Get ready for a charmingly quirky romance with a twist of murder mystery in Honey Mead Murder!
Honey Mead Murder
Honey Bear Cosy Mysteries Book 1
by Dahlia Donovan
Genre: LGBTQ MM Romance, Cozy Mystery
Get ready for a charmingly quirky romance with a twist of murder mystery in Honey Mead Murder!
Follow the heart-warming story of George Bernard Sheth, a devoted pug and bee lover, who has been secretly crushing on a local mead brewer. But when a customer dies during a mead tasting, Murphy Baird, the brewer, finds himself at the centre of a police investigation.
As the two navigate the murder mystery, they find themselves falling deeper in love, all while trying to stay alive long enough for their first date. With meddling friends and unexpected plot twists, “Honey Mead Murder” is a must-read for anyone who loves a good MM romance and a thrilling mystery.
Dahlia Donovan wrote her first romance series after a crazy dream about shifters and damsels in distress. She prefers irreverent humour and unconventional characters. An autistic and occasional hermit, her life wouldn’t be complete without her husband and her massive collection of books and video games.
Gil struggles to hide his loss of status from Jack, but when he finally confesses, Jack turns around and blurts out his own secret. Who can Gil trust now?
Jack knows he screwed up but he believes in honesty above everything else. Well, almost. Running the risk of losing Gil, Jack must learn to lie convincingly or he’ll lose SearchLight, his life, and Gil, as well.
The Founders, the sons of Lady Weinberg, formerly Agent Weinberg, kept their hands largely out of SearchLight’s day-to-day operations. They hadn’t even weighed in when Jack decided to announce and involve all of SearchLight and the heads of most of the magical communities around the world in a discussion of suspicious disappearances.
So, even though he wasn’t a Crown Prince, one miniscule step below ruler of all the world’s basilisks, he and Gil were equals. At least he thought they were.
But this bathroom was spectacular. Extravagant. And Jack felt a little embarrassed about his nudity in such a place. The bed creaked behind him and Gil crossed to him. Jack didn’t want his lover to see the nerves he wasn’t quite sure he could keep out of his expression.
Gil closed his hands on Jack’s shoulders and began to massage. Jack relaxed almost at once as the feeling and scent of his beloved surrounded him.
“Are you all right?” Gil murmured.
“I am now.” Jack glanced over his shoulder, flashed Gil a grin, and pulled away. “Shower or bathtub?”
“Together?” Gil suggested.
“Separately, or we’ll never get out of here.”
“Is that such a bad thing?” But he was teasing because he said at once, “I’ll take the wading pool. I suggest you take the shower stall.”
Jack nodded, padded to the aforementioned, grandiose, glass-walled luxury and busied himself testing the water. There was a towel hung conveniently just outside on a heated rack. He listened to Gil turning on the water in the wading pool. His lover was muttering, “Now, how does she get it to just that right temperature?” That made Jack smile a little. Gil wasn’t used to doing for himself, but he wasn’t a complainer either. He was just a little lost.
As Jack was.
About Emily Carrington…
Emily Carrington is a multipublished author of male/male and transgender women’s speculative fiction. Seeking a world made of equality, she created SearchLight to live out her dreams. But even SearchLight has its problems, and Emily is looking forward to working all of these out with a host of characters from dragons and genies to psychic vampires. And in the contemporary world she’s named “Sticks & Stones,” Emily has vowed to create small towns where prejudice is challenged by a passionate quest for equality. Find her on Facebook at Shapeshifter Central or on her website.
After a vicious assault leaves him a virtual recluse, businessman Mason Wilder escapes to his friend’s beach house in the small seaside town of Melrose Bay to heal and come to terms with the shadow of the man he has become.
When Ashton Michaels, wanderer, surfer, loner, unexpectedly inherits a rundown shack of a house, he must decide: keep running from his disastrous past relationships or return to the place he loves, finally put down some roots, and learn to live life with all its consequences.
After a chance encounter with his elusive next-door neighbor, Ash can see Mason is hurting and it releases his protective, caring side and he knows he’ll do anything he can to aid the handsome, broken man in such desperate need of help.
Mason initially resists the offer of help from Ash, but the guy is persistent and for reasons he can’t figure out, Mason feels drawn to him. When Ash decides to keep and renovate his new home, impulsively Mason joins him and in the process of rebuilding the house, Mason begins to rebuild his life and confront his fears.
He must also learn to come to terms with his unexpected attraction to a man for the first time in his life. Ash is a solid, comforting, and caring presence and offers Mason everything he’s been searching for since his brutal attack.
Ash is falling hard for the quiet and troubled man he’s spending all his time with but is worried the past will only repeat itself and Mason will leave him all alone like everyone else.
Can Mason finally put his demons to rest to move forward with his life and will Ash be able prevent his fear of being left behind from ruining his chance at love?
A single word encompassing a whole world of images and feelings.
Cozy nights in front of the TV.
Being held in the arms of a loved one.
Safe. Something I recognized with bone-deep certainty I’d never feel ever again.
Rinsing the suds from my body along with my dark thoughts, I shut off the water and opened the shower door, cooler air filling the stall, setting off goose bumps along my skin. Grabbing the nearest towel and carefully drying myself off, I hissed at the tenderness in my muscles as I bent to rub my legs, the pain from my damaged ribs a constant ache in my side.
Shit, I was a mess.
After padding into the bedroom, I dressed carefully in clean sweatpants and a T-shirt, mindful of my injuries. I wasn’t trying to impress anyone, least of all Gabe, who’d already seen me at my worst. I wasn’t going out and hadn’t since the first day I’d gotten out of the hospital, so who cared what I wore?
Running my fingers through my damp hair to settle the too long strands in place, I emerged from the bedroom to see Gabe in the kitchen, his jacket now hanging on the barstool. He’d pulled a couple of plates from the cupboard and set them out on the countertop, ready for the food.
When I reentered the living area, Gabe pressed a couple of buttons on the microwave. “You were in there awhile, so I decided to give them a reheat,” he said by way of explanation. When the bell pinged, he retrieved the two sandwiches, and unwrapping them from their paper packaging, placed them on the plates.
“Sorry,” I mumbled, “I didn’t realize I’d taken so long.”
He shrugged. “No problem,” and he gestured with his head as he picked up the plates. “Go sit.”
I carefully sat down in my favorite black leather armchair as he handed me my sandwich before he settled on the sofa to my right.
We sat together in silence. He was waiting for me to speak, but I didn’t have much to say. To give myself thinking time, I picked up my food and took a large bite of my sandwich. The sweetness of the salt beef slid over my tastebuds before the bitter sauerkraut came after. After days of nothing, the simple meal tasted delicious.
“So?” Gabe’s tone made me inwardly groan.
Putting down my sandwich I gave him a direct look. “I’m fine. Okay?”
He scoffed. “So fine you’ve not left your apartment in over a week?”
I sighed. I’d been doing a lot of that lately.
“Look, Gabe.” I stopped talking, as whatever I said next would be a lie. I wasn’t fine, but I wasn’t sure how to go about fixing my mess, or how to express my thoughts clearly enough to tell him so.
I wasn’t sure about anything anymore.
Sitting forward on the edge of the sofa, Gabe gave me a sympathetic smile. I fucking hated it. “Look, I know it’s a struggle, and I get it.” He held up his hands. “And I’m not trying to patronize you.”
I gave a slight head tilt, in appreciation of him saying so.
“But you can’t continue on this way. You do know that, right?”
Deep down, I did, but any decisions about how to move forward with my life were all so muddled in my mind that I struggled to find a way out.
“I do,” I replied. “But it’s hard. There’s so much noise in my head, but I can’t work out how to make it stop.”
“Maybe you should take a break for a while, get a change of scenery.”
I frowned. “Change of scenery?”
“Yeah, get out of the city for a bit. Relax.”
“Relax?” I kept repeating him, but for some reason, his words weren’t registering.
“Is there an echo in here?” he deadpanned. “Yes, get away, relax.”
Hmm, maybe. I’d not thought about leaving the city, preferring to barricade myself inside my apartment behind a solid closed door where no one could get to me. But leaving my sanctuary meant being exposed, being vulnerable, and I wasn’t comfortable with the concept at all.
Regardless, I mulled his comments over, and in theory, I agreed my current situation wasn’t healthy, and I’d reluctantly admit to going a little stir crazy, but venturing out into the city unnerved me. All the noise and the people, the narrow side streets and alleyways made me shudder inwardly. But going somewhere quiet, somewhere peaceful, away from everyone and everything currently reminding me of my assault?
“Where would I go?” I asked, unable to recall the last time I’d not worked in the office twelve or more hours a day, at least six days a week. Even if traveling to inspect a construction project in another city, I’d be on-site all day and ordering room service in the evening. I’d never had any time at all to relax and unwind.
Despite being the partner in charge of our luxury eco hotels and resorts, I didn’t have any clue where to go now.
“I have the perfect place,” he replied, answering my unspoken thought.
“Oh?” I waited expectantly for him to elaborate.
“I’ve a house a few hours up the coast in a small community, so not too many people to contend with. The place is perfect. On the edge of town and overlooking the sea, there’s even direct access to a beach only the locals tend to use.”
I stared at the man on the sofa opposite me. Gabe, who thrived on excitement and adventure, who loved nothing more than immersing himself in all the activities a major city had to offer, and I mean all, had a second home, a beach house in a quiet coastal town?
“You have a beach house?” I sputtered, incredulity clear in my voice. “Somewhere… quiet?”
Gabe snickered, “Glad to know I can still surprise you, but yep”—he held up his hands—“guilty as charged.”
A dark shadow crossed his face, making me frown. When the penny dropped, I could have kicked myself. Of course, this was after his split with Karl and David.
“Sorry, I should have thought.”
He waved my apology off. “It is, what it is,” he stated far too blandly, making it obvious, despite being over two years since their split, the wounds remained painfully open. “I needed somewhere to regroup. To sort my head out. My assistant told me about the place. Apparently, her mom and dad love it, so I thought ‘what the hell’ and went to check it out.”
“I’m guessing you liked what you saw?”
A genuine smile crossed his face this time, one actually reaching his eyes. “I did, and when the house I rented came up for sale last year, I bought the place.”
Gabe stared at me squarely. “So I do know something of what I’m talking about. Okay, the scenario’s not the same as yours, but I understand the need to get away and work through your trauma at your own pace, and with minimal distractions. To remove yourself from familiarity to regain some semblance of order and control over your life.”
He’d hit the nail smack bang on the head, as that’s exactly how I felt.
“It’s yours if you want it,” he said, and I instantly wanted to grab this lifeline he offered and so badly needed. As if sensing my mood, he sat back and shoved his hand into his pants pocket, and pulling out a single key, he placed it on the coffee table between us. “I got an extra one cut,” he explained. “I’ll email you the directions this afternoon.”
“You’re so sure I’d go?” I asked, picking up the paper.
“Hell, no, but I like to be prepared.”
“Thank you.” Some of the tension I’d carried around the last couple of weeks melted away. “Really, thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” he replied simply as he pointed at the food on my plate. “Now eat. You look like a scrawny ass chicken for fuck’s sake.”
Pauley J Ray has been making up stories in his head for as long as he can remember, and now gets to write those stories down in his own gay romantic fiction, involving sexy, complicated, and flawed characters searching for their happily ever after.
When not writing, he loves meeting up with friends and can’t wait to get outdoors with his husband, hiking, camping and traveling to new and exciting places as often as they can.
He feels extremely lucky to be able to sit at his laptop, all day, every day, creating the heartfelt, angsty and passionate romance books he himself loves to read.
Seventeen-year-old Alisha Howard is having a hard day.
She’s had to rescue her headstrong little brother from getting eaten by a monster from another dimension, her mom has put her on dish duty as punishment for bringing her sword to the table (again), and her lifelong enemy, snarky rich girl Belladonna, is starting to look like both a real human being and someone Alisha would like to kiss.
Oh, and to make matters worse, it looks like the world is about to end.
My brother Jake lay unconscious on the cave floor, his favorite denim jacket torn in three places and his cell phone a cracked mess of plastic on the ground. If we actually survived this, he was going to be pissed.
“All right, look,” I said, giving the giant snarling insect monster my serious face. “I know I don’t look like much, but you should know I am fully capable of kicking your big buggy butt straight back to where it came from, not only for hurting my brother, but for whatever unholy reign of terror you’ve got planned here.”
The monster was nine feet tall, jet-black, and scaly, with hundreds of spindly legs, like a centipede on steroids. Savage mandibles gleamed in the light from the cave mouth, and I tightened my grip on my sword hilt. And because times of stress often led me to incredible feats of word vomit, I kept talking.
“I mean, let’s face it: guys like you don’t generally show up in our world without some kind of nasty plan for world domination, so I think it’s pretty safe to say you’re up to no good. So are you gonna go peacefully, or do I have to start shoving my boot up random orifices until we find the one that hurts the most?”
The centipede monster reared back, its legs fanning out, its mandibles opening—
And then it tilted its scaly head to the side as if regarding me in puzzlement. “You speak great volumes but say very little,” it said in a thin, whistling voice.
Which, okay, was fair. I’d always had a tendency to babble, particularly when I was in imminent danger of being devoured by the Godzilla of centipedes. Generally, the centipede didn’t take the time to inform me of it though.
“I do not wish any harm upon you,” it continued, deviating even further from the Evil Monster Intent on Taking Over the Earth speech. “Nor any human. I came here only wishing to be left alone, but your companion—” It swung its head toward Jake. “—attempted to steal one of my children, at which point I was forced to defend them. I have not seriously harmed him, only caused him to lose consciousness to neutralize him as a threat.”
“He tried to steal one of your kids?” That didn’t sound like Jake.
The centipede-thing tilted its head toward the other end of the cave, where I could just make out the glittering of a number of round, pearly, head-sized spheres. Eggs? They looked like the kind of pretty, decorative objects people would pay a lot of money for, bringing them much more firmly into the realm of things Jake would totally try to steal.
I sighed and slid my sword into its sheath. The magic triggered the instant I did, and sword and sheath shrank to being a decorative golden clasp on my belt. “I apologize for my companion’s rash actions,” I said, bowing my head slightly like we were supposed to do in these situations. “If you’d allow me to remove him from here, I swear to you that he’ll never come near you or your children again.”
The centipede bowed its head too, its pincers snapping and clicking together in a way that I tried not to be too creeped out by. “That would be acceptable. I thank you, Guardian.”
I blinked. “How’d you know I’m a Guardian?”
“Well, for one thing, the sword.”
“But even had you come unarmed, I would have known. You wear your status like a cloak. It seeps from every ounce of your being, every word and action. Though you look a frail female thing, there is power in you.”
“Frail female thing,” I said in a flat voice and decided not to be offended. If the worst thing a giant centipede monster had to throw at me was sexism, I could probably count myself lucky. “Yeah, well, guess I’d better get Jake—err, my companion—out of your hair before he wakes up and starts trying to make off with your kids again.”
I started forward, hoping the centipede monster would move out of the way, but it stayed where it was, its black eyes glittering in the dimness.
“You have shown me respect and kindness, and so I shall do something for you in return. My species have a unique ability that appears only between laying our eggs and the birth of our children.”
“Oh, yeah? What kind of ability?”
“The ability to glimpse the future. It allows us to provide extra protection to our young when they are unable to protect themselves, for instance if a young human is attempting to steal one of them.”
“For instance,” I said dryly.
“Something lurks on the horizon, Guardian. An age of darkness and danger is coming to you and those like you.”
I frowned. “To the Guardians, you mean?”
“To all beings of your world.”
“What kind of danger?”
Its legs rippled, and it dropped down onto them and made its undulating way over to the row of eggs. Its last word hissed through the cave, seeming to echo louder and louder in my ears: “Extinction.”
T.J. Baer is a queer trans author of novels and short fiction. Born in Western Pennsylvania, he currently resides in his adopted hometown of Chicago with two cats and a well-stocked cupboard of tea. When not writing, T.J. can be found either discussing queer media on his YouTube channel or failing to escape from murderous ghosts on Twitch.
Maeve Drakos and Hazel Fischer continue their college journey, moving back to the city and starting the peace officer training program at the community college. They pick out their first apartment, and everything seems awesome. Until they meet the neighbors.
Members of Oakley University’s men’s lacrosse team live in the big house behind them. After many late-night parties and several instances of vandalizing the girls’ apartment, Maeve has had enough. She decides to confront them on their own turf. Except while there, she discovers team secrets far darker than broken windows and spray-painted walls. Yet they all insist it’s nothing—just tradition. The captain’s a nice guy; they’re all good guys. Yeah, no.
Maeve thought she and Hazel were supposed to be the perfect team—in more ways than one. But when she approaches Hazel about reporting the guys, Hazel doesn’t necessarily see what’s happening next door the same way. And she’s hardly ever home anyway, because she’s been spending loads of time with her friend Doug. All this leaves Maeve doubting herself and questioning everything she thought she understood so clearly their freshman year.
Yet there’s no time to figure anything out before Maeve and Hazel find themselves embroiled in another murder mystery. Who has time to care about a crush when there’s a rotting corpse in the basement?
Cool blasts of April air blew her hair around the car, swirling around her head, whipping against my cheek every now and then. It had grown longer, the weight of it suppressing some of her natural wave. We were headed to Indy—just the two of us. Behind us had been hours and hours of nothing but long, straight road, pumping music, those crispy, fried, onion-flavored chips, and countless cigarette butts streaming out the windows as I drove full throttle across I-70. Acres of farmland surrounded us, mounded rows extending beyond the horizon, prepped for corn or soybean seed, until a new city emerged with tall buildings cutting through a span of sky and a falling orange sun. As we navigated through downtown, through the maze of asphalt and concrete, the open fields fell away as if they ceased to exist.
Hazel flicked the radio off and lit another cigarette. She’d started smoking again, and I wasn’t going to complain about it. That probably made me a shitty friend, but I was glad to have a smoking buddy.
“I brought you something.” I reached into the backseat blindly, keeping my eyes on the road, and felt around in my bag until my fingers grazed the thin pages of the city newspaper. “Check out page three.”
Hazel unfolded the Ledger Dispatch and found our story, the one Gayle Jackson had interviewed us for, detailing last autumn’s campus murder of Ryan Newsome (asshole and sexual predator, although most media outlets left those bits out) and how we’d pieced it all together…not totally unscathed.
“Good for her. She said she wasn’t going back to the Echo after they canned her last year.” Hazel carefully refolded the paper along the creases as if it contained nothing more than the crossword.
“You’re not gonna read it?”
“I know how it ends.”
Hazel hadn’t gone back to school after Newsome’s murderer attacked us. She needed time to heal—physically and emotionally. We all did. But I couldn’t escape the feeling something else was keeping her away, distant. Before today, I hadn’t seen Hazel since October, the morning I’d followed her into the police station to give a statement. We’d been emailing back and forth, but neither of us ever mentioned what had happened all those nights ago—what it had been like seeing her blood soak through her clothes, fear as thick as fog, a death so close you could taste it on the air like the salt and sand of a new shore. No, we’d skirted around all of that.
It didn’t stop me from wondering how she felt or what she thought about it. Hazel could be a bit of a mystery to me. Most folks I could see right through, not her. She kept everything wrapped up so tight inside herself, I didn’t think I’d ever break through. And maybe that was okay. Maybe even better than okay.
“I haven’t been in a real city for months. I forgot how pretty they can be,” she said. “All the bustling around. Life, I mean, you can see it happening.” Her cigarette bounced with the motion of her lips. She tucked it between her fingers and blew out a long, lingering exhale as though she’d been born knowing how to do that.
“Have you been here before?” I asked.
“As a kid, we hit up the children’s museum.”
“Yeah, when my parents… We used to live right on the border of Illinois and Indiana.”
I still couldn’t believe it took her so long to tell me what she’d lived through. But knowing the ways people have been hurt changed relationships—sometimes for the better, sometimes not. So I got it; she didn’t want pity anywhere near us.
“You’re a regular child of the corn, then, huh?” And this seemed to be how we handled the big traumatic things, poking fun around what caused the most pain. Joking. Deflecting. Sidestepping anything that hurt.
“I told you my middle name, didn’t I? It’s Malachi.”
I laughed and pressed the cigarette lighter. Hazel instinctively reached for the pack in the cup holders and got one out for me. I rolled down my window just as the lighter popped back up, its coils burning orange and hot.
“Do you know where we’re headed?” she asked.
“Not really. I printed out a MapQuest for it though. It’s in the glovebox.”
She took out the directions and spread the folded papers over her lap. “What street are we on?”
“We’re close. If you can find a place to park, do it.”
Brake lights glowed red in front of us. I slowed down and watched the last of the sunset, streaking pink and purple behind the high-rise buildings of the Midwestern city. The air smelled of exhaust. I followed the inching traffic into a parking garage.
“You think all these people are going to the same place we are?” Hazel asked.
“Maybe? She has a following.”
By the time I parked, night had fallen. Streetlights clicked on and cast the sidewalks in a tangerine glow. Hazel folded the directions and tucked them in her hoodie pocket.
We ended up not needing the map. A decent-sized crowd of mostly women seemed to all be going in the same direction. We just fit in and followed. As we got closer, a line had already formed, and we waited, stuck behind a rowdy group of college-aged kids with dark lipstick and short flowery dresses. They were probably the same age as Hazel and me. They seemed so much younger, though, with all the laughing and the squealing.
Hazel surveyed them; her right eyebrow cocked the way it always did when she tried to puzzle out someone’s behavior. I handed her the silver flask I’d slipped in my jacket pocket. Elbowing her, I told her to relax.
“I’m relaxed,” she said and took a swig of the peppermint schnapps.
Spring flowers and just…joy scented the air. Yeah, that was it. Joy. After such a dark year, I barely recognized the feeling. The line shuffled forward. Ani DiFranco’s name, in black block lettering, stood against the marquee’s glow.
“I can’t believe you scored tickets,” Hazel said.
“I told you we should go.”
Hazel’s expression lightened whenever I pressed Play on Living in Clip, and in the middle of all the shit that had gone down at school last fall, there’d been a notice in the paper about this tour. I figured right then and there I’d pay whatever price to get Hazel to this show if we made it out of that mess.
“I didn’t really think it would happen. Especially, in the middle of…everything.”
“So, how’ve you been dealing with all of that?” Asking was a risk, but I wanted to take it. While I gave her a pass on talking about her family, I needed to know about this because the nightmares hadn’t stopped for me. I still woke up in a sweaty panic, Shirlee’s glowing glasses disappearing and reappearing like pieces of the Cheshire cat.
Hazel shoved her hands into the pockets of her hoodie and stared at her feet. “Honestly, I don’t know that I am.” Her eyes met mine. “I just ignore it mostly.”
“Me too.” Time heals all wounds. Unless it didn’t.
She fiddled with her hair, braiding the ends absentmindedly. We moved forward a few more steps. At the double doors, security guards shined flashlights in purses and patted down coat pockets.
Hazel pushed her hair back from her face. “I feel kinda frozen in place, ya know?”
“Aunt Liddy says not to rush anything. That everything will settle back to normal in time. But what if it doesn’t?”
“Maybe this is the new normal.”
“They haven’t filled your space in our dorm yet. You could always come back.”
“No. I withdrew.”
She laughed in that self-mocking way she had sometimes. “You know I’m not meant to be anybody’s teacher.”
The thought of her surrounded by little kids made me laugh too. “There are other programs.”
She shook her head. “I don’t belong there. I knew it on day one. The only good thing that happened was meeting you and Doug.”
Jessica Cranberry lives in the Sierra Nevada foothills and spends most days striking a balance between parenthood, teaching, and writing suspense novels or eclectic short stories. Learn more on Jessica’s website.
Sixteen-year-old Elijah Delomary wants to be a normal boy, riding his skateboard, reading his favorite books, and playing with his familiar, Boxey. His mother expects him to practice magic and fight the monsters who are hurting ordinaries, but he’d rather spend time with his new best friend, Austin.
As their friendship deepens and an old nemesis—Devlina, the Queen of the Gloom—threatens to destroy the universe, Elijah has to decide what’s more important: magic, family, or love?
Fifteen-year-old Austin Kang Jr., well over six feet tall, lean and lanky with a mop of black hair falling over his eyes, adjusted the thick black glasses on his face. He studied the white stone and glass mansion jutting out over a hillside on North Sunset Canyon Drive. The house appeared to have good feng shui, with a Southern exposure to allow absorption of positive chi, a panoramic view of the Valley below, and a clear path to the front door.
Feng shui was important to Austin and his parents. They believed it helped center their family and keep them grounded and safe. Austin and his parents were descended from a long line of Magicals called Glimmerers who could tap into a glimmer of magic and twist, turn, and manipulate it as if it were hot ore being turned into a sword.
Coaugelus, as they were known in the Old Language, the mother tongue of the Magicals, were a class of warriors. They defended Magicals and Ordinaries, or humans without magic, from dark forces, creatures, and monsters that lived in the dark shadows of Earth—a place called the Gloom.
Coaugelus, Magicals, and Ordinaries lived in the light in our world, also known as the Shimmering. Everywhere that the sun touched was part of the Shimmering. Austin, his parents, even the people driving by in cars, walking their dogs, and watering their lawns shimmered and lived in the light.
Long ago, the Gloom and the Shimmering met face-to-face in a great war that killed and destroyed countless Ordinaries, Magicals, and monsters. The war raged on and reached a crescendo. A Pàcifimenta, a treaty among Ordinaries, Magicals, and the Gloom was signed. The war ended. Peace settled over the Shimmering and the Gloom.
Still, many in the Coven, the collective of monsters in the Gloom, did not agree with the Pàcifimenta. They didn’t like that they had to sacrifice feeding on Ordinaries or haunting, possessing, or simply terrorizing them. Others wanted power to control the Coven, and to defeat the peace created by the Pàcifimenta. Some creatures didn’t like peace as part of their nature. These monsters were fought by Coaugelus like Austin and his family.
Austin loved three things in life: playing soccer (known as football back home in Hong Kong), listening to grunge music like his dad, and fighting the Coven. For Austin, being a Coaugelo gave him a purpose in life and a place where he felt like he belonged. He particularly enjoyed kicking, punching, and using Xem Sen Ou, the ancient martial art from Minerva in Old Earth in the Seventh Dimension where all Magicals came from.
He also fancied his PlasmX, a purple plasma staff that folded into nondescript metal object akin to a lighter that he always carried with him. He had used it only last night while hunting down a group of rather angry werewolves, or Malloupus, that were attacking tourists at the night market in Kowloon. Austin enjoyed watching the pure purple plasma slice through the heads and arms of werewolves that were in the middle of reaping the souls of innocent Ordinaries.
Austin loved saving Ordinaries from monsters.
“What’s our assignment?” Austin asked his parents.
“Trouble is breaking out within the Coven here in Los Angeles,” said Austin Sr.
Austin and his family spoke with posh accents, a holdover from when Hong Kong was a colony of the UK. “We’re here to investigate and report back to XAQ2,” continued Austin Sr.
“Bleedin’ hell,” Austin complained. “XAQ2 are wankers. Full of rules. Can’t we simply report to the Anti-Coven League and be done with it?”
“Xutactiendo Allégansa Qu’elicallen Duzo have moved more operations of the League from the clandestine to the legal,” said Austin Sr.
“What does that mean?” Austin asked.
“The Alliance is strained and weakened. As leaders of the Alliance, the Còngréhassa are trying to placate their counterparts in the Coven and maintain the Pàcifimenta. Part of that entails relying more on formal procedures. The League works in secret, whereas XAQ2 works through formal channels as the official body of the Alliance.”
“Tossers,” Austin said. “XAQ2 can all go to hell as far as I’m concerned.”
Timoteo K. Tong grew up in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles dreaming of living in a rambling Victorian mansion. He currently lives with his husband and way too many plants in San Francisco. He is obsessed with cheese pizza, drinking cola, and daydreaming about magic. He sold his first book when he was age eight, a story about his beloved stuffed animal named Crocker Spaniel. He is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators International.
We are happy to share Denise Roma’s novel Grace Summit with you all today! Read on for more details!
Publication Date: September 2022
Genre: NA College Romance/ FF Romance (slightly literary bent)
Ann, Amelia, and Jackie arrive at Grace Summit Bible College with their own particular heartbreaks. Ann is lonely and hungry for belonging, Amelia is broken from abuse and separation from her child, and Jackie is searching for friendships to sustain her.
Ann and Amelia find the connection they seek in one another, but they must navigate the college’s religious mandates and eventually, the passage of decades. It is during those passing years that Jackie comes to understand the influence Amelia’s and Ann’s love story has had on her own life.
Grace Summit explores the lives of women coming of age in the late ’80s, navigating their places in a changing world. Giving each woman a voice to reflect on her story, it weaves together attraction, love, religion, and finally, aging, illness, and loss. It’s an achingly beautiful novel that spans cities and lifetimes, capturing the intensity of first loves and women’s friendships.
You can find Denise Roma’s poetry in After Hours, a Chicago journal of literature and visual art, and short fiction in the online literary journal Thread and the New Town Writer’s Off the Rocks magazine. Grace Summit is her first novel.
Denise lives in the Chicago area with her family. She loves reading, writing, dancing in land or water and early morning air.
As do the hits that knock Keon’s perfectly laid plans into chaos. His no-good brother conducted a hostile takeover of their pack, became Alpha, and got killed in the space of a year. Grief has crippled their father, leaving Beta Weston desperate for Keon’s return, as Simeon’s last act as Alpha was to name Keon his successor.
Leaving his friends is heartbreaking. Arriving home to a hostile pack is unsurprising. But finding a rival pack hovering on the boundaries of his land, vying for blood, could be a problem. With Simeon dead, they don’t seem to care which Alpha bleeds for the crimes.
With no other choice, Keon shoulders the burden of being Alpha. Fighting, bleeding, and sacrificing.
As a new Alpha, he needs to prove himself to get the respect needed for them to accept change…like dragging Vihaan into the 21st century. On the top of the list is finding a mate. But who would want to mate an Alpha whose own pack doesn’t respect him?
He always knew this day would come. Thatcher was too old and selfish to fight his own challenges, but part of Milo had naïvely presumed it would be Usher standing in his place. Or one of his many other brothers, who were better fighters.
But Milo supposed that was the point. This wasn’t about the challenge. This was about punishing Milo, because the Fates had given him a male true mate. This was a reminder of his place in the pack, in the world.
Every challenge was to the death, and if Milo died, he doubted his father, Thatcher, would spare a second thought. The loss of Milo’s gift would be a small price if he could give the pack this important lesson―there would be no gaoj tolerated in Thatcher’s pack or his family.
It didn’t matter that Milo hadn’t asked to be born gaoj―someone attracted to the same sex. The fact he was would be enough of an insult to Thatcher’s opinion on what made a man a man.
Beating each other bloody counted, apparently. With not even the Meskli to preside, as was usually the case.
Alpha Farley was a m’weko, but as the Meskli, he was a neutral party who governed within Vihaan. Settling disputes and resolving problems between packs, villages, and species of foame―those half-human who could call forth a beast form. He wasn’t a man to disobey and held tight to tradition.
No, waiting for the Meskli would mean prying eyes and someone willing to―and with the power to―interfere on Milo’s behalf.
He didn’t recognise his opponent, and Thatcher hadn’t bothered to tell Milo what this challenge was about. What dispute or grievance required the shedding of blood. A secret part of him wondered if the problem had been fabricated purely to punish him. Milo would put nothing past his father.
The moment the challenger stepped forward―a brute of a man, made of muscle―Milo’s nerves shook. He tried to hide it, summoning long buried memories of his most hated brothers, bullying and goading him, from his childhood. The only way he’d survive this was to remember one important thing―he’d rather spend an eternity in reedav than let his father win. An afterlife in Vihaan’s version of hell would be worth the chance to make his father suffer.
As long as Milo remained breathing by the end of the fight, it would be enough. He’d drag himself to his home, with his insides hanging out, if it meant denying Thatcher the satisfaction of seeing him fail.
Milo was down, beaten bloody and could barely feel his legs, but not dead. He could only see out of one eye, but his reflexes remained quick enough to roll away from the foot aimed at his head.
It had been a long, excruciating fight, with his opponent employing every dirty trick possible, and Thatcher didn’t object once.
At some point, Usher had arrived to watch horror-stricken, as Milo fought for his life. At least neither his mother nor his sister, Haley, had been dragged from their beds to witness his humiliation.
After five minutes of struggling to make his legs move, Milo froze at the first sign of rain. Dismay filled his heart, but he fought to stand and dodged through another ten minutes of attacks, too bone-weary to do anything but defend and protect himself. His opponent showed signs of fatigue, and it was satisfying to see bleeding wounds where Milo had left his mark.
Then the opponent backed away to shift into his m’weko form―a giant beast, all fur and fangs, and far scarier than the Dnaran tales of wolf beasts. Something Milo was too weak to do.
Lightning flashed across the sky, and he feared his fate was to die here.
As a massive paw swiped at his head, Milo ducked, rearing back to avoid it gutting his stomach on the way up. Too late to see the other hand lowering over his bent body in time to counter-strike.
He saw the claw descend, knew he had neither the time nor energy to avoid it, and felt the skin tear as it made contact. Milo screamed, a sound he’d never made before, and crumpled to the ground to an angry shout,
In the haze of his vision, he made out Usher shifting to tackle the m’weko challenger, tearing at his throat. Milo lasted long enough for Usher to kill the man, then shift to human.
“I won’t let you kill him,” he snapped at their father, crossing to where Milo lay. Usher lifted his broken body from the ground, and such pain flooded through him that Milo passed into a brief, but peaceful, oblivion.
Elaine White is the author of multi-genre MM romance, celebrating ‘love is love’ and offering diversity in both genre and character within her stories.
Growing up in a small town and fighting cancer in her early teens taught her that life is short and dreams should be pursued. She lives vicariously through her independent, and often hellion characters, exploring all possibilities within the romantic universe.
The Winner of two Watty Awards – Collector’s Dream (An Unpredictable Life) and Hidden Gem (Faithfully) – and an Honourable Mention in 2016’s Rainbow Awards (A Royal Craving) Elaine is a self-professed geek, reading addict, and a romantic at heart.
Brent Riddick has been up to his armpits in work ever since he started his job as the Truman School’s manager. He admits he probably qualifies as a workaholic, although he doesn’t really care. He’s simply more comfortable standing in front of a board meeting than sitting in a cocktail lounge and has no desire to examine his lack of a social life. So it isn’t a big deal to him that he sorta forgets it’s his birthday.
Unfortunately his staff, led by the hotel’s sexiest troublemaker, Guthrie, remembers the occasion and Brent is begrudgingly forced to allow his co-workers to take him out for drinks. However, when all those birthday drinks go to Brent’s head and he ends up going home with an equally drunken Guthrie, things get a little more complicated.
Guthrie Walker is the kind of guy who always knows where the next party is happening. He also has a Plan B Party and a Plan C Party if his original party plans fall through. He’s still young and figures there’ll be plenty of time later to get serious about life. Drinking and dancing with his friends is definitely more fun than dealing with his messed up finances or dwelling on the festering rift with his family. So what if he occasionally drinks a little too much, does a few club drugs, comes in late to work a time or two, and suffers from an almost perpetual hangover? Everyone does it, right? Too bad the judge overseeing his case after Guthrie is arrested for drug possession doesn’t see things that way.
As if things weren’t messy enough, the court-ordered Diversion Plan requires Guthrie to enlist the help of his supervisor at work – who also happens to be one of Guthrie’s many one-night stands – if he wants to stay out of jail, retain his server’s license, and not lose his job. The hotel is already short-staffed and Brent is too much of a softie to say no to his desperate subordinate. Which is how Brent ends up vouching for Guthrie and agreeing to monitor his compliance with the court’s mandates. Now Brent just has to come up with a way to divert the party boy’s attention away from his club-scene past and himself away from lusting after his hot mess employee.
Chapter 1 – Brent
It’s not my fault that I’m so busy I sorta forget my own birthday.
The past six months, ever since I was hired as the manager of the Truman School, have been wild. I’ve been so busy that I rarely even remember what day of the week it is, let alone the actual date. Unless, of course, there’s some critically important work event I need to know the date of; those dates I remember because I’m paid well not to forget them. Personal stuff, though . . . Not so much.
The first three months leading up to the Grand Opening of the hotel were filled with hiring staff, overseeing the remodeling of the building, and working with the PR team to plan the opening. Most of that time I was working fourteen hour days, six or seven days a week. Things only slowed down incrementally following the opening. Being the manager, I end up being the one expected to handle all the problems and, for some reason, those problems always happen at the least opportune times. Primarily weekends and the middle of the night, it seems. I don’t think I’ve really taken a relaxed breath since starting this job.
Not that I really mind. I guess I probably qualify as a ‘work-a-holic’ but that’s fine with me. I’d rather be too busy than not busy enough. Work is good. I’m good at what I do. I like knowing that I’m appreciated. I like hearing the accolades from my bosses at McNally’s. I really like that I’ve already received one merit-based promotion despite being with the company less than a year. Plus, when I’m up to my armpits in work shit, I don’t have time to worry about anything else. So, generally speaking, I don’t complain about being too busy. Life is easier when you’ve got a purpose and, since I don’t have much of a life outside of work right now, that’s really my only purpose.
However, this weekend is proving especially hectic, what with it being Labor Day. The last official weekend of Summer is traditionally one of the busiest times of the year in the hospitality industry and, happily, the hotel is booked to capacity. It doesn’t help matters that our chef up and quit on me last week and the replacement, Easton, is not one hundred percent up to speed yet. Or that I’m immersed in marketing meetings with Ryan Zellers and the McNally’s PR team most of the weekend. Or that Ryan and his boyfriend – our ex-artist, Jayce – invited most of the staff to join them for dinner on Friday night. Or that the plumbing in the north wing backed up on Saturday afternoon. Or that any of the hundreds of other things that I’ve had to worry about this weekend have been taking up any spare brain capacity I might have left over.
Anyway, it’s no wonder I’m far too preoccupied with the daily crises of managing a full hotel to notice that this year September sixth – my birthday – falls on the first Monday of the month. I’m not sure whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing that Logan, my assistant manager, remembers the occasion. I’m afraid that I probably look a little confused, though, when my team surprises me with an impromptu celebration just as soon as I give the okay to the restaurant staff to close up the Courtyard kitchen at nine-thirty that Monday evening.
“For he’s a jolly good fellow . . .” They all sing as Malia emerges from the kitchen with a Jaciva chocolate cake festooned with three largish candles.
The fact that they aren’t singing the traditional birthday song adds to my confusion. “What’s this for?” I ask as the group circles round the table where the cake has been placed and I’m pushed down into a chair facing the confection. “Are you folks angling for promotions or something?”
“I told you he’d forget.” Logan gives a conspiratorial laugh. “Happy birthday, Brent!”
“Happy birthday, Boss!” the crowd echos.
I look around and see the faces of pretty much the entire hotel staff staring at me: Logan, Guthrie, Easton, Wyatt, Keshawn, Perry, Tasha, and all the rest. I note that even Mark has come by this evening, despite working out of corporate headquarters most of the time. I smile around at them lamely and try to look happy at being ambushed, even though I hate being made the center of attention like this. I’ve never been overly comfortable in social situations, especially when I haven’t had time to prepare something to say or figure out how I’m supposed to act. It’s different when I’m standing in a boardroom or in front of a staff meeting. Those I can handle. But random surprise parties where I’m the guest of honor are a whole ‘nother thing.
I can feel my skin heating up and I try to fight back the blush I feel creeping up from under the collar of my shirt. Being a redhead, I can’t control the fact that my ruddy skin usually gives me away any time I’m feeling embarrassed or put on the spot. I try not to let myself get caught out like this too often. I’m the fucking manager after all; I can’t be going around blushing like a school-girl in front of my staff. Apparently my body doesn’t understand the need to maintain a professional demeanor, though, and that stupid blush takes over, no doubt turning my cheeks almost as red as my beard. But I try to smile anyway as I laugh at myself along with the rest.
“Thank you. But you didn’t have to do this.” I gesture at the cake and try to bat away the hands attempting to pull the elastic strap of a paper birthday hat under my chin. “Really. You shouldn’t have . . .”
“Of course we should,” Logan insists, pulling out the chair across from me and smiling in an officious manner as they seat themselves. “Celebrating staff birthdays together is part of the fun of working here – or so it says in the McNally’s Team Policy Manual – but I knew you wouldn’t take the time to celebrate on your own, so I made the executive decision to ensure you at least sat down long enough to eat a piece of cake. And, after the ridiculously busy weekend we all just had, everyone deserves a party. Including you. Now, be a good boss and pretend to enjoy yourself.”
I know they’re only teasing so I try to play along. “Who has time for birthdays?” I respond, causing several of the party to chuckle.
“C’mon, Boss. You’d think someone born on ‘Labor Day’ would at least remember when to celebrate!” Someone in the back – I think it’s probably that smart-ass, Guthrie – calls out.
And, yes, I’m aware of the irony of the fact that the celebration of my birth is happening on ‘Labor Day’ this year. My poor mother, going into labor on ‘Labor Day’ thirty years ago, no doubt also thought it hilarious at the time. However, since my birthday and the holiday coincide about every six or seven years, I’ve definitely heard that joke more than a few times. It wasn’t funny the first four times I heard it, and I’m not really that amused now either. But I can’t be ungracious when they’re all trying to be nice by throwing me this party so I offer an awkward smile and fake a chuckle.
Did I mention how much I hate uncomfortable social situations?
Then another voice from the crowd – Guthrie again, I assume, because nobody else would dare to be that flippant with the boss – urges me to, “make a wish and blow already!” which, of course, leads to more teasing and joking.
What else can I do? I can’t just walk out of my own birthday party, so I play along, blowing out the candles and accepting a piece of cake. Malia pours beers for everyone who’s already off the clock, and maybe a few who are supposed to still be on the clock, but I turn a blind eye to that minor policy infraction since they’re ostensibly only doing it in my honor. The party carries on from there.
I’m not sure exactly when the party gets so out of control.
One minute we’re sitting around in the empty dining room, drinking beer and eating cake, chatting and laughing about work stuff and the crazy weekend we’d just lived through, and the next minute someone suggests we take the party on the road. I hear Guthrie, the eternal party boy, proposing we all go to Scandals. Several other voices concur. I try to demur, using the pile of administrative paperwork waiting on my desk as an excuse to get out of this little field trip, but I’m shouted down. After all, it’s my party, right? I’m the guest of honor. They all want to buy me more drinks. I might still have backed out, though, if Guthrie wasn’t teasing me so relentlessly.
“Come on, Boss!” The tall, bold blond waggles his eyebrows at me from behind those hipster horned-rimmed glasses of his. “Pull the stick out of your ass and live a little for once!”
I want to tell him to fuck off, and maybe even write him up for talking to his superior in such an improper manner, but that would make me look like an ungrateful jerk. This whole celebration is supposedly for my benefit, right? I’m expected to play along. Which is exactly why I hate social interaction. I feel so awkward; I never know how I’m supposed to react when put on the spot like this. So, despite feeling completely out of my element, I allow myself to be talked into relocating the party to one of Portland’s more well-known gay bars. What the hell, right? I suppose I can allow the diversion this once.
The debauchery progresses rapidly from that point.
I suppose it’s obvious fairly early on that I don’t routinely drink very heavily. I’d had a couple beers back at the Truman School, so I’m already feeling a bit loose when we arrive at Scandals. The team immediately insists that I drink something called a ‘Birthday Cake Shot’ to celebrate my special day. That’s followed up by a Jagerbomb. After that I completely lose track of the seemingly endless rounds of drinks that follow as everyone and their brother offers to buy the Birthday Boy a drink.
Although Scandals isn’t a dance club, per se, at some point during the night the entire Truman team ends up in the middle of the floor, jumping, twisting, gyrating, and dancing together in a big group. Surprisingly, I’m right in the middle of the roiling mess of them and, for once, I’m having a pretty good time, despite my introvert tendencies. The bartender cranks up the tunes. The music is decent and quite danceable. None of us are feeling any pain and the party moves into high gear.
I’m more than halfway sloshed by this point. I will readily admit that all the toasts I’ve been the recipient of have me flying pretty high. I’ve had enough to drink that my inhibitions are pretty nonexistent and I’m relaxed enough not to care how I look anymore. I even give up trying to remove the stupid party hat that my staff insists I keep wearing. I’m having a great time dancing, to be honest – something I usually avoid out of fear of looking like a juvenile red-headed moose having a seizure – which is, unfortunately, my go-to dance move. But I’m just tipsy enough tonight to not give a damn and it feels good to let go for a change.
So, when Guthrie comes up behind me at some point and starts grinding against me from behind I don’t sweat it. I merely laugh and wiggle my ass a little provocatively. Then I toss back the rest of the glowing, fruity blue drink that is currently in my hand and twirl around like some kind of drunken ballerina.
“Oh, so he can dance,” Guthrie says, taking advantage of the smooth tempo of the music to pull me back against him even closer.
I can feel his tall, lanky body pressed up against me from behind and then his hips do this swivel thing that causes his crotch to grind into the crack of my ass. I don’t even bother trying to stifle the groan that escapes from my lips at that move. It’s been a hella long time since I had anyone grinding up against me and I’m not about to waste the experience. Especially not when it’s a hot blond like Guthrie.
TAG has been living in Portland, Oregon, so long that it’s almost like being a native. They don’t even mind the rain that much anymore. TAG loves the city and the state with a passion. TAG has been writing for almost a decade, starting out with a hesitant toe in the realm of fanfiction before venturing into the scarier world of self-publishing original works. With an eclectic background as an attorney, microbiologist, all-around nerd, and adventurer, TAG brings to all their writing an off-kilter sense of humor, unbounded curiosity, a love of historical and contemporary details, and astonishing powers of research. If you are looking for a gripping story, with compelling characters that deal with real world issues, then you’re in the right place.
Starseer Katya Hernández
Publication date: April 22nd 2023
Genres: Fantasy, LGBTQ+, Young Adult
A fate traced by the stars…
Fifteen-year-old Etar can see the future in the stars—a rare skill even among magicians. But while other Starseers before him have become the stuff of legend, Etar has never predicted anything more exciting than the weather. Orphaned at age five and living under his uncle’s disapproving gaze, he yearns to prove his worth.
Disaster strikes when, in defiance of his uncle’s orders, Etar breaks into the Starseeing Dome—an ancient structure built to potentiate the powers of Starseers. Aided by the Dome, the stars send Etar a vision of ironclad warships destroying Skalland, the tiny island he calls home.
Hunted by a bloodthirsty admiral who seeks to enslave his newly awakened powers, Etar will have to fight to protect his friends while grappling with his past, his out-of-control magic, and a budding friendship turning into something more.
Etar didn’t have time to process any of what Hans had said before he went back to the hallway to let someone in—and whatever Etar had been expecting, it was nothing like the man that walked in.
The stranger walked with a step so light Etar could barely hear it on the floorboards of his room. His long black hair caught light like flowing water, and his eyes were distant in a deep, wistful way, blue and luminous even under this morning’s gray light. He wore a black silken tunic embroidered with the most marvelous iridescent threads. Starbursts, suns, and moons, all decorated with tiny gemstones, crowded every corner of the fabric. Etar couldn’t help staring at his jewel-decked hands. He had long, delicate fingers, as though made for minute tasks like building watches.
As soon as Hans closed the door, the man bowed, a gesture Etar had never received from anyone. “Starseer,” he said, soft and reverent.
Panic rose in Etar’s chest. How did this man know he was a Starseer? “Um. Hello?” he said, his mind struggling for coherent thought.
“It is such a great honor to finally meet you. I have been looking for you far and wide.”
Etar couldn’t parse the words from this man’s mouth, so he gaped instead of replying. His eyes pivoted from him to Hans in search of explanations, but Hans only fell back into a corner of the room.
“My name is Áehd, and I am an alchemist,” the man said.
An alchemist. A trade Etar only knew through books. To his knowledge, there had been alchemists and magicians in this castle long ago, but his uncle had expelled them all.
Etar supposed he should introduce himself, but he was too stunned to act properly. “How do you know I’m a Starseer?” he blurted out. No formal salutation. No bowing to receive his guest. It showed so glaringly that he hadn’t been raised as a royal.
The alchemist offered a gracious little laugh and pulled something out from between the folds of his tunic. When he opened his hand, a butterfly flew out of it.
At first, Etar thought it was a real butterfly because of how dainty its legs were and how its wings broke light, but on closer inspection, it was made of metal and colored crystals. It emanated a soft, bluish glow from under its belly.
“My constructs respond to energy, and no energy is more attractive to them than that of a Starseer,” Áehd said.
The butterfly kissed Etar’s face, making him flinch when it came close to his eyes, but he was afraid of breaking it if he flapped it away. Its glow intensified whenever it grazed his skin, and Etar could feel warmth wherever it alighted. After a while, the alchemist caged it in his fingers and put it away in his tunic.
The butterfly dredged out a memory of one such toy Etar had since childhood but which no longer possessed this butterfly’s agency.
Katya is a writer, illustrator, and graphic designer who lives with her partner, two cats, and two dogs in sunny El Salvador.
Her cats are her harshest critics, but she loves them all the same.
When she’s not writing or drawing the fantasy worlds that live in her head, she’s cosplaying as the creepiest monsters from all her favorite horror movies.