Monday, July 11, 2016

Monday's Montage Mantlepiece: An Unconventional Chicago

No Bravery by T.A. Chase
A man looking for revenge discovers a man who wants to save a city.

Farris O’Laughlin has been back in Chicago for five years. He’d spent thirteen years before his return in a mental asylum after his brother had him committed for ‘insanity’. Farris plots revenge in the way he knows will hurt his brother the most—bringing down the family business.

Darien Shaunessy is Farris’ new driver and guard. He’s around to keep Farris in line…or so Farris’ brother thinks. Darien has his own reasons for working for the O’Laughlins, but Farris wasn’t part of his plan.

When two men from different parts of the city come together, powerful men could lose their wealth and control. And the lovers could find bravery they never thought they possessed.

Love Don’t Die by Jambrea Jo Jones
They might die, but their love never will…

Moran Schultz was tasked with getting information from one ward to another. He was all for helping his brother make Chicago a better place. What he wasn’t expecting was his lover to show up after a month of no contact.

Dutch Luciano isn’t going to let Moran go without a fight. They love each other and the gangs in charge of Chicago aren’t going to keep them apart.

Can Moran let Dutch back in or is it too dangerous? More than Chicago is on the line. Will love be strong enough to survive?

Passion Under Fire by Stephani Hecht
Can their love overcome the danger coming their way, or are they doomed to die?

Georgio is the third son in a powerful mob family, but he has never agreed with their violent or illegal ways, so he joins the resistance in an attempt to right the wrongs that his family has done. But, by doing so, he puts himself at great risk of getting caught. And if he is, his older brothers would have no problem ordering him executed, their sibling or not.

Tito is a runner for the family. While he hates the gang, he has a sick brother at home to take care of, so he has to take the job because it pays so well. The last thing Tito expects is to form an attachment to Georgio.

While Georgio tries to deny his feelings for Tito, he finds himself drawn to him as well. But, if they were to be caught together, they could be killed on the spot. Will their love be able to survive so many obstacles? Or can they find a way to happiness?

Ganging up on Love by Amber Kell
New love can bring new dangers.

When Dirk volunteered to take the information to the resistance, he didn’t know he’d find his perfect match in their leader. Determined to find a place among them, he offers to help wherever he can.

Leon has always been alone, afraid of trusting anyone with his affection. When the visitor from Ward Three comes in with important information to bring down the mob bosses, he doesn’t know how to handle their instant attraction.

When outside dangers threaten to tear them apart, will their new love be enough to keep them together?

Bonfire Heart by Devon Rhodes
Sometimes fires burn and destroy, but from the ashes, new growth can heal and cleanse.

Thierry Alexander is the deputy mayor of Chicago, a city he loves but can’t save on his own from the corrupt political system. His assistant and lover, Eduardo, is also known as Cesar, the head of the underground resistance movement. He has been working behind the scenes for years and finally gets what he needs—enough information to get the US government involved and take down the criminal elements strangling the city he loves.

But they need to act fast because legislation is about to be enacted that will give rise to social and ethnic purging in Chicago. Not knowing who they can trust, they will have to put their faith in one another and risk everything to save a city.

**Reader Advisory: The stories in this anthology are set in a contemporary alternate universe.**

No Bravery by T.A. Chase
“I wasn’t fucking crazy when you threw my naïve ass into the mental asylum, brother dearest,” Farris muttered as he walked out of City Hall. He had finally been released from meetings with his brother, the head of the O’Laughlin gang. His family was one of the forces behind the people who ran the city. “But having to go to these meetings might just push me over the edge.”

Since Farris was wrapped up in his one-sided conversation and wasn’t watching where he was going, he bumped into someone. He glanced up to growl then realised he’d run into the Deputy Mayor.

“My apologies, Mr O’Laughlin. I wasn’t paying attention to where I was going,” Thierry Alexander said, even though they both knew it was Farris’ fault.

He dredged up some courtesy and said, “We both need to watch where we’re going, Deputy Mayor.”

Alexander studied him for a moment. Probably waiting to see if I’ll go mental on him, Farris snarled in his head. Outwardly, he kept his usual complacent expression.

“Ah, Thierry, there you are. The meeting’s about to start.” The Mayor took Alexander by the arm then started to drag him into the building.

“Have a good day, Mr O’Laughlin,” Alexander said before disappearing with the Mayor.

Farris snorted as he continued on his way to where his car was parked at the curb. His driver held open the back door and Farris climbed in. He had no respect for the politicians who suckled at the teat of the gangs who really ran the city. Every gang gave the sycophants in City Hall a lot of money to pass laws that enriched them while bankrupting the others who called Chicago home.

Chicago had been sectioned into wards and the citizens were forced stay within their own among those of their own economic and ethnic backgrounds. The gangs ruled from City Hall and took advantage of everyone’s fear.

But for a minute there, Farris had thought Alexander seemed different from the others. Maybe it was as simple as the fact that Alexander had acknowledged Farris when most went out of their way to ignore him.

“Spending thirteen years in a mental hospital does tend to make one invisible to others,” Farris muttered.

“What was that, sir?” his driver asked as he climbed into the front seat.

It wasn’t the question that caught Farris’ fractured attention, but the fact the man asked it at all. Glancing up, he met a pair of dark green eyes reflected in the rear view mirror. They didn’t look familiar and neither did the face they were a part of. Farris couldn’t remember what his driver actually looked like.

He’d be the first to admit that he was rather uninterested in the world he lived in. The people who inhabited it were even less interesting. Only one person existed for him and that was his brother, Ralph—the man he planned on destroying.

Love Don't Die by Jambrea Jo Jones
Moran Schultz accepted the package being handed to him and put it in his pants pocket. It was dangerous, but he wasn’t scared. It had to be done if he ever wanted a real chance to be with Dutch Luciano. Right now it wasn’t safe for them to be together. And if what had been promised was enclosed, it would blow things wide open. In his lifetime. He had been losing hope. The gangs had such a tight clutch on Chicago.

“It’s a brave thing you’re doing, man.”

Not many would stand up to the gangs. There were pockets of resistance and they grew stronger every day, but with this vital information, their fighting might not all be for nothing. He didn’t know exactly what it was, but when Cesar said it was big, people believed the head of the resistance and did whatever they could to help.

“It shouldn’t be considered brave to help when things go wrong. It should simply be common sense,” Darien Shaunessy muttered.

Moran nodded. “I guess you’re right. Well, I’ll take this and make sure it gets to where it needs to go.”

“Thank you.”

There was no need for his contact to thank him. Moran was doing the job his brother had requested of him. And he wanted to be free from the gangs just as much as any other low end worker in the grid.

He watched Darien walk out of the store and if he wasn’t mistaken he was headed to Farris O’Laughlin. The crazy brother. Fuck. He needed to get out of there. Was this a set up? Cesar wouldn’t lead him to a set up. He was too careful. Moran continued to watch them and no enforcers charged the building.

One of the biggest families was involved? He wasn’t going to ask any questions—hell, he should probably forget what he’d just seen. It wasn’t his job. Darien did seem a bit cozy with the brother. He slowly backed away and edged out of the back door. The drugstore was a safe zone in Second Ward. His brother’s people ran it, but it never hurt to be as safe as he could. He wasn’t as important as his brother, but that didn’t mean people wouldn’t use him to get to the head of Second Ward’s resistance.

“Hey there. Watch it.”

Moran closed his eyes. That voice. He knew that voice and it shouldn’t be here in this ward. Fucking Dutch Luciano. The guy used to be part of the gangs, but was now a member of the resistance. The last time they’d gotten caught together one of the enforcers had run Dutch’s tag and found he wasn’t where he belonged. Moran had had to watch while his very soul had been ripped out punch by punch. He’d gotten off easy because he was supposed to be there. They’d left Dutch in a puddle of blood at his feet. Moran couldn’t get that picture out of his head. Dutch’s eyes closed, his body motionless. Moran had thought he was dead. There wasn’t anything he’d been able to do as the enforcers had dragged Dutch off. It had taken two weeks to find out that his lover hadn’t died, and he’d vowed right then to cut off all communications. His heart ached at the thought of that happening again. He had to get Dutch out of there. The drugstore might be a safe zone, but the thugs still patrolled.

Passion Under Fire by Stephani Hecht
Smack! The sound of flesh hitting flesh reverberated through the large office. Georgio barely held back a wince as he watched one of his good friends and closest allies, Dirk, take another blow from one of his brothers’ enforcers. They had him on his knees right in front of Georgio’s brothers’ desks. They were both watching the show with cold smiles on their faces, their dark eyes intense as if they didn’t want to miss a moment of the action.

As it was, Dirk was already bleeding from his now crooked nose, he had a split lip and his eyes were beginning to swell. It wouldn’t take long before they expanded so much that Dirk wouldn’t be able to see at all.

Thud! This time the blow hit Dirk on the jaw and sent him reeling to the side. Were it not for the two men holding him up, Dirk would surely have fallen to the floor. Georgio gritted his teeth together as rage boiled through him. At the same time, he held tight onto the arms of his chair. If his brothers really knew how close he and Dirk were, then things could get even worse.

The funny thing was, while Dirk and Georgio were both gay, they were far from being a couple. Sure, they had fooled around a few times. Every encounter had been awkward and unfulfilling for the both of them. So in the end they had decided that they made much better friends than lovers. Still, if Georgio’s brothers were to catch wind of just how tight he and Dirk were, Georgio knew it would send them into a rage. They already suspected that Georgio was gay—this would be the fuel they needed to add to their great big gay fire. They were just looking for a way to confirm that Georgio was indeed gay. Then they would have a legitimate reason to off Georgio without pissing off the rest of the family members.

Whack! Yet another blow, this one hitting the side of Dirk’s jaw. His blue eyes rolled into the back of his head, but he somehow managed to stay conscious. More blood began to run, mixing in with his blond hair.

What was Dirk’s sin? The fucking irony of it all was that Dirk hadn’t done a damn thing. It had been Dirk’s youngest sister who had committed the transgression, and boy, was it a doozy. She had done something so dangerous that it had earned her a kill-on-sight order. She had joined the rebellion group that was determined to overthrow the gangs that ruled Chicago. But she was buried so far underground that the leaders of their gang, Georgio’s older twin brothers, couldn’t find her. They had decided to take out their frustration on the poor enforcer.

Georgio had to give big kudos to his friend—Dirk was taking the beating like a man. While he let out an occasional grunt, he never cried out. He never begged for mercy either. But that was Dirk, he was as stubborn as a mule and he would never give Michael or Luciano that satisfaction. He hated Georgio’s brothers just as much as Georgio did. The only reason he worked for the twins was because it had kept his family safe…until now.

Ganging Up On Love by Amber Kell
Dirk leaped for the train car. His foot caught the edge of the rail. Threatened with tumbling onto the moving track, he threw his body forward, slamming into the hard metal surface.

Groaning, he flopped onto his back.

“I see you haven’t gotten any more graceful since I last saw you,” a familiar voice spoke above him.

Dirk blinked to clear his vision. “Massy?”

His sister stood over him, a sly smile on her face. “Hello, brother dear.” She held her pose for only a minute before she crouched down to his level and wrapped him in her arms. “I’ve missed you.”

“Oh God, you’re safe.” He hugged her tight.

The fears he’d been harboring for the past few months eased. He’d worried she’d been killed by the mob. The White Widow ran Ward Four and from what he’d heard, she made the psycho twins in Ward Three seem like sweet cherubs. As the only female gang leader in Chicago, she ruled the ward through intimidation and outright bribes. What she couldn’t get through threats she tossed money at, and she had a lot to throw. Rumours flew that she’d killed off her husband to get control of the mob. She always wore white and bleached her hair to match. The sight of a white limo driving anywhere in Ward Four incited instant fear.

Dirk hugged Massy tight. Her bones were more prominent than they had been the last time he’d seen her.

They’d been close as children and even though they’d gone different paths as adults, he still had fond memories of chasing her through the city streets in games of tag while pickpocketing strangers. Even then, they’d had to earn money for the gangs.

She pushed futilely against him until he let her go. “I have to breathe.”

“You always were such a picky thing,” Dirk joked. He examined her carefully. She did look thinner but the smile on her face was genuine. “I missed you, Massy. Why didn’t you tell me what you were up to?”

“Because your closest friend is the brother of mob bosses.”

“You didn’t trust me not to tell Georgio?” Hurt stabbed at him. He’d searched for her and had worried incessantly that she might be dead, and she’d held back because she doubted his loyalty? “When have I ever betrayed you? You didn’t even leave me a note.”

Regret flickered across her face. “I’m sorry. I just had to get out of there. I didn’t think you’d say anything on purpose but if they tortured you then you wouldn’t be able to tell them anything.”

“Well, that worked.” Dirk let bitterness fill his voice. “They almost beat me to death and I didn’t tell them anything…just like I wouldn’t have if I had known. These are from them!” He pointed out the bruises on his face. They’d blossomed into some truly brilliant colors.

He turned to look out the boxcar door, unwilling to meet his sister’s eyes. Fury burned through him. He’d helped raise her after their parents had been murdered but she hadn’t trusted him with her life. She’d always been independent and stubborn—bordering on selfish—but he’d thought they at least had trust between them.

Bonfire Heart by Devon Rhodes
Thierry Alexander grimaced inwardly as he rounded the corner and saw the mayor coming straight toward him, though he had enough presence of mind—and practice in concealing his true emotions—to keep his facial expression from giving him away.

“Alexander, good. I’m glad I caught you before you left.” The salt and pepper hair was perfectly sprayed into place as always, and the mayor was dressed for success in an expensive suit. From his outer appearance, he was the picture of benign political authority. But Thierry knew he was anything but the benevolent, people-oriented leader that the media was coached to portray.

“Mayor,” he greeted. He sensed Eduardo, who had been walking at his side with his rolling garment bag on the way downstairs to the car, stepping away unasked to give them privacy. That was to be expected. The mayor made no secret of his disdain for Thierry’s assistant, and would likely have ordered Eduardo to leave them.

“Walk with me.” The mayor didn’t wait for a response but led the way slowly down the hall.

People gave them a wide berth as they proceeded.

“All set for your trip to New York and Boston?”

“Yes. Just heading down to the car now to catch my flight,” Thierry hinted.

“It’ll wait for you.” Apparently the mayor wasn’t always as oblivious as Thierry had hoped. “I’m guessing that our Immigration Bill will be a topic of conversation after hours,” the mayor got straight to the main point of the conversation.

Thierry gave a brief nod. “That’s to be expected. It’s a big move for Chicago.” Which was a major understatement.

The Bill was being touted as a step forward, allowing more freedom of movement for classes of people who’d traditionally had a hard time affording the travel papers, or who had been disqualified from moving around the city—or out of it—for one reason or another. However, Thierry and Eduardo had heard whispers behind the scenes about it having a more nefarious purpose. No leopard changed its spots that quickly…unless it was deliberately camouflaging itself. The political system in Chicago was beyond corrupt—it was dangerous. And the United States had very little say in what happened in the city. It would take almost an act of war to get the US to intervene in state affairs.

“I trust you’ll be a good ambassador as usual, particularly for the Bill and its benefit to the people of Chicago.”

“Of course,” Thierry automatically agreed. That was his job, after all—being a genuinely good public face on the rotten body of Chicago’s governance.

It turned his stomach.

He could feel his legendary patience slipping. A hint of movement to his right—Eduardo was evidently anxious to get him away from the mayor as well. Whether it was because he didn’t want Thierry to run late or because he sensed his impatience was a toss-up.

“My apologies, Mayor, but Deputy Mayor Alexander needs to—”

“Fine, fine.” The mayor gave Eduardo a slight sneer that put Thierry’s back up.

He swallowed down his distaste, transferred his briefcase to the other hand and held out a hand to shake. “Thank you for your time, sir.” He hated having to toady to the slimeball, but the only way to stay in a position to possibly do anything about the city’s blight was to play along. It was a dance of mutual need and distrust between Thierry and his few allies, like Eduardo, and the rest of the damn power players in the city.

With one last hard grip, the mayor let go of Thierry’s hand. He barely kept from wiping it on his pants, then tipped his head in a goodbye before striding down the hall, Eduardo at his side.

Author Bios:
Amber Kell
Amber Kell has made a career out of daydreaming. It has been a lifelong habit she practices diligently as shown by her complete lack of focus on anything not related to her fantasy world building.

When she told her husband what she wanted to do with her life he told her to go have fun.

During those seconds she isn't writing she remembers she has children who humor her with games of 'what if' and let her drag them to foreign lands to gather inspiration. Her youngest confided in her that he wants to write because he longs for a website and an author name—two things apparently necessary to be a proper writer.

Despite her husband's insistence she doesn't drink enough to be a true literary genius she continues to spin stories of people falling happily in love and staying that way.

She is thwarted during the day by a traffic jam of cats on the stairway and a puppy who insists on walks, but she bravely perseveres..

She also writes under the name Mikela Q. Chase.

TA Chase
There is beauty in every kind of love, so why not live a life without boundaries? Experiencing everything the world offers fascinates me and writing about the things that make each of us unique is how I share those insights. I live in the Midwest with a wonderful partner of thirteen years. When not writing, I’m watching movies, reading and living life to the fullest.

Jambrea Jo Jones
Jambrea wanted to be the youngest romance author published, but life impeded the dreams. She put her writing aside and went to college briefly, then enlisted in the Air Force. After serving in the military, she returned home to Indiana to start her family. A few years later, she discovered yahoo groups and book reviews. There was no turning back. She was bit by the writing bug.

She enjoys spending time with her son when not writing and loves to receive reader feedback. She’s addicted to the internet so feel free to email her anytime.

Stephani Hecht
Stephani Hecht is a happily married mother of two. Born and raised in Michigan, she loves all things about the state, from the frigid winters to the Detroit Red Wings hockey team. Go Wings! You can usually find her snuggled up to her laptop, creating her next book or gorging on caffeine at her favorite coffee shop.

When she’s not running around like crazy, trying to get her kids to their various activities, she’s currently working on numerous projects. In the coming months, she has several books coming out with eXtasy Books in both The Lost Shifter Series and Drone Vampire Chronicles, plus a few additional projects that are still in the development stages.

Devon Rhodes
From top dog in business to out-of-control mom, I've been at home raising my girls for over a decade. And during that time, I've rediscovered--quite accidentally--the art of romance, specifically erotic romance. One day my muse whispered an idea in my ear, and I sat down at the laptop to try to do it justice. As they say, the rest is history!

Amber Kell

TA Chase

Jambrea Jo Jones

Stephani Hecht

Devon Rhodes


Sheer Madness by Laura Strickland

Title: Sheer Madness
Author: Laura Strickland
Series: Buffalo Steampunk Adventure
Genre: Steampunk Romance
Release Date: July 8, 2016
Publisher: Wild Rose Press
All her life, Topaz Hathor has denied her ability to see the spirits of the dead. She despises her father—an infamous spiritualist—for exploiting his wealthy patrons and the souls that flock to him. But when the spirit of an attractive man appears in her bedroom claiming he's been drawn to Topaz rather than her father, she sits up and takes notice.

Though not dead, Romney Marsh has been banished from his body while confined to an asylum and can't remember much besides his name. Yet he can feel Topaz's spirit calling to his, and he's not leaving until she agrees to help him. Through an increasingly violent spiral of danger and their discovery of unspeakable undertakings, they bond ever more closely. But can Topaz be in love with a man she's never touched, or would that be sheer madness?

He observed as, clad only in a silken dressing gown, she spoke at length with a dark-haired man—discussing him.

And when the dark-haired man—her brother?—went out, leaving the two of them alone, seen and unseen, he knew it would be now or never.

Concentrating with unprecedented intensity, he hovered beside her bed, pictured himself as he knew he appeared when in his body, and did his best to make himself look solid.

She turned. Her unusual golden eyes widened, and she saw him.

About bloody time, he thought with a victorious rush. And now what? Could they communicate?

“Who are you?” she breathed in a low, husky voice that should have raised his pulse—did, for all he knew, back where his body lay.

“You can see me?” he asked, projecting the word-thoughts into her mind the way he had projected his image.

“Of course I can see you. Why else would I ask who you are?”

“Romney Marsh,” he supplied the name to which he clung so hard.

Her eyebrows, like two black slashes above those incredible eyes, twitched. “Well, Mr. Romney Marsh, you’ve strayed to the wrong place.”

“I don’t think so.”

“The party’s downstairs in the solarium, where my father’s summoning the souls of the dearly departed. You must have taken a wrong turn at the stairs.”

“No. I don’t want him. I want you.” Abruptly he realized it for truth: he wanted her as only a man possessed of flesh could—and surging flesh, at that. It made no sense, yet he couldn’t deny it.

She shifted slightly on the balls of her feet the way she had just before she took on the two thugs who’d come through the window. Did she, then, think she needed to fight him off?

He said quickly, “I’m not here to harm you. Rather, I need your help.”

She tipped her head. The black hair slid over one shoulder to caress a generous breast. His nonexistent fingers itched.

“I’m not able to help you.” She waved a hand in the air. “Be gone, spirit, to the next realm.”

“I can’t.”

“Of course you can.” She leaned toward him, and her gaze moved over him with considerable interest. “Do not partake in my father’s mischief. Spare yourself that. Move on and embrace peace. I dismiss—”

“No.” He moved closer, and her eyes widened again. “Don’t do that. Don’t send me away.”

She drew herself up to her considerable height, which had he possessed his body must nearly match his. “But, Mr. Marsh, it’s where you belong.”

“It isn’t.”

“Give me one good reason why,” she challenged.

He could give her the very best of reasons. “I’m not dead.”

Author Bio:
Born and raised in Western New York, Laura Strickland has pursued lifelong interests in lore, legend, magic and music, all reflected in her writing. Though her imagination frequently takes her to far off places, she is usually happiest at home not far from Lake Ontario with her husband and her "fur" child, a rescue dog. Author of Scottish romance Devil Black as well as The Guardians of Sherwood Trilogy, she is pleased to say that His Wicked Highland Ways is her eighth title for The Wild Rose Press.


Sheer Madness

Dead Handsome

Off Kilter

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