INDIGO RELEASE BLITZ: In Search of Angels by Ashley Wade

Title: In Search of Angels

Series: Nephilim, Book One

Author: Ashley Wade

Publisher:NineStar Press

Release Date: 07/19/2021

Heat Level: 2 – Fade to Black Sex

Pairing: Female/Female

Length: 45700

Genre: Paranormal, LGBTQIA+, nephilim, angels, fallen angels, foster care, powers, urban fantasy, adventure, friends to lovers, immortality, psy-powers, mythical creatures, soulmates, psychic ability, road trip, chosen family, fostering a child

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Description

It was just supposed to be a standard surveillance job for Lea, but as she falls deeper for her subject, she discovers secrets and darkness surrounding her job. In a world filled with angels, nephilim, and magic, can she keep the ones she cares for safe while running from something darker than any of them can imagine?

Excerpt

Agent Aaliyah “Lea” Shield sat on the dog-park bench. She watched the woman lean forward, gather her shoulder-length cocoa-colored hair to the side, and take a long sip from the bubbling water fountain spout. How cool and refreshing the water must be on a day like today—the radio announcer had said the temperature would be in the high ’90s. Even more refreshing: the woman herself, Sophie.
Lea found it challenging to maintain a single train of thought. As an agent, she was all business all the time, but now her thoughts danced between how cool the water must taste and how beautiful Sophie’s lips were: a conflict, to say the least. As her objective stood, Lea hastily regrouped, focusing on her task again.

Sophie studied the area around them, cornflower-blue eyes piercing the distance between them, causing Lea to shudder. Her eyes were uncommonly soft and caring, the depths of which were deeper than the deepest lagoon. Lea couldn’t look away despite knowing the direct eye contact could possibly blow her cover. The shared gaze captured her soul—and her fear was that it would not let go.

Lea grew uncomfortable the longer she held Sophie’s gaze. Although quite skilled at undercover work, she was a bit out of her element at the dog park. Everyone around her was outfitted in running or exercise gear, as was Lea unfortunately, but she felt seriously out of sorts and regretted not just wearing her three-quarter-sleeve indigo tunic and slacks like she’d wanted to. Her line of work normally called for more than a pair of shorts or yoga pants and tank top, a more buttoned-up kind of look, but from time to time, it also required her to be inconspicuous. And despite her great discomfort, she was on the job despite how much she wished she weren’t in such tight and revealing attire, definitely not her style.

Lea focused on Sophie as she ran her hand through the fountain and then swiped it across the nape of her neck. Lea sighed, captivated as the woman reached down to pet her large beast of a dog’s head, the tank she wore sliding up her torso and exposing her tawny-colored midsection. Lea quietly cleared her throat as Sophie stood, stuck her free hand in the front pocket of her denim shorts, and led her dog down the path in Lea’s direction.

Lea hastily transitioned back into her cover as an everyday dog-park visitor, reaching down to interact with the mutt at her feet while keeping watch. Hopefully, it wasn’t obvious she’d been watching Sophie instead of the curious panting terrier Lea had borrowed from her best friend, Eileen.

Sophie meandered farther down the trail, closing the gap between them. Lea’s heart leaped and fluttered as she fought to maintain focus and clarity. Since the first time she’d seen Sophie, Lea had attempted to read her and been unable. Finally though, she connected with the woman’s mind. The mismatch of images that assaulted her were confusing and slightly overwhelming as she tried to discern and navigate through them. And then they stopped abruptly as though she’d been kicked offline and changed to something like a blank screen, the blue screen of death, if you will, on a laptop in need of technical support.

The first time she’d seen her, Lea had no idea they would become such a huge part of each other’s worlds. But now, she knew how deeply intertwined their worlds would become—and there was no turning back.
*
Sophie strolled by without even a glance in Lea’s direction, leaving her shaken and trying to understand why she could connect with the woman this time unlike all the other times before. Lea tried to shake the feeling off as made her way back to the car to give her report for the week. After dropping the borrowed dog at her bestie’s house, she headed into the office.

The headquarters of the Angelic Order of Nephilim, AON for short, was tucked into a quiet business park on the up-and-coming northwest side of San Antonio. The office they occupied had been there nearly twenty years. The building with the connecting garage stood seven-stories tall. The top five floors were AON offices, while various businesses and an attorney’s office filled the bottom two levels.
Unbeknownst to most in the building, security was crucial to AON. Anything above the fourth floor was only accessible by a passcode obtained from security via a camera and speaker.

Lea wiped her brow as she stepped into the stuffy elevator. The citrus smell of a freshly cleaned space greeted her. She pressed the button to take her to the sixth floor, glanced up at the camera, placed her right index finger on the barely noticeable print reader, and positioned her head for the iris scan. Once verification was complete, a disembodied voice from the speaker relayed the passcode that would allow her access to the higher floors.

Using an app on her iPhone, Lea entered the passcode and then leaned against the cool mirrored wall of the elevator, trying not to notice her disheveled appearance, complete with sweaty mousy-brown locks, in her reflection. Next time she had an assignment in the field, she would make sure she changed into something a little more appropriate before coming by the office. It was important to her to always appear professional to her coworkers even if she had just finished a sweaty stake out. Lea hummed along to an instrumental version of a song she recognized playing overhead.

The elevator door opened to a flurry of activity. Lea shuffled past several others in suits and work attire as she moved through the carpeted maze of cubicles to the secure area that housed her desk, all the while extremely self-conscious about her outfit. They’re all wondering what the heck happened to me. She shouldn’t care, but she did.

After an additional iris scan, she gained entrance to her division’s area of the sixth floor and made her way to her cubicle. Unlike most desks she passed, hers was absent of decor, only her books and manuals present on the desktop. No family photos or cute odds and ends decorated her cubicle. Aside from the fact that Lea wasn’t close to her family, she wasn’t at her desk enough to enjoy décor of any kind even if she’d wanted to.

Realizing she hadn’t grabbed a cup of tea on the way in, she padded toward the breakroom, mug in hand. Lea glanced down to avoid making eye contact with anyone on her way. She didn’t care for frivolous conversations about life outside of work—a life she didn’t really have, if she were honest. She’d sooner extract her own tooth than partake in a conversation about the latest episode of The Bachelor or the latest going-ons of the Kardashian clan. Instead, she kept to herself, speaking when spoken to unless it was work related.

Once settled back at her desk, Lea slipped off her running shoes and grabbed a thick folder from a drawer. Lea was eager to review the file on her mystery woman. Although she’d practically memorized every detail in it, she was afraid she’d missed something. Why was this woman of such interest to the Order? It was unusual for her to question the assignments she was given. But after being in the woman’s mind, there was no way she could just take orders without knowing more.

Ever since Lea had learned about AON, she’d made it her goal to work for them after she’d finished college. Shortly after turning twenty-one, she’d been accepted into AON. The past five years had been a lot of work, but she’d progressed through the ranks and become a full-fledged field agent just six months before. After she’d received her first permanent assignment at the South-Central Texas district office located in San Antonio, Lea had packed her car, her Persian cat Angel, and hit the road. She hadn’t looked back on her small East Texas hometown or her disapproving family since.

Her responsibilities, thus far, had mainly been field work: the tracking and apprehending of both unregistered and fallen nephilim and angels. Like angels, nephilim were special creatures. According to the laws set forth by the Council, the governing body established in the beginning to keep the species in check, all nephilim—and angels for that matter—were to keep the secret of what they were from most humans. Those who opted to couple with humans had to be registered and have their relationship vetted by the Order to ensure those humans would adhere to the same regulations nephilim did. It was controlling in a day and age where you were free to love who you wanted, but there were solid reasons for the laws.

Over the millennia, humans had become a great threat to the nephilim. After discovering the nephilim possessed abilities like no other, many sought to harness such powers for their own use. Humans—and other factions such as demons or fallen angels—experimented on the nephilim, attempting to harness their powers for evil purposes. Some believed that the nephilim, half angel and half human, held the key to everlasting life, and they were determined to utilize this key for themselves.

As Lea sipped her tea, she perused the open file in front of her. What is so important about this case…this woman? On the surface, Sophie—known to the Order as Sophiel—was an average, law-abiding twenty-three-year-old, and a recent child-psychology graduate with aspirations of leaving her mark on an ever-changing world. She’d just started a job with the Angels Rescue Center, an organization under the jurisdiction and ultimate control of the Order and Council, specializing in placing children of the winged variety in safe, secure homes for possible adoption. The minors placed had either been removed from or never had a proper nephilim or angel household who could properly deal with the gifts they possessed.

Lea set the file aside and made the decision to do some additional digging via the internal network on the organization itself, also known as ARC. According to the Order’s records, ARC was founded by Zacharael and Dazielle St. James. The couple established the agency twenty years ago after a tremendous need arose for homes that could accommodate children born from the unique union of nephilim or angels with humans, or even with each other. As time progressed, it became apparent even a “blessed”—as approved unions were thought of—joining did not always ensure a proper home for a child with special abilities.

Nephilim were each born with special gifts and abilities, and as Lea scrolled through page after page of electronic records, she contemplated how gifted some of the children the agency came into contact with really were. She knew from spending each summer growing up at a camp for young nephilim how extraordinary a nephilim’s range of abilities were. And the nephilim handled by ARC seemed just as gifted if not moreso.

“Agent Shield,” a deep voice said from behind her.

“Yes?” Lea spun her chair toward the voice.

The large-built, maple-wood-skinned agent stood at the entrance to her cubicle. If she recalled correctly, his name was Simiel. But she didn’t know him, or really anyone she worked with, that well.
She did notice though, the man wore enough cologne to give Lea a migraine, and she tried not to inhale.

“Sorry to startle you, ma’am. You’re wanted in Supervisor Marco’s office when you have a chance.”

Simiel swiveled on his heels and marched off, reminding Lea of a robotic soldier.

Lea nodded to herself, pulled her sneakers on, and stood. She’d give her end-of-the-week briefing, and then it’d be time to call it a day. She grabbed her backpack and strolled to her boss’s office. She had plans to head to the lake with some friends for the weekend. A handful of her childhood friends—also nephilim and angels—had organized a last-minute lake-house trip to break the monotony of city life. She wasn’t sure how she’d handle the time free from watching every move Sophie made, but she needed the break. And despite her angst about missing out on Sophie’s weekend, she knew she needed the time to herself.

Purchase at NineStar Press

Meet the Author

Ashley Wade, affectionately known as Ash, is a native Texan who has five dogs and three cats. She’s been writing since she can remember, and her mother kept every single piece she ever wrote—even the ones you can hardly read. This is her first book release, and she’s excited to share her world of nephilim with readers. When not reading, writing, going to school, or just relaxing, Ashley is a full-time editor. The written word inspires her on a daily basis.

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INDIGO RELEASE BLITZ: Foxfire In The Snow by J.S. Fields

Title: Foxfire in the Snow

Series: The Alchemical Duology, Book One

Author: J.S. Fields

Publisher:NineStar Press

Release Date: 07/19/2021

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: F/NB

Length: 88800

Genre: Fantasy, LGBTQIA+, fantasy, dark fantasy, nonbinary, lesfic, science magic, magic users, witches, sword and sorcery, long-time friendship, family drama

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Description

Woodcutter or witch? Alchemist or scientist? Can Sorin’s duality save their nation?

Born the heir of a master woodcutter in a queendom defined by guilds and matrilineal inheritance, nonbinary Sorin can’t quite seem to find their place. At seventeen, an opportunity to attend an alchemical guild fair and secure an apprenticeship with the queen’s alchemist is just within reach. But on the day of the fair, Sorin’s mother goes missing, along with the Queen and hundreds of guild masters, forcing Sorin into a woodcutting inheritance they never wanted.

With guild legacy at stake, Sorin puts apprentice dreams on hold to embark on a journey with the royal daughter to find their mothers and stop the hemorrhaging of guild masters. Princess Magda, an estranged childhood friend, tests Sorin’s patience—and boundaries. But it’s not just a princess that stands between Sorin and their goals. To save the country of Sorpsi, Sorin must define their place between magic and alchemy or risk losing Sorpsi to rising industrialization and a dark magic that will destroy Sorin’s chance to choose their own future.

Excerpt

Foxfire in the Snow
J.S. Fields © 2021
All Rights Reserved

One: Fire
Steam twirled from the bones in my cauldron. The heavy smell of their marrow sagged in the air. Gods, I hated the smell of the solvent, but it would be worth it once the bone oil evaporated, taking that horrible dead fish smell with it and leaving behind the final, extracted compound. I’d never get the smell out of the woodwork, but at this point, I didn’t care. Mother was weeks late returning home. Again. She could yell at me when I returned. If I returned.

I coughed into the steam as it curled through my lungs. I needed fresh air, and soon, or I’d end up facedown on the hemlock floor I’d hewn and laid myself in my thirteenth year. A knot curled inside me, and I swallowed bile and frustration. Fine. I’d be done with distillation for the day, but I still needed to perform a fungal extraction with the solvent to impress Master Rahad at the fair tomorrow. I’d been aiming to attend the alchemical guild fair since I turned twelve—the year I should have declared a guild and begun my apprenticeship. I’d never made it. Each year, Mother found another marquetry to work, another finish to make, another tool to sharpen. This year, I was seventeen. I’d barely left this forest, this house, in five years. This year, the queen’s master alchemist had a position open and wanted someone with fungal expertise.

Someone like me.

This year, I was going.

I removed the thin olive branch from my collection basket that would earn me my apprenticeship, despite my older age and guild lineage. The branch shone mottled blue green, almost a lime color in patches, with a blue as dark as evening sky in others. Along a four-centimeter band sprouted cup-shaped fungal fruiting forms, tiny enough to be overlooked by untrained eyes. With a pair of tweezers, I plucked the blue-green cups from the branch and dropped them into a second pot of the very combustible bone oil distillate. The smell of dead fish rose up and stung my eyes, but I couldn’t look away.

As each cup sank, the color seeped from them into the solvent and expanded outward in concentric rings. The pigment slowly dropped down until the liquid looked like the deep blue of Thuja’s lake. I held my breath as the fruits bubbled back to the surface. The first turned white, the second turned white, and the third and fourth—white as well. I waited, still hardly daring to breathe. One minute, then two. Please…

The solution’s color remained stable.

I dropped my head back and exhaled at the ceiling. The trickiest part was over, and if the solution set well, it would be ready by morning. Success! I carried the extract to the windowsill, opened the pane, and began the evaporation process. Tomorrow…tomorrow would be a wonderful day. A defining day. Tomorrow, I would leave the woodcutting guild and finally, finally, get to be an alchemist! A guilded alchemist! I would not spend the rest of my life bound to this wooden house, with its wooden tools, stuck within this simplistic, wooden trade any longer.

Three loud raps sounded on the front door. Visitors? At this hour? They were in for a rude surprise, the idiots. If they were here for me, it was because the villagers had a clear misunderstanding of what alchemy entailed. I had no potions to offer them. Cauldrons and a stinking house didn’t put me in the witch guild, despite the villagers’ insistence to the contrary, and even if I had been a witch, I still would not have been party to their foolish fascination with magic.

However, if the visitors were here for Mother and her marquetry business, they’d leave disappointed. She had neglected to finish several large commissions before her abrupt departure. Contracts were coming due that I would not fulfill, and her clients didn’t tolerated delays well. Mother took these walkabouts yearly, but she usually returned before the fair. This time, she was overdue.

I pulled at the door handle and lifted, and the thick wood glided open. A breeze came in first and blew mist right in my face. Behind the damp stood two men, squinting at me from the doorstep. They were Queensguard, both of them, dressed in the signature fitted red cloaks, though the waterproofing layers had worn off some hours ago. Both were mud-covered and had sodden pants and boots. They were sloppy, for Queensguard, and they were overdue. Mother had finished the queen’s commissioned piece just before she left, and it had yet to be collected.

The taller guard moved to step into the house, flipping a layer of long, wet hair over his shoulder with a splat. The smell must have hit him right then, as he stepped back into his partner and kept going for three steps. The shorter guard stumbled into Mother’s blackberry bush and had to rip himself free of the thorns. The taller sneezed, then spat, and then sneezed again.

For Queensguard, I was decidedly unimpressed.

“What sort of witchery is that!?” he demanded, coming no closer. “Where’s the woodcutter?”

I frowned and crossed my arms, careful not to crush any of the pouches of fungal pigment that dangled from my leather bandolier.

“No witchery,” I responded coolly. “I made bone oil. I discovered it. It’s a type of alchemy. I’m not guilded yet, but I have a trader’s permit.” Which I did, in the back room, but I’d be hard-pressed to find it under all of Mother’s unsharpened tools.

The tall one glared and rubbed at his nose.

The short guard stepped to the doorframe, bit back a grimace, and tried to restart the conversation. “Apologies for the hour. We’re looking for—”

“She’s not here.” I cut him off, hoping to forestall awkward questions I couldn’t answer. “She left under the last full moon, for professional obligations. It is unknown when she will return. I apologize.”

“Are you her daughter then?” the short one asked.

My stomach twisted. I was no one’s daughter, and that word would stick in my chest for days. It would squirm there, under bindings and layers of clothes, and make me second-guess myself at the fair with every introduction and every awkward stare at my body. In that moment, I hated them, these two men, so sure of their position despite the mud and the hour. Daughter. No. I had never been one and had no intention of starting now.

“Sorin the…”

“The alchemist,” I finished for him.

“I am her heir,” I said through gritted teeth when neither responded. “I have the queen’s last commission. Will you be taking it tonight?”

The men exchanged a glance, but neither answered. The second man sneezed, sending a spray of water across the threshold. I rubbed my palm on my forehead. If they were going to get the house dirty just by being outside, it made no sense for them to stay there. Bones were one thing; mud was just unprofessional. I stepped back and gestured to the small brown oak dining table—the one with the white streak down it where I’d first discovered what the refined, clear parts of bone oil could do to fungal pigments—and grabbed my cloak from the wall.

“Sit,” I said as I fastened the oblong buttons at the neck of the cloak. The men moved in with heavy steps, which grew increasingly hesitant as the fish smell concentrated. They sat and stared at me with disgusted, pained expressions as mud dripped from their boots onto that stupid handmade floor. I’d have to refinish it now.

I didn’t bother speaking again.

Daughter.

Let them sit in the bone oil stink, pooled in their own mud. I turned and left the house, heading to Mother’s woodshop. My feet crunched along the woodchip path, the ground cover damp but still springy. I tried to let the smells of the forest—especially the earthen smell of fungal decay—take my mind away from the word I so hated.

The men had parked their cart, and their ox, near the door to the longhouse Mother used for her shop, but I could still maneuver around it. The sun had already set, but moonlight streaked through the needled canopy of conifers and across my path. Ten short steps brought me to the double doors made from cedar plank. I stripped the padlock from the right door, the one that had been fastened since Mother’s departure, and entered.

I’d not been inside the shop for a month, and the smell of cedar and wood rot reminded me why. Here were my mother’s heart and legacy, as her father’s before her, and her grandmother’s before that. The whole place felt tattered and used and smelled worse than the bone oil.

In the back, near an old leather chair, was where her mother had been born some eighty years ago. To my right, just in front of a treadle lathe, was where my grandfather had died.

Mother had birthed her children here too—myself and the son she gave to another guild for an apprenticeship, and taken none of their children in return.

The whole building was familiar, like an old wool blanket, but scratchy just the same. This was a legacy of guild woodcutting, and the queen’s mandate of matrilineal inheritance, and I didn’t belong here. A woodcutter was not who I was, a daughter was not who I was, and while the former hurt less than the latter, both made me want to pull at my skin and scream.

Mercifully, the commissioned panel was right where I had last seen it. It was complete, save for a finish. An oilcloth lay on the floor near the door, already coated with paraffin. I picked it up and draped it over the panel, taking one last look at the cut veneer so expertly placed and dyed in the shape of a parrot on a branch.

The parrot’s feathers and the leaves of the branch were blue green. That was my contribution. There were no pigments, natural or otherwise, that could make that color save the elf’s cup fungus. The queen’s order had specified a parrot, in real colors.

She’d asked the impossible of my mother: we had delivered. I had delivered. Pigmenting fungi and their use in woodcraft was a trade secret of the woodcutter’s guild, but the ability to take those pigments from the wood and use them for other purposes—the solvent that entailed—that was mine alone.

With the cloth wrapped around the panel, I hauled the piece back to the house and propped it against the door. The Queensguard had tried to close it, but it had snagged halfway when the bottom of the door caught the ground below. The wood had swelled, as in any wet season, a common problem in the temperate rainforests of Thuja as well as the tropical ones of Sorpsi’s capital. Yet, they’d not even reasoned through simply lifting the door up as they pulled it closed. What was wrong with these men? Queensguard should have been much better educated than this. They should have known about the door, and the forest, and how to address me. Trekking from the village of Thuja to Mother’s house, at night, in the forest mist could addle anyone’s mind, but these two… I wiped mist from my nose and frowned. They weren’t quite right, and I didn’t care for that feeling in my own home, with no one else about. Giving them the panel was the quickest way to get them to leave.

I pushed the door back open, lifting as I did so, and propped the panel against it so it couldn’t swing shut again. The cool, damp air would help fumigate the house and would keep the bone oil from combusting as it dried.

“It’s here and ready.” I pulled enough of the cloth off so the two guards could see the detailed work underneath. It was best to get them on their way, whomever they were. Mother could chase the panel down later if needed. I was done with babysitting her business and hiding away in her house—hiding from the Thujan villagers, hiding from the capital city, hiding from my life.

The Queensguard, however, no longer seemed interested in the panel or me. The idiots had reached into the extract and removed my bones. They’d pieced parts of a skeleton back together—a primate, of course. Two small hands, a foot, and half the skull were laid out across the floor as if alive. The smaller guard, hunched over his bone puzzle with his comrade, had shoved his hands into the bone oil and now had the puffed cheeks and grayness of one about to vomit.

“That’s none of your business,” I grumbled. “And I’d appreciate it if you didn’t mess my floor.”

Gods, why did people have to be so nosy?

“Smells of fish, but these are no fish bones,” the shorter guard said. He held up a piece of a hand and bobbed on his haunches as he turned to look at me. “Explain.”

“It’s a monkey,” I said flatly.

“Which you used for your witchcraft?” said the other as he, too, turned around. “Expansive knowledge here, of magic. This dwelling isn’t licensed for that type of activity, and you don’t bear the witch guild mark.” His tone was more curious than accusatory, but I didn’t care.

“I’m currently a trade alchemist,” I repeated again, as if talking to a particularly stupid villager. “Which we are licensed for because, otherwise, we couldn’t protect any of the wood. How do you think wood finishes are made?” When the guards continued with their stares, I looked to the ceiling and grunted. “Just take the panel. Go. Don’t get it too wet, and make sure the court carpenter lets it sit for a few weeks before coating it. If you really want paperwork, I can have a copy of the permit for trade work delivered to the Queensguard hall tomorrow.”

“I don’t think so.” The guards stood and kicked at the bone pile. Neither one had looked at the panel yet. The hair on my arms rose. That was a fourteen-hundred-stone commission, lying against the door, open to the elements! That was more than the entire town of Thuja made in one year.

They hadn’t come from the palace; that was now abundantly clear.

I took a step toward the door, making sure to keep my growing unease from showing on my face. Knife in the boot, I reminded myself, for I’d been out foraging this morning and had not yet removed it. People aren’t so different than monkeys. Of course, I had never killed any of the animals I used for bone oil, but then again, none of them had ever called me a daughter either.

“What guild did you say you belonged to?” the tall one asked as he eyed my throat. I brought my hands up to cover the unadorned skin and flushed with embarrassment. I didn’t need a reminder of my failure to declare to my Mother’s guild, or any other, for that matter.

“I’m unguilded,” I muttered, unable to meet the man’s eyes. Anyone could be a trader, but to join a guild you had to first be an apprentice, and I had no formal education. “Since you’re not Queensguard, why are you here?” And why pretend, especially if you’re not going to steal the panel?

The man snorted. “The grandmaster of witchcraft asked to meet with the master woodcutter. I don’t want to return empty-handed, so our girl alchemist might make a reasonable substitute, guilded or not.”

I dropped my hands to my sides and raked my fingernails over my pants. There shouldn’t have been a grandmaster of witchcraft because the unbound guilds—witches and alchemists—weren’t beholden to any of the three countries and therefore couldn’t set up a guildhall. But that didn’t matter right now because my skin was too tight, all of a sudden. I gripped fistfuls of cloth to steady myself, to keep my hands busy so they wouldn’t find the skin of my arms. I snarled at the men, though tears collected in my eyes. Girl. Daughter. They burned as deeply as the smell of the bone oil. As interesting as the grandmaster of witchcraft might be, I didn’t care anymore about anything these men had to say.

“Get out,” I hissed. I marched to the door; I would throw them out if I had to. But the shorter guard grabbed me by the wrist before I reached the threshold.

“No!” I pulled back, turning to slap him, and just as I spun around, he let go.

Laughter chased after me as I stumbled and caught my ankle on the doorjamb. My equilibrium was off from the bone oil fumes, and I hit the ground, elbow first. Now I too was slicked with mud and wet wood shavings, which kept my feet from finding purchase as I tried to stand and face the demeaning laughter. The tears I was determined not to shed burned my eyes.

Before I could get my feet under me, thick fingers dug into my arms and I was hauled up and dragged forward. Their hands were wide, and their arms much stronger than my own, and when I pulled, their grips tightened. The mist was thick in my mouth as I sucked in gasps of air, trying to kick or somehow injure the men who held me.

“I’m not worth anything. The only thing of value is that panel!” I yelled.

“A master woodcutter would be worth more than a confused imitation,” the taller one said. “We’ll work with what we have.”

“I am not a woodcutter!”

We were at the cart now, and when the shorter man reached past my head to grab a rope that hung over the side, I bit his hand, separating flesh. The not-guard screamed and dropped my right arm. Blood splattered across my front as he flailed. The tall one tried to grab my wrist, but I fell to my knees, grabbed him between the legs, twisted, and pulled.

He collapsed, howling, and I skittered back toward the house.

“Leave!” I screamed at them. These things weren’t supposed to happen at Mother’s house. Wasn’t that why I was always here—to avoid this? What was the point of giving up apprenticeships, friendships, if I was going to be accosted in my own home?

The tall one gasped and grabbed me by the front of my shirt just before I cleared the cart. I wrapped my fingers around his and tried to pull free, but he slapped me across the face and, for a moment, I couldn’t see. I babbled instead.

“I have money,” I said. “In the house. I have wood species from across the world worth double their weight in stones.” I have solvents I could melt you with if you’d just come back inside.

“We will have Amada the master woodcutter,” the short one said with a gap-toothed grin. “She’ll come for you, if nothing else, seeing as how well she’s kept you to herself all these years.” He grabbed my legs and, with the taller one, dumped me into the cart. The taller man secured my ankles to iron weights anchored to the cart bed, punched me in the stomach, and left me to lie, staring dumbly at the canopy overhead as he went to assist his partner. Mother would come for me, certainly, but it was the other part of the man’s words that clouded my thoughts.

The cart began to move, jostling over the uneven forest floor. As I tried to regain my breath, my mind jumped, irrationally, back to the house.

“You forgot the panel!” I wheezed over the noise of the grunting ox and snapping branches. To leave it seemed like a stupid waste, even if they had no interest in it themselves. It’d taken us two years to make that thing, Mother and I. Someone should have it, even if just ignorant kidnappers. It was worth more than my life, certainly. I had no guild mark, no formal apprenticeship, no friends to come looking for me, and an undocumented journey-woodcutter was worth only as much as their master was willing to pay. They were going to be very disgruntled when Mother did not appear. And if they found her…gods, if they found her… What did witches want with a woodcutter?

I had my breath back, so I sat up and leaned over the side of the cart. Even with the moonlight, it was too dark to see more than outlines, but I could just make out the taller one breaking away and moving back toward Mother’s house.

Panic gave way to puzzlement as he entered. Had they changed their minds about the panel? I squinted into the night. Was he moving the panel then, or going past it? I’d not yet lit any oil lamps for fear of combustion during the extraction, and so the spark from the guard’s flint burned my eyes. Something caught in the guard’s hand—perhaps a ribbon of paper or a sheet of Mother’s veneer. Whatever it was, the man tossed it inside the house.

“No!”

I screamed it, I think. My throat hurt, either way. The guard jogged back to the cart, and I screamed again, nonsensically. The idiot. The absolute uneducated toadstool. If he didn’t quicken his pace, if we didn’t—

Mother’s house exploded.

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Meet the Author

J.S. Fields is a scientist who has perhaps spent too much time around organic solvents. They enjoy roller derby, woodturning, making chain mail by hand, and cultivating fungi in the backs of minivans. Nonbinary, and always up for a Twitter chat.

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INDIGO RELEASE BLITZ: Far Patrol by Alex Powell

Title: Far Patrol

Author: Alex Powell

Publisher:NineStar Press

Release Date: 07/19/2021

Heat Level: 2 – Fade to Black Sex

Pairing: No Romance

Length: 59300

Genre: Fantasy, LGBTQIA+, LGBTQ lit, fantasy, dragons, rebellion, class system

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Description

Will war tear their family and their country apart?

Ignius Lockden and their companion Kathely are ready for adventure. Joining Far Patrol was only going to be the beginning—they were right, but in all the wrong ways. Suddenly, there’s a war on the horizon and the two of them are stuck in the middle. Ignius wants to do what’s right, but it isn’t easy to tell what actions will lead to the correct ending. How is one young dragon supposed to change the course of history?

Excerpt

The first thing the dragon remembered seeing was the golden light right beyond the shell in front of them, flickering and lighting up tiny red and silver specks on the surface of their chamber.

It must be time, then.

They scrabbled at the curved inside of the shell, scratching away and scoring the surface. They felt the little nubs of their claws catch on the roughened inner surface. The dragon stopped, waiting to regain their strength. It was tiring work, and presently, the dragon fell asleep again.

They repeated this cycle in longer and longer increments, scratching away at the inside of their chamber. Waiting was over for them, and it was time to emerge. Sleep, wake, sleep.

Again, the light woke them, brighter this time. There were voices outside, and with some excitement, the dragon heard the voice. The one was here. It was definitely time now, and the dragon would stop at nothing to finally greet that voice.

It was a high voice, and it penetrated the shell unlike all the other voices outside. The dragon didn’t care about those ones. They needed to reach the one. Kathely.

The one. Their one.

That voice had started coming a long time since. The moon had cycled countless times, and the dragon knew it well, the voice of the one who spoke to them from outside. That one whispered things to them, told them all about life on the outside. The dragon liked these stories, and even though they couldn’t yet make complete sense of them, the outside called. Kathely was calling, right now.

“Ignius.”

The dragon rocked against the wall of their chamber, pushing as hard as they could. The shell, weakened by their earlier efforts, gave a little under their struggles. It was tiring, but Kathely was there, calling.

“Ignius, you have been Named. It is time to come forth.”

Ignius coiled their tail, lashing it against the weak spot of the shell. Then they struck again as they felt the shell fracture above them. The spikes on their tail made short work of breaking through, and once again, Ignius clawed at the shell, finding the opening. They forced it farther open, lifting their snout to the hole in the shell, taking their first deep breath of air.

They couldn’t see yet, but after a few sneezes to clear their lungs of fluid, they could smell those around them. The nearest person was Kathely, and their one smelled divine, like home.

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Meet the Author

Alex is an author of LGBTQ+ romance. They live in northern Canada where it snows six months of the year. Currently, they are pursuing a PhD in English, but that won’t stop them from writing about space vampires or cyberpunk hackers or whatever else pops into their head. Mostly a SFF writer, Alex sometimes dabbles in other genres including contemporary romance.

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INDIGO RELEASE BLITZ: Fighting Chance by Anni Lee

Title: Fighting Chance

Series: Fighting Chance, Book One

Author: Anni Lee

Publisher:NineStar Press

Release Date: 07/19/2021

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 50400

Genre: Contemporary, LGBTQIA+, music industry, reality TV show, romantic comedy, rom-com, age gap, enemies to lovers, college, battle of the bands, billionaire

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Description

How can you write a love song before you’ve felt one?

Roland Finley is convinced he has what it takes to win the Battle of the Bands, a reality TV show where up and coming musicians compete for a record deal. But between college, work, and band practice, he hasn’t had time to experience any of the romance he sings about, and his amateur writing needs a lot of work. This is never more apparent than when a stranger in the park stumbles upon his notebook and tells it exactly like it is.

Jay McClintock wanted nothing to do with this silly reality show, but as the head writer for ALIVE Records, his boss had other plans. After being tasked with writing and coaching one of Roland’s biggest rivals behind the scenes, the only thing keeping him sane is teasing the strange (and low-key talented) young writer he encountered in the park.

Writing for the enemy should have been no big deal, but the more Jay accidentally (and not-so-accidentally) runs into Roland, the harder it is for him to come clean about his involvement with the show. Fortunately, there’s one medium through which they both know how to communicate: Song.

Excerpt

My heart was beating in perfect time with the crowd’s applause. Quick, loud, chaotic, completely out of control. A bead of sweat slid down my cheek, caught on my jawline, and dripped off my chin. I didn’t know if it was from my nerves or the heat of the blaring neon lights overhead. I can barely believe we’ve come this far. Would I be here if not for him?

No. Don’t think about him right now. I can’t. He doesn’t deserve a place on this stage with me. He never did. This is my one chance, and I’m not going to screw it up because of him.
I gripped the mic firmly and swallowed hard.
“I hope you’re ready to rock, Los Angeles!”

*

Three Months Ago

“Habanero Marmalade? What kind of a name is that?” Logan shoved another bite of garlic bread in his mouth, mumbling words between chewing.

“It’s the kind of name that people will remember. A little ridiculous, but also…deep. Poignant. Clever.” I leaned forward over the table, and I mentally deconstructed all the signs in the food court to spell our name. Using the Habanero from Habanero Juan’s and the Ma from Mama’s Pizza made for a fairly respectable logo.

“And fucking stupid.”

My guitarist had no class at all, clearly.

“Well, what do you want to call us then? If you’ve got a better idea, I’m all ears.”

“How about Death Ringer or Dragon’s Fury or something badass like that?”

“What? No. We’re not a metal band. We’re supposed to sound edgy, not like we eat children.” I stole a piece of garlic bread out of his tray and crushed it between my teeth as a symbolic display of my disappointment. Also, as a less symbolic display of the fact that I couldn’t afford lunch that day. “Look, as the writer and lead singer, I think I know more about what sounds good to people than you do.”

“Whatever, Roland.” Logan waved a hand in the air as if to knock away my self-importance. “You can have all the say you want as soon as you come up with something better than Hot Orange Jelly.”

“Fine.” I rolled my eyes. “But we need to have this settled by Friday if we’re really going to audition for the Battle of the Bands.”

“That’s four whole days away. Plenty of time.” Logan crammed an impressively large spindle of spaghetti into his mouth before he stood to toss out his tray. “All right, back to work.” He ran a hand through his hair and retied his bun to make sure it was neat and kempt enough for the jewelry shop. He was so tall, lean, and good-looking. I could only imagine how many diamonds he sold with his smile alone. Or how many relationships he broke up with a well-placed wink.

He gave me one last grin before he headed back. “The girls’ volleyball team has a game today. Go walk on over and find something more inspiring than your grandma’s pantry.”

Right. Because a bunch of jocks knocking a ball around is so inspiring. But despite my protests, we were going to have to agree on something if we were going to enter this competition. The Battle of the Bands was more than just a silly reality show. It was a chance at a dream in a world convoluted with fellow dreamers. If we could stand out there, we could stand out anywhere. But I needed Logan to take it seriously first. And I needed to figure out a name.

We had been through a couple of names already: Cheese and Cracker (my idea), Log Rol (his idea), Raining Soup (my idea), Dos Vikings (his idea), PIE-tastophic (my idea. In hindsight, I should probably stop coming up with band names while I’m starving). Having had no success with building a fan base doing local gigs, we both agreed that it would be good to get a fresh start for our TV debut. But I swear to God, coming up with names was the hardest part of being an artist.

I shook my head and grabbed my notebook. He was right about one thing, anyway. A walk would do me some good.

I left the mall and strolled back toward campus, cutting through the park on the way. I always liked this park. Birds chirped and whistled in the trees, creating the perfect ambience for deep thinking. Birds were what inspired me to sing in the first place. All those days sitting in my mother’s garden, listening to their high-pitched calls, watching them fly wherever they wanted to go. Their voices were the battle cry of freedom. Singing was freedom.

I glanced at the trees and whistled my best mockingbird call. Almost on cue, a mockingbird took to the sky. It flapped its wings to the music. Beautiful. I whistled again, and it came toward me. Closer. Closer.

Wait a second—too close! The bird swooped down and knocked into me with its wings. My notebook flew from my hands as I instinctively swatted it away. I always forgot that mockingbirds were assholes.

Once the bird flew off, I collected myself and looked for my notebook. A man stood before me, tall, poised, and sophisticated. He had frameless rectangular glasses that sat on a perfect nose, framed with light-brown hair that fell stylishly unkempt around his face. One of his black leather dress shoes sat pointedly atop my open notebook.

He reached down and picked it up. I watched on, dumbfounded, as his sharp blue eyes moved back and forth over the pages.

“Don’t read that—that’s private!” I heard my voice ringing entirely too loudly in the air, causing the remaining nearby birds to scatter. Something about the sky full of fleeing sparrows, surrounding this dark figure, felt like an image out of horror movie. Like he was an evil sorcerer learning all my secrets before promptly taking over the world.

“I can see why.” His voice was deep and smooth. “I wouldn’t want to share this drivel with anyone either.”

“It’s not…” I was too shocked to figure out how to respond. There was months of work in that notebook. My prized lyrics. My potential band names. Hand-scrawled sheet music. Everything that made up my hopes and dreams.

“I’ll shoot right past the goalie of your love. My puck in your net. Points on the headboard… Are you fucking serious?” He shut my notebook and tossed it over his shoulder, shaking his head in disgust all the while. Hearing my lyrics recited out loud was triggering all my fears and insecurities. Who the hell does this guy think he is?

“It’s supposed to be provocative…” I mumbled under my breath, averting my gaze so he couldn’t read the hurt in my eyes. “Th-that’s just the first draft. It was going to get way better before the competition.” I didn’t know why he was being so harsh anyway. Any words would sound like garbage if you said them like that. Any words… Right?

He walked past me with his hands in his pockets, his eyes hidden by the glare of the sun on his lenses.

“Find another hobby. You’re wasting your time.” He gave me one last kick in the heart before he stepped out of earshot. I watched as he walked away.

Purchase at NineStar Press

Meet the Author

Whether she’s racing motorcycles faster than a RomCom lead’s beating heart, or scuba diving deeper than the pit of love they fall into, Anni Lee is always down for an adventure. She was born and raised in Los Angeles with four siblings and a single mother, which is probably why she has such a penchant for writing big city love and tenacious (albeit dysfunctional) heroes.

When she’s not typing away behind her laptop, she’s living out of a tent off the back of her motorcycle on her quest to ride around the world. The wilderness is the best place to catch up on reading, after all!

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INDIGO RELEASE BLITZ: Rules of Play by Lane Hayes

Title: Rules of Play

Series: The Script Club #2

Author: Lane Hayes

Publisher: Lane Hayes

Release Date: July 16, 2021

Heat Level: 4 – Lots of Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 53K

Genre: Romance, Brother’s Best Friend, Geek/Jock, Friends to Lovers, Bisexual-awakening, Contemporary MM Romance

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Synopsis

The genius, the mechanic, and a new playbook…

George-

My brother’s friend is hot. If you’re into flannel-wearing lumbersexual former jocks who eat donuts for dinner and still scribble to-do lists on their palms. I’m not. I’m a serious scientist in my final of grad school. Okay, I admit I have few quirks of my own. I also have a broken truck and a boss who thinks I can help him find love. I’m in over my head. Help!

Aiden-

A few quirks? Really? George the weirdest dude I know. He wears capes in public, brings a book everywhere he goes, and loves all thing spooky. He’s also the smartest person on the planet—who somehow thinks I can help him write a How-To-Get-A-Date playbook for his boss. Yeah, that sounds suspicious. I know baseball; I don’t know anything about love. But I can’t say no. I’ve always had a soft spot for George. I just didn’t count on falling for my best friend’s nerdy brother. This is against the rules, isn’t it?

Rules of Play is an MM bisexual awakening story where opposites attract and shenanigans ensue!

Excerpt

“The Script Club?”

I grimaced. “Well, yeah. That name came later.”

“You really are a little weirdo, aren’t you?”

The twinkle in Aiden’s eyes and his affectionate tone paired with an unlikely term of endearment were exactly what I needed to pull me from my infatuation-induced awkwardness.

I smacked his biceps playfully, then leaned against his side, staring up at the crescent moon in the twilight sky. “I am weird and I am proud.”

Aiden chuckled. “I like that about you. I like your idea too. It’s a good one. I should get in on that and collect a few new experiences before I quit the garage and move on to my next venture.”

“What would you do? I mean, what would you want to try?”

“I don’t know. Maybe something will come to me.” He set the half-eaten container of meatballs down and reached for his beer. “As for your boss…he needs a rule book.”

I shifted to face him. “What kind of rule book?”

“A dating rule book. It would be the equivalent of a sports playbook…a list of strategies and a backup plan if things go awry.”

“Okay, that makes sense. Step one, ask for a date.”

Aiden shook his head. “No. Don’t go in hot. Gotta practice a little finesse. It’s better to get to know someone—ask about their interests, share yours, and see if there’s anything there. Theoretically, that’s how I think it should work.”

“You’re right. They have to build a rapport.” I squinted. “He’s going to need an icebreaker.”

“Yeah, that makes sense. Hit me with your best shot.”

“Uh…what do you mean?” I stammered.

“Pretend you’re into me and you want to get to know me.” Aiden quirked a brow and wiggled his fingers. “Ask me something.”

“What are your interests?”

He made an obnoxious buzzer noise and rolled his eyes. “Wrong. That’s a date question. A lame one, too. Would you really walk up to someone and ask them what they’re into?”

“No, of course not.”

“Redo. You’re trying to get to know me, but you can’t be too forward, and you can’t make assumptions. Got it?” He waited for my nod of agreement and continued. “Pretend we’re standing at the coffee machine at work on a Monday morning. And…action.”

“O-kay…what did you do last weekend?”

Aiden smiled. “Good one. And my answer…not much. I went to that college ball game I told you about last week, watched a lot of basketball, made arrangements to schlep your Bronco here, and played pool with Kenny and a couple of high school buddies. You?”

“I studied and hung out with my friends.”

He stared at me long enough for me to wonder if I had meatball between my teeth.

“If that’s all you have to say, you just killed this conversation,” he deadpanned.

I chuckled. “I did not. It was your turn to ask <em>me</em> something. That’s how it works in real life. I’m not that big of a dork!”

“But what about your boss?”

Good point. “Newton is a big dork. Very big.”

“Right, so this is where rules come into play. You have to pay attention and take hints and clues to heart. Almost everything I mentioned about my weekend had a theme…sports. I told you what I’m interested in without announcing, ‘I like sports.’ If you really wanted to get in my pants, you’d ask me a sports-related question.”

I shot to my feet, whirling my cape like a true badass. “Who said anything about getting in your pants?”

Yes, I was entirely in favor of the idea, but I was pretty sure I hadn’t said it aloud.

“Isn’t that the end game?” Aiden flashed a devilish grin my way.

“No! I mean, maybe for you, but not for Newton. I don’t think he’s hoping for sex.”

“Then what’s the point?”

“Love!”

Aiden widened his eyes comically. “What’s that?”

“I don’t know,” I sighed in defeat, reclaiming my spot on the stoop next to him. “That’s why this is complicated.”

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Meet the Author

Lane Hayes loves a good romance! An avid reader from an early age, she has always been drawn to well-told love story with beautifully written characters. Her debut novel was a 2013 Rainbow Award finalist and subsequent books have received Honorable Mentions, and were winners in the 2016, 2017, and 2018-2019 Rainbow Awards. She loves red wine, chocolate and travel (in no particular order). Lane lives in Southern California with her amazing husband in a not quite empty nest.

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Did you miss book 1 in the series? Get Following the Rules at Amazon

The geek, the jock, and a new set of rules…

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