NEW RELEASE: MAPPING THE SHADOWS BY BECKY BLACK

Blurb:

Ash Bowman is lost. Two years ago he and his cop partner, Evelyn, walked in on a murder in progress that left her dead and him maimed. He left the force and became a private investigator, but business is suffering because of his obsession with mapping the Core of the space station Fraxin Yari, where Evelyn’s ghost haunts him as he prowls the dark corridors.

Journalist Gabe Whitfield is on a mission to learn the truth behind that same murder. He doesn’t expect to stay on Frax after he finishes the job. But meeting Ash Bowman changes his plans. He came to the station a man without ties. He isn’t going to leave the same way.

Despite initially mistrusting him, Ash can’t resist his attraction to the fiery Gabe. Gabe responds, though knows he shouldn’t when Ash is one of the subjects of his investigation. But they come to trust each other and join forces to find the answers Ash had almost forgotten he was still seeking. If they are to have any chance of happiness, Gabe must help Ash lay the ghosts calling him back again and again to the deep darkness of the Core.

Available now at Loose IDAmazon.com and .co.uk

NEW RELEASE: THE RED DRAGON 4: THE CHAMPION’S SECRET BY BECKY BLACK

Blurb:

Lawyer Will Garrett took a job with the Outer Spiral Trading Company for one reason only—to keep his ex out of jail. Now his ex is free, but with someone else. This leaves Will seeing out the final months of his contract on assignment as the legal counsel for a sports team of Modern Gladiators on a Company sponsored tour.

Jimmy Campbell, mighty Highland warrior, is the champion and captain of Team Spartacus. But really he’s James De Villiers, half-Scottish, half-South-African, ex-soldier. He’s only in this for the money. One more season then he’s gone. He’s already older than most of the team, with a nagging shoulder injury.

Will and James get together thinking only of killing time in bed during the trips between tour stops. But as they grow closer and Will makes friends with the team, trouble starts with team manager Lenny Sheridan. Lenny doesn’t want anyone to know James is gay. A hostage crisis focuses all the media in the sector on the team and forces James to decide if keeping his secret and his career is more important to him than acknowledging his relationship with Will, whatever that costs him.

Excerpt: (found at Loose-Id’s website)

The passenger section was quiet when James arrived back aboard the ship. The team had embarked earlier that day and then decided that, since the ship wouldn’t leave until 0400 the next morning, there was still time for a last-minute party and headed out en masse. James hoped they’d all get back in time.

It was only around 2200—and anyone who’d spotted him ducking out early had decried him for a stiff and a spoilsport, but screw that. He couldn’t drink anyway, not if he wanted to stay in shape. He had to be in the gym at 0600 tomorrow. Besides, those parties were only work. He had to be “on” the whole time, and it grew wearisome.

He almost headed straight for his cabin but decided he could use a snack and diverted into the lounge. Refreshments were laid out on a sideboard beside a couple of big coffee urns.

“Good evening.”

The lawyer Lenny had brought backstage last night was sitting in one of the armchairs. What was the guy’s name again?

“Evening,” James said.

“Back early?”

“Yes.” Dammit, the accent. “Aye.”

The lawyer—Garrett, that was the name—smiled knowingly. Probably trained to observe the way people spoke.

Garrett had a portable terminal in his hand—his rather nice hands, James recalled from the night before—and a cup on the table. James honestly envied him the chance to spend a quiet evening reading. He chose a couple of pieces of fruit from the sideboard, then made himself a cup of whichever random tea he picked up first. While it brewed, he took another look at Garrett.

No suit tonight. Casual in a white, ribbed shirt and black pants. The simple clothes set off his good looks. Garrett had gone back to reading his terminal while James messed about with his tea, but he looked up again under the weight of James’s gaze. He had dark blue eyes of an unusual shade James wouldn’t mind getting a closer look at.

“I’m thinking I should apologize for last night,” James said. “I could have been less hostile when we met.”

“Forget it,” Garrett said. “If a bunch of people barged into my room when I was having a massage, I’d be hostile too. I’m sorry we disturbed you. Mr. Sheridan doesn’t seem like an overly sensitive man.”

“Aye, he’s the original bull in a china shop is Lenny.” He stepped forward, hand out for a shake, and Garrett stood up quickly. “Can we try it from scratch?”

“Glad to. Glad to meet you.”

“You too, Mr. Garrett.”

“Will, please.”

“James.”

Garrett—Will—raised his eyebrows. “You prefer that to Jimmy then?”

“Definitely. I’ve never been Jimmy. My ma used to call me Jamie, but I outgrew that.”

Will laughed. “Yes, I see that.”

Their hands were still locked. James disengaged regretfully.

“Please, join me if you like.” Will waved a hand at a seat. James grabbed his drink and snack and set them on the table. “So if you’ve never been Jimmy, why are you billed that way?” Will asked as they sat.

“Image,” James said. He picked up an orange and started to peel it. “Sounds more Scottish. Same reason I’m Campbell on the bill.”

Garrett frowned, looking puzzled. “You’re not called Campbell then?”

“No.”

He was dying to ask, James could see, but he was too polite. James almost put him out of his misery, but rather liked the idea of teasing him. Teasing Will Garrett could be a lot of fun. Seeing he wasn’t getting anything, Will went on.

“It must be an advantage to your team to have Philida Arden as your trainer. She used to instruct Special Forces in hand-to-hand combat, right?”

James nodded. “That’s where I met her. She was one of my instructors. Later she recruited me to the team after we both left the military.”

“Did you take the voluntary payoffs?” Will asked.

James nodded, mouth full with a sweet segment of orange. He swallowed. “Aye. Are you ex-service?”

“I was a JAG officer.”

“You’ve got the look.” Even lawyer officers had the look. “Plus, the way you reacted to Philly was a giveaway.”

“She’s a legend.”

“Right.” James leaned forward. “Take a word of advice. Don’t ask her about that night.”

“You mean when—”

“You know what I mean.” The night fifteen years ago her unit hit the compound where the defeated and fleeing Marshall Kylus and his troop of bodyguards were holed up. The compound Philly Arden emerged from dragging the genocidal dictator by the scruff of his neck. They were the only two people to emerge alive. “Everyone else in her unit died that night. She almost did.” She’d never been able to return to active service due to the injuries from that raid. She’d collected her medal for it while still using crutches a year later. “Don’t expect her to chat about it over coffee.”

Will, being ex-service, probably didn’t need to be told something so obvious. But he nodded and spoke quietly. “I won’t.”

A burst of noise outside the room broke the quiet. Voices. Shouting, singing. The team had returned. Seconds later the room was full of people. “Sir Darien,” one arm around his supposed worst enemy, Salim, draped his other arm around James.

“There he is! Where’d you go, you boring bastard?” His Liverpool accent came through strongly, and James saw Will look both surprised and amused.

“I’m right here. You’re drunk, Darren. Go to bed.”

“Och aye, Captain. Hoots.” He grinned. His teeth were blue.

“Sal, get him to bed,” James said.

“Easy for you to say, pal.” Sal’s accent spoke more of New York than Jerusalem.

“Too early for bed,” Darren said and dragged Sal off to grab more drinks. James looked around in time to see Will slipping out of the door. He had to restrain an urge to follow.

* * * *

The night after was a party too—though not so rowdy an affair. On OSTC ships it was traditional for the passengers to dine with the captain and officers the first night out of port. On this trip that apparently only meant the team and their top entourage, since Will didn’t see the many roadies and support staff at the dinner. He got to tag along, though, and it was worth it. The gladiators were without exception striking and in many cases beautiful, even in more conventional evening wear rather than their arena costumes.

Campbell—or, not Campbell apparently—James then, still looked stunning in a suit, his shoulders broad enough you could lay a table for two on them. Still plenty of neck, though. A broad-shouldered man could be kind of deficient in the neck department, which Will didn’t like so much.

But what caught Will’s eye was not so much how good James looked, but rather the fact he had sneakily switched a couple of the place cards on the tables. Will had been due to sit at the table hosted by the first officer. James had switched out a card from the captain’s table and put Will’s name next to his.

Interesting. And encouraging.

So when the cocktails and mingling part ended and everyone took their seats, Will found himself at James’s right. On his other side sat Reylene, still the women’s champion, despite losing the fight Will had watched. It was all a matter of how many bouts you won, according to their rules, which Will had amused himself by perusing earlier. Reylene had won several more fights than any of her rivals. She wore a dress of fiery orange silk and sequins. With high heels the already tall woman towered over most people at the table barring James. She was smart and witty, and Will found himself talking to her more than to the rather taciturn James. When he did talk to James, he noticed James’s accent was all over the place. He’d been trying hard the night before when chatting to Will, but it had started to slip even then. The same was happening tonight. It veered from strong Glaswegian to a soft burr more suitable for reading poetry aloud than threatening doom and destruction on opponents. It amused Will. He wondered which accent came out in bed.

When the meal ended, the party adjourned to the officers’ wardroom to mingle and drink coffee and spirits. Will deliberately wandered over to the viewport alone, sipping a brandy, and watched the stars for a while. In a few minutes, as he expected, James appeared at his shoulder. He held a glass, but it looked as if he only had ice water in it.

“Hi,” Will said quietly. There was something here for sure. He’d sensed it last night in the lounge. He’d felt it tonight at the dinner. James’s leg had brushed his a little too often for mere chance, even from a guy who took up so much space. But he’d read up about the team during the day, and according to all the gossip columns James Campbell might be dating Reylene Queen. They appeared at plenty of public events together.

But he’d seen no evidence of them being a couple at dinner tonight. They had the easy banter of friends. Nothing more.

“So what is your real name if it’s not Campbell?” Will asked. He could probably have found out easily enough, but he didn’t want to pry. Or rather, he did want to, but he hadn’t.

“Confidentially?”

“I’m a lawyer. That’s almost the same as a priest.”

James snorted. “Right. My name’s De Villiers. James De Villiers.”

“So Jimmy Campbell…”

“Is for the arena and the press.”

“What’s wrong with De Villiers? What is that, Dutch?”

“South African. That’s where my dad is from. But Lenny said James De Villiers sounds like a diamond merchant, not a warrior.”

Will chuckled. “He has a point.”

“I don’t mind. Once I’m done with all this I’ll be happy to leave it all behind me. A fake name helps with that.”

This intrigued Will. “Done with all this” made it sound as if he didn’t enjoy it. He wanted to talk with James a lot more. He wasn’t the meathead Will had expected. But they had a long trip ahead, and there’d be plenty of time for talking. Will wanted something else tonight. Wanted to follow up on that vibe he felt talking to James. He glanced around to make sure nobody was in earshot, spoke barely loud enough for James to hear.

“Do you want to come back to my cabin for a while?”

James didn’t react. He went on looking out of the viewport at the stars. For a second Will worried he’d misjudged and was about to get a rejection and a possible punch in the face. But then James spoke so quietly Will had to strain to hear.

“You go ahead. I’ll meet you there in five minutes.”

* * * *

It was closer to ten minutes, and Will had begun to think James wasn’t coming, but at last the door chime went. He tapped the panel to open the door, and James came inside so fast Will had to step back to avoid being trampled.

“Sorry,” James said, slapping the door closing panel. “Got caught up, talking to people.” He slipped his jacket off.

“Here.” Will held out his hand and took the jacket. He slipped it onto a hanger from the wardrobe.

“If I didn’t already know you were military, I’d guess from this place,” James said.

Will supposed he did still have the habit of keeping his quarters neat as a pin, ready for a spot inspection at any time. “You never know who’s going to drop in.” He strolled back over to James, closer than he’d been so far, stepping into the man’s personal space, close enough to feel the heat of him, smell his breath—which smelled of breath mints. Will appreciated the effort. He’d taken some of the waiting time to quickly clean his teeth and use mouthwash. He liked to leave a good impression.

He had to tilt his head up as he moved in for a kiss, James having a good four inches on him. James drew in a sharp breath as Will closed in, and Will hoped he wasn’t one of those guys who didn’t kiss. But he wouldn’t have bothered with breath mints if he didn’t kiss.

Will shut his eyes as their lips touched. Softly from his side, exploring. Harder from James’s side. He thrust his tongue into Will’s mouth, Will opening to him more from surprise than welcome. Then James grabbed Will’s arms and pushed him, made him stumble back until his legs struck the bed and he went down. James followed, pinning him, grabbing his wrists. A flicker of fear pulsed through Will. James was stronger and heavier. Will couldn’t get out from under him if James didn’t want him to.

“Hey!” Will snapped, pulling his hands away from James’s grip. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

James stared down at him. “I…sorry, don’t you…”

“Get the fuck off me,” Will ordered, his voice stronger than he felt in that moment, heart pounding, mouth dry. James rolled off him at once, sat up on the side of the bed. Will stood and took a few steps back out of grabbing range.

“You don’t want me to…you know, be rough with you?” James asked, looking confused.

“What? No. Why do you think I want that?”

“It’s what guys like you usually want.” James said. “Suits. Stiffs, I mean. It’s what you usually want from a gladiator.”

Will’s anger drained away at the mortified expression on James’s face.

“It’s not what I want,” Will said. “It’s not that I don’t appreciate your, ah, physique. But I’m not interested in being dominated. If that’s what you like, that’s going to be a problem.”

“It’s not,” James said quickly. “Absolutely not.” He stood. “Do you want me to leave?”

“No. I’d like you to take your shirt off.”

“That I can do.”

He did, slowly, teasingly, popping buttons about one every five minutes, or so it felt to Will. His arousal had vanished in an instant when James threw him on the bed. But it returned quickly, hotter than before. His pants grew highly uncomfortable, and he squirmed to adjust himself. When he reached to undo them, James frowned.

“My job,” he said. He slipped his unbuttoned shirt off and tossed it onto a chair. Will had appreciated James’s body in the arena, but that was a different thing from having his warm, dark skin, tattoos and all, close enough to reach out and touch. He appreciated that on a whole other level.

James sat on the bed and Will joined him. This time the kiss was slow and teasing and delicious. James took Will in his arms, and his strength was arousing, not frightening. Will slid his hands up James’s arms and over his shoulders, around his neck to pull him closer, pull him down, half on top of Will, not pinning him.

“For God’s sake, get me out of these pants,” Will pleaded. “I’m going to suffer a permanent injury.”

Available now from Loose-IDAmazon.comAmazon.co.uk and ARe

NEW RELEASE: DEMON YOU KNOW BY BARBARA ELSBORG

Blurb:

A good demon?

Ezra is a timekeeper in Hell, responsible for building and maintaining the clocks that tick away eternal torment. He’s never believed he deserves to be in Hell, and when the reason he’s there is revealed, he’s horrified…yet filled with hope. But is this just another form of torture? When Ezra’s given a chance to go to the surface, he’s determined to uncover the truth, but his fellow demons seem just as determined he won’t survive the journey.

A bad angel?

Roman doesn’t understand why an angel who failed his training the first time round has been given the job of policing paranormals in the UK’s capital city. He’s consumed by unhappiness. He might not be in Hell, but sometimes it damn well feels like it.

When Roman meets Ezra his failings come back to haunt him. Ezra makes him want to break the rules, but an angel protecting a demon? Discovery would bring an eternity of suffering, and with a boss none other than the archangel Michael, it’ll take more than a miracle for the lovers to stand together.

Excerpt: (found at Loose-Id website)

As Roman followed Ezra from the shelter, he’d told himself to stop several times and each time ignored his own advice. He’d watched the dark-haired guy run, seen him hide, witnessed the incident with the dog when Roman had almost broken the rules and interfered. Ezra wasn’t a demon. There was no aura around him. Nor was he a vampire, shifter, or angel, but there was something…unusual about him. Unusual? That was one way of putting it. Roman felt an irresistible pull, a need to see his eyes.

The voice in his head chimed in. Liar. You want to see more than his eyes.

I want to help him.

You want to fuck him.

His stomach roiled in discomfort.

The guy’s clothes were thin, dirty, and torn. Too thin. Too dirty. No one with any sense would wear so little in weather like this. What had happened to him? Maybe he had been in a fire, and all he had was what he stood up in. But why did he wear sunglasses and keep his head lowered?

Roman followed him out of the park to Marylebone High Street, watched him glancing into the windows of cafés and food stores. Hungry? He seemed jumpy and anxious. When he started to speak to passersby, Roman guessed he was asking for money. No one stopped; no one gave him anything. Everyone hurried past, either ignoring him or shaking their head. Ezra sagged against railings and sank down onto his haunches. He took the snow globe from his backpack and shook it.

Roman risked nipping into a Starbucks to buy two coffees and a croissant. He was relieved to see Ezra still there when he emerged. He crouched down a few feet away and put a coffee and the bag with the croissant on the ground between them. “For you.”

Ezra tensed.

“You look cold. I thought you could use a coffee and something to eat.”

The snow globe went back in his bag, and he rose to his feet but kept his face averted. Roman stood.

“No, thank you.”

Why the fuck was he refusing? Roman had just seen him begging. Roman picked up the coffee, grabbed the croissant, and held them out.

“Take them, or I’ll throw them in the trash. I can’t drink two coffees, and I’ve had breakfast.”

Ezra hesitated but accepted what he offered. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” Roman’s heart had started to beat fast. Fine black hair under that matted dirt, a thin face with sharp cheekbones, pale lips, and a long, slender, possibly undernourished body. Not forgetting those fucking marks on his wrists. But Roman’s heart lurched at the glimpses of bare skin revealed by the slashes in his pants. Had the dog done that? Not on both sides.

“You don’t have any money,” Roman said, part in question.

“I was robbed.”

He looked as if he’d been sleeping rough for a long while. “Have you told the police?”

Ezra shrugged. “They wouldn’t be able to find who took it.”

“You look frozen. Don’t you have any other clothes?”

“No.”

“Take my coat.” He started to unbutton it.

“No,” Ezra snapped. “Thank you for the coffee, but I don’t want your coat.”

He took a bite of the croissant, and Roman could have sworn he heard a quiet groan. A few bites and it was finished. Ezra brushed the crumbs from his lips, and Roman felt a pull in his groin. Walk away.

I can’t.

Oh fuck.

“Take your sunglasses off and look at me,” Roman said.

Ezra shifted in obvious discomfort. “I can’t.”

“Why not?”

“My eyes hurt, and I don’t look… I don’t want to upset people.”

What the hell? There was nothing wrong with this guy’s face. The sunglasses only hid his eyes. Maybe it was his eyes that were the problem.

Ezra sipped the coffee, and this time the sigh of pleasure was quite clear. Roman’s cock began to fill. Shit. At least it was hidden by his coat. He wondered what on earth he was doing. Tempted by the most unlikely of guys, some filthy homeless guy with a secret, and if he wasn’t careful, he was going to fall. The best thing to do would be to hand Ezra money and walk away. His good deed for the day. His sensible deed for the day. I have a lot of other things to do that are more important.

“Come home with me,” Roman whispered. Oh crap. Do I have no self-control? “You can have a shower. I’ll fix you something to eat. You need warm clothes, or you’re going to freeze. I won’t ask questions. Let me help you.”

He didn’t know if Ezra would agree, and Roman was definitely going to ask questions, particularly about those marks on his wrists and the tears in his clothes. He was counting on Ezra being too cold and hungry to refuse the offer. Roman could have tried a little…persuasion, even though he wasn’t supposed to, but he wanted Ezra to go with him of his own free will.

“Okay.”

Roman let out the breath he hadn’t known he’d been holding. He hailed a cab; for once there was one available when he needed it, though when the driver spotted the state of Ezra, he tried to turn them down. Roman didn’t let him. Money worked as well as angelic persuasion. Often better. Ezra climbed carefully into the back and sat against the window on the far side.

“Put your seat belt on.” Roman watched Ezra fumble before finally clicking the belt into place.

The guy clutched the edge of the seat as the taxi pulled into the traffic but kept his face pressed against the window, facing away from Roman. Why the hell did he think he’d upset people? Scars around his eyes? Weird color? Squint? An eye missing? Why am I so intrigued? Why am I unable to walk away? I know better than this.

That was true, but Roman had no idea what he was doing. He had an invasion of demons to deal with plus an influx of angels, one of whom was going to bring back memories he’d tried to bury. He really had enough on his plate without offering shelter to a dirty, stray mutt, particularly one who wouldn’t look him in the eyes. Roman didn’t try to engage Ezra in conversation. He had a feeling the attempt would be doomed. Better to let the guy come around on his own, assuming he ever did.

He was still wondering if he’d done the right thing when he led Ezra into the elevator inside his building. The guy acted as if he expected someone to leap out at him at any moment. Plus he kept touching things. Walls, doors, glass, though never Roman. It was almost as if he went out of his way to avoid even brushing against him. Ezra wasn’t just wary of people but a whole load of stuff—doors that opened on their own, the movement of the elevator, the disembodied voice announcing the floor. Roman stared at the marks on Ezra’s wrists. Someone had tied him up. The someone who’d stolen his money? The someone he was running from? The reason he was on edge?

Am I sure he’s not a demon? I should see or feel it if he was, and I don’t, but… If he was, Ezra was unlike any Roman had ever come across. But no demon would have stepped in front of a dog to save a child. No demon would be this…anxious. They were mostly cocky bastards. Unless it was all an act. He needed to be on his guard.

Roman strode out of the elevator and headed down the corridor. Ezra slowly followed.

“My name’s Roman, by the way. What’s yours?”

“You already know.”

Roman spun round.

“John told you my name was Ezra, though how he knew, I have no idea.”

Roman gaped at him.

“I heard you talking to him at St. Agnes. When you spoke to me on the street, I recognized your voice. I assume you followed me when I ran from the shelter.”

There seemed no point in denying it, and it explained some of the jumpiness, but Ezra had to be mistaken. He must have told John his name.

Ezra seemed to shrink into himself. “What do you want with me? Why did you follow me?”

You don’t want to know. You don’t want to hear that I want to shove you up against the wall and ram my cock into your arse, that I want you on your knees with my cock in your mouth, or that I want to do every depraved and disgusting thing I can with you.

That was helpful. Now his cock ached.

“I help and protect people who are in need.” It was true but still a minor miracle that that was what had come out of his mouth, because his mind was a long way from help and protect.

“You like to do good?” Ezra asked.

And bad, at times. “Doesn’t everyone?”

Ezra’s laugh sent another spike of lust into Roman’s groin. “Today I asked twenty-seven people for help. Twenty ignored me. Seven turned me down. Three of them swore, and one spat at me.”

“You know not everyone is like that. You had a warm place to sleep last night. A meal. You could have had breakfast if you’d stayed. The volunteers at St. Agnes are decent, kindhearted people.”

“You’re right. I’m used to people not being kind. It’s what I expect.”

“Someone tied you up.”

Ezra glanced at his wrists. “Yes.”

He said nothing more, so Roman opened the door of his apartment. “You can have a shower or a bath. Both if you like. Maybe you should shower first. Want to show me those dog bites? Do they need attention?”

Ezra didn’t move.

Give him some money and show him the way out. That’s the right thing to do.

“No strings,” Roman said. “I’m just being hospitable.” Oh damn, an outright lie. Roman hadn’t wanted anyone so much in a long time, though he had no idea why. There might be a lot he liked about Ezra, but there was a hell of a lot he didn’t. Plus he was making a rather large assumption about the guy’s sexuality. Have I ever been wrong? That didn’t mean he was right this time.

He pushed the door farther open. “Your choice.” No, I can’t let it be. He couldn’t help but employ a little angelic persuasion.

You really want to come into my apartment.

Plenty of hot water.

You can be clean again.

There’s nothing to be afraid of.

I mean you no harm.

Walk in.

Much to his surprise, Ezra didn’t move an inch. Roman wished he could see his eyes. He tried again with the persuasion.

A hot bath.

Soak away all that dirt.

Get warm.

I’ll make you something to eat.

When Ezra showed no reaction, Roman swallowed hard. Have I lost my touch? Unless Ezra was a demon, he should have responded to that. Or maybe Michael had disabled his ability to manipulate humans.

“Make up your mind,” Roman said more sharply than he’d meant to.

“Sorry. I guess I’m not used to people being generous without some ulterior motive.”

Ezra smiled. Just a little one, but it was enough for the hook to sink deeper into Roman’s heart. I’m a weak, pathetic, bad angel. As he watched Ezra walk into the apartment, he wondered how he still even deserved to be an angel. What the fuck was angelic about him? He swore, lied, cheated… Shit, don’t begin that list. You’ll never stop.

Roman closed the door to the apartment and pointed to the bathroom. “There’s everything you need, including towels. Help yourself.”

“Thank you.”

Ezra went in and closed the door. Roman didn’t hear the lock click, and he groaned as his cock pushed against his zipper. I am such a shit.

Available now at Loose-Id

Book of the Day: A Princely Passion by Sharon Maria Bidwell

 

A Princely Passion

Blurb:

Antal loves his life and is proud not only to be in charge of a regiment of guards but also to act as a personal protector, bodyguard, to a good friend. Alas, he’s young to carry so much responsibility and has to accept that even the most dedicated person needs time off. He needs something new and different in his life but doesn’t know what…or whom.

Kilan is a Swithin prince — the only one now that his brother is king — but although he’s happier than he’s ever been, he’s always been mischievous. He’d rather do what he likes than what others say is right. He hates the responsibility of duty and is always on the lookout for a little fun…and lately, Antal has certainly started to look like he might be fun!

They believe they have nothing in common aside from a physical attraction, until they realize they both share the weight of responsibility. Maybe they deserve to spend some time in each other’s arms. What Kilan doesn’t realise is that Antal doesn’t know how to be anything but dominant…until it’s too late…and Antal has more experience in many things than the young prince, who may secretly be submissive.

Excerpt:

“Are you suggesting I need to have sex?” Even knowing Ryanac as he did, Antal gaped in disbelief. The man couldn’t be serious! Even worse, much to Antal’s chagrin, Kilan had chosen that moment to walk into the room, and he overheard everything. The young prince stopped, gaze flicking left and right.

Kilan. It would have to be Kilan.

Alas, the young prince didn’t have the reserve that his brother, King Markis, did. Sex or the discussion of it wasn’t usually a cause for embarrassment for the Swithin people, so why did Antal feel awkward? Perhaps because he didn’t want others to know he was feeling out of sorts? He didn’t want to have this discussion with Kilan in the room. He knew only too well that the prince looked up to him, and while adoration from anyone made Antal feel uncomfortable, he didn’t want to openly reject the attention. Kilan was also impressionable at such a young age.

Antal almost sniggered. He wasn’t that much older himself, but he’d been out in the world a little more than Kilan had. He felt older, or at least more experienced. He also remembered what it had felt like to be Kilan’s age…experimenting. It came as no surprise that Kilan looked at him occasionally with an interested eye. The Swithin freely took lovers of either sex, and Antal wasn’t being boastful admitting he was handsome. Many men and women looked at him the way Kilan did, but with Kilan things were more…difficult. Antal didn’t want to reject Kilan, sexually or otherwise. He didn’t want to deflate him like that, so he avoided getting close to the prince any more than he had to. Sexual attraction was one thing, but hero worship… He didn’t feel happy with that.

Oddly, he disliked the idea of hurting the prince’s feelings or confusing matters, and with Kilan, things had a way of turning out thorny. Besides, he didn’t want to change how Kilan looked at him; looking up to someone was probably good for Kilan. With Kilan so wild at times, the last thing Antal wanted was to be a bad example for the prince, which was undoubtedly why the thought of Kilan seeing him like this upset him so. As irritating as Kilan could be, he had potential.

Antal struggled to tear his gaze away from those sparkling brown eyes. The king’s eyes glinted with golden flecks, a manifestation of his mystical power. Kilan’s eyes might be the same chocolate brown, but they shone brightly from an entirely different light. If he needed to put a word to it, Antal would have to say mischievousness at the very least.

“You could loosen up a bit,” Kilan said when the silence had spun out long enough.

“This is a private conversation!” Antal snapped. Ironically, many would think Ryanac was the last man to speak to regarding personal matters, but despite the big man’s teasing habits, Antal trusted him. In many ways, Ryanac was almost family, even if that relationship was by shared connections rather than blood. Such associations were…complicated enough, and Ryanac was, primarily, his commanding officer. Kilan’s involvement would confuse things, and Antal felt confused enough already. “No one asked for your opinion.”

“See. That snipe isn’t like you,” Kilan replied, being completely irritating. Unfortunately, he was also right, but that only made Antal long for violence, and that was entirely unlike him, went against his peaceful nature. Feeling this way worried him. Antal sat down, his stomach a tight knot, wound into a ball by sheer frustration.

“What’s wrong?” Kilan asked, apparently in no hurry to leave.

From the corner of his eye, Antal saw Ryanac move his head in a light shake of warning. The gesture was so subtle that only the play of light in Ryanac’s long, loose hair drew his attention to the movement. Antal couldn’t help wondering if he’d had sex that morning; seldom did he see Ryanac with his hair out of a braid. Not wishing to descend into a full-fledged fantasy, he dragged his mind back to his own situation, which right now included Kilan’s unwelcome presence. Ryanac wouldn’t order Kilan to leave, but neither would he spill Antal’s problem without his consent. Antal sighed.

“As I just explained to Ryanac, I’m feeling out of sorts. I don’t know. Restless, I guess.” That was a mild way to describe his predicament. He couldn’t deny that he’d been feeling bad tempered and was quick to snap lately. Ryanac had noticed, of course. That was partly why Antal had decided to seek out the man’s advice. If he didn’t do something to overcome these abnormal emotions soon, Ryanac would have requested a private word anyway.

“Are you ailing?” Kilan asked.

Antal shook his head. “Physically I’m fine. It’s my mood I’m struggling to deal with.”

“Uly hasn’t always been the easiest to look after,” Ryanac said as if suggesting Uly was the one responsible. Antal was Semari, captain to a contingent of guards. He was also Sonndre, personal defender to Uly, the king’s lover. Although to call Uly merely lover was inadequate. As Antal had already contemplated, things were complex. He’d once shared a kiss with Uly, but that was long ago and had little to do with sex and much more to do with affection. A kiss meant many things to the Swithin, not just sex. He’d shared a kiss with Uly and almost died for him. Antal had subsequently accepted the role of Sonndre for the honor it was. He owed both Uly and the men under his charge the best of his ability. Lately he didn’t feel he could give them the best. That was the reason he’d chosen to talk to Ryanac.

Antal couldn’t help it: thinking of Uly caused a small smile to tug at his lips. That smile felt amazingly good. He found it nice to know he could still smile. It felt as if he hadn’t smiled in weeks; he certainly couldn’t remember the last time he’d laughed.

“He’s more thoughtful now,” Antal remarked, meaning Uly. If anyone had trouble guarding someone, it was Ryanac trying to look after Markis. The Swithin king controlled an amazing power — legend said the power of a comet — but that control hadn’t always come easy. Even with such a power, the king needed protection. Antal could imagine how tedious it would be to have someone stalking your footsteps, so he could appreciate how even a king might want to skip out to be alone occasionally. Kilan could also access the power but wanted no protector. Antal pitied the man or woman should anyone ever take up that position. Kilan would be the biggest headache of all to watch over. Right now he was unusually quiet. Antal found that worrying.

“I wasn’t saying sex would cure the problem. I just asked when you last had any.” Ryanac’s words broke into his thoughts.

“I think he means with another person,” Kilan added.

Antal glared even though his heart wasn’t in it. At least the remark sounded more like the Kilan he knew. Ryanac and Kilan — the two of them were more than he could take today. Ryanac liked to tease even when he was being understanding, and Kilan never thought before he let words fly out of his mouth, appearing to bypass his brain. He could remain silent when he knew the situation was serious, but Kilan’s wayward mouth — and actions — often led him into trouble.

“Sex isn’t everything,” Antal said, addressing Ryanac and ignoring Kilan. “Sex doesn’t cure everything.” Ryanac pursed his lips as though he might disagree. “Besides,” Antal went on before Ryanac could tease, “it’s a question of priority. I’ve been too busy.”

“True, and I believe therein lies your problem. I know what it’s like when you’re newly in charge of a division of guards. The first year is the hardest. But I’ve always found time for sex.” Coming from anyone else, that remark might have sounded boastful. Ryanac just spoke the truth. “You can ease up, Antal; they respect you now.”

Antal blinked, failing to hide his amazement.

“You don’t need to look so surprised. You don’t need to doubt your ability.”

Hearing Ryanac say so made Antal feel pleased yet defensive. “I don’t. I mean… I didn’t.” He had no choice but to reluctantly accept that Ryanac had hit on precisely how he did feel. “Not until recently. Of late I’m distracted, and that’s not a good thing. I could make a mistake while I’m this preoccupied, and that’s what worries me.”

Antal believed Ryanac would still tease despite the fact that he’d confessed his feelings in all seriousness. Ryanac opened his mouth, hesitated, and then closed it again. He cast a glance at Kilan. Alas, that caught Kilan’s interest most effectively.

“He has an idea,” Kilan said. “He’s just not certain he should suggest it in front of me.”

“Maybe you should leave, then.” Much to Antal’s amusement, Kilan actually stood there blinking, gaping in surprise.

“Well, fine.” Kilan failed to keep the injury from his voice or intentionally made it obvious; with Kilan, you could never be certain. He turned smartly on his heel and marched out of the room. Antal turned his attention back to Ryanac.

“I was going to ask rather than suggest,” Ryanac said. “Ignore my teasing. Does this restlessness have a sexual nature at all?”

“No. Why should it?”

“Think before answering so quickly. You’ve not described exactly what you are feeling.”

How could he describe something he didn’t understand? Antal tried to disconnect from his surroundings, tried to examine his feelings. Finally he sighed. “I’m feeling overly aggressive, but I have to say, if sex is a part of whatever’s disrupting my equilibrium, then it’s only a very small part of it.” He let loose a self-deprecating laugh. “I don’t know how to say this without sounding foolish.”

“That’s irrelevant. Just say it.”

Antal took a steadying breath. He stared at the other man, at big, burly, strong Ryanac, his long dark hair streaked with silver. Everything about the man was sturdy, steadfast, reliable, yet wild. Maybe Ryanac would understand. “I’ve always felt at peace with myself, one with my own body. Damn,” Antal snapped. “That doesn’t make sense.”

“It makes more sense than you know. Go on.”

Encouraged, Antal continued. “Lately I feel as if I’m aware of me, of my consciousness as something separate from my flesh. I’ve never felt that way before.”

“Children seldom do.”

Antal frowned. “I’m no child.”

“I wasn’t calling you one.”

Ryanac folded his arms over his chest, the muscles straining. Even as someone not interested in a sexual relationship with Ryanac, and even with sex a vague thing in his mind right now, Antal couldn’t help admiring the pose.

“I meant children live in the moment,” Ryanac continued. “The future is a far-off thing. Life goes by quickly, seems fleeting. It speeds up the older one gets. A child has no concept of these things. They live in the moment and within their bodies. As we get older and perhaps start to suffer illnesses, we become aware that our bodies will fail us one day. We become more aware of our mortality, our consciousness.”

“I’m not that old,” Antal said more defensively than he’d intended. “I’m healthy.”

“You nearly died.”

Antal laughed. “That was some time ago, and if you’re suggesting this is my way of falling apart, then I say that if I were going to suffer a breakdown from the trauma, it would have happened a lot sooner.”

“Not necessarily. Bad experiences can return to haunt us at the most inconvenient time. Uly knows that.”

Antal didn’t know everything about Uly’s past, but he knew enough to understand and even appreciate the inference. He nodded. “Still, I don’t think that’s the reason.”

“Maybe it’s not the sole reason, maybe not even the catalyst. I’d say you are overworked and stressed. As I said, you’ve had a lot to deal with in a short time, yet your men have quickly grown to respect you. It’s an achievement. You came young to your position.”

Antal inclined his head, accepting. He’d certainly done that. He wasn’t the youngest Sonndre Semari in history, but he was close.

“That’s a lot of responsibility.”

“So now you’re saying I feel the weight I carry and can’t cope?”

“Me? I didn’t say a word.”

Antal made a noise, one not quite a growl, but it rumbled through his throat, sounding as disagreeable as he felt. Ryanac grinned at him and then raised a hand when Antal gathered himself and rose to his feet. He wasn’t sure whether he’d been about to stalk out of the room, but he stopped short when Ryanac spoke again.

“Are you denying yourself sex?”

“Not…denying. It hasn’t even…” He’d started to say it hadn’t even arisen,but no doubt Ryanac would use that remark to tease.

“What about all your desires?”

“What are you referring to? What desires?”

“When did you last enjoy a meal instead of shoveling the food down your throat simply for sustenance?”

“I’ve been busy,” Antal said, aware of his disgruntled tone.

“When did you last look at someone with an appreciative eye, entertain a lustful thought?”

Antal waved a hand in the air dismissively. “Didn’t I just say I’ve been busy? You know the schedule I’ve had to keep. There’s no time.”

“Exactly. You need time to relax, or the amount of work you are trying to cope with will eventually affect you detrimentally. More than it already has, I mean. I’m not surprised if you’re feeling rather disconnected from your body. You need to connect your mind to your flesh. You’re not a beast of burden, and you have men who should share your responsibilities.” Ryanac paused, possibly deliberately, but before Antal could think of a protest, he continued, “I was going to mention the old custom of liminality.”

The laugh barked out of Antal’s throat. “That’s for women!”

“Actually no. Not originally. It was once for both sexes.”

Choosing not to argue, Antal changed tack. “It also died out several generations ago. It’s from a time when the Swithin were little better than ignorant barbarians.”

“Yet we keep the grove tended.”

“Because it’s a beautiful place. And because…” For some reason he hesitated to use the name of the figure that lay in the clearing. “The statue is beautiful,” he finally said, choosing his words carefully. “That’s all it is.”

“You’ve been there? You’ve seen it?”

“Well…no. I’ve seen drawings, and I’ve heard people talk.”

“You’ve never had the time to spare, of course.”

“No. I haven’t.” Antal tried to silence the defensive note in his tone, uncertain he managed it. He’d always found something to keep him busy. Growing up, he’d had time for enjoyment as much as any lad, but for recreation he preferred to spend time with the living, not some unmoving, unfeeling representation of life. Now…there simply wasn’t time for such indulgences.

“It’s worth seeing,” Ryanac said. In a quieter voice, he added, “It’s worth touching.”

Antal blinked. He couldn’t deny the underlying warmth in the big man’s voice. For some reason it spoke to something inside Antal, made his stomach and lower things clench. If Ryanac said it was worth seeing and touching, then no doubt that was true. However, he had no time for frivolities.

Ryanac shrugged one of those irritating shrugs of his. “I’m not suggesting you perform such an ancient ritual,” he said in a voice that made Antal wonder if he was suggesting precisely that. “Reading up on the old customs, the state of mind that drove people to believe in it… Now that may enlighten you. It may help you to decipher your feelings, if nothing else. And it will be something aside from work to occupy your thoughts. Take some time off, Antal, even if it’s only for a little research.”

Still grinning, Ryanac walked out of the room, taking the door opposite to the exit Kilan had taken. Antal stood there for a moment, shaking his head. Take some time off. Easier said than done. What was the point? Take a week off, and the week you returned to your duties you just had twice as much work awaiting you and twice the stress. Besides, what use could such an old custom be to him? The ritual was ridiculous, and even if Ryanac hadn’t been suggesting he actually perform it, even reading up on the old ways was so utterly, utterly… Antal ran out of ways to complain. Ryanac just couldn’t be serious. He couldn’t be.

One thing Antal could be certain of: having made his fears known to Ryanac, the man wouldn’t leave him alone. He’d give him time, but eventually the day would arrive when Ryanac would approach him to inquire how he was doing. He couldn’t afford the distraction, not even in a time of peace. His men often made a subdivision of Ryanac’s troop, those who guarded Markis. There would be times when Markis needed to go out into the world on diplomatic duties, and he’d take Uly with him. Antal and his men had to be ready for anything. It didn’t matter if they faced danger or general duties; the men under his command equally deserved someone interested in their lives and their fate. Lately Antal hadn’t felt interested in anything. Not only did he feel disconnected from his body, he felt disconnected from the men and his life. He hadn’t told Ryanac that, but he had enough sense to know he didn’t need to. He cast his thoughts back over their conversation, taking in Ryanac’s expressions and gestures.

“Damn,” Antal whispered softly. If Ryanac told him to read up on the ritual, then he had a reason, and there was no avoiding it. Eventually, one way or another, Ryanac would make certain he read it. He might as well locate a copy and be done with it.

 

New Gay Romance Releases in July

Good morning world,

A couple of shiny new books this week, one of them from yours truly.

Holding Together by Sue Brown

Holding Together, Book Two in the The Arches series.

Buy-link: Total-E-Bound

Darius is bored until his boyfriend, Luca, makes him work at The Arches. Then Luca is taken ill. Can Darius hold the gym and their relationship together?

Darius barely sees his boyfriend. Luca is working all hours at The Arches gym, and Darius goes out clubbing most evenings to relieve the boredom. He’s really tempted to play with other bears at the club.

Then Luca makes Darius work at The Arches to give him something to do. Cleaning! Darius is not impressed, especially when some of the gym staff are hostile to him. He sticks it out, and to his surprise starts to enjoy the work. Luca loves having him around and makes sure he knows—in true Luca style.

Darius is not prepared when Luca is taken ill. Darius finds himself having to support his boyfriend and keep The Arches running. He gets more tired as time goes on, and it doesn’t help that his love-life is suffering. It seems the illness has had a greater effect on Luca than either of them anticipated.

Can Darius show his bear that nothing has changed—he is still the man Darius loves?

 Patient Z by Becky Black

BB_PatientZ_coverlg

Patient Z by Becky Black

Buylink: Loose ID

For further information see Becky’s website.

Two years ago the zombie apocalypse wiped out the world police officer Mitch Kennedy had a role in. But he’s found a way to continue doing his duty, serving as guardian of a small community of survivors, living in the safest place they can find. When the group takes in Cal Richardson Mitch can’t help but be attracted to the first available–and incidentally, gorgeous–man to cross his path in months.

Mitch and Cal can’t resist each other physically, but each man tries to hold back his emotions. Though he’s strong on the outside, Mitch is too badly hurt inside to risk more pain. Cal’s very sure he won’t stay for long. He’s been a drifter all his life and it came naturally to him to survive alone after civilization fell. He’s sure this is a temporary stopover for him. He has no intention of becoming emotionally involved with a cop who is certain to despise Cal when he learns the truth about him.

But the longer Cal stays the stronger his urge to run, but the harder it becomes to give up the safety of the community and his new friends. The harder it becomes to give up Mitch.

If you would like to add your book to this page, please email me at ukgayromance@gmail.com.