Release Blitz + Giveaway: Straight to the Heart by S.J. Coles

Author S.J. Coles and Pride Publishing visit with the Straight to the Heart release blitz! Read more about the contemporary romance and enter in the giveaway to win a LOVELY GIFT PACKAGE AND GET YOUR FREE S.J. COLES ROMANCE BOOK!

Straight to the Heart
S.J. Coles

Word Count: 33,482
Book Length: SHORT NOVEL
Pages: 142

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Book Description

What happens when the person you can’t get out of your head also happens to be the number one suspect in your murder investigation?

Derek Benson, CEO of Benson Industries, is found dead in his office at a time when everyone in the building, including him, should have been at an important meeting about the company’s future. Conveniently for the killer, the security footage from the time of the murder has vanished.

None of this fazes FBI Agent James Solomon. James knows himself, his job and how to set aside his ongoing personal problems to get the job done, even when the investigation is in a small-town backwater like Winton.

There’s just one problem—the intriguing form of young lab technician Leo Hannah, an employee of Benson Industries and a key witness, who appears to know more than he’s admitting to.

As the investigation progresses, James finds that his previously steadfast ability to separate personal from professional becomes increasingly unreliable. Can he get his head in the game before he compromises the investigation and his future career?

Reader advisory: Ths book contains a scene of public sex, graphic corpse description, and scenes involving violence, abduction and attempted murder.


James Solomon knew it was unprofessional—unethical, even—to be grateful for the murder of a high-profile businessman two days before what would have been his parents’ fortieth wedding anniversary. But his robust professional pride couldn’t put a dent in the very real relief he felt when the call had come through.

He climbed out of the rented car outside Benson Industries HQ and breathed in the brisk sea breeze. The early morning was still gloomy, casting everything in shadow. Gibson slammed the passenger door with a sigh as a woman in a sheriff’s uniform hurried over to meet them.

“Agents, thanks for coming so quickly.”

“No problem, Sheriff,” Gibson replied, her face schooled professionally blank. “The sooner we start, the better. Sheriff Coyle, right?”

“That’s right,” the middle-aged woman said, her smile doing nothing to warm the pale set of her face.

“Agent Lisa Gibson,” Gibson responded, shaking the other woman’s hand then indicating James. “Agent James Solomon. We’ve had the incident reports, but can you fill us in using your own words?”

“Sure. Follow me,” Sheriff Coyle said, her voice a bit steadier. She preceded them to the wide, glass entrance and swiped a card through a reader. They paced past the empty reception desk and down a marble-tiled corridor. The place was deserted, the black eyes of cameras the only things watching them. “The vic is Derek Benson, fifty-five years old,” the sheriff continued. “Born here in Winton, then got a job with the FDA in Maryland after college. Struck out on his own at age thirty. Now he’s the owner, CEO, director—you name it—of Benson Industries.”

“Specialist pharmaceuticals, right?” Gibson asked, scanning reports on her phone.

“That’s right. Pulling in some pretty serious business these days. Some big names on the client list. That’s why we called you guys in.”

“So what happened?”

“Benson was found by the janitor in his office this morning, shot three times in the chest.”

“Time of death?” Gibson asked.

“Our ME is putting it around nine p.m. last night, though he says he can be more accurate after the postmortem.”

“And you said the security camera footage is missing?” Gibson asked, eyeing another camera as they strode past.

“Yeah,” said the sheriff with a weary exasperation James could more than identify with. “The security system backs up everything onto disk. The disks from eight p.m. last night to three this morning have been taken.”

“No online backup?” James ventured, not hopefully, as they stepped onto an elevator.

Coyle shook her head. “I don’t think Benson trusted the cloud and all that. They’re dusting the Security Room for prints where the disks were kept now.”

“Did Benson often work that late?” Gibson asked as the elevator hummed up to the seventh floor.

“He put a lot of hours in, sure, but there was some kind of business presentation last night. All the heads of department and senior staff were here from seven-thirty onward. Plus, some of the lab rats were working late on a deadline.”

“Lab rats?” James queried, as Coyle led them out onto a level that was all glass walls and spacious offices with big desks and bold, minimalist furniture.

“The technicians,” she said, glancing this way and that, as if wary of what might be hiding in the maze of glass. “We have a list of everyone who was in the building at the time from the swipe system, though so far no one saw anyone leave the conference room or the labs.”

“How many people are we talking?” Gibson, warily.

Coyle pulled a battered notepad from a back pocket and flipped through it. “Thirty-one.”

“That’s a lot of people with opportunity,” Gibson muttered.

“One of them was his wife,” Coyle added. “Melissa Benson.”

“His wife was at the business meeting?”

Coyle nodded. “She’s a senior partner in the firm. She delivered one of the presentations.”

“At what time?”

“Pretty much the same time they reckon he was shot,” Coyle said and grimaced. “Sorry.”

“Well, we wouldn’t want it to be too easy. She looks younger than him,” Gibson said, examining a photo of Melissa Benson on the arm of her husband at some event on a news website.

“She’s his second wife. He and his first divorced about ten years ago.”


“I’m afraid so,” Coyle said with another sympathetic expression.

“What did you think of the victim?” James asked, watching the sheriff’s face.

“Me?” Her forehead creased. “I didn’t know him.”

“But you knew of him,” James pressed. “Big company. Small town. You had to have some impression of what he was like.”

Coyle slid him a sideways glance. “He did stuff for some local charities. Donated to a few nature conservation causes and the homeless actions—that kind of thing.”

“But?” James prompted, seeing her face had tightened.

Coyle looked uncomfortable. “He hired most of his staff from out-of-town. They don’t live here. They don’t contribute to the economy and they can get the locals’ backs up. Snobbish, some say. Elitist.”

“What would you say?”

“I’ve never had much contact,” Coyle hedged. “They’re law-abiding and keep to themselves.”

“What do you make of the wife, Melissa?”


“She’s not upset?”

“Oh, she’s upset,” Coyle said. “But she’s not the sort to go to pieces in front of the likes of me.”

“The report said the murder weapon was his own gun,” James said, carefully logging the sheriff’s last reply away for further consideration.

“Sure looks that way. He kept it in his desk.” Coyle stopped at one of the glass doors, where a uniformed officer, looking a little green, stood at attention. The body of Derek Benson was slumped in a large, designer office chair under the window. Blood splattered up the glass behind him, looking like red rain suspended in the gray sky. The crime-scene photographer was taking close-ups of the bullet wounds while his partner, who looked old enough to have been the scene technician at the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, was bent over the desk, sweeping for prints as delicately as if he were applying makeup.

“We don’t get much murder here,” Coyle murmured. “Winton’s a peaceful town. We get some drugs, some drunk and disorderlies, a bit of fraud. But stuff like this?” She shook her head.

“A big company shoe-horned into a small community,” James ventured, watching both the officers’ faces, “can cause friction.”

Coyle raised her eyebrows. “Big companies are fine. But BI’s too big—and only likely to get bigger.”

“Oh yes?” Gibson prompted, pulling on some gloves and pushing open the door.

“That’s what they’re saying that presentation was about,” Coyle said, hanging back near the door as Gibson bent over the body. “They’re striking a deal with an international distributer for their newest antiviral.”

“Do you know which distributer?” James asked, examining the photographs hanging on the interior wall. Black-and-white shots of the local harbor, mostly, plus a few of the hills west of the town.

Coyle frowned at her notepad, ruffling the pages. “It’s in here somewhere. I’m sure it went in the report.”

“It did,” Gibson replied, giving James a hard look. “Loadstone Inc.”

Coyle smiled a relieved smile, and Gibson went back to scrutinizing the crumpled form of Derek Benson. His chin was on his chest. A rope of blood-speckled saliva hung from a corner of his lined mouth. His skin was yellow-gray and his limbs stiff with the rigor of someone dead nearly twelve hours. His hands, hairless and manicured, rested in his lap. His eyebrows were heavy and dark. His thinning hair was iron gray, though still almost black at the nape. He wore an expensive suit and a dark, conservative tie. Blood soaked his shirtfront and pooled under the chair. The gun was on the floor by the desk. A desk drawer stood wide open.

“All three shots went right into his heart,” Gibson said, leaning close to the wounds. “The killer knew how to shoot.”

“There’s a lock on the drawer but not a complex one,” James said, examining the keypad on the drawer front.

“And there’s no signs of a struggle,” Gibson replied, surveying the rest of the meticulously tidy office.

James nodded. “Someone he knew. Someone he trusted too—or at least someone he wasn’t afraid of or he’d have been standing.”

“But that could be any one of the thirty-one people in the building last night,” Gibson said sourly. She stood with her hands on her hips, glaring at the corpse like it had done her personal harm. “The question is, did he get the gun out himself or did the killer?”

“Business expansion,” James said, tilting the computer monitor toward him. The screen saver was another artistic shot of Winton Harbor. James began entering the most popular password choices. “Not always a popular move.”

“And why was he here?” Gibson frowned. “With a big-deal presentation evening happening in the conference room and the future of his company in the balance?”

“And he’s sitting in his office four floors up,” James affirmed, smiling when ‘qwerty123’ allowed him into the computer. “Writing an email to personnel, by the look of it.” He gestured at the screen. Gibson came to his elbow and bent to examine the open, unsent email with ‘Contract Termination’ typed into the subject line and a blinking cursor in the blank form.

Gibson was quiet a moment. James moved to a set of bookshelves against the far wall and scanned the titles. Tomes on business management, chemistry, biology, academic journals on pharmaceuticals and FDA manuals took up most of the upper shelves. The lower ones held several battered volumes on the history of Winton and the surrounding area, plus some on blues, jazz and soul music, with a Frank Sinatra biography thrown in for good measure.

“I think we have all we need,” Gibson said to Coyle, who was watching them with an expectant air. “The ME can take him away now.” Coyle nodded and stepped back out into the corridor, dialing a number on her cell. “And how about you stop making digs at the local law enforcement, Agent?” Gibson scolded softly.

“If they slip up this early on, it’ll end in roadblocks,” he returned, watching Coyle through the glass. “And we need to establish local feeling about the situation.”

“Consider it established. Are you getting anything on this guy?”

“He loved his town…and music,” James mused, glancing around the office again. “But I think he loved his company more.”

“His company grossed several million last year. I can see why he had a soft spot for it.” Coyle was just hanging up the phone as they rejoined her. “Okay, Sheriff. We need you to round up the employees from last night. We’ll question them here.”

“Yes, ma’am,” she said. “Most of them will be turning up to work at eight anyway.”

“Good,” said Gibson, looking at her watch and repressing a sigh. “Tell them they can only have the building back when we’re done. That’ll get them through the door.”

Coyle nodded and hurried off.

“We’re doing the interviews here?” James questioned.

“One,” Gibson said, holding up a finger and moving back toward the elevator, “interviewing near the crime scene could get the killer twitchy and we might get a hit early, meaning I can be back in time for my husband’s promotion dinner tomorrow. And two,” she said, stabbing the elevator button with more force than was necessary, “getting everyone across town to the Winton Police Station with its single interview room and stone-age Wi-Fi will add hours to the whole damn circus. I’m not paid enough to be here any longer than necessary on what should have been my vacation week.”

James set up his interview station in the room he was directed to, put the digital recorder on the desk, pulled out a new, leather-bound notepad and re-read the initial reports on his phone as the clock ticked toward eight a.m.

He frowned when his personal phone buzzed in his pocket. He pulled it out, saw the number and cut the call. Shortly after, a police officer ushered in a tall woman in a business suit. She was already flustered and annoyed. James could already see a queue of similarly well-dressed and irritated people lining up outside. He flipped open his notebook, indicated the chair opposite and began.

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About the Author

S. J. Coles

S. J. Coles is a Romance writer originally from Shropshire, UK. She has been writing stories for as long as she has been able to read them. Her biggest passion is exploring narratives through character relationships.

She finds writing LGBT/paranormal romance provides many unique and fulfilling opportunities to explore many (often neglected or under-represented) aspects of human experience, expectation, emotion and sexuality.

Among her biggest influences are LGBT Romance authors K J Charles and Josh Lanyon and Vampire Chronicles author Anne Rice.

Find S. J. Coles at her website and follow her on Instagram.


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Blog Tour + Giveaway: Afloat (Staying Afloat #3) by Isabelle Adler

It's the final day of the Afloat (Staying Afloat #3) blog tour! Author Isabelle Adler and IndiGo Marketing host an exclusive excerpt, as well as more info about the series finale! Read more and enter in the $10 NineStar Press gift code giveaway!

Title: Afloat

Series: Staying Afloat, Book Three

Author: Isabelle Adler

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: 02/15/2021

Heat Level: 3 - Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 70900

Genre: Science Fiction, LGBTQIA+, sci-fi, spaceships/pilots, action-adventure, space battles, abduction, aliens, alien ships, bisexual, demisexual, military

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No place is safe anymore.

Matt and his crew know it all too well—and it’s especially true now as the war with the Alraki has reached the heart of Federation space and struck close to home. Suddenly, Matt is faced with a difficult choice. He has the opportunity to sway the tide of the war and rectify a past wrong by helping the Fleet obtain a groundbreaking Alraki technology. But to do so, he must risk his ship and the lives of his crewmates.

With Matt’s archenemy, the infamous Captain Rodgers, still on the loose and bent on revenge, the Alraki aren’t the only ones who pose a deadly threat to Matt and the people most dear to his heart. With danger and betrayal haunting their steps, Matt and Ryce must find a way to save their friends even as sinister secrets from the past threaten to tear them apart.

This time, the price of staying afloat might be higher than what Matt is willing to pay.

Afloat is the third book in Isabelle Adler’s exciting debut series, Staying Afloat, and concludes the series. For best enjoyment, advise reading the books in order.


Isabelle Adler © 2021
All Rights Reserved

“Can’t wait to get the hell out of here,” Matt muttered to himself.

A Federation space map slowly revolved on the large canopy screen, illuminating the darkened bridge with the light of distant stars. A red dot flashed sedately at the very edge of the map, marking their current location. The Elysium system was as remote as an inhabited corner of the galaxy could possibly be.

Unfortunately, as it turned out, “remote” didn’t always mean “out of harm’s way.”

Matt set the empty coffee mug on the edge of the console and leaned back, linking his hands behind his head as he considered the vastness of the galaxy, sprawled before him in all its unassuming majesty. At first glance, it appeared to hold endless possibilities, but as it turned out, they were unfortunately limited by constraints that had nothing to do with Matt’s dreams and preferences. Even the parts of the galaxy ostensibly under Federation control weren’t always safe for humans, and out of those, quite a large number of places weren’t safe for him personally.

“Permission to come on the bridge,” a voice chimed over the speaker. Matt smiled and spun around in his chair to greet Ryce as he walked in.

“So formal. Are you going to salute me next and call me ‘Captain’?”

Ryce grinned back at him and leaned down for a quick kiss before sitting beside him in the copilot seat.

“Now who’s being kinky? I thought adherence to a chain of command wasn’t your thing.”

“It’s not. But it’d still be nice to get some respect around here.”

“Knowing your crew, there’s not much chance of that,” Ryce remarked and cocked his head as he studied the map. “Have you been here all morning?”

“Pretty much. And where were you? I didn’t see you at breakfast.”

“I was playing chess with Val in the rec room.”

“Really? Two geniuses playing chess? Could you be any more clichĂ©?”

“Neither of us is technically a genius,” Ryce observed, his eyes still glued to the screen.

“Close enough from where I stand.”

“Val and I have also tested the new power converter for the engine, and, as far as he’s concerned, it’s all systems go.” The digitalized starlight reflected in Ryce’s eyes as he pulled up the specs at the bottom of the screen, making Matt’s attention momentarily slip. “We can be out of this system the second you decide where we’re going. Have you?”

Matt sighed and ran a hand through his hair. His auburn locks had grown a bit too long for his taste, but with everything that’d been going on lately—namely, his engineer having been kidnapped and his pilot having been roped into participating in deadly drag races—he hadn’t had a chance to cut them.

“Not really. Since we’ve changed registration twice in one year already, there are only so many sectors where we could apply for a working permit, and a lot of the others are now a warzone. This whole war business is a real nuisance when you’re on the run.”

“Do you think Griggs is still after us?” Ryce asked. “It has been rather quiet lately.”

“I don’t know, but I’m not planning on hanging around much longer to find out.”

Griggs, the black-market king of the Freeport 73 station, was the man behind their crew’s recent misadventures, and though they’d managed to strike an uneasy truce, Matt wasn’t naive enough to believe the crime lord would swallow the bitter pill of blackmail without some kind of payback. Having to—literally—piece his engineer back together was more than enough incentive for Matt to look for opportunities elsewhere.

“Tony says we’re due a vacation, and for once, I tend to agree with her. We’ve all been through some tough shit in the past few months, and we all deserve a break while we have the cash to afford it. But before we go booking that luxury resort stay on Nova, I’d like to have all my bases covered.”

Matt shook his head and looked at Ryce.

“What about you? Is there anywhere you’d like to go, even if it’s just for a little while?” he asked gently, reaching out to stroke the other man’s hand. “Have you considered getting in touch with your mother?”

“I don’t think it’s time for that yet,” Ryce said, looking away. “I’m grateful for the money she sent me, of course, but it still doesn’t mean she wants to see me.”

There was something evasive about the way he said it, as if he wasn’t completely sure or completely truthful in his answer.

“Okay,” Matt said slowly.

It really wasn’t his place to pry or push Ryce into being more open about this particular subject; God knew, Matt was prickly about discussing his own family with other people. But he couldn’t help but feel a pang of disappointment. It was silly, really, but there he was, unable to hold back a frown because it implied Ryce didn’t trust him enough to share something a little more personal.

But his disappointment was his hang-up, not Ryce’s. So instead of quietly sulking, Matt squeezed Ryce’s hand in reassurance. The feel of Ryce’s skin against his was still wondrous to him, despite them spending barely any time apart, his own private miracle. Not only because he still couldn’t quite believe a man like Ryce could love someone as flawed as him, but because after everything they’d been through, they were incredibly fortunate to be alive to enjoy their happy ever after. This was what he should be focusing on, not some imaginary slights he was learning to recognize as self-sabotage.

Ryce smiled and covered Matt’s hand with his own, his cool touch sending sparks of excitement down Matt’s spine. “What are you thinking? You have that funny look on your face.”

“Must be the aftermath of last night’s dinner.”

Ryce scoffed. “You didn’t have to be quite so unequivocal about how bad you thought it was,” he chided, but there was a spark of laughter in his eyes.

“I’m actually glad you suck at cooking. Just goes to show nobody can be perfect at everything. And if you’re not perfect, there’s hope for the rest of us mortals.”

“Remind me to gloat with the same level of delight when I discover something you suck at.”

“So pretty much anything?”

“I can think of a few things you’re good at,” Ryce murmured, sliding from his seat and onto Matt’s lap in a fluid motion.

Matt’s heart sped up. He pulled Ryce closer, greedily drinking the kiss as he closed his eyes and lost himself to the whirlwind of stars around him.

He slid his hand over the front zipper of Ryce’s fatigues, but then Ryce withdrew abruptly, frowning, and touched the adapter on his temple, the one linked to Lady Lisa’s computer.

“There’s an incoming call,” he said.

“They’ll call later,” Matt said impatiently. Whoever it was, they could damn well wait another ten minutes. “We’re kind of in the middle of something here.”

“It’s a military channel.” Ryce’s frown deepened, and he stood up to sit back in the copilot seat.

“Damn it.” Matt sat up in his chair, pushing down on his arousal and frustration. His disdain for authority didn’t extend as far as ignoring contacts from the military. This could be Nora, of course, but his sister rarely used encrypted communications simply to check up on him. “Bring it on-screen.”

The face that appeared in front of them wasn’t Nora’s, but it was familiar. The bright white background didn’t look like the bridge of a ship. Something beeped steadily just out of sight, jolting unpleasant memories of Matt’s several stays in medical facilities.

“Commander Walker,” Matt said, trying to keep the worry out of his voice. “Not to sound rude or anything, but why are you calling?”

Matt had been questioned ad nauseam by the man almost eight months ago, after their unfortunate stint on the Colanta-3 moon and the discovery (and subsequent destruction) of a Mnirian superweapon. He hadn’t liked Walker then, and he wasn’t thrilled to see him now, but he couldn’t deny he owed the commander his life after being saved from a slow, oxygen-deprived death in the depths of the alien bunker.

“I’m contacting you on behalf of Major Cummings.” Walker sounded unusually subdued. The stress lines around his eyes and mouth seemed deeper, marring his otherwise classically handsome features. “I thought you should know your sister was gravely injured in the line of duty.”

Ryce’s sharp intake of breath indicated that Walker had said something terrible, but for some reason, the moments stretched and stretched until the meaning of the words finally registered in Matt’s brain, hitting him with the force of a freight barge.

“How gravely?” he asked, digging his fingers into the arms of his chair.

Walker pursed his lips. “Enough for me to contact you on my own initiative,” he said, his voice clipped.

“What happened?” Ryce asked while Matt was busy remembering how to breathe.

“We were deployed back in the Sonora sector, and our ship, the Lennox, was on her way from Freeport 16 to the Sonora-11 outpost when we were attacked.”

Even though they weren’t touching, Matt felt Ryce tense beside him.

“Attacked? By whom?”

“An Alraki frigate,” Walker said after a pause. “A torpedo took out a portion of the bridge. Major Cummings was lucky to be able to get out before the shields gave and the section was sealed off.”

Matt and Ryce exchanged a look. Judging by Ryce’s startled expression, the same thought must have occurred to him, one that made Matt’s stomach, already tied in knots by the news, lurch with awful premonition.

“I haven’t heard anything about the fighting reaching as far as Sonora,” Ryce said, frowning. “The military bases in this sector are designated mainly for training and redeployment.”

“It hasn’t,” Walker said. “This was…an isolated incident.”

“An Alraki frigate attacking a destroyer battleship in the heart of Federation space?” Matt said, barely recognizing his own voice for the strain. “That’s—”

“Disturbing. I know,” Walker said. For the first time since Matt had met the man, he looked troubled, but a second later, he visibly pulled himself together, as stern as ever in his officer uniform. “By rights, I shouldn’t even be telling you this. But I know how much your sister cares for you, and I thought you should be here by her side. Before it’s too late.”

Exclusive Excerpt – Afloat (Staying Afloat #3) by Isabelle Adler

Matt adjusted his face mask and looked around the dim cavern of the hold from where he was crouching next to Lady Lisa’s hull. The space around them seemed empty, the Alraki probably still busy fending off the Falcon fighters, but it didn’t mean they could dawdle. As loath as Matt was to leave his ship, eventually he’d have to make that first step into the belly of the beast and hope to God he wouldn’t be swallowed.

“Ready?” Ryce whispered beside him, and Matt nodded. Ryce’s face was half-obscured by the mask needed to adjust to the different oxygen and nitrogen levels inside the Alraki craft, but otherwise, they didn’t bother with any cumbersome protective gear, especially as the artificial gravitational pull was slightly higher than the regular 1 g. The environment wasn’t toxic, per se, just deeply…well, alien.

They ran across the floor, their feet bouncing softly on what felt like rubbery coating. Out in the open, the vibrations were much more pronounced but not strong enough to throw them off balance.

“Do you know where to go?” Matt whispered when they neared the tall arched doorway.

“Yes. I memorized the ship’s map from Walker’s briefing.” Ryce scanned the corridor in both directions, a blaster gun set on maximum impact at the ready.

“Of course you did. Watch out!”

They ducked, hiding behind opposite sides of the opening as several Alraki trotted down the corridor, their bio-mech armor creaking softly. Another party followed in their footsteps after less than a minute.

“They’re gonna spot us,” Matt said. “There’s no way we can evade them if they find us in the hallway, not without that fancy stealth armor.”

“You’re right. They’re on high alert now that Walker’s team has been compromised.” Ryce peered into the corridor again. Thin veins of reddish light ran through the curved walls, illuminating it. He gestured upward with his gun. “We’ll use the air ducts.”

Matt looked in the direction Ryce was pointing, at an opening in the ceiling covered with a ridged grate that made him think of gills. He shuddered involuntarily.

“Do you think the ducts are big enough for us?”

“Only one way to find out.” Ryce holstered his gun and stepped into the corridor, motioning for Matt to follow him. “Come on, I’ll give you a boost.”

Matt sighed. He didn’t think it was possible to like this mission any less, but every new development seemed to prove him wrong.

Ryce knelt on the floor and laced his fingers to make a support for Matt to step on. He pushed upward as Matt hoisted himself up, shoving hard at the grate. It had the same rubbery texture as the floor and the walls as if it were a part of a giant animal rather than an intelligently designed piece of machinery, which made him squeamish about touching it. With a bit of extra pressure, the grate gave, and Matt pushed it inward, grabbed the edge of the opening, and scrambled to slither inside as Ryce lifted his feet, giving him more leverage.

“Quick, someone’s coming,” Ryce warned.

Matt cursed and wiggled forward. The ventilation tunnel was just wide enough for a grown man to crawl inside, but it was hardly a comfortable fit, and its round shape was vaguely reminiscent of a corroded pipe or a blood vessel. Behind him, Ryce jumped, catching onto the edge of the hole as Matt had done before him, and heaved himself inside just as the footsteps of more Alraki soldiers echoed in the corridor below them.

They both held their breath, lying still as the aliens passed underneath them. Thankfully, none of them glanced up to notice the open grate.

“Now what?” Matt whispered after the Alraki retreated to a safe distance.

“Onward and upward,” Ryce said, deadpan.

Matt snorted, adjusted his mask again against the stronger flow of cold air blowing in his face, and pushed forward, putting his elbows to work.

They passed several more grates, spaced at what seemed like irregular intervals but which must have made sense for the Alraki. The advantage of the ducts not being made of metal was that the sound of their passage was much more muted and less likely to attract attention. Even so, they crawled in relative silence, with Ryce giving directions when the duct split. It was just as well because Matt didn’t have the slightest idea as to their location or which way they were headed, so he was more than happy to let Ryce take the lead, going on his recollection of the frigate’s layout. The ducts curved along with the corridors and the open spaces rather than running in straight lines, which made their progress more difficult, slowing them down.

Every minute they spent fumbling inside the alien ship’s guts was a minute Walker and his troops were fighting for their lives, and Tony and Val were sitting ducks aboard the captured Lisa. Matt didn’t dare switch on the communications channel so as to not be distracted by the noise. They had to pay close attention to what was going on directly below them, and the anxiety of not knowing what was happening in that sensor array room or the holding bay wore on his nerves.

“Wait,” Matt said, stopping. Ryce halted behind him. The tunnel ended abruptly, meeting with a vertical shaft. “Damn it.”

He peered up and down, both ends of the shaft lost in reddish gloom. The air rushed past him from below, making him squint.

“We go down,” Ryce said.

“That’s what worries me.”

Note on the series:

For best enjoyment, the books in the Staying Afloat series should be read in order:
Adrift (Staying Afloat #1)
Ashore (Staying Afloat #2)
Afloat (Staying Afloat #3)


NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

A voracious reader from the age of five, Isabelle Adler has always dreamed of one day putting her own stories into writing. She loves traveling, art, and science, and finds inspiration in all of these. Her favorite genres include sci-fi, fantasy, and historical adventure. She also firmly believes in the unlimited powers of imagination and caffeine.

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Blog Tour + Giveaway: Time Cures (Time Adventures #4) by Tag Gregory & Lily Marie

Authors Tag Gregory and Lily Marie, along with IndiGo Marketing, make a tour stop for time travel romance, Time Cures (Time Adventures #4)! Not only are they hosting a Time Blitz eBook giveaway, author Tag Gregory chats about having strange browser history as a result of being a writer. Check it out!

Title: Time Cures

Series: Time Adventures Series, #4

Author: Tag Gregory & Lily Marie

Publisher: Self-Published

Release Date: 2/14/21

Heat Level: 4 - Lots of Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 238

Genre: Romance, Time Travel, Adventure, LGBTQ

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Cocky American Ad Exec, Bradley Connors, and his courageous ex-RAF fighter pilot husband, Janes Garrett, are back in London and once again separated through the power of time. With James stranded  in 1956 during a polio outbreak, a world of homophobia threatens to keep him from the man he loves. How will he talk himself out of the trouble he’s unwittingly creating? Who from his past can he rely on to help him get home to Bradley? Will they be able to save their friends from the deadly pandemic or will they too perish in the attempt? And can they do all this while reaffirming that nothing can tear their love apart, not even time itself? Time Cures is a love story like no other. It’s a romance through time.


“Considering the length of time he was unconscious, I feel it imperative that he remain in hospital for at least the next twenty-four hours for observation. Provided no other symptoms manifest, he can be released to his family at that time,” Dr. Donaldson advised.

James was relieved that the diagnosis wasn’t worse. He knew Bradley was still going to be angry at him for getting hurt. Again. At least he would be angry - once Bradley got over being relieved - when James finally got around to calling him.

“Pardon me, Doctor,” the nurse interrupted before the doctor could make his grand exit. “But, before ya came in, the patient was showing signs of confusion and talkin’ all sorts a nonsense. I’m thinking he mighta banged his ‘ead a bit harder than he’s lettin’ on.”

“Confusion?” That got the good doctor’s attention.

“Yes, Doctor. He was spoutin’ some nonsense ‘bout needin’ to ring his husband, an’ seemed to think he had a telephone in that kit bag of ‘is.” The nurse pointed to James’ messenger bag while giving the doctor a knowing look.

“Is that so . . .” The doctor turned back to his patient, one bushy eyebrow raised inquisitively, much more interested in the young blond man now than he had been initially. “Do you remember your name, son?”

“Yes, of course. It’s James Garrett.”

The doctor nodded and asked another question. “Do you remember the accident that gave you that bump on the head?”

James thought about it, but just came up blank. He started to shake his head to indicate ‘no’, only the gesture made the dizziness and nausea worse. He groaned and dropped his head into his hands. “No,” he moaned.

“Well, that’s not a good sign,” Doctor Obvious surmised, his eyebrows knitting together so closely that they now looked like one long, hairy caterpillar creeping across his forehead. “Now, what’s all this chit chat about a telephone and a husband?”

“I just want to call him and let him know where I’m at,” James offered, feeling and sounding pathetic even to his own ears.

“You say you have a . . . Husband ?” The doctor very clearly emphasized the word ‘husband’ in a disbelieving tone of voice.

“Yes! I want to call MY HUSBAND, okay?” James was losing patience with the proceedings and his voice had risen commensurately with his annoyance level. “His name is Bradley Connors. We’re here visiting from the United States; Bradley has business with a big client here. We’re staying at The Strand Palace. He’s probably waiting for me there and, most likely, has already called the police to help find me. If you’d just let me get my cell phone out of my bag I can call him and he’ll come down here and take me to a different hospital where they’ll stop asking me idiotic questions . . .”

The doctor interrupted him before he could continue his rant. “Do you know where you are right now?”

“You mean the hospital? The nurse said it was St. Bart’s. Or do you mean London?”

“Righteo. And what’s the date?”

“Um . . .” James had to think a little about that, his memory going a little fuzzy on him. “I think it’s still Monday, right? August . . . August 14th?”

“Close. You got the date correct but it’s Tuesday. What about the year?”

“2017 . . . ?” James answered, starting to get a funny feeling about where all these questions were leading.

“Hmmmm,” was Donaldson’s only reply. Then he turned to the nurse with more directions. “Clearly, this is a much more serious case than I previously suspected. We could be looking at Traumatic Encephalopathy or, perhaps, some type of advanced psychosis. I’m going to call in Dr. Abbott for a psychiatric evaluation. Change the charge order to note a seventy-two hour hold.” Returning his attention to the patient he added, “never fear, young man. We’re going to take good care of you. Hopefully, by the time we’re done here, you’ll be in tiptop shape once more, back in full possession of all your mental faculties.”

With that proclamation, Dr. Donaldson spun about and started for the door.

“Wait,” James shouted after the departing man before he could exit. “What year is it, really?”

“1956, of course!”

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Author Visit

Strange Browser History
By: Tag Gregory

What’s the difference between a serial killer and an author?

Well, if you’re judging them by the search history that comes up on their computers, not much.

In the decade or so that I’ve been writing, I’ve pretty much researched everything. That’s not much of an exaggeration, either. You name it and I’ve either researched it or I’ve asked someone else about it. Because that’s what a meticulous writer, who’s lived a relatively sheltered life, does. We research the crap out of stuff so we can write about it more convincingly. And it doesn’t matter if that ‘stuff’ is about how to knit a sweater or how to kill someone without getting caught. It’s really all the same thing to us authors.

This, of course, reminds me of the give and take in the writing community between ‘own voices’ vs. imagination. Don’t get me wrong; I’m a 100% supporter of ‘own voices’. Traditionally marginalized groups SHOULD get more representation in the literary world. I would never argue against that proposition or begrudge a person from an underrepresented group writing about her or his own experiences and getting their work recognized.

But, in my personal opinion, there’s still a place in the writing community for imagination too. Nobody should be arguing that an author can’t effectively write about something outside their lived experience. Because, as long as I can imagine it, I can write about it. That’s the best part of writing, to be honest; the celebration of imagination. It’s all about getting to the essence of the creativity of the author. With the magic of research, I can be anyone or anything I want to be. It’s all about translating that spark of imagination into a reality you form with your words and your intellect and your curiosity through the medium of your research. And that’s what makes it fun.

I mean, Stephen King isn’t a psychopathic killer - or at least I don’t think he is - but he writes a damn convincing murderer. And I don’t think J.K. Rowling is really a wizard either. So you shouldn’t be giving me a hard time about writing scenes set in a gay bath house in the 1940s. I may not have lived in that time or seen those sights with my own eyes, but I’m one hell of a great researcher, and I can and do write about anything and everything I can discover through my research.

With a library card and an internet connection I can write anything.

You don’t believe me? Well, here’s just a short list of some of the crazy things I’ve had to research over the years...

I mentioned before that I’ve researched how to kill people. I’ve done that for more than one story, so the methods I’ve read up about span the gamut from the damage a bullet does to the human body, to blunt force trauma, to poison, to how fast anaphylactic shock sets in if you’re dosed with something you’re allergic to. Because of this morbid bent, a lot of my characters end up in the hospital - repeatedly - so I’m always looking at medical websites to figure out how to treat them, whether they’ll die from whatever injury or illness I’ve given them, and how fast they’ll take to recover. Along the way I’ve had to know about the history of vaccines, when the first x-ray was taken, how an iron lung works, and what first aid kits looked like in the 1940s. I spent one whole evening researching infectious disease control measures and the history of virology. I know the entire history of how CPR was developed. I know all the symptoms and treatments for both OCD and PTSD. I’ve written a lot of stories centered around abuse, so I’m pretty much an expert these days on everything including physical, mental and narcissistic abuse. I don’t know why I love torturing my characters so much, but I really should learn to write at least one story that doesn’t involve a hospital.

I’m a total perfectionist, so I’m constantly looking at maps of the settings for my stories. I love maps. I especially love interactive maps. When we were writing Time Blitz I spent days playing around on this amazing interactive map that shows where every single bomb was landed in London during WWII. And I don’t even want to calculate how many hours I’ve spent on Google Street View looking at places I can’t go myself. I’ve calculated the exact distances between buildings and city blocks and cities and continents. I’ve even drawn my own maps of places that didn’t quite exist in reality. I’m not above using real life places while also augmenting them with additions I make up to fit my plots. So, while I often work off real photos - thus making sure I describe something as meticulously as possible - I’m not above embellishing where needed. I’m so hung up on place settings and maps and locations, though, that I’ve flown all the way across the country to take pictures of buildings I plan to use in my stories and walk the streets of a city just to make sure I soak up the correct ambience.

My research isn’t limited to physicalities. I research pretty much anything that comes across my computer as I write. I’m such a nerd. I once spent an hour researching the history of M&Ms. I’ve researched architectural styles. I’ve researched the history of various schools of art. I’ve researched art school and the typical curriculum particular schools offer. I’ve looked up the names of the US Senators from Pennsylvania back to the 1950s. I’ve had to search for the names of various styles of dress and styles of eyeglass frames and who makes designer wristwatches and where you buy vintage suits and how long Burberry has been in business. I know when the first showers were put into hotels and when en suite bathrooms became popular. I once had to look up when photo booths were invented. I’m an expert in how tall a stack of $5,000 worth of $100 bills would be. I know the RAF’s motto - Through Adversity To The Stars. I know the most popular Sikh boys names in 2017. I looked up the release date of Fantasia and what the top grossing films of 1941 were and the name of the best selling novel in 1956. I even watched about a million hours of videos of swing dancing so I could write about it. And, yes, all these things are tediously esoteric, but I get off on this kind of stuff, so sue me.

Perfectionist that I am, I even research all the sexier parts of the stories I write. Because I wouldn’t want to write a sex scene that involves multiple partners and have it come off as unrealistic. So, yeah, I watch my share of porn - but only for educational purposes. *Wink* I’ve read ‘The Joy of Gay Sex’, The Kama Sutra and articles on tantric massage. I’ve also researched the history of condoms and, specifically, what types and brands of condoms were available in WWII. I’ve researched all sorts of STDs. I spent almost a week reading a detailed history of the AIDS epidemic. I’ve read books about what it was like being gay in various eras and how homosexuals were treated throughout history. I’ve spent many facinated hours researching the history of sex toys, and learned so much, you wouldn’t believe it. And, just to make sure that I’m accurately describing what I’m writing, I’ve drawn diagrams (using stick figures, because I’m not that artistic) to work out kinky sex scenes and watched YouTube videos of judo throws to see just how a man’s body would work and how his muscles would flex in specific scenes. I know, it’s tough work, but somebody HAS to research these things. I wouldn’t want to get any of it wrong.

The Time Adventures Series - because they are time travel stories - have been especially interesting for a born researcher like myself. I’m in seventh heaven here, folks. I literally can’t get enough of researching and writing these books.

For the latest book, Time Cures, I had a lot of fun learning more about 1950s London and the post-WWII changes that happened to the City. But that wasn’t enough, because our heroes do a little travelling in this book. So I had to research the history of jet airplanes, commercial airlines, and the exact specifications, air speed, fuel capacities, and maximum ceiling of prop-engine planes from the 1950s. That led down a rabbit hole where I ended up reading all about Howard Huges for several hours. To get a more personal take, I interviewed my step-dad - who had a pilots’ license back in the 1960s and 1970s before he lost it for flying under a bridge in a crop duster plane (he promises he wasn’t as drunk as they claimed) - about the quirks of flying older planes. He gave me some great ideas about how to crash an airplane. Then I spent most of one whole night sitting down and actually writing out a flight plan for how to cross the Atlantic ocean in a prop-engine plane; which I later scrapped as soon as it became clear the idea was completely infeasible. This endeavor was complicated by trying to figure out which airfields existed in 1956, which was made more difficult, in part, because the names of the various airports in use since then have all changed. Spoiler: I had a LOT of fun working on this plotline and I think it shows when you read the story.

Thankfully, my co-author, Lily, is Brit herself, so I had some help with the more British parts of the research. Lily is the one who helped me write effectively about pre-decimalized English pounds, shillings, and pence. Lily is the one who recommended we make reference to The Great Ormond Street Hospital. She’s also the one who researched and supervised my attempts to write Irish and Scottish and Welsh accents. Lily also knows about London and corrects anything I get wrong about the locations there. When needed - at least in the pre-COVID days - I could always send her on field trips around the City. These books couldn’t have been written without Lily’s expertise.

Oh, and don’t even get me started on my ridiculously extensive research - including reading I don’t even remember how many scientific articles found on Google Scholar - about how magnets can be used to extend batteries and enhance electrical fields. Armed with that knowledge, I spent Christmas Eve in a long and deliciously technical conversation with the husband of a friend, who happens to be a Physics Professor, over homebrewed cider, discussing whether or not time travel was theoretically possible. (He assures me it isn’t no matter how many times I tried to point out papers I’d read by physicists theorizing about how strong magnetic fields actually alter Einstein’s famous E=mc2 formula . . .) We’ll see about that; because remember how I was going on about imagination? Pretty sure H.G. Wells never really invented a time machine. Or did he?

Which brings me back around to my strange browser history again. I’ve never actually had the need, but I now know how to forge a passport. I looked up the best ways to get or create a fake ID. I’ve thoroughly researched how to pick a lock. I know where to steal explosives. I know how to fake my own death and even how to frame someone else for the crime. I’ve lost track of exactly how many men I’ve killed over the years without ever getting caught.

So, I’m just saying . . . If you’re with the FBI and you’re reading this post, please don’t arrest me for that last search I did on how to build a bomb. I swear it’s only for a story. Really. I promise.

Meet the Authors

TAG has been writing for almost a decade, starting out with a hesitant toe in the realm of fanfiction before venturing into the scarier world of self-publishing original works. With an eclectic background as a lawyer, microbiologist, all-around nerd, and adventurer, TAG brings that off-kilter sense of humor, unbounded curiosity, a love of details, and astonishing powers of research to all their writing. If you are looking for a griping story, with compelling characters that deal with real world issues, then you're in the right place.

Lily has been writing close to for twenty years, but has only ever (until recently) dipped her toes into writing fan-fiction. Lily is a born and bred Londoner and loves nothing more than getting lost in a book - whether it be writing one of her own, or reading something from one of her favorite authors. In her spare time, Lily likes to think of herself as somewhat of a disability rights activist, helping to create change for those that may not have a voice to speak up or, like Lily herself, those that may have been too quiet to stand up for themselves.

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2/22 My Fiction Nook

2/23 Mirrigold Mutterings and Musings

2/24 Bayou Book Junkie

2/25 Boy Meets Boy Reviews

2/26 Love Bytes


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Review: The Gentle Art of Fortune Hunting by K.J. Charles

Robin Loxleigh and his sister Marianne are the hit of the Season, so attractive and delightful that nobody looks behind their pretty faces.

Until Robin sets his sights on Sir John Hartlebury’s heiress niece. The notoriously graceless baronet isn’t impressed by good looks, or fooled by false charm. He’s sure Robin is a liar—a fortune hunter, a card sharp, and a heartless, greedy fraud—and he’ll protect his niece, whatever it takes.

Then, just when Hart thinks he has Robin at his mercy, things take a sharp left turn. And as the grumpy baronet and the glib fortune hunter start to understand each other, they also find themselves starting to care—more than either of them thought possible.

But Robin's cheated and lied and let people down for money. Can a professional rogue earn an honest happy ever after?

When Robin and Marriane Loxleigh take London society by storm, it’s no secret that they are of humble origins. It’s also no secret that the siblings are angling for advantageous matches.

But Robin sets his sights on the wrong heiress, coming face-to-face with her curmudgeonly and overprotective uncle, Sir John Hartlebury.

Few tropes titillate me as much as a good enemies-to-lovers tale. Throw in Regency high society, a cast of interesting characters, and some damn good UST, and you can consider me thoroughly titillated.


I was rooting for Robin and Marianne from the beginning. Two upstarts able to turn le bon ton’s game on its head; more power to them! Plus, I adored how devoted they were to each other.

From the outset, Robin’s ambitions and Hart’s suspicions mean that the two are bound to clash. Hart is immune to Robin’s social charms, unlike the rest of London society.

But despite their frosty interactions, there’s an underlying tension between them that goes beyond the Marriage Mart.

I thought their mutual dismay at how attractive they found the other was hilarious. Even better was how Hart and Robin unsettled one another.

When the situation finally implodes - it was only a matter of time - the outcome was delicious. Hart and Robin really don’t hold back on working through that bottled-up tension!

Where this book really shines is that the physical relationship solves absolutely nothing. I really liked how the two men were still ideologically opposites for the majority of the book, which made their growing feelings for each other all the more complicated.

Hart needed quite a few teaching moments on hypocrisy, class, and gender (though the last could have been explored a bit more), and Robin didn’t hold back. It was great!

However, I did feel like there were some missing bits at the end. It seems like a lot changed, but was only summarized, in the epilogue. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I ended the book feeling distracted.

That being said, Hart and Robin’s HEA was very well-deserved and was perfect for them. Recommended read if you’re looking for an MM Regency romance!

A copy was provided in exchange for an honest review.

Release Blitz + Giveaway: Star Shadow: The Complete Series by Beth Bolden

Author Beth Bolden and Gay Book Promotions host today's release blitz for the complete series boxed set of Star Shadow! Find out more about the rockstar romance and enter in the $20 Amazon gift card giveaway!


Book Title: Star Shadow: The Complete Series

Author: Beth Bolden

Publisher: Beth Bolden Books

Cover Artist: Cate Ashwood Designs

Release Date: February 18, 2021

Genre/s: Contemporary Gay Romance

Trope/s: Rock stars, reunited lovers, friends to lovers, bisexual awakening, hurt/comfort

Themes: coming out, forgiveness, found family

Heat Rating:  4 flames

Length: 335,000 words (four full-length novels + bonus epilogue novella)

It’s the entire series.

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Buy Links - Available in Kindle Unlimited 

Amazon US   |  Amazon UK 


Can they fix the mistakes of the past?


An ex-boyband, betrayed by everyone they trusted.

Star Shadow met when they were only sixteen years old—four different guys, with four different dreams that coalesced into one when they became a worldwide phenomenon.

Hope was shredded, loyalties tested, and love destroyed.

But now there’s a chance to fix the mistakes of the past.

Love renewed. Friendship resurrected. They’ve earned a brand new beginning and a fresh start.

Includes four full length novels and an exclusive bonus epilogue novella. Approximately 350,000 words.

Terrible Things – When Caleb walked out, leaving his band and his lover behind, Leo knew he could never forgive. He never expected Caleb to show up again, clean and sober and wanting Star Shadow to get back together. But maybe this might not be so terrible after all.

Impossible Things - For the last ten years, Benji and Diego have not only been members of Star Shadow, but best friends. As much as they've both wanted more from their relationship, it never felt worth it to trade what they have for something hot, heady and completely impossible.

Hazardous Things - Felix can’t even remember the first time he crushed on Max, Star Shadow’s drummer. But he’s never acted on his feelings. One, because Max is his older brother’s best friend. Two, because Max is also his friend.Three, Max is technically his boss. And four, worst of all, Max is straight.

Extraordinary Things - Caleb knows he’s earned Leo’s forgiveness. He wants to believe he deserves it, but just when Leo needs him more than ever, a voice in his head insists that he doesn't. It’s so loud, he can't block it out. So loud, he’d do anything to silence it. Including risking everything he and Leo, and the rest of Star Shadow, have built together.

Excerpt from Terrible Things

Leo was pretty sure he was going to be sick.

Not like a little bit sick, but the type of full-on sick that led to massively puking his guts up into this not-very-clean toilet.

Seriously, that was something they should have added to the tour rider—please ensure all bathrooms were cleaned thoroughly in case Leo Humphries needed to spend an hour crouched over a toilet.

The hard tile was digging into his jean-covered knees and the floor was freezing, but he couldn’t seem to move, didn’t even remember staggering in here. Definitely after he’d fixed his hair and he’d dressed in the simple jeans and t-shirt he’d picked out for the first night. It was only then that what he was about to do hit him, and the big lunch he’d eaten threatened to rise.

He’d been in here about an hour, give or take, and it was a surprise nobody had found him, but just when he’d thanked god that nobody had yet, the door creaked open and he heard footsteps walking toward his stall.

Leo closed his eyes. He’d wanted it to be just about anybody other than who it was. “Leo,” Caleb called softly. “I know you’re in here. Are you okay?”

Leo gripped the dingy toilet with only the tips of his fingers, felt the ceramic edge as it dug into his skin. “Not really,” he mumbled.

“Should’ve told someone. Not just run off.”

“Didn’t want anybody to know,” Leo admitted. Especially you.

“Don’t care.” Caleb’s voice was a little harsh. “Should have done it anyway.” He rattled the stall door. “Let me in.”

Leo exhaled and shook his head before he realized Caleb couldn’t see him. “No. Definitely no.”

Caleb harrumphed and then was quiet for a moment. “I could probably break this down, you know,” he finally said, and the stall door rattled harder this time.

“I’m sure you could,” Leo snapped. “But that would be rude.”

“Don’t care.” The door shook again, even harder this time around. For a split second, Leo actually considered hefting himself off the floor to brace against the flimsy door in an attempt to prevent Caleb’s forced entry.

Not moving won out by a very narrow margin, but then the door jerked hard in its wimpy foundation and Leo had to reconsider. At this rate, Caleb might actually pull the entire set of stalls down, and that wasn’t going to look very good when everyone inevitably found out.

He could see the headlines now. Star Shadow destroys bathroom at tour venue.

Leo raised himself to his knees and flicked the lock. The door swung open and Caleb was standing in the opening, wearing an obnoxiously patterned shirt.

“You’re annoying,” Leo growled, dropping back to his original position and praying that at some point in the next few minutes his body finally decided what it wanted to do. He was frustrated with its indecisiveness.

Never mind that at some point during the evening, he needed to get together enough to actually go out onstage and perform for whoever had decided to show up.

Caleb crouched down by Leo, gaze very concerned. “Are you nervous?”

“No, I ate some bad shellfish,” Leo snapped.

Caleb’s chuckle was soft. “Nerves it is then.”

“Honestly, Caleb. Of course it’s nerves.”

“You have nothing to be nervous about. You know that, right?” Caleb reassured him.

Leo frowned.

Reaching forward, Caleb hesitatingly put his hand on Leo’s back. “I’m serious. You’re great. You’re always great.”

That was so completely untrue that Leo nearly laughed. “Actually, no. I’m not at all.” He paused. “I mean, I’m just not the same, you know? I’m not going to be the same. And they’ll all see it. They’ll see who I really am.”

About the Author

A lifelong Oregonian, Beth Bolden has just recently moved to North Carolina with her supportive husband and their sweet kitten, Earl Grey. Beth still believes in Keeping Portland Weird, and intends to be just as weird in Raleigh.

Beth has been writing practically since she learned the alphabet. Unfortunately, her first foray into novel writing, titled Big Bear with Sparkly Earrings, wasn’t a bestseller, but hope springs eternal. She’s published twenty novels and six novellas.


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Release Blitz + Giveaway: All that is Solid Melts into Air (The Lives of Remy and Michael #2) by C. Koehler

Join author C. Koehler and IndiGo Marketing as they host today's blits for new adult romance, All that is Solid Melts into Air (The Lives of Remy and Michael #2)! Find out more and enter in the $10 NineStar Press credit giveaway! 


Title: All that is Solid Melts into Air

Series: The Lives of Remy and Michael, Book Two

Author: C. Koehler

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: 02/22/2021

Heat Level: 3 - Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 107500

Genre: Contemporary, LGBTQIA+, Contemporary, romance, new adult, family-drama, gay, sports, college, rowing team, HIV positive

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Remy thinks life after high school will be easier. He’ll go to California Pacific for a year while he gets a handle on his HIV, then after Michael graduates from high school, they’ll blast out of there for colleges—and life—on the East Coast. Then Remy visits Boston and everything changes. He realizes he likes CalPac. Turns out, Boston doesn’t have anything for him beyond one of the biggest regattas in North America.

Life grows more complicated when he gets home. He can’t find a way to tell Michael that he’s just blown their plan for their lives out of the water. Then Remy’s CalPac coaches drop a bomb on him. Those rowing officials who have been watching him? They are recruiters for the national team, and his coaches want him to try out. They’ll even let Lodestone coach him. Now he has to choose, school or crew, CalPac or Michael, and he still hasn’t told Michael he can’t transfer. Is there even a place for Michael in his life? Somehow they have to withstand training at the highest levels and having different goals. Will love hold them together…or tear them apart?


All that is Solid Melts into Air
C. Koehler © 2021
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One

So far, I’d made it halfway through the first semester of my freshman year at California Pacific, and you know? I had to admit that it didn’t suck. I know, I know, that was a bizarro thing to say about one’s choice of school, but there’s something you had to remember. CalPac was most assuredly not my choice of school. I made some very…I’ll call them colorful…choices the summer before my senior year of high school, and the gods of indiscriminate love rewarded me with HIV. It almost killed me—mostly because I neither told anyone but my brother and my boyfriend, nor did I seek medical care—but my parents made a decision I resented at the time: rather than sending me across the country to Boston University, as I wanted, they spoke to the men’s crew coach at CalPac. Between their persuasion and some fast talking from my high school coach, the ever-awesome Peter Lodestone, I wound up going to the local private university in the Sacramento area with a full-ride scholarship so long as I stayed brilliant in the boats. Mom and Dad’s idea was that I spend my first year in college at CalPac as I learned to quote, unquote manage my condition, and at the end of that we’d discuss transferring.

I flipped out when they dropped this bomb on me, and I dropped an R-bomb on them in return. R-bombs. That’s what Michael affectionately called my rages. They’re like daisy cutter cluster bombs but involved words and caused a lot more damage. All my plans—all our plans, as Michael and I had our future worked out—gone, just like that. But my parents knew me well, surprisingly enough, or at least knew my temper, and to take the sting out of it, they made a contract with me: in return for my cooperation, they gave me a notarized promise that at the end of my freshman year I could transfer to the school of my choice. Or maybe the school of my choice that chose me back might be a better way to phrase it. At the time I felt so sure of my future. Row my seat, keep my grades up at CalPac while I applied to BU, and bide my time while Michael finished high school. As soon as he graduated, I’d transfer so fast people behind me would get pneumonia from the wind in my wake. Michael and I would stay on the same schedule on the East Coast. That was the Plan. I’d worry about NCAA eligibility later.

Oh, and then there was my father’s edict that despite the fact they lived across the Yolo Causeway from CalPac, I would live in the dorms. That went over well.

“You’ve got to make the break, Remy,” my dad had said.

As I recall, I made a face. “Dad, no. I’ll be what, fifteen miles from home? How much of a break could I possibly make?”

“Trust me.” Dad snorted. I remembered that clearly. “Once you’re there you’ll realize we might as well be on the moon. It’ll seem like a world away, and one more thing—you can come home maybe once in a while, but under no circumstances will your mother and I allow you to come every weekend.”

“What? Why not?” I think I whined.

Then Mom jumped in. “That seems a bit harsh, Steven.”

“He’ll never make the transition to any kind of independence if he does, Dina. He’ll be more likely to drop out, and he’s too good a student to allow that. I can show you the research if you want.”

“There’s research?” Mom had sounded surprised, and I didn’t blame her. Dad could be autocratic sometimes.

I still saw Dad nodding. “You bet there is, hon. This isn’t me being arbitrary, for once.”

“Then I agree,” Mom had pronounced before turning to me. “We want you to stay close to home to make sure you learn what you need to know about your HIV from Dr. Kravitz, not to create a state of permanent dependency.”

So, there I was at CalPac and living in the dorms. There was one thing I was absolutely unprepared for when I agreed to all of this with my parents.

I loved CalPac.

No matter how much I held myself back, no matter how hard I tried to cultivate a “just passing through” attitude, no matter how hard I tried to remember that Michael and I dreamed of life together on the East Coast, I grew more and more attached to this small private school among the leafy greenness of Sacramento. That proved to be a major roadblock to my plans for escape, to the Plan. The campus was beautiful. Unlike some local schools I could name, the buildings at CalPac didn’t look like poured-concrete monstrosities or cheap interpretations of New England campus Gothic. CalPac’s campus was a place all its own, its architecture unique, suited to its environment, like the building committee actually listened to the school’s Architecture and Design Department instead of whatever was trendy when new buildings were approved. The result was a campus at peace with its host city and the surrounding geography. Okay, some of it stuck out. The Art Department owed a little too much to DalĂ­ and whatever came after postmodernism, and the History Department looked like a Renaissance palace in the Florentine style, only smaller. The scale was all wrong, and it made me giggle every time I walked by. But mostly everything worked.

I hit my second roadblock not long after I moved into the dorms, only I didn’t know it. More of my obliviousness to everything that didn’t involve rowing shells and oars, I guess. This was hardly a revelation. Michael and Goff both had teased me about that for years, telling me I needed a keeper. I’d been counting on Michael fulfilling that role. I knew I would always find my way to the boathouse—whatever boathouse I was currently rowing out of—but the rest? I needed firm guidance, and how lucky was I that Michael liked to provide firm guidance? My pants always got a little uncomfortable when I thought about Michael and his firm guidance too much.

Anyway, my plan to bail when Michael finished high school also meant I at first held myself aloof from collegiate life, so maybe that’s why I missed all the signs that my roommate at the very least thought I was an asshole and more likely hated me. I promised myself I’d get my head out of the clouds one of these years. But the air was so much fresher up there…

I thought we had had a decent roommate-type relationship, although I had no real grounds for comparison other than what Goff, as I called my twin brother, Geoff, and his girlfriend, Laurel, told me. Okay, Laurel lucked out with her roommate. A month into the fall quarter at UC San Diego and, according to Laurel, she and Olive were as close as sisters. Goff and his roommate were taking longer to warm up, but that’s because Goff was pretty sure Craig was gay but hadn’t admitted it to himself, let alone to Goff. Goff knew that once Craig came out it would all be fine. I tried to caution Goff not to push the issue, but he brushed me off. After all, what did I know, I was only gay. I was sure Craig would be subject to all manner of “my brother and his boyfriend” stories in the coming months. The thought of meeting this guy made me cringe.

Anyway, Brady Watts and I might not have hit it off like Laurel and Olive, but we were at least cordial. Or so I thought until one afternoon. Brady and I waited outside a classroom in the Life Sciences building for our fresher seminar to start. CalPac trotted all freshpeople—yes, it’s that liberal and averse to gendered language—through a series of half-semester seminars. They were part breadth requirement and part help choosing a major and included the social sciences (boooring), life sciences, physical sciences, and humanities. CalPac was a semester school, so we started our fall semester in early August and ran sixteen weeks until the middle of December. We had barely started our second eight-week seminar, life sciences, obvs. I already knew the life sciences were for me.

So anyway, a bunch of us were waiting for class to start, and I wasn’t the only one with earbuds in, listening to my jam. I was, apparently, the only one not blasting said jams.

I heard someone say, “Stuck-up asshole.”

That someone was Brady.

Ouch. I tried not to let it show. I clenched my jaw, instead.

Then I got angry.

It was not as if he and I never spoke. We both spent time in our room. He knew why I got up stupid early in the morning and why I went to the gym every afternoon. He knew where I was from, just as I knew he hailed from LA, hated Sacramento, and wasn’t adapting well to college. He knew I had a twin brother whom I missed terribly, and I knew he had a little sister who had died young from an anaphylactic reaction to antibiotics. The only thing I hadn’t told him was my serostatus. If I ever cut myself and bled everywhere, then I’d tell him that too. What more did he want from me?

I shoved all of this aside. I had a class. I’d deal with my roommate later. Thank God I was a master of compartmentalization.

Later that evening, after I’d returned from weightlifting and seeing Michael, I faced Brady. It’s not like I had a choice. He glowered at me when I came back to our room.

Seriously, he looked up from his reading when I walked in. Then he went right back to his studying with the most dismissive glance ever. Not even Michael looked at me like that when we were on the outs before my senior year of high school. If looks could kill…

Of course, back then Michael had ignored me too studiously for it to count. Me, I’d shoved things into tidy little boxes in preparation for my first Youth Nationals.

I noted with a certain humor Brady was cramming for the next life sciences quiz. I barely cracked the book. I didn’t have to. I was acing the class. Like I’d told Mom once, Davis High had prepared me well for college.

After dealing with a duffel bag full of smelly gym clothes, I checked the dry-erase board to make sure everything on it was out-of-date. For reasons of its own, the housing office thought each room needed such an accessory. Personally, I didn’t care why our room had a dry-erase board. I merely welcomed a canvas on which to make my point. I pulled up a handy meme I’d saved on my phone to refer to and started drawing. After a few minutes, I felt Brady’s eyes on me. Mission accomplished.

Then I kicked off my shoes and sat down on my bed.

“What’s that?”

I smirked, looking up at the picture of a donkey stuck in a hole in the ground. “It’s an asshole.”

“A what?” Brady acted like he didn’t know what I was talking about, but really? An ass in a hole? C’mon, buddy.

This wasn’t my first time around the block. When I wanted to make a point, I made it stick. “I’m not an asshole…you asshole.”

Brady flushed. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Yes, you do. I heard you before fresher biology seminar today.”

I met his eyes and then stared, unflinching, unblinking. I’d faced my own mortality. A snippy college freshman didn’t compare.

Brady started shaking and breathing heavily, only glaring at me harder. “Do you have any idea how hard it is for me to live with you?”

“Uh…no?” I wasn’t expecting that. I’d thought I was pretty easy to get along with. I kept my things on my side of the room. I was quiet and clean. What else could anyone ask for in a roommate?

“You never talk to me. Did you know that? We have no late-night dorm room bull sessions. We don’t go out for beers, we don’t get high together, you’re an asshole,” Brady continued.

I rolled my eyes. It’s a bad habit of mine, one I’ve never succeeded in breaking. “You do know I’m here on an athletic scholarship, right? We’re both underage, so don’t even talk to me about alcohol, and smoking of any kind—really? World-class rowers have the highest VO2 max of any athlete, and before you trip out at the thought of having to look something up and accidentally learn something, two things. One, putting it crudely, VO2 max is the measure of how much oxygen an athlete can extract from a lungful of air, and two, I really do have a shot of being that good. So yes, I’m that much of a straight edge, and no, we’re not going to bond doing any of that shit.” There went that eye roll again. “As for late-night bull sessions, we’d actually have to be friends for that, and calling me an asshole in public isn’t likely to bring that about in a hurry either.”

“Can you even hear yourself?” Brady’s voice rose. “You’re so patronizing. It’s…it’s like you’re not even human or something. You’re this unstoppable machine who marches out and gets what he wants.”

I sighed. “It’s called having goals. You should try it.”

“You are such a…such an asshole!”

This grew more tiresome by the minute, only now I was losing my temper. “You’ve said that already.”

By this time, he’d jumped up from his desk to confront me. We both realized at the same time exactly how much shorter he was. If he decided to take a swing at me, it’d be the shortest confrontation in the history of everything. Seriously, I had seven inches on him.

He looked up at me, hopefully reconsidering his plans for the immediate future. “I’m failing our biology seminar, and…and you never talk to me, and you’re gorgeous, and you don’t even look at me, and you’re probably some kind of fundamentalist creep who’s about to pound me.”

I stared at him. “I…what?”

Brady pointed at my neckband. It was a tight-fitting leather collar given to me by Michael, studded with metal. Hanging from it was a metal plus sign, plus for poz. A cross was the last thing it was, if only because I was pretty sure Mom’s parents were born Jewish. Since she was never bat mitzvahed, we’d lapsed hard. “You’re really, really wrong. My boyfriend lives in Davis. You’ve met him, so what the hell are you talking about?”

“That figures.” Brady slammed his hand into the wall.

I laughed. I couldn’t help it. “Dude…you don’t know the half of me. If you did, you’d never say those things.” Brady exploded again and moved to storm out of the room, but I was lightning fast. I grabbed his arm. “Don’t go, not if you’re serious about help or getting to know each other.”

“And whose fault is not knowing each other? You bailed on those roommate mixers.” Brady jerked his arm out of my hand, but at least he stopped reaching for the door.

I sighed. “Those things are terminally stupid, and you know it. You never would’ve learned the things you seem to want to know at those. I actually think you’re a nice guy. Or did. So, you’re failing biology seminar. Did it ever occur to you to ask for help? Because I’ll be honest—I haven’t heard a thing out of you.”

He didn’t say anything at first. Then, “No.”

“Did you go to the tutoring center or talk to the prof?”

More silence.

“Riiight.” I rolled my eyes again. “Let’s look at your quizzes. I’ll see if I can help, because there’s another quiz coming up, you know.”

So little Brady was gay. I hadn’t noticed any signs, but then again, he wasn’t made of carbon fiber and was therefore unrowable. I told him nothing else about my life, my condition, or anything else of substance, certainly nothing about Michael. After tonight he was on a need-to-know basis. Brady would have to earn his way in.


NineStar Press | Books2Read

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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