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Release Blitz: Unraveling by Rick R Reed

Author: Rick R. Reed

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: January 13, 2020

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 68300

Genre: Contemporary, LGBT, deep closet, coming out, men with children, virgin, #ownvoices, humorous, EMT

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Synopsis

Randy Kay has the perfect life with his beautiful wife and adorable son. But Randy’s living a lie, untrue to himself and everyone who knows him. He’s gay.

Marriage and fatherhood, which he thought could change him, have failed. He doubts if anyone can love him for who he really is—especially himself.

With his wife’s blessing, he sets out to explore the gay world he’s hidden from all his life.

John Walsh, a paramedic with the Chicago Fire Department, is comfortable in his own skin as a gay man, yet he can never find someone who shares his desire to create a real relationship, a true family.

When Randy and John first spy each other in Chicago’s Boystown, all kinds of alarms go off—some of joy, others of deep-seated fear.

Randy and John must surmount multiple hurdles on the journey to a lasting, meaningful love. Will they succeed or will their chance at love go up in flames, destroyed by missed connections and a lack of self-acceptance?

Excerpt

Unraveling
Rick R. Reed © 2020
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One
RANDY

I have my death all planned out.

Unlike the thirty-two years that have gone before, I want my passing to be peaceful and free of the discord and pain I’ve lived with for as long as I can remember. I want it to be easy. Effortless. Guilt-free.

Whether it’s any of those things remains to be seen.

I’ve rented this hotel room at a small boutique hotel off Michigan Avenue. The Crewe House has been standing on this same ground on Oak Street for at least a hundred years. The rooms are small, fussy, and charming, with flocked wallpaper, four-poster beds, and claw-foot tubs and pedestal sinks in their black-and-white bathrooms. It’s charming, and I deserve something nice to gaze at before I close my eyes for good.

I have some sandalwood-scented candles lit, and the fragrance is warm, enveloping. Their soft flicker is the only illumination. Outside, the winter sky darkens early. Dusk’s cobalt blue makes silhouettes of the water towers, train tracks, and buildings to the west of the hotel. Near the horizon the sky is a shade of lavender that mesmerizes me, makes me think of changing my mind. If a sky like this can exist, with its electric bands of color, maybe the world isn’t such a horrible place.

Maybe I can go on.

No.

What else have I done to ease my passage into whatever comes next? I have a bottle of Veuve Cliquot, my favorite champagne, uncorked and resting in a silver ice bucket, filled with melting ice. A flute stands next to it, waiting.

I’ll wash the sleeping pills down with the bubbly.

Before getting into bed, I’ll turn on the cassette I have in my boombox, Abbey Road. I have it queued up to “Golden Slumbers.”

I’ve been carrying this weight for such a long time.

I long for smiles.

At last, I’ll undress and stretch out on the four-poster. I’ll pull the eiderdown duvet loosely over me and close my eyes.

The plan is I will slowly slip under, my brain becoming a soft velvety fog, and I’ll simply fall into the arms of a comforting—and obliterating—slumber.

I will not dream.

It won’t take long.

And I’ll leave a beautiful corpse.

That’s the plan, anyway. Some of my research into this method of offing myself runs counter to this gentle fantasy, but I don’t want to consider the downside of overdosing on strong barbiturates.

I want to go to sleep.

I want to forget the impossibility of being able to become the man I know I should be.

Husband.

Father.

I blink back tears as I sit on the bed, staring out at the deepening twilight. They don’t deserve this: what you’re going to leave them with. I know the voice inside, the one that’s always made me do the right thing, at the expense of my very being, is right. And even though they don’t deserve it, you know they will hurt, of course they will, but in the end, they’ll be better off.

Who wants a husband and father who can’t seem to make himself straight, despite trying therapy, the Catholic Church, the Buddhist faith, self-help groups, and self-help books. A group of pathetic married men meeting once a month and thinking they can change. Nothing works. If I could change, I would.

And since I can’t change, I’m left with three options:

Accept myself as I am. How can I do that? I’d be a failure as a husband, a father, a son, a brother. I’d go on wearing this suffocating mask. I’d continue to live a life that’s essentially a lie.

Everyone who loves me doesn’t even know me.

They love a façade, a projection, a mirage made of wishes, impossible hopes, and self-hatred.

No, acceptance is not an option. It never was.

Second, I could resist. I could knuckle down and brace myself against the attractions I feel, the dreams that pop up in my sleep despite my desperately not wanting them there. I could hold myself back from falling prey to the temptations I feel on the streets, the subway, the locker rooms—everywhere I encounter a beautiful man.

The reason I find myself here is because I can’t resist. Not anymore.

And the third option is simply the one I have to choose—remove myself from the pain. Remove myself from existing as this broken thing that God nor man can fix.

Yes, Violet and Henry both will find a way to move on, and they’ll be happier, more anchored in life without me.

Who needs a gay dad? Or a husband who, deep down, doesn’t want what his wife has to offer? Or worse, a dad who contracts the death sentence of AIDS?

Enough of the grim thoughts. They were not part of my plan. Tonight, I go out peacefully. I’ll shut my eyes and remember things like my joy six years ago when Henry was born and seeing him take his first breath. I shouted, “We got a boy!” and fell into the deepest, most effortless love I’ve ever felt. I’ll remember proposing to Violet when we were both college sophomores and the thrill when she accepted the cheap diamond-chips ring I gave her. Things will be okay now, I remember thinking. I can change.

I really believed that. And I know I love Violet as best I can.

It’s sad when your best simply isn’t good enough.

I reach over for the bottle of sleeping pills on the nightstand. There are thirty of them, and I intend to take them all, two or three at a time. If it takes the whole bottle of champagne to get them down, well, things could be worse. No?

I tip the bottle and look at the tablets against the dark wood, so innocent, yet so lethal.

I’m just reaching for one when there’s a sudden knock on the door. Loud. Forceful. Urgent.

“Randy? Randy? Open up, please.”

The door knob turns as Violet’s voice penetrates the heavy wood of the door, making her sound muffled.

I close my eyes. I could ignore her, hope she goes away.

How did she find out where I was anyway?

She wasn’t supposed to know until she got the letter, the one neatly folded and an arm’s length away on the nightstand.

Pounding. “Please!” Violet calls.

I gather the pills, shoving them back in the bottle, then hide the container in a nightstand drawer.

How will I explain?

I get up, cross the room, and open the door.

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Meet the Author

Real Men. True Love.

Rick R. Reed draws inspiration from the lives of gay men to craft stories that quicken the heartbeat, engage emotions, and keep the pages turning. Although he dabbles in horror, dark suspense, and comedy, his attention always returns to the power of love. He’s the award-winning and bestselling author of more than fifty works of published fiction and is forever at work on yet another book. Lambda Literary has called him: “A writer that doesn’t disappoint…” Rick lives in Palm Springs, CA with his beloved husband and their fierce Chihuahua/Shiba Inu mix.

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Release Blitz: Breaking The Surface by Rebecca Langham

Title: Breaking the Surface

Series: The Outsider Project, Book Two

Author: Rebecca Langham

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: January 13, 2020

Heat Level: 2 – Fade to Black Sex

Pairing: Female/Female

Length: 81300

Genre: Science Fiction, LGBT, captivity, interspecies, politics, Sci-fi, teacher, futuristic, lesbian, space

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Synopsis

Alessia is an Outsider—a member of the not-quite-human community that has recently been released from their underground prison. Shortly after their liberation, Alessia is given an ultimatum: obey all the United Earth Alliance’s demands, or her mother will forever remain a hostage—a mother she’d believed dead for fifteen years. Reluctantly, she agrees, though she has no idea what those demands may be or how she will balance her obligations to the UEA with her responsibilities to her people and her family.

As the UEA tightens its grip on humans and Outsiders alike, it becomes clear that meaningful social change will not be possible without a revolution. Alessia and her peers embark on a mission to discover just how far the government is willing to go to maintain their monopoly on power.

What Alessia and her comrades discover, however, goes much deeper than they’d ever anticipated. Who are the Outsiders, really? What secrets of their destiny lay hidden within a top-secret space station? And why are the Outsiders linked to an emerging disease the UEA seems desperate to keep secret? As they delve deeper, it isn’t only Alessia’s identity that will be called into question, but the fate of the entire planet.

Excerpt

Breaking the Surface
Rebecca Langham © 2020
All Rights Reserved

Lydia wanted so badly to pace, to burn away her fear one exaggerated step at a time, but there was nowhere to go, no floor space to haunt. The Camp had been a sanctuary for them all, keeping her friends safe from unwanted attention since they’d taken their first steps as free people, but now it suffocated her. It may have been off-the-grid, but the complex was also small. Too small.

Given the number of people in the control room, she had to settle for crossing her arms over her stomach and gritting her teeth. But even then, she couldn’t silence the dissenting voice in her head. Something wasn’t right. Why would the United Earth Alliance be demanding a meeting so forcefully?

The UEA had been quiet in the two weeks since the Outsiders relocated from the colonies, granting an eerie yet welcome period of radio silence. Now they’d not only made contact, but threatened legal action if Alessia and the Green Hats didn’t acquiesce to an immediate communication with one of the government’s top advisers.

Lydia’s stomach churned.

As though reading her thoughts, Alessia slid her hand into Lydia’s and squeezed her fingers. Lydia forced a weak smile as she turned. “I don’t trust them.”

Alessia’s face—which, more than ever, reminded Lydia of a finely carved alabaster statue— softened.

“Of course not,” she replied, her tone sympathetic yet firm. “But it may not be wise to ignore the request. This could be nothing more than an administrative issue and I don’t want to invite trouble, not so soon after the release.”

“I don’t think you can ignore it, Ly-dee.” Helen swivelled gently in an office chair, forearms resting on her thighs as she considered her daughter. After all those years without Helen’s presence, hearing that fruity voice still managed to surprise her from time to time. Lydia had believed her mother to be dead for years. Finding out she hadn’t died, but rather become a kind of political hacker, was unsettling to say the least.

Life had changed so much in the last nine months. Alessia did not remain trapped beneath the ground, and Helen had re-emerged from the void.

No longer living with her politician father, even Lydia had been partially freed from the web of her old insecurities and frustrations. Sometimes though, it seemed like those frustrations had dissolved only to be replaced by a whole slew of new concerns. It had been a lot to process.

Helen sighed, a little too dramatically. She reached for a cup of tea she’d left cooling on a nearby bench and cradled it between her hands. “We knew they’d get their claws back in sooner or later.”

“Two weeks,” Lydia huffed. “They only waited two weeks. Please can’t we refuse?” The frustration in her voice exposed Lydia’s raw emotional state in a way she wasn’t comfortable with. Until recently, she’d worked hard to present a subdued version of her thoughts to the outside world. With such a prominent father, she’d had to if she had any hope of protecting herself from those who sought to exploit her. Whether it be to splash her personal life about the goss-channels, or to pressure her to influence her father regarding some political issue or another, there had been no shortage of people trying to use Lydia. It had been a kind of self-preservation to surround herself in the dark veil she’d become enveloped in, making it harder for people to really see her. But then Alessia had burst into her life, a quiet yet powerful blaze of light.

Alessia and the other Outsiders had reached right into her and reawakened feelings and sensations she’d muted long ago.

“Is refusing a good idea?” Peleus looked up from where he sat cross-legged on the floor a couple of metres away from Helen. Peleus had been one of her earliest and most faithful followers and friends, embracing her efforts to slowly change culture in the colony by sharing positive stories and messages with the children. “They’re providing accommodations and integration assistance to the four thousand Os who’ve had their entire existence uprooted. Not taking their meeting might give the UEA reason to withdraw support.” As Alessia’s confidante, Peleus’s presence always lent a certain sense of thoughtful tranquillity to a situation.

Alessia pulled Lydia closer until their bodies pressed together, banishing the air between them and soothing Lydia’s nerves a little. They’d barely had time to catch their breath since Release Day. When they had finally pushed their way through the obscenely large crowd of onlookers in Thracia after the ceremony, they’d boarded an air-transport and come directly here to the Green Hat headquarters in Quadrant Four.

Affectionately known by its inhabitants as the Camp, the secure underground complex supported a community of approximately a hundred people. Every one of them had dedicated their lives to undermining the UEA’s ever-worsening abuses of its own laws.

The main control room at the Camp was capacious and circular, with curved desks and ergonomic chairs that hugged the wall. Each workstation offered a user access to the G-Hat virtual network, but to connect with the outside world, one had to utilise the cylindrical, glassy tower in the centre of the room. A reflective pillar when inactive, the hub featured a projector that sent holograms into the middle of the tower as required.

The hub worked much the same way as any Hive wall, but with some modifications helping to prevent hacks into the rest of their system. It was also perfect for situations in which more than one person needed to participate in a communication link. Lydia believed the entire setup was nothing short of spectacular. No doubt they’d been able to develop the untraceable consoles only because of whatever financial support the MacNay Corporation had been providing.

Still, Alessia and Lydia had traded one isolated abode for another. At least this one wasn’t full of protectors or tainted by decades of oppression. Greys had been replaced with blues, locked doors with open spaces, and obstacles with possibilities.

The dormitory was unfortunate, though. Each night, the enticing heat of Alessia’s body rejuvenated Lydia, yet they were acutely aware of the other people sleeping nearby, and so Lydia had accepted the fact they’d have no privacy for the foreseeable future.

In truth, she experienced relief and disappointment in equal measure. They’d only spent a few weeks getting to know one another in the Q4C, after a month of silent glances in crowded corridors. The six months of separation following Lydia’s departure had done little to quiet Lydia’s fears her connection to Alessia wasn’t as strong as she’d thought, that perhaps she’d imagined the whole thing given the immediacy of their attraction. Slowing things down, being with one another without expectation, could be the best way for Lydia to validate the tether between the two of them.

The rest of the refugees had been relocated to government-sponsored accommodations in the major cities of Thracia and New Sydney. Only Peleus and Fermi knew exactly where to find Alessia, and Lydia wanted it to stay that way for the moment, regardless of Alessia’s initial protestations.

The entire world knew Alessia’s face now, and there was no way to predict how she’d be received by the mainstream population or what her own people might expect from her as their de facto leader. Leader.

Lydia rested the side of her face against Alessia’s bicep. Her stomach clenched as she capitulated. “Peleus is right, isn’t he? We should hear them out.”

Alessia kissed the top of Lydia’s head, then nodded. “Yes.” She looked at Lydia’s mother. “Helen, I’m ready.”

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Don’t miss Book #1 in the The Outsider Project series, Beneath the Surface, available from NineStar Press

Meet the Author

Rebecca Langham lives in the Blue Mountains (Australia) with her partner, three children, and menagerie of pets. A Xenite, a Whovian and all-round general nerd, she’s a lover of science fiction, comic books, and caffeine. When she isn’t teaching History to high schoolers or wrangling children, Rebecca enjoys playing broomball and reading.

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Release Blitz: Life Minus Me by Sara Codair

Title: Life Minus Me

Series: The Evanstar Chronicles, Book .5

Author: Sara Codair

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: January 6, 2020

Heat Level: 1 – No Sex

Pairing: No Romance

Length: 23500

Genre: Paranormal, LGBT, Angels, Mental illness, Psychic ability, Pets, #ownvoices, Fae/fairies

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Synopsis

Mel is half Angel, but despite her ability to heal and read minds, she feels powerless to help anyone. When a prophecy shows a local pet supply store owner driving their car off a bridge, Mel sets out to stop it.

Baily, owner of Barks and Bits, is barely holding it together. Things keep going wrong, and their depression spirals out of control. Just as they start wondering if they’d be better off dead, a new friend provides a glimmer of hope. But is that enough to keep living?

Mel never thought saving Baily would be easy, but she can’t figure out when, where, or why Baily’s suicide will happen. As her confidence fades away, she wonders how she can help anyone when she needs so much help herself.

Excerpt

Life Minus Me
Sara Codair © 2019
All Rights Reserved

Mel

Saturday

Sun beat down on Mel’s cold, rosy cheeks, and wind whipped her blonde hair into a frenzy of thrashing strands. She sped up on I-95 in a yellow Jeep Wrangler with the top down on a chilly Saturday morning in January. The fact that she even felt cold at all reminded her that she was a little human…25 percent human.

A salty chill grew in the air. A green bridge loomed on the horizon. It crossed the Piscataqua River, the border between Maine and New Hampshire, leading her from the place where she, a seemingly human college senior who lived with her grad-student fiancé, was deciding which medical school to attend, to one where she was an Angel-Elf-Human hybrid who fought Demons and healed minor injuries. Sometimes, Mel felt like she lived in two worlds. In one, science and reason left little room for belief in the supernatural. In the other, her maternal grandmother was an Elf, her father was an Angel, and the rest of her family members were Demon hunters.

They weren’t technically two separate worlds so much as cultures, one hidden from the other. Mel led a double life in this messy multifaceted world where she tried her best to make it a better place. She tried, but she failed more than she succeeded.

She tapped the steering wheel with her fingers, drumming a rhythm to a song someone was listening to in the car in front of her, one she wasn’t hearing through her ears, but through telepathy she’d failed to turn off. She understood even less of the science behind her mind reading than that of her healing abilities.

Speeding up, she passed the pickup truck whose driver was loudly thinking about the music he was listening to and how it reminded him of his ex-boyfriend. Mel imagined the rush of wind, the growl of her engine, and a big brick wall shielding her mind from everything outside her skull until the music ceased. Mostly. She’d inherited her telepathic powers from her father, but she didn’t control the ability nearly as well as he did.

She tightened her grip on the steering wheel. It was going to be at least another hour before she got to Mary’s Eats, a diner where she was meeting her cousin, Erin, for breakfast.

Driving was difficult when her attempts to control her telepathy failed, but crowded restaurants were more of a challenge. When Mel stepped through glass doors into the diner, other people’s thoughts battered the mental walls she’d constructed around her mind. She squeezed by the line of customers waiting for tables, ignoring their glares and reinforcing her shields so the dull, incoherent murmuring of a dozen minds faded away.

The L-shaped room was filled with pink and blue tables that had been there since the 1950s. The faux-wood vinyl floors were less than a year old, installed around the same time the owners had gutted the walls to insulate them, updated the wiring, and added gender-neutral bathrooms. Those bathrooms, along with the large portions of bacon that the restaurant served, were why Erin often insisted on meeting here.

Erin sat in the fifth booth from the line, hood up and headphones on. Rocking back and forth to the beat of music Mel couldn’t hear, Erin shredded a straw wrapper and stared at the silverware. Two menus sat untouched on the edge of the table.

A bony shoulder collided with Mel’s back. Newspapers flew up into the air and floated to the floor like feathers from broken wings as a man with wispy gray hair and pasty skin jumped backward.

“I’m so sorry,” he said, catching his balance on the side of the booth. “I wasn’t watching where I was going.”

“It’s fine. It’s a good thing you didn’t fall.” Mel bent down and started picking up the dropped papers.

“I’ll get them. I’m healthier than I look.” The old man bent down and scooped up more pages.

Mel picked them up quicker and then helped him back to his feet.

“Thank you,” he said, before shuffling off to a table where a younger person with short brown hair and rosy cheeks glared at a computer screen.

“Cooper, these numbers don’t look right,” said the person, picking at chapped lips.

Cooper clutched his disorganized newspaper to his chest as he looked over the person’s shoulder. “That check was only supposed to be for $5,000, not $50,000!”

“Call the bank. They close at noon,” said the younger person.

“Mel? Someone else is going to walk into you if you keep standing in the middle of the aisle,” said Erin, whose hood and headphones were now off.

“Good point.” Mel slid into the seat across from Erin. “It’s been a long week.”

“It must be horrible, going back to school after having a month off.” Erin gathered pieces of their shredded straw wrapper into a pile and slid them under the menu.

“You had a couple weeks off too.” Mel fidgeted with the ring on her left-hand ring finger.

“Over which I had to write a five-page paper. You had no homework and get to start all new classes.” Erin picked up the butter knife and put it down, squeezing their hands together.

“Are you okay?” Mel leaned forward and tilted her head, peering at Erin’s grass-green eyes, barely resisting the temptation to let her shields down so she could read Erin’s mind.

“Not really.” Erin yanked their right hand away from their left, running their fingers through short, red curls. “The meds my new doctor had me on were actually working until I broke out into hives, got really dizzy, and couldn’t keep a single meal down.”

“That sucks.” Mel curled her hands around the edge of the booth’s seat, digging her fingernails into the old vinyl. Erin wasn’t much more human than Mel, which was probably why medications intended for humans didn’t work. But Erin didn’t know that, and Mel couldn’t tell them the truth—she was bound by an oath that was impossible to break. Had she known what the consequences of this secret would be, she never would’ve agreed to keep it.

“Yup. My stupid brain is already foggy again, and I can’t focus on getting anything done.” Erin picked up the fork, spun it around, and ran their fingers over the prongs.

Mel snatched it out of their hand. “Careful.”

Erin rolled their eyes. “I wish the server would hurry up and come back now that you’re here. I’m starving.”

“Me too.” Mel slid Erin’s napkin and butter knife closer, farther away from Erin.

“Really? You think that little of me?” Erin stood up, fists clenched as they stared out the window to the street where their car, a Jeep Cherokee built four years before Erin was even born, was parked outside.

“Erin, I’m sorry. I just…it’s an old habit, maybe. I’m sorry.” Mel’s hands shook as she waited for Erin to either accept the apology or storm away. Her chest got tight and her eyes burned. A year and a half ago, she had sat with Erin in this very diner, thinking Erin was just fidgeting, not realizing until she dropped her shields that Erin had a butter knife under the table and was nervously running their thumb back and forth over the edge until it bled. It was the type of thing that used to happen all the time, and each time Mel intervened, Erin pushed her further and further away, resisting help no matter who it came from.

Erin took a deep breath and sat back down. “I don’t cut anymore, and if me being off medication means you’re going to start meddling with my life again, I’m not talking to you. Either accept that I’m fine without your interference or leave me alone.”

“Okay. I’ll stop. I won’t intrude.” Mel gritted her teeth. Erin would’ve died if she hadn’t meddled. Erin’s bitterness over Mel’s interference in a suicide attempt was a sign Erin was not fine at all, but there was nothing Mel could do about it without crossing boundaries and breaking the fragile trust she’d built with her cousin.

Erin leaned forward. “I have a good therapist now. Mom isn’t ignoring me as much as she used to. Be my cousin and friend. Don’t act like some guardian angel trying to save me.”

Mel squeezed her eyes shut, holding tears in. She’d do what Erin asked, for now, even though it made her feel like a complete failure, like the shittiest Angel ever.

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Don’t miss Book #1 in the The Evanstar Chronicles series, Power Surge, available from NineStar Press

Erin has just realized that for the entirety of their life, their family has lied to them. Their Sight has been masked for years, so Erin thought the Pixies and Mermaids were hallucinations. Not only are the supernatural creatures they see daily real, but their grandmother is an Elf, meaning Erin isn’t fully human. On top of that, the dreams Erin thought were nightmares are actually prophecies.

While dealing with the anger they have over all of the lies, they are getting used to their new boyfriend, their boyfriend’s bullying ex, and the fact that they come from a family of Demon Hunters. As Erin struggles through everything weighing on them, they uncover a Demon plot to take over the world.

Erin just wants some time to work through it all on their own terms, but that’s going to have to wait until after they help save the world.

Meet the Author

Sara Codair lives in a world of words, writing fiction in every free moment, teaching writing at a community college and binge-reading fantasy novels. When not lost in words, Sara can often be found hiking, swimming, or gardening. Find Sara’s words in Alternative Truths, Helios Quarterly, and Secrets of the Goat People, at https://saracodair.com/

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Re-Release Tour: All The Way To Shore by C Jane Elliot

Title: All the Way to Shore

Author: CJane Elliott

Narrated by: Tim McKiernan

Publisher: Self-Published

Original Release Date: 11/23/16

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 5 hrs and 55 mins

Genre: Romance, Contemporary

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Synopsis

What happens when a cruise ship romance crashes on the rocky shores of reality?

Poor-little-rich-boy Jonathan Vallen is the heir to Vallen Industries, but is more interested in music and gardens. He clashes with new CEO Marco Pellegrini, a self-made man and rising star in business, who is brought in to salvage the company. Jonathan gladly leaves Vallen and moves to Cape Cod. When they meet again on an LGBTQ Caribbean cruise, Marco doesn’t recognize Jonathan, who has spent a year transforming from an ugly duckling into a very sexy swan. After Marco shows interest and sparks fly, Jonathan reluctantly assumes a false identity, egged on by his cousin Anthony. None of them expect a shipboard fling to deepen into true love.

Back on land, the romance crashes when Marco discovers his perfect man is not only a lie but the son of his boss, Frederick Vallen. Jonathan resolves to win Marco back, but Frederick takes vengeful action. Jonathan and Marco must battle their own fears as well as Frederick’s challenge to get to the future that awaits them on the horizon.

Excerpt

The strains of a steel band mingled in the air with the tantalizing aroma of meat on the grill. Jonathan was thinking about getting something to eat when Anthony suddenly clutched his arm.

“Jonny! Over there!” Anthony practically hissed the words as he jerked his head to the right.

“What?” Jonathan took another sip of his sangria, not too concerned. Anthony got worked up about everything.

“I think that’s Marco Pellegrini!”

He lifted his head and stared in the direction Anthony indicated. A tall, dark-haired man in glasses stood surveying the crowd next to a younger woman bearing a strong resemblance to him. Both were stunningly good-looking. The man’s tousled curls were longer than Jonathan remembered Marco’s being. But when the breeze lifted them from his face, his Roman nose and defined cheekbones were unmistakable. So was the amazing body clad in a tank top and shorts ensemble that managed to combine elegance with sexiness. Damn. It was Marco. “On this cruise? I thought he was engaged or something. And straight.”

“Guess not. I knew that guy was gay!”

“I think you mean bi.” Jonathan’s mouth grew dry as Marco squinted in their direction, and the humiliation of their past encounters rose in his mind. “Oh, damn, damn it, Tony. What’s he doing here?”

He was about to turn and flee to their stateroom when Anthony said, “He’s staring at you, Jonny. I think he likes what he sees. Stop fidgeting! Let’s go over and say hi.”

“Are you kidding?” Jonathan whispered. “I never want to see that guy again. And he for sure doesn’t want to see me!”

“No? Then why’s he walking over here? My God, the man is gorgeous! If you don’t want him, I get him.”

“You—” Jonathan cut himself off because Marco was indeed strolling in their direction, the woman at his side.

Anthony grabbed Jonathan by the arm and all but dragged him closer, then beamed at Marco. “Hello, there!”

While Jonathan tried not to die a thousand deaths, Marco smiled and said, “Hello.” He showed no recognition that he’d ever met Jonathan before. What he did show, shockingly, was a rather blatant interest in him, running his eyes up and down Jonathan’s body before saying, “I’m Marco.” Jonathan had never seen Marco in shorts or a close-fitting tank before and was having a hard time breathing at the sight of his tanned shapely legs and muscled shoulders.

The woman, who had to be his sister or cousin, nodded at them and smiled warmly. “And I’m Sophia. We’re also known as the Pellegrini twins, only we’re not really twins. Just sister and brother.”

Before Jonathan could respond, Anthony jumped in. “Nice to meet you! I’m Andrew Arrington, and this is my cousin, Jonah Rutledge.”

Jonathan felt his mouth drop open. Then he gave a weak smile, still poised to flee, sure that Marco was going to recognize him any moment. “Um, hello. Where are you from?” After they got through this fiasco, he planned to kill his cousin

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Meet the Author

After years of hearing characters chatting away in her head, CJane Elliott finally decided to put them on paper and hasn’t looked back since. A psychotherapist by training, CJane enjoys writing sexy, passionate stories that also explore the human psyche. CJane has traveled all over North America for work and her characters are travelers, too, traveling down into their own depths to find what they need to get to the happy ending.

CJane is an ardent supporter of LGBTQ equality and is particularly fond of coming out stories.

In her spare time, CJane can be found dancing, listening to music, or watching old movies. Her husband and son support her writing habit by staying out of the way when they see her hunched over, staring intensely at her laptop. Be sure to check out CJane’s new Facebook Group!

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Cover Reveal: Finding Our Morning by Mickey Ashling

Finding Our Morning by Mickie B. Ashling

Cover created by Anna Sikorska of Tiferet Design

RELEASE DATE: January 28th

Available to Pre-Order at Amazon

Thank you for hosting the cover reveal for my upcoming release, Finding Our Morning. This stunning cover was created for me by Anna Sikorska of Tiferet Design.

Although I’ve been traditionally published since 2009 and have managed to release thirty-seven full length novels in the last ten years, Finding Our Morning is my first straight (m/f) romance. I’ve been meaning to write this for a while, but my creative juices dried up after a few chapters, so I shelved the idea. Last January, I came across the outline for this novel and decided to revisit. This time, my flighty muse perked up like a mare in estrus. Suddenly the timing was right.

In my m/m backlist, there’s a trilogy featuring polo players, and one other book rooted in Iran during the revolution, so the setting for this current novel is at once familiar yet completely different. I’m not sure why this historical event fascinates me, and I say historical with a grain of salt. Forty-three years (my story opens in 1977) isn’t that long ago, but the ouster of any ruler is significant, and this did take place in the last century—therefore, historical. Why does this moment in time resonate? Perhaps it’s because I was alive when the shah left Iran, watched it play out on TV, and, like the rest of the world, dealt with the aftermath of his decision. Or it could be the sweet Persian boy I had a crush on long ago who first generated my interest in the region. What would have happened to me if I’d followed my heart and accepted his proposal? Maybe I just have a soft spot for mysterious dark-eyed polo players with British accents. To be honest, I think it’s all of the above.

Finding Our Morning is a multicultural, interracial romance set in Texas, New York, and Tehran. The book releases on January 28, 2020. The novel will only be available on Amazon and KU. A paperback is also planned.

Blurb

May 1977

Ginny Tate bides her time on the family stud farm in San Antonio, Texas, waiting to start veterinarian school in the fall. Bullied as an adolescent, she’s finally shed her old skin, but the emerging beauty still harbors insecurities and would rather hang out with horses than people.

Sponsored by his uncle, the Shah of Iran, Dariush—David—Akbari, a twenty-five-year-old NYU grad with a degree in International Law, is also a skilled polo player. He joins the royal traveling team for a tournament in Plano, Texas.

A decade in America has gradually altered David’s views on certain aspects of his culture. Torn between familial obligations and his adopted country, David resists the idea of returning to Iran so soon after graduation.

At the traditional after-party, David strikes up a conversation with Ginny, who is refreshingly honest. He receives an invitation to visit Tate Stud Farm and, on the pretext of buying another polo pony, persuades the shah to make a detour.

Great horsemanship coupled with self-effacing charm sets David apart from the entitled braggarts who normally populate the sport, and Ginny falls hard. His visit turns into a life-changing week that neither can foresee. Will they walk away unscathed or live to regret their impulsive behavior?

Inspired by events preceding the fall of the Pahlavi dynasty, Finding Our Morning is a love story that catapults us from Texas Hill Country to the epicenter of a monarchy on the brink of collapse.

Excerpt

Finding Our Morning
Mickie B. Ashling 2020
All Rights Reserved

San Antonio, Texas

May 1977

Chapter 1

In the back seat of the Chevy Suburban, Ginny listened with half an ear to her parents’ conversation while staring out the window. As the familiar landscape whizzed by, her stomach ached and her chin throbbed; an unpleasant reminder that nothing had changed. She was the same awkward girl she’d been a week ago, not some new-and-improved version because she’d turned eighteen yesterday, and was hell-bent on leaving her childish insecurities behind. Plagued by postpubescent acne for years, Ginny had assumed—as did her dermatologist—the hormonal imbalance would pass in due time.

And it had.

Mostly.

But she’d woken up this morning to find the nastiest zit on her chin that no amount of Clearasil could disguise. Today of all days! She had planned this trip to the Willow Bend Polo and Hunt Club in Plano, Texas, for months. It was a five-hour drive from San Antonio, where her family lived and bred horses, and her parents had agreed to accompany her and give up an entire weekend, a hard-won victory considering the couple rarely took a day off. Backing out at the last minute because her old nemesis chose this particular day to reappear was unthinkable. She’d looked forward to this trip for months. In a sense, it was her coming-out party, the first time she’d stand toe-to-toe with the clients who’d patronized their stud farm for years.

But nature was a fickle bitch and had, for whatever reason, decided to remind Ginny who was in charge. Pep talks notwithstanding, Ginny had shied away from the public eye for years. It didn’t matter that she excelled in math and science and could outride anyone in her immediate vicinity. While other girls were consumed by the latest fashion trends, Ginny was learning how to muck out a stall; feed and groom; do a visual check for cuts, scrapes, or puncture wounds; clean the horses’ hooves, look for cracks or loose shoes; maintain a tack room; apply simple first aid; repair fences; wrangle; brand; assist in live covers and subsequent births; and even play polo as well as any guy. But her peers still called her “pizza face” behind her back.

And it tormented her.

This derogatory nickname had stuck until she graduated, and even though her complexion had long since cleared up, the experience had left an indelible scar. Ginny continued to see the creature she’d been rather than the person she’d become.

That morning, her parents had dismissed her concerns when they heard her yelling at the mirror above her bathroom sink. They claimed the red spot was only a tiny blemish on an otherwise beautiful face.

Right.

They were supposed to say that. It was their job to keep her upbeat and confident. And she’d woken up in fine spirits until she peered at her reflection and spotted Mt. Vesuvius. Doing her best to get rid of the ugly white-tipped mound, Ginny squeezed until she was satisfied she’d obliterated the motherfucker.

In the car, she grabbed an ice cube from the cooler by her feet, where her mom had packed a picnic lunch, and buried it in the washcloth she’d yanked on her way downstairs. Settling in for the duration, Ginny held the cool cloth against her sore chin. Five hours was more than enough time to reduce the swelling.

This high-goal polo tournament, featuring an assortment of celebrities, had been advertised for months. Ginny looked forward to this event as much as any eighteen-year-old anticipated her first trip abroad. As the only daughter and heir to a lucrative stud farm specializing in polo ponies, the public was curious to meet her. Although they were aware of her existence, many wondered if she was some sort of halfwit because she was never around during negotiations. No one knew this was part of her plan—to make a grand entrance with her head held high as she shook hands with the different men and women who dominated the sport.

One of the most famous was Cecil Smith, now in his late seventies. He’d been a 10-goal player for twenty-six consecutive years. It was the highest ranking one could attain in the sport and Ginny was eager to meet the man. His glory days marked the zenith of American polo, and long after he’d retired in 1967, he continued to ride and train polo ponies on his ranch out in Boerne, not too far from the Tates’ San Antonio home.

There would be other celebrated players from different parts of the world. The Argentineans, current leaders of the sport, the Domecq brothers from Spain, a team of blue bloods from the UK, and the Shah of Iran with his usual over-the-top entourage. He wasn’t the best player in the world, but his presence added gravitas to any event. Ginny couldn’t wait to check out his horses and equipment.

Once upon a time, she’d dreamed about joining a women’s polo team and touring the world, but it had been unrealistic given her age and social anxiety. Now she focused on breeding the magnificent animals that might end up on a winning team. Knowing she played a part in a polo player’s success was almost as good as being a participant.

Approaching their destination, Ginny glanced in the hand mirror she always carried in her purse, and was pleased to see a more subdued landscape, one she could doctor with concealer. While applying the liquid with gentle pats, she was derailed when the Suburban lurched to a stop behind a long row of vehicles leading to the main gates of the club.

“Gosh darn it!” her father exclaimed, narrowly avoiding the truck in front of him.

“Dad!” Ginny protested when her hand slipped and makeup streaked wildly.

“Raymond!” Margery Tate seconded.

He banged the steering wheel in frustration. “Not my fault these morons can’t drive for shit.”

Ginny worked fast to try to repair the damage. At last, she was satisfied with her appearance. She put away her makeup bag and looked out the window. Impressed by the large crowd, she whistled with approval. “Is this normal, Dad?”

“Par for the course when it comes to polo tournaments with an international cast of players. People who never show up for regular games are here to ogle the celebrities.”

“Let’s hope it’s worth it,” Margery remarked. “I’d hate to come all this way to see a mediocre tournament, big shots notwithstanding.”

Ginny smirked. Her mother was a practical woman who rarely stopped for fun. She had her hands full from dawn to dusk and treasured her Sundays more than most. If this was a wasted trip, they’d hear about it during the ride home, especially since they planned to stay the night to break up the long drive. It would be midday by the time they got back to the ranch.

“It’s going to be fine,” Ray assured his wife. “Don’t work yourself into a lather for no good reason.”

Margery let out a deep sigh.

After the slow crawl up the driveway, they followed the rest of the vehicles to a large parking lot. Attendants in flashy cowboy attire, custom-made for show, directed traffic. Ginny could appreciate the magnitude of the task lying in wait for the people in charge. There were hundreds of spectators walking about and craning their necks for a chance to spot someone famous. She arranged to meet her parents once the game started, and they parted ways so she could explore. Attired in a red-and-white polka-dot wrap dress, platform wedge sandals, and a stylish straw hat to keep the sun off her face, Ginny blended into the crowd.

There were five polo fields in all. The main field in front of the clubhouse would remain empty until the tournament started, but the other four were occupied with riders practicing their swings and turns. Ginny headed for the closest one and fell in with a bunch of grooms who were tending their masters’ ponies with absolute devotion. Four ponies per player were the ideal number. There were six chukkers in a game, and by the time the rotation landed back on the first pony, he would be well rested. Injuries were part of the sport, for horses and riders alike. Getting ridden-off during the course of a match or bumped, a maneuver similar to a body check in hockey, was commonplace. Horses also got hit by rogue balls and mallets, leaving them momentarily disabled or out for the count. The number of ponies waiting their turn might appear excessive to an outsider, but a player could be severely handicapped if he didn’t have a fresh mount per chukker.

Many of the men who served as grooms were amateur polo players and felt wins and losses as keenly as their employers. Early on, Ginny learned the best way to get the full measure of a rider was by eavesdropping on the guys in charge as they kept a watchful eye on the polo field. Standing as close as possible, Ginny was within earshot of the comments that were usually peppered with mild expletives and friendly wagers. Excitement coursed through her veins as she heard the familiar sound of hooves galloping across the field. The smell of grass, horse manure, and leather combined with the whoops of excitement from the men on horseback gave her goose bumps.

She’d had a thing for polo players for as long as she could remember. There was something indefinably masculine about the men who played the game that appealed to her senses. Unlike a lot of rodeo events, polo was more than a rough sport. One had to be a keen strategist to excel. Anticipating an opponent’s next move was the only way to stop them before they got in position to score a goal. It was a chess game on horseback, and the best players were the right combination of brains and brawn. Even from a distance, she could spot the strongest players, and one in particular caught her attention. The number three was embroidered on his shirt—typically awarded to the most powerful hitter with the highest handicap.

Turning to one of the grooms, she asked, “Who’s on the field?”

“The Iranians and the Brits, miss.”

The groom, a dark-skinned man who spoke with a heavy accent, was decked out in royal blue livery; the same hue as the uniforms worn by the four members of the Iranian team. The ponies’ blankets, tail ribbons, and leg wraps were also the same shade of blue.

“Do you know number three in blue?”

“The shah’s nephew, Dariush.”

“He’s good,” Ginny remarked.

“Very good, miss. The shah is always in a better mood when his nephew can play.”

“Isn’t he a part of the regular team?”

He shook his head. “Dariush attends college in New York City. He’s on break at this time.”

“I see.”

Turning her attention back on the field, she could tell this favored nephew was an expert horseman. He and his pony were deeply connected, part of a seamless dance only a fellow rider could spot from a distance. She looked forward to watching him during the actual game.

Author Bio

Mickie B. Ashling is the pseudonym of a multi-published author who resides in a suburb outside Chicago. She is a product of her upbringing in various cultures, having lived in Japan, the Philippines, Spain, and the Middle East. Fluent in three languages, she’s a citizen of the world and an interesting mixture of East and West.

Since 2009, Mickie has written several dozen novels in the LGBTQ+ genre—which have been translated into French, Italian, Spanish, and German. Lately, her muse has been nudging her in a different direction, and she’s learned through past experience to pay attention to creative sparks that show up unexpectedly. Her pen name is a part of her now, and will travel along on this exciting new journey, wherever it might lead. She promises to be very specific in her book blurbs and cover art to avoid any confusion.

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Release Blitz: Boiling Over by Thea McAlistair

Title: Boiling Over

Series: The Caro Mysteries, Book Two

Author: Thea McAlistair

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: January 6, 2019

Heat Level: 2 – Fade to Black Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 73800

Genre: Historical, LGBT, gay, historical, mystery, cozy mystery, age gap, established couple, mental illness, anxiety, PTSD, private detective, New England

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Synopsis

On the run from trumped-up murder charges, Alex Dawson and his boyfriend Sev settle in a small town in Vermont on the recommendation of Sev’s mob-boss cousin Bella. Chickadee is so tiny that it has only one major employer in the depths of the Great Depression: Trask & Co. Maple Sugar Mill. It’s a quiet place. That is, until Walter Trask is found in his own maple grove with his head smashed in.

Alex doesn’t want to have anything to do with the death, but things get much more personal when Bella is falsely arrested. Determined to free her and even the scales, Alex scours the town for clues as to what really happened. He quickly learns that small towns have big secrets that people may be willing to kill for. And if that weren’t bad enough, Alex and Sev’s once-sweet relationship is turning bitter under the combined pressures of isolation, anxiety, and jealousy. Alex needs to find the true murderer quickly before Bella is turned over to the feds, or worse, Sev walks out of his life forever.

Excerpt

Boiling Over
Thea McAlistair © 2020
All Rights Reserved

When Sev first asked me to run away with him, he’d mentioned exotic places like India and Australia, warm countries far away from the seedy city we were living in. It had sounded romantic and wonderful, and when we finally left—well, fled—I had hopes of going somewhere like that. Instead, we ended up in Chickadee, Vermont.

Chickadee was a small town, about a half-hour drive from the Canadian border and about a six-hour drive from our old home in Connecticut. In all my twenty-three years, I’d never set foot in the countryside, and now there was all this empty space. Blue sky. Trees. Cows.

“Bella wants us to stay here?” I asked as I gaped at the maple forest flashing by the car window. “It’s so…rustic.”

“Well, just think, Alex,” grumbled Sev, his faint Italian accent tinged with unease as he guided the rickety borrowed Oldsmobile over bumps on the dirt road, “it’s better than the alternatives, yes?”

Considering the alternatives were dead and arrested for murder, he was right. Less than a month ago, I’d been living my dull life, writing during the day and serving as a bodyguard for the mayor in the evenings, and then all hell broke loose. Now nine people were dead, including my friends Martin and Donnie, and the corrupt cops wouldn’t even think of hearing my side of the story. Targeting the big guy with a chip on his shoulder the size of New England was almost too easy for them.

“It’s pretty here!” chimed Pearl from the back.

I twisted to look at her. She perched on the edge of the seat, her already-large eyes expanded in wonder. Her cat, Daisy, sulked in a metal cage next to her. I still wasn’t sure it’d been the brightest idea to take a six-year-old on the lam with us, but it was too late now. At least she seemed to be enjoying the trip. And why wouldn’t she? She wasn’t the one running from murder charges.

“Bit different from the city, huh?” I asked, careful to keep my voice cheerful for her.

She nodded and returned to staring at the trees.

I slumped back into my seat, grateful she didn’t seem to share my unease.

Sev nudged my arm. “Which road do I take?”

I straightened and peered out the windshield. We were coming up on an intersection, if a split of one dirt track into two could be called that. I scrambled to unfold the map I’d crumpled in my distraction. Sev’s cousin Bella—the most notorious gangster in Westwick—had given us these directions and all our fake identification papers first thing that morning.

Why Bella had chosen Chickadee to hide us from the cops was a mystery. She hadn’t given me a straight answer when I asked, only that she had friends there and Sev would be working with one of them. Most likely the location had something to do with the rum-running routes she’d controlled until about six months ago. While the end of Prohibition had cut the bottom out from under her main moneymaker, there were many other ways to make an illegal living, and why leave when she already had a foot in the door?

“Left,” I said, tracing the hand-drawn line with my finger. “Looks like another mile and we reach town.”

Sev obeyed, taking the left fork. The car turned in a wide arc around yet more trees. Both sides of the road were obscured by underbrush and shadow. Sev swore under his breath in Italian and slowed even more.

“They should clear this,” he muttered. “Someone’s going to get hit one day.”

“Who’s going to get hit?” I answered. “There’s no one out he—”

Sev slammed the brakes as a figure darted from between the trunks. I jolted forward and got the wind knocked out of me as I smacked into the dashboard. Pearl screamed, tumbling into the back of my seat. The rattle of the cat cage almost drowned out Daisy’s yowls.

Blinded by pain, I groped for Sev. “Everyone okay?” I gasped.

He grabbed my hand and squeezed. “Fine,” he said.

Pearl wailed. I turned, ignoring the objections of my bruised ribs. She huddled in the space between the back bench and the front seat, clutching her wrist. My already-pitching stomach dropped. I’d brought her with us to get her away from all the pain in her past, and now here was more. I scrambled out the door and around the back to get her.

“You’re all right; you’re all right,” I mumbled in an effort to convince myself my assurance was true. “Can I see?”

Pearl snuffled and presented her arm. Already her wrist was red and swelling. I held back the curses bubbling in my mind. In a flash of anger, I whipped around to see what jackass had done this.

To my surprise, I only saw a girl straddling a sturdy bike. She was maybe sixteen or seventeen, wearing men’s dungarees and a gingham shirt. Freckles were splattered across her face, and ash-blonde braids draped down her back. She gnawed on her lip, her eyes huge with fear.

“I’m so sorry,” she squeaked. “There’s almost never anyone out here—”

“Alex?” Sev called. He sounded muffled. I looked at the driver’s side door. He had gotten out and had one hand curled around the lower half of his face while the other scrambled in a pocket. “I think I might have been mistaken when I said I was fine.” He pulled out a handkerchief, and I saw both his nose and his upper lip were bleeding.

Fear, anger, and unbidden memories tangled up in my mind, freezing my mouth in one slack-jawed position, keeping me mute.

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Don’t miss Book #1 in the Caro Mysteries series, No Good Men, available from NineStar Press

In 1934, almost everyone struggles to pay the rent, and Alex Dawson is no exception. To support his writing habit, he moonlights with his mentor Donnie as a bodyguard for the mayor. It’s dull work, until the night a handsome, golden-eyed stranger catches his eye–and both his boss and his mentor are killed when his back is turned.

Jobless and emotionally adrift, Alex vows to find the murderer before the corrupt police can pin the blame on him. But he soon discovers he’s in over his head. The golden-eyed stranger turns out to be a mob boss’s cousin, and a suspicious stack of money in Donnie’s dresser leads Alex to discover that his mentor and the mayor were involved in something more crooked than fundraising dinners and campaign speeches. As the death count rises amid corruption, mob politics, and anarchist plots, Alex realizes that the murders aren’t political or even business. This is the work of a spree killer, and Alex and his new boyfriend are the only ones who can stop them.

Meet the Author

Thea McAlistair is the pseudonym of an otherwise terribly boring office worker from New Jersey. She studied archaeology, anthropology, history, architecture, and public policy, but none of those panned out, so she decided to go back to an early love – writing. She can often be found muttering to herself about her latest draft at completely inappropriate times.

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Release Blitz: Love On The Spectrum by Alec Nortan

Title: Love on the Spectrum

Author: Alec Nortan

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: January 6, 2020

Heat Level: 1 – No Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 37900

Genre: Contemporary, LGBT, Contemporary, romance, gay, Asperger syndrome, burns victim, France, Paris, friends to lovers, hurt/comfort, therapist

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Synopsis

Hervé has Asperger’s, a specific kind of autism that makes him unable to interact with other people.

Luc has been severely scarred by fire and flees human presence to avert the way people glare and frown when they see him.

It was impossible for them to meet, but life sometimes likes to cheat the odds. Is it just a trick or a way to bring together two men who could be each other’s lifeline?

Excerpt

Love on the Spectrum
Alec Nortan © 2020
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One
During their life, everyone meets thousands of people. Some of these encounters are fleeting, like the person you ask for directions in the street, and others last a lifetime. Each of them, as short or as long as it is, can change your life for the better or for the worse.

I’ve encountered maybe two hundred people. And that’s with a generous margin for error. A very generous margin. And yet I’m thirty-four and should have met a lot more. If I haven’t, it isn’t because I don’t want to, on the contrary. If I only consider the meaningful encounters, well, I’m down to a figure I can easily display with my fingers. The last one took place two years ago. His name is Pascal, and he made my life better. A whole lot better. We met through the Internet, the way of getting in touch with people I’m most comfortable with. Taking our time, we got to know each other, and he became an important part of my life. It wasn’t always easy for him, but he managed to accept my difficulties, and for the first time in my life I discovered what being in a relationship was really like. We weren’t quite ready yet to live together, but we were getting close.

And then, six months later, he dumped me. There was no fight, no argument, but it devastated me all the same. My problems had eventually gotten too tiresome for him. He simply couldn’t cope anymore, and I don’t think any less of him for that. Living with someone like me isn’t always easy. Quite the opposite. He had done all he could, but it hadn’t been enough.

My relationship with Pascal helped me understand one thing: I will spend my life alone. I’m not being dramatic; it’s just a simple observation. Even I can’t bear myself at times. If I can’t, who could?

What is my problem? To make it easy to understand, let’s say I am unable to interact with people. It probably sounds stupid put like this, but when sarcasm, irony, implied speech, and body language—well, all those elements that allow a conversation to take place—are completely foreign to you, a simple discussion with another human being can be quite hazardous to negotiate. And if on top of that you really cannot stand physical contact and noise, like me, you’re on a slippery slope toward the deepest pit of hell. I begin to slide as soon as I have to say hello…

When I say I have autism, in a desperate attempt to evade embarrassing situations, here are some of the answers I usually get:

“But it doesn’t show.”

Or

“Can it be cured?”

Or the most common reaction:

“That’s great! Can you count playing cards?”

No, I am not Rain Man, and most of the people who suffer from the same problem—Asperger syndrome—don’t have any kind of superhuman capabilities. And you can’t cure it. It would be like asking a one-legged man if he can be cured. No, it’s just a part of me. That and the fact you can’t see it when you look at me only makes it more difficult for people to understand. A one-legged man doesn’t have to explain that he only has one leg. A white cane or a service dog is usually enough for a blind person to be recognized as such.

I always have to justify myself.

Luckily for me, I’ve been going to a psychologist once a month for years. His specialty is autism, including Asperger syndrome. He helps me learn all those social rules that completely elude my grasp, and cope with my difficulties.

But it’s also because of him I’m standing here.

It’s a fine day. The weather is nice, the street is mostly empty. Although it’s almost noon, a few people pass by, and they walk purposefully, taking no notice of me except to avoid me. I’m standing still, almost stuck to the wall behind me, a white-stone building blackened by years of pollution. The sidewalk is barely wide enough for two people and gives way to a long line of parked cars and then a two-way street. On the other side is the same chain of cars, the same sidewalk, and the same dirty façades.

Despite all this, this part of the city welcomes lots of tourists, but this particular street is a little too far from the main avenues and the famous monuments to get their attention. If it were to be described by a saying, it would be “a secret life is a happy life.” Maybe that’s the reason why I like it. Because it likes to stay hidden. Just like I do. And this is definitely one of the reasons why I’m standing here right now.

The other reason is the small restaurant facing me. I’ve been looking at it for a little while now. The frontage isn’t very long, but a wide French window occupies almost all of it. Painted on the glass, blue letters spell out the words “The Scullion Restaurant–Traditional Cooking”. The text isn’t perfectly centered. It is about three inches too high for that, and the “C” and the “U” of Scullion are slightly too close to each other. The first “T” of Restaurant is also slightly tilted.

I am pretty certain no one else notices these imperfections, but they kind of jump out at me. I wonder if I shouldn’t have chosen another place.

But I’ve thought about this choice for a very long while, and I’ve even had to negotiate bitterly with my psychologist. The objective of the test is simple enough: having lunch at a restaurant. But he knows me too well to stop at such a simple goal. Without any further rules, I would have chosen the worst restaurant in the city, in a deserted part of town, to make sure there would be as few other clients as possible. I would even have gone in the early afternoon, when all the NTs have long since finished their meal—NT is short for Neurotypical, “normal” people as opposed to Aspies, the nickname for people like me with Asperger Syndrome—to have the greatest chance of seeing no one else other than the waiter, which is quite enough for me.

Knowing if he let the reins go I would choose an empty restaurant, which I have to admit would have rendered the exercise moot, my psychologist fought hard until we reached a compromise (more acceptable for him than for me) and chose a popular but small venue and a “normal” lunchtime.

This negotiation took place two days ago, and I’ve been anxious ever since. This morning, I woke up with my insides twisted. I almost broke into tears thinking about having breakfast alone at my place because it reminded me that my next meal would be a trial. When I was about to leave home to come here, instead of opening the door, I was sorely tempted to make sure it was safely locked and go hide in my bedroom under my blankets.

But here I am, in front of the restaurant. Inside, I feel like a gelatinous blob mounted on a drill. I still evaluate the chance of my running away before the time comes to enter at one in two.

I take a look at my watch.

12:58

My psychologist made the reservation—one of his dirty tricks to prevent me from bailing out—for one o’clock. He knows perfectly well I can’t stand lateness (or earliness) or an appointment cancellation without calling beforehand, and, as a consequence, I would never do that to someone else.

12:59

It’s too late to call the restaurant and cancel now. I stifle an emerging sob and move to the pedestrian crossing on my right. There are no cars passing, but I never cross a street elsewhere.

Just like every time I’m nervous, I’m tempted to embrace my old habits again. Right now, this means not stepping on the white paint of the crossing. I don’t know where I got that from, but it took me several sessions and a lot of training to be able to ignore the color of the ground I walk on.

I bite my bottom lip and stare straight in front of me so I can’t see my feet. I reach the other side of the street without further ado and walk the short distance to the entrance of the restaurant.

12:59

13:00

I open the door with a racing heart and step into my worst nightmare: a crowded public place.

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Meet the Author

Alec Nortan is a French social services worker. Though he learned English at school, he chooses this language to write in. His works are gay-related fictions, varying from young adult, science fiction or fantasy adventure, to romance.

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