Monday, 12 November 2018

Release Blitz & Review - Renewing Forever by Kelly Jensen


 
Renewing Forever by Kelly Jensen          
Publisher: Riptide Publishing

Release Date (Print & Ebook): November 12, 2018

Subgenre: Contemporary Romance

Order here:

Synopsis:

Frankie and Tommy once dreamed of traveling the world together. But when seventeen-year-old Frank kissed Tom, their plans ended with a punch to the jaw and Frank leaving town without looking back. Thirty years later, Frank’s successful career as a journalist is interrupted by his uncle’s death and the question of his inheritance—the family resort where his childhood dreams were built. When he returns to the Pocono Mountains, however, he finds a dilapidated lodge and Tommy, the boy he never forgot.

Tom’s been keeping the resort together with spit and glue while caring for Frank’s uncle, Robert—a man he considered father, mentor, and friend—and his aged mother, who he refuses to leave behind. Now Robert is gone, taking Tom’s job with him. And Frank is on the doorstep, wanting to know why Tom is still there and why the old lodge is falling apart.

But before they can rebuild the resort, they’ll have to rebuild their friendship. Only then can they renew the forever they planned all those years ago.



My Two Pennies' Worth

My, this was lovely. The thing with second chance love is that if the story is done right it should evoke conflicting emotions in me: a sadness that they've missed out on all those years and a joy that they've finally found each other. It's a combination that has the capacity to leave me strung out and emotional. This had it in spades, in fact the first half of the story was melancholy. Scattered through the book are a few chapters that cover some important moments in their friendship as children/teens.

We first met Frank in Simon and Charlie's story and they pop up on occasions as does Simon's ex, Brian (I'm hoping it's his story next). This takes place between the end of Simon and Charlie's story and their epilogue (the event of which in mentioned in the last 25% of this book).

I preferred the Frank we met in this book and loved that we had two MCs fast approaching 50. They didn't always act like it, but who ever claim getting older made you wiser, especially when they're both stubborn as anything.

High recommended if you like second chance love stories and older MCs. 



“They weren’t messing around here. They were, but not as teenagers. Sure, they might be recapturing their youth. But if the rest of it did work, then this could be it for them. A place to rest their forevers.”




Excerpt

Frank spread his towel on a warm rock, kicked off his sandals, and dipped a toe in the water. “Shit! That’s not water, it’s liquid nitrogen.”

Tom stepped out of his flip-flops and stepped into the pool until the water lapped at the bottom of his shorts. “I seem to remember someone once telling me you had to jump in all at once. Like they did in Sweden.”

Frank met his gaze. He hadn’t expected Tom to talk about the notebook. “I never got to Scandinavia,” he said by way of continuing the conversation.

Tom’s mouth crooked up on one side. “You’ve got time.”

Nodding absently, Frank picked his way carefully over the arrangement of stones until he finally stood face-to-face with Tom in the shockingly chilly water. “It’s still cold.”

“You’ll go numb soon.”

“I might never find my balls.”

A flicker of something passed over Tom’s face, then he smiled a certain smile. By the time Frank had figured it out—what that smile meant—Tom had ducked down into the water and warm hands were tugging at Frank ankles. It was too late to steady himself. Set a stance. Find a rock big enough to hold on to. Too late to do anything but fall backward until he splashed down into freezing hell, creek water sloshing up his nostrils and over his head. Frank swallowed a yelp and more water. He splashed and flailed. When he surfaced, his sinuses burned and his mouth tasted like old tea. And Tom was sitting across from him, hair plastered in a wet tangle across his forehead, laughing.

Slicking his hair back with one hand, Tom lunged forward with the other, catching a wave and pushing it toward Frank’s face. Frank’s block came too late. After swallowing another bellyful of creek, he gathered water on both sides, creating a wave on two fronts that Tom couldn’t escape. Except he did, the bastard. He ducked underneath the swell and splash, and his hands, cooler now, tangled with Frank’s ankles again. Frank kicked backward only to find he’d reached the rocks stacked around the edge of the creek. Tom pulled him under.

Frank opened his eyes under the water and sought out Tom’s sleek shape, catching a leg before Tom managed to swim away. He yanked him backward and pushed him down. Bubbles rose up. He let Tom surface briefly before dragging him down and rolling over him so they tumbled through the shallow pool, each fighting to be the one on top. Frank forgot about air and breathing until he tried to suck in a mouthful of water. He tapped Tom’s side, a gesture from thirty years or more gone by, and Tom immediately let him up.

And then they went at it again, remembering how to play. How to tease each other with the thought of drowning, how to sneak in a small pool of water. How to shout and laugh and splash too many times, but not once more because enough was enough.

Frank could feel bruises developing on his elbows and knees. His hip ached and by the time he dragged himself out of the water to lie on his back on a wet, slick rock, chest heaving toward the sky, he existed in a place he hadn’t visited in forever. A space without conscious thought.

Tom landed beside him with a wet squelch, and panted breath joined his chorus.



About the Author:

Kelly Jensen
If aliens ever do land on Earth, Kelly will not be prepared, despite having read over a hundred stories of the apocalypse. Still, she will pack her precious books into a box and carry them with her as she strives to survive. It’s what bibliophiles do.

Kelly is the author of a number of novels, novellas and short stories, including the Chaos Station series, co-written with Jenn Burke. Some of what she writes is speculative in nature, but mostly it’s just about a guy losing his socks and/or burning dinner. Because life isn’t all conquering aliens and mountain peaks. Sometimes finding a happy ever after is all the adventure we need.

Connect with Kelly: Twitter | Facebook | Newsletter | Instagram | Website

Enter the giveaway: Win one signed paperback of Building Forever, by Kelly Jensen. Open Internationally
  





Sunday, 11 November 2018

Review Tour - Heat For Sale by Blake Moreno




Buy Links: Amazon US | Amazon UK - Exclusive to Amazon and on Kindle Unlimited

Length: 192 pages

Cover Design: Dar Albert @ Wicked Smart Design

Blurb

Heat can be sold but love is earned.


In a world where omegas sell their heats for profit, Adrien is a university student in need of funding. With no family to fall back on, he reluctantly allows the university's matcher to offer his virgin heat for auction online. Anxious, but aware this is the reality of life for all omegas, Adrien hopes whoever wins his heat will be kind.


Heath—a wealthy, older alpha—is rocked by the young man's resemblance to his dead lover, Nathan. When Heath discovers Adrien is Nathan’s lost son from his first heat years before they met, he becomes obsessed with the idea of reclaiming a piece of Nathan.


Heath buys Adrien’s heat with only one motivation: to impregnate Adrien, claim the child, and move on. But their undeniable passion shocks him. Adrien doesn't know what to make of the handsome, mysterious stranger he's pledged his body to, but he’s soon swept away in the heat of the moment and surrenders to Heath entirely.


Once Adrien is pregnant, Heath secrets him away to his immense and secluded home. As the birth draws near, Heath grows to love Adrien for the man he is, not just for his connection to Nathan. Unaware of Heath's past with his omega parent and coming to depend on him heart and soul, Adrien begins to fall as well.


But as their love blossoms, Nathan's shadow looms. Can Heath keep his new love and the child they've made together once Adrien discovers his secrets?


Heat for Sale is a stand-alone m/m erotic romance by Leta Blake, writing as Blake Moreno. Infused with a du Maurier Rebecca-style secret, it features a well-realized omegaverse, an age-gap, dominance and submission, heats, knotting, and scorching hot scenes.

My Two Pennies' Worth

Let's get this out of the way first. This is an MPreg story. And unlike the other omegaverse Leta Blake has created, the pregnancy and birth is front and centre in this story.

Leta Blake has stated that this pen name allows her to write darker stories. I didn't really get that from this title; highly sexual but not dark by any means. Maybe if the story has been solely from Adrien's pov, then this would have given it more mystery, but knowing Heath's secrets and his feelings relieved the tension. 
What that leaves is a sexually charged first third, followed by a lovely romance. 

The romance is a natural D/S relationship with an age gap and a virgin MC.



Author Bio


Blake Moreno explores the darker side of erotic romance. Married to a hot tech nerd, educated in BDSM, and attracted to twinks and twunks alike, Moreno embraces taboo explorations. Come along on a quest for intensity and deep emotion. Don't fear the dark.


Discover more about Blake on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/blakemorenodarkink/


Blake Moreno is an alternate pen name of the author Leta Blake.


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Book Blast - The Signal Box by Lazlo Thorn


BOOK BLAST


Book Title: The Signal Box

Author: Lazlo Thorn

Publisher: MLR Press

Cover Artist: Lex Valentine

Genre/s: Gay Romance / Erotica with some BDSM themes

Heat Rating: 4 flames

Length: 34,000 words / 75 pages

Release Date: April 5, 2018

It is a standalone book.




“When you tie me like that, when I’m sure I can’t get free, 

well it’s like everything becomes still. 

I’m still. Everything is calm.”



Blurb 

Autumn, 1913. Wiltshire, England. Davy Buckland, a boiler cleaner in the engine shed at the local railway station, was nineteen when he took a shine to the signalman at nearby Oakwood Junction. He didn’t know much about Nathaniel, but he recognised a man who could show him the ropes and how the isolated signal box in the Edwardian countryside where he worked, could provide the perfect hideaway for their clandestine games. By the time the Great War had started and these two ordinary men had become lovers, it wasn’t only the trains that were greased up and running on a good head of steam. But just how long could they keep this affair a secret? And what would the consequences be, if their unusual sexual liaison was ever discovered?



Buy Links




B&N



Excerpt

He bounded up the steps enthusiastically and entered the signal box still dressed in the dirty overalls he’d worn while working on the engine that morning. By contrast Nathaniel Bixby, the signalman, looked clean and very smart in his dark black railway uniform, white shirt and company cap with the copper SWR badge. He was a tall, clean shaven man with hair the colour of a rusty firebox, handsome in an ordinary way. His uniform suggested broad shoulders and enhanced his capable bearing. His military background made him used to wearing a uniform well and his only concession to civilian life was a loosened tie. As Davy entered, he stood proudly by the rack of eight tall metal levers, some red, some yellow and some black, each the height of his chest, that dominated the area in front of the big window. He had a dirty rag draped over his shoulder. He looked at Davy then checked the time using the big pocket watch he kept in his waistcoat.

“You’re early,” he said.

“Sorry, Mr Bixby. I thought I’d come straight here,” Davy replied.

“So I can see,” Nathaniel said, studying the dirt all over Davy’s face and overalls. “Throw a log on the fire. The pot’s hot. Make yourself a cup of tea. Let me get the thirteen-twenty out of the way and then we’ll get started.”

Nathaniel dutifully returned to his job and using the old rag to improve his grip began pulling some of the levers to switch the points and set the signals, taking particular care to set the stop signal on the branch line to ensure a clear passage for the impending express that would shortly reach the junction.

Davy opened the small, black stove in the corner of the signal box, poked the embers and put another log in it from the nearby basket. Then he brewed a cup of tea in a stained tin mug. He observed as the older man deftly made light work of the heavy-duty engineering in his office. A couple of bells rang a rhythmic beat in code with a message from a neighbouring signal box along the line. Nathaniel responded in kind. With the rack set, he waited, leaning casually on one of the levers while looking up the line for signs of the express. Then right on cue and with a piercing whistle the train he had been preparing for came thundering round the bend, past the box and into the cutting. The windows rattled and the surrounding trees vanished in volcanic clouds of steam as the fire-breathing monster made off into the distance and once again the little clearing in the woods was quiet. Nathaniel returned the levers to their original settings and, as was his custom, hung the old rag over the one on the end. He turned to Davy.

“It’ll be quiet now for a bit,” he said with a grin.

Nathaniel took off his waistcoat and company cap, put them on a nearby chair next to the desk in the corner of the room and locked the door. Next, he rolled up his sleeves revealing the strong, hairy forearms that gave him the strength to make such light work of the heavy, clunky levers in the box.

Davy gulped down the rest of his tea while Nathaniel retrieved an old canvas rucksack from under the desk. He unfastened the bag and took out a short length of rope. Davy lay face down on the hard, wooden floor and—in a by now well-rehearsed routine—placed his hands behind his back where Nathaniel bound them. First his wrists and then his ankles. Then more rope, longer this time, firmly around his upper body and shoulders and finally that cruel ligature that drew his ankles right up to his wrists rendering Davy immobile and blissfully helpless. Davy watched as Nathaniel stood up and studied his handiwork for a moment. Then he replaced his waistcoat and cap before he silently returned to his post at the lever rack.

Lying motionless on the floor, Davy could feel the rough floorboard against his cheek. He glanced over to where Nathaniel was standing with his back to him, watching out of the window and vigilantly minding his station. From this angle, Davy could see the scratches in the heels of his well-worn black leather boots and the backs of his tall, strong legs. After a moment, Davy tested the ropes, but as usual Nathaniel had been very thorough, careful to put the knots out of the reach of his nimble fingers and to place the coils around his body where the contours of his own muscles blocked any prospect of easy slippage. He rolled. Now, he was facing the back of the box. Once again, he tried flexing his arms and legs, pushing against the ropes but if anything, the struggling only seemed to make everything feel even tighter, even more of a tangle. So, he wrestled with the restraints some more, relishing the sensation. He knew from experience that being tied up like this it would take him hours to get free. He was a prisoner, just the way he liked it.






About the Author 

Lazlo Thorn published his first novel (The Signal Box) in 2018. In his work he explores themes about life, death, love and sexuality, set against the social mores and prevailing attitudes to gay sex at different times and in different places.

His forthcoming novel (Pain and Promise), due for release shortly, takes the reader to a small town on the Adriatic coast of Italy where two love stories, separated by almost forty years, become linked in an unexpected way.

He has nursed an ambition to be a writer for a number of years, but has only recently been able to make sufficient space in his life to begin committing some of his ideas to paper. The author has lived and worked in various countries and travelled widely in Europe and beyond.

Today, he lives in England with his husband, in a quiet seaside town on the south coast.



BOOK BLAST SCHEDULE






Thursday, 8 November 2018

Release Blitz - Seeking Solace by Ari McKay





Length: 55,188 words

Cover Design: Alexandria Corza

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Walker Boys Series

Book #1 - Striking Sparks - Amazon US | Amazon UK
Book #2 - Breaking Bonds - Amazon US | Amazon UK

Blurb

All hands on deck for a shipboard romance—with a secret.


Like his cousins, Devin Walker aspires to be a chef, but he wants to indulge his wanderlust while feeding his customers, and working a cruise ship seems like the solution. Since he can’t find an opening in the kitchen, he’s happy to start out in a position behind the bar.


While onboard Poseidon’s Pearl, Devin is assigned to shepherd a visiting executive. Paul Bailey is quiet and unassuming, and a car accident that cost him his leg also shattered his confidence. He doesn’t think he’s attractive to other men anymore, and Devin is eager to show him just how wrong he is. Paul has a surprising secret that might sink their passionate affair before it even leaves port.


Excerpt

PAUL MERCER stood in front of the full-length mirror mounted on the closet door and checked his tailor-made navy suit for lint or wrinkles before he left his cabin, which was more like a small hotel room than he’d expected. But Triton Cruises prided itself on being one of the more upscale cruise lines, and Poseidon’s Pearl was one of their top ships.


The suite was luxurious enough that Paul could have spent the entire trip inside, maybe reading on the private deck, which was big enough for two lounge chairs with a small table between them. But Paul wasn’t on vacation.


He’d been sent by his father, who was the CEO of Triton Cruises, to assess the ship and its crew and to report on whether the crew was adhering to company standards. To do so, he was posing as Paul Bailey, a new executive with the company who needed to learn about the cruise line. He was using his mother’s maiden name to help avoid anyone making a connection between him and the company’s founding family.


He glanced down at his pants, which were loose enough to hide the fact that he wore a prosthetic on his left leg below the knee. He’d covered the prosthetic foot with a shoe, and looking down at his dress shoes made him feel almost normal again. He had a slight limp, especially at the end of the day when he was tired, but most people were tactful enough not to ask about it, if they even noticed.


The other reason Paul had been sent was because he’d never been on a Triton cruise before. Hell, he’d never been on any cruise before. The cruise line was strictly eighteen-plus so Paul was never allowed to go with his parents when they took their annual trip while he was growing up. Then he’d gone away to college, and after graduation he went straight into grad school for his MBA. After that, he’d started working his way up the ladder at Triton and hadn’t taken much time off except for a few long weekends here and there. Then the accident happened. So the trip was a way for him to experience a Triton cruise from their guests’ perspective. It was also the last trip Paul would take anywhere in a while. Andrew Mercer was ready to retire, and he had put Paul on a fast track to taking over after Paul finished rehab and was cleared to return to work.


Focusing on his reflection, Paul smoothed his hand over his dark brown hair, which was cut short and neatly styled, its natural wave tamed with product. It was too early to go to the dining room, so Paul decided to visit the bar for a while instead.


While most cruise lines these days seemed intent on going the megaship route—huge vessels that could accommodate almost seven thousand passengers—Triton catered to a different clientele. Ships like Poseidon’s Pearl and her sisters carried a maximum of nine hundred passengers, with a crew of nearly six hundred, and every stateroom on the ship boasted a private balcony. The decor in the common areas was just as posh as it was in Paul’s cabin. As he left his cabin on Deck 7, it was only a short walk to the Seafarer’s Lounge.


He heard soft piano music—live, not recorded—as he entered the two-story lounge, which was set in the fore of the ship. It had glass windows from floor to ceiling on three sides that offered a magnificent, panoramic view of the Gulf of Mexico and the serenely blue sky above. The room was large, with stairways on the port and starboard sides giving access to the second level. Small clusters of loveseats and chairs were set around low tables, allowing for intimate groups to engage in conversation, while the rear of the room was lined in bookcases housing the ship’s library, which was large enough to cater to almost any taste. The plush carpet underfoot was patterned in tones of deep blue and gold, which set off the cream of the upholstery.


In the center of the room was a semicircular bar topped with polished mahogany, surrounded by comfortable high seats. As with everywhere else on the ship, the trademark of the line—a three-pronged triton—was subtly worked into the decor, such as the patterns of tile fronting the bar and the fabric covering the seats. There were no more than twenty or so people in the bar, broken into groupings around the room. Everyone was well-dressed, and conversations were muted, giving the room a relaxed and welcoming feeling.


As Paul approached the bar, he caught sight of the bartender, who was tall with broad shoulders tapering to a narrow waist emphasized by his tailored uniform vest. He had high cheekbones, a square jawline that looked sharp enough to cut paper, and skin with a rich copper glow that seemed to result from a combination of genetics and sunshine. His dark, thickly lashed eyes were crinkled at the corners as he flashed a dazzlingly white smile and handed an olive-garnished martini to his customer. His midnight-black hair was pulled back from his face and hung in a thick braid that reached all the way to his waist.


As soon as the bartender had scanned the customer’s cruise card and returned it, he turned to Paul, who had claimed a seat at the end of the bar, and Paul got the full effect of his smile. “Good afternoon, sir. I’m Devin. How can I make your day even better?”


The intense charisma behind that smile made Paul almost believe Devin meant the greeting for him alone, but he sternly reminded himself that the ship employees were supposed to say such things to all the customers.


“I’d like a glass of Malbec, please,” he said.


“Excellent choice,” Devin replied. He retrieved a bottle from the wine rack, and after uncorking the wine, he placed a crystal wineglass on the bar, then held an aerator over it as he poured a stream of the rich, dark wine from the bottle through it, making a bit of a show of the process. Then he set the bottle and aerator aside, placed a gilt-edged paper napkin in front of Paul, and served the glass of wine.


“Thanks.” Paul picked up the glass and took a sip, and he was pleased by the quality of the wine.


After cleaning up and recorking the bottle, Devin returned to Paul, favoring him with another smile. “How do you like it? Triton prides itself on the quality of the wines it serves, even the ones they use in the kitchen.”


Good to know, Paul thought, making a mental note for his report. “It’s good, thanks.”


Devin glanced around the nearly empty lounge, but he must not have seen anything that needed his attention, since his gaze returned to Paul. He tilted his head to one side, looking at Paul with a slightly puzzled expression. “If I may ask, sir, have you cruised with us before? You look familiar.”


Paul smiled as blandly as possible and shook his head. Full-sized portraits of Andrew Mercer and Abraham Mercer—Paul’s grandfather and the founder of Triton Cruises—hung in the atrium, so Paul wasn’t surprised one of the employees had picked up on the family resemblance.


“No, this is my first cruise,” he said, assuaging the slight pang he felt over deceiving the crew with the fact he was telling Devin the truth.


“All right, then. I’m very good with faces, and I’m sure I would have remembered you.” Devin grinned. “Especially since you’re almost as tall as I am.”


“Almost?” Paul raised one eyebrow. “I’d say we’re about even.”


“I’m six-foot-five,” Devin said. “In the lower areas of the ship, I have to be careful not to smack my head on the conduits.”


“Then we are in fact even,” Paul said. “I was in high demand for basketball teams all through school.”


Devin chuckled. “If that Charleston accent hadn’t already told me you weren’t from Texas, the basketball comment would have. I was in demand too, but as a wide receiver.”


“I’ve heard rumors that football is the state religion of Texas, but I’ve never played it myself,” Paul said, taking a sip of his wine. “I was on the varsity basketball team in high school, and I played intramural in college.”


“Nice,” Devin said. “I played in high school, then was offered a scholarship to Texas A&M, but football was never more than a hobby. I wanted to go to culinary school, and they don’t have football teams.” He lowered his voice. “Although we often played badminton with food that didn’t turn out very well. It’s amazing how much overdone chicken Kiev resembles a hockey puck.”


Paul chuckled. “How did you go from culinary school to tending bar on a cruise ship? Have you worked here long?”


“Six months, and it was a matter of opportunity,” Devin said. “My best friend and I took a cruise after… well, after I went through a bad breakup, and it was just what I needed. I fell in love with the ship, and the sea, and the travel. I’d never even been out of Texas before, and the travel bug bit me hard. I did some research, and Triton is far and away the best cruise line to work for. They have people lining up for jobs, and it took me almost two years to get my foot in the door, and then it was because I’d also trained in bartending. Of course I hope to work in the kitchen someday, but when they offered me a position I jumped on it, and I haven’t regretted it for a second.” Devin’s smile was rueful. “I hope I haven’t bored you to death.”


“Not at all.” Paul thought it was helpful for the staff to be friendly, especially on longer cruises like this one. It would promote the family atmosphere that Triton Cruises wanted to cultivate. “I don’t want to monopolize your time, though.”


Devin glanced around the nearly empty lounge. “It’ll be slow in here until after dinner,” he said. “The action right now is up by the pool. But once the sun goes down, everyone will come into the Seafarer to socialize and listen to the cruise director’s talk about our ports of call.”


“I should probably come back for that,” Paul said. “I don’t know much about the ports we’re visiting, and I don’t want to wander off without a plan.”


“There are some great shore excursions,” Devin said, his brown eyes shining with interest. “They have some for people who like to be physically active, like diving trips and hiking tours, and some for people who prefer to relax on the beach and play in the waves. They also have activities for people who want to experience the culture of the various islands. And if you’d prefer to be on your own, they’ll have maps to help you out.”


“Sounds like I shouldn’t have any problem finding something fun to do.”


“I’m sure you’ll have a great time,” Devin said. “If I may make a suggestion, there’s something you can do tonight. Just before midnight, go up on Deck 9. They have an open area to do outdoor yoga. The captain always turns off all the extra lights on the ship for several minutes, and we’ll be well away from land by then. You’ll be able to see more stars than you ever thought the sky could hold. It’s beautiful and humbling at the same time.”


“If I’m still awake, I’ll check it out.” Paul glanced at his watch, then slid off the bar stool, taking his wineglass with him. “I should probably head to the dining room.”


“Be prepared for a real treat,” Devin said. “I recommend the beef Wellington, and the triple chocolate torte with Chambord for dessert. Although you won’t go wrong with any of the selections. The food on the Pearl is fantastic.”


“You had me at triple chocolate,” Paul said, lifting his glass to Devin. Then he headed out of the lounge. He wanted to get there in time to take a few notes about what he had observed so far before dinner, but if the rest of the ship had the same kind of staff and atmosphere as the lounge, his assessment would be a glowing one.



Ari McKay is the professional pseudonym for Arionrhod and McKay, who have been writing together for over a decade. Their collaborations encompass a wide variety of romance genres, including contemporary, fantasy, science fiction, gothic, and action/adventure. Their work includes the Blood Bathory series of paranormal novels, the Herc’s Mercs series, as well as two historical Westerns: Heart of Stone and Finding Forgiveness. When not writing, they can often be found scheming over costume designs or binge watching TV shows together.


Arionrhod is a systems engineer by day who is eagerly looking forward to (hopefully) becoming a full time writer in the not-too-distant future. Now that she is an empty-nester, she has turned her attentions to finding the perfect piece of land to build a fortress in preparation for the zombie apocalypse, and baking (and eating) far too many cakes.


McKay is an English teacher who has been writing for one reason or another most of her life. She also enjoys knitting, reading, cooking, and playing video games. She has been known to knit in public. Given she has the survival skills of a gnat, she’s relying on Arionrhod to help her survive the zombie apocalypse.


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Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Review Tour - Stoker & Bash #2 The Fruit Of The Poisonous Tree by Selina Kray




Buy Links: Amazon US | Amazon UK

Length: 100,000 words approx.

Cover Design: Tiferet Design

Stoker & Bash Series

Book #1 - The Fangs Of Scavo - Amazon US | Amazon UK

Blurb

When will She open Rebecca Northcote’s box?


Finding lost poodles and retrieving stolen baubles is not how DI Tim Stoker envisioned his partnership with his lover, Hieronymus Bash. So when the police commissioner's son goes missing, he's determined to help, no matter what secrets he has to keep, or from whom.



When a family member is kidnapped, Hiero moves heaven and earth to rescue them. Even if that means infiltrating the Daughters of Eden, a cult of wealthy widows devoted to the teachings of Rebecca Northcote and the mysterious contents of her box. The Daughters' goodwill toward London's fallen women has given them a saintly reputation, but Hiero has a nose for sniffing out a fraud. He will need to draw on some divine inspiration to rattle the pious Daughters.


Like weeds gnarling the roots of Eden's fabled tree, Tim and Hiero's cases intertwine. Serpents, secrets, and echoes from Hiero's past lurk behind every branch. Giving in to temptation could bind them closer together—or sever their partnership forever. 


My Two Pennies Worth

This series is amazing. I'm officially a massive fan. The first book was all kinds of fun in an over-the-top gay Victorian Penny Dreadful (and now I want to search out that exact thing) kind of way. The second book in the series has less lions and the plot is more serious but the telling is still such fun. 

Tim is trying to find his place, with the police, with Bash and his little family, and struggling with both. It's maddening to know how much these two love each other but their pasts (and the manor of their original meeting) make trusting difficult. Bash is a flamboyant creature, haunted by demons (information of them is drip fed to the reader at the same time as Tim) and protecting himself from hurt by keeping his secrets close. Luckily Tim is a pretty smart detective.

Talking of smart detectives, Cassie is the real brains behind the little band of amateur detectives with Bash more of a front man, and it reminded me a little of a Victorian version of Remington Steele. 

Plenty of diversity in the story, sexuality (naturally) but also race, gender, and disability. 

I can't wait for the next instalment. Shame it's not until next year.







Excerpt

When will She open Rebecca Northcote’s box?


Hieronymus Bash contemplated the question posed by the long, red-lettered banner that blazoned over the otherwise quaint fruit and vegetable stall. A sharp tug of the arm from Callie, his ward, brought him to heel. He’d already been struggling to match her brisk pace, having been dragged from his early afternoon repose in the cozy climes of his study into, of all things, the sunshine, or what passed for it on this weak-tea day.


Rays of piss-yellow sun trickled down over the city, tinting the fumes that oozed up from the Thames. Clouds of smog blurred the distant Albert Bridge into an impressionist’s nightmare. A growing crowd choked the small stage erected just before the river’s edge, scuttling in from both directions of Cheyne Walk like ants over a carcass. A bald man with a white mustache that flapped out to his ears checked his pocket watch for the fourth time since Hiero and his companions descended from their carriage.


At the far end of the stage, a squad of low-rank militia struggled to keep a path clear for the Duke of Edinburgh and his bride, Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna of Russia, only beloved daughter of Tsar Alexander II. The newlyweds were, in the timeless tradition of royals everywhere, unfashionably late to the opening of the Chelsea Embankment, the third and final stage of the sewage system that had transformed London’s riverside.


“Look, it’s Bazalgette!” Callie tugged him forward, doing a fine impression of an excitable hound.


“While I admire your enthusiasm, I do wonder if it’s not a tad misplaced.”


Callie scoffed. “Only you would prefer the arrival of some dippy duke over the architect of this entire endeavor.” She threw her free arm out wide. “Can you not spare a moment to admire this feat of engineering? In the place of muddy banks, pavement has been laid, a fence with lampposts erected, with gardens and greenery to come. And running beneath it, the waste of London, and soon an underground train! How can you be so trout-mouthed in the face of such marvels?”


“Not your most persuasive argument, comparing the face that dropped a thousand trousers to a fishmonger’s wares.”


Callie sighed, relinquishing his arm to chase after her muttonchopped idol. Hiero watched her go, marveling at how much she resembled her Uncle Apollo, Hiero’s long-deceased lover who had charged him with her care in character and spirit. Theirs was an unconventional household, where the lady moonlighted as a detective, the servants were part of the family, and the lord of the manor—Hiero himself—was neither a lord nor owned the manor.


“Come now.” Han, his friend and self-appointed keeper, fell into step beside him. The rhythmic taps of his lotus-headed walking stick slowed their pace to a stroll. “You’re no longer catch of the day with Mr. Stoker about.”


“Perhaps if he were about, someone would defend my honor.” Hiero bristled at the mention of his fair-weather paramour, Timothy Kipling Stoker, a detective inspector with Scotland Yard who shadowed them when there was a mystery to solve but otherwise preoccupied himself with... well, finding them another mystery. His dedication to duty exasperated.


“Not likely.”


“No, I rather thought not.” Hiero pressed a lavender handkerchief to his mouth and nose. Mr. Bazalgette’s innovations would have to work much harder to filter out nearly a millennia of filth, the river being a cesspit into which the city had poured every conceivable kind of rubbish, from human to animal to otherwise. A place where sins had been cast off and bodies buried. A few of Hiero’s personal acquaintance.


“Where has your Mr. Stoker taken himself off to this—” Han considered the urinal murk of the embankment and found himself at a loss of an adjective. “—afternoon?”


“I do not presume to know what impulses rule that man.”


“And yet you are the one who rides his... coattails.”


“Only when he deigns to undress for the occasion. Otherwise...” Hiero huffed, his mood irretrievably spoilt by this line of conversation. “I cannot think where I’ve gone wrong with him.”


“No?” Han evidenced something close to a smirk. “It wouldn’t have something to do with meddling in his work affairs, compromising his relationship with his superiors, forcing him into our fellowship, risking everything he holds dear, and then sharing nothing of consequence about yourself, now would it?”


Hiero peered at him out of the corner of his eye. “Nothing of the sort, I’m sure.”


“Ah. Well, then, it is a mystery.”


“Coo-coo! Mr. Han!” a voice trilled at them from behind.


With a pair of heavy sighs, they turned to heed an all-too-familiar call. A hand waiving a white handkerchief fluttered up and down amidst a dense crowd. A grunt from Han parted the sea of surging revelers to reveal Shahida Kala, the latest of Hiero’s charity cases, hopping with the vigor of a spring hare. Her compact figure contained a carnival of personality.


The instant this bright light had beamed into his study on the arm of her father—who served under Apollo in Her Majesty’s Navy—Hiero recognized her for one of the rare people who could steal his spotlight. So he had relegated her to the least enviable position in the household, that of nurse to Mrs. Lillian Pankhurst, Callie’s permanently indisposed mother. But the long days of attic dwelling and reading Richardson’s Pamela ad nauseam had not snuffed a single spark.


Instead Lillian had transformed from bed-ridden depressive into a semifunctional member of the family. Every morning she and Shahida took a two-hour stroll. They cultivated a rooftop garden. Shahida had imposed an afternoon tea regimen on their household, always leading the conversation as Hiero, Callie, and Han plotted ways to return to their preferred solitary occupations. Dinners were always a family affair, but Shahida’s insistence on more healthful, nourishing fare that conformed to Lillian’s new diet had Minnie, their cook, weekly threatening to resign. Callie was the only other member of the household resistant to her charms.


Even Han, cynical, monkish, seen-it-all Han, danced to whichever melody she played. Hiero watched as he bounded over to her, biting his lip at the comical sight of a surly giant bowing to the whims of a pretty imp, but also to keep from emitting a growl of frustration. He glanced back to search for Callie, but the crowd had swallowed her. By now she’d likely clawed her way to the front of the stage and barked questions at a baffled, bewhiskered Mr. Bazalgette, which Hiero thought should be his formal title.


Schooling his features, he joined Han and Shahida’s conversation in medias res and was somewhat aghast to discover them talking about produce.


“... the plumpest, juiciest berries. Artichokes the size of a fist. Fat aubergines and cabbages and cauliflowers, and cucumbers as long as...” Shahida pressed two fingers to her mouth. Hiero didn’t miss how her eyes flickered down. “Well.”


Shameless, that was the trouble. As if she’d snipped the best pages from his playbook and then had the temerity to improve on his notes.


Han chuckled. Chuckled! Hiero hadn’t seen his friend so much as shrug in all the time he’d known him.


“A religious order, you say?” Han asked.


“The Daughters of Eden.” Shahida leaned in, gave him her most conspiratorial smirk. “And I think they might be.” She didn’t even have the grace to straighten when she spotted Hiero. “Oh, Mr. Bash! Mrs. Pankhurst and I don’t mean to spoil your fun. But if you wouldn’t mind, we’ll stay here for a while. We’ve discovered the most—”


“Impressive cucumbers. So I heard.”


“Mrs. Pankhurst is just beside herself. We’ve big ideas for our garden, but this...”


Hiero was unmoved. “And what is it you want?”


“We’ve done our third crate and could fill two more. The crowd is bit much for Mrs. Pankhurst, so I thought Mr. Han might take us back to Berkeley Square? We’ll send the carriage back for you.”


“As it is my carriage, I rather think it will return for me regardless.”


That got her attention. “Of course. If you’d like us to stay—”


“Let us see these berries from heaven.” With a sweep of his hand, Hiero directed them back toward the stall that had earlier piqued his interest. “Their Majesties will wait upon our leisure.”


A long line of enterprising vendors hawked their wares along the edge of Cheyne Walk, hoping to entice royal watchers to purchase a bit of refinement for their life. One stall lined up its dainty little bottles of oils and perfumes like Russian nesting dolls. A mini royal portrait gallery sold likenesses of Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, and their progeny in a variety of poses. The gentleman scooping iced lollies for the children had his work cut out for him on such a tepid day, Hiero thought. The pub with a street-side stand offering hot tea and cider already did brisk business. A few watercress girls fought against the crowd’s undertow, but their wares looked shriveled as seaweed compared to the glorious bushels of the Daughters of Eden.


Even Hiero had to admit, upon inspection, the quality of their produce astounded. Fat and luscious, their fruit allured like the bosom of an opera diva, ready to smother and enthrall. Their vegetable stalks evidenced a virility that would put most molly-houses out of business. Little wonder their customers meandered around the baskets like lovestruck swains. Their bounty conjured images of orgies culinary and carnal. Hiero didn’t doubt there were more than a few serpents lurking about this tiny Eden, eager to defile a peach or two.


All of this was overseen by a trio of women dressed in immaculate white uniforms that somehow defied the city’s grime. Hiero drifted away from his companions to better observe these wyrd sisters. The tallest was also the least remarkable, a stout but cheery woman with farm-worn hands and hard-earned streaks of gray in her brown hair. She milled through the customers, answering questions and nudging reluctant buyers toward the register.


A skittish dove of a girl dutifully kept the ledger and the cash box, cooing her thanks before slipping some sort of pamphlet into people’s baskets. Her crinkly hair had been woven into two winglike braids that perfectly framed her heart-shaped face. A sprinkling of dark freckles contrasted with her pale-brown skin, all but disappearing when she blushed.


Which she did whenever the third sister glanced her way. “Willowy” did not do this petite, flopsy woman justice. A willow branch would look as leathery and stiff as a whip compared to her wispiness. Near-translucent skin and stringy cornsilk hair completed the otherworldly effect. Hiero almost questioned whether she was really there, such was the nothing of her regard. She appeared to have no occupation other than to pose under the sign in a demure attitude. The crowds gave her a wide berth, and little wonder. Nobody wanted to mingle with a possessed scarecrow.


Except possibly meddlesome not-detectives stuck on a boring outing with friends who had abandoned him for some phallic parsnips and a walrus architect.


Just as Hiero made to pounce, the waif leapt as if lightning struck. Eyes ravenous, mouth agape, hair billowing in an invisible breeze, she stared into the buzzing hive of customers. Transformed in an instant from trinket to spear, her astonishment gave color to her cheeks and heft to her bearing. She appeared somehow taller, bolder, a colossal spirit crammed into a compact package: a genie unleashed from its lamp.


All the better to bedazzle you with, my dear, Hiero thought.


Hieronymus Bash, professional cynic, knew a performance when he saw one. He read again the red sign that screamed above her head: When will She open Rebecca Northcote’s box? But there was no box he could see, and if this woodland sprite was Mrs. Northcote, he’d eat Han’s walking stick. These Daughters had lured in quite a crowd with their sensuous produce. Was she the serpent come to tempt them? And if so, to what end?


Hiero shuttered his natural radiance to watch the spectacle unfold. The pale sister glided, arms outstretched, into the maze of crates, eyes fixed on her prey. Hiero hissed under his breath when she stopped at Lillian Pankhurst. In a state of docile confusion at the best of times, Lillian continued sorting out a mess of string beans, oblivious to this starry-eyed suitor. Han, ever protective, moved to Lillian’s side just as the sister shrieked...


“Daughter! You are found!”


The woman at the ledger jumped to her feet. “Juliet?”


“I’ve heard your spirit call to us these long nights, and now you have come home!” Juliet continued at eardrum-splitting pitch, making herself heard to all in the vicinity and probably those across the Thames. “Welcome, Daughter, into Her grace and light! Welcome home!” She hugged a startled Lillian with impressive fervor for one so slender. Lillian, looking to Shahida for a cue, patted her on the back.


A frowning Han caught his gaze from across the way, but Hiero signaled he would play Polonius behind the curtain. Hopefully without the knife in his gut.


“Don’t fear, Daughter. You are among friends,” Juliet nattered on. “We have come to shepherd Her back to Eden through our good works, and, by your pallid cheeks and trembling hands, I can see that you are eager to play a part.”


“Oi!” Shahida hollered, shoving her way between Juliet and Lillian. “Mrs. Pankhurst gets three square a day, and her arthritis is much improved. I dare anyone here to say otherwise.”


“But her spirit, dear girl, droops like a flower too long out of the sun.” Juliet backed away a step to address the customers, every one of which stood rapt. “She knows how this frail woman has struggled. She has heard her prayers and her anguish. She has shone Her glorious light into her, lit her like a beacon for her sisters to find. She is a Daughter, called upon to continue Her good work and bring about a second Eden!”


Shahida let out a trill of laughter three octaves too high. It effectively pierced the balloon of hot air Juliet had been huffing and puffing.


“Angel with a flaming sword you’re not, ma’am. Sorry.” Shahida locked an arm around Lillian. “Stick to the fruit and veg.” A pointed look directed Han to escort their charge away.


“But I haven’t finished the beans...” Lillian muttered as they disappeared into the gaggle of onlookers.


“Shame!” Juliet bellowed, beseeching the yellow sky. “Shame! It is the burden of womankind.” The customers moved into the space vacated by his friends, and Hiero followed, curious as to how she would spin such a public defeat. “The prophet Rebecca Northcote warned against it in her great bible, The Coming of the Holiest Spirit. Too often we ladies wait upon the actions of others. Are made to feel shame and guilt and worthless when we do act. Allow others to lead us astray, away from the truth in our hearts. We pay the price for the sins of our fathers and brothers and husbands. But She... oh, She is coming to deliver us from these injustices, from our fears and torments. As our Holy Mother Rebecca divined, if we join together, Daughters, and build the garden, She will come to save us all. She will gift us with her light!”


“Amen!” the ledger-keeper cried, having abandoned her post to shove pamphlets into the hands of any who would take them.


“Thank you, Mother!” the other sister seconded, lifting a basket of golden pears for all to see.


Juliet scanned the crowd. “You reap of the bounty we offer, but you do not know of how we labor in Her name. To prepare for Her coming, our prophet Rebecca chose each of Her Daughters with care. And though a shame-filled few will deny Her, everyone is welcome to hear Her message and to contribute however they can.” Hiero swallowed a snicker as she gestured to the donation tin. So transparent. “If you are committed to peace and prosperity, if you would see heaven retake the Earth, then I invite you to heed our prophet Rebecca’s call. And She will shine Her light upon you for all the days of your life.”


Juliet seemed to resist taking a bow, but only just. She gave each customer a final angelic smile, then returned to her perch beneath the red sign. A few of the curious chased her with questions; a ragdoll sag and a vacant stare shut them out. Instead the ledger-keeper, who introduced herself as Sister Nora, gathered them around the donation tin before addressing any queries.


“And?” Han appeared beside him, sudden as Banquo’s ghost. “Showstopper or second-rate?”


Hiero rubbed a thumb over his knuckles. “Better than a pair of poncy royals cutting a ribbon, but only just.”


“Fit for a return engagement?”


“Perhaps. Their setup is commonplace, but she does have a certain je ne sais quoi.”


“Enough to en savoir plus?”


“Time will tell. You know how religion turns my stomach. But their focus on Lillian was...”


“Agreed. That Sister Juliet read her too easily.”


Hiero nodded. “Could have been instinct.”


“Or she saw a mark.”


They shared a look weighted by their years of friendship and experience, a partnership of equals who knew, without another word, how to protect their own.


About The Author


Selina Kray is the nom de plume of an author and English editor. Professionally she has covered all the artsy-fartsy bases, having worked in a bookstore, at a cinema, in children’s television, and in television distribution, up to her latest incarnation as a subtitle editor and grammar nerd (though she may have always been a grammar nerd). A self-proclaimed geek and pop culture junkie who sometimes manages to pry herself away from the review sites and gossip blogs to write fiction of her own, she is a voracious consumer of art with both a capital and lowercase A.


Selina’s aim is to write genre-spanning romances with intricate plots, complex characters, and lots of heart. Whether she has achieved this goal is for you, gentle readers, to decide. At present she is hard at work on future novels at home in Montreal, Quebec, with her wee corgi serving as both foot warmer and in-house critic.


If you’re interested in receiving Selina’s newsletter and being the first to know when new books are released, plus getting sneak peeks at upcoming novels, please sign up at her website: www.selinakray.net




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