Tag Archives: release day!

Guest Post – Grace R. Duncan – Overcoming Fear

 

Four things I learned in the re-release of Overcoming Fear

 
I hope Jana doesn’t mind that I went with four things instead of five, but hey, Overcoming Fear is a short story! We’ll go with that, right? 😉

It’s harder to edit an old story than I expected it to be. When I thought about rereleasing Overcoming Fear, it never occurred to me that it would be even remotely difficult to go back through it, tweak it and get it ready for publication. But five minutes in, I found myself second-guessing pretty much everything! It took a lot of effort to keep myself from completely rewriting the whole thing—the exact opposite of what I was trying to do—and simply focus on editing.

It’s intimidating when you’ve been out of the loop for so long. This is more about the release/publicity side of things, but I found myself super-nervous just asking people for help with promo and cover reveals. It felt a little like I had forgotten what the publication process was even like. Oops?

There is a ridiculous number of phrases particular to a US region and anyone outside of those seems to think you’re batshit when you try to explain them. Overcoming Fear uses a phrase I remember hearing for as long I’ve lived—“Hello the house (http://historicalhoney.com/hello-house/)”—though I have no idea where I learned it. It was just something I’d remembered as a way people announced their presence back before doorbells were a thing. I figured that since people didn’t get normal visitors anymore in the Pandemus world, then they weren’t likely to feel safe just knocking on a door. Thus, “Hello the house” seemed like a reasonable option. When I originally published OF, at least one of the editors had never heard of it and this time, at least two of my proofreaders hadn’t heard of it. I ended up having to link to a video (https://getyarn.io/yarn-clip/cc04cb1a-39b8-4d3c-a4a6-3e6a5cec4034) for the editor to not question me.

Memory only goes so far when finding the setting. Google maps is a godsend for this. I grew up in the area that Healing and Overcoming Fear were set in. I spent my high school around the lake Mark and Duncan end up on. Yet, despite very clear pictures in my head, it took an astounding amount of time to remember where any of that stuff was. I still ended up having to take generous liberty with the area, and next time, I think I’ll just not count on my memory.

Thanks again to Jana for giving me some space today! You can find Overcoming Fear at Amazon and it is also available on Kindle Unlimited.

 

noh8About Grace:

Grace Duncan grew up with a wild imagination. She told stories from an early age – many of which got her into trouble. Eventually, she learned to channel that imagination into less troublesome areas, including fanfiction, which is what has led her to writing male/male erotica.

A gypsy in her own right, Grace has lived all over the United States. She has currently set up camp in East Texas with her husband and children – both the human and furry kind.

As one of those rare creatures who loves research, Grace can get lost for hours on the internet, reading up on any number of strange and different topics. She can also be found writing fanfiction, reading fantasy, crime, suspense, romance and other erotica or even dabbling in art.

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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.

Purchase

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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 A Vampire’s Redemption

Title: A Vampire’s Redemption

Series: The Inquisition Trilogy, Book Two

Author: Casey Wolfe

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: June 3, 2019

Heat Level: 2 – Fade to Black Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 108700

Genre: Paranormal, LGBT, vampires, werewolves, were-creatures, mages, witches, elves, centaurs, alternate universe, dark, magic, fluff, low angst, hurt/comfort, PTSD, humor, friendship, political, fantasy, paranormal, romance, gay, pansexual, mates, mating, mate bonds

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Synopsis

Marcus was likely dead, killed by the Inquisition, or so it was believed. Then the vampire was found, broken beyond words, in an isolated prison fortress. Marcus had never expected to see daylight again, let alone be rescued by his mate. Now he worries he’ll drag Caleb into his darkness.

Caleb was the one who pulled Marcus out of his prison cell, and he’s determined to drag him from the nightmares of his mind as well. After all, that’s what mates are for, and Caleb had lost hope at finding his. And if he can help destroy the entire Inquisition? Well, all the better.

Dealing with Marcus’s physical and mental healing from his trauma is difficult enough, but Inquisition holdouts are causing chaos everywhere, and sinister plots are rampant. Marcus and Caleb have no choice but to fight back. It’s a good thing they are not alone.

Excerpt

A Vampire’s Redemption
Casey Wolfe © 2019
All Rights Reserved

Prologue
Caleb ushered the prisoners from their holding cells, encouraging them to escape. A naiad, shivering and pale, was carried by a collared were-creature. A dwarf asked for some assistance getting an injured elf to her feet, a pair of fellow prisoners stopping to lend aid in getting her out.

He continued to move as quickly as possible until he reached solitary confinement at the back of the block.

Only one cell was occupied. The prisoner was curled on his side, groaning as he attempted to right himself. “Hold on,” Caleb said. “Lemme help.”

He was met with a hiss and flash of fangs. Vampire. Caleb shied back to the threshold of the cell, dropping into a crouch. “Whoa, whoa, I’m not gonna hurt ya, man. We’re here to free you guys.”

The vampire blinked a few times before his hackles lowered. His body sagged, the rest of his energy going with it.

Caleb scented the air—filth, sweat, excrement; all of which was expected. Then he smelled blood and infected flesh. As the vampire used all his remaining strength to push himself into a seated position with only one arm, the source was made obvious. “They took your arm?” Caleb snarled. “Fucking bastards.”

Letting out a humorless laugh, the vampire looked at him. “They wanted to know if it would grow back.”

There was no helping Caleb’s growl. Were-creatures and vampires had accelerated healing, a trait of their particular races. But even they had their limits. Growing a new limb? These people were madder than he originally thought.

“Gonna get you out of here,” Caleb said, tempering his anger with an awareness of the situation he was in. He inched inside the cell, moving slowly so he didn’t startle the wounded vampire again. “It’ll be alright now.” He soothed him with the voice he used on Kyle and the other pups when they got scared or needed help with a shift. “You’ll be okay. I promise.”

“I’m so tired,” he murmured, eyes closing as his head fell back against the cell wall. “Don’t even think I can walk out of here.”

“I’ll help you. We’ll do it together, okay?”

“I can’t.” The vampire’s face scrunched in pain, the words forced out.

“We can.” Caleb offered his hand, even though the vampire’s eyes were still closed. “Come on. I’ll carry you if I have to.”

The vampire looked at him, lips curled in mirth. “Yeah? Just you there, small fry?”

Geez, he can manage to joke at a time like this? Caleb thought, though he was amused all the same. This one was most likely a sassy bastard when he was in top form. Something about that thought made Caleb want to see him at his best.

“Up you go,” Caleb encouraged, wiggling his fingers. When the vampire took hold, Caleb hauled him up in one quick motion before the vampire could try to lift himself.

“Shit,” he cursed, balance lost in the process, and falling against Caleb.

Catching him easily enough, Caleb prepared to make a smart comment when he smelled it. Closer now, the scent of honeysuckle wafted under his nose, and every place their skin touched was tingling with static. It couldn’t really be…

“Mate.” The word was said with such awe and reverence, Caleb’s chest clenched.

Caleb looked up to meet eyes the color of sea glass. He licked his lips, mouth suddenly dry. “Yeah,” Caleb agreed. “Mates.” He pulled the vampire closer, both supporting him and fulfilling his wolf’s selfish need to keep him near. “I’ll get you out of here.” If the statement was filled with more conviction than before, then nobody could blame him.

Purchase

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

Meet the Author

“Everyone deserves a Happily Ever After.”

History nerd, film buff, avid gamer, and full-time geek; all of these things describe Casey Wolfe. They prefer being lost in the world of fiction—wandering through fantasy realms, traveling the outer reaches of space, or delving into historical time periods. Casey is non-binary and ace, living with depression, anxiety, and PTSD, all of which informs their writing in various ways. Happily married, Casey and their partner live in the middle-of-nowhere, Ohio with their furry, four-legged children.

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New Release – The Scarecrow by Mia Kerick

Title: The Scarecrow & George C

Author: Mia Kerick

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: June 3, 2019

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Female

Length: 65700

Genre: Contemporary New Adult, LGBT, contemporary, new adult, hurt/comfort, family drama

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Synopsis

High school senior Van Liss is barely human. He thinks of himself as a scarecrow—ragged and unnerving, stuck and destined to spend his life cold and alone. If he ever had feelings, they were stomped out long ago by his selfish mother and her lecherous boyfriend. All he’s been left with is bitter contempt, to which he clings.

With a rough exterior long used to keep the world at bay, Van spooks George Curaco, the handsome new fry cook at the diner where he works. But George C senses there is more to the untouchable Van and refuses to stop staring, fascinated by his eccentricity. When Van learns that George C is even more cold, alone, and frightened than himself, Van welcomes him to his empty home. And ends up finding his heart.

Their road to trust is rocky and, at times, even dangerous. And looming evil threatens to keep them apart forever.

Fair warning: You may want to strap in. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Excerpt

The Scarecrow & George C
Mia Kerick © 2019
All Rights Reserved

Do us both a favor: check this out before you read
If you’re looking to read a story about a sassy teenage gay boy who refuses to behave until he meets Mr. Wonderful in Senior Honors Physics, and then is dazzled into improved conduct and future monogamy, I highly doubt this is the book for you. Believe me when I say you should close the book right now—drop it into a recycling bin if you’re all about keeping the earth green—and walk away. To this point, my life hasn’t run according to a predictable romantic formula. I don’t see a reason for this status to change.

Maybe you think you’re into something darker, so an unconventional story will suit your offbeat mood. News flash, reader: loners spend significant time in bookstores. I’m aware of the kind of books that consider themselves dark, at least in a carnal sense, and many are categorized as “New Adult,” just like this one. Between lewd front and back covers featuring tits, tats, and torsos, a threadbare plot is woven into a heavy fabric of inspired sex. You’re not likely to find that shit in here, either—but don’t I wish?

By now, you’ve probably noticed I possess a flair for the dramatic. Well, I look at it like this: creating drama staves off boredom. Not that I need to justify myself. But if you’re still with me, you’ve earned a shred of my respect. So on second thought, maybe you should keep reading.

Stick along for the ride if it pops your cork…

Friday
I towel myself off after my second, extremely necessary, shower of the morning. Mom’s cast-off pale pink towel is history thanks to unsightly smudges of black dye. Whatever. I did what I had to do, even if it was messy.

This morning, you see, I woke up and dyed my roots black. The urge to do it had been gathering steam for a few days—ever since the new kid started working at the diner. I picked up the dye on a rather compelling whim at the 24-hour pharmacy on the corner of Depot and Wilder Streets after work on Tuesday night. The rest is well-planned history.

I had to refer to a YouTube video so my roots would appear intentional, rather than a result of lazy grooming. And you may think I seem like a hot mess, but my crime against hair color has been done by careful design. Don’t delude yourself—I wasn’t going for the chic ombré look. Believe me, there’s nothing trendy about me. I want bold black roots with zero transition to the rest of my white-blond hair.

I glance in the mirror over the bathroom sink and see the male reverse of Cruella DeVil. And I smile, having achieved the “what the fuck’s up with his hair?” vibe I desire.

I suppose you want to know why I did it. That’s an easy one, and I think you’re going to appreciate my total candor. Drumroll, please: It’s because even if I’m a loner, I’m not heartless. I’m different, and I flaunt it, which is my way of keeping it real with the world. FYI: “Different” is my PC way of letting the public know I’m strange, frightening, and maybe even slightly dangerous. So, it’s better if that kid at the diner, and everybody else, looks away.

And you know what, boys and girls? I can help with that…

Here’s how: I dress like a Halloween scarecrow. Yeah, yeah… You’re wondering what, exactly, constitutes “scarecrow attire”? Go ahead, bookworm, google it. I did—I’m a visual sort of guy. You’ll see images of rigid figures, some stuffed with hay, others skinny as the barn boards they’re made of, clad in an unfortunate variety of secondhand clothing. I wear plaid flannel button-downs and overalls—yes, even to the wedding of a random second cousin last summer—peplum shirts of coarse fabric, and baggy, worn-out jeans, cinched at the waist by knotted burlap belts. Countless patches, Western bandanas, and an antique, oversized top hat finishes my retro cast-off style.

I laugh as I pull on today’s hokey duds. I’m not what you’d call the picture of fashion. In fact, I’d wager guys rarely fantasize about their boyfriends sporting dirty, patched overalls and a hat like Abraham Lincoln’s. But even if I take the hat off, you’ll see my new jet-black roots—hard as hell to appreciate on a bleached blond. Dedicate the hair color upgrade to that guy at work who won’t look away.

He probably considers himself eclectic and likes to think he appreciates life’s more unusual things. Or maybe he’s merely a Halloween maniac who is turned on by scarecrows with hair like straw. Incidentally, when I stripped my hair of color, I hoped it would further shock those around me into keeping their distance, but it seems to attract a certain fry cook.

I have fifteen minutes before I have to leave for the torture chamber most people refer to as high school, so I kneel in front of the coffee maker and brew a pot. I’ll check over my take-home Euro History quiz while it brews. No, I’m not a nerd, but I want better options for the future than I’ve had in the past.

Before you ask, I have my reasons for wanting to appear shocking to the point of repellant. And for the most part, I’ve gotten my wish. Teachers and students at school, coworkers and customers at the diner, not to mention Mom and Jake downstairs, all glance at the floor when I walk by. But this guy fixes his gaze on me. Maybe my unnatural black roots will scare him off, the way a good scarecrow stuck in a vast cornfield scares away so many crows.

I just don’t understand why he can’t see how frightening I am.

You can see it, can’t you?

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Meet the Author

Mia Kerick is the mother of four exceptional children—one in law school, another at a dance conservatory, a third studying at Mia’s alma mater, Boston College, and her lone son still in high school. She has published more than twenty books of LGBTQ romance when not editing National Honor Society essays, offering opinions on college and law school applications, helping to create dance bios, and reviewing English papers. Her husband of twenty-five years has been told by many that he has the patience of Job, but don’t ask Mia about this, as it is a sensitive subject.

Mia focuses her stories on the emotional growth of troubled young people and their relationships. She has a great affinity for the tortured hero in literature, and as a teen, Mia filled spiral-bound notebooks with tales of tortured heroes and stuffed them under her mattress for safekeeping. She is thankful to NineStar Press for providing her with an alternate place to stash her stories.

Her books have been featured in Kirkus Reviews magazine, and have won Rainbow Awards for Best Transgender Contemporary Romance and Best YA Lesbian Fiction, a Reader Views’ Book by Book Publicity Literary Award, the Jack Eadon Award for Best Book in Contemporary Drama, an Indie Fab Award, and a Royal Dragonfly Award for Cultural Diversity, among other awards.

Mia Kerick is a social liberal and cheers for each and every victory made in the name of human rights. Her only major regret: never having taken typing or computer class in school, destining her to a life consumed with two-fingered pecking and constant prayer to the Gods of Technology. Contact Mia at miakerick@gmail.com or visit at http://www.miakerickya.com to see what is going on in Mia’s world.

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New Release – The Life Siphon!

Title: The Life Siphon

Series: The Life Siphon, Book One

Author: Kathryn Sommerlot

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: May 20, 2019

Heat Level: 1 – No Sex

Pairing: No Romance

Length: 85500

Genre: Fantasy, LGBT, fantasy, royalty, magic users, mage battles, action/adventure, family drama, kidnapping, HFN

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Synopsis

A magical energy drain is siphoning life from the land and leaving a twisted, decaying wasteland in its wake.

Safely isolated in his forest home, Tatsu wants nothing to do with the drain or the other citizens in the kingdom of Chayd. The only people he cares about are his childhood friend and her strangely prophetic sister, but there’s no avoiding the threat once Tatsu is arrested and taken to the capital. The Queen of Chayd offers Tatsu his freedom—but only in exchange for sneaking into the neighboring kingdom of Runon and stealing whatever is powering the siphon.

Ravenous trees and corrupted predators lie between Tatsu’s team and their prize, but the drain’s destruction is nothing compared to Runon’s high mages, determined to protect their weapon. As the truth of the siphon’s power reveals itself, Tatsu faces an impossible question: how much is he willing to sacrifice to save one man’s life?

What if that one man could destroy everything?

Excerpt

The Life Siphon
Kathryn Sommerlot © 2019
All Rights Reserved

The knock on the door came just as he finished refilling his quiver. Tatsu froze, blood running cold. He put his hand on the leather pack for stability before he was able to oust the lump in his throat. His house was too remote for anyone to simply stumble across it, so whoever it was had meant to arrive. As the air in the small house hung still and heavy, his hand slid to the uneven table with the broken leg he’d never gotten around to fixing, fingers finding the familiar and well-worn hilt of his skinning knife. It was sharp enough to take apart a jack hare. He hoped it was also keen enough to defend himself.

He took a few steps toward the noise, his feet unconsciously finding their way around the long, loose floorboards. He was almost to the door when the knocking came again, impatient. The new round of knocking was paired with a female voice. “Tatsu?”

The anxiety left his body in a rush that felt like the hot sting of Chayd’s summer against his skin, months too early.

“Alesh?” he replied and opened the creaking wooden door. “What are you doing here?”

His first thought was that she had to be injured, sick, or something worse. After all, it had been a long time since she’d last bothered to travel all the way to his hut in the inner woods. But she appeared to be in one piece, her hair worked back into three simple plaits, and she seemed no worse for the wear. Irritation surged through his chest. Knowing she’d been fine but not taking the time to visit made her sudden reappearance cut deeper.

“Please,” she said and, at once, he knew. Alesh wouldn’t journey to his doorstep for any other reason. She needed a favor.

He had half a mind to shut the door right in her face, his insides still untangling themselves from tight knots, but movement flashed behind Alesh’s shoulder. Ral lingered behind her, digging in the constant scourge of weeds growing in front of the house without any care to the dirt embedding itself under her nails. The young woman was laughing at Tatsu’s wildflowers. Her light-brown dress fabric, marking her as enol, or baseborn, was already streaked with smears of mud.

He didn’t close the door, but he didn’t edge it open any further either.

“Hear me out.” Alesh had the good grace to flinch when Tatsu snorted.

“Isn’t that all I’ve ever done?” he asked.

“I need your help.”

Help was not a word that came easily from her, though Tatsu guessed they had wildly different definitions of it. Help to him meant aid and a friendly ear and someone present, offering suggestions and finding solutions. Help was nothing Alesh had ever allowed him to do.

“The last time I tried to help you…” he warned.

She slammed the door so forcefully the ripples shook Tatsu’s arm. “Listen, this isn’t for me, you know. I can’t leave her alone, and I don’t have anyone else.”

Tatsu peered over Alesh’s shoulder again. Ral had gotten a handful of the reedy flowers and pulled them up by the roots, laughing with delight at the white tendrils she’d exposed. When Tatsu’s gaze flickered back to Alesh, her dark eyes were focused on him, narrow and unflinching.

“Please.” The second time sounded much less like a request. She knew she’d already won him over.

Tatsu sighed and called out, “Ral, would you like to come in?”

Ral complied, though she left a trail of dirt behind her as her movement loosened the clumps that clung to her skirt. She might have gotten taller. She was taller than Tatsu, at least. She seemed happy in the house, and Tatsu tried to keep half his attention on her as she moved around, in case she got her hands on the extra snares in the corners. If he had known a houseguest would show up, he might’ve done something with the place.

“It’s only for a few days,” Alesh promised. “This is the safest place I could think of. I mean, who’s going to come way out here? I have some business I need to attend to—”

“Other people’s possessions, you mean? Or is there a new line of criminal mischief you’ve found that pays better?”

She frowned. “That’s not fair at all, and you know it.”

“Do I?” Tatsu asked. “How could I know it, when the last time you bothered to show up here and tell me you were still alive, the first snow had just fallen?”

Her face pinched tight, mouth hard, before it slackened again in defeat. She sighed, equal parts exasperation and resignation, and ran a hand through the few dark strands of hair hanging wild and wavy around her face, too short to plait back.

“Look, can you…spare me the whole spiel?” Her gaze sank and stayed on a spot near the entrance where the beams of the house were embedded deep in the dirt. “I promise you can lecture me all you want when I come back to pick her up. But for now, I really need to go, and I don’t have time for this.”

Tatsu leaned against the door. Behind him, Ral had discovered the utensils for cooking and was excitedly going through them all, copper spoons and mugs clanging against one another. Alesh stood slumped on his doorstep as if the weight of the world hung on her shoulders, hobbling her. She seemed smaller than the last time he’d seen her, under the same sky and a moon tinged with red. He thought about saying something, something like stay, but the times they’d shared had long since passed between them. There had been too many winters and too many summers. The word died on his tongue.

Instead, he nodded. “Fine. But only for a few days.”

“Thank you.” Alesh’s mouth twisted up into a rueful smile. “She’s learned to count to a hundred—you should ask her to demonstrate for you. She loves showing it off.”

Behind them, as if in agreement, Ral banged Tatsu’s ladle against his big iron pot, the sharp crash echoing.

“I will,” Tatsu replied.

Alesh tucked a bit of unruly hair behind one ear. “It won’t be long.”

“No,” Tatsu agreed. “It never is.”

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Meet the Author

Kathryn Sommerlot is a coffee addict and craft beer enthusiast with a detailed zombie apocalypse plan. Originally from the cornfields of the American Midwest, she got her master’s degree and moved across the ocean to become a high school teacher in Japan. When she isn’t wrangling teenage brains into critical thinking, she spends her time writing, crocheting, and hiking with her husband. She enjoys LGBTQ fiction, but she is particularly interested in genre fiction that just happens to have LGBTQ protagonists. Find out more on her Website.

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New Release – At the Trough!

Title: At the Trough
Author: Adam Knight
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: May 13, 2019
Heat Level: 1 – No Sex
Pairing: Female/Female
Length: 107200
Genre: Science Fiction, LGBT, lesbian sci-fi, futuristic, dystopia, education, conformity, teacher, student, secret meetings, forbidden book, mental illness

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Synopsis

In a future where schools have no teachers and no classrooms, Jennifer Calderon is the perfect student. Every day she watches her video modules, plays her edu games, and never misses an answer. Life is comfortable in the Plex, a mile-wide apartment building. Corporations and brand names surround her and satisfy her every want and need.

Then one day, her foul-mouthed, free-spirited, 90’s-kitsch-wearing girlfriend Melody disrupts everything. She introduces her to a cynical, burned-out former teacher, who teaches them the things no longer taught in school. Poetry. Critical thinking. Human connection.

But these lessons draw the attention of EduForce, the massive corporation with a stranglehold on education. When they show how far they are willing to go keep their customers obedient, Jennifer has to decide what is most important to her and how much she is willing to sacrifice for it.

Excerpt

At the Trough
Adam Knight © 2019
All Rights Reserved

One: Learning if Fun
“The brain releases the neurotransmitter dopamine in response to certain stimuli. Eating candy, having sex, consuming drugs, even petting a dog can trigger a pleasure response. Video games, especially ones with bright lights, upbeat music, and facile accomplishments are especially potent, flooding the brain with a sense of reward. As such, they were the bane of teachers for many years. That is, until EduForce began to use these games in their products. The scourge of learning was being disguised as learning itself.”

—Charles Winston, The Trough, p. 114

Jennifer Calderón stared into the screen, slack-jawed and passive as the bright colors and shapes burst before her eyes. Her pupils traced letters and blocks as they bounced from one end of the sixty-inch screen to the next. She reached out and touched a word before it hit the bottom–GAMBOLED. The white letters lit up, neon-green, and the word whooshed across the screen to smash into another word—GAMBLED—and shatter into a shower of sparkles.

“Same-sounder found!” a chirpy electronic voice declared.

Dopamine squirted into Jennifer’s brain in happy little jets. A smile traced the corners of her lips. Learning was fun.

Jennifer flicked her eyes to the upper right-hand corner of the screen. The figure 23/25 quickened her pulse. Two more. Two more word pairs and she would earn the Same-Sounder Achievement.

A new word appeared at the bottom of her screen. ASCENT, it read. The friendly female voice read the word and definition. Bubbles with other vocabulary terms floated around the screen. Colors whirled before her eyes and electronic dance beats filled her ears as she searched for Same-Sounders. Then she saw it. The word, in white letters on a floating bubble, drifted toward the bottom. Jennifer’s finger jabbed at the screen. Pop! The word ASSENT exploded in fireworks. More music and chirpy voices.

“Same-sounder found,” the voice said. More dopamine gushed into Jennifer’s brain. Her eyes flicked up to the corner. 24/25.

CYMBAL.

Once more, Jennifer scanned the bubbles and blobs and cubes and tetrahedrons swirling in her vision. Her breath was shallow. More and more words poured onto the screen. In one moment after another, tiny subdivided fractions of seconds, Jennifer saw and rejected words she did not think made the same sound as “cymbal.” Her eyes, her brain, and her hands all had to work in unison. Each level of Same-Sounder Finder was faster, more complex, and more stimulating than the last.

Then she saw it. SYMBOL.

She thrust her finger out to the screen. The little magenta gem in which the word sat was zigzagging down the screen, and she almost missed it and pressed the word TUMBLE crossing its path. But the SYMBOL illuminated, exploded, and a fireworks finale showed on the screen. 25/25.

“Same-sounder found,” the voice declared, then louder and triumphantly, “Same-sounder achievement unlocked!”

Jennifer leaped and thrust her fists in the air as a fanfare of electronic tones rang through her bedroom. Not many students earned perfect scores on Same-Sounder Finder, but Jennifer did. She earned perfect scores on everything. She was twenty-three years old and finishing her last year of schooling, a year ahead of the usual schedule. Because of all the hours she put into learning, and because she never had to redo any of her modules, she had raced ahead of her peers, many of whom were still on Achievement Level 13 or 14. She was working on 15.

After the music died down, the screen went still. Jennifer’s head was still pounding. A headache was setting in, as was a twinge of crankiness. She left her bedroom and went to the kitchen where she poured herself a cup of coffee. Her mother always had a pot brewing, anything to keep her beloved daughter focused on school. Jennifer clogged the coffee with sugar and milk, stirred it, and took a gulp. Better. She freed a couple of aspirins from their foil pouches and swallowed them with the next mouthful of coffee. She returned to her room.

Jennifer slid her finger along the screen and opened it to a new frame, one summarizing her academic progress. Current Achievement Level: 14. 12 percent of the way to 15. 106 of 880 modules completed. Achievement Level Grade Point Average: 5.0/5.0.

Total Progress to Completion of all Achievement Levels: 97 percent. 12,845 of 13,215 modules completed.

And then there was the final number. The prized number, the number she had worked for since age three.

Aggregate Grade Point Average: 5.0/5.0

Every assignment Jennifer had ever done, from toddlerhood into now her mid-twenties, had been flawless. Missing just one question on one task would eradicate her record—The Perfect Five. There had been students with 5.0 GPAs before, but their scores came with asterisks. Usually the student had missed a smattering of questions throughout their education, resulting in a score that would round up to 5.0 in the ten-thousandths place. But Jennifer Calderón began each module on a knife’s edge, knowing one slip up would end her lunge at history. Each completed question nudged her progress toward earning Achievement Level 15, the equivalent of what was once her high school diploma. Thus far, however, all she had was poor digestion, headaches, sleep deprivation, and occasional interviews for the NewsFeed as her accomplishment became more improbable.

Jennifer left the score screen and opened a new frame to continue with a new module. She had done three Grammar Modules in a row and wished for a change, so she opened a Chemistry Module. It made no difference to her. She never understood students who had favorite subjects, who would put off Math or Writing as long as possible. She never understood procrastination. She simply worked until she was exhausted, every day, with no heed to the subject area. It was all the same to her.

To unlock the next series of edugames, she needed to watch the Chemistry vidlesson. At the opening screen, she was given a choice of several hundred different teachers to choose from. Each teacher had his or her own style. Some were brusque and businesslike, while others joked and kept the lesson light. Some had an air of wisdom and experience, while others were young and attractive. Some explained topics deliberately, but Jennifer returned to the same half-dozen teachers who explained briskly. Unlike many students, Jennifer always watched the vidlesson before the edugame. It was true “Learning Was Fun” but it was also true that “Hard Work Pays Off.” It’s so easy, she thought. They give you all of the answers right in the lesson.

Too easy. But the thought was fleeting, and she brushed it away.

Jennifer selected Mr. 85. She was not sure why the teachers did not have real names, but she did not dwell on it long. Mr. 85 was a favorite of hers because he spoke a little faster than other teachers. The content of what he said was the same—it had to be; the teachers were scripted—but he lingered a few seconds less on the examples and generally made his points and moved on. She wondered how many minutes of her educational life had been saved by Mr. 85’s expediency.

Her stomach rumbled. I should eat, she thought, but instead she touched the icon for the Chemistry video and sat on the edge of her bed. The video opened. It was six minutes. Damn. A long one.

The introduction music came up, a familiar, infectious jingle followed by a voiceover. “Chemistry—All You Need to Know. A lesson by the EduForce Corporation.” Then the camera fixed on Mr. 85. Mr. 85 was a middle-aged black man with graying hair. He never smiled. Jennifer kind of liked that. He stood in front of a display showing an elaborate chart with boxes. Each box had one or two letters inside.

“Good day, I am Mr. 85. Today we are going to learn all about Chemistry. As you remember from the Introduction to Chemistry lesson, Chemistry is the part of science that is chemicals. The chemicals have names and symbols. Today I will teach them to you.”

He stepped to the right and indicated the chart. Jennifer already knew she would have to rewatch this segment of the video. Maybe the whole thing. All those boxes and letters would be difficult to remember.

“This is called the Chemical Chart. It used to be called the ‘Periodic Table of the Elements,’ but let’s keep it simple. The Chemical Chart shows you a list of all the chemicals, called ‘elements,’ in the world. Little ones are on the top and big ones are on the bottom.

“Let’s look at some of them. The very top one is called ‘hydrogen.’ Its symbol is H. The next one is Helium. Its symbol is He.”

Mr. 85 pointed out about a dozen of the most common elements and their symbols. Aluminum. Carbon. Oxygen. Phosphorous. Jennifer repeated to herself everything Mr. 85 said.

“Next, we are going to look at what the elements do together,” he went on. “But first, you may be getting tired. Do you find your energy dragging after all this learning? If so, why not order a box of Perk-Eez? It’s the little yellow pill that keeps you shining bright!”

The video of Mr. 85 paused and was replaced with a new screen offering Jennifer the opportunity to order a box of Perk-Eez. She touched the “Yes, please!” button on the screen, and a message immediately appeared. “Thank you! Your delivery will arrive at your unit shortly. Your household account will be debited.” Perk-Eez were another reason Jennifer was on track to graduate two years early.

Mr. 85 returned.

“Now that you know some of the chemicals’ names, let’s look at what chemicals do. They like to be together. Sometimes the same kinds of chemicals get together. One oxygen and another oxygen will get together, and they make up the oxygen we breathe. If you have taken the Human Biology module, you know we breathe oxygen.”

The Chemical Chart was replaced with a graphic of two blue blobs with the letter “O” on them smooshing together.

“Sometimes different chemicals get together. A carbon and two oxygens get together and make up something called carbon dioxide. Yes, that’s right, carbon dioxide, the bad thing your grandparents put into the air that almost killed Earth!”

A new graphic with two blue blobs and a red blob with a “C” all clinging together replaced the old one.

“All kinds of chemicals get together. Let’s look at some combinations.”

The screen showed a series of different colored balls, all with different letters, making different combinations. Jennifer shook her head, trying to maintain focus. It was a lot of new information.

As the video neared completion, Mr. 85 folded his hands and stepped to the center of the screen again. Jennifer thought she almost detected a smile.

“I hope you have enjoyed this lesson on Chemistry. Please rewatch this video as many times as you like before going onto the edugames. My name is Mr. 85 and it has been a pleasure teaching you today. This has been an EduForce vidlesson. EduForce, making learning easy and fun since 2034.”

The video closed. Jennifer watched it again three times. After the second time, the doorbell rang. She accepted the delivery from SentiAid, the pharmacy delivery service. She tore open a foil packet and gobbled a couple of Perk-Eez. Almost instantly, even faster than after a cup of coffee, her brain and body were buzzy and alive.

All right, she thought. Let’s play some more edugames.

The Chemistry edugame was called “Elementastic!!!” She read the instruction screen, then the game began. After a countdown, two words appeared on the screen:

Iron Argon

Jennifer typed in FEAR. The letters Fe and Ar zoomed in from the left and right of the screen, collided in a burst of color, and formed the word “fear,” which dissolved into sparkles that floated up to the top of the screen.

Carbon Oxygen Oxygen Phosphorous

Easy, Jennifer thought. She typed COOP.

More collisions and explosions.

Tin Iodine Phosphorous

SNIP

Helium Aluminum Sulfur

HEALS

Jennifer fell into a rhythm, working faster and faster on each round. Her breathing became shallow. Her pulse quickened and her pupils dilated as the words came faster, exploded bigger and more colorfully, until finally a computerized voice—male this time—announced, “Activity Complete. Chemistry Achievement Unlocked!” and Jennifer lowered her hands, panting.

The voice continued, “To celebrate your achievement, how about downloading the new song from Tuliphead? The infectious single ‘Plex Lovin’’ is already breaking new—”

“Sure,” Jennifer said, and the advertisement stopped. Buying was the easiest way to make the ads go away.

Even as a small child, edugames had come easily to her. She watched the vidlessons, played the edugames, and thought little of it. She learned with carefree abandon. But when she reached the age of twelve or thirteen, she became aware she was doing something unusual. Of course, she did not have classmates to compare herself to, and she had few friends to ask, but she understood she was different. Other children made mistakes, even had to redo modules they had not mastered. She had wondered what mistakes were, to have the certainty of rightness yanked out from under you.

As she grew older, she became acutely aware of her achievement. At age fifteen, she received a request for a vid interview with a reporter. She had sheepishly declined, unsure of what to say and certain her mother would not have allowed it. But over the subsequent years, several more interview requests came to her, and she began to accept them. Each time she said the same things, that she was proud and studied a lot to do the best she could. That answer was only half true. She was proud of her grade but never had to study. She watched a vidlesson, played the edugame, then moved on to the next.

Purchase

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Meet the Author

Born in upstate New York, Adam now lives in northern New Jersey with his wife, son, a neurotic dog and two cats. He teaches middle school English and writes science fiction, fantasy, and history, often in strange combinations. His stories and essays have been published in several anthologies and online magazines. Beyond writing and teaching, his interests include running and making improvements on his creaky old house.

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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.

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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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