She Loves to Watch Me Play: I Know What You’re Doing – Part 1 by #ZaneMichaelson

She Loves to Watch Me Play: I Know What You’re Doing – Part 1

#KU #Gay

╔════•*•☆❥•*•💦•*•☆❥•*•════╗
SHE LOVES TO WATCH ME PLAY
╚════•*•☆❥•*•💦•*•☆❥•*• ════╝

Amazon myBook.to/IKnow1
Available on kindle unlimited ️

•*•💦 Blurb
This book is based on real-life events.
After being married for eight years, I knew there was something missing in my life and em-barked upon a dangerous affair that could have cracked my marriage wide open.
Little did I know, but my amazing & beautiful Wife was feeling the same way.
She found out about my affair, but I had no idea she loves to watch

OUR DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS
Available on Kindle Unlimited
myBook.to/IKnow2

TILL DEATH US DO PART
Available on kindle unlimited
http://geni.us/C7jQf

I KNOW WHAT YOU’RE DOING
THE WHOLE STORY
Series complete
Available on kindle unlimited
http://geni.us/rO0LSAI

•*•💦 Stalker Links

Author page
https://www.facebook.com/Zane-Michaelson-115446642497146/
⏩️Good reads
https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/71075112-zane-michaelson
Twitter
https://twitter.com/ZaneMichaelson?s=09
Fan group
https://www.facebook.com/groups/294699031009501/
Zazzle store link
https://www.zazzle.com/zanemichaelson?rf=238511519321150191
Zane Michaelson’s official merchandise store
https://www.facebook.com/groups/1504131169675643/
Zane Michaelson

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Approaching the Bench

 

Title: Approaching the Bench
Series: The Conflict of Interest Series #3
Author: Chantal Fernando
Publisher: Pocket Star
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Release Date: February 19, 2018
Blurb
A tenacious,
resilient female judge must find a way to work with her carefree clerk as they
find themselves in danger when a fugitive sets his sights on revenge in the
third book in New York Times bestselling author Chantal
Fernando’s sexy and thrilling Conflict of Interest Series.
Trinity Williams, known as “Medusa” for her stony expressions and unyielding
reputation, constantly has her guard up—how else is the youngest female judge
in the country supposed to survive in such a male-dominated profession? She
made the decision long ago that laughter and a carefree attitude have no
business in a courtroom and achieving her professional goals is the only thing
she has left. It’s just her luck that her new law clerk, Callum Hopkins,
believes the exact opposite.

Callum Hopkins thinks that nothing should ever be too serious in life—why can’t
he mix business with pleasure? When he first starts working for his hot new
boss, they clash at every turn. He makes it his mission to get Judge Williams
to see things his way for once.

But when Callum finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time as an
escaped convict comes after Trinity, he realizes it’s not all fun and games
anymore. Now in witness protection together until the authorities can catch the
fugitive, this unlikely pair must learn to trust one another and work together
to stay alive. Far away from the courtroom, Trinity and Callum are suddenly
free to stop butting heads, and stop fighting the growing attraction between
them.

With suspense and plenty of chemistry, Approaching the Bench proves
once again that “Chantal Fernando knows how to draw you in and keep you hooked”
(Booklist).

 

Purchase Links
AMAZON US / UK / CA / AU

B&N / KOBO / iBOOKS

 

Also Available

 

 

AMAZON US / UK / CA / AU

AMAZON US / UK / CA / AU
B&N / KOBO / iBOOKS

 

Coming Soon

Releasing April 17, 2018

AMAZON US / UK / CA / AU

B&N / KOBO / iBOOKS

Author Bio

New York Times, Amazon & USA Today Bestselling Author Chantal Fernando is thirty years old and lives in Western Australia.Lover of all things romance, Chantal is the author of the best selling books Dragon’s Lair, Maybe This Time and many more.

When not reading, writing or daydreaming she can be found enjoying life with her three sons and family.

Chantal loves to hear from readers.

Author Links

 

Strangers & Vultures by #LisetteKristensen

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Strangers & Vultures

Publication Date: February 4, 2018

💥💣🔥New Release …. Strangers & Vultures … Complete Set 🔥💣💥

One click >>> amzn.to/2BFmAJt

😮 💥Two book for 99cents & FREE KindleUnlimited 💥 😮

“Thrillers where bullets are flying, bodies are dropping, and hearts are breaking”

Betrayed by her husband. Sloane faced the ultimate enemy…her father.

One choice remained, to seek an old friend for help. Everything about him screamed danger and lust. Her world spinning in chaos, as sinister forces tracked her down. Was he her salvation or something darker?

Amazon link amzn.to/2BFmAJt

Lisette Kristensen

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The Queen of Ieflaria

Title:  The Queen of Ieflaria

Series: Tales of Inthya, Book One

Author: Effie Calvin

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: February 19, 2018

Heat Level: 1 – No Sex

Pairing: Female/Female

Length: 65000

Genre: Fantasy, LGBT, fantasy, royalty, dragons, mythical creatures, magic, gods, slow burn

Add to Goodreads

Synopsis

Princess Esofi of Rhodia and Crown Prince Albion of Ieflaria have been betrothed since they were children but have never met. At age seventeen, Esofi’s journey to Ieflaria is not for the wedding she always expected but instead to offer condolences on the death of her would-be husband.

But Ieflaria is desperately in need of help from Rhodia for their dragon problem, so Esofi is offered a new betrothal to Prince Albion’s younger sister, the new Crown Princess Adale. But Adale has no plans of taking the throne, leaving Esofi with more to battle than fire-breathing beasts.

Excerpt

The Queen of Inthya
Effie Calvin © 2018
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One
Esofi

The castle at Birsgen had been built from cold gray stone, but the rooms within were warm and bright. Intricate tapestries and carpets in rich shades of crimson, emerald, and sapphire decorated the throne room, and a roaring fire at the far end of the room kept the worst of the chill that dwelled in the ancient stone at bay.

Princess Esofi of Rhodia sank into a curtsy, her elaborate skirts rustling softly in the silence. Before her were the velvet thrones of King Dietrich and Queen Saski of Ieflaria. Just behind her were the waiting ladies and battlemages who had accompanied her on the four-month journey to a land that would be her new home.

With Esofi’s entire retinue crowded inside, the throne room was not nearly as expansive as it ought to be. To make things even more uncomfortable, many of the residents of the Ieflarian court had gathered for the arrival of the princess, filling the room further.

Most of the Ieflarians Esofi had seen so far were dark-haired and fair-skinned with eyes of blue or gray, though in the larger cities she had encountered people who were clearly from far-off lands like Anora and Masim. The women usually wore their hair in braids, with younger girls allowing them to hang free and older women pinning them into coronets or coils. Esofi wished that she could take in their faces and study their reactions to her presence. But she knew she had to trust her ladies to do that for her while she devoted her attention to the regents.

“We welcome you to Ieflaria during this sad time,” said King Dietrich. “We regret that your arrival has been under such unfortunate circumstances.”

Esofi swallowed. Every Ieflarian they’d encountered since coming into the country had been dressed in gray or black or somber lavender. The queen herself was in a plain gray gown with only the simplest pearl circlet on her head, and the king wore a black velvet jacket over a gray tunic and breeches. Even the guards and servants wore black, instead of the crimson-and-gold livery that her books and tutors had told her to expect.

Esofi had worn her simplest dress out of respect, and her ladies had done the same. But Rhodian fashion was dramatically more opulent than the clothing found in Ieflaria, featuring lace accessories, layers of ruffled underskirts, and fabrics sewn with gemstones. Even the most subdued ensemble seemed disrespectfully lavish compared to the simple styles favored by the Ieflarians.

“Yes,” said Esofi. “I am deeply sorry.”

Three months. Crown Prince Albion, Esofi’s husband-to-be and heir to the throne of Ieflaria, had been dead for three months. Esofi had never met him, but they’d been exchanging letters since they were old enough to write. The loss still felt unreal, as though it were all a terrible joke.

“We are no longer able to uphold the contract that was signed fifteen years ago,” said Queen Saski. “You have the right to return home if you choose.”

She was wrong. Esofi could no more return home than she could transform into a bird and fly away.

“Your Majesties,” Esofi said. “Your lands have suffered greatly from dragon attacks in past years and will only continue to suffer if action is not taken. As the future queen, it was my intention to begin securing Ieflaria’s borders immediately. To this end, I have brought with me a company of the finest battlemages that the University of Rho Dianae has to offer.” She gestured to the back of the room where fifty mages stood in the midnight-blue robes that marked them as fully trained battlemages blessed by Talcia, Goddess of Magic. “But I believe this can still be accomplished, even now. I remain willing to marry your heir…your new heir.”

King Dietrich and Queen Saski both looked relieved, as if they had expected Esofi to pick up her skirts and flounce all the way back to Rho Dianae.

“For the sake of honoring the spirit of our agreement and protecting our homeland,” said King Dietrich, “we are willing to grant you this.”

Even though it had been her proposal, Esofi felt a soft pang in her heart at the words. Albion would have been gentle. Albion would have been kind. She had always considered herself lucky that her betrothed seemed to be noble in manner as well as blood and so near to her own age. Esofi had seen enough violent lords and vicious ladies to know that Iolar had smiled upon her when her parents had arranged her fate.

“Thank you, Your Majesty,” said Esofi. “I think my parents would have little reason to object if the terms of the marriage were otherwise unchanged.”

“Then in three days, we will formalize the new agreement.” King Dietrich gestured to a servant who came hurrying to his side. Esofi could not hear what the king said to him, but the servant rushed from the room immediately.

Esofi tried to remember who exactly the heir to Ieflaria’s throne was now that Albion was gone. Surely, someone had told her at some point. The winged courier who had brought the news of Albion’s death might have mentioned it. But Esofi’s grief-stricken mind offered no names. Her gaze found the statue of Iolar, Fourth of the Ten, where it loomed behind Their Majesties’ thrones. She offered up a rapid prayer to him.

“We have prepared rooms for you,” said Queen Saski. “The servants will lead you to them. If they are not to your liking, you may arrange them however you wish.” Her smile was warm and possibly even genuine.

“Thank you,” said Esofi with another curtsy. “The journey has been long. It will be good to rest in a proper bed again.”

“You will have plenty of time to recover from your journey,” said Queen Saski. “We cannot begin wedding arrangements until one hundred days of mourning have passed. Tomorrow, you will join me for tea and meet my daughter, the Crown Princess Adale.”

“Of course, Your Majesty,” began Esofi. “I…” But the rest of her words died in her throat as her mind caught up with her ears. Princess Adale. She had heard that name before. She was Albion’s younger sister and the only other child of King Dietrich and Queen Saski. Albion had mentioned her in his letters, spinning tales of their adventures and mischief.

But…a princess? Like most people, Esofi did not have a strong preference regarding the gender of the one she married. But marrying the same sex was a privilege that royalty was seldom able to indulge in, since the production of heirs usually took priority over all else. Two women could still manage it if one of them could hold a Changed shape long enough, but men had to be content with surrogates. Most of the nobility back home did not care to take such risks with their bloodlines. Perhaps it was different in Ieflaria. Or perhaps Their Majesties were merely desperate.

Fortunately, Queen Gaelle of Rhodia had instilled iron willpower in her children, and so Esofi was able to successfully fight back her urge to turn around and look to her ladies for their reactions. She realized the king and queen were still waiting for her to finish her sentence.

“I…think that will be lovely,” she completed. Then she pressed the back of her hand to her forehead as delicately as she could manage. “Goodness, how the journey has wearied me.”

“Then go, rest,” said Queen Saski. “We will speak again tomorrow.”

Dismissed at last, Esofi gave one last curtsy before turning and leading the procession from the room. Once they were out in the halls, Captain Henris approached her. He wore the same midnight robes as the other battlemages, but his were trimmed in silver embroidery. Captain Henris was not a young man any longer but had served Esofi well during the long journey, and she found that she trusted him implicitly.

“Your orders, Princess?” he asked.

“You may send the mages to the barracks,” Esofi said. “Tell them that I thank them for their service. And find me tomorrow morning, before I meet with Her Majesty.”

“Of course, Princess,” he said.

With the departure of the mages, the hall became significantly less crowded. Esofi turned her attention to her ladies. There were three of them, and all had come with her by choice. The first was Lady Lexandrie, the second daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Fialia and Esofi’s second cousin, who had been her waiting lady since they were thirteen. She was a tall woman with a cascade of golden hair and a regal demeanor. If Lexandrie had any faults, the foremost one was stubbornness, followed closely by an innate belief that no person in the world had ever worked as hard or suffered as desperately as she had in her eighteen years of life at the marble palace of Rho Dianae.

Next was Lady Mireille, daughter of the Baron and Baroness of Aelora. With six older siblings, her prospects in Rhodia had not been high—but her ambitions were. Esofi was still not entirely certain how the young woman had managed to win herself a place on the royal procession, but that didn’t matter now. Mireille’s traveling papers had proclaimed that she was sixteen years old, but her youthful face could have passed for twelve.

Mireille’s presence had been welcome on the long journey. She was a bright, cheerful young woman, desperately eager to please and only occasionally prone to simpering. She would rush eagerly to complete any task Esofi set them to, and Lexandrie was always happy to let her work in solitude until the assignment was minutes from being complete.

In some small way, Esofi felt that she and Mireille had a sort of kinship between them. While Lexandrie was certain to return to Rhodia someday, Mireille and Esofi never would. There was nothing left for them back there. Ieflaria would become their world now.

And last was Lady Lisette of Diativa, who was in actuality not a Lady, nor of Diativa, nor even named Lisette. She was a tiny woman with black eyes and hair the color of moonlight who could go days at a time without uttering a word. Esofi did not know for certain how many blades, lockpicks, and poisons Lisette had on her person, but she felt quite sure that the number was absurdly high. She was an unnerving girl until one became accustomed to her, but Esofi’s mother had insisted upon her presence in the royal carriage.

“Such a lovely welcome,” said Lexandrie in a bright and vapid tone. “Didn’t you think so, Princess?”

“Yes, of course,” said Esofi in an equally cheerful tone—she knew perfectly well that there could be any number of people listening in, waiting for some word against the co-regents or a sign of weakness. The fact that they spoke in the language of Rhodia was no protection against that. “I will be glad to rest my feet at last, though, and for a cup of tea.”

“Princess Esofi,” said a woman, emerging from the throne room behind them. She looked to be around the same age as Queen Saski and wore a lavender gown decorated with pearls. In keeping with the Ieflarian fashion, her long hair was in coiled braids. “I am Countess Amala of Eiben, waiting lady to Queen Saski. Her Majesty has asked me to show you to your new rooms.”

“Oh! Of course,” said Esofi, stepping aside so Amala could take the lead.

Purchase

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

Meet the Author

Effie is definitely a human being with all her own skin, and not a robot. She writes science fiction and fantasy novels and lives with her cat in the greater Philadelphia area.

Website | Twitter | eMail

 

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Berlin to Bern by #PierceSmith

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Berlin to Bern

Publication Date: February 27, 2018
#KU #Gay
What would you do if you were entrapped in a hidden unnamed cabin on a train from Berlin to Switzerland?

A closed lavishly decorated room which oozed sex and liquor from all over the world. What would Robin do if one after another, lecherous men entered in their official dress and made him kneel before them?

What could Robin have done?

Robin moaning, grunting, pleading, serving, and gratifying their dark hunger.

A short biographical story based on Robin – of course, his name has been changed – when once he hurriedly boarded the train to go to his first ever job interview. The sin he had no ticket. Rascal, the ticket inspector, offered, that instead of payment, he could spend the night in a hidden compartment.

Rascal came for him when the other passengers on the train were asleep and when finally Robin was sleeping in the embrace of Rascal, a shadow knocked at the door. Or was it shadows?

Robin had no idea this night would never end while learning the true art of submission.

This dark longing is buried in the deepest corner of all our hearts.

#ShowsomeloveforMMBooks

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#WednesdayShare 114

Theirs by Midnight: Book 3.5 (Midnight, Mississippi) by #Kelex

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Theirs by Midnight: Book 3.5 (Midnight, Mississippi)

Publication Date: February 25, 2018

Now king’s consorts, Eilam and Noah struggle to adjust to life in the castle. Things aren’t helped with King Adriel’s desire to hold a ball in their honor-in a little over a week’s time. A thousand guests is a logistical nightmare in and of itself, especially since the guests of honor are in charge of Midnight’s security. Both men try to discourage Adriel from holding the event, but the king is accustomed to having his every whim granted and won’t be dissuaded.

Adriel wants to show the whole of Midnight he’s fully accepted his mates. After the months of pushing them away, he feels the need to shout his affection from the mountaintops. Perhaps it’s a bit of guilt driving him to make the grand gesture, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, is it? Eilam and Noah just need to warm to the idea.

To get his way, Adriel promises Eilam and Noah twenty-four hours alone with him in his private realm immediately after the ball-where he won’t be allowed to use his magic during the hours between arriving and departing. He’s not quite sure what Eilam and Noah have planned, but whatever it may be, it’s already making him tremble with delight.

 

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Illusions of the Present (Legends Book 5) by #MarkMcQuillen

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Illusions of the Present (Legends Book 5)

Publication Date: March 24, 2018

☆°•‿¸.•*´´*•.¸(*•.☆.•*)¸.•*´´*•.¸‿•°☆
💜Illusions Of The Present
(Legends Book 5) 💜
By Mark Mcquillen
Pre order now
☆°•***•.¸.•*(¸.•*´☆`*•.¸)*•.¸.•***•°☆

Releasing 24th March

Preorder Link:
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07B2DMPHZ/

Legends 5 is available for preorders through Amazon. As with the other events if you preorder youll get a FREE copy of any of our books! Just post your order confirmation here then contact us and the book is yours! Preorder yours today! 😛
Mark McQuillen

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AM13 Outbreak Series:

AM13 Outbreak Series:
Books 1-3
by Samie Sands
Genre: Zombie Horror
The deadly AM13 virus is taking over the world, creating hordes of
zombies and turning the few survivors into the hunted…
Survivors can only watch humankind dwindle to extinction.
They fight to protect their loved ones, to reach sanctuary, to keep their
sanity as civilization is destroyed around them, never knowing if
their next breath will be their last.
Will the person they fought beside soon be a flesh-hungry corpse, or even
worse, their own prey?
Read the bestselling series by author Samie Sands, now available in a
complete box set!
Includes the following books!

 

Lockdown
AM13 Outbreak Book 1
Leah Watton’s practical joke has spiralled way out of control—all to
impress a crush…
With a prank online video, Leah hopes to catch the attention of Jake
Colton, a cute, blond-haired, blue-eyed co-worker she’s had a crush
on for months. But instead of sending it to Jake, she manages to
forward the clip to her boss—who buys every gory second.
When mass panic ensues, Leah learns the video is more than a staged
act…
The government is calling the virus AM13. As the outbreak spreads,
citizens are forced to stay indoors while they assess the gravity of
the illness. Most people are quarantined in their homes, but Leah,
Jake, and Leah’s best friend Michelle are some of the unlucky few
who are stuck at work when the Lockdown occurs.
That’s where she first encounters one of the infected…
Aside from a contaminated woman devouring one of her co-workers, Leah has
another problem. Does she do as she’s ordered and stay at work? Or
should she disobey government orders and break free to reunite with
her family?
She can’t go it alone—after all, Leah has none of the skills needed
to survive—but with Michelle and Jake by her side, not even a
contagious virus and a sea of the dead can keep her from…
Breaking out of the Lockdown…

 

Forgotten
AM13 Outbreak Book 2
Every attempt to contain the deadly AM13 virus has failed, leaving humanity
on the brink of extinction…
The plague is spreading out of control with no cure in sight. Then the
government announces its new plan—a sanctuary in an area completely
untouched by the infected—as long as you can get there alive and
unscathed.
Ethan Watton has managed to survive this long, even with OCD making every
day more hellish than it already is…
Ethan’s obsessive-compulsive disorder dramatically affected his life before
the infection began. Now he’s desperate to get as far away from the
zombie virus as humanly possible. Isolated and afraid, Ethan thinks
there is no way in hell he will survive the epidemic.
Alyssa Turner has spent her teenage years prepping for the undead to
challenge her zombie killing skills…
Alyssa knows with absolute certainty that she will survive the AM13 virus.
She’s read all the books, watched all the films, and done all the
research. She’s strong, tough, and a self-proclaimed badass. Any
group would be lucky to fight alongside her…until the unthinkable
makes her doubt every skill she’s acquired.
Dr. Jones is a scientist who doesn’t understand why he was selected to
produce a cure…
Surely there are survivors more experienced in virology than he is. And what
will happen to him—and the rest of the species—if he fails? Is
the fate of the human race really resting on his shoulders? Or are
there others working toward the same goal?
With the zombies multiplying and survivors struggling to make it to the
sanctuary, Ethan, Alyssa, and Dr. Jones fight to fulfill their
destinies. If they fail, their fate is sealed, and they will join the
millions of others who have been…
Forgotten.

 

Extinct
AM13 Outbreak Book 3
Writing books about the horrors of the zombie apocalypse is one thing—but
Georgie Blake can’t believe it has become her reality…
She never expected her fictional stories of blood, death, and the
consumption of human flesh to jump off the page into the real world.
She certainly didn’t think she’d survive this long if they had.
As a shy novelist, she was sure she’d be one of the first to die.
Safe in the Sanctuary, Georgie holds on to hope for a cure…
But that’s not all she holds on to. The government has promised the
people of the Sanctuary that they can return home. The rumours are
rife that there is an antidote on the horizon. But even if not, the
infected are dying out, throwing the treacherous AM13 virus to the
brink of extinction. If the infection dies out, this horrible
nightmare Georgie is living in will be a distant memory.
Until everything that’s right goes terribly wrong…
Soon after meeting some new friends in the Sanctuary, Georgie learns she’s
going to have to face the monsters outside the walls if she wants to
return to her old life. But for a scared, introverted bookworm, it
may be too much to consider…
Will Georgina conquer her fears of the dead to return home, or will she be
one of the countless others who have gone Extinct?
**Only .99 cents!!**
Samie Sands is a 28 year old freelance graphic designer who has recently
decided to follow her lifelong dream and use her creativity in a new
way by writing.
She has a degree in Media Studies and PR and has already had articles published in a
number of e-zines, including one of the most popular pieces at Zombie
Guide Magazine. She has also had short stories included in a number
of successful projects.
She lives in a small seaside town in the UK, but loves to travel to gain
inspiration from new places and different cultures.

Follow the tour HERE
for exclusive excerpts, guest posts and a giveaway!

 

His Second Chance Love by #SharonJohnson

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His Second Chance Love

His Second Chance Love
Author Sharon Johnson

Looking for a 5-star read?
Available on Kindle Unlimited

He was a man who thought he’d found the love of his life, only to be left devastated when she chooses someone else. Not ready to take a chance on love again, but finally ready to move on after months of just existing; he unexpectedly meets a woman during a business trip to Toronto. She immediately captivates him and there’s an instant attraction between them. They begin a long distance romance and for the first time since his heartbreak, he thinks he’s found happiness again.

Another woman he’s never given much thought to, other than being the annoying little sister of the woman who broke his heart, enters his life in an unexpected way. Soon after, they become friends through a series of unforeseen events and start spending more time together.

One traumatic event may change everything he thought he knew about love and what he thought he wanted. Soon, he starts to fall for both women in very different ways. Follow him on his journey of love and forgiveness as he makes the choice of a lifetime, when he discovers, his second chance love. This is a standalone novel, no cliffhangers and a fairytale ending that will stay with you long after the book is over.
Exclusively on #Amazon
http://amzn.to/2bRhuNQ

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Aerie

Title:  Aerie

Series: The Chinjoka Saga, Book One

Author: Jon Keys

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: February 19, 2018

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 77900

Genre: Fantasy, NineStar Press, LGBT, shifters, magic, gods, friends to lovers, enemies to lovers, slow burn

Add to Goodreads

Synopsis

Askari, Dhala, and Gyam grew up as childhood friends during happier days for the Chinjoka, an Iron Age people with the ability to shapeshift, but now they must learn their place among the tribe while dealing with both a devastating plague and war with the Misiq.

Ena is a young warrior for the more savage Misiq, a tribe whose cruelty exemplifies their deity—the Angry God. The Misiq, also shifters, have declared a genocidal war against the Chinjoka, blaming them for the disease devastating both tribes. As a result, they are locked in a battle for survival. But when Ena is shown compassion by those he means to harm, he begins to question all he’s ever known.

A chance meeting changes their lives, and maybe their tribes, forever.

Excerpt

Aerie
Jon Keys © 2018
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One
Dhala’s world overflowed with desperation as he filled a bowl with crystalline water trickling along the edge of the sky portal for Gyam’s aerie. His attempt to spot Gyam in his flyer form was thwarted by the dense early spring fog that limited the visibility of the surroundings. Even the river running along the cliff was hidden from Dhala’s sharp eyes.

Assigned to be the Saat responsible for the last two Athru, Dhala took his worker caste’s responsibility of caring for Gyam and Choro with much weight, especially since Choro was in the final throes of the deadly plague that had devastated the Chinjoka over the last few cycles. As Choro’s health diminished ever more rapidly, Dhala and Gyam had become ever more desperate until, before first light, Gyam had left on the final attempt to gain their friend and mentor more time.

A gust sent a spray onto Dhala’s face and moistened the nest of short curls framing it. With the bowl having long ago been filled, he wiped the water from his skin and sighed.

“You can’t will him to travel faster, Dhala.”

Startled from his dower mood, he grabbed the bowl of fresh water from the trickle and moved to Choro’s side. “I’m so sorry. I was lost in thought.” He dropped a soft piece of trade cloth into the liquid, squeezed it almost dry, and ran it over the man’s face. Choro’s labored breathing echoed through the room, a symptom of how far the disease had progressed. Dhala found some solace knowing they’d had no new cases for a cycle. But sadness overwhelmed him each time he allowed himself to consider Choro losing his battle against the sickness.

With a hand withered to little more than talon and sinew, Choro caught his wrist. “Dhala, I’m neither fevered nor in need of cleaning. We both know my time is limited. Gyam set himself on this task hoping to change my fate, but this sun cycle is likely my last.”

Dhala scrubbed the tears from his face and scowled at the feeble figure lying before him. With a fierce determination, he grabbed the older man’s hand between his. “Choro, you will live. Gyam will find an osa herd, and the fresh meat will give you the strength to last until we discover a healing.” Dhala glanced out the cave opening to the fog-swathed valley that stretched to the forests surrounding Mother Falls high in the mountains to the north. Nothing of Gyam was visible, but he turned to Choro filled with a stubborn glint. “Soon. He must return soon.”

Choro lay back with a rattling breath. “Fledgling, we have not cured what is killing the Chinjoka in all the cycles since it began. Each caste suffered losses. Once I am gone, Gyam is the last Athru. None of the fledglings show signs of the Athru change, and the responsibilities weigh heavily on Gyam.”

Dhala dropped his gaze as Choro reminded him of his greatest shame. But there was a gentle touch on his chin, and he lifted his head. He took the elder’s hand in his, and Choro smiled sadly.

“It’s no fault of yours that you never left the Saat caste. The Father of the Twins decides who takes to the sky, who are the protectors, and who cares for others. We are all born with the abilities of the Saat, and many become able to shift to the protective plates of the Onija. But the few who are gifted with the faculty to shift into one of the Chinjoka flyers guard us from the sky. We all stop where the Father decrees.”

Dhala sighed again but released Choro and moved the bowl aside. The elder was right. Dhala needed to accept his place and the disappointment of never becoming one of the Athru caste as his father always believed he would. He would never develop the stone-hard plate of the Onija, much less the ability to become the taloned and winged protector of the Chinjoka.

Dhala’s father held several unique beliefs, including that the earthbound Saat were as important as the soaring Athru. When he was a child, Dhala spent many hours with his friends, climbing the precipice above the village as the Athru flyers glided across the azure sky. He’d loved the time among the heights, regardless of the season, but warm summer mornings were his favorite. By afternoon, the sun would heat the rocks, making them uncomfortable, but during the early mornings, the breeze coming from the warming grasslands northward to the cutleaf forest made it easy to imagine what flight over the last Chinjoka settlement would be like.

He glanced again to the outside, thrilled at the rays of sun cutting through the dawn haze and bringing the river far below them into sharper relief. The dry-fit stone wall that formed the flight path for this aerie glowed with the golden light of morning.

“He’s fine. Gyam is the strongest Athru I’ve met during my time in the aeries. When the Father takes me, he will need your help.”

Choro’s reference to the afterlife made Dhala cringe. He and Gyam had been determined to heal Choro of the plague since his first symptoms. Anyone who’d shown signs of the disease had left on the Long Flight with no exceptions. Dhala lost far too many of his friends, as had most of the Chinjoka. But when Choro showed the difficulty breathing that was the typical first symptom, Dhala fought with ferocious determination to save his friend and advisor. Choro’s downward spiral caused Dhala and Gyam to drift apart. They’d been among the best of friends since they were fledglings, but Choro’s terminal condition left Gyam bitter and unpredictable.

The result might be different if their only Athru healer hadn’t been one of the first to die. Others tried to find a cure, including his mother who was a well-versed Saat healer. The failure to determine a cure made people doubt their skills and, in some cases, blame the spread of the disease on the Saat healers. Regardless of the truth, no healer had been successful, and most had stopped their efforts, for fear they might be blamed.

“He comes.”

Dhala glanced at Choro, who nodded toward the aerie’s sky portal. An instant later, the slow beat of wings came closer. Dhala swept the room with his gaze and found everything to his satisfaction. He moved close as Gyam landed on the rock opening. Dhala couldn’t keep from gasping in awe any time he saw Gyam.

Each smooth wing was as long as Dhala’s height. The muscles across his shoulders and down his torso flexed with each swipe of his webbed appendages. Dhala stepped away when Gyam thrust his elongated muzzle toward him and screamed a high piercing call, demanding attention. Dhala wanted to clasp his hands over his ears but knew instead he would do as Gyam demanded. Gyam tensed and released another scream.

Dhala dashed forward and grabbed the blood-dripping osa heart from Gyam’s taloned hand. The fresh organ from the small grazer still quivered with the final throes of life. He rushed to Choro’s side, ignoring Gyam’s cry.

He knelt beside the older man and offered him the fist-sized heart. Choro preferred the meat of the smaller grazers, and a freshly harvested heart was a special treat. Both Dhala and Gyam hoped it would give him more strength, but Dhala feared it was Choro’s last meal. More of Choro’s presence in this world disappeared with each breath.

But he wouldn’t give up hope. Dhala arranged Choro’s bedding to make him as comfortable as possible while he enjoyed the treat. Choro sank his teeth into the morsel with clear relish as blood coated his fingers. Dhala couldn’t help but smile at the elder attacking the tidbit with the same enjoyment as a fledgling with a sweet treat. A short time later, Choro finished and glanced around him.

Dhala squeezed out the cloth he’d been using earlier and handed it to Choro, who took it with a grin and wiped himself clean. Once he’d finished, he lay back on the bed, closed his eyes, and sighed.

His voice rolled across the room. “Delicious, Gyam. That was the best osa I’ve eaten in many seasons.”

Dhala glanced over his shoulder to find Gyam in the midst of his change from his Athru form. The webbing was absorbing into wings, which were disappearing into Gyam’s muscular body, and interlocking scales were becoming supple skin as Gyam left the form marking him as Athru. Dhala relished the beautiful body being revealed to him. When front paws and talons became work-roughened hands, Gyam made his final shift to leave his Athru form and stood nude behind him. Dhala tried not to stare but lost his struggle. Usually, Gyam covered himself, but today, he held his loincloth in one hand while watching Choro. His stout, muscular body demanded Dhala’s attention until he realized how inappropriate he was being, especially given Gyam’s current state. Dhala was painfully aware of the attraction he’d had for Gyam since they’d both grown beyond fledglings, but he would keep his role as Saat for Gyam and Choro during his time of sorrow for them all.

He wrenched his gaze to the ailing man and got a smile and quick wink. Caught staring at Gyam, Dhala dropped his attention to the floor. A slight rustling served as warning when Gyam walked past him, making the last tie on his loincloth before kneeling at the side of Choro’s pallet.

“Elder, how are you feeling? Did the osa help?” Gyam asked.

Choro smiled and tapped Gyam’s cheek. Gyam grinned, and Dhala caught a glimpse of his friend from cycles past. He leaned in to give Choro a kiss on each cheek, but Choro’s gaze included both of them.

“It was warm and delicious, exactly what I needed. We must be honest. In spite of all your work, there is no cure. I am not long for this flight. My wings are tattered and bones are brittle. I will soon be with my mate. Both of you must accept this.”

Hot tears rolled down Dhala’s cheeks as he listened. He knew the truth of Choro’s assessment. His body was failing. Dhala’s gut twisted with grief, and a sob leaked from his lips.

Gyam turned on Dhala and snarled. His face elongated and his canine teeth grew as his emotions overtook his body. But before anything happened, Choro spoke.

“That’s enough, Gyam. You two stretched my life further than any of the others who have fallen victim to this illness. For that, I thank you. But the time is here.”

Gyam motioned at Dhala as he spoke. “He’s given up. He’s letting you die.”

Choro glared and sat up. Dhala scrambled to change his bedding to make it easier, but Choro waved him away. The movement threw Choro into a coughing spell that left him gasping for air.

“Please, Elder. Don’t strain yourself. I will do as you wish,” Gyam said.

Choro again motioned them off, but not before Dhala saw the flecks of blood on his lips. He lacked none of the weight of his role as elder Athru when he turned to Gyam.

“You will be the last Athru. You need your friends. You have been together with Dhala since you both ran free of clothing during the warm moons. You’ve protected and guarded each other through your time together. Now you have let this come between you, and it must stop. Dhala is your friend even though he is Saat. You have grown up together and must regain your ability to work together. Athru, Saat, or Onija, you are all Chinjoka. This disease has almost destroyed our people. So many have died, and only one village remains. You must rebuild the people. You cannot succeed without all three castes who make up the Chinjoka.”

Choro lapsed into another coughing fit. This one left him flat on his bed, sweating and gasping for air. He covered his eyes with an arm and tried to breathe. A morning breeze curled around them, bringing a mix of scents of the Chinjoka Basin, from the verdant growth of the shortgrass plains in the south to the crisp scent of the great cutleaf trees nourished by the Pilea River. The single wisp of air reminded Dhala of everything at stake for the Chinjoka nation. Dhala moved closer, pushing an immobile Gyam aside. He checked Choro’s pulse and found a weak thread. He ran his hands down the older man’s neck, but halfway along his path, Choro grabbed his wrists with the strength of a failing butterfly. The silent command left no doubt. He met Dhala’s gaze and nodded.

“Soon. But not now.” His gaze moved to encompass both of them. “You look like the gods are testing you. Both of you should rest, but I know neither of you will listen. I plan to sleep and won’t argue with either of you any further.”

With that, Choro sank into his bed and closed his eyes. Dhala waited but worried. He moved when Choro parted his lips.

“If you check my heartbeat, Dhala, I will hurt you in ways to prevent any enjoyment with a mate for the rest of your life.”

Dhala drew away and turned at a snort from Gyam. His dark eyes twinkled as he looked at both Choro and Dhala. “He’s not making idle threats. Even as he is now. Come. We can build up the fire and plan the evening meal. I asked a group of Onija caste hunters to bring the osa carcass. We must be ready for its arrival.”

They had created a bed of glowing coals when a voice came from the passageway carved into the interior of the cliff as a way to reach the upper caves.

“I could use a little help here! Gyam picked the biggest Twins-blessed osa in the entire basin.”

Dhala recognized the voice as another of their friends. Askari was of the Onija caste and one of the most successful hunters among the Chinjoka, but as a warrior, he was unequaled in the village. The plates he formed as Onija were as strong as iron but as mobile as Dhala’s soft skin. Dhala should have known it would be him who retrieved Gyam’s kill. That the three of them had been inseparable since they began to walk made it even more certain that Askari would be the one who would retrieve Gyam’s take. Even though the Father had spread his gifts through the castes as they went through puberty, bodies changing in line with their castes, their friendships had remained. They rushed to the path and found Askari balanced precariously while gripping the carcass he’d thrown across one shoulder. Dhala moved down the first few steps, grabbed the carcass by the stag’s straight-spiraling horns, heaved it upward, and settled it onto his shoulder. Once the body was securely in place, he carried it into the aerie.

Askari followed a few steps behind him, and as they reentered, he spared a glance toward Choro’s sleeping form before turning to the other men. Dhala stripped to his breechcloth and used his long knife to cut openings in the hind legs’ tendons so he could hang the osa from the tripod kept for that purpose. With practiced knife work, he peeled the hide from one side while Gyam worked on the other. With a soft crackle, he pulled the skin loose around the neck and glanced toward Askari. The plates from his Onija shift were still prominently displayed over his torso and brow. While scales proved invaluable in protecting one from the Onija caste during battle or hunting, they limited Askari’s finger mobility. The limitation made tasks requiring fine dexterity more difficult. Askari maintained his distance from the work being done, but Dhala knew his friend too well to allow him to avoid the dirty work of butchering the carcass.

“Askari, wake up and shift back from your Onija form. You can help.” He gestured his knife toward Gyam. “We want osa for dinner. The rest needs to be spread on a drying rack.”

Askari closed his eyes and skewed his face in an expression Dhala recognized as he shifted from his warrior form. Once Askari began, it took little time before his skin was as smooth, flexible—and vulnerable—as Dhala’s. He flexed his fingers a few times before pulling his side knife. Askari’s skill with a blade was evident by the speed the meat was prepared. With the three of them working together, butchering proceeded with well-practiced efficiency. As often as the three of them had hunted together, they should be skilled at sharing the work.

Dhala checked on Choro and saw his chest rising and falling. Signs of life, even if his breathing was shallow, gave Dhala hope. He had the urge to evaluate further but considered Choro’s earlier threat. He found the others cleaning the osa blood from their hands. Askari held out the bowl of water he’d filled earlier.

“Here, use what’s left, and I’ll get more.”

Dhala nodded and let Askari pour the cool liquid over his hands. He rubbed them together to loosen the drying bits from his skin. Once that was done, Askari splashed more water onto Dhala’s hands. After a few repetitions, Dhala was clean, and the pottery bowl was empty. He dried himself on his tunic and nodded to Askari.

“Thank you. We appreciate your help.”

Gyam glanced up and one brow lifted. But a moment later, he returned to the task he was trying to complete. His knife flashed in the light as he sliced the loin free from the backbone, cut the meat into thick slices, and threaded them onto fire-hardened skewers before hanging them over crimson coals. The meat was soon sizzling and filled the aerie with delicious aromas.

They tended the meat, constantly turning it to get a perfect sear on all sides. But while they did, Dhala kept a continual watch on Choro. All three friends worked to carve what remained into thin strips and hang them from the drying rack Dhala put in the small fire’s draft. The sun approached its peak when they finished. The skewered loin had cooked to perfection. Askari had always claimed a talent for cooking. He’d often said if Gyam had no choice but to eat his own cooking, he would learn how to do a decent job with its preparation. The smells of food had Dhala’s stomach growling, but he checked on Choro first to see if he might be interested in eating.

He walked over and squatted beside Choro’s bed. When he leaned forward to shake him awake, Choro’s eyes fluttered open.

“I’m still here, Dhala. The aroma of cooking osa was enough to keep me. It smells delicious. I haven’t eaten a meal from Askari in too many moons.”

“You will enjoy his cooking many more—” Dhala’s throat tightened, and he could not complete what he and Choro both knew was a lie. The older man patted his hand and smiled sadly.

“I relish sharing this meal with you. Bring me a piece of that delicious meat, fledgling. Invite the others to join us. I think we’ll have the best meal we’ve had in seasons.” He studied Dhala and continued. “Be certain to put out an offering of the osa to the gods, especially the Father. Their favor is needed by all of us.”

Dhala rushed away, glad to be focused on anything other than Choro’s rapid decline. The others turned to him as he approached. He glanced at them as he brought his emotions under control.

“Choro says the meat smells delicious and would like for us to share the meal with him,” Dhala said.

Askari leaned closer and whispered, “How is he?”

Dhala motioned toward the sleeping area. “He asked me to assure the offerings from the successful hunt. I will take care of their placement on the fire. Go. Sit with Choro and enjoy sharing our meal with him.”

Dhala drew his blade and carefully sliced thick pieces from the osa’s mineral-rich liver. After adding more wood to the fire, he dropped the raw meat into the searing hot coals. As the scent of the roasting delicacy filled the aerie, Dhala began a simple chant of thanks every Chinjoka was taught before their first blooding. As the last of the flesh turned dark, a breeze blew across the fire, hiding it in the smoke. Once Dhala’s sight returned, no trace of the meat remained. He hesitated but then joined the others with a shake of his head.

The three young men gathered the food they had prepared and sat on the floor surrounding their elder. Dhala brought small drinking bowls, one for each of them, filled with clear water Askari had brought from the river while they cooked. The mood was somber; everyone had seen the disease progress too many times. Choro only nibbled at his meat before setting it to one side. He lowered himself into the bedding and stared toward the open sky as they finished the rest of the meal.

“There are so few of us left. I don’t know how the Chinjoka can survive. Our gods have deserted us and the sickness destroyed the tribe until we are tempting targets to our enemies,” Choro whispered. The others fell silent as they explored their own dark memories. Blood-laced saliva and the gradual failure of the victims’ ability to breathe were the symptoms burned into the memory of any Chinjoka. The number of people Dhala had eased onto their Long Flight left him numb. Even at his young age, he remembered when the plague began. Hysteria made a bad situation worse. Early, when so many were dying, terror ruled people’s actions. Saat healers suggested any possible cure or at least a way to stop its spread. Its progression was slow but always fatal. It didn’t seem to spread through contact. In many cases, some members of a family would not develop symptoms, while their fathers, mothers, brothers, or sisters perished. The Athru healer who might have been able to develop a cure died in the first wave of fatalities. Saat healers could do nothing, but ignorance and malice caused them to be blamed for the disease. The first season was devastating for the Chinjoka, physically and emotionally.

One village had thrown a Saat healer from the burial heights in a confused effort to gain attention from the Father. Choro, and the other Athru caste who lived then, championed the Saat healers. But people still feared the illness that was wiping out entire villages, and the healers’ fear of retribution led them to stop aiding, not only those afflicted with the plague but other diseases normally not considered serious. This caused more deaths, this time from lack of rudimentary healing. The last of the plague victims received the best possible care. But even with the finest healing, like Choro was given, the ending was too predictable. And too tragic.

The small group finished their meal, and Dhala cleared the remains, dropping them into the cooking fire. The other two sat near Choro to fulfill any request. Dhala studied them, trying to think of anything to make Choro more comfortable. But he’d done all he could. To give Dhala something to occupy his thoughts, he began the work of tanning the osa hide. First, he brought a frame from the storage room. He cut a thin strip from the outer edge of the skin and made small slits along the edge. With care, he laced the pelt to the frame, stretching it into place.

“You have a skill to appreciate, Dhala. Don’t forget others take note of your labor,” Choro said.

Dhala faltered at his task. Tears flowed again as he met the gaze of the elder. He broke contact to refocus on his task even though emotions overwhelmed him. One thing he had learned early in life, emotional and fragile Chinjoka suffered short and miserable lives. He nurtured the strength to continue even when overwhelmed with impending loss. This was no different as he focused on scraping the hide clean, fingerwidth by fingerwidth.

But his walls broke and loneliness poured into Dhala. Too overwhelmed to continue, he let his hands drop to his side as he wept. No one chastised him for his lack of control, even though it was certain everyone heard. His strength waned as his sorrow leaked out as salty tears.

A light touch shocked Dhala, and he turned to find Gyam standing beside him. He stiffened, expecting a reprimand. But no rebuke came. Gyam instead knelt beside him and hugged him. Dhala returned his embrace. During that moment, his friend since birth returned, and the formal Athru of recent seasons vanished.

“He will be fine. I think the fresh meat brought him new energy. He will recover. Don’t grieve for him.”

Dhala schooled his expression before meeting Gyam’s gaze. Unable to lie, he spoke a different truth. “I believe Choro is one of the strongest Chinjoka I’ve ever met. If anyone can conquer the disease killing us, it will be him.”

Gyam patted his shoulder and flashed a smile at Dhala.

“Exactly. Now, one of us will sit with him so we are close if he needs anything. Otherwise, we will continue our day.”

“Of course, Gyam.”

Dhala tried to add more, but his knowledge of the Saat healing was too limited to enable him to sense the state of Choro’s rapidly deteriorating health. He nodded and turned to his work.

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Meet the Author

Jon Keys’ earliest memories revolve around books; with the first ones he can recall reading himself being “The Warlord of Mars” and anything with Tarzan. (The local library wasn’t particularly up to date.) But as puberty set in, he started sneaking his mother’s romance magazines and added the world of romance and erotica to his mix of science fiction, fantasy, Native American, westerns and comic books.

A voracious reader for almost half a century, Jon has only recently begun creating his own flights of fiction for the entertainment of others. Born in the Southwest and now living in the Midwest, Jon has worked as a ranch hand, teacher, computer tech, roughneck, designer, retail clerk, welder, artist, and, yes, pool boy; with interests ranging from kayaking and hunting to painting and cooking, he draws from a wide range of life experiences to create written works that draw the reader in and wrap them in a good story.

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