Release Blitz: If a Butterfly Don’t Fly by Mell Eight #Fantasy #LGBTQ @MellEight @ninestarpress @GoIndiMarketing

Title: If A Butterfly Don’t Fly

Series: Out of Underhill, Book Two

Author: Mell Eight

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: 04/05/2021

Heat Level: 1 – No Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 41600

Genre: Fantasy, LGBTQIA+, Fae/faeries, mythical creatures, disabilities, magic, performance arts, security guard, musicians

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Description

Merridy has always loved music but can’t sing. The only job in the music business he can get is as a security guard for the Bard and Sons, a premier record label. He keeps their secrets and patrols their hallways, always wishing for a big break he knows will never come.

Changeling’s Court is a brand new band struggling to record their first single. Merridy chances upon a scrap of their lyrics without accompanying music notes and can’t help composing a simple melody for them. If he’s found out, he’ll probably get fired.

Instead, he finds himself in a strange new world of magic and faeries—and danger.

Excerpt

If A Butterfly Don’t Fly
Mell Eight © 2021
All Rights Reserved

Music was embedded in the very fibers of the building.

Merridy took a deep breath as he stepped out of the stairwell and onto the first floor of practice rooms and felt the remnants of the notes played on instruments and sung into microphones swirling around him. They chimed in his ears and seemed to fill the air with a shine he could almost reach out and touch. Merridy wanted to touch it so badly, but instead, he let out his breath and smoothed down the front of his security guard uniform before reaching for the door handle that led into the first private lounge, which belonged to a soloist named Amaryllis.

As he stepped inside, Merridy saw Amaryllis’s bra hanging from the back of a chair. It was lacy across the tops of the cups, the sort of bra that, if the front of her shirt slipped while she was sweaty from singing onstage under the hot lights, might look like a fancy camisole peeking through.

Normally, Merridy didn’t mind the overnight shift as a security guard at the headquarters of the Bard and Sons. There wasn’t anyone else around as he walked through the halls half lit by security lighting and the ambient light that filtered in through the windows from the parking lot outside. He enjoyed the quiet and the solitude—and the music. He couldn’t sing any of the notes aloud, of course, but he could hear each note in his head as if the musicians were still hard at work. Sometimes he took the notes he heard and wrote them down; he had notebooks full of songs he’d heard, of notes that had twined through his mind, all put down onto the bar lines preprinted on staff paper and filed on his bookshelves at home.

He wasn’t used to running into women’s underwear, though. Today, all he had expected coming in was the rather minor suspense of the new band taking over the lone empty practice room. Any sort of excitement to break up the monotony of walking in circles all night was a relief, and finding out what type of band—pop, rock, country—had moved in would be the highlight of his evening. He wanted to know what the remnants of their music would sound like when he stepped into their empty practice lounge, and if it was as good as he hoped, he was looking forward to buying their soundtrack to hear it firsthand.

Of course, what he really wanted was to be playing in his own band in the light of day, rather than sneaking hints of the sounds of other bands as he walked through each room at night, but he was taking what little he could get and trying to enjoy it as best he could.

He quickly checked the rest of the room to make sure it was completely empty, which included looking behind doors and inside the full wardrobe. Merridy closed the wardrobe doors, took one more look around the cluttered lounge, and hurried back into the hallway.

Merridy unhooked his keys from his belt and made sure the lounge door was firmly locked. Then he reached into his pocket and pulled out a small pad of organizer tabs, the ones usually used to keep school notes organized. He chose a red tab and yanked it free of the roll before sticking it to the underside of Amaryllis’s nameplate. It would warn anyone arriving in the morning that this door should remain closed and locked until Amaryllis herself came to clean up her mess. Not even the morning custodian was allowed to go in to vacuum.

A bra was fairly innocuous, but given who it belonged to, it would probably sell for big bucks online. Merridy’s simple red tab would keep anyone stupid enough to try—like the sound mixer who had been selling used drumsticks on eBay a few months back—from having the opportunity.

With Amaryllis’s room done, Merridy continued down the hallway to the next door. It opened to reveal one of the two recording studios on the floor. He wasn’t allowed to touch any of the electrical parts, like the blinking lights or the slides on the sound mixer board. He didn’t know what any of the buttons did, and if he inadvertently ruined a project left unfinished overnight, he would be in major trouble.

He walked past the electronics and into the inner studio, where the instruments and the microphones for the singers were located. He could almost hear what the room sounded like when the instruments were playing—guitars riffing, drums pounding, and the simple note of a piano or bass holding it all together. The melodies would soar, reverberating through the room as a singer crooned into the mesh-fronted mic stand. Merridy knew what that sounded like from the dozens of auditions he had tried out for, and he’d reveled in each and every experience, but it didn’t matter how good he was on keys or strings. Once the band found out he couldn’t sing, somehow he was never actually chosen.

The imagined music faded from Merridy’s thoughts as that harsh dose of reality set in. He quickly checked that the inner studio was also empty of people and continued on. He left the studio door as he’d found it: unlocked and tab-free. There wasn’t anything sensitive to hide there.

Merridy checked behind every door—including the janitor’s closet—for trespassers. Very famous, platinum-selling artists used the studio space or kept practice lounges in the building. Rabid fans and competitors alike would kill and bribe for even the slightest glimpse of what Merridy saw every night. Some things Merridy wished he could unsee. Stars were very strange people, and he didn’t envy the custodians who had to clean up after them.

He finished his round of the floor where he had originally started, at the lone staircase in the corner. There was an elevator on the other side, but Merridy had to take the stairs up to the second floor first to ensure they were clear. He input his code into the keypad on the door to tell the other security guard manning the phones and desk in the lobby downstairs that he had finished the floor before heading farther upstairs.

The next two floors were comprised of more studio space. He had to flag one room on the third floor where someone had left a bong and some weed lying on a table next to a guitar.

He headed to the fourth floor, which was an exact replica of the prior two. Merridy walked to the first doorway and popped it open with a grimace. Soul Sound was a hard-rocking, hard-partying band, and their practice studio still sounded like it. The music floating through the air was a little shrieky, with high-pitched runs of the guitar accompanied by deep-throated screaming into the microphone. There were plenty of people who liked screamer rock, but Merridy just couldn’t find enough of the melody floating through his mind to enjoy it himself. He tried not to listen for as long as he could manage while he flipped open doors and checked behind furniture.

The job of a security guard was boring and monotonous, and often weird. This first walkthrough of all the rooms was the most interesting part of his night, because he never knew just what he would find behind each closed door. After the surprise was gone, the hours slowly trickled by until the sun rose. The daytime security guards, who only had to sit at the desk in the lobby unless an issue occurred upstairs, would arrive, and Merridy could go home to sleep.

He swept all the rooms on the floor like usual, luckily not seeing anything too startling, until he reached the final door. The nameplate he was used to was gone, and the blank rectangle of wall where it used to be was slightly darker than the paint around it. It had been carefully removed; the holes for the screws didn’t look torn or destroyed. Merridy turned and opened the studio door.

The furniture was different, too, as were the instruments scattered across the room. Antiquities and Wine—the country band that the space belonged to—had needed banjo stands, but those were now replaced by an upright piano. A leather jacket, another thing that didn’t fit with Antiquities and Wine’s chosen image, had been carelessly left across the back of the new couch.

Antiquities and Wine had moved to new studio space recently built farther south, Merridy remembered suddenly. That tidbit of information had gone out in the company’s weekly internal email bulletin. A new band had already taken the space. Merridy wondered who they were. The space felt quiet, almost anticipatory, as the old notes in the air faded without Antiquities and Wine there to renew them. The new band hadn’t yet begun to fill the space with their own sound.

He walked farther into the room, seeing four guitars—a bass, two electric, and one acoustic—on stands and a drum snare on top of the new piano. They were probably a pop-rock or rock band. In the back of the room, near the private bathroom, was a desk strewn with staff paper. Many of the sheets had been crumpled into balls and tossed aside. The ones still flat on the desk had dozens of cross-outs, some lines excessively crossed, the pen having cut deep.

Songwriting obviously wasn’t going too well for the new band.

Well. Either they’d figure it out, or they’d get out. That was the way the business worked. They had been given their chance with the nice studio. If the band blew it, too bad. It was more of a chance than Merridy had ever had. He sighed and resolutely pushed his jealousy away before heading into the bathroom to double-check it was empty. Merridy had a good job. Just because he wanted to switch places with someone in the new band wasn’t reason enough to let resentment simmer and ruin his night. The sink, toilet, and glassed-in shower stall hid no one, so he turned to head back out.

There was one piece of regular lined paper on the desk next to the bathroom door that wasn’t crumpled or covered in pencil scratches. Merridy couldn’t help stopping to read the four simple lines handwritten there.

In my dreams, I know you see me,

And in my hopes, you’ll hold my hand.

Reality hits, so does the truth:

You and me will never be we.

Purchase

NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

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

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Release Blitz: Junior Hero Blues by J.K. Pendragon #YoungAdult #LGBTQ @JKPendragon @GoIndiMarketing @ninestarpress

Title: Junior Hero Blues

Author: J.K. Pendragon

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: 03/29/2021

Heat Level: 1 – No Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 58400

Genre: Contemporary YA, LGBTQIA+, Action/adventure, Coming-of-age, Criminals, Enemies/rivals to lovers, Geeks, Humorous, Interracial, Law enforcement, #ownvoices, Superhero, Young adult

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Description

Last year, Javier Medina was your average socially awkward gay high schooler with a chip on his shoulder. This year, he’s…well, pretty much the same, but with bonus superpowers, a costume with an ab window to show off his new goods, and a secret identity as the high-flying, wise-cracking superhero Blue Spark.

But being a Junior Hero means that Javier gets all the responsibility and none of the cool gadgets. It’s hard enough working for the Legion of Liberty and fighting against the evil Organization, all while trying to keep on top of school work and suspicious parents. Add in a hunky boyfriend who’s way out of Javier’s league, and an even hunkier villain who keeps appearing every time said boyfriend mysteriously disappears, and Blue Spark is in for one big dollop of teenage angst. All while engaging in some epic superhero action and, oh yeah, an all-out battle to protect Liberty City from the forces of evil.

Welcome to the 100% true and totally unbiased account of life as a teenage superhero.

Excerpt

Junior Hero Blues
J.K. Pendragon © 2021
All Rights Reserved

When I woke up, my mask was lying beside me on the ground, and I felt like my entire head had been squeezed like a pimple.

It took me a few minutes to get my bearings, and by the time I realized the Raven was there with me, she was putting my mask back over my eyes and checking my vitals. Masks have a way of obscuring expressions, but I could see her jaw was tight and her lips were even thinner than usual.

“What happened?” I groaned, my voice raspy. I was starting to get memories back, of the smoke and explosions of the battle, and of him. That bastard smashing my head into a mirror—I raised a hand to my forehead and felt crusted blood through my glove—and then of us fighting, and of a rather unheroic rage that had come over me as we did so. The last thing I remembered was my hands on either side of his head, shooting sonic waves into his ears so hard his eyes were rolling back, and his big meaty hands around my neck, squeezing me into darkness.

“Don’t know.” The Raven’s ambiguously Slavic accent was harsher than normal. “I found you here, with your mask off. Who did it, do you know?”

“Yeah.” I coughed. “Who do you think? Jimmy Black.”

*

I guess I should back up a bit. Jimmy Black was my sworn enemy, if you go for dramatics like that (I totally do), and I’d met him before all this crap with the Organization started. I’d been on a date with Rick Rykov. My first date. Ever, that is, and I was pretty convinced the whole thing was a setup to make fun of me, because that would be typical. But then Rick actually showed up at the café, and we sat there for twenty minutes drinking coffee and discussing our lives like regular people, and there was absolutely no sign of the whole thing being a prank or some plan concocted by him and his friends to humiliate me.

I mean, aside from being gay, Rick was, like, standard bully material. He was a football player, even—six feet of lean teenage muscle and popularity. And I have a theory that being gay in high school just pushes your social standing to an extreme either way. Like, if you’re already popular, and then you come out as gay, you become this amazing, brave individual who inspires change (exhibit A: Rick Rykov). But if you come out as gay, and you’re that weird little Spanish dude who came to America in first grade and couldn’t speak any English, who decided to compensate for that fact by eating a bug in front of his entire class, which was never forgotten, ever, by anyone…

Well, see exhibit B: Javier Medina (that’s me, by the way). Skinny, brown, nerdy. I’m sure you can picture it. That, combined with my family not exactly being wealthy, meant I got picked on a lot in school, even before the bug thing, so I’m a little skittish. Or possibly a lot skittish. You decide.

So anyway, naturally, considering my rather extensive history with bullies, when a superhot, superpopular football player came striding down the hall toward me after class one day, my first instinct was to run away. Unfortunately, Kendall (who apparently has superhearing that I don’t know about) had overheard that Rick was planning on asking me out and grabbed my arm to keep me from escaping. She’s pretty heavyset, and I guess she was using her weight to her advantage, because I was basically rooted to the spot despite having, you know, moderate superstrength.

So then Rick strolled up, cool as you please, and introduced himself. Like, he full-on shook my hand. As if it were a job interview. And then he asked me out, and I was thinking I might be stupid enough to eat a bug, but I sure as hell wasn’t stupid enough to think that Rick Rykov was actually asking me out on a date. So I told him to eff off.

Yeah right. I actually said something along the lines of, “Uhh…you want to go…on a date? With me? Wh… Why?”

And he said, “Because I like you. I think you’re cute, so I thought we could get to know each other a bit better over coffee.”

At this point, I was basically giving myself whiplash looking around trying to see if I was in the process of being ambushed with the eventual intent to stick my head in the toilet. And then I got kind of angry because, like, here I was, busting my butt every single day to save people’s lives and keep the public safe. Screw putting up with this high school bullying crap.

So I decided I would go out with Rick, and if he or any of his buff football friends decided to try to pull one over me, I was just going to spontaneously snap and beat the crap out of them (or at least use my powers to pull some fun tricks with them) and plead temporary insanity to Captain Liberty after the fact.

Rick seemed pleased, and a little surprised I’d agreed. We set a date, and I went fully expecting to be doused with whipped cream, or laughed and jeered at, or at the very least stood up.

But Rick was there, leaning back in one of the little spindly café chairs that looked like it might break under his weight and sipping some frothy drink. When I sat, he shook my hand again, and then we just sort of…started talking.

Which I know isn’t a big deal, because, like, people talk all the time. But not me. I mean, I talk to Kendall, because she’s my best friend and has been forever, and we tell each other everything. I talk to my parents, in Spanish mostly, which is still a bit easier for me, funnily enough (although I’m sure you can tell I have an absolutely superb grasp of the English language). But with everyone else? It’s kind of like the fewer syllables I can use, the better. I mumble my way through life. I just can’t make myself say what I’m thinking most of the time.

So yeah, it was pleasantly surprising to be able to talk to Rick. He asked me questions and waited patiently while I answered them, and then offered information about himself. He lived with his parents in a really nice part of town, although pretty close to me, and had a sister and a cat. And I told him, a bit defensively, that I lived with my parents in a crappy little apartment that didn’t allow pets, and that my dad worked on computers and my mom worked at a gas station so we could have a little extra income. I was all set for Rick to be all judgey or awkward (or worse, feel bad for me) about my poorness, but he didn’t seem to care about that at all. He actually seemed to genuinely want to get to know me.

And then, just when I was starting to relax and believe that this was actually a thing that was happening and I wasn’t going to, you know, die, Rick’s phone rang. He had a sort of awkward conversation and said, looking really let down, “I’m sorry, I’ve got to go to work. Last-minute thing.” Then his face brightened up a bit. “But we should do this again sometime.”

I agreed, and he went off, and I was left sitting there for about ten minutes finishing my coffee and thinking. And then my phone rang too.

I should have figured it out right then and there.

It was the Legion dispatch, about as polite as ever, which is to say one step up from a robot. Actually, scratch that, the Legion AI was way friendlier.

So she was all, “There’s an incident downtown, not far from your location. Can you respond?”

And I figured why not, since I was pretty pumped at that moment, and anyway, it was my job. Like, I got paid for it and everything. So I told her I’d be there in two minutes, and grabbed my bag and headed out.

Now, listen up, because I’m going to let you in on a little secret about switching from your civilian clothes into your superhero getup.

The telephone booth thing?

Utter bullcrap.

I mean, maybe except for old pros like Captain Liberty. I’ve seen him change into his costume so fast it was as if he must have been wearing a tear-away outfit, complete with, like, origami cape and boots in his back pocket. But for the rest of us, it’s three-plus minutes of awkwardly hunching on top of a building—try even finding a telephone booth these days—ripping off your clothes and pulling on the parts of your costume that don’t fit under them, and then you have to try to fit everything, including your shoes, into your backpack. And then you have to look for a place to stash your backpack where it won’t be stolen or crapped on by pigeons or something.

And the Legion really does expect you to respond to a call within only five minutes. I don’t know why they haven’t invented some sort of quick-change technology. Maybe they have, and they just don’t make it available to Junior Heroes.

It’s a complete rip-off being a Junior Hero, by the way. You’re supposed to be only assigned to low-risk stuff, but half the time it’s just as dangerous as anything else anyway, and the rest of the time it’s freaking boring.

Purchase

NineStar Press | Books2Read

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: First Impressions by C. Koehler #LGBTQ #ContemporaryRomance @christopherink @GoIndiMarketing @ninestarpress

Title: First Impressions

Author: C. Koehler

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: 03/29/2021

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 90200

Genre: Contemporary, “LGBTQIA+, Contemporary, romance, gay, family-drama, humorous, comedy of manners, ex-porn star, store clerk, resort hotel, mother/son relationship”

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Description

When Henry Hughes and Cameron Jameson meet for the first time at a Coming Out Day party, it’s anything but love at first sight. In fact, it’s an unmitigated disaster, despite a scorching physical attraction.

Henry, whose social anxiety gets the better of him, humiliates Cameron, and when Cameron finds out about Henry’s past in adult films, he assumes he dodged a disease-covered bullet. Yet as Henry runs into Cameron again and again, he realizes he might have misjudged the younger man. He also realizes that Cameron won’t let go of his own initial view and thinks Henry is an unmitigated ass. First impressions are lasting impressions, and Cameron seems to misinterpret all of Henry’s words and deeds.

It’s not until Henry confronts Cameron that Cameron realizes just how wrong he’s been, but he thinks he’s lost his chance. Yet when disaster strikes Cameron and his friends, Henry rides to the rescue. Will Cameron be able to put aside his pride and shame to accept Henry’s help and his heart?

Excerpt

First Impressions
C. Koehler © 2021
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One
Henry Hughes nudged his Tesla Roadster into the second of his assigned parking spots beneath the Capitol Towers, the one in which he’d had a charger installed, praying he didn’t dent or scratch the pricey plaything.

He struggled to leverage his muscular frame out of the door, and finally just climbed out the top. There was no way this would work long-term. He was way over six feet tall and built like a linebacker. Maybe the other space was larger? He’d already noticed his assistant’s more serviceable SUV parked there. He made a note to talk to her about it, but then he realized if he did, she’d relinquish the larger space without a peep, or worse, buy a smaller car. Then he thought about the hassle of moving the charger. It’d be easier to keep climbing out of the top of the car.

The parking was a pain in the ass—and not the good kind—but to keep a place in Sacramento. Since it wasn’t his primary residence, a house with a yard simply wasn’t practical, not even one of the adorable bungalows in the neighborhoods east of downtown. So, there he was with a condo and the adventures in parking.

Even with the occasional headache, Sacramento still beat San Francisco, and it was the only city of any size close to Alpenglow, his spread near Lake Tahoe. What was his alternative, some village of less than fifty people on US-50? Now entering, now leaving!

The door opened at his touch, and he sighed. There could be only one explanation.

Lillian.

She had arrived early to freshen the place up for him.

It was thoughtful and so like her, and so unnecessary. He wasn’t helpless, just an emotional wreck. He lied to himself and pretended the joke was funny.

“Hello?” he called, shutting the door behind him. He walked into the foyer and through the French doors that led to the formal living space beyond. “Lillian?”

“In here, Henry.”

Lillian Desmond rose to shake his hand when Henry entered the room because she was respectful like that. She was tall, a bit shorter than him, at least, and while her face was lined by sun and a storied career in law enforcement and paramilitary groups—the details of which he still found improbable despite vetting them thoroughly—she wore her fifty-odd years lightly. He suspected she could put him on the ground in seconds if she wanted to but was nice enough not to demonstrate it. She kept her graying-blonde hair out of the way in a no-nonsense bun, and that plus the reading glasses perched on her nose made her look like a schoolmarm.

“Welcome home.” Her reading glasses slid down her nose as she looked him in the eye. It made him wonder what he’d done and what the consequences would be.

Henry looked around. “It doesn’t really feel like home. It’s more like a hotel suite I own, which is weird, because Alpenglow doesn’t look this impersonal and it’s actually a hotel. Sort of.”

“And whose fault is that? Maybe you should spend more time down here this fall. You work awfully hard.” Lillian gave him a stern look. “Take some time off.”

“I don’t work any harder than you, and you’ll take time off when you die.” He hated talking about his work habits because they inevitably led to discussions about his personal life. Or the lack thereof. “Who knows. A bit of a break might be nice.”

“There you go.” Lillian herded him away from her paperwork. “Let’s go into the living room. We’ve got some things to go over.”

“The winter schedule and programming?” Henry noted the leather portfolio with the Alpenglow logo on its cover.

Lillian laughed, sweet and musical. “You’re funny. No, we went over that months ago, as you evidently don’t recall. This”—she pulled out the portfolio—“is the material for next spring.”

“I guess there’s no putting it off.” Henry pretended to be reluctant, but he loved Alpenglow like nothing else, built from the ground up out of a moribund ski resort with his own money and tricky financing. It had started just with skiing, but he had added a variety of offerings to make it a desirable year-round destination.

Lillian had been an early part of Henry’s operation and had quickly become integral to it. He’d initially hired her to head his security team, but after her first diffident suggestion that perhaps opening the cross-country trails to local horse-riding camps might improve their nonexistent summer cash flow, he and she had put their heads together to make Alpenglow what it was, even if she wouldn’t accept part ownership. “Alpenglow’s all yours,” she said when he’d tried to sign over an admittedly minority share to her. “You pay me a prince’s ransom, and that’s more than enough.”

So now he sat next to her now on one of the leather sofas while they finalized their spring plans.

Lillian pushed her readers back into position. “I’ve got quite an agenda for us while we’re here, Henry.”

“I can see that.”

“First, routine maintenance issues. As you know, the outdoor swimming pools are showing their age.”

“That they are. Frankly, we’re lucky we got through the summer with them in the shape we did. In retrospect, they should’ve been done last winter.”

“Hindsight’s always twenty-twenty,” Lillian agreed. “Now, in the past, you’ve insisted on keeping one outdoor pool open and heated, but this year…”

Henry leaned back, paying attention with only part of his mind as they ran through basic upkeep issues. They’d done this many times before; only the specific details changed.

“Have you had a chance to look into the décor of the rooms in the south wing, like I asked?”

“Yes, of course, Henry.” Lillian flipped through her notes. “You were right. Those rooms have never been updated, and honestly? They’re not looking that good.”

Henry nodded. “That’s what I thought. I haven’t been able to get into every room, but the ones I checked need help, and soon.”

They should, he thought. They were the first rooms to accommodate guests, back when the south wing was the only wing and he worked the front desk.

“I’ll oversee it myself,” Lillian said. “Now, about—”

He shook his head. “No, I will. We can probably find designers and decorators whose work’ll do in Sacramento, but if we need to go to San Francisco I’m halfway there. Have the schematics for those rooms sent down here via courier, and I’ll start making calls.” Henry thought for a moment. “One other thing…don’t fill my dance card too full. There are people down here I want to see, people I hope will invest in the next phase of Alpenglow.”

Lillian nodded. “I’ve heard a rumor that Darren Jessup from Band of Brothers might be in town for a while. I’ll see what I can find out. Now, the last thing on the list, at least for today, is Camp Snowflake. Will you be taking your usual role?”

Henry frowned. “Of course, why wouldn’t I?”

She looked up from her portfolio. “Just checking. I wasn’t sure how long this hankering of yours for city life would last this time.”

“We’ll see, won’t we? It looks like I’m ready for company again, and despite the smaller size of Sacramento’s gay community, it feels like fewer people here know about my past.”

Lillian put down the portfolio with its list and removed her glasses. “People don’t care about your imagined ex-porn star notoriety as much as you think they do.”

“You’d be surprised what people care about, and thanks to the Internet, it’s still as fresh as yesterday.” Henry laughed without humor. “It’s only been five years or so. Hell, Badass still has most of the films on the website.”

“I know how much it bothers you.” Lillian touched his arm gently.

He appreciated the gesture even if it didn’t make him feel better. Early in their association, she’d taken on the role of mother surrogate. It hadn’t taken him long to figure out that he’d never convince her he could take care of himself, and it was nice to have someone looking out for him.

None of that meant he didn’t want, didn’t long for, didn’t need that someone special to look after him. And for him to look after in return, a real husband and not the string of trophy men his Uncle Benton supported, tagging along behind him like Mary’s little lambs, always bleating for more cash. He sighed and made a mental note to let Uncle Benton know he was in town.

Lillian snapped her portfolio closed, and then hesitated. She gave him a measuring look. “There is one other thing…”

Henry knew that tone. It always led somewhere, usually right into his private life. “Yes?”

“You need to get out more, Henry.” Amazing. She hadn’t even bothered to butter him up first. She held up a hand to hold him off. “I know what you just said about the imagined sins of your past, but you’re never going to meet Mr. Right—hell, Mr. Right Now—if you’re holed up in your pretty prison up by the lake.”

“Alpenglow’s not a prison,” Henry mumbled. He crossed his arms defensively, trying to ward off the truth of her words. On some level he knew he looked like a petulant child, but right then he didn’t care.

Lillian leaned forward and touched the side of his head. It was gentle, almost a caress. “I mean up here, in your mind.”

Henry jumped. That one slipped past his defenses. He tried to laugh it off, but it came out as a strangled gurgle. He coughed to clear his throat. “So…um, what do you have in mind?”

“Well, seeing how it’s early October…”

Henry looked at her expectantly, waiting for the rest.

“Early October, Henry. Ring any bells?”

“Not seeing any connections, Lillian.”

“National Coming Out Day, Henry,” Lillian sighed. Then, quicker than lightning, her hand flashed out and smacked him on the forehead.

“Ouch!” Henry yelped. “What the hell was that for?”

“You’re gay, you big fool. Hell, you made gay porn for years, and you don’t know when National Coming Out Day is?” Lillian shook her head.

“I came out—was outed, thank you very much—years ago.” Henry rubbed where she’d hit him. It still stung.

“My point,” Lillian said, “is that you could show a little gay pride once in a while, considering how much money the gay community’s made you over the years.”

“Technically, they made the money for Badass Productions. I was a contract worker at first,”

“Trivia, Henry. Once you bought into the company all those horny men put cash in your pocket. You’re coming with me so I can introduce you to Sacramento society. There are people you need to meet.”

Wasn’t Sacramento society an oxymoron? “All right.”

Lillian looked at him with suspicion. “That’s it? No argument? No mulish and obstinate resistance?”

“Would it do any good?”

“No.”

“Then…wait a minute.” Henry glared at her through slitted eyes. “If I need to meet these people, why haven’t I met them sooner? We’ve both spent plenty of time here.”

“The time just didn’t seem right.” Lillian wouldn’t meet his eyes.

Interest, but Henry decided not to pursue it. “Why not? I can’t spend all my time on the redesign, and who knows? Maybe I can drum up some business. I do own a high-end resort, after all.”

He made all the right noises, but when it came down to it, Henry didn’t know who people would see when they met him, Henry Hughes or Hugh Jerection, a man and persona he’d long ago come to hate.

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Meet the Author

Christopher Koehler always wanted to write, but it wasn’t until his grad school years that he realized writing was how he wanted to spend his life. Long something of a hothouse flower, he’s been lucky to be surrounded by people who encouraged that, especially his long-suffering husband of twenty-nine years and counting.

He loves many genres of fiction and nonfiction, but he’s especially fond of romances, because it’s in them that human emotions and relations, at least most of the ones fit to be discussed publicly, are laid bare.

While writing is his passion and his life, when he’s not doing that, he’s a househusband, at-home dad, and oarsman with a slightly disturbing interest in manners and the other ways people behave badly.

Christopher is approaching the tenth anniversary of publication and has been fortunate to be recognized for his writing, including by the American Library Association, which named Poz a 2016 Recommended Title, and an Honorable Mention for “Transformation,” in Innovation, Volume 6 of Queer Sci Fi’s Flash Fiction Anthology.

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Release Blitz: We Cry the Sea by Glenn Quigley #LGBTQ #historicalfantasy @Glennquigley @ninestarpress @GoIndiMarketing

Title: We Cry the Sea

Series: The Moth and Moon, Book Three

Author: Glenn Quigley

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: 03/15/2021

Heat Level: 2 – Fade to Black Sex

Pairing: Male/Male, Female/Female

Length: 102500

Genre: Historical Fantasy, LGBTQIA+, Action/adventure, Age-gap, Bears, Bartenders, Established couple, Illness/disease, Over 40, #ownvoices, Pirates, Sailors, Tattoos, Fishermen, Criminals, clockpunk

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 Description

After the explosive events of The Lion Lies Waiting, life has returned to normal for burly fisherman Robin Shipp. That is until the innkeeper of the ancient Moth & Moon approaches him with a surprising proposal, and an unexpected arrival brings some shocking news that sends Robin on a perilous journey alone.

While he’s away, his lover, Edwin, anxiously prepares for the birth of his first child with his friend, Iris. Her wife, Lady Eva, must travel to Blackrabbit Island for a showdown over the future of the family business. Meanwhile, Duncan nurses an injured man back to health but as the two grow close, the island’s new schoolmaster makes his amorous intentions clear.

Robin’s search for answers to the questions that have haunted his entire life will take him away from everyone he knows, across a dangerous ocean, and into the very heart of a floating pirate stronghold. Pushed to his limits, Robin’s one last chance at finding the truth will cost him more than he ever imagined.

Excerpt

We Cry the Sea
Glenn Quigley © 2021
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One
Finding a gull in one’s bathroom has a way of bringing into sharp focus just what massive beasts they truly are. They certainly appear large when harassing people at the seafront, or circling overhead, but coming face to face with one in a domestic setting really shows them in a whole new light. It wasn’t actually using the privy, of course, though its demeanour suggested it could have if it wanted to. Rather, it seemed content to simply sit there and wait out the bad weather.

It wasn’t until Robin Shipp approached that it began to caw and squawk furiously, flapping its wings with an air of indignity, as if protesting at him having the temerity to walk in without first knocking. Which, in all fairness to the gull, he had done, but then it was his lavatory and up till that point he’d never known it to be frequented by any type of wildlife whatsoever.

Despite his name, Robin had little affinity for, or interest in, birds. Especially gulls. He found them pests, for the most part. He was a fisherman and spent more time than he’d like trying to shoo them away from his catch. This one in particular was known to him as the Admiral, one of a pair of seagulls who fought a never-ending battle for supremacy of the harbour. Robin stood there, in the whitewashed room, shouting at the bird to leave for a good five minutes before accepting it wasn’t going to be quite so easy.

He slowly slipped off his woollen overcoat and held it open, advancing as cautiously as his enormous frame would allow, then flung it quickly over the toilet. The gull was not amused, nor was it shy in expressing as much. After some kerfuffle, Robin managed to bundle it up in his coat, fearful the whole time of injuring its wings. He didn’t like gulls, but he’d never be needlessly cruel or violent towards them either.

He wrestled the creature out of the room, across the narrow hall, and into his bedroom. The doors to his balcony were open. The method of admission, he suspected. He shook his coat open and the gull tumbled out, mewing loudly, before plodding to the balcony and flying away into the rain. It looked back to squawk at him one last time. An insult, Robin was certain. He shut the doors and sighed. He was late.

He pulled closed the front door of his tall, thin house and trudged down towards the harbour. He tugged his flat cap low over his eyes though the weather was already beginning to ease. With his meaty thumb, he rubbed the palm of his left hand. Injured the previous year, on the night of the winter solstice, it had never properly healed. His hand was always stiff now, with a deep ache and a white, weblike scar. Rubbing helped as he found it seized up if he neglected it too long, especially in cold weather. He’d been advised by the local doctor to keep rubbing it as often as possible as it kept the blood flowing, or some such.

Robin didn’t really understand the mechanics of it. He’d been eager to resume fishing after the worst of the winter season had passed but quickly discovered his efforts hampered by his injury. He tried to pass it off as a minor inconvenience, but deep down he knew it was serious. He’d been a fisherman all his adult life, and before. He’d started when he was a young boy after his father had died and he couldn’t imagine any other way of living, didn’t want to imagine it, even. The hurricane of the previous summer, just over a year ago, had turned his whole world upside down and while he couldn’t have been happier about it, the upheaval had been daunting. What he craved now more than anything was some peace and quiet.

With his bull neck, jug ears, and hooded eyes, Robin had never considered himself an especially attractive man, so quite what the undeniably handsome Edwin Farriner saw in him, he couldn’t rightly say. Yet there Edwin was, sheltering from the rain against a market hall pillar, waiting for him. He was tall, though not as tall as Robin, in his early forties, so ten years Robin’s junior, with receding and close-shaved ginger hair. His smile never failed to light up Robin’s heart.

“You’re late,” Edwin said. “He won’t be happy.”

“Ho ho! When is ’e ever ’appy?”

The rain stopped and the clouds broke. They stood gazing at the roof of the Moth & Moon, shielding their eyes from the midday sun. Atop the enormous inn, workers hammered nails and sawed wood. A framework was coming together—six sided and spacious enough to comfortably fit ten men. Robin pulled his cap lower and cupped a hand around his mouth.

“Oi! Duncan!” His deep voice carried clear across the little harbour. “Time to eat! Come on!”

From the rooftop, Duncan Hunger waved and began to climb down the many ladders strapped to the rain-slick tiles. The Moth & Moon was expansive and ever-changing. A hunk of wood, glass, and lime wash, which seemed to regularly sprout fresh bay windows, bud whole new rooms, and blossom balconies. Its roof, or rather roofs, rose and fell like the sea—a tiled wave here, a slate swell there—and took some skill to navigate. Duncan grasped one of the numerous chimney stacks and used it to swing himself around to firmer footing. When his boots finally touched the ground, he shook raindrops from his coat.

“You’re late,” he said.

“Only a little!” Robin said. “I ’ad a visit from the Admiral.”

“It’s all well and good for you two to swan up whenever the mood strikes you,” Duncan said, “but some of us have work to be getting on with.”

Robin chuckled again. Duncan’s natural state was irked, and he never needed a particular reason to complain. He cleaned all the lenses in his unique spectacles with a handkerchief. Small, round, and fixed with multiple thin armatures, they were of Duncan’s own design. He was forever fiddling with them, setting first one lens in place and then another. Robin wondered if Duncan would be forced to add even more arms with even more lenses as he grew older. Duncan was Edwin’s age but a couple of heads shorter. He was squat, burly, with wavy black hair, long sideburns, and an expression that indicated he had somewhere more important to be, so if you wanted him to stay, you’d better make it worth his while.

“’Ow’s it goin’?” Robin asked, pointing upwards.

“Slowly,” Duncan said, fixing the spectacles back into place on his button nose. “We should have been finished with the basic frame by now. The others are dragging their heels.”

“Nothing to do with you resetting the wood every ten minutes and telling everyone they’re doing it all wrong?” Edwin asked.

“Whoever could have told you such a thing?” Duncan asked. “It’s a gross exaggeration and a terrible slight on my good name. Can I help it if I’m a perfectionist? I want this new bell tower to stand the test of time, to be…”

Duncan trailed off and pointed out to sea. “That boat’s coming in a bit fast, isn’t it?”

Robin turned and squinted before reaching into the pocket of his long, navy-coloured overcoat from which he produced a battered copper spyglass. He extended it to its full length. The glass was a touch foggy, but it was enough to determine a single occupant at the helm of the lugger.

“Can you see who it is?” Edwin asked.

“No,” Robin said. “I can’t see ’is face. But whoever ’e is, ’e needs to slow down or ’e’ll run aground.”

Robin ambled down to the pier, quickly overtaken by the much sprightlier Edwin and Duncan. All three men frantically waved their arms and shouted, trying to alert the sailor to the danger. The sailboat began to turn, taking it away from the harbour and straight towards the headland. Straight towards the rocks.

With a terrifying crack that landed like a lightning strike, the boat splintered against rocky outcrops, and its occupant was flung into the water. Without a moment’s thought, Robin ditched his cap, overcoat, and jumper. He hopped around, pulling off his boots, before diving into the sea. Edwin followed suit. They splashed about in the choppy waters, unable to find the man.

“Robin!” Duncan said. “Over there! To your right! No, the other way… Starboard, man! Starboard!”

Robin kicked his massive legs furiously to avoid being dashed against the rocks himself. With one deep breath, he dived beneath the surface to search where Duncan had indicated, but there was no sign. Underwater, Edwin was pointing furiously. Robin turned to find the figure of a man floating limply. Together, he and Edwin grabbed the victim and brought him to the surface. Robin’s lungs were burning, and he gasped for air.

Once ashore, they lay the drowning man on his back. He was breathing and coughed up some seawater. Blood poured from his left eye, dying part of his white beard crimson. He was huge, as big as Robin himself. A crowd gathered around them. Robin brushed the man’s lank hair away from the wound.

“Easy, easy,” Robin said. “You’re safe now. What… Wait. Vince?”

“Hello, brother,” Vince said. His usually growling voice was weak and cracked.

“Let’s get him to the inn,” Edwin said.

“No,” Vince said, grabbing firmly onto Robin’s arm. “Too many people.”

“We’ll take you to my ’ouse, then,” Robin said. “It’s not far.”

They loaded Vince onto a borrowed cart and took him up the steep slope of Anchor Rise. He placed one huge arm across Edwin’s shoulders, the other across Robin’s, and together they all sidled through the blue front door of Robin’s home. Scarlet dots gathered on the black and white tiles of the hallway floor as blood dripped from Vince’s eye, yet still he stared at the oil painting on the upstairs landing. Once inside Robin’s front room, they put him by the fireplace and wrapped bandages around his head and leg. They would have to do until Doctor Greenaway could be summoned.

“I didn’t recognise you under all the hair,” Duncan said.

“Haven’t had much chance to get it cut,” Vince said. “Been busy.”

“Too busy to visit us, like you said you would.”

“Here now, aren’t I?”

Edwin handed him a mug of water and Vince sipped it, then pawed at his throat, obviously in some discomfort.

“How did you end up running aground?” Duncan asked.

Vince sipped his drink again but said nothing.

Robin frowned. “Vince? Did you ’ear ’im? What—”

Edwin coughed and placed his hand on Robin’s arm. “Let’s just give him time to get his head clear. He’s obviously had a terrible shock.”

Robin had only met Vince once before, around the same time he’d injured his hand. Before then, he didn’t even know he had a brother. They’d promised to stay in touch, and they did, after a fashion. A couple of short letters had been exchanged but nothing more.

“Well, you can stay ’ere as long as you like, of course,” he said. “My ’ome is your ’ome.”

“How’s he going to manage all those stairs with his leg the way it is?” Duncan asked. “You’d be better off staying with me, I suppose.”

Vince growled something approaching gratitude. “Help me up,” he said.

“You don’t ’ave to go right now,” Robin said, as he once more he let Vince lean on him.

“Hallway,” Vince said.

Robin guided him back out onto the black and white tiles. Vince pointed at the painting upstairs.

“Who’s he?”

“Oh, right, you never met ’im. It’s our dad, Captain Erasmus Shipp,” Robin said. “It were painted a few years before ’e died.”

Vince shook his head. “Can’t be Dad.”

“Why not?”

“Because just this morning, I saw that man in Wolfe-Chase Asylum.”

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Meet the Author

Glenn Quigley is a graphic designer originally from Dublin and now living in Lisburn, Northern Ireland. He creates bear designs for http://www.themoodybear.com. He has been interested in writing since he was a child, as essay writing was the one and only thing he was ever any good at in school. When not writing or designing, he enjoys photography and has recently taken up watercolour painting.

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Release Blitz: A Queer Little Book of TAles by H.R. Harrison #LGBTQ #fantasyromance @mythstakes @GoIndiMarketing @ninestarpress

Title: A Queer Little Book of Tales

Author: H.R. Harrison

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: 03/15/2021

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male, Female/Female

Length: 125200

Genre: Fantasy Short Stories, LGBTQIA+, fairy tales, magic, medieval setting, royalty, coming of age, elves, aliens, dwarves, fairies, MM romance, MNB romance, nonbinary, transgender, autistic, deaf, Jewish, magical transformations, animal bridegrooms

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Description

A collection of queer fairy tale retellings for the discerning reader. Dive into a world both familiar and strange and meet a colorful cast of characters from all different backgrounds and upbringings, from princes and paupers to aliens and dwarves, from merchant sons to sign language interpreters. And fairies, of course. But it’s important to remember… most fairies aren’t fairy godmothers.

The White Cat follows the intrepid young prince Yufitri from across the Sea, who meets a mystical talking cat who offers to grant all his desires—even the call for a wife.

The Fairy’s Gift tells the tale of a young princess Wynn who was cursed by an evil fairy to… have the body of her dreams? Oh no, whatever shall she do? Save a neighboring kingdom it seems!

In From Stars They Fell, when a strange metal ship falls from the sky, an angel with dragonfly wings is left stranded in a strange land, and meets a young man who speaks with his hands.

When the angel takes the job of the young man’s interpreter, Oswin, he sets out to find new work. The Echoes of the Dead finds him stumbling across mysterious black ruins in the woods, inhabited by a scarred and quiet elf whose kindness hides a depth of despair.

In A Step Apart and a World Away, Naomhan, a duke’s son, who has always felt apart from the world, rescues a beautiful snake, who turns into a beautiful man promising rewards for Naomhan’s kindness. But Naomhan wants only to disappear.

And In the Shade of the Tree of Life ends the collection with a tale of anxiety and heartbreak, when a tailor’s apprentice of maligned background falls in love with a hermit of a prince.

Excerpt

A Queer Little Book of Tales
H.R. Harrison © 2021
All Rights Reserved

The next day, Yufitri woke to gentle hands shaking his shoulder and pointing toward a set of unfamiliar clothing folded atop the chest at the foot of the bed. Two pairs of hands helped him undress, then put on the foreign clothes. A short shirt with tight sleeves and short pants came first, and then a longer shirt that ended at his knees and buckled at the waist. It had tight sleeves only to the elbow and then fell open, dangling strangely around the long sleeves of the first shirt. And to finish, soft deerskin shoes.

He felt like his top half had been overstuffed, leaving legs oddly bare, but he found, as he acclimated to the unfamiliar clothing, he was much warmer. A long cloak was draped over his shoulders and fastened with a pin.

Now that he was fully dressed, the hands gave him a gentle push toward the door and led him down to the dining hall. The white cat sat at the head of the long table, sitting primly on a velvet cushion so it could look over the empty dishes. The rest of the table, save for one seat, was filled with other cats of varying size and color. Their eyes, jewel-bright and glittering, watched him as he entered. He was a bit intimidated but took the empty chair beside the white cat and sat to its right.

Green eyes gleamed at him, and the cat inclined its head politely. “I am glad the clothes suit you, king’s son. Don’t worry; you can have yours back when you leave. I am having them washed.”

“Did they offend?” Yufitri couldn’t help a smirk.

The cat seemed to smile, its eyes narrowing softly. “A little. Cats have delicate noses.” The rest of the table started to purr, presumably in amusement. The food emerged from the kitchen, carried by the floating hands. He was surprised how quickly he was getting used to them.

However, he was not excited to see the plates contained an opening course of roasted mouse. The cat saw his face and called a pair of hands over with a paw. “Make sure our guest gets his proper meal,” it said. “I will not be the sort of host who serves food unfit for human consumption.”

The hands came together and dipped forward as if bowing and returned to the kitchen.

In a moment, there was a bowl of warm soup in front of Yufitri, white and steaming. “Milk and potato are the main ingredients,” the cat said comfortingly. “No mouse or rat has touched it.” A purr snuck into its voice. “Though I can do nothing about the cat hair. A hazard of a cat-ruled kitchen, you see.”

“I…also do not consume swine or cow, dear cat. Though I’ve no such objection to accidental fur.” He smiled.

“I shall have a note made.” Sure enough, it told the nearest set of hands to inform the kitchen. Yufitri watched, marveling, as two hands came together and reshaped into quill and parchment. Another hand wrote the note and, when finished, rolled it up, and flew off into the kitchen.

The potato stew was excellent. Two large birds served as main course, each carried by two sets of hands. Well-mannered cats cut slices off with their claws and took only small bites. The white cat, the politest of them all, patted delicately at its face and whiskers with the napkin from beside the plate.

After the meal, the rest of the cats leapt from their chairs and returned to whatever their business they had, leaving Yufitri and the white cat.

“Would you care to join me in the drawing room?” asked the cat.

“I would be glad to,” he said.

It jumped off the cushion and landed primly on its feet, looking back at Yufitri. “I am curious about whatever quest brought you to this strange land, and I’m sure you have questions for me, though there is little I can answer.”

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NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

H.R. Harrison is the penname of an unfortunate soul whose ancestors opted to Americanize pronunciation… but not spelling.

She has worn a lot of hats in her day jobs, but always spends a lot of time thinking about communication, language, and how words… word.

She has a love for fantasy, mythos, and genre subversion, and that is what drew her toward writing LGBTQ fantasy. She also tends to fall into research pits while trying to write. Therefore, she knows a lot of random trivia about a lot of random topics.

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Release Blitz: Caleb by Summer Stanton #ParanormalRomance #LGBTQ @EJBookPromos

Title: Caleb 
Series: Carnal Pleasures Series
Author: Summer Stanton
Genre: M/M/M/M, Paranormal, Fated Mates, BDSM, Romance
Release Date: March 11, 2021 

Caleb Knightly is a Professional submissive at Carnal Pleasures. After escaping a dangerous situation and reluctantly being turned into a Vampire, he is finally happy with his life. He doesn’t need, or want, anything else. Until fate decides to turn his world upside down—again.

Callum Rutters and Eli Dran have been together for an amazing sixty years. They love the time they spend playing together at Carnal Pleasures. Their complex relationship keeps things interesting and they couldn’t be happier. Until fate throws them into the path of someone they never knew they needed. Now, they have to convince Caleb that being bonded doesn’t mean he’ll lose his autonomy. Instead, he’ll gain a family, something he thought he lost a long time ago.

Just as the three men are beginning to find their footing and learning how they work as a three, Eli’s past returns to haunt him, and fate steps in once more. This time in the form of Lucian Drake, local Pack Alpha. Lucian doesn’t know what to make of the threesome, he just knows he wants more with them all, in whatever capacity they’ll allow.

However, Eli isn’t the only one facing danger and Lucian will have to fight, not just for the three men he is growing to love, but for the Pack he’s spent his life building and protecting.

Separately, the four men are vastly different, but together they have something extraordinary. It may not be conventional but it can be all theirs—if they can survive.

*The Carnal Pleasures series will be a mixture of various M/M and M/F pairings following the lives of the employees and patrons of the club. While this series has romantic elements, not all books will be romance. Due to language and explicit sexual interaction, it is recommended for readers 18 and up*

 

Goodreads Review – “There’s never a dull moment.”

Goodreads Review – “This book gives you everything you want in a book, the drama, the heat, the chemistry, the suspense and more…”

Goodreads Review – “This book is by far the best in the series”

 

Summer Stanton loves three things: books, coffee, and writing. After spending years dreaming about being a writer, she finally took the plunge.

She loves pushing her limits and writing about things that are close to her heart. She tries to put as much real-world stuff into her work but enjoys being creative and taking liberties when she can. Her books are full of love, family, and strong friendships and mostly have happy for now endings.

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Release Blitz: The Social Climber by Jere M. Fishback @GoIndiMarketing @ninestarpress

Title: The Social Climber

Author: Jere’ M. Climber

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: 03/08/2021

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 40900

Genre: Contemporary, LGBTQIA+, new adult, family-drama, 1980s, high school, coming out, friends to lovers, sexually transmitted infection

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Description

High school classmates, Josh Livingstone who’s gay, and his straight friend Simon LePage, hatch a plot to improve their status at school by creating new images for themselves. But their efforts ultimately blow up in their faces, leading to both comical and heartbreaking results, as they learn lessons in life and love the hard way.

Excerpt

The Social Climber
Jere’ M. Fishback © 2021
All Rights Reserved

Life’s never easy, is it?

I was born working class, so you might say I didn’t experience the finer things this world had to offer, not as a boy anyway. I grew up in Pinellas Park, Florida, a place mostly populated by working stiffs and their families, coupon-clipping retirees, and trailer park dwellers.

We had our own high school, but every year our football team sucked, due to lousy coaches, indolent linemen who wouldn’t hit too hard, and lack of a decent place kicker, since we didn’t have a youth soccer league in Pinellas Park. Some folks tried to start one once, but only three kids signed up. That’s right—three.

Are you surprised I actually know the meaning of a word like “indolent”? Well, I’m not stupid, as you will soon see.

Back to my early life…

Here’s an example of our pitiful Pinellas Park subculture:

When I was in fourth grade, our school principal, Lyman Reddick, got himself suspended for arriving at school with a loaded deer rifle hanging from the rack in his truck cab, the dumb shit. Even at age nine, I’d have known better. I mean, bringing a gun to a school full of kids—how stupid is that? He’s lucky the school board didn’t order his nuts cut off.

My daddy was a plumber. For a time, he worked for Sonny Saunders, snaking clogged sinks and sewer lines, fixing leaky faucets, and installing new toilets for folks who couldn’t or wouldn’t do that sort of work themselves. But Daddy was an independent cuss; he didn’t like the crap Sonny dished out to everyone who worked for him; plus, Sonny didn’t pay worth shit.

So, Daddy quit and started his own plumbing business. He had little cards printed up, calling himself “Rodney the Sunshine Plumber,” and he sent me and my older sister, Sarah, from door to door, handing out the cards offering new customers a 15 percent discount on their first service call. And it was kind of scary knocking on doors and ringing doorbells, especially at houses with Beware of Dog signs in their yards. I could hear the barking inside when I approached.

Sometimes, grouchy men or women would answer their doors; they’d tell me to get lost and leave them alone. But most folks were nice enough. They’d take a card and turn it over in their fingers while diddling their lips, and more than a few would say something pleasant like “It’s sweet you’re helping your daddy with his business.”

I believe there are many good people in this world, I truly do. It’s just the asshole minority who ruin everything for the rest of us.

About my parents…

Daddy’s from a village called Poverty Hill, South Carolina, right across the Savannah River from Augusta. His parents still live there in a double-wide trailer, off in the woods, with a deep well, a septic tank, four dogs, and a leaky roof. The nearest Walmart’s in Belvedere.

We only stayed in Poverty Hill once, when I was ten. What I remember best about that visit was Daddy and Grandpa getting into an argument after drinking too much George Dickel on Christmas Eve. Around midnight, Momma and Daddy rousted me and Sarah from our beds. They threw all our shit into the trunk of Momma’s car—suitcases, wrapped Christmas gifts, and even a turkey we’d brought from Florida. Then we drove all night, with Momma behind the wheel while Daddy snored in the passenger seat. We arrived in Pinellas Park just when the sun came up.

I’ll tell you, that was one crazy Christmas at our house. When we got home from Poverty Hill, everyone went to bed and slept till noon, and I don’t know who was in a worse mood when we all got up, Daddy or Momma.

Momma’s one-quarter Cherokee, and when she gets angry, you’d best look out since her blood takes to boiling and then all hell breaks loose. You know Momma’s mad when she starts throwing things: dishes, saucepans, ashtrays, you name it. And that Christmas afternoon, her target was Daddy. She kept pelting him with household items; I think she even threw a vacuum cleaner at him.

Daddy didn’t try to stop her. He just lay on the living room sofa, nursing his hangover and sheltering his head with a throw pillow while Momma hurled insults and tangible objects.

“Rodney, you sonofabitch,” she hollered after heaving a coffee can at Daddy. “That’s the last time you’ll drag me and our kids up to godforsaken Poverty Hill. And if I never see your folks again, it’ll be too soon.”

Momma didn’t get the turkey into the oven till three that day, so we had to eat dinner at eight. At least by then, Momma had settled down. She made Daddy get off the sofa and head for the bathroom to shower and shave.

“You’re not going to look like a bum at the table tonight,” she told him. “Set an example for your children, why don’t you?”

Momma was a fine cook, and dinner was very good, despite everybody’s soured holiday spirit. The turkey meat was moist, and the bread stuffing, mashed potatoes, and fresh green beans were all tasty, especially when I drowned them in gravy. Halfway through the meal, we all started smiling a little, and Daddy even laughed a few times when describing his quarrel with Grandpa.

“The dumbass squandered most of his November social security check on lottery tickets, so he didn’t have any money to buy Christmas gifts for my momma, nor for Josh and Sarah.”

My name’s Joshua by the way, but everyone has always called me Josh, even my schoolteachers.

Like always, Momma and Daddy went overboard on presents for me and my sister. Sarah, who was eleven and getting to the age where her appearance mattered to her, received mostly clothing items and face makeup, while I got a Nintendo with several games, and also a BB gun, something I’d requested the past two Christmases but didn’t receive.

“You’re old enough to own one now,” Daddy said. “Shoot at cans and bottles in the backyard, by the garage, but leave the birds and squirrels alone. If I catch you taking shots at living things, I’ll take the gun away. Understand?”

Anyway, Daddy’s plumbing business did okay. He had a way with people; he could talk to a perfect stranger like he’d known the guy all his life. At first, he got business mostly by word of mouth, and then a general contractor started using him on jobsites to run sewer lines, hook up sinks, and install toilets. The money rolled in, and Daddy bought a new Silverado king cab. It looked so pretty and shiny, sitting in our driveway, but then the contractor went belly-up.

Without the contractor’s flow of business, Daddy fell behind on his truck payments, and eventually the bank repossessed the Silverado. It was a sad day, I’ll tell you, when they towed that truck away. Daddy had to borrow money from his brother, Vernon, who lived in Cocoa Beach, so he could buy a used truck, a beat-up F-150 with oxidized paint and missing its front bumper. The poor thing looked so forlorn, and I’m sure my folks felt embarrassed when the neighbors saw it, but a plumber has to have transportation. He has to carry his tools and all to wherever he’s working.

Momma was a dynamite seamstress; she did work for others in our part of town, making drapes, altering dresses, and letting the waists out on men’s trousers. Again, most of her work came via word of mouth, and it was all cash business. IRS never knew about income Momma generated from her sewing.

Looking back, I realize our circumstances were modest by most folks’ standards. Okay, our house had three bedrooms and two baths, but the floors were bare linoleum and the furniture looked like it came from a thrift store. Thank god we at least had central air-conditioning, a blessing in central Florida’s sweltering climate.

Sarah and I were both good students, although Sarah was smarter and more popular than me. She always got straight A’s, while I earned a mix of A’s and B’s.

And god forbid if I got assigned to the same teacher Sarah had been taught by the previous year. It happened fairly often, and when it did, on the first day of school when the teacher called roll, things always went something like this:

“Joshua Livingstone?”

I’d raise my hand.

“Are you related to Sarah Livingstone?”

“She’s my sister.”

The teacher would cluck her tongue while shaking her head. “You’ve got some big shoes to fill in my classroom, mister. I hope you’re up to it.”

Great. Just great…

When I reached seventh grade, I attended Pinellas Park Junior High, a one-story brick structure with exterior corridors and a basketball gymnasium. PE was required for all students, and on my first day at school, I met with my instructor, Coach McCullough, and my male classmates in the gym, where the students sat on bleachers and listened to McCullough acquaint us with his expectations. A gruff, barrel-chested man with a mullet haircut, he wore football shorts, leather sneakers, and a T-shirt damp in the armpits. A whistle hung from his neck by a braided cord.

“Unless you’re sick, I expect each of you to dress out every time class meets, no exceptions.”

Momma had already taken me shopping at J. C. Penney for my PE uniform: a T-shirt with the school’s name on it, cotton shorts, a jock strap, athletic socks, and tennis shoes. We had to buy a combination lock for my gym locker too.

McCullough led us into the locker room, where odors of mildew and human sweat hung in the steamy air. Rows of lockers lined the walls, except on one end of the room, where the tiled gang showers were located.

“You’ll change in here each class period and lock your belongings in your assigned locker. At the end of class, you’ll have fifteen minutes to shower and get dressed before dismissal bell. Showers are mandatory for all students. Again, no exceptions.”

My heart raced and I swallowed hard.

I have to get naked in front of all these guys?

I glanced here and there. Some boys blushed and several more chewed hangnails or wagged their knees. So, I wasn’t the only one in the room who felt nervous about bathing with others. But it seemed we had no choice, and I figured if the older guys at our school had managed to survive gang showering, I could too.

Grow some balls, Livingstone. You can do it.

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Meet the Author

Jere’ M. Fishback is a former journalist and trial attorney. He lives on a barrier island on Florida’s Gulf coast, where he enjoys watching sunsets with a glass of wine in his hand and a grin on his face.

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New Release: Broken Spell by Mychael Black #LGBTQ #DarkFantasy @changelingpress

Cover Art by Bryan Keller

Wizard Micah Norwood was exiled from his cabal, but he didn’t leave empty-handed. Every cabal possesses a Focus Gem, a crystal used to store collective energies, used only for wide-reaching spells. He knows his cabal is readying to overthrow a Dark Fae House, but he doesn’t know why. After meeting Kirof, a Dark Fae on the run from his own House, Micah realizes he can’t let the cabal succeed.

Kirof, formerly of House Vakeor, has no idea why his companion Micah was exiled, but he knows it’s only a matter of time before the wizards or the Dark Fae find them. Desperately trying to keep them one step ahead of their pursuers, Kirof finds himself caring far more for Micah than he should.

Get it Now at Changeling Press

Preorder for March 12th at online booksellers

EXCERPT

All rights reserved.
Copyright ©2021 Mychael Black


Micah Norwood wandered into the adjacent sitting room, half asleep. He paused in the doorway. Kirof still slept in one of the chairs. Micah had tried getting the man to share the bed, but Kirof had resisted. Micah had never been the type to just make the first move, but waiting for Kirof to do it was slowly driving him insane. The desire between them had been strong from the moment they’d first met. It was a weird mix of hot and unnerving.

“Micah?”

He shook his head, belatedly realizing he’d zoned off. He smiled at Kirof. “Lost in thought. Are you regretting the chair yet?”

Kirof stood slowly, wincing as if in pain. Sleeping in a chair sucked. Been there, done that. Micah held the man’s gaze as Kirof approached him. Pale hair fell over Kirof’s broad shoulders, and ice-blue eyes held Micah more spellbound than anything he’d ever conjured himself.

“Not necessarily the chair,” Kirof said.

“Yeah?” Micah stopped short of daring Kirof to take one more step closer. He had to look up, considering the Dark Fae was nearly a foot taller. He’d always hated being short, but something about a taller man made him weak in the knees. Broad, muscled. Kirof defied every Fae stereotype that existed, dark or light.

Kirof braced his hands on either side of the doorframe. Micah forced himself to look at the man’s face and not the muscular arms outstretched above him. Kirof leaned down, and Micah held his breath, praying. Just when Micah thought he’d finally get the kiss he’d been wanting since they first met, someone knocked on the door.

Spell broken, Kirof stepped away, shaking his head as if trying to clear it. Micah wanted to launch an ice bolt at whatever jackass had interrupted. Kirof opened the door, revealing one of his brothers, Roen. Roen’s human lover, Kyle, followed the Dark Fae into the room. Kirof shut the door behind them.

“Have you seen Aron?” Roen asked, his expression one of concern.

“No,” Kirof said. “We just woke up. Well, I did.” He glanced at Micah.

Micah shook his head. “I haven’t been awake long. Is Aron not in his room?”

Roen sat down, brow furrowed. “No.” He glanced up. “All his stuff is gone.”

Kirof blinked. “Gone? Where the hell would he go? You know him better than anyone.”

“I don’t know,” Roen said. “This isn’t like him, Kirof. He wouldn’t just up and leave without saying anything to me. Something isn’t right about this.”

“No need to get worked up yet,” Kirof said. “I’m sure he’s fine. Is there anyone else he’d want to visit?”

“Wait. What about that waitress we met?” Kyle asked Roen.

“She and Aron seemed to be rather… friendly.”

Roen shook his head. “Tanra would come here. She knows where this place is. Hell, she’s sent a few folks here for safety. If she and Aron wanted to get together, this would be the best place to do it.”

Kyle grumbled. “I thought twins could mind read each other.” Chuckling, Roen put his arm around his lover’s shoulders. “Fairy tales.”

Something felt off to Micah, though he couldn’t figure out what. Aron had seemed perfectly fine, if a bit aloof, when they’d met. What could have changed? Micah went back into the bedroom and sat in the makeshift circle he’d set out on the wooden floor. He tried focusing on Aron, picturing the man in his mind, every detail.

Hazy images began to form, and he relaxed more to allow them through. Someone, another Dark Fae, spoke to Aron, though the stranger’s back was turned. Micah tried to focus on Aron’s lips in hopes of catching any words that might help. Aron and the stranger started out of whatever room they were in, and Micah caught a glimpse of what looked like an insignia on the stranger’s left arm. A tattoo?

Micah sighed as the image faded.

“Any luck?” Kirof asked from the doorway.

“I don’t know,” Micah said. He looked at Roen, who stood just behind Kirof. “I saw him speaking to someone, another Dark Fae. The stranger had a tattoo on his left arm.” He patted his own bicep. “Black, two swords crossed, with a rose in the bottom open space.”

Roen’s brow furrowed. “That’s House Kehru’s insignia. Aron was supposed to babysit a delegate visiting House Vakeor, but that was before we left. There’s no reason why he’d do so now. He’d be in chains the second he stepped foot into House Vakeor territory.”

“What about exiles from House Kehru?” Kyle asked from behind Roen. “Are there any?”

“Not that we know of,” Roen said. “But I could be mistaken. Micah, were you able to hear them at all? Or see where they might be?”

“I tried to read Aron’s lips, but I assume he spoke your language. None of the words looked even remotely familiar. As for place, a room of stone. Stone walls, ceiling. I couldn’t see the floor. The door they walked out of was wooden, though. No windows either.”

Roen sighed. “That doesn’t bode well. It sounds like he’s back underground, but why? What is he doing there?”

Micah met Kirof’s gaze. The Dark Fae’s expression mirrored what Micah feared might be the case. Micah drew in a deep breath before speaking.

“Roen… how well do you trust your twin?”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Myc has been writing professionally since 2005, solo and with Shayne Carmichael. Genres include pretty much anything (no steampunk yet), though Myc is well known for paranormal stories. When not writing, Myc is usually playing PC games, reading, watching Netflix, and spending way too much time on Facebook. Since the question has come up in the past, pronouns are not an issue. Myc is bio-female, mentally male, and 100% genderfluid, so any pronoun works!

“Black’s work is poetic and haunting. Nobody can pull off smoldering sex alongside holler-deep, soulful characters like Mychael Black.” –Sara Jay

Release Blitz: Magnified by Mell Eight #LGBTQ #Fantasy @MellEight @GoIndiMarketing @ninestarpress

Title: Magnified

Series: Magnified, Book One

Author: Mell Eight

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: 03/01/2021

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 63955

Genre: Fantasy, LGBTQIA+, college, demons, djinn, mage/magic user, vampires, werewolves, religion

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Description

On her deathbed, Yani’s great-grandmother reveals she has one last story from her past to tell: that of his great-uncle Yakov, who helped her survive the Nazis. It’s a story of vampires and werewolves he can scarcely believe—and in the wake of his great-grandmother’s death, Yani discovers the story is far from over.

The world of vampires and werewolves isn’t a safe place for a human, even one with Yani’s unusual family history. With danger at his door, the smart thing would be to run, but much like his great-grandmother, Yani has never been very good at running away—especially with his loved ones and the whole world at stake.

Excerpt

Magnified
Mell Eight © 2021
All Rights Reserved

2004

“Gramma, are you really dying?” Shira asked. She spoke around the thumb tucked in her mouth, but Great-grandma Chana still smiled down gently at the small three-year-old girl and her very chubby cheeks. Yani’s sister was such a baby, but she could say things that Yani didn’t dare. He was thirteen after all, and post-bar-mitzvah children knew better.

“I’m sorry to say that is finally true,” Gramma replied gently. The Eastern European accent she had never lost despite her many years living in the US, softened her consonants. Yani had heard her kind voice almost every day of his life, and it hurt to know that was about to end. “It is my time, as such a time comes to us all. God writes in his book, every Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, who will live and who will die. Shira, this year I asked God to take me to him. I have been on this earth for long enough.”

“But I’m gonna miss you, Gramma,” Shira sniffled.

Mom came over then and pulled Shira into a hug. Yani wished he were still young enough to get the same treatment. He could use a hug too. Gramma had been around for forever. She was nearly a hundred years old, although since her original birth certificate had been lost, no one was exactly certain of her precise birthdate. Instead, they celebrated on the day she had finally earned enough money to buy an actual house and move the entire family out of the city.

Gramma Chana was such a constant fixture in Yani’s life that he couldn’t imagine what it would be like with her gone. She had held him when he was born and had attended every birthday party and Passover Seder. In fact, just ten years ago, she’d still held Thanksgiving dinner at her house. Tzimmes for Thanksgiving was weird, according to Yani’s non-Jewish friends, but the sweet-potato-and-marshmallow dish was a staple for his stomach, and he couldn’t understand why no one else had it too. It was one of Gramma’s specialties.

Gramma had stood tall at his bar mitzvah just a few months back when she read an aliyah. Her hug after he read from the Torah while she stood next to him and watched with pride visible in every bone had been the strongest one of that day. In fact, Yani couldn’t think of a single important moment when Gramma hadn’t been there with a wide smile on her face.

But now she was lying in bed at a hospital, surrounded by her family. Grandpa Gideon was there, holding her hand while his younger brothers, Aharon and Shmuley, and their two much younger sisters and all their kids and grandkids hovered nearby. Great-uncle Shimon stood in the corner watching with tears in his eyes; Gramma had raised him too.

Mom was still holding Shira, standing next to Grandpa with her two older brothers. All of Yani’s many cousins were across the room. In fact, the room was packed with people.

Gramma sighed and smiled happily as she looked around the room. “Truly, I have been blessed. To have such a family. If only—” She paused on another sigh. “Yani.” She beckoned toward him. “I have a story to tell you. A very important story.”

Yani slowly walked closer to her bed, taking her wrinkled and scarred hand in his. She had worked hard when she first immigrated to America. Sixteen-hour days mending and sewing in a tiny basement apartment, trying to feed five people while learning to speak and read English and all of the new and strange American customs, had left their scars.

“I’ve already heard all of your important stories, Gramma,” Yani said gently, hoping to escape from one last telling of her days as cargo with four young children in tow aboard the steam ship that had brought her and her entire family across the Atlantic Ocean to America.

“Not this one, my dear,” Gramma Chana said with a very gentle smile. “This one I have not told you, but it is my most important story. It is the story I have kept close to my heart all these years; the story of survival and love in utmost adversity. In fact, everyone should listen and remember, Shimon especially,” she added in a louder voice to the rest of the room. “About my younger brother, Yakov.”

“Yakov? He stayed behind in Europe,” Grandpa Gideon said, but Gramma just continued to smile and began telling her tale.

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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: Dawn’s Light by Shannon Blair #FantasyRomance #LGBTQ @SBlairAuthor @GoIndiMarketing

Title: Dawn’s Light

Series: Duskblade, Book One

Author: Shannon Blair

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: 02/22/2021

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 86300

Genre: Fantasy, LGBTQIA+, Royalty, first time, sexual discovery, elves, goblins, duplicity, mercenaries, kidnapping, revenge, action/adventure, coming out, enemies to lovers, in the closet, slow burn, road trip

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Description

Moranthus is an elf who has lost everything. With his lover dead and his career stagnating, he jumps at a chance to redeem himself by rescuing a human prince from the goblins hunting him—even if failure means death or eternal exile from his homeland.

Gerrick, a human soldier who bears an uncanny resemblance to his prince, has always chosen duty over desire. As the sole parent of his young daughter, he needs the extra coin that working as the prince’s body double provides—even if it may one day cost him his life.

When a case of mistaken identity puts the prince in the hands of a goblin raiding party, Moranthus’s and Gerrick’s paths collide. With winter closing in and miles of hostile goblin lands ahead, they must set aside their differences and work together to bring the prince home safely.

Their deepening connection comes with a growing certainty that rescuing the prince may be fatal. Moranthus and Gerrick must each find a way to reconcile his heart’s desires with his homeland’s needs—or die trying.

Excerpt

Dawn’s Light
Shannon Blair © 2021
All Rights Reserved

Moranthus had spent the better part of a fortnight chasing his quarry along the Dawn’s Gate edge of the Ghostwood. His meager diet of chalky waybread and oversalted jerky did little more than take the edge off his hunger, and spending weeks on horseback had left him beyond saddle sore. His days blurred together like the colors of the glowstone he kept cradled in the center of his palm. Though it was his only reliable guide at the questionably mapped edges of this unfamiliar country, the strain of determining where each of its shades faded into the next, counting off one less mile between him and his ever-moving destination, left him with a near-constant headache.

The wide, hilly landscape around him certainly didn’t offer much else to guide him on the rare occasions he glanced at it to ensure he hadn’t strayed too far from the Ghostwood’s edge in his search. Dawn’s Gate’s northern plains didn’t look so different from the southern steppes of Moonridge, his homeland, but in the absence of the bone-chilling winds that screamed across Moonridge’s southern steppes, the still air around him felt foul and stagnant, as though a dozen people had breathed it before him and sucked all the life from it.

But Moranthus wouldn’t have traded any of it for the world. This was the first real hunt he’d seen in over a decade, after he’d made a pariah of himself by getting caught on the losing side of the coup that had killed his Patriarch and set his Patriarch’s illegitimate daughter on Moonridge’s throne. A few minor discomforts were nothing to complain about.

Even the solitude came as a welcome change after finding himself at the center of attention in every human village he passed through. The adults gave him veiled stares and treated him with just enough politeness to make him feel unwelcome. Their children’s endless questions over what had made his ears so long and pointy and whether he’d gotten his purple skin from frostbite, of all things, made him feel like one of the framed butterflies his Patriarch had kept in his study. Moranthus wondered if they treated all elves that way. Or if they knew the shaved sides of his head marked his probationary status in Moonridge and didn’t want him trying to find a place for himself in their community. Not that anyone in Moonridge had treated him much better lately.

*

Just over two months earlier, he’d lounged on the narrow, rickety bed pressed against the left wall of his rented room, happy to be home after the latest in a series of jobs only marginally more interesting than watching snow melt. Beside him, his amethyst cameo of his former Patriarch sat in its usual place near his pillow. Moranthus absently rubbed the carved likeness of his Patriarch with his thumb, missing the days when his work left him feeling fulfilled instead of frustrated. In his service, Moranthus had spent his days tracking down fugitives, missing persons, and lost or stolen valuable objects.

His Matriarch’s latest orders had gotten his hopes up by sending him in search of a messenger who had vanished en route to his destination while carrying sensitive correspondence. But when Moranthus found the messenger’s belongings and gnawed bones strewn about an abandoned wolf den, the “sensitive correspondence” in question turned out to be nothing more than a dinner invitation to the head of a minor noble household. Moranthus had been reduced to a glorified follow-up letter.

The room’s low ceiling and windowless walls made him wonder if it had been part of an attic before its conversion into a living space. The cramped space around him—occupied by a table and single chair pressed against its right wall in addition to the bed and chest of drawers that lined its left—felt comfortable enough compared to the inns he stayed in on the road. After ten years, he hardly noticed the draft his poorly sealed walls let in. The fire he kept blazing in the small fireplace against his back wall kept the worst of the cold out anyway.

The smell of blood from the butcher’s shop beneath him wafted through the gaps between his thin floorboards, mingling in a not entirely unpleasant manner with the crisp, sweet taste of the bowlful of plums he’d made into his evening meal. As he finished each plum, he tossed its pit across the room, where it bounced off his doorknob with a sharp ping before clattering along his floor. It made a completely unreasonable amount of noise, really. But that was the point.

He’d done it as his latest mild act of revenge against the butcher downstairs, who had woken well before dawn that morning for what seemed to be the sole purpose of loudly and thoroughly fucking his wife. For the past several years, the butcher had made a point of waking Moranthus that way every morning after Moranthus returned from a mission and wanted nothing more than a good, long sleep.

Moranthus still hadn’t decided whether the butcher did it as a backhanded reminder that Moranthus wasn’t getting any, or as a bizarre way of marking his territory. More than once, he’d considered pulling the butcher aside and explaining that, if he had any intention of running off with a member of the butcher’s household—which he did not—he would’ve been far more interested in the charming young fellow the butcher had recently brought in as an apprentice. If the charming apprentice in question hadn’t already taken up with the butcher’s wife, anyway. But pointing out that the butcher had an attractive apprentice and an unfaithful wife would probably get him banned from the butcher’s shop, and he didn’t want to go to the trouble of finding another reputable place to buy meat in the lower district of Aurora, Moonridge’s capital. Or a new landlord, for that matter.

The first knock at his door caught Moranthus off guard. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d had a visitor. He’d halfway decided to dismiss it as a trick of the wind, or a child throwing rocks as an ill-advised form of amusement, when a second knock echoed through his room, followed by several more in rapid succession.

Moranthus slid off his bed and retrieved the dagger he kept beneath his pillow before padding, barefoot, across the floorboards between him and the door, careful to avoid the ones that creaked. No one who’d come to his door unannounced was likely to have anything pleasant in store for him. Not anymore.

He opened his door to find one of his Matriarch’s messengers standing outside, an official-looking satchel in his arms. In that moment, Moranthus wanted nothing more than to tell the bastard that his next set of orders could wait until he asked for them and slam his door shut again.

Instead, he sighed and asked, “What do you want?”

“I am looking for Moranthus. I’ve come to the wrong place, I take it?” The messenger frowned as he cast a disdainful glance over Moranthus. His eyes lingered on the shaved sides of Moranthus’s head and the thick stripe of red hair—the only thing separating him from a clean-shaven full exile—that ran down its center, woven into a disheveled, three-strand commoner’s braid. Outside of Aurora’s upper district, Moranthus rarely bothered with the elaborate, seven-strand affair that marked him as a veteran duskblade. In Lower Aurora, it only served as a marker of how far he’d fallen.

“Not at all. You’ve already found him, in fact.” Moranthus flipped his dagger so its blade rested in his palm and presented its pommel—engraved with a stylized snowhawk, the duskblade insignia—to the messenger for inspection.

The messenger’s face snapped into a toothy smile, oozing false cheer as he presented the satchel to Moranthus. “Excellent. I come bearing orders from our most esteemed Matriarch,” he said, each syllable accompanied by a tap of his well-fitted, overembroidered right boot. The steep, narrow streets that wound their way through Lower Aurora—slick with mud and whatever other refuse trickled down from the upper city—had left it and its twin covered in a layer of filth that would never quite wash off. It served him right for wearing that sort of footwear on the job.

He was a mousy little thing, with pale, watery eyes set in a bland, but well-proportioned face, his ears perfectly pointed and skin a flawless shade of dusky lilac. Probably hadn’t set foot outside Upper Aurora before their Matriarch had sent him on this delivery, no doubt as a punishment of some sort. Moranthus would’ve much preferred the sight of the butcher, his face flushed ruddy-violet from exertion and his blood-stained apron draped over his ever-growing paunch. At least he’d earned his place in the world.

“So I noticed.” Moranthus made no move to accept the satchel.

The messenger blinked at him, brow furrowed in an almost comical display of confusion. “Would you like to invite me in then? I’d prefer to conclude my business here as soon as possible.”

“Not particularly, but I take it I don’t have much choice in the matter.”

“You don’t. There are certain…details our Matriarch insisted I explain to you in person. To prevent any misunderstandings.”

Moranthus opened his door wide and gestured for the messenger to step through. “Let’s get this over with.” Before he lost his temper at being forced to offer hospitality to a highborn busybody, who’d no doubt leave grimy footprints all over his floor.

The messenger made himself comfortable in Moranthus’s chair, his hands folded over the satchel on his lap. Well aware the messenger expected him to remain standing as a way of acknowledging that the messenger acted as an extension of their Matriarch’s will, Moranthus seated himself on his bed and leaned back against the wall behind him. The frustrated glare it earned him made him confident he’d chosen the right course of action.

“So, what’s this all about?” Moranthus gave the messenger the most ingenuous smile he could manage. Best not to press his luck too far.

The messenger took a deep breath, pinching the bridge of his nose as though he meant to fend off a headache. “Our Matriarch has, for reasons far beyond the comprehension of one such as myself, chosen to entrust you with a highly sensitive mission of the utmost urgency. I would advise against treating it with the same flippancy you have shown me thus far.”

Moranthus sat up straight, eyeing the satchel with a sense of curiosity he hadn’t felt in years. “Is that why she was so adamant about you explaining my orders to me?” When they’d last spoken, their Matriarch had told him in no uncertain terms that he should consider himself lucky she’d spared even his life after he’d chosen his master so poorly. She’d then evicted him from his hard-won room in Aurora’s palace and made a point of restricting him to assignments well below his rank, most of which took him as far away from Aurora as possible. Putting this sort of trust in him wasn’t like her. “Because that won’t be necessary. I’m sure our Matriarch has told you all sorts of wild stories about me—most of which, in her defense, are probably true—but I assure you, I am perfectly capable of reading and understanding whatever’s in that satchel of yours.”

“The orders themselves aren’t what she asked me to explain,” the messenger replied. “In fact, I couldn’t explain them if I wanted to. Our Matriarch felt that sharing the exact nature of your orders with me would compromise their security. They should be self-explanatory once you’ve taken the time to read over them.”

“So, if I can’t ask you anything about my orders, what did our Matriarch want you to explain to me?”

“That a great deal depends upon your success in this matter, and that you may find yourself in a more…favorable position upon your return so long as you do not disappoint her. She also instructed me to give you this, to be used in the unfortunate event of your failure.” The messenger retrieved a razor from a pouch on his belt and tossed it onto the bed beside Moranthus. Even tucked inside its wooden handle, its steel blade had a cold, sobering shine. “Does it clarify the gravity of the task that lies before you?”

Using only his fingertips, Moranthus picked up the razor, casting a wary eye over the ceremonial carvings that adorned its handle. So, that was his Matriarch’s game. Either he returned home with news of his success, or he faced the grim choice he’d so narrowly avoided ten years ago: death or exile. Whichever he chose, the razor’s edge would suit his needs. “That it does. I suppose I’d best get to work,” he said. His voice sounded hollow, like a distant echo carried on the wind.

“Indeed, you should. Sooner, rather than later, if you’ve any sense left in that space between your ears.” The messenger got to his feet and placed the satchel on Moranthus’s table. “This contains your orders, as well as everything you’ll require to carry them out. I wish you the best of luck. You’re going to need it.” With that, the messenger let himself out of Moranthus’s room, leaving the door open behind him.

The autumn air it let in felt warm compared to the ice in Moranthus’s veins.

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NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

Shannon Blair is a fantasy author with a fondness for elves, goblins, and general otherworldly goodness. Their love of fiction and storytelling drove them to pursue an MFA in Creative Writing from Regis University, where a short writing exercise spiraled out of control and eventually became their first novel. When they aren’t on a quest to make the fantasy genre a more LGBTQA-friendly place, Shannon can be found inventing whimsical backstories for the colorful crafts and vendors at the craft market where they work. They live on the outskirts of the Denver metroplex with their partner and two spoiled rotten cats.

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