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New Release Blitz: Breathe Out Slow by AD Lawless

Title: Breathe Out Slow

Author: A.D. Lawless

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: September 9, 2019

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 44700

Genre: Contemporary, LGBT, New Adult, college, depression,hurt-comfort, friends to lovers

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Synopsis

When unexpected tragedy strikes, shattering eighteen-year-old Ryan’s idyllic life, he does the only thing he can to stay sane… he slaps on a mask, pretends he’s fine, and takes off for college. Week after week, he drifts through school in a bleak half-life. He doesn’t care about anything, or anyone—least of all himself.

Then Liam Doyle hurtles into his life with easy smiles, effortless caring, and those kind hazel eyes that see straight through him. Liam sees him and wants to stick around anyway.

And that… well, that’s terrifying.

Intensely unforgettable, Breathe Out Slow is a heart-rending journey of loss, bittersweet memories, and two incredible love stories.

Excerpt

Breathe Out Slow
A.D. Lawless © 2019
All Rights Reserved

Eighteen

August

Ryan woke up and his eyelids were heavy, dark. There was light on the other side, but he couldn’t force them open. It was so much work and if he did…if he opened his eyes then it was real. There was nothing he wanted more than for all of this to be some kinda sick nightmare that was caught in a loop, like if he just smacked the side of his life hard enough, it’d stop skipping.

“Ry, honey, I know you’re awake. You need to open your eyes for me, okay? I just…” Her voice cracked, and he knew his mom was crying. She gently brushed his bangs away from his forehead with her fingertips. “I just need to see those green eyes. Please? I need to know you’re okay.”

Ryan’s breath caught painfully in his throat. It hurt so damn bad to hear his mom cry, but it’d hurt worse if he knew it was real. If…if he opened his eyes, then Chris was gone. And Chris was everything. How was Ryan supposed to face that?

Tears leaked from the corners of his closed eyes, and his mom squeezed his hand.

“All right. Okay, sweetheart,” she choked out. “We’ll try again later.”

Not a single sound passed his lips, but inside he was screaming a litany of no, over and over and over.

Flashes of last weekend burst bright behind his eyelids and he wanted to push them away, wanted to ignore them, but he couldn’t. He deserved the pain they brought with them.

The party on Friday night had been loud—bass-heavy music and the sound of drunken laughter permeated the air. The beer in Ryan’s hand was his fourth, and it was mostly gone. He shoved his hair away from his overheated face, a grin tugging at the corners of his mouth as he listened to his friend, Josh, talk about the girl he’d had a crush on for most of their senior year. It was funny how Josh could look as good as he did and still be a nervous wreck when it came to interacting with girls.

Ryan thought he was lucky he’d never had to go through that. Chris had always been meant for him, and he’d always been meant for Chris. Even if no one else knew. Chris’s mom was extremely religious, and he’d always been terrified she’d find out. Too scared of losing Chris, Ryan had never made an issue of it. Besides, soon they’d be away at college and they wouldn’t have to worry about it anymore.

Not being able to say they were together had its downsides; people often questioned why Chris didn’t date. It was hard not to wonder when half the student population was in love with him at any given time, and it didn’t help that he flirted like he breathed—mostly unconsciously. Ryan tried not to let it bother him. Charismatic and friendly with a wide smile and an infectious laugh, Chris drew people to him in a way Ryan often envied. Getting along with people was so easy for him, the complete opposite of Ryan’s general dislike for other human beings, especially before he’d been sufficiently caffeinated.

Josh and Chris were pretty much the only exceptions to his social apathy, or at least, they put up with his shit the best, and for unknown reasons, they actually liked to be around his cranky ass. Not that they didn’t hang out with other people, but all three of them had been best friends since daycare.

Thick and thin and ups and downs, they’d gone through it all together. Which was why Josh’d known almost instantly when Chris and Ryan’s relationship had shifted into something deeper.

“Hey, by the way, where’d Chris wander off to?” Josh asked suddenly, blue eyes drunk-bright with a slight squint. His head tilted a little curiously as his light brown hair fell over one eye. “Been like fifteen minutes. How long’s it take to hit the can? Think he fell in? His drunk ass totally fell in.”

Josh chuckled loud at himself in order to be heard over the music. Ryan grinned and rolled his eyes. “He probably got sidetracked by Lexie’s cats. You know his cat-person persona only shows up when he’s sloppy drunk. Total dog-person the rest of the time. Who even knew alcohol could change your pet preferences?”

A wide grin flashed across Josh’s lips. “I mean, there’s a lotta things drunk-me would do that sober-me’d say ‘What the fuck man?’ over so I got no room to judge.”

“Drunk-you is just sober-you with even less of a filter,” Ryan said as he scanned the living room for some sign of Chris. Seriously, what the fuck is taking him so long?

“I have a filter?” Josh asked, lifting his brows with great exaggeration. “I should really work harder on saying whatever the fuck’s on my mind.” His eyes narrowed. “Like right fucking now, for instance. You’re not even listening to me, asshole, just go find your—um, best friend.”

Josh looked at him apologetically for his almost slip-up. He was usually so good about it, and Ryan felt a twinge of guilt that Josh needed to keep such a big secret for them.

Ryan smirked, and Josh’s shoulders relaxed. “Fine, but if he fell in, he’s your best friend for the rest of the night.”

Laughing, Josh waved Ryan’s comment off. “Whatever, Nash. Like you wouldn’t walk his ass home.”

Slight dizziness made Ryan’s head swim when he pushed off from where he was leaned against the wall and he realized maybe he was a little tipsier than he thought. “Yeah, yeah, I’m fucking prince charming.”

Josh’s laughter followed him as Ryan wandered across the room, dropping his beer can off on a table he passed, weaving his way through bodies packed tight in the small space. Jesus, is everyone we graduated with here?

The staircase was barely better, but at least he didn’t have to touch anyone as he walked up the steps. His skin was crawling with too many people around him, and anxiety ate through a bit of his buzz.

At the top of the stairs, people dotted the hallway, and the bathroom door was shut. Just in case, Ryan turned the handle and opened the door to check inside.

Wrapped all around Chris, her hands tangled up in the back of his hair and her lips on his, was Allie from their English class. Shock and confusion stabbed into Ryan’s chest at breakneck speed and his stomach turned revoltingly. He blinked hard because he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. Chris wouldn’t—why would he…?

They broke apart, and Ryan realized he must’ve made some kind of startled noise, because Allie was grinning smugly at him and Chris looked guilty, upset.

Abruptly, Chris pushed Allie back a few steps and walked toward Ryan with his arms outstretched, palms facing out as if he was approaching a spooked animal. He was almost within touching distance when Ryan finally focused enough through his shock to notice Chris was saying something.

Ryan shook his head, eyes wide and wet as he backed away. His pulse pounded in his ears, and he just couldn’t. Betrayal and anguish tangled up hotly in his chest as he kept backing away, his throat aching, thoughts racing.

With no memory of having turned around and leaving, Ryan found himself outside, cool summer night air against his burning face, and all he could think was why. Why would Chris do that? What did I do to deserve that?

His heart was tearing agonizingly apart and all he could do was put one clumsy foot in front of the other. He didn’t want to break down right then. He just—he needed to get home. He needed to think, and his mind was too fuzzy with alcohol to make sense of this.

The person he trusted most in the whole world—the person he loved with every single part of him—had cheated on him. It wasn’t fair, and it hurt, and Ryan’s chest constricted as he struggled to breathe properly. His mind wouldn’t stop replaying the way Allie’d been all over Chris.

No one…no one except Ryan had kissed Chris before. Or he’d thought he was the only one. That Chris would’ve mentioned anyone else. Maybe Ryan didn’t know him as intimately as he’d thought. Not if…if he was making out with Allie at a fucking party where his boyfriend was just downstairs. Who the hell knew what else Chris had lied about. Did he even love him? Did he even care about him? Bile burned the back of Ryan’s throat and he choked down a sob. If he started crying now, he wouldn’t stop, and he hated that he felt so weak because of it.

And the part that sucked the most was that Ryan still loved Chris. Furious and utterly gutted and he still ached for those strong arms to wrap around him and tell him everything was okay. That was—so, so, fucked up, wasn’t it? God, what was wrong with him?

A hand wrapped around his bicep and spun him backward. Face to face with Chris, his brown eyes shadowed in the dark and so achingly sad.

“Ryan—”

Yanking his arm out of Chris’s grasp, all that betrayal and anger and hurt that’d been simmering in Ryan’s gut boiled over, “Don’t! Don’t touch me.”

Surprise and anguish flickered across Chris’s features, and irrationally, Ryan had the impulse to make it better, because that hurt too. But he couldn’t, wouldn’t let himself. There was no excuse for what Chris did and no matter what he wanted to say, Ryan wouldn’t listen to empty words and apologies.

“Ry, I’m so sorry you saw that. It’s not what you—”

Ryan shook his head again and voice thick with pain, cut him off. “I need to go home. I—Chris I can’t right now.”

Chris nodded frantically, eyes desperate. “Okay, I’ll come with you. We can talk at your place, okay?”

“I’m going alone. I don’t think I can—I need to be alone,” Ryan whispered roughly, defeated.

Pleading, Chris stepped closer to him and tried again, “I just—Ryan if you just listen, I can explain—”

Ryan’s eyes widened and then narrowed down into angry slits of emotion. “Yeah, sure! I’m sure you know exactly how to rationalize it. Probably thought up all kinds of reasons. I can’t believe you’d do this to me.” Misery and disbelief leaked into his voice, thick like molasses.

He should’ve stopped there. He should’ve just listened to what Chris had to say or told him to go home—anything but what came out next. He couldn’t though; righteous indignation burned way too hotly in his stomach and words he didn’t really mean came out instead, “Just…go back to the party, Chris. Get drunk and make out with whoever the hell you want. I don’t fucking care what you do. I’m done. Just—God, just leave me the fuck alone!”

Chris recoiled like he’d been slapped and then anger replaced the grief on his face. “Fine, you know what? Fuck this. You wanna leave? Then go.”

“Fine.”

Tears stung at the corners of Ryan’s eyes and he scrubbed a hand beneath his eyes to wipe them away as his lips trembled. Chris blinked and the outrage on his face melted away as he stepped closer again, but Ryan moved back.

“Ryan…”

“No, don’t.” His world was breaking apart bit by bit. Crumbling into a messy, bloody heap around his feet. His chest was hollow and heavy, and he had to go. Despair made his voice weak as he walked away and said, “I need space. Just go back to the party.”

Somehow, Ryan made it home that night. The twenty-minute walk took twice as long, thanks to the fact he’d been staggering drunkenly under the crushing weight of Chris’s unfaithfulness. He’d known Chris was bi, known how much easier his life would be if he’d fallen in love with a girl instead of him, and oh, look—he fucking might’ve.

No, that wasn’t fair, Ryan couldn’t believe it. Chris wasn’t that kind of person. Under his covers, curled up on his side in his bed, he could hardly believe what he’d seen with his own eyes, let alone that it was more than that. Whatever had happened with Allie it wasn’t that. It can’t be, right? He wouldn’t do that to me. Would he?

All he wanted was for his thoughts to shut the hell up. He wanted to stop thinking about it. He didn’t have any extra insight, and asking himself repeatedly wasn’t going to produce magical answers. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t turn his mind off. His thoughts churned and his throat scratched as tears he’d held back finally spilled over his cheeks in salty, humiliating streams.

And he’d thought…that night he’d thought it was the worst thing he’d ever felt. Nothing could’ve hurt worse than that.

He’d been wrong.

A repetitive vibration had woken him from his restless exhausted sleep and sirens that couldn’t be all that far away were wailing noisily. It would forever be burned into his memory—3:24 a.m. He saw it on his eyelids whenever he closed them after that. Because 3:24 a.m. was the exact time his life ended.

The details of the phone call were stuck in his brain too—Chris’s mom’s voice, shocked and furious, but he tried not to think about it. Little snippets crept through anyway; Chris had gotten even drunker. He’d left the party. Told people he needed to talk to Ryan. Gotten in his car, stupid, why the fuck did he do something so fucking stupid? Crashed it into a telephone pole just a few blocks from Ryan’s. And then her voice broke and she told him—she said… Chris died on the scene. It was all Ryan’s fault.

And she was right. She was right, it was.

Purchase

NineStar Press | Amazon | Smashwords | Barnes & Noble | Kobo

Meet the Author

AD Lawless is a bisexual tattoo-junkie with bright red hair and a passion for telling stories. She’s a mid-thirties married mom, a photographer, and a fandom enthusiast. Her philosophy is that happy endings need to be earned, and she loves writing multiple different genres—she’s never been good at sticking to one sandbox.

Through her writing AD Lawless hopes to tell stories that connect with readers, that feature characters reflecting their identities, and to give her readers a temporary escape into worlds that are just a little better, and sometimes a little more fantastical, than ours.

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Release Blitz: Confessions of a Gay Curmudgeon by Andy V. Ambrose

Title: Confessions of a Gay Curmudgeon

Author: Andy V. Ambrose

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: September 2, 2019

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: No Romance

Length: 62100

Genre: Contemporary, LGBT, contemporary, humorous, gay, diary, dating, confessional, therapy, family drama

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Synopsis

Confessions of a Gay Curmudgeon recounts the adventures of Viktor, a fifty-year-old gay man in New York City trying to get back into the land of the living after the breakup of a twelve-year relationship.

Complaining into his digital diary, Viktor wrestles with negotiating the dating scene, dealing with new corporate bosses, and his friends’ stories of sexual misadventures and taking him to places to meet eligible new partners who he doesn’t find very eligible at all.

Trying to distance himself from his family and immigrant roots to build a new life, he finds it easier said than done. And even his therapist doesn’t seem to understand him. But perhaps most important, his former lover Gio is on his mind.

Funny and moving, the novel examines the lives of a group of middle-aged gay men, exploring new facets of their sexuality while dealing with all the changes middle age brings.

Excerpt

Confessions of a Gay Curmudgeon
Andy V. Ambrose © 2019
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One
Saturday Afternoon—Floundering

My erections aren’t what they used to be.

Well, Dr. S told me to write about the first thing that comes into my mind, so it’s what I’m doing. “Don’t think. Just write,” he said. “Stop censoring yourself, Viktor. This will help you in your therapy too, Viktor.”

Okay, okay. If that’s what the shrink ordered, let’s see if this works. We’re supposed to listen to our shrinks, right? That’s their job, right? They know how to get us out of whatever fucking funk we’re in, right?

So here we go. I’m writing about the first thing that comes to my mind and it’s my erections. Here it is, a lovely Saturday afternoon, sun shining, snow melting, spring a’coming, a perfect time to enjoy life. And what am I doing? Sulking in my apartment obsessing about my cock.

Hell of a problem to have on a day like today, isn’t it? Shit, be honest, Viktor. You’re supposed to be honest with this writing thing, aren’t you? That was Dr. S’s other directive, wasn’t it? Honesty. He was full of directives last session, wasn’t he? Oh well, maybe I need some directives.

So where was I? Oh yes. Gorgeous day, shitty mood, focusing on my cock when I should be enjoying life.

Oh, come on. It’s not just about my cock. I know that. After all, I did my share of screwing around when I was younger. Not that I was the biggest stud around in my heyday, but during those few glorious weeks my sex life got going, I learned how to have a good time. Yes, I did! But then I met Gio and fell in love. And he fell in love with me. And we had twelve years of bliss—more or less—until he left me last year.

And I’ve been floundering ever since. Floundering? Ha! Flopping around is more like it. So I’ve been seeing Dr. S—ahem, Dr. Singsirinavin—I’ve been seeing him to help me out of this predicament. Seems like a nice enough guy, serious, quiet, with a scrawny body and a bit of an accent, though I’ll be damned if I know from where exactly. These shrinks never tell you anything about themselves, do they? I’ve been seeing Dr. S for a year already, and you would think by now I’d have an idea, but I don’t. To tell the truth, I don’t have much of an idea about anything, including whether he’s helping me.

But I’m trying. Goddamn it, I’m trying, you’ve got to give me that. Didn’t put all my eggs in one basket, either. Went to my primary-care guy too, to complain about my cock. Dr. Agnostulopolini. Different accent, different mystery country. Had to change doctors when my cheapo company switched insurances and I had to find someone new. He doesn’t know anything about me and doesn’t seem to care, either. Every time I ask a question, the side of his face twitches like he’s having a stroke. “Doctor,” I said last time, “my libido seems to have disappeared.”

“You know, it does fall off with age,” he says. Translation: you’re getting old.

“But not this suddenly, Doctor. Could it be the new blood pressure medicine you prescribed?” Translation: Fuck you. Don’t give me that you’re-getting-old shit. I’m fifty. That’s not old.

“This medicine shouldn’t cause a drop-off in libido.” Translation: I’m the doctor. I know what I’m talking about.

“But then what could be causing it?” Translation: Fuck you. I’m the patient. It’s my libido.

And on and on. Dr. A suggested other medications, maybe talking to Dr. S about an anti-depressant. Sure, pump me full of chemicals. Is that all the medicos care about? They want me docile and uncomplaining. As long as my numbers on their medical charts look good, they think they’re a success. No matter what I think.

Well, fuck them. It’s my life, and I’ll screw it up the way I want to. Not according to the way they think I should do it.

Oh, I have to stop complaining and get myself out of this funk. No one else is going to do it for me, least of all the good doctors. I know that. It’s my life, and I better get it going again before it’s too late! But how? How, fucking how?

Purchase

NineStar Press | Amazon | Smashwords

Meet the Author

Andy V Ambrose grew up in the Boston area and moved to New York City after college. He worked in book publishing for many years, wearing many hats: Editorial, Copyediting, Proofreading, and Production. This is his first novel featuring Viktor, a fifty-year-old gay man trying to get back into the world of the living after the end of a twelve-year relationship. To relax, Andy loves to ride his bike, read, watch foreign and independent movies, and travel. He’s only made it to three continents so far but hopes to visit the rest soon. He lives in New York City.

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Release Blitz: Beyond Identity by Karrie Roman

Title: Beyond Identity

Author: Karrie Roman

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: September 2, 2019

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 74200

Genre: Contemporary, LGBT, New Adult, college, depression,hurt-comfort, friends to lovers

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Synopsis

Noah Lancaster’s life is a mess. He doesn’t know much about his past or who is parents really were. When he’s beaten on the streets one night while sleeping rough, the attack doesn’t feel like just another random assault on a vulnerable target. Somebody wanted Noah dead. But who’d want to hurt him? He’s a nobody who doesn’t know where he came from or who he truly is.

Harry Cooper wants to launch his career as an investigative journalist by telling the stories of the hardships faced by the homeless. His latest subject was lucky to survive a brutal attack—the mean streets almost swallowing him up like so many others. Noah is a mystery to Harry and it seems to the man himself.

When Noah’s attack brings these two men together, neither could imagine they’re about to be pulled into a mystery one hundred and thirty years old—and half a world away. They’re about to discover a secret someone has already killed once to protect and one that might get them both killed.

Sometimes who you are goes far beyond who you thought you were.

Excerpt

Beyond Identity
Karrie Roman © 2019
All Rights Reserved

Noah had been here before. People didn’t have sporadic stints of living on the streets and expect to escape the occasional bashing. An assault could come from anywhere—another rough sleeper, a junkie, pimp, or sometimes from some teenage twat who thought they were being hilarious beating the shit out of someone whose life had already kicked them in the teeth. When someone was homeless, they were either invisible or a goddamn target. The fucking irony.

This was different though. This wasn’t some son of a bitch grabbing the nearest body and laying his fists into them. Noah had been stalked. He’d watched this bastard skip first one and then the next rough sleeper he’d come across in the alley until he’d spotted Noah.

Noah recognised what the man wanted, could tell by the tense set of his shoulders, the white knuckles of his clenched fists. He wanted to make Noah hurt. Sensing danger became heightened when surrounded by it day and night with no locked door to offer even the illusion of safety. So, when he’d first spotted this man, Noah had wanted to run, he’d never wanted to run so desperately in his life. But he had nowhere to go. He’d chosen poorly the night before—a rookie mistake, though he was no rookie to sleeping on the streets.

He’d been so damn exhausted, when searching for a spot to lay his head, he hadn’t cared that there’d been no second exit, no escape route in this alleyway. He’d trapped himself, and a monster had walked right into his trap. But Noah was the one caught in the deadly snare.

Noah could fight. He was scrappy, no finesse, no training, but he could throw a half-decent punch. He was capable of delivering a hit to make his opponent think twice about going after him, and if that didn’t work, he knew how to bite, kick, scratch; hell, he’d go for the balls if he had to. Another thing learned on the street if someone wanted to survive was to use every weapon in their arsenal.

The monster coming for him was tall, not the biggest man Noah had ever seen, but definitely the biggest one he’d ever had to fight. The darkness shadowed his features, but he knew the eyes were bleak, cruel; he’d seen a flash of them in the streetlight near the top of the alleyway, or maybe his imagination was making the man’s physicality as sinister as his demeanour. Noah felt those eyes on him. Glaring. And he wondered what the hell he’d done to this guy to piss him off so badly.

Noah stood, legs wide, shoulders high, chest out, trying to make himself appear as big as possible. From the man’s bearing and manner, it was evident he had next to no chance of scaring this guy off, but he had to try. Any fight he didn’t end up actually fighting was a win.

Much of his time on the street Noah was alone, but never more so than when some fucker decided to take a potshot at him. He didn’t really blame anyone for their indifference. They lived in a don’t-get-involved kind of world and when no one had their back having someone else’s could be very hard.

The man kept coming. He was close now, close enough to allow Noah to see him more clearly. His eyes were as cruel as Noah had thought, but the rest of his face he’d describe as a baby face, soft, almost sweet-looking. His cheeks were puffed as though full of cotton wool, a perfectly shaped snub nose sat above rich red cupid’s bow lips pulled into a sneer. Without more light he was unable to pick accurate skin and hair colour, but he’d guess fair for both.

Noah raked his gaze quickly down the man’s body. He was muscular but not hulk-like. He had no obvious weapon, though from the size of his hands, Noah suspected he’d be able to do plenty of damage with those alone.

He wondered if the man would speak. Sometimes they did, especially the arsehole teens who, for whatever reason, felt the need to justify why they were beating the shit out of their victim, all while bragging amongst themselves about how tough they were.

Faster than he’d have thought possible, the man lashed out. Noah’s head snapped back, and a spray of blood bloomed from his nose, the sickening crack turning his stomach. He hadn’t had a chance to move. The stranger’s speed and accuracy confirming to Noah this man was no amateur—and Noah was in big trouble.

Before his head had even righted, he took a blow to his stomach, the force of it doubling him over. He gasped for air, trying to suck in big gulps through his mouth. The man’s knee connected with his already broken nose before he could catch his breath, and the follow-up blow to the back of his head sent him to his knees.

Noah didn’t stand a chance; he understood how dire his situation was now. This man was a professional—he knew what he was doing.

His vision was darkening, tiny purple-black spots making it difficult for him to see clearly. He lashed out with a fist, connecting with what he thought was the man’s thigh. He wondered if his attacker even felt the blow there was so little power behind it.

The man aimed for his head again, but somehow Noah managed to dodge backwards so the blow was only glancing. Unlike in the movies, Noah knew a normal person couldn’t take too many direct, powerful hits to their head without substantial damage or worse. His focus was scattered, not sharp enough for him to decide what to do about the punches raining down on him though. Did he duck and cover, hope to ride out the attack while protecting his head? Or did he try to get up and fight?

He kind of roll crawled to put some distance between them but the man charged relentlessly after him. Noah kicked out with his leg. He tried to aim for the man’s knee, but his head was spinning worse than the one time he’d had way too much whisky. He wasn’t sure where his foot ended up connecting, but his attacker only grunted and kept coming.

Noah curled into a ball, pulling his head down to his chest and wrapping his arms around the vulnerable area. He felt a sharp hard kick to his back and then another. He tried to roll to his knees, but the bastard wouldn’t relent even a little.

“Hey! You there!” A booming voice called.

Noah’s attacker stopped immediately. He heard running footsteps and glanced out from beneath his arms just in time to see the man sprint down the alley, barrel into a man and woman at the opening, and keep right on running. He didn’t have the energy to move, much less chase after him or even call out for help. He closed his eyes and groaned.

He wasn’t quite sure what happened to time then—it either slowed down or sped right up. He was too out of it to know which. He heard voices, vaguely registered they were occasionally talking to him, but he couldn’t be fucked answering. He wanted to sleep. His eyes were welded shut—they had to be—but lights flashed continually behind them. There were more voices and then some arsehole was poking and prodding at him. It was the strangest thing—as though he was there but wasn’t.

One minute he was curled up on the cold, filthy concrete and then suddenly, he was being jostled around in some kind of vehicle. Ambulance, probably—at least he hoped it wasn’t a cop car. He smelled pee and knew it was his, but he didn’t have the wherewithal to be ashamed. He was amazed he was capable of smelling at all, given he was sure his nose must be shattered in a million pieces. Mixed with the acidic pee was the coppery stench of blood.

Someone was asking him for his name. He thought his name was Noah, but everything was a bit hazy. He couldn’t for the life of him think of his last name.

“Can you tell me your name?” the voice asked again.

“Shh. I’m sore,” he replied, though the words were so slurred he didn’t know if he’d be understood.

He heard a soft chuckle and then that damn voice again. “I know you’re sore, but can you tell me your name.”

“Noah,” he groaned, so the voice would shut up.

“Noah, do you have any allergies?”

Jesus fucking Christ, didn’t this idiot know he just had the stuffing beaten out of him? He didn’t give a shit about allergies. He groaned again. The fucker could take his whimpered reply however he wanted.

“I’ll take that as a no. I’m going to give you a shot of morphine. Have you had anything to drink tonight?”

“Don’t drink.” Fuck, the slurring was getting worse. He shook his head no to make sure this guy would understand him. He felt like his goddamn brain was rattling around in his skull.

“Okay, good. Here we go then, just a small pinch.”

Noah felt a bite—a fucking painful one—in his arse cheek. “Fuck,” he spat. Small pinch my arse.

“I know, sorry. Morphine shots kinda hurt.”

“Arsehole,” he groaned. Every part of him hurt, but hopefully the morphine would kick in soon. He knew he was being taken to a hospital but wished he wasn’t. He wished he could talk them into letting him out now. With his veins full of morphine to dull the pain, he’d be okay. He’d find somewhere to curl up for a while and sleep it off. But they had their duty of care and blah, blah, blah. He’d sign something to say they did all they could, and he’d happily take the blame if he died from his injuries on the street.

He hated hospitals, loathed anywhere really that put him on the radar. He was no criminal, and he wasn’t on the run, but the idea of anyone knowing exactly where he was sent shivers up his spine for no particular reason except that’s just the way he was made.

Hands busied themselves all over his body. He had neither the energy nor the ability to open his eyes and watch what they were doing. From the noises being made and the sensations on his skin, they were putting in an IV and attending to his wounds. Noah floated happily on his morphine cloud, content to lie back and let those hands have their way with him. He still wished he wasn’t headed for a hospital, but he’d keep the worry for when the drugs wore off.

He felt the cold air rush in when the doors of the ambulance were yanked open. His body was jostled around when the stretcher was pulled from the back, though he knew they were trying to be careful—that pesky duty of care. He really tried to peel at least one eyelid open when he heard voices gathered over him, discussing him as if he wasn’t there. He heard them say assault and concussion and lucky. He didn’t care about any of it. He was in no pain now, and all his other worries seemed far off, silly, unimportant.

He heard them say something about topping the dose, and then even the haziness in his brain faded as he drifted away.

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Meet the Author

Karrie lives in Australia’s sunshine state with her husband and two sons, though she hates the sun with a passion. She dreams of one day living in the wettest and coldest habitable place she can find. She has been writing stories in her head for years but has finally managed to pull the words out of her head and share them with others. She spends her days trying to type her stories on the computer without disturbing her beloved cat Lu curled up on the keyboard. She probably reads far too much.

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Release Blitz: A Noble Cause by Mickie B Ashling

Title: A Noble Cause

Series: Legacy, Book Two

Author: Mickie B. Ashling

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: August 26, 2019

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 64500

Genre: Fantasy, NineStar Press, LGBT, fantasy, mpreg, magic, royalty, gay, age-gap, men with children, intersex, demons, wedding, kilts

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Synopsis

Having achieved his heart’s desire at a high price, Prince Colin of Sendorra and his fiancé, Nobel Prize winner Alain de Gris, find themselves at the epicenter of a twisted plot. Colin’s cousin, Drake Bradford, and his grandmother Maura, the high priestess of the Bradford Coven, have conspired for years to bring down the royal family.

Resembling his cousin in features and coloring, Drake, the soulless rat, has been using their similarities—and black magic—to his advantage. Princess Charlotte, Colin’s ex-girlfriend, is unwittingly drawn into the feud, blissfully unaware she’s been sleeping with an impostor.

In this anticipated sequel to A Tangled Legacy, Colin and Alain, along with their fearless group of witches, ghosts, and familiars, embark on a convoluted journey to save the people they love and ensure the royal succession.

Excerpt

A Noble Cause
Mickie B. Ashling © 2019
All Rights Reserved

Prologue
Charlie’s head lolled back against the leather seat of the BMW as Drake Bradford, still in his disguise as Prince Colin of Sendorra, navigated the crowded streets of Biarritz before merging onto the toll road heading toward Paris. He’d cast a sleeping spell on his “fiancé” to avoid the interrogation he was sure would follow once she realized they were on their way out of town. He needed privacy to confer with Granny Maura to formulate a new plan while the royals were busy drawing up countermeasures to deal with him.

Drake grew impatient as Granny’s phone rang and rang. Like many seniors, she didn’t have her mobile at her fingertips, defeating the whole purpose of instant availability. Finally, after the seventh ring, she picked up.

“It’s about bloody time.”

“I couldn’t find my phone,” she replied apologetically.

“We’ve already talked about this on several occasions,” Drake scolded. “Put it on your kitchen counter so you know where to look.”

“What’s the problem?” she asked dismissively.

“I’ve managed to kill off the dowager and Colin in one fell swoop.”

“You what!”

“They should have stayed out of my business,” Drake defended.

“Tell me exactly what happened,” Maura ordered tersely.

“Plans started to unravel the minute Colin showed up unexpectedly. He wasn’t due home for another couple of days, and Charlie and I would have announced our engagement by then. There was nothing he could have done to stop us from marrying, but then it all went to shit.”

“Where are you?”

“Driving to Paris.”

“Is Charlie with you?”

“Of course she is,” Drake snapped. “She’s mine and I have every intention of marrying her. Plus, she’s carrying my child.”

“Don’t come to Paris,” Maura advised. “It’s the first place they’ll look.”

“What do you suggest?”

“Let me find you an apartment in Prague.”

“Why there?”

“It’s a good place to hide in plain sight.”

“Get back to me with details once you’ve made the arrangements.”

“It might take a few hours.”

He grunted. “Doesn’t matter, Granny. This is going to be one long-ass drive.”

“All right.”

Drake gunned the engine and put the car on cruise control the minute he was on the toll road. He was still seething at having been foiled—by an incompetent witch, no less—and wasn’t the least bit sorry he’d destroyed a dynasty. The only downside to this turn of events was figuring out how to deal with Charlie and her parents. He’d have to use her pregnancy and his powers of persuasion to convince her he was a far better choice than Colin could ever be. Granted, he didn’t have a kingdom to lay at her feet, but he and Charlie had great chemistry, and the girl melted into a pliant fool the minute he laid hands on her. He’d keep her so sexed up she wouldn’t dream of rejecting him.

His phone rang an hour later, and he was stunned by Maura’s news.

“Colin isn’t dead.”

Drake slammed on the brakes, and the car fishtailed to a stop on the shoulder, narrowly avoiding a six-car pileup.

“Impossible!” he thundered. “I stopped his heart.”

“Isabelle Simon and her son managed to bring him back to life,” she deadpanned. “The coven has already received a lengthy email demanding retribution.”

“Or what?”

“We’ll have a war on our hands, Drake. I’m not sure I can get the other members to stand by our side when your actions were completely unjustified.”

“Fuck the coven,” Drake snarled. “I don’t want their help. And need I remind you this was your plan all along? What about the dowager?”

“She’s dead.”

“So, you got what you wanted,” Drake pointed out malevolently. He sucked in air through his clenched teeth and gripped the steering wheel. “Now it’s my turn, and you’d better back me up.”

“I’ll see you in Prague.”

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Meet the Author

Mickie B. Ashling is the pseudonym of a multifaceted woman who is a product of her upbringing in multiple 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. A little bit of this and a lot of that have brought a unique touch to her literary voice she could never learn from textbooks.

By the time Mickie discovered her talent for writing, real life got in the way, and the business of raising four sons took priority. With the advent of e-publishing—and the inevitable emptying nest—dreams of becoming a published writer were resurrected and fulfilled in April 2009.

Mickie discovered gay romance in 2002 and continues to draw inspiration from the LGBTQA community and their ongoing struggle to find equality and happiness in this oftentimes skewed and intolerant world. Her award-winning novels have been called “gut-wrenching, daring, and thought provoking.” She admits to being an angst queen and making her characters work damn hard for their happy endings.

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Release Blitz: Safe by Jess Bryant

Title: Safe

Series: A Fate, Texas Novella

Author: Jess Bryant

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: August 26, 2019

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 17600

Genre: Contemporary, LGBT, friends to lovers, coming out, baseball, gay, bisexual

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Synopsis

Trevor Thorne has always played it safe.

He’s a ballplayer. The game has had his heart and soul since he was just a kid. He learned early on that living in the testosterone-fueled world of baseball meant living a lie. He couldn’t afford to be openly gay, not when he had his whole career ahead of him. But his days behind the plate are numbered and he’s tired, so damn tired of hiding who he is, and it’s becoming more and more difficult to deny himself what, and who, he wants.

Rodrigo Cruz is the opposite of safe.

He’s young, ballsy, and bold. Out and proud, Cruz has never shied away from going after what he wants. He wants a career as a big-league ballplayer, and he wants it on his own terms. No hiding his sexuality or his past but also no throwing himself at his beautiful, blue-eyed bunkmate. Not even if he suspects Trevor isn’t quite as straight as he claims.

Crossing that line, testing that theory, it could put his entire career at risk. If he swings for the fences and strikes out, he’ll always be that guy in the locker room who can’t keep it in his pants. But what if he’s right and they’re more than just teammates?

What if they’re soulmates?

Excerpt

Safe
Jess Bryant © 2019
All Rights Reserved

Rodrigo Cruz was wavering. He was fucking wavering. If he was honest with himself, he’d been wavering for a while. It wasn’t the first time he’d considered abandoning his self-imposed rules about not pursuing teammates. But tonight, in the dimly lit bar after a long day in the sun and a couple of drinks, he was wavering way too close to crossing the line he’d drawn in the sand before he’d ever even met Trevor Thorne.

How could he not?

The man was gorgeous. Hot as hell. A Greek god encased in all-American good looks. Full lips. Dimpled chin. Spiky golden-blond hair and those eyes. Fuck, those eyes. They were blue, only blue wasn’t the right word. It wasn’t descriptive enough. They were jewels, diamonds in the rough of his handsome face.

Trevor had a nickname in the league. The Ice King. He was cold. Unemotional. Detached on the field and off. And those eyes of his were glaciers, impossible to delve past the surface without feeling the chill.

Only, Cruz had seen past the icy veneer. Trevor had let him past it. After months of shared hotel rooms, tiny bus seats, and 24/7 forced proximity, Trevor had slowly begun to let him in. He’d started to lower the walls he kept so high around him, and Cruz was proud to call him a friend instead of just a teammate.

The Ice King had thawed for him. Cruz had seen those blue eyes twinkle with laughter. He’d seen them warm with amusement and pleasure. And more and more, he thought about what it would be like to see them full of heat, full of passion and fire.

Cruz stared across the crowded bar, caught himself drowning in those blue pools like they were the goddamn Bermuda Triangle and there wasn’t a life preserver in sight.

Cruz lowered his gaze when Trevor looked away, returning to his phone call. He squinted at the tumbler of liquid sitting in front of him on the table, trying to remember how many he’d had. Too many.

He was drunk. So. Damn. Drunk. He knew he was drunk which meant he was way past the point of no return. He shouldn’t have had that last drink. Or, rather, considering he was in the presence of the one man who made him want to throw his rulebook out the window, he really shouldn’t have been drinking at all.

Alcohol impaired judgment. It made him stupid. Made him do stupid things. Things that would undoubtedly get him in trouble. Things that would most likely lead to his pretty face being punched, repeatedly. Because when he was drunk he forgot he wasn’t supposed to stare at his teammate’s lips like he wanted them wrapped around his cock.

But Trevor had insisted on grabbing a drink when they got back to the hotel, and despite the little voice in the back of Cruz’s head that had said he should just go to bed, he was shit at denying Trevor anything. So he’d gone. He’d bought the first round and then Trevor had bought the second, and by the time the tequila hit him, Cruz had forgotten why drinking with the man who haunted his dreams and was his every walking fantasy was a bad idea.

It wasn’t as if he was just risking his rules when it came to Trevor. If it meant getting the gorgeous god of a man in his bed, Cruz would happily abandon his stance on steering clear of sexual relationships with teammates. He wanted Trevor, and he’d let himself have him if his friend had given him so much as a hint he was into the idea. But he hadn’t, and that meant continuing to fantasize about him, continuing to tread this line and risk their friendship.

Hitting on a friend, on a teammate, on a supposedly straight man who wasn’t interested in him that way wasn’t just against his rules; it was downright self-destructive.

He’d been down this road before. Thinking there was more in every glance, every touch, than there really was. It hadn’t turned out well. Not for him. He’d been young then, naïve, just learning what it meant to be bisexual. He was older and wiser now, and he knew better. He knew it was a dead end.

When he was sober, he knew that. He knew not to stare at Trevor like he wanted to lick him up one side and down the other. He knew the smiles Trevor gave him, the ones that curled around his heart and made him feel all warm and tingly, meant nothing but friendship to Trevor. When he was sober, he knew he needed to stop fantasizing about his best friend.

Even if he wasn’t completely convinced Trevor was as straight as he always claimed. The looks he shot Cruz across the bar were veiled and sexy. The way Trevor bumped their shoulders together and found little ways to touch him was intimate and flirtatious. Cruz honestly believed Trevor was gay or bi or at the very least questioning and curious. But until Trevor made a move, some sort of move, he couldn’t cross that line. He wouldn’t force Trevor to admit to things he’d clearly been hiding for a very long time. He couldn’t and wouldn’t touch Trevor the way he ached to touch him.

But in his alcohol-fueled brain, he couldn’t help but wonder what his best friend would do if he slid up behind him, pressed their bodies together, and whispered in his ear exactly what he wanted to do to him. The idea alone made his cock hard, which at his level of drunkenness was a tribute to how damn much he wanted Trevor. Hell, he never got hard anymore. Not for anyone but the man he couldn’t have.

Trevor slid back into the booth opposite him with a heavy sigh. Without a word, he picked up his drink and knocked it back. Cruz watched his throat work, watched his Adam’s apple bob as he swallowed, and had to swallow a groan of his own.

“Everything okay?” he managed when Trevor dropped the empty glass to the table.

“Fucking fantastic.” Trevor winced and then wiped a hand over his face, “Sorry. I’m in a shit mood, and talking to my happy, madly-in-love brother didn’t exactly help. Didn’t mean to take it out on you.”

Cruz shrugged, accustomed to the same excuse he’d been hearing for weeks now, the one he didn’t quite buy but always let slide. “What’d Trent want this time?”

“You mean other than to tell me my life choices are shit?”

Cruz raised an eyebrow, but Trevor waved him off before he could ask what he meant. Instead, he let it go, just like he always did, and he let Trevor wave the waitress over to bring them another round of drinks.

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Meet the Author

Jess Bryant is an avid indoorswoman. A city girl trapped in a country girl’s life, her heart resides in Dallas but her soul and roots are in small town Oklahoma. She enjoys manicures, the color pink, and her completely impractical for country life stilettos. She believes that hair color is a legitimate form of therapy, as is reading and writing romance. She started writing as a little girl but her life changed forever when she stole a book from her aunt’s Harlequin collection and she’s been creating love stories with happily ever afters ever since.

Jess holds a degree in Public Relations from the University of Oklahoma and is a lifetime supporter of her school and athletic teams. And why not? They have a ton of National Championships! She may be a girlie girl but she knows her sports stats and isn’t afraid to tell you that your school isn’t as cool as hers… or that your sports romance got it all wrong.

For more information on Jess and upcoming releases, contact her at JessBryantBooks@gmail.com or follow her on her many social media accounts for news and shenanigans.

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Release Blitz: Coffee by Matthew J Metzger

Title: Coffee

Series: A Cup of John, Book Two

Author: Matthew J. Metzger

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: August 19. 2019

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 69100

Genre: Contemporary, LGBT, contemporary, British, trans, gay, queer, age gap, established couple, size difference, blue collar, disability, ableism, death and grieving, family issues, dirty talk, wedding, ownvoices

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Synopsis

When Chris’s stepfather passes away and leaves Chris a house and a wedding ring, it seems like the perfect opportunity to take the next step in his relationship with John.

So, they’re both in for a nasty shock when Chris’s mother is vehemently opposed to the idea. Despite three years of history to prove otherwise, she insists that John is only a temporary feature in Chris’s life, and a man like him can’t be expected to stay with someone like Chris in the long run.

Can Chris persuade her that she’s wrong in time for the wedding—or will there be an empty space in the photographs?

Excerpt

Coffee
Matthew J. Metzger © 2019
All Rights Reserved

Rather appropriately for the occasion, it had been raining all day.

Chris took in a deep lungful of smoke and exhaled it smoothly into the chilly afternoon. The memorial garden was blissful after the hustle and bustle of the funeral. The air was open and soothingly cool, not like the stuffy heat of the chapel. He could breathe again. He could gather the shards of grief around himself and try to put them back together, without having to think about his mother’s sobbing at his side, or the favourite song that had been played for Jack’s last journey, a song now stained with sadness.

The gentle patter of raindrops on the umbrella calmed him, and the far-off chirping of some irate bird provided a gentle counterpoint. Life slowed. From farther off, the chattering of friends and relations had finally died away, and Chris stubbed out the remains of the cigarette as he heard the crunch of gravel.

He’d never been here before, but the footsteps coming down the path were as familiar as his own. Thunderously heavy, an immense weight crushing each step into the ground even as the pace was slow and steady. That slight stress on one step, followed by lightness on the other. That dodgy knee from the rugby accident last year had left its mark in the form of a subtle limp and a tiny scar like a fish hook that made its owner go all shivery when Chris kissed it. Even the speed with which each step followed the other was familiar, like the tower of a body might collapse if the feet were spread too far apart. The hands that clasped Chris’s shoulders were as big as spades, and only one person in his life was tall enough to kiss the crown of his head without the use of a box to stand on.

Chris leaned back into the wall of a man who had arrived and lifted the umbrella to let him into the shelter.

“Your mum’s gone home with Lauren.”

The relief was bittersweet. Mum and Lauren had always gotten along, despite one being Dad’s ex-wife and one being Dad’s girlfriend. Lauren would look after her—even if it was Chris’s job. Even if he was supposed to.

“You did great.”

Chris swallowed thickly. “I think it’s just sunk in.”

It hadn’t been real. It had taken so long that it had never quite felt real until this moment.

Jack had died a long, slow, terrible death. Weeks in the hospice. Chris would never forget the gargling way his stepfather had breathed near the end, or the clammy coolness of his skin. The way Mum had cried, soft little sniffles at the corner of the bed on that final day. The gaps between the gurgles, until finally there had been nothing but the eeriest silence. The shaking in his fingertips was over.

Everything was over. The smell of cigar smoke on the tenth of March, the one day of the year Jack lit up. The shuffle of his slippers. The whirr of that deathtrap of a stairlift. The croaking way he’d chuckled, a noise that in a bigger man would have been a belly laugh. The little huff he let out when Mum was in one of her moods, followed up hastily with “Yes, dear, of course…” And Chris had never seen it, but he’d known Jack had flashed him little smirks across the table at such moments, conspiratorial understandings between the two men who were most subject to her fussing and flapping, the two men who loved her most. Gone.

“Jack’s gone.”

“I know.” The words were soft but firm. The hands on his shoulders rubbed down to his elbows and then back up in a long, smooth stroke. “But so is the pain and the suffering. He’s not hurting anymore. And if he was right, then he gets to see his daughter again now.”

Chris coughed a shaky laugh. It bubbled out of his ribs like water overflowing. “No such thing as heaven.”

“You never know.”

Chris sighed and leaned his head back. He closed his eyes and hummed as a kiss was pressed into his temple.

“I should go and see Mum,” he said.

But his chest ached. His ribs felt like they were going to cave in, and a red-hot pain followed the scar, as if he’d been wrapped in metal wire, melting against his skin. He hurt.

“I want to go home.”

The hands pulled. He was turned by the shoulders and drawn into a rain-damp embrace. The arms around his back made the pain worse, but Chris clung and burrowed into the embrace anyway. The kiss on the top of his head slotted two of the jagged edges together and sealed them shut again. The grief ebbed a fraction.

“Come on, then. Let’s go home.”

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Meet the Author

Matthew J. Metzger is an ace, trans author posing as a functional human being in the wilds of Yorkshire, England. Although mainly a writer of contemporary, working-class romance, he also strays into fantasy when the mood strikes. Whatever the genre, the focus is inevitably on queer characters and their relationships, be they familial, platonic, sexual, or romantic.

When not crunching numbers at his day job, or writing books by night, Matthew can be found tweeting from the gym, being used as a pillow by his cat, or trying to keep his website in some semblance of order.

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Release Blitz: Hitting Black Ice by Heloise West

Title: Hitting Black Ice

Series: Heart and Haven, Book One

Author: Heloise West

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: August 19. 2019

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 75100

Genre: Contemporary, LGBT, FBI, double agents, action/suspense, medical profession, contemporary, action, suspense, theft, gay

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Synopsis

Shawn is on the run from the law and love, to protect himself and anyone else involved. Until he meets Hunter, and he no longer wants to run.

ER physician’s assistant Hunter guards his heart carefully, but that doesn’t stop him from falling for the temp front desk clerk. He keeps his distance from relationships for a good reason but just can’t help himself when it comes to Shawn.

Forced into a hostage situation, buried passions explode in the aftermath, and sex in the supply closet brings both their hearts back to life. But as they explore their relationship, the past catches up with Shawn.

FBI agent Nick Truman has finally found his man, and when Shawn escapes, he focuses his attention on Hunter. Will Shawn sacrifice himself to save Hunter from the man who framed him for murder?

Excerpt

Hitting Black Ice
Heloise West © 2019
All Rights Reserved

Hunter had a crush, a big one.

In the cafeteria late one night on his break at the hospital, he sipped at a coffee and focused on Shawn, the night desk clerk for the ER, sitting a few tables over. With long black hair tied back neatly and eyes of faded denim blue, Shawn had a lean body, his face long and bony. Tonight, he wore a brown turtleneck under a white-and-green-striped button-down. The rolled sleeves revealed muscled forearms dusted with golden hair, as mismatched to the dyed black hair as his pale eyebrows and lashes. A silver skull ring and silver studs in his ears appeared at odds with the lanyard and dangling ID card.

Hunter drank more coffee, barely tasting it. He’d tried to talk himself out of it, but he couldn’t squirm away from the attraction. When he’d walked past the registration desk to the water cooler—again—or hung out there a moment too long with an empty clipboard in his hands, he caught those tiny flicks of interest in Shawn’s eyes. Hunter must have given away his interest, because the nurses smirked at his pretended obliviousness.

He bent to the not-very-engrossing crossword in the newspaper, imagining what tattoo might lie beneath Shawn’s cool demeanor. Maybe gargoyle wings across a broad and muscled back, or a snake wrapped around his thigh. Something more esoteric—a phrase in Latin, like Hunter’s own primum non nocere, or a bit of wisdom in Chinese characters. Or an old-school Aerosmith tat? Hunter glanced up from filling in the little squares with black ink blocks. He could have sworn Shawn hurriedly dropped his attention down to the paperback in his hands. He turned the page and shot a second glance at Hunter. Gazes locked and jumped away.

Shit!

Heat rushed through Hunter all at once and climbed up to his face. Too aware of the black-haired man with biceps to die for and long legs to—well, never mind. Taking a boner back to the ER was not a good idea.

He had touched those biceps once when he gave Shawn a flu shot back in the fall. Shawn had taken the needle without a flinch.

Shawn stood with his tray in hand and walked toward the trash container behind Hunter. The back of his neck prickled as if Shawn breathed on the little hairs there. Hunter picked up his coffee cup once more but tasted only the dregs.

Good thing he’d decided to become a physician’s assistant and not an actor. He didn’t talk to Shawn unless he had to, the worst giveaway of all. No shy bones in his body, yet he feared conversation led to more conversation, to flirting, and the next thing he knew, they’d be going on a date, Hunter falling head over heels, and then the asshole—

Stop. You know how the story ends.

Behind him, Shawn cleared his throat. Hunter didn’t turn around. Shawn returned to his seat, picked up the paperback, and slumped down into the chair with a scowl.

Marisa slipped into the seat across the table from Hunter, and he smiled.

“I’m onto you,” she whispered.

“Uh-huh.” Hunter moved his body slightly so he could still see Shawn around her.

“You’ve been taking late lunch for three weeks now. I know why—or who.” She smiled, a small Hispanic woman with curly chestnut hair framing her heart-shaped face and hazel eyes. If Hunter weren’t himself, and she weren’t married, he thought he’d be with her. Her lips always gleamed with gloss, and her eyes snapped with fire when she got pissy. He loved it, most days, even when she aimed for him.

She leaned toward him. “Shawn, right?” Her eyes took on a warning snap now and dared him to contradict her.

“I don’t even know if he’s gay.” Which wasn’t true, but he knew better than to deny it to her face.

She sipped at her coffee with her gaze on him. Her mouth left lipstick smiles on the rim of the cup. “There’s something different about this one. And he’s lovely to look at.”

“Lovely.” Hunter snorted. Dead sexy Shawn. Hunter spied him out at the clubs twice now but avoided him there too. Shawn undulated like liquid fire across the dance floor.

“Talk to him, honey.”

“Please. Don’t.” He must have spoken louder than he meant to. Shawn glanced at them and away again.

“You’re letting Jerry’s death run your life.”

Hunter slapped the magazine down. “I’m too sober for this conversation.”

“It’s like he’s locked your heart away.”

Mindful of the potential audience, he lowered his voice. “You’re jumping way ahead here.”

She shook her head. “I know you. You have so much love to give, and I hate to see you suffer.”

Her probing questions about Hunter’s past, family, present situation were all familiar ground. Friendship he could manage; he recognized it when it was offered to him. He’d been out since he was nine. Always been out was what he told people. She was one of the few friends to whom he could confide nearly everything. Jerry’s addictions had killed him, but his family and friends blamed Hunter, and on a deeper emotional level, he blamed himself too. Marisa knew this, and it worried her. She wanted him to find love and move on, be part of a couple. She knew, but she didn’t understand.

He wasn’t abstinent now, not at twenty-five, and never got involved with anyone beyond one- and two-night stands. Hunter didn’t want to take responsibility for another heart.

When the tide of emotion and memory washed through him and left him able to speak again, he said, “I’m not suffering here.” He kept much of the darkness at bay with whiskey and anonymous sex. Who needed Prozac with a warm, muscled body in the bed?

“Stagnating,” Marisa said.

“Maintaining.” It had been a far prettier day in May, eight months ago now, when he walked out of the ER at Boston General to Jerry waiting for him in the parking lot with a gun.

“Ask him out on a date. An old-fashioned date where, at the end of the night, you kiss him good night.”

“No!”

“Don’t get angry.” She patted his hand.

He whipped it away. “Too late.”

Marisa sighed. “I’ll make it up to you. Toni, Anna, and I are going to Twisters tonight. I’ll buy you a drink.”

Hunter gathered up his tray. He liked the ER crowd. They always had fun when they got together in off-work hours, and he agreed to meet her at Twisters before hitting the clubs.

When his shift was over early in the morning, he drove back to his apartment and crawled into bed as the day glowed behind the blackout curtains. The end of the week had left him exhausted, and his sleep was blessedly dreamless.

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Meet the Author

Heloise West, when not hunched over the keyboard plotting love and mayhem, dreams about moving to a villa in Tuscany. She loves history, mysteries, and romance. She travels and gardens with her partner of fifteen years, and their home overflows with books, cats, art, and red wine. Find Heloise on Facebook

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