Release Blitz + Giveaway: Liquid Courage by Stephanie Shea


Author Stephanie Shea and IndiGo Marketing visit with the Liquid Courage release blitz! Read more from today's promo and enter in the $10 Ninestar Press credit giveaway!

 

Title: Liquid Courage

Author: Stephanie Shea

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: November 23, 2020

Heat Level: 3 - Some Sex

Pairing: Female/Female

Length: 85800

Genre: Contemporary, LGBTQIA+, contemporary, new-adult, coming out, college, dark, friends to lovers, soulmates, slow burn/UST

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Synopsis

Alexandria Van Kirk has always been a slave to her romantic nature. When a night of liquid courage lands her in bed with one of her best friends, Alex is confronted by a host of feelings that terrify her. Feelings about her friend and, unexpectedly, a barista from her favorite café.

It’s a tug of war between heart and body. Desire against all her daydreams of someone to share silence, sunsets, and coffee with.

But Alex’s past is also about to catch up with her. Tortured memories and the girl they’re all about. It’s like fighting the pull of a whirlwind. A surefire losing battle. But embracing a newfound romance amid the return of an old flame is a precarious balance, one not even Alex herself is sure she can manage.

How the hell does she choose between the girl she loves and the one she could never confess loving to begin with?

Excerpt

Liquid Courage
Stephanie Shea © 2020
All Rights Reserved

It had been brewing for weeks.

No.

Months.

Alex supposed it didn’t matter how long. Tensions between her and Ryan had reached a boiling point. Her body thrummed with quiet unease as vodka scorched down her throat and seeped through her veins. She shouldn’t have been drinking this much. What had she eaten? A few chips and maybe half a dozen gummy bears? No wonder the liquor had gone to her head so fast. It was sort of a nice buzz though—enough for her to feel a little less inhibited but still be aware the creepy guy she’d met earlier had been trying to talk her into a dark corner for the last ten minutes.

She leaned against the doorframe, gaze weaving through the mass of sweaty bodies dancing in the living room to land on Ryan.

Ryan tossed her head back in a laugh, grinding on some random guy who was more than happy to have his hands all over her. Her red, ruched dress rode up her thighs with every move. She flipped her jet-black hair and swept it all to one shoulder as her eyes landed on Alex, a smirk lingering on her lips.

Alex’s skin prickled with sweat.

Maybe it wasn’t the vodka.

Maybe it was the fact that Dom had crammed more than fifty people into a house meant to accommodate three for the riot he called a birthday party. God knows Alex didn’t go to these things for fun, but Dom was her oldest friend. She loved him way too much to not show up for his birthday, even if she was as close as any technology-obsessed millennial to becoming a hermit.

The guy—what did say his name was?—leaned closer, pulling her attention to his gangly, unattractive form. “So, do you want to maybe take a walk down to the park?” He stared at her expectantly, sweaty red strands of hair clinging to his forehead. As if she was going to be lured into the park at midnight to be groped by some guy who resembled a ’90s crackhead.

“Do you know what Einstein’s definition of insanity is?” she asked.

“No. But being this close to you definitely drives me crazy.”

Alex rolled her eyes, pushing him out of her personal space. A spot to herself to wait out the night. That’s all she needed. The one she’d been standing in had been perfect. Until now. Her gaze flittered across the room where Ryan had been dancing only to land on strange faces. “Damn it.” She started forward and bumped her way through the teeming living room toward the kitchen.

Nothing.

Doubling back, she tried scanning every five-feet-something girl who had dark hair. It hadn’t occurred to her before how many girls fit the criteria. Still, it would only take seconds to process that this girl’s hair was a few shades too light; that one’s skin wasn’t pale enough. Another was wearing a nearly identical dress, but the arch of her back didn’t seem quite right. Ry had a bigger ass.

Alex halted at the sight of Ryan sitting hunched over in a loveseat across the living room. She pushed her way through the dancefloor. “Ry?” Alex tilted her head slightly. “What’s wrong?”

Ryan peered up, eyes glossy and gleaming as she grinned at Alex. “Nothing.” Her head fell to her lap again.

Alex drew her brows together. Nothing really appeared to be wrong with Ry besides her being a little tipsy and possibly playing an adult version of peek-a-boo. She slid into the free space on the couch and shifted at the press of Ryan’s thighs against hers. Proximity wouldn’t do much to resolve her internal conflict. It sure didn’t soothe the thought that even sitting there with this thing between them still simmering was a terrible idea. She forced it down. “Tell me what’s wrong.”

“I told you. It’s nothing.”

“Ry…come on.” Alex nudged her, pressing her forehead to the side of Ryan’s face to provoke her into lifting her head again.

“I got a little light-headed. I’m better now.”

“Promise?”

Ryan turned her head, her lips brushing against Alex’s. “Promise.”

Alex’s breath caught, her pulse climbing. The heat… It wasn’t the vodka or the party being too crowded. It was them. A million red lights went off in her head. Ryan was one of her best friends. Risking that would be stupid and impulsive, and they’d both had too much to drink.

Ry dragged in a deep breath, and their lips brushed again, and Alex’s hesitance burst into spectrums of green. She leaned forward, taking Ryan’s lips in a gentle kiss. Slow, timid almost, as if they were both afraid to react too much. To react more than the other.

Was it good or bad that Ryan had kissed her back? Even with all the weird tension between them, she’d never imagined how acting on it would feel. Some lines weren’t meant to be crossed. Now that she had, she craved more of Ryan’s lips on hers—soft and yielding.

They jerked apart as a girl bumped into them, spilling the last few drops of her drink onto Ryan’s lap. The girl giggled and offered a barely coherent “Sorry” as she stumbled away.

Ryan stood, Alex following as Ryan weaved her way through the crowd almost aggressively, forcing people out of the way with her hands to clear a path.

“Ry!” The music smothered Alex’s attempt.

Ryan rounded the corner at the end of the hallway leading out of the living room.

Alex quickened her steps. As she rounded the bend too, she noticed Dom’s bedroom door had been opened. She took a tentative step inside. “Ry? Are you in her—”

The door slammed, and Alex turned. Ryan backed into it with a thud, pulling Alex against her, their lips pressed against each others. Alex’s hands found Ryan’s hips, and she squeezed. Everything from her grip to the way her teeth latched onto Ryan’s bottom lip was a confession. There’d be no stopping now. Not unless Ryan came to her senses and pulled away. Deep down, Alex was pleading for that to happen before things went too far, before their bodies admitted every word their lips refused to speak.

Purchase

NineStar Press | Books2Read Universal Link

Meet the Author

Stephanie Shea is a self-proclaimed introvert, who spends her days as a banker daydreaming of becoming a full-time novelist. Her mind’s fixation on characters and plotlines date back to high school when she’d find herself scribbling notes on her first novel instead of paying attention in calculus. These days, she reaches for a Post-It in her desk when inspiration strikes.

Her favorite things include binging tv shows, creating worlds where no character is too queer, broken or sensitive, and snacks. Lots of snacks.

Someday, she hopes to curb her road rage, and get past her anxiety over social media and author bios. Find her at Instagram.

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Release Blitz + Giveaway: Turn by Erin M. Grillot


Author Erin M. Grillot and IndiGo Marketing host today's release blitz for Turn! Read more about the contemporary tale and enter in the $10 NineStar Press credit giveaway!

 

Title: Turn

Author: Erin M. Grillot

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: November 23, 2020

Heat Level: 2 - Fade to Black Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 69900

Genre: Contemporary, LGBTQIA+, contemporary, undercover/secret agent, childhood poverty, HFN

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Synopsis

The responsibilities Nathan has taken on are sometimes daunting, even as he loves his job. Always ready to rise to the occasion, he is both respected and feared in the office and in the field. His rise to quiet power has shaped his very being, and he knows each and every move as he plots his days and watches over his agents. His life has shaped him into a loner, however, and that is never more noticeable than when Eli begins work in Department 5.

Eli is not the typical Department 5 recruit, and his cheerful and polite nature is both intriguing and off-putting to Nathan. But as Eli weakens and breaks through Nathan’s walls, they gradually embark on a path of discovery and a relationship that defies both of their assumptions. It is by times quirky and odd, sometimes a little rough around the edges, always a bit fragile. But secrecy, lies, plots, and executions are Nathan’s job, and life—and some habits are hard to break. Finally, the tension their work holds can no longer be contained or ignored, and it threatens to destroy either themselves or all that they’ve found together.

Turn is a story about power, tough choices, and strategic moves—of knowing when to sacrifice a piece in this ongoing game of chess, sticking by your actions, and knowing what the endgame is—no matter what the personal cost. Most importantly, it’s about life’s hardest lesson. Sometimes love isn’t all that you need, and the wants of our hearts aren’t always enough to overcome who we are and the realities of life.

Excerpt

Turn
Erin M. Grillot © 2020
All Rights Reserved

They often say you have to let something go, and if it comes back to you, it’s yours. For the longest time I believed that was bullshit—the worst damn advice ever given. That those words, like so many others, were just one of the many lies we would tell ourselves to convince us it’ll all be okay. Patronizing and empty.

Or, so I had thought.

But, sometimes, you give up your queen to protect your king even if it isn’t what you want to do. You may not get that piece back, you may be stuck with a pawn the rest of the game, but you saved your king. And in a game of chess, that can be the difference between a win and a loss; and in life, the difference between survival and death, happiness and apathy, success and failure.

*

A headache builds near the edge of my temple tonight—just an inkling so far, spurred on by the limits I seem to keep pressing and expanding. History has proven that it will blossom into a full-blown one by tomorrow. It means I haven’t been sleeping enough, and I’ve been squinting at papers and screens for too many days in a row. I should go home, eat a real dinner, and sleep, if even for a few hours, in my own bed. I also know, as I know many things, it is unlikely to happen, not at already half eight and after an unexpected phone call with an undisclosed, yet disgruntled French government employee destroyed my productivity earlier this afternoon. A small sigh escapes me as I rub the bridge of my nose and turn my eyes back to the file in my hand.

I jest about my job sometimes to myself, oversimplifying it to the hero-and-villainesque themes of a childhood comic book. A therapist might say it is a coping mechanism, which may be true, but if I think of it that way, then the real-life complexity doesn’t matter to me. I am aware my day-to-day decisions are more gray than black-and-white. The business of secretly making sure the free world stays that way isn’t a quiet desk job for the faint of heart. It is an unending mess of data and decisions juggled and balanced with ruthlessness, subterfuge, PR, and ridiculous amounts of coffee. A veritable nightmare some days, but utterly fulfilling in its endgame.

These last few years, I am rarely active in the field anymore, generally spending my time in either the planning or cleanup stages of the operations, hidden in some windowless office that justifies my lack of knowledge about the weather. But the past weeks, I have ended up involved in multiple side tasks that take me back to my beginning days here at Department 5. Side tasks that come with their own laundry list of issues. And while I thrive on it all, relish each time I tick something off a to-do list, close out a deal, solve an international incident, save a life, take a life—there is still a limit. I need a break, probably more than I realize.

Some days, I am not even sure what it is I do all day, what this job has made of me. There are papers and meetings, decisions and actions. I oversee budgets and tactile missions in the same sentence somedays, make war and peace on two different continents in the span of hours, make a decision about copier paper and which guns to supply with the same signature. I’m still damn good at my job, even when I don’t always quite know how to define it.

There was never an interview, at least not an official one. My title and job description don’t actually exist. I’ve been here edging toward twenty years now, and after years of missions and working my way through the ranks, it seemed to simply happen. There was suddenly an open office and a second bodyguard; respect and fear; John, my mentor, quietly slipping out of the picture. And it was never said out loud, possibly never even thought—all my door says on it is my name—but it was as if it didn’t need saying or to be written. It simply was. Someone always needs to be at the top.

Sometimes, though, sitting in my office late at night, I wish I could see a self-portrait of myself. Do I look as old and tired as I feel, despite still being in my midthirties? Is this suit the powerhouse I imagined when putting it on this morning? Are the worry lines showing on my forehead; how disheveled does my hair look today? The physical attributes I feel define me…are they noticeable, or is it my own inherent belief that these things matter that makes them so? My elbows crooked at a crisp ninety-degree angle, resting along the desk with my sleeves rolled, tie and vest still in perfect condition…is it the picture that I think it is?

Image—being seen, or not seen, as I want to be—has been an armor for me since I was little, since I first discovered what it could do for me. The first time I learned how to hide in the library, how to camouflage myself as belonging somewhere I wasn’t supposed to be, looking the part to get handouts, not looking the part to avoid the critical eye of the police or school counselor. Clothes, demeanor, actions, stance, pronunciation…all a part of the package perfected in many ways over the years. It is an everyday thing for me now and as intrinsic as breathing.

My mind runs through it all in the background, juggling to keep a million things straight and on their course as I scan through the proposal—an eighty-plus page document that should have been twenty. Flowery and overdetailed, the analyst has potential, but he’s too fresh, too eager. I’m forcing myself through the pages, jotting notes and underlining the key pieces that were relatively well done. It’s tiring, more so than it should be, but there’s something important about knowing your employees and colleagues and what their thoughts and potential are. I expect a lot of my employees, and they rarely fail to deliver, but I also teach them well. I’m a hard boss, but I am also a fair one. I work more hours than anyone under me, something I make sure of each week. I can’t expect it of them if I can’t do it myself.

A sharp rap on the door startles me, and I blink slowly. The clock reads eleven thirty, and another slow blink reveals the same. Hours have passed without my knowledge. Peering down at the papers still in my grip, I find myself on page seventy-two, same as when I’d glanced at the clock striking nine. I roll my neck gently. My headache won’t be the only thing bothering me tomorrow.

I stand as Robert turns the knob and eases the door open. He stands up fully as soon as he spots me, and the slight frown already on his face deepens.

“Ready?” he asks.

My eyes cast wistfully toward the stack of papers for only a second before I grab them, nod, and follow him out of the room and down the hall. He holds open the car door as I climb in the back, and as he pulls away from the curb, a small yawn escapes my lips. His eyes track to mine in the rearview mirror, but anything he thinks of saying is silenced by whatever he sees on my face. If it is enough to leave him off his mothering, it probably isn’t good.

Five minutes later, he pulls in front of my building, and the car crawls to a stop. The small light in the entryway is on, which means Robert has made sure someone is on duty tonight. Despite my tiredness and headache, the smile tugs at the corners of my lips, and it doesn’t leave until I hear the car pull away after I shut the door behind me. I climb the stairs and unlock my own front door out of muscle memory.

I loosen my tie and, for just a moment, lean back against the door, letting the faint feeling of home wash over me. It is a small moment, over almost as it begins, but it gives me the strength to change into sweats and not lie down on the bed, and to make notes on the remaining twelve pages of the proposal brief I’d been working through before officially calling it a night.

Purchase

NineStar Press | Books2Read Universal Link

Meet the Author

Erin is a native Midwesterner who has spent her life loving words in all their forms. Turn is her first novel. She lives in Iowa with her three children. An avid wine lover, introvert, coffee addict, and nerd; most of her free time is spent with her children, reading, or writing. Find Erin on Twitter.

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Guest Review: First (99 Daddies #1) by Casey Cox

First: (adverb)
a: before another in time, space, or importance.
b: for the first time.
See also: Stirling "First-Time Daddy" Bishop.

A boy who can't find what he wants.
A Daddy who doesn't know what he needs.

With his big blue eyes, lean frame, and propensity for adorkable clumsiness, Mikey Harrison is a Daddy magnet...for the wrong type of Daddy. Those who mistake his desire to serve as an open invitation to mistreat him and abuse his trust.

But all of that changes when he lays his eyes on Stirling Bishop. Sure, the strong, silent (and irresistibly sexy) type ticks all of his boxes, but it's the tenderness underlying Stirling’s strength that makes him achingly irresistible.

For Mikey, it's insta-love.
For Stirling, it's insta-huh?

Despite looking like he was put on this earth to be the Daddy of every boy's dreams, the thought of dating a younger guy has never even crossed Stirling's mind, much less the idea of being a Daddy.

But there's no denying that Mikey awakens something deep within him—the desire to dominate, the need to care. It's been dormant, yet bubbling under the surface within him for his entire life.

Can Mikey help Stirling find the strength he needs to be the Daddy he was meant to be...and become the Daddy of Mikey's dreams?


Reviewer: Shee Reader

This book was adorable!

In a fictional city where daddies are plentiful, Mikey and his best pal Nick work as naked butlers for extra cash. Their employment at a special birthday bash for a group of men in a swanky suburb gave Mikey and Nick plenty to look at as they acted as stable for snacks!

Mikey (often a magnet for the wrong type of man) declared himself off the interested list right before his eye catches on Stirling Bishop. Stirling had attended the party for his dear friend Steel’s birthday, even though he really wasn’t feeling it. Sterling had been through three of the hardest years of his life, but a big birthday was worth celebrating no matter how hard life was. Stirling greets his friends before his eye catches on the adorable *naked* men acting as a table. Well, well.

Stirling's three best friends were all big men on the local daddy scene. Could their interference help Stirling discover an as yet unknown side to himself?

Mikey knows exactly what, or rather who, he wants. He wants Stirling to be his daddy - Mikey can teach him everything he needs to know, if only he were willing!

The lovely pair try dating and more, but Stirling pushes Mikey away so much that eventually, broken hearted, Mikey gives up. Will Stirling be able to pull this one back into his arms for good?

The HEA was well worth the drama, and Mikey finally gets what he needs and deserves thanks to some excellent meddling and a reluctant daddy who has to discover himself. This was a good fun, sometimes sexy romp with a delightful May-December age gap and a dose of good daddy kink.

Recommended!

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



Release Blitz + Giveaway: Glove Save And A Beauty by K.R. Collins


Author K.R. Collins and IndiGo Marketing host holiday release blitz for Glove Save and a Beauty! Find out more about the story and enter in the $10 NineStar Press credit giveaway!

Title: Glove Save and a Beauty

Series: A Sophie Fournier Holiday Story

Author: K.R. Collins

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: November 23, 2020

Heat Level: 1 - No Sex

Pairing: No Romance

Length: 31400

Genre: Contemporary, LGBTQIA+, Contemporary, seasonal, sports, asexual, hockey, goaltender, Thanksgiving

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Synopsis

Gabrielle grew up in the shadow of Five-Hole Billy. When she becomes a goaltender, she carries two important lessons with her. Don’t rely on the fans for support and always protect the five-hole.

Isolated by the nature of her position and her personality, she struggles to fit in with her team. On the ice, she guards the net, the last line of defense when their efforts fail. Off the ice, her team views her as a girl, not a teammate, as if she can’t be more than one thing at once.

She doesn’t have the patience for their lack of understanding. She resigns herself to a quiet, lonely career set apart from her team. And then she gains a new teammate, someone outgoing enough to overcome her social awkwardness but who always respects the boundaries she sets. He meets her where she is, and she does the same in return.

Excerpt

Juniors marks her first Thanksgiving away from home. She lives with a billet family, because her team is too far to make the commute from her house. It’s close enough to Quebec to drive home for the holiday, because it’s a long weekend, but she doesn’t have a car, and Coach made it clear he expected them to celebrate together.

“Team is family,” he said and that was it, no discussion required.

She calls home to break the news as gently as she can. When she first left for this next stage in her hockey career, her mom cried. Her dad’s eyes grew misty. Gabrielle, uncomfortable with open displays of emotion, doesn’t want a repeat.

There isn’t one. She talks to her dad who says he understands and, later, after she’s hung up, she wonders if maybe he does understand and that’s why he was upset when she left. He knew it was a long-term departure. She won’t be home for holidays, and when she’s home in the summer, her days will be filled with training for next season.

And, provided everything goes well, when she’s finished with Junior hockey, there will be another level, one which will demand more of her time. She isn’t sure what level it will be yet. Playing Junior hockey meant giving up her college eligibility. The boys all have their sights set on the North American Hockey League.

There’s never been a woman in the NAHL before but, as people are beginning to whisper, there are no rules saying they can’t play. The whispers grow louder with every year Sophie Fournier plays, setting records and forcing people to think maybe. Sophie is only a year older than Gabrielle, and while she is making strides, they’re still a few years away from the NAHL being a consideration.

Gabrielle keeps her focus on the present. She shares the net with Dirk Trevens who resents her for being younger than him and for being a girl. He thinks those two things should make her worse than she is. Technically, she’s his backup, but she plays almost half of their games. They’re teammates, but he sees her as a threat.

By nature of their position, they spend almost all of their time together at practice, but she has a reputation for not speaking much, and their goalie coach doesn’t care if they get along as long as they listen when he tells them to do a drill.

Dirk will be easy to avoid at the Thanksgiving celebration with all their other teammates there. They celebrate on Sunday, so they can be with their billet families on Monday for the actual holiday. It means Gabrielle spends almost all of Saturday in the kitchen, baking both for her team and her billet family.

She closes the door to the kitchen, puts on her playlist—quiet and classical—and then opens her recipe binder. Each recipe is tucked inside a page protector in case of errant batter or other mess. They’re written in her neat script, and she can hear her father’s voice as she looks at the ingredient lists and steps. She ties her apron on. She’s outgrown the first one her dad gifted her, but like all the others before it, this one has a butterfly on it. It has three across the hem.

She’s never done Thanksgiving baking on her own. She misses her father’s steady presence, how she always knew he was there and paying attention even if they weren’t talking. He used to do the baking on his own before he invited her into the kitchen with him. Does he miss her, too, or is he glad for the return to his original routine?

She slices apples for pie and sugars strawberries for shortcake, and she makes chocolate chip cookies because they’re easy. Her playlist changes songs, and this one is familiar, from a ballet recital before she had to choose between ballet and hockey. She moves through the kitchen and occasionally goes up on her toes when a string of notes reminds her of a performance from years ago.

She was a figure skater and a ballerina long before she was a hockey player. She gave them both up to pursue hockey, because dedicated commitment is the only way to reach her goals. It doesn’t mean she loves either of them any less.

While baking is her Thanksgiving tradition with her dad, she and her mom would shop for Gabrielle’s holiday outfit. Well, when Gabrielle was young, her mom would buy it on her own. Three years after Gabrielle learned how to bake, her mom started taking Gabrielle on her annual shopping trip.

She doesn’t miss her mom while she peruses the mall for this year’s Thanksgiving outfit. Gabrielle’s always had a strong sense of her own style, and it didn’t often line up with her mom’s. She buys a forest-green jersey dress, because the fabric is soft and comfortable, and today’s get-together isn’t anything formal.

There are brown leather tassels on the short sleeves and a matching belt, wide and made to be worn just under the rib cage. She wears a long gold necklace with a circular pendant, a pair of ballet flats, and enough makeup to be noticeable. She pulls the top half of her hair back and braids it to keep it out of her face. She lets the rest hang down.

It’s a softer look than her teammates are used to seeing. She wears skirts and dresses to practice, but she doesn’t see her teammates before she slips into her locker room to change. They haven’t had their first game which means they haven’t seen any of her game-day dresses either.

She checks her appearance one last time, because she has an important impression to make today. She is their teammate, but she holds herself to a higher standard than wrinkled polos and thick clouds of cologne. She likes soft fabrics and fitted dresses and finding the perfect pair of shoes. Being feminine doesn’t mean she can’t stop pucks. Some of them will assume that after seeing her today, but she’ll set them to rights at their next practice.

Her billet parents pull up to the curb, but her billet dad doesn’t unlock the car yet. He twists in his seat so he can look at her directly rather than through the mirror. “This is your first team event. You have your cell phone and our numbers. If anything makes you uncomfortable, call us, and we’ll pick you up.”

“Thank you.” She knows they care—billet programs are competitive and coveted—but she figured they cared about their reputation. They care about her, and she offers them a genuine smile. “The Donnellys will be in the guest house.”

The Donnellys, today’s hosts, are a legacy billet family. They’ve hosted a player every year for the past fifteen years. Gabrielle’s never been to someone’s home where they have a main house and a guest house, but there’s a first time for everything. Her billet dad frowns at the reminder of minimum supervision, so she scoots out of the car before he can fumble his way through another well-meaning talk.

Once she’s out of the car, she can hear the music and laughter of a party already in half, if not full swing. She’s always early to practice and late to social gatherings. The former shows dedication, and the latter helps her avoid awkward misunderstandings.

Of course, being the last one to arrive means she makes an entrance, and everyone’s gaze swings toward her as she joins her teammates in the spacious backyard.

“You’re a girl!” Justin blurts. His face flames red, but his embarrassment turns to stubbornness as their teammates chirp him. “I mean, you look like one.”

“I always look like a girl.” She knows what he means—she’s in a dress rather than her hockey pads—but being a hockey player doesn’t make her less of a girl. And her dress, as much as she loves it, doesn’t make her more of one. She’s a girl because she’s a girl. The rest is presentation.

On the ice, she presents herself as a goalie. Her padding makes her bigger, helps her fill the net and intimidate the opposition before she makes her first move. Off the ice, she gravitates toward dresses and fitted blouses, in part because she likes them and, yes, in part because her teammates need the reminder.

Gabrielle intends to live a full life. She loves being on the ice, and she’ll make a name for herself in net. But she won’t spend all her time off the ice longing to be back on it. She’ll bake and shop and do yoga. She’ll paint her nails, look up new hairstyles to try, and read when she has the time.

“You brought pie.” It’s Mrs. Donnelly who looks past the dress and the makeup and sees what Gabrielle holds in her hands. “Did Cathy help you make them?”

“I made them myself. My dad taught me how.”

Mrs. Donnelly looks from the pies to Gabrielle and then back to the pies. Her disbelief is obvious, but she smiles as if willing to indulge Gabrielle’s fantasy. Gabrielle is reluctant to hand her offering over, but Mrs. Donnelly doesn’t give her much choice, taking the box of baked goods and bringing them into the house.

“You can bake?” It’s Justin again, right up in Gabrielle’s space, close enough for his cologne to choke out her subtle perfume. She fixes him with her best goalie stare, and he takes a step back. Unfortunately, it doesn’t deter him completely. “Sorry. But like, is there anything you can’t do?”

Because their teammates are assholes, there’s an immediate dogpile on Justin as they chirp him again.

“Oh, Gabrielle, you’re perfect,” Claude coos in a high-pitched impression of Justin’s voice.

“Gabrielle, will you bake me something?” Russ asks.

Gabrielle rolls her eyes at their antics and fares much better than Justin who turns an alarming shade of red. As if to prove he doesn’t have a crush on Gabrielle, Justin avoids her for the rest of the party. He sits at the opposite end of the table, and he carefully doesn’t look at her when they bring out the dessert.

Mark, who hadn’t been one of the more vicious mockers, takes his first bite of blueberry pie and gasps. He quickly takes another slice and deposits the piece on Justin’s plate. “You have to try this, dude. Life. Changer.”

There’s a mad scramble for dessert, and without any adults to mediate, there’s a chance it will end in broken dishes and blueberry filling smeared on people’s shirts. Instead, everyone manages at least two desserts on their plate, and Gabrielle finally earns her silence.

For a few minutes, there’s no talking. Whatever magic her dad works in the kitchen, she’s inherited it. The pie goes quickly, but the cookies disappear just as fast once her teammates realize she brought those as well.

“I’m doing this again next weekend,” Claude says, the first to break the silence. “With Bella and her family.”

“The pie won’t be as good,” Mark says.

Claude doesn’t defend his girlfriend, but he doesn’t agree either. He looks longingly at the empty pie pan and sighs.

“I can’t believe you have a girlfriend. Is she going to sit in the stands for all our games? Wear your spare jersey?”

“Nah, that thing reeks. She has her own.” Claude smiles and ducks his head, a little bashful, even as half of their teammates stare at him enviously.

“What about you?” Mark asks Gabrielle.

“I don’t have a girlfriend,” Gabrielle answers. And then, as Mark splutters, she adds, “I don’t have a boyfriend either.”

And she doesn’t have any interest in dating. Like baking, dating follows a predictable recipe. Only, instead of sift flour and chop apples and beat eggs, it’s go out to dinner for the first date, hold hands at the movies for the second, kiss on the third. She doesn’t want to do any of those things, especially as the recipe continues. If date five means having some guy try to stick his tongue in her mouth, she won’t go out with the same person five times. She isn’t sure she’ll ever make it to a second date.

It’s comforting, in a way, to know the pattern, because it means she won’t be caught off guard.

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Meet the Author

K.R. Collins went to college in Pennsylvania where she learned to write and fell in love with hockey. When she isn’t working or writing, she watches hockey games and claims it’s for research. Find K.R. on Twitter.

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Release Blitz + Giveaway: Burning it Down (CalPac Crew #3) by C. Koehler


Author C. Koehler and IndiGo Marketing return with a release blitz for the latest from the CalPac Crew series, Burning it Down (CalPac Crew #3)! Learn more about the contemporary romance and enter in the $10 NineStar Press credit giveaway!

 

Title: Burning It Down

Series: CalPac Crew, Book Three

Author: C. Koehler

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: November 23, 2020

Heat Level: 3 - Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 87400

Genre: Contemporary, LGBTQIA+, sports, firefighter, veterinarian, rowing, accident rehabilitation, new identity

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Synopsis

Owen Douglas, Sacramento’s first out battalion chief, is grievously injured in the line of duty. When Brad Sundstrom finds out that Owen’s been noncompliant with his physical therapy due to depression, he pushes Owen into the Capital City Rowing Club’s adaptive rowing program.

Adam Lennox, a former collegiate rower, escapes an abusive relationship and makes his way to CCRC and quickly finds himself dragooned into helping out with adaptive rowing.

Owen, much to his surprise, finds both rowing and Adam much to his liking. When he realizes that Adam returns his interest, the sparks fly and they start a relationship. But even Eden has its snake, and Adam’s ex, Jordan, comes looking for him, willing to do anything to make Adam and Owen pay.

Excerpt

Burning It Down
C. Koehler © 2020
All Rights Reserved

Late summer, approximately a year and a half after the start of Rocking the Boat.

Four months into his new job as battalion chief for Sacramento City Fire’s second battalion and Owen Douglas still couldn’t sit still. Sure, he knew the job from a theoretical standpoint, and every day he learned more from a practical standpoint, but he couldn’t ignore the niggling discomfort he felt when he saw those bugles on his collar. Like his new uniform didn’t fit quite right, and perhaps from a certain point of view, it didn’t. No matter how he squinted or how many times he turned it this way or that, he couldn’t see all that much light between his investigation into the arson at the Bayard House at the beginning of the year and his promotion to battalion chief. More to the point, neither could the men and women under his command.

Not to mention every time he opened his mouth, unicorns crapping glitter and rainbows popped out. At least, that was what people seemed to be waiting for. He liked to think he was discreet, that nothing at work proclaimed him Big Gay Owen, no snapshots of boyfriends, no photos of him shaking his ass on a Mardi Gras float, no matter how much fun he’d had in Sydney, just a subtle rainbow on his battered 4Runner, a bar no bigger than the head of a toothbrush. He tried not to play the gay card, but he was the first out battalion chief in the fire department’s history, and well he knew it. More to the point, the people under his command knew it. Maybe he was just making too big a deal out of it or felt guilty for being promoted over the heads of more senior firefighters.

His intercom buzzed with his secretary on the other end. “Yes?” Owen said.

“Prissy Morrain to see you.”

“Oh! Send her in, please.” He dashed to his office door. He didn’t expect her until tomorrow.

Owen routinely left his office door open, but he quickly got out from behind his desk to greet his visitor, and not just because she outranked him.

“Chief Morrain! I’m so sorry! I must’ve made a mistake in my calendar. I wasn’t expecting you until tomorrow—”

Prissy Morrain waved a manicured hand. “Retired Chief, and I’m a day early. We both have better things to do than make small talk over hors d’oeuvres over at some white-tablecloth restaurant. Did you bring your lunch today?”

Owen nodded. Since he was a “first” for the department, he’d sought out the advice of another “first,” the first woman battalion chief, now retired from active firefighting and promoted off to one side to do something less dangerous involving paperwork. “I’ll grab it out of the fridge. There’s a nice park a block away. We can eat there.”

“That’ll do fine.”

Prissy Morrain was a handsome woman, Owen thought; really, she could’ve been one of those older models, the ones with silver hair and flawless skin who pitched vitamins to women of a certain age. Her wrinkles weren’t so much age lines scoring her face with years but delicate lines of character radiating out from her eyes and around her mouth to accentuate a ready smile. How she’d managed that with a career spent fighting fires and sexism, he’d never know.

He spent the short walk to the park rehearsing what he wanted to say, but when Prissy asked, “So what’s the problem?” Owen could only blurt, “I’m just not clicking with the people under me. This station, sure. My office is here, but the other stations in this battalion not so much, and there’s one station that when I walk in everything stops for a few minutes while I walk back to talk to the captain on duty, and that’s just creepy.”

“Have you talked to human resources?”

“Don’t be absurd” slipped out before he could stop it.

Prissy laughed. “Smart man. You don’t want this on your record.”

And that was why he’d contacted her. “Team-building exercises aren’t my thing at this point and are just a waste of time. I’m not in a burning building with these guys. They simply need to function with each other and work in coordinated groups, and they do. But I don’t like getting the stink eye either.”

“Look, hearts of gold, most of these guys, but it’s a conservative profession. The younger ones are yours,” Prissy said, arching one eyebrow, “maybe even literally. There’s more than one gay man among the recruits, and you’re a fine-looking specimen yourself.” She peered over the rims of her mirrored sunglasses, holding up one hand when Owen opened his mouth to interrupt. “Of course, you know better than that, but you know what I mean. It’s the ones who’ve been around a few years, the ones who’re your age and older, you may have to prove yourself to, the ones who might’ve even been up for your job. They’re the ones thinking ‘fag’ behind their smiles.”

“Or not, some of them,” Owen grumbled. “A few of them don’t even bother to smile.”

Prissy chuckled. “They’ll soon learn the stupidity of that. They may be comfortable for A or B shift, but if they’re dumb enough to piss in the battalion chief’s Wheaties, then they’ll have plenty of time to learn the errors of their ways on C shift, or better yet, transfer to someone else’s command. Too bad for them you’ve got just about the best battalion in town.”

It was true. Since he’d captained one of the downtown stations, when he’d been promoted, the fire department put him into an entirely different battalion so he wouldn’t be in immediate charge of his old buddies. The open battalion encompassed Midtown, East Sac, and part of the Pocket, named for the land inscribed within a bend in the Sacramento River. Sometimes he wondered if it was a coincidence that the city’s first out battalion chief also oversaw the gayborhood. He shrugged mentally. Oh well, easier relations during fire inspections, right? “That just seems so petty.”

“And the frat boy antics aren’t?”

Owen sighed. “True enough.”

“It’s not something you want to do often, because you will hear from their union reps about that, and about anything else if they develop an axe to grind,” Prissy said, “but used strategically, it can make your point quite nicely, and the best part is, it’s hard to prove.”

Owen nodded his head slowly. “One hundred and sixty-eight hours in a week, and five stations to staff twenty-four seven in three shifts.”

“Exactly. If you need to, you can always find something miserable for someone to do for a shift or two.” She ate some of her sandwich while she thought. “One more thing, and I hesitate even to mention it, but it was something a few—a very few—of my own firefighters used against me.” At his quizzical look, she said, “Sexual harassment.”

Owen sat back, tossing his own sandwich down. “Oh, that’s just what I need.”

Prissy patted his hand. “Don’t go borrowing trouble. It hasn’t happened yet, but you need to be aware of the possibility. You’re an out gay man, and you supervise a lot of men, some of whom are, by your own admission, not very happy right now. If they can’t pin anything else on you, they may try that.”

“Did that happen to you?” Owen asked, no longer hungry.

“Oh yes. I was a by-the-book chief, and when they couldn’t come up with anything else, some union rep had the bright idea of sexual harassment. Male firefighters, female chief. It was a situation rife with possibilities. Too bad for them and their credibility none of it was true, which quickly emerged when it came to a hearing. The judge laughed them out of court. It may be the same with you. You’ll be a by-the-book battalion chief, but some of them won’t like you just because you’re you, and the only thing they’ll come up with is that you ‘looked at ’em funny’.” She snorted. “Like you’d go for their stringy asses.” She stood up. “You know how to reach me, so do it if you need to. If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go sculling. One of the advantages of seniority and a desk job is that you can take off more or less at will and no one will miss you. Of course, that’s one of the disadvantages too.”

Rowing. Brad. “Does everyone in this town row?”

“Only the best people. You should come check it out. The Capital City Rowing Club’s adult learn-to-row camps are about done for the summer, but there are still learn-to-scull lessons available.”

“Thanks for the talk. I really appreciate you taking the time,” Owen said, remembering a time he had been anything but by-the-book. The Bayard House. The second floor. Brad. He shivered at the thought of what they’d done. Unprofessional as it had been, it had also been damn hot.

And just the kind of thing people looking to take him down would eat up with a spoon. Fortunately, Brad didn’t seem like the kind to tell tales out of school. He was just too nice a guy. Brad had spent their one encounter thinking of someone else, someone who’d dumped him, and still the big sweetheart had pined for that other guy, even with Owen’s lips wrapped around his cock, and hadn’t that ever done wonders for his ego.

Owen wanted that, wanted that kind of devotion, he thought, sitting there in the leafy green silence of the park. Instead, like that time in the still-smoldering Bayard House, he was just the hookup. He got Brad off and sent him home and then followed up to make sure Brad called whatshisname. He liked to think he was more honorable than most, always the nice guy, always finishing last.

Then he heard the sirens and that was it, no more lunch. That was fine. He’d parted company with his appetite around the time Prissy had mentioned sexual harassment. The park was barely two blocks from the station, but he jogged back. “What’s going on?” Owen asked the dispatcher when he got back.

“A small grass fire at Cal Expo, sir. It doesn’t sound like anything to get excited over.”

Yet. In Owen’s experience, all fires were worth getting excited over, at least until proven otherwise. But maybe that was why he was a firefighter. He liked suiting up in his turnouts and racing to a fire in an engine running hot. He shook his head to clear the rising tide of adrenaline. He’d given some of that up to become battalion chief.

Then the radio went off. He picked it up. “Douglas.”

“I need four more alarms. This thing’s bigger than we were told. Much bigger, and it’s heading for structures.”

“On our way.” He put the radio down. “You heard Captain Chin. Get those trucks moving and notify Arden-Arcade,” he told the dispatcher.

“Beaufort!” he yelled for his driver as he ran for his office and his turnouts. A huge grass fire at Cal Expo that’s heading for the pavilions, and the state fair in less than a month. Why do I always end up involved in political fires?

He wore his turnout pants over his uniform. Sure, he’d sweat like a thoroughbred in moments in the heat once they arrived at the fire. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time. The rest he chucked in the backseat of the command SUV with the communications equipment. Then he checked his watch as he climbed into the passenger seat. Less than five minutes. Not ideal, but at least he beat his driver.

Beaufort came running up seconds later. “Damn, sir. How do you do that?”

“Because I’m a firefighter.”

“Ha ha,” Beaufort replied, climbing behind the wheel and flicking the sirens and lights on. But it was true. After earning his bachelor’s in biological sciences at UC Davis, Owen had gone to the Fire Academy at Sierra College. Beaufort studied communications and joined the department in that capacity, along with driving Owen’s now important executive-level ass to big fires.

Owen glanced out of Beaufort’s side of the SUV. “Look—!”

All he could tell was that it wasn’t one of his, and then the enormous fire truck smashed into them, tossing the SUV aside like a rag doll. He lost consciousness as the airbags deployed with a thunderclap.

Purchase

NineStar Press | Books2Read Universal Link

Meet the Author

Christopher Koehler always wanted to write, but it wasn’t until his grad school years that he realized writing was how he wanted to spend his life. Long something of a hothouse flower, he’s been lucky to be surrounded by people who encouraged that, especially his long-suffering husband of twenty-nine years and counting.

He loves many genres of fiction and nonfiction, but he’s especially fond of romances, because it’s in them that human emotions and relations, at least most of the ones fit to be discussed publicly, are laid bare.

While writing is his passion and his life, when he’s not doing that, he’s a househusband, at-home dad, and oarsman with a slightly disturbing interest in manners and the other ways people behave badly.

Christopher is approaching the tenth anniversary of publication and has been fortunate to be recognized for his writing, including by the American Library Association, which named Poz a 2016 Recommended Title, and an Honorable Mention for “Transformation,” in Innovation, Volume 6 of Queer Sci Fi’s Flash Fiction Anthology.

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Release Blitz + Giveaway: Catch a Falling Snowflake by Ava Kelly


Author Ava Kelly and IndiGo Marketing celebrate the release of holiday story, Catch a Falling Snowflake! Find out more and enter in the $10 NineStar Press credit giveaway!

Title: Catch a Falling Snowflake

Series: Snow Globes, Book Four

Author: Ava Kelly

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: November 23, 2020

Heat Level: 1 - No Sex

Pairing: Male/Male, Female/Female

Length: 18700

Genre: Contemporary, LGBTQIA+, contemporary, gay, pansexual, transgender, lesbian, intercultural, holiday/Christmas, established couples, children, grieving, family, holiday traditions, foster care

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Synopsis

The previous winter, Leon followed his twin sister Sara to a new town where she could be with her partner, Amber. There, Leon’s boyfriend Nick, friends Jeff and Daniel, and their nine-year-old daughter Abby, swiftly swept him up into their lives, a newfound family.

After a year of growing their relationship, Leon is ready to take it to the next level. Nick, however, has been stalling. When Ben, Abby’s best friend, is suddenly abandoned, Leon is excited to finally care for the children he’s always wanted. Haunted by the mistakes of his past, Nick attempts to reconcile his feelings of inadequacy as a parent with Leon’s wishes.

Against the backdrop of winter holidays filled with traditions from around the world, it is up to Leon to decide if he’s willing to stand by Nick, or if he should find his happiness elsewhere.

Catch a Falling Snowflake, the fourth story in the Snow Globes holiday series, can be read as a stand-alone, but greater enjoyment will come with reading about these characters in the order written.

Excerpt

Catch a Falling Snowflake
Ava Kelly © 2020
All Rights Reserved

The community center was quiet for a Thursday. With vacation and beckoning winter celebrations a day away, Nick expected the ebb of youthful visitors to slow down. Besides, early afternoon was always the calmest, no matter the day. Perhaps that was why he’d chosen this particular time for the support group. Sure, it served those who worked nights, unlike most of the other meetings usually held in the evenings, but Dr. Mahler had had a few requests to organize one during the day, and that was where Nick came in.

He’d been back in his hometown for two years, and soon after settling in, he’d started attending one of the grief support groups. Not that his loss was still fresh, not after years, but as a check-in with himself. As an example for others that, yes, survival was possible. He’d made friends with the local therapist; she was supportive, and he’d booked a session or two when he needed an objective ear. He was doing well.

With a smile to himself, Nick checked on the coffee thermos on the side table, then made sure the heaters underneath the windows of the meeting room were turned on. Outside, snow fell in sparse flakes. Not enough to settle and disrupt activity, but enough to give the air that chilling bite of winter.

Beyond the hills on which the town stretched, the mountains rose toward the gray sky, covered in thick pine forests. He’d missed the view. Missed the people, the smells, the buildings.

He was back to stay. No matter what happened, he wouldn’t leave again. He’d made sure to have some safety nets this time around, just in case. Volunteering for the center, for one, running this group for another, and Dr. Mahler, whom Nick had grown to trust after two years.

Nothing, however, was more important than the people in his life.

Footsteps and voices from the corridor pulled Nick from his musings. He turned to greet the two people walking in, and then another, and another, until six strangers sat in the circle of folding chairs, staring at him. Nick cleared his throat.

“I guess we should start,” he said. “Hello, everyone. My name is Nick, and I’ll be your group leader here. I’d like to remind you that this is not a therapy session, but only a space to talk. If you feel like you need more, Dr. Mahler is here.”

He gestured then, to the side, where a small office was nestled behind glass windows, door closed. The doc waved at them from her desk, legs kicked up casually onto it, crossed at the ankles, an open book in her hand. She grinned and gave them all a thumbs-up.

Around Nick, a couple of people nodded, someone waved back, and the youth with their nose in the collar of their hoodie snorted. Nick made a mental note to check later on their age.

“Doc will be here until tonight, so if you wanna sneak back after we’re finished…”

That, at least, earned him some chuckles. Nick tried not to read too much into it. He’d been to meetings full of strangers before. This would be no different. Determination reinforced, he took a deep breath.

“We’re here to talk, but don’t feel like you have to. You can just listen, if that works. But I’d like to remind everyone to be mindful and respect the privacy of these meetings.”

All nodded, and Nick copied the gesture with a thank-you.

“Has anyone been to one of these meetings before?”

Headshakes and muttered noes.

“Well.” Nick shifted. “We talk about those we’ve lost. We talk about us. The weather. Sports. Music. That movie last week with all the sword fighting.”

“And blatant disregard for proper archery,” a woman said.

“That too.”

“Does it help?”

Heads swiveled to the person in the hoodie.

“It can,” Nick said. “Sometimes it helps to just be around people who’ve been through similar things. Not everyone processes in the same way, though, so it might not be as useful.”

“Have you— Did—” Hoodie shook themself into silence, and Nick nodded anyway.

“I’ve been there. Actually, this week marks a sort of anniversary for me, so I wanted to start by telling you my story if you’d like to hear it.”

That got him their attention. Curiosity and wariness, too, but it was to be expected. First time could be scary, especially under the strain of mourning. Nick remembered with clarity his first visit to an informal support group. His first group session, though, was hazy around the edges. He leaned forward, elbows on knees, and clasped his hands together.

“I was born here. With the exception of college, I’ve lived here for twenty-six years. I had a wife and a best friend and a baby on the way.”

He’d had Lauren and Jeff, twins he’d known since childhood. Through shenanigans and quiet moments and major decisions, they’d always been there. Nick and Lauren had gotten married right after college, and four years later—

“My wife died during childbirth. I watched it happen, and it’s not an image I can ever unsee. It broke me enough that my immediate thoughts were harmful toward myself and the baby. A girl. Innocent and frail, and not at fault at all. I left before I even held her once, and then spent the next seven years healing. Wasn’t pretty. Hurt a lot.”

Nick swallowed and shifted, pausing to collect his thoughts.

“What happened to her?” Hoodie asked.

“My wife’s twin brother adopted her. He was also my best friend.”

Not anymore. Jeff had a new bestie. When Nick first met Amber, he hadn’t paid much attention. It had been a brief interaction as it was, two years back, when she’d provided a ride to Jeff’s place. Amber was tall and sometimes moved like she wanted to make herself smaller. Less visible. Quiet too. Later, Nick learned she kept most people at a distance. Not in any way that might’ve been rude or hostile, but more along the lines of hiding behind a hard, thick shell. Kinda like Nick used to be, way back.

A deep breath.

“I hurt both him and the kid,” Nick continued, “because I stayed away for a long time. No contact whatsoever.”

“You suck,” Hoodie commented, but Nick fully agreed.

“Yes. Grief can make us hurt others, even when we don’t want to. It’s not excusable, though it can be explainable. Still, being mindful of those I loved was a hard-learned lesson for me.”

“But now you’re back.”

Nick nodded. “We’re working on me making up for it.”

“How?” The question came from the side, a woman with a drawn face, hugging her middle with both arms. Nick recognized that look. Guilt.

“I returned two years ago,” Nick said. “Found my friend and the kid happy. There was even a second parent involved—my friend’s life partner. Instead of being reasonable, I blew it by being an ass to them. Said mean things, made threats. Friend’s partner made me see logic. I’m grateful for him being there. They got married this summer.”

He offered a quick grin, blinking back the sting behind his eyes. Daniel was someone Nick respected through and through. He was good for Jeff and Abby.

“I don’t understand why they forgave me for being such an ass, but they did. As for my long absence… That’s the part with more serious repercussions and has been a lot harder to work through. Friend is letting me though. He’s willing, but I had to take the first step. Say that first apology—” He looked at the woman who’d asked directly. “—and not expect it to be accepted.”

“Harsh.”

“Yes, but we make mistakes, and we must bear the consequences. The best we can do after hurting others is to allow them the space they need, and understand if they can’t forgive.” With a long exhale, Nick straightened. “It’s not that grim. Sure, in the wake of what you—we’ve all been through, it might seem that what comes ahead is insurmountable. Sometimes it is, in which case you either dig through or go around, or choose a whole different path. It might also be a long, drawn-out, tiresome battle. Grief is not easy. But it’s survivable.”

And that was the whole point. That was why Nick was there, opening himself up over and over again.

“My journey is in a good place right now. I’m an uncle for the kid, her parents are my friends, and hey, I even have a boyfriend. Accidental acquisition, it was very rom-com.”

Faces perked up with undisguised interest, and Nick offered them a small smile. He got it. After Lauren, when the pain had still been so fresh he could taste it, he’d latched on to happy tales as distractions on the good days. On the bad ones, not so much. Looking around the room, it seemed his current audience wanted to hear this part of his story.

The previous year, they’d spent part of the holidays on a training retreat with Abby’s elementary school chess club, along with other third graders from all around. Daniel and Amber had chaperoned, with Nick and Jeff trailing along.

“Last winter vacation we went to this resort in the Alps. It involved a lot of children, chess, and snow—more like yelling on the slopes, actually—but it was fun. First time I met him, he threw line after line of quips while I stood there, all coherence gone. In retrospect, I should’ve realized it, but you know”—he gestured—“I was unaccustomed to someone catching my interest so suddenly.”

Nick had replayed that particular moment in his head over and over again. Leon smirking, stupid green hat over curls poking out in tiny swirls at his temples.

“And then we found out we had to share a room. You’ll never guess—”

“There was only one bed,” said Hoodie with a groan.

“Yep! We had a connection during that short vacation, but we parted ways, and I thought that would be that. Only, after I’d gotten home, I figured I didn’t want it to end. I had no idea he was coming here for New Year’s, so on December 31st, he found me in the park, brooding over lost chances.”

A few half smiles twitched around the room. Hoodie gave a thumbs-up.

“So your anniversary is coming up,” an old man to the left commented.

“Indeed. Speaking of, friend and partner’s anniversary is on the thirtieth. Seems to be a trend with us.”

Not to mention Sara and Amber had gotten together around Christmas, too, as far as Nick could tell, but those two had several anniversaries they celebrated during the year, and Nick was unclear on which was what.

The old man nodded pensively. “Martha and I, we had it on Halloween. We celebrated the day before and the day after. She said we couldn’t let candy steal all our fun, though she loved giving it out.”

With that, the others started pitching in, and Nick gave himself an inner pat on the back.

Purchase

NineStar Press | Books2Read Universal Link

Meet the Author

Ava Kelly is an engineer with a deep passion for stories. Whether reading, watching, or writing them, Ava has always been surrounded by tales of all genres. Their goal is to bring more stories to life, especially those of friendship and compassion, those dedicated to trope subversion, those that give the void a voice, and those that spawn worlds of their own.

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Review: This Is Not the End by Sidney Bell

A Polyamorous Love Story 

Zacary Trevor is the love of Anya Alexander’s life. Their sometimes tumultuous marriage has survived ups, downs, and all the in-betweens. With successful careers, a lovely home, and a beautiful child, domestic bliss is a hard-earned reality for two people whose hedonistic days are in the not-so-distant past. They’re happy. Enter Zac’s best friend, the deeply reserved Cal Keller. 

Zac’s friendship with Cal is the foundation of his career and—until Anya and their son came along—the most important relationship of his life. Cal’s a cipher, someone Anya can’t help but gravitate to, even if they don’t always get along. Even more, she’s drawn to the Zac she sees when he’s with Cal—a careful, cautious version of her husband, someone with hidden thoughts and desires kept secret even from her. Inviting Cal into their home, deeper into their life, is a risk. 

Zac should say no. He knows he should. But he doesn’t. From the first, the hint at the life the three of them could have together is exhilarating. And finding a new definition for family just might be worth the risk to every bond that exists between them.



"Everything will be okay in the end..." 

"If it isn't okay, it isn't the end."


Sidney Bell has not lost her touch. I'm not sure if my becoming verklempt at times while reading This Is Not the End was due to my being invested in these characters or my appreciation for how well Bell can craft said characters. Probably both.

Regardless.

The point is I found myself verklempt at the emotions, trials and tribulations of these characters. More importantly, I believed and invested in their journey. Each of them has their own distinct voice, backstory, strengths and shortcomings which is absolutely what I liked best about them. Anya, Zac and Cal are flawed characters and that is precisely what made them and their story so riveting.

Anya and Zac are married and have a son. Cal and Zac have been friends and bandmates for years so the UST is up on legendary. Anya and Zac are cut from the same impetuous and passionate cloth. Cal, on the other hand, is deliberate and steadfast. Anya is the lodestar. Zac is the joie de vivre and life-force and despite Cal's being a bit of a square he balances the relationship. He grounds them. 

I hesitate to explain too much about their relationship but I think this might be a make it or break it point for many. So, and this is my opinion/understanding only, I would say they have an open marriage and Zac has leanings towards cuckholding. They have sex with other men and Zac is aroused by Anya having sex with other men. They are a package deal and all the other men are guest stars, so to speak. Until Cal.

The foundation of this polyamorous relationship hinges upon intertwining them in not only a realistic but a believable way. One that's beyond the prurient and deeper, more integral. Something that will withstand the test of time. I was convinced at the end of This Is Not the End of their durability for a multitude of reasons but mostly because they care about not only each other but their relationship and that shows in how they interact. 

Suffice to say I, like many others, have had a difficult time concentrating or even mustering up the desire to read this year but I've been looking forward to this book since it was announced and I'm delighted it held my attention and gave me that immersive reading experience I've missed recently. 

Recommended to fans of hurt/comfort, polyamory or the author's work.




An ARC was provided by Carina Press in exchange for an honest review.





Release Blitz + Giveaway: Blind Warrior (The Weavers Circle #3) by Jocelynn Drake & Rinda Elliott


Authors Jocelynn Drake and Rinda Elliot, along with IndiGo Marketing, return to celebrate the latest from popular urban fantasy series, Blind Warrior (The Weavers Circle #3)! Read more and enter in the $25 Amazon gift card giveaway!

Title: Blind Warrior

Series: The Weavers Circle #3

Author: Jocelynn Drake & Rinda Elliott

Publisher: Drake & Elliott Publishing LLC

Release Date: November 20, 2020

Heat Level: 4 - Lots of Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 98k

Genre: Romance, Fantasy

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Synopsis

Grey Ackles

The Soul Weaver feels useless.

A burden endangering his brothers.

The last battle with the pestilents cost Grey his sight and powers.

Now he’s dependent on his vision rehabilitation therapist Cort to learn how to function on a daily basis.

But as he grows closer to Cort, Grey is left wanting his powers back for a new reason—how will he ever know if the man he’s falling for is actually his soul mate?

Cort Newton

There is some really weird stuff going on at that house.

Spell books, guns, and a giraffe in the backyard?

But no matter how strange it gets, Cort is not going to leave the grumpy writer.

Adjusting to sudden blindness is hard for everyone, but Grey clearly has deeper reason for needing his vision back at any cost. Cort just wished Grey would confide in him.

Even with Grey’s secrets, Cort has never been drawn to a man like he is with Grey and he will do anything to keep this man safe.

Blind Warrior is the third book in the Weavers Circle series. It includes fast-paced action, running through Savannah, secrets, shapeshifting, brainwashed assassins, a gorilla, sexy times, fun with water, insecurity, three crazy old ladies, and magic!

Excerpt

Grey reluctantly got out of the vehicle and felt his way to the warm hood. “Gotta be a lot of glass bottles in there for me to knock over,” he warned as Lucien placed a hand on his biceps.

“We’ll steer you in the right direction.” Lucien pressed on his arm as they started walking. “You need the exercise.”

“Makes more sense for me to wait in the—” he broke off when a horrid smell hit his nose. It was like rotting meat left out on a hot summer day. “Shit, pestilents,” he hissed. Fear gripped his heart, his lungs freezing in his chest. How the hell was he supposed to protect himself?

Pestilents were these…humanoid creatures…from another realm who were trying to kill him and his brother Weavers. Their world was dying, and they wanted to leech energy off this one to save their own. Grey and the other Weavers had been tasked to stop them, using magic they’d gained from three goddesses. Insane. All of it sounded absolutely insane, but it was now his life.

One positive was that they were easy to spot, thanks to their awful stink. They rotted slowly in this world because they didn’t belong.

“I just smelled them, too,” Lucien grumbled under his breath.

“Can you see them?” Grey asked.

“They have to be in the store. Do pestilents drink alcohol?” Baer’s voice was moving away from Grey, possibly toward the Jeep.

“How the hell would we know?” Lucien led Grey back, too. Doors opened around him and he reached out with his left hand, coming into contact with the familiar durable fabric covering the rear bench seat in Baer’s Jeep.

“That’s it? We’re going to run?” Grey slid inside the vehicle, inwardly fuming. They were running to protect him.

“You expect us to just attack them in broad daylight in a wine shop?” Baer’s voice came from the driver’s side this time. “I can’t believe they’re rallying forces this fast. We had a three-month break last time.”

“There is obviously more than one set out there, or they wouldn’t have been chasing us over the United States.” Grey grabbed the front seats and pulled himself forward to lean between them as Lucien got into the passenger side. “I don’t think we should just leave them.”

Lucien cleared his throat. “I see only one at the counter now.”

“Doesn’t mean there aren’t more in the back,” Baer countered.

“Why don’t you go in there and lure him out?” Lucien suggested. “See that field behind those trees? We could fight it there.”

Grey saw nothing, but he didn’t bother to point that out. All he knew was, he felt wrong running and leaving any pestilents free to attack them later. Or even an innocent human who just happened to get in their way. If there were only a few, Baer and Lucien would be able to easily take care of them on their own. “I think that’s a good idea. But you should both go inside, just in case there are more than one.”

“And leave you help-er…alone out here?” Baer snapped. He cursed softly. “Sorry, Grey.”

But he was fucking helpless, and he knew it. Before losing his sight, his powers hadn’t done a lot when it came to fighting, but he’d been able to shoot a gun, use a knife. He wasn’t bad in a fight. And he’d been able to serve as a lookout, offer cover for his brothers. Now, he didn’t even have that.

Of course, his powers were tied to his sight, so he couldn’t use those. All he got were the occasional broken thoughts and emotions from others. His ability to see auras had been nipped in the bud. As was his ability to see into people’s souls, to read their past, motives, desires, and thoughts. He didn’t know if he could still manipulate people, hadn’t even tried.

“I’m going in,” Baer announced. “I’ll lure him into the field and shift into something fierce. We’ll dispatch this asshole, grab our booze, and go home.”

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Meet the Author

 

Jocelynn Drake and Rinda Elliott have teamed up to combine their evil genius to create intense gay romantic suspense stories that have car chases, shoot outs, explosions, scorching hot love scenes, and tender, tear-jerking moments. Their first joint books are in the Unbreakable Bonds series.

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Guest Review: One Cup of Daddy and a Dash of Love (Unexpected Daddies #1) by Victoria Sue

Can an accidental Daddy love a boy for real?

Jensen Cartwright managed to get to forty-seven years old thinking he would never meet a man that wanted the sort of relationship he craved until Dashael literally fell into his arms.

Homeless, and convinced adulthood is some cruel joke forced on him to make him lonely, Dash is overawed by the sexy older man who seems to offer him everything he's ever wanted including story time, bath time, and special play time.

One Cup of Daddy contains an overworked businessman who finds out that cuddling a sweet boy and keeping him safe might be the best thing he's ever done, and a scared boy who discovers that finding a Daddy and holding on tight might just be the best recipe for love ever written.



Reviewer: Shee Reader

Dashael has had a tough life so far. His beloved grandmother has died leaving him all alone, save for the father that doesn’t really want him except to abuse him. He’s hiding above the cafe shop his grandmother had lovingly run for years, as the realtor shows round a wealthy businessman who wishes to buy the place to add to his portfolio. When Jensen spots Dashael, he doesn’t want to frighten the younger man who raises up a fierce need in Jensen to care and protect.

The story unfolds as Jensen discovers he is perhaps the daddy who needs a little, just as Dashael is a man who needs the care and protection of the perfect daddy. It is such a shocking discovery for Jensen that ‘this’ special kind of caring relationship is in fact what he has always longed for, as he is guided by his sister and his friend who both have their own littles into the lifestyle that can give him exactly the joy and love connection he needs. Dashael is tired of being frightened but doesn’t want to push Jensen away when he is everything Dash longs for.

This sweet and sexy kinky tale is a real feel-good read that provides an HEA where everyone gets just what they need.

Highly recommended.

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