Release Blitz: Eating the Moon by Mark David Campbell

Title: Eating the Moon

Author: Mark David Campbell

Publisher:NineStar Press

Release Date: 05/03/2021

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 88700

Genre: Speculative Fiction, LGBTQIA+, academics, adventure, alternative universe, contemporary, in the closet, intercultural, hurt/comfort, sailors

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Description

“What if there were a place nobody else knows about—a secret place—where everyone is queer?”

That’s the question Guy, a lonely elderly gay anthropologist, asks Richard, his young psychiatrist, as he searches for his tolerable truth.

During each session, Guy recalls surviving the sinking of a cargo ship and being washed ashore on an uncharted tropical island alongside the ship’s first mate, Luca. There, the two young men discover a world counter to everything they have ever known—a complex society in which almost everyone is homosexual.

In his naïve and awkward way, Guy attempts win the love of a local man, but first he must undergo a brutal initiation ritual, endure a crazed shaman, and swim across shark-infested waters. Meanwhile, Luca, who is unable to accept his sexuality, becomes obsessed with being rescued and degenerates into drug dependency. When Luca attempts to steal a large stash of gold and leave the island, Guy is forced choose between staying with the man he loves or saving the life of the man who saved his.

Although enthralled by his tale, Richard must be constantly wary of Guy’s attempts to manipulate him, which threatens to upend his own sense of truth, leaving him to question if there could really be such a society or if it only exists within the fantasy of a lonely old gay man.

Excerpt

Eating the Moon
Mark David Campbell © 2021
All Rights Reserved
Prologue

“The usual, Brad,” Guy called out as he walked up to the front bar.

“I was wondering if you’d be in tonight.” Brad scooped up a glassful of ice, then swung around. His trapezoid muscles flexed beneath his camouflage print undershirt as he reached up and took a bottle of Canadian Club Whisky from the shelf. He turned back, and with an exaggerated motion, poured a double into the glass.

“Sleep well?” Guy said casually.

“Like a baby.” Brad winked, leaned forward, and placed the glass on a cardboard coaster in front of Guy.

Guy sniffed. “I see you found my cologne.” He picked up the glass and threw back a quick gulp.

“Yeah.” Brad smiled. “But it smells better on me than it does on you.” His brown eyes sparkled as he looked directly into Guy’s.

“Can’t argue with that.” Guy reached up and gently patted Brad on the cheek. “Just don’t go making yourself too comfortable in my cave.”

Brad pulled back. “Guy, has anyone ever told you what a miserable old bastard you are?”

Guy chuckled. “So often I’m starting to answer to it.”

Brad shook his head. “You never let anyone in, do you?” He went to serve an elderly man who was perched on a stool at the corner. The elderly man watched intently as Brad grabbed a moist bottle of beer by the neck, popped off the cap, and plunked it down in front of him.

“Keep the change.” The man was almost salivating as he handed Brad a ten.

Sailors was like any number of pubs in downtown Toronto—turn-of-the-century sandblasted red-brick exterior, oak-and-brass-accented interior. It was Thursday, and those getting a jump on the weekend would be out—less choice, better chance of scoring. Right now it was too late for the after-work rush and too early for the drag show. The DJ hadn’t even set up yet. It was mostly the old boys, like Guy, looking to stake out a barstool before the younger crowd came clambering in. Guy took a swig of his whisky. It was the summer solstice, and it didn’t really matter if nobody else was celebrating. As soon as the booze and E kicked in, he would party on his own.

Guy went to the far end of the bar and climbed onto his favorite stool, swiveled it sideways, and leaned back against the exposed brick wall. From his vantage point, he had all the strategic zones in the main room within his scope: the back bar, the dance floor and stage next to it, even the washroom and the entrance to the dark room in the farthest corner to the right. No one could come or go; nothing of importance could happen without him observing. A Madonna remix droned on in the background, but the front bar was far enough away from the main room you could still carry on a conversation. Not that Guy wanted to converse, but he liked to listen in on what other people had to say, especially when they didn’t realize he was eavesdropping.

Guy looked toward a thin young man perched on a barstool facing the door—his spidery legs crossed, left elbow braced on the bar with one knuckle delicately pressed against his cheekbone, a Manhattan grasped in his right hand. He reminded Guy of someone he had known long ago and hadn’t particularly liked. But that was a world away from here.

The young man turned suddenly and shot a sneer at Guy, as if to say, “You’ve got to be kidding, old-timer.”

Guy smiled and shrugged. Back on the island, that similar-looking man had almost killed someone just to get noticed.

A cool blast of air blew in as another young man pushed open the fake stained glass panel door. Guy watched him as he stood there and tried to smooth his T-shirt over a little bulge of fat riding up along the waistband of his underwear.

The thin man at the bar rolled his head toward the door with a look of practiced tedium. “Don’t just stand there like a debutant.” His high-pitched voice rose well above the music. “Close the bloody door, darling.”

The chubby young man smiled nervously, let the door swing closed, and walked up to the thin man. “Hi,” he chirped. “I was a little worried you might stand me up again.”

“Well, you know how busy my schedule is.” He placed his glass on the bar and made a zigzag motion with his forefinger in front of the chubby man’s chest. “New Armani tee?”

“Yes, I got it for ten percent off.” He beamed.

“Love the clearance table.” The thin man reached out and lightly whisked the chubby man’s sleeve, as if to remove grime acquired from the touch of bargain shoppers.

The chubby man’s smile withered. “Hey, I thought this was supposed to be the first day of summer. I’m freezing my tits off.” He hugged himself and shivered. “How do they know when it’s summer anyways?”

“It’s astrology, you know, like star signs.”

Guy shook his head and took another drink of his whisky.

“By the way, I read your horoscope on the internet today,” the thin man announced loudly. “It said, Crossing paths with a mysterious stranger could lead to a defining moment in your life.” He turned toward Brad. “Another Manhattan, no cherry in mine. And one for my friend.”

“What did yours say?” the chubby man asked eagerly.

“Oh, the usual—love, happiness, and riches.”

The chubby man leaned against the bar while Brad placed two glasses near them and flashed a fluorescent smile.

“Honey, pay the man. You know I’m saving up for my trip down to P-town at the end of July, and I’m short of cash.”

The chubby man dug in his pocket, pulled out a twenty, and handed it to Brad.

“Keep the change, Bradley,” the thin man cooed.

The chubby man nodded hesitantly.

As Brad turned toward the cash register, Guy caught his eye and made a circle in the air with his finger. Brad nodded and poured another whisky.

The chubby man watched as Brad carried the glass over to Guy. Then he leaned in close and whispered something into the thin man’s ear, who immediately swung his head around and stared at Guy.

“Very subtle,” the chubby man puffed. “Why don’t you just call him over here?”

“Oh, don’t pay any attention to him. That’s just Jungle Jim. He’s probably deaf anyways.” The thin man recomposed himself, combing the side of his gelled hair behind his ear with his fingertips. “He’s a friend of Brad. Otherwise I’m sure they wouldn’t let him in. Completely nuts, you know, but I hear he’s rich. Drives a Kompressor.”

“My mother drives a Kompressor,” said the chubby man.

“Your mother drives a Golf,” the thin man scolded.

“Volkswagen, Mercedes, no big difference.”

“Not until someone sees you in one, my dear.”

The chubby man frowned and began chasing the cherry around the bottom of his glass, trying to stab it with his stir straw. Having no success, he reached in, grabbed it with his fingers, and popped it into his mouth. “You know, you should get some rich old boyfriend,” he said while still chewing on his cherry.

“Me? You know how wrinkle-phobic I am,” the thin man scoffed. “But what about you? Why don’t you find a sugar daddy?”

The chubby man giggled nervously. “I’m not really sure.”

The thin man surveyed the room. “Take your pick. It’s like Jurassic Park in here tonight.” He clicked his tongue against the roof of his mouth. “I wish they’d play some real dance music and chase the dinosaurs out of here.”

Just then the DJ in the main room cranked up the music, and a low, throbbing techno beat drowned out the rest of the conversation. More people came in and shuffled past the front bar toward the main room. Guy slouched comfortably with his forearm resting on the bar, holding his glass. On the far wall, under a pair of crisscrossed rower’s paddles, hung a framed photo of the Titanic. He stared at the photo for a while and thought about the sinking of his own ship, the Crescent Moon. He shivered, took a large sip of whisky, and a warm glow began to flow through him. It wasn’t quite the same glow he used to get from the grog back on the island, but it was good enough for this place. A gas bubble rose up in his chest, bringing with it the taste of his dinner. Roasted chicken—when done right, it was almost as good as baked iguana. That was so long ago, but those memories kept gurgling up, and sometimes it felt as if it had only been yesterday. The flickering flame from the tea candle on the bar caught Guy’s eye, and he thought of burning torches under a starlit tropical sky. He closed his eyes, leaned his head back against the wall, and floated away with the images.

He imagined himself swimming in a beautiful sea, the water crystalline and warm. In the distance, he could see a beach so white it shimmered in the sunlight. On the beach, there was a young man calling and waving to him. He was brown and beautiful and naked except for a white loincloth. Guy couldn’t quite make out what he was saying, but he saw him smiling and understood he wanted him to come and play. Then another man appeared next to Guy in the water. Guy tried to convince the man to swim toward the beach with him, but the man told him to swim in the opposite direction. Guy didn’t know what to do, so he just bobbed up and down, treading water. Suddenly, underneath him he saw the shadow of a huge shark. Frantically, he swam toward the beach. As he looked back over his shoulder, he saw its enormous dorsal fin only a few feet behind him. He could almost feel rows of teeth ready to bite off his lower half. The man on the beach ran into the surf, grasped Guy’s arm, and pulled him forward just as the shark lunged and—

Someone bumped his leg, and Guy opened his eyes with a start. He was panting, and his forehead was damp. Maybe he had dozed off for a moment or two. He looked around. The place was now packed full of men, young and old, but mostly young. He spotted the thin man and his chubby friend making their way through the crowd toward the dance floor. Guy drained his glass, stood up, and followed. He wedged himself past the loners clutching their beers for courage and pressed between the little clusters speaking into one another’s ears with cupped hands.

Guy pushed his way onto the center of the dance floor. The strobe lights spun, and the music throbbed. The beat reverberated through his chest, and he began to dance. His feet floated, and his muscles undulated with each wave as he gyrated and swayed like a snake. Naked torsos swam through flickering strips of golden torchlight all around him. His body became moist with sweat, and he, too, pulled off his tank top and tucked it into his waistband. This was what he’d come here for—to remember what it had felt like to be lost within the rhythm. He inhaled the scent of warm bodies mixed with jungle spices and the humid Caribbean breeze. At last he was back on the island.

Then the peripheral darkness began to close in on him, and the music echoed as if it were coming from a tunnel. His body went rubbery, and he sank downward in slow motion. In the distance he heard someone yell, “Call 911! Guy’s out again.”

And all went black.

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Meet the Author

Mark David Campbell spent twenty years studying and working in archaeology and anthropology in Canada, Central America, Jordan, Egypt and Greece and earned his Ph.D. from the University of Toronto where he taught part-time.

After a four-year, long-distance relationship, in the summer of 2001, Mark vacated his apartment in Toronto, sold his car and moved to Milan, Italy to be with the man he loves. They got married in Canada in 2005, shortly after it was made legal.

In addition to writing and working as a language consultant to Italian academics and business people, he paints and has had numerous individual and group shows in Toronto, Canada, and Milan, Ferrara and Ravenna, Italy.

Together, Mark and his husband move between Lago Maggiore and Milan and enjoy swimming and boating, salsa music, eating pizza and drinking beer with friends. Find Mark on Facebook.

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Release Blitz: Justified by Mell Eight

Title: Justified

Series: Magnified, Book Two

Author: Mell Eight

Publisher:NineStar Press

Release Date: 05/03/2021

Heat Level: 1 – No Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 53900

Genre: Pararnormal, LGBTQIA+, magic, mage, werewolf, werepanda, vampires, supernatural creatures, new adult, interracial/intercultural, gay established couples, lesbian romance

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Description

The world of vampires and werewolves is in upheaval. The magical community is under attack by a great evil force set to destroy them all and Aaron, their strongest fighter, is oblivious to all around him, his nose glued to his spell book. Yani has given up hope in getting Aaron back on track. He knows he instead has to focus on his own future and the lives of those he loves, even if it means losing Aaron, the love of his life, forever.

But, Yani’s life isn’t the only one in flux. As the battle heats up and lines are drawn, the rest of his friends must fight for their own survival in a world with no answers to the terrible magic attacking them.

Excerpt

Justified
Mell Eight © 2021
All Rights Reserved

The library was one of the largest rooms inside the Supernatural Coalition of the Northeast’s headquarters. The mansion itself was enormous, sprawling across acres of land with dozens of above- and below-ground bedrooms, lounges, and more. The library took up what Yani thought was an entire floor. The librarian was a lamia, and thanks to her extra senses, she could keep track of which book went where. Yani was clueless, since the library didn’t use the Dewey Decimal System or have any sort of searchable catalogue.

He chose an aisle and walked slowly along the stacks, reading any titles that happened to catch his attention. Nothing really jumped out at him, so he stopped at a random shelf and read all the titles on it. We Survived looked less boring than anything else on the shelf. Yani pulled the book down and headed back to the sitting area closest to the main door.

“I found one,” he said triumphantly to Aaron, but Aaron had his head buried in his own book and didn’t answer. Yani sighed and turned away to sit on an overstuffed armchair situated nearby. He didn’t bother trying to engage Aaron in conversation again. It wouldn’t work—at least, not anymore.

Yani opened the book and started reading, hoping it would help pass the time and distract him from the difficulties in his life. It was a short book, only a hundred pages with fairly large print. It wouldn’t take too long to read, hopefully just long enough to fill the time before the hearing.

*

Esther wasn’t really a special girl. She wasn’t overly intelligent or particularly strong. However, she was beautiful, and she understood that her beauty could be used to compensate for what she otherwise lacked. Luckily, Esther wasn’t vain. She had been orphaned as a young girl and brought up by her cousin Mordechai, who had kept her grounded in the Jewish faith. Still, he knew how important a chess piece Esther’s beauty could be.

“All the beautiful maidens across the land of Persia are required, by dictate of King Ahasuerus, to come to the palace!” The town crier was insistent, repeating the latest dictate for the entire marketplace to hear. Persia was a vast land full of beautiful people, but King Ahasuerus demanded only the best for himself. He needed a wife, Mordechai knew. His last wife had been banished during the full week of drunkenness at the king’s recent party. Mordechai didn’t know the entire story, only the rumors that circulated the marketplace, but he had seen the now exiled Queen Vashti once before, and only Esther compared to her beauty. King Ahasuerus wouldn’t accept anything less.

Queen Vashti, the rumors said, had been asked by the drunken king and courtiers to attend to them wearing only her crown. Garments were not allowed. Vashti had refused, and in a drunken rage, the king had stripped her of her rank and exiled her from Persia. Now sober, King Ahasuerus was apparently having second thoughts.

The crier started to repeat his call, so Mordechai hurried from the market, heading back to his house in the Jewish sector of the city. He had to take a circumventing route. He was Jewish and well known as a leader of the Jewish community. People like him were not welcome in the more affluent areas of Shushan, the capital of Persia that Mordechai called home.

Esther was waiting for him outside the house she shared with Mordechai and his wife and three children. Teres, the man who had run to Mordechai to tell him about the crier’s announcement, was standing at her side.

“We have much to speak about,” Mordechai told them both. He led the way into the house as he spoke. Esther and Teres followed quickly. Teres sat with Mordechai at the table in the kitchen while Esther made tea.

“The king will want a bride as beautiful as Vashti was,” Mordechai insisted. “Women across the land will be traveling to see that they are made the new queen, but, Esther, I think you have the greatest chance.”

Esther blushed and shook her head even as she pulled teacups out of the cabinets.

“Mordechai, I doubt he’ll choose me. I can hardly be the most beautiful woman in all of Persia, and besides, King Ahasuerus won’t choose a Jew for his wife.”

“He doesn’t have to know you’re Jewish,” Mordechai replied immediately. “Jews have held their religious ceremonies in secret before. You can certainly do that again in the palace as the new queen.”

“You are definitely beautiful enough,” Teres added as she leaned over to pour his tea. Mordechai frowned at Teres and made a mental note not to invite Teres over again while Esther was nearby. Teres was a good, learned man. He worked hard for his family and still found time to study the holy texts in the evenings, but he was not the right man for Esther. Mordechai had honestly started to despair ever finding a man who would love Esther for more than her pretty face, but perhaps her pretty face could land her the position of queen. That was worth more to Mordechai and Esther than just finding her a good man to marry.

And so it was settled. Esther left her cousin’s home and moved to the palace, where hundreds of beautiful women from around Persia and even beyond were slowly starting to gather. Esther found that she did not enjoy the experience. Women were petty and often cruel.

One by one, the women were paraded across the throne room for King Ahasuerus and his advisers to judge. Esther was in the middle of the very long line of women, and it was days before her turn arrived. She had seen what some of the women had done to others in order to enhance their own chances. Acid in the mercury drops that blinded them horribly, poison in the rouge that had some swooning helplessly and therefore unable to attend their time in front of the king. These were only a few of the horrors Esther had encountered, and she wanted to avoid them all.

On her day to see the king, she refused the fancy makeup and chose a simple robe. The other women who shared the day were covering themselves in makeup, jewels, and fancy silks in order to enhance their beauty. Esther did think about joining them, but when one woman was bitten by a snake hidden in her wardrobe, Esther decided it was better to simply leave the dressing room and join the guards who were waiting to escort the women to the king.

It wasn’t too much longer before all the women were ready. They were led to a lavish waiting room, and one by one their names were called. Esther was sixth in line, and as her name was called, she stood and walked behind the guard as they left the room. Whispers followed her about her terrible fashion choices, but she ignored them. King Ahasuerus would see Esther how she was without all the extra frippery, and if he liked her, so be it. Esther would much prefer to be back in Mordechai’s house, and perhaps that was the real reason she eschewed the fancier options available to her.

Esther walked slowly across the throne room. She stopped in front of King Ahasuerus, curtsied gracefully, and turned to leave. A gasp rang through the room, and she turned back to see King Ahasuerus’s scepter held out to her in invitation. She reached out to touch the tip of the scepter, showing her acceptance of the king’s choice.

They would be married with all fanfare within the week.

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NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet 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.

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Release Blitz: Wounded Air by Rick R. Reed

Title: Wounded Air

Author: Rick R. Reed

Publisher:NineStar Press

Release Date: 05/03/2021

Heat Level: 2 – Fade to Black Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 48400

Genre: Thriller, LGBTQIA+, contemporary, established couples, Chicago, gay, spirits, visions, hauntings, crime, drug addiction

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Description

Rick and Ernie found the perfect apartment on Chicago’s West Side. Before they’re settled, Rick begins having all-too-real disturbing “dreams.” Each time, an emaciated young man with sad brown eyes appears, terrifying and obsessing him.

From their next-door neighbor, Paula, Rick learns about Karl and Tommy, who lived there before them. Tommy’s mysterious disappearance pains her. When she shares a photo of her with Tommy and Karl, Rick is shocked and troubled. Tommy is the man who appears to him in his dreams.

The ghostly visitations compel Rick to uncover the truth about Tommy’s disappearance. It’s a quest that will lead him to Karl, Tommy’s lover, who may know more about Tommy’s disappearance than he’s telling, and a confrontation with a restless spirit who wants only to—finally—rest in peace.

Excerpt

Wounded Air
Rick R. Reed © 2021
All Rights Reserved

I had been mesmerized by the apartment for months, perhaps years, on my Brown Line L train ride from Western Avenue to downtown Chicago. The place was hard not to notice, even in a city as big and crowded as Chicago. Unique things tend to stand out.

The loft apartment took up the top floor of a storefront building. Every time I passed it, I caught my breath just a little. I mean, I couldn’t help but stare at the soaring glass wall that fronted one side of the unit. It was a voyeur’s dream—or maybe an exhibitionist’s? It certainly grabbed my attention.

Sitting on the train, I would peer into the apartment, but curiously enough, I never managed to catch a glimpse of anyone who lived there. With its openness, it had the look and feel of a movie or stage set. Every time the train went by, I would look up from whatever I was reading to simply see if I could glimpse anyone in this place that had taken on such a weird fascination for me. I desperately wanted to see the person or people who lived there. Even though it was irrational and maybe even a bit stalkerish, I wondered about who they were, what their lives were like, what drew them to this unusual apartment. Or maybe it was a condo?

It had to be one of the most unusual homes on the North Side of Chicago. The loft was just one big, open room with an open stairway up to a mezzanine, where the bedroom would be. The steps were simple wood slats with a streamlined railing made of steel cable. The wall opposite the soaring glass was exposed brick, distressed, dripping mortar between the red bricks. Simple. Minimalist. Almost industrial. Ductwork was visible, silver, and a little bit corroded.

It had hipster charm for days.

I often imagined that, despite it being so open to prying L-rider eyes like mine, I would love to live there. There was something both magical and magnetic about the place. I longed for the day when I would roll on by and see a FOR RENT or FOR SALE sign affixed to the glass.

I think I even dreamed about it a time or two.

Even though I never saw them, my imagination worked overtime to visualize the people who lived there. I imagined an artist or maybe a sculptor, someone creative anyway. I’d put myself in his or her place, hoping one day I would have the opportunity to move around that large inviting space, to tiptoe up the stairs to the loft in the evening, to cook a meal in the small kitchen, to gaze out as trains rumbled by, sparks from the rails in their wake.

Inspired.

I never imagined my dream would come true.

But it did. And in a funny way, what drove me to this particular apartment led to a lot of dreams coming true.

But dreams can turn to nightmares in the space of a single breath.

Fate stepped in one day and changed everything—past, present, and future—when I rounded the bend of the L tracks and my glass-walled apartment came into view.

On that day, there was a change, a difference of two words.

Hanging as though suspended in midair was one of those black-and-red signs one can buy at the hardware store. The sign proclaimed: FOR RENT. Below the bright red letters was a white rectangle with a phone number written in black marker.

Oh my god. It’s coming true. This place will be gone by the afternoon! I can’t let anyone else have it.

I dug inside my messenger bag, groping for paper and pen to jot down the number. I’d call the moment I got to work, already feeling like I was racing against some imaginary clock hanging just above my head. Such a unique place wouldn’t be on the market for long. Hell, someone else might have already snatched it up.

I wasn’t fast enough to write the number. Of course, I wasn’t. The train had stopped for only a minute, two at the most, long enough to let a few folks off and a whole bunch on. There was a lot of chatter, the huffing of the train, the pneumatic hiss of the doors closing, and the garbled announcement for the next stop.

The apartment—and the FOR RENT sign—sailed by as it always did, and the phone number along with it. I turned in my seat, straining to try to see the number from this distance, even though I knew it was a stupid and impossible move.

I knew, as sure as anything, if I waited until the next day, with my pen poised and ready over a pad of paper, the sign would have vanished. Someone else would take possession of what I felt, in a weird and possessive way, was rightfully mine.

There was only one thing to do.

I tried to be patient despite my thundering heart, waiting until we neared the next station. I leapt up and edged my way through the crowd toward the doors. When they slid open, I stepped out and stood on the platform, giddy with my own impulsiveness. This wasn’t like me. I was usually a planner, every decision carefully considered before moving forward—or not.

Impulsive was something other people did.

On the platform, I paused for a moment, watching the southbound Brown Line train as it continued its journey toward the Loop. In the distance, the skyscrapers of downtown rose. A breeze rustled my hair. Autumn was definitely present, even though the sun peeked out through scattered clouds, drifting downward in illuminated shafts, like a religious painting. There was an undercurrent of chill that, at the time, I attributed to nothing more than the changing of seasons.

But now I wonder—was the chill an omen, foreboding? Was fate trying to tell me to get back on the next train and get to work like the safe and dependable guy I was? After all, I had a home and in it was a man I loved, a man to whom I hadn’t even whispered a word about wanting to move.

It was late autumn in Chicago and the day had all the portents of the coming winter. Gray, low-hanging clouds amassed near the horizon, some of them so dark they verged on black.

In the short time I stood there, the weather made a dramatic change, which, if you’ve ever visited Chicago, you know isn’t unusual. “Don’t like the weather?” Self-proclaimed wits were fond of saying about the Windy City. “Stick around for a few minutes, and it’ll change.”

The little sun there was vanished, beating a hasty retreat behind a bank of fast-moving and bruised clouds. Drizzle hung in the air. A needling, cold mist crept into my bones, making me shiver. This was worse than a downpour because it seemed like no matter how much one bundled up against it, the cold seeped into one’s bones, making it nearly impossible to get warm. The wind, which blew off the lake two miles east, picked up, running at a breakneck pace, westward bound, down Irving Park Road. I watched from the platform as the people below rushed to get out of the inclement weather, their umbrellas turning inside out. The wind ripped the last of fall’s leaves from their branches.

In spite of the weather, I made my way along the old wooden L platform to its northern end so I could stand directly in front of the object of my desire.

It was the first time I’d actually seen it up close. And now it almost looked unreal, as though it were a movie location dreamed up by the guy who did the set for Hitchcock’s Rear Window. My current view had that same urban, surreal feel, that same voyeuristic quality.

Looking back, I wondered if it also had that same air of menace Hitchcock was so noted for.

Close up the apartment was different.

I admit—I had idealized it. The soaring glass wall that I was so taken with was actually part of the roof and the glass had metal mesh inside it. I had imagined pristine glass; this was marred by water and mud stains, the color more a translucent gray than clear.

But I could still see inside the apartment, which looked quite small, but interesting: it was all one room, on two levels, with a large living area and kitchen down, and the sleeping area up. I don’t know if the current tenants were in the process of moving out or if they were simply minimalists. The place contained only a platform bed on the upper level and a swooning couch on the lower.

Whoever, they were, I decided, they lived much of their home lives horizontally.

I liked that.

And then I noticed one more thing—an elaborate screen pushed to one corner, near the wall that could be called the kitchen because of its stove, refrigerator, cupboards, and sink. Even through the rain-smeared glass and in the dim light of a rainy autumn morning, I could make out that the screen had been elaborately painted in a kind of graffiti style that reminded me of Keith Haring. Lurid red, white, and black leaped out at me from across the way.

I first heard and then saw the approach of another southbound train. I knew I had time to write down the phone number written on the FOR RENT sign, but inspiration, or fate, stepped in once more.

Why not just get off the platform, descend to street level, and see if I can claim this little piece of home right now?

Because my confession to not being very impulsive was somewhat true, I did take the precaution of jotting the number down.

And then I turned and descended the steps off the platform and continued through the turnstiles. Once I was in the relatively quieter environs of the Irving Park Brown Line L station, I pulled out my cell phone and called the number.

It took me by surprise when a woman picked up on the first ring. It’s almost like she was sitting by the phone, waiting for me to call. I’d expected to leave a message, so for a moment, I was a little taken aback, tongue-tied.

When I could engage brain and mouth, I said, “I’m calling to inquire about the apartment for rent.”

As soon as I said the words, I had the eerie feeling that I’d crossed a line. Nothing was ever going to be the same again. The words tumbled out and even then there was something within me, something no logic or reason can account for, that caused me to inexplicably know my fate was about to change and my wish for that apartment, placed into the universe subconsciously over many, many morning trips to work, was about to be granted. There was also a moment where an almost irresistible force compelled me to simply hang up, let go of this dream. Following it was rash, impulsive.

Before the woman even continued speaking, I knew I would be moving into that apartment the first of November. Even as the woman, her voice chipper and upbeat, perhaps a bit too friendly, invited me to come and have a look at the place right then, another thought, a clichéd one, intruded: Be careful what you wish for.

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Meet 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.

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Release Blitz: Stitches and Sepsis by Liz Faraim

Title: Stitches and Sepsis

Series: A Vivian Chastain Novel, #2

Author: Liz Faraim

Publisher:NineStar Press

Release Date: 04/26/2021

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Female/Female

Length: 77100

Genre: Contemporary Mystery, LGBTQIA+, Contemporary, thriller, lesbian, polyamory, Dom/sub relationship, multiple partners, ex-military, bartender, hospital

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Description

Adrenaline addicted veteran, Vivian Chastain, confronts the man who has been following her for days, only to find he has a message of dire consequence for her. Spurred into action by his news, she barrels head on into a tumultuous and violent series of events. Stoic and stubborn as always, Vivian lands in the hospital, fighting for her life.

During Vivian’s lengthy recovery, her partner is released from jail and the two reconnect, stoking up the flames of their toxic union all while Vivian dives into a blossoming relationship with a new love interest who offers fulfillment and love, if only Vivian can figure out how to allow it all in.

Vivian learns that the coast is not clear as former threats return and continue to endanger her. While she cannot rest easy; friends, her work crew, and customers at the night club where she tends bar provide her with much needed fun, comradery, and support.

Vivian wrestles with her temper, her penchant for physical violence, and her overwhelming emotional baggage. Struggles from within and without threaten her existence, and in the moment when death is just a breath away, Vivian’s brother shows up and changes everything.

Excerpt

Stitches and Sepsis
Liz Faraim © 2021
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One

February 2005, Briones Regional Park, CA

“What. The. Fuck. Do. You. Want?”

The weaselly man, who looked like a damn scarecrow, stammered but didn’t answer my question.

I hissed at him through clenched teeth. “You! You fucking twit. Everywhere I go, there you are. What the fuck do you want?”

He shifted his stance and stammered again. The crease between his eyebrows told me he was frightened.

Good.

His wispy, poor excuse for a goatee shook in the breeze. I clenched my fists, restraining the urge to pummel his stupid ass.

“Last chance,” I said, spitting the words at him like nails.

“I-I’m supposed to bring you a message?” He sounded unsure of himself, and I halfway hoped he pissed his pants a little.

“And?” I shouted, glaring at him impatiently.

He drew in a shaky breath. I exhaled loudly; my patience gone. A ball of violence, I stepped toward him. He sniffled and closed his eyes, raising his hands, readying himself for my fist in his face.

“Jared sent me! He’s in trouble.”

“Oh, really.” I sneered at him, skeptical. “Jared sent the worst tracker ever to bring me a message? I doubt that very much.”

“He told me you wouldn’t believe me. He also told me you might kick my ass.” He paused, rubbing two red marks on his throat where I had hit him with a stun gun the night before. “He told me to tell you you’d believe me if I said the words ‘lemon tree.’”

I squinted at him, considering the phrase “lemon tree,” and let out a bark of laughter. Embarrassed, he lowered his chin. I mulled the news over and watched the guy, making him wait while I took my time drinking water and eating some dried apricots from my hiking bag, trying to cover up the fact that my hands were shaking from low blood sugar.

He adjusted his weight from one foot, clad in a grubby worn-down shoe, to the other, and he rubbed his hands together as if he were washing them in a sink. The raspy sound of his skin annoyed me.

“Okay, fine. Lemon tree. That’ll do. Who the fuck are you, and what’s the message?”

“I’m nobody. What matters is that Jared got mixed up in a relationship with some whacked-out woman, and she won’t let him have contact with anyone. Not friends. Not family.” He started speaking faster. The floodgates had opened. “She only lets him go to work. He has to spend all of his time off with her. Like, he’s practically her prisoner.”

“I’m not a fan of the ‘crazy girlfriend’ misogynistic bullshit. What’s really going on? I need details.”

“She’s fucking nuts, man.”

I raised an eyebrow at him, and he cowed down a bit.

“Okay. Okay. Here’s the deal. Right after they started dating last year, she moved into his house. She is trying to get him to quit his job and work with her. And she is a drunk. She gets blackout drunk most nights. She pukes in the bed and on the floor on purpose…and she makes him clean it up every single time.” He rumpled his shaggy hair and tugged at his baggy pants. “She won’t let him out of her sight except for work or when he goes running. She won’t even let him shower alone. Can you believe that shit?” His eyes flicked up to mine, and spittle at the corners of his mouth glinted in the sun. “She has a rule that he can’t jack off, and she thought he would do it in the shower since that was the only privacy he has left. So, they have to shower together now. It’s beyond fucking insane.”

I stood there, chewing a tart apricot and taking it all in, snapping up and cataloging every detail of what he said, trying to stay objective when, really, I was pained for Jared who was my best friend and my rock.

The guy stopped, drew in a breath, and scratched his goatee with a shaky, anemic hand. He was clearly upset by what had happened with Jared. They had to be more than just random acquaintances, but what their relationship was, I didn’t know.

“Jesus. Okay. Well, did he have a specific message for me, or did he just want me to know what’s been going on?”

“When I get back down there, I am going to get him a burner phone. He’ll have to find a way to hide it from her. He is going to try to call you when he is out on a run, so keep your cell phone on and handy. He needs your help. I’ve never seen him like this. He is normally such an independent and stable guy. Why he can’t just tell her to fuck off, I don’t know.”

I nodded. “How did this happen?”

“All I know is that something really upset him last year and he hasn’t been himself ever since.”

I flinched, realizing I was the one who had upset Jared. “But how could he let himself get sucked into this? It sounds like he has essentially surrendered his whole life over to this lady.”

He sniffed. “Haven’t you ever been adrift? So raw you are vulnerable to everything?”

My chest stung as I thought about my partner, Ang, and decided to change the subject. “Why did it take you so long to talk to me? I’ve seen you a couple of times. Why follow me all the way out here?” I motioned to the desolate hills around us.

“I wasn’t sure you were…you. He couldn’t get me a picture, and you’re not on social media.”

“Social media?”

“Yeah, like MySpace or that new one, Facebook?”

I shook my head at him, not knowing what he was talking about. “I don’t own a computer.”

He tilted his head at me, and then went on. “Well, she even took away his photo albums and his records. Can you believe it? You know how much he loves playing his records, right?” He kicked a piece of gravel. “Anyway, he gave me your description, what kind of truck you drive, and name, but that’s it. I’m not exactly the most forward person, so I hung back to make sure who you were. And, I tried earlier outside your apartment building, but that didn’t go so well.” He rubbed his throat again.

“Okay, dude. I stun gunned you because it was 4:00 a.m., and you were blocking the door to my apartment building. Maybe rethink your strategy if you ever have to stalk me again.” I chuckled, but he didn’t smile. “Anyway, I’ll wait for his call. Now get your ass back down to Morro Bay and get him a phone.”

Relief washed over his face, and some color came back into his cheeks as he trotted off toward a beat-up old pickup truck, his sneakers slapping against the cracked blacktop.

As he drove away, the shakes hit me even harder, and I remembered that I needed to eat. I had just done a monster hike and was completely depleted. I jogged to my truck, changed out of my hiking boots, grabbed lunch, and sat at a picnic bench in the sunshine.

It was sweet relief to be back in my lightweight sneakers. I ate slowly, taking in the green hills all around. The sounds at Briones were so different than where I lived in Midtown Sacramento. The clanging of the light-rail train was replaced with tree branches swishing in the wind. The sounds of cars motoring down Twenty-Fourth Street were replaced with bird calls.

A family tossed a slobber-covered tennis ball over and over again for their dogs. A man across the parking lot fiddled with his mountain bike, pumping up the tires, checking the chain and gears. I had seen him at the park several times before and knew he was exceptionally thorough about his bike maintenance.

My legs started to cramp up, so I ran a quick lap around the field and stretched before packing up and using the outhouse one last time. Loose gravel crunched under the tires of my truck as I pulled out of the parking lot. I rolled slowly past the man fiddling with his mountain bike. His expression was serene, his body loose, not stressed. We made eye contact, and I gave him a salute as I rolled by. He snapped to attention and popped a salute so sharp it was startling. A former marine, perhaps.

As I drove back to Sacramento, my thoughts were laser focused on Jared. We had known each other since we were kids in army basic training and had been on some rough deployments together. The situation he was in didn’t align with the smart, funny, reliable, headstrong Jared that I knew.

We’d had a falling-out the year before, when he asked me to take our relationship from friendship to something more and I had turned him down. I thought we had gotten past it, but as I gripped the steering wheel and looked at the blur of orchards lining the freeway, guilt flooded me. Maybe he had been more hurt by my rebuff than I had thought. Had he spiraled and landed in a toxic relationship with a woman who was controlling and, dare I say it…abusive?

Sad, I shook my head and focused my thoughts back on how I could help him.

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Meet the Author

Liz is a recovering workaholic who has mastered multi-tasking, including balancing a day job, solo parenting, writing, and finding some semblance of a social life. In past lives she has been a soldier, a bartender, a shoe salesperson, an assistant museum curator, and even a driving instructor.

Liz lives in the East Bay Area of California, and enjoys exploring nature with her son.

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Release Blitz: Captivated by A.C. Thomas

Title: Captivated

Series: The Verge, Book Two

Author: A.C. Thomas

Publisher:NineStar Press

Release Date: 04/26/2021

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 73400

Genre: Science Fiction, LGBTQIA+, sci-fi, gay, nerd/linguist, space pirate, space travel/road trip, abduction/captive, twins, interracial, class difference, tattoos, body mods, humorous, opposites attract, outrageous flirting, sexual banter, undergarments, ribbon play

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Description

Dr. Theophrastus Campbell leads a comfortable life, along with his twin brother, buried in academia. His unique gift for obscure languages goes unnoticed as he teaches University students to conjugate Latin. Everything in his world is just as it should be; restrained, understated, boring. He would give anything to break away. In all his daydreams of adventure, Theo never expected it to arrive in the form of an outrageously attractive Outlier covered in intriguing tattoos. And Theo never thought the price he might pay for adventure would be his own freedom.

Captain Park Jun-Seo leads a dangerous life, running a Crew of misfits through Restricted space as he desperately searches for the key to completing his parents’ work. Work that could mean the difference between life and death for countless others. In all of his frantic searching, Jun never expected to find the key in the form of a beautiful professor with more brilliance than good sense. And he never thought the price he might pay for knowledge would be his own heart.

Stoic Jun and irrepressible Theo must work together to break the code before their time is up. Falling into bed together is effortless, but their growing connection wasn’t in the plan. Theo charms his way beneath Jun’s skin with every nonsensical move he makes. Jun must decide if he can make room in his harsh, goal-driven life for the unpredictable force of love. Theo begins their journey as a lighthearted adventure—until he cracks Jun’s tough facade to reveal the hero within. Theo must decide if he can risk his battered heart when Jun is risking everything.

In the lawless depths of space, can two captive hearts set each other free?

Excerpt

Captivated
A.C. Thomas © 2021
All Rights Reserved
Chapter One

Ding. Ding. Donk.

Theo held his index finger up at the uneven chime of the ancient bell over the door—yet another harried university student bustling into his office after hours. It was practically midnight, hardly the time to ask for an extension.

Honestly, students were the worst part of teaching. Theo didn’t know why he had taken the TA position in the first place.

Okay, yes, he did. But, to be fair, Professor Gladwell looked amazing in his spectacles and fitted waistcoats, and who could blame Theo for going a little glassy-eyed whenever they had private meetings?

Well, Professor Gladwell’s wife, for one, probably.

Theo finished his note and dropped his pen into the onyx holder on his desk, preparing to give the student his full attention.

Some of his attention.

Whatever was left over while Theo drifted off on thoughts of the strain Professor Gladwell’s buttons were under on a daily basis as they tried to contain all that athleticism. Those poor, poor buttons.

He lifted his head with the bored expectation of finding another skinny, pasty academic struggling to hold armfuls of paper with desperation written all over their ink-smudged face.

In other words, someone like Theo.

This person was holding a sheaf of papers, and there the resemblance ended to every expectation Theo had.

Perhaps it was time to expand his expectations.

“I’m looking for Dr. Campbell.” The stranger’s voice curled around Theo’s ears like smoke.

Theo smiled up at him, admiring the way the lamplight glinted off of his black hair and deep bronze skin. Stars, but he was a handsome specimen.

With a flip of his hair back over his shoulder, Theo marked his place in his notebook by closing a finger in the pages. “Well, you’re certainly in the right place for it! Though I suppose that depends on which Dr. Campbell you are looking for. There are three of us in my immediate family alone. Although, Campbell isn’t a terribly uncommon name, so there could easily be many more Dr. Campbells than I’m entirely unaware of.”

The stranger looked like he very much regretted initiating this conversation. Theo was, unfortunately, familiar with the expression being directed his way.

The stranger shook his head slightly, as though Theo’s chatter were water in his ears. Something else Theo was extremely familiar with.

He leaned in slightly, casting a wide shadow across Theo’s cluttered desk when his bulk blocked out the light beside the door. “Dr. Campbell. Where is he?”

Theo traced the impressive line of the stranger’s shoulders underneath his unusual many-layered black leather coat before offering his free hand to shake. “I am Dr. Campbell. Pleased to meet you! My brother is also Dr. Campbell, and my father is Dr. Campbell as well, though they would be less pleased to meet you. Nothing against you, personally, they just aren’t terribly fond of interacting with strangers. Or people in general, to be honest. Sometimes I think they can barely tolerate me!”

The stranger winced as if he could relate to the sentiment and quietly responded, “Dr. Campbell has been described as a thin male with green eyes, red hair, and pale skin.”

His deep voice sank into Theo’s bones like the pleasant rumble of a hovercoach over cobblestones.

Dark, hooded eyes skipped over Theo as his visitor described each feature, as though checking off a list in his head, ignoring Theo’s offered hand.

Theo dropped it to the desk with a shrug; the slight couldn’t hamper his enjoyment of this diversion from his research. “I’m afraid that doesn’t narrow it down even the slightest bit. My brother and I are identical twins, and we definitely favor our father, to the eternal dismay of our poor mother. My dismay as well, to be honest. It would have been ever so nice to have her chestnut hair rather than this glaring beacon I’ve got atop my head. I tend to stick out like a redheaded thumb.”

The stranger sucked in a breath through clenched teeth, square jaw held tight as his broad shoulders rose and fell in a long, measured sigh.

Theo felt like sighing himself at the sight. The man really was uncommonly beautiful.

He could happily watch those shoulders move for hours. He even had some suggestions regarding the nature of the movement.

His attention was brought to the desk when the stranger slapped a battered manuscript on top of his notebook—an older heatbound copy, of all things. The stranger’s fingers were marked with ink, tattooed on the metacarpals between each knuckle with Hangul letters in beautiful calligraphy. Theo had never seen the like.

The stranger put pressure on the hand he held splayed across the document, pinching the finger Theo had left inside his notebook. He yanked it out hastily as the stranger growled at him. “This Dr. Campbell.”

Absently shaking his pinched finger, Theo scanned the manuscript. The simulated parchment was stained and rumpled. It appeared to have been dog-eared at the corners over and over again, and the pages bristled with assorted tabs. All signs of a book well loved.

He tried to read the cover page, lifting the stranger’s long fingers distractedly with his thumb and forefinger until he was hit by a jolt of recognition, filled to the brim with unexpected delight. “Wherever did you get this? I wrote this years ago during my graduate studies! I’m honestly surprised that anyone outside my thesis committee has even read it. It’s such an obscure topic, after all. I had the most terrible time just—”

The stranger’s palm slammed back down on top of the document, missing Theo’s hand by a hair. “You are this Dr. Campbell?”

It appeared as though he already knew the answer and was dreading it as he squinted dubiously in Theo’s direction. There was a slight tremble in the man’s fingers as they pressed hard against the sheaf of papers.

The stranger’s eyes remained shadowed by his strong brow, but his gaze washed over Theo—a wave of heat, laser-focused and far more intense than the conversation warranted.

A frisson of caution tried to nip at Theo’s mind, sounding an awful lot like his brother hissing in his ear about good sense. He shook it off the way he usually did and leaned his chin on his hand to peer up at the stranger through his lashes. “Why, yes, I am. To whom do I have the pleasure of speaking?”

The stranger lifted the manuscript, his fingers unmistakably trembling as he flipped through pages with a dry rustle of sim-parchment. He held the document open to a passage of translation Theo had featured in his study of long-dead languages and shook it rather rudely in his face. “This. You can read this?”

Theo launched into a recitation of the passage, finishing with a flourishing roll of the tongue. It was rare to find a fellow enthusiast on the topic, particularly one so pleasing to the eye. The stranger seemed unusually passionate about the subject, his breath quickening audibly as Theo rattled off the words of a people long gone.

Theo cocked his head to the side and reached for his pen as he opened his notebook. “If you have an interest in the topic, I keep one of my sources here in my office. Just there, on that shelf.” He gestured off to the side where his cluttered bookcase leaned heavily against the wall for much-needed support. “It’s titled An Annotated Glossary of Dead Languages by Dr. Fernsby.”

The stranger folded his sheaf of papers into his coat and walked to the bookcase in two decisive strides. Theo took the opportunity to study him further, pen hovering above his open notebook.

Quickly skipping past a few dozen sketches of Professor Gladwell standing at his lectern, he found an empty page.

As the stranger turned to face the bookcase, Theo caught a glimpse of black ink trailing up his neck to frame his sharp jawline in an odd geometric pattern of thin parallel lines intersected with tiny circles. He attempted to sketch the tattoos onto his paper.

Even more ink snaked out of the cuffs of his coat, wrapping around his wrists and stamping all the way down to his fingers with that lovely calligraphy scribed across his knuckles. Theo wrote down the characters and translated them to Core Standard in the margins.

Honor on one hand and Valor on the other. Fascinating.

Closer examination revealed a design of clustered hexagonal shapes running up the wrist of his left hand. Theo had just begun to sketch them when the stranger turned back toward him, book clutched in his fist.

Theo had never seen anyone remotely resembling the man; nothing about him said “Core,” from his sprawling ink to the look in his eye. He gave the impression of someone midway over a rickety rope bridge, unsure of every step but determined to get across.

Theo couldn’t help but find his appearance a little bit dangerous as he took in his severely handsome face framed by unevenly shaved black hair, all of it underscored by the dramatic sweep of his coat.

The impression was cemented when the man tucked the book away inside his coat and pulled his hand back out with a ray gun pointed in Theo’s direction.

Theo’s pen dropped a blot of ink onto his notebook as the man stepped closer.

The stranger’s eyes were so dark his pupils disappeared into the black of his iris. His unrelenting stare sent shivers down Theo’s spine that could not be attributed entirely to fear. “Come with me. Now.”

Theo chewed on his lip for a moment, considering, and then he turned the page of his notebook to jot down a short list of words.

When Theo’s attention fell to his notebook, the man repeated himself at an increased volume. His vowels were clipped, initial consonants rounded, almost like a citizen of the Core world Goryeo but significantly sharper. His words had a cutting edge to them Theo had never heard before.

A heavy boot kicked Theo’s desk, and the man’s handsome face twisted in anger. Theo glanced down at the chunks of mud littering his carpet.

“Your accent is absolutely fascinating. I need you to repeat these words back to me, if you please.”

Pen poised to take down the man’s answers, Theo rattled off his list of words expectantly.

The stranger’s scowl slid from his face, his eyes widening in Theo’s direction in the manner people often did when he caught them off guard.

It seemed to happen fairly frequently.

“I have a gun,” the man said, returning to his original volume if not his original vehemence.

Theo sighed, scribbling on his pad with a shake of his head that had his hair falling in his face. “No, no, that doesn’t help at all; that would take me ages to decipher. Repeat the list, if you please.”

The stranger gestured with his ray gun, raising it level with Theo’s head. His fingers had finally stopped trembling.

“I have. A gun.”

Theo used his pen to shove the tapered barrel of it away from his face in irritation. “No, you mustn’t obscure your lips that way. I need to see the movements. Now, the list, if you please.”

The stranger’s face did something decidedly odd and incredibly diverting where his features couldn’t seem to decide what direction they wanted to go, so they never went anywhere at all.

To Theo’s absolute delight, he actually repeated the first three words on the list before giving his head an emphatic shake, gesturing with the gun once more. “I don’t think you understand. This is an abduction, Dr. Campbell. You’re coming with me.”

Theo didn’t turn away from his notebook, busily adding to his notes. He sketched out the pattern the man had shaved into his close-cropped hair on the right side: three intersecting triangles. Theo directed his answer to his notebook, pen flying across the page. “Or else you intend to shoot me, I suppose, is meant to be the implication with the gun?”

A large muscle began ticking in the stranger’s clenched jaw.

“Yes,” he gritted out between even, white teeth.

Theo beamed at him, tucking his hair behind his ear with an excited wriggle. “How thrilling! Just give me a moment to jot off a quick letter for my brother, and we can be off. I must say, this coincides nicely with the due date for that stack of term papers I’ve been putting off marking. Well done, you.”

The stranger gave the aforementioned stack of papers a baffled glance as Theo turned to another page to leave a short note for his twin brother, Ari.

He was bound to be perturbed if Theo did not make it home in time for tea tomorrow after all.

Ari didn’t like it when Theo diverged from their schedule, which was a constant source of conflict as Theo was appallingly bad at keeping to a schedule. The dear thing spent most of their lives nudging Theo back on track—

“Enough.”

The dark snarl of the stranger’s voice, crackling in the space between them like a bolt of lightning, startled Theo into dropping his pen.

The stranger tugged up a hood of soft gray material attached to his black leather coat, casting his face in shadow. He reached across Theo’s desk, plucked him from his seat one-handed, and lifted him effortlessly across his desk, scattering clutter all over the floor.

One muscular arm curled around Theo’s midsection, holding his back tightly against the man’s firm chest.

Theo ran his hands over the corded muscle of the man’s tense forearm with an appreciative hum as they started to move across the floor.

He was quite tall indeed for Theo’s coltish legs to dangle midair. It made Theo want to turn and wrap those legs around his waist. It was evident he’d have no trouble supporting Theo’s weight.

Altogether, an absolutely delicious thought. And here Theo had thought he was in for yet another lonely, boring Thursday night.

The stranger considered the door for a moment, then reached out with his gun hand to yank at the figured brass handle, prompting Theo into action.

“Oh, I almost forgot!”

He stomped down on his captor’s boot, showering the carpet with another layer of caked-on mud and debris. The arm across his stomach tightened uncomfortably as the man hissed through his teeth.

The ray gun prodded Theo’s side menacingly, but he just turned his head with an apologetic smile. “So sorry about that; I assure you it was quite necessary!”

With a noise reminiscent of a lion with a thorn in its paw, the stranger carried Theo out the door and into the cold night air.

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NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

A.C. Thomas left the glamorous world of teaching preschool for the even more glamorous world of staying home with her toddler. Between the diaper changes and tea parties, she escapes into fantastical worlds, reading every romance available and even writing a few herself.

She devours books of every flavor—science fiction, historical, fantasy—but always with a touch of romance because she believes there is nothing more fantastical than the transformative power of love.

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