Friday, December 30, 2016

6th Day of Christmas Author Spotlight: Kate Aaron

Author Bio:
Kate Aaron lives in Cheshire, England with two dogs, a parrot, and a bearded dragon named Elvis.

She has the best of friends, the worst of enemies, and a mischievous muse with a passion for storytelling that doesn't know the difference between fact and fiction.

She holds a BA (Hons) in English Language and Literature, and an MA in Gender, Sexuality and Culture, and is an outspoken advocate for equal rights. When not hitting the campaign trail or doting slavishly on Elvis, she does what she does best – writes about men in love.


What He Wants
Christo's life fell apart when his partner of eight years walked out on him. There wasn't even a reason for it: sometimes love just fades, as quickly and mysteriously as it appears in the first place.

Enter Damien. Damien's the guy with a different man on his arm for every event, he's smooth and arrogant and always impeccably turned out. Christo hates him. But God, he's gorgeous. Damien could be exactly what Christo needs to get him over John.

It's only going to be a fling. Nothing serious, nothing that will affect their working relationship or the rest of their lives. So why are they fighting through the night rather than letting go and walking away? Why does Damien's secretive nature bug Christo so much? And why does he even care that the other man might not be as tough as he pretends to be?

Blood & Ash
Lost Realm #1
War is coming... Ash has never left the palace. For seventeen years he has been kept close by his father and brother, bound by their vow to protect him. He has grown up safe, innocent, and lonely. Now the fae Realm is under attack, and the witches have threatened Ash personally. To protect his younger brother, Skye has done something unthinkable. He has brought a vampire into the Realm. Azrael owes Skye a great debt. He takes his position as Ash's guardian out of loyalty to his brother, but everything changes when he finds himself falling for the young prince: the first mortal he's loved in a thousand years. With his enemies closing in, and the king slowly dying, can Skye trust Azrael to protect Ash while he prepares to defend the Realm? Will Azrael be able to control his feelings for Ash as he reconciles the demons from his past? And will Ash ever feel like he truly belongs anywhere?

The Dead Past 
Puddletown Mysteries #1
Runner Up: Rainbow Awards 2014 Best Gay Historical Romance

Puddledown, England

The year is 1948, the war is over and the evacuees have gone home, although rationing continues. For Hugo Wainwright, who escaped conscription and never had to fight for his country, very little has changed. He lives a quiet life away from the big cities, knowing his desires for other men will lead to disaster if he ever acts on them.

Tommy Granger spent his service on the battlefields of France. He experienced it all: the bloody horrors of war, and the chaos of Dunkirk. Finding employment as groundskeeper in the woods on the outskirts of Puddledown, he lives in solitude, trying to forget all the terrible things he’s seen.

When Hugo stumbles over a body not far from Tommy’s cabin, both men’s lives change forever. There’s a killer in the woods, and the townsfolk are sure Tommy is the culprit. Can Hugo unmask the murderer and prove the innocence of the man he’s falling for, or are the deadly consequences of Tommy’s past about to catch up to him and separate the two men forever?

Original Review February 2015:
This has been on my Kindle for the past year or more and I'm afraid to say, forgotten.  Then, I won a ebook of my choosing by Kate Aaron through Diverse Reader blog and I chose #2 of the Puddletown Mysteries.  So I finished what I was reading and jumped in!  Hugo had my heart from the very beginning.  He is so self tortured over his desires and understandably so considering it's 1948.  When we meet Tommy, he too found his way into my heart and it was pretty obvious where the pair was headed but it was most definitely not an easy road.  Throw in the murders and the cops with their determination to find Tommy guilty and this book had me riveted.


Brian & Lexi #1
At twenty-two years old, World No.6 and England's No.1, Brian Scagill has the tennis world at his feet. Last year's semifinalist, this year Brian enters England's biggest tournament determined to win. A Grand Slam on home turf is calling to him and he's not going to let anything stand in the way of victory - certainly not a cute Croatian who doesn't even play in the same league. 

Fooling around with Lexi might be an easy distraction but the last thing Brian needs right now is to be distracted, and there's more than this tournament at stake.

Free Men #1
Freedom is only an illusion.

At twenty-seven, Tamelik has been a slave more than half his life. Submissive by nature, he can’t help but fall in love with the master who treats him kindly.

When the mistress walks out, Tam dares to hope his love will be enough. 

Then he’s ordered to purchase another slave.

He wants to hate Kai for being unruly and ungrateful. For being of the same race as the men who murdered his family. For being his eventual replacement in their master’s bed. But it’s hard to hate a man who cries himself to sleep, flinches at the slightest touch, and blushes beautifully when he’s kissed. 

Blowing It
Blowint It #1
Being famous sucks.

All Owen Barnes wanted to do was write, but with success comes more than just literary award nominations. His new relationship with gruff, gentle Magnus Cassidy is at risk, and Owen isn’t going back into the closet without a fight.

When a photo circulating online threatens his squeaky-clean image, Owen seizes his opportunity to lash out, not realising he’s hurting the man he’s doing it all for.

Can Owen find a way to reconcile his public and private lives, or has he already blown it? 

Contents: passive tops and slutty bottoms, bitchy best friends, bad jokes, sexy underwear, an excess of beards, and a smattering of angst. May contain nuts. 

What He Wants
Christo had forgotten just how much he hated these events. They were always too crowded, too noisy and frantic, and this was only the exhibitors – the clients wouldn’t arrive until the morning. All the usual groups were there: the rag-tag band of students from the ‘creative’ department of some ad agency (For ‘creative’, read ‘scruffy and pierced’, he thought grimly); the group who looked like they’d stepped out of a bad gangster movie, surrounded by security to protect their prototype of God-knows-what; the science geeks in lab coats; the corporate sluts and the team in bright yellow T-shirts (yellow was officially deemed a ‘friendly’ colour) who were handing out free novelty items branded with their company logo. All this needed was a thin woman carrying a clipboard, her hair scraped back into a severe bun, a disapproving look on her face, and the cast would be complete. Right on cue she materialised and Christo had to bite back a laugh. He’d have made a good psychic.

She consulted her clipboard and directed him to his stand. He picked up the large display board he’d brought and lugged it over, just in time to see Damien start wrestling with their banner. He stood and watched, grinning as three times Damien secured one end, only for the other to flutter gracefully to the floor behind him.

“Need a hand?” He asked cheerfully as the other man launched into a tirade of four-letter words at the wayward sign.

“Can’t we hire someone to do this?” Damien asked, grabbing the other end of the board and helping Christo manoeuvre it into position.

“Yeah, if it comes out of your budget.”

“Fuck that.”


They stood back and admired their handiwork. They weren’t going to win any prizes, but at least the board didn’t look like it was about to fall over. Christo picked up the end of the banner from the floor and together they secured it.

“What else have you brought?” Damien asked.

“The sandwich board’s in my car, and the posters. I thought we could leave the rest until tomorrow.”

Damien nodded. “I’ve left the stationery at the hotel. Got some air fresheners as well.”

“What do they smell of?”

“Fuck knows. I was promised vanilla, but that sure as hell ain’t what I got.”

“Story of my life.”

Damien roared with laughter as Christo blushed. “I’m gonna have to write that one down,” he chuckled.

“Repeat it and you’re dead,” Christo warned. “It just slipped out.”

The other man arched an eyebrow and sniggered.

Christo rolled his eyes. “How old are you?”

Damien just smirked and went back to tidying their stand. Christo headed off to get the rest of the things from his car, shaking his head and smiling. It felt good seeing the other man again. In fact, it felt great. He pulled up short and scolded himself. They were just colleagues, maybe friends at best. Friends who’d had really hot and incredible sex. Mentally, he slapped his wrist. There was no point thinking about that, Damien had made it pretty clear he wasn’t interested in anything more. So maybe Damien hadn’t come beating down his door when he’d more than half-wanted it; he’d hardly made any move on the other man himself. It would never work with Damien, that much was obvious. Why start something that was only going to end in disaster, make both of them miserable and probably affect their jobs, too? It was madness to even contemplate it.

Of course, that didn’t mean he didn’t contemplate it.

He admitted to himself that he’d been disappointed when Damien kept their Skype call on Friday strictly professional. Not that he was sure what he was expecting, they were in work after all. It wasn’t like Damien was suddenly going to declare his undying love. He wasn’t even sure he wanted that. He just wanted…something. Some acknowledgement that maybe they were more to each other than they had been two weeks ago. It felt like a rejection, and Christo hadn’t been prepared for how much that hurt, irrational as it was to have even hoped for anything else.

They barely stopped over the next two days, meeting early to prep the stall, selling hard all day and staying late to follow up on new leads and contacts. It was as much as they could do at night to grab a quick meal in the hotel bar and crawl to bed – separately – before beginning all over again in the morning. By the last day they were both fed up and exhausted, but they knew the expo had been a success. Between them they’d landed a dozen new contracts, with serious offers for more to follow up on when they got back to their respective offices.

“Shall we call it a day?” Damien asked in the middle of the morning.

Christo glanced around the room at the thin crowd of people. The expo was all but finished, he knew. “Let’s give it another hour,” he suggested. “Instead of coming back after lunch we’ll pack up.”

“Sounds good to me.”

Damien drove them to a small pub and ordered their meals while Christo leafed through the paperwork.

“Do you know how much we made?” Christo asked, astonished, when the other man returned with their drinks.

“Maybe the recession is over?”

“I’ll drink to that.”

They clinked their glasses.

“Put that away,” Damien told him as he picked up the documents again. “We’ve worked hard enough this week.”

“Maybe you’re right.” He tucked the papers back into his briefcase.

Their eyes met over the table. Christo shifted in his seat. This was the first time they’d been alone together without a pile of work to do since the morning after the night before. He cleared his throat.

“Are we ever going to talk?”

Christo looked up sharply. “What’s there to talk about?”

“You ran out on me.” Damien’s eyes flashed.

“Yeah, sorry about that.”

“Look if you’re not interested that’s fine. You’ve just come out of a big relationship and I get it. If it was just a one-off thing then tell me.”

“I, I don’t know,” Christo stammered. How was he supposed to tell Damien that he was frightened of getting hurt again? What was it Guy said: He’s only going to fuck you and ditch you. Was that true?

“What do you want, Christo?”

God, just the way Damien said his name made his loins shiver. What did he want? He wanted Damien. He wanted mad, hot, passionate sex. But he wanted other things as well: loyalty; security; stability. Love.

“Stop analysing it,” Damien drawled. “I’m doing all the work here. Just tell me what you want.”

Still Christo dithered.

“Shall I tell you what you want?” Damien didn’t wait for an answer. “You want me to take you back to the hotel, book us a room, take you to bed and fuck you. You want us to shower together and eat food off each other’s bodies and you want me to suck your cock until you come in my mouth.”

Christo made an embarrassed, outraged noise.

“You didn’t let me finish,” Damien scolded. “Afterwards, you want to fall asleep in my arms, and in the morning you want me to still be there. Am I right?”

Oh God, yes. Christo nodded quickly, unable to speak. If his cock got any harder it’d jump into Damien’s arms of its own accord.

Damien smiled. “Good. I want that too.”

The Dead Past
The forest was quiet, many of the songbirds having left already for warmer climes, and those that remained were no doubt silently watching Hugo stride past, the hard ground crunching under his stout boots, his breath swirling in smoky plumes around him. Hugo liked to be fit. A pudgy child, for whom sports had been a torment, he had walked and run off the puppy fat in these very woods, and listened with horror to his mother’s tales of life in London, where she had lived for a spell with his papa, a city so steeped in dirt and sin that to tread its streets was to invite robbery. One stepped outside clean and glowing but returned black and grey with soot and smoke.

He rarely walked through the woods these days—in hunting season it wasn’t safe, for a start—but he enjoyed the tranquillity on this fine, misty morning, the way the fog shrouded the path and made it seem as though he was the only soul alive and abroad, sauntering through a landscape of shadowy ghosts.

Hugo popped a mint into his mouth, enjoying the sharp burst of flavour and the hard clack of the sweet against his teeth. He whistled a few tuneless notes for the sake of hearing them flatten and fade in the dead air.

A splash of colour on the ground between the trees caught his eye, and he paused, looking carefully at the spot. A reddish smear on a trunk just off the path, that he would have dismissed as a discolouration of the bark were it not for the blue and white paisley pattern of a scrap of material lying sodden on the hard earth beyond it, jumped out at him. Crunching the mint nervously, Hugo stepped off the path, startling as a twig cracked underfoot, the sound like a gunshot, shattering the silence of the woodland.

He paused, listening. The hairs on the back of his neck rose, his palms sweating. He rubbed them against his corduroy trousers. It was a scrap of material, he reasoned as he continued his approach through the eerily silent forest, his skin crawling as he imagined a thousand eyes upon him.

He saw the hand first. Bone-white with blue blotches, fingers clawed, the nails seeming freakishly long and inhuman. It was a small hand, Hugo noted, feeling oddly detached. It was like the whole world slowed and tilted sideways and, if asked later, Hugo would say it was as though he didn’t inhabit his body in that moment but was above it, floating somewhere in the bare canopy of the tree branches, looking down on himself as he looked down on that hand.

The hand was attached to an arm, clad in a tweed overcoat which seemed too big and bulky for the frail form it contained, and the arm led to a body: a small body, light, contorted at the oddest angles, like a broken, discarded doll. The paisley was a headscarf, Hugo now saw, hanging in tatters around a face frozen in the rictus of death, its mouth open in a final, eternal scream.

Hugo’s gorge rose and he staggered back, a shaking hand over his mouth as his stomach heaved, sending him into a fit of dry retches. He stood trembling for long moments, trying to calm his thundering heart and queasy gut while his brain pieced together what he had seen.

A blue eye, cloudy with cataracts, glazed and fixed in wide astonishment. A lined face, elderly, skin which in life would have been papery and marbled with bluish veins now chalk-white and waxy. Long wisps of grey hair, threaded with silver. A bun, perhaps, untangled in a struggle. For surely there must have been a struggle. The old woman had not come to these lonely woods to die, of that Hugo was certain. Scratches on her exposed wrist, the torn headscarf, and the ugly, gaping wound in her chest attested to the fact her death had been a violent one.

Hugo had only seen one dead body before. His mama had passed badly enough, taken by a fever which produced hot and cold sweats, shakes, and a hacking cough. For day after endless day, Hugo had watched her disintegrate before him, one piece of flaking skin, one gob of mucus at a time, until there was nothing left but an empty husk and a death-rattle which seemed to go on and on.

Yes, his mama’s death had been bad enough, but nothing compared with how this woman had met her grisly end.

Moved now by empathy—for the body had once been alive, and not so long ago: someone’s friend, or wife, or mother—Hugo approached again, fighting down the rising tide of nausea from his roiling stomach. He knew very little about death, about the decomposition of the human body, but the corpse was intact and seemed frozen stiff, although as a result of rigor mortis or simply a night exposed to the elements in the wintry woods, Hugo couldn’t tell.

He should get help, he realised. There was a small police station in the town. One of the local constables could take over, could offer Hugo a soothing cup of sweet tea and ask clipped, businesslike questions about the discovery.

A fresh panic overcame Hugo as he realised he hadn’t worn his wristwatch, didn’t even know what time it was. What would he say when the constable asked him the simplest of questions? What would they think when he didn’t know the answers? Would he look guilty? And what if—Heaven forbid—he ran all the way to the town, brought the constable back to the woods, and couldn’t find the body again? The pathway had few distinguishing features, the bare forest like a warren, a maze of never changing scenery. How would he ever find this exact spot again?

Hugo took a deep breath, trying to calm himself. He was an intelligent man, a sensible man. The logical thing would be to leave a marker on the path so he could be sure of the location. If only he had worn his woollen scarf! He fumbled in his pockets, groping for anything which could be of use. He thumbed a large copper penny, the old notion of placing coins over a corpse’s eyes to pay the ferryman occurring to him. The stuff of superstition, of course, and besides, he couldn’t touch the body. Hugo at least knew that.

He was still fumbling in his pockets when the silence of the forest was broken by a slow scraping sound. Hugo froze, all the hairs on the back of his neck rising once more, listening as the strangely metallic scrape, scrape moved closer.

Palms slicked with cold and nervous sweat, Hugo took short, shallow breaths, and hoped the thunder of his heart was not audible through his sensible layers of winter woollens and overcoat. The sound moved closer, an irregular, unearthly thing, and Hugo’s imagination ran riot, conjuring the shining sickle of Death himself, scratching a path through the bare branches of the trees.

The mist swirled through the woods in a confounding eddy of movement and shadow, separating here to reveal only the silent, unmoving trees, and thickening there to the density of a body, a misshapen body, dark and malevolent. And still the sound came closer.

A swirl of fog to Hugo’s right made him start, half-turned towards the path to flee, an alarmed cry lodged deep in his throat. At the last instant he recovered, recalled that grown men didn’t scream and run from imaginary terrors, and held his ground, hypnotised by the darkening shadow of a figure, grotesquely outlined by a shaft of sunlight streaming through the canopy behind it.

The shadow moved closer until Hugo could discern the shape of a man about his own height, maybe an inch or two shorter. Not a big man at all. Slim of frame, although broad in the shoulders, their breadth emphasised by the square cut of a thick wax jacket edged in leather. The man wore a dark cap pulled low over his face so all that was visible to Hugo was a granite jaw peppered with two or three days’ growth. His hands were surprisingly slender, the fingers long and almost delicate, although roughened and calloused, tobacco-yellowed, and blotchy red in the cold air.

The scraping sound, Hugo now saw, was caused by a shovel the man dragged carelessly, bumping and catching at the sparse undergrowth and the hard-packed ground. It slid over an exposed rock and there—scraaaape—was the sound which had caused Hugo’s heart to thunder so. But the man also dragged something else, something even more terrible than a shovel in the woods on a cold October morning, for in the same hand as the shovel he gripped the drawstring of a hessian sack, seeping and stained with blood.

Hugo’s terror rose to fever pitch as the figure advanced towards him—towards the body hidden in the cold, lonely woods, where nobody ever went—and just as Hugo was about to pass out or run, the man looked up, paralysing him with his black-eyed stare, with eyes as black as sin.

In the end, I went to his hotel. I didn’t stand a chance of privacy at the house with Drew and Leo breathing down my neck, and it was unlikely the paps would let us escape at a restaurant, either. There’s always some waitress or underpaid cook to tip them off.

His hotel was nice. Not one I’d ever stayed in during my years in the tournament—my mother cares far too much for all her little five-star luxuries—but I preferred the atmosphere of this one. It was smaller; friendlier, somehow. The girl on reception smiled at me as I headed for the lift. Lexi had told me his room number and floor, and while it wouldn’t have taken a genius to work out who I was visiting, it at least remove the risk of us being photographed together.

I straightened my collar in the lift mirror, tugging a little at my shirt hem to ensure the material lay flat against my chest. We couldn’t go out so I’d worn jeans, my favourite pair, well worn and comfortable yet clinging in all the right places. I was proud of my body and it was nice to have a chance to show it off. I was a professional athlete, after all; it was my tool and over the years I’d honed it well.

Tennis players are leaner than most athletes—bulk is a drawback when you’re trying to lug it around a full-sized court—and biceps aside I wouldn’t describe any of my muscles as ‘bulging’, but they were unmistakably there. As the lift climbed I ran my palms over my thighs; checked out my arse in the mirror. High and tight, just the way I like ‘em. A final tweak of my short hair, rearranging the artful spikes, a spit-straightened eyebrow and I was ready to roll.

Or thought I was, until I saw Lexi.

God, he looked good. Freshly showered, auburn hair haloing his head in adorably uncontrolled curls, an open-necked white dress shirt contrasting beautifully with his creamy skin, emphasising the shadow of his Adam’s apple and the enticing hollow at the base of his strong neck; the well-rounded muscles of his shoulders, the narrow taper of his slim waist. The shirt was tucked neatly into a pair of dark trousers that hugged his thighs and cupped his groin and arse in a manner so decadent as to be positively scandalous.

His cuffs were unbuttoned, the loose material wafting around his wrists making them seem almost delicate; his hands slender, graceful, long-fingered with neat, square nails. I saw freckles on the exposed hint of his arm; saw the sinful contrast of golden, sunkissed skin against the vulnerable, milk-white underside. I salivated, overwhelmed with the urge to touch him, to taste all that pale flesh, to worship his soft and secret places with my lips.

He smiled, the freckles on his nose shifting as his whole face lit up, front teeth adorably crooked as they dragged over his full, pink lower lip. The corners of his eyes crinkled as he laughed.

“You coming in?”

I blinked and crossed the threshold, unable to stop myself from reaching out, sliding a hand over his waist as I passed. My fingers caught between the buttons of his shirt, dipping inside to brush tantalisingly against firm, warm flesh and downy hair.

He squirmed away with a giggle, closing the door and eyeing me appreciatively.

“You look nice.”

“You too.”

We stared hungrily at each other. His scent surrounded me: clean and fresh, citrusy from his shampoo or shower gel, a hint of something earthier in the low notes—sweat or arousal or both. It made my head swim, made me want to fall to my knees and sniff out its source; nuzzle and lick at his skin.

His feet were bare, I noticed. Oh God, his feet were bare, pink toes peeking out from the folds of black cloth that swaddled his legs. There was nothing improper or unseemly in his attire—some cufflinks, socks and shoes, that’s all he was missing—but it reinforced a debauched impression, like Lexi was a man half-ravaged, just ripe for stripping, throwing down and fucking.

I crossed to him in two strides, pinned him to the wall and invaded his mouth. He melted with gratifying speed, his arms coming up to bracket my waist, his body wriggling deliciously against mine as we bumped together in time with the slow, wet slide of our tongues. He tasted minty fresh and it made my stomach squirm to know this wasn’t all one-sided, that he’d anticipated getting this far, at least.

I ran my fingers through his hair, enjoying its silkiness, the way it bounced back when I tugged and released it, the breathless little mews that escaped when I grabbed a fistful and pulled. Oh yes, he really liked that.

Splayed hands on my chest pushed me away, not without reluctance but firm enough for me to heed him.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, ducking my head to meet his eye.

“I thought we were having dinner?”

“I thought that was a euphemism?” Had I read this completely wrong? How the hell did he expect us to go out without being seen?

He smiled and I melted to a puddle at his feet. I’d take him to the bloody Ritz if he only asked.

I stood silently in the farthest corner of the dark room when I was finally admitted, head bowed, hands clamped tightly behind my back, left wrist clasped in a death grip by my right fist, shoulders straight, stomach flat, unconsciously presenting. It was a default gesture, ingrained through years of habit, and punishment if I failed to comply immediately to my master’s wishes. The men talking in low voices forgot I was there once their initially curious assessment of me was over. My collar marked me clearly for what I was.

The cloying sweet scent of smoke wafted over me from the bubbling pipe that a small group shared, reclined on sumptuous fabrics, swaddled in mute light. An undercurrent of anticipation hummed in the air, making it shimmer. Everything had a mirage-like quality, or perhaps that was my own discomfort clouding my memories. My palms were slick, and I swiped a bead of moisture from my upper lip with my tongue. On the other side of those walls, the lots were undergoing their final preparations, primped and primed for sale.

Fifteen years earlier, I had been one of them, still a boy, little more than a child. Twelve summers had passed since my mother brought me forth, birthed me on the dirt floor of our simple tent. We were nomads, a small tribe that claimed allegiance to no flag but roamed the wastes of the Samatari desert. We knew nothing of the wars that raged around us, the political intrigues and power struggles of the nations which bordered our uncharted home.

The soldiers were rebel forces, I later learned, traitors to the King of Granthia to the east. They were moving west to join the lawless warriors of the barbarian Thirsk, Overlord of all the lands which lay beyond. All we knew was they were strangers, strangers in bright armour that shone and winked in the light of our two suns. They’d killed my father, my mother, my elder brothers. They’d taken my younger sister and hadn’t bothered waiting in turn, too greedy for their pound of female flesh. One held me by my hair and forced me to watch as they abused her until her terrified heart gave out. Even then, they weren’t finished.

They left the broken corpses of my family for the birds to peck at.

A bell rang, slicing through my memories and bringing a whole host of others to the fore. The men around me began standing, brushing creases and crumbs from their robes with impatient hands. Head bowed, I watched the procession of their feet as they left the room. I followed as my position dictated, careful to keep my balance and not trip as the long cloth of my robes swished around my ankles. At my master’s compound, I was expected to wear only the bare minimum of clothing. He claimed he liked to admire the blue dots and swirls which adorned my body, the old ink stains of a culture those monsters erased that day in the desert. My tattoos were a novelty to him; they made me exotic in this land of dark, unmarked flesh. For this trip, however, he’d insisted I cover not only my pale, patterned skin, but also my long white-blond hair.

We were shown into the next room, where chairs were arranged in a crescent around the Cage. I shivered a little, even in the oppressive heat of the building. Outside, the two suns beat down on this little outpost of the Thirskan Empire. Inside, without the respite of windows, it was stiflingly warm. The room was in total darkness save the bright lights focused on the centre of the Cage. I shuddered, remembering how it felt to stand there, naked and scared, on display for who knows how many pairs of eyes hidden by the blinding lights. The Cage’s bars were buried in the ceiling and in the floor of the raised platform on which it stood, the only way in or out a barred tunnel leading back to the pens below. Escape was impossible.

A few of the men took out fans, lazily wafting their faces as they settled in their seats and waited for the auction to commence. I hung back, knowing a seat would not be permitted to me. Instead, I positioned myself behind Master’s chair, usually vacant because he rarely purchased new slaves, having seemingly lost the taste for them since my mistress had removed much of the household to their mountain home, abandoning him here in the desert.

I clasped my hands before me, chin up and looking straight forward as I waited. I brushed the back of his seat with an index finger, rubbed the warm, textured velvet as though seeking comfort from something that was at least his if I couldn’t have him. He rarely sent me far from his sight. In small outposts like this one, the slave markets are slow. The best one could usually hope for was some unexpected treasure plucked from the desert, a creature like myself, young and scared enough to be docile.

He was an underlord of some sort, my master, and when some difficulty in a neighbouring village called him away, he’d ordered me to attend the auction at Otiz in his stead. “You know what I like, Tam.” I had smiled a little, proud I was being trusted with this responsibility even as I was consumed with sadness that he wanted another slave at all. Couldn’t I have been enough?

I swallowed the lump in my throat as he caressed me. I knew he needed more slaves—the mistress had taken so many, his compound could barely function, and if he were to host any official engagements, he needed a full complement of staff. I chose instead to be proud of his trust in me—not that I would run away, for I had nowhere to go even if I wanted to. His collar marked me as his property, and a runaway slave is not treated kindly by those who capture him. But he was trusting me with a big decision, with spending large sums of his money. The last time I had been here, I hadn’t even known what money was.

‘Boys were valuable,’ that’s what I’d heard the soldiers say. That’s why they kept me, why they didn’t harm me. I’d be worth more. More what, though? My family had taken what they needed from the desert, and even that inhospitable environment provided enough for us to live by. There was only nothing when you didn’t know where to look.

A metallic door clanged open, and from somewhere within the bowels of the building, a thin wail rose bare moments before the first lot was prodded into the Cage. He stood petrified, blinking in the strong lights, blind to the men around me, who all sat a little straighter and began to take notice. They were wealthy men; only the highest owned pleasureslaves. Governors, underlords, maybe even a general or two. Some were younger than my master, most considerably older. They were of all shapes and sizes beneath their robes. Some were no doubt cruel, sadists who would delight in humiliating and hurting their new acquisition, breaking his mind as surely as they would break his body. Some were cruel; some merely looked it.

Lot One was probably in his early teens. His colouring marked him as a son of one of the Northern kingdoms, probably a trader’s child sold to pay a debt. Stubborn vestiges of puppy fat clung obstinately to his stomach, thighs and buttocks. His hair was shorn, his genitals shrivelled up towards his pelvis. He was trembling fiercely, hands cupped protectively before him. Tear tracks streaked his cheeks. Crude comments reach my ears from the other men, and I winced inwardly for the boy, knowing his immediate future looked bleak.

The bidding began, apathetic as he was only the first lot, nothing special at that. I kept my hands clasped firmly before me. He would not please my master.

The boy was sold for a paltry sum to an older underlord, obscenely fat. I hoped he’d be lucky, that his new master lacked the will or the capacity to do anything other than spoil and pet him, but I doubted it.

The next lots came and went: boys of all nations, some sickeningly young, as I had been, some almost men. Those would be harder to train, accustomed too long to their freedom. The bidding began to heat up, competition breaking out between the members. Still I had seen nothing that would please my master.

Raised voices and the smart crack of a whip caused us all to pause, staring at the entrance of the Cage with renewed interest. There was a long wait, and then the lot strode in. The men around me tittered, their fans flapping faster as they looked at the offering. He was older than the others, I judged at most only five years younger than myself, probably less. He was Granthian, no question. No other race had their peculiar combination of jet black hair and emerald eyes. Eyes which now gazed haughtily forward, uncowed, unflinching. The tight muscles packed over his lean frame marked him as a soldier, and a fit one at that. As he turned I saw the long red lash of the whip striping his back.

The man beside me nudged his neighbour, sniggering unpleasantly. The lot’s head jerked towards the sound, green eyes narrowing. His fingers flexed at his sides, arms loose but ready, I was sure, to fight tooth and nail to defend himself. I was amazed he was here, that he was considered suitable slave material by anyone. But then I listened to what the men around me were saying, and the hairs on the back of my neck rose in horror at what they wanted to do to him. He wasn’t a slave, he was a trophy—something beautiful they wanted to possess only to see how much he could endure before he shattered.

The bidding commenced, and I found myself raising my hand before I even considered the folly of what I was doing, earning evil looks from the underlords displeased that a slave would challenge them, even in a situation such as this. I squared my shoulders, mindful that it was not I, Tamelik, slave, who was outbidding them, but my master.

The price rose steeply, the other men encouraged both by the sight of the soldier, now prowling the edge of the Cage, glaring furiously into the darkness before him; and by me, the slave audacious enough to compete with them, even if it was only as my master’s proxy. I began to fear I would reach the generous limit he had set before the others dropped out, but to my overwhelming relief, my last opponent caved as I bid my final chit on the future of the man before me.

What He Wants

Blood & Ash

The Dead Past



Blowing It

Friday's Film Adaption: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst

He could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. He went to sleep with gum in his mouth and woke up with gum in his hair. When he got out of bed, he tripped over his skateboard and by mistake dropped his sweater in the sink while the water was running. He could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

It was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. Nothing at all was right. Everything went wrong, right down to lima beans for supper and kissing on TV.

What do you do on a day like that? Well, you may think about going to Australia. You may also be glad to find that some days are like that for other people too.

Follow the exploits of Alexander as he experiences the most terrible and horrible day of his young life and wonders if bad things only happen to him.

Release Date: October 10, 2014
Release Time: 81 minutes

Ed Oxenbould as Alexander Cooper
Steve Carell as Ben Cooper
Jennifer Garner as Kelly Cooper
Dylan Minnette as Anthony Cooper
Kerris Dorsey as Emily Cooper
Elise/Zoey Vargas as Trevor Cooper
Sidney Fullmer as Rebecca "Becky" Gibson
Bella Thorne as Celia
Megan Mullally as Nina
Toni Trucks as Steph
Donald Glover as Greg
Joel Johnstone as Logan
Jennifer Coolidge as Ms. Suggs
Samantha Logan as Heather
Dick Van Dyke as Himself
Thunder From Down Under as Themselves
Mekai Curtis as Paul
Lincoln Melcher as Phillip Parker
Mary Mouser as Audrey Gibson
Reese Hartwig as Elliott Gibson
Martha Hackett as Mrs. Gibson
Burn Gorman as Mr. Brand

Author Bio:
Judith Viorst is the author of several works of fiction and non-fiction for children as well as adults. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, her most famous children's book, was first published in 1972 and has since sold over two million copies. Ms. Viorst received a B.A. in History from Rutgers University, and she is also a graduate of the Washington Psychoanalytic Institute where she is a research affiliate. She began her career as a poet and has since completed six collections of poems for adults. Her first novel for adults, Murdering Mr. Monti, was published in 1994 and her most recent work of non-fiction, Imperfect Control, was published in January 1998 by Simon and Schuster. Her book Necessary Losses, published in 1986, appeared for almost two years on The New York Times best-seller list in hardcover and paperback. Ms. Viorst's children's books include The Tenth Good Thing About Barney, The Alphabet From Z to A, and the "Alexander" stories: Alexander, Who Used to be Rich Last Sunday, Alexander, Who's Not (Do You Hear Me? I Mean It!) Going to Move and, of course, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. Ms. Viorst lectures widely on a variety of topics, ranging from the subjects of loss and control to children's literature. She resides in Washington, DC with her husband Milton, a political writer. They have three sons, Anthony, Nicholas and Alexander, and two perfect grandchildren, Miranda and Brandeis.




Pre-Order Blitz: Jax by Victoria Danann

Title: Jax
Author: Victoria Danann
Series: Knights of Black Swan, Next Generation #2
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Expected Release Date: January 27, 2017
New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, Victoria Danann, continues the breathtaking new take on Knights of Black Swan with a sizzling follow up to Falcon. The Next Generation of Black Swan knights continues the struggle to rid the world of "deadheads", virus infected vampires who are barely more cognizant than zombies. Jax, one of the vampires turned by the immortals, joined the fight and became Falcon's partner. For six hundred years Jax has seduced women, drunk their blood, and left them feeling blissfully satisfied, but without memory of the event. It was a good and manageable life as a vampire. Certainly it worked for him. Until now. The deliciously wild redhead remembers. And she's pissed.

Yorkshire 1379
Jaxon Kell was born the year before Chaucer wrote The Canterbury Tales, on a farm near the village of Catterick, which had been built on top of a Roman fortification named Cataractonium. His family escaped the horrors of the Black Death that had killed half the population. In fact, the natural immunities that contributed to the family’s survival may have also been the critical factor that saved Jax from the usual fate of those infected with the vampire virus.

One early fall morning his father gave him a pouch with enough coins to buy a new bull. The previous bull had been grazing too close to the edge of the forest and had been bitten on the soft part of his nose by an adder. It wasn’t much of a loss for the farm because the bull was old and probably wouldn’t have survived more than two more winters anyway.

Jaxon had just turned twenty when he discovered the dead bull. The animal was hardly a pet and yet he felt sad, maybe because the bull had been a farm fixture for the entirety of his young life. It wasn’t that Jaxon had never been exposed to death. He’d learned to crack a chicken’s neck for his mother by the time he was five. 

He had no explanation as to why the bull’s death struck him as different, but seeing the former symbol of virility lying on his side with legs stiff as a board, Jaxon became very certain of one thing; death should be avoided for as long as possible.

The last thing Jaxon’s father said to him, after giving instructions to buy a short-horned bull with a spotted hide and a straight back, one that had seen no fewer than eight seasons and less than sixteen, was, “And come home with a wife while ye’re at it. Ye’re overdue.”

Jaxon turned away with a scowl, trying to hide his displeasure because he was an agreeable person, not inclined to argue for argument’s sake. 

So he set out walking southeast on the old Roman road that ran the length of the Danelaw, some thirty miles to York. With his youth and long legs, he knew he could easily do it in a day and hire a bed to sleep at one of several inns before nightfall. 

He hadn’t given much thought to getting a wife until he was ordered to do so. Probably because he wasn’t sure that was what he wanted. But it was what people did. Farm work required lots of hands, the more the better, the younger the better. So as he started south toward York, he was thinking about what sort of girl he’d choose. 

His father was descended from the Northmen who had settled Jorvik, or York as it became known in modern times, but his mother was descended from Picts. She was fine-boned with black eyes and a look that caused the more superstitious locals to think she practiced magical mischief.

Jaxon expressed both heritages in his looks. He was tall and blonde like his father, but his build was leaner and tighter, his musculature more finely cut. He had replicas of his mother’s black eyes that were other-worldly and hypnotic. Her piercing look could transfix a person and cause them to instantly forget what they’d been thinking a moment before. She had a reputation for being able to freeze a person’s tongue in the middle of speech, but that was a rumor started by the ignorant descendants of Scandinavians who simply didn’t care for the pixie-like look of the woman. 

He wasn’t so unsophisticated as to not be aware of his appeal to the opposite sex. Catterick was a village, not a town, but there were enough women around for him to glean that he got more than his share of longing looks. Perhaps it was the way his fair hair fell over his brow, giving him a boyish look of innocence. Perhaps it was the contrast between that look of guilelessness and the gleam in his black warlock eyes. Perhaps it was his smile that seemed shy. 

Whatever the reason, he’d been receiving impromptu offers of tumbles from maids and wives alike since he’d turned fourteen and he’d taken advantage of his share. 

He thought about it until mid-morning. He broke off part of the half loaf of bread his mother had sent with him and ate as he walked. It was a nice day with no rain and soon he forgot all about what kind of qualities he might look for in a wife. Instead his thoughts turned to seeking out bawdy taverns where he might learn limericks and how to distinguish a decent ale from brine.

It was mid-afternoon when Jaxon stepped onto the cobblestone streets of York. He stopped to marvel at York Minster. Construction was still in progress, but it was a sight he wouldn’t forget. He continued until he came to the Goose and Acre Inn. He paid for a room and asked the way to the stockyards, planning to set out first thing the next morning in search of a bull and a bride. Which came first depended entirely on the order fate chose to present. 

Two days later, Jaxon Kell had bought a bull, searched for a bride, and become a vampire.

Resistance #1
The knights are losing the war with the mutated virus. Humanity's extinction is a possibility.

Black Swan needs a miracle.

Who would guess that it might come in the form of a womanizing vampire?

"Reminiscent of My Familiar Stranger."

The next generation of the Knights of Black Swan have been inducted and vested with all the privileges and responsibilities of the B Team legends in whose shadows they took their training. K Team is coming into their prime as servants of The Order, with most of their lives ahead. Or so each one hopes.

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, Victoria Danann, brings us a sizzling new take on the Knights of Black Swan. The boys are all grown up and bursting at the seams looking for action.
Black Swan believed they'd found the cure for the vampire virus, but it mutated and the resurgence threatened to be the extinction of humanity within a generation. Help comes from a most unexpected source, a vampire.

Meanwhile, the new Director of Operations is cute, curvilicious and has Falcon reeling. And he doesn't need distractions when he's busy saving the world.

"Grabs hold and won't let go." - The Paranormal Romantic

The epic saga that has won BEST PARANORMAL ROMANCE SERIES the past three years in a row (Reviewers Choice Awards, the Paranormal Romance Guild) continues with a new crop of vampire hunters that we already know and love. 

Grab your copy TODAY and find out why KBS is called astonishing, breathtaking, nail biting, spectacular, unique, and a wild and sexy ride.

Author Bio:
New York Times bestselling author of thirteen romances. Victoria's Knights of Black Swan series won BEST PARANORMAL ROMANCE SERIES for the past THREE YEARS IN A ROW. Reviewers Choice Awards, The Paranormal Romance Guild.

Her paranormal romances come with uniquely fresh perspectives on "imaginary" creatures, characters, and themes. She adds a dash of scifi, a flourish of fantasy, enough humor to make you laugh out loud, and, occasionally, enough steam to make you squirm in your chair. Her heroines are independent femmes with flaws and minds of their own whether they are aliens, witches, demonologists, werewolves, hybrids, psychics, or past life therapists. Her heroes are hot and hunky, but they also have brains, character, and good manners... usually.

The rich characterizations come from being a lifelong student of behavior, casually, and a serious student of behavior academically. She also studied comparative religion, myths, and Dark Ages history.

Victoria lives in The Woodlands, Texas with her husband and a very smart, mostly black German Shepherd dog.


Jax #2

Resistance #1

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