A Very McIntyre Christmas

#FREE for Limited Time
Who said Christmas was meant to be peaceful?
It’s Christmas.
That can only mean one thing for the McIntyres…everyone’s home for the holidays and chaos is bound to be along for the ride.
Beau, Connor, Gage, Ryan and Holly return to the family farm for the festive season, with their families in tow and they definitely did not forget to pack the drama, secrets and mayhem that comes with being a part of the McIntyre family.
Throw in a baby goat, a surprise marriage, an engagement and a baby or two, surely nothing can go wrong…can it?
Join the McIntyres as the family celebrates the holidays with the most important people in the world…….. each other.
Come and enjoy an Aussie Christmas like you’ve never seen before with Beau, Gage, Holly, Ryan, Connor and their families when they all descend on the family farm. This is a spin-off, holiday themed novella based on the ‘Meet the McIntyre series.’
🎄A Merry McIntrye Christmas (Meet The McIntyres Book 6)🎄
#christmasbooks #holidayromance #aussiechristmas #authorsofinstagram #authorlife #writersofinstagram #writer #readersofinstagram #readers

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Little Match Girl

Title: Little Match Girl

Author: Dianne Hartsock

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: 12/21/2020

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 21400

Genre: Contemporary Holiday, LGBTQIA+, BDSM, Gay, Erotic Romance, Contemporary, Exhibitionism, Bondage, Sensation Play, Professor/Student

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Christian can’t help himself. He’s falling in love with the sweet guy who’s been coming into the sandwich shop for the past several months. But Christian’s been avoiding the candle-seller all year, going so far as to cross the street to avoid walking by him. Ashamed, he wonders if Dani can ever forgive him. Losing his mother to cancer, Dani has spent the last year in a haze of grief and loneliness. His life is selling candles, giving himself to any man who can pay, and saving himself from having to go home to his father’s brutality. Desperate for a place to belong, Dani sets out, with Christian’s help, to find his mother’s family. Christian wants Dani to be happy, though the cost might be losing Dani forever.


Little Match Girl Dianne Hartsock © 2020 All Rights Reserved Chapter One The door chimed, but Christian finished wiping down the coffee machine. He didn’t want to appear too eager despite his thumping heart. He ran the rag over the counter, scrutinizing the bright reflection of lights on the gleaming surface from the Christmas Giving Tree in the center of the room; the tree empty of its cards the day after Christmas. “Hey, Christian, isn’t that your fairy?” Jordan mocked in a stage whisper from where he was adding wood to the glowing embers in the fireplace on the far wall. Asshole. Christian leaned a hip on the counter, his gaze intent on the guy sliding into the corner booth. He came to the sandwich shop nearly every night right before closing time to order a coffee, rain or shine. Or like tonight, when it was beginning to snow. None of the other servers would deal with him. Not that Christian blamed them. Dani never tipped more than fifty cents, if that much. That didn’t bother him. The man was beautiful—wispy blond hair cut in a pixie style around his sweet face. Big gray eyes full of shadows. Christian gave him a minute to count out his change on the glossy tabletop the way he always did, then approached him around the scattered tables and sofas. The fireplace warmed the cozy seating area, empty now since most of the students from the nearby college had gone home for winter break. Wind howled at the windows, but they were snug enough inside. “Hi, Dani. How’s it going?” he asked, as usual. “I’m good,” came Dani’s standard reply in a lilting voice that made Christian’s pulse jump. Dani peered up at him, his expression somehow softer tonight, his spectacular eyes less fierce. He bit a plump lip, betraying his nerves, and Christian stifled a groan. He’d dreamed of those lips wrapping around his dick only the night before. As if guessing his thoughts, Dani lowered his gaze, pretty color flooding his cheeks. Christ, he was gorgeous, his features neither masculine nor feminine. If Christian didn’t know for a fact he was a man, he would have thought Dani was a girl tonight, despite his rough clothing. There was something decidedly sweet about him, a definite change when he showed his gentler side. Christian wondered what it would be like to have Dani in his bed in this mood. The thought of him, soft and yielding, in direct contrast to a hard cock, had Christian stiffening inconveniently. He took the seat opposite Dani in the booth to hide his interest. “Hi,” he said again when Dani gave him a tentative glance. “Coffee and sandwich, as usual?” Hunger flashed over Dani’s face, but he dropped his gaze and moved the coins on the table with a fine-boned finger. “Only coffee, please.” His voice cracked, and he covered his eyes with a shaky hand. “I’m sorry. I barely have enough money for that. Nothing for a tip.” “I don’t care about that,” Christian said, leaning forward. Only then did he notice how pale Dani appeared, face pinched with cold. Surely his jacket was too thin for December? “Did you eat today?” he asked with concern, and stared when Dani shrugged, noncommittal. Appalled, remembering that Dani hadn’t come in yesterday, Christian unconsciously raised his voice. “Did you eat yesterday?” Dani made a violent movement as if to stand. “I’ll go—” “Sit down, please. I’ll get your coffee,” Christian assured him, heart squeezed by Dani’s distress. He rose to his feet and crossed the room. Rounding the counter, he called into the tiny kitchen where his coworker was washing dishes while he pulled a mug from the cupboard over his head. “Jordan, I’m taking my break. Can you bring me a sandwich and the leftover soup?” Jordan looked up from the sink and sauntered over to him, drying his hands on a dishtowel. He glanced at their single customer and frowned. “What? You gonna feed the little queer now?” Anger burned through Christian, and he stepped up to Jordan, raising his chin when Jordan stared at him in surprise. “Just what’s your problem with Dani?” The redhead blinked, and then a slight sneer curled his lips. “Sorry, man. I know you’re gay and all, but at least you’re a guy. I don’t know what that is.” Jordan flashed Dani a scowl. Christian balled his hand into a fist. “He’s a fucking human being, asshole. That’s all you need to know. Now, get my dinner.” He turned back to making the coffee, relieved when Jordan huffed but returned to the kitchen. Jordan was a big guy and could probably snap him in two, but Christian was so over the homophobic crap he dealt with in this small town. He needed to seriously consider moving back to Portland. Coffee made, he added steamed milk and chocolate. Dani usually had his coffee black, but he definitely needed the calories. Christian peered across the room and smiled. Dani was undeniably lovely in the glow from the fireplace and the twinkling fairy lights encircling the ceiling. What was his story? Christian couldn’t remember seeing him around town, though he’d lived there close to two years, attending the local college. He joined Dani at the table, delighted when his eyes widened as Christian pushed the mug in front of him, mounded high with whip cream. “Just drink it,” he warned when Dani opened his mouth as if to protest. The color deepened in Dani’s face, but he obediently picked up a spoon. Christian watched, mesmerized, as he brought a dollop of cream to his mouth, the spoon passing those exquisite lips. Dani’s eyelids instantly fluttered, bliss suffusing his face, starting an ache in the pit of Christian’s gut. He imagined Dani would look like that, lost in orgasm. Something he keenly wanted to see. Jordan approached the table, and Christian tore his gaze from Dani, frowning when Jordan put the plate he carried down with a thump. “Hurry and eat,” he groused. “I want to start closing the kitchen.” “Whatever.” Christian waved him off. Jordan had no grounds to complain, having eaten his dinner an hour ago. The turkey and cheese sandwich was grilled to a golden brown, the tomato and roasted red pepper soup hot and savory. Jordan could be a dick sometimes, but he was a fantastic cook. Dani stared at the plate of food then glanced away with effort. Damn, the guy must be starving. Christian picked up half the sandwich and pushed the plate toward Dani. “Here. Eat up.” Dani appeared distressed. “I don’t have the money…” Christian waved that off. “Don’t worry about it. You can pay me back later.” Dani seemed startled and then a sad, lost expression crossed his face, but he nodded. “Okay,” he said hoarsely and started on the sandwich. He ate slowly, as if to make it last. The soup followed, and Christian tortured himself watching the slim neck work as Dani swallowed each mouthful. He bet that creamy white skin would taste like sugar under his tongue. Finished, Dani shyly pulled his coffee mug to him, chewing his lips in a nervous habit Christian had noticed. Christian wanted to lean across the table and kiss those sweet confections. A pot banged in the kitchen, reminding him of the time. “We’ll be closing soon,” he told Dani kindly. “Why don’t you take your coffee and sit by the fire while we put things to rights?” Dani nodded, and Christian studied him as he crossed the room to the dwindling fire. His clothes seemed worn and hung loosely off his thin frame. Poor as a church mouse, Christian guessed. Where did he get the money for coffee every night? One of the many questions he meant to get an answer to. Christian joined Jordan in the kitchen, and they closed down the shop, working with practiced efficiency. When the kitchen was in order, Christian went out to wipe down the tables and was disappointed to find that Dani had left; his coffee mug was sitting empty on the low table beside the hearth. Damn. He’d wanted to talk with him some more. Once they’d swept the floor and counted the register for the morning deposit at the bank, they left the shop, Jordan locking the door behind them. A gust of icy wind laced with snow struck them, and Christian turned up the collar on his jacket. “See you tomorrow,” Jordan said with a wave and started down the well-lit sidewalk toward his car. Christian turned in the opposite direction to his own beat-up sedan and jumped, pulse racing, as a figure detached from the wall. “Dani?” He nodded, coming up to him. Dani clenched his hands at his sides and raised his chin in defiance. “I’m ready. The alley is dark, or we can go inside where it’s warmer…” Christian looked at him in confusion. “What do you mean?” “Payment. You said I could pay you back later. I’m ready.” His face was deathly white, but there was a determined, desperate gleam in his eyes that made Christian’s chest hurt. “This wasn’t what I meant at all,” he said, needing to be perfectly clear. What kind of life did Dani have that he thought… Yes, he wanted Dani in his bed, but not like this. He moved closer, cupping Dani’s face with care. He leaned in and rested their foreheads together, gazing into the wide, shadow-filled eyes. “When we have sex, Dani, it will be because you want me to. No other reason,” he promised. Desire flared in Dani’s gray eyes, and Christian touched Dani’s full lips with his thumb, groaning as they parted for him. “Go home, sweetheart, before you catch your death of cold. We’ll talk tomorrow, okay?” Dani nodded, eyes glimmering with a few tears. He hesitated as if to say something but shoved his hands in his coat pockets and hastened down the dark street. Christian watched him go, pressing his lips together. “I’ll find out your story, Dani,” he promised to Dani’s retreating back. After fishing his keys from a pocket, he got in his car and drove carefully on the icy road to the apartment he shared with his college buddies. He hoped Dani didn’t have far to walk on this cold night.


NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

Dianne is the author of paranormal/suspense, fantasy adventure, m/m romance, the occasional thriller, and anything else that comes to mind. She lives in the beautiful Willamette Valley of Oregon with her incredibly patient husband, who puts up with the endless hours she spends hunched over the keyboard letting her characters play. She says Oregon’s raindrops are the perfect setting in which to write. There’s something about being cooped up in the house with a fire crackling on the hearth and a cup of hot coffee warming her hands, which kindles her imagination. Currently, Dianne works as a floral designer in a locally-owned gift shop. Which is the perfect job for her. When not writing, she can express herself through the rich colors and textures of flowers and foliage.

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The Accidental Heiress


The Accidental Series, Book 3

Romantic Suspense

Release Date: December 21, 2020

Publisher: Pegasus Prose

Jessica and Robbie Mitchell’s belated honeymoon to Ireland begins with a surprise landing—ala Miracle on the Hudson—in the Shannon River. Robbie saves Jessica and the service dog of a blind passenger, who is the only casualty. Born in Ireland, Robbie is eager to see his native country 136 years after he emigrated to America, after bridging time to meet his contemporary Wyoming soulmate, Jessica.

The couple ends up at a B & B that was the manor house Robbie and his mother once served. Here, they learn that before Robbie left home, he unwittingly set in motion a dark family scandal that has affected generations who run the B & B. The family “healer” is a mysterious104 yr. old woman. As the couple sink deep into the enchantment of Eire and the mysteries and misfortunes of his descendants, including the actual 200 yr. old Magdalen scandal, he wonders if there is a way to reset history without losing the love of his life.

The book is set in two contemporary parts with an 1883 historic part sandwiched between, giving the reader a “fly on the wall” view of what happened to the family Robbie left behind. If history can be reset to restore a broken family, will it separate or spare the soulmates?


I squeezed Robbie’s hand as I gazed out the window. When the wing of the plane dipped again, the airport runway came into view along the Shannon peninsula. It was then I heard it, low and grumbling…escalating to a higher pitch that overpowered the drone of the engines. Every few seconds, the screech persisted. A buzz of bewilderment boiled into fear among the passengers.

Did you hear that?”

What’s happening?”

Oh God, Something’s wrong!”

The wing of the plane quivered as we tilted like a carnival ride in an orbit of descent. I could see vehicles, streaming out of an airport hangar, ants lining the runway, all moving toward the Shannon estuary. Suddenly, the loudspeaker crackled to life, but the clipped message was not an answer to my frightened prayer.

This is your pilot… Brace for river impact!”

About the Author

Born and raised in Milwaukee, WI, Cj moved to Rochester, MN where she raised her family, and on hilltop acreage pursued her lifelong dreams: horses, rescue animals and published articles, short stories and award winning novels.

On occasion she ventured downhill to climb a waterfall in Jamaica, float in the Dead Sea, kiss the Blarney Stone and always, always…research settings for the next plot.

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Blood on Their Hands


Legal Thriller

Published: May 4, 2020

Publisher: TouchPoint Press

A racist attorney faces a crisis of conscience when reluctantly defending a black man brutally beaten by police and charged with resisting arrest.

Hiram Garbuncle is a veteran criminal defense attorney—as well as a racist, miserly alcoholic. His life revolves around hoarding money, following sports, pursuing sex, drinking—and the prideful practice of law.

Alec Monceau is a black man working in suburban West Palm Beach, Florida, to support his daughter’s family in Trinidad. It is 2008, and his car carries an Obama bumper sticker. This political endorsement leads to a superfluous traffic stop and a brutal beating by police.

It goes against Garbuncle’s grain to defend a black man from a charge of violently resisting arrest, but he is so confident of winning that he is negligent in the jury selection, and a mistrial occurs. He then discovers incriminating evidence on the two cops, and his new challenge becomes how to keep himself and his client alive pending a new trial.

Blood on Their Hands borrows themes from the movies Gran Torino and My Cousin Vinnie. It is a tale replete with both pathos and humor. Steeped in suspense, action, intrigue, violent episodes and yes, a bit of titillating sex, the story is leavened by a tragic love affair. Humorous scenes are abundant, providing comic relief. Perhaps above all, Blood is a story of redemption.

Praise for Blood on Their Hands:

“With a grim picture of racism embodied in the theme, Brink’s latest introduces a racist and miserly alcoholic yet lovable hero, a criminal defense attorney who finds himself in the middle of violent conspiracies involving Klan members…..Powered by expert plotting and topnotch characterization, the story pulls readers in, keeping them turning pages until the exhilarating, tension-filled ending. Imaginative prose and sharp dialogue are bonus points….” – The Prairies Book Review

“From courtroom confrontations to the feelings and attitudes of those who testify and interact with Ham and his client Alec, Bob Brink juggles his story with strong characters with realistic faults; social circumstances that test everyone’s beliefs, values, and approaches to life; and the wellsprings of lies and truths that reflect deeper issues both in individual lives and society as a whole….Astute, thought-provoking, involving, and growth-oriented, Blood on Their Hands excels in satisfying twists and turns designed to keep readers engaged on many levels, up to its satisfying conclusion.” – D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review

“A wonderful novel featuring a character for the ages” – Michael Hartnett, Author – The Blue Rat

About the Author

Bob Brink is a journalist who worked with several large newspaper organizations and a group of magazines. His byline has been on thousands of news stories, features, and entertainment reviews.

He and now is embarked on authoring books. His newest book, the legal thriller Blood on Their Hands, follows Murder in Palm Beach: The Homicide That Never Died, a roman à clef about a real, sensational 1976 murder that made headlines for 15 years, and recently made news again with a new development in the case. The book became an Amazon best seller.

His other books are: Breaking Out, a coming-of-age novel, The Way We Were: Short Stories and Tall Tales, and A Tale of Two Continents, a ghost-written memoir. He is working on a book of creative nonfiction about a woman who led an incredible life of crime.

Brink has won numerous writing accolades and several awards, including three for Palm Beach Illustrated, which won the Best Written Magazine award from the Florida Magazine Association after he became copy chief and writer.

Besides dabbling in short-story writing over the years, Brink immersed himself in learning to play the clarinet and tenor saxophone. He performed many years with an estimable, 65-piece community symphonic band, and played a few professional big band gigs.

A product of Michigan and Iowa, Brink has a bachelor’s degree in English and German from Drake University in Des Moines and completed graduate journalism studies at the University of Iowa.

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A Baker’s Dozen


The Books of Very Bad Things: Vol. 1

Fairy Tales, Fantasy, Horror

Date Published: Dec. 1, 2020

Publisher: DCL Publications

Journey into a land of fairy tales like none you’ve ever experienced before with this baker’s dozen of original and often horrific fanciful treats! Madame Howell, the world’s greatest witch, will lead you through some of the most unique journeys into the Enchanted Forest, through great castles and villages, and even into uncanny realms of newly imagined dangers in her ‘Book of Very Bad Things.’ Featuring many elements from classical fairy tales while paying homage to the imaginations of the Brothers Grimm, this deliciously sinister volume delivers its own unique versions of true love and the all important ‘happily ever after.’ Within, you’ll discover dark changelings, wicked queens, houses of snakes, disobedient children, the world’s tiniest people, vicious goblins and dwarfs, a baker with a taste for blood, and so much more. Settle back and fall under the wicked spell of this dastardly and mesmerizing journey into the darkest realms of fairy tales and folklore.


From the story ‘The Woman with Wings’

Once upon a summer afternoon, a brother and sister went frolicking in the woods, in search of berries and wildflowers. Their parents were long dead, and so it was up to them to scavenge for their food every day. They enjoyed making games of it, like chasing one another through the winding forest paths or even pelting each other with berries that were rotten on the stems.

It was raining on this particular afternoon, and the siblings became wet and muddy as they played and hunted their food and foliage.

Sister,” the brother called in warning as she glided swiftly across the slick mud, “ye shouldn’t run so fast near there! That hill be steep!”

Bah!” she squealed, giggled, and spun around in a circle. “It’s lovely to slip and slide! Join me!” She squealed again and spun once more. Then, she lost her footing and tumbled backward. Brother watched as she fell off the ledge, tumbling down the hill.

Sister!” he shouted and then slipped and slid his way to her in a hurried but cautious manner. “Sister, are ye alright?”

Brother looked over the ledge, staring down as he watched his sister roll to the foot of the hill. He began after her but came to a pause as a winged creature swooped down from the sky and gathered Sister into its grip. In the blink of an eye, the creature swooped upward again with Sister in tow.

Sister!” he cried out again and watched as the creature carried his sister to the great forbidden mountain, which was a good day’s trek away by foot.

Distraught, the brother contemplated how to save his twin sister. He knew he would have to venture to the forbidden mountain and climb its dangerous terrain. Once he found his sister, he would also find the creature that had taken her. Surely, a battle would ensue. Before going after his sister, he had to be well prepared.

From the story ‘Jacob and the People Tree’

Today, for the first time, he decided to bypass that lovely and relaxing stone. He wasn’t by any means tired or ready to relax or nap. He felt energized and chipper, and he was surrounded by his woodland friends… his only friends, but friends who welcomed him into their domain with seemingly open arms.

Oiko, doiko, ba dunk dunk dunk,” he sang cheerfully to himself as he strolled down the path – a path that grew narrower the further he walked. “Watch out for the stinky skunk!” It was a silly song he sang – one he’d made up long ago on a walk such as this, where he’d encountered a skunk that fortunately hadn’t stunk.

As the path grew narrower and the forest thicker, everything became darker – shrouded in shadows. Several of the flowers and plants nearby glowed when shadowed, and they helped to make the scenery more mystical and brighter. Never before had he seen such glowing plants as these. They were remarkable and glowed softly in a vast array of color. He knelt down to one such flower and sniffed it, wondering if it smelled as marvelous as it looked. It was, indeed, the sweetest scent he’d inhaled in perhaps forever.

He stood and sighed. It felt like he’d found a sort of nirvana – a land of beauty and wonder. It was so magical that he yearned to bring a part of its splendor home with him. Crouching down once more, he leaned to the flower he’d sniffed and started to pluck it.

I wouldn’t do that if I were ye,” he heard a voice say. It startled him, and Jacob unhanded the flower and stood upright.

Turning around, he looked for the voice’s source but saw no one. Deciding it had been nothing more than his imagination playing some tomfoolery on him, he shrugged it off and turned back to the flower.

Ye should never pick anything from here,” the voice spoke again, and once more, Jacob turned around to see its speaker.

Again, there was nobody.

Perhaps I am going mad,” he contemplated aloud and then chuckled. “Ah well… being so lonely can do that to a man, I imagine.”

Mad!” another voice noted, mimicking what Jacob had said. Whilst the first voice had sounded male, this one sounded like the voice of an old woman. “Ye will know mad if ye pick one flower from this path!”

Who said that?” Jacob asked, looking all around. Still, he saw no one. For a moment, he considered he was hearing the voices of ghosts, but if a ghost was going to speak, surely it would have shown itself. “Where are ye?”

Everything was quiet again as he sought for the mysterious voices. He looked all around and even down low, but he could find nobody. When he was about to give up in his search and leave this place behind, he heard giggling from above.

From the story ‘The Baker’s Dozen’

He lifted her into his arms and carried her up the road to the bakery. Once they were inside, he sat her on a stool and grabbed some cloths from the back. With one of the cloths, he cleaned the blood from the wound. The other, he tied around her leg, putting pressure on the cut and stopping the bleeding.

Oh, Mister Baker, I do not know how to thank thee,” she said to him as he stepped away to throw the bloody rag into a pile with other dirty rags. “I cannot imagine anyone else showing me such kindness.”

He noticed he’d gotten some of her blood on his fingers as he’d cleaned the wound. He stared at his fingers for a moment and then rubbed the blood between them. Coyly, he sniffed them. The blood had a unique scent to it – one that he’d never really thought of before. Curiously, he licked a bit from a finger and tasted it. It was surprisingly sweet and delicious.

I do not know what I would have done had ye not come around,” the young woman continued from the front room. “Everything felt so dire! Ye be a saving grace for certain!”

Think nothing of it,” he said slowly and almost too lowly for her to hear as he looked at the remaining blood on his fingers. Swiftly, he licked the rest away. “Ye may need to have that sewn up.”

It will be fine,” she replied as he stepped back into the room. “I have come to accept some things.” She smiled. Her words were curious, but he thought she was lovely, even if she did have a few additional cuts and scabs on her face and hands. Her blood was immaculate though… delicious.

Nourishment first,” he told her and took a piece of pound cake from his counter top and handed it to her. “Eat this. Ye must be hungry.”

How gracious!” the peasant exclaimed and accepted the pound cake. A moan slipped from her lips as she ate it.

Also from the counter, the baker took his bread knife. While the woman was distracted with her treat, he came around behind her and pulled her hair back. The knife sliced through her neck before she had a chance to make a sound. When she did try to scream, it was low and gargled.

From the story ‘A Heart Unfrozen’

At the moment, the Queen sat upon her ‘traveling throne’ on the platform that stood as a political stage in the center of the village square. Two young lovebirds stood before her, each with a guard positioned behind them. They were guilty of kissing behind the castle and had been caught by Mathavious, Queen Estella’s most entrusted guard.

I see no use in debating this matter,” the Queen said to the charged. “Ye shall lose yer heads. Guards!” She looked toward the uniformed men standing behind prisoners. “Take them to the chopping blocks!”

The executioner’s chopping blocks sat several meters away from where the Queen was currently perched on the platform. Nearly everyone in the village was present for the event, as it was mandatory for many who were in attendance. The platform itself had been built in such a way that no matter how an execution was performed, it could in some way be seen by anyone and everyone, from presumably any angle.

As expected, the accused protested their sentencing, but Queen Estella had heard it all before. Every sob story – every excuse plausible. None were forgivable, as she had made blatantly clear over the years. Her rules were not to be broken, and those who did were subject to punishment.

The young man and his young female lover were forced down onto the chopping blocks, and one by one, the royal executioner silenced their pleas as he chopped off their heads.

Down to the audience, the heads rolled. For a moment, they stared up at the spectators and blinked repeatedly until their brains finally died. Then, their expressions went still – frozen in time.

Would anyone else care to lose their head today?” Queen Estella asked in a loud and enthusiastic tone as she stood tall and prominently. “I would like enjoy my midday tea as quickly as possible, so please… do speak now if ye have done anything blatantly unforgiving. I will not be so kind and yer deaths will not be so swift if I find out someone is withholding their guilt.”

About the Author

When the muses speak, Jae El Foster writes, and he has been doing so for nearly twenty years, tackling some of the most intriguing genres out there. Delivering fresh, incomparable tales of horror, science fiction, and romance – sweet or spicy – he pens with seasoned skill the tales that his muses deliver to him. His bestselling works include the paranormal romance ‘Restless,’ the gothic horror tale ‘Where the Demon Is,’ and the gay holiday romance ‘Only at Christmas.’ Follow him on Instagram @jaeelbooks and ‘like’ him on Facebook at

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Home Ice Advantage

Title: Home Ice Advantage

Series: Sophie Fournier, Book Four

Author: K.R. Collins

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: 12/21/2020

Heat Level: 1 – No Sex

Pairing: Female/Female

Length: 86100

Genre: Contemporary, LGBTQIA+, Contemporary, sports, romance, lesbian, gay, bisexual, demisexual, ice hockey, coach, teammates, slow burn

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Winning the Maple Cup has always been Sophie Fournier’s dream, ever since she was a little girl watching hockey in her grandparents’ basement. She isn’t satisfied after a season where she won hockey’s biggest prize. She wants to hoist the Cup again, in back-to-back seasons. She’s done it once before and, like any good hockey player, she knows to repeat a successful formula in order to find success again. Only, this season is determined to be nothing like the last. Coach Butler breaks up not only the top line which drove their success, but he splits Sophie and Elsa. She’s cut off from her favorite winger on the ice and off it, Elsa begins to date, leaving Sophie on her own. And with this being a Winter Games year, their NAHL season is halted for international play. For the first time since becoming teammates, Sophie will compete against Elsa for a gold medal. It’s a year of change and Sophie hates it. She knows what worked to win the Cup the previous season. Now, with multiple factors working against her, including her own coach, she has to figure out a new way to win the Cup. If she can’t, it will be her shoulders the blame falls on.


Home Ice Advantage K.R. Collins © 2020 All Rights Reserved “Let’s talk expectations. What do you want out of your contract?” “Eight years, nine point three million a year,” Sophie answers. She did her research. It might be her first real contract, but she’s Sophie Fournier. She’s the first woman drafted into the North American Hockey League, she’s the captain of the Concord Condors, she led the League in points for two of her three seasons, and a month ago she led her team to their first-ever Maple Cup. There’s a long silence on the other line, and she checks to make sure her agent is still there. “Let’s talk realistic expectations,” he finally says. “Cut both those numbers in half.” It’s Sophie’s turn to be stunned into silence. Hers doesn’t last as long. “Half? At least women outside of hockey make seventy-five cents to a man’s dollar.” “Sophie—” “Half?” she demands. “I ran the numbers. It wouldn’t be out of line to ask for ten million. Dima’s being offered at least ten, and he’s a winger, and he doesn’t have a Maple Cup to his name.” “You can’t compare yourself to Dmitri Ivanov. You can’t compare yourself to anyone. Whatever numbers you ran, toss them out. They’re based on your male counterparts. We’re starting from scratch.” “I did not fight as hard as I did to make it to and succeed in this league to be told I’m worth half of a man. You’re supposed to be on my side.” “Of course, I’m on your side but you have to be realistic.” She hangs up. It isn’t her best moment, and her guilt is almost enough to call back. But then she shoves her phone in her pocket and stomps into the kitchen where she pauses, scowl frozen on her face. Her mom and five other women are gathered around the island counter. There are piles of fruits and vegetables, multiple cutting boards, and three blenders. Sophie recognizes two of the women as neighbors. She played street hockey with their kids growing up. “Oh, Sophie,” Mrs. Milchard greets. “We’re making smoothies. I bet you have all sorts of tips.” Sophie smiles, automatic, but it’s strained. “I’ve made a few in my day. I’m actually about to go for a run, but if you still have questions when I’m back, I’ll answer them.” “And test them.” Sophie nods and flees upstairs to change. She hadn’t planned on going for a run but now she has to. She switches her T-shirt for a racerback and tugs her sweatpants off. She pauses as she pulls her shorts up. She has new ink. One hip has a pair of crossed hockey sticks. There’s a small 93 to the left of the sticks, because it’s the number she wears on the ice. This tattoo was a present to herself years ago. Her new one is on the other hip. It now says 2013-2014 in honor of their Maple Cup win. Her win? Concord’s win? She is the captain and cornerstone of Concord’s franchise. She wants to be a Condor forever. But, if she believes her agent, Concord won’t offer the kind of deal given to players of her caliber. She buries her contract thoughts as she pulls her hair up into a ponytail. She takes the stairs by two but doesn’t make it through the kitchen unnoticed. “Are you going around the block?” her mom asks. “The park, probably.” She wants to run trails, disappear into the woods until the only people she sees are ones training for marathons or running with their dogs, people who won’t want to stop and chat. “Then you should take this with you.” Her mom hands Sophie a Gatorade and a bag of pretzels. “You’ll have your phone, right?” Sophie holds up her phone in answer. She takes the snack and gives her mom a kiss. “Have fun juicing.” She escapes to the woods, turns her music up, and runs until there’s no space in her head for thoughts. By the time she’s back at her car, her skin is slick with sweat, and she’s grateful for the pretzels. She sits on the curb as the sun beats down on her back. Sweat drips down her spine and dries on her arms, sticky, proof she worked hard. She musters up enough energy to stretch and then drives home. There are still cars along the curb. She pulls up behind an SUV and takes the keys out of her ignition. Her gym card dangles from the key ring. She turns the car back on and drives down the street. She did her weight training this morning before her call with her agent, so she just uses the gym’s showers, changes into one of the many spare sets of clothes she keeps in her car, and drives to the store. She goes through the salad bar, loading up a plastic container for herself and one for Colby. It’s on the early side for lunch so she picks up a few things for dinner. On the way to the checkout, she pauses at the Maple Cup display. She’s used to seeing Winnipeg Porcupine gear at home with the sparse collection of shirseys for other Canadian teams. Even Quebec carries Team Canada Ducasse shirseys, though they refuse to stock his Montreal merch. But in the heart of Thunder Bay, Ontario, there’s a rack of Concord Condors Maple Cup gear. There are shirts with the Cup on the front and the whole roster on the back. There’s one with New Hampshire reshaped to look like the Cup. There are even a few shirseys. Sophie finds a number 13 and traces the NYBERG on the back. She takes a picture and sends it to Elsa, knowing she’ll get a kick out of it. She’s tempted to buy the shirt and mail it to Lenny Dernier. He’ll have an on-air meltdown when he realizes the good Canadian province of Ontario is stocking fan-wear with a foreigner’s name on it. Like most Canadian kids, Sophie was glued to the TV when Lenny Dernier came on to host his program after games. Only, as the years have passed and the game has changed, Dernier hasn’t. He clings to an era of hockey where a majority of the players were Canadians and where there were often as many, or more, fights than goals in a game. Back when hockey was a man’s sport. She’s learned to tune him out, or mute him, these days. He sometimes tolerates Sophie because she had the good sense to be born Canadian even if she is a woman. But he hates Elsa, because he thinks Swedes are lazy, and he really hates Lexie. The last one Sophie finds hilarious, because he hates her for being crass and too aggressive, traits he would praise her for if she were a man. She dropped an f-bomb on live television once, caught up in the adrenaline of a big win, and he declared her a bad role model for all Canadian children. She would probably find his shtick funnier if he didn’t believe it. And if he didn’t have a loyal following. Sophie’s rookie season saw the Clayton Trophy, the award given to the top rookie, as a competition between Dmitri Ivanov, herself, and Victor Serov. Two Russians and a woman. Dernier was apoplectic. He’s back on his “end of hockey as we know it” rant because this year the three Clayton nominees were two Americans and a Swede. He’s apparently looking to help fund Canada’s youth hockey program in order to restore their country to greatness. It’s bullshit. Elsa calls as Sophie goes through the self-checkout. “Did you buy it?” “Why would I need to buy it? Do you know how many of your shirts I have? I swear you left half your wardrobe.” “Are you wearing one right now?” “No.” Though it’s an idea. Maybe if she wears a Nyberg shirsey everywhere, people won’t recognize her. She weighs her salad, weighs Colby’s, and places them in her reusable bag. “See, you don’t have enough.” Sophie checks to see what she actually is wearing. There’s a porcupine on the front which means it’s left over from her bantam days. “I’m in a knockoff Winnipeg shirt.” “Gross.” “Your face is gross.” She finishes scanning her items and pays. “You miss my face.” She does but she won’t admit it. She first met Elsa Nyberg when they were opponents at a U-Tourney. Sophie was there representing Canada; Elsa was there for Sweden. She left the tournament with the gold medal and without knowing the impact she had on Sweden’s rising star. Now, they’re teammates in the NAHL. Last year, they won the Cup together. “What’re you up to?” “Family picnic.” Elsa sighs as if it’s a burden, but Sophie knows she hoards all the time she can spend with her family in the offseason. “Patric and Henrik want to play basketball.” Sophie laughs as Elsa complains about how her cousins like all the wrong sports. By the time Elsa’s dragged away to participate, Sophie feels better. Of course, once she hangs up, her car is too quiet, not even the radio playing softly in the background. I have family to see too. And before I know it, Elsa and I will be back in Concord together. When she arrives at Colby’s office, she’s surprised to be greeted by the receptionist. Too late, it occurs to her dropping by to visit Colby isn’t the same as dropping by a hockey rink. Her steps falter. The receptionist, whose nameplate says Dianne, offers her a smile. “Do you have an appointment?” “Uh, no. I’m here to see my brother, but I can call him.” “Then I’d be out of a job. Have a seat, dear. I’ll call Colby and let him know you’re here.” “How’d you know I’m Colby’s sister?” “Everyone here knows who you are. We had office viewing parties. Congratulations, by the way.” Sophie sits in one of the wingback chairs and picks up an out-of-date hunting magazine. She opens it but doesn’t read a single word. Colby comes down the side hallway after she’s flipped a few pages. He’s in slacks and a nice dress shirt. If his hair was gelled within an inch of its life, he’d look ready to board the bus for an away game. Instead, he has a legal pad tucked under his arm and his phone in hand. “Hi Dianne. I’m on my way to the sales meeting. What’s up?” She points and Sophie sets the magazine down. She feels conspicuously out of place in her running clothes. She fishes Colby’s salad out of her bag. “I was in the area.” “I have a meeting.” “It’s okay.” She holds the salad out to him. “Mom had friends over. They’re juicing so I needed to escape before I became a test subject. Uh, good luck in your meeting.” “We’re trying to figure out how to boost our numbers. Cross-selling might be the key. You don’t care about this. Sorry.” “I care.” Well, she cares because he does. But this is a completely unknown world to her. She wants to spend the next fifteen years of her life in the NAHL and then become a coach or advisor to a team, find a way to stay involved in the sport. Colby’s hockey career ended after college. He plays in a men’s league now, but his days are spent here. It’s a world she doesn’t understand. And, after years of having hockey connecting them, she doesn’t know how to talk to him. Does he resent her for still playing when he can’t? She’s living their childhood dream, and he’s stuck here—cubicles and meetings. She clears her throat. “I don’t want to make you late. I’ll see you for dinner sometime this week?” Another change. Colby’s moved out of their parents’ house. He has an apartment and a new girlfriend, Charlotte, and her name is everything Sophie knows about her. A job, his own apartment, a girlfriend, her brother’s growing up, and Sophie feels left behind. “Absolutely.” He lifts his salad in a thank-you and hurries back the way he came. It leaves Sophie with an environmentally friendly bag with only her lunch in it now. “Nice shirt.” Dianne nods at the porcupine logo. “Your contract is up. Any chance you’re signing with Winnipeg?” “Probably not.” And she should go through her spare clothes to make sure any hockey clothes she wears bear Concord’s logo. She doesn’t want to start any rumors. Dianne nods as if she was expecting the answer. “Concord would be stupid to let you go. Maybe next contract. It’ll be a big homecoming.” Sophie offers a parting smile and slips out.


NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

K.R. Collins went to college in Pennsylvania where she learned to write and fell in love with hockey. When she isn’t working or writing, she watches hockey games and claims it’s for research. Find K.R. on Twitter.


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Release Blitz

Limits and Stakes

Title: Limits and Stakes

Series: Suit of Harte’s, Book Three

Author: Jacqueline Grey

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: 12/21/2020

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 32500

Genre: Contemporary, LGBTQIA+, BDSM, Gay, Erotic Romance, Contemporary, Exhibitionism, Bondage, Sensation Play, Professor/Student

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Professor Danny Stone doesn’t date students. Though the university does not forbid such relationships, he’d rather be safe than sorry, but with his sparkling blue eyes and silky blond hair, Christopher Owen is a temptation begging him to break the rules. He already bent them when he kissed Chris over winter break. Spring break will be different. Danny’s plan is to spend the week at a BDSM club a few towns over. Playing with a sub or two who have no connection to his university will do him a world of good, and he can put Chris out of his mind. But when the first sub that catches his eye turns out to be Christopher, Danny’s willpower is put to the ultimate test. Chris is brand new to the scene and feels safest with Danny. Will Danny be able to introduce him to the wonders of BDSM without crossing too many lines? Or will fate pull them together and show them sometimes rules are destined to be broken?


Limits and Stakes Jacqueline Grey © 2020 All Rights Reserved It was spring break, and Daniel Stone was enjoying a full week of student-free days. Dressed head-to-toe in tight black leather and itching to play, Daniel entered the Lock & Key. The club wasn’t as big as the one he’d been a member of before moving to Georgia, and membership wasn’t as exclusive, but it was well-recommended, and the staff kept an eye out for the patrons. Most of the members seemed to be well-versed in the lifestyle as well, enough to give him the confidence that, if he were to play with someone, they would at least know what they were doing or say something if they didn’t. The club was a sufficient distance from where he worked, so he didn’t have to worry about being spotted as a familiar face outside of the scene. A BDSM club in a college town was not where a professor wanted to be found, no matter how liberal the residents claimed to be. A five-hour drive and the expense of a hotel room for the week was a worthy price for freedom. He ordered a bottle of water and scanned the crowd for potential company. A small group of men caught his eye. Two of the three he disregarded immediately, but the third, a lean blond in the skimpiest pair of leather shorts he’d ever seen, held his attention. He was unable to tear his gaze from all that pale skin or the way the leather hugged his perfectly round bottom. The boy was obviously new to the scene. There was uncertainty in his movements, but he was doing his best to keep up the conversation. Daniel had full confidence the young man would succeed. Anyone brave enough to go out in public in shorts like those could hold a simple conversation. When the group moved toward the bar, Daniel finally saw the young man’s face. He froze in surprise. Of the students crowding Georgia State University campus, he now faced the one he’d wanted to avoid the most, the one he wanted to forget. Against his better judgment, he intercepted the group. “Chris,” he said. Chris Owen looked up at him, startled. His eyes widened in recognition, and his mouth fell open. “Pr—” He stopped himself just in time. “Mr. Stone.” Relief flooded through Daniel. He preferred to keep his daily life separate from the club and was glad it would remain that way. “You know this kid?” asked one of the men. He stood too close to Chris for Daniel’s liking. “Yes.” Daniel resisted the impulse to claim anything more. He had no right to claim anything, but his instincts wouldn’t let him back down completely. “My apologies for the interruption. I wasn’t aware Chris planned to be here today.” The stranger scrutinized the young man, paying particular attention to his neck. “He’s not marked.” “I’m instructing him,” Daniel said. Well, he had been. For half a semester, he’d tutored Chris in advanced calc, but that had changed after winter break. Either way, the details didn’t apply here. He clutched at straws with half-truths, but he couldn’t help himself. He wanted to know why Chris was there and what he had in mind. He wanted to keep the boy safe. He wanted to keep him. No. He’s a student. You promised him two months ago nothing would happen between the two of you, and now you’re trying to put a collar on him? Get a grip, Stone! “Of course, he’s free to choose who he goes with,” Daniel added, attempting to pull himself out of the hole he’d been digging. The other man looked at Chris expectantly. Chris flickered his eyes back and forth between them, seemingly lost on how to answer. Daniel put a hand on his shoulder. “You can continue to the bar as you were, or you can take a tour of the club with me. Which do you want to do? There is no wrong choice.” “I…” Chris’s gaze locked on Daniel’s. “I…” He swallowed. “I want to go with you.” There was a tsk from behind Chris, but Daniel ignored it. He also did his best to ignore the sense of triumph running through him. “Follow me,” he said and headed toward the bar. “I thought we were going for a tour.” “One step at a time, boy.” Daniel ordered another water, then scanned the room for somewhere to sit. When the bartender put the drink on the counter, Daniel left it for Chris to pick up and led the way toward the table he’d found. He was glad to hear the crinkle of plastic as Chris followed. The seating he’d chosen had a semblance of privacy. Daniel took the chair against the wall and gestured for Chris to take the other. “Now, I take it this is what you meant about trying new things over spring break?” he asked. The boy flushed red. “I… Yes. I’ve always wanted to come here and finally worked up the courage to do it.” “You did more than that.” Daniel dropped a pointed glance in the direction of Chris’s shorts. The color in Chris’s face deepened. “You’re not gonna tell anyone, are you?” “I believe a person’s private life is their own business.” “Thanks.” Daniel took a sip of his water. After a moment, Chris did the same. Daniel caught himself staring when Chris licked his lips. He’d kissed that mouth. The small details of that moment were forever embedded in his mind. One evening during winter break, they’d come across each other outside the math building on campus. He couldn’t recall why they’d lingered. All he remembered was huddling in his coat against the winter chill and then not caring about the weather as he became entranced by the puffs of air dancing between them as they spoke, the rosy color on Chris’s cheeks, and the sparkle in his clear blue eyes. There had been silence all around them when the conversation had hit a lull and a pull, an irresistible urge that had driven him to kiss a student. Granted, Chris was a grad student and not in any of Daniel’s classes, but Daniel had been his tutor at the time. Even if he hadn’t, Chris was still a student at the college where Daniel worked, and that wasn’t something Daniel was comfortable with. Recklessness led to trouble, and so he’d pulled away. Yet here was that face again, looking at him so openly as if the kiss had never happened and Daniel hadn’t ruined an innocent student-teacher relationship. He mentally shook himself from his reverie. “Did you have anything in mind when you came here tonight, or was getting through the door the main goal?” Chris’s blush deepened. “That seemed to be a big enough goal to start with.” “Now that you’ve accomplished it, what do you plan to do next?”


NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

Jacqueline Grey currently lives on an island on the east coast of the United States. She spends her time outside her day job juggling her many interests which include reading, writing and drinking tea. She loves M/M romance, usually focusing on stories that include BDSM themes to one degree or another. Jacqueline has always been driven by characters. She loves a good plot, but it’s the characters that pull her into a story. She loves romance and believes everyone has a right to be happy. She enjoys seeing her characters find that happiness for themselves.

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New Release


What they have isn’t real—it’s just a relationship pact. Right?Find out in THE RELATIONSHIP PACT, an all-new standalone fake dating romance (thatpacks a lot of heat and so much heart!) from USA Today Bestselling author Adriana Locke.Available now on Amazon and in Kindle Unlimited. Check it out here:⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️How hard can it be?That was the question rolling around Larissa Mason’s mind just before she asked Hollis Hudsonto be her fake boyfriend.It was only supposed to be for five minutes, after all.Granted, that was also before she felt his hand on the small of her back as he charmed the heckout of her family.And it was definitely before she saw the football god shirtless. Otherwise, she would’ve had anidea of just how hard some things could be.It turns out that pretending to be in love with a crazily handsome, somewhat enigmatic, andabsolutely unforgettable tight end (that has an amazing tight end) is easy.Reminding herself that just because opposites attract doesn’t mean they’re forever is muchharder.What they have isn’t love—it’s a relationship pact. Right?#adrianalocke #adrianalockebooks #romancenovel #romancebooks #sportsromance #tbr#readersofinstagram #lovestory #newrelease #hotforHollis

Book Blitz

Murder Mittens by R.J. Blain

Murder Mittens
R.J. Blain
(Magical Romantic Comedies, #13)
Publication date: December 25th 2020
Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Romance

Becoming a bounty hunter and taking on the call sign of Murder Mittens wasn’t Harri’s brightest move, but what’s a lynx to do with millions of debt while working a customer service gig? The scars deforming her face won’t remove themselves, and she’ll bag and tag every criminal in the United States to get rid of them if necessary.

Being assigned a handler could make or break her, but did the powers that be really have to toss Sebastian Sumners her way? The lion with a stubborn streak as wide as hers tests her patience on a good day, but nothing makes her purr more than goading him into roaring.

Add in a protective family, a serial killer on the loose, and more trouble than any one cat needs, and it’s going to take a miracle for Harri to get through the most important job of her life.

Warning: contains magic, humor, cranky shapeshifters, cats, murder, and mayhem. Proceed with caution.

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Chapter One

Why was murdering irate, irrational, ignorant, and flat-out wrong customers illegal? The idiot on the phone rambled about how it wasn’t fair that dumping coffee on his router invalidated his warranty.

I thought it wasn’t fair his stupidity might lose me IQ points, and I’d learned long ago that humans—or lycanthropes, such as myself—didn’t come with warranties or guarantees. I had bills to pay, and murdering one of the customers wouldn’t pay my bills.

Then again, in prison, I wouldn’t have to pay any bills. Every day by the end of my shift, I considered incarceration as a viable option.

Free board, free food, good medical care, and asshole inmates to beat on sounded a lot better than dealing with an idiot customer.

“Sir,” I said in the hopes of circumventing his tirade. Mr. Edward Lavell ignored me.

The idiots always ignored me. I bet my gender had something to do with it. On average, the men finished their calls five minutes faster, and every supervisor to review the situation came to the same general conclusion: customers took men in tech more seriously than women, and I, unfortunately, sounded too feminine.

“Sir,” I repeated, only to be ignored again.

Why couldn’t I just hang up on him? Oh, right. I valued my job. As I valued my job, I couldn’t hang up on him, I couldn’t curse, I couldn’t threaten to rip his throat out, and I couldn’t indulge in my desire to murder him.

There was a time and a place for murder, and on the job at a call center for a cable internet company was not the time nor the place.

For the fourth time since calling in, Mr. Lavell explained that it really wasn’t his fault he’d dumped coffee on his router.

“Sir, liquid spills are right in the contract for the router. I’m sorry, but I can’t change the rules for you. Spilling coffee on your router invalidates its warranty.”

“It’s not my fault the cup holder in my computer has a mind of its own,” he complained.

Wait. What?

His computer’s cup holder has a mind of its own? The realization I dealt with someone far worse than just an idiot sank in. Every call center had legends of Code Red customers, who were in an entirely different class from the standard 1-D10T and the unfortunately common PEBKAC. With Mr. Lavell, I had it all. A problem certainly did exist between the keyboard and chair, and he’d definitely deserved his flag as an 1-D10T.

Until his call, I had remained safe from the evils of a Code Red customer.

By the time I got off the phone with him, I’d need some alcohol and someone to kill.

It’d be easier to find someone to kill than the alcohol; me and booze just didn’t mix, and I’d been banned out of every damned bar in town to keep the peace.

Maybe I could whip on some makeup, grab a gray wig, and pass for a little old lady. With my face covered in burn scars, it wouldn’t take much to pull off some makeup artistry and transform myself into an older woman rather than a mutilated one. I could become a conventional beauty given an hour and the right products. An old lady wasn’t an impossibility.

Alternatively, I could shift, pay my family a visit, and steal a bottle of liquor from one of the cabinets. With the number of lynxes running around the place, they might not even notice me before I made off with my alcoholic prize.

As sighing was not acceptable when dealing with paying customers, I took a moment to steel my nerves before saying, “Sir, computers do not include cup holders.”

That caught his attention. “What?”

“Sir, computers do not include cup holders,” I repeated, already dreading the moment I would have to explain what a CD was, how they were used, and what the player’s actual purpose was. Few systems still had any disc drives at all, as most companies had moved to online downloads of their programs and games.

The next few minutes of my life would not be fun, and I typed a message to my supervisor warning him I had a major 1-D10T on my hands, a possible Code Red situation, and to make sure he was aware I faced the demise of some IQ points, I notified him the customer had opted to use his disc drive as a coffee cup holder.

“What the hell is this thing for, then?”

“CDs, sir.” I closed my eyes and waited for the meltdown.

“First, you claim I invalidated my warranty, and now you’re telling me my cup holder plays music?”

“As this is an internet company, sir, I can’t help you with your CD player. However, it is not a cup holder, nor should it be used as one. As for your router, you owe $35.79 on the device. Once you finish paying for the damaged equipment, I can schedule a tech to come to your home and install your new router. Since you’ve been a customer for so long, I can waive the fifty dollar installation fee. Your monthly bill will not change if you opt to pay off the damaged equipment and start a new rental.”

If he gave me a hard time, I’d take my time and give him all of his options. None of them would be as good as my initial offer. I cracked open an eye and checked my messages with my boss.

He wished me the best of luck and promised to send flowers to my funeral. He also begged me not to tell my brothers about the menace wasting my time. If any one of my forty-seven brothers found out I dealt with customers screaming at me five days a week, they’d go on a rampage.

That my boss knew my family drove me crazy on a good day.

I figured my idiot family had gone on a hunt to meet my boss, and because we were all infected with lycanthropy, my boss wouldn’t have thought twice about their behavior.

Lycanthropes had a reputation.

Most days, it wasn’t a good one.

Only an idiot would piss off a bunch of male lycanthropes out to protect their precious little sister. Unfortunately for me, I counted as an endangered species, as the odds of a lycanthrope having daughters in the first place fell somewhere in around ten thousand to one.

I needed to notify my mother she needed to have more daughters. While she was at it, she needed to give me a new name, because nobody ever believed Harri was a woman’s name. I figured she’d meant to name me Harry because she’d expected yet another boy, swapping out the ‘y ’for an ‘i ’to make things easier on her.

When on the job, I went by Christine because Christine seemed gloriously feminine and nobody on the team used their real names. Technically, I was supposed to change my name every day, but I went by Christine for all new callers, and I only rotated through when I knew I was dealing with someone who gave me issues.

My method worked well enough, so my boss didn’t complain.

While Mr. Lavell spluttered and began the tedious process of mulling over his options, I began making plans for after work—assuming I escaped from my job without succumbing to the temptation of informing the customer he was most definitely wrong, he needed to go back to school to join the modern world, and it wouldn’t hurt if he learned to be civil.

I had to explain his options four times before he finally conceded he should stick with his old plan, pay for the damaged router, and move on with life. It took an extra ten minutes of listening to him whine before he finally hung up.

Above all, I hated the rule that we were not supposed to hang up on clients. It wasted time. Had I been allowed to just hang up, I would have wished him a good day, disconnected the call, and began the tedious process of adding notes to his file so the next customer service representatives stuck with him knew they had trouble on their hands.

My phone rang, but instead of a customer, my phone reported my boss wanted to speak with me. With slumped shoulders, I accepted his call and answered, “Sir?”

“I listened in on your Code Red.”

I hated when my boss actively monitored my calls; thanks to how the system worked, he could listen in on me at any time. But, a job was a job, and with my scarred face, finding a job became troublesome at best—and nobody in the call center knew or cared what I looked like. Oh, well. Before I jumped to conclusions, I’d ask. “What’s my grade, sir?”

“You did fine. You stayed professional, you didn’t come across as too condescending, and frankly, there’s no sane tech on this planet stays totally cool a Code Red. It could have been much worse.”

I checked the clock, breathing a sigh of relief that I’d hit the end of my shift and wouldn’t have to take any more calls. “What do you need?”

“I had a question about your schedule. You’re off for the next week, correct?”

“Yes, sir.” I had plans, and they involved the International Most Wanted List along with every legal bounty list I had managed to get my hands on in the past month. If my boss tried to put an end to my hard-earned vacation, I’d finally do what I should have done months ago, snap, and quit.

I wanted him to cross my last line so badly.

“Ted wants an extra shift. How would you feel about an unpaid day added to your vacation? I’ve already gotten approval if you’d like to claim the unpaid day.”

Score. I’d bid for time off almost a year ago, but sick days were the bare minimum the state allowed, which accounted to five for the entire year. An extra day tacked onto my vacation might let me bag an extra bounty.

Any day I bagged an extra bounty was a good day in my opinion.

“I can take an unpaid day, sir. That’s fine. Can you send me an email confirming the unpaid day off?”

“It’ll be in your inbox within the next ten minutes, and I’ll CC human resources notifying them you’re excused for that day.”

“Okay. Will the rest of my schedule remain the same once I’m back from vacation?”

“Yes. Ted just asked for extra hours, and the others with seniority declined the day off.”

I bet; on our income, every hour mattered. Most who worked for the call center had seen better days. I lived like I’d seen better days and I looked like I’d seen better days, but appearances lied. I only worked at the call center to maintain appearances. Thanks to depression in my teens and therapy that hadn’t gone like my parents had wanted, my entire family demanded I check in at least three times a week to ensure I remained human.

They believed if they took their eyes off me, I might shift into a lynx and never come back.

Two years ago, they wouldn’t have been wrong, but I’d found a new purpose in life. Not a single one of my brothers would approve, my mother would have yet another litter of kittens, and my father would be so disappointed.

Personally, I thought it was obvious. I worked in customer service. I was a prime candidate to become a murderous asshole. I did so legally, on behalf of the government and other legal entities, and I did so for a filthy amount of money.

Smiling stretched my scars, but I did it anyway. “If anyone needs any extra hours, I can afford another day or two off,” I offered. “I can take up to a week unpaid. I’ve been saving up to take some time off if any opportunities allowed.”

It would delay paying for the expensive procedure required to piece my face back together and remove the evidence of the fire that’d almost killed me as a child. It took a lot of magic to convince the lycanthropy virus I wasn’t supposed to be a scarred wreck.

A lot of magic cost a lot of money, and I figured I might have the three million dollars within five years if I landed a bounty every weekend and took on some of the more dangerous jobs. While I waited for my boss to mull over my offer, I considered the various jobs on offer.

I liked hunting other lycanthropes. Unmated males were easy catches, and the fugitives usually brought in a pretty penny. The last one I’d bagged as a live capture had added fifty thousand to my bank account.

Then again, if I landed an entire extra week, I’d make up the lost hours with a single small bounty, and anything else would be extra cash in my savings account.

My boss grunted, signaling he’d come to a decision. “I’ll keep that in mind and pitch the offer. I’ll email your personal and work addresses if there are any takers plus text your phone.”

“Thanks, sir. Have a good evening.”

“You, too.”

He hung up, and before something could go wrong, I clocked out, filed my paperwork for my final call, and logged out of the system so I couldn’t be sucked back into doing even more work.

If all went well, I’d be a hundred grand richer by the end of the week and that much closer to being able to look in the mirror without wincing.

Author Bio:

RJ Blain suffers from a Moleskine journal obsession, a pen fixation, and a terrible tendency to pun without warning.

In her spare time, she daydreams about being a spy. Her contingency plan involves tying her best of enemies to spinning wheels and quoting James Bond villains until satisfied.

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