RELEASE BLITZ: “Mermen & Magic: Treacherous Seas” by L. M. Brown.

RELEASE BLITZ

Book Title: Treacherous Seas (Mermen and Magic, Book 6)

Author: L.M. Brown

Publisher: Pride Publishing

Release Date: June 11, 2019

Genre/s: Paranormal, Fantasy, M/M Romance

Themes: Reincarnation, Second Chance at Love

Heat Rating: 4 flames

Length: 85 815 words/348 pages

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Blurb

Caspian, the Atlantean God of Justice, has devoted his eternal life to protecting the merfolk. He has no time for romance, not even when the merman he now watches over is his former lover reincarnated.

Phoebus, a merman living in the sunken city of Atlantis before the Atlanteans were banished, never intended to fall for Caspian, the most promiscuous of all the gods. Yet, when Caspian offers him immortality, Phoebus doesn’t know if he can pay the price, even if refusing means breaking the heart of a god.

Back in the present, Marin remembers the love he once had for Caspian, but he’s not the same merman now. Caspian might have loved him as Phoebus, but he knows the god cannot give him what he needs.

Marin doesn’t want Caspian’s protection. He wants revenge, and he is prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice to get it, even if it means breaking Caspian’s heart a second time.

 

Excerpt

“Caspian, there you are.” Cari breezed into the room and settled herself onto the chaise. “I’ve been searching everywhere for you.”

Caspian sipped his wine before answering his sister. “Well, now you’ve found me.”

Cari helped herself to a glass of her own. “Since when do you travel to this part of the world?”

“I needed some time alone,” Caspian replied. Rafe’s jealousies had pushed him to his limit today, so he had escaped to a small province in Italia for a little peace and quiet. Hiding from his priest wasn’t difficult, but avoiding his sister was another matter entirely.

“Rafe?” Cari asked.

“You know I don’t like it when you poke into my head.” He managed to block most of the immortals from his mind, but his sister appeared to have the ability to bypass all his defenses. He supposed it came from being the Goddess of Prophecy.

“I didn’t,” Cari replied. “But when I checked your palace, he was ranting about some merman you’d fucked. I simply drew my own conclusions.”

“I didn’t fuck him.”

“Rafe seems to think otherwise.”

Caspian rolled his eyes. “Rafe was present in the room the entire time. He is well aware of what we did.”

Cari huffed. “Did you ever think that your priest might not get quite so jealous if you didn’t make him watch you with other men?”

“The merman was having trouble breaking his mating fever. He came to me for help, we broke his fever and he returned to the ocean. That was it.”

“What was his name?”

“Who? The merman?”

“Yes, him.”

“Phoebus. Why do you want to know?”

“Just curious. I spoke to Mother this morning.”

“And what did she have to say for herself?”

“She told me Medina had slipped you a love potion.”

“Apparently. She added something to my wine, but I don’t know what. She was probably bluffing.”

Cari laughed briefly. “Don’t you know by now that Medina never bluffs?”

“Well, it doesn’t seem to have had much of an impact on me. Probably she isn’t as good at brewing up mischief as she likes to think.”

Cari sipped her wine. “You never did figure out the difference between a love potion and one that simply inspires lust.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that if she’d given you the latter, which is what she hands out to most who seek her services, you’d be fucking that young merman right now. A true love potion, on the other hand, takes time to work, just like real love takes time to grow.”

“What are you saying? You think I’m going to fall in love with someone? The merman?”

“Like it or not, you are about to discover what falling in love is like.”

“I think I’ll let that particular experience pass me by, thank you all the same.”

“You seem to be laboring under the mistaken belief you have a choice in the matter.”

“I do.”

Cari finished her glass of wine and poured herself another. “I took a peek into your future after I spoke to Mother.”

“I suppose telling you I don’t want to know about my future would be pointless?”

“It would.”

“Very well. Tell me what you saw, and if I don’t like it, I’ll do what I need to so I can change it.”

“You can’t alter course mid-stream.”

“Says who?”

“Fate.”

“I don’t believe in fate.”

“It doesn’t matter what you believe in. You’ve met Phoebus, and been intimate with him, just hours after drinking Medina’s concoction.”

“He only sucked me.”

“That’s more than enough to trigger the potion. Chances are, if it’s one of Medina’s brews, the touch of your hand to his would have been enough.”

“I’m probably never going to see him again,” Caspian said, even though the thought of a second encounter with the merman made his heart race.

“I assure you, you’ll be seeing him very soon. He’s a nice man and I think he’ll be very good for you.”

“Why are you and Mother so eager to see me settled down with just one man? I’m perfectly happy as I am.”

“Are you?”

“Yes.”

Cari shook her head. “When you’ve fallen for him, when you’re head over heels, desperately in love with him, you’ll know what perfect happiness is.”

“Oh, please.” Caspian rolled his eyes.

“You’ll see.”

 

About the Author

L.M. Brown is an English writer of gay romances. She believes mermen live in the undiscovered areas of the ocean. She believes life exists on other planets. She believes in fairy tales, magic, and dreams. Most of all, she believes in love.

When L.M. Brown isn’t bribing her fur babies for control of the laptop, she can usually be found with her nose in a book.

 

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Release Blitz: “The Best Laid Plans” by Addison Albright. Rafflecopter Giveaway Included!

RELEASE BLITZ

Book Title: The Best-Laid Plans (Plans, book #2)

Author: Addison Albright

Publisher: JMS Books, LLC

Cover Artist: Written Ink Designs

Genre/s: M/M Fantasy Romance

Tropes: abduction, hurt/comfort, princes

Heat Rating: 3 flames

Length: 28 130 words

Release Date: June 1, 2019

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Blurb

A death that wasn’t what it seemed…
A kidnapping that isn’t what it seems…
Time is running out.

The morning after his wedding night, Prince Marcelo thought he’d be embarking on a journey to his own personal fairytale happily ever after with his husband, Efren, the crown prince of Zioneven. But when news arrives indicating his sister’s death wasn’t as accidental as previously thought, that journey becomes fraught with danger.

Enmeshed in political intrigue, death, and a kidnapping that might not be what it seems, will Efren untangle the web of misleading clues in time to save the naïve young man he’s already come to admire, or will Marcelo dig deep to discover a previously untapped inner strength and determination to facilitate his own survival?

 

Excerpt

Chapter 3: …Oft Go Awry

Efren

Efren blinked rapidly as he came awake with a start. He stared into the darkness and mentally shook the cobwebs from his mind. What had awoken him? Marcelo lay softly breathing in his arms, as relaxed and peaceful as only the innocent can truly be.

Around him, the night was silent. Too silent? He strained to hear the patrols rustling through the grasses, or the faint trills of their signals to each other.

A breeze swirled through the branches of the trees in the distance, rippling the leaves. Crickets chirped, apparently unconcerned about whatever either was or wasn’t going on in the meadow.

And footsteps. Quiet, approaching footsteps. It must be time for the shift change. That’s what had awoken him. Efren relaxed and nestled Marcelo tighter against him. One at a time, the guards would come in and wake their replacements.

Except—Efren tensed, then maneuvered his arm out from under Marcelo’s head and eased himself from under the blankets—the footsteps, furtively stopping and restarting, were approaching from multiple directions.

Efren shivered as goosebumps rose on his naked skin in the chilled night air and soundlessly slipped his broadsword and knife from their leather scabbard. He glanced at Marcelo, still sleeping, although less serenely with the sudden loss of the warm body next to him.

Guilt pinged his core as he shook off a strong desire to waken and forewarn Marcelo, but he pushed it down. Marcelo, completely untrained in warfare, would be safer in here. He seemed a heavy sleeper, likely incorporating outside noises into his dreams, unused to a need to be readily alert. He might even doze through the skirmish.

Or was that just wishful thinking? Because there’d be no hope that Marcelo could escape unseen, if it came to that.

Surely it would be better for such an innocent to be killed in his sleep, or with scarcely a brief moment of shock beforehand than to spend minutes quaking in terror, unable to defend himself.

Efren shook off his doubts and quickly pushed out the weighty flap, sword raised ready, and opened his mouth to yell an alert to awaken any of his warriors who hadn’t already sensed the looming danger, same as he had. But the breath he drew to strengthen his voice instead choked him.

He’d never before smelled these fumes, but the pungent, wet-dog odor had been described to him. The material of their tents was heavily treated to keep the toxin producing that odor from permeating the walls and closed flaps.

Icy apprehension slithered across Efren’s skin before settling in the pit of his gut. This was a completely unexpected development. The alchemists from the kingdom of Proye who’d developed this toxin—and unfailingly guarded the recipe—called it “Knockout.”

As Efren’s sword arm dropped, followed swiftly by his eyes rolling back in his head and his body slumping in a boneless crumple, a corner of his brain recognized how fittingly it was named, and hoped that enough of it had entered the tent through the briefly opened flap that Marcelo would succumb before Proye agents executed whatever they had planned. They’d been married for less than two days, and already he’d failed his innocent, young husband.

Copyright 2019 Addison Albright

 

About the Author

Addison Albright is a writer living in the middle of the USA. Her stories are gay romance in contemporary, fantasy, and paranormal genres. She generally adds a subtle touch of humor, a smidgen of drama/angst, and a healthy dose of slice-of-life to her stories. Her education includes a BS in Education with a major in mathematics and a minor in chemistry. Addison loves spending time with her family, reading, popcorn, boating, french fries, “open window weather,” cats, math, and anything chocolate. She loves to read pretty much anything and everything, anytime and anywhere.

 

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RELEASE BLITZ: “Healing Glass” by Jackie Keswick

RELEASE BLITZ

Book Title: Healing Glass

Author: Jackie Keswick

Cover Artist: Pavelle Art

Release Date: May 13, 2019

Genre/s: Fantasy, M/M, Fantasy romance

Trope/s: friends to lovers, two against evil

Themes: fighting oppression, personal responsibility, love is stronger than tyranny, never piss off a man who has something to protect 😉

Heat Rating: 3 flames

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Blurb

A dying city.

An ancient, forgotten accord.

And two gifted men caught in a web of greed and dark magic.

Despite belonging to different guilds, glass master Minel and warrior captain Falcon are friends. Their duties keep them apart, but when Minel falls ill and chooses death rather than the only known cure, nothing can keep Falcon from his side.

As their friendship grows into more, old wrongs and one man’s machinations threaten the floating city and leave both Minel and Falcon fighting for their lives. Can they learn to combine their gifts to save the city and its magic, or will everything they know and love perish before their eyes?

Healing Glass is an LGBT fantasy adventure with its head in the clouds. If you like medieval backdrops, impressive world-building, three-dimensional characters and a touch of magic, then you’ll love Jackie Keswick’s socially-conscious adventure.

Buy Healing Glass to visit the floating city today!

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Excerpt

Half a mile above the surface, a deep, rumbling groan rattled through Favin’s bones and turned his guts to water. The elevator jerked and shuddered—long enough for Favin to wonder whether he’d left his errand too late—before it resumed its stately progress up towards the floating city.

The groans and jerks came more often these days, on almost every journey. Despite the trickle of ice-cold fear, Favin welcomed the noise and stuttering ascent. He’d raised the alarm weeks earlier, but no one had believed the word of a servant. No one but Councillor Teak, who now clung to the transparent wall on the far side of the elevator, face grey and eyes wide.

The City Council would believe Teak.

“Is… this… why you wanted me to accompany you?” Teak spoke louder than necessary in the tight confines of the chamber bearing them aloft.

“Yes, Councillor. I reported it several times, but—” Favin stopped, loath to criticise the council. “I felt you had to know what’s happening.”

Teak, resplendent in a well-cut black coat and lace cuffs under his scarlet robe of office, didn’t belong in an elevator filled with rows of stacked crates, bins of cloth, and rolls of parchment, even when Favin hadn’t packed the space as full as he usually did. The councillor didn’t need the experience of a full cargo run, of squeezing into a gap just large enough to get in and out of. Never mind that he wouldn’t have fit. The servants joked that were the councillor hollow, one of them could fit inside his frame with space to spare.

Teak enjoyed his food as much as he enjoyed his status and privileges, but he hadn’t lost all sense of his responsibilities. When Favin had asked for his help, he’d only grumbled a little before agreeing to investigate the matter. Now here he stood, pressed against the transparent wall, gaze riveted to the crate in front of him, not daring to look down.

Favin watched the sea and the sky over Teak’s shoulder, wishing—as always— that he could see the city as they made their way towards it. The freight elevators didn’t allow for such a view, and Favin’s work rarely left him the leisure to sit on the beach.

Four levels of squat glass tiers and elegant spires connected by sweeping stairs and graceful bridges, suspended high above the waves by a raft of near-invisible columns… the floating city had stood waiting at the edge of the ocean when the Craft Guild arrived in need of shelter. Nobody knew its builders. Nobody quite understood how it worked. The city kept its occupants warm and dry, the glass walls closing or receding depending on the weather. Fountains supplied water in every square, and in all the buildings. The middle tier of the city—a wide, level space between the double-story, flat-roofed dwellings of the lower level and the skyward-reaching spires of the top tier—had been given over to growing food. All other goods the inhabitants needed came via the trade guilds and the Merchant Guild. The craft masters could have anything that fit into one of the eight large elevators, whether it came by land or sea, while men like Favin ensured the goods arrived where they were needed.

The groan came again, more of a pained shriek now, like the death cry of a material used too long and too well, as an abrupt slip downward hurled both Teak and Favin to their knees.

Then the sounds stopped.

The downward movement stopped.

And the elevator resumed its unhurried climb.

Sweat pearled on Teak’s brow and upper lip by the time the transparent cabin reached its goal. “Can we… not use this elevator?” He stepped off the floating disk before he turned to ask.

“It will delay deliveries, Councillor.”

“How many journeys do you make in a day?”

“Some days as many as fifty.”

“And the noise and the… jerking… have been getting more frequent?”

“Yes. I’m told the other elevators show the same signs of trouble. And in the upper city, the glass is said to be weeping.”

“Weeping?”

“That’s what I’ve heard, Councillor. I’ve not seen it.”

“No, of course not.” Servants of Favin’s class had no access to the upper levels. “Thank you, Favin, for bringing this to my attention.”

Favin bowed to the councillor before he set about unloading the cargo into the hands of the waiting servants. The council would decide whether to shut down the elevator or keep it running. He’d done as much as he could do, given his station. He’d said his piece and had had a councillor listen.

He continued with his work, until words drifting through a half-open door stopped him on his way to deliver rolls of parchment and ink to the council chamber.

“Weeping is the only way to describe it, Wark. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“And you think it’s going to be a problem?” The clipped tones were the regent’s and Favin froze where he stood, listening.

“Of course, it’s a problem,” Teak argued. “Go and see for yourself if you don’t believe me. There’s liquid glass welling up out of the column and trickling down its length. What do you think will happen if the glass wears away doing that? Or if the whole column turns to liquid? Will it continue to support the upper level in that state, or will it run into the sea and disappear?”

“Calm yourself, Teak. I’m sure there’s no need for panic.”

“You would know, of course.” Teak said snidely. “But I say you should listen. There’s more than one of those weeping spots in the upper city. The freight elevators jerk and groan, and servants are buying out their contracts, happier to make a life elsewhere than work here.”

Then it is serious, Favin thought, glued to his spot. More serious than I knew.Positions with one of the three gifted guilds were hotly sought. Only the king’s court paid better wages, and with the high prices in the royal city and port of Allengi, those wages didn’t go nearly as far.

“We must deal with this, Wark. Before it is too late.”

“Repairs to the city’s fabric are the task of the glass master. I will make sure he attends to the problem.”

“Minel is an outstanding craft master.” Teak bristled as if he had heard something in Wark’s comment that Favin had not. Something he disagreed with. “Most sought after, despite his youth. His list of commissions is near endless and he earns—”

“There are no other glass masters in the guild. Minel is our only choice if we want to fix the problem you’ve brought to my attention.” Regent Wark sounded oddly gleeful.

“No. You can’t— What if—?”

“You can’t have it both ways, Teak. You can’t bring me a problem and then object when I solve it. Minel’s work and his designs pay a large part of the city’s debts. I’m not so stupid I’d interfere with that. But if the fabric of the city fails, all the money and favours we’re owed will be no use to us. It’s fortunate that Minel cares about nothing but making glass. He doesn’t have the stomach for confrontation. I think… I think this will work out very well. Minel will accept that we direct his work and we can add another treasure to our collection. I have waited long enough.”

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 don’t follow the rules when those rules are stupid. 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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BLOG TOUR: “Unimaginable” by Iyana Jenna


BLOG TOUR


Book Title: Unimaginable

Author: Iyana Jenna

Publisher: JMS Books

Cover Artist: Written Ink Designs

Genre/s: Fantasy, M/M Romance

Trope/s: shifters, vampire

Themes: drama

Heat Rating: 3 flames 

Length: 14 675 words/ 52 pages

The book is planned as part of a series but can be read as a standalone.




Blurb

Callum Saxon wakes up to a totally different universe where all around him is water. Strangely he can breathe it as if it’s air. The bad thing is he can’t remember how he got there. He can’t remember himself, either.

Ainsley Carlisle is more than a man with long blond hair. He’s a unicorn shifter with secrets as widely stretched as the rainbow supposedly coming out of his rear. Ainsley won’t help Callum uncover who he is because Ainsley wants him to remember it himself.

In this new universe, Callum has to survive the creatures that live there, such as vampires, shifters, werewolves, you name it. But there’s more to Callum than meets the eye.


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Excerpt

Callum wasn’t completely unaware of where he was going. He recognized the place as the kind of pub Ainsley had showed him earlier. He wasn’t sure how he was going to pay for his drinks but the thought of losing himself in alcohol was as big of enticement as his desire to erase his mind completely — if there was any to erase.

Callum blinked his eyes, adjusting to the dim light inside. The place was quiet, practically empty. Perhaps it was still quite early. It wasn’t unlike other pubs he frequented — ha, he remembered that piece of information. The only thing keeping this one apart from the ones he knew was the slow moving thick water around him. Callum just hoped he wouldn’t get sick like some time ago when he first shoveled food down into his stomach. He gazed straight at the bartender. Now what could he say to get a free drink …

“Hello, gorgeous.”

He looked up. A literal tall, dark, and handsome was looming over him. Callum wouldn’t call himself short but compared to this man? He was a midget.

“What are you doing alone in this place, baby doll? Where is your, ah, partner?”

“What do you mean?”

The stranger waved his hand. “You know, that blond bastard?”

So he knew he’d been going about with Ainsley.

“Come on,” the man said dismissively. “Two pretty creatures like you? You were both strolling around the town like the happiest couple in the realm, making everyone jealous.”

Callum sputtered. “Jealous? We’re not a couple and I’m not sure about the pretty creatures …” Talking about pretty, he himself couldn’t tear his gaze away from … what was his name?

“Who are you?” Callum’s voice was as weak as he was feeling at the moment.

The man closed the distance between them and Callum sniffed his cologne. It was a scent he’d never smelled before. It was a mix of their surroundings, like ocean breeze as well as the old woods, added with citrus aromas and a trace of musk underlying all of those. It was strong but not too overpoweringly so or suffocating. It was more like the flow of the ocean water, soothing and lulling, spellbinding.

“Is a name that important to you?”

Callum felt like he was coming back from a long slumber. He looked up from the man’s strong, sculpted jaw, which sat at his eye level.

“Uh …”

“What’s yours, l’ange?”

It took a beat and Callum realized the man just called him angel in French. So they spoke French here, too, Callum mused. He wondered what other languages they spoke.

“Callum. Callum Saxon.”

“Your name is as pretty as its owner.” He practically purred.

“How about you?”

To Callum’s surprise, the man withdrew a little to make a deep bow with one leg pulled back and a hand waving low.

“I am usually called Patrice Deniau. I believe that’s my real name though it’s been centuries and I honestly can’t remember in which period of time I was named that.”

Callum felt as if all the air in his lungs was sucked out. Centuries. Period of time. What was this man whose name sounded French, too — Patrice Deniau? A vampire?

A shudder ran down his spine. Patrice did look like a vampire with his tall, slender figure, sharp chin, dark hair, and a pair of intense blue eyes that easily bewitched Callum.

“I, uh, it’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Deniau.”

“Mister?” Patrice’s laughter was soft and lilting. “Unless you are to call me Sir or Master, Patrice will suffice.” He stroked Callum’s jaw with his long fingers.

Callum let out an involuntary moan. He knew he had to pull back, move away. But he couldn’t. Instead, he leaned in and his eyes shuttered closed. He practically purred.

“Yes, all right, Patrice.” It was Patrice for now. Later, he decided, he might change to Sir, even Master.

“Very well. Good Lord, you’re so gorgeous. Has anyone told you that?”

“Oh, yeah, I guess.” Amidst his foggy mind, Callum heard himself replying, not that he knew exactly what he had been asked.

“Really? Who was that, someone special?”

Callum nodded. “Yes.”

“Someone you loved or someone who loved you?”

“Both. Love.” Why past tense? “He still loves me.”

“As you deserve, someone as captivating as you. May I know — I believe it’s that Carlisle boy? Ainsley?”

Ainsley. Callum’s cheeks heated up as the name was mentioned. He’d definitely developed a certain infatuation with the man. But love? They had not even declared their feelings to each other. Declare, because Callum was certain their feelings were mutual. He shook his head slowly.

“No?” Patrice sounded surprised. “You’ve only been here for, what, two days, three days at the most. I can’t believe you’ve been fooling around, let alone falling in love.”

But of course he’d not been fooling around. He’d barely met other people aside from Ainsley and his mother. Yet it was neither of the two who he had on his mind.

Kevin Travers.

Callum blinked as a name suddenly flashed across his mind. He shook himself inwardly and took a deep breath. The name sounded familiar. It had to be familiar. Otherwise, why would it turn up out of the blue?

“What is it, my dear? You look ashen.”

Callum was suddenly out of breath, near hyperventilating. “He was … he is …”

“Yes?” Patrice’s hand crept up at the back of his head.

“I don’t remember but … but he was important to me. I just know it.” Patrice stroked his scalp with knowing fingers and it was all Callum could do to stop himself from moaning.

“Is he still important now?”



About the Author 

I’m Iyana Jenna and you can call me Iyana. I like writing, romance, and man-love, so you’re mostly going to find my stories as m/m whether they are for adults or young adults. They are not going to be too heavy on explicit sex, though, as many say that my stories are considered sweet romance.

When I don’t write, I teach English to children, teens, and adults. I also work in the curriculum and materials department in a language institution. Among my responsibilities are writing books and tests.




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Cover Reveal: “Healing Glass” by Jackie Keswick

COVER REVEAL

Book Title: Healing Glass

Author: Jackie Keswick

Cover Artist: Pavelle Art

Release Date: May 13, 2019

Genre/s: Fantasy, M/M, Fantasy romance

Trope/s: friends to lovers, two against evil

Themes: fighting oppression, personal responsibility, love is stronger than tyranny, never piss off a man who has something to protect 😉

Heat Rating: 3 flames

 

They thought to bury us. They never saw that we were seeds. Seeds of glass and steel, stronger and more resilient than either.

Blurb A dying city. An ancient, forgotten accord. And two gifted men caught in a web of greed and dark magic. Despite belonging to different guilds, glass master Minel and warrior captain Falcon are friends. Their duties keep them apart, but when Minel falls ill and chooses death rather than the only known cure, nothing can keep Falcon from his side. As their friendship grows into more, old wrongs and one man’s machinations threaten the floating city and leave both Minel and Falcon fighting for their lives. Can they learn to combine their gifts to save the city and its magic, or will everything they know and love perish before their eyes? Healing Glass is an LGBT fantasy adventure with its head in the clouds. If you like medieval backdrops, impressive world-building, three-dimensional characters and a touch of magic, then you’ll love Jackie Keswick’s socially-conscious adventure. Buy Healing Glass to visit the floating city today!  

Buy Links – Pre-Order Available Now

Payhip Store (this offers a lower price than mainstream retailers)

Kobo

Apple Books

Barnes & Noble

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Amazon CA

Amazon AU

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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 don’t follow the rules when those rules are stupid. 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: “The Gathering Storm” by Tricia Owens

RELEASE BLITZ

Book Title: The Gathering Storm (Book 2 of Juxtan)

Author: Tricia Owens

Publisher: Self-Published

Cover Artist: Tricia Owens

Genre/s: Fantasy, M/M romance

Heat Rating: 4 flames

Length: 50 000 words

Release Date: April 22, 2019

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Blurb

After betraying the only man he ever loved, Hadrian ni Leyanon waits for death amid the ruins of a sorcerous battle. Before that can happen he is recruited by the Council of Elders which governs the use of magick in Juxtan. The Council needs him to track down his evil sorcerer father and force him to face a justice they aren’t powerful enough to inflict on their own. Wracked with guilt, Hadrian agrees to join the mage-led mission in the hopes it will allow him to redeem himself. But when Caled, the handsome mercenary whom Hadrian betrayed, insists on joining the mission, too, Hadrian discovers that redemption needs to come from the man who hates him most.

This book was previously published as The Gathering.

Excerpt

The mercenary tightened his fingers around Hadrian’s wrist in response. For a brief instant Hadrian was transported back in time, when Caled held his arm this way because he was leading Hadrian back to the Bell and Buckle for a midday roll and they were trying to be discreet while excitement quickening their pulses. The memory was so sharp and the ache it caused so painful that Hadrian let out a whimper of longing before he could stop himself.

Caled turned his head at the sound, his glorious blue eyes still full of a hate that seemed to age him. But there was something else which lurked in those sapphire depths, something…

“Please,” Hadrian said, the word holding a thousand meanings―it was up to Caled to decide which interpretation to take. “Please.”

Caled had brought them to a mudroom off the main entrance that afforded some privacy. In the semi-darkness, surrounded by hanging cloaks and furs, Caled released Hadrian’s arm and turned around. He herded Hadrian back against the nearest wall, Hadrian clumsily moving his feet out of the way to avoid being stepped on.

“It’s too late for that,” Caled told him grimly. “It’s too late for pleas, for forgiveness. It’s too late, Hadrian.”

Hadrian found himself pressed into the scratchy fabric of wool cloaks. Damp mud on their hems brushed the backs of his bare calves, making him shiver at the cold. But if he needed heat, all he needed to do was look into Caled’s eyes.

“I understand you’re going to kill me,” Hadrian began, his voice stronger than he expected. “I deserve your justice.” The lines around Caled’s eyes deepened. “But I want you to know, Caled. I want you to know―it wasn’t a deception. What we shared―it was real. It was real for me.”

About the Author

Tricia Owens has been writing m/m fiction since 2000, after stumbling onto the term ‘slash’ and thinking it referred to horror stories. She is the author of the Sin City, A Pirate’s Life for Me, and Juxtapose City series, among several others. She lives in Las Vegas.

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Release Blitz: “A Love Like Fire” by Tricia Owens

RELEASE BLITZ

Book Title: A Love Like Fire

Author: Tricia Owens

Publisher: Self-Published

Cover Artist: Tricia Owens

Genre/s: Fantasy, M/M Romance

Heat Rating: 4 flames

Length: 50 000 words

This is a re-written, re-edited version of the title, The Sorcerer’s Betrayal.

Release Date: March 14, 2019

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Blurb

When the mercenary Caledon meets a young man named Hadrian, he falls instantly, hopelessly in love with him. Black-haired and silver-eyed, Hadrian is unlike any man Caledon has seen before. His uncertain responses to Caledon’s advances only make the mercenary more determined to pursue and win him.

But Hadrian is a mystery, and harbors untold secrets. He hails from an island inhabited by sorcerers and has come to Caledon’s city to recruit the mercenaries for a well-paying job offered by Hadrian’s father. Except the job is a lie. Hadrian is far more dangerous than his disposition suggests, and what he wants with Caledon and the mercenaries of Rhiad will forever change the land and set in motion a prophecy that will bind two men together in love, lust, and hatred…until death.

A previous version of this book was published as The Sorcerer’s Betrayal. This book has been re-written and re-edited.

Excerpt

He could see now that he had erred when he had first tried to label Hadrian.

Caledon had been fascinated by the other man’s apparent inexperience and naiveté. But the truth seemed more incredible. Hadrian was untouched―untouched by affection, untouched by desire. How this had come to be, Caledon couldn’t imagine. But he knew it to be true. He felt it in his bones.

Nothing else could explain why Hadrian literally melted beneath his caresses. Every touch Caledon made upon the younger man’s skin left Hadrian trembling and breathless. Why has no one done this before me? Caledon wondered as he eased open the stall door with his free arm wrapped firmly about Hadrian’s back.

He should simply be grateful that it was he who had been the one to find Hadrian first. That was what his self-serving side told him. But a deeper, more empathetic part of him was saddened by the discovery. Everyone deserved the comforts of touch, of affection. Why hadn’t anyone offered those things to Hadrian?

Caledon’s body urged him to ignore the mystery. He wasn’t trying to develop a permanent relationship with the other man. Hadrian would be gone in a few days. This would be but an interlude for them both.

Even so, Caledon vowed to make it something worth remembering.

About the Author

Tricia Owens has been writing m/m fiction since 2000, after stumbling onto the term ‘slash’ and thinking it referred to horror stories. She is the author of the Sin City, A Pirate’s Life for Me, and Juxtapose City series, among several others. She lives in Las Vegas.

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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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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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  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: “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

Add on Goodreads

Buy Links – Available on Kindle Unlimited

Amazon US

Amazon UK

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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