BROKEN WARRIOR Saving the World–Review and Giveaway!

Hi there! Today I’m so excited to share an excerpt and giveaway for a M/M paranormal romance from the writing team of Jocelyn Drake and Rinda Elliot. BROKEN WARRIOR is the first book in the Weaver’s Circle series and it’s off to a great start.

Scroll down to catch an excerpt and enter the $10 Amazon GC giveaway below!
About the book:
Clay Green
A brotherhood? Monsters? Goddesses? Magic? The world has become a strange place.

After a life on the run, Clay Green is rescued by a crazy old lady with a shotgun and an even crazier story about monsters, goddesses, and a secret brotherhood.

Gifted with the power of the earth, Clay must locate his missing “brothers” before invading monsters can destroy everything. As if that’s not enough to contend with, Clay can’t keep his hands off the man trying to rebuild the plantation house he’s temporarily living in.

Dane Briggs
Something strange is going on…
Dane knew restoring the old plantation house wasn’t going to be an easy job, but at least none of the clients were going to be underfoot. Since losing his wife and child, the only way Dane can keep going is to focus on the work.

But that focus crumbles the second Clay appears covered in blood and barely hanging on to life. Mystery and danger cling to Clay and the other men who suddenly show up. A smart man would walk away.

Dane chucks smart out the window in favor of hungry kisses and the silken slide of skin against skin. He doesn’t understand what’s happening, but there’s no question that Clay needs him. He’s just not sure his heart can survive being broken again if something happens to Clay.

Broken Warrior is the first book in The Weavers Circle series. It includes fast-paced action, explosions, hurt/comfort, sexy times, animal shenanigans, wounded hearts, three crazy old ladies, and magic!

How about a little taste?

“And were you attacked on your walk? Some kind of flying suckerfish? Because that’s definitely not a hickey on your neck,” Baer continued.

Grey lifted his mug of coffee to his lips again, but he paused long enough to agree. “Definitely not a hickey.”

Without thinking, Clay slapped his hand to the spot Dane had sucked on during round one—or was it round three? Fuck, he’d come so many times last night, his balls should need a week to recover, but his dick was refusing to take orders from his brain or balls. The damn thing wanted to say “Fuck coffee” and crawl back into bed with Dane.

Laughter rang out in the kitchen, and Clay groaned. He’d never had a roommate, but he sort of imagined this was what it was like. Fuck, when all six of them were in the plantation house, it would be like a goddamn frat house.

Grabbing a mug out of the cabinet, Clay continued to ignore the duo at the table as he poured himself a cup of liquid sanity. He took his time, adding a little sugar, and then turned to the table. Before he took one step, he lifted a hand, and whatever Baer had been about to say stopped in his throat.

“I won’t discuss it. Not one word,” Clay said firmly.

Baer’s shoulder’s slumped, and his mouth snapped shut. He looked like a sad puppy for all of two seconds before he was up and happy again.

“I’m sure Grey is one of us,” Baer announced, moving on to an entirely new subject. At least this was one Clay was willing to tackle, even if he wasn’t sure he had the brainpower for it yet. If anything, it gave him something to think about besides Dane.

“Yeah, I kind of thought that last night too.”

Clay settled into a chair across from Baer and Grey. He could use a long, hot shower and a clean set of clothes, but one look at the eager expression on Baer’s face and he knew the man would follow him to the bathroom to discuss this. He could do without them sharing the bathroom with him.

“When I saw him running with you toward the Jeep last night, I swear I got the weirdest feeling of déjà vu. I know we’ve done this all before. Well, maybe not at that club, but the running together, the fighting together.” Baer rested his forearms on the table and leaned forward. “Even when we got back to the house, I felt like I knew him. Known him my whole life.”

“The same way you feel with me?”

Baer nodded.

Clay looked over at Grey, who had both hands wrapped around the dark-blue coffee mug resting on the table in front of him. A deep frown was pulling at the corners of his mouth and drawing lines between his thick eyebrows. Without the threat of death and destruction looming over their heads, Clay took a moment to actually look at the man. Gray hair highlighted his temples, and more of it flecked the closely trimmed beard lining his jaw and chin. He was paler than himself and Baer, as if he were more likely to spend long hours inside the house, but there was no missing the lean muscles that filled out his wrinkled button-down shirt. Maybe a swimmer. Or a runner.

“What do you think?” Clay prodded when Grey remained silent.

“That this is all stupid, ridiculous, and utterly impossible,” Grey grumbled. His hands tightened on his mug, but he didn’t lift it back to his mouth.

“But?”

“I can’t deny I have the same feeling of déjà vu with both of you. Something-something inside of me keeps claiming that I know.”

Clay glanced over at Baer. “Did you tell him?”

“Oh, he fucking told me so much,” Grey answered for him with a rough bark of laughter. “Powers and goddesses and other dimensions with alien monsters trying to kill us so they can destroy the world. I heard plenty last night.”

Closing his eyes, Clay pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed heavily. Yeah, that was pretty much how it all sounded. Insane and impossible. That was his life now to a T. Opening his eyes again, he stared at Baer. “And you told him all this stone-cold sober?”

Baer’s chest puffed up and he grinned broadly at his friend. “No!”

Clay rolled his eyes.

“I found that cheap bottle of whiskey we lost. I think Jo hid it. But anyway, we killed that bottle, and I explained about the pestilents, Weavers, and the Circle.”

Clay looked over at Grey, waiting for his response on how the hell he took this information while loaded up on cheap whiskey.

“And then he turned into an ostrich,” Grey said in a deadpan voice.

“I was trying for a peacock. Something flashy,” Baer commented in a low voice.

“Broke the coffee table.”

“I panicked!”

“You were drunk!” Clay shouted.

“Birds are hard,” Baer muttered under his breath, his eyes locked on his coffee mug in front of him in a pout.

My Review:
Clay Green is losing his mind. He’s on the run from foul-smelling humanoids who are hell-bent to kill him–and he has NO idea why. Inexplicably he’s saved from a brutal attack by…wait for it…a shot-gun toting granny. Turns out she’s an Earth goddess, and Clay is the first of the reincarnated Weaver warriors who are destined to save earth from annihilation.

As Clay soon learns from the goddesses who tend his injuries and transfer his Earth magic into his body, he is destined to join with five other warriors who are being called to a dilapidated antebellum estate, much like he was. They will all receive their magical powers back, and train together to defeat the encroaching Pestilents. These beings from another realm have been siphoning earth energy to save their dying world. When they cross between realms their flesh immediately begins to slowly rot away, giving rise to the stench Weavers can sense. Clay finds the whole story preposterous, until he gets his Earth magic–and meets Baer, who is the Animal Magic Weaver brother he is drawn to protect. With the goddesses popping in and out, and the continued pestilent attacks, it’s much easier to accept his role in the plan to save the world.

This is also a romance, and things get downright steamy for Clay and Dane–the caretaker that’s renovating the Weaver mansion. Dane is bisexual, and has some emotional demons from his pat that plague his decision to connect sexually with Clay, but their bond becomes too great to ignore–landing Dane in trouble to some degree as a target of the pestilents. Their bonding ceremony is sweet, and brings an unexpected boon of healing magic to Dane, so he’s now a greater asset to the Weavers than first imagined.

I really liked this one, and expect we’re going to have five more books to follow the love stories of the other five brothers. At the end of this one only three of the six Weavers have been found: Clay, Baer and Grey (who reads minds and emotions as the Soul Magic Weaver). Baer and Grey need soulmates, and they all need to find three more Weavers so they can take down the pestilents once and for all. I was glad, honestly, that there are still Weavers to find, as we had a LOT of characters to keep track of in this story, and adding more would have been distracting. The love story didn’t seem to take over the adventure or magic bits, and I enjoyed that balance.

I’m eager to read on in this series!

Interested? You can find BROKEN WARRIOR on Goodreads and Amazon.

****GIVEAWAY****

Click on this Rafflecopter giveaway link for your chance to win a $10 Amazon GC.
Good luck and keep reading my friends!

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

Catch up with Jocelyn and Rinda on their website, Facebook, and twitter.

Unexpected Horrors THE BACHMANN FAMILY SECRET–Review and Giveaway!

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review and giveaway for a contemporary LGBTQ YA thriller with romantic elements from Damian Serbu. THE BACHMANN FAMILY SECRET features a teen boy who sees ghosts battling it out with the malevolent spirit haunting his family homestead.

Scroll down for an excerpt and to enter the $10 GC giveaway.
About the book:
Jaret Bachmann travels with his family to his beloved grandfather’s funeral with a heavy heart and, more troubling, premonitions of something evil lurking at the Bachmann ancestral home. But no one believes that he sees ghosts.

Grappling with his sexuality, a ghost that wants him out of the way, and the loss of his grandfather, Jaret must protect his family and come to terms with powers hidden deep within himself.

How about a little taste?

I trembled at the thought of returning to Nebraska for my grandpa’s funeral.

Even he told me not to return.

Of course, you can’t explain the situation to your parents, or say your concerns out loud to anyone, without the world thinking you’d gone bonkers.

Still, after my uncle called Dad to tell us Grandpa died, Gramps tried for the past day to keep me at home.

Yeah, my dead grandpa warned me not to go to Fremont, which meant no way I wanted to go either. I trusted him dead as much as I trusted him with all my heart when he lived.

But what Gramps and I wanted did not matter. Because we all planned to get into Dad’s Blazer and drive back to Fremont, to the big Victorian house that had comforted me so much my entire life as the embodiment of Gramps’s love, to the small town we’d left behind years ago.

Unfortunately, none of these dreadful thoughts took me away from the reason I shut my eyes a moment ago and worked with all my power to keep them closed.

Sitting on my bed next to my suitcase and hugging my knees close to my body, I knew Gramps still stood in the corner with a frown. His ghost was upset, and his agitation had to do with my going to his funeral.

Keeping my eyes shut, I reached over next to me, at least comforted by the presence of my dog.

Then my mind played a fucked-up trick on me, as I giggled at my thoughts. I wished for a support group. Hi, I’m Jaret, and I see dead people. Like the frickin’ movie, with what’s-his-name acting in it. The Die Hard guy. Not that I ever wanted to see ghosts. Nope, never did. But ever since I was a kid, as early as I could remember, I saw them. And I learned pretty quickly to keep my mouth shut about my visions, no matter how many times I saw them. People would look at me like I went nutso if I told them such stuff. The other high school kids would freak. My own parents signed me up for the shrink farm when I was in third grade because I told them about the old man ghost in my classroom who made mean faces at me when I got an answer wrong. But could I blame them? My story sounded bonkers and scared the shit out of them. For all I know, the ghost sightings proved once and for all I am nuts.

Back to my senses, I took a deep breath and peeked over at the corner. Still there. Gramps shook his head, the way I remembered from when he wanted to teach me a lesson when I was little. The love had sparkled in his eyes even as he’d reprimanded me, and his ghost form adopted the same demeanor, despite his displeasure with my insistence on traveling to Nebraska.

I almost tricked myself into believing he still lived, except I had watched him materialize out of nowhere in my bedroom. One minute I stared at my hot picture of Captain America, the next Gramps blocked the poster from view as he appeared to me.

“Gramps,” I whispered. “I don’t know what you’re trying to say.” My head pounded with a headache, always a sign the dead had arrived for a visit. “Please help me. I don’t know what you want. Or how I’m supposed to do it. I’m not in charge around here! You know I have no power.”

He shook his head again, and the word “no” echoed through my skull.

“I got your message!” I yelled as a jolt of pain crashed through my brain. “You don’t want me to go back to Fremont. But I can’t not go. What would I tell my parents?” They’d scold me about making stuff up about ghosts again. Or could I even mention the episode to Jenn and Lincoln, my sister and brother? Too embarrassing. “Gramps, I’m sorry. I have to go. Please understand.”

Again Gramps shook his head, but then began to fade away.

“No. Please. I miss you—”

He disappeared, and Darth whined next to me, her ears back, her big brown eyes worried. At least my head returned to normal, except my stomach turned over in knots. A very, very bad force lurked in Fremont, bad enough Gramps’s spirit left his house to warn me.

I pulled Darth into a tight hug, so she pushed her snout into me. Even she tried to keep me from packing. She listened to Gramps’s warning and took his plea to heart. Yeah, I’m a strange case. I bond with dead people and dogs. I petted her and she whined again. “Don’t be sad. You get to go too.” Of course, I figured my assurance might make the fear worse for her.

I sighed as I stood, Darth mimicking me, and then grabbed my suitcase and headed upstairs, Darth on my heels.

“Look at the bright side,” I told her. “First we have a long car ride through Nebraska! And—Dad informed us no one can take a cell phone. How cool, right? No contact with the real world the whole time!” While Dad often flipped out about our being on our phones too much, he’d lost it with total abandon today. He forbade any phones on the trip, whatsoever. We all caved, though, because, well, first the order came from our dad. We never won those battles. And I think we all figured the phone rage related to his grief.

Darth tilted her head at me, trying hard to understand my words. “Plus, Gramps doesn’t even have a computer!”

We always dealt with the old-world nature of visiting Gramps, but we needed to bury him, which made the whole thing feel like total bullshit. No phones. No computer. Like 1890 all over again. Not to mention the ghosts fucking with me more than usual.

All these dreadful thoughts continued to float through my head as one cornfield after another flew by on the trip to Fremont. I stared out the window the entire time. But my mind kept reminding me we hurried toward a black hole, with nothing good at the other end.

I stifled another inappropriate giggle. The latest horror movie, starring Jaret! The dark stairs seemed foreboding, so I headed right down them! The evil monster ran into the woods. I charged in there alone after the beast! Every movie watcher screamed to go the other way, but the idiot actor plodded right into the danger. Except I became the idiot. Fuck me.

Plus, my head hurt like I got it smashed between two elevator doors. No way to forget the bad premonitions when your head reminded you of them every second.

Thankfully, we all stayed pretty quiet for the entire trip, given the grief of the moment.

My Review:
Jaret Bachmann is a closeted high school senior with an even bigger secret than his sexuality: he can see ghosts. He’s been able to his whole life, but it’s particularly poignant now that his dear Gramp’s spirit is popping into his bedroom in Colorado to warn him against returning to the family homestead in Fremont, Nebraska. Jaret would love to be able to stop his family from returning there, but he doesn’t have that power, and he’s afraid if he tells his parents about his sight they’ll commit him; previous experience did land him in counseling until he recanted.

In Fremont, the entire family is staying in the ancestral home, Jaret’s family, and that of his dad’s brother as well. THey have decided they want to sell the house instead of keeping it, because his aunt is terrified of the ghosts that live there. No one has actually seen a ghost, okay, no one by Jaret and he ain’t telling. Still there’s a lot of weirdness. Jaret’s dad and uncle agree selling the house is a decent plan, but not before they locate the precious heirloom jewelry that Gramps had usually kept in some arcane spot under the floorboards–which is now empty. Everyone agrees that the jewels must be in the attic, because that the one place no one has looked–and the door is unable to be unlocked. It’s also the spot that Gramps’ ghost keeps warning Jaret away from…and he’s stuggling to keep it together until the funeral.

One good thing about returning to Fremont is meeting Steve, a football player who is inexplicably drawn to Jaret on the night they meet as Jaret walks his dog (and comfort animal), Vader. Vader has been a super ally for Jaret, barking her head off whenever malevolent spirits amble past. Steve is a nice distraction, but his interest seemed way too quick, considering he’s never found dudes that interesting, even ones related to the owner of the town’s famous haunted house. The interest is enough to give Jaret some courage, however, and he finally confides his big gay secret to more than just Vader.

This story is centrally about Jaret coming out about this powers to talk with the dead, (and more) and his sexuality. There is a deeply held family secret at the heart and root of Jaret’s abilities and if the family will only just listen and believe, he might just save the day. I thought Jaret’s deductions about his powers, and how gaining access to the sacred family gems revealed even more power that Jaret was able to harness. The story behind the ghost haunting the Bachmann family is rather sad, and has led to innocents dying in the past. The ghost is sure that homosexuality is a perversion that must be eradicated from the family, but the WHY of that conviction is pretty melancholy. Jaret’s a quick thinker, and great improviser, so he fakes it until he can make it–and that spunk made him more interesting.

On the whole, the language of the book was a bit lackluster, with lots of f-bombs and tired repetition of scenes giving the impression of laziness, instead of detail. How many times is the ghost going to accost Jaret? Or, send his mom to find him while he’s canoodling with Steve? Spoiler: all the times. The pace could have been tighter, but Jaret did read like and immature kid, so there’s bonus points for that. There were some weird plot situations that made little sense, like why Jaret’s dad would ban cell phones on this trip? What parent does this? Also, I got WAY tired of the autocratic dad thing, with Jaret’s dad and uncle making completely ludicrous plans and everyone going along because they were the “men”. I was glad Jaret finally grew a spine, and his ingenuity in taking care of the ghost was cool. The way he and Steve fell into “deep love” in a matter of days was less cool.

In all, it was a cool ghost story, with a teen finding powers deep within himself that enable him to stop the horror his family had been suffering for a few generations. The writing wasn’t as tight as I’m used to for YA, and the instalove was nearly more unbelievable than the paranormal magic thriller that served as a backdrop.

Interested? You can find THE BACHMANN FAMILY SECRET on Goodreads, NineStar Press, and Amazon.

****GIVEAWAY****

Click on this Rafflecopter link for your chance to win a $10 NineStar Press GC.
Good luck and keep reading my friends!

About the Author:
Damian Serbu lives in the Chicago area with his husband and two dogs, Akasha and Chewbacca. The dogs control his life, tell him what to write, and threaten to eat him in the middle of the night if he disobeys. He has published The Vampire’s Angel, The Vampire’s Quest, and The Vampire’s Protégé, as well as Santa’s Kinky Elf, Simon and Santa Is a Vampire with NineStar Press. The Bachmann Family Secret is (clearly) now available.

Keep up to date with him on his website, Facebook, and Twitter.

A Pointed Partnership VARIABLE ONSET–A Review

Hi there! I’m sharing a review for a newly released M/M contemporary romance from Layla Reyne. VARIABLE ONSET features an introverted FBI instructor and analyst, now on the case of the serial killer he’s studied for more than a decade, while also pairing off with the most frustrating academy student as his partner. While their chemistry might be explosive, their timing is not helpful. Not with a clock on the

About the book:
To catch a killer, a special agent and his former student will need to get close—to their target, and each other. Layla Reyne returns with a stand-alone romantic mystery.

When the serial killer known as Dr. Fear seemingly reemerges after a cooling-off period, Special Agent Lincoln Monroe wants on the case. He knows his research on the calculating criminal, who targets couples and uses their worst fears to kill them, could prove invaluable. But nothing can prepare Lincoln for the agent waiting for him in Apex, Virginia: a brash and cocky former student. Carter Warren is everything Lincoln is not, and somehow everything he wants. And they’ll be going undercover. As newlyweds.

For Carter, seeing Lincoln again—and flustered to boot—pokes his raging bear of a crush something fierce. He thinks posing as lovers will provide the perfect bait for Dr. Fear. But pretending to be married forces them to confront fears of their own…like giving in to the very real chemistry between them.

With evidence pointing to the possibility of a copycat killer, Lincoln and Carter will have to race to separate truth from fiction. But when another couple goes missing, finding the killer will test every ounce of their training, skills and the strength of their bond like never before.

My Review:
FBI Academy forensic genealogy professor and Agent Lincoln Monroe is an out bisexual caregiver for his teen daughter. He has a great relationship with his ex-wife, a globe-trotting state department employee and his sister who babysits his daughter if he goes on assignment. Lincoln’s thesis work was profiling Dr. Fear, a serial killer that captured random couples and subjected them to their worst fears for 40 hours, or until they died–which they all had. He’s been active for 25 years, and never caught, but now it seems a copy cat has kidnapped a senator’s daughter and partner, and Lincoln is pressed into active duty. The senator, a former agent, was Lincoln’s mentor and the former lead investigator of the Dr. Fear crimes.

Lincoln is an introvert and suffers intense stage fright and fear of fire. He’s awkward and goofy, and not ready to be paired with a former Academy student who pushed all his buttons in class eight years ago, Special Agent Carter Warren. Carter was in the western Virginia mountains looking up old wrecks to find his missing birth parents when he found a connection to the Dr. Fear victims. He’s arranged a cover story for himself and Lincoln in winter wonderland Apex, Virginia, where they will have unimpeded access to police and genealogical records to help find not only the copy cat, but also the true Dr. Fear. But, uh, they are posing as husbands, much to Lincoln’s discomfort.

Carter has had a crush on his former professor since that very first class, and he’s not beyond having some liberties, if time allows. Not that it really does, with the clock ticking on the missing couple. Their endeavors are hampered by lack of familiarity with the small town folks, oh, and being attacked by crazies and the police department getting firebombed. While one case gets wrapped, two more pop up and the spotlight seems to shine on either the former, or current, police chief–who happen to be lifelong Apex residents…and brothers. When local residents are kidnapped, it’s up to some amazing detective work, involving the bells and whistles of forensic science and good ol’ library research, to bring this killer to justice.

This is a fantastic romantic suspense, with two MCs that have both tremendous respect and attraction for the other. Lincoln and Carter are great guys, who make the best of the tension, but never let their professionalism slide. It’s a total slow burn on the romance, while these men devote themselves to overcoming all the obstacles to find the killers at-large. There were moments of levity, especially regarding Lincoln’s self-deprecating humor and Carter’s mooning over his crush. And those also brought some nice tender moments, as these men bonded over their deep-seated insecurities. It’s a standalone romance, but I’d read another book with these two if it came available.

Interested? You can find VARIABLE ONSET on Goodreads, Carina Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo.

About the Author:
Layla Reyne is the author of the Fog City, Agents Irish and Whiskey, Trouble Brewing, and Changing Lanes series. A Carolina Tar Heel who now calls the San Francisco Bay Area home, Layla enjoys weaving her bi-coastal experiences into her stories, along with adrenaline-fueled suspense and heart pounding romance.

Catch up with Layla Reyne on her website, Facebook, twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, Goodreads, or sign up for her newsletter.

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

A Sinister Specter: THE MAN FROM MILWAUKEE–Review and Giveaway!

Hi there! Today I’m excited to share a review and giveaway for a near-historical M/M thriller with romantic elements from mega-writer Rick R. Reed. THE MAN FROM MILWAUKEE explores the darker side of human nature, and features connections between lonely souls and a serial killer. If you liked THE PERILS OF INTIMACY or THE SECRETS WE KEEP you’ll like this one, too.

Scroll down for an excerpt and to enter the $10 GC giveaway.
About the book:
It’s the summer of 1991 and serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer has been arrested. His monstrous crimes inspire dread around the globe. But not so much for Emory Hughes, a closeted young man in Chicago who sees in the cannibal killer a kindred spirit, someone who fights against the dark side of his own nature, as Emory does. He reaches out to Dahmer in prison via letters.

The letters become an escape—from Emory’s mother dying from AIDS, from his uncaring sister, from his dead-end job in downtown Chicago, but most of all, from his own self-hatred.

Dahmer isn’t Emory’s only lifeline as he begins a tentative relationship with Tyler Kay. He falls for him and, just like Dahmer, wonders how he can get Tyler to stay. Emory’s desire for love leads him to confront his own grip on reality. For Tyler, the threat of the mild-mannered Emory seems inconsequential, but not taking the threat seriously is at his own peril.

Can Emory discover the roots of his own madness before it’s too late and he finds himself following in the footsteps of the man from Milwaukee?

How about a little taste?

Headlines

Dahmer appeared before you in a five o’clock edition, stubbled dumb countenance surrounded by the crispness of a white shirt with pale-blue stripes. His handsome face, multiplied by the presses, swept down upon Chicago and all of America, to the depths of the most out-of-the-way villages, in castles and cabins, revealing to the mirthless bourgeois that their daily lives are grazed by enchanting murderers, cunningly elevated to their sleep, which they will cross by some back stairway that has abetted them by not creaking. Beneath his picture burst the dawn of his crimes: details too horrific to be credible in a novel of horror: tales of cannibalism, sexual perversity, and agonizing death, all bespeaking his secret history and preparing his future glory.

Emory Hughes stared at the picture of Jeffrey Dahmer on the front page of the Chicago Tribune, the man in Milwaukee who had confessed to “drugging and strangling his victims, then dismembering them.” The picture was grainy, showing a young man who looked timid and tired. Not someone you’d expect to be a serial killer.

Emory took in the details as the L swung around a bend: lank pale hair, looking dirty and as if someone had taken a comb to it just before the photograph was snapped, heavy eyelids, the smirk, as if Dahmer had no understanding of what was happening to him, blinded suddenly by notoriety, the stubble, at least three days old, growing on his face. Emory even noticed the way a small curl topped his shirt’s white collar. The L twisted, suddenly a ride from Six Flags, and Emory almost dropped the newspaper, clutching for the metal pole to keep from falling. The train’s dizzying pace, taking the curves too fast, made Emory’s stomach churn.

Or was it the details of the story that were making the nausea in him grow and blossom? Details like how Dahmer had boiled some of his victim’s skulls to preserve them…

Milwaukee Medical Examiner Jeffrey Jentzen said authorities had recovered five full skeletons from Dahmer’s apartment and partial remains of six others. They’d discovered four severed heads in his kitchen. Emory read that the killer had also admitted to cannibalism.

“Sick, huh?” Emory jumped at a voice behind him. A pudgy man, face florid with sweat and heat, pressed close. The bulge of the man’s stomach nudged against the small of Emory’s back.

Emory hugged the newspaper to his chest, wishing there was somewhere else he could go. But the L at rush hour was crowded with commuters, moist from the heat, wearing identical expressions of boredom.

“Hard to believe some of the things that guy did.” The man continued, undaunted by Emory’s refusal to meet his eyes. “He’s a queer. They all want to give the queers special privileges and act like there’s nothing wrong with them. And then look what happens.” The guy snorted. “Nothing wrong with them…right.”

Emory wished the man would move away. The sour odor of the man’s sweat mingled with cheap cologne, something like Old Spice.

Hadn’t his father worn Old Spice?

Emory gripped the pole until his knuckles whitened, staring down at the newspaper he had found abandoned on a seat at the Belmont stop. Maybe if he sees I’m reading, he’ll shut up. Every time the man spoke, his accent broad and twangy, his voice nasal, Emory felt like someone was raking a metal-toothed comb across the soft pink surface of his brain.

Neighbors had complained off and on for more than a year about a putrid stench from Dahmer’s apartment. He told them his refrigerator was broken and meat in it had spoiled. Others reported hearing hand and power saws buzzing in the apartment at odd hours.

“Yeah, this guy Dahmer… You hear what he did to some of these guys?”

Emory turned at last. He was trembling, and the muscles in his jaw clenched and unclenched. He knew his voice was coming out high, and that because of this, the man might think he was queer, but he had to make him stop.

“Listen, sir, I really have no use for your opinions. I ask you now, very sincerely, to let me be so that I might finish reading my newspaper.”

The guy sucked in some air. “Yeah, sure,” he mumbled.

Emory looked down once more at the picture of Dahmer, trying to delve into the dots that made up the serial killer’s eyes. Perhaps somewhere in the dark orbs, he could find evidence of madness. Perhaps the pixels would coalesce to explain the atrocities this bland-looking young man had perpetrated, the pain and suffering he’d caused.

To what end?

“Granville next. Granville will be the next stop.” The voice, garbled and cloaked in static, alerted Emory that his stop was coming up.

As the train slowed, Emory let the newspaper, never really his own, slip from his fingers. The train stopped with a lurch, and Emory looked out at the familiar green sign reading Granville. With the back of his hand, he wiped the sweat from his brow and prepared to step off the train.

Then an image assailed him: Dahmer’s face, lying on the brown, grimy floor of the L, being trampled.

Emory turned back, bumping into commuters who were trying to get off the train, and stooped to snatch the newspaper up from the gritty floor.

Tenderly, he brushed dirt from Dahmer’s picture and stuck the newspaper under his arm.

*

Kenmore Avenue sagged under the weight of the humidity as Emory trudged home, white cotton shirt sticking to his back, face moist. At the end of the block, a Loyola University building stood sentinel—gray and solid against a wilted sky devoid of color, sucking in July’s heat and moisture like a sponge.

Emory fitted his key into the lock of the redbrick high-rise he shared with his mother and sister, Mary Helen. Behind him, a car grumbled by, muffler dragging, transmission moaning. A group of four children, Hispanic complexions darkened even more by the sun, quarreled as one of them held a huge red ball under his arm protectively.

As always, the vestibule smelled of garlic and cooking cabbage, and as always, Emory wondered from which apartment these smells, grown stale over the years he and his family had lived in the building, had originally emanated.

In the mailbox was a booklet of coupons from Jewel, a Commonwealth Edison bill, and a newsletter from Test Positive Aware. Emory shoved the mail under his arm and headed up the creaking stairs to the third floor.

My Review:
The book opens in 1991, Chicago and is mainly centered on the life and times of Emory Hughes, a closeted gay man living in the north side with his mother and deadbeat sister, Mary Helen. Emory’s mother is dying of AIDS contracted from a tainted blood transfusion. She’s near death at the beginning of the book, lost in dementia and tearing her tiny family apart. Mary Helen has emotionally sealed herself off from her mother, barely caring for her at all while Emory works full-time to support all of them. He comes home at night and begins the arduous task of cleaning his emaciated mother and trying to feed her. It’s heartbreaking and lonely work, but he can’t let his dear mother down.

Emory sees his homosexual attraction as a deviance, and his sexual encounters have all been anonymous, and often a bit brutal. They are something he wants to hide from the world, and would wish to be without, if he could. It’s a personal failure to Emory when need brings him back to the adult bookstore peep shows for strangers to manhandle. It is around this time that the horrors of serial killer Jefferey Dahmer are revealed, his sensational case of murdering, dismembering and cannibalizing many gay men being headline news for days on end. Emory senses that Dahmer did not relish killing men, but was compelled by forces he couldn’t contain, much like Emory’s own internal conflict with his physical attractions and needs.

Tyler Kay is a fresh college grad from the north suburbs taking a job at the insurance analysis company where Emory has worked for the past 8 years. Emory is tasked with showing Tyler the ropes, and Tyler, who is out and proud, senses a kinship with Emory, a fellow who likes fellows, but mostly he senses Emory’s deep loneliness, and desire to connect with another human. He invites Emory out and makes no secret of his sexuality or attraction, and doesn’t let himself get bothered when Emory staunchly denies his own sexuality. He’s known many closet cases. Still, when Emory’s mom finally dies, Tyler’s attention lights something up inside Emory–and a tenuous friendship builds. This feels momentous, and caught in both grief and the novel sensation of being seen as a man, Emory begins a magnanimous effort to write letters to Jeffrey Dahmer in prison. Through these letters, Emory is able to reveal his true feelings and desires. He’s elated to receive letters in return that show a softer side of the ‘Milwaukee Monster’ one who encourages Emory to live his best life, and keep Tyler by his side.

Okay, to be clear, Emory is mentally ill. His lifelong loneliness has facilitated a delusional mindscape that shields and scares him by turns. Tyler is a wonderful friend, and he really wants to be a lover to Emory, but he gets scared off by Emory’s fascination with Dahmer, especially after witnessing a psychotic break following what had been some tender intimacy between them. Tyler’s retreat gives way to a whole new level of psychoses that trigger violence and self-flagellation. All the while the letters go out and new ones come back–with Emory missing time from his days and nights.

A random outing reconnects Tyler and Emory some months later, and Emory is in a prime state to ensure Tyler–whom he believes to be his soul mate–will stay with him forever. Emory has learned from studying Dahmer, who was obsessed with having a man stay–even if it was only in pieces.

I’m not going to go into more detail, but this story was really poignant and thrilling. The downward spiral of Emory’s mental state was revealed progressively, and his desire to love and be loved was gut-wrenching. He’s a man who has felt unloved and unlovable for many years, and his grief, his torment over his sexuality, and his loss of the only friend and lover he ever had when Tyler runs out on him, all become more than he can cope with. His sister, who has been selfish and self-serving to shield herself from the pain of their mother’s disease and death, is barely able to maintain any relationship with Emory, but it is her intervention that ensures Emory doesn’t make a complete psychotic break. We have hints of the brutal turns Emory has taken, and Tyler definitely suffers before the end. I was glad that the story continued into the future a few years to give closure to all the affected parties.

This story has some romantic elements, but it’s not a romance. Tyler and Emory have a spark, but Emory’s mental state is an impediment to true intimacy. I always love stories set in Chicago, and Reed’s attention to detail–taking the Metra versus the L, describing the city neighborhoods, the vicious weather, and popular haunts of gay men in the 90s–is as superb as ever. Growing up in suburban Chicagoland, I remember the heated fascination over Dahmer’s case during those brief years. I was a junior in HS when he was arrested, and a senior when he was sentenced. The gruesome spectacle in Milwaukee was routinely compared to the crimes of John Wayne Gacy, a near-Chicago suburban man who’d murdered dozens of Chicago-area men just two decades before–and our news media certainly pushed those connection stories. So I could really sense and relate to the history, as well as the emotions of this fictional thriller.

When one has such dark themes, it’s easy to envision a canned resolution. The extended scenes were inspired and inspiring, demonstrating the power of forgiveness at relieving the guilt and grief of bad decisions. At it’s core, this story is one of connection to humanity, and how people who are disconnected from humanity will make choices that temporarily assuage the pain their isolation engenders. These choices are usually not in their best interest, be they drugs, alcohol or violence, and Reed never left Emory to the winds of fate, or silenced his pain artificially. The ending, for that reason, was tender and loving even if there was no romance.

Interested? You can find THE MAN FROM MILWAUKEE on Goodreads, NineStar Press, and Amazon.

****GIVEAWAY****

Click on this Rafflecopter link for your chance to win a $10 NineStar Press GC.
Good luck and keep reading my friends!

About the Author:
Real Men. True Love.

Rick R. Reed is an award-winning and bestselling author of more than fifty works of published fiction. He is a Lambda Literary Award finalist. Entertainment Weekly has described his work as “heartrending and sensitive.” Lambda Literary has called him: “A writer that doesn’t disappoint…” Find him at http://www.rickrreedreality.blogspot.com. Rick lives in Palm Springs, CA, with his husband, Bruce, and their fierce Chihuahua/Shiba Inu mix, Kodi.

Catch up with Rick on his website, Facebook, twitter and Instagram.

Mama Drama in a DRAGON DILEMMA–Review and Giveaway!

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a M/M paranormal romance from Mell Eight. DRAGON DILEMMA is the third book in the Supernatural Consultant series, which features a dragon, a demigod and a passel of rambunctious dragon kits. You already know I enjoyed both previous stories, DRAGON CONSULTANT and DRAGON DECEPTION, so I jumped at the chance to read on in this series.

Scroll down for an excerpt, and to enter the giveaway for a $10 GC.
About the book:
Dane hasn’t spoken with his mother in years and he’s never met his father. But somehow his mother finds out about Mercury and the kits anyway, and it’s difficult to throw one’s mother out when she happens to be a powerful, dangerous witch.

She isn’t the only uninvited guest, and the others are even less likely to take no for an answer—and much more likely to leave everyone dead if they don’t get what they want.

How about a little taste?

Saturday-morning breakfast was always chaotic. With seven kits running around, it was inevitable, and Daisy—the babysitter/housekeeper who helped to look after the kits—had weekends off. Daisy somehow managed to corral all the kits into line for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and got them to their lessons with their tutor on time. Dane, on the other hand, was lucky he still had a standing kitchen.

Lumie and Alloy were chasing each other in circles around the kitchen island, yelling excitedly about something. Their words were too garbled for Dane to catch. Lumie’s red hair kept flashing by, followed by Alloy’s mix of blue-and-red hair. Copper and Zinc were yelling at each other from opposite sides of the island. Their argument stemmed from something that had gotten spilled in the bathroom, which might also explain why Copper smelled particularly flowery this morning. Copper would probably smell like that for days; as a fire dragon, he avoided proper baths as much as possible. Even though he was eight years older than his youngest siblings—much too old to be skipping baths—his hair was the same shade of red as Lumie’s and Alloy’s. Zinc was an air dragon the same age as Copper. Her hair was white and she kept it in one long braid down her back to avoid getting it tangled in her magic.

Chrome and ’Ron were also arguing—this time about frogs. Why? Dane couldn’t even fathom a guess. The answer might scar him for life. Over the last year, ’Ron had cut her brown hair into long spikes and had traded frilly dresses for sparkly pairs of jeans. She was still cleaner and more put together than Chrome, whose brown hair was actually longer than hers and usually contained a few sticks and leaves tangled in his curls, but she was more willing to go frog hunting now. Or frog dissecting. Again, Dane really didn’t want to know.

Luckily, Mercury was at the stove calmly flipping pancakes on the electric griddle. His bronze hair was long on his collar and still sleep mussed. Dane had to hide a grin because he knew exactly what had caused Mercury to look so disheveled this morning, and it wasn’t a kit-friendly topic.

“Kits who aren’t sitting quietly don’t get pancakes.” Mercury didn’t say it loudly, but he didn’t have to. Copper, Zinc, Chrome, and ’Ron immediately shut up and took their seats around the island. Lumie stopped by the spice drawer to pull out the extra-large bottle of cinnamon before he and Alloy also settled quietly into their places.

The threat of being denied pancakes was a serious one. Dane went to the pantry to grab the syrup—another extra-large bottle, because dragons were sugar fiends—and set it in front of his seat as he took his own spot at the island.

“I’m going to have to shovel the driveway this morning,” Dane said into the quiet kitchen. “I’d appreciate everyone’s help.” Copper, Lumie, and Alloy looked immediately interested—they could melt the snow with their fire magic as long as they didn’t leave puddles of water that would eventually turn the driveway into a skating rink. Nickel, the only kit who had been sitting quietly the entire time, nodded to tell Dane he was in too. He liked playing with frozen water just as much as unfrozen. Nickel was the only full water dragon living under Dane’s roof, his blue hair and bright blue eyes a stark contrast to the other kits’. Alloy had been genetically altered in the egg to have both fire and water magic, but he spent most of his time with Copper and Lumie, so fire was his preferred method of choice.

None of the kits made a peep of agreement or disagreement. The pancake rule was still in effect, apparently, but at least Dane wouldn’t be shoveling his driveway on his own.

Mercury brought the plate over and the steaming scent of buttery pancakes enveloped the table. Chrome was actually drooling, Dane thought, but he didn’t look too closely. There was a sudden popping noise and a sealed envelope appeared directly on top of the stack.

Dane knew that spell. Hell, he knew the handwriting on the envelope, just as he also knew that the sender had chosen to have it materialize on the food on purpose. Mercury pulled it from the stack of pancakes and read Dane’s name on the front, then held it out for Dane to take with a quizzical look on his face. Dane’s hand wasn’t shaking when he forced it to reach out and take the envelope from Mercury. It wasn’t, he reassured himself, but he wasn’t breathing either.

“I’m starving!” Chrome moaned. Mercury smiled at him and grabbed a fork to begin filling everyone’s plates. The syrup disappeared with alarming quickness while Dane was staring at the cramped cursive. That handwriting was so familiar and so damned frightening.

“Who is the letter from, Dane?” Mercury asked.

Dane looked up just in time to see Lumie liberally coat his syrup-drenched pancakes in cinnamon. Copper and Alloy each had their turn with the cinnamon before Dane remembered that Mercury had asked him a question.

“It’s from my mother,” Dane said as unemotionally as he could. If he didn’t suppress what he was feeling, he might start screaming or crying.

Mercury put his fork down on his plate, which was just as drenched in syrup as his kits’, and stared at Dane with his bronze eyes. “The one who’s a god?” he asked. Dane was the child of a god, something he had told Mercury before they became mates, but Dane had never gone into specifics. Mercury had seemed to sense that it was a difficult topic for Dane and had never asked for more detail.

“No,” Dane replied. “My mother is one of the few witches in the world strong enough to summon a god, though.” At Mercury’s blank look, Dane sighed. “The Isle Crone?”

Mercury’s jaw dropped. “Your mother is the Isle Crone?” he gasped.

“Who’s that?” Zinc asked curiously.

“We have a grandma?” ’Ron added. She bounced in her seat with excitement. Mercury’s lips tightened and Dane had to hide a wince. It wasn’t Mercury’s fault that dragons in the wild had to abandon their kits so they didn’t inadvertently end up killing them over a territory dispute. Mercury didn’t have the first idea of where to find his parents or any of his siblings. Dane had a mother who was the Isle Crone and a father he had never met and probably never would.

“She’s not the cookie-baking type,” Dane tried to explain to ’Ron. She was more of the biblical-smiting type. She was the territory leader of the British Isles, and she ran her territory with an iron fist. No one dared to challenge her because she was that powerful and that ruthless. For all that, she wasn’t evil. Mostly she was controlling, and no one was allowed to live their lives outside of how she dictated. It made her one of the more well-known territory leaders in the world.

Dane had left her house as soon as he was old enough to get away. Actually, escaped her house was probably a more accurate description. He had traveled all the way across the ocean to flee from her, but that hadn’t been nearly far enough, thanks to the more modern and less taxing innovations to basic transportation magic. Luckily, she wasn’t more powerful than Dane, so she couldn’t force him to return with her magic, but she had made her displeasure known many times since then.

His favorite instance was when she had instructed the largest witch coven in England to curse him. He had managed to counter it before he found out what exactly it was supposed to do to him, but the end result, according to his mother, was supposed to have been him crawling back to her for help and falling under her thumb again. She had sent a letter much like the one he was holding to tell him how disappointed she was that he had managed to avoid that fate.

That, along with a number of other difficulties she had caused throughout the years, was why he hadn’t spoken to her in at least a decade and had hoped to go a few decades more before having to even think about her again.

“What’d she write?” Chrome asked through a mouthful of food.

“Don’t talk with your mouth full,” Mercury immediately scolded. Chrome frowned but obediently shut his mouth.

My Review:
This is the third story in a series, and best enjoyed when read in series.

Dane, a demigod, and his husband Mercury, a precious dragon shifter, have been diligently assisting dragons in need for the past five years, while also raising their clutch of mis-matched and genetically-modified kits.

In this episode, Dane is startled to receive a letter from his mother, a very powerful witch in the UK, announcing she’ll make a visit to her grandkits. Tomorrow. Except, he’s used to his mother’s machinations and isn’t even surprised when she turns up incognito on the day her letter arrives. And her prejudice against dragons is immediately apparent–and quickly disarmed the more she interacts with the kits, who are extremely engaging.

Meanwhile, the supernatural beings that control the territories adjacent to Dane’s are banging at his wards, convinced that Dane has been surreptitiously making strikes into their areas. It’s a dicey situation, as they are prepared to fight and strip Dane of his power. Two of these beings aren’t strong enough to do it, but the third, whose inclined to believe he was summoned on false pretenses, is immensely powerful. He’s also intrigued by this dragon family, and the dragon village Dane and Mercury have cultivated in his territory. Turns out, someone was playing a long game, trying to wrest the kits from Dane and Mercury, and it’s up to the kits and grandma to save the day.

I think the pacing got a little slow in the middle, with the mundane interactions of the kits and their quirky family taking center-stage. I like the kits, and I did understand why their behavior became so important, eventually. There is a nice bit of conflict leading up to the climax, and Dane’s allies are growing in number and power, compared to his enemies, who continue to reveal themselves. One thing is for sure, Dane and Mercury are rock solid to their commitment to each other, their kits, and dragons in need.

Interested? You can find DRAGON DILEMMA on Goodreads, NineStar Press, and Amazon.

****GIVEAWAY****

Click on this Rafflecopter giveaway link for your chance to win a $10 NineStar Press GC.
Good luck and keep reading my friends!

About the Author:
When Mell Eight was in high school, she discovered dragons. Beautiful, wondrous creatures that took her on epic adventures both to faraway lands and on journeys of the heart. Mell wanted to create dragons of her own, so she put pen to paper. Mell Eight is now known for her own soaring dragons, as well as for other wonderful characters dancing across the pages of her books. While she mostly writes paranormal or fantasy stories, she has been seen exploring the real world once or twice.

You can catch up with Mell on her website, Facebook, and twitter.

Cover Reveal for TOO CLOSE TO THE FLAME

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a cover reveal for a M/M contemporary romance from life- and writing-partners Ryan Taylor and Joshua Harwood. TOO CLOSE TO THE FLAME is a legal eagles romance between a battered man and the loving new partner his finds. I really liked WHAT HE REALLY NEEDS, so I’m excited about this new release.

About the book:
Can he ever learn to trust again?
Brandon Weber’s old boyfriend almost beat him to death. Brandon survived, but still bears the emotional scars. Eighteen months later, he has withdrawn into himself, convinced he’ll never be able to trust another man.

Devin Macadam, fresh out of law school, has an exciting new job. He is also on the lookout for just the right guy, someone to take care of and love.

When Devin shows up for the first day of work at his new office, he meets Brandon, a legal assistant there. Sparks fly, but Brandon is paralyzed by fear and isn’t about to give another man the power to hurt him again. Devin, never one to give up easily, doesn’t want to take no for an answer. Both men feel the magic, but can their relationship ever get past the friend zone?

Too Close to the Flame is a dark-to-light, sweet romance featuring out and proud gay men, lots of feels, steamy love scenes, and a wonderful happy ending.

Trigger Warning: Too Close to the Flame contains specific memories of physical abuse.

Interested? You can find TOO CLOSE TO THE FLAME on Goodreads and pre-order on Amazon. The book will be available on July 31st.

About the Authors:
Ryan Taylor and Joshua Harwood met in law school and were married in 2017. They live in a suburb of Washington, DC, and enjoy travel, friends, dogs, and advocating for causes dear to their hearts. Josh and Ryan love writing, and the romance they were so lucky to find with each other inspires their stories about love between out and proud men.

You can catch up with Ryan and Joshua on their website, Goodreads, and twitter.

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!

Embracing Love in THE SCHOLAR’S HEART–Review and Giveaway!

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a new M/M fantasy romance from Antonia Aquilante. THE SCHOLAR’S HEART is the third story in her Chronicles of Tournai series. I really enjoyed THE PRINCE’S CONSORT, and THE ARTIST’S MASQUERADE, so I was eager to read Etan’s love story.

Scroll down for an excerpt, my review and to enter the $10 GC giveaway.
About the book:
Though he is the youngest son of a royal duke, Etan is a scholar at heart, happiest in a library surrounded by his books. He contentedly juggles his work for the prince’s government with his studies of the history and legends of Tournai, a subject of particular interest to him because he shares the secret magical Talent that runs in the royal bloodline. However, Etan’s peaceful world turns upside down when his best friend—the man he secretly loves—unexpectedly marries someone else.

Tristan is the oldest son of a wealthy merchant, raised to shoulder responsibility for the family business one day. That day comes far sooner than anticipated, and he makes a deathbed promise to his father to marry the woman his father chose and become head of the company and family. Tristan values his friendship with Etan and has always been attracted to him, but he can’t forsake his duty to his father, even if it means giving up the possibility of having Etan as a lover.

A year later, Tristan is a widower with an infant daughter and a mother who demands he marry again quickly—something Tristan resists. Circumstances throw Etan and Tristan together again, but even as they succumb to the desires they’ve always harbored, Etan battles his feelings, wary of being cast aside once more. When the unimaginable happens, Etan and Tristan must come together and support each other through the ordeal…and maybe beyond.

How about a yummy taste?

Prologue
One year earlier

“There you are!”

Tristan’s musical voice made the simple sentence something special, or perhaps Etan’s feelings made it seem so. Etan smiled as he looked up from his book, a glow of warmth and welcome lighting him up inside.

Tristan strode into the small room Etan had claimed for his own in the palace’s labyrinthine library. He had a desk in the university library as well, but these days, out of necessity and preference both, he conducted most of his work in this cozy little room. Obscure history books filled the shelves lining the walls. The table in the center of the room held Etan’s notes on his studies and projects, all neatly organized so he could find anything he wanted quickly. But this morning he slouched on the comfortable couch instead, book propped in his lap.

He sat there, book forgotten as he watched Tristan, the morning sun streaming in through the window and glinting off Tristan’s bright gold hair. Tristan seemed to bring the sunshine into the room with him, brightening what had been an ordinary morning until that moment.

“Good morning, Tristan.”

“Good morning to you.” Tristan sent a flirtatious smile in his direction and skirted the table, coming closer.

“It’s good to see you.” He probably sounded ridiculous, but he hadn’t seen Tristan in a few days and, well, he’d missed him.

Tristan’s smile warmed, turning a bit softer. “You too.”

Etan frowned as Tristan flopped on the couch at Etan’s side. Not at the action, but at the look in Tristan’s eyes. The brilliant blue seemed shadowed somehow. “Everything all right?”

“Fine. Why do you ask?”

“No reason. You just seem a little…” Etan shrugged. He couldn’t quite put a word to it, and he couldn’t very well say he didn’t think Tristan’s eyes sparkled as much as they usually did. “Troubled, maybe.”

Tristan was quiet for a moment and then scooted closer and rested his head on Etan’s shoulder. “I’m fine. A little tired. What are you up to?”

“Doing some reading.”

“For work or pleasure?”

Etan suppressed a shiver at the way Tristan’s voice shaped the word pleasure. Certainly, it had to be unconscious on Tristan’s part, but it put ideas into Etan’s head he didn’t want there, not yet, not when he and Tristan hadn’t spoken of feelings between them beyond friendship. But he could see those feelings were there. Perhaps he should just come right out and kiss Tristan. Tristan seemed to be over what feelings he’d had for Amory, Tristan’s lifelong friend who was now married to Etan’s cousin. Etan didn’t see any of the emotion or longing he used to in the glances Tristan sent Amory’s way. Maybe Etan had waited long enough.

He’d certainly paused long enough before answering. “A bit of both. Want me to read to you?”

He’d read to Tristan before, many times, sometimes with Tristan sitting as he was now, snuggled up against Etan’s side, sometimes with Tristan lying with his head in Etan’s lap. Tristan seemed to like when Etan read to him, seemed to enjoy the legends and histories Etan habitually occupied himself with, seemed to even enjoy when Etan forgot himself and ran his fingers through Tristan’s soft hair as he read. Etan hadn’t read to anyone before except for his youngest sister, Meriall, but reading to Tristan was a far different experience from reading bedtime stories. He liked it, liked having Tristan close and hearing Tristan’s comments and reactions.

“I’m not sure I can sit still today. I’m sorry.”

“It’s all right.” He’d realized early on in their friendship Tristan was an athletic person who enjoyed being active and outdoors. Etan came to treasure the moments of stillness and quiet, when he saw Tristan’s intellectual side and his softer side in equal measure, but he enjoyed sharing the other more active times with Tristan too. Tristan always made the rides through the countryside and the hikes along the cliffs and the rambles over the beach fun. “What would you like to do?”

“Will you go for a ride with me?”

He thought briefly of the work awaiting him in the office he shared with Cathal, of his plans to spend the morning with his books and his studies before he returned to that work. And tossed it all aside with one glance into Tristan’s eyes. As he always did. His books would still be there when he returned to them later.

And he wasn’t convinced Tristan really was all right.

“Of course. Shall we go now?”

When Tristan agreed, Etan set his book aside and tidied away a few papers. On the way to the stables, they stopped in Etan’s suite so he could change into riding boots, but they didn’t dally otherwise. Stable hands saddled their horses quickly, and they mounted up. They rode together out of the palace gates and through the city, an easy conversation flowing between them. Once they left the city, Etan let Tristan lead. When Tristan took the road leading out to the cliffs, Etan knew his suspicions about Tristan’s state of mind were correct. Tristan seemed to prefer a gallop along the cliffs when he felt he needed to escape something, some pressure in his life. He talked to Etan about it sometimes, at least a little, but only after the ride.

As Etan expected, Tristan veered off the road as they neared the cliffs. The path he chose wound through some trees until it ended in the meadows overlooking the sea. Once they were through the trees, the view opened up before them, with fields dotted with wildflowers and a rocky precipice tumbling down to the vivid blue of the sea. The area was one of Etan’s favorites. He’d rather walk along the cliffs or picnic at the top so he could better appreciate the view, but riding was exhilarating too. Well, any ride with Tristan was. Tristan was a skilled and fearless horseman, who ended each ride flushed and smiling. Etan always wanted to grab him close and kiss him when he saw Tristan that way, to see if he could make Tristan breathless for another reason entirely.

Maybe today he would.

He put the thought out of his head as best he could for the moment as Tristan urged his horse into a gallop and took off parallel to the cliff edge. Etan hurried to follow. If he thought about it too much, he risked falling off his horse, which would certainly end any chance of kissing Tristan today.

Instead he concentrated his thoughts outward to the sea- and flower-scented wind blowing in his face, to the sunlight warming his skin. The day was perfect for spring, a little cool early in the morning but pleasant as the sun climbed. The sky was clear, the sea calm. There would be fishermen out in their boats, working to bring in the day’s catch. But they weren’t close; no one was close enough to intrude on his solitude with Tristan.

He watched Tristan, slightly ahead of him. Tristan really did ride well, better than Etan did, but then Tristan had probably spent most of his childhood trying to get on a horse while Etan had spent his sneaking off to the library. Or using his Talent to change himself into a cat and climbing trees. But, most often, the library. And given where Tristan had found him this morning, not much had changed. But he did come out when Tristan asked. Unlike when he was a child and his brothers would come and pounce on him and drag him from the room.

If Tristan wanted to pounce on him, it would be another story entirely.

After a while, Tristan began to slow his horse, and Etan followed. Upon reaching the point, they paused to take in the view and then turned back for home, riding side by side at a much more leisurely pace. Etan expected Tristan to be more relaxed, even laughing, after the long gallop as he so often was, but if anything, he seemed more pensive.

Etan let Tristan have his silence, even though it pained him to do so. He wanted to help, to make whatever it was right again. Tristan had cheered him up often enough, and they’d bolstered each other’s strength through bad times. But Tristan had to speak in his own time, and he’d never actually ask for help even when he did.

Tristan didn’t speak until they were almost all the way back to Jumelle. “My father wants me to marry.”

Etan’s brain stuttered. He had to have heard wrong. He whipped around to look at Tristan, but Tristan was still staring straight ahead. “What? Did you say he wants you to marry?”

“He’s dying, Etan,” Tristan said in a small, quiet voice that made Etan hurt.

“Tristan. I’m so sorry.”

“Thank you.” Tristan glanced up at the sky for a moment, and Etan gave him his privacy to pull himself together, or what passed for privacy when they were riding side by side. “He wants me settled, since I’m to run the business when he’s gone. He wants the business settled too.”

Tristan’s family business was the largest shipping concern in Tournai, and as Tournai was a country rich in trade, owing in part to a quirk of geography, the business was a prosperous one. Etan could understand somewhat Tristan’s father wanting him to be settled down if he was to be both the head of the business and the head of the family. Old-fashioned, perhaps, but there was probably some real concern for Tristan in his father’s desire too.

Etan worked himself up to suggest perhaps the two of them could wed. Not right away, but they could make an agreement and use a betrothal period to see if they would suit. Etan believed they would, but he was already thinking of ways to convince Tristan and Tristan’s father, if necessary. Etan’s own father would be difficult, he was sure—as a duke, his father would want Etan to make a more advantageous marriage to a lady of noble birth—but he could deal with Father later.

But all those thoughts—all the hope that came with them—screeched to a halt when Tristan spoke. “I’m to marry a daughter of a friend of Father’s, Dariela. They think it will be good for the business.”

“You already know—you’re marrying a woman? That woman?”

Etan had no idea who she was—she might be a perfectly lovely person—but he couldn’t understand Tristan marrying her, or marrying any woman. Tristan preferred men, the same as Etan did. Etan had hoped Tristan might just plain prefer him.

“Father thinks it’s best. For the family and the business.”

“Yes, but—what about you? What do you think?”

Tristan shrugged. “I must live up to my responsibilities to the family and the business. I have to run everything as Father would want. He shouldn’t be dying so young.”

“I know he shouldn’t. It’s awful.” Etan scrubbed a hand over his face. “He’s been to see the healers? I’m sure Jadis would see him if I asked.”

“He has, and Amory already had Jadis examine him. This illness has gone on too long undetected and untreated. His heart is too weak now.”

“I am so very sorry, Tristan.” He wanted to pull Tristan into a hug, to hold him and try to bear some of the pain and grief for him, but they were on horses. And Tristan was about to marry someone else. “Are you sure about this marriage though?”

“I don’t see a reason not to marry her. Do you?”

The statement was a stab of pain to his gut. He had to bite back a gasp, it seemed so real, so physical. He managed to murmur something that might have been an agreement, because what else could he do? If Tristan didn’t see a reason not to marry this woman, Etan could hardly give him one.

By the time Etan arrived back at the palace, he felt as if a yawning, empty hole had opened inside him. His head was buzzing, and he couldn’t seem to think quite straight. His feet carried him to his office. But when he walked into the empty room, he just dropped down into his chair and stared at the polished top of his desk, clean of papers since he’d tidied up yesterday.

Tristan was getting married.

He and Tristan would never be anything other than friends, and Tristan obviously wanted it so, was fine with it. Perhaps Etan had been wrong about Tristan’s feelings all this time.

“Etan?”

Etan looked up, but it took him a moment to understand what he was seeing. He hadn’t even heard the door open. “Cathal.”

Panic, an emotion he seldom saw in his stoic older brother, flooded Cathal’s face. “What is it? What’s happened?”

“Tristan is marrying.” Pain spasmed through him as he said the words, but he had to say them, had to get used to hearing them. Tristan was marrying, and all chance Etan might have had with him was gone.

My Review:
This is the third book in a fantasy series, and likely best enjoyed when read in sequence, though it can be read as a standalone.

Etan is a cousin to Philip, the Crown Prince of Tournai, a small but well-situated country with a bustling trade port in its capital city of Jumelle. Etan lives in the palace with Philip his consort-husband Amory and Etan’s brother Cathal who is married to Flavian, an artist who escaped the emperor of Ardunn’s plots to enslave him for his Talent. Etan and Cathal are ministers (of a sort) in the governance of Tournai, indispensable to both Philip and Amory–with whom they are both family and close friends.

Two years ago Etan fell hard for Amory’s childhood friend Tristan, and he thought his love was reciprocated, though they had no physical demonstrations. Etan is a shy man, a noted scholar at the university in addition to his duties to the crown. He didn’t quite know how to approach Tristan with his desire for intimacy, especially because he was sensitive to Tristan’s heartbreak when Amory married the Prince. Over their acquaintance, Etan–who is usually best at home in his library–makes time to spend with Tristan socially. He was about to propose marriage when Tristan stuns Etan by deciding to marry a woman, and their friendship essentially disintegrates. A year has gone by and Tristan’s wife has just died in the process of childbirth. And duties to Tristan’s place as Amory’s oldest friend necessitate bringing Tristan and Etan back together.

Tristan never loved his wife. He preferred men, as his father knew, but Tristan felt pressured to marry a woman to create heirs for the shipping company he now runs. As the eldest of the family, Tristan runs the business since his father died shortly after his wedding. That was the reason to marry with haste, after all. He didn’t hate his wife, but they were more cordial acquaintances than lovers, and he’s mourning the loss of her in his baby daughter Bria’s life. Tristan is furious that his high-handed mother sent the Prince’s chief healer away during the birth because his healing Talent could have saved his wife–and he’s appalled that his mother has plans to take his infant to her own home to raise. No, he will not allow this, but his mother is sneaky. If she can’t raise the baby herself she’s going to pressure Tristan into another marriage to a woman who can raise the baby. It’s a problem.

Tristan is happy to welcome Etan back into his life, but he’s quick to notice that Etan is not the same close friend anymore. He’s reserved and their relations are strained. Tristan doesn’t understand, and he’s shocked when Etan sends his an evil eye one night when their paths cross, because Etan witnesses Tristan leaving teh gathering with intent to bed a man he picked up there. Etan has never gotten over the hurt he felt when Tristan married, but he’s never spoken about the depth of his feelings with anyone, let alone Tristan. Some hard truths have to come out if these men are going to salvage thier friendship, and plan for a future together.

As with the previous books, there is court intrigue and troubles both within and abroad. Tristan’s troubles are all domestic, and he’s pitted against his own mother for the right to live his adult life as he sees fit. He’s a doting father, and his love for Bria grows by the day. It is in contrast to the machinations of his mother that Tristan begins to see Etan in a new light. And, he’s eager to pursue a lasting liaison if Etan is willing. Etan, for his part, saw Tristan as his forever person, and he’s afraid to let himself love him again and get his heart obliterated. Still, he follows the counsel of Cathal, begining a physical relationship with Tristan if they can remain monogamous. He still keeps his emotions separate, for a time–even when Tristan is all in. And, when Etan finally decides to give his whole heart back to Tristan, it’s at the exact moment Tristan needs his unconditional love the most, because Bria is in danger this daddy is a hot mess.

I really liked the story, and how Etan and Tristan navigate their paths to reconnection. Their previous friendship was a solid foundation, but Tristan soon realized he was more selfish in that arrangement, never seeing or comprehending the lengths that Etan went to to allow their friendship to flourish. His awakening to these situations has come at a hard cost, but he strives every day to do it better, and be a better man. He regrets the compromises he made that shut Etan out of his life, but his love for Bria is a boon. The love story grew reliably and equally this second time around. Expect some real courting, lots of court business, and scholars getting a handle on new and exciting information. Tristan makes the big leap for love, and Etan is not long in following him.

Not sure where this series is going, but there are plenty of royal cousins who could get the happily Ever Afters in the service of Tournai.

Interested? You can find THE SCHOLAR’S HEART on Goodreads, NineStar Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo.

****GIVEAWAY****

Click on this Rafflecopter giveaway link for your chance to win a $10 NineStar Press gift card!
Good luck and keep reading my friends!

About the Author:
Antonia Aquilante has been making up stories for as long as she can remember, and at the age of twelve, decided she would be a writer when she grew up. After many years and a few career detours, she has returned to that original plan. Her stories have changed over the years, but one thing has remained consistent—they all end in happily ever after.

She has a fondness for travel (and a long list of places she wants to visit and revisit), taking photos, family history, fabulous shoes, baking treats (which she shares with friends and family), and of course, reading. She usually has at least two books started at once and never goes anywhere without her Kindle. Though she is a convert to e-books, she still loves paper books the best, and there are a couple thousand of them residing in her home with her.

Born and raised in New Jersey, Antonia is living there again after years in Washington, DC and North Carolina for school and work. She enjoys being back in the Garden State but admits to being tempted every so often to run away from home and live in Italy.

Catch up with Antonia on Facebook, and twitter.

Growing Up and Getting Past SWEET REVENGE–Review and Giveaway

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a new contemporary M/M romance from Tilly Keyes. SWEET REVENGE features a man returning to his hometown to spend time with his sister and niece and falling for the yummy local baker who happens to be dating a tormentor from his past.

Scroll down to catch an excerpt and enter to win a $10 GC.
About the book:
Riley’s not the scared, weak boy of years ago.

Strong, handsome, wealthy, and successful, he should be happy, but he’s not. He’s still tormented by the bullies of his school years, the cruelty he was subjected to. There’s only one way to silence those reverberating memories, and that’s revenge.

But while seeking it, he finds peace in the small village where he befriends Zac, the cake maker. Zac’s the first friend Riley’s had in decades, boyish and fun and, without a doubt, sweet. Feelings grow toward the cake maker, but his need for revenge still hovers in his mind.

When he discovers Zac secret, he wonders if revenge is really worth it with Zac in the crossfire.

How about a yummy taste?

Riley stared at the different bouquets of flowers, then groaned and rubbed his temple. Choosing flowers wasn’t supposed to be torturous. He reached for a bunch of yellow roses and stared at them long and hard. Roses were far too romantic, and it certainly wasn’t meant as a romantic gesture. He put them back and grabbed a bunch of white lilies while nodding. They looked nice, a bit droopy, a bit torn, but it was the thought that counted.

“Are you confessing your undying love or going to a funeral?”

Riley paused and turned to the woman beside him. The old lady clutched a woven bag to her chest and stared him down with her beady eyes. Her lips were framed by a mosaic of wrinkles, and she trembled slightly as she waited for a response.

“Neither…”

She hummed, stepping closer. Her hand closed around the lily stalks, and she pulled them from Riley’s hand. He wasn’t anticipating the strength and speed and was left clutching the air.

“Okay, then.”

“Lilies are what I expect to have at my grave,” she said, slotting them back in the flower stand.

Riley frowned. “That’s…that’s nice to know.”

“And roses are romantic, haven’t received roses in years. If it’s not meant as love, or condolence, what are you buying flowers for?”

“To say sorry, sorry for being a rubbish brother, and an even worse uncle.”

“Ah, well, there’s no tags on the flowers that say those exact words. Boy or girl?”

Riley looked down at himself, then back up at her. The woman rolled her eyes. “I didn’t mean you, did I?”

“No, of course not,” Riley said, scrunched his brow. “Girl, my niece. I’ve got a niece.”

“May I make a suggestion?”

“I’m sure you’re going to whether I say yes or no.”

The woman laughed, and her thin lips stretched in a smile. “Ditch the flower idea, alcohol is far better.”

“Alcohol?” Riley smirked.

“A bottle of whiskey, that was my favourite.”

Riley lifted his eyebrow. “Whiskey?”

She jabbed his bicep with her bony finger. “Don’t think I can’t drink you under the table.”

Riley rubbed his arm. “I 100 percent believe you could.”

“Good, now get to it.”

Her gaze followed him as he walked towards the cashier.

It was only a small village shop, and they kept all the alcohol behind the counter along with the medicines and cigarettes. Riley flicked his chin out at the man serving.

“What rose do you have?”

“We only have one, and it’s £3.99.”

Riley smiled tightly, nodding. “Guess that’ll do, then, can I have a box of those beers too?”

He didn’t particularly like Emily’s husband, but he couldn’t turn up without something for him too.

He paid and strolled out the shop, but a familiar croaking voice made him stop. He turned back to the woman and watched as she hobbled towards him.

Her thin lips tugged into a smile, and her pink cheeks looked fragile as it stretched. “Be a dear and help me cross the road.”

“Of course.”

Riley offered his arm for her to take and she latched on.

He led her across the road and once on the other side, released her arm. He looked down and noticed the flowers poking from her bag—white lilies. His mouth bobbed open as he thought of something to say, but she only waved him away.

“You’ve got something for your sister, but what about that niece of yours?”

Riley darted a look back to the shop, but a tapping sound had him turning back to the woman.

She knocked her frail knuckles against the window, and Riley looked inside the cake shop. He hadn’t been to the village for months, and the cake shop was definitely a new addition. The village shop barely stocked anything of use. There were boards covering the windows of the hair salon; the church looked haggard and crumbling. But the bakery gleamed, and the display he could see through the window was more at home in the posh areas of London.

Riley flashed a smile at the woman. “Thanks.”

She turned and waved over her shoulder.

Riley pushed inside the bakery, and immediately a sugary scent wrapped around him. He strolled up to the counter and admired the cake creations behind the Perspex shield. They were all identical and arranged in uniformed lines. Chocolate sponge, one that looked like lemon, and a pink one with a strawberry on top.

Riley looked up and craned his neck to see further into the bakery kitchen. There was no one inside, and he frowned, checking his watch. It was two o’clock, and he doubted the staff were still on break.

“Hello?”

Riley bunched his lips together and waited, but there was no reply. He turned, poised to go back to the shop, but the billboard caught his eye, and he moved towards it.

Adverts were nailed to the board, one asking for a tenant, one selling a wheelbarrow, and another an old sofa. They were scrawled in pen, and the pictures were black and white. Riley freed one of the pieces of paper and frowned. Not an advert, but a missing pet poster. Not a dog, or cat like he expected, but an African grey parrot.

“Who’s a pretty boy, then?”

Riley startled at the voice and pressed the poster to his chest. He flashed a look at the man behind the counter and laughed softly.

“You scared the hell outta me.”

The man blushed and bit his lip. “Yeah, I don’t know why I did that. I saw you with the poster, and it kinda popped into my head.”

“And out of your mouth.”

“Yeah.”

Riley repinned the poster and walked towards the counter. The man was younger, midtwenties at a guess. He swept his black hair back over his head and fixed his warm eyes to Riley’s. There was a flutter in Riley’s gut that unnerved him.

“So, they haven’t found the parrot?”

“Nope, that posters been up since I opened.”

“The bakery is yours?”

The man puffed up, not to shove his muscles in Riley’s face but to show him the apron smudged with chocolate. “Yeah, it’s mine.”

“This place is real nice.”

“Thank you, it doesn’t bring me much money, but I enjoy it.”

Riley frowned. “Not everything’s about money. Happiness is more important.”

The man smiled warmly, then stuck out his hand for Riley to take. “I’m Zac.”

“Riley.”

He frowned and looked down at their shaking hands when he felt stickiness. Zac glanced down, then up at Riley again.

“Well, that’s embarrassing.”

“Don’t worry about it.”

“Sorry for the wait, I was in the back, and I’m not strictly open right now.”

Riley darted a look back to the door and widened his eyes when he realised the shop was in fact closed.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t realise.”

Zac waved the comment away. “If I open all day, I’ll get overrun. I’ve got the breakfast pastries in the morning and the cakes and muffins in the afternoon.”

“You do this all by yourself?” Riley scanned all the cakes with wide eyes. There were so many it was hard to imagine one guy could do it all.

Zac ruffled his black hair with a tinge of embarrassment in his cheeks. “Yeah, I buy some stuff in and make the rest. My kitchen porter comes in at four and cleans everything up. He’s Dave—he’s a nice guy, but his taste in music is awful.”

“What does he listen to?”

“Very loud rock where you have no idea what the singer’s screaming about.”

“Ah,” Riley said, looking away.

Zac rocked back on his heels. “By that ‘Ah’ I’m guessing you’re a fan.”

“Maybe, maybe not.”

“So, Mr. Terrible-taste-in-music, what brings you here?”

“My sister, she lived in the village. I’ve been a bit of a crap brother recently, wanted to surprise her.”

Zac drew his eyebrows together. “What’s her name?”

“Emily Mathews.” Riley sighed.

It was a small village, but still with a population of a thousand or so—there was no way this man could know who she was.

“Ah. With little Maisy, right?”

Riley was rarely stunned, but it took an extended blink and a squeeze to the bridge of his nose before he could speak.

“Yeah, that’s right.”

“So, you’ve been a rubbish brother, then, and you want to make amends.”

“Something like that.”

My Review:
Riley is a grown man returning to his hometown in the UK (somewhere) to reconnect with his sister Emily and school-aged niece Maisy. He’d sold his business interests and took 6 months traveling to “find himself” and didn’t bother to check in so he’s in Emily’s bad books. Riley meets Zac, the new and talented local baker, while he’s buying a sweet treat for his surprise apology visit. Riley hates returning to his hometown because he was beaten and bullied from a young age, and he still suffers panic attacks thinking about his chief tormentor, a boy named Aaron. As the days pass, Zac and Riley hit it off, and Riley begins to feel a little more settled having a friend in town. Riley even takes the apartment above Zac’s rented shop, deciding to stay indefinitely to help Emily care for Maisy since her now ex-husband abandoned them.

Each day, Riley and Zac converse and share a coffee while Zac readies the shop. It’s a great friendship with subtle hints of maybe more until Zac confesses he has a wealthy boyfriend…named Aaron. Despite his misgivings, Riley continues to befriend Zac, and the confirmation that his tormentor is dating the man he’s crushing on still doesn’t derail this burgeoning friendship. At least, not until Aaron meets Riley, and then it’s old habits all over again.

This is an okay read. For myself I had struggles because I’m a detail-oriented person and I felt a distinct lack of the kind of details I usually enjoy. I like to know about the setting, and the ages of people, and roughly how they made their living. This story was all very generic about those sorts of things, which frustrated me, but may not be a big deal to another reader. I also wasn’t sure if there was a language issue, but it seemed like there were missing words in places, leaving me scrambling to intuit the context, at times. Not sure if this was because I had an advance copy, and those issues were cleaned up in the final edit–but it also bothered me. I grew tired of overlong patches of dialogue, too, where it carried too much of the plot. People do not converse in paragraphs…

Truly, however, the biggest issue I had was the “revenge” arc that was completely non-existent. Supposedly, Riley is going to take revenge on his biggest bully, the man whose very voice or presence STILL gives him panic attacks. Not once did he make any such plan. His whole plan was to AVOID Aaron at all costs. Only in the VERY end when Aaron was making physical threats did Riley make the jump–to protect someone other than himself. I really felt like Riley got a “sweet reward” by falling hard for Zac and having his love returned, versus getting revenge. It’s an otherwise breezy romance.

Interested? You can find SWEET REVENGE on Goodreads, NineStar Press, and Amazon.

****GIVEAWAY****

Click on this Rafflecopter giveaway link for your chance to win a $25 Amazon GC.
Good luck and keep reading my friends!

About the Author:
Tilly lives in a small village in the UK, surrounded by fields, and meadows.

By day, she’s looks after her two lively boys, but by night…she’s usually asleep, too exhausted to write, but sometimes she gets lucky, sometimes she settles down with a nice cup of tea and sinks into a story.

She hopes you enjoy them.

You can catch up to Tilly via email: tillykeyesauthor (at) outlook (dot) com

Adulting Pressures OUT ON THE SERVE–Review and Giveaway

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a new New Adult M/M romance from Lane Hayes. OUT ON THE SERVE is the seventh book in her Out in College series, and features a newly pro volleyball player falling hard for his new roommate. Catch my reviews for OUT IN THE DEEP END, OUT IN THE END ZONE, OUT IN THE OFFENSE, OUT ON THE ICE and OUT IN SPRING for more on this sweet and sexy series.

Scroll down to catch an excerpt and enter to win a $25 Amazon gift card.
About the book:
Roommates to friends to lovers…
Elliot:
I need a roommate fast. Even a temporary one. Beggars can’t be choosers. Going pro after graduation has been intense, and time is precious. Thankfully, Braden seems cool. He’s a little quirky…and very sexy. Of course, I would never get involved with a roommate. That’s a bad idea. Isn’t it?

Braden:
Moving to Long Beach seems like a no brainer. It’ll be a perfect chance to wind down before grad school and a nice respite from my folks. Plus, my new roommate is a great guy. A little messy, but sweet. Gotta admit, I like him more than I should. And we’re off to a strange start when a mutual friend hooks me up with his ex. Elliot’s the one I want, but going from friends to lovers is a risk. We could end up out on the serve…or we could win it all.

Out on the Serve is a low-angst MM, bisexual romance starring two roommates, one neat, one messy, beach volleyball, a lot of sand, and a little summer fun. This story is part of the Out in College series but can be read as a stand-alone.

How about a yummy taste?

Ten minutes later, I tied a towel around my waist and opened the bathroom door to release some steam just as Braden opened his bedroom door.
It might have been my imagination or wishful thinking, but I could have sworn he eye-fucked me before he met my gaze.
“Mornin’,” I said in a raspy voice.
“Good morning.”
“How’d you sleep?”
“Pretty good. Are you going to the beach today?” he asked awkwardly.
“Yeah. I’m leaving soon.”
“Hmm. I heard the swell is huge,” he said in a fast, clipped tone.
I crossed my arms and leaned against the doorjamb. “Yeah, I heard that too. There’s some big storm off the coast of Mexico.”
“Right.”
“Want to come with me?”
“To Mexico?”
I barked a laugh. “No, dork. To the beach.”
Braden chuckled. “Believe it or not, I’m going to the theater. Sophie talked me into trying out the assistant gig. Hopefully, it’ll keep me out of trouble.”
And there was the opening I needed. I wasn’t sure how to word it, though. The hint of unease between us told me that I should proceed with caution. We had to be on the same page and willing to try something new and—fuck. My window of opportunity was closing. Braden’s cheeks reddened as he mumbled a good-bye.
I grabbed his wrist before he closed his door, ignoring the spark and sizzle that zipped along my spine. “Hang on…thank you.”
“For what?”
“The cereal.”
“Oh.” He let out a half laugh and yes…his face went a shade pinker. Fuck, that was both cute and hot at the same time. “It was silly.”
“I love silly. I’m a huge fan of all things ridiculous. Ask anyone.”
“I believe you.”
“Good. So…let’s agree that this doesn’t have to be weird. We’re grown adults. Well, you are anyway. We can call it a celebratory kiss if you want and move on. What d’ya say?”
“Yes, okay. I’m—I’m sorry about”—he circled his wrist meaningfully—“everything. I overreacted.”
“You mean the part when you yelled at me for getting sand on the floor? I forgive you.”
“No, I was serious about that part.”
“I know. But don’t worry about the other thing. Boners happen.”
Braden sputtered. “I did not have a boner.”
“Liar. We both did. Might have been your mom’s fudge,” I teased.
“You think my mother’s homemade fudge gave you a hard-on,” he repeated incredulously.
“Dude, chocolate totally gives me wood. Or maybe she added a chemical substance that made us too relaxed.”
“Like what?”
“I don’t know…weed?”
Braden snickered. “Unlikely. My mom is very proper. I don’t think she even knows what weed looks like.”
“Hmm. You seem kind of proper too. Do you take after her?”
“Maybe, but I know what weed looks like,” he assured me. “My roommate in the dorms my freshman year was very fond of the stuff. We didn’t get along at all. He was a total—”
“Slob?” I supplied, quirking my brows.
“Yeah.” He shrugged carelessly. “I was probably overbearing, but in my defense, I come from a super rigid household. I’m an only child, and I was sick a lot when I was little. I had colic and sensitivity issues. I’d break out in rashes if I was in the sun for five minutes or if I ate citrus. My asthma was off the charts. I had a nebulizer at home, and I carried inhalers everywhere I went.”
“That’s a lot of information,” I said with a laugh.
He winced, then sucked in a deep breath. “Sorry. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. My geek is showing.”
“Ha. Nothing wrong with that. You like me, eh?”
Braden chuckled. Like I’d hoped he would. “What makes you think that?”
“You kissed me. Twice. We might as well get married and pick out His and His towels. Thoughts?”
“Great idea. Just don’t tell my mom. She’d have a heart attack. She was already worried I’d moved in with you because you were my…”
“Boyfriend,” I supplied.
“Yeah, except she has a hard time saying that word, so it comes out in a strained whisper like…boyfriend.” Braden modulated his voice to sound like a scared woman. He grinned when I busted up laughing, and I could have sworn a ray of sunshine burst through the wall of our apartment.

My Review:
Elliot has just graduated from Long Beach State and begun his career as a pro volleyball player. He’s bisexual, and open about it with his accepting friends and family, having just gotten over a breakup with Drew. Before that he dated Anna for a few years. They’re still friends, but Elliot is working on adulting. That’s why his current roommate, Sophie, is moving out. Sophie is an actress and has had a long-standing and unrequited crush on Elliot for years now. When he made it clear that they would only be friends, she decided to move out ASAP cajoling a friend, Braden, to take her sublease. We have met Elliot and Sophie before. Elliot was living with Colby Fischer (OUT ON THE ICE) before Sophie moved in and Sophie is a dear friend to Phoenix (OUT IN THE FIELD). Elliot is immediately attracted to Braden, who is a volleyball player he knew graduating from nearby Chilton College.

Braden is beginning grad school at UCLA in the fall, and is looking to live anywhere but home with his religious s-mother. He has one year of NCAA eligibility left, and he’s set to join UCLA’s team, but this summer he’s all about Shakespeare. He’s a finance guy with a love for theater, how he met and befriended Sophie. They have both auditioned for a summer Shakespeare play, and Braden’s using this experience to convince his mom he can be out on his own, instead of returning to their home for the summer. Plus, Braden is totally attracted to his new roomie, Elliot, even though Elliot is a total slob, and pretty hopeless in the housekeeping/adulting skills zone. When the play kind of falls through, Braden find himself spending more time with Elliot–who’s receptive to his needs for cleanliness and order–playing volleyball and hanging out.

And, that’s when the sexytimes begin.

This is a low-angst New Adult sports romance with a fair amount of sexytimes and a sweet connection story. Elliot’s pro partner is a smarmy wheeler-dealer, and he gets Sophie involved in crafting their social media–with off-court twists, like setting him up with Anna, Elliot’s ex. And, maybe, setting Elliot back up with…Drew? He really ants to play up the Rainbow angle, while Elliot just wants to play hard. There’s a lot of awkward going on, especially when Braden’s mom won’t get that he’s bisexual–no matter how many times he’s stated it as fact.

Both Braden and Elliot think the connection between them will end when the summer does, and Braden moves on, but what if it didn’t have to be that way? What if they decided to stay together as long as they like? It’s a no-brainer situation, since it requires so little alterations to their original plans. I liked how these guys took charge of their situations and had the conversations necessary to bring happiness into their lives on the regular. Sweet and sexy!

Interested? You can find OUT ON THE SERVE on Goodreads and Amazon.

****GIVEAWAY****

Click on this Rafflecopter giveaway link for your chance to win a $25 Amazon GC.
Good luck and keep reading my friends!

About the Author:
Lane Hayes is grateful to finally be doing what she loves best. Writing full-time! It’s no secret Lane loves a good romance novel. An avid reader from an early age, she has always been drawn to well-told love story with beautifully written characters. These days she prefers the leading roles to both be men. Lane discovered the M/M genre a few years ago and was instantly hooked. Her debut novel was a 2013 Rainbow Award finalist and subsequent books have received Honorable Mentions, and won First Prize in the 2016 and 2017 Rainbow Awards. She loves red wine, chocolate and travel (in no particular order). Lane lives in Southern California with her amazing husband in a newly empty nest.

You can reach out to Lane on her website, Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Amazon.

Now Available! DRIFTER by Eden Winters–Excerpt and Giveaway!

Hi there! Today I’m spreading the word for a new M/M contemporary romance from Eden Winters. DRIFTER features a rocker in hiding helping out a castaway musician.

Scroll down for an excerpt and enter the giveaway for a free copy of the book.
About the book:
Some legends never die…
Killian Desmond met his end in the fiery crash that killed his band, or so the newspapers say. Now a nameless drifter, he plays one pick-up gig after another in a haze of pain and regret, moving on the minute someone says, “You sound like that guy from Trickster.”

Getting outed cost Mike Rose his musical family. A bassist without a band, he’ll play any kind of music to earn a paycheck, but Trickster’s music provides light during the darkest moments of his life.

A chance meeting brings together two lost souls who spark enough heat to set their guitars on fire. Their chemistry, both onstage and off, feels like something written in the words of a song and gives them courage to face life again.

But to seize their future, they have to confront their past.

Every damned, ugly inch of it.

How about a little taste?

The throbbing beat blended with screams from the crowd; a crowd hidden by bright lights. Sweat and cologne and beer filled Killian Desmond’s nose. Familiar sounds. Familiar scents.

Home.

Did he love this life or hate it? Who cared, he’d never known another. Back to back with his brother Elliot, he shredded his electric acoustic guitar, improvising for the fans. The strings bent to his callused fingertips, note after note falling from his guitar.

Elliot kept up. Elliot always kept up. Others might get lost in Killy’s musical fantasies, but El gauged Killy’s intentions by the way he moved, held his shoulders, or gestures, like pausing to flip his sweat-dampened hair out of his eyes.

The drummer and keyboardist faded away, letting El set the tone with a deep bass beat.

Killy strutted to the front of the stage. Hot lights illuminated him from behind, shining on sweat-soaked skin. “What you wanna hear?” He didn’t need the words to know they’d be sticking to their prearranged lineup. At their manager’s urging, he’d saved the best for last.

Highway!” roared through the arena.

He grinned and cupped a hand to one ear. “What’s that? I can’t hear you.”

Highway!” roughly six thousand voices cried out in unison, louder this time.

“Aw, c’mon, now,” Killy teased. “We’ll play whatever you want, but you gotta tell us.”

The thunderous chant of “Highway! Highway! Highway!” threatened to blow the roof off the building.

Strolling over a few paces and throwing an arm around his brother, Killy said, “Well, I reckon we better do as they say.”

“Since when have you ever taken orders?” Elliot shot back.

Faster than most could follow, Killy slung his guitar back into place and launched into their best-known riff.

The screaming nearly deafened him. He tried again. On his sixth attempt the crowd settled enough to begin.

He grinned. Adoration and energy flowed from the crowd, straight into his veins, to gather strength and escape through his fingers and his voice.

His deep growl purred through the arena, pouring out the melody he’d written in a single night in a hotel room God knew where. High on life, cheap vodka, and the rush of their first big show, he’d settled onto the bed in the dark, except for the flickering image of a black and white movie on the TV, sound turned down, and began strumming.

The words flowed out of him unbidden, leaving him raw, shaken, and in possession of a number one hit.

He didn’t sing or play Highway—the melody made him its bitch, possessing him, demanding release into the world.

Who was he to refuse?

“Some were born to sand and wind, on the sea they make their home

Some may live a hermit’s life, on a mountain all alone

Or in a glass and metal cage, high up in the sky

Packed in tight with a thousand souls, all trying to get by

Nine to five may work for some, but that don’t work for me

Saddled to day in day out, no, I need to be free

Living a life all on my own, free of family, lover or friend

On the highway I was born, it’s there I’ll meet my end.”

Alone, just him and the highway, until the chorus.

“On the highway I was born, it’s there I’ll meet my end.”

Elliot’s sweet tenor wrapped around Killy’s pack-a-day growl, blending together seamlessly.

The audience joined in, chanting, “Highway! Highway! Live and die on the highway!”

Rob kept pace on the drums, a musician not really worthy of the band they’d become, and Ace, a friend and one hell of a musician, wound his way through the twists and turns on his keyboards.

“The only home I’ll ever know stretches from sea to sea

No start, no end, no in between, just miles of road and me

Living a life all on my own free of family, lover or friend

On the highway I was born, it’s there I’ll meet my end

Highway! Highway! Live and die on the highway!

Highway! Highway! Live and die on the highway!

Highway! Highway! Live and die on the highway!”

The mass of humanity might have started chanting again for all Killy knew. His world boiled down to this moment, the music, his brother, his friend, and the life laid out for him long ago, the first time his mother brought him and Elliot onstage.

They’d stayed. She’d gone.

Here they still stood, though she didn’t.

Never would again.

Nope, no bad thoughts. Just the music.

Note after note poured from him like rain, blocking thought and feeling.

He crashed to his knees, striking a chord and letting his guitar speak for him. Caught in the spotlight, he leaned back in a signature move his manager made him practice, making his shirt ride up to show some skin, while his hair fell back, glittering like gold in a strategically placed spotlight.

The blue streak, his own addition, voiced his defiance at being a commodity.

He should’ve been exhausted after the show they’d put on, but in that moment, he swore he could go all night.

He jumped to his feet, racing across the stage and running through part of the guitar solo for those seated to the left of the stage, then reversed course to the right, repeating the solo.

Arms reached for him, a thousand voices calling his name.

Rejoining Elliot centerstage, he launched into the chorus and let the others join him.

After extending the song by two more choruses, he finally wound down.

An announcer stepped up on stage, to catcalls, whistles and ear-splitting shouts. “Let’s hear it for Trickster!”

Interested? You can find DRIFTER on Goodreads and Amazon.

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About the Author:
You will know Eden Winters by her distinctive white plumage and exuberant cry of “Hey, y’all!” in a Southern US drawl so thick it renders even the simplest of words unrecognizable. Watch out, she hugs!

Driven by insatiable curiosity, she possibly holds the world’s record for curriculum changes to the point that she’s never quite earned a degree but is a force to be reckoned with at Trivial Pursuit.

She’s trudged down hallways with police detectives, learned to disarm knife-wielding bad guys, and witnessed the correct way to blow doors off buildings. Her e-mail contains various snippets of forensic wisdom, such as “What would a dead body left in a Mexican drug tunnel look like after six months?” In the process of her adventures she has written twenty gay romance novels, has won Rainbow Awards, was a Lambda Awards Finalist, and lives in terror of authorities showing up at her door to question her Internet searches.

When not putting characters in dangerous situations she’s a mild-mannered business executive, mother, grandmother, vegetarian, and PFLAG activist. Her natural habitats are airports, coffee shops, and on the backs of motorcycles.

Catch up with Eden online on her website, Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads or Bookbub.