Release Blitz + Giveaway: The Spell by Nancy J. Hedin

Check out The Spell release blitz today from author Nancy J. Hedin and IndiGo Marketing! Discover more about the paranormal story and enter in the NineStar Press credit giveaway!

Title: The Spell

Author: Nancy J. Hedin

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: 12/07/2021

Heat Level: 2 - Fade to Black Sex

Pairing: Female/Female

Length: 46600

Genre: Fantasy, LGBTQIA+, Lit, paranormal, lesbian, bisexual, magical realism, humor, painter, magic user, spell, real estate broker, police officer

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What if you could enter and roam around in any painting and then return to your own reality—or not? Would you do it? Would you sit in on the Lord’s Supper, snuggle the Mona Lisa, or have a painting made of something—or someone—in your past or future you long to visit?

Waverly Ames is given that ability through a spell book she finds while on vacation. What’s more, her brash, beautiful neighbor, friend, and dog-walker Jewel is a painter who can fulfil any commission. And then there’s Camille, the married woman who captured Waverly’s heart—the woman Waverly can’t get over.

What happens when lust meets magic? What happens when being somewhere, anywhere is as simple as a painting and the artist’s intention behind it? Can you truly have your heart’s desire?


The Spell
Nancy J. Hedin © 2021
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One
Broken Heart
Waverly Ames had regrets, but none bigger than losing her first love, Camille. She wept and petted the thin leather cover of the spell book that was her only remnant of their week-long love affair the year prior. That was, the only remnant if Waverly ignored her ruminations, incessant second-guessing, and full-body ache to be with Camille again. The affair had ended without goodbyes, promises, or any way to contact Camille. They each returned to their own lives: Camille returned to her suburban home with her husband and two daughters, and Waverly returned to…what? Her apartment in a co-op building, her former job in real estate, and her unrealized dream of being a poet. She felt robbed.

She heard a key snick in her front door lock, the door creak open and click closed again. Waverly’s dog, Stella, barked and bounded to the kitchen. Baby talk and padded footfalls in the galley kitchen followed by the rattle of condiments and juice bottles inside the door of her refrigerator as it was opened, robbed, and slammed shut again. She wiped her eyes, dabbed her nose, and hid the spell book under her couch pillow. She didn’t want Jewel to see her being a baby. How could she have any tears left? She’d cried every day since Camille had left her. Waverly had made a resolution to be a grown-up.

She supposed it was time. Hadn’t most people set aside their childish dreams and taken on the mantle of adulthood by age thirty-five? She took back her old job in real estate, which she hated, and she had bought a condo she couldn’t really afford. That was what grown-ups did, she told herself. Grown-ups did not plan to be poets, fall in love with married women, and live in month-to-month apartments based on whether there was a good vibe for writing poetry there. She hadn’t written a single poem since she moved into the place.

The cupboard doors clicked, dishes clinked, and silverware jangled against glassware. The noises used to frighten Waverly, make her hold her breath, look for her phone and a weapon, but over time, she only found the intruder annoying. It was just Jewel.

Jewel Cartwright, beautiful, brash, sinewy, younger than Waverly, on the early rungs of her third decade. Jewel lived in an unusually large studio apartment on the same floor as Waverly. Jewel’s space had no furniture other than a futon on the floor, but the windows were the size of garage doors and looked out on both downtown St. Paul and the bluffs and winding Mississippi River. Jewel was a painter. She sporadically worked a job restoring fine paintings, but mostly, Jewel painted her own work and filled her apartment with her paintings and the copies of other great paintings she replicated. She never grocery shopped and was always hungry. Shortly after Waverly bought her place and only days after she’d met her, Jewel insisted she was the best person to fill the dog-walking job Waverly posted on the co-op message board.

Jewel became Waverly’s official walker for Stella, Waverly’s seventy-pound shepherd-lab mix. From that point on, Jewel had a key to Waverly’s place, but came in at non-dog-walking times—no knock, no advanced warning.

Jewel stepped out from the kitchen and scanned Waverly’s face. “What? What’s that look? You don’t want me, change the locks.” It was complicated. Waverly did want her to walk Stella, so she put up with Jewel coming in at her leisure and often making herself a sandwich or eating Waverly’s leftovers. Stella, too, was eating a giant sandwich but not before she had peed a trickle on the floor in her excitement to see Jewel.

Waverly didn’t want Jewel to see her crying again.

“What’s wrong?” Jewel asked.

“Allergies.” Waverly blew her nose. “Why does my dog like you better than me?”

“Duh, I take her on walks, let her eat whatever she wants, and I tell her adventure stories where she is the femme fatale, the secret agent, the top dog.” Jewel kissed Stella on the head and stared at Waverly. “Don’t tell me you have been crying about Camille again.”

Jewel sat. Stella jumped up on the loveseat beside her as Jewel unloaded her stash. Once her hands were free to rub Stella’s ear, Jewel again talked baby talk to Stella. “Your mom is a silly goose obsessing about that naughty Camille when she could have lovely Jewel.”

Stella’s hair wafted into the air and onto the rug, furniture, and Waverly’s black jeans.

“Stella, tell Jewel to mind her own business.” Waverly sat up straight on the couch, reached back to snag her russet-brown hair, twisted it in a coil on her head, and secured it with a pencil. She took deep breaths. She noticed that Jewel stared at her breasts as she chewed. Waverly took the book out from beneath the pillow and held it in front of her chest. “Are you staring at my tits?”

“Cows have tits. I’m staring at your perfectly lovely breasts. They’re like warm kittens or hamsters under your shirt. Can I touch them?”

“No.” Waverly threw the spell book at Jewel and immediately regretted it. She didn’t want to damage the book, and she didn’t want anyone else touching it.

Jewel ducked. The book hit the wall, ricocheted back, and lay at her feet. She picked it up with her free hand. “Oh, Christ, haven’t you burned this thing yet?” Jewel crammed part of a pastrami and cheddar on sourdough sandwich in her mouth and gave the remainder to the dog. Stella planted herself on the rug like Jewel might change her mind and ask for the sandwich back.

Jewel stood and unloaded some of her plunder onto the coffee table, smearing the latest issue of Architectural Digest. She flopped down again on the love seat and flung her leg over the armrest without any embarrassment that the skirt she wore was entirely too short and she wore no underwear. “I’ll burn it for you. I have a lighter in my pocket. I could torch the thing right on this table.”

“No, you can’t.” Waverly tossed a throw blanket to Jewel. “Cover your junk! I can’t think with genitals in my face.”

“Excuse me, but I have no junk only jewels! Besides, you could use some genitals in your face so you’d stop obsessing about Camille.”

Stella burped. Jewel burped.

“You don’t understand.”

“What’s to understand?”

That was the thing, really. No one seemed to understand how important Waverly’s first real love affair had been. Maybe no one understood because they hadn’t had Waverly’s beginning. They hadn’t been orphaned at age six, shuttled between foster homes until finally, Waverly’s mother’s sister relented and said she would “take the girl.”

Who else knew of the shock of losing parents being compounded by being placed with loud, disinterested foster parents with homes that smelled of urine and Hamburger Helper? After three of these nightmares, Waverly finally landed where her parents had informally and unofficially wanted her to be if, God forbid, anything happened to them. God should have forbidden all of it, starting with the car accident that had killed her birth parents and continuing into Waverly’s school years in the care of cold, withholding, puritanical custodial parents who rationed their affections.

Add to that Waverly wasn’t her aunt and uncle’s birth child, and she didn’t want to be a nurse or schoolteacher. She wanted to be a cowboy briefly, and then she wanted to be a poet. She didn’t want to marry a man. She was attracted to women.

She was an orphaned misfit like an extra piece of hardware in the IKEA box. She didn’t fit anywhere. College was a dream in most respects. She was expected to be independent. In college being queer wasn’t a big deal. It made her almost interesting. She’d had girlfriends before—brief flirtations, one-night stands, and brief stints of cohabitation in college and graduate school that faded like fad diets and new year’s resolutions. Of course, Waverly clung to Camille. Camille was the first woman who had loved her with tender passion. Camille had swaddled Waverly in attention and adoration as Waverly nuzzled in Camille’s arms, drinking her in with her eyes.

Jewel dug a squished package of Little Debbie Swiss Rolls from her tank top. “How many people do you know who can hide chocolate-covered, crème-filled snack cakes in their rack?”

“I don’t know many.” Waverly shook her head. “Don’t give any of that to Stella.”

“I know dogs can’t do chocolate. Anyway—” Jewel licked her fingers. “What’s to understand? You met a woman, a married woman, a straight married woman, I might add…”

“Camille was not straight, I can assure you that.” Waverly’s head bobbled a bit, and she gave an impish grin.

“I know, I know, you made love every day, many times a day. You’ve told me a million times.” Jewel drank milk directly from the carton—Waverly’s carton. “I’m telling you, Waverly, plenty of straight women won’t say no to a week of orgasms independent of some guy slamming against them. But Waves, she went back to her husband and left you with what? A hole in your heart and that dumb book. You need to burn that book and cauterize the hole in your heart so that you can heal. Give the book to Stella as a chew toy. I gave her a Bible and two self-help books. She’ll be shitting psalms, proverbs, and platitudes for days.”


NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

Nancy Hedin, a Minnesota writer, has been a pastor and bartender (at the same time). She has been a stand-up comic and a mental health crisis worker (at the same time). She wants readers to know that every story she writes begins with her hearing voices.

In 2018 Nancy’s debut novel, Bend was named one of twenty-five books to read for Pride Month Barnes and Noble, and was named Debut Novel of the Year by Golden Crown Literary Society and Foreword Indies Honorable Mention for GLBT Adult Novel of the Year.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest | Linkedin


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Release Blitz + Giveaway: Love on the Rise by A.C. Thomas

Author A.C. Thomas and IndiGo Marketing share new contemporary holiday romance info for Love on the Rise! Find out more and enter in the NineStar Press credit giveaway!

Title: Love on the Rise

Author: A.C. Thomas

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: 11/30/2021

Heat Level: 3 - Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 42100

Genre: Contemporary Holiday, LGBTQIA+, contemporary, gay, Christmas holiday, Italian bakery/ baker, banker, soulmates/ love at first sight, money woes, small-town community, pastry love

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Matteo Leonelli is getting by, running his old-fashioned family bakery in the heart of Belleview, North Carolina. He’s struggled to keep the place going since his parents passed, and his cakes don’t taste the same without someone to share them.

Then, Matteo meets Ethan, a thoughtful, handsome artist, who sees Matt in a way no one has before, who touches him as if it’s a privilege. One date, and Matt is in love, dancing among clouds of meringue as he bakes up a storm to prepare for the holidays.

Ethan Price is getting by, running his family banking firm. He had to abandon his dreams of becoming an artist, but he gives it his best effort in his father’s memory. Then, he meets a man who makes his stress melt away like butter on warm bread. Matt, who smells like cookies and looks like a Caravaggio painting. Ethan is in love, head over heels as he rushes through the business of the day so he can see Matt again. He plans to sweep him off his adorable feet.

Disaster strikes as Matt’s bakery loans come due during the holidays. The news is just as shocking as the man who delivers it. Ethan isn’t the sensitive artist of Matt’s dreams, but a cold-hearted banker, and Matt’s heart crumbles like shortbread. As Christmas draws near, Matt works to save his bakery, while Ethan works to win him back. Beneath the sparkling lights of bakery windows displaying holiday treats, they must decide: can Ethan reconcile his passion for art and his love for Matt with his obligations to the family business? Can Matt forgive Ethan and open his heart to a love so sweet it outshines his pastries?

With determination, well-placed mistletoe, and a dash of cinnamon, they just might.


Love on the Rise
A.C. Thomas © 2021
All Rights Reserved

It was a beautiful day. The sun was shining, birds were singing, and Matteo Leonelli had finally gotten laid.

He whistled some Sinatra as he patted down the dough for the next morning, then covered it with a clean flour cloth to rise overnight.

Suppressing a yawn, he piped the last batch of the cupcakes of the day with lemon cream. Lemon was the theme because Matt felt like a tart in the best way possible. Sweet and sharp and bright with satisfaction. And, notably, like the guy who had gone home with his date the night before.

Nothing could bring him down, not even the slow grip of sleepiness tugging on his heels. Matt’s date had kept him up all night, and he’d only gotten a few hours of rest. Matt had stayed over, even though he needed to be in the bakery by 4 a.m. to start the bread and pastry for the day.

It had been worth it.

He could have happily worked all day on zero hours of sleep if his date, Ethan, hadn’t curled up around him after round two, long limbs wrapped as tightly as the wisteria vines that climbed the bakery porch. He had been big and warm and whispered sweet nothings into Matt’s sweaty hair until they’d both fallen asleep.

Matt hadn’t even minded being the little spoon, although sometimes it rubbed him the wrong way when people just assumed. They thought since Matt was small, that was where he belonged. Ethan had never commented on his size. In any measure.

Matt was short and compact, not svelte by any means, but he wasn’t muscular either. He existed somewhere in the soft, gray area in between. Strong enough to haul fifty-pound bags of flour but equipped with a layer of padding from tip to toes.

That used to bother him, but as he’d gotten older, he’d only grown more comfortable with himself. He didn’t worry about his perpetual lack of abs so much anymore. He was a baker, not an athlete.

Sure, things had been rough when he was a kid, and his classmates had called him names like “doughboy.” But now? He was finally comfortable with himself.

Comfortable enough to fuck with the lights on.

All the better to appreciate the view of his partner. And, oh, what a spectacular view it had been.

Ethan was classically handsome, like an Old Hollywood heartthrob, and deceptively willowy in his clothing, but all wiry muscle underneath. His height merely gave the impression of slenderness because he was so stretched out. But there was plenty of him to hold on to.

His broad shoulders had provided a firm, solid ledge for Matt to cling to, and his big hands had caressed Matt’s few extra pounds as if they were something to covet, a bonus in his eyes. As if there weren’t an inch of Matt that was extra or overflow. It had felt as if he truly appreciated every ounce of him.

Matt could count on the thumbs of both hands how many times a lover had treated him like that, as though he were nothing less than irresistible.

It was addictive.

So today, Matt was floating on a cloud, lighter than his nonna’s famous meringue. He bit back a grin as his phone buzz-buzz-buzzed with a text notification, the fifth one from Ethan since Matt had reluctantly crawled out of his hotel room before dawn.

The guy had no chill, but Matt wasn’t exactly complaining.

Can’t stop thinking about you. It’s impossible to focus on work when I know you smell like cinnamon sugar and sex. I just want to lick you all over to see if I can find the source.

Oh, cheese crepes, that was hot.

His cheeks burned after reading that one, hotter than the antique brick oven at his back.

Matt fanned himself surreptitiously while he checked the clock. All he had left for the day was a meeting with the bank, and then he could leave the bakery to Miz Rose to run upstairs and get ready for his date.

His second date in as many days. Matt had big plans. He was even going to exfoliate, and he didn’t do that for just anybody. He hoped Ethan would appreciate the snickerdoodle scent of his sugar scrub.

Neither of them had been able to pretend they didn’t want to see each other immediately after last night. It was refreshing to meet someone who laid all his cards on the table, who didn’t play games.

Maybe Matt was acting like a lovestruck fool, but so was Ethan. They were in the same ridiculous romantic boat, and he had never felt better. He was finally lucky in love. It had only taken a decade.

He hurried to finish the cupcakes, prepping for the lunch rush before his meeting with the bank. The bakery usually flooded with locals around noon, and he didn’t want to run out of cupcakes again. Last time, the lovely ladies of Central Presbyterian had threatened a riot.

The year-round jingle bells attached to the bakery door rang out their cheerful call, and Matt set down his pastry bag to turn with a smile on his face.

A smile that immediately froze once he saw who had walked through the door.


He looked much less approachable than he had the night before, in his soft sweater and jeans, rangy limbs sprawled around the table to brush up against Matt wherever he could, charming smile framed by an artful scattering of dark stubble.

Now, he wore a black suit and carried a briefcase. A man of the exact same height and coloring followed him, dressed so similarly he’d be identical if not for the bald patch on his head contrasting with Ethan’s thick chestnut waves.

Ethan stumbled, staring wide-eyed across the shop at Matt as his companion walked right into him with an irritated curse.

Ethan’s pale skin flushed pink as he stepped aside and avoided Matt’s searching gaze. Instead, he lifted his briefcase to the nearest tabletop to fiddle with the latch.

What on earth was he doing here? Matt hadn’t given him the address to the bakery. They hadn’t even exchanged last names last night, the chemistry between them so strong they’d barely finished their meal before stumbling love-drunk to Ethan’s hotel room.

After that, they’d been too busy for conversation.

Sure, they’d talked a little at dinner, but all Matt really recalled was the insistent thump of his heart when Ethan had first raised clear gray eyes to his. The low rumble of Ethan’s voice as he’d mentioned his hotel with a searching glance.

The scrape of wallpaper against Matt’s shoulders when Ethan had pinned him to the wall the moment the door clicked shut behind them.

All memory of their light conversation had faded in comparison.

The balding suit held out his hand with a perfunctory approximation of a smile. “Mr. Leonelli? Preston Price. We’re here representing Price Banking. Where should we conduct the meeting?”

Matt wiped his flour-dredged hands on his apron, then caught Price’s grimace as he gingerly shook his hand. Afterward, Price held it slightly out from his body as though he didn’t wish to touch any of his belongings until he had washed it first.

Ethan just continued to stare into his briefcase as if it held state secrets.


NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

A.C. Thomas left the glamorous world of teaching preschool for the even more glamorous world of staying home with her toddler. Between the diaper changes and tea parties, she escapes into fantastical worlds, reading every romance available and even writing a few herself. She devours books of every flavor—science fiction, historical, fantasy—but always with a touch of romance because she believes there is nothing more fantastical than the transformative power of love.

Website | Facebook | Twitter


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Blog Tour + Giveaway: Opposed Desires by Katherine McIntyre

 Author Katherine McIntyre and Other Worlds Ink visit on the Opposed Desires blog tour! Find out more and enter in the Amazon gift card giveaway!

Opposed Desires - Katherine McIntyre

Katherine McIntyre has a new FF contemporary romance out: Opposed Desires. And there's a giveaway!

Closet Romantic falling for the Hookup Queen? Never gonna happen… until one memorable vacation changes it all.

When it comes to women, Aubrey Moore believes in no-strings-attached hookups and keeping things simple. On her beach trip, her plan is clear—hit the bars and find single hotties. What she doesn't bargain on is the phone call from her sister. Distraught, Aubrey would like to have a breakdown in private, but the one woman who’s never fallen for her slick lines takes her by surprise and blurs her simple rules.

The last thing owner of the Renegades bar, Selina Beckett, expects to see on vacation is Aubrey Moore in the middle of a personal crisis. Every time they meet, they clash—whether Aubrey was picking up women at Selina’s bar or flirting to try and get her attention. Selina’s not interested in flings, cheaters, or womanizers, so she’s made a point to avoid Aubrey at all costs. But this raw, real side of Aubrey convinces her to bend those rules, just a little.

The more Selina gets to know Aubrey beyond the bravado, the more she begins to fall. But each day closer to the end of their vacation marks a return to reality—one where this entanglement between them won’t survive.

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Opposed Desires Meme

They reached the edge of the boardwalk, the sand and the sea stretching before them in a pale strip that clashed with the inky darkness of the waters. Something loosened in Selina’s chest at the sight. The ocean always calmed her, especially at night when most of the daytime rabble had retreated. She was used to being surrounded by people, but sometimes she preferred the solitude.

“I’m sorry for dragging you away from your friends,” Aubrey said, loosening her ponytail to run her fingers through her hair. The moonlight highlighted her deep brown strands, and the way they fell down to her shoulders made her seem a little softer than the sharp, pointed woman Selina’d come to know. She found this side of Aubrey far more alluring.

“I could’ve done this by myself,” Aubrey admitted. “I just lost my mind a little bit back there.”

“I wouldn’t have left if I didn’t want to.” Selina shrugged. “Bars aren’t really my scene.”

“Said the bar owner.” Aubrey gave her the side-eye. “Why even own one then?”

Selina swung her arms by her side, staring at the half moon overhead. It glowed with pearlescent promise, a steadiness she’d always longed for. “Spend your whole life traveling from one town to the next and you get desperate to set down roots. I wanted to create a safe space for folks like me, and I needed to stay in one place. Renegades ensured that.”

Aubrey shook her head, a throaty laugh escaping her throat. “I’ve known you for four years now, and I’m pretty sure that’s the most you’ve ever shared about yourself.”

“Well, we’re having a truce tonight,” Selina said. “Tomorrow I can go back to loathing you, and we can return to the usual witty repartee.”

Aubrey pointed at herself. “Me? Witty? Glad you think so, doll. I don’t keep track of half of the things that leave my mouth.”

“Good to know,” Selina murmured, a smile nudging her lips. The earnest note in Aubrey’s voice had her warming up to the woman far faster than she had in years. The lack of an agenda helped too. Selina slipped off her sandals to hold them in her hand, walking barefoot on the sandy shore. “Won’t the girls be wondering where you went?”

Aubrey shrugged. “They’ll assume I took someone home. It’s my MO when I pull the vanishing act.”

“That sounds pretty lonesome.” The words slipped out before she could help herself. Selina licked her lips, not knowing what to say. The salt air wove past her, caressing her senses.

“Different bed every night? How could that be lonely?” Aubrey joked, yet her voice scraped over the words like a tire crunching uneven rocks. She cast Selina a sideways glance. “Maybe a little,” she admitted, her dark eyes somber in the surrounding dark. The slight gleam from the moonlight only enhanced that sharp, vibrant beauty. This version of the woman, framed by moonlight and unguarded with her hair down, struck Selina as far more gorgeous than the sweet-talker she regularly saw at the bar.

Aubrey bent down to slide off her sneakers, and Selina couldn’t help but follow the motion. Those long legs were on full display, all corded muscle and defined calves, and the red shorts she wore showcased a gorgeous sculpted ass. Selina never argued that the woman was hot—Aubrey Moore undeniably, unequivocally raised her temperature, but she was also the exact sort of person Selina needed to avoid.

She wanted someone to settle down with. Someone who wouldn’t get bored, or cheat, or ditch her when the routine got too monotonous. Been there, done that. She’d learned her lessons well and committed them to heart.

Author Bio

Katherine McIntyre

Katherine McIntyre is a feisty chick with a big attitude despite her short stature. She writes stories featuring snarky women, ragtag crews, and men with bad attitudes—and there's an equally high chance for a passionate speech thrown into the mix. As an eternal geek and tomboy who’s always stepped to her own beat, she’s made it her mission to write stories that represent the broad spectrum of people out there, from different cultures and races to all varieties of men and women.

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Release Blitz + Giveaway: Restitution (Regalos #4) by Rebecca Cohen


Author Rebecca Cohen and Signal Boost Promotions share info on the latest release from the Regalos series, Restitution (Regalos #4)! Discover more and enter in the giveaway!

Cover Design: Garrett Leigh @ Black Jazz Design

Reagalos Series

Book #0.5 - College Days - Pre-order Here (Out Jan '22)
Book #1 - Servitude - Buy Links
Book #2 - Idolatry - Buy Links
Book #3 - Avarice - Buy Links

Lornyc is good at keeping secrets, because secrets can get you killed.

Will someone rid him of this troublesome Mage? Seemingly not, and Lornyc’s going to have do it himself. There’s a good reason no one had invoked the Reckoning to become the Supreme Mage of Beher for over a quarter of a century, but Lornyc couldn’t keep his big mouth shut.

Five tasks, five chances to fail, and that’s just the warm up for the magical head-to-head. Pity his Reagalos powers don’t work like Mage magic, so he’ll need to think fast, and run even faster.
REBECCA COHEN spends her days dreaming of a living in a Tudor manor house, or a Georgian mansion. Alas, the closest she comes to this is through her characters in her historical romance novels. She also dreams of intergalactic adventures and fantasy realms, but because she’s not yet got her space or dimensional travel plans finalised, she lives happily in leafy Hertfordshire, England, with her husband and young son. She can often be found with a pen in one hand and sloe gin with lemon tonic in the other.

With contemporaries, historicals, sci fi and fantasy in her back catalogue, there should be something for every taste in Rebecca's work.

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Release Blitz + Giveaway: Salvaging Christmas by Brian Lancaster

Author Brian Lancaster and Pride Publishing share Christmas erotic romance, Salvaging Christmas! Read more about the new book and enter in the First Romance gift card giveaway!

Salvaging Christmas by Brian Lancaster

General Release Date: 30th November 2021

Word Count: 67,278
Book Length: NOVEL
Pages: 264



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Book Description

For years they have kept the Yuletide Gay Club going with like minded friends until this year grim providence decides to stick in his ugly snout. But just as everything starts to fall apart, the son of the owner turns up and the real fun begins.

Tired with awkward family Christmases, Trevor McTavish and his best friend have planned a getaway each year for twelve close gay friends to enjoy the festive season together in remote country locations around Britain. Far from the maddening crowds. Beautiful Stratham Lodge in Scotland, hugging the shores of Loch Arkaig, is set to be this year’s rental destination.

Except this year, one by one, friends have dropped out. Against their better judgement, they decide to bite the bullet and forge ahead with a much reduced, and somewhat contentious party, which includes Trevor’s formerly gay ex-husband and his new girlfriend.

On the second day, Trevor realises this year’s break is going to be a disaster. But then the son of the lodge owner, Rudy Mortimer, appears and saves the day.

Reader advisory: This book contains mention of homophobia, domestic abuse and sexual assault.


Trevor McTavish loved traditions.

Or, more to the point, new traditions built on old ones. After all, wasn’t that what most of them were, a blend of old and new, built layer upon layer over time? They provided a foundation, something people could rely on, even when everything else around them broke down, or changed unexpectedly, or disappeared entirely from their lives—which seemed to happen to him all too often of late.

Traditions ensured continuity, and even with the few hiccups this year had brought, Trevor loved the Christmas tradition he and Cheryl had created for their friends.

As the sullen driver of the prepaid cab steered in silence through the early morning streets of London, Trevor rested his head against the ice-cold window. Gentle vibrations from the hybrid engine massaged his skull. Already the sky had begun transitioning from purest black as the night shift packed up and daylight took over. Fully alert despite the early hour, he looked for homes with their Christmas lights still burning and gardens or roofs decorated with seasonal figures. A part of him instinctively knew he would get along with the person who had gone to all the effort to put them up, most likely done to make other people smile.

Nothing could shake Trevor’s upbeat mood as the cab turned into the familiar road where the Madison family lived. Since he'd packed last night, the sense of anticipation and excitement at the promise of a road trip with best friends had kept him pumped up and grinning like an inflatable snowman.

Six in the morning on that pre-dawn Friday in December, he climbed out of the overheated car and crunched down onto a pavement of overnight frost. After collecting his luggage from the boot, he pulled out a five-pound note from his wallet and tapped a fingernail on the driver’s window. With a smile, he held up the banknote, ready to wish the man a heartfelt season’s greetings. After all, if the poor guy had to drive a cab at this early hour, he obviously needed the money.

Without even bothering to acknowledge Trevor, the driver pulled away.

Left standing alone in the road, Trevor shrugged and put the fiver back. Perhaps the man had somewhere better to be. Not everyone shared his passion for all things festive.

Humming to himself, he manoeuvred his wheelie luggage up the broken-tiled garden path and prodded the front doorbell. Bing-bongs chimed from somewhere inside. Cheryl Madison’s mother opened the door in her furry-hooded olive parka and mismatching navy Wellington boots. Further at odds with the ensemble, her pink floral nightie peeked out from beneath the jacket.

Trevor almost let out a giggle.

Until he saw the expression on her face.

After a furtive glance at the staircase behind her, Mrs M nodded sharply towards the Volvo out front while handing him a small but deceptively heavy cardboard box. Hauling a larger one from the floor, she strode past him and he trailed after her, the wheels of his luggage clunking arrhythmically on the broken pavement. Only as she unlocked the hatchback and placed her carton inside did she reveal the predicament.

“Hannah’s not coming. She broke up with Cheryl last night. Met someone at their Christmas office party on Tuesday night. Supposedly.”

The way she articulated that final word said everything. Trevor dropped onto the tailgate—causing the car to bounce—and placed his container next to hers. Mrs M stood there studying him, arms folded, appearing to wait for his response. Instinctively, he mirrored her body language and sighed. Of all their friends, he understood only too well the devastating effects of being dumped. Right before their long-anticipated Christmas trip, too. Hannah had always possessed a selfish streak, an immunity to the sensibilities of others. She had often manipulated Cheryl but he’d never thought she would stoop so low.

“Shit. Poor Cheryl. How’s she coping?”

“You’ll see in a minute. Putting on a brave front. I tried to sound surprised when she told me, but something’s not been right for months. The important thing, Trevor, is that we’re down by one more guest.”

“Double shit,” he said, staring down at the road between his legs.

“I’ll let you think about that before I bring out any more boxes, and while I go and put the kettle on,” she said, before heading back to the house.

So much for the Yuletide Gay Club.

They had started the group five years ago. Cheryl, his best friend since high school, could take credit for the idea and him for its successful implementation. Sick of hearing in January how many of their gay friends had spent the holiday season either alone or with families who barely tolerated them, they had created their own tradition.

Six couples shared the cost of renting a country cottage in rural Britain. Seven or eight days spent enjoying Christmas their own way, with their own people, in the countryside.

Far from the maddening crowds.

At first nobody had known whether bringing together couples who were occasional friends would work. That first time, the gathering in the six-bedroom farmhouse in Devon had turned out to be nothing short of a miracle. Everyone had gelled quickly and mucked in together, laughed and got drunk together, played games like Cards Against Humanity until sunrise and raved about the break well into the New Year. So good was the experience that Trevor had already had the next event booked up by February. The same thing had happened the following years, with the small group growing closer.

Except this year—the fifth—grim providence had made a personal appearance. Tragically, Mrs M’s seventy-two-year-old Scottish girlfriend, Monica, the only other person allowed in the kitchen at Christmas and the life and soul of the party, had succumbed unexpectedly to a brain aneurism and passed away in late January.

Next up, at the beginning of March, they had received a cryptic email from regulars Johnny and Frank. Both having quit their jobs, they’d decided to take a hiatus from the rat race, managed to rent out their home, and set off on their travels. Finally free, they’d also committed to a technology-free tour of the world and their last handwritten postcard had been sent from somewhere in the Middle East.

As the year progressed, the casualties had continued to fall like autumn leaves until the usual company of twelve had dropped to five.

Then in April, Trevor’s husband of two years, Karl, had not only announced his newly discovered heterosexuality, or bisexuality, or sexual fluidity—he had yet to settle on a label—but admitted that he had fallen in love with a woman. Four years together, and Trevor’s spouse had woken one morning and realised he had been wrestling for the wrong tag team.

Which left four of them. Initially, they had considered cancelling the event. But without consulting any of them, Hannah had tactlessly filled one space with a new girl from her office, twenty-year-old Jessica, who, in turn, decided that bringing along a male colleague would be perfectly acceptable.

Could things get any worse?

Apparently, they could. After Trevor had signed the online divorce papers, there had followed a doorstep altercation with Karl about which artwork, pillows, bed linen, dishes and cutlery he was entitled to take in the divorce. Not thinking straight, Trevor had succumbed to all his demands. In addition, for their Christmas excursion, Karl had seen no reason why he should be ostracised, why he should not still be invited with his new partner. Maybe because of dwindling numbers, or more likely the result of a temporary lapse in sanity, Trevor had capitulated.

Cheryl had refused to speak to him for three weeks after he’d told her.

By the beginning of December, the promise of a seasonal sanctuary, which used to be the epitome of a cosy, warm and cuddly Christmas Hallmark movie, had morphed into the awkward, dysfunctional cast of characters befitting a Woody Allen feature.

“The question remains,” came the voice of Mrs M. Lost in his thoughts, he jumped when she perched down beside him. “Is it too late to cancel?”

Trevor huffed out a steamy breath and searched for seasonal inspiration along the row of terraced houses. All year he had been looking forwards to their getaway. But this wasn’t only about him.

“Technically, it isn’t. But we won’t get a refund, so we’ll lose the full amount, deposit and all. I’ll also need to ring around and let everyone know pretty swiftly before people set off tomorrow. And I’ll try, but I’m not sure I can contact the owner. Apparently, she has her own family gathering abroad.”

Two nights ago, he had received an email from Mrs Mortimer-King telling him that she would not be in Scotland to meet them, but would arrange for someone to hand the keys over and settle them in. Even though he’d never met her, he liked dealing with her, enjoyed her clear instructions, efficiency and her friendly communications.

“I had a long talk with Cheryl last night,” said Mrs M. “She still wants to go. Doesn’t want to spend Christmas at home sitting around moping.”

“Understandable. How about you?”

Mrs M provided another smile before gazing wistfully to the heavens.

“No matter where I am, I’m going to miss having Mon by my side. She always made this time of the year special. Might as well be busy in Scotland as stuck here with too much time on my hands. Cheryl can help me in the kitchen. How about Karl?”

“Karl? What about him? He’s going to be there.”

“That’s my point. How do you feel about that?”

“It’s fine. I’ll deal.”

Total nonsense, of course. Privately, Trevor prayed his ex-husband would do the decent thing and not show up, or perhaps the new significant other would be better at talking him down from the ledge of his principles. Most of all, he dreaded the idea of seeing Karl fawning over a new partner. Over the years Trevor had grown to love the man, had looked to their life together. Karl suppressed his emotions well and had never been afraid to put on a front and fight for what he believed to be right. Trevor had never been a fighter. He had felt emotionally volatile during their doorstep argument. After Karl had gotten everything he came for, he’d promptly turned on his heel and headed back to the comfort of his newfound relationship. That evening, Trevor had curled up on his side of the double bed he had managed to keep, feeling so painfully alone and pathetic. All night he had lain awake, wondering why Karl had never fought for him the same way.

“In different ways, we’ve both lost someone this year, Trevor. But you know we’ll be there for you, Cheryl and me, don’t you?” said Mrs M, as though hearing his thoughts.

“And I really appreciate that, Mrs M. But if they do show up, promise me you won’t let the break turn into an us-and-them fiasco. You know what Karl’s like when he becomes militant.”

“Wouldn’t dream of doing so. But I’m also not standing quietly and letting him order anyone around. Like he usually does.” She pushed a lock of grey hair from her face before turning to him. “He’s still going to the SLAGO meetings. Turned up at the Christmas fundraiser. Did he tell you?”

Karl had said nothing, but Trevor was unsurprised. His ex might have woken up one day and realised he wasn’t gay anymore, but he still loved a cause, a fight to champion. Hence his unfailing loyalty to the Surrey and London Association of Gay Organisations. After the break-up, Cheryl had mused somewhat unkindly whether Karl had ever really been gay, whether he had decided to call himself queer because he needed to wear a badge of honour, to fight on the side of something subversive and radical, become a member of the Great British LGBTQ Cause Club. Trevor knew different, because their relationship had not been a sham even if Karl had shunned affection outside the bedroom. Trevor accepted those things because they meant having someone to care for, to love and share a life with. And more than anything, even after everything that had transpired, Trevor still respected Karl as a person.

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About the Author

Brian Lancaster

Brian Lancaster is an author of gay romantic fiction in multiple genres, including contemporary romance, paranormal, fantasy, crime, mystery, and anything else that tickles his muse’s fancy. Born in the sleepy South of England where most of his stories are set, he moved to Southeast Asia in 1998, where he now shares a home with his husband and two of the laziest cats on the planet. 

Find out more about Brian at his website.


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Release Blitz + Giveaway: Turnabout by Laury A. Egan

Welcome author Laury A. Egan and IndiGo Marketing as they promote historical coming of age romance, Turnabout! Read more and enter in the NineStar Press credit giveaway!

Title: Turnabout

Author: Laury A. Egan

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: 11/30/2021

Heat Level: 3 - Some Sex

Pairing: Female/Female

Length: 78500

Genre: Historical (20th Century), LGBTQIA+, teenage romance, lesbian, lesbian love, sailing, PTSD, Vietnam War, 1960s, first love, mother-daughter relationships, young writers, class differences, New Jersey, coming-of-age

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The summer of 1964. Four teenage lives intertwine as each searches for love, identity, and a passage through painful family conflicts, social isolation, and the confusion of sexual orientation.

During a sailing class, four teenagers meet.

Jessie Schaffer is fourteen, an intelligent and solitary girl, who dreams of becoming a writer. When she sees nineteen-year-old Lindsay Ames, the instructor, standing on a dock, sunlight illuminating her blond hair and blue eyes, Jessie falls in love but is too afraid of her feelings and what they mean.

In an attempt to reassure herself she is “normal,” Jessie becomes involved with two boys in the class: Kenny Crenshaw, also fourteen, a darkly handsome and flirtatious guy, and Calvin Brayburn, a year younger, who will be in their freshman class because he’s academically brilliant.

On the first day of sailing, Cal is smitten with Jessie, though he is hindered by shyness. As the romantic relationships take unexpected twists, Jessie, Lindsay, Calvin, and Kenny relate their individual stories, their hopes, fears, and longings, all the while being buffeted by intense pressures.

Set in coastal New Jersey, the plot roams from its beautiful rivers to lush scenes in St. Thomas and Vietnam’s jungles during the war.


Laury A. Egan © 2021
All Rights Reserved

“I’m not going!” I state this as a firm fact; my mother hears acquiescence.

“And wear your new clam diggers and that boat-neck shirt I bought you.”

“No! I feel like an idiot in those clothes!”

My mother, who dresses perfectly for every occasion, arches an eyebrow, one that took hours to sculpt. “You are attending sailing class, and I want you to look nice. We will hear no more about it, Jessie.”

When the singular “I” migrates into the royal “we,” my goose is cooked.

“I will see you in the car. Ten minutes,” she says.

After she leaves the room, I go to the closet, slip the fake nautical clothes off hangers, and throw them on the bed where I slump beside them. “I’ll look like a fool,” I mutter as I stare at the blue-and-white-striped shirt and the white clam diggers decorated with red piping and baby sailboats. I shut my eyes in frustration and follow imperial orders.


I’m standing by the entrance to the Lenape Sailing and Yacht Club, hoping my mother will reconsider and take me home. I turn to plead with her, but she’s already backing the big black T-Bird out of the drive, its whitewalls spitting sand four feet past its chugging tailpipe. For a minute, I picture the car getting stuck but no luck. It’s me who’s stuck.

I scan the sky and beach. The morning sun has taken a hike, leaving a mash of clouds in its wake. The breeze sucks the tops off the cattails and raises goosebumps on my arms and the whitecaps on the river. With no real alternative, I walk through the clubhouse’s double doors, wishing I could fly out the other side, shoot off the dock, and do a Superman back home.

Inside, it smells like salt air, tired sun, and dried old wood. About ten kids—probably my class—are milling around looking self-conscious. Even though they appear nervous, my years of experience tell me they’ll do just fine, once the preliminary jitters smooth off, while I will not. Oh, sure, I can pick up the sailing stuff, but the rest? I stand by the window, thinking I don’t like groups because groups don’t like me.


I turn. A boy with thick glasses is staring at me with a curious expression. His hazel eyes, magnified by the lenses, appear intelligent. He has small cuppy ears, an epidemic of brown freckles across his face and arms, and bright-red hair cut in straight bangs and parted unevenly on the left side of his square head. The boy is a little hunched, as if he’s already apologizing for future tallness. Despite his neat green shirt and navy cotton shorts, he doesn’t wear his body comfortably. The kid looks as ill at ease as I feel.

“Hi,” I reply, though I’m lukewarm in interest. I look over the group, hoping there is someone better to hitch up with. Most of the kids are about my age. Next week, on July 5, I’m turning fourteen.

“My name’s Calvin Brayburn.”

Calvin seems younger. Perhaps twelve nudging thirteen and oblivious to the huge barrier a year’s difference makes.

“Mine’s Jessie.”

“Jessie what?” He tilts his head and squints a little, as if his poor eyesight dulls his hearing.

“Jessie Schaffer.” I’m not a chatty type, particularly with strangers, which includes just about everyone I’ve ever met. How can I lose this kid? Should I play it high and mighty or chilly-neutral? Then, the teacher enters from a side room, saving me the decision.

“Hello, everyone. I’m Lindsay Ames, your sailing instructor.”

Lindsay is tall, or at least she is from my five-foot-four perspective. Short blond curly hair. Blue eyes. Long arms and legs already tan from being outside. Can’t tell if she is a senior going to be a freshman or a freshman home from college. Probably four or five years older than I am. I breathe easier. I’m more comfortable around adults.

Lindsay hands out mimeographed papers. “The parts of a sailboat and two pages of nautical knots,” she explains. “Don’t worry—we’ll go over them, but you’ll have to memorize the parts and how to tie a bowline and a cleat hitch by next week.”

One of the girls giggles and nudges her neighbor. I don’t see anything funny about knots, but maybe that’s because I’ve already taught myself a few—Dad said this would be expected.

“It’s too windy to go out today,” Lindsay continues, “so we’ll get acquainted and learn some of the basics.”

She takes a seat in a wooden armchair, and everyone sprawls onto couches and chairs around her as if she’s going to tell us a story. I sit on the floor opposite and stare at the blue Keds’ stamps on the back of my white sneakers.

“Let’s go around the room.” She nods to a girl with a ponytail. “What’s your name?”

When the kid smiles, silver braces glint like chrome on a Chrysler grille. “Melinda Whitmore,” Ponytail replies. “Hi!” She jerks her hand in the air and gives half a wave. She’s growing boobs that overwhelmed her training bra a long while ago.

“Hi, Melinda,” Lindsay replies. “Welcome aboard.”

I’m not positive I like this sailor heartiness, but so far, Lindsay seems okay. She then points to a guy with black, wavy hair and dark Romeo eyes.

“Hey,” he says in a false sheepish tone. “I’m Kenny Crenshaw.”

Melinda and the other girls exchange blushing glances. Kenny is instantly crowned “king” without any contest. I’m no slouch at rating pecking orders in social gatherings. Of course, none of the girls look at me for confirmation, a fact I also file away in my mental account ledger.

As if he senses his royal anointment, Kenny squares up his shoulders and drops his voice. “I already know how to sail,” he explains. “My dad has a boat.”

“Oh? What kind?” Lindsay asks.

Kenny Crenshaw smiles, confidence spreading across his face. “It’s a thirty-two-foot O’Day.”

“Nice boat,” the instructor says, smiling. “So, you must be quite accomplished.”

He stares at his feet and shrugs, as if he’s embarrassed. In that moment, my dislike of him rushes in like a squall.

“Yes, I am,” he answers. “Sort of.”

The “sort of” is another attempt to appear modest, though it doesn’t wash with me. His smug perfection stings like a pissed-off wasp. We’ll see who the better sailor is. I don’t have a clue why I’m feeling so competitive.

Melinda’s friends are Janey and Gretchen. The three of them are jump-rope types. That’s how I used to classify the popular girls in elementary school. I never mastered their games—skipping rope or their other activity—flirting—and still nourish a fine disdain for both. Sure, back then, the girls let me play sometimes, so I wasn’t on the outer orbit of Pluto, but I wasn’t really accepted, which is typical of the flip-flop nature of my life. Graduation from eighth grade didn’t improve my standing with boys either, and neither did the spring dance, a perfect ten on the misery scale. My mother tortured me into going solo and wearing an itchy chiffon dress and patent leather shoes that pinched. I was the weed amid the wallflowers and didn’t dance once. I’m glad we just moved to Bingham, where I’ll attend high school and hopefully make some friends.

There are four more students who introduce themselves: Steve, Cathy, Mary Lou, and Gene. The girls all cross their arms over their chests, protecting their budding growths, and the boys look careless and bored, like they’d just as soon be throwing rocks at beach rats. Everyone is sort of average looking compared to Kenny and Melinda, who, despite her dental work and giggles, has drawn the longest glances from the boys. Calvin is saving me from last place on the unpopularity register. When it’s my turn to say hello, I’m tempted to tell everyone my father has a sixty-nine-foot sailboat, just to see how it goes down. But one of my rules is that I only lie when I’m sure no one will catch on. Because I don’t know who makes boats that size, the last thing I want is King Kenny announcing there is no such thing. So, after giving my name, I clam up, ceding round one to him. At least Lindsay gives me a warm smile, but she smiles at all the kids.

After that, we go outside and investigate a Turnabout, a little ten-foot catboat we’re using for our lessons. Lindsay gives us the port/starboard/stern/bow info, shows us how to tell which way the wind is blowing by the little pink ribbon fluttering near the top of the mast, and demonstrates how to attach and hoist the single sail. The whole time she does this, my new friend Calvin sticks to my side tighter than a tick. Whenever I look at him, he grins like we’re already buddies. Melinda and Kenny aren’t listening to Lindsay because they’re whispering and digging elbows into each other.

Two hours later, when my mother arrives, I announce I don’t want to take sailing lessons anymore. She doesn’t listen.


NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

Laury A. Egan is the author of the YA novel, The Outcast Oracle; three suspense novels, Jenny Kidd, A Bittersweet Tale, and The Ungodly Hour; a comedy, Fabulous! An Opera Buffa; a collection, Fog and Other Stories; and a literary work, The Swimmer. Four limited-edition poetry volumes have been published: Snow, Shadows, a Stranger; Beneath the Lion’s Paw; The Sea & Beyond; and Presence & Absence. She lives on the northern coast of New Jersey where she sailed Turnabouts during her teenage years.

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Release Blitz + Giveaway: When Love Calls Your Name by LBJ Harris

Author LBJ Harris and IndiGo Marketing share new release info for When Love Calls Your Name! Learn more and enter in the NineStar Press credit giveaway!

Title: When Love Calls Your Name

Author: LBJ Harris

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: 11/30/2021

Heat Level: 3 - Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Female, Male/Male

Length: 91100

Genre: 1970s Historical, LGBTQIA+, 1970s, promiscuity, in the closet, college, bisexual, sexual discovery

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When Desmond goes off to college, he allows himself to be more open about his attraction to men rather than the secreted-away experiences he’s had in the past.

As Desmond grapples with the pressures and expectations society forces upon him, while trying to understand what his heart is telling him to do, he is initiated into a high-class gay underworld and attracts the attention of an influential—and potentially dangerous—closeted businessman.

Set in the fictional coastal town of Oakvale, New Jersey in the mid-1970s—a decade of alternative eroticism, experimentation, and promiscuity—When Love Calls Your Name follows Desmond as he discovers who he is and who he is expected to be.


When Love Calls Your Name
LBJ Harris © 2021
All Rights Reserved

Fantasies. What teen doesn’t have them? We’re taught that boys’ fantasies revolve around lust, while girls dream of love and romance. As a young man, I certainly fit that mold. And while my boyhood fantasies came true—to an extent—they evolved somewhere along the way, from lust to love. Moreover, they ended up clouding my judgment so completely and ruling my heart so firmly that they changed my life forever.

That evening, thoughts raced through my head as I stepped onto the field at the Oakvale High School stadium. The band played “Pomp and Circumstance” from the stands, and I wondered to myself, How many times have I sat up there, playing this same damn song for past graduates? How many times have I watched others walk the full length of this football field and wished it was me? Now it was my turn!

I scanned the stands for my family, but the crowd of faces was a blur. Carla—my senior-year sweetheart—was by my side, and she had never looked prettier. Now, it had taken a little manipulation on my part to get her there next to me, but it had been worth it. Or so I thought.

The day couldn’t have been more perfect. Ask, visualize, claim it, and it will be so.

At the height of the day, it had climbed to eighty degrees: warm enough for us to catch a swim at the Ocean Club. Around four in the afternoon, a light breeze cooled the air down to seventy degrees. The glowing full moon peeked over the eastern horizon, the sun not yet having set, far to the west, with a cool pink and blue salutation. High above, the heavens were a dome of sparkling diamonds. The stage was set. My high school graduation had arrived.

My name is Desmond Cameron Dawson. I am a Pisces, born on March 19; the middle of three children. My older brother is Calvin Vincent Jr., aged 25, whom we called Vinny. He attended law school at George Washington University in DC. My younger sister is Nina Nicole, who was to be a freshman at Oakvale High that upcoming fall.

I had what was known as bougie parents (upwardly mobile Black people), who achieved their success ten years ago. They decided to move us away from Newark, New Jersey, to this white, ocean-side town called Oakvale. It was just off the Garden State Parkway, halfway to Atlantic City.

Calvin Vincent Sr. and Mildred Nicole (Cal and Millie to each other; Mom—or, endearingly, Momma—and Dad to us) owned a small but prosperous advertising firm, with the original branch in Newark and a newer one here. Business was good—so good that my folks had achieved upper-middle-class status. They were good United Methodists too, raising their children in a predominantly African American church. We kids were acolytes; we sang in the choirs, did youth ministries. If you’re a United Methodist too, you know the drill.

So, what the hell were we doing in good old Whites-ville, USA? To hear our parents tell it, they’d moved us down here to ensure we’d get a good education.

And speaking of education, isn’t it funny, the things that run through your mind at milestones in your life? For instance, standing with my fellow seniors, waiting to march across that field, I thought to a time when—only five years old—I had been so sick I was unable to start school with the other kids my age.

I’d spent a year visiting over a dozen specialists, undergoing every test conceivable, trying out all sorts of medications—all to no avail. My illness had been so bad, making me weak to the point where I couldn’t get out of bed even to go pee, that doctors had finally given up hope, telling my parents the devastating news they would likely lose their youngest son at some point that year.

Momma wouldn’t accept it—not at all! She prayed long and hard—feverishly hard—and God answered her prayers. Miraculously, some weeks later, I had a full recovery. From then on, she would always tell me I was her prizewinning fighter.

I skipped from this memory to a present one—to what I considered my second major accomplishment of my life (after surviving my illness). Imagine this, if you can: I was about to become the first African American in my predominantly white high school to graduate at the top of my class. First out of three hundred and ninety-six students! Yep—I beat all those white folks to the top of the list! And despite being in law school, my brother Vinny hadn’t come close to matching me in the brains department: he graduated high school forty-fifth out of three hundred and fifty.

My parents were proud of me, to say the least. Their crazy-acting, late-blooming middle kid managed to get his shit together and come out on top. Top of my class, awards in French, history, and politics, captain of the debating team, top track athlete, and in the marching band, to boot. Momma cried tears of joy when the guidance counselor called to give her the news; Dad couldn’t stop calling our relatives to boast about his boy.

You want to know how hard it was to become valedictorian? Well, I knew for a fact the girl who finished second to the top hated me with a passion. Miss Dirty-Blonde-Bombshell-With-Glasses had worked her ass off for every top grade she earned. But as for me? By the time grade nine rolled around, I’d figured out the game. From that point onward, I found all this school shit straight up easy. Yeah. I’m one of those kids.

To an outside observer, everything in my life looked pretty good, right?

The truth was, I couldn’t wait to be done with it. I was ready to leave this small, meddlesome, dysfunctional community that would have chewed me up and spit me out without even blinking an eye, had I let it.

It was all good, though—I was on the verge of being done and had a foolproof plan to get out of here: I’d aced all my courses in school, gotten involved in the “right” extracurriculars, and scored 1600 on my SATs. And halfway through my senior year, I found out I had been accepted to some pretty prestigious universities, most of them with full scholarships: Princeton, Yale, Harvard, Temple, and Dartmouth.

Not wanting to be too far from Momma but needing to put a bit of distance between me and Oakvale, I chose Temple University in Philadelphia—an hour and a half down I-95. Temple had a great communications and journalism program there—rated one of the top ten programs in the country. I’d decided I was going to be a television correspondent, and come September, I would be taking my first step toward television stardom!

But back to graduation day. That ended up being a condensed reminder of the things I wanted to forget about high school, beginning—and not ending—with the memory of Samuel Garrison, an unexpected fantasy twist.

I guess I need to explain some things before I go on.

Samuel Garrison. My best and oldest friend in all of Oakvale. He and I had both been having…problems with our girlfriends that whole year. We’d ended up talking and consoling each other for much of that time. And before you ask the all-important question of who was getting poontang and who wasn’t: well, I was the less fortunate.

Samuel and I spent a lot of time barhopping during that year as well. Two years prior, they had lowered the legal drinking age to eighteen. We had died and gone to heaven, my posse and I—they turned eighteen at different points during our senior year, while I had reached the drinking age the year before. And believe me, they didn’t miss a beat trying to catch up to me. We quickly established some favorite watering holes we took girls to, but we also reserved a spot for gents only.

Every Friday night, we would sneak out to this strip club called The Cabaret. We couldn’t get enough of the place. Well, at least, Samuel couldn’t.

Back to the posse—there were four of us who went through Oakvale High School together: Matt, Samuel, Michael, and me. We all played trumpet in the band together. We ran indoor and outdoor track. Two of us were on the yearbook committee. Matt and I acted in school plays together. We may as well have lived together, we spent so much time in each other’s company.

I was the oldest of our group and the only brother. Did that make me feel uncomfortable at times? Yes! I was the butt of Samuel’s too-frequent racist jokes, and as I look back now, he was a real redneck. Yet there was more to him than that.

When I moved to Oakvale, I was just an average seven-year-old kid. I didn’t know anything about racism or prejudice. All I knew was that I wanted a friend—someone I could simply play with. Samuel was that person.

The day we moved in, I sat on the curb outside my new home, “staying out of the way of the movers.” Across the street sat a little boy, watching me. We stared at each other wordlessly for quite a long time. Finally, he yelled across the street, saying, “My name’s Samuel; what’s yours?”

I called back, “Desmond.”

Then he surprised me by saying, “You wanna be friends?”

And not wanting to seem overly keen on the idea, I said, “Mmm…okay.”

He stood up, looked both ways, and ran across the street. He held out his hand and I mine. We shook. And then he hugged me. It felt really strange, like a spark arcing between us; from that moment on through high school, we were essentially inseparable.

Despite being close, Samuel and I didn’t attend the same school until high school. His parents didn’t care much for public schools, so he attended St. Catherine’s Catholic School until the end of eighth grade. The Catholics didn’t have a high school, so he had no choice but to transfer to Oakvale High for ninth grade. I introduced him to Matt and Michael, and just like that, he was one of the boys. I knew from then on, high school life would take me and him to another level. And it did.


NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

LBJ Harris was born on October 1, 1958 in Neptune, New Jersey. He is one of seven children born to civil rights leaders. His mother chose his first name because it was unique, as she knew her baby would grow to be.

When he was seven years old, his parents moved the family to an all-white community, to ensure he and his siblings received a good education, and to guarantee their safety against opponents of their parent’s civil rights work.

Harris knew from an early age that he loved performing on stage. Throughout his early years and young adulthood, he performed in church choirs, his high school band, and in the high school drama club. Upon graduating from high school, his love of the arts led him to West Chester State College in Pennsylvania.
In 1979, Harris earned his Bachelor of Arts in Speech, Communications and Theater. While at college, he worked for the Three Little Bakers Dinner Theatre as a performer, lead dancer, and stage designer. His set designs and acting roles earned him major acclaim in local newspapers.

In 1981, he moved back to New Jersey where he formed a two-man performing duo, a joint company KapSig and eventually his own company, ‘Le Noir Cabaret Repertory Theater Company’.

Harris would move to writing, directing and producing originally written musicals for his local community as founder of Le Noir Cabaret. Those works included: ‘Moments in Love’, ‘An African American Musical Review’, ’SIBONISO’, ’Anna Mae’, and ‘Ashbury Cove’.

Harris and his theatre troupe toured his musical SIBONISO in 1994 at the newly renovated Paramount Theater, Asbury Park, NJ, and at the Carver Community Center in San Antonio, Texas.

In 1989 Harris chose to become a single father, adopting the first of his four children. He elected to place his arts career on hold after the arrival of twins in 1998. Over the next 15 years he focused on raising his four children and one grandnephew.

In August of 1999, while completing a second Master’s Degree in Education, Harris saw the birth of one more child: his novel, “When Love Calls Your Name”. He finished the manuscript in April of that next year, though ultimately shelved it, along with a number of other unpublished works.

After his youngest two children graduated from high school in June of 2014, Harris chose to return to the stage. That October, he appeared in the ensemble cast of African American men entitled, “Messages from Men: Machismo, Magen, Mirth & Maturity” at the Cape May Playhouse. He wrote and performed an original piece, “Letter to My Children”, in dedication to his children.

With a renewed yearning to pick up his career where he left off, Harris anticipates publishing his first fiction novel, “When Love Calls Your Name” in the fall of 2021.

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