Sorry for the lack of posts the past two weeks. I’ve been sick in bed, but I’m slowly getting back on my feet. Stay tuned for more book posts in September 2023!
And to hold you over … check out these steamy romances (and a freebie!)
FREE READ 👇
Title: A Little More Hope
Series: Hot Property #2
Author: Pauley J. Ray
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: 07/18/2023
Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex
Genre: Contemporary, Age-gap, Alpha Males, Businessmen, Physical Assault, Coming Out, Sexual Discovery, Hurt/Comfort, PTSD/Post-traumatic stress, Slow Burn
After a vicious assault leaves him a virtual recluse, businessman Mason Wilder escapes to his friend’s beach house in the small seaside town of Melrose Bay to heal and come to terms with the shadow of the man he has become.
When Ashton Michaels, wanderer, surfer, loner, unexpectedly inherits a rundown shack of a house, he must decide: keep running from his disastrous past relationships or return to the place he loves, finally put down some roots, and learn to live life with all its consequences.
After a chance encounter with his elusive next-door neighbor, Ash can see Mason is hurting and it releases his protective, caring side and he knows he’ll do anything he can to aid the handsome, broken man in such desperate need of help.
Mason initially resists the offer of help from Ash, but the guy is persistent and for reasons he can’t figure out, Mason feels drawn to him. When Ash decides to keep and renovate his new home, impulsively Mason joins him and in the process of rebuilding the house, Mason begins to rebuild his life and confront his fears.
He must also learn to come to terms with his unexpected attraction to a man for the first time in his life. Ash is a solid, comforting, and caring presence and offers Mason everything he’s been searching for since his brutal attack.
Ash is falling hard for the quiet and troubled man he’s spending all his time with but is worried the past will only repeat itself and Mason will leave him all alone like everyone else.
Can Mason finally put his demons to rest to move forward with his life and will Ash be able prevent his fear of being left behind from ruining his chance at love?
A Little More Hope
Pauley J. Ray © 2023
All Rights Reserved
A single word encompassing a whole world of images and feelings.
Cozy nights in front of the TV.
Being held in the arms of a loved one.
Safe. Something I recognized with bone-deep certainty I’d never feel ever again.
Rinsing the suds from my body along with my dark thoughts, I shut off the water and opened the shower door, cooler air filling the stall, setting off goose bumps along my skin. Grabbing the nearest towel and carefully drying myself off, I hissed at the tenderness in my muscles as I bent to rub my legs, the pain from my damaged ribs a constant ache in my side.
Shit, I was a mess.
After padding into the bedroom, I dressed carefully in clean sweatpants and a T-shirt, mindful of my injuries. I wasn’t trying to impress anyone, least of all Gabe, who’d already seen me at my worst. I wasn’t going out and hadn’t since the first day I’d gotten out of the hospital, so who cared what I wore?
Running my fingers through my damp hair to settle the too long strands in place, I emerged from the bedroom to see Gabe in the kitchen, his jacket now hanging on the barstool. He’d pulled a couple of plates from the cupboard and set them out on the countertop, ready for the food.
When I reentered the living area, Gabe pressed a couple of buttons on the microwave. “You were in there awhile, so I decided to give them a reheat,” he said by way of explanation. When the bell pinged, he retrieved the two sandwiches, and unwrapping them from their paper packaging, placed them on the plates.
“Sorry,” I mumbled, “I didn’t realize I’d taken so long.”
He shrugged. “No problem,” and he gestured with his head as he picked up the plates. “Go sit.”
I carefully sat down in my favorite black leather armchair as he handed me my sandwich before he settled on the sofa to my right.
We sat together in silence. He was waiting for me to speak, but I didn’t have much to say. To give myself thinking time, I picked up my food and took a large bite of my sandwich. The sweetness of the salt beef slid over my tastebuds before the bitter sauerkraut came after. After days of nothing, the simple meal tasted delicious.
“So?” Gabe’s tone made me inwardly groan.
Putting down my sandwich I gave him a direct look. “I’m fine. Okay?”
He scoffed. “So fine you’ve not left your apartment in over a week?”
I sighed. I’d been doing a lot of that lately.
“Look, Gabe.” I stopped talking, as whatever I said next would be a lie. I wasn’t fine, but I wasn’t sure how to go about fixing my mess, or how to express my thoughts clearly enough to tell him so.
I wasn’t sure about anything anymore.
Sitting forward on the edge of the sofa, Gabe gave me a sympathetic smile. I fucking hated it. “Look, I know it’s a struggle, and I get it.” He held up his hands. “And I’m not trying to patronize you.”
I gave a slight head tilt, in appreciation of him saying so.
“But you can’t continue on this way. You do know that, right?”
Deep down, I did, but any decisions about how to move forward with my life were all so muddled in my mind that I struggled to find a way out.
“I do,” I replied. “But it’s hard. There’s so much noise in my head, but I can’t work out how to make it stop.”
“Maybe you should take a break for a while, get a change of scenery.”
I frowned. “Change of scenery?”
“Yeah, get out of the city for a bit. Relax.”
“Relax?” I kept repeating him, but for some reason, his words weren’t registering.
“Is there an echo in here?” he deadpanned. “Yes, get away, relax.”
Hmm, maybe. I’d not thought about leaving the city, preferring to barricade myself inside my apartment behind a solid closed door where no one could get to me. But leaving my sanctuary meant being exposed, being vulnerable, and I wasn’t comfortable with the concept at all.
Regardless, I mulled his comments over, and in theory, I agreed my current situation wasn’t healthy, and I’d reluctantly admit to going a little stir crazy, but venturing out into the city unnerved me. All the noise and the people, the narrow side streets and alleyways made me shudder inwardly. But going somewhere quiet, somewhere peaceful, away from everyone and everything currently reminding me of my assault?
“Where would I go?” I asked, unable to recall the last time I’d not worked in the office twelve or more hours a day, at least six days a week. Even if traveling to inspect a construction project in another city, I’d be on-site all day and ordering room service in the evening. I’d never had any time at all to relax and unwind.
Despite being the partner in charge of our luxury eco hotels and resorts, I didn’t have any clue where to go now.
“I have the perfect place,” he replied, answering my unspoken thought.
“Oh?” I waited expectantly for him to elaborate.
“I’ve a house a few hours up the coast in a small community, so not too many people to contend with. The place is perfect. On the edge of town and overlooking the sea, there’s even direct access to a beach only the locals tend to use.”
I stared at the man on the sofa opposite me. Gabe, who thrived on excitement and adventure, who loved nothing more than immersing himself in all the activities a major city had to offer, and I mean all, had a second home, a beach house in a quiet coastal town?
“You have a beach house?” I sputtered, incredulity clear in my voice. “Somewhere… quiet?”
Gabe snickered, “Glad to know I can still surprise you, but yep”—he held up his hands—“guilty as charged.”
A dark shadow crossed his face, making me frown. When the penny dropped, I could have kicked myself. Of course, this was after his split with Karl and David.
“Sorry, I should have thought.”
He waved my apology off. “It is, what it is,” he stated far too blandly, making it obvious, despite being over two years since their split, the wounds remained painfully open. “I needed somewhere to regroup. To sort my head out. My assistant told me about the place. Apparently, her mom and dad love it, so I thought ‘what the hell’ and went to check it out.”
“I’m guessing you liked what you saw?”
A genuine smile crossed his face this time, one actually reaching his eyes. “I did, and when the house I rented came up for sale last year, I bought the place.”
Gabe stared at me squarely. “So I do know something of what I’m talking about. Okay, the scenario’s not the same as yours, but I understand the need to get away and work through your trauma at your own pace, and with minimal distractions. To remove yourself from familiarity to regain some semblance of order and control over your life.”
He’d hit the nail smack bang on the head, as that’s exactly how I felt.
“It’s yours if you want it,” he said, and I instantly wanted to grab this lifeline he offered and so badly needed. As if sensing my mood, he sat back and shoved his hand into his pants pocket, and pulling out a single key, he placed it on the coffee table between us. “I got an extra one cut,” he explained. “I’ll email you the directions this afternoon.”
“You’re so sure I’d go?” I asked, picking up the paper.
“Hell, no, but I like to be prepared.”
“Thank you.” Some of the tension I’d carried around the last couple of weeks melted away. “Really, thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” he replied simply as he pointed at the food on my plate. “Now eat. You look like a scrawny ass chicken for fuck’s sake.”
Meet the Author
Pauley J Ray has been making up stories in his head for as long as he can remember, and now gets to write those stories down in his own gay romantic fiction, involving sexy, complicated, and flawed characters searching for their happily ever after.
When not writing, he loves meeting up with friends and can’t wait to get outdoors with his husband, hiking, camping and traveling to new and exciting places as often as they can.
He feels extremely lucky to be able to sit at his laptop, all day, every day, creating the heartfelt, angsty and passionate romance books he himself loves to read.
One lucky winner will receive a $50.00 NineStar Press Gift Code!
Gator Bait Series 7
Lani Lynn Vale
RELEASE: June 27, 2023
About the Book
Normally when you say, “I have a stalker,” you think bad thoughts. That wasn’t the kind of stalker Folsom was when it came to Kobe Sano. Folsom liked to call herself a “guardian angel in disguise.”
The first time he catches her attention, he’s been assigned to hunt her down and throw away the key. All she did was steal someone else’s child. Well, embryo, that is. What Kobe doesn’t know, though, is the man that hired him is up to no good, and she has no other choice but to run without looking back.
From that moment on, she spends the rest of her spare time running away from him while also digging into every nook and cranny of his personal life, finding every weakness he has and utilizing it any way she needs to keep herself one step ahead of him.
Only one day, when she goes to do her usual snooping, she finds out that not only is her favorite person in trouble, but he’s also in need of her help.
Too bad it takes her years to find that help.
Her next step is to break him out of the pokey prison-break style.
If she knew he’d go without question, she very well might have.
It didn’t take a genius to know when someone was stalking you. The signs were all there, and they eventually pointed right at Folsom.
When he figures it out, he plans to confront her and maybe address the silent sexual tension that’s been brewing between them for the last few years.
However, right when he’s ready to admit to himself that she might be the one—daughter who intimidates the hell out of him or not—she up and disappears for a year.
In that year, he spends every waking moment searching for her.
And eventually he finds her, confronts her, and is hit in the face with the secrets she’s kept from him for years.
One of which is a big one.
The daughter that she protects with everything she has—the one that he’s come to love with all his heart, just like her mom—is the very abducted child from his one and only unsolved case.
Book Review – 5 stars
Kobe and Folsom are my new favorite couple!
This one has everything… action, suspense, heat, and a precocious child you can’t help but love. As with most of Ms. Vale’s stories, at least one character has a unique health issue — or in this case two of them do. I love that part of these books. It was also amazing to see how much Kobe overcame by the end of the book.
As always, Ms. Vale didn’t disappoint. Hands down an amazing book! She offers an intriguing story, fascinating and well developed characters, and a happy ending that will leave you smiling. What’s not to love?
Disclaimer: I received an ARC and am voluntarily leaving a review. The review above is only my opinion.
BEGINNING OF FOREVER
D’Angelo’s, Book 3
Release Date: June 27, 2023
Gio and Emma.
Reluctant heroine meets a player on a sexual sabbatical.
He wants to get married, she wants nothing to do with that.
The last D’Angelo finds his forever.
“What are the chances of that?” he asked.
“Three hundred and sixty-five to one.”
He handed her back her license. “No. It’s much greater than that. Two people from the same part of the world, meet in a different part of the world, who both had birthday gifts that put them in the same place at the same time. Some might call that a sign.” He knew she was listening.
“What kind of sign?”
“That we were meant to meet.” He leaned forward, stared into her eyes.
She paused. “You’re suggesting romantically.”
“I didn’t say that . . . but now that you mention it.” He liked that her mind went there right along with his.
“Did you forget about the part where you’re looking for ‘the one’ and I’m not looking at all?”
Gio couldn’t help it. He looked at her lips and wondered briefly how she would taste. “Minor crossroads, bella,” he said.
She shook her head. “You’re one hell of a flirt.”
“Says the woman who asked me if her butt looked good in her pants.”
She giggled. “Touché.”
“It’s okay. I’m a patient man.” He wasn’t, actually . . . but the white lie sounded good to his ears.
“Is that your way of saying you’re going to wear down my defenses?” Emma asked.
“I’m sure as hell going to try.”
Her cheeks lit up, her smile didn’t falter. “Men never talk to me like you do.”
“I’m not like other men.”
“And if I tell you that you’re wasting your time?” she asked.
“It’s my time to waste.”
She blinked several times. “It was the bathing suit, wasn’t it?”
It was his turn to laugh. “A vision that will come up every time I close my eyes.”
“I wasn’t looking for a compliment.”
“Yes, you were. But no, cara, the swimsuit, while a bonus, is not what is prompting me to try.” She intrigued him on every level.
“Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Catherine is a #1 Wall Street Journal, Amazon, and Indie Reader bestselling author. In addition, her books have also graced The New York Times and USA Today bestsellers lists. In total she has written thirty-nine beloved books that have collectively sold more than 10 million copies and have been translated into more than twenty languages.
Raised in Washington State, Bybee moved to Southern California in the hope of becoming a movie star. After growing bored with waiting tables, she returned to school and became a registered nurse, spending most of her career in urban emergency rooms. She now writes full time and has penned the Not Quite series, The Weekday Brides series, the Most Likely To series, and the First Wives series. Learn more about Catherine and her books at www.catherinebybee.com
Date Published: April 2023
In the heart of San Francisco, an extraordinary journey begins when a young
woman steps into the realm of a charismatic billionaire, unearthing the
depths of his soul and discovering her own untapped desires…
Enter a world of wealth, power, and unpredictable desire… When
Stephanie, a driven and determined young woman, accepts the position as
billionaire Henry’s new assistant, she becomes an integral part of his
high-stakes world. Drawn to his charisma and success, she discovers that
there is much more to Henry than meets the eye.
As Stephanie delves deeper into her role, she witnesses Henry’s enigmatic
personality firsthand. The allure of his riches and handsomeness is
countered by moments of harshness and indifference, leaving Stephanie torn
between attraction and resentment. Yet, fate has plans in store for them
When an unexpected business conference takes them to the vibrant city of
San Diego, Stephanie finds herself drawn into a world where secrets unravel
and hearts collide. In the midst of shared experiences, forgiveness takes
root, and Stephanie must confront her hidden feelings for Henry. But when
she discovers she carries a life-altering secret, the stakes are raised, and
their entangled lives are forever changed.
Will Stephanie and Henry’s journey lead them to embrace their undeniable
connection, or will the secrets they carry drive them apart?
Lose yourself in this captivating tale of a billionaire’s assistant,
ambition, and the secrets that bind them…
About the Author
Marie Ribarik, author of Falling In Love With An Obnoxious
My debut novel, “Falling in Love with an Obnoxious
Billionaire,” is a captivating read that has received high praise from
readers. Drawing inspiration from my love of reading, my contemporary
romance novels transport readers to new worlds filled with unforgettable
characters and unforgettable love stories.
With over 25 years of living in California and working as an Oncology
Registered Nurse, I now reside in the Palm Beach area with my family and
want to pursue my secondary dream which is to become a writer. I have always
been a passionate novelist, poet, and writer who believes that the
power to change one’s life lies in their thoughts and words.
Since I have more time available to me now, I decided to write. It is like
trading syringes for pens, paper, and a computer. Thanks to Amazon’s
KDP platform, I have self-published my work with less anxiety, allowing me
to focus on what I love most – writing. If you are looking for a
romance author who will take you on an unforgettable journey of love and
self-discovery, look no further than my Marie Ribarik. My next novel
is right around the corner.
Contemporary Romance (BDSM, kink)
Date Published: 06-21-2023
Heather’s soul soars when she’s hang-gliding, skydiving,
kayaking, or piloting a helicopter during search and rescue missions.
She’s taken the term adrenaline junkie to a whole new level. However,
she’s never enjoyed sex and never had an orgasm.
Instead of giving up on her, Kyle, a long-time friend who convinces her to
be more, brings an experienced Dom in to help. Marcus explains she only
enjoys extreme sports, so she needs to try extreme sex since the normal kind
hasn’t worked. Marcus is all Dom, and helps Kyle bring Heather alive
Just when Heather thinks she has everything figured out, she learns the
details of how it worked when the two men shared a girlfriend for years
while they were in college.
About the Author
Candace Blevins writes urban fantasy, paranormal romance, contemporary BDSM
romance, and two kick-ass motorcycle club series. With more than sixty
published novels, Candace continues to create stories with strong women, and
she pulls from her vast knowledge of mythologies, ancient religions, and
history to create a paranormal world that fits neatly into our real
She lives with her husband of twenty-five years and their youngest
daughter. Their oldest daughter has flown the nest, but frequently comes
home for visits. The family’s beloved, goofy, retired racing
greyhounds are usually at her side as she writes, quietly keeping her
company. Or sometimes not so quietly.
You can visit Candace on the web at candaceblevins.com and feel free to
friend her on Facebook at facebook.com/candacesblevins, TikTok at
tiktok.com/@candaceblevins, and Goodreads at goodreads.com/CandaceBlevins.
You can also join facebook.com/groups/CandacesKinksters to get sneak peeks
into what she’s writing now, images that inspire her, and the
occasional juicy teaser.
A Plague of Mercies
Publication date: June 7th 2023
Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Poetry, Romance
A lethal plague sweeps the globe. Millions have died. Survivors are confined to their homes.
Gabriel passes his time in a small New York apartment on the city’s Upper West Side. During the plodding solitude of the lockdown, he observes several strangers in their nearby apartments. As he watches them struggle to survive a world at risk of extinction, he wonders about their lives—where they’re from, what they value, how they’re coping with a deadly contagion. All alone, he develops a vague yet important connection to these people, an affection for those who are struggling to survive isolation, fear and looming death.
Told in powerful, spellbinding free verse, Gabriel’s observations grow deeper and more elaborate as the endless days pass. But when he and a woman from across the street begin to watch each other from afar, his imagination begins to collide with the bleak reality of the times.
There is a woman who lives in a building in New York City,
on the Upper West Side.
A man just a few years older lives in a building across the street.
These two people live at the same elevation,
the same height,
one hundred feet above the pavement,
above the crust of the earth.
They can see into each other’s apartments.
Every night before the woman gets into bed
she puts on a threadbare gray shirt.
The shirt is long and sleeveless and extends down to her knees.
She turns off the ceiling light
and then turns on a nightlight near her bed.
The light casts an amber glow reminiscent of a campfire.
The man in the other apartment wonders if the nightlight
is the woman’s response to a fear of the dark,
to a threat real or imagined,
an antidote of sorts.
After she turns on the nightlight
she looks briefly through her window.
Perhaps she is reflecting on another day passed.
Perhaps she is considering the quality of her life,
or the quantity that remains.
Perhaps she is scanning the dark street for signs of life,
for hope in any of its many forms.
Adam Pelzman was born in Seattle, raised in northern New Jersey, and has spent most of his life in New York City. He studied Russian literature at the University of Pennsylvania and went to law school at UCLA. His first novel, Troika, was published by Penguin (Amy Einhorn Books) and later republished by Jackson Heights Press as A Cuban Russian American Love Story. He is also the author of The Papaya King (which Kirkus Reviews described as “entrancing” and “deeply memorable”) and The Boy and the Lake (which is set in New Jersey during the late 1960s). His newest novel is A Plague of Mercies.
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ALONG CAME CHARLIE
Release Date: May 15
FREE ON KINDLE UNLIMITED
New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author S.L. Scott brings the charm and romance,
smiles and laughs to Along Came Charlie. This friends-to-more novel is packed with heartfelt
emotion reminiscent of the best of chick lit of the past with a modern twist for today’s
I’ll be your date, and you’ll be mine.
Who says a funeral can’t be romantic?
Okay, everyone. Including myself.
That doesn’t stop the rumor mill from turning when I show up with a beautiful redhead on my
That redhead also just happens to be a stranger, relatively speaking. Charlotte Barrow and I
have run into each other a few times—on the subway, at a bar, and now on our way to
separate funerals. Instead of the prodigal son who let his parents down showing up alone, I
traded favors and brought a date. The deal made sense at the time.
You be my date, and I’ll be yours.
Who knew bringing a date to your ex-fiancé’s funeral would cause such a stir?
Technically, I did.
I invited him anyway for moral support. It didn’t hurt that he was handsome.
The cold-hearted stares that greeted us didn’t matter. We found comfort in each other and
formed a friendship from there. Charles Adams was nothing like my ex. The pressure wasn’t
there to be anyone other than who I was. He also loved my cupcakes as much as I enjoyed his
I always dreamed of finding my soul mate, and then along came Charlie. My perfect match was
right here all along. Did I realize it too late?
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Meet S.L. Scott:
Scott writes character driven, heart-racing, and swoony romances to suspense that will leave you glued to the page. Her stories are regarded as emotion-filled and soulful. With stories ranging from light and witty beach reads to heart wrenching and heart healing, Scott has a story for all readers. Her books are more than escapes for the voracious readers of today. They are journeys of the heart that always come with a happily ever after reward at the end.
Keep up with S.L. Scott and subscribe to her newsletter https://www.slscottauthor.com/thescoop/
To learn more about S.L. Scott & her books, visit here!
Connect with S.L. Scott:
Title: Diversion Plan
Series: Rooms For Romance, Book Two
Author: Tag Gregory
Publisher: Tag Gregory
Release Date: 4/21/23
Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex
Genre: Romance, Contemporary Romance, LGBTQ, MM Romance, Gay Romance
Brent Riddick has been up to his armpits in work ever since he started his job as the Truman School’s manager. He admits he probably qualifies as a workaholic, although he doesn’t really care. He’s simply more comfortable standing in front of a board meeting than sitting in a cocktail lounge and has no desire to examine his lack of a social life. So it isn’t a big deal to him that he sorta forgets it’s his birthday.
Unfortunately his staff, led by the hotel’s sexiest troublemaker, Guthrie, remembers the occasion and Brent is begrudgingly forced to allow his co-workers to take him out for drinks. However, when all those birthday drinks go to Brent’s head and he ends up going home with an equally drunken Guthrie, things get a little more complicated.
Guthrie Walker is the kind of guy who always knows where the next party is happening. He also has a Plan B Party and a Plan C Party if his original party plans fall through. He’s still young and figures there’ll be plenty of time later to get serious about life. Drinking and dancing with his friends is definitely more fun than dealing with his messed up finances or dwelling on the festering rift with his family. So what if he occasionally drinks a little too much, does a few club drugs, comes in late to work a time or two, and suffers from an almost perpetual hangover? Everyone does it, right? Too bad the judge overseeing his case after Guthrie is arrested for drug possession doesn’t see things that way.
As if things weren’t messy enough, the court-ordered Diversion Plan requires Guthrie to enlist the help of his supervisor at work – who also happens to be one of Guthrie’s many one-night stands – if he wants to stay out of jail, retain his server’s license, and not lose his job. The hotel is already short-staffed and Brent is too much of a softie to say no to his desperate subordinate. Which is how Brent ends up vouching for Guthrie and agreeing to monitor his compliance with the court’s mandates. Now Brent just has to come up with a way to divert the party boy’s attention away from his club-scene past and himself away from lusting after his hot mess employee.
Chapter 1 – Brent
It’s not my fault that I’m so busy I sorta forget my own birthday.
The past six months, ever since I was hired as the manager of the Truman School, have been wild. I’ve been so busy that I rarely even remember what day of the week it is, let alone the actual date. Unless, of course, there’s some critically important work event I need to know the date of; those dates I remember because I’m paid well not to forget them. Personal stuff, though . . . Not so much.
The first three months leading up to the Grand Opening of the hotel were filled with hiring staff, overseeing the remodeling of the building, and working with the PR team to plan the opening. Most of that time I was working fourteen hour days, six or seven days a week. Things only slowed down incrementally following the opening. Being the manager, I end up being the one expected to handle all the problems and, for some reason, those problems always happen at the least opportune times. Primarily weekends and the middle of the night, it seems. I don’t think I’ve really taken a relaxed breath since starting this job.
Not that I really mind. I guess I probably qualify as a ‘work-a-holic’ but that’s fine with me. I’d rather be too busy than not busy enough. Work is good. I’m good at what I do. I like knowing that I’m appreciated. I like hearing the accolades from my bosses at McNally’s. I really like that I’ve already received one merit-based promotion despite being with the company less than a year. Plus, when I’m up to my armpits in work shit, I don’t have time to worry about anything else. So, generally speaking, I don’t complain about being too busy. Life is easier when you’ve got a purpose and, since I don’t have much of a life outside of work right now, that’s really my only purpose.
However, this weekend is proving especially hectic, what with it being Labor Day. The last official weekend of Summer is traditionally one of the busiest times of the year in the hospitality industry and, happily, the hotel is booked to capacity. It doesn’t help matters that our chef up and quit on me last week and the replacement, Easton, is not one hundred percent up to speed yet. Or that I’m immersed in marketing meetings with Ryan Zellers and the McNally’s PR team most of the weekend. Or that Ryan and his boyfriend – our ex-artist, Jayce – invited most of the staff to join them for dinner on Friday night. Or that the plumbing in the north wing backed up on Saturday afternoon. Or that any of the hundreds of other things that I’ve had to worry about this weekend have been taking up any spare brain capacity I might have left over.
Anyway, it’s no wonder I’m far too preoccupied with the daily crises of managing a full hotel to notice that this year September sixth – my birthday – falls on the first Monday of the month. I’m not sure whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing that Logan, my assistant manager, remembers the occasion. I’m afraid that I probably look a little confused, though, when my team surprises me with an impromptu celebration just as soon as I give the okay to the restaurant staff to close up the Courtyard kitchen at nine-thirty that Monday evening.
“For he’s a jolly good fellow . . .” They all sing as Malia emerges from the kitchen with a Jaciva chocolate cake festooned with three largish candles.
The fact that they aren’t singing the traditional birthday song adds to my confusion. “What’s this for?” I ask as the group circles round the table where the cake has been placed and I’m pushed down into a chair facing the confection. “Are you folks angling for promotions or something?”
“I told you he’d forget.” Logan gives a conspiratorial laugh. “Happy birthday, Brent!”
“Happy birthday, Boss!” the crowd echos.
I look around and see the faces of pretty much the entire hotel staff staring at me: Logan, Guthrie, Easton, Wyatt, Keshawn, Perry, Tasha, and all the rest. I note that even Mark has come by this evening, despite working out of corporate headquarters most of the time. I smile around at them lamely and try to look happy at being ambushed, even though I hate being made the center of attention like this. I’ve never been overly comfortable in social situations, especially when I haven’t had time to prepare something to say or figure out how I’m supposed to act. It’s different when I’m standing in a boardroom or in front of a staff meeting. Those I can handle. But random surprise parties where I’m the guest of honor are a whole ‘nother thing.
I can feel my skin heating up and I try to fight back the blush I feel creeping up from under the collar of my shirt. Being a redhead, I can’t control the fact that my ruddy skin usually gives me away any time I’m feeling embarrassed or put on the spot. I try not to let myself get caught out like this too often. I’m the fucking manager after all; I can’t be going around blushing like a school-girl in front of my staff. Apparently my body doesn’t understand the need to maintain a professional demeanor, though, and that stupid blush takes over, no doubt turning my cheeks almost as red as my beard. But I try to smile anyway as I laugh at myself along with the rest.
“Thank you. But you didn’t have to do this.” I gesture at the cake and try to bat away the hands attempting to pull the elastic strap of a paper birthday hat under my chin. “Really. You shouldn’t have . . .”
“Of course we should,” Logan insists, pulling out the chair across from me and smiling in an officious manner as they seat themselves. “Celebrating staff birthdays together is part of the fun of working here – or so it says in the McNally’s Team Policy Manual – but I knew you wouldn’t take the time to celebrate on your own, so I made the executive decision to ensure you at least sat down long enough to eat a piece of cake. And, after the ridiculously busy weekend we all just had, everyone deserves a party. Including you. Now, be a good boss and pretend to enjoy yourself.”
I know they’re only teasing so I try to play along. “Who has time for birthdays?” I respond, causing several of the party to chuckle.
“C’mon, Boss. You’d think someone born on ‘Labor Day’ would at least remember when to celebrate!” Someone in the back – I think it’s probably that smart-ass, Guthrie – calls out.
And, yes, I’m aware of the irony of the fact that the celebration of my birth is happening on ‘Labor Day’ this year. My poor mother, going into labor on ‘Labor Day’ thirty years ago, no doubt also thought it hilarious at the time. However, since my birthday and the holiday coincide about every six or seven years, I’ve definitely heard that joke more than a few times. It wasn’t funny the first four times I heard it, and I’m not really that amused now either. But I can’t be ungracious when they’re all trying to be nice by throwing me this party so I offer an awkward smile and fake a chuckle.
Did I mention how much I hate uncomfortable social situations?
Then another voice from the crowd – Guthrie again, I assume, because nobody else would dare to be that flippant with the boss – urges me to, “make a wish and blow already!” which, of course, leads to more teasing and joking.
What else can I do? I can’t just walk out of my own birthday party, so I play along, blowing out the candles and accepting a piece of cake. Malia pours beers for everyone who’s already off the clock, and maybe a few who are supposed to still be on the clock, but I turn a blind eye to that minor policy infraction since they’re ostensibly only doing it in my honor. The party carries on from there.
I’m not sure exactly when the party gets so out of control.
One minute we’re sitting around in the empty dining room, drinking beer and eating cake, chatting and laughing about work stuff and the crazy weekend we’d just lived through, and the next minute someone suggests we take the party on the road. I hear Guthrie, the eternal party boy, proposing we all go to Scandals. Several other voices concur. I try to demur, using the pile of administrative paperwork waiting on my desk as an excuse to get out of this little field trip, but I’m shouted down. After all, it’s my party, right? I’m the guest of honor. They all want to buy me more drinks. I might still have backed out, though, if Guthrie wasn’t teasing me so relentlessly.
“Come on, Boss!” The tall, bold blond waggles his eyebrows at me from behind those hipster horned-rimmed glasses of his. “Pull the stick out of your ass and live a little for once!”
I want to tell him to fuck off, and maybe even write him up for talking to his superior in such an improper manner, but that would make me look like an ungrateful jerk. This whole celebration is supposedly for my benefit, right? I’m expected to play along. Which is exactly why I hate social interaction. I feel so awkward; I never know how I’m supposed to react when put on the spot like this. So, despite feeling completely out of my element, I allow myself to be talked into relocating the party to one of Portland’s more well-known gay bars. What the hell, right? I suppose I can allow the diversion this once.
The debauchery progresses rapidly from that point.
I suppose it’s obvious fairly early on that I don’t routinely drink very heavily. I’d had a couple beers back at the Truman School, so I’m already feeling a bit loose when we arrive at Scandals. The team immediately insists that I drink something called a ‘Birthday Cake Shot’ to celebrate my special day. That’s followed up by a Jagerbomb. After that I completely lose track of the seemingly endless rounds of drinks that follow as everyone and their brother offers to buy the Birthday Boy a drink.
Although Scandals isn’t a dance club, per se, at some point during the night the entire Truman team ends up in the middle of the floor, jumping, twisting, gyrating, and dancing together in a big group. Surprisingly, I’m right in the middle of the roiling mess of them and, for once, I’m having a pretty good time, despite my introvert tendencies. The bartender cranks up the tunes. The music is decent and quite danceable. None of us are feeling any pain and the party moves into high gear.
I’m more than halfway sloshed by this point. I will readily admit that all the toasts I’ve been the recipient of have me flying pretty high. I’ve had enough to drink that my inhibitions are pretty nonexistent and I’m relaxed enough not to care how I look anymore. I even give up trying to remove the stupid party hat that my staff insists I keep wearing. I’m having a great time dancing, to be honest – something I usually avoid out of fear of looking like a juvenile red-headed moose having a seizure – which is, unfortunately, my go-to dance move. But I’m just tipsy enough tonight to not give a damn and it feels good to let go for a change.
So, when Guthrie comes up behind me at some point and starts grinding against me from behind I don’t sweat it. I merely laugh and wiggle my ass a little provocatively. Then I toss back the rest of the glowing, fruity blue drink that is currently in my hand and twirl around like some kind of drunken ballerina.
“Oh, so he can dance,” Guthrie says, taking advantage of the smooth tempo of the music to pull me back against him even closer.
I can feel his tall, lanky body pressed up against me from behind and then his hips do this swivel thing that causes his crotch to grind into the crack of my ass. I don’t even bother trying to stifle the groan that escapes from my lips at that move. It’s been a hella long time since I had anyone grinding up against me and I’m not about to waste the experience. Especially not when it’s a hot blond like Guthrie.
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Meet the Author
TAG has been living in Portland, Oregon, so long that it’s almost like being a native. They don’t even mind the rain that much anymore. TAG loves the city and the state with a passion. TAG has been writing for almost a decade, starting out with a hesitant toe in the realm of fanfiction before venturing into the scarier world of self-publishing original works. With an eclectic background as an attorney, microbiologist, all-around nerd, and adventurer, TAG brings to all their writing an off-kilter sense of humor, unbounded curiosity, a love of historical and contemporary details, and astonishing powers of research. If you are looking for a gripping story, with compelling characters that deal with real world issues, then you’re in the right place.