from Branded by Flames out now from Carina Press
“For fuck’s sake, man. If you set my yard on fire, I’m gonna kick your ass.”
Shae pulled his welder’s mask up. “Go away. I’m working.” He didn’t really expect that to get Bryan moving, though, so he turned off the torch. “And if you raked the fucking leaves more than once a year it wouldn’t be a goddamned problem.” He steadied himself on the ladder and shot his neighbor a look. Couldn’t Bryan see he was attaching wings here? It was a delicate fucking process. “Besides, I haven’t set a real fire in, uh…ages.”
Bryan stared up at him, hands on his hips. It would have been a more effective look if Bryan hadn’t needed a haircut so badly. “Uh. Two months ago. Rosebush. And you can shove your opinions about the state of my lawn up your ass.”
Shae briefly contemplated lighting the torch again and setting the overlong hair on fire. It would take only a spark or two. This was the problem with having a best friend as his neighbor. He couldn’t get away with anything. “That wasn’t a real fire—more a singeing. Those don’t count.” Besides, you couldn’t weld without at least a little fire. Not to mention he was working on a dragon. They demanded fire. It was a thing.
“I’m serious, asshole. I will single-handedly beat you to death if you’re not careful. Someone could get hurt.”
Like it wouldn’t hurt, getting beaten to death. “Yeah, yeah. I’m busy. On deadline. Shoo.” On deadline and this dragon was being pushy, demanding his attention, insisting he get it done now. He’d barely slept in the last three days. The need to bring the dragon to life was riding him like an addiction.
“Deadline? I thought you were an artist. You artsy-fartsy types don’t do deadlines.” Now Bryan was stalling. Douche bag.
“Artists have deadlines, unlike shitty mechanic deadbeats.” He pulled down his welder’s mask and laid down another line of weld, making sure to cover Bryan with a shower of sparks. He was busy. Working. Making magic out of metal, for fuck’s sake.
Bryan jumped back. “Hey! Asshole! Don’t make me call the fire department.”
Like he had time for a visit from the fire department. Good thing he didn’t believe Bryan was really here for more than just conversation and possibly hoping Shae would have time for a beer while they watched the game on Shae’s brand-new sixty-inch curved TV. “You’re jealous because you don’t have a big torch like mine.” He was building a twelve-foot-tall dragon out of scrap for a ren faire outside Toronto. It rocked the fucking world, if he did say so himself, with its fierce face, its ginormous wings and about five zillion scales.
“My torch is plenty big, thank you very much.” Bryan flipped him off. “I’ll be back after the game with a couple beers.”
“Sounds good. I got a couple steaks, huh?” He could handle a nice red meat injection. And hopefully he’d be done by nightfall. Even if he wasn’t, he’d worked well into the night last night and wasn’t sure he could safely keep going much past suppertime today.
“Perfect. We can roast them on that giant barbecue you’re building.” Bryan cackled and headed back inside his house.
Shae patted the dragon on its mostly welded head. He needed to finish welding on the ruffles. He’d sand them to different textures later. The important thing was getting everything set in place. “Don’t listen to the asshole. He wouldn’t know art if you walked up and bit him in the ass.”
Shae started chuckling softly, as he imagined his dragon biting Bry’s round ass. They’d fucked a couple times, but man, the chemistry was non-fucking-existent and they worked much better as friends. That didn’t mean he couldn’t admire the view as Bryan sashayed his way back to his place.
He shook himself out of his woolgathering. The last thing he needed was to wind up at the ER for self-inflicted burns. They gave out Darwin awards for shit like that. It was easy enough to sink back into the work, to let the dragon-building take him over.
He added scales after he finished with the ruffles. They were going to shine like crazy when he’d polished them. He turned the music up in his headphones, the driving industrial beat the perfect accompaniment to his need to get the dragon finished. It was funny, though. He didn’t remember sirens in this song. Or flashing lights.
He looked up, lifting his mask, trying to figure out what the fuck was going on. Jesus Christ there was a fucking fire truck in front of his place and two fully dressed firefighters coming his way.
Oh, for fuck’s sake. “Hey, guys.” He waved and turned off the torch, biting back the swear words that wanted out. He had a fucking permit and he was goddamned busy. The last thing he needed was yet another interruption.
The taller of the two nodded to him. “Afternoon, sir.”
“Howdy. Let me guess, new neighbors?” Because Shae knew damn well that Bryan wouldn’t call, no matter what he’d said.
“We had a call…” The guy checked out the dragon behind Shae, really looking it over.
Shae watched, scoping the guy out just as closely. There were amazing muscles beneath the heavy gear, and Shae hadn’t seen a face that square and good-looking in quite a while. The guy ran a hand along the dragon’s flank, stroking it like it was real. Shae had to preen at that. He had to.
The firefighter finally turned his attention back to Shae. “We’ll have to see your permit.”
Shae sighed. As soon as he’d seen the fire engine, he’d known this was coming. He hoped they didn’t take any more of his time than they had to, hunky dudes or not. “Just a sec.” He shimmied down the ladder and turned the gas off. “Come on, guys. Into the studio, otherwise known as the garage.”
“You got this, Jake?” the second firefighter asked.
“Yep. You go ahead and talk to the folks who called it in.”
Jake the firefighter turned back to him. The man had green eyes. Like the leaves in spring, just out of the bud. “Lead on.”
“You got it.” Shae pondered storming to the neighbor’s house and educating them about the value of talking to your neighbor before jumping to conclusions, but really, that would make it longer before he could get back to work, and even with the distraction of the hot body in front of him, his fingers itched to be working. “You must be new, too.”
“Transferred in from Guelph. I take it this is a regular thing?” Jake looked around, clearly curious, interested.
“Used to be. Hasn’t been in a long time, though. Five years, give or take?” He’d finally trained everyone in the neighborhood not to panic over a little welding. Or else they’d gotten tired of fruitlessly calling him in.
“Yeah? Why’d you give it up?” Jake lounged against a counter, filling the space. Staring at him, the look almost a physical touch.
“Give what up?” It had been the neighbors who got used to the smoke, the flame, the smell of burning, who’d come to learn he had a permit and wasn’t doing anything illegal.
“Making art. You said it used to be a regular…” Jake laughed, the sound sliding along Shae’s spine. “I got the wrong end of the stick, didn’t I? You meant we haven’t had to come out here in that time.”
“Ah. Yes. That’s exactly what I meant.” He bent over to dig through his file cabinet, searching for the permit.
Jake made a weird noise, something between a cough and a groan.
“You okay, man?” He found it and pulled the folder out, offering it over.
Okay, firemen were hot, no matter where they were.
“Yeah. Just a tickle in my throat.” Jake stepped in closer than was necessary to take the permit from him, seeming to tower over him. And looking at him instead of the permit. At him. This hot, young firefighter. Fuck him raw. And also yum.
Jake finally examined Shae’s permit. “Looks good, man.” Jake took another half step closer and reached past him to put the permit on his workbench. Looking right at him, Jake smiled. “Sorry we bothered you.”
Shae had to swallow twice before he could reply. “No worries. Really. I needed to take a break anyway.” He took a good look, because damn. Stacked to the ceiling, broad shouldered and fine—jack-off material for miles. Of course he would totally tap that. Unless he was reading the signs wrong, all he had to do was say something. And if he was wrong? At least the guy was almost done and his embarrassment would last only a short while.
“I’ve got to get back to the truck.” Jake straightened, looking around. “I’d love to come back and check out more of your art after shift, though. The piece out on the lawn is incredible.”
That’s right. This hot young stud was so into his artwork that Jake wanted to come back and see more. He walked a little taller, knowing that Jake was looking for a reason to sniff around.
“Sure, man. I’m here all night.” Wait, that sounded pervy as hell, didn’t it?
Jake smiled, and the look went straight to Shae’s balls, like they needed another reason to tighten up and ache. “I’ll be back.”
“That’s what they all say.” Oh yeah. Fantasies for days. With him and Jake in the starring roles. Who would have thought it?
“You think I won’t be?” Jake grinned, but the look in his eyes was intense. “I don’t say things I don’t mean.”
“Sure you do. All guys do.” Shae knew damn well people said shit that wasn’t true all the time. To you and about you.
Jake straightened and flexed for him, and even in the full gear, that was a fucking sexy thing. “You’ve been hanging out with the wrong guys.”
“Have I now?” He chuckled softly and caught himself licking his lips, indulging in a little daydream of sucking a well-hung cock, one of those hands in his hair. It had been too long since anyone had been able to handle him that he’d given up thinking anybody would again. In the end, he could always trust himself to get the job done.
“If I’m the first guy you know who tells the truth? Then yeah, you have.” Jake looked him up and down. “We can talk more about that later this evening when I come back.”
So Jake really was going to come over? He’d believe it when it happened. That didn’t mean he wouldn’t encourage Jake, tilt the scales in his favor. “Works for me, man. I’ll be the one with the beer in the backyard.” And if everything Jake said made him want to roll over onto his back and pant like a dog, well, that could be his little secret.
“I like mine cold. The beer that is—I take my men hot.” Jake gave him another look, before he turned and sauntered out.
Shae leaned over, watching that hot ass go the entire length of the house and then the walkway. “Mmm-mmm. Tasty goodness.”
Not that this guy was going to tap him. Not on the first night and maybe not ever. He needed a certain kind of man with a lot of patience and a shitload of control to get him off. Someone who wasn’t a younger Dom. He’d done younger Dom—been there, done that and decided not to pay for the T-shirt. Still, he could pretend he was getting laid by Mr. Hot-As-Fuck-Firefighter, right?
The flashing lights turned off, and the truck slowly trundled down the street, taking the burning-hot firefighter with it.
Focus for work entirely broken, Shae went to get his equipment stored and cleaned up. He didn’t know if Mr. Hottie would be back, but if Jake showed, Shae wanted to be ready.
From Kiernan Kelly
From the Eye of Ra from Harmony Ink
Eye of Ra by Dakota Chase
Releasing May 16th, 2017
Blurb: Both Aston and Grant have a talent for finding trouble—it’s what landed them at the Stanton School for Boys—but this time, their mischief might send them to a completely different world.
When they accidentally destroy their teacher’s priceless archeological artifacts, he demands they replace them. And since the teacher in question is Merlin, refusing isn’t an option for the two boys. Thanks to Merlin’s magic, they’re about to become time travelers.
The first piece on their list is the Eye of Ra, a mystical amulet belonging to the young King Tut. Ancient Egypt is nothing like Aston and Grant expected with its war, disease, and lack of modern technology. To survive, they’ll have to befriend King Tut and learn to trust him—and each other. In a primitive world where death and danger wait around every corner, one thing is clear: revisiting history could cost someone their life.
“Mr. Walsh and Mr. Vaughn? Kindly remain after class. I need to speak with you both.”
My stomach dropped into my sneakers as my fragile new hope died a swift but painful death. I was so screwed. He knew it was us all along and had just been playing with our heads, lulling us into a false sense of security. I was going to spend the next ten to twenty years of my life in the penitentiary with a cellmate named Bubba. I just knew it.
Vaughn and I exchanged a troubled glance and remained in our seats as the rest of the class filed out of the room. A few tossed us looks of sympathy as they left, although I had to wonder if they knew the seriousness of our troubles. They probably just thought we hadn’t done our homework or something. I could only wish it was something that trivial.
When the last student had gone, Ambrosius stood up and walked to the door, closing and locking it.
Locking it? My fear of being arrested was suddenly displaced by a new terror. What if Ambrosius was crazy and had decided killing us would be justified since we’d destroyed his office and his collection? After all, he did keep an office bursting to the seams full of old junk. Or, used to, that is. How much was all that crap we burned up worth, anyway? Thousands? Millions? People had been murdered for a lot less than that.
No, I told myself firmly, don’t be stupid. He’s a teacher, not a serial killer. He’s not going to pull a knife on you or anything.
He walked toward us, the look on his face unreadable, but I was happy to see that he kept both of his hands in plain sight and, unless he planned on beating my head in with the blackboard eraser, there were no weapons anywhere that I could see.
“Gentlemen, as I’m sure you’re well aware, we have a problem to discuss. I’ve pondered long and hard over it for the past couple of days, and I’ve come to a decision. Now, first things first… we all know who is responsible for the fire in my office, don’t we?”
I instantly opened my mouth to deny my involvement, but Ambrosius held up his hand and the lie died on my tongue.
“Please, do not insult my intelligence by trying to convince me of your innocence. We, all three of us, know the truth. The problem we need to discuss is what I should do about it.” His steely blue eyes looked from me to Vaughn and back again. “I could inform Principal Meek and the police that I sent you to my office just before the fire broke out. Such a course of action would no doubt result in your arrest, trial, and subsequent incarceration.”
I felt the blood drain from my face, sure that my worst nightmare was coming true.
“Fortunately for you, I am aware that the fire was an accident. You were arguing, and your tempers got the best of you. That you did not purposely set the fire is the only reason I have not yet gone to the police.”
“H-how did you know?” Vaughn asked, and I could’ve belted him a good one right there. He’d just admitted that, not only was Ambrosius right, that we’d been there, but that we’d been fighting and were the cause of the fire!
“I know many things, young man,” Ambrosius answered, waving the question away. “How I come about my information is none of your concern.” He perched on the edge of the desk in front of us, and folded his hands. Those hands looked ancient; his skin was as thin as tracing paper, and I could see the squiggles of blue veins just beneath the surface. “I know you didn’t mean to set the fire. Had you come to me straightaway, we would not be having this conversation. Accidents can and do happen, but you took the coward’s way out, hoping no one would find out. You have both been in trouble with the law before, several times, from what I understand. You must learn that there is a price we must pay for our actions.”
“I’m really sorry, Professor,” I said. I saw Vaughn nodding his head, and added, “We both are.”
“Being sorry will not replace the artifacts I have lost, nor erase the possibility that someone may have been injured or killed in that fire. That said, since I do believe the damage was the result of an accident, I have decided to give you a choice.”
“A choice?” I asked, exchanging a confused look with Vaughn. He didn’t know where this was headed any more than I did.
“Yes. Accident or no, I must demand either restitution or justice. You can either agree to procure items I lost in the fire, or you can go to jail and serve the sentence for whatever crime the authorities find you guilty of perpetrating.”
Procure the items? I couldn’t afford to buy a bar of soap, never mind any of the uber-expensive things Ambrosius had lost in the fire. Maybe Vaughn’s family had enough cash on hand, but mine didn’t. Heck, my dad was so fed up with me that even if he did have the funds, I doubted he would have paid up.
“I don’t have any money,” I confessed. “My family doesn’t either. I guess I could get an after-school job.” I tried to sound hopeful but failed. If Ambrosius’s collection was worth half of what I suspected, I’d never be able to earn enough to pay him back, not in one lifetime.
“Do you have any idea of the cost of the artifacts destroyed by the fire? They were irreplaceable. Priceless,” Ambrosius said, scowling at me.
“But you just said one of our choices was to replace them!”
“No, I certainly did not. You weren’t listening, Mr. Walsh, which I suspect is business as usual for you. What I said was that you could procure them. There’s a distinct difference.”
“I-I don’t understand.”
“Me, either,” Vaughn put in. He’d been quiet up until then, and I wondered why. Surely Mr. Four-Names-And-A-Rolex’s dad would be able to buy him out of this mess.
“It’s quite simple, really. You will both go back in time to find and procure some of the items I’ve lost. Not all, since it would take many lifetimes to replace everything I lost, but some. Failure to do so will result in a telephone call to the police. The choice is yours, gentlemen.”
“You’re crazy!” I sputtered. “Back in time… what kind of a joke is this?”
“Oh, this is no joke, I assure you. Perhaps I should formally introduce myself. It might make things a bit more clear. You already know me by my surname, Ambrosius,” he said, as a wicked little smile tilted his lips. “My first name is Merlin.”
From Julia Talbot
From Packmate for Hire, releasing today at Amazon, Nook and Evil Plot Bunny!
The bell over the door jangled, and Shon stiffened when three burly guys walked in. They were all gorgeous, one tall, dark and broody, one blond and buff, and one… Uhn. God almighty, one had auburn hair and gray eyes and the best smile.
He gave up on thinking they might be after him when one cuffed another on the shoulder and a scuffle broke out that included noogies and a nuclear wedgie.
That was no group of assassins or bounty hunters.
“You boys!” The blonde lady returned, laughing at their antics. “Rand, you’re acting like a five-year-old. And who is this handsome boy?”
The auburn haired man of amazingtude walked over to her and held out a hand. “Brendan Gray. Pleasure to meet you, ma’am.”
“Leona. I’m Mairi’s second in command.”
“Hi, Leona.” The buff blond guy waved.
“Hi, Tate! You’re also acting like a kid.”
“The Alpha brings it out in me.”
Alpha. Oh, fuck his ass raw. Seriously? He stopped in Nowhere, Colorado and he ran into Pack? What the hell?
“I smell cinnamon rolls,” said tall, dark, and apparently Rand.
“You do. You boys want one?”
“And coffee,” Tate said.
“Addicts, all of you.” Leona laughed and bustled about, collecting coffee cups and plates as the guys settled in a booth, the Tate and Rand guys on one side, sitting very, very close. As in no space between them, hands under the table close.
He really only had eyes for the one called Brendan, who looked just his type. Tall, manly, maybe a little lumberjack-sexual with his shaggy hair and three-day beard.
Yeah. He could get up on that and ride.
That was totally his problem, wasn’t it? He found something to get him in trouble wherever he went.
He didn’t need to be looking longingly at someone who was friends with an alpha. That was always, always a bad idea. Definitely trouble with a capital T.
Shon sipped his tea again, letting it calm him.
“So, what’s new, Leona?” Rand asked when she came back with the coffee.
Shon stiffened when she glanced his way, then put his head down in an obvious attempt to keep her mouth shut.
“Oh, well, not much. Mairi burned her hand on the bacon, and Winslow Isley slipped on and fell in his hot tub. He’s sore.”
“I’ll check on him today,” Rand said, sounding very grave all of a sudden, as if he took his job very seriously.
The Tate guy rose from the booth. “Mairi in the back?”
Tate nodded and walked off. The dynamics here were fascinating.
Leona stood and chatted for several minutes with the Alpha and his friend. Shon eavesdropped shamelessly until someone plopped a plate down in front of him which held a sandwich and fries.
“Mairi said your food was ready, so I saved Leona a trip.” The Tate guy stood just at the end of his booth, smiling down at him. “I’m Tate.”
“Uh. Shon. Nice to meet you.”
“You, too. You’re new.”
Small towns. People just seemed to naturally expect to know everyone’s business just because they asked. Shon found that could be inconvenient when you had someone looking for you.
“I am,” Shon agreed as pleasantly as he could. He didn’t elaborate more, though.
“I’m not,” Tate said, his grin turning into a laugh. “Born and raised here, so I can be bored and curious. Sorry.”
“No worries.” He let a smile stretch out on his face. “I’m a writer. Thrillers. I’m just looking to hide out with my laptop.”
“Leona has a sister who rents cabins. Take the one the farthest from the road. It gets the best satellite wi-fi and you don’t hear the trucks and their loud brakes.”
“I’ll leave you to it.” Tate wandered off, thank God, and he was able to relax a bit.
The scent of wolf was so strong, it was all he could do not to grow whiskers and a tail.
He dug into his sandwich, the flavors all blending so well. The fries were hot and crispy outside, pillowy inside. The bacon on the club was thick and peppery and he moaned a little.
The best part, oddly enough, was the toast. Buttery and crisp, he thought the unseen Mairi must have griddled it just after she toasted it to soak up some of the amazing grill flavor.
Uhn. Okay, this was definitely all he would need in the way of a restaurant.
“More tea, honey? “Leona asked, stopping by to table touch after she left the assemblage of hotties.
“Please.” She was wolf, too. It was obvious now the alpha was here. Shon rolled his eyes at himself once she left. He sure could pick ‘em
From BA Tortuga
From Best New Artist, on presale at Dreamspinner Press
Kasey Tuffman wiped the sweat off his forehead with one of those ridiculous, pristine white towels they gave you at awards shows when you stepped offstage. Used to be he had a hat to soak up the sweat, but this damned haircut his new stylist had given him wouldn’t work with the old summer straw he preferred.
“Good job, Tuff,” said one of the lackeys from the label, a guy with a three-hundred-dollar pair of shoes, and jeans that came from Italy, for fuck’s sake.
“Thanks.” He was just glad it was over. He’d gone out there and sung his just-released sellout song as the last of the nominees for Best New Artist.
Best New fucking Artist. He might have been in Nashville less than two years, but Kasey “Tuff” Tuffman had been playing music in Texas since he was fourteen. Twenty freaking years ago.
His night was almost over. Alan Kingman was walking out on stage, boots clicking away, to announce the winner of the award Tuff was up for. The man would announce that Chase Ryan had won, and Tuff would make a suitably shocked face before walking offstage and out the back to his waiting limo.
Then he’d go to the house he’d been renting, grab a couple of beers, and get in the pool and soak.
He shifted from foot to foot, trying to look calm but hopeful like his coach had told him to. A media coach. Christ. Every little thing was arranged for you when you had a number one single and album.
“Good evening, ladies and gentleman,” Alan said into the microphone. “Lemme get out my reading glasses so I can see that TV they want me to read.”
All Tuff had to do was push through this shit, and then he could breathe for a few days, focus on making a new album over the winter, get off the road, out of the bus, into the studio.
He wanted to go home for a week or two. See his folks and his sisters. Tuff missed Texas like an amputated limb.
“Anyway, whether you’re an eighteen-year-old with a voice like warm honey or a thirtysomething Texan who’s in touch with a more traditional sound, getting your first number one hit is something to celebrate.”
Shit. That had to be him. In touch with a traditional sound? Well, fuck-a-doodle-doo. That made him sound like a frickin’ elder statesman.
“Like they say in that old Alabama song about the fiddle,” Alan went on, “If you’re gonna play in Texas….” Alan squinted at the TV, then shook his head. “Whatever that says, screw it. And the winner is….” He ripped open the envelope, and the most comical look of shock crossed Alan’s face. “Kasey Tuffman!”
“What?” The word popped out of his mouth, the surprise immediate and real. Tuff’s heart fell right into his gut.
“Well, I’ll be damned.” The label guy gave him a little push. “Go get ’em, tiger.”
It was supposed to be Chase Ryan. Not him.
Not fucking him.
Someone gave him a shove, so Tuff stumbled out on the stage, his new boots too stiff, and a titter passed through the crowd.
Goddamn it. His label rep had told him the deal. This was just a tribute to someone who’d been around as long as him and had just had his first national number one. No stress. Perform and leave. He wasn’t supposed to win anything or have to make a speech and act grateful for a crumb.
Especially not this. Best New fucking Artist, for chrissake. Like he was some wet-behind-the-ears newbie with a shiny guitar or a boy band bro-country kid the studio had plucked from a vocal program at the University of Tennessee.
Alan stepped away from the microphone to hand him the envelope, blocking the little gal who held the huge paperweight he was getting for selling his Red Dirt soul out to Nashville.
“Congratulations, Tuff. Twenty years of touring and sweating for pennies and it only took a new haircut to get you a fancy award.”
He shot Alan a glare. They’d known each other for years, and he was humiliated this had to happen in front of someone he so admired. “You ain’t funny, old man.”
Alan shook his head. “Not meant to be. I let them kill the music, son. Don’t let them do it to you.”
“Never gonna happen.” Except that wasn’t true, was it? Not really. He already felt like a sellout.
The haircut, the sparkly ass skinny jeans, the four-hundred-dollars Lucchese boots—all of that was the trappings of the label. Jesus, he’d bet this award was too. They’d bought him another few weeks at the top of the fucking chart.
Rage spurted through his veins right along with the blood pounding in his temples as a headache kicked in.
He took the award from the blonde with the fake boobs and capped teeth. Wasn’t her fault, so he gave her a strained smile. Then Tuff stepped up to the microphone, his speech crystalizing in his mind in those few seconds.
“Good evenin’, ladies and gentlemen.” Tuff took a deep breath. “I got to say, I never thought any of y’all would ever vote for me. I imagine I’m not the best of anything, and I figure while I am an artist, I sure ain’t new.” He waited for the camera boom to swing around, the hard focus right on him. Then he smiled, a real, Texas-sized smile, holding up the award. “So what do I got to say about this? How about I start with y’all can kiss my….”
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