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Love Report by Shellee Marie blitz

Love Report
Shellee Marie
Publication date: December 19th 2022
Genres: Adult, Comedy, Contemporary, Romance

Professional baseball player Dan Pelameno struck out with the woman of his dreams. So, when she calls to set up an exclusive television interview with him, he jumps at the second chance to set things right. He let her slip away once, but he won’t make the same mistake.

Celebrity news reporter Kendra Star thought she had moved on from her ex, Dan until she had to see him again for a work assignment. When the encounter lands him a gig at her job, she promises to keep her distance from him and his charming ways. But the more she has to work with him, the harder he is to resist.

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EXCERPT:

“Kendra!”

I jolted my head up to Jay, and he eyed me warily. “As I was saying, now that the whole fiasco with Melanie is over, CEN needs a new direction…a new angle. We want to listen to the viewers. We want to be more positive with our programming,” he said, standing up from his perched position on his desk.

He ran his hands over his mouth and jolted his eyes at the massive coffee stain on my dress. “You missed your mouth?”

“Ah, you could say that,” I said.

He walked over to the cabinet in the corner of his office and pulled out a handkerchief. “Here, take this,” he said.

I took the handkerchief and motioned to wipe my dress. “Thank you so much! I didn’t have any napkins in my office.”

Jay raised his arms, stopping me. “No, no, no. Don’t wipe the stain with it. Put it under yourself, so you won’t mess up my leather chair.”
“Oh,” I said, raising my backside slightly and placing it underneath me.

Once my embarrassment eased, I ruminated over the words he’d said earlier, “new direction.” I’d heard them before. Only last time, that direction hadn’t included me, but my replacement, celebrity slayer Melanie. She’d damaged so many of CEN’s celebrity relationships it was difficult to imagine a positive comeback.

Although, somehow, I’d managed to come back in more ways than one. During my prolonged stint of unemployment, my bill collectors started to call me more than my relatives. I couldn’t have that happen again. I shook my head and focused on Jay’s words as he dropped his hand from his mouth.

He hovered over his desk, then placed his palms down onto the surface as if steadying himself in front of me. I shifted in my chair under his gaze.

“Someone reached out to the director of programming and suggested we do an apology tour. So, now upper management wants us to repair the relationships that Melanie damaged,” he said.

“Apology tour?”

“Yep, a series of intimate, heartfelt, sit-down interviews with each of the celebrities harmed to show them in a better light. But at the same time, it could also show CEN in a better light. In addition to fixing the relationships, of course. A second chance do-over of sorts.”

I nodded without hesitation or shame. I was a damn good interviewer, and I knew heartfelt. I wasn’t perfect, but I threw my heart into everything I did. “I can do that,” I said.

Jay smiled at me like a proud father and pointed in my direction. “I know you can. And there’s no one else I would’ve trusted to do it. We have to show everyone we’re still the same ole CEN.”

Moments like this were rare with Jay. They always made me think that if I worked harder, maybe I could have more of them. I mentally repeated his next statement in his hint of a New York accent because I knew it by heart.

“CEN is that old friend you can rely on to keep you up to date on trends,” he said. But, then, “Only now we keep you up to date on our friends.”

Hmm, that last part was new.

I nodded at his cringeworthy new phrase, attempting to detour him from the inevitable tangent that usually followed his “profound” statements. “So, who’s first on our apology tour?” I asked brightly.

“Well, the caller suggested Dan Pelameno.” He shook his head, then said, “The way we screwed over that guy’s marriage, I’d say I agree.”

I froze. Did he say, Dan Pelameno?

I stuttered, searching for my next words. “I — I think I read somewhere that Dan and his w-wife… ex-wife…are on good terms. So, it would probably be way more harmful to him to potentially rehash things with an interview.”

“Nonsense, it’ll be great. Our fans love Dan, and Dan loves the spotlight. So, just avoid harsh questions, and it’ll be fine.”

“But —”

Jay raised his hand and closed his eyes before narrowing them on me intensely. “This is a crucial opportunity for this company and, quite frankly, for you as well. Show the execs why you were worth that raise. Get Pelameno’s number and schedule the interview with him personally. We can’t mess this up. The network took a hit with that Melanie bullshit. We need this. You need this.”

I nodded and rose from my seat. “Yes, Jay. Thank you for the opportunity.”

Defeated, I headed for the door, but Jay stopped me to say, “And Kendra?”

“Yes?” I asked.

“Welcome back.”

#

“Shit, shit, shit,” I said, closing my door and pushing my back against it. I’d trudged the hall slowly, hoping for a distraction on the way, but, of course, my coworkers were nowhere in sight when I needed one.

I took in my office. It was still empty from the day I had to pack everything up in a box and carry it out. The fun knick-knacks and trinkets I’d collected during segments and guest appearances were still packed up at home. It was another reminder that my life had been completely thrown off kilter.

I tapped my head against the door. Dan Pelameno? Maybe there’s more than one? Surely not? Who am I kidding? There can only be one Dan.

Despite Jay’s directive, I didn’t need to search for Dan’s number. I already had it. I slid down the length of the door and stared at my phone over on the desk, working up the courage to call my ex. Well, almost ex…

Author Bio:

Shellee holds a Master of Arts degree in Political Science and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication. She also has two minors in Women’s Studies and Political Science.

Shellee is an avid reader, and in her spare time, she can frequently be found curled up with a good book. She loves a wide variety of formats and genres. She also enjoys spending time with her brilliant daughter, Trinity, and her favorite pups, Myla and Chino.

Website / Goodreads / Instagram / TikTok


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Limited time Four Cheerful Holiday Stories

99c LIMITED TIME ONLY: Four Cheerful Holiday Stories

A Christmas Collection from USA Today bestselling author Esther E. Schmidt. This collection includes: four standalone stories featuring strong females, gritty alpha males, and their happily ever afters. Be sure to snatch it up quick before the price increases to $4.99 December 5, 2022!
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Well Thanks, Santa – Biker/Nanny Christmas is about giving, celebrating, and spending time with family and friends. Through, this time there’s an unnerving angle of death hanging in the air, making things less joyous for all involved.

Cold Killjoy – Sunshine/Grumpy Can the spirit of Christmas drive away the frost and darkness clung to some people? Or will they allow their past to overshadow the cheerful holiday spirit which lies within their reach?

AF MC Ohio (Book Three) – Surprise Pregnancy Christmas is a time to come together, to love, to share heartwarming gifts, and to make new memories. Yet everything is at risk when danger from the past threatens to take away everything.

Frederick – Boss/Assistant Thrown together in a snowstorm, secrets are uncovered. Will Frederick break through her walls built by guilt? Can Taryn open up and let go? Or will their curiosity bring them to their knees?

New Release

Famous Last

Famous Last by Brian Lancaster

General Release Date: 29th November 2022

Word Count: 92,304 Book Length: SUPER NOVEL Pages: 366

Genres:

CELEBRITIES CHRISTMAS COMEDY AND HUMOUR CONTEMPORARY EROTIC ROMANCE GAY GLBTQI HOLIDAYS

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Book Description

One starry, starry night, romance blossoms during Christmas lockdown. One glacial Friday night in late October, Spencer K. Wyrrell—Squirrel—sits hidden behind an evergreen bush, freezing his arse off on a stone bench in the deserted twentieth-floor rooftop garden of his boss’s London flat. Taking a break from volunteering to show social-distanced guests around her penthouse gallery of abstract art, he is waiting with an ice bucket and a bottle of champagne for the arrival of his habitually unpunctual colleague and best friend, Bev. But when the balcony door eventually slides open, the person who steps out is not his friend at all but the smoking-hot celebrity and chat-show host, Marshall J. Highlander. Unsure what to do, Spencer stays put and overhears Highlander’s private call. A newspaper is threatening to publish nude photographs of him and an ex-boyfriend from a holiday in France. After more calls are made, an eerie silence descends on the rooftop. When a curious Spencer peers through the evergreen plant, he notices Highlander has climbed up onto the small wall surrounding the garden, looking out to the River Thames. In a moment of panic, Spencer decides to show himself, because, celebrity or not, everyone is only human and, as his mother has always drummed into him, most problems can be softened with well-chosen words, a little understanding, and a hug tight enough to make your eyes water. And on that starry, starry night, an unexpected romance blossoms between two unlikely souls during a time of Christmas lockdown.

Excerpt

Rising from London’s busy River Thames, the maritime metropolitan symphony combined with the constant rumble of Friday evening traffic from surrounding roads reverberated around the rooftop garden. Add to that the rapid gunfire of rotor blades from a helicopter passing overhead, and, as impossible as it may have seemed, Spencer Wyrrell overheard every perfectly enunciated word.

Bundled up on a two-seater stone bench tucked away in the corner of Muriel Moresby’s penthouse roof garden, he had been alone when he’d first ventured out through the glass door some fifteen minutes before. Nobody else had been courageous enough to brave the bitterly cold weather, not even diehard smokers. Thankfully, floor-to-ceiling vertical blinds in slate grey covered the windows, closing off the toasty penthouse interior from the small garden of concrete statues and evergreen flora.

Freezing his arse off in the brutal late October air, Spencer’s original sparkling masterplan had quickly begun to lose its gleam. Placed next to him, an ice bucket stacked with unmelted ice cubes, an open bottle of vintage Dom Perignon and two crystal flutes awaited the arrival of his partner in crime, colleague Bev. After two hours of helping things run smoothly in the socially distanced exhibition, she had volunteered him to smuggle out the bottle while she finished off schmoozing friends of their boss, the snooty investment banking couple with the matching Versace face masks. Initially they had approached him about three of the paintings for sale, and after he had matched them up with the artist to secure the deal, Bev had taken over. Having managed to avoid any of the other waiting guests, he thought he’d won the better part of the bargain. He was certainly grateful to be away from earnest discussions about abstract artwork that, frankly, he had no idea about or interest in.

And when the patio door had slid open—after the lenses of his glasses had finally de-misted—the person stepping through had been not Bev but someone entirely unexpected. A someone who had peered around furtively to make sure he was alone before removing his mask and pulling out his smartphone.

And there Spencer sat, slowly turning into a human ice popsicle. All he wanted now was to be somewhere else, preferably warmer—the Caribbean might be nice—instead of sitting hugging himself, scrunched up and cowering behind a tall concrete jardinière, wishing the earth would swallow him whole. Or perhaps a sudden time corridor would open up and he could be transported back thirty minutes to before he’d made the imprudent decision to step outside. And definitely before he’d inadvertently overheard the telephone conversation of the smoking-hot celebrity, Marshall J. Highlander.

“Am I speaking in foreign tongues?” came the stern but sexy voice again, a deep baritone and eminently listenable. “As I’ve told you already. No comment. Which of those two words are you having difficulty with?”

Unable to help himself, Spencer lowered his mask and breathed heat onto the frozen fingers of one hand before dragging down branches of the juniper bush and peering at the man’s back. Standing poised and confident, with his trademark deep brown hair styled with wisps of grey drawn back from the temple, he appeared iconic, heroic almost. In real life, his height became evident. He was significantly taller than Spencer’s five-seven. Dressed in beige woollen slacks and an expensive silk jacket of dark chocolate covering a caramel-coloured roll-neck sweater, he epitomised the type of model adorning the cover of any number of men’s fashion magazines. As Spencer watched, mesmerised, Highlander reached his free hand behind himself, fisted the back of his trouser belt, and in doing so, lifted the bottom of his jacket to showcase his magnificent arse. Unlike many big names Spencer had met—and there had been a steady stream in and out of their magazine office—Highlander looked even more stunning in the flesh. He made an effort to take care of himself, and had cultured a calm, capable, wholly masculine persona, no doubt the result of spending many hours in front of a television camera. But unlike some of those egotistical here today, gone tomorrow personalities, Highlander’s magnetism reputedly ran more than skin deep. And right now his trademark honeyed voice, which had in equal parts charmed and challenged tyrants the world over, carried a stinging warning.

“And if you print a single one, you and your newspaper will go down in flames on a Hindenburg scale, slapped with more injunctions than even your blood-sucking owner can wriggle out of. That much I promise you.”

In the silence that followed, Spencer hoped Highlander had finished and would return inside. After a few moments, he peeped through the greenery and saw the man staring out over the Thames, raising the phone to his ear once again.

“Darcy. Hi. I’m good. Well, actually, no, I’m not. Look, I just had that little shit of a hack Wentworth from the Tribute on the phone. They have photos of Joe and me in the south of France from five years ago. Explicit, he says. Threatening to go to print Sunday. They’re obviously desperate for news right now. Yes, I’m fully aware of that. No, of course I didn’t, and before you ask, there is no way Joe would have… No, Darce. Joe would never do that to me. He’s not like that. Because I do. Okay, okay, I’ll call him. But in the meantime, what do you suggest I—? Would you? I was hoping you’d say that. You’re a sweetheart. I knew I could count on you. Sorry, say that again. Oh, at some art exhibit and benefit for Mongolian orphans. Muriel Moresby’s place. We’re being herded around two-by-two like Noah’s bloody ark. Crowd’s as dull as a duchess, but I know the charity organisers personally. Probably sneak out soon. No, it’s okay, I’ll get a black cab. You don’t need to do that. Okay then, if you’re sure. A chat and a drink would be wonderful. It’s on the Embankment overlooking the river. I’ll text the full address. See you in an hour. Bye, Darce. And thanks again.”

Spencer let the branch go, hoping Highlander had finished. But he felt intrigued at what he’d overheard. Highlander was gay? And was that common knowledge? It sounded like the poor guy had a lot on his plate right now. If only he would go inside and deal with matters. Instead, he appeared to be making another call. Spencer folded his arms across his chest to try to retain some warmth. He hadn’t wanted to come to the party in the first place. Muriel, aka Her Royal Highness, had only invited her key office staff to beef up numbers and work the room. Even the word ‘invited’ was a stretch. Refusal or prior engagement excuses would not have been tolerated.

“Joey. Yes. No, it’s not about that. Look, I need to ask. Did you sell photographs of us to the Tribute? From our holiday in St Cezaire in France? No, I’m not accusing you, I’m asking. Did you—? There’s no need to shout! I’m just trying to figure out how they managed to get hold of—”

As Spencer watched, Highlander expelled a deep, steamy sigh and his head fell forward, his chin hitting his chest. After a few moments of silence, his voice became soft, the anguished sound tugging at Spencer’s heart.

“Why? Why would you do that, Joe? Christ, what did I do to you? Did I really hurt you that—? Joe? Joey? Shit!”

Once again, a lull came from the railing. Had the call ended? When Spencer peered over, he saw the man’s shoulders shaking and heard gentle sobs squeezing through the hand closed over Highlander’s face. Once again, Spencer prayed hard for intervention. Maybe a member of the crew of the USS Enterprise’s transporter room would randomly lock onto his coordinates and beam him somewhere—anywhere—else. Or maybe if Bev would simply stumble out onto the balcony at that moment to provide the perfect comedy movie moment, Highlander would no longer consider himself alone and would leave. When everything fell silent, Spencer relaxed against the bench. Until he heard a soft scraping sound and an uncomfortable feeling nagged at him, prompting him to take another peek.

Highlander had climbed onto the concrete ledge housing the waist-high railing, stepped across, and now stood facing out to the river—and his doom. An odd sensation overcame Spencer then. A sudden rush of calm and an overwhelming emotion he had never experienced before had him jumping up from the bench. In doing so, he dislodged a glass champagne flute from the ice bucket, which shattered on the balcony floor, causing Highlander to spin around, grabbing the railing for support.

“Please don’t,” called Spencer gently and calmly, puzzled at the strength of his voice and suddenly aware that he had ripped off his mask entirely and stood in full view of the man.

One of Highlander’s feet slipped slightly, probably due to the residual frost. Fortunately, both hands maintained their firm grasp on the railing.

“You’re such an inspiration, Mr Highlander. If you’re about to do what I think you’re doing, it would be wrong in so many ways. Please. People look up to you. I do. And what is it you said on your show? ‘No problems are insurmountable in this world. Dialogue always helps even if only to highlight and appreciate our differences.’ You said those exact words to the Dalai Lama.”

“I say a lot of things—”

“And people listen. I say a lot of things and people don’t take the blindest bit of notice. Even my cat ignores me.”

Despite the potential gravity of the situation, Highlander’s shoulders shook slightly and Spencer heard a gentle chuckle.

“Tell you what, Mr Highlander—”

“Marshall.”

“Tell you what, Marshall, come and share a glass of champagne with me. Talk to me. And if you still feel like doing what I think you’re about to do, I’ll go back inside and pretend I never saw you. Of course, I’ll also never sleep through the night again, but I’m prepared to take that gamble. How does that sound?”

Highlander had gone completely still, staring out across the Thames. Spencer experienced a tremor run down his spine even though he found he had suddenly become immune to the cold.

“I must admit I never anticipated having an audience.”

“You won’t as long as you get down and join me now.”

“And you’re not going to cuff me, are you?”

“If I had handcuffs,” said Spencer, his mouth working independently of his brain, “and I promise you I don’t, I’d be using them to secure you to the bedposts of the metal bedframe in my bedroom, once I’d hauled you back to my flat, to cover your naked body in orange marmalade and whipped cream before having my wicked way with you.”

This time Highlander turned sharply to take in Spencer, a look of disbelief on his face, before letting out loud, steamy laughter into the night. He had a nice laugh, Spencer realised, not something the public got to hear often on his high-minded programme.

“Do you talk to everyone this way?”

“Just drop-dead gorgeous celebrities,” said Spencer, before placing fingers over his mouth, realising his terrible choice of adjectives given the situation.

After a few more moments of silence and after a deep heartfelt sigh, Highlander turned and began to climb back over the balcony. When Spencer moved forward to assist, Highlander held a hand palm up, warning Spencer away. Cooperating reluctantly, Spencer backed up a step.

As soon as Highlander stood on firm ground, Spencer rushed forward and threw his arms around him, held him tightly in a hug and buried his face in his chest. Without warning, sobs began to rise from inside Spencer, his body trembling, and in an odd turn of events, Highlander became the one comforting him.

“Hey, hey,” came the warm voice, a hand rubbing his back. “If it’s any consolation, I wouldn’t have done anything. But sometimes I find an inner calm reminding myself of my impermanence. Consider it a momentary lapse in sanity.”

Spencer barely listened, his head buried in the shoulder of Highlander’s jacket, smelling the beautiful combination of spicy aftershave and skin.

“Who are you?” asked Highlander, gently pulling Spencer away from him and holding him at arm’s length while Spencer swiped quickly at his eyes.

“People call me Squirrel.”

“Why? Let me guess. Something to do with you being nuts?”

“Wow, that’s original,” said Spencer, straight-faced. Fortunately, he’d begun to calm down and enjoy Highlander’s—Marshall’s—fond scrutiny. Except now he also began to feel a little self-conscious at his teary display. “Not heard that like a zillion times before.”

“Now I think somewhere in your earlier appeal you promised me a glass of bubbly?”

“Okay, but can we please step away from the railing? Maybe sit down? But mind the broken glass on the floor. I dropped a champagne flute.”

Spencer moved across to the bench hidden behind the large bush. Spencer waited for Marshall to join him. Without being asked, he poured champagne and handed the glass over.

“Did you want something to eat? I could pop in and grab a tray of finger food.”

“I’ll pass, thanks. Champagne is enough. And the food didn’t look terribly appetising.”

“I know, right? Even my mother could do better, and she’s the world’s worst cook.”

“That’s a tad unkind.”

“It’s true, though. I remember coming home from summer camp once and my dad catching me at the door and saying ‘we had a lovely leg of lamb while you were away. Until your mother cooked it.’”

Marshall laughed again, and Spencer felt himself calming a little more.

“How long have you been out here?” asked Marshall, taking a good gulp then handing the champagne back to Spencer.

“About forty frozen minutes. A little before you appeared.”

Spencer took a sip before topping up and raising the glass to Marshall. As he handed the glass over, he pondered the rules on sharing drinks given the pandemic but then shrugged them away. If the man sitting with him had just survived a crisis of self, he could survive a shared glass of bubbly.

“Did you catch any of my conversations?” came the famous voice.

“I did,” said Spencer, feeling his face burning but keeping his eyes on the man. “Not much. I mean, don’t worry. I wouldn’t dare breathe a word.”

“Shit,” said Highlander, turning away and sighing out a cloud of steamy breath.

“No, really, Mr High—Marshall.”

Marshall’s attention returned, his eyes looking deep into Spencer’s. After a few moments, his gaze softened and he relaxed.

“No, you wouldn’t, would you? You’re one of those kind souls that people in my profession rarely get to meet. So what do you do, Squirrel? Shit, I can’t call you Squirrel. It doesn’t feel right. What’s your real name?”

“Spencer. Spencer Kenneth Wyrrell. S. K. Wyrrell. Hence, Squirrel. School was brutal. I’m not sure my parents even realised when they named me.”

Once again his words made Marshall chuckle, and he felt sure, or at least hoped, his dark moment had finally passed.

“What do you do for a living, Spencer?”

“I’m a junior copy and online editor. For Muriel Moresby’s magazine outfit, the Blackmore Magazine Group.”

“Poor you.”

“I know, right? I’m also the office gopher. But it’s full-time work and pays the rent. And I’m still employed despite what’s happening in the world. So I have to thank my lucky stars. Not exactly highbrow, like you, but it’s a stepping stone. Even if at twenty-nine I’m still on the first step.”

“To what?”

“At college I studied journalism. Once I’ve got enough editing experience under my belt, I’d really like to try out for one of the online dailies. Even though the competition’s vicious.”

“You write?”

“Not professionally. But I hope to, one day. In university I edited the student magazine and wrote articles. I even had a couple published by a local newspaper. And I did pretty well, too. Every person in this world, no matter how inconsequential they feel they are, should dream big. Isn’t that right?”

“Are you quoting me again?” asked Marshall, tilting his head to grin at Spencer.

“What can I say? You’re very quotable.”

And very shaggable, thought Spencer but kept that to himself. As he went to top up Marshall’s glass again, a mobile began to ring faintly. Marshall reached into his inside jacket pocket and pulled out his phone. He let out a soft sigh after a glance at the display and handed the champagne flute back to Spencer.

“Looks like my ride’s here,” he said, standing.

Spencer put the bottle back in the bucket and stood as well. “I hope everything works out okay for you, Marshall. And promise me you’re going to use the lift to get to the ground floor.”

Marshall appeared confused for a moment but then stared at his shoes and chuckled while shaking his head.

“You’re a funny man,” he said before looking up. “And, yes, I promise to use the elevator. Sorry I worried you earlier. Goodbye then, Spencer. It was an unexpected pleasure meeting you tonight.”

Marshall held out his hand, and Spencer fit his own inside. Marshall’s strong, warm grip closed around Squirrel’s ice-cold fingers. The simple gesture of bare skin on bare skin had his heart beating faster, his cheeks heating, and even the beast in his underpants stirring. Marshall held his gaze for a moment before leaning forward and kissing a shocked Spencer firmly on the lips. When he released his grip and stood back smiling, Spencer simply stood there, his eyes wide and mouth hanging open. An amused Marshall winked once before putting on his black surgical mask and disappearing into the penthouse apartment through the patio door.

Spencer stood staring at the dark glass, wondering what had just happened. His senses returning, he knelt to the ground and had begun clearing up the broken glass when the door slid open again. A figure stepped out carrying a flute of champagne and a large plate of canapés.

Finally. Bev, his colleague.

“Sorry, sorry, sorry, Squirrel, honey,” she said, flustered then freezing when she saw him on his hands and knees, picking up shards of glass.

“Oh poop. You started without me. Did I miss anything?”

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About the Author

Brian Lancaster

Brian Lancaster is an author of gay romantic fiction in multiple genres, including contemporary romance, paranormal, fantasy, crime, mystery, and anything else that tickles his muse’s fancy. Born in the sleepy South of England where most of his stories are set, he moved to Southeast Asia in 1998, where he now shares a home with his husband and two of the laziest cats on the planet. Find out more about Brian at his website.

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New Release

Your Christmas

Your Christmas by S.J. Coles

Book 1 in the Once Upon a Holiday series

Word Count: 11,664 Book Length: SHORT STORY Pages: 59

Genres:

CELEBRITIES CHRISTMAS CONTEMPORARY EROTIC ROMANCE FRIENDS TO LOVERS GAY GLBTQI HOLIDAYS SECOND CHANCE

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Book Description

It’s your Christmas, Nick. Make it what you want it to be.
Nick only agreed to return to Littleton for Christmas because Charlie, his movie-star ex, is throwing a Christmas Eve party. Charlie was the one who got away, and, regardless of what his old friend Seph says, Nick thinks he still has a shot. But things don’t go according to plan. Maybe it’s being back in his hometown, maybe it’s the time of year, but Nick is looking at Seph in a whole different way. Nick has to decide what he really wants for Christmas before he blows yet another chance at happiness.

Excerpt

“I got it,” Nick said as he stepped into the icy December wind. “I only bloody well got it.” “Congratulations.” Nick could hear the smile in Seph’s voice, even though the mic on his friend’s pay-as-you go mobile made him sound like he was at the bottom of a well. “I knew you’d smash it.” Nick also smiled as he hailed a taxi. Seph always made him feel good, even at times like this when his other emotions were harder to call. “Well, they couldn’t exactly pass me over after my big win last month.” “You gonna phone your dad?” “I’ll tell him Monday,” Nick said as he climbed into the taxi, wincing at Smooth Christmas blasting from the driver’s radio. “Mate, can you turn that down?” The driver gave him a look and turned Slade’s Merry Christmas Everybody down by one notch. Nick sighed. “Kensington please, pal. This is finally it, Seph. A shot at a partnership. The chance I’ve been waiting for… You still there?” “I’m here.” “Got something to share?” Nick said after a heartbeat. “Why would you say that?” “I know your silences, Seph. Come on. Spit it out.” Seph sighed. “I dunno, Nick. Just last week you were telling me how you never have time for yourself—to have fun, to meet anyone. Won’t this promotion mean even less time for those things?” “Yeah, but I’ll finally be getting paid enough to make it worth it.” “Fair enough.” Seph’s neutral tone didn’t fool Nick, but he continued before Nick could retort. “So, did you make a decision yet?” “About what?” Nick asked, gritting his teeth as Slade ended and Michael Bublé’s crooning filled the car. “About this weekend,” Seph prompted. “You know…Christmas?” “I can’t come. Gotta get caught up on my new caseload.” A pause. “Not to be that guy, Nick, but your dad—” “Dad wants to sit on his arse getting pissed. It will be no different from any other day, except on Saturday he’ll be drinking sherry.” “He wants to see you, Nick. I know he does.” “He told you this?” “I can just tell. He’s lonely.” “Stop with the guilt-tripping, Dr. Rose,” Nick muttered. “It doesn’t suit you.” “Nick, Christmas is a time to be with those you love—even if you hate them at the same time.” “I don’t hate Dad,” Nick said, loosening his tie. “I’ve just got too much on.” “Even more reason to come. You need a break. Besides, didn’t it occur to you…?” “What?” Nick prompted when Seph didn’t continue. “Didn’t it occur to you that I might want to see you?” “We just saw each other,” Nick protested, wincing when his work phone started buzzing in his pocket. His new secretary was emailing his schedule for the following week and requesting confirmations. He fought the sinking feeling when he saw the back-to-back court dates, meetings and corporate networking events. “What did you say?” he said when he realized Seph had said something else. “I said my conference was eighteen months ago. And you’ve not been here to Littleton in, what? Christ…years.” “Look… I’m sorry, Seph,” he said, opening the app to accept the appointment invitations. “There’s just nothing for me up there.” Another pause, longer this time. But before Nick could decide what it meant, Seph spoke again. “Come on, Nick,” he cajoled. “Even Charlie Kearney is spending Christmas at home this year.” Nick started. “Charlie’s back?” Seph swore under his breath. “Sorry. I didn’t think.” “Charlie Kearney is going to be in Littleton for Christmas?” “Yeah,” Seph said, a little tightly. “He’s having some big look-how-famous-I-am party at Arnold House on Christmas Eve.” “And you’re invited?” “Unfortunately.” “He didn’t tell me…” “Shit, Nick, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said anything.” “No, no. This is a good thing,” Nick said, pocketing the work phone and smiling. “It is?” “Think about it. I’ve just got my new place, a new job. What better time to see him again? It’s, like, fate or something.” “You really think it’s worth it? After all this time?” “Things are different now,” Nick said. “I’m different.” “His fiancé will be there.” Nick snorted. “That designer he picked up in Paris? They’ve only been together for three weeks.” “They’re still engaged.” “I don’t care if they got married at Notre-Dame. Mega-star or not, it’s still just Charlie being Charlie. This feels like a chance, Seph, a second chance, and I’m gonna take it.” “I just…” “What?” Nick said, his friend’s tone sending irritation rippling over his skin. “I just don’t want to see you get hurt.” “I’m not an idiot,” Nick insisted. “I’m not saying we’ll get back together. But there’s unresolved shit there. You know I don’t like loose ends.” “Well, that’s romantic.” “Fine. You want romantic?” He drew a deep breath. “He’s the one who got away, Seph. I’ve never stopped thinking about him. I deserve the chance to at least tell him that. Right?” “Of course you do. But do you really think you’ll have anything in common anymore?” “He’s a Littleton success story,” Nick said, swiping the steam away from the window to try to see what progress they’d made down Brompton Road. “So am I.” “Well, can’t argue with that.” “Too right.” Nick frowned as they passed Harrods’ festive shopfront display—plastic snow, garish ornaments, a smiling family in matching jumpers digging into mince pies in front of a blazing log fire that had to be a set in some studio somewhere. “Might as well get something out of this god-awful weekend.” “So…you’re coming?” “I’m coming.” “Great,” Seph said, the warmth in his voice starting an unfamiliar tingling in Nick’s toes. “That’s really great, Nick.”

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About the Author

S. J. Coles

S. J. Coles is a Romance writer originally from Shropshire, UK. She has been writing stories for as long as she has been able to read them. Her biggest passion is exploring narratives through character relationships. She finds writing LGBT/paranormal romance provides many unique and fulfilling opportunities to explore many (often neglected or under-represented) aspects of human experience, expectation, emotion and sexuality. Among her biggest influences are LGBT Romance authors K J Charles and Josh Lanyon and Vampire Chronicles author Anne Rice. Find S. J. Coles at her website and follow her on Instagram.

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New Release

Hellfire

Hellfire by January Bain

Book 4 in the Sin City Wolf series

Word Count: 59,066 Book Length: NOVEL Pages: 231

Genres:

BILLIONAIRE CONTEMPORARY EROTIC ROMANCE PARANORMAL THRILLERS AND SUSPENSE WERESHIFTERS

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Book Description

Forbidden love. Amara St. Clair is just out for a rare night of fun on the Vegas Strip. But when she discovers her fun-loving side in the Glitter Palace casino, a life-altering altercation with a deadly ancient vampire leaves her lying unconscious in an alley near the famous casino. Doctor, geneticist and genealogy expert Dante Luceres, dedicated to research that will keep his fellow werewolves safe and healthy, is attending a mandatory yearly event of the House of Luceres. Coming across Amara, he saves her life, though vampires and werewolves are forbidden from interfering with each other in the supernatural world. There are dire consequences for interfering with another supe’s domain, and he expects that soon both the vampires and the werewolves will be after them, but he can’t leave the beautiful, vivacious little human to suffer alone. Drawn to each other, the pair must hide from the world. But with everyone against them, including Dante’s clan and an evil vampire hellbent on having Amara for his own, how can they find a path to a shared future…and true happiness? Reader advisory: This book contains scenes of mild violence, kidnap and abduction, as well as on-page violence.

Excerpt

I ripped off my headphones and threw them down beside my computer. The terrible words from the medical thesis that I had just started to edit for a grad student made me want to run screaming into the streets. Calm down. Breathe. The name of the disease that had taken my mother too early mocked me. I too carried the RPS25 gene, the hallmark of ALS—amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, and I didn’t need reminding of the inevitable while I worked, though I did require the steady money from the various departments at the university that sent an ongoing stream of journal articles, papers and dissertations my way. I had acquired the contacts during my time working in the administration department and I was grateful for them, needing to be self-employed at home to help my mom during those final months. Crap. This moment had to happen sooner or later. I lived with the lurking symptoms every day of my uncharmed life. I thought I’d be better prepared for the inevitable. Apparently not. “And I need a break from this,” I said, jumping up from my office chair. “I love you, Amara!” My parrot Rainbow began to prance back and forth on his perch, his dance moves timed in perfect sync with his words. Talented guy. His colorful plumage of a deep blue head, orange-yellow chest and green cape, a hallmark of the little Lorikeet, gave my sweet baby a surreal appearance against the dying of the sunlight behind him. Of course, I’d taught him to say, I love you, Amara since in my lonely existence, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic raging outside, I probably would never hear the words said by an actual human being. For me, this was as good as it got. But at least the restrictions had been easing of late, meaning I could join my fellow humans once more if enticed. My cell phone rang and I checked the number. Aw, Shay, the best person in the world to take a person’s mind off their troubles…mostly because she had so much stuff going on in her own insanely busy life. “Hey, girlfriend, what say we get all gussied up and hit the town running? I got the entire weekend free to be me! My sister’s arrived this time as locally advertised. She’s promising to look after Dad until the sun rises over Vegas Monday morning.” I hesitated, though I longed for some forget-the-crappy-world time. How did a person who just turned twenty-five in August manage to find her way to such a boring existence? If it wasn’t for Rainbow, I’d go mad locked in my small apartment with just my computer for company. That, and the endless line of work that needed editing with the ever-diminishing hope I might actually get to write my own stories one day. A minor in literature looked to go to waste at this juncture. “I don’t know… I got this thesis due next week. I promised the guy and I can’t afford a penalty for being late.” “You always finish on time, Amara. One night off isn’t going to hurt. Please, I need this like the earth needs the rain, like the sun needs the stars, like the—” “Okay, if you lay off the literary devices, I’ll bite. Where do you want to meet?” I handfed Rainbow pieces of cut-up apple while we talked, enjoying the bright alertness of his rich blue-and-red-rimmed eyes. We shared the same eye color, though mine were not normally red-tinged, unless I’d indulged in too many apple martinis. “I’ve been dying to try out the Glitter Palace casino. I’m hearing their karaoke bar is insane. And free drinks for the ladies,” Shay said, her voice lilting with her trademark enthusiasm. “Of course, I can’t guarantee I’ll be acting like a lady after a few drinks, if you get my drift.” I got her drift. Shay might not be going home alone like yours truly after a plethora of Singapore Slings, her drink of choice. “If you promise me I just get to listen and not sing.” “No! Just one duet, please!” You can’t deny your best friend one measly song. Please, please with candy cane elves sprinkled on top.” I laughed. Shay knew how to work me—hand-feed me a new image to fire my imagination. Candy cane elves indeed. Last time it was miniature chocolate marshmallow bears. “Fine. But only one. Now I gotta go if I’m going to have time for a shower and a bit of primping.” “Sure. Meet me at the entrance at nine. I’ll be the one grinning ear-to-ear and doing a highland fling with an entire weekend off.” “That would be fun to see.” I imagined my tall, thin friend high-stepping over crossed swords, her curly fair hair, the polar opposite of my extra-long ebony-blue locks, flying in the wind. “And wear something red and showstopping.” “Maybe, if I can be bothered to shave my legs. Later.” I hit End on my iPhone and turned to Rainbow. “Can you do a night alone or should I call a babysitter?” “Yes, I love you, Amara!” “Your wish is my command. How about we see if Jeannie from upstairs is available on short notice?” I glanced back at my computer and sighed. I loved novels that feature supernatural creatures that didn’t exist…my decadent escape from my boring existence. I’d pay that debt forward one day, if I could find the time—writing a slew of genre romances featuring über-bad boys tamed by the heroines. “Too bad vampires aren’t a real thing. Not having to worry about getting sick would be sweet. Can you say fangbanger, Rainbow?” “Can you say fangbanger, Rainbow?” His words lifted my spirits. “Guess you can, sweetie.” Maybe I should be more careful of what I said around my exuberant tweetie friend. Saying the wrong thing at the wrong time might end up biting me in the ass. Well, not like anyone ever visited me other than takeout service. I had them on speed dial. And the local liquor store. “Time to call Jeannie.” I scrolled down to her cell number and clicked on it. “Hmm, no answer.” Now what? I hated to leave Rainbow alone, thought in reality it was a common practice and it would only be for a few hours. Maybe I should cancel? But Shay seldom got a night off from looking after her dad. She deserved one. I couldn’t let her down after getting her hopes up. She wasn’t the type to head out on her own, no matter the brave front she always plastered on. “How about I leave some music on? Do you want light jazz, showtunes, Christmas songs or classic rock?” “Christmas, Christmas, Christmas.” Rainbow bopped up and down, seed flying everywhere. That was one thing about birds—they were messy little creatures. Endearing, but messy. “Perfect. We have exactly the same taste, kiddo.” I was a big fan of Christmas movies all year long. I quickly turned my iPod on and found the perfect albums, setting them to play in a loop. Okay, time to get a move on. I ended up taking the time to shave my legs, wash and condition my hair and put on makeup. Drying my long hair, I debated on curling it or not, deciding in the end smooth and sleek was easier, before pulling the red number Shay had requested from my closet. Did I dare? It was over-the-top for me. Cut low and short, riding my thighs. If not now, when. I’m only going to be young once, right? “Okay.” I approached the cage, my wrap and purse in hand, ready to head for the elevator that would take me downstairs. I’d already called for an Uber to the casino. “You be a good boy and I’ll give you some peaches tomorrow.” “Peaches now. Peaches now.” “No way, bud, I don’t want my dress covered in fruit. Not a good look.” Rainbow was a notoriously messy eater, spilling and spitting food all over the place. But then what did I have to do other than look after him? A good friend is hard to find. And what was the other part? Oh yes, a hard friend is good to find too. I sighed again. I couldn’t remember the last time I got laid. In the lobby, I enjoyed the moment of looking good when Gary, our doorman, gave a low whistle. Everyone liked the guy. He always had a kind word to say and was full of cheer. “Special night, Amara?” he asked, coming out from behind his desk. “Meeting a friend at the casino.” “You be careful. Full moon’s rising. Means trouble’s on the way.” I shivered. It wasn’t like our amiable doorman to be so maudlin. “You okay, Gary?” I glanced at him. His round face with the enviable dimples looked a bit paler than usual. “Yeah. Not sure why I said that. Must be that song I was listening to earlier. I forget what it’s called.” He scratched the back of his neck. “You have a good time tonight, you hear. You meeting up with Shay, by any chance?” “Good guess. Oh, there’s my Uber now.” Gary opened the door for me, adding a small bow. “Say hello to Shay for me.” “Will do.” I hurried toward the compact car, praying I wouldn’t twist an ankle in my unaccustomed high heels. But sometimes a gal has to look good and flats don’t do my petite frame much justice. “Where to?” the driver asked, twisting around in his seat to give me a look. “Glitter Palace, please.” It was a short ride and I was soon standing on the street, waiting for my best friend to put in an appearance. Shay was notorious for running late. But I totally understood. Her dad always managed to need one last thing from her, even if her sister was there to help. I glanced around. Other people were meeting up and joining with friends before heading in. It warmed my heart. Social isolation sucked even worse than being height-challenged. I pulled a mask from my purse in preparation for going inside. I was about to slip it on when a man sidled up, his eyes glittering strangely in the light from the marquee. His glance locked with mine with the kind of supreme overconfidence I could only dream of. But something about him sent my hackles into overdrive. Every instinct said he was the kind of creature I would move heaven and earth to stay right the hell away from. A whiff of something ancient and rotten confirmed it as he passed by. My heart slamming, I worked to ignore the off-putting effect he had on me, but I took it seriously. Always pay attention to your gut instinct. It can save your life. Gary’s warning in the lobby came back to me in that instant. I busied myself with putting on my mask, not wanting to give the stranger any encouragement. Go away. He leaned his head toward me just as he passed by, whispering in my ear. “I’ll be keeping an eye out for you, inside, sweetheart. You’re just my type.” I reacted like he’d spilled fire down my dress. “Get lost. You’re definitely not my type.” I held the ground, staring him down. He seemed confused by my reaction. Good. I hated being singled out by a man I instinctively didn’t trust. Women. We get to choose who we go with. It’s not up to the male of the species. My missile worked. The guy walked off, not bothering to respond. I took a few deep breaths to calm myself, feeling satisfied I had handled myself well. “Hey, Amara, you’re looking good, girl!” Shay said with a beaming smile as she came striding up. “So are you,” I complimented her right back. And she did look great, her curls a cascade of loveliness down her back, her midnight-blue lace dress a marvel of creation the way it hugged every curve. “Sorry I’m late. Dad wasn’t too happy tonight with me leaving.” She pulled a mask out of her purse and put it on. “No worries.” We took our time going inside, trying to catch up before we hit the casino. But we never would. That was the best part of being with Shay. Our depth of understanding of each other meant there was never an end to the conversation. We found a choice table in the karaoke room, ordered our drinks from the friendly waitress then sat back to check out the scene. Singing was one of the few pleasures we both shared. Shay was much better than I was, but I could harmonize and keep us from looking too shabby. “You guys here for the karaoke?” the waitress asked in a cheery tone as she placed our drinks in front of us. “Yup. What’s the money tonight?” “A thousand dollars for first place.” “Wow, what’s the occasion?” I asked. That was a lot of money for singing a song, if a person wasn’t a professional. Of course, that meant the competition would be stiff tonight. We’d never win. But the entertainment value just went through the roof. “Semi-finals and the owners wanting to get more people in here, you know, since COVID reared its ugly head.” “Yeah, I hear you.” “You don’t have to wear the mask when you sing, if you have proof of vaccination on you?” I nodded and pulled out my phone. “Here you go.” Shay did likewise and we were all set. An icicle of dread silvered down my spine. There was that creepy guy from outside again, staring at me from an alcove nearby. The look in his eyes made me pause. It was so ancient and cruel. If I didn’t know vampires weren’t real, I would think this guy could be one. I had instantly disliked him outside and the feeling was growing stronger by the second. Stay the fuck away from me. I shot the idea as best I could across the room at him, narrowing my eyes with dislike. He raised his drink at me as if offering a toast. Or asking if I wanted a drink? I shook my head—a firm no—and turned away. The sense of dread that seeing him again had brought on annoyed me. I worked to keep all my focus on my friend. I was safe here, right, surrounded by a growing crowd of people? Full moon be damned. I wasn’t letting that asshole ruin my evening. An image seared my brain at that second. One of hellfire, of pain and ruin beyond belief. Then it was gone, leaving a trail of discomfort in its wake. What the hell is up with the universe tonight?

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About the Author

January Bain

January Bain has wished on every falling star, every blown-out birthday candle and every coin thrown in a fountain to be a storyteller. To share the tales of high adventure, mysteries, and full-blown thrillers she has dreamed of all her life. The story you now have in your hands is the compilation of a lot of things manifesting itself for this special series. Hundreds of hours spent researching the unusual and the mundane have come together to create a series that features strong women who don’t take life too seriously, wild adventures full of twists and unforeseen turns, and hot complicated men who aren’t afraid to take risks. She can only hope the stories of her beloved Brass Ringers will capture your imagination as much as they did hers when she wrote them. If you are looking for January Bain, you can find her hard at work every morning without fail in her office with two furry babies trying to prove who does a better job of guarding the doorway. And, of course, she’s married to the most romantic man! Who once famously replied to her inquiry about buying fresh flowers for their home every week, “Give me one good reason why not?” Leaving her speechless and knocking her head against the proverbial wall for being so darn foolish. She loves flowers. If you wish to connect in the virtual world, she is easily found on Facebook, Twitter and writes a weekly blog about her journey on Blogger. Oh, and she loves to talk books…

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New Release

Line Chemistry

Title: Line Chemistry

Series: Sophie Fournier, Book Seven

Author: K.R. Collins

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: 11/29/2022

Heat Level: 2 – Fade to Black Sex

Pairing: Female/Female

Length: 73200

Genre: Contemporary, LGBTQIA+, Contemporary, sports, family-drama, demisexual, bisexual, ice hockey, teammates, slow burn

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Description

Coming off a season of professional highs and then lows, Sophie is looking forward to a fresh new season. A season without a new coach or long-term injury. A season where everything returns to normal. But even though Sophie has recovered from tearing her ACL, she isn’t back at the top of her game yet. All her life, Sophie’s father has told her if she isn’t the best, they won’t let her play hockey. On the ice, she has to rely on her teammates more than she’s used to. She has to learn that there is a place for her on the roster, even if she isn’t setting franchise records for points scored in a single season. And off the ice, Sophie learns that some relationships go beyond hockey. She and Elsa are teammates, linemates, but their partnership is more than that. And maybe, all this time she’s been telling Elsa she wants them to be Condors for life, she’s been asking for something else.

Excerpt

Line Chemistry K.R. Collins © 2022 All Rights Reserved Sophie consults the map on her phone and decides this shelter is a good one to stop at for the day. She could push to the next one, try to make it before the sun goes down, but she doesn’t need to. She isn’t like the other hikers on the Appalachian Trail, aiming for Katahdin with a countdown in her head. She pitches her tent, because the extra work is better than sleeping in the shelter and risking a mouse crawling into her sleeping bag. She makes dinner, a Mountain House meal. The man at the sporting goods store judged her for buying them in bulk. Real hikers dehydrate and carry homemade meals. Sophie isn’t a real hiker. She eats her beef stroganoff and doesn’t have regrets. As she cleans her dishes, a loud trio of guys descend on the shelter. They play a vicious game of rock-paper-scissors to determine camp chores. The one who wins smugly reclines on his backpack. He tugs his dirty bandana down, but his hair stays in place thanks to sweat and the grease from going without a shower for days at a time. He catches Sophie staring and waves. “Do you want to chill with us?” Sophie didn’t wander into the wilderness for the company, but it’s been two weeks alone with her own thoughts. She leaves her tent platform for theirs. The guy who invited her lays out his sleeping pad and gestures for her to sit beside him. “I’m Sloppy Seconds,” he says. “This is my second time on the trail.” The guy cooking looks up with a smirk. “We let him think that’s how he got his name. I’m Three-Sec, because anything’s safe to eat if it’s only been on the ground for three seconds.” “We let him think that,” Sloppy Seconds says. It’s his turn to smirk, and he dodges his friend’s half-hearted swing. Sophie smiles as she leans back and watches them. The third in their group assembles the tent, and he waves before he snaps the tent poles together. “I’m Orion.” His shirt is tucked into the back of his shorts, and he has red marks on his shoulders from where his pack straps rubbed his skin. “I like stars.” Both his companions roll their eyes. Sloppy Seconds loosens the ties on his boots and groans. “It’s been a long fucking hike, and we still have the hardest stretch to go.” “The Whites.” Orion casts his gaze up at the sky. “Fuck Mount Washington. Fuck Lafayette too.” Three-Sec stirs their dinner, contemplative. “I would totally fuck Lafayette. You know, if he wasn’t dead and shit. French people are hot. I’d fuck a Canadian too. They’re like knock-off French people.” “Dude!” Orion glares at his friend. Then, to Sophie, “I’m sorry for him.” “Sorry or sorry?” Sophie plays up her accents and grins. The sex jokes, the chirping, even the smell, it reminds her of the locker room. She set out on the Appalachian Trail because she needed a break from being Sophie Fournier, first woman in the North American Hockey League and captain of the Concord Condors. Last season, she was on pace to have a season the likes of which the NAHL had never seen. She set one record, and she had her eyes set on more when she tore her ACL. She was sidelined by injury, forced to watch rather than participate in the rest of the season. She was unable to play, but she still had responsibilities. She was still the captain, and her team used her as a barometer. She was still the spokeswoman, not only for her team but for the entire league, and she did interviews and puff pieces, whatever was needed. When the season ended, a second-round exit against Quebec, Sophie decided she had earned herself a true break. She packed a bag and headed into the woods where cell reception is spotty. She didn’t have to watch other people play hockey and answer questions about how it made her feel. She didn’t have to report to her parents’ house for hours of hockey drills with her dad. She was able to be Sophie, without any of the external pressure she usually faces. It’s time to return, though, and catch up on everything she missed. There is a new season on the horizon, and she has a list of things to accomplish. The shortlist: reclaim her point streak record from Chad Kensington, remind the league the Fournier era is far from over, impress her coach, and win the Maple Cup. * Sophie emerges from the woods and returns to a world with indoor plumbing. Her first order of business is a long shower, as hot as she can stand it. Next, she checks in on what happened while she was avoiding all hockey, world, and personal news. The Indianapolis Renegades won the Maple Cup. It makes them the first team with a woman to do it since Concord in 2014. Alexis Engelking is the only American woman currently in the NAHL. She’s also the highest drafted out of the six women in the league. She’s loud, she’s brash, and she’ll barrel over anyone who stands in the way of what she wants. She should text Lexie to congratulate her. Sophie is the one who has tirelessly campaigned for the women of the league to support each other. They’re scattered across divisions and conferences, but with a small number of them, it’s important to be united. Still, Lexie came into the league two years after Sophie, determined to be everything Sophie isn’t. She doesn’t only want to prove herself the better player, she wants to prove Sophie is bad. They trained together last summer, both of them fueled by competition and spite, but they don’t have an easy relationship. Sophie tosses her phone aside, text unsent, and wrinkles her nose as Chad Kensington’s post-win interview autoplays on her computer. His hair is plastered to his head with sweat and champagne, messy but hiding his receding hairline. His cheeks are splotchy, and a smile stretches across his face. She wants to punch him. It should be her team celebrating, not his. “This has been a big year for you,” The National Sports Network reporter says. “You broke Sophie Fournier’s point streak record, won the Maple Cup, and secured yourself the Alain Benoit as the MVP of the playoffs. Which of those means the most to you?” Sophie exits the browser before she has to hear his answer. Last season, she broke Bobby Brindle’s point streak record with twenty consecutive games where she scored a point. She tore her ACL in the twentieth game. While she was hurt, Kensington went on a heater and set a new record—twenty-one games. If she puts up a point in each of her first two games this season, the record is hers again. It’s selfish, everything a hockey player shouldn’t be, focused on personal success instead of team success, but she wants it anyway. As if to make up for it, she picks up her phone and calls Lexie to congratulate her in person. Lexie picks up with a vehement, “Fuck you!” “Excuse me?” Sophie asks. “Fuck. You.” Lexie draws the words out as if Sophie hadn’t heard her the first time. “I win the fucking Maple Cup and what does everyone ask me? If Sophie Fournier was healthy, would you still have won? What do I have to do to get out of your fucking shadow? You better stay healthy this season. I’m going to beat you at the Winter Games and then beat you in the Maple Cup Finals. Maybe then people will finally shut up about you.” Lexie hangs up and Sophie stares at her phone for a long minute before she gingerly sets it on the counter. Maybe it’s best to give Lexie some space.

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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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New Release

A Chaperoned Christmas

Title: A Chaperoned Christmas

Series: Christmas Masquerade, Book Three

Author: Meg Mardell

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: 11/29/2022

Heat Level: 1 – No Sex

Pairing: Female/Female

Length: 47400

Genre: Historical, LGBTQIA+, historical/Victorian England, romance, holiday/Christmas, English countryside/Devonshire coast, homecoming, bisexual, lesbian, polyamory, masquerade ball, family gatherings, horses, non-explicit, reunited, coming out

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Description

Candida Damerell avoids two things at all costs: her former hometown, Salcombe Bay, and her former lover, Broderick Carlyle. She’s worked too hard to shake off her sad family history in Devonshire and become a premier London hostess. To think she nearly threw it all away for a bohemian charmer like Broderick! He never understood Candida’s need to keep their secret romance, well, secret. Unfortunately, this holiday season, the fates seem determined to thwart her best efforts at self-preservation. Broderick Carlyle is not surprised to see his estranged lover on the same coastal railway platform a fortnight before Christmas. Who else could tempt him into such a backwater at this dangerously jolly time of year? Not the country rustic whose need for Society chaperones is the alleged reason for the visit. What Broderick is not prepared to learn is that this windswept bit of coast is where Candida grew up. Even more alarming? The “country rustic” is none other than an earl’s daughter from the neighbouring estate. Lady Sophia Luscombe has no intention of leaving her beloved Devonshire and her new horse breeding business for smelly, snobby London, especially not under the guidance of two Society chaperones. What if they managed to get Sophie married at last? No, she will distract her sophisticated visitors by making them fall in love with each other. The intimate entertainments of a West Country Christmas will make it easy to force the two together. It would be the perfect plan—or it would be if only the too-perfect Candida were not Sophie’s secret first love. Just as the web of cross purposes frays to breaking point, a masquerade ball arrives to give these fierce spirits one last opportunity to tell the truth in time for Christmas. Is it too late for a second or even a third chance at love?

Excerpt

A Chaperoned Christmas Meg Mardell © 2022 All Rights Reserved Devon, 1879 Candida would have known that black, slim-fitted Saville Row greatcoat on those broad shoulders anywhere. Anywhere, that is, except on the platform of a backwater railway station two weeks before Christmas. The man who possessed such an enviable combination of shoulders and coat would never be stamping his feet on these chilled cobblestones beside the cooling steam engine. He would not be looking about irritably for a porter. No, Broderick Carlyle’s greatcoat must even now be hanging in the cloakroom of one of his exclusive gentlemen’s clubs on the Strand or else flowing behind him as he rode one of his equally well-turned-out horses in London’s fashionable parks. Or else, as Candida had spent the last year trying not to imagine, tossed over some strange sofa or bedpost. Safe in London, Broderick Carlyle and his greatcoat would never learn that, though genial, porters in this little patch of the English southern coast did not hurry to collect a first-class passenger’s luggage. They did not compete with one another, as they did in London, for a tossed tuppence. Probably because there was only one of them. And that sprightly lad with the grey beard was busy unloading Candida’s own trunks and hatboxes. There were quite a few of them. She needed extra armour for this visit. God, was there any place on earth colder than an abandoned railway platform? Candida pulled up the collar of her new winter coat in a forlorn attempt to block the chill. Made of modish alpaca wool, the deep-green coat fitted tightly all the way through her hips, and she could scarcely move the garment an inch in any direction. Usually, she enjoyed showing off her figure, when properly corseted of course. What was the point of forgoing treats otherwise? But, looking at the rippling folds of the gentleman’s greatcoat, she suddenly wished she might have thick folds of fabric to wrap and swirl about her. As if sensing her desire, the man with the coat and the shoulders pivoted towards her on his impractical half boots of shining patent leather. The swirl revealed a number of disquieting facts. A flash of telltale crimson lined his unbuttoned greatcoat, a distinctive suit of monochrome check visible beneath the coat’s flowing heft. His unforgettable dark eyes were wary. The man did not know the Devonshire countryside, but unfortunately, Candida knew him. No. No, no, no! It was bad enough that she had alighted at Kingsbridge Station for the first time in a decade. Fate wouldn’t force her to face two ghosts from her past simultaneously, would it? She was already braced against the gentle assault on the senses from the invigorating countryside air of her girlhood. The inimitable blend of sea-perfumed, winter-fresh air blew up the estuary from the English Channel. Was she now going to be forced to face her most adult of indulgences at the same time? Apparently, yes. There, not a dozen paces away, was the man with whom she’d foolishly tried to have a discreet affair last year. At least, it was supposed to have been discreet. There was no time for Candida to upbraid herself for the umpteenth time for that disastrous attempt at playing the merry widow. The reason for her self-inflicted defeat was stalking towards her. “My dear Mrs Damerell.” Broderick Carlyle cut her a leisurely bow, his dark hair sliding over his brow. “I thought I had forsaken all the delights of Town when I recklessly boarded this somnambulant train. But here I see we have imported into this rough wilderness one of Society’s best blooms.” Candida did not much care for his allusion to her hothouse beauty. Not when she was so close to the coast’s wild magnificence. But she kept the smile on her face and inclined her head. “You do me too much credit, sir. Devon doesn’t need my adornment. But I’m sure the county is honoured to have lured one of London’s great clubmen out of the metropolis.” This had been their pattern for the past year whenever they had accidentally met. They would smile and exchange quips—and then she would go home and seek out the dark meanings behind Broderick’s artful compliments. He laughed in that low, insinuating way only she seemed to ever notice. “No mean feat, luring me from the safety of civilization in wintertime. But it’s admiration of Lady Belleville that brings me here. Well”—he winked—“admiration mixed with a touch of fear.” “Sorry. Did you say Lady Bellville asked you to come to Kingsbridge?” A coincidence? Her rapidly accelerating heartbeat disagreed. “Yes. It seems she has friends in these parts. You know the type of country gentry, titled but hopelessly out of step. Anyway, there’s an unmarried daughter of the house, and I suppose they’re making one last attempt to prevent her from going on the shelf.” Candida forced her fingers to relax at his dismissive appraisal of the Luscombes and especially of Sophie Luscombe as some desperate spinster. Broderick didn’t know her. Or that Candida did. Or she had. Sophie wouldn’t be the same exuberant, courageous girl Candida had last seen on her own wedding day a decade ago. Life had a way of making girls like that grow down rather than up. Candida made her tone as droll as his. “And you’ve arrived with the feather duster to chase away the cobwebs?” “I would never phrase it in quite such a, ah, ticklish way”—another impudent wink—“but that’s the sum of it. Accustom the girl to being around one of London’s great clubmen and then escort her up to Town in a fortnight for the masquerade ball.” Candida’s worst fears were confirmed. She was about to spend two weeks in the countryside with Broderick Carlyle. At Christmastime.

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NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

Meg moved from the US to England because she fell in love with the Victorians’ peculiar blend of glamour and grime. After a decade of exploring historical excesses in a prim scholarly fashion, she realized that fiction is the best way to delve into that period’s great female-focused and LGBT+ stories. Weaned on the high-seas romances of the 1990s, Meg’s lost none of her love for cross-dressing cabin boys but any tolerance for boorish heroes. She’s delighted to now have a whole raft of quirky and queer characters to cheer for on their quest for Happily Ever After. She frequently breaks off writing for an Earl Grey tea (milk not lemon). She’s trying to learn Polish and Portuguese at the same time. She plans to escape Brexit Britain.

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The Daredevil by Nadia Han blitz

The Daredevil
Nadia Han
(WaterFyre Rising, #2)
Publication date: November 30th 2022
Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Romance

Loving her is his biggest risk . . . and also his biggest reward.

Daring, clever, and gorgeous, Royce Viktorsson is a volcanologist who lives life on the edge between the thrill and the pulsing calm before the storm. His unsteady lifestyle masks the man who is seeking to heal the hole in his heart. Nothing has offered him resolve . . . until her.

The lightning that illuminates his soul.
The thunder that stirs his heart.
The lava that ignites his blood.

Thoughtful, alluring, and guarded, travel blogger Michelle Yates is emotionally unavailable thanks to the monster in her closet. Traveling allows her to see the beauty in the world, making her forget the ugliness in her life. One man yanks on that closet door and helps her claim back her self-worth.

The friend who becomes her lover.
The hero who defeats her monster.
The savior who defines her destiny.

As their romance churns, danger erupts, whipping out secrets that demand the truth, but the daredevil is willing to risk everything to defend those important to him.

The Daredevil is a friends-to-lovers, fake-dating, forced proximity, destined moments, billionaire hero, and a suspenseful contemporary romance. It is Book Two in the WaterFyre Rising series but can be read as a standalone.

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EXCERPT:

In a blink, he pounced on me, pushing me back onto the couch with his body covering mine. He gripped my wrists and lifted them above my head. Heat spread all over my body as I sensed the bulge pressing into me.

“You cheated, and that calls for a punishment.” His eyes pinned me, while a mischievous smirk slid onto his face.

“I didn’t cheat,” I breathed as my nipples pebbled under my thin bra. “There weren’t any rules about fake injuries. I just maneuvered around you.”

“You manipulated my concern for you. We’re going to set hard rules for next time.” He shifted his body, pushing one of my thighs up with one hand while still gripping my wrists with the other. I was at his mercy, and there was something sexy about that.

“Not my intention—”

His hand ran over my thigh and squeezed my buttock. “Oh, it was your intention, just like this is my intention.” His free hand slipped under my ass, pushing my core into his hard cock.

I let out a moan as his cock throbbed against me, trying to punish me with need. God, I wanted him so badly. Grinding my hips against him, I studied his face.

He growled with satisfaction. Did he realize we were starting a new game?

“I should’ve known you’re a she-devil. All this wild hair and the wicked glint in your eyes should have given me a clue.” He pressed his face into my hair and inhaled. “I love the way you smell.”

The need to touch and feel him surged in me. With my legs, I squeezed his ass, making my claim. “A she-devil is the perfect match for a daredevil, don’t you think?”

“You’re driving me crazy, Michelle. What game are we playing now? How to seduce Royce?”

How had he known? A wild guess? It didn’t matter.

His eyes had darkened to a gorgeous mossy color. “Seduce away, angel. You know how to turn me on.”

Royce swallowed, and the movement of his Adam’s apple increased the need in me. I’d always considered a man’s shoulders to be the feature I couldn’t resist, but right now, his Adam’s apple became the switch that lit me up.

I pressed my lips to the masculine bump on his throat and kissed it.

He crooned. “I’ll accept this defeat.”

“Willingly? You had no choice. You lost.” My voice vibrated against his throat.

He veered back, creating a slight distance between my lips. “I love that you wanted to win so badly.”

I needed to win because I wanted to know what he feared. That desire trumped everything else. “I like to win.”

“So do I.” His eyes flashed with heat. “Since l lost, I have to either answer a tough question or do something that frightens me.” His body shifted, opening my thighs wider, not acting like someone who had been defeated.


Author Bio:

Nadia Han is a dreamer, a visionary, and a believer in karma and kindness. She lives in New England with her family and spends most of her time crafting stories. When she’s not writing, she practices yoga, reads, explores nature, and eats all kinds of foods.

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A Valentine for Christmas by Reese Ryan blitz

A Valentine for Christmas
Reese Ryan
(Valentine Vineyards, #1)
Published by: Harlequin Desire
Publication date: November 29th 2022
Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Holiday, Romance

Opposites do more than attract when an older woman falls for a younger man in Reese Ryan’s brand-new Harlequin Desire series, Valentine Vineyards!

A red-hot romance between a career-focused woman and a determined younger man?

Doctor’s orders!

Dr. Julian Brandon is too charming, too sexy and too young for Chandra Valentine. But after the successful bachelor rescues her—twice—she owes him. Still reeling from life-changing family revelations, Chandra somehow agrees to pose as Julian’s girlfriend. And now the irresistible Julian has plans that start with seduction under the mistletoe and end with their fake relationship erupting into a scorching affair. Now Chandra’s questioning everything she believed about love…

From Harlequin Desire: A luxurious world of bold encounters and sizzling chemistry.

You’ll be swept away by this bold, sizzling romance, part of the Valentine Vineyards series:

Book 1: A Valentine for Christmas

Goodreads / Amazon / Barnes & Noble / iBooks / Kobo

EXCERPT:

One

Chandra Valentine gripped the handle of her rolling carry-on luggage as she watched the tiny regional plane taxi toward her gate at the Charlotte Douglas International Airport. She honestly wished she hadn’t seen it. Then she could pretend it was a larger plane. A stable plane. The kind she’d become accustomed to flying in over her past thirty-nine years of life. Not one of those little puddle jumpers she’d always taken great pains to avoid.

She loosened her grip when she realized her nails were stabbing her palms. She opened her hand, studying the row of angry semicircles that trailed across her skin. Chandra took a deep breath, her eyes drifting closed momentarily. When she opened them, she was greeted by a penetrating dark gaze.

The incredibly handsome man tipped his chin in greeting as he rubbed his full beard. Typically, she’d considered a full-grown beard a turnoff. Who knew exactly what might be lurking in that thing? But for this brother, she’d make an exception.

He was dressed in an unbuttoned, green and black plaid shirt over a black Henley shirt, distressed jeans and brown Timberland boots. His lop-sided smile made her belly flip in ways it hadn’t in longer than she cared to admit.

Chandra gave him a quick nod and an awkward wave before sauntering away.

The man was fine. In ways she could wax poetically about for days. But this wasn’t a girls ’trip to Vegas. She was about to board a tuna can with wings so she could meet her dad in some small mountain town in Tennessee.

If she didn’t feel a sense of urgency to get to the little town of Magnolia Lake, where her dad had summoned her and her five younger siblings, she would’ve flown to the closest major airport then driven the remainder of the way through the mountains. But she was worried about her dad.

Abbott Raymond Valentine had turned sixty-nine on his last birthday—which she’d missed because she was at a company retreat in Utah. Her father had been in sort of a funk since his mother had died a few years ago. It didn’t feel quite like mourning, but something deeper. She hadn’t been able to figure out what it was, and her dad wouldn’t open up about what he was feeling. He’d been grumpy and evasive whenever she tried to broach the topic, which ruined the mood of their weekly calls. So she’d stopped asking, hoping he’d eventually be ready to confide in her.

But two weeks ago, her father had called a big family meeting via teleconference to inform them he needed to see all of them in person. Despite their pleading and threatening, her father wouldn’t offer the slightest hint of what this was about. Chandra was terrified about what might prompt her father to gather them together like this for the first time since her grandmother’s funeral.

It’d taken three days and an online calendar for the six siblings to figure out when their schedules would permit all of them to take time off their jobs and get together for at least a week, preferably two—as her father had requested. But here she was on her way to some tiny town in the Smoky Mountains where she only hoped they had internet, cell phone service and indoor plumbing because hiking in the woods was the limit of her outdoorsyness.

Chandra settled into a seat as far away as she could get from the handsome man with the gorgeous dark eyes who was making her rethink her stance on beards. Because as much as she’d like to get to know him up close and personal, she didn’t have time for extracurricular activities on this trip.

She was a problem solver. Had been since she was eight years old and returned from school to discover the Dear Abbott letter her mother had left on the kitchen counter.

Her father had been gutted. She, Nolan, Sebastian and Alonzo had been devastated. Just like that, she’d become the adult in the house as her father struggled to deal with her mother’s abandonment. In some ways, she’d felt like the only adult in the room with her family ever since.

Chandra rubbed her arms against the chill in the airport, still devastated by the painful memory.

Mr. Handsome stared at her from across the wide expanse.

Chandra pulled the book on teambuilding she’d been reading from her purse and opened it. She couldn’t afford to be distracted by the man. She needed to get to the bottom of whatever was going on with her father, solve whatever problem needed to be solved then return to San Diego.


Author Bio:

Reese Ryan writes sexy, deeply emotional romances with family drama, surprising secrets, and unexpected twists.

Past president of her local Romance Writers of America chapter and a panelist at the 2017 Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, Reese is an advocate for the romance genre and diversity in fiction.

Website / Goodreads / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / Youtube / Bookbub


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