Teaser Blast

Guarded

Guarded by Rachel Leigh is releasing December 10, 2020! Pre-order today on Amazon! https://geni.us/Guarded Goodreads: https://bit.ly/gr_guarded Blurb Guarded is an emotional, military contemporary romance set in K. Bromberg’s KB Everyday Heroes World! When I left this town, I left behind a piece of my heart. I did it for us. Enlisted in the army, served overseas–it was all for a better life. A life she deserved. A farmhouse with a white picket fence, a dog, kids–the American Dream. Going home to her has always been the plan. I just didn’t anticipate any other reasons for escaping this sandpit. Now I’m back. Burying our dreams. A shattered heart and no mending in sight. Guarded like a shield to protect from a pain I never knew existed. I didn’t think I could possibly move on, let alone with someone else. And, never with her sister.
Release Boost

Cover Me by Casey Hagen




Title: Cover Me
Series: So Wrong It’s Right #2
Author: Casey Hagen
Genre: Contemporary Romance/Romantic Comedy
Release Date: November 17, 2020


BLURB

Trevor Myers knows how to make it big in the business world: a charming smile, connections, and balls-to-the-wall fearlessness. The master of all three, a partnership with his firm is all but in the bag. That is, until his boss dangles said partnership over him and his coworkers like a prize on a game show. Trevor will do whatever it takes to lock in what is rightfully his, even if that means calling in a doozy of a favor from his best friend that crosses bro code lines. 

Piper Bradley is on the precipice of making a career-altering decision. Agonizing over impending change and letting go, Piper decides a weekend trip to clear her head is just what she needs to be sure of her decision. Before she can so much as dig out sandals and sunscreen for some much-needed fun in the sun, her brother calls in a favor from his best friend…Trevor Myers. Cover him for the weekend by being his other half while he schmoozes a corner office out of his unsuspecting boss. 

Assumptions, surprises, followed by a battle of wills…and so begins the clash between Trevor’s playboy ways and the elemental pull of the girl next door.






PURCHASE LINKS

AMAZON US / UK / CA / AU





EXCERPT

The door to the lake house flew open and a robust, boisterous man wearing a huge smile stepped out. “It’s about time you made it, Trevor, my boy. You and your beautiful lady here almost missed the couples’ massages.” 
This Piper, despite her brief lakeside fantasy, did not have a hot dog in her future because she was apparently going to be naked in a room with an equally naked Trevor. 
“Trevor?” 
His smile slipped, but he tried covering it with a squeeze of her hand as he tugged her alongside him and up the front steps. 
“We did not agree on naked,” she muttered from the side of her mouth while trying to maintain a smile for his boss. 
He squeezed her hand again. 
She dug her fingernails into his skin, satisfied with his brief flinch. 
He reached out and shook hands with the man on the porch who’d just crushed her hot dog dreams. “Sorry, Mr. Williams. We hit a traffic snag about an hour outside of the city. A total mess.” He hooked his arm around her waist and pulled her forward. “I’d like you to meet my girlfriend, Piper Bradley. Piper, this is my boss, Davidson Williams.” 
She reached out her hand and smiled despite the sheer panic fluttering in her stomach, trying to claw its way to her seizing heart. 
Maybe Trevor could get naked first, set up on the table, covered with a towel. Then she could just hop over—er, maybe not hop, just in case he happened to sneak a peek. No woman looked flattering hopping anywhere naked no matter how firm they were. 
Naked. 
She had to be naked. 
In the room with Trevor. 
She was so going to kick her brother in the balls for getting her into this. 
She’d send a condolence card to her mother for the grandchildren Rye would be unable to produce. 
Maybe a fruit basket too. Or chocolate. Maybe a wine of the month subscription for a freaking decade. 
“Nice to finally meet you, Mr. Williams.” Oh, look at her keeping her voice even like the thought of seeing Trevor’s naked bits or him seeing hers hadn’t completely stolen every last brain cell, practically leaving her the shell of a woman. 
He took her hand in both of his. “Oh, none of that now. Please, call me Davidson.” 
“All right, Davidson. Really, you needn’t have gone through so much trouble. I don’t mind if we skip the massage—” 
He patted her hand. “Don’t be silly, my dear. I want everyone to start out relaxed and refreshed. I have a whole schedule of activities for the entire weekend.” 
He leaned in and winked. 
Hmmm, that winking thing seemed to be catching. 
And she was so not relaxed. Her ass was so clenched she could carry needles between her cheeks. 
“Actually, my lovely wife made the schedule, bless her. Unfortunately, a few things came up with the kids and their extracurriculars that called her away unexpectedly, but hopefully she’ll be back in time for you to meet her.” 
Williams, though thick around the middle, stood tall and proud. His hair had gone almost completely gray. Between his build, his exuberance, his kids still being in school, and that gray hair, Piper might have had better luck nailing Jell-O to a wall than guessing his age. 
She smiled. “I’d like that. What kind of extracurriculars are your kids in?” 
“Well, this is refreshing! No one has ever asked.” He nudged Trevor with his elbow. “You found a good one here, my boy. You remember what I said about not letting her get away.” With his wallet in hand and opened to his pictures, he stood next to her. “We’ve got twin ballerinas. Sasha and Sabrina.” 
What looked to be seven or eight-year-old, raven-haired beauties stared up from the picture. She’d seen their ballet gowns before. They’d been designed by Blush, one of her biggest competitors. 
She schooled her features and pretended that she didn’t have more than a general interest in the girls or dance. 
It was harder than she thought, but she managed it. 
Just add actress to her resume. 
“They’re stunning. You must be so proud,” she said as she handed back the wallet. 
“Well, I can’t take all the credit, it’s mainly their mother’s doing. The woman is a saint. Anyway, enough about that, grab your bags and come on in. I saved your suite and the massage therapists are in there waiting. I’ll introduce you to everyone else after.” 
“Yes, sir,” Trevor said with a nod and winning smile. 
Such a boob. 
Davidson led them to through to a room at the back corner of the place, nearest to the lake. At least that was something. 
She’d have liked to take in the post and beam lake house, only the wood, the furnishings, the huge windows, they all disappeared in the horror of what they were about to do. 
She’d have the best view while naked, in a room with Trevor, getting a rub down. 
“I so loathe you right now,” she whispered. 
“Yeah, well, get in line. I’m not too thrilled with me right now either.” His otherwise jovial tone had vanished, leaving harshness in its wake. She could almost believe he meant it. If he hadn’t eye-humped her when she came out of her building that morning. 
Sure, he was mad about it. 
Her eyes rolled so hard pain stabbed in her left eye. 
She didn’t believe that for a minute.






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AMAZON US / UK / CA / AU
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AUTHOR BIO


Casey Hagen pens her snarky, passionate stories from the salty air of Kennebunk, Maine. She’s a born and raised Vermont native, a New England girl to the core, with Ben & Jerry’s in her heart and real Vermont maple syrup pumping through her veins. 

She’s the proud mother of three girls and a new, first-time grandma with an insatiable addiction to Fall Out Boy, and a new, rather concerning obsession with tattoos and piercings. Can you say “cool grandma?” 

The inked and pierced grandma spends her time tucked away in her office, coated in cat hair, alternating between tearing her hair out trying to find the perfect words and being one step ahead of her three scheming fur babies she is positive are plotting her demise with every swirl around her ankles at the top of her office stairs. 
She loves writing stories about real people, with complicated histories, relatable everyday problems, and giving them the hard-won happily-ever-afters they deserve. 

And she thanks every last one of you who picks up one of her stories. 

Casey is done talking about herself in the third person. 

*Casey out*


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Book Tour

The Broken Queen

The Broken Queen
by Harper Ray
Genre: Dark New Adult Romance
When I was a little girl, I used to dream. I visualized having wings and thought that I could escape the harsh sins buried deep within the walls. The truth was, they couldn’t be wiped. They were ingrained into my memories, sucking the breath out of me every time I dared to remember.
Then came him, my dark prince. We were intricately woven together so that we were never torn apart until he couldn’t handle the burdens placed upon his shoulders. Suddenly, I’m being forced to walk down the aisle to a man I don’t love all because my prince decided he wasn’t strong enough to fight.
Time was running out and I was ready to succumb to the darkness. I’d heard rumors that he was coming back, but I was about to be chained to another. I trusted that my prince was ready to finally take his place upon the throne. I only hoped he was ready for war.
As an author of young and new adult romances, Harper has a passion for writing stories that readers enjoy reading over and over again. Her imagination is the creative tool that helps her come up with several intriguing story lines that she hopes to share with the world. Her fans call her the “page turner author” because with each story she sucks the readers in, instantly hooking them from page one.
If Harper’s not busy writing her next book, she’s either digging into a sappy romance novel, binge watching Harry Potter or going to school full time.
Follow the tour HERE for special content and a giveaway!
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Rock House Grill

Rock House Grill
The Impact Series Book 1
by D.V. Stone
Genre: Contemporary Romantic Suspense
Aden House, successful but driven chef and TV personality, refuses to slow down. His life implodes one night, damaging him both physically and emotionally. He’s rescued by a woman he thinks of as his angel.
Shay McDowell has rebuilt her life after her divorce. She juggles volunteer EMT duties and her job, while dreaming of becoming a chef. She finds her way to Rock House Grill and back into the life of the man she helped save.
Can love be the ingredient needed to survive the many obstacles they face?
Born in Brooklyn, D.V. Stone has moved around a bit and even lived for a time on a dairy farm in Minnesota before moving back east. Throughout her wandering, she always considered herself a Jersey Girl. She met and married the love of her life, Pete–a lifelong Jersey Man, and moved this time to Sussex County. They live with Hali, a mixed breed from the local shelter and their cat Baby.
D.V.’s career path varied from working with the disabled to become a volunteer EMT, which in turn led to working in hospital emergency rooms and then in a women’s state prison. After a few years, she took a break from medicine and became the owner of Heavenly Brew, a specialty coffee shop in Sparta NJ, and a small restaurant in Lafayette. Life handed some setbacks, and she ended up back in the medical field, but this time in a veterinary emergency hospital.
During the poor economy, she was laid-off from a long-time position she cared about. Devastated, D.V. wondered what to do with her life. Finding comfort in her love of reading, she realized it was now time to follow her dream of writing. It’s been a long road but worth every minute of it. Now a published author, she also works in a people medical office again.
“Thank you for taking the time to read about me. Each time you open the pages to one of my books, I hope you’ll be swept away by the story and find encouragement in your own life, never to give up on hope.”
Follow the tour HERE for special content and a giveaway!
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Uncategorized

Straightened Out by Janine Infante Bosco

NEW RELEASE! It’s time to be Straightened Out! Straightened Out by Janine Infante Bosco is LIVE!!! ONE CLICK IT Amazon: https://amzn.to/2CoZCIk Universal: https://books2read.com/u/bWd6NY It’s #FREE if you’re a #KindleUnlimited subscriber! #nowlive #newrelease #availablenow #releaseday #romancenovels #romancebooks #pastorecrimefamily #straightenedout #mafiaromance #romanticsuspense #bookish #bookbuzz I’m a mob boss with a tarnished name, leading a kingdom in the shadows of disgrace. She’s a ballerina, the sister of my underboss, dancing her way through life. Until her, all I wanted was to be straightened out. But with power comes sacrifice. With respect comes fear. With love comes death. The rule of the streets is to take or be taken. Some legends are born, others are made. But not all survive. *Originally featured as a novella in Mobbed Up, the #TNTNYC20 exclusive paperback anthology, Straightened Out is a full-length mafia romance novel and the first installment in The Pastore Crime Family series. *
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Bella Cigna

Bella Cigna
Foreign Endearments Book 1
by Wendi Dass
Genre: Chick-Lit, Contemporary Romance
Devastated by personal loss, Sarah Flynn escapes to Rome where she finds a job teaching English. Only the girls’ school is like a nunnery and she’s expected to speak fluent Italian overnight. What has she gotten herself into? While the beautiful sights rekindle her interest in art, not even her brush finding canvas can heal all the wounds she carries. She’ll need the help of a meddling nun, a nutty mathematician, and a handsome Italian admirer. Can Sarah overcome the insecurities born of a shattered marriage? Will she again take a chance on love?
**On Sale for only $2.99 Dec 1st-13th!!**
Wendi Dass is a math professor and author from Charlottesville, Virginia. Her writing interests include literary short stories, flash fiction, and novel-length women’s fiction and romance. Wendi’s short stories have been published in several small journals, including Black Fox Literary and The Ocotillo Review, among others. When she’s not devising deceptively delicious problems for her students she can be found drafting her latest story.
Follow the tour HERE for special content and a giveaway!
$25 Amazon gift card + Author Swag
Release Blitz

Burning it Down

Title: Burning It Down

Series: CalPac Crew, Book Three

Author: C. Koehler

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: November 23, 2020

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 87400

Genre: Contemporary, LGBTQIA+, sports, firefighter, veterinarian, rowing, accident rehabilitation, new identity

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Synopsis

Owen Douglas, Sacramento’s first out battalion chief, is grievously injured in the line of duty. When Brad Sundstrom finds out that Owen’s been noncompliant with his physical therapy due to depression, he pushes Owen into the Capital City Rowing Club’s adaptive rowing program. Adam Lennox, a former collegiate rower, escapes an abusive relationship and makes his way to CCRC and quickly finds himself dragooned into helping out with adaptive rowing. Owen, much to his surprise, finds both rowing and Adam much to his liking. When he realizes that Adam returns his interest, the sparks fly and they start a relationship. But even Eden has its snake, and Adam’s ex, Jordan, comes looking for him, willing to do anything to make Adam and Owen pay.

Excerpt

Burning It Down C. Koehler © 2020 All Rights Reserved Late summer, approximately a year and a half after the start of Rocking the Boat. Four months into his new job as battalion chief for Sacramento City Fire’s second battalion and Owen Douglas still couldn’t sit still. Sure, he knew the job from a theoretical standpoint, and every day he learned more from a practical standpoint, but he couldn’t ignore the niggling discomfort he felt when he saw those bugles on his collar. Like his new uniform didn’t fit quite right, and perhaps from a certain point of view, it didn’t. No matter how he squinted or how many times he turned it this way or that, he couldn’t see all that much light between his investigation into the arson at the Bayard House at the beginning of the year and his promotion to battalion chief. More to the point, neither could the men and women under his command. Not to mention every time he opened his mouth, unicorns crapping glitter and rainbows popped out. At least, that was what people seemed to be waiting for. He liked to think he was discreet, that nothing at work proclaimed him Big Gay Owen, no snapshots of boyfriends, no photos of him shaking his ass on a Mardi Gras float, no matter how much fun he’d had in Sydney, just a subtle rainbow on his battered 4Runner, a bar no bigger than the head of a toothbrush. He tried not to play the gay card, but he was the first out battalion chief in the fire department’s history, and well he knew it. More to the point, the people under his command knew it. Maybe he was just making too big a deal out of it or felt guilty for being promoted over the heads of more senior firefighters. His intercom buzzed with his secretary on the other end. “Yes?” Owen said. “Prissy Morrain to see you.” “Oh! Send her in, please.” He dashed to his office door. He didn’t expect her until tomorrow. Owen routinely left his office door open, but he quickly got out from behind his desk to greet his visitor, and not just because she outranked him. “Chief Morrain! I’m so sorry! I must’ve made a mistake in my calendar. I wasn’t expecting you until tomorrow—” Prissy Morrain waved a manicured hand. “Retired Chief, and I’m a day early. We both have better things to do than make small talk over hors d’oeuvres over at some white-tablecloth restaurant. Did you bring your lunch today?” Owen nodded. Since he was a “first” for the department, he’d sought out the advice of another “first,” the first woman battalion chief, now retired from active firefighting and promoted off to one side to do something less dangerous involving paperwork. “I’ll grab it out of the fridge. There’s a nice park a block away. We can eat there.” “That’ll do fine.” Prissy Morrain was a handsome woman, Owen thought; really, she could’ve been one of those older models, the ones with silver hair and flawless skin who pitched vitamins to women of a certain age. Her wrinkles weren’t so much age lines scoring her face with years but delicate lines of character radiating out from her eyes and around her mouth to accentuate a ready smile. How she’d managed that with a career spent fighting fires and sexism, he’d never know. He spent the short walk to the park rehearsing what he wanted to say, but when Prissy asked, “So what’s the problem?” Owen could only blurt, “I’m just not clicking with the people under me. This station, sure. My office is here, but the other stations in this battalion not so much, and there’s one station that when I walk in everything stops for a few minutes while I walk back to talk to the captain on duty, and that’s just creepy.” “Have you talked to human resources?” “Don’t be absurd” slipped out before he could stop it. Prissy laughed. “Smart man. You don’t want this on your record.” And that was why he’d contacted her. “Team-building exercises aren’t my thing at this point and are just a waste of time. I’m not in a burning building with these guys. They simply need to function with each other and work in coordinated groups, and they do. But I don’t like getting the stink eye either.” “Look, hearts of gold, most of these guys, but it’s a conservative profession. The younger ones are yours,” Prissy said, arching one eyebrow, “maybe even literally. There’s more than one gay man among the recruits, and you’re a fine-looking specimen yourself.” She peered over the rims of her mirrored sunglasses, holding up one hand when Owen opened his mouth to interrupt. “Of course, you know better than that, but you know what I mean. It’s the ones who’ve been around a few years, the ones who’re your age and older, you may have to prove yourself to, the ones who might’ve even been up for your job. They’re the ones thinking ‘fag’ behind their smiles.” “Or not, some of them,” Owen grumbled. “A few of them don’t even bother to smile.” Prissy chuckled. “They’ll soon learn the stupidity of that. They may be comfortable for A or B shift, but if they’re dumb enough to piss in the battalion chief’s Wheaties, then they’ll have plenty of time to learn the errors of their ways on C shift, or better yet, transfer to someone else’s command. Too bad for them you’ve got just about the best battalion in town.” It was true. Since he’d captained one of the downtown stations, when he’d been promoted, the fire department put him into an entirely different battalion so he wouldn’t be in immediate charge of his old buddies. The open battalion encompassed Midtown, East Sac, and part of the Pocket, named for the land inscribed within a bend in the Sacramento River. Sometimes he wondered if it was a coincidence that the city’s first out battalion chief also oversaw the gayborhood. He shrugged mentally. Oh well, easier relations during fire inspections, right? “That just seems so petty.” “And the frat boy antics aren’t?” Owen sighed. “True enough.” “It’s not something you want to do often, because you will hear from their union reps about that, and about anything else if they develop an axe to grind,” Prissy said, “but used strategically, it can make your point quite nicely, and the best part is, it’s hard to prove.” Owen nodded his head slowly. “One hundred and sixty-eight hours in a week, and five stations to staff twenty-four seven in three shifts.” “Exactly. If you need to, you can always find something miserable for someone to do for a shift or two.” She ate some of her sandwich while she thought. “One more thing, and I hesitate even to mention it, but it was something a few—a very few—of my own firefighters used against me.” At his quizzical look, she said, “Sexual harassment.” Owen sat back, tossing his own sandwich down. “Oh, that’s just what I need.” Prissy patted his hand. “Don’t go borrowing trouble. It hasn’t happened yet, but you need to be aware of the possibility. You’re an out gay man, and you supervise a lot of men, some of whom are, by your own admission, not very happy right now. If they can’t pin anything else on you, they may try that.” “Did that happen to you?” Owen asked, no longer hungry. “Oh yes. I was a by-the-book chief, and when they couldn’t come up with anything else, some union rep had the bright idea of sexual harassment. Male firefighters, female chief. It was a situation rife with possibilities. Too bad for them and their credibility none of it was true, which quickly emerged when it came to a hearing. The judge laughed them out of court. It may be the same with you. You’ll be a by-the-book battalion chief, but some of them won’t like you just because you’re you, and the only thing they’ll come up with is that you ‘looked at ’em funny’.” She snorted. “Like you’d go for their stringy asses.” She stood up. “You know how to reach me, so do it if you need to. If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go sculling. One of the advantages of seniority and a desk job is that you can take off more or less at will and no one will miss you. Of course, that’s one of the disadvantages too.” Rowing. Brad. “Does everyone in this town row?” “Only the best people. You should come check it out. The Capital City Rowing Club’s adult learn-to-row camps are about done for the summer, but there are still learn-to-scull lessons available.” “Thanks for the talk. I really appreciate you taking the time,” Owen said, remembering a time he had been anything but by-the-book. The Bayard House. The second floor. Brad. He shivered at the thought of what they’d done. Unprofessional as it had been, it had also been damn hot. And just the kind of thing people looking to take him down would eat up with a spoon. Fortunately, Brad didn’t seem like the kind to tell tales out of school. He was just too nice a guy. Brad had spent their one encounter thinking of someone else, someone who’d dumped him, and still the big sweetheart had pined for that other guy, even with Owen’s lips wrapped around his cock, and hadn’t that ever done wonders for his ego. Owen wanted that, wanted that kind of devotion, he thought, sitting there in the leafy green silence of the park. Instead, like that time in the still-smoldering Bayard House, he was just the hookup. He got Brad off and sent him home and then followed up to make sure Brad called whatshisname. He liked to think he was more honorable than most, always the nice guy, always finishing last. Then he heard the sirens and that was it, no more lunch. That was fine. He’d parted company with his appetite around the time Prissy had mentioned sexual harassment. The park was barely two blocks from the station, but he jogged back. “What’s going on?” Owen asked the dispatcher when he got back. “A small grass fire at Cal Expo, sir. It doesn’t sound like anything to get excited over.” Yet. In Owen’s experience, all fires were worth getting excited over, at least until proven otherwise. But maybe that was why he was a firefighter. He liked suiting up in his turnouts and racing to a fire in an engine running hot. He shook his head to clear the rising tide of adrenaline. He’d given some of that up to become battalion chief. Then the radio went off. He picked it up. “Douglas.” “I need four more alarms. This thing’s bigger than we were told. Much bigger, and it’s heading for structures.” “On our way.” He put the radio down. “You heard Captain Chin. Get those trucks moving and notify Arden-Arcade,” he told the dispatcher. “Beaufort!” he yelled for his driver as he ran for his office and his turnouts. A huge grass fire at Cal Expo that’s heading for the pavilions, and the state fair in less than a month. Why do I always end up involved in political fires? He wore his turnout pants over his uniform. Sure, he’d sweat like a thoroughbred in moments in the heat once they arrived at the fire. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time. The rest he chucked in the backseat of the command SUV with the communications equipment. Then he checked his watch as he climbed into the passenger seat. Less than five minutes. Not ideal, but at least he beat his driver. Beaufort came running up seconds later. “Damn, sir. How do you do that?” “Because I’m a firefighter.” “Ha ha,” Beaufort replied, climbing behind the wheel and flicking the sirens and lights on. But it was true. After earning his bachelor’s in biological sciences at UC Davis, Owen had gone to the Fire Academy at Sierra College. Beaufort studied communications and joined the department in that capacity, along with driving Owen’s now important executive-level ass to big fires. Owen glanced out of Beaufort’s side of the SUV. “Look—!” All he could tell was that it wasn’t one of his, and then the enormous fire truck smashed into them, tossing the SUV aside like a rag doll. He lost consciousness as the airbags deployed with a thunderclap.

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NineStar Press | Books2Read Universal Link

Meet the Author

Christopher Koehler always wanted to write, but it wasn’t until his grad school years that he realized writing was how he wanted to spend his life. Long something of a hothouse flower, he’s been lucky to be surrounded by people who encouraged that, especially his long-suffering husband of twenty-nine years and counting. He loves many genres of fiction and nonfiction, but he’s especially fond of romances, because it’s in them that human emotions and relations, at least most of the ones fit to be discussed publicly, are laid bare. While writing is his passion and his life, when he’s not doing that, he’s a househusband, at-home dad, and oarsman with a slightly disturbing interest in manners and the other ways people behave badly. Christopher is approaching the tenth anniversary of publication and has been fortunate to be recognized for his writing, including by the American Library Association, which named Poz a 2016 Recommended Title, and an Honorable Mention for “Transformation,” in Innovation, Volume 6 of Queer Sci Fi’s Flash Fiction Anthology.

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Release Blitz

Catch a Falling Snowflake

Title: Catch a Falling Snowflake

Series: Snow Globes, Book Four

Author: Ava Kelly

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: November 23, 2020

Heat Level: 1 – No Sex

Pairing: Male/Male, Female/Female

Length: 18700

Genre: Contemporary, LGBTQIA+, contemporary, gay, pansexual, transgender, lesbian, intercultural, holiday/Christmas, established couples, children, grieving, family, holiday traditions, foster care

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Synopsis

The previous winter, Leon followed his twin sister Sara to a new town where she could be with her partner, Amber. There, Leon’s boyfriend Nick, friends Jeff and Daniel, and their nine-year-old daughter Abby, swiftly swept him up into their lives, a newfound family. After a year of growing their relationship, Leon is ready to take it to the next level. Nick, however, has been stalling. When Ben, Abby’s best friend, is suddenly abandoned, Leon is excited to finally care for the children he’s always wanted. Haunted by the mistakes of his past, Nick attempts to reconcile his feelings of inadequacy as a parent with Leon’s wishes. Against the backdrop of winter holidays filled with traditions from around the world, it is up to Leon to decide if he’s willing to stand by Nick, or if he should find his happiness elsewhere. Catch a Falling Snowflake, the fourth story in the Snow Globes holiday series, can be read as a stand-alone, but greater enjoyment will come with reading about these characters in the order written.

Excerpt

Catch a Falling Snowflake Ava Kelly © 2020 All Rights Reserved The community center was quiet for a Thursday. With vacation and beckoning winter celebrations a day away, Nick expected the ebb of youthful visitors to slow down. Besides, early afternoon was always the calmest, no matter the day. Perhaps that was why he’d chosen this particular time for the support group. Sure, it served those who worked nights, unlike most of the other meetings usually held in the evenings, but Dr. Mahler had had a few requests to organize one during the day, and that was where Nick came in. He’d been back in his hometown for two years, and soon after settling in, he’d started attending one of the grief support groups. Not that his loss was still fresh, not after years, but as a check-in with himself. As an example for others that, yes, survival was possible. He’d made friends with the local therapist; she was supportive, and he’d booked a session or two when he needed an objective ear. He was doing well. With a smile to himself, Nick checked on the coffee thermos on the side table, then made sure the heaters underneath the windows of the meeting room were turned on. Outside, snow fell in sparse flakes. Not enough to settle and disrupt activity, but enough to give the air that chilling bite of winter. Beyond the hills on which the town stretched, the mountains rose toward the gray sky, covered in thick pine forests. He’d missed the view. Missed the people, the smells, the buildings. He was back to stay. No matter what happened, he wouldn’t leave again. He’d made sure to have some safety nets this time around, just in case. Volunteering for the center, for one, running this group for another, and Dr. Mahler, whom Nick had grown to trust after two years. Nothing, however, was more important than the people in his life. Footsteps and voices from the corridor pulled Nick from his musings. He turned to greet the two people walking in, and then another, and another, until six strangers sat in the circle of folding chairs, staring at him. Nick cleared his throat. “I guess we should start,” he said. “Hello, everyone. My name is Nick, and I’ll be your group leader here. I’d like to remind you that this is not a therapy session, but only a space to talk. If you feel like you need more, Dr. Mahler is here.” He gestured then, to the side, where a small office was nestled behind glass windows, door closed. The doc waved at them from her desk, legs kicked up casually onto it, crossed at the ankles, an open book in her hand. She grinned and gave them all a thumbs-up. Around Nick, a couple of people nodded, someone waved back, and the youth with their nose in the collar of their hoodie snorted. Nick made a mental note to check later on their age. “Doc will be here until tonight, so if you wanna sneak back after we’re finished…” That, at least, earned him some chuckles. Nick tried not to read too much into it. He’d been to meetings full of strangers before. This would be no different. Determination reinforced, he took a deep breath. “We’re here to talk, but don’t feel like you have to. You can just listen, if that works. But I’d like to remind everyone to be mindful and respect the privacy of these meetings.” All nodded, and Nick copied the gesture with a thank-you. “Has anyone been to one of these meetings before?” Headshakes and muttered noes. “Well.” Nick shifted. “We talk about those we’ve lost. We talk about us. The weather. Sports. Music. That movie last week with all the sword fighting.” “And blatant disregard for proper archery,” a woman said. “That too.” “Does it help?” Heads swiveled to the person in the hoodie. “It can,” Nick said. “Sometimes it helps to just be around people who’ve been through similar things. Not everyone processes in the same way, though, so it might not be as useful.” “Have you— Did—” Hoodie shook themself into silence, and Nick nodded anyway. “I’ve been there. Actually, this week marks a sort of anniversary for me, so I wanted to start by telling you my story if you’d like to hear it.” That got him their attention. Curiosity and wariness, too, but it was to be expected. First time could be scary, especially under the strain of mourning. Nick remembered with clarity his first visit to an informal support group. His first group session, though, was hazy around the edges. He leaned forward, elbows on knees, and clasped his hands together. “I was born here. With the exception of college, I’ve lived here for twenty-six years. I had a wife and a best friend and a baby on the way.” He’d had Lauren and Jeff, twins he’d known since childhood. Through shenanigans and quiet moments and major decisions, they’d always been there. Nick and Lauren had gotten married right after college, and four years later— “My wife died during childbirth. I watched it happen, and it’s not an image I can ever unsee. It broke me enough that my immediate thoughts were harmful toward myself and the baby. A girl. Innocent and frail, and not at fault at all. I left before I even held her once, and then spent the next seven years healing. Wasn’t pretty. Hurt a lot.” Nick swallowed and shifted, pausing to collect his thoughts. “What happened to her?” Hoodie asked. “My wife’s twin brother adopted her. He was also my best friend.” Not anymore. Jeff had a new bestie. When Nick first met Amber, he hadn’t paid much attention. It had been a brief interaction as it was, two years back, when she’d provided a ride to Jeff’s place. Amber was tall and sometimes moved like she wanted to make herself smaller. Less visible. Quiet too. Later, Nick learned she kept most people at a distance. Not in any way that might’ve been rude or hostile, but more along the lines of hiding behind a hard, thick shell. Kinda like Nick used to be, way back. A deep breath. “I hurt both him and the kid,” Nick continued, “because I stayed away for a long time. No contact whatsoever.” “You suck,” Hoodie commented, but Nick fully agreed. “Yes. Grief can make us hurt others, even when we don’t want to. It’s not excusable, though it can be explainable. Still, being mindful of those I loved was a hard-learned lesson for me.” “But now you’re back.” Nick nodded. “We’re working on me making up for it.” “How?” The question came from the side, a woman with a drawn face, hugging her middle with both arms. Nick recognized that look. Guilt. “I returned two years ago,” Nick said. “Found my friend and the kid happy. There was even a second parent involved—my friend’s life partner. Instead of being reasonable, I blew it by being an ass to them. Said mean things, made threats. Friend’s partner made me see logic. I’m grateful for him being there. They got married this summer.” He offered a quick grin, blinking back the sting behind his eyes. Daniel was someone Nick respected through and through. He was good for Jeff and Abby. “I don’t understand why they forgave me for being such an ass, but they did. As for my long absence… That’s the part with more serious repercussions and has been a lot harder to work through. Friend is letting me though. He’s willing, but I had to take the first step. Say that first apology—” He looked at the woman who’d asked directly. “—and not expect it to be accepted.” “Harsh.” “Yes, but we make mistakes, and we must bear the consequences. The best we can do after hurting others is to allow them the space they need, and understand if they can’t forgive.” With a long exhale, Nick straightened. “It’s not that grim. Sure, in the wake of what you—we’ve all been through, it might seem that what comes ahead is insurmountable. Sometimes it is, in which case you either dig through or go around, or choose a whole different path. It might also be a long, drawn-out, tiresome battle. Grief is not easy. But it’s survivable.” And that was the whole point. That was why Nick was there, opening himself up over and over again. “My journey is in a good place right now. I’m an uncle for the kid, her parents are my friends, and hey, I even have a boyfriend. Accidental acquisition, it was very rom-com.” Faces perked up with undisguised interest, and Nick offered them a small smile. He got it. After Lauren, when the pain had still been so fresh he could taste it, he’d latched on to happy tales as distractions on the good days. On the bad ones, not so much. Looking around the room, it seemed his current audience wanted to hear this part of his story. The previous year, they’d spent part of the holidays on a training retreat with Abby’s elementary school chess club, along with other third graders from all around. Daniel and Amber had chaperoned, with Nick and Jeff trailing along. “Last winter vacation we went to this resort in the Alps. It involved a lot of children, chess, and snow—more like yelling on the slopes, actually—but it was fun. First time I met him, he threw line after line of quips while I stood there, all coherence gone. In retrospect, I should’ve realized it, but you know”—he gestured—“I was unaccustomed to someone catching my interest so suddenly.” Nick had replayed that particular moment in his head over and over again. Leon smirking, stupid green hat over curls poking out in tiny swirls at his temples. “And then we found out we had to share a room. You’ll never guess—” “There was only one bed,” said Hoodie with a groan. “Yep! We had a connection during that short vacation, but we parted ways, and I thought that would be that. Only, after I’d gotten home, I figured I didn’t want it to end. I had no idea he was coming here for New Year’s, so on December 31st, he found me in the park, brooding over lost chances.” A few half smiles twitched around the room. Hoodie gave a thumbs-up. “So your anniversary is coming up,” an old man to the left commented. “Indeed. Speaking of, friend and partner’s anniversary is on the thirtieth. Seems to be a trend with us.” Not to mention Sara and Amber had gotten together around Christmas, too, as far as Nick could tell, but those two had several anniversaries they celebrated during the year, and Nick was unclear on which was what. The old man nodded pensively. “Martha and I, we had it on Halloween. We celebrated the day before and the day after. She said we couldn’t let candy steal all our fun, though she loved giving it out.” With that, the others started pitching in, and Nick gave himself an inner pat on the back.

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Ava Kelly is an engineer with a deep passion for stories. Whether reading, watching, or writing them, Ava has always been surrounded by tales of all genres. Their goal is to bring more stories to life, especially those of friendship and compassion, those dedicated to trope subversion, those that give the void a voice, and those that spawn worlds of their own.

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Ridden Hard

Ridden Hard by Kim Loraine is releasing December 2, 2020! Pre-order your copy today! Amazon: http://mybook.to/riddenhard Apple Books: http://apple.co/2TZtb90 Nook: https://bit.ly/riddenhard Kobo: http://bit.ly/3ewrWHI Audible: https://bit.ly/riddenhardkl Goodreads: http://bit.ly/32gg6N5 Blurb They call me the wild one. The Ryker brother who’d rather have more notches on his bedpost than rodeo championships. I’m good with horses, even better with women. I’ve been warned that sowing my oats might have consequences, but I’m always careful. And there’s nothing wrong with having a little fun. But the truth is, I want more than fun. I want it all. With the right girl. So when the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen shows up at my ranch, it should all fall into place. Except she’s got a big surprise for me. She’s pregnant, and the kid is mine, but she wants nothing to do with me. The first book in the series, Saddle Up is FREE – https://amzn.to/2TXQ2BS