New Release Blitz: The New Next One by Ryan Taylor & Joshua Harwood #sportsromance #LGBTQ @RyanTaylorandJ1

Title: The New Next One

Author: Ryan Taylor & Joshua Harwood

Publisher: Wainscott Press

Release Date: January 22, 2021

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 20,000 words

Genre: Romance, New Adult, Friends-to-lovers, new adult romance, hockey romance, sports romance

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Synopsis

How much are you willing to give up for the man you love?

Best friends Nick Johnson and Tyler Jensen seem to have the world by the tail. The eighteen-year-old stars of their school’s hockey team are looking forward to playing in college and hoping for careers with the pros.

Nick and Tyler know a lot about each other, but there are a few important details they haven’t discussed. To start with, neither man knows the other is gay. Making things interesting, Nick has a massive crush on Tyler, something he’s kept to himself for a long time. And although he’s never said a word about it, Tyler has wanted to date Nick since they met.

On a cold Minnesota night after a big win, Tyler finds the courage to confess his feelings to Nick. When Nick admits his attraction to Tyler, their relationship turns on a dime. As they fall in love, they skate around the challenges of a secret romance in an all-male boarding school, but what will happen when the stakes rise dramatically in a sport not known for being gay-friendly? Will Nick and Tyler make the easy choice or the hard one?

The New Next One is a 20,000-word, new adult, friends-to-lovers romance featuring young athletes, plenty of steam, and a lot of emotion. The events of this book precede those told in the authors’ book Nice Catching You.

Excerpt

The two of us bundled up and walked south along the lakeshore. We talked about different things—school, what was going on in the NHL, and the big celebration of our championship that would happen the next week when everyone was back on campus. Ty reached for my hand after we passed the cabin. Even with both of us wearing mittens, it felt incredibly good to be out walking on a beautiful day, openly showing affection with my boyfriend. By the time you’re eighteen, holding hands with somebody you’re dating probably doesn’t seem exciting to most people; for me, it was huge, and I wanted to shout out loud. Instead, I pulled us to a stop and kissed him.

Afterward, he tweaked my nose. “I know everybody we play against thinks you’re a real bastard, but you’re actually a sweetheart.”

I gave it right back to him. “They all think you’re a bastard too. Haven’t decided where I stand on that.”

“What do you mean?” He turned his head to the side, looking very cute with tufts of hair sticking out from under his Penguins beanie. “I’ve always been nice to you.”

“I guess so.” I gave him another peck. “Why’d you make me wait all these years?”

I made you wait? Hell, I’m the one who finally worked up enough courage to do something about it.”

Turning him loose, I backhanded his arm and made a silly face. “I guess I’m glad about that.”

His jaw fell into an open-mouthed smile, and he shook his head. “Every man for himself, Johnson!”

He took off running, and I laughed hard as he bent over to pick up a fistful of snow. Quickly shaping it into a ball, he threw it at me and missed by a mile.

“You throw like a girl, Jensie!” I followed that up with a snowball of my own, hitting him in the middle of the chest.

“That’s it, you’re really gonna get it now!”

An epic snowball fight followed as we whooped and hollered, tossing chirps back and forth almost as fast as we volleyed snowballs. We worked our way into the woods as we ran. Ty was a good shot, and we played like little boys on recess after a hard morning at school. When we were both covered with snow and out of breath, Tyler stared at me until my heart raced with anticipation. Finally, he broke into a run. His hug was bone-crushing, and the hungry kisses were messy and delicious. The moment was all fire and promise, and I couldn’t wait to get back to the dorm. He pulled away from my mouth and mumbled, “You’re the most beautiful thing I ever saw, Nick.”

I huffed in cold air while my heart tried to hammer through my ribcage. “Not as beautiful as you.” I pulled him closer for a slow, deep kiss, and when that finally broke, he got a naughty gleam in his eye.

“We’re already covered with snow, so—” He pushed hard, and I tumbled backward into a snowbank. He jumped on top of me, and we wrestled around, making out while we laughed and played. My scarf slipped out of place, and Ty kissed my throat over and over, making me as hard as one of the trees surrounding us. After more rolling around, I was on top, and we lay humping in the snow. We had on heavy parkas, and it was too cold to take off any clothes, so our game was destined to end in frustration. All the better for a mind-blowing first time later that night.

We’d long since removed our mittens, and when we stilled, I wiped some snow off his cheek. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I’ve never felt this way before.”

“Nothing’s wrong, Nick. Everything’s right for once. We’ve got each other.”

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Meet the Authors

Ryan Taylor and Joshua Harwood met in law school and were married in 2017. They live in a suburb of Washington, DC, and share their home with a big, cuddly German shepherd. Ryan and Josh enjoy travel, friends, and advocating for causes dear to their hearts. Ryan also loves to swim, and Josh likes to putter in the garden whenever he can. The romance they were so lucky to find with each other inspires their stories about love between out and proud men.

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Release Blitz: Love Kills Twice by Rien Gray #LGBTQ #ContemporaryRomance @riengray @GoIndiMarketing

Title: Love Kills Twice

Series: Fatal Fidelity

Author: Rien Gray

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: 01/18/2021

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: F/NB

Length: 39500

Genre: Contemporary, LGBTQIA+, contemporary, assassin, artist, bi, dark, pan, nonbinary, interracial, murder-for-hire, murder, ex-military, guns, sexual tension

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Description

She needs an assassin.
They’re the best in the business.
Falling in love was never part of the deal.

Desperate to escape her abusive husband, Justine hires a contract killer. Campbell’s services come at a high price, and their dark, seductive charisma leads Justine right into their bed. Hiding an affair while Campbell designs the perfect murder has Justine walking a tightrope of stress, but each time the two of them sleep together, it’s harder not to get attached. Campbell struggles with their own traumatic past, convinced that the truth will drive Justine away.

There’s a faint hope that things could work, save for one problem: Justine’s husband wants her dead too.

Revenge is easy—heartbreak could cost both of them everything.

Excerpt

Love Kills Twice
Rien Gray © 2020
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One
Justine

I always imagined hiring an assassin would go differently.

There would be at least one dark alley, a furtive phone call, an exchange in cash⁠—of course it’s cash—and the curse of waiting afterward, whether for the police to arrive or finding out my money went to a fraud.

Instead, I’m sitting in Ortolana, one of the nicest restaurants in Chicago, trying to decide if ordering a rare steak is too on the nose. The server eyes me with refined impatience since my dining companion made their choice in a few brisk words: black coffee, the yellowtail collar, no appetizer.

If this is one of the last meals I ever eat because I had my husband killed, I’m indulging in the steak.

“Anything else for you, ma’am?” the server asks, mouth tight.

I smile. Better to be remembered as polite, if I’m remembered at all. “No, thank you.”

When he disappears with our order, they⁠—Campbell⁠—give a minute shake of their head, amusement a glint in gray eyes. “Not gunning for a tip, is he?”

“Maybe I don’t look like I have money.” To be fair, the fifty thousand dollars I’d spent a decade saving was about to go to the person across from me. “Or he thinks you’re the one who’s paying the check.”

From the outside, it must seem like a date. I’d delved to the back of my closet for a slinky black dress that’s been kissing mothballs since Richard and I attended his holiday office party. My makeup is just this side of sultry, but that isn’t for Campbell’s sake. Painting confidence on my skin with a nice red lipstick and dark eyeshadow is what I needed before I could walk out of the house: a sharp, composed mask.

Their suit is a breath away from black, but in any shift of light, the true cobalt of the linen shines through. Campbell eschews a tie, leaving the top two buttons of a crisp white dress shirt open without any adornment. It bares a triangle of sun-touched skin and the sharp edge of their collarbones.

I deal in paintings, but Campbell is more of a classic statue: sculpted jaw, full mouth, and cheekbones that could blunt a chisel. An aquiline nose adds to the effect, and Campbell’s chestnut hair is tamed in a professional cut. It’s an older style, with an understated elegance.

If we passed on the street, I would have let my gaze linger, but nothing about Campbell says “killer.” Maybe my assumptions are lost in that fictional back alley, chasing black leather gloves and silenced pistols.

“I’m not what you expected, am I, Justine?”

The question snaps me back to the present, and I’m not sure how long I’ve been staring at Campbell⁠—or exactly when they caught me. “Sorry. I’m not doubting your…qualifications.”

A tease of blue plays across each shoulder when Campbell laces their fingers together. “What surprises you the most?”

I cut my teeth on a hundred answers, starting with the locale and ending with the fact that they look more like an executive than an assassin, but the devil is in the details. “The coffee, I think. It’s almost seven at night.”

Campbell’s smile is a half-inch flash of teeth. “I tend to operate at night, but I can rarely indulge in caffeine.”

Nights, of course. This dance around the obvious is practically a farce, but it’s not like I want to announce my true intentions to the Friday night crowd. Our booth is in the corner, but it’s not soundproofed. “Why not?”

“It can make your hands shake.” They gesture to punctuate the point. “Which is a problem when I’m working. For a business dinner, not so much.”

Our server returns with the drink in question, setting an elegant cup on a saucer in front of Campbell. Despite a kneejerk longing for wine, I’m glad I stuck to water. I need to keep my wits about me.

When Campbell brings the coffee to their lips, it’s a fluid movement, surgical in its precision. I wonder what those hands can do⁠—will do⁠—to Richard. A gun would be easiest, I guess, but that’s far beyond the only way to kill someone.

He’ll never hit me again. He’ll never cheat on me again. He’ll never treat me like an ignorant girl, oblivious to nights at the university getting longer and our bed getting colder. I won’t be trotted out like a trophy in front of his fellow professors, who chuckle at his brilliance without having the first clue that I funded both of his degrees. I might even have friends in the future, ones he won’t drive away inch by humiliating inch.

“You really are sure about this,” Campbell says softly, setting their cup back down. Porcelain touches porcelain without a sound.

“Of course I am.”

Acid clings to my tongue, eating at the accusation, but they take it in stride with another fleeting smile. “That’s part of the reasons I take my clients out to dinner, Justine. To make sure there are no doubts. Once I accept a contract, I don’t stop until it’s done.”

A wave of embarrassment douses me, tightening my throat. “Right. I’m sorry. It feels like I’ve been taking everything personally lately.”

At least, according to Richard.

“You keep apologizing, but you don’t have to.” The shine in their eyes isn’t amusement this time; it’s something else, unreadable. “At this point, I’m beyond being offended. And you’re paying me a considerable amount of money.”

“That doesn’t mean I want to offend you, no matter how impossible it might be,” I say.

What I want to say is that I can’t remember the last time I had a night out like this, or the last time someone looked at me as more than an accessory. Campbell is watching my every move, but what should be terrifying is only leaving me hungry for the attention.

They kill people for a living. Why doesn’t that scare me?

“I do appreciate good manners,” Campbell comments, but their gaze flickers over my shoulder. “Tuck your elbow in.”

“Why?” The question is instinctive, but I listen anyway, bringing my arm in against my side.

Out of the corner of my eye, the server reappears with a covered silver platter, swiftly delivering it to our table. He removes the polished lid, announcing our entrees with theatrical detail, but my eyes aren’t on the food. They’re on Campbell, waiting for an answer.

I don’t get one until the server is out of sight.

Campbell smooths a silken napkin across their lap, then takes the provided pair of chopsticks in hand with the ease of long practice. “Considering the angle he took from the kitchen, he wouldn’t have been able to see you there with the tray in the way. It’s a design flaw in an otherwise lovely restaurant.”

I raise an eyebrow, picturing a comedy of errors that ends with eighty dollars of wagyu beef in my lap. “He would have knocked into me?”

They hum in agreement, then turn their chopsticks to sharper purpose, peeling a portion of crispy fish clean from the bone. It gleams, white and bare. “I thought I’d save you the trouble.”

Unease coils in the pit of my stomach. Meeting Campbell hadn’t set me on edge, but something about them reading the server’s approach in a blink and warning me with casual detachment does. That kind of reflex hangs the word “danger” in my mind like a neon sign. They’re a predator, surrounded by unknowing prey.

I glance down at my steak, then summon the will to pick up my fork as if I eat with professional killers every night of the week.

“It’s normal to be nervous.” Campbell tucks a bite of yellowtail between their teeth. It vanishes quietly. “As long as you’re set on what you want to do, you can be as nervous as you like.”

I must be radiating anxiety, but it still feels like they read my mind. “Details would help me relax.”

Even on a twisting stomach, the steak is the perfect amount of decadence, butter, and salt. I cut into another piece, juices spilling free under the serrated edge.

“What kind of details would you like?” they ask.

“When is this happening?” My eyes fall on their near-empty cup of coffee. “Not tonight, I know, but when?”

“Depending on the complexity of his schedule, my window is three weeks.” Their chopsticks dart around a fragile fin, seeking a thread of meat hidden underneath. “That includes scouting, alibi, and execution.”

I pause with my next bite halfway to my mouth. Execution bleeds with meaning, visceral and full, but it’s not inaccurate. “Your alibi or mine?”

“Yours,” Campbell confirms. “It wouldn’t do for you to be too close to any accidents.”

An accident. That’s probably what they’ll put in the paper. Richard is well known enough to earn an article, if not a front-page one.

I nod. “Do you need anything from me?”

“Once payment is settled, a copy of any of his keys that you can get ahold of. The same with his schedule.” Their gaze pierces me through. My blood turns to ice, but my heart beats faster. “Is your husband predictable, Justine?”

What I hear is will it be easy?

A smile rises to my lips unbidden. “Very.”

The rest of dinner passes in silence, save for an occasional comment on the food. It’s nice enough that I almost forget why we’re here, snapping to reality as our plates are cleared and the check arrives. Campbell does pay, using a couple of large bills. Once our server is gone again, they retrieve an envelope from inside their jacket. It’s already open when they offer it to me, revealing a packet of papers.

“What’s this?” I frown, prying out what’s inside.

They keep the envelope.

“The contract for the painting you’re about to purchase, of course.” Campbell’s expression is open but empty, like a door leading to an elevator shaft. “Your money has to be invested properly.”

I unfold the packet revealing an agreement of sale contract, the same sort I see ten times a week at the gallery. As I scan each page, lines of familiar legalese jump out. It’s legitimate, or would be if Campbell actually had a painting that I wanted to buy.

“Don’t tell me you’re a lawyer too,” I say.

Campbell shakes their head. “No, but I have a very competent one. She keeps a lot in order for me.”

It’s perfect. There are a dozen other contracts like it in my desk drawer, and the number for an offshore account jumps off the page, waiting for my transfer to put it out of reach and otherwise untraceable.

“But how did you know I…” When we spoke on the phone, Campbell never asked what I did for a living. “This is too fitting.”

“I don’t show in person before looking someone up.” They produce a pen, handing it to me. “And I had to make sure you could actually pay me.”

If I had my way, I’d be making art and not selling it, but only the latter had made enough money to fund Richard’s master’s. His current salary isn’t enough for us to trade places, even with a shot at tenure approaching. My paints are stored in a cool, dry place, but I haven’t touched them in years. Almost ten.

My weekends might be free enough for a canvas or two soon.

“You’ll have twenty-four hours to deposit the money in the account listed there,” Campbell says. Did they take my quiet, bitter musing as hesitation? “If you don’t, I’ll assume you’re calling things off.”

My signature ends with a flourish, and I wait for the ink to dry before folding the contract again. “I’ll send it as soon as I’m home.”

“Excellent.” They rise to their feet, a signal to do the same. “It was a pleasure, Justine. Once everything clears, I’ll be in touch.”

Campbell extends their hand, and I offer mine, surprised they want to shake on it. Instead, they bring my fingers to their lips, kissing the top of them. Shock ripples through me, heat lingering on my skin when Campbell lets go.

“Thanks,” I answer, breathless.

With a step back, they establish a professional distance again. Campbell brushes a nigh-invisible wrinkle from one suit cuff. “Fortin is an interesting last name. Are you going to keep it?”

That’s a question I hadn’t considered. Instinct tells me I should, to play the part of the grieving widow. Fortin has gotten me a lot farther than Zhang ever did in the art world, even with how popular Chinese art is.

Anger spits out a thousand spikes and snarls. He’s already taken so much from me. The idea that I might stay beholden to Richard, even after he dies, throws a red veil across my vision. Then I breathe, and it’s gone.

“I’ll let you know when I figure that out,” I say.

Campbell holds my gaze, then nods before turning away. I check my purse for a split second to make sure I have everything, but when I look up again, they’re already gone.

I better send that money before they think I’ve lost my nerve.

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NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

Rien Gray is a queer, nonbinary writer who has worked in ghostwriting, TTRPGS, and video games. They have a treasured (and ever-growing) collection of LGBTQ+ history books as well as a deep, abiding love for Greek myth. Rien has an upcoming short story in Neon Hemlock’s Baffling Magazine. They live in Ireland.

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Release Blitz: Out in Winter by Lane Hayes #LGBTQ #SportsRomance @LaneHayes3 @GoIndiMarketing

Title: Out in Winter

Series: Out in College, Book 8

Author: Lane Hayes

Publisher: Lane Hayes

Release Date: January 11, 2021

Heat Level: 4 – Lots of Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 32k

Genre: Romance, Bisexual, Friends to Lovers, College romance, Humor, Jock, Age Gap

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Synopsis

The grad student, the jock, and some winter fun…

Drew

My new job at the bistro is fun. The owners are good guys, and the staff is made up primarily of boisterous water polo players. I know nothing about the sport except there’s a Speedo involved, and Liam likes to wear his everywhere. Yes…Liam—the chatty, handsome, utterly charming waiter I can’t seem to stop thinking about. Ugh. Note to self—do not fall for another younger man.

Liam

Getting Drew to notice me hasn’t been easy. He’s a little intense, and he knows how to keep his distance. Something tells me he’s not immune—he’s just stubborn. Maybe a weekend of bonding on the ski slopes will win him over. And if I can get him to come out in winter, I might be able to convince him that we have a chance at something special.

Out in Winter is a low-angst MM, bisexual romance starring an oh so serious grad student, a goofball water polo player, and a little winter magic. This story is part of the Out in College series, but each book can be read as a stand-alone.

Excerpt

The stunning winter wonderland panorama was dotted with impossibly tall evergreens flocked with snow and the pristine hills glistening in the morning sun. It was so quiet, I could almost imagine we were alone in the world. That was precisely the kind of thought that freaked me out sometimes. But not today. Today the idea seemed…promising. Maybe even cleansing, like a new start.

“It’s beautiful,” I said reverently.

“This is one of the reasons I like coming out here early. The light is so brilliant. It looks like a postcard or the photo in the dictionary next to the word ‘hope.’ ”

“That’s a nice thought.”

We shared a smile; then he adjusted his goggles and inclined his head meaningfully. “Ready?”

“Yeah, but…you go first.”

“C’mere.” Liam crooked his finger.

I shuffled forward until I stood beside him with our skis pointing in the opposite direction, expecting him to impart some advice about the terrain or maybe remind me how to stop. Both might have been helpful, actually.

“What is it?”

“Hold on to my sleeve. Stay still. That’s perfect.” He stroked my chin before leaning in to press his lips to mine. “You taste like cherry ChapStick. I like.”

I grinned. “Thanks. So do you.”

He kissed me again, twisting his tongue with mine and leaving me breathless. “Mmm. I’m making it my personal quest to make sure you get down this mountain safely and that you have fun doing it.”

“Good luck with that,” I sighed, aware that my voice had taken on a dreamy quality.

“I don’t need luck. I’m an expert,” he bragged playfully. “I’m going to give you a couple of tips. Listen up.”

“I’m listening.”

“Bend your knees and stay loose.”

“Like this?” I bent my knees and wiggled my arms like a rubber band.

Liam chuckled. “Something like that. We’re gonna take it slow, moving from side to side, making wide turns. I’ll go first. Follow me and remember to keep your gaze forward.”

“As opposed to?”

“Looking at your skis. You don’t look at your feet when you’re walking, so don’t look at your skis when you’re skiing. It’ll fuck with your balance. Ready?”

“Yeah.” I licked my lips and nodded.

Liam glided smoothly down the incline, veering sharply to the right. He stopped with a flourish, sending a plume of powdery snow skyward before raising his poles triumphantly. I snickered at the silly display. He made it seem fun and relatively easy. All right, then. I could do this.

I grasped my poles in a vise grip and dug into the snow, propelling myself forward. I aimed my skis in Liam’s general direction and honestly, it felt pretty damn good. I was in control, a cool breeze on my face, and a light wind at my back. Best of all, I appeared to be closing in on my correct destination. A hot guy was waiting for me in front of a huge pine tree with—

Oh, fuck.

I couldn’t stop. I picked up speed and barreled forward, trying to remember his advice. Knees bent. Check. Don’t look at your skis. Check. Stay loose…

Nope. Not possible.

I was wound so tight my head felt like it might pop off. Every muscle in my body was rigid as I zoomed closer to Liam…and the tree. It occurred to me as my life began to flash in front of my eyes that if I turned downhill, I could avoid the tree and move in the right direction. I might not have control of my skis, but Liam seemed to know what he was doing. No doubt he’d catch up easily and offer tips on how not to kill myself along the way. A comical vision of him doing circles around me while I tumbled into a giant snowball flashed in my head.

And that might have been when things went sideways.

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Meet the Author

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.

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Release Blitz: Forecase by Casey Cox #NewAdult #LGBTQ @GoIndiMarketing

Title: Forecast

Series: 99 Daddies Book 3

Author: Casey Cox

Publisher: Self-published

Release Date: 16 Jan 2021

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 66k

Genre: Romance, New Adult

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Synopsis

Forecast: (noun)

A calculation or estimate of future events, especially coming weather.
See also: Liam “I’m Always Right” Wright.

Not your typical Daddy. Not your typical boy.
Not your typical fake relationship.

Hudson Madden looks like the kind of guy you don’t want to piss off—he’s a walking wall of muscle, brightly tatted ink up both arms, and low grunts. But underneath it all, he’s a gentle giant. One who can’t find what he wants because of the assumptions people make:

He must be an alpha.
He must be a dominant Daddy.
He must be looking for a sweet, passive boy.

The truth is more complicated. Haunted by memories of a former lover, and interested in exploring types of sex that aren’t easily defined, Hudson is happy to harbour his innocent crush on the local weatherman.

Until said weatherman crush walks into Hudson’s gym and turns his life upside down.

Liam “I’m Always Right” Wright. It might be a cute catchphrase, but when it comes to love, Liam is always wrong.

Liam hasn’t got time for love. He’s got his sights set on the big time, becoming a prime time meteorologist on a major national TV station. He’ll do anything it takes to get the promotion, even if it means entering into a fake relationship to improve his chances.

A quick-fix, no-mess solution.

So why does it feel so right when Hudson looks at him, spends time with him, and gets to know him in a way that no one ever has?

Will Hudson be able to break down his walls and let Liam in? And when forced to choose between his career and love, will Liam be able to make the right choice?

FORECAST

Forecast is a Daddy-lite fake relationship MM romance featuring a gentle giant of a Daddy, and an ambitious weatherman.

Come along for the ride and enjoy some crazy/sexy/cool shenanigans involving tantra, multiple orgasms, a heartfelt list of 18 favorite things, a crew of sassy friends, lots of LOLs, and all the feels on the way to a heartwarming HEA.

Forecast is the third book in the 99 Daddies series. Each book in the series will contain overlapping characters and storylines, so you may enjoy them more by reading them in order.

99 DADDIES

99 Daddies is a hilarious, entertaining, and heartwarming contemporary / new adult Daddy/boy MM romance series.

Escape to Daylesford, the (fictional) Daddy capital of America. If you love steamy and complex Daddy/boy dynamics, May-December gay romances with a twist, sweet and sassy MM age gap romances—and chasing those guaranteed HEAs—you’ll love it here.

So come along and meet the 99 Daddies of Daylesford. Who will be YOUR favorite?

Excerpt

“Hello?”

My ears pricked up at the familiarity of that voice.

I snapped my head around and there he was, not on all eight TV screens as I was used to seeing him, but just one person standing right in front of me, on the other side of my front desk.

Liam “Am I Seeing This Right?” Wright.

“Oh, hey, look, Hudson, it’s that guy you always make us turn every TV screen over to wa—”

My elbow found Zander’s side, and thankfully, that just so happened to be where his shut the fuck up button was located.

“Hello,” I said in as normal a voice as I could muster.

What the hell was happening here? How was it that Liam Wright was standing right in front of me, looking all sorts of weatherman-gorgeous? He must have come directly from the studio, because he was wearing the same outfit he’d had on earlier in the evening.

Suddenly, I wished that the counter wasn’t so high so that I could look down and get a better view of his amazing…

I snapped myself out of that inappropriate, unprofessional thought by saying, “How—how can I help you?”

I tried to smile. I think I might have been smiling. I couldn’t tell. I couldn’t feel my face, or my feet, or my hands, anymore.

This was precisely the reason why I had avoided approaching him six times before. I was turning to mush.

“I’d like to join the gym,” he said. His voice just sounded so familiar, which I guess made sense, since I’d been hearing it every day on the news for the last eighteen months. “Oh, and I’ll need a personal trainer as well.”

Was it possible to be both floored and speechless at the same time? The answer to that question was a resounding hell yes. Trust me, it was coming from a guy who was on the floor, unable to speak.

“We can definitely arrange that,” I said after a much-too-long silence. My eyes were glued to him as my hand tapped around the counter, desperately searching for the paperwork and a pen.

“Here you go,” I said, once I had finally found them. I looked down and was surprised to see my hands trembling. I quickly pulled them back and placed them firmly on the counter.

Why the hell was I shaking?

I mean, I had seen the guy in the flesh six times before. Although now that I thought about it, every time I had seen him, I’d started to shake and feel a little light-headed. I’d just assumed that was because Porter was around, and he tended to have a mildly nauseating effect on people.

“Do you have a trainer available? I’d like to start as soon as possible. Preferably tomorrow morning, please,” Liam said as he looked up from the paperwork he was filling out.

“Yes, of course,” I said, and then my brain left my head because the next words out of my mouth were, “My name is Hudson Madden. I’m the owner of Elite Fitness, and I would love to turn you on…”

Shitty shit, shit, shit!

I cleared my throat. “Take you on.”

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Meet the Author

Casey Cox is devoted to delighting readers with sassy, sweet and sometimes steamy tales of gorgeous, good-hearted and complex men chasing their HEA.

Casey lives on the east coast of Australia, loves the beach and is a proud paw-parent to two utterly adorable French Bulldogs named Ralphie and Lilly. Find out more on Casey’s Website.

 

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Release Blitz: Give Way by Valentine Wheeler #LGBTQ #ContemporaryRomance @ghostalservice @GoIndiMarketing @ninestarpress

Title: Give Way

Author: Valentine Wheeler

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: 01/04/2021

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 31400

Genre: Contemporary, LGBTQIA+, MM romance, men over 40, second chances, sexual discovery, interracial romance, retiree, mail carrier

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Description

Kevin McNamara’s life after retirement is…fine. He has friends, a few consulting gigs, and an ex-wife he’s finally on good terms with. But when he meets an intriguing stranger–a rarity in close-knit Swanley, Massachusetts–in his apartment lobby, he can’t stop thinking about him or about the unexpected attraction that knocked him flat.

Awais Siddiqui never thought he’d want to come back to his childhood hometown, but when his grandmother falls ill, he’s the only one who can move back to help. Awais figures he’ll be back in a big city soon enough–but then a silver fox on his route catches his eye.

It’s never too late to accept a second chance at love.

Excerpt

Give Way
Valentine Wheeler © 2020
All Rights Reserved

Kevin McNamara was not having a good day.

As he trudged up the street toward his block, his building loomed ahead, five stories of forbidding concrete. His kids kept telling him he had to find a nicer apartment–he’d only meant for this one to be a stopping place after the divorce, but here he was fifteen years later, solidly into his retirement, still crammed into his tiny two-bedroom. It was fine. He didn’t have to mow a lawn, and most of the other residents were older people or divorced dads, so he fit right in. A few kids visited their fathers on weekends and livened things up, and it was close enough to downtown that he could walk to get whatever he needed. On less soggy, snowy days, a stroll home was appealing, but not after a four hour transit meeting in Boston and with gray slush soaking into his loafers.

As he pulled his keys from his pocket in the vestibule, ready to open the door to the lobby, tires crunched on the asphalt outside and he turned to see a mail truck pulling up. He pushed open the vestibule door and got ready to greet Doris–she’d been his mail lady for ten years, so she deserved a smile even if Kevin’s toes were numb. But instead of his compact, South Asian mail lady, he was surprised to see a man in a postal uniform standing on the sidewalk, tall, dark, and–well, attractive. He was staring at the front of the building, glancing down at the mail in his hands and back up again.

“Hi,” said the man. “This is 210 Washakum Avenue, right?”

Kevin nodded. “Yes, the two fell off the sign last week and nobody’s been by to fix it.” He wasn’t sure why he’d felt the need to explain and wished he hadn’t.

The man grinned, showing very white, very even teeth. They looked even brighter against his short beard and light brown skin, which even in December was a few shades warmer than Kevin’s ever got. “Great. I’ve got a couple packages here, and I really didn’t want to leave them out in all this wet.”

“Yeah,” said Kevin. “Um.” He glanced behind him at the door to his building’s lobby, feeling unaccountably flustered. “Doris usually leaves them inside. Is she not in today?”

The man nodded. “She took the day off, so I’m helping out. I can’t believe they approved the time. December’s usually a no-go for leave, you know? Busiest season for Santas like me and Doris.”

“I bet.” Kevin pushed the door open. “Here, I won’t let the door lock you out.”

“Oh, I’m sure Doris left me a key somewhere,” said the man. “Don’t want to hold you up. I’m helping deliver packages for my overtime, and I’m still learning the town.” He paused. “I’m Awais, by the way.”

“Kevin,” said Kevin. “And it’s fine. I’m happy to hold the door. I’m in no rush.”

“McNamara? Kevin McNamara, is that right?” asked Awais.

“How did you guess?”

Awais grinned again, this time showing a dimple in one cheek, barely visible under his close-trimmed beard. “You’ve got a package, man.”

Kevin swallowed as Awais gathered a tub of packages in his arms and brushed past him into the lobby. The door wasn’t wide and neither was the lobby. He set the tub on the floor and knelt beside it. His slacks hugged his thighs: they seemed tighter than the usual postal cut as he bent over. And was the foyer suddenly warm?

“Let’s see.” Awais dug in the tub, setting a few packages aside. Kevin stood awkwardly, still holding the door. Dropping it would be rude, and it would trap them together in the small space, but he’d been holding it open for what felt like a long time. “Okay. Here we go!” He pulled out a large manila envelope, stacked the rest of the packages back in the tub, and rose to his feet gracefully. He was slender, Kevin noticed, but his shoulders were broad enough that the small space was awkward with both of their nearly six foot frames crowding it. “Here,” said Awais, holding it out.

Kevin took it. His fingers brushed Awais’s, shockingly warm against his own chilled ones. “Thanks,” he said, putting a bit of his usual charm in his smile. He knew the effect it had on people, and maybe it would counteract the incredibly weird impression this guy was getting of him.

Awais smiled back. “No problem. Gift for the wife?”

Kevin blinked. “Um, no,” he said, flummoxed. “I’m single.” Divorced, he’d meant to say. But it was too late to correct himself without drawing attention to it.

Awais’s eyes widened for the briefest moment, then his smile stretched even further. He winked. “Well, the ladies are missing out then.” He slung his satchel back over his shoulder, brushing past Kevin again where he was standing, still holding the door like a chump. He smelled like snow and woods and a little bit of sweat. Kevin decided to pretend he hadn’t just smelled the guy. He couldn’t help it in the hot, steamy foyer.

Through the glass, Awais climbed back in his truck, slid the door closed, waved, and pulled away.

Kevin looked down at the envelope. He didn’t even remember what he’d ordered. He took a step backward and winced at the squelch. He’d completely forgotten about his soaked shoes.

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NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

Valentine is a latecomer to writing, though she’s always been a passionate reader. Through fanfiction she found her way to an incredible community of writers who’ve taught her to love making stories.

When she isn’t writing, she’s making bad puns, yelling about television, or playing with her small child.

Her life’s ambition is to eat the cuisine of every single country. Follow Valentine on Twitter

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Release Blitz: A Little Fairy Dust Anthology by Mell Eight @MellEight @GoIndiMarketing @ninestarpress

Title: A Little Fairy Dust

Author: Mell Eight

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: 01/04/2021

Heat Level: 2 – Fade to Black Sex

Pairing: Male/Male, Male/Male Menage

Length: 141700

Genre: Fantasy, LGBTQIA+, betrothed, Brownies, disabilities, fairy godmother, fairy tales, folklore, genderfluid, knights, magic/magic users, men with children, military/soldiers, psychic, psychic ability, royal ball, royalty, shifters, soulmates, sweet, teacher, war, wedding, wizards

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Description

Nine tales of magic, love, and a little fairy dust: A military posting at the Rapunzel Tower to avoid war in The Tower; a Brownie that just wants to do something right in Cleanly Wrong; a dream of love unfulfilled in A Heart’s Dream; saving the victims of an evil witch in The Red Apple Witch; a boy who just wants to go to the ball in Cinder-Elle; a cursed kingdom and search for lost love in The Curse; a thief and his fairy godparent with different ideas about love in Happily Ever After; a lightning strike, a lost egg, an ancient battle, and love at first spark in Thunderbird; and a prince trapped, knowing his true love will never save him in The Beast.

Excerpt

A Little Fairy Dust
Mell Eight © 2020
All Rights Reserved

Excerpt from the first story, The Tower
“And now, Prince Haines will pick the person who will be honored with the Rapunzel Posting!” General Darien called out loudly, his parade voice easily carrying over the noise of a few hundred men and women enjoying the annual feast. The room immediately quieted. Every year the officers and select few enlisted who were receiving an honor came together for a thank-you and award ceremony, but only every seven years was the Rapunzel Posting awarded.

Ishiah watched as Prince Haines stood from his place on the dais, where all the highest officers had been seated for the ceremony, and walked around the table until he was standing in front of the plinth holding a golden bowl. The bowl was easily deep enough for a baby to bathe, solid gold, and encrusted on the outside with gemstones, and it matched Prince Haines’s outer appearance perfectly. Haines had golden-colored hair he kept pulled back from his face with a ruby-colored ribbon. His hand, as he lifted it above the bowl and hesitated there as if to drum up more drama, had a gemstone ring on every finger.

Those in the room held their collective breath as Haines dipped his fingers into the golden bowl. For the last seven days, the plinth and bowl had been standing in the entrance to the officers’ mess hall where any officer interested in the Rapunzel Posting could drop a slip of paper into it with their name on it. Ishiah had walked around that bowl before and after every meal for seven days straight. He hadn’t put his name in, but he hadn’t needed to. He was just as capable of reading the winds of his political fate as anyone else in the kingdom.

It was with no surprise to Ishiah that Haines pulled out a piece of paper and read out: “First Lieutenant Ishiah Fitzsimons!”

The room didn’t erupt into cheers as it would have for someone who actually wanted the post. Even the lowest enlisted man or woman in the room knew who Ishiah was. Fitz, meaning bastard child of royalty, and Simons, meaning the child of King Simon. Born to a mistress not even two months after Haines’s own birth, Ishiah was a constant reminder of the king’s infidelity to the political animals in the kingdom. He was also a second potential heir to the throne. With Prince Haines trying to solidify his status now that his wife was pregnant, Ishiah knew it was inevitable that he would be shuffled off somewhere. It was only a coincidence that the Rapunzel Posting had come due this year, and the convenience of it must have made changing all the slips of paper in the bowl to carry his name instead of the rightful candidates a worthy endeavor.

Ishiah stood from his seat at the back of the room and walked through the whispers and the tables toward the stairs that led up to the dais. He looked almost nothing like Prince Haines. Where Haines was golden, Ishiah was dark. His hair was black and was shaved tightly to his head on the sides according to military regulations, but he had allowed the wide strip on the top of his head to grow extremely long in the style of the eastern barbarians. The military allowed the enlisted barbarians to keep their ceremonial hairstyles or risk a potential uprising of the eastern territories, and many non-barbarian soldiers had chosen to copy them. Ishiah had originally done it to prove to the court that he was no prince—a prince wouldn’t dare emulate the barbarians—and had ended up liking the hairstyle enough to keep it. Tonight, his long hair was thickly plaited and the tail of the braid rested between his shoulder blades. His skin was tanned like his mother’s had been, the color of wet sand along the southern coast where his mother had been from before meeting King Simon. Only his eyes, gray shot through with blue streaks and wide in his face, proved his heritage. He shared his eyes with King Simon and Prince Haines.

Gray met gray as Ishiah climbed the stairs onto the dais and bowed to Prince Haines.

“Rise, soldier, and be honored,” Haines said loudly enough to be heard over the soft whispers of the gossipers that had begun to fill the room. “First Lieutenant Ishiah Fitzsimons, you have been honored with the posting in Rap Tower in the Zel Mountains. You hold this prestigious duty to guard our lands from the western invaders. For seven years, seven months, and seven days, you will be watching for any sign of the returning hoard, and you will be studying. The tower has been provisioned with every textbook needed so when your posting ends you will be prepared to take on the mantle of colonel and lead this army to victory!”

He paused and it took Ishiah a moment to realize Haines was waiting for a response.

“I am honored to be chosen,” Ishiah replied because that was the only thing he could say. “I will execute my duty faithfully and with diligence.” He bowed again.

“Then come, join me for a toast and some dessert.” Prince Haines gestured to the seat at the table that had remained ceremonially empty throughout the banquet. Ishiah walked over to it and stood behind the chair until Haines had retaken his seat. Ishiah sat and servants immediately entered the room bearing dessert trays.

“Congratulations, Lieutenant,” General Darien said from Prince Haines’s other side once the chatter around the room had risen enough that it would be difficult to hear what was being said on the dais. General Dairen was smiling at Ishiah, but there was a hard glint in his eye indicating he was aware of the political maneuvering that had gotten Ishiah the posting.

“Thank you, General,” Ishiah replied.

They fell silent as plates of cake and glasses of champagne were placed in front of them. Prince Haines lifted his glass first.

“To Lieutenant Ishiah, who I know will be the most successful officer to come out of the Rapunzel Posting.”

Those who could hear Haines also lifted their glasses in a toast. Ishiah took a long sip of the champagne, hoping to let the resentment he could feel bubbling up in his chest pop along with the bubbles in his drink. The dais was silent after that as they all applied themselves to their cake. Only once everyone else was distracted by other conversations did Haines fully turn toward Ishiah.

“I am sorry, Ish. I know this isn’t what you would have chosen,” Haines began, his voice soft so they wouldn’t be overheard.

“Of course it’s not, Hay,” Ishiah replied, his voice tight with the anger he was trying to keep suppressed.

Haines shook his head firmly as if he needed to brush away Ishiah’s feelings in order to finish what he had to say. “There were whispers at court. The malcontents unhappy with some of the policies Father and I have been implementing were talking about replacing us with you.”

“Hay, those whispers started the day father announced to the court that I was his child,” Ishiah replied, his anger making his words more of a growl than actual syllables. “Just admit that you’re scared and instead of coming to talk to me about a solution you hatched this scheme instead.”

“Fine!” Haines snapped, although his voice still managed to remain quiet. “Of course I’m scared. Victoria is three months pregnant and extremely vulnerable. I want my child to have a chance to be born, not murdered in the womb by some idiot who wants to put you on the throne instead of me. I only had a few options, Ish, to remove you as a threat. I could have killed you, of course, but that wasn’t an option I was willing to consider. Father suggested making you an ambassador to one of our trading partners across the ocean, but I know you would have hated that. Think about it, Ish. Seven years and you’ll come out of it a full colonel with a big enough salary and enough prestige you can settle down comfortably anywhere in the country. When General Darien suggested you as a good candidate for the posting, Father and I agreed.”

After seven years of being out of the spotlight of the court, Ishiah would be all but forgotten by the malcontents. Haines would have cemented himself as the heir and his child as next in line. And, if Ishiah chose to live somewhere far away from the capital after the posting was over, his status as bastard son of the king would be all but forgotten.

And all of it had been neatly thrust on him in a way that left zero room for his refusal.

It took a moment for Ishiah to bury his anger again. Raising a fist toward Prince Haines would get him put in jail, which would be even worse than being put in the tower for seven years.

“You still should have talked to me about it first,” Ishiah said once he was certain his voice could remain soft enough to keep their conversation private. “Instead of springing it on me like this. Treat me like a brother, Haines, instead of like the enemy you fear I’ll be turned into.”

“You’re right.” Haines let out a heavy sigh. “You are right,” he repeated. “Forgive me?”

Ishiah frowned at Haines for a long moment before sighing himself. “Eventually, Hay. Let me be angry for a little bit longer. I expect you’ll write me weekly and that my niece or nephew will start writing me as soon as they’re able.”

“I’ll write you, Father will write you, and I’ll make certain my child will write you. Ish, this posting is an honor, you know. We make sure not just anyone is picked for this. They have to be highly recommended by their peers and their superiors. If you hadn’t been, you’d be on a ship heading for an ambassador posting instead. Please, I know you didn’t want this, but be honored you are thought of so highly.”

“I will be, Hay. As soon as the anger and betrayal fade, I will be.” Ishiah cracked a tentative smile for Haines to show he meant it. “Besides, now you’re going to have to figure out someone else for the court gossips to focus their ire on. Who will be the next family scapegoat now that they don’t have my hair or the fact that I keep showing up to court events in my leather armor to harangue you over?”

“I’ll be certain to let you know who they pick and why,” Haines replied with his own hesitant smile.

Ishiah might be angry with him, but they were still brothers. They would get through this, and in seven years who knew what the political climate and their relationship would be like.

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NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

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

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Release Blitz: Witch, Catch, and Cobb by J.K. Pendragon #LGBTQ #Fantasy @JKPendragon

Title: Witch, Cat, and Cobb

Author: J.K. Pendragon

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: December 14, 2020

Heat Level: 2 – Fade to Black Sex

Pairing: Female/Female

Length: 21700

Genre: Fantasy, LGBTQIA+, Fae/fey/fairies/faeries, Fairy tales, Humorous, Magic/ Magic users, Mythical creatures, Witch, Arranged marriage, Royalty, Transgender, Transspecies, #ownvoices

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Synopsis

Destined for an arranged marriage she wants nothing to do with, Princess Breanwynne decides her only option for escape is to run away. After announcing this plan to her trusted cat, Fen, she’s shocked when he asks that she take him along.

Following his suggestion to venture into the lair of the Swamp Witch begins a life-altering adventure and reveals shocking information that will lead to more than one happily ever after—if she and Fen survive.

Excerpt

Witch, Cat, and Cobb
J.K. Pendragon © 2020
All Rights Reserved

I was not accustomed to swamps.

I had been warned about the dangers of swamps, of course, as all children were, and knew the likelihood of traversing the swamp without grave peril befalling me was dismally low. But somehow, in the course of plotting my grand escape, I hadn’t given that fact as much thought as I should have. And to pay for it, I was knee-deep in muck with a cat’s claws digging painfully into my shoulders.

“Don’t make any sudden movements!” said Fen, digging his claws even deeper into my shoulder until I was certain he had latched onto my bone. “It’ll only make it worse.”

“Make it worse?” I screeched at him. “How could this possibly be worse?”

Fen released his front claws from my neck and placed them gently on my head, “I’ve heard about this sort of ground. If I’m right, it’ll be a few hours before it’s swallowed you whole. Whoops!” He had jumped up onto my head, his back legs scrambling over my ear and causing me to shout in pain as his claws grazed me.

“Ouch!”

“Shh, I’m balancing.” He turned delicately on my head and crouched, wiggling his backside for good measure. “Anyway, you don’t know what sort of creatures you’re likely to attract, making so much noise.” He jumped, shoving me deeper into the muck as he did so, and caught a branch, scrambling up and then perching deftly to look down at me. His normally tawny fur was black in silhouette against the full moon, his eyes a green glint in the otherwise dark swamp.

“I should never have trusted you,” I said, glaring up at him. “You’ve led me to my death!”

“I haven’t!” called Fen, sounding offended. “Anyway, you agreed the swamp was the best choice because no one would come looking for us!”

“And no one will find us even if they do!” I squeaked.

“Hush.” Fen took a step forward, and the tree shifted as he arched his back, swaths of witch’s hair dipped into the muck next to me. He took another step forward, and the branch swayed and bowed downwards. “There, see? Grab that.”

I did so, tangling my fingers in the greasy mats. My shoulders shook as I pulled hand over hand to drag the lower half of my body out of the muck. I was glad I had thought to change into my riding breeches before leaving the castle. Fen made a very un-catlike screech and raced up the tree as it buckled further under my weight.

At last I managed to pull myself up and crawl over to where I hoped the ground was more solid. I let go, falling to the forest floor with a whump and sat, collecting myself. Fen landed lightly on my shoulder, and I hissed at him, causing him to scuttle away and behind the tree.

“Don’t do that,” he said presently, his voice muffled by the leaves and bracken. “Show some gratitude.”

“Right,” I said, standing and attempting to brush myself off as best I could. I was also not accustomed to being quite so dirty. “Thank you for saving me from the peril you yourself put me in.”

“You are the one who wanted to run away, Princess, if I might remind you.” Fen emerged from behind the tree and trotted up to me, jumping deftly back onto my shoulder. “I simply agreed to help you out.”

“You think I don’t know that you’ve got some sort of ulterior motive?” I asked him as I began to walk again, keeping a wary eye out for more of the muck I’d sunken into.

“What ulterior motive could I possibly have?” said Fen. “I’m a cat.”

“A talking cat, I might add. Who waited for how many years, twenty? To decide to reveal that fact to me, and not until I had mentioned I might be thinking of running away to the swamp. Why?”

“I liked the sound of it.”

“You liked the sound of this?” I gestured to the seething wet darkness around us and stopped walking. “No, tell me immediately.”

“Hmph,” said Fen. “If you must know, I’m not really a cat.”

“Fen, I’ve been undressed in front of you!”

“Oh, don’t be so full of yourself, Princess.”

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NineStar Press | Books2Read Universal Link

Meet the Author

J.K. Pendragon is a Canadian author with a love of all things romantic and fantastical. They first came to the queer fiction community through m/m romance, but soon began to branch off into writing all kinds of queer fiction. As a bisexual and genderqueer person, J.K. is dedicated to producing diverse, entertaining fiction that showcases characters across the rainbow spectrum, and provides queer characters with the happy endings they are so often denied.

J.K. currently resides in British Columbia, Canada with a boyfriend, a cat, and a large collection of artisanal teas that they really need to get around to drinking. They are always happy to chat, and can be reached at jes.k.pendragon@gmail.com.

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Release Blitz: Catch a Falling Snowflake by Ava Kelly #LGBTQ #holidayromance @ThunderEternal

Title: Catch a Falling Snowflake

Series: Snow Globes, Book Four

Author: Ava Kelly

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: November 23, 2020

Heat Level: 1 – No Sex

Pairing: Male/Male, Female/Female

Length: 18700

Genre: Contemporary, LGBTQIA+, contemporary, gay, pansexual, transgender, lesbian, intercultural, holiday/Christmas, established couples, children, grieving, family, holiday traditions, foster care

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Synopsis

The previous winter, Leon followed his twin sister Sara to a new town where she could be with her partner, Amber. There, Leon’s boyfriend Nick, friends Jeff and Daniel, and their nine-year-old daughter Abby, swiftly swept him up into their lives, a newfound family.

After a year of growing their relationship, Leon is ready to take it to the next level. Nick, however, has been stalling. When Ben, Abby’s best friend, is suddenly abandoned, Leon is excited to finally care for the children he’s always wanted. Haunted by the mistakes of his past, Nick attempts to reconcile his feelings of inadequacy as a parent with Leon’s wishes.

Against the backdrop of winter holidays filled with traditions from around the world, it is up to Leon to decide if he’s willing to stand by Nick, or if he should find his happiness elsewhere.

Catch a Falling Snowflake, the fourth story in the Snow Globes holiday series, can be read as a stand-alone, but greater enjoyment will come with reading about these characters in the order written.

Excerpt

Catch a Falling Snowflake
Ava Kelly © 2020
All Rights Reserved

The community center was quiet for a Thursday. With vacation and beckoning winter celebrations a day away, Nick expected the ebb of youthful visitors to slow down. Besides, early afternoon was always the calmest, no matter the day. Perhaps that was why he’d chosen this particular time for the support group. Sure, it served those who worked nights, unlike most of the other meetings usually held in the evenings, but Dr. Mahler had had a few requests to organize one during the day, and that was where Nick came in.

He’d been back in his hometown for two years, and soon after settling in, he’d started attending one of the grief support groups. Not that his loss was still fresh, not after years, but as a check-in with himself. As an example for others that, yes, survival was possible. He’d made friends with the local therapist; she was supportive, and he’d booked a session or two when he needed an objective ear. He was doing well.

With a smile to himself, Nick checked on the coffee thermos on the side table, then made sure the heaters underneath the windows of the meeting room were turned on. Outside, snow fell in sparse flakes. Not enough to settle and disrupt activity, but enough to give the air that chilling bite of winter.

Beyond the hills on which the town stretched, the mountains rose toward the gray sky, covered in thick pine forests. He’d missed the view. Missed the people, the smells, the buildings.

He was back to stay. No matter what happened, he wouldn’t leave again. He’d made sure to have some safety nets this time around, just in case. Volunteering for the center, for one, running this group for another, and Dr. Mahler, whom Nick had grown to trust after two years.

Nothing, however, was more important than the people in his life.

Footsteps and voices from the corridor pulled Nick from his musings. He turned to greet the two people walking in, and then another, and another, until six strangers sat in the circle of folding chairs, staring at him. Nick cleared his throat.

“I guess we should start,” he said. “Hello, everyone. My name is Nick, and I’ll be your group leader here. I’d like to remind you that this is not a therapy session, but only a space to talk. If you feel like you need more, Dr. Mahler is here.”

He gestured then, to the side, where a small office was nestled behind glass windows, door closed. The doc waved at them from her desk, legs kicked up casually onto it, crossed at the ankles, an open book in her hand. She grinned and gave them all a thumbs-up.

Around Nick, a couple of people nodded, someone waved back, and the youth with their nose in the collar of their hoodie snorted. Nick made a mental note to check later on their age.

“Doc will be here until tonight, so if you wanna sneak back after we’re finished…”

That, at least, earned him some chuckles. Nick tried not to read too much into it. He’d been to meetings full of strangers before. This would be no different. Determination reinforced, he took a deep breath.

“We’re here to talk, but don’t feel like you have to. You can just listen, if that works. But I’d like to remind everyone to be mindful and respect the privacy of these meetings.”

All nodded, and Nick copied the gesture with a thank-you.

“Has anyone been to one of these meetings before?”

Headshakes and muttered noes.

“Well.” Nick shifted. “We talk about those we’ve lost. We talk about us. The weather. Sports. Music. That movie last week with all the sword fighting.”

“And blatant disregard for proper archery,” a woman said.

“That too.”

“Does it help?”

Heads swiveled to the person in the hoodie.

“It can,” Nick said. “Sometimes it helps to just be around people who’ve been through similar things. Not everyone processes in the same way, though, so it might not be as useful.”

“Have you— Did—” Hoodie shook themself into silence, and Nick nodded anyway.

“I’ve been there. Actually, this week marks a sort of anniversary for me, so I wanted to start by telling you my story if you’d like to hear it.”

That got him their attention. Curiosity and wariness, too, but it was to be expected. First time could be scary, especially under the strain of mourning. Nick remembered with clarity his first visit to an informal support group. His first group session, though, was hazy around the edges. He leaned forward, elbows on knees, and clasped his hands together.

“I was born here. With the exception of college, I’ve lived here for twenty-six years. I had a wife and a best friend and a baby on the way.”

He’d had Lauren and Jeff, twins he’d known since childhood. Through shenanigans and quiet moments and major decisions, they’d always been there. Nick and Lauren had gotten married right after college, and four years later—

“My wife died during childbirth. I watched it happen, and it’s not an image I can ever unsee. It broke me enough that my immediate thoughts were harmful toward myself and the baby. A girl. Innocent and frail, and not at fault at all. I left before I even held her once, and then spent the next seven years healing. Wasn’t pretty. Hurt a lot.”

Nick swallowed and shifted, pausing to collect his thoughts.

“What happened to her?” Hoodie asked.

“My wife’s twin brother adopted her. He was also my best friend.”

Not anymore. Jeff had a new bestie. When Nick first met Amber, he hadn’t paid much attention. It had been a brief interaction as it was, two years back, when she’d provided a ride to Jeff’s place. Amber was tall and sometimes moved like she wanted to make herself smaller. Less visible. Quiet too. Later, Nick learned she kept most people at a distance. Not in any way that might’ve been rude or hostile, but more along the lines of hiding behind a hard, thick shell. Kinda like Nick used to be, way back.

A deep breath.

“I hurt both him and the kid,” Nick continued, “because I stayed away for a long time. No contact whatsoever.”

“You suck,” Hoodie commented, but Nick fully agreed.

“Yes. Grief can make us hurt others, even when we don’t want to. It’s not excusable, though it can be explainable. Still, being mindful of those I loved was a hard-learned lesson for me.”

“But now you’re back.”

Nick nodded. “We’re working on me making up for it.”

“How?” The question came from the side, a woman with a drawn face, hugging her middle with both arms. Nick recognized that look. Guilt.

“I returned two years ago,” Nick said. “Found my friend and the kid happy. There was even a second parent involved—my friend’s life partner. Instead of being reasonable, I blew it by being an ass to them. Said mean things, made threats. Friend’s partner made me see logic. I’m grateful for him being there. They got married this summer.”

He offered a quick grin, blinking back the sting behind his eyes. Daniel was someone Nick respected through and through. He was good for Jeff and Abby.

“I don’t understand why they forgave me for being such an ass, but they did. As for my long absence… That’s the part with more serious repercussions and has been a lot harder to work through. Friend is letting me though. He’s willing, but I had to take the first step. Say that first apology—” He looked at the woman who’d asked directly. “—and not expect it to be accepted.”

“Harsh.”

“Yes, but we make mistakes, and we must bear the consequences. The best we can do after hurting others is to allow them the space they need, and understand if they can’t forgive.” With a long exhale, Nick straightened. “It’s not that grim. Sure, in the wake of what you—we’ve all been through, it might seem that what comes ahead is insurmountable. Sometimes it is, in which case you either dig through or go around, or choose a whole different path. It might also be a long, drawn-out, tiresome battle. Grief is not easy. But it’s survivable.”

And that was the whole point. That was why Nick was there, opening himself up over and over again.

“My journey is in a good place right now. I’m an uncle for the kid, her parents are my friends, and hey, I even have a boyfriend. Accidental acquisition, it was very rom-com.”

Faces perked up with undisguised interest, and Nick offered them a small smile. He got it. After Lauren, when the pain had still been so fresh he could taste it, he’d latched on to happy tales as distractions on the good days. On the bad ones, not so much. Looking around the room, it seemed his current audience wanted to hear this part of his story.

The previous year, they’d spent part of the holidays on a training retreat with Abby’s elementary school chess club, along with other third graders from all around. Daniel and Amber had chaperoned, with Nick and Jeff trailing along.

“Last winter vacation we went to this resort in the Alps. It involved a lot of children, chess, and snow—more like yelling on the slopes, actually—but it was fun. First time I met him, he threw line after line of quips while I stood there, all coherence gone. In retrospect, I should’ve realized it, but you know”—he gestured—“I was unaccustomed to someone catching my interest so suddenly.”

Nick had replayed that particular moment in his head over and over again. Leon smirking, stupid green hat over curls poking out in tiny swirls at his temples.

“And then we found out we had to share a room. You’ll never guess—”

“There was only one bed,” said Hoodie with a groan.

“Yep! We had a connection during that short vacation, but we parted ways, and I thought that would be that. Only, after I’d gotten home, I figured I didn’t want it to end. I had no idea he was coming here for New Year’s, so on December 31st, he found me in the park, brooding over lost chances.”

A few half smiles twitched around the room. Hoodie gave a thumbs-up.

“So your anniversary is coming up,” an old man to the left commented.

“Indeed. Speaking of, friend and partner’s anniversary is on the thirtieth. Seems to be a trend with us.”

Not to mention Sara and Amber had gotten together around Christmas, too, as far as Nick could tell, but those two had several anniversaries they celebrated during the year, and Nick was unclear on which was what.

The old man nodded pensively. “Martha and I, we had it on Halloween. We celebrated the day before and the day after. She said we couldn’t let candy steal all our fun, though she loved giving it out.”

With that, the others started pitching in, and Nick gave himself an inner pat on the back.

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Meet the Author

Ava Kelly is an engineer with a deep passion for stories. Whether reading, watching, or writing them, Ava has always been surrounded by tales of all genres. Their goal is to bring more stories to life, especially those of friendship and compassion, those dedicated to trope subversion, those that give the void a voice, and those that spawn worlds of their own.

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Release Blitz: Liquid Courage by Stephanie Shea #LGBTQ #ContemporaryRomance @Stephan98794910 @GoIndiMarketing

Title: Liquid Courage

Author: Stephanie Shea

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: November 23, 2020

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Female/Female

Length: 85800

Genre: Contemporary, LGBTQIA+, contemporary, new-adult, coming out, college, dark, friends to lovers, soulmates, slow burn/UST

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Synopsis

Alexandria Van Kirk has always been a slave to her romantic nature. When a night of liquid courage lands her in bed with one of her best friends, Alex is confronted by a host of feelings that terrify her. Feelings about her friend and, unexpectedly, a barista from her favorite café.

It’s a tug of war between heart and body. Desire against all her daydreams of someone to share silence, sunsets, and coffee with.

But Alex’s past is also about to catch up with her. Tortured memories and the girl they’re all about. It’s like fighting the pull of a whirlwind. A surefire losing battle. But embracing a newfound romance amid the return of an old flame is a precarious balance, one not even Alex herself is sure she can manage.

How the hell does she choose between the girl she loves and the one she could never confess loving to begin with?

Excerpt

Liquid Courage
Stephanie Shea © 2020
All Rights Reserved

It had been brewing for weeks.

No.

Months.

Alex supposed it didn’t matter how long. Tensions between her and Ryan had reached a boiling point. Her body thrummed with quiet unease as vodka scorched down her throat and seeped through her veins. She shouldn’t have been drinking this much. What had she eaten? A few chips and maybe half a dozen gummy bears? No wonder the liquor had gone to her head so fast. It was sort of a nice buzz though—enough for her to feel a little less inhibited but still be aware the creepy guy she’d met earlier had been trying to talk her into a dark corner for the last ten minutes.

She leaned against the doorframe, gaze weaving through the mass of sweaty bodies dancing in the living room to land on Ryan.

Ryan tossed her head back in a laugh, grinding on some random guy who was more than happy to have his hands all over her. Her red, ruched dress rode up her thighs with every move. She flipped her jet-black hair and swept it all to one shoulder as her eyes landed on Alex, a smirk lingering on her lips.

Alex’s skin prickled with sweat.

Maybe it wasn’t the vodka.

Maybe it was the fact that Dom had crammed more than fifty people into a house meant to accommodate three for the riot he called a birthday party. God knows Alex didn’t go to these things for fun, but Dom was her oldest friend. She loved him way too much to not show up for his birthday, even if she was as close as any technology-obsessed millennial to becoming a hermit.

The guy—what did say his name was?—leaned closer, pulling her attention to his gangly, unattractive form. “So, do you want to maybe take a walk down to the park?” He stared at her expectantly, sweaty red strands of hair clinging to his forehead. As if she was going to be lured into the park at midnight to be groped by some guy who resembled a ’90s crackhead.

“Do you know what Einstein’s definition of insanity is?” she asked.

“No. But being this close to you definitely drives me crazy.”

Alex rolled her eyes, pushing him out of her personal space. A spot to herself to wait out the night. That’s all she needed. The one she’d been standing in had been perfect. Until now. Her gaze flittered across the room where Ryan had been dancing only to land on strange faces. “Damn it.” She started forward and bumped her way through the teeming living room toward the kitchen.

Nothing.

Doubling back, she tried scanning every five-feet-something girl who had dark hair. It hadn’t occurred to her before how many girls fit the criteria. Still, it would only take seconds to process that this girl’s hair was a few shades too light; that one’s skin wasn’t pale enough. Another was wearing a nearly identical dress, but the arch of her back didn’t seem quite right. Ry had a bigger ass.

Alex halted at the sight of Ryan sitting hunched over in a loveseat across the living room. She pushed her way through the dancefloor. “Ry?” Alex tilted her head slightly. “What’s wrong?”

Ryan peered up, eyes glossy and gleaming as she grinned at Alex. “Nothing.” Her head fell to her lap again.

Alex drew her brows together. Nothing really appeared to be wrong with Ry besides her being a little tipsy and possibly playing an adult version of peek-a-boo. She slid into the free space on the couch and shifted at the press of Ryan’s thighs against hers. Proximity wouldn’t do much to resolve her internal conflict. It sure didn’t soothe the thought that even sitting there with this thing between them still simmering was a terrible idea. She forced it down. “Tell me what’s wrong.”

“I told you. It’s nothing.”

“Ry…come on.” Alex nudged her, pressing her forehead to the side of Ryan’s face to provoke her into lifting her head again.

“I got a little light-headed. I’m better now.”

“Promise?”

Ryan turned her head, her lips brushing against Alex’s. “Promise.”

Alex’s breath caught, her pulse climbing. The heat… It wasn’t the vodka or the party being too crowded. It was them. A million red lights went off in her head. Ryan was one of her best friends. Risking that would be stupid and impulsive, and they’d both had too much to drink.

Ry dragged in a deep breath, and their lips brushed again, and Alex’s hesitance burst into spectrums of green. She leaned forward, taking Ryan’s lips in a gentle kiss. Slow, timid almost, as if they were both afraid to react too much. To react more than the other.

Was it good or bad that Ryan had kissed her back? Even with all the weird tension between them, she’d never imagined how acting on it would feel. Some lines weren’t meant to be crossed. Now that she had, she craved more of Ryan’s lips on hers—soft and yielding.

They jerked apart as a girl bumped into them, spilling the last few drops of her drink onto Ryan’s lap. The girl giggled and offered a barely coherent “Sorry” as she stumbled away.

Ryan stood, Alex following as Ryan weaved her way through the crowd almost aggressively, forcing people out of the way with her hands to clear a path.

“Ry!” The music smothered Alex’s attempt.

Ryan rounded the corner at the end of the hallway leading out of the living room.

Alex quickened her steps. As she rounded the bend too, she noticed Dom’s bedroom door had been opened. She took a tentative step inside. “Ry? Are you in her—”

The door slammed, and Alex turned. Ryan backed into it with a thud, pulling Alex against her, their lips pressed against each others. Alex’s hands found Ryan’s hips, and she squeezed. Everything from her grip to the way her teeth latched onto Ryan’s bottom lip was a confession. There’d be no stopping now. Not unless Ryan came to her senses and pulled away. Deep down, Alex was pleading for that to happen before things went too far, before their bodies admitted every word their lips refused to speak.

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NineStar Press | Books2Read Universal Link

Meet the Author

Stephanie Shea is a self-proclaimed introvert, who spends her days as a banker daydreaming of becoming a full-time novelist. Her mind’s fixation on characters and plotlines date back to high school when she’d find herself scribbling notes on her first novel instead of paying attention in calculus. These days, she reaches for a Post-It in her desk when inspiration strikes.

Her favorite things include binging tv shows, creating worlds where no character is too queer, broken or sensitive, and snacks. Lots of snacks.

Someday, she hopes to curb her road rage, and get past her anxiety over social media and author bios. Find her on Instagram.

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Release Blitz: Daughter of the Moon by Effie Calvin #Fantasy #LGBTQ @effiecalvin

Title: Daughter of the Moon

Series: Tales of Inthya, Book Five

Author: Effie Calvin

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: November 9, 2020

Heat Level: 2 – Fade to Black Sex

Pairing: Female/Female

Length: 75500

Genre: Fantasy, LGBTQIA+, Mythical creatures, shifters, trans, royalty, war mongering, exile, gods, magic, student

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Synopsis

Four months ago, Netheia Isinthi failed to take her father’s throne from her older sister. After refusing to publicly support the new empress, she is banished to Ieflaria’s capital city, Birsgen, where she anticipates a long and uneventful exile.

Klavida of Nalova is a student at the university established by Princess Esofi for the study of magic. She has come from the far north researching Talcia’s creatures—or so she claims. After a chance meeting brings the two together, Klavida wants nothing to do with the angry, ill-mannered princess. But when Netheia offers Klavida access to the royal library, Klavida decides she can tolerate her after all.

As they spend time together, Klavida realizes that Netheia is intensely lonely and has never known genuine friendship. She becomes determined to show her that there is more to life than the pursuit of power and that a peaceful life of freedom can be more satisfying than ruling an empire.

But Netheia’s patron goddess is not ready to accept that she has lost the Xytan Empire—and neither are Netheia’s most ardent supporters.

Excerpt

Daughter of the Moon
Effie Calvin © 2020
All Rights Reserved

NETHEIA

Netheia Isinthi supposed things could be worse.

She could have spent the last three months in a prison cell rather than her own familiar rooms. She could be dressed in rags and manacles instead of a silk dress. She could be awaiting the headman’s axe instead of a meeting with the newly crowned empress.

Outside the door stood four guards—too many for Netheia to fight, no matter how her blood sang at the thought of a challenge. To make matters worse, all her weapons had been removed from the room, even the well-hidden ones.

Ioanna had always been good at finding hidden things.

Netheia paced the room from end to end. Outside, rain fell softly, and a thin layer of silver mist blanketed the palace grounds. If she looked out the window, she could see more guards posted below.

All the guards assigned to her were strangers, obviously hired on to replace those loyal to her. She wondered what had happened to them. Execution seemed unlikely, given Netheia still lived.

Nobody tried to contact her, including her own mother. Perhaps she was similarly confined, but probably not. Most likely Enessa didn’t want to be seen associating with Netheia anymore—once the favored daughter, now a failure, a traitor.

What would her father say if he could see them all now?

Netheia spent most of her time exercising until she couldn’t move, finding the burn in her muscles familiar and reassuring. She examined her arms and legs every day, terrified the long confinement was destroying her body. What would everyone say if she emerged from her room as thin as Ioanna? They might even stop supporting her—for surely they still supported her? They were only biding their time, wise enough to not stand openly against the new empress now that the Order of the Sun was here to be her own personal army.

Nobody answered her prayers anymore.

Netheia swallowed and tried to push that thought away. She ought to be grateful for the respite, but instead found herself fantasizing about ways to win her patron goddess back, to prove her worthiness.

The door opened, and Netheia turned to face the guards standing there.

“The empress will see you now,” one said.

Her fantasies often began this way, and always ended with Ioanna dead on the floor in front of her. In those fantasies, Netheia tore through the guards like they were made of parchment paper, and Ioanna put up less resistance than a rabbit might. But as she observed the guards now, she realized nothing would play out like in her imaginings. They would be on her as soon as the faintest glimmer of rust-red magic appeared at her hands.

Netheia’s stomach churned, but she refused to allow them to see her distress. She lifted her chin and strode past them out of the room.

*

Ioanna Isinthi, firstborn daughter of Emperor Ionnes, sat on the carved marble throne that should have been Netheia’s. She wore a beautifully embroidered crimson-and-violet gown and a heavy golden crown on her head. Netheia had not been asked to attend the coronation, but the noise from the celebrations afterward had reached her rooms.

On either side of the throne stood two paladins from the Order of the Sun, a man and a woman. The woman was some foreigner of no importance, but the man was Knight-Commander Livius. He had been exiled from Xytae about fifteen years ago, along with the rest of the Order of the Sun, after their refusal to fight in the emperor’s wars. After his death, the Order quickly reemerged to support Ioanna—almost too quickly. Netheia suspected her sister had been in contact with them long before their father’s death.

“We have discussed the matter.” Ioanna glanced over at the knight-commander. “And we have decided to be lenient. You were led astray by the priestesses of Reygmadra.”

Netheia wanted to object, but Ioanna went on.

“Your actions have cost the empire valuable resources, and you nearly plunged us all into a civil war. But if you agree to help undo the damage you have caused to our nation, I will be lenient. All I ask is you give me your support, publicly. Our people must know we stand together. Will you do this for me?”

“Yes,” said Netheia.

Ioanna’s face fell. “You’re lying.” She sounded exactly like a disappointed child. “Netheia—”

“Well, what did you expect?” snapped Netheia. “You think I’m going to sit back and watch you undo everything our father accomplished? You think I’m going to tell our people I’m proud of you for spitting on our family legacy? That I don’t know how weak you are?”

“I was strong enough to defeat you,” said Ioanna.

Netheia found herself with no retort.

“Netheia, I didn’t want to do this, but you’ve left me no choice. I am sending you to Birsgen.”

“What?” cried Netheia, shock momentarily replacing rage. They were sending her out of the country?

“Do not argue. It is only a temporary exile. You will remain there until Xytae is stable again. As long as you conduct yourself appropriately, the Ieflarians will treat you as a guest, not a prisoner. Your movements will only be minimally restricted, and you will receive a stipend to live on. Do not throw away this gift, Netheia. We both know your sentence ought to be much harsher.”

Ioanna paused, apparently wanting to give her sister the opportunity to speak. But Netheia had no words for her.

“Perhaps this is foolish, but I hope that when you return, you will be more amicable to an alliance. I do not wish for us to be enemies all our lives. I know you are not ready to think of such a thing yet, but I would like you to reflect on it while you are away.”

Netheia continued to stand in stoic silence. Ioanna rubbed at her forehead with one thin, pale hand. Netheia hoped their father’s generals were making her life miserable. The thought cheered her when she remembered how the army had been ordered to withdraw from Masim, undoing decades of progress in a matter of days.

But really, Netheia had no idea what happened outside her private rooms. None of her friends were allowed to visit her, nor the priestesses of Reygmadra that had been her most powerful allies in the weeks after her father’s death, including Archpriestess Seia herself. She could only rely on what tiny details she managed to press out of the servants delivering her meals and whatever gossip she overheard from behind her door.

At least, she hoped her friends were not allowed to visit her. What if they were deliberately distancing themselves? Netheia shoved the thought away, refusing to even consider the idea.

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Meet the Author

Effie is definitely a human being with all her own skin, and not a robot. She writes science fiction and fantasy novels and lives with her cat in the greater Philadelphia area.

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