Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Best Reads of 2017 Part 2

I read 250 books in 2017 so when I was getting ready to do my Best Reads of 2017 feature, it was very difficult to narrow it down. Some of them were new releases, some were just new to me, and some of them are re-reads but all really stuck with me and found a lasting place in my heart and library.  I finally narrowed it down to 44 books broken into four parts. Part 2 features my favorite reads from April, May, & June of 2017 each including my original review.

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Part 1  /  Part 3  /  Part 4

Patience by Helena Stone
Dublin Virtues #1
Patience is a virtue. But what if you wait too long?

While Xander Ekman’s dream of becoming a successful artist has come true, his love life has gone from bad to worse. Sick of the endless string of one-night stands, he accepts the challenge when his best friend, Erik, bets him that he can’t be celibate for a month. Now all he needs is a reminder to keep his distance in the heat of the moment.

Troy Moriarty doesn’t have time for love. He’s too busy trying to keep his recently opened tattoo parlor afloat. Besides, ever since the man who was supposed to be his business partner abandoned him to run the shop on his own, he has a hard time trusting others.

When Xander turns to Troy for a tattoo that will remind him to be patient, the attraction is instant. But faced with Xander’s month of celibacy, Troy’s trust issues, and a nemesis lurking in the background, their relationship may be doomed before it has a chance to begin.

Saturday's Series Spotlight: Dublin Virtues

Original Review April 2017:
I'm going to jump right out of the gate and say what a lovely story Patience is, realistic and beautiful.  Now, as any one who is familiar with my reviews knows that I don't do spoilers.  Having said all that, Xander and Troy could have saved themselves quite a bit of time and stress had they been more upfront with each other from the get go.  Sometimes stories with misunderstandings, miscommunication, or lack thereof, make the reader just want to scream and shake their ereader but not Patience.  Let's face it, if there was no drama then you would be reading a 10 page leaflet instead of a full length novel and where is the fun in that?  But Patience is much more than just drama caused from miscommunication, there is a clear reason why both Xander and Troy haven't divulged everything to each other, but those reasons you'll have to discover for yourself.

Along with the budding romance between Xander and Troy, I loved the true bromances boy men have with their lifelong friends, Eric and Lorcan.  Helena Stone has created a journey that blends the title, the reasoning behind it, and interesting characters that will keep you hooked from the first page to the last.  You might actually even discover something about yourself as you ride along with Xander and Troy in their quest for a healthy future that all began with a little tattoo.

Helena Stone is a new author for me and after just one story I'm already looking forward to more, beginning with Equality, Dublin Virtues book 2 which follows Eric and Lorcan.  She is definitely an author I'll keep on my radar.


Preacher, Prophet, Beast by Harper Fox
Tyack & Frayne #7
Lee would gladly trade all his psychic gifts for a chance at ordinary life with his husband and his little girl. Three years into their marriage, they’re settled in their new home – but the House of Joy can’t shield them from an oncoming threat with the power to uproot their whole world.

Lee can’t define it further, and even his beloved Gideon can’t unmask a monster with no face at all. Gideon is mired in problems and secrets of his own as he struggles to adjust to his new rank and the complexities of plainclothes police work with CID, and for once the devoted Tyack-Frayne partnership is failing to communicate.

Turbulent times in the world at large reach deep into the Bodmin heartland, and the village of Dark is without its guardian constable. More than Lee and Gideon can possibly know has been depending upon their rapport, and as the summer rises towards the longest day, a new and unfathomable kind of Beast is afoot on the moors...

Original Review April 2017:
When I stumbled onto Once Upon a Haunted Moor, book 1 of Harper Fox's Tyack & Frayne series, I thought I found a great paranormal way to escape reality for a bit.  Well, now with the recent release of Preacher, Prophet, Beast book 7 I realize that, yes it's still a great escape, a chance to let go and recharge but it's also an amazingly balanced tale of mystery, drama, and romance wrapped in a whacky paranormal bow that never fails to make me laugh, shudder, and smile all at the same time.

On the surface, I found Preacher to be the most confusing of the series but I also found that was one of the main reasons I enjoyed it.  The confusion is part of the paranormal charm and fits the plot, not to mention how it fits the characters.  That is as close to a spoiler as you are going to get out of me but don't let it scare you off, yes I found confusion to be a huge factor but a necessary one and I can't imagine the story being told any other way.

As the saying goes, laughter is the best medicine, but I find that being freaked out once in a while can be even better.  Why or how you ask?  Well, for me it makes me appreciate what I have because I realize things could be a lot creepier and good or bad it helps me respect what life throws at me.  Now, having made that observation I will say that what Lee and Gideon face on a nearly daily basis is pretty freaky and they manage to face it head on even when they don't realize that's what they're doing.  Throw in little Tamsyn coming into her own paranormal gifts and the family is definitely being kept on their toes.

Preacher, Prophet, Beast is a wonderful addition to my paranormal shelf that has cemented Tyack & Frayne's position on my series shelf.  Hopefully there will be plenty more of Lee, Gideon, and Tamsyn to come.


Moments by RJ Scott
An actor on possession charges, hell bent on destroying his own life meets a man who quietly works to make the world a better place.

Jacob Riley is a typical Hollywood former child star with issues. He has already done prison time and at the age of twenty-six has been arrested again.

Ethan Myers is the owner and manager of Macs, an education center providing teaching and learning to local low income families. Losing his partner to cancer leaves him lost and alone and he buries himself in his work to start to mend his broken heart.

Sparks fly when Jacob has to complete his community service at Macs. Their relationship grows against a background of disenfranchised street gang members, arson, the Oscars, and despite their prejudices.

Can Jacob Riley be saved?

**Please note, this has been with Totally Bound and has been added to and re-edited. If you have proof of purchase I will happily replace the book.**

Re-Edited Re-Read Review April 2017:
If I am being completely honest, there really is nothing I can add to my original review.  I will say that I could not tell you what any of the re-edited or added bits were as every bit of  Jacob and Ethan's journey flowed together as beautifully as it did when I read it in 2015.

Jacob is still a spoiled Hollywood stereotype who thinks the world is his oyster and he's lined up for the all you can eat buffet.  Ethan is still the humble man who wants to help the less fortunate.  When their journeys converge, fireworks are the result from the starting line, equally stubborn and determined the pair is perfectly matched.  Sometimes we have to hit rock bottom before we see what is really important in life, well Jacob hasn't really hit rock bottom but he is about at his last chance for redemption when he's forced to serve his community service sentence at Ethan's center. I do believe that we all have that one defining moment that can change us and that's what Jacob faces in Moments.

That's about the best you're going to get out of me as for the plot but I will say that I can't recommend Moments enough.  There are points that may seem cliche but there are plenty of points that are not and when you combine them what you have is a beautiful tale of redemption, friendship, love, and finding your place in the world which is something we all want.  Whether you are as I am doing a re-read or completely new to you, Moments is another winner from Miss Scott that you don't want to miss, you just might learn something about yourself as well as be thoroughly entertained and for me that is the mark of an excellent and amazing tale and talent.

Original Review September 2015:
I need to start by simply stating that you will not like Jacob Riley in the beginning.  He is the classic, some might say cliche, Hollywood child actor turned bad boy.  Whether you see Jacob as classic or cliche, it doesn't matter because it works and that's what makes Moments enjoyable.  Despite Ethan's panic attacks he is incredibly patient, more patient than I would be when faced with dealing with Jacob.  I don't do spoilers but I will say there was a point in the story that I thought the author might take a certain path with Jacob's character but she didn't and the road Miss Scott took was much better and appreciated.  Moments may not be what I would classify as an emotional roller coaster but it definitely pulls at your heartstrings and will stay with you.  Moments is another great example why RJ Scott is on my short list of "1-click without the blurb" authors.


Wake by Brigham Vaughn & K Evan Coles
Tidal #1
A love worth the wait.

Carter Hamilton and Riley Porter-Wright room together as Harvard undergraduates. An immediate friendship forms, but as the years pass it deepens into something neither man understands. As attraction simmers under the surface, lines begin to blur. When they move back to Manhattan, they gradually slip into the lives their families have envisioned for them.

Both men marry, but in time, Riley realizes he’s ended up in a passionless relationship like his parents’ while his career takes center stage. Although he loves his wife, Carter misses the emotional and physical connection he shared with Riley.

The weight of Riley’s feelings and his growing discontentment with his life eventually push him to tell Carter the truth about how he feels. Shocked and unable to face his own feelings, Carter rejects Riley.

As each man comes to terms with the lies they’ve told themselves, each other and the people around them, they find their lives changing in ways they never imagined. They soon discover that the truths they’ve been longing to tell shake the foundations of their friendship.

๐Ÿ’”๐Ÿ’ซ๐Ÿ’žReader Advisory: This book contains polyamory and infidelity, expressions of homophobia by multiple secondary characters, divorce, scenes of M/F/M intimacy, references to parental neglect, disownment, one brief scene involving a physical altercation.๐Ÿ’ž๐Ÿ’ซ๐Ÿ’”

Saturday's Series Spotlight: Tidal

Original Review May 2017:
I have been a fan of Brigham Vaughn for a few years now and she has never let me down.  K Evan Cole is a new author to me that is definitely on her way up.  Put the two together and we are blessed with an amazing journey of friendship, lust, hesitation, fear, and heart.  After only a couple of chapters, I knew that if I was smart I would put Wake aside until the second book was released so I wouldn't be tortured with waiting but I was also already sucked in and couldn't even begin to contemplate the idea of putting it aside, so I continued on and simply put - I LOVED IT!!  I can't imagine not having read it even with the possibility of a lengthy wait to finish Carter & Riley's journey of friendship & freedom to be themselves.

Now, as for the boys, I love them both and I feel for them at the turmoil they both are facing trying to come to terms with who they are.  Having said that, Carter definitely tries my patience more than once, talk about a character that needs a good shaking or a sharp whack to the back of the head but I love him anyway.  That's about the extent of any spoiler hints you are going to get out of me but I will add that Wake will keep you hooked from beginning to end, it was pure torture when I had to put my kindle aside when pesky daily tasks such as work, eating, and sleep reared their ugly head.

As a straight woman, it's easy for me to pass judgement and say to Carter and Riley, "just admit it, be yourself" but I cannot even begin to fathom what either are facing in the society they live in so I can't stress enough to go in reading Carter and Riley's journey with an open mind and full heart.  You just might walk away, not only having experienced a very entertaining heart-warming tale of friendship but you might also learn something about yourself along the way.

As I started with, Brigham Vaughn has never let me down and after Wake I can safely say I'll be saying the same about K Evan Coles in a couple years down the road.


Laurent & the Beast by KA Merikan
Kings of Hell MC #1
Nothing can stop true love. Not time. Not even the devil himself.

1805. Laurent. Indentured servant. Desperate to escape a life that is falling apart.

2017. Beast. Kings of Hell Motorcycle Club vice president. His fists do the talking.

Beast has been disfigured in a fire, but he’s covered his skin with tattoos to make sure no one mistakes his scars for weakness. The accident not only hurt his body, but damaged his soul and self-esteem, so he’s wrapped himself in a tight cocoon of violence and mayhem where no one can reach him.

Until one night, when he finds a young man covered in blood in their clubhouse. Sweet, innocent, and as beautiful as an angel fallen from heaven, Laurent pulls on all of Beast’s heartstrings. Laurent is so lost in the world around him, and is such a tangled mystery, that Beast can’t help but let the man claw his way into the stone that is Beast’s heart.

In 1805, Laurent has no family, no means, and his eyesight is failing. To escape a life of poverty, he uses his beauty, but that only backfires and leads him to a catastrophe that changes his life forever. He takes one step into the abyss and is transported to the future, ready to fight for a life worth living.

What he doesn’t expect in his way is a brutal, gruff wall of tattooed muscle with a tender side that only Laurent is allowed to touch. And yet, if Laurent ever wants to earn his freedom, he might have to tear out the heart of the very man who took care of him when it mattered most.

Sunday's Safe Word Shelf: Kings of Hell MC

Original Review May 2017:
Paranormal, romance, motorcycle club, what's not to love?  Laurent and the Beast is an amazing tale with a little bit of everything.  I will say that I debated on appropriate tags, should I use paranormal, supernatural, or science fiction?  Despite there being a science fiction element with time travel, I went with paranormal because of the how and why Laurent went from 1805 to 2017.  No matter whatever category you decide on, just know that you will have read an incredible story that sucks you in from the very first word.

I have read some time travel stories before, not a vast amount but definitely a few,  more often than not the main character is going back in time so when Laurent moved forward more than 200 years I expected mentions of automobiles, electricity, and clothing.  I was surprised but delighted to see the author reflect on little things that most of us take for granted such as light switches, refrigeration, bathtubs, and especially Laurent's fascination with plastic.  These might be small scenes that don't seem very significant to most but to me they stood out and made it all the more realistic, well as realistic as time travel can be, and showed the attention the author made to details which is always an important factor to me when dealing with historicals, frankly it can be a make or break moment and in this KA Merikan work it is without a doubt a make it moment.

Despite the many differences between Laurent and Beast there is actually many similarities and the chemistry is off the charts.  This is a tale that will make you cringe but warm the heart, will make you hate a few but love even more, and short circuit your brain a time or two but when you hit that last page you will be begging for more.  Luckily for us, there is more to come and frankly I'll be waiting in line when book 2 comes out.  Although I have featured their work on my blog before this is the first time I've read anything by the duo that makes up KA Merikan but Laurent and the Beast will definitely not be the last.


Storm Season by Elle Keaton
Accidental Roots #1
They say you can’t go home again, Adam Klay doesn’t intend to until the death of his father, a famous artist, forces his return to Skagit, Washington. Cleaning up his father’s chaotic life was never on Adam’s bucket list. Worse, Adam finds himself inexplicably drawn to the elusive, terminally-clumsy, gorgeous, Micah Ryan. No way is he getting involved with someone from his hometown, he’s always insisted the best view of Skagit was in his rearview mirror.

Micah Ryan has been coasting on auto-pilot since his family was killed in a car accident a decade earlier. He runs a web business and has an irritable cat. He hardly leaves his house, unless it is for his afternoon espresso. His world tips upside down when Adam Klay rolls into town. For the first time in years, he feels alive. Unfortunately, Micah’s return to the living has been noticed and is not appreciated.

Someone has a secret. Someone is exploiting the vulnerable youth population in Skagit. Teenagers are disappearing, young women turning up dead, the dirty secrets of Skagit are surfacing.

Saturday's Series Spotlight: Accidental Roots

Original Review May 2017:
Sometimes going home is the last thing you want but is exactly what you need.  Well, that's what Adam Klay is facing when he returns to Skagit to sort out his father's estate.  Micah Ryan on the flipside hasn't left Skagit since losing his family in a car accident nearly ten years prior.  When fate, destiny, or just plain dumb luck puts these two on the same course their lives will never be the same.

Storm Season is a wonderful blend of romance, drama, mystery, comedy, and it's all tied up together in a great big bow of heat and chemistry.  I always find mysteries to be a very hard genre to review because I don't do spoilers and with a mystery every little detail can be a huge spoiler so all I will say is that I was hooked from page one and dreaded when I had to put my kindle down when my need for sleep overwhelmed my want to read.


By the Numbers by RJ Scott
Sanctuary #10
Secrets and lies threaten Brandon and Daniel’s new love.

Brandon Hoselton is running scared, finding security in his obsession with patterns and numbers. With his family threatened, he feels he has nowhere left to go, and even considers ending his life to keep them safe. Until Sanctuary, in the shape of the enigmatic Daniel Karnes, gives him a reason to stay alive and offers the possibility of a future free from fear.

Former SEAL Daniel is new to Sanctuary, tasked with watching Brandon, a brilliant geek with way too many secrets. Falling in love with quirky Brandon is easy; now he just has to make sure secrets don’t end up with them both dying.

The only way of destroying Varga is to cut the crime boss’s money, and the two men become part of an intricate take-down involving millions of dollars. But Brandon has a secret he can never share with Daniel, and their new love is at stake.

When the villain has murder in mind, sometimes the only way to stay alive is to lie.

Original Review June 2017:
I can't believe it's over but what a way to go out!  Sanctuary is an awesome series that has had a little bit of everything in every installment and By the Numbers is no different.  Brandon's determination to protect his sisters is what fuels his actions even as the fear settles in.  Daniel may only be doing his job as he protects Brandon but he can't help but be impressed with Brandon's resolve even if he has no clue to the man's true intention.  As they butt heads at every turn they soon become more than protector and protectee.

It is very rare when you are able to love the final book in a series as much as the first, truth is I can probably count on one hand how many times that has happened and one of them is definitely Sanctuary.  RJ Scott has created a world that successfully combines intrigue, mystery, and technology stitched together with drama and just the right amount of humor nestled in a cocoon of romance, love and yumminess.

I loved watching Brandon grow throughout the pages of By the Numbers, he may not see it but I could.  One thing that really stood out for me was the stimming, which I'm not ashamed to admit I had to look up. For those like me who is unfamiliar with the term it is a self-stimulatory behavior, the repetition of physical movements, sounds, or repetitive movement of objects often used to calm and stimulate oneself.  For Brandon, the stimming is in the form of counting numbers.  Is it a huge part of the story? Not really but in my opinion it is another example of how RJ Scott doesn't just follow a winning pattern or formula when writing her series.  It may or may not fit the term "outside the box" but it does show the human factor, the details that make us all different and it's just one of many reasons why RJ Scott is one of my all time favorite authors, not just in the M/M genre but across the board.


The Monet Murders by Josh Lanyon
The Art of Murder #2
All those late night conversations when Sam had maybe a drink too many or Jason was half falling asleep. All those playful, provocative comments about what they’d do when they finally met up again.

Well, here they were.

The last thing Jason West, an ambitious young FBI Special Agent with the Art Crimes Team, wants--or needs--is his uncertain and unacknowledged romantic relationship with irascible legendary Behavioral Analysis Unit Chief Sam Kennedy.

And it’s starting to feel like Sam is not thrilled with the idea either.

But personal feelings must be put aside when Sam requests Jason’s help to catch a deranged killer targeting wealthy, upscale art collectors. A killer whose calling card is a series of grotesque paintings depicting the murders.

Saturday's Series Spotlight: The Art of Murder

Original Review June 2017:
Sam and Jason are back!  Their relationship has been months of phone calls and skyping  but then they find themselves once again on a case together and the relationship that Jason believed they were heading towards is not quite the same page that Sam was reading.

As with book #1, The Mermaid Murders, Sam and Jason are still not quite up to the status of Jake and Adrien from the author's Adrien English Mysteries but for this reader they are definitely giving my favorite detecting odd couple a run for the top notch in my heart.  What can I say about the mystery?  Well, I won't say too much because I don't want to give anything away but I will note that my interest was piqued from the very beginning and not once did it falter.  The Monet Murders may be more relationship driven but the mystery is not forgotten.  The passion between the boys that began in The Mermaid Murders only grows with each page, despite Sam ending it before it really has a chance to begin.

Every time a new Josh Lanyon release pops up in my notifications I know that I am in for a treat and I was not disappointed with The Monet Murders.  I am already looking forward to Sam and Jason's next case.


Provoked by Joanna Chambers
Enlightenment #1
David Lauriston is struggling to build his reputation in Edinburgh’s privileged legal world. His humble origins are enough of a hurdle, never mind his recent decision to defend a group of weavers accused of treason, prompting speculation that he may harbour radical sympathies. The last thing he should be doing is agreeing to help the brother of one of the convicted weavers find the government agent who caused his brother’s downfall.

David’s personal life is no more successful. Tormented by his forbidden desires for other men, and the painful memories of the childhood friend he once loved, David tries his hardest to live a celibate existence, castigating himself whenever his resolve slips.

But then—into David’s repressed and orderly world—bursts Lord Murdo Balfour.

Cynical, hedonistic and utterly unapologetic, Murdo could not be less like David. Whilst David refuses to entertain the prospect of entering into a loveless marriage for propriety’s sake, Murdo is determined to wed one day—and has no intention of giving up the company of other men when he does so. But as appalled as David is by Murdo’s unrepentant self-interest, he cannot resist the man’s sway.

Murdo tempts and provokes David in equal measure, distracting him from his promise to find the agent provocateur responsible for the weavers’ fate, and forcing him to acknowledge his physical desires.

But is Murdo more than a mere distraction?

Is it possible he could be the very man David is looking for?

Saturday's Series Spotlight: Enlightenment

Original Review June 2017:
David is struggling to make a name for himself in the legal profession, or at least do what he feels is right and create a secure and stable future.  Lord Murdo is not quite so noble  in his life's pursuit but he does have an idea of what his future should look like.  When these two meet, its pretty obvious that neither will ever quite be the same.  Provoked is a lovely introduction into Joanna Chambers' Enlightenment series.

Overall Series
With this being a trilogy you have to read the entire series to see the whole story.  As any followers of my reviews know, I am a true history lover so when I find a new(or new to me) historical I tend to gobble them up.  Well, I have never felt so satisfied after binge reading a trilogy before as I have with Joanna Chambers' Enlightenment.  David and Lord Murdo will definitely try your patience but their passion for life and each other, even when they deny it, will bring a little zest into your life and a pep to your step.  Don't get me wrong, you will most certainly want to wring their necks more than once but it only adds to the passion and heart of the story.

I loved the secondary characters as well, there isn't a single one that could be labeled as just filler, they all a part to play in the journeys of David and Murdo.  It's through the couples' interactions with these characters that we get to see what drives them, we see that David wants to help others from the beginning but it isn't really until Beguiled that we realize Murdo isn't as selfish or self-involved as originally portrayed.  It may be cliche but there is more to him than meets the eye and it's lovely watching David discover Murdo's drive and heart.

It isn't often that I find myself saying that with each installment the story got even better, sequels by nature are often inferior to the original but not with this trilogy.  A truly lovely historical that showed the morality of the time but never lost the passion the characters have for life or each other.  Enlightenment has a little bit of everything but at the center of it all is heart and that only grows with each page.  So blessed that this series crossed my path and makes a great addition to my historical shelf.


Draakenwood by Jordan L Hawk
Whyborne & Griffin #9
Someone is killing members of the old families…and the evidence points to Whyborne.

Widdershins has been unusually quiet for months. But now a mysterious creature from the Outside is on the loose, assassinating members of the town’s old families by draining their blood. Whyborne and Griffin set out to solve the mystery—but as the evidence piles up, the police begin to suspect Whyborne himself is the murderer.

Now Whyborne must both clear his name and stop the horrors the monster threatens to unleash. His only hope: an alliance with his old enemies the Endicotts.

Because something terrible lurks in the Draakenwood, and it will stop at nothing to seize control of the maelstrom itself.

Draakenwood is the ninth book in the Whyborne & Griffin series, where magic, mystery, and m/m romance collide with Victorian era America.

Saturday's Series Spotlight: Whyborne & Griffin Part 1

Original Review June 2017:
Who thought it possible that there could be more evil for Whyborne & Griffin to face?  Apparently Jordan L Hawk.  And what a world she has created centered around these two, Widdershins, and their ever growing circle of friends, family, and allies.  When I first stumbled upon this series, book 4 Necropolis had just been released and I had no idea how far the series would go, I can safely say that whether Miss Hawk writes one more or a hundred I'll be right here waiting to devour them all.

For me at least, it is very rare to find a series or even a standalone where the secondary characters not only factor into the tale but find myself loving them almost as much as the main characters.  Well that is what happens in the W&G series.  Christine and Iskander are by far my favorite but Persophone and Miss Parkhurst are definitely edging their way in too.  I never expected to find myself liking Whyborne's father but he is starting to grow on me and considering how he began it takes real talent to make him even partially redeemable.

Not wanting to give too much away I will say that one of my favorite moments in Draakenwood was when Whyborne called on others for help and the librarians appeared, just brilliant and I smiled so big I probably scared the neighbors as I was sitting in my front yard at the time.  Once again we learn just what it means when its said that "Widdershins knows its own" and we know when we have a brilliant piece of art in our hands.  If you are a fellow W&G lover than you don't want to miss out on the newest installment and if you have yet to begin, well now is the perfect time to start.


The Masterpiece by Bonnie Dee
Built from the bottom up: one perfect gentleman.

Man about town Arthur Lawton spends his days pursuing entertainment while shoeshine Joe Sprat labors to better his family’s lives. When an argument about nature versus nurture sparks a wager, Arthur swears to a friend he can turn this working man into a gentleman who will pass at a society function.

Joe is happy to participate in the experiment for a fee but receives more than he bargained for after moving into Lawton’s house. Arthur is determined Joe won’t merely wear a veneer of sophistication but educates him in every way. As he creates his new and improved man, Arthur grows more deeply infatuated with him, while Joe falls equally hard for his charismatic mentor.

Underneath a growing friendship, desire simmers and one day explodes. After their relationship escalates, the pair exists in a dream bubble until the threat of exposure sharply reminds them they belong in different worlds. When the ball is over, each must resume his own life, changed by their encounter but destined for different courses.

Find out if love is strong enough to bridge the gap between peer and pauper in this twist on the tale of My Fair Lady. 

Original Review June 2017:
If you have ever seen the film My Fair Lady then you have an idea of what the story behind The Masterpiece is all about.  Arthur and his best mate Granville make a bet to turn a lower class citizen into a gentleman in just a few short weeks.  Joe Sprat just happens to be that lower class citizen who just wants to support his family.  What could happen?

As a history buff I always enjoy a well planned historical where the author shows their appreciation of the past by staying true to the times and in my experience Bonnie Dee is one of the best writers to do just that.  Of course there are always a few minor liberties taken but as a whole the stories she creates paint a very accurate portrayal of the times and Masterpiece is no different.

Arthur may be out to win his bet with his friend but Joe soon gets under his skin and Joe might just be doing it to help his family and become closer to his dream of owning his own shoe store but Arthur soon becomes more than a tutor.  The Masterpiece is a tale of friendship and love filled with just the right amount of angst and drama to get the blood pumping.  Whether or not you are a fan of My Fair Lady or historicals won't matter because as long as you are a lover of great storytelling that mixes drama, heart, and a little humor than Masterpiece is definitely one for your TBR list.


Patience by Helena Stone
Here we go again. Xander stared as the man he’d spent a few sweaty hours with walked away without a backward glance. He closed the front door as softly as he could before his guest reached the stairs leading to the street. With a sigh, he rested his forehead against the smooth wood. Weariness crept into his bones, swiftly followed by anger. He squeezed his hands into fists and raised one before lowering it again. The middle of the night was not the time to slam his hand against the door, no matter how frustrated he was.

“Don’t hold back on my account.”

Xander’s heart stuttered at the unexpected voice coming from behind.

Shit. Bollix. Fuck. Xander raised his hand again and forcefully hit the door, immediately regretting the action as pain seared through his arm.

“Another one bites the dust, I see.”

Xander spun around, fury and embarrassment battling for dominance, as he glared at his housemate, and most of the time best friend, Eric.

“What are you doing up at this ungodly hour?” Xander didn’t try to keep the frustration from his voice, in the hope that an attack would hide the discomfort he experienced.

“I’ve got no idea. Give me a minute. What could possibly have me awake at this time of night?” Eric remained expressionless as he stared at Xander. “It may have been the bed frame rhythmically hitting the wall between our bedrooms earlier. Or the noises from the shower. Or maybe it’s because you still haven’t done anything to stop the hinges on your door from squeaking every time it opens or closes. Take your pick.”

“I…” Xander swallowed, biting down on a smart retort as he realized his housemate had a point. He glanced at Eric’s face and was just in time to see his features relax and a small smile tug at his lips.

“Cat got your tongue? It’s not very often you’re lost for words.” A smirk appeared on Eric’s face but the sting had gone out of his tone and Xander allowed himself a small sigh of relief.

“I’d love to know what’s up with you, though. You’ve always been popular, but I’ve never known you to slut around like this in the past. Is this a new thing? Something you developed while I was overseas?”

Xander opened his mouth to give a flippant reply then pressed his lips together again. He might not like to admit it, but once again, Eric had a point. Instead of answering, he shrugged and shook his head, hoping it would be enough to make Eric drop the subject and allow them to go back to bed. It was three in the morning. Apart from the opportunity for a few hours of undisturbed sleep, Xander couldn’t come up with a possible positive spin to put on his guest’s early departure.

“Let’s have a cup of tea, seeing as we’re both up, anyway.” Eric didn’t wait for an answer but turned and walked toward the kitchen.

Xander watched his friend’s retreating form and sighed before reluctantly following him. He didn’t want to have this conversation but he’d known it was coming. It had been six weeks since Eric had returned from Canada where he had worked and lived for two years. It had made sense to offer his spare room to the man who’d been his best friend since they’d both been ten years old, just as it had seemed logical to tell Eric there was no need for him to hurry about finding a place of his own. Reasonably priced accommodations were next to impossible to find in Dublin unless you were prepared to live in a shoebox, and Xander had more than enough space in his apartment. Of course, Xander hadn’t stopped to consider what having a live-in guest would mean for his nocturnal adventures. He sighed as he realized he wouldn’t be able to fob Eric off with half-answers and evasions either. The man knew him too bloody well.

When Xander dragged himself into the kitchen, the kettle was on and Eric had two mugs waiting on the counter.

“It’s still the middle of the night.” Xander figured it was worth a try. “You need to get up for work in a few hours. We could have this conversation later today.” Or not at all. Xander didn’t hold out any hope for that possibility.

Eric turned from the counter and looked at Xander. All signs of levity were gone and replaced by concern. “It’s okay. I’m wide awake now, anyway, and I’ve been trying to find an opening for this talk for days. Might as well take advantage of the opportunity.”

“I don’t really want to—”

“Leave it, Xander. You know me well enough to realize I’m not going to let it drop, now that I’ve opened my mouth.”

Xander nodded. Eric rarely dropped an issue after he’d broached it—something he used to admire in him. He sat down at the kitchen table and waited in silence for the kettle to boil and for Eric to make their tea. Only when they both had a steaming mug in front of them did Eric speak again.

“So, what is going on with you? It’s shocking how much you’ve changed in only two years. If I remember correctly, you used to say how you couldn’t see the attraction in one-night stands.”

Bollix. This was not what Xander had prepared himself for. He’d been ready for a speech about him being a selfish bastard. He was happy and willing to apologize for not taking Eric into consideration when he brought people home and took them to his bed. He didn’t want to talk about why he did it, though.

“I haven’t been that bad.” As he said the words Xander realized that not only did he sound childish, he also wasn’t being honest.

“Really?” Eric raised an eyebrow. “You reckon ten one-night stands in six weeks is unremarkable?”

“You’ve been keeping count?” Indignation swept through Xander.

“I told you, your nighttime activities have been hard to miss or ignore.”

Indignation evaporated and was replaced by shame. “I’m sorry. I guess I’m still getting used to sharing my house. I’ll try and be quieter in the future.”

“No!” Eric shook his head. “That’s not why we’re having this talk. I want to figure out what happened to you. Where’s the Xander I used to know and what have you done with him?”

Xander hesitated. He understood exactly what Eric meant but didn’t want to consider the question or try to formulate an answer so he attempted to buy himself some time. “What do you mean? I’m the same Xander I always was.”

“No, you’re not.” Eric almost sounded sad. “If you had ten casual hook-ups in the decade between coming out and the day I left for Canada it was a lot. Do you remember that talk we had before I went? I could have sworn you told me you were ready to settle down, be responsible and hopefully find a long-term partner. That is what you said, right?”

Xander could only nod.

“And you did some of it. You established yourself as an artist and illustrator and managed to snap up your own apartment. So what happened to creating stability in your love life?”

Xander picked up his mug and took a sip of the still too-hot tea, buying himself some more time as well as a burned tongue.

“Hey,” Eric’s voice was soft and gentle, “it’s me you’re talking to. Remember me? I’m your friend. There’s nothing you can tell me that would make me love you less. Just spit it out.”

“Men.” Xander stopped talking and swallowed. “Men happened. If there is anybody our age out there looking for a relationship I’ve yet to find him. I tried, trust me. I really did.” He thought back and had no problem remembering how it had all unfolded. He’d gone out, and more often than not, he’d end up talking to a man he liked. They’d spend the evening chatting, drinking, flirting and laughing and by the end of it there never seemed to be a good reason not to bring him home.

“Those first few times, I hoped that sex would lead to breakfast together, an exchange of phone numbers followed by more dates, more nights and maybe a relationship.” Xander was surprised to find it still hurt. “It never worked out like that. Those men would leave as soon as we’d both gotten off. Some might take a shower first, but with one or two exceptions they never stayed long enough for scrambled eggs.”

The few times a man had stayed until morning, the atmosphere had been so uncomfortable even Xander had been glad when his hook-up had decided it was time to leave. And all of that didn’t even take into consideration the selfish bastard he’d brought home three months or so ago. For that man, it hadn’t been enough to just leave. He’d humiliated Xander first. Anger bubbled up again as Xander remembered how he’d ended that night crying in the shower—disgusted with himself and angry with the world.

“I guess you could say I gave up on the whole idea. After a few months, I’d gotten the message. I was good enough for some hot sex but not interesting enough for anything beyond that. So now I just take what I can get. There’s no point in continuing to set myself up for disappointment.” Xander clamped his mouth shut. He wasn’t going to go on and tell Eric about that prick who’d made him cry. Just because Eric was his best friend didn’t mean Xander was happy to share all his humiliations with him.

Xander put his now empty mug on the table and rested his hands next to it. When Eric reached across and squeezed one of them, Xander realized he’d been far less successful at keeping the hurt out of his voice than he’d hoped.

“Are you at least enjoying these one-night stands?”

Eric’s question made perfect sense, and yet it pulled Xander up short. He’d never asked himself that, and now that the issue had been raised, he wasn’t sure it was something he wanted to pursue.

“It’s fun while it lasts.” Xander realized he once again said a lot less than he might have. He didn’t want to admit these nights left him feeling increasingly empty and alone, and he definitely didn’t want to tell Eric that his confidence had all but disappeared once it had become clear that the men he encountered never saw him as relationship material. These days, picking up men was almost a necessity—a confidence boost he needed to convince himself that he was still attractive in the eyes of others. If he wasn’t good enough for a relationship, he needed the reassurance that he could at least still connect on some level.

“Have you ever considered that you might be going about it the wrong way?” Eric sounded almost hesitant when he spoke.

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t know.” Eric shrugged. “Seems to me that if you take every man you meet straight to your bed they could be excused for concluding you’re not in the market for a relationship.” Eric grinned. “And now I sound just like my father when he tries to talk some sense in to my baby sister.”

Xander stared at his friend, trying to figure out if he could be right. “That doesn’t sound right. I mean, picking up men is perfectly normal in the crowd I hang out with. Everybody does it. Some end up in a relationship, although they appear to be in the minority. Most men don’t, and as far as I can tell, they’re perfectly fine with that.”

“How can you be sure about that?” Eric asked. “Would anybody who doesn’t know you as well as I do be able to tell you’re less than happy with the situation?”

Xander contemplated the question for a few moments. “Probably not,” he eventually conceded. “I don’t want others to be aware of that. It’s bad enough I’m clearly not relationship material. I’m not about to advertise how much I hate that.”

“Don’t be stupid.” Anger crept into Eric’s voice. “Jaysus, if I didn’t see you as my brother I’d have a relationship with you myself. The problem is, you don’t give people the chance to get close to you. They’re probably all convinced you’re only interested in a quick fuck and they’re accommodating enough to give it to you.”

Eric looked away as if his outburst had surprised him as much as it had shocked Xander. “I’ve got an idea.”

“You have an idea.” Xander smiled for the first time since they’d started their talk. “Why does that sentence scare the shit out of me? Oh…wait, it’s all coming back to me. In the past, one of your ideas led to me being stranded in the middle of Paris without any money. And then there was the time I ended up being brought home by the gardai.”

Eric beamed back at Xander, apparently sharing Xander’s relief that their conversation had taken on a lighter tone. “Nothing like the ideas I had on those occasions. Besides, the gardai incident had far more to do with your poor impulse control than my idea. Anyway, I wonder… Are you up for a little bet?”

“What are we betting on?” Xander wasn’t sure whether or not to worry about what might be coming next.

“I bet you can’t go a whole month without bringing another man home.” Eric paused for a moment. “Or without going to another man’s place.” Eric grinned, clearly delighted with himself for closing the loophole before Xander had even spotted it.

“How’s that a bet?” Xander laughed. “If I just stay at home for a month there’d be no risk of me picking anybody up.”

“That would be considered cheating.” Eric smiled before his expression turned serious again. “The bet would mean that you’d live your life as you always do, be your usual sociable self, with the one exception that you wouldn’t have sex with anyone.”

Xander sat back and stared at his friend as he considered the proposal. He and Eric had always been competitive and he was tempted just to say yes and jump into the challenge but he detested losing too much not to take his time before replying.

“Spell it out for me,” Xander said. “I would still go out. I can still talk to men, and what else? Would I be allowed to kiss? Give or receive blow jobs? Is it just about lack of penetration or is there more to this bet of yours?”

“You’re considering taking up the challenge then?” Eric asked.

“Yes. I think so.” After all, Xander pondered, given how frustrating the meaningless one-night stands have recently become, I can’t imagine a month without picking anyone up being any worse.

“Nice one.” Eric’s grin was almost wicked. “Here’s the deal. You can date. You can kiss, but you can’t get naked, so blow jobs are off the table for a month, too.”


“Hey, it’s a bet. There’s supposed to be something at stake or it wouldn’t be worth it,” Eric said.

“While we’re on the topic of stakes, what happens if I win?” Xander hesitated before going on. “Or if I lose for that matter?”

“Oh. I hadn’t thought that far ahead.” Eric stared off into the distance, leaving Xander caught between excitement and apprehension. He’d already made up his mind to accept the challenge but he’d spent more than enough time around Eric to realize the man could come up with devilish ideas once he set his mind to it. Xander studied Eric’s face and recognized the moment he made his decision.

“I could suggest something silly or outrageous, but I’m actually serious about this so let’s keep it simple. Whoever loses takes care of the other and the house for the subsequent month. That’s the cooking, cleaning, laundry, shopping, the whole shebang. How about it? Are you in?”

“Fuck, yeah. It’s only one month. Easy win for me.” Xander laughed and was surprised when Eric didn’t join him.

“I hope you’re right, mate.” Eric got up from his chair and moved around the table before resting a hand on Xander’s shoulder. “I really hope you’re right. You haven’t been yourself since I returned and I want the old you back.” Eric squeezed Xander’s shoulder one last time and walked on. “I’m going to see if I can’t get a few more hours of sleep. You should do the same.”

Xander yawned as he watched Eric return to his bedroom. Getting some shut eye sounded like a good idea.

Preacher, Prophet, Beast by Harper Fox
Lee fastened the gate after their visitors, and made his way slowly back across the garden. A massive heat still had a grip on the day. The eastern sky held a distant promise of relief, some of the hot gold shading into blue, but the sun was still blazing over Bern-an-Wra tor, and he couldn’t honestly tell from this distance whether the tower had its crowning rock in place or not.

He looked away. His plans for the evening included outdoor dinner with Gid in the orchard’s shade, and later, if their kid was still up for more hijinks, a weekend breaking of the bedtime rules and a stroll and a quick skinny-dip for all three of them in the millstream pond behind the hill. Bodmin winters could be harsh. Experienced moor-dwellers knew to make the best of summer days, and when the weather gods opened a box-of-jewels June like this on the gorse-starred heath, you seized every moment.

Bucca Gwidder, Bucca Dhu. Not figure-of-speech weather gods but two distinct personalities, the Lords of the year’s light and dark halves. The word bucca – meaning spirit, as Rufus Pendower had explained to him, actually stammering nervously over his Bs, the last time they’d been alone together – had become corrupted to pooka or Puck, a mischievous sprite. Out here, the ancient forces were restored. There just wasn’t room for the trappings and twists of civilisation. No room to hide, and no mercy. All the old demons could have sway.

Gideon was on the phone in the hallway when he pushed open the door. Dead-set determined not to hear anything else he shouldn’t today, Lee slipped past him and into the kitchen. He’d volunteered to fix Gid’s favourite casserole, and that required quite a lot of pan-rattling and banging of fridge and cupboard doors before he got stuck in.

Felt good, too. Slam of the chopping board onto the counter top. Slap of beef fillet onto the board, and he diced it as if he’d had a personal grudge with the cow.

Ridiculous. Tamsyn dealt with her emotions better than this. Gideon followed him into the kitchen, and he wiped his hands on a tea towel and turned to greet him with a sane, everyday expression on his face. “Thought that lot were gonna stay around for dinner. You getting hungry?”

“Ravenous. Could eat that raw.”

“I trust you mean the beef.”

“Read it however you want, gorgeous.”

It was a good attempt at their normal repartee. On any other night, it would have driven them back into each other’s arms to take care of unfinished business. Instead Lee took a steadying hold of the counter top behind him and said, uneasily, “Do you think Flora Waite’s all right? She had Tamsie out of the cot before I could stop her, and she was kind of rubbing her face against the poor kid’s. For luck, she said, when I asked.”

“Oh, no. Did Tamsyn wake up?”

“Not really. She doesn’t seem to mind outbreaks of weirdness from her friends.”

“She wouldn’t have a leg to stand on if she did.” Gideon shifted awkwardly. He was flushed, Lee noticed, his handsome summer colour heightened from tan to fever. “I think something is amiss with Flora. We talked a bit about Dev Bowe, and she seemed stressed. Thanks for skipping balletically past me on the phone, but it was nothing you couldn’t know about – I just wanted to give Lamshear Hall a ring and check everything was all right.”

“Lamshear… Oh, right. That’s Dev’s long-term care facility.”

“Mm. Also pronounced bottomless looney bin, poor lad. I dunno – they said he was okay, but something sounded hinky. I might pop over.”

“In your capacity as a police officer? What about poor Rhys?”

“No, just as Flora’s friend. Rhys can take care of Ross Jones.” He fell silent. The helpless, anxious scrape of Lee’s question hung in the air between them. He propped his hands on his hips, looked first out of the window and then at the rug at Lee’s feet. “All right. Speak.”

Lee couldn’t, not at first. His throat was tight with pent-up fear. He waited until he thought his voice would be calm. “I’ll head Ma off at the pass for you, if you like. On Monday.”

“Er… yeah. That would be good.”

“There’s a new garden centre just opened up outside Truro. With Edwardian tearooms. Ought to be irresistible, even against the prospect of getting beaten up by fascists at a Pride parade.”

“Bloody hell, Lee. You weren’t meant to know.”

“Is that the point? This isn’t like a pub fight or a few kids kicking off at Montol. It’s violence, hatred, right here on our streets in Cornwall, and… and you, right there in the middle of it. I don’t understand – why the hell hasn’t the march just been cancelled?”

Gideon took a step towards him, dismay dawning in his eyes. Lee turned to the sink and blindly ran water into the washing-up bowl. He couldn’t let Gideon get a close-up view of him now, on the edge of stupid tears, fighting like a toddler not to crack and cry outright. It’s not that you’d have gone off and done it, although that thought freezes the marrow in my bones. You’d have done it without letting me know. And here I am, locked up like some sea-widow at home, staring off over the water, knowing the damn ship’s gone down.

Gideon’s arms closed round his waist. “It doesn’t work like that,” he said, his mouth like hot velvet against Lee’s ear. “We don’t know if it’s fascists, or some nutter acting alone, or even if anything’s going to happen at all. Oh, my God, sweetheart – don’t cry.”

“I’m not.” Lee wiped the heel of one wet hand over his eyes. “I’m fine, okay? I’m really sorry.”

“What for?”

“Eavesdropping. Getting in your way. Making things harder for you.”

“You don’t do any of those things.” Gideon rocked him. “Listen – I know this new work’s been tough as fuck on both of us. It’s just… very different, that’s all. I don’t go out and get into the middle of things anymore.”

“That must be killing you.”

“A bit. But I’ll get used to it. As for cancelling, we don’t have nearly enough information to justify that, although…”

He fell into a reverberant silence. Lee, who could read his body as well as his mind, and who knew the village bobby of Dark would have cancelled this march at the breath of a threat to its participants, listened to the tensions in the warm body pressed against his. “Gid, tell me what’s wrong.”

“I saw something. In the orchard.”

Lee’s spine chilled. Was this how it felt to other people, when one of his own visions fell from him unannounced? I can see something. Not a stray dog or one of their distant neighbours’ sheep on the loose – something eerie, not to be contained by earthly walls or defences. “What?”

“Not sure. It went round the front. You stay there.”

He set off at a run. It went without saying that Lee would never obey an order of that kind, and he followed on, securing the porch door behind them. God help any serious intruders, encountering Detective Sergeant Frayne in the garden! If it was Daz or any of his feckless mates, he’d rumble at them like a volcano but send them about their business with startling gentleness. Only once had Lee seen him on the edge of unleashed violence: when Elowen had decided she wanted the baby back, and Zeke and Michel had made the mistake of trying to block his response. Still he’d let Lee bear him down to his knees on the clifftop path. All that power, shuddering and restrained in his arms… “Gideon, hold up. I don’t see anyone.”

“No. Me neither, now.” He came to a halt by the gate. “Hang on – over there. Look.”

He was pointing to the thicket of gorse on the far side of the lane. Lee saw the yellow blossoms quiver, as if someone had passed briskly behind them, but then the heavy stillness of the evening returned.

Moments by RJ Scott
"Shit, Sam. March? That’s four frigging months."

Jacob Riley, all six-three of pissed-off male, slammed the door to the small conference room behind him and stamped to the window to stare moodily at the bright sunshine-filled day outside. He twisted both hands tight into his hair in frustration, wondering how the fuck this day had just all gone to hell. His lawyers—his fucking well-paid lawyers—had said they’d get him off, not land him with some lame-ass probation community service crap. Jeez, like he was gonna be taught anything by cleaning streets or dealing with people’s trash. Shit.

The TV in the corner was showing some trashy entertainment show, where a very smug presenter was reporting the latest news. Jacob tried to tune it out but it was nigh on impossible—it must have been the tenth time the show had been played in rotation.

The news of the arrest of actor Jacob Riley boosted the audience figures for the half season’s finale of End Game to their highest point for eight months. He’s been offered a lifeline in a county programme of rehab and his spokesperson said he’s concentrating on work and on himself. Well, folks, here’s hoping this is one recovering addict who actually makes it out alive.

"It’s on hiatus," Samantha replied carefully from just inside the door. "I’ve just got off the phone with HBO and they’ll delay your return to ‘Game until you’re free to come back. Remember, with Christmas on the way, we have some room to manoeuvre."

Jacob spun on his heel. His quiet, calm assistant stood holding a clipboard, a cellphone balanced on top of it.

"Fuck," he summarised. HBO would be stupid to lose him, he was convinced of it. ‘Game was his show. Jacob’s character was pivotal, the star of the whole goddamned show.

"You’re lucky you play Zach," Sam snapped. "And that Zach is a drug-taking manic depressive. Otherwise I swear they would have canned you today, no hesitation."

Was she trying to make him feel better? "Sam, do I look like I give a shit?"

"You need—"

"No! I don’t need anything or anyone. They push me off the show and they’ll see their ratings drop overnight. No one loses Jacob Riley and sees their show survive."

Sam stared at him in bewilderment.

Resentment bubbled up inside him. He was fully aware he was coming across as petulant and childish. But how could Sam or anyone understand what was going through his head? Sam, with her to-do lists and her anal outlook on life, sure as hell couldn’t. Who the hell did she think she was? HBO wouldn’t tell his assistant anything of any importance.

"We have four months to get you into a programme and complete your work through the community service," she continued. Her patient tone, measuring every word, talking to him as if he were a small child—he hated every syllable.

"No," Jacob snapped, balling his temper and his dismissal of her into that one word.

She stepped away from him to stand against the door. "Jacob—"

"No. I’m not cleaning streets, I’m not searching for rubbish or any of the usual crap they put celebrities through to humiliate us!"

"Jacob, it’s not meant to be a humiliation. But it is a punishment," Sam said, raising her free hand in an attempt to placate him. Her cellphone slid off the clipboard and tumbled to the floor.

Jacob listened, but what she’d said only served to increase his temper. He could feel the itch of addiction under his skin, and it terrified him. Although he would never admit it, he was out of control and it was eating at the edges of him.

In over a year, he hadn’t wanted a hit as badly as he did at this moment. Frustration and anger burst out of him with uncontrolled force. He reared up and crowded her against the door, his hand circling her wrist and gripping tightly. "Don’t get all sanctimonious on me, Sam, it’s not your style," he snarled.

"Jacob, you’re hurting me," Sam whimpered, visibly pushing as close to the wood as she could. Her words didn’t register, and his grip tightened. "Jacob. Please..." she said, tears in her eyes, pain and real fear in her voice. Something in the simple please reached through his anger. He threw Samantha’s hand back towards her body, but he didn’t move away.

"I’m sorry, but don’t push me, okay?" he said tiredly. Half closing his eyes, he took a deep breath. It was the first time in their relationship he could see fear in Sam’s eyes, and it scared the hell out of him. Was she actually afraid of him? What do I say? How the hell do I...?

"Your father," Sam said. "Your father is waiting for you in the next room."

Jacob flipped from menacing back to petulant instantly.

"Great, another thing to make my day." Jacob stepped back, watching as Samantha rubbed her wrist and blinked back tears.

"Jacob, he wants to help. He knows of this place you can go for the next—"

"He’s the one who got me into this mess, Sam! He freaking turned me in!"

"He’s waiting."

Wake by Brigham Vaughn & K Evan Coles
August, 1996
Cambridge, Massachusetts
“These rooms always look so much bigger online.”

Carter Hamilton flinched in surprise at the smooth voice behind him. Blinking slowly, he drew a breath to quiet his heart, then turned to meet a pair of lively blue eyes.

“Sorry.” A guy Carter’s age stepped inside the door, his expression sheepish. A smile lit his handsome face and an intriguing flush colored his cheeks. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”

Carter shrugged before standing up from the couch where he’d been reading. “I’ll live.”

“I knocked, but no one answered. The door wasn’t bolted, so I assumed no one was here.”

“Ah, that’s my bad.” Heat crept up Carter’s neck. “I got caught up in my book and didn’t hear you. I’m Carter and I’m guessing you’re one of my suitemates—are you Riley or Daniel?”

“Riley Porter-Wright.”

Riley walked forward with a grin. Riley was lean and tall, though still an inch or two shorter than Carter, who stood six foot three. His stylish black shirt and trousers were immaculate compared to Carter’s T-shirt and jeans and his dark hair fell forward onto his forehead as he shook Carter’s hand.

A small smile crossed Carter’s face. He’d been exchanging messages with his suitemates for weeks. Daniel, who had yet to show himself, hailed from Philadelphia, while Riley, like Carter, lived in Manhattan, though the two had never met. They’d coordinated basic furnishings for their Harvard University rooms and agreed to fill in gaps later.

“I’m Carter Hamilton,” Carter told him with a laugh, “which you know. And since I was the first here, I guess it’s okay for me to say it—welcome to Wigg.”

Riley rolled his eyes, making Carter smile wider. He’d been amused by the freshman dorm’s nickname, too, but Wigglesworth was highly desired, with large suites and convenient placement for the university libraries. Carter watched Riley approach the window and frowned upon noticing he carried only an overnight bag and nothing more.

“You planning on staying?” Carter eyed Riley’s bag when he turned and cocked his head in question. “I know from your email messages that you’re not big on decorating, but one bag seems like taking traveling light to new extremes. You said you’d bring a fridge, too, in case you forgot.”

Riley glanced down at himself and laughed, the clear boyish sound echoing through the sparsely furnished common room.

“I didn’t forget. I did bring a fridge and more boxes and bags, too—they’re in a moving van stuck in traffic on Storrow Drive. One of the movers called me twenty minutes ago,” he added, drawing closer to set his bag against the side of the couch. “I’m not sure I buy their story, though. They probably got here hours ago and found someplace to have lunch and a couple of beers before they drop my shit off.

“Nice couch, by the way.” Riley nodded at the charcoal-colored couch Carter and his father had carried in earlier. “You picked out a bedroom already?” he asked, taking a seat.

“Not really. I got here late this morning, so we moved everything in and pushed it out of the way.” Carter sat down too, waving at the boxes and suitcases lining the wall to their left. “The way I see it, once Dan shows, we can figure out who’s going to share and who’s got the single.”

“Someone had a productive day,” Riley teased, raising his brows and making Carter laugh.

“Yeah, well, my parents wanted to stay and meet you guys, but I didn’t want them hitting rush hour on their way home. You’ll meet them soon, anyway—they’re already talking about their next trip up.

“I bought them lunch before they left,” Carter added, unsure why he was sharing so much information with a guy he’d just met. “I figured that was the least I could do after they helped me drag my stuff up three flights.”

Riley blinked several times, appearing vaguely surprised. “Your parents helped you move in?”

“Sure,” Carter replied with a shrug. “My dad’s an alumnus and my mom graduated from Wellesley—they enjoy visiting Cambridge.” He chuckled. “They were definitely excited to help me settle in, even if it meant manual labor.”

Riley’s expression became thoughtful. Looking down, he traced a frayed spot on the right knee of his jeans with his finger. In a flash, Carter understood Riley was on his own.

Riley glanced up at Carter again. “My parents couldn’t make the trip,” he said, his voice light. “They’re having dinner with friends tonight and didn’t want to be late. I took the car up from the city.”

Carter nodded. The idea of his parents choosing to socialize over seeing him off to school seemed utterly alien. Did it bother Riley that his parents were uninterested in what had to be an exciting day for him?

An impulse struck Carter to make Riley comfortable. “You know, you never told me where you live in the city.”

Riley smiled, though a trace of melancholy flickered in his eyes. “West 86th Street. That’s where my parents live, and I suppose I’ll be there for a while longer. What about you?”

“East 63rd Street.” Carter grinned. “That’s funny.”


“We live in the same city separated by twenty-three blocks and the Park. Doesn’t seem like much when you consider we had to come to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to meet.”

Riley’s eyes brightened. They chatted easily about their trips from New York until the door banged open, then watched a figure shoulder its way in with a stack of boxes. The boxes landed on the floor with a thump, revealing a cheerful-looking guy with a wiry build, golden-brown skin and inquisitive gray eyes.

“Dan Conley,” he said, flashing a smile. “My dad’s parking the car. You guys want to arm wrestle now or later to settle the whole double vs. single room thing?”

After a quick discussion, it became clear Dan and Riley preferred the single room, while Carter was willing to share the double. He sat on the couch with Dan’s parents, watching his new friends flip a coin. Dan won the toss and celebrated with an exaggerated touchdown dance, complete with slo-mo action that made Riley roll his eyes.

Riley’s movers arrived then and made short work of bringing his load of boxes and bags upstairs. The trio started arranging furniture and unpacking, with Dan’s parents providing useful—if unsolicited—feedback.

After the rooms were in some order, the Conleys insisted on taking all three suitemates to Grendel’s Den for dinner. They got to know each other better over sandwiches, while Dan’s parents asked Carter and Riley about their families. They had a pleasant evening, though Riley shared little about himself and even less about his parents. He talked easily about New York and the traveling he’d done during school vacations but shut down personal questions. He wasn’t rude—if anything he seemed the opposite, with his open expression and bright gaze, but spent more time listening to the others than talking about himself.

It was late when Carter finally dropped onto his bed with a grunt. Dan had already been asleep for an hour and Riley had headed for the shower while Carter closed his eyes and took mental inventory of his sore muscles.

The sound of the bathroom door opening roused Carter from his dozy thoughts. He peeled an eyelid open to peer up at his roommate, who was moving around the bedroom and taking pains to be quiet. Like Carter, Riley wore a pair of dark sleep pants, though he had forgone a T-shirt. Droplets of water fell from his still wet hair, shining in the low light as they rolled over his bare shoulders and back. Carter was still trying to understand why he’d even think such a thing when Riley turned, looking pensive. Carter rolled onto his side and propped his head on one hand.

Riley jumped, startled by the sudden movement. “Jesus, Carter!”

“Um, just Carter will do—no need to get formal.” Carter bit his lip against a smile.

“You scared the shit out of me. I thought you were asleep, you sneaky bastard.”

Riley’s words were sharp, but the glint in his eyes told Carter his irritation was mostly for show.

“Sorry. Consider it payback for scaring me earlier today.”

Carter pushed himself up to pull back the bedding and slip underneath the duvet and sheet. He watched Riley puttering about, getting ready for bed and his amusement faded. Despite his roommate’s smile, Carter sensed Riley had something on his mind. He lay quietly, worrying his lower lip with his teeth until Riley sat on the edge of his own bed.

“Is this bothering you?” Carter asked, waving one hand in a vague circle. Riley eyed him blankly. “The room-sharing thing, I mean. I know you’ve never had a roommate before, so I can sort of see where you’d be feeling weirded out.”

“No, I’m—” Riley began before pausing, his lips pressed into a thin line. He blew out a slow breath before he spoke again, his voice low and calm. “I’m okay. It is a little weird sharing a room. I mean, my room at home is bigger than the whole suite.” He grimaced a bit at Carter’s laugh, and shrugged. “But you probably guessed that already. You come from the same world.”

Carter reached up to fold his hands behind his head. “It does seem like culture shock in a lot of ways. I have almost a full floor at my parents’ and now I’m sharing three rooms with strangers. In the middle of freaking Red Sox country, no less.” Both guys laughed. “I like it, though. Yeah, it’s small and all bricks and ivy but it feels…I don’t know, right. At least to me.”

“I get it.” Riley ran his hands over his damp hair with a sigh. He was quiet for so long Carter wondered if he would speak again. “My parents aren’t the warmest people in the world. You probably gathered that when I told you they couldn’t be bothered to even meet me here.”

Carter nodded, Riley’s words settling over him.

“I’m used to it,” Riley added, rubbing his forehead. “I’ve never known any different. Oh, my parents have always taken care of me and they’ll give me almost anything I ask for. Except for their attention. They leave that to the nannies and minders and secretaries, who give me attention because they’re paid to.”

The air grew heavy, charged with emotion Carter understood Riley didn’t want to acknowledge.

“My parents aren’t interested in me.” Riley held up a hand when Carter opened his mouth to protest, though he didn’t meet Carter’s eyes. “They’re not, trust me. I’ve known it for a long time and I can’t remember when I last sorry for myself about it. My parents aren’t interested in each other, to be honest—they can’t even drum up enough feeling to fucking fight with each other.”

Riley’s words came more slowly as he continued, dropping his fingers to trace a spot on the right knee of his sleep pants. Carter had watched him do the same thing a few times already, always when he seemed to be masking some emotion.

“Watching the Conleys today,” Riley said, “listening to you talk about your parents and to them after they called… I started thinking, Carter. I’m so used to the way my parents behave I’m almost at a loss to understand how normal families function.”

“I’m not sure my family is what you’d call normal, Riley.” Carter’s voice was quiet. “They’re certainly not average compared to Dan’s parents. The Conleys are pretty well off, but we both know Dan’s here on a partial music scholarship.”

Riley made a dismissive noise. “Over half of the students here are on some kind of scholarship. It’s not like that’s particularly unusual. Sure, your family has a lot more money than the Conleys. I’m talking about the connections, though, between people. Between you and your parents, between Dan and his. Hell, between your mom and your dad, and Dan’s mom and—”

“I get it.”

Something in Carter’s gentle interruption caught Riley’s attention. Suddenly, he met Carter’s gaze and held it.

“I don’t know why I’m telling you this. No, that’s a lie—I do know. I don’t want to be like that. Like my parents, I mean. Frozen with this hard shell wrapped around me.” Riley’s eyes flashed with something raw. “I don’t want to be one of the Porter-Wrights and make my life about the job and the parties and how many cars and houses and boats I can buy.”

Carter pursed his lips, struck by Riley’s choice of words. “Your focus doesn’t have to be about the material things, man. But unless you plan to cut ties with your family, parties and cars and houses and boats are going to be part of your life.”

“You’re right. Possessions shouldn’t be anyone’s focus, or at least not all the time.” Riley closed his eyes for a moment, fatigue written across his face. “I’m glad I’m here. Away from them and that life.”

“At least until Thanksgiving, anyway,” Carter teased. He didn’t know why Riley was suddenly opening up, but he wanted to offer his roommate some cheer. “You can come to my house for dinner. We’ll show you how the Hamiltons party like the Founding Fathers.”

Riley grunted, then stretched out, pulling the bedding over himself before he spoke again. “I’m down. My parents usually go away for Thanksgiving. They’re partial to Grenada. My mother works on her tan and my father works on his golf swing. I used to go with them, but last year I decided to hang out in New York.”

“Was it weird?” Carter couldn’t imagine Riley’s parents leaving him to rattle around a huge apartment alone while they went on vacation.

“No—it was fantastic.”

Riley turned his head and the genuine warmth in his expression made Carter feel lighter.

“Some of my friends from school came over. We bought a ton of Thai food for dinner and smoked some weed and just sat around on the balcony for a while. The party went on for a couple of days.”

Carter raised an eyebrow. “Sounds pretty debauched.”

“Oh, you know it. I still hear stories about what happened in my own house. Fucking animals.” Riley rolled onto his side. “The best day, though, was Sunday. I took the car uptown to this church in Harlem that one of my father’s secretaries attends. They put on a Thanksgiving Gospel Concert every year, so I hung out and listened to music. Amazing.”

Carter smiled at the awe on his roommate’s face. “It sounds it.”

“Come with me this year,” Riley urged suddenly, propping himself up on one elbow.

“Sure. If you come to dinner at my house,” Carter bargained, “assuming your parents will be out of town.”

“Fuck it.” Riley grinned. “I don’t care where my parents are, Car—I’ll be at your door for dinner whenever you want me.”

“I’ve never been to a Thanksgiving concert before,” Carter mused. “No one’s ever called me Car before, either.”

Riley’s eyebrows shot up. “Really? Not even your parents or friends?”


“I can stop, if you want.”

“Doesn’t bother me.” Carter smiled lazily. “Anyone call you Ri for short?”

“Sure. The nannies and the minders and the secretaries call me Ri. Kids at school. My teachers. Anyone who’s known me for more than a couple of hours.” Riley’s laugh was rueful. “Basically, anyone but my parents.”

“Sounds like I’m in good company then.” Carter rolled over with a yawn and closed his eyes. “Night, Ri.”

* * * * *

Carter, Riley and Dan fell into their lives at Harvard with ease. Dan was a music major minoring in French, while Carter and Riley were both business majors. The time the friends spent together each day increased after all three gained membership to the same club, Phoenix-SK.

The final clubs were Harvard’s version of Greek fraternities. They promised networking opportunities after graduation but also provided social outlets away from the dorms. Carter’s and Riley’s fathers had also belonged to Phoenix-SK but had missed knowing one another by a few years.

Carter was pleasantly surprised to find himself comfortable with Riley’s almost constant presence. They shared many of the same interests, including cyberpunk novels and Quentin Tarantino movies, and even had similar tastes in food and music. The more they talked and spent time together, the more firmly their friendship cemented.

The one activity Riley refused to consider was heavyweight crew. Carter had rowed with a junior club during high school and was eager to use his height and powerful build as part of the Harvard Crimson. Riley thought Carter was out of his mind.

“I don’t understand you.” He cocked an eyebrow after Carter explained rowing was a Hamilton family tradition. “What kind of person voluntarily sits in a boat with a bunch of other meaty guys while someone screams at them through a bullhorn?”

Carter rolled his eyes as Dan joined in chuckling with Riley.

“A me kind of person, I guess. You should at least try it before making a decision, guys.”

“You know, it sounds fun,” Dan said. He held up a placating hand while Riley made an outraged noise. “But I’m an inch under six feet and we both know that’s too short for heavyweight crew.”

“True. You could try out for lightweight, instead,” Carter offered, narrowing his eyes at Riley’s snort. “Shut it, you.”

Dan gave Riley the finger. “I could, but I need to spend time in the music rooms downstairs, anyway. If you and I were on the same team, that’d be one thing, but…”

“I get it, man,” Carter replied and he did. Dan’s academic schedule was busy enough before club activities—add time at the piano composing and he needed every spare minute he could find.

Carter aimed a beady eye at Riley. “What about you, funny guy—you up for a free workout with a view? The river’s awfully pretty, especially first thing in the morning.”

Riley laughed. “Yeah, you lost me at ‘first thing in the morning.’ Look, you say rowing crew is Hamilton family tradition. Fine, that’s your business. The Porter-Wrights have traditions, too. They include not getting up at the crack of ass every morning to risk drowning in a muddy river. Thanks, but no thanks.”

Despite the teasing, Riley and Dan seemed genuinely pleased when Carter came home with soggy shoes and a place on the team. Carter suspected they were just being polite, but he appreciated their efforts nonetheless.

Carter enjoyed rowing for the Crimson and losing himself in the simple physicality of the task and feeling part of a team. He looked forward to the quiet hush of the river, the lap of the waves against the side of the boat and the collective breaths and grunts of the team as they worked together.

There were negatives, of course, starting with practice at dawn and the feeling he just didn’t have enough hours in the day. Carter focused on being grateful when Riley helped him bandage his blisters and smiled at the protein bars Dan stuffed into his coat pockets. Riley and Dan attended races when they could, sharing thermoses of Irish coffee and cheering while the Crimson’s boats slipped by on the river.

As the weeks passed, Riley lost the shell he’d confessed to hating. Carter doubted anyone outside himself and Dan saw the subtle difference in their friend. Riley’s dress grew more casual, as did his speech. He talked more about himself, which gave people a chance to get to know him better. He still didn’t say much about his parents and when he did, he often dropped his right hand to his knee to draw circles on his pant leg with his fingers. Riley didn’t glance away anymore, though, and he met the gaze of whoever he was speaking to unwaveringly.

It was during a Halloween party in one of the dorms that Carter became aware of how others perceived his friendship with Riley. He’d been chatting with Susannah, a pretty girl from his calculus class, and had been about to ask her out for coffee when she put a hand on his forearm and sighed.

“What’s that about?” Carter peered under the brim of Susannah’s midnight-blue witch’s hat and gave her a smile.

Susannah grimaced slightly. “Don’t take this the wrong way, Carter—you know I like you. If you were straight, I’d be really, really interested in you.”

Carter frowned, the word straight still sinking into his brain while Susannah continued.

“I don’t understand why the only guys who ever talk to me at parties are gay. You know?” Susannah twisted strands of her long, dark hair around one finger. “Honestly, I’ve basically despaired of finding a man of my own. I’ll have to hang out with you and your boyfriend and pray people think we have some kind of polyamorous arrangement going on.”

Carter shook his head slowly, Susannah’s words beginning to make a kind of strange sense. She wrinkled her brow as Carter stood silent and she stepped closer, to squeeze his arm gently.

“Dude, I’m sorry. Did I… Was the poly thing too much? I was just joking, I swear.”

“Susannah, are you under the impression I’m gay? That Riley and I are together?”

Susannah cocked her head. “Well, yes. Aren’t you? Gay, I mean. And Riley’s boyfriend?”

“No, I am not. Gay or Riley’s boyfriend.” Carter fought conflicting urges to be angry and amused. “Riley’s not gay, either. Where the hell did you get that idea?”

“Oh, my God, I’m so sorry.” Susannah’s face flushed deep red and she put her fingers over her mouth. She looked so stricken that Carter gave in to the impulse to laugh. “Jesus, I’m so embarrassed!”

“You should be,” Carter scolded, though he laughed harder at the expression of horror on her face. “Why would you think that, woman?”

“You’re always together!” she exclaimed. “I’ve never seen either of you with a girl and you told me Riley is your roommate. I assumed it all added up to the two of you being, you know, together.”

Carter laughed hard enough he had to put down his drink. “What about Dan? He lives with us and we hang out all the time. Is he one of the boyfriends, too?”

“Dan goes on dates, Carter. He dates women. Okay, one woman,” Susanna clarified, turning to search the crowd, and pointing when she found the right faces. Carter craned his neck to follow her gesture. He nodded at Dan with his arms around Melanie Howard, another music major who often came by their suite. They’d coordinated their costumes, with Dan dressed as a devil and Mel an angel, and come to the party with a group of friends.

“Everyone knows Dan and Mel are dating,” Susannah said. “They’ve been together practically since the first day of classes.”

Dan and Mel really were inseparable. She was double majoring in music and psychology and planned to go into music therapy. Mel was a petite beauty, with dark hair, creamy golden skin and greenish-gray eyes. Carter appreciated her bright and sarcastic brand of humor and knew Dan really liked her.

“Okay, I see your point.” Carter glanced back to Susannah with a steely expression. “Making assumptions about Riley and me, though, is not cool.”

Susannah gulped, and dropped her gaze to the drink in her hands. “You’re right. You should know I’m not the only one who thinks you’re together, by the way.”

Carter frowned, trying to understand how to feel about what Susannah had told him. He’d grown up with a diverse group of friends and he didn’t much care whom a person spent their time with. As far as Carter was concerned, whatever and whomever made a person happy was fine by him, provided everyone involved consented. The idea people thought he was someone’s boyfriend, however… That didn’t fit into Carter’s world. It certainly did not fit into his family’s, either.

“People really think Riley and I are together?”

“Well, girls, mostly,” Susannah replied, “and that’s because they’re trying to figure out what’s going on with you and Riley.”

“Nothing is going on, Susannah.”

“I know.” Her voice dropped low as she tried to smooth Carter’s ruffled feathers. “I’m sorry we gossiped. Two good-looking guys, in each other’s company more than anyone else’s…a girl’s gonna try to put the pieces together.”

“Uh-huh. Put the pieces together incorrectly, you mean,” he replied. Carter imagined his parents’ reaction to the rumor and his stomach knotted.

The dejection on Susannah’s face softened his annoyance, however. He’d really wanted to take her out for coffee before she’d let her ‘secret’ slip. And his heart beat a little faster as he understood taking Susannah out would nip the ‘boyfriends’ rumor in the bud, too.

“Are you very angry?” she asked quietly, concern visible in her green eyes.

Carter smiled. “No. You surprised me, that’s all. I might have been a little offended, too, but only because you could have asked me instead of gossiping. That shit’s not okay, Susannah. Especially because I planned on asking you out.”

Susannah’s mouth dropped open. “You did?” she squeaked, then cleared her throat, obviously working to recover her composure. “You could still ask me, you know. Or, maybe you should let me take you out. So I can apologize for being a gossipy shrew.”

Her words warmed Carter and his grin slowly widened. “Sure. I think I can handle that.”

* * * * *

A chill fell over New England as the Thanksgiving holiday approached, one that seemed to match Riley’s overall mood. He continued to attend classes with Carter but began studying away from the suite. He was rarely available for activities at Wigg or Phoenix-SK and getting him to agree even to share a meal became impossible. Tension crept into the suite when Dan or Carter brought their girlfriends back and both friends became accustomed to Riley leaving the rooms instead of subjecting them to his stiff silences.

Carter tried to talk to Riley about his behavior on several occasions but found himself shut out. He was surprised by how much that stung. Riley and Dan were more than just Carter’s suitemates and he’d grown particularly close to Riley. After his family, Riley was the first person Carter thought of to share good news with and the first person he went to with a problem. Riley had become Carter’s sounding board and confidant and Carter hoped Riley felt the same about him.

A few days before school let out for the holiday, a thump woke Carter out of a sound sleep. He squinted at the clock through the darkened bedroom and smothered a groan on realizing it was after two o’clock in the morning. A second, louder thump followed a pained grunt and Carter leaned to turn on the bedside lamp, shocked to see Riley lying sprawled on the floor.

Carter sat up and tossed off the covers. “Ri? What the fuck are you doing?”

“Carpet inspection,” Riley replied in a strained voice.

“Are you okay?” Carter swung his legs over the edge of the bed to crouch beside his roommate, who still hadn’t stirred from his prone position.

Riley grunted again. “Not really. I face planted pretty hard. That’s gonna leave a mark.” He paused for a moment before rolling onto his side, his voice lower and more somber. “Help me?”

Carter leaned forward immediately, sliding an arm under his friend’s shoulder to guide Riley up to sit. The smell of beer and stale cigarette smoke filled Carter’s nose, but he said nothing, waiting until his friend nodded before helping him to his feet.

“Too many beers?” Carter kept his voice light and helped Riley to his bed.

“No, not exactly. I had a couple at Grendel’s with some guys from the club,” he said with a chuckle, “but honestly, I’m just tired. And your goddamned sneakers are inside the door again.” He sighed while Carter sat down beside him.

“Shit, I’m sorry.” With a grimace, Carter leaned forward to catch Riley’s eye. “I meant to move them, but—”

“You forgot, I know. It’s fine. I should know by now than to come in here without checking the floor first.” Riley lifted one hand, prodding gingerly at his cheek and grumbled in discomfort. “Ow.”

Carter stood. “I’ll get some ice. Stop,” he commanded when Riley moved to join him. “Sit still, and try not to trip over anything else. I’ll be right back.”

Riley had removed his coat by the time Carter returned with ice cubes and a washcloth. A red welt was already visible on Riley’s cheekbone when he glanced up, but to Carter’s surprise, he didn’t appear to be angry. If anything, he seemed amused.

“Is it bad?” Riley asked.

“It’s not good.”

Riley sighed and held out a hand out for the ice pack, looking puzzled as Carter knelt in front of him. “What are you doing?”

Carter dropped his hands to unlace Riley’s shoes. “How bad does it hurt?” He ducked his head after Riley pressed the ice to his face and swore.

“Enough to make me want to kick your ass,” Riley replied, an undertone of humor in his voice. He lifted one foot, then the other for Carter to remove his shoes. “Too bad my parents will be out of town over Thanksgiving. A black eye would have given them something interesting to talk about over turkey.”

A hollow feeling settled over Carter at the mention of the holiday. He and Riley had spoken several times about spending Thanksgiving dinner together, but now, Carter had no idea where they stood. Slowly, he eased himself up to sit beside Riley on the bed. Leaning forward, he propped his elbows on his knees, turning to hold Riley’s gaze for a few moments. Riley’s eyebrows pulled together, uncertainty filtering over his face at Carter’s silence.

Finally, Carter dropped his gaze to the floor. He felt almost pitifully grateful Riley was there beside him and talking, rather than pushing him away, so he drew a breath and ignored his nerves.

“You know, the invitation for dinner is still open.”

A melancholy smile touched Riley’s lips and made his blue eyes darken. “Thanks. But you don’t need to do that, Car.”

“Do what?” Carter stared blankly at him. “Invite you to dinner when we’ll be in the same city and your parents are going out of town?”

Riley began to trace circles on his knee with the fingers of his right hand. “I wasn’t sure you’d still want to hang out after…”

“After you froze me out?” Carter nodded at Riley’s wince. “Yeah, well. I don’t know why you did it but that was pretty lame, Ri. For Dan, too. What the fuck?”

Riley grumbled under his breath. “I wanted to give you guys some space. You know, with the girlfriends and all.”

Carter cocked his head. “What for?”

Gesturing with the hand holding the ice pack, Riley waved at the two single beds and the desks crammed into the other corner. “This isn’t exactly romance central, Car. The least I could do was try to clear out so you had a little privacy with Susannah and Dan with Mel.”

Carter pressed his lips together and tried not to punch his friend. “You’re an asshole, you know.”

“What? Why?”

“Because you didn’t even try talking to us. You just cut us off. Dan and I haven’t known what the hell is up with you for weeks. I worried something was going on with your family. Dan asked me if you were planning to transfer.”

Riley’s cheeks flooded with color. “Shit, I’m sorry. None of that is happening. I’m fine! I just didn’t want to be a fifth wheel, you know?”

Carter’s irritation faded as he understood his friend was actually fine. “Talk to us. Talk to me. We could have worked something out about the rooms and Susannah. We’ll have to when you bring girls back here, anyway.”

A cocky grin flashed over Riley’s face. “Who says I haven’t?”

Carter’s brows shot up before he grimaced playfully. “Really, dude? What, in between classes?”

“Maybe. I don’t kiss and tell, Hamilton. I’m a gentleman.”

“No, you are a jackass.”

Riley burst out laughing and that clear, boyish sound made Carter’s whole being feel lighter. He nudged Riley’s knee with his own.

“Come to the East Side for dinner. You can tell my parents you tried to fight my sneakers and lost.”

Riley laughed again, softly, and something tight in Carter’s chest unfurled. Standing, he motioned with his hand for his friend to lie down. He talked about his mother’s amazing apple crisp recipe while Riley stripped off his sweater and crawled under the duvet. His eyes were already closed, the ice pack balanced on his cheek as Carter switched off the lamp.

“I’m sorry about your face,” Carter told him before turning back to his own bed.

“I know, Car. S’okay.”

“You coming to dinner?” he asked, holding his breath for the few moments that passed before Riley replied.

“Yeah.” Riley’s words were slightly slurred with sleep. “Someone’s gotta look after you.”

Laurent & the Beast by KA Merikan
Hound’s alarmed growling was coming his way, along with whines, when he reached the right door and opened it, only to have the massive Rottweiler’s body rush past him and into the corridor. Beast expected his pet to rush toward the room where the accident happened just minutes ago but Hound looked back at Beast, as if signalling he wanted to be followed, and rushed the other way, stirring the worst of feelings in Beast.

Was there an intruder somewhere in the house? With the sheer size of the former asylum that has served as the Kings of Hell Clubhouse for the last fifteen years, it was easy to overlook things happening in the disused parts of the property. They once had a bunch of teenagers who came over wanting to spy on the orgy. That thankfully didn’t end in blood, and out of the whole mess they got Jake to join their ranks.

Beast wondered whether he shouldn’t go back to the armory and get himself a gun but ultimately decided against it. There would be police and emergency services coming for Davy, and he didn’t want to run around with a firearm, no matter how good their relationship with the local police was.

Hound moved as if he were following a clear trail, but Beast couldn’t smell anything apart from dust and dampness. They were leaving behind the shouting and even the sound of the ambulance approaching, and eventually entered a corridor so disused it had a thick layer of dust on the floor. Now even Beast could see faint footprints in the dust, and next to them, dark droplets that could be blood.

Hound smelled the traces, looked back and broke into a run, which had Beast following him with the worst of expectations as to what he would eventually find. His heart beat faster as they ran down the dark hallway.

The building was a labyrinth, and this far away from where they all lived and worked, it wasn’t even wired anymore, so he breathed in the smell of mildew and followed Hound through the darkness in hope he would not stumble.

Windows in the doorless rooms on both sides of the corridor were the only source of light, now delivering a faint red and blue glow of the approaching ambulance. For all Beast knew, this could have been a gothic castle, something out of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, with bloodthirsty monsters waiting for their next victim in one of the endless hallways, and yet he only ran faster, listening to the steady tap of Hound’s paws.

Without any hesitation whatsoever, Hound rushed inside one of the rooms and gave a growl so vicious something inside Beast mourned his decision not to take a gun with him. But no one shot at him when Hound let out a single bark. Beast pushed past the empty doorway, jumping over a fallen chair, only to see someone hiding in the shadows.

Judging by the long, wavy hair and small stature, Beast at first thought it was a woman, but then the person spoke with a distinctly male voice.

“I… I’m not certain where I am.” The stranger took half a step out of the shadow, and into the flashing light coming from outside. His accent was distinctly foreign. French maybe?

Beast took him in with a scowl. Blood covered the stranger’s face, hair, dripped from his chin, from the tips of his trembling fingers, and stained the outfit that looked as if he’d stolen it from the set of a costume drama. Knee-high boots, fitted pants, a vest worn under a tailcoat.

“What the fuck are you doing on our property, boy?” hissed Beast, watching the soft features of a very young man. “Whose blood is this?” he asked, still cautious. In his experience, a non-threatening presence could hide an adept fighter, so he was not taking any chances as he joined Hound in front of the stranger, who was so short in comparison to Beast’s own six foot five form that his red-stained head only reached Beast’s pecs.

The stranger backed away into the corner, whimpering in fear the moment Hound growled at him again and lowered his head, but Beast wasn’t having any of it and grabbed the boy’s arm. “Is the blood yours then? Someone attacked you? Where?” he asked, not hesitating to pat the intruder down, to make sure there were no weapons hiding under the fancy coat.

The boy tried to weasel out of his grip, but he didn’t seem adept at using force. “N-no. I don’t think it’s mine. I don’t know. Is this hell?”

Beast groaned, staring at the silly-looking young man, whose white shirt was completely drenched in red. Someone must have died to produce this much blood.

“You will explain yourself to King.”

By the Numbers by RJ Scott
Brandon took down the drapes in his room as soon as he was able to. He could have asked his sisters, but they didn’t know just how badly looking at the geometric pattern in the fabric upset his equilibrium. They knew he was weird; most sisters thought their big brothers were weird. But he also had twitches and nervous tics about certain things, and they’d seen it all, even though his list of crazy was something he could manage now.

They didn’t need to know he’d spent three hours last night counting the squares on the drapes and being irritated to the point of stimming that they weren’t even and the stitching was wrong. And Jesus, stimming—having to move his fingers, loosen his muscles, anything to ground himself—he hadn’t done that in years.

And hell if he was going to ask Daniel into his room to help him, because Daniel was someone Brandon did not want in his space. Not taking down drapes, or talking to him, or even breathing near him. There was only so much of Daniel that Brandon could take, because when he was anywhere near him, he lost his ability to form coherent sentences. He didn’t have time to have these powerful feelings of lust that kept hitting him.

Like the time he and Daniel had met on the landing and Daniel had been in just a towel. They’d only been together a few days, but Daniel was funny, and sexy, and dangerous, and exactly everything Brandon should be avoiding in his life.

He had way too much to worry about, and a date written in his memory that he wouldn’t forget any time soon. The deal he had—to stay alive, to hide himself away, and then to present himself to Varga—was just about the only thing that filled his thoughts.

Varga thought that, on a given date, Brandon would join him in his huge mansion, pull together all the funds Varga had hidden in various places, and then join him in whatever country the US didn’t have an extradition treaty with.

Like hell he would. He was meeting with Varga, getting all his money, dispersing it to the right causes, and sending any intel he could get out to the authorities.

And then Varga would kill him for doing that.

Inevitable, really, and something he’d come to terms with. He’d blown his chance to do this when he’d worked for Varga, so he had to make up for it. He was doing the right thing.

He’d been biding his time in Hope, but had been unfortunate to be scooped up by Sanctuary. He just needed to work out a way to get away from them, and in particular Daniel, but he had about ten days to go yet until that magic date when Varga had decided he would be leaving the country.

For now, Sanctuary was safe for him and his sisters.

So yeah, choosing to avoid having Daniel in his room, with his probing questions and his distracting body, was an easy decision to make in among all that crap.

The only downside was that it meant he had to take the drapes down himself.

Trying to shoot himself hadn't gone so well; instead of being dead and gone, he had a through shot and muscle damage which hurt like knives in his skin. He waited until day four, when the pain in his shoulder had lessened to the point where he could at least manage to get out of bed and to the window but he couldn’t handle looking at those drapes any longer.

Today he actually felt capable of dealing with drapes he didn’t need anyway. There were blinds at the windows, and behind the blinds each window was coated so you could see out but no one could see in. He pushed the offending fabric under the bed and clambered back to a standing position, wincing in pain as he banged his shoulder, and sat on the edge of his bed.

The drapes were still there—he could picture them under the bed—and exasperated, he lay back on the mattress and attempted to think of something else. Blue skies, blue mugs, blue eyes. Anything blue, because it was a color that calmed him.

He lasted about a minute.

Huffing, he rolled up carefully and reached under the bed, pulling out the drapes and screwing them into a ball. Opening his door, he threw them out onto the landing, not even checking if anyone was standing there.

Daniel. Of course it would be Daniel, who reacted like a ninja and had the drapes under submission in seconds.

Once they were dead, or at least overpowered with some sort of karate move, Brandon felt like he should apologize.

“My bad,” he said, and shut the door in Daniel’s face.

He expected the knock, but hadn’t quite decided what he was going to say to Daniel when he came in. Maybe if he ignored the request to enter and said nothing, then Daniel might go away.

Daniel knocked again, and this time instead of waiting for Brandon to say he could come in, he pushed his way in, looking irritable. He was shirtless, his hair wet—evidence of a recent shower—his sweats hanging low on his hips and every muscle deliciously tight and toned.

“What the hell, Brandon?” he asked, his dark eyes angry, his lips in a set line. He wasn’t holding the drapes, so Brandon counted that as a win.

“I didn’t want them up at my window,” Brandon explained, and eased himself down into the chair by his bed. He was most comfortable there; he could see out the window and it was easier to keep the pressure off his injury.

“So you decided to throw them in my face?” Daniel sounded less pissed and more confused about getting fabric in his face.

Brandon indicated the door. “To be fair, I didn’t know you were there.” Then he couldn’t resist, “And you heroically subdued them so fast, I knew you could handle the danger.”

The Monet Murders by Josh Lanyon
For a time he was occupied in playing shuffleboard with the buses and delivery trucks and taxis clogging the crowded streets, but inevitably his thoughts circled back to the passenger in the seat beside him.

Given how irate Jason had been at being conscripted into Kennedy’s investigation, it was odd that what he mostly felt now was a sense of letdown, even disappointment, that Kennedy would not be returning.

But wasn’t it normal that his feelings should be confused? The situation was just…so strange. All those months. And when they finally did get together…


Worse than nothing. It was like they had never met. Never made lov— Oh, hell no. Not that. Never had sex. That’s what he meant.

His anger faded, leaving him depressed, disheartened. What the hell had happened to change everything? He just couldn’t understand it. He was baffled.

Yeah. Baffled.

The traffic lurched to a sudden standstill. Jason’s phone vibrated. He ignored it. Around them, a few impatient drivers vented their frustration with honks, but the seconds continued to tick by. Pedestrians in every size, shape, and color crowded the sidewalk beside them, darting around the cones and sawhorses and hoses of the workmen tearing up the pavement with jackhammers. The pound of the pneumatic drills was not as loud as the silence stretching between himself and Kennedy.

In disbelief, Jason heard his own voice—hesitant, slightly strained—break the silence.

“Look. Did I…do something?”

“No,” Kennedy said at once. And that was a relief. A relief that Kennedy did him the courtesy of not pretending he didn’t understand. In fact, it was as if he had been sitting there thinking the same thing as Jason. “It isn’t you. It’s nothing you’ve done or didn’t do.”

He didn’t elaborate, though, so Jason—who already felt like he was out on a very flimsy limb—had to stretch still further.

“Because I don’t understand.” Excruciating to have to put this into words. His face felt hot, and his heart was pounding as though this was a high-risk situation. He was not used to it. Not used to…caring so much. It wasn’t that he’d never been turned down before or even been dumped. It always stung, but it hadn’t hurt. Not really. Not like this.

Kennedy didn’t answer immediately, and Jason couldn’t bear the silence.

“Is it the promotion? Are you thinking that I would somehow trade on our friendship? Or that other people might think I was trading on our friendship?”

“No,” Kennedy said, again adamant. “I don’t think that. And I don’t give a shit what anyone else thinks.”

So what the hell was it? Because he was not wrong, not imagining things. Kennedy was confirming it was over. But he wasn’t telling him why, and that really was the part Jason needed to understand. They’d talked two weeks ago, and there had been no hint that everything was not…

Was not what?

Okay? Fine? Normal? None of that applied. They’d had a long-distance relationship that was more like phone tag. In other words, they’d had nothing.

And kudos to Kennedy for recognizing that fact and breaking it off.

Although this was more like passive resistance than breaking it off. But whatever. Over. Done. Finito. Let it go, West. It only gets more embarrassing from here.

A couple of excruciatingly long seconds passed while he tried to think of a way to change the subject, scrabble to the solid ground of…anything, for the love of God. How about them Cubs?

The traffic ahead of them crept forward, and Jason eased off the brake, letting the Dodge roll a couple of inches.

Because I care about you, Jason. More than I thought I could.

His eyes blurred.

Jesus Fucking Christ. Was he about to cr—tear up over this? No way. And sure as hell not when Kennedy was sitting right beside him. For God’s sake.

Kennedy said suddenly, “I…like you. Nothing has changed.”

Right. Except everything.

Jason made a sound in the back of his throat that was supposed to be…not what it sounded like. Which made him angry and enabled him to get out a terse, “Right.”

“But it isn’t…practical to try to…” Kennedy was picking words as painstakingly as somebody gathering shards of glass. “It’s not enough to…build on.”

Wow. Maybe he was misremembering, but getting shot three times hadn’t hurt this much. And anyway, what the hell did that mean? It’s not like Jason had been pushing for more. He had accepted Sam’s terms. Not that Sam had really given him terms.

He wanted to say something to the effect of what he had said in Kingsfield: Whatever. It was just supposed to be a fucking date.

But of course it wasn’t just a date. Not anymore. Somehow they had managed to move beyond that never-to-be date to something more. Something deeper. And yet less concrete than even a date.

It made no sense for him to sit here like his heart was breaking when they didn’t even know each other. It was ridiculous. Pathetic.

“It’s okay,” he said flatly. “You’re right.”

He felt Kennedy look at him, but he kept staring straight ahead. He shrugged.

“I should have told you sooner,” Kennedy said. “Made my position clear.” Had it been anyone but Sam Kennedy, Jason would have said there was guilt—regret?—in his tone. “But I like talking to you.”

“Yeah. Well.” He was relieved his voice had steadied again, because inside he was a churning mess of confused emotion. Mostly pain. “I liked talking to you too.”

Neither of them had anything to say after that, and the nearby crush and crash of broken cement filled the distance between them.

The Masterpiece by Bonnie Dee
The butler pointed out a chair for him to sit in—not one of the upholstered armchairs but a wooden one with no fabric for him to dirty. He told Joe the master would be in presently then left the room.

Joe sat still for all of a minute but he wanted to see that fancy radiator up close. He pulled aside the screen and studied it then put the screen back and wandered around the room admiring other marvels. There was a fully-rigged sailing ship in a glass bottle on the mantle. Above that, a large portrait of a uniformed man with enormous mutton chop whiskers glared down at the intruder in the house.

“My grandfather, Admiral Cornelius Bingley Lawton. When I was a boy, he would bring me treasures from his trips to all corners of the globe.”

The voice from behind Joe nearly made him jump out of his shoes. He turned to face Mr. Lawton, who had the same striking features and piercing eyes as the man in the painting.

“Please, sit down,” Lawton indicated one of two armchairs facing the fireplace.

“Sorry, sir. I should’ve stayed where I was put, but this room…Cor, I ain’t seen nothin’ like it in me life. ‘Tis a marvel.” He went where Lawton directed and perched on the edge of the chair.

Lawton leaned back in his seat and gracefully crossed his long legs. “You may as well begin to learn proper etiquette. It’s all right to be curious, but one doesn’t generally poke about someone’s house when paying a call.”

The reprimand was not harshly spoken but it embarrassed Joe to be considered so ignorant. “I know, sir. It ain’t considered polite among my sort either. I won’t do it again.”

Lawton studied him with those shining brown eyes. “You understand the terms of my wager with Lord Granville? In six weeks you will attend Lady Granville’s spring gala as my guest. The social elite will be there, peers and politicians, perhaps even royalty. You must be as polished and well-spoken as any man there. If you convince them you’re one of them, the proof will be in invitations to other social gatherings.”

“Yes, sir. I understand.” But he didn’t really. It was an odd measure for winning a bet, especially when that Lord Muckety Granville seemed to be in charge of deciding whether Joe had passed muster or not.

Lawton continued in that smooth voice that stroked like velvet against Joe’s ears, making the hair on his neck and arms pleasantly prickle. “As we proceed with your education, if I should correct you on any matter, it is without malice or intent to demean you. I don’t know how much you know about the social graces I’ll be attempting to impart.”

“Yes, sir,” Joe repeated, as it seemed the safest answer to give to all those high flown, fancy words. He didn’t want to ruin this opportunity to earn twenty quid within his first minutes here. Lawton might choose some other bloke to train up and Joe would be booted out of the miracle he’d lucked into.

“This is about much more than a different way of speaking. There are rules governing even the most mundane behaviors in society, all of which must become second nature to you.”

Lawton leaned forward now, his arms resting on his thighs and his gaze even more powerful. Joe felt it pressing against his chest like a hand. “But beyond that, there is a certain way you must carry yourself, with poise, confidence and dignity. I know quite a few pedigreed men, especially young bucks, who lack that air of quality. I want you to outmatch those of the highest breeding, to show what you are capable of through sheer willpower. Can you do that?”

Joe began nodding even before Lawton finished speaking. He hadn’t felt the force of someone’s words this way since his mum used to drag him to church where the minister’s sermons on hellfire seemed directed at him. While that had scared the bejeezus out of him, Mr. Lawton’s words lit him on fire. I will become that man, the one with poise and confidence.

“Yes! I’ll do my very best for you, Mr. Lawton.”

Lawton slapped Joe’s knee. “Good man.” He leaned back, but Joe still felt that warm touch.

“We’ll start from the skin outward.” The gentleman lightened his tone. “A bath and a fresh set of clothing. My tailor will come tomorrow to take your measurements for new clothing. For this evening, you may wear some of my clothes.”

Joe noted his host’s linen shirt, soft woolen trousers, jacket, and silk waistcoat, and had the silly thought of joining Lawton inside those clothes. He ducked his face to hide his smile at the absurd thought.

Lawton rose and went to the wall to press a button. “This is how you must summon a servant should you need one. A bell rings in the kitchen, letting the staff know in which room service is required. I’m fairly certainly Merton is hovering out in the hall just now, waiting to show you to the guest bedroom, and then to the washroom where a bath will be drawn.” He frowned. “You are familiar with indoor plumbing? You’ve had a full bath before, not just washed up in a basin?”

What sort of conditions did he think Joe lived in? “Yes, sir. I’ve had tub baths. Not so large as yours, I imagine.” In a shared washroom for everyone on that floor and with lukewarm water only a few inches deep. “I believe I can manage.”

Lawton smiled and acknowledged his tone. “Sarcasm is a gentleman’s rapier with which he fences daily. Point to you.”

Merton came to collect Joe, and Joe lost track of time as one new experience after another rushed at him. He barely had time to take in the beautiful bed and lovely furnishings in the guest room before he was shown to the wash room.

There, he stood thunderstruck, staring from a huge claw-foot tub on a raised platform, with spigots for both cold and hot water, to the plush towels hung on a rack for the bather’s convenience, to a large sink with an oval mirror in a curved frame above it.

His reflection gaped back at him, as grubby as a ragpicker or a homeless beggar. No wonder Lawton took him for an ignorant bum rather than a workingman who made a more or less adequate living.

“Do you require aide with your bath, Mr. Sprat,” Merton interrupted his thoughts. “I could send Mr. Lawton’s valet, Jackson, or one of the footmen.”

“I can wash meself, thanks much.” Joe cleared his throat and mimicked Lawton’s plummy drawl, “You may leave now, my good man.”

With the door closed behind Merton, Joe stripped off his clothes and tested the steaming water. He’d never in his life had so much water to splash around in except for an occasional swim in the filthy Thames on a hot summer day. He put in a toe, then a foot, then submerged his whole body right up to the chin in that glorious warmth. With a sigh, Joe closed his eyes and fell back, dousing his head. For a few moments, he floated underwater, allowing the heat to seep into his very bones and the water to soak the grime of the streets off him. Heavenly bliss!

At last he reached for the flannel and the fragrant bar of soap and began to scrub. He would step out of this bath a new man, ready to take on the world—or at least the better half of it. He would make Mr. Lawton proud with how easily he learned grammar and good manners. And he would make his mum even prouder when he opened a shop of his own at last.

Helena Stone
Helena Stone can’t remember a life before words and reading. After growing up in a household where no holiday or festivity was complete without at least one new book, it’s hardly surprising she now owns more books than shelf space while her Kindle is about to explode.

The urge to write came as a surprise. The realisation that people might enjoy her words was a shock to say the least. Now that the writing bug has well and truly taken hold, Helena can no longer imagine not sharing the characters in her head and heart with the rest of the world.

Having left the hustle and bustle of Amsterdam for the peace and quiet of the Irish Country side she divides her time between reading, writing, long and often wet walks with the dog, her part-time job in a library, a grown-up daughter and her ever loving and patient husband.

Harper Fox
Bestselling British author Harper Fox has established herself as a firm favourite with readers of M/M romance. Over the past four years, she’s delivered eighteen critically acclaimed novels and novellae, including Brothers Of The Wild North Sea (Publisher’s Weekly Best Books of 2013), Stonewall Award-nominated Scrap Metal and the enduringly popular Life After Joe. Harper takes her inspiration from a wide range of British settings – wild countryside, edgy urban and most things in between – and loves to use these backdrops for stories about sexy gay men sharing passion, adventure and happy endings. She also runs her own publishing imprint, FoxTales.

Harper has recently returned from Cornwall to her native Northumberland, and already the bleak moorlands around her home are providing a wealth of new ideas for future work.

RJ Scott
RJ Scott is the bestselling romance author of over 100 romance books. She writes emotional stories of complicated characters, cowboys, millionaire, princes, and the men and women who get mixed up in their lives. RJ is known for writing books that always end with a happy ever after. She lives just outside London and spends every waking minute she isn't with family either reading or writing.

The last time she had a week’s break from writing she didn't like it one little bit, and she has yet to meet a bottle of wine she couldn’t defeat.

K Evan Coles
K. Evan Coles is a mother and tech pirate by day and a writer by night. She is a dreamer who, with a little hard work and a lot of good coffee, coaxes words out of her head and onto paper.

K. lives in the northeast United States, where she complains bitterly about the winters, but truly loves the region and its diverse, tenacious and deceptively compassionate people. You’ll usually find K. nerding out over books, movies and television with friends and family. She’s especially proud to be raising her son as part of a new generation of unabashed geeks.

Brigham Vaughn
Brigham Vaughn is starting the adventure of a lifetime as a full-time writer. She devours books at an alarming rate and hasn’t let her short arms and long torso stop her from doing yoga.  She makes a killer key lime pie, hates green peppers, and loves wine tasting tours. A collector of vintage Nancy Drew books and green glassware, she enjoys poking around in antique shops and refinishing thrift store furniture. An avid photographer, she dreams of traveling the world and she can’t wait to discover everything else life has to offer her.

KA Merikan 
K. A. Merikan is the pen name for Kat and Agnes Merikan, a team of writers, who are taken for sisters with surprising regularity. Kat’s the mean sergeant and survival specialist of the duo, never hesitating to kick Agnes’s ass when she’s slacking off. Her memory works like an easy-access catalogue, which allows her to keep up with both book details and social media. Also works as the emergency GPS. Agnes is the Merikan nitpicker, usually found busy with formatting and research. Her attention tends to be scattered, and despite pushing thirty, she needs to apply makeup to buy alcohol. Self-proclaimed queen of the roads.

They love the weird and wonderful, stepping out of the box, and bending stereotypes both in life and books. When you pick up a Merikan book, there’s one thing you can be sure of – it will be full of surprises.

Elle Keaton
Author, photographer, rare Pacific Northwest Native, Elle grew up in Seattle, WA., with the Cascade Mountain range to the east and Olympics to the west. Less than two hours northwest lie the majestic San Juan Islands. To the northeast is the Methow Valley and the scrub deserts of Eastern Washington. Geography ripe with material.

A graduate of Western Washington University, Elle has a BS in biology which taught her to be tenacious. The closest she has come to biology since then is having two kids. Like an experiment or something. She’s lived in four states (none of which were gaseous), London England, and Hong Kong; always knows what time it is, and has no problem finding parking even in the most difficult places. Cannot balance a checking account.

Elle's series Accidental Roots, mostly set in the Skagit Valley of Western Washington, will make its debut spring of 2017. Storm Season is tender, sometimes irreverent, full of nosy neighbors and help when the hero didn’t think he needed it. Writing has always been a passion but not something she was able to take seriously until recently. Now her head is full of ideas and not enough time in each day.

Josh Lanyon
Bestselling author of over sixty titles of classic Male/Male fiction featuring twisty mystery, kickass adventure and unapologetic man-on-man romance, JOSH LANYON has been called "the Agatha Christie of gay mystery."

Her work has been translated into eleven languages. The FBI thriller Fair Game was the first male/male title to be published by Harlequin Mondadori, the largest romance publisher in Italy. Stranger on the Shore (Harper Collins Italia) was the first M/M title to be published in print. In 2016 Fatal Shadows placed #5 in Japan's annual Boy Love novel list (the first and only title by a foreign author to place on the list).

The Adrien English Series was awarded All Time Favorite Male Male Couple in the 2nd Annual contest held by the Goodreads M/M Group (which has over 22,000 members). Josh is an Eppie Award winner, a four-time Lambda Literary Award finalist for Gay Mystery, and the first ever recipient of the Goodreads Favorite M/M Author Lifetime Achievement award.

Josh is married and they live in Southern California.

Joanna Chambers
Joanna Chambers always wanted to write. She spent over 20 years staring at blank sheets of paper and despairing of ever writing a single word. In between staring at blank sheets of paper, she studied law, met her husband and had two children. Whilst nursing her first child, she rediscovered her love of romance and found her muse. Joanna lives in Scotland with her family and finds time to write by eschewing sleep and popular culture.

Jordan L Hawk
Jordan L. Hawk grew up in the wilds of North Carolina, where she was raised on stories of haints and mountain magic by her bootlegging granny and single mother. After using a silver knife in the light of a full moon to summon her true love, she turned her talents to spinning tales. She weaves together couples who need to fall in love, then throws in some evil sorcerers and undead just to make sure they want it bad enough. In Jordan’s world, love might conquer all, but it just as easily could end up in the grave.

Bonnie Dee
Dear Readers, I began telling stories as a child. Whenever there was a sleepover, I was the designated ghost tale teller guaranteed to frighten and thrill with macabre tales. I still have a story printed on yellow legal paper in second grade about a ghost, a witch and a talking cat.

As an adult, I enjoy reading stories about people damaged by life who find healing with a like-minded soul. When I couldn’t find enough such books, I began to write them. Whether you’re a fan of contemporary historical or fantasy romance, you’ll find something to enjoy among my books.

To stay informed about new releases, please sign up for my newsletter. You can also find me on Facebook and Twitter @Bonnie_Dee.

Helena Stone
EMAIL: helenastoneauthor@gmail.com

Harper Fox
EMAIL: harperfox777@yahoo.co.uk

RJ Scott
EMAIL: rj@rjscott.co.uk

K Evan Coles
EMAIL: coles.k.evan@gmail.com

Brigham Vaughn
EMAIL: brighamvaughn@gmail.com

KA Merikan

Elle Keaton

Josh Lanyon
EMAIL: josh.lanyon@sbcglobal.net

Joanna Chambers
EMAIL: authorjoannachambers@gmail.com

Jordan L Hawk
EMAIL: jordanlhawk@gmail.com

Bonnie Dee
EMAIL: bonniedeeauthor@gmail.com

Patience by Helena Stone

Preacher, Prophet, Beast by Harper Fox

Moments by RJ Scott

Wake by Brigham Vaughn & K Evan Coles

Laurent & the Beast by KA Merikan

Storm Season by Elle Keaton

By the Numbers by RJ Scott

The Monet Murders by Josh Lanyon

Provoked by Joanna Chambers

Draakenwood by Jordan L Hawk

The Masterpiece by Bonnie Dee