New Release: The Curator’s Vampire by Alexa Piper #vampires #paranormalromance @prowlingpiper

After returning from France, Robyn wants nothing more than to snuggle in the arms of her vampire husband and lover, Maxim. When Maxim, New Amsterdam’s vampire hunter, is called to work, Robyn finds a mummy has been added to the art collection she manages. While Maxim follows his case, Robyn decides to dive headfirst into yet another mummy mystery.

Maxim has been working on a case that might involve a dark conspiracy, but more than anything, the case forces him to confront scars from the past. He can no longer hide how damaged he is from the woman he loves. He may have hidden the truth from her for too long already, and Maxim fears that Robyn will find him unworthy of her love and desire.

In the aftermath of Maxim’s tumultuous case and the emotions it’s forced him to confront, the mummy turns out to be more murderous than anyone expected. It’s not a mummy’s curse that’s been triggered, but the beginnings of a conspiracy Maxim fears he and those he loves may not easily be rid of.

Available from Changeling Press

EXCERPT

All rights reserved.
Copyright ©2021 Alexa Piper

Niccolo and Sibylla sat in the lounge area of the Paris airport. Sibylla kept tugging her hair back behind her ears — when she wasn’t stirring her cappuccino or rearranging the packets of sweetener in their holder on the table.

“Stop fussing,” Niccolo told his sister in flawless French. “It makes you look suspicious.”

Sibylla jerked her hand back from the sweetener packets and stopped her hands from going to her hair again by folding them in front of her as if in prayer. She took a deep breath, but Niccolo could tell it wasn’t doing much to calm her. He understood that all too well.

“Do you see her yet?” Sibylla asked. She wanted to look over her shoulder. Niccolo could tell.

Niccolo let his gaze drift to the terminal beyond, the stores advertising high-end brands or selling overpriced gifts to travelers who forgot to pick something up for a loved one in Paris. Tourists and business travelers alike brought color and voices from halfway around the world to the scene, but Niccolo couldn’t see the woman they were here for. “Not yet,” Niccolo told his sister.

Sibylla nodded. “I’m scared, Nico.” She’d been skeptical about coming here, and she still was.

“I know. I am too, but we have to do this.” He said the words to her, but also to himself. Certainty was always fleeting and had been so all their lives.

Sibylla nodded. Her knuckles turned white as she forced her hands to remain still.

Niccolo looked over Sibylla’s shoulder again. His eyes fell on the woman from his visions. She was running and awkwardly dragging a bag behind her, which she then dropped in order to hug a dark-haired, olive-skinned man who hugged her back eagerly. They almost seemed like family, and if it weren’t for their obviously different features, Niccolo would have thought this man her brother. And he wasn’t alone. Niccolo knew who his companion was.

“Don’t turn. That’s her, and her husband’s assistant,” he told Sibylla.

Sibylla bit her lip. “The vampire hunter’s assistant?”

Niccolo nodded. It hadn’t been easy to find out things about Maxim Vallois and his new wife, Robyn Somerton, but thanks to his visions, Niccolo had known what to look for, and the Internet had delivered at least some insights.

“Merde,” Sibylla said. “Do we still talk to her before the flight?”

The woman had now moved on to hug the taller of the two men, the one with the sandy-blond hair Niccolo had recognized as Vallois’s assistant. The man with the darker hair whom Somerton had greeted like a brother had picked up her bag, and his wide smile distracted from the wet sheen of presumably happy tears in his eyes. They didn’t seem like they were going on a different flight or going their separate ways, flying off to different countries.

Niccolo shook his head. “I think it’s better if we wait. In my vision, it was just us and her, so we’ll have to find another time. We should head to the gate, but don’t stare.”

Sibylla snorted. “That’s just his assistant, but I really don’t want his attention. And I may be nervous, but I’m not stupid.”

Niccolo shrugged. “I never said that. But that other guy seems very protective. Almost like close family.”

“Eyes down. Got it,” Sibylla said, her tone bitter enough to hide the desperation.

Before she got up, Niccolo reached out to take his sister’s hand in his. “New Amsterdam will be good for us. You have to trust me, Siby.”

She looked at him with her dark brown eyes that mirrored his own. “I trust you, Nico. That doesn’t mean I can’t be scared at the same time.”

Nico knew how that felt. Every other vision he had these days scared him. Following them got increasingly harder as a result.

“Right,” he said. “We can do this.”

“We can do this,” she agreed. Then, she tugged her hair back behind her ear and flinched when she noticed. “I hope they have plenty of booze on that plane. It’s a twelve-goddamn-hour flight.”

And they’d have to ignore the hunter’s bride for every minute of those twelve hours. Niccolo sighed. “Maybe we should get a drink before we head to the gate and board.”

“A drink would be so much better than coffee right about now,” Sibylla agreed. She pushed her cappuccino away. The frothy top had already considerably deflated, leaving just a half-full cup of brownish liquid with the odd bubble showing.

They went to buy overpriced liquor to calm their over-stressed nerves. It only helped so much, but it was better than trying not to stare at Robyn Somerton while they waited to board.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alexa Piper writes steamy romance that ranges from light to dark, from straight to queer. She’s also a coffee addict. Alexa loves writing stories that make her readers laugh and fall in love with the characters in them. Connect with Alexa on Facebook or Instagram, follow her on Twitter, and subscribe to her newsletter!

Find the author online: Website | Facebook | Instagram | BookBub

New Release: Looking Glass Foes by Mikala Ash #steampunk #romanticsuspense @ash_mikala

Could the handsome Peter Smythe be the one? Elizabeth is mightily attracted to the dedicated and brave journalist and faces the struggle of balancing her duty to save the empire with nurturing a budding relationship.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth is on the brink of finally bringing her arch nemesis Vladimir, the Russian agent responsible for her husband’s death, to justice. But the past has a habit of nipping at her heels and with it the risk of bringing everything she has achieved crashing down.

Set against the backdrop of a steam-driven world, our story begins with an airship-led commando raid and takes Elizabeth along a twisted path of betrayal and villainy.

Get it Today at Changeling Press

Preorder for July 2nd at Online Booksellers

EXCERPT

All rights reserved.
Copyright ©2021 Mikala Ash

The general and I were standing on a raised platform by the East London Water Works, a half mile north of Grove Hall with the railway between. I gasped in wonder as the airship restarted its engines to combat the wind and maintain its position over the asylum. Tiny shadows emerged from the airship’s grey hull like ants hurrying from their nest. The dozen members of Her Majesty’s Royal Aerial Marines took to the ropes and descended with consummate skill toward the sleeping asylum. It took them no time at all to reach the sloping roof, and a dozen heartbeats later the uppermost windows of the institution’s main building.

While the airborne assault had been making its indefatigable progress, elements of the Queen’s Light Infantry, with silent efficiency, barricaded the surrounding streets and encircled the asylum, while specialised ground forces made their way across the darkened grounds ready to breach the doors at zero hour.

The general checked his watch. “Only a minute now.”

The enterprise had taken the general an amazingly short time to arrange. Of course, the military had been in a state of readiness for months given the threatening situation across the channel. Russia was ever threatening after the humiliation the Czar had suffered in the Crimea, Napoleon the Third of France was in an expansive mood after his success in the same conflict, and the Austrian Empire was mobilising, watching our global trading empire with envious eyes and dreaming of world domination. The prospect of all-out war had been building like a storm cloud, and the expected deluge would be heavy indeed.

Such was the backdrop of our world in 1860. It was only the scientific and technological advances such as the airship Prince Albert that we had made over the last decade which kept our homeland and empire safe. Our ambitious competitors were catching up. However, their endeavours had taken a darker turn, as evidenced by the horror of the patchwork man, and the use of soporific gas that could confuse and render harmless a whole city.

Vladimir was just one of our malevolent foes. The question this morning was how violently would he and his murderous minions resist capture? I said a silent prayer for the Queen’s men risking their lives tonight. I had brought them here, and I would bear responsibility for whatever happened. That was a heavy thought indeed.

Butterflies, the flighty children of fear, skittled about in my belly causing me to doubt the success of our enterprise. For reassurance I glanced over my shoulder. Standing behind the general and I were men on whom I placed the greatest of trust. Felix, who helped Archie at my Investigations Bureau, but was much, much more, and my fellow Agents of the Queen, Bisby and Oxley.

Missing this momentous morning was Archie, my husband’s batman, and the son we never had. He was at home caring for Marianne, his fiancé of only a day. Brave Marianne had been instrumental in bringing us to Vladimir’s den, risking her life and had, for her impetuousness, been held hostage by a patchwork man. Not surprisingly she was having trouble dealing with the horror that had so nearly cost her life, her exhausted sleep racked by night terrors. Archie chose, and rightfully so, to remain at her side.

Felix, his handsome face hidden by the upturned collar of his coat and scarf, noticed my gaze, for I saw his gleaming teeth as he offered me a supportive smile. My body responded instinctively. How often had he given me that smile as he lifted my body to the heights of sensuality with gentle and expert caresses I could not tell. His natural allure, together with the skills gained from his experience as a prostitute, had attracted me like a flower lures a bee.

My first sight of him had ignited the dormant woman within, as if my true self had fallen into a sort of death with Jonathan’s passing. For five years I had been a walking corpse, cold and withered, but with hot blood still bubbling deep within, demanding expression. Felix possessed the key to its release. Meeting him had been a striking revelation. I immediately longed to have his arms about me, desired his lips upon mine, needed his fingers stroking my flesh, and demanded his hardness within. Though I felt guilty, as if I were betraying Jonathan with this almost uncontrollable craving, I hired Felix as my tutor in bedroom diversions. With tender care he resurrected my carnal nature. Though my desire was strong, he coaxed me out of my initial timidness and skilfully guided me, transforming me from cold widow into a true wanton, where I became the uninhibited leader taking us both to exquisite release. Though it had been months since our last intimacy I still longed for his sultry gaze…

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Aussie Mikala Ash used to be a mild-mannered training & development consultant by day, and a wild sci-fi and paranormal adventure writer by night. Now she is a brazen full-time writer and nature photographer who is concentrating on having among other things, “… bags, and bags of fun!” Mikala can be found on Facebook and on Twitter.

Preorder: The Tethered Goat by Mikala Ash #steampunk #murdermystery @Ash_Mikala

Hell-bent on revenge for the death of her husband, Elizabeth takes the initiative and sets a daring trap for Vladimir, the Russian spy she suspects of the deed. Meanwhile, Peter Smythe, a handsome and dedicated correspondent, is investigating the disappearances of street people in the docklands of London.

The discovery of a horribly mutilated body of one of the victims reminds Elizabeth of the horrendous acts perpetrated by the Whitechapel murderer known as the Collector. Elizabeth slew that monster, itself a creature of Vladimir, and she fears this is a new apprentice.

Sparks fly when Peter and Elizabeth come together, and they set off on a roller-coaster adventure in a fogbound steam-driven world. When the hunted becomes the hunter, Elizabeth is the bait!

Get it at Changeling Press

Preorder for May 7th at online booksellers

EXCERPT

All rights reserved.
Copyright ©2021 Mikala Ash

Alone at last.

I was sitting unaccompanied in a Cumberland steam-cab. By myself, without anyone to protect me.

It was a strange sensation after the intensity of the last few months. A return to normal, as it were, to a time before I began my Investigation Bureau, and before I became an Agent of the Queen.

A time when I had been just an ordinary widow.

“Ha!”

I pardoned myself for what was a small, but understandable, expression of conceit, for I’d given my protector, the ever-reliable Bisby, the slip. I forgave myself the sin of self-congratulation, so enamoured I was on the audacity of my cunning subterfuge. Sin or not, it had been a nice piece of work, using guile, disguise, and a certain boldness. I was still panting, and my heart still pounded with the excitement of it. Perspiration was running cold beneath my shift, and inside my button boots my feet ached appallingly. Despite these reminders of physical effort, the exclamation of conceit turned into a slightly manic chuckle, then into a full-blown belly laugh. Goodness knows what the cabbie perched above the cabin thought.

Today had been intended to be more practice of the techniques taught to me by Oxley, himself an Agent of the Queen, and assessed by the aforesaid Bisby, another agent. The two, posing as footmen, had been assigned to protect my household from the attentions of the Russian agent, Vladimir, a diabolical monster who I’d bested only a few months ago, when I’d killed his murderous slave, The Collector, who had terrorised Whitechapel with a series of brutal mutilation murders. Oxley could, I am certain, gain renown as a teacher, for I’d learned a great deal over the last few weeks. Tomorrow my skills in evasion were to be formally put to the test. The challenge being to evade Bisby for the period of one hour.

“Do you think I’ll be ready for tomorrow’s test?” I’d asked Oxley in a suitably tremulous voice, when he saw Bisby and me off after breakfast.

“We must crawl before we can walk,” he replied sagely. “Just remember what we’ve been practising, and you will do well.”

“I’ll try,” I said with a dash of uncertainty.

Of course, that was nonsense. I’d been ready for over week, so I took the opportunity of taking the test today instead, and not just for an hour. Bisby or Oxley had only themselves to blame, for I had given them fair warning with my dreadful overacting. I mean to say, pinched cheeks, fluttering eyelashes, trembling lips and a voice hesitant and pitched slightly higher than usual? I gave it everything. Proof that even the best Agents of the Queen can be the victims of feminine wiles.

Naughty of me, I know, but necessary, for it was integral to my grand plan.

To be strictly honest, I hadn’t thought it possible to evade the suffocating twenty-four-hour protection the general had erected about me. It seemed impenetrable, a forbidding brick wall a hundred feet high and a mile thick. As silly as that sounds, that’s the way I felt. Of course, a lady was never alone in public. She was either accompanied by her lady’s maid, a burly footman, a relative or mature female friend or companion, or, of course, by her husband. Such was the condition of women of quality, as we are termed in the year of our Lord 1860. Our virtue, and by that, I mean our reputation, was never safe if we were out in public alone.

Yet here I was.

Alone.

Admittedly the protection I suffered went even beyond what would be considered normal for the upper middle echelon of society. Whenever I left the house either Bisby or Oxley would be with me, disguised as footmen, a decadent luxury for a widow like me. At least they were not dressed in ostentatious livery as those working for the gentry. If those two professionals were not with me, I was with Archie, my late husband’s young batman during the Crimean War, who I considered the son we never had, and who now managed my Investigation Bureau, or with Felix, my former teacher of the erotic arts, a former prostitute and now assistant to Archie. If not with them then I would be in the company of Baudry, a doctor who had been intimately involved in my cases and had also graced my bed.

That was not the full extent of it. The general, my mentor, a confidant to the Queen, and commander of the clandestine force of agents protecting the realm, took it one step further. In addition to assigning Oxley and Bisby to watch from within my household, he also posted watchers over my house and staff. Thus there were eyes focussed on me all the time, unrelenting, and though invisible, the knowledge of their existence was like a heavy shadow from that imaginary brick wall, enveloping me, pressing in on me from every side, suffocating the life out of me. The general feared the eyes of Russian agents were also set fast upon me, ordered by the indefatigable Vladimir, awaiting his signal to strike.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Aussie Mikala Ash used to be a mild-mannered training & development consultant by day, and a wild sci-fi and paranormal adventure writer by night. Now she is a brazen full-time writer and nature photographer who is concentrating on having among other things, “… bags, and bags of fun!” Mikala can be found on Facebook and on Twitter.

Book Tour: Brushed Off by M. Lee Musgrave #murdermystery @pumpupyourbook

As emerging socialite Camille strives to be accepted into LA’s elite, its hottest artists are being murdered and she doesn’t realize she is the key to the mystery…

By M. Lee Musgrave

Title: BRUSHED OFF
Author: M. Lee Musgrave
Publisher: Black Rose Writing
Pages: 186
Genre: Murder Mystery

Artist James Terra and his married lover Nicole find themselves in a tangled web while searching for the killer of LAs hottest artists. Homicide detective Cisco Rivas ask James for help with LAs zany art community. The case quickly turns into a quagmire of intrigue and vicious jealousy amongst the dazzling talent and wealth of schizophrenic Los Angeles. James wants Nicole to leave her husband. When another artist is murdered, she joins the hunt for the killer. A leading art collector is attacked. Cisco is pressured by influential city movers and shakers. Young emerging socialite Camille is up to her neck in strife so James and Nicole make a deal to protect her. Cisco discovers a smuggled exotic drug used by all the suspects including a stealthy porn star. James keeps everyone from knowing his health is precarious. The killer and a secret accomplice targets James, Nicole and Camille.

 

“Who is killing the contemporary artists of L.A.? Why are they shoving paint brushes down their victims’ throats? Who’s next on the killer’s list? In Brushed Off artist and public-TV art show host James “Sketchy” Terra finds himself smack in the middle of things, racing to help his homicide detective buddy unravel a puzzle as urgent as a splatter painting and as complex as an M.C. Escher drawing. Lee Musgrave’s swift and energetic novel pulls its readers through the studio doors into a brash and entertaining world of big ambitions, bigger egos, love and sex and secrets and shady wheeler-dealing. Calling on his long experience as an artist and curator as he cruises from the beaches and bars and galleries of L.A. to the hidden havens of the Santa Monica Mountains, Musgrave creates a compelling collage of mystery-novel action and art-world exposé as he paints a portrait of the Art of Murder.”

—Bob Hicks, two-time Pulitzer nominee and Senior Editor, Artswatch  (orartswatch.org)

“Brushed-Off is a unique, atmospheric work of Los Angeles mystery fiction. Not only does author M. Lee Musgrave provide an engaging case, which ends in an explosive climax, but he also paints a vivid portrait of the city’s beautiful but dangerous art scene from an insider’s perspective. A welcome addition for those who enjoy contemporary L.A. noir.”
— Rick Treon, award-winning author of Deep Background and Let the Guilty Pay

Brushed-off by Lee Musgrave paints an interesting and revealing series of passages about the Los Angeles art scene. The opening picture of LA’s beach community, its oddball characters, mixed with homeless wanderers draws the reader into this story as Sketchy and Duie (his dog) discover a friend dead under a pile of destroyed paintings and a totally wrecked studio. Sketchy, an artist-videographer, and his homicide detective friend set off to find answers. More suspicious deaths in the art community pressure the duo to find the killer. Looking for a link to the murders, Sketchy takes the reader deep into the lives of the artists, collectors, and beautiful people who inhabit this world of creativity. With his video documentary work as cover, the threads he discovers unravel a tapestry of crime that only an artist could perceive in the glare of so many colors.

Musgrave uses a number of conventions to depict details of color, texture, and location to convince the reader that this is a plausible tale told by an observant artist. The twist of a detective using a well-connected artist to investigate leads plays well in this adventure. Musgrave takes the reader on trips through LA and its several neighborhoods with Sketchy chasing leads, dead ends, and discoveries. He hides the motive for murder until the final segments and this lets the reader enjoy the scenes he composes in this montage of Los Angeles from its world renowned beaches to the mansions overlooking them. Brushed-off is an enjoyable mystery, especially for fans of the art world.

Review Rating: 5 Stars – Cecil Brewer, critic Readers Favorite

The gathered early morning beach crowd seemed excited yet strangely aghast. The thought occurred to me that perhaps a street artist had left another fourletter graffiti epistle on the exterior of Brice’s studio. The last one had been extremely insulting to him and you could still see a ghost image of it under the gray paint which had been hastily slapped over it. As I got closer, no new graffiti was in sight so I scanned the swarm of joggers, strollers, and assorted exercise enthusiasts and spotted old Mac sitting on the curb near the front. He’s the unofficial street gleaner around the hood and lives in the alley beneath some stairs. Gesturing for Duie to stay by my side, I approached the old man.
“Kind of early for you, isn’t it Mac?”
His right hand rose slowly to mop his leathery face. He lifted his head, strained to focus his watery blood-shot eyes and spoke in a low, sadly earnest manner.
“He was always good to me. You know, one of the few who would share like you do.”

Even with the more than usual layers of dirt on his face, it was obvious he was distraught. He had spoken more words in one sentence than I had ever heard him utter before.
“Do you mean Brice? Did something happen?” I said.

Apprehensively I sat down beside him on the awkward concrete. Mac dropped his hand and looked directly at me. Perhaps for the first time I noticed how aged he really was.

“I was passing by, you know, working the street, looking for little favors people leave for me. You know. Like you do.”
His voice was more somber as he fondled the buttons of his multi-stained khaki shirt.

Embarrassment rushed across my face. The most I had ever given him was the tattered Macintosh he had worn for the past two years. He is never seen without it. In fact, that’s why everyone calls him Mac. None of us ever bothered to ask him his real name. It was a way to be friendly without causing discomfort or getting too involved.
Shamed, I stood up. A strange brew of anxiety and curiosity led me through the small group near the door and straight into Brice’s studio. Duie rushed in behind me as my olfactory receptors signaled something peculiar wafting from inside. It was a bizarre mixture of paint fumes and a grotesque unrecognizable spice. Duie even sneezed.
Brice was never a tidy artist, but a quick glance revealed the normal casualness of his studio was now in complete chaos. A strong feeling that I was intruding crawled up my back.

“Who does he think he is?” someone behind me said. I wanted to answer, but somehow I knew my voice was not the one I wanted to hear.
Paintings were thrown everywhere. Many had broken stretcher bars and holes clobbered through them. The scene looked as though a small tornado had come through the open skylight, had a kick-boxer fit, and left without disturbing anything else in the neighborhood. Every quartsized canister of paint Brice owned had been opened and its contents generously distributed into a Pollock-like camouflage that covered everything.
“Surely Mac didn’t do this?” I whispered to Duie as he instinctively leaned against my leg. “No, Brice maybe, but not Mac.”

Every artist goes a little wacko once in a while. Maybe Brice was dueling with a yellow scalene and things got out of hand. My notion was answered before I could exhale.
Beyond the turned over easel, sticking out from behind more broken paintings were two aged Teva sandals dappled with a rainbow of paint splatters. The heels were together, the toes akimbo. I froze in place as Duie tiptoed toward them with his neck stretched and nostrils flared.
As I stepped carefully around the disquieting pile, trying not to disturb even the smallest fallen brush or blob of paint I saw a mass of oozing gunk. It was Brice, on his back. His arms were at his side and his face was covered in thick, gooey globs of Hooker’s Green.
He looked exhausted, as though he’d copulated with every painting he ever sired. Even though the pile of canvases, paint canisters, and brushes covering him was a mess, for one sharp yet fleeting moment it impacted my visual cortex as if the scene was an intentional edifice.
My eyes focused on his contorted mouth. It was open and overflowing with an ugly mixture of green paint and dark red blood. In the middle, where his tongue should be, was a smidgen of gold. It’s very familiar blunted form was instantly recognizable. I bent down for a closer look. I was right. It was the handle end of a number 15 size brush. You could still read the manufacturer’s code number peeking through a smear of green paint.
Hoping Brice might take a big gasp of air if I removed it, I reached my hand forward and instantly felt a stout vise grip my shoulder.
“Don’t,” a voice of authority said.
It was Cisco. I stood straight up, perhaps a little too quickly for I felt a brief twinge of vertigo. I call him Cisco. His real name is Francisco Rivas, police Detective Rivas.
“You know better than that,” he said.
I suddenly felt weary as the colors surrounding us swirled like the merry-go-round at the pier and the vise moved to grip my arm. I could even hear the faint tinny sound of mechanical music as if it were far off in the distance or at least buried deep within my memory.

Cisco’s focused stare at my anesthetized face caused the illusory music to quickly fade and the circling kaleidoscope to resume its previous resting place. I began to feel lucid again, but my frame of vision felt shaken and quirky.

“Go outside, Sketchy,” he said in an almost inaudible voice. “And take Duie with you.”
With faded breath, I uttered, “He may still have a chance.”       Cisco glowered at me again, gestured toward the door and put his hands on his hips, revealing his badge and gun. The move was an obvious signal for me to leave. I did.

Amazon → https://amzn.to/2ZzWiCj

Check out my book at Goodreads!

Author/Artist, M. Lee Musgrave holds a Master of Art degree from CSU, Los Angeles. He is the recipient of a National Endowment for Arts Fellowship. His artwork has been in solo and group exhibitions world-wide. As a Professor of Art and curator he organized hundreds of exhibitions involving artists, collectors and a variety of related enthusiast. Those many experiences and his ongoing personal art activities inform his writing about LA’s exciting art community.

Website: www.leemusgrave.com

Facebook: Lee Musgrave | Facebook

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The Square and the Circle by Mikala Ash #steampunk #RomanticSuspense @Ash_Mikala

Cover Art by Bryan Keller

A murder at a séance. In an age of rationalism and science, spiritualism has taken hold of the popular imagination. At the home of Lord and Lady Summerhayes, a séance ends in a horrific climax — a man is drowned in ectoplasm! Impossible! But there’s nothing Elizabeth Hunter-Payne and her Investigation Bureau like better than to investigate an impossible mystery.

Victor Drake was at the table and tried to save the hapless victim. His smoldering good looks and irresistible allure take Elizabeth’s fancy, and her carnal desires are reciprocated. Together, can they solve the mystery? Another thrilling adventure set in a steampunk world of airships, steam-powered aircraft, and swords disguised as lavender umbrellas.

Get it Today at Changeling Press

Preorder for March 5th at online booksellers

EXCERPT

All rights reserved.
Copyright ©2021 Mikala Ash

Lavender Umbrellas and Death at a Séance

Tuesday, January 10, 1860

“A murder at a séance,” I repeated incredulously. “A séance? You mean ghosts and such?”

Lord Arthur Summerhayes was an elegantly dressed white-haired man in his early seventies. A military background I surmised, as he wore enormous and immaculately clipped side whiskers, made popular by troops returning from the Crimea. In his youth, and clean-shaven, I believe he would have been a handsome man.

“Indeed I do, Mrs. Hunter-Payne. I’m talking spiritualism, mediums, apparitions, spirit controls from beyond the veil, and communicating with the beloved dead. The whole battalion, if you have my meaning.”

I was taken aback by the notion, and I struggled for a response. I knew spiritualism had become a popular pastime lately despite this being the age of rationalism, and surrounded as we were by very real advances in science and engineering. Airships droning away above the city and steam-powered aircraft patrolling the clouds were common sights now, as were Cumberland cabs steaming along every street and thoroughfare. Submarines skulked beneath the waves, and automatons had even entered domestic service. The list of technological marvels was endless. Gone for the most part was the age of horse and carriage in which I had been born.

I’d read in The Times that after the war in the Crimea, and the more recent mutiny in India, both of which incurred such great loss of life, there had arisen an ever growing desire of the bereaved to contact their lost loved ones. Spiritualists, those purporting to be able to contact the spirits of the dead, had conveniently materialised to meet the demand.

Séances, as I understood them, were ritualised gatherings of people in a darkened room sitting in silence around a table, holding hands, awaiting a spirit to contact them through the auspices of a medium. For some it was an amusement; merely a parlour game. For others it was an earnest and sorrow-fuelled desire to contact lost loved ones. Newspapers made light of the pastime, ridiculing believers and taking particular glee in exposing frauds and charlatans. The church proclaimed it sacrilegious, no doubt believing the practice subverted their monopoly over the afterlife.

That was the extent of my knowledge and my interest. I understood quite intimately the emotional need of the bereaved to have some form of contact with their loved ones. My thoughts rested always with my late husband Jonathan who had been killed in the Crimean War. I had given the possibility of actually contacting him scant regard, thinking it slightly foolish whenever the thought arose. Though I would give anything to see him again, and know for certain he was at peace, I admit to being highly sceptical of the notion of mediums being able to accomplish the task. Jonathan lived in my mind, and in my dreams; an ever-present reminder of the deepest love and consuming passion I could ever hope to experience. I glanced at his portrait, and my longing for his company struck me like a blow to the chest.

“I need your help,” Lord Summerhayes said urgently. His face was creased in anxiety, his faded blue eyes pleading. “Or my wife and I shall be ruined. Not that I care for myself. I am old, ready for whatever is next. It is for my wife that I fear.”

“I’ve not any experience in spiritualism,” I said carefully, in case Lord Summerhayes was a believer.

“Devil of a thing. Absolute nonsense, of course,” he said. “But murder nonetheless. Man drowned by ectoplasm.”

Just in time I stopped myself from appearing particularly obtuse by repeating the unfamiliar word. I was aware, however, of my mouth hanging open and thought that I must appear quite vacuous.

His lordship continued. “In my own drawing room, would you believe. Terrible slimy stuff. Ruined the carpet. Dashed inconvenient.”

Until that astounding announcement my morning had progressed prosaically enough, though it did bring with it a touch of novelty.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Aussie Mikala Ash used to be a mild-mannered training & development consultant by day, and a wild sci-fi and paranormal adventure writer by night. Now she is a brazen full-time writer and nature photographer who is concentrating on having among other things, “… bags, and bags of fun!” Mikala can be found on Facebook and on Twitter.

BOOK REVIEW: The Redwood Asylum by L.A. Detwiler #paranormal #horror @ladetwiler1

From the USA Today Bestseller L.A. Detwiler comes a new eerie horror filled with secrets, ghosts, and murder.

The dead do talk … if you’re brave enough to hear their sinister secrets.

In a thick forest sits a forgotten stone building, The Redwood Asylum. Once inside, the criminally insane, the darkly disturbed, and the eternally confused residents learn one thing very quickly: they are at the mercy of ruthless evil in many forms.

At twenty-six, Jessica Rosen starts a new job at Redwood in the hopes of forgetting an insidious past. She quickly realizes, however, that Redwood harbors malevolent secrets and beings in every chilly corner. On her second day adjusting to her job, the unstable man in 5B quickly latches onto Jessica in an unsettling way. When his rantings and warnings start to make sense, though, Jessica will be taken on a ride of secrets, murder, and dangerous beings. As she begins to uncover the horrifying truths behind the man’s past , the terrors of Redwood Asylum will follow her home and make her question her own sanity.

Can Jessica solve the secrets of the man in 5B in time to save herself, or will the terrors trap her in Redwood’s evil clutches forever?

A spine-tingling page-turner by USA Today Bestseller L.A. Detwiler perfect for paranormal horror fans.

ADD TO GOODREADS

Release Date: March 12, 2021

Preorder at Amazon

MY REVIEW:

5 stars!

Who doesn’t love a good horror story involving ghosts?

The way the story is narrated reminds me of Stephen King’s Rose Red, which happens to be a favorite of mine. Yes, there have been countless books about haunted asylums, and there will certainly be more. The ramblings of a mad man, locked away at Redwood, make nurse Jessica sympathetic. She wants to help him find peace, not realizing she’s placing herself in danger.

Jessica’s role in the story wasn’t just that of a nurse who wanted to help others. She had a dark secret in her past, one that would play a prominent role in her future. She also seemed to fancy herself a detective, and with determination, dug into the patient’s past trying to find the truth. Sadly, some things are better left buried.

Overall, I enjoyed the story. I’d definitely be interested in more stories featuring Redwood, and I want to know more about the other staff.

*Disclaimer: I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review. The review above is only my opinion.

New Release: A Shot in Darkness by Lou Sylvre #LGBTQ #RomanticSuspense @sylvre

Sure the danger that dogged their steps in Los Angeles has finally passed, Brian and Jackie seal their hopes for a new beginning with a New Year’s Eve kiss. Though Brian’s trauma at the hands of criminals has left its mark, they do their best to leave troubles behind and enjoy a Scotland honeymoon. The ancient city of Glasgow offers nightlife, historic sites, long walks through snowfall, great Scotch whisky, a cozy fireside — and a blazing hot private encounter with a cool, cool ghost.

But every time somebody wins, someone else loses. When Brian helped State Department cop Jesse Douglas take down a crime ring, a rogue FBI agent lost everything. She blames Brian, and with the help of false identities and very good skills at disguise, tracking him and Jackie down in Scotland poses no problem. When a final encounter in the Highlands turns deadly, the key to keeping Brian alive lies in Jackie’s hands. With everything he loves at stake, can he call up love, courage and confidence in time to take that single, vital shot in darkness?

Get it at Changeling Press

EXCERPT

All rights reserved.
Copyright ©2021 Lou Sylvre

To most people, it might not seem possible that a month could go by while a newlywed couple hardly spoke to each other. But as Jackie sat in his great-uncle Kaholo’s Nebraska living room staring out the bay window while, outside, December shed snow all over its last abbreviated afternoon, he reflected that this was exactly what had happened to Brian and him.

That truth didn’t surprise him in the least. The last crazy weeks had only been a continuation of the chaos that had started long before their wedding. The events they’d begun by calling “the Espen case” and ended up calling “the mess with that asshole Vintner” had started weaving its sticky web in and around Jackie and Brian’s lives almost a full year earlier. The day Brian walked into Vasquez Security, Incorporated’s Los Angeles office to take on the role of branch manager, he’d walked into the first ropy but invisible strands of disaster.

If only Brian had known what was to come, maybe he would have turned back around and walked out.

No. He wouldn’t have.

Jackie almost laughed at the notion as soon as he thought it. Brian had been hired by Jackie’s uncle Luki, who owned the company, to do a job. He just wasn’t the kind of guy to renege on a commitment once he’d made it.

Probably why he stayed with me.

Yeah. Their love story hadn’t been a bed of roses either, even though Brian had a funny habit of bringing the fragrant blossoms home and sticking them all over their apartment in vases in an effort to romance Jackie, his chosen lover and submissive. And now… husband. He’d tried so hard to get Jackie to take his marriage proposal seriously, but Jackie had artfully dodged it for months. Perhaps that was understandable, in light of everything else that was going on.

Jackie had relocated to Los Angeles to be with Brian, and the city’s devil Santa Ana winds — and the memories and associations they held for a once-fragile Jackie — had assaulted him from day one. LA had not been kind to him when he was a homeless teen, and it continued its mean tradition now, almost a decade later. He’d witnessed a kidnapping, and the same day had an accident that set him back on his heels physically and mentally, then as soon as he recovered, another one. And then an amputation. The months and months of disbelief and hurting and healing and grief that followed remained in Jackie’s memory a strange nightmare, as if the time then had been a living thing.

And it hadn’t been an easy time for Brian either. But, even then, long before any vows were said, Brian had certainly made a commitment to himself to be the lover, the Dom, the man Jackie could count on. And he had stayed, remained steady at Jackie’s side even when Jackie had tried to shut him out. He’d cried, he’d loved, he’d cajoled and comforted. He had failed, at times. In an odd twist, sometimes broken Jackie had led Brian out of darkness.

But when Jackie’s chips were all in and he desperately needed a win, Brian had come through and played the best cards in his deck. He’d shown Jackie love, wrapped him in safe, careful knots, and set him flying in joy.

”Look,” he’d said. “You’re beautiful. I want you to see it. I want you to know.”

Jackie had seen, and his love for Brian, already spreading wide, had grown deep roots that, he liked to think, helped them both hold steady when the shit started hitting the world’s biggest fan.

The shit — the detritus of the Espen-Lieb-Vintner disaster — had been lying littered over their lives in Los Angeles. The Thanksgiving holiday break they’d taken in Colorado, complete with everything from a private night of fun kink, to a relaxed and joyful family dinner, was like fresh air. Maybe it made them a little high, because they got married while they were there.

Cue the giant fan.

The Colorado fairy tale ended, and the nightmare of the next few weeks began. Jackie hadn’t been with Brian — first his new leg needed fixing, then he’d been taken into hiding for safety. But Brian had almost constantly faced imminent danger, and Jackie’d hardly slept.

For weeks he’d worried, while Brian, on his own in LA, went undercover as an informer for the feds, at the same time pretending to work for Vintner, who could vie for the title of “nastiest piece of criminal shit Jackie had ever encountered.”

Then came the day the tide of trouble had turned to crisis, when Brian had been taken off the streets at gunpoint to be Vintner’s “guest.” The police sting went all wrong, but that same day Vintner’s organization imploded. Shot point blank and carrying the bullet in his abdomen, Brian escaped through LA’s network of tunnels. While Jackie’s uncle Luki helped the law bring down Vintner aboveground, Brian had hung on to consciousness in the hidden corridors underground and somehow done what was in front of him to do — bring a bad man out of the tunnels to face justice and shepherd a remnant of Vintner’s trafficking victims to safety.

That, Jackie thought, was courage.

But that hadn’t been the worst of it for Jackie. Because an ambulance took Brian away — in custody, as if he was the criminal, and Jackie waited for hours in what might have been the coldest, harshest surgical waiting room ever, at County-USC hospital. He got word that Brian was safe, out of surgery, recovering, and he breathed. But he couldn’t see him. Brian was in police custody — a jail inmate. Jackie hadn’t cried then, nor when Sonny hugged him and took him “home” to a hotel room. He’d figured he was just too tired and burnt to cry, yet his wet pillow and sore eyes told him he’d cried in the night.

As if he’d been keeping his tears secret even from himself.

It would have been difficult — impossible — to pretend all that hadn’t happened. If he could have, though, he would have jumped at the chance. Now that it was all over but the shouting, as they say, it felt impossibly heavy.

All of which was why tonight — New Year’s Eve — with its implied celebration of fresh starts, seemed like an extraordinary gift…

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lou Sylvre loves romance with all its ups and downs, and likes to conjure it into books. The sweethearts on her pages are men who end up loving each other — and usually saving each other from unspeakable danger. It’s all pretty crazy and very, very sexy. As if you’d want to know more, she’ll happily tell you that she is a proudly bisexual woman — a mother, grandmother, lover of languages, and cat-herder — of mixed cultural heritage. She works closely with lead cat and writing assistant, the (male) Queen of Budapest, Boudreau St. Clair. She lives in the rainy part of the Pacific Northwest, and hearing from a reader infallibly brightens the dreary weather. Find her through her links listed here, or drop her a line at lou.sylvre@gmail.com.

New Release: The Hunter’s Mummy by Alexa Piper #paranormalromance #vampires @prowlingpiper

Ravelle is looking forward to being back in France. All she wants is to have wine with her daughter-in-law, catch up with an old vampire acquaintance, and get closer to Yanis, who is a breath of fresh air to Ravelle. She is not looking forward to working, and a seasoned vampire hunter like Ravelle should be granted a simple, quiet vacation.

Yet the hunter soon smells murder on the air, and where there’s murder, there is a corpse, and where there’s a tenderly wrapped corpse, there tends to be a crime, in Ravelle’s experience. So rather than pursuing wine, Ravelle will have to solve all the mummy’s mysteries.

Available November 13th at Changeling Press

EXCERPT

All rights reserved.
Copyright ©2020 Alexa Piper

Ravelle felt a mix of excitement and relief rise in her belly as the plane was getting ready to touch down. In the seat next to her, Robyn was stretching and yawning, and Ravelle saw the duller colors of her emotions floating out.

“You should be more excited,” Ravelle said, and her human daughter-in-law interrupted her stretching to look at Ravelle. Robyn’s storm-gray eyes and fair skin, framed with dark hair, always made Ravelle think of the heroines of fairy tales that were mostly set in dark woods and involved the killing of bears or wolves, possibly both.

“Huh?” said the human.

“This will be fun.”

Robyn tilted her head. “That’s what you said about the flight attendant three hours ago.”

“Daughter, I was just a little hungry three hours ago, and he looks delicious.” He did, but Ravelle in fact had not been able to sneak the man into a private area to have a taste. Not that she would ever do such a thing if the flight attendant in question weren’t willing to be snuck into a private corner to give Ravelle a taste. But one could fantasize, and fantasizing was about the only thing that kept cross-Atlantic air travel bearable, or so Ravelle thought — that, and the thought of being back in France.

“I told you, you can have some of my blood.” Robyn held her wrist up for emphasis.

Though said quietly, it drew the attention of another passenger, an older Frenchman who had been eyeing Robyn and Ravelle with suspicion ever since they had walked aboard and taken up two first-class seats behind him. Clearly, the human felt their kind, meaning vampires and those who associated with them, should travel coach, or not at all.

He probably thinks Robyn is my private blood donor slash lover, Ravelle thought. At least that’s how he looks at her. Ravelle swallowed the distaste the man’s bile-colored disapproval induced and instead focused on the conversation with Robyn. His emotions had flickered in colors of suspicion and scorn all through the flight, and it was people such as this one who made Ravelle dislike her own vampiric skill of seeing a person’s emotions like colors around them. It made ugliness so very obvious.

“I am not so hungry that I would drink from you. Besides, I wasn’t really just hungry for blood. Or at all.”

“Oh.” Robyn considered this. “Well, I’m sorry you didn’t find, uhm, anything suitable at the wedding. To slake that hunger blood can never slake.”

It had been an entertaining enough wedding, however, made more notable by a good amount of creative murder preceding it. Ravelle was still sad for the goat, because she had always felt a fondness for those baaing creatures with the strange eyes.

Ravelle smiled at Robyn. “I found my son had chosen to wisely marry his love, and my grandson, while needing a massive amount of prompting, followed suit and married his love without first checking his schedule. I assure you, I am quite satisfied with your wedding. Even if I do admit yours and Maxim’s combined rhyming is not the joy you two think it is. For the people around you, that is.” Ravelle caught a glimpse of the flight attendant. “Though I wouldn’t mind some giddily giving and glistening garçon.”

Robyn followed her gaze. “Who wouldn’t give their last groan to get the garçon.”

Ravelle saw the colors of her emotions change, not quite the hard obsidian of loss, but a darkening blue. Robyn was missing Maxim, and if Ravelle was any judge, her adoptive son was missing his bride as well, and probably showering any person inadvertently crossing his path with verse and meter to hide it.

“I’m sure he’ll call before we even have a chance to pick up the luggage.”

Robyn looked at Ravelle, then looked away. “Am I being that obvious?”

Ravelle shook her head. “I’m just that observant. Where else did you think Maxim got that from?”

“It thought he had, with eyes of flame, been tracing the ignorant Jabberwock before he took, with vorpal blade and snicker-snack, his head and turned the beast of carelessness quite dead,” Robyn said, slaying Carroll’s poem, because Maxim certainly did not get his bardic nature from her.

Ravelle moaned. “And now there are two of you manxome foes. It is no wonder Heath and Brian decided to leave town for an impromptu honeymoon.”

Maxim’s dhampire son and his Lar husband had, in fact, made a startlingly quick and efficient exit, likely because Heath was a very organized packer and planner. Ravelle, in contrast, had needed almost an entire week to convince Robyn a trip with just her mother-in-law was in order.

“Are you accusing me of reckless rhyming?” Robyn asked in mock shock as the plane bumped lightly upon touchdown. The deceleration pushed them both back in their seats.

“Yes,” Ravelle said. “But as your husband loves to remind me, it is not a crime to rhyme, and certainly no offense punishable by hunter.”

Robyn gave her a curious look, and Ravelle watched the colors of her emotions shift to curiosity. “So are we doing that? Hunting things? Is that why we told Maxim he couldn’t come?”

ABOUT ALEXA PIPER

Alexa Piper writes steamy romance that ranges from light to dark, from straight to queer. She’s also a coffee addict. Her retelling of Dracula, A Tale of Honey and Garnet Wine, might be a cursed manuscript, and every writer should have at least one of those. She also loves writing series, and her Fairview Chronicles follow a ragtag gang of supernaturals who try to make their city safer. Mostly. Connect with Alexa on Facebook or Instagram, follow her on Twitter, and subscribe to her newsletter!

Alexa Online: Faceook | Twitter | Instagram

New Release: The Inconstant Doppelganger by Mikala Ash #Steampunk #RomanticSuspense @ash_mikala

In a time of rapid technological change which challenges the roots of the empire, Elizabeth witnesses the impossible. The arrival of her late husband’s doppelganger takes Elizabeth Hunter-Payne to the brink of insanity.

Captain Nathanial Royston, late of the disgraced East India Company, claims he is innocent of the murder on the Great Northern Express.

With the coolly professional Miss Clayton at her side, our feisty heroine investigates three nasty suspects to get to the bottom of the mystery. While doing so, Elizabeth is faced with a cruel reality and comes to a decision that threatens her future happiness.

Another thrilling steampunk adventure with steam trains, miniature automatons, as well as guns, knives, and a handy half-brick in the reticule.

EXCERPT

All rights reserved.
Copyright ©2020 Mikala Ash

What should one do when confronted by a ghost?

Deny its existence? Scoff at one’s own senses? Doubt one’s sanity? Or should one investigate, interrogate, and hopefully understand? Or as a last resort, threaten stupidly to shoot it dead?

A ghost stood in my library. Not just any ghost. But the ghost of my beloved Jonathan. I could not deny its existence. My senses told me the impossible with undeniable certitude, and I could not discount what I saw. It could not be — yet there he stood. Investigating the phenomenon hopefully leading to an understanding would seem the tried and true method. There, unfortunately, I was at a worrisome disadvantage.

A scant few moments before, I had been in the drawing room confiding my fears for my very sanity to my good friend the general after concluding, for the time being at least, the conspiracy of fear had been perpetrated by a Russian mesmerist known only as Vladimir. My exposure to the fiend had me questioning everything I thought, felt, and experienced. I feared being confined in Bedlam, the destiny of hapless wretches like myself, who believed their ability to tell reality from fantasy had been compromised. Was this ghost the proof that Vladimir had indeed sent me mad?

Before she fainted away, my trusted servant, Marianne, had interrupted us in a state of distress saying there was a visitor in the library. To affect her stolid character in such a fashion the visitor must have been most singular. I sensed then that something evil had invaded my home. I had rushed to my late husband’s library, and what I saw as I entered that formerly safe and comfortable room stopped me in my tracks. The sight unhinged me, stole the breath from my lungs, and chilled the blood in my heart so quickly that it seemed time itself had stopped.

A ghost. How else to explain what I saw? The alternative was to accept that I was indeed mad.

Unfortunately the cold fear had not frozen the multitude of panicked, confused thoughts which, like a crazed mob, ran free through the streets and alleyways of my mind, breaking and looting everything that was once solid and dependable. An image came to me… the creeping terror invading my mind was like the first winter ice on a country pond, which spread inexorably over my body and threatened to engulf my very soul. I knew with dread certainty that if the brittle ice cracked, I would slip into the murky depths of insanity.

There, illuminated by the firelight, I recognised in his impossible countenance all the familiar features: his strong well-defined jaw, his generous lips, the piercing gaze, and the close-cut hair. The room revolved around me. My head swam, the floor tilted beneath my feet. In my shock I had staggered backward against the doorjamb.

The impossible man spoke. “Elizabeth?”

I heard myself mutter a single word. My first step onto that ice-covered pond. “Jonathan?”

Was I to crash through that thinly spread ice and drown in a madness of my own making? One last rebellious kernel of logical thought remained at the centre of my brain. It boiled and bubbled in a frantic struggle to fight the impossible and keep me sane. That hot thought spilled over and inflamed every cell it touched until, like a volcano, it exploded. I became incandescent with rage and jumped back from the edge of that insane pond, determined the ice would not claim me.

Not today!

In the moment before the impossible man said another word I pulled out my Adams revolver, and pointed it at his heart. “You may have Jonathan’s face,” I challenged, “But you are not he! Identify yourself, sir, or God help me, I will shoot you dead!”

ABOUT MIKALA ASH

Aussie Mikala Ash used to be a mild-mannered training & development consultant by day, and a wild sci-fi and paranormal adventure writer by night. Now she is a brazen full-time writer and nature photographer who is concentrating on having among other things, “… bags, and bags of fun!” Mikala can be found on Facebook and on Twitter.

New Release: Conspiracy of Fear by Mikala Ash #steampunk #scifiromance @ash_mikala

Conspiracy of Fear (Elizabeth Hunter-Payne Steampunk Adventures 3)

There’s a bloody serial killer on the loose in foggy London, and music hall singer, The Songbird of Surrey, fears her best friend has fallen victim to the fiend. When her own fiancé, who she sent out to find her friend, goes missing as well, she seeks the professional help of the EHP Investigation Bureau to solve the mystery.

Intrepid crime fighter Elizabeth Hunter-Payne ventures into the dangerous streets of London’s East End and explores the seamy side of adult entertainment to confront the Collector, the terror of Whitechapel. His elusive puppet master, Vladimir the Mesmerist, is pulling the strings of conspiracy, and threatens the very foundations of the empire.

Elizabeth meets the ultimate automaton, Hercules, but what service can a metal man of cogs and gears perform? Guns, knives, and half-bricks come into play as Elizabeth fights for survival, and her sanity, in another thrilling steampunk adventure.

Author’s Note: Cliffhanger ending. Elizabeth’s story continues in Elizabeth Hunter-Payne Steampunk Adventures 4!

Get it at Changeling Press

EXCERPT

All rights reserved.
Copyright ©2020 Mikala Ash

After my adventure on the airship Imperative, I decided to chronicle my now numerous adventures on behalf of her Majesty’s government. Due to the sensitivity of my activities I have instructed my solicitors to withhold them from publication until a century after my death. I suspect it is a form of vanity, an act of self-aggrandisement, another of my personal failings. I do intend to give an honest account, and because memory is at best an untrustworthy source and at worst an outright liar, I take copious notes at every opportunity to ensure my recollections of events are as accurate as possible. This tedious habit became particularly important to me given the strange case on which I was about to embark.

Following the deadly conclusion of the Torbernite Imperative my small household had undergone a substantial upheaval. I’d taken a monstrous risk to my reputation by installing the unmarried Felix Rider in the bedroom next to mine. On the surface my act is clearly one of charity, for Felix is an operative of my investigation bureau, and he had been wounded in the line of duty aboard the airship Imperative. During a life-and-death struggle he sustained a gunshot wound, a concussion, two broken ribs, a twisted knee, as well as cut and swollen knuckles.

It was a risk I was honour bound to take, for he had saved my life.

However there was another co-placating factor at play. In addition to his investigative duties Felix had agreed to be my tutor in matters pertaining to erotic satisfaction, a step I’d taken to reawaken my sensuality following many years of celibacy after the death of my dear husband, Jonathan. Felix was an able and inventive teacher. The palpable risk I took was that my physical attraction to Felix coupled with his proximity, would be my undoing, and that I would do something indiscreet, and be exposed as the laughable wanton widow so popular on the music hall stage. Embarrassed and ashamed, I would inevitably become an outcast of society, a fate, if I am to be honest, that was losing its power over me every day.

I placed him under the round the clock charge of two nurses, a cheerful buxom young blonde named Bramble, and the senior of the two, the authoritative and statuesque Hazleton. They were supervised by my family physician, the reputable Dr. Horace Wamburton.

As I have related elsewhere, Archie, my late husband’s batman, also shared my house. I considered him the son Jonathan and I were destined never to have. I’d unofficially adopted him after he had been seriously wounded in the Crimean battle that had killed Jonathan. Since the Torbernite affair he had been laid up in bed with a serious chill he’d earned while carrying out surveillance work in torrential rain. That left the responsibility of running the EHP Investigation Bureau to me. Every day after breakfast spent with Felix, chatting about anything and everything, and resisting the powerful urge to climb into bed with him, I’d go to the office feeling highly aroused and frustrated.

My body’s propensity to lust, or libido as my old Latin dictionary calls it, had never been higher in my life, and inevitably I succumbed to it. It was the eighth morning after returning from Edinburgh that I went to Felix’s room to wish him a good morning that my resistance fell. I entered as Nurse Bramble, the pretty young blonde was leaving the sick room, and we bumped into each other. As we performed a little dance to get out of each other’s way without disarranging my crinolines too badly I noted her creamy complexion was flushed, and though she wore her habitual smile, she uncharacteristically avoided my gaze.

Nurse Hazleton, the older and more sensible of the two, bade me good morning.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, indicating with my gaze the departing back of Nurse Bramble.

“It’s nothing, Mrs. Hunter-Payne. We nurses have seen it all. We don’t embarrass easy.”

“What do you mean?”

In turn I followed her gaze to Felix’s bed. He was still asleep. His handsome face, despite the bandages that covered the minor cuts on the left side of his head, appeared relaxed and untroubled. Then, with a sharp intake of breath, I noted that lower down the sheet was tented with a morning erection. I couldn’t help but put my hand to my mouth.

About Mikala Ash

Aussie Mikala Ash used to be a mild-mannered training & development consultant by day, and a wild sci-fi and paranormal adventure writer by night. Now she is a brazen full-time writer and nature photographer who is concentrating on having among other things, “… bags, and bags of fun!” Mikala can be found on Facebook and on Twitter.