Release Blitz + Giveaway: A New Empire (Fog City #3) by Layla Reyne


Join author Layla Reyne and A Novel Take PR in today's release blitz for the series finale, A New Empire (Fog City #3)! Discover more about the romantic suspense novel, enter in the giveaway for a chance to win one Grand Prize of a Set of signed Fog City paperbacks (within the contiguous USA) or a set of Bookplates (international).

A New Empire by Layla Reyne

Series: Fog City #3

Publisher: Layla Reyne (Self-published)

Release Date (Print & Ebook/Audio): November 11 (Ebook & Print); Audio TBD

Length (Print & Ebook/Audio): Approx. 52,000 words

Subgenre: M/M Romantic Suspense

Warnings: Explicit sex; explicit language; violence.

All buy links or pre-order links:

http://getbook.at/ANewEmpire
https://www.amazon.com/New-Empire-Fog-City-Novel-ebook/dp/B07Z6P2944/

Book blurb:

Legacies were made to be rewritten.

Assassin Hawes Madigan wants to do right--by his family, his organization, his city, and the man he's falling for, ATF agent Christopher Perri. But Hawes's rules are being challenged by someone willing to kill for the old ways. To save his soul and his empire, Hawes must make an impossible decision: fight from the outside or bend the knee to win back his throne from within.

Chris is used to being the inside man, the one undercover. Now, he's on the outside marshaling forces in support of the man and the ring of assassins he was supposed to take down. His mission shifted when he found something that's been missing for ten long years--a home, with Hawes.

As Hawes and Chris make a dangerous play for control, the lines between allies and traitors blur. Trusting the wrong person could destroy the legacy Hawes envisions for the Madigans. But not trusting anyone, or each other, could mean lights out on their love and lives forever.

The King and King Slayer fight together in this thrilling conclusion to the Fog City Trilogy!

Release Blitz Teaser:

“Where’s Rembra—” Chris didn’t finish his question. Didn’t need to. He’d swung his gaze forward and found the man he’d been searching for. Finally. Only he suspected everyone else had found him too. Dressed in combat boots, dark jeans, and a black tailored suit jacket, no shirt on underneath, Hawes slowly descended the stairs from the mezzanine. Like he wanted every set of eyes on him, like he owned the fucking place. The king in all his glory, no matter what anyone said. Top strands moussed for maximum volume, the sharp lines of his face were accentuated, as was the blue of his eyes, practically glowing in the club lights. Beautiful and dangerous, the picture of control, in his movements, his appearance, and his sway over the room.

Chris nearly choked on the need to shove his way through the crowd and meet Hawes at the bottom of the stairs, to claim the man as his, to give him the release from the control that Chris knew was costing Hawes so much when he had so little left to give. It ached—in his gut, in his chest, in his dick—to be even this far away from him.

“Stay at the bar,” Holt said, as if reading his thoughts. The surprising snap of command in his tone shocked Chris back the step he’d taken toward Hawes. “Get it together.”

Cursing, Chris drowned his instincts with the rest of his beer. “That’s not exactly discreet.”

“He’s not meant to be. He’s the distraction.”



Release Blitz Q&A with Layla Reyne:


Q: Secondary Characters: Why they are important to the story?

LR: For Hawes in Fog City, his siblings, Holt and Helena, are the bricks of his foundation, along with love interest, Chris, and friend and ally, Braxton Kane. Hawes, Holt, and Helena run both family businesses with him, he trusts them implicitly, he looks to them for input, and they each contribute differently to the family unit. He wouldn’t want to do this without them.

Q: If you listen to music while writing, share your playlist.

LR: Here’s my Fog City playlist, which alternated frequently with The Revivalists albums. I swear, every one of their songs seems to fit this series!


Q: What would a love letter between the characters look like?

LR: From Hawes to Chris:

Dante, I know. --H

From Chris to Hawes.

Madigan, I know. --Mr. Perry


RITA Finalist Layla Reyne is the author of Dine With Me and the Fog City, Whiskey Verse, and Changing Lanes series. A Carolina Tar Heel who now calls the San Francisco Bay Area home, Layla enjoys weaving her bi-coastal experiences into her stories, along with adrenaline-fueled suspense and heart-pounding romance. She is a RWA® RITA® Finalist in Contemporary Romance (Mid-Length) and Golden Heart® Finalist in Romantic Suspense.

Connect with Layla:

FB Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/laylaslushes/
FB: https://www.facebook.com/laylareyne
IG: https://www.instagram.com/laylareyne/
Newsletter: https://www.laylareyne.com/signup
AMZ: https://www.amazon.com/author/LaylaReyne
Bookbub: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/layla-reyne


Join us for a giveaway: Layla Reyne is giving away one Grand Prize of a Set of signed Fog City paperbacks (within the contiguous USA) or a set of Bookplates (international). Enter now!

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Release Blitz + Giveaway: Across the Pond (Arizona Raptors #2) by RJ Scott & V.L. Locey


Authors RJ Scott and V.L. Locey, along with Signal Boost Promotions, return with new blitz for new release Across the Pond (Arizona Raptors #2)! Dive into this hocey romance series and enter in the $10 Amazon gift card giveaway!





Length: 57,600 words approx.

Cover Design: Meredith Russell

Arizona Raptors Series

Book #1 - Coast to Coast - Amazon US | Amazon UK | Universal Link

Blurb

The greatest journey isn’t from England to the States, it’s the one that two men take on the way to find each other.


Sebastian Brown is on a mission to rescue the Arizona Raptors and a vow he made to a friend in college. Either that or he’s on vacation. He’s not entirely sure that he’s made up his mind yet. Either way, traveling from England, to the arid desert of Arizona isn’t exactly a picnic, particularly with the doubts and worries he takes with him. He’s turned even the worst of companies around, but faced with the challenge of improving the reputation of a hockey team that everyone seems to hate, he knows his work is cut out for him.


Focus is key, but that is easier said than done when Seb is sent into a tailspin by the intriguing Alejandro. Seb’s entire marketing plan hinges on making Alex a poster boy for equality and fair play. But with Alex’s utter dedication to the game, and his dark secretive eyes, the gorgeous Alex is stubborn, opinionated, doesn’t want any part of being the team focus, and worst of all, doesn't appear to like Seb at all. It takes everything that Seb has to keep his hands off of Alex, but things get out of hand and Seb’s life might never be the same again.


Alejandro Garcia has had to work hard to get where he’s at. Born to Mexican immigrants, his siblings and himself have never had it easy in this new country their parents dreamed of calling home. A native son of Arizona, Alex has always been the odd man out on the ice but he’s not going to let a stupid thing like his heritage get in the way of his dreams. He’s now a Raptor and he plans to put all that training and collegiate hockey experience to good use. Working hard comes naturally to him. It’s something his parents have instilled in him from the time he was a toddler. Being one of a handful of Latino hockey players makes him strive for success with even more determination. His first pro season has had some ups but a lot more downs, but Alex is one stubborn young man and failure is not an option.


As the Raptors struggle to rebuild not only their team but their core values, Alex finds himself drawn to one of the owner’s friends, a tall, lanky Brit with the face of an angel and an accent and attitude that bewitches and befuddles him. Sebastian is everything he thought he would never be attracted to but he can’t push the sexy, older, fun-loving man out of his thoughts. If ever there were a man he would not be able to take home to his parents - not that he can bring a man home since he is deeply closeted - it’s Sebastian, but desire knows no socioeconomic, age, or international borders. The heart wants what the heart wants and Alejandro’s wants Sebastian.



USA Today bestselling author RJ Scott writes stories with a heart of romance, a troubled road to reach happiness, and most importantly, a happily ever after.


RJ Scott is the author of over one hundred romance books, writing emotional stories of complicated characters, cowboys, millionaire, princes, and the men who get mixed up in their lives. RJ is known for writing books that always end with a happy ever after. She lives just outside London and spends every waking minute she isn’t with family either reading or writing.


The last time she had a week’s break from writing she didn’t like it one little bit, and she has yet to meet a bottle of wine she couldn’t defeat.


She’s always thrilled to hear from readers, bloggers and other writers. Please contact via the links below:




USA Today Bestselling Author V.L. Locey – Penning LGBT hockey romance that skates into sinful pleasures.


V.L. Locey loves worn jeans, yoga, belly laughs, walking, reading and writing lusty tales, Greek mythology, Torchwood and Dr. Who, the New York Rangers, comic books, and coffee. (Not necessarily in that order.) She shares her life with her husband, her daughter, one dog, two cats, a pair of geese, far too many chickens, and two steers.


When not writing spicy romances, she enjoys spending her day with her menagerie in the rolling hills of Pennsylvania with a cup of fresh java in one hand and a steamy romance novel in the other.







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Review: The Art of Possession by Cari Z.

When a treasure-hunting black ops soldier and a disgraced, reckless archeologist team up in search of a priceless artifact, they might get more than they bargained for.

Ever since leaving the Green Berets to work in private security, Alex Tucker has longed for some excitement—and he’s about to get his wish.

Archeologist Malcolm Armstrong needs the chance to prove he isn’t a fraud. Along with Alex, he’s hired to track down and authenticate a valuable scepter, in a hunt that turns deadlier than either of them imagined as they search dangerous locations across three continents and try to stay ahead of the factions who want the treasure for themselves—and Malcolm and Alex dead.

Just as they realize the feelings between them transcend convenience and the thrill of the chase, a rival reemerges, threatening everything.


Wow. This went down super nice and easy, and I had quite the fantastic time.


It felt like Ms. Z looked into my psyche and produced a story just how I like it.


First off, any sort of military/black ops situation always floats my boat. When you cross it with a nerdy component whether it be a librarian or a professor or in this case, an expert in ancient artifacts, this was definitely a no brainer for me, and I dug in wholeheartedly.


What makes this a standout is that it read like a movie script. I could see the scenes, the actiony bits, the character development - all like I was watching it unfold on the big screen and it kept me rapt.


So yes, ex Green Beret Alex, has been hired to track down a priceless artifact with unknown but out of this world value. He’s paired up with disgraced museum curator Malcolm, who’s the only one that can reasonably identity if said artifact is truly the real McCoy. Reputations and notoriety are on the line and soon they both figure out, their very lives.


Easily Malcolm, who’s never seen a gun up close nor been in any sort of dangerous situation, could have oh so devolved into a simpering annoyance but didn’t ever act crazily over the top. He knew he was out of his element, and he was smart about it. In turn, Alex, though gruff and tough, wasn’t a total asshat that alpha types like him can be. He adapted quickly and wasn’t invincible. Though their attraction is immediate, being exact opposites never spurred Malcolm and Alex to hate each other on principle, and their progression took its time despite me always wanting to rush things to get to the good parts, but sometimes patience is a virtue, right?


Throw in some banter, some tense moments, a kick ass female adversary, an atrocious ex, and some very nice UST that the author always teases with plenty of yummy but never gives me quite enough. That’s not really a complaint because everything else more than made up for my desire for the dirty deets, and this never let my attention wane.


Though I haven’t read much from Ms. Z (which I hope to rectify soon) I’ve not come away disappointed yet. One thing I know for certain is that she’s left me wanting sequels galore again, and I can only hope for the best!



Blog Tour + Giveaway: Convicted (Bureau #5) by Kim Fielding


Kim Fielding and Other Worlds Ink host today's blog tour visit for Convicted (Bureau #5)! Discover more about the latest in the Bureau series and enter in the giveaway for a chance to win a $10 Amazon gift card AND an audiobook code for book one in the Bureau series – Corruption!


Convicted - Kim Fielding


Kim Fielding has a new MM paranormal book in her "The Bureau" series out - "Convicted."

Vietnam veteran Kurt Powell’s addiction almost cost him everything, but a job as federal agent with the Bureau of Trans-Species Affairs helped him find sobriety and purpose. Now he tracks down dangerous paranormal creatures as well as humans who abuse their magical powers in illegal ways.

Sent from Belfast to the United States as a boy, Desmond Hughes later fell into a disastrous relationship that led to horrific murders. He’s spent seventeen years in a bleak prison with few comforts and no hope of release.

A new mission throws Kurt and Des together in a desperate attempt to prevent disaster. Sometimes what’s long been lost can still be found, but the road to redemption is never easy—and a mutual attraction may not ease the way.


Series Blurb:

For many years the United States government has been aware that Homo sapiens is not the only sentient species inhabiting the country. Some other species were native to the continent, while others immigrated along with humans. Early on, these nonhuman species (NHS) were largely ignored when they lived peacefully within human communities. At other times they were deemed a threat and local efforts were made to eradicate them. The federal government was not involved in these early efforts.

By the early 20th century, some local law enforcement agencies expressed frustration with their inability to deal effectively with the special needs of NHS. Localized incidents of mass violence occurred in several locations, most notably the Omaha Zombie Epidemic of 1908, the Manchester (New Hampshire) Melusine Drownings of 1911, and the Eugene (Oregon) Sasquatch Riots of 1915.

In response to these incidents, as well as a heightened desire for increased federal control, President Wilson created a new federal agency in 1919 called the Bureau of Trans-Species Affairs. The mission of this agency was to communicate with NHS, to control them, to investigate reported dangerous actions committed by them, and to bring them to justice or eliminate them when necessary. Since then, the Bureau has been quietly active throughout the United States. Its jurisdiction has expanded to include humans who engage in magical or paranormal activities.

Over the decades, a great many dramas have unfolded among the people who work for the Bureau. The Bureau stories are a collection of these tales. Each involves different protagonists and is set in a different era, yet all focus on the adventures and struggles of the Bureau’s agents. These novellas can be read in any order.


Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | Smashwords | Goodreads





Giveaway

Kim is giving away a $10 Amazon gift card AND an audiobook code for book one in the Bureau series – Corruption. Enter via Rafflecopter for a chance to win:

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Author Bio


Kim Fielding

KIM FIELDING is very pleased every time someone calls her eclectic. A Lambda Award finalist and two-time Foreword INDIE finalist, she has migrated back and forth across the western two-thirds of the United States and currently lives in California, where she long ago ran out of bookshelf space.

She’s a university professor who dreams of being able to travel and write full time. She also dreams of having two daughters who fully appreciate her, a husband who isn’t obsessed with football, and a house that cleans itself. Some dreams are more easily obtained than others.

Author Website: http://kfieldingwrites.com/
Author Facebook (Author Page): https://www.facebook.com/KFieldingWrites
Author Twitter: @KFieldingWrites
Author Instagram: @KFieldingWrites
Author Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4105707.Kim_Fielding
Author QueeRomance Ink: https://www.queeromanceink.com/mbm-book-author/kim-fielding/
Author Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Kim-Fielding/e/B006FN2T78


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Blog Tour: Consorts of the Red King by Eden Winters


Don't miss today's blog tour stop from author Eden Winters and Vibrant Promotions for Consorts of the Red King!

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Consorts of the Red King
Eden Winters
Gay Romance/Sci-fi/Menage
Release Date: 10.26.19
Cover artist: Perie Wolford

_Kindle

Blurb
In deepest space the ruthless Federation lays waste to one rebel colony after another, leaving comrades-in-arms Van Orskey and Tayn Kassik without family, without a home, and without hope.
With nothing left but each other, they run contraband and smuggle fugitives from the safety of their ship, the Cormorant—with the occasional clandestine mission for the rival Coalition thrown in. Their heists have not gone unnoticed, though even the bounty on their heads doesn’t prevent them from being a thorn in the enemy’s side at every opportunity.
Pissing them off? Big mistake.
From the day of his birth Prince Jorvik of Akiak learned duty, wisdom, and honor from his father, leaving him ill-equipped to withstand betrayal by his Federation-puppet uncle. He has no love for the greedy off-worlders who plunder his world’s natural resources and enslave his people. To defeat his foe, he needs the cunning, fearlessness, and touch of treachery only outlaws can offer.
Two off-world mercenaries make unlikely partners in Jorvik’s quest for vengeance, but the more he learns of them, the more common ground he discovers. In each other’s arms they find passion, heat, and maybe, a reason for living—until their common enemy threatens to tar them apart.
To survive, they must take on the corrupt Federation.
And win.


Excerpt
How dare they assault the king’s son! Where were Father’s advisors? He demanded answers.

Jorvik’s anger crumbled when a familiar figure swept through the door. His heart seized.

His uncle? A moment of relief hit. Uncle would help him.

He stopped himself from stepping from the closet.

What was… The guards turned toward his uncle.

Why was Uncle smiling? He looked so… satisfied, patting a blood-spattered guard’s shoulder. What…

Dear Queen of the Stars. Cold fear captured him in an icy grasp.

Jorvik grabbed the wall to keep from falling, and bent double, struggling to breathe. Air. He needed air.

No help. All alone. Six armed guards.

One Jorvik.

He must get to his father.

What could he use as a weapon? As quietly as possible, he rifled through his clothes, tossing away a belt. No, wouldn’t do. A pin? A boot? His eyes fell to the sex toy he’d dropped on the floor. One kick hid the object beneath a pile of silk.

He’d been taught to fight, more for exercise than self-defense, with a staff, knives, but mostly with his hands. While he’d bested his teacher a few times, he’d not fare well against so many well-trained guards.

Knives! The blade of his dagger glinted from the pile of clothing he’d left on the floor. A grinning man picked up the gleaming blade and slipped it into his waistband. What? No! His father gave him the dagger.

Why hadn’t he hidden more weapons in his room?

His blood boiled, instincts screaming, “Attack! Attack!” He nearly added his own scream, of frustration. No. To do so meant sure death.

He crept away from the door, though not far enough to escape the sight of Sika and Gris, mouths open and eyes staring in his direction.

Just a few moments ago they’d been alive, loving…

His uncle spat on the robed body on the floor. Please let him not see me, please let him not see me. All the while Jorvik’s brain accused, “Coward!”

The dim greenish glow of the crystals gave his uncle an eerie, monstrous look as he crouched down by Gris’s body. “He’s just a whore, but a pretty one. Such a shame he chose the wrong bed to come to.”

One of the guards laughed.

Whore? How dare the traitor call sweet Gris an off-worlder insult! Jorvik’s hard swallow didn’t lessen the burning in this throat. These were his father’s own guards. What were they about? And what were they doing with his uncle?

Worst still, what was his uncle doing?

“Take them! Burn their bodies!” his uncle barked.

The men split up, one each at their victims’ heads and feet, lifting them from the floor, with two trailing behind.

Burning their bodies? No. They must be taken to the caves to join Akiak’s cycle of life, amidst chanting and prayers to the queen of the stars. To be burned…

One guard stopped, glancing toward the closet door. The breath caught in Jorvik’s throat. Please don’t see me. Please don’t see me.

“Come! Now!” his uncle ordered from the hallway.

With one last sweep of the room, the guard spun on his heel and followed the carnage, leaving the door ajar.

A trail of red followed the procession out the door.

Jorvik collapsed against the wall, head in his hands. His heart still pounded. Try as he might he couldn’t get his breathing under control. Nothing made sense. Surely, he slept and wine-induced dreams haunted him.

More cries sounded from the hallway.

He couldn’t cower here. Father! He had to find his father.

Countless lessons drove his actions. At the time he’d thought the caution ridiculous. Who would dare challenge the king?

Yet, his father insisted he train for battle, an ancient art practiced by rulers and guards.

Though he wanted to run to his father straightaway, he’d do as he’d been told and plan for the worse.

Jorvik closed his eyes, opening them again a moment later when visions of two dead men appeared on his eyelids.

Choking down his horror, he forced himself to stand and grabbed a travel case. His hands shook. He must pack quickly, but taking too much might slow him down. These were his things, by the mother. He’d every right to them.

The urge to forget all else and run straight to his father nearly overwhelmed him, but with a threat to the family, his father would send him into hiding. They’d been through the drill. Someone might plot to harm the heir, but who would dare move against the king?

His guards would keep him safe. Wouldn’t they?

Jorvik’s chest ached at the thought of the two dead men. He couldn’t help them now, but he could help others.

If he lived. Living meant taking only what he truly needed. 

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You will know Eden Winters by her distinctive white plumage and exuberant cry of “Hey, y’all!” in a Southern US drawl so thick it renders even the simplest of words unrecognizable. Watch out, she hugs!
Driven by insatiable curiosity, she possibly holds the world’s record for curriculum changes to the point that she’s never quite earned a degree but is a force to be reckoned with at Trivial Pursuit. She’s trudged down hallways with police detectives, learned to disarm knife-wielding bad guys, and witnessed the correct way to blow doors off buildings. Her e-mail contains various snippets of forensic wisdom, such as “What would a dead body left in a Mexican drug tunnel look like after six months?” In the process of her adventures she has written twenty gay romance novels, has won several Rainbow Awards, was a Lambda Awards Finalist, and lives in terror of authorities showing up at her door to question her Internet searches.
When not putting characters in dangerous situations she’s a mild-mannered business executive, mother, grandmother, vegetarian, and PFLAG activist. Her natural habitats are airports, coffee shops, and the backs of motorcycles.

Website: edenwinters.com
Email: edenwinter@gmail.com
Twitter: edenwinters1
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Cover Reveal: The Wolf and the Sparrow by Isabelle Adler




Isabelle Adler and IndiGo Marketing reveal the cover for the author's latest from NineStar Press, The Wolf and the Sparrow! Check out the details below!


The Wolf and the Sparrow by Isabelle Adler

Cover created by Natasha Snow

RELEASE DATE: November 25, 2019

Available to Pre-Order at NineStar Press on November 22nd


Add to Goodreads


Derek never wished to inherit his title as a result of a bloody battle. With the old count dead and the truce dependent on his marriage to the rival duke’s son, Derek has no choice but to agree to the victor’s terms in order to bring peace to his homeland. When he learns of the sinister rumors surrounding his intended groom, Derek begins to have doubts—but there can be no turning back from saying I do.

After the death of his wife, Callan of Mulberny never expected to be forced into another political marriage—especially not to someone like the new Count of Camria. Seemingly soft and meek, it’s only fitting that Derek’s family crest is a flighty sparrow, worthy of nothing but contempt.

Another war with the seafaring people of the Outer Isles looms on the horizon, and the reluctant newlyweds must team together to protect those caught in the circle of violence. Derek and Callan slowly learn to let go of their prejudices, but as they find themselves enmeshed in intrigue fueled by dark secrets and revenge, their tentative bond is all that keeps their world—and their lives—from plunging into chaos.


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Blog Tour + Giveaway: Of Our Own Device by M.K. South


Welcome author M.K. South and IndiGo Marketing as they visit today on the Of Our Own Device blog tour! Don't miss the exclusive, book trailer and giveaway! The author is giving away 5 copies of Of Our Own Device!

See our 4.5 <3 review HERE



Title: Of Our Own Device
Author: M.K. South
Publisher: BookBaby
Release Date: March 2017
Heat Level: 3 - Some Sex
Pairing: Male/Male
Length: 874 pages
Genre: Thriller/Suspense, Historical spy thriller

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Synopsis

What do you do when you realize that the American Dream you've been working for so hard is not enough if it will be yours and yours alone? And that what you're told to do will destroy the only true friend you've ever had?

Summer of 1985. Jack Smith is a rookie CIA case officer posted at the American Embassy in Moscow. Despite his gregarious nature, Jack is a lonely man: not only is he a reluctant spy, he is also gay. When he meets Eton Volkonsky, a talented nuclear physics student, Jack's bosses instruct him to develop the Russian as a future agent. Their friendship deepens, and Jack is torn between his suspicion that Eton and friends are with the KGB and his attraction to the man. But he continues telling himself and his bosses that he is just doing his job, developing his agent. Only when he leaves Russia does Jack admit that he has been fooling himself all the while. He takes on assignments in various countries, with a hope that eventually they will get him back to Moscow.

As introspection and growing doubts about what he does for living torment Jack, the world is buffeted by a whirlwind of dramatic events – diplomatic and spy wars, the rise of AIDS, the Chernobyl catastrophe, the war in Afghanistan and the disintegration of the communist bloc.

They meet again and Jack is given a second chance. Will he make the right decision this time round?

 Author Visit

Hello! It’s me, MK South, again. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to stop by and share yet another excerpt from my novel Of Our Own Device. This one takes place in Afghanistan, on one of Jack Smith’s assignments, when the US was still teaming up the Afghan mujahidin against the Soviets (sounds familiar? History repeats itself, uh?) But the excerpt isn’t about that. It’s about a practice in that part of the world that not too many people heard about, and which survives to these days – bacha bazi. You can Google it after reading the excerpt. I hadn’t known about it till I was researching the place and period for my book, and I just had to include it in my story.

Not a Threat to Our Security
The guest room hujra was a typical rectangular chamber, unfurnished, carpeted wall to wall with thick but well-worn rugs. Oil lamps on the floor and on the walls cast a dim light on the gathering of two dozen bearded men sitting on the floor. In the center, a white cloth was laid out, covered with large plates overflowing with grilled meat kebabs, naan bread, palau rice, dry fruits and nuts—an abundance of food Jack hadnt seen on this side of the border. Hash pipes and tea were served by four boys, aged eleven to sixteen, all dressed in traditional shalwar kameez, but in bright colors atypical for Afghans—crimson, pink, pale blue and mauve.
The host, Jalil Haq, invited Jack and the Pakistanis to sit next to him. As they settled down on the cushions, a boy approached Jack with a copper bowl and an elaborate ceramic pot. His crimson kameez heightened the fairness of his skin, and his eyes under thick, jet-black lashes were light, vivid green. The boy dropped his gaze when he saw Jack eyeing him and turned to the guest sitting next to him, offering him to wash his hands.
As the dinner progressed, and the guests got looser from hash, Jack noticed that the men were paying more attention to the boys—looked at them sideways, whispering and giggling. He smothered a surge of distaste, wishing for the dinner to end soon. An hour had passed before the village elders praised god, thanked the host and prepared to leave. Jack stood up, said his thanks, turning down the invitation to stay, and followed the elders out.
In the mud brick guesthouse across the yard where he was to spend the night, Jack pulled out his lightweight sleeping bag, rolled it out along the wall and lay down on top of it. It was one of the nights when he felt restless, struggling to keep his mind from venturing back to the time and place he tried not to think of too often. Especially not on trips like this where there was no alcohol to ease him to sleep.
Faint sounds of music reached him: someone was singing, accompanied by a dutar, a local two-string lute. When the song ended, and the singer started a new tune, Jack got up, put on his jacket and stepped out into the courtyard.
The autumn night was clear and crisp, the moon just off its fullest. Jack lit a cigarette, breathed in a lungful of cigarette smoke, fresh mountain air laced with smells of cattle, manure and dry earth, and leaned against the mud wall. There was not a sound around, except for the singing, clearer now, coming from the hujra in the main house. Its small window into the courtyard was open a crack, a string of light slipping through the drawn curtains.
Jack strained to listen.
His bodys so soft, his lips so tender Oh boy, you set your lover on fire, a young voice sang.
Did he get it right? No, it couldnt be. Women were the lowliest class of citizens here, no more than domestic slaves. These people didnt even have brothels.
He crossed the courtyard in a dozen quiet steps and peeked in through the thin gap between the curtains.
The guests who had stayed back were still sitting around the perimeter of the room, but the white centerpiece had been cleared. A slender figure wearing a short jacket trimmed in gold tassels over a bright orange dress was swirling in the middle of the room. A darker orange silk scarf covered the face and neck, little bells around the cuffs and ankles jingling to the rhythm of the song. A woman?! How in the hell could it be?
Right then, the dancer made one final swirl to the music, dropped gracefully to her knees, facing the window, and brushed the scarf off her face with a flirtatious sweep of a hand.
Jack gulped.
It was the boy with piercing green eyes, Omar. Wearing a dress, eye shadow and lipstick, he looked like a girl. A man sitting right under the window rose, took a couple of steps toward the boy, and squatted down next to him. Jalil. The mujahedin commander pulled the white cloth off his shoulder and patted the sweat off the boys face. Then he stroked his face and murmured something to him. Omar smiled weakly and dropped his gaze bashfully. The men around the room made guttural approving sounds, one even clapped.
Jack stepped back, took the last, gut-deep drag on his half-burnt cigarette and returned to his room. It was downright creepy, but he could see why. As dictated by their religion, men couldnt have women joining them at their gatherings, so they had boys dressed up like girls instead.
Dancing girls…
No, he didnt care to know more. He had his orders: whatever happened amongst locals, if it wasnt a threat to the United States security, it was none of their business. Jack turned the kerosene lamp low, climbed into the sleeping bag, closed his eyes, and willed himself to sleep.
He was awakened by voices arguing somewhere nearby. In the courtyard, he figured, shrugging off shreds of uneasy sleep. The argument was about… who was taking someone home tonight. The going rate appeared to be two goats, a brand-new Egyptian AK folding rifle and one hundred American dollars; the arbiter was the host. And then someone dropped the name of the barter: Omar.
Jack shivered in disgust, sickened to the core. Were these people for fucking real?! Wasnt this a place where the Holy Koran ruled? This couldnt be! But then the little show in the house hadnt looked like it had all been dreamt up by Jalil Haq: the boys who served them at the dinner had looked like theyd been doing it all their lives, and Omar, hed definitely been trained to dance.
This is sick!
And why the fuck had they never been briefed about this, neither at the Farm, nor in Islamabad? Surely they must know about this revolting shit going on here. Joe Coburn definitely should. And what had he told Jack instead?
Not to interfere in any dispute between the locals because it was none of their business.
Yeah, right… Fuck you, Joe! Fuck you all, you sonsuvbitches!!
He ripped his sleeping bag open in one furious sweep, jumped up, and stormed out into the courtyard in his socks.
Five hundred American dollars! he growled, barely reigning in the contempt he felt.
The men turned to stare at him in stunned silence. The host recovered first, and launched into an elaborate speech: the rules of hospitality dictated that the boy must be given as a gift to the esteemed guest, if Jack wished to have the boy for the night. He pushed Omar towards Jack. But then, the man continued, if the guest insisted, he couldnt possibly refuse the five hundred dollars—a generous gift from the honorable guest of the house.
Jack insisted. It was more than half of the travel money” he had on him, but it didnt matter. What mattered was that the boy was freed from these dirty old men tonight. And hed figure later what to do next.
Jack waved Omar into his quarters, flicked his lighter up, and waited patiently for the boy to take off his plastic sandals before stepping in gingerly. Then he walked in, turned up the storm-light and closed the door.
There were muted sounds of an agitated conversation in the courtyard as Jalil Haq tried to appease his other guests. Then the flimsy wooden gate in the mud wall creaked open, praises to god and to the host were said, and everything went quiet.
Jack pointed to the stack of blankets and pillows piled up high against the wall and told Omar to turn the lamp down when he was ready to sleep. Then he dragged his sleeping bag to the door, placed it right next to it, and climbed in.
Am I not going to sleep with burra sahib tonight? the boy asked timidly, calling Jack big, important man.
Jack groaned inside. No, Omar. You will sleep there and I sleep here.” There was a long pause, then Omar whispered, Am I not pleasing to burra sahib? He sounded upset. Im the best dancer in the province. I look good… do I not?
Jack blew out an exasperated sigh and sat up. Listen, Omar. It is not about you. Yes, you are a great dancer, and I like you. But I dont sleep with boys. Not with underage boys that was for sure! It is not right. You must… go to school, not do this Jack bit his tongue. Easy for him to preach, but the poor kid had no say in what happened to him in this life. Like most everybody in this goddamn country.
I plan to, when Im eighteen and have lots of money But now Im in big trouble. Omar said flatly, and lay down, pulling the blanket up to his chin. Why? What happen?
Everybody wanted me to go home with them, but burra sahib asked for me as a gift. They will be angry now. Nobody will want to have me anymore.Seeing Jacks puzzled expression, the boy explained, They will think I slept with… eh, an infidel. Please forgive me for saying, burra sahib They may even kill me when you have gone.
You are joking!The boy was clearly not joking. No, Im not joking. Im sad.
Shit. What now?
Jack got up, stepped up the place where Omar was lying by the pile of blankets and pillows, wrapped in an old, heavy quilt.
The boy raised his head. Burra sahib is going to get me?
Jack clenched his jaw. No, Omar. I take blankets, my bed and sleep outside by the door. And nobody thinks that you slept with infidel.
But burra sahib cant sleep outside the door like a dog! Omar sprang up, sounding worried now. Agah sahib will kill me when he learns!
Nobody kills you, Omar. Nobody. I promise. You go to sleep, boy. Jack stepped out with two armfuls of bedding and shut the door firmly behind him.
The next day, for one of Jacks two cameras and three hundred dollars, leaving him with just fifty bucks for the way back, Jalil Haq let Omar go with him.
He didnt have a plan but couldnt leave the boy behind after what hed heard and seen. And definitely not after what Omar had confided to him in quiet, emotionless voice of what was awaiting him after Jack was gone.
However, he had to leave the boy at a refugee camp near the Pakistani border. Omar had no papers, and Jack didnt have enough money left to bribe his way through. He promised to come back with papers for Omar and put him up in Islamabad at one of the NGO-run centers for Afghan refugees. The green- eyed boy smiled at him, said he would wait and pray for burra sahib every day, because burra sahib was the best owner he’’ ever had, and he wanted to serve burra sahib even after he turned eighteen and grew a beard. And he would do anything for burra sahib, anything he wanted.
When Jack returned with papers three weeks later, Omar was gone. He was told that the boys uncle had come and taken him home up north. When Jack pressed for the uncles name, he was told that his name was Rahim Ershadi. Jack thanked the head of the camp, apologized for all the trouble, and left, feeling deeply disappointed, furious and helpless at the same time.
Rahim Ershadi was the name of Jalil Haqs second in command


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Meet the Author

 
M.K. South has worked in international finance and development for over 25 years, living in or traveling to many countries including the ones featured in this debut novel. Currently, M.K. works in Ukraine and continues globetrotting, for work and to experience the world.

"I was born a vagabond," says M.K., "in a snow-clad little place thousands miles way from the sun-drenched city on the Black Sea my mother called home. I then lived, studied and worked in other countries, poor, aspiring and rich. I've experienced poverty and war, as well as peace and prosperity, and I've learned that you don't fully appreciate the latter, unless you've known the former. Today, I'm still living in a foreign country, working in several others in the region, and traveling yet to others because... I just can't get wanderlust out of my DNA."

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