Posts Tagged With: NineStar Press

I Love You, Johnny Darling by Jere’ M. Fishback: Exclusive Excerpt & Giveaway!

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Exclusive Excerpt from I Love You, Johnny Darling

by Jere’ M. Fishback

Our first week of classes had ended, and my head spun like whirligig in a gale. Most days I only attended three hours of class, but then I had so many reading assignments that I was usually at my desk with my nose in a book at least five more hours a day. For the most part, the material wasn’t too difficult with the exception of my physical science course.

Science and I had never gotten along; I always struggled with it in high school. Now, at the university, I could stare at the same page in my physical science text for a half hour or more, but nothing sunk in. My brain didn’t want to comprehend what I was reading or the diagrams I looked at, and it was frustrating.

Ben and I seemed to get along well. Like me, he didn’t know a single person at the university. Each day, we ate breakfast and dinner together at the cafeteria connected to our dorm. The food was okay. Most weeknights, we spent an hour in the lounge on our dorm floor, where we shot pool or watched a little TV. Ben had a subscription to the Orlando Sentinel, and after we both read an issue, we discussed the events of the day.

Right then, Richard Nixon was trying to appoint an ultra-conservative guy named Clement Haynsworth to the US Supreme Court, but the Democratic-controlled senate was balking at the appointment. It looked like the New York Mets might actually win the National League pennant, something no one had anticipated when the season began. And activist students were trying to organize a nationwide “moratorium” on college campuses to protest the Vietnam War, so a lot was going on.

This will sound perverted—I know—but the best part of my day came when Ben took his evening shower. In our room beforehand, he undressed completely, and when his briefs came off, I stole glances at his private areas while my mouth turned pasty and my crotch tingled. Once he was naked, he wrapped a towel around his waist and left for the shower room with his toiletry kit in hand. Fifteen minutes later, I was done jerking off into a tissue and Ben was back, smelling of soap and shampoo. He’d peel off his towel and reach into a bureau drawer for a fresh pair of briefs while I stole more glances.

Aye-yi-yi.

I’d never lived with another guy, so I hadn’t been exposed to male nudity on a daily basis like that. In high school, I’d taken one mandatory year of PE, which involved showering with my classmates, but that was in a smelly locker room with a bunch of sweaty guys and the whole thing was nasty.

With Ben, it was different. It was just him and me in our room, so the situation felt…intimate.

And Ben was so damned sexy. I loved the way his body tapered from his broad shoulders to his narrow waist. I liked the dark hairs on his calves that reminded me of raindrops tumbling toward his ankles. His genitals enchanted me, of course, but his best feature was his butt—two cream-colored melons as smooth as porcelain. When I walked to classes, I often found myself thinking about Ben’s body, and sometimes I’d go stiff in my chinos—no joke.

Every evening, usually around nine, Ben’s mother called him on our room’s wall-mounted phone. She did most of the talking and Ben spoke to her with a gentle tone. He always reassured her that everything with him was good, that school was going well, and he and I were getting along fine.

One evening, after one of those phone calls, Ben lay down on his bed. He stared up at the ceiling with his hands joined behind his neck. Then he drew a breath and let it out.

I was at my desk and looked up from my American Institutions text.

“Is something wrong?” I asked.

Ben wore briefs—that was all—and his genitals bulged beneath the cotton. “I wish my mom wouldn’t worry so much about me. I know why she does—it’s because of my brother. She’s afraid she’s going to lose me, too, that I’ll get run over by a bus or something. I know she means well—I try to be understanding—but sometimes, I feel suffocated.”

I didn’t know what to say. My mom had never been the clingy type. Even as a child, I’d had more freedom than most kids my age. I made my own decisions on everything, from whether to attend church to what clothing I wore to school.

Since arriving at the university, I hadn’t even spoken to my mom. Long-distance calls were expensive, especially on weekdays, so Mom and I had agreed that she would call me at 8:00 p.m. every Sunday, when rates were the cheapest.

“It’s probably tough on your mom, having you live away from home for the first time,” I said. “But after a while, I’m sure she’ll get used to it.”

Ben looked at me and scowled. “Not her.”

An hour later, we were getting ready for bed. Both of us brushed our teeth down the hall at a row of sinks. After Ben rinsed his mouth out, he pulled an orange plastic bottle from his shaving kit. He uncapped the bottle and dropped a pale-yellow tablet into the palm of his hand. Then he placed the tablet on his tongue and bent to gulp water from the tap.

I’d seen Ben do this several times and was curious what the pills were for.

One day when Ben wasn’t around, I did something sneaky. I unzipped his shaving kit and plucked out the bottle. The label had Ben’s name on it and also the logo of a Merritt Island pharmacy. The name of the drug Ben took was called imipramine.

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Love Spell by Mia Kerick: Exclusive Excerpt & Giveaway!

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Exclusive Excerpt from Love Spell

by Mia Kerick

I put what you might call mega-supreme effort into choosing my outfit for tonight. End result: I look kinda fab—thankfully, not so much ratchet, although I am rocking mean side bangs. Torn black jeggings, an oversized baby-pink hoodie saying, “Real Men Wear Pink,” and my bubblegum-colored Chuck Taylors. I’ve applied a touch of guyliner, but I was liberal with the Cherry ChapStick.

Overall effect? I look fabulous enough to meet the Queen of England. Which just so happens to be on my bucket list.

When I get to Jazz’s place, I park the car, pinch my cheeks, and momentarily wonder if I should have gone for a more sophisticated look— silky gray button-down shirt and black pointy-toed boots, my hair thrown up in a casual man bun. But it’s too late for that now. I get out of the car and stand in front of Jazz’s apartment building.

Pop, shrug, and stare… First things first.

I climb the stairs.

Is this a date? Or is it merely two dudes hanging out?

I knock five times.

Seems like the right number of knocks.

I stop and wait.

The door swings open, and I’m presented with the tear-filled eyes of a familiar little brown-haired girl.

“Hiya… J-Jazz told me to answer the door.” She sucks in a deep wobbly breath. “C-cuz he’s cleaning up the nail polish.” Her next breath seems to cause her entire chest to swell up. And then she releases a sob.

“Hey, kid, what’s the matter?”

“I sp-spilled all of the…the Orange-Orange nail polish…o-on the living r-room rug.”

“That is a disaster, truly.” I speculate on whether she’s upset the Orange-Orange polish is now gone or that it made a mess on the rug. I make my best guess. “Do you have a lemon-yellow nail polish and a cherry-red? Cuz if you do, I can make you JoJo Takes a Chance Orange polish. I’ve done it before.”

“JoJo Takes a Chance Orange nail polish?” She examines me quite skeptically while tugging on one tiny pigtail. “Why the ‘takes a chance’ part?”

“Cuz my name is Chance, and if you give me a chance, I think I can make you a color way better than Orange-Orange. I’ll make you a color even better than my hair!” Okaaaayyyy…so my claim might be a slight exaggeration seeing as my tangerine locks totes rock, but I’ll say anything to stop her tears.

With that, JoJo takes my hand and pulls me urgently down the hall.

In the living room, Jazz is on his knees bent over a wet spot on the floor, scrubbing away with a Hello Kitty toothbrush. He looks up at me. “I told JoJo to let you in. I’m busy trying to put an end to a crisis.”

I step closer to look down at the spot he’s working to remove on the gray rug, thinking I have the very same toothbrush hanging in my bathroom at home. Okaaaaay…so maybe I don’t miss the way his biceps tighten up with his efforts. I’m not blind. “I think you got the stain up.”

Jazz nods. “Problem is, we don’t have no more…um…bunches of oranges nail polish, or whatever, and I think JoJo’s heart mighta’ been set on it.” He looks desperate. “Don’t spaz, Jo. I can paint your nails blue. You’re into the color blue, right?”

I turn to JoJo, who just so happens to be glaring at her brother. “It’s almost Halloween, Jasper! Blue won’t work!

Time to step in and save a couple of asses. “Go get your nail polish—you have red and yellow, right?”

The girl nods at me seriously.

“And if you have any gold tones with glitter, or even shiny silver, grab them too. And a plastic cup, if you have one, and a couple of toothpicks.”

She runs off to do my bidding, and I call after her, “Bring clear polish, too! A topcoat is the secret to a lasting manicure!”

Finally Jazz stands, still looking down at the wet spot on the rug.

“Whatcha gonna do, Chance?”

“I’m gonna save the freaking day.” Jazz looks bewildered, so I add more slowly, “I’m going to give JoJo a manicure.”

For the next hour, I occupy myself with blending various polishes together in a tiny paper cup, helping JoJo stir it up with toothpicks until we have the perfect shade of orange, and finally painting her fingernails JoJo Takes a Chance Orange. Jazz sits beside us on the floor as we work at the coffee table. He’s very quiet and keeps looking back and forth from JoJo to me.

When I’m finished, JoJo stands up, spins around twice, and fans her fingers in front of her. “This color is way better than Orange-Orange! This color is…so glittery!” She prances around the very plain living room, and it looks like so much fun I’m tempted to join in. “JoJo Takes a Chance Orange is the best color in the world!”

“Try the universe, hun.” I wink at her.

Jazz appears more baffled than usual, but he still manages to instruct his sister, “Well, don’t mess it up, Jo. Sit down on the couch and stay still”—he hands her the remote—“and watch them Dalmatians ’til I fix ya supper.” He sneaks a glance at me. “You can watch 101 Dalmatians with JoJo if ya feel like it. She’s kind of obsessed by Cruella de Vil these days.”

Although I have my own private obsession with Cruella de Vil, I shake my head and follow Jazz into the kitchen.

“Was thinkin’ maybe I’d make pizza tonight.” His face turns pink, and it hits me he’s embarrassed.

“Can I help you with it?” Make-your-own-dinner-night is nothing new to me. Jazz’s face grows still brighter. Its hue now approaches an appealing fuchsia that brings to mind pink Starbursts, which everyone knows are the best ones. (Sorry, yellow Starbursts.)

“Hangin’ out here can’t be no fun for you. I bet you wish you didn’t even come over.”

I send him a baffled glance of my own, which is a first. “I was thinking pretty much the exact opposite of what you just said.”

“Chance, you got all dressed up nice, and ya smell real good, and ya came here, probably thinkin’ we’d watch a Rated R movie and get take-out Chinese, or something cool like that. But you get here and get stuck paintin’ a little girl’s nails, and then you have to eat homemade pizza and watch 101 Dalmatians.

“I want to eat homemade pizza.”

“Dunno why.”

To be candid or not to be candid, that is the question.

Don’t give it all away, Chance, you are so-o-o not an open book. But…but Jazz looks so sad.

“Jazz, usually I eat take-out food alone in my bedroom. Believe me, eating homemade pizza with you and JoJo will be a treat.”

Jazz is easy to read. He tilts his head and studies me, probs wondering why I eat my meals alone in my room. “’Kay.”

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Character Interview With the Parents from A Tangled Legacy by Mickie B. Ashling + Excerpt & Giveaway!

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Hi all! Mickie B. Ashling here. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to stop by and share an excerpt of my newest release, A Tangled Legacy. The idea for this novel started after I finished the prequel, Once Upon A Mattress, which was included in the Once Upon A Rainbow Anthology, Volume I. It was my first foray into the Sci-Fi/Fantasy genre, and I had so much fun I decided to write a longer piece. Although A Tangled Legacy is technically a sequel, I consider it to be a spinoff, and it can definitely be read as a standalone. The good news for those who are interested in reading the short story is that my wonderful publisher has decided to include it as bonus content if you purchase the paperback of A Tangled Legacy.  

Now stick around with an interview with the parents – Errol, The Duke of Maitland, and His Royal Highness, Prince Sebastian (Bash)!

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Mickie: Your highness, thank you taking the time to see me. How does it feel to be celebrating twenty-five years of marital bliss?

Bash: It seems like yesterday when Errol and I were walking down the aisle.

Errol: Bash, ye ken old people are the ones who start sentences with ‘It seems like yesterday.’

Bash: Aren’t you feeling your age when you see grownup Colin?

Errol: Aye, but I’m happy to be alive.

Bash: Well, there’s that, of course. And you wouldn’t be sitting here in the peak of health if I hadn’t insisted you quit smoking.

Errol: Rest on your laurels and stop the infernal bragging.

Bash: Do you mean nagging?

Errol: That goes without saying.

Bash: Sorry, Mickie. I didn’t mean to derail the conversation. Please proceed.

Mickie: I understand there have been some developments in Prince Colin’s personal life.

Errol: Our lad is getting married soon.

Bash: Not for another year, Errol. A lot can change in twelve months.

Mickie: Are you anticipating any problems, your highness?

Bash: Life is unpredictable. Just because Colin is next in line doesn’t mean he’s immune to the ups and downs of relationships.

Mickie: Surely he’s got better odds with such a distinguished fiancé. Alain de Gris has a stellar reputation, and I understand he’s extremely devoted to Prince Colin.

Errol: Aye, Alain is a good man. But there’s the operative word, ye ken. He’s unable to bear the requisite heir.

Mickie: I see.

Bash: I’m glad somebody does! Alain and Colin are convinced they’ll change the law of the land and have a child via surrogate.

Mickie: That seems to be a sensible plan.

Bash: It’s never been done before.

Errol: That doesn’t mean it can’t be done now.

Bash: As much as I love my son, and want him to have a shot at happiness, he has to face facts.

Errol: Colin has never met a challenge he can’t overcome.

Bash: You are aiding and abetting by encouraging him to dream.

Errol: Wasn’t it Ghandi who said “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”

Bash: Do you see what I’m up against, Mickie? The same stubborn streak that runs through the duke is firmly entrenched in Prince Colin. They’ll drive me to drink.

Errol: If you would stop thinking like establishment, and join Alain and Colin’s campaign for reform, you might be less miserable.

Bash: I am the establishment!

Errol: Precisely. Stuck in your ways like an octogenarian instead of a man in his prime.

Bash: How dare you!

Errol: I’m the only one who can talk any sense into you. Get on board or nurse your ulcer until you bleed out.

Mickie: It seems like I’ve brought up a sore subject. Why don’t we talk about something more entertaining like the upcoming masquerade ball?

Bash: Sounds like a good idea.

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Irresistible by Andrew J. Peters: Exclusive Excerpt & Giveaway!

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Exclusive Excerpt from Irresistible

by Andrew J. Peters

They made plans to go to Coney Island with Derek the following Monday when Cal’s shop was closed and Derek had the day off from work. Brendan could have gotten a car and a driver to take them there, but out of respect for Cal and Derek’s friendship, he suggested they take the subway together as they’d planned, and he would meet them on the boardwalk.

He took a company car with a driver as he always did though it made him self-conscious about flaunting his money. His grandmother had insisted on it ever since he’d been old enough to travel by himself. Desperate people kidnapped children from wealthy families. It was an ugly fact of life. He had the driver drop him off and wait in the parking lot of the Coney Island Aquarium. From there, he walked the short distance up the boardwalk to their meeting place.

He wasn’t nervous about meeting Derek. In a strange way, he felt sympathetic toward him. He knew what it was to feel like a third wheel. When his pal from college, Betsy Schoonover, had gotten married, it had ended an era of meeting up on the spur of the moment for lunch and drinks, texting throughout the day, and being each other’s date to dinner parties and charity events. Even though they tried to stay in touch, spending time together with Betsy’s husband and two little kids around wasn’t the same. Change was inevitable, and Brendan knew it also hurt something wicked.

Generalized anxiety gripped him, however, as he waited on the boardwalk, up the ramp from the subway station concourse. Vaguely ill at ease was his default setting, though he’d been much better since meeting Cal. As usual, he had somehow conspired against himself to arrive at their meeting place ahead of schedule, even though he hated waiting. He worried a little that the day would turn out with him feeling like the third wheel. Cal and Derek had been best friends for five years, after all.

A herd of people trundled down the subway concourse toward the boardwalk. A train must have just gotten in. Through a dizzying scan of the approaching mob of beachgoers—all breeds of New Yorkers, from baby-carriage pushing parents to swaggering bros, to urban hipsters, aging hippies, chattering teenage girls, and every type in between—he finally spotted Cal. He shone like a diamond in his tank top and his thigh-length swim shorts and his bronze-tinted aviator sunglasses, which he’d picked out at a street fair with Brendan over the weekend.

Naturally, a group of guys surrounded Cal on the concourse. They were a groomed and shirtless tattooed tribe who looked like they went from posing at the gym to posing at the beach, and to posing at whatever gay nightclubs were trendy these days. The guys had probably started chatting Cal up on the train in from Manhattan, hoping to coax him to spend the day with them, or at least to get his phone number. That didn’t bother Brendan. Cal couldn’t help that he was irresistible. He didn’t even notice the attention he stirred up.

Cal saw Brendan standing by the boardwalk railing, and he lit up with a smile and waved. The muscle queens said their goodbyes, apparently adding things up. Now Brendan put together who Derek was in the crowd. A skinny kid with dark hair, dark shades, and a black T-shirt emblazoned with a skull and crossbones skulked behind Cal. His face was bland, giving off the unmistakable vibe of “I’m being dragged along for this?”

It was going to be an interesting day.

Cal climbed up the ramp and gave Brendan a great big hug, which Brendan tried not to return too enthusiastically so Derek wouldn’t be uncomfortable. Cal stepped aside and made introductions. When Brendan held out his hand, Derek shook it weakly and peered around the boardwalk as though he was looking for something more interesting.

Brendan let the two decide on a spot to claim on the crowded, littered beach below them. Cal suggested a prime location near the surf. Derek sneered and said there were too many people in that area. Cal pointed out another option farther down the beach. But Derek gazed off in the opposite direction and said they should try that side. Never one to put up a fuss, Cal shrugged, and they followed Derek down the ramp to the beach and onward for a long hike through the hot sand to a sparsely populated area.

It was a hot and brilliant day, perfect for the beach despite Derek, the storm cloud who had come along. Brendan laid down a blanket he’d brought for the three of them. Derek sat at a far corner of it, pulled off his T-shirt, and dug out suntan lotion from his faded canvas backpack.

Derek called out to Cal, “Are you going to do my back?”

“Sure.” Cal scooted up behind him and rubbed suntan lotion into his fair-skinned, freckled back and shoulders. Brendan brought out a beach towel and three frozen bottles of water from his suede tote. He handed one bottle to Derek.

“This is your first time at an ocean beach?” Brendan asked.

“Yep.”

“There’s a beach on Onondaga Lake in Syracuse, but it’s nothing like this,” Cal said. “Derek and I were at the lake just about every weekend last summer.”

Derek said nothing.

“This is my first time at Coney Island as well,” Brendan said.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Cal said to Derek. “He grew up right here in New York City.”

“I believe it,” Derek said. “You’re more of a Hamptons kind of guy, huh?”

That was true to an extent. Brendan’s family never went to city beaches, and his mother had a house on the water in Southampton. Though Brendan didn’t spend a lot of time there. His mother had bought the house with his stepfather, and over the summer, it was a compound for his teenage half sisters and their friends. That story didn’t seem worth mentioning. By his flat tone, Derek’s insinuation was pretty obvious. He thought Brendan was a snob.

“I’m happy in most places,” Brendan said. “It’s good enough for me to just be invited.” He hiked up some more friendliness. “Cal told me you guys Jet Ski. There’s a place you can rent them in New Jersey. You can ride all around New York Harbor and see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. We should all do it sometime.”

Cal smiled at him favorably.

“How old are you?” Derek asked Brendan.

“Twenty-eight.”

“Huh. I thought older. That’s a swell suggestion, Daddy. But unless you’re paying, it sounds like it’s out of our price range.”

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Chance by Archie Hellshire: Exclusive Excerpt & Giveaway!

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Exclusive Excerpt from Chance

by Archie Hellshire

Daniel woke up as he did every day: on time and ready for everything he already had planned from the month before. But as he went through his morning routine, he was not invigorated by the same sense of dull contentment as usual.

Mildred’s comments from the previous day were still resonating, unwelcomed, through his mind. As much as he tried to focus on something else, her words kept coming right back around to the forefront of his mind.

“Live a little” was the endless refrain she kept singing to him. She had never had any children of her own; he supposed she was trying to endanger his life as a proxy. Her idea of living a little was getting involved in a fire fight armed with a knife, or spontaneous parachuting, sans parachute. He had never understood that kind of thrill-seeking behavior. Surely, a long life was preferable to a short life interspersed with the adrenaline fixes. He couldn’t think of anything he’d want so much as to risk death.

Then again, maybe he should live a little. What was the worst that could happen? Upon thinking that question, the gears of his mind started turning out horrifying answers, and he was right back to being happy being bored.

He was distracted from his unremarkable epiphany by a jarring sense of wrongness in the real world. He surfaced from his musings to find he was on the subway platform down the street from his apartment. This itself wasn’t strange, his mornings were so regimented he could go through them automatically without sparing any conscious thought. He sometimes arrived at work without even remembering the trip, but something had stopped him this time, and he wasn’t sure what it was.

Firstly, he made sure that there was no imminent danger. The platform wasn’t filling with a cloud of nerve gas, no one was running away screaming, and he wasn’t ankle deep in rats desperate to escape the tunnels. All of which were good signs. A search of his persons revealed he hadn’t forgotten his briefcase, wallet, or pants. With a shrug, he decided to continue with his commute, and that’s when he realized the problem that had stopped him in the first place: there was no subway car to get on.

He checked his phone to find he was running late. He’d been so deep in Mildred-land he had lost track of time and his train had left several minutes before. Cursing Mildred, he reminded himself it was no matter. He always left early in case exactly this happened. That day, he would have to settle for just arriving to work on time.

A few minutes later, the distant rumble of a train came down the tunnel. With a howl and a blast of air, it appeared next to the platform and screeched to a halt. The doors slid open and, after one or two odd people had petered out, Daniel stepped inside the nearest car.

This train was unremarkable from any other he’d taken, but there was still an uneasiness about it. Over the course of several years, despite not making eye contact with his fellow commuters, he had gotten used to traveling with the same group of people every morning. Not exactly the same but there were always some regulars on his usual car. Gone was the lady who always carried her red umbrella whatever the weather, and in her place sat a black lady with long white-blonde braids. The bench of seats to the right of him, usually full of identical old men in identical suits was completely occupied by a rotund gentleman not wearing a shirt. Surrounded by these strangers that were stranger than his usual strangers, he felt distinctly out of place. He was aware, logically, that there was no greater chance that any of these people were serial killers as opposed to the people he usually went to work with, but that didn’t stop him from wondering about it at length. When he finally felt the train begin to slow in anticipation of his stop, he positioned himself directly in front of the door.

Through the windows of the door, the tunnel outside gave way to a platform. The train lurched to a stop, the door slid open, and Daniel threw himself out. However, his escape was thwarted when he bumped into someone trying to get in.

“Oh,” said the stranger, flashing an apologetic smile. “Sorry.”

Then things happened very fast but also in slow motion.

The many and constantly spinning gears in Daniel’s head came to a full stop. The future they were constantly trying to predict disappeared. Daniel was entirely focused on one thought: the man he had just bumped into.

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Magic or Die by J.P. Jackson: Exclusive Excerpt & Giveaway!

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Exclusive Excerpt from Magic or Die

by J.P. Jackson

“ALL RIGHT.” MIRIAM tried to assuage the small crowd and waited until the side banter in the room dissipated. “I understand James’s abilities are rather unsettling and somewhat forceful.”

“Exactly how many others have abilities like him? He controlled every single one of us. What’s to prevent him from controlling an army?” Major Harris said. He was shaking, and his fat stuffy face formed angry red blotches that bled together. From the way his jowls hung over his tight shirt collar, you’d swear he was swelling with rage at my takeover.

“I couldn’t sustain large numbers of people for any lengthy period of time, and frankly, you weren’t actively resisting me. You were just sitting there,” I said. It was true. My abilities also had a physical cost and other limitations. “If you fought the impulses I had sent, you wouldn’t have succumbed. It works best on the element of surprise.” I gave them little morsels of information. That certainly wasn’t the total extent of my restrictions, but I’ll be damned if I was going to give it all away.

“Feel better, Major?” Miriam asked. “Perhaps you’ll agree James is the most qualified for the job, then.” She looked around the room, presumably waiting for anyone to disagree. “Very good, let’s proceed. We are here today to review prospective candidates. These are the five students James will be taking on.”

The participants in the room nervously shifted the dossiers in front of them.

“I didn’t agree to take on any class. I said consult—” I hissed from the corner of my mouth while my hackles rose and panic stirred in my gut.

“Need I remind you about your sister?” she whispered to me through tightly pursed lips and gritted teeth.

“I hate you,” I retorted back just as quietly.

“In front of each of you are dossier reports. Let’s start with the first.” A hidden movie screen descended, filling up the front of the room. Lights around the periphery of the stone table dimmed as spotlights above each seat turned on, creating an eerie halo around the executives’ heads.

“The first is twenty-four-year-old Ning Chiu,” Miriam started, as I grabbed the file on the girl. A picture of Ning appeared on the screen. She was pretty, bright, perky, and looked like she was all of sixteen in her schoolgirl uniform. “Ning is an exchange student from Beijing, China. She speaks Mandarin, Cantonese, English, German, and Italian. She’s incredibly gifted with languages and came to Canada to study the North American prairie indigenous tongues.”

Miriam held up a remote and pushed a few buttons. The picture on the screen flickered, disappeared, and then returned. She clicked the remote again and poof, the image was gone, blinding the audience with a pure white screen.

“Goddamn thing…” She pushed more buttons and waved the remote with unsuccessful results in the direction of where Ning’s picture had been. People around the table held their hands over their eyes, trying to shy away from the blinding light.

An underling who had been standing against the back wall rushed forward.

“May I,” he inquired as his hands flailed in an attempt to wrestle the remote away from her.

“Just make it work,” Miriam barked.

With the click of a few buttons, the tech guy had a movie clip playing with Ning and an unknown male interviewer who was off-screen.

“Ning, can you make the wind blow?”

“Yes,” Ning said softly. She closed her eyes as her long black hair swooped and swayed as if she was outside in a gentle autumn breeze.

“More?” the interviewer asked.

“Are you sure?” she said tentatively.

“Yes, please.”

A whirlwind began, and a desk behind Ning jerked and shifted and then lifted off the floor, spinning in a clockwise motion, pivoting on one desk leg. Papers, books, an assortment of odd items were violently sucked into the vortex Ning had created. A spiralling tunnel of wind, akin to a mini tornado, twirled behind her. Objects caught up in its rotation flew out at random intervals, but oddly, as items were ejected from the small twister, none of them came anywhere near Ning.

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Author Q&A: Todd Allen Smith + Excerpt & Giveaway!

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Please welcome Todd to The Blogger Girls!

Todd, if you could travel forward or backward in time, where would you go and why?

I love transportation. It would be exciting to see what we might be traveling in the future, hopefully not cars and trucks and using a hyperloop, that would be so cool.

We’ve all got a little voyeurism in us right? If you could be a fly on the wall during an intimate encounter between two characters, not your own, who would they be?

Comicbook related: Ice-Man and Spiderman

If I were snooping around your kitchen and looked in your refrigerator right now, what would I find?

Leftover spaghetti and meatballs and cranberry juice along with bagels and cream cheese.

If you could be a superhero, what would you want your superpowers to be?

I would like to have teleportation so I could go to different places easily. Have breakfast in Paris, lunch in Morocco and dinner in Hong Kong.

If you could sequester yourself for a week somewhere and just focus on your writing, where would you go and what would the environment be like?

My dream is attending a writing conference led by Cheryl Strayed and Elizabeth Gilbert, my memoirist writer idols.

What’s the one thing, you can’t live without?

Coffee

What Internet site do you surf to the most?

Googlemaps

If you had your own talk show, who would your first three author guests be and why?

Cheryl Strayed who wrote Wild
Elizabeth Gilbert who wrote Eat, Pray, Love
Also, I would do Rick Steves since he writes all the travel books I read.

When you got your very first manuscript acceptance letter, what was your initial reaction and who was the first person you told?

I was ecstatic and the first person I told was my husband.

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The Merchant’s Love by Antonia Aquilante: Exclusive Excerpt & Giveaway!

Blogger_Exclusive Excerpt

Exclusive Excerpt from The Merchant’s Love

by Antonia Aquilante

MAXEN STEPPED FORWARD to greet Tristan and the man Tristan would shortly marry, Lord Etan, cousin to the crown prince. He’d teased Tristan once about his “royal connections”—as their mother called them—but he couldn’t say at the time he’d expected his older brother to marry into the royal family. Tristan had been friends with Amory, Prince Philip’s husband, since they were children, which had brought him into the highest circles of the court, somewhere the wealthy merchants of Jumelle rarely reached, and into Etan’s path.

Tristan’s road hadn’t been an easy one, and it had taken him and Etan a long while to find happiness together. Maxen was nothing but thrilled that they finally had, even if he did find it all a bit surreal: Tristan, living in the palace, about to marry a royal cousin. And Maxen living in the house that had once belonged to Tristan and his late wife, playing host to Tristan and his soon-to-be husband. Maxen hadn’t expected to leave the family house until he married, if then, but doing so had been the right decision.

“Tristan, Etan, good evening.” He took Etan’s hand and then let Tristan pull him into a brief hug. They’d worked together that morning at the offices of their family’s shipping company, but Tristan acted as if they hadn’t seen each other in days. Maxen was glad to see the return of Tristan’s natural exuberance, though. It had been dulled for far too long. “Come in. Sit down. Dinner will be ready shortly, but would you like a drink first?”

Maxen led them into the front parlor, which he’d redecorated from when Tristan lived there. The first time Tristan saw it, he’d relaxed just slightly. Perhaps it had been better for him not to see memories every time he came in. The room looked completely different, and Maxen preferred it now that it was to his own taste—a little less formal, a lot more comfortable, warm, and cozy.

“A drink would be nice,” Etan said as he took a seat on the couch, Tristan sitting right beside him. Tristan had been hovering much closer to Etan the last few times Maxen had seen them, which was odd, since Tristan wasn’t particularly clingy. “How are you, Maxen?”

“Good.” Maxen swallowed back the honorific that wanted to spill from his lips—that he’d been told he didn’t have to use with Etan—and went to the liquor cabinet to pour them each a drink. “Tristan has been keeping me busy.”

“You asked for a bigger role in the company,” Tristan said.

“I did. I’m not complaining.” The shipping business interested him. But perhaps more importantly, with his help—and with the oldest of their younger brothers getting some experience too while he finishing his schooling—Tristan didn’t have to shoulder everything on his own. “How is my niece? You could have brought her, you know.”

“Bria is wonderful, bigger every day.” Tristan’s face slid into the smile that was reserved for his baby daughter. “And I know we could have, but we’d have had to leave early to put her to bed.”

“You’ll have to visit with her soon, then. I can’t have my favorite niece getting bigger every day and me not witnessing it.” She was his only niece so far, but that didn’t matter one bit. She might always be his favorite. Maxen handed glasses to Tristan and Etan and went back for his own.

“You could come up to the palace to see her,” Tristan said.

“Yes. You’re always welcome,” Etan agreed. It was completely obvious he was sincere as well, but Maxen just wasn’t sure he’d ever feel comfortable showing up at the gates to the royal palace and expecting to be admitted.

“Thank you.”

Tristan gave him a narrow-eyed stare, but Maxen only looked serenely back at him until he shook his head.

Maxen allowed himself to be satisfied. “How are the wedding preparations coming?”

“Everything is mostly settled now.” Tristan’s voice held a strained quality that hinted at the difficulties of trying to get those plans settled. Neither Tristan nor Etan had wanted the wedding to be bigger or more elaborate than it absolutely had to be, but both of their mothers had other ideas. There’d been a delicate bit of balancing and negotiating—and some line drawing from Etan and Tristan finally—because of the fraught relationships there, especially between Tristan and Mother. Maxen didn’t blame him for it. He was surprised Tristan had allowed her anywhere near the wedding plans, or the wedding for that matter. Tristan shot a look at Etan. “There are always surprises, though.”

Etan chuckled. “My aunt unexpectedly arrived from Teilo this afternoon with three of my cousins. Of course, we invited them, but we never thought they would come all that way.”

“That’s a surprise,” Maxen said. “Should you be up at the palace with them? We could’ve dined together another night.”

Etan shook his head. “My aunt decided to eat in her rooms and retire early, which saved us from a long family meal tonight.”

“But it’s good that more family will be at the wedding, right?” Maxen didn’t know the dynamics of the royal family. For most of his life, he’d only seen what they showed to their people—the flawless image of strength, intelligence, and beauty. It was only after Amory had married the prince, and then when Tristan decided to marry Etan, that Maxen began to hear more of the inner workings of the family. He mostly knew the good—the strong bonds between siblings and cousins—but surely there was more to it than that.

Tristan laughed when Etan shrugged slightly. “Well, I haven’t met any of them yet, but Etan says she isn’t the easiest person to get along with.”

“Oh?” Maxen glanced between them, wondering if he should be asking, but Tristan and Etan had brought it up.

“My aunt was raised a princess, the youngest daughter of the previous crown prince, and she’s used to getting her way and expressing her opinion.” Etan shrugged again and slid an arm around Tristan, an action he seemed to think nothing about doing, but Tristan radiated pleasure. A pang of envy startled Maxen so much he almost dropped his drink. Instead, he tightened his fingers around the glass and took a long gulp of the liquor inside.

“I got the impression just from what Amory said that they’re here at her insistence and that she has plans for your cousins,” Tristan said.

“I wouldn’t doubt any of that. I assume we’ll learn what all of her plans are soon, and what her sons actually think of them.” Etan sipped his drink. “I’ve barely seen them in…oh, it has to be ten years—none of us have—but Philip won’t let her run right over them.”

“This is a possibility, I take it?” Maxen felt a bit of sympathy for these unknown cousins of Etan’s. He had some experience with a strong-willed mother who thought she always knew best.

“It may be.”

“Amory told me she’s planned out what they’re each to be doing after the wedding,” Tristan said. “Though he also said the twins seemed to have talked her into getting what they want instead. Or that’s what it looked like to him.”

Etan chuckled. “I can believe it. The twins always could slip around people, and they had a mischievous streak, though Alexander was always in the lead there. I wonder if they’ve grown out of it. It doesn’t sound as if they have the former. Should be interesting.”

Etan proceeded to tell a story about the twins as children that involved a party, a fountain, and three swans that was so unbelievable it had to be true. Maxen was still chuckling when they walked into the dining room together a while later. These twins sounded as if they would liven everything up. Maxen was almost sad he’d probably never see it.

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Into the Mystic, Volume Three Anthology: Exclusive Excerpt & Giveaway!

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Exclusive Excerpt from Heart’s Thaw

by Bru Baker

The day was hardly one made for riding, between the gray skies and the cool temperature, but Calliope had not been able to dissuade Lady Helena from her daily outing.
Not that Calliope blamed her. Their daily ride was Helena’s only time to let her hair down and be herself. Figuratively, of course. A woman of Lady Helena’s station would never be so coarse as to actually be seen in public with her hair unbound.
They were at the midpoint of their ride, the eastern forest, where they often stopped to let the horses drink their fill in the stream while they dismounted and explored. Calliope enjoyed this part most of all—Helena was freer with her language and quick to laugh and play, hidden by the trees and a good forty minute’s hard ride from her duties as Her Ladyship, daughter and only child of the Duke of Keering, Helena Alexandra Gertrude Heart.
“Shall we swim this summer?” Calliope asked, dangling her fingers in the icy stream. “It is cold now, but it would feel divine in the heat of August.”
“I think not,” Helena answered primly, but a smile twitched her lips. “What would become of us if someone stumbled upon us?”
Calliope laughed. They’d never once seen another person on their outings, and they had been riding this circuit for four years. Helena’s desire to explore the estate had been a large part of the reason Calliope had been brought on as her companion.
“Ah, the scandal if someone saw your dainty ankles,” Calliope teased. “You would be married by sundown.”
Helena swatted her. “No marriage talk. Not even in jest.”
It was a sore subject. Many suitors had bid for Helena’s hand, but Helena rebuked them all. Her doting father had yet to force her to wed, but from the way the tongues wagged in the court, Calliope thought it was only a matter of time before his indulgence ended.
But that was a problem for another time. Calliope leapt up from the mossy stone she’d been perched on and flicked water from her hand at Helena, who shrieked and ran. They chased each other through the trees, breathless with laughter, until a sight brought them both up short.
There was a man in their forest. He was draped in fine linens and dripping in jewels that highlighted his ethereal beauty, lounging against a tree. He watched them with dark eyes, and Calliope shivered with unease. She looked around wildly for companions but found none. He was far too finely dressed to be travelling alone. This had to be some sort of trap.
“How fortuitous,” he said, his voice like honey. “I find myself abandoned in the wood and in need of assistance, and two lovely maidens appear.”

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Release Blitz: Both Ends of the Whip by Brenda Murphy + Giveaway!

Both Ends of the Whip by Brenda Murphy

Octavia Vargus had everything she wanted at Rowan House, Skye’s most exclusive pleasure house, except the one thing she craved. Longing for the freedom to explore both sides of her nature, she leaves Rowan House and her mistress, for a new start in Italy with her partner Bridget Murray.

Vivian Abiola is a connection to a past Octavia would like to forget, and a love she never expected to see again. After Octavia’s past relationship with Vivian is exposed, Octavia and Bridget explore the limits of their desires with Vivian. When an arsonist threatens to destroy their vineyard, past loyalties and secrets endanger their lives, and the three women’s relationship. Their love may be the only thing that helps them survive the firestorm of doubt, intrigue, and jealousy.

Available at: Amazon

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