NEW RELEASE: Not For You by Kathryn Shay #ContemporaryRomance @KShayAuthor

Title: Not For You

Series: The President’s Daughters #4
Author: Kathryn Shay
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Release Date: August 15, 2022

While living in Italy, Andraya Manwaring isn’t looking for Prince Charming. Too bad she finds him in Ben Moretti, a man who’s lost too much in life to risk love again.
Andraya Manwaring lives in Casarina, an island of lush landscape, surrounded by the sparkling Mediterranean Sea. She was drawn here after she graduated college, and was thrilled to be able to teach in the Marcello Schools, a renowned, innovative educational system. She anticipates a good year again, and getting to know the new staff, particularly the agricultural faculty’s Ben Moretti. She’s drawn to him, too.
Ben has lost everything he cared about. His family farm, which fell victim to drought, his way of life and a wife who abandoned him and his kids years ago. Now, he lives in the city, where he will teach agriculture and try to help his rebellious daughter adjust. So what if he’s attracted to the lovely Andraya Manwaring, who even shows interest in him? He has nothing to offer her but a lot of problems, and he won’t drag her down into his dysfunctional life.
But both circumstances and an undeniable attraction throw them together and he sees what a beautiful person Andraya is inside as well as outside. He gets close to her as they work together on integrating journals into his classes. Mistakenly, he spends time with her outside of school.
Andraya comes to really care about Ben. She’s also particularly interested in his twins. His son is a doll, but his daughter Meli has a big chip on her shoulder. Eventually, though, her tenacity in showing Meli she truly wants to help her, brings his daughter close too. They have fun together, spend time with each other’s family, and everybody’s happy.
This leads to Ben and Andraya falling in love. But when Meli learns of their relationship, all hell breaks loose. Ben and Andraya must end their relationship to save Meli. Her father, former President of the U.S. steps in and tries to help.
Can Meli ever believe Andraya’s interest in her wasn’t just to get to her father? They both lied for so long.
The outlook for their relationship is grim if his daughter doesn’t see the truth. If they could convince her of their honesty, they could be one happy family.

Andraya removed her suit cover-up and kicked off her sandals as soon as she hit the beach. The mid-September sun beat down on her head and face, making the day bright and beautiful. She smiled as she walked halfway down the sandy spot, out of the prying eyes of the palace guards. Because of that, she’d worn a two-piece yellow bathing suit Annie had given her. When she her destination, she dropped down on one of the many chaises the royal family attendants had set out. Umbrellas dotted the area too, but Andraya allowed herself one half-hour in the sun. Renata insisted she swim here.

Darling Andraya, of course you must use our beach. Your father would skewer Alessio if we let you use the public one.

Renata, my father does not control my life over here.

Then do it for the school. Do you really want to sunbathe with students?

Well, no.

And you shouldn’t swim alone. I’ll have a female guard far enough up on one of the cliffs for privacy but close enough for her to jump in and get you, if need be.

Eventually, Andraya had given in. Eventually, everybody gave in to the queen who, at sixty, was imposing and lovely.

Lying flat on her back, she rubbed her arm to make sure she had enough sunscreen on her body. Satisfied she did, she took a book out of her backpack. By Elena Ferrante, The Lost Child, had won the Strega Award. If Andraya thought it was age appropriate and interesting enough, she planned to teach it next term. 

She began reading. The book was interesting, but her eyelids began to close. So, she set it down, got up and headed into the Mediterranean Sea. Sand squished between her toes and still-warm water lapped at her feet. She went out further and further then dove into the water. 

When she got back on land, she felt great. She laid back on her chaise, picked up the book, and began to read again. Her family wondered why she’d moved to Casarina. Was anything better than this?

What the hell? Ben Moretti stopped short inside the door of the Agricultural wing. He walked up close to the color picture of a woman sunbathing plastered on the wall. No, not any woman. Dio mio, Andraya Manwaring. 

A prank? Damn it, he hoped his kids weren’t responsible for this. They’d asked to stay at friends’ houses overnight so he came in early on the first day and didn’t drive them to school. 

For a few seconds, he stared at her curves. Wow! He had no idea she was so…sculpted. Her dark hair was up on her head and she had her eyes closed. The amount of skin revealed made him swallow hard. Shrugging off the reaction, he pulled down the first one headed up the hall. Outside every few rooms were more of copies of the photo. He yanked at them. His heart beat fast in his chest. This was so unfair of her. She’d be embarrassed to hell. 

His phone buzzed. Renata. “Moretti.”

“Are you at school yet?”

“Yeah.”

“Are there photos of Andraya up in your wing?”

“Yep. I’m taking them down as I go.”

“When you’re finished, could you come over to the Humanities wing and head off Andraya. I’m having the building scoured. If you can, get them down in her hallway first, but tell her what’s happened.”

He wondered why Renata called him. He hadn’t spent that much time with Andraya. They’d met during the summer for some preplanning, and he’d talked to her about the kids. He’d also have to confess some of the reasons for their behavior. And she was understanding of their issues. He owed her “Sure, I’ll help out.”

“She parks in her designated spot outside the Humanities wing.” Teachers had their own spaces in the faculty lot.

Making quick work of ripping down the rest of the flyers in this wing, he jogged down to her hall, grabbing pictures. He got to the outside door and found her just entering the building. 

“Hey, Ben. Are you waiting for me?” She looked like a daisy in a pretty yellow dress.

“Yeah. Renata asked me to meet you.”

“Why?”

“Let’s talk on the way to your room.”

She stopped. “Tell me now.”

Sighing, he handed her a copy of the picture. She stared at her photo then lifted her gaze. “Hey, it’s a pretty good shot of me, don’t you think?”

“How can you joke about this?”

A small line marring her brow. “I’m not ashamed of how I look.”

“Why would you be? You’re gorgeous.”

Now those light brown brows shot up. “Why…thank you.”

She took another glance. “Where’d you get this? I was sunbathing on the palace property.”

“I’m afraid someone took a picture of you there. Copies were posted all over school.”

“Seriously? Why would anyone do such a thing?”

“I…” He glanced away.

“What?”

“I’m afraid my kids did it. They stayed overnight at a friend’s house, so they could have come in early without me knowing it.”

“Let’s not overreact. Or assign blame just yet.”

Now, he frowned. “I didn’t expect you to be…all right with this.”

“I’m not. No one did this with kindness in his or her heart. But I’m also not going to melt into a puddle at the sight of it.” She took a bead on him. “You know, anyone could be responsible.”

“You don’t have enemies. You’re too nice.”

“There’s resentment among some of the faculty because I’m so close to Renata. And all my life, people have been jealous of me being the daughter of the U.S. president.”

“This looks more like kids’ doing to me. They had to sneak on the palace property over the weekend to take the photograph, then somehow get the flyers up when school opened early.”

“Walk me to my room, would you?”

“Sure.” On the way they passed teachers who were arriving. 

A woman stopped them. “Andraya, I’m so sorry.”

“Thank you. But it’s not the end of the world, so don’t worry about me, Iliana.”

They went further and bumped into the new member of her department. Ben said, “Domenico.”

Andraya held his gaze boldly. “Dom.”

“Lookin’ good,” he said with a seedy smile.

She gave him a dazzling one. “Why, thank you, Dom.”

He recoiled back. If the stronzo thought he was going to get a rise out of her, he was swimming in the wrong fish tank.

They kept going. Finally, he couldn’t keep it in. “You know, you’re something else. I wouldn’t have handled this as well as you are.”

“Why, you have a great body?”

Holy hell. He kept himself from being embarrassed. And worse, turned on by her comment. All he said was, “Ha!”

#

The kids were fourteen and they looked so young with their new sneakers and recent haircuts as they walked into her classroom. They were whispering and giving her sly looks. Just as she thought, she’d have to deal with the photo right away. Once they were seated, she greeted them. She was heartened to see several students frowning or sad even. Some, though, were grinning a lot like Dom. 

“I’m sorry to have to start the first day like this, but hello, I’m Professoressa or Prof Andraya, if you like. I met some of you this summer, others not. But, before I can greet properly, I’ll address this.” 

She held up one of the copies Ben had given her and with a bland expression on her face, she silently walked down one aisle and up the another, until she’d covered the whole room.

Once back up front, she said, “These were all over school this morning. If you know who did this, tell that person I’m not embarrassed. I know this is a flattering picture of me.

“I also know whomever did this was trying to hurt me, and I’m very sad about that. Again, I’m not angry, not embarrassed, but sad.

“With that, I’d like to forget about this…” she crumpled the paper tossed it into the trash “…and go on to our first day together.”

A pretty little girl raised her hand. “Do you have something to say, Serina?” The kids wore name tags until their teacher learned their names.

“Yes, Professoressa. I hate that stupid person who did this to you. Lots of students will be sorry, like me.”

“Thank you for telling me that. Now I’d like to have the first class I planned.” She picked up a stack of journals. “I’m handing these out for you to use at home then bring back in case we need them in class. Like right now. In either English or Italian, you’re to write about your expectations for the class. How you’re feeling about it. Be honest. You have fifteen minutes. No one else will read it but me. I’ll comment on each one.”

They got to work. Most of them. The two dark-haired Moretti twins looked at each other. She saw Meliora shake her head at Matteo. Huh, she was the dominant one. Their journals remained closed. Andraya walked to them. Bent over, so they both could hear. “If you don’t do this now, you’ll have to come after school to complete the paragraphs.”

“Can’t,” Meliora said. “No ride home then.”

“Not an excuse. You’ll have to find one. And since you’re new this year, I’ll tell you that it’s rule at the Marcello School that a teacher can keep kids after school any day of the week. Even Saturday. Parents have to agree to accommodate them before you enroll.” Italy had classes on Saturdays. 

Meliora glared at her with hateful dark eyes. Then she opened the journal and wrote, No expectations. Feeling like shit now.

“Three paragraphs are required.” She glanced over at the boy. He’d opened his journal and started writing. 

“Mattie!” Meliora whispered harshly.

“Come on, Meli. You know what Papa said.”

“And if you insist on preventing your brother from doing assignments, Meliora, I’ll separate you in the room.” She arched a brow. “Or we’ll transfer you to a different classroom and another teacher. For the whole year.”

A glare that could freeze hell came from the girl now. But she started to write. And Matteo did the same. Andraya couldn’t wait to read what they had to say.

All of her classes consisted of the same speech, and similar statements from the students. But she did get to the journals activity and some other get-to-know-you activities.

At the end of the day, after the students left, Ben appeared in her doorway. “Hey. How are you holding up?”

“I made it through. Come on in.”

He walked to the front. Now she noticed how big and attractive he looked in black and white shirt rolled up at the sleeves and khaki pants, his hair tousled. He hitched a hip on the edge of one desk. 

“From what I hear, it was more than that. The kids told me what you did. Good for you.”

“Thanks, but as I said, it was tedious and tiring. And marred our first time together.”

“For what it’s worth, some kids told me directly that they didn’t like the prank. And as they worked, I overheard even more of them discussing it, saying the same thing. You’re well liked, Andraya.”

“Thank you, Ben. Do you still think it’s your kids?”

“I don’t know. I can usually tell when they’re triumphant over something bad they did, and I didn’t get any vibes of that when their nonno picked them up.”

“I hope it wasn’t them.”

He checked the time. “Are you up to going to the meeting?”

“Meeting?”

“Of the assessment team. We’re picking up from what we did this summer on the new courses.”

“I forgot.”

“Renata would excuse you.” The queen was conducting assessment, as she was responsible for the curriculum. Otherwise, the facilitator would have been Luciana DeLuca, the upper grade principal.

Andraya pushed back her chair. “I told you, Signor Benito, that I’m not a wilting flower. I’m ready.”

“You said you wouldn’t dissolve into a puddle and now you’re not wilting flower.” The corners of his mouth turned up and his deep brown eyes crinkled. “I guess you are a force to be reckoned with.”

“I am.”

Another smile. “Let’s go.”

 

A NEW YORK TIMES and USA TODAY bestselling author, Kathryn Shay has been a lifelong writer and teacher. She has written dozens of self-published original romance titles, print books with the Berkley Publishing Group and Harlequin Enterprises and mainstream women’s fiction. One of her firefighter books hit #20 on the NEW YORK TIMES list. Her novels have been serialized in COSMOPOLITAN magazine and featured in USA TODAY, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL and PEOPLE magazine. There are over ten million copies of her books in print and downloaded online. Readers call her work heartwarming.

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SPOTLIGHT: Dragon Bridge by E.D. Parr #LGBTQ #GayRomance @parr_books

Thank you for inviting me to your blog with my new release MM romance release, Dragon Bridge, from Evernight Publishing

I first started thinking about this story around two years ago when I saw a shadow across the full moon that looked like a dragon. It was a dark gray cloud, but it captured my imagination and for a year, I considered a plot that might work that sight into a story and so the legend of Ponte Drago, (Dragon Bridge) was born.

It still took me a year to write Dragon Bridge, weaving my legend through the love story to provide the background for characters.

I researched Italy, where the bulk of the story takes place, a little, just enough to imagine places that might exist, but not enough to describe existing towns as I wrote that might take away from the mysterious element I wanted in the story. I’d love to visit Italy for the art that exists there … maybe one day.

My lovely hero Key Alder is an ordinary guy, worn down by life as many people are. Naturally, I’m in love with him, as I am with all my characters. We meet him when he’s struggling emotionally with his work. His journey through this love story allows him to find his lost confidence and in the end, huge courage.

Claudio Di Fiore, my other hero, as Key Alder puts it, is gorgeous and enigmatic. I think, right now, he is one of my favorite characters from any of my MM romance stories. His love for Key is steadfast and fierce. He’s fearless until he falls in love with Key and then Claudio’s only fear is losing him.

The story is contemporary, gay, MM romance, fantasy, adventure, and paranormal romance.

I hope readers enjoy the legend and the love story as much as I loved writing it.

Blurb

Tired from his high stress work fighting cyber-crime, handsome, Key Alder takes a vacation on a beautiful Italian coast. He travels from one gorgeous town to another and after a perilous journey lost in the mountains, he settles into his hotel and relaxes.

In a beachside café, next to a warm pale-blue ocean, a performer hands out fliers for an arts festival in a mountain village. Lured by adventure, Key attends an evening performance of fire juggling acrobats in the legendary village piazza.

Beautiful, enigmatic Claudio Di Fiore, the star of the show, sees Key in the audience and is captured by a wonderful feeling he’s unaccustomed to.

Claudio wants Key.

Key is enchanted by Claudio.

A passionate love grows between the two men.

When Claudio’s mysterious ancient family threaten to tear them apart, will Key risk everything to stay with his loved one?

Read a teaser. Key arrives at his first vacation destination.

As he turned a corner of the high coast road, Key caught his breath as his destination came into sight. The entire hillside of a gorgeous bay housed buildings interspersed with trees and flowering shrubs. Several rooftops sprouted palms in huge pots or tubs of bright flowers. Each building climbed the sheer hillside effortlessly from a beach of white sand toward a wall of crags enclosing the bay. The sun slanted off a jade colored dome and sprinkled glitter on primary colored buildings close by. Key slowed to enter the town, already well below the speed limit in awe of the view, he crawled the car to his hotel. Key had spent hours on the internet making sure he knew where it lay. His newfound fragile lightheartedness wouldn’t stand going around in circles until he was exhausted trying to find the place.

A valet took his car keys to park his rental. A porter picked up his luggage and led him to check in. Relieved by these ministrations, Key smiled at the desk clerk. He gave his name. The young woman on duty returned his smile and keyed something into a computer, then she stood and took a keycard from one of the small rectangular openings in the wall behind the desk. Her near perfect English as she spoke to him was reassuring, but Key decided right then that he’d try to learn some Italian. Then I could at least greet people and say thank you.

Copyright E. D. Parr, Evernight Publishing July 28, 2022

BUY the book on new release special discount price from Evernight Publishing only

https://www.evernightpublishing.com/dragon-bridge-by-e-d-parr/

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Siren Bookstrand, coming soon

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Read snippet teasers on the ParrX gay romance blog

https://parrx.blogspot.com/2022/07/mark-your-calendars-mmromance-lovers.html

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RELEASE BLITZ: The Devil’s Lover by Alexa Piper #BDSM #DarkFantasy #LGBTQ @prowlingpiper @changelingpress @GoIndiMarketing

Title: The Devil’s Lover

Series: Hellbound 5

Author: Alexa Piper

Publisher: Changeling Press LLC

Release Date: August 12

Heat Level: 4 – Lots of Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 149 pages

Genre: Romance, Action Adventure, BDSM, Dark Fantasy, Paranormal, Romance, Romantic Comedy, Urban Fantasy, Dark Desire, Elves, Dragons & Magical Creatures, Magic, Murder Mystery

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Synopsis

Lionel and Lucifer are drawn deeper into a murder case, but they are set on solving it together.

Just when Lionel’s love life has gone back to normal — normal meaning the kinky Devil making his ownership known — Lionel’s murder case gets stranger. Lionel’s birth father seems to have his hands in the mystery, and Lionel finds himself in the sights of Eris, goddess of discord.

Lucifer used to be a prime example of a powerful underworld deity with all the knowledge and skill to take care of a lover in the bedroom. But that was before Lucifer fell properly in love and won over his necromantic boyfriend, who also happens to be a demigod. Lionel’s innate magic, magical skill, and stubborn nature make it exceedingly difficult for Lucifer to be the alpha god he wants to be for Lionel.

Lucifer is set on finding a way to provide for the man he loves and to fulfill Lionel’s every desire. But before he can focus entirely on his necromancer, the two of them must solve the case, prevent primordial deities from being raised and destroying the world, and learn to communicate better. It’s what relationships and crime solving are all about.

Excerpt

All rights reserved.
Copyright ©2022 Alexa Piper

Lionel

The Devil’s body in front of mine, protecting me from a threat I didn’t quite understand, that was a new and uncomfortable feeling, and something I didn’t really care for. I tried getting a decent look at the deity that had teleported into Lucifer’s doorless office, but the Devil his own damn self kept pushing me back. It was so annoying when he was trying to be an alpha god.

“Will you cut it out, Beelzebug?” I grumbled, and Trony, in her pink tartan skirt and with her sword in hand, gave me an admiring look.

Nyx, the deity that had Lucifer so riled, chuckled and turned their milky, unseeing eyes on me. “You are a fierce one. Tiamat has said as much.”

And speak of the dragon mother, she appeared in the office as well, which was fine, apart from the fact that she wasn’t wearing any clothes. Awesome.

“What is going on here? Nyx, do you have to scare the children?” the dragon mother said and crossed her arms under her breasts. Not that I was paying any attention to her breasts, but it was sort of hard not to notice they existed. Why did all gods have trouble with clothing? Buttons and zippers really weren’t all that bad.

“Children?” Lucifer said and straightened before pulling me to his side and circling my waist with his arm in a proud <em>look, this is my boyfriend</em> kind of way. Apparently in his mind, the presence of the dragon mother lessened the threat level in his office.

“No one in this room was scared,” Metatron said and flashed her sword.

“What were you saying about Eris?” I asked the blind god… then realized looking at them wouldn’t be enough to cue them in on the fact I was speaking with them. “I mean, Nyx. You were saying about Eris?”

The sightless god turned to face me. “Eager as any human, aren’t you?” They smiled. “Or as the Devil dispensing deals.”

Tiamat clapped her hands. “If you have something to say about Eris, I am interested. I don’t appreciate her harassing poor, lovesick humans around the corner, but I think we can talk while also eating, can’t we?”

Metatron nodded. “I second that. The necromancer has been turning his nose up at my food since his return from Scotland, and he looks worse for wear.”

“I haven’t!” I said. “And I don’t! It’s just been a busy few days, and there were corpses.”

“Humans are quite frail and need regular nourishment, even those who are only partially so,” Nyx said, and they and the dragon mother nodded knowingly.

Lucifer glowered at the other god. “I know best what my boyfriend needs,” he said, but I could tell I was in for eating my breakfast out of the Devil’s hands while sitting in his lap.

* * *

Lucifer was indeed behaving like a total alpha god, and it reminded me that I should call Persephone and give her an update, but that would mean looking at my phone and seeing whatever social media was now making of the sharkomancer incident. Maybe I should still tell her about the minotaur… but what would I even tell her about that? It was confusing, the way I felt or should feel about Minos, and I was actually glad to be dealing with something else right about now.

The dragon mother, Nyx, and Lucifer and I teleported to the already set dining room table, and I tried to grab a chair, but Lucifer wouldn’t let me go. He pulled me close and tilted my chin up.

“How about I take you to Sephy’s and Hades’ place? It’s almost the weekend anyway, and you trained Marc Deacon well. I am sure he can handle things here while you relax a little,” Lucifer said. He was doing his best at looking charming, dashing, someone you didn’t want to say no to. His kitty-cat hair was catching the light just so.

In one word, he was a transparent, overprotective alpha god, and he was trying to lull me into damseling myself, or whatever you’d call it. “You are not benching me,” I said. “I will raise the minotaur, even if it’s –” If it was what? A way for me to get back at him? To make sure he was very and truly dead? I shook my head. “I’ll raise him. I can do my fucking job, whether you believe that or not, Beelzebug.”

Lucifer’s face soured, but then he kissed my forehead. “I know you can, my love, but you don’t have to.”

“What are you saying about raising the minotaur?” Tiamat said. She had put on a bathrobe, just a thin one that hugged her every curve and still revealed a lot, but it was better than nothing. Which was the alternative.

Lucifer hugged me close. “He was apparently murdered in his cell at the human prison not too long ago. Christine just called with the news.”

“The minotaur,” Nyx said, and I wiggled out of Lucifer’s hold and even managed to sit in my own chair instead of the Devil’s lap. My goals had shifted over the past few months, and today, this was an achievement, and I knew it. “He was a powerful human sorcerer,” the blind god went on. They used their cane to find a chair opposite the dragon mother. Lucifer moved his chair at the head of the table to the left, toward my own, until he was sitting right next to me.

“You knew him?” I asked. “How did you know the minotaur?”

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Meet the Author

Alexa Piper writes steamy romance that ranges from light to dark, from straight to queer. She’s also a coffee addict. Alexa loves writing stories that make her readers laugh and fall in love with the characters in them. Connect with Alexa on Facebook or Instagram, follow her on Twitter or TikTok, and subscribe to her newsletter!

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BOOK BLITZ: The Acadian Secret by Tammy Lowe #timetravel #youngadult #actionadventure @XpressoTours

The Acadian Secret
Tammy Lowe
(The Acadian Secret, #1)
Published by: The Wild Rose Press
Publication date: August 10th 2022
Genres: Action, Adventure, Time-Travel, Young Adult

Nova Scotia has kept an incredible secret for centuries. In 1795, sixteen-year-old John Smith, convinced he’s found buried treasure, digs down into a mysterious pit on a small island.

In present day Nova Scotia, twelve-year-old Elisabeth London knows there’s no such thing as magic, but when she finds herself in 17th century Scotland, she no longer knows what to think. While under the guardianship of a kind-hearted Highlander, Elisabeth discovers his ancestral home holds a mystery of its own.

As John continues to dig the strange pit, he inadvertently begins the longest running, most expensive, and deadliest treasure hunt in history. Now, Elisabeth London and John Smith each try to unravel the secrets consuming them, unaware that a tormented young man holds the string weaving all of their lives together.

For Elisabeth, the adventure is just beginning. Unless her parents discover she’s time-travelling. Then…she is so grounded.

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EXCERPT:

As the evening sun wandered behind the mountains, it cast an emerald glow across a glen. The valley was dotted with boulders, rocks, and drifts of bright yellow flowering bushes that blanketed the rolling hills, perfuming the air with a coconut scent. A small river twisted its way toward a distant forest. Overhead, a hawk screeched while soaring across an endless blue sky, declaring its vast territory to other hawks.

A dog yelped, over and over and over again.

Awakened by the barking, Elisabeth’s eyes narrowed in confusion. Her chest tightened as she sat up. “What the—?”

A huge, hairy boar, with razor-sharp tusks, lunged into the nearby brambles.

With a gasp, Elisabeth scrambled behind a large rock. Her breath hitched as her mind raced to make sense of the surrounding scenery.

That’s when a hunter, with a short beard and wild black hair that gave him a crazed look, came galloping over the crest of a hill on horseback. “Good boy, Talbot,” he yelled when the dog lunged into the brambles after the wild pig. The angry grunts of the boar filtered through the thick shrub.

Elisabeth leaped back, ducking low to hide behind the boulder. One hand pressed tight across her mouth.

The clip-clop stomping of the horse’s hooves sounded closer. Then, the hunter’s voice rose in pitch as his piercing blue-green eyes stared down at her, crouched in the heather. “What the devil…?”

A cold chill ran up her spine when he dismounted. His head cocked slightly to the side, and she realized his hearing focused on the dog and the boar as he drew closer.

Bending to peer at her, the hunter scratched his cheek. “You all right, lass?”

Elisabeth’s muscles tightened and she drew her head back sharply. “Yep. Fine.”

“Then…what are ye doing out here?” he asked in an uncertain tone while helping her to her feet. “Dressed in naught but…that?”

Elisabeth’s mouth opened, but nothing came out.

“Well, you’re lucky I found you before—” The silence in the valley now broken, Talbot howled, the boar squealed, and Elisabeth backed away with quick, jerky steps.

“Dinnae move, lass,” he ordered in a steady, low-pitched voice while reaching for his dagger.

Elisabeth gasped for air, watching the enraged boar desert its hiding spot in the brambles and charge toward the dog, its lethal tusks ready to kill.

Talbot seemed well-trained so, instead of turning tail and running, he danced backward, facing the pig, luring it away from his master. With the boar now in pursuit of the dog, the hunter ran at the beast as if he were a wild animal himself. Jumping on the boar from behind, he grabbed its ear, yanked its head up, and slashed its throat.

Elisabeth’s heart pounded, and she gripped the sides of her head.

The hunter jumped off the boar as it fell limp at his feet and cleaned the blade on the carcass before putting it away. He then walked toward Elisabeth, his bloody hands held in front of him.

“You’ve got a knife.” Elisabeth whimpered as her gaze darted from the enormous man dressed in a skirt to the ragtag group of hunters who came cantering over the crest of the hill.

“Aye, and a sword.” He smirked while pointing at it. “I’m not going to harm you, though. I’m hunting.”

“Hunting what? Little girls?” Not waiting for an answer, she bolted, heading for the distant forest.

The hunter took a step back and chuckled as Elisabeth made her great escape in slow motion, hindered terribly by bare feet.

“You’re completely mad!” he shouted while mounting his horse, motioning to the arriving men to deal with the boar carcass.

The black warhorse was as large and intimidating as the hunter and the animal’s powerful legs kicked up tall grass and thistles as it galloped along. The sound of its hooves seemed amplified as it neared Elisabeth.

Without needing to slow his horse, he reached down, scooped Elisabeth into his arms, and placed her in the saddle in front of him. She let out a sharp scream.

“There. Now be a good lass. I promise I’m not going to hurt you. You’re on my land so I know you’re not from these parts. I cannot leave you alone out here. It’s not safe and will soon be dark.”

A wave of coldness caused Elisabeth to tremble. She had no idea where she was and no recollection of arriving. When the hunter wrapped her in his plaid and nudged his horse on, Elisabeth’s shoulders tightened. She remained silent, bringing a shaky hand to her forehead while trying to figure out what the heck was going on. This definitely wasn’t Mahone Bay anymore.

Author Bio:

An adventurer at heart, Tammy has explored ruins in Rome, Pompeii, and Istanbul (Constantinople) with historians and archaeologists.

She’s slept in the tower of a 15th century castle in Scotland, climbed down the cramped tunnels of Egyptian pyramids, scaled the Sydney Harbour Bridge, sailed on a tiny raft down the Yulong River in rural China, dined at a Bedouin camp in the Arabian Desert, and escaped from head-hunters in the South Pacific.

I suppose one could say her own childhood wish of time traveling adventures came true…in a roundabout way.

Website / Goodreads / Instagram / Pinterest


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RELEASE BLITZ: One More Kiss by Loren Beeson #kindleunlimited #agegap #contemporaryromance @LorenBeeson

Title: One More Kiss
Series: a Topica Bay Novel
Author: Loren Beeson
Genre: Contemporary Romance/Age Gap Fake Dating Romance
Release Date: July 14, 2022






I’m homeless in paradise.

What’s a girl to do when her stepfather cuts her off from the family finances?
Accept an offer to room with a sexy—albeit grumpy—divorcé, of course. Damon Carlisle just might have it all. He’s a senior developer of one of the hottest dating apps in the country for starters, and he’s got that whole twelve-years-older-than-me, broody-loner thing going for him. But going through a breakup means I’m in need of a solo vacation, and I won’t be giving in to temptation where Damon’s concerned. This heart of mine is closed for the summer, and no amount of fake dating is going to fix it.
When it rains, it pours.
Not always a bad thing, right? I’m on a two-week beach vacation—away from my cheating ex-wife—and soaking up the sun. Bonus, I’m set to accept an award for the countless hours and dedication I’ve given to my team. But while I should be elated… I feel utterly empty.
When Kate dances her way into what’s supposed to be my chance at a little R & R, something dormant inside my soul awakens. Having fun with her isn’t part of our agreement, and kissing her certainly isn’t either. But I can’t help myself. I can’t get enough of Miss Katelynn Harris, and she just might ruin me.

An Age Gap Fake Dating Romance
One More Kiss is a full-length standalone summer romance and can be enjoyed in any reading order.

“The meet cute between Damon and Kate was sweet and felt really organic. this story being an age gap of 12 years was great one of my absolute favorite tropes!” – ARC reader


“The chemistry between Kate and Damon is 🔥🔥🔥! Some of their 👏 moments 👏  -ARC reviewer

“I always look forward to a Loren Beeson book; she knows how to write a killer storyline with extremely likeable characters and One More Kiss was no exception.” -ARC reviewer





Loren Beeson is an indie author with miles of imagination. She is a dreamer, artist, and radiologic technologist who loves all things romance. Always writing short stories as a young child and young adult, she knew she wanted to become an author someday. Horses are her muse while drawing, and writing is her escape from the real world. She’s a lover of Flaming Hot Cheetos and smutty romance novels, and occasionally has a glass of wine or two… or four.

Loren can be found in her cozy home in Texas with her nose in a book, her corgi and mini-Aussie on her lap, and her son trailing along with her and her husband through their many adventures.


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BOOK BLITZ: Hooked by You by Jessica Buss #sportsromance @JessicaBuss907

Title: Hooked by You
Series: Chicago Steel Book #1
Author: Jessica Buss
Genre: Sports Romance
Release Date: July 13, 2022
Cover Design: Karen at Feed Your Dreams Designs

Lucas

She’s a goddess in heels. Absolute perfection. Well, almost.
Samantha Fox is the heiress of Fox Sporting, my new management team. As one of the best wings in the NHL, I have never shied away from a challenge, and she is definitely a challenge. But if her company representing me doesn’t stop me from wanting her, the fact she’s engaged should, right?
But the noticeably absent sparkle from her left ring finger makes me question. I vow to myself that I’ll find out what that’s all about. And if she’s single, I plan to make her mine. Or at least, mine for the night. I just need one taste of the divine.
Samantha
Off-limits. That’s what he is. Lucas Bouchard is the prestigious new client acquired by my family’s company. From what I know, not only is he an amazing hockey player, he’s a humble and generous philanthropist too. Also, he’s a walking aphrodisiac.
It doesn’t matter that I’ve just broken off my engagement to a cheating, using loser. Every time our eyes lock, I find myself captivated. But he’s not for me. No matter how many times I remind myself of this, though, it doesn’t compute. Plain and simple, I want him. And keeping my distance might prove impossible.

Want to read the extended epilogue? Sign up for Jessica Buss’ newsletter
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BOOK BLITZ: Damaged Doll by Jennifer Bene #GothicRomance #Suspense

Damaged Doll
Jennifer Bene
(The Beth Series, #2)
Publication date: July 12th 2022
Genres: Adult, Gothic, Romance, Suspense

The long-awaited sequel to Breaking Beth is finally here!

“I’m too broken for love.”

After everything Beth has been through, all she wants is to feel normal.
To be normal.
But the weight of her past won’t let her go easily.

“Wanting her is wrong.”

All Jake wants is to be a hero.
To save as many as he can from the monsters of this world.
But when the monsters come for Beth Doherty…
he isn’t thinking like a hero.

Ripping her out of her life was bad enough.
Wanting her is worse.
But resisting her might just be impossible.

Goodreads / Amazon

EXCERPT:

She felt like she was underwater. Floating in emptiness, with no ground to stretch her toes out for, and no air to swim toward.

It was endless… but not in a peaceful way. Someone had told her once that drowning was peaceful, that the brain gave a sense of euphoria as the lungs filled up with water, but Beth had never felt anything like that.

No calm. No peace.

Just a flickering memory of panic, and an absolute fear of the surface.

Survival was supposed to be an instinct, and she knew she should want to reach the surface. To breathe air again, to stop suffocating in the dark… but all she ever did was dive deeper. The deeper she went, the easier it was to block out the flickering glimpses of the things happening above. All the sounds, the textures, the sensations. The things that were so much worse than drowning.

But it got exhausting to stay down when her body wanted to be buoyant, wanted air, wanted freedom. A constant fight, a battle for depth whenever the water got rough and the waves turned the distant surface into chaos.

It was happening again.

That steady rise to the surface that brought back the panic, heart pounding in her ears as she became aware of the world outside the water. She wanted to dive down, to hide from the pull, but she was so fucking tired — and then there were the voices.

Muffled, blurred by the water for a while… until she got closer. As the light grew brighter, and she started to feel, she could hear them. Too many.

And him.

His voice always stood out the strongest, even though it was always calm. Cold and calm. Just like the water farther down, where she was safer… but she wasn’t safe up here.

Surfacing was always bad. Always.

If she reacted, if she made a sound, then they’d know she could. Then the storm on the surface would just get worse, it would be harder to swim down with the water too rough. Harder to hide.

Despite her best efforts to avoid it, the light got stronger, the world coming toward her, and she clenched her teeth tight to stay silent, to avoid the urge to scream or fight.

And then she broke the surface, instinctively pulling at the cable around her wrist, tethering her to the bed — but it was better to be connected to the bed. Out of the bed was always worse. Out of the bed meant there might be someone new, somewhere new, which always meant pain.

Although the surface was always painful, and she did her best to brace for it as her mind joined her body, as her eyes focused on the light and she felt the texture of sheets against her back and thick plastic around her wrist and –

Curtains. Pale purple.

A poster of a boy band.

She was home.

She kept forgetting that she was home, that she didn’t have to stay under anymore, didn’t have to fight the surface or feel the panic. Of course, knowing it didn’t keep her heart from racing, or her nails from digging into her palms as she pulled at the zip-tie around her wrist.


Author Bio:

Jennifer Bene is a USA Today bestselling author of dangerously sexy and deviously dark romance. From BDSM, to Suspense, Dark Romance, and Thrillers—she writes it all. Always delivering a twisty, spine-tingling journey with the promise of a happily-ever-after.

Don’t miss a release! Sign up for the newsletter to get new book alerts (and a free welcome book) at http://jenniferbene.com/newsletter

Website / Goodreads / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / Bookbub / Newsletter


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BOOK BLITZ: Keys of Time by Georgiana Kent #YoungAdult #UrbanFantasy KeysOfTime #SoulDominion @GeorgianaKent8 @MagicPenTours

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Welcome to Magic Pen Book Tours‘ organized book blitz for Keys of Time by Georgiana Kent taking place July 11-15, 2022! The first book in the YA urban fantasy time traveling series of Soul Dominion. Perfect for readers who like a heady mix of adventure, fantasy, mystery and romance.
Cover Keys of Time by Georgiana Kent
Title: Keys of Time
Series: Soul Dominion #1
Author: Georgiana Kent
Genre/Tropes: Young Adult, Urban Fantasy, Romance / Time Travel
Release Date: August 2, 2021
BLURB

Erica has a secret, a curse she’s been hiding her whole life. And now it’s only a matter of time before her cover is blown.

No longer satisfied to lurk in the shadows, the Lost Souls are seeking dominance over the Earth. Somehow, they have managed to navigate the age-old barriers that have kept them apart from mankind.

Chosen by Time, Erica works with the KeyMaster, Michael Nicholas, to uncover the truth and it quickly becomes apparent that her secret might give them the edge they need. But will they be in time to stop the growing army of Lost Souls?

Welcome to Georgiana Kent’s KeyMaster Chronicles: a diverse world where KeyMasters, quondams, and Færies collide in mankind’s fight for survival. Perfect for fans of epic urban fantasies!

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PURCHASE LINKS
Free in Kindle Unlimited from July 18, 2022
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EXCERPT

The glare of the light lessened and, blinking quickly, she peered to find a doorway before her. It was made of light that crackled and pulsed like electricity. Through it Erica could see London, but a different London, one with horses and carriages upon its cobbled streets and men and women walking about in smart jackets and top hats, long dresses and warm shawls: the crack that had opened the doorway started at her footfall. Taking her foot away, the light crackled anew. She walked slowly around the side of the monument to look at the street behind it, but there were no horses or carriages or smartly dressed people, just the deserted Embankment. She walked back round to the front of the monument where the doorway persisted to flicker brightly.

Recalling herself, she spun round. “Oh, no…”

Michael was standing stock-still and his eyes were no longer sad but wide with shock.

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AUTHOR BIO
Georgiana Kent Profile pic
Georgiana Kent has always been creative and loves telling stories of fantasy worlds filled with magic, mystic and more. She is currently writing two young adult series set in her KeyMaster Chronicles universe: KeyMaster Origins and Soul Dominion are urban fantasies on an epic scale. Filled with a host of strong, diverse characters waiting for you to fall in love with.
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RELEASE BLITZ: Space Stars by Mell Eight #SciFi #LGBTQ #pornstar @ninestarpress @GoIndiMarketing

Title: Space Stars

Author: Mell eight

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: 07/05/2022

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 37800

Genre: Science Fiction, LGBTQIA+, space travel, robotics, musicians, celebrities, established couple, spies, secret agents, nerds, scientists, porn star/sex industry

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Description

This book is two short stories with one thing in common—the stars in space shine brightly, whether you’re on planet or soaring on a ship.

Cole’s star is rising like a rocket as his band tours the galaxies to sing to their adoring fans. Except, Cole’s real job isn’t lead vocals—it’s espionage.

Tarle’s star fell long ago after a horrific accident during a mecha showcase event for his new robot. Then he meets Aster, a porn star on the run. Hiding away together is far more appealing than being alone, but no one can hide forever.

Excerpt

Space Stars
Mell Eight © 2022
All Rights Reserved

“They’re definitely building something dangerous,” J said to begin the meeting as he walked into the spacious, albeit bland, room. There weren’t any windows, and the only ornamentation on the white walls was from the holoprojector across the room. He faced a long table with six chairs around it. All six were filled with stone-faced men and women who turned toward J when he stopped walking at the head of the table.

J touched the control panel for the holoscreen to turn the machine on and pointed out the building construction clearly visible from the spy satellite holograph that appeared seconds later.

“Planets have new construction all the time,” P cut in as she pushed her glasses higher up her nose. “With growing populations it’s inevitable, and planet 501b is certainly growing.”

“Look here,” J said as he pointed to the upper right-hand corner of the three-dimensional picture. The projector obligingly zoomed in to the location.

“Ah,” P murmured as she sank back into her seat. “Building a crono-generator is another thing entirely. But what could it be for? They’ve never been a particularly peaceful people,” she said, referencing 501b’s penchant for starting wars over the merest of slights, “but they’ve never been crazy enough to build a crono-bomb before. That could create a black hole large enough to engulf an entire galaxy!”

“How long have you had this picture?” Y asked slowly while he carefully studied the crono-generator.

J sighed. “Long enough that officials on 501b have already captured and executed six of our spies during their investigations of this issue. That’s why this task force was called to meet today. We need to find a way to infiltrate 501b to figure out if they have any plans to attack.”

“They did threaten the galaxy president two months ago in response to the president’s comments against their most recent war,” P mused.

“It’s more dire than just that,” Y said in his slow and contemplative voice. “As you all know, 501b is not actually a planet. Planet 501 was uninhabitable; only its second moon, known by the locals as Kamura, could sustain human life.”

“Moon settlements are always in desperate need of water resources.” P gasped as the full picture finally came clear for her.

“Exactly,” J cut in. “Our planet, 214, also known as Lacustrine, is almost entirely comprised of freshwater lakes, which 501b dearly needs, and our intelligence says they’re interested in acquiring. I’m afraid they don’t have any qualms about what methods they use either. So, the question remains: How do we infiltrate Kamura in order to find more information and, if necessary, destroy their crono-generator before they’re capable of building the bomb?”

P’s phone went off, a pop song currently topping the charts sounding into the worried and contemplative silence left after that final statement. One frequency was all that could reach through the protections built into the meeting room, and P’s phone only went off in an emergency anyway, so no one begrudged her the time she took to walk into the corner and answer her phone.

She didn’t turn on the holograph card to speak face-to-face, which was no surprise considering the nature of her clients, and everyone in the room tried not to listen in when she murmured into the phone. They all had something much more important to think about anyway: the answer to J’s question.

After a few seconds, P returned to her seat. J looked around at the assemblage, waiting for someone to finally say something.

L slowly tapped her finger on the table, and everyone’s attention turned to the elderly woman. L didn’t speak often, but when she did, they listened. This time was no different.

“We must use an unconventional means to sneak our spy in, and I do believe P’s impromptu phone call has given me an interesting idea. Popular music stars are welcomed across all galaxies. Often, they are begged to hold a performance on various worlds. We should put together a band, make them famous, and arrange for them to travel to 501b.”

J joined the others in giving L perplexed looks, but a smile slowly began to grow across his face. The idea was extremely farfetched, yet the very thought of how crazy a plan L had come up with decided him. If he didn’t think the idea viable, then how could anyone on 501b have plans to prevent it?

“That…” He paused to savor the idea a little further. “That is the most perfect plan I have ever heard.” He turned to the other members of the council. “What do we need to do to accomplish this?”

“A band, first of all,” P murmured. “That means at the very least a singer, a guitar player, a bass player, and a drummer if we want something conventional.”

“They’ll need a hit song,” Y added. “And a full album.”

“And good publicity,” P agreed. “I can get them a spot on the Morning Mumble, which will put them into the limelight, but the band has to be capable of proving their abilities, or they’ll go nowhere afterward.”

“So first we need a band,” J stated. “Any suggestions on who we could hire? We need people with musical talent, so we may have to go outside our regular recruits for this one.”

P nodded immediately. “The Star Slashers recently broke up and their drummer is pretty good. He also played for the Black-Hole Surfers,” she added when she received only blank looks. The Star Slashers had never been destined for greatness, but the Black-Hole Surfers had been legendary up until their singer and lead guitarist had overdosed on poorly cut and excessively laced Star Shine and the band dissolved. “His name is Kingsley,” she finished with a smile, “and he’s from this galaxy, so he’d probably be willing to work with us.”

J hummed thoughtfully. “We’ll start background checks on this Kingsley. Any other suggestions?”

L leaned forward with a groan. “I have a grandchild who promised me he would become a rock god by the time he turns thirty,” she said with quite a bit of exasperation in her voice. Her son worked for the agency, and she evidently expected her grandchild to do so as well. That didn’t seem to be in her grandson’s plans. “Solomon plays guitar and his mother tells me he’s quite good. I suppose if the ambition is present, we could give him this opportunity.”

“We have guitar and drums,” J said. “Any suggestions for the other roles? Can you think of any trained recruits we could call in to take the major roles in this operation?”

“It’s not a suggestion,” P cut in, “but we have to find a singer who is pitch-perfect without modifications or he won’t make it. We can’t just pull anyone from our basic training program and implant electronic vocal cords.”

“This is going to be an interesting search, then,” J said with a sigh. Not only did they need a band, but they also needed to find someone who could infiltrate the secret facilities on 501b without getting caught. It wasn’t going to be easy.

The meeting broke up soon afterward. P was the first person to rush out, her phone in hand. Whatever emergency she’d been called about must have been important. Considering P’s clients…well, J hoped there wasn’t a galaxy about to implode somewhere.

Z was J’s colleague from the same agency. He hadn’t spoken during the meeting, but Z was notorious for pulling J aside later to voice his thoughts. J wasn’t surprised when Z joined him in his walk down the empty hallways of the building.

“I might have an idea for a bass player,” Z murmured in his usual half-audible tone. “She’s a spitfire though. Barely passed her basic training before she quit, so I’ve no idea if the girl would like the idea, or if she’s what we want for this mission.”

“Submit her name and have a background check run,” J replied. “We’ll find some way to convince her and…” He paused, his head cocked to the side. One hand flashed upward to grip Z’s arm. “Do you hear that?” he asked excitedly.

Z tilted his head to listen and slowly nodded. “It’s probably a radio someone left on.” He sighed. “But it won’t hurt to go see.”

They both turned the corner, following the sound of someone singing. The door to the men’s locker room was left partially ajar, and J pushed it open the rest of the way so he and Z could walk into the space. J expected to see a holodisk left on inside one of the recruits’ lockers, so he was surprised when a young man, fresh from the showers with his back to J and Z, had his head tilted back and his mouth wide open as he sang.

His tone was pure and clean—perfect.

He was drying his brown hair with a towel, his eyelids closed. His naked back was thin but well sculpted, although the loose pants he wore hid his lower body from J’s perusal. A pair of old-fashioned Coke-bottle glasses sat on the bench next to him.

There were two gyms attached to the locker room, one for the regular staff and one for the special recruits. This far into after-hours, only the special recruits had access. Whoever the man was, he piqued J’s interest.

J glanced over at Z and saw that Z was just as mesmerized by the beautiful singing. Z finally glanced back over and nodded. Whoever the recruit was, he was about to be given a new mission.

The singing stopped as the young man finally finished drying his hair. He put his towel down and patted his hand across the bench until he found his glasses. Then he turned around to find his shirt and jumped when he caught sight of J and Z.

“Sorry,” the young man said, his face rapidly going red as he ducked his head. He got to his feet in a hurry, finding parade rest with his feet even though he was staring at the ground instead of facing straight forward.

“Not at all,” J replied. He stepped closer to the recruit, studying him closely for a long moment, which only made his face grow even redder. “What are your vitals, recruit?” J finally asked.

“Name: Cole! Just finished basic training two days ago, sir!” Cole said sharply, even though he still wouldn’t look J directly in the face. He had been trained well, if not perfectly. “I haven’t been assigned to a vector yet, sir.”

J glanced over at Z after that admission. Normally recruits knew their vector location a good few months before the end of their training. He was also still using his full name rather than a code name, which he would have been given as part of his first vector assignment. Z nodded discreetly. He would start a background check on Cole to figure out what had prevented normal procedure in his case.

“Thank you, Cole,” J said with a dismissive nod. “We’ll be in touch.”

J and Z walked off, leaving behind the man who was to become their lead singer.

Purchase

NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

When Mell Eight was in high school, she discovered dragons. Beautiful, wondrous creatures that took her on epic adventures both to faraway lands and on journeys of the heart. Mell wanted to create dragons of her own, so she put pen to paper. Mell Eight is now known for her own soaring dragons, as well as for other wonderful characters dancing across the pages of her books. While she mostly writes paranormal or fantasy stories, she has been seen exploring the real world once or twice.

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RELEASE BLITZ: Music From Stone by Brenda Murphy #LGBTQ #ContemporaryRomance #BDSM @ninestarpress @GoIndiMarketing

Title: Music from Stone

Series: University Square, Book Four

Author: Brenda Murphy

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: 07/05/2022

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Female/Female

Length: 67900

Genre: Contemporary, LGBTQIA+, Romance, contemporary, family-drama, BDSM, interracial, lesbian, stone mason, concert pianist, stalker, PTSD, over 40, performance arts, visual arts

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Description

Celebrated concert pianist Nüwa Zhou had it all. Until she didn’t. Forced out of the closet while testifying at the kidnapping and murder trial of her obsessive former assistant turned stalker, she retires from the high-pressure world of performing to recover at her parents’ estate.

Stone mason, and frustrated sculptor Julia Johnson, spends her days stone building walls and patios while dreaming of quitting her day job.

After a chance encounter with Julia leads to more, Nüwa imagines a life with Julia. When her stalker returns, determined to kidnap Nüwa and end anyone who stands in his way, Nüwa will do whatever it takes to keep Julia safe, but will it be enough?

Excerpt

Music from Stone
Brenda Murphy © 2022
All Rights Reserved

“Who is Father talking to?” Nüwa Zhou stared out of the sliding door at the woman standing on the terrace, her short auburn hair a mass of curls that brushed the tops of her broad shoulders. Her stance was confident. Dressed in jeans and a T-shirt tight enough it drew Nüwa’s attention, she rested her hands on her hips across from Gerald Zhou. Her wide shoulders and sculpted arms tested the limits of the fabric of her shirt. Afforded the opportunity to stare openly, Nüwa savored the view, admiring the curves the woman’s loose jeans failed to conceal. Slightly taller than Nüwa’s father in her thick-soled work boots, the woman glanced back at the house. Nüwa held steady, confident the reflective window coating would hide her gawking.

“Former student. Inquiring about the cottage,” her mother called from the kitchen bar.

Nüwa tugged the belt of her robe tighter. “Early for a meeting.”

The not-so-subtle sound of her mother’s scoff drifted across the kitchen. Nüwa rested her chin on her chest. The unspoken scolding for sleeping late pricked Nüwa’s heart. A night owl born to a family of larks. Her sleep patterns had been her curse since childhood.

She lifted her gaze back to the scene outside.

Gerald Zhou stood close to the woman, occasionally gesturing to the yard and the firethorn maze covering the lower half of their estate. Wind pushed dark heavy clouds across the sky and a gust rattled the sliding door in its dull aluminum frame. He turned and pointed to the house. Nüwa stepped back and away from the glass into the shadows of the living room. She walked to the counter dividing the kitchen from the rest of the house.

“Have you eaten?” Her mother glanced up from her laptop screen.

Nüwa took a breath and blew it out. “Not hungry.”

A frown creased her mother’s sculpted eyebrows. “Don’t forget to eat.” Her gaze shifted to the window. “Your father needs to wrap it up. I don’t like the color of the sky.”

Nüwa perched on one of the stools at the counter and glanced at the sky. A green hue tinged the dark clouds. “It’s ugly.”

Fat drops of rain hit the glass as the peal of a weather warning spit out of her mother’s ever-present phone. Nüwa’s stomach twisted as adrenaline surged in her body. Storms were the worst. Lightning flashed. Nüwa placed her hands flat on the counter and started counting silently.

“Four. Not far away.”

The click of the computer keys increased. “I need to get these figures to Rowan.” Her mother continued to pound the keyboard as another flash of lightning lit up the kitchen with a sick yellow glare.

The skin on Nüwa’s arms prickled. The grate of the sliding door in its tracks sounded in the room a second before a crash of thunder rattled the house.

“Three.” Nüwa turned to the sliding door. “It’s moving toward us.”

“It’s crazy out there. Wait it out with us.” Gerald touched the arm of the woman from the terrace. “You remember my wife, Lian Tan? I don’t think you’ve met my daughter. Nüwa, this is Julia.”

“Hi Ms. Tan, nice to see you again. Nice to meet you, Nüwa.” Julia inclined her head to greet Nüwa’s mother before she turned and met Nüwa’s gaze.

Nüwa stared at Julia, the thin wet fabric of the T-shirt even more distracting now Julia was standing in front of her. “You’re wet.” Her face burned as soon as the words were out of her mouth. “I mean—” She scrambled around the end of the counter, snatched a clean dish towel from the basket next to the sink. “Here.” Nüwa held the towel out with both hands.

The tips of Julia’s fingers brushed the back of Nüwa’s hand as she took the towel from her. “Thank you.” She held Nüwa’s gaze for a moment, the hint of a smile twisting her lips before she dried her face.

Nüwa studied the tops of her house shoes and knotted her hands together as an awkward silence sucked the ease out of the moment. She crossed her arms over her chest, hugging herself, knowing she was acting weird, helpless to stop it.

The faint sound of a tornado siren spared Nüwa further torment.

“Basement.” Lian stood, tucked her laptop and a thick folder under her arm, before she walked to the end of the counter. She pressed the series of buttons under the countertop. The end of the cabinet slid aside revealing a stairwell. Gerald followed Lian.

Nüwa slid off the stool and followed her parents down the stairs leading to the storm cellar. She ducked her head as she entered the stairway. “Watch your head,” Nüwa called over her shoulder.

Heavy tread on the stairs behind her and the faint scent of lavender and sunscreen tickled Nüwa’s nose as Julia followed her to the safe room. Halfway down the steps, the lights flickered out, plunging the stairwell and room below into blackness.

“Damn it. Gerald, where did you put the lantern?”

“Use your phone.”

“Left it on the counter, and didn’t we talk about this? Use your phone.”

Her parents shifted their bickering to Mandarin. Nüwa prayed Julia didn’t understand as they devolved into one of their ongoing arguments.

Nüwa extended her hand behind her, and her fingers bushed the soft denim of Julia’s jean. “Take my hand. Stay close. The stairs turn here.”

Julia clasped her hand. Her broad callused palm rested against Nüwa’s hand. Nüwa led Julia down the stairs and toward the sound of her parents arguing. As they reached the bottom of the stairs the harsh light of an electric lantern flared to life, throwing twisted shadows over the walls.

Gerald closed off the door leading to the rest of the basement, sealing them in the long narrow windowless room. “There. Nüwa, lock the door behind you.”

Nüwa threw the deadbolt and sealed the door leading up to the kitchen.

Lian stood at the far end of the room, the glower on her face matching the ferocity of the storm. Arms crossed, she lifted her chin as she observed Nüwa and Julia. Her gaze landed squarely on their clasped hands.

Julia squeezed Nüwa’s hand once, then released it. “Thank you.”

Lian turned away from Nüwa, picked up a yellow wireless radio, and shoved it into Gerald’s hands. “Get the weather radio working.”

The echo of hail pelting the house increased in volume and drowned out Gerald’s reply. A roaring sound filled Nüwa’s ears, a steady hum. The hairs on her arm stood on end. Pressure in her ears increased to the point of pain and she swallowed, trying to clear them.

The ceiling over their head creaked and groaned as the vibration intensified. The house shook, rattling the shelves holding the food and water they kept stored in the small room. Nüwa wrapped her arms around herself to stop her trembling. Cans of food vibrated off the shelves and crashed to the floor, wrenching a cry from her, and she covered her eyes.

A warm hand settled on the middle of her back. Nüwa jerked away from the touch and bit down on her lip to stifle her yelp. The roaring increased, as if a train was bearing down on them. Nüwa dropped to her knees, covered her head with her arms, and folded herself into the smallest ball possible. The thin carpet over the concrete did nothing to ease her knees and sharp pain lanced through her. Her breathing was rough in her ears as her fear turned in on itself and drove every other thought from her mind. In the space of seconds, the patter of the hail softened, and the roaring stopped, leaving a heavy silence behind.

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NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

Brenda Murphy (she/her) writes erotic romance. Her most recent novel, Double Six, is the 2020 Golden Crown Literary Society winner for Erotic Novels, and Knotted Legacy, the third book in the Rowan House series, made the 2018 The Lesbian Review’s Top 100 Vacation Reads list. You can catch her musings on writing, books, and living with wicked ADHD on her blog Writing While Distracted. She loves sideshows and tattoos and yes, those are her monkeys. When she is not loitering at her local library, she wrangles twins, one dog, and an unrepentant parrot

I hope you enjoy reading this book as much as I enjoyed writing it.

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