NEW RELEASE: THE MARRYING KIND BY JAY NORTHCOTE

Blurb:

Nathan wants to put a ring on it, but is Owen the marrying kind?

Two years on from their first date, Owen and Nathan are living together and life is good—except they’re not on the same page about marriage.

A traditionalist at heart, Nathan wants it all: the wedding, the vows, and a pair of matching rings. Owen, on the other hand, believes marriage is old-fashioned and unnecessary. They don’t need a wedding to prove their commitment to each other. Love should be enough on its own.

All it takes is one moment of weakness on a night out to force the issue. Owen finds himself engaged after a half-drunk proposal, and Nathan’s enthusiasm sweeps him along. But as the big day approaches, the mounting tension finally combusts.

If he’s going to save their relationship, Owen will need to decide once and for all if he’s truly the marrying kind.

Excerpt: (as at All Romance Ebooks)

Chapter One

“Come on, babe.” Owen slipped his arm around Nathan’s waist and squeezed. The warm weight of Nathan’s arm settling around his shoulders felt good. With the extra few inches of height that Nathan had on him, they fitted together perfectly like this. “I can’t wait to dance with you. It’s been too long since we got down and dirty on the dance floor.”
Their social life usually involved more pubs than clubs, but it was Jack and Simon’s stag do tonight, and dancing was definitely on the agenda.
Simon and Jack were walking in front of them. Jack had his hand in the back pocket of Simon’s skintight jeans, and Simon was cackling at something Jack had just said. They looked so happy.
Owen tugged Nathan closer and leaned up to press a kiss to his cheek. Nathan smiled at him, and Owen grinned back.
Life was good.
There was a long line to get into the club. It was late May, but it wasn’t warm tonight, and a light rain was falling. Owen shivered and moved closer to Nathan, resigning himself to a half-hour wait to get in. But Simon dragged them all to the front of the line and flirted shamelessly with the huge guy on the door, batting his eyelashes and standing way too close.
“It’s our stag do.” He gestured to an embarrassed-looking Jack beside him. “There are only ten of us. Could you possibly do us a favour?”
The bouncer looked Simon up and down—all five foot seven of him. His angelic blond curls were topped with fluffy antlers, and he had a pink feather boa around his neck, which he’d nicked from one of the drag queens in the bar they’d just left. Then he looked at Jack in his matching antlers, and his gaze dropped to read the text on their matching “Groom To Be” T-shirts. The bouncer tried to keep a straight face, but his lips twitched.
“Yeah, go on, then.” He jerked his head at the door.
“Thanks, you’re a star.” Simon threw his arms around the massive bloke and kissed him on the cheek.
“You’re welcome. When’s the wedding?”
“Four weeks today.” Simon grinned, putting his arm around Jack.
“Congratulations,” the bouncer said. “I hope you have a good one.”
“Cheers, mate.” Owen patted the guy on the shoulder as they trooped past. The bouncer’s muscles felt like solid rock, and Owen wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of him. It was a good thing he clearly had a soft centre.

In the club, things got messy fast. Simon did a few too many vodka jelly shots off Jack’s body and needed someone to hold him up on the dance floor. Luckily there were plenty of them to take a turn. Jack made him drink a couple of bottles of water, and he gradually sobered up a little. By the end of the night, Simon and Jack were wrapped around each other like ivy, Simon riding Jack’s thigh while they kissed as if they were the only people in the room, their matching antlers still in place.
Owen was in Nathan’s arms in a blissful haze of just drunk enough, with a low burn of arousal building in the pit of his belly as they gradually danced closer and closer together until there was no space left between them. They kissed for what felt like hours without coming up for air before Owen finally broke away.
He pressed his lips close to Nathan’s ear to whisper, “I’m gonna come in my pants if we carry on like this for too much longer.” He licked some sweat off Nathan’s neck, the hot, aroused scent of him too good to resist.
“Yeah?” Nathan’s voice was a deep rumble in Owen’s ear. “What do you wanna do about it? I could blow you in the toilets?”
A jolt of heat shot through Owen at the thought of that. He considered it for a moment: a quick, dirty blowjob in a graffitied toilet cubicle, Nathan’s lips around his dick while he pulled on Nathan’s hair and fucked his mouth. It was tempting. But no.
“Let’s go home. I want to fuck you.” He spoke the words right against Nathan’s ear.
Nathan shivered, and his hands clutched reflexively at Owen’s hips. “Yeah,” he said. “Yeah. That sounds good.”

They tumbled out of the taxi they’d managed to hail in town. The short drive back had been torture, all hot gazes and sneaky wandering hands where they sat in the back together. At least it was quicker than walking would have been.
Owen gave the driver a tenner and told him to keep the change. He needed to get Nathan naked and underneath him as soon as possible—or on top. Owen wasn’t fussy.
Nathan unlocked the door to the flat they shared now, and Owen pushed him up against the wall as soon as they’d got the door shut behind them. Living with Nathan was awesome, Owen thought as he worked Nathan’s belt and trousers open and pulled out his half-hard cock. Having the place to themselves meant they could do shit like this in the hallway, or the kitchen, or wherever the hell they liked.
He dropped to his knees and mouthed at the head of Nathan’s dick, teasing him with lips and tongue until Nathan groaned and gripped the back of Owen’s neck, forcing him to take more.
Owen unzipped his own jeans so he could get a hand into his underwear and squeeze his cock. God, he was ridiculously sticky already from all the grinding in the club. He resisted the urge to stroke too much. He wanted to be able to fuck Nathan once he got him into bed, and after all the booze, he might struggle to get it up a second time before he crashed out.
Nathan was close now, making little desperate whimpers as Owen worked his cock and took him deep.
“You’re gonna make me come,” he warned.
But Owen knew that Nathan would be able to come again when Owen fucked him, and he wanted this. He wanted to get Nathan off like this in the hallway. He was turned on by the desperation, by the ache in his jaw and the taste of Nathan on his tongue. He sucked harder and took Nathan deeper, gagging a little but not caring. Nathan’s legs shook, and he clutched Owen’s hair, his body curving down as he groaned and came, coating the back of Owen’s throat.
Owen pulled off and swallowed, stroking Nathan with his free hand until his cock began to soften.
“Bloody hell.” Nathan pushed Owen’s hand away and let his body slide down the wall until they were face-to-face, his legs bracketing Owen’s hips where he knelt.
Nathan cupped Owen’s face with his large hands and pulled him in for a kiss. Owen wondered if he could taste himself there.
When Nathan pulled away, he chuckled. “I thought you were going to fuck me?”
“Oh, I am, don’t worry.” Owen grinned. He stood up and offered Nathan a hand up. “So get your arse upstairs and get naked.”
“You’re such a romantic.”
“You love it, you tart.”

Available now at Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, ARe 

NEW RELEASE: THE BRICKLAYER BY SERENA YATES

Blurb:

Mike Brown has been a bricklayer working for the same construction company since leaving high school at eighteen. While building a conservatory for a Victorian house northwest of downtown Baltimore, Mike meets Ash, the landscaper hired to restore the gardens, when Ash distractedly stumbles over some of Mike’s equipment. Mike offers to take Ash to dinner as an apology, Ash hesitantly agrees, and the two men start dating. Then Mike is pulled away from his next assignment of building fireplaces by a promotion he doesn’t want, only to be fired for incompetence two weeks later. With Ash’s support, Mike must figure out who sabotaged his work, and why, before he faces a lawsuit.

Excerpt:

Chapter One

“I’VE GOT to make sure to get it right this time.” Michael Brown, Mike to his friends and colleagues, rose to his feet and stretched his back before stepping away from the brick wall he’d been working on since early this morning. He carefully made his way between the tools and supplies spread around and behind him and squinted at the first couple of layers in critical appraisal. Mike had only completed one layer so far, but he’d had to go slowly. “These people did not pay for an amateur to build their conservatory.”

“Talking to yourself again?” Dale Gable, his friend since they’d been neighbors as kids and a work colleague at Robert M. Wilson Inc. for over nine years, stood near the driveway at the side of the house with his hands in his jeans pockets as if Mike and him didn’t have a lot to accomplish in a very short time. His brown eyes were twinkling with mischief, his tanned face lit by the bright sunlight.

“Don’t have much choice since you didn’t turn up until now.” Mike liked Dale, he really did, but the man had never been the most conscientious of workers; being an hour late might not be the norm for Dale, but it wasn’t all that unusual either. Then Mike grinned to take some of the sting out of his words—the guy was his friend, after all—and pointed at the beginnings of the foundation for the conservatory. “What do you think? I had to tear down most of what the idiot apprentices did so far. They’d used the wrong bricks, the foundation could be called wobbly at best, and the transition between the old Victorian wall and our new parts was faulty.”

“Wobbly?” Dale raised his eyebrows and grinned. “Is that a new technical term?”

“Oh, you know what I mean.” Mike sighed, but he was grateful for a bit of levity. The stress of finishing projects on time and under budget was getting to him, and he missed “the good old days” of using sound working practices and having the time to indulge his more artistic side. But ever since the economic downturn, even the wealthy, like their current clients in Reservoir Hill, had taken to reducing their expenses.

“Yeah, I do know.” Dale took a long look at the perfectly aged red bricks, walked up to the area where old and new walls connected, then stepped back to check the alignment of the strings that would enable them to stay on the straight and narrow, so to speak, as the wall grew in height. “Looks good to me. The footing was okay?”

“Yes, I measured it and made sure the concrete had dried, but it was fine.” Mike reached for a water bottle in the crate. He’d deposited it in the shade under one of the old oaks right next to where they worked. It was one of the few trees the clients had left standing, intending to have the whole garden landscaped once the conservatory on the southern wall of the old Victorian house had been completed. The rest of the backyard looked like a disaster area with everything dug up and some of the old bushes still lying around. “And thank God for that. We don’t have the time to pour a new one and wait for the concrete to dry.”

“No, Robert is upset enough as it is.” Dale shrugged. “Shouldn’t have let the apprentices work on their own, even if they do have two years’ experience.”

“Hell no. They’ve not even had any formal schooling.” Mike shook his head. Not that schooling was everything, but he’d never regretted his two years at the International Masonry Institute in Bowie, just half an hour south of Baltimore. Funded by the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers, also known as BAC, and the signatory contractors who employ union members, their combined apprenticeship/work program had given him a good start in his career. Dale had done the same thing, and his father had been the one who’d gotten them the part-time jobs at Wilson Inc., where Mr. Gable had worked as a stonemason for most of his life. They’d still had a heck of a lot to learn when they joined Wilson Inc. full-time at age twenty, but at least they hadn’t been complete newbies.

“I know, right? But I guess they were cheaper, so the boss thought….” Dale shrugged again. “Anyway, let me just change into my coverall—I’ve got it in the truck—and I’ll join you in a minute.”

Mike nodded, grateful he’d have help and company. They only had three days to finish the conservatory’s brick foundation, a wall thirty feet long: ten feet for each side and three feet high, minus the spaces for doors on each side, as indicated by the blueprints Mike’s boss had handed over. But once the wall was finished, they’d need to lay some more bricks for the steps leading down to garden level, as well as the brick pavement making up the terrace surrounding the conservatory. If they wanted to achieve the kind of quality the client’s specifications—and Mike’s perfectionism—demanded, they had better get started. The guys who’d been hired to add the glass walls on top of the bricks, as well as the roof of the new conservatory, were already scheduled to start work on Thursday.

“So you finished your other job, the one over on Belair Road?” Dale now wore his light blue coveralls, short black hair sticking up from changing clothes, and pulled on his gray work gloves.

“Yeah, it was just a brick fireplace they wanted, nothing difficult.” Or even vaguely satisfying, but Mike kept that thought to himself. A lot of Wilson Inc.’s money these days came from working small but relatively lucrative projects like that, so who was he to complain? The designer got most of the fee, but it was all money, so Mike was happy. “The new guy they gave me to work with, Ricky, is actually a pretty cool kid. At least he seems to want to work and he knew his trowel from his bullhorn jointer.”

“I guess there’s hope for the future after all.” Dale grinned and rubbed his gloved hands. “Where do you want me to start?”

“What about you work on the other side and we meet in the middle?” Mike pointed at the other end of the three-walled enclosure that would become the lower part of the conservatory, where the new wall connected to the house. With a surface area of around a hundred square feet, it was not the biggest they had ever built, but it wasn’t exactly small either. He hoped the client had planned for double glazing for the upper part, or it would be a bitch to heat in winter, even facing south the way it did. Baltimore was not exactly in the tropics.

“No problem.” Dale busied himself with finding a bucket, pouring the lime cement mix, and adding water in just the right quantity. “At least the boss is letting us work with lime instead of the cheaper Portland cement we normally use.”

“Well, yes, not that he has much choice.” Mike snorted as he walked back to his segment of the wall and got to his knees. “This is a historic building, and using anything other than original-type materials would run the risk of losing the owners their registration on the National Register of Historic Places. From what I hear, it was hard enough for them to get the permit from the Baltimore City Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation, and the designer had to make a couple of changes to ‘make it look more Victorian’ before they got approval.”

“And how do you know all that?” Dale frowned as he looked up from stirring the lime putty in his bucket until it became usable.

“I may have spent part of Saturday talking to the designer.” Mike liked to be well briefed on his projects, especially the ones affected by some sort of restriction—like the need for historical accuracy.

Dale shook his head as he stopped stirring and carried the bucket to where he’d be working. The bricks already sat on a pallet close by. Mike had directed the deliverymen to put one on each of the three sides of the conservatory-to-be so he wouldn’t waste time walking back and forth.

“What?” Mike raised his eyebrows. So he was a bit of a history nerd. Stone and brick restoration were his thing, and they brought his perfectionist inclinations to the fore. It made for better quality in his work and happier clients.

“You and your love for historical stuff.” Dale set down his cement-filled bucket, looked around himself to check his supplies and tools, then knelt. “I keep telling you that you should be making it a career.”

“True.” Mike nodded and sighted along the line spanning the distance between him and the brick pillar in the southwest corner. Satisfied the wall remained as straight as it had been the last time he checked, he looked up at Dale. “But then you also remind me of the risk of changing jobs in an uncertain market. And you’re right. With less money floating around, fewer people can afford to pay for expensive restorations. And it isn’t as if the government or other official bodies have lots of funds to play with either.”

“Unfortunately.” After checking his lines, Dale picked up the level, put it on top of the wall in a few places to ensure it was smooth, then placed it along the side to check if the bricks were plumb. “So what else did you do on Saturday?”

“I made sure we’d have the right bricks and arranged for the guys to deliver them this morning. They didn’t like the fact they’d have to start work this early on a Monday, but that’s their problem.” Mike grinned. If he had to get up early to make it here from where he lived just southeast of downtown, then so could the delivery guys.

“These are special bricks? I should have known.” Dale eyed the one he’d picked up with something approaching appreciation.

“Of course they are. They need to fit the rest of the house in look at least, ideally in age. With projects like these, you can’t just use any old bricks. That was part of the problem with letting the apprentices be in charge. They had no idea of the shit that would have hit the fan once the building inspector got his hands on the finished conservatory for approval.” Mike could spend hours talking about the different types and colors of bricks available at the few suppliers in town who specialized in providing bricks reclaimed from torn-down historical buildings.

“Makes sense.” Dale smiled as he laid down some mortar with his trowel, then pressed the first new brick into place on top of it. “Glad to have you around to avoid another catastrophe.”

“What do you mean ‘another’ catastrophe? We haven’t had any in a while, right?” Mike looked up from where he’d been about to add another brick to his part of the wall. Maybe he should spend more time in the office, make more of an effort to keep up with the gossip. But he enjoyed being out at the various construction sites and working with his colleagues way more than the stuffy atmosphere in headquarters.

“Nobody really knows yet how it happened. It happened on Saturday afternoon.” Dale frowned. “Greg and Paul had just finished setting up the scaffolding for the exterior work on the single-family residence on Bolton Street. You know, the one that’s going to be divided into rental apartments?”

Mike nodded, fearing he knew where this was going.

“Well, as soon as they were done, a van delivering building supplies backed into one of the supporting poles at the base of it, and the whole thing collapsed.” Dale shuddered. “Greg and Paul managed to hold on to the part that remained standing, but they’ve both got some heavy bruising. Nobody knows what that van was doing there instead of staying on the road, and the boss isn’t happy.”

“Not their fault though, is it?” Mike had put down all his tools, too engrossed in the story to continue working.

“No, but there’ll be an investigation now and the work has been delayed.” Dale picked up the next brick. “And you know what the boss is like when timings slip.”

“Yep, time is money and all that.” Mike could even relate to that, in an abstract sort of way. “They’re both really okay though?”

“The doctor told them to take a couple days off to rest, but yes, they’re fine.” Dale nodded and returned to work.

With a sigh of relief, Mike did the same. He’d seen his share of mishaps over the years, but each one still got to him. Construction was a potentially dangerous career, and he was conscious of the need to be careful and make sure health and safety rules and regulations were observed at all times.

A few hours later, they had made some good progress and finished almost half the wall, but the ache in his back and his increasing hunger made him call for a lunch break. They knocked on the door so they could use the guest bathroom to do their business and wash their hands before eating. Two ham and cheese sandwiches, two chocolate bars, and two bottles of water later, they returned to work in the now sweltering June heat.

Many bricks later the conservatory outline was clearly visible. There’d be only two more layers to do, and they had made good time. Mike looked up, stretched, and drank some water. As he was about to return to work, a dark green van pulled up to the side of the house, just visible around the corner from where Mike was working. He didn’t expect anyone from head office or any of his colleagues, but they might have changed their minds or something unexpected could have come up. He rose to check it out, and the logo on its side quickly made clear what was going on.

“Clark’s Tree Farm” sat in the middle in bold yellow letters, a group of various trees painted above it and “Trees, Plants, and Landscaping” in slightly smaller font underneath. The gardener had arrived, and since he was clearly on his own, he probably had an appointment to discuss his plans. Fixing the current mess would take more than one man.

The man behind the wheel shut off the engine, took a moment as if to collect himself, then got out of the vehicle. Mike didn’t think the gardener had noticed him, half hidden by the corner of the house, so he took a good look. The man was about Mike’s height of six feet, maybe an inch or two less, and had a lean but well-muscled body with broad shoulders covered by a tight dark green T-shirt. He wore black slacks that hugged his thighs and narrow hips, and leather shoes. When he bent and stretched across the driver’s seat to reach for something in the passenger seat, the pants stretched nicely around his more than delectable ass.

As soon as he’d closed the van’s door, he turned around and stared straight at Mike. His green eyes widened as a slight blush colored his high cheekbones. His face was framed by medium-long blond hair, and he was clean-shaven. But all Mike noticed were those green eyes, almost as dark as the T-shirt the guy wore.

“Hello.” The landscaper’s voice was deep and melodious. A friendly smile made his lips curve up, and a dimple appeared in one cheek.

“Hello.” Mike tentatively smiled back, the polite thing to do, but he had no idea what to say to the most fascinating male specimen he’d seen in quite a while. The attraction had hit him right between the eyes—okay, maybe a bit lower than that if he were honest—and his brain seemed to have switched itself off. A damned dimple! How cute was that? And Mike had never thought he was into “cute” men, not since he realized he was gay around the time he turned sixteen. Apparently, he still had a lot to learn, even at his ripe old age of twenty-seven.

“Is this the Radinsky residence?” The landscaper looked a little confused as he checked his clipboard, then looked up at the house.

“Yes, it is.” Mike had rarely felt this tongue-tied since puberty. He lifted his arm and pointed. “The, um, the front entrance is around that way.”

“Oh, okay.” The landscaper shook his head as if to clear it and took a step away from his van and toward the front of the house, never looking away from Mike. “I better let them know I’m here, right?”

“Right.” Mike could have kicked himself. He sounded like a total idiot.

“Okay.” The landscaper nodded, turned around, and vanished around the northeast corner of the house.

Mike remained where he stood for a few seconds, then shook himself and walked back to the wall he’d been working on. Dayum, that was an amazing guy.

“What was that all about?” Dale looked up from placing the final brick in their current layer.

“Oh, just the landscaper.” Mike picked up his trowel and a brick, ready to finish for the day. “Guess they decided not to wait too long to get this mess of a backyard fixed.”

Available now at Dreamspinner, Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk and ARe

NEW RELEASE: THE GLASSHOUSE BY SUKI FLEET

Blurb:

A Harmony Ink Press Title

At seventeen, Sasha is a little lost and a lot lonely. He craves friendship and love, but although he’s outwardly confident, his self-destructive tendencies cause problems, and he pushes people away. Making sculptures out of the broken glass he collects is the only thing that brings him any peace, but it’s not enough, and every day he feels himself dying a little more inside. Until he meets Thomas.

Thomas is shy but sure of himself in a way Sasha can’t understand. He makes it his mission to prove to Sasha that he is worthy of love and doesn’t give up even when Sasha hurts him. Little by little Sasha begins to trust Thomas. And when Sasha is forced to confront his past, he realizes accepting the love Thomas gives him is the only way to push back the darkness.

Excerpt: (as at Dreamspinner website)

Chapter One

I should have said no….

“SO YOU’LL model for me, right?”

Reluctantly, I looked up from my sculpture. It was hard enough to concentrate in art class with all the noise, and this girl just wouldn’t drop it—Jessica Cassidy was a dog with a bone. I shook my hair out of my eyes and regarded her wryly as I sucked the bright bead of blood from the cut on my finger. Most of the time I tumbled the glass to take the edge off, but this sculpture needed to be sharper, more defined. I needed to be careful with it.

I’d been sort of noncommittal when she’d asked me earlier, and now she wanted a definite answer.

Relenting, I nodded. Mainly so she’d go away and stop bothering me—so far she hadn’t left me alone all morning. She just wanted to take a couple of photographs, theatrically posed, she said—naked, of course. It wouldn’t be like the last time I’d posed naked for someone. At least I didn’t think it would be.

The smile she gave me near split her face in half. I hoped to God she didn’t think I was doing this because I liked her.

“Great! I’ll have the keys to the art room from half seven tomorrow morning, so meet me here, yeah? It’s going to be awesome,” she burbled. “I saw the photos Jeff Deal took of you last year. They were amazing.”

Involuntarily I shuddered. I’d rather not have been reminded. Though the photos she was likely to have seen at school were tame compared to the pornographic ones he had all over his basement.

As she turned away, the sunlight coming through the window caught the tiny metal screws she wore as earrings, glinting across my retinas like a warning light. I pulled a face and went back to arranging the pieces of broken glass into color order in front of me.

Chapter One point Five

Modeling for Jessica Cassidy turns out to be a huge mistake….

I’D FORGOTTEN it was sports day. The air was sticky and warm, my skin clammy beneath my uniform. The urge to bare my skin to the sunshine was near overwhelming, but that was part of the reason I was in this mess, so I didn’t. A lawn mower droned somewhere, the sound heavy as a swarm of bees. There was no breeze.

I watched as 1400 nobodies in white school T-shirts crowded onto the overgrown playing fields to make arses of themselves, for the most part glad I wasn’t one of them.

Sitting on the grassy bank near the school perimeter, I was as far away from them as it was possible to be and still remain on school grounds.

No one seemed to have noticed except Thomas.

“Hey,” he said, ambling over and flopping down heavily on the grass next to me. “You not running or anything?”

I glanced at him, figuring he must be close to overheating in those thick tracksuit bottoms. “I’ve been suspended.”

“Oh.”

I was sort of glad he didn’t ask me why I was still here at school.

“Because of what happened this morning? I know you checked out of art quite spectacularly. Cole said Mr. Sparks chucked you off the course. I didn’t believe him…. Is it true?” he said instead.

I shrugged, more interested in watching Luke Jones fly down the long-jump track, nutsac swinging. Even at this distance I could see it.

“Aren’t you gonna appeal or something?”

I looked at him blankly.

“I don’t mean about the suspension, about being chucked off the course?”

“No,” I replied dully. Appealing would suggest I thought the judgment unwarranted in some way.

Knitting his dark eyebrows together, Thomas picked at the stubby grass. “But what about your final exams? It’s only a couple of months now.” He spoke quietly, but the ever-present flush staining his cheeks grew darker.

I didn’t know why this was bothering him. We weren’t friends. He just talked to me sometimes. Art was the only lesson we had in common. Just his luck he was absent this morning, so he missed the excitement of me getting marched from the art room bollock naked, covered in red paint.

As requested, I’d been modeling for Jessica Cassidy’s art project. The clock on the art room wall had been wrong, our time there spilling gracelessly over into the first lesson. Mr. Sparks called it obscene. I think he meant me. He wanted to call the police. He probably would have if he wasn’t such an uptight dick, too embarrassed to explain the situation.

Sand flew in the long-jump pit as Luke Jones lost his balance, landing mostly on his face. Unaffected, he loped back for another run up.

“Jessica Cassidy’s put a picture of you from this morning up on her Tumblr page. She’s such a bitch.”

Jessica Cassidy had spent the day in isolation as a punishment. Apparently what I did was far more serious.

Pushing boundaries in art is fine as long as you’re not the one being pushed, it seems.

I turned away from Luke Jones for a moment, shielding my eyes from the glaring sun to regard Thomas full-on. Even though he was shy, he had an aura of calmness about him. He was probably the most easygoing person I was aware of. He was nice. He didn’t call people bitches or dicks or wankers or anything. It made me wonder sometimes why he ever talked to me, since I was probably a bit of all three.

I couldn’t figure it out. I didn’t even know if I wanted to.

I looked back to the field, catching Luke on the very edge of his jump, every single muscle in his thighs standing taut as he leapt. Sometimes my mind was a camera taking a thousand pictures a second. He appeared so serene and focused in the air, I wondered if he knew he looked like a golden eagle swooping down on a mouse. Like he’d found his place in the hierarchy of things.

“Why did you do it, anyway? I mean, let her take pictures of you like that… naked.”

Thomas, however, hadn’t found his place in the hierarchy of things and didn’t know when to shut up.

“Why’d you eat so much when you know it’s just going to make you fat?” The words were out of my mouth before I could stop them.

The realization I’d hit a nerve was akin to receiving an electric shock.

Thomas stared at me for a second, a hurt expression on his face, and then he looked away, his shoulders sagging.

The irony was he wasn’t actually fat. He just had a round face. If he worked out a bit, the muscle he would gain would suit him. Being skinny like me wouldn’t.

Huffing out a breath, I lay down and closed my eyes, trying not to notice when Thomas left. I’d found my place in the hierarchy of things a long time ago.

I WANDERED around a bit after the farce of sports day was over. Everyone disappeared quicker than daylight, and I let the weird little part of my brain consider following Luke Jones home just to see where he lived. But a Mercedes 500 picked him up outside the school gates, and I made two circuits of the estate looking for pieces of yellow glass instead.

Until I remembered I wouldn’t be needing any more yellow glass.

I never liked being home much before six in the evening. Two hours stuck in that grim top-floor flat before Corinne got home at around eight was more than enough. Any longer and I might have found myself giving into the dark whisper of the balcony.

For someone who couldn’t stand heights or enclosed spaces like lifts, the thirty-second floor of a tower block was just about perfect. Perfectly ironic, anyway. Not that I had much choice of where to live. It was either there, or it was nowhere. Dad had left long ago, and now that Mum had fucked off too, Corinne was the only family I had left.

Four hundred and fifteen concrete steps and not a single other soul all the way up. I could have sworn everyone else in this block lived on the first two floors.

I opened the door to the flat and reached in to turn on the hall light, waiting until the damp electrics stopped flickering, before I stepped inside to be greeted by the cold moldy smell that was becoming all too familiar. I’d worked out that the greenish carpet covering the kitchen floor stank the worst, although my room was probably the dampest overall. It faced out to the northeast, and the noise of the wind buffeting the building kept me awake some nights.

Even though I promised myself I wouldn’t, I plugged in the power-dead laptop in the living room. I left it loading up while I went to make a sandwich. Corinne was on some new wonder diet, so all we had in the fridge was reduced fat cottage cheese and cucumbers. I yanked open the freezer drawer instead and put a box of frozen chips in the microwave. They always ended up soggy cooked like that, but on the plus side, they only took three minutes.

When the laptop was loaded, I sat down cross-legged on the floor in front of the small coffee table and signed into Tumblr. The machine whirred away unhappily. Every screen took a minute to pull up. Mindlessly I put chip after chip into my mouth, chewing and swallowing without really tasting them. I could hear this weird high-pitched whine. I wasn’t sure if it was just in my head.

Jessica Cassidy. She updated her page a lot. Mine was empty. No photographs, no messages. The only links on my page were to the usernames of half a dozen people I’d added before I got bored with the whole pointless exercise in popularity.

I found a link to all her art projects and clicked on it. Two seconds later I slammed the laptop shut. The whine in my head was like nails scraped across a blackboard. My chest felt squeezed tight. At least Jeff Deal hadn’t plastered me cock and balls all over the fucking Internet. Even if I couldn’t bear to think about the pictures he had taken, I didn’t have to see them!

I got up, spit the food out of my mouth, and then put everything left on my plate in the bin before locking myself in the bathroom, where I brushed my teeth so fiercely my gums started to bleed. I sank down behind the bathroom door, my hands over my ears, waiting for the noise in my head to pass.

Sometime later my phone rang. I’d left it next to the laptop. I ran my hands quickly over my face and got up off the bathroom floor. It was nearly seven o’clock.

The caller ID was unknown. I stared at it for a few seconds and then answered it. I didn’t know why. I think I just needed to hear another human voice.

“Hey.” It was Thomas.

I frowned. I didn’t remember giving him my number. Briefly I wondered how he got it.

“I was, um….” He paused and then spoke really fast, like a kid drowning in a room full of helium. “Thinking about your art exam, and I mentioned it to someone and they said you can still enter independently—you don’t need to do it through the school. You just need to have all your coursework and stuff.”

I didn’t know what to say.

“I just thought you might want to know as you worked so hard on your sculpture, and art is, like, your thing and all….” He trailed off. I could hear him breathing, heavy and tired-like.

“Thanks,” I said before the silence grew too large to fill with words.

I was strangely touched, but it sort of hurt too that someone had thought about me, making it hard to speak. He must have heard it in my voice or sensed it somehow through the phone signal translating itself around us.

“Is everything okay?” he asked.

I could imagine him frowning at his feet in that way that he did when he was thinking hard about something. I couldn’t remember anyone ever showing this much concern about me before.

“Yeah, why wouldn’t…?” I croaked, unable to finish.

“I mean, I know I would feel pretty bad if… if it was me. Do… do you want to come over?” His voice wavered even more than mine just had.

“Okay,” I answered, wincing, hardly able to believe I’d just agreed to that.

I did not go over to people’s houses.

I didn’t have friends whose houses I could go over to. I wasn’t a friendly person. That required feelings, caring… kindness. Thomas must be even more of a masochist than I first thought.

But I needed to get out of the flat for a while.

With quick enthusiasm he reeled off his address and directions on how to get there.

I grabbed my bag and headed out the door.

 

Available now at Dreamspinner, Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk and ARe

NEW RELEASE: IN-DECISION (LEFT AT THE CROSSROADS BOOK #2) BY SUE BROWN

In-Decision 600x900

Blurb:

Little Mowbury is a sleepy English village deep in the Cotswolds. The kind of village where you’re only a local if your lineage can be traced back to the dinosaurs. Where you can find everything in the single village shop from morning newspapers to dry-cleaning, and getting your shoes mended. And, of course, where everybody knows everybody else’s business. It’s easy to find… you can’t miss it… just ask anyone and they’ll tell you… “It’s left at the crossroads.”

Eighteen months ago Jason Havers lost the love of his life and it’s time to move on.

Applying for the position of chef in a sleepy country pub, a million miles away from his previous life, may well be the fresh start he needs. His new employers immediately take him under their wing and before long he finds himself with a passel of new friends and a job he loves. What he doesn’t expect is Tom, a gorgeous midwife, who stirs up feelings he’s not ready to deal with.

But when someone from his previous life turns up in Little Mowbury, will Jason be able to keep them from revealing the secret he’s been keeping from those he’s come to love?

Excerpt:

Jason Havers drove down the narrow village street looking for the Thatcher’s Arms. The farmer’s directions to Little Mowbury had been clear enough, even if he had mumbled into his beard; turn left at the crossroads and keep driving.

“But when the hell am I meant to stop?” Jason muttered. He’d reached Little Mowbury and he still hadn’t found the bloody pub. He’d left plenty of time to find the place, not wanting to be late for the job interview, but there had been congestion on the motorway. The stupid satnav had given up with a mile and a half to go, leaving him cursing at the useless piece of technology and driving through unmarked country lanes for twenty minutes until he found a human who could give him directions. Now he had ten minutes to find the pub before he could kiss the interview goodbye. “It’s on the left,” he muttered. “On the left.”

Something out of the corner of his right eye caught his attention and he slammed on the brakes, missing the man who’d stepped out in front of him by a hair’s breath. The bloke actually had the gall to glare at him and give him the finger before he disappeared into one of the cottages.

His heart pounding, Jason sat back in the driver’s seat and stared after the arsehole. He shook his head in disbelief and said sarcastically, “Welcome to Little Mowbury, Jason.”

A loud honk behind him made Jason jump and he cursed as he stalled the engine before he finally managed to get the car started again. Waving his apology to the car behind, he pulled away and there it was, fifty yards down the road opposite the village green. A typical English village pub with a thatched roof, wooden tables outside and large hanging baskets everywhere.

Jason left the car at the edge of the green and jogged towards the pub. Then he stopped and squinted at the ridge of the roof, grinning as he spied the thatched duck perched on the top. He had three minutes before eleven o’clock. Not good but at least he wasn’t late. He paused in the doorway of the Thatcher’s Arms, his eyes adjusting to the dark interior after the brightness of the late morning sunshine.

“Come in, son. You’re making the place look untidy.”

Still blind from the sun, Jason moved towards the voice, which he discovered as he drew closer, belonged to an elderly lady who stood behind the bar.

“What can I get you?” she asked, looking at him expectantly. Her huge, dangling earrings rattled as she talked. Jason tried not to focus on them, but better to look at the earrings than her impressive chest which was really distracting, even for him.

“Uh… I’m Jason.”

She looked at him with a blank expression.

“Jason Havers. I’m here to interview for the chef’s position. We spoke on the phone?”

Her expression had moved on from blank to puzzled and Jason’s mind raced as he wondered whether he’d got the wrong day or time, or even the wrong fucking pub.

Then she beamed at him as she leaned on the bar. “Sorry, luv, I completely forgot. It’s been manic here this morning. We’ve only just cleared the breakfast crowd and we’ve got to get ready for lunch. Colin, he’s my hubby, isn’t feeling too chipper this morning and Rich, the other chef, has had to go to the dentist. I’m Maggie Mason.” She shook Jason’s hand. He resisted the desire to wince and flex his fingers as she let it go. For an elderly woman she had a bloody firm grip.

Jason looked around him. The bar was half-full but he could see the tables hadn’t been bussed and there were dirty glasses at one end of the bar. “Can I help? I can give you a hand with the lunch. That is, if you want me to, I mean….”

Maggie nodded and handed him an apron. “If you want a baptism by fire, you’re on. I’ll interview you as we go. Do you mind clearing the tables?”

“No problem.”

“Leave the dirty plates at that end of the bar and I’ll take ‘em through to the kitchen.”

Although Jason was a chef by trade, he’d done most of the jobs required in restaurants and pubs. He started at one end of the bar and worked down, removing the remains of the breakfasts and cleaning the tables. As Jason worked he was conscious of the other customers staring and whispering about him. Maggie grinned at him as he delivered the dirty plates.

“Are the locals giving you a hard time?”

Jason smirked. “They just want to know about the new boy in town.” He tilted his head at the two old gents sat in the snug. “Especially them.”

Maggie scowled at them but it was more affectionate than fierce and the old guys raised their pint glasses in response. “They’re the worst of the lot. Never tell them your business. It’ll be all round the village before you’ve had a chance to breathe.

“You’re the one who flaps her mouth, Maggie May.” An elderly man with an amazing amount of snow-white hair wrapped his arms around Maggie and tugged him against her.

She huffed but didn’t try to move away from him. “Jason, this is my husband, Colin. Ignore everything he says. I’m the one in charge.”

Colin shook Jason’s hand. “Pleased to meet you, Jason. We just let Maggie think she’s in charge—for a quiet life.”

“I understand,” Jason assured him then winked at Maggie, who burst out laughing.

“I like him. I think we’ll keep him.”

“You haven’t tried my cooking yet,” Jason pointed out.

Maggie looked at her watch. “You’d better get in the kitchen. Rich did the preparation before he left.”

Colin frowned at his wife. “I thought he was here for an interview?”

“We decided to make it a practical interview. He offered to help clear up.”

“Okay, son. The kitchen is all yours. I’ll show you round.” As Jason followed Colin he noticed the man shuffled one of his feet. Colin saw his gaze and shrugged. “I had a stroke the end of last year. I’m fine now but I still struggle walking any distance.”

“Is that why you’re looking for another chef?”

“Rich has been great. He’s picked up most of the shifts, but he’s found a girl in Southampton and he wants to spend more time with her. We agreed to split his shifts.”

Jason frowned. “So the job isn’t full-time?” He couldn’t afford to work part-time. Not now he was on his own.

“It is, but split over breakfast, lunch and dinner. You’ll have more than enough to do.” Colin opened the door to the kitchen.

“Wow.” Jason blinked as he looked at the stainless steel kitchen. He was hard put not to drool as he gazed around. “This looks new.”

“Almost,” Colin said. “We replaced it just before my stroke.”

“First orders, boys.” Maggie handed them to Jason, ignoring Colin’s outstretched hand. “Three mixed grills and hold the bacon on one of them.”

“Okay then.”

Colin limped to the fridge. “I’ll give you a hand if you want.”

Jason was about to protest he was fine on his own, but realised this was part of his interview. “Sounds good to me.”

They worked efficiently together with Colin holding back as Jason got the hang of the kitchen. Colin nodded in approval as he plated the order then Jason delivered the food to a family sitting in one corner of the bar.

He smiled at them all. “Who wants the no bacon?”

A teenage girl with soft curls and large eyes smiled shyly at him. “That’s mine.”

The man with her looked at his plate. “This looks amazing.” His stomach rumbled audibly and he blushed as his wife scolded him.

Jason grinned at them. “That’s what I like to hear. You’re my very first customers. Enjoy.”

As he walked past Maggie she handed him more orders. “It’s Thursday, so it’s liver and bacon day. Don’t forget the extra gravy for Deano Wells.”

Jason ruffled through the orders. “How will I know which one is his?”

“He’s usually the only one who orders liver and bacon,” Colin said drily.

Maggie shrugged. “We look after our customers.”

“Maggie has her favourites and they get whatever they want,” Colin said as they retreated to the kitchen. “I just shut up and do as I’m told.”

“Bollocks,” Maggie yelled behind them.

“I’ll make sure to do the same thing.” Jason deliberately raised his voice and smirked at Colin when Maggie responded with a loud snort.

“You’ll do just fine here,” Colin said.

Jason really hoped so because he hadn’t got nearly enough of this kitchen. “Tell me that at the end of the lunch session.”

 

Jason worked hard for a couple of hours until the rush died off. He was clearing up the last of the dishes when Maggie came in and handed him an envelope.

“What’s this?” He opened it to see a few ten pound notes.

“Your pay for today. You came for an interview, not to manage the kitchen. The job is yours if you want it.”

He cheered inside, but there were practical details to sort out. “I’ll need to find somewhere to stay. I couldn’t do this journey every day.”

Maggie pursed her lips before she said, “There’s a room upstairs if you want it. We used to run a B&B but after Colin’s stroke it became too much. There’s a room and a private bathroom.”

Jason hesitated for only a second. Although Maggie didn’t know it, this was the answer to his prayers. He had the chance to get away and make a fresh start. Away from David, and away from all the friends who looked at him as though he was broken. Those that had even bothered to stay.

“When do you want me to start?” He beamed at her and she grinned back.

“You can start Monday, but Saturday is Cricket Day for the village. Why don’t you stay Friday night and meet everyone before you start work?”

Jason opened his mouth to say it was too soon then closed it again. “Sure. I’ll drive over tomorrow evening, Mrs. Mason.”

Maggie held out her hand. “Welcome to the family, son. Call me Maggie.”

He dried his hand and shook it. “Thanks, Maggie. This means a lot to me.”

“You’re welcome. Now finish cleaning those dishes.”

Available now at Amazon.comAmazon.co.ukARe and Smashwords

COMING SOON: CAGES – CATHEDRAL CITY (PALM SPRINGS PI STORY 2) BY ALEX IRONROD

Blurb:

Dan’s BDSM past as a Marine threatens his relationship with Mark, his professional and leathersex partner as the two hunky young Palm Springs private eyes wrestle with the cages, real and imaginary, in the violence of mixed martial arts and in the human mind.

Set in the different worlds of the Marince Corps and mixed martial arts, “Cages – Cathedral City” is the second BDSM mystery involving buff Palm Springs private eyes and leathersex partners Dan and Mark.

Cages come in different forms – the ring for violent MMA contests, the iron-barred narrow cells for defiant captives, and the imaginary cages the mind creates to torment men. Dan and Mark will experience all three over time as the actions moves from Camp Pendleton, California to Berlin and back to the community of Cathedral City.

Will the darkness of violence and decadence overpower the light of determination and devotion?

Available at MLR Press

COMING SOON: PRIDE OF POPPIES – AN ANTHOLOGY FROM MANIFOLD PRESS

Blurb:

Ten authors – in thirteen stories – explore the experiences of GLBTQI people during World War I. In what ways were their lives the same as or different from those of other people?

A London pub, an English village, a shell-hole on the Front, the outskirts of Thai Nguyen city, a ship in heavy weather off Zeebrugge, a civilian internment camp … Loves and griefs that must remain unspoken, unexpected freedoms, the tensions between individuality and duty, and every now and then the relief of recognition. You’ll find both heartaches and joys in this astonishing range of thought-provoking stories.

An anthology featuring authors:

  • Julie Bozza
  • Barry Brennessel
  • Charlie Cochrane
  • Sam Evans
  • Lou Faulkner
  • Adam Fitzroy
  • Wendy C. Fries
  • Z. McAspurren
  • Eleanor Musgrove
  • Jay Lewis Taylor

Buy links will be updated when book is released on 1 May 2015

NEW RELEASE: DARK WARRIOR BY LILY HARLEM

Blurb:

While some passions live on the surface, others—wilder, darker passions—have to be kept buried deep.

Dr. Leo Rotherham is following his calling by working in rural Kenya for the charity Medics On Hand. While he expected a primitive way of life and limited medical supplies, what he doesn’t bargain on is falling for handsome village warrior, Malik.

Malik is well respected, knowledgeable and loyal to his tribe. He’s also beautiful, brave, modern and, much to Leo’s dismay, married—isn’t he?

No, it turns out Malik is as free as the animals that roam the African plains at night.

Soon the tension is building between the two men and Leo isn’t sure if he’s coming or going. Whenever he’s around Malik he can’t help but notice the reflected look of lust in his eyes and feel the longing sizzling between them.

Malik stands too close, not close enough. Forbidden attraction simmers between them and the need grows to dizzying heights. But dare they admit to each other what it is they want? And are they brave enough to act on their desires and be honest about their lust? One thing is for sure, a passion this big, this powerful, can’t be contained and it’s all going to explode in the most spectacular of ways.

Excerpt: (As found at Totally Bound website)

Leo Rotherham gripped the lap belt securing him to the creaky plastic seat. He’d known that the trip from Nairobi to the furthest corner of Moshi was going to be tiresome but he was so exhausted it was an effort to even sit upright.

The pothole-laden, two-tire track they’d been winding along for the last few hours really didn’t help matters either, nor did the fact that he’d finished his water and the driver sitting next to him had such awful body odor he feared his olfactory nerves had been permanently damaged.

He glanced out of the window, which, despite the intense heat, was wound up. The dust, he’d soon found out, was intolerable and swept in sharp gusts through the smallest crack.

“We nearly there, Doctor Leo,” the driver said.

“Great,” Leo replied.

He was treated to a gappy grin. Why the driver, Salim, had so few teeth, Leo didn’t know. He was only a young man, perhaps early twenties, yet he had hardly any enamel. He also had bright pink gums and plump lips that were thick and dark.

Leo licked his own dry lips and held on as the Jeep jolted through a particularly nasty hole. It was so deep it made the vehicle squeak and creak in complaint and his behind left the seat for a moment before crashing back down.

“The mountain is there,” Salim said, pointing at Kilimanjaro looming in the distance. He didn’t seem to notice the rough ride.

“Mmm, yes, it’s beautiful.”

And it was, but Salim wafting his arm around had increased the pungent smell in the enclosed space.

Leo shut his eyes and held in a cough. He’d admire the stunning mountain later, when he was in the open air and not peering at it through a windscreen splattered with mud and bugs.

He’d never thought voluntary work for the charity Medics On Hand would be an easy task—never once convinced himself it would be glamorous or sophisticated—but he’d hoped he’d be able to breathe. Surely that was a basic right.

“The hospital is very excited that I bring you today.” Salim steered around a deep pit in the track that would have taken out the suspension.

“Good, I’m glad. Are we nearly there?” Leo narrowly missed whacking his head on the window as the vehicle lurched.

“Yes. We nearly there, very nearly there.”

Leo heaved a sigh of relief. Nearly two hundred miles in a twenty-year-old Jeep through scrubland and along dirt roads lined with prickly trees—hiding goodness only knew what creatures—was about all he could take, especially after a twelve-hour flight from London.

London. Boy, that felt like a long time ago. His mock Tudor semi in Brixton already seemed a thing of the past. The rooms still held all of his furniture but the kitchen cupboards were empty and a gardener had been paid to keep a check on the lawn and shrubs. Seeing it again in a month’s time felt like a long way off.

“Your room is ready for you at the hospital,” Salim said. “I, myself, painted the walls last week.”

“That was very kind of you,” Leo said.

“Not kind, necessary.” Salim studied Leo and pulled a face. “They were covered in mess. We didn’t want our new doctor to have to sleep in such a place. Now it is bright and shiny and waiting for you. Clean covers on the bed too. Sister Afua organized that.” Salim sighed. “She is so good. So good to everyone and beautiful too.”

Leo smiled, sensing the youngster’s love for the head nurse who he’d heard great things about from the guys at the charity.

“You will like her, a lot.” Salim nodded enthusiastically. “You have a wife, yes?”

“Er, no. I don’t.” Leo held up his left hand, showing his empty ring finger. “No wife.”

“Oh.” Salim frowned. “Girlfriend then?”

“Nope, no girlfriend.”

Salim continued to sport a worried expression. “Sister Afua is someone I love very much. She is very special to me.”

“It sounds as if she does wonderful work with the local people,” Leo replied.

“She does, yes. And I love her for that and…” Salim patted his chest. “I love her in here, in my heart, in my soul.”

“Well, I’m pleased for you. Love is very precious and when you find it, you should hold on to it tight and not let go.”

Apparently satisfied that the new doctor wasn’t about to steal Sister Afua from him, at least not straight away, Salim smiled once again and continued on the dusty journey.

Leo stared straight ahead. There’d never been a woman in his life. He just wasn’t wired that way. He’d flirted, sure, and certainly he’d been flirted with—nurses, patients and other doctors. But he’d never fallen for a girl, never even got further than a quick kiss and a grope at a teen disco years ago. He’d finally admitted to himself and his parents in the second year of medical school that he was gay and the relief had been enormous, especially when he’d sparked a relationship with another doctor, Hans, and they’d moved in together.

Five blissful years of companionship, love and understanding had all come crashing down eighteen months ago. Hans had felt the tug of home, Germany, and the tug of another lover. The split had been full of tension. There had been finances to sort out after such a long time living together and also the painful matter of dividing friends.

Leo had done pretty well on the whole—buying Hans out of his portion of their home—the mock Tudor—and keeping the local friends for himself.

But still… Eighteen months later he needed more, which was why he was trundling along a track in one of the most dangerous regions of Kenya with his medical license hanging around his neck and a gut full of nerves.

“Ah, it is here. Look, the village.” Salim pointed ahead, catching his hand on a strange raggy doll hanging from his rear-view mirror.

Leo peered forward. Out of the heat haze and the swirls of dust clouds he could see a settlement—huts with dark straw roofs, makeshift pens for animals and rows of crops that appeared thirsty and wilting.

“Cagaha Buurta,” Salim said. “It means ‘mountain feet’. You see, we are at the feet of the great mountain, an honorable place to live.”

“Yes,” Leo said. “It is indeed.”

As they drew closer, he couldn’t help but be shocked by just how primitive Cagaha Buurta was. He’d known it would be basic but had been promised running water and intermittent electricity in the hospital at least.

“We are very proud of our land,” Salim said. “It is part of who we are.”

“It is…beautiful,” Leo managed.

Available now at Totally BoundAmazon.comAmazon.co.uk and ARe