RELEASE BLITZ: “Repeat Offense” by Jackie Keswick. Rafflecopter giveaway included! See link below for details:

RELEASE BLITZ

Book Title: Repeat Offence

Author: Jackie Keswick

Publisher: Jackie Keswick

Cover Artist: Pavelle Art

Release Date: August 14, 2019

Genre/s: Fantasy/metaphysical, fantasy/paranormal

Trope/s: abiding love, defeating death,

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+.

Length: 20 000 words/66 pages

It is a standalone story.

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Buy Links

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Amazon CA | Amazon DE | Amazon FR | Amazon It

Blurb

It should have ended with their deaths.

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.

It didn’t.

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.

“We didn’t—”

“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:

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RELEASE BLITZ: “Wanderlust” by Quin Perin. $10.00 Amazon Gift Card Giveaway included! See link below for entry:

RELEASE BLITZ

Book Title: Wanderlust: Bundle

Author: Quin Perin

Publisher: Self-Published

Cover Artist: Quin Perin

Release Date: August 13, 2019

Genre/s: M/M Romance

Trope/s: Hurt/Comfort, Out for You, Friends to Lovers

Length: 55 000 words/190 pages

Heat Rating: 3 flames

It is a standalone story with a HEA

Add on Goodreads

Buy Links – Available on Kindle Unlimited

Amazon US | Amazon UK

Blurb

Please check the warning section inside the book.

I knew all the regulars. I knew their drinks. Their complaints. I knew everything that went on in this little town. But they didn’t know me.

And I didn’t know him.

Momma always told me to be kind to others, so I didn’t even think twice when I invited him into my house, into my life, my heart.

I was happy being alone, until I wasn’t.

Little did I know that once you get a taste of happiness, nothing will ever taste the same. Especially when it is taken away.

***WANDERLUST is a slow burn romance, featuring hurt/comfort and friends-to-lovers elements as well as detailed adult m/m content

Excerpt

Juste

Every day here was the same. Al came to the bar at the same time, the same exhaustion clinging to his body. He sat on the same seat. Drank a shot and two beers. He asked how I was doing, not expecting a real answer, and then I asked how his family was, not expecting a real answer. He didn’t tell me that his daughter was struggling out in the city. Wouldn’t mention the rumors of her doing less than savory things for cash. He wouldn’t mention that boy of his, the trouble he’d gotten into. And he wouldn’t mention how Sally was really doing. Pale and weak. Growing frailer by the day.

Just like Sally wouldn’t say anything when she stopped by. She’d wear one of her good floral print dresses and a sun hat. Her blond, thinning hair tucked back in a low bun, and she’d have a basket slung over her arm. She’d smile at the men in the bar, her blue eyes bright despite the dark circles under them. Talk to her husband’s friends, sweet as pie and light as cotton. Then she’d come up to the bar and ask for a glass of water before promptly presenting me with several jars of jam.

Sometimes it felt like I was living in a TV show on repeat, the tape getting more and more worn out as it played over and over again. It had been like this ever since I came back to town fourteen years ago when my father got sick. No one had changed. Nothing had changed. Same songs on the jukebox. Same people wandering through life. Rare excitement. It was peaceful, and it was mind-numbingly dull at the same time.

Al finished his first beer, and I grabbed the bottle, tossing it in the trash before grabbing him another. My bottle opener came out of my pocket, and I slid it across to him. “I think I’m fixin’ to head up into town this next weekend,” I told him casually. My one escape was driving nearly two hours to the nearest big city every two or three months. Usually, I’d try to be helpful when I could. Pick up things that people needed and promised to pay me back for. They often didn’t, and I never brought it up.

With a nod, he leaned back on his stool and groaned. “I think we’re good on everythin’ right now, but I’ll ask the missus when I get home.”

I flashed him a smile before turning away to give him his peace. There wasn’t much to do in the bar. Al was my only customer at the moment, and it wasn’t likely to get much busier. On the weekends it was more lively. I’d play music, and some people would get drunk enough to dance. For now, though, it was the two of us.

I was kneeling below the bar when I heard the door open again, and I popped up, expecting a familiar face. It was not. The man who walked in the door was…a stranger. In the best possible way. Not like anyone I’d ever seen in a small town. Damn near took my breath away.

Light eyes, so light that it was hard to tell their color in the dimly lit room, glanced around with ease. One hand was hooked in the back pocket of a pair of faded jeans, the other holding onto the strap of a backpack that looked ready to burst. My stranger was tall. Bout as tall as me. Body sturdy. Shoulders wide. His complexion was darker than mine, darker than anyone else in the town. Not entirely black but more than tan. Soft and smooth with an almost golden glow. Black hair was curly, and there was several days growth of beard across a sharp jaw, but it did nothing to hide his full lips. If he’d been a bit cleaner, he would have looked like someone from the movies. As it was there was a couple days worth of dust on his clothes to match the beard. And his eyes drooped faintly. Like he’d been traveling a long time. Despite the way he looked, I recognized him. Recognized his skin. A hitchhiker. Going to somewhere or away from something.

Long limbs loose, like he had no cares in the world, he headed toward the bar, mine and Al’s eyes fixed on him as he lowered himself onto a stool a couple spaces over. His bag was set on the floor by his feet.

Those lips twitched into a crooked half-grin. “Howdy,” he said. His voice seemed to shake the room. Deep as thunder yet smooth as cream. It made the skin prickle on the back of my neck, warmth flushing through me.

“Well, hey there, stranger.” I didn’t know how I managed to find my voice, but I did, heading over to him and placing my hands on the counter in front of him. “What can I get ya?”

His tongue ran over his lips, and he looked around, at the small display of bottles behind me. “You don’t happen to have any food here, would ya?” he asked. “Didn’t see anywhere else open on my way through town.”

“Nah. No food here,” I admitted. “Just lots of drinks for whatever ails ya.”

A low chuckle and he shrugged his shoulders. “My empty stomach is ailin’ me right now. More than my thirst. You wouldn’t happen to know any place ‘round here that would be open?”

Shaking my head, I put on an apologetic smile. “Fraid not, everywhere closed up early,” I informed him. “Heck, it’s bout near my closing time too.” I usually shut everything up once Al was gone.

“Ah, all right.” His shoulders slumped faintly, but that easy smile didn’t fade from his lips. Poor fella was trying to be positive, but it couldn’t have been easy with an empty belly.

One thing that I had learned from my daddy that I took to heart was the need to help your fellow man. My daddy was a mean drunk, but he never hesitated to help someone who needed it. When he was sober, he could have given Jesus a run for his money. God rest his soul. People ‘round town liked to joke that I was like him because of that, which was fine by me. I wasn’t much likely to turn someone away if they needed a hot meal.

I tapped my fingers against the bar and shrugged my shoulders. “If you ain’t got nowhere to be, I’ll be closing in ‘bout thirty or so, and I’ve got a stew simmering at home,” I said. “If ya want.”

About the Authors

As a pair of genre rebels, Quin and Perin—from the US and Germany—are constantly maneuvering time zones and plot bunnies to whip up Gay Novels. Expect plenty of heat and elevated smut. With a dash of drama, a pinch of sweet, and a hefty amount of kink on the side, they serve up stories that will leave you full and satisfied.

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RELEASE BLITZ: “Release (Rent Boys 1)” by A. E. Ryecart. Rafflecopter Giveaway Included! See below link for entry. . .

RELEASE BLITZ

Book Title: Release (Rent Boys #1)

Author: A E Ryecart

Publisher: Indie published

Cover Artist: Tammy Clarke

Release Date: August 9, 2019

Genre/s: contemporary MM romance

Trope/s: opposites attract, sex worker hero, class difference, found family, slow burn

Themes: salvation, redemption, attainment of a better/different/more fulfilled life

Heat Rating: 2 flames

Length: 70 000 approx. words

Add on Goodreads

Buy Links – Available on Kindle Unlimited

Universal Amazon Link | Amazon US | Amazon UK

When life holds them captive, can love be their release?

Blurb

Selling his body since he was a fifteen-year-old runaway, rent boy Sean Farrell has learned the hard lesson that the only way to survive the streets is to act tough and cocky. But an act is all it is, as underneath he’s never felt more adrift as he struggles with crippling self-doubt. Sean’s distilled life into three simple rules: earn enough cash to get by, stick close to the friends who have become his family — and don’t let anyone steal his heart.

Art is Laurie Cassell’s profession and passion. His calm and ordered life is just how he thinks he wants it, but it’s becoming harder to ignore the creeping feeling that calm and ordered has become dull and predictable. Laurie craves more but doesn’t know what, or not until a man with dark hazel eyes and a bad attitude swaggers into his life — and leaves with his heart.

Two men who should never have met, let alone fallen in love. Can Sean and Laurie release the other from lives that are holding them captive?

*** Release is a slow burn, opposites attract MM romance. Found family, good friends who give advice our men don’t want to hear, and the redemptive power of love can all be found between the pages. No cliffhanger, and a guaranteed HEA. ***

Excerpt

“Didn’t you hear what he said? He doesn’t want a drink. Are you fucking deaf as well as stupid?”

The words were out of Sean’s mouth before he could think. This wasn’t his fight, this wasn’t his problem. What am I getting myself into? But Sean knew why he hadn’t walked away. The drunk was a bully, and his hectoring voice had scratched down Sean’s spine like nails over a chalkboard. Sean moved in closer, narrowing the space between him and the drunk to no more than a hand’s width.

“Piss off. This hasn’t got anything to do with you.” The drunk made a good effort at standing his ground, but his voice had lost its edge. He was no longer so sure of himself, the ground beneath his feet no longer so stable.

Sean said nothing, offering only a grim smile. He knew what the drunk was seeing.

Tall and well built, and with his hair cut short and severe, Sean looked like a squaddie, a soldier off-duty for the night. Have you got the uniform? Have you got the fatigues? Words, and others like them, he’d had panted into his ear more than once. Sean watched as the drunk hesitated. Unexpectedly challenged, he deflated like a balloon stabbed with a pin.

The guy shrugged and walked off, banging his shoulder into Sean in a final show of defiance. Sean let him have his second or two of triumph; he was gone, and that was all that mattered.

A soft and cultured voice drifted out of the shadow.

“Thank you. You didn’t have to, but, thanks. I appreciate it. He didn’t seem to want to listen to me.” The added words were accompanied by a nervous, hesitant laugh.

Now that the drunk had gone, Sean focused his full attention on the guy.

Dark, heavy hair fell in a floppy fringe across his brow. Pushing it aside, the guy looked up.

Under the bar’s muted lights, Sean couldn’t determine the colour of his eyes, other than they were large, dark, and full of gratitude. There was a fine-boned delicacy about his clean-shaven face — no hint of designer stubble — and he was well, if conservatively, dressed. Late twenties, thirty at a push, Sean guessed, just a few years more than his own twenty-four.

“Are you waiting for friends or was that just a way of telling him,” Sean said, jabbing his thumb over his shoulder, “to take a hike?” He stared down at the guy, who looked as awkward and out of place in the overpriced, pretentious bar as he did.

The guy nodded, fiddling with the mixer stick in his glass, stirring the ice, and pushing down on what looked like a whole load of salad leaves.

“I am. This wasn’t my choice, but, well…” He screwed up his nose as he looked beyond Sean and into the bar.

Sean glanced behind him, surprised to see how in just a few minutes the crowd had swollen. He turned back to the guy and met his wry smile with one of his own.

“Yeah, well, this place was my choice, but I’ve gotta ask myself why.”

The guy laughed. “Everybody’s allowed one erroneous choice. It’s a friend’s birthday, and he wanted to come here, so I didn’t get a lot of say.”

“So where is he, then?”

“Late, as always, but I’m early. As always.”

About the Author

I love all kinds of MM romance and gay fiction, but I especially like contemporary stories. Born and raised in London, the city is part of my DNA so I like to set many of my stories in and around present-day London, providing the perfect metropolitan backdrop to all the main action. When I’m not writing at home, in the gym, in cafés – in fact any place I can find a good coffee – I can be found with my feet up thinking of more ways to put my men through the emotional wringer!

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Talking RoMMance… with a British accent

(This a shared group. The other UK authors are Jack L Pyke, Louise Mae, and Susan Mac Nicol)

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Continue ReadingRELEASE BLITZ: “Release (Rent Boys 1)” by A. E. Ryecart. Rafflecopter Giveaway Included! See below link for entry. . .

NEW RELEASE: “Alexis vs. the Afterlife” by Marcus Alexander Hart

I discovered a new author, Marcus Alexander Hart, and this is his first book in the world of LGBT Fiction. This man is kind, charming, and above all, funny!

“Alexis vs. the Afterlife” is an urban fantasy comedy, which features a lesbian protagonist. 

AUTHOR BIO

Marcus Alexander Hart is a novelist, karaoke star, and default awesome dude. His credits include Disney Channel’s Wizards of Waverly Place and Disney XD’s Lab Rats. Marcus has been a roller-derby skater, a real-life quidditch player, and an undercover water-gun assassin. He once won a long-distance road rally driving a fake ice cream truck.

Follow his adventures at OldPalMarcus.com.

BLURB

Alexis McRiott is a foul-mouthed guitar goddess with a passion for hair-metal and groupies of the fairer sex. You’d never recognize this strung-out Hollywood dirtbag as the squeaky-clean kid wizard she used to play on TV.

And that suits her just fine.

But when Alexis is killed in a freak accident, her sitcom past comes back to haunt her. On her first day as a ghost she destroys a rampaging poltergeist using a hex from her old show that, for some reason, actually works.

Impressed by her powers, a deceased medieval prince tries to recruit Alexis in his crusade against otherworldly evil, but she refuses to be his clichéd “chosen one” magical heroine. That is, until she meets his sister-in-arms—a smokin’ hot Chinese railroad worker duty-bound to protect the living from supernatural threats.

Pursued by soul-collecting reapers, this motley crew must stop a paranormal apocalypse that Alexis might have been kinda, sorta, completely responsible for unleashing. But can two dead lesbians and a seven-hundred-year-old tween save the world with sitcom magic?

They don’t stand a ghost of a chance.

 

EXCLUSIVE EXCERPT

I slouch on a stool at the end of a dive bar, feeding a sticky tumbler of peach schnapps to tomorrow’s hangover. Lucky for me, nobody ever cards in this part of Hollywood. Or maybe I just look more burned out than any nineteen-year-old girl has a right to be.

A twee pop duo are ukulele-and-tambourining their way through their set on a stage behind me. The assembled drunks try their best to tune them out, but the singer’s piercing warble refuses to be ignored. Six acts are performing here tonight, each of us getting twenty-five bucks to show off our talents. Most are being grossly overpaid.

I shoot the rest of my drink and signal the bartender—a rough-edged minx with a shirt cut so low it could double as a tip jar. She shakes her head as she refills my glass. “You might wanna cut back a little, chica. Your bar tab is about to eclipse your gig payment.”

I shrug. “Eh. No money, no problems.”

She raises a pierced eyebrow. “Tell you what, how ’bout I hold onto a few bucks and grab a little something special for you?”

My heart races at her wry smile. Is she . . . flirting? Holy shit, she’s flirting! I sit up straighter and smile back. “A gift, eh? What do you have in mind?”

“Some deodorant. Girl, you smell rough.”

Not flirting. Definitely not flirting. But she’s actually talking to me, so I go for broke. “Well, you know what they say: Girls who smell rough feel the best on your muff.”

The bartender shakes her head. “Hard pass. I’m not into the whole ‘vagrant chic’ thing. Or vaginas. Or, you know, you.” Wow, straight and vicious. I can really pick a winner. “Besides, you already have a girlfriend.”

She nods at the empty stool beside me.

“Um, what?”

“Your date. Alexis.”

“I, uh . . . what?”

She leans over and points at my guitar propped against the next barstool. It’s an abused old Strat-type thing I stole from a yard sale when I was a kid. A previous owner slathered it in crappy yellow house paint which I’ve spent the past decade covering with stickers—bands I like, banana labels, poison warnings I picked off bathroom cleansers. One night, after a deep and introspective heart-to-heart with a bottle of Baileys, I thought it would be a good idea to scratch my name into it with a screwdriver. You know, so nobody would steal it. Deep black gouges in the wood now scream “ALEXIS.”

“Oh! No. I’m Alexis,” I say. “Alexis McRiott.”

“Why does that name sound familiar?” She sucks a breath and snaps her fingers. “Wait! You’re Sierra Specter!”

Just hearing the name tenses my shoulders and tightens my jaw.

“Uh, no. I’m Alexis McRiott.” I slide my finger along the scrapes in my guitar. “Say it with me now. A-lex-is.”

The bartender hoots and gives her hands a sharp clap. “Oh man! I can’t believe it. Come on, you gotta say it for me. Give me a ‘sheerio bluzdink!’

Heat bristles through my scabby cheeks as I look away and pick at my guitar’s strings. Apparently it isn’t enough for her to just shoot me down and step on my heart. She has to take a big steamy dump on me too.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” I mutter.

“Yeah you do. Don’t lie. It was your catchphrase. You were that wizard kid on That’s My Boo.

I shrug. “Is that like, a TV show or something?”

“Ugh. Really? You gonna make me bring YouTube into this?”

She taps at her phone then holds the screen in front of my eyes, showing a video bootlegged off an old Whimsy Channel broadcast. Some kind of giant octopus-werewolf thing attacking a thirteen-year-old girl in a purple leather jacket. The kid throws out her hands and screams sheerio bluzdink, and the monster vanishes in a lavender flash.

The bartender holds the phone up next to my face. “The eyes are a dead giveaway. Purple? Come on. That’s you.”

I sigh. There’s no denying it. The kid on the screen and I have the same purple eyes. But besides that, I look nothing like her anymore. Her hair is in perfect blonde ringlets. Mine looks like it’s been used to mop up a gas station bathroom and then stuck out a car window to dry. Her round face is flawlessly camera-ready. My gaunt features are pitted with zits and acne scars. And I’ve long since traded that purple leather jacket for a few regrettable tattoos.

I shove her phone out of my face. “Fine. You got me. In a past life, one million years ago, I used to play a sorceress on a dumb kiddie sitcom. Does that earn me a free drink?”

“Uh, no. I think a big TV star can afford her own drinks. I bet those big Whimsy paychecks got you set up for life down in Malibu. Am I right? Or are you a Beverly Hills gutter punk?”

“Surfridge, actually.”

“Never heard of it. Westside?”

I sip my drink and nod. “It’s a very exclusive community.”

On stage, the twee boy solos on a vintage kazoo while the girl yodels like she doesn’t care if anyone’s listening. The bartender winces and scratches a note on a clipboard.

“Ugh. Jimmy & Sprinkles are officially on my blacklist.” She reaches for the TV hanging over the bar and mashes her thumb on the volume-up button in an attempt to drown them out.

“—unveiling of a new treasure at the Hayes Tower Casino.”

I squint up at the screen. The eleven o’clock news is on, showing some gala event at a Las Vegas casino full of priceless art treasures. So much bling. I feel it calling out to me. Begging me to steal it. My old court-appointed psychologist used to call this the impulse. He said it just like that. In italics. Like my kleptomania is an unspeakable parasite in my brain, forcing me to do evil things.

On the TV, camera flashes flicker against an old guy in a tuxedo. He whips a cover off a podium, revealing a ring with a gemstone the size of a golf ball. The light glints and dazzles off its surface like something Ryan Seacrest should be dropping over Times Square on New Year’s Eve. My guts simultaneously tighten and twist, wringing cold sweat from my pores.

The ring.

I shake my head. Don’t be an idiot. It isn’t the ring. It’s a ring. The ring is locked up somewhere in Nebraska. And so is the guy who gave it to you. It’s all ancient history, but my hand still trembles as I take a steadying swig of my drink.

“This dazzling gemstone has not made a public appearance since it was entered into evidence during the Simon Fax murder trial three years ago.”

I cough peach schnapps through my nose. It is the ring. The fuse on the bomb that blew That’s My Boo to smithereens. And I had been the one who lit it.

The TV drones on. “With the appeals process closed, the ring went up for public auction, where it was purchased by billionaire casino magnate Cooper Jackson Hayes for one-point-seven million dollars.”

I just stare, frozen. My drink dribbles down my chin and onto my tattered T-shirt.

One. Point. Seven. Million.

A thousand what-if scenarios explode through my mind. What if I hadn’t turned in the ring? What if I’d sold it? That thing would have bought enough studio time to record an album. To record ten albums! I could have bought back everything they took from me. And more. If I hadn’t run to the cops like a little bitch.

I clench my eyes and remind myself I did the right thing. There had been a very good reason to turn over that ring.

And there are one-point-seven million good reasons to have kept it.

The unfairness of it all pulls the pin on a rage grenade deep inside me, and I know there’s only one way to diffuse it. I shoot the rest of my drink, grab my guitar, and jump on stage with the manic pixie dream band. The girl stops mewling and gapes at me.

“Hey! We’re not done yet!”

“Yeah, you are.” I snatch her tambourine and fling it into the crowd like a Frisbee. She squeaks and runs after it, followed by her dainty boyfriend. I plug my busted-up guitar into the bar’s busted-up amp, releasing a piercing squeal of feedback.

“Hey, I’m Alexis. Doing the right thing sucks. Here’s a song.”

Fury surges from my fingers, through the guitar, and out into the world as I grind out the chords of my newest jam, “Champagne (Make it Rain).” My eyes close and the vocals rip through me.

 

You think you’ve got a good deal, then they tear off the seal.

You’re gonna reach the top, but then the cork goes pop.

You fall down, the bottle breaks. The party turns into heartache.

But I’m not gonna kill myself. Gonna climb right up to that top shelf.

Then I’m gonna make it rain.

Gonna turn my pain to champagne, champagne, champagne!

 

My set takes on a life of its own, a frenzied blur of noise and sweat and catharsis. I don’t think about what happened before or what happens next. I am here. I am now. My guitar is a shield against all the bullshit of the world, and as long as I keep playing I am safe.

No, I am invincible.

I become aware of barflies whistling and clapping and generally rocking out around me. No big shock. The manic screech of my guitar is a grease fire of ecstasy that scalds everyone in earshot. In this moment I’m not a has-been child star. I’m a goddamn metal goddess, living loud and kicking ass. High on music. High on life.

This high never lasts.

 

Continue ReadingNEW RELEASE: “Alexis vs. the Afterlife” by Marcus Alexander Hart