Hi peeps, we have Pat Henshaw stopping by with the blog tour for her newest re-release Redesigning Max, we have a fantastic guest post from Pat, a great excerpt, a brilliant $10 JMS Books GC giveaway and Prime’s review, so check out the post and enter that giveaway! ❤️ ~Pixie~
Renowned interior designer Fredi Zimmer is surprised when outdoorsman Max Greene, owner of Greene’s Outdoors, hires him to revamp Max’s rustic cabin in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Fredi is an out-and-proud Metro male whose contact with the outdoors is from his car to the doorway of the million-dollar homes he remodels, and to Fredi, Max is a typical straight man’s man.
When Max blatantly and clumsily flirts with Fredi, Fredi’s stereotypical view of Max is shattered. Is this a build-up to a gay bashing? Cautiously believing Max is closeted and is trying to come out, Fredi decides he’s game to put a little spice into Max’s life, whether it’s in the colors and fixtures he’ll use to turn Max’s dilapidated cabin into a showplace or over one of the many lunches and dinners they share talking about the remodel. Who can blame a guy for adding a little sensual pleasure as he retools Max’s life visually? Besides, Fredi has a backup plan if he’s wrong about Max’s intentions.
Life would be all wine and roses if it weren’t for Max’s former friends and their conservative families. Alarmed with Max’s obvious infatuation, they make it their business to save him from sliding into hell.
With the battle on, will Fredi and Max win the fight for a life of happiness together?
Series: Wild and Precious Book 3
Author: CJane Elliott
Publisher: CJane Elliott
Release Date: 8/24/20
Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex
Length: 36,800 words
Genre: Romance, New Adult, Young Adult, Coming of Age, coming out, family drama, bisexual, college, hurt-comfort
It isn’t easy to leave a family that hurts. But what if it’s the start of finding a love that heals?
High-school senior Sandy’s Catholic parents are furious to discover he’s had sex before marriage. But when he blurts out he’s bisexual, they go ballistic. To avoid conversion therapy, Sandy runs away from Rockford, Illinois to move in with his gay uncle in Portland and start a new life.
He leaves behind Jade, the fabulous out gay kid in their Catholic high school. They hooked up—once—to confirm Sandy’s bisexuality. Jade had never expected to get that far with star athlete and altar boy Sandy. But he was crushed when Sandy disappeared without even telling him.
A year later Jade and Sandy run into each other on the train going home to Rockford for Thanksgiving and form an alliance to help Sandy confront his parents. Will they keep building where they left off or will their spark turn to dust?
If you like coming of age stories, queer kids finding the courage to be themselves, and the comfort of found families, you’ll love Sand-Man’s Family.
Sandy woke with a start from a bad dream, a wild panic seizing his lungs, and gasped for air. Something wasn’t right. Instead of Connor’s snores, he heard traffic noises and clanging outside, and a series of rhythmic squeaks inside the room. He sat bolt upright, then remembered. He wasn’t at home. He was in Chicago, on the lumpy couch in Dan and Fred DeMartino’s apartment. And that squeaking noise was from their caged hamster doing seemingly endless laps on its wheel. He’d forgotten that hamsters were nocturnal.
He slumped down and checked his phone. Six o’clock Tuesday morning. If he were at home, he’d be getting up and arguing with Connor over who got to shower first. His eyes filled with tears at the thought of Connor. He’d had tons of text messages and calls from him in the three days since he’d run away, none of which Sandy had answered. He’d never kept Connor in the dark about something so major before, but this time he had to. He didn’t want Connor in trouble with Mom and Dad, not when Connor still had to live with them. Josh was the only one who knew where he was.
Sandy let the tears run freely as the hamster wheel squeaked. He missed home. Caitlin and Bridget, the eight-year-old twins, used to tackle him every morning when he came down for breakfast, squealing with delight as he picked them up and ran around growling like a big-brother monster. Maureen would watch, pretending to be dignified, until finally she’d jump on his back, clamoring to join the fray. Mom would scold them from where she stood at the stove scrambling eggs, but she’d have one of her rare smiles. Mornings were a nice time in his family. Dad was either still asleep or awake and sober, and Mom was usually in a better mood.
Running the back of his hand over his eyes, Sandy thought about the rest of what he was missing out on. They had a big baseball game this week with their arch-rivals, and he was going to be a no-show. Coach would kill him, if he could get his hands on him. There was a student council meeting that he was supposed to run. He’d been looking forward to the high school musical this coming weekend, especially to seeing what Jade would do with his starring role. And he and Brittany had planned to go to the cabin. Then later came prom and the sports banquet and graduation. How was he going to graduate now? He thought he had enough credits even without finishing his current classes, but how would he get a diploma out of St. Ignatius?
Damn Mom and Dad. He longed to go home and keep living his old life. But that was no longer an option, not with them set on sending him to conversion therapy and Canticle College. He’d called them from a pay phone Saturday night to let them know he wasn’t coming home and not to look for him, and had hung up in the middle of their yelling. They weren’t going to change their minds, and neither was he. He put a hand to his cheek, which still ached slightly from his father’s blow, as bitterness washed over him from everything they’d taken away.
Sandy sighed, his tears forgotten and the beginning of a headache pressing at his temples. It was scary to be on his own. Chicago seemed huge and alien, like he’d landed on another planet. The money he’d taken out of his savings account wasn’t going to last long. Dan and Fred, guys he’d known from Rockford before their family moved, were cool with him staying with them for now. And if he could manage to graduate and then make it to fall, he’d be able to start at U of C. Somehow. Even though his parents were no longer supporting him.
Salvation came later that day in the form of a text from his favorite uncle. Uncle Phinney lived in Portland, Oregon, and had always been cool. Sandy knew he was gay, although they’d never spoken about it. He saw him every year at Christmas and enjoyed hanging out with him and talking about books and movies, especially those his parents disapproved of.
The text came through as Sandy was walking back to the apartment with a small bag of groceries.
Hey, guy, I hear you got out of Dodge. Send me up a smoke signal and let me know how I can help.
Relief flooded Sandy from the new future rising up in front of him. He could move to Portland. Uncle Phinney would take him in, no questions asked. He didn’t care if Sandy was straight, gay, or a unicorn. The brisk March wind ruffled his collar as he called his uncle back.
Fifteen minutes later, Sandy strolled into a funky hair salon he’d seen on his walk. The tattooed-and-pierced girl with dreads nodded to him. “Need a cut?”
“No. I want it dyed. I’m moving to the West Coast tomorrow.”
“Cool. Got any color in mind?” She beckoned him to a seat and draped a protective gown over him.
Sandy considered himself in the mirror. Time to say good-bye to Opie. “How about green?”
After years of hearing characters chatting away in her head, award-winning author CJane Elliott finally decided to put them on paper and hasn’t looked back since. A psychotherapist by training, CJane writes sexy, passionate LGBTQ romances that explore the human psyche. CJane has traveled all over North America for work and her characters are travelers, too, traveling down into their own depths to find what they need to get to the happy ending.
CJane is bisexual and an ardent supporter of LGBTQ equality. In her spare time, CJane can be found dancing, listening to music, or watching old movies. Her family supports her writing habit by staying out of the way when they see her hunched over, staring intensely at her laptop.
CJane is the author of the award-winning Serpentine Series, New Adult contemporary novels set at the University of Virginia. Serpentine Walls was a 2014 Rainbow Awards finalist, Aidan’s Journey was a 2015 EPIC Awards finalist, and Sex, Love, and Videogames won first place in the New Adult category in the 2016 Swirl Awards and first place in Contemporary Fiction in the 2017 EPIC eBook Awards. Her contemporary novel All The Way To Shore was runner up for best bisexual fiction in the 2017 Rainbow Awards.
Series: Supernatural Consultant, Book Four
Author: Mell Eight
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: August 24, 2020
Heat Level: 1 – No Sex
Genre: Paranormal YA, LGBTQIA+, YA, dragon shifters, mage, magical detective agency, magic-users, dragon family, kitnapping, HFN
Nickel might be a water elemental dragon, but even he has limits—and the sudden rain storms, hail, and snow in midsummer are way over the line. Luckily, he works for Dane’s Supernatural Consulting firm and can use those resources to figure out who keeps mucking with the weather and get them to stop.
Soon Nickel realizes he isn’t the only one searching for the weather worker: the enemy he has been hunting for ten years has finally reappeared, and it’s a race to see who will reach the weather worker first. Nickel isn’t certain he’ll win, or even survive, the attempt, but he’ll do whatever it takes to save the dragons.
Dragon Detective, Mell Eight © 2020, All Rights Reserved
Nickel walked into the office and shut his umbrella with a snap that spattered water droplets all over his pant legs. He grimaced and tossed the umbrella onto the stand by the door with a sigh of disgust.
“It’s not that bad, dear,” Becky said cheerfully from her oversized secretary’s desk in the middle of the room. He scowled at her in return, which she ignored with the ease of knowing him for over ten years. Becky looked warm and dry while wearing a nice summer-weight cardigan. The rain hadn’t started until an hour ago, so she had already been safely ensconced on her throne. Nickel, on the other hand, had been out and about getting lunch. He had been lucky to be near a shop selling umbrellas when it had suddenly started pouring, but that hadn’t saved his shoes.
Admittedly, Nickel liked rain. He was usually the first one to run outside to play when the skies darkened and thunder rumbled overhead, just not when he was wearing a nice suit. He might be able to save his shoes, but only if the scamp napping on his desk chair moved.
“Lumie, scram,” Nickel snapped.
Lumie popped one red eye open, saw that Nickel was the one speaking to him, and went right back to sleep. His long red hair flopped over his face as he took ignoring Nickel to another level. Nickel growled and ran a hand through his much shorter blue hair in exasperation. There was no talking to Lumie when he was in one of his moods. Instead of fighting for his chair, Nickel dropped to the floor.
His shoes popped off with wet squelching sounds, and his socks left a puddle on the floor. Nickel’s magic fizzled between his fingers for a moment before he directed it to pull on the water, calling it out of his shoes and socks. It was a gradual process. Water moved slowly. It was sticky, according to the science teacher Dane had hired to teach all the kits, and was therefore happier to remain attached to something than not. It was why water always hesitated on the edge of a counter before the push from behind and gravity below finally sent it falling. Of course, once the first drop fell, all the water built up behind it fell too because it was all stuck together. It took some doing before the water obeyed his magic, but once one drop and then another began to coalesce in Nickel’s hand, it wasn’t long before he had a small river flowing from his shoes and socks into his cupped palms.
The water was cool and welcoming, just the way Nickel liked it. He continued to call out the water slowly. Easy, routine magic, it was also good practice for when he worked larger spells. Except the water was starting to heat in his hands. First it was only just warm, which happened sometimes when he was being a touch careless, but when bubbles started to form between his hands, Nickel turned to glare at Lumie.
“Knock it off!” Nickel snapped. Lumie continued to breathe evenly, as if he really were asleep. Experience told Nickel that Lumie was a dammed good actor, though. The heat continued to rise until the water stopped protecting Nickel’s hands and they began to get uncomfortably hot. His shoes also began to smell. ’Ron had stuck a hairdryer into a pair of sneakers once to try to dry them. The bathroom had reeked of sweaty feet for days when she was done, and the office was quickly taking on the smell of that awful aroma.
Nickel tossed the water before it could start burning his hands. It arced beautifully in the air, steaming as it continued to boil, and landed directly on Lumie’s head.
Lumie shrieked and jumped out of Nickel’s chair. His red hair was plastered to his face and dripping onto his shirt. He looked like a soaked puppy, especially as he scowled. Nickel couldn’t help grinning at the sight.
“What was that for?” Lumie shook his head back and forth, deliberately spraying Nickel with more water. The water steamed off Lumie quickly, leaving his hair dry and slightly fluffy.
“You know why!” Nickel snapped back, his good mood forgotten with the reminder that Lumie had just tried to boil Nickel’s hands off and destroy the office with a pervasive stench.
“Sleeping in your chair is no reason for you to throw water all over me!” Lumie yelled. His eyes flashed with magic, so Nickel prepared himself to block anything Lumie was about to throw at him. “And ugh, what’s that smell anyway?” Lumie asked. He turned his head away from Nickel, the water incident already forgotten as he sniffed the air.
“I was just trying to help!” Alloy whined. He poked his head out from underneath the desk. His mixed red-and-blue hair was disheveled, and his eyes—one bright red and the other blue—were wide as he tried to hold back tears. Nickel jumped in surprise and then growled at himself. How had he missed the fact that Alloy was curled underneath the desk? He shouldn’t have. Apparently, the distraction of Lumie taking his chair combined with his wet shoes had been enough for Nickel to miss Alloy. That wasn’t acceptable; Nickel snarled to himself. He had to be better than that. Alloy wasn’t an enemy, but next time Nickel might not be so lucky.
Still, yelling at Alloy wouldn’t have any effect. Either Alloy would pretend to be Lumie and conveniently forget the scolding a few minutes later, or he would run to Copper and Copper would smooth over any hard lessons Nickel had tried to impart.
“You remember the time ’Ron tried to dry her shoes in the bathroom?” Nickel asked Alloy as calmly as he could. Alloy’s nose wrinkled in disgust so Nickel took that as a yes. “She used the hot air from the hairdryer, and the heat made her shoes stink. That’s why heating up the water in my shoes started to smell bad.”
“Oh,” Alloy said slowly as he began to understand the mistake he had made. “I should have helped your water magic, then?” he asked curiously. For any other dragon, what Alloy had said would have been an impossibility. Elemental dragons like them used one element of magic. That was it. Nickel used water, and Lumie used fire. Alloy was the result of a cruel experiment gone wrong and had somehow been born with power over both water and fire.
“That would have been better,” Nickel agreed. “But you should always ask first before you interrupt someone’s spell. You could have burned me if I hadn’t gotten Lumie wet instead.” Alloy giggled and Nickel couldn’t help cracking a smile at the memory of Lumie jumping up in surprise.
“Shut up,” Lumie grumped. At some point, he had left Nickel’s desk and had wandered over to Becky’s instead. He was busy plundering her candy jar, but he still shot them a disgruntled glare that only faded when he finally found a Cinnamon Bomb. He bounced off into Dane’s empty office with his prize in hand, Nickel and Alloy promptly forgotten.
Nickel could only shake his head. Lumie had to grow up eventually, Nickel hoped. Alloy was certainly more mature.
“Oh, don’t worry, dears,” Becky said in her best old-lady voice. She looked like one at the moment, although in another minute she might look like someone Nickel’s age or even someone in their thirties. Her outward appearance wasn’t confined by age. “I have enough candy for everyone.”
She reached into her plundered candy jar and pulled out a package of red Laffy Taffy. It was cinnamon flavored, but Alloy liked the high sugar content too. For Nickel, she waved a stick of blue rock candy. She had apparently been shopping overnight, because Nickel was certain there hadn’t been any of his favorite candy left yesterday. He had checked.
Was it demeaning to allow himself to be bribed by candy? Nickel couldn’t help wondering even as he padded barefoot across the office to take the proffered candy. Alloy looked at his candy and then down at Nickel’s shoes. He whined to himself and plopped down on the ground. Nickel felt the swirl of water magic in the air a moment later. He took Alloy’s candy too and brought it over. Nickel called on his own water magic and sat next to Alloy to help.
When Mell Eight was in high school, she discovered dragons. Beautiful, wondrous creatures that took her on epic adventures both to faraway lands and on journeys of the heart. Mell wanted to create dragons of her own, so she put pen to paper. Mell Eight is now known for her own soaring dragons, as well as for other wonderful characters dancing across the pages of her books. While she mostly writes paranormal or fantasy stories, she has been seen exploring the real world once or twice.
Author: John Tristan
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: August 24, 2020
Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex
Genre: Contemporary, LGBTQIA+, contemporary, gay, Japanese-American, trans, interracial, BDSM, D/s, power play, slow burn, personal assistant, disability/ chronic illness, depression, age gap
Burned out ex-soldier Nick Kurosawa has drifted from job to job since he lost his family in a car crash. Lately, he’s been working on and off as a bouncer, barely managing to cover his bills; an opportunity for steady, well-paying work is just what he needs to get his life back in order.
Jacob Umber, a secretive philanthropist, gives him that opportunity. Umber has fibromyalgia and needs a personal assistant to help him with the tasks of daily living—someone strong, adaptable, and, most of all, willing to let Umber take the lead.
It seems a perfect opportunity for Nick. More than anything, he craves guidance and a purpose, and Umber gives him that in spades. When Nick starts craving more, it seems an impossible complication, but even the reserved Umber can’t deny Nick’s talent—and need—for following his orders. But Umber’s shadowy past holds secrets that could undo their fragile new relationship and any hope Nick has of a normal life.
The Assistant, John Tristan © 2020, All Rights Reserved
It was a clear autumn night, with the moon low and yellow above the city. Between its fullness and the lights, only a few stars could be made out, pinpoints in the raw black silk of the night. Nick stood with his fists balled above the man breathing hard in the gutter. A trickle of spilled beer ran into his hair, foaming like shampoo. He smelled sour, of sweat and fear.
“Jesus, man!” The man’s companion—a skinny young guy with a circular Band-Aid over one eye, like a discount pirate—crouched beside him. “Somebody call an ambulance! Call the cops!”
“By all means,” Nick said. He forced himself to take a step back, unclench his fists. “Let’s call the cops and tell them the whole story.”
Discount Pirate slit his eye at him and helped his companion to his feet. The man was dazed but seemed unhurt. Still—he could easily have a concussion.
Nick hesitated. “Maybe we should call an ambulance—”
“Forget it,” the man said thickly and spat into the gutter. In the neon and moonlight, the blood in his mouth looked black. His eyes met Nick’s, and this was the worst part: they understood each other perfectly. He’d wanted to start a fight, and Nick had taken the bait. Another night, it would have fallen out differently.
“Let’s get out of here,” Discount Pirate said, putting a proprietary arm around his companion’s waist and dragging him off into the darkness.
Nick let out a shaky breath. The street was empty, now; if he was lucky, this wouldn’t get back to Merritt, who owned the Hellhole. He hadn’t hired Nick to start fights but to stop them as gently as possible—de-escalation, not macho bullshit. The Hellhole was the only gay bar in Westerley, which meant it drew both the occasional snickering asshole and its share of ex-boyfriend drama. Merrick wouldn’t thank him for bad publicity.
Fuck. This was the last thing he needed. He turned toward the familiar voice. “Hey, Alex.”
Alexander Finn—his friend, once-upon-a-time fuck-buddy, and self-appointed social worker—had come up out of the Hellhole at just the wrong time. Sweat was still beaded on his pale forehead, cooling rapidly in the night air. “What happened?”
“Didn’t know you were down here tonight,” Nick said, affecting a breezy tone. “Must have been here before my shift started.”
Alex rolled his eyes. “I know you’re not jealous, so you’re trying to deflect. What happened?” He took out his cigarette case—silver, engraved—and popped one into his bow-lipped mouth, then offered one to Nick.
He reached for it, then hesitated. “Haven’t smoked in months.”
Alex gave him a skeptical look. “Come on.”
“Vaping doesn’t count.”
He laughed softly. “I’ll give you that one.” He snapped the case closed and tucked it away. “Talk.”
“I don’t know.” Nick ran his hands through his hair. “The guy just. Got under my skin. It’s like he knew how to push my buttons.”
“You’re not supposed to have buttons while you’re on the door.”
“Fuck you. Give me a cigarette.”
He did; they smoked together in the neon-lit dark.
“This job…” Alex chewed on his thoughts for a moment. “It’s not good for you. This isn’t the first time you’ve let someone…push your buttons.”
Alex was right—he’d never let himself take it this far before, but there were more than a few times over the last few weeks when a sneer or a snicker or a muttered insult had gotten under his skin and launched him right in someone’s face, teeth bared, eyes glittering. His fuse frayed shorter every week he was out here. He took a long, slow draw from the cigarette and laughed bitterly. “Well. I still need the rent paid.”
“How long until your shift is over?”
Nick grinned sideways at Alex. “Why, you want to take me home?”
He sighed and shook his head, but it had raised a smile. “Just think you could do with a good night’s sleep. After that…” Alex hesitated a moment. “Can you take the next few days off?”
“I’m not back on shift until Monday evening.”
Alex nodded and took a card out of his pocket—his business card, Nick recognized—and then fished out a pen. “Turn around,” he said.
Nick did. Alex leaned on him, using his back as a desk to write on. He could feel the scratch of the pen through his shirt.
When Alex was done, he handed him the card. Nick frowned at it. There was an address on it, a place in the financial district, and a name: Jacob Umber. “What’s this?”
“Someone—someone I know is looking to hire. I thought…well, you already have a job, and I had someone else lined up, but—”
“You always have someone lined up for something, don’t you?” There was a slight edge of bitterness to Nick’s words. Alex networked—he always had a side hustle lined up for someone, for the washouts and burnouts, the ex-cops and ex-military, the bikers and drifters he seemed to draw into his orbit. His type: like Nick. “Is this meant to be charity? Because you can pass it on to one of your other tricks. I don’t need it.”
“Call it what you will. And you’re not a trick, Nicholas.” Alex leaned in to kiss him on the cheek, chastely. “You’re my friend.”
Nick swallowed a sudden lump in his throat and stuffed the card in the back pocket of his jeans. “Yeah, all right, fine. There’s no number on the card—am I meant to just show up?”
“I wrote hours on there,” Alex said. “Nine to three. Weekdays.”
“Nick…” He seemed to be struggling with his words. “This isn’t a guaranteed job. I can get you a way in, but you’ll have to impress.”
“Come on, Alex.” Nick flashed a smile. “Don’t you think I can pull out the stops when I need to?”
He laughed and shook his head. “I know you can. Good luck, Nick.”
“Thanks. No, really…thank you.”
He nodded and left him on the empty street. Nick took his vape out of his pocket and sucked down a nicotine cloud; he noticed his hands were shaking. There was a subtle ache in his knuckles, where they’d collided with the man’s cheekbone. He felt a tiredness deeper than exhaustion, something like lead in his bones, and on top of that, a thin hot skin of queasy arousal. He didn’t know if he wanted to sleep for a year or get fucked up against the wall of the nearest alley. Well, he told himself, right now it’s going to be neither. He smoked until his hands stopped shaking and then waited for the sky to lighten—for his shift to be over—so he could go home.
John Tristan is a multinational gay nerd, currently living in Manchester, UK. When he’s not writing, he works in the voluntary sector; when he’s not doing either, he’s probably playing video games or tabletop RPGs. After his mother banned books at the table during mealtimes, he read the backs of sauce bottles. His stories are sometimes romantic, sometimes erotic, often speculative, and always queer.
Hi guys! We have Eloreen Moon popping in today with the tour for Together, we have a brilliant interview, a great excerpt and a fantastic $25 Amazon GC giveaway, so check out the post and enter the giveaway! ❤️ ~Pixie~
Victor has loved El and En since high school. The problem is, they love each other and only see him as a friend. Victor leaves town, unable to cope with watching them together, but now he’s back—and his heart still feels the same.
El and En have had feelings for Victor for a long time, they just haven’t said anything. After all, a poly relationship isn’t something society looks upon kindly. But that isn’t going to stop them, not now they understand what missing Victor is like. They want their third, no matter what anyone says—they just have to find out whether Victor is up for the challenge.
Together again, individually, the three men know they’re meant to be a trio. The thing is, who will say so first? And will the dynamic work if Victor joins a stable couple? Can Victor fit in and have the relationship he’s dreamed of with the two men who have held his heart in their hands for what feels like forever?
Find out in Together.
Hi guys, we have Mary Rundle stopping by today with the tour for her new audio release Raphael’s Power, we have a short intro from Mary with an exclusive excerpt, a fantastic $20 Amazon GC and a Cocky Cs mug giveaway, so guys, check out the post and enter the giveaway! ❤️ ~Pixie~
This is part of an ongoing series by Amazon best-selling author Mary Rundle and catching up on previous titles is advised. Listeners or readers of the past books will enjoy meeting old friends once more as the pack does what it does best – caring for one another and helping shifters everywhere.
Dr. Ian Wallace, a rare Scottish wolf, has dedicated his life to saving and healing wolf shifters by joining Frontline Doctors. Determined never to take a mate, he avoids relationships and is content to live a nomadic life, taking assignments to wild and remote places. That is, until an old friend asks him for a favor, which Ian’s wolf will not let him refuse. Now on his way to the Blackwood Pack compound, his wolf becomes frantic, and Ian learns not only that he has a fated mate, but that his fated mate is in danger.
Colton was forced to give up his dreams of becoming a nurse and joining Frontline Doctors when tragedy befell his family. Instead, he healed sick animals around his home while hiding from a pack who wanted him dead. Given the chance to use his skills, Colton seizes it and embarks on a journey that will reveal just how special he is.
A kidnapping, slave auction, revelations of long-kept family secrets, and a rare, powerful gift from the gods are some of the surprises in store for both of them until they finally find their way into each other’s hearts after discovering neither is who the other thought he was.
Out on the Serve
Series: Out in College, Book 7
Author: Lane Hayes
Narrator: Michael Dean
Publisher: Lane Hayes
Release Date: July 10
Heat Level: 4 – Lots of Sex
Genre: Romance, New Adult, Bisexual, Friends to Lovers, College romance, Athletes, Volleyball, Humor
Roommates to friends to lovers…
I need a roommate fast. Even a temporary one. Beggars can’t be choosers. Going pro after graduation has been intense, and time is precious. Thankfully, Braden seems cool. He’s a little quirky…and very sexy. Of course, I would never get involved with a roommate. That’s a bad idea. Isn’t it?
Moving to Long Beach seems like a no brainer. It’ll be a perfect chance to wind down before grad school and a nice respite from my folks. Plus, my new roommate is a great guy. A little messy, but sweet. Gotta admit, I like him more than I should. And we’re off to a strange start when a mutual friend hooks me up with his ex. Elliot’s the one I want, but going from friends to lovers is a risk. We could end up out on the serve…or we could win it all.
Ten minutes later, I tied a towel around my waist and opened the bathroom door to release some steam just as Braden opened his bedroom door.
It might have been my imagination or wishful thinking, but I could have sworn he eye-fucked me before he met my gaze.
“Mornin’,” I said in a raspy voice.
“How’d you sleep?”
“Pretty good. Are you going to the beach today?” he asked awkwardly.
“Yeah. I’m leaving soon.”
“Hmm. I heard the swell is huge,” he said in a fast, clipped tone.
I crossed my arms and leaned against the doorjamb. “Yeah, I heard that too. There’s some big storm off the coast of Mexico.”
“Want to come with me?”
I barked a laugh. “No, dork. To the beach.”
Braden chuckled. “Believe it or not, I’m going to the theater. Sophie talked me into trying out the assistant gig. Hopefully, it’ll keep me out of trouble.”
And there was the opening I needed. I wasn’t sure how to word it, though. The hint of unease between us told me that I should proceed with caution. We had to be on the same page and willing to try something new and—fuck. My window of opportunity was closing. Braden’s cheeks reddened as he mumbled a good-bye.
I grabbed his wrist before he closed his door, ignoring the spark and sizzle that zipped along my spine. “Hang on…thank you.”
“Oh.” He let out a half laugh and yes…his face went a shade pinker. Fuck, that was both cute and hot at the same time. “It was silly.”
“I love silly. I’m a huge fan of all things ridiculous. Ask anyone.”
“I believe you.”
“Good. So…let’s agree that this doesn’t have to be weird. We’re grown adults. Well, you are anyway. We can call it a celebratory kiss if you want and move on. What d’ya say?”
“Yes, okay. I’m—I’m sorry about”—he circled his wrist meaningfully—“everything. I overreacted.”
“You mean the part when you yelled at me for getting sand on the floor? I forgive you.”
“No, I was serious about that part.”
“I know. But don’t worry about the other thing. Boners happen.”
Braden sputtered. “I did not have a boner.”
“Liar. We both did. Might have been your mom’s fudge,” I teased.
“You think my mother’s homemade fudge gave you a hard-on,” he repeated incredulously.
“Dude, chocolate totally gives me wood. Or maybe she added a chemical substance that made us too relaxed.”
“I don’t know…weed?”
Braden snickered. “Unlikely. My mom is very proper. I don’t think she even knows what weed looks like.”
“Hmm. You seem kind of proper too. Do you take after her?”
“Maybe, but I know what weed looks like,” he assured me. “My roommate in the dorms my freshman year was very fond of the stuff. We didn’t get along at all. He was a total—”
“Slob?” I supplied, quirking my brows.
“Yeah.” He shrugged carelessly. “I was probably overbearing, but in my defense, I come from a super rigid household. I’m an only child, and I was sick a lot when I was little. I had colic and sensitivity issues. I’d break out in rashes if I was in the sun for five minutes or if I ate citrus. My asthma was off the charts. I had a nebulizer at home, and I carried inhalers everywhere I went.”
“That’s a lot of information,” I said with a laugh.
He winced, then sucked in a deep breath. “Sorry. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. My geek is showing.”
“Ha. Nothing wrong with that. You like me, eh?”
Braden chuckled. Like I’d hoped he would. “What makes you think that?”
“You kissed me. Twice. We might as well get married and pick out His and His towels. Thoughts?”
“Great idea. Just don’t tell my mom. She’d have a heart attack. She was already worried I’d moved in with you because you were my…”
“Boyfriend,” I supplied.
“Yeah, except she has a hard time saying that word, so it comes out in a strained whisper like…boyfriend.” Braden modulated his voice to sound like a scared woman. He grinned when I busted up laughing, and I could have sworn a ray of sunshine burst through the wall of our apartment.
Lane Hayes loves a good romance novel. An avid reader from an early age, she has always been drawn to well-told love story with beautifully written characters. Lane discovered the M/M genre a few years ago and was instantly hooked. Her debut novel was a 2013 Rainbow Award finalist and subsequent books have received Honorable Mentions, and were winners in the 2016, 2017, and 2018-2019 Rainbow Awards. She loves red wine, chocolate and travel (in no particular order). Lane lives in Southern California with her amazing husband in a newly empty nest.
Originally from Chicago and currently based in New York City, I have performed around the country and the world on stage, television, and film. I studied acting at the University of Arizona and the University of Kansas City Missouri.
As a narrator, I have voiced over 450 titles for authors including Lucy Lennox, Sloane Kennedy, Lane Hayes, Devon McCormack, Riley Hart, Felice Stevens, Pandora Pine, Christina Lee, Susan Hawke, and many more. Learn more about Michael here.
On the Square
Series: University Square, Book One
Author: Brenda Murphy
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: August 17, 2020
Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex
Genre: Contemporary, LGBTQIA+, Contemporary, romance, family-drama, interracial, blue-collar, restaurant, chef, reality TV star, builder, single mother, in the closet
Dropped from her television show after a very public split with her cheating ex, celebrity chef Mai Li wants nothing more than to reopen her parents’ shuttered restaurant and make a fresh start in her former hometown. So what if twenty years of neglect has left the building in need of a major renovation?
Seduced by Mai’s charm and determination, hard-edged contractor Dale Miller agrees to take on her renovation project.
After a spring storm causes significant damage to the building and renovation costs exceed Mai’s budget, Dale offers her a deal, but is it a price Mai is willing to pay?
On the Square, Brenda Murphy © 2020, All Rights Reserved
Dale filled her coffee thermos. The scent of the dark brew had her wanting to linger over another cup. She tightened the lid. “You riding the bus today?”
“Nah, Chip’s coming to pick me up. We have a cross-country team meeting.” Noah slid the omelet he was cooking onto the plate. “You sure you don’t have time? You can have this one, Mom. I’ll cook another for me.” His round face and solemn dark-brown eyes were fixed on her face. He lifted the plate and waved it in her direction.
Delicately browned, perfectly cooked. The aroma of melted cheddar cheese and butter filled the small kitchen. The omelet tempted Dale even more than the coffee had. She sighed and cursed herself for agreeing to an early morning appointment for an estimate. Dale grimaced. Cowed by the insistence of the woman who called for the estimate, her oldest, Seth, had made the appointment outside of business hours. Afraid to turn down work. Knows we need the money. If it works out.
Dale tucked two peanut butter and strawberry jelly sandwiches into her cooler, wrapped an apple in a napkin, and placed three battered and scruffy water bottles around the sides, spacing them evenly. She shut the lid and bungeed the ancient metal relic of a cooler shut. Please let it work out.
The concern in Noah’s voice drew Dale from her thoughts. “Nothing. I wish your brother would’ve talked to me before he scheduled this. I hate to talk to people before I’ve had my coffee. And who the hell needs to meet at six in the morning for an estimate?” She peered out of the window at the sky, barely pink.
“Someone in a hurry? Like maybe you should be. Or you’re gonna be late.” Noah smirked as he shoved aside stacks of paper and clutter before he placed his plate on the table. He pulled a chair out, sat down, and flipped his napkin out with a flourish.
“Damn.” Dale took two steps over to Noah and mashed a quick kiss to his forehead. “Don’t forget to tell Thomas to pick up Grandad’s prescription and have a good day at school.”
Noah scrubbed his hand over his mouth. “I will.”
Dale snatched her thermos and her lunch cooler off the counter as she bolted for the door.
The large black pickup truck roared into the parking lot, kicking up a fine spray of dust and small gravel. Mai ended the call she had been ready to make to cancel the estimate appointment and shoved her phone back into her pocket. She frowned as a layer of gray dust settled over her polished black wingtips. Tinted windows prevented her from seeing inside the truck. With a snap of her wrist she straightened her collar, leaned back against her car, and crossed her arms over her chest. She tapped her foot and pursed her lips as she contemplated how much she was going to enjoy telling the yahoo in the truck what she thought of their driving skills. A warm-up for what she was preparing to tell the contractor who didn’t think her time was valuable. She didn’t do business with people who were not punctual. This town has not changed a bit. Still on country time. She snorted thinking about the ridiculous lengths she had to go to get the idiot on the phone to agree to a timely appointment.
The scuff of boots on gravel on the opposite side of the truck made her look up.
“Sorry I’m late.” A tall woman in faded jeans and work boots rounded the front of the truck. A thick tan work belt with a multitool pouch clipped to it held her jeans up over her curvy hips. She tucked a metal clipboard under her arm and stuck her hand out to shake.
“Who are you?” Mai didn’t take the woman’s hand. “I had an appointment with a general contractor for an estimate. Dale Miller?”
“That’s me.” A flash of irritation flew across Dale’s face as she withdrew her hand and stuck it into her rear pocket.
“You’re late.” Mai studied the unapologetic woman in front of her. Thick honey-blonde hair streaked with gray brushed her shoulders. A head taller than Mai, she had broad shoulders and a trim waist. Her pale-blue undershirt set off her golden-brown eyes. The sleeves of her flannel overshirt were rolled back and displayed well-muscled forearms.
Dale rocked back on her heels and glanced skyward before bringing her gaze back to Mai’s face. “I am. And I apologized. This is outside of our normal hours for estimates.”
“And I wasn’t…”
Dale cut her off. “And you weren’t expecting a woman.” She swept her hand through her hair. “You know what. I’m not certain I’m the best person for this job.” She turned on her heel and walked away from Mai, head high and shoulders rigid.
Dale turned and rested her hand on the hood of the truck. “Why? You’ve made your mind up. I’m not going to waste my time. Or yours. Good luck with your project.”
Mai looked down at her shoes before returning her gaze to Dale’s face. “That’s not what I was going to say.”
“Right.” Dale arched an eyebrow. “I’ve been in this business too long to be scolded for being late. I don’t schedule appointments this early because I don’t like talking to anyone at this unholy hour.”
Mai laughed. “How have you stayed in business?”
Dale walked back over and stepped close to Mai, invading her space. “Because most people in this town recognize business hours are business hours and don’t expect special favors.”
Mai held her ground. “Special favors? I asked for an early appointment. It’s not my fault whoever answered the phone doesn’t know your hours.”
Dale clenched her fists. “My son knows the hours perfectly well. He was trying to be nice. He said yes to accommodate your schedule. Which, apparently, is way more important than mine. Good day.” She spun on her heel and stomped back to the truck.
Mai chewed her lip as she desperately tried to ignore how much she liked the way Dale’s ass looked in her jeans and failed. “Hey, wait.”
Dale yanked the truck door open and tossed her clipboard inside.
Mai sprinted around the truck and her shoes skidded on the gravel lot. She caught herself on the truck hood and narrowly avoided bumping into Dale. “Hey, please stay. I’m sorry we got off on the wrong foot. I’ve had too many folks be rude to me because I wasn’t what they expected. Please. I’d like you to at least look at the project.”
Dale turned to her and the delicate scent of lemon verbena wafted from her, undermining Mai’s determination to keep to the business at hand.
A rueful grin crossed Dale’s face. “No. I’m sorry. You’d think I didn’t want the work. I’d like to see what you want done.” She tilted her head and met Mai’s gaze. “Do you mind if we have coffee first?”
Mai held out her hand and Dale shook it. “Bring your thermos.” She tilted her head toward the silver flask. “Come on. We don’t have to talk until you’ve had another cup.”
Brenda Murphy (she/her) writes erotic romance. Her most recent novel, Double Six, is the 2020 Golden Crown Literary Society winner for Erotic Novels, and Knotted Legacy, the third book in the Rowan House series, made the 2018 The Lesbian Review’s Top 100 Vacation Reads list. You can catch her musings on writing, books, and living with wicked ADHD on her blog Writing While Distracted. She loves sideshows and tattoos and yes, those are her monkeys. When she is not loitering at her local library, she wrangles twins, one dog, and an unrepentant parrot.
I hope you enjoy reading this book as much as I enjoyed writing it. For a free short story, information on book signings, appearances, work in progress snippets, previews and sneak-peeks, sign up for my email list.
Evie and the Pack-Horse Librarians
Author: Laurel Beckley
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: August 17, 2020
Heat Level: 1 – No Sex
Genre: Fantasy, LGBTQIA+, libraries, fantasy, lesbian, romance, shifters, magical abilities, paranormal
As an assistant editor at the prestigious Hanhat Publishers, Evie Southiel is entrusted with fine-tuning the manuscripts of the company’s most important authors. Her skills as a book witch allow her to manipulate the stories she reviews and bring them to life.
When her girlfriend steals the secret manuscript of Hanhat’s best-selling author and leaks it to the press, Evie is exiled to become a journey carrier with the Pack-Horse Librarians in the eastern mountains.
Timid city mouse Evie doesn’t know the first thing about surviving in the wilderness, riding a horse, or dealing with the rugged mountain folk and coal miners surrounding the town of Hevis. She does know books, though, and she’s determined to do the best job she can. But that goal is jeopardized when her horse gets spooked on her first solo run, sending her tumbling out of the saddle and into a mysterious woman’s life.
Evie and the Pack-Horse Librarians, Laurel Beckley © 2020, All Rights Reserved
A hard knot had formed in Evie’s throat since she was summoned into Mr. Lodge’s corner office, and now the butterflies in her stomach transformed into a hive of angry bees threatening to upset her meager breakfast.
Mr. Lodge gave another long humph, the fifth in as many minutes.
Evie shuffled in her seat, trying to keep her fingers knotted together in her lap, struggling to prevent her feet from tapping with anxiety.
After an eternity, Mr. Lodge looked up from the newspaper, placing it carefully onto his desk. He closed his eyes. When he opened them, his usually cheerful expression was gone, replaced with a stern man Evie didn’t recognize.
“Miss Southeil,” he began, then stopped. Another sigh. He closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his long nose. Evie unconsciously mimicked the gesture, pushing her own wire-rimmed glasses further onto her face. She caught a glimpse of her ink-stained fingers from the corner of her eye and hastily dropped her hands into her lap, letting her dull-gray skirt envelop them.
Mr. Lodge opened his eyes. “Miss Southeil,” he repeated. “Of all the journeys present, I might have expected this egregious misstep from anyone else. But not from you.”
Evie bit her lip, trying to prevent the knot in her stomach from bringing up actual food onto Mr. Lodge’s manuscript-filled desk—manuscripts she had nurtured into books to be published and read and devoured by the hungry readers of historical fiction. Even among the handful of journey-rank editors at Hanhat Publishing, Evie was special. She knew she had the gift of turning rough sentences into delightful bouquets for the eyes, and yet here she was. Quivering in her boss’s office. Oh, how she had messed up.
Mr. Lodge removed one manuscript from the pile and placed it directly underneath the damning newspaper. Evie stared at it, trying to will away the blasted thing’s existence.
He tapped the stack of papers with an inky finger. “How did you let this come to pass? Our competitors are breathing down our backs, eager for any hint of weakness, and you give them the scoop of the year!”
“I-I’m sorry, Mr. Lodge,” Evie whispered, ducking her chin to prevent tears from escaping. It wasn’t her fault. Well, it was, but it wasn’t. “I won’t—”
“You’re damn right you won’t!” Mr. Lodge slammed his hand onto the table.
Evie squeaked, jumping in her seat.
He reeled in his anger, grimacing at the appendage as though alarmed that such an outburst had come from his body. He heaved another sigh. “Forgive me, but you know as well as I that Mr. Cabot’s novel was to be the highlight of our publishing year. Having the plot…splattered across the gossip rags is an embarrassment to the company and the Guild.”
Evie wanted to curl up inside herself until she became nothing more than a ball of gray cloth, hidden from the world.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered, blinking furiously.
Mr. Lodge’s face softened as did his voice. “Evie, I’m not going to fire you.”
She lifted her head, hopeful.
“You’re the best assistant editor I’ve had in years, but I think this promotion came too fast, too soon.” He shook his head sadly. “But it’s no use having you here waiting for this whole scandal to blow over. It’ll harm the company’s reputation, and to have your face associated with this whole thing…” He paused, staring at her until she lifted her head. She tried to meet his gaze and failed. Eye contact had always been a struggle for her. “I’m sending you away,” he declared.
With her head bowed, Evie nodded. “I’ll clear my desk and head to the printers’ office.” The printers’ office was located five blocks away in the factory district. Dark, dingy, labor-intensive, and where Hanhat Publishing usually sent their screw-ups for menial labor.
“No, Evie.” She looked up, startled. “It’s going to be farther than that. I’ve reassigned you to the Librarian’s Guild.”
Evie’s heart lifted. At least she’d be near books. Near words and stories and life. Not confined to operating the massive printing machines, spending every minute in danger of getting an industrial injury. She blinked, realizing that she was still being sent away. Being transferred from one guild to another was hardly unique, but certainly not a common practice.
He went on. “Think of this as an opportunity, a chance to use your journey time to, well, journey.”
Journey? Evie wondered. Members of the Librarian’s Guild were stationed in every city, town, university, and village in Isten with a large enough population to support them, but they certainly did not travel.
“You’ll be part of the pack-horse librarians stationed in District Forty-five,” Mr. Lodge said. Obviously interpreting Evie’s miscomprehension as shock, he added, “This will be a two-year assignment. After that, you may return to Hanhat Publishing. I’ll always need copyeditors.”
“Th-thank you, Mr. Lodge,” Evie stuttered, lips moving automatically, mind still trying to figure out what had happened. Pack-horse librarians? Two years? And a copyeditor? She pressed her fingers to her lips, struggling to choke down bile and disappointment.
Her supervisor slid a folder across the table. It was depressingly thin. Mr. Lodge smiled, a mixture of kind and condescending that hurt worse than any of his words. “Someone will come by your flat to collect any remaining manuscripts. You’re dismissed.”
Evie rose from her chair to stand on legs she wasn’t certain would work and took the folder with shaking hands. She pressed the packet of papers to her stomach and bolted, bumping into her fellow journey, Anda, on her sprint to the bathroom. Once inside, she emptied the contents of her breakfast, along with the entirety of her previous life, into the toilet.
Someone knocked softly on the bathroom door, interrupting Evie’s hundredth heave.
“Evie?” The voice was hesitant.
“One minute.” Evie wiped her mouth and ran cold water over her wrists and face, trying to fight the nausea. She avoided the mirror above the sink. Her eyes were surely red and puffy, her dark skin sallow and splotchy. She didn’t need a mirror for that information.
She opened the door, nearly jumping as her girlfriend Anda burst inside and locked the door behind her. “Evie, I just heard, and I’m so sorry!” She tried to wrap her arms around Evie in a hug.
Evie pushed her away, staring into the face of the girl she had loved so fiercely until that moment in Mr. Lodge’s office. “How could you?” she demanded.
Anda’s eyes widened innocently. “Whatever do you mean?” she asked, placing a hand on her chest.
Rage bubbled in Evie’s chest, replacing the nausea and sickness. “I let you review that manuscript in confidence, Anda,” she hissed, “to help you polish your editing skills.”
If possible, Anda’s eyes opened wider. “Evie,” she cooed, “I gave that manuscript back to you a week ago. You must have misplaced it. You know how forgetful you are.”
Evie shook her head. Tears continued streaking down her cheeks, and she wiped them off vigorously with her sleeve, her fist clenched tightly.
The story had broken the night before, and since Evie had first found out about it as she entered the building for work that morning, she’d had the sinking suspicion that Anda was behind her situation. Evie was allowed to take manuscripts home and help smooth them over, but only with the explicit understanding that no one else could review an author’s latest creation.
“I returned that manuscript to Mr. Lodge a week ago. Besides me, no one but you had hands on it.”
Anda lips twisted in a facsimile of a smile. There was something predatory in her gaze, which Evie had seen her deliver to their fellow apprentices and journeys but never to her.
“Evie, dear, you know it wasn’t me. Just accept responsibility and take your punishment at the pressman’s office.” She bit her lip and looked down, fluttering her eyelashes. The predatory gleam disappeared, replaced by the image of a remorseful girl. “I think that, with all this in mind, we shouldn’t be together anymore.” Her eyelashes fluttered again. “I mean, an assistant editor with a disgraced pressman? That would taint my career.”
Evie gasped, tears beginning to spill out again. Anda’s betrayal was worse than anything she had ever anticipated, but to end their four-year relationship so… callously… was something else.
“I can’t believe you,” she whispered. “I knew you were ambitious, but—”
The remorse vanished, and Anda was replaced by a hardened creature Evie had never seen before.
“But what? I’ve been here eight years, Evie. Do you know how hard I’ve worked only to be passed up by a girl who just got promoted to journey? This position is my due. Not yours.” She sniffed. “And clearly you don’t have the maturity to handle such a job.”
Evie placed a hand over her mouth, trying to stuff her sobs back down her throat as Anda threw open the door and stormed out.
Tears overwhelmed Evie’s senses as she slid down the wall and hit the tiled floor. This was so, so much worse than she had ever imagined. She’d lost her job, been betrayed by her girlfriend, and was being sent away in disgrace.
How would she tell her parents?
Laurel Beckley has been writing ever since she started her first novel the summer before eighth grade—a hand-written epic fantasy catastrophe that has lurked in her mind and an increasingly ratty college-ruled notebook ever since.
She is a writer, Marine Corps veteran, and librarian.
Gay All Year
Author: Richard May
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: August 17, 2020
Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex
Genre: Contemporary, LGBTQIA+, Contemporary, romance, short stories, gay, bisexual, interracial, age-gap, slow burn, friends to lovers, BDSM, Dom/sub, humorous, multiple partners, priest, military, Native American, law enforcement, bereavement, daddy issues, men in uniform, Hanukkah
Twelve optimistic MM stories, one for every month of the year.
How do men meet? Each story is connected to a holiday or event—Epiphany, Valentine’s Day, Pi Day, Arbor Day, Mothers’ Day, Fathers’ Day, summer vacation, a rodeo, Labor Day, Columbus Day, Thanksgiving, and Hanukkah—but may not be quite the celebration you’re expecting.
Neither may the men, and when these men meet, attraction does not always equal love—at least immediately—but chemistry finds a way.
Gay All Year, Richard May © 2020, All Rights Reserved
I never meant to live in San Francisco again, but here I was. At first, it was just a visit but when I saw how advanced the effects of my mother’s lung cancer were, I decided I couldn’t leave her to institutional caregivers and fly back to Boston, so I took a leave of absence, and then I telecommuted, and finally, my company offered me a transfer to the office in Menlo Park.
I also never expected to be inside a Catholic church again, but here I was. I had successfully avoided them in Boston, which is no easy trick when you’re Irish and raised Catholic. But now, I was back inside Saint Paul’s, fulfilling a deathbed promise to my mother. “Don’t blame God,” she had advised between wheezes and made me agree to go to mass. I wanted to scream. Of course, I blamed God and every fucking priest and every fucking Catholic in the world, but I bit my tongue and said I’d go, thinking her funeral mass would fulfill the promise. “And my funeral mass doesn’t count,” she’d said with the remainder of a twinkle in her eye. Trapped—and I didn’t even get to scream.
I had put it off for six months until I’d run into Mrs. Andreozzi on Tuesday past, and she’d mentioned Saint Paul’s had a new priest. “Very handsome,” she informed me as if that were enough of an inducement for a gay twentysomething male. And perhaps it was because the very next Sunday I entered the building, genuflected toward the altar, crossed myself, and took a seat in a pew.
There was an excellent turnout of ladies and gay men. And Mrs. Andreozzi was right: the new priest was very handsome. He was a tall man, with dark wavy hair combed straight back from his forehead, regular features, and noticeably wide shoulders. Nothing at all like Father Michael, with his thinning red hair, sallow complexion, and sagging jowls. I hoped he was different from Father Michael in other ways as well, for the altar boys’ sakes.
After mass, I tried to slip past the line of parishioners telling the new priest how much they liked this or that, but he stepped away from an older woman in midsentence to intercept me.
“Thank you for coming,” he said, barring my way with his conspicuous body and extended right hand. “Father Adrian Doyle.” I shook the hand hesitantly. Touching a priest was, and probably always would be, disgusting to me. Father Adrian’s hand was warm, but then so had been Father Michael’s.
“Stephen Kinney,” I said. The priest’s bright-blue eyes momentarily ceased sparkling. Apparently, he’d heard the name before. I’m sure he has, I thought with satisfaction.
“Good to see you, Stephen. See you next Sunday,” he said, his eyes recovering. He gave my hand a final shake and went back to his line of well-wishers. I walked outside without a commitment, continued down the steps to Church Street and around the second corner to my parents’ house. The park across the street was full of dogs, kids, and adult supervision. I had been one of those kids once upon a time.
I had mostly happy childhood memories and was on quite a nostalgia trip, integrating my things with those of my parents and grandparents. The park was certainly convenient for walking Boris, my mother’s old and needy dog. Why she wanted a Russian wolfhound neither my sister nor I quite understood. It had always been Irish setters while our father was alive. Still, after Mom passed, Anne Marie and I fought over who’d get custody of Boris. Nothing else in the estate mattered as much. I won because I was already walking the dog on a twice-daily basis, feeding him, and acting in loco parentis. My sister lived outside Chicago. If the trip east didn’t kill Boris, the Midwestern winter would.
Monday’s alarm woke me from disturbing dreams vaguely remembered. Men in black, oppressive shadows, Father Adrian naked. The latter image disturbed me most of all. I rushed to be vertical and tried to ignore my erection.
After struggling into jogging clothes, I opened the door for Boris’s stroll to the dog run. Immediately, an unfamiliar tenor yelled “Stephen!” at me. One of a crowd of runners passing by was waving. “Father Adrian!” he shouted in explanation, pointing at his chest, which was already eye-catching enough, even in a baggy sweatshirt. I waved back in a jerky side to side motion and watched the healthy bodies disappear. The priest’s butt was obvious in his skimpy running shorts, shifting left and right, left and right. Lustful thoughts came to mind. “Good God,” I said out loud. Boris whined. “Yes,” I agreed. “Let’s have none of that. Come on, boy.”
The old dog broke into an eager amble across the street. After a few minutes sniffing this fascinating scent, inhaling that arousing aroma, and doing his business, we recrossed the road. I let Boris in the front door and took off at a trot toward Sanchez. Of course, I ran into the Saint Paul’s joggers on their return trip.
“Join us!” the priest yelled, his tousled hair and happy face strong inducements. I heard several other runners second his call, which surprised me, given what I’d cost them. Misery loves company, I suppose, or maybe just following the lead of their priest. Still.
I was about to ignore all of them when someone dropped out of the line and yanked me into it. “Tony!” I yelped. Tony Rodriguez, the boy I’d had a crush on in sixth grade. The man who’d stood by me during the lawsuit. I assumed he’d left town. He hadn’t been at my mother’s funeral, and I hadn’t run into him at Safeway or Royal Cleaners.
“I’ve been in Iraq, and Marylee was at her mother’s,” he exclaimed as if he read minds. Oh, right. He was in the National Guard.
I took up the rhythm of the run, Tony’s admirable thighs racing alongside mine.
“Aren’t you almost done?” I asked, looking for an escape route.
“I wish,” he said, flashing the ten-thousand-dollar smile Dr. Davis of Twenty-fourth Street had given to both of us.
I looked ahead at the priest. “What do you think of the new guy?”
“He’s good,” Tony said, between inhales and exhales. “Up on technology.”
“I thought his Epiphany homily was good,” I said. “Especially the part about everyday epiphanies.”
Tony nearly stopped running. “You went to mass?” he said, looking at me as if I were lying.
“I promised my mother.”
“Uh huh,” Tony grunted. Then he gave me a grin. “And Father Adrian is a good-looking dude,” he said. Just as quickly, his face collapsed in dismay. “I’m sorry, Steve.”
I kept looking ahead, which is what I’d told myself to do after I stopped going to church. The priest’s butt was obscured by those of less worthy men. “No worries,” I told him, but it might not have been loud enough for Tony to hear. In any case, we talked of other things before he peeled off for home a few blocks later.
“Be sure to call me about that beer!” he yelled. I gave him a thumbs-up. If only he were gay, I thought for the thousandth time.
The rest of us finally reached the steps of Saint Paul’s. No one else had spoken to me since Tony had left for home and a shower. At the church, I meant to follow his example, but Father Adrian held me back. “If you ever want to talk,” he said. His fingers gripped my arm with familiar strength and uncomfortable insistence.
“I did my talking to the attorneys,” I replied and pulled out of his grasp. His face was even more handsome when less under control.
“My offer stands,” he said, his lovely mouth now grim. “Don’t let the crimes of a few evil men get in the way of your relationship with God.”
I laughed in his face. “A few? See you later, Father.” I trotted south without looking back.
I had been a cute, blond-haired boy of nine when I came under Father Michael’s auspices. I was twenty-four when I organized other boys who’d become his prey to sue the diocese. There had been a settlement; the church knew it couldn’t win. I bought the condo in Boston with my portion of the proceeds.
However, later that day, Father Adrian’s offer was codified in a text.
Good to see you at church, Stephen. Hope you’ll be with us again next Sunday. And, if you want to talk, my door is always open.
He gave me a phone number. The question was, how did he get mine?
I should have deleted the text but didn’t. I was impressed he spelled my name correctly and by his follow-up. In fact, I kept rereading it until I finally called the number. Mary Flannery answered. She had been the parish secretary for decades. After I said my name, there was a pause before Mary responded.
“Is Father expecting your call?” she asked with an icy edge.
“Yes,” I said.
“Is this still about—” she began but hushed herself. “Just a moment, Stephen.” She put me on hold. I wondered how much it cost her to say my name.
“Stephen!” Father Adrian’s happy voice shouted into the phone. Credit him for enthusiasm.
“I’d like to have that talk,” I said.
“Good,” he answered after taking a quick breath. “Good,” he repeated more optimistically. “After mass? Which one do you—”
“I’ll see you Sunday at noon,” I told him. “On the steps.”
“Better make it twelve thirty in my office.”
“No!” I said, much too loudly. Mary Flannery might have heard me, if she were listening. I had no intention of being alone with a priest ever again.
“Where then?” he asked, sounding irritated.
“In the park. Twelve thirty is fine.”
Richard May’s short fiction has been published in his collections Inhuman Beings: Monsters, Myths, and Science Fiction and Ginger Snaps: Photos & Stories (with photographer David Sweet) and numerous anthologies and literary periodicals. Rick also organizes two book readings at San Francisco bookstores, the Word Week annual literary festival, and the online book club Reading Queer Authors Lost to AIDS. He lives in San Francisco.
Release Date: September 14, 2020
A childhood in foster care taught Carey Everett to hold tight to what he has. Enlisting in the Marines gave him purpose, but a life-threatening injury ended his career—and took his leg. Now fully recovered, Carey’s happier than he’s ever been. He has a fulfilling job, a chosen family and, best of all, a cherished friendship with Jase DeSantis, the platoon medic who saved his life.
Jase knows how to take care of the people he loves. As the oldest of seven, and then a Navy corpsman, it’s what he was born to do. Still, he’s haunted by his actions overseas. Playing music with his band keeps the demons at bay, but it’s a battle he’s starting to lose.
After a week of sun and fun in San Diego, Jase and Carey’s connection takes an unexpected turn. With change comes a new set of challenges. For Jase, it means letting someone else into his deepest pain. For Carey, it’s realizing love doesn’t always equal loss. In order to make their relationship work, they’ll each have to come to terms with their pasts…
…or risk walking away from each other for good.
R.L. Merrill has a new MM rock and roll book coming out, and we have the cover reveal:
Brains and Brawn.
And there’s a giveaway!@
Billy “Brains” Brennan has achieved rock stardom in not just one, but two chart-topping bands, but events from his past have him convinced he’s living on borrowed time. Brains and his brothers-in-Hush are ready to take the last cross-country Warped Tour by storm…until the actions of two drunk dudes with bad attitudes set off a chain of events that leave him incapacitated…and face-to-face with a handsome stranger who inexplicably feels like home—and not the home Brains fled at sixteen.
Chief Petty Officer Paul McNally has spent his 25-year career as a Navy Corpsman responding to emergencies and caring for wounded soldiers. When fate has him in the right place to provide aid to a fallen rock star, it sends his life spiraling on a trajectory he never planned for. Instead of concentrating on his impending retirement and a second career, he’s now playing nursemaid to a fascinating younger man…and falling in love—a fact he can’t seem to figure out how to explain to his adult son.
A health scare, band drama, and pain from both of their pasts threatens to end Brains and Paul’s fledgling relationship. Fate brought them together. It will take trust, honesty, and hope to keep them together.
R.L. is giving away a $25 Amazon gift card with this tour – enter via Rafflecopter for a chance to win:
Without hesitation, he ran for the tent. Then he spotted Bowie standing over some big guy.
“You okay?” he yelled to him.
Bowie nodded, his big blue eyes wide as he looked back at the disaster.
Security began barricading the area around the tent and moving the screaming fans away from the scene. Adults attempted to pull the kids out of harm’s way.
That’s when Paul saw the tabletop on the ground and a pair of black-clad legs sticking out from underneath.
Guys in bright yellow security shirts lifted and pulled the rest of the tent out of the way. Paul rushed toward the broken table and sank to his knees next to Brains.
“Can you hear me? Are you with me?”
Brains locked gazes with him, and Paul felt pain in his right hand. He looked down to see Brains squeezing the life out of it.
“Please don’t leave….”
Medical staff approached in blue cargo pants and polos and swarmed the members of the band and their staff, several of whom were on the ground. Two women approached Brains with medical kits, and Paul started to move back, but Brains’s grip grew tighter.
“Please don’t leave me!” Brains said again, more insistently. He was panting, his face losing color, and Paul feared he was going into shock. He glanced at the table on his legs and at the staff who were preparing to lift it off him.
Paul worried perhaps the worst had occurred, but the fact that Brains was still squeezing the shit out of his hand was a good sign.
Brains coughed as he brought his other hand up to grasp Paul’s. “Please!” His appeals were growing in urgency.
Paul leaned a little closer to his face and pressed his free hand to Brains’s cheek. “I’m not going anywhere, okay? But they’re going to lift the table now. You ready? Try not to move.”
Brains nodded—another good sign—but Paul pressed a hand to his shoulder. “Stay still.”
The staff guys counted to three, and then they lifted the table.
Brains let out a guttural shout, and tears streamed down his face as he winced in agony.
Paul breathed a sigh of relief to not see any blood or rips in Brains’s pants. He half expected to see a bone shard sticking out. But they weren’t out of the woods.
“Brains, listen to me, okay?”
Paul frowned. “Billy?”
“My name is Billy. Please—”
“I’m not leaving you, but these medics here are going to look you over, and they’re probably going to poke and prod you a bit.” He nodded to the young women in Rock Medicine shirts who stood by, hesitating to approach. Paul heard sirens in the distance, which meant better-trained professionals were on their way, but Brains—Billy—needed to be assessed immediately.
“Sir, we need you to move—”
“He’s not going anywhere!” Brains shouted at them.
Paul addressed the one with the first-aid kit. “My name is Paul McNally. I’m a Navy corpsman, and I’m trained in triage and emergency medical treatment.” And I’m not leaving his side.
The young women looked to each other and then crouched down next to Billy. One of them placed a hand on Billy’s arm.
“I’m going to touch you, okay?”
“He’s staying with me, you got it? He’s staying.” Billy’s chin quivered as he spoke to the medics. The two women looked at each other with eyes wide.
Paul was losing circulation in his hand, but he wouldn’t have left Billy if the entire venue burst into flames. The way he was reacting… Paul had been through countless emergencies and could recognize when there was a psychological issue at work that needed attention.
He looked around for Bowie and saw him with Dimples, watching from a distance. Relieved that he hadn’t been hurt and seemed to be doing okay, Paul turned his full attention on Billy.
One of the women took Brains’s vitals, and the other ran her hands over his body, checking for injuries. She barely spoke to Brains, and Paul was perturbed at the way they were assessing him.
“Billy, can you wiggle your toes for me?” Paul asked.
Brains nodded, and then Paul looked at his Vans-clad feet. Thankfully, he saw movement on both.
Paul smiled down at Brains. “You’re doing great. You know what today is?”
“A fucked-up day? I had a bad feeling this morning….”
“Seems like it was warranted.”
Brains’s deep blue eyes fixed on Paul, and his breathing seemed to slow for just a moment. Paul hoped that meant he would maybe be able to relax—
“Sir, I’m going to need to put a collar on you.”
Brains flinched when the medic touched him. “I’m fine, just let me up—”
Paul placed a gentle hand on his shoulder, and it was enough to keep Brains from trying to sit up. “Billy? It’s important that you lie still and let them put a collar on you. With this sort of accident, they need to keep your spine aligned to avoid any further injury, okay?”
Brains began to pant and tugged Paul’s hand as though he wanted to try to pull up, but when he tried to move his legs, only the right one moved, and he screamed in pain.
“Look at me,” Paul said, getting closer to his face. He needed to distract him, to make Brains focus on him. “Brains, they need to take you to the hospital—”
“No. No, no, no, please,” he whispered. “I can’t go, please, Paul, please—”
“I’m not going to leave you. I won’t let them hurt you, okay? They need to take you in for X-rays to make sure nothing’s broken.”
Brains’s voice sounded like that of a frightened child. Something was seriously wrong. He pulled on their joined hands again, and the medic placed a hand on Brains’s chest to keep him from moving.
“Sir? You may have a spinal injury, so we have to place you on this backboard with a collar to protect you. If you won’t cooperate, we’re going to have to sedate you.”
“Can you give us a minute?” Paul asked the medics, irritation clear in his voice.
“We need to get him to the ambulance,” the medic closest to him said, and then was distracted by the band’s manager. She gave the medic Brains’s information and shot a worried look Paul’s direction. His full name was Billy Brennan.
Paul ground his teeth together and took a breath to calm himself. “I understand. Will you give me a moment to speak to Mr. Brennan? I’d like to avoid the use of sedatives.”
She nodded, and they stood and backed away a few feet to confer.
Paul squeezed Brains’s hand and placed the other on his forehead.
“Hey, man. The sedatives are a drag. This will all go better if you let them collar you and get you on the backboard. Hopefully everything is fine. The fact that you’re moving your toes and strangling my fingers leads me to think your spine is just fine, but it’s procedure. I swear I’m staying with you.”
Billy swallowed hard, his eyes wild. “I know I’m acting crazy. There’s a reason, I just… please.”
Paul smiled at him. “You haven’t seen crazy until you’ve got a wounded Marine pulling his pistol and pointing it at your face while you try to remove a sliver from his other hand.”
Brains’s eyes bugged out. “A sliver?”
Paul shrugged. “It was a four-inch piece of shrapnel, but I’d still call it a sliver.” He winked, and Brains barked out a laugh. Good, keep that smile. “You going to let them collar you and take you for a little ride?”
Brains’s smile faded. “Just please stay with me. Can you? Will you?”
If Paul hadn’t already been 100 percent in on this mission, he was now.
R.L. Merrill brings you stories of Hope, Love, and Rock ‘n’ Roll featuring quirky and relatable characters. Whether she’s writing about contemporary issues that affect us all or diving deep into the paranormal and supernatural to give readers a shiver, she loves creating compelling stories that will stay with readers long after.
Winner of the Kathryn Hayes “When Sparks Fly” Best Contemporary award for Hurricane Reese, Foreword INDIES finalist for Summer of Hush and RONE finalist for Typhoon Toby, Ro spends every spare moment improving her writing craft and striving to find that perfect balance between real-life and happily ever after.
She writes diverse and inclusive romance, contributes paranormal hilarity to Robyn Peterman’s Magic and Mayhem Universe, and works on various other writing and mentoring projects that tickle her fancy or benefit a worthy cause.
You can find her connecting with readers on social media, educating America’s youth, raising two brilliant teenagers, trying desperately to get that back piece finished in the tattoo chair, or headbanging at a rock show near her home in the San Francisco Bay Area! Stay Tuned for more Rock ‘n’ Romance.
Author Website: https://www.rlmerrillauthor.com
Author Facebook (Personal): https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100005746815103
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Author Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/R-L-Merrill/e/B00PI6Q1LI
Hiya guys! We have Rhys Ford visiting today with the tour for her new release ‘Nother Sip of Gin, we have a brilliant guest post from Rhys, and we have an amazing $20 GC giveaway, so check out the post and enter the giveaway! ❤️ ~Pixie~
For Crossroads Gin rock stars Miki, Damien, Rafe, and Forest, life is a Möbius strip of music, mayhem, and murder. Through it all, the sweet, hot moments between tours with lovers, friends, and family keep them sane, healthy, and happy. This Sinners collection features short stories spanning the entire series, from before the first note to after the lights go out.
Queer Sci Fi’s sixth annual flash fiction anthology is here
and there’s a giveaway too!
1) A new idea, method, or device.
2) The introduction of something new.
3) The application of better solutions to meet unarticulated needs.
Three definitions to inspire writers around the world and an unlimited number of possible stories to tell. Here are 120 of our favorites.
Migration features 300-word speculative flash fiction stories from across the rainbow spectrum, from the minds of the writers of Queer Sci Fi.
Queer Sci Fi is giving away your choice of a $20 Amazon gift card OR a print copy of four of the other five flash fiction books in the series – Flight, Renewal, Impact, and Migration (US only unless you are willing to pay the shipping outside the US) with this tour. Enter via Rafflecopter:
“No one in the village knew what the Change would bring. They never saw it happen. They only knew what they had been promised: the Change would bestow three gifts.” —A New Way, by Rory Ni Coileain
“The girl kissed her, hard. Then backed away, grinning, teasing, drawing her to the end of the hallway and a flight of stairs leading downward. She took two steps and gazed back up at Lilian, one hand outstretched. Her brilliant red lipstick wasn’t even smudged. Her skin glowed in the harsh white torchlight.” —The Thing With the Bats, by Mary Francis
“Interspecies sex is outlawed on the Freespec Interplanetary Space Station. Politicians call it a safety measure. But I’ve been in the Medical Corps for half my lifecycle, and I call it criminally negligent prudery. Leaders would rather let innocents die needlessly—punctured by sperm darts and dissolved in sacks of voltaic pleasure mucus—than give them the knowledge to express their feelings safely.” — Are My Underwater Sperm Darts Normal?, Brenna Harvey
“The bell’s brassy gong echoes through the flat; the walls blush crimson. See, see! He’s at my door. The live feed shows him sniff his armpit; cup his breath. He wants to impress, but I’m impressed already. His lips softly part; he brushes them with stubby fingers, as he waits. Ugly fingers. Ugly hands. Scrawny neck. Milky eyes. But those lips, see, they’re perfect, just perfect. Plump n’ pale, a slither of my future.” —Just perfect, by Redfern Jon Barrett
“Lekke looked down over the valley, First People’s home for as long as any tales or dreams could tell. Now only Spirit Dreamer Manoot, neither he nor she but both, and Lekke, elder healer, were left. Lifetimes of Long-legs’ raids had driven First People to their deaths—or, some few, to the Way. If there truly was a Way.” —Going Back,” by Sacchi Green
“Savinna limped into her lover’s workshop, her hip still sore from tangling with the marabbecca which had knocked her into its well before she managed to kill it. Such was the life of a monster hunter. Not at all surprised to see Larissa hunched over her bench, hard at work tinkering with something, Savinna ghosted her hand over Larissa’s back.” —Those Who Hunt Monsters, by Jana Denardo
“The baby cried as Freya lowered the bartering bucket into the wishing well. Many had come to the tree-shrouded clearing to make exchanges—a bushel of azure apples for a sword, a woven blanket for a day of rain. The well had been the final creation of a thousand-year-old inventor. But dead wizards often don’t anticipate how their gifts birth consequences.” —The Bartering Bucket, by Diane Callahan
by KA Masters
“You will never fit in.”
Tibullo flinched at his father-in-law’s words. Swallowing carefully, he replied, “I don’t care.”
The aged halfhart snorted, pawing the ground in frustration. “A Cerven and a centaur! It just doesn’t happen.”
“It does now,” he shrugged.
“You will trample him in your sleep, you brute!”
Tibullo rolled his eyes. “I am hardly a hand taller than your son, Pricket.”
“You will poison him with your damned Cold Iron horseshoes,” the halfhart added with a sneer.
The centaur raised a hoof in defiance. “The first day I met Luzio, I ripped them off. I only needed them to travel over the mountains to get here. I don’t need them anymore.”
Pricket swished his white tail in aggravation. “You will never give him fawns. His mother and I will never have grandchildren.”
“The forest is full of orphans. Luzio and I want to adopt,” Tibullo countered, waiting a moment before adding, “Whether you and Willow will accept them as grandchildren is up to you.”
“Do you think he will be happy with you?” Pricket asked quietly.
Tibullo’s breath hitched at the sincerity of the question. “He is my soulmate. I will do whatever it takes to make sure he is happy.”
“What about his family? His social status?”
“Whatever it takes,” Tibullo repeated.
Pricket shook his head. “You will never fit in, looking like that. So wear this,” the halfhart added, handing Tibullo a crown of antlers.
Tibullo gasped in surprise. His fingers shook as he fumbled with the knots and laces.
“Here,” Pricket grumbled. Tibullo knelt down so that his father-in-law could help him secure the gift to his temples.
“I…” Tibullo spluttered, undone.
“Everyone in our clan has antlers,” Pricket explained. “Now you do, too.”
120 authors contributed stories for this volume:
When Ian helps Charlie search for the source of strange noises in his house, they stumble upon a stack of photographs hiding century-old secrets. Curious of the friendship between the two men pictured, Charlie and Ian set off to solve the mystery of their relationship. With the help of the meddling ghost, a magical mirror, and a way too Smart TV, they find answers…and more.
And as things heat up between Charlie and Ian, they begin to wonder if Rachel’s meddling has gone too far.
Doesn’t Rachel know Ian is straight?
Or is he?
That kiss they shared the other night sure didn’t seem like it.
Or the one after that…
Hi guys! We have Amy Ainslin popping in today with the cover to her upcoming release Risking the Shot, there’s also a Goodreads giveaway so check out the post then enter the giveaway!❤️ ~Pixie~
Time for distractions? Hardly.
A chance at making the playoffs? It’s a dream for NHL forward Taylor Cunningham that just might come true. If he can keep his eyes on the ball—ahem, puck. And study for midterms. Dakota Cotton, eleven years his senior, isn’t just a distraction, though—he’s everything Tay’s ever wanted.
Dakota has no interest in introducing someone who might not stick around to his four-year-old son. Been there, done that, with the divorce to prove it. But there’s something about Tay that hits all of the right buttons and has him wanting to take a chance.
As things heat up between them, and the pressure to succeed hits an all-time high, will they risk a shot at happiness or choke?
Amy Aislin’s lived with her head in the clouds since she first picked up a book as a child, and being fluent in two languages means she’s read a lot of books! She first picked up a pen on a rainy day in fourth grade when her class had to stay inside for recess. Tales of treasure hunts with her classmates eventually morphed into love stories between men, and she’s been writing ever since. She writes evenings and weekends—or whenever she isn’t at her full-time day job saving the planet at Canada’s largest environmental non-profit.
An unapologetic introvert, Amy reads too much and socializes too little, with no regrets. She loves connecting with readers. Join her Facebook Group to stay up-to-date on upcoming releases and for access to early teasers, find her on Instagram and Twitter, or sign up for her infrequent newsletter here.
Author: L.E. Royal
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: August 10, 2020
Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex
Genre: Contemporary, NineStar Press, LGBTQIA+, Romance, contemporary, family-drama, lesbian, nonbinary, older/younger, disability, cerebral palsy, single mother, custody battle
When she lands her dream job, Maya Scott thinks her luck may finally be about to change. Eager to prove herself a successful adult and win back custody of her young daughter, Maya is determined to excel at the Mars Fund. Her new boss, New York’s notorious ice queen, Elena Mars, could prove difficult to please. Their relationship gets off to a rocky start and Maya learns from her coworkers, some who love her while others loathe her, that Elena has Cerebral palsy.
Embarrassed by her assumptions, Maya avoids Elena until the appearance of her Elena’s young daughter at the office opens a line of communication and provides some common ground. A tentative connection blossoms between them and Maya realizes there is much more to Elena than the outward appearance. Between the complexities of learning about disability and navigating the distance between them in age and wealth, they find that what matters in the end is the family we choose.
Off Balance, L.E Royal© 2020, All Rights Reserved
Hot coffee soaked the sleeve of her shirt. The elevator was packed tight as they ascended the staggering height of the office building. The shining chrome of The Mars Fund sign greeted Maya. She stumbled into the lobby, finally catching her breath and then losing it again when she looked at the opulent marble clock on the wall. She was late.
Blonde hair billowing out behind her, she burst into the office space, cheeks beginning to flame as all the eyes in the room turned to her and her urgent entrance.
“Maya, you made it!” Margaret, the overly friendly lady with the pixie cut and cardigan who had interviewed her for the position, called to her.
“I am so sorry. The bus was late and there was a huge line for the elevator.”
Margaret was already waving off her explanation as she led her over to the desk she had inhabited the previous day, today being her second as a project coordinator at the Mars Fund.
“We’re all still working on the preliminaries for the winter benefit,” Margaret explained.
Maya nodded as she hurriedly stripped out of her leather jacket, grateful as ever for the relaxed dress code. She plopped down into her swivel chair, tight jeans and a thin black T-shirt clinging to her body. She rushed to turn on her computer.
“Miss Mars is back at work today.”
Maya looked up. She studied Margaret as she offered her a noticeably tentative smile with the words.
“It’s probably best if you just stay out of her way while you’re getting the hang of things. I imagine she’ll be busy in her office all day, anyway, catching up from yesterday.”
With a pat on her shoulder Margaret was gone before she could reply, and finally, she was free to take a breath and let some of the stress from her hectic journey to work leave her. She needed this job; she could not afford to mess up.
Once she’d logged into her computer, she went back to the list of attendees she’d received and continued to work on emailing each of them to inform them of the benefit event the Mars Fund was planning for late in the year.
“Glad to see you made it, love.” A male voice interrupted her, and she threw a quick smile to Kevin, her neighbor to the left, who seemed to be reclining in his chair doing very minimal work as he had done most of the day before. “Better watch yourself now, Scott. The evil old boss lady is back, and she’ll eat a pretty little thing like you all up, given half a chance.”
At first, she had been glad for Kevin, a seemingly instant friend, but as yesterday had worn on, and he leaned over toward her again, he was starting to irk her.
“Looks like you’re going to be on her hit list, too, if you don’t get back to work,” she told him.
Seeming to take the hint, he tipped his head in silent concurrence and turned back to his own screen.
Getting lost in a blur of names and emails, she tried not to think too much about her boss. The woman was a bitch—that was the impression she’d received from the moment she stepped foot in the building. In her interview Margaret had been sweet, a little nosy but warm and welcoming, yet even she had clammed up when talking about the elusive Miss Mars.
The mood yesterday was jovial. Kathryn had perched on the edge of her desk for a good half an hour, and Maya was surprised to find she liked her as well as Dave and Graham, who had both welcomed her to TMF too. Today, the atmosphere was positively somber in comparison. The office was silent save for Kathryn talking softly into her phone and the click of keyboards. The presence of their boss hovering ominously over them all was palpable.
Another hour bled away, and she was pleased with the progress she was making on her list. Clicking out of her email program and back to her spreadsheet, she scanned down until she reached the next name. Robert Holt. Her blood turned to ice in her veins, and without thinking, she closed the window and shot up out of her seat. Heading for the restroom, she tried unsuccessfully to steady her ragged breathing.
She burst through the door, let it swing closed behind her, and leaned back against the cool wood, shutting her eyes. Her heart was hammering, a frantic staccato she fought to get under control. I can’t let him ruin this for me, again.
The shock of seeing that name, of having it touch even this, taint it so soon, sent panic spilling through her, choking her and making it hard to breathe.
She opened her eyes at the sound of a toilet flushing and watched a woman step out of the stall. Jarred completely from her panic by the surprise of not being alone, her mood dissolved into a shy sort of embarrassment because this woman was gorgeous.
The stranger’s dark eyes nailed her to the door, and even glaring daggers in her direction, Maya couldn’t help but think she was beautiful and probably ten years older than herself. Thick mahogany hair hung down to her shoulders; she had smooth caramel skin and dark expressive eyes. A beat passed between them, too fast and too slow, and Maya pushed off the door, meaning to introduce herself. When the woman moved forward, her shoulders rocked back and forth, her hands clenched and jumped by her sides, and oddly enough she looked like she was dancing.
“I—um, having a good day?”
Not her greatest entrance, she could admit.
The woman’s stoic expression was completely at odds with the jovial movement of her body, and Maya smiled tentatively at her, wondering if perhaps she was drunk or high.
She gripped the porcelain of the sink with tan fingers and seemed to steady herself some. As she turned to fully face Maya her head bobbed slightly, sending her hair dancing around her face. She was undeniably beautiful and odd.
“Do I look like I’m having a wonderful day?”
The words were pure venom, dripping disdain, a dark fire blazing in her eyes, and all the levity left the room. Maya’s brain grappled to put together the pieces: the slight tremor in her frame, the occasional rock of her hips, and the way her fingers bounced lightly on the edge of the sink.
“Are you drunk?” And apparently today her brain to mouth filter was completely broken. Crap.
The woman advanced on her at an alarming pace, stiletto heels ringing out her steps, one, two, three, until Maya was back against the door and staring down one hundred and twenty pounds of furious Latina in a business suit.
“Do you need help?” She tried again weakly, still not grasping what was happening, still reeling from the name on the list and the turbulence of this rapidly spiraling encounter.
“What I need is for you to tell me who the hell you are?”
Maya swallowed thickly. The woman was close enough that her breath was soft on her cheek, and she definitely didn’t smell like she just came from the bar. Her perfume was light, pleasant, and smelled expensive.
“My name is Maya Scott. I’m a project coordinator for the Mars Fund… I—um, who are you?”
The woman sneered, and God, anything that terrifying should not also be that sexy. Her head still rocked every so often, her shoulders jumping occasionally, something slightly off in the way she spoke. Her eyes darkened as if irritated by her own movements.
“Elena Mars. I do believe I’m your boss, Miss Scott.”
Her stomach dropped into her shoes, and Maya wondered momentarily if she was about to pitch forward and puke all over Elena Mars’s expensive black patent Louboutins. She could not lose this job, and things were off to a less than wonderful start if this woman was her boss.
“I’m sorry, ma’am. I just—”
“Enough,” Elena snapped, silencing her.
Maya had never felt more underdressed, her messy blonde curls hanging over her shoulders and her plain black shirt wilting next to Elena’s perfectly tailored, crisp dress-and-blazer ensemble.
“I do not care who put you up to this.” The final word was slurred slightly as Elena’s mouth seemed to jerk sideways against her will. Even beneath her tan complexion, her cheeks colored slightly in response, and her eyes turned steely. “While you’re in my employ, you will respect me. Is that clear?”
The words had something oddly toneless to them, and she rocked on the spot as she spoke. Maya nodded frantically, desperate to apologize, to somehow find a way to explain.
“Return to your desk and have Margaret show you the employee bathroom. This one is mine, exclusively.”
“I’m so sorry. I just—”
“Leave.” Elena took one shaky step back, teetering on her heels so badly that Maya almost reached out to steady her. Thinking better of it, she turned and quickly yanked open the door. She rushed back out into the hallway and headed for the office, her cheeks burning, dread clawing at her throat.
She needed this job.
“So, you met the evil bitch then?” Kevin’s eyes were back on her before she had even sat down at her desk. “We did try to warn you, but you ran out of here so fast I suppose you didn’t hear. Too much coffee?”
She offered him a weak smile and then scrubbed her eyes with the heels of her hands, attempting to shake off the mortification shrouding her. Her heartbeat was loud in her ears, and she was busy trying to breathe, to breathe around and through and over Robert Holt and Elena Mars and all the ways she might have ruined this for herself before it could really even start.
“Don’t worry about it, love. She gets her kicks making us feel like shit. She’s probably in her office downing half a bottle of whiskey and watching those Spanish sitcoms while we’re all out here running the gig. Everyone knows she only has the job because Mommy owns the foundation.”
Maya opened her mouth, trying to assimilate the information into her already clamoring brain while formulating a way to politely ask what the hell the nationality of the sitcom had to do with anything when Margaret appeared.
“Kevin, that’s not true and you know it. Elena can be…difficult, but she works really hard for the foundation.”
“When she’s wasted.” He muttered the words under his breath, causing Margaret to tut and perch on Maya’s desk, blocking him from her view.
“Maya, Elena has a…medical problem, cerebral palsy. That’s why she sometimes makes strange gestures and odd movements and can’t seem to sit still. She’s not drunk, so please don’t listen to Kevin.”
Maya’s heart plummeted into her stomach, and she felt like such a fool.
“She is strict, and she can be difficult to work for, but I’ve worked with her for four years and known her much longer, and some of the events she’s pulled off and all the money she has raised, it’s amazing,” Margaret continued. “She’s helped an awful lot of kids.”
Pieces fell into place with a horrible click. No wonder Elena had been so defensive and seemed embarrassed, though Maya had no way of knowing she had a disability. She wished silently that Elena would simply have explained it, rather than reacting like she had, though her own ignorance and lack of thought before she spoke bothered her the most.
“I had no idea…”
Margaret patted her shoulder kindly.
“She’s very abrupt and can come off a little stern.” A scoff from Kevin punctuated the statement, and Margaret paused to glare over her shoulder at him before she turned back and offered Maya a reassuring smile. “Elena values people who work hard and add something to the foundation. Just continue to do your best and I’m sure you’ll have nothing to worry about.”
Even as her supervisor walked away, Maya struggled to find comfort in the words.
She reached behind her into her jacket pocket to pull out her phone. She hit the home button and lit up her lock screen. A little girl with long blonde curls and emerald-green eyes like her own smiled back at her.
She could do this. She needed this job, and she was not going to let Elena Mars take it from her.
L.E. Royal is a British born fiction writer, living in Texas. She enjoys dark but redeemable characters, and twisted themes. Though she is a fan of happy endings, she would describe most of her work as fractured romance. When she is not writing, she is pursuing her dreams with her multi-champion Arabian show horses, or hanging out with her wife at their small ranch/accidental cat sanctuary.
We Go Together
Author: Abigail de Niverville
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: August 10, 2020
Heat Level: 1 – No Sex
Genre: Contemporary YA, LGBTQIA+, contemporary, Canada, YA, bisexual, trans love interest, friendship, summer, beach, abuse, depression, grieving, family
The beaches of Grand-Barachois had been Kat’s summer home for years. There, she created her own world with her “summer friends,” full of possibilities and free from expectation. But one summer, everything changed, and she ran from the life she’d created.
Now seventeen and on the brink of attending college, Kat is full of regret. She’s broken a friendship beyond repair, and she’s dated possibly the worst person in the world. Six months after their break-up, he still haunts her nightmares. Confused and scared, she returns to Grand-Barachois to sort out her feelings.
When she arrives, everything is different yet familiar. Some of her friends are right where she left them, while some are nowhere to be found. There are so many things they never got to do, so many words left unsaid.
And then there’s Tristan.
He wasn’t supposed to be there. He was just a guy from Kat’s youth orchestra days. When the two meet again, they become fast friends. Tristan has a few ideas to make this summer the best one yet. Together, they build a master list of all the things Kat and her friends wanted to do but never could. It’s finally time to live their wildest childhood dreams.
But the past won’t let Kat go. And while this may be a summer to remember, there’s so much she wants to forget.
We Go Together, Abigail de Niverville © 2020, All Rights Reserved
There was blood on my sheets.
“Not again,” I sighed, pulling the covers off me. Right at the top of the covers was a smattering of reddish-brown smears, prominent and angry.
I held my arm over my head and assessed the damage. The eczema that covered my inner arm burned bright against my pale, freckled skin. A few sores had broken, but no trace of blood. I lifted the other arm to check. The back of my hand was also flaring up, the knuckles bursting open.
“Goddamn,” I moaned, pressing my broken knuckle to my lips. Kissing wouldn’t make it better, but at least it was something. Months ago, my skin had been smooth and cold to the touch. Now, it was red, dry, and hot. All because one thing in my life had changed. Skin was so weird.
One big thing. But still. One thing.
I dragged myself out of bed and pulled the sheet off the mattress. This needed some serious stain removal. No dabs of water with a washcloth could save this mess.
I passed a brush through my hair, working out the knots, from the top of my head to the tips. I never brushed it back. I never put it up. Not anymore. The box of hair accessories stayed closed on the top of my dresser, the bows I’d collected over the years forgotten.
They had to go. But parting with them proved difficult. Every time I tried, I’d remember where they came from. Some were gifts, some were bought on significant days, some I’d worn on nights that held meaning. They all mattered to me in some capacity. Not enough for me to wear them without question, but enough that I’d hesitated whenever I tried to throw them in a donation bag.
The hair bows weren’t me. They used to be. I used to love vintage dresses and paper bag curls tied in a bow. Used to get all dressed up in blouses with lace and frills. It was my thing, the ultra-girly retro aesthetic. But since Christmas, wearing those clothes hadn’t given me the same joy it used to. The bows became young and kiddish, the clothes a caricature.
I was trapped between two versions of myself, and I didn’t know how to cross over from one to the next. I didn’t know how.
The bedroom door creaked open as I stepped into the hall, the smooth, painted wooden floorboards cool on my feet. Kay always left the stair window open, though nights were cold in Grand-Barachois. She said the air was good for us, and there was something refreshing about waking up in a chilled room.
The bathroom window had also been left open, and I went to it to lower the pane. Below, the water from the bay lapped on the beach. The cool air sifted into the small bathroom and hit my face. I pushed the pane down so it was only open a crack and moved to turn on the water at the tub.
I opened the cupboard below the sink, grabbed the box of baking soda, and shook some in, not bothering to measure the amount. When a small mound formed under the water, I considered that a success. Swishing my hand back and forth, I watched it dissolve and cloud the water.
This was my morning routine.
Somewhere in the midst of all this, I usually cried. It was hard to not, to let it all go. The love I’d had for him still lingered, but a hurt did too. An abandonment. And something else I couldn’t name yet, something that drove me to tears every day.
You need to move on.
My friend Gianna had told me that a few weeks ago, done with my pity party, with my lack of interest. Done trying to make me feel better. So, she snapped.
And who was I? What right did I have to be this upset, this…whatever? Gianna had had her heart broken three times. She had mastered the art of steeling herself, of being strong in the face of heartbreak. I was crying over a first love because I was naive enough to think we’d be together forever.
For the record, I never thought that.
I was crying because it hurt so much to be left the way Aaron had left me. Like I was nothing, and I didn’t matter. I was crying because he’d been nearly my first everything, and it had all happened the way he wanted it to. I was crying because…
Now, I was actually crying.
I slipped into the tub, holding my breath, as though that’d stop the tears. I splashed my face with water, rubbed it into my eyes. A melody hung in the air above me as I cried, the words repeating in my head over and over.
How did I end up here?
If you cried in the tub, were you really crying? Or was it water in your eyes? Or leftover soap on your hands making the tears well up?
If you cried in the tub, the water swallowed your tears. Like they were never there at all.
Abigail de Niverville is an author and composer based in Toronto, Canada. Born on the East Coast of Canada, Abigail draws inspiration from her experiences growing up there. When she’s not writing frantically, she also composes music and holds an M.Mus from the University of Toronto.