Book Blitz & Excerpt: Straight to the Heart + Giveaway

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Straight to the Heart
by S.J. Coles

Word Count: 33,482
Book Length: SHORT NOVEL
Pages: 142
Genres: CONTEMPORARY, CRIME, CRIME AND MYSTERY, EROTIC ROMANCE, GAY, GLBTQI, MEN IN UNIFORM

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Book Description

 

What happens when the person you can’t get out of your head also happens to be the number one suspect in your murder investigation?

Derek Benson, CEO of Benson Industries, is found dead in his office at a time when everyone in the building, including him, should have been at an important meeting about the company’s future. Conveniently for the killer, the security footage from the time of the murder has vanished.

None of this fazes FBI Agent James Solomon. James knows himself, his job and how to set aside his ongoing personal problems to get the job done, even when the investigation is in a small-town backwater like Winton.

There’s just one problem—the intriguing form of young lab technician Leo Hannah, an employee of Benson Industries and a key witness, who appears to know more than he’s admitting to.

As the investigation progresses, James finds that his previously steadfast ability to separate personal from professional becomes increasingly unreliable. Can he get his head in the game before he compromises the investigation and his future career?

Reader advisory: Ths book contains a scene of public sex, graphic corpse description, and scenes involving violence, abduction and attempted murder.

Excerpt

James Solomon knew it was unprofessional—unethical, even—to be grateful for the murder of a high-profile businessman two days before what would have been his parents’ fortieth wedding anniversary. But his robust professional pride couldn’t put a dent in the very real relief he felt when the call had come through.

He climbed out of the rented car outside Benson Industries HQ and breathed in the brisk sea breeze. The early morning was still gloomy, casting everything in shadow. Gibson slammed the passenger door with a sigh as a woman in a sheriff’s uniform hurried over to meet them.

“Agents, thanks for coming so quickly.”

“No problem, Sheriff,” Gibson replied, her face schooled professionally blank. “The sooner we start, the better. Sheriff Coyle, right?”

“That’s right,” the middle-aged woman said, her smile doing nothing to warm the pale set of her face.

“Agent Lisa Gibson,” Gibson responded, shaking the other woman’s hand then indicating James. “Agent James Solomon. We’ve had the incident reports, but can you fill us in using your own words?”

“Sure. Follow me,” Sheriff Coyle said, her voice a bit steadier. She preceded them to the wide, glass entrance and swiped a card through a reader. They paced past the empty reception desk and down a marble-tiled corridor. The place was deserted, the black eyes of cameras the only things watching them. “The vic is Derek Benson, fifty-five years old,” the sheriff continued. “Born here in Winton, then got a job with the FDA in Maryland after college. Struck out on his own at age thirty. Now he’s the owner, CEO, director—you name it—of Benson Industries.”

“Specialist pharmaceuticals, right?” Gibson asked, scanning reports on her phone.

“That’s right. Pulling in some pretty serious business these days. Some big names on the client list. That’s why we called you guys in.”

“So what happened?”

“Benson was found by the janitor in his office this morning, shot three times in the chest.”

“Time of death?” Gibson asked.

“Our ME is putting it around nine p.m. last night, though he says he can be more accurate after the postmortem.”

“And you said the security camera footage is missing?” Gibson asked, eyeing another camera as they strode past.

“Yeah,” said the sheriff with a weary exasperation James could more than identify with. “The security system backs up everything onto disk. The disks from eight p.m. last night to three this morning have been taken.”

“No online backup?” James ventured, not hopefully, as they stepped onto an elevator.

Coyle shook her head. “I don’t think Benson trusted the cloud and all that. They’re dusting the Security Room for prints where the disks were kept now.”

“Did Benson often work that late?” Gibson asked as the elevator hummed up to the seventh floor.

“He put a lot of hours in, sure, but there was some kind of business presentation last night. All the heads of department and senior staff were here from seven-thirty onward. Plus, some of the lab rats were working late on a deadline.”

“Lab rats?” James queried, as Coyle led them out onto a level that was all glass walls and spacious offices with big desks and bold, minimalist furniture.

“The technicians,” she said, glancing this way and that, as if wary of what might be hiding in the maze of glass. “We have a list of everyone who was in the building at the time from the swipe system, though so far no one saw anyone leave the conference room or the labs.”

“How many people are we talking?” Gibson, warily.

Coyle pulled a battered notepad from a back pocket and flipped through it. “Thirty-one.”

“That’s a lot of people with opportunity,” Gibson muttered.

“One of them was his wife,” Coyle added. “Melissa Benson.”

“His wife was at the business meeting?”

Coyle nodded. “She’s a senior partner in the firm. She delivered one of the presentations.”

“At what time?”

“Pretty much the same time they reckon he was shot,” Coyle said and grimaced. “Sorry.”

“Well, we wouldn’t want it to be too easy. She looks younger than him,” Gibson said, examining a photo of Melissa Benson on the arm of her husband at some event on a news website.

“She’s his second wife. He and his first divorced about ten years ago.”

“Amicably?”

“I’m afraid so,” Coyle said with another sympathetic expression.

“What did you think of the victim?” James asked, watching the sheriff’s face.

“Me?” Her forehead creased. “I didn’t know him.”

“But you knew of him,” James pressed. “Big company. Small town. You had to have some impression of what he was like.”

Coyle slid him a sideways glance. “He did stuff for some local charities. Donated to a few nature conservation causes and the homeless actions—that kind of thing.”

“But?” James prompted, seeing her face had tightened.

Coyle looked uncomfortable. “He hired most of his staff from out-of-town. They don’t live here. They don’t contribute to the economy and they can get the locals’ backs up. Snobbish, some say. Elitist.”

“What would you say?”

“I’ve never had much contact,” Coyle hedged. “They’re law-abiding and keep to themselves.”

“What do you make of the wife, Melissa?”

“Reserved.”

“She’s not upset?”

“Oh, she’s upset,” Coyle said. “But she’s not the sort to go to pieces in front of the likes of me.”

“The report said the murder weapon was his own gun,” James said, carefully logging the sheriff’s last reply away for further consideration.

“Sure looks that way. He kept it in his desk.” Coyle stopped at one of the glass doors, where a uniformed officer, looking a little green, stood at attention. The body of Derek Benson was slumped in a large, designer office chair under the window. Blood splattered up the glass behind him, looking like red rain suspended in the gray sky. The crime-scene photographer was taking close-ups of the bullet wounds while his partner, who looked old enough to have been the scene technician at the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, was bent over the desk, sweeping for prints as delicately as if he were applying makeup.

“We don’t get much murder here,” Coyle murmured. “Winton’s a peaceful town. We get some drugs, some drunk and disorderlies, a bit of fraud. But stuff like this?” She shook her head.

“A big company shoe-horned into a small community,” James ventured, watching both the officers’ faces, “can cause friction.”

Coyle raised her eyebrows. “Big companies are fine. But BI’s too big—and only likely to get bigger.”

“Oh yes?” Gibson prompted, pulling on some gloves and pushing open the door.

“That’s what they’re saying that presentation was about,” Coyle said, hanging back near the door as Gibson bent over the body. “They’re striking a deal with an international distributer for their newest antiviral.”

“Do you know which distributer?” James asked, examining the photographs hanging on the interior wall. Black-and-white shots of the local harbor, mostly, plus a few of the hills west of the town.

Coyle frowned at her notepad, ruffling the pages. “It’s in here somewhere. I’m sure it went in the report.”

“It did,” Gibson replied, giving James a hard look. “Loadstone Inc.”

Coyle smiled a relieved smile, and Gibson went back to scrutinizing the crumpled form of Derek Benson. His chin was on his chest. A rope of blood-speckled saliva hung from a corner of his lined mouth. His skin was yellow-gray and his limbs stiff with the rigor of someone dead nearly twelve hours. His hands, hairless and manicured, rested in his lap. His eyebrows were heavy and dark. His thinning hair was iron gray, though still almost black at the nape. He wore an expensive suit and a dark, conservative tie. Blood soaked his shirtfront and pooled under the chair. The gun was on the floor by the desk. A desk drawer stood wide open.

“All three shots went right into his heart,” Gibson said, leaning close to the wounds. “The killer knew how to shoot.”

“There’s a lock on the drawer but not a complex one,” James said, examining the keypad on the drawer front.

“And there’s no signs of a struggle,” Gibson replied, surveying the rest of the meticulously tidy office.

James nodded. “Someone he knew. Someone he trusted too—or at least someone he wasn’t afraid of or he’d have been standing.”

“But that could be any one of the thirty-one people in the building last night,” Gibson said sourly. She stood with her hands on her hips, glaring at the corpse like it had done her personal harm. “The question is, did he get the gun out himself or did the killer?”

“Business expansion,” James said, tilting the computer monitor toward him. The screen saver was another artistic shot of Winton Harbor. James began entering the most popular password choices. “Not always a popular move.”

“And why was he here?” Gibson frowned. “With a big-deal presentation evening happening in the conference room and the future of his company in the balance?”

“And he’s sitting in his office four floors up,” James affirmed, smiling when ‘qwerty123’ allowed him into the computer. “Writing an email to personnel, by the look of it.” He gestured at the screen. Gibson came to his elbow and bent to examine the open, unsent email with ‘Contract Termination’ typed into the subject line and a blinking cursor in the blank form.

Gibson was quiet a moment. James moved to a set of bookshelves against the far wall and scanned the titles. Tomes on business management, chemistry, biology, academic journals on pharmaceuticals and FDA manuals took up most of the upper shelves. The lower ones held several battered volumes on the history of Winton and the surrounding area, plus some on blues, jazz and soul music, with a Frank Sinatra biography thrown in for good measure.

“I think we have all we need,” Gibson said to Coyle, who was watching them with an expectant air. “The ME can take him away now.” Coyle nodded and stepped back out into the corridor, dialing a number on her cell. “And how about you stop making digs at the local law enforcement, Agent?” Gibson scolded softly.

“If they slip up this early on, it’ll end in roadblocks,” he returned, watching Coyle through the glass. “And we need to establish local feeling about the situation.”

“Consider it established. Are you getting anything on this guy?”

“He loved his town…and music,” James mused, glancing around the office again. “But I think he loved his company more.”

“His company grossed several million last year. I can see why he had a soft spot for it.” Coyle was just hanging up the phone as they rejoined her. “Okay, Sheriff. We need you to round up the employees from last night. We’ll question them here.”

“Yes, ma’am,” she said. “Most of them will be turning up to work at eight anyway.”

“Good,” said Gibson, looking at her watch and repressing a sigh. “Tell them they can only have the building back when we’re done. That’ll get them through the door.”

Coyle nodded and hurried off.

“We’re doing the interviews here?” James questioned.

“One,” Gibson said, holding up a finger and moving back toward the elevator, “interviewing near the crime scene could get the killer twitchy and we might get a hit early, meaning I can be back in time for my husband’s promotion dinner tomorrow. And two,” she said, stabbing the elevator button with more force than was necessary, “getting everyone across town to the Winton Police Station with its single interview room and stone-age Wi-Fi will add hours to the whole damn circus. I’m not paid enough to be here any longer than necessary on what should have been my vacation week.”

James set up his interview station in the room he was directed to, put the digital recorder on the desk, pulled out a new, leather-bound notepad and re-read the initial reports on his phone as the clock ticked toward eight a.m.

He frowned when his personal phone buzzed in his pocket. He pulled it out, saw the number and cut the call. Shortly after, a police officer ushered in a tall woman in a business suit. She was already flustered and annoyed. James could already see a queue of similarly well-dressed and irritated people lining up outside. He flipped open his notebook, indicated the chair opposite and began.

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About the Author

S. J. Coles

S. J. Coles is a Romance writer originally from Shropshire, UK. She has been writing stories for as long as she has been able to read them. Her biggest passion is exploring narratives through character relationships.

She finds writing LGBT/paranormal romance provides many unique and fulfilling opportunities to explore many (often neglected or under-represented) aspects of human experience, expectation, emotion and sexuality.

Among her biggest influences are LGBT Romance authors K J Charles and Josh Lanyon and Vampire Chronicles author Anne Rice.

Find S. J. Coles at her website and follow her on Instagram.

Giveaway

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S.J. Coles’ Straight to the Heart Giveaway

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Book Blit & Excerpt: Hack + Giveaway

Hack Banner

Hack

Deana Birch

Word Count: 81,815
Book Length: SUPER NOVEL
Pages: 313
Genres: ACTION AND ADVENTURE, CONTEMPORARY, CRIME, CRIME AND MYSTERY, ENEMIES TO LOVERS, EROTIC ROMANCE, THRILLERS AND SUSPENSE

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An online criminal craves real-life danger, but her flawed instincts may cost her new crew everything.

Rafael Santos didn’t get the nickname ‘Goldie Locks’ for his shimmering blond curls. His hair is as black as his criminal heart. No, it’s his Midas touch. His ability to earn—coupled with a love for theft and technology—has gained him the coveted Number Two position in the Covington Heights crew. The problem is…after a murder that sent their regular clients packing, even his numbers are down. Now, finding new sources of illegal income is his number one priority.

Marigold Pfeifer is the fairy princess of online deceit. She can slip her computer viruses into a system at the blink of an eye and steal personal information in a twinkly flash. And that’s exactly what she does when screen name ‘GoldieLocks’ slides into her instant messenger. What’d he expect? A gift card?

But when the naïve hacker rides the train uptown to check out mysterious Covington Heights, she’s approached by the leader of the crew and forced to think fast on her feet. A hate-filled rivalry sparks between her and Rafael—and with it a deviously sinful attraction.

Will real-life criminals and the danger they breed be enough to wise up the goth-pixie with zero street smarts when she must navigate dark waters—or will her flawed instincts burn all she’s worked for to the ground?

Reader advisory: This book contains scenes of violence and drug use.

Excerpt

Rafa

They gym we shared on the third floor in Covington Heights was haunted by the spirit of our former crew member Leo. I was sure of it. As I circled around the blue sparring mat trying to find my next move, I could almost hear him whisper in my ear.

Where’s the weakness?

The problem was that the man opposite me didn’t have very many soft spots and his steel-blue eyes were like the tip of his sword. They pierced before anything else. As he narrowed his gaze ever so slightly, he would land his next punch. His brick fist slammed into the cheekbone just below my left eye. Pain slapped the side of my face, but I wouldn’t let it spread to my ego. It wasn’t personal, that I knew. Anton was pissed and working out his frustrations. Hell, we all were.

“Ooo…” He jogged backward. “You okay there, Goldie Locks?” His fake sympathy was followed by a proud smile but he wouldn’t get any complaints or signs of weakness from me.

“You know I like it rough.” I winked and walked over to the small fridge at the back of the gym where my boy Jackson and I had started keeping ice packs. Shit happened. Anton wasn’t as good a teacher as Leo, but practicing was the only way to get better, stronger.

Since Leo’s abrupt departure, Anton had been a miserable prick. He’d turned into the crankiest bitch I’d ever seen. And he had a serious alpha complex. His physical dominance wasn’t only a reminder that he was a better fighter. It was the exclamation point that our asses belonged to him…or else.

Leo had gotten away with too much, and those who were still around were paying the price. I shot a knowing glance to Jackson, who looked away and continued to do his bicep curls on a bench near the door.

Anton wrapped a towel around his bare shoulders and said, “Jackson, meet me in fifteen at my place. Scooter’s bringing the numbers from Bradford South.”

I dug out the frozen bag of blue gel then sat on the side of the treadmill as I pressed it into my cheek—bitter cold relief for a festering wound of the bossman’s frustration. No one could spar like Leo. Message received. No one was going to be allowed to get away with the same disrespect. Got it. But penance for other people’s sins was getting old quick. Unfortunately, all was fair in crime and crews. Did I like taking a blow from time to time? Honestly? Yeah, I did. I wanted to be better, wanted to learn. I craved more respect and was plotting ways to get it.

Anton tipped up his chin and winked at me. It was his way of checking in. That was also part of his management technique or whatever-the-fuck way he kept us down but happy. Show the power first, then a hint of giving a shit. I’d seen it before. I actually didn’t mind it. The familiarity was somehow comforting.

“Let’s make some fucking money today.” Anton looked us over one last time before leaving, his glare emphasizing that it was a command, not a request.

I walked over to Jackson, my former roommate and literal partner in crime. We’d bonded over not having fucked-up families, just fucked-up circumstances, Xbox and both refusing to become adult enough to drink coffee. Plus, we liked the idea of belonging somewhere. And the money… We liked the money.

Jackson set the weights down on the gray concrete floor. “He needs to get laid.”

More like I needed to get laid. I’d given up on banging girls from our neighborhood. There was nothing interesting about being worshiped. Besides, they only did it in hopes of making their lives better. None of them really ever bothered to get to know me, not to mention that half of them were customers. That was more trouble than it was worth.

I shook my head. Anton had no problem there. “He needs to make more money.” It was true that since we’d knocked off Mac, who had been a regular patron at our backdoor gambling racket, attendance had gone down to zero. No one liked the idea of tempting Anton’s quick fuse and ending up in the river—not that we’d thrown Mac in the river, of course.

Lucky for us, the police had written off the Bradford murders as a drug deal gone wrong and hadn’t cared to search much further. Our sources at the precinct said there had been mild rumblings of it seeming like a professional hit because of the precision, but, in the end, it was a criminal-on-criminal crime and they tended not to waste too many resources on shit like that.

Jackson stood and put his hands on his hips. “What are you up to later? I’m moving my stuff to Lisa’s and could use a hand.”

“Aww. You all lonely and shit since I moved out?”

Jackson rolled his dark brown eyes. “Nah. I’m all horny and shit since she finally let me tap that ass. Besides, I like showing Junior what a stable woman looks like.” He held my gaze for a brief second.

There was no need to explain. I’d seen Jackson’s baby-mama Bridget at our bench in the courtyard too many times in the last month. Selling drugs was a lot less fun when it was to the mother of one of your favorite kids, which brought me full circle to the money problem. We were a small operation. Sure, we had gained territory since the Bradford Towers crew had taken the hit. But with the game numbers down, I was pretty sure that the money decline was tainting Anton’s mood more than the loss of his previous sidekick. The bossman wasn’t exactly sentimental.

I pressed the cool into my cheek. It had thawed a little and was losing its original stiffness. “I’m working on something…a new business venture. Just waiting on a contact.”

Jackson rubbed his jaw. Maybe he’d taken a couple of hits I hadn’t seen. “Well, get fuckin’ crackin’.” He gave me a little salute and was gone.

I reached for a hand towel and wiped the residual sweat off my arms and chest. I hadn’t always wanted to be a law-breaking shit who sold people poison. It was just that I’d been bored—bored in school, bored in life, bored everywhere except in my own head. There, everything spun. It was like other people’s brains were funnels catching raindrops and all the information came to one eventual stream of thought. Mine? A constant downpour where I wanted to see every single bead of water and analyze it. That was what my high school computer teacher had said, anyway. He’d also said that was why I would be great in IT. Yeah, that ‘career path’ had taken an odd but predictable turn.

Breaking into people’s computers calmed me—and had earned me my first trip to juvey. When I’d gotten out and met Anton… Well, it all just seemed like destiny. But Anton was hard, from his jawline to his inability to show compassion. I didn’t have that darkness inside. Not that it mattered… I’d made my choices. A life in a suit and a picket fence with a puppy wasn’t going to happen for me.

I left the gym and went across the hall to the apartment I’d shared with Anton since Leo had moved out. The spray of his shower echoed down the hall that led to his room. I headed in the opposite direction, crashed on my bed with a thud and reached for my laptop.

I logged in to my favorite online chat for hackers and it only took a second for my idol to send me a direct message. Bingo.

Majel213: Going live in five. Glad you finally decided to show up, Goldie.

As if I would miss it. Majel213 was my Internet spirit animal. I typed my response.

GoldieLocks: Highlight of my day. You know I’ve been itching to see what you’ve been scheming.

I always tried to up my nerd and downplay my street vibe whenever she and I chatted. The tech geek in me wanted her to respect my brains, as fucking stupid as that was. Online, I could be anybody. The idea of someone liking me for my intelligence was an out-of-body experience. In the six months since I’d found Majel213 and her wicked tutorials, we’d somehow become friends. Well, maybe not friends—but more than online strangers. It was just that we’d never actually seen each other. I’d never offered a profile pic in our chats and she did all her videos without showing her face.

I was sure that if she knew I was just some street criminal who’d never really carried out an impressive hack, I would lose the connection we’d built. And I needed her. Getting my hands on her malware was a way to keep my Midas touch.

The nickname ‘Goldie Locks’ had evolved over the years from ‘Golden Boy’, neither of which had anything to do with my hair. That was pitch black. It was because I was a good earner and I’d gotten the light-eye gene from my Brazilian heritage. The fact that the name had turned into a fairy-tale character didn’t bother me. In fact, when I’d first starting using it online, I’d catfished quite a few idiots.

Five minutes later, I clicked over to the 677CrackChat and logged in. Holy hell. Majel213’s raspy voice played over my thin speaker and she was transmitting dual screens.

“Meet Nathanial E. Tomjak. He lives in North Dakota, loves to fish and hunt. He’s new to all this because, quote, ‘my daughter finally convinced me to join the social media thingy.’ No one suspects he’s not a real person because his picture, which I photoshopped to change eye color, hair color, skin tone and age, is right here for all to see.”

She clicked on the picture and enlarged it to fit the screen. If she hadn’t said it was altered, I would have never guessed. Nathanial E. Tomjak was the epitome of a Midwestern retired grandpa, complete with triple chin, racing T-shirt and warm smile.

“So, Nate—I call him Nate—Nate was a creation of a profile after I had already found”—she clicked a couple of times and brought up a picture of Caroline Claussen—”this sweet, cat-loving mama.”

The kind face of an older woman replaced the screen. “Caroline works for the sheriff of Zapata Falls and is my number one target for malware.”

There was a slight East Coast accent in Majel213’s voice. Her pronunciation of ‘number’ sounded a little like a ‘numba’ and I let myself believe that one day I might meet my nerd crush face-to-face and she would be hot, which was stupid. Finding the sexy librarian type in real life who could live up to my fantasies was proving to be difficult. Also, the whole selling drugs to pay the rent never went over well with the smart girls I liked.

But Majel213? She was my perfect blend of intelligence and criminal. By her screen name, she was in camp Star Trek over Star Wars. Her clever and deviant behavior inspired my own. We were soulmates, I was sure—me and the other four hundred sixty-three dorks watching her show us the latest and sneakiest ways to crack, hack and hide.

I propped up the pillows behind me, workout stank be damned, laid a towel on my chest under my laptop and settled in. I was ready to learn everything she had to teach me.

And listen to her. Fuck, I loved the sound of her voice. It was low and seductive, but she was also funny. At the end of all her tutorials, she would say, “And change your fucking passwords, Geeks!” That usually led me to go around the apartment and do just that. My phone, Anton’s phone, Jackson’s phone when I’d lived with him, then all sites, all applications… I could spend half my day just doing what Majel213 told me.

And more than once, my own passwords had been changed to her fucking screen name. How I’d become a lovesick dork slash criminal was beyond my comprehension.

That sultry tone went on to describe how she’d found her target and worked backward. How creating a fake person was easy. Once she had the profile pic, the rest of what ‘he’ posted was either shares from propaganda that aligned with Caroline’s beliefs or pictures that he wasn’t in. ‘Nate’ had become friends with one of Caroline’s relatives through people who were more interested in having followers and like than caring if they actually knew the person.

Then it had just been as simple as engaging on the same post by the mutual friend and boom! There was a direct line to her target. It required maintenance, but according to Majel213, that was part of the fun. The hard part, she said in the voice that had me wondering how ‘Rafael’ would sound if she whispered it all quiet and sultry next to my ear, was waiting for the day that Caroline would open her social media on her work computer. But, Majel213 wasn’t worried. Caroline had said that she hated texting on her phone and was much faster on a keyboard, so it was just a matter of finding a topic that would inspire Caroline to need to converse faster—like making Nate’s tabby cat ill.

Majel213 had a beautifully perverse brain.

She explained that once the application was opened in the office of the sheriff of Zapata Falls, because Majel213 had programmed a sneaky virus that shadowed the direct messenger, the malware would be on Caroline’s hard drive in thirty seconds. And that would translate to the entire town being held hostage by Majel213 until they paid their ransom in untraceable cryptocurrency.

And pay they would, she assured, because the counties, cities or whatever were insured…and the FBI would tell them to. Otherwise, all their systems stayed frozen and spun around in the never-ending computer circle of death.

And the real beauty? While they tried to figure out how to pay, she just kept stealing all their information. It was pretty customary malware shiftiness. She could get tax returns, social security numbers, backgrounds, criminal records and birth certificates then sell that to criminals like me. Majel213 just made it sound so much sexier than it probably was.

Internal man-dork sigh.

She also sold her out-of-date malware to us nerds who didn’t know how to code it as well as she did. The clever thief was always three steps ahead, and the improved versions of her viruses and programs were for her use only.

So it was that version—the latest and most dangerous—that I was sure I needed to make bank for the crew, not a malware program an average bad actor could use. Somehow, I was going to convince the normally selfish Majel213 to share her updated goods, and we would go from street criminals to an organized threat to society. I tingled all over just thinking about it.

Her scratchy voice rang out and woke me from my dream of living the calm, boring life of a closet criminal. “Change your fucking passwords, Geeks! Oh, and I’m taking questions for the next five minutes on message chat. Dick picks will result in a virus that sends it to your grandma, assholes.”

I shot up and clicked on our message window. Time to make a deal.

GoldieLocks: Brilliant as usual. How do I get my hands on your latest version?

Majel213: Thanks for watching. It’s always nice to have you there. The links are up.

I didn’t want those old, used-up links. I wanted the version she was hoarding for herself.

GoldieLocks: No, I mean the *real* latest version.

Majel213: Not for sale, sweetie. Sorry. You know that.

My internal ego liked the term of endearment so much that he convinced my brain it was for him. But I wasn’t giving up that easy.

GoldieLocks: Everything has a price.

It was a bold promise, considering we didn’t have a savings account with money piled up.

The ellipsis next to her name stayed for a minute like she was writing some long explanation. My heart raced and I drummed my fingers lightly over the keys without hitting hard enough to type.

Name your price, baby girl.

Oh, the money I could make for Anton. And I wouldn’t have to sit out on that fucking bench and watched addicts wither away with each sale I made. I could perch myself on the couch, post to social media then just wait to pounce. And getting the latest version of the malware would ensure it wasn’t tracible. It would be new and never have been used.

Majel213: Indeed it does. My apologies.

She added a winky face emoji and left the chat. Shit. I should have brought up cash. She was always talking about cryptocurrency, but cash was still king for criminals. I should have started with that. Next time. Next time I would lead with, “How much cash would it take?”

Fuck. Didn’t she know I needed that shit like…yesterday?

I closed my laptop and tossed it to the end of the bed. After a quick shower, I found Anton in a hovered meeting with Scooter at the island in the kitchen. The sour frown on his pale face was enough to know he didn’t like what he and Jackson had heard earlier. We needed money. I was the Golden Boy and he was relying on me to make good on my previous abilities to earn.

Working on it, boss.

“I’m headed down to the bench then I have to help with a thing. Later.”

I jogged down the stairs and out to the courtyard that connected the three buildings of Covington Heights. A small gathering of black jeans parted and Jackson stood, towering over us all. We man-hugged, the official sign that he was off duty and I was on.

His spot on the bench was still warm, and I draped my arms out, taking as much space as I could.

A new member of the crew caught my eye on the edge of the circle. He was a bit scrawny and had probably come from Bradford. More and more defectors were crossing into our territory. That particular one looked hungry as hell. Sometimes I wondered if the new recruits weren’t double agents. I reminded myself to keep my guard up at all times.

Maybe I would do a password sweep after dinner. Although, the skinny kids from the projects weren’t much of a threat to the technology that I used. Hell, they wouldn’t even know how to put a virus onto a computer.

Like Majel213… Using direct messaging to shadow…

Fucking fuck, fuck.

Mother of all fucks.

My pulse raced and I closed my eyes in horrid understanding. She’d broken into my fucking computer.

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About the Author

Deana Birch

Deana Birch was named after her father’s first love, who just so happened not to be her mother. Born and raised in the Midwest, she made stops in Los Angeles and New York before settling in Europe, where she lives with her own blue-eyed Happily Ever After. Her days are spent teaching yoga, playing tennis, ruining her children’s French homework, cleaning up dog vomit, writing her next book or reading someone else’s.

You can sign up for Deana’s newsletter here and visit her website here. You can also find Deana at Books + Main here

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Book Blitz & Excerpt: Teddy’s Truth + Giveaway

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Teddy’s Truth by KD Ellis

General Release Date: 12th January 2021

Word Count: 92,509
Book Length: SUPER NOVEL
Pages: 357
Genres: ACTION AND ADVENTURE, CONTEMPORARY, CRIME, EROTIC ROMANCE, GAY, GLBTQI, MEN IN UNIFORM, THRILLERS AND SUSPENSE, TRANSGENDER

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Book Description

 

Teddy De Luca thought being born into the wrong body was the worst thing that had ever happened to him. Then he met Julian…

All Teddy De Luca wants is for his outside to match his inside—so badly that he takes a loan from a Mexican cartel. It’s not like he can borrow the money from his alcoholic mother. She got him into this mess in the first place when she poured his savings into bottles of Jack. He figures he’ll get his operation, pick up a second job, then pay the debt off quickly and put it all behind him. When the cartel raises the stakes, his plan falls apart and he’s left with a mounting debt and no way out.

Ian Romero is a second generation Hispanic-American whose only goal is to live the American dream—finish college, find the perfect partner and settle down. His inappropriate crush on his brother’s best friend isn’t going to stop him. But when his troubled brother becomes another victim of the local cartel, his plans change. He can’t save his brother, but he can get his revenge.

After years apart, Teddy’s and Ian’s paths cross again, neither expecting the passion between them to re-ignite even hotter than before. Can Ian forgive Teddy’s role in his brother’s death to become the Daddy the younger man needs—or is their relationship destined to fail again?

Reader advisory: This book contains scenes of violence, rape, and a live burial. There are BDSM elements including Daddy kink and mild power play. There are scenes of loan-sharking, blackmail, torture, public sex, parental neglect and domestic violence.

Excerpt

Teddy tugged at the hem of his overlarge sweatshirt then discreetly scratched beneath the band of his sticky sports bra. As far as he was concerned, breasts were disgusting lumps of fat that hoarded sweat, bounced like painful beanbags on his chest when he was busy catching a football and strained the front of any button-down he tried to wear. He couldn’t understand why boys were so obsessed with them. He personally couldn’t wait to get the damn things cut off.

Hormone therapy had deepened his voice and given him a shadow of patchy fuzz on his jaw. Clippers had sheared him of his blond hair and his mother’s Italian heritage had blessed him with broad shoulders and narrow hips.

It was unfortunate that it had also cursed him with breasts that not even puberty blockers had been able to thwart.

He wished he could blame her awful time-management skills on their heritage as well, but he knew better. The fault lay with either Jack or John—the bottle or the boyfriend, whichever she was currently in bed with.

He’d been sitting on the hard, concrete steps of the high school for almost an hour. It wasn’t like he could call her. His cell was out of minutes, and hers was probably dead on the nightstand.

Just as the final school bus trundled back onto the parking lot and Teddy was about to give up on waiting, someone stepped up beside him, casting him in shadow.

“Stay there,” Teddy ordered, craning his head back until he could grin at his best friend. “Perfect. Be my sun block.”

Shiloh, still in his leotard, laughed and nudged Teddy’s hip with his shoe. “If you don’t think I shine brighter than the sun, then clearly I’m not wearing enough glitter.”

“Shine as bright as you want, but just keep standing there. Fuck, it’s hot!” Teddy gripped his collar and tugged at it repeatedly, trying to stir a breeze. All it ended up doing was wafting the stench of boob sweat up into his face.

“Well, duh, it’s ninety degrees—and you’re in a sweater.” Shiloh rolled his eyes and dropped onto the curb beside him. “And it’s not even pink.”

Teddy opened his mouth, his usual response dancing on his tongue—that boys don’t wear pink—but he swallowed it. Shiloh was currently in a hot pink leotard and pink Chucks.

Instead, Teddy shrugged and glared down at his baggy jeans and boring blue sweater. “You know why.” It was hard enough getting people to call him Teddy instead of Thea. Or, worse, Theodora.

“I’m going to make you a shirt. It’s going to be pink and fabulous. It’s going to say, ‘Call Me Teddy’. And it’s going to be in glitter.” Shiloh threw an imaginary handful into the air, then fell back to lie on the sidewalk, his arms flung out.

“With your handwriting, they’d probably think you wrote ‘Daddy’.” Teddy dropped back to use Shiloh’s arm as a pillow.

Shiloh shifted but didn’t pull away. He just rolled onto his side, his blond hair flopping into his eyes. He left his arm beneath Teddy’s head, bringing their faces close enough that their noses nearly touched. “It’s not that bad. Besides, you’re clearly not a Daddy.”

Teddy rolled his eyes. Ever since he’d borrowed Shiloh’s laptop to finish up his college application essays—and forgotten to clear his search history after falling down the rabbit hole of kinky porn—Shiloh’s teasing had been less than subtle. Teddy refused to be embarrassed, though, especially since the only reason he’d stumbled onto that website in the first place was because Shiloh had left three separate bookmarks for it.

It reinforced everything Teddy knew about their relationship. They were destined to be the bestest of friends—but nothing more. They were both too attracted to the same type of man—tall, dark and dangerous.

Still, knowing his friend was into the same kinks that he was didn’t mean they needed to talk about it. He ignored the leading comment and switched back to the far safer topic of handwriting. “Remember when Mr. Carmine thought you wrote an essay on Storage Wars?”

“Hey, Mr. Carmine also thought you wrote an essay about Quasimodo.”

“I did write him an essay about Quasimodo. Well, really about how the novel by Victor Hugo helped raise the money needed to restore the cathedral, and—” Teddy felt the beginnings of a spiel on gothic architecture creeping up.

Shiloh interrupted, “Yeah, buttresses…a rose window. I remember. I still think the gargoyles are creepy.”

“You said buttresses,” Teddy snickered, shoving Shiloh’s shoulder.

“Teddy, can I touch your buttress?”

“Your hand can stay far away from my buttress, fuck you very much.”

“It’s like a butt fortress. I just want to invade your buttress! Why are you so mean to me?” Shiloh rolled onto his back and kicked his feet against the sidewalk like an angry toddler, except for the smile on his face.

“No, it’s impregnable!” Teddy stuck out his tongue.

“Well, duh, you’re a boy. Of course you’re impregnable.”

“Something tells me you don’t know what that word means.”

Immediately, Shiloh rattled off the definition. “Impregnable. Unable to be captured or broken into. Also, unable to be defeated or destroyed. But you have to admit that it sounds an awful lot like it means you can’t make babies.”

“And thank God for that,” Teddy shivered at the thought of being responsible for a little, squalling, helpless baby. “I might miss wearing pink, but I won’t miss that.”

Teddy froze at the accidental admission. His therapist had told him that it was normal, that gender was a spectrum and that just because he still liked feminine things didn’t make his desire to transition less valid. Still, it was the first time he’d admitted it to anyone except his therapist.

Shiloh sat up slightly to face him better. “You can still wear pink. You can wear whatever the fuck you want.” Shiloh’s voice hardened. “And if anyone bothers you about it, I’ll cover their lockers in gay porn. Just say the word.”

“The poor football players won’t know what to do with themselves. Think of all the spontaneous erections.” The few he’d dated had been far more interested in his ass than a straight guy probably should be—not that he’d obliged, since he refused to be anyone’s dirty little secret.

Shiloh sighed. “It would be a beautiful gift to all of us.”

A black Mercedes pulled up to the curb, barely parking before the driver was leaning on the horn.

“Impatient bastard,” Shiloh grumbled. “I don’t know why he’s in a hurry. He gets paid by the hour.”

“Well, that stick is so far up his ass it has to be uncomfortable sitting down.” Teddy sat up and straightened his sweatshirt. The Becketts’ driver was a homophobic dick. He didn’t understand how the man hadn’t been fired yet.

Shiloh pushed himself to his feet. “I bet he has hemorrhoids. That’s probably where he rushes off to every night.”

“Ew. You picture him rubbing cream on his ass?” Teddy teased.

Shiloh gagged, shoving Teddy to the side. “Gross. You’re such a dick. I don’t know why I hang out with you.”

“Because you love me.”

The Mercedes blared its horn again, a demanding series of honks that only ended when Shiloh threw a hand up in acknowledgment. “I gotta go. Do you have a ride?”

Teddy shrugged. “Yeah. She must just be running late or something. I’m sure she’ll be here soon.” He knew she wouldn’t be, but he’d rather walk than listen to the driver sling slurs. He didn’t understand how Shiloh dealt with it.

Shiloh hesitated on the bottom step, looking like he wanted to say something, but all he did was give a small nod and say, “Okay. See you Monday?”

“Yeah, see you.”

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About the Author

KD Ellis

KD Ellis is a professional cat wrangler by day, and an author by night. She moved from a small town to an even smaller village to live with her husband and wife and their two children. She loves reading—anything with men loving men. She writes queer romance in between working her two jobs and cuddling her pets—all six of them, which confuses the turtle.

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KD Ellis’s Teddy’s Truth

KD ELLIS IS GIVING AWAY THIS FABULOUS PRIZE TO ONE LUCKY WINNER. ENTER HERE FOR YOUR CHANCE TO WIN THIS FABULOUS GOODY BAG AND A $5.00 FIRST FOR ROMANCE GIFT CODE! Notice: This competition ends on 20th January 2021 at 5pm GMT. Competition hosted by Totally Entwined Group.