Wednesday, January 31, 2018

January Book of the Month: A Different Light by Morningstar Ashley


Summary:
Bennett Cole had lived next door to Mitchell “Mac” Campbell, III for eighteen years of his life, in the small town of White Acre. They’d never gotten along, never seen eye to eye, and never understood one another…not that they’d ever cared to try.

But when Bennett’s so-called buddies ditched him at a party in the woods where he was assaulted and left for dead, Bennett pulled through. The emotional scars rendered him too terrified to go back to school and face his “friends” or his attackers. With little choice, his family packed up and left town.

Ten years later—at the request of his mother—Bennett returned to the place he’d grown up and the home he’d once felt safe, to oversee the repairs before his childhood house was sold. The contractor? None other than Mac, the once annoying boy next door, who still lives there in the home his parents gifted him.

Being in such close proximity—working together every day, to repair the Coles’ family home—Bennett and Mac’s contentious relationship goes from bad to worse as their personalities continue to clash. But their heated exchanges may not be as antagonistic as they seem. And when new information is revealed, can the men begin to see each other in a different light?


Bennett Cole thought his friends were true and would have his back despite what the boy next door, Mac Campbell said.  He was wrong and Mac was right.  After a horrendous and bigotted attack, Bennet and his family leave their home in White Acre but ten years later he returns to fix up the family home so it can be sold.  He wasn't counting on the boy next door still living there and being the contractor his parents arranged to do the work he can't.  Will they still have the same contentious comradre they had as kids or will adulthood mature them into a new relationship?

I always love giving new authors a read, whether they're new to me or to the publishing world as Morningstar Ashley is, the adrenaline rush I get from wondering "will they be worth my time?" always spurs me on.   Well, I can safely say that Morningstar Ashley is definitely worth my time.  Authors are always learning and growing, frankly an author that doesn't think they have anything to learn is not an author I want to read, so when my first experience with one is as wonderful as Morningstar's A Different Light is I am on a natural high just waiting to see what future stories lurk in her imagination.  This is the author's second book and I have not read her first, Letting Go, but I will most certainly be going back and giving it a read in the weeks to come as I wait for her next one.

A Different Light is an emotional ride that will leave you breathless.  I really loved how Bennett is a Sheldon Cooper-like character that is slightly better at the social aspect of relationships/connections.  Having compared him to Sheldon, don't think that this is a straight up romantic comedy.  There is definitely some humorous moments, the camping trip from hell comes to mind.  A Different Light is a story about romance obviously but its also about friendship, overcoming past trauma and misunderstandings, going home, and second chances.  Mostly though it is about life. I certainly wanted to whack the two men upside the heads at times but I also wanted to bundle them up in bubblewrap that I had left over from Christmas deliveries.  Morningstar Ashley writes her characters in a way that will confound you and leave you screaming "UGH!!!!" at their stubbornness but also leaving you sighing "AWWWWW" with all the heart she's put into their journey.

A brilliant must read that I know will be on my re-read list for years to come.

RATING: 


Mac was so close he lost his train of thought. So close that Bennett could reach out and grab what he wanted all week, but he was so weak with want, he couldn’t get his mind to cooperate to move his limbs.

“You don’t want a reward for your hard work?”

Mac’s hand came up as if in slow motion. At first, it was just his fingertips, gliding against Bennett’s waist. A shiver rushed through him. Then Mac’s palm touched, warming, moving around his side until it settled at the small of Bennett’s back. Mac slowly pulled him to his chest. He could feel Mac’s heat seep through his own shirt. “There’s nothing you can think of that you’d want?”

Bennett’s breathing picked up. His mind raced. His balls tingled and tightened. He knew Mac had to see the pleading and want through his eyes. Bennett couldn’t hide it, not then, not so close to Mac, feeling his body against his and his breath wisp across his lips as they stared into each other's eyes. It felt big, like Mac wasn’t just staring into his eyes but into him, searching for something.

Then Mac was closer, so close he could feel the words against his lips. “Because I think you deserve a kiss for being such a good boy. You want that kiss, Princess?”

All Bennett could do is close his eyes and nod. Speaking was beyond his abilities at that point. When did Mac become so sensual, so full of sex, and radiate desire so easily? Bennett loved sex, the tease, the lead up to the physical explosion of pleasure. But Mac brought it to a whole other level. Using words and small innocent touches, turning it dirty and provocative.

“B, open your eyes.”

Bennett listened. As hard as it was to not just stay floating in the place of just feeling, he opened his eyes. What he saw made him moan. The want, the need in Mac’s eyes matched what Bennett felt coursing through his own body. He couldn’t think of anything else, because as lost as he was in the sensations Mac had him feeling with his eyes closed, he was just as lost in the heat that poured off the man now.

“What did you think would happen, B? Coming out here all flustered and angry with just a t-shirt and those cute boxers on?”

At first, Bennett had no idea what he was talking about, but then he remembered. He slept in his ‘Particle Physics Gives me a Hadron’ boxers and had been so lost in his anger that he’d never put on pants.

He swallowed, trying to loosen his tight throat so he could speak, but Mac leaned in, lips touching Bennett’s ear, and the only thing that came out was a whimper. He never whimpered. Fuck.

“Nothing turns me on more than you in full on Princess mode with your geek on full display.” And to prove that, Mac pulled them tighter together with the hand that still sat in the small of his back. Bennett could feel Mac’s hard length pressed against his. The barrier of the worn jeans that Mac had on and Bennett’s boxers was like paper between them.

“I’ve been good this week too. Not kissing your sweet lips, not touching your body, not taking you against any and all surfaces when you were so goddamn sexy with the paint splattered all over you and your shirt sticking to your body, soaked from your sweat. So, maybe I deserve a reward too.”

“Oh, god, yes.”

Mac pulled his face back just enough so that Bennett could look into his eyes again. He had that cocky grin playing at his lips but this time it didn’t annoy Bennett, it lit him on fire.

Mac’s eyes dropped and stared at his lips, making his nerves come alive. He licked his lips and Mac moaned. That sound. God, that sound went straight to the center of all that swirled around them.

Bennett remembered his moans from that blowjob, the sound doing just as much that night as seeing Mac on his knees soft lips wrapped around Bennett’s cock. And hearing it again brought those memories flashing through his mind taking an already heated moment and making it hotter and more.

“Please.” He didn’t know what else to say. It’d felt like they’d stood there frozen forever. Simple touches doing more than any amount of foreplay Bennett had ever experienced.

“I like when you beg me, B.”

Author Bio:
Morningstar Ashley is a transplant from the Yankee-controlled territory of New York, and now finds herself in the heartland of cowboys and longhorns—Texas. Armed with her imagination, wit, and trusty sidekicks in the form of her two crazy kids, devoted dorky husband, big lap dog, and rambunctious cats, Morningstar spends her time reading the books she loves, crafting her own characters, and arguing the merits of hot chocolate over the bitter brew known as coffee (Hot chocolate wins, FYI.).

Morningstar loves graphic design, so much so she returned to school for a degree and regularly tromps her exams and maintains a stellar GPA that occasionally leaves her confounded and pleased. She can while away the hours on new designs, and perfection isn’t too much to hope for when it comes to her art.

Her ideal career would be full-time artist and author, and so far, she hasn’t come up against anything to stop her on her journey. A fierce and devoted friend, Morningstar tries her best to always be kind, always be learning, and always improving. Giving up isn’t an option, and her greatest talent may be in her ability to convince others not to give up, either. After a lifetime of trying to get people to realize her first name wasn’t Ashley, Morningstar decided the best way to settle the debate was to put her name on a book cover. An avid reader and fiction reviewer for the blog and site Diverse Reader, Morningstar harbored a dream to one day join the ranks of her heroes, and she sweeps into the contemporary gay romance genre with her debut novel, LETTING GO. With plans to conquer gay, lesbian and LGBTQA+ romance, Morningstar has her gaze set on the horizon, her determination her own guiding star.


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Release Day Blitz: Rebel by KM Neuhold & Nora Phoenix

Title: Rebel
Authors: KM Neuhold & Nora Phoenix
Series: Ballsy Boys #1
Genre: M/M Romance
Release Date: January 31, 2018
Summary:
"I don't do relationships, I break them." ~ Troy

If there’s one thing life has taught me it’s that everyone eventually leaves. But that's okay because I have a strategy: no friends, no boyfriends, limit repeat hook-ups, no sleep overs, and above all leave them before they leave me. I’ve put my break-up skills to work doing others’ dirty work for them.
The last thing I expected when I agreed to do an embarrassing breakup song and dance was to end up on the doorstep of the very recognizable—and stupidly sexy—Rebel. When you meet a man like Rebel you'd be insane not to make a move. And just because he has me tossing out every single one of my rules doesn't mean I'm in trouble, right?

“I’m everyone’s friend, but no one’s everything.” ~ Rebel

I love working for Ballsy Boys, but when you make the kind of videos I do relationships are pretty damn impossible. Besides, guys find me sexy and want to either be with me or be me, but no one has ever cared enough to see the real me.

Until I meet Troy. He has no problem whatsoever with my job, but he’s determined to keep me at a distance. For the first time, a hook-up alone is not enough. I want more with him. Hell, I want everything. But he resists at every step until I’m about ready to give up. What do I need to do to show him that this is real and worth fighting for?

***Rebel is the first book in the Ballsy Boys Series and is a super sexy MM romance with plenty of good times. While this book and this series do contain some instances of sex outside of the main relationships, they DO NOT contain cheating.


Seriously, I’m a fucking porn star, but some of what they show here has me paling and my stomach rolling uncomfortably.

“What the hell is that?” Troy whispers, pointing toward a big contraption that looks like a torture device, with big leather straps and spikes everywhere.

Before I can say anything, the salesman has spotted me, and his eyes light up in recognition. Oh, fuck.

“Rebel!” he says excitedly and hurries over to shake my hand. “I’m so happy to meet you in person! I’m your biggest fan!”

“It’s nice to meet you, too” —I squint to read his nametag— “Donald.”

“Can I interest you in a demonstration of one of our products? I’ve got great cock rings and spreaders as well as brand new ball gags, the best on the market. And of course, we have a wide range of leather products for your pleasure, ranging from whips and floggers to all kinds of restraints.”

Troy is fighting hard to suppress his laughter, and I can feel his body shake with the effort. He knows how I feel about shit like this. I mean, to each his own, but this kind of stuff is a big no for me. I like my sex in all positions, and I don’t mind a little rough, but other than that, I’m as vanilla as it gets.

“I’m not really an adventurous type, sexually speaking,” I try to discourage Donald politely, but he won’t budge.

“Psh, nonsense. A hot gay porn star like you, of course, you like a little kink.”

Troy gives him a manly slap on the back. “You’re absolutely right, Donald. Rebel should live a little, experiment, right?”

Donald nods enthusiastically and starts a lengthy discourse on whatever the fuck he’s trying to sell me. Troy turns away from us, and I know he’s laughing his ass off, the fucker. I will so get him for this.

“You know what,” I say sweetly, “I’ll take a ball gag and a pair of handcuffs, please.”

“Excellent!” Donald beams and quickly grabs them for me. “Promise me to give us a shout out in a video if you like them!”

Troy turns to face me, looking distinctly less amused now.

“I will after I’ve tested them thoroughly.”

Troy narrows his eyes. “You wouldn’t dare,” he hisses.

I waggle my eyebrows. “Keep provoking me and you’ll find out.”

What is the biggest influence/interest that brought you to this genre? 
KYLEEN:  Honestly, the biggest thing that made me decide to write MM was the community surrounding it. I was writing MF before getting into MM and as I started reading MM I saw how wonderful the MM reader and author community was. Authors were so much more welcoming and friendly than I’d experienced before, and readers seemed so much more open to different things. I felt like I’d be able to have a lot more creative freedom and get to tell the beautiful stories about forever love I really wanted to tell.

NORA:  The first MM romance I read was J.R. Ward’s ‘Lover at Last’ in the Black dagger Brotherhood series. I loved that series, but all books until then had been MF. She has already started their relationship in the previous book, and I found myself very intrigued. When the book came out, I devoured it. It was so good…and it touched me in a completely different way. I was curious to see if there were more MM books, and holy crap, this whole world opened for me. Interestingly enough, one of the first authors I read was K.M. I totally fangirled over her and reviewed her book and that’s how we first connected. That makes it so special for me to co-write Rebel with her, because she’s one of the people who made me fall in love completely with this genre.

When writing a book, what is your favorite part of the creative process (outline, plot, character names, editing, etc)?
KLYEEN:  Getting to know the characters. I guess that would be along the lines of plotting, but before I actually get to any plotting I think about the characters and start the process of falling in love with them. That’s usually when I find out about quirks about them or other interesting things. To me that’s the most fun part before the work of doing them justice begins.

NORA: I don’t think there’s a writer in this planet who will love editing most! I used to write extensive outlines, but I don’t anymore. Now, I start with developing the characters, but even that’s more in general terms. I’ll know their occupation, for instance, or some broad characteristics. Then I come up with a premise, a basic gist of the main conflict between the two main characters. After that, I start writing, and as I write, I fill in the details. Sometimes, it takes me a while to get inside the character’s head, and when I do, I may have to go back and change some things I write before, but that’s fine. But it’s that aspect I love the most, to make characters come alive and give them a background, a story, a pain and a dream in life. I guess I fall in love with them, just a little…and that’s where the magic starts.

When reading a book, what genre do you find most interesting/intriguing?
KYLEEN:  I mainly read MM, but on occasion I will read sci-fi or horror

NORA: I read almost exclusively MM romances, but within that genre, pretty much any subgenre. My one requirement is that the book has to have a happy end, aside from quality requirements. I love books that are a bit more on the steamy side, but I’ve read sweet gay romances as well that I completely loved, so I’m really open to anything.

If you could co-author with any author, past or present, who would you choose?
KYLEEN:  I’m not sure anyone could beat Nora Phoenix. Working with her has been amazing. I never expected we’d get along so well and work so seamlessly together.

NORA: I was super happy and honored to co-author with K.M. Neuhold on Rebel. Since we have more books coming out in this series, I wouldn’t even have time to co-author with anyone else! But if I had time, I would love to write a book with Nora Roberts and show her how awesome the MM genre is, lol. I’ve been a fan of her books for many, many years, and she is such a terrific writer.

Have you always wanted to write or did it come to you "later in life"?
KYLEEN:  I started writing literally as soon as I learned words. I’ve always been a day dreamer and I realized very young that it was even more fun to day dream if I wrote it down afterward.

NORA:  I started writing stories when I was a teen. First in longhand, then on a typewriter, before switching to a computer. So it’s really been something I have always done. But I didn’t focus on it until a few years ago, and last year was when I decided I really wanted to go for it. I’m still super grateful that I did, and also proud of myself for making a lifelong dream come true.

Nora Phoenix
When she was a little tot, Nora’s mom got a library subscription for her. That, as they say, was that, and a lifelong love for books was born. Nora never stopped reading and doesn’t exaggerate when she says she devours books, rather than plain reads them. She started writing stories as soon as she could hold a pen, and wrote her first full book as a teen (on a typewriter!). It took her waaaay too long to follow her dream to become a romance author.

Nora writes M/M romance, because hello, sexy boys, and likes her men flawed, strong, and a tad broken. She appreciates a little kink, but insists on a happy ever after.

KM Neuhold
I'm an author of m/m and new adult romance. I have a strong passion for writing characters with a lot of heart and soul, and a bit of humor as well.

Nora Phoenix
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KM Neuhold
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Release Tour: Earl of Sunderland by Aubrey Wynne

Title: Earl of Sunderland
Author: Aburey Wynne
Series: Wicked Earl's Club #4
Genre: Historical Romance, Regency
Release Date: January 30, 2018
Publisher: Plato Publishing
Summary:
He’s inherited the title of rake. She hides behind her independence... Fate accepts the challenge.

Grace Beaumont has seen what love can do to a woman. Her mother sacrificed her life to produce the coveted son and heir. A devastated father and newborn brother force her to take on the role of Lady Boldon at the age of fifteen. But Grace finds solace in the freedom and power of her new status.

Christopher Roker made a name for himself in the military. The rigor and pragmatism of the army suits him. When a tragic accident heaves Kit into a role he never wanted or expected, his world collides with another type of duty. Returning to England and his newfound responsibilities, the Wicked Earls’ Club becomes a refuge from the glitter and malice of London society but cannot ease his emptiness.

Needing an escape from his late brother’s memory and reputation, Kit volunteers to inspect the family property near Scotland. Lady Grace, a beauty from a neighboring estate, becomes a welcome distraction. When the chance to return to the military becomes a valid possibility, the earl finds himself wavering between his old life and the lure of an exceptional—and unwilling—woman.


Early May 1814
London, England 
Lord Christopher Roker slapped his twin brother, the Earl of Sunderland, on the back. “A fit of the blue devils on your wedding day, eh? Come now, the bride seems a prime article to me.”

“She’s not the woman of my choice. I’m more than an unwilling groom. I’m downright defiant.” Carson tucked his white linen tails into the pale gray pantaloons, gave his matching waistcoat a tug, and adjusted his neckcloth again. “Yet our parents are deliriously happy over the match because she is the daughter of a marquess.”

“You made your own name.” Christopher shook his head and gave his brother’s shoulder a hard squeeze. “Gambling and womanizing has its place when you’re more boy than man. By Christ, we’ve just passed thirty.”

“How did I know I’d fall in love and my reputation would haunt me?” Carson walked over to a polished oak side table and poured two glasses of brandy from the crystal decanter. He handed one to Christopher. “Or that the woman who stole my heart would have a self-righteous father who despises me?”

“How many times did I warn you to pull back on the reins? There are always consequences to one’s actions. You will be the Marquess of Falsbury in your own right someday. It’s time you accepted responsibility.” He took a sip of the amber liquid as Carson downed his in one gulp and poured another. “It’s a bit early for that, isn’t it? You might want to pace yourself.”

Sunderland sank heavily onto a chair, pushing his fingers through a tangle of black waves. “Kit, trade places with me. Marry the chit and take the title. You should have been the heir anyway. You’re better to this type of life than I am.”

“We had this conversation when we were twelve, and you wanted to be a sheik and live in the desert. And then again at sixteen, when you wanted to run away and join the Navy.” He smirked and sat down opposite Carson. “Besides, Mother would know at once.”

“She’d stay quiet for her darling Christopher. You’ve always been her favorite.” He tipped back his head and gulped the second glass of brandy. “A little courage for the ceremony.”

A knot tightened in Kit’s stomach. He had a bad feeling about this wedding but knew better than to admit it. It wasn’t the match itself. Lady Eliza was a beauty and came with a generous dowry. And he didn’t believe for a moment Carson loved another woman. Infatuation was more likely. He fell for one and before he hit the ground, another had taken his fancy. While Kit loved his brother, he also accepted his faults. His abilities did not include accountability or dependability.

“You’re dipping too deep, brother,” Kit said as took the third glass of liquor from his twin, recognizing the slight glaze in those familiar chestnut eyes. “Let’s get you to the church, shall we? At this rate, you’ll be foxed before the end of the wedding breakfast.”

“That’s the plan, sir. Then I won’t feel those leg shackles I’ve acquired.”


Meet twelve of the most wickedly sinful earls in all of Regency England.
Together they make up the Wicked Earls’ Club. A secret group,
marked with a single golden W; it is a place where these deliciously
devious earls can indulge in their darkest desires.
Though fate may have something else planned for them entirely.


Author Bio:
Bestselling and award-winning author Aubrey Wynne resides in the Midwest with her husband, dogs, horses, mule and barn cats. She is an elementary teacher by trade, champion of children and animals by conscience, and author by night. Obsessions include history, travel, trail riding and all things Christmas.

Her short stories, Merry Christmas, Henry and Pete's Mighty Purty Privies have won Readers Choice Awards and Dante's Gift received the 2016 Golden Quill and Heart of Excellence award, as well as being a Maggie and Aspen Gold finalist.

Besides her Chicago Christmas novellas, Aubrey will release "A Vintage Romance" series inspired by tales of her stepfather, who served for the British Air Force in WWII. The stories will be set in the 40s & 50s. Her medieval fantasy series will launch in 2017 with Rolf's Quest.

Subscribe to Aubrey's newsletter for new releases and exclusive excerpts and free stories.

A place of handsome knights, dashing gentlemen, beautiful, sassy women, and romance from the past to the present. You’ll also have some opportunities to help promote Aubrey with her upcoming releases if you feel so inclined. There is fun to be had, prizes to be given, and heroes and heroines to fall in love with. Come join Aubrey's street team.


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Earl of Sunderland #4
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Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Blogger Review: Give Me by Gen Ryan

Summary:
Sometimes love is worth the risk.

Flynn Coleman has spent his entire life playing professional baseball. When an injury forces him into physical therapy, he fears he’ll never play again.

Sean Myers is a recent college graduate with a love of sports and a new degree in physical therapy. When offered an internship at a prestigious rehab facility, he stumbles upon his favorite baseball player and crush, Flynn Coleman.

Sparks fly and both men are unable to deny the attraction between them.

When Flynn makes Sean a proposition he can’t refuse, will they be able to survive with their careers and hearts intact?


Baseball has been Flynn Coleman's entire life but when an injury requires physical therapy he fears it could be career ending.  Sean Meyers has landed an internship of his dreams but when his new client is none other than his favorite ballplayer and crush, Flynn Coleman he fears being able to table said crush.  Mutual attraction runs high but will they stick to professionalism or will they take that forbidden leap?

With baseball season just around the corner, Give Me More is a perfect read for lovers of the sport but the heat and connection between Flynn and Sean make this an equally perfect read for those who may not be fans of the game but are fans of a well written tale of forbidden love.  Okay, "forbidden" may be too strong a word choice but crossing that line between therapist and client/patient is definitely not morally doable but it certainly adds just the right dash of spice.  Being a fan of baseball myself, Give Me More just added a little dose of "YAY" to my day as football is nearly done and here in Wisconsin winter is still with no end in sight, this short story/novella just put a smile on my face.

As for Flynn and Sean, well its pretty obvious that their attraction is there from the very first meeting and although I would have loved to seen their story grow with perhaps more time and to see where their future lead, there is only so much you can put into a short tale.  Quite frankly I found it to be the perfect length, now having said that if we were to revisit the pair and see where they are five or ten years down the road I would be first in line to read it but if this is all we see of Flynn and Sean, its a well written tale that put a smile on my face and I can't ask for more than that.  Give Me More is the first time I've read this author making for a great introduction and I will definitely be keeping Gen Ryan's work in my sights.

RATING: 


Flynn
My ears buzzed. My entire body tightened in frustration. The past week I’d drowned myself in any bottle of alcohol I could find. It made everything numb—the pain, my mind. It all faded away as the alcohol swirled inside my stomach.

“Flynn, are you listening? You have multiple fractures in your scapula. Surgery is the only option.”

I pounded my fist on the exam table. Coach jumped up and glared at me.

“Surgery? You mean placing pins in my shoulder and doubling my recovery time?” I shook my head. “Not an option. I need to be ready for the season.”

Coach motioned for the doctor to leave. Here it comes, the lecture of a lifetime. I slumped back against the table.

“Coleman, this is what has to happen if there’s any hope that you’ll make a recovery.”

I snickered. Hope. I never was one to believe in that shit. I was bitter, broken in every sense of the word, and now I had to have hope?

“Bullshit. There’s no guarantee that this will make it so I can play again. You’re asking that I trust that doctor with my life!” I raised my voice, my chest heaving with all the fears I’d drowned in alcohol all week. “Baseball’s my life.”

Coach patted my leg. “I know, son. Do everything you can to get back to your life. Have faith.”

I rubbed my eyes, hoping this all was a bad dream that I’d wake up from.

“I can’t see faith. I can’t hold it in my hands like a bat and feel its weight against me. It doesn’t exist. I trust you though, Coach. What should I do?”

“Trust the doctor. Have the surgery.”

I called the doctor back into the room. With one last reassuring nod from Coach, I knew what was best.

“Let’s do it.”

The doctor continued to talk about the surgery and what to expect. I was terrified. My entire life I’d taken chances, straddling the line between the right and wrong sides of the law. That was nothing compared to what was in front of me. I wasn’t a patient man. Having to wait months to see if the procedure had worked was going to be torture. But for the love of the game, I’d being willing to do anything to be home again. My team was the only true family I’d ever had. Playing ball was the only place where I felt like I belonged.

* * * * *

I pulled up to the rehab facility, grinding my teeth. I didn’t want to be here, mixed with others who were suffering through some injury. Others who felt sorry for themselves. I’d had enough self-pity to last a lifetime.

My surgery had gone well, but the true test would be these next months. My doctor wanted me to start rehab as soon as possible to increase my odds of a full recovery. I wanted to stay holed up in my house and drown my sorrows at the bottom of a bottle. But here I was, ready to torture myself for however long it took.

“Go in there and show them that Coleman motivation. Put your all into it and give ‘em hell.” Coach tried to encourage me as I stepped out of the car. I clutched the door, wanting to say ‘fuck it all’ and head home.

“You got it, Coach.”

I slammed the car door and Coach drove off, leaving me to handle this shit on my own. Get your head in the game, Coleman. You got this. I did a quick little jump around, gearing myself up. I figured if I treated this like I approached a baseball game I was bound to do well.

“Jesus.” A man stumbled on the sidewalk, the papers in his briefcase flying everywhere. I bent over to help him gather his stuff, nursing my bad shoulder. He stood, his glasses balancing on his nose like at any second they’d slip right off. They were wide-rimmed and black, almost hiding the green of his eyes. Pushing them up with his finger, he gave me a smile.

“Thanks,” he said, a slight blush creeping on his tanned cheeks. I did a quick once-over, trying not to be too obvious that I was checking him out. He was attractive. Not like the extremely fit guys that I went for. But his glasses made him look innocent and his damn nervous smile was contagious. For a minute, all my troubles seemed to disappear as I watched him try to get himself together.

I tried to keep my personal life out of the media, but rumors had flown around that I was gay. I never confirmed or denied them, letting people play out what they wanted in their mind. I wasn’t ashamed of who I was. I’d gotten enough ass-whoopings in my lifetime from my father, who’d told me he wouldn’t raise a faggot for a son. Despite that, I embraced who I was and had the scars to prove it.

I had taken to the streets to support myself when my father kicked me out. Then Coach had found me on the field in high school and my life had changed. I hadn’t had much time to date since signing with the Blue Hawks, but I had fun. I loved having fun.

This man in front of me looked like he was fresh out of high school. His face held a youthfulness I remembered from when I first started playing baseball. He smiled, adjusting his bag over his shoulder.

“You’re Flynn Coleman. I’m a huge fan.” He looked at my shoulder and frowned. “I was so disappointed when I heard about your shoulder.”

“You and me both.”

He kept shuffling between his feet and averting his gaze.

What I wouldn’t give to screw that nervousness right out of him.

I itched for the control that I exerted in the bedroom. It was the same control I had on the field. Holding the bat, feeling its hardness, was just like how I approached sex. I had to be gentle at first but once I got loosened up, it was game on. I loved a soft cock in my hand with just my touch bringing it to life. I needed that feeling, that control again, any way I could get it.

“Do you work here?” I wanted to keep him engaged, find out just how big a fan he was. I didn’t usually mess around with fans. That could end disastrously. But I was out of the media for now due to my injury, and off the radar, so to speak. Maybe a little fling was just what the doctor ordered. Control. Release of frustration.

“Kind of. I’m an intern.” He mumbled something as he adjusted his bag again.

“Nice. Interning at a big rehab facility. You must be good.” I stretched out my arm, the dull ache I’d become accustomed to annoying the hell out of me.

“Well, I’m not the Flynn Coleman of this place but someday I hope to be.” He blushed again and rubbed his hand down his suspenders. It was so fucking cute how nervous he was around me. I’d had many fans clam up and get nervous but it was the combination of his glasses and suspenders that captivated me. He reminded me of Clark Kent. I was a huge Superman fan.

“I’m Sean by the way. Sean Myers.” He wiped his hand on his pants before holding it out.

I shook his hand, gripping it a little too hard. “I’ve got to head in for my appointment. See you around, Sean Myers?”

“Oh. Yeah. S-sure,” he stuttered. With a laugh, I waved, walking through the double doors. I glanced back as he stared in my direction, shaking his head in disgust. I grinned as he caught me staring, his lips curving into a nervous grin. I wasn’t looking forward to my months here in rehab but if I got to see Sean every day, my recovery had just gotten more interesting.

My balls ached, my dick twitching against my pants at the thought of seeing him again. He seemed innocent, way more so than I was used to. I thought of all the things I could do to him, stripping away the glasses and suspenders, showing him what some fun could add to his life. I needed a distraction, someone to take my mind off the possibility that baseball might be my past and no longer my future. Sean seemed to be just what I needed.

Author Bio:
Gen Ryan is an international best-selling author that spends her days as a forensic psychologist filling the minds of college students with everything they need to know to be good at their jobs. From profiling, to interrogation and ending with her absolute favorite, serial killers. Her nights, however, are spent crafting stories that will tear a reader’s heart out and twist their minds at the same time. 

She brings a unique twist to romance, a twist always rooted somewhere deep inside the character’s psyche.


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Release Tour: Pure Innocence by Liza O'Connor

Title: Pure Innocence
Author: Liza O'Connor
Series: The Extraordinary Life of Amy Winston #1
Genre: Historical Regency with Paranormal Elements
Release Date: January 5, 2017
Summary:
For some, Amy is an angel incarnate; for others, she is the child of Satan. In her early years, Amy learns the skills of a soldier and discovers she can heal with the touch of her hand. Upon the death of her beloved Uncle John, he stays as a protective ghost to assist the soldiers in their vigilant efforts to keep her safe. Never has a girl arrived at Madam Cousec’s School for Young Ladies with more charm, more friends, or greater protection. She’ll need them all to survive the head girl and set her future in motion.


John sat down upon the ground, so he would look less threatening. “I mean you no harm.” He spoke in the soft voice he used to calm war-panicked horses. His words came slow, in gentle tones, letting them sink in through her fear. 

She hugged her child harder and rocked faster, but she did not try to run away.

“I want to help you. I can see you are hurt and afraid. You are probably hungry as well. I can give you shelter and food, see your wounds are tended and provide clean clothes for the baby and you.”

Upon comprehending his words, she burst into a torrid of tears and sobs that shook her body so hard he feared she would trigger the collapse of the entire cliff.

“Please don’t cry,” he begged. “The ground you are upon is unstable. I need you to be very, very still until my man returns with the ropes, so that I may rescue you. Will you do that for me? Will you be very still?”

She stopped crying and stared at him. “Why do you want to help me?”

“Because you need my assistance. I can see you are all alone and desperately in need of help.”

“I am, but you will not help me—not once you have learned what I have done.”

“I know that you’ve had a child and were tossed from your home because you would not name the father.”

“I could not name him. There is no father. I have lain with no man. There was only a dream, a wonderful dream of a handsome prince on a white stallion. He declared me the most beautiful lady he had ever seen, and he kissed me and made my body burn with fire. Then I woke up from my shady spot on the banks and I was alone as always. It was the devil, you see. He came to me in my dreams.”

She began to rock again as she held her baby tight against her chest. “That is why you will not help me—because of the dream. I am the whore of Satan and this child is his spawn.”

He feared he’d soon lose her to madness.

“Amy, I don’t think that is true. You are too sweet to be the whore of Satan. Your child is too good-natured to be his seed.”

She looked up at him in shock and stopped rocking. “She is very good-natured and so very beautiful. But what other reason might there be?”

“Amy, I believe the man in your dreams was real. He must have come to you while you slept and lay with you while he distracted you with kisses and sweet words. Can you remember more about his features? For example, what was the color of his hair?”

“The color of yours,” she said. “When I first saw you, I thought you were the man in my dream and you had come to rescue me. But you are not him.”

“No, I am not. But I do want to rescue you.”

She studied him. “His face was smoother than yours and his eyes sparkled blue. And there was a tiny mole on the edge of his mouth.”

Her words stopped his heart. Dear God, she was describing his younger brother, Alexander. Yet, that was impossible. Alexander had died in battle eight months ago and before that, he had remained in London.

Author Bio:
Liza O’Connor was raised badly by feral cats, left the South/Midwest and wandered off to find nicer people on the east coast. There she worked for the meanest man on Wall Street, while her psychotic husband tried to kill her three times. (So much for finding nicer people.) Then one day she declared enough, got a better job, divorced her husband, and fell in love with her new life where people behaved nicely. But all those bad behaviors has given her lots of fodder for her humorous books. Please buy these books, because otherwise, she’ll become grumpy and write troubled novels instead. They will likely traumatize you.

You have been warned.



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Monday, January 29, 2018

Monday Morning's Menu: How the Cookie Crumbles by Jaime Samms


Summary:
Bluewater Bay #12
After losing a rigged cooking show competition — and a potential lover — to another baker, Frederic Jackson packs up his considerable baggage and moves to Bluewater Bay. He uses the network’s hush money to buy a new bakery where he hopes the small town’s revitalized economy will let him start anew.

Blaire Caruthers never wanted to work for his father at Caruthers Industries. He should have known that fixing the company’s show results was a mistake, and that choosing another man over kind, generous Frederic was an even bigger one. But the damage is done. To escape the fallout, he’s gone to Bluewater Bay to oversee the company’s interest in Wolf’s Landing merchandise.

Stuck in a small, nowhere town doing a job he hates, Blaire wants nothing more than to prove to Frederic he’s changed. However, Frederic struggles to trust the man who betrayed him once already. As Blaire loses ground with his father, and Frederic starts falling back into self-destructive habits, they both have to find the balance and control that’s been missing from their lives.

* * * * * * * 

The Bluewater Bay stories can be read in any order — jump in wherever you'd like! 


Chapter One
This was hurtling quickly toward disaster. If Frederic didn’t get the smoke out, and fast, the sprinklers would activate. His night’s work would be ruined. His shop drenched. His entire week trashed. And it was Monday.

Using his apron as a pot holder, he whipped the tray of cookies out of the oven and rushed them to the back door. He flung the door open and the entire tray out into the alley. The echoing clatter was lost as the door clanged shut again. He had to find something to prop it open so the smoke would vacate the kitchen. Dragging one of his large mixing machine’s bowls over, he upended it and shoved at the crash bar on the door again. Its squeaky hinges protested, but the door opened, and Frederic jammed the bowl between it and the doorframe.

Next, he hurriedly repositioned the fans to blow the smoke away from the front part of the building. There was more in the kitchen than out front, though some had escaped through the pass-through window behind the serving counter.

“Stupid, stupid, stupid,” he muttered, wiping sweat off his brow, probably replacing it with a smudge of flour. “Stupid oven. I knew I shouldn’t have set it past three hundred. F-fudge-cakes. What time—?” He glanced at his watch. “Fifteen minutes.” He hurried out front to open the door to the street. A billow of smoke followed him out there too, and he tried to drag one of the heavy wrought iron tables over to prop the door open.

The hand-painted tile set in the center of the table, with the Cookie Crumbles logo of his shop, rattled. He made a mental note to call the artist who had refitted the tiled tabletops and ask him to refasten it.

“Hey, Freddie. Careful you don’t hurt yourself!”

Frederic glanced up from where he was trying to get the table far enough in front of the door to keep it open. He didn’t know the name of the kid who’d addressed him, but he knew the type. He wore a cap from some Seattle team or another, high-top runners, and expensive everything else. His skateboard growled down the walk as he approached.

“That’s Mr. Jackson to you.”

The boy sneered. He couldn’t be more than ten, but he rolled on by with a thunder of plastic wheels. “Whatever you say, Freddie Baker.”

Why did rich kids have to be such—

“Need a hand?” Frederic’s attention caught at the question, and he turned to find Alicia grinning at him. “Let me.” Without seeming to strain a pinkie, she lifted the heavy table and plunked it down in front of the door. “That better?”

“Yes, thanks.” Frederic gave her an answering smile. “Come on in. I have your breakfast ready. Grape jelly this time. And some coffee I know you’ll love. Even better than that French blend you always want. Here.” He gestured to a seat at the counter. “Sit. I’ll pour.”

“Is that oven acting up again?” She plunked her diminutive frame onto the stool he’d indicated even as she waved a hand in front of her face and screwed up her expression. “It stinks in here.”

“Yes. I should have known better, but the cookies I wanted to try needed a higher temp, and I didn’t plan it out as well as I could have. All the other ovens were already in use. I should have just waited.” He set two mugs down as he spoke and filled both with coffee from the row of pots.

Alicia was a camera operator for the Wolf’s Landing television show that filmed in the small town where Frederic had bought his bakery. She’d worked on the reality show that had, in a roundabout way, led him here as well. That was where he’d met her, and they’d hit it off instantly.

While Frederic was not a large man, Alicia was tiny, even next to him. But she was powerful, a dynamo in body and personality. Frederic liked that she could shut him up with a look or a word. Very few people managed to get him to zip up.

“So what’s on your agenda today?” he asked her.

She wrinkled her nose at the smoke that curled lazily over their heads. “As it happens, I have the day off. Thought I would go into Seattle or something. Don’t suppose you’re free this afternoon?”

Frederic lifted an eyebrow as he pushed her coffee across the counter at her. “Are you kidding me? I work, I sleep, I bake. That’s all I do, honey, you know that.” He sipped his own coffee and closed his eyes briefly, while the aroma of the black brew temporarily overpowered the acrid stench of charred cookies.

“You need a holiday.” She plucked the coffee out of his hands. “Is this decaf?”

He shot a guilty look sideways at the row of pots, and she clucked her tongue.

“I thought you weren’t going to do this again.”

“Just a pick-me-up,” he protested, reaching for the cup that she moved farther away.

“And a dump-you-on-your-ass in an hour. No. No caffeine. You know it’s going to fuck with you. Have some juice and nuts and behave. If you want to pick yourself up, pick yourself up and take yourself out of this place for a couple of days. Hol-i-day. Say it with me.”

He curled a lip at her, then fished in a cupboard under the cash register for his private stash of mixed nuts. He hated that something as simple as a cup of coffee had to be so carefully regulated. Yes, the caffeine crash was a bitch, but he also knew it wasn’t the physical effects but the thought process that had to be acknowledged. The “I need a pick-me-up” mentality that she was making him admit to.

Slippery slope, Freddie. He sighed and opened the can to dump a handful of the salted nuts into his palm.

“Seattle,” she said. “Come with me.”

“Sweetheart, if I had time for a holiday, it would not be traipsing through some stinky city, shop to shop looking at all the crap no one needs to spend money they probably don’t have on. I’d lie on a blanket in my yard in the shade with a water bottle, a book, and a very thick and comfy pillow pretending to read while I doze and ignore my neighbors.”

Alicia was shaking her head halfway through his speech. “You are a consumer society’s worst nightmare, you know that?”

He shrugged. “I beg to differ. I cater to the masses, dear.” He threw a handful of nuts in his mouth, chewed, and swallowed. “I make what people don’t need and ask them for more money than is decent for the privilege of tasting my wares.” He grinned at her. “Not that anyone has really gone after my—”

“Please don’t.” She held up a hand. “Where is my breakfast?”

He laughed as he picked up a plate for her food. “You’re just jealous because you’re not invited to the feast, sweetie.”

“Look at the size of you!” She snorted. “You’re a mouthful, if that. And I swear your ass is even skinnier than it was yesterday. Did you eat last night?”

“Of course I—” He frowned. “I— Maybe not.” He stopped, empty plate in one hand and her steaming pastry in the other’s tongs, to think about his evening. “I was here until five”—he waved the pastry around as he talked—“finishing up an order . . . cupcakes for a kiddie’s birthday. Chocolate and pink vanilla. I was waiting for the father to pick them up.”

He plopped the pastry onto the plate and turned, but still stood, one hip canted out, tongs in one hand and plate in the other, just out of Alicia’s reach. “He was a nice one, if I do say. Broad and beefy”—he demonstrated with the tongs and plate, holding them apart at his own head height and much wider than his own narrow frame—“and tall. Dark. Mm-mmm. Yummy.”

“Pervert. Gimme my food.”

“I can look,” he told her, finally setting the plate on the counter and going to the sink to rinse the tongs. “Anyway, after that, I was in the back getting this morning’s order ready, and cleaning up a few things. Then I had to run to the Walgreens for some supplies—”

“Walgreens? No wonder you aren’t making any money, honey.”

“If there was a decent place within walking distance, I’d go there. But there isn’t. Walgreens flour is cheaper than a car, and gas, and insurance, and repairs—”

“I get it. Fine. Point taken.”

“Anyway. I brought the overpriced Walgreens crap back here.” He was waving the tongs around as he spoke, droplets of water flying through the air. “Then I put them away, and I was going to go across the street for something, but I found this recipe.” He grinned at her. “For the cookies, and I needed some stuff, so back to Walgreens.” He shook his head at himself. “I swear, I wonder sometimes if I’m going to totally forget my own name one of these days.”

“What about breakfast?” she asked, ripping off a chunk of her treat and stuffing it in her mouth. She pushed the container of nuts in his direction, as if she already knew what his reply was going to be.

“I ate. Had some grapes and a banana before I came over.”

“Grapes and a banana.” She eyed him, then the nuts. “When was that? Five? Six?”

He thought. “Three thirty, I think?”

Her eyes bugged. “Three fucking thirty in the morning? You were here at three thirty in the morning?”

He shrugged. “Things to do, precious. Not going to do themselves, now are they?”

“You can’t live on no food and no sleep, Freddie.”

“Ali,” he warned.

She stuck her tongue out. She hated being called “Ali” almost as much as he hated being called “Freddie.”

“You cannot live on caffeine, no sleep, and no food. It isn’t healthy. You’re going to have a nervous breakdown.” She pursed her lips, and then, apologetically, “Frederic.”

“I’ll sleep on the weekend.”

“Frederic, it’s Monday. You didn’t sleep this last weekend. You say the same thing every—”

“Because it’s the same argument, love. I’m a baker. I bake. That’s pretty much what I do. Bake. Sell cake. And coffee, sometimes, and make people happy and fat.” He waved a dismissive hand at her. “Well, except you, because I’m pretty sure you sold your soul to the devil to keep that body, but everyone else. That’s my mission. My baked goods will save the world. You’ll see.”

“Before or after you burn your kitchen down?” A male voice, deep enough to make Frederic’s balls shiver, asked from the open door.

Frederic and Alicia both turned to the speaker.

Blaire Caruthers. He hadn’t changed one bit in the time since Frederic had last seen him. He obviously still had a thing for the dramatic entrance.

***

“You so have to stop doing that.” Frederic smiled into the mirror at Blaire where he stood in the dressing room doorway. He had both hands in his pockets, a shoulder propped against the doorframe. His stance, even relaxed, was so full of bravado and charisma, it was like the building ought to be grateful he had deigned to grace it with the task of holding him up.

“Doing what?” Blaire’s lazy grin and deep voice sent a thrill right down to Frederic’s toes, and he set the eyeliner he’d been using down. No point taking out his own eye because his entire body was succumbing to the low-level thrum Blaire’s presence always initiated.

“Sneaking up on me. It gives me goose bumps.” He rubbed his arms.

Blaire stared at him through the mirror. “That so?”

God. That smile. It was pure sex, and Frederic wanted. “Yeah,” he managed.

Blaire grinned a bit wider, a bit sexier, and sauntered forward.

“Don’t get up,” he said as Frederic pushed his wheeled chair away from the makeup counter. Blaire spun the chair to face him as he leaned against the edge of the counter and gazed down at Frederic. “You ready?”

Ready . . . Frederic should look up at his face. Into his eyes. Something other than lick his own lips and stare at the way Blaire’s trousers stretched across his groin.

Blaire’s throaty, happy laugh sent another wave of gooseflesh over Frederic’s skin, and he shivered.

“I, uh . . .” He shoved his chair back, shot to his feet, and nearly crashed to his knees when the chair bounced off the wall and knocked into the back of his legs.

“Hey!” Blaire laughed even as he caught him, a hand on his arm. “You okay?”

“Klutz,” Frederic said as heat flashed up his neck into his cheeks. He lifted his chin and found Blaire close. So close. Touching, even, and he didn’t think. He was on his toes, lips against Blaire’s mouth, tongue sliding over Blaire’s lower lip, and what a bad idea that was, but it didn’t stop him. Or Blaire.

The kiss wasn’t long or particularly deep, but it was real, and Blaire’s hand sliding up into his flop of longer hair was firm, huge, perfect.

Frederic let out a tiny breath, and Blaire caught the sigh, lingered, where they had to share oxygen, too close to see each other, not close enough. He was ready for a better, deeper kiss when the stage manager’s voice carried down the hall from another contestant’s dressing room, giving the five-minute call.

“I’ll let you finish.” Blaire’s hand caressed Frederic’s cheek as he stepped away. “Good luck.”

Frederic nodded, suddenly way less nervous about his first time in front of the cameras than he had been five minutes ago. He refused to think about what a bad idea it was to get involved like this with someone who would pretty much dictate the most important thing he’d ever done in his life . . .

***

“What the fuck are you doing here?” Alicia rarely sounded shrill. Blaire brought it out in her.

Frederic winced, and the little snatch of memory disintegrated like so much pulled-sugar sculpture. Crystal shards of it dug into him as Alicia rose, both hands clenched, eyes bright with anger.

Frederic hurried around the counter.

“Alicia, calm down.” He put a hand on her shoulder. “Take your coffee.” He handed it to her, and then shoved the remains of her pastry in her other hand. “Go on. I’ve got this.”

“Oh no. I am not leaving you alone with him.”

“I’m a big boy, sweetie. Off you go. I don’t need blood on my floor on top of everything else.” He guided her to the door, around the object of her fury, ignoring the static charge that jumped from Blaire’s suited arm right down through Frederic’s toes as he brushed it with his own.

“Out,” he told Alicia. “Now. I’ll call you. Maybe even promise to sleep this weekend if you just don’t murder anyone in my place, okay? Please?”

“You shouldn’t let him in, Freddie.”

“Alicia.” He had her out in the street, resisting him more and more the farther they went. “I’ve got this. Please. Just go home.”

She snarled at him, turned suddenly, and shouted back into the bakery. “You’re a scumbag, Blaire Caruthers!” She swung a fist, pastry crushed in her grip. “You are a—”

“Alicia!” Frederic shook her. “Not here, hon. Just. Go. Home.”

“He’ll only fuck things up again, Freddie. You’ll see.” She went, no grace in her concession.

Frederic scrubbed at the buzzed hair on the side of his head as she stalked off. It was going to take some heavy bribery to get her to forgive him for not letting her eviscerate the man on his doorstep. The man he’d left alone in his shop, so he didn’t really have time to linger over Alicia’s bent-out-of-shape feelings.

“I don’t have the energy for this,” he grumbled, even as he turned, drew in a breath, and shoved through the door back inside. Might as well get it over with.

“Well.” Blaire quirked his lips in an unhappy smile that vanished almost before it had formed. “Guess she’s still pissed at me.”

Frederic hurried back around the counter, wanting it between himself and the much bigger man. “Would seem so. Can I get you something?”

“Got anything not burnt?” Blaire asked, offering what Frederic refused to think of as an endearing smile.

“Was that a joke?” Frederic stared at him, not smiling back. He crossed his arms over his chest. “Technically I don’t open for five more minutes. But if it will make you go away faster, I’ll serve you anyway.”

Blaire put the teasing tone and smile away and straightened his tie. “You’re still mad too?”

“I was never mad.” Hurt? Devastated? Betrayed? Frederic continued to stare, lips cramping with the tightness of his frown.

“Do you have any Danishes?”

Frederic shook his head. “Don’t make Danishes.”

“Ah. I thought maybe . . .”

“I don’t make Danishes. If that’s all, maybe you’d like to try across the street. The diner has some thawed-from-frozen junk you’ll probably like.”

“Actually, I came to see you, Freddie.”

Frederic tightened his jaw. “Well. Here I am. And the name is Frederic, thank you.”

“Right. Frederic. I’d forgotten that. I just wanted to let you know I’d be in town. Moved here a while back. Thought you should have a heads-up.”

“Don’t care what you do. If you’re not here for baked goods, then we’ve no business.”

“I made a mistake, Frederic, I admit—”

“You made many mistakes. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have work to do. Some of us have to actually earn what we have, because our daddies aren’t rich and we didn’t want to fuck to get our way.” His face heated, and he cringed because only this man could make him forget himself and swear.

Blaire’s swarthy face paled. “It wasn’t like that.”

“I’m pretty sure it was. He fucked you, he got the cash. Now I bake for people who actually appreciate my food because it wins awards I’ve earned because I can bake and not because I can fuck.”

Oh God that word kept coming out of his mouth and it was ugly and vulgar and not who he was.

“Fred—”

“Get. Out.”

With a heavy sigh, Blaire dropped the hand he’d lifted and fled the building.

“I was so over this!” Frederic muttered, swiping at the counter with a damp cloth. “So over it. I do not need this crap in this town. You would think a little backwater like Bluewater Bay would be free of dill-holes, but no—” He slammed the cloth down on the counter and ground his teeth. That flush of electricity at the mere accidental brush of Blaire’s arm with his shoulder had made a thin sweat break out over his back. Made him forget himself. Made him fall back into bad habits.

“I am not doing this again!”

“Morning.” The sunny greeting snapped Frederic out of his griping, and he looked up to see Buck Ellis saunter in. “You got Ari’s very expensive sugar high ready, Frederic?”

Frederic smiled. “I surely do. How is Ari? You look good today. How’s your brother? Keeping out of trouble, I hope. Tori keeping you busy?”

Buck smiled and took a seat at the counter. “Which did you want me to answer first?”

Frederic flushed, but Buck only chuckled and chatted while Frederic packed up his order.

Chapter Two
Blaire should not have gone to the bakery. He should have tried for more neutral ground first. But he was just trying to be upfront, wasn’t he? Let Freddie—Frederic—know he was in town so he didn’t find out by accident. Or through someone trying to make new trouble out of old news.

“Shit.” Blaire let out a heavy breath.

“Problem?” Lee, his assistant, handed him a takeout coffee.

“No.” Blaire glanced at the open door of the bakery. A thin haze still emanated from the front door, and people made faces as they went inside, but the smoke didn’t stop them going in. Blaire knew why. Frederic made the best damn desserts on the West Coast.

“We should get going, sir.”

Blaire grunted and shot Lee an annoyed look, which the younger man ignored. “I thought I told you not to call me ‘sir.’ I have a name.”

“You also have a title, which states that you are my boss, and that means I call you ‘sir.’ Your father would fire me if I dared call him ‘Oscar.’”

He was right about that. Oscar Caruthers would fire him, ruin his career while he was at it, and probably kick his puppy if Lee tried to call him anything other than “sir.” Or maybe “Your Worship.”

“I’m not my father,” Blaire said.

Lee rolled his eyes and opened the back door of the town car on the curb. “Indeed not,” he muttered, climbing into the car after Blaire.

“You know, it would help me to see the point of that kind of deference if you had the tiniest bit of respect for me,” Blaire said. Lee’s lack of actual respect had long since ceased to bother Blaire. At least, it didn’t bother him any more than the general lack of respect he got from anyone in the industry who knew him and his relationship to Caruthers Industries.

“Respect is—”

“Earned. Yeah. So I’ve been told. All my life. Trust me. I got the memo.” He glared out the car window as it pulled away from the curb. “All forty-two volumes of it.”

“Perhaps you failed to read the fine print?”

Deciding the view wasn’t all that spectacular after all, Blaire settled his head back and closed his eyes. “Don’t start.”

“It bears pointing out that rigging the finale on a reality TV show—”

“Those shows are rigged the instant the contestants are picked, and you know it,” Blaire reminded him, not even bothering to open his eyes.

“Not usually because one of the producers slept with one of the contestants and manipulated the outcome for his lover.”

“It isn’t even the rigging, so much as the getting caught that is the real issue.” Blaire blinked, straightened, and sipped his coffee. It was only lukewarm, and he grimaced. “My father is pissed off because I got caught and cost him a bit of money, not because I fucked Jerry.”

Lee’s eyebrows went up. “Only you can sit there and call five hundred thousand dollars ‘a bit of money’ and not twitch. Just shows what a spoiled brat you are that you think that’s no big deal.”

“It isn’t a big deal, Lee. Not to my father, and not to the studio. Not really. He doesn’t give two shits about the money. Take this car. Why the hell do we need a driver in Bluewater Bay? Did he order it?”

Lee shrugged. “You’ve just always had one. You want me to fire the guy?”

Blaire leaned forward and tapped the driver on the shoulder. “Excuse me.”

“Sir?”

“Who do you work for?”

“A service, sir.”

“So no cut in pay for you if you don’t drive me around.”

“No, sir.”

“Good.” He sat back again. “My father, Lee, cares about appearances. The money meant nothing to him. He cares that I embarrassed him.”

“And yourself.”

Blaire curled a lip. “Whatever. It was a stupid mistake.” He plunked his too-cold coffee into the cup holder and turned back to the window. So why did it matter to him if Frederic heard he was in town from Blaire and not through the grapevine? Why did he care so much that the baker was still so cheesed off with him?

A cool shiver passed through him, and he rubbed a hand over his arm where Frederic had brushed against him.

Lee shot him a thorny look. “You’re fucking kidding me, right?”

“What?”

Lee pointed his laser gaze at where Blaire was rubbing his arm. “Really?”

“You watched the entire thing?” Blaire asked, irked that this little man would witness the exchange, but more than that, unsettled that anything to do with Caruthers Industries had gotten even that close to Frederic. Ever. Hadn’t his—the baker had enough of their interference in his life? “Fuck off.”

***

“Stop brooding.”

Blaire glanced at the man at his side. “What?”

“You’re brooding,” Lee said. “You’re making a dick of yourself over the nice kid from the coast when we all know you’re boning the little dick with the pretty mouth. So stop acting like the world fucked you over. You did this. Own it.”

“I hate you.”

Lee grinned. “I know. It’s okay. I forgive you. Jackson might not, but who cares? You play this right, Daddy’ll pay him off, and you get the guy with, like, no inhibitions. Plus, you get the hell off this stupid show with the divas and crybabies.”

“You really are a callous asshole,” Blaire said.

Lee shrugged. “Hey, I am not the one who led Frederic on, made him moon over me and want”—he grinned lasciviously and waggled his tongue—“things. Then turned around and slept with his competition. Now you just have to figure out how to let the little twink down easy and ride off into the sunset with your soul mate.”

“Jerry Keens is so not my soul mate,” Blaire muttered as he watched the bakers play to the camera on set.

Jerry was grinning like a loon and flashing his trademark sex smile. Frederic stirred batter quietly, blushed when the host approached his table, and was otherwise completely charming as he answered questions and barely managed to lift his gaze to the camera.

The woman behind the cameras smiled at him, gave him a thumbs-up, and Frederic’s smile lost some of the fake, plastered-on quality and turned more genuine. He nodded to something the host said, glanced in Blaire’s direction, and his expression fell. Broke, really. It just . . . shattered, and Blaire couldn’t watch another second. He couldn’t take back what he’d done, and Lee was right. Frederic was never going to forgive him for the betrayal.

He turned his back on the set to hide in his office until the contestants had left for the day. He didn’t even want to think that Jerry and Frederic and the other remaining contestant still had a week of sharing the condo the show rented for them.

He was an asshole.

***

“You don’t have to be hostile.” Lee smirked. “I’m only here to tell you that shit is not going to happen, big guy. You stay away from the baker, you hear me?”

“What business is it of yours? He’s got nothing to do with Wolf’s Landing or the merchandising for the new season, so nothing I do or say to him has any bearing whatsoever on my job, and so it has no bearing whatsoever on your job. He’s got nothing to do Caruthers Industries or anything else.”

“Keep telling yourself that.” Lee sank back into his seat.

“You’re my assistant, Lee, not my babysitter.”

“Thank fuck for that.” But his gaze slid sideways, and he stared out the window in silence the rest of the way to the office.

Blaire wasn’t fool enough to think Lee wasn’t reporting back to Oscar on every detail of Blaire’s life. He just wasn’t cowed enough to care. Not anymore. If Jerry had taught him anything at all while they were together, it was that life was too damn short and pissy not to grab at what you wanted the instant it came within reach. Well, that and the fact that if you acted like a completely selfish jerk-wad, it would, eventually, come back to bite you in the ass. Hard.

Of course, it would probably help if Blaire had any idea what he wanted, other than out from under his father’s thumb. He realized he still had a palm flattened over the sleeve of his suit jacket where he and Frederic had made contact. His fingertips practically vibrated with the thought of that tiny interaction. He wondered what it would be like, skin to skin, and his breath caught.

He dropped his hand. He’d given up the chance to that find out when he’d been lured away from it by Jerry’s siren call of better and brighter.

“Fuck.”

“Problem?” Lee asked.

A sharp, stabbing pulse began behind Blaire’s left eye. He clamped his mouth shut and offered Lee his shoulder for answer. Lee wasn’t a confidant. Not even a friend, really. Blaire had no friends here. Suddenly coming to Bluewater Bay didn’t seem like as good an idea as it had when he’d so badly needed to be anyplace Jerry Keens was not and would never want to be.

Chapter Three
Monday was a distant memory. Frederic gazed around his kitchen, noting the industrial shine hidden under a dusting of fine pastry flour. This was the last time he’d give the local school children a tour of his facilities. It had seemed like such a good idea when he’d agreed. Some of his own very best memories were of learning to bake at his grandmother’s side. He’d had a ridiculous thought that if he could give one child a memory like that, it would be worth it.

They had been a bunch of little hellions. Looking at the destruction fifteen middle schoolers could do to one kitchen, he decided it was going on the list of Things to Never Do Again. Right under participate in a reality cooking show, which topped the list.

“Hey.” Alicia’s voice carried from the front of the store. “It’s five after. You want me to lock up, babe?”

“Please.” He didn’t go out. She’d turn the sign and flip the lock for him. A minute later, she appeared in the kitchen doorway.

“Je-sus. What the hell happened in here? A flour-pocalypse?”

“Attack of the preteen sugar zombies.”

She snorted. “They certainly got it everywhere, didn’t they?”

Frederic gazed over the countertops and floor and sighed again.

“All right.” Entering the room, Alicia rolled up her sleeves and headed for the sink. “I have a few hours before I have to work. We’re shooting a night scene, and it’s too late for me to nap. You pile the dishes beside the sink, and I’ll wash what can’t go in the machine. You wipe down the counters and start on the floor.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

She grinned at him. “Don’t worry. I’m exacting payment. You have to take me out to eat after.”

“Anything not to have to clean this mess up by myself. If I ever think about doing this again, remind me not to.”

“Promise.”

They got to work, and in half the time it would have taken Frederic to do it himself, they had the kitchen back together the way he’d need it in the morning. Alicia made a show of brushing her hands together in satisfaction.

“And this, my friend, is why I still say you need to hire yourself an assistant.”

Frederic rubbed at his bristly hair. “Who would I hire, do you think?”

“There must be someone in this town who likes cookies enough to work in a bakery.”

“To work here, maybe, but I’m pretty sure no one likes them enough to get paid in them.”

“So do like most employers, and pay in money, goofball.”

“That would require that I have some.”

She studied him intently. “I don’t get it. I know you can’t tell me how much or anything, but I’m sure they didn’t pay you peanuts to walk away from that cooking show disaster.”

Frederic didn’t look at her, and busied himself washing down the now-clean counters.

“So what did you do with it all?”

“I bought a bakery that was built in 1924, sweetie. That makes the building itself ninety years old. Don’t even get me started on how old some of the crud I scraped out of this kitchen must have been.”

She tilted her head. “Okay. So there were some renovations.”

“You think?”

“The appliances weren’t ninety years old. I know you didn’t replace them all.”

He shot a glance at the oven that had nearly burnt the place down only a few days before.

“Okay, well still. Where did it all go? Because you cannot convince me that it is inside these walls.”

“My father—”

“Your selfish, homophobic drunk father?”

He turned away. “He had medical bills.”

“Tell me you did not pay him to pickle another liver.”

“I did what needed to be done. Leave it alone.”

“Freddie—”

“Ali—”

“Fine. I’ll shut up about it, but I don’t have to like it. If you keep paying his bills, you make it easy for him to keep drinking.” Then she added under her breath, “Nothing you can do about him being an asshole.”

“Nothing I can do about him being my father, either,” Frederic pointed out. “Or the only family I have left besides Gran. Whether I pay his bills or I don’t pay his bills, it isn’t going to stop him drinking.”

“But why make it easier for him?”

“He wasn’t always a drunk, hon.” Frederic plopped down on the one stool he kept in the small kitchen. “He was a good dad once. Sort of. Life just kicked him in the balls one too many times is all.”

“And you’re stuck paying for it, over and over.”

“I love him, Alicia. He’s my father. Nothing you say is going to change either of those two facts. If you want me to pay for your supper, I suggest you drop it.”

She shook her head at him, clearly very annoyed. “I’d pass up supper to get you to listen to me, but you’re the one who needs to eat, so let’s go. How do you feel about a Flat Earth pizza pie? You up for that?”

Annoyed at being manipulated, Frederic would have argued, but his stomach rumbled, and Alicia grinned at him, triumphant.

“I’ll take that as a yes.” She looped her arm in his, hauled him off his stool, and dragged him toward the back door.

Author Bio:
With most of the hours in the day taken up by a part time job and the full time occupation of raising and schooling two kids, writing is somewhat of an indulgence, but it's the indulgences that keep us sane, right? When not otherwise occupied, like most writers, reading is my relaxation method of choice, and you can find my reviews at Kuriousity and Dark Diva Reviews to let you know what I liked (and occasionally, what I didn't). And just in case there are an extra few minutes in the day, I also help out the admin team abelong to a writer's critique group: Dreaming in Ink. After all, idle hands and all that.


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