Thursday, 30 June 2011

Excerpt Day – Honorbound © Barbara Donlon Bradley

Excerpt

He heard weeping as he reached the door. Not another crier. He didn’t want to put up with another woman weeping all the way back to Varash. He took a deep breath, opened the door, and found himself surrounded by thirty women. He looked around in surprise.

 

Most of the women cowered behind one who didn’t seem to be afraid of anything. She glared at him—her chin held high. “Have we not been beaten enough today?”

 

“I’m not here to beat anyone.” He closed the door quietly. “I’m here for Sashi.”

 

“We don’t know who you are talking about.” She narrowed her eyes at him. “But you’ll get one of us to entertain you soon enough. Coming in here and trying to find out who will be yours for the night will do you no good. If you don’t leave now I will tell Erroc you were here.”

 

“You don’t understand.” He stepped into the room a little further.

 

“What?” She seemed quite cross with him.

 

“I was sent by Tunari. I’m here to rescue Sashi.”

 

She looked at the other women. “Does that name mean anything to anyone?” When no one answered, she turned back to look at him. “Sorry.”

 

“Our intelligence says Sashi is here and it’s extremely accurate. Are there any other places where she might be kept in this keep?”

 

“No.” She crossed her arms over her chest. “You must have the wrong keep.”

 

“Has anyone died?” Was he too late?

 

As much as he grumbled about the women he had rescued so far, he felt responsible for each one he had put in this type of jeopardy. Nutoru was bound and determined to get each of them out. Sashi was no exception.

 

“Not recently.” She tilted her head at him, probably trying to figure out if he was for real or not. “We’ve all been here three years or more. Erroc picked each of us so he could find the perfect wife. He just been a little slow at choosing which one of us he wants.”

 

Nutoru ran his fingers through his hair in frustration. She had to be here.

 

“Look, if you’re really here to rescue one person you might as well leave.” Her words hinted he hadn’t made a mistake after all. “Erroc has threatened to kill everyone if any of us disappear. So you either take everyone or walk away empty-handed. No one is dying because of one woman.”

 

“All of you?” He had feared as much when Sashi hadn’t stepped forward right away. She was here, but afraid of the consequences if she were to leave with him alone. If he got them all out, perhaps she would reveal herself. His job just got very complicated. But how was he going to get them all out without being detected?

 

“I’ll–”

 

The door creaked as it opened. “Erroc demands that you eat now.”

 

The moment the door moved, Nutoru jumped behind it. He was close enough to the wall to use the door to block his presence from the guard. As long as the guard didn’t step into the room any further so he could see what was behind the door. He also hoped none of the women would look at him, drawing attention to his hiding place.

 

Would someone give him away?

 

©2011 Barbara Donlon Bradley

 

Honorbound

Author: Barbara Donlon Bradley

Publisher: Phaze Publishing

Genre: Erotic Sci-Fi

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Nutoru has inadvertently gotten her into this mess. Now he has to get her out. He has done dozens of these rescues, normally in and out quickly, but not this time. Kese sees the stranger who came to save her and knows this is an opportunity to get all her friends rescued. They deserved their freedom too.

Traveling with all of them gives him a chance to get to know Kese intimately and she’s supposed to marry when he gets her home. How was he going to bring her back home and walk away if he can’t keep his distance from her?

 

 

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Excerpt Day - Midnight Bay Bk3 : Mystical Warrior © Janet Chapman

Excerpt

 

 

Chapter One


Trace Huntsman would have punched Kenzie Gregor in the face if the bastard hadn't looked too miserable to defend himself. So he hauled the highland warrior several yards down the driveway instead, out of earshot of the two women getting out of the large black SUV.

 

"Mind telling me what in hell is going on here?" Trace asked through gritted teeth. "And you damn well better start by explaining why the 'lost soul' moving into my house just happens to be your sister."

 

"If I'd told you I wanted the apartment for Fiona, would you have rented it to me?" Kenzie asked, the determination in his eyes warring with his obvious guilt.

 

Deciding that was a rhetorical question, Trace looked over his shoulder to see Eve Gregor wrap an arm around her sister-in-law and all but drag Fiona toward the outside stairs leading up to the second-floor apartment of his old New England farmhouse. He turned back to Kenzie. "I offered to keep an eye on one of your displaced time travelers; I did not agree to babysit the little sister of a powerful drÙidh who will turn me into a toad if anything happens to her."

 

Kenzie shot him a tight grin, although it did little to soften his expression. "It's not as though we pulled your name out of a hat, Huntsman. Matt and I rented your apartment precisely so you can keep an eye on Fiona for us."

 

"Goddamn it, she's your sister, why can't you keep an eye on her? Better yet, why can't your brother? He's a wizard, for chrissakes; all he has to do is conjure up a protective bubble to put around her."

 

"Do ye not think we wouldn't prefer to do just that?" Kenzie asked softly. "But what kind of life can she possibly have if we treat her like a child? Believe me; for as hard as this is on Fiona, it's sheer hell for Matt and me." Kenzie gestured toward the house. "Which leaves us with you. It's our hope that by forcing Fiona to live on her own, she will eventually rediscover the strong, self-reliant woman she was before that bastard raped her and stole her courage."

 

"Then build a house on your land and let her live under your watchful eye."

 

"Fiona needs to be in town in order to become part of this community. She must learn to trust people—men in particular—and that won't happen unless she realizes society is a blessing instead of a curse."

 

"But why me?"

 

"Because Matt and I trust you."

 

"Then you and your brother are idiots. Hell, my own mother doesn't even trust me enough to water her plants and feed her cat when she goes out of town."

 

Some of the tension eased out of Kenzie's shoulders, and this time his grin actually reached his eyes. "You won't need to water Fiona or feed her. In fact, Matt and I prefer you do nothing for her other than make sure she's safe. Her rent is paid up for the next six months, her cupboards will be stocked with a week's worth of food, and she has five hundred dollars in cash." He shrugged. "When she gets hungry, she will have to walk to the store and buy what she needs, and when her money runs out, she'll have to find a job."

 

Trace was incredulous. "You expect a woman born in eleventh-century Scotland to just walk into a modern business and get a job?" He snorted. "There's not much call for washing clothes in the creek or spinning wool into yarn these days. No, wait," he said, snapping his fingers. "Fiona was a red-tailed hawk for several centuries; maybe the town could hire her to control the pigeon population."

 

Kenzie scowled. "Fiona knows how to read and do numbers, and she can be quite resourceful when she's not jumping at shadows. Which is why you mustn't coddle her, either."

 

"Well, sure. I'll just give you a call, then, when your dead sister's body starts stinking up my apartment."

 

The towering highlander's grin returned, but quite menacing this time. "Do not underestimate her, my friend, or it's likely your body I'll be carting off. Fiona may appear delicate, but I've seen her go after a pack of wolves with only a stick when they tried to snatch one of our spring lambs. She was ten, and the wolves were smart enough never to return."

 

Trace dropped his head in defeat. "Goddamn it. I didn't sign up for this, Gregor."

 

Kenzie headed toward his SUV. "Ye may wish to clean up your language around her," he said, his chuckle equally menacing. "When she was eight, Fiona washed Matt's mouth out with soap for taking God's name in vain. But knowing she'd never catch him in a footrace, she waited until he fell asleep that night and then shoved a lathered bar of soap halfway down his throat." He stopped and opened the rear hatch. "So consider yourself warned. Fiona rarely gets mad, but she will get even."

 

Trace grabbed one of the boxes out of the back of the truck and started toward the stairs. Great. Wonderful. Friggin' fantastic. Why should he care if Matt Gregor turned him into a toad? Living under a rock waiting for a fly to land on his nose had to be better than babysitting an eleventh-century woman who had turned her fear of men into openly aggressive hatred.

 

Which was a shame, really, considering that Fiona Gregor also happened to be stunningly beautiful. Dammit to hell, he'd be beating two-legged wolves off with a stick once every bachelor within fifty miles realized a pretty new lamb had just moved into town.

 

Trace suddenly stopped in mid-step. Wait a minute—did that mean the Gregor brothers thought he was a goddamn eunuch?

 

Well, Christ, they really were idiots if they had never considered they might have just conned the fox into guarding the henhouse.

 

Fiona squinted against the sunlight shooting through a knothole in the wood and slowly sat up as much as the sharply slanting ceiling allowed, giving a disheartened sigh. She made no apologies for hating men, but she surely was tired of being afraid of them. And she was quite disgusted with herself for going into a full-blown panic last night when Trace Huntsman had knocked on her door to tell her that electricity didn't grow on trees and that she needed to turn off the lights in her apartment.

 

Afraid he might decide to push through the rickety old door and turn them off himself, she'd run through the rooms like a madwoman, shutting off lamps and frantically searching for wall switches. She'd turned off every last bulb, even though he'd said she could leave one on just before he'd walked back down the outside stairs.

 

Thoroughly shaken by the late-night encounter, she had tried resorting to her old habit of sleeping in a closet, only to discover that all three of the apartment closets were simply too small. So she'd dragged her blankets into the large cupboard built under the attic stairway, curled into a tight ball in the dark, and eventually fallen asleep.

 

Blinking against the bright morning light when she opened the door, she decided to make a latch for the cupboard that she could lock from the inside. And before she started scrubbing every crack and crevice in the kitchen and bathroom, she should probably gather some of the sweetgrass she'd seen growing down by the sea and make a mattress for it as well.

 

"It won't be my permanent bed," she assured herself as she crawled out and stood up. "But having a hidey-hole is only prudent, and there's no reason it can't be comfortable as well as secure." Maybe she could also disguise the fact that it even existed; some well-placed furniture and a large wall hanging over the door should do the trick.

 

But her shoulders slumped as she stared down at the gaping cavity. A modern woman wouldn't have spent the night hiding in a cupboard—even if she did live above a big, strong-looking, disgruntled landlord.

 

"I am well aware that electricity doesn't grow on trees," she muttered, walking to the bathroom. She stopped to look into the mirror over the sink and found gold-colored eyes exactly like her mother's glaring back at her. She began unbraiding her hair. "Just because my brothers tricked you into renting this apartment to me, that's no reason for you to march up here in the middle of the night growling like an angry bear. You could have just called my cell phone and nicely asked me to turn off the lights. Or is acting civilized beyond the ken of modern warriors, too?"

 

Fiona decided it was beyond her ken how little men had changed in a thousand years, especially considering that technology had progressed out of this world—literally! People had actually walked on the moon, yet every blasted man she'd ever met—in this century or in her old time—was still a bully.

 

Including her brothers.

 

Fiona stripped out of the clothes she'd slept in, then reached past the tattered shower curtain surrounding the bathtub and turned on the water. She felt bad for having spoken so bluntly to Eve yesterday, when her sister-in-law's feigned excitement had turned to horror the moment they'd walked into the apartment. No, she probably shouldn't have said she considered this a rather nice prison compared with her last one, as Eve had grown even more appalled and started to go tell Kenzie the apartment wasn't fit for a dog to live in.

 

Fiona had immediately stopped her, saying she'd willingly live in a cave if her dear, sweet, loving brothers thought she should, seeing as how they seemed to know far better than she did what was good for her. And besides, with a little work, she could make the place quite cozy. She didn't have anything else to do now that they had each in turn banished her from their homes.

 

Aye, she'd definitely been too blunt, Fiona decided as she stepped under the hot spray of water. After making up her bed and unpacking some of the boxes they'd spent last week filling with household goods, it had taken her almost two hours to persuade Eve—who obviously felt guilty for siding with Kenzie—that she was actually looking forward to putting her personal touch on her new home.

 

Not that this old house could ever be as nice as her brothers' homes, especially the veritable castle Matt and Winter were building up in the western mountains of Maine. And even though Kenzie and Eve lived in a century-old farmhouse similar to this one, theirs had just gone through a major renovation that had transformed it into a fortress the devil himself couldn't destroy.

 

Whereas this place … well, Fiona figured the roof was staying attached only by the grace of God, the furnishings and appliances were older than she was, and if the floors creaked any louder, she'd likely be deaf in a month.

 

On the plus side, however, it did have running water, indoor plumbing, and electricity that she happened to know came from power lines—although she wasn't sure where the power in those lines actually came from.

 

But just as soon as she worked up the nerve, she planned to visit the building full of books Eve's mother, Mabel, had told her about and find out for certain how electricity was made. And the next time Trace Huntsman felt the need to give her a lesson on modern technology, she intended to point out that she hadn't grown out of a tree.

 

That is, assuming she could also work up the nerve to actually talk to the growling bear.

 

© 2011 Janet Chapman

 

Mystical Warrior

Midnight Bay Bk3

Author: Janet Chapman

Publisher: Simon and Schuster

Genre: Paranormal, time travel

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An eleventh-century lass with a stubborn streak unleashes the red-hot hero inside her modern lover in bestselling author Janet Chapman's irresistible new Midnight Bay adventure.

Trace Huntsman's peaceful life has headed to hell in a hand-basket ever since stunningly beautiful Fiona Gregor moved into the vacant apartment above his house. Kidnapped centuries earlier and transformed into a red-tail hawk, Fiona is human once more and must learn how to be a modern woman. But damned if Trace is going to be the one to teach her. Not when her mere presence ignites a fiery passion deep within his cautious heart.

Fiona longs to overcome the painful memories of her tragic past—to let down her guard and become a mother again. But so far her handsome landlord is not exactly thrilled with the stray animals—and suitors—that keep following her home. When the wizard Maximilian Oceanus shows up, Trace reaches the end of his rope. Weird things happen when Mac is around—raging storms, snarling demons—but this time, Midnight Bay is at the center of a fierce battle, and Fiona is the primary target. Only Trace can save her, but first, the lovers must set aside their fears . . . and open up their hearts.

 

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Excerpt Day - Everything That You Are © Nikki McCoy

Excerpt

 

 

 

Michael followed his friend into the nightclub and immediately cringed at the assault on his senses. Loud music blared from speakers placed strategically into the corner panels of each wall. The air was cool but held the scents of alcohol, tobacco, and too many desperate bodies squeezed together, trying to find release, if only for a few hours.

 

The crowd was full of both young and middle-aged gay and lesbian people, which surprised Michael. He’d expected to find nothing but a bunch of spoilt brats with too much of their parents’ money to know what to do with.

 

Nick had insisted on celebrating Michael’s ascension within the pack with a little bit of ‘sexual variety’, as he had so delicately put it the week before. Apparently, Michael’s stale sex life of heterosexual one-night stands with no emotional involvement was getting to the man, although why, he had no idea.

 

Nick was determined to see if the reason for his emotional detachment was because he hadn’t been looking in the right places…or at the right sex. What Nick didn’t understand was that not only did Michael need to find a female to have pups with, but he also wasn’t ready to be tied down in a relationship yet, even if he had just been proclaimed the new Alpha of his pack.

 

Kids and chains and further obligations could come later. For now, he was going to enjoy his freedom a little longer. Tonight, however, he would go along with his friend’s antics, if for no other reason than to indulge him.

 

He walked with Nick to the bar, ignoring the lust-filled glances of men as he passed by them. He did, however, notice several attractive women he wouldn’t mind taking home for the night. Unfortunately, they were wrapped around other females he didn’t think would be open to sharing.

 

“Beer?” Nick yelled over the rumbling blast of music as he flagged down the bartender. With their advanced hearing, it wasn’t necessary for them to compete with the blare of the noise around them to hear one another, but it was a human bar, and such things were the norm in these places.

 

“Make it a scotch. I have a feeling you’re going to try to get me laid tonight and I’m not sure I want to be completely sober for it.”

 

Nick shot him a devilish grin and ordered the drinks before saying, “Has a guy caught your eye already?”

 

Michael snorted. “No, but I’ll bet plenty have caught yours.”

 

Nick laughed and introduced him to a couple of his friends who were sitting socialising around the bar, then paid for their drinks and led them to one of the open tables lined up against the far wall. Michael finished his drink in one gulp and flagged down a waitress for another before casting his gaze out over the sea of undulating bodies crowding the dance floor.

 

He tried to keep track of the couples that came over to greet Nick, and politely blew off the few men brave enough to ignore his air of nonchalance and approach him for a dance. After a while, he began to lose interest. He had long ago decided the whole club dating scenario was a bit too tedious for his tastes. He much preferred his partners to come to him.

 

That’s when he saw them. In two large cages with wide-spaced bars, suspended from either side of the ceiling at the far end of the club, were a man and a woman dancing almost obscenely to the rhythmic beat of the music. Their movements were graceful and hypnotic, but it was the man in the cage to his left that caught his attention. His lithe form moved like liquid and the definition of his toned muscles was clear to see even from this distance.

 

The transparent mesh shirt that ended at his abs and black, leather shorts were adorned with chains that crisscrossed his chest and thighs and emphasised the wide expanses of pale skin that were showing. Michael realised he was holding his breath, much like he had while watching professional ice-skating or the ballet on the occasions his mom had tried to force culture on him.

 

He slowly let the air from his lungs and felt the hardening of his cock as he continued to be riveted.

 

The man was captivating.

 

And Michael was hardly the only one to notice. There was a small gathering of men surrounding the base of the cage, which hovered about three feet from the ground. The younger ones were trying to emulate his moves while casting furtive glances his way. The older ones were either swaying slightly or not bothering to move at all as they blatantly ogled the young dancer.

 

Michael hadn’t realised how caught up he’d become in the scene until he started at the feel of a hand on his elbow. He turned to see Nick with a knowing smirk on his face.

 

“We’re here to take advantage of the available people, not the sexy advertisements on display.”

 

Michael managed to pull his gaze away from the spectacle long enough to give his friend a confused look and ask, “The advertisements?”

 

Nick looked back over to the figure in the cage Michael had just been transfixed by and grinned. “Yeah. Those people up there get paid to dance and attract the crowd that comes in here every night looking for sex on a stick. I gotta say, though, that guy does his job very well.”

 

Michael had already focussed his stare back on the man, who was now kneeling down to unhook the bottom latch of the door to the cage. “Yeah, he does. Where is he going?”

 

© Nikki McCoy

 

 

Everything That You Are

Author: Nikki McCoy

Publisher: Total E-bound

Genre: GLBT

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In a foolish moment of pride and fear, Michael cast aside his destined mate, leaving Kaden to suffer the brutal consequences, but he will risk anything, even life itself, to make amends and win his mate’s love.

Born of the union between a werewolf and a mage, Kaden was forced to hide his existence and power from both species. But when a stranger crossed his path one night, he was tempted to risk his heart and life to meet this man. They were not alone, however. An alpha witnessed Kaden’s harsh rejection and kidnapped him immediately afterward, subjecting him to years of torture and manipulation of his power.

Michael, a newly made alpha, had never been attracted to men, so when he discovered that his mate was male, shock and fear caused him to make the worst decision of his life. He spurned Kaden and the love the younger man offered. Ridden with guilt and loss, Michael went back to search for his mate only to find him gone.

After four years of scouring the countryside for Kaden, fate brought them back together, but Michael finds that winning Kaden’s heart is not his only challenge. Kaden’s kidnapper will never give up his obsession with the young beauty, but neither will Michael. Will their love be strong enough to defeat evil and the burden of past mistakes?

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Excerpt Day - What's New, Pussycat? © Josee Renard

 Excerpt

 

 

Versa heard the humming before the deep, sexy growl kicked in with the words. He never sang any other song, only that one Tom Jones oldie, and she didn’t care. She’d spent all summer listening—and watching—and she was just about fed up with trying to ignore the need she felt. She had a desperate urge to march right over to the construction zone next door and…

 

She’d grab that face she’d been watching for months, pull those smiling lips down to hers, and kiss the hell out of him before she dragged him across the dirt and dust and trampled bushes of the yard next door, through her perfectly manicured lawn, and right on upstairs to her big shower.

 

First, she’d taste every inch of him while she washed the sweat from his glorious body. She’d seen it almost every day, dripping wet. He often stepped outside, ripped off his shirt, and ran the hose over his torso.

 

The sight of tanned, sculpted chest and back got her throbbing. When he threw back his head and laughed, her pussy started to drip. Every. Single. Damn. Day.

 

For almost four months. She’d lasted almost four months. Versa didn’t think she’d last much longer without giving in to her increasingly overwhelming urges.

 

Face flushing with anticipation, Versa tried to ignore her racing pulse and her aching nipples. She didn’t have the nerve for it. She’d been through too much in the past ten years. A bad marriage. A miserable two years trying to get out of it. And a failed and boring relationship trying to get herself back in the game.

 

Another man?

 

Even one as sexy, as tempting, as fuckable as Theo?

 

Not yet. Maybe not ever.

 

She wasn’t ready, might never be ready again. If she could convince him that it was just sex and he’d actually treat it that way… But no. In Versa’s experience, all men professed they weren’t interested in a relationship until their cocks took over, right after the first orgasm. Once that happened, their cocks convinced them a relationship was necessary.

 

Because their cocks had an agenda: sex, sex, and more sex.

 

Having a relationship meant they’d have sex—all kinds of sex—from quickies in the shower to blowjobs before they left for work to fucking their brains out after the Sunday afternoon game. And they wouldn’t have to wine and dine a new woman each time to get it.

 

Her whole grown-up life was a testament to the wisdom of the cock.

 

Her ex-husband had married her because she loved sex almost as much as he—and Long John Silver—had. She should have clued in as soon as he told her he’d named his cock after a pirate. But her ex was good in bed and out of it. He knew just where to touch to drive her crazy, knew just what pressure to use on her clit to make her come, knew just how hard to push her. He knew those things because all he wanted from her was sex.

 

The way he figured it—and of course he was right—the more she liked sex, the morehe’d get.

 

After Long John Silver and his owner, there was Ben, the sweet, laidback guy she’d picked as Transition Man. Ben who was as different from her ex as it was possible to be. Ben who, according to his story, hadn’t had sex in years and wasn’t really all that interested in it.

 

That didn’t work. One year into the relationship and she was desperate enough for sex to seduce Ben. One quick unmemorable fuck, and the cock took over. When Versa tried to slow him down, Ben turned into—drum roll, please—her ex-husband.

 

© Josee Renard

 

What's New, Pussycat?

Author: Josee Renard

Publisher: Cobblestone Press

Genre: Erotica

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Versa couldn’t get that song out of her head, nor the man who sang it while renovating the house next door. Tall, built and tanned, he wore faded jeans and a tool belt and his body drove her wild. Theo had plans for the girl next door.

He’d spent all summer dreaming about her creamy skin and voluptuous body. He’d spent all summer with a hard on. Time to make his move. When Theo and Versa finally meet, the summer temperature turns up. Way, way up.

 

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Excerpt Day - Awakening Desires Bk 6: MacNamara's Lady © N.J. Walters

Excerpt

 

 

Prologue

Missy Sinclair sniffed delicately and blinked hard to keep from crying. She wasn’t usually the sentimental type, but it wasn’t every day she watched her best friend get married. Candy was staring at her husband-to-be with such a rapt expression of love on her face it was impossible not to be moved by it.

 

The chapel was quiet, except for the even tone of the minister’s voice. A small group of family and friends watched on as the couple exchanged vows. Candy’s bouquet—pink roses—filled the air with its perfume. Fabric rustled and someone in the back coughed.

 

The bride was wearing a three-quarter length, off-white dress that hugged her curves to perfection. She and Candy had spent days searching for just the right dress. Her cinnamon-brown hair was swept up and held with several silver clips that Missy had helped her pick out.

 

Lucas Squires, the groom, looked handsome in his black tuxedo with his blond hair and pale blue eyes. He’d wanted to be married right away, but Candy had wanted a real wedding. She’d stated in no uncertain terms that since she was only doing this once she wanted to do it right. The tough guy had caved immediately, wanting Candy to be happy.

 

How must it feel to be loved like that?

 

She looked away from the happy couple and her gaze was immediately snared by that of the best man—T.S. MacNamara. Now there was a man to catch any woman’s attention. She’d have to be dead not to notice such a prime specimen.

 

Strangely enough, he wasn’t handsome in a classical sense, but his rough good looks drew many a female eye. His nose looked as though it might have been busted once and even though he’d probably shaved this morning, his jaw was already starting to darken. With his shoulder-length black hair, olive complexion and golden-brown eyes, he looked tough and compelling, strong and confident.

 

She’d met him back in early spring when Lucas and Candy had officially become a couple. Now it was only a couple of weeks away from Thanksgiving. This year had certainly flown.

 

He looked right at home in blue jeans and work boots, which was fortunate considering he was a general contractor and owned his own business—MacNamara Contracting. But he looked equally at home in a formal tuxedo. His shoulders strained at the seams of the jacket, hinting at the muscular physique beneath.

 

She’d noticed that body more than once over the past months as they’d been thrown together more and more. They’d shared many a dinner with Lucas and Candy as the couple planned their wedding. T.S. was an easygoing guy. He laughed and smiled easily, conversed readily about current events and sports, but Missy always had the feeling there was much more to him than he allowed anyone to see. Or maybe he was exactly what he seemed to be, a hardworking, fun-loving man who had no intentions of ever settling down. She’d never seen him with one particular woman and Lucas ribbed him from time to time about the way he played the field.

 

Missy was not a one-night-stand kinda girl, but that hadn’t stopped her from fantasizing about T.S. over the past few months. And why not? She was a healthy woman, even if she didn’t have a very active sex life. Oh, she dated frequently enough, but she was very picky when it came to who she let into her bed.

 

But a fantasy didn’t hurt anyone. And T.S. had featured in all hers lately. She was a tall woman, but in her stocking feet he’d probably top her by a couple of inches. His shoulders were incredibly wide, his chest broad and roped with muscles. He’d done a lot of the work on Lucas’ building and she’d seen him once without a shirt. It was a sight a woman would never forget. The image was burned on her brain forever.

 

Hot and sweaty, he’d removed his shirt and tossed it aside. Dark chest hair thinned as it angled downward and disappeared into the waistband of his jeans. The weight of his tool belt had pulled the jeans down slightly, exposing his bellybutton.

 

He’d been swinging a hammer, the muscles in his biceps flexing and rippling. The man had corrugated steel for abs and her fingers had itched to run up and down the broad bands.

 

She’d spent many a night wondering what he looked like without the jeans. His thighs were thick and solid and a substantial bulge filled out the front of his jeans.

 

Missy shifted restlessly, her pussy beginning to pulse. She was mortified by her thoughts and behavior. She was at a wedding, in a chapel. She shook herself and looked away from T.S., focusing on her friend instead.

 

The ceremony was almost done. The couple exchanged rings and then Lucas was kissing his bride. Applause erupted and the couple started down the aisle. Missy waited for T.S. so they could follow.

 

“You okay?” His voice was low enough so no one else could hear.

 

“I’m fine. Why?”

 

His eyes studied her face with concern. “You look a bit overheated.”

 

Her spine stiffened and she tilted her head up. With her heels she was a bit taller than he was and she used that now to build her confidence. No way did she want him to ever know she was flushed because she’d been imagining him naked. “It’s a bit warm in here.”

 

She hurried down the aisle, not giving him the opportunity to continue his line of questioning. He could either keep up or be left behind.

 

Missy glanced at T.S. out of the corner of his eye. Damn man was watching her with a speculative gleam in his eyes. His eyes dipped low. She refused to look down. She knew her nipples were puckered. She only hoped that no one else noticed.

 

Plastering a smile on her face, she congratulated the newly married couple and took her place in the small receiving line. The reception couldn’t come fast enough to suit her.

 

© N.J. Walters

 

MacNamara's Lady

By: N.J. Walters

Publisher: Ellora’s Cave Publishing

Genre: Erotic Romance

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Sixth in the Awakening Desires series.

Missy Sinclair knows what she wants out of life—a secure job, a fine home, financial independence and, eventually, a man to share it with. That man will have class and style, share her goals and tastes and like fine wine and classical music. Why then is she so attracted to T.S. MacNamara, who is the complete opposite?

T.S. makes no apologies to anyone for his life. He’s worked hard to make his general contracting business a success. He likes beer and football. He’s not looking for anything permanent. Problem is, he can’t stop wanting Missy.

When he rescues Missy from a violent mugging, the seething physical attraction that’s been shimmering between them for months finally explodes. Classy and rough, dark and light, educated and blue-collar. Opposites attract—at least in the bedroom. But they both have secrets that won’t stay buried…secrets that threaten to drive them apart unless they’re both willing to face their pasts.

 

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Excerpt Day - Blind With Love © Becca Jameson

Excerpt

 

 

Prologue

“Are you sure?”

 

“I’m sorry, Ms. Nickels. Yes.”

 

“But, sometimes you’re wrong, right? Could there be a mistake? Maybe I should get another opinion.” Kristen reached for her briefcase filled with medical papers on the floor next to her. From her seated position across from the third doctor she had visited this week, she glanced up at his furrowed brow. How many more opinions do you need, Kristen?

She started to get up and then paused. The air was stifling.

 

A large mahogany desk took up most of the office. It was so pristine she wanted to reach over and mess up the papers stacked neatly in the corner. Every item in its place, even an ink pen sat precisely situated upon forms in front of the doctor. Too bad her life felt anything other than neat and tidy right now. She was spiraling out of control.

 

Dr. Hanson raised an eyebrow at her, but said nothing. He just sat there in his gray pinstriped suit and waited. Even his perfectly coifed hair was in place. Gray—to match his suit, his walls, and Kristen’s mood.

 

Kristen was sweating. She needed to make a decision. She couldn’t put it off any longer. Time was wasting.

 

“Okay,” she stated flatly on a long exhale. Her shoulders slouched in defeat and she dropped her briefcase back on the floor. “What do we do next?”

 

Chapter One

Two weeks later

No. Absolutely not!” Kristen Nickels glared at her closest friend, Margo Edwards. She couldn’t very well walk away from her—not while trapped in an elevator listening to Margo’s latest proposal.

 

The classy-looking brunette entwined her fingers before her, stopping short of getting down on her knees. “Please? I’d do it for you.”

 

“The hell you would—” Kristen grabbed the rail as the elevator pulled to a jerky halt, gripping her toes in her three-inch heels to keep from tumbling over. The door moaned open, but no one was there. With her luck the darn thing would probably stop at every single floor on the way to the eleventh, where they had both worked for the last five years. And it would undoubtedly get stuck between floors in a conspiracy attempt to force Kristen to listen to her friend’s pleadings. She should have known it was leading up to this all through their lunch break.

 

“Look, I know it’s a lot to ask, but I promise my brother is awesome, and you two will get along great. I can’t bear the thought of going on a blind date alone and I’m just dying to meet this friend of his.”

 

Time to buck up and put her foot down before things got out of hand. Margo’s whine of desperation was getting on Kristen’s nerves. And, was it not getting hotter by the minute in the oppressive elevator? Kristen tugged uncomfortably on the neckline of her blouse. To make matters worse, someone must have eaten their lunch on the run today, because the enclosure smelled like a tuna fish sandwich.

 

“You know I hate blind dates.” They never turned out well. Besides, Margo was aware Kristen had been extremely busy with work this month. Of course, she had no idea what else was currently eating up Kristen’s time and attention. But Kristen had no intention of sharing any of her private life with anyone right now, even her best friends. She just wasn’t ready. Oh, who was she kidding? She didn’t want to deal with their pity. The looks they would send her way when they thought she couldn’t see them. Why is she asking me to do this?

“Yes, but this wouldn’t be the same as a real blind date. It’s my brother. He’s…he’s like a…a brother. Besides, you wouldn’t be alone. I’d be there too, and Ryan.” Margo tilted her head and drawled the word “Ryan” like he was the object of the affections of a sixth grader. Did she think this was a persuasive argument?

 

“Margo, look, you are one of my dearest friends. I’d do almost anything for you, but blind dates always turn out bad for me, and a ‘double date’ with your brother is still a blind date for me. I’ve never even met him. And, who is this guy you are ‘dying’ to meet?”There. Way to hold your ground, Kristen. You don’t have time for this right now.

“Ryan’s a friend of my brother’s. I’ve seen him, well, even been introduced to him, a few times when I’ve gone by my brother’s office. Chase always talks about him…”

 

“That’s funny. You never talk about Chase. I don’t know anything about your brother. What, is he ugly? Old? Fat…”

 

“Blind.” Margo’s voice softened. Her bright blue eyes grew misty. “He’s blind.”

 

Kristen’s jaw dropped as she sucked in a quick breath, silencing her tirade. Stunned, she looked down at her prim black skirt and picked at an imaginary piece of lint. “Seriously?”

 

Margo nodded. “Yes.”

 

Could I possibly feel like more of an ass right now? Kristen didn’t know how to respond. But she was definitely losing ground. The elevator opened and a man in an Armani suit stepped in. No one spoke as the elevator crawled to the next floor and the man exited.

 

Margo cleared her throat. “Listen, like I said, I know it’s a lot to ask… But I promise you’ll have a good time. I didn’t want to tell you about his disability because I didn’t want it to influence your decision. I was hoping I could convince you to go without playing the ‘blind’ card. It’s just dinner…” She paused. “Screw it. I’ll get Theresa or Sally to go. Don’t worry about it.”

 

Yes, I could possibly feel like more of an ass.

Kristen’s shoulders drooped. “No, no, no. I’ll go. This Friday, right?” That was pushing it. She had so much to do before Sunday. Guilt rode her, but in all honesty, Margo had a way of talking Kristen into almost anything. The last time the two went out on a double date, Kristen’s escort was so into himself he didn’t shut up the entire evening. He’d gone on and on about his important job as an accountant, his BMW, his house in the suburbs. Kristen winced at the memory. She’d gotten exhausted from listening to him. He’d never once asked about her. Granted, he’d been a friend of the guy Margo was dating at the time. Not someone Margo had personally set her up with. But still…

 

“Really?” Margo’s brows shot upward. A smile spread across her mouth. “Thank you so so so much. I promise I’ll make it up to you. And I promise it will be fun.” Margo was a bit too gleeful for someone who just had their feelings hurt. The elevator ground to a halt and the two made their way into the hall.

 

“Did you just guilt me into this on purpose?” Kristen pushed her long hair behind her ear and glared at her friend, trying hard to be angry, and saw the answer written on her face. Margo had a look of satisfied relief. Figures. Knowing Margo, the entire conversation was a set up. Great. Fine. How bad could it be? Maybe a little fun would take her mind off other matters for an evening.

 

Besides, she felt guilty about not telling Margo that Friday was her last day of work. She’d given her notice immediately after leaving the doctor’s office two weeks ago. This would be one last thing she could do for Margo. Maybe they would have a great time and end their relationship with a fond memory. What could it hurt? Come Monday morning, Kristen’s life was about to drastically change.

 

* * * *

 

“Come on, Kristen.” For the umpteenth time, Margo banged on the bathroom door. She’d arrived early, as usual, to find Kristen not quite ready. The two of them had moved into the same apartment complex two years ago, when their respective leases had been up. It made life a lot easier, not having to fight traffic to get back and forth across town to get together. “We’re going to be late. I told them seven. What are you doing in there anyway?”

 

In the years Kristen had known her friend, she could count on one hand the number of times Margo had been late. No, not just late, but anything less than fifteen minutes early. The girl was all spunk. Always beyond prompt and peppy. It was one of the reasons Kristen enjoyed her company so much. Always shiny side up. Not a bad way to be.

 

Large green eyes stared back at Kristen in the mirror. “Coming. Just give me a minute.” She dabbed another layer of dark mascara. “Finishing my makeup.” For five years the two had been friends, ever since they had literally run into each other coming out of their respective offices in the Simon Building. Kristen double-checked her long brown hair, giving it a fluff. She chuckled remembering the time they met. Both had had an armful of papers that went spraying into the air and flying around the hallway like paper airplanes. It had taken so long to straighten out the mess the pair had become fast friends by the end. Of course, Margo was the easiest person in the world to talk to. She could make friends with an ant if it were the only living being around.

 

“You did hear me say Chase is blind, right?” Margo’s muffled voice couldn’t hide the humor behind it.

 

“Ha, ha. I’m still not going out to a restaurant looking like a slob. There will be other people there, you know.” Kristen ambled out of the bathroom feeling a bit apprehensive, hoping like hell she didn’t say anything stupid and offend Margo’s brother this evening. She had no experience dining with a blind person. “Where are we going, anyway?”

 

“Giovanni’s. It’s a little Italian restaurant downtown. Chase loves the place. Their food is excellent, so he goes there often. Shall we go?” Margo headed to the door without waiting for an answer.

 

“Wait, do I look okay? Am I overdressed?” Kristen was plain nervous. Blind dates were hard enough, but the stress of going out with her best friend’s brother… There was no way to judge this evening’s attire based on what Margo was wearing, a sexy little black dress and pumps that made her legs a mile long, because Margo always dressed to kill. Besides, she was the one out to impress. Why are you even stressing about this? It’s just one night. What difference did it make if he was a toad? She would never see him again. She needed to lighten up and enjoy this evening.

 

Margo paused and turned toward her. “I’m sorry. Guess I’m a little anxious. You look fantastic. I wish my brother could actually see you. You would knock him off his feet. Kristen, you always look great. You have the most beautiful, straight, long silky hair men just want to run their fingers through, and a perfectly proportionate body that…well, men just want to run their hands over.” She laughed at her own jest.

 

Kristen reached up to smooth her hair. What would it be like to not have it anymore?

 

“I sound sappy. But, really, you know I love that black miniskirt. After all, who picked it out for you? And that blouse is the perfect shade of green to bring out your eyes.”

 

Margo’s candor stunned Kristen. Her cheeks grew hot. “Thank you, Margo. Those were very sweet things to say,” she practically mumbled. Sure, girls traipse off to the bathroom together and fix their makeup and hair, but they don’t always take the time to pump up each other’s egos so eloquently.

“Come on. Don’t get all sentimental on me.” Margo smiled. “I’m just saying you don’t need to be so nervous. You look fantastic. Any man in his right mind would think so too, even my brother.”

 

Kristen wanted to ask what Chase was like, but hadn’t. Really, what did it matter? She was going on this blind date with him anyway, and if he was anywhere near the same gene pool as Margo, he would have to be stunning. Would he be tall and lean like his sister? Would his hair have the same thick texture with perfect waves that gave it just the right amount of body? What color were his eyes?

 

“Well, I guess we should go. Don’t want to be late.” Kristen tried to sound a bit mocking to lighten the mood. “I’ll just grab my purse…”

 

“Yeah, that will be hard to find beneath all this clutter.” Margo laughed. It was an ongoing joke between them. Kristen was the neat freak; Margo was anything but.

 

“Hey, I like to keep my apartment tidy. It makes me feel good. Okay?” She couldn’t help but chuckle. And even found herself straightening the jeweled-toned plaid pillow on her perfectly angled beige couch on their way through the living room, just to make her point.

 

Margo pushed it back the way it was on her way by just to be a brat.

 

“I’ll drive. I have a lot to do this weekend, so I can’t drink too much.” A cursory glance around the apartment brought on a bout of melancholy. She wasn’t willing to let go of the place yet. She just wasn’t ready for that. She’d deal with it later.

 

“Sounds perfect.”

 

© Becca Jameson

 

 Blind With Love

Author:  Becca Jameson

publisher: Liquid Silver Publishing

Genre: Contemporary romance

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Kristen Nickels has a full plate. She has reluctantly agreed to a blind date with her best friend's brother, literally blind! The timing couldn't be worse, however. She is leaving town in just days to face a difficult medical decision. A secret she has shared with no one but her boss.

Chase Edwards has been blind since the age of eight. He is currently waiting on a cornea transplant. He has wanted his sister, Margo, to set him up with her friend Kristen for quite some time, and he is far from disappointed.

The two experience instant chemistry and spend a glorious evening together. In a whirlwind twist of fate, Chase gets the long awaited call in the middle of the night that corneas are available and Kristen rushes him to the hospital, only to disappear without a trace during his surgery.

Baffled by her departure, Margo instigates a search for Kristen while Chase recovers from his transplant. But will her detective skills prove to be enough? The unexpected ending will twist the heartstrings.

 

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Thursday, 23 June 2011

Excerpt Day - Taking Care of Charlie © Amber Kell

Excerpt

 

 

The sound of beeping brought me out of my deep sleep. Blinking, I tried to clear my vision.

 

White.

 

Everything was white.

 

The walls, the ceiling, the uniform of the woman leaning over me—all white. But it was the smell that gave it away.

 

Hospital.

 

I really hated hospitals.

 

“You’re awake,” she said with a wide smile, as if it were a major accomplishment to blink my eyes.

 

Ouch.

 

Okay, maybe it was an accomplishment.

 

“You had us worried.”

 

Who had I worried? I didn’t exactly see hordes of people wringing their hands and crying over me. It was nothing like the movies. It was just the two of us, and she didn’t look worried. She looked calm and collected. She smoothed her hands over the covers as she talked to me.

 

I resisted the urge to slap them away.

 

I hated being fussed over.

 

“How did I get here?” As soon as the words had left my mouth I wanted to take them back. Even I knew this was the work of my boyfriend, Isaac. The guy I’d thought was the one. Stupid me had fallen for his sexy smile and bad boy looks. Isaac wasn’t a bad boy. He was an asshole with really hard boots and the occasional baseball bat. Too bad I’d accidentally set it on fire. It was a signed edition and everything.

 

Hmm, maybe that could explain why I was here.

 

The perky nurse clamped her lips tightly together. I had the impression she didn’t want to tell me why I was there or how I’d got there or anything that might make me completely and totally freak out.

 

“You were injured. Do you remember anything at all?”

 

Of course.

 

Why wouldn’t I remember?

 

I searched my mind for the details of the event that had led to my hospital visit. I had no doubt it was Isaac’s fault. It wasn’t the first time he’d sent me there, but I vowed it would be the last. I wasn’t one of those poor saps who thought if he licked his boyfriend’s boots a little better maybe he wouldn’t beat the crap out of him.

 

I’d already forgiven him once, but that old saying span around in my head. Fool me once, shame on you—fool me twice, shame on me. This was my twice and I was done.

 

As I lay there coping with the pain raging throughout my entire body, the image of the perfect man drifted into my drug-soaked mind.

 

“I want Marcus.” My voice was barely above a whisper, but the nurse heard me. She turned back with a curious glint in her pretty, brown eyes.

 

“Who’s Marcus?”

 

“My…” For the life of me, I couldn’t remember who Marcus was. I only knew he was important. Isaac must have slammed me to the ground harder then I remembered. Images flashed in my mind of a tall blond with golden-brown eyes and an easy smile. I knew if I called him, Marcus would come. “My friend,” I said finally, because whatever else he might be, I knew somehow he was my friend. The love I felt towards the image in my mind made me wonder if there was more than one reason Isaac had beaten the crap out of me.

 

“Do you have his number?” the nurse asked, drawing my attention back to her.

 

“In my cell phone.”

 

© Amber Kell

 

Taking Care of Charlie

Author: Amber Kell

Publisher: Total e-bound

Genre: GLBT

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Book one in the Yearning Love Series

Charlie is surprised to discover the love of his life isn’t is straight as he always thought.

When Charlie moved to the big city to get away from small town life and explore his sexuality, little did he know the man he’d always yearned for didn’t just happen to move to the same area.

Marcus James had come to continue his lifelong goal of taking care of Charlie.

 

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Except Day - The Naked Truth © Lilly Cain

Excerpts

 


"Fuckitall," Captain Susan Branscombe slurred as she woke to the sound of gunfire and running footsteps. She lay on the cold floor of an empty storage room; only the light from the force bindings on her arms and legs provided any illumination. She shivered then groaned in pain as the trembling motion brought cramps to her arms and legs. If they didn't unbind her and let her up soon, she wouldn't be able to walk.

 

She grimaced in the darkness. Even that tiny motion sent waves of pain across her face and down her neck. She wasn't sure she'd be able to walk anyway after the last beating.

 

Susan could taste blood in her mouth. The coppery tang would have made her retch if she hadn't strictly controlled herself. She wasn't certain how badly she was injured—one wound on her leg seeped and bled where she'd been burned, and her arm was definitely broken, along with several fingers. Dried blood caked on one cheek pulled as she grimaced, and her head throbbed. How bad is my face? They'd cut off her hair and sliced her cheek and nose.

 

Before she could begin to pity herself, the floor heaved in a sudden explosion.

 

They were under attack. Not surprising. She'd told them the way to the base and now she would die, along with the terrorists who held her captive. At least she could end it knowing her fellow Starforce Marines would defeat them. They were a kick-ass bunch, every one of them, and she was damn proud to be among them, even if this was how it ended.

 

Another booming explosion threw her against the wall of the tiny room. This is it. Soon the walls of the ship would rip open, and she would die in the cold void of space. Thank God. She was so tired of pain; death would be welcome. She waited, but a final explosion didn't come. Instead the room grew even blacker. She realized she was losing consciousness and fought against it.

 

Sue flinched as bright beams of light swept across the room and over her. A blurred face appeared before her, and rough hands reached out to grab roughly at the lapels of her ruined uniform.

 

"Get it over with, asshole," she ground out through pain. She resisted as she was lifted, but the blackness returned and stole away the last of her defiance.

 

© Lilly Cain

 

The Naked Truth

Author: Lilly Cain

Publisher: Carina Press

Genre: Erotic, Futuristic, Science Fiction Romance

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Captain Susan Branscombe was the victim of brutal torture at the hands of terrorists. Though rescued, she's now facing an equally brutal accusation: treason.

The only way she can prove her innocence is to allow Asler Kiis, a Confederacy Examiner, to delve into the depths of her mind. Asler is Inarri, the alien race that made contact with Earth just months before. His duty is to find the truth, but when he explores Susan's mind he can't resist drawing her into a more intimate experience.

Susan takes comfort in Asler's heated sensuality. Their erotic sensory exploration chases away the darkness and her body aches for more. But as their desire reaches new limits Susan finds it difficult to suppress the memories she is desperate to forget.

Is the passion they share enough to let Susan push aside her fear and trust Asler, not only with her mind and body but with her ever-opening heart

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Excerpt Day - Last Chance Ranch © D.G. Parker

Excerpt

 

 

Chapter 1

 

THE sun was high in the sky by the time all the horses were fed and watered. As soon as the basic chores were done, the hands of the Bar J Ranch gathered in the little cemetery near the main house. Obie stood with the others, hat clutched in his hands, sweat pouring off his head and trickling down his back to soak his shirt. It was hard to pay attention to Percy’s droning words, but he tried, out of respect for the departed.

 

“Our brother Walter lived a full life,” the old preacher was saying. “He traveled far and wide, visiting many parts of this great country. He had a wife who passed on many years ago, and a daughter, now grown. But I believe that he never truly knew a home nor a family until he came here. He lived out his final years doing work he loved, surrounded by friends, and went to the Lord peacefully in his sleep. And I tell you now, brothers and sisters, we should all pray for such a long life and such a gentle end.” Percy closed his Bible and stepped back. For a moment, they stood quietly. In the north corral, a mare whickered softly to her colt.

 

Ben stepped forward and crouched, scooping up a handful of dirt. He didn’t linger at the grave, just opened his hand and scattered the soil over the plain, pine coffin before moving on. Obie repeated the action, all the while studying his partner’s familiar squint, the tight line of his jaw. He took his place at Ben’s side, standing close enough that their arms were almost touching. Further comfort would have to wait until they were alone.

 

One by one, the men filed past, paying their respects to their old friend. When the last man had gone by, Porter and Larry took up spades and started to fill the grave. They all had work that needed doing, but no one left until the last bit of dirt had been tamped into place. Juanita, leading her small daughter Rosie by the hand, laid bunches of wildflowers on the mound.

 

Just as Obie felt his throat tighten up, Ben jammed his battered, tan hat on his head and sighed. “All right,” he said, scanning their faces before looking out over the ranch. “We all got work to do, best we get to it. Snow’ll divide up Walter’s duties. I know you all will pull your weight and then some.” The men dispersed, most heading to the barn to continue the day’s chores. Percy gave Ben a pat on the shoulder and mounted his plodding, old mare for the ride back to town.

 

Obie lingered behind, as did Snow. The foreman put his hat on over his prematurely white hair. “I’m gonna pack up old Walter’s things and send them to his daughter in St. Louis.”

 

Ben put a hand in his pants pocket and withdrew a wad of bills. “Send this along with. He always sent her most of his pay.”

 

Snow nodded and took the money. “You wanna write a letter?”

 

Ben winced and glanced over the foreman’s shoulder. “Why don’t you do it, Snow? You know what to say. I ain’t much for words.”

 

Obie snorted, earning himself a sideways glare. “What? I’m just agreein’ with ya.”

 

“I think you ought to go see to your work. You agree with that?”

 

Obie grinned fondly at the man who’d been his boss and his lover for just about a year now. Older than Obie by a good ten years, Ben had a weathered look about him, his green eyes permanently squinted as though he’d spent too long looking into the sun. On the outside he was tough as an old armadillo. Obie figured he was pretty lucky that he got to see the ’dillo’s tender belly. Not to mention the other tender parts. “Yes, boss,” he said, touching the brim of his hat and sketching a little bow. “Right away, boss.”

 

“Get to work, you lazy smartass,” Ben ordered, but one side of his mouth turned up. Obie was glad to see a break in the sadness the man had been sunk in ever since they’d found Walter in his bunk that morning.

 

The three men started down the hill to the barn. “You want me to bring down those new mustangs?” Obie asked.

 

“Not yet,” Ben decided. “We’ll see if there’s time before dinner, but I’m gonna carve a marker for Walter first. Porter, you posin’ for a statue?”

 

The man in question was standing still, gazing down the road that led up to the spread. He turned his pock-marked face to his boss and jerked his head. “Strangers comin’.”

 

Sure enough, two men on horseback were riding up the road. “Huh,” Ben murmured as they approached. It wasn’t often they got visitors they didn’t know. Mostly it was neighbors and regular customers who made the trip out to the ranch, but these men didn’t appear to be either. The first was a Negro, tall and thin with a neat beard and moustache, wearing a black hat and a dusty oilskin coat. The other, a white man who looked to be in his late thirties, was handsome and smiling with a mouthful of shiny white teeth. Obie saw that Ben’s attention was entirely focused on their horses and had to beat back a smile.

 

The new men dismounted. “Lookin’ for the owner,” the Negro said.

 

“Found him. Ben Johnson,” Ben said, holding out his hand.

 

The man tugged off his glove and shook Ben’s hand firmly. “Name’s Temper Free,” he said. “Fella at the saloon said you might be hirin’.”

 

“And I’m James Arcady, from Biloxi, Mississippi.” The white man shook Ben’s hand too, but he was a little too slow letting go for Obie’s taste. And the way his eyes roamed over Ben’s lean body made Obie want to put a fist in his smiley damn teeth. Obie edged a little closer to his lover and tried not to growl.

 

For his part, Ben didn’t seem to notice the extra attention. He looked over both men and walked past them to their horses, checking their body condition, their tack, their hooves and their teeth. Meantime, Snow introduced himself to the men and asked about their experience.

 

“I spent a year rounding up mustangs in Nevada,” Arcady said.

 

“Which spread?”

 

“Jack Hatfield’s, up near Lovelock.”

 

“Good outfit,” Ben grunted, pulling back the lips on Arcady’s bay. “How ’bout you, Mr. Free?”

 

“Haven’t worked horses,” Free replied. “Worked cattle for a spell. Sheep too.”

 

“You know there’s a big cattle outfit bordering this spread to the west?”

 

“Yassir. Like to try something different.”

 

Finished with his inspection, Ben drew Snow off to the side. Obie smiled tightly at the newcomers while they talked it out. He noticed that Free was looking with interest around the ranch, but Arcady was alternating between watching Ben and meeting Obie’s stare with challenging, teasing blue eyes.

 

Let him just try, Obie thought. I’ll kick his goddamn head in.

 

“All right,” Ben said as he and the foreman returned. “Truth is, Walter had a pretty light workload on account of being an old-timer, so his passing hasn’t really left us short. But I been thinkin’ on adding a hand anyway. I’ll give you both a try through the summer, but I can’t make no promises come fall.”

 

“Fair enough,” Arcady said, still smiling. Free nodded in agreement.

 

“One other thing.” Ben let his gaze drop to Arcady’s hip, then back up to his face. “Nobody carries guns on this ranch, ’cept for rifles to keep coyotes away. You’ll have to give me that pistol you’re wearin’. I’ll stow it up at the house.”

 

Arcady’s smile faltered, and for a minute, his pretty blue eyes went flat. His hand went to his gun, and Obie tensed, taking a step forward. Then the smile reappeared. “You’re the boss.” Arcady tugged the pistol smoothly out of its holster and offered it to Ben, butt first. Obie didn’t relax until Ben had taken it without comment.

 

“This way,” Snow said, heading for the barn. “You can put up your animals and stow your gear, then I’ll show you around the place.”

 

“Mr. Free,” Ben called as they started to move away. “Walk with me a bit.”

 

 

 

TEMPER fell into step with his new boss, catching Arcady’s suspicious glare out of the corner of his eye. Ain’t that interestin’.

 

They strolled away from the barn, down a path that cut between two pastures. Johnson didn’t speak until they were well out of earshot of the others. “The Bar J’s a funny place,” he remarked quietly, squinting into the morning sun. “All kinds of fellas end up here. Some runnin’ from the law, some fightin’ the bottle. Some of ’em just lookin’ for a place to fit in.” Johnson chuckled, low and deep. “I heard some folks in town call it the Last Chance Ranch.”

 

Temper nodded. “Bartender at the saloon said it ain’t for everybody.” Actually, the bartender had been pretty damn mysterious about it. “Let’s just say a fella’s either gotta keep an open mind, or keep his thoughts to hisself. Ben don’t judge nobody by the company they keep, and he won’t keep on those that do.” Temper never could resist a mystery. His mama always said it was a quality that would cause him no amount of trouble, and Lord knew she’d been proven right many times over the years. He figured one more time couldn’t make much difference, one way or the other.

 

He spit in the dirt and leaned on the fence. “I seen how it is with you and the boy. Ain’t no concern of mine, if that’s what you’re askin’.”

 

“Wasn’t, but good to know. Didn’t realize it was out there for everybody to see.”

 

Temper snorted, one side of his mouth turning up in a grin. “He was like to take Arcady’s head off for lookin’ at you too hard.”

 

Johnson actually colored a bit, scratching awkwardly at his neck. “Yeah, well. Boy’s a little possessive.”

 

“Love’s like that, I reckon.”

 

“Reckon so.”

 

They stood and watched the horses for a spell, until Temper broke the silence. “You wanna ask me somethin’?”

 

“Yep. I wouldn’t ask in front of the others, but I need to know if you’re runnin’ from anybody.”

 

Temper felt his gut drop and wondered if his disappointment showed on his face. “You mean is some owner gonna come chasin’ me down.”

 

“Yeah. That’s what I mean.”

 

Johnson’s calm voice only made him madder. “Ain’t no man owns me,” he spat. “I was born free.” He pushed off the fence and turned away. “You ain’t the first man don’t wanna hire a nigger. Too much trouble, ain’t we?”

 

“Mr. Free.” The calm voice stopped him in his tracks. “Every hand on this ranch is trouble of some flavor. I’ve learned to try and suss it out ahead of time, so’s to avoid surprises.” Temper turned and found those hard green eyes squinting at him. “From this point on, you’re under my protection, like every other man here. I just wanna know what to expect.”

 

Temper’s cheeks burned. He felt a right fool and admitted as much.

 

Johnson didn’t seem bothered by his fit of temper. “I guess you’ve come to expect it. You don’t know me, got no reason to hope for better. But I’ll tell you the God’s honest truth, Mr. Free. I don’t give a damn what color you are or what you’ve done in your past. Work hard, put the horses first, and keep on Snow’s good side, and you’ll work out fine. And you may want to thicken up that skin o’ yours. The other fellas’ll hack on you something fierce if you go about all tetchy.”

 

“Thanks for the advice. I’ll go stow my gear.”

 

“One more thing. That other fella, Arcady. How well you know him?”

 

“Not at all,” Temper replied. “Just met him at the saloon today. Heard me talking to the bartender about finding work and figured he’d try his luck too.”

 

Johnson made a “hmph” noise but didn’t ask any more questions. Temper wondered if his boss was getting a funny feeling about the new man. Temper kinda was. He hesitated, but offered, “You want me to keep an eye on him?”

 

“No. That’s Snow’s job, you just worry about yours. Go on and get settled.”

 

“Yassir.” Temper touched the brim of his hat and headed to the barn. He’d see that his horse was put up proper before settling himself.

 

 

 

THE bunkhouse was dark and blessedly cool after the swelter of the late morning sun. Temper paused in the doorway and looked around, taking in the bunks lined along the wall, each with a trunk at its foot. There wasn’t a soul in the place except for James Arcady, who looked up from stowing his gear and tossed him a nod. “That one on the end there is empty.”

 

Temper made his way down the row to the last bunk on the right and dropped his saddlebags on the bed. Days of hard travel caught up with him in a rush. For a long moment he fought the urge to just pull off his boots and stretch out on the clean blankets, but Lord knew if he lay down now, he wasn’t getting up ’til tomorrow morning. And that was no way to start a new job, was it? He pulled his Bible out of a side pocket and then dropped his bags into the footlocker, sending up a cloud of dust as they hit bottom. He paused, cradling the little book in his hands. The durable black cover was worn in spots, and some of the pages were thin and creased from travel and constant handling. Even though it had last touched his mama’s hand almost twenty years ago, he swore it still held her scent—strong lye soap and honeysuckle. He raised the Bible to his lips and kissed it before sliding it under his pillow. When he turned around, Arcady was right there in his face.

 

“Boss say anything about me?” He was still smiling, but his eyes were hard and searching.

 

“Just asked how long I knew you.”

 

“Yeah? What’d you tell him?”

 

“Truth.” Temper held the man’s gaze until his eyes softened, and he backed away.

 

“Well, that’s all right, then,” he said. His grin widened, and he gave Temper a friendly slap on his shoulder. “Come on, buddy, let’s get to work!”

 

Temper followed him out, but not too close. Fella’s just not right.

 

The white-haired foreman, Snow, was waiting outside along with a huge mountain of a man. “This here’s Lonnie. He’ll show you around and get you started.” Snow nodded to them and went into the bunkhouse, closing the door behind him. The big man, Lonnie, watched him with sad eyes, then gave himself a visible shake and offered his hand to both new men in turn.

 

“Hey, fellas, welcome aboard. I’m gonna give you a quick tour, then put ya to work. We’re a little behind today on account of Walter’s funeral. Well, you’ve seen the bunkhouse, and this here’s the barn.” Temper thought that was fairly obvious. The biggest building on a horse ranch was bound to be the barn, wasn’t it? Especially given how close it was to the bunkhouse. And especially as how it was a goldarned barn. He followed along inside and kept his thoughts behind his teeth. It seemed wise not to sass a man who was six and half feet tall and as broad in the chest as a rain barrel.

 

As expected, the barn contained rows of clean stalls, about half of which were empty. Near the front were a tack room and a work area with shelves of bottles and jars. “This here is where Ben works his magic when the horses fetch up sick. We do hooves here sometimes too.” Lonnie gestured to the stalls. “You fellas will probably be on muckin’ duty for awhile. Snow tends to grind the new guys a bit before he lets ’em loose.”

 

Temper was okay with that. Hard work never killed nobody, and so far as he was concerned, his job was to do whatever the foreman told him to do. Arcady, however, looked like he’d swallowed a bug. “No offense to my pal, here, Lonnie, but I ain’t exactly new at workin’ horseflesh.”

 

Lonnie had a broad, boyish face that naturally shone out friendship and good cheer, but Temper saw his smile tighten just a bit. “You’re new here, friend. Snow won’t let you near the horses until he sees what you’re made of. Don’t worry,” he assured, leading them back out of the barn, “if you’re as good as you think you are, it won’t take long.” Arcady still didn’t look happy but had the sense to keep his mouth shut.

 

Back out in the sun, Lonnie shaded his eyes and pointed to various fenced-in areas. “Holding pen. That’s where we put the horses we’re gonna work with for the day, once we drive ’em down. We’re not working any today so far, since the day’s all thrown off. North pasture, south pasture, and that one there is the big pasture. I know, it ought to be called the east pasture, but I didn’t name it, and it’s always been that way. Oh, see that big, black stallion in the south pasture? Keep your distance from that bastard. The only one who rides him is the boss. He’ll kick or bite anybody else that goes near him.”

 

Temper eyed the huge horse warily and mentally agreed to stay clear. He figured Arcady was probably thinkin’ he’d just jump right on and go for a trot.

 

“Up there’s the main house. Boss lives there. Obie stays there too, most nights. We all go up for Sunday dinner and special occasions.”

 

“What’s that small house behind it?” Arcady asked.

 

“Normally, it’s the foreman’s place,” Lonnie explained. “Only, Snow gave it up and moved into the bunkhouse last summer.”

 

“So who lives there now?”

 

The big man looked sheepish. “Well, I do. Since me and Juanita got married. It was sort of a weddin’ present. We were meant to build Snow a new place, but we’re havin’ trouble getting the lumber. Anyways, you’ll meet Juanita soon, when she brings supper on down from the house. She’s a damn fine cook, best fried chicken in the state.”

 

 

 

BY THE time the bell summoned them to dinner, Temper felt he’d gotten a pretty good idea of the lay of the land. It was a nice ranch, though smaller than some he’d worked on, and so far as he could tell, the animals were all top quality. The buildings and fences were in good shape, though he’d seen a few less-than-pretty repairs. Temper chalked them up to Lonnie’s comment about not being able to source the wood and wondered again why that was, what with a mill so close by.

 

He and Arcady had met a few of the hands, but the rest were only now coming in from the far pastures and lining up at the pump to wash up before supper. Arcady headed for the bunkhouse, set on changing into a clean shirt for some damn fool reason, while Temper took a place at the trundle table set up outside. Lonnie settled in next to him, making the wooden bench groan, and introduced him to each hand as he arrived. “This here’s Porter; he’s a grumpy bastard that don’t talk much.” Temper nodded a greeting to the tall, lean man with the pock-marked face, who returned the gesture. He must have been used to Lonnie’s sass and didn’t pay him any mind.

 

A young man on the lean side of thirty, his shirt sleeves damp and rolled up to his elbows, sat down across the table. “And that’s Larry,” Lonnie said, “the only one ’round here that talks less than Porter.” The man in question pushed his long brown hair out of his face, revealing a neat beard and moustache. He offered a shy smile. Temper couldn’t help but smile back.

 

He met them all: Miguel, the young Mexican with the friendly grin and the missing front tooth, the surly Go to Hell Mel, whose catch phrase made an appearance within ten seconds of his arrival at the table, Billy and Dave, Everett and Dexter. All of them had a friendly greeting for the new man and immediately set to horseplay. Temper was already getting a good feeling about this bunch.

 

And then Arcady sauntered out of the bunkhouse, and Lonnie started his introductions all over again. Temper wasn’t paying him any mind, though. His focus was on the young man sitting across from him, the one called Larry. All the blood had drained from his face, leaving him whiter than tallow. He looked like he might bolt or puke or both, and his wide brown eyes were fixed on James Arcady.

 

©  D.G. Parker

 

Last Chance Ranch

Author: D.G. Parker

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Genre: GLBT

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In the rough desert country of New Mexico, Ben Johnson runs a horse ranch called the Bar J. More than a business, the ranch is home to a collection of drifters, gamblers, drunks, and gunslingers, all of whom have found a second chance at life. What’s more, the ranch is a haven for men who prefer the company of other men, like Ben himself.

He and his young lover, Obie, deal with the everyday running of the Bar J and try to keep their ranch hands out of trouble. But when the arrival of strangers brings threats from without and within, Obie and Ben find out who their friends truly are and whether the strength of their love can see them through.

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