Book Blitz & Excerpt: Midsummer Man + Giveaway

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Midsummer Man, by Zelah Robers

General Release Date: 15th June 2021

Word Count: 53,250
Book Length: NOVEL
Pages: 207

Genres:

ACTION AND ADVENTURE
BILLIONAIRE
CONTEMPORARY
EROTIC ROMANCE
MYSTERY

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Book Description

 

Hostages of fate…rescued by love.

Holly Mason’s past has left her with many things—a powerful need for independence and self-reliance, enduring memories of pain and fear…and an intense dislike of alpha males.

Billionaire Sir Mac Sinclair has been wounded by the betrayal of his fiancée and overpowered by his own ultra-protective alpha-male instincts after his sister is kidnapped. He has no time for romance.

But when Mac meets Holly at the beautiful Midsummer Ball, fate intervenes. The irresistible, timeless magic of midsummer seduces them into stealing one stunning, secret night of passion together.

But one night is not enough… When danger threatens, Mac and Holly are forced back together. Can they confront the traumas of the past and learn to trust each other to overcome the dangers of the present?

Reader advisory: This book contains a scene of public sex, stalking and cult references, and references to child abuse, kidnapping and sexual assault.

Excerpt

Renwick Castle stood high on the hill above the Wyvern Valley, its tranquil beauty bestowing an elegant timelessness upon the idyllic landscape of rolling cornfields and quaint villages below. Gilded flags fluttered from crenelated battlements in the golden afternoon sun and the vibrant ruby, emerald and sapphire stained-glass windows glowed like jewels, refracting dancing rainbows onto ancient stone floors. In the courtyard of the ancient keep, the blush-pink petals of apple blossom trees, caressed from their branches by the breeze, danced on the warm summer air like confetti.

In the grand ballroom of the castle, now an extremely elegant five-star hotel, two women, Holly Mason and Melissa Turner, were working in parallel, placing perfumed rose-pink charity auction lists and donation envelopes on tables already festooned with glittering silverware and sparkling candelabras entwined with ivy and white roses.

Tonight was a night they had been working towards for months. It was the night upon which all their hopes as the trustees of the charity ‘Help the Homeless’, rested—the night when most of the funds the charity needed for the coming year would be raised. Tonight was the night of the Help the Homeless Midsummer Ball.

Holly set down yet another envelope, then glanced up as her friend Melissa cleared her throat. “So,” Melissa asked, “did you try the rose-petal bath-pourri, then?”

Holly looked at her friend curiously. Melissa had given her the lovely bath set for her birthday, with strict and rather mysterious instructions that she should use it the night before the ball. “I did,” she confirmed, “as instructed. It was absolutely fabulous. The rose petals were floating on the water and the scent was out of this world. But I still don’t understand why I had to use it last night, exactly.”

Melissa looked smug. “I knew you’d do it. I bet Simon a jasmine-scented back massage that you would.”

Holly choked back a laugh. Her recently married friend was still in the honeymoon phase of her relationship with her beloved Simon. “Why jasmine, specifically?”

“Holly! Don’t you know that jasmine is supposed to stimulate your libido?”

“Ah- no. Can’t say that I did. But really… Your libido needs stimulating?”

Melissa gave her a sheepish look. “Well, no. In all honesty, if it got any more stimulated, I’d probably die. But what a way to go!”

Holly rolled her eyes. Her friend was incorrigible. “Well, naturally I’m delighted to have earned you a jasmine-scented back rub, but you still haven’t told me why I had to use my bubble bath last night.”

They moved to another table and began distributing auction lists. “Ah, yes…that. Well, this castle has been here nearly a thousand years. And for every single one of them, it has celebrated the magic of midsummer, the longest day of the year and the time when the veil between this world and the next is at its thinnest.”

“Uh-huh.”

Melissa threw out a dramatic arm. “Powerful forces are abroad on midsummer’s night. And in this castle, they are amplified—soaked into the very fabric of this building.”

“Is that right?”

“Oh, believe me. It is.”

“So, what do these powerful forces want with me, pray tell?”

Melissa looked at her triumphantly. “Well, you sprinkled rose-petals last night, didn’t you?”

“Yes—”

“Well, the legend says that if you sprinkle rose petals on Midsummer’s Eve, you’ll meet the man of your dreams the next night. And that means, you’ll meet him tonight!”

Holly put down her envelopes and looked at her friend in frank disbelief. “Really? The man of my dreams? It’s going to bring to life Jamie from Outlander, is it?”

Melissa rolled her eyes. “There are good men in the real world, too, you know.”

Holly shook her head, amused. In her considered opinion, the only good men were fictional ones. “Melissa, you know I love you,” she began, wryly, “but I don’t want a man. I like my life the way it is.”

Damn right she did. She’d worked hard to get to where she was today, and now she was reaping the rewards of her labours. Her life was safe, settled and interesting, exactly the way she liked it. The last thing she wanted was some wretched man messing it all up.

Melissa looked at her sympathetically. “Holly, I know you had that awful stalker a couple of years ago. But you can’t judge all men by one obsessive fan.”

“Of course not.”

“And I know Taylor wasn’t the best boyfriend you could have wished for. You were just unlucky he turned out to be such an absolute—”

Holly raised a hasty hand. “I know. They’re not all like him. Some of them are worse!”

“Oh, Holly, come on. That’s not fair! Look at Simon.”

It was true. Her friend really had found one of those mythical creatures—a good man. Mild-mannered, gentle and fathoms deep in love with his adorable wife, Simon was a gentleman of the first order. But a man like that would never want a woman as hard as she was, with a background like hers. “Okay, okay. I know. Granted, your Simon is lovely, and I’m sure there are other wonderful men out there—but not for me. I’m not in the market for any midsummer magic.”

For a moment, a wispy cloud drifted over the sun and the room shadowed. Holly set down another auction list with careful precision. “Anyway, I’m too busy. I’m up to my neck in work.”

“Work won’t keep you warm at night. You won’t get to the end of your life and wish you’d done more work.”

Holly looked drily at her friend. “I won’t get to the end of my life and wish I’d done more men, either.”

“Oh, honestly, Holly—”

At that moment, Melissa’s phone beeped, signalling a text message. Melissa glanced at the screen and a delighted smile spread over her face.

“It’s Sadika. You’ll never guess who she’s just sold a last-minute ticket to?”

“Who?”

“Sir Mac Sinclair!”

Holly raised her eyebrows. Sir Mac Sinclair was known to practically anyone with a pulse in the UK, even her, and she was no follower of the lives of the rich and famous. As the billionaire owner of one of the most prestigious building companies in the country, he was lauded for successfully and sympathetically restoring some of Britain’s most valuable and beloved historic buildings. As a qualified architect, he had also created some new structures which, with their fluid, sensuous silhouettes and environmentally friendly designs, were now considered modern classics. But he was also infamous for his obsessive need for privacy. He rarely appeared in public and declined all television interviews, which made it all the more surprising that he was coming to such a high-profile event.

Not only that, but tickets for the ball had sold out months ago, and he must have paid through the nose to get hold of one at the last minute. Sadika, who was responsible for selling tickets and organising the seating plan, must be tearing her hair out trying to slot him in at one of the tables.

Holly scowled. Although she was pleased that the charity had received more money, she hated the fact that the rich could have it all their own way, could casually buy into an event at the last minute without a by-your-leave.

“Well, great. That should get us some more publicity. Hopefully, he’ll spend a fortune and we’ll all be happy.”

“True.” Melissa’s voice filled with excitement. “But more than that, this guy is hot. I mean, seriously hot. Oh, he’d be perfect for you!”

“Oh, right. Because I’m so hot myself.”

“You are!” Melissa clapped her hands together, her eyes speculative. “You’d make the most amazing couple—”

“Oh, don’t do me any favours. The last thing I need is some arrogant megalomaniac billionaire who loves nothing more than his own reflection!”

Melissa’s face softened. “Give in, Holly. It’s fate. You’ve sprinkled the rose petals, so you might as well accept it. True love’s a comin’ for you.”

Holly shook her head. “No. No way. You know what the difference between true love and herpes is, right?”

“No…”

“Herpes lasts forever.”

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About the Author

Zelah Roberts

Zelah Roberts grew up in a beautiful leafy market town in North East England. She spent a happy childhood exploring the surrounding woods and moorlands, and visiting ancient priories, abbeys, and roman ruins with her history-buff parents. These inspired her imagination, and many notebooks were filled with action-packed tales of adventure and romance.

An avid reader with eclectic tastes, her teenage years were spent navigating the magical worlds of Narnia and Middle Earth by way of Earthsea. As she grew older, her tastes expanded to take in thrillers and romance, and a degree in English introduced her to the great classics of literature.

After many jobs ranging from traffic warden to project manager, Zelah now divides her time between writing and teaching English and creative writing. When she is not lost in daydreams about her new book, she also loves spending time with her family, travelling and visiting the theatre and cinema.

Giveaway

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Zelah Roberts Midsummer Man Giveaway

ZELAH ROBERTS IS GIVING AWAY THIS FABULOUS PRIZE TO ONE LUCKY WINNER. ENTER HERE FOR YOUR CHANCE TO WIN A LOVELY GIFT PACKAGE AND GET A FIRST FOR ROMANCE GIFT CARD! Notice: This competition ends on 29th June 2021 at 5pm GMT. Competition hosted by Totally Entwined Group.

Book Blitz & Excerpt: Leading The Blind + Giveaway

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Leading The Blind, by BA Tortuga

Book 7 in the Roughstock series

Word Count: 53,445
Book Length: NOVEL
Pages: 230

GENRES:

ACTION AND ADVENTURE
CONTEMPORARY
COWBOYS AND WESTERN
EROTIC ROMANCE
GAY
GLBTQI

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Book Description

You don’t need the use of your eyes to see forever.

After his head injury leaves him blind, professional bull rider Jason Scott can only think of one thing. He desperately needs to win the title in the big leagues of bull riding so he can retire and start a new life—one he can live with his best friend and lover, Andy Baxter.

Andy—or Bax, as his friends call him—wants to keep Jason safe and alive, but he would never ask his man to be less than he is. With the help of their best friends, they start out on a path that will lead them back to the major events and to a deception that might lose them all their jobs.

There’s no way the league officials would let Jason ride if they knew he was blind, so Jason and Bax have to figure out how to get Jason back to the top of the leaderboard without any kind of advantage or cheating being called. Meanwhile, they have to figure out what their new life is going to look like and what they’ll be if they’re not bull riders any longer.

Will they get what they want? Or will the whole thing just be a case of the blind leading the blind?

Reader advisory: This book contains some bull riding-related injuries. There is a brief homophobic slur from a secondary character.

Excerpt

“Jesus fucking Christ! Open your goddamn eyes next time! That bull damn near rang your bell.” Bax shook his arm, and Jason swore that made the world swim before his useless fucking eyes again.

“Andy Baxter, you’d best back the fuck off. This ain’t the time.” He’d know Coke’s voice anywhere, the bullfighter as much a part of his family as anyone ever had been.

“Gramps, don’t.” Jason Scott leaned against the stall, breathing hard. The last thing he needed was Pa and Ma MacGillicuddy freaking out because he’d lost his cookies at a bull riding. Bull riding fans were a specific breed, and it didn’t matter one bit whether it was the big show or a tiny two-gate sheriff’s posse arena. They all talked.

“Well, someone has to,” Coke ground out. “He’s being an ass.”

“He needs to keep his eyes open.” But Bax lowered his voice, thank God.

“I know. I got dirt in ‘em. It’s not like I can wipe them, Bax.”

“For eight seconds, you can suck it up.”

“Right. ‘Cause you were always fucking perfect.”

Bax grabbed his shirtfront and shook him. “Every. Fucking. Ride.”

“Stop it,” Coke snapped, and they stopped. Gramps rarely spoke in that tone. When he did, well, they listened. “Y’all are being buttheads and I don’t need this shit, you comprende? Folks got phones.”

“Sorry,” Bax murmured, which made Jason snort.

“Don’t tease the bull, son. Tell Andy you’re sorry.”

Jason blew out a hard breath. “You know I am, butthead.”

“Good boys. Come on now. We got to get out of the public.” Coke tugged at his arm. Hell, Coke had to get back to work.

“Right. I’m going to get out of here, Gramps. I sure as shit ain’t making the short go.”

“Okay, son.” Coke clapped him on the back. “Be good.”

Bax laughed. “Right. He’ll be trying to drive off in the truck soon.”

“I’d do better than some.” His head was starting to pound like there was a damn mariachi band in there, playing away.

“You did okay last time,” Bax agreed, taking his arm and leading him out of the arena. “Until you didn’t.”

“Story of my life.” He rode like a champion, until he didn’t. He could see, until he couldn’t. He had a whole life, until it was over. Now? He was fixin’ to try and take some of it back.

“Hey, I just want you to be safe.”

“I know. I just want you to not have to babysit my ass forever.”

“I’m not your babysitter.” Bax lowered his voice. “I’m yours, and we’re in this together, Mini.”

Jason felt his fucking shoulders come down from around his ears. Okay. Yeah. ‘Together’ he could get behind. A burden? No, that he couldn’t do. “Right. Sorry. You want a beer?” An aspirin? Something to stop this pounding?

“Sure. Sounds good.” Bax led him out of the arena, the dirt changing to concrete.

He tried to make sure his face was thunderous, keeping anyone away who might want to talk. He was getting better at that part—the talking to fans—but not much. Right now he thought he might die if someone stopped them. Bax kept him moving fast, and soon enough he was in the cab of their truck, the sudden quiet shocking his senses.

“I’m taking you to the travel trailer, okay?” Bax sounded either pissed or scared. He wasn’t sure which.

“Okay.” Jason didn’t want to fight no more, so he folded his hands and sat quiet as a mouse.

They didn’t play music, they just drove, and when they got to the gravel road, Jason knew they were at the weird little campground.

The truck rocked a bit when Bax hit the brakes. The engine cut off, and they sat there.

“You okay?” Bax finally asked.

“My head hurts some,” he admitted. “I need some time to not worry about shit.”

“Well, come on. We’ll get you some pills and watch a movie.”

Listen to a movie, more like, but whatever. “Works for me.”

“You sure? I could put on one of those audiobooks.”

“I just want to be somewhere I”—can see—“know.”

“It’s cool and quiet in there.” Bax climbed out of the truck, then came around to help him out.

“Yeah.” He sighed. “I’m sorry, Bax.”

“What for, Mini?” They stepped up into the trailer, the smell oddly homey inside.

“Being blind?” Having you take care of me when all I want in all the world is to take care of you.

“Well, that’s stupid. Ain’t like you asked to be blind.”

“No.” No, not a bit. “Good thing we cleared that up.”

“You know it.” Bax snorted loud, then guided him to sit back on the bed thingy. “Let me get us a cold drink, then we can kinda float.”

“Thanks. I’ll get the next one.” He toed his boots off and stripped out of his sponsor shirt and his baggy, filthy work jeans.

“No problem.” Bax opened a couple of bottles, the bottle cap sound unmistakable.

He took the bottle when Bax offered it and drank deep, the lemon-lime bubbles suiting him to the bone.

“Mmm. It was dry as dirt out there, huh?”

“Yeah. Yeah, and I’m pretty sure my mouth was open when I hit the ground.” His molars were a little gritty.

“Ew. No cow shit, Mini.”

Jason snorted, tickled shitless. “No. Although God knows how much we’ve eaten accidentally over the years.”

“Stop.” Bax pinched his hip. “That’s nasty.”

“No pinching!” He rolled toward Bax, trying not to spill his drink. “You’re such a wuss.”

“I am not. I swim with you at your momma’s place. There’s snake poop in there.” Bax had a point there. Jason wasn’t real sure what the point was, but Bax had one.

“I don’t even want to think about what all is in that pond, Bax.”

“Nope.”

They kinda…lounged. Just sat there and breathed like great big lazy gators. He laughed a little at that. Gators did okay blind, according to Beau Lafitte.

“What’s funny, Mini?”

“Alligators.”

“That ain’t funny. That’s a lot of teeth.”

“You’re just grumpy. Most days they’re funny.”

“Kinda, yeah.” Bax took his hand. “Sorry I yelled, Mini.”

“I’m trying. I swear to God. I’m trying hard to do this.” And God knew there were more than a few days when he just wanted to give up, to go home to Momma’s and admit defeat. Shit fire and save matches, what the fuck was he thinking, riding blind? He’d got his bell rung when he could see.

“I know. I know it.” Bax sighed. “I want— Shit, Mini, I want you to be happy, and you’re not.”

“I don’t want to ride the little events forever. I don’t want to be a has-been.” He didn’t want to be a burden.

“You’re not. You’re doing amazing.”

Now, Bax wasn’t one to blow smoke up anyone’s ass, so the words perked him up a little bit.

“You think so? I feel like a fuck-up.”

“That’s because we’re all always telling you what to do.”

He traced Bax’s fingers, one after another. Lord have mercy, those calluses felt like heaven when they touched him. The fact that they’d never touched him when he couldn’t see wasn’t lost on him. Bax had saved him. Completely. Fucker.

“You’re pouring smoke, Jason. Out of your brain.” Bax chuckled. “Thinkin’ ain’t what we do best.”

“Fuck no. We do stupid shit and drink beer.” It was the cowboy way, after all.

“See? I knew it.” Bax rolled to kiss his cheek.

“Knew what?” He could meet Bax halfway.

“That we’re better not thinking.” Bax laughed, poking his ribs.

He chuckled. “No shit on that, man.”

“Mmm.” Bax settled in right against his hip. “I got you, Jason. You just scared me, is all.”

“Scared me too. I hate being this way.”

“I know.” Those fingers moved over him, Bax stroking his belly.

Goosepimples climbed up his skin, heading from hips to nipples. “Mmm. I don’t hate this, though.”

“No, sir. I love this. Holding you. Touching you.”

“Good deal.”

Bax was breathing, steady and sure, and the rhythm liked to hypnotized him. “That is a good deal,” Bax agreed.

“We are. I mean, this is. Us. Christ.”

“It is what it is.” That was right down Zen of Bax.

He nodded and let his eyes close. It was the only way he could see colors. Sometimes he thought he could see Bax. Sometimes he knew he could.

“You’re smiling.” Bax rewarded him with a kiss.

He didn’t say why, and it didn’t matter. Nothing he did would change his world. No sense getting Bax’s hopes up.

Together, they’d get through today. Tomorrow too.

The day after that would just have to take care of itself.

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About the Author

BA Tortuga

Texan to the bone and an unrepentant Daddy’s Girl, BA Tortuga spends her days with her basset hounds and her beloved wife, texting her buddies, and eating Mexican food. When she’s not doing that, she’s writing. She spends her days off watching rodeo, knitting and surfing Pinterest in the name of research. BA’s personal saviors include her wife, Julia Talbot, her best friends, and coffee. Lots of coffee. Really good coffee.

Having written everything from fist-fighting rednecks to hard-core cowboys to werewolves, BA does her damnedest to tell the stories of her heart, which was raised in Northeast Texas, but has heard the call of the high desert and lives in the Sandias. With books ranging from hard-hitting romance, to fiery menages, to the most traditional of love stories, BA refuses to be pigeon-holed by anyone but the voices in her head.

You can check out BA’s website and blog, and follow her on Pinterest and Instagram.

Giveaway

Enter and get a FREE romance book from the author!

BA Tortuga’s Leading the Blind Giveaway

ENTER HERE AND GET A FREE EBOOK FROM THE AUTHOR! Notice: This competition ends on 22nd June 2021 at 5pm GMT. Competition hosted by Totally Entwined Group.

Book Blitz & Excerpt: The Hunter’s Heart + Giveaway

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The Hunter’s Heart, by Astrid Sharpe

Book 1 in the Love After Earth series

Word Count: 72,708
Book Length: SUPER NOVEL
Pages: 262

Genres:

ACTION AND ADVENTURE
CONTEMPORARY
EROTIC ROMANCE
SCIENCE FICTION

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Book Description

I thought my job sucked. But I’m about to be sold as a breeder to a seven-foot panther-man, so things can get worse…much worse.

Zensah is the reluctant leader of his nearing-extinction tribe. He’d thought he was paying the passage for willing settlers, not abducted females. If only he’d trusted his instincts and refused the trade. But then he would never have met Poppy, the brave human leader whose beautiful eyes burn with courage and defiance. She’s the only female he’s ever yearned to claim as his mate. But will she ever accept him?

When Poppy fights her captors, Zensah and his men help the humans escape, but find themselves stranded in the wild territories of his home planet. Determined to live independently, Poppy asks Zensah to teach her survival skills on their journey to her rendezvous with her fellow humans. She should hate him… Except she’s never felt so alive.

Reader advisory: This book contains scenes of abduction and some violence.

Excerpt

Poppy

South East London, UK

It’s the end of another long, uneventful day.

I lower the security shutters at Frank’s Fries and the metal rolls down with a rusty shriek. Graffiti and dents are littered across its surface and when the mechanism sticks—as it always does—I give the key my signature wiggle to get it working again. I’m the only one Frank trusts with a key. I’m still paid the same as the other girls, though. ‘Times are tough.

It could be worse, I remind myself, as I look up at the stars. I can still see a few of them, despite the sickly glow of the estate. I suck in the frosty air and close my eyes, savoring the cold. After standing for hours over a deep fat fryer, it’s a nice change. Turning away from the fish and chip shop, I head home.

It’s times like these when I miss Mum the most. She was so ill for so long that everything else passed us by. There’ll be no one waiting for me back at the flat tonight, or any night, and the loneliness gets me down sometimes.

I walk through the alleyways with my head down and my collar up. Summercotes Estate is a 1970s concrete monstrosity. Three tower-blocks loom over the estate, flanked on all sides by low-rises that sprawl beneath like tentacles. A labyrinth of streets and alleyways. Frank says the architect who designed it called it ‘the future of social housing.

Streets in the skies!’ Frank had said with a snort, wiping meaty fingers on a greasy towel. ‘More like a crumbling rat maze!’

There’s a faint crunch to my right, and unease shivers down my spine. I look around me, but the street is empty. The surrounding flats are scattered with lights, but I don’t see anyone at the windows. I stride out into a pool of light from a streetlamp overhead, the entrance to my tower block in sight.

There’s a heavy thud behind me. Thick arms grab me around the waist, pulling me into the shadows. I’m dragged into the darkness, my boots scraping uselessly against the pavement. A cold, wet hand clamps over my mouth, choking my scream. It’s followed by a sharp prick of pain as a needle plunges into my neck. My muffled cries and desperate struggles are the only sounds I hear as the shadows close in, taking my world with them.

* * * *

I jolt awake, my heart pounding against my ribs like it’s about to burst out of my chest Alien-style. My eyelids are too heavy to open. I try to sit up, but I only manage to raise my head an inch off the ground. There’s a slight resistance against my neck, and my head flops back against hard metal. The surface is flat and smooth like a table. My ears are ringing, and my mind is sluggish.

The memory of being attacked hits me hard and fast. My whole body tenses.

I’m not lying on the pavement!

I must have been drugged. Panic grips me by the throat. My muscles contract painfully, coiled to run but without the energy to do more than tremble. What the fuck! Why would someone drug me? Who would abduct me? What have they done already and what else are they going to do? My stomach heaves.

Calm down. Think!

I focus on my breathing, gulping down air until the cramp in my limbs begins to ease and my heartbeat steadies. Apart from the grogginess and dull headache, I’m not in pain anywhere else. In fact, I’m still fully dressed. My skinny jeans and work shirt scratch against my skin. I still smell of batter, grease and vinegar. It’s familiar and comforting. The sick bastard who grabbed me hasn’t done anything…yet.

I’m not sure if I should be relieved—I guess it depends if he’s still here. I notice a wheezing and croaking sound to my right, but I don’t hear anything else.

Cracking open my eyes, I’m blinded by a yellow light above me and I turn my face to the side. It takes my eyes a second to adjust. Despite the piercing light above, the rest of the room is dim—either that or I’m still feeling the aftereffects of whatever crazy cocktail I’ve been injected with.

The shadows coalesce, forming shapes that I recognize. There’s a young woman laid out on a metal table beside me, presumably like the one I’m lying on. She’s wearing a party dress, jacket and heels. Her long blonde hair is a wild mess. Her pretty face is turned up toward the lamp above. But her eyes are closed as if she’s asleep. Glowing bars are strapped around her limbs and chest. I glance down at my own body. Yep, same glowing bands.

The lamp above the blonde descends, and it’s then I notice the figure standing beside her.

My limbs jerk and shiver against the restraints.

It’s a man-sized toad, pulling the lamp down with huge, webbed hands.

I squeeze my eyes shut.

It’s not real! It can’t be! It has to be a guy in a suit, right? Some sick prank?

Fuck! I’ve been abducted by Kermit!

A weird hysterical giggle chokes out of my mouth. I gasp for air, trying my best not to hyperventilate.

I peek again. This time my world tilts with dread and horror.

This isn’t a joke. The way it moves, the sweat on its skin, the flicker of intelligence and malice in its eyes…

It’s nothing like the fuzzy puppet, but it is frog-like, or toad-like I should say. This thing is freaky. It’s standing on two webbed feet, its thick muscular legs out of all proportion to its shorter arms. It’s tall, at least over six foot, and strong judging by the cords of muscles on its limbs. It wears a black boiler suit with a utility belt full of surgical needles and horrific blades. Its skin is dark green with luminous jade markings.

It looks wet, slimy and utterly repulsive.

However, its head is the worst thing of all. There’s no neck, only thick shoulders curving upward toward a huge bulbous mouth. Two bulging eyes, each one the size of my fist, sit on top of its flat nose. The wheezing and croaking are coming from the monster. As it inflates its throat and snaps its rubber lips, I realize it’s talking. I can hear another voice, but there’s a crackle to it like it’s coming from a loudspeaker.

My ears pop, and I’m dizzy for a moment. An eerie sensation washes over me, as if something inside my brain has switched on. Synapses fire and the sounds the monster makes aren’t wheezing croaks anymore, but words. The sounds have meaning and my brain understands them.

“I’m almost done. One more language download to go,” he says. Its voice is a deep baritone, so I presume it’s a ‘he’.

The monster peels back one of the blonde woman’s eyelids with a long silver tool. He pushes the lamp directly over her unfocused iris. She’s unconscious. Thank God.

I guess I was too, and I’m grateful for that when I see the light change to a bright blue laser. Her body jerks against the restraints in a terrible and involuntary way, as if she’s having a fit. It stops immediately as the light changes back to yellow.

“So, are they suitable?” asks a disembodied voice.

“They will breed well with Relicai,” says the monster, and I shiver at his words. I don’t want to ‘breed’. I want this nightmare to end. Especially if the ‘Relicai’ are anything like this thing. The monster returns the lamp to its original position and removes the tool from her eye, dropping it into a nearby dish with a clang.

She groans, her eyelids fluttering.

“They’re awake,” he says, looking past me. I turn my head to follow his gaze. Three more women are laid out on the other side of me in a row like in a morgue.

The blonde screams, a high-pitched hysterical sound.

The monster winces and stabs at a button on the lamp. Her scream is strangled as her whole body becomes rigid and her joints lock. Pain contorts her pretty features into a mask of horror.

“Please! Leave her alone! Stop!” I shout, but he takes no notice of me. His eyes are fixed on his victim, his head tilted to the side and a repugnant smile on his rubbery lips. Loud sobs echo through the room, and someone farther down tries to shush them. To my utter relief, the monster releases the blonde from her purgatory and she slumps, her breathing fast and shallow.

“Do. Not. Scream!” he snaps at the blonde, each word a clear threat to all of us. He looks over at me and grins. I can’t bear to look at him and turn my face away.

I make eye contact with the woman lying next to me. Her dark eyes are focused and penetrating, her bruised jaw and fists are clenched tight as silent tears roll down her cheeks.

The tables slowly rise up to a ninety-degree angle, like we’re about to go on a hellish rollercoaster ride. I didn’t cry at first. I was too shocked to cry. Now, I’m struggling to fight back the tears, determined to not give our abductors the satisfaction of seeing my fear.

I think back to the bullies on the estate. The best way to stay safe is always to keep out of their way. Or if you had to pass them, you had to act tough, give them no reason to pick on you. Then run as soon and as fast as you could.

The monster stands in front of us. The tables we were lying on are now upright vertical pillars, giving us the appearance of standing, when in fact we are still being held completely still by the glowing bands—a macabre butterfly display.

“Can you all understand me?” he asks. Bulging eyes snap between us with reptilian speed. I understand his words, but when I think of ‘yes’ in his language, there’s no way I can replicate the sounds he makes.

I nod dumbly instead, and he coughs up some more words that my brain quickly translates. “You may speak in your own language. I will understand.”

“What do you want from us?” chokes out the dark-haired woman beside me. Purple bruises are blooming on her neck and arms. She’d put up a fight. Except she’s still here with us. I look a little more closely at our captor and notice there are some discolorations on his arms and face. She got a few hits in before they took her down. Good for her. The knowledge that he can be hurt is comforting.

“You’ve been given a gift. A new life,” he says, sounding smug.

“Bullshit!” I snap, trying to be ‘tough Poppy’. “He’s going to breed us!”

“We are currently orbiting the Relicais’ home planet, where you will soon be delivered. The Relicai have very few females. You will be treasured amongst them,” he explains calmly, and I breathe a sigh of relief that he didn’t shock me as punishment for speaking out.

“We’re going to be sex slaves?” A brunette gasps in horror, her accent dripping with privilege. They’ve taken us from all over. Curious, I strain to get a better look at her. She’s draped in an oversized cashmere jumper, with perfect Dior makeup and Ugg boots. She sounds like one of those socialites from Chelsea.

The monster is getting impatient. His skin ripples like a chameleon’s as he shifts his splayed feet. “They’re a peaceful race. Your life will be better there.”

“Then how come you didn’t ask us to sign up? Be tributes or whatever.” When his slimy gaze focuses on me, I instantly regret drawing his attention for the second time. But if I don’t speak up to find out answers, who will?

The monster sighs as if he can’t be arsed with the human slave orientation he’s been dumped with. “We are Greenskins, a master race. Your permission is not required, or desired. I would suggest you do not fight against your situation.” He looks pointedly at the bruised lady beside me. She glares back, and I like her even more.

“Why me?” sobs the redhead to no one in particular. She’s eastern European by her accent.

The Greenskin doesn’t seem to understand rhetorical questions. “We used specific criteria—age, health and location, as well as the fact that you will not be missed.”

Harsh but fair. “Fuck you,” I grumble.

“No, thank you,” replies the Greenskin with a slow blink in my direction, and my stomach lurches. I gulp back the hot bile in my throat. Best be careful what I say in future.

“I’ll be missed!” cries the redhead. “You’ve got the wrong person! Take me back! I’ll be missed.” She falls back into hysterical sobbing, and tears burn the backs of my eyes.

“No, Anna, you will not.” The Greenskin laughs, or at least that’s what I think it is. “The Relicai will arrive soon, and you will be released for the exchange. If I were you, I would make a good impression. Life on the Relicai home world is hard. You will need to please them. Your future happiness depends upon it.” He leaves the room without a backward glance.

I look at the women around me. They look as horrified and desperate as I feel. I try to think of something to comfort the sobbing Anna. But honestly, I can’t think of anything that might help. ‘At least you’ve got your health’, and all the other crap I heard after Mum died doesn’t quite cut it right now.

I clear my throat and try to compose myself. I don’t sound like I’m about to freak out, which is a clear win in this current situation. I take a deep breath, resolving to stay strong no matter what—somebody has to. When Mum was dying I managed to take care of everything for years. I can do this! “I’m Poppy.”

There’s silence for a moment, and the fighter beside me speaks up, her voice a brittle whisper. “Harpreet.”

“Ceri,” says the blonde, her Welsh accent awash with tears.

“Louisa,” adds the brunette.

Anna cries some more, and I don’t blame her.

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About the Author

Astrid Sharpe

I’ve had a long love affair with all genres of romance since I first picked up my mum’s fabulous Fabio books as a teenager. I love to create stories and characters that are out of this world, and I hope you enjoy reading them. I live in East London with my husband, two children and two cats, when I’m not writing I pour pints at my local theatre.

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