Tag Archives: LGBT

New Release Blitz: Breaking the Surface by Rebecca Langham

Breaking the Surface | Rebecca Langham

The Outsider Project #2

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: January 13, 2020

Heat Level: 2 – Fade to Black Sex

Pairing: Female/Female

Length: 81,300

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Blurb

Alessia is an Outsider—a member of the not-quite-human community that has recently been released from their underground prison. Shortly after their liberation, Alessia is given an ultimatum: obey all the United Earth Alliance’s demands, or her mother will forever remain a hostage—a mother she’d believed dead for fifteen years. Reluctantly, she agrees, though she has no idea what those demands may be or how she will balance her obligations to the UEA with her responsibilities to her people and her family.

As the UEA tightens its grip on humans and Outsiders alike, it becomes clear that meaningful social change will not be possible without a revolution. Alessia and her peers embark on a mission to discover just how far the government is willing to go to maintain their monopoly on power.

What Alessia and her comrades discover, however, goes much deeper than they’d ever anticipated. Who are the Outsiders, really? What secrets of their destiny lay hidden within a top-secret space station? And why are the Outsiders linked to an emerging disease the UEA seems desperate to keep secret? As they delve deeper, it isn’t only Alessia’s identity that will be called into question, but the fate of the entire planet.

Excerpt

Breaking the Surface
Rebecca Langham © 2020
All Rights Reserved

Lydia wanted so badly to pace, to burn away her fear one exaggerated step at a time, but there was nowhere to go, no floor space to haunt. The Camp had been a sanctuary for them all, keeping her friends safe from unwanted attention since they’d taken their first steps as free people, but now it suffocated her. It may have been off-the-grid, but the complex was also small. Too small.

Given the number of people in the control room, she had to settle for crossing her arms over her stomach and gritting her teeth. But even then, she couldn’t silence the dissenting voice in her head. Something wasn’t right. Why would the United Earth Alliance be demanding a meeting so forcefully?

The UEA had been quiet in the two weeks since the Outsiders relocated from the colonies, granting an eerie yet welcome period of radio silence. Now they’d not only made contact, but threatened legal action if Alessia and the Green Hats didn’t acquiesce to an immediate communication with one of the government’s top advisers.

Lydia’s stomach churned.

As though reading her thoughts, Alessia slid her hand into Lydia’s and squeezed her fingers. Lydia forced a weak smile as she turned. “I don’t trust them.”

Alessia’s face—which, more than ever, reminded Lydia of a finely carved alabaster statue— softened.

“Of course not,” she replied, her tone sympathetic yet firm. “But it may not be wise to ignore the request. This could be nothing more than an administrative issue and I don’t want to invite trouble, not so soon after the release.”

“I don’t think you can ignore it, Ly-dee.” Helen swivelled gently in an office chair, forearms resting on her thighs as she considered her daughter. After all those years without Helen’s presence, hearing that fruity voice still managed to surprise her from time to time. Lydia had believed her mother to be dead for years. Finding out she hadn’t died, but rather become a kind of political hacker, was unsettling to say the least.

Life had changed so much in the last nine months. Alessia did not remain trapped beneath the ground, and Helen had re-emerged from the void.

No longer living with her politician father, even Lydia had been partially freed from the web of her old insecurities and frustrations. Sometimes though, it seemed like those frustrations had dissolved only to be replaced by a whole slew of new concerns. It had been a lot to process.

Helen sighed, a little too dramatically. She reached for a cup of tea she’d left cooling on a nearby bench and cradled it between her hands. “We knew they’d get their claws back in sooner or later.”

“Two weeks,” Lydia huffed. “They only waited two weeks. Please can’t we refuse?” The frustration in her voice exposed Lydia’s raw emotional state in a way she wasn’t comfortable with. Until recently, she’d worked hard to present a subdued version of her thoughts to the outside world. With such a prominent father, she’d had to if she had any hope of protecting herself from those who sought to exploit her. Whether it be to splash her personal life about the goss-channels, or to pressure her to influence her father regarding some political issue or another, there had been no shortage of people trying to use Lydia. It had been a kind of self-preservation to surround herself in the dark veil she’d become enveloped in, making it harder for people to really see her. But then Alessia had burst into her life, a quiet yet powerful blaze of light.

Alessia and the other Outsiders had reached right into her and reawakened feelings and sensations she’d muted long ago.

“Is refusing a good idea?” Peleus looked up from where he sat cross-legged on the floor a couple of metres away from Helen. Peleus had been one of her earliest and most faithful followers and friends, embracing her efforts to slowly change culture in the colony by sharing positive stories and messages with the children. “They’re providing accommodations and integration assistance to the four thousand Os who’ve had their entire existence uprooted. Not taking their meeting might give the UEA reason to withdraw support.” As Alessia’s confidante, Peleus’s presence always lent a certain sense of thoughtful tranquillity to a situation.

Alessia pulled Lydia closer until their bodies pressed together, banishing the air between them and soothing Lydia’s nerves a little. They’d barely had time to catch their breath since Release Day. When they had finally pushed their way through the obscenely large crowd of onlookers in Thracia after the ceremony, they’d boarded an air-transport and come directly here to the Green Hat headquarters in Quadrant Four.

Affectionately known by its inhabitants as the Camp, the secure underground complex supported a community of approximately a hundred people. Every one of them had dedicated their lives to undermining the UEA’s ever-worsening abuses of its own laws.

The main control room at the Camp was capacious and circular, with curved desks and ergonomic chairs that hugged the wall. Each workstation offered a user access to the G-Hat virtual network, but to connect with the outside world, one had to utilise the cylindrical, glassy tower in the centre of the room. A reflective pillar when inactive, the hub featured a projector that sent holograms into the middle of the tower as required.

The hub worked much the same way as any Hive wall, but with some modifications helping to prevent hacks into the rest of their system. It was also perfect for situations in which more than one person needed to participate in a communication link. Lydia believed the entire setup was nothing short of spectacular. No doubt they’d been able to develop the untraceable consoles only because of whatever financial support the MacNay Corporation had been providing.

Still, Alessia and Lydia had traded one isolated abode for another. At least this one wasn’t full of protectors or tainted by decades of oppression. Greys had been replaced with blues, locked doors with open spaces, and obstacles with possibilities.

The dormitory was unfortunate, though. Each night, the enticing heat of Alessia’s body rejuvenated Lydia, yet they were acutely aware of the other people sleeping nearby, and so Lydia had accepted the fact they’d have no privacy for the foreseeable future.

In truth, she experienced relief and disappointment in equal measure. They’d only spent a few weeks getting to know one another in the Q4C, after a month of silent glances in crowded corridors. The six months of separation following Lydia’s departure had done little to quiet Lydia’s fears her connection to Alessia wasn’t as strong as she’d thought, that perhaps she’d imagined the whole thing given the immediacy of their attraction. Slowing things down, being with one another without expectation, could be the best way for Lydia to validate the tether between the two of them.

The rest of the refugees had been relocated to government-sponsored accommodations in the major cities of Thracia and New Sydney. Only Peleus and Fermi knew exactly where to find Alessia, and Lydia wanted it to stay that way for the moment, regardless of Alessia’s initial protestations.

The entire world knew Alessia’s face now, and there was no way to predict how she’d be received by the mainstream population or what her own people might expect from her as their de facto leader. Leader.

Lydia rested the side of her face against Alessia’s bicep. Her stomach clenched as she capitulated. “Peleus is right, isn’t he? We should hear them out.”

Alessia kissed the top of Lydia’s head, then nodded. “Yes.” She looked at Lydia’s mother. “Helen, I’m ready.”

Don’t miss Book #1 in the The Outsider Project series, Beneath the Surface, available from NineStar Press

Meet the Author

Rebecca Langham lives in the Blue Mountains (Australia) with her partner, three children, and menagerie of pets. A Xenite, a Whovian and all-round general nerd, she’s a lover of science fiction, comic books, and caffeine.

When she isn’t teaching History to high schoolers or wrangling children, Rebecca enjoys playing broomball and reading.

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New Release Blitz: Life Minus Me by Sara Codair

Life Minus Me | Sara Codair

The Evanstar Chronicles #5

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Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: January 6, 2020

Heat Level: 1 – No Sex

Pairing: No Romance

Length: 23,500

Buy Links:

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Blurb

Mel is half Angel, but despite her ability to heal and read minds, she feels powerless to help anyone. When a prophecy shows a local pet supply store owner driving their car off a bridge, Mel sets out to stop it.

Baily, owner of Barks and Bits, is barely holding it together. Things keep going wrong, and their depression spirals out of control. Just as they start wondering if they’d be better off dead, a new friend provides a glimmer of hope. But is that enough to keep living?

Mel never thought saving Baily would be easy, but she can’t figure out when, where, or why Baily’s suicide will happen. As her confidence fades away, she wonders how she can help anyone when she needs so much help herself.

Excerpt

Life Minus Me
Sara Codair © 2019
All Rights Reserved

Mel

Saturday

Sun beat down on Mel’s cold, rosy cheeks, and wind whipped her blonde hair into a frenzy of thrashing strands. She sped up on I-95 in a yellow Jeep Wrangler with the top down on a chilly Saturday morning in January. The fact that she even felt cold at all reminded her that she was a little human…25 percent human.

A salty chill grew in the air. A green bridge loomed on the horizon. It crossed the Piscataqua River, the border between Maine and New Hampshire, leading her from the place where she, a seemingly human college senior who lived with her grad-student fiancé, was deciding which medical school to attend, to one where she was an Angel-Elf-Human hybrid who fought Demons and healed minor injuries. Sometimes, Mel felt like she lived in two worlds. In one, science and reason left little room for belief in the supernatural. In the other, her maternal grandmother was an Elf, her father was an Angel, and the rest of her family members were Demon hunters.

They weren’t technically two separate worlds so much as cultures, one hidden from the other. Mel led a double life in this messy multifaceted world where she tried her best to make it a better place. She tried, but she failed more than she succeeded.

She tapped the steering wheel with her fingers, drumming a rhythm to a song someone was listening to in the car in front of her, one she wasn’t hearing through her ears, but through telepathy she’d failed to turn off. She understood even less of the science behind her mind reading than that of her healing abilities.

Speeding up, she passed the pickup truck whose driver was loudly thinking about the music he was listening to and how it reminded him of his ex-boyfriend. Mel imagined the rush of wind, the growl of her engine, and a big brick wall shielding her mind from everything outside her skull until the music ceased. Mostly. She’d inherited her telepathic powers from her father, but she didn’t control the ability nearly as well as he did.

She tightened her grip on the steering wheel. It was going to be at least another hour before she got to Mary’s Eats, a diner where she was meeting her cousin, Erin, for breakfast.

Driving was difficult when her attempts to control her telepathy failed, but crowded restaurants were more of a challenge. When Mel stepped through glass doors into the diner, other people’s thoughts battered the mental walls she’d constructed around her mind. She squeezed by the line of customers waiting for tables, ignoring their glares and reinforcing her shields so the dull, incoherent murmuring of a dozen minds faded away.

The L-shaped room was filled with pink and blue tables that had been there since the 1950s. The faux-wood vinyl floors were less than a year old, installed around the same time the owners had gutted the walls to insulate them, updated the wiring, and added gender-neutral bathrooms. Those bathrooms, along with the large portions of bacon that the restaurant served, were why Erin often insisted on meeting here.

Erin sat in the fifth booth from the line, hood up and headphones on. Rocking back and forth to the beat of music Mel couldn’t hear, Erin shredded a straw wrapper and stared at the silverware. Two menus sat untouched on the edge of the table.

A bony shoulder collided with Mel’s back. Newspapers flew up into the air and floated to the floor like feathers from broken wings as a man with wispy gray hair and pasty skin jumped backward.

“I’m so sorry,” he said, catching his balance on the side of the booth. “I wasn’t watching where I was going.”

“It’s fine. It’s a good thing you didn’t fall.” Mel bent down and started picking up the dropped papers.

“I’ll get them. I’m healthier than I look.” The old man bent down and scooped up more pages.

Mel picked them up quicker and then helped him back to his feet.

“Thank you,” he said, before shuffling off to a table where a younger person with short brown hair and rosy cheeks glared at a computer screen.

“Cooper, these numbers don’t look right,” said the person, picking at chapped lips.

Cooper clutched his disorganized newspaper to his chest as he looked over the person’s shoulder. “That check was only supposed to be for $5,000, not $50,000!”

“Call the bank. They close at noon,” said the younger person.

“Mel? Someone else is going to walk into you if you keep standing in the middle of the aisle,” said Erin, whose hood and headphones were now off.

“Good point.” Mel slid into the seat across from Erin. “It’s been a long week.”

“It must be horrible, going back to school after having a month off.” Erin gathered pieces of their shredded straw wrapper into a pile and slid them under the menu.

“You had a couple weeks off too.” Mel fidgeted with the ring on her left-hand ring finger.

“Over which I had to write a five-page paper. You had no homework and get to start all new classes.” Erin picked up the butter knife and put it down, squeezing their hands together.

“Are you okay?” Mel leaned forward and tilted her head, peering at Erin’s grass-green eyes, barely resisting the temptation to let her shields down so she could read Erin’s mind.

“Not really.” Erin yanked their right hand away from their left, running their fingers through short, red curls. “The meds my new doctor had me on were actually working until I broke out into hives, got really dizzy, and couldn’t keep a single meal down.”

“That sucks.” Mel curled her hands around the edge of the booth’s seat, digging her fingernails into the old vinyl. Erin wasn’t much more human than Mel, which was probably why medications intended for humans didn’t work. But Erin didn’t know that, and Mel couldn’t tell them the truth—she was bound by an oath that was impossible to break. Had she known what the consequences of this secret would be, she never would’ve agreed to keep it.

“Yup. My stupid brain is already foggy again, and I can’t focus on getting anything done.” Erin picked up the fork, spun it around, and ran their fingers over the prongs.

Mel snatched it out of their hand. “Careful.”

Erin rolled their eyes. “I wish the server would hurry up and come back now that you’re here. I’m starving.”

“Me too.” Mel slid Erin’s napkin and butter knife closer, farther away from Erin.

“Really? You think that little of me?” Erin stood up, fists clenched as they stared out the window to the street where their car, a Jeep Cherokee built four years before Erin was even born, was parked outside.

“Erin, I’m sorry. I just…it’s an old habit, maybe. I’m sorry.” Mel’s hands shook as she waited for Erin to either accept the apology or storm away. Her chest got tight and her eyes burned. A year and a half ago, she had sat with Erin in this very diner, thinking Erin was just fidgeting, not realizing until she dropped her shields that Erin had a butter knife under the table and was nervously running their thumb back and forth over the edge until it bled. It was the type of thing that used to happen all the time, and each time Mel intervened, Erin pushed her further and further away, resisting help no matter who it came from.

Erin took a deep breath and sat back down. “I don’t cut anymore, and if me being off medication means you’re going to start meddling with my life again, I’m not talking to you. Either accept that I’m fine without your interference or leave me alone.”

“Okay. I’ll stop. I won’t intrude.” Mel gritted her teeth. Erin would’ve died if she hadn’t meddled. Erin’s bitterness over Mel’s interference in a suicide attempt was a sign Erin was not fine at all, but there was nothing Mel could do about it without crossing boundaries and breaking the fragile trust she’d built with her cousin.

Erin leaned forward. “I have a good therapist now. Mom isn’t ignoring me as much as she used to. Be my cousin and friend. Don’t act like some guardian angel trying to save me.”

Mel squeezed her eyes shut, holding tears in. She’d do what Erin asked, for now, even though it made her feel like a complete failure, like the shittiest Angel ever.

Don’t miss Book #1 in the The Evanstar Chronicles series, Power Surge, available from NineStar Press

Erin has just realized that for the entirety of their life, their family has lied to them. Their Sight has been masked for years, so Erin thought the Pixies and Mermaids were hallucinations. Not only are the supernatural creatures they see daily real, but their grandmother is an Elf, meaning Erin isn’t fully human. On top of that, the dreams Erin thought were nightmares are actually prophecies.

While dealing with the anger they have over all of the lies, they are getting used to their new boyfriend, their boyfriend’s bullying ex, and the fact that they come from a family of Demon Hunters. As Erin struggles through everything weighing on them, they uncover a Demon plot to take over the world.

Erin just wants some time to work through it all on their own terms, but that’s going to have to wait until after they help save the world.

About the Author

Sara Codair lives in a world of words, writing fiction in every free moment, teaching writing at a community college and binge-reading fantasy novels.

When not lost in words, Sara can often be found hiking, swimming, or gardening. Find Sara’s words in Alternative Truths, Helios Quarterly, and Secrets of the Goat People, at https://saracodair.com/

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New Release Blitz: The Empress of Xytae by Effie Calvin

The Empress of Xytae | Effie Calvin

Tales of Inthya #4

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Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: December 30, 2019

Heat Level: 2 – Fade to Black Sex

Pairing: Female/Female

Length: 83,500

Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy, LGBT, royalty, new adult, magic, paladins, gods, goddesses

Buy Links:

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

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Blurb

Crown Princess Ioanna of Xytae has kept her truthsayer blessing a secret for twenty years. In any other nation, her powerful magic would be cause for celebration. But Xytae’s patron is the war goddess Reygmadra, and the future empress is expected to be a brutal warrior.

Reserved and peaceful by nature, Ioanna knows the court sees her as a disappointment. She does her best to assuage their worries every day, working quietly beside her mother to keep the empire running while her father is away at war. But when news of the emperor’s untimely death reaches the capital, Ioanna finds herself ousted by her younger sister Netheia, who has the war magic Ioanna lacks.

Princess Vitaliya of Vesolda has come to Xytae to avoid her father’s upcoming wedding, which she sees as an affront to her mother’s memory. Vitaliya has absolutely no interest in politics or power struggles and intends to spend her time attending parties and embarrassing her family. But when she saves Ioanna’s life during Netheia’s coup, the two are forced to flee the capital together.

Despite their circumstances, Vitaliya enjoys travelling with Ioanna and realizes that the future empress’s shy and secretive nature is the result of her unhappy childhood. Ioanna is equally unaccustomed to being in the company of one as earnest and straightforward as Vitaliya, for she has spent her life surrounded by ambitious and cutthroat nobles.

Ioanna cannot allow her sister to continue their father’s legacy, and plots to rally supporters to her side so she can interrupt Netheia’s coronation. Vitaliya knows she ought to leave Xytae before the nation is ripped apart by civil war but finds she is unwilling to abandon Ioanna.

But Ioanna’s enemies are always watching…and they’ve realized that Vitaliya is a weakness to be exploited.

Excerpt

The Empress of Xytae
Effie Calvin © 2019
All Rights Reserved

Reygmadra

The Imperial Palace at Xyuluthe buzzed with anticipation. Empress Enessa had finally gone into labor, and the heir to the Xytan Empire would be born within a few hours. The archpriest of Adranus and the archpriestess of Pemele were both there to aid with the birth along with countless members of the imperial court who would bear witness to the historic event.

Reygmadra, Goddess of Warfare and Eighth of the Ten, waited just outside the empress’s chambers, unseen by all who passed. She would not deny she was beginning to grow impatient. She was only here to bless the child, the future empress. Then she would be on her way.

If the child ever arrived.

Reygmadra had no tolerance for children, nor for the tedious conversations that always surrounded a birth—discussions of size, weight, and bodily functions. She had left the empress’s room because she had grown tired of the pointless hysterical screaming, but this was undoubtably worse.

Unfortunately, she could not grant a blessing to a mortal until after it had taken its first breath. This was one of the rules she and her fellow gods had agreed upon when they’d first set out to create Inthya. Even Reygmadra could see the value in this one, for if babies could use magic in the womb, nobody would ever risk giving birth ever again.

Emperor Ionnes was occupied, as always, by his campaign in Masim. He would not return to meet his new daughter for several months. Some of the members of the court were muttering about this, but Reygmadra did not see the trouble. What help could Ionnes be right now? He would only be in the way if he tried to help. At least in Masim, he was serving his nation by leading the army.

She longed to be there, whispering ideas in his ear as he slept, soaking up the power she received when tens of thousands of warriors prayed to her in unison. Of course, the prayers would find her no matter where she was on the mortal realm of Inthya or in the celestial planes of Asterium. But there was nothing like experiencing it firsthand.

Babies seemed to bring out the stupidest, weakest aspects of mankind. One of the Xytans was now relaying a tale of someone else’s labor, and Reygmadra decided to take a walk before she lost her temper and stabbed someone.

She moved through the palace like a specter, her face unseen and heavy footsteps unheard. She was dressed as she usually did when she manifested on Inthya, as a common soldier with short sword and breastplate. If someone did somehow see her, they would think nothing of her.

One of the rooms led out into a garden, and Reygmadra decided she had been indoors for too long. She stepped out into the sunlight, into the fresh air.

Reygmadra didn’t think much of gardens—they were really just a waste of space—but this one was empty, so she would stay for a while. As she moved, she kept an ear to the palace, hoping she would soon hear distant cheers.

“Still waiting?”

A woman dressed as a Xytan noble stood there among the flowers. She had olive-toned skin and long, wavy ebony hair, and her face was impossibly, supernaturally beautiful. The dress she wore was simple but elegant, all wine-colored silk that perfectly emphasized wide hips and a narrow waist. Despite her disguise as a mortal woman, Reygmadra recognized Dayluue—Goddess of Love and Seventh of the Ten.

“It will be a while yet,” said Reygmadra. “Why are you here?”

“I’m feeling neglected,” Dayluue said. “You haven’t come to see me in ages.”

“I’m busy.”

“You’re always busy.” Crimson lips pressed together in a pout as Dayluue adjusted the neckline of her dress aggressively. “Maybe I should call on someone else. I wonder what Nara is doing.”

Possessive rage seized at Reygmadra, and Dayluue began to laugh. But the sound was cut short when Reygmadra grabbed her by the shoulders. A moment later, she had Dayluue pressed between the garden wall and her own body.

“I love it when you get jealous,” Dayluue said breathlessly. “Kiss me?”

Reygmadra brought her lips to Dayluue’s throat. Dayluue tilted her head back, hands clasping at Reygmadra’s hair, and laughed again. “I have missed you,” she said.

“I don’t believe you,” said Reygmadra because expecting strict monogamy from Dayluue was like expecting a bird to refrain from flight.

“I’ll prove it, then.” Dayluue’s eyes sparkled.

“No. I’m busy.”

“I never took you for the sort to get excited over a birth. Or are you finally realizing what I’ve been saying about the population—”

“No. I’m just giving her a blessing, and then I’m leaving.”

“It might be a while,” warned Dayluue. “Labor can last an entire day.”

Reygmadra shuddered. “Awful.”

“Well, they wouldn’t have to do it so often if you didn’t keep convincing them to kill one another.”

Reygmadra rolled her eyes. “Did you come here just to argue?”

Dayluue pressed her lips to Reygmadra’s. “Only if you really want to,” she murmured into her mouth. The scent of her mortal body, flowers and sweat and pheromones, was intoxicating.

They were antithesis to each other, and yet, there was an undeniable symmetry to their domains. They were two primal forces, mindless impulse given sentience. And sometimes the fiery lust Dayluue elicited from her felt identical to the thrill of battle.

Perhaps that was why Dayluue always returned to her. Perhaps that was why Reygmadra did not object to Dayluue’s wandering.

When they met like this in Asterium, it was a union of selves, of auras and magic, and two becoming one in the way none but their own kind could hope to understand. It was delightful to have Dayluue’s energy surging through her, to feel her own spirit within Dayluue. Reygmadra always came away from these unions feeling softer, lighter. But not weaker. Never weaker.

On Inthya, with warm bodies made of blood and flesh, things were different. On Inthya, Dayluue was in control, and Reygmadra was helpless under her expert fingers.

“Kiss me again,” said Dayluue. “But lower, this time.”

About the Author

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

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New Release Blitz: Essex Colony by Lia Cooper

Essex Colony | Lia Cooper

The Moon Mirror #1

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Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: December 30, 2019

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Female/Female

Length: 36600

Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy, LGBT, mutations, scientists, space travel, moon colonists, AI, shifter, interspecies, alien influence

Buy Links:

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Blurb

It’s been 227 days since Essex Colony’s last transmission…

Dispatched to the surface of Essex Prime and tasked with discovering what happened to the colony, Doctor Soran Ingram discovers that most of the colonists are dead and the surviving Executive Officer—Aline Aster—has turned into a ravening wolf-beast. The human survivors claim the XO and her Lunaran fellows went mad and killed everyone, but Soran has her doubts.

Following Aster’s testimony, as well as clues left behind, Soran embarks on a fact-finding mission to retrace the colony’s last steps before disaster struck.

She’ll soon discover more than uncertainty lurks in the dark spaces of the world.

Excerpt

Essex Colony
Lia Cooper © 2019
All Rights Reserved

Federal Standard Days since Last Essex Colony Transmission…227

Essex Colony, Location: Essex Prime/Equatorial 10S, Greenwich Meridian

06:55 AM, Colony Time

Soran stood at the forward port viewing station on board the starship Emery and watched Essex Prime spin slowly below her, a bright blue and green marble hanging in the dark of space. Technically speaking, the planet bore only a superficial resemblance to Earth, but she could see the appeal it must have had for the Earther colonists who had signed on to colonize it for the company. In her time working aboard the Emery, she had learned the importance of superficiality for her Earther colleagues. Something as simple as a color was often enough to evoke an emotional resonance for them.

They had picked Essex Prime for colonization because someone in the company had nicknamed it Earth 3—not to be confused with Earth 2, a planet locally know as L’n’ze-q24—but Soran wondered what they would find when they went down there now. Two hundred and twenty-seven days since since the colony’s last official transmission plus no sign of comms signals since the Emery crossed into local communication range combined into an anxious loop in Soran’s lesser subroutines. Fear, she realized, fear of what they would find.

Essex Prime wouldn’t be the first colony lost to catastrophic failure, whether from some unforeseen natural disaster or a breakdown in the colony’s equipment, or from a dangerous local agent that went unnoticed in the initial planetary surveys. There were a hundred things that could go wrong this far from galactic center.

The ship’s computer beeped at her through the ship’s network to remind her she was expected on the airlock deck in fifteen minutes.

She was dressed in her ground suit and had her go bag packed at her feet—just the essentials. The ship’s sensors hadn’t shown anything out of the ordinary, besides a lack of collected life signs large enough to belong to the colonists. This trip was intended as a brief scouting mission to ascertain the situation on the ground.

<<Contact. Doctor Ingram, did you receive your departure reminder?

Soran shouldered her go bag and acknowledged the computer’s check-in. Externally, she kept her expression blank as she made her way down to the airlock. That fear feeling squeezed at her regulatory system. If she were inclined to hope, she told herself, she’d hope that the colony’s comms equipment had simply suffered a mechanical breakdown and the colonists would greet them on the ground, all accounted for—all of them, but especially one Lunaran in particular. But even as the idea flickered through one of her lesser processes, another part of Soran wanted to shunt it away where it couldn’t hurt her to be disappointed. If she could only match her interior to the smooth expressionless surface of her exterior, then whatever they found couldn’t make that fear feeling worse.

But her interior felt riotous, clenching and twisting tight as her boots crossed the threshold, loud on the docking bay floor. The transport ship awaited her along with the two dozen security and medical personnel scheduled to fly down for the recon.

It had been nearly three years since she’d last seen Aline Aster, but Soran’s memory banks were nearly perfect—far superior to her Earther counterparts’—and she could recall with crisp clarity the feel of the Lunaran’s skin under her cutaneous sensors, the taste of her mouth, the sting of her teeth against Soran’s breasts, and the cadence of her voice winding down as she fell asleep still murmuring the words of a bedtime story from her homeworld. What would it feel like if Soran disembarked on Essex Prime to…nothing. No signs of life, no colony, no Aster waiting with a sheepish explanation for their silence?

But Security Chief Ryan was gesturing at her impatiently to board the transport vessel and Soran did the only thing she could do with this reductive thought string—she cut and pasted it into its own file and then buried it deep below her internal checklist for the mission. They were minutes away from an answer one way or another.

Or more precisely, fourteen hours later, she’d be staring into the malformed face of an answer while that fear in her chest crushed her heart into the sliver of a black hole.

Soran didn’t have a single word in her mouth as she stood next to SC Ryan outside the detention cell, staring in at what remained of XO Aster. Soran had to think of her—it like that or she was afraid the anguish would overwhelm her. She’d never lost someone with a personal—and emotional—connection to her before, and she wasn’t sure that her software had been properly programmed to handle that sort of emotional upheaval. The last thing she could afford to do would be to lose herself here on the ground, especially in front of SC Ryan.

“They found…it lurking around the edge of the forest. At the backside of the emergency compound,” SC Ryan said in a deep, bland voice, his eyes heavy on XO Aster’s hunched form. “Took enough electricity to stop an animal twice as big to subdue and facilitate capture.”

Soran swallowed around the bile in her throat. “And you want me to…?”

Ryan glanced at her finally, with a scowl, and said, “I don’t— Chelsea wants you to find out if it can talk. Find out why it killed the settlers. If there are any other Lunarans running around out there still. Probably a waste of time, but seeing as there’s nothing else for you to do down here, I figure you can’t hurt anything. Maybe ask it if this was their plan all along.”

“Who? The Lunarans? You don’t really think this was intentional?” Soran angled her face so she could glimpse Ryan’s expression without looking at him directly. She knew it unnerved the Earthers when she stared at them too closely.

“From what the survivors have told us—” he began.

“XO Aster is a survivor,” Soran insisted, choosing to ignore that part where she showed little resemblance to her former shape and sentience.

SC Ryan snorted and thrust a thick, calloused finger at the barrier separating them from the detention cell. “That’s a fucking monster,” he said.

“If that were true then what is the point of me—”

“I’m getting tired of your attitude, Ingram,” SC Ryan interrupted. He shot her a narrow-eyed look, a quick up and down that took in her entire person and always made Soran feel like a bug under a microscope—even if the Security Chief had probably never touched a microscope before. “You’re the ship shrink. Ask your questions, see what information you can get out of it, and report to Chelsea. Those are your orders. Don’t think about it too much; that’s not what they pay you for. Just collect the fucking data.”

Soran watched him leave, the door shutting behind him with an ominous clang that seemed to resonate in her perfectly shaped enamel plated teeth. She stared down at her boots, straight and shoulder-width apart, holding her up while her processor counted the individual beats of her circulatory system. A minute passed, or what more felt like a quarter of an hour, before a hoarse voice scraped across the air between her and the detention cell.

“S’not safe.”

A shiver raced down her spine. Soran looked up and met Aster’s all too familiar eyes, her circulatory regulator thumping painfully against the metal ribs of her geneered skeleton.

About the Author

Lia Cooper is a twenty-something native of the Pacific Northwest, voracious reader, pop-culture addict, and writer. She cultivated an early interest in writing through fandom and completed writing her first full length novel with the help of NaNoWriMo.

In the years since, she’s dabbled in catering, barista-ing, and working as a pastry chef before finally returning full time to the thing she loves most: storytelling.

When she’s not glued to Scrivener, Lia enjoys playing video games with friends and reviewing books for her booktube channel.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

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New Release Blitz: A Husband For Santa by Doreen Heron

A Husband for Santa | Doreen Heron

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Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: December 23, 2019

Heat Level: 1 – No Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 20600

Genre: Holiday, LGBT, Folklore, magic, elves, Christmas, romance, fantasy

Buy Links:

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Blurb

Father Christmas knows his time delivering presents is coming to an end, and his son is more than ready to take his place at the helm of the sleigh. But family tradition stands in Turk’s way.

He must find a Mrs. Claus to help share the burden. Unfortunately for tradition, he would rather a husband than a wife, and he doesn’t have time to meet anyone anyway.

At the same time, Christmasologist and PhD candidate Symeon Golightly finds himself sad and alone over the holidays.

Maybe a chance encounter and a Christmas wish will bring them together.

Excerpt

A Husband for Santa
Doreen Heron © 2019
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One
“Prepare the landing bay to receive the sleigh. I repeat, prepare the landing bay to receive the sleigh. We expect the mission to be terminated in fifteen minutes. I repeat, the sleigh is fifteen minutes away.”

The elves began to scramble, thousands of them getting to their feet and running from dormitories and lounges, through the glistening silver ice corridors and into the straw-lined landing bay. With nimble fingers, trained through years of constructing toys and preparing lists, they padded out stables with fresh straw and hay. They filled troughs with water and bowls with cereals and carrots. They swept the solid snow that had drifted in when the sleigh left and dried up the pools of water where the snow had warmed enough to melt. The elf children, too young to have any real responsibilities yet but old enough to graduate over the year and take on jobs for the following Christmas, took a break from observing and making notes and leapt to the gas lamps, lighting them to give the reindeer a cozy environment to come home to.

“We expect the mission to be terminated in ten minutes. I repeat, the sleigh is ten minutes away.”

Some of the older elves, particularly those celebrating their final Christmases, jumped as Turk’s voice boomed over the loudspeaker. They hadn’t enjoyed this particular “innovation” and much preferred when his father had been in training and instead came to each of them in turn to make the announcements personally. They were glad to be retiring to let the younger generations—who didn’t seem to be quite as attached to the traditional ways—take the reins. En masse, the elves retreated to the back of the room, where they surveyed their work. It looked nice. Cozy. They wanted nothing more than for the reindeer to be able to rest as soon as they arrived home, and for Father Christmas himself to feel the wave of relaxation hit him after finishing his deliveries for another year. The younger generations waited with bated breath as Inger—the oldest elf and Chieftain of their little tribe—surveyed the room. She pointed to a corner where one last errant cobweb was stubbornly clinging to a beam, and one of the children leapt to a broom and scurried to clear it away.

“We expect the mission to be terminated in five minutes. I repeat, the sleigh is five minutes away.”

Inger surveyed the room again and smiled as she was satisfied with what she saw. Her team had served her well, this final Christmas. She nodded to the corner, where an elf stood alone. He was easily two heads taller than the others, almost the size of one of the human children for whom they made presents and was well muscled. At Inger’s nod, he turned to the wheel at his side and began to crank it. A creaking sound boomed from the timber roof, as it began to part. At once, the elderly elves started their chant, an ancient elven magic to protect the stable against the elements. The snow itself obeyed them, falling to settle on the roof and avoiding the hole that was emerging. When it was wide enough for the sleigh to fit, the muscled elf stopped cranking. But the elderly continued to sing, keeping the heat generated by the gas lamps inside the room, and keeping out the snow that was falling so violently.

“The sleigh has been sighted over the Crystalline Falls. I am on my way. I repeat, Turk is en route.”

The elderly elves rankled at the announcement. Never before had a Santa-in-Training ever felt the need to oversee the landing. It had always been a privilege afforded to the elves as a reward for their hard work. But times were changing, and all new Father Christmases had to put their own mark on the role.

Turk’s mark, it seemed to the elves, was micromanagement.

But they continued to chant, regardless. One slip in their song and winter would get into the landing bay, undoing all their work and discomforting Father Christmas and his eight faithful deer who had fit an entire year of work into a single night. And not one of them was prepared to let that happen.

The chanting could be heard across the palace. Turk emerged from the control room and stopped for a second to listen.

The sound of the elves was the sound of his life. Of hours waiting for his father to come home from work and tell stories of all the children to whom he had delivered gifts. Of those he thought Turk might like to be friends with if it were ever possible to leave Polynya. Those who had grown older and who chose not to believe in him anymore, just because their parents had chosen not to believe. Those who ignored all the evidence right in front of them that proved he existed, and instead put blind faith in parents who had no evidence other than what their parents had told them, who relied only on what their parents had told them before. Those were the stories that saddened Turk the most, particularly when he entered his teenage years and the children who he had considered peers and friends stopped believing.

They no longer wanted him to exist.

It was a happy song and a sad song. A song of hope and joy and obligation and loss. And in that moment, as he finally allowed himself a break in his work to take stock, he felt the loss of his own father about to retire and the joy of his own life about to begin.

He took a deep breath to steel himself. He couldn’t allow the elves to see his moment of weakness. Yes, they may have raised him and bathed him and changed his diapers, but as of the moment his father touched down in the sleigh, he was Father Christmas, and he had to lead them as a general leads his troops.

He had a family legacy to live up to.

He set his jaw, strong and stubbled, and took a moment to wipe the tears from his icy blue eyes. He pulled himself upright, towering over the elves at six feet and two inches and straightened his back. He’d read a book that said good posture commanded respected, and he needed his elves to respect him.

The echo of his black leather jackboots clattered through the ice corridors as he strode to the landing bay. Another tip from his book. Walk with a heavy step and make your presence known before you arrive so people know you’re there. He wasn’t entirely sure if that one applied to working from his own home, but he figured the author knew what he was talking about and was quite determined to follow all the advice on offer.

The torches lining the walls lit as he approached and extinguished as he walked by—lit long enough so that he could see, but not so long that they would begin to melt the walls. He moved deftly through the maze-like corridors and hallways, following the shortcut he’d figured out when he was a child and wanted to trick the elves into thinking his magic had developed. The truth was it would have been easier for him to teleport into the Landing Bay, but that didn’t quite make as much of an impact on the sound of his boots on the ice floors.

And it was all about the impact.

The elves scrambled out of the way as the two solid pine doors to the landing bay swung open, and Turk strode in. Quickly, they pulled themselves back together and stood to attention as he had taught them. The elderly elves objected to this, finding the position highly uncomfortable, and their hearts were glad they were required to carry on chanting.

“At ease,” he commanded, and the elves moved fluidly into position. Even the children, keen to impress their future boss, joined in and tried hard not to giggle as Turk walked back and forth past them, looking them over. “You are well presented, in spite of tonight’s working conditions. I’m glad I’m finally getting through to you.”

Inger chaffed at his words and closed her eyes to drown out what he was saying so she could focus on the ancient and magical words of her people.

“The loading bay is acceptable,” he continued, striding around the bay and peering into each hay-filled stall. “I feel we will have much work to do over the coming year to modernize this space and maximize efficiency, but that will come on December 26. For now, this is acceptable.”

A single snowflake fell through the opening in the roof as Inger let her guard slip. The Landing Bay had never been merely “acceptable” on her watch. Nor on her mother’s. Nor on her grandmother’s. She and the Matriarchs took their role seriously, and they worked hard to ensure that everything was done to perfection. Thankfully, the flake melted long before it was noticed by anyone other than her. She felt it fall as she felt her concentration lapse, and she certainly wouldn’t allow herself to do anything that he would merely consider to be “acceptable.”

She was so looking forward to retirement.

She felt for her daughter, who would need to take the reins and put up with Turk’s peculiar brand of nonsense.

A roar of wind and snow occurred overhead, and the children became antsy in anticipation of what was about to happen. Turk looked up and nodded, happy the elements were being kept out of the landing bay and satisfied the roof was open enough to allow the sleigh in so it could land. He squinted and saw a very faint red light in the distance.

“Showtime, ladies and gentlemen,” he said. The elves scrambled once again, lining up along the walls and the stall doors, leaving as much floor space as possible free for the sleigh to come in and land. While still chanting, the elderly elves walked to the far north wall, against which was set a raised platform. They walked up onto the platform and stood, choirlike, continuing their chant for the last few moments of their careers.

They were ready.

Turk joined them on the stage, running his hand through his dirty blond hair and smoothing down his wine-red suit. This was his moment. The moment he had spent his whole life preparing for. From the moment his father landed the sleigh, he would take charge, and the next Christmas would be his. His book had said to “make sure one presents oneself properly” from the very beginning of the job.

He was ready.

The red pinpoint of light grew bigger and bigger as the distant sound of sleigh bells began to chime. Turk took a deep breath and shifted his weight from foot to foot. He would never admit he was nervous and was almost positive the churning in his stomach was caused by the questionable reindeer meat in the curry which his mother had served the night before. But as he straightened his red tie for the fifth time that minute, the elves could see he was nervous. A couple of the children sniggered and pointed, but the others had sympathy for him. They knew his dad was a popular Father Christmas, and so he had a lot to live up to.

And if some of them were honest with themselves, they weren’t sure he would.

The sound of the sleigh bells grew louder and louder until finally the sleigh itself hovered overhead. The deer were well rehearsed by now and hovered in place until they were given the order to descend. It was a silent command, given by a Father Christmas who had spent two centuries working with each family line. He allowed for a delicate lowering of deer and sleigh alike until its wooden rails and thirty-two hooves set down on the landing bay’s tiled floor. At once, the elves scrambled into action and the bay became a hive of interaction. The elves turned the wheel, and the roof closed. The elves standing by the stall gates unlatched them, and then headed to their own deer, unhooking them and leading them over to their stall. First Rudolph, then Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen, and so on until all nine were safely locked away and gratefully lapping their water.

As they were working hurriedly, Inger and the other elderly elves made their way to the sleigh and helped Father Christmas. He was wobbly on his feet as he stood but was able to make his way down to the landing bay floor entirely unaided.

“Turk,” he called, his voice booming through the Bay. “Please see to it that the sack is returned to its rightful spot.”

“Of course, Papa,” Turk replied. He turned to an elf, the only elf currently unemployed, and gave the command. “You heard him. Take the sack to the—”

“No, Turk.” His father stopped by the pine doors. “I asked you to please take the sack and put it away.”

“But Papa. This is what the elves are—”

“The elves are not your slaves, Turk. They work for the children, not for you. Now, please put the sack away and then meet me in the Lounge.”

“The Debriefing Room,” Turk corrected his father under his breath as he made his way to the sleigh and pulled the large, empty, hessian sack from the back seat. It looked so different with the enchantments faded and the magic gone for another year. Now, it was loose and malleable and normal.

He didn’t like it.

Carefully, he laid it out on the floor, careful to ensure no elf trampled over it and folded it in half, and then half again, and then half again. There was no ceremony to the sack any more, and that made him a little sad. He very much enjoyed being a child and watching his father and Inger fold it carefully and then carry it solemnly to its room to be put away. He looked at Inger, who was observing him carefully, and was certain he saw a tear in her holly-green eye. It was a shame, he thought, that she so disliked him that she refused to even help him with the sack ceremony.

“At least there will be new Elders next year,” he mused, picking up the sack and carefully making his way out of the landing bay along the twisting corridors toward the Toy Room. “Maybe the new Matriarch will want to do the ceremony with me.” The Toy Room doors slid open, and he walked amongst the empty shelves to the illuminated glass box where the sack resided during the off-season. Gently, he opened the box and placed the sack inside. As it hit the bottom of the glass, it began to shine in gentle hues of red and green and gold, its magic immediately beginning to replenish and rejuvenate. “I’ll see you next year,” Turk whispered to it before he turned around and tiptoed to the Debriefing Room.

He saw no need to announce his presence to his own father.

Meet the Author

Doreen Heron is a writer who is finally living her dream in Cornwall, England. She is lucky to live in the county she loves, and to be using her writing to entertain her readers.

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New Release Blitz: A Town Called Noelle by MK Hardy

A Town Called Noelle | MK Hardy

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Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: December 2, 2019

Heat Level: 2 – Fade to Black Sex

Pairing: Female/Female

Length: 30,200

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Blurb

Just a few days before Christmas, high-flying city exec Brooke Hawkins is forced to return to her small home town due to the death of her mother, who she hasn’t spoken to since she left for college over a decade before. The town, Noelle, is as full of the Christmas spirit as its name suggests. Brooke is more of the “Bah, Humbug” persuasion.

She has a funeral to attend, property to sell, and she wants to do it and leave—preferably before December 25th. Unfortunately, the weather and the pace of small-town life both conspire to keep her right where she is.

Small-town baker Holly Jackson gets a nasty shock when she receives the news, just days before Christmas, that her little shop is about to be sold from under her by her late landlady’s estranged daughter.

In the years since her husband died in a tragic accident, she and her daughter Maya have been getting by, healing and rebuilding. Holly was beginning to really enjoy life again. She doesn’t plan to let some woman she hasn’t seen since high school come in and ruin everything.

When Holly and Brooke cross paths, sparks fly—and not in a good way. Brooke is determined to sell up and get out of town—and outrun her bad memories in the process. Holly is determined to make her business work.

When an unstoppable force meets an immovable object, can the spirit of Noelle change minds… and melt hearts?

Excerpt

A Town Called Noelle
MK Hardy © 2019
All Rights Reserved

Nine Days Till Christmas
“Goddammnit, where’s the friggin’ windshield wipers on this–oh, finally.”

Brooke sighed in relief as the automatic wipers came on just in time to swipe the sudden veil of snow off the windshield, allowing her to see the long, empty road ahead of her. The forecast had cautioned there might be scattered snow showers, but this had come out of nowhere, turning the onerous drive into a slightly more nerve-racking prospect.

She barely drove any more in the city, and the rental car was an unfamiliar make, with buttons and toggles and a slick GPS system she hadn’t even bothered to turn on. There was only one road where she was going, and she knew it well.

Noelle, Michigan, was the sort of place known only to those who lived there—or those who’d left. One of those lower peninsula towns far enough north to feel isolated, and not close enough to any Great Lakes to be of interest to anybody.

The first hour on the road had been fine, a relatively clear run. Now it was getting dark the temperature had dropped like a stone, and Brooke regretted not paying the extra to fly into Traverse City instead of Grand Rapids. It wasn’t like her, really, to sacrifice time and effort to save money, but this time, for this trip, she hadn’t been able to keep her mother’s voice out of her head.

“I’m not paying an arm and a leg to fly into that glorified back yard just to save an hour’s drive!”

Still, it would be fine. She’d seen snowploughs parked in rest stops she’d passed, and her destination was a straight shot up the road. She resisted the urge to drive a little faster; the sooner she got there, the sooner she could leave.

A dark object loomed ahead. Almost too late, Brooke noticed it was stationary, pulling sharply to the side to miss it. A car horn screamed as she slid back into her own lane just in time to miss a vehicle coming the other way. The snow was coming down properly now, and people were clearly getting stupid. Including you. Eyes on the road.

Brooke pulled into Noelle at five minutes to eleven. She could barely see for the swirling snow but even if she could’ve she knew there wouldn’t be much there—a few shops, a stop sign at the town’s only four-way intersection, tidy sidewalks rapidly being covered in a thick blanket of white. Carefully she steered down one of the side streets where she had once ridden her bike, chased by jeering bullies. Now it was home to a B and B she hoped was still open to late check-ins.

Nearly every house on this street and every other she’d driven down was lit up. In Noelle, people took “the season” seriously. Even back when Brooke was a kid folks didn’t much care what precisely you were celebrating, but there was an expectation that one way or another you would double your bills in December turning your house and yard into an electrical fire hazard.

She pulled up outside Lakeview Guest House (the name was an outright lie) to find herself greeted by a twinkling facade adorned not just with the obligatory string of coloured lights along the eaves but a large Santa Claus waving merrily from the wall.

“Wow. Talk about tacky,” she muttered, throwing on her parking brake and then pulling her coat collar up and opening the door. Snow swirled around her as she emerged from the car and retrieved her suitcase from the trunk; there was enough blanketing the ground to make rolling the case up the front path a physical impossibility. Instead she lugged it with her as she tried to avoid any patches of black ice that might be lurking underneath—the last thing she needed right now was a twisted ankle.

She remembered the late hour only a split second after she’d pressed the doorbell. A loud “ho, ho, ho!” rang through the house’s interior. Brooke winced. Not the best first impression. Still, the inside porch light came on almost right away, so at least she hadn’t woken her host. Only most of the guests, probably. A few moments later an older woman wearing a navy housecoat opened the door.

“You must be Ms Hawkins.” Brooke, still cringing from the doorbell moment, found herself momentarily lost for words, but the woman simply reached to take her case from her unresisting grip. “C’mon, we’re letting the weather in.”

The woman led her not to any sort of reception, but rather through to the dimly lit kitchen at the back of the house. The table lamp and book at the breakfast bar pointed to the landlady’s previous location, but now she put the case down by the door and moved over to the coffee maker. “Hot chocolate? Herbal tea? You’ll want something after that drive…”

“Some bourbon?” Brooke said wryly, reaching up to ruffle the snow out of her tousled bob.

Her host’s response was a chuckle. “Hot chocolate, then,” she said, pressing the relevant button on the machine, which was an automated multi-function affair. In moments, it poured no doubt underheated and watery brown liquid into the waiting mug. Perhaps she spotted Brooke’s expression, as she hastened to reassure her. “There’ll be proper fresh-brewed coffee in the morning,” she said. “I keep this around for emergencies. And workmen.”

“It’s not the first time I’ve been described as an emergency,” Brooke said as she accepted the mug, wrapping her hands around it. It might not’ve had any booze in, but it was still welcome after a long drive, and she let the silence stretch out as she sipped, looking around herself with idle interest. The inside of the house was no less festive than the outside, with obviously handmade snowflakes adorning the kitchen cabinet doors.

“That weather’s certainly an emergency—it’s come down fast out there. Expect we’ll be snowed in for days.”

This got her attention. “Snowed in? But I saw the snowploughs out just a couple of hours ago—they’ll have the streets cleared by morning, surely.”

“Running to stand still if you ask me—you wait and see. I know a proper blizzard when I see one and this snow’s settling in for the long haul.”

Just my luck. Outwardly Brooke managed a bland smile. “I guess we’ll see. The municipal building will still be open though, right? They wouldn’t close just because of a little snow.”

“Oh, I expect so, as long as the power’s on.”

Meet the Author

MK Hardy is the pen name for two geeky women living and writing together in Scotland. They’ve been writing partners for eleven years and life partners for nine. When they’re not typing frantically at one another they like to walk the dogs, cuddle the cats, drink cocktails and play boardgames.

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New Release Blitz: Never Knew Until You by L.E. Royal

Never Knew Until You | L.E. Royal

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Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: October 7, 2019

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Length: 63,900

Buy Links:

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Blurb

After the dissolution of her fourteen-year marriage to her cheating ex-wife, forty-year-old college professor Parker Freeman finds herself adrift. Suddenly middle-aged with so much time wasted, she seeks solstice online where she stumbles upon The Pandora Agency—an organization claiming to help individuals find themselves through submission. Encouraged to be a little wild by her best friend, Parker speaks to the agency and sets up a meeting with a female dominant, Miss Diaz.

Greeted at the door of an impressive Miami townhouse by a young woman, Parker questions her decision as she waits for the girl’s mother. Stunned by the reveal that 24-year-old Kristina is in fact the Miss Diaz she has come to meet, she is dragged headfirst into a new world.

Despite Kristina’s commitment issues and Parker’s shattered confidence, the two enter into a tenuous agreement that sparks Parker’s rediscovery of herself. Both are surprised by their compatibility until they stumble across the line from arrangement into relationship, and Kristina calls their time together to an end. When an unexpected catastrophe throws them back together, old demons are finally brought into the light, and both women must decide if letting go of the past is worth the future they could have together.

Excerpt

Never Knew Until You
L.E. Royal © 2019
All Rights Reserved

“Miss Freeman?”

Parker snapped her head back to her lawyer.

She still had her name, thank God for that. Amanda hadn’t wanted to go through the trouble of changing her medical license after they married, and transitioning from Professor Freeman to Professor Miller had just seemed like too much work.

“Doctor Miller has proposed that you keep the house in South Beach, and she will keep the condo downtown. Is that agreeable?”

Of course she wanted the condo. God, this is happening.

“Fine.”

Her reply was terse, and she tried to look anywhere but at Amanda, perfectly put together in her usual designer slacks and jacket. The resident she had been having an affair with for years—early thirties and gorgeous—waited for her in the hall. Parker felt frumpy, plain in comparison in her blue jeans and politely heeled boots, and forty years old.

She cried on the way home, still lost and furious. Deep down she’d known Amanda was having an affair for some time, but their life had been so comfortably routine, and the loss of that comfort scared her, so she’d adhered to the routine blindly.

Monday through Wednesday Amanda was on call and stayed at the hospital—or so she’d said—Thursday they went out for dinner, Friday Parker finished late after her office hours, and Saturday morning they had sex before Amanda disappeared to a conference, or a clinic, or some other work-related necessity. She’d resurface for her token appearance Sunday night, before it all began again.

Her mind still grappled with it all. How the hell she’d come to accept this as her life. The cheating, the lying, the regularly scheduled sex for God’s sake? She’d been so scared to lose the status quo, the only life she’d known for years, she’d just let it happen, and then she’d lost it all anyway. How is that fair?

The house was empty, which was nothing new. Amanda’s schedule left her alone a lot of the time before, but somehow, Parker noticed it more now.

She kicked off her boots, poured herself a glass of wine, and sat down with her laptop. Miserable, she resigned herself to answering emails.

Somewhere between recommending chapter nine and a review of last month’s lectures for the third time, she drifted out onto the internet. It had become a guilty not-quite-pleasure of late. Browsing divorce forums, searching in the sea of dissatisfied women behind keyboards for something, anything, to make her feel like any of this was going to be okay.

Part of her liked the bitterness of these women, and part of her was left desolate by it. Her brown eyes tracked line after line, post after post, before a thread caught her eye. Moving On and Rebuilding?

She clicked and began to read. Even on these forums among hundreds of others in her situation, she felt alienated, alone. Most of the posters had been scorned by ex-husbands. Very rarely did she find a woman trying to figure things out after the loss of her cheating, lying wife. The responses ranged from funny to sad. She didn’t want to go clothes shopping, her wardrobe was…fine, and although slashing Amanda’s tires had a certain appeal, she knew she would never go through with it.

Frustrated, left empty again, she was about to click off. A response caught her eye and made her pause.

If you are open-minded and serious about rediscovering yourself, I highly recommend the Pandora Agency. Through them I transformed my life and my views on my situation and myself.

The link took her to a website, dark and sophisticated with a definite erotic aura. She almost clicked away, but her eyes caught the first line and then she was reading.

Find yourself through submission. A professional and discreet agency, dedicated to connecting searching souls to their perfect counterpart to facilitate personal growth and groundbreaking life change.

Licking her suddenly dry lips, she carried on reading. The site was certainly convincing, and the testimonials were glowing.

Could I do that? Let someone dominate me?

She blushed at the thought. Of course she’d read the books—who doesn’t like a racy story every now and then—but that was honestly as much as she knew about…this. She was surprised to read testimonials from lawyers, CEOs, teachers, people with professional careers, people who sounded more like her than any of the tire-slashers had.

She told herself the agency probably had a line-up of controlling, chauvinistic men to choose from, though the idea was totally at odds with all the comments from women who felt empowered and in control after using it. She didn’t understand it.

Opening a new tab before she could think about it any harder, she did a quick Google search for “the Pandora Agency.” She was surprised to find more well written, articulate, and genuine rave reviews.

Am I seriously considering this?

The shrill ringing of her phone sounded. Jumping guiltily, she knocked it off the coffee table while trying to grab it. She scrambled to pick it back up and swiped to accept the call.

“Hello?”

She sounded breathless, flushed, heat on her chest and her cheeks as she snapped her laptop closed.

About the Author

L.E. Royal is a British born fiction writer, living in Texas. She enjoys dark but redeemable characters, and twisted themes. Though she is a fan of happy endings, she would describe most of her work as fractured romance.

When she is not writing, she is pursuing her dreams with her multi-champion Arabian show horses, or hanging out with her wife at their small ranch/accidental cat sanctuary.

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