Release Blitz + Giveaway: Compassion Fatigue (Marisburg Chronicles #1) by Emily Carrington


Author Emily Carrington and IndiGo Marketing share new release info on Compassion Fatigue (Marisburg Chronicles #1) from Changeling Press! Read more about the contemporary romance and enter in the giveaway!

Title: Compassion Fatigue

Series: Marisburg Chronicles 1

Author: Emily Carrington

Publisher: Changeling Press LLC

Release Date: July 23

Heat Level: 4 - Lots of Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 101 pages

Genre: Romance, Medical Romance, Multicultural & Interracial, Second Chances, Contemporary Romance

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Synopsis

Peter Campbell, a deaf man who teaches sign language classes, believes no one would ever love a bisexual man. When his new veterinarian, Dr. Abe Yoshida, shows him he’s wrong, Peter is left with the monumental task of coming out to his teenage daughter. Can his growing love for Abe give him the courage he needs?

The holidays are the worst time for Dr. Abe. He recently lost a patient, and the circumstances leave him struggling under a burden of guilt. Adding to his depression, as the COVID-19 pandemic worsens, he finds himself the victim of anti-Asian hate crimes. Then he meets Peter, a compassionate, partially in the closet bisexual man. Will Abe let love heal his heart, or will suicide’s sour music bewitch his soul?

Trigger Warning: Deals with Asian Hate Crimes, COVID-19, depression and suicidal thoughts in characters with disabilities, which may be triggers for some readers.

Excerpt

All rights reserved.
Copyright ©2021 Emily Carrington

The man was only a little shorter than Peter himself. He had beautiful dark brown hair and eyes that turned up just a little.  Like an Elf’s eyes, Peter thought.

His sleeves were rolled to the elbows, and he had obvious muscles in his forearms. Oh, but that was hot. The only thing that marred Peter’s initial take on the doc was the way his smile didn’t quite reach his eyes.

They shook. The doctor’s hand was dry, his grip strong. Peter swore his heart skipped a beat when he saw the pink triangle in the Dr’s ear.

Then he was distracted because Dr. Yoshida was distracted… by Tracks rubbing up against his legs. The veterinarian’s smile touched his eyes briefly as he crouched to pet the bold and unexpectedly friendly tom.

When he moved to pick up Tracks, Peter put his hand out first. When the doctor was looking at him, Peter shook his head and signed, “Allow me.”

“All right,” Yoshida signed back. He straightened and pointed to a little square box that Peter knew was a cat scale.

Peter placed Tracks in, and the doctor checked the reading. Then, glancing at Peter, he signed, “May I pick him up?”

Well, he’d have to eventually. Peter realized his earlier reticence had been foolish. He nodded. And to his amazement, when Dr. Yoshida picked up Tracks, the cat half closed his eyes in obvious pleasure.

Peter reached out and stroked his pet, feeling the purr.

After a brief but thorough examination, Dr. Yoshida set Tracks down to let him wander. Then he smiled at Peter and signed, “I’m Abe Yoshida. You have a very healthy cat there. Very friendly.”

“He is to you,” Peter signed back. “He’s usually uncomfortable with strangers, especially in new places.”

The vet nodded. “Is this just a meet-and-greet then?”

“Yes.”

“Candace, the vet tech who showed you in here, said you used to go to Dr. Jamison over in Colton.”

Peter nodded. “Since he’s closed, I thought I’d look closer to home for another vet. And I honestly wanted to be able to talk via more than gestures and text messages. One of my students gave me your name. I teach at the school for the deaf attached to Colton University.”

Abe Yoshida smiled a little and asked with his hands, “Which student would that be? I’ve never treated an animal accompanied by a deaf child.”

“Keiko Neil.”

Abe’s eyes widened and he grinned for real this time. “You teach my niece.”

Peter smiled back because that grin was contagious and made the doctor even more handsome, if that was possible. “I can see the family resemblance,” he signed.

“Her parents are stationed in another state but they wanted her to have the best, so they sent her here. Close enough for me to check on her if necessary but also give her some independence. Is she behaving herself?”

“She’s very bright,” Peter prevaricated.

Abe raised one eyebrow. “That’s not an answer,” he pointed out silently.

Peter smirked. “She’s very spirited, but I like her.”

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Meet the Author

Emily Carrington is a multipublished author of male/male and transgender erotica. Seeking a world made of equality, she created SearchLight to live out her dreams. But even SearchLight has its problems, and Emily is looking forward to working all of these out with a host of characters from dragons and genies to psychic vampires.

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Release Blitz + Giveaway: The Drumbeat of His Heart by M.C. Roth


Don't miss today's release blitz for The Drumbeat of His Heart, courtesy of author M.C. Roth and Pride Publishing! Find out more and enter in the giveaway for a chance to win a fabulous gift package and get a FREE eBook from the author!

The Drumbeat of His Heart By M.C. Roth

General Release Date: 20th July 2021

Word Count:  69,584
Book Length: NOVEL
Pages: 246

Genres:

CELEBRITIES
CONTEMPORARY
EROTIC ROMANCE
GAY
GLBTQI

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Book Description

A brush with death delivers Ian into Trent’s life, but there’s more to Ian than he shares—a hidden life, a hidden career and secrets that may tear them apart.

When Trent is almost hit by a swerving Corvette, he has no idea that the driver will change his life forever.

Freezing cold and soaked, Trent pulls the strikingly attractive Ian from the wreckage. Ian is everything Trent has been looking for in a man—beautiful, sexy—and he needs a place to stay for the weekend.

Trent is out and proud, and he prays he can keep his hands to himself with the gorgeous man under his roof. But Ian is the one who follows Trent into the shower, shows him things that Trent never imagined and takes the final thread of Trent’s virginity.

After a weekend of passion, Trent finds himself falling for Ian, even though they live a country apart. But there is more to Ian than what he says. A hidden life, a hidden career and more lies than Trent can imagine.

Ian’s secrets may tear their hearts to pieces—or transform their desires into something more.

Reader advisory: This book contains scenes involving drug use and homophobia. There are references to an alcohol problem, public sex and voyeurism.

Excerpt

Rain splattered against the slim fabric hood that was pulled over his head. The water leaked through the flimsy fabric and pressed into his hair, making the strands clump and drip down the back of his shirt. The sky was the colour of dusty ash left too long in the fireplace and the air was thick with ozone.

Trent shivered and pulled the hoodie closer as he tried to keep some semblance of warmth against his skin. The forecast had predicted a beautiful, sunny spring day with a temperature of twenty degrees centigrade. The sun had lasted until he’d stepped out of the office to go home after a nine-hour shift trapped behind a dusty window. He’d touched the pavement and the clouds had loomed in as a virtual monsoon opened above his head.

Walking to work was as much of a blessing as it was a curse. He had no car payments, but he was stuck walking through any storm that decided to roll in. Clouds had a habit of waiting until he left the safety of the building before they unleashed their wrath.

The cracked sidewalks were stained dark with pools of water gathering in every dip and cranny. The few buildings around him were lit up bright against the grey sky, and their signs beckoned anyone who happened to be passing by. Their brick was antique, with lines of grout that had crumbled over time. It gave them more character than the new-builds in an actual city. Their bleached Christmas lights, that were meant to be spring decorations, were charming and the most modern thing about them besides the updated espresso machine in the café.

A burst of yellow swerved along the slim street, and its tyres splashed through the puddle of a blocked storm drain. Water burst up like the landing of a flume ride and smacked against Trent. Gravel and bits of sodden leaves struck him, sticking and clinging to every light hair on his naked shins. A trail of sand curled down his forehead and dripped into his eye.

“Dammit,” he spluttered as thick mud trailed down into his mouth. The taste of tainted water and decomposition made him gag and he spat into the swirling mass around his feet that was searching for a way through the cracked sidewalk. He stopped to watch as the yellow Corvette straightened and swerved back away from the kerb where it had struck the puddle that had completely drenched him. It was a manoeuvre he might expect out of a teenager who might deliberately try to soak unsuspecting pedestrians.

Instead of pulling straight along the thin road, the Corvette kept turning as it lost control on the plane of water. It looped back to the other side of the street and directly into oncoming traffic. There was no squealing of tyres or frantic running as doom approached, only the patter of rain on his soaked hood.

A rusty feed truck, tracking towards the light in the opposite lane, cleared the Corvette by a few centimetres, blaring its horn as the car crossed its path. The yellow machine swerved again, its tyres finally catching and squealing as they threw off bits of black rubber. Trent could just make out the frantic movements of the driver through the dark, tinted windows. His stomach clenched and the hairs raised on the back of his neck as he watched the scene unfold.

Sounds gurgled together as metal struck metal. The pop of tyres burst against his eardrums, accompanied by the squeal of aluminium and the snapping of glass. The muffled thud of airbags joined the fray a second later, then a shout as the bumper of the Corvette crumpled into a parked suburban van.

Trent was moving before he’d fully registered the crash. The mud and leaves were forgotten as his hood fell back and the rain pounded against his face. One of his sandals, slick with slimy water, slipped from his foot, nearly sending him down in the middle of the road. He managed to recover, running lopsided with one foot aching as it slapped against rough pavement.

The vibrant yellow handle was slick beneath his hand as he pried at the passenger door. The cracked window blurred his view so that he could only make out the shape of a person pressed between a white air bag and a black seat. There was no movement inside, not even the frantic flailing he’d seen just before the car had crashed. The handle was locked tight, resisting every pull that he made.

Trent leapt over the hood of the car, neatly avoiding where the two vehicles were entwined in an angry embrace. The adrenalin coursing through his veins gave him the boost to make it almost all the way across before his naked calf snagged on the car’s wet surface. He fell over, narrowly managing to keep from falling to the pavement on the other side.

Despite the terrible noise that the crash had made, the hood of the Corvette had hardly any damage, except a pressed curve along one headlight that folded both the fender and the hood. Shattered glass was strewn along the road, hidden beneath the murky puddles. The suburban had been crushed where it had been struck along its broadside. It was one of the only weak points in the gas-guzzling tank.

Trent stumbled as he found his balance on the other side of the car. There was a coffee shop only a few feet away, and people were gathering at the window and pressing their curious faces against the glass. A handful of customers made it outside, shouting questions over the din of pouring rain. Phones were up, hopefully calling the police and not taking a video of his failed leap.

The pounding of his heart washed away any more sounds of the gathering crowd and their calls from behind the window. The handle of the driver’s side was slippery under his hand and it took two pulls to realize that it too was locked tight. Luckily, the window on this side was broken and scattered like a thousand glistening waterdrops. Rain poured through the gap and onto the driver, spreading across the seat and floor of the vehicle.

Trent’s gaze flickered back and forth as his senses pulled in every detail in a quick assessment. Sleek black leather was polished to a perfect finish, and the smell of sweet, smoky cologne mixed with just a hint of copper. A song was humming on the radio, dark and thick with the promise of love. In the seat was someone who made his staggered breathing come to a halt.

The man looked nearly crushed beneath the wide, white airbag that was pressed to his chest. His eyes were closed, with his head tilted back to reveal a split lip that was quickly swelling. A drop of blood smeared down his lips to a sharp chin that was shaved clean except for a few stray hairs just under his lower lip. His head was as smooth as his chin, with the dark outline of ink against his skull.

The driver fluttered open his blue eyes, dazed and staring as he gazed slowly around the inflated interior. They settled on Trent before going wide with panic.

“Are you okay?” the stranger asked him, his voice strained with his chest still tight to the airbag that was slowly starting to deflate.

“You’re asking me if I’m okay?” asked Trent. “Buddy, you were just in a car accident. Is anything broken?” There was blood on the man’s forehead, but just a small smear. He could just be concussed and confused.

The man paled until he was almost the same white as the airbags. “I lost control and almost hit you,” he said as he looked around the interior of the ruined car, apparently taking in the pierced leather and damp veneer. “I swerved, then I don’t know what happened.” He pushed at the airbag and it sprang back like a child’s bouncy castle at the local fair.

Trent reached through the broken window, trying to avoid the prickling glass that stuck up from the ruined frame. He grasped the door lock from the inside and opened it with a quick jerk.

“Can you stand? We should get you out of there,” said Trent as he pulled the door open. There was no smell of gasoline, only ozone and fresh rain, but he still expected that the car might explode at any moment. The airbag now hung like a shrivelled grape, revealing that the man was still buckled into his seat. His legs were folded, even with the spacious legroom, and his body was thick, filling every bit of available space.

“I think so.” The guy took in the gathering crowd as he finally managed to get free from the airbag. He reached for the seatbelt buckle, but his shaking hands skimmed uselessly off the button.

“Here… Let me.” Trent moved in close and hooked his hand around the belt, sliding down until he met the buckle. The scent of cologne and something else masculine filled his nose as he pressed close enough to feel the heat of the driver through his sodden clothing. His stomach flipped and his face flushed hot as he looked away from blue eyes. He felt for the little red button on the buckle and pushed hard. It was stiff in his trembling fingers and resisted his thumb.

He took a deep breath and couldn’t suppress the shudder that made its way up his spine. The man smelled so good that it was going straight to his groin and shutting down what was left of his thoughts. His body responded against his will and he became aware of the press of his peaked nipples against sodden fabric, so sensitive and ready.

A second shiver wound up through his shoulders. His hand slipped from the buckle to touch the smooth fabric of the man’s pants. It was soft and sturdy under his fingertips and looked more expensive than his entire soaked ensemble.

“You okay?” the stranger asked into his ear, so soft that it made his hair stand on end. He met blue eyes, watery and streaked with red, along with the strain of fear. It was the fear he saw that gave him the strength he was missing from his fingers.

“Just soaking wet and freezing. Sorry.” He finally found the clasp again and the man was free with a persistent push. Trent drew himself out of the car and back into the beating rain. The heat left him as he pulled back, and he shivered in earnest this time.

“Yeah, sorry about that.” The stranger grimaced and leaned forward as he grasped the yellow roof to pull himself out.

The car must’ve been sitting lower on the road than Trent had first realized. The man was absolutely massive. Trent was just under six foot himself, but he was still half a head shorter than the hulking figure. The stranger wasn’t skinny either, but thick and broad like a football player who still had his pads on. Trent couldn’t believe he’d managed to fit into such a fancy vehicle at all.

“I called the cops. They should be here soon,” called one of the onlookers who had managed to wiggle in closer. Trent turned to the voice, giving her a nod of thanks when he recognized her as a local.

The stranger cursed as he looked back at his car. “This is why I shouldn’t get new cars,” he said with a shake of his head. He smoothed his hand over the hood, down to the crinkled corner that now looked more like an accordion than a fender. There was nothing of the headlight left except for a shell of plastic lined with metal and a shattered bulb.

“I really don’t know anything about cars, but it doesn’t look as bad as it sounded,” said Trent as he followed him to look at the damage. Bits of glass dug into his bare foot as he made his way around. He glanced down to find his sandal floating just a few meters away, slowly making its way down the road in the streaming puddles. After he scooped it up, he slid it back onto his bruised foot.

“You’re really lucky, though. I thought that feed truck was going to cream you,” said Trent. Other than the dented corner, broken windows and smashed headlight, the car was in good condition. The SUV looked okay too, with just a hefty chunk out of the side.

“Is that what that was?” the stranger asked as he looked back along the road. The feed truck had pulled over to idle on the side of the road just before the light. The driver was already making their way back towards the Corvette.

“Shit.” The stranger glared at the approaching driver. The man was short and round with a coat that was much too thick for the weather. The colour of his jacket ran dark from the rain.

“Everybody okay? I can’t stop that quick with that old truck. New brakes, but the tyres are shit.” The driver stepped closer. There was the underlying scent of wet cigarettes clinging to his clothes and his meagre hair was flecked with bits of unidentifiable soggy fluff.

“We’re all good,” said Trent. He looked at the Corvette driver, expecting a reply, but the man was silent. His hands were clenched into fists behind his back and he had drawn up to his full towering height.

“Okay, well, I’ll take off then if everyone is fine. I’m already behind as it is.” The driver took a step back as he looked between the two. Trent offered a weak smile before taking a half-step towards the group of gathering people.

“Yep, no problem. Thanks for stopping,” said Trent as the driver turned away. He looked up to the man who was still bristling beside him. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

The stranger deflated and turned to Trent with a grimace. “Yeah. I was expecting a fight.”

“What? Why would he want to fight?” Trent looked around in confusion, then back to the retreating truck driver. He hadn’t seemed threatening in the least. The stranger shrugged.

“Some of the places I’ve been, there’s usually a fight when something like this goes down.” He smoothed his hand back down the car and frowned again at the crushed light. He was completely drenched now, with every inch of black fabric clinging to his chest and biceps as if he were wearing nothing at all. Trent forced his eyes away from the clinging cloth.

“You aren’t from around here then, I guess. Small town folks don’t really care much for a fight unless they’re getting paid for it.” Trent looked to the license plate, noticing the strange image and lettering for the first time. “Wow, you really aren’t from around here. Did you drive the whole way?”

“Three of the best days of my life,” the man said with a smile. “Name’s Ian. Thanks for your help, man. I appreciate it.”

“Trent,” he replied as he grasped the outstretched palm. Ian’s hand felt so warm against Trent’s, which was slippery from a mix of rain and a sheen of sweat. He was sure that his face was beaming red, hopefully hidden by the downpour.

“I’ll stick around until the cops show up, just in case they ask any questions,” said Trent. He leaned back against the side of the suburban and winced as his freezing shirt pressed against the only remaining warm spot on his back.

“Do you know any place I can get this baby fixed up?” asked Ian. “She’s a custom, so I usually wouldn’t let just anybody work on her, but I’m a bit out of my area here.” Blue eyes glanced around and his lips pulled into a frown at the sight of the meagre buildings, looking from the cracked grout to the crumbling brick.

“There is an auto shop about one block that way.” Trent pointed to the other side of the street. “It’s after six o’clock now, though, and I don’t think they’re open again until tomorrow.”

“Shit.” Ian cursed and kicked the thin rubber tyre. “Any hotels then? I don’t exactly know anyone around here either.”

“Uh no, no hotels. No taxis either,” Trent added. He crossed his arms and stuck his freezing hands under his armpits.

“I could just call a ride share.” Ian reached back into the car to withdraw his phone from where it was stashed in the centre console. Trent risked a quick peek—just a peek—as the man bent over from the waist. His pants had started to cling as they soaked through as well, and they left very little to the imagination. Trent bit back the noise that tried to escape and forced his gaze away.

“Yeah, good luck with that,” said Trent after quietly clearing his throat. “Welcome to the middle of nowhere. This coffee shop”—he pointed at the glass window that had mostly emptied of its patrons since the bustle had died down—“is the best one for fifty kilometres. I can say that because it’s the only one within fifty kilometres.”

Ian groaned and sank down along the side of the car until he was hunched on the kerb. “I think I took a wrong turn about two hours ago. I was supposed to be checking into the Marriott tonight.”

Trent couldn’t honestly think of the closest hotel that wasn’t a small operation instead of a chain. Even they were few and far between. Most were closed until the summer began to ramp up.

Ian looked utterly defeated, and it was pulling at Trent’s heart strings uncomfortably. His car was trashed, his body was bruised and his lip was still dribbling slow drops of blood. Ian’s eyes closed and he leaned back against the car, thunking his head into the side.

Trent shifted from foot to foot before shoving his hands deep into his pockets. He could hear his mother’s voice in his ear, telling him to make the situation right.

“You can stay with me for the night if you want,” said Trent with a shrug as he tried to downplay how much he liked the idea. The eye candy alone could last him for a decade. Christ, he would have to give Ian some of his pyjamas. That ass inside of a pair of too-small track pants would be drool-worthy.

Trent shook his head and tried to clear the image from his mind before it could spiral out of control. “I’m just a few blocks away. It’s only a one bedroom, but I can pull out the old air mattress.” He would happily sleep on the air mattress and give up his bed to Ian. Christ.

“You don’t have to do that. I mean, I almost hit you with my car,” said Ian as he stared at Trent like he had sprouted a few extra limbs.

“But you didn’t, and it’s kind of my fault that you hit the suburban.” Oh God, he sounded eager…way too fucking eager.

“That’s a bit of a stretch,” said Ian. His eyebrows couldn’t get any higher at this point, and he had started to lean back with a touch of caution.

Trent shrugged, glancing away and trying to play it off as much as possible. “It’s up to you.” He sighed as he had the strangest craving for a cigarette. Stress and excitement did strange things to him, especially brief grazes with his mortality. He hadn’t smoked since a one-week stint as a teenager. Every once in a while the need struck when the situation called for it.

“You know what? Sure. I’ll take you up on that.” Ian nodded.

Trent couldn’t stop the smile that went wider as Ian smiled back. That simple gesture made the man’s face light up in a way that went straight to his eyes. What was Trent thinking? A sexy hunk of a man in his house for the night? He’d never be able to keep his hands to himself. Well, he would, because consent was sexy, but it would be the hardest night of his life…literally.

“I’m gay though,” said Trent. He blushed as soon as the words left his mouth. “If that’s a problem, no big deal. I just don’t want you to feel awkward.”

Trent saw the sudden blanch, even as Ian tried to hide it, and it made his gut clench. Trent was out and proud of it, but every so often someone had a reaction to the news. Most people didn’t care, but a select few did. Those few always managed to get under his skin and keep him awake at night.

“You don’t have to stay with me. I’m sure you can find other arrangements,” said Trent, backpedalling quickly to avoid any sort of awkward confrontation.

“No, sorry… I didn’t mean…” Ian trailed off as he pushed himself off the kerb. “You just surprised me, that’s all. Most places, you don’t really say that to a stranger.”

Trent opened his mouth, not really sure what he was going to say. Where the hell had this guy been where he fought random truckers and people had to hide six feet into the closet? He couldn’t judge too harshly, though. The population of his tiny town was miniscule, and there were four churches smashed into it. Up until twenty years ago, no one would’ve announced it here either.

His thoughts were cut off by a piercing flash of lights as a police cruiser came around the corner and headed their way. He held out his hand to help Ian the rest of the way to his feet. The contact sent a wave of heat up his arm and under his jacket.

He bit back a sigh and turned to greet the officer.

I am so screwed.

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About the Author

M.C. Roth

M.C. Roth lives in Canada and loves every season, even the dreaded Canadian winter. She graduated with honours from the Associate Diploma Program in Veterinary Technology at the University of Guelph before choosing a different career path.

Between caring for her young son, spending time with her husband, and feeding treats to her menagerie of animals, she still spends every spare second devoted to her passion for writing.

She loves growing peppers that are hot enough to make grown men cry, but she doesn’t like spicy food herself. Her favourite thing, other than writing of course, is to find a quiet place in the wilderness and listen to the birds while dreaming about the gorgeous men in her head.

Find out more about M.C. Roth at her website.

Giveaway

Enter to win a fabulous gift package and get a FREE eBook from the author!

M.C. Roth The Drumbeat of His Heart Giveaway

M.C. ROTH IS GIVING AWAY THIS FABULOUS PRIZE TO ONE LUCKY WINNER. ENTER HERE FOR YOUR CHANCE TO WIN A LOVELY GIFT PACKAGE AND GET A FIRST FOR ROMANCE GIFT CARD! Notice: This competition ends on 3rd August 2021 at 5pm GMT. Competition hosted by Totally Entwined Group.

Guest Review: Nothing Special VIII: SWAT Ed.: Fox & Bull by A.E. Via

A fox can set many traps to catch his target—but this one only needs one to catch his.

Dominic “Bull” Walker is used to the simpler things in life. Give him his own land to work, a strong horse, and twelve hours of daylight, and he is a contented man. But when someone threatens to take away the successful ranch that took him two years to rebuild, he’ll accept any help he can get to defend it.

Mandel “Fox” Tucker is a sixth-generation SWAT soldier. It’s embedded in his bones to protect and serve his community. So when he gets word of the vandalism occurring on the Walker Ranch, he quickly volunteers the free time he has, thanks to his recent suspension.

The brief visit Fox had with Bull four months ago had been a contentious—but powerful—encounter. Therefore, he’s not surprised when he shows up on his doorstep unannounced and has to pull out some of his best tricks to get past the six-foot-four, stubborn Texan.

Fox is only there to safeguard what’s most important to Bull. But being on the ranch brings an awareness to him that he embraces with both hands. Nature, peace… love—things he never found in the city.

Trigger Warning: Mild police violence. Scenes are not graphic.



Reviewer: Shee Reader

I have loved the whole Nothing Special series of books and audio books, and was looking forward to this one as it has a different energy than the other books being mostly set on a ranch rather than in the city.

Bull is a strong quiet man who has made a safe space for all kinds of animals and people on his land, but there has been disturbances and attacks. Bull’s father has a friend in the Atlanta Police Department so called in the big boys for assistance. Fox has an immediate response to the big man, and when circumstances conspire to leave him needing to get away from the city for a bit, he goes to stay at the ranch to look out for the folks and the business there.

When it comes time to go, Fox doesn’t want to leave Bull, but God and Day won’t take no for an answer!

Bull fears his man will never return, but he doesn’t know how big of a pull he has on the sixth generation SWAT man.

The heat between our two guys is stunning and story will totally suit fans of the hurt-comfort trope. The HEA is everything it needs to be. My only complaint is I’d have liked more dialogue and less strong silent stuff!

Highly recommended.

I received a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.



Release Blitz + Giveaway: Charles: Learning to Love by Con Riley


Join author Con Riley and Signal Book Promotions as they celebrate new release, Charles: Learning to Love! Find out more about the new contemporary series and enter the giveaway!




Cover Design: Natasha Snow

Length: 344 pages

Blurb

Opposites attract in this low-angst romance filled with British snark and humour.

Life should be a breeze for a playboy like Charles Heppel. As the third son of an earl, he lives for the moment, partying and playing. Settling down isn’t for him. Not when London is full of beautiful men who he hasn’t one-and-done yet.

To escape his family’s nagging, Charles applies for a temp job that matches his playful skill set. A role in a Cornish classroom could be his until the summer, if Charles meets two conditions: he must move in with the headmaster’s best friend, and teach him to be happy.

Living with Hugo should be awkward. Charles is a free spirit, but Hugo’s a man of faith, with morals. A man who almost took holy orders before disaster changed his direction. Only far from being a chore, Charles finds that making Hugo happy soon becomes his passion.

Together, they share physical and emotional first times. Ones that change Charles, touching his soul. He wants Hugo for longer than they have left, but learning to love with his heart, not just his body, will take a leap of faith from Charles — in himself as well as Hugo.

New from Con Riley, Charles: Learning to Love is the first novel in a series based at Glynn Harber, a very special boarding school set in England’s glorious Cornwall.

♥ This shared-world series starts with Charles and Hugo, but each book follows a different couple in their own standalone novel, with a fulfilling happily ever after. Want to hear more from Charles? He stole the show in His Haven. ♥


CON RILEY lives on the wild and wonderful Welsh coast, with her head in the clouds and her feet in the ocean.

Injury curtailed her enjoyment of outdoor pursuits, so writing fiction now fills her free time. Love, loss, and redemption shape her romance stories, and her characters are flawed in ways that make them live and breathe.

When not people-watching or reading, she spends time staring at the sea from her kitchen window. If you see her, don’t disturb her — she’s probably thinking up new plots.

FACEBOOK GROUP: facebook.com/groups/458421868222590
TWITTER: twitter.com/con_riley
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AMAZON AUTHOR PAGE: amazon.com/Con-Riley/e/B00F8GT35O

Release Blitz + Giveaway: Far Patrol by Alex Powell


Author Alex Powell and IndiGo Marketing host new release blitz for Far Patrol! Discover more about the QUILTBAG fantasy and enter in the $10 NineStar Press credit giveaway!

Title: Far Patrol

Author: Alex Powell

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: 07/19/2021

Heat Level: 2 - Fade to Black Sex

Pairing: No Romance

Length: 59300

Genre: Fantasy, LGBTQIA+, LGBTQ lit, fantasy, dragons, rebellion, class system

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Description

Will war tear their family and their country apart?

Ignius Lockden and their companion Kathely are ready for adventure. Joining Far Patrol was only going to be the beginning—they were right, but in all the wrong ways. Suddenly, there’s a war on the horizon and the two of them are stuck in the middle. Ignius wants to do what’s right, but it isn’t easy to tell what actions will lead to the correct ending. How is one young dragon supposed to change the course of history?

Excerpt

The first thing the dragon remembered seeing was the golden light right beyond the shell in front of them, flickering and lighting up tiny red and silver specks on the surface of their chamber.

It must be time, then.

They scrabbled at the curved inside of the shell, scratching away and scoring the surface. They felt the little nubs of their claws catch on the roughened inner surface. The dragon stopped, waiting to regain their strength. It was tiring work, and presently, the dragon fell asleep again.

They repeated this cycle in longer and longer increments, scratching away at the inside of their chamber. Waiting was over for them, and it was time to emerge. Sleep, wake, sleep.

Again, the light woke them, brighter this time. There were voices outside, and with some excitement, the dragon heard the voice. The one was here. It was definitely time now, and the dragon would stop at nothing to finally greet that voice.

It was a high voice, and it penetrated the shell unlike all the other voices outside. The dragon didn’t care about those ones. They needed to reach the one. Kathely.

The one. Their one.

That voice had started coming a long time since. The moon had cycled countless times, and the dragon knew it well, the voice of the one who spoke to them from outside. That one whispered things to them, told them all about life on the outside. The dragon liked these stories, and even though they couldn’t yet make complete sense of them, the outside called. Kathely was calling, right now.

“Ignius.”

The dragon rocked against the wall of their chamber, pushing as hard as they could. The shell, weakened by their earlier efforts, gave a little under their struggles. It was tiring, but Kathely was there, calling.

“Ignius, you have been Named. It is time to come forth.”

Ignius coiled their tail, lashing it against the weak spot of the shell. Then they struck again as they felt the shell fracture above them. The spikes on their tail made short work of breaking through, and once again, Ignius clawed at the shell, finding the opening. They forced it farther open, lifting their snout to the hole in the shell, taking their first deep breath of air.

They couldn’t see yet, but after a few sneezes to clear their lungs of fluid, they could smell those around them. The nearest person was Kathely, and their one smelled divine, like home.

Purchase at NineStar Press

Meet the Author

Alex is an author of LGBTQ+ romance. They live in northern Canada where it snows six months of the year. Currently, they are pursuing a PhD in English, but that won’t stop them from writing about space vampires or cyberpunk hackers or whatever else pops into their head. Mostly a SFF writer, Alex sometimes dabbles in other genres including contemporary romance.

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Book Blast + Giveaway: The Dead Don't Lie (Dead Generations #1) by Anne Russo


Author Anne Russo and Gay Book Promotions host a book blast for JMS Books contemporary romantic suspense, The Dead Don't Lie (Dead Generations #1)! Read more about the first in the series and enter in the $20 Amazon gift card giveaway!
 

BOOK BLAST

Book Title: The Dead Don't Lie

Author: Anne Russo

Publisher: JMS Books 

Cover Artist: Written Ink Designs 

Release Date: 3/13/21

Genres: Contemporary MM Romance, Suspense, Thriller, Action-Adventure

Tropes: Enemies to Lovers, Forbidden Love, Forced Proximity, Slow Burn, Found Families

Themes: Death & Dying, Betrayal, Love & Sacrifice, Family, Guilt & Loss 

Heat Rating: 4 flames  

Length: 75 000 words/250 pages

This is the first book in a series and features an unresolved ending/cliffhanger.

Goodreads

Buy Links 

Amazon US  |  Amazon UK  |   Apple

Barnes & Noble  |  Bookstrand  |  Google Play

Kobo  |  Scribd  |  Smashwords

Blurb

While young doctor Adam Morrow resigns himself to an uninformed existence, world-weary assassin Ian Abbott struggles with a life he never asked for. When the two strangers meet by chance, the attraction is immediate. And deadly, as Adam walks in on Ian in the middle of a hit.

The situation spirals out of control once Ian discovers he and Adam share a connection far more profound than either imagined. Shocked by the discovery, Ian makes the hasty decision to kidnap him.

Overnight Adam is torn from his promising career and a family who believes him dead. Things go from bad to worse when he finds himself reunited with a mother he never knew who is now head of a covert and shadowy group of killers for hire. Forced into joining their ranks, with Ian as his reluctant trainer and handler, Adam is given a series of impossible tasks to complete.

To survive, he must fight with everything he has to keep his life, his sanity, and his very soul from being swept up in a violent and chaotic world even as he battles his unwanted and complicated feelings for Ian.

For his part, Ian, a man with dark secrets of his own, has a past he isn't ready to share with Adam even as the other man worms into his life in more ways than one. The two grow closer and lines blur -- between good and evil, friend or foe, enemy or lover. But something, or someone, plots against them, determined to do everything in their power to keep them apart. Even if it means destroying them both.

Trigger Warning: This story contains a brief scene of sexual assault and features an unresolved ending/cliffhanger.

Excerpt 

Assignment completed, Ian glanced down at his coat, noticing a few questionable stains even black couldn’t hide. Sighing, he stepped into the adjacent bathroom for a quick wash. He was cleaning off the excess blood splatter when he heard the door open. He stopped and listened as a curious voice called out, “Hello?”

Ian reached for his handgun, quiet as he slid it into his hand. He edged forward, waiting for his visitor to discover Mr. Mallory was no longer among the living. Ian didn’t have long to wait.

“Jesus Christ,” the visitor swore, taking several steps backward where Ian waited in the shadows. Once he was close enough, Ian pressed the gun's muzzle into the back of his head, stopping him in his tracks.

“Don’t move,” he ordered. Even in the darkened room, Ian knew he looked familiar. “Turn around.”

Slowly, the man turned toward him, shaking. Ian didn’t miss the shock of recognition when he saw who held him at gunpoint.

“Yeah, I remember you too. This is unfortunate,” Ian remarked and meant it. He didn’t relish putting a bullet right between those pretty eyes, but he’d seen his face. Not once. But twice now. And, unfortunately, he’d have to die for it.

“Wait,” the young doctor urged, his hands in the air. “You don’t have to shoot me.”

No crying. No begging. A statement. The doctor even met Ian’s eye when he said it. Ian couldn’t help but admire this guy's guts. A shame he had to kill him, but he didn’t have a choice. His finger twitched on the trigger.

“I’m afraid I do,” Ian answered, glancing at his name tag. “Dr. Adam Morrow,” he whispered under his breath, the name hitting like a sucker punch to the gut. “Your name is Adam Morrow?”

“Yeah, that’s my -- why?”

Ian wasn’t listening, rendered speechless as he studied the man. Pieces were clicking together in a hail of memories, memories he fought for years to keep hidden. Now they came rising to the surface one by one, swifter than he could recall them. All tied to the image of a child’s face. A child whose cheerful grin and name, Adam Morrow, had haunted him for the last fourteen years.

Ian snapped into the present. He charged forth, seizing him by the arm. Adam tried to shake him off as he propelled him toward the windows. Meager light from outside street lamps was enough to spy the lingering traces of that boy. One whose existence itself had been a terrible mystery he’d never wanted to delve too deep into, terrified of the answer awaiting him on the other side.

“Look at me!” he ordered, pressing the muzzle under Adam’s chin.

Adam hesitated but didn’t have much say so with a gun buried in his throat. One glance and the truth slammed into Ian like a bolt of lightning. A sweeping recognition. His eyes told him the entire story in an instant. They were remarkable, dark green, and flecked with gold, memorable --her eyes. There was no way he’d be able to kill him. Not now. The implications of his discovery growing as they sized up the other, each of them unsure what to do next.

“Who the hell are you?” Adam asked, low and shaky.

“Who the hell are you?” Ian countered.

About the Author


Anne makes her home in Connecticut with her wonderful and ever-so-patient partner. A lifelong reader, writer, and curious student, Anne hopes to create exciting multi-dimensional characters and worlds but with a queer sensibility. The Dead Don’t Lie is the first book in the Dead Generations series and her first novel.

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Series Tour + Giveaway: Nacho Mama's Patio Cafe Novels by Steve Schatz


Welcome the Nacho Mama's Patio Cafe series tour to the blog! Join author Steve Schatz and Gay Book Promotions as they host today's tour stop and giveaway: one of three ebook copies of Any Summer Sunday, one of three ebook copies of Who Plugged the Dyke?, or an audiobook of either book! 

SERIES TOUR - NACHO MAMA'S PATIO CAFE NOVELS

Friends, fags, & fun in a little college town  

Any Summer Sunday

Boys in the Band meets Le Cage in an Indiana drag bar

Who Plugged the Dyke?

Elections are hard. This one is Murder

The two books stand alone and can be read in either order, although Any Summer Sunday was written first and contains more background information. It is a more character driven story. Who Plugged the Dyke is a mystery.

Overall Heat Rating: 2 flames. Tawdry, but not dirty. Sex is described as part of a story, but not in detail. No sex scenes. Not romance. Not erotica. Think of gay friends in a bar who might describe a conquest (but not the specifics).

BOOK 1

Book Title: Any Summer Sunday at Nacho Mama’s Patio Cafe: Drag, Songs, Friends, Laughs, Lies, Danger & Redemption

Author: Steve Schatz

Publisher: Any Summer Sunday Books

Cover Artist: James at GoOnWrite

Length:  75 000 words/ 234 Pages

Release Date: June 21, 2019

Genre:  LGBT Humorous Fiction

Trope/s: Reluctant hero, power of friendship, metonymy (Drag – the entire life around performance in a gay bar & Nacho Mama’s represents a safe place where friends gather, gossip, and support each other)

Themes: Friends, Small town gay, Drag and Performance, Lookin’ for love

It is a standalone story

Goodreads

Buy Links

Amazon US  |  Amazon UK

Bookshop  |  Any Summer Sunday

How far should you go to save a friend from her own desires?

Blurb

TiaRa del Fuego is in love and that means trouble for her friends. Every Sunday evening we meet in Hoosier Daddy, our small college town’s only gay bar gather to watch TiaRa del Fuego’s Parade of Gowns drag show. Performance, love, betrayal, spies, and friendship fight to the fore every Summer Sunday.

However, this Sunday, dear TiaRa, thin enough to hate, yet broken enough to love, announces she has found love...yet again...and is leaving after that evening’s show to be with her new man. We know she is making a huge mistake...again. What can we do?

Any Summer Sunday is a celebration of friends, drag, and life. Come and join in the fun.

Excerpt from Any Summer Sunday

With few exceptions, the same group of reprobates gathered every week. We are no longer young, but all have spent our years wisely or wildly enough to hold one’s place when the conversation turns a bit too bitchy. We enjoyed our youth, are enjoying the years beyond youth without regret, and occasionally enjoy youths—when the opportunity arises, as it were.

All societies celebrate the young, but in gay circles, this celebration borders on idolatry. Twenty-somethings and now even teeny-somethings who celebrate their coming out are welcomed into a glorious disco summer camp with every conceivable need provided. For those of us who are years past the realization and/or announcement, being out offers far fewer invitations. We often find ourselves between worlds—not certain of a welcome in either gay or straight society.

In “normal” society, it is tiresome to yet again face the “ . . . and your wife?” questions in every new group and to worry if it is going to be an issue. If I have an urge to explore square dancing, must I find a gay square—hmmm . . . Mr. Lynde springs to mind. Sometimes it’s easier not to bother. Then there are those moments when it suddenly pisses you off that you are supposed to feel gratitude merely for being accepted or endured by the dominant pairing paradigm.

 In the gay community, the adulation of youth and horror of aging can make one feel diseased. Even previously enjoyable activities can be snatched away. Take window shopping. I enjoy looking at a pretty pair of pants when it walks by, even if I know it will never fit, I can’t afford it, and the style is all wrong for a man of my years and shape. I look because it is pretty, and I enjoy looking at pretty things. But, if every time I go looking, the trousers, upon noticing my gaze, gasp in horror, turn away with a look of sardonic pity, and begin to whisper with their fellow couture, I eventually will give up looking.

 So, when we find a group and an enjoyable activity where we can simply be, without the need to prove or explain ourselves, then it is something to be cherished. Not misty-eyed, bosom clutching cherished, but those people and enjoyments are simply too dear to give up without a care. Sunday afternoons were like that. That is why, when one Sunday, TiaRa del Fuego—dear, sweet, damaged TiaRa—announced that she had found love, yet again—this time on a dating site and was leaving town to be with her new man who was driving up that very day to help her move—well, we knew something had to be done and quickly.

BOOK 2

Book Title: Who Plugged the Dyke?

Author: Steve Schatz

Publisher: Any Summer Sunday Books

Cover Artist: James at GoOnWrite

Length: 218 pages 67,000 words

Release Date: July 2020

Genres: LBGT Mystery, LGBT Humor, LGBT Fiction

Trope: Reluctant hero

Themes: Friendship, small town gays, detection, politics

It is a standalone story.

Goodreads

Buy Links 

Amazon US  |  Amazon UK

Bookshop  |  Any Summer Sunday

 A gay mystery full to the tits with action and wit.

Blurb

Some Elections are hard … This one is Murder!

Get ready for Excitement, Laughs, Thrills and Fun!

In 10 days she’ll be the 1st in your face lesbian judge elected in homo-hating Indiana. But someone wants to kill her and her little dog too.

The friends from Nacho Mama’s Patio Cafe must put on their big boy panties, get out of Hoosier Daddy, the only gay bar in town, onto the streets and go hunting for the culprit.

Thrills, drag shows, danger, laughs and a kick line of drag queens in judicial robes as the anti-heroes dodge explosions, fire, guns, knives and terror, seek out the hidden mastermind and sashay to the rescue.

You loved Any Summer Sunday at Nacho Mama’s Patio Cafe. Now, the merry band from the small Indiana college town’s drag bar return. It’s an Indiana Election Mystery. Who Plugged the Dyke?

Excerpt from Who Plugged the Dyke?

I noticed that the big, bearded Tooth Fairy had moved nearly in front of me. There is something wonderfully wrong about a big ol’ hunka hunka in a pink tutu. I grinned at him. He didn't grin back. His attention was fixed on Deb. However, he was not smiling. He was just staring. Something in the back of my mind tickled. I started watching him more carefully. He was playing with his magic wand. It was about three feet long and trailed stars and strands of glitter. But he was pulling off the covering and it was looking less and less like a wand and more and more like a weapon. Recalling what I had been told, I looked for Roger or Petunia or one of Nacho's Twinks. I couldn't see Roger. Petunia was at the back of the stage, guarding the way in. I saw a couple of cute Twinks, but didn't know if they were Nacho's boys or not. I started to raise my hand and kind of gesture toward the Tooth Fairy. I was trying to be cool and not alert him that I had noticed anything untoward. He continued to pull away the spangles. He was looking down at the wand and then up at Deb, and I could see a look of menace grow across his features.

I waved my hands over my head and then pointed down at him. Some in the crowd saw what I was doing and waved, too. They thought it was a celebratory gesture. I began to wave my hands and point more emphatically. I nearly lost my balance, but no one seemed to get the message. No one was heading in that direction. I looked at  he man, who was no longer looking fairy-like at all. He had finished pulling all the detritus off his wand and while I was not a  weapons guy, even I could recognize that what was once a wand  was now, very obviously, a weapon. A blow gun.

He reached into his bag and pulled out, not a handful of glitter, but a rather large  dart with a very large and very sharp point. By this time, subtle was no longer on the table. I waved my hands wildly above my  head, then pointed at the guy. I did not care if he saw. I had to  stop him, and no one seemed to be coming to do anything about it. Deb was talking. The girls were dancing. And the Tooth Fairy  dropped the dart into his blow gun.

About the Author

Steve Schatz writes with a crazy mashup of laughs and excitement and humor. Readers can’t stop reading, but don’t want the story to end. Each book is an adventure where endearing anti-heroes struggle against this crazy world and triumph using the twin forces of intentional, creative action and friends helping friends.  Schatz draws on a lifetime of varied and fascinating experiences, from instructional designer and college prof to party clown and nightclub owner.

His series of adult fiction highlights a group of middle-aged gay friends who gather every week in a small, Indiana college town. Mixing drinks, snappy repartee, and the humor and joy of long-time friends, in one book they rescue the fair drag queen from an obvious miscreant. In another, they ride to the protection of a lesbian candidate for judge who is being targeted by mysterious evil-doers. The excitement reveals itself against a backdrop of drag performance and efforts by anti-heroes. You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You’ll beg for more. Steve Schatz offers a new voice and a smile for the LGBT community and their friends.

Author Links

Blog/Website  |   Twitter: @AnySummerSunday

Facebook  |   Newsletter sign-up

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Enter the Rafflecopter Giveaway for a chance to win 

one of three ebook copies of Any Summer Sunday,

one of three ebook copies of Who Plugged the Dyke?,

or an audiobook of either book.

Total of 8 giveaways

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Release Blitz + Giveaway: Foxfire in the Snow (The Alchemical Duology #1) by J.S. Fields


Celebrate the release of Foxfire in the Snow (The Alchemical Duology #1) with author J.S. Fields and IndiGo Marketing! Find out more about new fantasy and enter in the $10 NineStar Press credit giveaway!
 

Title: Foxfire in the Snow

Series: The Alchemical Duology, Book One

Author: J.S. Fields

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: 07/19/2021

Heat Level: 3 - Some Sex

Pairing: F/NB

Length: 88800

Genre: Fantasy, LGBTQIA+, fantasy, dark fantasy, nonbinary, lesfic, science magic, magic users, witches, sword and sorcery, long-time friendship, family drama

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Description

Woodcutter or witch? Alchemist or scientist? Can Sorin’s duality save their nation?

Born the heir of a master woodcutter in a queendom defined by guilds and matrilineal inheritance, nonbinary Sorin can’t quite seem to find their place. At seventeen, an opportunity to attend an alchemical guild fair and secure an apprenticeship with the queen’s alchemist is just within reach. But on the day of the fair, Sorin’s mother goes missing, along with the Queen and hundreds of guild masters, forcing Sorin into a woodcutting inheritance they never wanted.

With guild legacy at stake, Sorin puts apprentice dreams on hold to embark on a journey with the royal daughter to find their mothers and stop the hemorrhaging of guild masters. Princess Magda, an estranged childhood friend, tests Sorin’s patience—and boundaries. But it’s not just a princess that stands between Sorin and their goals. To save the country of Sorpsi, Sorin must define their place between magic and alchemy or risk losing Sorpsi to rising industrialization and a dark magic that will destroy Sorin’s chance to choose their own future.

Excerpt

Foxfire in the Snow
J.S. Fields © 2021
All Rights Reserved

One: Fire
Steam twirled from the bones in my cauldron. The heavy smell of their marrow sagged in the air. Gods, I hated the smell of the solvent, but it would be worth it once the bone oil evaporated, taking that horrible dead fish smell with it and leaving behind the final, extracted compound. I’d never get the smell out of the woodwork, but at this point, I didn’t care. Mother was weeks late returning home. Again. She could yell at me when I returned. If I returned.

I coughed into the steam as it curled through my lungs. I needed fresh air, and soon, or I’d end up facedown on the hemlock floor I’d hewn and laid myself in my thirteenth year. A knot curled inside me, and I swallowed bile and frustration. Fine. I’d be done with distillation for the day, but I still needed to perform a fungal extraction with the solvent to impress Master Rahad at the fair tomorrow. I’d been aiming to attend the alchemical guild fair since I turned twelve—the year I should have declared a guild and begun my apprenticeship. I’d never made it. Each year, Mother found another marquetry to work, another finish to make, another tool to sharpen. This year, I was seventeen. I’d barely left this forest, this house, in five years. This year, the queen’s master alchemist had a position open and wanted someone with fungal expertise.

Someone like me.

This year, I was going.

I removed the thin olive branch from my collection basket that would earn me my apprenticeship, despite my older age and guild lineage. The branch shone mottled blue green, almost a lime color in patches, with a blue as dark as evening sky in others. Along a four-centimeter band sprouted cup-shaped fungal fruiting forms, tiny enough to be overlooked by untrained eyes. With a pair of tweezers, I plucked the blue-green cups from the branch and dropped them into a second pot of the very combustible bone oil distillate. The smell of dead fish rose up and stung my eyes, but I couldn’t look away.

As each cup sank, the color seeped from them into the solvent and expanded outward in concentric rings. The pigment slowly dropped down until the liquid looked like the deep blue of Thuja’s lake. I held my breath as the fruits bubbled back to the surface. The first turned white, the second turned white, and the third and fourth—white as well. I waited, still hardly daring to breathe. One minute, then two. Please…

The solution’s color remained stable.

I dropped my head back and exhaled at the ceiling. The trickiest part was over, and if the solution set well, it would be ready by morning. Success! I carried the extract to the windowsill, opened the pane, and began the evaporation process. Tomorrow…tomorrow would be a wonderful day. A defining day. Tomorrow, I would leave the woodcutting guild and finally, finally, get to be an alchemist! A guilded alchemist! I would not spend the rest of my life bound to this wooden house, with its wooden tools, stuck within this simplistic, wooden trade any longer.

Three loud raps sounded on the front door. Visitors? At this hour? They were in for a rude surprise, the idiots. If they were here for me, it was because the villagers had a clear misunderstanding of what alchemy entailed. I had no potions to offer them. Cauldrons and a stinking house didn’t put me in the witch guild, despite the villagers’ insistence to the contrary, and even if I had been a witch, I still would not have been party to their foolish fascination with magic.

However, if the visitors were here for Mother and her marquetry business, they’d leave disappointed. She had neglected to finish several large commissions before her abrupt departure. Contracts were coming due that I would not fulfill, and her clients didn’t tolerated delays well. Mother took these walkabouts yearly, but she usually returned before the fair. This time, she was overdue.

I pulled at the door handle and lifted, and the thick wood glided open. A breeze came in first and blew mist right in my face. Behind the damp stood two men, squinting at me from the doorstep. They were Queensguard, both of them, dressed in the signature fitted red cloaks, though the waterproofing layers had worn off some hours ago. Both were mud-covered and had sodden pants and boots. They were sloppy, for Queensguard, and they were overdue. Mother had finished the queen’s commissioned piece just before she left, and it had yet to be collected.

The taller guard moved to step into the house, flipping a layer of long, wet hair over his shoulder with a splat. The smell must have hit him right then, as he stepped back into his partner and kept going for three steps. The shorter guard stumbled into Mother’s blackberry bush and had to rip himself free of the thorns. The taller sneezed, then spat, and then sneezed again.

For Queensguard, I was decidedly unimpressed.

“What sort of witchery is that!?” he demanded, coming no closer. “Where’s the woodcutter?”

I frowned and crossed my arms, careful not to crush any of the pouches of fungal pigment that dangled from my leather bandolier.

“No witchery,” I responded coolly. “I made bone oil. I discovered it. It’s a type of alchemy. I’m not guilded yet, but I have a trader’s permit.” Which I did, in the back room, but I’d be hard-pressed to find it under all of Mother’s unsharpened tools.

The tall one glared and rubbed at his nose.

The short guard stepped to the doorframe, bit back a grimace, and tried to restart the conversation. “Apologies for the hour. We’re looking for—”

“She’s not here.” I cut him off, hoping to forestall awkward questions I couldn’t answer. “She left under the last full moon, for professional obligations. It is unknown when she will return. I apologize.”

“Are you her daughter then?” the short one asked.

My stomach twisted. I was no one’s daughter, and that word would stick in my chest for days. It would squirm there, under bindings and layers of clothes, and make me second-guess myself at the fair with every introduction and every awkward stare at my body. In that moment, I hated them, these two men, so sure of their position despite the mud and the hour. Daughter. No. I had never been one and had no intention of starting now.

“Sorin the…”

“The alchemist,” I finished for him.

“I am her heir,” I said through gritted teeth when neither responded. “I have the queen’s last commission. Will you be taking it tonight?”

The men exchanged a glance, but neither answered. The second man sneezed, sending a spray of water across the threshold. I rubbed my palm on my forehead. If they were going to get the house dirty just by being outside, it made no sense for them to stay there. Bones were one thing; mud was just unprofessional. I stepped back and gestured to the small brown oak dining table—the one with the white streak down it where I’d first discovered what the refined, clear parts of bone oil could do to fungal pigments—and grabbed my cloak from the wall.

“Sit,” I said as I fastened the oblong buttons at the neck of the cloak. The men moved in with heavy steps, which grew increasingly hesitant as the fish smell concentrated. They sat and stared at me with disgusted, pained expressions as mud dripped from their boots onto that stupid handmade floor. I’d have to refinish it now.

I didn’t bother speaking again.

Daughter.

Let them sit in the bone oil stink, pooled in their own mud. I turned and left the house, heading to Mother’s woodshop. My feet crunched along the woodchip path, the ground cover damp but still springy. I tried to let the smells of the forest—especially the earthen smell of fungal decay—take my mind away from the word I so hated.

The men had parked their cart, and their ox, near the door to the longhouse Mother used for her shop, but I could still maneuver around it. The sun had already set, but moonlight streaked through the needled canopy of conifers and across my path. Ten short steps brought me to the double doors made from cedar plank. I stripped the padlock from the right door, the one that had been fastened since Mother’s departure, and entered.

I’d not been inside the shop for a month, and the smell of cedar and wood rot reminded me why. Here were my mother’s heart and legacy, as her father’s before her, and her grandmother’s before that. The whole place felt tattered and used and smelled worse than the bone oil.

In the back, near an old leather chair, was where her mother had been born some eighty years ago. To my right, just in front of a treadle lathe, was where my grandfather had died.

Mother had birthed her children here too—myself and the son she gave to another guild for an apprenticeship, and taken none of their children in return.

The whole building was familiar, like an old wool blanket, but scratchy just the same. This was a legacy of guild woodcutting, and the queen’s mandate of matrilineal inheritance, and I didn’t belong here. A woodcutter was not who I was, a daughter was not who I was, and while the former hurt less than the latter, both made me want to pull at my skin and scream.

Mercifully, the commissioned panel was right where I had last seen it. It was complete, save for a finish. An oilcloth lay on the floor near the door, already coated with paraffin. I picked it up and draped it over the panel, taking one last look at the cut veneer so expertly placed and dyed in the shape of a parrot on a branch.

The parrot’s feathers and the leaves of the branch were blue green. That was my contribution. There were no pigments, natural or otherwise, that could make that color save the elf’s cup fungus. The queen’s order had specified a parrot, in real colors.

She’d asked the impossible of my mother: we had delivered. I had delivered. Pigmenting fungi and their use in woodcraft was a trade secret of the woodcutter’s guild, but the ability to take those pigments from the wood and use them for other purposes—the solvent that entailed—that was mine alone.

With the cloth wrapped around the panel, I hauled the piece back to the house and propped it against the door. The Queensguard had tried to close it, but it had snagged halfway when the bottom of the door caught the ground below. The wood had swelled, as in any wet season, a common problem in the temperate rainforests of Thuja as well as the tropical ones of Sorpsi’s capital. Yet, they’d not even reasoned through simply lifting the door up as they pulled it closed. What was wrong with these men? Queensguard should have been much better educated than this. They should have known about the door, and the forest, and how to address me. Trekking from the village of Thuja to Mother’s house, at night, in the forest mist could addle anyone’s mind, but these two… I wiped mist from my nose and frowned. They weren’t quite right, and I didn’t care for that feeling in my own home, with no one else about. Giving them the panel was the quickest way to get them to leave.

I pushed the door back open, lifting as I did so, and propped the panel against it so it couldn’t swing shut again. The cool, damp air would help fumigate the house and would keep the bone oil from combusting as it dried.

“It’s here and ready.” I pulled enough of the cloth off so the two guards could see the detailed work underneath. It was best to get them on their way, whomever they were. Mother could chase the panel down later if needed. I was done with babysitting her business and hiding away in her house—hiding from the Thujan villagers, hiding from the capital city, hiding from my life.

The Queensguard, however, no longer seemed interested in the panel or me. The idiots had reached into the extract and removed my bones. They’d pieced parts of a skeleton back together—a primate, of course. Two small hands, a foot, and half the skull were laid out across the floor as if alive. The smaller guard, hunched over his bone puzzle with his comrade, had shoved his hands into the bone oil and now had the puffed cheeks and grayness of one about to vomit.

“That’s none of your business,” I grumbled. “And I’d appreciate it if you didn’t mess my floor.”

Gods, why did people have to be so nosy?

“Smells of fish, but these are no fish bones,” the shorter guard said. He held up a piece of a hand and bobbed on his haunches as he turned to look at me. “Explain.”

“It’s a monkey,” I said flatly.

“Which you used for your witchcraft?” said the other as he, too, turned around. “Expansive knowledge here, of magic. This dwelling isn’t licensed for that type of activity, and you don’t bear the witch guild mark.” His tone was more curious than accusatory, but I didn’t care.

“I’m currently a trade alchemist,” I repeated again, as if talking to a particularly stupid villager. “Which we are licensed for because, otherwise, we couldn’t protect any of the wood. How do you think wood finishes are made?” When the guards continued with their stares, I looked to the ceiling and grunted. “Just take the panel. Go. Don’t get it too wet, and make sure the court carpenter lets it sit for a few weeks before coating it. If you really want paperwork, I can have a copy of the permit for trade work delivered to the Queensguard hall tomorrow.”

“I don’t think so.” The guards stood and kicked at the bone pile. Neither one had looked at the panel yet. The hair on my arms rose. That was a fourteen-hundred-stone commission, lying against the door, open to the elements! That was more than the entire town of Thuja made in one year.

They hadn’t come from the palace; that was now abundantly clear.

I took a step toward the door, making sure to keep my growing unease from showing on my face. Knife in the boot, I reminded myself, for I’d been out foraging this morning and had not yet removed it. People aren’t so different than monkeys. Of course, I had never killed any of the animals I used for bone oil, but then again, none of them had ever called me a daughter either.

“What guild did you say you belonged to?” the tall one asked as he eyed my throat. I brought my hands up to cover the unadorned skin and flushed with embarrassment. I didn’t need a reminder of my failure to declare to my Mother’s guild, or any other, for that matter.

“I’m unguilded,” I muttered, unable to meet the man’s eyes. Anyone could be a trader, but to join a guild you had to first be an apprentice, and I had no formal education. “Since you’re not Queensguard, why are you here?” And why pretend, especially if you’re not going to steal the panel?

The man snorted. “The grandmaster of witchcraft asked to meet with the master woodcutter. I don’t want to return empty-handed, so our girl alchemist might make a reasonable substitute, guilded or not.”

I dropped my hands to my sides and raked my fingernails over my pants. There shouldn’t have been a grandmaster of witchcraft because the unbound guilds—witches and alchemists—weren’t beholden to any of the three countries and therefore couldn’t set up a guildhall. But that didn’t matter right now because my skin was too tight, all of a sudden. I gripped fistfuls of cloth to steady myself, to keep my hands busy so they wouldn’t find the skin of my arms. I snarled at the men, though tears collected in my eyes. Girl. Daughter. They burned as deeply as the smell of the bone oil. As interesting as the grandmaster of witchcraft might be, I didn’t care anymore about anything these men had to say.

“Get out,” I hissed. I marched to the door; I would throw them out if I had to. But the shorter guard grabbed me by the wrist before I reached the threshold.

“No!” I pulled back, turning to slap him, and just as I spun around, he let go.

Laughter chased after me as I stumbled and caught my ankle on the doorjamb. My equilibrium was off from the bone oil fumes, and I hit the ground, elbow first. Now I too was slicked with mud and wet wood shavings, which kept my feet from finding purchase as I tried to stand and face the demeaning laughter. The tears I was determined not to shed burned my eyes.

Before I could get my feet under me, thick fingers dug into my arms and I was hauled up and dragged forward. Their hands were wide, and their arms much stronger than my own, and when I pulled, their grips tightened. The mist was thick in my mouth as I sucked in gasps of air, trying to kick or somehow injure the men who held me.

“I’m not worth anything. The only thing of value is that panel!” I yelled.

“A master woodcutter would be worth more than a confused imitation,” the taller one said. “We’ll work with what we have.”

“I am not a woodcutter!”

We were at the cart now, and when the shorter man reached past my head to grab a rope that hung over the side, I bit his hand, separating flesh. The not-guard screamed and dropped my right arm. Blood splattered across my front as he flailed. The tall one tried to grab my wrist, but I fell to my knees, grabbed him between the legs, twisted, and pulled.

He collapsed, howling, and I skittered back toward the house.

“Leave!” I screamed at them. These things weren’t supposed to happen at Mother’s house. Wasn’t that why I was always here—to avoid this? What was the point of giving up apprenticeships, friendships, if I was going to be accosted in my own home?

The tall one gasped and grabbed me by the front of my shirt just before I cleared the cart. I wrapped my fingers around his and tried to pull free, but he slapped me across the face and, for a moment, I couldn’t see. I babbled instead.

“I have money,” I said. “In the house. I have wood species from across the world worth double their weight in stones.” I have solvents I could melt you with if you’d just come back inside.

“We will have Amada the master woodcutter,” the short one said with a gap-toothed grin. “She’ll come for you, if nothing else, seeing as how well she’s kept you to herself all these years.” He grabbed my legs and, with the taller one, dumped me into the cart. The taller man secured my ankles to iron weights anchored to the cart bed, punched me in the stomach, and left me to lie, staring dumbly at the canopy overhead as he went to assist his partner. Mother would come for me, certainly, but it was the other part of the man’s words that clouded my thoughts.

The cart began to move, jostling over the uneven forest floor. As I tried to regain my breath, my mind jumped, irrationally, back to the house.

“You forgot the panel!” I wheezed over the noise of the grunting ox and snapping branches. To leave it seemed like a stupid waste, even if they had no interest in it themselves. It’d taken us two years to make that thing, Mother and I. Someone should have it, even if just ignorant kidnappers. It was worth more than my life, certainly. I had no guild mark, no formal apprenticeship, no friends to come looking for me, and an undocumented journey-woodcutter was worth only as much as their master was willing to pay. They were going to be very disgruntled when Mother did not appear. And if they found her…gods, if they found her… What did witches want with a woodcutter?

I had my breath back, so I sat up and leaned over the side of the cart. Even with the moonlight, it was too dark to see more than outlines, but I could just make out the taller one breaking away and moving back toward Mother’s house.

Panic gave way to puzzlement as he entered. Had they changed their minds about the panel? I squinted into the night. Was he moving the panel then, or going past it? I’d not yet lit any oil lamps for fear of combustion during the extraction, and so the spark from the guard’s flint burned my eyes. Something caught in the guard’s hand—perhaps a ribbon of paper or a sheet of Mother’s veneer. Whatever it was, the man tossed it inside the house.

“No!”

I screamed it, I think. My throat hurt, either way. The guard jogged back to the cart, and I screamed again, nonsensically. The idiot. The absolute uneducated toadstool. If he didn’t quicken his pace, if we didn’t—

Mother’s house exploded.

Purchase at NineStar Press

Meet the Author

J.S. Fields is a scientist who has perhaps spent too much time around organic solvents. They enjoy roller derby, woodturning, making chain mail by hand, and cultivating fungi in the backs of minivans. Nonbinary, and always up for a Twitter chat.

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