'I love you' is just the beginning of the story.

Cover Reveal: What About Now by Grace Duncan!

WhatAboutNowFSWhat About Now
Dreamspinner Press
Cover by Reese Dante
Release date: 5/9/2016
100k words
Preorder:
Ebook: http://bit.ly/1q9U75b
Paperback: http://bit.ly/1SsdMDx

 

Blurb:

Five years ago, everything went wrong.

Braden Kirk and Rafe Jessen’s long-term relationship started unraveling. They stopped talking, fears mounted, then Braden walked in on Rafe and another man, completely misreading the situation. Without giving Rafe a chance to explain, Braden walks out. Out of their home, their relationship, and the game development company they started together in college.

After months of therapy to deal with the attempted rape Braden walked in on, Rafe begins to understand that his dominant tendencies in the bedroom aren’t a bad thing and that Braden’s submission is likely what scared his partner into silence. But Rafe isn’t ready to let go of the man he loves more than life itself. He arranges for himself and Braden to end up on the same charity cruise, knowing Braden won’t let his phobia—terror of vast, deep waters—rule him.

With a plan and twenty-eight days, Rafe is determined to get Braden back, make him see there’s nothing wrong with being submissive, and find a way to get Braden to stay with him when they get home to LA.

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Excerpt:

Braden stared at the monstrosity that was to be his home for the next four weeks. He shifted his weight from foot to foot as he tried to remind himself this was a good idea. He was helping a charity he felt strongly about. He really did need a vacation.

He kept telling himself that as he moved forward with the rest of the passengers along the ramp to the gangway. He’d heeded his cruise-veteran mother’s advice and arrived after two so he could go straight to his room. She’d mentioned if he went earlier, he could eat while on the ship, but Braden was delaying boarding as long as possible. Since they were set to depart at four and it appeared most of the passengers had already boarded, Braden had gone from curb to gangway in what he felt was much too little time.

He didn’t know if he was ready to step on that ship.

Braden shook his head at himself, went through the open doorway, smiled at the uniformed lady on the other side, and nodded at something she said. He had no idea what it was, possibly directions to somewhere. He was a bit too overwhelmed at the moment to worry about it. He figured there’d be maps. He could handle that.

He didn’t know if he could handle being trapped in a ship, even one as huge as this one. In the middle of the ocean. For four weeks.

He was committed now. Braden blinked when he was offered what looked like a glass of champagne. Deciding alcohol could only help, he took the offered drink. He half expected to hand over his card—his mother told him they sometimes charged for drinks—but the lady simply smiled. He managed to say “thank you” and moved farther down the hallway, hoisting his backpack, the only carry-on he’d bothered with, a little higher on his shoulder.

But before he got too far, he stopped dead again. He knew he probably looked a bit like a fish, his mouth gaping, but he couldn’t help it. He looked up, then up, and farther up still as he took in the huge atrium.

Plants, marble, wood, glass, and gold seemed to be everywhere. Glass-backed elevators rose to his right, with a white grand piano nestled between them. Groupings of chairs set around glass tables created cozy chatting areas, scattered around the space. Across from him, he could just see the front of a shop, and off to the other side, what looked to be a florist. A three-story fountain poured along still more marble off to his left. And a pair of glass-and-gold curved staircases led to the second and third floors.

Someone bumped into Braden and he shook his head again, cheeks reddening. “Sorry,” he mumbled, moving out of the way. He remembered the glass in his hand and downed the fizzy drink in one long gulp.

He needed to get out of public for a few moments and collect himself. He was being ridiculous and he knew it. With another head shake, he looked down at the paper he’d been handed when he checked in and saw a map—or more like a series of maps of each of the decks. In the upper right, he found the ship name and a list of abbreviations below it that made no sense to him. He ignored those and looked at the tiny maps. A big red arrow pointed to the center of the right-most map. Braden guessed that was this atrium.

He scowled at his boarding pass, then at the map, and squinted at the ridiculously tiny numbers. He had good eyesight but could barely make them out. Where the hell was he supposed to go?

He went back to his boarding pass and found his room listing. Emerald Deck, stateroom E519. Well, he could find the deck, then worry about his room. According to the map, he had three flights up to go, so he headed for the curved stairs in the middle of the room. He paused long enough to leave the glass on a table, then started up the closest set of steps.

It didn’t take him long to find the right deck. They were, at least, clearly marked by big brass plaques between the elevators on each floor. So, a moment later, he was walking along the hallway toward midship on the correct deck and was counting down numbers. He breathed a sigh of relief when he finally stood in front of the correct door.

Braden’s first impression was that his parents had spent an absurd amount of money for him to live in a closet for a month. It seemed impossibly small, despite the queen-sized bed—or perhaps because of it. Braden didn’t know, but there was barely enough space to move around the bed. The tiny desk didn’t look deep enough to hold his laptop, and the LCD television mounted to the wall was even smaller than the pictures made it look.

His luggage wasn’t there yet, but he’d been expecting that. His mother had told him it wouldn’t show up until a few hours, at least, after he got there. He set his backpack on his bed and slipped around it to peer out the window.

He’d agonized over that decision for what felt like forever. He had no wish to look at the vast deep waters, but he wasn’t much fonder of being closed in. Then he’d discovered the obstructed-view rooms and was relieved to find he could have light without having to look at the water.

When he pulled the curtain aside, he was happy to see lots of blue sky… and a huge red lifeboat. If he stood on tiptoes, he could just glimpse the water, but that was fine with him.

Braden let the curtain go, and turned back to his room, dropping onto the side of the bed. He rested his face in his hands and forced himself to breathe deeply. Inhale. Exhale. Repeat. He hated big bodies of water. Well, hated seemed… mild. He was, in a word, terrified.

But he’d agreed to go. He’d accepted the ticket his parents wanted to buy him, especially when they’d explained it was to benefit the house he’d been helping raise money for, to provide shelter for homeless LGBT youth. He’d seriously considered buying the ticket himself and just not going on the cruise, but his mother convinced him he was letting fear rule him and the vacation was more than needed.

She was right about that. Braden had spent more of the last nine months quite literally at his office than in his apartment. As the lead developer on a new game his company was finalizing, he’d put in upward of eighteen hours almost every day. Once the game went live and their first update completed and released, he had no more excuses. He’d earned plenty of money, which he hadn’t spent while practically living at work. His boss had pretty much ordered him to take a month off. When the cruise came up, he knew there was no reasonable reason for him to not accept.

Braden didn’t like the idea of letting his fears rule him. His terror of deep waters had bothered him for years, but he’d managed to avoid the ocean for the most part, despite living in Los Angeles. He’d once had help with that, but that help was gone and it was up to him to face his fear, now, alone.

His mother had pointed out that he didn’t need to spend a lot of time at the railings. He could stay in the lounges, read his Kindle at the pool—which didn’t scare him—or in any of a dozen inside places, work out in the gym, or watch shows in the inside theater. He didn’t need to expose himself unnecessarily.

What he hadn’t told his mother was there was another reason he didn’t necessarily want to go. Exactly the same one, he was sure, she had for pushing him so hard to go on this cruise in the first place. The charity group functions on the ship focused on gathering LGBT singles. And while Braden knew there were more than a few lesbians on the ship, the coordinator had told him the larger portion of their group of more than three hundred was made up of gay or bisexual men. It didn’t take Sherlock Holmes to deduce his mother wanted him to find someone.

Braden loved his mother and would do almost anything for her, but he had no interest in that whatsoever. He’d avoided relationships for the last five years and had no intention of breaking that record. When he’d walked out of the last one, he promised himself he wouldn’t make the same mistakes again. He refused to admit his insistence on not dating had as much to do with the fact that he still loved the man.

He rubbed his face hard and took a deep breath, then sat up. For good or ill, he was on the ship and staying. He’d be damned if he let his fears dictate his actions—whether that was his fear of the ocean or of getting hurt, it didn’t matter. They would not rule him, neither of them.

He stood up and snatched up his bag, opened it, and pulled out the information sheet from the group coordinator. He found the location for the group welcome reception, consulted the map, then stuffed it in his pocket. After stowing his wallet and money in the safe, he snatched up the card that served as identification, payment, and key while on board and headed out.

With any luck there’d be an open bar. The champagne in the atrium hadn’t been nearly enough.

 

 

Rafe Jessen stepped quickly into an alcove and waited for the man to pass. He hoped he wouldn’t be seen or at least recognized. After all, the man had no idea he was even on the ship and thus wouldn’t be expecting to see him. Which was exactly what Rafe wanted. For now, anyway.

When he was sure it was clear, he stepped out and walked along the same hallway. A couple flights of stairs and a few turns later, he found a quiet corner of the Explorer’s Lounge where they were holding the welcome reception. He held a slightly weaker rum and Coke than he usually liked—but didn’t much mind, since it was free—and settled in to watch the man he’d been waiting to see again for what felt like forever.

He didn’t look happy. That was the first thing Rafe noticed. The brown hair was a bit longer than he remembered and currently disheveled, as if he’d run his fingers through it a lot. Rafe smiled. Braden had been guilty of doing that quite a bit when something didn’t work in the game he was developing.

The blue eyes looked a bit sadder. Well, maybe not than the last time Rafe saw them. The last time he’d seen them, they’d been spitting the blue fire of Braden’s rage. Now, they were sad. But Rafe remembered when those eyes crinkled at the corners with humor. He remembered heat and want. He remembered love. All for him.

Rafe hated that he was the one to put that sadness there. And as it had for five long years, that knowledge still pierced him. He finished the rum and Coke and waved at the bartender for another, never taking eyes off the man he’d never stopped loving. Braden stood barely thirty feet away and didn’t know he was there. Rafe’s heart thudded, his throat closed, and he reminded himself to breathe. Take air in. Let it go.

As he started in on his second rum and Coke, he drank in the lean frame he knew hid muscles and strength—both mental and physical. He ate up the quick smile Braden flashed at their charity coordinator, Janie, who’d made a joke. And he reminded himself he was on that ship for a reason, and with any luck, the plan he had would work.

It had to. He’d been without Braden for far too long.

Five years. Five years that felt like an eternity.

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noh8Grace Duncan grew up with a wild imagination.  She told stories from an early age – many of which got her into trouble.  Eventually, she learned to channel that imagination into less troublesome areas, including fanfiction, which is what has led her to writing male/male erotica.

A gypsy in her own right, Grace has lived all over the United States.  She has currently set up camp in East Texas with her husband and children – both the human and furry kind.

As one of those rare creatures who loves research, Grace can get lost for hours on the internet, reading up on any number of strange and different topics.  She can also be found writing fanfiction, reading fantasy, crime, suspense, romance and other erotica or even dabbling in art.

Find Grace here:

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Release Day: “Al cuor si comanda” (First Comes Marriage)

Today is release day for the Italian translation of First Comes Marriage: Al cuor si comanda! The book is now available for download from Dreamspinner Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other booksellers. I’m so excited to see the book in Italian!

For those readers who may not already know, First Comes Marriage is the second book in the brand new Dreamspun Desires line and is an honest to goodness “category romance.” The term comes from the old tradition of publishing a certain number of books on a monthly basis in a certain category. You remember these. When I was a kid, they were the Harlequin and Silhouette romances that were shipped, 4 books a month, on subscription.

Category romances were sweet, sometimes funny, standalone stories with a yummy happy ending. These were romances that made you feel good. For me, I remember being an angsty teen and reading these books. They made my heart pound, made my arms ache, and gave me that rush of “oh yeah!” at the end of the story that made me want to devour more romances.

When I was working on First Comes Marriage, I did a lot of thinking about what makes a classic category romance make me feel so damn good. I read a few of the old romances, and I really thought about what makes them work for a reader like me. My husband, the scientist, would call that “reverse engineering.” It was a bit like eating a really good piece of cake and figuring out what ingredients went into it because you don’t have the recipe!

So what’s the recipe?

Take two main characters and ratchet up the heat. I’m talking a very slow burn that builds until you are fanning yourself and ready to scream, “Tell him you love him already!” Or at least, “Tell him you want to have sex with him already!” Stir in something that presents a bit of a sticking point for both characters and threatens to keep them apart. Nothing too angsty here, just something they have to overcome separately or, even better, together. Add a secondary character or two who just might derail the budding romance or help it happen for our main characters. Add doubts and stir again. Little niggles or fears. Maybe sprinkle a little misunderstanding in while you’re at it.

Pour all the ingredients into a pan and bake it at high temperature. What do you get? Sexy, sweet, and spicy romance that tastes as good as tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich on a cold day, or maybe some really good mac ‘n cheese. We’re not talking prime rib that you eat with expensive French wine, but the kind of meal that leaves you satisfied and smiling. Simply fun and feel-good fare. -Shira

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Il loro matrimonio doveva essere solo una questione d’affari…

Quando Chris Valentine, scrittore in cerca di editore, incontra Jesse Donovan, è interessato a un contratto letterario o magari a un appuntamento. L’ultima cosa che si aspetta è una proposta di matrimonio dallo scapolo d’oro di New York!

Jesse è nei guai. Per mantenere il controllo della sua compagnia deve sposarsi, perciò offre a Chris un accordo: dovrà vivere nella sua splendida villa per un anno e recitare la parte del marito devoto. In cambio avrà tutto il tempo per scrivere e, al termine del contratto, se ne andrà via con un milione di dollari. Chris ce la può fare. Sì, ce la può fare a vivere con l’uomo più bello e affettuoso che abbia mai incontrato, un uomo che lui desidera disperatamente e non può avere. Perché, quando serve, al cuor si comanda. O forse no?

Dreamspinner Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble
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Excerpt from Chapter One

MENTRE LA folla applaudiva la sua seconda lettura, Chris Valentine fece un profondo respiro. Non era rimasta neanche una sedia vuota e almeno una dozzina di persone era rimasta in piedi in fondo alla sala, mentre lui e altri due scrittori leggevano degli estratti dai loro libri. Ora, mentre lo stormo irritato di farfalle nel suo stomaco si calmava, pensava meno all’esito della lettura e più a quanto fosse incredibilmente affamato.

 

Chris aveva perso il conto delle volte che aveva letto brani della sua trilogia fantasy-fantascientifica al Baker’s Literary Café, ma quella sera si era sentito particolarmente nervoso poiché il libro a cui stava attualmente lavorando, Avventurieri del tempo, era completamente diverso da ciò che aveva scritto in precedenza. Non ne aveva parlato nemmeno con Val, la sua coinquilina, e non sapeva spiegarsi come mai, sull’onda del momento, avesse deciso di leggerne un breve passaggio. Non gli era mai piaciuto correre rischi.

 

“La sua lettura mi è piaciuta molto.” Una donna si alzò dalla prima fila di sedie e tese la mano a Chris. “Rhonda Wexler.” I suoi riccioli rosso vivo ondeggiavano mentre parlava con labbra colorate da un rossetto nero. Dietro di lei si era raccolta una piccola folla che aspettava paziente di salutarlo. Chris riconobbe alcuni volti nuovi e la solita folla del martedì sera.

 

Sorrise e strinse la mano della donna, e quel contatto l’aiutò a sciogliere un po’ della tensione che ancora gli restava. “Piacere di conoscerla, Rhonda.”

 

“Ho letto il primo volume quando era disponibile come lettura gratuita. Ha intenzione di auto pubblicare anche gli altri volumi o venderà la trilogia alle case editrici di New York?” chiese Rhonda porgendogli il suo biglietto da visita, spostandosi da un piede all’altro nelle sue Dr Martens.

 

“Ne ho contattate alcune, ma finora non ho avuto fortuna.” Il primo volume non aveva venduto male su Amazon, ma al di fuori della crescente cerchia dei suoi ammiratori non aveva avuto molto seguito e i diritti d’autore non l’avevano aiutato granché con l’affitto.

 

“S-Signor Valentine?” chiamò qualcuno alle sue spalle. Chris si voltò e tese la mano al nuovo arrivato. “Jesse Donovan.”

 

Dopo una rapida occhiata, Chris si chiese se l’uomo non fosse per caso venuto ad ascoltare le letture degli altri autori o se non fosse entrato nel locale sbagliato. Poco più alto di lui, con capelli castano-rossicci e una leggera ombra di barba sulla mascella, Jesse appariva del tutto fuori posto in quel mare di goth e steampunk. Vestito con una camicia perfettamente stirata, un cappotto sportivo e un paio di jeans, guardava Chris da dietro un paio di occhiali dalla montatura color borgogna. I suoi brillanti occhi azzurri gli fecero accelerare il cuore.

 

“Piacere di conoscerti, Jesse.”

 

Il leggero imbarazzo negli occhi dell’uomo sorprese Chris, ma svanì non appena Jesse gli strinse la mano con fermezza. “Hai fatto un ottimo lavoro stasera,” disse togliendosi gli occhiali e riponendoli nel taschino del cappotto. “E il nuovo libro mi è piaciuto molto.”

 

“Credo che tu sia stato l’unico,” replicò lui. Non si aspettava che il suo ultimo romanzo avesse successo tra i suoi lettori abituali, per cui non era rimasto molto deluso dall’applauso di cortesia. Il realismo magico poteva essere popolare nei circoli letterari, ma non era di certo ciò per cui i suoi lettori amanti del fantasy andavano matti.

 

“Non fraintendermi, mi piacciono le Cronache di Valhron,” continuò Jesse con entusiasmo, “ma il nuovo lavoro è qualcosa di unico. Non vedo l’ora di leggerlo, appena sarà completato,” concluse con un sorriso caloroso.

 

Jesse aveva letto davvero i suoi libri, il che rese Chris ancora più curioso. “Grazie.”

 

Dopo un attimo di esitazione, aggiunse: “Mi piacerebbe aiutarti a far arrivare il tuo lavoro nelle mani giuste.” Gli porse il suo biglietto da visita. “Chiamami. Possiamo incontrarci per un caffè o per quello che preferisci.”

 

“Grazie.” Quindi Jesse era l’agente che si diceva avrebbe partecipato alla serata. Chris avrebbe certamente accettato la sua offerta, se non altro per capire come far pubblicare i suoi libri a New York.

 

In quel momento, due donne abbigliate in vestiti da passeggio vittoriani si fecero largo tra la folla e si scontrarono con Jesse. Chris l’afferrò per un braccio giusto in tempo per evitargli di cadere; il profumo di bergamotto e agrumi della sua acqua di colonia gli solleticò il naso quando l’uomo si aggrappò alla sua spalla. Jesse incontrò il suo sguardo e lo fissò quasi con sorpresa. Chris desiderò per un attimo che Jesse non fosse un agente e che l’invito non fosse stato fatto per discutere di affari.

 

“Scusaaate!” esclamò una delle donne con una risatina.

 

“Nessun problema,” disse Jesse ritrovando l’equilibrio e ritraendo la mano dal braccio di Chris.

 

“Carmine era così ansiosa di vederti che ha spinto con troppa foga,” spiegò l’altra donna, mentre Carmine guardava Chris esterrefatta.

 

“Ti lascio ai tuoi fan adoranti,” disse Jesse con un mezzo sorriso. “Chiamami appena puoi.” E sparì prima che Chris potesse replicare.

 

 

 

 

 

DUE BRACCIA muscolose avvolsero Chris in un forte abbraccio non appena rientrò nel suo appartamento. “Sei stato fantastico!” esclamò Terry stringendolo con tanta forza da farlo restare senza fiato.

 

“Terry, amico, lo sai che ti voglio bene, ma…”

 

“Anche a Val è piaciuto,” continuò Terry lasciandolo andare e sorridendo alla fidanzata, che stava sistemando a tavola delle pizze.

 

Val sorrise a Chris attraverso la frangia troppo lunga e annuì. “Hai fatto un ottimo lavoro. Non riuscivo più a reggere Terry. Era così entusiasta della parte sul mago perduto che c’è mancato poco che si perdesse anche lui.”

 

“Non avrei mai dovuto dirtelo che mi sono ispirato a te. Ti sei montato troppo la testa.”

 

“Accettalo per quello che è,” replicò Terry con un ampio sorriso. “Riconoscenza per l’immensa fantasticità del tuo coinquilino.”

 

“Coinquilini,” lo corresse Val.

 

“I migliori coinquilini del mondo,” convenne Chris. “Soprattutto perché non mi avete ancora cacciato di casa.”

 

“Si diceva in sala che stasera sarebbe stato presente un importante agente,” disse Val addentando la sua pizza alla diavola.

 

“E c’era,” confermò Chris estraendo dal taschino il biglietto da visita di Jesse e mostrandolo ai due amici.

 

“E questo era quel tipo alto, attraente e dai capelli ramati?” chiese Val guardando il biglietto. “Quel tipo sexy col quale stavi parlando prima dell’arrivo delle due sorelle steampunk?”

 

“Esatto. Ha detto che vuole mettermi in contatto con qualcuno a…”

 

“Ma questo non è un agente,” disse la ragazza leggendo il nome e spalancando gli occhi.

 

Chris lanciò un’occhiata a Terry, che si limitò a scrollare le spalle. “Cosa?” Addentò un boccone di pizza e si accigliò.

 

“Questo Jesse Donovan è l’amministratore delegato della Windview Enterprises,” spiegò Val, sperando che il nome suonasse familiare all’amico.

 

“Mai sentito nominare.”

 

“Davvero? L’anno scorso era sulla copertina di New York View, sul loro numero dedicato allo scapolo d’oro dell’anno. Era in tutte le edicole.”

 

Chris scoppiò a ridere. “Il fatto che io sia gay non significa che compro tutte le riviste con uomini attraenti in copertina.”

 

Val diventò fucsia. “Non intendevo dire… Cioè… Non è perché…”

 

Terry sbuffò e diede il cinque a Chris. “È gay, Val,” intervenne Terry, “e questo non significa che voglia attaccarsi foto di uomini attraenti sulle pareti della camera. Anche se, Val, mi pare di ricordare che tu avessi un poster di Chris Pine in camera tua al coll…”

 

“Stai zitto,” lo interruppe la ragazza dandogli una spinta che lo fece finire sul divano, mentre l’altro rideva fino a tossire.

 

“Ammettilo, Chris,” disse l’amico ansimando. “Quest’uomo è proprio il tuo tipo.”

 

Terry aveva ragione. Jesse era proprio il tipo con cui lui usciva di solito: alto, atletico e sicuro di sé, ma non in modo arrogante. Non che a Chris interessasse fare sul serio. Anche se nel Paese erano tutti in preda all’isteria per i matrimoni, a lui non interessavano una casa col recinto bianco e un gregge di bambini.

 

“Ed è totalmente etero,” aggiunse Val scuotendo la testa. “Di recente è stato sulle pagine di gossip per via di un’ereditiera. Due miei amici hanno scommesso che la sposerà, ma io ho scommesso cento dollari che resterà single.”

 

Terry sollevò lo sguardo al cielo, guadagnandosi un’altra occhiataccia da parte di Val.

 

“Di cosa si occupa la Windview Enterprises?” chiese Chris, più curioso di quanto volesse ammettere. Non gli interessava molto il motivo per cui Jesse Donovan fosse famoso, ma voleva indagare.

 

“Yacht,” rispose Val. “Molto grandi. Quelli su cui scorrazzano le star nei loro microscopici bikini.”

 

Figurati.

 

“E anche hotel. Case di lusso per le vacanze nei Caraibi e cose del genere. Oh, e hanno anche una linea commerciale che costruisce superpetroliere.”

 

“Come fai a sapere tutte queste cose?” chiese Chris.

 

“Le ho lette su People,” ammise Val, arrossendo sotto lo sguardo interrogativo di Terry. “Be’, devo pur leggere qualcosa quando sono in metropolitana.”

 

“Non è esattamente il genere di letture per una dottoranda in letteratura del XIX secolo,” osservò Chris.

 

“Lo chiamerai?” chiese Terry sbadigliando.

 

“E perché no? Anche se non è un agente, potrebbe essere in grado di mettermi in contatto con uno.” Chris prese il biglietto dalla mano di Val e se lo rigirò tra le dita. In quel momento notò, sul retro, un numero scritto a mano e l’annotazione numero privato.

 

“Vuoi un’altra fetta?” chiese Val.

 

Chris scosse la testa. “Sono pieno. E domani devo fare il turno del pomeriggio,” disse radunando i piatti e dirigendosi verso la cucina.

 

“Mi racconterai tutto, vero?” domandò Val mentre lo aiutava a lavarli.

 

“Certo. Probabilmente è uno stronzo.” Chris rise.

 

“Tanto meglio. E guarda che ci conto!” ribatté con un sorriso Val.

 

Her eyes grew wide. Had she expected him to just roll over and play dead? “I… I prefer not to. It’s a waste if it’s only me.”

This doubly surprised Chris, that she’d consider the expense and that she’d admit it. “Sounds reasonable.”

“You’re not what I expected,” she said.

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About Shira

Shira Anthony is a complete sucker for a happily-ever-after, and rarely reads or writes a story without one. Never a fan of instalove, Shira likes to write stories about real men with real issues making real relationships work.

In her last incarnation, Shira was a professional opera singer, performing roles in such operas as “Tosca,” “i Pagliacci,” and “La Traviata,” among others. She’s given up TV for evenings spent with her laptop, and she never goes anywhere without a pile of unread M/M romance on her Kindle.

Shira is married with two children and two insane dogs, and when she’s not writing she is usually in a courtroom trying to make the world safer for children. When she’s not working, she can be found aboard a 36’ catamaran at the Carolina coast with her favorite sexy captain at the wheel.

Interested in hearing Shira sing? Here’s a link to a live performance of Shira singing an aria from Puccini’s “Tosca”: http://www.shiraanthony.com/wp-conten…

You can subscribe to Shira’s monthly newsletter for updates, free fiction, and subscriber-only contests here: http://www.shiraanthony.com/newsletter/

Where to find the author:

Facebook | Facebook Author Page | Twitter | Pinterest | Goodreads | Google+

 

Birds Do It, Mermen Do It – Merman Sex 101 NSFW

Back by popular demand! Now that the Mermen of Ea Series is complete both in book andMermeanofEa2 audiobook formats, I thought it would be fun to revisit one of the most popular posts on my blog. Yep. You got it. The merman sex blog post.

When I’m at conferences or even online chatting about my books, the question of how mermen “do it” invariably arises. It’s a question I spent some time answering, and, believe it or not, researching.

I haven’t read a lot of “shifter” books, but I started writing the Mermen of Ea Series, I knew I wanted the two main characters, Taren and Ian, to have sex in their shifted form. Because at its core, the Mermen of Ea Series is a love story and, well, people in love do have sex. (I know you’re shocked!). I’ve never been very shy about writing explicit sex in my books. Frankly, it’s no surprise that men in love (or lust) have sex. In all of my books, I write explicit sex, in large part because IntoWindI see it as a way to develop the emotional relationship between my characters. Rarely will I write a sex scene just for the titillation factor. So when I decided to write merman sex, I knew it needed to be more than just “insert tab A into slot B” sex. It needed to have a visceral connection to the characters and to the ocean they inhabit when in their shifted forms.

The mermen of Ea (Ea, pronounced “Ey-ah”, is the name the mermen give their race), are powerful beings in their shifted forms. Broader and more muscled than when in their human forms, they are also highly sexual when they transform. For the two main characters in the Mermen of Ea Series, Ian and Taren, the sex comes out of their deep, enduring connection (they are reincarnated lovers who find each other again).

So, let’s get down to basics. How does merman sex work? I based my mermen not on fish (let’s face it, fish just aren’t that sexy!) but on dolphins, since they’re mammals like StealingTheWindFShumans. So the sexy bits are really the same, regardless of their form. The difference is that, in their mermen forms, Taren and Ian have sheathed penises, rather than external ones. Just like dolphins, a little arousal coaxes the penis from its fold in the merman’s tail (dogs are similar in this way). So that’s the basic premise. But the fun part (in my opinion), comes in the way mermen have sex.

Mermen, much like dolphins, have a mating dance or ritual. Yes, I studied dolphin sex videos on the web! You’ll find lots of them because dolphins really like to have sex, and parents like to video their kids at aquariums (which can make for some awkward moments when Little Johnny points and says, “Mommy, what’s that thing that just popped out of the dolphin’s tail?”). Here’s a link to one of the videos, in case you’re interested. Back to the dance, though….

Mermen, like their dolphin cousins, swim in circles around each other in a mating dance. They nip playfully at each other, brush their lips against each other’s skin, and even use RunningWithTheWind-colorsREVthe sharp barbs at the end of their wrists to gently scrape at each other and arouse their mates. And, my favorite part, borrowing a bit from whales: mermen sing. Yes, sing. Their heartsong can’t be heard above the water, but it’s a beautiful and haunting melody that adds to the romance of their sexual contact.

One last bit to share about merman sex? Mermen communicate telepathically under the water, since sound doesn’t travel easily there. And added benefit of this? When one merman climaxes, his partner experiences the orgasm as if he himself is climaxing. Double the fun.

I’ll leave you with a partial NSFW merman sex excerpt from Chapter 2 of Into the Wind, the sequel to Stealing the Wind (yes, there’s more to the scene, but you’ll have to read the book to see how it ends!). In this scene, Taren and his soul mate, Ian, play underneath the water in a moment of calm before the storm.

The Mermen of Ea books are high fantasy and high romance set on the high seas (and beneath them!). I hope you’ll join me on the epic journey of Taren and Ian, as they fight for their own future and the future of their people, the mermen of Ea. –Shira

StealingtheWind_headerbannerExcerpt from Into the Wind (Mermen of Ea #2)

Taren flicked his tail to propel him around so that he and Ian swam toward each other, arms extended, then moved upward as they laced their fingers together and floated perpendicular to the sea floor. They kissed and their tongues entwined. Ian tasted of the ocean and of the promise of Taren’s new life. Their former incarnations, Treande and Owyn, had been equals in everything. Partners, friends, lovers. Taren both relished and feared the power of his connection to Ian and the unexpected turn of fate that had brought them together, as well as the revelations of their past.

With a grin, Taren spun around so that he faced Ian’s tail. He rotated his arm so that the sharp tines that ran from his fingers to his wrist grazed the slick surface. He’d learned how to retract the barbs so they would not injure; he’d also learned that if used properly, the gentle scrape of the barbs was a sensual treat Ian could not resist.

“Goddess!” Ian shouted in his mind. “Is it your wish to render me completely helpless with lust?”

Taren repressed a chuckle as he continued to stroke Ian’s body. He might not be able to best Ian with his physical prowess, but he knew he held a stronger power over Ian. He relished the thought that he possessed Ian’s heart and soul, for it made his own uncontrollable hunger to be near Ian bearable.

Ian moaned as Taren slipped a finger inside the opening at the base of his tail to coax forth his member. When it emerged, hard and proud, Taren took it in his mouth, ran his tongue over its veined surface, then swallowed it until his lips met the base. As he pulled and teased, he pressed a finger in Ian’s other fold. Ian keened to meet the intruder and begged Taren for more as Taren slipped a second finger inside to Ian’s stuttered gasp. Taren knew Ian loved it when he directed their lovemaking, although Taren preferred to take a less aggressive role. It sometimes surprised Taren, though, how Ian was able to cede control to him.

For Taren, the balance of power between them felt familiar. Taren guessed that he and Ian had tangled like this before, shifted in and out of dominance in their relationship as well as in their mating. Taren knew his prior life guided him, but much of what he shared with Ian still felt new and exciting. As he often did, Taren gave himself over to the memory and allowed his body to dictate his movements. He reached around Ian and clasped the place where his buttocks would have been had he been in his human form. The skin there was smooth and slippery, so Taren dug in his nails just deeply enough to maintain his grip. Ian’s rumbled pleasure was an added incentive.

“Taren!” Ian writhed under Taren’s ministrations, his movements propelling them forward and making them spin.

Tiny bubbles effervesced over Taren’s sensitive skin, tickling and caressing, adding to the hypnotic mating dance, stirring his desire. He sucked harder and slipped a third finger inside Ian.

Ian’s climax washed over them both. With each gasp, with each shudder of Ian’s body, Taren felt the thrill of Ian’s release as if it were his own. He wondered if he’d ever get used to the sensation of sharing in his lover’s climax or if it would remain one of the great wonders of his dual form.

“Fuck me,” Ian gasped as he convulsed once again. “Do it now.” Rarely did Ian ask Taren to take him, although this also felt familiar.

Taren caught his breath and pinned Ian against the sand by his wrists. Ian’s eyes were glassy from his release, his breathing shallow. Taren sucked and bit at his nipples, then smiled broadly as he felt Ian’s heart race at the contact.

“Please. Taren,” Ian begged. “Take me.”

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First Comes Marriage: Cooking up a Classic Category Romance

FirstComeMarriageFSWe’re well into the final week of the First Comes Marriage book tour, with the giveaway wrapping up about a week later on January 31st. The book is now available for download from Dreamspinner Press, Amazon, All Romance Ebooks, Barnes & Noble, and other booksellers.If you haven’t already, be sure to comment on this or one of the book tour posts for a chance to win a dozen red roses for you or your sweetheart.

For those readers who may not already know, First Comes Marriage is the second book in the brand new Dreamspun Desires line and is an honest to goodness “category romance.” The term comes from the old tradition of publishing a certain number of books on a monthly basis in a certain category. You remember these. When I was a kid, they were the Harlequin and Silhouette romances that were shipped, 4 books a month, on subscription.

Category romances were sweet, sometimes funny, standalone stories with a yummy happy ending. These were romances that made you feel good. For me, I remember being an angsty teen and reading these books. They made my heart pound, made my arms ache, and gave me that rush of “oh yeah!” at the end of the story that made me want to devour more romances.

When I was working on First Comes Marriage, I did a lot of thinking about what makes a classic category romance make me feel so damn good. I read a few of the old romances, and I really thought about what makes them work for a reader like me. My husband, the scientist, would call that “reverse engineering.” It was a bit like eating a really good piece of cake and figuring out what ingredients went into it because you don’t have the recipe!

So what’s the recipe?

Take two main characters and ratchet up the heat. I’m talking a very slow burn that builds until you are fanning yourself and ready to scream, “Tell him you love him already!” Or at least, “Tell him you want to have sex with him already!” Stir in something that presents a bit of a sticking point for both characters and threatens to keep them apart. Nothing too angsty here, just something they have to overcome separately or, even better, together. Add a secondary character or two who just might derail the budding romance or help it happen for our main characters. Add doubts and stir again. Little niggles or fears. Maybe sprinkle a little misunderstanding in while you’re at it.

Pour all the ingredients into a pan and bake it at high temperature. What do you get? Sexy, sweet, and spicy romance that tastes as good as tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich on a cold day, or maybe some really good mac ‘n cheese. We’re not talking prime rib that you eat with expensive French wine, but the kind of meal that leaves you satisfied and smiling. Simply fun and feel-good fare.
You can buy it First Comes Marriage as a single book, or you can subscribe to the Dreamspun Desires line and get two books a month at a significant discount (ebook and paperback). Read down for an excerpt and don’t forget to enter the giveaway! -Shira

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Their marriage was supposed to be all business….

When struggling novelist Chris Valentine meets Jesse Donovan, he’s interested in a book contract, or possibly a date. The last thing Chris expects is a marriage proposal from New York City’s most eligible bachelor!

Jesse’s in a pinch. To keep control of his company, he has to marry. So he has valid reasons for offering Chris this business deal: in exchange for living in a gorgeous mansion for a year, playing the doting husband, Chris gets all the writing time he wants and walks away with a million-dollar payoff. Surely Chris can handle that. He can handle living with the most handsome and endearing man he’s ever met, a man he immediately knows he wants in the worst way and can’t have. Or can he?

Dreamspinner: Amazon: All Romance: Barnes & Noble
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Excerpt from Chapter Thirteen

That night Chris settled for yet another dinner alone in the Red Room, the smaller of two dining rooms at the estate. The day before, he’d asked Marcie to join him, but she’d flatly refused. “After his grandfather died, I told Mr. Donovan that if I was going to stay on, I wanted him to keep things the way they’d always been.” In spite of this, she’d still ended up chatting with him over coffee after she served him a delicious dinner of freshly caught bass and vegetables she’d grown in the garden on the side of the house.

Tonight, however, after Marcie cleared what was left of Chris’s meal, it was not she who walked into the Red Room ten minutes later but an attractive middle-aged woman with a shoulder-length blonde bob. Dressed in a well-tailored linen pantsuit that wore its myriad wrinkles well, she looked as though she’d just flown in from somewhere tropical. Which, apparently, she had, since Marcie came chasing after her, saying, “Mrs. Donovan, you must be tired from the flight. I’d be happy to serve you some dinner in your rooms, if you’d—”

You’re the wife?” the woman said. Chris knew she had to be Jesse’s stepgrandmother, Wenda.

“Wrong plumbing,” Chris joked, hoping to ease the tension.

“Was that supposed to be a joke?” Wenda countered.

Not much for humor. “Chris Valentine.” Chris stood and offered her his hand. “Husband.”

She didn’t shake his hand but took her measure of him, eyeing him from head to toe. The scrutiny made Chris want to squirm, but he schooled his expression and willed his face not to twitch. “I didn’t know Jesse had any interests outside the usual,” she said. “Then again, you’re far easier on the eyes than the usual.”

Chris chuckled. “Thank you. I think.” So maybe she does have a sense of humor. Dry as the Sahara, but….

She narrowed her eyes and turned to Marcie, whom Chris had nearly forgotten was still standing there. “I’d like some dinner, unless that’s a problem.”

Marcie squeaked, “No, of course not, Mrs. Donovan,” then skittered off to the kitchen.

“Long flight?” Chris asked and pulled a chair out from the table.

Wenda raised a questioning eyebrow, then sat heavily. “Missed my connection in Puerto Rico. I should have taken the company jet.”

“Why didn’t you?”

Her eyes grew wide. Had she expected him to just roll over and play dead? “I… I prefer not to. It’s a waste if it’s only me.”

This doubly surprised Chris, that she’d consider the expense and that she’d admit it. “Sounds reasonable.”

“You’re not what I expected,” she said.

Shira Anthony - Dreamspun Desires 3_FBpost-300x300

About Shira

Shira Anthony is a complete sucker for a happily-ever-after, and rarely reads or writes a story without one. Never a fan of instalove, Shira likes to write stories about real men with real issues making real relationships work.

In her last incarnation, Shira was a professional opera singer, performing roles in such operas as “Tosca,” “i Pagliacci,” and “La Traviata,” among others. She’s given up TV for evenings spent with her laptop, and she never goes anywhere without a pile of unread M/M romance on her Kindle.

Shira is married with two children and two insane dogs, and when she’s not writing she is usually in a courtroom trying to make the world safer for children. When she’s not working, she can be found aboard a 36’ catamaran at the Carolina coast with her favorite sexy captain at the wheel.

Interested in hearing Shira sing? Here’s a link to a live performance of Shira singing an aria from Puccini’s “Tosca”: http://www.shiraanthony.com/wp-conten…

You can subscribe to Shira’s monthly newsletter for updates, free fiction, and subscriber-only contests here: http://www.shiraanthony.com/newsletter/

Where to find the author:

 Facebook | Facebook Author Page | Twitter | Pinterest |  Goodreads | Google+
Shira Anthony - First Comes Marriage Cover

Giveaway!

First Comes Marriage is all above love and romance, and the book tour grand prize is a dozen red roses for your sweetheart (or whoever you think deserves it!). First prize is a $10 Dreamspinner Gift Certificate.

(Just click the link below)

Shira Anthony Rafflecopter giveaway!

(Ends 31st January 2015)
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Check out the other blogs on the blog tour

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Release Day & 2 Giveaways for “First Comes Marriage”!

Book Tour

Today is release day for First Comes Marriage! The book is now available for download from Dreamspinner Press, Amazon, All Romance Ebooks, Barnes & Noble, and other booksellers.

The First Comes Marriage Book Tour is wrapping up its first week with an exclusive post at My Fiction Nook, where you can enter to win a gift certificate for a dozen red roses for you or your sweetheart. First prize is a $10 Dreamspinner Press gift code.

Today, you can also enter a special giveaway contest over at the Dreamspinner Press Blog. I’ve got a special post for Dreamspinner Press readers.

First Comes Marriage is a modern take on the classic “category” romances I used to read as a kid. You remember those Harlequin and Mills & Boon stories that used to ship, 4 to a box, every month? First Comes Marriage takes a few of the classic romance tropes andFirstComeMarriageFS turns them on their head. Marriage of convenience? Check. Billionaire playboy? Check. Conniving stepgrandmother? Check. Two sexy men? Check. Slow burn? Check. HEA? Check.

Jesse Donovan, the billionaire heir to his grandfather’s boat building business, must get married or he’ll lose control of his company under the terms of his grandfather’s will. Chris Valentine is a struggling novelist working as a barista in New York City. When handsome, charming Jesse proposes, Chris thinks it’s a joke! Chris finally gives in and marries Jesse. But the more time they spend together, the more Chris comes to genuinely care for New York’s most eligible “straight” bachelor. But this marriage is just business, isn’t it?

If you love sweet, sexy stories with a happily-ever-after that will leave a smile on your face, you’ll enjoy the Dreamspun Desires line of gay romances from Dreamspinner Press. I love them so much, I have a subscription to the line. I’ll leave you with a taste of First Comes Marriage. Hope you enjoy it. -Shira

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Excerpt from Chapter One:

CHRIS VALENTINE took a deep breath as the crowd applauded his second reading. No seats remained, and at least a dozen people stood at the back of the room as he and the other two featured authors read from their books. Now, as the flock of pissed-off butterflies in his gut gave up the ghost, he thought less about how the reading had gone and more about how incredibly hungry he was.

Chris had lost count of how many times he’d read from his sci-fi/fantasy trilogy at Baker’s Literary Café, but this time he’d been a nervous wreck. His current work-in-progress, Venturing Backward, was entirely different from anything he’d written before. He hadn’t even shared it yet with his roommate, Val. Why he’d decided on the spur of the moment to read a short passage, he couldn’t explain. He’d never been much of a risk taker.

“Loved your reading.” The woman who’d been seated in the front row thrust her hand out to Chris. “Rhonda Wexler.” Her dragon-red curls bobbed as she spoke through black-tinted lips. A small crowd had gathered behind her, waiting patiently to greet him. Chris saw a few new faces amid the usual Tuesday night crowd.

He smiled and shook her hand, the contact helping to dispel the rest of his body’s coiled tension. “Good to meet you, Rhonda.”

“I read the first installment when you had it up as a freebie. Are you going to self-pub the rest, or are you thinking of shopping the trilogy to the New York houses?” Rhonda asked as she shifted from one Dr. Martens–clad foot to the other and handed him her card.

“I’ve tried a few,” he answered, “but so far no luck.” The first book hadn’t done poorly on Amazon. But outside his growing cult following, it hadn’t gotten much traction, and the royalties had barely made a dent in his rent.

“M-Mr. Valentine?” someone said from over Chris’s shoulder. Chris turned and offered the newcomer his hand. “Jesse Donovan.”

A quick glance at Jesse made Chris wonder if he’d come to hear one of the other authors read, or just wandered into the wrong café. A few inches taller than Chris, with reddish brown hair and a hint of shadow on his jaw, Jesse appeared entirely out of place in the sea of goth and steampunk. Dressed in a crisp button-down shirt, sport coat, and a well-fitted pair of jeans, Jesse gazed at him through burgundy-trimmed glasses. His bright blue eyes made Chris’s pulse quicken.

“Good to meet you, Jesse.”

The hint of awkwardness in Jesse’s gaze surprised Chris, but it vanished as Jesse shook his hand with a firm grip. “You did a great job tonight,” Jesse said as he pulled off his glasses and shoved them into his jacket pocket. “I especially liked the new work.”

“You may have been the only one,” Chris quipped. He hadn’t expected the new novel to be a hit with his usual readers, so he hadn’t been too disappointed with the polite applause. Magical realism might be popular among the literary set, but it was hardly the stuff his fantasy readers would get excited about.

Jesse responded enthusiastically, “Don’t get me wrong. I love the Valhron Chronicles, but the new work”—he offered Chris a warm smile—“is something unique. I look forward to reading it when it’s completed.”

Jesse had clearly read his work, a realization that made Chris all the more curious about him. “Thank you.”

Jesse hesitated for a split second before saying, “I’d like to help get your work in the right hands.” He handed Chris his card. “Give me a call. We can meet for coffee, or whatever works best for you.”

“Thank you.” So Jesse was the agent rumored to be attending the reading. Chris would definitely be taking him up on the offer, if only to learn more about how he might break into the New York publishing scene.

Two women dressed in Victorian walking suits erupted through the crowd and collided with Jesse. Chris caught Jesse’s arm in time to keep him from falling forward, the faint scent of bergamot and citrus from Jesse’s cologne tickling Chris’s nose as Jesse grabbed his shoulder to steady himself. Jesse met Chris’s gaze and held it as something like surprise flickered in his eyes. Chris half wished Jesse wasn’t an agent and that the invitation to coffee wasn’t to discuss business.

“Sooorry,” one of the women said, giggling.

“No problem,” Jesse said. He straightened quickly and withdrew his hand from Chris’s arm.

“Carmine was so excited to meet you,” the other woman gushed, “she pushed a little too hard.” Carmine stared at Chris, clearly dumbfounded.

“I’ll leave you to your adoring fans,” Jesse said, the edges of his mouth quirking upward as he spoke. “Give me a call when you have a chance.” He disappeared before Chris could thank him.

TWO BEEFY arms swallowed Chris in a powerful embrace the second he stepped through the doorway to the apartment. “You rocked!” Terry shouted as he squeezed Chris so tightly, Chris had to push away from Terry’s chest to breathe.

“Terry. Man. You know I love you, but—”

“Val loved it too,” Terry said, releasing Chris and smiling at his fiancée, who was setting several pizzas on the kitchen table.

Val smiled at Chris through her too-long bangs and nodded. “You did a wonderful job, Chris. I thought I’d have to restrain Terry,” she said with a half snort, half giggle. “He was so excited when you got to the part about the lost mage, I thought he was going to lose it.”

“I should never have mentioned you were my inspiration for him.” Chris shook his head in mock disgust. “Your head is already too big.”

“Accept it for what it is,” Terry answered, grinning broadly. “Recognition of my immense awesomeness as a roommate.”

“Roommates,” Val corrected.

“Best roommates ever,” Chris agreed. “Especially since you haven’t kicked me out yet.”

“Rumor is that there was a hotshot agent there tonight.” Val snagged a piece of pepperoni pizza.

“There was.” Chris pulled Jesse’s card from his pocket and waved it around.

That was Mr. Tall, Auburn, and Handsome?” Val asked as she snatched the card from his hands. “The gorgeous man I saw you speaking with before the steampunk sisters decided to set up camp?”

“Yep. Said he wanted to put me in touch with someone in—”

“Whoa, whoa. This guy isn’t an agent,” Val said, eyes wide with recognition as she stared at the card.

Chris glanced at Terry, who just shrugged. “What?” Chris took a bite of his pizza and frowned.

This Jesse Donovan is the CEO of Windview Enterprises,” Val said, as if the name might trigger some sort of understanding.

“Never heard of him.”

“Seriously? He was on the cover of New York View last year. You know, their annual Most Eligible Bachelor issue? It was all over the newsstands.”

Chris burst out laughing. “Just because I’m gay doesn’t mean I snag every trash magazine that has good-looking men on the cover, you know.”

Val blushed fuchsia. “I didn’t mean… I mean… it isn’t because—”

Terry snorted and high-fived Chris. “He’s gay, Val. That doesn’t mean he wants to tape photos of hot men on his wall.” He grinned at Val and added, “Although you know, Val, I seem to remember you had a poster of Chris Pine over your bed in coll—”

“Shut up.” Val pushed Terry, who fell sideways onto the couch and laughed until he coughed.

“Admit it,” Terry said between wheezes. “This guy’s totally your type.”

Terry had a point. Jesse was exactly the kind of man Chris dated: tall and athletic, confident, but not overly so. Not that Chris was interested in anything but a quick hookup. The country might be marriage-crazy, but he had no interest in a white picket fence and a passel of kids.

“And totally straight,” Val put in with a shake of her head. “He’s been all over the gossip pages recently with some heiress. I’ve got a couple friends at school who have a pool going. They say he’s going to marry her.” She snorted, then added, “I’ve got $100 that he stays single.”

Terry rolled his eyes, garnering another glare from Val.

“What does Windview Enterprises do?” Chris asked, more curious than he cared to admit. He didn’t care what Jesse Donovan’s claim to fame might be, but he’d still follow up on the lead.

“Yachts,” she said. “Really big ones. You know, the ones they show movie stars cavorting around on with the itsy-bitsy bikinis?”

Figures.

“And hotel properties,” Val continued. “High-end resorts in the Caribbean, that sort of thing. Oh, and they have a commercial group that builds supertankers.”

“How do you know all that?” Chris asked.

People magazine.” Val’s cheeks flushed, and Terry shot her an inquisitive look. “Well, I have to read something when I’m on the subway.”

“Not your typical fare for a doctoral candidate in nineteenth century literature,” Chris said.

“You gonna call him?” Terry asked with a yawn.

“Why not? Even if he’s not an agent, he might be able to put me in touch with one.” Chris took back the card from Val and flipped it around in his fingers. For the first time, he noticed the handwritten number on the back and the scribbled notation there: personal cell.

“Want another slice?” Val asked.

Chris shook his head. “I’m beat. And I’m supposed to work the afternoon shift tomorrow.” He gathered the plates and headed for the kitchen.

“You’re going to tell me all about it, aren’t you?” Val asked as she helped him wash the dishes.

“Sure.” Chris laughed. “He’s probably a jerk.”

“Even better,” she said, grinning now. “I’m gonna hold you to it!”

 

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You can purchase First Comes Marriage at Dreamspinner Press: http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=7302

You can subscribe to the Dreamspun Desires line at Dreamspinner Press: http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=7224&cPath=1583

 

 

 

First Comes Marriage Book Tour & Giveaway!

Book Tour

Today is the first stop on the First Comes Marriage book tour! This Friday, January 15th, is release day. You can preorder your individual copy  from Dreamspinner Press or you can sign up for the subscription service and receive 2 Dreamspun Desires category romance novels monthly in ebook or paperback for a significant discount over the individual book price.

Grand prize for the book tour giveaway is a gift certificate for a dozen red roses for your sweetheart. First prize is a $10 Dreamspinner Press gift code. You can enter the giveaway at any of the tour stops by commenting, tweeting, etc.

First Comes Marriage, takes a few of the classic romance tropes andFirstComeMarriageFS turns them on their head. Marriage of convenience? Check. Billionaire playboy? Conniving stepgrandmother? Check.

Jesse Donovan, the billionaire heir to his grandfather’s boat building business, must get married or he’ll lose control of his company under the terms of his grandfather’s will. Chris Valentine is a struggling novelist working as a barista in New York City. When handsome, charming Jesse proposes, Chris thinks it’s a joke! Chris finally gives in and marries Jesse. But the more time they spend together, the more Chris comes to genuinely care for New York’s most eligible “straight” bachelor. But this marriage is just business, isn’t it?

I hope you’ll find these stories as appealing as I have. I’ll leave you with a taste of First Comes Marriage. Hope you enjoy it. -Shira

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Excerpt from Chapter Six:

Now, standing in the conference room of Windview Enterprises’ corporate headquarters near South Ferry in Manhattan, one of the matching platinum bands Jesse had bought for them in his pants pocket, Chris wondered if he’d wake up from the dream. The floor-to-ceiling windows looked out over Wall Street and the East River through the forest of high-rise buildings.

“Do you, Jesse Chase Donovan, take Christopher James Valentine to be your husband, in love and in friendship, until you are parted by death?” the judge asked.

“I do.” As Jesse slipped the ring on Chris’s finger, he met Chris’s gaze with such intensity that for an instant, Chris could almost forget the entire ceremony was a ruse to ensure the future of Windview remained firmly in Jesse’s control. Damn the man for being so attractive. Damn him for being a nice guy, because that was the worst part of it. And the part that had you agreeing.

“And do you, Christopher James Valentine, take Jesse Chase Donovan to be your husband, in love and in friendship, until you are parted by death?”

Chris swallowed hard and prayed he didn’t look as incredibly nervous as he felt. “I do.” His hand shook as he took Jesse’s hand and put the ring on his finger.

“Congratulations, Chris and Jesse,” the judge said.

Chris caught Val’s eye for a split second, and he half expected her to urge him to kiss Jesse. But it was Jesse who took charge and blindsided Chris with a kiss.

It started sweetly enough, just Jesse’s lips against his, but instead of releasing Chris, Jesse pulled him tighter against him and pressed his tongue into his mouth. Jesse tasted fucking amazing. Chris didn’t hesitate—their tongues tangled and danced. This close, Jesse smelled good and felt even better. Chris was barely aware of slipping his hands around Jesse’s back before resting them on lean hips. He didn’t think twice as his body and Jesse’s responded in kind.

Someone giggled—Chris recognized Val’s voice—and Jesse pulled abruptly away. Their eyes met for a split second, and Chris thought he saw a mixture of desire and surprise in Jesse’s deep blue eyes. The next thing Chris knew, Val had thrown her arms around him and only his racing heart and tingling lips told him he hadn’t imagined the entire thing.

“Oh, Chris,” Val cooed. “You really did it!”

“Yeah” was the only response Chris could manage. He was still thinking about Jesse’s mouth.

“I guess I was wrong about him being straight,” she whispered mischievously.

Chris was thrilled when Terry grabbed him in a bear hug, because he had no idea how to respond to Val’s comment. He also wasn’t sure if he should be pissed off with Jesse for the show. He supposed if this was going to work, Jesse needed to make the marriage look real. Still, how difficult would it have been to warn Chris that he had that up his sleeve?

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You can purchase First Comes Marriage at Dreamspinner Press: http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=7302

You can subscribe to the Dreamspun Desires line at Dreamspinner Press: http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=7224&cPath=1583

 

 

 

#SALE – 99 Cent Weekend Reads at Dreamspinner Press!

1468685_1676703969265086_9164553691356592038_nI’m thrilled to be Dreamspinner Press’s Weekend Reads author this weekend! You can pick up copies of books 1 and 2 in my Blood vampire series, Blood and Rain and Blood and Ghosts, for 99 cents each this weekend only! The final Blood Series book, Blood and Eternity, will be coming out in 2016. Blood Series books are sequels and must be read in order.

Want to try a Blue Notes Series book? Prelude, co-written with the lovely Venona Keyes is also on sale for 99 cents! Blue Notes books are standalone stories and can be read in any order.

While you’re over at Dreamspinner, you may want to check out the brand new Dreamspun Desires line of romances and my offering, First Comes Marriage! I’m so excited about these tropey, sweet, romance front and center stories reminiscent of the old Harlequin romances I grew up reading.

Happy 2016 everyone! I hope it’s a great year! -Shira

 

“First Comes Marriage” is Now Available for Preorder!

DreamspunDesires_FirstComesMarriageFS4First Comes Marriage is now available for preorder from Dreamspinner Press! Or you can sign up for the subscription service and receive 2 Dreamspun Desires category romance novels monthly in ebook or paperback for a significant discount over the individual book price.

What is a “category romance”? Honestly, I didn’t know this myself until a few years ago, but a “category romance” is also sometimes called a “series romance.” The term comes from the old tradition of publishing a certain number of books on a monthly basis in a certain category. You remember these. When I was a kid, they were the Harlequin and Silhouette romances that were shipped, 4 books a month, on subscription.

Category romances were sweet, funny, standalone stories with a feel-good happy ending. Full of romance tropes (millionaires, exotic locations, mistaken identity, arranged marriages, you name it), these babies were shorter than the average novel, all the covers looked alike, and some were numbered like magazines. They became a genre unto themselves.

Fast forward to the Romantic Times (RT) conference in Dallas of this year, by far the biggest general romance conference in the world. I was having something to eat with Poppy Dennison, Dreamspinner Press’s PR guru, and a number of other Dreamspinner writers. I was complaining about how writing angsty romances (Blue Notes Series, anyone?) takes a lot out of me. I said I wished I could write a warm, fuzzy romance like the ones I used to read as a kid. Poppy asked, “Why don’t you?” She then proceeded to tell me about an idea she had to create a line of gay category romances for DreamspunDesires1_DSPsiteDreamspinner. Fast forward a bit more than six months, and Dreamspun Desires is already at the top of the Dreamspinner bestseller list with its subscription option (available in ebook and paperback).

My book, First Comes Marriage, takes a few tropes and turns them on their head. Marriage of convenience? Check. Billionaire playboy? Conniving stepgrandmother? Check.

Jesse Donovan, the billionaire heir to his grandfather’s boat building business, must get married or he’ll lose control of his company under the terms of his grandfather’s will. Chris Valentine is a struggling novelist working as a barista in New York City. When handsome, charming Jesse proposes, Chris thinks it’s a joke! Chris finally gives in and marries Jesse. But the more time they spend together, the more Chris comes to genuinely care for New York’s most eligible “straight” bachelor. But this marriage is just business, isn’t it?

I hope you’ll find these stories as appealing as I have. I liked writing First Comes Marriage so much, I’m working on another tropey romance! I’ll leave you with a  taste of First Comes Marriage. Hope you enjoy it.

See you in 2016. Happy New Year and happy holidays, everyone! -Shira

******

Excerpt from Chapter Six:

Now, standing in the conference room of Windview Enterprises’ corporate headquarters near South Ferry in Manhattan, one of the matching platinum bands Jesse had bought for them in his pants pocket, Chris wondered if he’d wake up from the dream. The floor-to-ceiling windows looked out over Wall Street and the East River through the forest of high-rise buildings.

“Do you, Jesse Chase Donovan, take Christopher James Valentine to be your husband, in love and in friendship, until you are parted by death?” the judge asked.

“I do.” As Jesse slipped the ring on Chris’s finger, he met Chris’s gaze with such intensity that for an instant, Chris could almost forget the entire ceremony was a ruse to ensure the future of Windview remained firmly in Jesse’s control. Damn the man for being so attractive. Damn him for being a nice guy, because that was the worst part of it. And the part that had you agreeing.

“And do you, Christopher James Valentine, take Jesse Chase Donovan to be your husband, in love and in friendship, until you are parted by death?”

Chris swallowed hard and prayed he didn’t look as incredibly nervous as he felt. “I do.” His hand shook as he took Jesse’s hand and put the ring on his finger.

“Congratulations, Chris and Jesse,” the judge said.

Chris caught Val’s eye for a split second, and he half expected her to urge him to kiss Jesse. But it was Jesse who took charge and blindsided Chris with a kiss.

It started sweetly enough, just Jesse’s lips against his, but instead of releasing Chris, Jesse pulled him tighter against him and pressed his tongue into his mouth. Jesse tasted fucking amazing. Chris didn’t hesitate—their tongues tangled and danced. This close, Jesse smelled good and felt even better. Chris was barely aware of slipping his hands around Jesse’s back before resting them on lean hips. He didn’t think twice as his body and Jesse’s responded in kind.

Someone giggled—Chris recognized Val’s voice—and Jesse pulled abruptly away. Their eyes met for a split second, and Chris thought he saw a mixture of desire and surprise in Jesse’s deep blue eyes. The next thing Chris knew, Val had thrown her arms around him and only his racing heart and tingling lips told him he hadn’t imagined the entire thing.

“Oh, Chris,” Val cooed. “You really did it!”

“Yeah” was the only response Chris could manage. He was still thinking about Jesse’s mouth.

“I guess I was wrong about him being straight,” she whispered mischievously.

Chris was thrilled when Terry grabbed him in a bear hug, because he had no idea how to respond to Val’s comment. He also wasn’t sure if he should be pissed off with Jesse for the show. He supposed if this was going to work, Jesse needed to make the marriage look real. Still, how difficult would it have been to warn Chris that he had that up his sleeve?

******

You can purchase First Comes Marriage at Dreamspinner Press: http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=7302

You can subscribe to the Dreamspun Desires line at Dreamspinner Press: http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=7224&cPath=1583

 

 

 

Tempeste O’Riley’s “Signs of Desire” Blog Tour is Here!

Signs of Desire Blog Tour Banner_zpsufirmue1Welcome Tempeste and congratulations on your new release! Tempeste has a great answer about writing characters to share with us today.

Don’t forget to read down to the bottom of the post for an excerpt from Signs of Desire and a cool giveaway! Take it away, Tempeste! -Shira

Do characters and stories just pop into your head, or do you take your time thinking about them? And how do you make your characters believable?

For the most part, they just show up in my head one day. They move in, without my say so, and often without my knowledge until they’re just “there” :/ LOL It’s sort of annoying, honestly. You’re going about your business or sleeping or whatever and suddenly this ‘person’ and their story invades your life, insisting on having you writing instead of whatever you were doing. Mind you, I love writing, but with my health, interrupting my sleep is never appreciated!

As for making the characters believable… that comes from the fact they are just people. Yes, I ‘make’ them up and all, but really, they are just like the guy down the street or your neighbour or your professor or… … …. I try to make sure that even when my characters are paranormal, they are still rooted in the real and normal enough that you could meet them on the street and it not be odd. I want you to read the story and see you within (and find hope, love, joy, etc. as well).

I do take a lot of time working on character development, but honestly, I find out a lot about them as I write the stories. Often I don’t have a clue what’s going to happen or what they will do until it happens and I’ve typed the scene. They take me on the ride just as the story takes you along. 😀

When a night out turns into a matchmaking scheme, they thought communication would be their biggest challenge to their happily ever after….

Signs of Desire
by Tempeste O’Riley
Desires Entwined, #4
M/M Erotic Contemporary Romance
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Cover Artist: Reese Dante
Release Date: November 30, 2014 (ebook/print)
Length: Novel / 200 pages

 

Order:

Dreamspinner Press All Romance Amazon

Add to: Goodreads

 

Description:

Simon Tyler knows his job as a gay romance author makes his lack of faith in love more than a little ironic, but he’s tired of being used for his wallet. When a night out turns into a matchmaking scheme orchestrated by his best friends—though he’s not the target—Simon’s not thrilled, but since he’s sworn off happily-ever-after anyway, he goes along with it… until he meets the object of their efforts, Adrian, and finds perhaps he hasn’t given up on love after all.

Professor Adrian Keys has tried to date hearing men before, but being deaf himself, he’s never had any success at making a connection. After his friends con him into going out and Adrian realizes it’s all an elaborate plan to set him up, he braces for yet another failure, only to discover there is a spark—except it’s not with the man his friends had in mind, but with Simon Tyler instead.

Not all their friends have found a way past their romantic failures, but Simon and Adrian might be on the path to happily-ever-after.

Resource Links:

 

They all debated what to eat and chatted for a little, Adrian mostly staying quiet and watching the others. He noticed one of the other men seemed just as out of it as he was, the one Chase had called Grayson. He was handsome, tall, and powerful like Rhys, but he had long black hair, deeply tanned skin, and light brown eyes that were almost amber. He was a little thinner than Chase’s partner, though just as intimidating a presence.

The other man who caught his attention was named Simon. Adrian knew a little more about him because Chase spoke of his closest friends often, and Adrian loved meeting Chase’s friends even if the outing was nerve-racking. Simon had light brown hair, big puppy brown eyes, and a slender body. The longer Adrian looked, the more he wondered how Simon would look when dressed in something a little less bulky.

A tap to his shoulder pulled Adrian out of his musings. He turned and realized the server was back with their dinners and blushed at how entranced he’d been. He didn’t usually stare, hating when others did that to him. “Sorry.”

“No sorrys.” Chase hugged Adrian, then dug into his bowl of chicken and dumplings.

Simon waved to get Adrian’s attention and smiled when he looked up from his country-fried steak and mashed potatoes with white gravy. “Chase said you were his teacher before and are now a friend.” Adrian nodded. “How’d he convince you to go out with his skinny butt?”

Heat infused Adrian’s face as he laughed. “Chase was very sweet and asked nicely.”

“I love your laugh, by the way. It’s deep like your voice, kind of carefree.” Simon looked slightly sad. Adrian knew he’d had a hard time lately. Chase said he’d been cheated on a year ago and had refused to date since. Adrian knew the feeling, though he pushed the thought away, hoping not to dwell on why he was alone.

He ducked his head slightly. “Thanks? I don’t know how anyone sounds, even myself, so it’s always weird to get comments like that.”

“I said the same when we went out,” Chase commented. “But don’t let him fool you. He’s an excellent teacher and speaks in all his classes. He knows his voice is good.”

“No, I know it’s clear enough for you to understand. That’s something I work hard to make true, but I have never heard my voice, so I have no idea how I sound. And well…. Chase was the first person to ever say something like that.”

He worked regularly with various computer programs to improve and maintain his speech, knowing if he didn’t it could cost him his position at the college. He had always struggled to make sure he spoke well for Hearing people, considering his family’s opinion of his Deafness. His dad knew sign

language, but his mom refused to learn, insisting he learn to be “normal.” Adrian had always thought that was extremely unfair, especially as a child. Considering his hatred of being dependent on others for his communication, he was thankful he could read lips and speak as well as he did.

“Then you know the wrong people, ’cause he’s right.” Simon nodded to emphasize his point, confusing Adrian more. Why would he be so determined with his compliments?

Shrugging off his curiosity, Adrian tried to push past the topic. “What do you do?”

Simon’s eyes tightened at the edges slightly, his shoulders drooping a little more. “I’m a writer.”

“He’s a romance author, and a damn good one,” Jamie, or James as he knew the guy’s actual name was, said. Chase talked about his best friend often, though this was the first they’d met. “Don’t let him talk down about what he does.”

“James, hush. He’s not interested in what kind of writing I do.”

“Yes, I am. I love to read. Would I know any of your work?” Adrian didn’t have a large collection of romances, but he had read some. He couldn’t think of any authors named Simon, though.

“You’re an author?” Grayson asked, turning to join their conversation.

The nod seemed reluctant, but the smile on Simon’s face, while small, looked genuine. “Yeah, I write under the name Tyler Jacobs, a pseudonym, but I have a few books out. But, um, I thought we were trying to get to know Adrian and Grayson, not more about boring ol’ me.”

Praise:

“I found it a beautiful tale of unhappiness changed to romance and then love with a happy ending.”

—Rainbow Book Reviews, on “Designs of Desire”

Designs of Desire is a tough realistic book that is touched by violence countered by the growing love between the two heroes.”

—Sensual Reads, on “Designs of Desire”

“It’s a great book to fall into and enjoy some really good characters.”

—Love Bytes, on “Desires’ Guardian”

“This is my favorite in this series so far. I love seeing how these characters are growing, all of them. As individuals, as couples, as friends, and as a family.”

—MM Good Book Reviews, on “Desires’ Guardian”

“The writer did an excellent job with the characters, they are likable and perfect. Not perfect in the way that they have no flaws, but in a way that they grab you and complement each other.”

—Love Bytes Reviews, on “Temptations of Desire”

 

Other Works by Author:

Designs of DesireSimple Desires*+ – Bound by Desire* – Desires’ GuardianTemptations of DesireTruth in Lace* – Desires’ Pride*

Micah’s Medicine+ – Caged SanctuaryWhiskers of a Chance

*shorts in series +shorts in anthologies

 

About the Author:

Tempeste O’Riley is an out and proud pansexual genderfluid whose best friend growing up had the courage to do what they couldn’t—defy the hate and come out. He has been their hero ever since.

Tempe is a hopeless romantic who loves strong relationships and happily-ever-afters. Though new to writing M/M, they has done many things in their life, yet writing has always drawn them back—no matter what else life has thrown their way. They counts her friends, family, and Muse as their greatest blessings in life. They lives in Wisconsin with their children, reading, writing, and enjoying life.

Tempe is also a proud PAN member of Romance Writers of America®, WisRWA, and Rainbow Romance Writers. Tempe’s preferred pronouns are they/them/their/theirs/themselves. To learn more about Tempeste and their writing, visit http://tempesteoriley.com.

Website Goodreads Twitter Facebook Google + DSP Blog

Tempeste’s Temptations

**********
Giveaway
**********

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Rebecca Cohen’s “He’s Behind You” (Because nothing says “Christmas” like leopard print underwear!)

He’s Behind You by Rebecca Cohen

Head over to UK Gay Romance for a giveaway of He’s Behind You.

Buylink: Dreamspinner | All Romance | Amazon

Blurb: A Treading the Boards Novella

It’s panto season for the Sarky Players, an amateur dramatics society based in Greenwich, South London. With the traditional Christmas play around the corner, it’s time to get ready for more larger than life performances—on and off stage.

While Craig Rosen is happy with his quiet life playing Warhammer and working in a university lab, a new colleague thinks he needs more excitement and drags Craig along to an audition for the Christmas pantomime, Aladdin.

Corporate lawyer Jason Carter accepted he’s gay a little later in life than most, but now divorced and in his late thirties, he’s ready to embrace who he really is. He can’t believe his luck when he runs into Craig at the audition and the cute younger man agrees to help him navigate his new life. There’s no doubting the attraction between Craig and Jason, but with Craig’s insecurities and Jason still finding his way, they’ll need to make sure they don’t veer off script.

Treading the Boards Series

Overly Dramatic

Summer Season

Bio and Links:

Rebecca Cohen is a Brit abroad. Having swapped the Thames for the Rhine, she has left London behind and now lives with her husband and baby son in Basel, Switzerland. She can often be found with a pen in one hand and a cup of Darjeeling in the other.

Blog: http://rebeccacohenwrites.wordpress.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/R_Cohen_writes

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/rebecca.cohen.710

DSP author page: http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/index.php?cPath=55_462

Amazon author page: http://www.amazon.com/Rebecca-Cohen/e/B007UEFIXS/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1

Excerpt:Chapter One

THE LAB door banged open. Craig flinched and failed to maintain a grip on the bottle of buffer he was holding. He swore loudly as it hit the floor, smashed, and sent glass flying everywhere.

“Oh shit. Sorry, Craig,” said Stuart, the new postdoc who’d burst into the lab. “I’ll help you clear it up.”

Craig grabbed a roll of blue paper towels. “There’s a dustpan and brush under the sink.”

Stuart trotted off, and Craig removed his samples from the benchtop centrifuge and returned them to the fridge. The accident sorted his dilemma of whether he’d run one more gel before the weekend.

Stuart collected up the glass, and Craig mopped up the liquid. “Make sure you use the right bin or Kevin will kill you,” Craig said.

“Kevin?”

“Our research assistant. He’s on holiday this week, but you’ll meet him Monday, and trust me, you don’t want to risk Kevin’s ire by slightly disturbing his extraordinarily complicated system.”

Stuart threw away the last of the glass. “You ready? You’re still coming out, right?”

“Yeah, give me a minute to sort out my bench, and I’m good to go.”

Craig wiped down his bench and tidied away his pipettes, liking to leave everything just right to put him in the best frame of mind on Monday morning.

He’d originally hoped to use his experiment as an excuse not to go to the impromptu evening out Stuart had suggested, but now he had no reason or inclination to remain at work. Friday night in Central London was something he usually avoided, preferring to wind down from the week by playing one of the online games he followed or going somewhere a little farther out of the city center, somewhere the clientele were less likely to be of the rich-suited-knob variety.

Several other members of the lab stood chatting in the corridor as Craig and Stuart emerged. Craig zipped up his light jacket, looped his messenger bag across his chest, and awaited instructions. The lab often went out for drinks, but Trish, another of the experienced postdocs, had given up on trying to get Craig out on a regular basis. Unfortunately Stuart had been more insistent, and his gaydar was much better tuned than most.

“Where we going?”

“We thought Jerusalem,” Stuart said, herding their colleagues in the general direction of the exit.

“Which one’s that?”

“I’d think that working here you’d have known the local area better.”

Considering Craig had worked at the Medical Research Centre labs in Bloomsbury for over four years, Stuart had a point. “I studied in a different bit of London. But working for University College doesn’t make me want to rub shoulders with the undergrads during term time. Some of them don’t have an off switch.”

Stuart nudged him with his shoulder. “Well, aren’t you the gregarious one. Cheer up, Craig. It’s just a few beers. I’ve not asked for your firstborn or your Warhammer 40,000: Collector’s Edition Mini Rulebook.”

“Ha-bloody-ha. I’m perfectly happy, thank you.” Typical that Stuart was one of the cool geeks. He had picked up on Craig’s throwaway comments about Star Trek that had gone over everyone else’s head, and had already worked out Craig’s favorite places in Nerd-dom. “I just don’t know this bit of town.”

They headed down a set of steps to an underground bar called Jerusalem, which Craig supposed could’ve been a lot worse—it only vaguely reminded him of a bomb shelter. Stuart clapped him on the back. “My round.”

“No, let me. You won’t have been paid yet, and I know what it’s like to survive the gap between PhD and postdoc.”

Stuart shook his head. “No, I’m good. My partner’s not exactly short of cash, and he’s already at the bar.”

Craig looked at the bar. Stuart pointed out a blond guy, and Craig thought he was more than gorgeous, beautiful even. Stuart wasn’t exactly bad on the eye, and the two of them together would be striking. Craig blinked away the image of Stuart and his partner entwined. He really needed a boyfriend if his overactive imagination was providing him with flashes of his colleagues. “Oh, well, I’ll have a lager. Whatever’s on tap is fine.”

Trish grabbed Craig’s arm as Stuart went off to the bar. “We’ve got a table, but we’re short a seat. You’ll need to find a stool.”

She must have reapplied her perfume before leaving, because the strong waft that assaulted Craig made his eyes water. “Will do.”

Her ponytail swinging behind her, Trish dragged Katy, the newish PhD student, away with her to where the rest of the lab had bagged a table. Despite the bar being busy, Craig spotted a free stool a few tables away. A group of four had a spare seat, although they were using it as a bag stand. Craig pointed to it. “Would you mind if I took this?”

A young red-haired woman grabbed her bag and smiled. The guy sitting opposite her smirked, looked Craig up and down, and licked his lips. “Oh, for someone as adorable as you, I think we can allow it. It might cost you, though.”

“Si, stop teasing,” said the redhead with a sigh. “Sorry about him. One too many margaritas,” she said to Craig. “Please take it.”

Si winked at him, and Craig thought it best to avoid him for the rest of the evening. The guy had a cocky manner. He was attractive and knew it, with his shiny black hair and chiseled chin. The way he presented himself—designer suit and expensive haircut—made Craig think he wasn’t used to taking no for an answer. The sooner Craig legged it, the better.

“Thanks.”

Craig hurried away, but not before he heard the redhead say, “Si, can’t you behave for once? You don’t even know he’s gay.”

“Of course he is, Di. Geeky and gay. My favorite for a bit of fun—always so desperate.”

Craig tried not to let the words hurt, but it was hard to ignore the truth. He carried the stool over to the table, refusing to dwell on his pathetic love life. Even the geeks he’d dated had moved on to someone better, to guys who weren’t as socially awkward or boring as Craig, once the shine of his Warhammer status waned.

Stuart had arrived at the table with his boyfriend, who he introduced as Ryan, and Craig squeezed into the gap left between Trish and Stuart toward the end of the table.

Small talk was not one of his best skills, but he forced himself to make an effort. “So you’ve survived the first week. No plans to run screaming for the hills?”

“Can I reserve judgment until the end of the month? It’s taken most of the week to get access to the university computer systems and get my staff pass.”

“You’re doing well,” said Trish. “But you should double-check with Senate House that they’ve got your bank details right. They messed up mine, and I nearly couldn’t pay my rent that first month.”

Ryan laughed and nudged Stuart. “You’ll have to be extra nice to your landlord if that happens.”

“I told you I had a nonmonetary payment scheme worked out for emergencies, but you weren’t interested.” Stuart blew a raspberry at Ryan. “Apart from being rich, attractive, and normally a nice guy, I have no idea why I put up with you.”

Craig couldn’t help but be envious. Stuart had mentioned they hadn’t been together long, but a whirlwind romance had escalated into more. They made a lovely couple, and Craig wished he had someone waiting for him at home after a long day in the lab.

Before he knew it, they were ready for the fourth round. Stuart and Ryan were great company, so for once Craig wasn’t itching to go home. Ryan had even somehow managed to convince him to come along to an open audition at the amateur dramatics group they belonged to. Once Ryan learned Craig lived in Deptford, only a couple of stops away on the Docklands Light Railway, he wouldn’t let Craig refuse. Maybe it would be good for him to have a social life outside his computer and gaming meetups. He got to his feet at the call for the next round. “My turn.”

“You need a hand?” asked Trish.

“Nah, I’ll get a tray.”

The queue for the bar was several people deep, and Craig checked his phone while waiting to be served. He had a few game notifications and an offer from his credit card company, but nothing of any consequence. At least reading his e-mail meant he didn’t accidently make eye contact with anyone.

Once he’d been served, he realized he didn’t have room for all the drinks on the tray and would have to come back for his pint.

“I’ll keep an eye on it for you,” offered the guy standing next to him, who, Craig realized too late, was Si from the table where he’d got his stool. Si grinned.

Craig had a sudden thought that he should be wearing a red riding hood. “Er, thanks.”

“My pleasure.” Si winked at him.

Craig scurried away with the tray of drinks, intending to come back to grab his pint and return to the table again as fast as possible.

The bar had cleared a bit by the time he went to retrieve his pint. He hoped Si would have collected his own drink and pissed off back to his friends, but no such luck.

“There you are. I was beginning to think you weren’t coming back.”

Craig reached out to pick up his pint, but Si took hold of his arm. “I hope you aren’t rushing off.”

“I need to get back to my friends.”

“I’m sure they can cope for a little while without you.”

Craig tried to shrug off Si’s hand. “I need to go.”

“Oh, come on, we can have a little fun. What do you say to me letting you suck my cock?”

“What?” He aimed for outraged, but it came out more like a deranged squawk.

“You’re gagging for it. I can smell the desperation. I bet you can’t even remember the last time you got laid. Here I am, offering you a simply wonderful opportunity.”

Craig could tell Si was the wrong side of sober, and he tried to dislodge Si’s hand. “Let go of me.”

“Feisty!” Si swayed a little and grabbed Craig’s arm harder.

“Look, Dick For Brains, the guy’s not interested, so fuck off to whatever sewer you crawled out of.” A hand reached from behind Craig and pulled Si’s hand away. “Piss off and leave him alone.”

Craig turned to see a man—at best guess, in his late thirties with dark brown hair and a square jaw. He was dashing in a knight-in-shining-armor way, although dressed in a suit with his shirt collar open, rather than chain mail. Craig supposed he should be incensed another man thought he needed rescuing, but he was far too relieved to be upset.

Si scowled. “Who the fuck are you?”

“Someone with a black belt in judo who doesn’t like arseholes picking on people in bars.”

Si snorted. “Fancy a piece yourself, I bet. You can have the dorky thing. No loss.”

Craig watched Si stagger off before turning back to his savior. “Thanks.”

“Sorry. I wouldn’t normally butt in, but you looked like you needed a bit of support.”

“I’m not very good with conflict.” Craig reached out and claimed his pint. “He’d have got bored eventually, most people do, but I’m glad you helped.”

“I’m pretty sure he’ll find a willing body if he can stay standing long enough. He’s lucky he didn’t try it on with someone who’d take offense.”

“I am a bit offended. Strange men don’t usually assume I’ll suck their cock on demand.”

“I didn’t mean that. I mean some guys wouldn’t like being hit on by another man. They’d have punched him into next week.”

Craig didn’t think he’d have the balls to hit someone, but it wasn’t Si’s sex that had been the issue. “Being hit on was a problem, not him being a guy.”

“You are gay, then?”

Craig thought it an odd question to ask someone you didn’t know. He took a sip of his pint before answering. “Yes….”

“Sorry, you must think me a complete twat. I’m new to all this.”

“All this?”

The man chuckled and rubbed the back of his neck, an impossibly endearing action that had Craig’s imagination running away with itself. “Yeah. Let’s say I’m late to the game and still figuring out the rules.”

“I’m not sure I know the rules any better. In fact, you could say I’m pretty rubbish at most games that aren’t coded in C++.”

“Eh?”

“That was a bit geeky. It’s computer code. Well, one of them, and of course it depends on the game and the platform.”

“Right.”

A wave of awkwardness swept through him as Craig realized he’d geeked out in front of a rather sexy older man. Still, the encounter would keep his right hand busy for a while, as long as he left before he could embarrass himself further. “I should get back to my friends.”

“Yeah, I’d better go myself. I needed a beer after the day I’ve had.”

“Least it’s the weekend.” Craig gave him a quirky little smile that was meant to say good-bye but probably made him look like a worried poodle. “Thanks again for your help.”

“Anytime.”

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