Resisting the Dream by Ann Marie James
General Release Date: 14th September 2021
Word Count: 57,607 Book Length: NOVEL Pages: 233
ACTION AND ADVENTURE CONTEMPORARY EROTIC ROMANCE GAY GLBTQI
Resisting the Dream by Ann Marie James
General Release Date: 14th September 2021
Word Count: 57,607 Book Length: NOVEL Pages: 233
ACTION AND ADVENTURE CONTEMPORARY EROTIC ROMANCE GAY GLBTQI
Book DescriptionNikolai is the fun-loving, flamboyant cousin of Sergei Barinov. He doesn’t know a lot about cars but is happy working as the desk person at Everyone’s Mechanic while he completes his doctorate in finance and accounting. While his parents never accepted who he was, he at least had Cousin Sergei’s family to love and support him. Comfortable in his own skin, he dresses according to his mood, which could be a skirt and makeup or sweatpants. He has crushed on Brandon since he met him but has never been able to be around him without doing something embarrassing. He would love a chance to show Brandon that he’s not just style without substance. Brandon began interning with Sergei’s company in college and has since worked his way up to be his right-hand man. He is very regimented, likes his routines and needs to stay focused to complete his many duties for Sergei. Brandon is also balancing secretly raising his now-fifteen-year-old brother. He has watched from afar as Nikolai went from being a gangly, awkward teenager to a stunning adult. Brandon might wish he could take the time to get to know Nikolai better, but he doesn’t feel he can add one more thing to his already-full plate. When Sergei tasks the pair to work together to plan an LGBTQ youth center, sparks fly. Will they decide to take a chance—or will outside forces ruin the possibility before they can even get started? Reader advisory: This book makes references to addiction, alcohol, attempted violence and drug use.
ExcerptNikolai Barinov tore his gaze away from the numbers on his computer screen to check who’d just come in the entrance to Everyone’s Mechanic. His professional smile changed to a genuine one when he saw his cousin Sergei standing in front of him. “Hello, Nikolai. How’s my favorite cousin?” “Uh-oh. You only call me your favorite cousin when you want something.” Sergei placed a hand on his chest. “I’m wounded.” Nikolai raised one blond eyebrow at Sergei, then sat back and waited. The smile fell from Sergei’s mouth. “What happened to your face?” “What?” Shit, can he see the bruise? I thought the makeup covered it. “You have a bruise on your cheek. What the hell happened?” “Would you believe I ran into a door?” Sergei widened his stance and put his hands on his hips, giving Nikolai his sternest stare. Nikolai rushed to explain. “Seriously, I saw Brandon going into your building yesterday afternoon as I was leaving, and I was so busy watching him that I ran right into the doorjamb.” Nikolai grimaced. “Not my finest moment, to be sure.” Sergei’s stern expression morphed into an amused one and he coughed into his hand while avoiding eye contact with Nikolai. When their gazes met, Sergei lost the fight and laughed until he had tears running down his face and had to lean against the counter to support himself. Nikolai shook his head in disgust at his cousin’s antics. “Yeah, yeah. Laugh it up. You do realize you probably just got grease on your suit, right?” Working at a garage had its advantages, including the apartment he was able to rent above the business, but spic and span cleanliness was not one of those perks. Oh, the owner, Kirk, ran a tight ship and everything was as clean as possible, but it was still a garage. It was Nikolai’s turn to laugh as Sergei looked down at himself to search for dirt on his custom suit. Sergei took a swipe at his jacket before shrugging and looking back at Nikolai. “So, why are you here?” “I need a favor.” “I figured.” Nikolai made a rolling hand gesture to try to encourage Sergei to spit it out. Sergei’s forehead furrowed. “I’m a little concerned, though, that you won’t be able to complete this favor without causing yourself bodily harm.” “What? Why?” “I need you to work with Brandon on a project.” “You need me to work with your personal assistant, Brandon Whitaker, on a project? But he hates me.” “He doesn’t hate you.” “Doesn’t know what to do with me then?” Sergei shrugged one of his massive shoulders as Nikolai wished for the thousandth time that he had gotten some of Sergei’s six-foot-plus height and size. Alas, he was stuck at a measly, svelte five-foot-seven. “I can’t deny that. You confuse him, for sure, but he does respect you. He loves the reports you set up for him while you were interning last summer.” “He was shocked I could even do spreadsheets and reports, though. He thinks I’m an idiot.” “Only because you turn into a nervous klutz whenever he is around. A doorjamb? Really?” “What? There’s something about him that does it for me—brown hair, brown eyes, six feet tall, those broad shoulders… Yum. What’s not to love? I know intellectually that nothing will ever come of it. Have you seen the women who come to meet him for lunch?” “Yes, I have, and I also know none of them last more than a month.” “He’s not gay. The number of women he takes out makes that very clear.” “I don’t think he’s as straight as he pretends to be.” “What do you mean?” “I mean he watches you when you aren’t looking.” Nikolai waved his hand in the air. “He’s just trying to figure me out. As you said, I confuse him. He’s not a man who likes to be confused. He’s the man with a plan for everything.” “Exactly my point—and I don’t think he planned for you.” “Whatever. What is it you needed me to work on with Brandon?” “I would like you guys to work on plans for an LGBTQ center—a place where teens can come to either hang out or to get help, counseling, the whole nine yards. I want to offer classes as well—financial ones like budgeting and checkbook balancing as well as cooking and other basics. Maybe you can talk to some of the instructors at that dojo you go to and see if they would teach some self-defense classes too. The statistics for homeless youth—especially gay homeless youth—are scary, and I want to do something about it. It will be open to all but mainly to support the community.” Nikolai was getting excited about the project. The center was something that was desperately needed there in Raleigh and elsewhere. He felt a slight twinge at Sergei’s casual dismissal of his time spent at the dojo. He wasn’t sure what his family thought he did there three-to-five days a week, but obviously it wasn’t learning any of the skills they taught, but that was partly his fault as he’d never told them when he’d received his different color belts. It was something private for him. He was snapped out of his ponderings by the ding of the door sensor as someone else came in. He opened his eyes wide when he realized it was Brandon. He went to stand, the chair slipped back too fast and he almost fell, catching himself with a hand on the desk, just in time. Nikolai flushed with mortification as his cheeks got hot and he ducked his head, pretending to search for something on his desk in a sad attempt to seem like he had everything under control. Snagging a pencil, Nikolai pulled his long, wavy blond hair up in a messy bun on top of his head, and shoved the pencil in to secure it. He glanced up after a moment to find Sergei staring at him in exasperation then turning to greet Brandon. “Hey, Brandon, thanks for giving me a minute with Nikolai before coming in. Nikolai is really excited about the project.” Nikolai took a deep breath to compose himself then turned to face Brandon. “Nice to see you again, Brandon. This should be an interesting project. I look forward to working with you on it.” There. That wasn’t too psycho. “Yeah. It will be a challenge, but I think we can come up with something great. I know you’re pretty busy with school and here, so when do you think we can meet to get started?” “Well, I’ve already successfully defended my thesis, so my load at school is pretty light. I’m just waiting on graduation now.” Sergei’s gaze snapped back to Nikolai. “Wait! When did that happen?” “A couple of weeks ago,” Nikolai said with a shrug. “Why didn’t you say anything? We should have celebrated.” “Well, first you were in London at that big conference, then you hibernated with your hubby for the weekend and didn’t come to family dinner. It just kind of got lost in the shuffle.” “Did your family go to your thesis defense, at least?” Sergei asked, frowning. Nikolai couldn’t quite hide his grimace. “Um, your parents and Sasha came. My parents couldn’t make it. It wasn’t a big deal.” Nikolai didn’t even believe himself, so he knew Sergei didn’t. “We’ll discuss this later.” “Nothing to discuss.” Sergei scowled at him. “There’s a lot to discuss, but first, do you definitely want in on this project?” “Of course, I’m in. It’s important.” “Agreed. So, when are you available to meet on it?” “I have sessions at the dojo tonight and tomorrow morning, but I’m free after that. I know tomorrow’s Saturday, so we can postpone to next week if you guys need to.” “Saturday afternoon works for me. What about you Brandon?” “Yep. That works. I have somewhere to be in the morning as well, but I will be free about noon.” “Great. How about we meet at my house then? I’ll feed you all lunch.” “Sounds good,” Brandon and Nikolai answered together. Nikolai could only shake his head at himself after the bolt of arousal that went through his system when he made brief eye contact with Brandon’s brown-eyed gaze. He hazarded a small smile at the man, but Brandon didn’t respond, instead breaking the connection and turning toward Sergei. “Okay. Glad that’s settled. We need to get moving. We have that meeting at two o’clock with the planning commissioner about your new property on Fayette Street.” Brandon then turned and walked out of the door after a head nod to Nikolai. “Plan to stay after the meeting to continue our discussion about your thesis defense.” “It really wasn’t a big deal, Sergei. You know my family doesn’t understand or approve of me and my ways.” Nikolai put air quotes around the ‘my ways’, as it was a common phrase from his mother. His mother and father were not the warm and supportive parents that Sergei’s were. Nikolai’s father was very much about toxic masculinity and a woman knowing her place in the world. Nikolai did not fit his father’s definition of a good son at all, so he was ignored—and that was fine with him. It really was, but Sergei never understood, mainly because Nikolai’s father was always on his best behavior whenever Sergei was around, thinking he could use his connection with Sergei for his own needs in some way. The truth was—and one his father would never admit—that Nikolai’s father was both scared and jealous in equal parts of Sergei’s power. He felt that as the older Barinov male, he should have been the one to have the influence and wealth that Sergei had accumulated and that Sergei should seek his council like he was smarter, because of his age. Sergei was actually one of the most intelligent people Nikolai knew, and that was saying something because Nikolai had been going to school forever. Sergei was also one of the hardest-working people he knew, with Brandon being right up there with him. Brandon was truly Sergei’s right-hand man, and Nikolai wasn’t saying that because he had a major crush on the man either. Part of the reason he had such a crush on him was because he worked so hard and was so dedicated to Sergei. Nikolai’s father was lazy and dedicated only to himself. Sad, but true. Sergei interrupted his thoughts, and Nikolai scrambled to remember what they were talking about. “Not. The. Point. I don’t care how your parents feel about things. This is about communication between you and me. We will discuss it Saturday. Da?” “Da, Sergei,” Nikolai conceded grudgingly. “Good. I will see you tomorrow.” Sergei then followed Brandon out of the door.
About the Author
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Title: Rocking the Boat
Series: CalPac Crew, Book One
Author: C. Koehler
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: September 28, 2020
Heat Level: 3 - Some Sex
Genre: Contemporary, LGBTQIA, Contemporary, romance, gay, new adult, sports, rowing team, multiple partners, in the closet, outed, coach/athlete, university
Nick Bedford coaches the men’s rowing team at California Pacific College, a small liberal arts school in Sacramento. He’s quiet, dedicated—and closeted. He struggles with professional ethics and NCAA rules as he denies his attraction for Morgan Estrada, one of his rowers. While they may not be far apart in age, the difference between coach and athlete leads Nick to worry about exploitation.
But Morgan has desires and a mind of his own, and what he wants is his coach. As the spring racing season advances, Morgan feels his coach’s eyes on him. Morgan may be gay, and while he’s not out to team, he hasn’t hidden it, either. It may be a coach’s job to check out an athlete’s form, but Morgan hopes Nick’s interested in more than his technique.
Morgan corners Nick in the boathouse, and Nick admits that while he wants Morgan he can’t have him. Morgan laughingly points out that he’s not bound by any of those rules and he wants Nick. Nick and Morgan start a relationship, but Nick worries whenever they’re in public: what if someone sees? An anonymous complaint from a rower to the athletics director sends Nick’s worries into overdrive just as the crew prepares for the make-or-break race of the year.
Rocking the Boat
Warning: This excerpt may contain sexually explicit material, please proceed at your discretion.
Coach Nick Bedford watched the eight men—his athletes, sweaty and pushed to the edge, their sides heaving like thoroughbreds—do their best to beat each other on the boathouse ergometers. The ergs, specialized rowing machines that duplicated the rowing stroke almost exactly, were his rowers’ best friends and worst enemies, building their conditioning and strength but also devouring everything they had to give and demanding more. He often shared their workouts, but not today. Today he walked around each athlete’s erg, looking for flaws in his technique. The crew’s coxswain helped him, but he was still the coach. It was his job to get them in shape.
They were a small crew, and California Pacific College was a small school. A former college rower himself, Nick was a graduate student working on his master’s degree in exercise physiology at a not-too-distant state university, and around the boathouse, he did it all. He was the resident expert on bodies in motion, guiding each athlete through workouts on land and water, each designed to make the boat go faster. He was the dietician, trying to keep a group whose natural prey was pizza and beer on the nutritional straight and narrow to build muscle and fuel recovery. He was their sport psychologist, helping them through losses and guiding the young men through the shoals of school, rowing, and life. He spent his free time immersed in exercise science literature, reading, reading, reading—anything to give his men that extra edge.
He even rigged the boats, adjusting the hardware and making minor repairs.
Eight varsity athletes, eight seats in the varsity boat. Nick was lucky they were so competitive, even with each other. Posting their erg scores meant someone would be pulling harder next time. He also had a standing offer to the junior varsity rowers: any JV athlete who beat a varsity rower on the ergs could challenge him for a seat in the boat. He’d only had to make good once. Each of his eight rowers put the “I” in team, each determined to beat the others. For a small program, it was ideal. For eye candy, it was unbeatable.
“What’d you think, Coach?” his coxswain asked, coming to stand next to him.
Nick was lucky. Stuart Cochrane had coxed in high school, and the junior premed major was as skilled as they came. “There’s room to improve,” Nick said, never taking his eyes off his athletes. “Look at Sundstrom. He’s hunching his shoulders. On the ergs, it’ll hurt, but on the water, it’ll strain his muscles and make it hard for him to stay in synch.”
“He’s never going to catch Morgan without fixing his technique, either. I’m on it,” Stuart said. He walked over and knelt next to the large rower, watching intently for a few strokes before correcting him. Stuart returned, his coxswain’s strut even more pronounced.
Nick had to smile. The best coxswains were small and light, so they didn’t slow the boat with weight that wasn’t pulling an oar, and they had Napoleon complexes. Stuart fitted the bill: short and cocky and determined to win. “That worked.”
“Of course, it did.” Stuart smirked. “Keep your eye on Estrada. Have you noticed how he speeds up just a bit during the last two k? That’s part of how he keeps beating Brad.”
“I like a nice, friendly rivalry.” Nick grinned. “It keeps the erg times fast.”
“I’m not sure how friendly it is. Brad was the fastest until Morgan joined the team and hasn’t taken kindly to being beaten,” Stuart added quietly, his voice just loud enough to reach Nick’s ears over the sounds of the ergs. “And some of the other guys are beating him too.”
“Then Brad needs to up his game.” Nick didn’t want to know about rivalries like that. He’d seen crews torn apart by such distractions. So long as his rowers left their differences on the dock when they rowed, he didn’t care. As he’d told Stuart, a rivalry on the ergs would move the boat faster.
Nick returned his focus to the ergs. He’d kept an eye on Morgan Estrada, all right. It was hard not to. Collegiate rowers were in fantastic shape, but something about Morgan drew his eye. He was tall, taller than Nick (who, at six feet, wasn’t short), but then, rowing selected for tall men and turned them into muscular ones. Sweat dripped from one wavy brown lock, running down his cheek, but Morgan ignored it.
Nick noticed it, however. It defined Morgan’s cheek, flushed red with effort, but normally very fair. There was more conquistador than conquered in Morgan Estrada’s background. All Nick’s men were good looking in one way or another, but something about Morgan pulled him in, something that threatened to swallow him whole.
Eye candy was a perk of his job, but Nick tried not to stare too much. They were his boys; he was their coach. There was a trust there, and he took that trust very seriously.
Still, watching Morgan strain, sweaty and grunting and red, made Nick think of crossing that line.
Meet the Author
Christopher Koehler always wanted to write, but it wasn’t until his grad school years that he realized writing was how he wanted to spend his life. Long something of a hothouse flower, he’s been lucky to be surrounded by people who encouraged that, especially his long-suffering husband of twenty-nine years and counting.
He loves many genres of fiction and nonfiction, but he’s especially fond of romances, because it’s in them that human emotions and relations, at least most of the ones fit to be discussed publicly, are laid bare.
While writing is his passion and his life, when he’s not doing that, he’s a househusband, at-home dad, and oarsman with a slightly disturbing interest in manners and the other ways people behave badly.
Christopher is approaching the tenth anniversary of publication and has been fortunate to be recognized for his writing, including by the American Library Association, which named Poz a 2016 Recommended Title, and an Honorable Mention for “Transformation,” in Innovation, Volume 6 of Queer Sci Fi’s Flash Fiction Anthology.
Title: Becoming Human
Author: Holly Gray
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: September 21, 2020
Heat Level: 2 - Fade to Black Sex
Genre: Paranormal, LGBTQIA, romance, paranormal, action, urban fantasy, lesbian, animals, bodyguard, interracial, magic, mythical creatures, pets, road trip, slow burn, shifter/animals
Jack Whitaker lives a grayscale life. But a violent, yellow-eyed woman; a tea-drinking animal in human form; and a woman in brown with devastating powers of healing have Jack rethinking the boundaries of reality.
Marin, the woman in brown, is supposed to be the most important leader Jack will ever meet. She’s certainly the kindest, so Jack accepts the task of protecting her for a month from a violent duo with a supernatural ability to track their prey.
Jack and Marin travel the country, healing humans and animals, meeting everyday heroes and villains and everyone in-between. Jack isn’t sure if the world is ready for a woman like Marin, let alone whether she is.
“Do you believe in magic?”
Jack didn’t believe in a lot of things: politics, soul mates, religion. Stage magic, all of it. She sure as hell didn’t believe in anything supernatural.
Work, traffic, humidity—those she believed in. Not that she didn’t employ a little whimsy in her life. She liked reading novels, especially a rousing space opera or an angsty, dystopian handwringer. Any piece of fiction penned by Noelle Stevenson, illustrated or digital, enjoyed a prominent place in her leisure time. She loved science fiction movies as social and creative commentary. And the wicked special effects.
Fellow Floridian Carl Hiaasen she found funny and topical. Had she any close friends, she could have discussed some of his biting social commentary.
But believe in any of these fictions, magical or not? Of course not. Jack Whitaker was a rational person. The walls in her tiny apartment, bare of anything but two Firefly posters and a magazine clipping of a black-and-white picture of blues singer and lesbian icon, Gladys Bentley, echoed only her voice, both literally and symbolically. Work as a security guard satisfied without stimulating. On the occasions she felt a tingle for socializing or, heaven forbid, physical touch, she booted up her laptop and binge-watched the latest postapocalyptic series.
Most of this changed in mid-July on her way home from work at the aquarium in Timuca, a small city in Northern Florida. The day started off as tidily as usual, although traffic seemed a bit less hectic and the day much sultrier than usual.
“Do you believe in magic?”
By the end of the day, when someone with feral memories posed the question to her, she answered differently than she would have just twelve hours prior.
Meet the Author
Holly began writing novel-length romances in junior high. She continued scribbling wild tales on her college-ruled notepads till those pesky college and career things got in the way. Finally, after earning her PhD in sociology, Holly gave herself permission to get a life. She has since published four novels, one short story, and several poems. Now a boring academic and a not-entirely-boring political activist, she spends just about all her waking hours doing one or more of the following: teaching, writing, volunteering, protesting, and tending to the whims of her fur masters.
Holly lives in South Dakota with her wife and numerous fur kids.
Title: Cassadaga Nights
Author: Jana Denardo
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: September 14, 2020
Heat Level: 3 - Some Sex
Genre: Paranormal, LGBTQIA+, gay, fantasy, paranormal, fae, psychic ability, magic, magic users, shifter, mystery, small Southern town
Santino Bellomi and his coworker, Cam, are sent to Cassadaga, Florida by the Aspida Pneuma, a group of psychics and mages. Their job is to rescue a nixie from a polluted lake and to check out the town, which is known for its psychics. New recruits to the Aspida are always welcome and where better than a spiritualist camp to hunt for them? What Santino wants most, however, is to finish the assignment quickly. He isn’t a fan of heat and humidity, and he’d looking forward to a well-earned vacation once the mission is over.
Ryan Doyle grew up in Cassadaga, where being psychic runs in the family. Ryan has never roamed far from home, though it’s hard being a geeky gay, wannabe urban fantasy author living in a small town. His job as one of the town psychics is fairly routine until he meets someone new. Ryan has never encountered anyone with a psychic shield so strong until Santino sits down for a reading. Intrigued, he asks Santino out even though Santino is as secretive as he is fun.
Santino hopes to win Ryan over both for himself and for the Aspida. And he’s hoping his skills in the kitchen will swing the balance in his favor. Ryan has almost given up on finding love, living in rural Florida. Can a seductive tourist be the answer to his dreams?
Things never run smoothly for those in the Aspida. What should have been a simple rescue mission is plagued by mosquitoes, enraged ghosts, and someone or something draining residents of their life force. Ryan’s first foray into adventure may be his last.
Ryan drew his shield over himself, letting his psychic senses dampen down. All day, most days, he dropped his armor, walking around exposed, vulnerable on all sides to the flood of stimuli. Such was the life of a professional psychic. He was unable to cut himself off when he was on the job. His clients depended on his abilities. While he could cold read a person to give Houdini a run for his money, Ryan was the real deal when it came to being psychic. Houdini would have had a helluva time debunking his abilities.
Here at home, safe in his fortress of solitude, Ryan armored up, drawing upon his psychic shields. He could rest, letting his senses recharge. Elsie—one of the original inhabitants of the town in the 1890s—had been the only thing able to penetrate his shields. The books on his bookcase rattled alerting him that Elsie, his boisterous ghost, had noted his return.
Ryan double-checked the setting on the air conditioning in his tiny Harmony Hall apartment. He might have been born and raised in Cassadaga, but it didn’t mean he loved Florida summers. That said, the air conditioner sat at an acceptable temperature, but inside, the heat stifled him. He turned on the old fan from the 1930s, the kind with barely a whisper of a guard surrounding it, and aimed it at his computer. Only the force of the wind coming out of the fan kept Kuro from jamming his paws into it to catch the blades. His cat didn’t like his fur mussed.
Ryan drew the curtains where his apartment overlooked the Cassadaga Hotel before stripping off his shorts. There, he was as naked as he could get without removing skin, and he was still too hot. He crammed into the cramped shower and ducked his head under the faucet, wetting his hair. Afterward, he strolled into the kitchen, poured himself an iced tea, and rubbed the cool glass across his nipples a few times in a vain attempt to lower his body temperature.
Finally, giving up, Ryan returned to his computer and let the ancient fan and his wet hair act as a swamp cooler. Acclimatize my ass. In quiet moments like this, Ryan was sure he heard the mildew growing on his skin in the humidity. He streamed some indie music and opened up a story file. After a day of work, he enjoyed doing what he’d actually gone to school for: writing.
Unfortunately, his career as an urban fantasy writer hadn’t taken off yet, so he was still in the family business. Much to the endless and completely irrational irritation of his sister, Mary. Ryan didn’t quite get it. She’d been vicious in claiming their mother’s house as her own to do readings in, following their mother’s path. Their whole family possessed psychic abilities, as did many others in Cassadaga, a Spiritualist commune.
Ryan didn’t understand why he couldn’t share the house with Mary, but she was having none of it. She’d been pissed off he’d been accepted into Harmony Hall after proving his abilities worthy of the honor. One had to be psychic to rent there. It bemused him that his only living relative didn’t want much to do with him, and it wasn’t because he was gay. Mary didn’t give a crap about his sexuality. No, she didn’t like the fact that his psychic abilities equaled hers.
Shoving Mary from his mind, Ryan tried to get into his story, but the day’s worries bled into his consciousness. Tomorrow, a big open house would have trainees doing half-price readings at the Davis Center, and he’d have to oversee Lisa, his trainee. It was fun, in a way, interacting with the public, and many turned out for the half-price offering. But surely there was more he could be doing with his ability.
A vague disappointment dogged Ryan because he hadn’t thought to do the psychic TV thing. He assumed they started out legit, but ratings and pressure from the shows’ money men probably quickly led to faking results. Sure, some of them did fake stuff. He’d been on more ghost hunts than he could count. No one got so many results every time, and demons didn’t really lurk around every corner. Oh, he didn’t discount demons—but to have house after house filled with them? He had his doubts. He didn’t want to contribute to all the charlatan acts out there. He was the real deal.
Sighing, he gave up for a moment and tried to clear his head with a little internet therapy. Of course the internet was as big a bane to his writing as it was an asset to his research. He checked out a tarot card Kickstarter using some truly gorgeous art and sighed again. The goal hadn’t quite been reached yet, but hopefully soon. He planned to add them to his collection. His last acquisition had been a steampunk deck almost too pretty to use. Tarot cards were the one thing he collected outside of manga. Ryan had reluctantly put his books into storage because his apartment was too small, and he’d moved to e-books, which didn’t have the same appeal. Still, his hating on the e-book afforded him nothing. He planned to sell some one day.
Elsie fluttered in the corner of his eye like black butterflies dancing in and out of the ceiling fan blades. When he turned his attention to her, she smiled, waved, and faded away, content she’d gotten his attention. Rolling his eyes, Ryan turned to his computer. He goofed off on the internet for a little while longer before getting back to his fantasy world. He’d left his warrior witch in a rough spot. He probably ought to have her save herself.
Meet the AuthorJana is Queen of the Geeks (her students voted her in), and her home and office are shrines to any number of comic book and manga heroes along with SF shows and movies too numerous to count. It’s no coincidence that the love of all things geeky has made its way into many of her stories. To this day, she’s disappointed she hasn’t found a wardrobe to another realm, a superhero to take her flying among the clouds, or a roguish starship captain to run off to the stars with her.
Title: Everything Changes
Series: Resilient Love #1
Author: Melanie Hansen
Publisher: Self-Published (formerly Dreamspinner)
Release Date: September 14, 2020
Heat Level: 3 - Some Sex
Genre: Romance, Military, disability, amputee, post-traumatic stress, friends to lovers, bisexual
A childhood in foster care taught Carey Everett to hold tight to what he has. Enlisting in the Marines gave him purpose, but a life-threatening injury ended his career—and took his leg. Now fully recovered, Carey’s happier than he’s ever been. He has a fulfilling job, a chosen family and, best of all, a cherished friendship with Jase DeSantis, the platoon medic who saved his life.
Jase knows how to take care of the people he loves. As the oldest of seven, and then a Navy corpsman, it’s what he was born to do. Still, he’s haunted by his actions overseas. Playing music with his band keeps the demons at bay, but it’s a battle he’s starting to lose.
After a week of sun and fun in San Diego, Jase and Carey’s connection takes an unexpected turn. With change comes a new set of challenges. For Jase, it means letting someone else into his deepest pain. For Carey, it’s realizing love doesn’t always equal loss. In order to make their relationship work, they’ll each have to come to terms with their pasts…
…or risk walking away from each other for good.
With an oath, Carey broke away from Jase, turned, and strode off the dance floor.
Cursing, Jase ran after him.
“Carey, wait!” he called, but Carey didn’t stop as he pushed through the doors leading to the patio. It was almost empty, the chill of the late night air having driven most everyone back inside. Abruptly, Carey whirled and grabbed onto Jase’s T-shirt with both fists.
Bracing for a shove, or a blow, Jase staggered when Carey instead yanked him into the shadows just outside a soft pool of light.
“Damn you,” he hissed, his eyes glittering. “Damn you, Jase.” Despite the harshness of his tone, Carey didn’t let go of him, his fingers twisted in the fabric of Jase’s shirt. His lips were parted, breaths coming in pants, spots of color high on his cheekbones.
His heart thudding painfully in his ears, Jase deliberately took one step closer until their bodies were only inches apart. Carey turned his head away, but still didn’t let go, his grip tightening.
“Damn you,” he said again, but the words were without heat, softer, more like an exhalation. He dropped his head back to the wall, pulse throbbing visibly in the hollow of his throat, eyes drifting shut. “Oh God. I don’t know what’s happening to me.” His voice was barely audible.
Blood racing, body trembling, all Jase could do was wait him out. At last Carey opened his eyes, the normally brilliant blue dark with emotion. His gaze clung to Jase’s, his lips parting as Jase started to close the last few inches of distance between them…
Gasping, Carey shoved him back, then yanked him close again in an abrupt motion that had Jase slamming his palms against the wall to keep from crashing into him. He looked down at Carey's fists, still twisted in his shirt, then met his eyes once more.
“Let me go,” he said softly. “If you don’t want me to kiss you, push me away.”
For one heart-stopping second, Carey’s grip loosened, then tightened again. Leaning in until their lips were only a whisper apart, Jase breathed, “Let me go. If you don’t want me to kiss you—”
The rest of his words were muffled by Carey’s mouth, crushing his. Hot, slick, eager, Carey’s tongue slid deep, almost devouring him. With a hoarse groan, Jase slanted his head, his own tongue thrusting, parrying. They bit and licked at each other, bodies straining, breaths sawing in and out…
Then Carey ripped his mouth free. “No.”
Struggling to focus, Jase staggered a bit when Carey pushed him away. For the space of several heartbeats they stared at each other, chests heaving, Carey’s body tense, coiled, as if ready to flee.
Seeing it, Jase forced himself to blow out a long, slow breath, and crammed his hands in his pockets as he deliberately took another step back, giving him some room.
“I’m sorry,” Carey whispered. “I’m so sorry.”
“For what?” With an effort, Jase kept his voice low, calm. “I was a more than willing participant.” He waited until Carey met his eyes. “You think I don’t want this? Want you?”
Carey shook his head wildly. “I can’t risk it. I can’t.”
“Oh, Carey. Risk what?”
His throat worked. “Losing you.”
“Losing me?” Jase took a step forward, but Carey put up a hand to hold him back.
“Three years ago, I did almost lose you. Over this.” He made a sawing motion between them.
“That was different.” Jase still kept his voice low, despite the emotion raging through him that made him want to shout at the top of his lungs. “This is—”
“It’s what?” Carey interrupted. “Unfinished business? Curiosity?”
Pain stabbed Jase down low. “Is that what it feels like to you? Curiosity?”
“I don’t know!” Carey shoved his hands through his hair, then linked his fingers behind his neck, visibly striving for calm. He met Jase’s eyes again. “But whatever it is, it’s not worth risking our friendship over. I can’t—”
He sounded so distressed that Jase dredged deep and summoned a smile. “Then we won’t risk it. We’ll forget this ever happened, okay? Chalk it up to temporary insanity or something.”
The relief that spread across Carey’s face made his heart ache. “Yeah. Okay.” Pushing off the wall, he brushed past him, muttering, “See you at home.”
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Meet the Author
Melanie Hansen doesn't get nearly enough sleep. She loves all things coffee-related, including collecting mugs from every place she's visited. After spending eighteen years as a military spouse, Melanie definitely considers herself a moving expert. She has lived and worked all over the country, and hopes to bring these rich and varied life experiences to the love stories she gets up in the wee hours to write. On her off time, you can find Melanie watching baseball, reading or spending time with her husband and two teenage sons.
Title: The Couple Next Door
Author: Rick R. Reed
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: September 14, 2020
Heat Level: 3 - Some Sex
Genre: Contemporary, LGBTQIA+, MM romance, author, multiple personality disorder, brothers, murder
Jeremy Booth leads a simple life, scraping by in the gay neighborhood of Seattle, never letting his lack of material things get him down. But the one thing he really wants—someone to love—seems elusive. Until the couple next door moves in and Jeremy sees the man of his dreams, Shane McCallister, pushed down the stairs by a brute named Cole.
Jeremy would never go after another man’s boyfriend, so he reaches out to Shane in friendship while suppressing his feelings of attraction. But the feeling of something being off only begins with Cole being a hard-fisted bully—it ends with him seeming to be different people at different times. Some days, Cole is the mild-mannered John and then, one night in a bar, he’s the sassy and vivacious drag queen Vera.
So how can Jeremy rescue the man of his dreams from a situation that seems to get crazier and more dangerous by the day? By getting close to the couple next door, Jeremy not only puts a potential love in jeopardy, but eventually his very life.
The Couple Next Door
How many disappointing dates will I endure before I just give up?
I mean, here I am, a perfectly attractive, fit, self-sufficient thirty-year-old, and I’m still waiting to meet the man of my dreams. Mr. Right. Hell, tonight I’d even settle for that character who seems to come along on dates for most of us, the all-too-common Mr. Right Now. But even he isn’t on the seat beside me. In fact, I strongly doubt he’s anywhere in the vicinity of the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle where I live.
Believe me, I’ve looked.
Mr. First Date pulls his Ford Fusion up to the curb in front of my apartment building on Aloha Avenue. We sit in awkward silence for several long moments, listening as the engine ticks down as it cools. I can feel him looking at me. As he’s done most of the evening, he waits for me to speak. I turn my head and, in the dark, give him a weak smile. The date, dinner at a little sushi place on Broadway, had not gone well, full of uncomfortable silences, awkward pauses, and desperate looks around for avenues of escape—on both our parts.
Do I need to say we just didn’t click?
I didn’t think so.
So what he says now surprises me.
“Do you want me to come up?”
Really? We’ve just spent an hour and a half of agony together, trying to find a snippet of common ground that doesn’t exist, and he’s wondering if I want him to come up, which we all know is code for “Shall we make the beast with two backs?”
Seriously? The most irksome thing is, I’m considering it. I mean, he’s cute in spite of our lack of social connection. He’s a games developer for a software company here in town and looks it, with a sort of hipster/geek vibe going on. He has red hair, which I love. He has a beard, which I love. He wears retro glasses, which make him look paradoxically goofy and sexy—which I love.
Would it be so terrible to sleep with him? I mean, it’s been at least two weeks since I’ve enjoyed the charms of anyone other than Mr. Thumb and his four sons, so at least in terms of a release, maybe I should just say “Sure” and open the car door. If things go like some of my dates in the past, he’d follow me upstairs to my apartment and be back in his car in, like, fifteen minutes.
No, I tell myself. And then I tell him, shaking my head, looking sad, and saying the words countless heartbreakers have used over the years to stop ardent passion in its errant tracks.
“I’m sorry, Neil. But I have to get up early.” Lamely, I pat his hand. “Maybe another time.”
I don’t need to be psychic to know that we both know another time ain’t gonna happen.
Neil seems relieved as he restarts his car. He shrugs. “It’s okay. Club Z’s just a couple minutes away, right? Down Broadway and a right on Pike—easy.”
He grins at me, and I wonder if he expects me to laugh. Club Z is one of Seattle’s filthiest bathhouses, and yes, it’s only a few minutes away. He doesn’t seem to need directions.
It’s my turn to be relieved that I didn’t actually succumb to the temptation of inviting this jerk upstairs. Wordlessly, I get out of the car and slam the door behind me.
Neil roars off into the damp and still night.
I pause and sigh, staring up at the building in which I’ve lived for the past five years. It’s an okay place, an old redbrick three story with none of the modern amenities—no stainless steel, granite countertops, or gas fireplaces. My apartment is homey. It even has the original tile, sink, and claw-foot tub in its single bathroom. The living room is large, with three big windows that look out on Aloha and let in lots of light—on the days when we have sun in Seattle (that means usually summer days). The floors are scuffed original hardwood. The kitchen actually has a pantry and built-in china hutch. I’ve painted the place a cheery, soft yellow.
Upstairs, the TV, with its DVRed episodes of at-odds Sons of Anarchy and Downton Abbey, awaits. Upstairs, there’s the gelato I love from Whole Foods in the freezer—hazelnut dark chocolate.
Such is my life. Comfortable and a little lonely.
Sometimes I wonder, like Peggy Lee, if that’s all there is.
I head toward the glass-paned front door. I grope in my jeans for my keys. The mail had not yet arrived before I left for my date, and I wonder if there will be any surprises in the vestibule mailbox. You know, like an actual letter from someone, standing out from the usual assortment of bills and solicitations by the cursive spelling out of my name—Jeremy Booth.
My problem is I always have hope, even when there’s little reason.
I open the front door, and that’s when everything changes. My life turns upside down. I go from bored discontent to panic in a split second.
The first thing I hear is someone shouting “No!” in an anguished voice. I look up from the lobby to see two figures on the staircase above, on the second-floor landing. One is a guy who looks menacing and so butch he could pose for a Tom of Finland poster. An aura of danger radiates from him. Aside from his imposing and muscular frame, he’s even wearing the right clothes—tight, rolled jeans and a black leather biker jacket with a chain snaking out from beneath one of the epaulets. His high- and tight-buzzed hair gives him a military—and mean—air. He has his hands on the shoulders of a guy who looks a bit younger and much slighter, making me want to call up the stairs, “Why don’t you pick on someone your own size?” The smaller guy, blond and clad only in a pair of pajama bottoms, struggles with his attacker, looking terrified. Their movements, clumsy and rough, would be comical if they weren’t so scary. The smaller guy is panting and batting ineffectually at the bigger one.
“Please! No! Don’t!” the smaller guy manages to get out, his voice close to hysteria.
I have never seen either of these men before. In fact, the whole scene has the quality of the surreal, a dream. The danger and conflict pulsing down the stairs makes my own heart rate and respiration accelerate, causing feelings of panic to rise within me.
And then the worst happens. The big butch guy shoves the smaller one hard, and all at once he’s tumbling heavily down the stairs toward me.
The fall is graceless, and it looks like it hurts. It’s over so fast that I’m left gasping.
I look up to see the leather-jacket guy sneer down at his mate, lying crumpled and crying at my feet, and then turn sharply on his heel to go back into a second-floor apartment that had been vacant yesterday. He slams the door. The sound of the deadbolt sliding into place is like the report of a shotgun. Both slam and lock resound like thunderclaps, echoing in the tile lobby, punctuation to the drama and trauma of this short scene.
I switch into Good Samaritan mode and drop to my knees at the sniveling, crumpled mess of a man lying practically at my feet.
“Are you okay?” I ask and reach out to lightly touch his shoulder.
He jerks away and, wincing, pulls himself up into an awkward sitting position. He stares at me with clear blue eyes for a moment, almost as though he’s trying to place me. He finally looks away.
“My ankle is throbbing. It hurts like hell. Maybe I twisted it.”
I don’t know what to say, other than to ask, “Would you like to try and stand? Test it out?”
I lean over to grip him under the arms—it’s damp there, and I can smell the ripe aroma of body odor, probably inspired by fear or panic—and pull. He comes up with me and then stumbles, wincing and crying out.
“Damn. I might have sprained it when I fell.” His eyes are so appealing, in both senses of the word, as he stares at me, as though seeking direction for what to do next. He leans on me, taking his weight off the injured ankle.
I keep my arm around him, and together we limp over to a bench set beneath the bank of common mailboxes. We sit.
“What do you want to do?” I ask.
Meet the AuthorReal Men. True Love. Rick R. Reed is an award-winning and bestselling author of more than fifty works of published fiction. He is a Lambda Literary Award finalist. Entertainment Weekly has described his work as “heartrending and sensitive.” Lambda Literary has called him: “A writer that doesn’t disappoint…” Find him at www.rickrreedreality.blogspot.com. Rick lives in Palm Springs, CA, with his husband, Bruce, and their fierce Chihuahua/Shiba Inu mix, Kodi.
Title: The Sorcerer’s Guardian
Series: Chronicles of Tournai, Book Four
Author: Antonia Aquilante
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: September 14, 2020
Heat Level: 3 - Some Sex
Genre: Fantasy, LGBTQIA+, Fantasy, romance, family-drama, gay, cisgender, magic, cat shifters, magician, captain of the guards, storm, antagonists to lovers, court intrigue
Savarin honed his Talent through years of study, and to achieve his goal of becoming the most powerful and accomplished sorcerer in Tournai, he made magic his life. Among the wealthy and noble circles he moves in, no one would suspect the handsome, refined, arrogant sorcerer’s humble beginnings—which is how Savarin prefers it. He wants to be seen only as the man he’s made himself. When Tournai’s princes task Savarin with studying and strengthening the spells that protect the principality from magical attack, he is more than happy to do so. The spells are complex, centuries old, and exactly the type of puzzle Savarin is eager to solve. But to his annoyance, the princes insist Loriot accompany him on his journey.
Second son of a minor noble family, Loriot worked his way up the ranks of the royal guard to captain with single-minded determination and takes pride in his service to the crown. He must obey the prince’s orders to protect Savarin, despite believing his skills would be best used elsewhere and his wariness of magic. UnTalented himself, Loriot has learned not only the benefits of magic but also its potential for harm—and how to counter it. He still believes it’s best to avoid most magic entirely, which is difficult when he’s tasked with playing guard to a powerful sorcerer.
Loriot and Savarin clash repeatedly during their journey, but the simmering tension between them doesn’t only stem from their work, and passion develops into feelings neither expected. But Savarin must still secure Tournai’s magical barrier, and his only solution will endanger both him and the royal family.
The Sorcerer’s Guardian
As afternoon waned into evening, Loriot approached his house on Dove Lane. Weariness dragged at him with each step. He hadn’t slept more than a few minutes in the last few days, and now that the crisis had passed, he felt the fatigue down to his bones. But the lack of sleep was worth it for the good outcome of the situation.
He trudged up the few steps to his front door, its rich blue color recently freshened, and let himself in. The key turned smoothly in the lock, and the magical protections on the house recognized him as belonging, allowing him inside. He shivered, even though he didn’t feel anything as he crossed the threshold; perhaps someone with a Talent would, but he had neither Talent nor any sensitivity to magic.
Inside, the house was quiet. The formal parlor was empty, which was unsurprising as they rarely used it—only when Joceline and Oriana chose to entertain. He wanted more than anything to go up to his bedchamber and collapse into his bed for the next few days, but he couldn’t. Couldn’t even collapse for a few hours without checking on his family. But he knew where at least one of them was likely to be at this time of day.
The sitting room at the back of the house was quiet, too, so quiet he could hear the scratch of his sister’s pen on paper as he stepped into the doorway. Joceline sat at her writing desk, papers spread around her, pen flying across the page. Despite the silence, she didn’t notice him. A good writing day, then. He hated to disturb her, but she’d want to know he was home.
“Story going well?” he asked, keeping his voice quiet so he wouldn’t startle her. He’d learned it was better to have to repeat himself than to scare her when she was absorbed in a world of her own creation.
But he didn’t have to repeat himself today. She glanced up immediately, her gaze hazy and then sharpening. “There you are! I was wondering if you were ever coming home.”
He hadn’t been gone so long—only a couple of days—but he did try not to let a day go by without returning for at least a little while. He stepped farther into the room and sank down into a comfortable chair. “It was unavoidable. You got my notes?”
“Of course. You know I was just teasing.” Joceline narrowed her eyes and studied him with an intensity he could almost feel. “Is everything all right? You look exhausted, and I heard yesterday the guard was searching everyone leaving the city.”
He scrubbed a hand over his face. Sitting had been a mistake. His eyelids wanted to droop; his body wanted to melt into the cushions. “There was a kidnapping.”
“Not Prince Julien?”
“No, no. And it’s fine now,” he reassured her, trying to keep her from coming out of her chair in her alarm at a threat to the heir to Tournai’s throne. “It wasn’t a member of the royal family at all.”
“But you were involved?”
As captain of the royal guard, Loriot normally wouldn’t be directly involved in such a situation. “The baby taken was the daughter of Prince Amory’s friend, Master Tristan. The merchant. Though if what I saw means anything, he’ll likely be a member of the royal family soon.”
“Really?” Joceline leaned forward, her interest of a different kind now. “There’s going to be a marriage? To whom? The princess?”
He shook his head. He didn’t need to tell her what he said should go no further. He didn’t ever tell her anything truly secret, but Loriot didn’t see the harm in a little meaningless court gossip now and then, especially since she wouldn’t spread it. “No. Lord Etan.”
She sat back with a huff. “Well, they really are bucking tradition, aren’t they?”
He let out a short laugh. But what she said wasn’t untrue. Both Tournai’s prince and his cousin, a royal duke, had married men in the last couple of years, and now it seemed Lord Etan, another cousin of Prince Philip’s, would do the same. Loriot couldn’t think of a time when such a thing had happened, as the royal family and nobility tended to marry those who could provide bloodline heirs for their titles—and some families were even more conservative, only marrying women.
“Good for them,” Joceline said. “I hope they’re happy.”
“Now that Tristan’s daughter is back with them, I believe they are.”
Concern flooded back into her pretty face. “You found her? And the person who took her?”
“Yes, with Master Savarin’s help.” He’d gotten over any resentment he might have had that he needed the help of magic long before today and was happy to use any tool he had access to. Savarin, the most powerful sorcerer in Tournai, was not someone whose help should be turned away, and Savarin never withheld it, serving Tournai whenever he was called upon.
“The sorcerer? How did he help?” Joceline sat forward, a gleam in her eyes he recognized well. She wasn’t simply curious; she wanted to know because she might use the information in a story.
He sighed and shook his head. “He used his magic to try to track the kidnappers and then to try to find the baby directly. He pointed us in the right direction, let us know where to search for them.” Loriot didn’t bother mentioning the help they’d received from someone else, a scholar at the university. If he read Savarin right, Savarin would be finding Master Corentin at the university soon and asking him about the magic he used, because it also sounded as if Savarin hadn’t heard of anything like it.
“Let me guess, your new story has a sorcerer character.” He arched an eyebrow at her, his mildly disapproving tone mostly put on. Which she would know, as she was aware how proud he was of her accomplishments.
“I have an idea that would call for one. What’s Master Savarin like?”
“I don’t know him very well.” He tried to think of anything he knew about Savarin beyond the surface. “He’s powerful and arrogant with it.”
She shrugged. “I’d be surprised if he wasn’t. Aren’t all powerful sorcerers arrogant about their power?”
“I wouldn’t know. I don’t know any others.” He resolutely pushed his newly acquired knowledge of the royal family’s secret Talent from his mind. He didn’t need Joceline seeing a hint in his expression and trying to badger the information out of him. He would never tell, but life would be easier if he didn’t have to fight Joceline about it.
“All the ones I’ve read about in stories are. Especially the evil ones.”
“Tell me you’re not going to base a character on Master Savarin and make him evil.” Making the most powerful sorcerer in the country an evil character in a book sounded like a horrible idea.
Another shrug. “Powerful sorcerers always seem to be evil characters. Or self-sacrificing ones who save the day.”
Loriot shook his head and heaved himself to his feet. If he didn’t move, he’d end up sleeping right there. “Alain is upstairs?”
“Yes. But wait,” she called after him as he walked toward the door. “You must know something else about Master Savarin.”
“I really don’t.” He didn’t turn.
“Is he handsome?”
Savarin’s image filled his mind—his height and broad shoulders, perfectly carved features, blond hair he thought would be soft under his hands. His stride hitched, but he shook the image away and ignored Joceline calling after him. Perhaps she would forget the idea entirely if he didn’t encourage her.
He doubted it, but he could hope. The idea of Savarin as a character in a book on the shelf of a bookshop made him cringe.
Trudging up the stairs took the last of his energy, but he forced himself to bypass his own bedchamber. He couldn’t go to bed without seeing Alain. Not after so long away, not even if it hadn’t been very long. The door to the room at the back of the house was partially open. He peeked in as he pushed it open the rest of the way. The room was tidy, except for a veritable city built of blocks in the middle of the rug. The nursemaid noticed him first, but Alain wasn’t far behind. He looked up, his bright-green eyes—twins of Loriot’s own—lighting up, and something inside Loriot melted, just as it always did under those eyes.
With ease of long practice, he caught the five-year-old bundle of energy that came flying at him and swung his son up into his arms. He cuddled him close for as long as Alain would allow. As tired as he was, he wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. “There’s my boy. I missed you. Show me what you’ve been doing.”
Meet the Author
Antonia Aquilante has been making up stories for as long as she can remember, and at the age of twelve, decided she would be a writer when she grew up. After many years and a few career detours, she has returned to that original plan. Her stories have changed over the years, but one thing has remained consistent—they all end in happily ever after.
She has a fondness for travel (and a long list of places she wants to visit and revisit), taking photos, family history, fabulous shoes, baking treats (which she shares with friends and family), and of course, reading. She usually has at least two books started at once and never goes anywhere without her Kindle. Though she is a convert to e-books, she still loves paper books the best, and there are a couple thousand of them residing in her home with her.
Born and raised in New Jersey, Antonia is living there again after years in Washington, DC and North Carolina for school and work. She enjoys being back in the Garden State but admits to being tempted every so often to run away from home and live in Italy.
Title: Hearts of Destiny
Series: Chevalier, Book Four
Author: Kay Doherty
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: March 30, 2020
Heat Level: 3 - Some Sex
Genre: Paranormal, LGBTQIA+, MM romance, gay, pack dynamics, feud, wolf shifters, dragon shifters, multispecies shifters, bonded mates
Ean and Matthias have known they’re mates for a while, but Matthias has been unwilling to claim Ean. He believes his past and age-old secrets are too big for Ean to overcome, so instead keeps Ean away by irritating him.
Depressed and no longer able to be near the dragon-shifter, Ean leaves the pack house and, after a night of heavy drinking, makes a life-changing decision that pushes Matthias into action.
As the blood moon draws nearer, the Chevalier Pack is called before a tribunal of paranormal leaders to assess the Alpha’s rumored mysterious abilities. Matthias decides to share his secrets with a little help from Colby. And to top everything off, they face another attack by the McBane Pack, which the Chevalier decide will be the last.
Hearts of Destiny
Kay Doherty © 2020
All Rights Reserved
Duray Horde Vault
After adjusting the stack of scrolls tucked beneath his arm, Matthias opened the door to the vaults and headed down the stairs. He had no idea what was contained in the newest additions to the horde library, but Sadie had insisted he take them, look through them, and archive them appropriately. The sheer number of scrolls he was carrying guaranteed weeks of sequestered reading, and he was looking forward to it. Matthias often disappeared for days within the vault stacks, and no one cared. He was moody and antisocial at the best of times and preferred his own company to that of other dragons.
At the back of the library, he dropped the scrolls unceremoniously on top of the desk he’d claimed as his, decades ago. Since no one came down to the vaults, no one had challenged his claim. As far as the horde was concerned, the vaults were Matthias’s domain. The soft thump of little feet echoed in the cavernous space, dulled slightly by the papers and leather-bound tomes that filled the shelving. Matthias knew who those steps belonged to, and his disposition lightened a bit. Sadie’s son had a thirst for knowledge that Matthias admired, even if it did mean his quiet sanctuary was invaded on a regular basis by the child.
“What are you doing down here, Luca?”
The fledgling hefted a book that was nearly a third his size, and Matthias recognized it as an old human-written story about a witch. He wasn’t sure it was an appropriate choice for a fledgling of just eight years to read, but he’d learned early on that Luca was not an ordinary little dragon. There was something special about him: something that reminded Matthias of the child he’d raised centuries before.
“Nothing in that book is factual,” Matthias told the boy.
“That’s good, because the witch ate the kids.” Luca winced before turning around and disappearing into the shelving.
“Don’t make me come behind you and straighten up,” Matthias ordered, his voice carrying through the room despite him not raising it the slightest bit.
Twenty entirely-too-quiet minutes passed before Matthias rose from his chair to go check on Luca. He found the book the boy had brought back exactly where it should be, but Luca wasn’t there. Returning to the main aisle, Matthias glanced down each row as he passed until he finally found Luca sitting on the floor with his back against the stone wall with a book opened across his little legs.
“This isn’t a row you’re allowed to be in,” Matthias said, shocking the little boy who was clearly immersed in what he was reading.
Matthias squatted in front of him, closed the book, and willed the panic he felt explode in his chest to not show on his face as he pulled the book from Luca’s grasp. He stood and placed the tome well above the boy’s head. Luca was entirely too curious for his own good.
“But I liked that story,” Luca complained. “It had a dragon married to a wolf, and I didn’t know that could happen, and I want to see what happens next.”
Matthias swallowed thickly. Luca thought he was reading a fictional story, but Matthias knew all too well that the Chevalier family had been real, and he’d be damned if he put the idea of interspecies matings into the head of the horde matriarch’s son. Pushing the memory of his own interspecies mating to the back of his mind—because what did it matter anymore?—he looked down at the fledgling.
He steered the boy into a more appropriate area of the vaults to be explored and then returned to the tome he’d confiscated. Pulling it off the shelf, Matthias thumbed through page after page of his own historical account of the Chevalier, removed the most informative and thereby damaging chapters, and then replaced it on the shelf. Luca was only going to get older, taller, and more curious with age. Matthias wouldn’t risk him finding the book again.
Later that night, after darkness had fallen and the compound had grown silent with slumber, Matthias burned one of the last firsthand accounts of the Chevalier—his own. Why he’d thought it was a good idea to put that horror down on paper, he’d never understand. Youthful folly. All that was left to do was locate and obtain Alietta’s journal, the final remaining written history of the family and subsequent events Matthias had yet to destroy. For now, he was content knowing the only memory of the Chevalier that existed in the Duray Horde was now locked safely away inside his head; a place no amount of childhood curiosity could penetrate.
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Meet the AuthorKay Doherty is an omnisexual/polysexual who lives in Colorado with her poly-family, Mike, Keri, and Tigz. Her house is overrun with cats and dogs. Family is important to her so there are daily texts, frequent visits to her parents, and constant banter with her brothers. She happily suffers a severe addiction to coffee and Mexican food. She loves to read and write and can easily become consumed by it for hours, much to the dismay of Mike and Keri (Tigz is an enabler). On occasion she can be convinced to venture out into the world of the living despite being annoyed by the sun shining in her face.
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Title: Adam Bomb
Series: Moguls, Royals, and Rogues #1
Author: Kilby Blades
Publisher: Dreamspun Desires
Release Date: 1/21/20
Heat Level: 3 - Some Sex
Genre: Romance, best friends to lovers, friends to lovers, billionaire
Levi's best friend, Adam, has always been larger than life: a smoking-hot billionaire hotelier with imposing charm. When Manhattan stops being big enough for both of them—at least if Levi ever wants to fall out of love with Adam—Levi accepts a job in in San Francisco.
But when Adam pulls an Adam—upending Levi's calm new life with a plea to lend his photography talent to a worthy cause—Levi is helpless to resist. Adam will be the first Fortune 100 CEO to come out of the closet in grand fashion. He needs a trusted ally on his PR team. And the job will only last three weeks.
Levi accepts on one hidden condition: he’ll keep his new friends away from Adam, certain that if they get a whiff, they'll fall under Adam’s spell. Bent on keeping his two lives separate, Levi barely makes it through the first two weeks unscathed. Then, Adam drops another bomb….
Three things happened to Levi every time he saw Adam: anticipation prickled his neck, he quelled the impulse to wet his lips, and his dick got a little hard. Then there was the tunnel vision thing—the way that, when Adam walked into a room, noises dulled and periphery faded for a pregnant moment and there was no one but the two of them.
They weren’t alone, of course. Adam was never alone. Today, a gaggle of smartly dressed flight attendants flocked around him.
“Fucking Adam,” Levi muttered. Even as he shook his head, Levi’s lips curved into a smile. Adam didn’t notice him at first. But that was the way it always was—Adam busy noticing whoever’s pheromone he liked best, and bystanders busy noticing Adam.
Levi had forgotten how comical it could be. Adam had that kind of charisma. When he walked into a room, records scratched to astonished silence, and people stopped what they were doing to look. Levi had seen babies stop crying to smile at him and fierce-looking dogs leave their masters’ sides to be petted by this man. It wasn’t just Levi. Everyone was attracted to Adam.
Recollection of what a nuisance Adam’s ridiculous magic could be didn’t stop Levi’s grin from widening. The man was a golden-eyed god. He had his Iranian-born parents to thank for regal bone structure, pouty lips, and luminous, polished-bronze skin. Levi appreciated Adam’s utter perfection as a specimen of the male ideal just as much as anyone else. But unlike everyone else, Levi saw Adam for more than sex on legs. Levi knew his heart. They’d known one another since they were boys.
“Come out with us tonight.” A flight attendant in a dark pencil skirt suit smiled with suggestive lips painted in the same shade of vermilion as the ascot around her neck.
“Sorry, babe… I got plans.” Adam said it with a billion-dollar smile. She leaned in and gazed at him dreamily, as if he’d just invited her to join him in a suite at the Kerr instead of turning her down flat. Adam was the only person Levi knew who could hand someone a steaming, stinking shit burger and have the person he served it to beg him for more.
And just like that, Adam’s gaze slid right to Levi—with precision—as if he’d known where Levi stood all along. Adam kept walking, never missing a beat, disentangling both women from beneath his arms.
“Sonofabitch,” Adam said, the corner of one lip quirking into a smile and his eyes glowing soft embers as he looked at Levi; it was a frat boy thing to say, but Adam was kind of a bro. Adam threw his arms around Levi and they shared a bear of a long hug.
“I missed you, brother,” Adam murmured a second before releasing his embrace and holding Levi by the shoulders, at arm’s length. He said it with earnest intensity that got Levi every time.
“Ladies….” Adam let his eyes linger for a final moment before shifting his gaze to the women who hung on his every word. It bought Levi time to swallow the lump in his throat. “This is my best friend, Lev.”
Apart from family, Adam was the only one who shortened his nickname with correct pronunciation. Most people Americanized it to sound like the jeans. Levi’s parents were Argentinian. Back in the motherland, it had a short <em>e</em>.
“Lev can come out with us too….” This from a different flight attendant. They had all stopped when Adam stopped, including the ones who hadn’t been tucked under Adam’s arms. They all looked hopeful—even the adoring pilot. If any one of them could’ve torn their gaze from Adam, Levi could’ve shot a commiserating glance.
<em>Sorry, guy. He’s taken.</em><em> And his partner’s completely gorgeous</em>, the glance would’ve conveyed.
“I’ve been away for….” Adam looked at his watch, then looked at Levi. “What is it now? Nine months?” It was cheesy as hell, but Adam pulled it off. “Me and him have a lot of catching up to do.” He turned to his entourage and gave a small bow. “It’s been lovely. I mean it. Thanks.”
Levi didn’t miss the small folded paper that Red Lips pressed into Adam’s hand before whispering something in his ear and kissing his cheek, or the rueful, silent waves of the others. Levi watched Adam as Adam watched Red Lips walk away. Adam slid his gaze back to Levi, who was shaking his head again. If Levi had missed Adam’s incorrigible flirting, Adam had missed Levi’s mock-disapproving looks. Levi stared at Adam and Adam at him, each of their grins growing as the moments passed.
God, it’s great to see his face.
“You look good, man.” Adam clapped a hand on Levi’s shoulder. “San Francisco’s treating you right.”
“I love it here,” Levi admitted. He’d said as much the one time they’d seen each other in all that time. They’d met for dinner one night, when they both happened to be in London for business. Adam had asked Levi when he was moving back to New York. Levi had simply said that the project that had lured him to San Francisco had been ongoing. He hadn’t said that New York no longer felt like home, and he wouldn’t say—not right now—that his project had been over for two months. That he planned to sell his family house in Queens and stay in San Francisco.
But Adam’s project was over, and he was moving back stateside. San Francisco was a four-day stop. After a long weekend catching up, Adam would go back to headquarters in New York.
“You got luggage?” Levi asked. By then they’d begun walking.
Adam held up a small duffel Levi hadn’t noticed before. “If I need more clothes, I’ll stop by the hotel.”
Levi had forgotten how light Adam traveled. Being heir to a hospitality empire meant that Adam had a closet and a place to stay in every major city. It wasn’t until they started toward the doors—until the gaggle of flight attendants had disappeared from view—that Levi pulled out his phone.
“Lemme call an Uber,” Levi said. It was a short ride into the city. Brutal during rush hour but not bad at one o’clock on a Thursday afternoon.
“No need. The hotel sent a car.”
Adam lagged behind Levi, just by a step, as air from outside blew in along with the whoosh of the sliding double doors. He hovered his fisted hand over a trash can, and when he opened his fingers, the pink folded phone number of the flight attendant fell to its demise.
Adam wouldn’t have actually hooked up with the flight attendant—not as long as he was with Leila. But he might have given her a call to find out where the party was. No. Adam wasn’t a cheater. He was a party animal, an attention whore, and a flirt. And he didn’t spend much time alone.
“So it’s true….” Levi smiled his most nonchalant, most supportive-best-friend, and utterly-unaffected-by-Adam’s-love-life smile, even though this was a moment he had dreaded. “Your days of flight attendants are over. You popped the question. Leila’s finally gonna make an
honest man out of you.”
Adam stopped outside, right on the other side of the doors, where the air was cool and the wind was sharp, as it tended to be on late spring afternoons this side of the bay. Levi needed him to say it—to speak out loud the big news Adam had insisted he be there to deliver in person, and ask the favor he wanted to ask face-to-face. It had to be that he and Leila were engaged and that he wanted Levi to be his best man.
“Leila and I broke up.”
The tip of Adam’s nose had begun to pink, and his cheeks were doing the same. Levi wished them back inside, wished to divine whether Adam’s color owed to emotion or to the winter of San Francisco spring wind.
“When?” Levi blurted inelegantly.
Adam scanned distractedly. If they wanted to reach the limo line, they had to go to an outer curb across the street. Adam started walking and Levi kept in step, barely heeding traffic to study Adam’s face. On the crosswalk, Adam replied, “A couple months ago.”
Puzzlement pierced through Levi’s stark relief. It was stupid, the way he was happier when Adam was single. Such news delivered the same foolish rush of hope that swelled over Levi when one of his celebrity crushes filed for divorce or came out. So what if Adam broke up with his girlfriend or fine-ass Wentworth Miller came out of the closet? It didn’t mean Levi had a chance.
The color on Adam’s cheeks as he spoke his confession was definitely a blush of shame. What kind of best friend forgot to mention for “a couple of months” that it was Splitsville between him and the girl his father wanted him to marry?
“You wanted to tell me in person you broke up with your girlfriend? That’s your big news?”
Adam had the decency to look chagrined. “None of it has to do with her.”
“You’re being cryptic,” Levi pointed out. “Adam. What the hell is going on?”
Levi’s heart raced faster than it had when he’d merely believed his best friend, whom he’d nursed no small crush on over the years, had taken himself permanently off the market. But Adam was being weird—his Adam, the most shameless and least apologetic person Levi had ever met. Had he screwed up in Tehran and put the company in jeopardy? Lost his fortune? Committed a crime? And what was the favor? Did Adam need Levi to hide him in Argentina with his grandparents, or to donate a kidney? Oh God. Was Adam sick?
Adam looked over his shoulder, paranoid, as if he would be recognized at any moment. He was far from famous, but he’d had his share of press.
“Let’s talk about it in the limo,” Adam whispered, splitting his attention between placating Levi and signaling to the car bearing his hotel’s name. “It’s nothing bad. It’s just… not public yet.”
“What’s not public?” Levi pressed the moment the limo stopped at the curb.
Adam threw him a pointed look and sighed. “I’m coming out. Again.”
Meet the Author
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Title: Out in the Field
Series: Out in College #4
Author: Lane Hayes
Publisher: Lane Hayes
Release Date: July 11
Heat Level: 4 - Lots of Sex
Genre: Romance, New Adult, College, Coming Out, Baseball, New Adult, Humor, Opposites
SynopsisMax Maldonado loves baseball. He knows playing first base at a private college probably won’t get him to the big leagues, but he doesn’t mind. He loves the game and his teammates. If he has to stay in the closet until he graduates, that’s okay. Baseball comes first. Relationships are complicated anyway. And after his recent messy breakup, Max prefers to keep things simple.
Phoenix Bell is a fabulous theater geek. He’s excited about his recent transfer to a new school with an elite liberal arts program. Life has been on hold for a while, but this opportunity feels like the fresh start he was hoping for when he moved to California. And the chance reunion with the hot closeted jock is an unexpected surprise. The two men have nothing in common and their timing couldn’t be worse. However, when their unconventional alliance blossoms into friendship and perhaps something more, it may be time to make some hard decisions. And perhaps risk it all…out in the field.
We were quiet for a moment. We shared his drink in silence as occasional bits of conversation and laughter from the party drifted our way. We were far enough from the action that the excess noise didn’t penetrate our cocoon. Just a couple of strangers in the dark again, minus the club music and lights and unrealistic hopes from the first time. I didn’t know about Phoenix, but this felt cathartic somehow. Like a fresh start.
“What else is going on? You look sad. It’s not me, is it?” I asked with a comedic expression.
He chuckled. “No. This is nice. I just—I tend to get a little blue on the night of the final performance. The anticlimactic feeling sucks, but it’s the nature of the beast. The cycle of slowly learning lines and getting to know your castmates is followed by long rehearsals where everything starts to gel. The excitement builds before the shows and everyone gets better and better and then…<em>boom</em>! It’s over. All that momentum and all the joy that comes from being part of something special disappears overnight. I’m gonna wake up in the morning back at square one.”
“Thus the vodka.” Phoenix raised his cup and took a sip. He set it between us before flashing a lopsided smile my way. “It’s just part of the process. I’ve been doing some version of this for years. You’d think I’d be better at transitioning from high to low.”
“Hmm. It’s kinda the same in baseball. When we start in January, most of the guys are out of shape and out of sync. We have to get used to a new crew and figure out how to work together. By the time our season ends in May, we’re a well-oiled machine. I’m not always sad when it’s over. Sometimes I really need the break. But by June, I miss it. The best thing to do is to stay in the game as much as possible. Play, watch, read stats. There’s probably a theater equivalent.”
“Sure. It’s called ‘get a new part.’ I’m already memorizing the script for the spring production at the Arts Center. They’re doing <em>Chicago</em>. God, I love that show. So many juicy roles. ‘And all that jazz,’ ” he sang that last line, then took another drink and handed his cup to me for no particular reason.
I widened my legs and propped my elbows on my knees. His gaze dipped briefly to my crotch before he licked his lips and glanced away.
“Who do you want to be?” I asked. “I mean…in the play.”
“In a perfect world, I’d be Roxie. But…I have a dick, so I’ll have to audition for Billy and pretend not to be crushed when they give me the role of prison guard or mafia henchman number two.”
“Why can’t you be Billy?” I asked before draining the vodka cocktail.
“I don’t have the right look. You’d actually be a perfect Billy. Have you ever thought about acting?”
“Me?” I pointed at my chest incredulously. “Fuck, no.”
“Why so adamant? It’s fun.”
“Theater stuff just isn’t my thing. I play baseball.”
“You can’t do both?”
“Nope. Not me. And I’m not interested anyway.”
He sighed dramatically. “Well…you were a good fantasy while you lasted.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked with a faux scowl.
“Just what you think it means. I know close to nothing about you except that you’re a decent kisser and—”
“Decent?” Now the scowl was real.
“Okay, better than decent. You were amazing. A real-life Prince Charming. But we can be friends now and—”
“I don’t want to be your friend,” I intercepted.
“ ’Cause I like you.”
“That makes no sense.”
“Yeah, it does. I—” I hesitated for half a second before crashing my mouth over his.
And damn, kissing Phoenix was better than I remembered. I caressed his jaw tenderly before tilting my head to deepen the connection. I didn’t want to overwhelm him, but damn, it took everything I had not to put my hands all over him. I licked the corner of his mouth and groaned. He tasted sweet—like cherries or something. That had to be his lip gloss, I mused before driving my tongue inside.
Phoenix didn’t seem to mind. He moaned when I cupped his neck and tilted my head slightly to soften the connection. I flicked my tongue at the corner of his mouth before biting his bottom lip and pulling away. The kiss was sweet but much too short. And yeah, I was incredibly impressed with my restraint, but I couldn’t afford to start something we’d both regret later. Phoenix wasn’t a stranger anymore. He was a fellow student who knew my biggest secret. I should have been more concerned with resetting boundaries and moving on. But it didn’t feel that simple.
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Meet the AuthorLane Hayes is grateful to finally be doing what she loves best. Writing full-time! It’s no secret Lane loves a good romance novel. An avid reader from an early age, she has always been drawn to well-told love story with beautifully written characters. These days she prefers the leading roles to both be men. Lane discovered the M/M genre a few years ago and was instantly hooked. Her debut novel was a 2013 Rainbow Award finalist and subsequent books have received Honorable Mentions, and were First Place winners in the 2016 and 2017 Rainbow Awards. She loves red wine, chocolate and travel (in no particular order). Lane lives in Southern California with her amazing husband in a newly empty nest.
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Drako is an author and blogger, writing paranormal romance and LGBT fiction and reading almost any genre to review.