How We Handled the Research for the Book by Lauren Sevier and A. Smith – Guest Blog and Giveaway

This post is part of a virtual book tour organized by Goddess Fish Promotions. Lauren Sevier and A. Smith will be awarding a $10 Amazon or Barnes and Noble GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour. Click on the tour banner to see the other stops on the tour.

How We Handled the Research for the Book

Leather & Lace is set in New Orleans, so one thing we did was travel to New Orleans on a particularly hot summer day and toured the French Quarter. The majority of this novel takes place in the quarter and in one building in particular: the Cabildo, which is a state museum of history now. After we ate po-boys and and drank a daquiri, we toured the Cabildo to get a better grasp of the building for authenticity purposes. Getting to spend a steamy day in the city was just what we needed to capture the feel of it in Leather & Lace.

We also spent a lot of time researching the United States geography. In The Fool’s Adventure series, bombs dropped all over and literally reshaped what the country looks like. Partnered with climate change and rising seas, we really needed to understand how what happened in the Culling changed the fabric of the world so we could present the information as accurately as possible while taking some artistic liberties.

For the character of Will Ellis, extensive research was done regarding mental health issues in men. Specifically regarding PTSD in veterans and first responders and correlating depressive episodes and issues regarding suicide attempts.

Finally, there was research done to make sure all injuries and medical conditions explored in the novel were medically accurate and that treatment options (that were non-fictional) were given using the equipment and knowledge they would have available. Think more ‘field medicine’ than ‘pioneer medicine’ though at times it could be either or both of them depending on resources. The research and outcomes of all the medical injuries/ailments in the novels are discussed with board certified physicians for the most accurate depictions possible.

Overall, we take a very hands-on approach to research and try to make most of the details as accurate as possible while still leaving room for creative license since this is a fictional world. We want the book to feel immersive and realistic while still engaging the readers in escapism through the fantastical elements of the story. At the end of the day, every effort we make is for our readers’ enjoyment and so far we’ve found that when you keep your readers at the forefront of your mind while developing your stories, they notice and appreciate it. We have the best readers in the world and all we want to do is make them proud. <3

Three years wandering the desert is enough to drive anyone insane, and the limits of Bonnie and Jesse’s minds and hearts will be put to the ultimate test.

A deadly showdown with a murderous outlaw ripped Bonnie away from the relative peace and ragtag family she’d built at the end of Guns & Smoke. In the thrilling next chapter in The Fool’s Adventure series, we finally get the answer to the biggest question: What happened to Bonnie?

After three years of fighting to get her back, literally, Jesse James finds her in the most unlikely of places– New Orleans high society. With the help of his rival-turned-friend Will Ellis, and a sassy staff member, Jesse’s tasked with infiltrating the house of the man he believes was responsible for killing his parents in order to get her back. Jesse’s biggest challenge yet will be learning to fight for Bonnie in a way he never expected before: by fitting in.

Mired in high society politics and scheming, Bonnie is at the epicenter of one of the most ruthless gangs in the world. Years trapped in a gilded cage of wealth and lies has irrevocably changed her from a crass outlaw into a southern debutante. Gone is the dangerous glint in her eyes, replaced with suspicion when the devilishly handsome street fighter named Montana suddenly joins her father’s staff.

Can Jesse remind Bonnie of who she really is in time to keep her from giving her heart and hand away or will he discover that the wild, beautiful outlaw he fell in love with is truly gone?

Enjoy an Excerpt

Staring at her now, knowing that I’d desperately fallen for her all over again sent a stark jolt through me. This feeling between us wasn’t some average infatuation. Most people could live a lifetime and never experience the raging, all-consuming need to be close to another person, no matter whether you knew why.

My soul called out, and hers answered.

Everything that I’d lost three years ago was suddenly before me. In the span of a breath, I closed the distance. I clutched her hips, a smile curling over my lips at the little gasp she let out as her back met the steel door and my mouth covered hers. I reached behind her, flicking the lock. Too many times we’d been interrupted. I’d be damned if I let it happen now. Not when she loved me again.

About the Authors Lauren Sevier and A. Smith are longtime friends and co-authors from southern Louisiana. Guns and Smoke, their first joint publication, began as a “short” story after having too much wine on girl’s night. Nine years later it is now the first novel in a Dystopian/Western Romance series. The duo has plans to publish several series together in the future. A. Smith spends her time with her two rescue dogs and rescue cat surrounding herself with books and Labyrinth paraphernalia. Lauren Sevier collects antique tea cups and tries to stay sane, though as the mother of a toddler she fails brilliantly most days. She also has a growing collection of crowns and tiaras and likes to act silly on Tiktok. Look for more thrilling novels from The Fools Adventure series in the future!

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My Ideal Writing Space by C.L. Colyer – Guest Blog and Giveaway

This post is part of a virtual book tour organized by Goddess Fish Promotions. C.L. Colyer will be awarding a $10 Amazon or Barnes and Noble GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour. Click on the tour banner to see the other stops on the tour.

To see our 5 star review of the book, please click here.

My Ideal Writing Space

I don’t need much when I’m writing. As long as I have my laptop, a power outlet, Wi-Fi for all the times I need to look something up, a comfy place to sit, and a place for a drink and snack, I’m happy. If I’m in the zone, noise doesn’t bother me. Sometimes, it’s even welcome.

Now, if you were to ask me what my dream space would be, that’s another story. My dream space is a home library with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves on three of the four walls. There’d be rolling ladders that glide along a track, making it easy to reach the top shelves. The shelves would be stocked with everything from the classics to reference books. There would be books in all genres. Some bound in leather, others worn and well-loved, and still others new, many waiting patiently to be read. There’d be three comfy sofa chairs. One of the chairs would be wide enough for me to sit sideways for all the times I’m dreaming up new ways to get my characters into trouble. The other chairs are so my writing buds have a place to sit when they’re over. There’d be matching ottomans to kick our feet up on and end tables with lamps, cup warmers, and space for hair clips, pens, and notepads. A desk would be pushed up against one of the walls. Since this is my dream space, there would be a small fridge stocked with beverages and healthy snacks. Across from the chairs would be a large picture window that overlooks a lake. Of course, there’s Wi-Fi. I may never have to leave! One day. 

Thanks so much for stopping by. And thanks to Long and Short Reviews for having me on their blog!

Nothing frightens Atticus Everheart more than monsters, thanks to his older brothers, who often threaten to feed him to the beastly creatures.
Fearing that’s what they will do if he doesn’t replace the book he accidentally ruined, he takes a job tutoring a boy in his neighborhood.

Although nervous about the job, Atticus soon discovers there’s a lot more in store for him than teaching. Never in a trillion years would he have imagined he’d be hiding from monsters, working with ghosts, or searching for werewolves and witches. He’s not brave, and he has no plans to change.

Until he’s forced to.

Enjoy an Excerpt

“These came for you,” said Abigail, the oldest of his younger sisters. At eight, she was already smarter than him in many ways. She turned the envelope upside down over his bed. A pair of prescription, steampunk- inspired goggles tumbled out. Still ignoring Atticus’s prior demand, she settled on the window seat.

“I thought they’d never get here!” His previous statement forgotten, Atticus sat up and took off his glasses. He then slipped the leather strap of the goggles over his head and pulled to tighten them to a perfect fit. He raised his chin, wise and prepared, able to spot danger in a single glance.

“How do I look?”

“Like a weirdo.” Abigail pulled her honey-brown hair into a high ponytail. “Or a praying mantis.”

He should have known she wouldn’t recognize functional accessories if they stared her in the face.

“Did you have to get green frames?” she asked.

“I like green.”

“I think you look smart,” said Evie, the youngest of the Everheart children. She was a miniature version of Atticus, from her curly brown hair, round cheeks, and scrawny arms, right down to her bulbous big toes and curious nature. “Why are there round thingies sticking out from the side?”

“Those are monocles.” Abigail opened the newspaper to the comic section. “They magnify things.”

“These aren’t ordinary monocles,” said Atticus. “I can’t believe you think I’d want goggles if they didn’t do something spectacular. I’ll have you know these are the most advanced pair of monster-seeing goggles available, able to cut through the mundane to reveal beasts and demons, ghosts, and goblins.” At least, that’s what the ad had said. Atticus flipped down the crimson lens. “This one’s for flesh-eating monsters.”

“Oh, they’re way cool!” Evie inched closer and asked, “Do you see any?”

“Yes!” Atticus lunged forward and grabbed her, tickling her waist.

About the Author: C.L. Colyer found her love for writing in first grade when her class was sent to the library and asked to find a book for their first book report. While she doesn’t still have this book report, she’s very proud to say she got an A on it. Her favorite thing about the book was that it had no words. That’s right, not one! That gave her the freedom to interpret the pictures in any way she wanted and write her own story.

This sparked her love for writing essays. It wasn’t until she was an adult that she sat down and penned her first novel. This story has a special place in her heart because it’s the story that helped her discover her passion for writing. She has since written several books, many of which may never see the light of day, but all of which helped her learn to combine her passion for writing with her fascination with all things mythical. You’ll find examples of this in her novels.

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A Reservoir Man by L.J. Ambrosio – Q&A and Giveaway

This post is part of a virtual book tour organized by Goddess Fish Promotions. L.J. Ambrosio will be awarding a signed copy of the book to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour. Click on a tour banner to see the other stops on the tour. See our review here.

What would I tell a new author?

Listen to yourself and get advice creatively, learn formatting, and understand the industry you are entering.

The hardest part about writing is

Spelling, run on sentences, the physical appearance, clothes, and haircuts of my characters. I don’t want them to look like someone I know unless I want them to…

Important Elements

Get a great cover design; don’t get too heady getting a title or silly; stay away from sexual implications in title design. Don’t let people read your book until you are finished, but you should have one person that you can trust that you can share with. You must get an editor – don’t be cheap; spend money here. If you are self-publishing know the field and know how to advertise. Release the book to critics before the public by three months. Reviews are important; get them. They are very important as is their posting on Goodreads and Amazon. Be a gentleperson; don’t be pushy and be humble. Do tours, blitzes, and interviews – anything to get your novel out there. Believe in yourself; you are the artist. Sex is important, but it doesn’t make it your novel. Your story is, and the relationship of your characters with life and themselves.

A Reservoir Man, critics have hailed this explosive and timely work as “a must-read coming-of-age story of 2022.” Twists and turns further pull the reader in to Michael’s action-packed tale, with powerful themes, from betrayal and family to secrets and identity. “Be sure not to blink because you just might miss a pivotal moment in Michael’s rousing, larger-than-life story.” — R.C. Gibson, Indiestoday.com. “This book is a dream, a gamble, a utopia, even.” — Kalyan Panja, Bookmarkks.

Enjoy an Excerpt

Michael had now become, after these last six months, a little more world weary and worse for the wear. Sitting on his bench, entering his last year at college. Michael still had not found his soul or his truth. His emphasis on sex was unfulfilling and empty. He wandered in the shadowy corners, the lightless streets, leading to a dead end and the darkness of an empty truck. Loneliness had become a fixture of Michael’s being. He longed for a few hours to be with Carol, Claire, or Raphael.

One day, while sitting on the bench, Michael heard in the distance Otis Reading’s “The Dock of The Bay” playing on a portable radio. The music came closer and closer and then quickly turned to the Four Tops’ “Reach Out (I’ll be There).”

Picking up his head, Michael saw this extremely attractive ethnic guy standing right above him. Michael said ‘hello,’ and the young man answered.

“My name is Nick. Do you dance?”

Michael said, “Sort of, but I do not have much of a chance to go dancing.”

“You want to go tonight?” Nick asked with a smile, and he started to sing “Baby I Need Your Loving” by the Four Tops.

Michael became a little concerned about the message of the song, so he suggested that they might talk over coffee before they venture out dancing. Michael decided to cut his next two classes and have coffee.

They spent hours talking about their lives. Nick was older than Michael by nine years. Nick said he had to prepare for graduation as did Michael. He was in the school for Education and would be graduating that year.

He was first generation Greek from Cyprus and spoke fluent Greek. His family lived in Harlem on 137th Street off Broadway. He had siblings, a brother and sister. Michael was taken by him. He made him laugh and feel amazingly comfortable. Nick invited Michael to dinner Saturday night. His mother would make Doimadakia, Humus, Tzataki and Moussaka. Michael agreed to go.

Nick’s parents were great. His mother was shy, his father a little less. They spoke with a broken accent, which Michael loved. They had a great dinner and talked a lot. Michael learned a lot about Cyprus.

Nick said after dinner, “Dancing, right?”

About the Author: Louis J. Ambrosio ran one of the most nurturing bi-coastal talent agencies in Los Angeles and New York. He started his career as a theatrical producer, running two major regional theaters for eight seasons. Ambrosio also distinguished himself as an award-winning film producer and novelist over the course of his impressive career. He taught at 7 universities in the United States.

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Loves Me Knot by Aubree Valentine – Spotlight

Long and Short Reviews welcomes Aubree Valentine who is celebrating today’s release of Loves Me Knot.

Aubree is bringing the heat and the drama with this short and sweet second chance romance about a hot cop and the town’s favorite kindergarten teacher. Sparks will fly as these two reconnect and rediscover not only their love for one another but who they are now as individuals. Readers who love Corinne Michaels and Melanie Harlow will devour Loves Me Knot by Aubree Valentine, a steamy, small town, second chance, beach romance.

I thought I was going to be her forever. That was until she up and left Candy Cane Key and took my broken heart right along with her.

Now she’s back and damn if those feelings aren’t still there for the girl who’s all grown up and still drives me crazy. Don’t get me wrong, I want her back and they say you’ve got to shoot your shot, but, I don’t know that I can handle another blow.

Guess I’m about to find out if she loves me, or knot.

Enjoy an Excerpt

“What are you doing?” I leaned closer to my best friend Abby and whispered through gritted teeth.

It was bad enough that I let her convince me to come with her to this Manuary charity auction. Now she was sitting here bidding, Candy Cane Key’s favorite Sherriff’s Deputy, who also happened to be my pain in the ass ex.

Deputy Ryan Albright worked the crowd of hungry local women with his piercing blue-green eyes, a charming and seemingly innocent schoolboy smile, and that sandy blondish-brown hair that I used to love running my fingers through. When he winked at someone in the front, a table of ladies that we graduated high school with whistled and placed another round of bids.

Abby’s hand went up and she doubled the last bid.

“Abby!” I hissed, suddenly wishing I was anywhere but here.

Betsy Henry, my arch-rival essentially since birth raised Abby’s bid while looking right at me with an evil smirk on her face.

Ha. If Betsy wanted a date with Ryan, she could have him. It would serve him right, too. After breaking my heart in two, Ryan absolutely deserved to suffer through a night with the likes of Betsy. Besides, it wasn’t like I was the one bidding on him.

Abby pledged another hundred dollars on top of Betsy’s bid.

What the hell was she thinking?

Did she want a date with Ryan?

There was no way.

Abby would never do that to me, nor would she do that to her boyfriend Liam. And if she was merely trying to up the bids and raise more money for charity then surely she would have placed a bid on some of the other guys, too.

Right?

I swallowed hard and my cheeks flushed when Ryan looked in our direction and shot Abby a confused glance before locking eyes with me.

“Abs. Really. That’s enough. Please, stop,” I pleaded.

“Going once. Going twice,” the auctioneer called out. “Sold to our very own Abby Monet!”

I gasped out loud.

Abby turned and looked at me with a satisfied grin. “You’re welcome.”

“What?” I croaked.

“That was all for you, bestie,” she winked. “You can thank me later.”

“Abbbbbbyyyyy. What have you done?”

About the Author Aubree Valentine began her book world career as a personal assistant for a close friend/author and as a book blogger. But, she’s been writing stories of all kinds since she was a child.

Her time spent as a personal assistant and book blogger only further fueled her love of romance and the desire to write her own happily ever afters, so with a hard shove from a friend (or four), she made the leap and officially published her very first book in 2016.

Since then Aubree has brought to life more than a dozen sexy alphas, including her beloved fan-favorite first responders from the Too Hot to Handle collection.

When she’s not writing, you can find her curled up with a good book and her fur babies. Or bringing to life some over-the-top craft project.

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My Take on Critique Groups by Sally Basmajian – Guest Blog and Giveaway

This post is part of a virtual book tour organized by Goddess Fish Promotions. Sally Basmajian will be awarding a $10 Amazon or Barnes and Noble GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour. Click on the tour banner to see the other stops on the tour.

My Take on Critique Groups

I belong to two critique groups. One is made up of five female writers—some wise and some witty, but all darn good writers. We call ourselves LAKS, which stands for the Literary Ass Kicking Society, and that’s metaphorically what we do whenever one of us becomes sluggish and stops producing. The other is a much larger collective made up of writers at varying stages of their journey. It’s a local, inclusive group. I like to support it because the members were very encouraging when I started writing, and actually awarded me the first prize I ever won.

When I meet with my LAKS friends, I take seriously every piece of criticism they give me. We push each other to be better writers, and we’re all at similar stages in our literary journeys, so we aren’t afraid to be direct. While we don’t bludgeon each other with overly harsh, personal observations, we also don’t sugarcoat our comments or pull any punches. We hash through issues over coffee and heaping helpings of complex carbs. Later, when I’ve re-read their written critiques at home, I choose how many of their suggestions to incorporate in my next draft. More often than not, it’s the majority.

One of my LAKS colleagues, Lena, doesn’t even have to write her ideas out in full anymore. She just pens a bold “OTT” on any particularly florid passage I’ve written, to tell me that once more I’ve gone too far in trying to push a joke or describe a zany character. Is she right? In my opinion, yes—at least 80% of the time. I have her to thank for helping me realize that not everything I think is hilarious will amuse someone else.

In my larger community group, I apply a different filter. I do appreciate the general impressions of everyone in attendance, and I find many of their comments instructive. I also love the fact that the larger group organizes workshops and sometimes brings in knowledgeable professional speakers. Often, though, I disagree with the feedback from one or two participants.

As an example, a person in the group recently voiced a strong opinion that a novel’s character shouldn’t be called a nickname by her lover, because having two names made it confusing to keep track of who she was. In this case, the critic happened to be new to the group and had no grasp of the book’s flow. For instances like this, the rule I follow is to nod and pin on my brightest smile—and later not revise a single word.

It’s like hand-selecting the reddest apples at the grocery store, or buying a cheap, jumbo bagful and hoping for the best. Either option can be nutritious and tasty, and I do recommend both types of critique groups. Just remember to choose your companions wisely, and don’t be afraid to walk away if you end up frustrated instead of inspired after you’ve tried out a couple of sessions. In the long run, it’s more important to feel uplifted than to be critiqued in a manner that’s inapt or inept.

Suze Foster has always been devoted to her daughter. As a child, Jannie required extra support in school, but now-at age 29-she’s a rising executive. Suze, thrilled with Jannie’s success, is finally free to follow her own dreams.
Without Suze’s dedicated attention, though, Jannie flounders. In a careless moment, she floods her apartment. Enter our hero, Aram-her hot but significantly older neighbor. He saves the day, and for Jannie, it’s love at first sight.
Not so much for Aram, though, who falls head over heels for Suze when they accidentally meet. Unaware of Jannie’s feelings, Suze is equally smitten.
In this twisted triangle, can a happily-ever-after be achieved? Or will someone’s heart break and the mother-daughter bond be severed forever?

Enjoy an Excerpt

He was the most good-looking man she’d ever seen. Luxuriant locks. She bet that’s how a Harlequin Romance would describe his hair. And under the full beard, maybe even a cleft chin. And most definitely, a sensuous lower lip. Ooh la la.

As she mused in an X-rated way about his mouth, Jannie remembered something from a book she’d read where the heroine had a habit of biting her lower lip. It drove men mad.

So she tried it. Nibble, nibble.

Aram just looked at her. His breathing didn’t accelerate. His chest didn’t heave.
She tried again. Nibble, nibble. The prolonged silence was beginning to be uncomfortable.

“Are you all right, Jannie?” Aram finally asked. He studied her.

Well, that hadn’t gone so well. But she’d never tried to flirt with an older man before. Maybe they needed something more obvious.

She attempted to look coyly up at Aram through her eyelashes. This wasn’t as easy as all those romance authors made it sound. She felt her forehead contract, her nose wrinkle and her upper lip pull away from her teeth in her effort to do the impossible.

“Jannie, are you having an allergic reaction? Shellfish, maybe? Isn’t that crab I smell coming from your condo? Do you carry an EpiPen?”

She stamped her foot in frustration. It was supposed to look fierce and cute, but she could tell from Aram’s face that he was way more startled than turned on.

About the Author After leaving the corporate world, Sally Basmajian discovered the joy of writing. Her fiction and nonfiction stories have appeared in newspapers such as The Globe & Mail and in several anthologies. In 2022 she won prizes for memoir pieces (Northwestern Ontario Writers Workshop, Gulf Coast Writers Association), and was thrilled to have a poem selected by the journal Antithesis. She expects to be busy in 2023, when her first two novels appear: in January, a light-hearted romance, So Hard to Do (published by Creative James Media) and in October, a much darker one, Fountain of Evil (Moonshine Cove Publishing, LLC).

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Love All by Liza Malloy – Spotlight and Giveaway

This post is part of a virtual book tour organized by Goddess Fish Promotions. Liza Malloy will be awarding a $15 Amazon or B/N GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour. Click on the tour banner to see the other stops on the tour.

College students Nate and Olivia are a perfect match on the courts—and in the sheets. Everywhere else, they’re polar opposites and sworn enemies. But as the chemistry builds, a figure from Olivia’s past unexpectedly pops back into her life and the couple realizes they have more in common than they thought. Are these star-crossed lovers doomed to repeat their parents’ mistakes, or can they build a life together once the final set is played?

This book is a standalone, steamy, new adult/college, sports romance, 77k words. Tropes include enemies to lovers, he falls first, and billionaire.

Enjoy an Excerpt

“You know, some people like to give others the benefit of the doubt and get to know them before assuming the worst.”

Olivia snatched the cherry from the shake that I’d set on the edge of my plate. “Some of us prefer to avoid disappointment. I’ll keep my assumptions until people prove me wrong.”

At least she was honest, I thought, oddly envious of the cherry stem as she pressed her tongue against it. “Challenge accepted.”

We left the diner, but the drive home was far too short.

“Thank you for the ride,” she said, already clutching her racket and duffel bag before I even slowed to a complete stop in front of her apartment.

“And for the excellent meal, right?” I added.

She stared dryly. “I’ll thank you for the food when you thank me for not pressing charges on the whole kidnapping front.”

I bit back a smile. Even pissed off, Olivia was captivating. “This was fun. Why haven’t we hung out before?”

“Because we have nothing in common.”

“Not true. There’s tennis, lame business majors, and douchebag fathers.”

Olivia gazed back at me and for the briefest of moments, I thought she would say something meaningful, but instead she just shook her head, dismissing whatever idea had crossed her intriguing mind.

“You can’t possibly want to spend more time with me. I’ve been a total bitch to you all afternoon.”

I wasn’t about to deny that last part, so instead I pushed my luck with a bad joke. “We could move into the back seat and you could make it up to me,” I said, wiggling my eyebrows seductively.

I’d hoped for a snarky comeback, but instead she just rolled her eyes and chuckled. “I’ll see you at practice,” she mumbled, climbing out of the car.

About the Author:

Liza Malloy writes contemporary romance and women’s fiction. She’s a sucker for alpha males, bad boys, dimples, and muscles, and she can’t resist a man in uniform. Liza loves creating worlds where her heroine discovers her own strength and finds her Happily Ever After. When Liza isn’t reading or writing torrid love stories, she’s a practicing attorney. Her other passions include gummy bears, jelly beans, and the occasional marathon. She lives in the Midwest with her four daughters and her own Prince Charming.

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Titanian Warrior by Victoria Saccenti – Spotlight and Giveaway

This post is part of a virtual book tour organized by Goddess Fish Promotions. Victoria Saccenti will be awarding a $15 Amazon or B/N GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour. Click on the tour banner to see the other stops on the tour.

One woman holds the key to his destiny—and his people’s salvation. Hagen drags himself to the gates of Hell, body and soul shredded by the bloodlust that consumes all the unmated of his kind. Awaiting the painful atonement that will buy him ten more years to find his eternal mate—or face oblivion. But Hades himself kicks him out with the bloodlust still prowling, unsatisfied, in his veins.

Bargained away by her parents to Master O, a mysterious, cruel wizard, Faiza serves in his household, keeping her small magic a secret, plagued by wild, confusing visions of a strange, suffering man. Then the master brings home a wounded Titanian warrior whose touch sends ice, fire, and desire racing through her body.

When she learns Master O plans to use Hagen as a weapon to conquer all races, she devises a desperate plan to free him—a plan that opens a portal to a world she’s never known. And a destiny entwined with danger that could destroy them all.

Enjoy an Excerpt

The towering pair of boulders stood as gatekeepers and markers of the way. A steep path snaked between them until farther down the hill, the road disappeared in thick fog. Leaning on the closest rock, Hagen steadied himself to catch his breath, then pushed on.

Bloodlust crippled his Titanian vision. Still, he stumbled, rolled, and crawled over jagged rocks and gnarled roots with single-minded determination to reach his appointed meeting place, the cavern at the base of the Shivaliks, and the sole entrance to Hades’s domain on the earthly plane. A perverse satisfaction filled him each time he scraped and sliced his exposed skin, as this was only a precursor to the punishment he deserved. If he could shred his flesh to strips in anticipation as he had done with his clothes, so much the better.

Hagen advanced through the haze, seeking the deity’s promised signal. Images of his frenzy during the last skirmish prodded him. He strained past gore-filled images, and the effort paid off. There, deep within the haze, a faint red light marked the spot. Alecto had not forgotten. A hitched breath escaped his lungs as he stood and trod on a more secure step.

As the haze dissipated, the cavern’s hungry mouth gaped before him. Healing and deliverance acquired through pain would soon be his. As he inched closer to the wavering light, he removed the last remaining strips of clothing. The offering had to be bare and unadulterated. Nothing but skin would satisfy the Fury, purify his spirit, and postpone the horror of termination for another ten years—a mere blip in the lifespan of a Titanian.

About the Author:

Award-winning, multi-genre author Victoria Saccenti writes romantic women’s fiction, contemporary romance, and paranormal romance. Not one for heart and flower stories, she explores the edgy twists and turns of human interaction, the many facets of love, and all possible happy endings. After thirty years of traveling the world, she’s settled in Central Florida. She splits her busy schedule between family and her active muse at Essence Publishing. However, if she could convince her husband to sell their home, she would pack up her computer and move to Scotland, a land she adores. On a side note, in one form or another, Scotland appears in most of her stories.

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The Montgomery Arrangement by Lori Fayre – Spotlight and Giveaway

Long and Short Reviews welcomes Lori Fayre who is celebrating the recent release of The Montgomery Arrangement, the third book in the Summer fling or something more?

Paige Montgomery had never given the future much thought until the opportunity of a lifetime falls into her lap. Confronted with a life-changing path, she decides that a vacation to Miami with her best friends, the Alexanders, will clear her head. However, Bryce Alexander has other ideas.

Bryce proposes an arrangement, something casual and mutually beneficial to help them both relax while they’re away from it all. There are only two conditions—no one can know and absolutely no emotions can be involved. Though he’s seven years younger, Paige thinks there could be merit in his suggestion.

Paige can’t escape the reality of where her life is headed or her long-time friend, Levi, who has his sights set on her. But what do they really mean to each other? And does Bryce mean more? While Bryce tries his hardest to escape the spotlight and his new reputation, Paige has to wrestle with the idea that she could just be a distraction to him. With a years-long friendship on the line, will they take a chance on love?

Enjoy an Excerpt

When Paige was working on a painting, time didn’t exist. By the time a piece of art was done, she could hardly remember doing it. The feeling was there, and it was easy to look at one stroke of color and say, “Oh, yeah, I was feeling very sad when I laid that down.” But she couldn’t tell you exactly when it had happened or why. So, when Bryce Alexander assured her that the pieces she’d donated to him were a big hit, she’d had a hard time believing him. Honestly, she couldn’t remember which ones she’d picked from storage to send him.

“I’m not kidding,” Bryce said through the speaker against her ear. “You outsold everyone else here.”

“You know me,” she said, trying her best to play it off. She fiddled with a strand of long blonde hair that had fallen out of her updo. “I’m always happy to help. I’m just glad they went to a good cause.”

“You could say that,” he said. “I’ve been invited to an afterparty—and I don’t mean to brag, but I think some of those girls are really into me.”

Paige rolled her eyes. “Not exactly how I wanted my art to change lives.” Leave it to Bryce to turn a charity event into a prime opportunity to pick up women.

From what he’d told her, Bryce hadn’t wanted to go to the event in the first place. Carlton Alexander, wielding his fatherly authority all the way from Greece, had ordered it. Bryce had been getting into trouble lately—and not the kind that was easy to ignore. Over the past couple of years, the Alexanders had become celebrities. Maybe it was because the behind-the-scenes story of Jade and Spencer’s dramatic engagement period had gotten out, but it had skyrocketed business and put the family under a new kind of spotlight.

“Aren’t you supposed to be cutting back on the partying?” Paige asked, attempting to keep her tone neutral. It wasn’t her place to meddle in Bryce’s affairs, even if he was her friend.

“Daddy dearest isn’t here to enforce that rule,” Bryce argued. “Besides, these are art people. Charity art people, to be exact. How wild could the afterparty get?”

As one of those ‘art people’, Paige knew how wild they could be. Not that he’d listen to her if she warned him… It would only encourage him more. Releasing a sigh, Paige simply said, “Just promise me you’ll behave, okay? And don’t drink too much.”

“Yeah, yeah, of course.” His voice became quiet as he moved the phone away from his face, and she knew that some girl in a flashy dress had probably distracted him. “You know, you could always come with me. I can drop by and pick you up.”

“That sounds amazing, actually.” She leaned against the wall, wishing she could tell him yes. “Maybe some other time, though. I have my showing tonight, and I’ll have to be here at least another two hours.”

“All right,” Bryce said, and she almost thought she could hear disappointment in his voice. “Don’t have too much fun without me.”

“Talk to you later, Bryce.”

“I’ll talk to you later, Paige,” he echoed her words softly.

There was silence before he hung up the phone. Paige sighed again. A night out with Bryce was always a good time, but she had responsibilities. He’d graduated from college only a couple of months earlier, and ever since he’d been free, he’d been an entirely new person. Paige could pick out the signs, the small changes over time, but it was a stark contrast to the Bryce she’d met nearly four years ago. She didn’t mind, but he could get carried away very easily.

Paige slipped her phone into the small handbag around her wrist. The night was not about Bryce. It was about her obligations. She’d tucked herself into a corner of the gallery, near an emergency exit, to take his phone call. Behind her, the sounds of the showing could still be heard—the laughter, the clinking of glasses, the music and the critical whispers as people judged the art they had paid a high price to view. It was the kind of thing she dreamed of, but something wasn’t right.

Paige didn’t feel like herself. Her sleeveless evening gown was expensive, its flowing marbled skirts and cinched waist very stylish without being too eye-catching and flattered her slim figure. Unlike the other artists being featured at Gould’s Gallery, she didn’t want to stand out. They were all either dressed down for the night or wearing the strangest outfits that had to be impossibly uncomfortable. Normally, Paige would have done the same. Something had changed.

Paige turned her attention to the piece hanging on the gallery’s white wall in front of her. It didn’t feel like hers. It didn’t look like hers from afar. But, when she squinted, she recognized every brushstroke. It was one of her abstract paintings—a large canvas covered with varying strokes of paint, all a myriad of colors blocked off by bold black lines. Each day she would approach the canvas with a new mood, new thoughts and ideas, and paint. As she worked, she would take in the previous day’s progress and try to fix it. In the end, it hadn’t turned out the way she’d wanted, but she had been well over her deadline, and it would have to do.

“It’s beautiful work.” Levi Gould materialized beside her. “Though, I don’t think you were entirely happy making it.”

“I’m not entirely happy standing in front of it,” Paige shot back. She smiled, playing it off as humor, but there was mostly truth to it. She had to search hard to find pieces of herself in the paint, and it was a skewed image, blurry like a fogged mirror.

“Are you saying you’d be willing to part with it?”

Paige turned to look at him. Levi was classically handsome with his dark brown skin, neatly trimmed beard and long, thin braids. Like some of the other artists, he was dressed informally, in a T-shirt and blazer, a layered scarf, and white cargo pants with combat boots. His hair was covered with a black fedora, completing his monochromatic ensemble.

They had been friends since college, where they’d taken many of the same classes, but when the time came to choose a career, Paige had stuck with painting while Levi had opened his own gallery. It hadn’t taken long for Gould’s to become the exclusive art hub in New York City, one that all the up-and-coming artists had to be a part of.

Levi quirked an eyebrow at her, his dark brown eyes expectant. Paige realized that she hadn’t spoken for several moments, only stared at Levi.

“I’m sorry. What did you say?” she asked.

“Do you want to keep your painting or not?” Levi asked with a smile.

“I’m clearly not married to it,” she said with a shrug. “You can keep it.”

“I’m flattered that you’d offer, but that’s not what I had in mind. You might not be happy with your stunning work, but a patron is.” He slipped an arm around her shoulders. “Mr. Talles has made a substantial offer, and I would like to graciously accept on your behalf.”

“Hold on. I thought this was just a showing,” Paige said, butterflies fluttering in her stomach.

“It is, darling, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to turn down an influential collector when he offers my friend five figures. Of course, I would get a ten percent commission since it’s my gallery.” He laughed. “You’re doing pretty well for yourself, aren’t you? I think this is the second work of yours that he’s bought.”

Paige could only nod, still struggling to wrap her head around the five figures part. Between this sale and the success of the charity auction, Paige felt a bit of her old confidence creeping back in.

“Is that a yes?” Levi asked. “Because he would like to take it home tonight.”

“He can have it,” Paige said, finally shaking herself from her fog. Levi turned away to speak to an assistant, ushering him away once he was done. Paige watched all of it from the corner of her eye, dividing her concentration between the two men and the painting and wondering why anyone would offer so much for it.

“For someone leaving with a considerable check tonight,” Levi whispered conspiratorially upon his return to her side, “you don’t seem overly thrilled. What is it that has you in such a glum mood?”

Paige smiled at him. “I’m over the moon. I am,” she added. “I’m slow at getting used to all this. I mean, I’m used to showings and people buying my stuff, but this is your gallery. This is Gould’s. And it’s my first time being here during a showing, so forgive me if I seem a little distant.”

“I’m nothing special, Paige Montgomery.” He nudged her shoulder with his. “You know me better than that.”

“You’re special to me.” Paige nodded to one of the women holding a glass of champagne and narrowing her eyes at a neighboring piece. “And you’re special to the critics.”

“I want to show you something,” he said, taking her hand. Paige didn’t argue, but she glanced around to see if anyone would notice them leaving together. The only person who spared them a look was the assistant placing a ‘Sold’ placard underneath her painting.

The upstairs of the gallery was roped off for the night. Not even the artists were allowed up until the next morning. Levi had converted the old loft of the building into an art studio where, for a hefty fee, artists could claim a five-by-five or ten-by-ten-foot square to work on their craft. Along with the space, they were also guaranteed exposure on the walls of the gallery once a month. It was a daring business venture, but it seemed to be doing well. A spot at Gould’s studio had a waiting list a mile long.

Levi lifted the black velvet rope that led to the stairwell, allowing them to duck underneath. The stairs were narrow, and there was no door at the landing. When Levi flipped on the fluorescent lights, Paige let out a gasp. She had toured the place, but that had been when it’d been staged for visitors. She knew how chaotic artists’ spaces could be, since she had to set one up wherever she was staying.

The loft seemed smaller than it had before, what with all the clutter scattered around. Half-painted canvases were propped on easels and along the wall. Wheeled carts jutted into the aisle marked off with duct tape, signifying whose space belonged to whom. The wood floors were stained with paint and streaks of charcoal. The open space was broken up with the occasional industrial column, but those were splattered with paint as well. It was a lived-in space with a view that most renters would kill for. Despite the chaos around her, Paige had never felt more at home in a new place before.

“We keep our kiln and sculpting equipment in the basement,” Levi told her as he led her farther in. “It’s been a while since we’ve had a sculptor rent a spot in here, though.” He took her to the tall windows in the back of the room, where the building opened up to the city. Since they were on the Lower East Side, Paige could see straight to the ocean and the Statue of Liberty.

“This is so different from what I remember,” Paige finally said. “And it’s not at all how it looks in the magazines.”

“Are you overwhelmed or disappointed?” Levi stepped up to the window, his tall silhouette set against the lights of the city.

“Neither,” she told him. “But I can certainly see why people are fighting for a spot here. I can feel the creative energy.”

“You should see it when we’re full,” Levi said. “It’s loud and messy, but it’s the best place to get work done. Though, we do argue about the music from time to time.” He motioned for her to join him, and she took slow steps to his side. There was something about him that night, something about the look in his eyes and the way that he spoke. If Paige didn’t know any better, she might think he was coming on to her.

“I’d like to see it one day,” she said. “I’ve thought about putting my name on the list, but I don’t know if I’ll be here when a spot opens up. I don’t know where I’ll go next, but I’ve been in New York too long. I’m starting to feel restless.”

“What if you could skip the wait?” he asked. “What if someone were to jump you to the front of the line? Do you think that would be worth sticking around for?”

Paige crossed her arms, focusing on the torch in Lady Liberty’s hand. “What did you have in mind?”

“One of my artists is going overseas.” He said it so casually, as though he weren’t trying to offer her a coveted spot at Gould’s that could skyrocket her career even farther. “There will be an open easel here if you want it.”

Paige turned to him with wide eyes. “I don’t think that would be fair to everyone else.”

“Being the owner comes with perks, love,” he told her. “And I know a good investment when I see one.”

Heat rushed to Paige’s face as she got the distinct impression that he wasn’t talking about her art anymore. “It’s a tempting offer,” she started, “but, I’ve been in a creative slump lately, and I don’t know if I could make anything worth being on display.” She chewed on her thumbnail as she thought. “The one down there must have been a fluke. I don’t want to take the spot and not produce anything,”

“It doesn’t matter if anyone thinks that it’s good enough,” Levi said, taking her free hand. Paige could do nothing but watch him as he pulled her closer. “It’s the curator’s discretion to show what he thinks is worth it. And you’re talking to a curator who sees beauty in all that you do, Paige.” He surprised her then by raising her hand to his lips and kissing it softly.

So, she wasn’t imagining things. Over the past couple of years, what with Jade and Clint in their own separate honeymoon phases, Paige had been spending more time with Levi. And, sure, there had been flirtations, but they were always playful, silly and when they were around other people. It was never something she had taken seriously, but the look in his dark brown eyes warned her that it was time to start.

“Can I have some time to think about it?” she asked, her voice coming out breathless.

Levi smiled kindly at her. “Of course, you can,” he told her. “I wouldn’t expect you to have an answer for me as early as tonight. How about you get back to me within ten days?”

“Ten days?” Paige balked. “Is that all you can give me?”

He laughed, a low rumbling sound that came from deep in his chest. “I want this for you, Paige, but it’s the best I can do. Like you said, there are a lot of people vying for this spot, and it wouldn’t be fair to make them wait for long.”

Off the top of her head, Paige could think of several reasons to say no. If she worked for Levi Gould, there would always be interviews to attend, photo ops and PR to deal with. And while all of it was good for business, it wasn’t her style. Paige liked to travel and see new things. While she would revisit places, she rarely stayed for long.

“New York is beautiful, but I’m not sure if it’s the place for me.” Having to rent an apartment in the city and take a taxi to work every day… Paige was unsure about a lot, but she knew that anything resembling a nine-to-five wasn’t in her future. She smiled at Levi to reassure him. “I’ll think about it and let you know, okay?”

“Works for me.” He gave her hand a small squeeze and turned back to the window.

Paige took a deep breath. She had ten days to decide if she was going to take a dream job and relocate her entire life to New York. The thing was, she wasn’t sure if it was her dream—or if it was just what she thought she wanted.

About the AuthorLori Fayre was born and raised in a small South Georgia town. An obsessive consumer of romance throughout all media, she knew that it was the only genre she could ever write. Love should always be full of passion and adventure, and Lori proves as much in her novels that span multiple genres and pairings. When she’s not writing love stories, she enjoys reading, sketching, and spending time with her husband and Yorkie.

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Roxy Constantine: Jam Queen by Meg Benjamin – Guest Blog and Giveaway

This post is part o a virtual book tour organized by Goddess Fish Promotions. Meg Benjamin will be awarding a $20 Amazon or Barnes and Noble GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour. Click on the tour banner to see the other stops on the tour.

Roxy Constantine: Jam Queen

At the beginning of The Pepper Peach Murder, my heroine, Roxy Constantine, has a laser focus on jam. She spends most of her time making jam, selling jam, and thinking about jam. After all, the local paper has called her “The Jam Queen of Shavano County.” She’s got a lot to live up to.

Roxy has come back to her hometown of Shavano, Colorado, after a bad experience as a line cook in Denver. It’s soured her on doing much besides concentrating on her jam company, Luscious Delights. Her business is just beginning to take off after a lot of hard work. And getting Luscious Delights off the ground has occupied most of her time. Roxy hasn’t done much in the way of socializing for the past couple of years. But thanks to her booth at the farmers market where she meets local chef, Nate Robicheaux, things may be looking up in the romance department.

Unfortunately, another Shavano chef, Brett Holmes, is trying to rain on Roxy’s parade. The two of them worked together in Denver, and even then he was someone who wouldn’t take no for an answer. Roxy doesn’t want to go out with him since he’s a definite sleaze, but he just keeps asking. And, in fact, it isn’t really asking . Brett’s demands move closer to threats, and Roxy has had enough. She tells Brett off in front of most of the vendors at the Shavano Farmers Market, which means half of Shavano gets the idea that Brett and Roxy are definitely not soulmates.

When someone kills Brett in his own kitchen a few days later, Roxy finds she’s got some major problems. A lot of people in town think she’s the killer, including the new chief of police, Ethan Fowler. Even though Roxy has an alibi, she decides she needs to investigate—Luscious Delights is in jeopardy since nobody wants to buy jam from a murderess.

Roxy’s investigation is the central focus of The Pepper Peach Murder. Well, that and her developing relationship with Nate. She’s got a lot to figure out and a lot to overcome if she’s going to maintain all she’s accomplished so far and all she wants to do in the future.

The Jam Queen of Shavano County is on the case, and she’s definitely got a lot of reasons to find the killer. Whether she can do that, particularly when she discovers some people she cares about may be involved, is another question. That’s one question she’ll have to answer if she wants to keep her title.

Roxy Constantine is the jam queen of Shavano, Colorado, and she’s fine with it. Not that things couldn’t be better. Her social life is a bust, and she’s still recovering from a bad experience as a line cook in Denver. But things are looking up when she meets local chef Nate Robicheaux. Roxy would like to get closer to Nate, but she’s fending off the unwanted attentions of another local, Brett Holmes, who won’t take no for an answer. When Brett threatens to derail Roxy’s appearance on a national cooking show, the two have a very public fight. A few days later, Brett is found murdered in his restaurant kitchen, and suddenly Roxy’s a prime suspect. Now Roxy, Nate, and her other friends must find out the truth about Brett’s background and his murderer before the town of Shavano decides Roxy’s reign as jam queen is over for good.

Enjoy an Excerpt

It would be better for him to hear it from you than to discover it on his own.

Nate’s voice still echoed in my ears. For a moment, I wished I’d asked him to come with me. But I had to face this on my own. It was my disaster, after all.

I climbed up the stairs to the front door, pausing for a moment to check the directory on the wall inside. The chief’s office was on the first floor, right down the hall. Once I turned in that direction, there’d be no going back. I’d be committed to confessing.

I walked down the corridor, feeling like I was going to the executioner’s block.

There was a receptionist for the chief’s office along with the county attorney and the sheriff. I didn’t recognize her, which was just as well. This visit wasn’t something I wanted shared on social media.

She looked up expectantly. “Yes?”

“I need to see Chief Fowler.” I was amazed that my voice was steady.

“Do you have an appointment?”

I shook my head. “He’ll want to talk to me. Tell him it’s Roxy Constantine.”

The receptionist picked up her phone and dialed a number, turning away from me as she spoke.

Of course, I wasn’t absolutely sure Fowler would want to see me. Maybe he’d be too busy. Maybe he wasn’t interested. Maybe…

The receptionist glanced up at me. “Go on in. He’ll see you now.”

So much for hope. I opened the office door and stepped inside.

Fowler was sitting at his utilitarian, city-issued desk. He gazed up at me with that same unsmiling, inscrutable look he always seemed to wear. I wondered if he ever smiled. Probably not at people like me, people he suspected of murder.

I cleared my throat. “I have some things to tell you.”

He gestured to the chair in front of his desk. “Sit down, Ms. Constantine. I’ve been expecting you.”

About the Author:Meg Benjamin is an award-winning author of romance. Meg’s Konigsburg series is set in the Texas Hill Country and her Salt Box and Brewing Love trilogies are set in the Colorado Rockies (all are available from Entangled Publishing). Her new cozy mystery series, Luscious Delights from Wild Rose Press, concerns a jam-making sleuth based in the mythical small town of Shavano, Colorado. Along with contemporary romance, Meg is also the author of the paranormal Ramos Family trilogy from Berkley InterMix and the Folk trilogy from Soul Mate. Meg’s books have won numerous awards, including an EPIC Award, a Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award, the Holt Medallion from Virginia Romance Writers, the Beanpot Award from the New England Romance Writers, and the Award of Excellence from Colorado Romance Writers.

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Sanctuary for a Surgeon by Jason Wrench – Spotlight and Giveaway

Long and Short Reviews welcomes Jason Wrench, who is celebrating today’s release of Sanctuary for a Surgeon, the third book in the Up on the Farm series. Enter the rafflecopter at the end of the post for the chance to win a $50.00 First for Romance Gift Card! Competition hosted by Totally Entwined Group.

Finding love in the sanctuary of nature and another man’s arms.

Darrin Betancourt is a trauma surgeon in his early thirties living in New York City. His world gets thrown upside down after his husband dies in a car accident. Can Darrin get his act together and learn to love again before his life spirals out of control? His friends convince him to attend an all-gay retreat outside Woodstock. Begrudgingly, Darrin agrees to spend a weekend in nature, out of the city.

Jordan Floyd is a twenty-four-year-old farmhand who works for Devereux Farms Upstate just outside Woodstock. Jordan gets permission from his bosses to attend Camp Namast-Gay at the Woodstock Esoteric Sanctuary.

Darrin and Jordan end up in adjacent cabins. Can the two men take their friendship to a whole new level before the weekend is over? Or will disaster strike, derailing both of their lives and their burgeoning love?

Reader advisory: This book contains public sex and voyeurism.

Enjoy an Excerpt

The last six-and-a-half months had been a living nightmare. There had been funeral arrangements and memorial services to organize and attend. Then there had been the months of pitying stares. I had become a recluse. I hadn’t wanted to deal with friends and coworkers. I had gone to work then gone home. When I ran out of excuses to avoid their offers, I had occasional meals with them. My life had shattered. Richard had recommended therapy on more than one occasion because I was clearly depressed. Of course I was depressed. The man I loved had died.

Chance had been one of three people who had been directly in the vehicle’s path when it had run through the crowd. After the NYPD investigation, it was ruled an accident. The car’s tire had blown after hitting a metal object in the street, which had caused the driver to lose control of the vehicle. She had tried to regain it but couldn’t. I heard through the grapevine that she was now being treated at an inpatient psychiatric facility upstate after she had attempted suicide. The woman hadn’t been ready for the media scrutiny and the accident’s fallout in her life. Part of me was glad she’d had a mental breakdown, but that was the evil, vindictive side. Another part was sorry for her. As horrible as it was, accidents happened. I saw accidents every day. Some were preventable. Some were not.

I had agreed to another Sunday brunch with Bryce and Richard. I hadn’t wanted to go, but I found myself at their door with a bottle of wine. I plastered on my best fake smile and knocked.

“Just a second,” Richard’s voice rang from the other side. A few seconds later, the door opened. “Darrin, we’re so glad you could make it. Brunch is almost ready.” He ushered me inside the townhouse as he kept talking. “We’re having a quiche I whipped up from scratch. It has a smattering of vegetables with sausage and bacon. I also threw together a mixed green salad and a raspberry tart for dessert.” I handed him the bottle of wine. Richard inspected it and nodded before saying, “Good choice.”

Bryce came from the backroom. “How are you doing?” he asked me.

“I’m doing…” I left the phrase hanging in the air.

“Well,” Bryce said without acknowledging the ambiguity of my statement, “at least you’re up and moving around.”

I forced a smile and followed Bryce and Richard into the small dining room. The table was set for three. As usual, Richard had set an immaculate table that would make Emily Post jealous. Bryce motioned to a chair, and I took a seat as Richard left.

“So, how are things in your world?” I asked, breaking the silence.

“Richard and I are doing well. We’ve been looking into surrogacy again. I think Richard’s biological clock is ticking. He wants a baby.”

“I heard that,” Richard’s voice echoed from the kitchen next to the dining room. Richard walked in with the salad and placed it in the middle of the table. “And don’t let this one fool you,” he said, sticking his thumb in Bryce’s direction. “He wants to be a doting father as much as I do. We have a lot of love to give a little one.”

“Why not adopt?” I asked.

“We talked about that,” Bryce acknowledged, “but ultimately we want to have a little baby. We have thought about having one through surrogacy, then adopting her or him a little brother or sister.”

“Two kids?” I asked.

“Don’t be so shocked,” Richard said, returning to the dining room with the quiche. “I’m doing more and more of my work from home. After the pandemic, the firm has embraced remote work, so the timing couldn’t be more perfect.”

Richard set about serving up the quiche. We spent the next hour talking about a range of topics deemed ‘safe’ by the group.

After an appropriate amount of time once we’d all eaten, I looked at Bryce and Richard and said, “Well, I need to get to the gym before taking a nap. I’m working the ten-to-ten shift tonight.”

“Let me put together a to-go box for you,” Richard said. “I worry that you’re not getting enough home-cooked food.”

Sadly, he was right. Most nights I grabbed takeout or heated something from a box in the microwave. “Thanks,” I said. “It would be much appreciated. You can only eat takeout Chinese so many days in a row.”

When Richard left the dining room, Bryce turned and stared at me. For the first time that day, he put on his serious face.

“I’m worried about you,” Bryce said. “I know it’s only been six months, but you’ve almost completely shut down.”

“I’m still grieving. Is there an appropriate amount of time one should grieve?”

“No, there’s not,” Bryce said hesitantly. “But I worry that you’re not making progress toward getting healthy. Have you reconsidered Richard’s suggestion about therapy?”

“I don’t need a shrink… I need time.” I blinked back tears that had started to swell in my eyes. “I need him back.” I was amazed when the words came out of my mouth.

“I know. We all miss him,” Bryce said. He looked at me for a second, and I could tell he was trying to plan what to say next. “I don’t know how I would react if Richard died, so I won’t presume to tell you how you’re supposed to behave. I won’t. But I will say I’m worried.”

“Thanks…” He meant well. Part of me wanted to come back with a snarky comment, but I held my tongue. “Each day is a little better,” I lied.

“Here’s your to-go box,” Richard said, breezing back into the dining room. He took one look at the serious faces in the room. “Did I miss something?”

“Not at all,” I said, using the break in the conversation to my advantage. “Thank you for an amazing meal and lovely company, but I must get to the gym.”

Bryce looked like he wanted to say something, but he kept his words to himself, which suited me just fine. I said goodbyes and hugged both men before going home to change and head off to the gym.

About the Author Jason Wrench is a professor in the Department of Communication at SUNY New Paltz and has authored/edited 15+ books and over 35 academic research articles. He is also an avid reader and regularly reviews books for publishers in a wide number of genres. This book marks his first full-length work of fiction.

Website | First for Romance

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