Announcing the Winner of the $15 Amazon Gift Card: Linda Iacobacci

Recently, I had a contest for subscribers of my mailing list, for any reader who could guess the name of a lead protagonist, in my upcoming novel, “Surrounded by Silence,” a sequel to “The Rescuer.” 

I’ll introduce a middle age gentleman by the name of Noah Wagoner. Noah has been profoundly deaf since birth. The question was: Which character from “The Rescuer” will steal the heart of Noah. ANSWER: SAM BARRON.

Congratulations to Linda!

 

$15 Value

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Cover Reveal: “Becoming D’Vaire” by Jessamyn Kingley

COVER REVEAL

Book Title: Becoming D’Vaire (D’Vaire, Book 11)

Author: Jessamyn Kingley

Cover Artist: LJ Anderson, Mayhem Cover Creations

Genre/s: M/M Urban Fantasy Romance

Heat Rating: 3 flames

Release Date: March 14, 2019

Tagline There is nothing ordinary about finding where you belong. Blurb High Arcanist Delaney D’Vaire is the world’s only dark wizard, something that has alienated him from his people since birth. Orphaned as a child, he is shuffled around until the Prism Wizard sees his potential, steps in, and enrolls him in school. Though he never truly feels like he belongs, Delaney excels. Graduating at sixteen, he applies to a unique sanctuary, and his life forever changes when he is accepted. Delaney has the family he’s always wanted; surrounded by love and support, he’s grown into a young man, giving everything to help the people who still scorn him, though he continues to doubt himself. All he needs now is his mate, but Delaney is skeptical that even Fate could come up with his perfect match. Vampyr Lord Grigori Volkov is the genius of his family. Numbers line up in his head, and he loses sight of the world around him. At fourteen, young Grigori creates a nearly synthetic version of blood to sustain his people, saving countless lives. Content to remain out of the spotlight, his involvement is kept from the general public. Since then, Grigori has spent most of his time alone in his lab, learning all he can and pushing his limits. At twenty-six, Grigori is content with his solitude and doesn’t believe Fate has him in her sights. When the High Arcanist and the Vampyr Lord appear at the same event, they are stunned to find that Fate indeed has a plan for them. Reeling from their discovery, the mates set upon the task of getting to know each other. It does not take them long to find common ground, but as Delaney and Grigori build their life together, old foes will test them and their entire family. The path Fate has laid out for them is not simple, but they must be strong enough to trust in each other and stand together rather than alone to learn what it truly means to become D’Vaire.

About the Author

Jessamyn Kingley lives in Nevada where she begs the men in her head to tell her their amazing stories which she dutifully writes it all down in what has become a small mountain of notebooks. She falls in love with each couple and swears whatever book she wrote last is her absolute favorite. Jessamyn is married and working toward remembering to start the dishwasher without being distracted by the scent of the magical detergent. For personal enjoyment, she aids in cat rescue while slashing and gashing her way through mobs in various MMORPGs. Caffeine is her very best friend and is only cast aside briefly for the sin better known as BBQ potato chips. Visit her website and follow her on Facebook. She loves to engage with readers there.

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Release Blitz: “The Rising (Badlands, Book 2)” by Morgan Brice. Rafflecopter Giveaway Include!

RELEASE BLITZ

Book Title: The Rising (Badlands, Book 2)

Author: Morgan Brice

Cover Artist: Natania Barron

Genre/s: Urban Fantasy, MM paranormal romance

Heat Rating: 4 flames

Release Date: February 13, 2019

Can be read as a standalone

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Blurb

A big storm is brewing, there’s a killer on the loose, and the ghosts of Myrtle Beach are restless. Psychic medium Simon Kincaide and his sexy cop boyfriend, homicide detective Vic D’Amato have their hands full helping the Grand Strand brace for rough surf, driving rain and high winds as a winter storm roars toward shore.

Everyone’s on edge, and rumors are rampant about sightings of Blackcoat Benny, a ghostly omen of danger, and worse, the Gallows Nine, the spirits of nine infamous criminals hanged back in the 1700s, a harbinger of disaster. Rough tides wash the wreck of an old pirate ship into shallow waters, high winds threaten to damage an old mansion with a dark past, and the citizens of the beach town hunker down to ride out the storm.

As the skies grow dark and the sea turns wild, several men from prominent local families end up dead under suspicious circumstances. Simon’s premonition confirms Vic’s gut feeling—the killing is just getting started. As Simon tries to reach out to the spirits of the murdered men to help the investigation, he’s attacked by malicious ghosts that don’t want anyone getting in the way of their long-overdue vengeance.

With the storm hammering the coast, and new victims piling up, Simon is certain that the sins and secrets of the past are coming due, and that the murders have a supernatural link. Vic and Simon race to stop the murders against an unholy deadline, but as they battle rising tides and risen ghosts, can they save the intended victims without getting trapped themselves.

Trigger Warning: Mentions of suicide (not main characters)

Excerpt from Chapter 1

SIMON

“We need more pirates. Pirates sell.”
Simon Kincaide, owner of Grand Strand Ghost Tours, looked up with a chuckle. “Especially dead pirates. Or should I say ‘dread’ pirates?”

Pete King, Simon’s assistant store manager and part-time tour guide, rolled his eyes. “Both. I’m just saying, we could switch up the scripts and add more pirates to the ghost tours. Especially with the new wrecks the hurricane exposed. That’s all everyone seems to be talking about these days.”

Simon nodded. “I think you’re on to something. I have some good pirate ghost stories, but they’re pretty well known. Why don’t you do some research and see if you can come up with some that aren’t as familiar?” He grinned. “Let me guess—you’re itching to try out a new pirate costume?”

“Guilty as charged,” Pete replied. “You know the tourists love that stuff.”

“Oh, believe me. I know!” Simon used to do all the tours himself, but during the past year, business had grown enough for him to promote Pete and bring him in to expand the number and types of tours offered. Pete did his tours in full costume and made it more of a performance, fitting since he was finishing up a degree in drama. Simon had been a folklore professor before coming to Myrtle Beach, so his tours stuck to the facts and history. Both types of tours were popular.

“People say that the new wreck was a pirate corsair, pretty notorious in its day,” Pete went on, obviously thrilled with his topic.

“Don’t get your hopes up too much—around here, everything is a pirate ship until proven otherwise,” Simon joked. “Seriously, the last time a good wreck washed in, everyone was sure it was Blue‐ beard’s ship until it turned out to be a garbage scow!”

“Shh!” Pete teased. “Leave me my fragile illusions!” he added, throwing an arm across his face and pretending to swoon.

Ten in the morning on a late January Monday meant Myrtle Beach was quiet. The snowbird tourists were likely still sleeping or enjoying breakfast. Not like the summer when walkers and joggers practically crowded the beach and boardwalk at dawn. And with a storm forecast, it was likely to stay quiet.

“I’ll go pick up some coffee,” Simon offered. “Somehow, I don’t think you’ll get overwhelmed with customers while I’m gone.”

Simon wandered down to the railing and looked out over the Atlantic. Wind blew his shoulder-length brown hair and stung his hazel eyes as he looked out over the whitecaps and the rough surf. He loved the ocean like this, wild and powerful. Simon took a deep breath of salty air and listened to the pounding waves.

Tourists might not be on the boardwalk, but the weather never stopped its resident ghosts. Simon watched two children in old-fash‐ ioned clothes skip several yards, then vanish. A translucent old man on a bicycle laden with possessions rode past, giving a ghostly jingle of his bell. On the steps to the beach access, a dreadlocked young man leaned on his elbows and stared out at the water that took his life, in no hurry to move on.

Most people couldn’t see the ghosts, but Simon could.

About the Author

Morgan Brice is the romance pen name of bestselling author Gail Z. Martin. Morgan writes urban fantasy male/male paranormal romance, with plenty of action, adventure and supernatural thrills to go with the happily ever after. Gail writes epic fantasy and urban fantasy, and together with co-author hubby Larry N. Martin, steampunk and comedic horror, all of which have less romance, more explosions. Characters from her Gail books make frequent appearances in secondary roles in her Morgan books, and vice versa.

On the rare occasions Morgan isn’t writing, she’s either reading, cooking, or spoiling two very pampered dogs.

Other books include Witchbane, Burn, Dark Rivers, and Badlands. Watch for more in these series, plus new series coming soon!

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Book Blast: “Apple Boy” by Isobel Starling

BOOK BLAST

Book Title: Apple Boy (The Quiet Work #1)

Author: Isobel Starling

Publisher: Decent Fellows Press

Cover Artist: Valentine Pascadian (Lennel)

Genre/s: Fantasy, M/M Romance

Heat Rating: 3 flames

Length:103 600 words/ 556 pages

Release Date: February 15, 2019

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Buy Links – Available on Kindle Unlimited

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Blurb

After a traumatic event, Winter Aeling finds himself destitute and penniless in the backwater town of Mallowick. He needs to travel to the city of Serein and impart grave news that will bring war to the Empire, but without a horse, money, and with not a soul willing to help him, he has no choice but to line up with the common folk seeking paid work on the harvest.

As wagons roll into the market square and farmers choose day laborers, Winter is singled out for abuse by a brute of a farmer. The only man who stands up for him is the farmer’s beguiling son, Adam, and on locking eyes with the swarthy young man Winter feels the immediate spark of attraction.

Winter soon realizes there is a reason he has been drawn to Blackdown Farm. The farmer possesses a precious item that was stolen long ago from Winter’s family, and he determines to retrieve it. He also cannot take his eyes off the farmer’s son, and as the young man opens up Winter can’t help wondering if Adam is just kind or his kind!

 

 

Excerpt

“Apple Boy” by Isobel Starling

CHAPTER 1

MARKET SQUARE

“You boy, aye, YOU. Ain’t never seen ye round ‘ere before,” The farmer directed his bellow at me.

It was sunrise, and at last, I’d found the courage to step out of my hiding place and join the common laborers who gathered in Mallowick market square. We were waiting for the farmers’ carts to come by and choose their day workers. I’d watched this ritual each morning for the past three days, peeking out from shadowed doorways, or while crouching behind barrels.

It was harvest time, and it appeared to be routine for peasants to walk from the surrounding hamlets before dawn and assemble in the square to seek work on the farms. There was wheat, barley, root vegetables, and tree fruits to be gathered before the weather turned. I was informed by a ruddy looking fellow in the tavern that anyone could get work on the harvest, and so, with my pride cut to ribbons and my pockets empty, I’d stepped out of the safety of my hiding place and joined the commoners.

“Does ye wants work or no’? Look at me when I’m talkin’ to ye. What’s yer name?” The burley farmer roared. I looked up, stunned to be singled out from among all of these strapping men and hardy looking women, for I felt invisible. Four carts had already passed and taken their pick of the young, strong peasants, but none of those farmers gave me a second glance. I should have known something was afoot, for when this particular wagon turned up the women in the square shrank back into doorways, and men sidled away to lean against buildings. On the side of the wagon, writ-large in bold off-white letters were the words BLACKDOWN FARM. There were around thirty of us left on view, like cattle.

I had never partaken in manual labor or any kind of work before. I was a gentleman and far more familiar with spending my days relaxing, reading, attending social events in the city, or taking a horse for a gallop in the country. But my life had changed since I’d become stranded here in the Pasturelands provincial town of Mallowick two weeks earlier. Now I was living on my wits. Each day was a fight for my life, and I’d sold all of my fine belongings, intending to pay for passage on the stagecoach from Mallowick to the city of Serein. But I had not thought things through, and it did not happen that way. My body’s needs took precedent. I’d become so ravenous, and therefore the meager coin I’d gathered from selling my finery was spent on what I could afford—basic rough barley bread and ale, just enough to stave off the gnawing pangs of hunger in my belly each day. Now, I had no belongings, and the money was all but gone. I was no thief, and the only thing I had left to sell was my body. Looking like a wretch, I did not believe I could earn even a copper that way! Before I left on my travels, I was warned that the province of Erias had strict rules about men bedding other men and I did not want to tempt fate. I was at a loss—hard labor or starvation were the only choices available to me. Gods, if my father could see how far I’d fallen in such a short time, he would be thoroughly ashamed. I was living hand-to-mouth, and if I dared to seek out my reflection and observe my disreputable state of dress, I was sure I would see I was no longer a gentleman at all.

I assured myself that all would be well as soon as I could get to the city of Serein. There I would attend my father’s depository and obtain funds from his account—as had been arranged, and then, I could find my way to my uncle’s residence and attend to a much grimmer business.

So, with no other choice, I was here, standing in Mallowick market square with a bunch of rough-looking fellows and ruddy-faced women with just the ragged clothes I stood in to my name. I wondered if my visage had taken on the same gaunt, starved, haunted look some of them wore.

“WELL?” The farmer roared.

“Leave him be Pa; I think he’s a mute. P… p… please don’t—” A swarthy young man urged, stepping to the farmers’ side. The man appeared to be in his early twenties, with broad angular shoulders, slim hips, and wavy jaw-length hair that longingly reminded me of Montestein tea. When the morning sunlight broke through the clouds and caressed him, the strands of his hair revealed all the shades of autumn. It was beautiful. His eyes were bright emerald green, and his skin bore the wind-burned tan of a man who spent his days working the land. I met his gaze for a second that seemed to stop time, and I felt a flutter of longing erupt in my gut. I found myself mesmerized by him. He appeared a little embarrassed, for himself or for me, I wasn’t quite sure. The farmer turned to his son.

“Shut that filthy mouth o’ yours, apple boy!” he spat. His large meaty hands twitched. He sneered and glared at his son in such a wicked way I knew it should have been followed up by a sharp slap. I worried that the young man would endure further public humiliation at the hands of his father, but the farmer moved his disdainful glare back to me. I shuddered with fear. I had a feeling that he was saving his son’s punishment for later—away from the prying eyes of the townsfolk. I did not like that thought, not one bit. I did not know why the farmer was drawn to me, but he sized me up with a sweeping glance of consideration, then wrinkled his nose as if he’d sniffed a revolting stench—I hadn’t bathed in two weeks, so maybe I did smell a tad ripe!

“Is ye a mute?”

I shook my head. I would say, if anything, I was deeply traumatized by the unfortunate circumstance I’d found myself in, but no, I was certainly not a mute. I just wasn’t used to a lowly man speaking to me so roughly. Generally, men who dared to address me knew their betters and behaved appropriately. But here in Mallowick, in the province of Erias, I was no better than a beggar on the street. There was no one I could call on for favors, no one who, on hearing my family name, would loan me coin for the stagecoach or a horse to ride to the city and send word to my father.

When I’d first arrived in Mallowick, telling the truth of my station had gotten me dragged down an alley where my finger and earrings were stolen, and I’d received a beating. This farmer from Blackdown Farm had no idea who I was, and I would not make the same mistake again.

I took a breath and stepped out of line. “Master Irwin Harding, sir. You may call me Win.” I winced at hearing my own soft, well-spoken voice, with my accent, the clipped tongue of Thorn. I had not used my real name and wished I had not used my true voice either. The fact that I was the son of the Duke of Thorn meant nothing here. Thorn was west of Erias, on the other side of the Silua Montis Mountain range, and I doubted any of these illiterate souls in Mallowick knew anything other than that folklore passed around by storytellers.

The farmer stepped to stand in front of me. He was a big, bulky bastard of a man and stank of stale sweat and baccy. He had a grizzled podgy face and thick dark hair shot with strands of silver pulled into an untidy tail. The tension grew between us, and I worried I’d spoken out of turn. I looked down and watched my bare, filthy feet as if they held endless fascination. I’d seen men like him before. He had hands like shovels, and I’m sure they’d done damage in their time. My father would have used a man like him well, probably as muscle to intimidate the city folk while the Royal Chancellor did the rounds collecting taxes.

Afraid and sweating with anxiety, I glanced up and away, unable to look at the farmer directly and meet his fierce piggy eyes. Instead, I looked left and caught the eye of his son. I felt another flutter of attraction. I was grateful for it because it dampened my fear a little. The glance the farmers’ son sent me back was sheepish, apologetic. He shrugged and put a finger to his lips, signaling for me to hush. I’m sure now he knew what was coming.

Master, is it?” The farmer gave a raspy malevolent chuckle. “Well, well, well aren’t ye an uppity little scrote. Such a pretty voice an’ all. Have your balls dropped yet, lad?”

The townsmen men standing around me shuffled on their feet and snickered uncomfortably. I could tell from the tentative laughter they were afraid of this man too. My chest tightened with fury, and I felt the flare of heat rush to color my cheeks. If in Thorn I would have put this fellow in his place, but as directed by the farmers’ handsome son, I held my tongue.

I dared to look up as the farmer scratched his grizzled chin and consider me. It was then I saw it. A chill iced my bones. On his chubby right index finger, he wore a gold ring set with a large red gemstone that I was aghast to see held the intaglio engraving of a rose thorn—my family’s seal. How had this disgusting Pasturelands farmer come upon my family’s ring? Anger curdled my gut, but I forced myself to focus and fixed my features so as not to alert the man to what I was looking at. That ring was more precious than I could say. It was not set with any common gemstone, oh no, the setting was Star-fall. The legend was that mortal tools could not cut the rich-red Star-fall stone. The gemstone was shaped by sorcery, and the power that carved into the gem was stored inside it as if the Star-fall was a reservoir for the magic. It was illegal for any other than the Twin Kings of Osia to own Star-fall. The king’s men had scoured the Empire to remove all traces of the priceless gem from common and aristocratic hands and possessing it was a death sentence. Did this ruffian have any idea what he wore?

Not getting a rise from me, the farmer stepped yet closer and found out for himself if my balls had dropped. He reached for my privates and squeezed.

Ahh, ye got some big stones de’re al’right, boy,” he said with a filthy sneer.

“Done any labourin’ before, lad?” My eyes watered. I shook my head and winced as the pressure on my most sensitive parts rose. I wanted to shout and push him away, punch him in that bristly pug face. I’d trained in hand-to-hand combat and swordplay, but that was of little use to me now that I had no sword and was cast as naught but a commoner myself. I stood frozen to the spot with fear, my cock, and balls in the hand of this brutish man. I was sure that clutching my nethers was not the best way to test if I would be a good apple picker.

The farmer let go, stepped back, and looked me over again like he was sizing up a prize pig. I wanted to keel over, hold my sensitive parts and howl, but, with my eyes watering, I kept my back ramrod straight and looked past the farmer, using his son’s regretful, pretty green eyes as my focus.

I appeared to be a boy, but I am nineteen and about to make my majority. I have a tall, willowy frame, and little muscle to show for my near twenty summers. Weeks before, I was clothed in the silken garb of a lordling, but all I wore now were my stinky silk britches and a once-white linen shirt. I’d even had to sell my fine leather boots. My flaxen hair hung loosely to my shoulders and was bedraggled. My mother had always told me my hair shone like a golden halo. I guessed that was no longer the case. I had not seen my reflection in two weeks so I could only imagine how frightful I appeared to onlookers. My circumstance was terrible, but I refused to let it defeat me. I was a son of Thorn, I was a gentleman, damn it, and I was prepared to do whatever it took to do to find my way to my destination and seek justice for all the ill-luck that had befallen me.

“Right, scrote, up on the wagon,” the farmer declared. “We can always do wit a few extra scurrier’s fer the windfalls.”

I had no idea what that actually meant, but strangely relieved to be selected, I nodded subserviently and then, ducking my head to avoid the farmers’ glare, I scurried to the wagon where I surreptitiously gave my aching intimate parts a gentle rub.

I’d heard from a fellow in the tavern that harvesting wheat at Robinswood Farm was backbreaking, as was digging root vegetables at Windy Oakes Farm. He advised that apple picking was easy work and if I could get employment at Weatherby’s or Blackdown Farm, they paid good coin. He said the mistress at Blackdown was particularly well-liked and always gave laborers a bread and cheese luncheon with last season’s cider. I was so hungry that bread and cheese sounded like a banquet. The fellow had neglected to tell me that the farmer was a brute!

The farmers’ son met me by the wagon and offered to help me aboard. For a moment, from the look of consideration in his eyes, I thought he could see past the disheveled state of me to the gentleman I’d once been. But that was ridiculous. The farmers’ son hopped up onto the back of the wagon with dexterous athleticism, and then offered me his hands. I took them without a thought. His warm touch and the strength in those work-roughened fingers twisted my gut into uncomfortable knots. He fixed my gaze as he gripped both of my hands and tugged me up as easily as if he were lifting feather down. He pulled me closed and pressed me to his hard chest.

“Don’t back chat him or it’ll be the worst fer you,” he whispered the warning to my ear. Alarmed, I eased back from him and cautiously met his eye for a split second. In the look he gave me I saw that the warning was well-meant. Bewildered, I nodded in thanks and understanding. I had no idea why this stranger was looking out for me, but the fact he was warmed my heart. I choked back a tear. No one had looked out for me over these past weeks, and I had been so terribly lonely. I’d learned some hard life lessons on this leg of my journey, and I’d come to understand that here my title was irrelevant, and without money I was suddenly invisible; therefore small kindnesses meant more than I could say.

My adventure into the provinces had been made to appease my father for my supposed ‘lack of direction.’ I’d become bored with my easy life in Thorn, and not intending to marry; I’d told my father that in-light of my upcoming twentieth Bloomsday I wanted to tour the Empire. If I were to one-day become Duke of Thorn, I needed to know a little of the politics of each province and so, pleased with my initiative and happy to be rid of me for a while, he’d set me on my way. I’d toured the provinces of Terria, Corvay, and Reuss and then continued to the province of Osia, spending time in the capital city Altea, at the court of the Twin Kings, Kristoff, and Fabian Von Harte. With this journey to Erias, I was to have the full set of provinces under my belt. But fate was not on my side.

On benches affixed to either side of the farmers’ wagon sat fourteen men morosely staring at their bare, filthy feet, not a word of chatter between them. They each owned a small pack of belongings and a wrapped blanket that each had stowed beneath the bench. At this moment they were better-off than me, for I did not even have a blanket to my name. There was space for me and five more, totaling twenty men. The farmer chose from the remaining laborers with less consideration than I had been afforded.

“Right… I’ll take Allin, Jed, Arthur, Bartram, and Matty, that’ll do me fer the week,” he hollered decisively.

The week? I thought I’d promised myself for a hard day’s labor? But then again, I considered the harvesters who were sitting in the wagon, and yes, they appeared to have prepared for an overnight stay. Confused, I sat down as the other laborers were pulled up onto the wagon by their comrades, and then we shuffled along the benches until we were all seated. I noticed the shoulders of the remaining men in the market square sag a little in apparent relief as if some mighty weight had lifted from them. I didn’t understand it. I thought they’d wanted to work?

The farmers’ son clambered over into the front of the wagon. His father climbed on, the man’s bulk shaking the timbers of the rickety wagon as he settled on the bench beside him. The son handed his father the ribbons, which the farmer greedily snatched up, and then with a fearsome bellow of “Geddup” and a thunderous whip crack, the large mottled grey workhorse began its cumbersome trot down the main street and onto the dusty road to Blackdown Farm.

 

About the Author

Isobel Starling spent most of her twenty-year professional career making art in Ireland. She relocated to the UK and, faced with the dreaded artist’s creative block, Isobel started to write and found she loved writing more than making art.

Isobel is currently working on her nineteenth book.

“As You Wish” (Shatterproof Bond#1) narrated by Gary Furlong won the Audiobook Reviewer Award for Romance 2018. It is the first M/M Romance audiobook to win a mainstream audiobook award.

 

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Blog Tour: “A New Life” by Mel Gough

LOVING AGAIN SERIES BLOG TOUR

 

January 25, 2019 – A World Apart

February 22, 2019 – A New Life

March 22, 2019 – A Broken Promise

 

NEW RELEASE

Book Title: A New Life (Loving Again Series, Book 2)

Author: Mel Gough

Publisher: Self-published

Cover Artist: Black Jazz Design

Genre/s: Contemporary romance

Heat Rating: 4 flames

Length: 49,000 words/188 pages

Release Date: February 22, 2019

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Blurb

New apartment, new job, new love – Ben and Donnie’s life in Atlanta is everything they dared to hope for. And when Zac, a baby in need of a home, comes to live with them, their family is complete.

But caring for a little one is hard work, and Donnie’s fragile health soon suffers. And then certain criminal elements from Donnie’s past turn up again. Ben and Donnie fight hard to preserve their little piece of heaven, but the destructive forces are determined to pull their happiness to pieces.

Can the two men prevail, or will they lose their baby son and everything they’ve fought for?

 

Buy Links – Available on Kindle Unlimited

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Excerpt – Chapter 1

A drowsy post-lunch hush hung over the large, comfortable room. Small clusters of kids sat around low tables, drawing pictures or building models with brightly-colored Legos. Late fall sunlight dappled little faces and danced over the playful wall murals the community center volunteers kept adding to, whenever someone with a smidgen of artistic talent joined the team.

Donnie glanced through the glass doors into the courtyard. It was a beautiful day, mild for so late in the year. He planned to go outside with the kids for some sandbox playtime soon. He wondered if he could sneak into the staffroom and put the coffeemaker on for an afternoon cup before that, but just then, a small, dark-haired girl at a table near the back looked up from her drawing. “Donnie, can you help me?” she called in a stage whisper that made Donnie smile.

“Sure, Padma.” He wended his way through the other tables and kneeled next to the girl’s child-sized chair. “What’re we doing?”

She held out an orange crayon for him. “Can you draw a lion?”

Donnie glanced down at her paper. “Course. Where d’you want him?”

“There.” Padma pointed at a gray box with bars across the front. “Into the lion cage.”

The girl had drawn a zoo. There were cages for the animals, and enclosures with green grass and landscaping. A big red house had a stick figure outside. Donnie pointed at it. “Who’s that?”

Padma said proudly, “That’s the zookeeper.”

“But where are the animals?” Donnie asked. “Did they all run away?”

Padma shook her head and gave a tragic sigh. “I can’t draw animals.” Her big, dark eyes shone. “Can you do it for me?” she wheedled.

“All right, let’s see.” Donnie settled down on his haunches and pointed at a patch of gray and blue on the paper. “What’s that?”

“That’s the Arctic enclosure, where the penguins go, and the polar bear,” Padma said.

Donnie nodded, keeping his expression serious. This would take a while, but he didn’t mind. “Makes sense. Right, lion first.”

They had drawn the lion and four penguins, and were just getting started on a zebra, when Arthur came into the daycare. Arthur was the community center’s director, a retired high school teacher who had come from England to Atlanta with his wife almost forty years ago. After Bess’s death, Arthur had decided to stay. Donnie couldn’t imagine the center, and his own life, without the old man.

Arthur was accompanied by a young woman Donnie had never seen before. Arthur looked around, and when he spotted Donnie, he and the woman started to make their way to him and Padma. The woman carried a baby in her arms. They stopped in front of Padma’s table. Arthur leaned down to admire Padma’s drawing. “That’s a very nice zoo,” he said kindly. “Well done!”

“Donnie did the animals,” the girl informed him.

“Well, he did a jolly good job, too,” Arthur said, nodding.

Donnie smiled gratefully. Arthur was good with people, and he always took time with the kids, even though running the community center kept him busy. He treated the children as if they mattered as much as the adults, and Donnie tried his best to emulate him.

Arthur addressed Padma again. “I need to borrow Donnie for a little while, is that okay?”

The girl nodded, pleased to be asked for permission.

Donnie got up, shaking the pins and needles from his legs. He loved being with the kids, but maybe he was getting too old to crouch on the floor so much.

The woman by Arthur’s side gave Donnie a quick, nervous smile, and Arthur said, “Donnie, this is Celia.” He indicated the baby. “And this is her son Zac.”

Donnie gave Celia a nod and a smile. Small-boned and no taller than five-two, she seemed to be barely twenty. Donnie had worked at the center for long enough to know that her slenderness and pallor were due to drug abuse. But her eyes were clear, and she seemed alert. She clutched her child to her like a shield. The little boy watched Donnie with big brown eyes for a moment and gave a happy chuckle. Donnie estimated her son to be about six months old.

“Celia has a new job,” Arthur explained. “She’s starting at JFK High tomorrow, with the school lunch team. Zac will be with us when she’s at work.” Arthur took hold of Zac’s foot and jiggled it. The baby grinned at him with toothless gums.

“Thanks, Arthur,” Celia said in a quiet, musical voice. “I’m so grateful. This’ll work out, I promise.”

“Of course it will, my dear,” Arthur said.

So Celia was another one of Arthur’s foundlings. Whenever the old man wasn’t at the center, keeping an eye on things and leading the AA meetings, he walked the streets of downtown Atlanta, talking to homeless young people, junkies and anyone looking as if they might be in need of a square meal and a bed. He would find them a shelter place and then, once they were willing and able, a spot in a detox program or a job, depending on their wishes. Arthur had the biggest heart of anyone Donnie had ever met. He had saved Donnie’s life in more ways than one, and Donnie would be forever grateful.

“Now, then,” Arthur said, turning to Donnie. “Can you show Celia around the daycare? And explain to her about the medication protocol, too. Zac’s positive.”

The protocol held details of all the medication and healthcare needs of the kids at the center. The daycare had been established as a safe place for the children of drug users, rough sleepers and low-income single mothers, and many kids brought their very specific challenges. Several were HIV positive, or suffered from developmental problems related to fetal alcohol syndrome, or showed severe signs of ADHD. No child was ever refused a place, if they had room.

“Sure thing,” Donnie said, and beckoned to Celia. “C’mon, I’ll show you the place.”

“Thanks, Donnie, I appreciate it,” Arthur said. “I’ll leave you to it.” He nodded at Celia, patted Padma on the head, then left.

Donnie showed them around the large main space first. He pointed out the play areas, the row of cots where the smaller kids and the toddlers slept after lunch, and the outside yard with its playsets and swings. He introduced the other volunteers by name, and everyone exclaimed over Zac, who smiled at everyone and babbled away happily.

Only when they went into the quiet staff room and stopped before the medicine cabinet did the little boy begin to fuss. He seemed to miss the attention from the other volunteers already. Donnie held out a finger. Zac took it and put it into his mouth. A warm feeling flooded Donnie as the tiny, wet mouth closed around his knuckle. “He’s a cutie, all right,” he said to Celia.

“He’s my heart,” she said very quietly, more to herself. “I have to make it, for him. He needs a better life than what I can give him right now. The shelter…well…”

She wouldn’t meet Donnie’s eyes, and her face crumpled as if she might start crying. Donnie felt uneasy. He didn’t have a lot of experience with women, or people he didn’t know well. He had no problem relating to kids, but adults were a different matter. He would’ve liked to say something nice, but nothing appropriate came to mind.

“Err, right…this is where we store the meds,” he said, hoping Celia would be okay. He pointed to the locked cabinet. “I’ll add Zac onto the protocol. When you bring him in tomorrow, bring all his meds along, all right? I’ll help you figure out which ones we need to keep here. Then I’ll give you a receipt. At the pharmacy down the street they’ll give you extra refills with that.” That arrangement was another of Arthur’s triumphs. He was amazing at finding donors for the center children’s particular needs.

Celia nodded, back in control. “Thanks, Donnie. You and Arthur, you’re real nice. Do you,” she hesitated. “Do you get a lot of kids with HIV?”

“We got a couple at the moment,” Donnie said. He was about to tell Celia not to worry, that the volunteers were all trained to handle kids with special health needs, and that he was positive himself. But Arthur stuck his head through the door.

“Celia, the AA meeting’s about to start. Do you want to come upstairs and attend?” He nodded at Zac in her arms. “You can leave the little guy with Donnie for an hour. Like a trial run?”

Celia glanced up at Donnie, uncertain. “That okay with you?”

“Course,” Donnie said. “Me and Zac, we’ll get to know each other, and he can meet some new friends, too.”

“Okay,” Celia said, still hesitant. But then she squared her shoulders and handed Zac to Donnie. “He’s had his lunch, he shouldn’t need anything, really. Oh, except this…” She dug in her bag for a moment and pulled out a purple stuffed dinosaur toy. “It’s his favorite. If he gets grizzly, that’ll calm him right down.” She also pulled out a small baby bottle with water and handed that to Donnie, together with the toy.

Donnie held the dinosaur out to Zac, who grinned happily and put the toy’s head into his mouth right away.

“He sure is precious,” Arthur said, smiling.

Donnie nodded. “Yeah, he is.”

Arthur beckoned to Celia. “Let’s go up. Zac’s in safe hands.” Celia took one last, nervous glance at the baby, then let Arthur lead her away.

Donnie watched Zac’s expression as his mom disappeared from sight. The little guy seemed unperturbed, and looked around with interest. It was a nice feeling, holding him. Donnie liked babies. The daycare didn’t often have the very small ones, and Zac was cute. Donnie stroked his back. “D’you wanna meet your new friends, huh?”

He walked back into the main room. One of the volunteers, a bright, bubbly woman called Sonia, was gathering the kids for story time. They clustered around her chair on the floor, fidgeting and nudging each other. Donnie sat in a threadbare armchair to one side. Some of the kids observed Zac with curiosity, but it was Padma again who spoke up. “Who’s that, Donnie?”

Donnie turned his upper body, so Zac could see the children. “This is Zac, everyone. Say hello!”

Many of the kids called, “Hello Zac!”, a few waved, and one of the older girls said, “Aww, he’s so cute!”

Zac grinned at them for a moment, but then twisted in Donnie’s arms and, suddenly shy, buried his face against Donnie’s shoulder. Donnie rocked him, and stroked his soft curls. He could smell baby powder. The little body relaxed.

“All right, everyone,” Sonia called, and the children’s attention returned to her. “Who wants to hear the story of Toothless the dragon?”

Donnie settled down to listen. Zac had snuggled up against his shoulder and seemed very content there, sucking on his purple dinosaur.

It was peaceful, sitting in the sunlit room and listening to Sonia’s cheerful voice as she read the story. When Arthur and Celia returned after the AA meeting, Donnie was amazed to find that an hour had passed. He found it hard to let Zac go, and had to remind himself that it was a very short separation. The little guy would be back the next day, and every day after that.

 

About the Author

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

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

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

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

 

 

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$0.99 Book Blast: “His Fake Temptation” by B. Blake. Rafflecopter Giveaway Included!

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Book Title: His Fake Temptation

Author: B. Blake

Publisher: Self-Published

Cover Artist: Natasha Snow

Genre/s: Gay Romance

Heat Rating: 3 flames

Length: 50,000 words/183 pages

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Blurb Eric, my most cocky student, loves to flirt and thinks that every man wants him. Not me. I’m his professor, a widow and most importantly of all, a single dad. Besides, I’ve never been attracted to men. I’ve only ever dated women. I even married one. So, why does Eric think that he has a chance with the likes of me? Everything about Eric is so exasperating. He wears clothes too tight and does sultry things with his lips — things that keep me awake at night. He offered me an opportunity to be my fake boyfriend. But, the more time we spent together…things started to change. No more, was I the confident professor, I became weak at the knees as I realized that I didn’t want us to be fake, I wanted us to be something more. His Fake Temptation is a student-teacher romance. It is a standalone gay romance about an older man and his student who are complete opposites, but when it comes to matters of the heart, they become a perfect match.  

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  Excerpt “What?” It almost felt as if time stood still as soon as I heard the word escape from my lips. Focus. I was in the middle of class, but I was hardly paying attention. There was just one problem, I was supposed to be teaching not. Not a nerdy student as I was a few decades ago looking up at my professor as if he was Einstein and I could learn everything about him. He was before my time and I wondered for a split second if I’d ever been so inspirational to any of my students that they felt that way about me. Fuck it! I was here to teach, and I wasn’t here to build a fan base. I tapped on the keyboard and let the next slide appear and before I could even open my mouth to explain it, someone shouted out. “This is the same slide again!” “What?” Then it hit me like a flash of lightning, this is what someone had said, before I murmured, reading over the content again. I couldn’t figure out if we had gone through it or not. The way I structured my notes for class, I had bullet points on the projector, but lectured the full lesson from beginning to end. I was currently in the middle of lecturing through a case study. It had only been about half an hour and the class would take three hours. I wasn’t even close to done with my class and I was already distracted. “Any questions?” I asked trying to make it seem as if I was in control as I smoothed down my forever growing dark hair behind my ears. No hands went up once again, proving that the students didn’t listen. They hardly asked, I was even surprised that someone noticed that the same slide had been up more than once. I pressed on the computer for the next slide, and then read over the points to remind myself what I wanted to say. “Next, we’ll be looking at our patient’s behavior…” I went on with the lecture, explaining the points on the new slide, and there was the sound of rustling as the students took notes. I had to remind myself not to go too fast as they jotted down my notes, but it wasn’t easy. I was trying to remain focused, but my mind was too far away. It was so frustrating. It had been two whole years since my wife’s death, and it wasn’t like I’d lost my job, or anything, but I couldn’t help feeling like such a failure. I wasn’t completely over her death, either, and I knew it wasn’t healthy, but after two years, when I found myself still thinking about her, I didn’t know how to get over it. Especially since, I couldn’t get rid of the feeling that I’d failed her in some way or failed her memory.  

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Cover Reveal: “Broken” by Colette Davison

COVER REVEAL

Book Title: Broken

Author: Colette Davison

Cover Artist: Colette Davison

Genre/s: MM Contemporary Romance

Heat Rating: 4 flames Release Date: March 5, 2019

Tagline

He was broken. His rules weren’t meant to be.

Blurb

Rule #1: Keep running.

Jag’s rules have kept him safe and free since he escaped conversion therapy, but that was before he walked into Heaven and Hell. A no-strings fling with the club owner, Michael, turns into so much more as Jag finds himself breaking one rule after another.

Michael hasn’t been able to commit to anyone since his partner died, until Jag walks into his club. Falling in lust with the elfin young dancer is easy, and his heart is quick to follow.

Michael gives Jag a reason to stay, but fear rules Jag’s heart more than love. Despite his deepening feelings for Michael, Jag knows he can’t stay. Can he?

**Contains adult themes, content, and language**

Excerpt

Jag started with a crucifix climb, gripping the pole between his knees, one thigh raised, his lifted foot neatly pointed. It was an easy enough starting position, but it got Michael’s attention. He sat a little straighter, sipping the scotch as Jag hooked his knee around the bar and leaned back, arms stretched, almost fully inverting himself. He raised his supporting leg, hooking his ankle around the pole, which he grasped with one hand, so he could pull his back closer to it. The fingertips of his opposite hand grazed the floor, completing the blade. From there he pulled himself up the pole, so he could arch his body into a rainbow, spinning slowly round the pole as he moved back down, into a bridged handstand. Every move was exact and the transitions were fluid.

It wasn’t the sexiest routine Michael had ever seen, but it was definitely sensual. Hell, he was getting turned on and Jag was fully dressed. His mind started to conjure up images of him in much less clothing, under low lighting, with sultry music playing. He could almost see the punters with their mouths hanging open, eyes wide as they ogled the elfin young man. It would be a crime not to put him on show. Maybe in a spotlight of his own. Michael shifted, adjusting his tracksuit a little. The club needed a new angel and Michael felt like he might have found him.

About the Author

Colette’s personal love story began at university, where she met her future husband. An evening of flirting, in the shadow of Lancaster castle, eventually led to a fairytale wedding. She’s enjoying her own ‘happy ever after’ in the north of England with her husband, two beautiful children and her writing.

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Release Blitz: “Apple Boy” by Isobel Starling

RELEASE BLITZ

Book Title: Apple Boy (The Quiet Work #1)

Author: Isobel Starling

Publisher: Decent Fellows Press

Cover Artist: Valentine Pascadian (Lennel)

Genre/s: Fantasy, M/M Romance

Heat Rating: 3 flames

Length:103 600 words/ 556 pages

Release Date: February 15, 2019

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Blurb

After a traumatic event, Winter Aeling finds himself destitute and penniless in the backwater town of Mallowick. He needs to travel to the city of Serein and impart grave news that will bring war to the Empire, but without a horse, money, and with not a soul willing to help him, he has no choice but to line up with the common folk seeking paid work on the harvest.

As wagons roll into the market square and farmers choose day laborers, Winter is singled out for abuse by a brute of a farmer. The only man who stands up for him is the farmer’s beguiling son, Adam, and on locking eyes with the swarthy young man Winter feels the immediate spark of attraction.

Winter soon realizes there is a reason he has been drawn to Blackdown Farm. The farmer possesses a precious item that was stolen long ago from Winter’s family, and he determines to retrieve it. He also cannot take his eyes off the farmer’s son, and as the young man opens up Winter can’t help wondering if Adam is just kind or his kind!

Excerpt

“Apple Boy” by Isobel Starling

CHAPTER 1

MARKET SQUARE

“You boy, aye, YOU. Ain’t never seen ye round ‘ere before,” The farmer directed his bellow at me.

It was sunrise, and at last, I’d found the courage to step out of my hiding place and join the common laborers who gathered in Mallowick market square. We were waiting for the farmers’ carts to come by and choose their day workers. I’d watched this ritual each morning for the past three days, peeking out from shadowed doorways, or while crouching behind barrels.

It was harvest time, and it appeared to be routine for peasants to walk from the surrounding hamlets before dawn and assemble in the square to seek work on the farms. There was wheat, barley, root vegetables, and tree fruits to be gathered before the weather turned. I was informed by a ruddy looking fellow in the tavern that anyone could get work on the harvest, and so, with my pride cut to ribbons and my pockets empty, I’d stepped out of the safety of my hiding place and joined the commoners.

“Does ye wants work or no’? Look at me when I’m talkin’ to ye. What’s yer name?” The burley farmer roared. I looked up, stunned to be singled out from among all of these strapping men and hardy looking women, for I felt invisible. Four carts had already passed and taken their pick of the young, strong peasants, but none of those farmers gave me a second glance. I should have known something was afoot, for when this particular wagon turned up the women in the square shrank back into doorways, and men sidled away to lean against buildings. On the side of the wagon, writ-large in bold off-white letters were the words BLACKDOWN FARM. There were around thirty of us left on view, like cattle.

I had never partaken in manual labor or any kind of work before. I was a gentleman and far more familiar with spending my days relaxing, reading, attending social events in the city, or taking a horse for a gallop in the country. But my life had changed since I’d become stranded here in the Pasturelands provincial town of Mallowick two weeks earlier. Now I was living on my wits. Each day was a fight for my life, and I’d sold all of my fine belongings, intending to pay for passage on the stagecoach from Mallowick to the city of Serein. But I had not thought things through, and it did not happen that way. My body’s needs took precedent. I’d become so ravenous, and therefore the meager coin I’d gathered from selling my finery was spent on what I could afford—basic rough barley bread and ale, just enough to stave off the gnawing pangs of hunger in my belly each day. Now, I had no belongings, and the money was all but gone. I was no thief, and the only thing I had left to sell was my body. Looking like a wretch, I did not believe I could earn even a copper that way! Before I left on my travels, I was warned that the province of Erias had strict rules about men bedding other men and I did not want to tempt fate. I was at a loss—hard labor or starvation were the only choices available to me. Gods, if my father could see how far I’d fallen in such a short time, he would be thoroughly ashamed. I was living hand-to-mouth, and if I dared to seek out my reflection and observe my disreputable state of dress, I was sure I would see I was no longer a gentleman at all.

I assured myself that all would be well as soon as I could get to the city of Serein. There I would attend my father’s depository and obtain funds from his account—as had been arranged, and then, I could find my way to my uncle’s residence and attend to a much grimmer business.

So, with no other choice, I was here, standing in Mallowick market square with a bunch of rough-looking fellows and ruddy-faced women with just the ragged clothes I stood in to my name. I wondered if my visage had taken on the same gaunt, starved, haunted look some of them wore.

“WELL?” The farmer roared.

“Leave him be Pa; I think he’s a mute. P… p… please don’t—” A swarthy young man urged, stepping to the farmers’ side. The man appeared to be in his early twenties, with broad angular shoulders, slim hips, and wavy jaw-length hair that longingly reminded me of Montestein tea. When the morning sunlight broke through the clouds and caressed him, the strands of his hair revealed all the shades of autumn. It was beautiful. His eyes were bright emerald green, and his skin bore the wind-burned tan of a man who spent his days working the land. I met his gaze for a second that seemed to stop time, and I felt a flutter of longing erupt in my gut. I found myself mesmerized by him. He appeared a little embarrassed, for himself or for me, I wasn’t quite sure. The farmer turned to his son.

“Shut that filthy mouth o’ yours, apple boy!” he spat. His large meaty hands twitched. He sneered and glared at his son in such a wicked way I knew it should have been followed up by a sharp slap. I worried that the young man would endure further public humiliation at the hands of his father, but the farmer moved his disdainful glare back to me. I shuddered with fear. I had a feeling that he was saving his son’s punishment for later—away from the prying eyes of the townsfolk. I did not like that thought, not one bit. I did not know why the farmer was drawn to me, but he sized me up with a sweeping glance of consideration, then wrinkled his nose as if he’d sniffed a revolting stench—I hadn’t bathed in two weeks, so maybe I did smell a tad ripe!

“Is ye a mute?”

I shook my head. I would say, if anything, I was deeply traumatized by the unfortunate circumstance I’d found myself in, but no, I was certainly not a mute. I just wasn’t used to a lowly man speaking to me so roughly. Generally, men who dared to address me knew their betters and behaved appropriately. But here in Mallowick, in the province of Erias, I was no better than a beggar on the street. There was no one I could call on for favors, no one who, on hearing my family name, would loan me coin for the stagecoach or a horse to ride to the city and send word to my father.

When I’d first arrived in Mallowick, telling the truth of my station had gotten me dragged down an alley where my finger and earrings were stolen, and I’d received a beating. This farmer from Blackdown Farm had no idea who I was, and I would not make the same mistake again.

I took a breath and stepped out of line. “Master Irwin Harding, sir. You may call me Win.” I winced at hearing my own soft, well-spoken voice, with my accent, the clipped tongue of Thorn. I had not used my real name and wished I had not used my true voice either. The fact that I was the son of the Duke of Thorn meant nothing here. Thorn was west of Erias, on the other side of the Silua Montis Mountain range, and I doubted any of these illiterate souls in Mallowick knew anything other than that folklore passed around by storytellers.

The farmer stepped to stand in front of me. He was a big, bulky bastard of a man and stank of stale sweat and baccy. He had a grizzled podgy face and thick dark hair shot with strands of silver pulled into an untidy tail. The tension grew between us, and I worried I’d spoken out of turn. I looked down and watched my bare, filthy feet as if they held endless fascination. I’d seen men like him before. He had hands like shovels, and I’m sure they’d done damage in their time. My father would have used a man like him well, probably as muscle to intimidate the city folk while the Royal Chancellor did the rounds collecting taxes.

Afraid and sweating with anxiety, I glanced up and away, unable to look at the farmer directly and meet his fierce piggy eyes. Instead, I looked left and caught the eye of his son. I felt another flutter of attraction. I was grateful for it because it dampened my fear a little. The glance the farmers’ son sent me back was sheepish, apologetic. He shrugged and put a finger to his lips, signaling for me to hush. I’m sure now he knew what was coming.

Master, is it?” The farmer gave a raspy malevolent chuckle. “Well, well, well aren’t ye an uppity little scrote. Such a pretty voice an’ all. Have your balls dropped yet, lad?”

The townsmen men standing around me shuffled on their feet and snickered uncomfortably. I could tell from the tentative laughter they were afraid of this man too. My chest tightened with fury, and I felt the flare of heat rush to color my cheeks. If in Thorn I would have put this fellow in his place, but as directed by the farmers’ handsome son, I held my tongue.

I dared to look up as the farmer scratched his grizzled chin and consider me. It was then I saw it. A chill iced my bones. On his chubby right index finger, he wore a gold ring set with a large red gemstone that I was aghast to see held the intaglio engraving of a rose thorn—my family’s seal. How had this disgusting Pasturelands farmer come upon my family’s ring? Anger curdled my gut, but I forced myself to focus and fixed my features so as not to alert the man to what I was looking at. That ring was more precious than I could say. It was not set with any common gemstone, oh no, the setting was Star-fall. The legend was that mortal tools could not cut the rich-red Star-fall stone. The gemstone was shaped by sorcery, and the power that carved into the gem was stored inside it as if the Star-fall was a reservoir for the magic. It was illegal for any other than the Twin Kings of Osia to own Star-fall. The king’s men had scoured the Empire to remove all traces of the priceless gem from common and aristocratic hands and possessing it was a death sentence. Did this ruffian have any idea what he wore?

Not getting a rise from me, the farmer stepped yet closer and found out for himself if my balls had dropped. He reached for my privates and squeezed.

Ahh, ye got some big stones de’re al’right, boy,” he said with a filthy sneer.

“Done any labourin’ before, lad?” My eyes watered. I shook my head and winced as the pressure on my most sensitive parts rose. I wanted to shout and push him away, punch him in that bristly pug face. I’d trained in hand-to-hand combat and swordplay, but that was of little use to me now that I had no sword and was cast as naught but a commoner myself. I stood frozen to the spot with fear, my cock, and balls in the hand of this brutish man. I was sure that clutching my nethers was not the best way to test if I would be a good apple picker.

The farmer let go, stepped back, and looked me over again like he was sizing up a prize pig. I wanted to keel over, hold my sensitive parts and howl, but, with my eyes watering, I kept my back ramrod straight and looked past the farmer, using his son’s regretful, pretty green eyes as my focus.

I appeared to be a boy, but I am nineteen and about to make my majority. I have a tall, willowy frame, and little muscle to show for my near twenty summers. Weeks before, I was clothed in the silken garb of a lordling, but all I wore now were my stinky silk britches and a once-white linen shirt. I’d even had to sell my fine leather boots. My flaxen hair hung loosely to my shoulders and was bedraggled. My mother had always told me my hair shone like a golden halo. I guessed that was no longer the case. I had not seen my reflection in two weeks so I could only imagine how frightful I appeared to onlookers. My circumstance was terrible, but I refused to let it defeat me. I was a son of Thorn, I was a gentleman, damn it, and I was prepared to do whatever it took to do to find my way to my destination and seek justice for all the ill-luck that had befallen me.

“Right, scrote, up on the wagon,” the farmer declared. “We can always do wit a few extra scurrier’s fer the windfalls.”

I had no idea what that actually meant, but strangely relieved to be selected, I nodded subserviently and then, ducking my head to avoid the farmers’ glare, I scurried to the wagon where I surreptitiously gave my aching intimate parts a gentle rub.

I’d heard from a fellow in the tavern that harvesting wheat at Robinswood Farm was backbreaking, as was digging root vegetables at Windy Oakes Farm. He advised that apple picking was easy work and if I could get employment at Weatherby’s or Blackdown Farm, they paid good coin. He said the mistress at Blackdown was particularly well-liked and always gave laborers a bread and cheese luncheon with last season’s cider. I was so hungry that bread and cheese sounded like a banquet. The fellow had neglected to tell me that the farmer was a brute!

The farmers’ son met me by the wagon and offered to help me aboard. For a moment, from the look of consideration in his eyes, I thought he could see past the disheveled state of me to the gentleman I’d once been. But that was ridiculous. The farmers’ son hopped up onto the back of the wagon with dexterous athleticism, and then offered me his hands. I took them without a thought. His warm touch and the strength in those work-roughened fingers twisted my gut into uncomfortable knots. He fixed my gaze as he gripped both of my hands and tugged me up as easily as if he were lifting feather down. He pulled me closed and pressed me to his hard chest.

“Don’t back chat him or it’ll be the worst fer you,” he whispered the warning to my ear. Alarmed, I eased back from him and cautiously met his eye for a split second. In the look he gave me I saw that the warning was well-meant. Bewildered, I nodded in thanks and understanding. I had no idea why this stranger was looking out for me, but the fact he was warmed my heart. I choked back a tear. No one had looked out for me over these past weeks, and I had been so terribly lonely. I’d learned some hard life lessons on this leg of my journey, and I’d come to understand that here my title was irrelevant, and without money I was suddenly invisible; therefore small kindnesses meant more than I could say.

My adventure into the provinces had been made to appease my father for my supposed ‘lack of direction.’ I’d become bored with my easy life in Thorn, and not intending to marry; I’d told my father that in-light of my upcoming twentieth Bloomsday I wanted to tour the Empire. If I were to one-day become Duke of Thorn, I needed to know a little of the politics of each province and so, pleased with my initiative and happy to be rid of me for a while, he’d set me on my way. I’d toured the provinces of Terria, Corvay, and Reuss and then continued to the province of Osia, spending time in the capital city Altea, at the court of the Twin Kings, Kristoff, and Fabian Von Harte. With this journey to Erias, I was to have the full set of provinces under my belt. But fate was not on my side.

On benches affixed to either side of the farmers’ wagon sat fourteen men morosely staring at their bare, filthy feet, not a word of chatter between them. They each owned a small pack of belongings and a wrapped blanket that each had stowed beneath the bench. At this moment they were better-off than me, for I did not even have a blanket to my name. There was space for me and five more, totaling twenty men. The farmer chose from the remaining laborers with less consideration than I had been afforded.

“Right… I’ll take Allin, Jed, Arthur, Bartram, and Matty, that’ll do me fer the week,” he hollered decisively.

The week? I thought I’d promised myself for a hard day’s labor? But then again, I considered the harvesters who were sitting in the wagon, and yes, they appeared to have prepared for an overnight stay. Confused, I sat down as the other laborers were pulled up onto the wagon by their comrades, and then we shuffled along the benches until we were all seated. I noticed the shoulders of the remaining men in the market square sag a little in apparent relief as if some mighty weight had lifted from them. I didn’t understand it. I thought they’d wanted to work?

The farmers’ son clambered over into the front of the wagon. His father climbed on, the man’s bulk shaking the timbers of the rickety wagon as he settled on the bench beside him. The son handed his father the ribbons, which the farmer greedily snatched up, and then with a fearsome bellow of “Geddup” and a thunderous whip crack, the large mottled grey workhorse began its cumbersome trot down the main street and onto the dusty road to Blackdown Farm.

About the Author

Isobel Starling spent most of her twenty-year professional career making art in Ireland. She relocated to the UK and, faced with the dreaded artist’s creative block, Isobel started to write and found she loved writing more than making art.

Isobel is currently working on her nineteenth book.

“As You Wish” (Shatterproof Bond#1) narrated by Gary Furlong won the Audiobook Reviewer Award for Romance 2018. It is the first M/M Romance audiobook to win a mainstream audiobook award.

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Release Blitz: “In Case You Missed it” by S. M. James. Rafflecopter Giveaway Included.

RELEASE BLITZ

Book Title: In Case You Missed It

Author: S. M. James

Publisher: May Books

Cover Artist: Story Styling Cover Designs

Genre/s: YA LGBT romance

Heat Rating: 1-2 flames

Length: 98 000 words/400 pages

It is a standalone story.

Release Date: February 12, 2019

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Blurb

Brooks is convinced his life is totally, one hundred percent happy.

Until Darien tracks him down.

Darien was supposed to be the guy he kissed once and remembered forever, but now he’s back in Brooks’s life, with easy smiles and big ideas.

The first of which … show the homeschooled Brooks everything he’s missed out on. But as the pair work through a spring of playing catch up on life, it becomes obvious to Darien that Brooks has a secret.

And as things heat up between them, Brooks’s secret might just be Darien’s worst fear.

Because Darien has always lived in the moment.

But Brooks has always lived for the future he knows is inevitable.

When life is set to tear them apart, will love be enough to keep them together?



All books in the #lovehim series are stand alones. The series number is the recommended reading order.

Excerpt

We cross the front of the school, head past the football field, and into the courtyard. It’s eerily quiet, with filtered sunlight and a soft breeze breaching the concrete quad.

Darien heads for a bench that runs along the base of an enormous tree and flops down onto it. I sit next to him and silence settles gently over my shoulders. The courtyard is surrounded by buildings on three sides, and I vaguely remember one of them as the science wing.

“So this is where you’d eat at breaks on a nice day. Cameron and Chels sit there, and some of the others here, and over there.” He points to an opposite bench. “We’d sit right here, of course. Since you’d be in all the nerd classes, we’d be inseparable over break.” He grips the back of the bench and leans into his hands, grinning over at me.

I swing a leg over the back of the bench so I’m facing him. “And you’d be such a shameless flirt, I’d have to find new friends to save you the embarrassment.”

“No point.” He shrugs. “I’d just follow you there too.”

The thing is, I believe him. I don’t know how anyone can be so effortless about how they feel. He doesn’t try to hide it, but he doesn’t push me either, and the fact he can be so unashamedly into me, makes me want to give him more.

But he’ll get over it. And I have to help him.

I lean away from him a little. “So, is there anyone here who’s caught your eye?”

“There’s this one guy …”

His tone makes me arch my eyebrow. “He wouldn’t be me, would he?”

“See? You’re too damn smart.”

I duck my head as I hold back a laugh. “Seriously though. Nothing is going to happen between us, so it’s okay if you find someone else.”

“Yeah, we’re not doing this.”

I frown. “What do you mean?”

“We’ve been over this, like, a thousand times. Jesus, Brooks, I get it. I just want to spend time with you, as friends, and I don’t need you trying to push me onto someone else.”

“Darien …” I reach for his arm and he shrugs me away. “I’m sorry.”

“Good. Now no more mentioning that shit, okay? My memory is fine, I can make my own damn decisions.”

“You’re right.” But how does he make the right decision when I’m keeping a huge part of myself from him? I take a couple of short breaths, the very real possibility of telling him, looming at the front of my thoughts.

“Here.” Darien finally takes off his backpack and unzips it. He’s packed a heap of food, some I haven’t seen before, and he slides away from me on the bench to set it out between us. “Dig in.”

Lunch is delicious, and I try some of everything. Darien talks me through some of the foods his mom made, like zelnik and tulumba, and it’s so damn good, I’d hang out with him just for the food. After a week of barely eating I don’t hold back, but I didn’t bring my enzyme tablets with me, so it’s close to pointless.

Darien takes some more photos after lunch as we explore the school. He fills me in on little bits and pieces about his first two weeks, and we wind up under the bleachers. He dives into his bag again and pulls out two cigarettes.

I give him a flat look. “Fuck no.”

He smirks. “Goodie two shoes.”

“Nope.” I shake my head, trying to think of how I can get him to put those freaking things away. “I just don’t see the point in sucking on something that can fucking kill you.” My words come out way harsher than I mean, but if he starts on one of those things, I’m leaving him here.

His dark eyebrows furrow, and something goes on behind his eyes that I can’t quite make out, but he just shrugs and grinds the smokes into the ground. “Thank the lord. Don’t think I could have stomached it, even for you.”

I relax a little, though I’m not sure I really believe the words.

He steps closer. “You know, there are other things people do under the bleachers …”

It takes me a second to catch up, and my focus automatically drops to his lips. My stomach is a riot as I try not to focus on how good our first kiss was, all those months ago.

Darien smirks and steps back, breaking my runaway thoughts. He pulls a marker from his bag. “We have to mark we were here, otherwise it doesn’t count.”

“That, I can do.” I take the marker from him and uncap it with a click. Reaching above my head, I hesitate a second, trying to figure out what to write. In the end, I go simple.

BL + DM.

“Those letters look good together,” Darien says. His voice is low and warm and reminds me of summer. His fingers slide down mine as he takes the marker from me.

He reaches up and his shirt pulls higher on his back, leaving this smooth strip of brown skin exposed. The pull to touch him is so strong. I need to feel his skin under my fingertips. It’s a physical battle to hold back, and just as I’m about to fold,

To reach,

To touch,

To give in to him, Darien finishes up, and steps back to survey his work. I blink a few times to try and lessen the fog in my head, then turn my focus up.

He’s drawn a heart around our initials.

About the Author

S. M. James writes books for teens about squishy sweet characters.

While not writing, SM is a readaholic and Netflix addict who regularly lives on a sustainable diet of chocolate and coffee.

Unapologetically dishing out HEAs for LGBTQ characters.

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Giveaway

Enter the Rafflecopter Giveaway for a chance to win one of the following:

$30 Amazon gift card (AU or US only)

2 x paperbacks (That Feeling When or To Be Honest) (International)

3 x eBooks (That Feeling When or To Be Honest) (International)

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