Two grumpy bears and a holiday season neither will forget…
So this sexy silver fox rolls into my small New England town and buys a run-down old house in need of renovation. That’s where I come in. My job is to do some basic repairs, so he can write in peace. Yep, the hotshot is a bestselling author, but that’s not why I recognize Cameron Warren.
No worries, I won’t let a one-night stand make things awkward. I could use the work, but is he seriously asking me to help him buy a Christmas tree too?
I’m a good-natured guy all year long, but I have to admit…I hate the holidays.
There. I said it.
This season, I’m hiding away on the opposite side of the country in a picturesque village. My family isn’t excited about my decision, and the only way to assure them I’m fine is to deck the darn halls. Or hire someone else to do it.
The handyman might not be the logical choice for an elf, but his grumpy act makes me smile. Which makes me think the holidays might not be so “bah-humbug” this year after all.
The Humbug Holiday is a bisexual, age-gap romance featuring two grumpy bears who find unexpected magic and learn to embrace everyone’s favorite time of year!
Cam narrowed his gaze. “What do you mean ‘no, thanks’?”
I set the strand of fairy lights on a green plastic bin and scowled. “Do I really look like fuckin’ Santa Claus?”
“My holiday cheer begins and ends at my mom’s bingo deal. That’s it. I don’t own twenty boxes filled with useless knickknacks. I don’t put up a tree or hang lights or…any of that shit for myself. Why would I do it for you?”
“Money. I’ll pay you handsomely to deck the damn halls and take a few photos. That’s in addition to the handyman stuff.” He named an even more outlandish sum than the one he’d proposed two days ago.
I whistled as I crossed my arms. “You do realize that’s insane, right?”
He shrugged. “A little. Look, I need a few Christmassy photos for my aunts.”
“Because…well…it’s a family thing,” he hedged, narrowing his eyes as he cast a wary glance over the array of boxes still littering the entry hall. “And as you can see, it’s complicated.”
I peeked at Tony’s roofing truck through the lacy curtains. “I’m a carpenter or a general handyman. I can’t, in good conscience, take money for something like putting up a tree. I mean…it would be one thing if you couldn’t physically do it yourself, but you seem perfectly capable of putting up a few decorations.”
“Physically yes, mentally…no.”
I stared at him for as long as I could manage without blinking, then let out a heavy sigh. “Is there an artificial tree somewhere in those boxes, or are you going to need a real one?”
“I have no idea. I haven’t looked and I don’t want to. I want to hire you to do all of that for me. Put it up and take it all down…within forty-eight hours. It’s Tuesday. If you get a tree today, it can be gone by Thursday, and then you can concentrate on the rest of the house stuff.”
“Your priorities are kinda whack.” I snorted. “Christmas is in three weeks. Don’t you FaceTime with your family?”
“They’re gonna notice the lack of cheer on the big day.”
Cameron frowned. “Oh. That’s true.”
“Look, I should probably get out there and deal with Tony,” I said, stepping toward the door. “I’m not opposed to taking your money, but I’m no designer and I don’t like the holidays any more than you do. I’ll ask in town. Janie Calhoun owns the Christmas store on First Street and she does some staging for a couple of home boutiques in the area. If you want this done right, she’s a better bet than me.”
“No, thanks. I’ve had my fill of designers.” He waved impatiently and stalked over to the bins. “How about this? Let’s buy a tree, put some lights on it, and throw on a few ornaments. Then we’ll toss the whole thing in the trash before noon on the twenty-fifth and be done with it.”
“And what about all that stuff?” I inclined my head meaningfully at the holiday shit he had yet to unpack.
“Leave the box with ornaments, and put the rest in the basement. Out of sight, out of mind. Or better yet, throw it all away.”
“Wow. You are Scrooge.”
Cameron smirked unapologetically. “I told you so. My youngest cousin is having a baby any minute now, so with any luck, my aunts will forget about me for a while. Just knowing there’s a tree up will make them happy, and that’s what matters. So…what do you think?”
I fixed him with a long, hard stare.
“I think you’re up to something.”
He widened his eyes in surprise. “Such as?”
“I dunno. People who don’t like the holidays wouldn’t go through the hassle of hiring someone unqualified to do their dirty work, even if money were no object. It would be much easier to hole up in your office and hibernate for the rest of December. What do you really want?”
“Is this about sex?”
“Sex,” he repeated with a huff. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m not opposed to a repeat, but I’m not in the habit of paying for a good time.”
Christ, all he had to say was “repeat” and I popped a boner.
Lane Hayes loves a good romance! An avid reader from an early age, she has always been drawn to well-told love story with beautifully written characters. Her debut novel was a 2013 Rainbow Award finalist and subsequent books have received Honorable Mentions, and were winners in the 2016, 2017, 2018-2019, 2020-2021 Rainbow Awards. She loves wine, chocolate and travel (in no particular order). Lane lives in Southern California with her amazing husband in a newly empty nest.
Colette’s a sweet angel in need of saving, and like it or not, I have a hero complex. Marrying her seems like the right thing to do. Then my sometimes lover, Aidan, finds us together. The hurt in his eyes nearly guts me.
My club knows I’m bisexual. I’ve not hidden it from them. Doesn’t mean I’ve flaunted it in their faces either. So when I decided to claim Aidan and Colette, I’m not sure how it’s going to end. All I know is they both need me, and I need them too.
With human traffickers after Colette, a possible traitor in the club, and more chaos than I can handle, I do the only thing I can… I run with my new wife and husband. Once I figure out who wants Colette, I’ll do whatever it takes to destroy them. Until then, I’ll keep her safe, and Aidan too. Because they both mean more to me than I realized.
WARNING: Surge is part of the Hades Abyss MC series and contains bad language, violence, and content some readers may find difficult to read. Yes, Surge is bisexual, and therefore there are sexual situations involving Male-Female, Male-Male, Male-Female-Male, and Male-Male-Female sex.
I gripped Jacques’ hand as we slipped through the alley. The dumpster at the other end usually had something somewhat edible. I’d never lived on the streets before, but Jacques kept me safe. Or as safe as he could. We’d been strangers until a few months ago.
Jacques approached the other end of the alley, tensing as he listened to booted steps draw closer. When no one passed by, he eased forward and peered into the dumpster. I gasped as a shadow drew closer and my hold on Jacques tightened. More than once we’d been cornered. It had taught us to be overly cautious. My heart pounded as I stared at the man coming toward us.
“If you’re up for a party, you can stop by the Hades Abyss clubhouse. There should be food and drinks. No charge,” the man said. As he came even closer, I saw he had on jeans, a T-shirt, and a black leather vest that said Prospect on it. “No strings attached. You’re both welcome.”
Clubhouse? Party? I didn’t understand. Why would he invite homeless people to a party unless he had something nefarious planned? I didn’t trust him. I edged a little behind Jacques, even though the man had barely spared me a glance. Something about him set me on edge.
“Where is the clubhouse?” Jacques asked, his accent thicker than usual. It was a sure sign he didn’t trust this man either. I eyed the guy from around Jacques, prepared to run if this was a trap. Each time we moved to a new town, Jacques made sure to scout a safe place for us to meet up if we ever became separated. Would I need that space now?
“Edge of town. Just ask around. Anyone can point the way. Party usually starts close to sundown but come by anytime you want. I’m sure you’ve had some unsavory offers, living on the streets. That’s not what this is. Ask around about us.” He left as quickly as he’d arrived, and I leaned into Jacques.
He’d told us to check up on the Hades Abyss before going to the party. Did that mean it was a legitimate offer? Could we trust him? My stomach cramped painfully. It had been more than a day since I’d eaten, and the last meal had been a discarded sandwich I’d shared with Jacques.
“Food, Colette. We can eat something that didn’t come from the trash,” Jacques said.
“You trust him?”
“Non. But what other options do we have?”
I nodded, knowing he was right. We’d made it so far, and yet we still weren’t safe. There were times I wondered if we’d ever live normal lives again. Even though I’d not known Jacques before coming to America, he’d been my lifeline the last few months. I knew he’d do what he could to keep me safe, just as he had every time someone had offered to help us.
“We survived this long,” Jacques said, kissing my forehead. “We’ll make it a while longer, Colette. You saw that man. Someone like that could protect you.”
My breath caught and I hoped he didn’t mean what I thought he did. Why would I need someone other than Jacques to protect me? We’d done okay so far. Maybe we were living on the streets, and I could admit I hadn’t slept well in months. But still…
“What are you saying, Jacques?”
He tipped my chin up and gave me a sad smile. “It’s time, ma belle. You knew we would part ways eventually. This is your chance.”
“Je ne comprends pas.” What was he saying? Part ways? Did that mean he planned to leave me with the man who’d invited us to the party? A stranger? How did Jacques know I’d be safe with him?
“I’ve seen those bikers around town. That one isn’t part of the club yet. You need to find someone who is, and they’ll protect you.”
“English, ma belle. You need to use your English more if you’re going to have a chance. As to why… I’ve seen the ones who have women. They’re considerate, caring, and shield them from harm. That’s what you need. I can’t keep you safe forever, and you know it.” He sighed. “We’ve been in this town a few weeks now. I’ve been watching and waiting, hoping to find someone worthy to keep you safe. Those men are your best bet.”
“You’re giving me to them?” I asked softly. Was he no different from the men we’d escaped from? Had I been wrong all this time?
“Non. You’re going to choose to stay with one. Make him want to keep you. It might mean putting on another show.” He winced. “I hate doing that to you.”
I knew there was more than one reason he disliked it. Jacques had made it clear from the beginning he preferred men. It was the main reason I’d trusted him so easily. He’d never once been interested in me sexually, even if we’d had to fake it sometimes.
“If it will ease your mind, I’ll do it,” I said. “But, Jacques, what’s going to happen to you?”
“I have a contact farther north. I’ll go there, but it’s a hard trip and not safe for you.”
I bit my lip. It hurt, knowing I’d been holding him back. He’d had a place to go and had stayed for me. How long? How many days or weeks had he suffered when he could have made a run for it? Why hadn’t he said something sooner? I knew we’d been in this town longer than the others. Now I understood why. He’d been hoping one of those men would take me in.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Harley Wylde is the International Bestselling Author of the Dixie Reapers MC, Devil’s Boneyard MC, and Hades Abyss MC series.
When Harley’s writing, her motto is the hotter the better — off the charts sex, commanding men, and the women who can’t deny them. If you want men who talk dirty, are sexy as hell, and take what they want, then you’ve come to the right place. She doesn’t shy away from the dangers and nastiness in the world, bringing those realities to the pages of her books, but always gives her characters a happily-ever-after and makes sure the bad guys get what they deserve.
The times Harley isn’t writing, she’s thinking up naughty things to do to her husband, drinking copious amounts of Starbucks, and reading. She loves to read and devours a book a day, sometimes more. She’s also fond of TV shows and movies from the 1980’s, as well as paranormal shows from the 1990’s to today, even though she’d much rather be reading or writing.
You can find out more about Harley or enter her monthly giveaway on her website. Be sure to join her newsletter while you’re there to learn more about discounts, signing events, and other goodies!
Ami Ackerman began reading romance at the age of ten when her aunt handed her a copy of Gone With the Wind and she was immediately hooked. Since then, she has always dreamed of writing romance full-time and decided to take a chance when her best friend gave her an idea. Ami believes in love across genders and sexes and that all relationships have a place in romance. When not writing at her favorite Starbucks, Ami can be found in the mountains of Arizona daydreaming about seven men in Korea who will never know she exists.
Peter Campbell, a deaf man who teaches sign language classes, believes no one would ever love a bisexual man. When his new veterinarian, Dr. Abe Yoshida, shows him he’s wrong, Peter is left with the monumental task of coming out to his teenage daughter. Can his growing love for Abe give him the courage he needs?
The holidays are the worst time for Dr. Abe. He recently lost a patient, and the circumstances leave him struggling under a burden of guilt. Adding to his depression, as the COVID-19 pandemic worsens, he finds himself the victim of anti-Asian hate crimes. Then he meets Peter, a compassionate, partially in the closet bisexual man. Will Abe let love heal his heart, or will suicide’s sour music bewitch his soul?
Trigger Warning: Deals with Asian Hate Crimes, COVID-19, depression and suicidal thoughts in characters with disabilities, which may be triggers for some readers.
Compassion Fatigue is an emotion-charged, page-turning, quick-yet-satisfying read.
For lovers of LGBT fiction, this book has a diverse group of characters from male/male couples, to female/female couples, bisexual characters, and even a non-binary teen. It’s a story about acceptance, not only of yourself but others, and as such has scenes that may trigger some readers. The author handled the emotional pain of the characters, and the hate of the close-minded people around them, with a style that was both impactful and respectful.
Peter has fought the fact he’s bisexual even since his ex-wife threw him out. Not only did the woman who’d claimed she’d love him forever turn her back on Peter, but there were those in the LGBTQ community who did the same. He’s left feeling conflicted and struggles with self-loathing. Convinced no one will ever accept him, in either world, he battles loneliness and tries to keep people at arm’s length.
Dr. Abe Yoshida was a beautifully written character. His inner struggle not only over people being unaccepting of his being gay but also the hateful comments toward Asians as the COVID-19 pandemic began to spread, left a broken man who fought every day not to give in the demons whispering in his head.
Peter and Abe were clearly meant for one another, even though both themselves and others kept throwing obstacles in their way. Their moments together were sweet and at times more than a little steamy. Once I started reading their story, I couldn’t stop. I needed to see how it ended.
Compassion Fatigue will put you through the emotional wringer but will give you the satisfying ending we all crave when reading a romance.
*Disclaimer: I received an ARC from the publisher in exchance for an honest review. The review above is only my opinion.
ABOUT EMILY CARRINGTON
Emily Carrington is a multipublished author of male/male and transgender erotica. Seeking a world made of equality, she created SearchLight to live out her dreams. But even SearchLight has its problems, and Emily is looking forward to working all of these out with a host of characters from dragons and genies to psychic vampires.
Elora isn’t a robot, but she isn’t human either. She’s an abominable combination of the two, a cyborg. For this offense, she must face judgment in a court of law. There, it will be decided if she’s a person, owed the same rights as any other, or an object, owed no rights at all.
But when a last-ditch effort to demonstrate her humanity backfires, Elora is faced with an element of human nature she always hoped to avoid: love. The consciousness of a dead man is accidentally downloaded into her cybernetic brain, and she becomes infatuated with his still-living husband—whether she wants to or not.
For Elora, making her way in a solar system that fears and hates her has been hard enough. Now, she must do it as an intermediary between lovers while keeping her own heart in check. With the trial fast approaching, and anti-robot protesters demanding her head, Elora can’t afford to get swept up in someone else’s love story.
It’s the first taste of freedom I’ve had in weeks. It could also be my last. I march handcuffed down the labyrinthian corridors of the Aidos to be ejected out of an airlock, or have my metal components melted down and recycled into engine parts, or be squashed in a giant garbage disposal. No one’s actually told me where I’m going, but it can’t be anywhere good.
An armored squad of meatheads forced me from my cell without a word. They press the barrels of their rifles into my back to keep me walking. The Aidos was assigned to deliver me to the Minos Justice Station for my trial, but we should have arrived three days ago. Plenty of time to find a dark corner of empty space where they could ditch my body without being noticed. I’d been told my confinement was for my safety as well as everyone else’s but always suspected the scale tipped slightly in favor of everyone else’s. Looks like I was right.
We finally arrive at our destination. The door hisses open…and it isn’t an airlock. It’s a conference room. A massive blank viewscreen hangs behind a shiny circular table. Paul Margot, my lawyer, sits beside it, balancing his chair on its back legs and playing a handheld video game. Not a care in the world. As usual, an expensive suit and tie drape his gangly old body, and he’s combed his scarce hair to the side to hide the bald patches. The smell of peppermint wafts from him, the odor so strong I swear I see a green menthol cloud looming in the air.
A Japanese man stands with his arms crossed on the other side of the screen. He isn’t wearing the black-armored uniform of the guards but rather the stark white with gold trim of the Aidos crew. He has a dashing gentleman sort of look about him, and the decorations on his shoulder suggest he’s high in rank. But despite whatever power he might have, he’s hesitant to approach me—like I’m a live bomb. And it’s not an unfair comparison. During the Great Human-AI War, many robots were exactly that. Humankind nearly went extinct in that war, so I don’t blame him for handling me with caution.
A million questions pop into my mind at once, but I settle for the most pertinent: “What the hell?”
“Well, hello to you too,” Paul says.
“See?” the Japanese officer says to him instead of me. “She made it just fine. Now, I’m going to have to ask you to step out.”
“Actually, I think I’ll stay. No one talks to my client without me present.”
“I’m not interested in the legal matters concerning your client, Mr. Margot.”
“And I’m not interested in whatever secret sciency things you have onboard this ship.” Paul laughs. “But I stay. Go right ahead. She can be a little snippy though. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
I’m so grateful for Paul. I know the things he does are because he wants to win his case, but sometimes I feel like he actually cares about me.
Still. “Is someone going to tell me what’s going on?” I say, louder this time.
“I apologize, Ms. Cussons.” The Japanese officer stares at me with the same stupefied ogle everyone gives me the first time. There’s been a great deal of discussion over what exactly I am—ranging from papers published in scientific journals to angry rants on internet forums—but the term “half-robotic abomination” would seem to apply. I prefer Metal-American. Either way, most people know about Elora Cussons, the illegal cyborg in the news, and when they hear my story, they think of a half-robotic, hideous monster. When they actually see me, it’s never quite what they were picturing. On the outside, I’m a perfectly ordinary, unspoiled, twenty-two-year-old woman from Kauai. My tan skin and long, mud-brown hair are indistinguishable from any of my neighbors’. Although, the red prison jumpsuit isn’t in fashion.
“Do you know who I am?” the man asks after a moment.
“That’s a negative.” I mock his uptight military bearing.
“My name is Hamasaki. I’m captain of the Aidos. I hope you’ve been treated well.”
“Mm-hm, the brig is simply lovely.”
He clears his throat and straightens his blouse. “I’ll get right to the point, Ms. Cussons. Do you know where we are?”
“You should probably assume I don’t know anything. It’ll be easier.”
“Right. Sorry. This is an unusual situation for me too. We’re parked outside of the Great Compass. A member of our crew is head of research here, and he’s gotten himself into some trouble.”
“Wait, the Great Compass?” Paul cuts in. “I thought research on the Compass was shut down. Some guy died or something last year?”
“Yes, someone did. That’s why our people don’t interact with the technology here anymore. It’s observational study only. At least, it’s supposed to be. Turns out, our guy bit off more than he could chew and was injured a few days ago. We were on our way to pick him up and transport him to the medical facilities on the Minos, which is how we got tagged with giving you a lift. Come to find out, it’s a little more complicated than we thought. He’s inside the core of the Compass itself, which is deadly to biological lifeforms. Going in there was how we lost our crewmember last year, and we can’t risk any more losses by sending in a rescue team. We’ve been scratching our heads since we got here, trying to think up solutions, and one of our people thinks she might have something.”
“You want me to do it,” I conclude. It was easy to follow his story to its inevitable end.
“Wait, wait, wait,” Paul practically bellows. “If you’re trying to force my client—”
“No, nothing like that.” Hamasaki reclaims the reins of the conversation. “No one is forcing Ms. Cussons into anything. But with robotic machines being illegal, she’s our best chance. We’ve had experts in medicine, biology, cybernetics, the whole bit reviewing her files, and everyone agrees. Because she’s more mechanical than biological, if there’s ever been a candidate for safe exposure to the Great Compass, it’s her.” He returns his attention to me. “We wouldn’t ask this of you if we didn’t think there was a high chance of success. We’ve already gotten permission from the council handling your case, and they’ve agreed to push your trial back. But of course, you’re free to refuse. What do you say? Want out of your box? Want to be a hero?”
It’s obvious why he’s asking me himself rather than send a lackey. He’s a salesman. He’s charismatic and energetic, and his good looks don’t hurt either. An excited gleam twinkles in his eye, and I can tell he thinks I’m sold.
Kristin L. Stamper is a writer of YA and adult science fiction. Her interest in storytelling dates back to her childhood when she brought her ideas to life through play-pretend. Once society had successfully pressured her into knocking that off, writing became her new creative outlet. After high school, she spent seven years as an Information Systems Technician in the US Navy, gaining experience in computers and robotics. Currently, she is the mother of a toddler whose favorite pastime is banging on the keyboard while mommy tries to write.
A quiet place to live and some time to recharge before my band heads out on the road again sounds amazing. I wouldn’t mind a distraction too, but my new neighbor is off-limits. There are rules about not getting involved with your bandmate’s ex, right? And Sean isn’t my type anyway. He’s too bossy, too commanding, and he has way too much baggage. I’ve learned that it’s best to let go of the heavy stuff. So why am I so drawn to him?
Coming out later in life has taught me to protect my privacy at all costs. And while juggling a handful of businesses and two kids isn’t easy, I excel at the art of multitasking and keeping everything separate. But Johnny blurs those lines. He’s easy-going, sweet-natured, and cool. In short, he’s everything I’m not. I want to know all about him…starting from the top.
The cheery sound of family fun drifted through the house…the dog barking, cupboards closing, and a girlish squeal of delight. And more dog barking.
I chuckled at the chaotic homey cacophony. I would never have envisioned this was Sean’s life. He’d always seemed like a badass boss to me—not a man who’d wear an apron to bake cupcakes with his daughter while his son had a guitar lesson. His chocolate mussed hair and concerned parental frown made him look goofy and yet very…endearing. In a hot dad way.
Okay. Definitely time to go. I reached for the knob just as Sean did.
“I’ll walk you out,” he insisted, holding the door open.
I stepped onto the porch and blinked against the bright afternoon sun at the hilltop view of the city. “Wow. This is nice.”
“Yeah,” he agreed absently. “How was he?”
“Amazing. The next Chuck Berry.”
Sean sighed grumpily. “Less sarcasm, please.”
“Sorry, Dad.” I snickered. “He was great. I mean, he sucked, but I think he had fun. I told him to keep the guitar and practice on his own. If you want me to come back, I will.”
“Really? That’s good.” He stared at the horizon for a moment before glancing my way. “I wanted to—why are you smiling at me?”
“You’re fuckin’ covered in chocolate. It’s in your ear.” I made a face and tugged at my own ear.
He gestured at the apron. “Baking isn’t my thing.”
I flashed a megawatt grin at him. “Sure, it is. Are you decorating those cupcakes with anything besides frosting?”
“Sprinkles. You’re welcome to join us.”
“Thanks, but I don’t want to crash your family time.”
Sean inclined his head. “So…did he talk to you?”
“It took a little coaxing. Full disclosure…we played video games before we picked up the guitars. You’re not paying me, so I don’t really feel guilty. I just don’t want you to think it was a jam session from the start.”
“You know?” I repeated.
“I snuck in to see how you were doing. Hulk let you down. You might want to go with Iron Man or Captain America next time.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.” I snort-laughed, then sobered. “As for Parker…he’s a good kid. He’s shy, reserved, and likes organization. He seems like the kind of person who excels at things he can control. I bet he builds killer Lego sets. He might learn a few songs, but I doubt he’s a savant. You never know, though. Kids are sponges. They pick up stuff you and I would never catch.”
“That’s true. I’m impressed. And you’re right…about everything. He keeps a lot inside. He’s always been that way. Very thoughtful and methodical. He sets a high bar for himself. He likes to get things right the first time. He does well in school, but he’s struggling with the transition to junior high. His old friends tried out for sports and he opted not to. It’s left him feeling ostracized and alone. Hormones don’t help. I thought it might be good for him to spend time with someone cool who—”
“Cooler than you?”
“Well, let’s not get crazy.” Sean flipped the corner of his apron and let out a self-deprecating laugh. “I just…thanks for doing this. I appreciate it.”
“No problem. Hey, if he really is interested, we can do this regularly. My schedule is light for the next couple of months, but it’ll get crazy again in late spring.”
“I’ll call you.”
“Text me. I hate phone calls.” I held out my right hand and snatched it away a second later, narrowing my gaze. “You have frosting on your nose.”
“My nose?” He wiped his hand over the apron, then across the tip of his nose. “Did I get it?”
“No. Come here. Let me help you.” I stepped into his space and brushed the sugary goodness away.
“Did you get it?” he asked in a huskier than normal tone.
“Yeah, but it’s on your ear and your chin and…”
I ran the pad of my thumb under this bottom lip. “Got it.”
I didn’t move. I should have, but something held me in place. I studied his features, noting the flecks in his eyes. I wondered what color they were…gold, green, brown? I traced a line at the corner of his mouth, rubbing the scruff of his neatly-trimmed beard. I stared at his full lips for a long moment before meeting his gaze. Then I inched closer and…kissed him.
Lane Hayes loves a good romance! An avid reader from an early age, she has always been drawn to well-told love story with beautifully written characters. Her debut novel was a 2013 Rainbow Award finalist and subsequent books have received Honorable Mentions, and were winners in the 2016, 2017, and 2018-2019 Rainbow Awards.
She loves red wine, chocolate and travel (in no particular order). Lane lives in Southern California with her amazing husband in a not quite empty nest.
After a bad breakup, Rasheed is determined to spend his last year of high school focused on his course work and to finish it with as little drama as possible. But when disaster strikes and his grandma ends up in the hospital, the threads holding his life together start to slowly unravel. Now, Rasheed has to deal with the return of his absent mother and sharing a home with her despite their strained relationship.
With old hurts surfacing and family dynamics shifting, Rasheed finds comfort and humor from his best friends, the Herman twins he’s tutoring, and his crush, Adam Herman, who’s not as unavailable as Rasheed had once thought. With more time spent together, Rasheed finds his feelings for Adam may never have gone away. And the feelings may not be as one-sided. Except, Rasheed has to confront old mistakes and come to terms with his own issues first, and a relationship may just complicate everything.
“Please tell me it’s mahamri,” I said enthusiastically when I saw Granma kneading dough that would hopefully be rolled, cut into little squares, dipped into deep frying oil, and covered in whipped cream to create a slice of heaven. Paired with hot chai, it opened the door to another dimension.
Granma pounded the dough, one-two, and flipped it over. “It is.”
“Should I start on the tea?”
“You should start by taking the trash out.” She straightened, wiped the thin film of sweat from her forehead, and pointed to the overflowing trashcan. I could have emptied it last night, but I had an assignment due and each second counted; the four minutes it would have taken had seemed like a lifetime.
“Okay.” I stepped farther into the kitchen and pinched some of the dough. Granma smacked my hand with her flour-covered one. I should have seen it coming; it was a dance we’d been doing since I was five—I’d pinch the dough, she’d slap my hand, and warn me about worms making my stomach swell.
Sure enough she said, “Tumbo lako litafura.”
I refrained from rolling my eyes. The way she used to tell it, when I was a kid my stomach would get as large as a balloon before it burst, spraying worms everywhere.
I tossed the dough in my mouth, grabbed a pot, filled it with water, and put it to boil for tea. One thing Granma and I liked was tea—tea in the morning, tea in the afternoon, tea before bed—and coming to America hadn’t changed that. As soon as she was done with the mahamri, she’d set herself up on her favorite floral armchair in front of the TV with her cup of steaming hot tea and catch up on some daytime soaps. Sometimes I joined her—TV dramas had some really cute guys.
“They finally gave up the dog,” Granma announced.
“Mrs. Kyle and that dog. The pepo chafu will not be terrorizing us again.”
Mrs. Kyle lived on the other side of the street, one house down from us. Her bulldog, Teddy—a name that maybe shouldn’t be handed out so easily to slobbering dogs—had the bad habit of chasing and attacking people, and she refused to put it on a leash. Granma did not like her. The whole neighborhood didn’t like her.
“Paul was right,” she continued, “Soon as someone threw in the word ‘sue,’ she became more accommodating.”
There’d been a lot of that lately—Paul this and Paul that. It would have slipped my mind if I hadn’t noticed her FaceTiming him two weeks before, and then a day ago. Paul only lived a fifteen-minute drive away, so why not text? Anyway, what was so important that she needed to video call?
“I’m guessing some are for Paul?”
She pulled a drawer open and retrieved a rolling pin. “Why are you saying it like that?”
“How am I saying it?”
“Like you mean to say something else.”
“It’s nothing— Okay, you and Paul are…friendly,” I teased.
“I don’t have many friends; another one never hurts.”
“True, but I don’t know many people who go around fixing other people’s houses out of the kindness of their heart.”
Granma fixed her eyes on the dough and started to roll it. “It’s called kindness. Looks like you’ve forgotten the meaning of the word.”
“I remember,” I said quickly before it turned into a speech about undugu. Yes, yes, love thy neighbor, unless it was Mrs. Kyle, of course. Lines had to be drawn somewhere.
I added a cinnamon stick and some ginger into the pot and turned to head back to my room. Granma pointed to the trashcan. “Usitume nikwambie mara ya pili.”
Right, the trash. I sighed.
Her eyes bored into me as I bent to pick it up, which usually made me more self-aware. Like, had I brushed my teeth or cleaned my room? “I don’t know where your mind is nowadays.”
I paused. “Just tired.” Second week of school, Granma!
I was still trying to shake off summer vibes and find my back-to-school rhythm. It wasn’t going great. On top of the mound of piling homework and the early waking hours that turned me into a zombie—sometimes even with growling, and on really bad days, I could bite someone’s head off—I was trying to dodge Scott, my ex-boyfriend. Whenever he weaved his way into my thoughts, my chest would burn with shame, and my body would turn into a bundle of nerves. That chai and mahamri better come quick. I needed a pick-me-up.
“You put your shirt on backward on Tuesday and didn’t notice.”
“My mind was elsewhere.”
Her eyes narrowed. “And you’re not on drugs?”
I refrained from sighing. “No, I am not on drugs.”
“What is it, then?”
“Not enough sleep.”
“Why? What do you have to stress about?”
I slumped. Things were off, and I couldn’t shake the oddness. Before I could get that out, Granma shuddered, exhaled loudly, and reached for the counter, clutching it tightly.
I moved toward her. “You okay?” But she waved me off.
Her mouth opened, closed, opened again, but nothing came out. I frowned in confusion. Finally, after a few seconds, she said, “Trash.”
“And check for your keys.”
“Ha ha.” Again, I was tired that day.
I shifted my eyes to her hands, still gripping the counter and repeated, “You okay?”
“I…haven’t pounded dough in forever.”
Her words were labored and breathy. She had been pounding away like an MFA fighter. Maybe that was it. Now I knew what I’d get her for Christmas—a stand mixer. Maybe that would encourage her to make mahamri more often and not break a sweat while doing it. I could do it, but I’d never gotten them right—soft and sweet but with a tinge of lemon and overwhelming taste of coconut. Mine usually came out too hard.
I lifted the bag and headed outside.
“And water my herbs for me.”
I huffed. I ought to have known going to the kitchen when Granma was there meant a one hundred percent chance I’d come out with a chore.
“Am I hearing you grumble?”
“Good because that would be disrespectful to your elders.”
I held back the eye roll and made my way to the garbage bins. I dumped the trash and went to water her plants.
Granma had raised-bed planters for her herbs that Paul had made for her. The day he did it, Granma had prioritized keeping him company to watching her TV dramas even though she was religious about not missing episodes. Then there was that time Natalie had been over for their book club—they were the only two in the club, and they read one book a year, spent five minutes talking about how they didn’t get a chance to read it, and gossiped the rest of the time—and I overhead Granma describe Paul as a fine, fine man. Sure, there had been some wine involved, but still.
I winced when the scent of mint made me think of Scott. He loved mint-flavored ice cream and chewing mint-flavored bubblegum. I’d made it another week successfully avoiding him—thank you crowded hallways and different schedules. It was exhausting. I was constantly in flight mode. There had to be another way.
Apologize, a voice echoed in my mind. Apologize? As in, like, say sorry and stuff? Hmm.
Not that I hadn’t thought of it before, but how did people do that? The idea sounded foreign. Save for when I stepped on someone’s foot or bumped into them by accident; that was easy because they were accidents. Honest mistakes. What I had done had not been an honest mistake. So how did someone apologize for dumbness?
It was easier to stay clear of him, avoid any more drama, and focus on school.
If I ignored it maybe it would have no option but to magically—
“Eedy!” I paused, spooked by how she sounded—like a rusted engine trying and failing to come to life. As I put the watering can down, there was the sound of a body hitting the floor with a soft thud.
My heart leaped into my throat, and my stomach twisted with dread.
I rushed back to the house and found Granma lying on the floor—flat on her stomach and still as a rock. The world tilted and blurred together.
“Granma?” I said in a shaky whisper. I fell to my knees and with weak arms managed to turn her over. My breath caught at the sight of her. Her dark eyes were wide open, unfocused, and unblinking. A chill snaked down my back. I leaned down and felt her warm breath on my face. Oh, thank fuck.
I grabbed her hand and recoiled at its limpness. “Granma, are you okay?” Of course, she wasn’t okay.
“Tafadhali amka!” Please get up. I tried to pull her up and failed. Granma wasn’t small, and despite my size, I couldn’t get her to move. My pulse started to race and a heavy weight pressed down on my chest; breathing became difficult. I gasped for breath.
No. No. It would be alright.
“Musa?” she whispered roughly.
The hope I’d been holding on to sank somewhere to my toes. “No, Rasheed. Eedy.”
Musa was my babu’s name—my grandfather—a man we’d silently agreed to never speak of, ever. To Granma, saying his name was equal to calling on the devil, which wasn’t that far off from the truth.
I needed to call for help. She lay on the floor, immobile, her empty stare on me. I did not want to leave her. My eyes blurred. I stood on shaky feet and rushed to get my phone still buried under books from last night’s homework rush. My palms were sweaty enough it took a few swipes before I hit dial on the emergency contact. The person on the other end promised the ambulance would be coming soon.
I returned to crouch next to Granma and took her hand. She slurred something unintelligible that I failed to understand. “They’re coming.” I squeezed her hand.
She grumbled. It sounded like a mangled animal. I blinked to keep the tears from falling, but that only made them fall harder.
“Itsfine,” she slurred. Her hand twitched in mine.
It didn’t seem fine.
Last time she had ended up in hospital, it hadn’t been fine. Three weeks after I turned eight, and the world had turned upside down. I fought off the gnawing helplessness and tried to cling to positive thoughts. It would be alright.
Granma would be alright.
She didn’t really have a choice. She had her dramas waiting for her, Christmas was a few months away—Granma loved Christmas, all those sales and store decorations hyped her up—and I was going to graduate from high school.
Aduma is an economics major at the University of Nairobi in Kenya, and the type of person who feels incomplete without a book in hand. When not reading or writing, Aduma can be found lost in spreadsheets and graphs with music for company. Follow A. on Twitter.
Everything is finally going well. I have a new band, a new label, and a debut album coming out. And then my drummer breaks his wrists. Just my luck. I need a quick replacement to record one more song, but my options are limited, and of course, the obvious candidate hates my guts. Okay, so I may have given him a few reasons over the years, but isn’t there an expiration date on holding a grudge?
I don’t trust Declan McNamara. Sure, he’s talented, smart, and has more sex appeal than any one person should be allowed. And yeah, he may be a rock star in the making, but beware—he’s trouble. However, our new record label’s survival may depend on a truce and extreme measures…of the fake boyfriend variety. If it’s our best shot at the big time, I’m willing to set the past aside and start over…here and now.
Starting From Here is a MM, bisexual romance rock and roll style…rival bands, fake boyfriends, and a second chance at a new love story. Each book in the Starting From series can be read as a stand-alone.
The sound of cheerful squealing rang in the background before she hung up. I stared into space for a minute or two, feeling very…alone. I didn’t want to slip into teenage levels of self-pity. There was really nothing lamer than a privileged grown-ass adult whining about mommy issues. I flipped through television channels, pausing on a special about great white sharks. Then I tossed the controller aside and picked up my cell again.
Would you ever swim with sharks?
My phone buzzed immediately. I smiled when Tegan’s name lit the screen. Are you high?
I wish. Swimming with sharks is a thing. People get in cages and film themselves being surrounded by predators…for fun.
People are fucking crazy.
What are you watching?
National Geographic. I was hoping for a sex in the wild segment, but I got sharks instead.
I grinned. Nope. I don’t think I’m ready for that.
It’s not exciting. Fish sex is seriously unhot.
My chuckled morphed into a belly laugh as I sank deeper into the cushion. I shared a quick story about the saucy squirrels who were getting it on outside my window last spring. Tegan teased me for being a rodent voyeur, then recommended a few human porn sites I might appreciate instead.
Btw, it’s officially midnight. Congrats.
I stared at the screen for a moment. I typed and erased two or three thank-yous that seemed a little too effusive. I didn’t want to come across as too excited or too grateful and somehow clingy, so I gave up and pressed Call.
“Are you really fucking calling me?”
I chuckled. “Yeah. I am. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. But it’s midnight, and I hate talking on the phone, so good ni—”
“Don’t hang up.”
I stared at the TV unseeing. “Nothing. I just…I’m keyed up and I need someone to talk to. What was your first release like? I know Zero’s record is still doing well. But…what was like in the beginning? How’d you feel?”
“You want the truth?”
“It was anticlimactic.”
“Oh. That’s kind of depressing.”
“No, it’s just life. Nothing ever happens as fast as you want it to. You’ve got to be patient and keep doing your thing,” he advised. “We came home from our summer tour thinking we made it. What didn’t turn into superstars, but we made progress. And every day it gets better. But who knows what will happen? Maybe you’ll wake up at number one. Just stay positive and…stop torturing yourself.”
I smiled when Tegan’s uplifting advice gave way to exasperation. It was cute.
“It’s what I do. I excel at the art of self-sabotage. Ask my mom. If I bomb, you can be sure she’ll be the first one to say ‘I told you so.’ She’ll choose her words carefully, though. She’ll be kind-ish before she gently suggests that it’s time to throw in the towel and join the family firm. Fuck my life.”
“But it’s your life. The honor of making mistakes or kicking ass is all yours. You wrote those songs to be heard. Not everyone will love what you do, but plenty of people will. You just gotta be right in your own head. Ask yourself if you gave your best. Did you?”
“You’ll do just fine, then. If you sell a million copies, great. If not, you’ll still learn something.”
“Thanks. I needed that,” I said softly.
“You’re welcome. Now go to sleep.”
“I’m an almost rock star, and it’s midnight. My night is just beginning,” I lied, stifling a yawn.
“Have fun, rock god,” he snorted.
“I’m kidding. I’m channel surfing.”
“You mean porn surfing?”
I barked a quick laugh. “No, I get my porn on the internet like everyone else. I was watching that show about hoarders. It made me feel better somehow.”
“You’re a freak. Get your computer and jack off. You’ll feel better, and you’ll sleep better,” he advised sagely.
“Thanks, Dr. Monroe. I’ll report back in the morning.”
“Not necessary. Especially if there’re boobs involved.”
“I watch more dick porn than chick porn. I watched a great locker room scene last night. The coach and the quarterback. Sexy as fuck.”
Lane Hayes loves a good romance! An avid reader from an early age, she has always been drawn to well-told love story with beautifully written characters. Her debut novel was a 2013 Rainbow Award finalist and subsequent books have received Honorable Mentions, and were winners in the 2016, 2017, and 2018-2019 Rainbow Awards. She loves red wine, chocolate and travel (in no particular order). Lane lives in Southern California with her amazing husband in a not quite empty nest.
When Ember’s apartment burns down, two firemen offer their guesthouse for her to rent out. Not able to sleep on her friend’s couch any longer, she takes them up on their offer. One night smo
ke pours from their house. She rushes in to help them and discovers their secret.
With her restaurant being bought out from under her, Ember’s life is unraveling. She doesn’t know if she can trust her landlords. Someone knows what they truly are and kidnaps her to pressure her for information about the firemen. When she doesn’t talk about her green-skinned firemen, the situation only gets worse.
As love grows between Ember and her aliens, the world closes around them. She needs to get closer to them, but men invade their home. In order to save them, she will have to give up everything she knows.
Kilfanian Captain Hami comes to Earth to find his missing sister. But when his ship inadvertently causes a fire in a science building, he sees the glowing multicolored path that legend says leads Kilfanians to their mates. He follows that path into the blaze and finds a beautiful Human woman dying of smoke inhalation. To save her, he takes her to his ship for treatment.
Astrophysicist Amina Washington never expected to be abducted by aliens — especially not one so handsome and seductive. Amina is torn between their growing love and her need to return to Earth with proof of the existence of aliens.
Captivated, Hami finds himself questioning everything he believed about humans. Yet he and Amina are literally from different worlds. Can he find a future with a human woman who makes him want to be more than just a warrior of Kilfane? Especially when her people abducted his sister?
Moonshine: No one expects a werewolf to be running a moonshine still. Hell, a ridgerunner? Sure. He’s seen that coming from birth. What he didn’t inherit was lycanthropy. But life’s full of the unexpected. And now there’s David, self proclaimed expert tracker, and hunter of the bastard who turned them both. David is just the kind of trouble Jenson doesn’t need, and everything he wants.
Absinthe: Barthe and Rene have a real mess on their hands. Years ago, Barthe made a stupid mistake. Now Rene’s not sure he can believe Barthe will ever really want him. Add to their dilemma Barthe’s brother Bastien, and a werewolf caught half shifted… Can they come back together before they lose their love forever?
Entering her third season, Sophie Fournier has almost everything she wants. She’s the captain of the Concord Condors, she’s roommates and linemates with Elsa Nyberg, the elite Swedish winger she’s wanted to play alongside since the Zurich U-Tourney.
There are two major things she’s missing, though. She doesn’t have her next contract lined up, and she still hasn’t won the Maple Cup, hockey’s most coveted prize. If she wins the Cup, she’ll have leverage going into her contract negotiations. And, in case she needed more motivation, this is Benoit Delacroix’s final season as a Concord Condor, and she’s determined he won’t retire without lifting the Cup.
The 2013 draft in Orlando, Florida marks the third one Sophie’s attended. She made history in 2011 when she was the first woman drafted into the North American Hockey League. Last year, she was given the honor of selecting Elsa Nyberg for her team, the Concord Condors.
This year, Sophie’s responsibilities are fewer, but she’s still here representing the League. Unlike other players, who watch the draft from their couches or receive alerts while on the beach or touring wine country, Sophie is here in a crisp black pantsuit, a red pocket square her only flash of color.
She’s here so the Commissioner can lay a heavy hand on her shoulder and lean in for pictures to prove how progressive his league is, as if one woman among hundreds of men is progress. Well, it is progress, but it isn’t nearly enough.
There will be more women drafted today and tomorrow, and Sophie’s confident at least one of them will play against her this season. She refuses to hope Elsa will keep her promise and make the jump from the Swedish Hockey League to the NAHL this year, but she has high expectations for Alexis Engelking.
The American is slated to be drafted high. Lenny Dernier, infamous for his rants on The National Sports Network, is already wringing his hands over her upcoming inclusion among hockey’s best. Once, forgetting she was mic’d up, Engelking dropped an f-bomb on live television. Dernier accused her of being “a terrible role model for our Canadian children” as if every Canadian who has played the game is an angel.
Indianapolis files on stage to make the first selection of the draft, a long procession of middle to upper-aged white men in suits. The TVs behind the stage show Engelking sit up straighter in her seat as if she’s anticipating her name being called. Her hair is chopped short, jagged angles as sharp as her cheekbones.
A different camera shows Chad Kensington, another American, slumped in his seat. His blond hair is parted to the side and slicked to stay there. His mother elbows him, and he makes a half-hearted attempt to sit up straight.
“Thank you, Orlando, for hosting us today,” Indy’s owner says. The crowd, predictably, cheers. When he thanks the Commissioner, the crowd boos, also predictable. Sophie doesn’t remember the Commissioner facing constant heckling when she was younger, but he’d made himself no friends when the League ground to halt during the 2010-2011 season.
Indy’s owner steps aside so his grandson, a cute kid with chubby cheeks and a Renegades ball cap on his head, can step up to the mic. They have to lower it for him, and the boy checks the cards in his hands before he looks over his shoulder. His grandfather smiles encouragingly. “Um, first overall, the Indianapolis Renegades select Chad Kensington.”
Kensington stands up and shoots the nearest camera a pair of finger guns. His smile is as greasy as his hair. Sophie’s seen enough tape to know he’s talented, but he struts up to the stage as if he thinks the League should be grateful to have him. His suit is too big in the shoulders and too long in the leg as if he expects to grow into it. He’s dwarfed by the men on stage; the only ones he’s taller than are the owner’s two grandkids. He taps the brim of the grandson’s hat. The owner’s granddaughter hides behind the man who Sophie assumes is her father.
Sophie discreetly checks her phone as she waits for all the hoopla to finish. Being at the draft always brings back memories of her own. She wasn’t sure she’d be invited until a few months before and, even once she was there, it wasn’t a guarantee a team would select her. In case being the first woman to try to play in the NAHL wasn’t enough of a barrier, the Commissioner required teams to apply to be co-ed.
The Concord Condors were the only team able to draft her, and she sat in the stands as they made selection after selection, never calling her name. It took two hundred and twenty-four names until hers was called. Instead of being drafted first, or even first round, she was dead last.
She shakes the memory aside as Seattle comes on stage. Sophie quits feeling sorry for herself. Barrett Corderman is the one who deserves her pity as Seattle drafts him. She’s making a name for herself in Concord, pulling her franchise from the depths of the League and turning them into a real contender. Seattle, on the other hand, is where players have their love of hockey sucked out of them.
Indianapolis makes another appearance for the fourth pick, gained in a trade last season. This time, the owner ushers his granddaughter on stage, and Sophie has a good idea of where this is headed. When the girl calls out Alexis Engelking’s name, Sophie allows herself a smile. Engelking marks the fourth woman drafted into the League, and the highest selected of them all. There’s a tightness around Engelking’s eyes as she accepts her jersey as if she felt she deserved to go higher.
Welcome to the club.
Concord drafts a defenseman with the first of their first-round picks. With their second, they select Tanner Bechtol. He’s small like Kensington, and his hair falls into his eyes, only for him to shake it back out of his face. He looks overwhelmed by everyone on the stage, and it takes two tries for him to pull his jersey over his head.
It isn’t exactly a promising start, and she expects a lot out of him. This is one of the picks which came from trading their captain, Matty, at the deadline last year. Bechtol stumbles off the stage. He would’ve tripped and face-planted in front of the cameras if Mr. Wilcox didn’t steady him. Sophie keeps her expression tranquil in case anyone is watching her, but inside, she scowls. This is who they gave Matty up for?
K.R. Collins went to college in Pennsylvania where she learned to write and fell in love with hockey. When she isn’t working or writing, she watches hockey games and claims it’s for research. You can find K.R. on Twitter.