Origami War by Toni J Spencer

Title: Origami War

Author: Toni J. Spencer

Publisher:NineStar Press

Release Date: 07/19/2022

Heat Level: 1 – No Sex

Pairing: Female/Female

Length: 65900

Genre: Sci Fi, LGBTQIA+, YA, lesbian, pansexual, alternate universe, dystopian, dark, coming-of-age, hurt/comfort, sleepwalking, angst, family drama, graphic violence, martial law

Add to Goodreads

Description

Haunted by her mother’s death, sixteen-year-old Penny sleepwalks by night. By day, she peddles bootleg vodka to rich kids looking for kicks on the wrong side of Brooklyn Bridge, a place reeling in total economic meltdown, strict curfew laws, and violent disarray.

Penny’s chance meeting with Quinn, a rabble-rouser dabbling in counterculture graffiti, sets in motion a deep love affair and the start of a seemingly impossible revolution. Inspired by a childhood memory, the two of them craft powerful messages hidden in the folds of hundreds of paper airplanes. They plan to launch them from the rooftops of derelict buildings even as the unforgiving militia hunts them from below.

Will hope take flight in a crumbling world, or will their efforts devastate them all?

Excerpt

Origami War
Toni J. Spencer © 2022
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One
The streetlights that ran the length of Brooklyn Bridge had long since been defunct, and the nights had become so black even the city in the distance gave nothing away. A scattering of blocks in shadow, like a once-prized Lego set, accumulating dust atop the bookshelf. Occasionally, a spotlight broke from a cloud and ran the gauntlet of alleys and nooks before disappearing from whence it came.

Penny perched precariously on the edge of the bridge gazing across the bay, waiting for her mind to sway back into the present and catch her up on the events of the night. An inhale of breath, her own, sharp and cold, jump-started her brain. The brick in her hand, nuggety and rough, was tied in the middle with twine. Cheap and thin. She fingered it with shivering hands and followed its coil as it snaked around her leg and ended in a bow at the ankle.

The sleepwalking had been escalating in distance and danger over the last few weeks. Where she had once woken in the lobby of her apartment building, sleepy-eyed and drowsy, she now found herself miles from home with knives in hand and blood on her knees. Her present predicament, though, was a new and dark incarnation of her nightmares. To find herself harnessed to a ledge, with wobbly knees and the plight of a harrowing demise, chilled her to the bone. A blush of heat warmed her forehead, trickled down her cheeks, and spread like a fire in her belly. A tear rolled off the end of her nose, and regret overwhelmed her entire being.

She crouched, dropping the brick beside her. The knots, having been tied in a daze, were easy to untangle, and the pain in her fingers, riddled with cuts, was easy to ignore, given the circumstances.

Her breath broke the silence of the night and ushered in an orchestra of sounds that moments ago she had been unaware of. The waves lapped far below. A military chopper thundered in the distance. A footstep slapped the sidewalk. She sprang to her feet and scanned the walkway. Brick in hand. Weapon if necessary.

She heard the voice before she saw the person. Another footfall, a rush of breath.

“Hey,” said the shadow.

Penny jumped. Fear engaged.

The silhouette lifted its arms. “Don’t shoot; I’m harmless.”

Penny raised her brick as the shadow morphed into a human with a perfectly symmetrical face, framed by a mop of unruly hair. The girl was certainly not old enough to be a serial killer, possibly Penny’s age, maybe a year older. Seventeen, eighteen? Her face was kind, and the girl smiled in the darkness. Well, what passed for a smile in these times. How long had this girl been watching her; how much had she seen? Penny lowered her brick before spotting the shopping bag. Did the pretty girl have a severed head in there? She lifted the brick back up.

“You know it’s past curfew,” said the stranger. “You shouldn’t be out here alone.”

“No kidding.” Penny stepped backward, toward Manhattan. Toward home.

“So, what’s with the brick?”

“Protection.” Penny thrust it in her direction, satisfied only when the girl flinched. Not a serial killer after all. She dropped the brick, all the way down.

“Can I have it?”

“No,” said Penny, stupidly possessive. “Get your own brick.”

“I’m not going to kill you with it. I promise.”

There was that smile again.

“What do you want it for?” asked Penny.

The girl lifted her bag and jiggled it. Metal on metal, the sound of a broken bell. “Got some evidence I need to dispose of.”

Penny raised an eyebrow.

“Nothing sinister. Take a look.” The girl tossed the bag at Penny who stepped out of the way so it crashed to the ground. “Nice catch.”

“Wow. A comedian.” Penny hoped the girl registered her sarcasm.

“See,” the girl said, pointing to the spray paint cans that littered the bridge walk. “Not a threat.”

Penny rolled a paint can beneath her shoe. Pink-colored paint. Nothing sinister. “So you’re a vandal, then?”

“Of sorts, although I prefer the term campaigner of freedom.”

“Ha, good luck with that.” Penny handed over the brick despite her obvious disapproval.

The girl crouched at Penny’s feet, shoving the cans back in the bag. She placed the brick on top, tied the package fast, and walked to the edge of the bridge. “So, you’re one of those ‘resistance is futile’ types, then?” she asked.

“I sure am,” Penny said, following her.

“Good luck with that.” The girl grinned as she dropped the bag into the gloom below. Penny shivered as it fell, heard the impact, felt its pain, and when she lifted her eyes, her close physical proximity to the girl surprised her. She should be more careful.

“So you’re just going to pollute the Hudson with empty paint cans?” said Penny.

“Not usually, but I went on quite the bender tonight. If I get busted with these things, it’s lights out for me.”

“That sounds a bit dramatic.”

The girl laughed and offered Penny the palm of her hand. “I’m Quinn.”

Penny hesitated. She was determined to impress upon this girl two things. One, that she had manners enough to not leave this stranger hanging, and two, despite those manners, she was a reluctant participant in this introduction and would protest by way of the limpest handshake known to mankind.

“I’m Penny,” she said, finally accepting Quinn’s handshake.

An unmistakable bolt of electricity shot through Penny’s fingers, and the world spun, just for moment.

“Penny like the coin?” said Quinn.

“Sure. I guess.”

Quinn shook Penny’s hand, apparently unaffected by both the dead-fish salutation and the obvious warmth that emanated from their joined fingers. “Well, Penny like the coin, it’s nice to meet you.”

“I guess,” Penny repeated. “Considering you’re not a serial killer, it’s nice to meet you too.”

Quinn laughed. An authentic, untainted-by-the-crap-of-the-world guffaw.

Something like peace settled inside Penny. A tingle. Was this happiness? It had been so long she couldn’t even remember how it felt.

“Shit.” Quinn shuffled backward, looking skyward. “You hear that?”

A rhythmic pulsing cut through the air, and Penny stiffened. A military chopper hovered somewhere beyond the fog. Stupid idiot. How had she been so careless? The peacemakers had no love for curfew breakers. If she and Quinn were caught, they’d be thrown into a displacement camp and processed for unruly behavior. Rumors of cruel and unusual punishments were rife in those places, the stuff of nightmares. The ripping off of fingernails, plucking out of eyes, scalping of heads. Yet the truth of it all was irrelevant. Gossip or not, Penny’s trick was simple enough—to not get caught and to never find out.

Purchase

NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

Toni J Spencer is an avid daydreamer and eternal optimist. When she’s not encouraging her two children to jump on the couch, eat with their fingers, or understand the power of using swear words in context, she writes. Toni has several award-winning short stories under her belt, and once the procrastinating is done and dusted, plans to turn most of them into novels.

Despite calling New Zealand home, Toni considers herself a citizen of the world and dreams about the day when she can once again stuff her backpack full of short-shorts and furry jackets and head out in search of adventure and friends unmet.

Origami War is Toni’s first published novel and was mostly written in the witching hour during a serious bout of insomnia. She figures she’ll have plenty of time to sleep when she is dead.

Facebook | Instagram | TikTok

Giveaway

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Seaspray by Rick R. Reed

Title: Seaspray

Author: Rick R. Reed

Publisher:NineStar Press

Release Date: 07/12/2022

Heat Level: 2 – Fade to Black Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 52200

Genre: Paranormal, LGBTQIA+, amnesia, coming of age, virgins, magical realism, second chances, family drama

Add to Goodreads

Description

Winslow Birkel is a sweet young man in his first relationship. But his boyfriend, the charming and fiery Chad Loveless, has become increasingly abusive to the point where Winslow fears for his life.

Everything changes in a single night when Winslow, fleeing yet another epic fight, goes out to a local bar and finds a sympathetic ear in a new friend, Darryn Maxwell. But when he comes home, Chad’s waiting. He’s got it in for Winslow, whom he wrongly accuses of being unfaithful.

The stormy night sends Winslow off on a journey to escape. The last thing he recalls is skidding off the road and into the river. When he awakens, he’s mysteriously in the charming seaside town of Seaspray, where people are warm and welcoming, yet their appearances and disappearances are all too inexplicable.

Back home, Darryn wonders what’s happened to the new guy he met during his first outing to the local gay bar, the Q. Darryn knows Winslow’s been abused, but he also feels he’s quickly fallen in love with Winslow.

Can Winslow and Darryn decipher their respective mysteries? Is it possible for them to reunite? Is Chad still lurking and plotting to make sure Winslow never loves anyone else? The answers to these questions await you in Seaspray, where you may, or may not, ever leave.

Excerpt

Seaspray
Rick R. Reed © 2022
All Rights Reserved

Winslow

I opened my eyes to a world of blue and green. An eel, long with zebra stripes, swam by, undulating. A school of goldfish with Margaret Keane eyes and puckered lips circled, putting me in the eye of a surreal hurricane. A flick of their tails and they swam off as one.

The bubbles floated up, pouring from my mouth and nostrils.

My lungs weren’t tight. There was no desperate need to breathe, no panic. Mentally, I went back and forth—remain underwater, watching the play of light and shadow and the undulating flora in its rainbow of neon colors, or kick and rise to the surface.

But what was above, beyond the water, was a mystery.

The threat of certain death caused me to ascend toward the light shimmering on the water’s surface.

I broke through, sucking sweet, cold air into my lungs. I smiled, treading water.

I was not afraid.

For the first time in so long—I. Was. Not. Afraid.

I swirled in the gentle waves, which were as warm as a comforting bath, despite the chill in the air. White birds, gulls perhaps, pinwheeled above me in a leaden sky, the color of pewter. All across the water’s surface, strands of mist lay. The mist extended toward a rocky shoreline, dotted here and there with driftwood.

Cliffs rose up, chalky white at the edge of the beach. At the top, stands of pine towered over the sea, sentinels. Tree-covered hills, in shades of deep emerald, reached to touch the leaden sky. The top ones were shrouded in mist.

Where was I?

I stretched out in the water, part of me unwilling to leave, but following an instinct for self-preservation, I swam slowly to the shore. It felt like I was far from it, maybe even by as much as a mile, yet I covered the distance in mere minutes.

I pulled myself onto the beach, breathing harder but not gasping, and lay among the pebbles. Oddly, it was as comfortable as my grandma’s feather bed once was.

I remained there for a while, staring up at the sky, where the charcoal clouds were beginning to be burned away by the sun. As the gray vanished, it was replaced with patches of blue.

I could lie here all day, resting.

And then I tensed. A memory floated into consciousness, making me recall a horrible night. When was it? Paradoxically, the memory could have been years or only minutes ago.

My name is Winslow Birkel, and this is one of the things memory is forcing me to confront:

»

I sank into the driver’s seat of my beat-up Nissan Versa. At the little riverfront park, I marked the slow progress of a river barge cutting through the dark water. Its lights, reflected on the water’s shifting black surface, were the picture of loneliness.

I could identify with loneliness. Separation. Isolation. These days, they were my only companions.

I also could identify with fanciful notions and, in my mind’s eye, realized how the reflections of the barge’s lights on the dark water, golden, appeared to be traveling upward. If I looked at them just the right way, I could visualize them as shimmering fountains contrasted against a black background. How I longed to enter a world of golden fountains casting off the darkness.

Even though now, on this beach, I felt totally free of pain as though someone had dosed me with morphine, the memory of pain in my ribs was there. I imagined the intensity of the hurt when I dared to draw in a deep breath.

Like a doctor in a film, I visualized the bruise on my lower back above where my kidneys were. I could still feel the dull, unrelenting throb. The red marks in the shape of fists darkened to purple, a malevolent blooming.

Yet even with the bursts of nauseating pain, what hurt the most wasn’t physical.

I knew I’d fled the house I’d once occupied—I’d never call it a home because home meant warmth, security, stability, and most of all, safety.

I’d dashed out, looking over my shoulder at a menacing figure standing in the open front doorway of our house, fists clenched. Chad Loveless, my partner—I’d never call him my beloved, or lover, or even friend, not ever again—glared.

What had it been this time? Oh yeah, I’d broken his favorite coffee mug, the one with a German shepherd cartoon figure on a black background, as I was washing dishes. The mug had been slippery in my sudsy hands, and it had dropped. I’d gasped as it shattered on the linoleum kitchen floor, the dread and terror way out of proportion, rising immediately.

And so did Chad. He hurried into the kitchen from his recliner in the front room and forced me to the floor by the back of my neck.

The most menacing thing about this man I’d thrown my lot in with (love no longer entered the equation) was—and this would be surprising to an outsider—his smile. The smile never wavered, not when Chad was berating me for some real or imagined fault, nor when a fist connected with a soft spot on my body—rarely my face—it was our little secret, hidden by the baggy jeans and sweatshirts I favored.

He’d smile and smile and smile, as though what he was delivering was not pain and casual cruelty, but joy.

Joy had not had a place in our house for such a long time. Back then I didn’t think I’d know if I’d recognize the emotion if it turned up at the front door wearing a ribbon.

Purchase

NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

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

Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Giveaway

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Space Stars by Mell Eight

Title: Space Stars

Author: Mell eight

Publisher:NineStar Press

Release Date: 07/05/2022

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 37800

Genre: Science Fiction, LGBTQIA+, space travel, robotics, musicians, celebrities, established couple, spies, secret agents, nerds, scientists, porn star/sex industry

Add to Goodreads

Description

This book is two short stories with one thing in common—the stars in space shine brightly, whether you’re on planet or soaring on a ship.

Cole’s star is rising like a rocket as his band tours the galaxies to sing to their adoring fans. Except, Cole’s real job isn’t lead vocals—it’s espionage.

Tarle’s star fell long ago after a horrific accident during a mecha showcase event for his new robot. Then he meets Aster, a porn star on the run. Hiding away together is far more appealing than being alone, but no one can hide forever.

Excerpt

Space Stars
Mell Eight © 2022
All Rights Reserved

“They’re definitely building something dangerous,” J said to begin the meeting as he walked into the spacious, albeit bland, room. There weren’t any windows, and the only ornamentation on the white walls was from the holoprojector across the room. He faced a long table with six chairs around it. All six were filled with stone-faced men and women who turned toward J when he stopped walking at the head of the table.

J touched the control panel for the holoscreen to turn the machine on and pointed out the building construction clearly visible from the spy satellite holograph that appeared seconds later.

“Planets have new construction all the time,” P cut in as she pushed her glasses higher up her nose. “With growing populations it’s inevitable, and planet 501b is certainly growing.”

“Look here,” J said as he pointed to the upper right-hand corner of the three-dimensional picture. The projector obligingly zoomed in to the location.

“Ah,” P murmured as she sank back into her seat. “Building a crono-generator is another thing entirely. But what could it be for? They’ve never been a particularly peaceful people,” she said, referencing 501b’s penchant for starting wars over the merest of slights, “but they’ve never been crazy enough to build a crono-bomb before. That could create a black hole large enough to engulf an entire galaxy!”

“How long have you had this picture?” Y asked slowly while he carefully studied the crono-generator.

J sighed. “Long enough that officials on 501b have already captured and executed six of our spies during their investigations of this issue. That’s why this task force was called to meet today. We need to find a way to infiltrate 501b to figure out if they have any plans to attack.”

“They did threaten the galaxy president two months ago in response to the president’s comments against their most recent war,” P mused.

“It’s more dire than just that,” Y said in his slow and contemplative voice. “As you all know, 501b is not actually a planet. Planet 501 was uninhabitable; only its second moon, known by the locals as Kamura, could sustain human life.”

“Moon settlements are always in desperate need of water resources.” P gasped as the full picture finally came clear for her.

“Exactly,” J cut in. “Our planet, 214, also known as Lacustrine, is almost entirely comprised of freshwater lakes, which 501b dearly needs, and our intelligence says they’re interested in acquiring. I’m afraid they don’t have any qualms about what methods they use either. So, the question remains: How do we infiltrate Kamura in order to find more information and, if necessary, destroy their crono-generator before they’re capable of building the bomb?”

P’s phone went off, a pop song currently topping the charts sounding into the worried and contemplative silence left after that final statement. One frequency was all that could reach through the protections built into the meeting room, and P’s phone only went off in an emergency anyway, so no one begrudged her the time she took to walk into the corner and answer her phone.

She didn’t turn on the holograph card to speak face-to-face, which was no surprise considering the nature of her clients, and everyone in the room tried not to listen in when she murmured into the phone. They all had something much more important to think about anyway: the answer to J’s question.

After a few seconds, P returned to her seat. J looked around at the assemblage, waiting for someone to finally say something.

L slowly tapped her finger on the table, and everyone’s attention turned to the elderly woman. L didn’t speak often, but when she did, they listened. This time was no different.

“We must use an unconventional means to sneak our spy in, and I do believe P’s impromptu phone call has given me an interesting idea. Popular music stars are welcomed across all galaxies. Often, they are begged to hold a performance on various worlds. We should put together a band, make them famous, and arrange for them to travel to 501b.”

J joined the others in giving L perplexed looks, but a smile slowly began to grow across his face. The idea was extremely farfetched, yet the very thought of how crazy a plan L had come up with decided him. If he didn’t think the idea viable, then how could anyone on 501b have plans to prevent it?

“That…” He paused to savor the idea a little further. “That is the most perfect plan I have ever heard.” He turned to the other members of the council. “What do we need to do to accomplish this?”

“A band, first of all,” P murmured. “That means at the very least a singer, a guitar player, a bass player, and a drummer if we want something conventional.”

“They’ll need a hit song,” Y added. “And a full album.”

“And good publicity,” P agreed. “I can get them a spot on the Morning Mumble, which will put them into the limelight, but the band has to be capable of proving their abilities, or they’ll go nowhere afterward.”

“So first we need a band,” J stated. “Any suggestions on who we could hire? We need people with musical talent, so we may have to go outside our regular recruits for this one.”

P nodded immediately. “The Star Slashers recently broke up and their drummer is pretty good. He also played for the Black-Hole Surfers,” she added when she received only blank looks. The Star Slashers had never been destined for greatness, but the Black-Hole Surfers had been legendary up until their singer and lead guitarist had overdosed on poorly cut and excessively laced Star Shine and the band dissolved. “His name is Kingsley,” she finished with a smile, “and he’s from this galaxy, so he’d probably be willing to work with us.”

J hummed thoughtfully. “We’ll start background checks on this Kingsley. Any other suggestions?”

L leaned forward with a groan. “I have a grandchild who promised me he would become a rock god by the time he turns thirty,” she said with quite a bit of exasperation in her voice. Her son worked for the agency, and she evidently expected her grandchild to do so as well. That didn’t seem to be in her grandson’s plans. “Solomon plays guitar and his mother tells me he’s quite good. I suppose if the ambition is present, we could give him this opportunity.”

“We have guitar and drums,” J said. “Any suggestions for the other roles? Can you think of any trained recruits we could call in to take the major roles in this operation?”

“It’s not a suggestion,” P cut in, “but we have to find a singer who is pitch-perfect without modifications or he won’t make it. We can’t just pull anyone from our basic training program and implant electronic vocal cords.”

“This is going to be an interesting search, then,” J said with a sigh. Not only did they need a band, but they also needed to find someone who could infiltrate the secret facilities on 501b without getting caught. It wasn’t going to be easy.

The meeting broke up soon afterward. P was the first person to rush out, her phone in hand. Whatever emergency she’d been called about must have been important. Considering P’s clients…well, J hoped there wasn’t a galaxy about to implode somewhere.

Z was J’s colleague from the same agency. He hadn’t spoken during the meeting, but Z was notorious for pulling J aside later to voice his thoughts. J wasn’t surprised when Z joined him in his walk down the empty hallways of the building.

“I might have an idea for a bass player,” Z murmured in his usual half-audible tone. “She’s a spitfire though. Barely passed her basic training before she quit, so I’ve no idea if the girl would like the idea, or if she’s what we want for this mission.”

“Submit her name and have a background check run,” J replied. “We’ll find some way to convince her and…” He paused, his head cocked to the side. One hand flashed upward to grip Z’s arm. “Do you hear that?” he asked excitedly.

Z tilted his head to listen and slowly nodded. “It’s probably a radio someone left on.” He sighed. “But it won’t hurt to go see.”

They both turned the corner, following the sound of someone singing. The door to the men’s locker room was left partially ajar, and J pushed it open the rest of the way so he and Z could walk into the space. J expected to see a holodisk left on inside one of the recruits’ lockers, so he was surprised when a young man, fresh from the showers with his back to J and Z, had his head tilted back and his mouth wide open as he sang.

His tone was pure and clean—perfect.

He was drying his brown hair with a towel, his eyelids closed. His naked back was thin but well sculpted, although the loose pants he wore hid his lower body from J’s perusal. A pair of old-fashioned Coke-bottle glasses sat on the bench next to him.

There were two gyms attached to the locker room, one for the regular staff and one for the special recruits. This far into after-hours, only the special recruits had access. Whoever the man was, he piqued J’s interest.

J glanced over at Z and saw that Z was just as mesmerized by the beautiful singing. Z finally glanced back over and nodded. Whoever the recruit was, he was about to be given a new mission.

The singing stopped as the young man finally finished drying his hair. He put his towel down and patted his hand across the bench until he found his glasses. Then he turned around to find his shirt and jumped when he caught sight of J and Z.

“Sorry,” the young man said, his face rapidly going red as he ducked his head. He got to his feet in a hurry, finding parade rest with his feet even though he was staring at the ground instead of facing straight forward.

“Not at all,” J replied. He stepped closer to the recruit, studying him closely for a long moment, which only made his face grow even redder. “What are your vitals, recruit?” J finally asked.

“Name: Cole! Just finished basic training two days ago, sir!” Cole said sharply, even though he still wouldn’t look J directly in the face. He had been trained well, if not perfectly. “I haven’t been assigned to a vector yet, sir.”

J glanced over at Z after that admission. Normally recruits knew their vector location a good few months before the end of their training. He was also still using his full name rather than a code name, which he would have been given as part of his first vector assignment. Z nodded discreetly. He would start a background check on Cole to figure out what had prevented normal procedure in his case.

“Thank you, Cole,” J said with a dismissive nod. “We’ll be in touch.”

J and Z walked off, leaving behind the man who was to become their lead singer.

Purchase

NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

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

Website | Facebook | Twitter

Giveaway

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Music From Stone by Brenda Murphy

Title: Music from Stone

Series: University Square, Book Four

Author: Brenda Murphy

Publisher:NineStar Press

Release Date: 07/05/2022

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Female/Female

Length: 67900

Genre: Contemporary, LGBTQIA+, Romance, contemporary, family-drama, BDSM, interracial, lesbian, stone mason, concert pianist, stalker, PTSD, over 40, performance arts, visual arts

Add to Goodreads

Description

Celebrated concert pianist Nüwa Zhou had it all. Until she didn’t. Forced out of the closet while testifying at the kidnapping and murder trial of her obsessive former assistant turned stalker, she retires from the high-pressure world of performing to recover at her parents’ estate.

Stone mason, and frustrated sculptor Julia Johnson, spends her days stone building walls and patios while dreaming of quitting her day job.

After a chance encounter with Julia leads to more, Nüwa imagines a life with Julia. When her stalker returns, determined to kidnap Nüwa and end anyone who stands in his way, Nüwa will do whatever it takes to keep Julia safe, but will it be enough?

Excerpt

Music from Stone
Brenda Murphy © 2022
All Rights Reserved

“Who is Father talking to?” Nüwa Zhou stared out of the sliding door at the woman standing on the terrace, her short auburn hair a mass of curls that brushed the tops of her broad shoulders. Her stance was confident. Dressed in jeans and a T-shirt tight enough it drew Nüwa’s attention, she rested her hands on her hips across from Gerald Zhou. Her wide shoulders and sculpted arms tested the limits of the fabric of her shirt. Afforded the opportunity to stare openly, Nüwa savored the view, admiring the curves the woman’s loose jeans failed to conceal. Slightly taller than Nüwa’s father in her thick-soled work boots, the woman glanced back at the house. Nüwa held steady, confident the reflective window coating would hide her gawking.

“Former student. Inquiring about the cottage,” her mother called from the kitchen bar.

Nüwa tugged the belt of her robe tighter. “Early for a meeting.”

The not-so-subtle sound of her mother’s scoff drifted across the kitchen. Nüwa rested her chin on her chest. The unspoken scolding for sleeping late pricked Nüwa’s heart. A night owl born to a family of larks. Her sleep patterns had been her curse since childhood.

She lifted her gaze back to the scene outside.

Gerald Zhou stood close to the woman, occasionally gesturing to the yard and the firethorn maze covering the lower half of their estate. Wind pushed dark heavy clouds across the sky and a gust rattled the sliding door in its dull aluminum frame. He turned and pointed to the house. Nüwa stepped back and away from the glass into the shadows of the living room. She walked to the counter dividing the kitchen from the rest of the house.

“Have you eaten?” Her mother glanced up from her laptop screen.

Nüwa took a breath and blew it out. “Not hungry.”

A frown creased her mother’s sculpted eyebrows. “Don’t forget to eat.” Her gaze shifted to the window. “Your father needs to wrap it up. I don’t like the color of the sky.”

Nüwa perched on one of the stools at the counter and glanced at the sky. A green hue tinged the dark clouds. “It’s ugly.”

Fat drops of rain hit the glass as the peal of a weather warning spit out of her mother’s ever-present phone. Nüwa’s stomach twisted as adrenaline surged in her body. Storms were the worst. Lightning flashed. Nüwa placed her hands flat on the counter and started counting silently.

“Four. Not far away.”

The click of the computer keys increased. “I need to get these figures to Rowan.” Her mother continued to pound the keyboard as another flash of lightning lit up the kitchen with a sick yellow glare.

The skin on Nüwa’s arms prickled. The grate of the sliding door in its tracks sounded in the room a second before a crash of thunder rattled the house.

“Three.” Nüwa turned to the sliding door. “It’s moving toward us.”

“It’s crazy out there. Wait it out with us.” Gerald touched the arm of the woman from the terrace. “You remember my wife, Lian Tan? I don’t think you’ve met my daughter. Nüwa, this is Julia.”

“Hi Ms. Tan, nice to see you again. Nice to meet you, Nüwa.” Julia inclined her head to greet Nüwa’s mother before she turned and met Nüwa’s gaze.

Nüwa stared at Julia, the thin wet fabric of the T-shirt even more distracting now Julia was standing in front of her. “You’re wet.” Her face burned as soon as the words were out of her mouth. “I mean—” She scrambled around the end of the counter, snatched a clean dish towel from the basket next to the sink. “Here.” Nüwa held the towel out with both hands.

The tips of Julia’s fingers brushed the back of Nüwa’s hand as she took the towel from her. “Thank you.” She held Nüwa’s gaze for a moment, the hint of a smile twisting her lips before she dried her face.

Nüwa studied the tops of her house shoes and knotted her hands together as an awkward silence sucked the ease out of the moment. She crossed her arms over her chest, hugging herself, knowing she was acting weird, helpless to stop it.

The faint sound of a tornado siren spared Nüwa further torment.

“Basement.” Lian stood, tucked her laptop and a thick folder under her arm, before she walked to the end of the counter. She pressed the series of buttons under the countertop. The end of the cabinet slid aside revealing a stairwell. Gerald followed Lian.

Nüwa slid off the stool and followed her parents down the stairs leading to the storm cellar. She ducked her head as she entered the stairway. “Watch your head,” Nüwa called over her shoulder.

Heavy tread on the stairs behind her and the faint scent of lavender and sunscreen tickled Nüwa’s nose as Julia followed her to the safe room. Halfway down the steps, the lights flickered out, plunging the stairwell and room below into blackness.

“Damn it. Gerald, where did you put the lantern?”

“Use your phone.”

“Left it on the counter, and didn’t we talk about this? Use your phone.”

Her parents shifted their bickering to Mandarin. Nüwa prayed Julia didn’t understand as they devolved into one of their ongoing arguments.

Nüwa extended her hand behind her, and her fingers bushed the soft denim of Julia’s jean. “Take my hand. Stay close. The stairs turn here.”

Julia clasped her hand. Her broad callused palm rested against Nüwa’s hand. Nüwa led Julia down the stairs and toward the sound of her parents arguing. As they reached the bottom of the stairs the harsh light of an electric lantern flared to life, throwing twisted shadows over the walls.

Gerald closed off the door leading to the rest of the basement, sealing them in the long narrow windowless room. “There. Nüwa, lock the door behind you.”

Nüwa threw the deadbolt and sealed the door leading up to the kitchen.

Lian stood at the far end of the room, the glower on her face matching the ferocity of the storm. Arms crossed, she lifted her chin as she observed Nüwa and Julia. Her gaze landed squarely on their clasped hands.

Julia squeezed Nüwa’s hand once, then released it. “Thank you.”

Lian turned away from Nüwa, picked up a yellow wireless radio, and shoved it into Gerald’s hands. “Get the weather radio working.”

The echo of hail pelting the house increased in volume and drowned out Gerald’s reply. A roaring sound filled Nüwa’s ears, a steady hum. The hairs on her arm stood on end. Pressure in her ears increased to the point of pain and she swallowed, trying to clear them.

The ceiling over their head creaked and groaned as the vibration intensified. The house shook, rattling the shelves holding the food and water they kept stored in the small room. Nüwa wrapped her arms around herself to stop her trembling. Cans of food vibrated off the shelves and crashed to the floor, wrenching a cry from her, and she covered her eyes.

A warm hand settled on the middle of her back. Nüwa jerked away from the touch and bit down on her lip to stifle her yelp. The roaring increased, as if a train was bearing down on them. Nüwa dropped to her knees, covered her head with her arms, and folded herself into the smallest ball possible. The thin carpet over the concrete did nothing to ease her knees and sharp pain lanced through her. Her breathing was rough in her ears as her fear turned in on itself and drove every other thought from her mind. In the space of seconds, the patter of the hail softened, and the roaring stopped, leaving a heavy silence behind.

Purchase

NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

Brenda Murphy (she/her) writes erotic romance. Her most recent novel, Double Six, is the 2020 Golden Crown Literary Society winner for Erotic Novels, and Knotted Legacy, the third book in the Rowan House series, made the 2018 The Lesbian Review’s Top 100 Vacation Reads list. You can catch her musings on writing, books, and living with wicked ADHD on her blog Writing While Distracted. She loves sideshows and tattoos and yes, those are her monkeys. When she is not loitering at her local library, she wrangles twins, one dog, and an unrepentant parrot

I hope you enjoy reading this book as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Website | Facebook | Instagram

Giveaway

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Parasite by Ridley Harker

Title: Parasite

Author: Ridley Harker

Publisher:NineStar Press

Release Date: 06/28/2022

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: M/NB

Length: 82500

Genre: Horror, LGBTQIA+, Action/adventure, coming-of-age, dark, humorous

Add to Goodreads

Description

Seventeen-year-old Jack Ives is used to being unlucky. His only friend has just moved away to college, his parents are alcoholics, and he’s relentlessly bullied by the town psychopath. All that begins to change with the arrival of a handsome but quirky new student, Lucien, who wants to be more than friends.

Their newfound happiness doesn’t last, however, as a strange new illness strikes the island. Fishermen go missing, and the villagers left behind aren’t themselves anymore. When Lucien is suspected to be the cause of the outbreak, can Jack overcome his teenage hormones and save Eldrick Isle? Will he even want to?

Excerpt

Parasite
Ridley Harker © 2022
All Rights Reserved

0054 hours

September 2, 2015

Gulf of Maine

When some kooky mainlanders offered to pay extra for a midnight ferry, Bill Jamison had jumped at the chance to pay off his bar tab. Now he regretted it. The middle-aged fisherman leaned morosely against the starboard rail while beside him his business partner, Jim Kendrick, fought the uphill battle of smoking a pipe during a storm. The rain pounded against the deck in a dull roar and, judging from Kendrick’s cursing, the pipe had gone out once again.

Not for the first time, Jamison reluctantly noted that his partner was getting on in years. Kendrick’s coat hung from his wizened frame like a cloak. His mysterious weight loss had made them both nervous, not that either one said anything. For an Eldrick Islander, the prospect of cancer was like foul weather; something to be endured without complaint.

“Goddamned son-of-a—” Kendrick upended the pipe and a sodden wad of tobacco fell onto the deck. He kicked it away, smearing it across the boards.

“We shouldn’t have gone out tonight,” Jamison said.

“Horse shit,” Kendrick huffed. “We’ve sailed through worse than this.”

“That ain’t what I meant.” Jamison jerked his head toward the mainlander lurking near the bow of the ferry.

Tall and blond, his passenger’s washed-out appearance resembled a photograph, the kind found in a neglected attic of subjects long deceased. Judging by the young man’s pinched frown, Jamison assumed that Silas Spencer was either a lawyer or an undertaker. He shuddered; Jamison hated lawyers, having seen enough of their kind during his divorce. Blood-sucking monsters the lot of them, in his opinion, but he had never been afraid of them, not even when the wretches helped his ex-wife take half of everything he’d owned.

But he was afraid of this one.

It was the eyes. He had seen eyes like that once before, years ago. Back when he had spent much of his days drunk. Once, while Kendrick cleaned their catch, Jamison had gone too far and drunk too much. His legs had betrayed him, and he had tumbled over the side. He remembered tasting blood. A tangy mix of iron and salt that burned his lungs when he tried to inhale. His eyes had stung. He had floundered in the icy water. He, a man who had learned to swim before he could walk, was drowning.

Then the moment of panic was gone, and instinct had set in. Jamison’s powerful legs had propelled him upwards, his arms outstretched toward the boat. He had nearly reached it before the shadow was beneath him. It came at him like a torpedo, almost too fast for his gin-addled brain to comprehend. A massive, prehistoric monster armed with muscled jaws and sandpaper skin. The soulless black pits of its eyes rolled back in its head, and its gaping maw expanded to reveal rows upon row of serrated teeth.

In the split second before the attack, Jamison had stared into the darkness of oblivion—then he had been shaken like a terrier on a rat. The shark had separated the flesh from his leg and sentenced him to a month in a mainland hospital whose bill he was still struggling to pay off. The very existence of such a creature disproved the notion that humans sat at the top of the food chain.

Safely back in the present, Jamison shuddered and remembered to breathe. He rubbed at his forearms, warm beneath his thick woolen sweater. He had been lucky. If he had drunk a little more gin, perhaps he wouldn’t have had the presence of mind to sink his knife deep into the shark’s eye socket. Now only scars and nightmares remained, and he hadn’t touched the bottle since. He liked to say that his rock bottom was on the ocean floor.

Jamison recognized something of that great white shark in Spencer. The man’s flat, grey eyes made his skin crawl. He glowered at Spencer’s broad-shouldered back, but Spencer didn’t seem to notice or care. His attention lay on the swirling mists beyond the ferry’s bow. Typical yuppie mainlander. Pretentious bastard, Jamison thought.

“They’re up to something,” he said aloud, glancing toward the cabin where the other one had sequestered himself.

Kendrick only snorted. “They’re mainlanders. They’ll spend a few weeks on the Isle, get bored, and then go back to whatever hell hole they came from. You know the type. We get a few every other year or so.”

Jamison did know the type. Unlike Nantucket, or Martha’s Vineyard, Eldrick Isle never attracted the summer crowd. There was nothing to offer. The once booming fishing industry had been usurped by commercial trawlers decades ago, forcing the neighboring isles to turn to seaweed farming instead. Eldrick, however, chose to bow its head and soldier on, clinging to the memory of its glory days. Billboards advertised a hotel that had long since shuttered its doors. The lone diner had a Visitor’s Special that no one ever ordered. The pier greeting the newcomers reeked of dead fish, the ever-present stench emanating from the dozen or so rusted fishing boats docked in the harbor.

Then there was the island itself: Eldrick’s shores were steep, rocky cliffs, with edges sharp and jagged like broken teeth. The surf stirred up debris and rotting vegetation, littering the island’s few beaches with trash from the abandoned canning factory on the island’s east side. Even the hottest days of summer were damp and chilly. Mist obscured the frigid waters. It crept onto the island, soaking through the sturdiest of coats. The few vacationers that showed up in August inevitably took one look at the dying town and turned around to book their return ticket.

Rain splattered against Jamison’s hood, echoing in his ears. Kendrick tried his pipe again to no avail. The storm lulled enough that the sound of retching was audible from within the depths of the cabin. Rasping coughs followed by the wet splatter of vomit. The downpour returned with a roar. It slipped past Jamison’s hood, soaking his neck. His shiver had nothing to do with the cold.

Kendrick abandoned his pipe and frowned, his rheumy eyes searching Jamison’s face. Jamison cleared his throat, striving to be heard over the rain and yet not loud enough for Spencer to hear. “Something’s wrong,” he shouted into Kendrick’s ear. “We were barely on the water before the kid got sick—”

“Billy, you been drinking again?” Kendrick asked, clasping Jamison’s shoulder with gnarled fingers. “When’d you get so goddamned superstitious?”

“No, I haven’t been fucking drinking! I’m only saying that this whole thing feels wrong; if one of my brothers were puking like that, I’d at least go check on him. I think the kid’s got something bad—what if it’s contagious?”

“What, like ee-bolah?” Kendrick asked, with a sharp look toward the ferry’s cabin. “Naw, it couldn’t be…”

“You checked on him?”

“No.”

“Well, someone ought to,” Jamison said.

“You do it,” Kendrick said dubiously. “Last time, I slipped in it and damn near broke my back.”

“Go check it out. If he’s only seasick then I’ll clean it up myself, but I’m telling you, something’s very wrong with that kid.”

“Christ, Billy! Nag anymore and you’re gonna sound like my wife.” Kendrick gave him a shove and then marched across the deck toward the cabin. Jamison caught movement in the corner of his eye and found Spencer watching them, his back against the railing. Their eyes met, and all of a sudden Jamison couldn’t hear the storm. There was nothing but the blood pounding in his ears. One corner of Spencer’s thin mouth twitched upward into a razor’s edge of a smirk. Jamison’s skin crawled. He wrenched his eyes away.

“Jim, wait!” Jamison shouted over the rain, but Kendrick had already knocked on the cabin door. The old sailor reached for the handle, his calloused fingers closing in on the doorknob. Jamison sucked in his breath.

Kendrick half turned around, his shoulders squared and his lips pursed, eyes narrowed beneath his bushy white brows. His hand was still on the cabin door. “Jesus Christ, Billy, what now?” he demanded. “What in the hell’s wrong with you, you crazy son of a bitch? You’re shaking like a virgin on—” He paused and glanced down. Jamison didn’t know why until Kendrick tried to take a step back. His boot remained glued to the floor.

Kendrick shoved at the door and yanked at his shoe. He stumbled as it came loose, trailing a viscous black gel behind it. More of the substance pooled out from underneath the cabin door. Lightning flashed, and a rainbow sheen coated the surface of the muck. The door creaked open.

Before Jamison shouted in warning, something darted out from the gloom. Thick and ropy, like a bundle of rotten vines, it hit Kendrick’s wrist with a wet slap, latching onto his bare skin. Kendrick sputtered, his eyes wide and his mouth hanging open in a perfect caricature of surprise—then another tentacled limb emerged and shoved itself down his gullet. Like a fish on a hook, he was yanked into the cabin.

Purchase

NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

Ridley Harker is an up-and-coming horror author who delights in all things gay and spooky. While past careers have included reptile keeping at a zoo and EMT work at a casino, writing is his true passion. His favorite books are those with enemies to lovers, small town settings, and great villains. He currently lives in the Middle of Nowhere with his two dogs, a grumpy old snake, and a host of pet tarantulas.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Patreon

Giveaway

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Blog Button 2