Release Blitz: Sun, Sea & Small-Town Secrets by S.J. Coles

Author S.J. Coles and Gay Book Promotions celebrate new release from Pride Publishing, Sun, Sea & Small-Town Secrets! Read more today!


Book Title:  Sun, Sea & Small-Town Secrets

Author: S. J. Coles

Publisher: Pride Publishing

Release Date:  July 6, 2021

Genre:  Contemporary M/M Mystery/Holiday Romance

Tropes: Forbidden Love / Small Town / Holiday 

Themes: Healing / Hurt/Comfort / Travel / Self-discovery

Heat Rating:  4 flames  

Length: 48 634 words/ 193 pages

It is a standalone story.

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Buy Links

Universal Link  |  Amazon US  |  Amazon UK

Pride Publishing

Small towns are full of secrets, some harder to keep than most.


Sebastian Conway is a professional psychologist and accomplished criminal profiler, but when one of his patients is sentenced to life in prison for a crime she didn’t commit, he simply cannot let it go. His borderline obsessive behaviour has embarrassed his boss and lover, Gerrard Wilson, and the relationship has come to a bitter end.

Seb has now grudgingly taken Gerrard’s advice and come to the small coastal town of Ruéier in the South of France to get some distance and clear his head—but he cannot sit by and do nothing.

He has started writing a book he believes will address the failings in the case, but when he gets swept up in a local investigation into suspected drug trafficking, which is led by the enigmatic and strangely enticing Antoine Damboise, the book—and Seb’s intentions to avoid active criminal cases—take a back seat.

He knows it’s a bad idea to get involved, but he can’t seem to help himself. And when it seems Damboise is tempted to make their relationship more than professional, Seb finds it easier than ever to ignore his better judgment. But when a local drug dealer is murdered and Seb is implicated, everything gets a whole lot more complicated.

Can the two men set aside their personal feelings long enough to figure out what’s really going on before Seb ends up in prison? Or worse…

Reader advisory: This book contains scenes of murder and drug use.


“Monsieur Conway?” 

I turned back. He was stood by reception looking thoughtful, scratching at the stubble on his cheek. 


“Would you, perhaps, like to get a coffee?”

I blinked. “A coffee?”

Oui,” he said. “A thank you, shall we say? For your 


His smile was friendly, but his eyes were weighing me 

up with a dark intensity I couldn’t penetrate. Whatever it was going on here, saying yes, I knew, would be a very bad idea. 

“Sure,” I said with a smile. “Sounds good.” 

His own smile widened, and he nodded. “Bon. I will meet you outside.” 

I was grinning like a teenager with a crush as I stepped back out into the street. The fresh breeze dried the clamminess on my face and swelled in my lungs and chest. A small confidence boost could only help my productivity, I decided. I still wasn’t sure what exactly his interest was. Heavy looks or not, I got exactly zero read on his sexuality. But surely even French police didn’t take witnesses for coffee? 

I was so busy retrospectively analysing his body language in the interview room—Did he extend his leg toward me? Rest his hand near mine?—that I didn’t hear him behind me until he said my name. 

“Apologies,” he said when I started, and a small smile twitched the corner of his mouth. A pair of sunglasses hid his troublesome eyes from view. He’d slung his jacket over his arm and, with the bright sunshine glinting in his corn-blond hair and off his white teeth, I suddenly wondered how I ever considered him plain. 

“It’s fine,” I managed. “Where do you want to go?” “Ah, I know the best place. Follow me.” 


We turned back. Adjudant Rayne was hurrying toward us. She fired French at him whilst frowning at me. Damboise replied calmly, and she said something more, her eyes leaving me to send Damboise what was unmistakably a warning look. 

C’est bon,” Damboise concluded. “This way,” he said and turned toward the seafront. Rayne watched us leave with her arms crossed and expression grim. 

“She doesn’t like me very much,” I said. 

“You misunderstand,” he said without looking at me. “She was just reminding me of some paperwork that is late. I will do it after a bit.” 

I spent the rest of the walk pondering the possible reasons behind his lie. 

The breeze was brisker and the air fresher as we stepped out onto the seafront boulevard. The beach was crowded with families—the children running, laughing and shrieking in the gentle swell of the shallows. The boats bobbed sedately in the harbour, shining all the colours of the rainbow under the bright, sapphire sky. Bicycles whizzed up and down the road, baskets laden with groceries or bottles of wine. The men with guns seemed like a distant dream. 

I followed him as he crossed the road to the Café De La Mer

“You have been here before then, yes?” he said as he pulled out the chairs around one of the plastic tables under a blue-and-white parasol. 

“The first day I got here,” I said, a little warily as I surveyed the clear view of the harbour. “The coffee is good, but I think it’s better at Cafe Maman.” 

Oui,” he said, hanging his jacket on the back of his chair and sitting. “I would say that is true. But have you tried the chocolat chaud?” 

“Hot chocolate?” I translated dubiously, taking the other chair. “I don’t much like it.” 

“Just wait,” he said, signalling a smiling waiter with a raised hand and placing the order. Damboise made meaningless small talk for the interval until the waiter returned. I blinked, surprised, as he set the shallow cup half-full of dark liquid that looked more like espresso than chocolate in front of me. 

“What, no squirty cream? Marshmallows?” I asked with a half-smile as Damboise lifted his small cup in his distractingly delicate grip. 

“We respect chocolate too much to pollute it so. This is the local recipe, melted then mixed with a splash of cognac. Go ahead. Try it.” 

I lifted the cup to my face and inhaled the rich, thick scent. It was sweet, yes, but savoury too—bold, rather than cloying. It reminded me of fresh-turned earth, with a slight smokiness, like when the wind brings the scent of a distant bonfire. I drank. It was so thick that I could almost chew it. It tasted like it smelled—rich and earthy, with the spice of tree bark and apricot from the cognac. 

“Good, non?” 

“Yeah,” I said, tipping the cup farther to coax more into my mouth. “This isn’t like the instant stuff.” 

“In France, nothing is instant. Everything is slow. Considered. Deliberate.” 

“I’m beginning to get that,” I said, scraping the remains of the chocolate with the tiny spoon that had come with it. Damboise smiled at me, sipping his own drink like someone sampling a fine wine, then he dabbed his lips with a napkin. 

About the Author

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.

Author Links

Blog/Website  |  Facebook  |  Twitter 

Instagram  |   Pride Publishing

Hosted by Gay Book Promotions

Guest Review: Always (Single Dads #4) R.J. Scott

Lives change in an instant, but with family found and forever love, there is always hope.

Impetuously putting his life on the line, Adam saved a child trapped in a car wreck and suffered career-ending injuries. Living with chronic pain, and at his lowest moments, he had friends who wouldn't let him give up, a family who had his back, and even though his future was different from what he'd always planned, he at least had hope. When Cameron and Finn land on his doorstep, he never dreamed that he would fall in love with the small family or that maybe he'd get to be a hero again.

Cameron goes from being a devoted husband to a single dad overnight. With his neatly planned future in ruins, he will do anything to make a new life for his son, even if it means moving to the other side of the country. Renting a room from Adam is the first step in making a home for him and Finn, but falling for the former firefighter was never part of the plan.

The shadows from Cameron's past might take a long time to touch this fragile future, but will he have to face the consequences alone when they do? Or will there always be hope?

Reviewer: Shee Reader

I have loved all the previous books in the series, and this one was no different. Adam did appear in the earlier books as part of the friendship group, but we didn’t see much of him. He is a charming character and his very relatable tale of living with chronic pain was done well.

Cameron has had the world pulled out from beneath him and he is trying with everything he has to get himself and Finn safe. They have travelled so far and land on Adam’s doorstep as they have a mutual friend who sponsored his flight to safety. The attraction is immediate, but neither man sees his own value or feels that he has anything to offer the other. Falling in love wasn’t what either of them planned, but that is what happened! The beauty and purity of seeing both Cameron and Finn fall for Adam, is joyous.

As for low-angst sweet love stores goes, this one is a peach. The writing is sharp and witty with fun and joy a plenty.


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

Release Blitz + Giveaway: Power Play (Sophie Fournier #4) by K.R. Collins

Author K.R. Collins and IndiGo Marketing return to promote new NineStar Press release, Power Play (Sophie Fournier #4)! Read more about the hockey tale and enter in the $10 NSP credit giveaway!

Title: Power Play

Series: Sophie Fournier, Book Five

Author: K.R. Collins

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: 07/05/2021

Heat Level: 1 - No Sex

Pairing: No Romance

Length: 81300

Genre: Contemporary Sports, LGBTQIA+, contemporary, sports, ice hockey, international tournament, injury, demisexual, questioning, bisexual, asexual

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After two seasons without winning another Maple Cup, the pressure is on for Sophie Fournier to win the NAHL’s biggest prize. It’s her sixth season in the North American Hockey League, and she knows what she needs to do, and how to do it.

Only, she isn’t the only one feeling the pressure to win. Coach Butler’s job is in jeopardy if he can’t repeat the success from Sophie’s third season. As his vision for the team drifts away from Concord’s identity, Sophie is left with a difficult choice.

Does she unite the team behind Coach Butler’s vision and risk losing her team’s identity? Or, does she unite the Condors against their coach and risk her captaincy and her future with the team?


Power Play
K.R. Collins © 2021
All Rights Reserved

And that’s how it’s fucking done.

Lexie’s text is accompanied by a link to an article: Indianapolis’s Young Stars Sign Matching Contracts 10×10. Lexie dragged Chad Kensington into her contract negotiations and demanded they be paid equally.

Sophie texts back.

Good for you.

She means it. Sophie was the first woman to re-sign, and her team undervalued her. The contract Lexie signed is what Sophie deserved. Her term and salary are much lower. She was told to be grateful she was re-signed at all.

This will mean a resurgence in questions about her contract. With so few women in the League, reporters jump at every opportunity to compare them. And, knowing Lexie, she’ll jump at the opportunity to measure herself against Sophie. At least it’ll be a break from talking about another disappointing season.

Sophie made history in 2014 by winning the Maple Cup. It was Concord’s first Cup in franchise history, and she did it alongside Elsa Nyberg. They were the first two women drafted to the North American Hockey League and the first two to win the League’s most coveted prize.

The following year saw a second-round exit. Last year they made it to the Conference Finals, but they lost in five games. This year will be their year again. They locked up Teddy and Kevlar last summer, and Elsa’s negotiating her contract now. They have a strong core. They’ll win another Cup.

She isn’t sure how much longer she’ll last if she doesn’t.

Growing up, her dream was always to play in the NAHL. She fell in love with hockey the first time her brother took her on the outdoor pond with him. The NAHL became her ambition as she watched the Montreal Mammoths lift the Cup, year after year, in their historic Cup run. Her mémé spoke of the players in reverent, hushed tones. She bought Sophie her first jersey and took her to her first professional game. She saw the way the whole city loved their team and told herself one day it would be her lifting the Cup. And she has.

But once isn’t enough. She has a Maple Cup ring, proof of the achievement. She has NAHL records and scoring titles and a sandwich named after her at the arena, but she also has two disappointing seasons, and people are looking for someone to blame. Sophie, as the captain, is an easy target. So is the coach.

She and Coach Butler haven’t always been on the same page over the years. He’s a demanding man who knows how to wring the best out of his players. He’s blunt and brash and, in his opinion, is always right. He’s a contrast to Sophie who grew up learning to moderate herself. On the ice, she can be dynamic but off it she’s composed and calm to the point of being boring. The difference in personality has put her and her coach at odds in the past, but this season they have the same goal: win the Cup and silence the doubters.

Sophie’s phone buzzes with another text from Lexie.

You should come train with me. You might learn something.

There isn’t enough room for anyone else next to your ego.

Lexie sends her a couple of laughing emojis.

Next summer. I’ll even let you crash my Cup party.

Sophie rolls her eyes.


Lexie isn’t content heckling Sophie via text. She does a bunch of interviews after she signs her contract, and she pokes at Sophie in every single one.

“Sophie Fournier is the only other woman to sign a contract extension, and yours is much better than hers,” Carol Rogers from After the Whistle says. “You haven’t had nearly the same success she has. How did you convince the front office to give you this deal?”

“Everyone knows Concord lowballed Sophie, and she let them. It meant I wasn’t going to use her as a comparable. Indy drafted Kenny and I together and put us on the same line. We negotiated together. We’re equals.”

“You two have certainly become synonymous with Renegades hockey. Do you worry with your contracts Indy won’t have the room to sign Steele next year? Is this the beginning of the end of the red, white, and blue line?”

“There’s room for the players we need.”

Sophie watches and reads everything Lexie does and uses it to compose her counternarrative.

“Your contract is back in the news,” Ed Rickers says over the phone. Sophie can hear the smile in his words. “Do you regret signing it?”

“No, I’m proud to be a Concord Condor. Being the first woman drafted into the NAHL means I’ve navigated many other firsts. I’m glad Lexie was able to sign a good contract.”

“And yours?” Rickers prompts.

“It was a good contract for me.” I’m being paid to do what I love. Is there anything better? “And it was a good contract for the team. We had the space to extend Teddy and Kevlar last summer, and Elsa’s signing her extension this summer. I want to be a Condor for life, and I want to keep this core together.”

“Are you suggesting Engelking’s contract will hurt her team?”

“I was talking about my contract, not Lexie’s. I know I make an easy target, but I did think before I signed. Was the money or term as high as Dmitri Ivanov’s or Lexie’s or Kensington’s? No. But money wasn’t my only consideration. Concord has become my home. I want to make my career here.”

Rickers reads between the lines of her answers, adds a journalistic flair, and publishes an article propping up Sophie’s team-friendly deal and predicting how long until Lexie and Kensington’s contracts sink the Renegades.

It doesn’t take long for Lexie to call her. “So, I’m a selfish, money-grubbing bitch?”

“And I’m a spineless, desperate one.”

“I really pissed you off, didn’t I?” Lexie sounds happy because she’s a hyper competitive freak. “That or you don’t want to admit how shitty your contract is.”

“We’ve been over this. It was the best they offered. I would’ve signed for twelve years if they asked. But there’s a difference between what I feel and what I say. It’s called having a filter.”

“It’s called being a liar. Did you tell Nyberg she should accept the first shitty offer to keep the front office happy?”

“After your signing, I’d say she’s looking at twelve years, twelve million since she has a Cup and an Alain Benoit to her name.”

“Are you going to bring any of this fight into the season?”

Lexie hangs up before Sophie can answer.


NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

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


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Release Blitz + Giveaway: Dirty Daddies: Pride anthology by Various Authors

Enjoy QUILTBAG daddy kink? Don't miss today's release blitz from Vibrant Promotions and various authors for Dirty Daddies: Pride anthology! The collection features stories from Nora Phoenix, Della Cain, Siobhan Smile, Pepper North, Gianni Holmes, M.A. Innes, Eden Bradley, Chara Croft, Morticia Knight, P.D. Carter, and Jamie Merrick! And the authors host a giveaway to win your own paperback copy of the anthology!

Dirty Daddies: Pride

Multi Author

LGBTQ Contemporary Romance 

Release Date: 06.25.21

Cover design by Allycat's Creations


Dirty Daddies presents PRIDE

Love is Love and romance comes in all shapes, sizes, and pairings. So do Daddies.

Eleven authors. Eleven brand new stories. Eleven Dominants that prove being a Daddy is about more than just your gender identity or who you desire. They have the attitude, the need to protect and provide, and a certain someone they can't wait to make their own.

With stories from some of the top authors in the genre and pairings of MM, FF and MMF, Dirty Daddies Pride is sure to put a smile on your face, a spring in your step, and rainbow-colored-stars in your eyes!

The Daddies are waiting. Get your copy today!


Anthology includes the following stories:

Dirty Hand (MM) by Nora Phoenix

Sculptures and Snuggles (MM) by Della Cain

Butcher’s Babygirl (trans FF) by Siobhan Smile

Van: Dr. Richards' Littles® #32 (MMF) by Pepper North

Dirty Deed (MM) by Gianni Holmes

Daddy, At Your Service (FF) by Eden Bradley

A Leap of Faith (MM) by M.A. Innes

Daddy’s Rent Boy (MM) by Chara Croft

Slippery When Wet (MM) by Morticia Knight

Daddy Abroad (MM) by P.D. Carter

Secrets and Princess Dresses (MMF) by Jamie Merrick


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Release Blitz + Giveaway: James and Merrick (Take a Shot #1) by Jessica Skye Davies

Author Jessica Skye Davies and IndiGo Marketing host today's release blitz for James and Merrick (Take a Shot #1)! Discover more info on the new romance series and enter in the $10 NineStar Press credit giveaway!

Title: James and Merrick

Series: Take a Shot, Book One

Author: Jessica Skye Davies

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: 07/05/2021

Heat Level: 2 - Fade to Black Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 35100

Genre: Contemporary, LGBTQIA+, Age-gap, arts (visual), friends-to-lovers, hurt/comfort, stripper, engagement, artist, maestro, tailor, London setting, Welsh ancestry

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Merrick Rhys is a young Welsh transplant living in South London and working as a tailor and salesman in an upscale menswear shop. Previously supplementing his income by performing as a male stripper at parties, he quit after growing tired of the pressures and complications. He agrees to do his routine one more time for friends who are hosting a stag party and finds an intense mutual attraction with one of the guests. Unbeknownst to Merrick, that guest happens to be the groom.

James Carré is a successful, middle-aged London-based artist who is about to marry Michael, a man none of his friends think is good for him. James’s fiancé is controlling and demanding and James often finds it difficult to live up to his standards of perfection, but James feels that at his age he’s not likely to find anyone else willing to make a life with him. Certainly not someone as successful and good-looking as Michael.

When James and Merrick chance to meet the day after the stag-do, they hit it off immediately and find they have a great rapport. James questions the purity of his motives in hanging out with Merrick but also finally begins to question seriously if manipulative Michael is right for him. Merrick finds himself falling more and more for James over the course of a week, but also wants to take it slowly due to a past bad relationship. Everything comes to a head the weekend before the wedding when James finally decides he can’t in good conscience stay with Michael any longer, at just the same time Merrick reads the announcement of James and Michael’s wedding in the paper.


James and Merrick
Jessica Skye Davies © 2021
All Rights Reserved

Meredydd Rhys—Merrick to his friends—juggled a stack of post in one hand and his umbrella and house keys in the other as he locked the front door behind him. After standing the brolly in the corner to drip, he crossed his small but tidy sitting room, set the post on the kitchen counter, and hung up his keys on the peg, intent on getting the kettle on first thing after returning home from work. By the time he’d changed and put away his suit, the water was boiling, and he just had to transfer it to the pot and wait a few more minutes for the tea to brew up. The box of Yorkshire tea he’d opened just that morning still had that wonderfully fresh tea aroma that reminded him of golden sultanas and made the brewing wait time well worth it.

Idly flicking through the post and discarding most of the adverts, he found a postcard between an insurance solicitation and yet another pizza shop menu. He knew the ridge of hills depicted on the face of the card like his own name, and the sight of them nearly always gave him a twinge of longing. He hardly had to guess at the sender, and the message was no surprise either.

Ti’n dod gartref ar dy wyliau haf?


Merrick couldn’t help smiling. Sometimes his gran acted like he was still away at school, but he knew it was no senior moment on her part and was mostly just because she lived in hope for the day her grandson finally quit London and came home to the hills and valleys of his childhood. Before he had a chance to reach for his mobile, it started ringing. Not Mam-gu, but his mate, Theo. Merrick stuck the postcard to the fridge with a rugby-playing dragon magnet to remind him to ring home soon and answered the phone.

“All right, Theo. What’s occurring?” Merrick said, the rise and fall of his accent answering that of the hills and valleys on the postcard.

“Heya, kid, how’s everything?”

“Not bad, mate. How’s Nige?” Merrick responded.

“Nigel’s fine; we’re both fine. Uh…there’s just something I was wondering about. See, we’re sorta in a bit of a spot…”

“Oh?” Merrick had a feeling his mate’s call wasn’t purely social, but Theo had done him a lot of good turns over the years, so he didn’t mind a favour being called in.

“One of our mates is getting married, and we’re hosting the stag do this Saturday. Now, I know what you’re going to say—you don’t really do the dancing thing anymore—we know. But, due to an unfortunate slip from a bar top at some club on the weekend, we’ve now got no dancer and our mate needs this. He’s marrying the world’s biggest tosser. And it’s just gonna be us and a bunch of our ‘older’ mates from the Richmond Rainbow Club, nobody you’ve met. Besides us, obviously. We’ll make sure nobody gets out of hand, and there won’t be any bother about the groom either. He doesn’t want any sort of special attention or anything.”

Merrick took a deep breath, wondering how Theo could get that out all at once. “Right. I’ll do it, but only an hour, yeah? And just remind your guests I’m not available for private parties.”

“Yeah, of course, naturally. Don’t expect any of the people on our guest list will be at all problematic; it’s a pretty relaxed, mature bunch of chaps,” Theo promised.

“All right. Any special requests?” Merrick asked.

“Not really. And, no offense, but maybe Tom Jones is a bit predictable.”

“I won’t take offense as long as nobody throws knickers at me,” Merrick said with a laugh.

“Hey, do you still do massage as well?” Theo asked.

“I do the occasional massage, yes, but absolutely not combining with a strip show. Sorry. That’s just way too fraught with complications.”

“Fair do’s. Actually, I was just wondering because I was thinking of booking something for Nigel and I next month for our fifth year anniversary. But not telling him yet.”

“Gotcha. Just give me a bell if you decide on that. So, what are you thinking for this do? How many you expecting and all that?” Merrick asked.

As Merrick rang off with Theo after they’d chatted a bit, he wondered if he’d been mistaken in agreeing to revive his male stripper routine for a stag do. Those things so often got out of hand, with someone inevitably presuming that on-the-spot private parties were encouraged. That was a big part of why he’d started cutting back on dancing in the first place, even before his ex had wanted in on the game.

It was Nigel and Theo though, and Merrick felt reasonably confident there wouldn’t be those sorts of problems. They really didn’t have a common circle of friends in London, but he didn’t fancy two blokes as solid and practical as Nigel and Theo running with too wild a crowd.

As Saturday evening came around, Merrick also did his best to remind himself that a party like that wasn’t a place to meet guys, not when he was providing the entertainment. But, of course, if any of his friends’ crowd seemed nice…well, maybe there could be further conversation afterward. It had been nearly three years since his disastrous relationship with Seth, and now, as he wasn’t doing the dancing thing anymore, he thought maybe he didn’t have to adhere quite so strictly to his policy of independence. He had always been attracted to the proverbial gentlemen of a certain age, after all.

When Merrick arrived at Nigel and Theo’s place, he was pleased to find he had been correct about the type of mates Nigel and Theo had round—grown, professional-type men who mostly seemed to be getting a laugh out of the notion of having a stripper at a stag night. A rather more laid-back party than the young and perpetually randy crowd one usually encountered at such parties.

There was one guy who Merrick found himself drawn to repeatedly. He was handsome and quiet with an understated sort of masculinity and didn’t look like he was trying to impress anyone. His strong jawline was complemented by warm, observant grey eyes. His gaze followed Merrick’s movements appreciatively but almost shyly.

Merrick was taking a short break before the last half hour of the booking when Nigel asked if he’d be up for doing body shots as his last ‘act’ of the evening.

Merrick hesitated slightly; in his experience, that routine could get a bit sticky—in more ways than one. “Right, yeah, but just regular navel shots,” Merrick assented. “Not the tequila ones with the lick-salt-lime ritual, yeah?”

Nigel pulled a face. “What do we look like, mate? You know you’re the only one here under thirty, don’t you?”

“Doesn’t always feel like it,” Merrick laughed. “You clear a table; I’ll change leather pants for something easier to wash. I’ve got a pair of genuinely hideous aussieBums with cartoon bananas on that Henry sent me on my last birthday—that should go down a treat.”

“It’s cherry vodka we’re using,” Nigel said absently, as if trying to decide whether cherry would pair well with banana-printed pants.

Within a few minutes, the table was cleared and Merrick carefully arranged himself with his arms behind his head. It helped keep his abdomen taut but also elevated his head so he could give a reassuring smile and wink to the guys who seemed shy about sucking vodka out of a nearly nude stranger’s belly button. He knew they were just going along to be good sports. Then again, there were also those who stepped up to the makeshift bar grinning like Cheshire cats and usually stepped away only after an extra lick up his treasure trail. As long as it all stayed good-natured, Merrick didn’t much mind.

The last guy up was the one Merrick had been catching looks from all night. As he positioned himself beside Merrick, the rest of the guests cheered him on, but the tension between the two of them spiked. Merrick could tell the man was well buzzed, but by no means sloppy drunk. He fixed Merrick with that sexy look he’d been giving all night, only by now it was practically smouldering. Merrick knew he was returning the same look as the cold liquor was poured once again into the focus of his navel.

The man leaned in, deliberately keeping eye contact with Merrick as he put his mouth to Merrick’s abdomen and sucked up the vodka. He swallowed it down but didn’t step back straightaway, instead boldly swirling his tongue around a few times. When he looked back up at Merrick, an electric zing filled the space between them as their eyes locked. Merrick didn’t hesitate at all when the man moved from his stomach to his lips.

Merrick could taste the cherry vodka as the man pushed his tongue into Merrick’s mouth, and Merrick felt as though he was the one who had been drinking all evening. He couldn’t remember ever having been kissed quite like that, so sensuously, and he wanted more—a lot more.

Unfortunately, just as the nameless man pulled back a bit, Merrick realised that the partygoers were cheering wildly, and they’d just put on a fairly good show for them. Not that Merrick was at all shy about it, but he knew if things went any further just then, it might border on getting out of hand.

As the guy helped him up off the table with just a soft kiss of thanks to his cheek, Merrick checked the time and found he was done for the night. He thanked the guests for being a good crowd and collected the offered tips as he went to change back into normal attire. He considered Theo’s invitation to stay for the rest of the party, but he decided it was better to get home. Mixing business and pleasure was too often inadvisable, and if he stayed any longer he was rather sure he’d end up asking for that guy’s number.

Once home and in his own shower, Merrick wondered about ringing Theo and Nigel in the morning to ask about the guy. Give it a night to sleep on, he thought, and if he still found himself that interested, it might be worth enquiring. The attraction between them was plain enough, and that kiss had been downright sizzling.

His dreams that night, full of snogging handsome guys with bedroom eyes, had a rather predictable result by morning. He woke hard and aching like a randy teenager, glad he’d at least avoided a wet dream. Merrick decided he really did need to give it a few days before asking any favours about phone numbers; he wanted to put some distance between himself and this fixation. And to get a start on it, he decided to get dressed and go get some breakfast. His favourite place was just a few blocks away and would take his mind off the hot mystery man.


NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

Jessica Skye Davies has been a writer since her first works were “published” in her grandparents’ living room and written in crayon. She’s been a professionally published author since 2011. Jessica lives in Pittsburgh and is active in the community, having served with a local LGBT community center for several years and currently serving with the local Welsh society. She’s often found spending time with friends, attending the symphony, watching hockey, rugby, or soccer, and moonlighting as human pillow/concierge for her official writer’s cat, Squidge.

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Guest Review: The Blacksmith and the Ex-Con (Farthingdale Ranch #2) by Jackie North

“If anybody ever needed him, Ellis did. Ellis was broken. Jasper liked to fix things.”

Jasper has the perfect life. He’s a blacksmith at a small guest ranch in Wyoming. The last thing he needs is to have that perfect life interrupted by a shifty-eyed ex-con, but the ranch needs the tax benefits the ex-con program will bring.

Traumatized by his time in prison, Ellis can barely speak. He’s about to be offered parole. He knows he will hate working on the guest ranch, but what other option does he have?

It’s not love at first sight. It’s not hate at first sight, either, but something in between.

A gay m/m cowboy romance with age gap, hurt/comfort, opposites attract, forced intimacy, emotional scars, trauma leading to mutism, grumpy/grumpy, and baths. A little sweet, a little steamy, with a guaranteed HEA.

Reviewer: Annery

This is the second book in the Farthingdale Ranch series and while reading Bk.1 is absolutely not necessary it kind of does set the tone for the theme(s) of the story and the world it inhabits: redemption and acceptance. Perfectly admirable and yet … I was underwhelmed?

Jasper is thirty-two (32), outwardly the curmudgeonly blacksmith/farrier of the Farthingdale Ranch but in fact harbors a heart of gold, one with strong caretaker tendencies. That’s a lucky break for Ellis Bowman, twenty-four (24), a recent parolee whom the ranch has taken on as part of a work release program which awards tax incentives which the ranch sorely needs. Ellis arrives at the ranch exhibiting a kind of selective mutism, unable to speak due to recent trauma suffered in prison and his personal life. Fortunately, he’s assigned to be Jasper’s apprentice/helper and Jasper, having been in the army and seen this kind of PTSD in colleagues, quickly grasps a way of communicating with Ellis and allowing him space to breathe.

I really liked these aspects of the story, the care and sense of comfort Jasper readily provides for Ellis, an absolute stranger. It may be Utopic, thinking that humans can and do deal with each other in such a way, but one can dream. Also, this being a romance, there is an attraction but it’s not a thunderbolt & lightning immediate thing. In fact IMO the sexual part of the relationship between Jasper & Ellis starts off as more of a comfort thing for Ellis, something he learned to do in prison to make himself feel better while keeping the peace with fellow inmates. No spoilers but Ellis does have a bit of an oral fixation. Jasper, though surprised, is willing to accommodate him. I enjoyed their carnality quite a bit. They were a good match.

I liked that Ellis, at least in his own mind or the author’s narrative, isn’t ashamed or shy about admitting to the sexual encounters he had while in prison, that some were involuntary but necessary for survival, and that, right or wrong, he came to crave these “relationships”. I also liked that there was no “Ellis was wrongfully convicted for a crime he didn’t commit” aspect. I appreciate the honesty.

What didn’t work so well for me:*maybe slightly spoilerish?*

Ellis’s whole journey from teacher to convicted drug dealer to parolee having served two years in prison seemed to be a lot for someone who’s only just twenty-four. The timeline doesn’t bear any kind of scrutiny.

Like the first book everything happens in a week which is way too brief a time for all of what transpires in the book relationship wise for Jasper & Ellis and everyone else in the ranch.

There’s also an unnecessary debacle with the town villain which adds nothing to the story save maybe to show that the ranch will go to bat for Ellis which is fine, but going back to the narrative time thing, I don’t know that he’d earned that yet.

If you’re not fussy or just want a warm, cuddly, “there’s good in the world & everyone finds their person/place” read this could fit the bill quite nicely. Just squint a bit.

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

Release Blitz + Giveaway: Sun, Sea and Summer Songs by Megan Slayer

Author Megan Slayer and Pride Publishing host today's blitz for summer romance, Sun, Sea and Summer Songs! Learn more and enter the giveaway to win a gift package and eBook from the author!

Sun, Sea and Summer Songs by Megan Slayer

Word Count: 30,235
Book Length: SHORT NOVEL
Pages: 121



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Book Description

Two men, one song and a summer to reconnect.

Jude Sanders walked away from Blake Payton three years ago and vowed not to look back…but the song he wrote and recorded with Blake has become a hit and he’s forced to perform the song with Blake all summer. He’s got to make a decision—face the mistakes in his past and give Blake another try or turn his back on their love forever.

Blake Payton knew the moment he and Jude recorded Summer Song that they’d created a hit. Summer hasn’t been the same without Jude in his life and he sees the tour as the ultimate chance to prove they belong together.

Will the tour, their lost love and the song of the summer be enough to put the pieces back together for good?

Reader advisory:  This book contains references to excess drinking and cocaine addiction, references to abusive alcoholic father and childhood poverty. There is a scene involving sexual assault.


Blake Payton stared at the monitor in his trailer and sighed. He wanted a change in life. Doing the bit part in the movie, a corny movie at that, bored him to tears. He lived to make music, and his career had seen him flying up the charts with pop songs guaranteed to make people dance.

Except no one wanted to listen to his songs anymore. The public wanted to see him deliver craptacular lines and engage in slapstick comedy. He raked his fingers through his hair, not giving a shit that he’d have to visit the hair and makeup trailer to fix his coif. Screw it. He wasn’t important in the film and he doubted they’d miss him if he left the set.

He picked up the hand mirror he used to practice expressions and stared at his reflection. He might only be twenty-eight, but in the music business, that was old. Lines formed at the corners of his eyes when he smiled and… Were those circles forming beneath? Sure, this was the look required for his role in the movie, but did it have to accentuate his problem areas? He needed to put on his armor of makeup to hide behind. When he stepped into character, no one could touch him. Being bare meant the public saw everything. Not good.

He wasn’t fresh and new—he’d been around the block a few times and made nine albums. Sure, he still drew a crowd when he played live, but his promoters swore it was the movies that brought in more money.

He hadn’t started playing music for the money. He did it for the fame and adulation and later the chicks—except girls didn’t do it for him. For years, he’d thought he was doing something wrong when he went out with women. The charge wasn’t there. The instant attraction. He’d told himself the right girl hadn’t come along, but he knew better. He wasn’t attracted to women. Men—slick, sophisticated men—were his drug.

He tossed the mirror onto the sofa and turned his attention back to the monitor. One condition of his doing the movie involved him being able to have a television and access to entertainment outside the set. He loved to view the music videos of his equals and get a grasp on the up-and-coming artists.

Why did everyone on the music feeds have to look the same? Where was the style? The panache? The fun?

The veejay came onto the screen. “Now here’s an oldie but a goodie. It’s racing up the digital charts and proving to be the song for this summer. It’s Summer Song by Payday, featuring Jude Sanders.”

Blake sat up straight and peered at the screen. He was Payday—the ridiculous name his promoter had sworn he needed to break into the business—and Jude… He hadn’t seen his friend in three years. He and Jude had recorded Summer Song at the apex of their relationship. Jude had claimed it would be a good way to show the world how much they meant to each other. Looking at the video and listening to the words now, Blake believed it. The way Jude gazed at him and how they touched during the tender moments made it crystal clear that Jude had loved him—at the time. Now? He doubted Jude would talk to him.

He missed Jude, the way Jude held him, the touch of his hand, his kiss and the soulful look in his eyes when they made love.

Christ. He’d never gotten over Jude.

Jude had moved on, though. He’d begged Blake to admit to the world he was gay because Jude wanted to take the relationship public. Instead of following his heart, Blake had cowered behind his Payday persona and listened to his promoters. No one wanted him to be gay. They wanted the image of a fun, free pop star.

If the veejay was telling the truth, the song he’d recorded with Jude would be played everywhere. He’d never get away from the memories of their love and breakup. At least not for the duration of the summer.


Kel Templeton, his promoter, sauntered into the trailer. “What are you watching?”

“Videos.” He didn’t bother to turn the monitor off. “Remember the song I did with Jude Sanders? Three years down the road, it’s a hit. Summer Song is the defining song of this season—according to the charts. What do you think about that?” He’d known the song was a hit when they’d recorded it, but Kel and others had seen it as a liability.

“Gag. You know why that is?” Kel asked. “Because a few disc jockeys and their veejay friends worked with influencers and kids on the internet to promote it. They made it happen. Big deal.”

“If the numbers are right, then it is a big deal and will be a good payday.” He switched off the monitor. “I could use the money and chance to get back to playing music instead of doing these lousy movies.”

“You’re doing the movie. Period. You don’t need to record music any longer. You can do this and get more attention. Remember how you wanted to do that bio pic? The Rat Ragland film? If you keep doing these and show your range, you’ll get that film.” Kel folded his arms. “You do realize you get more eyeballs this way.”

“Eyeballs don’t help when I’m not getting paid for the work.” He fiddled with the mirror again. The memory of his reflection came to mind. He’d been made up to look old, and the creases and dark circles did him no favors. He wanted to record again. He came alive in the studio and music flowed in his soul. Playing the movie star wasn’t his thing, no matter how much he wanted to do the punk rocker’s bio flick. He hated trying to remember his lines while being someone else. Being himself was hard enough. His fans expected Payday, the flamboyant pop star with no holds barred. They wanted spectacle and sass.

“You’re getting paid.” Kel swatted Blake’s arm. “Grow up and stop getting pissed. It’s crap.”

“Why?” He watched Kel flip through the book on the counter. Blake doubted Kel read much of anything, especially not Shakespeare. He wouldn’t know a rhyming couplet from expository writing. Kel tossed the book onto the couch and glared at Blake. His stare could bore holes through steel when he got angry. Kel liked to use his hands and his thundering voice to get his point across. Most of the time, the tactic worked and Blake benefitted, but sometimes Kel could be abrasive and cruel.

“You have the whole summer ahead of you, so stop thinking about the past and enjoy the sun. You’re in California. There’s sun, fun and chicks. Get laid and shut up.” Kel shook his head. “Ever since Jude got into your brain and messed with you, you’ve been off your game.”

No kidding. Jude had churned up the feelings Blake thought he’d buried. Then again, Blake hadn’t come out to Kel, and Kel had no idea Blake wasn’t attracted to women. Christ. His behavior and appearance, wearing makeup and the rainbow colors, should’ve clued Kel in by now. Every time he did a collaboration, he did it with camp and style. He preferred to sing with other men and be flamboyant.

“Let me find you a chick. We’ll get you sexed up and you’ll chill out.” Kel nodded. “I’ll be back.”

Blake sighed as his promoter left. He didn’t want to be with a woman, random or otherwise. Truth be told, he wanted to be with Jude. That wasn’t going to happen now, and he’d have to listen to their song all summer as a reminder of what he’d given up.

His phone rang. He slapped at the table, using the vibrations to move the device within reach. When he checked the ID screen, his heart hammered. Bob Casey. The last time he’d heard from his friend and former publicist, he’d set up the initial meeting between Blake and Jude. What does Bob want? “Hi, Bob.”

“Blake, the man of the summer,” Bob said. “How are you? Should be flying high. Have you seen the charts? They’ve picked up Summer Song in the clubs and there’s talk of making a dance move for it. Nuts, right?”

“Nuts.” He needed to investigate the popularity of his song. “I’ve seen some of the charts, but I hadn’t heard anything about the clubs.” He reclined on the couch. “How have you been? Organizing up a storm?”

“Not quite a storm, but I have an idea. I can get you a stadium tour to promote your music if you’re willing to go out with Jude. Does that sound good? Sound like something you’d be interested in doing? I’ve got the whole thing pretty much lined up.”

Blake wobbled back onto his seat. Shock washed over him. Bob can’t be serious. “Because Jude agreed to this venture?” he snapped. “I really doubt he would.” He and Jude hadn’t talked in forever and their split hadn’t been amicable. Jude had vowed to ignore him, even if he was the last man on earth.

“No, but he’ll want to do it,” Bob said. “I know him.”

“Why? What do you know?” History hadn’t been kind to Blake, and there would have to be some serious cash involved to get Jude to sign on.

“I know the song is exploding. It’s everywhere and everyone wants to see you together. You two have chemistry. When you sing that song, people believe you love each other,” Bob said. “I knew from the moment I heard it you were meant for each other.”

At the time, he and Jude had been in love. “Jude won’t do it.”

“You don’t know that.”

“I’m pretty sure he won’t.” The words “I never want to see you again” were damn obvious.

“Will you do a tour? Ten to fifteen dates spread over three months? If I set it up?” Bob asked. “If I can get him to go on tour, will you go?”

“Only if he agrees, but I doubt it.” Blake shook his head. “You’ll have to do some serious magic to get it to work.”

“You’ll do it?”

“I want out of this fucking movie. I’m tired of being cooped up on the set because I’m not needed.” If he could spend time with Jude, then all the better. Maybe he could get them back together and work out his issues…because he loved Jude.

“Consider yourself on tour.”

“I film for two more days doing retakes and close-ups,” Blake said. “And there’s Kel. He’ll be pissed. He thinks I’m going to do more movies.”

“Let me handle him.”

He didn’t know how Bob would make this work, but he trusted his old friend. “Once I’m done here, I’m flying out. Where am I going? You’re sending an itinerary? Getting a band together? We’ll have to do some rehearsals.”

“You’ll come here to Cleveland. I’ve got a suite booked at the Crown Hotel and my own recording studio for rehearsals. Two weeks to iron out the wrinkles and you’re off,” Bob said. “I haven’t steered you wrong, have I?”

“No.” He’d been a fool to dump Bob as his management, but he’d thought Kel would get him into bigger venues. He’d been wrong. Kel had got him more notice and made him a bona fide star, but it had been a hollow victory. Blake had had to sell out to get to the top.

“This will be good for you. We’ll work up a theme. How about a sand, sun and fun theme? Tour dates are firming up as we speak. You’ll do three shows a weekend and it’ll be great,” Bob said. “The career will be back on track and you’ll be happy.”

“You can do all of that in one summer?”

“If you trust me.”

“I trust you.” He lived for the thrill of being on the road, holding court on stage and the camaraderie of the touring company. He needed to log miles and play music, but more than that, he needed to talk to Jude. He missed being held, being loved and protected… Jude gave him a place to explore and understood who he was without being judged.

He wanted Jude’s kiss, his arms around him and his love. Just because the song was old didn’t mean the passion had to have ended. His summer song with Jude had another verse yet to be written.

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About the Author

Megan Slayer

Megan Slayer, aka Wendi Zwaduk, is a multi-published, award-winning author of more than one-hundred short stories and novels. She’s been writing since 2008 and published since 2009. Her stories range from the contemporary and paranormal to LGBTQ and BDSM themes. No matter what the length, her works are always hot, but with a lot of heart. She enjoys giving her characters a second chance at love, no matter what the form. She’s been the runner up in the Kink Category at Love Romances Café as well as nominated at the LRC for best author, best contemporary, best ménage and best anthology. Her books have made it to the bestseller lists on

When she’s not writing, Megan spends time with her husband and son as well as three dogs and three cats. She enjoys art, music and racing, but football is her sport of choice.

Find out more about Megan on her website, and sign up for the newsletter here. You can also check out her Blog, Amazon Author Page, Bookbub and Instagram.


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Release Blitz + Giveaway: Destined Predator (Wild Ones #2) by Bailey Bradford

Welcome author Bailey Bradford's new release blitz for Pride Publishing paranormal romance, Destined Predator (Wild Ones #2)! Find out more about the latest and enter in the giveaway for a chance to win: A LOVELY GIFT PACKAGE AND YOUR FREE BAILEY BRADFORD ROMANCE BOOK!

Destined Predator by Bailey Bradford

Book 2 in the Wild Ones series

Word Count: 46,821
Book Length: SHORT NOVEL
Pages: 189



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Book Description

Never in his wildest dreams.

Rhett Tucker, a rough, tough, meat-and-potatoes Wyoming rancher, has just about accepted that shifters exist. His little brother Jack is now mated to one, Ben, whose family are the only coywolf—wolf-coyote hybrids—shifters in existence.

Rhett’s also accepted the fact that he’s gay, even if he’s never been with a guy. What he can’t deal with is Ben’s big brother, the swaggering, dominating, permanently smirking Casey. The head of the Akers pack might be their alpha, but he’s not Rhett’s and never will be.

Casey has never met a challenge he didn’t leap at, and he sure wants to jump the handsome rancher’s bones. He sees that under all the bluster, Rhett yearns to submit, and Casey’s more than happy to fulfil Rhett’s needs…when the stubborn man’s ready to admit to them.

But when both humans and coywolves are under attack, there’s no time for Rhett and Casey to do anything but join forces to find out if the inter-shifter battles are starting up again, or if the pack and the Double T Ranch are facing a new and deadly enemy.

One thing’s for sure—any relationship between Rhett and Casey is gonna be wild.



Rhett Tucker, co-owner and boss of Wyoming’s Double T ranch, stared at his reflection in the shaving mirror.

He bobbed down to his right, so his face showed in the corner with the splintered crack. He blinked, then studied his altered image, seeing his strong jaw elongated to exaggerated proportions and, when he ducked lower still, how his hazel eyes fractured and his short dark hair looked long and bushy, like a pelt.


No. That wasn’t right. Wasn’t fair.


He closed his eyes, but it didn’t stop him seeing beasts, the coyote and wolf shifters who’d fought a turf war on Double T land, or the biggest beast of all of them, the one his foreman Ernesto had turned into. A terrifying, giant wolf-demon hybrid out of a nightmare who’d slayed and slaughtered—

Nope, not going there. Tucker bent from the mirror to the sink so he could scoop water onto his face, splashing at any leftover shaving foam then patting with a towel to remove the last traces. He even wiped behind his ears and wriggled the corner of the towel into them, first one, then the other.

Go with cologne? He did have a bottle, and it was a scent he liked, but it’d been a present from his ex-girlfriend, Olivia, and it felt plain wrong to wear it on a date with someone else.

Rhett straightened his shirt—he should have ironed it. “Bathroom steam never works,” he reminded himself, needing to fill the silence. The sound of his voice didn’t work to plug the gap, and he circled back to what had been consuming him since he’d found out…that shifters existed.

He prided himself on being a plain-thinking rancher like his father, one who believed in what he could see and touch, like his land, or his cattle. And now, that included people who turned into animals. Who were animals. Some were murderous, terrifying monsters, and some were, if not angels, then more on the side of good as they went about their lives. Oh, and his brother had fallen hard and fast for one.

And if I can’t handle that, I’ll lose my little brother.

The thought of losing Jack made Rhett’s hands tremble as he tossed the wet towels into the hamper. His chest seized, making him sit on the edge of the tub to catch his breath. He’d accept anything he had to if it meant keeping Jack in his life. They’d only just started growing closer as brothers recently, when Jack had come home after years of them barely staying in touch because he’d lived and worked in New York City. Rhett wasn’t going to mess up again and let Jack get hurt—not by him, and not by anyone else.

I won’t fail him this time, like I did before because I didn’t want to tell him the truth about myself. Because I didn’t want to accept it, either.

Before he could continue his silent castigation, laughter rang out in the hallway, and the bright, joyful sound went a long way to drowning Rhett’s fears.

Hearing Jack so happy was worth anything. Even the scariest monsters in the world couldn’t have kept Rhett from leaving the bathroom so he could see his brother smiling, eyes crinkled at the corners, his mouth in a wide grin, arms around his boyfriend, Ben. Ben the coywolf shifter.

It didn’t matter if Ben was a shifter, not when he was looking at Jack the same way Jack looked at him. Only thing I can do is plow through my fears—or bury ’em as deep as possible. Jack deserved that, and maybe, although Rhett didn’t know him well, Ben did, too. That was what he wanted to believe, anyhow.

“Hey, Rhett.” Ben gave him a nod before pulling a face at Jack. “Oh, what’s your brother gonna think, huh? Him all neat and tidy like that and look at you, with your JBF’d hair.” He knuckled into Jack’s messy head.

Jack snorted and wiggled his butt. “I’ve got a JBF’d something all right, and it isn’t my hair.”

“Jacky-boy, behave!” Ben pretended to fan himself. “You’ll have your big brother blushing.”

“Maybe you should be the one blushing,” Rhett replied, standing his ground as he always did, even in this new situation. “If it’s done right, ya can’t walk for days, and here’s Jack looking ready to go line dancing at Bard’s Saloon, so…” He looked Ben up and down, pursing his lips in concern as fake as Ben’s shock of a moment ago. “I’d hate to think you weren’t treating Jack right.”

Hey!” Ben’s indignation sounded more genuine now, and he pouted when Jack started chuckling, glared when Rhett sniggered too, then joined in.

Rhett didn’t know which of them laughed the loudest, but by the time he’d gotten his amusement under control, his sides ached, and he was shaking his head. “Aw, man. Y’all are something else.” He went to walk off.


Jack calling his name stopped him. “You doing okay there?” Jack asked. They might not have been close in recent years, but they’d grown up together and each was hard to fool.

“I…” Rhett chewed on his bottom lip a second. “Got some stuff spinning my gears up here.” He tapped his head.

Ben gave him a cool look from where he stood so close to Jack that Rhett couldn’t have swiped a credit card between them. “Stuff like wanting reality to go back to the way it used to be?”

As life should be for a solid, no-frills Wyoming son of the soil who didn’t believe in mumbo-jumbo. Well, that was the question he’d already answered for himself before he’d left the bathroom. Rhett hitched his thumbs through his belt loops and tipped his head back to look down at Ben, slow and easy. “I wouldn’t change anything about this world that makes my brother light up like he does around you.”

“Aww.” Jack’s eyes teared up and he hugged Rhett and, after a second, another pair of arms snaked around them—Ben joining in, too. It took a few seconds, but Rhett relaxed into the group huddle. Well now. How ’bout that.

Ben was the first to pull away. “I have to go. We got a pack run scheduled.”

“Can’t keep your alpha waiting,” Jack replied.

“Yeah, just like your big brother’s word is law too.” Ben wrapped a hand around Jack’s neck to bring him in for a smacking kiss. He slapped Jack’s ass then strolled down the short corridor to the front door, touching the first two fingers of his right hand to his forehead in salute as he went.

The lame joke barely registered with Rhett. His mind was busy thinking about Ben’s oldest brother and alpha of the Akers coywolf pack. Casey. That perma-smirking, cocky, swaggering— Taking in a deep breath, Rhett wrenched himself back to the here and now.

“Hate to see you go, but I love to watch you leave,” Jack called after Ben, tilting his head to take in Ben’s rear view, then laughing when Ben slapped his own ass and made a sizzling noise.

Ben didn’t close the door properly after him—Rhett had been meaning to plane it a little smoother, to stop it sticking—so Rhett walked over, intending to close it. Instead, he pushed the door open wider to get some air, never mind that he’d been outdoors all day. Jack joined him, leaning against the other side of the jamb like they were bookends.

“You really okay?” he asked, side-eyeing Rhett. “’S’okay not to be, after all…that.”

“That,” Rhett echoed, looking out over Double T land. “’S’funny—when I run into something new to handle on the ranch, I ask myself, ‘What would Pa do?’ and I usually find the answer, the way forward, you know? Only for ‘that’, well, I got no idea what he would do.”

“I didn’t know him as well as you did,” Jack replied, his words coming slowly. “And I guess I’ve learned more about him since coming back, if not from you, then from people’s stories and memories, here or in town. But I don’t think he’d have known what to do if he discovered shifters existed and that his younger son is destined mate to one of ’em.”

“Y’all might jus’ have the right of it there, son,” said Rhett, his impersonation of Chauncey Tucker’s measured, guarded speech so accurate that it set them both laughing again.

Jack twisted around and took one of the framed photos off the hall table. “I swear, you hold this up in front of your face when you do that, we’d fool anyone he’s still around!”

“Ah reckon we abou’ might,” Rhett couldn’t resist saying, Chauncey-style, as he took the picture to return it to the table. He studied it. He looked like Chauncey—no-time-to-fuss short dark hair and a big and burly frame, although his eyes were a hazel blend of his pa’s brown and his mom’s green—and was like him, too, in his focus on the ranch and the land.

“I’m more like Mom.” Jack followed Rhett’s line of sight to where the portrait of Lorraine Channing Tucker gazed down at them from the wall.

True, he had her large, dark-lashed green eyes and more delicate bone structure. Lorraine had been a beauty, with her high cheekbones and wide, full mouth, and Jack shared those, too.

Jack had always liked the formal-looking painting of Mom, in a silk evening dress she rarely had occasion to wear. Remembering how as a kid, Jack had used to exclaim “Portrait pose!” whenever Mom happened to be half-turned away and looking back at him, the same position she’d been put into for her painting, made Rhett laugh.

Seeing the expression Jack wore now, as he gazed at one of the last photos of Chauncey and Lorraine together on their wedding anniversary, Rhett knew he was wishing he’d been able to tell them he was gay. Jack had spoken of it before.

“Hey.” He got his younger brother’s attention. “I reckon they’d be glad you found someone. I know I am. And I’ll say it one more time for the folks at the back—there’s always a place for you here at the Double T. Heck, you own half the Double T!”

“Even if I know more about ranch dressing than ranch work?”

“Thought you worked in an office in New York City, not a restaurant. Like, publishing, not fast food?” Rhett joked. “And you know, that’s something we could think about. I was wondering about getting the admin side of things more up to date here— Oh, sure, go ahead. Laugh it up, kid.”

“’S’hard not to, when I think what passes for a ‘system’ in that home office back there!” Jack wiped his eyes. “If it’s Monday, you move the pile of papers to the back of the desk. Tuesday, to the table beside the desk. Wednesday, the chair halfway between the table and the filing cabinet. And by Friday—”

“By Friday I’m kicking your ass.” Rhett grinned, too.

“Tryin’ to.” Jack folded his arms. “But yeah, the office processes need streamlining. And not just the office. I got interested in data management—well, data science, or even data technology, really—and I’ve been havin’ some ideas for using it for the cattle, too.”

“That so? Like what? Putting a jumbotron in the far pasture to show the herd movies? Or giving each cow a cell phone, get ’em to take selfies, maybe set ’em up with an Instagram account? You wanna solve our ‘social media problem’ that way?” Rhett bent to see in the mirror, to give a final brush to his hair, and raised an eyebrow at his brother’s reflection behind him.

“Hey, neat idea—pretty pictures of cows in costumes and us dressed as cowboys in chaps… Hmm…” Jack couldn’t keep up the joke. “No. Tagging each cow with an electronic ID that stores all their info, to make herd management more efficient. It’s just something I was reading about.” Jack looked from the carriage clock on the hall table to his watch. “Hey. You wouldn’t be stalling there, would you, big bro? Seeing as how tonight’s your first date…with a guy?”

“No.” Rhett tweaked his sheepskin jacket from the coat stand and put it on. “I’m ready, see?” Well, he was the ‘dressed clean and tidy’ part of ready, and hoping to meet a nice guy, even if he didn’t think he’d ever be ‘ready’ for it.

“It’s a big step.” Jack nodded. “You want some pointers, bro?”

“Jack, I never wanna see your pointer. Ev-er,” Rhett emphasized, quitting the house. He was glad Jack walked him to his truck, although he could have done without the “Make me proud!” and “Make it happen!” that his one-hundred-percent certified brat of a little brother hollered after him as he drove away.

Rhett fiddled with the radio, getting it to his favorite classic rock station in time to catch a group suggesting he “take it easy”. Good advice. That was followed by “one for the oldies,” a classic country song telling him to “be a man”. He was—if facing up to being gay and wanting to be with a man counted.

Well, even if it didn’t and it wasn’t what the singer or songwriter had in mind, Rhett was off to Bard’s Saloon for his first-ever date with a guy, and one who was more experienced than him, better-looking than him and more take-charge than him.

A smug, bossy alpha, all long legs, wide shoulders and overlong wavy hair, strutted into his mind’s eye, and Rhett turned up the music to wipe him out. Well, ready or not, here I come.

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About the Author

Bailey Bradford

A native Texan, Bailey spends her days spinning stories around in her head, which has contributed to more than one incident of tripping over her own feet. Evenings are reserved for pounding away at the keyboard, as are early morning hours. Sleep? Doesn't happen much. Writing is too much fun, and there are too many characters bouncing about, tapping on Bailey's brain demanding to be let out.

Caffeine and chocolate are permanent fixtures in Bailey's office and are never far from hand at any given time. Removing either of those necessities from Bailey's presence can result in what is known as A Very, Very Scary Bailey and is not advised under any circumstances.


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