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New Release – The Empress of Xytae by Effie Calvin

Title: The Empress of Xytae

Series: Tales of Inthya, Book Four

Author: Effie Calvin

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: December 30, 2019

Heat Level: 2 – Fade to Black Sex

Pairing: Female/Female

Length: 83500

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

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Synopsis

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.”

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Meet the Author

Effie 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 – This is the Circle by Tash McAdam

Title: This is the Circle
Series: The Psionics, Book Four
Author: Tash McAdam
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: December 16, 2019
Heat Level: 2 – Fade to Black Sex
Pairing: No Romance
Length: 75800
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy, LGBT, military, futuristic, alt universe, barbarians, bonded, dark, disabilities, body snatching, undead, polyamory, non-monogamy, minor romance

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Synopsis

In the middle of two wars, including one that they didn’t want and didn’t ask for, the Psionics of ARC struggle to turn back the Eaters. The Institute is still waiting for an opportunity to regain control of the city, but right now there are more pressing concerns. Outside the Wall, chaos reigns, and the slums are overrun. Citizens and dwells alike are panicked and rioting. Cassandra hides in Epsilon 17’s body, convincing those closest to her that everything is normal as she pieces together plans to escape in the confusion.

But when the Eaters take her, Thea manages to regain control. The tables have turned. Now she has to pretend to be Cassandra to survive—but fortunately her time in the Institute prepared her well. If she tries to flee, she’ll be killed, but if she stays with the cannibal hordes she’s bound to be discovered. Escape seems impossible, but help—and friendship—comes from an unlikely source.

Toby and Serena have their hands full fighting the invading Eaters and trying to track down leads on where Thea could be. Cut off from his twin, Toby’s relationships with ARC deepen and grow, but he’s consumed by his guilt and his need to find Thea.

The cannibal threat looms ever closer, and with one of their best weapons either lost or disabled, ARC has to decide what their priorities are. Should they try to kill her, or save her?

Excerpt

This is the Circle
Tash McAdam © 2019
All Rights Reserved

TOBY

They’re coming over the wall, Serena pushes the thought to me as we duck into a doorway, looking for our next targets. People are running and screaming, I see a toddler dashed out of his mother’s arms, grabbed by an invisible hand, and send a puff of telekinesis out to catch him, whisking him out of danger and back safe onto her shoulder. A scream of frustration rings in the empty air.

The woman doesn’t know what happened, but she takes her child and keeps running. The streets are clearing now, the gates shut to keep the attackers out, cutting off the flood of dwells. I can’t help but think they’d be safer if they’d all stayed outside. The Eaters are here; they’re in the City, but we can’t see them.

I desperately try to comm base, but everything’s down, my datapad blinking uselessly as it tries to connect.

Serena marks two falling shapes that are invisible to me as they tumble down the huge white edifice. They’re using their power like parachutes, skidding their feet down the surface of the wall and wafting their telekinesis above themselves, slowing their descent; it’s unbelievable. Via our hand-to-hand connection I get a faint impression of Serena skidding down a wall by herself, long ago, young and scared, with devastation woven into the heart of the memory. She digs her nails into my hand, jogging me out of the private moments she didn’t mean to share, and points our joined hands at the first descending Eater.

I send out a burst of power, flatten the body-snatcher against the massive white blocks of steel-hard stone, feel his bones break, and his scream of pain reverberates through the air. Serena yanks the other attacker down, but he…no, she, flips in the air and lands on her feet, dodging into the panicked shapes before Serena can keep track of her.

A massive figure shunts refugee bodies aside like a battering ram—Tudor: he can see them, just like Leaf could in the desert—and heaves upward. The woman Serena lost sight of flickers into view for a moment, and Tudor hammers a huge fist into her chest. Everything is so sharp and clear in my vision. I see her rib bones bow inward, snap. Battlesight, Serena crows, adrenaline pounding through her, making her forget the deaths around us and focus only on the joy of war.

Together we race toward the fading trail of another invisible attacker as they sprint down a street after the fleeing crowds. They want the children, Serena sends to me, her inner voice shocked and disbelieving. I caught it on her before Tudor took her down; they’re here for the kids. The powered kids, she means. I feel it.

Why? My feet smash into the pavement. I wish these boots were older, broken in, the tight synth-leather making my strides just a touch uncertain on the slippery solar panels.

You should try doing this in the rain, Serena jokes, not knowing the answer to my question. Then we’re on the escaping Eater and have to focus. She reads and finds his feet for me, bare, soles like hide but used to hot sands not smooth glassy surfaces. I thread a noose of power around his ankle, ready to trip him. But I forgot what they can do with an open line, and I gasp as he yanks on the tendril I sent toward him. He pulls a gob of power right out of my chest, absorbing it with a shuddery cry I can hear with my mundane ears, not needing Serena to read it and pass it to me.

I stagger, almost falling with the shock of it, but Serena catches me with a strong hand around my belt, saving me from a nosedive onto the ground. Toby. It’s a cry, thick with fear, but I’m okay. I let go of the power and let him take it rather than try to keep the connection open and fight him for it. I don’t know how to do that, and the memory of my twin taking everything out of me is still too fresh in my mind to want to try.

I’m good, I spit it, finding my balance and yanking Serena along, urging her to look for our prey, but he’s disappeared, and she can’t find him. If they want the kids, they’ll be at ARC, I realize and share at the same time, and Serena blanches.

Damon.
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Meet the Author

Tash is a 30 year old teacher candidate at UBC in Canada, although they were born and raised in the hilly sheepland of Wales (and have lived in South Korea and Chile before settling down in Vancouver). Tash identifies as trans and queer and uses the neutral pronoun ‘they’. They’re also an English teacher and fully equipped to defend that grammar! They have a degree in computer science so their nerd chat makes sense, and a couple of black belts in karate which are very helpful when it comes to writing fight scenes.

Their novel writing endeavours began at the age of eight, and included passing floppy discs back and forth with a friend at swimming lessons. Since then, Tash has spent time falling in streams, out of trees, learning to juggle, dreaming about zombies, dancing, painting, learning and then teaching Karate, running away with the circus, and of course, writing.

They write fast-paced, plot-centric action adventure with diverse casts. They write the books that they wanted to read as a queer kid and young adult (and still do!)

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New Release – Blood Is Forever

Title: Blood Is Forever

Author: Asta Idonea

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: June 3, 2019

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 74500

Genre: Paranormal, LGBT, fantasy, Fae, vampires, witches, half-breed, demons, homicide, law enforcement

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Synopsis

As a fae-vampire hybrid, scorned by all, Holden’s life has never been easy. The one bright spot is his job testing blood at supernatural crime scenes. It’s routine work, until the day he finds a victim he can’t read.

When one murder becomes two, and then three, it’s clear there’s a serial killer on the loose—one with a penchant for collecting hearts. Finding the bad guy could cement Holden’s career, but he’s drawing a blank. And it doesn’t help that the expert his boss calls in to assist him is the man Holden’s been crushing on for years.

With lives hanging in the balance, Holden and Val must solve the case before the killer strikes again. But will they come out with their hearts still intact?

Excerpt

Blood Is Forever
Asta Idonea © 2019
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One
“What’s a filthy halfen doing here?”

Holden heard the comment. He could scarce avoid doing so, seeing as he possessed enhanced hearing and the speaker had made no attempt to lower his voice. The fae onlooker didn’t know the half of it. Clearly he based his judgment of Holden’s heritage solely on Holden’s less-than-regal stature—a good few inches shorter than most fae—rather than having recognised him outright. That was a rare occurrence. Had he known the truth about Holden’s lineage, the remark would have been all the more scathing.

Halfens—fae half-breeds—were considered the lowest of the low, ranked even below shifters in the supernatural community. Most halfens were fae-human hybrids. As a fae-vampire, Holden was as much of a social outcast as it was possible to be. The fae were notoriously snooty. For one of them to have had a liaison with a human was bad enough, but a vampire… It still amazed Holden that his father had committed such an act.

Cadeyrn was an important figure in the community—a leader in every sense of the word—and socially conscious in the extreme. Still, rumour had it Holden’s mother had been a rare beauty. Holden couldn’t confirm that. She’d died giving birth to him. Fae children were generally larger than vampire offspring, and her spine had snapped under the pressure of his delivery. With her passing, Cadeyrn had effectively shaken off the stigma attached to their brief encounter. The residue had stuck to Holden instead.

The fae who’d noted his presence spat on the ground near his feet as he passed, and a familiar icy fist closed around Holden’s heart. Nevertheless, he acted as he always did in such situations: he made no response, pretending he hadn’t heard anything, thankful for the dark sunglasses hiding his eyes. If he’d learned anything over the years, it was that he needed to maintain a thick skin, or at least the semblance of it. Such pretence wasn’t his forte, however. So, keeping his gaze fixed on his destination, he forged as speedy a path as possible through the small crowd gathered around the gate and approached the house.

Upon reaching the front door, he nodded to the officer stationed by the entrance, whipped out his credentials, and waved the plastic ID card under the man’s nose. The fae officer scanned them in silence, before raising the invisible strip of tape blocking the doorway, granting Holden access to the building.

From the outside, the Victorian terrace had no distinguishing features. A standard exemplar of its era, it sat in the middle of a long row of identical properties—former middle-class family homes long since converted into small inner-city apartments, for which young professionals had to pay top dollar. This particular example officially consisted of four flats. In truth, there were five.

Holden headed straight for the stairs and ascended to the third floor. To human eyes, this was the last living area, with only roof space above, but Holden could see the shimmer in the wall that indicated a hidden doorway. He passed through the gap, shaking off the tingle the magical barrier sent dancing over his skin, and mounted the small flight of steps to the fifth apartment. The door at the top stood open, and when Holden crossed the threshold, he entered a room bustling with activity.

Fae and witches hurried back and forth. Some wore full protective suits. Others were dressed normally, save for their softly scrunching shoe covers. Two photographers snapped away, their constant camera flashes blinding in their intensity. Meanwhile, several of their colleagues deposited a variety of items into plastic evidence bags, then whisked said bags away. Three witches were casting a spell to search surfaces for any latent fingerprints not belonging to the apartment’s owner, while one of the fae glided behind them, retrieving and cataloguing those found. All in all, it was a pretty standard crime scene.

Holden removed his sunglasses and stowed them in his jacket pocket. Then he grabbed some shoe covers from the box near the door and tugged them over his worn trainers. Now suitably attired, he looked for his superior amidst the organised chaos. In the end, Owens spotted him first.

“Holden!”

Her bark cut through the noise, and everyone paused. They looked at Owens and then at Holden. Most swiftly returned to their respective tasks, but a few pairs of eyes lingered on him. He didn’t recognise the faces attached to those keen gazes, but he could sense these strangers assessing him, judging him…and finding him wanting.

“Holden Fay, quit daydreaming and get your arse over here.”

At the command, Holden squared his shoulders and marched across the room, pretending, as best he could, not to notice those who still observed him.

Owens pursed her dark-berry-coloured lips as he approached, hands planted firmly on her ample hips. “What the hell took you so fucking long? I summoned you forty minutes ago. We had to hold the scene for you.”

“I’m sorry, Captain, but it’s peak hour. You know London traffic.” Actually, he’d had a pretty good run, all things considered, and after parking three streets down, he’d used a supernatural burst of speed to sprint the rest of the way—an action that always took a lot out of him.

“Oh yes. I’d forgotten about your…that you can’t use portals.” Owens had the decency to look momentarily abashed at having brought up one of Holden’s numerous defects. “Anyway, you’re here now.” She chose to move swiftly past the elephant in the room, for which Holden was grateful, and he hastened to follow suit.

“What do we have?”

“Come see for yourself.”

Holden trailed Owens through the lounge and into the bedroom. The sight that met his eyes there threatened to turn his stomach. However, he steeled himself and swallowed back the bile. This was his job, after all, and with his background and disadvantages, he was lucky to have any form of employment. He couldn’t afford to lose his position with the Fellowship’s Investigations Team because of a little blood. Not that the blood was the issue. He’d visited plenty of gory scenes, and being part vampire, spilled blood was liable to make him hungry rather than nauseated. No, it was the precision, the clear intent, which made this tableau so gruelling.

The body lay upon the bed, atop the sheets. Despite the look of terror permanently burned into his eyes, the victim otherwise projected a semblance of calm. There was minimal creasing to the sheets beneath him, suggesting there hadn’t been a struggle. No one had forced him onto the bed. No one had thrown him there. It appeared as if he’d lain down of his own volition. His arms rested neat and straight by his sides, and there was no sign of any defensive action, which was strange, given the gaping hole in his chest.

“He’s a witch?”

Holden waited for Owens’s nod, but he didn’t really need the clarification. What else could the victim be? His appearance ruled out him being fae, and a vampire would have turned to dust, or at least a pile of bones. That only left a human or a witch, and a human wouldn’t know of this room’s existence. They couldn’t even detect the flow of the earth’s energy through their own bodies, let alone recognise focused magic.

He moved closer and assessed the damage. The heart was gone. It was a clean job though. He was tempted to call it clinical. That, in itself, was unusual. When Owens called him to murder scenes, it tended to be a blood bath. He was used to that; it made sense. Maybe a newly turned vampire had lost control while feeding. Or someone had crossed paths with a shifter turned feral. Those deaths were understandable—a case of instinct outweighing control. A momentary madness. A mistake. This, on the other hand, had a worrisome aura of premeditation about it.

“Coven clash?” he postulated. It was an odd way for a witch to kill one of their fellow practitioners, but he could see no other obvious explanation.

Owens approached and studied the victim over Holden’s shoulder. Although she seemed cool and collected on the outside, Holden could hear her elevated pulse. She, too, was on edge.

“Not as far as we can tell. I spoke on the phone to all nine coven leaders while I waited for you. None reported any particular tensions, aside from the normal intercoven rivalries. They certainly knew of nothing that would prompt anyone to commit murder.” She stepped back. “Can you get anything from the blood? That’s why we called you here, after all. We can do the standard detective work on our own.”

Holden was glad he had his back to Owens, because he flinched at the slight.

Technically, he was only on the Fellowship’s payroll as a subcontractor. There were no regular hours or weekly paycheques. They simply called him as and when they needed him. That was fine, but he yearned for more. He wanted to be a proper member of the team. He wanted to be a detective and see a case through from start to finish. Although he didn’t possess the full abilities of either fae or vampire, there were things he could do, and given the opportunity, he’d work his arse off. However, he knew it was a pipe dream. With his genetic heritage, most people wanted nothing to do with him, and those who tolerated his presence only did so out of respect for his father. In all his thirty-four years, he’d known only two exceptions, and one of those was Owens.

Of all the members of the Investigations Team, Owens treated him the best. He would even go so far as to say she liked him. However, that only made her occasional, unintentional slips hurt all the more. He knew he wouldn’t have been her first choice for this job, for example. Given the option, she’d have called Drake, Claude, or even Samuel, rather than him, considering the unexpected nature of the crime. But blood work was extremely time sensitive, and since the pure-blood vampires wouldn’t rise for at least another three hours, she had to make do with him. So, he’d better get to work.

The blood had dripped down the man’s sides and pooled beneath his torso. Holden reached out and dipped his index finger into it. It was already congealing, but he collected a good enough sample for his purposes and raised the reddened digit to his lips. At first contact, he screwed up his face. No vampire liked the taste of dead blood. It wasn’t dangerous in small quantities like this, but it was far from pleasant. Nevertheless, Holden brushed aside his disgust and closed his eyes, focusing on his task.

Blood was a powerful tool in the right hands. It held memories—flashes of the life of the one in whose veins it had dwelt. Those memories faded after a time, though, once the heart stopped beating. Hence the need for a swift assessment. Holden rolled the blood on his tongue, seeking a connection. At this point, images usually bombarded him, coming so thick and fast it took concentration and practice to sort through them, separating ancient memories from recent events, picking out the important details from amidst the mundane. It was a skill, and he was adept. But on this occasion, there was nothing but blackness.

He opened his eyes and shook his head. “I’m sorry, Captain. There’s nothing there. We’re too late.”

“But Philips estimated the time of death as two hours ago. Even with your delayed arrival, the blood should still be good.”

“I don’t know what to tell you.” He shuffled, forcing himself to maintain eye contact despite his strong inclination to hang his head and look away. “The memories weren’t even faint. They weren’t there at all.”

It was not the first time this had happened to him, and it wouldn’t be the last. If the blood was too old, it was too old. There was nothing he could do about it. Nonetheless, Holden hated these failures. Neither Drake nor Claude could have extracted anything more from the sample, yet he had the greater need to prove himself. Lack of success clung more persistently to him than it did to them.

Owens swore loudly and virulently. “Very well. If you can’t do anything to help, you may as well go. We’ll wrap up the scene and head back to the office.”

She turned and barked orders at the rest of her staff, completing the abrupt dismissal, and Holden finally allowed himself to sink into the slumped-shoulder posture that had been pressing down upon him for several minutes.

Although free to leave, and keen to extract himself from under the sea of condemning gazes, Holden hovered a moment longer and looked back down at the body. Aside from the lack of a struggle and the surgical precision of the cuts, there was something else odd about the scene. If he could just put his finger on it…

The body retrieval crew shoved past, and their jostling broke Holden’s concentration. While they set about preparing the body for transportation, Holden spun on his heel and left. No one stopped his egress. No one called out a goodbye. He knew he was likely being paranoid, but he could have sworn he felt a wave of relief wash over the room when he rid the apartment of his presence.

Outside, the crowd from earlier had dispersed. Either they’d grown bored at the lack of action or members of the Investigations Team had moved them along, anxious to avoid drawing human attention. It was none of his concern either way.

The summer sunlight seemed at odds with the macabre scene he’d witnessed, and following the gloom indoors, its brightness hurt his sensitive eyes, so he whipped out his sunglasses. At the same time, he noticed he was still wearing the shoe covers. These he toed off, kicking them into the air and catching them. Not wanting to return indoors to dispose of them, he shoved them into the back pocket of his jeans.

A glance at his watch revealed that barely half an hour had passed since his arrival. Before Owens’s call, he’d planned on enjoying a quiet night at home, curled up with a good book, but now he had other ideas. A drink was in order—preferably three or four. With his vampiric metabolism, it took at least that many to feel even the faintest buzz. Alcohol alone was never sufficient, however. There was something else he needed too.

Holden retrieved his phone and knocked out a text message as he mooched back to his car. It was still too early in the day to expect an answer, but he didn’t doubt a favourable response when one finally came. Raoul had never once let him down. He would not be spending the night alone.

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Meet the Author

Asta Idonea (aka Nicki J Markus) was born in England but now lives in Adelaide, South Australia. She has loved both reading and writing from a young age and is also a keen linguist, having studied several foreign languages.

Asta launched her writing career in 2011 and divides her efforts not only between MM and mainstream works but also between traditional and indie publishing. Her works span the genres, from paranormal to historical and from contemporary to fantasy. It just depends what story and which characters spring into her mind!

As a day job, Asta works as a freelance editor and proofreader, and in her spare time she enjoys music, theater, cinema, photography, and sketching. She also loves history, folklore and mythology, pen-palling, and travel, all of which have provided plenty of inspiration for her writing. She is never found too far from her much-loved library/music room.

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New Release – Destructive Forces!

Title: Destructive Forces

Series: The Galactic Captains, Book Four

Author: Harry F. Rey

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: April 22, 2019

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: No Romance

Length: 70400

Genre: Science Fiction, LGBT, sci-fi, futuristic, war, space, war of worlds, gay, lesbian, military, royalty

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Synopsis

In the far reaches of the Kyleri Empire, young Captain Mahnoor travels around the system to escape the cultural pressures to marry. But his infatuation with a handsome imperial pilot leads him into a galactic war.

On Jiwani, Viscamon is attempting to consolidate his power, by blaming the Ingvar for the royal massacre and calling armies from across the Empire to track down the missing prince, and achieve his dream of destroying the Galactic Balance. However, Antari knows the truth about Osvai and must find the courage to stand up to the prince’s enemies, and his own, no matter the risk.

Meanwhile on Aldegar, Daeron is being held prisoner by the few remaining Ingvar forces and must find a way to break free to rescue his mother and the crew of the Daring Huntress once again, as well as the missing Prince Osvai, before the Kyleri come to take back what’s theirs.

Sallah, no longer the last Tevian, returns to Aldegar with no choice but to enlist the help of the man she hates and the woman she once loved to see her son again.

As the Galactic Balance tips ever more towards chaos, time is running out to save Ales from the destructive forces he has unleashed.

Excerpt

Destructive Forces
Harry F. Rey © 2019
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One
“Don’t let him get away!” Sallah screamed at the top of her lungs through the chaos of the fiery corridor. Two Ingvar soldiers had her by either arm. They’d dragged her out of the Trades Council plenum-turned-battle zone against her will. Her life was of paramount value to the Ingvar star-state, but she couldn’t care less about that now. Not while this Turo was getting away.

His words, spoken only minutes ago, haunted her mind. I have your son, he’d said, with a swirling sneer. Then everything exploded. Sallah had lost sight of General Morvas and Councilor Nexia in the shooting. Ingvar soldiers had also jumped on them, but the smoke and noise of weapons fire made trying to get back to the ship impossible. Yet it was the last thing Sallah wanted to do—the insurrection in the heart of the Trades Council be damned.

“Get off me.” She struggled against their armor-plated bodies, but they did not relent. Sallah’s feet kept slipping against the smooth marble floor; she couldn’t find a grip. Yelling and the ricochet of weapons banged around the air from every direction, stinging smoke encroaching on their position. Sallah yanked her head around to a din of shots being fired, and the two soldiers pulled her back from the brink of the great hallway where volleys of laser shot fired backward and forward into unknown, unseen sets of troops.

“Get back.” One of the soldiers said and knocked her head back against the wall, trying to avoid edging around the corner into the wide trench of ongoing warfare the great hallway had become. Sallah remembered the way. They had to get across to the other side, through the firing range.

A far-off explosion shook the walls of the building, seeming to strike at the core of the planet itself. The firing ceased, but silence did not return. Instead, the screeching sounds of warplanes entering the Targulian atmosphere filled the once-gilded walkway. Down beyond their position, toward the end of the great hallway, Sallah saw figures moving through the smoke. The shapes could be Turo, or even Ales. The only thing clear was her need to get to them.

Her Ingvar captors looked distracted, scanning the now eerily silent hallway through black visor helmets. One had his hand pointed backward in a halfhearted attempt to keep her still. She edged away from the wall, then glanced into the great hallway. It had the air of some ancient temple; high ceilings reaching up to a glass-domed roof to the hazy orange Targulian air. The heart of the Outer Verge, now consumed in inter-factional war, the Union against the Trades Council, while a foreign power circled the planet like some great mountain vulture. And here she was, the former last Tevian alive. She couldn’t let her life end this way. Not while her son might be right around the corner—hurt, or in danger. Sallah gritted her teeth and launched herself against one of the soldiers. With a swift kick, she booted him in the side, and he tumbled away from her into the space of no man’s land, his footing lost to the smooth-edged floor.

“What are you doing?” the other one cried out through his visor. But it was too late. A volley of weapons fire began again from both sides, riddling the Ingvar soldier’s body from the left and right. Puffs of vaporized blood and brain floated into the air as his lifeless body collapsed in a haze of reddish death.

The living soldier floated in front of her, as if suspended in time, now unsure if she was friend or foe. She wanted to leap toward him, grab the sidearm from his belt, flip, and blast him in the back. The sinews of her body, the echoes of Sallah’s yearning for her son she’d thought lost along with the rest of her home-world, ached for the ability to push him aside and sprint to her destiny. Yet something exploded against her back. It felt as if the walls themselves had collapsed onto her as the polished marble rushed up to meet her face. But she stopped. There was no impact. Something, no, someone grabbed her, saved her from being smashed to the ground.

“I have her,” a metallic voice said through the helmet. Sallah caught the edge of her reflection in the onyx visor. The whites of her eyes enraged and bloodshot against skin the color of a dark and stormy night.

“Let’s go,” said another.

The sound of many more boots smacking against the ground joined with the fire of weapons. Someone held her back, as a stream of Ingvar soldiers rushed from behind, firing their weapons to either side of the great hallway, building a wall of cover fire to cross to the other side. A black-gloved arm pulled her back by the chest, and she struggled to no avail.

“This way, general,” a voice said behind her. “Increase fire, don’t hold back,” it yelled to the soldiers holding the line the breadth of the hallway to the narrower corridor across the other side. General Morvas staggered past, helped by two soldiers. His soft, gray hair and distinguished features were dripping in blood from an open wound across his skull, his robes torn and wrapped around an arm as a makeshift bandage. The volley of fire from the soldiers turned into a crescendo of noise and smoke. Most likely no one was firing back from either side, but they kept the rate up as the half-crouched general crossed the hallway like a child being rescued from a fire.

Councilor Nexia came along next, her frail elderly body slung over the back of a soldier as if she were won as a prize of war.

“Sallah,” the Trades Council leader cried out. “Come with us, now. The Union are starting a war.”

Sallah pushed against her captor’s arm with all her power. “No! I must find Turo. I must—”

“We have him. He’s on the ship.” Nexia said. The soldier carrying her didn’t stop running. “Get her back to the fleet,” Nexia yelled over the rage of battle toward Sallah’s captor. She was a prize they couldn’t lose.

Powerful armored hands grabbed her from behind, squeezing her sides so hard she felt the pain through the adrenaline rush. There was no way to break free. Turo, Ales—she had to find them. Sallah struggled against her captor, legs flying back in a wild storm of trying to find any weak point in the armor and land a kick to skin.

“Let me go.”

He’d had enough. He didn’t think twice. Like Nexia in front of her, the soldier hoisted her body across his shoulder and ran after the others, darting through the protective enclosure. It was terrifying. The world had turned upside down. All she could see was the smoke from the far end of the great hallway rising up to the glass convex ceiling, here and there blocking out the hazy orange above. Yet through the glass, she saw the flashes of war and the trails of missiles and strike ships painting their destructive pattern. The Ingvar invasion had begun.

The bouncing became rhythmic, and she lost all sense of thinking beyond the next few minutes. Get to the ship, get to Turo. She’d beat that man to a pulp to find out where her son was. She’d swear to the Ingvar to never conduct another experiment again if they did not help her track down Ales. She’d gouge the secrets of galinium and STAR drives from her brain and cast them into the black void of nothingness unless the entirety of the fleet of the Ingvar Empire cast every ion toward finding her son. She’d rip apart the Outer Verge to find…

“Hurl her inside. That’s it.”

Sallah was flung upward, then caught by firm hands and dragged into the confines of a compact shuttle. Nexia and Morvas were stretched out alongside her, being tended to by soldiers with their visors up. The women and men in Ingvar uniform and their faces consumed in the rapid swirl of action. They had no time to think, only do.

“That’s all; time to go,” a voice said. She turned her head to the left through a sharp edge of pain to the two pilots in the narrow cockpit. One was gesturing to get the soldiers out of the shuttle.

“Wait,” Sallah screamed. “I need my son. I need Turo.” She pulled herself to her feet, ready to boot everyone else out of the shuttle and fly around the city-world herself to find him.

“No time,” the pilot yelled back, looking ready to meet her fists. “I’m taking you back to the fleet now. Strap in.”

Out of options, Sallah briefly contemplated jumping on one of the soldiers currently assisting the bruised-looking Nexia and Morvas into their shuttle seats against the narrow walls. Something caught her eye at the back of the shuttle, a soldier she now realized had been standing over someone. He moved out of the way, ready to exit the ship, and then she saw him, strapped in against his will and hands frozen in electromagnetic cuffs.

“You piece of flank,” Sallah yelled at Turo in the crowded confines of the ship. The rest of the soldiers ducked outside to the increasingly loud sounds of weapons fire.

“Strap in!” The pilot yelled from behind her as the shuttle door snapped closed.

“I’ll fucking kill you right now unless you tell me where my son is.” Turo’s green eyes looked up at her, his face smoky and bloodied from the fight, but his eyes alive, and a thin, narrow smile across his lips. The look of a man who, even in defeat, would prefer to watch everything he’d worked for go up in noxious flames than surrender. She launched her fist straight down into his stomach, the straps holding him back keeping him from bending over in reaction to the blow as the ship rumbled into action.

He spat out a gob of phlegm and blood onto the polished floor and returned only a smile. She cocked another fist.

“Sallah, stop,” Morvas called from behind, as the ship jerked up from the ground. She grabbed a metal bar above her head as the shuttle rumbled into the hazy sky. The sight through the windows dissolved her anger into terrified wonder. Targuline had descended into full-on war. Fighters dipped and dived behind the great trunks of Shards; missiles from space streaked across the orange sky as billows of black smoke infected the world.

Sallah turned her attention back to Turo. She held on above as the shuttle bounced around the atmosphere, worried it would drop from the sky at any moment—or perhaps be torn in two from heavy weapons fire. Neither was acceptable. She slammed her free hand into Turo’s throat, squeezing the sinews hard.

“Where is my son?”

Spluttered nothings fell from his mouth. Clearly, he hadn’t expected to be choked. As he raised a cuffed arm, where his wrist-tech sat, she released him from her deathly grip.

“I have him,” he coughed. “Tracked, here.”

Sallah twisted the arm with the wrist-tech, causing him to writhe in pain. Arms were not designed to twist in such a way, but she took comfort in his obvious agony.

“Find him.” Her eyes flashed with the power of a supernova. One primed for explosion

“Locate Ales,” he said into the device. The screen built a rudimentary map of the area with a clear green dot showing him less than fifty kilometers away. “Look, he’s still close by.” Sallah tried to make sense of the map, but the shaking shuttle and the moving blocks of images on the wrist-tech made it almost impossible to follow. She kept her eye solely on the distance counter, which steadily ticked upward as the shuttle flew up into the atmosphere toward the void of space.

“He’s on a ship, look.” Turo twisted his wrist-tech farther around, with an edge of humanity in his voice, which took her by surprise. The view of the outside moved around Morvas and Nexia from the hazy, orange battle-scarred sky to the cool blackness of space. Shards poked through the stratosphere, but the normally bustling routes in and out of the planet and its space stations were frozen by the invasion.

She stared past Nexia at the Ingvar fleet assembled in battle formation. She’d flown with them from Aldegar in the odd position she held as both a prisoner and most-valued individual, across their emerging empire. She knew this was every ship the Ingvar had. Battle Cruisers and troop transports, command vessels and fighter carriers; an entire fleet constructed from the scraps of the Crejan occupation force the young star-state liberated themselves from.

They had gambled their empire on this force, throwing everything they had against the Outer Verge, the only power in the galaxy weaker than themselves, in order to seize the STAR drive and power into the unknown universe beyond. Now, with their fifty-ship fleet amassed around the Targulian atmosphere and the Verge descending into civil war, they needed to get their hands on the raw galinium mined in the far edge of the Outer Verge.

Sallah reminded herself she didn’t care for whom she provided the prototypes of the STAR drives or which empire seized on her research. The Union, the Seven Suns, the Ingvar—she cared not for any of them. She had cared only for herself and the chance it may give her to rebuild the world she had lost. Sallah’s hands clasped her stomach as if it was about to explode.

“What’s that?” Nexia called out behind her, pointing to the window and the Ingvar fleet beyond. A single ship with a strange greenish glow around it was racing up from the orange haze toward the mass of ships. Sallah had only ever considered that glow in the theory of her work. It can’t be.

“It’s Ales,” Turo said, shifting his wrist-tech toward her line of sight stuck on the window, staring at the fleet the shuttle jiggered toward. Her throat flicked closed, a lifetime’s worth of tears held back by nothing but a single hope that soon she may be reunited with the son she’d thought lost.

“Tell them to bring him in,” she screamed at the pilot. He looked back with a gasp of worry. Morvas quickly nodded his approval.

“Fleet command, there’s an unidentified small vessel headed right to you from the planet. It’s friendly. Repeat, friendly. High-value cargo,” the pilot said into the comms.

Sallah left Turo in his strapped-down position and pressed her face against the clear window. His ship was getting closer to the fleet, like a single drop edging ever closer to a waiting beast. But the greenish glow around him grew ever bolder. She pressed her hand against the glass as Morvas, and then Nexia, unclipped from their seats and joined her.

“What is it?” Morvas demanded. “Is that a weapon? Is this an attack?”

She couldn’t even whisper a No. Sallah felt as if her mind had been severed from her body. It may as well float in the empty void of nothing. Her mind, her soul, unable to comprehend the things she was seeing. Who had built such a thing? Everything had been theoretical, only experiments. How could her research, her life’s work, sever her son from her once again?

The glow became stronger and ever brighter as the STAR drive ignited its galinium core. The space around his ship warped and swirled in a cloud of green as the horizon point broke free from the ship’s engine, the greenish bubble growing wide enough to encompass the entire Ingvar fleet.

“No. It’s too much. It’s too powerful.” The beat of her heart burst into her skull as the horizon point from Ales’ ship reached its zenith.

“What?” Morvas demanded. “What is? Tell me now.”

The flash forced Nexia and Morvas to turn away. But Sallah did not. Her eyes burned and ached for the briefest moment, but then the darkness returned. The black, blank darkness of space above the hazy orange orb. Now empty except for a long, glowing white streak of nothing where Ales and the entire Ingvar fleet had just been. Whoever had created that STAR drive had grossly miscalculated the proportions of weaponized galinium required.

“Sallah, he’s gone,” Turo said in quiet shock, a note of fear in his voice Sallah would never have thought a man such as he would have.

“Where’s my fleet?” Morvas shrieked. “For infinity’s sake, where is my fleet?”

Sallah said nothing. Her eyes focused on her own reflection as she watched a single tear drip down her cheek. It was too painful to look at the empty space where her son and all the ships of the Ingvar empire had been, now lost in some unknown galaxy.

Purchase

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

Meet the Author

Harry F. Rey is an author and lover of gay themed stories with a powerful punch with influences ranging from Alan Hollinghurst to Isaac Asimov to George R.R. Martin. He loves all things sci-fi and supernatural, and always with a gay twist. Harry is originally from the UK but lives in Jerusalem, Israel with his husband.

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Rainbow Snippets

Running late again. My brother and SiL were in town for the Bob Evans Farm fest. Last year it was a bust because it was so hot. This year it was 45 degrees. I was pretty happy with that.

I’ll be continuing with Blood Red Roulette. You met Arrigo last time. Now you can meet Luc.

“What were you doing in the back alley with some guy?” Da balled up his fists.

Luc stared, clueless. “What are you talking about? I was only outside twice. Once to throw the garbage out and once to pass a mop.”

“Stanton said you were behind the bar with someone, c’est sa couillon,” his brother, Henri, said, closing the space between him and Luc.

Luc tensed. Nothing he said would matter. He understood his kin too well. They weren’t in a listening mood. “That drunk? I wasn’t out back.”

“Trying to make your own money sucking off the patrons in the alley?” Da growled.

“No!” Luc’s arms crossed in front of him, reflex from years of taking beatings. Doing something like that had never crossed his mind.

Blurb Arrigo Giancarlo’s friends think he’s a rich young man with the unusual job of paranormal investigator, working with his psychic assistant in Las Vegas. In truth he’s a two-thousand-year-old vampire and member of the Chiaroscuro, a group of Supernaturals dedicated to keeping humanity safe from the more dangerous of their kind. He’s also openly bisexual… but alone.

When he spots Luc St. John in a bar, Arrigo is intrigued. What begins as an effort to repay the kindness shown to him in the past quickly turns into much deeper feelings for the suffering and displaced Cajun. For Luc’s part, he feels too poor, too uneducated, and too bound to his hateful family to ever be worthy of elegant and cultured Arrigo.

An old enemy, Eleni, blames Arrigo for murdering her true love. On the anniversary of that death, she’s back to take revenge. As Arrigo’s closest friends fall victim to savage attacks, he fears nothing will keep Luc safe. Should he break both their hearts and let Luc go, or is it too late? If Luc’s already in Eleni’s sights, Arrigo knows that like most things in Vegas, the odds are against him.

You can pre-order the paperback here (currently on sale)

the ebook here

It releases November 13th!

blood-red-roulette

If you’d like to play along, Rainbow Snippets is a Facebook community where we post up 6 sentences of one of our LGBT stories every Saturday. It’s been fun and you can find it here. Be sure to check out all the offers! It’s been a great supportive group!

New Release – The River City Chronicles by J. Scott Coatsworth

Check it out and I have to say I love that the name of the restaurant is ‘The Boys.’

COVER-River-City

J. Scott Coatsworth has a new queer magical realism book out:

A group of strangers meets at Ragazzi, an Italian restaurant, for a cooking lesson that will change them all. They quickly become intertwined in each other’s lives, and a bit of magic touches each of them.

Meet Dave, the consultant who lost his partner; Matteo and Diego, the couple who run the restaurant; recently-widowed Carmelina; Marcos, a web designer getting too old for hook-ups; Ben, a trans author writing the Great American Novel; teenager Marissa, kicked out for being bi; and Sam and Brad, a May-September couple who would never have gotten together without a little magic of their own.

Everyone in the River City has a secret, and sooner or later secrets always come out.

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Giveaway

One lucky winner will receive a $25 Amazon gift card. Enter via Rafflecopter for a chance to win.

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Excerpt

Matteo stared out the restaurant window into the darkness of Folsom Boulevard. It was getting dark earlier as summer edged into fall. Streetlights flickered on as cars drifted by, looking for parking or making the trip out of Midtown toward home.

The sign on the window read “Ragazzi” (the boys), lettered in a beautiful golden script just two months old. Investing in this little restaurant his uncle had left to them when he’d passed away had been their ticket out of Italy. But now with each passing day, as seats sat empty and tomatoes, pasta, and garlic went uneaten, the worry was gnawing ever deeper into Matteo’s gut.

Behind him in the open, modernized kitchen, Diego was busy cooking—his mother’s lasagne, some fresh fish from San Francisco, and some of the newer Italian dishes they’d brought with them from Bologna. The smells of boiling sauce and fresh-cooked pasta that emanated from the kitchen were entrancing.

They’d sent the rest of the staff —Max and Justin—home for the evening. The three customers who had shown up so far didn’t justify the cost of keeping their waiter and busboy on hand.

Matteo stopped at the couple’s table in front of the other window. “Buona sera,” he said, smiling his brightest Italian smile.

“Hi,” the man said, smiling back at him. He was a gentleman in about his mid-fifties, wearing a golf shirt and floppy hat. “Kinda quiet tonight, huh?”

“It always gets busier later,” Matteo lied smoothly. “Pleasure to have you here. Can I get you anything else?”

“A little more wine, please?” the woman said, holding out her glass so the charm bracelet on her wrist jangled.

“Of course.” He bowed and ducked into the kitchen.

He gave Diego a quick peck on the cheek.

His husband and chef waved him off with a snort. “Più tardi. Sto preparando la cena.”

“I can see that. Dinner for a hundred, is it? It’s dead out there again tonight.”

Diego shot him a dirty look.

Matteo retrieved the bottle of wine from the case and returned to fill up his guests’ glasses. “What brings you in tonight?” Maybe they saw our ad.…

“Just walking by and we were hungry. I miss the old place though.… What was it called, honey?”

Her husband scratched his chin. “Little Italy, I think?”

“That’s it! It was the cutest place. Checkered tablecloths, those great Italian bottles with the melted wax… so Italian.”

Matteo groaned inside. “So glad you came in” was all he said with another smile.


Buy Links
Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07DCFPCGZ/

Amazon Paperback: https://www.amazon.com/River-City-Chronicles-Scott-Coatsworth/dp/1732307504/

Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-river-city-chronicles-j-scott-coatsworth/1128593446?ean=9781732307506

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/the-river-city-chronicles-1

iBooks: https://geo.itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-river-city-chronicles/id1381215078?mt=11

QueeRomance Ink (all buy links): https://www.queeromanceink.com/book/the-river-city-chronicles/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/29246443-the-river-city-chronicles

Author Bio

J. Scott Coatsworth

Scott lives with his husband Mark in a little yellow bungalow in East Sacramento, with two pink flamingos by the front porch.

He spends his time between the here and now and the what could be. Indoctrinated into fantasy and sci fi by his mother at the tender age of nine, he devoured her library. But as he grew up, he wondered where the people like him were.

He decided it was time to create the kinds of stories he couldn’t find at Waldenbooks. If there weren’t gay characters in his favorite genres, he would remake them to his own ends.

His friends say Scott’s brain works a little differently – he sees relationships between things that others miss, and gets more done in a day than most folks manage in a week. He seeks to transform traditional sci fi, fantasy, and contemporary worlds into something unexpected.

He runs Queer Sci Fi and QueeRomance Ink with his husband Mark, sites that bring queer people together to promote and celebrate fiction that reflects their own reality.

Author Website: https://www.jscottcoatsworth.com

Author Facebook (Personal): https://www.facebook.com/jscottcoatsworth

Author Facebook (Author Page): https://www.facebook.com/jscottcoatsworthauthor/

Author Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/jscoatsworth

Author Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/8392709.J_Scott_Coatsworth

Author QueeRomance Ink: https://www.queeromanceink.com/mbm-book-author/j-scott-coatsworth/

Author Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/J.-Scott-Coatsworth/e/B011AFO4OQ

 

Sunday Small Talk

Happy mother’s day.

I’ve been quiet because I’ve been busy editing. I had to get Blood Red Roulette done and then I had to edit the SF novella before the deadline got here and once that was done, BRR was back for edits again, right in the middle of the last two weeks of my semester.

It was taking me forever on the edits as it was (day job has a lot of hours involved) so I didn’t think it was smart or right to divert my attention too much.

Now that I probably won’t see BRR back for at least another week or two, I’m trying to get a Christmas story done and I think the deadline was moved up. Yikes. I’m not sure it’s going well. I have the idea but man, contemporary is not my thing. Hopefully I can pull it off as a short story.

I’m eyeing the open call at Less Than Three press for a post apocalyptic solarpunk leaning story but my writing mojo which was so strong this winter is dwindling. That’s depressing but I’m hoping the summer off will help me recharge.