Baggage Claim Juliana Smith
Publication date: November 26th 2022
Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Romance
Olive Moore has been avoiding her hometown for three years now. But a phone call with her mom has her agreeing to spend the holidays back home with her family, she lets it slip she will be bringing a boyfriend with her. The only problem with that is she has no boyfriend. That is until she meets a handsome—albeit annoying—stranger on the plane who makes her an offer she can’t refuse.
Finn Beckett has always had good luck, as demonstrated by the gorgeous blonde he’s seated next to on a flight to Aspen. One drink too many leads to Olive spilling her problems in his lap, and he feels compelled to help. So he makes her an offer: he’ll pretend to be her boyfriend to keep her family off her back and make this the best Christmas ever.
Olive and Finn spend the next two weeks going on spirit-filled Christmas dates with her family. Their ruse is working perfectly, but Finn can’t help but notice Olive is holding something back. Something that could ruin everything.
Their relationship may have taken off smoothly, but with all this turbulence, will they ever make it to baggage claim?
“Olive,” I said, her name like a prayer. I didn’t have anything else to say; I only wanted her to see me.
Her bright green eyes lifted to mine, and I melted. My hand reached under her chin and rubbed my thumb across it. So beautiful. She took a step closer, her chest brushing my midsection, and I nearly groaned from the simple contact. She leaned into me like she was on autopilot, and I was her only destination. I cautiously slid my hand from her chin to the back of her neck. She swallowed, and the movement of her throat pulled me in like runway lights calling me home. I moved closer, hesitantly, our faces only inches away. She would have stopped me, right? She would have given me that sassy attitude and pushed me away if she didn’t want this. The Olive I knew wouldn’t let me get this far. I paused, unsure.
“Tell me to stop.”
I needed to hear it. To hear her yell at me. To have her say, “I told you no kissing,” and give me a shove. If she didn’t, I would take her on this bed right now, without a care of who else was in the house.
She grabbed my white button-down and pulled me impossibly closer. “No.”
It was quiet, barely a whisper. I tightened my grip on her neck and leaned forward.
This was it. Everything you have thought of nonstop since that flight. I was going to kiss the hell out of her. I was going to leave her lips swollen and numb until she was dizzy and floating.
I tilted her head up with my spare hand and inched my lips toward hers slowly,
ready to throw all caution to the wind.
“Finn.” She moaned my name before my lips were even on her, and I forced my heart not to explode. We were a dyad, two halves of the same whole. She was the best I ever had, and I hadn’t even had her yet. My lips were a centimeter from hers. Finally. Finally.
Juliana Smith is an author in a small town in Alabama. She is a full-time realtor, and part-time author, but she spends a lot of her time with her husband and daughter. Juliana writes heartfelt romance filled with laughter and warm fuzzies. She can usually be found in a Chic-fil-a drive-thru or listening to Star Wars theory podcasts, often at the same time.
In this enemies-to-lovers Regency romance by USA Today bestselling author
Charlie Lane, a lady who dares too much and a brute who dares too little
engage in a battle of wits.
Lady Sarah Hampton would rather sew up a wound than tend to her own heart.
Or matrimonial prospects. When the small hospital she’s been
volunteering at faces financial peril, she seeks to save them the best way
she knows how—one dare, one wager, and one foolish rake at a time. No
matter the risk to herself. If her friend’s irritatingly handsome and
brutish brother doesn’t stand in her way.
Xavier Evans, Viscount Flint may be known as the Dare King to his old
chums, but to Lady Sarah, he’s the King of Brutes. He’d take
offense if he weren’t so busy trying to be a better man, the type who
rises above insult, never gives it, and protects his family. But when his
sister’s happiness hinges on her friend’s safety, he’ll
have to figure out how to keep the sharp-tongued and beautiful Lady
Sarah—who hates him—safe, too.
Sarah is willing to risk it all, and Xavier will do what it takes to stop
her. As the game of dares draws them closer, it reveals a hidden threat, and
these enemies must work together or hurt those they love… including
The Debutante Dares Series
#1 Daring the Duke
#2 A Dare too Far
#3 Kiss or Dare
#4 Don’t You Dare, My Dear
#5 Only Rakes Would Dare
#6 Daring Done Right
About the Author
USA Today bestselling author Charlie Lane traded in academic databases and
scholarly journals for writing steamy Regency romcoms like the ones
she’s always loved to read. Her favorite authors are Jane Austen (who
else?), Toni Morrison, William Blake, Julia Quinn, and Maya Rodale.
Charlie writes unique stories with unconventional characters who push
against the rigid restrictions of their society. Officially, Charlie has a
Ph.D. in literature with a focus on the nineteenth-century novel and
children’s literature and answers to Professor. Unofficially,
she’s a high-flying circus-obsessed acrobat, with an emphasis on
two-tail silks and answers to Muscles Magee. She lives with her own Colonel
Brandon, two little dudes, and a furry fella in East Tennessee.
A polyamorous modern-day fairytale filled with magical flora, cozy romance, and Icelandic folklore…
Ethan Shaw—lighthouse keeper and local witch—lives a charmed life in his chilly, coastal hometown. Blessed with a flourishing garden and a stable livelihood, Ethan can’t complain. But when his husband, Captain Peter Vásquez, brings home a wounded seal after an impromptu storm, Ethan is faced with a curious situation: caring for a lost selkie named Nico Locke.
As Ethan struggles with the possibility of being infertile, insecurities surrounding his marriage, and a newly formed magical bond with a hostile, handsome selkie, his comfortable life begins to fracture. But could breakage lead to something better?
With autumn at their heels and winter on the horizon, Ethan, Peter, and Nico test the boundaries of a new relationship, shared intimacy, and the chance at a future together.
Ethan Shaw carried two knives, one for lilies, the other for veins. The blade in his left hand curved like a smile, clipping stems at a sweet, diagonal angle. The second weapon was concealed in a petite leather sheath, tucked neatly in his right palm.
The ritual called for innocence, and he had none to spare, so he searched the shoreline for white-petaled flowers—speckled with saltwater, yawning toward the sky—and remembered the folktale that wormed through Casper, spoken quietly at the pub, hollered by sailors on the docks, cooed in the apothecary, and sung by children on the playground.
Those Casper lilies, the story went, are filled to the brim with what we’ve lost.
Like snakes, the townsfolk shed their innocence, leaving it to stew in the bay, sink into the soil, and beat against the lighthouse. And like snakes, the lilies drew their outgrown magic into tangled roots and narrow stems and gilded pollen: an ouroboros consuming itself.
Most people refused to use the term—magic—but Ethan found it appropriate. Harvesting long-gone energy from a living thing felt like its very definition. Using said magic to reanimate a corpse felt less like magic, though, and more like recklessness.
He yelped and flailed before he hit the water, bracing for the icy shock. Panic shot through him. Salt water rushed into his nostrils, and seaweed snagged his ankle. Swim, idiot. November wind nipped his face when he breached, sucking at the air, clutching drenched flowers to his chest. Casper lilies never promised to be easy, of course. But Ethan Shaw still cursed as he slushed through tidepools and mud. He sighed, relieved, when his soggy shoes hit the gravel path outside the tower.
“We need a lightkeeper, Ethan,” he mocked, shouldering through the wooden door. He left his boots in a puddle on the cheeky welcome mat: You Better Be Beer! “It’s a solid wage, Ethan. Not like it’s a—” The first knife clattered on the rectangular table, then the second. Sopping flowers landed with a splat next to an unopened power bill. “—hard gig, Ethan. Just take it.” He whined through the last three words, mimicking his mother, and trudged into the washroom.
He hadn’t the time for a bath, so he peeled the wet shirt from his back, unzipped his jeans, and wrestled out of his drenched binder. The chilly water had reddened his beige skin and left his boyish face chapped and raw. Droplets clung to his chestnut hair, shorn behind his ears and around the back of his skull, and worn long at his crown, hanging in messy strings over his brow. He slicked his hair back with an annoyed swipe and scrubbed lingering sea grime away with a warm cloth. He dried with a towel that smelled like gardenia and tobacco, like Peter, and set his palms on the vanity, studying his reflection. Rabbit-framed, small-chested, wide-hipped, and delicately masculine, Ethan Shaw wasn’t the optimal lightkeeper type, per se. He hadn’t a beard, only annoying stubble, and carried himself on dainty, soft-pawed feet. Much as the townsfolk whispered about lilies, they whispered about him too.
Witch—hissed like a match strike in the nave and murmured by joggers at the park—wasn’t entirely untrue, but Ethan still preferred friendlier terminology. Alchemist, maybe. Magician, even.
“Take the job, Ethan,” he mumbled and huffed at the mirror. “Surely the lifestyle suits you.”
A job doing, literally, anything else would’ve suited him better.
The front door heaved open, and the clip-clopping of heavy boots filled the living quarters. “Why is the floor wet?” Peter repeated the question, hollering through the lighthouse, “Darling, why is the floor wet?”
Ethan rolled his eyes. “I slipped,” he called, toeing the washroom door ajar.
Peter rounded the doorframe, square glasses crooked on his nose. Surprise shot to his face, but the expression faded, chased away by a frown. “You didn’t,” he warned, snaring Ethan’s reflection in a hard glare. “Ethan, we talked about this—”
“I don’t need your permission,” he snapped and slipped past Peter, striding confidently into the adjacent bedroom. He opened a drawer and fingered through his clothes, settling on a red sweater and corduroy trousers. “I’ve got the flowers; I know the ritual. Either have faith in me, or say I told you so if it doesn’t work, but hovering like a—” He batted at Peter’s broad chest. “—damn moth won’t change my mind. How was work?”
“Long,” Peter bit out. “Choppy water makes for terrible fishing, as you know. Even the local wildlife can’t handle the riptide—as you know—and consistently get thrown ashore, as you know, and—”
“You brought it home, not me.”
“I brought it home while it was still breathing,” Peter said, exasperated. He trailed Ethan into the closet, craning over him while he searched for wool socks—matching, preferably—and then into the kitchen, sighing dramatically at the waterlogged lilies. “Where’d you put the poor thing, anyway? Is it still in the garden shed?”
“No, I tossed it in the bathtub.” Ethan shot him an impatient glare. “Yes, of course, it’s in the garden shed, Peter. You think I’d let a selkie loose in our home? Give me some credit.”
“Okay, wait, hold on—wait.” Peter feebly attempted to catch him while he bounced around the kitchen.
Ethan yanked a bowl out of the cabinet, slid both knives behind his leather belt, unfastened the lavender from a rope above the sink, and stuffed his mortar and pestle underneath his arm. Before he could make for the door, two palms clasped his waist, turning him, and his beautiful, ridiculous husband wrinkled his nose. His copper cheeks were sea-bitten, angular bones pressing hard against his skin. As always, Peter Vásquez looked dashing, exhausted, and worried.
“Ay Dios mío, just wait, okay?” Peter asked.
Ethan arched an eyebrow. After a strangled pause, he lifted onto his tiptoes. “You brought it home,” he whispered and pecked Peter on the lips.
“It’s a leopard seal, Ethan. Not a selkie,” he said patiently, as he would to a toddler. “And it’s dead because animals that get caught in bad weather sometimes die.”
Ethan patted his cheek. “Sure, yeah. So, the next time you’re caught in bad weather and someone plops you on my doorstep, I’ll cash in your life insurance and call it a day. How’s that sound?”
Peter winced. “You’re impossible.”
“And you’re in my way.” Perhaps that was a little too far, considering. But impossible? Ethan scoffed. He wasn’t the one who’d mistaken a fae-beast—an extraordinarily obvious fae-beast, by the way—for a run-of-the-mill seal, and he wasn’t the one who’d whimpered when said not-seal had stopped breathing, and he certainly wasn’t the one who’d dragged a goddamn selkie home from work.
Freydís Moon (they/them) is a biracial nonbinary writer and diviner. When they aren’t writing or divining, Freydís is usually trying their hand at a recommended recipe, practicing a new language, or browsing their local bookstore.
In this sweet enemies-to-lovers Regency romance by Jennifer Monroe, a strongheaded woman meets her match when an arrogant knight vows to take over the very theater she cherishes.
A Knight with a destiny. A secret that can unravel it.
Sir Aaron Kirkwood knows no woman can resist his good looks or charms. With
no time for romance, his focus is on the local theater, which he hopes to
turn into a gentlemen’s club. His first point of resistance, however,
comes from a wild and undisciplined beauty from the local school for young
women. Miss Dunston is flirty, and her pouty lips are tempting, but Aaron
knows what it will take to tame her.
Her beauty is her strength, and she’ll use it to guarantee the
arrogant knight’s failure.
A secret past has ensured that no man will ever be able to love Miss Louisa
Dunston, thus forever sealing her destiny. Living part of her life as a lie,
she uses her looks to hide the pain she carries inside. When a handsome yet
arrogant knight attempts to purchase the local theater, Louisa knows she
must do whatever it takes to stop him. Even if it means lowering herself to
his standards and playing a dangerous and flirtatious game.
Two secrets, one destiny.
Sir Aaron finds that with each talk of compromise, the passion and kisses
he shares with Louisa are becoming too much to resist. As his feelings
change, he fears she may learn the secret behind his newly bestowed title.
And for Louisa, what begins as a way to save the theater turns into
something far more pleasurable. In their quest for love, can they accept one
another’s pasts and change their destinies for-ever?
Sisterhood of Secrets Series
#1 Duke of Madness
#2 Baron of Rake Street
#3 Marquess of Magic
#4 Earl of Deception
#5 Knight of Destiny
#6 Captain of Second Chances
About the Author
Jennifer Monroe writes Regency romances you can’t resist. Her stories
are filled with first loves and second chances, dashing dukes, and strong
heroines. Each turn of the page promises an adventure in love and many late
nights of reading.
With over twenty books published, her nine-part series, The Secrets of
Scarlett Hall, which tells the stories of the Lambert Children, remain a
favorite with her readers.
It wasn’t life that flashed before my eyes as Betty Fae thwacked me between the shoulder blades. It was death and disaster—replays of all the faces of shock and sadness worn by acquaintances of my past. Death of one sort or the other followed that stupid Raven.
I remembered them all. Vividly. The writer, the homeschool mom, the surfer, the politician. They were among the near-strangers I’d encountered and endangered.
Following their faces came the really painful pictures. The friendly child advocate, the sweet boy next door, and losing my aunt and uncle. After them, but always above them, followed the loss of my sister and father.
All because of the same intolerable bird. Gracious enough to give me a glimpse of their perils before nudging them to the brink. Impending doom sat, staring at me, from the cup of the only friend I had in town- Janice Rockland. It lingered there amid the froth bubbles, telling me Janice Rockland had twenty-four hours, at most, left to live.
My eyes watered. My throat closed all the tighter. Even after it dislodged my Belgian waffle. Air battled past my suffocating emotions. I gulped it down,
despising myself and fearing for my boss.
Janice and Betty Fae offered me a glass of water and napkins, thinking they’d saved the day. Little did they know. Trouble had just landed in their small town.
Janice watched me through the rest of the meal. If I told her she was about to die, would she be able to eat? I sipped my coffee and avoided conversation.
Long ago, I’d explained my weird glimpses to one of the Raven’s victims. Instead of believing me, my friend grew increasingly sarcastic about my confession. He mocked me. I didn’t blame him. I’m not sure I would’ve believed me, either. In the end, his sarcasm killed him. Laughing and gesturing like a mad bird to make fun of my premonitions, he’d lost control of his bicycle and collided with a garbage truck just as it was lowering its load.
No, I wasn’t about to tell Janice about her Raven. I’d keep watch. Stay sharp. Once the bird made an appearance, he wouldn’t leave until his prey was dead. Accidentally or with malice aforethought.
The next song, movie quote, television commercial, or anything ominous could clue me in on how to save her. At least I could give it a shot. If I didn’t keep a constant eye on Janice, her death would be on my head.
About the Author:
Sarah lives in California, in a home that brings her happiness and hay fever. She loves God, loves her family, and loves freshly brewed coffee. She has a husband who cooks, a son who stop animates, a daughter who loves animals, a dog that follows her everywhere, and a turtle who scowls at her condescendingly.
Her mother raised her on Mary Higgins Clark, Diane Mott Davidson, and Remington Steele. Her grandmother shared True Crime stories with her as they plotted how to get away with the perfect murder. It’s no surprise that Sarah became an award-winning spinner of suspenseful tales brimming with quirky characters. Mysteries are in her blood. Not that she could survive one of her own stories. She confesses, “I’d be snuffed out by chapter two.”
Rory has accepted love. So what if his lover is blue, horned, and very protective? Actually, a bagu mate suits Rory just fine, especially since Inkiri loves doting on Rory. But after the attack on Esaka, Rory once more finds himself frustrated with the magic he has access to, and he’d prefer to get rid of it. If that’s not an option, he’d prefer never to be in a situation where he has to use it.
Inkiri, ever the supportive mate, does his best to encourage Rory to learn about his magic, and new friends are more than happy to help Rory with that. Actually, Rory discovers that learning about magic isn’t all that bad, especially if no one wants to murder you or your friends. However, Rory’s power attracts those who would use him to their own ends, and escaping those forces forever is not possible. Which leaves Rory with a choice: hide and run, or fight.
Warning: Blood & Fate (Monster Apocalypse 3) ends on a cliffhanger which will be resolved in Monster Apocalypse 4. (As of this writing, the characters are still arguing with the author over the title… And Because I said so is a perfectly valid response).
The rain that had welcomed me back to Earth, back to Ireland, and back from being unconscious for days hadn’t let up. It beat down in sheets and slicked against the kitchen window to our left, but Inkiri’s body radiated warmth. There was a chicken on the kitchen table in Donna’s farmhouse, and it was looking at my bagu mate, the chicken’s beady eyes bright, her mottled gray feathers freckled with white.
Inkiri clicked — possibly at both me and the chicken — and ran his hand over me, double-checking that the blanket was drawn tight around me. Donna was at the counter between the large fridge and induction hub, filling an espresso maker with ground coffee, her head half-turned, her long brown hair braided over one shoulder.
“I’ll be honest with you, Rory. You looked like a corpse who’d foregone the beautifying appointment with the mortuary technician,” Donna said and glanced at me. The chicken clucked at Inkiri and lifted a clawed foot as if she were about to jump into Inkiri’s lap except, of course, I was in that lap.
“Yes, you were very pale, sadir,” my mate said and used the opportunity to lick over my neck.
My throat constricted. I remembered the streets of Esaka, the chaos, the Koa Esher… or maybe I could call them cola asshats now that Vergis’s dad had approved of my abuse of the Lugarran language. At any rate, I remembered the magic and how that voice in my head had said something about how that same magic that had saved Nokim and Vergis might hurt me so badly that some rest — well, a three days’ time-out in this case — wouldn’t make me better. I shuddered to think what the magic could have done to me. Could it have made me sleep forever?
I didn’t want to share that with Inkiri, so I swallowed the lump in my throat and wiggled around under my blankets.
“Yeah, but look.” I pointed at myself when I’d successfully extracted my hand from under the folds. The chicken followed my fingers with her black eyes. “I’m all better now. Uhm. Donna, do you think I could take a quick shower here?” The thing was, even if Inkiri had cleaned me up with a cloth back in the tent, he still produced a lot… just a lot. Of stuff. Well, cum was the stuff he produced a lot of, and it was still trickling out of me.
She looked back over her shoulder. “Sure, honey. There’s a bathroom upstairs with fresh towels in the cabinet.”
Inkiri huffed and clicked. “I will take care of you,” he said and stood. Still with me in his arms, which was excessive. I also maybe kind of liked it, because my mate’s nearness was such a huge comfort, but I was pretty sure I could stand and do stuff, never mind that I knew I needed more rest after the drain of the magic.
“I’m fine,” I said. “Put me down. I can shower by myself, Ink. I told you, that’s a human thing.”
“But, sadir –”
Donna turned to face the bagu, who was some two heads taller than her. “What have we been talking about when it comes to touching others and randomly carrying people?” she said to Inkiri and crossed her arms.
Inkiri made a purring noise with only a hint of a growl in there, but he ended in a soft click. “But Donna, this is my mate. He’s so frail. He –”
“Oh, put him on his feet, you overgrown blue goat,” she said.
Inkiri huffed, but slowly and with exceeding care, put me down. His touches lingered, indigo cat eyes searching my face for any hint that I’d forgotten how legs worked all of a sudden.
“I’m fine,” I told him. And me. The verbal confirmation was good.
“I brought fresh clothes for you,” Inkiri said and took a step toward a honey-brown kitchen cabinet and pulled open the bagu-made backpack that sat next to it on the floor. It was a pretty big backpack, the kind of size hikers would like, and it looked heavy. “It’s shibiya. You liked those before.”
“I did. I do. Thanks for packing for me.”
Inkiri frowned as he rifled through the backpack. “It’s a small thing, sadir.”
I curled my toes in my cat socks as I stood there and looked around the kitchen. The farm was an old building like so many in Ireland. Wooden beams in the ceiling showed their exposed ebony, and copper pots looked like they’d been here for no less than a century. There were four chairs around the generous kitchen table and a bench running underneath the window, which was framed by blue-and-white checkered curtains. Also, there was that chicken. She behaved like she belonged in this kitchen, eyeing all of us as if we were intruding on her day.
“Hey, where are the rest of the guys?” I asked.
“Good point,” Donna said. “And why did you only bring the acquired taste and his daddy?”
I smirked a little at Donna calling Vergis that. I was suspecting he wasn’t as bad as he pretended to be, maybe, even if he was still plenty murderous. After all, he’d used a bear as a weapon, so at the very least, he was happy to facilitate carnage. Also, he’d killed that bear.
Alexa (she/her) has a lot of characters living in her head and wanting their stories told. Many of these people get snarky and won’t stop complaining if Alexa is too slow writing them, which means that for this author, sleep is a luxury. Consequently, Alexa is a coffee addict, but she is sure she has it under control (six cups of coffee are normal in a morning, right? Right!?)
Warning: This is a Razor’s Edge Paranormal Erotica Story. Expect limited plot and character development, and lots of paranormal heat. If you’re looking for a lengthy plot driven erotic romance, this is not it!
Shane Taylor stares at the tiny, odd smelling box on his table — the same one he pocketed and sold a week earlier. Curious this time, he breaks it open. Smoke smelling of cedar circulates his room and when a shape steps through fog, Shane stares into eyes overflowing with…lust!
Bad Badgett craves the thief who stole the tiny wooden container housing his haint. When the scoundrel offers shelter, he has no qualms about climbing in the man’s bed and giving the bastard everything he could imagine. Promiscuous as hell, Bad can’t wait to satisfy other men before trying on their bodies and maybe, just maybe sharing them with his new lover.
J. Hali Steele wishes she could grow fur, wings, or fangs, so she can stay warm, fly, or just plain bite the crap out of… Well, she can’t do those things but she wishes she could!
J. Hali’s a multi-published and Amazon bestselling author of Romance in Paranormal, Fantasy, and Contemporary worlds which include ReligErotica and LGBTQ stories where humans, vampyres, shapeshifters and angels collide — they collide a lot! When J. Hali’s not writing or reading, she can be found snuggled in front of the TV with a cat in her lap and a cup of coffee.
Growl and roar — it’s okay to let the beast out. — J. Hali Steele
Misha Vergara had it all—a promising career as a principal dancer, a thriving stage partnership with Talia Baranova, and the unconditional support of his mentor—until he revealed his true feelings for Henri.
Crushed, and worried about her own reputation, Talia publicly denounced Misha and severed their intricate relationship. Now, thirsting for revenge, she vows to destroy the people he loves. Dating his alleged half brother is only the beginning.
Kazimir Lebedev has done everything he can for his illegitimate son, except acknowledge paternity. When Misha announces he’s bisexual, Kaz struggles to understand. With Talia behaving recklessly and making vicious threats, he can no longer guarantee a good outcome, for any of them.
Finally reunited after a six month separation, Misha and Henri enjoy every sublime moment of their New York vacation. Henri has secretly loved Misha since he was thirteen years old, so being out with him is a dream come true. Until news of an abduction propels them back to St. Petersburg, Russia. Will they weather this latest crisis and grow even closer or will Talia wreak havoc on their newfound bliss?
Bête Noir is a direct sequel to Torn, the first book in the En Pointe Series. The novels should be read in order to fully appreciate the dynamic of these complex characters.
As I stood at the back of the theater, enjoying what might be Henri’s last performance at the Mariinsky, I soaked in his arresting presence. Even in the White Rabbit costume, with heavy stage makeup masking his attractive features, he shined like the brightest star in the sky. When we were on stage together, I couldn’t take in the full measure of his talent, but from a distance, I was enchanted by his playful interpretation of the role. It was no surprise the audience was riveted whenever he appeared. His legs were encased in red tights, leaving nothing to the imagination, and I zeroed in on his scrumptious package. My body’s spontaneous reaction to Henri was predictable, and I reached down to adjust myself, looking forward to the lovemaking we would enjoy later in the evening.
After the performance, I waved my ID at the security guards, in lockstep with everyone else. Although they recognized me, I couldn’t deviate from the rules. I took the stairs down to the basement where Henri shared a dressing room with a bunch of other guys.
I received the usual perfunctory greetings, and waited for Henri to shed his rabbit persona. He creamed off the heavy makeup, while fixing his moss-green gaze on my image standing behind him. When his cinnamon complexion peeked through the guck, he smiled in response to my reaction.
I bent forward and whispered in his ear. “You are so hot.”
“Like what you see?”
“I can’t wait to find out,” he breathed.
“Whenever you’re ready, my love.”
My endearment generated another dazzling smile and he pushed away from the changing table. I tracked his progress like a hawk eying his next meal. Standing in front of his open locker, Henri rolled off the sinful tights, removed his top, and reached for his street clothes. The elastic bands of the jockstrap encircled his waist and disappeared down his ass crack while the front pouch cradled his genitals. I might have drooled at this point, and if we didn’t get away soon I couldn’t be held responsible for my actions. He cackled when he recognized the blatant desire on my face and hurried to cover up.
Grabbing his bag, he reached for my hand. “Ready?”
We headed to his apartment to get a change of clothes for tomorrow. When the elevator door opened, there were three men in dark suits waiting outside his door. I pressed the down button before they could react, and we took off running when it dinged open.
“What’s going on?” Henri demanded when we slowed down several blocks later.
I gave him a quick synopsis of my earlier conversation with the minister and the French expletives pouring out of his mouth were jarring. His agitation was contagious, and my own fear rose significantly.
“Why are we going to the hotel?”
“To get my stuff.”
“I’m sure those bastards already know I’m registered.”
“How?” My naiveté was still in place and Henri scowled at me.
“The all-seeing FSB has a list of every foreigner who’s flown into this country or rented a car, or checked into a hotel. I will stake my life on it.”
“I believe you,” I said. “Shall we try to catch the train home?”
“What about your things?”
“There’s nothing irreplaceable in my carryall. My wallet and ID are in my pocket. What about you?”
“Same. Let’s go,” he said with some urgency.
“Hold on a second.”
“There’s no turning back if you walk away. They’ll blackball you for sure.”
He gave me one of his typical Gallic shrugs. “And if I stick around, I might lose my actual balls.”
MICKIE B. ASHLING is the pseudonym of a multi-published author who resides in a suburb outside Chicago. She is a product of her upbringing in various cultures, having lived in Japan, the Philippines, Spain, and the Middle East. Fluent in three languages, she’s a citizen of the world and an interesting mixture of East and West.
Since 2009, Mickie has written several dozen novels in the LGBTQ+ genre—which have been translated into French, Italian, Spanish, and German. Some of her backlist is still “Under Construction” as she slowly transitions from traditional publishing to representing herself. Her goal is to have most of her novels back in the universe by the end of 2023. Audiobooks and foreign translations are still available at Amazon and Audible.
The Ropes Lore Townsend
Publication date: November 9th 2022
Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Erotica, Romance
What happens when everything you ever thought you wanted…isn’t?
Noel Carter had her life all planned. She moved to the right city and got a job in a restaurant above a kink club. She spent her nights down there, watching, learning. Being a Domme is all she’s ever wanted. Until one night, she catches the eye of the owner of the club and most infamous bachelor in town. Suddenly all her dreams get turned upside down.
One look. That’s all it took for Dane Vincent’s life to veer drastically off course. Everything he wants. Everything he desires. Everything he’s told himself he can never have may have just walked into his club. He’s made his fortune. He’s set aside his lifestyle. Is he willing to change all that for a woman? A woman who has no idea who he really is or the secrets he’s worked so hard to keep hidden.
She’s mysterious. She’s deceptive. She’s stunning. If Dane can untangle her desires…she may just set him free.
Noel turned the old-fashioned brass handle and swung into her apartment twenty minutes later giddy and exhausted. She was filled to bursting with excitement and questions, fear and uncertainty. Luckily, Gabby appeared at her door not ten minutes later, stealing her off to sun and salt water of the beach, ready to help her process in the way only Gabby could.
“Okay, tell me everything, right now!” They lay side by side on Noel’s large beach blanket, slowly drying off after a swim.
Noel took a deep breath and tried to find a way to put her night with Dane, the swirl of emotions, the shared glances, the sensation of his skin on hers, into words. “Where do I even begin?”
She grinned wider as her friend’s head threatened to explode.
It took nearly a full hour to take Gabby through the date, her friend not even allowing her a break from storytelling when they wandered up to the coffee stand on the boardwalk to get iced drinks. When Noel was finally recounting their conversation at the cafe as they settled back onto the blanket with their coffees, Gabby interrupted.
“So, he is like a prince trapped in his ivory tower or something?”
“It was strange, like he only just realized it, but yeah. That’s the feeling I got.” “Girl, you gotta bust him out!”
Noel laughed. The thought of her doing anything to Dane was doubtful. She was
barely keeping her own shit together, so it seemed unlikely that she could offer any help to someone else. And, despite how it seemed, despite some of his comments over the course of their date, Dane must be in control. Quietly, calmly in charge of everything around him. How else could he have gotten so far? How else could the businesses be so successful? Noel wanted to allow this to be the red flag she needed to walk away.
The last thing she needed was to get caught up in a crush on a dominant man, but she knew damn well she would push forward with whatever this was between them—red flags be damned. It was too good, too enticing. And besides, the world he controlled was one that she dreamed of entering. If only she could get a handle on what it was that she actually wanted, and then get the nerve to ask for it. Noel sighed at the thought. Fat chance of that ever happening.
Lore writes spicy, inner demon battling love stories. She loves tackling big issues in relationships and watching her characters struggle with their pasts and their visions of the future together.
A PNW girl through and through, Lore lives in Seattle with her husband. She enjoys cloudy weather (thank goodness), escaping the cold in February, and audiobooks of all kinds.
Never Gonna Happen Linda Kage
Publication date: November 8th 2022
Genres: Contemporary, Romance, Young Adult
Peyton’s mom and my mom were best friends.
You’d think that should cover the gist of it. But, no… Oh, no.
Not even close.
You see, Mom and Aunt Donna (as I’d always called Peyton’s mother) were not simply just best friends; I’m saying they were the-same-person-inhabiting-two-different-bodies kind of best friends.
And thus, Peyton Royce had been forced on me since the moment she was born.
We were treated like twins, yet always expected to fall in love one day and get married. The only problem with that was I didn’t love Peyton. And I’m fairly certain she didn’t even like me in return.
Don’t get me wrong. I adored our moms—swear to God—but they had to let this stupid notion go, because one thing had become abundantly clear to me over the years. I would never marry Peyton Royce. I think it was my one goal in life, actually.
So… Sorry, Mom and Aunt Donna, but you two just weren’t going to get your way on this.
Aria took her turn next. When she immediately turned toward me and Peyton, my stomach dipped with dread.
“York,” she smirked snidely. “Truth or dare?”
“Uh…” Damn. I shrugged, not sure what would be worse from her. I ended up going with, “Truth,” only to hold my breath and hope she didn’t ask about why I’d really broken up with her. I didn’t want to hurt her feelings and admit that I just didn’t feel any sparks.
But she glanced calculatingly between me and Peyton instead, then asked, “You two have known each other your whole lives, right?”
I frowned in confusion. “Uh, yeah. That’s your question?”
“No. My question is if you two have ever kissed before.”
“What? No!” I frowned at her for wasting her truth question on that and then glanced toward Peyton, shaking my head to let her know my group of friends was clearly insane.
She merely blushed and shrugged back.
And Wes took his turn next in the game.
“York!” he cheered. “Truth or dare?”
“Seriously?” I threw up my hands. “Why is everyone picking on me all of the sudden?”
“Truth or dare?” Wes repeated, lifting a challenging eyebrow.
I didn’t like where Aria had been heading with her question about Peyton, so this time I said, “Dare.”
Wes looked at me with victory, letting me know I’d chosen wrong, right before he said, “I dare you to kiss Peyton.”
Linda writes romance fiction from YA to adult, contemporary to fantasy. Most Kage stories lean more toward the lighter, sillier side with a couple meaningful moments thrown in. Focuses more on entertainment value and emotional impact.
Published since 2010. Went through a 2-year writing correspondence class in children’s literature from The Institute of Children’s Literature. Then graduated with a Bachelors in Arts, English with an emphasis in creative fiction writing from Pittsburg State University.
Now she lives with hubby, two daughters, cat Holly, and nine cuckoo clocks in southeast Kansas, USA. Farm girl. Parents were dairy farmers. Was youngest of eight. Big family. Day job as a cataloging library assistant.
Harry Potter House Gryffindor, Patronus White Stallion, character match Hagrid. Supernatural Team Dean. Game of Thrones Team Jon Snow and Tyrion Lannister. The Walking Dead Team Daryl. Outlander Team Jamie Fraser. Teen Wolf Team Stiles. Avenger Team Thor…or Hulk (can’t decide). Justice League Team Flash. Arrow Team Stephen Amell. Stranger Things obsessed. Heard Laurel, not Yanny.
Started out reading with the Baby-Sitters Club. Then moved to Sandra Brown, Linda Howard, Julie Garwood, and LaVyrle Spencer in high school. Now all over the place with her romance reading tastes.