Wednesday, July 31, 2013

DARK HUNTER by Shannan Albright

DARK HUNTER by Shannan Albright

Dark Breed Enforcers, 3

Vampire Mari Ankamunan struggles to pick up the pieces of her life after her bar The Asp becomes a war zone between the Enforcers and members of the Preservation Society, who want all dark breeds wiped out. The sudden appearance of the only man she ever loved brings her world to a crashing halt, for she witnessed his brutal murder two thousand years ago.

Navar’s oaths to his Sire cost him Mari. Torn from her side by the sidhe queen, he is her Hunter, delivering justice for crimes against the breeds. Now free, he returns to his lover's side only to be caught in a dark plot where Mari is targeted for death.

The stakes are high. Can they uncover a deadly plot against the Enforcers or will Navar lose Mari again?

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Excerpt:

“I will do everything in my power to protect her, even lay down my life if it comes to that.” Navar’s words rang in the still air, spoken as an oath.

“Marcus will be relieved to find out Mari is well protected. I know after the incident with the Preservation Society, he has been concerned for her safety. Someday you must tell me how you secured your release.”

Mari blinked at the two men, feeling left out of the loop in the XY-chromosome chat. Males.Can’t live without them and can’t kill them. Irritation spiked into the red zone, her patience threadbare for the bullshit. Placing her diminutive self between the two towering males, she gave them both a fearless glare and fisted her hands on her hips.

All conversation stopped as they stared down at her with surprise. Good, now she had their attention. “I’ve been alive since the time of Cleopatra. I didn’t survive all those centuries by being a fucking weak female. I can fight, strategize, and I damn well have enough intellect in this ‘girly’ brain to figure out what I need to do to save my own hide, thank you very much. Now, if you don’t mind talking to me, not about me, it would be appreciated and might save your ball sacs from relocating somewhere north on your body. Are we clear, boys?”

Adrian threw his head back and roared a large rolling laugh that reverberated throughout the room. She blinked in surprise. She’d never once seen any enforcer laugh. Sure, they smiled, chuckled, and even smirked, but never laughed. She found it…disconcerting.

“Point taken. You will have your hands full with this little hellion, hunter. I don’t envy you.”

“Little hellion indeed. Yet well worth the extra trouble,” Navar agreed, his pale eyes darkening with hunger.

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Thursday, July 25, 2013

ROOM OF TEARS by Linda Merlino

 ROOM OF TEARS by Linda Merlino

Out of tragedies come heroes and miracles…

At 9:59 a.m. on September 11, 2001, Diane O’Connor’s life as a firefighter’s wife changes forever shattering her faith. She writes daily of her sadness and four decades later she still keeps a note she wrote on 9/11 to her husband, Billy, hanging on her kitchen cabinet in Queens, the paper yellowed with age.

In the summer of 2041, Diane invites Friar Antonio Ortiz to her home. He is a man destined to become counsel to the first American pope—her son, Peter. Antonio asks no questions and arrives in secret, promising to wait nineteen years until Peter’s papal election before passing Diane's journal to him. Only then will Billy’s story be told, along with answers to Peter’s questions about his father’s last days.

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ONE


“Billy is gone . . .”


—Journal entry, 9/11/2001


Queens, New York, July 2041



Diane O’Connor and Father Antonio Ortiz met for the first time at the front door of her home in Queens. She smoked, or so he thought, given the burnt smell greeting him as she ushered him inside. A striking woman dressed in beige slacks and a flowered blouse, she was not as tall as he expected, maybe a few inches over five feet. Diane extended her hand, the fringe of her ruffled cuff hiding all but her fingers, which were long and frail. She wore no jewelry except for a plain gold wedding band, and as she took his summer coat, he noticed how loose-fitting her clothes hung on her thin frame.

An antique hat stand was the repository for his panama while his coat went deftly onto a hanger and into a closet, along with his valise. Once done with housekeeping she stood back and looked at him, her head cocked to one side and her eyes wide and bright with little trace of aging. When she had taken in the breadth and width of him, she took his hand with a graceful movement, and he reached out to clasp hers between his and met her gaze.

“How was your trip?” she asked. He replied that the flight was uneventful, except for a delay in Milan, and noted that her voice had a throaty quality, which spoke of years of cigarettes, or secondhand smoke. Her wide mouth, when she talked, had a broadness that displayed an irregular alignment of teeth, the two front ones noticeably overlapped. This quirk of ivory added a certain charm to the unique features of her face: clay pools for eyes, an aquiline nose, and a thick head of long hair that graced her shoulders. Its softness, suffused with the browns of autumn, outlined her beauty. A beauty, he imagined, grown more intense with the years. The only betrayal of time showed in the darkness under her eyes, where the shadows of lost sleep lay imprinted under her lashes, her tattoos of mourning forever visible.

“Excuse the awkwardness, Señora O’Connor. If I stare it is because I see your son, Peter, in your countenance,” Antonio said. Diane seemed taken off guard by his remark. She offered the priest a thank you and then moved ahead of him, motioning with one hand to follow.

The house—its walls, floors, and furniture frozen in the late twentieth century—had a series of small rooms attached to one another off an L-shaped hallway: the living room, the dining room, and then the kitchen. On the stark white walls of the passageway were photographs, each picture mounted on a seamless backing hung off the cove molding on long extensions of wire. Antonio slowed his step to peer at the glossy images. Most were firefighters—some wearing caps and suspenders mugging for the camera’s lens, while others wore dress-blue uniforms, their chests expanded with pride and their mouths drawn firm. Two faces stood out among the many: one a firefighter, the other a priest.

He pressed in closer to examine their similarities, knowing that they were brothers, remembering what Peter O’Connor had told him of his family. The two men could have been twins, so similar were their features, and except for their hair color—one yellow gold and the other fire red—both grinned the same grin out to the world.

Absorbed, Antonio neglected to notice that Diane had disappeared into the kitchen. He thought to ask her about the two men in the photographs, and when he turned in anticipation of seeing her next to him, he took a step toward where she might be standing. His right foot struck a pair of boots propped upright against the wall. He stumbled and put a hand out to that empty place where he thought she might be, but his face did not meet hers, and instead came within an inch of a firefighter’s helmet, the medallion of its FDNY ladder company polished and gleaming.

On the edge of that moment, trying to regain his balance, each breath he took tightened in his throat. Antonio began to gag. His mind raced. What could be happening? One minute he was looking at photographs and the next his throat was constricting. An acrid odor rose to his nostrils. He shook his head—the same faint smell he’d noticed from before, at the door, but stronger, sharp enough now to sear his soft membranes. My God, he thought and recoiled. Sweat sprang from his face and neck. A heart attack? He clutched his chest. No, not that. His heart was fine except for the galloping beat under his ribcage. Heat emanated from the helmet as if it had just come through an inferno. “My God,” he said aloud. Perhaps a fire burned inside the wall, hot enough to choke him.

 Antonio backed away and cupped his hands over his face, bending over at the waist and taking in gulps of air, as his host reappeared in the kitchen’s doorway. “Señora . . .” Antonio’s voice was a rasping bark. “I beg your forgiveness; I have knocked over your husband’s boots.” His eyes stung from the stench and began to water. “I am sorry, Señora, but the helmet . . .”

Diane reassured him there was no fire, nothing to worry about, and walked back into the kitchen. Antonio followed and found her at the stove warming coffee. There was a plate of pastry on the table, canoli and napoleons piled in a stack, enough for several guests. He went to the table and pulled out a chair for himself and one for her.

“The helmet, Señora—it was burning,” Antonio said, his throat still raw.

 “You have so many questions in your head about this house, and about the brothers in the pictures on the wall.” She raised her eyes and looked in that direction as if from there she could see the photographs. Then she handed him a glass of water while she spoke. There it was again, he thought, that ragged tone, and the accent slightly nasal. “Unfortunately we have little time for small talk,” she said. “I had hoped to explain slowly the unexplained that fills this house, but you’ve made some of your own discoveries. The heat from a helmet long retired provides you with a smattering of insight into the history of this family. Disturbing as this may be to you, for me, it’s commonplace, familiar.”

 Antonio had just taken a sip of water, the glass suspended in midair, and he paused to look at her. A fiery helmet commonplace? he thought to himself. Peter, once joking, had mentioned his mother’s house being haunted, but he never said anything about equipment burning. What is going on here? 

He opened his mouth to speak, but he could not find the correct phrase. He stuttered, all the time looking at the woman, at Peter’s mother. One large window framed the backdrop behind her, and with the morning sun pouring in, the light forced him to squint. A note hung on the cabinet door just to her left. He could not read it from where he sat, and probably not even up close because the ink and the paper appeared faded. The room, at that moment, seemed cast in a dense halo that formed an aura around her.

Struck by that vision, Antonio dropped his glass. It slipped from his thumb and forefinger, knocking his cup of coffee onto the pristine white tablecloth and sending shards of dainty porcelain and glass onto the floor. The shattering noise jolted him and he rose quickly, but Diane did not move. She stood encased in the light, emblazoned like an apparition. He knelt to gather the pieces, but instead found himself on both knees, praying.

“The knowing is no mystery,” she said. “There are spirits here, in this house. Peter grew up with them, but he never acknowledged their presence. If you ask him, he will deny their existence, but you’re different; you will not flee from them. The scorching helmet in the hallway is cold to the touch of others.” One of her eyebrows arched high into her forehead, as if asking him if he understood.

 “No, Señora,” he said, stuttering again. “You are mistaken. I am God’s humble servant here on earth. A priest of St. Francis committed to serving the poor,” Antonio answered, still on his knees, feeling the heat of which she spoke.

“You’ll become the Pope’s counsel, an enviable position—the secretary to the bishop of Rome.” Her remark was encased in annoyance. “Petawh,” she began again, emphasizing the loss of the letter r with her impatience, “is no common priest, chosen, as he was before his birth to sit on this earth as the Vicar of Christ. Your friendship with him isn’t coincidental.” She drummed her fingers. “When you pray, offer thanks to those who watch over you. They’ve interceded on your behalf.”

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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

REGISTRATION by Linda Andrews

REGISTRATION by Linda Andrews

Syn-En Series Book Three

Driven from Earth, Admiral Beijing York led an armada of Synthetically-Enhanced human soldiers and its civilian crew to settle an alien world. Their new society is beginning to flourish when Bei is informed that no human, Syn-En or otherwise, can be free until the species registers on a distant planet. Determined to protect humanity, Bei and his wife lead an advanced scouting team to secure their liberty.

And an ancient enemy is waiting to intercept them. The Founding Five won't give up their favorite slaves or medical guinea pigs without a fight.

Now Bei must decide if freedom is worth the price when he may have to sacrifice everyone he loves to win.
 
  
Chapter 1

Fisting his chin, Beijing York drummed on the arm of his command chair. The circular bridge hummed with the power of the fusion nacelles on the lower deck. Sensors sent data in streams down the portholes and through the fiberoptic cable connecting his cerebral interface to the helm. The greenish glow of the magnetic shields seeped through the metal bulkheads–technology protecting weak biology.

A mirror of his own existence, his own body.

Bei’s drumming fingers curled into a fist on the metal armrest. Prostheses for arms and legs, synthetically-enhanced relays for nerves, neodynamic armor for skin, and a cerebral interface implanted in his fragile human brain to integrate everything.

A compression alert flared yellow across his senses and he relaxed his hand.

His human wife, Nell Stafford called him a cyborg——the best of man and machine.

Everyone else called him a Syn-En.

Synthetically-enhanced human. Always the humanity was last, tagged on as an afterthought. He and those like him had to fight to be considered equals.

So many Syn-En had died…

And still the journey wasn’t complete.

He had to travel to the planet Erwar to register like an extinct Earth dog. Only then would the Syn-En under his command, and the rest of humanity, be considered sentient.

Only then would all parts of him have universal rights and freedoms.

Only then…

A soft thump echoed through the crew quarters on the deck below this one and up the stairs into the spaceship’s bridge. The Icarus was small for an interstellar craft. She had two decks and a saucer-shaped bridge connected to her beetle-like body through a narrow stairway. The engines and cargo bay were on the lowest level and the crew quarters and galley on the upper one.

Not enough space when two of his men were at each other’s throats. Sound carried far in a tin can.

“I am not being unreasonable.” Frankfurt Rome’s growl reverberated against the Smart Metal Alloy of the hull, punctuated by the punch of his fist against a bulkhead. “I would have liked to have been consulted before you went ahead and made me a daddy-to-be.”

Bei winced. Obviously his Chief of Security had finished his two-hour sleep cycle and needed another twenty or thirty. Too bad the Skaperians, their new alien allies, hadn’t shared their stasis technology. Even Bei’s tenth generation auditory upgrades couldn’t block the Chief’s temper tantrum. Bei mentally made a note to retrofit the Icarus with sound dampening technology in the crew quarters.

Rome’s wife, Havanna Keyes snorted. “You would have said no.”

Bei shook his head. If his communication’s officer performed her job as badly as she fought this battle, he’d have transferred her twenty-nine days, three hours and six seconds ago.

“Of course I would have said no. I don’t want a weak, squalling, inferior human infant.” Rome vented his anger in a series of short raps. “It’s bad enough we have to defend them.”

Caution lights flared in the galley. With a thought, Bei increased the bulkhead’s sound deafening ability. He didn’t need Rome waking Nell. His wife needed at least eight hours of sleep a night. Something she hadn’t received since boarding, nearly thirty days ago.

Thanks to his two squabbling officers.

He could have stopped it with a simple order, should have. But his wife had forbidden him to interfere. Stripping his best friend of his limbs and hanging him on a hook in the cargo compartment wouldn’t be interfering, would it?

“This baby is ours, something only we could make. Together.” Keyes repeated her argument. “This is different than our assembly-line legs, arms, eyes and hair. Nothing else in the universe can create something like it. Nothing.”

A baby conceived by Syn-Ens.

The first since the cyborg soldiers had been created.

Something hot and fierce flashed inside Bei before his cerebral interface compensated. One day, he and Nell…

“I don’t want it.”

“Then you don’t want me. Consider our term at an end.”

Keyes’ words barely scraped Bei’s audio sensors and his artificial heart nearly seized. She was terminating her and Rome’s marriage? But they’d been together forever. The three of them had been inducted in the Syn-En Forces together. They’d stood together through innumerable technological upgrades as their humanity was literally hacked off them.

Soft footfalls slipped down the hallway. Fabric whispered then there was a thump on the lower deck. Keyes was heading toward the engine room.

“No!” Rome clomped after her. His bigger bulk landed harder and echoed through the ship. “You are my mate. Forever. Nothing could ever come between us. Ever.”

Bei sealed off the hatch between the decks. Maybe if he locked them in, they would work this out between them once and for all. And he would have blessed silence for the next two days to Erwar.

Soft footsteps emerged in the quiet.

Nell. Her walk, her touch and her scent were encoded on his subroutines.

She shuffled up the stairs and onto the bridge, yawning. Fatigue bruised the delicate skin under her blue eyes. Static electricity crackled in her shoulder-length blond hair and across the small camera recording their trip for posterity.

The documentary was Nell’s contribution——as if being a representative of the species wasn’t enough.

“Gene Roddenberry got it wrong.”

Gene who? Bei ran the name through the Icarus’s Combat Information Center. No one under his command went by the name, but he did find an entry under Twentieth Century entertainment. The man was dust by now. Bei relaxed in his chair.

“Space isn’t the final frontier. A man’s head is.” Crouching down, Nell released the lever locking Bei’s chair in front of the workstation and pulled him back. She reset the clamp and sat on his lap. “And even angels fear to tread there.”

Bei wrapped his arms around her waist, keeping her in place. “Do you think Rome is wrong?”

Wiggling, she drew her legs up then curled against his chest. “No, Keyes should have told him he was going to be the baby-daddy. But it’s more than that. If that baby came out with mechanical legs and arms, Rome would be a proud papa. It’s the human part that has him scared.”

Not much scared Rome.

Not much scared many Syn-Ens.

But this was emotion, forbidden territory until the Syn-Ens had declared their independence. Now it was unwritten code. A proper response would take ages to perfect and write into their programming.

Wisps of hair tickled Bei’s chin. He smoothed the fly-away strands to the edges then unstrapped the headband holding the camera against her temple. “You think I should intervene? Send him some of those… What did you call them? Chick-flick files to speed up his adaption?”

She snuggled closer, pressed kisses against his jaw. “Chick-Flick movies. And not many men, even in my time, would go to see them.”

Her time. A hundred and twenty-five years in the past. Before the world had been FUBARed. Before her brother had volunteered to become one of the first Syn-En. “So, I should send the files to Keyes?”

“No.”

Her warm breath cascaded down the collar of his black uniform. His body tightened, preparing for the command it liked so much. Unfortunately, he couldn’t give it. Not with the fifth member of their crew unaccounted for.

The sneaky amarook could appear and disappear at will——usually at inconvenient times.

Nell looped her arms around Bei’s shoulders. “Elvis is in the building, or rather in the co-pilot’s chair.”

The creature shimmered into view on the seat next to Bei’s. Although similar to an extinct Earth wolf, Amarooks possessed six limbs–the four traditional paws of a canine and an extra set of slim arms and hands minus the opposable thumbs. Cobalt eyes burned under a mop of black feathers combed back, with one curl escaping in the human Elvis’s trademark do. Sleek black fur covered the rest of his body. “Golly Nell, you weren’t supposed to tell I was here.”

The voice came out of the medallion around Elvis’s thick throat. The translator changed the amarook’s telepathic thoughts into words, so everyone could communicate.

Nell had never needed the technology. The amarook’s leader had forged a mental bond with Bei’s wife, because of their shared experiences at the hands of the Skaperians. Sometimes it was useful.

Elvis’s nostrils flared. “Your mate is in heat, Nell.”

And sometimes the bond was damned annoying. Bei accessed power controls. Maybe he could shunt a small charge to Elvis’s seat. Not to hurt the feather-faced mammal, just get him out of the chair. Then Bei could shut the door and get a little alone time with his wife.

She flushed and pressed her face against Bei’s neck. “Human males don’t go into heat.”

Elvis sniffed the air again. His eyes narrowed and his ears twitched. “You are in heat.”

Bei’s fingers clenched. Nell wanted to conceive on this trip? He double-checked the artificial gravity setting as he seemed to float. His child. His and Nell’s. Unique in the universe. No way would he impregnate his wife on the bridge.

This deserved a bed.

“Elvis.” Nell shuddered on Bei’s lap. “You know, I’m on birth control.”

Birth control. She didn’t want his child. Bei’s oxygen levels depleted until he reset his breathing relays.

Red tinged Elvis’s muzzle. “No baby? But why? There are so few of you humans. And you are an extraordinary human.”

She blew the hair out of her eyes, but she was looking at Bei when she answered. “Doc says there’s still traces of Skaperian DNA in my egg basket. So until the Easter Bunny delivers a new batch of colored eggs, we’re waiting until I get a clean, human-only bill of health.”

Ah, he should have known she had a good reason. Bei kissed his wife’s nose then her cheek. His lips registered the dampness and salt on her skin. Only five months had passed since she’d awoken from her long slumber.

She still had nightmares from the ordeal and slept in his lap instead of in their bed, alone.

Even now, his sensors detected her elevated heartrate and excess adrenalin in her bloodstream.

“You’re safe.” He tucked her head under his chin. “I won’t let anything happen to you.”

Not ever again.

“Neither will I.” Elvis sunk deep into his chair, wrapped his bushy black tail around his behind and glared at the bank of windows. “We shall raise a strong, fierce daughter to gut all of humanity’s enemies.”

Whoa. Bei had forgotten the creatures were a bloodthirsty lot. “My child——”

Elvis held up his two hands. “Of course, a boy will be trained in the arts if you so wish it.”

And sexist, too. Bei set his hand over Nell’s flat stomach. “My child will be what he or she wants to be.”

“Training should begin as soon as possible.” Elvis shook his head. “It is bad enough that it takes many years for your species to be coordinated enough to weild a weapon without self-injury.”

Holding his wife tight, Bei rose from his seat. Now, his species wasn’t good enough for the feather-headed mammal? “You–”

“This is a moot discussion.” Clinging to his shoulders, Nell stood on tiptoe on the floor. “It’ll be several more months before I’ll be ready to even try for a baby, and Bei and I still have to negotiate terms.”

Negotiate? As one of the first Syn-Ens to have their forced sterility reversed, he was more than ready to go.

Nell set her finger over his lips before he could answer. “We’re going to have to figure out how to balance your role as leader of the new Skaperian-Amarook-Human alliance and change poopy diapers, ‘cuz there’s no way I’m raising the kiddies while you go off living the Star Trek dream.”

“What?” Bei ran her words through his com subroutine and still couldn’t make sense of it.

“We eat the poop of our young.” Elvis rolled out of the chair. His nails clicked against the metal deck and his pink tongue lolled out of his head. “And clean them too.”

Nell wrinkled her nose. “That’s disgusting.”

Elvis arched one feathered eyebrow. “It is most informative regarding the pups’ nutrition and health status.”

An ache stretched across Bei’s forehead. He accessed his memory banks, tried to find a logic pathway in the conversation. And failed. The base of his neck tingled. Well, no wonder. They were fighting half verbally and the rest telepathically.

Releasing Bei, Nell shook her finger at Elvis. “Don’t even think about eating my baby’s poop.”

Elvis’s tail wagged and his furry lips tilted into a smile. “As her Godparent, I will—”

The amarook yelped and clutched his head.

Go Nell! Hit the smart-ass canine where it hurts——his ego.

Nell paled and grabbed Bei’s arm. “There’s something…”

Her eyes rolled back in her head and her legs folded.

Bei scooped her up and activated medical protocols. Elevated heart rate. Rising blood pressure. Brain waves off the charts. He speared the feather-head with a glare. “What did you do?”

Elvis whimpered and collapsed. “Attack. Under.”

The amarook’s communication medallion winked from his chest.

Images and emotions exploded inside Bei’s head. Ugly arthropod-like creatures in black. Beautiful willowy creatures in shades of green.

And fear.

Lots of fear.

Bei’s mouth soured; his stomach clenched. The enemy was nearby. At the speed of a thought, he activated the alarm. Blood red light strobed the small bridge.

On the level below, Rome and Keyes jacked into the Combat Information Center. Their pixelated avatars joined him in cyberspace.

“I’ve got a ship off the starboard bow.” Keyes stuck her hands into the data-stream and pulled out what she needed. “Comparing identity against the Skaperian’s database.”

Rome’s digital blond hair stood on end as he combed through other data packets. “They’re building up power in their fore engines.”

“Shields at max. Energy weapons charging.” Although the connection to the CIC dimmed Bei’s vision, he could still see Elvis collapsed on the deck and Nell in his arms.

Both were stirring.

He had to get them out of here. One hit and the thin hull could rupture, yet he couldn’t leave his tether to the helm. Couldn’t afford to lose a nanosecond of response time. “Let me know if I can fire, Rome.”

Nell shook her head and blinked. “I’ll get to the safe room.”

Bei tightened his grip.

Setting her palm against his skin, she kissed his cheek. “You’ll do better without me distracting you.”

No! The last time they’d been separated, she’d been kidnapped by aliens and he’d been ordered to kill her. He activated his tactical programming and the emotional maelstrom inside him calmed. He set her on her feet. She would be safe on the ship. This wasn’t like last time.

“Don’t do anything suicidal.” Holding onto Elvis’s scruff, she staggered to the door.

“Shit!” Rome’s anger crackled in lightning bolts around his avatar. “It’s a weapon. They’re firing!”

A digital image of the two ships wavered in the Combat Information Center. Light shot from the enemy’s saucer-shaped craft.

At Bei’s command, the Icarus unleashed his first salvo. In the space between heartbeats, he waited to see the impact before making adjustments to insure the kill shot.

The energy weapon hit.

The Icarus bucked beneath his feet.

Then the EMP pulse blasted the hull.

It slammed into his circuits. Red alerts blazed to life. Pathways caught fire. Bei’s body convulsed before his consciousness gave up the fight.

He forced a total shut down, just as fatal errors initiated.

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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

PELICAN BAY by Jesse Giles Christiansen

PELICAN BAY by Jesse Giles Christiansen

After Ethan Hodges discovers an undersea cemetery just off the beach of Pelican Bay, South Carolina, he seeks answers from a grandfatherly fisherman named Captain Shelby.

The captain wants the past to remain buried, and he warns Ethan to stay away. But Ethan doesn’t listen.

Ethan’s best friend and secret love interest, Morgan Olinsworth, joins in the investigation, unearthing intriguing secrets about the mysterious fisherman.

When Captain Shelby is suspected of murder and disappears, a manhunt ensues, revealing a truth that unnerves everyone in Pelican Bay.

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~Excerpt~

PROLOGUE

Aspen Langsley fell prey to a dare, for he was small and awkward for his age and always eager to be anything but that way.

The year was 1931, and the gaunt arms of the Great Depression reached even the forgottenness of Pelican Bay, South Carolina. Were it not for the fish that still happily fed near their shores, or the big bags of flour that stout elders had put away for meager times such as those, they might have emaciated themselves right into the great sea.

Aspen awoke from a terrible nightmare that he had had ever since he was four years old. The haunting dreams started after picnicking with his parents on Pelican Beach where he first saw the old fisherman standing, like a petrified pirate, atop a nearby dune. And when he had them, they were always about the old man. That growling, chuckling barnacle—the crusty ambassador of Pelican Bay. His nightmare always had the same awesome echo of slimy figures swathed in the clothes of Vikings, their winged head gear the iron ghosts of prehistoric gulls, and their rotting, creased faces like pages of little oval history books written in indecipherable font. And always in front, leading them more by his oceanic presence than by anything else—without exception—the old man.

They were coming to punish the townspeople for thinking too much about things that were better left alone.

Aspen did not understand how he could succumb to such a dare, how he had to confront his worst nightmare like a tiny son of Superman facing a truckload of kryptonite. But his father, a great fisherman in his own right, Captain John Langsley Sr., always told him that wars were mainly fought by very young men who were hungry for honor. And facing the scary old fisherman in his dreams always felt like a dark war, the battlegrounds the ornery sea and the misty mire of his psyche.

They started stripping Aspen of his honor early on, right from the first grade.

Though Aspen was undersized from the beginning—for a while the Langsleys feared they might have birthed a little person—he was too many inches behind his peers. He also held too much weight for his age. By seven years old, he had boy breasts and was ridiculed for it as relentlessly as the beach was by the vicious Pelican Bay tides. His mom would try to make up for it when she often said, "Don't worry Aspen. Your body's going to catch up one day and that fat will turn into big muscles. You'll see."

But Aspen would never see—never see beyond the sleepy blackness of that dare on an unexpectedly chilly June night.

Freckly Chucky Olinsworth was the worst by far. "You have bigger breasts than my sister," he would say. But who was Chucky to say anything? Unlike Aspen, he was the same size as the other kids, but was covered in noisy red freckles from head to toe. He looked like a walking Alabama night sky seen through a red-lensed telescope, and besides, he spoke with the voice of a mosquito giving its existential view through a megaphone.

Then there was Bert—short for Berton—Hodges. He was tall for his age, but ridiculously gangly and so pale that in the summer, when Pelican Bay's skies were not usually bruised, you could see blue veins swimming underneath his skin like a school of baby bluefish. Bert's hair was as black as a starless night or Pelican Bay's absence on any map—so black against his sickly skin as to make him look like a male Goth. "Can I have a feel?" he would always say. Then he would cop one immediately in spite of Aspen's answer. Chucky would join in until Aspen lay on the ground squirming and screaming under the twirling sting of descending twin-titty-twisters.


The dare was born of ghost stories on an early summer eve, a windy dusk blanketing the dunes in view of the old fisherman's just-lit lantern, flickering like a lost soul. His boat was moored to the slippery docks in the near distance, creaking like it always did—a wooden brontosaurus with arthritis.

"You know who's a ghost for real?" Bert said, his dark hair a dune-tip shadow waving in the breeze, a dancing black flame, his eyes darting off to the captain's bobbing boat.

"Shut up," Chucky said.

"I want to know," Aspen said.

"Of course you do, dip shit," Chucky rifled, the stiffening wind now carrying his voice away.

"Have you ever seen him up close?" Bert went on.

"You're an idiot," Chucky said.

"I saw him once," Aspen said, "when I was four. His face is the oldest face I've ever seen."

Chucky laughed. A bullish laugh. Aspen felt a punch coming. Crossed his arms. Cowered for it but it did not come.

"A few years ago I was fishing with my dad and saw him bathing in the ocean near the shore by the old docks. His face looked to be in its twenties," Bert said.

"This is complete bullshit," Chucky said.

"Well, maybe so. You can sit here jerking off and telling stupid stories all night. But if you want to see a real ghost," Bert concluded, "then you need to go out and talk to that old man."

"Ha, ha. What a bunch of morons," Chucky said.

"I believe it. He gives me the willies," Aspen said in a loud whisper. His gentle blue eyes, now almost lost to the engulfing blackness of Pelican Bay, looked near raving.

And the punch finally came.

It seemed to Aspen that they always came without warning. They were like the ominous Atlantic storms that seemed to enjoy bullying Pelican Bay. A jinxed boy, a jinxed town. But Aspen preferred a bad storm over the punches or the insults. He preferred the honor of dying in a storm.

"I've got better things to do," Chucky said, starting up.

"Yeah? Better than watching Aspen go out there and say hi to the old man?"

Chucky sat back down again on the cheek of the dune, his eyes flaring, an evil smile burgeoning.

"You can forget it," Aspen said, rising, his voice trembling a little, betraying the fear underneath its counterfeit bravado.

Another punch. This time from Bert.

"Chicken. Bock, bock, bock," Chucky said, marching around the dune, flapping his arms in grotesque mockery.

The old man's lantern suddenly went out for a moment and goose-bumps ripped at the boys flesh.

Suddenly the lantern was lit again. They all looked at each other, wide-eyed.

"You want to be a real man?" Bert asked. "You want to be treated like one of us?"

"Yeah. You want to stop being a pussy your whole life?" Chucky added, laughing obnoxiously.

Now Aspen looked at them, then out toward the docks, then back at each of them. "I don't have to prove anything."

Chucky grabbed him and he struggled. Bert came up in front of him and said, "We haven't twisted those titties in a while."

"Don't! I don't have titties!"

"Prove it," Bert said.

"Yeah, show us you're not a girl with titties."

Bert reached for Aspen's nipples while Chucky held him.

"Ok! Stop! I'll do it."

"You will?" Bert said.

"He's lying," Chucky said.

"Give me that lantern," Aspen said. "I'll go out there and say hi to that old ghost—and you'll see that I'm not a pussy—that I'm just as tough as you guys."

"Yeah right. You're full of shit," Chucky said.

"No. I think I believe the chicken shit. Give him the lantern," Bert said.



The onyx cloak of a Pelican Bay night was almost upon them. Aspen looked back toward the dunes and his friends had been swallowed by the dark. As he took his first step onto the docks, he looked ahead at the old man's boat, a buoying shadow of archaic oak, a symphony of moaning ropes and petulant planks, a sputtering lantern which was perhaps a disembodied pirate debating between this world and the next.

He stopped just near the boat, struggling to maintain his footing on the slimy dock boards.

"Hello. My name's Aspen. I've come to talk to you."

Nothing.

"I mean you no harm." Aspen's voice was soft and gentle, even when blasted and pitched. He was to be a little orphan Oliver replaying his debut dramatic role for all eternity.

Still nothing.

And then suddenly the darkness grunted. So near him. So near. And there was a sea stench that the young boy could have never known existed until that night. His every youthful sense was insulted, his every thought was of dark, oaky places, his every feeling that of waking in an ancient tomb under the sea.

As his virginal feet began to turn they slipped into the air and the back of his head hit the dock. The next thing that he knew he was immersed in a drastic, salty wetness and sucked under the docks by a wicked current. He was dizzy in the cool, black sea. His head hurt immensely.

Suddenly an arm reached down into the water and groped around. It was as thick as a fallen oak log, the arm of a sea god, but as hairy as a fishing grizzly.

Aspen clung to the dock beam under the water, eyes open, a child apparition under the sea, his hands shredded by the toothed barnacles that munched upon his fleshy palms, his lungs already aching, his darkening mind wanting to surrender, his frail body, always too small, always too weak, wanting to quit.

Many seconds passed. Seconds of absolute fear.

Aspen finally found in himself the courage for one reach. But when he stretched for the great arm, it suddenly abandoned its search.

Sleep now.

No more insults.

No more fretful, desperate young life.

Just peaceful sleep. Dreaming with the sea, of the honor of all those who have warred with it and lost.

But better than no honor at all.



CHAPTER ONE

I must have been dreaming, or at least it felt that way, when I first saw the peculiar rocks darkly festooning the ocean floor just beyond the shoreline. They started to appear after the recent storms that had rocked Pelican Bay, South Carolina, black freckles left by Mother Nature to remind Morgan Olinsworth and me, Ethan Hodges, of how small we were in the grand scheme of things.

"Look, off to the right, you can see them under the water. They're so strange. Why are they suddenly showing up? Have you tried to dive down and see them?"

"No," Morgan said, "but if you look a little further out, they're in front of you, too."

I looked carefully in front of me and I could see bulky shadows lurking below the surf, their stony heads protruding from the ocean floor.

It was becoming dark now, nearly too dark to see. Morgan's pale face was almost an early moon—one of those early moons that seems too close to believe. I wanted to kiss her. I had this feeling all the time, but we had been just friends for as long as I could remember.

No one was too friendly in Pelican Bay, and there were so few of us to go around. Morgan headed up the tiny library. She tended to it so carefully, the way that I wish she would me, but she was painfully shy and never really took to people that much. She was the silently proclaimed mayor of our town. Pelican Bay was anything but amiable—and it had no mayor or elected officials—not even a sheriff.

Pelican Bay was beautiful to look at, though, especially on early mornings. When you thought that all hope was lost, the sun would poke its head right out of the sea, glowing just over the horizon, a giant, orange-haired mermaid waking to face the day.

"Let's get our masks and snorkels and dive off the shore tomorrow morning. I really want to see what's down there."

"I don't know," Morgan said.

"Ah, come on—it'll be Sunday. The library will be closed, anyway."

"Maybe. We'll see."

Now it was almost fully dark, and Morgan's face was getting lost—that same moon becoming conscious of itself, experiencing painful shyness and retreating far, far away. Sadness caressed my heart like a rogue winter breeze, and I could hear its breath, hazy strands of pink at the edge of the sea.

"We should head back," I said.

"Good idea."

We said nothing on the way back to town on the foot-worn path through the wild grass and sporadic beach roses, now just dull shapes in the night. I imagined that we were now under the sea visiting those same strange stones. There was a symphony underwriting our silence, and I always felt that we communicated better when nothing was said. But then we would have these conversations that dove deeper than the deepest part of the Atlantic Ocean—deeper than the Puerto Rico Trench.

The little lights from the windows of Pelican Bay's cottages reminded me of ghostly lanterns of old frigates languishing upon a black sea. In that moment, I felt so thankful for those little windows. We gazed at the few stars, now materializing magically above, jealous stars, like those little windows in Van Gogh's famous painting.

"Will you at least think about tomorrow? I'm really curious, aren't you?"

"Let me see how my dad's doing, ok?" Morgan said, her voice the night whispering to me. "He's been a little down lately."

"Why don't you bring him along? The ocean might do him some real good."

"We'll see."

That was the best that you could ever get out of Morgan. In fact, if she ever made any abrupt decisions, there are none of them etched upon my memory. To be with Morgan, you had to be in the moment. She was a spirit that never accepted that she had to live in the real world—always fighting earthly existence, fearing that having to make decisions might somehow surrender the possibility of heaven.

"Good night, Morgan."

"Good night."

I glanced off to my left and I could see a few lights from boats lingering in their usual places in the little harbor hosted by Pelican Bay.

There was an old man, Captain Shelby, who lived on his boat year round, even in the coldest winters when the waves, so cold that it seemed that they might be frozen were it not for their ceaseless motion, would beat against his floating house, knocking to be let in to dream ancient dreams with him.

Captain Shelby was like the pelicans of Pelican Bay—he had been there as long as anything else that our town could remember. And when you peered into his face, if you had such nerve, there was a steadiness indescribable, as if the calm of the sea held its story there, whispering its words through eyes a shade of blue just lighter than the ocean about him. His wrinkles seemed set eons ago, pages written in the history before history. They called him Captain Shelby because he had commanded a fleet of commercial fishing boats in his heyday.

I looked to him for answers about Pelican Bay. I had a lot of questions now, questions that had gone unanswered for too long, questions that could no longer be submerged.

Captain Shelby knew a lot, sometimes everything, it seemed. He helped me back when I had questions about my mother and father, why they had gone missing from Pelican Bay, declared lost at sea, leaving me with my paternal grandmother, Sidney Hodges, to raise me. He said that the great sea would swell up and claim a lot of people. And sometimes the sea would just become vengeful on its own and take people, even when there was no special storm battering our shores and petite bay. As the old man used to say, "It's the still and silent sea that drowns a man."

In Pelican Bay, the sea was the Hand of God.

Seeing that one of the wavering, almost floating boat lights was Captain Shelby's, I headed his way. I had to pass near the docks to get to my grandmother's cottage, anyway. I had another question for the old man—one that even he might not be able to answer this time.

He met me on the dock, as if he already knew that I was coming.

"A bit dark to be out, isn't it, me Son?"

"Yeah—it just got dark so fast today. Is winter coming already?"

"Maybe she's been called early by the sea," he said in his gravelly voice. "So what's on yer mind, me Son? Better tell me quick, or it'll be too late to go to town and I'll have to stow ye out on the deck with some of me old blankets. You'll have to sleep with the pelicans tonight."

I barely stifled a chuckle. His eyes widened and seemed to pick up flecks of unseen light still hanging on from somewhere.

"Morgan and I were out walking on the beach and we saw those old stones. They're so creepy."

"What are ye at now? Better stay clear of them stones. They're dangerous. That's all there's to it. You'll break a leg or bust yer head and the sea'll claim ye."

"Yeah, but—"

"Some things are better left alone. I'll put to the sword those that disagree. I don't know how those dark bjargs got there. They don't seem to go there. Maybe the Great Hurricane brought 'em in—from God knows where, and only God Himself should ask why. Maybe the last few storms finally exposed 'em. Like me said, some things are better left alone."

"But they're just so—weird."

"What ye should be worryin' about is why that pretty librarian won't marry ye. The summer moments always pass quickly."

Silence followed, perhaps summoned by my discomfort over his statement. Captain Shelby knew it and, when he lit his pipe, he smoked our salty silence in it.

"I don't think she loves me."

"Well, ye sure spend enough time together. There's mingling in friendship when a young man can share his whole mind with another. Might as well be married, I say."

"We're just friends."

The old fisherman let himself chuckle out loud. It could have been the sound of approaching thunder.

"I did ask her to dive down and check out the stones with me tomorrow morning. She said she might."

"Bad enough ye can't leave them bjargs alone. No place for such a dainty lady, I say." Captain Shelby was looking across the sea. He had an obvious annoyed expression, his eyes focusing on something far off now. "Ye shouldn't be askin' for trouble. Lost yer parents to the sea, isn't that enough? Anyway, ye best be gettin' on home now. 'Tis dark as molasses out here. Take this flashlight. Ye can bring it back to me tomorrow."

"Ok."

I took the flashlight and turned back toward town. I had not gone but ten paces when he spoke again.

"You'll stay away from them stones, if ye know what's best!"

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Monday, July 22, 2013

ADDICTED by Marilyn Lee

 ADDICTED by Marilyn Lee

Sister's Keeper Series

Reeling from a breakup with the man she’d considered the love of her life, Lena Graham attends the December wedding of yet another friend who managed to land her dream man. At the reception, the proverbial, tall, dark, and handsome Marc Walker rescues her from the unwanted attention of a co-worker.

Immediately swept off her feet by Marc’s charm and sex appeal, Lena recklessly spends a long, passionate night with him. Later, when she learns of the other woman in Marc’s life, she’ll have to decide if she’s willing to let him have his cake and eat it too or if she’ll spend the holiday season lonely and dateless.

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~Excerpt~

Chuck slipped an arm around her shoulders. His fingers against her bare skin sent an unwanted shiver through her. She hated the sexual hunger she found more difficult to control every day.

“Chuck, I mean it!” She glanced around the crowded ballroom, looking for someone to rescue her from his unwanted attentions. “I told you I’m not here alone.” She jerked away from him and collided with a hard, unmistakable male body.

She sucked in a quick breath, dismayed and excited at her unexpected reaction to physical contact with the stranger. “Oh sorry.”

The man replied in a sexy baritone for her ears alone. “I’m not.” His arms encircled her body, drawing her close. When he spoke again, he had raised his voice. “I’ve been looking all over for you.”

She stared up into a pair of warm brown, sexy eyes as he rocked his hips against hers.

She saw a question in the warm gaze. Remaining silent, she inched her hips forward just a breath, allowing the wanton movement to speak for her.

A smile curved his firm, full lips upward. She had a brief moment to appreciate how handsome his smooth, dark features were before he bent his head. He nibbled slowly at her lips with an insistent hunger that coaxed her mouth open. With her lips parted and her body pressed close to his, he sucked on her tongue while grinding his hips against hers until her back arched, a rush of moisture filled her panties, and her toes curled.

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PACKAGE DEAL by Stephanie Morris

PACKAGE DEAL by Stephanie Morris

The Hennings Sisters Series: Book 3

Chante Hennings is looking for a man that can satisfy her every need and she has found him only he doesn’t want the job. Maxwell “Max” Donahue has suffered through a messy marriage and has the scars to prove it. But the interactions that she has with Max tells her that there is good man underneath all of the scarring. She knows that if she gets involved with Maxwell that he comes as a part of a package deal.

Now she just has to get Max to understand that she’s okay with that. She isn’t looking for a perfect man, she’s looking for a good one and Maxwell is that man.

Maxwell Donahue isn’t ready to become involved with another woman. For the last three years his life has been in shambles. His move to Baxley isn’t only to help his father recover from a recent heart attack, but to get his life back together as well.

Unfortunately, his libido won’t let him deny his attraction to Chante so he tries to avoid her at all cost. He doesn’t realize how difficult that will be until Chante becomes his teenage daughter teacher.

To make matters worse his daughters have decided that they want a new mother and they have chosen Chante putting a completely different spin on his carefully laid out plan.

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~Excerpt~

“Good morning, ladies. If you don’t mind me asking, what brings you to my home?”

Meghan was the first to speak, and she was straight to the point. “We are here to ask you to go out on a date with our dad.”

If the looks on their faces hadn’t been so serious, she would have laughed at the nine-year-olds statement. Instead, she shook her head. She couldn’t entertain this horrible matchmaking scheme. “No.”

Melissa spoke next. “Ms. Hennings, our father is a good man.”

Chante held her hands up in a non-threatening manner. “I don’t doubt that at all, but we have to be reasonable here. My dating your father would put all of us in an uncomfortable situation.”

“No more than we already are.” Melanie replied.

She was speechless for just a moment. How in the world did Maxwell survive these three?

“Does your father know that you are here?”

Melissa nodded in the direction of her front door. “He’s outside waiting for us.”

Chante went to the window and pulled the curtains aside. Her eyes met Max’s head on. The man had the nerve to wink at her, and the simple gesture sent her heart rate soaring.

Letting the curtain fall back in place, she shook her head again. She’d been so shocked by the three of them being on her porch that she hadn’t noticed the SUV sitting in the driveway next to hers.

“Excuse me, ladies.”

She crossed to the front door and walked out to the vehicle that Maxwell was sitting comfortably in. His eyes followed her all the way to the SUV. The window was rolled down, and she leaned into the car with more confidence than she really felt.

“Now you didn’t really think that I was going to let you sit out here and relax while your daughters have me in the hot seat did you?”

He grinned, and time stood still. His smile was lethal. “Well, they seemed so determined I didn’t think that it would take long, so I wasn’t sure that I needed to come in.”

She tried to keep a straight face at his lousy excuse as she stepped back and opened the driver’s side door. “Well, let me make it clear.”

He chuckled as he slid out of the vehicle. She tilted her head back to look at him. Lord, he was tall. Unfortunately, the man was gorgeous as well, and that was going to make this situation tough.

“Ladies first.”

She led the way back up to the house. When they returned to the living room, Melissa, Melanie, and Meghan hadn’t moved. Maxwell walked over to the recliner and took a seat while Chante continued standing, facing the girls. “Now you were saying?”

“That you should go out with our dad,” Melissa responded quickly, picking up right where she’d left off.

Chante sighed. If she didn’t know any better she would say that the three sisters had taken lessons from Chantel, Cheree, and herself.

“We trust you.”

Chante looked over at Melanie. These three had put their heads together. Either they loved their dad a lot and wanted to see him happy or they needed someone to distract him so that they could pull more antics like this. Although, it looked like they had too much time on their hands already if they had come up with a plan as insane as the one that they were trying to sell. Based on what she knew about Melissa, she was going to go with the first idea. As flattering as it was that she was the chosen one, it was also an impossible situation.

“So what do you think that people will say about me dating my student’s father?”

Melanie grinned. “From the way that Melissa talks about you, I have a feeling that you don’t care what other people say about you.”

Chante looked over at Maxwell who was sitting with a smug look on his face. If she didn’t know any better, she would say that he was enjoying this, especially since he was not on the receiving end of it for a change.

“Are you going to say anything?” Chante asked, arching a dark brow in his direction.

Max smiled and shook his head. “I already lost this battle earlier. I don’t plan on losing another. Besides, I agree with them and would love to take you out.”

His statement confirmed her earlier thought and floored her at the same time. Chante’s mouth dropped open and almost dragged on the ground. She could see that it was four against one at this point.

“See, there you go. Dad is a good man, and you are a good woman. This is a perfect combination.”

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THE LOVING WIFE by Viola Russell

THE LOVING WIFE by Viola Russell

Gerry, a successful doctor, thinks he has met the perfect woman in the younger Lily, but something in her demeanor and sexual proclivities is unsettling. However, Gerry is blinded by love and ignores the stirrings in his brain.

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~Excerpt~

Gerry smiled after her, placing the bottle of Digitalis capsules on the counter as he marveled about how his life had changed. A little over a year ago, his life had seemingly been in ruins. He’d been a brilliant cardiac surgeon, but atrial fibrillation had ended his career. The rapid heartbeat came upon him too suddenly and without warning. He had to abandon the career he’d loved and practiced for over twenty years, retiring to the home his grandparents had lived in before their untimely deaths in a car accident some years ago. Not that life had ever been easy for him. Shrapnel from a sniper’s bullet in Vietnam had left him with a limp that made walking difficult, and Gerry had never been an athletic kid. Grade school as well as high school had been nightmarish with the constant taunting, but Gerry’s brilliance had proven his salvation. He’d won scholarships to Harvard and then Johns Hopkins after serving with distinction in the military as a medic. He was a self-made man, and his working-class parents had been fiercely proud of their son.

Gerry had returned home to New Orleans and begun his practice after obtaining his degree. Relationships didn’t come easy to him, and he’d had actively to pursue those women who had become his bed partners. After the war, many couldn’t look past his injury, but some saw beyond his handicap and loved his brilliance, especially when he was in medical school. He also had a thriving practice and was generous with those he loved. He’d early learned that such traits could buy him company, however briefly.

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FOOL'S GOLD by Melissa Glisan

FOOL'S GOLD by Melissa Glisan

NYPD Files

Jade Savini meets Officer Iago deOro on the night he decides to "stake out" her bar. He's looking for the thief who has been stealing and selling guns from the police evidence room. Their intense attraction to one another is the excuse he needs to justify his being in the bar. Not-so-nice cop, Lt. Deke Oliver is Jade's number one suspect.

Will Iago and Jade find the evidence to stop Deke and the extra firepower on the street? Can their fledgling relationship survive the subterfuge and danger?
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~Excerpt~

“Hey baby, what’s your story?” A tired line, but this time delivered in a graveled voice full of sin-filled nuances guaranteed to make an angel weep. Luckily, Jade Savini wasn’t an angel. Her days of innocence were long behind and far away.

Warm green eyes, the same earthy tone as her name suggested, perused the rugged form of the middle-aged warrior hunched on a stool at her bar. He looked rough and ready for anything and her hormones quirked a brow of interest before she slammed the door on that line of indecent thought.

“Slim, I don’t got a story, I’m the bartender. You’re supposed to tell me yours over your glass of Guinness and that’s that.” She played her voice low and casual, modulating the normal sound to make it fit better with the dark atmosphere of the bar. She’d been cursed with a perky, cheery voice at odds with her personality and lifestyle. Something about her voice, however, caught the warrior’s attention, adding a glint to his eye.  


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Sunday, July 21, 2013

DAYDREAMS by Veronica Tower

DAYDREAMS by Veronica Tower

Daydreams Series Book One

It’s a hot summer day and Beth is engaged in her favorite pastime—daydreaming about Grant, the college-aged young man whose cut her lawn every summer since her husband divorced her three years ago.

He’s on a football scholarship with a quarterback’s lean limbs, tight abs and strong shoulders and Beth would love nothing better than to figure out how to get to know him better. She’s imagined a thousand scenarios.

Can she bring herself to act on one before the summer ends?

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~Excerpt~

Beth Barnes poured the ice tea mix into the glass pitcher without taking her eyes off the muscular young white man mowing her backyard, right outside her window. His broad shoulders and hard abs peeked out of the sleeveless muscle shirt and glistened with sweat in the hot sun. Tall, lean, hard and agile, Grant had earned a football scholarship to Kansas University, but he was still out there sweating over her yard as he’d done every summer since Beth’s worthless ex-husband had run out on her three years ago.

She set down the measuring cup, and felt around the counter for the long wooden spoon. Lucky, her basset hound, sniffed at her light brown ankle, but Beth didn’t have eyes for him either.

Outside, Grant maneuvered the lawnmower around Beth’s elm tree. He had a mighty fine ass to go with those hard, muscular legs. His forearms flexed powerfully as he pushed the mower. And his hands—

Well, his hands had to be strong and capable, didn’t they? He was a quarterback after all. He made his living, so to speak, with his hands.

Beth sloshed the spoon around in the pitcher to dissolve the ice tea mix. Grant would be finished soon. She wondered if he’d be in a hurry this time. The last three weeks he’d seemed more than happy to stay and talk in her cool air-conditioned kitchen while they shared a glass of ice tea or lemonade after he’d finished with her lawn. It was tempting to read more into that than she should. Grant had always been a polite young man and she was, after all, old enough to be his mother. And what young man didn’t want to talk about his plans for the future? She was probably reading too much into what were doubtless innocent looks, but what if she weren’t imagining things? It had been an awfully long time since Carl had left and their sex life had been practically non-existent for years before that.

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FILM ME by Megan Slayer



FILM ME by Megan Slayer

Wes Long is a legend. Everyone wants to be in his films. But Wes has challenged Jinx for more.

Jinx Star has been around the world of adult films for more than five years. Leading man Wes Long is a legend with a long list of partners to his credit.

But Wes has challenged Jinx for more. He'll accept nothing less than her total submission - on and off the set.

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Film Me
Megan Slayer
All rights reserved.
Copyright ©2013 Megan Slayer

This e-book file contains sexually explicit scenes and adult language which some may find offensive and which is not appropriate for a young audience. Changeling Press E-Books are for sale to adults, only, as defined by the laws of the country in which you made your purchase. Please store your files wisely, where they cannot be accessed by under-aged readers.

"What's a girl got to do to get a decent partner in a film?" Jinx Star crossed her legs and resumed watching the film crew set up the next shot. Big Jet Movies worked quick and usually dirty -- get in, get some, get it on film, then get it onto the web. Not the best way to make a living, but starring in the films paid her rent. She flipped a lock of hair off her shoulder and sighed.

"What's wrong, Jinx?" Luscious sat down next to her and propped her chin on her folded hands. "Don't want to work today?"

Trust her coworker, Luscious, to want to move in on her role. "I'm good." Well, not really. If she had her druthers she'd be making the movie with someone else. She swiped her thumb across her phone, bringing the text screen to the front. Nothing new. Same three texts as before. She didn't bother to look over the script again. What a laugh. Walk in, strip down, have sex in five positions, he comes on her face and end take.

One day she wouldn't have to use her body to make money.

"I hear Wes Long is on set. I haven't seen him." Luscious shrugged and stood. She adjusted her thong panties, then sauntered away from Jinx. "Oh," she said over her shoulder, "but if he's here, I'm vying for his last movie before he hangs up his thong. The guy is gorgeous and he's so well endowed. I could come thinking about him."

"Last movie?" She swiped the screen to bring up the Internet on her phone, then added Wes' name to the search engine. "Can't be." Wes Long was the man in adult film. Everyone wanted to work with him. Hell, he'd made more than five hundred clips for Big Jet alone. The more she searched, the less she learned. No mention of a last film or him retiring. She sighed. Well, fuck.

Everyone wanted to be in his films, but she wanted something else. She'd admired the towering raven-haired hunk since she saw him in Double Diving. He'd been the reason she'd started doing pornography. She tossed her phone onto the table and stared at the grips fixing the lights.

"Attention." The director, Patrick Steele, stood in the middle of the set with his back to the massive round bed. "I need everyone to vacate the set. We're moving next door to the sauna room. Maxx Thrust, you'll be working with Luscious."

Jinx rolled her eyes. Go figure Big Jet would double book a damned set then hand off her role anyway. She gathered her phone and the magazine she'd been reading between shots, then stood. "Screw it."

"Jinxy," Patrick called, stopping her. "You need to stay here." He handed her a rolled-up script bound in a rubber band. "Been given this special delivery." He shrugged, then strolled away.

"I need to stay here?" She placed her things back on the table, then unrolled the paper. A note slipped from the script and landed on top of her phone.

Jinx Star,

I have a challenge for you. If you accept, I will make it worth your while.
I want you to star with me in my last movie. Hunger involves more than just sex.
Are you willing to submit to me? Completely submit to me? I'll be on the set at five. 


Wes

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Saturday, July 20, 2013

SATURDAY NIGHT SPECIAL by Wendi Zwaduk

SATURDAY NIGHT SPECIAL by Wendi Zwaduk

She makes his motor run.
 
Blaine Haeferle drives fast and lives on the edge. He’s not afraid to risk it all for the win—unless his heart is in the mix. He loved once, but things ended in disaster. Can he accept the woman who holds his heart, despite all their jagged past?
 
Mallory Sweet never intended to leave Blaine without a word. But one night changed everything for her. Instead of facing her past, she ran.
 
Is coming to terms with her past the key to winning the love of her life back?
 
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~Excerpt~

His breath caught when he spotted the black and scarlet 33w tattoo on her sculpted ankle. His number. He didn’t need to see the rest of the woman to know who sat on the truck seat. His hands itched to hold her. Blaine surged to the truck cab. “Mallory?”
 
The late day sunlight light spread across the interior of the truck, making her eyes shine and her skin the perfect shade of peaches and cream – like unblemished porcelain. She took his breath away with nothing more than a smile.
 
Mallory patted the seat. “I needed a soft place to sit. These heels are killing me.”
 
His gaze slid down her sculpted calves to her shoes. His shivered. His cock pressed against his fire suit. Damn. He gave in to a quick fantasy and envisioned Mal in nothing but those high heels.
“They’re killing me too.”
 
“What?”
 
Realizing he verbalized his thoughts, his attention snapped back to her face with a quick meander over the way her black miniskirt hugged her curves and blood red halter cupped her breasts. He folded his hands over his crotch to hide the growing erection. “I mean…What are you doing here?
Aren’t you supposed to be shooting a cover for something?” On the inside, he groaned. Way to sound intelligent.
 
“I probably could be shooting a cover for something, as you put it. But I’m not.” She toyed with the thick silver ring on her middle finger. “Did you hear me sing?”
 
“I did.” He had to pay attention to something besides her body and it’s effect on his. He should, but he couldn’t, not when she looked so good. He leaned on the tool chest and crossed his
ankles—anything to hide the tent in his pants. “You sounded good.” Unlike his answer, which sounded moronic and bland. He tapped his toes on the packed dirt beneath his feet and hooked his thumbs on the waistband of his fire suit.
 
Mallory stilled his hand. “I saw you race. You did well.”
 
Her touch sparked the feelings he’d long since buried. So much for getting over her. “I had motivation.” Her picture in his pocket and the memories of her on his heart.
 
Her cheeks paled and her eyes widened. “Motivation?” Her brows knotted. “I see.” She straightened her blouse. “Well, good luck tonight.”
 
Blaine took a step back. Something happened between them, but fuck if he understood what. “Don’t tell me you came here for small talk. You hate making conversation for the sake of wasting time. What’s going on?” He touched her cheek. “You aren’t even smiling. What’s wrong?”
 

SWITCHING GEARS by Megan Slayer

SWITCHING GEARS by Megan Slayer

Track Domination Series Book Three

Ethan’s about to meet his match in the last person he ever expected.

Ethan Long is a man on a mission—finish well and he gets to keep his ride at Flash Racing. Continue to crash and his racing days will be numbered. Other than being behind the wheel of a race vehicle, this good looking hot shot hasn’t got the first clue how to harness his ego or his talent. Until he locks gazes with Royce. Then all bets are off.

Royce Darden doesn’t play around. His no-nonsense attitude propelled him to the head of the merchandise sales at Flash. He’s good with numbers and facts…and a crop. Few people know about his wilder side and what he needs in bed. He sees the inner submissive in Ethan screaming for a turn. Can Royce convince the young driver that switching gears could be the key to his racing future?

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~Excerpt~

“They always want an ass.”

Ethan Long twiddled his thumbs and bounced his foot on his other knee. He’d been summoned into the boss’ motor coach to talk racing. Most guys would hate to be called on the carpet. Not Ethan. Hell, he expected the weekly lecture. He’d wrecked two trucks in Pocono, torn them to smithereens. As usual, his crew chief, Sam, and the big boss, Collin, would rip him a new asshole. Ethan might not have cared except Flash Racing had become not only known for solid finishes thanks to his team mate, Will, but the shop had garnered the name Fucking Romance racing. First Will and his crew chief, Adam, had hooked up, then Collin and Sam had started doing the horizontal mambo.

Ethan refused to be the next domino to fall. No way. He wasn’t about to fall in love or settle down with one man. Not when plenty of hot men and women populated the crowds. No, he’d stay Ethan the Long Shot to Win and come out on top despite the odds.

Except, this time, Sam and Collin weren’t around. Ethan’s skin crawled. Both men tended to tag-team growl at him after the race. This silence bothered him. Suddenly, the door clicked behind him, making him jerk. He turned toward the sound. Instead of Collin, another man strolled into the office. Royce Darden, the hottest guy on the racing circuit—except Royce didn’t drive a car. He sold the die cast versions and whatever else fans wanted to buy with Will’s face or name emblazoned on it.

“Hey.” Royce smiled then glanced around the luxury coach. “I thought Collin was here. No?”

“He’s not been by.” Ethan stood and rubbed his clammy palms on his jeans legs. His heart skipped a beat whenever he saw Royce. Part of him wanted to jump the man. The rest of him…wanted to jump on him, too.

“Well.” Royce scrubbed the heel of his hand over his face then sighed. “Thanks. I’ll see if he’s with Sam.”

“Hold up,” Ethan blurted. He’d never been attracted to the mild-mannered type like Royce, but what the hell. Why not make a play for the sexy man? “Why don’t you stick around here? Unless you’ve got someone waiting on you.”

Ethan held his breath while he waited for Royce to respond.

Royce narrowed his eyes. “That ship has sailed.”

“Oh.” Ethan couldn’t hide his disappointment. He wasn’t sure what he’d expected Royce to say, but the rejection stung.

“I mean, my ex couldn’t handle my hours at Flash and my crazy travel schedule. He wanted me home, and racing doesn’t stay home for long.” Royce smiled. He settled onto the chair next to the door. “What were you thinking?”

“Wait.” Ethan processed Royce’s words. He? Royce had said the word he, right? “He?”

Shit. He needed to stop blabbing the first word on his mind.

“Your gaydar is correct.” Royce folded his arms. The muscles tensed beneath the sleeves of his polo shirt. “Brian wanted a nine-to-five guy. I’m not.”

“You don’t flaunt it.” Ethan sank down onto the couch. Christ, if he hadn’t had this discussion with Royce, he’d never have guessed Royce was gay.

“I don’t need to.” Another smile, as if Royce knew something Ethan had yet to figure out.

“I see.” Ethan leaned back in his seat. “I finished second in the race. Did you see me?”

“I watched the ending. Will won. Did a damned good job.”

No inflection in Royce’s voice, but at least, Ethan had gotten him to talk some more. “I let him have that last corner.”

“You were a full second behind him.”

A full second and a whole hell of a lot looser in the turns. He should’ve finished worse than he had. Fuck. Ethan groaned. “I doubt Collin’s coming back, and I’m horny as hell. I want you to fuck me.” He leapt out of his seat and stalked across the short expanse to where Royce sat. “Don’t tell me you’ve never initiated a motor coach.”

“I have.” Royce kept his arms folded. “But I’m not interested.”

“What?” Ethan recoiled as if he’d been slapped. People just didn’t tell him they weren’t interested. They fawned over him and begged him for sex. Where did Royce get off telling him no?

“You’re cute and all, but you’re young.” Royce nudged Ethan out of the way and stood. “You’re what…twenty-three? I’ve got almost ten years on you.” He patted Ethan’s shoulder. “Better luck next time.”

Before Ethan could form a coherent response, Royce left the motor coach. The door clicked shut, and realization struck. Of all the guys to wander in and out of his life, this one, Royce Darden, the guy who looked good without trying, didn’t want any piece of him.

So why did he stick fast in Ethan’s mind? Who knew? Because he kind of liked the guy as more than a fling. But he’d always been the bad guy—the one to walk away first. Ethan replayed the post race interview over and over in his head. Your fenders are bent all to hell, and you’ve managed to upset three-quarters of the field. Despite that, you finish well. You’re booed. How do you like being the bad guy?

When the perky woman asking him the questions had stopped talking, he’d stared at her. He’d known what he wanted to say, but the words hadn’t come right away.

“Just doing my job,” he’d said. “The boos spur me on. Who doesn’t want to be the bad ass? Guys know not to try stuff with me because I’ll put the stomp on them. Besides, you’re talking to me, not them. Score one for me.”

What an ass. He’d sounded confident to the point of being cocky. He rolled his eyes at himself and plopped onto the couch. Being the jerk sucked. All those race machines torn up for what? So he could look cool? Good finishes meant more attention. Lord knew the second place finish hadn’t even scored him a date with Royce. And why? Royce probably wanted a mature guy, a guy who raced like a pro…not a dumb kid.

Screw it. He wanted Royce and wasn’t about to take no for an answer. He’d prove he wasn’t a kid, and he was just the man Royce needed.

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Thursday, July 18, 2013

FAVORED DRAGON'S RELEASE by D. Renee Bagby

FAVORED DRAGON'S RELEASE by  D. Renee Bagby

Hidden By Dragons Book One

He wants her for his bride to end the dragons’ curse but his love for her is ruining his plans.

In the aftermath of a senseless war that claimed many lives, the gods have punished the dragons for causing the conflict. The next generation will not hatch until Prince Shurik finds a human female willing to put aside generations of animosity to become his bride.

Yolette goes to sleep on the side of a mountain, the odd woman out on a couples' camping trip, and awakes in a field outside the home of a dragon. Transported to an unknown world very different from her own, she must depend on Shurik for shelter and guidance.

Shurik doesn't anticipate his growing feelings for Yolette, making the task of proposing that much harder. Danger looms from those who want the punishment ended and from those who want it to continue until the last dragon is gone. Shurik must decide whether he will save his people or his love and pray to the gods his choice is the right one.

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~Excerpt~

“You mentioned food. All this philosophizing is making me hungry.”

“Rather than having me guess, what would you like?”

“Bread.”

Shurik laughed.

“Did I say something funny?”

“You are so enthusiastic.”

She mumbled, “It was good.”

He walked back to the spot where they had entered and reached toward the darkness. Yolette wasn’t sure what he was doing until he pulled out a large platter and a cup. He returned to the water’s edge where he placed the platter and the cup on the ground. In the middle of the platter was a loaf of sliced bread. Around the bread were meats and cheeses and small pots of what looked like jellies.

Shurik gestured to the food.

Yolette wasn’t sure where to start. She grabbed a piece of bread, tore off a chunk, and reached for the nearest small jar. It contained honey. She was almost sure it was honey. A taste test would prove it. She dipped the bread and then popped the piece in her mouth.

She closed her eyes as the honey exploded over her senses in a rush of sweetness, the likes of which she’d never tasted. Slowly she chewed, savoring every single bit of the bread and actually chewing the requisite twenty times—possibly more—before swallowing.

“I think I just tasted heaven,” she whispered.

“This honey is a delicacy. No human has tasted it before.”

“I’m honored then. It’s positively decadent.” She dipped another piece of bread into the honey and ate it, savoring it as she did the first. It was the slowest she’d ever eaten anything.

Shurik said, “The bees of dragon territory are unique, and thus their honey is unique.”

“I’ll say. It literally is liquid gold for the eyes and senses.” She sighed as she licked a bit of the honey off of her fingers. If nirvana had a flavor, it would have been that honey.

It took a bit of doing, but she managed to make herself eat something else besides the honey. Shurik poured a drink for her from his cup. They ate and drank in silence. She indulged one last bite of honey and bread before her stomach declared maximum occupancy had been reached.

Shurik asked, “Full?”

“Very.” She patted her stomach. “You ate more this time.”

“Your appetite is infectious.” He returned the platter to the shadowed area, placed it inside, and then returned. “What do you wish to do this day?”

Yolette stared at Shurik while she contemplated his question. He watched her without saying a word. Her gaze strayed to his wings. “Flying lessons.”

Shurik’s smile dropped.

“Don’t look like that. I’m not going to get used to how you fly if we never go flying.”

“That is true,” he said in a hesitant manner.

“Besides, I was fine last time. You caught me like you said you would.”

“Yes.”

She stood and clapped her hands together. “Flying lessons.”

Shurik sighed. “Flying lessons.”

She walked over and patted his side. “If it makes you feel better, I’m afraid of heights. So, in a way, I’m showing a lot of trust by even suggesting this.”

He looked at her in surprise. “You did not mention such a fear yesterday.”

“I was too upset about not being able to go home to really register that I was up in the air until after we landed.” She shrugged. “I figured mentioning it now might help somehow. I guess. I don’t know.”

He nodded. “You have nothing to fear while flying with me.”

“Good. Now the only issue is keeping hold of you. You may not realize, but you’re slippery.”

He laughed.

“Not in a slimy way. I mean, because your scales are smooth, they are hard to hold.”

“I understand.”

She sighed, happy he hadn’t taken her words the wrong way.

He said, “Perhaps a rope.”

“No.”

“You could use it as a harness.”

“No. It just seems demeaning somehow.”

“I suggested it, therefore I don’t find it demeaning.”

“And how would the rope be attached? Not around your neck, I know. And tying it around one of your spines is useless since it would slip off after a while.”

“True.”

She made a thinking noise, but it was for show only. She had no other alternatives to offer.

Shurik said, “A rope is still a viable option so long as it stays attached, correct?”

“I don’t like it.” She sounded like she was pouting, even to her own ears. “What if—no. Never mind.”

“What?”

“You could carry me. In your hand, I mean. Like when you lift me up to the table or the bed.”

Shurik looked at his hands.

She followed his gaze and then met his eyes when he looked at her. “No?”

“Your idea is sound but not viable for the long term. I cannot always carry you in such a way. I would fear hurting you.”

“I’m sure you wouldn’t.”

“How can you trust me so completely when we have not known each other long?”

She cocked her head to the side. “You’re nice. I’m usually a pretty good judge of character. I have to trust someone on this new planet. I’ll start with you.”

Shurik blinked at her a few times. He lowered his hand, palm up, and waited.

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