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It's that time of year again
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in the Annual Critters Readers' Poll
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Bewitching Book Tours Holiday Sale
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Visit these websites to find a free book at each link, just look for the Bewitching Graphic.
A Bewitching Guide to Halloween
Seeking reviewers for Black Oak : The Loveless Chronicles Chapter 1 by Titus Murphy
This tour will be November 9- December 7 (weekdays only)
pdf available for reviewers
To participate in this tour please send:
Your blog name and url
The Loveless Chronicles
Genre: Horror, Fantasy
Publication Date: October 31, 2020
Publisher: Cosby Media Production
WELCOME TO BLACK OAK!
In the town of Black Oak, nothing is ever what it seems. Besides the wrangling local country-types, the city is marred by a history of indiscretions, murders, and no-named civilians perpetrating as heroes. But beneath the surface of this "run of the mill," Midwestern locale lurks a pervasive past that is about to come full circle: like a blazing blood moon.
Mark is an unassuming trucker who has fallen for a beautiful clerk working at a “Mom & Pop” store named Sharon, and nothing else in the world matters more than stealing her heart. But after making a run into the Bayou to deliver a package, destiny steps in and serves him a plate of "the unexpected," which sparks the flames of wickedness that will set his hometown ablaze. And as the secrets buried in this town begin to unearth, the truth will fan those burning flames until there is nothing left but ashes and chaos.
In the end, the only mystery left to solve will be if this is isolated to one town or involve the fate of the entire world...
FOREWORD REVIEW: "...full of interesting characters who hold attention...the secrets of their home are a binding force that brings the tale together."
CLARION RATING: 4/5 "In the fantasy novel Black Oak, citizens across two ears reckon with strange creatures among them."
About the Author:
Titus Murphy was born and raised on the streets of New Orleans, Louisiana. From a small child, there was an overarching desire for Titus to do one thing: win. His drive and determination drove him to succeed. Armed with a strong mind, a quick wit, and a sharp tongue, he set out to emblaze his mark on everyone he would encounter. Unknown to him were the overwhelming obstacles and seemingly insurmountable tragedy he would have to endure. From this devastation came a resolve fueled by an uncompromising commitment that resonates through every aspect of his life. Forced from the city he knew and loved, Titus relocated to Atlanta, Georgia. It was there his desire and commitment came together resolutely to birth a dream that had long been held in his heart. Oblivious to detraction, and beyond all doubt, Titus would become an author. From the streets of New Orleans that marked his life, to the ink-graced pages upon which he now pours his soul, Titus Murphy has come to show the world that he is truly…something more.
Last Chance to Sign Up for the 2020 Bewitching Book Tours Deck the Halls with Books Holiday Extravaganza
Last Chance to Sign Up for the 2020 Bewitching Book Tours Deck the Halls with Books Holiday Extravaganza
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Exclusive Excerpt â Riding Little Red
Red climbed through the bramble, cutting her legs on thorns. She hated going to her grandmother's house. The old woman smelled of mothballs and served gruel for breakfast. She kept her teeth in a jar next to the sugar. Disgusting.
The smell of boiled cabbage wafted out the windows of grandmother's house. Red loathed cabbage. It gave her gas. There was nothing worse than a run of farts when you're trying to impress a lad.
She walked into her grandmother's cottage and plopped her basket on the dining room table. Her mother forced her to visit grandmother at least once or twice per week. The woman wasn't long for this world. Red didn't care. She'd rather seduce the neighborhood guys than listen to another one of Grandma's tales of how women were not sluts in her day like they were now. Hint, hint.
Not bothering to ask, Red dipped into the cookie jar and grabbed a cookie. She took one bite and gagged. They were undercooked again. Might as well eat raw oatmeal. She spat the dough into grandmother's spittoon. The old hag liked her chewing tobacco.
Now that she was eighteen and a fully-grown woman, the urge to explore the world outside her church and hearth had overtaken her. Red didn't want to get married and push out a passel of rug rats like other women her age. Home life was not for her. She wanted the man but not the marriage. Red craved sexual adventure, and she knew just the men who could give it to her.
There was only one reason Red visited Grandma, and that reason wore tight jeans and a tool belt. Red grinned. She hoped to get lucky today, out of her grandmother's earshot. Neither Gran nor Mother approved of Randy, the Big Bad Mr. Wolf. He wasn't the sort a girl brought home to dinner to meet the parents. They had a doctor or lawyer in mind for their little girl, not a grease monkey. Randy maintained the cottages for the residents; replacing light bulbs, repairing broken refrigerators, adding new filters to the heaters on bitterly cold days like today. The first time Red laid eyes on him she wanted to test-drive his drill.
Red also noticed the other maintenance man; the new one who started working on the rental properties about a month ago. Mmm-mmm, she could eat him as a snack! She didn't know his name but she imagined those strong arms gripping her wrists behind her back, mouth ravishing her while he held her so tightly she couldn't breathe.
Notepaper sat on the dining room table. Red picked it up. Off to see the doctor, dear, it read. Help yourself to some cookies. She made her yucky face. No way would she make that mistake again! Please call Randy Wolf. The kitchen sink is clogged up again.
She smiled and dialed a number on her cellphone. Would Randy like to come over and unclog her pipe?
He said he'd come in a few minutes. You bet he would!
When Randy arrived, he didn't bother to knock. He unlocked the door and let himself in. He smelled of man sweat and axle grease. Dressed in a black t-shirt so tight it hugged his massive pecs and muscular arms, he dripped with animal magnetism. Low-slung stained jeans encased his strong thighs - thighs she wanted wrapped around her body. Red was surprised to see another worker following on his heels. A red bandana tamed his unruly black hair. His lantern jaw offset a rugged face. The tools on their belts clanged together like wind chimes made of junk yard iron. Was her favorite maintenance man fantasy about having a mÃ©nage about to come true?
"Hey, Red." Randy said. "How are you this fine morning?"
"My parents and Gran are pressuring me to get married again. Why am I given only one option in life while you get to do as you wish?"
"It's unfair, I know. I don't necessarily get to do what I want, either. I'd love to travel but like you, my parents have other ideas. I'm twenty-three and they make me feel like I'm sixteen. I must provide for a family I don't want. I understand where you're coming from. I can't imagine you married and especially raising a herd of brats," Randy said. "You have wanderlust. Have you ever thought of traveling the world to see what it has to offer?"
"Yes, I have, but I don't know where to start," Red said. "This village is so provincial. I need to get to the city, but I donât have enough money to pull off the trip."
Randy took a lock of her candy apple red hair in his hand and twisted it around his finger. The warm gesture brought a smile to her face. "I may have an answer for you. But first, tell me what you are really doing here today. You don't have to stick around." He said with a wolfish grin.
"You know perfectly well why I'm here." Red brush one hand down Randy's bulging bicep and felt his muscles ripple beneath his skin. The touch made her nipples harden. "You are one of the only things that make this dump of a town tolerable. And do you mind introducing me to your friend? Do you have something special in mind for us?" She eyed up the other handyman with interest.
He laughed, took her hand in his, and squeezed. "You are incorrigible, Red. Insatiable. That's one thing I like about you. You know what you want, and you grab it without a second thought. There are some obstacles holding you back from achieving all your dreams, but you donât get discouraged. At least, when it comes to me, you grab with all you've got." He wrapped his arms around her. "You make it clear what you want, and I thought I'd bring you a little surprise today. One I know you'll like. I thought I'd bring along Brett Lupo. I've seen the way you've watched him at work. He can help you with ... anything you need. You got a pipe you need plunged, huh?" One corner of his mouth curled up in a wicked grin.
"Why don't you boys come over here, and show me what you've got on under those tool belts." Red swayed her hips as she walked into the kitchen, knowing two sets of eyes watched her luscious bum. She leaped up and sat on the counter as Randy and Lupo approached. "Gran's at the doctor's. We have about an hour. Let's make the most of it."
Happily Ever After
Twisted Versions of Your Favorite Fairy Tales
Genre: Erotica, Erotic Romance, LGBT
Publisher: Chained Hearts Publishing
Date of Publication: July 23, 2020
Number of pages: 205
Word Count: Appx. 65,000 words
Cover Artist: Chris Wallace
Tagline: In this series of twisted fairy tales you'll learn about the steamy encounters the original writers left out. From a gay Pied Piper to Cinderella's Sex Coach and even a wild encounter on a hunt for bigfoot, these stories reveal a wild side of your favorite fairy tale characters.
Acclaimed author Elizabeth Black is back with a collection of steamy retellings of your favorite fairy tales, but beware, not every ending is a happy one! Reinventions of Cinderella, Thumbling, The Three Billy Goats Gruff, Snow White, Little Red Riding Hood, The Little Mermaid, The Pied Piper, Peter Pan, and The Shoemaker and the Elves round out this remarkable collection.
From a sexually frustrated Cinderella, to a troll with some very dirty riddles, we see fairy tales twisted and the secret sex lives of your favorite fairy tale characters revealed. Who would have guessed that the shoemaker and his wife were into BDSM, or that the fountain of youth could also change your gender?
Well written, carefully crafted, and super steamy, this is the ultimate collection of erotic fairy tales!
About the Author:
Elizabeth Black's erotic fiction has been published by Xcite Books (U. K.), House Of Erotica (U. K.), Cleis Press, Circlet Press, eXtasy Books, Chained Hearts Publishing, Ravenous Romance, Riverdale Avenue Books, Scarlet Magazine (U. K.), and other publishers. She also enjoys writing retellings of classic fairy tales, including her two self-published fairy tales "Trouble In Thigh High Boots" (Puss In Boots) and "Climbing Her Tower" (Rapunzel).
An accomplished essayist, she was the sex columnist for the pop culture e-zine nuts4chic (U. K.). Her articles about sex, erotica, and relationships have appeared in Good Vibrations Magazine, Alternet, CarnalNation, the Ms. Magazine Blog, Novelspot, The Erotic Readers and Writers Association Blog, Sexis Magazine, On The Issues, Sexy Mama Magazine, and Circlet blog.
Web Site http://elizabethablack.blogspot.com
Facebook Author Page http://www.facebook.com/elizabethblackwriter
Amazon Author Page https://www.amazon.com/author/elizabethblack
a Rafflecopter giveaway
Sunlight spilled over a navy sky, unraveling the day between frosty branches. Cole wasnât used to the restless quiet. His footsteps echoed through the sleepy streets. Smoke billowed from chimneys and blinds rustled behind dark windows. Itâd been a long time since he saw Jewel for what it wasâa town too small to be cared for by those who left, but small enough to be loved by those who stayed.
Trees lined the two-lane road. Crisp air nipped his cheeks and the thrum of something not quite lost but not quite found stirred inside him. He adjusted the leather strap curled over his shoulder, messenger bag snug on his hip. Open signs blinked awake and locks clicked. The theater, an old, timely thing, was topped with a vintage light box where black letters sat crooked, spelling out film names and show times. The ice cream shop where his aunt used to work was still there, tucked between a Mexican restaurant and an art supply store.
These streets were watermarked by his childhood, the cage heâd been shipped to when he bared his teeth too often or clenched his fists too hard. An academic household like his, filled with diplomas and success, hadnât made room for a wild card. Ten years later, his family still didnât know what to do with him.
âStill here, huh?â Cole paused at the corner of Oakheart and Foxborough, trailing his eyes over the rickety sign above the window. The Crowâs Nesthad been around for longer than Cole had been alive, a quaint coffee shop known for its lattes and pastries.
A bell jingled when he stepped inside. Tables filled the open space, different than he remembered but just as cozy. Across the room, a barista eyed him from behind the counter, her lips quirked into a friendly smile. âCan I help you?â
âYeah, Iâ¦â Cole cleared his throat. He stepped around a table and set his hands on the counter, head tipped back to read the chalkboard menu on the wall. He noticed the way she postured, glancing at the ink peeking over his wrists. There was something about her, a familiarity he couldnât shake. âIâll take a matcha latte with coconut milk, please. To go.â
âAnything to eat? I just made honey cakes. Theyâre delicious, Iâ¦â She lifted a thick, blond brow. Her eyes narrowed as she leaned closer, gaze drifting from his face to his chest. âAre you, I mean, Iâm pretty sure I know you. Youâreââ
âCole Morrison.â Caution looped through each syllable. He looked at her, really looked, tracing her soft, round cheeks and petite chin. âTara?â
Abrupt laughter tumbled over her lips. âItâs beenâGod, how long has it been?â
âAlmost ten years, I think.â Ten years and two months, to be exact.
Minutes ago, Cole couldâve passed the familiarity between them off as a trick of the light. But now the woman in front of him was attached to the girl from his memories. There was no mistaking her for someone else. He met her cool, gray eyes and remembered whoâd sheâd been, wandering apple orchards with him on sunny autumn days, scooping toads off river rocks and hiding them in his shoes. Her blond hair was longer now, whisked into a bun atop her head.
Theyâd stumbled through adolescence hand in hand, exploring Jewel and friendship, lost to the world but found to each other.
âWow,â she whispered. A wide smile dimpled her cheeks. âYou look different. Howâs life? Still pissing everyone off on the coast?â
Cole masked a cringe, smirking awkwardly at the counter. âPretty much, yeah. How `bout you? Youâre still in Jewel, obviously.â
âItâs home.â Tara tapped on a touch screen register. He handed her his credit card. She flicked it back to him. âItâs on meâdonât look at me like that, itâs fine. How long are you in town for?â
âLilaâs in Cambodia until Christmas Eve, so Iâm staying at her place until then.â He nudged her hand with his credit card.
She shook her head and pushed the card away. âWasnât she, like, in Peru?â
âYeah, you know her. Canât sit still for very long. Seriously, Tara, let meââ
âItâs â She slid a plate across the counter. A plump piece of cake crowned with golden honeycomb sat atop it. âYou said coconut milk, right?â
âYeah, if you have it. So, whatâs new? Are you in school? Married? Kids?â Cole didnât have the courage to ask what he wanted to. The real stuff, boxed away with the rest of their childhood, long forgotten.
âSchool, no. Married, no. Kids, hell no.â Tara flashed a fanged grin. Steam scented like green tea and cloves billowed from the barista station. âIâm a hair stylist Monday through Wednesday at the little salon off Pine Street. Iâm here most mornings, sometimes swing a few nights at Rickyâs.â
âRickyâs? That place is still around?â
âDive bars never die,â Tara said. She handed him a beautifully crafted latte topped with a rippled leaf. The bell sounded, followed by creaky hinges and shoes shuffling across the floor. Cole thought of the promises theyâd made to each other. Tara stood on her tiptoes and glanced over Coleâs shoulder. âWeâll catch up, right? Like, weâll get drinks or something?â
âSure, yeah, we can do that. I might hang out for a bit, actually. If thatâs okay.â He gestured to his messenger bag. âAny outlets next to the window?â
âYeah, take the booth in the corner. Itâsâ¦â She shook her head, eyes roaming his face. âItâs really good to see you, Cole. Seriously.â
âIâ¦ Yeah, itâs good to see you too, Tara. Thanks for the latte.â
She winked. âAnd the cake.â
Wet shoes squeaked on the floorboards behind him.
âAnd the cake.â Cole smiled again, a foreign expression after three days spent forcing niceties to cousins and uncles and grandparents who had flinched whenever heâd moved too quickly.
He thought back to Thanksgiving. The moment his father had asked if he was being truthful on his job applications, Cole had stopped pretending to be approachable. Before he could bite back, his aunt, the only other oddity on the Morrison family tree, put herself between them, hands firm on Coleâs chest, and said, âBaby, take the keys to the cabin and go. Stay through the holidays, feed the birds, keep everything safe. Iâll pay you before I leave.â
Cole had left before the tea was served. His sister followed him to his car, shouting about helping himself, how they all loved him regardless, that he could get back on his feet if he actually tried.
Running was all he knew, but he never thought heâd run into Tara Foster.
What would she think of him now? Life at a crossroads. The word clasped tightly around his neck like a choke chain. He scrubbed a hand under the back of his black beanie and opened his laptop, attempting to focus on the unread e-mail bolded on the screen.
From: Lila Morrison
Subject: Cabin Stuff
Family is the only thing harder than love. Sometimes they know best and sometimes they donât. Sometimes itâs easy to love them and sometimes itâs not. Donât turn off your phone, okay? My brother will kill us both if Claire canât get a hold of you.
The number for the hostel Iâm staying at is below. Same with the emergency vet in case something happens to the birds. My favorite Thai place (they deliver) is on the fridge next to the pizza coupons.
Watch for raccoons. They get in the trash.
Maybe try sending your dad a message. An olive branch, you know?
Keep your chin up.
âAn olive branch,â Cole mumbled. He rolled his eyes and logged out of his e-mail.
Lila was the only person who remotely understood how he felt about their family. But sometimes he thought his aunt had forgotten just how ruined things were. How the awkward rift between him and his sister had cracked and shifted, as if being unable to fix Coleâs brokenness invalidated Gingerâs psychology degree. How his grandmother had only called to ask if heâd spoken to his father, even though his father refused or write or visit.
Three years in a cell was a lonely thing, but his family made the outside lonelier. The soft acoustic music inside the cafÃ© was a nice change. Same with the sweet cake he forked into his mouth, the twinge of hope in his chest at the sight of Taraâs smile, and the white trees outside.
Cole curled his fingers around the steaming cup, lifting it carefully to his mouth.
As the morning stretched, people came and went, dipping into the cafÃ© for pastries and warm drinks. Hushed chatter drifted from occupied tables and fingertips tapped on keyboards. He sipped his latte and scrolled through Facebook, clicking on names he barely knew anymore. Friends from high school. Extended family. Sandra went to grad school. Grayson was still in Venice, dating someone new. . He browsed through Gingerâs albums, pausing over photos from her wedding, and wondered if one of the Morrison seats had been left empty on purpose.
He closed his laptop and slouched in the seat, eyes tracking cars as they rolled through downtown. How would he frame the last decade of his life when Tara inevitably asked about it? The truth was a misshapen thing, and he didnât know if he had the heart to explain every mistake and wrong turn that came with it. He gripped his cup tighter. The last time Cole had seen her, theyâd been kids, fifteen maybe, and heâd made a promise he couldnât keep.
Loud laughter sparked near the counter. ââ¦we just didnât click, thatâs all. No, Tara, câmon, heâs your little brother, I wouldnât lie to you. He was nice, dinner was nice, butâ¦â A customer barked out another laugh and Tara responded in kind, letting her head fall back, shoulders shaking and eyes squeezed shut.
Cole looked closely, searching for another hint of familiarity, and came away with none. Finely sculpted bones pressed against the strangerâs skin, carving a sharp jaw into a heart-shaped face. Dark hair was swept back, sheared close to the skin on the sides and kept longer on top. A high-necked sweater clung to his lean frame, the sleeves bundled in his palms. Cole hadnât realized heâd been staring until he met wide eyes looking back at him from behind silver reading glasses.
âJesse, do you want soy or almond milk?â Tara said.
Once Jesse turned his gaze to the floor, Cole cleared his throat.
âWhoâs that?â Jesseâs voice came out hushed, but the Crowâs Nestwas too small for privacy.
âOh, thatâs Cole.â Tara swiveled around the glass case to look at him. âHey!â Cole immediately whipped toward the window, pretending to busy himself with birds or trees, something, else. âCole, come on, donât be like that.â
He turned to face them and forced a pained smile. âYeah, hi. ItâsâIâm Cole.â He braved a longer look at Jesse, whose freckled cheeks were tinged pink.
Tara pointed at him with her pen. Her grin widened again. âHeâs an out-of-towner. Old friend of mine; we used to hang out when we were kids.â
âOh.â Jesseâs throat bobbed when he swallowed. âThatâsââ
âItâs been a while, ten years, honestly. He could be a serial killer for all I know.â
Cole rolled his eyes, but a laugh snorted out of him anyway. â.â
âGreat, awesome, thank you for making this interaction entirely too awkward to deal with,â Jesse hissed, bashful smile masked by a nervous adjustment of his glasses. He grabbed the travel mug from the counter and darted out the door. âSee you around!â
Cole watched him through the window, how he walked with his shoulders back, his profile crisp and pronounced. Jesse tipped his chin and met Coleâs eyes for a fleeting moment, mouth twisted into a crooked smile, before he stepped past the window and was gone.
âWait, Jesse!â Tara held a paper bag in one hand, craning over the desk. A group of customers arrived and she paused, biting her lip before she narrowed her eyes at Cole. âCâmere.â
Cole frowned. âNo.â
âCome on, I need a favor!â She flashed a smile at the customersAnother pointed glare at Cole. Her lips formed silent words.
Cole shook his head.
Once Tara finished taking orders, she shook the bag at him. âYouâve ghosted me for a decade. You owe me.â
âSo, you mad.â Reluctantly, Cole walked to the counter.
âOf course, Iâm mad. Are you kidding me? Ten years, asshole?â She chuckled under her breath. âNot, like, mad.â
âMad enough to extort me for it.â
â extortion.â She gestured to the bag. âCan you take this to Jesse? He runs the apothecary next door.â
âThe guy you just royally embarrassed me in front of? No, Tara, come onââ
âExcuse me, but my best friend vanished into thin air ten years ago and I bought him breakfast,â Tara said matter-of-factly. She rushed around the barista station, steaming this and pouring that. âHeâs real sweet, okay? Just a little skittish.â
âAnd he runs anâ¦an apothecary? Heâsââ
âCute? Yeah, I know. He makes wreathes, candles, lotions, potions, all of it. Local witch, local sweetheart, local .â She set her palms on the counter and tilted her head, blowing a strand of hair off her brow. âIn case you were wondering.â
Cole didnât know what to say to something like that. He blinked, surprised, and scoffed. âStill playing matchmaker, Foster?â
Tara scoffed back at him. âMaybe. You scared of a cute guy, Morrison?â
Cole rolled his eyes.
âIâll sweeten the deal. Iâm making almond muffins tomorrow.â
âAnother free breakfast?â He shook his head, trying and failing to suppress a grin. Some things never changed, and Tara, thank fucking god, was who sheâd always been. Haughty and confident and strong in every way Cole could never be.
But this tasted like forgiveness. Like beginnings, maybe. An olive branch he could actually hold on to.
Tara balanced mugs on a black tray. âFree breakfast a free latte. Deal?â
Cole snatched the paper bag off the counter. âDeal.â
Breath fogged the air in front of his mouth. He adjusted his beanie, tugged at his jeans, smoothed his palms down the front of his jacket. Cute people existed. He used to interact with them daily. Smiled. Didnât trip over himself. Spoke, even. But for some reason, the idea of walking into the apothecary next door made his chest tight and his throat dry. Maybe it was the witch stuff. Maybe it was being on his own for the first time in years, able to make his own decisions, forge his own path. Maybe it was being back in Jewel, directionless and alone.
Whatever it was, Cole had to figure it out. Quickly. .
Because Jesse stood on a metal ladder, struggling to drape garland across the brick face of the shopfront. His handsome brown shoes arched, tiptoes clinging to the second-to-last step. A curse fluttered from him and he wobbled just enough to tip backward.
Cole caught the small of Jesseâs back. âIâve got youâIâm sorry,â he blurted, trying his best to lift all five fingers away from Jesseâs sweater while steadying him at the same time. âYou okay?â
âIâd be better if I had an extra set of hands,â Jesse said. He glanced over his shoulder, cheeks blotched red from exertion. âCan you hold the ladder steady for a minute? Iâm almost done.â
âYeah, sure, Iâmââ
âCole. I remember.â
Cole set his cup and the bag down, and gripped the ladder with both hands. He swallowed, watching Jesseâs shoulders roll as he tucked the garland over long, rusty nails. Like this, with Jesseâs heels at eye level and Coleâs head tipped back, he could appreciate the way Jesseâs jeans wrapped around his calves and thighs andâ
âThere,â Jesse said. After the garland was situated properly, Jesse climbed down and Cole took a quick step back. The ladder squeaked. Jesse sighed and smacked his hands together, brushing dust and glitter from his palms. âThink it needs anything else? More pinecones, maybe?â
Cole chewed on the inside of his cheek, eyes darting from Jesse to the garland. Pinecones clustered in the corners, bundled with red ribbon and brushed with gold foil. Tiny bells hung from green stems and delicate lace curled into bows at each end. âItâs pretty,â he said, and grabbed his drink from the ground. âBut Iâm not very festive, so.â
âNot festive, huh?â Jesse opened the apothecaryâs wooden door and spoke over his shoulder. âAnyone who comes to Jewel on purpose during the holidays has to be a little festive.â
âYeah, well, guess Iâll break the mold on that one. Do witches even celebrate Christmas?â
Jesse snared him in a hard look. Muted sunlight caught the gold in his chestnut eyes. âDo you even believe in witches?â His mouth lifted into a small smile, voice rasped and dismissive. Before Cole could answer, the door closed.
. Cole squeezed the top of the bag. He wasnât good at thisânot the talking part or the making friends part or the being in Jewel part. All he had to do was deliver Jesseâs bagel, start over with Tara, and be on his way.
Cole shouldered the door open. The space was smaller than he expected. A sign above the register read . Shelves lined the walls, crowded with vials and jars filled with powders and herbs. Bundled lavender hung upside down from a rope strung across the ceiling. Light beamed through the windows, creeping over hanging caladiums, giant ferns and potted plants.
It was unmistakably beautiful. Mysterious and quirky, and warm in a way Cole couldnât place.
Candles were everywhere, tucked on the windowsills, displayed on a long, rustic table, and perched on shelves where old books slouched together. Some were violet, accented by dried flowers, others were mint green, flecked with herbs and tea leaves. He set the bag down and plucked a candle from the table. Dried pieces of rosemary were folded into the wax. Rose petals. Pine needles. He dragged his finger over the wick, touched the glitter brushed across the top.
Jesse cleared his throat. âOhâ¦you followed me. Isâ¦ Can I help you with something?â
Cole glanced around the apothecary. âTara mentioned you were artsy. What is all this stuff?â
âThe thing youâre holding is a ritual candle.â Jesse turned, eyes flicking from the candle to Coleâs face. âOrganic, made with soy wax, essential oils and dried herbs, then consecrated under a full moon. The color, flowers and scents all do different things, so each individual batch has a unique purpose.â
âRitual candles, like, for witchcraft?â
âNot necessarily.â Jesse pulled long-stemmed dandelions from a drawer behind the register, laying them out in a line across the desk. âLots of people have their own day-to-day rituals. Baths are rituals, exercise is a ritual, cooking can be a ritual. Those candles,â he squinted, âspecifically the one in your hand, is for cutting cords. It encourages self-care, redirection, and helps with radical change.â
Heat rushed into Coleâs cheeks. He immediately set the candle back down. âTara wanted me to bring you this.â He held the bag out and walked toward him. âI think itâs a bagel, maybe. Whatever you ordered. She told me youâre a witch and I didnât really know what to make of it, especially since I havenât seen her inâ¦ Itâs just, itâs been a while since Iâve been back here, butâ¦ That doesnâtâyeah, that doesnât matter. Anyway, sorry if I offended you with the Christmas stuff, I justââ
Jesse gasped. Scissors clattered on the desk amidst flowers and ribbon. âWatch for Waffles!â
âWatch for whaââ
A small, beige blob darted from beneath the table and ran through Coleâs legs. He sidestepped to avoid it, but a basket full of bath bombs got in his way. He stumbled, latte in one hand, bag in the other, and crashed into a display.
Not as in or . Coleâs back hit the shelves and they caved in, jostling the jars above his head until they fell. Pain throbbed between his shoulders. His boot slipped through splattered lotion and he tumbled to the floor, smacking his elbow as he went. Something heavy hit his knee, sending a hot jolt through his shin and into his foot. Products and mason jars and candles spilled around him, shattering and cracking.
Jesse stood with both hands clasped over his mouth, wide-eyed and perfectly still.
From the floor, Cole spotted a floppy-eared rabbit seated next to Jesseâs feet. âYou must be Waffles,â he said through a groan.
âHoly shit, are youâ¦â Jesse stepped over the mess and offered Cole his hand. âAre you okay?â
âIâm fine,â Cole grumbled. He let Jesse help him to his feet and looked from broken jars to ruined merchandise. Anxiety crawled into the base of his throat. âIâ¦Iâm so sorry, Iâll payâI mean, I donât have the money right now, but Iâll pay for all of this, everything, I just need some time to get it figured out.â
Jesse shook his head but stayed silent.
This was a disaster. A fucking catastrophe. The only money he had was the money Lila had given him to watch the birds, and that certainly wasnât enough to replace all this. Cole grabbed whatever looked intact: a couple candles, a jar filled with flowers, some bars of soap. Jesse still hadnât moved and Cole couldnât get his thoughts straight. Panic fluttered in his chest, a reminder that he wasnât freeânot completelyâand an accident like this could cost him the little room he had in the world.
âLook, this is gonna sound weird, but can weâ¦ I know people file reports for stuff like this, damages, insurance, lability, butâ¦â He rubbed his palm over the stubble on his cheek. âIâll fix this. Will you take my word for it?â
âWhy would I do that?â Jesseâs brows knitted.
Coleâs heart thundered. His lashes fluttered, shame and uncertainty blooming deep in his stomach. âBecause my parole officer will kill me if he finds out,â he said softly.
Jesseâs mouth clamped shut with an audible click. He gave Cole a slow once-over. âOh,â was all he said, a quick, small thing, before he stepped backward and scooped Waffles into his arms. There was a pause, as if the gentle trance music in the background went quiet, and flames popped curiously on their wicks. Everything in the shop leaned closer, waiting for the inevitable. Anger or tears or something worse. âThis isâ¦ This is worth of work. I donât think you understand what exactly goes into creatingâ¦â He toed at some broken glass and the spices scattered around it. âProducts like these.â
Something terrible lodged in his throat. , he thought. Even here, in this tiny mountain town, Cole couldnât go a single day without ruining something. Tara would surely find out about this. Which meant the whole town would know about it sooner or later. theyâd say. Jesseâs eyes searched the floor, mouth pinched. He looked far away, somehow. Not entirely disappointed, but hurt, almost. As if those candles and shampoos and potions could never be replaced. Cole licked his lips, breath stunted and heavy. âJesse, seriously, Iâm good for it, I swearââ
âYouâre Taraâs friend, right?â
Cole chewed on his bottom lip. âI was. But that was a long time ago.â
âShe trusts you?â
âYouâd have to ask her that.â
Jesseâs lips hovered apart. He tracked Cole with slow glances, shoes to face, face to shoes, over and over. âI need an assistant,â he said. His pale cheeks were pink again, freckles dark where the heat hadnât yet reached. âHelp me make new products, run the shop, gift wrap, assist customers and clean. Youâll be free after Yule. Deal?â
A long, relieved breath flowed over Coleâs lips. âYes, yeah, deal.â
âGood,â Jesse whispered. He cleared his throat and scratched behind Wafflesâ ears. âYou start today. Letâs get this cleaned up.â
Full Moon in Leo
Genre: Queer Holiday Romance
Date of Publication: October 1, 2020
Number of pages: 210
Word Count: 65,000
Cover Artist: BookCoverZone
Tagline: Small-town magic, two heavy heartsâone unforgettable winter solstice
Cole Morrison left Jewel's snow-covered fir trees ten years ago. But after a disastrous family Thanksgiving, Jewel seems like the only place left to go. When a run-in with a gorgeous stranger leaves him with debt to pay, Coleâs escape from his past turns out to be much more than a lonely Christmas vacation.
Jesse Carroway, the local Jewel witch, has been running his family's successful, small-town Apothecary ever since his grandmother passed away. When Cole stumbles into his shop and accidentally wrecks a good portion of his inventory, Jesse does the only thing he can possibly think ofâoffers Cole a job and himself some help for the upcoming holiday rush.
Coleâs clumsy with candles and doesn't trust easily, but soon Jesse gets a peek at the guy behind his bad-boy reputation. As the nights lengthen toward Yule, Jesse wonders if magic is to blame or if Cole might've fallen into his life for a reasonâ¦
About the Author:
Brooklyn Ray (they/them) is a fan of fresh brewed tea, long walks through the woods, and evenings spent reading sexy books. They write Queer Paranormal Romance and Erotica about witches, necromancers, and other magical creatures, and moonlight as a tarot and palm reader in the Pacific Northwest.
Find them on Instagram @ brooklynrayauthor
Exclusive Excerpt of "Valentine" from Unsafe Words by Loren Rhoads
Alondra had never done this kind of magic before. It felt awful, dirty. Her head ached from the concentration it took. Still, she sat in the quaint cafÃ©, drinking peppermint tea. Teeth gritted, she traced sigils for summoning in the moisture her glass left on the birch tabletop.
Sheâd never been to Oslo before, spoke almost no Norwegian, but that hadnât posed a problem. The Scandinavians sheâd met all spoke lovely English. It shamed her to not have more vocabulary. Sheâd scarcely prepared for the trip and didnât know how long before her quarry moved on.
And he traveled a lot. Alondra wasnât sure if he fled something or searched for something. Not that it mattered. She didnât want to know more about him than his regular habits in this place. She needed to know enough to find him. Meet him. Get him alone and kill him.
Cold sweat slicked her hands on the glass of tea. Murder was so out of character that she could barely hold the thought long enough to plan. Still, she had no other option. Victor needed a new heart and she would bring him one. It was the least she could do.
How would she live with the deed? She wouldnât be able to tell Victor what sheâd done. She probably wouldnât even be able to face him. She vowed to do this thing, get it over with, save Victorâs life, and run. Sheâd find somewhere deep and dark in which to hide. Then she would never, ever return home. It would be enough to know that Victor survived.
She drained the glass of tea and signaled for another, then resumed drawing sigils on the tabletop.
She stared into space, focus lost, when something called her back to the low-ceilinged room. Nearby, hunched over a tall pint of Ringnes, sat Simon Lebranche. Her target.
Hers werenât the only eyes drawn to him. He didnât make a spectacle of himself, but he also didnât blend in. Heâd shed his big fur coat: beaver? otter? Something lush and dark, anyway. Beside his beer glass sat a black silk cavalierâs hat, complete with ostrich plume. He wore a black sweater soft as cashmere, over black leather jeans heavy enough to block the cold. All the black clothing set off his creamy skin, his chartreuse eyes, his tousled hair and beard like spun gold.
Alondra didnât know how old Lebranche was. Sheâd read that heâd fired his musket at the Battle of Marsten Moor, fought on horseback at Jasna GÃ³ra and later at Waterloo. Never on the winning side, but always surviving to fight again. After Napoleonâs defeat, Lebranche had taken an interest in the arts, befriending Dante Gabriel Rossetti, even posing for him. Now all that seemed gone: friends, war, art. Maybe he searched for someone to end his wandering.
Alondra didnât have to resort to her second sight to see the energy coursing around himâSaint Elmoâs fireâsparking and spitting in the dark cafÃ©. The wonder was that no one else saw it. That kind of life force was perfect for her needs, as long as she didnât panic and fuck it up.
Lebranche caught her looking and swiveled the chair next to him invitingly.
Alondra swept her hand across the liquid on the tabletop and collected her things. She slipped into the vacant chair while Lebranche gazed out the window at the Museum of Contemporary Artâs sculpture garden across the street.
âDo you know me?â His accent was vaguely French and half a hundred other things.
âIâd like to,â she purred, then wondered if sheâd overdone it. She watched the path his hand took to lift his beer.
âYou can see it, then?â
He didnât mean his hand. Alondra nodded. âI see it. Like a corona around the sun.â
âLike a moth to a flame?â he asked. He seemed too weary to threaten her.
âLike used to surround my boyfriend, only his energy was red. He was a vampire.â
âWas?â Lebranche echoed.
âMay still be.â She shrugged. âHe left me when I refused to become a vampire, too.â
Alondra had considered tracking Jordan down, even though she didnât bear a grudge. An immortal she knew would have been easier to trap, if not to kill. Sheâd decided that she didnât want to infect Victor with vampirism. She didnât know if such a thing could be transmitted via organ transplant, but didnât assume thereâd been much research on the topic.
âWhy didnât you join him?â Lebranche asked. âDoesnât everyone crave immortality?â
He amused himself at her expense, but rather than let on that she understood his subtext, Alondra took the question at face value. âI couldnât stand the intimacy drinking blood requires. Youâre not a vampire, are you?â
Lebranche laughed. âI didnât know there was such a thing.â
He was lying. He must have seen them during his centuries at war, feeding on the fallen.
To be continued in Unsafe Words.
Genre: Horror, Science Fiction,
Dark Fantasy Short Stories
Publisher: Automatism Press
Date of Publication: September 20, 2020
Number of pages: 174
Word Count: 55K
Cover Artist: Lynne Hansen
Tagline: Once youâve done the most unforgivable thing, what will you do next?
In the first full-length collection of her edgy, award-winning short stories, Loren Rhoads punctures the boundaries between horror, dark fantasy, and science fiction in a maelstrom of sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll.
Ghosts, succubi, naiads, vampires, the Wild Hunt, and the worst predator in the woods stalk these pages, alongside human monsters who follow their cravings past sanity or sense.
About the Author:
Loren Rhoads is the author of the In the Wake of the Templars space opera trilogy, co-author of a succubus/angel duology called As Above, So Below, and editor of Tales for the Camp Fire: An Anthology Benefiting Wildfire Relief. She's also the author of a nonfiction travel guide called 199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die. Unsafe Words is the first full-length collection of her short stories.
Newsletter sign-up: https://mailchi.mp/aa9545b2ccf4/lorenrhoads
Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/LorenRhoadsAuthor/
Who Let the Demon Out?
Badass Demon Bounty Hunters
Genre: Darkly Funny Urban Fantasy,
Comedy, Humor, UF
Date of Publication: 8/21/2020
Number of pages: 156
Word Count: 43,443
Cover Artist: Chris Kridler
Tagline: How hard can it be to send an escaped demon back to hell?
Not only is her suicide attempt thwarted by a stranger, but when she comes back from the dead, Sable is tasked by Lucifer to find and return to hell a demon she let loose. If she doesn't, she'll be sent to the darkest level of the afterlife when she dies.
The woman Jack pulled from a running car is obviously disturbed and her story about Lucifer and demons is bullshit. But she has the name of a dead man written on her arm and Jack wants to know why.
Since it's Jack's fault she's in this mess and his skills from a background in the security business are useful, Sable recruits him for her find-the-demon mission, which turns out to be all kinds of difficult. Not only can demons inhabit human bodies, they have other nasty tricks up their sleeves, like incinerating objects and people who get in their way.
It also turns out the inhabitants of hell lie and that things on Earth are not what they appear. Nor are things in her own world, Sable discovers, as she battles to complete her mission before time runs out and it's impossible to send the demon back.
About the Author:
Naomi Bellina lives in sunny Florida with the love of her life and the world's chattiest cat. Her interests include dancing, motorcycle riding, drumming and eavesdropping on strangersâ conversations for plot ideas. She used to worry about the battles between her cheery disposition and her dark imagination, but now theyâre best friends and drink coffee and write books together. Her motto: Never pass up the opportunity to have an adventure!
Now scheduling a one month tour for The Queen of Harlem Commandments by Michelle SmallsThis tour will be October 12- November 9 (weekdays only)
I am scheduling reviews, guest blogs, interviews and spotlight stops
To participate in this tour please send:
Your blog name and url
A couple suggested dates during the tour
Genre: Biographical Fiction
Publisher: Michelle Smalls
Date of Publication: August 18th 2020
Number of pages: 218
Word Count: 42,000
The Queen of Harlem Commandments is the first book by Michelle Smalls, a Harlem powerhouse who turned her pain into prosperity by following a code of conduct she first learned living the life of a street boss. Ms. Smalls's journey is not unlike many young women of color living in the inner cities that learn early in life how to rise above pain, loss, and disappointment.
Through it all, the Queen made no excuses. Instead, she made commandments.
This book shares Ms. Smalls' moments of heartache, triumphs, betrayal, and disloyalty. She believes in order to survive and be successful in the hustle of life, you must respect the Code and follow the Commandments.
Michelle Smalls is known as “Queen of Harlem” to many in the community. Michelle’s goal is to put smiles on the faces of young people, by way of giving back to the community at large. Michelle is an influencer, serial entrepreneur, real estate broker, and philanthropist. For well over a decade, Michelle smalls, as a social impact leader, has always placed a high priority on youth and the community.
Michelle intuitively sees the needs and desires of her community, as an inspirational leader who focuses on problem-solving. She takes full action and hosts outstanding charity events like her Christmas Toys and Coats drive, Community Halloween party, Back to school drive, preparing teens for their proms, and having an all-girls basketball team.
Ms. Smalls is a pillar in the Harlem community. She is transforming the lives of our youth by empowering them with love and opportunities that could build a tighter bond in our lifetime.