon finds it with another man.

But young gay men in Washington, DC are being murdered, and the victims all have a connection to Thomas. Once again someone is watching Thomas’s every move. Can it be a coincidence? When the depraved killer turns his attention toward Zachary, Thomas must face the demons of his past—or lose his chance to open his heart to Zachary forever.

Excerpt

Across the street the man with the silver-framed glasses stood back in the shadows and stared at the front window of the garden apartment. He could see the back of his quarry’s head as he watched a small flat-screen TV.

Time passed.

Eventually the head nodded forward and then jerked up. When it happened a second time, the creature turned off the TV and then the lamp and headed to bed.

The man waited for another half hour with his back pressed against an alcove formed where two brownstones met. The street was quiet. Almost no one walked by, and the lone person who came down the street failed to notice him in the shadows.

The man felt his breath grow hoarse, and blood rushed in his ears as his heart began to pound. He cultivated that sensation as he reached into his coat pocket for the screwdriver that rested there and made himself imagine the creature’s hands touching the Beloved’s face. Stroking his body. He curled his fingers around the screwdriver and then clenched and unclenched rhythmically. Its thick handle felt rough against his palm because of the grooves and sharp edges he had chiseled into it. He had ideas for other implements that would serve his purpose, but for now, this would do just fine. This would make his point.

His throat was dry, and his eyes burned from focusing on the darkened window, but he felt invincible. The tension in his body climbed exquisitely, and when he could take no more, he slipped across the street and stepped down to the locked gate. It opened easily with his small set of picks. The gate made no noise when the creature went through it earlier, so he was confident and quick and didn’t bother to lock it behind him. Child’s play, he thought as he worked the lock on the apartment door.

The tumblers clicked into place.

He stored his lockpicks, slipped inside the darkened apartment, and then closed the door behind him as silently as he could. Streetlight came through the slatted blinds the boy had failed to close completely. He waited quietly until he heard a faint snore from the back and then removed his glasses and tucked them in an inside pocket of his jacket. The scarf his quarry had been wearing caught his eye, and the man bared his teeth as he lifted it off the coat tree and tugged it tightly between his hands. It was well made. It would hold. He smiled.

He slid through the gloom toward the room where the creature lay sleeping. He was hard, and the blood in his erection pulsed in time to the pounding of his heart. That boy had dared to touch his Beloved. He had probably even been fucked by him. But that wasn’t enough—oh no. He came back for more.

It had taken the man so long to find his Beloved and interpret his subtle clues. He finally understood what was required of him. The undeserving gnat must be chastised, and he would be the Beloved’s angel of retribution. He was conscious of the weight of the screwdriver in his pocket, the scratch of the wool scarf in his hands, and the power in his arms.

He reached for the boy on the bed.

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Dreamspinner Press | Amazon

Meet the Author

Robert Winter is a recovering lawyer who likes writing about hot men in love much more than drafting a legal brief. He left behind the (allegedly) glamorous world of an international law firm to sit in his home office and dream up ways to torment his characters until they realize they are perfect for each other. When he isn’t writing, Robert likes to cook Indian food and explore new restaurants.

Robert divides his time between Washington, DC, and Provincetown, MA. He splits his attention between Andy, his partner of sixteen years, and Ling the Adventure Cat, who likes to fly in airplanes and explore the backyard jungle as long as the temperature and humidity are just right.

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Hoards Jumble
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Happily Ever Chapter
Babbling About Books and More
Books, Dreams, Life
Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words
Dawn’s Reading Nook
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It’s About The Book
Booklover Sue
Out Of My Head

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Release Day Blitz: Enemy Within by Tal Bauer (excerpt and giveaway)

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Title:  Enemy Within

Series: The Executive Office, Book 3

Author: Tal Bauer

Publisher:  Self-Published

Release Date: 3/28/2017

Heat Level: 4 – Lots of Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 176K

Genre: Romance, Thriller/Suspense

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Synopsis

The White House, infiltrated.
The president, running for his life.
A traitorous general, intent on burning the world to the ground.

When everything falls apart, who do you trust?

President Jack Spiers fled Washington DC on the heels of a devastating attack on CIA headquarters, masterminded by one of America’s own, former General Porter Madigan. While the world believes Jack was killed in the bombing, he embarks on a wild infiltration mission, smuggling himself into occupied Russia to rescue the love of his life: former Secret Service Agent and First Gentleman Ethan Reichenbach.

Reunited, Jack, Ethan, and deposed Russian president Sergey Puchkov, along with President Elizabeth Wall—the only person left in Washington DC who Jack trusts—must work together. They piece together a desperate plan, hunting Madigan to the ends of the earth and the bitter frigidity of the Arctic, where Madigan’s world-shattering doomsday plan comes together.

Outnumbered, outmaneuvered, and outgunned, Jack, Ethan, Sergey, and the rest of the team struggle to put a stop to Madigan and his army. In the desolate extremes of the Arctic, their resolve, their strength, and even their love is tested, pushed to the absolute limits as choices must be made: choices that pit the fate of the world against the love in their hearts, and the loves of their life.

As the world crumbles around them, Jack and Ethan find themselves waging a war on two fronts—against an enemy they can see, and another, hiding within their ranks.

Who can be trusted when the enemy is within you?

Excerpt

The sounds of the convoy coming alive in the frosty morning started clattering through their patch of snowy forest. Grumbled Russian, slamming doors and squeaky metal hinges, the crackle of logs in a fire, and the clang of pots and pans that Vasily insisted on bringing from Volga.

Jack nuzzled at Ethan’s neck, and the roughness of his beard, grown thick in the five days they’d been on the road, scratched over Ethan’s skin just before Jack dropped a kiss beneath his jaw. “Morning, love.”

Ethan smiled down at him, de-cocked his pistol, and slid it into his hip holster beneath their blankets. He wrapped both arms around Jack as Jack turned and faced him. “How are you? Are you warm enough?” As Ethan spoke, his breath clouded the air between them.

“I’m good.” Jack peeled off his gloves beneath the blankets and snaked his warm hands up under Ethan’s jacket and sweater. His gentle, searching fingers found the long line of ragged stitches in Ethan’s side.

Ethan flinched.

“Sorry. You know we need to check them.” Carefully, Jack felt around the stitches, testing the skin, and then rested his palm over the top of the mostly-healed wound. “No heat. No swelling. No pus. No infection.” He smiled. “You had me worried after yesterday.”

Ethan ducked his head, his cheeks warming. While rummaging through an abandoned barn, he’d walked right through a rotted-out baseboard and fallen into a cellar, into the rough, loose earth. Not his finest moment. They’d wrangled some supplies, but he’d come away filthy and bruised, his ego smarting. Jack’s worried eyes and his gentle ministrations after they’d stopped for the night had helped sooth the ache.

Jack’s gaze darted over Ethan’s face, searching. He frowned. “Did you get any sleep?”

“Some.”

“Liar.” Arching an eyebrow, Jack sat back but kept his hands under Ethan’s clothes and on his skin. “You should let me watch over you at night, too.”

“I’d rather do it. I have you close to me.” He patted his hip and his holstered weapon. “I have constant protection on you all night long. There’s no way anyone can get to you. Not without going through me.”

“Literally.” Jack smiled, but it faded fast. “I’ll drive during the day again. Rest, and let me watch over you.” He squeezed Ethan’s hip as if to emphasize his point.

Ethan nodded, and the corners of his lips quirked up. This was new, this give and take of caretaking and watching out for each other. In DC, at the White House, there had been their jobs and their duties and the world to react to. They took care of slights and wounds inflicted by the press, their suits and ties a kind of armor against the world. Out in the wilderness, in the forest, they’d fallen into a different kind of caretaking. A sharing of two lives, each supporting the other’s existence. It was primal, in a way, how they had fused together. Half of his life was in Jack’s hands, and instead of feeling vulnerable, it was the most natural feeling in the world. “Deal.” Leaning forward, he pressed a kiss to Jack’s lips.

A question hovered in the forefront of Ethan’s mind, weighing on his thoughts. Every morning, he felt the weight of his secret resting over his heart: two rings, made before the world fell apart around them. Some moments, asking Jack was on the tip of his tongue, ready to tumble from his lips with his next breath. He forced himself to swallow the words. Not yet. It wasn’t the right time. Not yet.

Jack leaned into Ethan, and his hands wound around Ethan’s back beneath his sweater. “At some point, we won’t be sleeping in this jeep anymore,” he whispered into their kiss. “We’ll have room to stretch out… share a sleeping bag…”

Smiling, Ethan pulled off his gloves and brought his hands up to Jack’s face, his thumbs caressing Jack’s cheeks. “We don’t need a sleeping bag…” One hand snaked around Jack’s neck, and the other dropped to his hip.

In a flash, he flipped Jack, laying him on his back across the bench seat. Jack wrapped his legs around Ethan’s waist as Ethan slid his hands through Jack’s blond strands.

Jack grabbed his shoulders and pulled Ethan closer, his legs tightening and holding Ethan in place. He captured Ethan’s lips, kissing greedily as his hips rocked upward. Even through the layers they wore, Ethan felt Jack’s hard cock, pressing against his own.

“I want you,” Jack breathed.  “I want you to make love to me.”

Ethan’s blood burned, searing through his body from his head to his toes, and part of him wanted to tilt Jack’s head back and ravage his throat, work his way down, unwrap him like a present until he found his cock. Suck him deep. Work him open with his tongue until Jack begged for more, and then sink his cock into Jack’s warm, tight body. Jesus, he wanted Jack. So much.

The springs on the jeep’s suspension squeaked with their rocking, and the tires groaned and crunched against the snow on the ground. In the distance, low chuckles sounded, and one catcall.

Deflating, Ethan dropped his forehead to Jack’s chest. He rode Jack’s deep, heaving breaths and listened to his racing heartbeat. “I don’t want an audience when I make love to you again.”

Jack’s legs dropped, one falling over the back of the front seat, and the other squishing against the window. His hands stroked over Ethan’s back and tangled in his hair. “I don’t want to have to be quiet.”

“Jesus.” Ethan gripped Jack and surged against him, thrusting against his hard cock once more. “That’s not helping.”

Smiling, Jack rocked his hips up once and then scooted backward, propping himself up on his elbows as Ethan sat back and tried to straighten out his clothes. A prominent bulge strained the front of his cargo pants. He ached, nearly painfully hard for Jack.

From the center of the camp, Scott called, “Coffee’s ready if you are!”

Rumbling laughter, deep and throaty, from nearly all the men.

Shaking his head, Jack started to pull himself together next to Ethan and fished out his balaclava from the pocket of his cargo pants. Outside of the jeep, he wore a full-face balaclava and, on their drive, he kept everything but his eyes covered. Ethan insisted, and Scott and Sergey both backed him up. The members of their convoy, of course, knew who Jack was, and just after Jack had shown up, Sergey had delivered a scathing speech in Russian to his people that had had even Ethan flinching, though he didn’t understand a word that had been said. But, they were traveling through a war zone, parts of Russia that were contested in the coup, under attack from Moroshkin’s forces, and that had been bombed by the United States and other nations, all trying to stop Moroshkin.

Who knew what was out there, or who was out there. Jack was, to the world, brain dead in Bethesda Naval Hospital. A front-page picture of him alive and well in Russia would go over as well as a nuclear bomb.

“Scott came by?” Jack tucked his undershirt into his pants, taking a moment to readjust. His cheeks were dusted crimson, a faint flush that Ethan wanted to nibble.

“Yeah.” He tore his eyes away from Jack and fanned the bottom of his sweater, trying to cool his body.

“How’d the scouting go?”

“The route is clear for the morning. More abandoned villages. They found fuel and some supplies. Vasily is cooking eggs.” Ethan reached out, and his fingers traced Jack’s spine through his sweater and jacket. “And you should talk to Sergey.”

Turning, Jack stared at Ethan.

“I think Scott’s worried about him.” A tight, strained smile, curved his lips. “And that’s saying something.” Scott’s trust in Sergey, and in their Russian allies, extended from meal to meal. Day to day, hour by hour. If everything came apart, Scott would be the first to say “I knew it”.

“He hasn’t wanted to talk to me.” Swallowing, Jack leaned back with a sigh. His hands dropped to his lap, and he picked at the wool fibers of the balaclava. “He’s kept his distance since Volga. I’m not sure I’m the person he wants to see right now.”

Nodding slowly, Ethan frowned. Sergey’s harsh accusations, thrown at Jack at Volga air base, had been the last direct contact the two had. “After all this time, you think he’s pulling away because of…”

Because of their love? Because he and Jack were together? Because Sergey had been loved by a gay man? Was this some kind of reaction, a fear that falling in love with another man “was contagious”, as he’d hurled at Jack?

“He’s pulled back before.” Jack sat forward, slipped the balaclava over his head. He tugged it down around his neck. “I want to do the right thing by him. I don’t want to piss him off.” He frowned, deep lines furrowing his brow. “But, no matter what else is going on, he’s devastated about losing Sasha. I remember what it felt like when I thought you were dead. I can at least try to talk to him about that.”

Ethan’s chest constricted, and his heart almost seized. Was it only a week ago that he’d thought Jack was dead and gone as well? Never, ever, again. He’d do everything in his power to keep Jack safe, keep him from ever coming to harm. And, he’d never lose faith like that again, either. The darkness that had swallowed him on his race from Saudi Arabia to Russia. The emptiness, the silent scream within his soul. The way he had wanted to die, had begged the world to kill him.

Together. They’d face everything together from now on. No matter what.

Adjusting the balaclava, Jack leaned over and pressed a chaste kiss to Ethan’s lips. “Time to face the music, love.”

Ethan pulled out his own balaclava, tugged it down around his neck, and gripped the door handle. They piled out of the back of the jeep, and Ethan caught the smothered grins and barks of laughter sent their way. Scott raised a dented metal mug toward them both. Jack headed for him, and for the small fire on which Vasily was cooking.

One of the Russians who went out with Scott every morning, Aleksey, slid up to Ethan. Middle-aged, Aleksey had been a federal police officer in Sochi and had fought back with Sergey against Moroshkin and Madigan’s forces the night of the coup. Now, he was one of Sergey’s officers in the insurgency. He had a small beer gut and a thick salt and pepper mustache beneath ruddy, pockmarked cheeks, a quick, sharp smile, and perpetually messy hair.

His eyes glittered as he clapped Ethan on the back. “You are good Russian lover!” he crowed. “Quick!”

Others laughed, and Ethan spied Jack smothering his grin and rolling his eyes as he took the coffee Scott offered. Scott shrugged and hid his smile in his next sip.

Ethan clapped Aleksey on the upper arm, smiling along with the others. When he and Jack had first met the men in Sergey’s insurgency, they’d worried about how they would be received. Two men in love in a country where only months before, Sasha had almost been killed for being gay. Another man, Evgeni Konnikov, had been murdered.

Sergey’s men, however, had been nothing but accepting. They were believers in Sergey’s government, after all, and Sergey had made equality a foundational platform of his politics and administration.

They just showed that acceptance through good Russian ribbing and teasing. The more ribald the better.

“If we had actually got going,” Ethan began, winking first at Jack and then sending Aleksey a grin, “we’d be here for days.”

More laughter. Aleksey wagged his finger in Ethan’s face and squeezed his elbow before handing him a cup of bitter, sludgy coffee. Vasily waved him and Jack over, and he scooped the last of the eggs into a scavenged plastic bowl they shared. “I save for you,” Vasily said, pointing to them both.

Jack thanked him. As they ate, Ethan spotted Sergey standing in front of his jeep, his hands resting flat on a spread-out map of Russia draped over the hood with his head bowed low. He looked up, and his piercing gaze fell on Jack. There was a moment where his face flickered, something dark passing through his eyes, but it was gone before Ethan could catch it.

And then, Sergey folded up his map and climbed into the driver’s side of his jeep. He kept his eyes downcast, not once looking at Jack again.

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Meet the Author

Tal Bauer is an award-winning and best-selling author of LGBT romantic thrillers, bringing together a career in law enforcement and international humanitarian aid to create dynamic characters, intriguing plots, and exotic locations. Tal is a member of the Romance Writers of America and the Mystery Writers of America.

Pronouns: They/them & he/him

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Release Day Blitz for ‘Guns n’ Boys: Bloodbath (Guns n’ Boys 6)’ by K.A. Merikan (excerpt and giveaway)

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Title:  Guns n’ Boys: Bloodbath

Series: Guns n’ Boys 6

Author: K.A. Merikan

Publisher: Acerbi & Villani ltd.

Release Date: 4th March 2017

Heat Level: 4 – Lots of Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 115 000 words

Genre: Romance, Thriller/Suspense, mafia, organized crime, cartel, adopted, undercover, homophobia, assassin

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Synopsis

“I don’t even know who I am anymore.”
“All you need to know is that you’re mine.”

Seth would follow Domenico to the depths of hell. He promised to always be at Domenico’s side. But hell becomes all too real when they infiltrate the world of Toro – a notoriously security-obsessed arms dealer, who has eyes and ears everywhere.

Seth becomes unable to steal even a moment of intimacy with Domenico, and the tension grinds them down each day. Beyond the deceptive paradise of Toro’s villa, violence is an everyday occurrence, and the swimming pool could just as well be filled with blood. To survive, Seth has to become the man Domenico needs him to be, but in the process, he might lose who he truly is.

With Seth trained up, and Mark as backup, victory is so close Domenico can taste it. They just need to prove themselves to Toro as valuable assets. With each day though, Seth seems to be drifting away from Domenico, hidden behind a mask of cruelty and indifference. It is exactly what Domenico asked of him, so why is it so difficult to see Seth become his mirror image?

POSSIBLE SPOILERS:

Themes: mafia, cartel, assassin, organized crime, homophobia, human trafficking, undercover, family ties

Genre: Dark, twisted romance / crime thriller

Erotic content: Explicit scenes

Length: ~115,000 words

WARNING: Adult content. If you are easily offended, this book is not for you.
‘Guns n’ Boys’ is a gritty story of extreme violence, offensive language, abuse, and morally ambiguous protagonists. Behind the morbid facade, there is a splash of inappropriate dark humor, and a love story that will crawl under your skin.

Excerpt

“He doesn’t know us yet, but he will once I’m done with him,” Domenico said in a voice so chilling Seth felt odd about having wanted his hands all over in the morning, just hours before. Then again, even now, Domenico’s cool demeanor wasn’t a deterrent. If this side of Dom were something Seth truly despised, he’d have taken any opportunity to leave Dom many times over. Which of course he didn’t because he was a dumb, fat moth to Domenico’s flame, and he’d stick around no matter how many times he got burned.

The prisoner spat out some bloodied saliva and grinned, shaking his head. “Who are you even working for?”

Domenico let out a cloud of smoke, which swirled in the dim space. “We’re working for ourselves, and we’ve had an excellent track record so far.”

The man laughed, shaking his head wildly. “You’re in way above your head! What do you think is in that box, huh? A golden machine gun? Diamonds? You will regret ever stepping foot on our boat.”

Anger boiled over in Seth, and he planted his foot in the man’s stomach. Bile rose in his throat when he thought that the bloodshed and the risk they’d taken to hijack the vessel could have been for nothing.

Dom shifted on top of the trunk. “What is in the trunk?” he asked, almost softly, and nodded at Seth. A signal to keep going. To torture. First beat up, and then what? Cut off the guy’s fingers?

The man curled up as much as he could with his hands tied to the chair, and Seth hesitated, only to get a nasty surprise kick to the shin when their prisoner decided attack was the best way of protecting himself.

“You motherfucker!” This time, Seth had no mercy. He kicked the bastard’s stomach so hard the chair twisted, and he fell over, trapping one of his wrists between the chair and the floor. The choked scream did not soften Seth’s resolve that he was doing the right thing now. This was a man working for a cartel, caught on his way to deliver some goods to Raul Moreno. Why would he be worthy of Seth’s pity anyway?

Domenico leaned forward, watching the man’s face twist in discomfort. “What’s in the trunk?”

The mercenary gave a breathless laugh. “Something as common as mosquitoes,” he uttered, and it must have piqued Dom’s interest, because he stood up and approached.

“What then? Cocaine?”

The man grinned at them with his reddish teeth. “More than that.”

Seth stood back at the other side of the tiny cabin and crossed his arms on his chest. This was one guessing game he wasn’t about to play with the bastard.

Domenico sighed and slowly lowered himself. The burning end of the cigarette in his hand was bright red when it pressed against the mercenary’s cheek. The fucker gave a choked noise, clenching his teeth so hard Seth could practically hear them crack.

“You sure you don’t want to tell me? You’re dead anyway, so what is it to you?” asked Domenico.

“Well, it’s not explosives, so why don’t you just check yourself?” the man hissed after taking a few raspy breaths. Watching it made Seth so tense his muscles felt like made out of concrete.

Domenico sighed and looked back at the trunk.

“It’s sealed,” Miguel said from his spot at the door.

“I know,” Dom muttered, still gazing at the piece of luggage that might as well hold a medium-sized fridge.

The prisoner laughed. “Go on. Or are you scared of Raul Moreno?”

Seth rolled his eyes. “Pathetic attempt at reverse psychology there.”

The guy looked back at him with a frown, and Seth could bet he had no idea what that meant.

Domenico stayed silent, then pulled out a knife and presented it to Seth, handle first. “Open the trunk.”

Seth took the knife and approached the leather-bound box, but he licked his lips and watched the seal, giving himself a few more seconds. He wasn’t exactly afraid of it being explosives, since he doubted their prisoner would encourage them this way, but on the other hand, maybe that was exactly what it was, since the man had to understand by now that he would die soon anyway.

But Domenico knew his job like no other man, and he must have thought of that possibility. If he insisted Seth open the trunk, it had to be fine, even if the contents turned out to be disappointing, like a batch of Raul Moreno’s favorite popcorn.

Seth still decided to ask. “Are you sure? What if it’s a caiman?

“Just be careful. Nice and slow,” said Dom, moving his hand to their prisoner’s neck when Seth kneeled in front of the trunk.

The paper seal marked by some symbols and letters beckoned Seth’s attention, and it almost felt like he was about to slice into flesh. How would they explain the open seal upon arrival? Would they even need to? Maybe it was just a formality no one paid attention to anymore? His stomach clenched as he cut through the paper. The cracked and dusty leather suggested it wasn’t the first time the trunk had been used, and its size held no answers as to what secret it could hold.

Slowly, he opened several metal latches, and then three leather straps that further secured the lid in place. The silence inside the cabin was absolute, and he even heard the rubbing of leather against leather. His last thought before he raised the top of the trunk, which felt oddly heavy and sturdy, as if there was metal under the thick layer of leather, was that it had to be a very specialized container if it had been so clearly used for a long time.

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Meet the Author

K. A. Merikan is the pen name for Kat and Agnes Merikan, a team of writers, who are taken for sisters with surprising regularity. Kat’s the mean sergeant and survival specialist of the duo, never hesitating to kick Agnes’s ass when she’s slacking off. Her memory works like an easy-access catalogue, which allows her to keep up with both book details and social media. Also works as the emergency GPS. Agnes is the Merikan nitpicker, usually found busy with formatting and research. Her attention tends to be scattered, and despite pushing thirty, she needs to apply makeup to buy alcohol. Self-proclaimed queen of the roads.

They love the weird and wonderful, stepping out of the box, and bending stereotypes both in life and books. When you pick up a Merikan book, there’s one thing you can be sure of – it will be full of surprises.

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In the Historical Spotlight: The Black Sheep and The Rotten Apple by K.A. Merikan (excerpt and giveaway)

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Title:  The Black Sheep and The Rotten Apple:

Author: K.A. Merikan

Publisher:  Acerbi&Villani ltd.

Release Date: 7th of February 2017

Heat Level: 4 – Lots of Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 140,000 words

Genre: Romance, Thriller/Suspense, Historical – 18th Century Cornwall, Highwayman, Kidnapping, Forbidden love, Violence

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Writing historical books requires a lot of research, otherwise they might will feel washed out. Because of the theme of this particular novel, we needed to look into the legislation of the period and find out how laws were applied.

Executions used to be major attractions at that time, with spectators filling up Bodmin every time a hanging was taking place. People’s morals must have been very different from ours, because convicts weren’t only killed for murder or highway robberies with violence. No, people had been hanged for stealing someone’s spoon, or a sheep. This shows how ferociously the wealthy protected their possessions, and how little human life meant in comparison. On the other hand, in case of livestock, one could argue life was at stake. Sometimes, a cow or a goat was vital to the survival of a poor family, so losing it meant malnourishment, and possibly even death. Either way, reading through a list of public executions from the eighteenth century is a bizarre experience.

Around the period the book is set (1785), the executions were moved closer to the new gaol in Bodmin. The previous location, known as the Five Lanes for its convenient location where roads from several towns converged, had been utilized since the mid-sixteenth century at least. I went through the list of 1785 executions to make the descriptions as true to reality as possible, and I discovered something shocking.

Talk about coincidence! A man named William Hill had been executed at the Five Lanes in Bodmin on July 23rd 1785–a date corresponding to the timeline of The Black Sheep and the Rotten Apple–for the murder of none other than John Pascoe. There wouldn’t have been anything unusual about it if it weren’t for the fact that this is the name of our book’s villain. I swear we picked his name at random. We looked through lists of people who lived in eighteenth century Cornwall to pick up a surname that was local to the region.

I’m not even gonna check who that particular John Pascoe was, because that is just too freaky for my taste 😉

Have you ever had this kind of bizarre experience when reading something related to history? A known name, or a vaguely familiar face in an old photo?

The Black Sheep and the Rotten Apple is the kind of book that just needed to be written, despite our already tight schedule. The idea first came to us when we watched a documentary about highwaymen, but we promised ourselves to wait. And then we went to Cornwall for a month, and initial plans collapsed. As we walked through the woods, watching the lush nature and the old stone cottages peppered on both sides of a valley where we were staying, the characters and story steadily came to us. Our aim was to write a historical book that provides as much excitement as readers learned to expect from our contemporary romance.

RELEASE DATE: 7th February 2017

If you want to see our inspiration photos for this book, check out the ‘Black Sheep and the Rotten Apple’ Pinterest board:

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The Black Sheep and the Rotten Apple is our baby. It’s been a year since we started working on this book, and to celebrate its release, we’re organizing a quiz for readers who follow The Black Sheep and the Rotten Apple blog tour. Answers to all questions will be provided in the blog posts, and we will then randomly pick the lucky winners. You can win:

  • a signed paperback of The Black Sheep and the Rotten Apple + a selection of Cornish treats (main prize – for one person)
  • 3 ebooks of choice from our backlist + a surprise treat from Cornwall (will go to 3 more people)

For a chance to win, follow the instructions in blog posts and solve the quiz, which will be published on our website on 1st February 2017. Please, send answers to kamerikan@gmail.com with ‘Black Sheep Quiz’ in the subject line of the email.

 

Winners will be randomly chosen from readers who sent us correct answers by 17th February 2017.

LINKS TO ALL POSTS:

02/01 THE QUIZ

02/03 Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

02/06 We Three Queens

02/07 Boy Meets Boy Reviews

02/08 Prism Book Alliance

02/09 The Novel Approach

02/09 Joyfully Jay

02/10 The Zipper Rippers

02/10 The Book Bella

02/11 Divine Magazine

02/12 Bayou Book Junkie

Synopsis

“How does one start a relationship with another man when it is forbidden?”
“One needs to decide that the other man is worth dying for.”

Cornwall, 1785

Sir Evan Penhart. Baronet. Highwayman. Scoundrel.

Julian Reece. Writer. Wastrel. Penniless.

No one forces Julian Reece to marry. Not his father, not his brother. No one.

When he is thrust into a carriage heading for London to meet his future bride, his way out comes in the form of an imposing highwayman, riding a horse as black as night. Julian makes a deal with the criminal, but what he doesn’t expect is that despite the title of baronet, the robber turns out to be no gentleman.

Sir Evan Penhart is pushed into crime out of desperation, but the pact with a pretty, young merchant’s son turns out to have disastrous consequences. Not only is Evan left broke, but worse yet, Julian opens up a Pandora’s box of passions that are dark, needy, and too wild to tame. With no way to lock them back in, rash decisions and greedy desire lead to a tide that wrecks everything in its way.

But Julian might actually like all the sinful, carnal passion unleashed on him. How can he admit this though, even to himself, when a taste of the forbidden fruit could have him end up with a noose around his neck? And with highway robbery being a hanging offense and the local constable on their back, Julian could lose Evan before he can decide anything about the nature of his desires.

POSSIBLE SPOILERS:

Themes: highwayman, abduction, ransom, forbidden love, self-discovery, danger, crime,
Genre: Dark romance, historical
Erotic content: Explicit scenes

Length: ~140,000 words (standalone novel)

WARNING: Adult content. Contains violence, distressing scenes, abuse, offensive language, and morally ambiguous protagonists.

Excerpt

The sun was high up in the sky by the time the desynchronized orchestra left Julian’s skull. There wasn’t enough space to properly lie down anywhere in the carriage, but he managed to obtain a comfortable position by resting his legs up the wooden wall while his upper body occupied one of the benches. He still felt like the filling of an enormous rattle as the carriage bent in all possible directions on the uneven road leading away from the coast.

Horace didn’t even make an attempt to hold back his disapproval, but after delivering several biting comments and a lengthy speech about duty, he at last leaned against the side of the carriage in the seat across from Julian and closed his eyes. It was difficult to say whether he was truly in need of a nap or if it was Julian’s face that he didn’t wish to look at.

With his headache out of the way yet not quite well enough to read, Julian opened the curtains in hope of amusing himself with the views, but so far, he merely got to see the side of a narrow gully—all dirt and grass.

He couldn’t understand why Father was being so implacable about having his youngest son marry a title. Couldn’t it wait a fortnight so that Julian could finish that new novel he came up with last night? This one could truly be the breakthrough Julian had been waiting for, the one that would make the Reece family known for more than fabric trade.

Inspiration was a moment in time when Julian’s friend Martin emerged from the darkness of an alley behind the tavern. In that very second he had not resembled himself but a man made of bronze, dreamlike and yet of substance, with strong hands that could crush Julian if they wanted. The novel would start with a similar encounter somewhere in the narrow back alleys, just off the Colosseum. Haunted by the ghost of an ancient gladiator, the protagonist would be believed to be slowly descending into madness, when in reality his awareness of the supernatural would become a vehicle for truth.

Julian was not yet certain of the exact message he wished to convey, but the events would be presented from several points of view, through letters written by the protagonist, his friends, and an official of some sort who’d represent the stale world order.

He’d already had several beautifully evocative ideas for metaphors describing the gladiator himself, but they became somewhat blurry after a night of cards and drink.

Oh, if only he could travel to Rome to let the atmosphere of the city soak him all the way to the bone—without a wife fighting for his attention and pulling him away from work because of feminine fancies.

He looked out of the window with growing disdain. Who in their right mind traveled on Sunday, and so early at that? Julian would have much preferred listening to a sermon at church to spending the day in what was effectively a hearse carrying one of the brightest literary talents just waiting to be discovered.

Now that Julian was feeling better, he was upset with himself about not asking for a day’s delay on religious grounds. He’d never been as devout about prayer as he was about his art, but if the Christian faith could postpone his commitment to a woman he never met, he would gladly kneel and pray. And Miss White wasn’t even a woman but a girl of fifteen, quite pretty in the portrait Julian had been shown, and a viscount’s only daughter at that, but surely as hungry for her intended’s attention as the bawdy house wench who’d become sweet on Julian some years ago.

Back then, he still visited Madame Canard’s establishment to do what everyone else did when they visited a school of Venus. These days, Julian had neither the overwhelming desire nor patience to handle a cunt, no matter how lovely the lady it was attached to. He still enjoyed having a drink with the harlots, and no card table within twenty miles was as lively as the one at Madame Canard’s, but at twenty-five he’d much rather handle needs of the flesh in solitude.

Sweet perfume made his nose itch, the act itself made him unpleasantly sticky—with his sweat and hers—and while he would not dare to ask, it was his suspicion that the friends who usually accompanied him to the brothel were only whoring so much because of pride and bravado. It was a sign of status to be able to afford women and decent wine daily, and so fucking and gambling was the thing you did as a social activity.

Julian’s eyes darted to Horace, who slept with his head thrown back and leaning against the side of the carriage. His wide-open mouth was asking for a distasteful prank, but Julian was far too upset to think of amusing himself at Horace’s expense. So far, the day’s joke was on him.

In the years past, he’d been mocked by his father and siblings over not taking on a profession that they deemed worthy of a gentleman, but with the family being very prosperous, Julian saw no reason to divert his focus from his one true calling.

Despite frequent threats, he’d hoped that Father—having four willing sons and three daughters—wouldn’t push Julian into marriage, but it seemed a lost cause. Soon it would be a wife nagging Julian to stop wasting his time following intellectual pursuits and instead turn his attention to practical matters. As the head of his own family, maybe he’d even be pushed to join the family trade, one step farther from traveling abroad to meet the great artists of the continent.

The carriage started a steep climb up a hill, and Julian cursed, pushing the soles of his boots against the wall to keep his body from rolling off the narrow bench. How long would it take for them to reach London at this pace? It was over two hundred miles away, so a week perhaps? The last time Julian had made the journey, he was so intoxicated most days that he couldn’t properly count them.

But out of nowhere, as the slope of the hill became gentler, the ugly dirt and grass that had been Julian’s only source of entertainment for the last half an hour were replaced by lush greenery of tree tops. He grinned and glanced at Horace, but the fat sod was too busy snoring to notice the change in scenery.

A wicked plan was starting to take shape in Julian’s head, and he quietly removed his feet from the side of the carriage and lowered them to the floor. Pulling himself upright was easy enough after that, and he stalled, eyes transfixed on the permanently flushed face of his brother that was an unappetizing contrast with the white wig he wore, and made him look like a man many years his senior. Julian might be less inclined to business, less sedate than his siblings, but at the very least he had good taste and flair most of Julian’s family lacked, buried deep in the stern world of pretense and money.

Horace didn’t even stir. The old pig was fast asleep, and if that wasn’t Julian’s chance to save his life, he didn’t know what was. Careful not to make any sound, Julian gathered his valise and the coat he’d earlier taken off because of the heat, stilling when the carriage came to a halt. His eyes immediately darted to Horace, but his brother only smacked his lips in his sleep. Hunt could have stopped to relieve himself. What an opportunity this was!

Julian could feel his heartbeat in his throat when he softly pressed on the door handle. Still distinctly aware of his brother being close enough for their knees to touch, were Julian not careful enough. He opened the carriage and left it in a soft stride before closing the door with care.

A warm breeze combed through his hair, wiping away the unpleasant wetness of sweat, and his lungs filled with fresh air, but he didn’t get to enjoy it.

The shining muzzle of a pistol was grinning at him from inches away.

Despite the warm weather, Julian’s whole body was shaken by a chill when his gaze met a pair of eyes so dark they might as well have been lacquered coals. The man had a tricorn hat pulled low over his forehead, and a black scarf obscuring the lower half of his face.

This can’t be happening.

“Don’t try to scream, or I will blow your brains out.” The man squinted and lowered his gun to Julian’s pupil. “Through the eye.”

Julian opened his mouth as his throat closed, robbing him of breath. He wanted to look back, suddenly wishing Horace weren’t such an easy sleeper, but Hunt was nowhere to be seen either. Heat washed over Julian’s body, making him stiffen as if he were made of clay. Had this man hurt their coachman? If so, where was the body?

“What do you want?” Julian whispered, resting his hand on the door handle when his knees softened.

“These.” A hand in a leather glove gripped Julian’s sweaty fingers and slipped off his rings. “And all your other valuables.” The man didn’t even blink, his voice dark as if dragged through tar.

Julian stared, and his mind finally came up with the answer for what this was. “You’re a highwayman…”

“And you’re cork-brained to travel on a Sunday when the roads are empty.” The man’s gaze drifted away to Horace for a split second, but he must have judged him as no threat, and when Horace snored from inside the carriage, the highwayman chuckled quietly.

Julian’s lungs emptied, and a silly grin emerged on his face, encouraged by the highwayman’s amusement. “Ah, I should have gone to church after all.”

The smile died on his lips when the robber poked Julian’s temple with his gun.

“Your valuables,” he urged.

Julian clenched his teeth when they threatened to clatter. He needed to keep calm. His father believed his friends to be villains, so he could handle one. “I’ve been taken out of the tavern this morning with nothing but the clothes on my back. I lost everything at the tables. You should try my older brother. He’s Father’s heir. He should have a healthy sum on him.”

The highwayman gripped the front of Julian’s waistcoat and pulled him forward so hard Julian stumbled straight into the man’s arms. He was much taller than Julian, with wide shoulders that were so strong their size couldn’t be just padding. His clothes smelled of leather and horse sweat, and Julian found himself staring into the eyes above the black scarf.

Before he could say a word, the man turned him around, and pressed the gun to the side of his head.

“Go on, wake up your brother.”

Julian breathed in and out, stiff with discomfort at the warm body pressed against his back as if the highwayman was seeking warmth. The gun provided some relief against heated skin. Its presence made Julian’s blood speed through his veins. It wouldn’t go off. Murder wasn’t in the robber’s interest, but if that was the case, then where the hell was Hunt?

Then an idea illuminated Julian’s mind. “I have a proposition, Mister—”

The highwayman stilled. He’d be lying. Of course. “Noir,” he said in the end. “What kind of proposition can you have, pretty boy? With no money in your pockets.”

Something about Noir’s tone sent a hot shiver through Julian’s ribcage, but he ignored the condescending words and slowly looked back into the blackest eyes he’d ever seen. “I don’t have much on me, but you must know my father. He’s William Reece, the cloth merchant. You could take me and ask for ransom. We could split it between us like two gentlemen,” he whispered and gave Noir a polite nod. Appealing to the highwayman’s self-importance should do the trick. His kind were known for a love of opulence and status they didn’t deserve.

He must have managed to surprise the thief, because Noir’s grip on him faltered. “How much could I ask for a son who hates his father?”

Julian exhaled in relief when he felt Noir’s aggression turn away from him. “A lot. He needs me. I’m worth more than you can imagine,” he said with a small smile.

Noir stole another glance at Horace sleeping in the back of the carriage, and his gloved hand slid to Julian’s neck, squeezing around his nape in a way that had Julian rising to his toes. “You better be. You scream, or try to run, and I will kill you.”

Julian swallowed against the warm, soft leather. It felt surprisingly expensive. Might have been snatched from a gentleman. “I don’t doubt that,” he lied. “However, we share a common goal, friend.”

“Call me ‘friend’ once this is all over.” Noir shook his head and pushed Julian behind the carriage, where a gloriously jet-black stallion awaited its rider, and watched Julian with eyes as dark as Noir’s.

“I hope you haven’t hurt our driver. He’s a good fellow,” said Julian, smiling at the huge beast in front of him.

“He’ll live. Your brother will find him once he wakes up.”

Julian was sure there had to be a hint of a smile under that black scarf. When Noir put the gun inside his coat, Julian tried to assess the man more thoroughly.

The black leather riding coat was worn but of good quality. Could have been stolen too, but the clothes underneath, as black as everything the man wore, were clean, suggesting the highwayman wasn’t sleeping rough somewhere. Unless he dressed up for robbery.

Julian opened his mouth to comment on the beauty of the horse, but Noir spun Julian around and pulled back his hands.

“Good heavens. We’re partners,” Julian whispered with distaste. Hot and cold sweats were hitting him in rapid waves, and he couldn’t tell whether he was scared or excited about this new development. Once he got out of this, he could write a novel about the peril of travellers attacked by rogues while driving through a dark, rainy forest, and with a bit of poetic license, call it a true story.

“I haven’t decided on that yet,” said Noir, and a cold shiver went down Julian’s back at the proficiency with which the man tied his hands. A former sailor perhaps? That wouldn’t bode well, as those types rarely possessed the intellectual capability for complicated schemes. His speech was also far too refined to have been only recently acquired. Damnation!

“Mr. Noir. I’d much rather ride with my hands free. You see, I’ve been incapacitated by gin just this morning, and I don’t feel secure enough without my hands to assist me yet. I assure you, I am harmless.”

Once Noir had tied Julian’s hands, he turned him around. “Now you are. Up.” And just as Julian was wondering how exactly he was supposed to climb atop the tall beast, the scoundrel grabbed his legs and picked him up. Julian barely refrained from screaming. It was no way to handle a gentleman, and yet he couldn’t help but be amazed by Noir’s physical prowess.

Definitely a sailor. A naval officer, perhaps.

Julian’s face flushed with heat when he imagined his bottom sticking out like a whore’s ass at a party. Good grief, what had he gotten himself into? What was next? Being kidnapped by pirates?

His foot found the stirrup, and he exhaled with relief, pushing his other leg over the horse’s hindquarters until he straddled its back. “I see no reason for this kind of treatment, considering it was I who came up with a most lucrative opportunity for you.”

“Keep that up, and I will gag you.” Noir was quick to get on the horse himself as soon as he’d attached Julian’s coat and valise to the saddle. Julian felt completely overwhelmed when the man reached for the reins, all but embracing him.

Julian shuddered and curled his shoulders to not be in the way, though no matter what he did, the shape of the saddle brought them close together. “You’re a scoundrel. Another man in your profession would have treated me right.”

Noir laughed darkly. “You are correct, sir. How could I have forgotten.” Even though the mockery had him exaggerate the polite accent, Julian was becoming certain that Noir’s natural speech was not that of someone uneducated.

Before Julian understood what was happening, Noir pulled a burlap sack over his head.

“I will scream,” whispered Julian, staring through the dots of light in the smelly thing. He squeezed his hands into fists and pushed them hard against Noir’s stomach. His mind was rattling again, as if the drunkenness returned with full force.

“No one will hear you where we’re going.”

“Julian?” came a sleepy voice from the carriage.

Noir’s thighs tensed, and he must have urged his mount to rush, as it went almost straight into gallop.

Julian screamed at the top of his lungs. “Horace!”

The stallion flew forward, and without the aid of his hands, Julian was forced to hang on to it with his legs alone, shaken like a rattle. The rapid gait moved him back and forth over the front of the saddle, making Julian stiffen and push back against the firm chest behind him. Without seeing where they were going, Julian tried to hold on to anything he had on hand, and as it happened, it was probably Noir’s waistcoat. If the horse tripped, at least they would stumble and break their bones together. Or maybe the villain would cushion Julian’s fall in a well-meaning act of God.

It was Sunday.

 

Meet the Author

K. A. Merikan is the pen name for Kat and Agnes Merikan, a team of writers, who are mistaken for sisters with surprising regularity. Kat’s the mean sergeant and survival specialist of the duo, never hesitating to kick Agnes’s ass when she’s slacking off. Her memory works like an easy-access catalogue, which allows her to keep up with both book details and social media. Also works as the emergency GPS. Agnes is the Merikan nitpicker, usually found busy with formatting and research. Her attention tends to be scattered, and despite being over thirty, she needs to apply makeup to buy alcohol. Self-proclaimed queen of the roads.

They love the weird and wonderful, stepping out of the box, and bending stereotypes both in life and books. When you pick up a Merikan book, there’s one thing you can be sure of – it will be full of surprises.

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