BOOK BLITZ: The Corpsman’s Wife by Sabine Chennault #ContemporaryWomensFiction @RABTBookTours

Contemporary Women’s Fiction

Date Published: June 23, 2020

Publisher: Hellgate Press


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Getting away from her abusive, soon-to-be-ex-husband, Susi Jury accepts the
invitation of her lifelong best friend, Tracy, to attend the Navy Boot Camp
graduation of her younger brother at Naval Station Great Lakes near Chicago.
At a celebration for the graduates at a local bar, she accidentally spills
red wine on a young, handsome sailor—Lance Wells. Love at first sight?

The next morning, as they lay in bed confessing their love for one another,
she realizes that her life has just changed forever—and so far, for
the better. Lance returns to the base and Susi to her home in Arizona. Soon
comes the first hurdle in their relationship: Susi is pregnant.

What follows is a romance for the ages that spans more than twenty years.
From a long distance courtship, followed by the birth of a daughter, then
through marriage, overseas deployment, loss, loneliness, and eventually
coming to terms with the effect that PTSD can have on a relationship.

As the years pass, Susi witnesses how Lance’s Navy experience as a
Fleet Marine Force Corpsman changes him. A short deployment during Desert
Storm, a horrific plane crash on Guam, the horrors of 9/11, and the Battle
of Fallujah—all seem to drain the spirit out of a once vibrant and
devoted husband, leading to an act of desperation that finds Susi in a
situation she could never have imagined.

About the Author

Sabine Chennault (1961), born in Ewersbach, Germany, came to America in 1981. She worked as a waitress and later as an Optician before becoming the office manager and later a licensed Optician. From 2002 until 2003 she attended Scottsdale Culinary Institute where she graduated with honors; several years later she obtained a Bachelors’s degree in English literature and went on to pursue her MA in family counseling. She quit
school to dedicate herself full time to writing.  She lives with her husband Lance and their three dogs in Daaden Germany.

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BOOK BLITZ: Love, Lydie by Blair Harton #ContemporaryRomance #WomensFiction @RABTBookTours @BookBuzznet

Romance, Contemporary Women’s Fiction

Date Published: October 4, 2022


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Anna Kinser meets eight-year-old Emily three days into her job as the event
coordinator at a run-down Art Deco theater in Shiloh, Georgia.

Emily is bold, remarkably precocious, and she’s just redecorated
Anna’s office. On top of that, she’s decided that Anna should
ask her dad to be her boyfriend. Her dad. Nathan Roth. The gorgeous
construction guy from the auditorium.

Fortunately, he’s single, but he isn’t one to date—after
what happened to Anna’s boss’s sister, he hasn’t dated in
eight years. But Anna doesn’t let that stop her from pursuing him, and
soon, the two begin to fall in love.

What Anna doesn’t know is that Nathan is a very famous man—and
he’s in Shiloh for a very specific reason.

Plus, there’s something holding him back.

If he wants her—has feelings for her—why is he so

Lydia Ashburton is a NYU student who may have just met the love of her
life. But how do you keep up with a rock star? Between flutes of champagne
and flashy parties, Lydia feels like a fish out of water. He’s crazy
about her, and she feels closer to him with each date, but they come from
different worlds.

Can they make it last?

Life has a wild way of bringing people together.

For three strangers, a series of letters unites them.

Unearth the clues of this irresistibly whimsical romance.

About the Author


Blair Harton has always wanted to write a novel—especially a love

After years of playing around with the idea of a rock star falling in love
with a small-town girl, she wrote Love, Lydie as a brand-new mom living in
Monterey, California.

Currently, she resides in Alexandria, Virginia, with her husband and two

When she’s not writing, she can be found cooking, camping, or
enjoying a nice glass of Chardonnay.

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RELEASE BLITZ: Lady Briar Weds the Scot by Fenna Edgewood #regencyromance #historicalromance @RABTBookTours @BookBuzznet

Historical Romance, Regency Romance, Steamy Regency Romance

Date Published: November 03, 2022


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From the bestselling Regency romance author Fenna Edgewood comes an
enchanting and passionate story about a mismatched young lady and a stubborn
laird who surrender their hearts to one another despite their best


Beautiful and eligible, Briar Blakeley is the beloved youngest sister of a
duke. Eschewing the London marriage mart, she has no plans to wed anytime
soon… until she’s abducted alongside her family’s handsome Scottish
gardener and cast into a web of intrigue and secrets.


Swept Away to Scotland…

Wren Spencer returned from the wars with the French to find a bitter feud
has split him from his clan—and his birthright. Putting the rejection
behind him, he takes up a quiet life at Blakeley Manor tending shrubbery as
the gardner. Three years later, a group of loyal Highlanders are determined
to bring Wren home—whether he wishes to go or not. The other problem?
They’ve mistaken Briar for his wife and kidnapped her along with him.


Forced to Wed…

Now that Briar has been compromised and carried off to Scotland, she must
wed one of two men. The only question is who will she choose?

 When Wren proposes a marriage of convenience, he tells himself honor
drives him—not the ripe lips and bright spirit of the young woman who
has resurrected his heart with something he thought he would never feel
again. A rare and passionate love. But when dark deeds threaten his new
bride, the Scottish laird finds himself caught up in a dangerous game and
must risk his legacy and even his life to save the woman who has become most
precious to him.


An unforgettable journey to the Highlands, in a tale replete with romance,
mystery, and laughter.

About the Author

Fenna Edgewood writes swoon-worthy, humorous stories of love, family, and
adventure. In other words, the most important things in life! She is an
award-winning retired academic who has studied English literature for most
of her life. After a twenty-five-year hiatus from writing romance as a
twelve-year-old, she has returned to the genre with a bang. Fenna has lived
and traveled across North America, most notably above the Arctic Circle. She
now resides back on the Prairies with her husband and two tiny tots (who are
adorable but generally terrible research assistants).

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RELEASE BLITZ: Breakfast Buddies by Ildar Daminov #LGBTQ #firstlove @ninestarpress @GoIndiMarketing

Title: Breakfast Buddies

Author: Ildar Daminov

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: 11/01/2022

Heat Level: 1 – No Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 23900

Genre: Contemporary, LGBTQIA+, college students, self-discovery, first love, cultural differences, writing

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We humans are spectacularly bad at understanding our own emotions.

A socially conservative Asian young man makes a life-changing decision—he moves to an international metropolis in the very heart of Europe to start his first year as a student at a prestigious academic institution. During one of the very first breakfasts at his new residence he meets a senior student, Jürgen B., to whom he takes an instant liking. As their friendship progresses, these small breakfast sessions become more and more meaningful to the young man, who starts to question both his own identity and his values as he discovers the depth of his confusing feelings about Jürgen.

His struggles to figure out what Jürgen means to him are made even worse by his fears about opening up, especially to his own family. In his desperation, he turns to the only method at hand—reflecting on his diary records, which he makes every day. That is how his first academic year in Europe becomes an exercise in understanding and accepting himself and his own feelings. As the summer approaches, Jürgen, who is completely oblivious of his friend’s dilemma, is about to graduate and leave the academy for good. In the meantime, his friend is still torn between confessing his feelings and doing what others seeming to want from him.


Breakfast Buddies
Ildar Daminov © 2022
All Rights Reserved

August 16, 2019


We humans are spectacularly bad at understanding our own emotions.

I rummaged through a pile of books, trying to find it. Where could it be? I thought it had to be somewhere in between these dusty old tomes. Yet my attempts to find it seemed futile, and I got increasingly angry—my short-tempered nature did not help either. I pushed aside a pile of books standing in my way, mumbling in great annoyance. Some of them fell on the floor with loud thumps. After the idea came to me, I simply could not forget about it. I had to find it. There was just no other way. It must have been somewhere among all these heavy monographs on Korean politics, East Asian history, and countless language textbooks—the scholarly legacy of my former studies.

In my hectic search, I accidentally toppled one of the piles and cursed quietly. That was when I saw an old, laminated picture gracefully land on top of the scattered books. It looked familiar, so I picked it up. It was a photo of me and my academy friends—Jean Luc, Aja, Negasi, and… Jürgen. I felt a funny prickle in my heart. The picture made me slightly nostalgic about my student days. Ah, the academy, that international, scholarly melting pot. That was the place where it all started… Then I came back to my senses and shook my head, as if trying to free myself from some magical slumber. I had to concentrate, so I hid the photo in my coat pocket and resumed my search.

Where could it be? I clearly remembered leaving it here after my trip to Seoul, at least I thought I did. As the evening progressed, so did my desperation. I had come all the way back home to retrieve it—all this could not have been in vain! I sneezed. A cloud of dust exploded right in front of me, and I closed my eyes, grunting yet again in a mix of annoyance and desperation. Still, I persisted. After an extra hour of extensive searching that involved tired puffing, desperate muttering, and other forms of noiseless complaints, I finally found the precious object that I had been so obsessively looking for.

There it was. A rather unremarkable battered notebook with a brown leather cover that had almost lost its color. The binding had two numbers engraved on it—2016/2018. Inconspicuous though it looked, there was something mysteriously magical and enticing about it. Why did I need it so badly in the first place? I asked myself. I certainly knew the uncomfortable answer. It was a part of me, a part that I wanted to forget. Its semi-magical importance was reflected in the story that it told—a long-forgotten story of internal struggle, love, cowardice, and personal growth.

I smiled to myself furtively. It had taken a lot of courage to get back home, find it, and embark on a new adventure. So I had to make sure that I did everything properly. After all, diaries are simple but powerful tools: these mighty artifacts of the past that can bring back unnecessary memories and reopen old wounds. A phenomenon truly curious and somewhat egocentric in nature. Why do we even write diaries? We share our hopes and dreams, vent out anger and frustration in their pages. There are people who do not even have a clear aim when they first put pen to paper. There are people who want to organize their thoughts properly. There are people who do not know to whom they could entrust their secrets and so choose a silent paper friend. There are people who like to self-reflect and want to better understand themselves. There are people…

So many people and so many diaries. Some are full of trite details of daily routines, while others diligently guard what our past selves thought to be our dearest and most important memories. Some become deeply cherished heirlooms passed down from generation to generation, while others are consumed by the insatiable quicksand of history, the names of those who wrote them vanishing like the final gentle whisper of the early autumn wind. Yet every diary—no matter how boring or gripping it is—tells a story and creates meaning where there was none. If used wisely, that meaning helps us to better understand this ridiculously complicated world through the stories of ourselves and others.

My furtive smile became brighter as I carefully studied the dusty notebook in my hands. I was full of triumph and determination—and yet felt a tiny droplet of melancholy and wistfulness. As I kept looking at it, I wondered whether I was ready to finish the last entry. Perhaps, this was the right time to revisit the diary and do it.


NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

Ildar Daminov is a Tatar Kazakhstani social scientist and a modern-day nomad who resides in and travels across Europe. In his free time, he writes short stories in English and Russian and does a podcast on North Korea. If you like this story, you can contact him via his email or on Facebook.


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RELEASE BLITZ: Iora and the Quest of Fire by Arefa Tehsin #YoungAdult #YAFantasy @RABTBookTours @crimdragpublish

YA Fantasy

Date Published: 11/1/2022


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Iora overhears sinister whispering coming from her well and is attacked by
a strange creature. She knows her father is in mortal danger, but no one
will listen. She sneaks out to search the enchanted Wacky Wilderness for
him, but Beetle isn’t about to let her go alone. Among the jungle
denizens, they encounter wild animals, hidden tribes, secretive lands, and
strange and magical creatures: some friendly and some not.

After finding one of the guiding angels of the jungle, the search for her
father becomes a quest to save the jungle! They only have 17 days to find
the other four forest Angels and the elusive Spirit of the Jungle! But the
dark forces aren’t going to sit by and let that happen…


About the Author

Arefa Tehsin is the author of 16 fiction and non-fiction books, both for
children and adults, and contributes columns, features and travel articles
to various publications like The Indian Express, The Hindu, Deccan Herald,
Outlook Money and TerraGreen. Her book The Chirmi Chasers has been
shortlisted for Neev Book Award 2021. Amra and the Witch was shortlisted for
FCCI’s Best Book of the Year Award 2019. She was shortlisted for the
The Hindu Young World-Goodbooks Best Author Award 2017 for her book Wild in
the Backyard (Publisher: Penguin Random House). The picture book The
Elephant Bird was read at 3200+ locations in India from the slums to the
Presidential library on the International Literacy Day, 2016 and translated
in 30 languages. Do Tigers Drink Blood and 13 Other Mysteries of Nature is
being translated in Chinese. A few schools in India and Sri Lanka have taken
up her books as textbooks and supplementary readers. Daughter of the
renowned naturalist Dr. Raza H. Tehsin, Arefa has spent her childhood days
treading jungles with her father, exploring caves and handling snakes. She
was appointed as the Honorary Wildlife Warden of Udaipur district and has
pursued nature conservation through her writings and columns.

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TEASER TUESDAY: Deadeye by Marteeka Karland #mromance #suspense #actionadventure @marteekakarland @changelingpress

Bones MC, Book 13

Motorcycle Club Romance, Suspense, Action & Adventure

Date Published: 11/04/2022


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 Chloe — Manipulative on the best of days, my mother hooked up with
the president of a powerful MC. When he retired, she decided to give me to a
man I’ve never met. Guess she thought she’d  still be able
to keep her status if I became the ol’lady of the new president. I
have no idea what the men in the club are like and I’m not judging,
but they wear the 1% patch and I know enough about MCs to know that
can’t be good for a girl like me.


Deadeye – I’m a patient man. Pride myself on that. So when I
find a girl camping out under a rock watching the club, I camp out to watch
her. The more I watch, the more I like what I see. Before I can make her
mine, though, I need to find out why she’s here. No one’s more
surprised than me when she tells me who her daddy is. Except maybe her
daddy. Now I’m pitted against one of my own brothers. But the more I
get to know the spunky little minx, the more I want her. And the more I
realize I may have to kill my own MC brother and tear apart a rival MC
looking for the woman meant to be their new president’s


All rights reserved.

Copyright ©2022 Marteeka Karland



I was tired. So fucking tired. I’d only been on the run for five
days, but it was five days of backwoods hell. Finding the place I needed to
get to had been hard enough. Actually getting there without anyone seeing me
had been a feat like I’d never undertaken before. Still don’t
know how I managed it without getting hopelessly lost. But here I was.

The name of the club was Bones MC, Somerset, Kentucky. I’d walked all
the way from Jeffersonville, Indiana to find this place. Compared to the
club I’d come from this one was relatively small. But from what
I’d learned, they were very close-knit and incredibly dangerous.

I was currently hiding under a rock overhang just tall enough for me to lie
flat on my belly and watch the place. I’d covered myself with leaves
and sticks, camouflaging my hiding spot as best I could. So far, no one had
spotted me. If they had, they hadn’t busted me yet. I should have just
gone into the clubhouse, but I wanted to scout the place out first. If there
seemed to be too much shady shit going down, I’d just move on without
wasting my time. Or putting myself in a worse position than I’d been
in when I ran.

So far, there had been parties that got pretty loud and wild, similar to
what I’d seen at Iron Tzars MC. The guys at Bones partied hard, but
they worked hard, too. Beyond the large clubhouse was a neighborhood. There
were what looked like high-end, double-wide mobile homes, but also a
smattering of houses, with more going up. The two days I’d been hiding
out, I’d seen several of the club members working throughout the day.
If there were drug deals or arms sales going down, it wasn’t anywhere
near their compound. There were women all over the place, but none of them
seemed to be there against their will.

The weather was turning. Autumn rain was coming, if the sky was any
indication. It was cold and damp, and I had no desire to spend another night
under a rock. If I’d judged this place wrong, I was in trouble. Of
course, if I didn’t get some decent shelter soon, I’d still be
in trouble. I’d heard good things about this club in the community.
They might not be law-abiding citizens, but they weren’t so bad they
were feared by the whole city. I was counting on the reputation they’d
apparently worked hard to build. If Bones turned out to be a wolf in
sheep’s clothing, I was fucked, because I had nowhere else to go. And
the one man I needed to see here, the one man who could help me in a way I
could live with, had no idea I even existed.

Knowing there was nothing else I could find out without getting inside the
place, I decided to quit being a pussy and stop stalling. I stood, looking
down at my clothes. Having been outside under a rock for the better part of
two days, I was filthy. Probably stank too. There was a creek just below my
hiding place on the other side of the hill between me and the compound. I
could wash there and change my clothes before trying to get inside. If I was
lucky, they’d stop me at the gate and take me straight to the man I
needed to see. I could only hope he remembered my mother. If not, I was
probably screwed.

The wind had started to pick up, and there was a cold bite to it. I knew I
needed to hurry, but not bathing and changing clothes simply wasn’t an
option. If I came to their doorstep looking like a hobo, I was afraid no one
would take me seriously. Or, worse, tell me to get the fuck on before they
got rid of me.

I stripped, tossing my filthy, damp clothing to the ground. I kept the
long-sleeved T-shirt to use as a washcloth, so I didn’t have to
actually get in the creek. While it was still warm most days, the nights in
this part of Kentucky were chilly this time of year. Shallow water, like the
lazy stream here, had started to cool, making this bath seriously

I’d never done this before. Bathed out in the open. In fact, though
I’d lived in an MC for most of my life, roughing it wasn’t
exactly in my repertoire. I’d never been camping. Or hunting.
I’d been fishing occasionally but usually on a boat or a dock at the
lake. All I’d had to eat the last five days were some snacks I’d
managed to sneak out and a couple bottles of water I refilled every chance I
got. Now, I was cold, dirty, hungry, and so fucking tired I just wanted to
sleep for a fucking week.

“Well, now. What do we have here?” The lazy drawl made me jump
and cry out. I tripped and landed on my ass, my naked body on full display.
The guy smirked as he looked down at me, his big arms crossed over a
powerful-looking chest. His shoulders were wide, stretching the fabric of
his Henley, as did his biceps. He had a full beard reaching about halfway
down his chest. Cold, assessing blue eyes were fixed squarely on me.

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Instagram/Facebook/Twitter: @changelingpress

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RELEASE BLITZ: Unstraight by John Thurlow #LGBTQ #Contemporary #Religion @GoIndiMarketing @ninestarpress

Title: Unstraight

Author: John Thurlow

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: 09/13/2022

Heat Level: 2 – Fade to Black Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 114800

Genre: Contemporary, LGBTQIA+, children, cleric/priest, coming of age, coming out, college, established couple, friends to lovers, humorous, hurt/ comfort, in the closet, over 40, psychic/medium, religion, religious extremism, reunited, soulmates, tearjerker, therapist, slow burn

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David Sterling lives the suburban life. He has been married to Carrie for fourteen years and they have two daughters. To the onlooker, life behind the Sterling’s picket fence looks perfect, and in many ways it is—save for the fact that David carries a burdensome secret…one that he has guarded well since he was a teenager.

David’s life is unravelling and he cannot carry the burden any longer. To make peace with himself and his world, it is time to tell the truth, a gamble that may lose him all that is precious. But he needs to be released from the shame, the guilt, and the fear.

In the pain and hurt of the aftermath, this deeply personal journey is driven by David’s desire to hold on to those he loves, while at the same time revealing who he really is to them and the world.


John Thurlow © 2022
All Rights Reserved

Dropping the Bomb

23 June 2013

My heart was beating in my throat. I was terrified and while time seemed to stand still, the digital clock on the opposite end of the room carried on counting the minutes. I planned to drop the bomb at around eight o’clock. It was now heading for nine and the evening was running away. Oblivious to my fear, Carrie was engrossed in the movie—unaware of how her world was about to change.

As the clock jumped from fifty-four to fifty-five, I knew I needed to seize the moment. I sat up straight—too quickly almost. Adrenaline pumping in my veins, everything seemed to go into slow motion.

“Carrie,” I sputtered—my voice quivering, “please turn down the TV, I need to talk to you.” I turned myself around and sat at the foot of the bed facing her. I looked into her startled eyes and I felt the tears welling up in my own.

“What is going on?” she asked. I took a deep breath and I began to babble.

“You know things haven’t been great between us lately?” I asked and stated at the same time. “I think you might suspect that I’ve been having an affair,” I continued, “… I’m not… I would never.” The colour ran away from Carrie’s face and her eyes were frozen. “I feel so bad, seeing that you don’t look happy,” I explained. “I know you’re hurting… and more than anything in the world, I don’t want to cause you any more pain. I’ve tried hard to fight this, but it won’t go away.” My babbling came to an abrupt halt and I took a deep breath. I knew I had rambled on for too long and what I had wanted to say hadn’t come out as I had planned. Carrie looked stunned; she didn’t say a word.

I took another deep breath—I needed to get the words out, they were strangling me from the inside. Then, somehow, they escaped hurriedly and with some trembling.

“Things are not as they should be because I’m gay.” The air in the room felt heavy and dry. I had just dropped a secret… my secret! One which I had harboured in my head for at least 30 of my 44 years. A secret I had carried, protected and nurtured—and a secret I was ashamed of.

I said the words with both a feeling of liberation and a huge sense of fear. I felt unshackled because the secret was out of the dark and it had no more power over me, but I was also afraid because it was uncaged and I was no longer its keeper. Equally, I was terrified at how Carrie would respond to the unexpected revelations. I had no idea of what awaited me on the journey that I had just begun.

A few moments of silence followed and staring directly at the confusion and pain on Carrie’s face bore no comfort.

“How long have you known this?” she asked. Anger and bewilderment were evident in her eyes. I hadn’t anticipated the question, but I knew I needed to speak the truth.

“Probably since I was teenager,” I spluttered, clenching my hands tightly together.

“Then why the fuck did you get married?” she barked. The f-word and a raised voice always meant I had crossed the line with Carrie. She didn’t use it often, but I guess I had crossed the ultimate ‘line’—there was no going back now. I also needed to be cognisant of the fact that this was an issue I had been processing and mincing in my head for the better part of my entire life. In a few moments, I had thrown it all at her… she needed time to unpack it.

I looked over my shoulder to make sure that the girls hadn’t stirred and made their way to our bedroom door. Why had I gotten married?

“I married you because I love you, Carrie.” My trembling words were calm and sincere. I hadn’t planned to launch into this detailed explanation, but it seemed appropriate and I had spent many of the fourteen years we had been married trying to make sense of the journey in my head. “When we got married, I believed I had overcome this sexuality issue,” I took a deep breath, feeling clumsy, “I honestly did.” She seemed disorientated and who could blame her. “I loved you and thought—and hoped—that those urges would be gone forever.”

“What urges?” she scowled.

I didn’t answer the question and continued.

“At the beginning, I thought they were gone, and I have fought them really hard for many years.” Carrie didn’t seem convinced by this answer and a few minutes of silence followed. The torturous still felt like a lifetime. Carrie’s anger broke the quiet:

“Why did you choose me to do this to?” she scorned. A relevant question, but there was so much else I needed to say. It was difficult not being in control as my secret took flight, but I knew I needed to let her lead the process. I had already given up the control.

“I didn’t choose you to do this to,” I replied. “This was not planned, nor premeditated—I love you and I love everything that we have created and established. I know that you don’t feel loved and cherished because it doesn’t come naturally to me. I can see that you hurt every day.” Carrie’s eyes were distant in the aftermath of the shock.


NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

Born in Zimbabwe and raised in Zambia and then South Africa. John now lives in Henley-on-Thames in the United Kingdom.

John started out his career first as a primary and then as a secondary school teacher. After twelve years of teaching, he moved into the education development sector where he continues to manage a variety of education programmes that support teaching and learning in underprivileged communities. He holds a PhD in Education.

John loves chocolate and travelling… sometimes he likes running and walking. He always likes telling stories, with the characters based on his own personal experiences and interactions. Human relationships are super important to him and his family is the centre of his universe.

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RELEASE BLITZ: Embracing James by Megan Slayer #EroticRomance #Gay #LGBTQ @pridepublishing @firstforromance

Embracing James by Megan Slayer

Book 5 in the Love Me Do series

Word Count: 41,106
Book Length: SHORT NOVEL
Pages: 166



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Book Description

The right cut, the right style and a dash of love.

James Mason has everything he could ever want—his salon is the most famous in town, and he’s got his health and his best bud, his dog Doob. But he’s lonely. James has a knack for pairing everyone up, except himself. He’s been interested in Paul, the sweet man who helps at the salon, but will Paul be interested in him, too? Then there’s the elusive JP Henderson, the owner of the salon building. James has created an image in his mind that this man could be the one.

Jonathan Paul Henderson has lusted after James since the moment he met him. James acts unaffected by wealth and seems drawn to character. He’s adorable, funny and welcoming, too. He also doesn’t seem to mind that Paul wears makeup. Paul feels the connection and knows he wants this man, but will James still accept him after he finds out the truth—that Paul’s his landlord?

Two men, one truth and so much attraction they burn up the sheets. Is theirs a love for now or one meant to last?


“Looks like it’s you and me tonight, Doob.” James Mason petted the dog and settled on the floor with him. Dye Hard Style had closed for the evening and he’d locked the doors, but he wasn’t ready to head home—not yet. He’d rather give the dog attention and listen to the silence.

Christ, he was worn out. He spent most of his days packed with appointments for his styling services. Opening to closing, he had someone wanting his attention. He’d worked hard for his reputation for excellence in hair styling, but that didn’t help when he wanted a break.

Other than his job, he had little else to show for his work. He had no social life outside of the salon. No boyfriend and few actual friends. He didn’t even have the energy to try to pair himself with anyone, not like he did with the guys who came in wanting dates.

The one thing he did have was Doob, his black mutt with a heart of gold. From the moment Doob had shown up at the salon, he’d become James’ constant companion. He’d been more loyal than most everyone else in his life. His ex-boyfriends certainly weren’t loyal.

But he wanted a date. James supposed he could leave Doob at home and call a friend to go out, but he wasn’t in the mood for drama. He’d have plenty of drama tomorrow when he met with Jonathan Paul Henderson, the owner of the salon building and the Annex next door. He’d never actually seen Mr. Henderson. When Lester McCann had sold the building and the one next door, he hadn’t asked James his opinion—not that he’d had to—and never bothered to introduce James to the new owner.

But that was Lester. If he could get away with doing nothing, he’d do even less.

At least James didn’t have far to go in his commute home. Having his apartment in the Annex next door meant all he had to do was walk through the door joining the two buildings. Sometimes living next to the salon did have some perks.

He left the floor and checked he’d locked the front doors, then turned off the main lights. The security ones came on, bathing the space in dim yellow glow. Once satisfied, he patted his hip for Doob, then collected the cash from the register.

The dog had been a lumpy, furry godsend. Doob stuck by him when his depression hit and knew how to make him feel better. The dog was the sweetest thing, too. Whoever had been his family had been lucky to have him.

Part of James wondered why no one had ever claimed Doob. He’d put out what seemed like a thousand fliers, letting the public know he’d found the lost dog. Surely, Doob was missed. He had his name on a metal plate on his collar—wouldn’t a family or someone who cared about the dog do something like put his name on an engraved plate on the collar? If Doob had run away, then why hadn’t anyone come looking for him?

What if they hadn’t wanted Doob? The dog was a good boy and so loyal. How could someone not want him?

If they didn’t want him, James did. He checked that the rear doors to the former theater building were indeed locked and secured, then returned to the salon portion of the building.

He clicked the leash onto Doob’s collar. “It’s been almost a year. If you haven’t been claimed by now, then finders keepers. You’re officially my dog.” He’d already bought Doob’s tags and had him to the vet for his shots. Unfortunately there hadn’t been a microchip in Doob then, but there was now.

Doob circled around James’ legs, catching him up in the leash.

“You’ll trip and kill me, you know. If I’m dead, then you won’t get puppy food.” James slipped the memory card from the register into the cash bag, then zipped it shut. He tucked the bag under his arm and allowed Doob to lead him to the door out of the salon. He appreciated being able to go straight from the salon to his apartment building without having to go outside with a cash bag.

He carried the money to his third-floor apartment, then locked the bag in the safe in his bedroom. He’d worry about the numbers later. Right now, he needed to feed Doob. He unfastened the leash, then added kibble to Doob’s bowl. When the dog settled for his evening nap, that was when James would wrangle the numbers on the ledger.

Doob greedily munched on his dog food and James admired his gusto. Doob never seemed lonely. Just happy to be loved. James wanted to be loved by the dog, sure, but a boyfriend would be nice, too.

“We’ll find someone, Doob. Someone we both like and who will like us as a package deal. Think we can manage as a threesome?” Saying it like that sounded odd, but whatever. Doob was good as a companion, but James needed someone human to warm his bed.

Once Doob finished his dinner and got a drink, half of which he seemed to leave on the mat around his water bowl, James clicked the leash on him again. He and Doob left the apartment for their evening walk.

Doob seemed to love the four laps they usually took around Norville town square and James liked the exercise. Some days he and Doob ventured away from the center of town to the park by the school. Although James liked the excitement of the salon, right now, he wanted peace and quiet.

Doob walked proudly in front of him and sniffed at whatever he found. Once he and James encountered other dogs, Doob fell in line beside James, but seemed to pay no attention to the canines. James wondered if he should socialize the dog more. What if he and Doob were becoming too solitary for their own good?

James stopped to let Doob do his business. As he waited, he considered his life. He loved doing hair and making people beautiful. Helping someone find their inner glam made him happy. But he didn’t want to be single forever.

Maybe he could visit Club Jester. He’d helped enough other guys find true love there. Why not try for himself?

He cleaned up after Doob and tossed the baggie into the receptacle for dog waste, then sanitized his hands.

His thoughts turned back to clubbing. Who would he meet at Club Jester? The same old-same old most likely. Those guys were good, but they were either in a relationship or never going to settle down.

He spotted a jogger coming toward them and stepped off the path to give the athlete space. As soon as the man grew closer, James recognized him. Pauly. He’d chatted more than a few times with Pauly at the salon when the man stopped for haircuts or just to hang out. He liked Pauly, but never got the feeling Pauly wanted a boyfriend. He seemed like too much of a free spirit. He was a whiz with makeup and always managed to make himself handsomely beautiful. James wished he had the same skills with foundation and eyeshadow.

Pauly jogged up to him and stopped. He mopped his brow with his shirtsleeve and grinned. How could one man, jogging no less, look so on-point all the time? Even now, he had makeup on, without smearing it much, and a slight beard. Unreal, but gorgeous.

“Hi, you.” Pauly took a swig from a small water bottle he had wrapped around his hand. “How are you?”

“Hi, yourself. You look fantastic.” He held on to Doob’s leash. “I haven’t seen you at Dye Hard Style in forever. Have you been working out to make yourself chiseled and handsome without telling me?”

“That’s partly true. I’ve always jogged, but I’ve been out of town.” Pauly smiled. “I missed seeing you.”

“Likewise.” A tingle ran the length of his spine and James wondered if the glint in Pauly’s dark eyes was because of him. He stared at the man’s lips and wondered what he tasted like…and when did he get such kissable lips?

“Are you planning on going to the Jester tonight?” Pauly asked. “I hear it’s singles night.”

Singles night could be good, but it could also be awful. “Oh?”

“They brought in a new DJ and are having games to get the singles to mingle.” Pauly rolled his eyes. “If you want to go, want to go together? Then we don’t have to play the singles games.”

He hadn’t wanted to go, but he also hadn’t considered going with Pauly until now. “I should take Doob home and change, but I wasn’t planning on going out.”

“No big deal. I need to finish my jog and would have to shower,” Pauly said. “If you want, I can pick you up. It was my idea, so I can drive. You’re in the Annex, aren’t you?”

James blanched. He didn’t tend to tell people where he lived and only a few people referred to the building as the Annex. “Yeah, I am. I didn’t think you knew that.”

“Oh, I’d heard it.” Pauly blushed. “Sorry.”

He wanted to go out tonight and with Pauly, but something about the situation made him want to hold back. “Why don’t we exchange numbers and I’ll text you when I’m free. We can plan a date for another day.”

“I’d like that.” Pauly offered up his phone. “Do you have yours?”

He patted his thigh. Shit. He’d left his phone at home. “I don’t, but I’ll give you my number.” When Pauly handed him the device, he inputted his work number, then offered the phone back to him. “See you around at the salon?”

“Sure.” Pauly slid the phone back into his armband holder. “I’m sorry if I came off too pushy.”

“Don’t take it personally. I get kind of funny when I go out. I don’t do it often. I’m not a clubbing kind of guy.” He wasn’t any longer. He had been when he was younger, but now that he’d been around…clubbing had lost its luster.

“I get it. You’re more of a stay-home-and-chill kind of guy.” Pauly nodded. “Can’t blame me for trying.”

“Nope.” And maybe one day he’d go out with Pauly. Just not today. “See you?”

“I’ll be around the salon here and there. Maybe next week we could try going for coffee.” Pauly tapped his phone and an album cover filled the screen. “See you.”

James waved and headed with Doob back to his apartment. Maybe he should’ve gone with his instincts and gone out. He’d just inwardly complained he spent too much time alone and the chance to be with someone arose, but he’d chickened out. Or maybe he needed to know Pauly a bit better.

Oh well.

Once in the apartment building, he checked that his car was still safe in the warehouse space, then went upstairs.

He herded Doob to their apartment and unleashed him. “I spent too much time with just you, but you’ve never cheated on me.”

Doob sneezed, then trotted off to his dog bed.

“You can ignore me like a champ, though.” Silly dog.

James removed his makeup and showered, then dressed in a pair of sleep shorts. He made himself a snack of yogurt and granola before turning on the radio. Almost everyone he knew listened to playlists. They curated the hell out of those lists, making the selections of music perfect.

Not him. He loved dance radio and the oldies channel. Why not let the spontaneity of the channel come through? He liked not knowing what would be playing next.

He sat on the window seat and watched the evening traffic below while eating and listening to music.

Tomorrow, he’d meet with JP Henderson finally. He’d explain why Doob needed to stay and probably accept his fate when reminded of the no dogs rule. The rule wasn’t subject to change, the landlord would probably say.

James didn’t like the idea of starting a new salon at another location, but he loved Doob. If he had to leave the old theater, then he’d do it for his dog. He loved the publicity Doob brought, too. People recognized the dog, the salon and his unique style.

Maybe the infamous JP Henderson would be willing to work with him. He had to give it a shot if he wanted to keep Doob.

He’d never met JP Henderson and finally learned his last name three weeks ago. Would the man be amiable? Curt? All business or friendly? Would he be an older gentleman or a sexy younger one? Maybe a sexy silver fox. What if he wasn’t gay, though? What if he was? What if he wasn’t interested in James? James’ imagination kicked into overdrive. What if JP Henderson secretly wanted to have a wild, torrid affair with him and was looking for the right moment to make a move?


Romances like that didn’t happen in Norville and they didn’t happen to him. He was a simple guy with simple tastes. Men of mystery didn’t fall for him.

He held on to his yogurt cup and let the Donna Summer song wash over him. Tonight, he had no cares. No worries, either.

Tomorrow was another matter, but first he’d enjoy tonight.

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About the Author

Megan Slayer

Megan Slayer, aka Wendi Zwaduk, is a multi-published, award-winning author of more than one-hundred short stories and novels. She’s been writing since 2008 and published since 2009. Her stories range from the contemporary and paranormal to LGBTQ and BDSM themes. No matter what the length, her works are always hot, but with a lot of heart. She enjoys giving her characters a second chance at love, no matter what the form. She’s been the runner up in the Kink Category at Love Romances Café as well as nominated at the LRC for best author, best contemporary, best ménage and best anthology. Her books have made it to the bestseller lists on

When she’s not writing, Megan spends time with her husband and son as well as three dogs and three cats. She enjoys art, music and racing, but football is her sport of choice.

Find out more about Megan on her website, and sign up for the newsletter here. You can also check out her Blog, Amazon Author Page, Bookbub and Instagram.


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BOOK BLITZ: The Understudy by Ellen Tovatt Leary #HistoricalRomance #TheUnderstudy @RABTBookTours

 Romance, Historical Romance

 Publisher: Hansen Publishing Group


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Young actress Nina Landau is living in New York City, trying to make it on
Broadway in the early ‘70s. Travel back in time with The
Understudy—a book actor Stacy Keach calls a “…must read
for all lovers of theater…” Follow Nina as she braves auditions and
eventually succeeds on the Broadway stage. Discover the backstage drama, how
Broadway actors brave the occasional mistakes and celebrate opening night at
Sardi’s! Although Nina’s adventure is from another era, her love story
is timeless.

About the Author

Ellen Tovatt Leary is an actor and writer born in New York City. She
performed in theaters across the country, including Broadway, off-Broadway,
and many regional theaters. She worked with Hal Prince, Maureen Stapleton,
James Hammerstein, and many others. After a life-long career in the theater,
Ellen started writing. For fourteen years, she was on the writing staff of
the Carnegie Hill News in New York. She has published short stories, poems,
and two widely acclaimed books: her memoir “Mother, Once
Removed” (2015) and her novel “The Understudy”


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RELEASE BLITZ: Mac of All Trades by Aurora Russell #ChickLit #EroticRomance #ContemporaryRomance @firstforromance @totally_bound

Mac of All Trades by Aurora Russell

Book 2 in the Minne-sorta Falling in Love series

Word Count: 60,029
Book Length: NOVEL
Pages: 224



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Book Description


She thinks she might be losing her mind…but she knows she’s losing her heart.

Poised. Elegant. Lovely. The local press loves to write glowing stories about Lana Fitzhugh, the youngest sibling and only sister of the famous Minnesota Fitzhugh family. But Lana’s past holds secrets, pain and shame…so much that she’s unworthy of a relationship with any good man, especially her brother Fitz’s close friend Mac. Keeping her distance from him is the right thing to do, so why can’t she stop thinking about him?

Finally settling into his first new job after long months of recovery from a severe injury, when Joe ‘Mac’ MacKenzie meets Lana Fitzhugh, the former Navy pilot thinks things might finally be looking up for him. His friend’s little sister is gorgeous, kind and makes his heart and body come alive again. But after they share an explosive embrace, she pushes him away so hard he’s still reeling.

When tragedy plunges Lana into the unexpected role of guardian to a preschooler, odd coincidences begin to happen…and grow increasingly more sinister. As Lana begins to fear that she herself might be the source of the danger, Mac doesn’t hesitate to return to help her. The only thing better than the joy they discover as a makeshift family is the passion they find in each other’s arms, but the unknown menace still grows closer every day. Will they be able to move beyond the past to grab for a future together?


“I have to admit that I’m impressed by how well you handled all the questions from the police about Brock Templeton,” Lana said grudgingly. Joe ‘Mac’ MacKenzie was already much too cocky, and his ego hardly needed any stroking. Watching him with the officers, though, had been like watching a master. She could easily see how he’d earned so many promotions and honors as a Navy pilot.

He shrugged, not taking his hands off the wheel, but the small smile he gave—and why couldn’t he be a little less handsome?—was self-satisfied. “It’s the accent,” he answered, really laying it on thick. “Like my daddy said, a Southern man tells the best jokes and is always welcome at any dinner table or gatherin’.”

She snorted, and not the usual elegant sniff that sometimes escaped but a full-on nasal rattling noise. “You sound like Tom Hanks’ cousin from the deeper South—like, the Mariana Trench of Alabama.”

“Oh, no, ma’am, not Alabama—perish the thought! My family’s pure Georgia. How did you guess I was from Mariana Trench, though?” he teased. “My granddaddy was mayor of Mariana Trench, as a matter of fact.”

She raised one skeptical eyebrow. “Matter of fact, eh?”

Her heart felt like it beat double-time at Mac’s charming grin, flashing like the Cheshire Cat’s as it was lit periodically by the streetlights they passed. Lana Fitzhugh, you of all people know better than to get your head turned by a handsome, charming man, she scolded herself. He’d shown himself to be overbearing, jealous and possessive when he’d fired one of the caterers on the spot earlier in the evening without even consulting her. But you didn’t disagree with his decision, the annoyingly honest voice in the back of her head forced her to acknowledge. The caterer had actually been making her uncomfortable, but it had been her problem to deal with, not Mac’s.

“Would I lie to such a stunning creature? You wound me, ma’am, straight to the core.” He pretended to be hit by a bolt to the heart, and she couldn’t help the burble of laughter that she tried to stifle. He was just so ridiculous. He was smart, funny and seemed truly dedicated to helping other men and women who’d recently left the service. Several times over the past few weeks as she’d worked closely with him to plan that night’s fundraiser, she’d found herself liking him in spite of her better judgment.

The party had been an unqualified success for the worthy veteran’s charity that Mac and Fitz, her second-oldest brother, had become very involved with. Well, she mentally amended, it was practically perfect until Brock Templeton, Fitz’s fiancée’s ex-boyfriend, made a scene, insulted Clara and drunkenly confessed to trying to cause her to ‘accidentally’ lose their baby. Brock had clammed up when they’d gotten to the police station, but, thank goodness, Mac had already recorded everything on his phone.

“I know that Fitz and Clara will really appreciate your getting the police to agree to take their statements tomorrow. They don’t like to leave baby Hope for too long,” she answered, sobered by the recollection of the night’s events.

“I’m certain they’ve checked in on Miss Hope, but I do believe they may be doing some, uh, private celebrating of their engagement, too—or, at least, on behalf of lonely single dudes everywhere, I hope they are. It’s not every day that a man gets the woman he loves to agree to marry him.” Mac’s voice was light, but there was something sad behind his tone, just below the surface.

“No…no, it’s not,” she agreed, snapping her mouth shut when she realized she sounded wistful. She had plenty to be grateful for, especially now that Fitz had returned to their lives, bringing the lovely Clara and Hope, shaking up the household and breaking their oldest brother, Drew, and Lana herself out of the cold, boring routines they’d fallen into. “Clara is just lovely—and Hope, too. I couldn’t be happier for them,” she enthused, perhaps a bit too heartily.

Mac quirked one side of his mouth up in a wry smile. “You’ve convinced me…but are you sure you’ve convinced yourself?”

His insight surprised her.

“I suppose you’re right…but please don’t think it’s about Clara, because she really is wonderful. I truly am happy for them.” She paused, forcing herself to be truthful. “Maybe a little envious, too. A long time ago—God, when I was so young and arrogant, self-assured to the point of naiveté and convinced of my own completely irresistible self—I made some really awful decisions.”

If he’d said anything, she probably wouldn’t have continued, but he remained silent, waiting.

“I ended up with a badly trampled heart—let’s call it pulverized instead of broken—and it cost me my best friend and years of my relationship with Fitz, too.” Suddenly uncomfortable with just how much she’d revealed, she gave a weak laugh. “I’m sorry I said that…burdened you with that. You didn’t ask for my life story.”

Mac touched his hand to her thigh for an instant before returning it to make a hard turn with the steering wheel. “Whatever happened, it sounds like you learned a lot from it, although I’m sorry it sounds like it caused you so much pain,” he replied in a low, earnest voice, so different from the light, teasing tones he usually used with her. “And, Lana, nothing you could ever tell me would be a burden,” he finished, clearing his throat. She wondered if he was equally uncomfortable with what she’d revealed.

Taking pity on him, she deliberately lightened the tone. “I bet you say that to all the young debutantes,” she answered. “Does it ever work?”

Mac’s laughter was a surprised bark. “Touché, Miss Fitzhugh. It might shock you to learn that I have, indeed, known my fair share of debutantes, including my two sisters.”

“Now, that is unexpected,” she agreed, although now that she pictured it, she could definitely see Mac all dressed up in a gray afternoon suit, flirting shamelessly and fetching lemonade for some pretty young thing. “Does that mean you can dance? You never asked me once tonight.”

They stopped at a signal so that his face was half in the light and half out, but the expression on the half she could see was distant. The silence between them became thick and uncomfortable. Lana knew she must have mis-stepped, but she wasn’t certain how.

“I don’t think I can dance anymore—or at least not like I used to,” he answered at last, his voice gruff. “I lost my right leg below the knee about eighteen months ago now.”

Lana sucked in a sharp breath. She’d known Mac and Fitz had met in a military hospital, and she’d noticed that Mac walked with a limp, but she’d never wanted to pry, figuring that Mac would tell her about his injury if he wanted her to know. She’d never imagined he’d lost part of his leg entirely.

“Horrified? Tempted to feel sorry for me?” Mac sounded defensive. “I’ve had to deal with just about every type of reaction.”

She touched his shoulder gently. “Nope, just surprised, since I didn’t know,” she answered quietly. “I can’t even begin to understand how difficult recovering from an injury like that would be, and I admire your charity work even more now.”

The enclosed space of the small front seat of the car felt suddenly intimate, especially so late at night, as if the two of them might be the only people awake in the city—or maybe in the world.

They pulled onto the long driveway—well, really a small, private lane—that led to the main house of her family’s compound—Fitzhugh’s Folly, as it was widely known, given how outrageously expensive and ostentatious it had been when her grandfather, Pat, had built it.

Tonight, it looked cavernous and dark…forlorn. Or maybe that’s just me, Lana thought, but recognizing the source of her melancholy didn’t make her feel better. Her oldest brother, Drew, had opted to stay at his high-rise apartment downtown to save time before his morning meeting. Her grandfather and Roger, who was ostensibly their butler but really a member of the family, along with being her grandfather’s long-time companion and probably his closest friend, had gone to bed early, so the lights had likely been out in their wing since ten o’clock or so.

Fitz and Clara were staying in the large separate guest house—which was actually the original house on the property—so Lana would be alone in the north wing of the main house. She should have been comfortable with it—in fact, she was very used to it, since at least three or four nights a week she had the mansion practically to herself, with its multitude of bedrooms, sitting rooms and other various spaces for practically every conceivable purpose. She often relished the solitude, after needing to be ‘on’ for so much of her charity work, which was no easy feat for a natural introvert who would have been happy just reading and drinking tea. Tonight, though, she felt a pang of loneliness.

Before she knew it, they’d pulled up to her front doors. They were tall, made from a thick, dark wood, and the whole impressive entryway looked forbidding, shrouded in darkness.

“They don’t leave the front lights on for you?” Mac asked, breaking the silence and some of the tension.

Lana wished they did, but they weren’t that kind of family. “I often get home late, and my grandfather is surprisingly frugal, so…” She shrugged, looking away. “I’m accustomed to it.” She could feel Mac’s gaze, but she refused to turn toward him. “I go in the side door, anyway.”

Before she could tell him not to, Mac had gotten out of the car and come around to open her door, offering her his arm. He still looked impossibly handsome in the fading moonlight. It was so cold at the tail end of mid-November that his breath puffed out of his mouth in white clouds, but he looked unruffled in his pristine dress uniform.

“Let me walk you there?” he asked. When she hesitated, with one leg on the ground and one still in the car, he spoke again. “So I’m certain you’re safe.”

With a swift bolt of comprehension, Lana realized he must be doing this—ensuring her safety—for Fitz, as a favor to her brother, which made total sense. They hadn’t totally repaired their relationship as brother and sister, since that would take a long time, but they’d made some good headway, and Fitz had always been protective of her when they had been younger. So why do I feel so disappointed? she wondered.

“Since you insist,” she agreed, unable to keep the snap of annoyance from her voice entirely. Still, holding onto Mac’s solid, warm arm, inhaling his distinctive scent, so smooth and comforting, like masculine soap and cinnamon and detergent, she wasn’t sorry not to be alone. No…it was more than that. She wasn’t sorry that Mac was the specific man she walked with.

Across the lawn, she saw a light come on in the guest house, which she recognized was in baby Hope’s room. Silhouetted on the shades, she saw a curvy woman’s figure rocking a child, and a larger outline as a man came up behind her, enveloping them in his shadow with a hug and leading them away from the window. The peace and serenity of the domestic scene, along with recollections of the love that she’d seen on their faces every time Fitz and Clara looked at each other and at tiny, perfect Hope, made her heart hurt, because she knew she would never have anything like it—and didn’t deserve it, anyway. Tears filled her eyes. As their steps slowed when they neared the side entrance to her area of the house, she kept her face averted from Mac so he wouldn’t see.

“I’m here safely, so you can report back to Fitz that you did your duty,” she answered, more coldly than she’d intended.

“Hey, now,” Mac answered, turning toward her in front of the side steps and urging her chin up with one strong but gentle finger so he could look at her face. “I never do anything I don’t want to do—not anymore, in any case—and I wanted to see you to your door safely for myself, so I wouldn’t worry.” He studied her, and she had the uncomfortable sensation that he saw much more than she’d wanted. “Are those tears, sugar?”

“No,” she denied in a thick voice, but her body immediately betrayed her as two droplets fell from her lashes and traced icy paths down her cheeks.

“Oh, darlin’, I’m sorry. Not quite sure what I did or said, but I never meant to make you cry,” he murmured in a deep, sincere voice, and Lana thought that she could have forgiven him just about anything, if there’d been something to forgive.

“It’s not you,” she answered. “It’s just that I feel so…alone sometimes, you know?” she admitted.

“God, yes,” he replied, with feeling. He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close into his body, so tightly that something he had pinned to his uniform pressed into her cheek. In spite of the tiny prick of pain, she felt safer and warmer than she had for a long, long while. “You’re not alone now, Lana.”

She tipped her head back, and she wasn’t sure whether she pushed up toward him first or he lowered his head, but somehow he closed his mouth over hers, and it was sublime. At first, his lips were gentle—surprisingly soft for such a brave, tough ex-military pilot—but when she moaned, he deepened the kiss, and she savored his spicy taste, a little like the coffee they’d drunk at the police station, but mostly just his own unique flavor.

She pushed herself against him, feeling his hardness rise, thick and long, against her stomach, and he tangled his hands into her updo, dislodging bobby pins, which made tiny metallic pings as they landed on the steps. He caressed her tongue with his, claiming her mouth in bold strokes until her nipples tightened against his chest as she imagined how he would claim her with other parts of his body.

When he finally raised his mouth from hers, his breathing harsh and uneven, she noticed they must have walked together right up to the wall of the house, and her back was cold against the bricks. The rapid puffs of her breath mingled with the clouds of his, and he leaned his forehead against hers.

“I’m sorry… I got a little carried away,” Mac said, and they still stood so close that she could feel the quick rise and fall of his chest against her breasts.

“No, no…I was just as into it, maybe more,” she said, then flushed with embarrassment. “I didn’t mean…well, you know. I’m sure you could tell that I was enjoying it, but of course we shouldn’t have done that.”

Mac took a step back. “What do you mean?”

Lana bit her lip, feeling like she wished the ground would swallow her up. Where was some handy quicksand when you needed it?

“Well, like you said, I’m sorry, too.”

Mac shook his head. “No, darlin’, I’m not sorry it happened…only sorry we went so fast.”

When she looked up into his face—so handsome, perfectly formed with strong lines and eyes that she couldn’t make out clearly right now in the low light but that she knew were a startling deep green and probably blazing with emotion—she wished she dared to trust herself again with a good man, a kind man, a true friend like Mac. Being with someone like him wasn’t in the cards for her, though. That kind of man wanted more than she could give—more than she was capable of giving anymore.

She put her hand on his chest. “Mac, there can’t be anything more between us. I can’t be with someone like you.” She tried to be gentle, but she rushed her words as thick tears rose in her throat.

Mac took another step back, breaking all contact between them. “Someone like me, huh? Why did I think you were different?” His voice was hollow, resigned…but the tone was underlaid with hurt.

“That’s not—” she started to explain, but he cut her off.

“You know what, Lana? Don’t say anything you might regret. I’ll stay away from you, and you can stay away from me from now on, but no matter what, we’ll still have to see each other sometimes, and I don’t want it to be any worse than it has to be.”

Lana felt as if he’d slapped her, but she forgave him for lashing out. He didn’t understand, but explaining might make it more painful. As Fitz’s closest friend, he was bound to cross her path in the future at important events.

“If that’s what you want,” she agreed, her voice low and sad.

“Does it matter what I want?” Mac’s laugh was mirthless, and he started to turn away. “No, hold on. I’m gonna say one more thing first, because I vowed that if I ever started to feel for someone again, I would say the words out loud—not leave confusion or doubt.”

Lana braced herself for whatever he was going to say, but his words were more surprising for their tenderness than anything else.

“It sounds like we don’t feel the same way and maybe you won’t thank me for saying this, but no matter how you feel, I care about you. I was beginnin’ to think I might be able to care pretty deeply and that maybe you could, too.”

She winced at the raw tone of his voice.

“That doesn’t change overnight. Truth is, for a man like me, that doesn’t really change, period. So if you’re ever in trouble or hurting—no matter everything we said tonight—you can call me and I’ll be there. That’s it.”

His offer stunned her, and letting him turn around and walk away, back into the darkness that was beginning to streak gray with the first light of the coming dawn, was one of the worst things she’d ever forced herself to do. He’d be better off without her, though. She knew it, and he’d recognize it, too, in time.

She’d thought her sad, shredded heart was incapable of feeling anything anymore, but now she learned—too late—that she must have been mistaken. If it had truly been destroyed, it couldn’t hurt so darn bad now. She hurried inside the massive house, her steps echoing off the walls and floors of the empty rooms, and cried for everything that might have been.

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About the Author

Aurora Russell

Aurora is originally from the frozen tundra of the upper-Midwest (ok, not frozen all the time!) but now loves living in New England with her real-life hero/husband, two wonderfully silly sons, and one of the most extraordinary cats she has ever had the pleasure to meet. But she still goes back to the Midwest to visit, just never in January.

She doesn’t remember a time that she didn’t love to read, and has been writing stories since she learned how to hold a pencil. She has always liked the romantic scenes best in every book, story, and movie, so one day she decided to try her hand at writing her own romantic fiction, which changed her life in all the best ways.

You can find out more about Aurora at her website here.


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