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Release Blitz: The Reluctant Royal by Catherine Curzon & Eleanor Harkstead

The Reluctant Royal | Catherine Curzon & Eleanor Harkstead

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Release Date: January 26th, 2021

Length: 93,492 words

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Blurb

As an unseen enemy draws near, a royal bodyguard must choose between duty and love.

Risking his life to save a princess is all in a day’s work for Sergeant Joe Wenlock, a Close Protection Officer detailed to protect the royal family. After months of recovery following his brush with death, Joe’s ready to return to duties. But Alejandro Fuente-Sastre, as infuriating as he is fabulous, is the last royal Joe wants to be assigned to.

Alejandro isn’t quite the sort of queen that the British royal family is used to, but when Joe learns that Her Majesty’s step-grandson is also drag bombshell Paloma Picante, it makes his job a whole lot tougher. But is there more to Alejo than sulking and sequins?

When Alejandro’s life is threatened by an unseen tormentor who progresses from internet trolling to arson and violence, Joe must keep his charge safe from harm.

Living in close quarters with the man he shouldn’t be falling for, Joe begins to discover his true self. But as Alejandro’s enemy prowls ever nearer, Joe must make the impossible choice between duty and love.

Reader advisory: This book contains instances of homophobia and homophobic language, cyberbullying and threats, harassment, terrorism, drug use and abuse, Islamophobia and suicide. There are mentions of domestic abuse, including physical, emotional and gaslighting.

Excerpt

Joe took another sip of tonic water. He wished it contained gin, because being the only sober person at the table was hardly his idea of fun, but as he watched the bottle of champagne being passed around, he knew he didn’t really want any alcohol anyway. He couldn’t go back to work the worse for wear. Not after months of sick leave. Best foot forward, as his dad would say.

And it wasn’t only his decision not to drink that made Joe an oddity at the table. These were all Wendy’s friends, out for her birthday. Solicitors, legal types, who’d spent most of the evening already talking shop. Joe looked on, his mind on other things. Would he cope on his first day back? Would they trust him to ever do a good job again?

“So, Joe, we’re taking bets on who you’re going to be coddling next week!” Wendy put her second bottle of Prosecco on the table and settled into her seat. Her leg brushed Joe’s momentarily and she shifted, putting air between them again. “Izzy thinks one of the Fergie duo. Barnaby’s bet his bonus on Wills and Kate. I think it’s going to be the queen. The top job for a top bobby!”

“I don’t know yet.” Joe shrugged. “Maybe one of the corgis?”

“I bet you do know, and you’re teasing us!” Wendy’s friend Jemima brayed. “Have you signed the Official Secrets Act?”

Joe turned the plastic stirrer through his fizzing drink, rattling the ice cubes against the glass. He didn’t pester Wendy’s friends about confidential matters, so why did they think he was fair game? “As you know, if I had, I wouldn’t be allowed to say.”

“Whoever it is,” Wendy told them, “let’s hope they don’t put my poor old hubby in hospital again! He’s getting too old to play the action hero!”

Wendy’s friends laughed, and Joe tried to look happy, but he really didn’t want to be reminded of the accident. The headlamps coming straight for him in the evening darkness—and after he’d pushed the Duchess of Albany out of the way, there had been no time for Joe to leap aside. Just that crushing pain as the car slammed into him. Joe had slumped over the bonnet and found himself eye to eye with the idiot who’d just tried to deliberately run down the Duchess.

“He’s not that old!” Verity giggled. She patted Joe’s leg and he tried not to flinch. “And still in fine form, too, Wendy, you lucky thing!”

“Lucky old me!” Wendy’s smile looked like a grimace. How would she know what form her husband was in when it had been over six months since they’d so much as kissed, let alone more? She refilled her glass and whispered to Joe, “For God’s sake, have a real drink.”

“Come on, you know I can’t,” Joe replied. “I can’t risk it. First day back and all that.”

“It’s my birthday.” Her pink lips grew thin and she drew in a deep, sharp breath, as sharp as her fresh blonde bob. Then she put her lips to his ear and hissed, “Stop showing me up, Joe, have a drink.”

“I’m drinking a stunt gin and tonic. That’s enough.” Joe held up the glass. It had the brand name of a well-known gin printed down its side. “They do tests, you know. I want to be nice and clean when they poke through my bodily fluids, thank you very much.”

“Barnaby!” Wendy subtly turned away from her husband, the centre of attention all over again. He was dismissed, just as he had been so many times over the five years of their miserable married life. “So, we’re all dying to know how your Tokyo merger’s going. It’s all everyone’s talking about. Tell us all the latest from the front line of big money!”

Joe sat his glass down on the table. The last thing he cared about was Barnaby and his bloody merger, which he’d heard snippets of for weeks as Wendy had made business calls at home. Barnaby this, Barnaby that, ‘Barnaby’s going places.’

So am I.

Joe nudged his seat back and stood to leave. Verity glanced at him, as if she was surprised he was going, but her attention turned to Wendy and Barnaby. Joe wasn’t sure where he’d go, but he needed fresh air. He wanted to be away from loud drinkers, away from Wendy’s carping. His head was pounding and as he stepped outside the pub, a car drove by close to the kerb. He instinctively jumped back, pressing himself against the wall behind him.

Calm down, Sergeant Wenlock, he told himself.

The night was cold, as cold as the pub had been hot, and Joe took a deep breath of autumn air. London tonight seemed even more surreal than ever, the streets a curious mix of the same well-dressed professionals who filled Wendy’s group and those who had embraced Halloween, escaping the real world in the form of cats and devils, vampires and aliens, some already stumbling, others only just starting out. And there in the middle of them was Joe, who would rather be anywhere else but there.

Maybe Joe should’ve thrown aside his tweed jacket and sensible open-necked shirt for a costume. He’d have made quite a good Frankenstein’s monster, maybe, though that said, when he’d first been taken to hospital and had plaster casts and bandages in places he hadn’t thought possible, he’d have been a brilliant cursed mummy.

Joe decided to go for a wander. Once he was working again, he’d have little time to call his own. He’d take his freedom when and where he could. Music blared from pubs and bars, people laughed, taxis pulled up and disgorged their passengers. And up ahead, someone was shouting.

Bloody people, can’t hold their drinks.

“Don’t you ever, ever bloody do that again! Do you hear?”

It was a man’s voice up ahead. Joe could see two figures, one in a black suit with a skeleton painted on it in white. He was wagging his finger—jabbing it—at the red-headed woman walking beside him in heels so high Joe wondered how she didn’t fall flat on her face.

“It’s so important to me, so fucking important, and all you have to do is just nod, and instead, you’re pissing about, making a fucking joke of yourself!”

“I’m sorry!” Her voice sounded almost desperate and she recoiled from her companion’s stabbing finger, jerking away as though it were the blade of a knife. She hurried after the skeleton when he stalked onwards, scooping up the silken hem of her shimmering red evening gown to follow. “Don’t be angry, I’m sorry!”

“I’m sorry!” he mimicked. Joe could almost see him in profile. The man’s face was disguised by makeup that turned his face into a skull.

Seemed a bit rich for him to be accusing someone of making a joke of themselves.

“The man’s an investor in my film, and I wanted him to know that I’m serious about my art, and then you’re there hanging over my shoulder, interrupting and gobbing on about God knows what!” The man clenched his hands. Even they were tricked out in skeleton makeup. “Why do you wind me up like this? You do it on purpose, for fuck’s sake, then it’s all I’m sorry! Well, you bloody well will be!”

“He was laughing too,” the woman said, a fresh note of desperation in her sing-song voice. No, not desperation. Fear. “He was having a good time, you’re not thinking straight! Just—please, don’t be like this!”

“My thinking’s perfectly clear!” The man gave a long sniff then, and Joe knew exactly what was going on.

The drugs are talking.

The man stopped where he was and raised his hand at the woman. The way she flinched back told Joe that this wasn’t the first time it had happened. As she drew away, he saw her makeup clearly, a glamourous sugar skull in a rainbow of colours that nearly took his breath away.

“Please don’t,” was all she said.

Joe increased his pace. The man’s raised hand trembled, but in a split second he slapped the woman across her painted face.

Joe ran.

He was on the couple in only a few steps and interposed himself between them. He didn’t look back at the woman, but could hear her frightened breathing just behind him. “That’s enough. Time for you to go.”

“And who the fuck are you, James Bond?” the man sneered.

“I’m not going to stand around and watch a bully like you slap a woman.” Joe clenched his fists, resisting the temptation to give Skeletor a taste of his own medicine.

“A woman? That’s a fucking joke. She’s a drag queen—a bloke!”

Joe turned to look at the woman.

A bloke?

Was she?

About the Authors

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Eleanor Harkstead likes to dash about in nineteenth-century costume, in bonnet or cravat as the mood takes her. She can occasionally be found wandering old graveyards. Eleanor is very fond of chocolate, wine, tweed waistcoats and nice pens. Her large collection of vintage hats would rival Hedda Hopper’s.

Originally from the south-east of England, Eleanor now lives somewhere in the Midlands with a large ginger cat who resembles a Viking.

You can follow Eleanor on Facebook and Twitter

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Catherine Curzon is a Royal historian who writes on all matters of 18th century. Her work has been featured on many platforms and Catherine has also spoken at various venues including the Royal Pavilion, Brighton, and Dr Johnson’s House.

Catherine holds a Master’s degree in Film and when not dodging the furies of the guillotine, writes fiction set deep in the underbelly of Georgian London.

She lives in Yorkshire atop a ludicrously steep hill.

You can follow Catherine on Facebook and Twitter and take a look at her Website.

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Notice: This competition ends February 2nd, 2021 at 5pm GMT. Competition hosted by Totally Entwined Group.

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Re-Release Blitz: Cutting Cords by Mickie B. Ashling

Cutting Cords| Mickie B. Ashling

Cutting Cords #1

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Release Date: June 2nd, 2020

Heat Level: 4 – Lots of Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 63,525

Buy Link: Amazon

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Blurb

Sloan Driscoll is a talented graphic artist but compared to his father and younger brother—all star athletes—he’s never measured up. A lifetime of insecurity leads him down dark paths.

His childhood friend, Cole Fujiwara, a former major league pitcher, embodies all of Sloan’s hidden aspirations. Cole is physically fit, attractive, intelligent, and successful. Seemingly perfect.

When Sloan shows up on Cole’s NYC doorstep needing a place to stay, their reunion is anything but simple. Sloan has always been drawn to Cole, but now, even though there’s a girlfriend on the periphery, the attraction seems mutual.

One night, inhibitions slip away. But both men are hiding a multitude of secrets. Salvation could be found within each other’s arms. But only if they let it.

Cutting Cords is the first book in the Cutting Cords Series previously published by Dreamspinner Press. This series must be read in order and all four titles will be available by September 2020. HEA guaranteed at series end.

Content Warning: contains body image issues, drug use, cutting, and some BDSM elements.

Excerpt

Cutting Cords

Mickie B. Ashling © 2020

All Rights Reserved

The doors of the plane were shut; the engines revved and ready to go. I leaned back and plugged in my earphones, increasing the volume so I could hear nothing but Queen blaring out Bohemian Rhapsody. I loved their music, stage presence, and style. One summer, I even made the attempt to dress and talk like Freddie Mercury. It wasn’t hard, since we had the same body type, not one ounce of fat anywhere. My little game was met with disapproval, so my outrageous persona went back into a compartment in my brain, along with all the other shocking thoughts that resided there.

The plane finally took off, almost in sync with Freddie’s falsetto blaring in my ears. I removed my earplugs and unfastened the seat belt when the captain turned off the sign. It was time to go to the restroom and take care of business.

The light in the tiny bathroom cast a yellowish shade on my normally pale face. I stared at the mirror, trying to see if I looked any different since my haircut and my father’s attempts to make me look respectable. Everything appeared the same; my hair was still a boring brown, my eyes an unremarkable shade of gray. My mouth was a bit too full and girly for Dad’s taste, but there wasn’t a damn thing he could do about it. I wondered how long it would take for my hair to grow out again. I hated the feel of cold air against my neck, although my tattoo was now clearly visible, the Queen logo, a testament to my devotion.

I started to strip, undoing the belt buckle and pushing down my jeans, past the ugly web of scars on my thighs. They were a constant reminder of my inner turmoil, a grim display in varying shades of hair-raising red. I stepped out of my pants and boxers simultaneously, leaving them bunched at my feet. Next off were the tight white briefs that had served its purpose—holding the sandwich bag with my stash in its hiding place near my crotch. I dumped the briefs into the wastebasket and pulled my jeans and boxers back on.

I opened the plastic baggy and inhaled the pungent aroma of the high-grade weed, wishing I had the guts to light up, but I knew my impulse would activate the smoke alarms and they’d be pounding on the door within minutes. So I popped a Xanax instead, a poor substitute, but certainly better than nothing.

I spent the rest of the flight in a hazy fog. Thanks to my age and the money in my pocket, I was able to buy a few drinks to add to my drug-induced high. I passed on the food, shaking my head at the flight attendant, but asked for more peanuts instead. I could almost hear my father’s voice telling me to eat and not skip meals or I’d never gain weight, but I wasn’t buying into his plan anymore. No amount of sustenance had ever worked to give me the kind of body I craved, so any time I was on my own, I ate whatever I wanted.

I knew I wasn’t in California anymore as soon as the cabbie pulled up to the curb and looked me over suspiciously. “Need a ride?”

He was a brightly turbaned Indian who spoke passable English but seemed to have left his manners on another continent. I wasn’t sure if it was the late hour or his job, but good cheer was in short supply right then. I was expected to haul my gear into the cab on my own. Cussing under my breath, I hefted the duffel with all my worldly possessions onto the seat beside me. “Can I smoke in here?” I asked as soon as we got going.

“Sure thing, buddy.”

Pleasantly surprised, I pulled out the joint I’d rolled in the airport restroom and lit up, inhaling deeply, letting the smoke fill my lungs. The cabbie lifted an eyebrow as soon as he smelled the weed. In an instant, his demeanor changed, and he respectfully asked, “Would you be willing to share?”

I smirked and passed the joint through the opening in the glass.

He took a huge hit, bobbing his head in appreciation. “Good stuff, buddy.”

“It better be for what it cost.”

“Where are we headed?” the cabbie asked.

“Chelsea.”

“Okay.”

It was almost eleven by the time we stopped in front of Cole’s apartment building, and after I handed over my money, I waited to see if the driver would help me with my bag since I’d shared my dope. Stupid thought. He sat there and checked his log sheet.

Fucking asshole. I didn’t tip him.

I dragged my shit out of the cab and waited for the doorman to let me in. Apparently he’d gotten word of my arrival, and he actually helped me place my bag in the elevator and told me the apartment was on the tenth floor. When I arrived at my destination, I stabbed at the doorbell for several minutes before the door was yanked open by a guy who appeared ready to strangle me.

“Will you ease off the fucking bell already?”

“Hey, I didn’t know if you were asleep or what.”

“Well, I’m wide awake now.”

“Sorry. I’m looking for Cole Fujiwara.”

“You found him,” he replied warily. “Sloan?”

“The one and only.”

“Wow. You’ve grown. When’d you get so tall?”

And when the fuck did you get so hot?

“Probably when you lost all the weight,” I replied out loud, taking a really good look at him. He was nothing like I remembered. The chubby kid with thick glasses who teased me and told me I threw like a girl was gone. In his place was a young Johnny Depp look-alike with cut-glass cheekbones and bone-straight black hair sliding over his forehead. The specs were gone as well, probably replaced by contacts, but those indigo eyes were exactly the same, courtesy of his Irish mother, and I was rooted to the spot.

“Are we going to stand here all night?”

I snapped out of my trance even as the blood rushed to my cheeks. Caught in the act of staring again, I was flustered and behaving like a total dweeb. Any hope of making a good first impression was shattered by my momentary lapse in judgment. “Sorry.”

About the Author

Mickie B. Ashling is the pseudonym of a multi-published author who resides in a suburb outside Chicago. She is a product of her upbringing in various cultures, having lived in Japan, the Philippines, Spain, and the Middle East. Fluent in three languages, she’s a citizen of the world and an interesting mixture of East and West.

Since 2009, Mickie has written several dozen novels in the LGBTQ+ genre—which have been translated into French, Italian, Spanish, and German. Lately, her muse has been nudging her in a different direction, and she’s learned through past experience to pay attention to creative sparks that show up unexpectedly.

Her pen name is a part of her now, and will travel along on this exciting new journey, wherever it might lead.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | eMail | Instagram | Bookbub

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New Release Blitz: A Face Without A Heart by Rick R. Reed

A Face Without A Heart | Rick R. Reed

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Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: June 1, 2020

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 56,700

Buy Links:

NineStar Press | Amazon

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Blurb

A modern-day and thought-provoking retelling of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray that esteemed horror magazine Fangoria called “…a book that is brutally honest with its reader and doesn’t flinch in the areas where Wilde had to look away….

A rarity: a really well-done update that’s as good as its source material.”

A beautiful young man bargains his soul away to remain young and handsome forever, while his holographic portrait mirrors his aging and decay and reflects every sin and each nightmarish step deeper into depravity… even cold-blooded murder.

Prepare yourself for a compelling tour of the darkest sides of greed, lust, addiction, and violence.

Excerpt

A Face without a Heart
Rick R. Reed © 2020
All Rights Reserved

Prologue
GARY

There is blood on my hands. I look down at a body, a body that’s become a thing—monstrous, ugly, inanimate. It could be a sculpture, a figure formed from wax or porcelain. The soul inside is gone, leaving a shell. I wipe a line of sweat from my forehead with a trembling hand, trying to tell myself these things, trying to believe that what lies at my feet is nothing more than an object, something to be reviled, something not worthy of further consideration.

It’s not easy to believe. Although the corpse does not have a twinkle in its eye or the simple rise and fall of a chest, it’s hard to remove myself from the plain fact that the body possessed those movements, those simple signs of life, just minutes ago. Distance, for now, seems more a matter of location than of feeling. The body at my feet wears the badges of its untimely demise—a dented face, a split-open skull, blood and grayish-pink matter seeping out. The bruises have already begun to rise, ugly yellow-pink things all over the body.

I stoop, plunge my fingers into the deepest hole, the one on the belly, to feel the warmth and the entrails. Amazed that the breathing has stopped. Amazed that I have such power.

I lift a finger to my mouth and slowly run it over my lips, the blackish liquid warm and viscous, metallic to the taste. I recall the vampire films I loved as a youth, never really believing such a thing could exist.

Now I do.

I have stolen a life so that my own might continue. There is something vampiric in that, isn’t there? Because without this theft of a beating heart and an expanding and contracting pair of lungs, I would be unable to live.

Isn’t that the real essence of the vampire?

It seems too quiet here, deep in the basement of a high-rise. A dull clanging is my only accompaniment, pipes bringing warmth and water to tenants above, whose lives continue, ignorant, untouched by my murderous hand. And that’s the amazing thing, the thing that causes my breath, when drawn inward, to quiver.

Life goes on, in spite of this monumental act, just a quick, surprised scream and a heartbeat away.

There is blood on the walls, spattered Jackson Pollock-style. Who can say what is art and what is murder?

This so-called victim who now lies in final repose on a cold concrete floor, staring vacantly at nothing or perhaps at the hell that will one day consume me, can no longer chastise me, can no longer beg me to drop to my knees with him and pray, pray for forgiveness, imploring Jesus to lead me down the path of the righteous.

It’s not too late, he said before I brought the mallet down on his skull, cracking it open like a walnut, slamming it into his windpipe, his gut, an eye socket, his shoulders as he fell, anywhere the mallet would ruin, destroying, sucking life.

He was wrong. The final irony of his existence, I suppose, is that he thought he had the power to do anything, to change another person, whom, I must admit, he cared very deeply about.

No, that power rests in my hand, the death-dealing claw that changed him. And people whine about how change never really lasts when it comes to others, how they always unfortunately revert to their old ways, the ways you don’t want them to be. Anyone who has ever tried to change another knows this to be true. Oh certainly, the change may last a week, a month, even a year. But soon the real person comes back, the one who has been waiting in the wings for just the right cue, the one that will allow him to say “Ah fuck it, I’ve had enough.”

But the change I’ve wrought in my friend can never be undone. He is dead and always will be. I have a power of which psychiatrists and psychologists can only dream. And I accomplished my transformation in a matter of seconds, behind a red-tinged curtain of rage.

Pretty sly, eh? For a man who’s spent most of his life doing nothing but looking after his own selfish needs and pursuing his own pleasures, it’s a pretty accomplished thing. Decisive. For once, a man of action.

I nudge him with my foot and am amazed at the heaviness my friend has taken on in death. His body doesn’t want to give, to roll; it has become a body at rest…forever.

I turn and head back upstairs. There are matters to attend to…clothes to be burned, an alibi to be concocted. People will want answers. And conveniently, I will have none. Knowledge is a dangerous thing. What was it my other friend once told me? “The only people worth knowing are the ones who know everything and the ones who know nothing.”

I know nothing about this. And now I must go back into the realm of the living to ensure my ignorance remains secure.

But alone, I know that ignorance is one of the few luxuries I can no longer afford. Alone, I have only the luxury of time to contemplate how it all began.

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About the Author

Real Men. True Love.

Rick R. Reed is an award-winning and bestselling author of more than fifty works of published fiction. He is a Lambda Literary Award finalist. Entertainment Weekly has described his work as “heartrending and sensitive.”

Lambda Literary has called him: “A writer that doesn’t disappoint…”

Rick lives in Palm Springs, CA, with his husband, Bruce, and their fierce Chihuahua/Shiba Inu mix, Kodi.

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