He was supposed to hurt him. Ruin him. Instead, he fell in love.
In the big, bad city, Eric West holds the reins. A mafia king, he is feared, ruthless, and obsessed with a man half his age.
Will, his favorite whore, is young, beautiful, and the only person to ever bring him to his knees.
Will is a man to kill for.
A man to change for.
But what if Will isn’t what he seems?
*** Broken News is a standalone M/M romancefeaturing age gap, detailed adult content, violence, hurt/comfort, and mentions of rape/dubious consent.***
Miss Catherine paused. “He’s been waiting,” she whispered and walked away. The only evidence of her presence was the sound of velvet dragging on carpet as she disappeared barefoot, back to her other guests.
The rest was up to Eric. Of course he’d flown first class from London but hoped he didn’t smell too much like airplane upholstery and cheap wine. He straightened his tie and adjusted his suit. He ran the palms of his hands over his slick, blond hair and took one long, deep breath before opening the door.
The room was as he imagined, cast in shadows of firelight, and a man stood facing the front window. He had the edge of a heavy curtain raised as he stared into the city’s night. At the sound of the door closing, the man turned—if he could be considered a man. He more resembled a wide-eyed teen, but beautiful, so very beautiful.
Eric sighed, smiled, and shook his head. “My God,” he said.
Dark eyes appraised him. “I could say the same.”
They both took steps forward, which brought Eric’s new whore further into the orange light. Pressed to guess an age—and knowing Le Chateau only hired whores at least twenty-one or older—Eric guessed twenty-two at most. He wore the body and face of a youth but bearing of a confident man. His hair was black—short on the sides, long on top—and shined with the midnight luster of a thoroughbred’s flank. His eyes were shining, dark pools in the firelight but probably brown in the sun. He had high cheekbones, an angular jaw, and skin the color of untouched morning snow. Despite the poised demeanor, he was small in stature and frame, dressed in a black suit Eric imagined had been sewn for him, stitch by invisible stitch. Despite all the young man’s beautiful accouterments, it was his mouth that deserved worship, possibly idols built: a mouth so full, lush, and decadent, Eric was already half hard.
He stepped into the stranger’s space, towering almost a foot above the young whore, and opened the man’s suit coat. Eric ran his palms over slim sides and thumbed at the tops of jutting hipbones. Then, Eric bent forward with his mouth half open and sucked one wet, gentle kiss against the side of his neck. He smelled like spicy cologne and scotch.
“What’s your name?” He ran the tip of his nose over the stranger’s earlobe.
“Will,” he said.
“My name is Eric.”
Eric pulled back enough to see a small smile on Will’s face. His teeth were white and perfectly, perfectly straight.
“You must have cost a lot of money,” Eric said.
Will stepped forward and rubbed his nose across Eric’s carved chin. He practically breathed his response into Eric’s mouth: “And worth every penny.”
With that mouth so close, Eric was done talking. He slid one of his hands behind Will’s head and took hold to the back of his neck. His thumb was lost in soft black hair as he pulled Will even closer until their lips met. Eric moved slowly and savored the pliant softness. Will opened his mouth and allowed Eric’s tongue inside. Not only did he smell like scotch but tasted like it, too—something expensive with a lingering edge of vanilla. Eric’s other hand went to Will’s lower back and pressed their bodies together, which earned him a deep, delightful moan from his new toy.
About the Author
Sara Dobie Bauer is a bestselling author, model, mental health speaker, and LGBTQ advocate with a creative writing degree from Ohio University. Twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize, she lives in Northeast Ohio, although she’d really like to live in a Tim Burton film. She is author of the Bite Somebody series and Escape Trilogy, among other sexy things.
Kai is a happy-go-lucky guy. At least, he was before the mob came knocking on his door.
He’ll go to any length to protect a secret, even work with US Marshal Gannin West.
The only man who can help.
The only man who drives him crazy.
To figure out how to stop the one who wants Kai erased, he’ll have to cooperate… But will it be too late?
Kai woke when the SUV stopped and turned off. Stretching, he looked around. “Where are we?”
“A new hotel. I checked out of the Four Seasons.”
“Because if Walcott was watching the bank, he may have seen me there. Don’t want to take any chances.”
Kai grabbed his bag and followed Gannin to their room. Apparently, he’d already checked in.
“The Golden Nugget? I haven’t been here in a while. What name did you check-in under?”
“Cliff Williams. It’s one of many names we use for hiding witnesses.”
Kai scrunched his face. “Cliff Williams? Why does that sound familiar?”
“He’s in AC/DC. Famous names throw people off.”
“How? Doesn’t it scream fake?”
“No. The bad guys know we’d know they’d think it’s a fake.”
“Gannin, I just woke up. Why are you giving me riddles?” He rubbed at his face with a knuckle, dizzy from the red-and-orange swirly carpet, then looked around the lobby. “Oh, look!” He smacked Gannin’s arm with the back of his hand and pointed to a sign. “There’s going to be a wedding reception here. We should totally crash it.”
Gannin side-eyed Kai. “Why would we do that?”
Kai stared at him with a puzzled frown. “Free cake.”
Shaking his head, Gannin stalked to the elevator.
Kai had to scramble to keep up. “What?”
“I thought you were going to say something else.”
Kai racked his brain. “You thought I wanted free booze?”
Gannin stared straight ahead. “Never mind.”
“Uh-uh. Nope. You have to tell me, or I will bug the ever-loving shit out of you tonight.”
The elevator stopped on the fifth floor, and Gannin led Kai to the end of the hallway.
“I thought you’d be looking for someone.”
“Someone? Like to hook up with?”
Gannin opened the room door. “That was my first thought.”
“What was your second thought?”
“I don’t know.” Gannin dropped his bag onto the queen-sized bed by the door, leaving the other for Kai. “I guess, I thought, no, he probably wants cake.”
Kai chuckled. “I read somewhere that your first thought is society’s conditioning. Your second, is who you are as a person.” Kai kicked his shoes off and wandered around the room checking out the amenities. The beds were fluffy white clouds he couldn’t wait to sink into.
“Huh, that’s interesting. I’ve never thought about it that way before.” Gannin unzipped his suitcase and took his toiletry bag to the bathroom. “But we aren’t going to that reception. We weren’t invited.”
Kai bounced on his bed and opened his duffle. He grabbed his purple sleep pants and followed Gannin into the bathroom. Kai took off his shirt and tried to turn the water on with his injured hand. “Shit!”
“Let me get it.”
Gannin stood close behind Kai and reached around him to twist the knobs.
“Will you wash my back?” Kai lifted his bandaged hand and stuck his bottom lip out.
Gannin straightened, glanced at Kai’s face, his hand; then a big smile shifted his beard. Straight white teeth contrasted sharply from the black whiskers, and his eyes shone with laughter as he chuckled.
Kai was dumbstruck, lost in a sea of gorgeous smiles, not noticing when Gannin reached forward and unbuttoned his jeans. He snapped out of it when Gannin lowered the zipper, and Kai wiggled until they fell, then kicked them off.
“Go ahead. I’ll watch and make sure you don’t use your hand too much.”
About the Author
Este Holland is a writer and reader of all things romance. She’s also a treasure hunter, a word wizard, a lover, and a fighter. She was born in southern WV, and is a reader and writer. She lives in Virginia now, and works in marketing. Her favorite book is impossible to name. Her favorite movie are Romancing the Stone and Some Like it Hot. She began writing her first novel in 2012 and has practiced and studied ever since to get better.
Kyle McKee lives a charmed life. He co-owns Under, an uptown speakeasy, where he is chief mixologist. Friends poke fun at Kyle’s tiny one-bed apartment in Chelsea, but they’re the best support system a man could ask for. Unfortunately, Kyle’s lackluster love life has led him to take a break from dating. Harlem resident Luka Clarke is a lieutenant with Engine 47, the Pride of Morningside, where he carries on his father’s legacy with the FDNY. Luka, who is mixed race and bisexual, has his eye on Kyle, whom he met at a local burger joint and he just needs to make time to visit Kyle’s bar. Before work one evening, Kyle is trapped inside the luncheonette when a fire breaks out. Luka’s firehouse answers the call and he connects with Kyle again under the most unexpected of circumstances. When Kyle gratefully invites Luka and the firehouse squad to Under, the flirting between the two men leads to a date. Kyle and Luka quickly grow close, but Luka’s mother and sister distrust Kyle for being both white and gay. Luka believes his family will come around and accept Kyle in the end, but Kyle is not optimistic and hides his disquiet as attraction blossoms into love. Kyle and Luka’s near-idyllic bubble is shattered one evening after a hate crime leaves them scarred, inside and out. Shaken, they put on a strong front but struggle inwardly against fear and personal demons. As the emotions seething beneath the surface finally come to a head, both men must decide if they have the strength to find love enough to conquer hate. Reader advisory: This book contains references to non-nurturing parenting; homophobia; racism and racist slurs. There are references to recreational drug use. This book also contains scenes of mmmm ménage and characters caught in fire.
Kyle McKee set down his gym bag and yoga mat and pulled up a seat at his gym’s juice bar. The class he’d taken had warmed his skin and stretched his muscles and joints to their limits. He felt like the world’s most relaxed slab of single New York man, which was good for Kyle’s state of mind. He’d been stressed lately, about his love life in particular. Because damn if every guy he’d been out with in the last two months hadn’t turned out to be a shitheel of epic proportions. So much so, Kyle had decided to stop dating entirely.
Eyes closed, Kyle forced away thoughts of dating catastrophes. He rolled his neck from side to side but peeled his lids open again when the chair on his left slid back and his friend Malcolm Elliot dropped into the seat. Malcolm gave Kyle a lazy grin. At six-three, he stood a few inches taller than Kyle, and he looked rosy-cheeked and loose limbed, his blue-gray eyes shining.
“I am a man-sized untwisted pretzel,” Malcolm said. “I’m not sure what that means, so don’t ask.”
“You’re yoga-stoned, dude.” Kyle smiled at Malcolm’s laugh.
“Is that a thing?”
“Totally a thing.”
Malcolm narrowed his eyes at Kyle. “You’re the one with the bloodshot eyes—what did you do after class?”
“Ugh, nothing but itch from allergies. Ragweed is my kryptonite.” Kyle pinched the bridge of his nose between his fingers, then nodded at the menu on the wall behind the counter. “What are you drinking?”
“I’ll do a Kale Storm with protein,” Malcolm said.
Kyle held up a hand when Malcolm reached for his wallet. “I’ll grab these—you paid last week.” He smiled at the barista who’d stepped up to take their order. “A Kale Storm with a protein powder shot and a Peanut Butter Baby with chia, please. You headed home after this?” he asked Malcolm.
Malcolm shook his head. “I’ve got errands to run. My kitchen has mysteriously emptied itself of food since my brother and his girlfriend came back to town. What about you?”
“I’m opening tonight, so I’ll just head to the bar. I have extra clothes at the office I can change into.” Kyle co-owned a speakeasy called Under with his friend Jesse Murtagh and, while he loved his job, the commute uptown from Chelsea to Morningside Heights could be a pain in the ass. He welcomed the option to skip extra stops when he could.
Malcolm ran his gaze over Kyle’s gray Henley and dark jeans. “You could always serve in what you’re wearing, you know. You’d blow Jesse’s mind.”
Kyle covered a theatrical gasp with one hand. “I would never!” His preference for black or dark gray clothing while working was a source of gentle teasing among his friends. “Seriously, I don’t feel like I’m working unless I’ve got my blacks on. I’ve done it for so long it’s just part of how I do my job.”
About the Authors
K. Evan Coles
K. Evan Coles is a mother and tech pirate by day and a writer by night. She is a dreamer who, with a little hard work and a lot of good coffee, coaxes words out of her head and onto paper.
K. lives in the northeast United States, where she complains bitterly about the winters, but truly loves the region and its diverse, tenacious and deceptively compassionate people. You’ll usually find K. nerding out over books, movies and television with friends and family. She’s especially proud to be raising her son as part of a new generation of unabashed geeks.
K.’s books explore LGBTQ+ romance in contemporary settings.
Brigham Vaughn is on the adventure of a lifetime as a full-time writer. She devours books at an alarming rate and hasn’t let her short arms and long torso stop her from doing yoga. She makes a killer key lime pie, hates green peppers, and loves wine tasting tours. A collector of vintage Nancy Drew books and green glassware, she enjoys poking around in antique shops and refinishing thrift store furniture. An avid photographer, she dreams of traveling the world and she can’t wait to discover everything else life has to offer her.
Her books range from short stories to novellas. They explore gay, bisexual, lesbian, and polyamorous romance in contemporary settings.
Themes: Expectations versus possibilities, good versus evil, subverting expectations
Heat Rating: 4 flames
Word Count: 95 000 words
Fifteen years ago, Prince Graham of Ardglass barely escaped from the ancestral castle with his young life. Rescued by a magical creature and spirited off to a faraway valley, he grew into a strong, capable man—never shirking his duties on the farm, but forever bitter over his father’s betrayal. But just when he has finally come to terms with being lost and staying lost, a visitor arrives in his valley and changes everything.
After a lifetime spent lost in his beloved books, Prince Emory awakens to find his villainous aunt working to usurp the throne of Fontaine. When she sends him on a dangerous quest, he’s certain the journey is a trap, but he’s not willing to accept defeat without a fight.
But a fight is something Rory is unprepared and untrained for, until he’s saved by a handsome, unassuming farmhand and his snooty, smug, and surprisingly talkative unicorn.
About the Author
A lifelong Oregonian, Beth Bolden has just recently moved to North Carolina with her supportive husband and their sweet kitten, Earl Grey. Beth still believes in Keeping Portland Weird, and intends to start a chapter of Keeping Durham Weird. Beth has been writing practically since she learned the alphabet. Unfortunately, her first foray into novel writing, titled Big Bear with Sparkly Earrings, wasn’t a bestseller, but hope springs eternal. She’s published thirteen novels and five short stories. Yours, Forever After is her first fantasy/fairytale re-telling.
Wonderland is the hottest club in River City, but it’s time to close. It’s a different world now, and club owner Chester doesn’t see Wonderland having a place in it. What will that mean for resident bartender and hotty bottom Brandon Sweet? Or for headliner, the Queen of Hearts? Or customers like Jesse and Colton, whose open relationship and threeways are the stuff of legend? This group of friends navigate the changes in their lives until one night when everything changes for good.
Jesse Sterling liked dick.
There was no denying that. If there was a twelve-step program, he’d be standing there saying, “My name is Jesse Sterling and I’m a cockaholic,” and he would have been saying it proudly.
Jesse sucked his first dick at thirteen, and he was hooked. All those after school specials about drug dealers who gave new customers that first hit for free? That was Jesse with dick. He was hooked from the first time a guy’s hard dick touched his lips.
He liked all dick: big ones, small ones, cut ones, uncut, curved, straight. He even liked soft ones because he knew they wouldn’t stay that way for long. Not around him.
Through his teenage years, he got his hands (and mouth, and ass) on as much dick as possible. He got them out, got them hard, and got them off. Nothing made him as happy as discovering a new dick and what made them cum. Every dick was unique in how they liked to be stroked or sucked or ridden, but one thing they all had in common…. they were all beautiful.
Well, not all, he sometimes reminded himself. There’d been one that was just…just not good. That had been long ago though, and there’d been dozens of dicks since to wash the taste out of his mouth. Literally.
And then he had met Colton.
Colton Wainford was perhaps the only other man on earth who loved dick as much as Jesse. And Colton’s dick? Perfection. Perfect length. Perfect girth. Perfect rigidity. Simply, perfect.
That they had found each other, that of all the gay bars in all the world, they had walked into the same one on the same night, and paused to take in each other’s sculpted bodies before stumbling and tumbling into a bathroom stall to appreciate each other’s dicks, that was also pretty perfect.
That bar had been Wonderland, nearly a decade earlier, and that’s why, when Brandon texted with the news of pending closure, Jesse had thrown his phone onto the couch, and exclaimed loudly. “Fuck! That sucks dick!”
“What does? Who does?” Colton called from the bedroom. “And do I get some too?”
About the Author
Rob Browatzke has been writing for as long as he can remember, and is pretty darn excited for someone else to be reading his stuff finally! When it comes to gay bars and booze and drugs and drama, he knows what he’s talking about. He came out in the mid-90s, and liquor and drama went hand in hand. He has 20+ years of experience working in gay clubs in Edmonton, Alberta, and his current Wonderlounge is every bit as amazing as Alex’s Wonderland. Rob is now 8+ years clean and sober, although there’s still a bit of drama once in a while, for old times’ sake.
Eighteen Moons is the extraordinary and moving story of Andi and John and how they set out to have the family they longed for. Not many people noticed the end of a multi-billion-pound industry that touched many, many thousands of lives… but this devoted couple lived through the final wave of International Surrogacy in both India and Thailand, then finally (before it had barely begun) in Nepal on the roof of the world.
In their quest to become fathers, they come up against seemingly impossible challenges. From the very start they are overwhelmed with both bureaucracy and prejudice. The story of how this very special family comes together is filled with heartache and frustration, determination and courage. It’s a story full of humour, human frailty and, above all their determination to become the loving family they are today.
‘Touching, insightful, funny and shocking. You won’t be able to put it down.’ Zap Magazine
Andi Webb is the author of the unmissable blog ‘Diary of a Gay Dad’
Eighteen Moons is the extraordinary and moving story of Andi and John and how they brought together, against huge odds, the family they had longed for. Today they are loving fathers to five beautiful children including two sets of twins, all of them under the age of six. But the story of how this very special family came together is a tale filled with heartache and frustration, determination and courage. It’s also a story full of humour, human frailty and, above all, love. Their quest for children took them across the world and brought them up against seemingly impossible challenges. But as the whims of officials and government directives thwarted their every move and sent them on a wild adventure which took them from India to Thailand and on to Nepal, Andi and John refused to give up. Extraordinarily, Andi and John’s first twins were the last British surrogate babies to leave India (post new rules), their son was the last to leave Thailand and their second twins were the first British children to be born through surrogacy in Nepal. Happily together for twenty years and the besotted owners of two daft but loveable Dalmatians, Andi and John longed for children to complete their family. Two, they thought, would be perfect, ideally one fathered by each of them. After looking at surrogacy options worldwide, India seemed to offer everything they hoped for and in 2012 they went to India to begin the surrogacy process. A few months later, they heard that their surrogate was expecting twins. Andi went to India for the birth; the plan was that John would join them and together they would bring the babies home. When two gorgeous daughters were born they couldn’t have been happier. But what followed was a nightmare of bureaucracy and obfuscation, as John, the twins’ natural father, was refused a visa and the Indian Government refused to let Andi leave with the babies. For month after month Andi lived in India, caring for the girls, while he and John struggled to find a way to bring them home. At every turn they were thwarted until they became so desperate they considered smuggling the girls out of the country by boat. Their daughters were eight months old when, finally, John was able to go and bring them home. Same-sex surrogacy had been banned in India, so Andi, still longing to father a child, turned next to Thailand. With the news of a successful pregnancy everything looked rosy – until the Thai government also clamped down on surrogacy, the clinic was closed. For several heart-stopping days they didn’t know what had happened to their surrogate, or their baby. Finally they heard that all was well and Andi said goodbye to John and the girls and went to Thailand to be with his child. A son was born and a delighted Andi hoped to take him home within weeks. But what followed was an extraordinary saga of delays, denials and, eventually, Andi’s arrest on trumped up drug charges. Given the option by the arresting officers of waiting three months for a court date and a guaranteed three, month sentence, a second option was put on the table. No criminal record and the chance to be the first westerner to serve in the Royal Thai Army. This would take him to an army barrack’s deep in the Thai jungle, he had just one phone call, to tell John what had happened. On the day he was freed Andi found John, and their son, waiting for him. Days later, after five long months of waiting, they flew home, to introduce the girls to their new baby brother.When the surrogacy clinic in Thailand had closed Andi and John’s remaining embryos had been transferred, with the help of an Israeli agency, to Nepal, where surrogacy was still possible. At that stage, unsure of the outcome in Thailand, they had given the go-ahead for a surrogacy attempt. Now they heard that once again twins were expected, this time on the roof of the world. Andi arrived just after the massive 2015 earthquake in Nepal. The final five full moons of this story would be set in Kathmandu.
About the Author
Andi Webb is the writer of diaryofagaydad.net and author of the book Eighteen Moons (available through Amazon.com). Andi is a gay, stay at home dad to five young children under the age of six, living in ‘The Shires’ of England. The daily blog of family life both illuminates and amuses. Eighteen Moons is the memoir of how two men set out on the journey to becoming fathers to five young children, not an easy feat.
Even the best laid plans can go wrong… Jared Costa is a touring backup dancer for one of pop music’s hottest up-and-comers. He’s also harboring a crush on his sexy-as-sin dance partner, Corey, who is tragically straight. Jared’s plan to make it through another month of the tour without acting on his desires should work, if he doesn’t let his hunger for Corey get the best of him. Once the tour is over, they will go their separate ways and Jared can put this foolish crush behind him for good. Corey Miller put his same-sex attraction days behind him in college. Staying away from entanglements is the key to the big plans for his career and making a name for himself as a dancer. Or, that was the plan, until a game of beer pong ends in a kiss–with his luscious dance partner, Jared. Corey’s spun off center, unable to regain his balance. After their hot-as-hell kiss, he’s questioning if fame is all he wants, or if what he needs is something–or someone–else. With both their plans crumbling, can they abandon those and devise a new plan? One that holds them together, instead of tearing them apart?
Jared paced backstage, only half-listening to the house music blaring overhead and the screaming of the impatient fans in the stands. Behind him, Ben and Zach from Addicted Fling were shit-talking one another. The guys who made up Addicted Fling were fine when they were offstage, but their pre-show bravado grated on Jared’s nerves. So did the band’s name, for that matter. It all seemed to scream “trying too hard,” but that was none of Jared’s business. At least the music wasn’t terrible. Jared spun to continue his pacing.
The stage manager was working his way towards Jared, Corey—the other backup dancer—close behind. Jared’s heart thudded. Corey was … well, he and Corey were friends—or at least, Corey would probably claim that—but if Jared had his way, they’d do so much more than dance. As a result of his unrequited crush on the straight guy, Jared tried to keep Corey at an arm’s length. It was hard—blond, muscular Corey was exactly Jared’s type, with deep-set green eyes and a face full of stubble. Jared wanted to be wrapped up in the man.
“Okay, Jay,” Neil began. “Tonight’s a big one.”
Jared stopped his pacing and nodded. “I know.”
Neil adjusted his headset and paused to listen carefully. “Three more songs and you’re up.”
Jared huffed out a little laugh. “Yeah, Neil, I know. We’ve been doing this for a month.”
“This one’s important, though,” Neil said, as if Jared needed a reminder. “There are a few recruiters watching tonight, so people are going to be paying attention. This could be the next step in your career.”
A lump formed in Jared’s throat. He didn’t know if dancing backup for various pop stars was what he wanted to do for the rest of his career. He really wanted to teach and choreograph. That didn’t mean he was going to screw up on purpose, but he certainly wasn’t trying to impress recruiters. He nodded. “Gotcha.”
“I’m serious, Jared. Dance like Gaga is watching.”
Corey barked a laugh and clapped a hand on Jared’s shoulder. “Or like her lead dancer is checking out your ass.”
Jared’s face flooded with heat. He never knew how to respond when Corey made an offhanded remark about sexuality—either of theirs. Jared fidgeted, working his hands into fists at his sides, and looked at his shoes, forcing a laugh.
A few minutes passed while Corey and Jared helped each other stretch before it was their turn to go on stage. When Neil gave the cue, they hurried to their mark on either side of the stage. Jared couldn’t tear his eyes away from Corey. He imagined Corey coming closer, pulling Jared into a kiss, and then he heard the music start up, forcing the stage back into focus.
Jared waited for his cue before rushing onstage, but he couldn’t stop watching Corey, and he stumbled a little, his heart pounding. He was acutely aware of the crowd. This was a sold-out show, one of the biggest he’d ever performed. Morgan, the pop singer he danced backup for, had gotten lucky with this tour, landing an opening gig for one of the biggest rock bands in the country, and—
“Cincy, how you doin’ tonight? My name is Morgan Palmer, and I am so excited to be here with you! Welcome to the Crushing Tour!” Morgan screamed into her mic as the song ended, cutting through Jared’s thoughts. The crowd went nuts, screaming back at her. She had won the hearts of hundreds of thousands of people on this tour, and every night her songs worked their magic on a fresh batch of new potential fans. “Give it up for these beautiful boys, my dancers, Jared and Corey.” Once again, the crowd cheered. Jared sneaked a glance at Corey, his light skin shining with sweat under the hot lights already.
About the Author
Riley Long is a wife and mother living a quiet life in Virginia, with her husband, son, and two energetic pit bulls. She passes her evenings writing, reading, and watching bad television (or not so bad television). For fun, Riley participates in NaNoWriMo, GISH, and reads with her book club, the BAMFs. She likes things with silly acronyms. The craziest thing Riley has ever done involves whipped cream and hugs.
Themes: actions have consequences, paying the price for compassion, perseverance, triumph over adversity
Heat Rating: 0 flames. No sexual content. (It’s a love story, but not a romance)
Repeat Offence is a fantasy story, told in first person POV. It’s NOT a romance, and there’s no sex, but I consider it a love story. Apart from the first and last scene, the two MCs are apart. Readers can infer that it’s m/m, but Taz’s (the narrator’s) gender is never mentioned in any way. It fits into general fantasy as much as into LGBT+.
But dying in a wash of blood was just the beginning.
Sentenced to eternal life for sacrificing themselves in battle, warriors Taz and Hiro must take turns living as human and Guardian on opposing sides of the veil with only a chance to catch a glance of each other in the moment of death.
Until an attack forces Taz and Hiro to make a choice. Should they cling to what little solace they’ve carved out for themselves? Or should they sacrifice their lives to save countless others and risk the wrath of the Judges for a second time?
Excerpt – Judged
It should have ended with our deaths.
Dying in a wash of blood was just the beginning.
I’d closed my eyes to firelight and pale grey mud, trampled and stained crimson, grateful when death took me swiftly, only to wake to light harsher than the noonday sun at midsummer.
The stone beneath my back leeched the heat from my body and the brightness around me held so little warmth that my breath rose in puffs of vapour. I felt no pain, and my arms bent when I willed them to. I raised my hands to my neck where the smooth skin under my fingertips mocked my memories.
By the time we’d fought our way out of the Sakkadian king’s tent, I’d been bleeding from a raft of shallow wounds. And when the king’s guards had overwhelmed us, a savage cut to my neck had ended my life.
There was no sign now of the slash that had almost severed my head. The fatal wound had vanished, along with the mud, the firelight, and the sounds of battle.
A rasping cough made me turn my head. Hiro lay beside me on the cold stone, skin smooth and eyes wide. “Taz?”
“Yes.” My voice grated, as if I’d not used it in years. I cleared my throat and tried again. “It’s me.” I sat up to better watch him—alive, serene, with his blue eyes glowing like the finest gemstones. “Do you think—? Is this the afterlife?”
He scratched his head, his fingers catching at the curls in his pale hair.
It hadn’t been that long when I’d seen it last. Running through the ward fires had singed the ends to ragged shreds. They framed his face in messy tangles, dark with sweat and spattered with blood. Holding a sword in one hand and a long dagger in the other, he’d appeared like a savage in the final moments of our lives. Glorious, undefeated, victorious. Dying shouldn’t have felt so right, but with Hiro beside me, elation had left no room for fear. Even the pain of my wounds had shrunk to a minor annoyance.
I’d gone to my death with a broad grin on my face.
Only to wake here… wherever that was.
I fingered the loose trousers and deep blue tunic that covered me from neck to ankle. Slippery, and with a soft sheen, the material was as unfamiliar to me as the cut of my outfit. As strange as waking from death, my wounds gone and even Hiro’s long hair restored.
When Hiro rose, I rolled to my feet and stood beside him, surveying the place where we’d woken. A huge, empty hall stared back at us, perfectly proportioned and large enough for a company of men. A mosaic of pale-yellow stone formed the floor. Whitewashed plaster covered the walls. Dark beams leaned towards each other high above our heads, twining in an intricate pattern to create a roof.
Neither cressets nor sconces marred the smooth expanse of stone and plaster, and no hearth or fire pit interrupted the slabs covering the floor. Since the room lacked doors and windows, it should have been pitch dark. Instead, we stood in frigid brightness.
I took a step towards the nearest wall, intent on solving this riddle, when Hiro’s grip on my wrist held me back.
“I’ve never believed in tales of an afterlife,” he answered the question I’d asked earlier.
“Wise of you,” came a voice from behind us. “Because what might pass for an afterlife in your world will be your penance in ours.”
We turned as one and the sight sent my heart racing.
“I am your Judge,” he rumbled.
The Judge towered over us, his height that of two ordinary men, with breadth to match. Swirls of shadow and light swathed his form and hid his face, and his regard touched me like an icy breath, colder even than the chill air in the hall. I itched to wrap my arms around myself to ward off the shivers, but I didn’t want to show weakness. His words hinted at worse to come, and whatever he chose to throw at us, he wouldn’t find me any less steadfast than Hiro.
I had no idea who or what he was, whether god or demon. Every kingdom on the continent had its own gods, temples, and rituals and I’d never been one for much worship. I’d made offerings to Balar, the god of storms, and Veenis, the hearth goddess, at times, but those had been little more than token gestures. I swore by the gods, of course, or at them, though I wasn’t insane enough to mention that. The entity facing us looked forbidding enough to be Balar, but the storm god was never judgemental. He smote sinners and believers alike.
“I am not a god,” he said as if my mind was an open book to him. “Neither am I a demon. The Judges guard the balance of these worlds.”
Worlds. As if there was more than one.
I pushed the thought aside and focussed instead on Hiro and the Judge who watched each other like rival cats.
“Why do you require our penance?” Hiro dared to ask when too much time had passed in silence.
“You were given a gift, and you chose to squander it,” the Judge unbent enough to enlighten us. “You didn’t wait for death to come for you at the appointed time. You went out of your way to seek it. You both lie dead long before that destiny was meant to be yours. And for what?”
His voice rolled through the empty hall and teased echoes from each corner. The anger and disdain in his glare heated my blood until I no longer felt the cold. I was about to tell him not to sit in judgement over what he would never understand when Hiro’s grip tightened on my wrist and stopped me.
“We didn’t squander our lives,” he told the Judge, much calmer than I would have done. “We didn’t raid the Sakkadian camp on a whim. We’d long waited for such an opportunity and we took it when it arrived. We fell to Sakkadian swords, but not until we’d achieved our goal. Ten years of warfare are done with. Over.”
“That is irrelevant.” The Judge’s anger crackled in the air like static before a thunderstorm. “I hold that you threw away your lives, because you knew that your mission was suicide.”
Hiro let go of my wrist and turned his head until our gazes met. I couldn’t tell whether he was trying to reassure me or keep me quiet. I wanted to argue—desperately so—but what could I say that would be acceptable to the Judge?
We hadn’t known. Not in the way he implied. I’d never once gone into battle believing I’d not make it through. And I’d swear any oath that Hiro hadn’t either.
“It is irrelevant.” The Judge didn’t let Hiro plead our case. “We have judged you by your actions. You wasted the life gifted to you and you will do penance for your transgression.”
With each word, the Judge seemed to grow taller and wider. His voice filled the hall until even the harsh, bright light gave way before his wrath. “You are sentenced to eternal life. You will spend your lives on opposite sides of the veil, taking turns living and watching. You will switch places at death. We will consider your penance complete if you manage to meet in the exact moment the human in your pairing dies.”
His pronouncement ended with a snap. The air grew icy and thick. And before I could exchange more than a single glance with Hiro, darkness wrapped me up and my sense of self disappeared with the light.
About the Author
Jackie Keswick was born behind the Iron Curtain with itchy feet, a bent for rocks and a recurring dream of stepping off a bus in the middle of nowhere to go home. She’s worked in a hospital and as the only girl with 52 men on an oil rig, spent a winter in Moscow and a summer in Iceland and finally settled in the country of her dreams with her dream team: a husband, a cat, a tandem, a hammer and a laptop.
Jackie loves unexpected reunions and second chances, and men who write their own rules. She blogs about English history and food, has a thing for green eyes, and is a great believer in making up soundtracks for everything, including her characters and the cat. And she still hasn’t found the place where the bus stops. For questions and comments, not restricted to green eyes, bus stops or recipes for traditional English food, you can find Jackie Keswick in all the usual places: