#BookTour “Somewhere Between Light and Time” by Aiden Leman

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Historical Fiction

Date Published: December 21, 2021

Have you ever met a stranger and felt that you already knew them?

The story begins in the 1800s when Elias and Henry are souls on the Other Side. Their own time as humans lies ahead of them, but they unwittingly observe their ancestors-to-be as they progress through major historical events. From slave-liberation missions in antebellum America to the horror of the Vietnam War, they follow six generations across two centuries. But as the family separates, the descendants form two divergent lineages, thousands of miles apart, into which the two souls are eventually born.

Elias and Henry grow up in different countries but meet again in modern Britain—without any recollection of the Other Side. Civil-rights activist Elias is hiding from a Russian kidnapper when he runs into Henry, who has become a kind-hearted but prejudiced Englishman. Against the backdrop of repeating historical patterns, they become entangled in a love triangle with free-spirited Lana, who becomes Elias’s protector.

Blinded by his intolerance, Henry unwittingly brings danger upon them as the agent closes in on Elias. But soon, all their historical experiences unravel into the present, and eventually produce an unexpected, startling ending.

Somewhere Between Light and Time is a fast-paced adventure drama in which historical events and everyday reality are interwoven with elements of the supernatural. Aiden Leman lives in East Sussex, England, where he works in financial services for his day job. He studied International Relations in Scotland and was previously active in the teaching sector. He has worked in five different countries across three continents, although his dream job would probably be a firefighter.

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EXCERPT

Prologue

The signal on the heart monitor quivered and slowly faded into a flat line. Suddenly, Lana was hovering out of her body and watching the doctors as they battled to resuscitate her. An ethereal light was glowing under the ceiling, and her spirit gravitated toward it. She soared into an otherworldly tunnel, from where she was drawn into an even brighter, more magnificent radiance. There stood her mother, who greeted her on the Other Side, and now came her grandparents, all welcoming her to this supernal place. Here were so many souls Lana had known before she had even been incarnated on earth. Some of them were still waiting to start their lives as humans, while Lana had already returned. This realm of light had been her home long before.

Now her mother was speaking to her again, more loudly this time. ‘It is not your time yet,’ she heard, and eventually, she found herself back in her physical body. It was a cold night in January 2020, and she was in England. Her head was still throbbing from the meningitis fever that had sent her into cardiac arrest, but she was alive.

Her near-death experience had called to mind hidden recollections of the Other Side, memories from before she was born, but Lana also felt she had been sent back here because her work was not complete yet. She gripped on to the old abolitionist medallion that was dangling from her neck, and she immediately thought of her good friends Elias and Henry, for suddenly, everything made sense. The history of this century-old medallion was deeply entwined with the story of Elias and Henry, two very special people to her. And from the moment Lana had first seen them together, she’d sensed something about the two she was not able to articulate. Until now. Throughout the last few months, she’d been given so many clues to the puzzle, but now she finally grasped the bigger picture.

Like a tapestry that had been woven in a bygone time, all their encounters and experiences in history had somehow unravelled into the present era and produced a story that Lana now understood in a different light. The story of Elias and Henry was one that had begun almost one hundred and seventy years before.

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#BookTour “Chasing Winter (Wooing the Alpha, Book 1)” by Autumn Lishky

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Paranormal Romance/Erotica

 

Date Published: 01-01-2022

Publisher: Dirty Little Love, LLC

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Thirteen Clans. Thirteen Males. One prize.

Winter Jarl is the most notorious female warrior of her species. Her father is chief, and he’s dying, so he’s cashed in on a promise she made long ago: he’s setting her up with an alpha from each of the thirteen clans before she takes over his position.

Sentenced to a year of isolation, she will spend twenty-eight-days alone with each man. By the end of it, Winter must choose one to stand beside her.

The challenge? She must be in love to produce an heir.

 

Cycle One: Chasing Winter

When Winter’s oath comes due, she isn’t ready to give up her freedom, her body, or her future. Too bad her nature won’t be doing her any favors.

Thunder is young and inexperienced and the first to encounter Winter Jarl’s deadly sexuality. But he’s got a bucket list of positions he wants to take her in, and he’s willing to face her wrath just to check each one off.

If you enjoyed Audrey Carlan’s Calendar Girl series, you’ll love Autumn Lishky’s Wooing the Alpha series.

Jump into this intense paranormal erotica now and see who you want to win Winter’s heart.

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EXCERPT

CHAPTER ONE

Winter paced the length of her floor-to-ceiling windows, the soft carpet weaving between her toes as she let the air resistance dry her body. The slivered moon made her promises that it could no longer keep as it crept into the sky.

This was the last night in her room for the next year, and she didn’t want to leave it for the mansion her father, the chief, lived in. Winter preferred the edge of wilderness.

Preferred freedom.

Pride forced her to keep her word, made in adolescence but bound by blood and magic.

Her father was dying, and she was the rightful heir—the only other alpha in their pack.

A light flicked on in one of the front windows of his house. Winter retreated to dress in her robe before opening the balcony door to let the cold air nip at her skin.

One more night to herself. One more night to be the barrier against danger. One more night to guard her home and her people from within their woods.

One more night to be Winter.

The robe constrained her already, and she shed it across her camping chair before swinging over the railing. She shifted into her wolf form and hit the forest floor. Leaves crunched as she crashed between the trees.

Her father’s guests were arriving, and she refused to take part in their negotiations over who had the privilege of antagonizing her first. And since she had no say about the details of her circumstances, she wanted to spy on the men as they entered her pack’s grounds.

Watching each wolf with his people told her more about the man than anything he could say to her. She’d been studying them from afar for long enough.

A few of them, she’d gotten to experiment with up close.

Tonight, it served her well.

The winding road up to the manse meant each traveler had to slow his horse—Father didn’t allow cars up on the sacred grounds—and take parts of the trail on foot. Once it reached their little community, the road opened up. One safety precaution amongst many.

Winter found her perch on the crest of the highest hill overlooking the tight curve and waited, nuzzling the ground, nosing twigs and leaves, until their smell reached up into the canopy. A group of five with two horses, three riding and two walking. They smelled of sap and wildfires. Their chatter carried, buoyant and happy. A good sign.

The next was boisterous, and the lead barked orders the entire way. Either his crew didn’t take him seriously, or they were quite chummy. The one after traveled with less noise, and they moved with more purpose, like trained soldiers.

All appeared normal.

Winter grew bored and restless as the tenth reacted brusquely toward his men. They smelled of gingerbread—dark molasses and nutmeg.

She cataloged each of their scents to memory since their faces blurred in the distance.

One man walked the path alone with a bag over his shoulder and his hands in his pockets. He smelled of eucalyptus.

Winter teetered off her perch, the agitation forcing her between the trees, up an incline full of sweet, minty brush.

Crunching brought a new scent, honeysuckle and musk. A tattered brown and white wolf leapt playfully beside her, sending adrenaline through Winter’s legs and pushing her faster. He bounded after her, nipping at her heels and dancing away.

She dove after him when he passed, tumbling him down a shallow hill. Teeth at each other’s throats, they rolled and snipped and nuzzled and darted. When he hunkered low, she recognized his multi-colored eyes. Newt. The only male that hadn’t gone running from her when they were pups. The one who didn’t shy away from her muted friendship as she grew into her alpha genes and trained to be one of the few female warriors of the tribe.

He growled low and barked, beckoning her for another chase back toward their village. She obliged, leaping at him and thundering down the hills. Mountains rose like protective parents around their home, and Newt weaved his way through the trails around their town, avoiding breaking into public space.

He tumbled through a missed step and sprang into her when he regained it. They rolled together. Newt pinned her to the brush he’d fallen into with his teeth at her throat, along the line where the fur split to her scar. The one she had because of him and the armor he’d fastened for her.

It’d been the only thing to keep the sword that slit her throat from lopping off her head. He’d been the one to cut the vampire down and bandage her up after. Carried her back to safety.

She’d have been able to fight again within minutes if that blood-sucking bastard hadn’t tipped his sword with vampire blood. It ate at her throat and vocal cords before they stopped the spreading poison. Winter’s voice grew husky from the damage, which made others more wary of her.

She wriggled under Newt now, squirreling away.

They looped the valley once before settling close to their start by the lone road into their home, panting and catching their breath. Most wolves would cuddle up, but Newt knew better, collapsing a few feet away, head down in submission, chewing on a sweet maple stick.

The twelve males had long assembled in the mansion on the far incline of the mountain, so she had nothing to watch except for the scurrying animals. No other noises or scents or signs lead to anything dangerous lurking in their woods, thick with extra layers of magic to limit any surprises from the parallel paranormal worlds while the thirteen clans gathered.

Boredom arose without the potential peril, making Winter huff at Newt. A low whine gurgled up her throat, and she rolled in the cold needles and evergreen foliage. The new moon would come in one week.

She had to isolate herself in her father’s home for that week. Cleansing herself with the rituals for a mating ceremony, Winter wouldn’t come in contact with anyone for seven days.

Not wanting to submit to the self-isolation before she had to, she didn’t want to spend the night out here with Newt, either. If she was honest with herself, the thought of running through the mountain and swampland tempted her. Winter wanted to leave her home, their island, their world for the human one where she could hide.

But it wasn’t possible. A fantasy.

Her duty was not something she could run away from.

So, back home it was.

Maybe another hot bath, although she’d have plenty of those over the next week.

Winter said goodbye to Newt, who trailed behind her until the minute path altered for him to split off and return to town. She had to shift back to human to climb the ladder to the latched door under her floor. One of her favorite features of the apartment she’d built in a sturdy tree.

CHAPTER TWO

Newt veered away from Winter as she retreated home. Her tension over the meeting at her father—the alpha’s—clearly dampened her verve to hunt and fight. Even in play. How badly didn’t she want to be mated?

She’d never expressed much interest in it over the years they’d fought together. Her sparse set of partners didn’t seem to hold her attention either, including the alphas. It was the reason he veered toward the mansion. Newt helped to care for the chief in his sickness, especially when Winter was away. When Newt joined her, his mother tended the alpha. They would both be in charge of his care for the next year as Winter spent a moon cycle with each of the twelve males.

The path up the side of the mountain got the best warrior puffing, but Newt circled the drive before approaching the high-arched porch to the front door. He let himself in, knowing they collected in the large back parlor. It was the only place that could comfortably hold twelve wolves and their entourages. He half-heartedly hoped some of them had torn each other apart by now.

But that was mere jealousy, having gained Winter’s cool companionship through years of patience. Having earned her trust by saving her life in battle. She’d returned the favor, and Newt worried over the alphas present.

He worried over his friend.

He worried over the elder alpha, sitting in his chair, sick from a long-suffering wound he’d gotten when he sought vengeance against the vampires for killing his mate—Winter’s mom. No one tested the weakness in his on-coming death. Amarok deserved their honor.

And he received it as a chief who’d endured so long in silence.

Newt was one of the few privy to the real agony the alpha lived with daily, and he bent to tell the chief what he wanted to know. “She’s home.”

Amarok nodded, relaxing an inch and scanning the room. He whispered for some tea—the implied tonic the real desire. Once Newt retreated to get his medicine, the chief rapped his knuckles against the table to gain the room’s attention.

“I’ve learned what I need to for the night. Retire to your suites, and I will give you my decision in the morning.”

Who would spend the first twenty-eight days with Winter in this house for the chance to be chief by proxy?

The only thing they had to do was woo the most unattainable female amongst their kind.

She’d chew them up, spit them out, and scat on their remains.

The lot grumbled and dispersed as Newt lay the cup of tea on the table before Amarok. “This year has thirteen moon cycles with no remainders, which means a male from our clan will need to accompany her for this test. We have no alpha besides my Winter, so I have decided for you to stay with her, but as you’re a beta, you will have to be last.”

Newt’s heart hammered as he met the chief’s gaze—the same hazel as Winter’s but with more orange flecks than her green. Amarok was serious, his features creased with gentle lines.

“Thank you, sir.” What could he say? That he hadn’t imagined winning her heart many times over the years, but they were stupid, hormonal dreams—replays of the fantasy he had as a teen after she nearly bit his head off in a training session. But why would she choose him after all of this time?

“You deserve the recognition for the sacrifices you’ve made for our family. For me. For Winter. She fights better knowing I am taken care of.” Amarok’s hand squeezed Newt’s arm, strength still pulsing under the frail shake of his limbs. “And you would treat her right. Make her a better woman. A kinder leader.”

“You mean I am the only one in the clan willing to hole up with her for so long.” The humor didn’t match the slow burn sparking low in his chest.

The chief smiled, reclining in his chair further. “That may be.”

“Drink your tea.” Newt tapped the table beside the cup and saucer. “You’ve got some tough decisions to make before you retire.”

Amarok waved his hand at Newt, pulling a sheet of paper free from his inside jacket pocket. “I’ve already decided. Long before any of them arrived.”

Unfolded, the list wafted to the table: a scribble of names with his at the bottom.

“Pulled their names from a hat. There’s no planning when it comes to earning the love of an alpha female. Too unpredictable.”

Newt shared a knowing laugh with his chief—the man who’d been a second father to him for more than a decade. The best way to describe Winter, in all of her agonizing splendor, was unpredictable.

Although, volatile made a close second.

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About the Author

 

Autumn Lishky is a quiet, little woman with a big, loud imagination, and a dirty one at that. Living in the Oklahoma City area, she has worked various jobs from pizza delivery girl to night host at a funeral home, but no matter the nature of her income, she is always lost in a world of fantastic sex.

 

 

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#Booktour “Scattered Legacy (Murder in Southern Italy, Book 3)” by Marlene M. Bell

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Murder in Southern Italy, Book 3

Mystery/Suspense

Date Published: Nov 4, 2021

Publisher: Ewephoric Publishing

 

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Antiquities expert Annalisse Drury and tycoon Alec Zavos revel in a love affair peppered with treasure hunting, grand adventure, and the occasional dead body.

It’s autumn when Alec arranges a getaway from them to visit his mother’s birthplace in Bari, Italy—a no-drama vacation to transfer his car company to a rival. But before they can depart New York, murder makes its familiar reappearance.

Accompanied by detective friend Bill Drake, Annalisse and Alec find themselves embroiled in a behind-closed-doors conspiracy that threatens the reputation and legacy of Alec’s late father—linking him to the Mafia. An ancient rosary propels Annalisse down crooked paths to expose the truth as they uncover answers none of them are prepared for.

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EXERPT FROM CHAPTER FIVE

Manetti House, Palermo, Sicily

Leo kicks his dearly departed wife’s crocheted blanket off his feet and wiggles circulation into his seventy-six-year-old limbs. His joints pop and creak like the dry floorboards in the attic. “Ah, relief. I’m not dead yet.” Not soon enough. “Open a window, Carlo. Bring some light in here. I’m smothering in this bara.” In his condition, his voice doesn’t carry like it used to.

They call him the Birdman.

He reaches for a deep breath and draws it halfway. A cough rattles from his croupy lungs and gags him. Getting air is harder today with the tumor growing more each week. He doesn’t smell his food anymore; everything tastes like a stinky dishrag in the sink, so why bother? Doc Rinaldi’s pills might be keeping him alive, but so what? He says Leo’s got lots of time left, but he won’t say how many weeks or months. He wrenches himself up against the pillow stack behind his head and coughs again, leaving a pink stain on his T-shirt and cussing at the development. The pain is a knife plunging into his back. One of these days, the knife will drop for the last time.

“Leo. I’ll help you.” A pair of rough hands fluff and punch the pillows from behind. “How much light do you want? Shade up all the way or just a little? You decide. The screens are off outside. Mario’s washing your windows.”

“Lift them anyway. Shades too. Let me smell the lemons and blood oranges in the grove while I still can. I’ll be in the coffin soon enough with the worms and cockroaches cleaning my bones.”

“Hey, watch what you say.” Carlo blesses himself and kisses the end of his finger. “You’re gonna be good as new. You heard the doc. As soon as your pneumonia clears up—right as Papa’s gold cross around your neck.”

Leo looks at the smoky ceiling above his bed and wonders if he’s giving him the evil eye from his perch in heaven, if he made it there. Maybe he’s celebrating with Satan from below while watching Leo suffer in his bed. When he was alive, did Papa figure out Leo put the hit on him so he could take over the family? How could he have known? They got him from behind in the parking lot after he left the bar with a big Friday-night haul. Customers were gone. No shell casings. No snitches. No problems.

“Bring me a shot. Not the blended either. I want the good stuff for special occasions. I want to feel the burn.”

“You just took a pill. Shouldn’t you—”

“What? Wait a few hours? I could be dead.”

Carlo nods and leaves him to his thoughts.

His ring finger is swollen and red, and it hurts to touch it. As he twists the ring in place, it pulls the skin and stings. The amber stone with the bird inside is laughing at the gold band cutting grooves into the skin. It’s fitting because he cut down the paisan who gave it to him as a sign of friendship. He was such a phony. Stoolies pay a price, especially those brought into the fold from the outside. Loyalty is an oath to the Manettis every day of your life, not just when you feel like it.

He wanted Tony taken out with a bomb in his car, but Mario’s attempts failed to detonate, and Tony found the bomb both times. Mario’s no better at wiring than he is at talking. He’s gotta fix that before he dies. Car bombs are the best: quick and clean. It’s over in a matter of seconds.

Rat on the Manettis and you live in a cell with the rats. Tony ended up in the bug-infested Bari prison full of sickies spreading germs and syphilis to other inmates. No matter. With the help of Leo’s connection working in the infirmary, a meth overdose got him in the end.

He’s the capo mandamento on the commission, and no one disobeys him without paying a price. Tony owed from his heist and bit the big one when he didn’t return the treasure he took from them.

Antonio Giambruno was the Barese they called Tony the Terror because he terrorized the police and kept ’em busy while the organization made deals. A sweet talker from a fishing village in Puglia with a small farm and a couple of moth-eaten plow nags. Leo’s downfall was being a softie. He felt sorry for Tony raising his kid without her mama. His temptation to steal from someone else was too great. That was his downfall. You can’t trust the Barese. They’re sneaky boogers. Still, Leo should’ve listened to Papa. “Stick with a Sicilian—your own kind—and you never go wrong,” he’d said. Had he listened, the Manettis would be richer today. Tony stole something more precious than their accounts. More valuable than what’s in Leo’s strongbox. The holy keepsake he lifted from Carlo’s safe behind the wine keg is as old as Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling. He who holds the strand holds the key to the stars.

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  About the Author

Marlene M. Bell is an award-winning writer and acclaimed artist as well as a photographer. Her sheep landscapes grace the covers of Sheep!, The Shepherd, Ranch & Rural Living, and Sheep Industry News, to name a few.

Marlene and her husband, Gregg, reside in beautiful East Texas on a wooded ranch with their dreadfully spoiled horned Dorset sheep, a large Maremma guard dog named Tia, along with Hollywood, Leo, and Squeaks, the cats that
believe they rule the household—and do.

 

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#BookTour “Playing Doctor; PART TWO: RESIDENCY: (Blundering along with imposter syndrome)” by John Lawrence

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playing doctor book cover

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About the Book

Title: PLAYING DOCTOR; PART TWO: RESIDENCY: (Blundering along with imposter syndrome)

Author: John Lawrence

Ready to learn how (not) to be a doctor?

Well, neither was John.

John’s adventures in medical training continue with this insightful, often hilarious, self-deprecating medical memoir of bumbling into residency with a severe case of imposter syndrome. This second part in the series brings John’s unique, irreverent and candid med-school storytelling to the world of residency training.

Initially, John penned email blasts while being held captive on-call nights. His descriptions of the escapades, mishaps, disorder, and terror that surrounded his training, led several friends to enquire if he has broken into the hospital pharmacy. Eventually, someone asked to publish the stories, so John replied that he’d write down the whole adventure of becoming a doctor from medical school through residency.

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EXCERPT

My very first patient on my very first day in the ER was a young woman with a severe headache. When I entered the room, she was moaning on the exam table with the lights turned off because lights exacerbated her headache. I spoke calmly and quietly to not make her head feel any worse, “Hi Nancy, my name’s John, I’m one of the doctors here today. I understand you have a headache?”

She attempted a brief, small smile for my compassionate efforts, “I’m having the worst headache of my life…feels just like a migraine…,” her smile replaced by a grimace of obvious pain.

That phrase however, worst headache of my life, is a catchphrase that medical students have been trained to respond to like Pavlovian dogs, drooling with excitement (and in my case, fear), because they were the words patients typically used to describe the pain associated with a hemorrhage in their brain.

I did a rapid battery of physical exam tests, and quickly went to discuss this potentially fatal headache with the attending physician.

My attending for the day was a fantastic doctor and great guy: always very relaxed and instructive, who appeared more likely to be crafting micro-brew in the ER office, while lecturing about existential philosophy in between poetry jams, than saving lives. I was very concerned about the patient and just blurted out, “I’d like to order a stat head CT to rule out a subarachnoid hemorrhage for this patient.”

“Stat” sounded kind of cool to say in this, my virgin, and quite emergent, ER case.

The attending appeared nonplussed, awaiting further explanation without any reaction to my urgent use of the word “stat.”

So, I blundered on, “This patient, Nancy Beckstead, twenty-seven-year-old woman, here with a chief complaint of a headache that she describes as… (drum-roll please) the worst headache of her life (dramatic pause… but still no reaction from the attending). Uh…the headache woke her early this morning…”

“Did you say Nancy Bankstead?”

“No. Beckstead.”

“Nancy’s a frequent flier here. Every Saturday. Just don’t give her any narcotic drugs.” And then he went back to casually reading his newspaper.

What? I was shocked. My patient was probably going to die; I wasn’t worried about pain meds—although, I did need a plan to treat her pain because, well, doctors are supposed to help relieve their patient’s pain. But I still needed to figure out what to do.

“So, don’t order that stat CT?” I asked.

The attending shook his head at either my silly re-use of the word stat, or more likely, my inability to grasp that Nancy was a big fat liar.

“No. Tell her to follow up with her doctor this week.”

I sulked out of the office, while the carefree attending turned back to his bagel and morning newspaper, calmly calling out to the nurses’ station, “Barbara, can you pull a recent

DOPL on Miss. Bankstead?”

I returned to Nancy, tiptoeing back inside the dark, quiet room, and politely asked her what medicines she had used for headaches in the past that had helped. Amazingly, all of them happened to be narcotics—the exact same medications I had just been instructed not to give to her.

I suggested a non-narcotic pain medicine.

She was allergic to it.

I suggested a different non-narcotic pain reliever.

Remarkably, she turned out to be allergic to every single non-narcotic pain reliever ever available in the world. I told her about a brand-new pain medicine that did not have the opioid effect of narcotics—but she was allergic to that one too.

Amazing.

Turned out she was a complete medical anomaly, and allergic to every class of pain medication except narcotics. Now what was I going to do? She was in pain, and the only medicines that helped were narcotics.

We were in a serious conundrum. Fortunately, Nancy was quite helpful and forthcoming about telling me that she didn’t even like taking pills, but in the past, when she absolutely needed something for pain, a medicine that she thought sounded something like, “Perk-o-sot?” had worked really well.

And regarding following up with her doctor, unfortunately, he was out of town all week, so her care, her well-being, her only chance of breaking the horrific migraine pain cycle, was left in my caring hands.

I returned to the attending’s office to inform him of Nancy’s allergies, and her doctor being out of town all week. My medical career was now reduced to playing messenger boy and patient envoy.

The attending tossed his newspaper aside, strode back to Nancy’s room, flipped on the lights, and loudly announced, “Hi Nancy, we’re not giving you any narcotics today. Anything else?”

She left the ER two minutes later walking upright, and not appearing to be in any pain.

I was shocked. She had barely been able to lift her head ten minutes before. She had lied right to my face!

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Author Bio

John LawrenceJohn Lawrence was born in New York, grew up England, and attended Georgetown University where he told his career advisor that the only thing he did not want to be was a doctor. He subsequently survived medical school and residency training in Utah.

John was not the typical medical student, sneaking out of the hospital whilst on-call to audition for television shows; writing film scripts (also available on Amazon!) and overcoming imposter syndrome. He went on to work as a doctor for 20 years in both traditional western medicine and functional medicine.

John’s varied non-medical resume includes river rafting guide, ski race coach, bagel baker, screenwriter, film director, and expedition doctor climbing Kilimanjaro with Olympic Hall of Fame athlete Chris Waddell.

Links

Visit the author’s website: https://johnlawrencewriter.com/

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#Spotlight “Blood Red Moon: Worlds of Fire Series” by Deborah A. Bailey

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Out of the ashes, a new beginning…

When his family and most of their kind were destroyed by the Guild, Derek inherited the position of Vampire Lord. Alchemists held the keys to creating portals to other worlds, knowledge they passed down to phoenixes. Their utopian society was crushed when the Guild invaded, intending to unlock the powerful secrets phoenixes possess. Lovers Derek and Avani met the night their city was sacked and after the city succumbed, they were lost to each other.

Love will be resurrected in blood and fire…

Having lost her memory, Avani became a protégé of the Guild Master, conditioned by magic to believe shifters and vampires were evil. Eventually, she was made Seeker, tasked with finding the Vampire Lord in order to gain access to phoenixes.

When Derek finds Avani, he neutralizes the magic that’s kept her from remembering who she is. However, the Templars have almost certainly made a pact with the enemy of all supernatural creatures, in order to gain access to the portals. Only a phoenix can save the world from utter ruin now, but that was precisely the asking price…

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Excerpt

As he studied me his eyes were more hazel than brown. And they showed me his raw desire. This was Derek desperate to reclaim me.

“You’re not hungry for blood right now, are you?” I asked.

He shook his head, then averted his eyes as though he was afraid of revealing too much. But I’d already seen and felt it. When he met my eyes again, his were darker. Mesmerizing, pulling me in so that I was unable to look away.

An intense vampire gaze burning into me, arousing me to the point where I gripped the edges of the towel I’d wrapped around me. If I said yes, we could be together now in the way that he hungered for.

The image of him running towards me flashed in my mind. The sunshine, the sound of the water lapping on the shore, the smell of the grasses and sweet flowers…all of it came back to me in that instant. His arms around me. His touch. His scent that reminded me of the fresh, comforting earth.

Another image cut into my mind. The Guild house…our plans to purge the vampires, finish them off…destroy the evil. It had to be done and that was our purpose.

Before I could stop it, a sob pushed its way up into my throat. I covered my mouth before I voiced it. He can’t know what you’ve done. He’ll never understand.

Derek gripped my shoulders. “What is it? Is the heart magic still—”

“I’m not the person I was back then. We’re not the same people.”

“I know that. But you and I are connected, Avani. We have a purpose.”

“I’ve been told that before.”

“That was a lie. This is real,” he said.

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https://books2read.com/BloodRedMoon

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#BookTour “My Boss’s Son” by Amaka Azie

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Title: My Boss’s Son

Author: Amaka Azie

Genre: Contemporary Romance

BLURB

Adanna Ezenna needs this promotion. What’s more, she deserves it. But after a workday from hell, her chances look grim. So, when some joker, posing as the lead actor in a hit British television series, slides into her Cupidess dating app DMs, her response pulls no punches. Her career, not romance, is on the agenda right now. Besides, no way could the lying fraud be the man for her, right?

Justin Igwe is in Lagos searching for his biological father. A bitter breakup has left him sour on love, but a savvy guide around town could aid his mission. So, he puts his profile on the hip, new dating app Cupidess. And bingo, there she is— totally not his type and knows the city like the back of her hand.

Now, if he can only convince her he’s not a con. Easy enough. The hard part? Keeping his unexpected attraction to her in check.

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MBS

EXCERPT

My breath hitches. Is he trying to say what I think he is?

“I’m attracted to you, and I like you a lot. I sense the feeling is mutual,” he carries on in a deep, reflective tone. “Why can’t we continue to explore what’s developing between us?”

His question seems reasonable. But also, ambiguous. I need clarification. “You mean date, or continue to hook up?”

He suddenly reaches out to cradle my face in his palms. “Let me make this perfectly clear, Adanna. Last night wasn’t a hookup for me. I don’t let just anyone spend the night in my bedroom.”

He caresses my jaw with his thumb, spreading shards of desire from his fingertips through my skin, and transmitting those sensual impulses straight to the already sensitised bud between my thighs. I do an involuntary Kegel exercise, trying to tamp down the need stirring in my loins.

“Dating is what I mean, Adanna. Can we give this relationship a try and see where it leads us?”

Multiple concerns storm my brain like a blizzard in winter. Can a relationship with Justin possibly work? Won’t I be setting myself up for another train wreck.

Let’s get real. He lives three thousand miles away in London. And I already know from my time with Tayo that long distance is a no-no for me. When he moved to Ghana for work, he became insecure, and it intruded on our rapport. Am I really prepared to go through that again?

Then, there’s the problem of my unemployment, and Justin being an English actor with a net worth of over ten million pounds. Can a relationship survive such a vast divide in financial and social status? Will he eventually realize dating a broke, unemployed Nigerian hoping to make ends meet as an Uber driver would bring down his international status? What if …

“Don’t overthink things, Adanna,” he murmurs, cutting into my torrential thoughts as if he’s read my mind. “It’s just me and you. Right here, right now. Nothing and nobody else. Does this feel right?”

I gaze into his eyes, and my heart flipflops. Pure hope is shining in their dark depths. The answer is plain and simple to me. And it’s a whooping YES. At this very moment, taking every other thing out of the equation, being here with Justin feels absolutely fantastic.

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ABOUT THE AUTHORA. Azie

Amaka Azie is an award-winning writer of romance fiction set in tropical West Africa. She explores the beauty and intricacies of the continent in her sweet and sensual love stories.

Born and raised in Nigeria, West Africa, she developed a passion for reading at the age of twelve. Her interest in writing began in secondary school when she joined the press club. Her active imagination has captured the interests of many.

Her books showcase bold and exciting female and male main characters with compelling story lines.

She was named one of the most influential authors under Forty by the Nigerian Writers Awards (NWA) for the years 2017 and 2018.

Apart from getting lost in creating fascinating fictional characters, Amaka enjoys reading, painting and travelling with her family.

She lives in the United Kingdom with her husband and daughters where she also practices as a part-time family doctor.

You can interact with Amaka Azie on the following platforms:

Blog: Click Link to Blog

Amazon page: Click Link to Amazon Page

Goodreads: https: Click Link to Goodreads Profile 

Facebook: Click Link To Facebook Page

Twitter: Click Link To Twitter Page

Instagram: Click Link To Instagram Page

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#Excerpt “The Dragon and the Girl: True North” by Laura Findley Evans

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Middle School Grade Fantasy

 

Date Published: December 2, 2021

Publisher: Acorn Publishing

THE LAST DRAGONS IN THE KINGDOM WERE KILLED A HALF CENTURY AGO.

At least that’s what twelve-year-old Eliana has grown up hearing. Imagine her surprise when one morning in the forest she finds herself eye to eye with a young dragon. When she learns the dragon’s father has been missing since the last full moon, she vows to help.

Together, they seek the King for guidance, but upon reaching the castle they realize the short, frazzled King has problems of his own. The kingdom’s treasure is missing and the tribute to the Overking is due in a few short weeks. If the King doesn’t pay, he will lose his kingdom to the Overking’s feckless nephew.

The dragon and the girl must discover courage—sprinkled with magic—to find what is lost before the kingdom falls into the wrong hands and people and dragons perish forever.

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EXCERPT

In the forest, Eliana stood as still as her pounding heart would allow. She was so close to the dragon—for indeed it was a dragon—that she could see the slow blink of its eyes as the lids moved up and then down again. Somehow she was able to take in the fact that the creature was much smaller than the old stories portrayed. Its scaly tail and feathered wings were wrapped around its body so it looked to be only about as big as a draft horse.

In the old stories, the last dragons were said to have been killed before her parents had been born. But Eliana could feel its warm breath moving rapidly in and out of the tear-shaped nostrils on either side of its blocky snout. They were breathing in unison, she and this impossible dragon.

“You’re afraid, too,” she whispered, and the creature drew back, crouching lower on its powerful haunches; its shimmery turquoise and green scales and feathered wings quivered as it began to move away from her, deeper into the forest.

“Please don’t go,” Eliana said, using the soft, cooing voice she used to soothe Opal when the hen was frightened. “I won’t hurt you.” The dragon stopped, its pointed ears twitching.

“My name is Eliana. What’s your name?” The sound the dragon made then reminded her of the twins when they tried to talk with their mouths full of porridge. What was I thinking? she wondered. Of course it can’t understand me. But something—the way the dragon looked at her so intently—made her try again.

“El-i-ana…Eliana. My name…” she placed her hand on her chest, “…is Eliana.”

“Umm-mmm-mm-um,” the dragon repeated, sort of.

“You can understand me!” Eliana cried, but clamped her hand over her mouth at the sight of the dragon crouching even lower as it seemed to be trying to cover its ears with its front legs.

“You can understand me,” she repeated, softer this time. It nodded its huge head and what looked like a smile curled the corners of its mouth. Eliana tried not to focus on the square, white teeth that were now clearly visible.

“What’s your name?” she asked, careful to move her hand slowly as she pointed at the dragon.

“Umm-mmm,” it replied, laying a taloned claw on its own chest. Except for the missing syllables, it sounded almost the same as when it had tried to say her name.

She tried again. “What’s your name?”

Again, the mumbled reply.

“Soooo, you can understand me…” The dragon nodded vigorously. “But I can’t understand you.” The dragon looked almost as disappointed as she felt.

Feeling the effects of first the shock and then the excitement of meeting a real live dragon, Eliana sank to sit on the soft, green moss of the forest floor. A dragon? She shook her head. Despite what she’d always heard, this beautiful creature was very much alive.

The dragon stretched its neck so its eyes were once again staring into her own. Slender shafts of morning light found their way between the dark green tree branches and fell on the dragon’s scales and on its feathered wings pressed against his sides. The colors were like nothing she had ever seen before, seeming to gather sunlight to create shades unknown in nature. Without a thought about what she was doing, she reached out her hand and laid it on the creature’s neck.

“Winston. My name is Winston,” said the dragon.

Eliana simultaneously gasped and pulled her hand away. Wisps of colors—the same as those of his glittering scales—streamed between her hand and the dragon. Within seconds, the wisps faded and disappeared.

“Your name is Winston?” she breathed. The sizable head nodded and the smile returned.

“How…?” Eliana looked at the palm of her hand. Winston moved slightly so that his neck was only inches away. She gently placed her hand on his scales again.

“It’s when you touch my neck that you can understand me, Eliana.”

Eliana realized Winston was right: when he’d tried to talk before she touched him, she couldn’t understand him at all. It reminded her of the time she’d seen a traveler in the village who spoke what her mother had said was a language from another land. The sound of his speech had been fascinating, like music with high notes and low notes woven together. She could hear the man, but had no idea what he was saying. With her hand on the dragon, it was as if she had learned another language. Winston’s language. And her mind whirled with all the questions she wanted to ask him.

~~~

About the Author

At six years old, Laura Findley Evans wrote her first story about a man named Brill who flew to the moon. When her teacher asked her to stand up and read it to the class, she learned just how powerful a story can be. A creative writing major in college, she has written many more short stories, some of which were published, and one that won an award. The Dragon and the Girl: Due North is her first novel. It began when her grandchildren said one night (when they were supposed to be sleeping), “Tell us a story.” And so she did. Laura would like you to know that whatever she writes must be true, whether it is real or not. She hopes you will discover the truth in this story. You can visit her online at http://www.LauraFindleyEvans.com.

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#PromoTour “Holiday Playbook” by Yahrah St. John

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HOLIDAY PLAYBOOK

BY YAHRAH ST. JOHN

A meeting of business minds under the mistletoe?

All marketing executive Giana Lockett wants for Christmas is to land an endorsement deal with Wynn Starks’s sports drink company. It’s tough being the baby girl in a family of alpha men, and this will finally prove her worth to the Locketts’ football dynasty. Also tough? Securing a meeting with Atlanta’s most elusive billionaire. Giana’s not giving up, and once she makes contact, the prize gets closer…and so does Wynn’s bed. The chemistry between her and Wynn is hot. But business is business, until pleasure changes all the rules…

AVAILABLE ON

AMAZON | BARNES & NOBLE | KOBO | GOOGLE | APPLE | HARLEQUIN

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EXCERPT

Wynn stared at her lips for what seemed like an eter­nity before he leaned in to brush his mouth across hers. The kiss was featherlight considering the rampant ten­sion between them, so Giana leaned closer for more. Their lips met again, and this time the kiss turned in­cendiary, causing adrenaline to surge through her veins.

Giana’s lips parted in an unspoken invitation, al­lowing Wynn inside. His tongue slid between her lips, tangling with hers, and Giana moaned. The kiss oblit­erated rational thought, and Giana forgot time and space. Instead, she exulted in his drugging kisses and craved the satisfaction his mouth could give. Wynn un­derstood, because instinctively, he deepened the kiss. Giana clasped her hands around the back of his head for a better fit.

What was it that made Wynn’s kiss different from other men’s? It wasn’t just a matter of technique, al­though Wynn knew exactly how to use his mouth, tongue and teeth. It was the passion, the all-consuming hunger, and Giana couldn’t do anything but grip his bulging biceps and hang on for the ride.

Wynn stirred her to a fever pitch, making Giana ache. When his knee nudged her legs apart so he could settle himself between them, her sluggish brain allowed it. That’s when she felt the press of his arousal against her, and her belly clenched in response. He moved his hands upward to cup the weight of her breasts in his palms. He gently squeezed the flesh, making her nip­ples tighten and causing a tumult of sensations to rush through her.

Giana was panting by the time Wynn wrenched his mouth away. His eyes blazed down at her as he brushed some wayward strands of her hair from her forehead. “I want you, Giana.” His voice had a sexy rasp that made her heart flutter.

“I want you too.”

That’s when his hands left her breasts and began moving downward while his lips trailed kisses down her ear to her neck. That’s where he stayed, causing Giana to clasp his lapels. Then she felt cool air against her legs. Wynn was lifting her dress and caressing her legs, steadily moving his fingers upward toward the soft flesh of her thighs.

“Part your legs for me, Giana,” Wynn whispered in her ear.

Giana closed her eyes. She couldn’t believe she was making out with Wynn in the elevator, but she did as he asked and shuddered when his hands slipped between her legs. “I—we—shouldn’t…”

“Oh, this tells me we should,” he murmured as he parted her folds and found her drenched. His mouth re­turned to hers while his hand continued with the most devastating intimate exploration Giana ever endured. She tried to fight the feelings, but it was a futile effort. Wynn’s touch was skillful, and her whole body stiff­ened as a powerful climax overtook her.

“Wynn!” she cried out as she came and convulsed against his hand.

When the shudders finally subsided, he murmured, “You’re incredible, Giana. I have a room upstairs be­cause I didn’t want to drink and drive. When we get there, I can make love to you properly.”

Giana felt as if he’d poured a bucket of ice water over her head as she came down from her high and realized the mistake she’d made.

She was thankful the elevator lurched downward then, and the lights flickered on, because it allowed her a few precious seconds to smooth down her dress and hair before the elevator doors pinged open. A tech­nician was there, but Giana didn’t even look at him as she rushed out of the car, through the lobby and out into the night air.

She jumped in the first taxi she saw. “Go. Go. Go!” she yelled. She had to get away from the scene of the crime as soon as possible.

~~~

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ABOUT YAHRAH ST. JOHN

Yahrah St. John became a writer at the age of twelve when she wrote her first novella after secretly reading a Harlequin romance. Throughout her teens, she penned a total of twenty novellas. Her love of the craft continued into adulthood. She’s the proud author of thirty-nine books with Arabesque, Kimani Romance and Harlequin Desire as well as her own indie works.

When she’s not at home crafting one of her spicy romances with compelling heroes and feisty heroines with a dash of family drama, she is gourmet cooking or traveling the globe seeking out her next adventure. For more info: www.yahrahstjohn.com or find her on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Bookbub or Goodreads.

CONNECT WITH YAHRAH ST. JOHN

AUTHOR SITE | FACEBOOKTWITTER | INSTAGRAMNEWSLETTER | PINTEREST | YOUTUBE | BOOKBUB | AMAZON AUTHOR PAGE

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#Excerpt “The Scent of a Storm (German Love Stories of WWII)” by Annette Oppenlander

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Historical Fiction

Date Published: 09-24-2021

 

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A heart-wrenching love story for the ages – inspired by true events

Eastern Prussia, 1944: Young lovers Annie and Werner are separated from each other when he is drafted into Hitler’s Volkssturm. While the SS orders Werner to remove the dead bodies of frozen refugees from Königsberg’s streets, Annie discovers she is pregnant. As she
urgently awaits Werner’s return, rumors of the advancing Red Army mount and with it, alarming reports of what they do to women. Running for their lives, Annie and her mother embark on a life-threatening journey west.

Even before they can escape by boat, Annie makes a horrifying mistake, one that will haunt her forever. Werner, arrested and imprisoned in a Russian gulag, manages to escape after four months of cruelty and returns home. But his and Annie’s farms lie abandoned—the love of his life and his own family have vanished…

East Berlin, 1989: On the evening of November 9, when the borders between
East and West Berlin open for the first time in nearly thirty years—a
day which ultimately heralds Germany’s reunification—Annie
watches a correspondent on West TV who reminds her of her childhood
sweetheart Werner, the man she has thought dead for 45 years. Together with
her daughter Emma, Annie sets out on a search…

~~~

EXCERPT

Insterburg, Eastern Prussia – August 1944

“Come on, move a bit to the right.” Mother points and waves while she holds the camera. I suppress a grumble, pulling Werner along. I’m thankful that Oma Leonora—we call her Leo— keeps to her task shelling beans at the outdoor table. Except for the gray hair, she looks like a smaller, wrinklier version of Mother. Both carry that same expression of wonder and resignation, their eyes equally curious and watchful, but their mouths set firmly as if repressing a snide comment. Except Oma hardly ever talks, and if she says something, it’s a word or two. She’s been like this as long as I remember, and my questions to Mother have remained unanswered.

“Let’s do what she wants,” I mumble under my breath, “otherwise she’ll never leave us alone.”

Mother has appeared out of nowhere, demanding a photo she can send to our fathers, who both have been serving in the war for the past four years. Werner’s is supposed to be someplace in France, mine in the east. Nobody knows for sure these days because we hardly ever receive any field post now.

Werner good-naturedly follows my mother’s directions, looking this way and that while moving his arm from my waist to my shoulder—less dangerous—and smiling on command. I know he doesn’t need any help showing his happiness. I know he enjoys spending every available minute together, exploring the countryside on our bikes when chores are done. Soon, school is going to restart—Werner’s last year of high school before he plans on studying biology in Königsberg.

After the film roll is finished and Mother disappears inside, Werner and I take off on our bikes again. It’s a glorious August afternoon, hot and dry, with a slight wind that cools our damp skin. We avoid the city of Insterburg, not three miles from here, because last month the Russian Army bombed our historic town and not much is left. Hiding in the root cellar, we listened to the shrill whine of the falling bombs, the explosions. Dirt fluttered from the ceiling as I counted the seconds, my insides soft as bread soaked in milk, my breath shaky. I took comfort from feeling Mother and Oma on either side of me, as if they could protect me from a detonating bomb. I don’t know how long we were down there, but I do remember my first steps outside—how my knees nearly buckled, my gaze uncertain as I searched the sky.

Black clouds hung above Insterburg, and fires raged for days. After that, many of the people who’d survived left, afraid of new attacks. Only then, in those weeks, did the war become real for me, so real that now I can’t stop myself from listening for the drone of approaching planes. At night I often lie awake, wondering what is going to happen with the Russian border so close to us. Is that why I want to laugh with abandon, to enjoy the time I have with Werner?

We stop at a small lake, no more than a pond really, but fed from a spring and always perfectly cool. I tear off my sandals and stick my feet in. Heaven, it feels good.

“Are you going swimming?” Werner calls from shore.

“Only if you come with.”

Our eyes meet. In the past we have had no problems taking off our clothes, but this summer is different. The air is different, as is the way we look at each other. I can’t quite explain why I have a swarm of bees in my middle or why Werner’s gaze makes me feel even hotter than I already am. After all, we’ve lived next to each other for as long as I can remember, Werner on a horse ranch—his parents own hundreds of acres of pastureland and raise Trakehner horses—while our family grows wheat, rye and potatoes.

I jump when Werner runs past me, laughing and splashing. He’s down to his underwear and I can’t help but stare at his backside. Luckily, he disappears under water, so I turn abruptly and pull off my shirt and shorts. I’m wearing a bra, and I feel self-conscious as I race after him. The water is much colder now, but I’m more concerned about what shows through the thin fabric of my underwear.

“It’s amazing,” Werner shouts before taking a few lazy strokes toward the middle. I follow slowly, my swimming not as assured, my breaths hard and gulpy. “I wonder how deep it is,” he says before he disappears from view. The surface calms as I tread water. The heat from earlier has left me and I wish myself back on land.

~~~

 

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About the Author

Annette Oppenlander is an award-winning writer, literary coach and educator. As a bestselling historical novelist, Oppenlander is known for her authentic characters and stories based on true events, coming alive in
well-researched settings. Having lived in Germany the first half of her life and the second half in various parts in the U.S., Oppenlander inspires readers by illuminating story questions as relevant today as they were in the past.

 Oppenlander’s bestselling true WWII story, Surviving the Fatherland, has received eight awards/nominations, including the 2017 National Indie Excellence Award, the 2018 Indie B.R.A.G. and the 2020 Skoutz Award in Germany. Uniquely, Oppenlander weaves actual historical figures and events into her plots, giving readers a flavor of true history while enjoying a good story. Oppenlander shares her knowledge through writing workshops at
colleges, libraries and schools. She also offers vivid presentations and author visits. The mother of fraternal twins and a son, she now lives in her hometown, Solingen, Germany with her husband.

Contact Links

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Twitter: @aoppenlander

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Pinterest: @annoppenlander

Instagram: @annette.oppenlander

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#Excerpt “Handle With Care” by A.N. Verebes

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Contemporary Romance/Erotic Romance

 

Date Published: 07-23-2021

What would you do if you had twenty minutes alone with your idol?

Gemma Fox is a self-confessed unlucky-in-love geek treating herself to a weekend at a pop-culture convention on Australia’s sunny Gold Coast.

Drawn there by the temptation of seeing her celebrity crush, Everett Rhodes, the last thing she expects is to wind up trapped in an elevator with him. Parting ways, Gemma has no reason to suspect that their paths will cross again. After all, he’s a celebrity. She’s just a fan who lives on the other side of the planet.

Besides, her life is not a rom-com. (At least, that’s what she keeps telling herself.)

However, life has other plans. And Everett -stupidly charming, frustratingly handsome Everett- is hard to resist.

But when things get complicated, Gemma and Everett are both faced with the same dilemma:

How can they make things work when they live in completely separate worlds?

~~~

Excerpt from Chapter One

The silence stretched on as the floors seemed to inch down to the ground level. Then the lights flickered, and the lift made a strange grinding-clunking sound, stopping abruptly. The display on the screen said that they had reached the 7th floor, but the doors didn’t open.

“That didn’t sound too good,” Gemma observed slowly, frowning at the still-closed metal doors. She pushed the ‘open doors’ button. They remained shut. The lights flickered again ominously.

“Pretty sure we’re stuck,” her companion remarked, frowning and pulling out his own phone. She assumed he had a travel sim installed or simply didn’t care about exorbitant roaming charges. “I don’t have any reception.”

“Well, fuck,” she muttered, realising that she didn’t either. They must be in a dead zone, because Murphy’s Law was an actual thing in her world. “Neither do I.” She held up her phone to prove that, for all her joking about crazed fans, she wasn’t lying to him.

She hit the emergency call button in the lift.

Nothing happened.

Gemma blinked, incredulous. “You’ve got to be kidding me.” She hit the button a few more times with increasing frustration and just a hint of panic. She just about jumped out of her skin when a warm hand landed on her shoulder.

“Sorry,” Rhodes backed up again, holding his hands up in surrender. “Are you okay?”

Fighting down a hysterical laugh, she swallowed and shoved shaking hands into her pockets. “I’m not the best with confined spaces. For short periods of time, it’s fine, but…” she blew a breath out slowly. “Sorry. I promise I’m not actually a raving lunatic.”

Talking to him was distracting enough from the plight of being stuck in a small metal box suspended between hotel floors, though, so she kept going. “I don’t suppose you have bodyguards or assistants or handlers or something? You know, someone that knew you were getting into this lift and who will raise the alarm if you don’t wander out on the ground floor in the next couple of minutes?”

He laughed at that, and it surprised her that it was a self-deprecating sort of sound and it was accompanied by a shrug. “No. No, I’m not that famous. In fact, you’re the first person to recognise me.”

Objectively, if she hadn’t been such a huge fan (with a crush to boot) she mightn’t have recognised him at first glance, particularly with the shaggy haircut he was sporting and if he slid his sunglasses on. Additionally, his show had been off air for two years: if he were off being successful and relevant, he wouldn’t have been booked at a random pop culture convention in Australia, would he? But that thought seemed a little unkind, considering how much she –and thousands of other people–looked forward to these conventions.

“Oh.” Gemma shook her head, feeling a little traitorous for her musings. “I’m willing to bet the closer you get to the Convention Centre, the faster that will change. Whether that’s a good thing or not, well…” she trailed off and offered him another small smile. “We’re not all crazies, remember.”

“I thought that was my line,” the actor grinned, and she felt her heart do a little flip. Damn him and his aesthetic charm. He stuck out his hand, officially introducing himself, “Everett, or Rhett, if you’d prefer.”

“Gemma,” she responded, shaking the offered appendage. Cocking her head to the side, she mused on his chosen nickname. “I never picked you as the ‘Rhett’ type. I would have thought it was Everett or bust. You know, if I’d given it much thought. Which I hadn’t. Well, until now.”

His lips twitched upwards into a smirk. “Rhetts have a type?”

“Yes,” her reply was one of affected haughtiness, because she got weird when she got nervous. And boy was she nervous. “They wear shorts, Hawaiian shirts, and thongs.” At his raised eyebrows, she corrected, “Flip-flops, or sandals, sorry.” She looked him over again, taking in the form fitting jeans, polo shirt (with sunglasses tucked in at the unbuttoned collar, offering just a hint of his dark chest hair) and dress shoes. “You’re dressed like an Everett.”

This earned her another laugh, but it was warmer and richer than any of the previous iterations of the sound. “You were trying to convince me you weren’t crazy, remember?”

“Oh,” she waved her hand dismissively, “I abandoned that plan at least three seconds after I said it. Lost cause and all that. Still,” she mused aloud, gesturing to the shut doors, “I wasn’t exactly expecting this.”

It was probably a good thing that she’d gone to the bathroom before she’d left her hotel room, too. She pressed the emergency call button again. Still nothing. She clenched her hand into a fist and gave the button a good thump for its uselessness.

“Okay, so we’re going to leave the button alone now,” Everett told her, gently pulling her away from the panel. “I’d guess there’s been a glitch of some kind. But I get you’re a bit claustrophobic, and the talking was helping right?”

She glanced down to where his hand was still on her forearm, warm and solid and connected to his own toned arm and delicious biceps, which looked so good in the tight sleeves of the black polo and…Fuck! Focus, Gemma.

“Yes,” she acknowledged, a blush staining her cheeks. She was a terrible person for objectifying him. And yet, courtesy of her crush, she couldn’t help it. Not that that was a valid excuse, she knew. And now her traitorous thoughts were turning circular. “It was. Sorry. Trying to rein in the crazy.”

“I have a fear of anything reptilian, if it helps,” he admitted, surprising her with the information. “So, I get it. Your country terrifies me with its wealth of deadly snakes and lizards and even turtles! Seriously, you have turtles that can maim people. That’s not normal.”

“I mean, most of our wildlife is engineered to kill you, so I guess that fear’s warranted.” Who was this person that was in control of the sounds coming out of her mouth, she wondered. She needed them to stop now.

“It’s the blasé way you say that that really worries me.” Everett still sounded amused, though, so she figured she hadn’t made too much of a fool of herself.

“I’m also afraid of snakes, don’t worry,” she shuddered. “I’ve been considering moving to Hawaii or New Zealand. Or even Ireland. No snakes there. Could get my hike on without being afraid of certain death.”

“Oh, you like hiking?” There was additional animation in him now, a genuine interest with the topic. Of course he was the outdoorsy type – he was practically built for it.

Gemma nodded. “Yeah, I have a thing for views and scenic vistas. Don’t much love the actual hiking itself, especially with Eastern Browns at every turn here, but the payoff is usually worth it.”

“Yeah. There’s definitely something magical and rewarding in getting to the top of a climb and looking down over the rest of the world, right?” Everett smiled conspiratorially.

“Right.” Her heart was not thumping away at a billion miles per minute just because seeing his eyes all lit up and crinkled at the edges made him extra handsome. Nope. It wasn’t. She swallowed. “I’m thinking of travelling to the US in the next couple of years. Any choice spots I should focus on if I do want to come off the beaten track and do a hike?” She knew he was English, but that he’d spent at least the past eight years living in America, filming television shows and movies.

“I guess it depends on where you’re talking about visiting. East Coast or West Coast? Or desert? Tourist destinations, or the cities that most people dismiss because they’re not famous?”

She slid down the wall, deciding that she might as well settle in and get comfortable. “I’m kind of a Broadway baby,” she confessed, “so I’d love to see New York City. Not a lot of hiking to be done there, I know.”

He considered this, following her example to slide down the wall beside her, resting his wrists on his elevated knees. She hated herself for thinking that even that simple action seemed sinful coming from him. “It sounds overdone, but Central Park is awesome, and huge. No hiking, but it’s scenic at any time of year. You could spend days wandering around in there and still not see it all.”

“That does sound like a Bucket List activity.” She was even good enough to not mention the crime stats and the concept that she might get mugged.

He smiled and her heart did that flopping thing again. “There are plenty of hiking spots in Upstate New York, too.” He began listing them, counting them off on his fingers, “Lake Placid, Bear Mountain, Watkins Glen…or, if you Google, you can find a few spots closer to NYC that you’d probably also love.”

“Google!” She cried, startling him, and pulled out her phone. “I don’t have reception, but if we can get WiFi…” Her face fell. The little metal box they were in did not get WiFi reception either. “Never mind.”

Everett’s hand was on her back, patting consolingly. “I’m sure someone is already on it. Fixing the lift, I mean.”

Her head hit the mirrored wall with a dull thunk. “Didn’t Speed start this way?”

He blinked at her abrupt change of topic. “Huh?”

“I’m sure it did,” she continued. “Keanu Reeves and Jeff Daniels were trying to save a bunch of people from plummeting to their deaths in a lift.”

“You’re really not a fan of confined spaces, are you?” He was starting to sound concerned now, his cobalt eyes wider as they peered at her. “Don’t pass out on me, okay, love?”

Gemma forced herself to calm, taking a few deep breaths and feeling completely embarrassed. Closing her eyes and resting her head against the cool surface behind her, she said, “I am sorry for this. I’m sure being locked in a box with a panicky random isn’t quite how you imagined spending your morning.”

“I’ll admit,” he conceded, “there was more caffeine and less claustrophobia in my original plans.”

“When we get out of here, I’ll owe you a coffee.” The casual offer escaped her before she remembered who she was talking to. A flush immediately suffused her cheeks, and she stammered, “I mean, sorry, I didn’t mean…” she winced and pinched the bridge of her nose. “Stopping talking now.”

The fact that her unwitting companion was actually laughing, shoulders shaking and all, didn’t help matters.

“If nothing else, I’m glad I’m able to entertain you,” she snarked at him, feeling her cheeks burning. She’d probably actually seek therapy after this, the mortification of the entire encounter burning deep into her psyche. “Just promise me that when you get your next big role and start wheeling out this story in interviews as ‘that time I was trapped with a crazy fan’, you’ll at least fib a little and say I was stunning or something complimentary alongside the humiliation, yeah?”

Everett sobered a little, a frown pulling his eyebrows down, giving him the broody expression that he’d practically patented during his run on Happily Never After. He opened and closed his mouth a few times, as though trying to find the right words. She cursed herself for making him uncomfortable. Well, more uncomfortable.

Fuck her life.

“So, I’ve watched you on a few panels. Online, obviously. You’ve got this wicked sense of humour,” she found herself explaining into the awkward silence, blaming her lack of filter on an imagined decreasing amount of oxygen. However, at this point she was pretty much in for a penny, in for a pound when it came to her embarrassment anyway, and she had a point to make. “The playful narcissism is entertaining, and you just ride the line between knowing you’re attractive and still being charming. Personally, I can’t pull that off, so my style of deflection –as you’ve noticed by now– is more self-deprecating.” She shrugged. “What a juxtaposition, right?” She swept her eyes over him again. “Of course, if I were as pretty as you, maybe things would be different.”

“Hey, I can’t control that this was the jawline I was born with,” he defended lightly, gesturing towards his face with the back of one hand, “or my eyes. Or cheekbones. Or–”

“Yeah yeah, buddy. You’re rocking your natural aesthetic,” she threw her arms wide, indicating an invisible audience, “we all know. Pity about your height, right?”

He snorted, “I think I liked you better when you were starstruck. Besides, I’m five ten and a half, so I’m not exactly short.”

“Of course you did.” Rolling her eyes as her brain caught up with the rest of his sentence, she repeated, “And a half,” with a laugh in her voice. “Every half-inch counts, right?” Somehow, she managed to deliver this absolutely deadpan.

She had no shame.

His lip curled upwards again at the innuendo, but he let it be. “Well, I could stretch the truth a bit and say I’m six feet tall. If I wear lifts, it’s not a lie.”

This made her chuckle and shake her head before knowingly observing, “There’s definitely an element of truth to your narcissist shtick, isn’t there?”

“That’s the thing about landing jokes, isn’t it? The best ones all have a bit of truth to them.”

Gemma acknowledged this argument with a jut of her chin. “Yeah. Well, at least, that’s what they say. Whoever they are.”

“A secret society, I’m told. Very exclusive,” he tapped the side of his nose with the tip of his index finger and she laughed again.

“Right. Seems legit.”

There was an awkward lull in conversation, and just as she was beginning to feel the walls closing in, her companion asked, “So where would you recommend for hiking around here?”

Gemma’s building anxiety receded again, and she was glad for the ongoing distraction. The guy was a saint. It did nothing to abate her crush on him. “It depends on what you’re after or how far you’re willing to travel,” she mused aloud. “Bushwalks around here can get you to ocean views, mangrove walks, waterfalls…” she shrugged. “I’ve always found the short track between Burleigh Heads and Tallebudgera relaxing, but it’s not what I’d call a hike. More like a nature walk. If you’re looking for epic views and are happy to set aside pretty much a whole day –including the drive there and back– there’s Mount Warning. It’s not an easy climb, though. At least, not to get to the summit.” She was proud that she’d managed it. Once, and she maintained that it had almost killed her, but she had managed it, and that was enough. “Or there’s Mount Ngungun, which is a couple of hours’ drive north from here and is a much shorter, easier climb with an epic pay off at the top on a clear day. Mount Coolum, also a couple of hours north, is the same.”

“A relaxing nature walk sounds pretty good,” Everett mused thoughtfully. “And that one’s close to here?”

“Yeah, just a short drive down the highway. If you get a few hours free, you should check it out.” Unless we die in this lift, her brain added testily.

Oblivious to her internal musings, he nodded again. “Right. I’ll add that to my To Do list.”

“So, you’re not just here for the convention?”

“No, I’ve got a few days reprieve before I have to head back home. Thought I’d do a little sightseeing. Maybe even pat a koala or something.”

“I guess flying halfway around the world for a three-day stay does sound a bit rough,” Gemma acknowledged with a tilt of her head. Then she made a face. “You know koalas carry chlamydia, right?” They were cute, but there was no way in hell she’d ever touch one again.

Everett let out a bark of almost startled laughter. “What?! That can’t be a thing.”

“It is,” she responded emphatically, slapping her thigh. “Koalas can carry the clap. Google it.” Her brows drew down into a frown. “Once we’re out of here and there’s WiFi and reception again.”

He snorted inelegantly. “If you’re lying to me, I’ll be collecting on that coffee.”

Her heart skipped a beat. Was that flirting? No. The lack of oxygen was clearly getting to them both now. But her mouth fired off before her brain, “And when you realise that I’m not, you can shout me a coffee.”

“You’ve got a deal,” he told her with a smirk and extended his hand for her to shake.

Gemma did so with an accompanying shake of her head. “Sure,” she told him, mild disbelief colouring her tone. As if he was even going to remember her once they were released and he was swept up in his celebrity duties. Still, it was kind of nice to pretend that he was an ordinary person and that they’d just arranged a coffee date. “I take mine white, no sugar. Preferably a latte, but a flat white will suffice.”

“Confident, aren’t you?”

“Eh,” she shrugged, her lips quirking upwards, “I know my country.”

“Well, then, if you’re so knowledgeable,” he shot back playfully, leaning into her space and nudging her shoulder with his own, unaware that the action set off a flurry of butterflies in her belly that had nothing to do with her fear that they were going to die trapped in the broken-down elevator, “what should I do with my free time here? Other than go for a nature walk where I might encounter a snake and die.”

“Melodramatic, much?” Gemma snarked with an exaggerated roll of her eyes. “You’re a big boy, you’ll be fine.” She only barely resisted the urge to reach out and pat his shoulder with blatant (light-hearted) condescension. “What sort of stuff are you into? We’ve got a bit of everything here: theme parks, beaches, botanic gardens, wildlife sanctuaries…” She drummed her fingers on her thigh as she considered what else was on offer locally. “Australia Zoo’s only a couple of hours’ drive north, too. That’s always a favourite with tourists. So’s Byron Bay, which is an hour or so south of here, but…eh…it’s a bit hipster and a whole lot overrated, if you ask me. Which, I’ll remind you, you did.”

Everett affected faux offence. “Are you calling me a tourist?” He spoke the word as though it was a slur.

Snickering, she shrugged again. “I mean, you kind of are.”

“You wound me,” he continued his exaggerated act, clutching imaginary pearls. He widened his eyes, the colour more crystalline in the artificial lighting of the elevator. “I thought we were friends now.”

There went the butterflies again. “Oh, it takes more than a shared near-death experience to become my friend.”

Everett laughed, his eyes crinkling at the corners, and the sound delighted her. “I’ll win you over yet, sweetheart.”

“Yeah, nah,” she responded, “not if you call me sweetheart again.” She’d liked it way too much for it to be healthy.

Chuckling, he asked, “Did you just say ‘yeah-nah’? What the hell is that?”

“It’s Aussie slang for no.”

Blinking at her, the incredulous question “Why don’t you just say no?” followed, before he added, “And, what, do you say ‘nah-yeah’ for yes?”

“We do, actually,” the corners of her lips twitched at his bewilderment. “Honestly, it’s more a bogan thing than anything, but–”

“Bogan?” The word sounded bizarre in his accent as he tested it out.

Her shoulders lifted and dropped while she raised her hands with their palms facing upwards. “Kind of our version of a redneck or a chav?”

“Right,” he drew out the word, clearly amused. “And you just happen to fall into this use of slang at random?”

“When I’m comfortable enough,” she responded without thinking, feeling her cheeks burn as she realised what she’d admitted.

Everett held his index finger towards the ceiling, “Ah ha!” he cried, victorious, now using that same finger to poke her shoulder. “You admitted it. We are friends now.”

Gemma was convinced that he was running out of oxygen now. Still, his enthusiasm was contagious, and she found herself grinning and shaking her head. “Fine, okay, whatever.”

“I knew I’d win you over.”

“Why?” she queried, feeling bold. “Because I’m a fan? Because of your obvious–” sarcasm abounded “–charm?”

He wriggled his hips and stretched out his legs, settling in for the long haul. “A little from Column A, a little from Column B.”

She hated herself a little for finding the narcissist shtick so endearing, but with his eyes glinting at her and that mischievous smirk on his sinfully scruffy face, she felt powerless to resist it. Still, she didn’t need him knowing that.

“I think I liked you better when you were a mysterious celebrity,” she twisted his earlier words back at him playfully.

“I’ve already used that joke, love,” he snarked back. “Find some new material.”

Gemma opened her mouth to argue, but the elevator seemed to lurch back into life, jerking and clunking and startling her enough that she squealed and clutched at her companion’s arm.

“Hey, it’s okay,” he soothed, rubbing her hand but making no move to throw her off. He glanced up at the ceiling and then the display panel. “I think we’re back on the move.”

Sure enough, the number had changed to 6 and she could feel the lift descending. Everett pushed himself to his feet and offered Gemma his hand, which she took and allowed him to help her stand. “Thanks,” she said softly, suddenly overcome by the realisation that their brief friendship was about to go its separate ways. “Sorry again for freaking out on you.”

“What are friends for?” he cajoled, brushing the apology off, unaware of the melancholy turn her thoughts had taken.

She smiled, hoping it met her eyes, and gave his hand one last squeeze. “Well, thank you, then,” she said, watching the numbers tick down. She stepped back. “I hope you enjoy the convention. I’m sure your panels will be awesome.”

Everett inclined his head, “Are you going to be there?”

Given that he had been her motivating factor for attending, she’d been planning on it but, after this, did attending make it weird? Though, she supposed, it wouldn’t be odd for a friend to go watch another friend perform or give speeches or answer fan questions, would it?

She was overthinking it.

“Wouldn’t miss it,” she informed him as the doors finally slid open at the ground floor. She was oblivious to the crowd of people assembled outside. “I’ll be cheering you on from the back of the room, I’m sure.”

Then, with a final (if somewhat awkward) wave, she turned around, ducked her head once she saw the large group of people gawking at them, and made her way out of the lift and across the hotel lobby.

~~~

About the Author

Anita (A.N.) Verebes is a daydreamer, writer, and author of the debut romance novel Handle With Care.

As a professional civil marriage celebrant, Anita makes a living telling other people’s love stories and celebrating real romance! Also armed with a Bachelor of Education (Secondary), Anita is a qualified -but not practising- High School English teacher who loves to read anything she can get her hands on, including fanfiction. (And, yes, she’s written her fair share of that, too.)

Living directly between Queensland’s sunny Gold and Sunshine coasts, Anita spends her days exploring the Great South East with her husband and their two rambunctious sons. When at home, she’s also a slave to two cats and one very spoilt Great Dane X.

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