Release Blitz: Someone to Watch Over Me by Libby Simone #LGBTQ #contemporaryromance #BDSM @ninestarpress @GoIndiMarketing @libby_simone

Title: Someone to Watch Over Me

Author: Libby Simone

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: 01/11/2022

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 63900

Genre: Contemporary, LGBTQIA+, crime, gay, pansexual, BDSM, porn star, private detective, film set, porn industry, voyeurism, blackmail

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Description

Arthur Adams takes his job seriously, keeping good guys safe and investigating bad guys. When his company is hired to secure the set for a film crew, the job seems straightforward, if not simple. Of course, the films are adult and graphic, so the situation can get hard fast. And it does.

Kit is an adult film star and an anomaly: he’s educated, experienced, and in the business for the fun of it. The seedy realities of his world reveal themselves, however, as his ex’s behavior grows more threatening. Unfortunately, the ex is wealthy and well connected in addition to being a stalker.

As Arthur watches Kit more closely, he finds it more difficult to look away.

The threats against the production become increasingly worrisome as Arthur’s team digs into the background of a rival studio, and they become personal as he unpeels Kit’s layers. As the case uncovers abusers, traffickers, and would-be murderers, all of Arthur’s skills and resources will be put to the test.

Excerpt

Someone to Watch Over Me
Libby Simone © 2022
All Rights Reserved

Arthur wraps a hand around his coffee mug and pulls apart the brittle beige window blinds to peer out at the street below. The morning is cool, even after the fog lifts. People pass quickly, hands in pockets. They do not look up. Steam radiates from the back of the newsstand across the street, and Arthur takes a sip, watching it curl and dissipate.

The building is mostly empty today. The pipes squeak upstairs, and something scurries in the walls. Business has been slow. Business is always slow.

“Get in here, Arthur.”

“Coming.” He leaves the window and sets the mug on his desk, which he sidesteps to make his way to the door. He turns the corner and steps over the uneven floor plank. He scratches his elbow and raises an eyebrow. “What do you need?”

Maurice leans forward in his desk chair and fixes Arthur with an impassive gaze. His office smells of Big Red and sulfur, and he scribbles onto a steno pad with a stubby yellow pencil. Arthur leans against the doorframe and watches. The desk is cluttered, as usual, with a gas station coffee cup, photographs, and the morning paper. Maurice gestures to a seat, and Arthur shakes his head. “I’ll stand,” he says, provoking an annoyed glare.

“Suit yourself.” Maurice runs his hand across the desktop. It’s easily the sturdiest piece of furniture in the place, bought secondhand from an auction at the old library. They had to haul it in through the window, and Arthur is convinced someday it will fall through the floor. It hasn’t yet. It probably won’t until Maurice retires and he’s sitting behind it instead. “Client coming by in a few minutes. I’m putting you on this one.”

“This early?”

“It’s nearly ten.”

Arthur shrugs. “Philandering husband or wife?”

“Neither. Guard duty.”

“Guard duty? Why would I—”

“Because I’m assigning this one to you.”

“Maurice—”

“It’s going to require coordination with an outside security team.”

“You know I don’t like—”

“I don’t give a damn what you like, son. You’re good at it, and I’m assigning you the case. That’s the end of the story. You got something to say?”

“No.” Arthur grinds his teeth.

Maurice nods and unwraps a fresh piece of chewing gum. “Let her in when she arrives. And clear your datebook.” He snorts at his joke.

“Anything I should know first?”

“I’d hate to spoil the surprise.”

The surprise arrives promptly at ten, as if she waited outside the frosted glass door until the turn of the hour. She is striking, with coal-black hair and piercing blue eyes, outlined dark despite it being a weekday. She wears a tidy knit suit with a well-tailored skirt and silk shirt buttoned high on her neck. “Therese Spielman,” she says, shaking his hand. Her skin is ice cold, and her grip is tight. “Pleasure.” She doesn’t smile, but most people don’t when they hire a private investigator. Arthur leads her to Maurice.

“Welcome. Please, have a seat.” The vinyl on the chairs splits and flakes, but they’re serviceable. If Therese notices, she’s too polite to complain.

“You’re the gentleman I spoke to on the phone.” She glances from him to Arthur and lifts a meticulous eyebrow.

“Yes,” Maurice says, “I’m the one you talked to. This is Arthur. He’s my number one.”

“I see. Very militaristic.”

Maurice tilts his head in a nod. It’s easy to spot, even if Arthur no longer calls him by rank. “You said you want someone who can coordinate your security team. Arthur’s the man for the job.”

She looks him up and down. “I see.”

Arthur clears his throat. “And what exactly is the job?”

“We make films, Mister—”

“Adams. You make films? Here?”

“We are a long way from Hollywood, it’s true. But, yes, I assure you, we make films too.”

“They’re pornographers, Art.”

“Huh. Okay.”

Therese watches him and purposefully nods. “You’ll do.” She looks him up and down again. “You’ll do nicely, and if that”—she pointedly looks down—“matches the rest of you, I may have even more work for you than securing our warehouse.”

“Warehouse?”

“Am I done here?” she asks.

“Yes.” Maurice smiles. “Thank you, Ms. Spielman.”

“I’ll see myself out.”

Arthur finally takes a seat. “What’s going on? Guarding a porn shoot at a warehouse? You’re serious?”

Maurice shrugs and unwraps another piece of gum. He takes out his chewed piece and sticks it to the lid of the coffee cup. “I tried to get details over the phone, but she’s prickly as fuck, and cagey. Said they’ve received some threats—notes and letters warning them to close up shop or else. Looks like the whole thing probably has something to do with a rival company. She’s worried about a stalker. They’re shooting for two weeks in the warehouse district, down by the docks. Basically, she doesn’t want questions asked; she said she just wants”—he reads from a note—“‘a smooth production schedule.’”

“Huh.” Arthur drums his fingers on his leg. “Two weeks for porn?”

“I’m not sure that’s the relevant question.”

“You’re right. Why do they need extra security? What rival company?”

“Now you see why you’re on the job.”

“Tell me about the threats.”

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NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

Libby Simone lives in Kansas City, where she learns for a living and writes for fun. When she isn’t designing research or napping, she can be found taking long walks, people watching, and dreaming up different worlds.

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Release Blitz: Returning Heroes by Harry F. Rey #LGBTQ #SciFiRomance #Aliens @ninestarpress @GoIndiMarketing

Title: Returning Heroes

Series: The Galactic Captains, Book Six

Author: Harry F. Rey

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: 01/11/2022

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male, Male/Male Menage

Length: 83100

Genre: SciFi, LGBTQIA+, action,adventure, aliens, dark, MM romance, #ownvoices, royalty, sci-fi, futuristic, space, folklore, gods, intercultural, interspecies, war of worlds

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Description

Captain Ales has returned to the galaxy, forever changed as the powers have prepared for war. He’ll accept help from anyone if it leads to the mysterious Turo from whose cage Ales must free himself if he ever wants to return to the Red Moon.

Meanwhile Daeron has been offered the deal of a lifetime by the ruler of the Seven Suns. Marry Osvai, the Kyleri prince, and become heir to the richest star-state in the galaxy while raising an army to restore the prince to his rightful place as Emperor of the Million Suns.

But Viscamon’s grip on Jiwani has only tightened as the nobles imprisoned in the Royal Baths still refuse to bow to the immortal’s cataclysmic theology of destroying the Galactic Balance. It seems the only way for Imperial Guard Captain Antari to avoid a massacre is outright treachery.

While dynasties play galactic politics, the Outer Verge is being torn apart. From a prison cell, Mahnoor watches The Rip destroying Targuline, until the Kyleri rebels offer him the chance to save himself by flying into the heart of danger. He might even become Jansen’s most unlikely hero.

Heroes and villains run riot around the galaxy, unleashing destructive forces and sliding the great powers toward a war from which no one will be safe.

Excerpt

Returning Heroes
Harry F. Rey © 2022
All Rights Reserved

The sleek, spacious travel pod sliced through the swirling burnt-orange clouds of Bazman. Daeron edged forward on the puffed, pillowy chair that consistently failed to relax him. He tugged at the high collar of his pure-white Dalvian silk jacket—yet another gift from President Ezreal. He stared out the window at the spindly towers stretching in and out of the clouds above and below. The teeming city-world of Bazman, capital of the Confederation of the Seven Suns, supposedly the richest star-state in the Shakti Democria, was to Daeron no better than any of the thousands of worlds he’d been on. The rich lived above, flying around in these perfumed and carpeted pods, while the poor shuffled in and out of a noxious atmosphere far below.

Daeron could go anywhere he wanted on Bazman; no store, restaurant, menagerie, or cultural complex was too exclusive for President Ezreal’s new favorite son. Six weeks ago, they’d barely escaped the Kyleri fleet which had blown up Aldegar’s megacollider. Daeron and the remaining crew of the Daring Huntress chased Turo and the double-crossing Ezi into the Shakti Nebula, only to end up invited to land here by Ezreal’s security forces. On Bazman, where he could go anywhere at all, just not leave.

“What’s wrong now, Daeron?” Osvai said, relaxing in his similarly styled—but all black—Dalvian silk suit. The missing heir to the Kyleri Empire sipped on a Lactarian malt from a crystal glass while grinning at an entertainment package broadcast on the holoscreen in front of his seat. Lest His Imperial Majesty get bored in the half hour it takes to get from Bazman’s presidential palace to the restaurant opening. Daeron glanced over at the prince who was now biting his lip to keep from laughing at the holovid. Daeron watched for a moment. He’d never seen anything so stupid.

“What’s so funny about people walking into things? It’s cruel.”

Osvai wasn’t listening. He gasped in laughter as some poor unsuspecting holo-person had a pile of trash dumped on their head. Daeron flung himself against the seat, but it only absorbed the shock and began to massage his lower back. Daeron could huff all he wanted, but Osvai had stopped caring about what bothered Daeron. He stroked his thick black beard, forgetting it was still glistening in the fancy oils Osvai made him use. Daeron wiped his greasy hand on the plush arm of the chair and returned to staring out the window at the traffic lanes of pods gliding through the clouds and between the towers—with no end and no beginning.

“Are Xenia and the rest of the crew coming tonight?” Daeron asked, breathing slowly through his nose, trying to let the fury of being stuck in a gilded prison subside. It wasn’t going anywhere. Just like him.

“They left.”

Daeron spun on the chair to face Osvai.

“They…left?”

“Yeah. Didn’t I tell you?” Osvai said, not looking up from the holovid. Daeron yanked at the silk collar constricting his neck, and it let out a satisfying rip.

“No…you didn’t tell me. That was…my crew. My ship.” Daeron was doing everything in his power to stay calm, but he knew his string was about to snap. Maybe if Osvai understood that, they wouldn’t spend half their nights screaming at each other in their apartment in the presidential palace.

“I guess they went to meet your mom.” Osvai drained his glass, then stretched and placed it inside an alcove grooved into the wall where a nozzle filled it back up. “Isn’t it her crew again now she’s back?”

Daeron fell into a sulking silence at the mention of his mom. Maybe Osvai knew him better than he thought. Because the moment Captain Sanya was raised, Daeron shut down. It had been weeks since she and that Tevian girlfriend of hers, Sallah, had crossed back through the horizon point with her brat, Ales. Had they come to see him? No. Daeron had only learned their mission had been successful from the newscasts. The returning hero Captain Ales, who apparently had an Ingvarian fleet at his disposal now, as well as the entire Outer Verge, had been spotted at the Mayo resort in the Central Star States. After their collective trauma, Captain Sanya, Sallah, and Ales had decided to play happy families and treat themselves to a little vacation at one of the most expensive systems in the galaxy.

It hurt Daeron hard. He’d still not seen her. Not even a holovid call. He stretched out his hand and opened his palm-tech to flick through the only messages his mom had sent since she’d returned.

The megacollider is gone then?

Yeah, as if a rebel Kyleri fleet blowing up an ancient sphere surrounding an entire sun had been his fault. Then, loving, motherly message number two.

Why is Osvai not back on Jiwani? And you lost Turo? Can’t you do anything right?

Good point. Why was Osvai not back on Jiwani?

“Don’t you care at all?” Daeron snapped, spitting his frustrations at Osvai. The prince finally looked up from the holovid, staring back with those thin eyes and sunset skin that Daeron couldn’t deny filled him with lust. Even if he was perpetually pissed off at him.

“Care about what, Daeron?”

“Your fucking empire.” Daeron stood up, kicking the chair hard so it spun like a ship out of control. Osvai drained his glass again and, with an overly audible sigh, came over to Daeron and slid his small arms as far around Daeron as they could go. But Daeron wriggled out of his half hug and slunk to the back of the pod, watching the dusty clouds spinning like a vortex as they flew.

“What do you want me to do, Daeron? Fight Viscamon for my throne with what army, exactly?”

“My mom said to take you home.”

“Oh, your mom said. It’s always the same story with you, Daeron. Your mom says you have to stay on Jiwani with a father you never knew, and you stayed. Your mom says look after me until I’m back on Jiwani, and you blame me for staying in the one place in the galaxy no one’s trying to kill me!”

Here we go. Another screaming match.

“Can we not do this now?” Daeron said, arms folded and his back to Osvai. “The president invited us to this restaurant opening, and since he’s the one keeping you safe and letting us stay for free, we don’t need you getting drunk and making a scene.”

“Excuse me?”

“Sorry, more drunk.”

Osvai sucked in a short breath. If they’d learned one thing about each other since escaping Jiwani together on the night of Osvai’s father, Emperor Kantori’s, assassination, it was how to push each other’s buttons.

“When was the last time you saw Xenia?” Osvai asked, lathered in bitterness. “Or Tal, or Bindi? Or even Voros? When was it? Kaj’s memorial service?”

“Shut up, Osvai.”

“You haven’t asked about them in weeks. So don’t pretend you didn’t know they’d leave. You didn’t want to know.”

“I said shut up!”

“You can say I’m afraid all you want. And yes, I am afraid of going back to Jiwani when Viscamon is imprisoning nobles until he’s blackmailed enough to crown himself emperor. That’s a normal thing to be scared of. But you—”

“Osvai, I’m fucking warning you.” Daeron spun around to see him sauntering around the pod with a look of victory splashed across his face.

“You might look like a big scary man, Daeron, but you’re just a little boy. Afraid of what his mommy will say.”

Daeron had already exploded. Fury prickled his body; sweat soaked the suit. He’d throw Osvai out of this pod if he could. His fists clamped together, ready to test just how much of a punch this glass could take.

“You have arrived at your destination,” the pod’s soft female voice said with a ding. “Have a pleasant evening.”

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NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

Harry F. Rey is an author and lover of gay themed stories with a powerful punch with influences ranging from Alan Hollinghurst to Isaac Asimov to George R.R. Martin. He loves all things sci-fi and supernatural, and always with a gay twist. Harry is originally from the UK but lives in Jerusalem, Israel with his husband.

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Release Blitz: The Gemini Strand by L. J. Hasbrouck #sciencefiction #gay #dystopia @ninestarpress @GoIndiMarketing

Title: The Gemini Strand

Author: L.J. Hasbrouck

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: 12/28/2021

Heat Level: 1 – No Sex

Pairing: No Romance

Length: 91600

Genre: Science Fiction, sci fi, family-drama, futuristic, dystopia, gay, ace, professional assassin, cloning, Mars

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Description

Life on Mars is no fairy tale for Morgan, a scrappy adventurer who plunders Earth’s carcass in search of loot—and evidence of an elusive scientist. She hopes he can cure her father’s dementia, but instead he kidnaps her father and flees into the deceptive dreamlands of Mars. During her frantic search to locate them, Morgan begins experiencing strange hallucinations that make her think she’s losing her mind.

Meanwhile, Nil, a tormented killer struggling to repress his humanity, thinks his hallucinations are a flaw in his system. Soon his pesky emotions roar back to life, throwing a dagger into the whole “cold-blooded assassin” thing. While he pursues his next mark, a witty hacker trying to save Nil’s other victims, he battles with his disorienting visions and burgeoning emotions.

What he doesn’t realize is that he’s falling in love for the first time—and the hacker he’s falling for is also the scientist who kidnapped Morgan’s father.

Drawn together by their common target, Morgan and Nil harness their mysterious visions to find each other amidst holographic recreations of Oz, Wonderland, Neverland, Atlantis, and Camelot. Before she loses her father forever, Morgan must work with a killer and kidnapper to discover the sinister truth behind her father’s illness and her bond with Nil. And Nil is forced to decide between protecting the man he loves and helping the girl he’s inexplicably linked to.

Because they share more than disorienting hallucinations—and what they share will change everything they thought they knew about themselves.

Excerpt

The Gemini Strand
L.J. Hasbrouck © 2021
All Rights Reserved

NIL

I don’t know why I kill. I’m ordered to, true, and it’s all I’ve been trained to do. I’m good at it.

But that doesn’t mean I like it.

Lately, I’ve been losing my touch. Each time I suffer an emotional episode, my handler remedies it by sending me in for reconditioning. The guilt goes away, my efficiency improves, and the nightmares stop.

But the guilt always returns. And so do the nightmares.

Up to the point I awoke at the Guild’s headquarters, all I remembered was a dim, murky muddle of nonexistence. My eyes opened to a roomful of shadows. Vague shapes hovered over me, surrounding me in a nebulous circle. My vision remained hazy, my awareness cloudy—I mistook what would be my first memory for a chilling dream.

“Good morning, my son,” a cold but cajoling voice said. Lilith. My handler. “Your slate has been wiped clean. Let’s see if you do better this time.”

I was floating. But when I moved my arms, I displaced something thicker than air: water. My bare, pale limbs drifted in the translucent pool. Reflecting on it now, it was my birth. And the darkness delivered me.

Which makes Lilith the closest thing I have to a mother.

Tonight, she’s ordered me to slip into the Emerald City, Oz’s entertainment subdistrict. The buildings are green and glittery, disorienting like the rest of Mars’s vast and vacuous districts. Citizens stumble along a yellow brick road nestled between fields of red and pink poppies. A tiny dog frolics through the field alongside his mistress, an adolescent girl in a gingham dress and silver slippers. She darts in front of me, but I walk right through her. The image shimmers, light particles interrupted by my mass, until she reassembles and skips off without a sound.

None of it is real. It’s a projection, both literally and metaphorically, an idealized vision of our world according to the minds who invented it. A fantasy brought to life. All I’d have to do to destroy it is smash the lenses installed on the construction’s framework, strip the taciturn gray structures of all their glimmering emerald, and reveal the ordinary bricks beneath the yellow. Dorothy and Toto would disappear. The poppy fields would vanish, expose barren cayenne clay and ashen rock.

At least shadows are real. Honest. I slink into them, darting between hologram-cloaked buildings and grappling to the rooftops. Ads promising the improbable—the cure for any ailment, all at the low cost of submitting yourself to the Pantheon’s experiments—glint and glitch at the skyline’s zenith. I set up a zipline to the adjacent roof and grapple from rooftop to rooftop, leaving as many lines as I can in my wake. Haste isn’t necessary when entering the target zone, but a speedy exit is crucial.

As I traverse the rooftops, I scan for thermal signatures beneath and behind me. No one’s noticed me. Good. Though I pass several Bouncers patrolling below me on the street, they’re all underneath the Guild’s thumb and therefore instructed to ignore us. Even if a civilian sees me, they’d never see my face again—or see it at all. I use a different shroud on every job, but I sometimes leave them turned off in lieu of the full black bodysuit, which means I resemble some subverted superhero creeping and swinging through the night, mask and all. Not the most outlandish sight on Mars, believe it or not.

I send Isabeau off to survey the area around the soaring spires of the Emerald Castle, my target’s last known location. The synthetic falcon launches from my shoulder, wings shimmering as she slices through light beams shining in the air. I close an eye and perceive what she sees, one camera transmitting an image to another. This eye isn’t mine; it’s a replacement implanted with a chip. I don’t recall how I lost mine, but Lilith says it had something to do with the traumatic incident that sabotaged my memories.

I’m not sure I believe her, but I can’t question the woman who controls my life—unless I want to risk losing it.

Isabeau perches on a ledge outside the building. She monitors the area through a faux stained-glass window, her viewpoint displaying in my cybernetically enhanced eye. Inside the Emerald Castle, writhing clubgoers surround my mark.

I activate my shroud and shimmy down the side of the building with my grappling hook. The regulator installed in my chest controls the speed my heart beats at, keeping my pulse and temperature low at all times. Makes it tougher for thermal imaging and pulse readers to pick up on my signal. There shouldn’t be many people around with tech that can outdo mine, but a few paranoid denizens carry them as a precaution.

Not everyone trusts the Pantheon. With good reason.

I glance into a compact mirror to ensure my shroud works, then stow my gear and waltz into the street, blending with the crowd. The music inside the club vibrates beneath my feet as I approach the front doors, so I prepare my ears for the decibel assault. I nod at the Bouncer, make eye contact, press my palm into the scanner. It approves my print and accepts my false identity with a beep.

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NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

Knowledge-seeking animal-lover, supporter of diversity, and OG Floridian. Lifelong gamer who grew up drawing Disney characters, whales, and dinosaurs. Proud INTJ (which I share with the likes of Hannibal Lecter, Batman, and Ellen Ripley).

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Release Blitz: All the Wrong Reasons by Sebastian Hansen #LGBTQ #fantasy #BDSM @ninestarpress @GoIndiMarketing

Title: All the Wrong Reasons

Author: Sebastian Hansen

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: 12/28/2021

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 111700

Genre: Fantasy, LGBTQIA+, Romance, urban fantasy, action, family-drama, superheroes, gay, nonbinary, trans, BDSM, secret identity, billionaire, Dom/sub relationship

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Description

The day after telekinetic supervillain (and billionaire philanthropist), Stetson Nadenheimer dies, he wakes up on the autopsy table and falls in lust with the man hired to cut his cold, dead corpse open. The problem is that the forensic pathologist is Doctor Julian Dandridge, the part-time superhero, Scatter. It’s probably a bad idea for a supervillain to get into bed with a superhero. Probably.

Not that it stops him, but trying to start a relationship with a reluctant hero without getting caught turns out to be easier said than done. Between midnight meetings over games of checkers and kinky secrets, Stetson and Julian begin a tremulous romance. Unfortunately for them, there’s an actual villain watching from the shadows, waiting for Stetson to stumble.

Excerpt

All the Wrong Reasons
Sebastian Hansen © 2021
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One
STETSON

The last thing I remember seeing before I died was the garish gold and orange spandex-clad fist of Major Bigstuff flying at my face at something like a million miles an hour. I lost my telekinetic grip on the wall I was holding. The debris came down on my head, which the masonry squished like a rotten melon. Brains all over the place. Bones shattered. Totally dead.

Not my finest hour.

A day later, I woke up on the medical examiner’s slab. Nobody knows why this happens. It’s a super-thing. Superheroes come back from the dead all the time. It’s practically a requirement for the job. Like when you go to get your physical at the Hall of Good Guys Forever and they stab you in the heart to make sure you’ve got what it takes to come back. I’m not entirely sure this is true, but you hear rumors.

What’s odd about me waking up is that I wasn’t a superhero. I was kind of the opposite. The anti-superhero.

My name is Stetson Nadenheimer (it’s not my fault), and before my timely death, I was a supervillain. They call me Jester. Nice to meet you.

It’s not that supervillains don’t come back from the dead. We do, but it’s usually the big-time ones. The “build a death ray and hold the world to ransom for all the money” ones. I’m not even Major Bigstuff’s main rival. He just happened to be flying past the bank I was robbing on his way home from Denny’s.

That’s what I did, by the way—rob banks. No building death rays, no kidnapping or killing people. I’d never even held anyone hostage. My Fortress of Evil is more like a Penthouse Belonging to That Mildly Irritating Villain.

But I liked robbing banks. Since most super-people are what you’d call physical (strength, size, agility, speed—you know, that kind), they don’t know what to do when someone’s power is mental. Mental powers aren’t common—and they’re not popular. Telepathy isn’t as flashy as super strength and doesn’t play well on camera. Hence, nobody’s figured out anti-telekinetic security.

Besides, I liked to flirt with the tellers. They had no idea how to handle a tall, handsome man in a sleek (cheap) black tux and white masquerade mask. I’ve got some killer green eyes too. Alas, while my black hair is long enough for a ponytail (tellers love ponytails), I kept it bound up and hidden in a hat. I’ve never wanted to take over the world, but I’m damned charming. It drives superheroes up the wall.

Anyway, back to the ME’s slab. Right. So. After knowing for a fact that my brains are all over the floor of the First United Citizens Bank on Twenty-second Street, I open my eyes. What’s the worst thing you’ve ever woken up to? In my case, it was a whirring bone saw in the general vicinity of my head.

I screamed. Well, wouldn’t you?

The bone saw immediately stopped, and I quickly became aware of someone laughing. A glance to my left confirmed that I wasn’t alone. A young man in green scrubs with tousled blond hair was turned away, covering his mouth to hide his grin.

“Works every time,” he said and set the saw down on a table just out of my reach. Then he turned to look at me, and I stopped breathing again.

In addition to the adorable hair, the man was indeed young with deep-blue eyes, dimples, and the prettiest smile I’d ever seen.

The smile faded quickly. “Welcome back.” He narrowed his eyes and watched me carefully.

My mouth opened to say something, but my brain hadn’t caught up. It was still trying to imagine what the man would look like in my bed. I’m an uncomplicated person like that. It might not have been love at first sight, but lust? Certainly. The problem currently facing me was this: I was obviously in a morgue of some kind, half-naked, drenched in my own blood, and sitting on a frigidly cold metal table. The place smelled of chemicals—formalin (I found out later) and bleach.

Forget flirting. This man had seen me dead, which is so much worse than naked.

Eventually, I managed a strangled, “Hello.”

The corner of his mouth quirked, and the smile came back slightly. He nodded and walked away from me toward the far wall, where he dug a clear bottle of water out of a cooler. He held it up for my inspection. “Thirsty?”

I nodded. My voice was still on the fritz, and he thought it was because my throat was dry instead of…oh…any other reason. I was thankful for it. Anyway, my mouth was parched. I took the bottle gratefully and drank half in one go before finding my voice again.

“Do you often wake people up in the morgue with a bone saw?”

He smiled. I wanted to melt. God. I can’t describe that smile and do it justice. Accept for a moment that it was stunning, will you? If it helps, compare it to rainbows on sunny spring mornings. Like the sun rising at dawn. The light of his smile forgave all sins, watered all crops, and brokered world peace.

The hyperbole is necessary. Everything that happened after that night started with his smile wrapping me up and turning my world on its head.

“Only people like you.” The smile didn’t budge.

“People like…me.”

“Dead people who aren’t dead anymore.”

“Oh.” I blinked. “So, you do it to heroes, too, then?”

He pursed his lips and rolled his eyes thoughtfully. “Mm-hm. They don’t like it either—Mistress Tidal broke one on me, but there’s something about the sound. It tends to bring people around quickly.”

“The alternative is getting our heads cut into.”

He laughed. Please insert a description of silvery bells and songbirds here. He had a pleasant voice. “I wasn’t going to cut you open. You were already breathing.”

“I…was?” I glanced around, certain I knew where I was now. I looked down at my blood-stained hand. “Tell me, were you able to get fingerprints off my corpse? I’ve never been arrested before, so I doubt they’d do you any good.”

“No.” He shook his head. “And no DNA either.”

I narrowed my eyes. “Ah. And now we’re just waiting for reinforcements to arrive, aren’t we?”

“Are we?” He smiled again, and my reply stuck in my throat. “It’s nearly ten o’clock on a Thursday night. Nobody’s around.”

“Ah…and you’re alone here with a formerly dead supervillain because you’re, what? Confident in your medical plan?” I asked with a snort.

He laughed again. “I don’t think you’re going to hurt me. I’m pretty durable. My name is Dr. Julian Dandridge. I’m a part-time superhero. They call me Scatter.”

Ah, Scatter. I’d heard of him, but never run up against him. He belonged to the Guild, which was Kinsley City’s very own organization of superheroes. A sort of Hall of Self-Righteousness. Major Bigstuff ran the show over there.

Well, that put a wrench in my dream of having him tie me to my bed.

I frowned. The revelation that Dr. Julian was a lost cause stung more than it should have, considering we’d just met. Still, he was in the Guild, and that wasn’t good for me by any means.

The Guild didn’t typically bother about me. I was small-time and didn’t offer much in the way of a challenge. When I did run into one of their members, I tended to extract myself from the situation as quickly as possible. I can fly—and over my months-long bank robbing spree, I’d gotten good at evading the Guild’s fliers.

I glanced around, getting my bearings. A few pencils on the desk behind Julian rolled on my command, and I breathed a little easier. My telekinesis was up and ready to go.

I smiled. “You know what they call me, I’m assuming.”

“Jester.” He shrugged. “So, here’s what’s going to happen—”

I held up a hand to forestall him and started talking. It was important to prattle on so his attention focused on me and my mouth. That way, he wouldn’t notice me telekinetically prying the window out of its frame until it was too late.

“There’re a couple ways this could go. The first is dull and causes more of a mess than its worth. You call your Guild. They show up, we have a spirited scrap, and maybe I end up dead again. If not, and you manage to throw me in SuperMax, I call my astronomically overpriced lawyer and make bail in under an hour. Then we spend weeks wading through red tape, and in the end, I get a slap on the wrist, some community service, and maybe a fine. I’m not the kind of supervillain who makes headlines, Scatter, and you lot have bigger things to worry about than someone like me. Death rays and such.”

He crossed his arms.

“Of course, there’s option number two.” Grinning, I simultaneously lifted myself off the table and out of Julian’s reach and crooked my finger at the window, popping it out of its frame and setting it gently aside. “Which involves me escaping. You can’t fly, can you?”

“If I could, I’d have you down already.” He shrugged. Then he did something I did not expect.

He winked.

I paused near the ceiling. “You’re letting me go?” I asked, incredulously.

“Letting you go? Oh no. No. What kind of superhero would I be if I let a villain escape?”

“A very bad one.” I pressed my hands against the ceiling and stared down at him in disbelief.

He frowned. “Do you want me to stop you?” The tone of his voice implied that he could. I believed him.

“Not particularly.”

He looked away, thinking, arms crossed, then glanced back at me. “Then do me a favor and knock over some tables on your way out.”

“So it looks like we got into the aforementioned tussle?” I asked.

“Plausible deniability.”

I blinked.

“Look, either go or don’t. Let’s just say I’ve seen some things, Jester. Supervillain?” He smirked. “Sure.”

“You’ve seen some—”

He waved me away. “Get out of here. If I see you near a bank in the future, you can be sure I won’t be so nice next time.”

I stared at him for a few more seconds, but his expression suggested that his patience was wearing thin and the invitation to escape wouldn’t last indefinitely.

So, stunned and unsure if what had happened was real, I flew out of the window. But I made sure to knock over two sets of shelves and a table on my way out.

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Meet the Author

Sebastian Hansen (she/her) is a non-binary mess of a person. She lives in the Midwest with her husband and herd of opinionated cats, where she spends most of her time playing video games, reading comic books, and writing about superheroes. She likes strawberries and is easily frightened by the Internet.

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Release Blitz: Voice by Sean Ian O’Meidhir and Connal Braginsky #PNR #LGBTQ #dragqueens @ninestarpress @GoIndiMarketing

Title: Voice

Series: Crossing Nuwa, Book Three

Author: Sean Ian O’Meidhir, Connal Braginsky

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: 12/21/2021

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 62500

Genre: Paranormal Romance, LGBTQIA+, pride, parade, bears, action/adventure, drag queens, vampires, shifters, magic, mind control, urban fiction, plus sized

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Description

After an unfortunate mishap, Robbie has to learn how to use his Command abilities. Just when he thinks that it’s safe to turn them off entirely, he is challenged in a way he never imagined and is faced with the decision to use his abilities or lose his beloved cousin for good. His growth puts a strain on his budding relationship with Theo who is already stretched thin with his own dilemmas. Will the couple grow from their individual struggles, or will this be a final dividing point?

This is the third book in the Crossing Nüwa series and a continuation of Robbie and Theo’s relationship growth and struggles.

Excerpt

Voice
Sean Ian O’Meidhir and Connal Braginsky © 2021
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One
Robbie

“Oh shit!” I cursed, spitting out the flavor of another man’s unwanted lips on mine and chafing my lips as I fervently wiped my mouth on my sleeve.

With small bony hands, he grabbed both of my arms. “Robbie,” Brent said. His high-pitched nasally voice, which had always annoyed me a little, now grated on every nerve. “You know you want me as much as I want you. Stop playing hard to get.”

I couldn’t believe this was happening. At school! I glanced around the empty college hallway for anyone to potentially save me, but classes were in session. I felt more than saw Brent lunge in for another kiss, and my lua training kicked in. Thrusting into his solar plexus with one palm, I snatched his wrist and wrenched. As he fell, I twisted him, catching his chin in my left hand, and by stretching him out I was able to face him away from me.

“Oooo,” Brent cooed, kneeling from the ground. “You like it rough. Robbie, I never knew.”

Disgusted, I dropped him and tripped back into the wall. “I thought we were friends,” I managed pathetically. Confusion swirled around me. We were supposed to be on the way to class. We were supposed to be working on a project for class. We were supposed to be studying for finals. We were supposed to be doing anything but what he had just done. Brent had been my closest friend since I started college. While he had asked me out that first week, he backed off when I told him I had a boyfriend.

Brent pulled his small frame up, standing and looking up at me with a twisted smile that made me cringe. “You know we’re more than that. I don’t know what you see in that fat dude you call a boyfriend. You’re so much hotter than that. Deserve someone like me. Come on; let’s cut biology and get out of here? They know we’re working on that project anyway.”

I caught him as he moved in again. The scent of his sauerkraut-covered hot dog lunch wafted from his breath, making me shudder in revulsion. “Just stop!” I shouted, not caring if someone overheard, and pushed him back with all my strength.

He hit the other wall looking stunned and then slumped to the ground.

“Oh,” I exhaled. Nüwa are stronger than humans. What if I…?

Bending down, I gingerly pushed him, almost expecting a horror film scene of him grappling me down. He just rolled over, looking peacefully asleep.

Scrambling, I stumbled away. And then ran.

Chapter Two
Compartmentalize, compartmentalize, compartmentalize, I chanted to myself. Brent was okay. I had just knocked him out. Someone would come along and find him passed out in the hall. Or he’d wake up and…and what? Call me? I glanced apprehensively at the phone mounted to the overly cheerful artichoke-shaped charging station in our kitchen.

I had thrown myself into cooking the moment I got home. Ms. Gomez, our live-in housekeeper and cook, kindly let me use the kitchen while she took off to the store. The new pasta maker I got online dominated my attention until it started slipping back to Brent. Maggie’s voice rung out in my mind, reminding me to compartmentalize—to put this experience in another box in my mind. And shut it. Lock it. Learning to tuck away the memories from childhood that left me feeling vulnerable had kept me sane this past year.

The memory of holding my mother’s lifeless body after she had sacrificed herself to save me came unbidden to my mind, and once again, I was awash with that guilt. The deep cleansing breath helped to center me, and I imagined settling the top on that box again.

As I thought more about it, it seemed like I was compartmentalizing other things too. The time we spent in San Diego lived in one box and my time spent in the oasis of my home with Theo in yet another. I found that I was a different person in each context. With Theo I was most at ease. He knew me better than anyone, even Maggie, though I had spared him the sordid details about my childhood. There was never any guesswork with Theo. He loved me unconditionally and was always there for me. I could be myself with Maggie and Abi, too, but felt a wall with them. I know it’s because they’re women and Nüwa, and Mother and my aunt instilled in me a fear of both and an internal need to be deferential. So, I knew what the wall was; I just didn’t see a way of getting past it. And part of me didn’t want to. They were both amazing, and loving, and kind. And nothing at all like Mother and my aunt. So, they deserved my respect and deference.

And college was another box. I groaned loudly, channeling my fury into my whisk, hitting the sides of the bowl in a frenzy. The cream sauce I was making from scratch for the Italian sausage lasagna spun around in a vortex inside the bowl. How could I go back if Brent was there? The idea of confronting him… But the idea of not going back to college left me with a sense of dread.

“Hey ya, sugar.”

I let out a yelp and spun around to see Theo casually leaning on the counter. How long had he been there?

“What’s up?” His question had a cautious tone.

“Cooking,” I muttered, turning my back to him and focusing on pouring the sauce into the pan that I had already layered with pasta, meat, and cheese. Heat stained my cheeks with just the thought of telling Theo about the kiss.

The weight of his stare on my back was a tangible thing, and I was relieved when his phone sounded. He let it ring longer than he normally would, but then answered and left. Relief slumped my shoulders. I would put this whole thing in a box. The Brent box. It belonged on a shelf with all the other bad memories and mistakes. Tonight, I was going to have dinner with my family: Kat and Theo. But first, I would need to meditate and get calm. All this rumination was getting me absolutely nowhere.

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Meet the Author

Connal Braginsky is a software engineer who lives in San Diego, California. Diagnosed with high functioning autism, Connal sometimes struggles in social situations, but has an inner world that is always incredibly rich. With an insatiable thirst for knowledge about many esoteric things, Connal brings a lot of personal philosophies and interests to writing.

Sean Ian O’Meidhir is a psychologist who lives in San Francisco, California. Sean is a hedonist who believes in living for today, living every day to the fullest, and enjoying as much as possible. They have been gaming since adolescence and have written about and played hundreds of lives, revelling in the chance to take on new personalities, dramas, even disorders.

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Release Blitz: A Highland Hogmanay by Meg Mardell #LGBTQ #historicalromance #holidayromance @ninestarpress @GoIndiMarketing

Title: A Highland Hogmanay

Series: Christmas Masquerade, Book Two

Author: Meg Mardell

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: 11/23/2021

Heat Level: 1 – No Sex

Pairing: Female/Female

Length: 37700

Genre: Historical holiday, LGBTQIA+, historical, Victorian England, holiday, Christmas, Scottish Highlands, lesbian, wlw, mistaken identity, humorous, family drama, interracial, intercultural, road trip, age gap

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Description

The daughter of an Indian raja and renegade Englishwoman, Sharda Holkar, was gifted with a magnificent dowry but little say in her future. Until now. She must endure one more depressing holiday season with her controlling cousins, then she will be free to begin her emancipated life. But her discovery of a plot to marry her off to the preening son of the house has Sharda wondering if her new start should begin at once. When Sharda meets the intriguing owner of a Highland castle at a Christmas Eve masquerade, she wastes no time in forming a plan—she will escape across the Scottish border!

Finella Forbes cannot imagine why a sophisticated heiress like Sharda would even associate with someone who manages a castle for a living, let alone accompany her all the way back to the Highlands in time for the raucous celebration of Hogmanay. But a wealthy buyer is just what Balintore Castle needs. Fin is determined to prove she is just as good an estate manager as her father, but with the negligent lordly owner refusing to do his duty, she needs help fast. When mistaken assumptions jeopardise their initial attraction, Sharda and Fin will need all the mischief and magic of a Highland holiday to discover the true nature of their feelings.

Excerpt

A Highland Hogmanay
Meg Mardell © 2021
All Rights Reserved

“It’s getting quite sticky in here, isn’t it? Don’t these people perspire a lot in their ridiculous costumes? But the fools will insist upon picking characters that require false beards and headwraps and the lot. What do they expect?”

Mr Edward Pilkington watched the white-masked Pierrots and Pierrettes rotating around the Mayfair ballroom the same way he looked at everything else—right down his upturned nose. Of course, on this occasion, he might just be stopping his own mask from slipping.

“I must say, I consider it in poor taste of Lady Belleville to host such a gaudy entertainment on Christmas Eve. There’s enough blinding décor in every home and shop window without humans dressing like a bunch of tinsel ornaments.”

Sharda thought the display of Venetian masks in gold, silver, and red rather complemented the miles of glittering white ribbon their hostess had threaded around her every enormous window and door. But five days of Edward’s persistent company had taught her to neither agree nor disagree with his frequent judgements as both fanned the flames of his perpetual dissatisfaction.

“Perhaps you now see, Miss Holkar, the wisdom of my selection of attire. A simple mask and fancywork vest, and perhaps a sash, is really all that is required on these occasions.”

“For women as well as men?”

Sharda’s costume took its inspiration from the opulent carnival style of Venetian women from the height of that city’s pomp and power two centuries back. Her square-necked black silk gown cut away to a blaze of scarlet underskirt. Tiny stitched-in crystals covered the tight scarlet front bodice as well as her matching silk hat. Jutting out over one eye, the bold topper terminated in a cascade of black feathers that brushed her black half mask. Edward’s mother, one of Sharda’s inexhaustible supply of second and third cousins, had tried to convince her to wear what that lady was pleased to call her “native finery.” But when Sharda had insisted on purchasing a new costume for the ball, Lavinia Pilkington had graciously conceded that the Venetian style looked well on Sharda, for “many ladies of the Italian peninsula are quite of your complexion, my dear.”

The lady’s son was equally talented at giving compliments.

“A bit of exotic finery is not amiss on a woman. Provided she’s young, of course. There’s nothing more displeasing than an old woman got up like the Queen of Sheba. Now, perhaps I can see if these insolent Turks of footmen have some iced sherbet. You must be awfully hot in all your…” The gentleman gestured to Sharda’s hat. “Er, not that you look to any disadvantage or are…” The gentleman sought in vain for an acceptable substitute for sweating.

Sharda suddenly wished she had selected a full mask to hide her private mirth. She should not find it so amusing when Edward remembered, too late, that he was trying to woo her. Though maybe if she did not find the clumsy courtship so funny, she might cry.

“Or perhaps you would like to take the air in the garden, Miss Holkar? And escape this dreadful crush.”

“They seem to have brought much of the garden in here, Mr Pilkington.”

She gratefully caught the crisp scent of the evergreen branches that wrapped every available railing in Lady Belleville’s house. A delicious freshness that made one forget one was in London.

“Hmm, yes, quite. But then you don’t have the same animal noises outside, of course. It’s much easier to talk.”

She had not noticed the noise of the ballroom impairing his ability to talk in the slightest. But she knew what type of conversation he had in mind. He wasn’t the first young man to try to negotiate her out onto a cool veranda.

“Perhaps I would like an ice, Mr Pilkington. If you would be so kind.”

“Yes, of course… Though it will be a dreadful ordeal making my way over to the refreshment area now… No matter. I will see that you get your ice…my lady.”

Sharda took a few calming inhales of the pine-and-wood-polish scent of the Belleville townhouse. Now she could face Lavinia Pilkington, a spare lady fluffed up with a great deal of feathers, descending upon her beside a very grand person in purple.

“Here she is, Lady Belleville. I thought we should have to send some of your splendid footmen in search.”

“That might have proved difficult. I have my own runaway to locate, Mrs Pilkington. My wretched nephew.”

Lavinia trilled a nervous laugh, unable to tell if this was a joke.

“This is my young friend, Miss Sharda Holkar, who is staying the holidays with us. Sharda, meet Lady Belleville.”

“I do like your hat, Miss Holkar. You need a bit of height for such a topper. I, alas, have always extended out rather than up. I do envy women who can carry off such plumage. You are enjoying the ball?”

“Yes, indeed, ma’am.”

“And you’ve been dancing?”

“Not yet.”

“Oh dear, I do like young people to dance.”

“Do not worry, your ladyship. I am sure my son Edward will do the honours soon.”

“Excellent. Now, you must excuse me, for I hear my dear husband’s growl even now. I should make at least a half-hearted attempt to save my guests from his best Scrooge impersonation, should I not?”

Sharda and her cousin each dipped a curtsy—Lavinia’s embarrassingly low—to their hostess as she moved back into the crowd like the prow of a ship easily carving a path through lesser crafts. Sharda was left stranded on an island of two.

“I do hope you truly intend to dance as you promised Lady Belleville. And what did you think of her ladyship? Quite a superior person, I think, but Edward says she wears too many jewels for true breeding. I only wish I had such a problem! Whatever is taking Edward so long, do you think?”

Lavinia had a fidgety manner that made it impossible to relax in her company. After nearly a week as her guest, Sharda was almost as high-strung as her hostess. The prospect of enduring even another five minutes with this wearisome woman was unbearable. Especially as her only reward would be to eat a melted ice and then dance in Edward Pilkington’s sticky grip.

“He promised me he would return very soon. Perhaps I might wait for him in the garden, Mrs Pilkington?”

Lavinia’s eyes glittered behind her feathered mask.

“Ah, yes, that would be an excellent idea. It is far too noisy and hot in here.”

“Should you like to come with me, cousin?”

“Oh, no. No, no. I declare I see my dear friend Mrs, er…Bamtree just over there. But you go right ahead, my dear.”

Sharda needed no further encouragement.

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Meet the Author

Meg moved from the US to England because she fell in love with the Victorians’ peculiar blend of glamour and grime. After a decade of exploring historical excesses in a prim scholarly fashion, she realized that fiction is the best way to delve into that period’s great female-focused and LGBT+ stories. Weaned on the high-seas romances of the 1990s, Meg’s lost none of her love for cross-dressing cabin boys but any tolerance for boorish heroes. She’s delighted to now have a whole raft of quirky and queer characters to cheer for on their quest for Happily Ever After. She frequently breaks off writing for an Earl Grey tea (milk not lemon). She’s trying to learn Polish and Portuguese at the same time. She plans to escape Brexit Britain.

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Release Blitz: Road to home by Mell Eight #LGBTQ #contemporaryromance @ninestarpress @GoIndiMarketing

Title: Road to Home

Series: Road to…, Book Two

Author: Mell Eight

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: 11/09/2021

Heat Level: 1 – No Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 40600

Genre: Contemporary, LGBTQIA+, action/adventure, established couple, law enforcement, Middle East politics, secret agents, religious extremism, terrorism

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Description

When he gets a phone call late one night, Interpol Agent Mihi Stross expects it to be his husband, Rafi, calling to say he is finally on the way home. What he gets instead is a nightmare: Rafi’s mission has failed. Despite orders that he is not to attempt a rescue, Mihi heads to Europe to find and bring home his missing husband. But rescuing Rafi, and getting them both home safely may be the one assignment he can’t complete…

Excerpt

Road to Home
Mell Eight © 2021
All Rights Reserved

Home: Washington DC, USA

“Mihi?” Rafi’s voice echoed softly on the other end of the phone. His tone had an edge to it that was too cautious—soft, as if he were afraid of being overheard, yet intent as if he were anxious that I would miss something important. My heart beat faster in worry. Rafi never sounded like that. He was always so happy to hear my voice, to know I was all right, and to ask how my day went.

“Rafi,” I replied, keeping my voice light and easy, as if that could somehow halt the darkness I felt creeping into our conversation. If I maintained my good mood and stayed happy, this would be just another normal phone call instead of the painful one I knew it was about to become.

“I love you, Mihi,” Rafi continued. “When I get home, let’s make grilled peanut butter sandwiches and eat them on the back deck.”

My heart stopped. I never should have picked up the phone so late at night, but I had been hoping it was Rafi calling to tell me he was on his way home from his most recent mission. It would have made my night to plan to cut out of work early tomorrow to go pick him up at the airport. Rafi needed to take back everything he was saying.

“Do you want bananas in your sandwich?” I forced the words through my tight throat as I fought tears and panic.

“No!” Rafi yelped. I wished he sounded hopeful instead of panicked. “No bananas. Keep the bananas at the store!”

“Olives?” I asked, hurt. I understood why no bananas, but the admission still twisted something in my gut.

“The olives are already in the pantry,” Rafi replied, much to my relief. “I have to go; I love you, Mihi.”

The phone clicked off before I could reply.

My first inclination was to break down and cry, and I was fighting tears even as I grabbed my wallet and keys and headed for the garage. Bananas or no bananas, Rafi wasn’t going down without me!

I grew up eating Nutella in Israel, which was similar to peanut butter, but about a million times better. Rafi knew I wouldn’t eat something so inferior as peanut butter, which was why eagerly asking for peanut butter sandwiches was the panic code. I did love bananas on my Nutella sandwich, though, and Martin was an olive fiend. Robert was a jelly guy, but since he was still in DC, there was no reason for Rafi to have mentioned him.

I barely remembered the drive to headquarters. I was probably lucky not to have passed a speed trap on my way, because if I wasn’t focused solely on the road, I tended to drive like an Israeli—too much speed, too much swerving around other drivers, and a tendency to obnoxiously overuse my car horn.

Rafi’s job was a mysterious one. We couldn’t explain it to our parents or friends; instead, we simply told them he worked for the government. In fact, the majority of the intelligence and Homeland Security community didn’t know Rafi’s job existed. His job was so high up the need-to-know scale that if I hadn’t occasionally worked with his office, he might not have been allowed to tell me about it even with spousal privilege.

What that all meant, of course, was that the nose of my car was pointed toward Maryland, instead of DC. The outside of Rafi’s office building looked unassuming as I finally pulled up, just steel and brick without any overt security features to give away its actual purpose. The official sign on the street read US Department of Forestry.

I slid into the first parking spot I saw. Since the lot was mostly empty, it wasn’t hard, but my head was buzzing strangely, and my lungs were aching as I fought against hyperventilating. Anything that helped to make this easier was a welcome boon.

The main doors were a short walk away, along a sidewalk with carefully manicured shrubs that attempted to give the building a little class, but it still managed to look industrial despite that. The doors didn’t slam against any walls, which would have been satisfying to me as I shoved inside, but I stomped right through the metal detector, past the cop manning the security station, and up the stairs. I could hear at least three alarms going off as I bypassed the first floor and headed into the lobby on the second. Those weren’t important, though. Figuring out what was wrong with Rafi was.

As I crossed the lobby, running footsteps and the metallic sounds of guns being cocked and slides drawn back sounded. At least a dozen security guards and armed agents, mostly cubicle workers, judging by their ties and crisply cut hair, poured out of the side hallways and through an impressive set of glass doors just ahead. I stopped stomping and held up my hands. Guns pointed at me and people shouted. I couldn’t think of what else to do. Rafi needed my help, and the means to figure out how would most likely be found here. There were procedures to follow in these sorts of situations, procedures that in my panic I had forgotten, I realized, as I stared down a dozen gun barrels.

“Mihi, you could at least flash your badge.” Robert’s voice penetrated the fog in my head. I realized belatedly that I could have called to tell him something was wrong, and I was coming to the office. Robert sighed as he waved one large hand to tell the other agents to stand down.

“Rafi called,” I replied slowly, careful of the potentially jumpy guards.

Many of his coworkers were staring at me with their hands on their barely holstered guns. I don’t think I looked too crazy, even though I was only wearing pajama bottoms and a sparkly, sleeveless top. My shoes were untied, and I wasn’t wearing socks, and it was quite possible I had bed hair. Okay, so maybe there was some reason for everyone to look so alarmed about me. I was actually a bit surprised they hadn’t Tased me the second I rushed through the metal detectors, but I wasn’t normally this crazy. Rafi’s message had sent me over the edge and I was only slowly climbing back.

“Let’s go to the office,” Robert said about five minutes later, once he had calmed his coworkers and apologized to the security guards. There would probably be an investigation into their security and why I had been able to breach it so easily.

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Meet the Author

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

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This competition ends on November 30th 2021 at 12am EST. Competition hosted by NineStar Press.

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Release Blitz & Review: The House on Druid Lake by Isabelle Adler #LGBTQ #paranormalromance #bookreview @ninestarpress @GoIndiMarketing

Title: The House on Druid Lake

Author: Isabelle Adler

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: 10/04/2021

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 69300

Genre: Paranormal, LGBTQIA+, contemporary, gay, PNR, Halloween, haunted house, shifters, architect, mystery/suspense, office drama, ghost, mythical creatures, werewolf

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Description

A new city, a new job, a new home—things are definitely looking up for Oliver Foster. An aspiring young architect, embarking on a successful career in Baltimore, all he wants is to put the pain of a broken heart and broken trust behind him. The last thing he needs is another ill-advised romantic entanglement. But despite his best intentions, Oliver can’t help his growing fascination with Nym Brown, the mysterious owner of Lakeside Lodge.

When Oliver rents an apartment in an old Victorian house overlooking Baltimore’s Druid Lake, he expects it to be quaint and shabbily charming. But as Halloween draws near and all things spooky come out to play, Oliver becomes convinced there is more going on at Lakeside Lodge than meets the eye, aside from the faulty plumbing. His neighbors are a whole new definition of quirky, and his enigmatic, gruff landlord is both intimidating and dangerously attractive.

Dark and sinister secrets lurk behind the house on Druid Lake’s crumbling façade. Unearthing them might yet put Oliver’s future—and his heart—on the line.

Excerpt

The House on Druid Lake
Isabelle Adler © 2021
All Rights Reserved

Lakeside Lodge looked more like Dracula’s castle than a gingerbread house.

Oliver paused on the stone steps that cut across a long grass knoll and peered up at his new place of residence. It was difficult to get a proper look at the house from the road, obscured as it was by the tall chestnut oaks and red maples that surrounded it. But from this viewpoint, just outside the wrought-iron gate, the massive gable above the front porch was clearly visible, as was the turret on the right side of the roof.

Comparing the house to a castle was perhaps an exaggeration, at least where size was concerned. But it certainly possessed an old-world fairy-tale charm and an intangible aura of mystery. It had been evident even in the few photos that accompanied the online listing which had sold Oliver on it in the first place, making him contact the real estate agent and take it sight unseen. Well, that and the exceptionally low rent combined with the nice location right on Druid Lake and next to the park, just a few minutes’ drive away from Oliver’s new job in Central Baltimore.

Also, Jake would’ve hated it, and Oliver felt a particular satisfaction about no longer having to conform to Jake’s plans and wishes.

However, now that Oliver stood in front of the house in the failing light of an early October afternoon, a heavy duffel bag slung over his shoulder, he couldn’t deny there was something disquieting, even disturbing, about the jumble of architectural elements piled in a haphazard fashion. The building was three stories high, crowned with a shingled mansard roof with prominent dormer windows which must have commanded a stunning view of the lake across the road. A wide front porch boasted square tapered columns, and a fanciful pediment in the shape of a stylized owl with outspread wings adorned the gable. It was very Victorian, with touches of Gothic Revival and American Craftsman thrown into the mix. But the style skewed heavily to whimsical as if the architect (or maybe the owner) couldn’t stop themselves from adding all their favorite design elements to the project. Like a magpie decorating its nest with every manner of shiny, without sparing a thought to the harmony of it all. The end result, though imposing, was more reminiscent of a cheesy B-movie haunted mansion than an actual apartment building, old as it might be. The wilted lawn and unkempt tree garden that stretched into the backyard didn’t help the impression, though the grounds, as befitting a mansion, were much more expansive than those of any of the neighboring properties.

By the time Oliver climbed the stairs to the porch, he’d begun to suspect the reason for the low rent. Up close, everything exhibited signs of mild, to even prominent, disrepair. The wooden handrails were chipped, with some of the spindles broken or missing, and the shallow steps creaked dangerously under Oliver’s weight, whose physique had once been described by his best friend, Pam, as “waifish.” For the first time since he’d boarded the plane to Baltimore, equipped with a healthy supply of hopeful enthusiasm and a single bag containing his most prized belongings, doubt stirred at the back of his mind.

Oliver tried the handle, but the front door was locked. There also wasn’t any sign of an intercom, which left either the grimy doorbell button or the heavy brass knocker. Oliver chose to knock and then listened as the sound echoed dully within until everything was still again. He’d shielded his eyes and stood on his toes, trying to peek through the stained-glass transom window when the door was suddenly yanked open, and he came face-to-face with a wall of plaid.

“What do you want?” a gruff voice boomed.

Oliver risked lifting his gaze. The voice belonged to a tall, broad-shouldered man blocking the doorway. Oliver resisted the urge to take a step back under his annoyed glare.

“Hi,” he offered. “I’m Oliver Foster. I’m here about the apartment I rented.”

That last sentence came out more as a question than a statement, his voice rising in pitch, and Oliver winced internally.

He pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose while the man regarded him in sullen silence. Finally, he opened the door wider and stepped back, granting Oliver access with a wave of his hand.

A single overhead light illuminated the hallway. A threadbare patterned rug spanned the length of it, leading toward a dark mahogany staircase at the back. Tiny brass plaques, tarnished with age, marked the apartment numbers on slotted mailboxes hanging on the wall to his right. Below them stood an empty black lacquered umbrella bucket. A faint smell of dust and mildew permeated the air, and Oliver’s earlier premonition about the state of his chosen accommodations intensified.

“What an unusual place,” he ventured, still determined not to give in to negativity. “Must have a lot of history.”

The man grunted, studying him from under drawn eyebrows. His eyes, the color of light amber, glinted in the low light. Together with his pale skin, overgrown dark hair, and menacing stance, they created an unnerving effect. Oliver shifted uncomfortably under his scrutiny, wondering whether the scowl was directed at him, or if it was simply a part of the man’s natural disposition.

“Where’s your luggage?” the man asked.

Oliver blinked.

“It’s only this.” He indicated his bag. “I’m having the rest of my stuff shipped over. I gathered the apartment came fully furnished?”

“Yeah.” The man turned and walked toward the staircase, forcing Oliver to trail after him. “My name’s Brown. I’m the landlord and building super. My apartment is across the hall from yours.”

They passed what appeared to be a large sitting parlor on one side of the hallway and a closed door on the other, but Brown stopped at neither. They climbed one flight of stairs to the first-floor landing, ancient floorboards groaning with their every step. Oliver clutched the banister, but Brown seemed unconcerned about the possibility of the staircase crumbling under his powerful frame.

“Why don’t you leave the front door open?” Oliver asked. “What about mail and delivery people?”

“They know to leave stuff on the porch,” Brown said without turning. “Usually whoever comes home first brings the mail in.”

This was…a curious arrangement. Oliver wasn’t sure he liked the idea of his landlord or his neighbors sifting through his mail.

“Aren’t you afraid someone might steal your packages?” he ventured. “It’s a rather busy street.”

Brown did turn to him then, pausing for a moment on the top stair and looking down at him.

“All the more reason to keep the door locked. Besides, no one is stupid enough to steal from here,” he said and continued on, leaving Oliver gaping at the inconsistency of those two statements.

There were only two apartment doors on the landing, facing each other across a narrow stretch of hall. Another small door, perhaps a utility closet, was tucked under the stairs. Brown produced a key from the front pocket of his flannel shirt, unlocked the door marked 1B, and gestured for Oliver to follow inside.

Oliver would be lying if he said he didn’t cross the threshold with some trepidation, given the overall shabbiness, but as Brown flicked on the lights, he could see nothing out of the ordinary. If anything, the apartment was much sparser than he’d imagined. The living room, with its high windows, ornate cornices, and a fireplace tucked in a corner, opened into a small kitchen outfitted with decades-old appliances and laminate flooring. A long couch faced the windows and the wall between them, but as far as Oliver could see, there was no TV.

This looked much closer to the pictures in the posting than the dilapidated exterior, at least. And everything was clean. Worn out, certainly, but not dirty. Someone must have put in the work of scrubbing the hardwood floors and giving the walls a fresh lick of paint as the whole place smelled of pine-scented cleaner rather than mildew. Oliver lowered his duffel bag onto the floor, next to the narrow side table by the entrance, and took a cautious step inside, taking in his surroundings.

“There are some towels and bedding in the linen closet next to the bathroom,” Brown said, pausing by the breakfast counter that separated the living room from the kitchen. “If you want hot water, I suggest showering in the mornings. It can run out quickly this time of year, especially in the evenings.”

An image of Brown standing in the shower, a stream of steaming water gliding over his skin and plastering his dark hair to his forehead popped unbidden into Oliver’s mind. It was as sudden as it was surprising, considering the man’s complete lack of geniality. Oliver cleared his throat and turned to the windows to conceal his blush, shivering with the draft that made the heavy curtains flutter. He was simply tired from his flight, letting his thoughts wander in silly directions.

“Okay. Is there anything else I should know, Mr. Brown?” It didn’t help matters that he could still see the man’s faint reflection in the windowpane, set against the gathering gloom outside.

“Rent is due on the first of every month. I’ll send you the link for the pay app for this month’s fee and deposit.”

“Or I can just slide the envelope with the cash under your door.”

Brown’s reflection frowned.

“You know,” Oliver said, “because it’s all so old-fashioned around here?” He paused for effect. There was only silence. “Forget it; it was a bad joke.”

“I don’t care either way, as long as you pay on time,” Brown said gruffly. “Takes a lot to keep this place up and running.”

Oliver supposed it was true. Old buildings were notorious money pits where maintenance was concerned, and from what he’d seen so far, the “up and running” part was a bit of a stretch. What the house needed was nothing short of a complete overhaul, but he judged it better not to say so to the landlord.

“Here are your keys.” They jingled as Brown put them on the entrance side table. “One for the apartment and one for the front door. I’m right across the hall if you need anything.”

He somehow managed to make it sound like a warning rather than an invitation.

“Um, sure,” Oliver said, turning back to him. He hoped he’d composed himself enough not to betray his earlier embarrassment. “Wait. Can you recommend a place where I can order takeout? After that airplane food, I’m kinda starving.”

He’d have to do some grocery shopping tomorrow after work, but he had absolutely nothing planned for dinner tonight. As if to emphasize his words, his stomach rumbled, too loud in the quiet of the room, and he flushed again, the heat creeping up to his hairline.

Brown’s gaze traveled from Oliver’s feet to his face as if taking his measure.

“There’s a decent pizza joint nearby,” he said. “I can get you their menu flier.”

“That’d be great!” Oliver said, sounding fake cheerful to his own ears. The conversation, mundane as it was, had made him more and more flustered. Or was it the other man’s looming presence? Either way, Oliver couldn’t wait to be alone and get settled, preferably after a nice, hot meal.

Brown nodded and turned to leave without sparing another word. The door closed softly behind him, leaving Oliver alone, with only the ticking of the mantle clock to fill the silence.

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My review – 5 stars!

The House on Druid Lake has a slow build that feels slightly like a horror romance in the beginning until making an abrupt shift into a definite paranormal romance… but that’s part of what I loved. It kept me guessing, unsure what to expect or how it would turn out in the end.

The relationship between Nym and Oliver gets off to a rocky start, has a rough middle, but thankfully ends with a happy ever after — or at least a happy for now. I would seriously love to read more about the characters in The House on Druid Lake so my fingers are crossed there will be more books set in this world.

The House on Druid Lake has a bit of mystery, romance, and friendships with a paranormal spin. Perfect reading to get you in the mood for Halloween! Ms. Adler has a true gift and I’m eager to see what she’ll write next.

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

Meet the Author

A voracious reader from the age of five, Isabelle Adler has always dreamed of one day putting her own stories into writing. She loves traveling, art, and science, and finds inspiration in all of these. Her favorite genres include sci-fi, fantasy, and historical adventure. She also firmly believes in the unlimited powers of imagination and caffeine.

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New Release Blitz: Waiting for Raine by Layla Dorine #LGBTQ #paranormalromance @ninestarpress @GoIndiMarketing

Title: Waiting for Raine

Series: Comet Lake Chronicles, Book One

Author: Layla Dorine

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: 09/27/2021

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male, Male/Male Menage

Length: 91700

Genre: Paranormal, LGBTQIA+, shifters, mates, author, menage, hurt-comfort, disability, intersex, pregnancy, offspring

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Description

Every Gathering, Raine hides from potential mates, knowing that in a society where tri-bonds were the expectation, a wolf wanting a mate all to themselves was an anomaly.

Enter Gabriel. They’d met two years before, both left disappointed when no bondmark appeared on their wrists at that time. Gabriel’s been hunting, but there’s been no sign of Raine, outside of the one brief visit that didn’t end the way he’d hoped for.

Fast forward to the present Gathering. He’s stumbled onto Aiden, a wolf miserable in his own pack due to the way he’s treated. Born with a disability, he knows he can’t keep up, but no one has taken the time to teach him where his true potential lies—until Gabriel that is. Gabriel’s protective instincts kick in almost immediately.

Now Gabriel has one wolf he desperately wants to care for and another who has been hiding from him. Unfortunately, it might not be a challenge Gabriel is up for.

Excerpt

Waiting for Raine
Layla Dorine© 2021
All Rights Reserved

Midsummer, or, as most of the pack called the season, matesummer. Raine watched the vehicles pulling onto the grounds. Large motorhomes and SUVs packed with members of other packs flooded their lands for the gathering. Resting his cheek against the bark of the tree he was sitting in, Raine grumbled a stream of curses, a nearby squirrel angrily chattering his own stream of profanities back at him.

“Why does it always…have to be…a tree?” Huffing and grumbling preceded his brother Noah’s appearance beside him, a sour expression on his face as he gripped the branch overhead.

Shrugging, Raine looked away from his annoyed gaze and back toward the impending invasion. As soon as they got settled, all those foreign wolf scents would fill their lands and linger for weeks afterward. “I like trees.”

“I like trees too—to pee on, not to climb. We’re wolves, and wolves are supposed to keep their paws on the ground.”

“There are exceptions to all things.”

“Uh-huh.”

“What are you doing here, Noah? Shouldn’t you be curled up with Evan and Holden in your little love nest?”

He knew he’d failed to keep the bitterness out of his voice the moment his brother’s eyes narrowed at him and wolf amber momentarily replaced the gray.

“And yet I’m here. I wonder why that is.”

“That’s what I’m asking you.”

“I came to deliver a message, not that you’ll care. That big brown-and-white wolf from the northwestern pack is looking for you. I believe he said his name is Gabriel.”

For a moment, Raine couldn’t breathe. It was like Noah had sucked all the air out of the forest and left him digging claws into the branch of the tree to ground himself.

“How’d he look?” Raine gritted out between clenched teeth.

“At first glance, you’d never know he was in a fight that nearly killed him.”

“No one asked him to do that.”

“With the way he was always watching you and trailing you, there was no way anyone was going to tell him not to.”

Sighing, Raine scrubbed a hand over his face, his shoulder aching from how heavily he was leaning against the trunk. Butterflies and fear warred in his belly, clenched tight to keep from vomiting up his last meal. He would not think about the gathering two years past, or the mistake he’d nearly made in allowing himself to be claimed.

“Saw him struggle to lift his backpack with his left arm. It’s a wonder he can use it at all. I was certain he was going to lose it with as mangled as it was.”

“Shut up, Noah.”

Of course his brother didn’t listen. That was part of his charm. He was stubborn that way, always had been, even back when they were young pups and Raine steadfastly refused to have anything to do with their father, Noah’s mother, or the rest of their siblings. Alone. Scared. Grieving over the death of his mother, he’d become a snarling, feral thing, living in the small apartment at the back of the house that he and his mother had lived in for as long as he could remember. He’d bitten everyone who approached until Noah.

“My guess is he was still rehabbing it last year, which was why he didn’t show up to the gathering then,” Noah continued on, as if Raine hadn’t interrupted. “You should talk to him. It’s the least you can do.”

His brother was right, not that he planned to listen. Nearly going down that road once was bad enough. Never again. His mother had taught him better.

“He was alone, if that helps any. No mating marks on his wrists either, so it’s safe to say he’s still single.”

“So.”

“Stop pretending you don’t give a shit and take the second chance you’re being offered. I doubt you’ll get a third one.”

“Why can’t you stop meddling and drop it? For fuck’s sake, Noah, I’m not interested!”

“Could have fooled me, what with the way you called to check on him every day after he first went home.”

“And then I stopped, which should tell you something.”

“Yeah, that you’re clinging to an irrational notion put in your head by an irrational woman, who…”

“Do not talk about my mom!”

“Why? Afraid of hearing the truth?”

Snarling, Raine ripped a furrow in the wood. “Leave, Noah, before I forget how much I love you and throw you out of this tree.”

“You’re ruining your life; you know that, right?”

“No. Taking a mate and trusting that I would be their one and only would ruin my life. I won’t do it, Noah, and I wish you’d stop asking me to.”

“I’ll stop asking when you come to your senses and see that there is room in our hearts to love more than one person,” Noah insisted, not for the first time. In fact, he was sick of hearing it.

“Not equally.”

“Bullshit!”

“Do you really believe Evan and Holden love you as much as they love each other?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Then you’re a fool. They had three years together before they met you. Three years of memories, moments, and promises. No matter what you do, you can never catch up. It will never be equal.”

“If that’s all you think love is, then I pity you, Raine, I really do.”

The look on Noah’s face, disappointed, sad, left Raine momentarily upset that he’d put it there. Until he thought about his mother, her tears, the way she’d looked in the mirror, asking what was wrong with her that his father couldn’t love her. Asking why she’d never be enough. He’d spent his early years with a broken ghost who’d hug him one moment and scream at him for wanting to play with his siblings the next.

He’ll drown you the moment I’m not around to protect you, she’d rage, grabbing him by the arm, shaking him hard enough his teeth clacked together. Sometimes she’d forget her strength, or claws, leaving deep, bleeding marks in his upper arm or accidentally dislocating it. It had happened so many times he could do it at will now—a constant reminder of her pain.

“I don’t want your pity.”

“No, you never want anything, do you?” Noah glanced away from him, over to the slowly filling grove where the gathering would take place.

“Wrong. I want to be left alone.”

“Fine, wish granted, but I want you to remember this moment in ten years when you’re alone and sorry you blew your opportunity with someone who really and truly loves you.”

With those last words hanging in the air between them, Noah lowered himself to the ground, shifted, shook, and disappeared into the forest. Asshole! He’d be the one to see, in ten years, when he was living in an add-on apartment or back at Mom and Dad’s after his two mates decided there was no longer room for him in the relationship.

If only there was a way to ensure a pairing would never become a tri-bond. Then he’d happily go to Gabriel and explore the possibilities.

Another idea took hold then, as he watched awnings popping up on campers and people pitching tents. Maybe he should go to Gabriel anyway, talk to him and get it out of his system. Maybe they’d prove to be incompatible, and he could stop daydreaming about what it would be like to belong to someone. Hell, maybe he was just looking for Raine to curse him out about the fight. Hearing Gabriel say he hated him would go a long way toward helping him to stop dreaming about the man.

Decision made, he dove off the branch, somersaulting twice before hitting the ground in a crouch, sniffing.

Rabbit, squirrel, skunk, deer, moss, dirt, pine, rotting leaves, cinnamon…

Cinnamon?

That didn’t belong out here.

Nutmeg, dough, sugar…

Those definitely didn’t belong out here.

His nose led him back to the trail, fully aware that following it might mean running into strangers and pairs already getting a jump on the frolicking and fooling around portion of the event. A bunch of pups would be born ten months from now; that was for damn sure. And then what? Some pairs would end up trapped by those stupid bond marks. Others would raise their pups alone. Hell, he even knew of occasions where one parent took half the litter and the other raised the rest, siblings who never saw, or even knew, of one another until they met at a gathering, stunned to discover someone else who looked like them.

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NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

Layla Dorine lives among the sprawling prairies of Midwestern America, in a house with more cats than people. She loves hiking, fishing, swimming, martial arts, camping out, photography, cooking, and dabbling with several artistic mediums. In addition, she loves to travel and visit museums, historic, and haunted places.

Layla got hooked on writing as a child, starting with poetry and then branching out, and she hasn’t stopped writing since. Hard times, troubled times, the lives of her characters are never easy, but then what life is? The story is in the struggle, the journey, the triumphs and the falls. She writes about artists, musicians, loners, drifters, dreamers, hippies, bikers, truckers, hunters and all the other folks that she’s met and fallen in love with over the years. Sometimes she writes urban romance and sometimes its aliens crash landing near a roadside bar. When she isn’t writing, or wandering somewhere outdoors, she can often be found curled up with a good book and a kitty on her lap.

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Release Blitz: Immortal Things by Rick R. Reed #LGBTQ #horror #thriller @GoIndiMarketing @ninestarpress

Title: Immortal Things

Author: Rick R. Reed

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: 09/27/2021

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Female, Male/Male, Female/Female

Length: 84700

Genre: Horror/Thriller, LGBTQIA+, vampires, artists, prostitution, dark, immortal, Chicago

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Description

By day, Elise draws and paints, spilling out the horrific visions of her tortured mind. By night, she walks the streets, selling her body to the highest bidder.

And then they come into her life: a trio of impossibly beautiful vampires: Terence, Maria, and Edward. When they encounter Elise, they set an explosive triangle in motion

Terence wants to drain her blood. Maria wants Elise . . . as lover and partner through eternity. And Edward, the most recently converted, wants to prevent her from making the same mistake he made as a young abstract expressionist artist in 1950s Greenwich Village: sacrificing his artistic vision for immortal life. He is the only one of them still human enough to realize what an unholy trade this is.

Immortal Things will grip you in a vise of suspense that won’t let go until the very last moment…when a shocking turn of events changes everything and demonstrates—truly—what love and sacrifice are all about.

Excerpt

Immortal Things
Rick R. Reed © 2021
All Rights Reserved

Prologue
No one can hear the screams, the cries for mercy, and the shrieks of agony. It is as though the house is alive and it clamps down in reaction to the turmoil going on inside. One would never guess from its calm exterior that blood drips from its walls and those unlucky enough to enter have a good chance never to emerge again.

This house appears to be empty. Dignified. Crumbling testimony to the wealth that once existed on Chicago’s Far North Side. It sits like a boulder on a corner, empty-eye-socket windows facing Sheridan Road and beyond it, the expanse of Lake Michigan. The lake is dark now; white-tipped waves crash against the shoreline, breaking at the boulders, a crescent moon bisected and wobbling on its black and churning waters. The house has borne witness to these waters, moody and changeable, always fickle, for more than a hundred years.

The house is fashioned from white brick, yellowed and dirty. Nothing grows in the yard, save for a few straggling weeds that refuse to give in to the barren soil.

The house is dead.

And so are its inhabitants.

*****

The dead are inside and reveal a surprising likeness to living creatures. They can move and speak just like the rest of us. They have wants and needs. They go about fulfilling these wants and needs with the same kind of intensity and purpose as the rest of the world. One could even say they have jobs, even if their occupations would be deemed illegal and certainly immoral by almost everyone.

But look beyond these superficial similarities and you’ll feel chilled. Touch their flesh and it’s cold. Lay your head at their breasts and hear…nothing. Look into their eyes and find yourself reflected back in a black void that you just know, if you linger too long in its embrace, you’ll be sucked in and it will be all over for you. Grab one of their cold wrists and feel stone, marble to be exact.

There is no pulse.

But tonight, they are a merry band of three. Like the living, they are filled with anticipation. An evening out awaits them. They will, like so many others getting ready for a night on the town, meet others, exchange knowing glances and a mating dance of words. They will sup, but not on the gourmet offerings of the city.

Most houses borne of this period contain many rooms, perhaps more than necessary. Whoever designed this house had the presence of mind to create wide-open spaces, breathing room. Enter the double front doors and you come directly into the living room. Or is it a drawing room? A great room? No matter. What you do not enter is a vestibule or a foyer as other houses of this period would contain. The walls are parchment colored, but right now, that color is indiscernible to the human eye, lit as they are by dozens of flickering candles. Water stains mar the walls and give to them a trompe l’oeil elegance, a look of almost deliberate aging. The floors are dark, their hardwood planks, tongue and groove, blackened by the lack of light and dust accumulated over many years. Along one wall is a fieldstone fireplace, its mantel tall as a man, its hearth cold and empty.

There is no furniture in this huge room. No chairs. No tables. No bookcases or desks. No divans or chaise lounges.

What does occupy the room, other than these three lifeless, yet curiously beautiful souls, is art. Paintings of every period lean against the wall and hang from their crumbling surfaces. Here is one after the style of Rubens, there another that looks pre-Raphaelite, here a Picasso…Jackson Pollock…Monet…Keith Haring…Willem de Kooning…Mark Rothko…Barnett Newman…plus the works of a legion of unknown artists, in every style and medium imaginable. The walls are crowded with it. The room is a gallery assembled by someone with vast resources, but tastes that go beyond eclectic. The only common theme running through these works is that all are unique. There is a respect for form, for color, for technique. Most of all, there is a certain indefinable quality that manages to capture the human spirit in its delicacy, in its discontent, in its hunger.

Perhaps it’s the hunger that appeals to them.

And the floor is a cocktail party of human sculptures. Men and women carved from marble, granite, and alabaster, cast in bronze. There are later figures cast from polymers, smooth acrylic, welded metals.

It is eerie—this empty house that has become museum or mausoleum.

Or both.

But art is what the dead crave. It sustains them—that and something else—something warmer and more vibrant, but they are too genteel to admit to such hungers. Like animals, they simply feed when they are hungry and discuss it as little as possible.

The walls also contain long leaded-glass windows, through which, appropriately enough, a full moon sends its pale rays, distorted and laying upon the darkened wood like silver. The leaded glass has become opaque, obscured by layers of dust, grime, and accumulated smoke.

And we can see the creatures now, gathering. Listen: and hear nothing save for the creaking of ancient floorboards.

First, let us consider Terence, broad shoulders cloaked in a pewter, latex zippered vest open just enough to display the cleft between smooth and defined pecs, tight leather jeans, and biker boots. Blond hair frames his face in leonine splendor: thick, straight, and shining, it flows to just below his shoulders. Glint of silver on both ears, studs moving like an iridescent slug upward. Terence is the second oldest of the three. His skin, like the others, has the look and feel of alabaster. Dark eyes burn from within this whiteness and present a startling contrast. Terence is a study in symmetry: his wide-set eyes match each other perfectly, his aquiline nose bisects dramatic cheekbones, and his full lips speak volumes about sensuality and lust. Stare into Terence’s eyes and gain a glimpse—quick, like a jump cut in a movie—of cobblestone streets, horse-drawn carriages, and the grime and elegance that was London in the late 1800s. Shake your head and the image disperses and you are left thinking it’s only your imagination conjuring up these images. After all, what does this post-punk Adonis have to do with the British Empire in the time of Oscar Wilde? Besides, Terence’s smile will have you thinking only of the present. And the present is what Terence lives for—the pleasure he can find, the communion of flesh and blood, seemingly so religious and yet sent from hell. He throws back his head and does a runway model turn, for the benefit of his companion, Edward, who rolls his eyes and snickers. “Don’t look to me to be one of your adoring minions.”

Let’s shift our focus to Edward. Edward is musculature in miniature, stubbled face and a shaved pate. Leather vest, black cargo pants tucked into construction worker boots, no jewelry save for the inverted cross glinting gold between shaved and defined pecs. On his bicep, a tattooed band: marijuana leaves repeated over and over, rimmed with a thick black line. Edward’s look would be comfortable in the leather bars along Halsted Street, and he is the only one of the three who prefers the embraces of men. He is relatively young, a newcomer to this scene of death and the greedy stealing of life. Watch him carefully and you will detect a hint of uncertainty in his handsome, rugged features. Melancholy haunts his dark eyes, which, unlike Terence’s, are not symmetrical: the left is a little smaller than the right and crinkles more when he laughs, which is seldom. Curiously, though, it is Edward’s features that look most human…because it’s humanity that lacks perfection and Edward hasn’t been of this undead world long enough to adopt its slick veneer of beauty that’s too perfect to be real or wholesome. Look into Edward’s eyes and you’ll see a beatnik Greenwich Village, a more personal vision: an artist’s studio which is nothing more than a cramped room with bad light with canvases he worked on night and day, brilliant blends of color and construction for which Edward had no name, but one day would be called abstract expressionism.

Shake your head, and—as with Terence—these images disperse. There’s nothing there, save for this macho gay clone boy with eyes that still manage to sparkle, in spite of the thin veneer of sadness and remorse deep within them.

And last comes Maria, on silent cat feet, moving down the stairs. A whisper of satin, the color of coagulating blood: rust and dying roses, corseted at the waist with black leather. Black hair falls to her shoulders, straight, each strand perfect, sometimes flickering red from the candles’ luminance. Dark eyes and full crimson lips. Maria stands over six feet, and her body, even beneath the dress, is a study in strength: muscles taut, defined, like a man save for the fact that the muscles speak a hypnotic feminine language: sinew locked with flesh in elegance and grace. “Feline” would not be going too far were one to describe her. There is the same grace, the same frightening coiled-up power, perfect for the hunt, perfect for surprising and making quick work of her prey.

She pauses, turning slowly in front of the men, her men, waiting for an appraisal. And, unlike Terence, this move does not seem vain, but more her due.

The men applaud softly and Maria stops, dark eyes boring into theirs. They do not see the watery streets of Venice, but you would, if you dared to engage her gaze for long. Dark canals and mossy mildew-stained walls, crumbling stairs at which black water laps, an open window through which one hears an aria. Smell the mildew and the damp.

The three take seats on the dusty floor, bring out mind-altering paraphernalia.

Terence, first: “Whom will we lure tonight?”

And Edward, eyes cast downward, the candle flames reflected off his bald and shining pate, sighs.

It is Maria who touches him, her hand a whisper, but with the tightness of a claw against his shoulder, forcing him to look up into her eyes. “I know it’s hard. But eventually you’ll come to understand, to be like Terence and enjoy what is natural.”

Edward laughs, but there is no mirth in it. “Natural? You call what we do natural?”

“We are God’s creatures, just like the ones we prey upon. Just as an owl preys upon a mouse. We have needs and we do what we must to satisfy them—or else we die.”

“We’re already dead,” Edward says.

Maria picks up a glass cylinder and looks at it critically for a moment. “Legend looks at us that way. That much is true.” At the top of the cylinder is a small bowl, which Maria stuffs with sticky, green bud. The smell of marijuana is redolent in the air, mixing with the burning wax of the candles. “But I prefer to think of us as another species. A different kind of animal.”

Edward stares at the silver light coming in through the long leaded-glass windows. It has been more than fifty years since he first met Terence in a tiny basement bar in Greenwich Village. Fifty years since he transformed himself into this new kind of animal Maria is now trying to make him think he is, to excuse their killing, the mayhem they wreak wherever they go. The heartbreak and the bloodshed, the latter so delicious, and so damning. Will he ever become callous enough to view what they do and what they are, like Maria? Will he ever be able to look at one of their victims, convulsing before them on a grimy floor, surrendering to death, and see them as merely sustenance? He’ll never believe it.

The most curious thing about his transformation is this: time has taken on completely different dimensions.

Five decades have passed like five days. It makes eternity easier to bear, he supposes.

“If that’s what gets you through the night, Maria, fine. And as for being like Terence one day, well, that’s a hell I hope to never visit.”

His last comment elicits a snort from Terence, who seems to either find everything humorous or everything sexy. He lives for pleasure. Sometimes, Edward wishes he could be like him. Terence has no conscience. It would be easier to be so ignorant.

“Here.” Maria hands him the glass cylinder, the thing that in a head shop would be called a Steamroller, and Edward fishes in his vest pocket for a disposable lighter. He fires it up and holds it to the little ashen bowl topping the cylinder, watching as it grows orange and holding his hand over the open end of the tube. It fills with smoke. When Edward removes his hand, the blue-gray smoke rolls toward him, into his open mouth, and he longs for the oblivion he knows it will bring. He holds the smoke deep in his lungs and then exhales. It doesn’t take much of this stuff to change his mood, to make him forget, and for that, he’s grateful.

He hands the cylinder to Terence, who locks his hand over his and stares into his eyes. “You always were so beautiful,” he whispers.

“You always were such a liar.”

And the merry band of three becomes silent and a little less merry. They know the truth: Terence is a liar, and had it not been for his charm and deceptions, Edward would not be with them tonight.

No, Edward would not be with them. He would be a man in his seventies by now, either a bum or a respected abstract expressionist painter; in the movie of his life, someone short but muscular would play him; the title of this film would not be Pollock, but Tanguy. Instead, Edward was no longer an artist, no longer a human being really. No, he is now a creature who has made stealth and superhuman attunement his artistic expression. He thinks, with a dark snort, that all he draws now is blood.

Maria’s cold, satin flesh takes hold of his forearm; the slight pressure of her nails: the gentle touch of a bird of prey’s talons. Even with his own kind, Edward thinks, one can’t be too careful.

She knows he is not attuned to the night, but is depressed and resigned to the hunt. He has never fully realized the joy of taking sustenance. Maria stares into his black irises with her own pitch orbs, and smiles. She licks her lips and raises her nose to sniff. “Mmm. Can’t you smell them, Edward? The sharp, hot tang?” She closes her eyes in a kind of rapture, breathing in deeply. The smell of people wafts through the hot summer air, as much a background as the bleating horns, exhausts, and squealing brakes from the cars on Sheridan Road.

Edward allows Maria to lead him to the front door. Puncture or perish is the joke he whispered to himself.

Terence waits at the curb, his big Harley churning and revving. He grins and one can see, even from yards away, Terence’s eyes twinkling with anticipation.

Edward thinks as he descends the wide flight of stairs, Maria clutching his arm, that Terence is the luckiest of the three because he feels no remorse.

He has no heart.

Purchase

NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

Real Men. True Love.

Rick R. Reed is an award-winning and bestselling author of more than fifty works of published fiction. He is a Lambda Literary Award finalist. Entertainment Weekly has described his work as “heartrending and sensitive.” Lambda Literary has called him: “A writer that doesn’t disappoint…” Find him at http://www.rickrreedreality.blogspot.com. Rick lives in Palm Springs, CA, with his husband, Bruce, and their fierce Chihuahua/Shiba Inu mix, Kodi.

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