Review of Eleventh Hour by Elin Gregory

Eleventh Hour by Elin Gregory

Borrowed from the Secret Intelligence Service cipher department to assist Briers Allerdale – a field agent returning to 1920s London with news of a dangerous anarchist plot – Miles Siward moves into a ‘couples only’ boarding house, posing as Allerdale’s ‘wife’. Miles relishes the opportunity to allow his alter ego, Millie, to spread her wings but if Miles wants the other agent’s respect he can never betray how much he enjoys being Millie nor how attractive he finds Allerdale.

Pursuing a ruthless enemy who wants to throw Europe back into the horrors of the Great War, Briers and Miles are helped and hindered by nosy landladies, water board officials, suave gentlemen representing foreign powers and their own increasing attraction to each other.

Will they catch their quarry? Will they find love? Could they hope for both?

The clock is ticking.

Review: A huge ***** from me.

I am new to Elin Gregory’s writing, but I heard great things about Eleventh Hour, and after a particularly fractious day, I treated myself to the book. I was not disappointed. I have a particular fondness for tales set in the first half of the twentieth century, and Elin’s expert touch drew me into the pre-war non-technological world. There is something much more exciting about an era where it was people rather than gadgets that did the legwork, and coded messages have to be left in unexpected places.

Briers and Miles are joy to read, particularly as they get to know each other. Elin handled Miles to Millie in a way I didn’t expect. I’m used to stories where the ‘wife’ stomps around unhappy at having to play a woman. This was different, and such a pleasure in the way Briers reacts to Miles’ night-time revelation, and then takes time to court him.

Much of the book is based in a boarding house, and I loved the way Elin describes the relationships between the couples, and especially Miles posing as a woman. There is a particularly delicate scene between Millie and one of the other wives under the guise of hemming a skirt.

I’m not going to give it away , but Eleventh Hour was a good old-fashioned romp of a plot. This book is a joy to read and if you like stories about spooks and old-fashioned thrillers in a London setting, with a large dose of romance, I highly recommend this book.

Highly recommended.

~~

A suggested similar book I’ve enjoyed.

London, the 1930s: With the cooperation of a top-ranking scientist and his son, Tom Langton and Robert Darnley are sent in as bait for a gang that uses blackmail to steal industrial secrets at a time when Hitler’s rise to power in Germany threatens Europe. The two men are friends, but they each have secrets of their own – and both are well aware that homosexuality is against the law. Living in close quarters, having to portray an illegal relationship, adds unexpected tensions to an already dangerous situation.

Myths Unfold: Faery

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Art by Gus Li

Welcome to Faery.

Buy Link:

Available at the Wilde City website 4/13/16; other sites one week later.

WildeCity Press Buylink: 

Review to follow

The Pwcca and the Persian Boy, by Gus Li

Despite beauty and luck, something about Glyn makes everyone uncomfortable. Homeless on the streets of Cardiff, he has nothing to keep him going but his friendship with Farrokh. Through stealing and fortune’s occasional favor, Glyn keeps them alive. But then homeless youths begin to disappear, and when Farrokh goes missing, Glyn begins to discover the reasons behind both his luck and the way people react to him. Determined to save his friend from a danger he never imagined, he enlists the help of Lleu, who might be an ally, or might be manipulating Glyn to achieve his own goals.

The Other Side of the Chrysalis, by Brandon Witt

In a species that values beauty above all else, Quay looses both his freedom and his birthright as prince of the fairies.  Lower than an outcast, he watches over his younger brother, hoping against hope that Xenith’s rebirth will provide safety and positions that has slipped through Quay’s grasp.  Though he expected kindness from no one, Quay gradually starts to trust that there is more to life, even for the likes of him, as sexual encounters with Flesser, a fairy barely accepted himself, turn from lust to love.  Quay knows having forbidden relationships will be his undoing,  but he is powerless to turn away.

Changeling, by Skye Hegyes

With his pointed ears and a tail, Tyler’s always been different than the other children, but until Marsh, a brownie tells him he’s a changeling, he never thought he wasn’t human. Now he will discover what faery life is like, and just how being a changeling could change his life. On the way, his ties with his mother will be pushed and prodded even as his friendships grow and his love life blossoms.  However, in a village of God-fearing people, those who are different are spurned and Tyler will discover how much trouble a fledgling changeling can get into.

Through the Veil, by J. Scott Coatsworth

In the not-too-distant future, San Francisco has been swamped by rising sea levels caused by global warming, and has only survived by building a wall to keep the water out of the heart of the City. Colton is a trans man barely getting by on the canals outside the wall. Tris is an elf who has come to the human world on his journey to become a man. Fate brings them together, and everything changes for Colton when he sets out with Tris to find the elf’s missing brother, taking Colton behind the Wall for the first time.

Author Bios

Gus Li

August (Gus) Li is a creator of fantasy worlds. When not writing, he enjoys drawing, illustration, costuming and cosplay, and making things in general. He lives near Philadelphia with two cats and too many ball-jointed dolls.

He loves to travel and is trying to see as much of the world as possible. Other hobbies include reading (of course), tattoos, and playing video games.

Brandon Witt

Brandon Witt’s outlook on life is greatly impacted by his first eighteen years of growing up gay in a small town in the Ozarks, as well as fifteen years as a counselor and special education teacher for students with severe emotional disabilities.

Add to that his obsession with corgis and mermaids, then factor in an unhealthy love affair with cheeseburgers, and you realize that with all those issues, he’s got plenty to write about…

Skye Hegyes

Dragons, wolves, and sharp objects are commonplace in Skye Hegyes’s home in North Carolina. She spends most of her time between writing and working. When not doing either of these things, you may find her making crafts or adventuring with her family, which consists of her husband, two daughters, two birds, and three cats… and a partridge in a pear tree…

J. Scott Coatsworth

Scott has been writing since elementary school, when he and won a University of Arizona writing contest in 4th grade for his first sci fi story (with illustrations!). He finished his first novel in his mid twenties, but after seeing it rejected by ten publishers, he gave up on writing for a while.

Over the ensuing years, he came back to it periodically, but it never stuck. Then one day, he was complaining to Mark, his husband, early last year about how he had been derailed yet again by the death of a family member, and Mark said to him “the only one stopping you from writing is you.”

Since then, Scott has gone back to writing in a big way, finishing more than a dozen short stories – some new, some that he had started years before – and seeing his first sale. He’s embarking on a new trilogy, and also runs the Queer Sci Fi (http://www.queerscifi.com) site, a support group for writers of gay sci fi, fantasy, and supernatural fiction.

Giveaway: Boy Meets Boy Meets Boy by JL Merrow and Josephine Myles

BMBMBBoy Meets Boy Meets Boy

A Mad About the Brit Boys anthology by JL Merrow and Josephine Myles

Release date: 15th March 2016

Buy link: Amazon

Word Count: 15,000

Price: $0.99/£0.99/€0.99

Cover art: Lou Harper

Other titles in the series:

Mad About the Boys

Boys Who Go Bump in the Night

Help, My Boyfriend’s an Alien!

Truly, Madly, Boys (coming May 2016)

Giveaway: Jo and Jamie are gifting one lucky commenter with a book from each of their backlists.

photo credit: Three Investigators (CC) via photopin (license)

Anthology blurb:

Good men come in threes!

Three’s definitely not a crowd in this trio of contemporary erotic male/male/male ménages with a very British flavour from gay romance favourites Josephine Myles and JL Merrow.

Let your fantasies run wild as you take in the fit bodies down at the gym, or enjoy a very special birthday present from a loving partner. And even a trip to the dentist can be enjoyable with the right sort of distraction!

These stories have all been previously published, but are now available exclusively in this anthology.

Anthology introduction by Josephine Myles (taken from the ebook):

I do love a good threesome.

Err, a fictional one, that is. Because there is such a thing as too much information, and I don’t know about you, but I sometimes I prefer not to know what people get up to behind closed doors.

Okay, so that’s a lie. I’m a writer and we’re notoriously nosy people. I’ve always been one for peeping into people’s houses—winter evenings are perfect for this, especially in December as most folk like to keep the curtains open to show off their Christmas trees. However, I’ve only once been rewarded by spying a couple shagging, and I suspect they were exhibitionists anyway as they were doing it by a busy pub.

But I digress; this is less about my voyeuristic tendencies and more about my love of a fictional ménage. Just what is it that appeals about a good threesome? Okay, so there’s all the smutty possibilities that suddenly become apparent when you add in a few extra limbs, appendages and places to shove said appendages—but it’s not all about the sex. To be honest, writing ménage sex scenes tends to give me a headache what with having to make it clear to the reader who is doing what to whom, and it’s especially complicated when all three participants are the same gender.

What makes a threesome really interesting to me as a writer is thinking through all the emotional entanglements—ones that can be brought to the surface even by a seemingly casual encounter, such as the one in my story for this anthology. Indeed, I so enjoyed the process of writing this story that I ventured into writing a full length ménage romance, which allowed me to explore the dynamics of a three-way relationship in more depth.

While Jamie has never written a novel length ménage romance, I’ve always loved reading her m/m/m shorts. Incidentally, two of the stories here were first published in an anthology of threesome shorts from Dreamspinner Press back in 2010, and that was our first ever joint anthology credit. I still remember how privileged I felt to have a story in the same anthology as her! And although we’ve had many joint anthology projects since, she’s still a writer I’m thrilled to team up with, honest guvnor (I have to put that in or Jamie will punish me! [Jamie: This is true])

We might not write many short stories these days, but we haven’t run out of old ones to republish just yet, so keep your eyes peeled for at least one more Mad About the Brit Boys anthology.

Happy reading,

Jo x

Josephine Myles, February 2016

Individual story blurbs:

Kit Bag by JL Merrow

Working late at the gym one night, Kit’s delighted when two of his fantasies made flesh come in for a workout. The guys he’s dubbed Black Muscle Vest and Grey Sweats are tall, gorgeous and insanely built, and Kit can hardly take his eyes off their glistening, pumped-up muscles.

But he’s not the only one who’s been dreaming of a little hot and sweaty man-on-man-on-man action. Harry and Sven are only too happy to make Kit’s fantasy a reality in the changing room—and Kit’s going to get a workout of his own he’ll never forget!

Unwrapped: The Birthday Gift by Josephine Myles

All Dave wants for his birthday is a threesome, and his devoted boyfriend Mark is keen to oblige. Enter Pedro, the mysterious stranger they pick up from the pub. Taking him home with them promises a scorching encounter… if only Dave can deal with his nerves first!

Getting a Filling by JL Merrow

Ivo’s terrified of going to the dentist, even with his lover, Colin, there for moral support. But when the dentist turns out to be gorgeous—and gay—fear turns to flirtation. The next time Ivo ends up in the dentist’s chair it’s a lot more fun, as the support Colin and Ted give him is very immoral indeed.

Author bios

JL Merrow is that rare beast, an English person who refuses to drink tea. She read Natural Sciences at Cambridge, where she learned many things, chief amongst which was that she never wanted to see the inside of a lab ever again. Her one regret is that she never mastered the ability of punting one-handed whilst holding a glass of champagne.

She writes across genres, with a preference for contemporary gay romance and mysteries, and is frequently accused of humour. Her novel Slam! won the 2013 Rainbow Award for Best LGBT Romantic Comedy, and her novella Muscling Through and novel Relief Valve were both EPIC Awards finalists.

JL Merrow is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, International Thriller Writers, Verulam Writers’ Circle and the UK GLBTQ Fiction Meet organising team.

Find JL Merrow online at: www.jlmerrow.com, on Twitter as @jlmerrow, and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/jl.merrow

English through and through, Josephine Myles is addicted to tea and busy cultivating a reputation for eccentricity. She writes gay erotica and romance, but finds the erotica keeps cuddling up to the romance, and the romance keeps corrupting the erotica. Jo blames her rebellious muse but he never listens to her anyway, no matter how much she threatens him with a big stick. She’s beginning to suspect he enjoys it.

Jo publishes regularly with Samhain, and now has over ten novels and novellas under her belt. Her novel Stuff won the 2014 Rainbow Award for Best Bisexual Romance, and her novella Merry Gentlemen won the 2014 Rainbow Award for Best Gay Romantic Comedy. She has also been known to edit anthologies and self-publish on occasion, although she prefers to leave the “boring bits” of the ebook creation process to someone else. She loves to be busy, and is currently having fun trying to work out how she is going to fit in her love of writing, dressmaking and attending cabaret shows in fabulous clothing around the demands of a preteen with special needs and a soon-to-be toddler.

Website and blog: http://josephinemyles.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/josephine.myles.author

Twitter: @JosephineMyles

Excerpt from Getting a Filling by JL Merrow

“You,” Colin said decisively, prodding Ivo painfully in the ribs, “are the world’s biggest wuss.”

Ivo glared at his lover. “Excuse me? I think you’ll find, actually, I’m being extremely brave here. I’m not trembling in fright at home, pretending it’s all going to go away. Oh, no. I’m here. Standing tall—”

“Sitting on a comfy chair, actually.”

“—and facing up to my fears. I think you’ll find that’s the very definition of bravery.”

Colin made an annoying sort of tsk sound with his tongue. “And I think you’ll find that most grown men in your situation would not call this anything even remotely like bravery. Especially seeing as you dragged me along to hold your hand. You’re not marching into battle, Ivo. You’re not about to have experimental brain surgery. You’re not even going bloody bungee jumping. You’re at the dentist’s! For a check-up. How terrifying can it be?”

Ivo was wounded. “I had a bad experience at the dentist’s when I was little, I’ll have you know. It scarred me for life.” He shuddered at the memory. “You never saw the dentist I used to have to go to. His surgery was in a big old house like the one in the Amityville horror films.”

“A perfectly ordinary terraced house in the High Street, no doubt.”

“Well, it looked scary enough when I was a kid. All Masonic patterned tiles and Gothic windows. And the dentist was an absolute ringer for Vincent Price. It was bloody terrifying, seeing him looming over you with a drill.”

“Well, it should have taught you not to eat so many sweeties, then, shouldn’t it?” Colin said with the smug air of one blessed with a take-it-or-leave-it attitude to sugar and naturally strong teeth. “If it wasn’t for your chocolate addiction, we wouldn’t even be here. I’ve never had to have a filling in my life.”

“Which is why there’s nothing intrinsically manly about you being so bloody blasé about trips to the dentist. You’ve never had reason to be scared.” A shiver ran through Ivo’s frame. “All the times I had gas at the dentist’s, feeling that horrible taste in my mouth and wondering if I’d ever wake up…”

“You can’t feel a taste, Ivo,” Colin put in dismissively, picking up a battered copy of Reader’s Digest apparently for the sole purpose of dropping it again with a shudder.

“Maybe I’m synaesthetic,” Ivo muttered sulkily. “Just because you haven’t experienced something doesn’t mean it isn’t a perfectly valid—”

“Would you like to come in now, Mr Eccles?” The nurse smiled around the waiting room door. Ivo felt a sudden flash of loathing for her, with her starched white uniform and her perfect nails and her friendly manner. He took a deep breath. No. The nurse was not the enemy.

Merely a collaborator. Ivo wondered what she’d look like with that artfully highlighted hair shorn off and a badge of shame hung around her neck reading Dentist Lover.

“Mr Eccles?”

Scrambling to his feet, Ivo squared his shoulders. He might be heading towards unimaginable terror and suffering, but by God he’d show some good old-fashioned British backbone. Unfortunately, his voice didn’t seem to be playing along. It came out in a bit of a squeak. “You’re coming with me, right, Colin?”

Colin sighed. “If I have to.”

As Ivo walked into the surgery, the smell hit him. A mix of antiseptic and that horrid pink stuff they made you rinse your mouth out with after they’d finished their sadistic little round of torture. And a faint whiff of mint. Uniquely dentist, it transported Ivo back to his childhood and his mother’s harassed voice, promising him a whole box of Smarties if he’d only, please, just try to be good at the dentist’s this time.

“Ivo, you’re hurting my hand,” Colin hissed in his ear. Ivo let go hurriedly.

And then he looked at the dentist, and all his anxiety seemed to drain away. Right along with most of the blood in the upper portions of his body. It seemed to be heading south so fast Ivo was vaguely surprised he didn’t keel straight over on the floor, leaving just his dick standing up and waving enthusiastically. The dentist was absolutely bloody gorgeous. Well, what could be seen of him was, at any rate. Green eyes twinkled above his surgical mask, and dark, almost black curls poked out from under his cap. The whole effect was Pan, gone middle-class professional. Ivo found himself wondering if there might be two tiny horns nestling in those curls under the cap. And as for the rest of him… His tight white tunic (and how come Ivo had never realised just how sexy a tunic could be?) seemed to strain to contain his muscular chest, and his trousers clung lovingly to rock-hard thighs.

Ivo heard Colin’s sharp intake of breath and knew his lover was just as affected by the sight as he was. It was one of the many reasons he felt so lucky having Colin; they had very similar tastes in men.

“Ah, Mr Eccles? If you’d like to take a seat.” The dentist waved politely at the chair, which looked more like a couch in its present semi-reclined state. Really, you could get up to all sorts of things in a chair like that.

“Ivo,” Ivo told him as he moved forward, drawn by the lure of that mellow voice. “Please, call me Ivo.”

New Release: Finding Love: The Perfect Size for You by Lily G. Blunt

Finding Love: The Perfect Size for You

by

Lily G Blunt

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A male escort takes on an inexperienced client and breaks the first rule of rent boys: don’t get attached.

After updating his Rent Boy blog profile, well-endowed porn star Ty receives a text from a sexually inexperienced client. Andy, the client, asks Ty to provide him with the necessary know-how so should he ever get a date with the guy he’s attracted to, he’ll be fully prepared.

Little does Ty know that this hookup will lead to a friendship that will subsequently change his life.

 

This story has been previously published as The Perfect Size for You by Torquere Press in the Take It Like a Man anthology.
 
This second edition has been expanded and reedited.
 
Format: ebook and paperback
Language: English
Book Length: Short Story (12K)
Pages: 60
Genres: Contemporary, Gay, Erotic Romance
Heat Rating: Burning
Release Date: 9th March 2016
 
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The door opened, and a skinny geek with specs faced me. Thinking I had the wrong house, and worried that the boy’s father had made the appointment, I floundered. Now, that will be awkward. How’s he planning to get his kid out of the house?

“Excuse me. I’m looking for Andy. Is he here?”

The boy flushed bright red and pushed up his black-framed glasses. “That’s me, I’m Andy Parker. You have the right address.”

You’ve got to be kidding me.

“Okay, son! How old are you?” He didn’t look a day over fifteen.

His eyes widened, but his gaze didn’t leave mine. He bristled a little, rising to his full height. “I’m eighteen. Nineteen in three months. I can show you my ID, if you like.” He looked beyond my shoulder, then ushered me hastily inside.

I followed him to the kitchen. “I’m Tyrone, by the way.”

He hadn’t even asked my name. I could have been any weirdo coming into his home. I guessed he recognized me from my online photos or my porn videos. Whatever. It looked like he was expecting me anyway.

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Praise for The Perfect Size for You

Amazon and Goodreads Reviews

“A big fan and this one did not disappoint! Totally adored it and can’t wait for her next book already!”
“I just love this writer… This storyline was well written and I loved each page. I wish it had gone on longer too damn short!”
“I really enjoyed this short story. I’m a sucker for rent boys/porn industry stories and this hit the spot wonderfully! I really loved Andy and Ty together.
The sexy times were sweet and then hot! I’m really anxious to get to this author’s other porn industry book!”
“A definite must read!”
“Lily’s writing flowed well for me. She combined a nice mix of sweet and hot but neither guy came across as needy or desperate.”
“It’s a good short story you can read while having a cuppa. I’ll definitely be reading more from Lily.”
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Lily G. Blunt writes contemporary gay romance. She loves to explore the relationship between two men and the intensity of their physical and emotional attraction. Angst often features in her stories as she feels this demonstrates the depth of the men’s feelings for each other. Lily is forever writing imaginary scenes and plots in her head, but only a few ever make it to the page–there never seems to be enough hours in the day despite having left the teaching profession to concentrate on her writing!

Lily discovered the wonderful world of m/m romance novels five years ago via fan fiction and went on to write stories in her spare time. With the encouragement of her friends and readers she decided to publish some of her work. Lily subsequently self-published several stories via Amazon. She later published short stories with Torquere Press and Wayward Ink Publishing. Lily is excited about joining Pride Publishing for her latest release, The Handyman Can.

Lily is an avid supporter of GLBTQ rights and advocates equality for all. She was recently a steward for Pride in London. She lives in central England with her rather bemused husband and a ‘mad as a bag of frogs’ Shetland Sheepdog called Barney.

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Sign up for her newsletter HERE to keep in contact via email.

New Release: Forever Dusk by Lisa Worrall

Forever Dusk by Lisa Worrall

 Buylinks: Amazon | All Romance
There is nothing as strong as the bond between a sire and his vampire.
But what do you do when you find out your partner’s sire is also your own?
Jonah had been a vampire for over a hundred years when he met Sebastian, the owner of the vampire-themed nightclub in downtown LA. Twenty years later and Jonah and Sebastian are stronger than ever.
But when another’s jealousy brings their sire to the club, will their relationship be able to withstand the strength of their bond with Vincenzo, and their bond with each other?

Sue Brown’s Review:

I’m not a fan of vampires but I am a huge fan of Lisa Worrall, and I was more than willing to read another one of her stories.  If you like beautiful and descriptive prose with hot vampires then this is most definitely the book for you.
I loved the relationships between the men. They so are hot and sensual together, and as usual, Lisa writes wicked love scenes.
This is double the length it was before, although I think this book could be a gorgeous full-blown novel, but that is just a niggle.

Excerpt:

Prologue
Newley, West Virginia – 1860
Jonah was trying to coax his thick hair into some semblance of order when his brother Oscar burst into his bedroom. He damn near jumped clear out of his skin as the door bounced off the wall with the force of Oscar’s excitement.
“C’mon, Mona. We gotta go. Pa said if you don’t stop primpin’ we’re gonna leave without ya.”
“Don’t call me Mona,” Jonah grumbled at the use of the nickname his brothers had saddled him with as soon as he could walk. “You know I don’t like it.”
“Of course I do,” Oscar scoffed. “That’s the point, little brother.”
“Gee,” Jonah said sarcastically and pulled his cap on, tucking a few wayward curls underneath it. “How lucky am I? To have a brother of your caliber to look up to.”
“Considering there are three of us, I’d say you’re the luckiest sumbitch in town.” Oscar’s retort was quick and snappy, in line with his acerbic wit. “Now get your ass movin’, boy.”
Jonah tossed the comb at him and stormed past him. “And don’t call me boy, neither.”
Oscar chased him along the hall and Jonah narrowly missed knocking his little sister off her feet, only skirting around her at the last second, Oscar hot on his heels. He made it out of the front door and off the porch before Oscar barreled into him and sent him sprawling on the lawn.
“Get off my grass you ingrates!”
“Nice, Pa,” Oscar pushed Jonah off him and sat up, a grin curving his lips. “Is that any way to talk about the fruit of your loins?”
“You leave my loins out of this,” Angus Roberts snapped back. “And if you’re the fruit boy, from where I’m standing you must have been pretty low hanging.”
“Angus!”
Jonah shot Oscar a knowing look and tried not to smile at the warning tone in his mother’s voice as she admonished his father. They’d all been on the receiving end of that sharp tongue at one time or another.
“They started it, Maude,” Angus complained.
“Angus Roberts, I swear I’ll never know why I bothered to have all these children when I’ve got my hands full trying to raise you.” Maude ushered Jonah’s seven-year-old twin sisters down the porch steps and called out for his two older brothers. “Cooper! Raymond! Don’t make me start counting!”
“Why’s Ray takin’ so long, Mama?” Felicity, older than her twin, Charlotte, by two minutes, asked innocently.
“Well, Short Stop,” Jonah said before his Mama could respond. He scrambled to his feet and scooped her up into his arms. “I think it might have something to do with Mary-Anne Watkins.”
Felicity locked her fingers behind his neck and grinned at him. “Is Ray fixin’ to kiss her at the fair?”
“No I am not,” Raymond said haughtily as Cooper shoved past him. Raymond closed the front door behind them and glared at Jonah. “Don’t be fillin’ her head with nonsense, Mona,” he said as he strode down the path. “Now c’mon. We’re gonna be late.”
“We’ve been waiting on you for the last half hour. Why the God awful rush now?” Angus asked, holding out his arm to his wife.
“He promised Mary-Anne Watkins he’d meet her at the lemonade stand.” Oscar side-stepped Raymond’s swatting hand and hefted Charlotte onto his shoulders. He took off at a trot making horse noises for the little girl’s benefit and his parents smiled fondly after him.
“Can we do that, Jo-Jo? Can we, can we?” Felicity begged.
Jonah quickly obliged and, after making sure Felicity held on tightly, he headed after Oscar and Charlotte, leaving the others to follow behind at a more sedate pace. The girls laughed as he and Oscar carried them along on their backs. Their joy was Jonah’s favorite sound in the whole world.
The girls had been a surprise addition to the family. He’d been fourteen when they were born and, up until then, the youngest. His mama thought she’d reached the end of her time as far as babies were concerned, but when she started craving pickles dipped in mustard, it was obvious they needed to get the well-used crib down from the attic.
Jonah had fallen in love the moment he laid eyes on them; half an hour old and wailing up a storm, but he didn’t care. They’d taken a bit of getting used to but by the time they could crawl they had all four of their big brothers wrapped firmly around their tiny little fingers.
When they rounded the corner at the end of Main Street Jonah heard Felicity’s gasp in his ear and he grinned at the sound, her excitement infectious. Stalls and tents of all sizes dotted the usually somber green, strung with lights and laden with all manner of pies, cakes and jellies. Pens holding tiny lambs and mooing calves were surrounded by cooing children jostling each other to stroke soft noses. In a larger pen, three ponies were being led up and down with brightly colored ribbons plaited into their manes and a giggling child on each back.
Felicity wriggled to be let down and Jonah squatted so her feet touched the ground. She bounced up and down beside him and he heaved a sigh of relief as their parents walked toward them, with Cooper hot on their heels. His father smiled at his mother and dropped a kiss on her cheek. The love that still burned between them after all this time warmed Jonah’s soul. If, one day, he found even half of the happiness they’d shared, he knew he’d still be the happiest man on earth.
“Mama, Mama!” Charlotte practically vibrated with excitement her brown eyes alight as she tugged at their mother’s skirt. “They’ve got pony rides, Mama!”
“I see that, flapjack,” Maude replied, stroking Charlotte’s hair from her eyes.
“Can we, Mama? Can we?” Both girls spoke in perfect unison.
Their father laughed heartily and kissed his wife again as he pressed some money into her hand. “Well, darlin’, looks like your dance card is filled.” He nodded at Jonah and his brothers. “C’mon, boys. I think it’s about time we make a man out of your brother.” Cooper and Oscar threw their arms around Jonah’s neck and let out a few ribald comments. Comments that stilled immediately their mother cast her steely gaze at them. A gaze she then turned on their father.
“Only one, Angus Roberts. You hear?”
“Of course, Maude.” Jonah had to bite the inside of his cheek at the mock-affronted look on his father’s face. “As if I’d let him get pie-eyed on his first trip out. It cuts me deep that you would think that.”
“I don’t think, Angus Roberts, I know,” Maude replied with a raised eyebrow. “And if the four of you aren’t upright by the time we’re fixing to leave, I’ll have Sheriff Dobbs throw you in the drunk tank with old Cleetus. And don’t think I won’t.”
“Oh I don’t think, darlin’.” Jonah choked back a laugh as his father turned his mother’s words against her. “I know.”
Their father walked toward the beer tent and his brothers ushered Jonah after him. The grass crunched under foot and the laughter of children filled his ears as they followed their father. He knew in that moment he would remember this night for the rest of his life. The scents, the sounds, his brothers’ cheesy grins and the fond look his father gave him over his shoulder as he walked ahead. All of it; he would remember all of it—forever.
Inside the tent the air was thick with smoke. The heaviness of it stole Jonah’s breath and he raised his fist to his mouth to cover his sudden coughing fit. His brothers laughed as he looked from one to the other, his eyes watering.
“Don’t worry, Mona,” Cooper said good-naturedly. “Oscar’s first time in here he puked in the spittoon!”
“Shut up!” Oscar nudged Jonah towards the makeshift bar where their father was talking to Mr. McReady who lived in the big house on the corner of their street. Oscar indicated the array of jugs and bottles on the tables. “It’s time for drinkin’, not talkin’. What’re ya gonna try first, Jo? Bourbon? Whisky? Gin?”
“Don’t push him, boys,” Angus said, tipping a wink at Jonah. “Let him find his feet.”
Oscar and Cooper administered encouraging slaps to his back then headed across the tent to the beer barrels where some friends were waiting on them. Left to his own devices as his father engaged in a detailed conversation with Mr. McReady about the impending Mexican war, Jonah had no idea what to do next. Although he’d managed to catch his breath, the cloying thickness of smoke seemed to hang above them and it scratched at the back of his throat. If he was honest, right now he could do with a soda.
“It is, how you say, your first time?”
The voice was heavily accented and had an almost musical lilt that lifted the hairs on the back of Jonah’s neck. He shifted his feet and turned to look at the man beside him. If it wasn’t such a ridiculously romantic notion, Jonah would have sworn his heart actually skipped a beat when he looked into deep brown eyes surrounded by black lashes. He swallowed hard as the man’s gaze held his, pinning him as steadfastly as if he were one of the bugs Raymond collected in glass frames.
“Excuse me?” Jonah managed to mumble.
The man smiled; a soft and apologetic smile then held out his hand. “Forgive my manners. Let me introduce myself. I am Vincenzo Moretti, here on business from Sicily.”
Jonah stared at Vincenzo’s hand, unable to drag his gaze from the man’s long pale fingers and an image of those fingers curled around his cock blasted every thought from his mind. Vincenzo cleared his throat, breaking the awkward silence between them, forcing Jonah to meet his gaze. Something dark and knowing flashed in Vincenzo’s eyes as if he knew exactly what Jonah had been thinking, then it was gone.

New Release: Rag and Bone by KJ Charles

rag-and-boneBuylink: Samhain

It’s amazing what people throw away…

Crispin Tredarloe never meant to become a warlock. Freed from his treacherous master, he’s learning how to use his magical powers the right way. But it’s brutally hard work. Not everyone believes he’s a reformed character, and the strain is putting unbearable pressure on his secret relationship with waste-man Ned Hall.

Ned’s sick of magic. Sick of the trouble it brings, sick of its dangerous grip on Crispin and the miserable look it puts in his eyes, and sick of being afraid that a gentleman magician won’t want a street paper-seller forever—or even for much longer.

But something is stirring among London’s forgotten discards. An ancient evil is waking up and seeking its freedom. And when wild magic hits the rag-and-bottle shop where Ned lives, a panicked Crispin falls back onto bad habits. The embattled lovers must find a way to work together—or London could go up in flames.

This story is set in the world of the Charm of Magpies series.

Excerpt:

They got in hot mutton pies from the shop on Dyott Street that Ned supplied with waste. It was easier than going out to eat, and more discreet, considering everything they couldn’t talk about in public.

“So I have to see if this new teacher will be any good,” Crispin concluded his lengthy monologue. Ned had listened patiently, as he always did. “Or, if I’ll be any good, more like.”

“I don’t get it.” Ned brushed crumbs off his trousers. They were both sitting on stacks of waste, using the piles of manuscripts, letters, prospectuses, and forgotten legal documents as furniture because Ned had neither the space nor the funds for things like chairs. He had a bed, a gimcrack chest of drawers, incredible amounts of paper, and very little else, and he was the most contented man Crispin knew. “I’ve seen you do magic. We both know you can do magic.”

“I can. But…” Crispin had tried to explain this more than once. “Look, you’re a waste-man. You know how to buy waste, how much to pay, who to sell it to, how to turn a profit. Well, suppose I told you to get on the Stock Exchange and make a fortune? It’s all buying and selling, isn’t it? You know how to do that, so why couldn’t you do it with stocks and shares?” He gave Ned a hopeful look.

“I probably could,” Ned said. “If I learned the rules, and if they let my colour into the Exchange, which I wouldn’t bet on. I wasn’t born a waste-man, or even bred one. You learn things.”

Crispin sagged. Ned probably would make a marvellous stockbroker, if it came to that, because he was actually good at things. “Yes, well, I was born with my talents, or lack of them, and the way I was trained to use them isn’t allowed, and I’m no good at learning the new way. I simply can’t make my powers do what I want in the way people want me to. I mean, do you think you could ever learn to draw?”

“No,” Ned said without hesitation.

“You could take lessons. If you had dozens of lessons, I bet you’d be able to turn out a reasonable likeness, but—”

“Not like you.”

That was something Crispin could do. He’d sketched Ned half a dozen times, and himself in the mirror too, on request. Ned had that picture pinned to the wall of his tiny sleeping space. “No. I can take a pen and know how to put what I want on the paper. I can look at you and see how I’d shade your cheekbones in this light, how I’d draw your eyes.” It was the laugh that made Ned’s eyes, the little telltale crease there half the time even when he didn’t seem to be smiling. When Crispin shaded his work, seeking to make his pencil’s grey suggest the rich deep brown of Ned’s skin, he found himself drawing as though Ned’s eyes cast their own light.

Those eyes were on him, warm with amusement, and Crispin realised his fingers had adopted a writing position. He straightened his hand with a touch of self-consciousness. “But even if you tried and tried, it wouldn’t come naturally, or easily. You’d never be able to do what I can do like breathing.” Ned shrugged acknowledgement. “And now imagine you could draw beautifully if you did it a different way but you’re not allowed.”

Ned put an arm round his shoulders. His arms were glorious, thick with muscle, so Crispin had to incline his head to make room. He put up his own slim arm to take Ned’s hand.

“I hear you,” Ned said. “But you aren’t allowed. So it seems to me that you’ve got to do it how they want you to.”

“It’s not fair.” Crispin scuffed the paper dust on the floor, with his boot. “Just because a maniac used graphomancy to kill people—”

“You talking about your Mr. Marleigh, or the one who murdered a pack of peelers this winter?”

“The one this winter.”

Ned sighed. “Missing my point there, Freckles. Be honest, I don’t much like the sound of magic writing or the look of it either. I don’t want you doing stuff with your own blood, let alone someone else’s.” He tugged Crispin’s hand forward so they could both see the truncated little finger. “Don’t tell me anything that starts with chopping bits off yourself is a good idea.”

He sounded almost annoyed, and Crispin bit back an equally testy response. Ned didn’t know. He was a waste-man, he didn’t understand what it was like to have power. He didn’t even want it. Ned was a flit, possessing a tiny touch of magical talent. He was just about able to hear the sounds of the ether to which Crispin was deaf, but he had steadfastly refused any suggestion of training his meagre ability. Why would I hear more of that if I didn’t have to?

Crispin would have ki—would have done anything for the senses Ned didn’t even want.

“Well, it’s too late to change that,” he muttered, pulling his hand back. “And I’m trying.”

Ned squinted round at him. “That’s as much as anyone can ask. Look, drop it for now, eh? I know you want to get this sorted out, but it’s not the only thing in the world.”

He was well aware he’d been talking a lot about it, until the twilight had shaded to night, but the implied rebuke was still galling. “It’s the most important thing!” he retorted without thinking, and felt his stomach contract at the expression that crossed Ned’s face. “I didn’t mean— That is, it’s what I do, it’s the important bit of my day, not— Ned, I didn’t mean that.”

“Course not.” Ned let his head drop back against the wall. “You want to stay?”

“Yes,” Crispin said urgently. “I really do. I’ll stop. Oh God, I haven’t even asked about your day.”

“Same old, same old.” That proved Ned was offended: he never had a “same old” day. There was always a funny story, some observation or interaction turned into an anecdote, because Ned was interested in things, and people, and the world around him. He didn’t only think about himself.

Crispin couldn’t imagine why Ned put up with him.

He twisted to get his arms round Ned’s muscular torso. “Well, if it wasn’t a very interesting day, maybe I could make it more interesting?” he offered hopefully.

Ned let out a long breath. “Crispin…”

Oh, he couldn’t have made a mess of this as well, not this. Crispin turned properly, swinging a leg over so he was sitting on Ned’s lap, and took his face in his hands. “Please, Ned. I’m sorry. I’ve been looking forward to seeing you for days and now I’ve spoiled it. Can I start again?” He dropped kisses on Ned’s cheekbones, one side and the other. “I’d rather be here than anywhere else, and I’d rather be talking to you than anyone else, and I’d rather you were talking to me and I wasn’t talking at all because you make more sense than I do.” He moved his mouth to Ned’s jawline, over the rough slide of beard he’d grown through the winter and which Crispin had insisted he keep, down the side of his neck, and felt the paper dust slippery on his lips. “Please?”

Ned grunted, low in his throat, and his hands came up to Crispin’s ribcage, sliding over his back. Crispin wriggled closer, kissing his way up Ned’s throat and over his jaw until their lips met, and at last, for a little while, everything was all right again.

They ended up in Ned’s tiny sleeping space, which didn’t deserve the name of bedroom. It was a cubbyhole off the paper store, with a sacking curtain to keep the warmth of body heat in—Crispin still felt slightly embarrassed about the look Ned had given him back in the depths of winter when he’d complained the paper store didn’t have a fireplace—with a truckle bed barely wide enough for the two of them lying on their sides. But Ned kept it swept and aired as best he could with no window, and Mr. Voake didn’t notice comings and goings, or care if he did notice. It was a safe space for the two of them, a place where Crispin was himself. Not a practitioner, not a warlock, not a failure or a nancy or a molly or any of the other things he was outside. Just him and Ned, body to body, shivering under blankets that held the evening chill, warming each other up. Crispin couldn’t wait for summer, the hot, light evenings when they wouldn’t need covers and he could take his time looking at Ned’s compact, powerful frame, and the sloping shoulders that made his mouth go dry.

Then again, burrowing under the blankets together had its advantages. Crispin wriggled on top of Ned’s solidity, feeling his way by touch, exploring the wide chest with light hands. He hadn’t expected Ned to be hairy, somehow, the first time, had had a vague idea that men of colour were smooth-skinned, and been pleased to find himself wrong about that. He rubbed his cheek against Ned’s pelt, licking a nipple to attention, and felt Ned’s solid thighs shift under him.

“You’re all over, Freckles,” Ned whispered, a laugh in his voice, and Crispin knew he was forgiven.

“I’ll be all over you before long,” Crispin assured him, and then they were both giggling like schoolchildren at the ridiculous innuendo. Crispin took the opportunity to squirm down a bit, and Ned shifted around, and there they were, with his prick caught between Ned’s substantial thigh muscles and Ned’s pressed along Crispin’s belly, both of them rocking gently as Ned caught Crispin’s mouth with his own.

Crispin was willowy, effete, his manner screaming molly no matter how hard he tried to hide it; Ned was strong-muscled, a working man, a black man. Both of them were very used to what other men wanted of them. And it had turned out Ned was as tired of those expectations as Crispin.