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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NineStar Press | Books2Read

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.

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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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Release Blitz: Summer Storms by Thomas Grant Bruso #LGBTQ #contemporaryromance @ninestarpress @GoIndiMarketing

Title: Summer Storms

Author: Thomas Grant Bruso

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: 09/20/2021

Heat Level: 2 – Fade to Black Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 39900

Genre: Contemporary, LGBTQIA+, high school, grief, coming of age, hurt/comfort, harassment

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Description

Sixteen-year-old Earl Layman is going stir-crazy. Secluded with the flu inside the four walls of his home and only the escape of his video games to help him through, Earl is struggling to keep his sanity.

That is until he notices the boy next door, seventeen-year-old Rex Chambers, raking leaves in the adjacent yard.

Earl’s summer is about to change. Before another torrential rainstorm hits the small upstate New York town of Betham County, they meet during an awkward cell phone exchange. As they start to connect through occasional texts, Earl and Rex enter the throes of adolescent lust.

In the early stages of forging a lasting connection, their family situations threaten to destroy all they are working for.

Excerpt

Summer Storms
Thomas Grant Bruso © 2021
All Rights Reserved

EARL

Earl was a funny name for a sixteen-year-old boy. It reminded Earl of an older man, like his late uncle Fred who died when Earl was two years old.

As he stared down at a photo album spread open across his lap, the pictures of his uncle Fred and family reminded him of a conversation he’d had with his mother years before about death and dying.

Earl ran a finger over a photo of his uncle smiling back at him from beneath the glossy sheet of paper: white buck teeth, dark-brown eyes, thinning blond widow’s peak, and a handlebar moustache. Earl had pulled the album out of storage when memories of his life in Jessup, New York, resurfaced while he was sick from school this week. He flipped through scads of photos, faces from yesteryear, as he wiped his moist eyes with the back of his hand, reminiscing.

The idea to trek down memory lane came clear to Earl when he’d had a silent, reflective moment about his own life—his purpose, and who he was.

Six years ago when his family was living in a tiny, two-bedroom duplex in the small town of Jessup, before they moved to Betham County, Earl and his mother had a long conversation about life and death. Earl asked the most obvious question: “Why does everybody have to die?”

“Even the good guys like Uncle Fred die,” she’d said.

The conversation with his mother had been triggered by his finding their cat, Shells, unresponsive, just after he’d stumbled out of bed early one morning to use the bathroom. Shells was lying on the floor, curled up in a corner. Earl crouched next to her and ran his hand through her soft black-and-white fur. She did not move, so Earl yelled for his parents. He recalled the sad expressions on their faces when they came running to him.

Earl cried when he and his father had to bury Shells in the backyard, a fragment of memories now many miles behind them. Earl had sat with his mother that morning as she answered his questions, the importance of death, and the grief that comes with losing life’s precious things.

“Like Uncle Fred and Shells,” she’d said, “everything and everybody has a purpose. That’s why it’s important to love and care for everyone and everything, people and animals, every day. It’s sad to lose a pet or a family member, but it’s also natural and part of life.”

“Are you and Dad going to die like Uncle Fred and Shells?”

“One day. But not for a long time.”

His mother’s hug, the safety of her warm embrace, made Earl happy. After saying goodbye to Uncle Fred and Shells, Earl never wanted to let go of his parents. They were all he had.

Now, on this morning in early May, Earl’s thoughts returned to his past. He stared at the photos wedged beneath the glossy plastic sheets of film in the photo album.

He took a breath as he turned through pages of smiling faces—his family members in various pictures. He smiled back, deep in thought, tears falling and blotting the top of the album.

A rattling of glass bottles jarred his concentration, pulling him out of his momentary trance. He set the photo album on his bed and went to the window, gazing out into another sweltering day. Though gray clouds buckled beneath a darkening May sky that promised another rainstorm, the air was thick like clam chowder.

He was at home, sick from school for the third day this week, if his fever didn’t break. Earl had been bedridden with nowhere to go. He checked his cell phone for messages—from anybody. He missed human contact from his class friends, especially his best friend, Andy Gelman.

Traffic hummed along on the main artery of Betham County, a street over, and Earl caught a glimpse of a woman walking her dog. A young bicyclist pedaled to class. And the boy next door, Rex Chambers, on whom Earl had a small crush, bagged recycling for weekly pickup. Rex looked up at him, waved, and smiled. “Mornin’.” He placed the recycling bin by the side of the street and ambled to the fence separating the yards.

Earl’s face flushed; his skin tingled. Maybe it was the flu, or he was just feeling embarrassed. Shy. Staring at the cute guy who rode his mother’s motorcycle to school every morning this year made Earl light-headed.

“Cat got your tongue?” Rex yelled up from the neighboring yard, pulling the motorcycle away from where it was leaning against the fence and reaching for the helmet hanging on the handlebars. “You need a ride to school?”

“I…um…”

Rex tossed the black Darth Vader–like helmet back and forth in his hands like a basketball. His dark hair was slicked with a generous amount of gel, and his angelic eyes and chiseled face set the cogwheels in Earl’s rusty thoughts in motion. “I haven’t seen you around this week. Where’ve you been?” Rex asked.

Earl grinned back at the tall, handsome boy. Was Rex keeping track of how many days I’ve been out of school? “I’m sick.”

“Another day, then?”

Earl nodded, lifted a hand to wave. “See you around.”

“If you need anything, let me know.”

Earl bit down on his bottom lip. He couldn’t believe the boy next door had talked to him; he did not know Rex well. They didn’t talk every day, and when they passed each other in the hallway at Betham County High, Earl was too nervous to speak to him or engage him in conversation. He’d smile at the gorgeous guy, but it was a brief moment in his long day. A fleeting exchange of waves or grins, and both young men went their separate ways. The only class Earl and Rex shared was study hall. But by ninth period, Rex usually ditched the boring forty-five-minute class to take off on his motorcycle and ride around town.

“Feel better!” Rex yelled up to him. He put the helmet on, swung his leg over the cycle and started the engine. “I’m off! Another boring day at Betham County High.”

Earl looked away and smirked.

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Meet the Author

Thomas Grant Bruso knew at an early age he wanted to be a writer. He has been a voracious reader of genre fiction since he was a kid.

His literary inspirations are Dean Koontz, Stephen King, Ellen Hart, Jim Grimsley, Karin Fossum, Sam J. Miller, Joyce Carol Oates, and John Connolly.

Bruso loves animals, book-reading, writing fiction, prefers Sudoku to crossword puzzles.

In another life, he was a freelance writer and wrote for magazines and newspapers. In college, he was a winner for the Hermon H. Doh Sonnet Competition. Now, he writes book reviews for his hometown newspaper, The Press Republican.

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BOOK REVIEW: Breaking the Shackles by Mell Eight #dragons #fantasy #LGBTQ @GoIndiMarketing @ninestarpress

Separated and abused by the magi, twins Laine and Baine each swore to do whatever it took to break free and save the other. But when Baine arrives at the werewolf village prepared to rescue Laine and return home triumphant, he soon learns that any plan involving a dragon and a werewolf is bound to go awry.

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MY REVIEW – 3 1/2 stars

Dragons, werewolves, and Maji … oh my!

This short novella is full of fantasy elements, a bit of mystery, a dash of suspense, and some romance… all good things, which the author blended well. I enjoy Mell Eight’s writing style and overall voice.

However, I hadn’t read book one yet and felt a bit like I’d been dropped into the middle of a more complex story I didn’t quite understand. It’s definitely not written in a way where it can be a stand alone.

The writing itself was fantastic, even if, at times, having two central couples in the story made it feel a bit jarring. I think I’d have enjoyed it more if the relationships the twins developed had been told in two separate tales.

If you like dragons and shifters, as well as LGBTQ romance, then this series will definitely entertain you.

*I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Release Blitz: Breaking the Shackles by Mell Eight #LGBTQ #paranormalromance @ninestarpress @GoIndiMarketing

Title: Breaking the Shackles

Series: Dragon’s Hoard, Book Two

Author: Mell Eight

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: 09/06/2021

Heat Level: 1 – No Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 23600

Genre: Paranormal, LGBTQIA+, bonded mates, royalty, interspecies, mythical creatures, shifters

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Description

Separated and abused by the magi, twins Laine and Baine each swore to do whatever it took to break free and save the other. But when Baine arrives at the werewolf village prepared to rescue Laine and return home triumphant, he soon learns that any plan involving a dragon and a werewolf is bound to go awry.

Excerpt

Breaking the Shackles
Mell Eight © 2021
All Rights Reserved

The haze covering Laine’s mind faded. Slowly he became aware of his surroundings and flinched at that realization. Awareness equaled pain: pain from the knowledge of those who had been so violently lost and pain as his own flesh writhed from the cruel ministrations of the creatures that had taken control of him.

The magi, his mind hissed. The magi had taken him captive with five others of his clan. Only he remained alive. The return of memories that came with his first moments free of the haze was one of the reasons Laine so hated each return to consciousness.

As the haze further retreated, Laine expected to feel a whip on his back or an excruciating pull as his magic was forcibly drained from his body. His magic gave him life eternal, brought breath to his body, and made his heart pump. Without it, the other five of his clan had perished, gasping for air they could no longer breathe for hearts that could no longer beat. The magi stole the magic that gave them life, and they died.

Shackles surrounded Laine’s upper arms, but pain did not wrack his body. His magic felt strong and hale, as if the magi had not drawn from him in hours. Strange, and worrying. What twisted plan did the magi have in store for him now?

Laine’s surroundings came further into focus. He felt like he was riding on something. His body was lifting and lowering in the air as whatever he was tied to bounded forward. His fingers were clenched in what felt like fur.

Laine did not open his eyes. That would alert the magi that he was awake and aware, which would lead to more pain. Instead, Laine enjoyed the soothing feeling of the fur below him. His mind drifted away into a dream—one in which he watched the magi die.

Wolves howled in the woods. One of the magi tugging Laine along the tangled forest path swore. The wolves were truly wondrous creatures. They broke cover and appeared in the clearing. One wolf with a white muzzle, as if he had dipped his nose in a bottle of milk and hadn’t yet licked himself clean, stood out. That wolf killed the magi who liked to giggle when he drew power from Laine.

Two more wolves appeared, the first a female of russet color and the second a light-brown male with large black splotches on his back. Together they ripped apart the magi’s second-in-command, a man with long brown hair and light-blond stripes growing from his temples. Laine found it strange that the magi bled the same color as Laine’s back did whenever the man gleefully used his whip.

And then a beautiful dark-brown wolf with the deepest, most wonderful brown eyes appeared in front of Laine and dove directly at the magi holding him captive. The connection between them snapped as the magi used both hands to defend himself against the wolf. Laine fell to the ground, released from the magi’s clutches. Claws slashed wickedly as the wolf backed the magi into a tree. Every time the magi opened his mouth to lay a coercion spell, the wolf increased the fervor of his attacks until all the magi could do was gasp and bleed. The wolf ripped the leader of the magi’s throat out soon after. Laine glimpsed the long black hair with two white stripes growing from the temples before a spray of blood disfigured the leader’s face forever.

The dream ended with Laine sitting on the forest floor while blood and wolves surrounded him. Even in the dream he returned to the haze. Laine wished it were possible for such things to come true. For the magi to be dead and Laine to be free. Well, it was a nice dream, but reality abhorred dreams.

Laine drifted. Hours, days…he couldn’t keep track of time. He didn’t want to keep track of time.

When he came to again, the situation had grown stranger. His side was warm and he heard crackling. Was he lying in front of a fire? He lay on a real bed with feathers and a pillow. A blanket was even tucked around his body. How many years had it been since Laine had felt the comfort of a simple blanket? He didn’t keep track of time for a reason.

He knew it would alert the enemy if he moved, but Laine couldn’t help it. He curled deeper into the warmth of the mattress and pulled the blanket over his shoulders. Laine ignored the shocked whispers behind him. Surrounded by unfamiliar comfort, his body fell into a real sleep—the first in a very, very long time.

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NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

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

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Release Blitz: Punk Disco Bohemian by Arya F. Jenkins #LGBTQ #historicalfiction @ninestarpress @GoIndiMarketing

Title: Punk Disco Bohemian

Author: Arya F. Jenkins

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: 09/06/2021

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Female/Female

Length: 41300

Genre: Historical 1970s, LGBTQIA+, coming of age, Provincetown, 1970s, historical, memoir, multicultural, jazz, disco, women, queer, lesfic

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Description

It’s the 1973 and seventeen-year old, multicultural Ali is on the run from suburbia, since her best friend has left for college and home has turned into a nightmare—a druggy brother and a mother who has hooked up with another man since Ali’s father disappeared.

Ali wants to let loose, find herself sexually, experience real freedom, and she hopes to do this in the one place she remembers being happy as a kid, when her family spent summer vacations on Cape Cod.

Provincetown has always represented freedom with a capital F to Ali. In the 1970s, Provincetown is a queer mecca, afire with gay people and a burgeoning disco scene. Ali quickly gets sucked into a partying lifestyle and starts sleeping around to gain experience. For Ali, it’s a time of growth and unraveling, of coming to terms with truth while letting go of the past. But Ali’s search could come at a price. Will she find herself? Love? Freedom? And is she willing to pay the price for them?

Excerpt

Punk Disco Bohemian
Arya F. Jenkins © 2021
All Rights Reserved

When it came time to fly, “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” accompanied me on the radio. I turned up the volume and beat the wheel of the Rabbit with the heel of my palm. I was going to the Garden of Life. I rolled down the window and let the November wind whip my hair. Next came “Dazed and Confused.” I heard go, go, go, go in my head while the fuzzy image of a cat on my windshield, probably no more than a mirage of cigarette smoke, impelled me on.

“You begin the moment you believe you can fly,” I had written in my diary, unsure of what I meant, liking the sound of the words, enthralled with the idea of flying and beginnings.

Behind me I had my Spanish guitar and small stereo system, both gifts from Dad, red ski jacket, lamb’s wool vest, rolled-up sleeping bag, pillow, knapsack with a couple of changes of clothes and, ridiculously, a pair of white tennis culottes I’d worn months before as if I was heading into summer, toothbrush, comb, journal, pens, Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying, and a cardboard box in which were albums by Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck, and John Coltrane that had belonged to Dad, as well as my own eclectic collection by Santana, Richie Havens, Nina Simone, Deodato, Elton John, James Taylor, Cream, Joni Mitchell, and Led Zeppelin, each thing precious, a memento.

I’d taken off in the car meant to be my brother’s and mine and imagined Buddy peeved as hell, realizing he would have to mooch rides now that his wheels were gone. It was his fault for ripping me off, taking money I’d stashed inside a book from my job at a gift shop to save up for now. Who else would have done it?

When it came time to gas up, I went to the nearest phone booth to do the one thing I did not want to do that day, call home.

“Yes, operator. Collect. Mrs. Baines, from Ali. The number is 2-0-3-9-6-6-5-3-7-3.” A few rings beat slow time to my racing heart, and then someone picked up.

“Hey, Maman, Ali here.” I tried to be casual. “I want you to know I’m not coming home.”

“Ali, where are you?” Mom’s voice sounded remote. I gave no answer. Then she said, “Are you sure?”

“Nowhere. I’m not coming home. That’s all you need to know. Bye, Mom.”

The words “I hope you and Buddy will be okay” came to me, but why would I say them? Sentimentality would derail me from my goal. Buddy, Mom, and Dad were all part of the past now.

Three years before, at fourteen, I’d run off to Greenwich Village. My dress rehearsal, I think now. I felt pulled in a hundred directions at home and school, and I had nightmares from which I awoke in a sweat. In one, I saw myself crucified on a cross while being split in two. In another, I ran through woods only to come upon an empty box through which wind whistled. Why did that scare me so? The songs of the day, Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin’ On” and others by The Temptations, Edwin Starr, Simon and Garfunkel, and James Taylor, all spoke to feelings I tried to hide. Angst and despair were roiling the country too.

Whose hand did you reach out to, to pull you out of the darkness? I didn’t know. I listened to songs, hoping to learn. All I got was turmoil and my body telling me to run. One day, instead of going to school, I turned in the opposite direction from the bus and just kept going.

To myself I was something strange, cut out of myriad boxes, unfit to be part of anything. In first or second grade, a kid at school asked me, “Are you a savage?” I had the distinction of being the only brown kid in my class and the entire school. Maman had a dark complexion too. It would be years before I would see a Black person or anyone of color in New Canaan. Its main street glimmered white, its people were white, its clubs white, its ethos white. In this cold, subtly and blatantly exclusionary world, white middle-class women who had been abandoned, divorced, or widowed were at the bottom of the white tier, and suffered too. I got to see that close up.

As a kid I was the odd one out. My exotic, buxom Argentinean and French mother might have been in movies. My eyes were dark and fierce; my hair, black with reddish highlights, like Gra-mere’s. I have never known anyone besides us with hair naturally like that. My fluency in three languages, all of which I went in and out of easily with my parents and grandparents, added to my feeling different, like a nerd. In a family with a beautiful mother and a brother who resembled our handsome blond American dad, I was the alien.

My first time taking off, I hitchhiked toward New York City and spent my first night in a gas station bathroom. The next day I hit the West Village, where I hung with hippies, druggies, and other runaways, all of us following the same trail of dope and free music in St. Mark’s Place and Washington Square Park. I spent most of the time panhandling, my hand out, head down, leaning against buildings or standing on corners. Hardly anyone gave me a dime. Passersby glimpsed a skinny kid with hair in front of her face, wearing a tie-dyed top, jeans, and filthy Converse high-tops, a cigarette dangling from her fingers or mouth, every parent’s worst nightmare—maybe every kid’s too.

I tried going with the flow to survive. If what I went through at home was bad, this too was a kind of hell. One time, two bikers fought over me when I hadn’t said a word to either, not even given them a look. I tried not to look at people, afraid my stares set fires. One of the guys, a Vietnam vet, said whenever he rode his bike, he hallucinated trails from his acid-taking days. The burly one with a beard and leather vest called him full of shit. Somehow, I became a subject, and their fistfight drew a crowd, which allowed me to escape! Another time, a greasy-haired hippie with stained front teeth peered into my eyes and, cocking his head, inquired, “Do you know where it is? Tell me where it is, baby.” Those weird times spooked me.

On the streets, Blacks and whites commingled freely in a diverse scene, a world in which to be different was an emblem rather than mark against you. You were looked up to for it. I no longer felt isolated like at home, no longer imprisoned by false, stifling selves. Only as a runaway did I begin talking about myself and my life. There were so many stories on the street, and they interlaced like multicolored threads, a quipu of history.

“Your gra-mere must have been some crazy babe,” Leroy said after I told him how my mother’s mother, someone I loved madly, would do backbends while balancing a full champagne glass on her forehead.

“Yeah, like the Jimi Hendrix of grandmas, a surprise around every corner.”

“I love it. I love it,” he said.

Leroy was tall, slim with beautiful, expressive hands, and made me think of Hendrix, save for the mole high on his right cheek and his moss-green eyes. He had lost two older brothers, Jamal and Tyrone, in prison gang fights. After his mama died, Leroy turned to the streets, making enough to get by sewing people’s clothes, patching them up in exchange for money and stuff. He always had a basket at his side of discarded materials people had given him, along with his sewing needles and threads, and wore patchwork jeans like a colorful trip.

Ingenious and talented, he took a white silk sash and made a turban around my head. “You look like a swami”—then wrapped it around my body—“Now you are Artemis.” He scrunched up his nose, putting one closed hand under his chin. “Actually, you look more like Audrey Hepburn in the party scene of Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” We laughed. I wore the sash as a belt, then as a scarf for days.

All Leroy wanted, he said, was to live free and avoid prison. In ’63, as a boy, with his brother Tyrone already behind bars for dealing dope, he and his mother marched in DC and attended Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

“Air was electric, man. I never saw so many Black folks and white folks together in my life. Like heaven. After that, we got the rights.” He shook his head, full of irony. “People of color ain’t ever gonna be free long as white people run the world.”

I closed my eyes to mull his words, adding to myself, white men, as long as white men rule.

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Meet the Author

Arya F. Jenkins’s fiction has been published in many journals and zines. Her short stories have received several nominations for the Pushcart Prize. She is the author of three poetry chapbooks and a short story collection, Blue Songs in an Open Key (Fomite, 2018). Another collection, Angel in Paris & Other Stories, is forthcoming through NineStar Press in 2022.

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Release Blitz: The Acquisition by Rachel Ford #contemporarythriller #LGBTQ #suspense @GoIndiMarketing @ninestarpress

Title: The Acquisition

Author: Rachel Ford

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: 09/06/2021

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Female/Female

Length: 94600

Genre: Contemporary Thriller, LGBTQIA+, contemporary, lesbian, action/adventure, reverse hero’s journey, suspense, humorous, revenge, workplace drama/office workers, tech secret espionage, pets, cruise ship, violence with guns, family drama

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Description

When Sutherland Bio buys up the little bio research firm Human Resources specialist Angela McCormack works for, she tries to adapt. Even though her shady new boss’s smarminess and sexism makes her stomach turn. She sticks it out through the verbal abuse, and through the benefit cuts and layoffs.

But when her boss, George Sutherland Jr., tasks her to recruit replacements for the people he laid off—and lets it slip that the layoffs were just part of a regime change strategy—she’s ready to throw in the towel. As much as she hates the idea of shoveling manure again, she’d rather return to her family’s farm and petting zoo than stay with Sutherland Bio.

Then George Jr. takes a particularly bad day out on her. And Angela decides she’s tired of the humiliation. She’s going to fight fire with fire. She makes it her mission to fill George Jr.’s team with the worst possible candidates she can find.

But she didn’t take into account falling for one of the new hires. All of a sudden, she’s not sure she wants to leave. Not yet.

And that’s just the first chicken to come home to roost. Little does she know, George has plenty of secrets of his own. And when one of them turns deadly, Angela will have to rely on her handpicked sabotage crew for survival. She might just wish she was back home shoveling manure after all.

Excerpt

The Acquisition
Rachel Ford © 2021
All Rights Reserved

You don’t piss off the person making your food. You don’t piss off the woman who gave birth to you. And you don’t piss off the HR lady. Everyone knows that.

Everyone, it seemed, except George Maxwell Sutherland, Jr. As with most memos, George Maxwell Sutherland, Jr. had missed that one. Along with the one about manners. And treating employees with respect. And showering every day instead of wearing a bucket of cologne to work.

Angela McCormack wrinkled her nose and stared at her boss’s feet. They were at eye level since he had them propped up on his desk. The sight made her stomach turn a little. It wasn’t so much the untrimmed talons on the ends of his toes, or the hobbit-like growth of untamed hair. It was the fact that she could see them at all. And the no-feet-on-the-furniture and don’t wear flipflops into work when you’re the CEO memos.

Yes, there were quite a few memos George Maxwell Sutherland, Jr. had missed. But at the moment, it was the one about not downsizing people out of their jobs just to recreate the same position two months later that weighed the heaviest on her mind. Because, unless she’d misunderstood everything he had just said, that’s what he was doing here. And despite George’s propensity to torture a simple sentence into a longwinded monologue for the sole pleasure of hearing himself talk, she was pretty sure she hadn’t got it wrong.

“Excuse me, Mr. Sutherland,” she said, “just to clarify, we’re refilling the positions we just downsized?”

He cocked an eyebrow up at her. “No, not at all. These are different positions, Angie.”

God, she hated when he called her Angie. “Yes sir, I heard you say that. But if I’m understanding you, the titles will be different, but the positions will fill the same basic function as before. We’re looking for an IT team lead to replace Dawn. You need a Director of Business Services to pick up where Mark left off, and so on?”

He flashed her a toothy grin that, she supposed, he assumed was charming. It wasn’t. It was the kind of smile she’d expect from someone selling a car that probably wouldn’t make it out of the lot. “Now you’re getting it. You know how it goes. New era, new regime. If I’m going to do this right, well, I need people I can trust.”

He studied her for a long moment with keen blue eyes. “That’s why I kept you on. I had a good feeling about you. And you know what I say—I’m a man who goes with his gut.”

Angela McCormack forced a smile and lied through her teeth. “Of course, sir. You can always trust me.”

“Don’t call me sir. Call me George.” He smiled again. He smiled too much for her liking. Grinning CEO’s, smiling politicians, and gas station sushi: she reserved the same measure of trust for each of them. “Now, I’d like these listings up by Friday. Is that something we can do?”

We. As if he’d lift a finger to help.

“I’ll get the drafts to you by the end of the day tomorrow. If the revision process goes smoothly, I don’t see why not.”

He nodded. “Excellent. Excellent. Well, that was all I had, then. Oh, my dry cleaning’s not back yet, is it?”

“No sir. I mean, no, George.”

He winked and clicked his tongue as a kind of sound effect to match the finger guns he aimed her way. “That’s better. I don’t like a formal workplace. I’m all about casual. I think it builds better morale. Don’t you?”

Angela smiled and lied again. “Oh, absolutely.”

She had nothing against casual, as long as it wasn’t the kind of casual that involved dirty hobbit feet on the desk. But George had come into Fenwood Bio like a whirlwind, laying off staff, axing benefits, and implementing draconian cost reduction programs within his first two weeks. The turnover rate was already higher than the layoffs. Which was one of several reasons why she was currently filling the role of the entire HR department, as well as admin, IT department, and supply requisitions. All for the same salary as before, of course, but with a much slimmer retirement package, and no life insurance benefits.

No, Angela McCormack didn’t want to hear the word “morale” pass his lips. He’d personally shredded every last bit of it and flushed it down the toilet.

“Me too. You might say, it’s one of my core philosophies.” He nodded, to himself it seemed, then added, “Well, I’ll let you get to work, then.”

She didn’t mind the dismissal. Hell, it couldn’t come soon enough as far as she was concerned. “Right.”

Retreating to her office and closing the door after her, Angela breathed out a long sigh of relief. She hadn’t been afraid he’d called her in to lay her off. He’d gotten that out of his system within the first few weeks. Still, she’d seen so many come and go, she would have been lying if she said the thought hadn’t occurred to her.

Mostly, she detested him. And she had the kind of face that didn’t know how to use its inside voice. When someone tripped her BS trigger, well, her face broadcast it loud and clear before she even realized it.

George Maxwell Sutherland, Jr. lived in the BS zone. And Angela McCormack needed her job. She had a mortgage and a house she loved. Sure, she could have found a job elsewhere that would have paid as well, or maybe a little better. But she didn’t want to give up her house. Not after all the years she’d spent restoring it, a room at a time.

Nor did she want to leave Fenwood. She’d grown up here, and she planned to grow old here. Older, she thought with a sour glance at the calendar. She’d be thirty-five in two days. She didn’t want to have to start over at thirty-five.

And that’s exactly what finding a new job in human resources would be. Fenwood Bio—now Sutherland Bio Research—was the biggest employer in the area, and those companies that did have HR departments weren’t hiring.

She knew because she’d checked. So, if she was going to find another job, it would mean leaving the area. It would mean moving a hundred miles south, or seventy-five miles north, or even farther east and west.

Fenwood was one of those smack-in-the-middle-of-nowhere towns, with more cows and horses than people. You either loved it or hated it.

Angela loved it, and she didn’t want to leave.

So, she pulled open her archaic software suite and started filling in the job listings they’d talked about. Did it make her a modern-day Judas Iscariot, helping this son of a bitch after he’d fired so many of her friends on the pretense that their jobs were redundant, now that Sutherland Bio Research had acquired them?

Maybe. Then again, Judas didn’t have a mortgage. Angela stared at the screen, trying to focus on the work. But the work didn’t—couldn’t—make up for the feeling in the pit of her stomach. The feeling of betrayal that left her a little sick. God, I hate this job.

She started as her messenger application dinged. Glancing at the clock on her desktop, she frowned. Somehow, half an hour had already passed.

Angela brought up the messenger window and groaned. It was George, and he’d flagged the chat as a high priority.

Can you come to my office?

Grimacing, she typed, On my way.

Angela practiced her fake smile on the way. It probably wouldn’t have convinced anyone who wasn’t as obtuse as George, but at least it wouldn’t be scary. Or, so she hoped anyway.

She knocked on his closed door and immediately heard, “Come in.” She did, and Sutherland smiled at her. “Ah, Angie. Thank goodness. We’ve got a situation.”

Oh no. “Oh?”

“I forgot I had an appointment this morning.”

“Really? I didn’t see anything in your schedule.”

“Oh, I forgot to tell you about it. I would have had you add it to the calendar. But that’s not the issue. Point is, we don’t have anything for them to eat.”

Now, she did grimace. So far this month, he’d sent her on eighty-some dollars’ worth of coffee runs, lunch pickups, and pastry runs. For a millionaire, Mr. Sutherland was chronically short of cash. It had all gone on “the tab.”

The tab didn’t exist, except as a figment of his imagination. Angela had her doubts that it would ever be settled. He’d pay off ten or twenty bucks here and there. But it always seemed larger than whatever cash he happened to have on hand.

“What did you have in mind?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Whatever you can find.”

“When are they going to be here?”

“Nine-thirtyish. Maybe ten. I’m not really sure. They were going to be here when they could. They’re flying in from Philly. Shit.” He shook his head. “I need to have something here for them. They probably haven’t eaten yet.”

Despite herself, Angela felt his tension get to work on her mind. “Well, I can put a call into Tealeaves & Coffeecake. I’m sure we can get a breakfast tray.”

He nodded. “Good. Good, their stuff is good. For Fenwood food anyway. See if you can get one of those breakfast quiches, and pastries.”

“Will do.”

“Nothing with mushrooms though. I can’t stand them.”

“Got it.”

“Oh, and what are we going to do about coffee?”

“I’ll make sure we have a pot freshly brewed by nine-thirty.” It wasn’t her job, but if it quelled a panic? Well, Angela would do it.

But George wrinkled his nose. “I’m not going to force them to drink that crap.”

She blinked. “You mean, the office coffee?”

He nodded as if she was agreeing with him somehow. “You’ll have to get one of those jugs of coffee. French roast. You know how I like it.”

“All right,” she said, then added, “I’ll let you know how much it costs.”

He nodded absently. “Sounds good. Thanks, Angie, you’re a lifesaver.”

“Anytime,” she said, leaving his office before the scowl set in.

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Meet the Author

Award-winning author Rachel Ford is a software engineer by day, and a writer most of the rest of the time. She is a Trekkie, a video gamer, and a dog parent, owned by a Great Pyrenees named Elim Garak and a mutt of many kinds named Fox (for the inspired reason that he looks like a fox).

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Release Blitz: The Midnight Man by Kevin Klehr #LGBTQ #contemporaryromance @ninestarpress @GoIndiMarketing

Title: The Midnight Man

Author: Kevin Klehr

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: 08/30/2021

Heat Level: 2 – Fade to Black Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 52200

Genre: Fantasy, LGBTQIA+, Contemporary, fantasy, family-drama, romance, gay, established couple, dreams, cheating, mother/son relationship

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Description

Stanley is almost fifty. He hates his job, has an overbearing mother, and is in a failed relationship. Then he meets Asher, the man of his dreams, literally in his dreams.

Asher is young, captivating, and confident about his future—everything Stanley is not. So, Asher gives Stan a gift. The chance to be an extra five years younger each time they meet.

Some of their adventures are whimsical. A few are challenging. Others are totally surreal. All are designed to bring Stan closer to the moment his joyful childhood turned to tears.

But when they fall in love, Stan knows he can’t live in Asher’s dreamworld. Yet he is haunted by Asher’s invitation to “slip into eternal sleep.”

Excerpt

The Midnight Man
Kevin Klehr © 2021
All Rights Reserved

Stanley gazed into the fridge as he waited for his partner, Francesco, and their conquest for the night to stop smooching at the front door and come inside.

He checked for eggs and milk. He was thankful there were chives in a container so breakfast for their guest could be a tad more exotic. But he’d have to go easy on the toast as there were only three slices of sourdough left, and he didn’t want to open the boring old multigrain.

He closed his eyes to recall the night. Their plaything was licking his lips with just the right amount of tongue when he propositioned Francesco at the nightclub. He hadn’t even noticed Stanley.

But if the couple didn’t respond to the young man’s request, he’d move on to the next potentials and Stanley and Francesco would have to choose between those altered by alcohol or happy pills. And Stanley knew those sins outstayed their welcome like bad wallpaper. Fortunately, tonight’s pickup was only slightly wired.

Francesco stumbled in the living room, trying to make martinis. Their boy was giggling like a pre-schooler who’d heard a limerick. But the disco laden images of earlier that night were still haunting Stanley.

Francesco’s workmate, Graham, had joined them with his partner, Tony. Stanley recalled the look Tony gave them when they said goodnight. As if their hookup, who wrapped his arms around Stanley and Francesco, was the victim in some lost midlife scenario reminiscent of anxious porn. Yet Graham and Tony were only ten years older than Stanley and Francesco’s toy for the night. Surely Tony would be more open-minded.

“Dinky, the martinis are ready.”

Stanley frowned at hearing his nickname. It was his curtain call to re-enter this flawed three-character play.

“Elijah can’t believe you’re fifty soon,” Francesco said, handing Stan his cocktail.

“You look so good.” The lad gazed wide-eyed for more time than naturally required. “Your hair’s thinning a little, but I know guys half your age who are seriously bald.”

“See, Dinky. Even Elijah thinks you’re handsome for your age.”

“Thank you,” Stanley mumbled. He sat on the edge of the armrest of the large sofa.

Elijah sat with his legs stretched out, enjoying the comfort of their recliner as if it was his own. He grinned at Francesco like a patient kid waiting too long for dessert.

“I hope you like scrambled eggs,” Stanley said.

“Say what?” Elijah snickered.

“You said you were staying for breakfast,” Stan replied. “You said so on the ride home.”

“Oh no.” Elijah looked horrified, as if dessert were cancelled. “You’re taking me out for breakfast.”

“He wants to be paraded,” said Francesco.

“Like a gold medal.” Stanley tried his best not to roll his eyes.

“So, what made you choose us tonight?” Francesco asked.

“You’re an established couple,” Elijah replied. “You know your shit. And you’ve dealt with your shit. Older men are so much more fun.” He turned to Stanley. “Most times I go out, I pick up an older couple.”

Stanley couldn’t help thinking how rehearsed Elijah sounded. “Has that strategy always worked?”

“Of course.”

“Really?”

Elijah stared blankly at Stanley. “Yeah, except when one guy is more uptight than the other.”

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Meet the Author

Kevin lives with his husband, Warren, in their humble apartment (affectionately named Sabrina), in Australia’s own ‘Emerald City,’ Sydney.

His tall tales explore unrequited love in the theatre district of the Afterlife, romance between a dreamer and a realist, and a dystopian city addicted to social media.

His first novel, Drama Queens with Love Scenes, spawned a secondary character named Guy. Many readers argue that Guy, the insecure gay angel, is the star of the Actors and Angels book series. His popularity surprised the author. The third in this series, Drama Queens and Devilish Schemes, scored a Rainbow Award (judged by fans of queer fiction) for Best Gay Alternative Universe/Reality novel.

So, with his fictional guardian angel guiding him, Kevin hopes to bring more whimsical tales of love, life and friendship to his readers.

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Release Blitz: The Warrior’s Assassin by Nikki McCoy #LGBTQ #Fantasy @ninestarpress @GoIndiMarketing

Title: The Warrior’s Assassin

Series: Born in Sin, Book One

Author: Nikki McCoy

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: 08/30/2021

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 61300

Genre: Fantasy, LGBTQIA+, mythical creatures (fae, jinn), incarceration, soulmates/bonding, revenge, prison escape, cliffhanger

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Description

For over a century, Kita has paid for his sins in innocence and blood. The sin of being born, for daring to exist, and for polluting the fae race with his tainted, mixed heritage. Half fae and half human, he is an abomination belonging to neither race, yet caught in the midst of their feuding.

After winning his freedom from a lifetime of slavery to the fae, a ghost from his past has come to pull him back into the depths of hell. And this time, there will be no escape.

To the world, Jacen McKenna is a gang leader, arms and drug trafficker, slaver. Labels he wears proudly to cover his true intentions. He is a warrior among his kind, dealing justice to his enemies and mercy to those without hope. He’d thought getting thrown into Babylon, a prison notorious for its inescapability, was the ultimate low point in his life. He was wrong.

From the second he laid eyes on Kita, he knew fate wasn’t done screwing him over. Beautiful, wild, and defiant, Kita brought out every protective instinct he possessed; ravaged him with emotions he never thought himself capable of. He tried to keep his distance, but fate, yet again, had other plans.

Caught in an impossible situation, they both have to learn to trust each other. But trust was a precious commodity in a world that had turned its back on them. Together, they must fight if they want to survive the war brewing in their midst.

Excerpt

The Warrior’s Assassin
Nikki McCoy © 2021
All Rights Reserved

Kita shook himself to clear his head, wondering what had made him think of that night so many years ago. Normally, his repressed memories came to him in dreams. Or, rather, nightmares.

At thirteen, he’d been foolish enough to desperately believe in Bergiese’s vision despite his cynicism. Later, he had learned to see the truth behind the pretty lie. There was no savior or salvation waiting for him somewhere down the path of his life. There was only misery and pain, and he was so incredibly sick of it all that his mind had begun to slip back into the state of bleak abjection he’d carried in his youth.

The future was a yawning maw empty of anything that made life worth living. What few reasons for happiness he’d found had faded quickly, leaving him raw and desolate. He knew it was time to end everything, yet he couldn’t bring himself to put a gun to his head and pull the trigger.

Funny how a person with no pride could consider suicide to be cowardly.

He drew back into the shadows of the alleyway when the door to the abandoned hotel opened. Nicolas Gordon, Nicki as he was known on the streets, walked out followed by a shorter man wearing a trench coat. The hood of Nicki’s sweatshirt was pulled down low to hide most of his face. Not that his poor attempts at anonymity over the past week had worked in his favor. He’d been found, and he would die tonight.

The two men spoke quietly, the steam of their breath curling in the frigid night air. They began to walk rapidly in the other direction. Kita slipped from his cover and entered the building, the squealing of rusted hinges on the door the only sound.

The area was mostly deserted, although not as run down as some of the neighborhoods he had seen. This small town, like so many scattered across the country, had had the misfortune of being located near a Crown Federation military base.

During the Islandar Civil War, more than a century ago, all of the bases had been targeted and summarily disabled. Some still lay in ruins from domestic terrorist attacks while others had been taken apart from the inside and left to rot in the wake of espionage and independent financial ruin.

Overall, Okasis fared decently in comparison. Its Federation base still functioned, which was a boon to the town’s economy, such as it was—struggling and on the constant verge of collapse.

He reached within himself for his power of pyrokinesis and sparked a small flame at his fingertip. With it, he searched the rooms on the first floor for Nicki’s belongings. If the reports were true, Nicki carried on him a laptop with information potentially disastrous to the Federation. Kita had been charged with confiscating the laptop and killing him.

Pinard, his keeper in the ISBF, Internal Security Branch of the Federation, had told him in no uncertain terms not to go through the laptop himself. However, the unusually avid interest in this mission had drawn his curiosity. The order had come from General Laurs, head of security, and was highly classified.

That in itself threw up a red flag.

Why would an insignificant peon on the low rung of society’s ladder be such a high‒profile target? The Federation didn’t send its dog on assassinations anyone could pull off. It just didn’t add up, even if the man was a renegade jinn.

He found the meager belongings in the last room amid layers of decay and rat droppings. In the duffel bag was a battered laptop one would hardly expect to find classified intel on. With the decryption device he’d liberated from Pinard’s desk, he easily hacked through its security. Two documents in particular stood out to him.

What he read in them made his blood run cold. It had to be some kind of mistake or propaganda to use against the Federation.

Yet, the more he read, the faster it became obvious this wasn’t a hoax. Most of the information contained in the documents correlated with events only the ISBF knew about. Critical threats against the Federation made over the past several decades that had been swept under the rug.

Briefly, he scrunched his eyes shut. He had hoped for something to hold against Pinard, but this… This was well beyond the limits of anything he could handle on his own.

Of all the endless ways this information could be used, only one outcome was certain. Their country would be plunged into another civil war. Serving these documents up to the general would only exacerbate the situation and quicken the inevitable outcome.

“Shit,” he hissed.

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Meet the Author

Nikki McCoy lives in the vast, open spaces of Wyoming where the wind is a beast and the snow dominates for 10 months out of the year. But the night are filled with magic and mystery.

It’s during these nights that her world becomes a collage of cunning intrigue, edgy mysteries and sexy, sometimes brutal men. She loves to let her imagination run away with her. The darker the fantasy, the greater the spoils.

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