NEW RELEASE: EYE OF THE BEHOLDER BY LOUISE LYONS

Blurb:

Vince Voss is obsessed with physical beauty. Influenced by his aunt, with whom he runs a modeling business, he has become unfeeling and cruel. Vince’s mother, who was a witch in life, returns to show him a better way to live. She casts a spell to take away his good looks and he finds himself challenged with searching for someone to love him, without the use of physical attraction.

Vince eventually meets a lonely male vampire, Peter, and despite his reluctance to get involved with him, he decides to use Peter to help him lift the spell. Little does he know that at first, Peter is using him too, and he finally realizes what’s really important when he falls for Peter along the way.

Available now from Wilde City Press

 

NEW RELEASE: THE RED DRAGON 4: THE CHAMPION’S SECRET BY BECKY BLACK

Blurb:

Lawyer Will Garrett took a job with the Outer Spiral Trading Company for one reason only—to keep his ex out of jail. Now his ex is free, but with someone else. This leaves Will seeing out the final months of his contract on assignment as the legal counsel for a sports team of Modern Gladiators on a Company sponsored tour.

Jimmy Campbell, mighty Highland warrior, is the champion and captain of Team Spartacus. But really he’s James De Villiers, half-Scottish, half-South-African, ex-soldier. He’s only in this for the money. One more season then he’s gone. He’s already older than most of the team, with a nagging shoulder injury.

Will and James get together thinking only of killing time in bed during the trips between tour stops. But as they grow closer and Will makes friends with the team, trouble starts with team manager Lenny Sheridan. Lenny doesn’t want anyone to know James is gay. A hostage crisis focuses all the media in the sector on the team and forces James to decide if keeping his secret and his career is more important to him than acknowledging his relationship with Will, whatever that costs him.

Excerpt: (found at Loose-Id’s website)

The passenger section was quiet when James arrived back aboard the ship. The team had embarked earlier that day and then decided that, since the ship wouldn’t leave until 0400 the next morning, there was still time for a last-minute party and headed out en masse. James hoped they’d all get back in time.

It was only around 2200—and anyone who’d spotted him ducking out early had decried him for a stiff and a spoilsport, but screw that. He couldn’t drink anyway, not if he wanted to stay in shape. He had to be in the gym at 0600 tomorrow. Besides, those parties were only work. He had to be “on” the whole time, and it grew wearisome.

He almost headed straight for his cabin but decided he could use a snack and diverted into the lounge. Refreshments were laid out on a sideboard beside a couple of big coffee urns.

“Good evening.”

The lawyer Lenny had brought backstage last night was sitting in one of the armchairs. What was the guy’s name again?

“Evening,” James said.

“Back early?”

“Yes.” Dammit, the accent. “Aye.”

The lawyer—Garrett, that was the name—smiled knowingly. Probably trained to observe the way people spoke.

Garrett had a portable terminal in his hand—his rather nice hands, James recalled from the night before—and a cup on the table. James honestly envied him the chance to spend a quiet evening reading. He chose a couple of pieces of fruit from the sideboard, then made himself a cup of whichever random tea he picked up first. While it brewed, he took another look at Garrett.

No suit tonight. Casual in a white, ribbed shirt and black pants. The simple clothes set off his good looks. Garrett had gone back to reading his terminal while James messed about with his tea, but he looked up again under the weight of James’s gaze. He had dark blue eyes of an unusual shade James wouldn’t mind getting a closer look at.

“I’m thinking I should apologize for last night,” James said. “I could have been less hostile when we met.”

“Forget it,” Garrett said. “If a bunch of people barged into my room when I was having a massage, I’d be hostile too. I’m sorry we disturbed you. Mr. Sheridan doesn’t seem like an overly sensitive man.”

“Aye, he’s the original bull in a china shop is Lenny.” He stepped forward, hand out for a shake, and Garrett stood up quickly. “Can we try it from scratch?”

“Glad to. Glad to meet you.”

“You too, Mr. Garrett.”

“Will, please.”

“James.”

Garrett—Will—raised his eyebrows. “You prefer that to Jimmy then?”

“Definitely. I’ve never been Jimmy. My ma used to call me Jamie, but I outgrew that.”

Will laughed. “Yes, I see that.”

Their hands were still locked. James disengaged regretfully.

“Please, join me if you like.” Will waved a hand at a seat. James grabbed his drink and snack and set them on the table. “So if you’ve never been Jimmy, why are you billed that way?” Will asked as they sat.

“Image,” James said. He picked up an orange and started to peel it. “Sounds more Scottish. Same reason I’m Campbell on the bill.”

Garrett frowned, looking puzzled. “You’re not called Campbell then?”

“No.”

He was dying to ask, James could see, but he was too polite. James almost put him out of his misery, but rather liked the idea of teasing him. Teasing Will Garrett could be a lot of fun. Seeing he wasn’t getting anything, Will went on.

“It must be an advantage to your team to have Philida Arden as your trainer. She used to instruct Special Forces in hand-to-hand combat, right?”

James nodded. “That’s where I met her. She was one of my instructors. Later she recruited me to the team after we both left the military.”

“Did you take the voluntary payoffs?” Will asked.

James nodded, mouth full with a sweet segment of orange. He swallowed. “Aye. Are you ex-service?”

“I was a JAG officer.”

“You’ve got the look.” Even lawyer officers had the look. “Plus, the way you reacted to Philly was a giveaway.”

“She’s a legend.”

“Right.” James leaned forward. “Take a word of advice. Don’t ask her about that night.”

“You mean when—”

“You know what I mean.” The night fifteen years ago her unit hit the compound where the defeated and fleeing Marshall Kylus and his troop of bodyguards were holed up. The compound Philly Arden emerged from dragging the genocidal dictator by the scruff of his neck. They were the only two people to emerge alive. “Everyone else in her unit died that night. She almost did.” She’d never been able to return to active service due to the injuries from that raid. She’d collected her medal for it while still using crutches a year later. “Don’t expect her to chat about it over coffee.”

Will, being ex-service, probably didn’t need to be told something so obvious. But he nodded and spoke quietly. “I won’t.”

A burst of noise outside the room broke the quiet. Voices. Shouting, singing. The team had returned. Seconds later the room was full of people. “Sir Darien,” one arm around his supposed worst enemy, Salim, draped his other arm around James.

“There he is! Where’d you go, you boring bastard?” His Liverpool accent came through strongly, and James saw Will look both surprised and amused.

“I’m right here. You’re drunk, Darren. Go to bed.”

“Och aye, Captain. Hoots.” He grinned. His teeth were blue.

“Sal, get him to bed,” James said.

“Easy for you to say, pal.” Sal’s accent spoke more of New York than Jerusalem.

“Too early for bed,” Darren said and dragged Sal off to grab more drinks. James looked around in time to see Will slipping out of the door. He had to restrain an urge to follow.

* * * *

The night after was a party too—though not so rowdy an affair. On OSTC ships it was traditional for the passengers to dine with the captain and officers the first night out of port. On this trip that apparently only meant the team and their top entourage, since Will didn’t see the many roadies and support staff at the dinner. He got to tag along, though, and it was worth it. The gladiators were without exception striking and in many cases beautiful, even in more conventional evening wear rather than their arena costumes.

Campbell—or, not Campbell apparently—James then, still looked stunning in a suit, his shoulders broad enough you could lay a table for two on them. Still plenty of neck, though. A broad-shouldered man could be kind of deficient in the neck department, which Will didn’t like so much.

But what caught Will’s eye was not so much how good James looked, but rather the fact he had sneakily switched a couple of the place cards on the tables. Will had been due to sit at the table hosted by the first officer. James had switched out a card from the captain’s table and put Will’s name next to his.

Interesting. And encouraging.

So when the cocktails and mingling part ended and everyone took their seats, Will found himself at James’s right. On his other side sat Reylene, still the women’s champion, despite losing the fight Will had watched. It was all a matter of how many bouts you won, according to their rules, which Will had amused himself by perusing earlier. Reylene had won several more fights than any of her rivals. She wore a dress of fiery orange silk and sequins. With high heels the already tall woman towered over most people at the table barring James. She was smart and witty, and Will found himself talking to her more than to the rather taciturn James. When he did talk to James, he noticed James’s accent was all over the place. He’d been trying hard the night before when chatting to Will, but it had started to slip even then. The same was happening tonight. It veered from strong Glaswegian to a soft burr more suitable for reading poetry aloud than threatening doom and destruction on opponents. It amused Will. He wondered which accent came out in bed.

When the meal ended, the party adjourned to the officers’ wardroom to mingle and drink coffee and spirits. Will deliberately wandered over to the viewport alone, sipping a brandy, and watched the stars for a while. In a few minutes, as he expected, James appeared at his shoulder. He held a glass, but it looked as if he only had ice water in it.

“Hi,” Will said quietly. There was something here for sure. He’d sensed it last night in the lounge. He’d felt it tonight at the dinner. James’s leg had brushed his a little too often for mere chance, even from a guy who took up so much space. But he’d read up about the team during the day, and according to all the gossip columns James Campbell might be dating Reylene Queen. They appeared at plenty of public events together.

But he’d seen no evidence of them being a couple at dinner tonight. They had the easy banter of friends. Nothing more.

“So what is your real name if it’s not Campbell?” Will asked. He could probably have found out easily enough, but he didn’t want to pry. Or rather, he did want to, but he hadn’t.

“Confidentially?”

“I’m a lawyer. That’s almost the same as a priest.”

James snorted. “Right. My name’s De Villiers. James De Villiers.”

“So Jimmy Campbell…”

“Is for the arena and the press.”

“What’s wrong with De Villiers? What is that, Dutch?”

“South African. That’s where my dad is from. But Lenny said James De Villiers sounds like a diamond merchant, not a warrior.”

Will chuckled. “He has a point.”

“I don’t mind. Once I’m done with all this I’ll be happy to leave it all behind me. A fake name helps with that.”

This intrigued Will. “Done with all this” made it sound as if he didn’t enjoy it. He wanted to talk with James a lot more. He wasn’t the meathead Will had expected. But they had a long trip ahead, and there’d be plenty of time for talking. Will wanted something else tonight. Wanted to follow up on that vibe he felt talking to James. He glanced around to make sure nobody was in earshot, spoke barely loud enough for James to hear.

“Do you want to come back to my cabin for a while?”

James didn’t react. He went on looking out of the viewport at the stars. For a second Will worried he’d misjudged and was about to get a rejection and a possible punch in the face. But then James spoke so quietly Will had to strain to hear.

“You go ahead. I’ll meet you there in five minutes.”

* * * *

It was closer to ten minutes, and Will had begun to think James wasn’t coming, but at last the door chime went. He tapped the panel to open the door, and James came inside so fast Will had to step back to avoid being trampled.

“Sorry,” James said, slapping the door closing panel. “Got caught up, talking to people.” He slipped his jacket off.

“Here.” Will held out his hand and took the jacket. He slipped it onto a hanger from the wardrobe.

“If I didn’t already know you were military, I’d guess from this place,” James said.

Will supposed he did still have the habit of keeping his quarters neat as a pin, ready for a spot inspection at any time. “You never know who’s going to drop in.” He strolled back over to James, closer than he’d been so far, stepping into the man’s personal space, close enough to feel the heat of him, smell his breath—which smelled of breath mints. Will appreciated the effort. He’d taken some of the waiting time to quickly clean his teeth and use mouthwash. He liked to leave a good impression.

He had to tilt his head up as he moved in for a kiss, James having a good four inches on him. James drew in a sharp breath as Will closed in, and Will hoped he wasn’t one of those guys who didn’t kiss. But he wouldn’t have bothered with breath mints if he didn’t kiss.

Will shut his eyes as their lips touched. Softly from his side, exploring. Harder from James’s side. He thrust his tongue into Will’s mouth, Will opening to him more from surprise than welcome. Then James grabbed Will’s arms and pushed him, made him stumble back until his legs struck the bed and he went down. James followed, pinning him, grabbing his wrists. A flicker of fear pulsed through Will. James was stronger and heavier. Will couldn’t get out from under him if James didn’t want him to.

“Hey!” Will snapped, pulling his hands away from James’s grip. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

James stared down at him. “I…sorry, don’t you…”

“Get the fuck off me,” Will ordered, his voice stronger than he felt in that moment, heart pounding, mouth dry. James rolled off him at once, sat up on the side of the bed. Will stood and took a few steps back out of grabbing range.

“You don’t want me to…you know, be rough with you?” James asked, looking confused.

“What? No. Why do you think I want that?”

“It’s what guys like you usually want.” James said. “Suits. Stiffs, I mean. It’s what you usually want from a gladiator.”

Will’s anger drained away at the mortified expression on James’s face.

“It’s not what I want,” Will said. “It’s not that I don’t appreciate your, ah, physique. But I’m not interested in being dominated. If that’s what you like, that’s going to be a problem.”

“It’s not,” James said quickly. “Absolutely not.” He stood. “Do you want me to leave?”

“No. I’d like you to take your shirt off.”

“That I can do.”

He did, slowly, teasingly, popping buttons about one every five minutes, or so it felt to Will. His arousal had vanished in an instant when James threw him on the bed. But it returned quickly, hotter than before. His pants grew highly uncomfortable, and he squirmed to adjust himself. When he reached to undo them, James frowned.

“My job,” he said. He slipped his unbuttoned shirt off and tossed it onto a chair. Will had appreciated James’s body in the arena, but that was a different thing from having his warm, dark skin, tattoos and all, close enough to reach out and touch. He appreciated that on a whole other level.

James sat on the bed and Will joined him. This time the kiss was slow and teasing and delicious. James took Will in his arms, and his strength was arousing, not frightening. Will slid his hands up James’s arms and over his shoulders, around his neck to pull him closer, pull him down, half on top of Will, not pinning him.

“For God’s sake, get me out of these pants,” Will pleaded. “I’m going to suffer a permanent injury.”

Available now from Loose-IDAmazon.comAmazon.co.uk and ARe

NEW RELEASE: DEMON YOU KNOW BY BARBARA ELSBORG

Blurb:

A good demon?

Ezra is a timekeeper in Hell, responsible for building and maintaining the clocks that tick away eternal torment. He’s never believed he deserves to be in Hell, and when the reason he’s there is revealed, he’s horrified…yet filled with hope. But is this just another form of torture? When Ezra’s given a chance to go to the surface, he’s determined to uncover the truth, but his fellow demons seem just as determined he won’t survive the journey.

A bad angel?

Roman doesn’t understand why an angel who failed his training the first time round has been given the job of policing paranormals in the UK’s capital city. He’s consumed by unhappiness. He might not be in Hell, but sometimes it damn well feels like it.

When Roman meets Ezra his failings come back to haunt him. Ezra makes him want to break the rules, but an angel protecting a demon? Discovery would bring an eternity of suffering, and with a boss none other than the archangel Michael, it’ll take more than a miracle for the lovers to stand together.

Excerpt: (found at Loose-Id website)

As Roman followed Ezra from the shelter, he’d told himself to stop several times and each time ignored his own advice. He’d watched the dark-haired guy run, seen him hide, witnessed the incident with the dog when Roman had almost broken the rules and interfered. Ezra wasn’t a demon. There was no aura around him. Nor was he a vampire, shifter, or angel, but there was something…unusual about him. Unusual? That was one way of putting it. Roman felt an irresistible pull, a need to see his eyes.

The voice in his head chimed in. Liar. You want to see more than his eyes.

I want to help him.

You want to fuck him.

His stomach roiled in discomfort.

The guy’s clothes were thin, dirty, and torn. Too thin. Too dirty. No one with any sense would wear so little in weather like this. What had happened to him? Maybe he had been in a fire, and all he had was what he stood up in. But why did he wear sunglasses and keep his head lowered?

Roman followed him out of the park to Marylebone High Street, watched him glancing into the windows of cafés and food stores. Hungry? He seemed jumpy and anxious. When he started to speak to passersby, Roman guessed he was asking for money. No one stopped; no one gave him anything. Everyone hurried past, either ignoring him or shaking their head. Ezra sagged against railings and sank down onto his haunches. He took the snow globe from his backpack and shook it.

Roman risked nipping into a Starbucks to buy two coffees and a croissant. He was relieved to see Ezra still there when he emerged. He crouched down a few feet away and put a coffee and the bag with the croissant on the ground between them. “For you.”

Ezra tensed.

“You look cold. I thought you could use a coffee and something to eat.”

The snow globe went back in his bag, and he rose to his feet but kept his face averted. Roman stood.

“No, thank you.”

Why the fuck was he refusing? Roman had just seen him begging. Roman picked up the coffee, grabbed the croissant, and held them out.

“Take them, or I’ll throw them in the trash. I can’t drink two coffees, and I’ve had breakfast.”

Ezra hesitated but accepted what he offered. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” Roman’s heart had started to beat fast. Fine black hair under that matted dirt, a thin face with sharp cheekbones, pale lips, and a long, slender, possibly undernourished body. Not forgetting those fucking marks on his wrists. But Roman’s heart lurched at the glimpses of bare skin revealed by the slashes in his pants. Had the dog done that? Not on both sides.

“You don’t have any money,” Roman said, part in question.

“I was robbed.”

He looked as if he’d been sleeping rough for a long while. “Have you told the police?”

Ezra shrugged. “They wouldn’t be able to find who took it.”

“You look frozen. Don’t you have any other clothes?”

“No.”

“Take my coat.” He started to unbutton it.

“No,” Ezra snapped. “Thank you for the coffee, but I don’t want your coat.”

He took a bite of the croissant, and Roman could have sworn he heard a quiet groan. A few bites and it was finished. Ezra brushed the crumbs from his lips, and Roman felt a pull in his groin. Walk away.

I can’t.

Oh fuck.

“Take your sunglasses off and look at me,” Roman said.

Ezra shifted in obvious discomfort. “I can’t.”

“Why not?”

“My eyes hurt, and I don’t look… I don’t want to upset people.”

What the hell? There was nothing wrong with this guy’s face. The sunglasses only hid his eyes. Maybe it was his eyes that were the problem.

Ezra sipped the coffee, and this time the sigh of pleasure was quite clear. Roman’s cock began to fill. Shit. At least it was hidden by his coat. He wondered what on earth he was doing. Tempted by the most unlikely of guys, some filthy homeless guy with a secret, and if he wasn’t careful, he was going to fall. The best thing to do would be to hand Ezra money and walk away. His good deed for the day. His sensible deed for the day. I have a lot of other things to do that are more important.

“Come home with me,” Roman whispered. Oh crap. Do I have no self-control? “You can have a shower. I’ll fix you something to eat. You need warm clothes, or you’re going to freeze. I won’t ask questions. Let me help you.”

He didn’t know if Ezra would agree, and Roman was definitely going to ask questions, particularly about those marks on his wrists and the tears in his clothes. He was counting on Ezra being too cold and hungry to refuse the offer. Roman could have tried a little…persuasion, even though he wasn’t supposed to, but he wanted Ezra to go with him of his own free will.

“Okay.”

Roman let out the breath he hadn’t known he’d been holding. He hailed a cab; for once there was one available when he needed it, though when the driver spotted the state of Ezra, he tried to turn them down. Roman didn’t let him. Money worked as well as angelic persuasion. Often better. Ezra climbed carefully into the back and sat against the window on the far side.

“Put your seat belt on.” Roman watched Ezra fumble before finally clicking the belt into place.

The guy clutched the edge of the seat as the taxi pulled into the traffic but kept his face pressed against the window, facing away from Roman. Why the hell did he think he’d upset people? Scars around his eyes? Weird color? Squint? An eye missing? Why am I so intrigued? Why am I unable to walk away? I know better than this.

That was true, but Roman had no idea what he was doing. He had an invasion of demons to deal with plus an influx of angels, one of whom was going to bring back memories he’d tried to bury. He really had enough on his plate without offering shelter to a dirty, stray mutt, particularly one who wouldn’t look him in the eyes. Roman didn’t try to engage Ezra in conversation. He had a feeling the attempt would be doomed. Better to let the guy come around on his own, assuming he ever did.

He was still wondering if he’d done the right thing when he led Ezra into the elevator inside his building. The guy acted as if he expected someone to leap out at him at any moment. Plus he kept touching things. Walls, doors, glass, though never Roman. It was almost as if he went out of his way to avoid even brushing against him. Ezra wasn’t just wary of people but a whole load of stuff—doors that opened on their own, the movement of the elevator, the disembodied voice announcing the floor. Roman stared at the marks on Ezra’s wrists. Someone had tied him up. The someone who’d stolen his money? The someone he was running from? The reason he was on edge?

Am I sure he’s not a demon? I should see or feel it if he was, and I don’t, but… If he was, Ezra was unlike any Roman had ever come across. But no demon would have stepped in front of a dog to save a child. No demon would be this…anxious. They were mostly cocky bastards. Unless it was all an act. He needed to be on his guard.

Roman strode out of the elevator and headed down the corridor. Ezra slowly followed.

“My name’s Roman, by the way. What’s yours?”

“You already know.”

Roman spun round.

“John told you my name was Ezra, though how he knew, I have no idea.”

Roman gaped at him.

“I heard you talking to him at St. Agnes. When you spoke to me on the street, I recognized your voice. I assume you followed me when I ran from the shelter.”

There seemed no point in denying it, and it explained some of the jumpiness, but Ezra had to be mistaken. He must have told John his name.

Ezra seemed to shrink into himself. “What do you want with me? Why did you follow me?”

You don’t want to know. You don’t want to hear that I want to shove you up against the wall and ram my cock into your arse, that I want you on your knees with my cock in your mouth, or that I want to do every depraved and disgusting thing I can with you.

That was helpful. Now his cock ached.

“I help and protect people who are in need.” It was true but still a minor miracle that that was what had come out of his mouth, because his mind was a long way from help and protect.

“You like to do good?” Ezra asked.

And bad, at times. “Doesn’t everyone?”

Ezra’s laugh sent another spike of lust into Roman’s groin. “Today I asked twenty-seven people for help. Twenty ignored me. Seven turned me down. Three of them swore, and one spat at me.”

“You know not everyone is like that. You had a warm place to sleep last night. A meal. You could have had breakfast if you’d stayed. The volunteers at St. Agnes are decent, kindhearted people.”

“You’re right. I’m used to people not being kind. It’s what I expect.”

“Someone tied you up.”

Ezra glanced at his wrists. “Yes.”

He said nothing more, so Roman opened the door of his apartment. “You can have a shower or a bath. Both if you like. Maybe you should shower first. Want to show me those dog bites? Do they need attention?”

Ezra didn’t move.

Give him some money and show him the way out. That’s the right thing to do.

“No strings,” Roman said. “I’m just being hospitable.” Oh damn, an outright lie. Roman hadn’t wanted anyone so much in a long time, though he had no idea why. There might be a lot he liked about Ezra, but there was a hell of a lot he didn’t. Plus he was making a rather large assumption about the guy’s sexuality. Have I ever been wrong? That didn’t mean he was right this time.

He pushed the door farther open. “Your choice.” No, I can’t let it be. He couldn’t help but employ a little angelic persuasion.

You really want to come into my apartment.

Plenty of hot water.

You can be clean again.

There’s nothing to be afraid of.

I mean you no harm.

Walk in.

Much to his surprise, Ezra didn’t move an inch. Roman wished he could see his eyes. He tried again with the persuasion.

A hot bath.

Soak away all that dirt.

Get warm.

I’ll make you something to eat.

When Ezra showed no reaction, Roman swallowed hard. Have I lost my touch? Unless Ezra was a demon, he should have responded to that. Or maybe Michael had disabled his ability to manipulate humans.

“Make up your mind,” Roman said more sharply than he’d meant to.

“Sorry. I guess I’m not used to people being generous without some ulterior motive.”

Ezra smiled. Just a little one, but it was enough for the hook to sink deeper into Roman’s heart. I’m a weak, pathetic, bad angel. As he watched Ezra walk into the apartment, he wondered how he still even deserved to be an angel. What the fuck was angelic about him? He swore, lied, cheated… Shit, don’t begin that list. You’ll never stop.

Roman closed the door to the apartment and pointed to the bathroom. “There’s everything you need, including towels. Help yourself.”

“Thank you.”

Ezra went in and closed the door. Roman didn’t hear the lock click, and he groaned as his cock pushed against his zipper. I am such a shit.

Available now at Loose-Id

NEW RELEASE: LESSONS FOR SUSPICIOUS MINDS BY CHARLIE COCHRANE

Blurb:

1909

In the innocent pre-war days, an invitation to stay at the stately country home of a family friend means a new case for amateur sleuths Jonty Stewart and Orlando Coppersmith. In fact, with two apparently unrelated suicides to investigate there, a double chase is on.

But things never run smoothly for the Cambridge fellows. In an era when their love dare not speak its name, the risk of discovery and disgrace is ever present. How, for example, does one explain oneself when discovered by a servant during a midnight run along the corridor?

Things get even rougher for Orlando when the case brings back memories of his father’s suicide and the search for the identity of his grandfather. Worse, when they work out who the murderer is, they are confronted with one of the most difficult moral decisions they’ve ever had to make.

Excerpt: (on Riptide website)

Cambridge, June 1909

“Post, Dr. Coppersmith, Dr. Stewart.” Mrs. Ward, the housekeeper at Forsythia Cottage, bustled through the dining room door before neatly arranging the morning post on the table for her gentlemen to read once they’d dealt with their bacon and eggs.

“Thank you.” Jonty Stewart eyed his post eagerly. “That looks like Lavinia’s writing. I’ll save her epistle as a postprandial treat.”

“Unless you’re in trouble with your sister, again, in which case it’ll be a postprandial punishment.” Orlando Coppersmith, having put away the last bit of egg, picked up the other letter. It was addressed to him even though the handwriting was clearly that of Jonty’s mother. Her style could have been spotted a mile off, let alone from the other side of the table.

“Why’s Mama writing to you?”

“Not having the ability to see through paper, nor being able to read her mind, I couldn’t say.” Orlando deliberately took his time in opening the envelope and reading the contents, aware of Jonty almost bouncing with curiosity. It would do the man good to develop some patience. “We’ve been summoned. July. A visit to London and then off to somewhere called Fyfield. I’ve never heard of it.”

“Fyfield?” Jonty almost dropped his bacon in surprise. “It’s a house. Well, a house with a great big estate. I’ve not been there since I was a boy. Mama’s godmother lived there.”

“She still does, if she’s a dowager duchess. Alexandra Temple?”

“That’s the very one.”

“I thought as much, as your mother says she’s a very old friend of the Forsters. Is this Fyfield a nice place?”

“Nice?” Jonty consumed the bacon before it got either cold or dropped again. “It’s spectacular. Knocks the Old Manor into a cocked hat.”

“Oh.” The Stewarts’ country home in Sussex, an unfinished Tudor castle with later additions (ones never envisaged by the original owner, even before he—literally—lost his head), had seemed to Orlando the height of class and opulence. If Fyfield was better, it must be spectacular indeed. “Sounds like a treat, then.”

“Sounds like a case.”

Orlando looked up sharpish. A case. There’d been a steady stream of them over the last few months. Two had involved breaking old codes—which was meat and drink for him—and another had been solved by Jonty finding a parallel with Shakespeare and producing an outrageous piece of what he said was deduction and what Orlando vowed was pure luck. There was always room for another.

“What do you know that I don’t?” he asked.

“Nothing in the way of facts, but much regarding how my parents’ minds work.” Jonty made a face. “Must we go?”

Orlando could have sworn he’d heard his lover—colleague, best friend, fellow detective, everything that mattered—express a lack of enthusiasm for the invitation. He must have misheard. “I beg your pardon?”

“Must we go? To Fyfield.”

“Yes, we must.” Orlando tapped the letter. “This is articulated in the most forceful yet polite of terms, staying just this side of a three-line whip. And if there’s the chance of a case to investigate, we’d be mad not to go.”

“But I’ve a million things to do.” Jonty tapped the table with his fork, defiance writ large over his handsome face, although he seemed to be evading Orlando’s gaze. Could the contents of the man’s teacup suddenly have become sofascinating?

Orlando thought awhile before replying. This wasn’t how things usually went between the inhabitants of Forsythia Cottage. He was usually the one reluctant to take up offers of holidays or other novel, exhilarating experiences.

Drawing a bow at a venture and trying to hit bull seemed the best way forward. “This is not like you. You’re hiding something. When you act out of character, you’re usually up to no good.” How couldn’t Orlando know when he was being given the runaround? Especially when he’d seen that belligerently innocent look used many a time on the rugby pitch, usually when Jonty had dirty work afoot at the base of the scrum. “Out with it.”

“Guilty as charged.” Jonty smiled, then folded his hands together as if in prayer. “Forgive me my dissemblance. A sin of both commission—wanting to get out of the trip—and omission—not telling you about some of the things that happened there in my childhood years.”

“Oh.” The wind was taken out of Orlando’s sails. He knew how Jonty’s schooldays had been terribly blighted by bullying of the worst kind. Was this more of the same?

“No, not that,” Jonty said quickly, evidently reading his mind. “They’re a formidable family, the Temples. They always made me feel like a seven-year-old who’d been caught scrumping apples. Even when I wasn’t and hadn’t.”

Orlando grinned, delighted at seeing his lover’s discomfort. “You’ll just have to be brave.” How could either of them turn down a summons from Jonty’s mother, especially if it involved a commission? Even Admiral Nelson himself would have quaked in his shoes at the thought of crossing Helena Stewart. “We’ll have to discharge our responsibilities.”

Our familial responsibilities? You’re a Stewart now?” Jonty grinned.

“As good as. We may not have spoken vows in a church, but am I not as wedded to you as your Lavinia is wed to her Ralph?”

“I suppose you’re right.” Jonty sighed. “And it’s been an age since I’ve seen Mama’s godmother. I suspect I was barely above being dandled on her knee. At least I don’t recall her being overpowering.”

“How old is the dowager duchess? And how has she avoided contact with such a gregarious rogue as you?”

Jonty lifted the lid of the teapot, looked disappointed, got up, and rang the little bell on the mantelpiece. “None of your business, and the Atlantic.”

“Atlantic?” Orlando frowned, as the housekeeper bustled in.

“Atlantic, Dr. Coppersmith? It’s an ocean.” Mrs. Ward smiled indulgently, as if doctors of mathematics had no knowledge of geography. In the case of most Cambridge mathematicians she might well have been right, but Orlando was that rare beast who occasionally got his nose out of Euclid and into an atlas. “Are you thinking of sailing it single-handed?”

“No such luck, Mrs. Ward.” Jonty grinned. “Could you oblige us with a pot of tea—we need more sustenance.”

“Coffee for me, please.” Orlando forced a smile, not sure whether he’d murder Jonty or their housekeeper first. Not that he’d ever commit the deed, but devising undetectable ways of doing it always gave him intellectual satisfaction.

“My pleasure. Any more toast?”

“No, thank you,” Orlando replied, just as Jonty piped up, “Yes, please.”

“Right you are, then.” Mrs. Ward, used by now to the contrasting ways of her two gentlemen, took it all in her stride. Half a rack of toast would appear with the tea and the coffee just as, on notable occasions, an apple crumble might appear on the table alongside a treacle tart.

“Where do you put it all?” It must be the umpteenth time Orlando had posed the question. Why Jonty wasn’t the size of St. Bride’s chapel was a mystery in itself, given the quantity of fodder he stuck away.

“Bottomless boots.” Jonty took his rightful place again at the breakfast table.

“And the significance of the Atlantic?”

“Alexandra Temple—the dowager duchess, remember?—has been living in America, Boston, I believe, the last few years, with her younger son. And before that she was globe-trotting. Getting over the shock of being made a widow at . . . at an age too young to be made one.” Jonty waved his hand airily.

“What did her family think of that? Plenty of scope for scandalous speculation, I’d have thought.”

“You’ve not met her, Orlando. Not yet, anyway. She’s such a pillar of rectitude she should be exhibited in Trafalgar Square as an example to the young people of today. She’ll be behind this commission, whatever it is. She likes righting wrongs.”

Orlando groaned. If the whole family were like that, no wonder Jonty felt cowed by them. “If she’s so self-righteous, I’m not sure I want to meet her.”

“I didn’t say she was self-righteous. Do you really think Mama would want somebody like that in charge of her favourite son’s spiritual welfare, even at one remove?” Jonty’s voice was laden with affection. “She probably went round the world doing good deeds—the sort of ones people actually want done to them as opposed to the usual kind—and hiding her light under a bushel en route.”

“We’ll see how kindhearted she is when she finds out what a rogue you’ve turned into. She’ll hand in her grand-godmotherly cards. Or whisk you off to a monastery. You’re certain there’s a case involved?”

“I’d put a tenner on it. Ah, thank you, Mrs. Ward!” The welcome arrival of the housekeeper with toast and tea took precedence over conversation.

“Coffee’s on its way, Dr. Coppersmith. I didn’t quite have enough hands.”

“Let me come and get it.” Orlando rose from the table, catching Jonty’s look of concern from the corner of his eye. What was that about?

By the time he’d returned, pot in hand, Jonty was buttering toast and getting crumbs everywhere—as usual—and reading the newspaper.

“Interesting article here about a man who lost his hat on a train and found it four days later in a cab.” Jonty pointed at the paper with a triangle of toast, signally thinking he’d changed the subject. Orlando wasn’t going to let the little toad get away with it.

“What’s up? Apart from having to go back to where you’ve clearly misbehaved as a boy?”

Jonty jerked his head away from the paper. “Why should there be something up? And I didn’t misbehave. I was angelic. If you want misbehaviour, talk to my brother Clarence.”

He was at it again, deflecting attention from where it should be. Same as on the rugby pitch, making it look like somebody else was playing dirty—usually one of the opposition.

“Come on. This isn’t like you, to be so reluctant to go somewhere.” Orlando leaned over and ruffled his lover’s hair. “No secrets, remember?”

Jonty smiled, leaning into the caress. “No secrets, then. I was just a touch worried you’d react to a new case in the wrong way. After last year and all the upset it caused after your grandmother died.”

Orlando rubbed his hand slowly and thoughtfully along Jonty’s cheek. His grandmother’s death, and the challenge she’d left him to identify the family who’d disowned her, had led to his finding he was the scion of a noble—and rather nice—Italian family. But it had almost lost him his reason, as it had probably cost his father his sanity. His great-grandfather’s rejection of his daughter had left a legacy of disquiet down the generations.

“You needn’t worry about me. I’m not a child.” Orlando felt inclined to slap Jonty’s backside for being such a fuss-box, but the chairs and the table precluded him. “I’ve never known you to refuse an invitation to join your parents, or one to visit somewhere you’ll be plied with food, drink, and recreation. No wonder the alarm bells started to ring.”

“I’m sorry. I really do have reservations about the Temples, but not about their cellar or kitchens. Nor their gardens.”

“Gardens?” Orlando rolled his eyes. “I won’t be dragged round them and given a long list of Latin plant names to bore me rigid?”

“Rigid? I love it when you’re rigid.” Jonty grinned.

“You can’t mollify me with smutty talk.” Not at that time of the morning, with their housekeeper in the offing, anyway. “And keep your voice down. Mrs. Ward will hear.”

“And do you think she would care? Do you think she doesn’t notice there’s only ever one bed slept in out of the nominal two?”

“I’m sure she does, but there’s a world of difference between us all knowing something and keeping quiet about it, and shouting the fact from the rooftops.” Discretion had always been their safety net—that and most people thinking they’d ended up having to share a house because no other sane person, woman or man, would put up with either for five minutes.

“Right, Fyfield. We’ll go, and we’ll take what we’re given, whether it be vintage champagne or a murder to solve.”

“Both, I’d hope. And some stunningly good vintage of red wine.” Jonty’s eagerness was waxing. “I’m almost looking forward to it.”

“Just so long as you don’t get so deep in your cups you spend all the time telling your grand-godmother about my foibles.” Orlando wrested one last cup of coffee from the pot.

“If I try to do that, she’ll soon knock some sense into me, as will Mama.”

“If your mother hasn’t managed to knock any sense into you by now, there’s no chance.” Orlando got up from the table with a yawn, a stretch, and a nod. “Summer’s sorted, then. Maybe for once we’ll get a nice, quiet holiday.”

“I really wish you hadn’t said that. Go out of the room, turn three times, and knock on the door to be let in or something.”

“I know I shouldn’t ask this, but I will. Why?”

Jonty pushed his cup and saucer from him with a sigh. “Because it’s as bad as mentioning Macbeth. Nice, quiet holiday? The universe will hear what you said and is bound to make us regret it.”

Available now at Riptide, Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk and ARe

DEBUT NOVELLA: STRIPPED EXPECTATIONS BY JAMES LEE HARD

It’s always fantastic to welcome a new author into the genre. James Lee Hard is a UK author and Stripped Expectations is his debut novella.

Blurb:

Hunky Mark is unemployed, penniless and living off the help of his friends. His life orbits around sex encounters that leave him with a bitter aftertaste. He went from skinny tall guy to hunk in a few years, after promising himself not to let anyone beat him again. But Mark still struggles with his self-image because underneath all of his muscles he still feels like a clumsy teenager.
His life starts to change when a stranger approaches Mark offering him a job as a stripper. Mark immediately dismisses it as another lame attempt at getting him laid. But his desperate need for money makes him think twice. He ends up surrounded by gorgeous men, his first true love and a past that just refuses to go away.

WARNING: This book contains explicit scenes of consensual sex between men as well as some graphic language. It is intended for a mature, adult audience.

Available now from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk

COMING SOON: THE SHIP ENGINEER BY SERENA YATES

Blurb:

Nathan Kappas, newly promoted to second engineer on the cruise ship Sapphire, has eyes only for the vessel he’s about to board. He literally runs into Harper Quade, a singer and dancer hired to entertain passengers. Harper has always wanted to travel, and working onboard the Sapphire keeps him away from his abusive ex-boyfriend. As they sail to Hawaii, Tahiti, and other exotic destinations, Nathan and Harper soon share a cabin and a deepening connection, which surprises Nathan, who generally prefers the predictability of machines to people. But an employee who feels jilted when Harper gets promoted harasses him, and Harper’s dangerous past refuses to let him escape. Harper might not be as safe on the Sapphire as he assumed, but Nathan will do anything to protect him.

Available for Pre-order at Dreamspinner

COMING SOON: JOB HUNT BY JACKIE KESWICK

Blurb:

You don’t greet your new boss dressed like an underage rent boy. But when Jack Horwood—ace hacker and ex-MI6 operative—opens the door to Gareth Flynn, he’s too busy to worry over details like that. And anyway, his potential new boss is his former commanding officer – the same guy Jack has had a crush on since he was seventeen. So he should understand, right?

When he applied for the job in Nancarrow Mining’s corporate security division, Jack had hoped for peaceful days repelling cyber attacks. Maybe a bit of corporate espionage on the side. His plans didn’t include rescuing abused children, hunting pimps, or dealing with his overly protective and hot-as-hell boss, Gareth Flynn.

Walking away is not an option. Jack never takes the easy way out. More than that, meeting Gareth raises old ghosts that Jack needs to put to rest. Rescuing kids. Taking risks. Saving the day. Jack can do all that—but deciding what to do about his attraction to Gareth isn’t the sort of cloak-and-dagger game Jack plays well. Yet Gareth, strong and smart and always on hand when needed, might be Jack’s salvation.

Pre-order now from Dreamspinner