Book Blitz & Excerpt: At His Mercy + Giveaway

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At His Mercy
by Elvira Bell

Word Count: 22,321
Book Length: NOVELLA
Pages: 90
Genres: EROTIC ROMANCE, FANTASY, GAY, GLBTQI, HISTORICAL

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Book Description

 

A thief and his captor… A spicy demand in exchange for freedom. Will Lio give in to the lord of the manor?

Young thief Lio should have known better than to steal from the mighty Lord Callen. After he’s been locked up in a cold cell in Callen’s manor, he’s told that he’ll be set free on one condition—that he agrees to share Callen’s bed for one night. Lio refuses, but can’t help wondering what sleeping with Callen might be like. Callen, on the other hand, takes the rejection badly and thinks Lio finds him old and unattractive. He can’t stop thinking about the pretty boy with the white hair though, and they’re about to overcome their hostility toward one another when something happens that brutally cuts off their budding friendship and causes Callen to throw Lio out headfirst.

For months they are apart. Callen isolates himself in his chamber, enraged and bitter, while Lio struggles to make it through the winter. In the end, starvation forces him to seek out the last man he wants to see—Lord Callen. Callen, who resents him and does nothing to hide it. Will Lio be able to get through to him? Will they ever have what they both want—each other?

Reader advisory: This book contains scenes of violence, threats of sexual harrassment, captivity and homophobia.

Excerpt

They never should have taken the forest road at night.

“We could go back,” Lio said, stumbling after his father on the muddy path. “That cottage we passed a mile back, maybe we could…”

Athos grunted, his boots leaving large, wet prints in the sludge. Almost doubled over from the weight of the burlap bag, he looked like a hunchback. “You’ll walk until I tell you to stop.”

Lio drew his hand over his eyes to wipe the icy rain away. “But…” He racked his brains for words that might make his father see reason. They were far away from the manor by now, and they had merely taken some tools and iron from the smithy, after the smith and his apprentice had left for the day. With luck, the theft wouldn’t be noticed until morning. Lord Callen certainly had enough gold to replace the tongs and hammers he’d lost. To Lio’s family, though, the stolen goods meant they could repair the hole in the roof, and his father could forge nails and horseshoes the villagers would be only too happy to pay for. Athos had been a blacksmith once, in his youth, but Lio had never dared ask why he had left such a good profession. His work was fine, and although there were some people who’d never buy anything made by his hands, he could make enough money this way to see them through the winter.

Athos coughed, a nasty, hollow sound Lio was all too familiar with.

“Father, you’re not well. Let me carry it.”

“No!” Athos spun around to give him a wild look. He towered over Lio, the way he always had. “I don’t take orders from a whelp like you, understand? While you’re living in my house, lad, you do as I tell you.” He coughed again, but pressed on through the darkness. The lantern swinging in his hand wasn’t strong enough to light up much of the surroundings, and a shiver ran down Lio’s spine at the thought of packs of wolves out on the hunt, or trolls and monsters eager to lure wanderers into their lairs. Traveling through the woods in daytime wasn’t so bad, though he wouldn’t like doing it without company, but everyone knew that one shouldn’t be out after dark. His mother would scold them when they got home—if they did. Lio had accompanied his father on similar business before, but they had been closer to home then and back by the hearth before midnight. Athos didn’t steal unless there were no other options, and before this he had only taken the odd bread loaf or piece of meat from those of the nearby farmers who spat after him and his family. ‘Only steal from those who deserve it,’ he had told Lio often. Lio didn’t know much about Lord Callen, but if he owned half as much land and gold as people said he did, he deserved it more than most. It wasn’t fair that someone like him had everything, while others starved.

“I can carry the lantern, at least,” he tried, uneasy at the sound of his father’s labored breathing.

“The lantern?” Athos scoffed. “It weighs nothing. Now be quiet, all right? I brought you as a lookout. Wouldn’t expect a wisp of a thing like you to carry anything, would I?”

Lio bit back an angered reply. He was small compared to his father, it was true, closer in height to his mother and with her slender build, too. From her he had his ghostly pale hair as well, that made the villagers hiss ‘Devil-child’ and other such nonsense after him. The one thing he had from his father was the dark color of his eyes. His little brother and sisters had those eyes, too, but their hair was dark as coal. He often wished his own was, too.

Wrapping his arms around himself in a futile attempt to get warm, he wondered how far they had left. Their cottage was on the other side of the woods, in a clearing out of sight from any other people. The nearest farm was only a short walk away, but Lio and his family had never been counted among the villagers who were their neighbors. Young women sought out his mother secretly, when her herbs were the only thing that might help them end unwanted pregnancies or cure their sick babies. His father was the one the villagers called for when they needed shameful or dangerous tasks done, like gelding foals or burying disease-spreading corpses. Shame, filth—that was all they were associated with. They always had been.

A strange sound pierced through the roaring of the rain. The neighing of a horse? He stopped, throwing anxious looks around him. “Father, did you—”

“Quiet!” Athos trudged on, muttering to himself. The rain streamed down Lio’s face, plastering his hair to his skin. He shivered, not sure if it was from the cold or from fear. Another sound came through the darkness—a voice? Several voices?

“Father, run!” But he hadn’t taken more than a step forward before someone grabbed him by the neck, pulling him back. In front of him he saw his father stop as a rider blocked his path. A dark-clad man on a black steed, carrying a torch in his hand. His hair was obscured by a helmet. There were four men in total, including the one with the forceful grip on Lio’s neck. Lio struggled in vain to free himself, and the man chuckled in a low, raspy voice.

“Well,” said the rider in black, as two of his henchmen closed in on Athos with their swords drawn. “We found our prey at last. Did you really think I’d allow anyone to steal from me?” His voice was smooth but cold. It was difficult to tell his age—Lord Callen was hardly a young man, but he was well-built and tall, with broad shoulders and a straight, proud posture. His eyes were just as icy as his voice.

Athos dropped the burlap sack, rising to his full height and taking a step closer to Callen, as if to challenge him. “You’ve got enough for a whole village, but we ain’t got a thing!”

“Oh, is that so?” Callen curled his lip. “While I applaud your courage, I really can’t let a thing like this slide. You understand, surely? Men, how should we punish this pitiful crime?”

“Their right hands,” said one of the henchmen, giving Athos a nudge with the blunt side of his sword. “Off with them.”

“Death,” suggested another man with an ugly grin. “That’d stop them from doing it again, my lord.”

Callen nodded. “Why, certainly, but I personally feel it’s a tad…boring?” His cool gaze landed on Lio’s face. He scrutinized him for a few moments before turning away. “Seize them,” he said. “We bring them with us.”

“I’ve got little ones at home, sir!” Athos called out. “They’ve had nothing to eat for the last week, and me and my wife—”

“What a pity,” Callen said.

Athos roared, trying to make a run for it, but one of Callen’s men stabbed his sword into his shoulder before he’d gotten away. Callen snorted as Athos was tied up and thrown over the back of one of the horses as if he were a sack of flour. Lio stared, his eyes fixed on his father’s shape. That wound… How bad is it?

“Now the boy,” said Callen.

“Yes,” murmured the man who held Lio captive. He jumped to the ground and pulled Lio toward him, his breath hot and revolting against Lio’s neck. “I’ll take care of you.”

“Let me go!” Lio squirmed, but the man quickly tied his wrists together and put him face down in front of the saddle before mounting the horse again. Lio’s breath hitched in his throat as the man put a big, gloved hand on the back of his thigh.

“Keep still now,” he said, voice low. “Filthy little thief. You’re going to regret what you’ve done.”

Yes. As the riders started retracing their tracks through the woods, back to Lord Callen’s manor, Lio thought bitterly that he regretted everything. He couldn’t see his father, but he heard his pained groans and whimpers, and the men shouting at him to keep quiet. If only he could do something! What would happen to them once they reached the manor? His father’s injury—how bad was it? His mother would have been able to stop the blood—she would have healed him in no time. But Lio didn’t have any of her knowledge. He couldn’t do anything but hope, in spite of everything, that they would make it out of this alive.

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About the Author

Elvira Bell

Elvira Bell lives in Sweden and spends most of her time writing, reading or watching movies. Her weaknesses include, but are not limited to: vintage jazz, musicals, kittens, oversized tea cups, men in suits, the 18th century, and anything sparkly.

Elvira writes m/m romance and has a penchant for historical settings. She adores all things gothic and will put her characters through hell from time to time because she just loves watching them suffer. It makes the happy endings so much sweeter, after all.

Find out more at Elvira’s website.

 

Giveaway

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Evira Bell’s At His Mercy Giveaway

ELVIRA BELL 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 16th March 2021 at 5pm GMT. Competition hosted by Totally Entwined Group.

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.

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S.J. Coles’ Straight to the Heart Giveaway

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Book blitz & Excerpt: Second Chances in Cedarwood + Giveaway

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Second Chances in Cedarwood

Megan Slayer

Word Count: 35,930
Book Length: SHORT NOVEL
Pages: 147
Genres: CONTEMPORARY, EROTIC ROMANCE, GAY, GLBTQI

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Who knew love could be found at a small-town hot dog shop?

Jack Walters opened his hole-in-the-wall restaurant to serve hot dogs—being a chef is all he’s ever wanted out of life. Love hasn’t worked out for him, so the last thing he expects is to find romance at his shop. But Jack’s been hurt before and he’s leery of the sexy man who keeps visiting his restaurant.

Henry Lord has been all around the world. He’s visited gourmet foodie places and tiny restaurants, but he loves the ambience at Jack’s Hot Dog Shop. He’s also in lust with the sexy owner. Henry’s shy, but he’s determined to get Jack’s attention. There are people who want to use Jack and change him.

Not Henry. It’ll take a herculean effort to prove to Jack that he’s the one for Henry. Good thing Henry believes in love, second chances and finding his home…in Cedarwood.

Reader advisory: This book contains mentions of homophobia, and emotionally abusive exes.

Excerpt

“Who needs a hot dog?” Jack Walters stood behind the grill at his one-room hot dog shop and surveyed the landscape. Fifteen people had packed into the space—ten waiting on orders and five spread among the three tables. People waited outside. He could almost hear the chatter of the customers over the sizzle of the grill.

Jack lived for the blur of action. He loved his shop and serving food to the people of Cedarwood. Truth be told, he liked being needed in the community and he enjoyed the din of conversation. He’d heard so much gossip over his twenty years at the shop. Couples splitting, people cheating on lovers and spouses, people cheating in business, discussing business, politics…he’d heard it all.

Unlike some of the restaurants in Cedarwood, he kept his business rather plain. Sure, there were metal signs from other hot dog shops and old advertising signs on the wall, but he wasn’t going for upscale ambience. He wanted a quick in-and-out type of establishment. Cash only and most customers took their food to go. He’d considered opening at a bigger location, but why mess with what worked?

He spotted Henry at one of the tables. Most people didn’t bother to stop and sit. They wanted quick and convenient. Henry seemed to linger every day, coming in after one in the afternoon, then staying until closing at three.

Jack filled orders, but his mind wandered to Henry. He didn’t know much about the guy beyond that he was a writer. He’d read a few of Henry’s articles in the local paper and seen his work in magazines displayed in the bookstore.

He’d learned the most about Henry—most of which he doubted was true—through the gossip grapevine in Cedarwood. Everyone talked about everyone. Henry lived alone, wrote stories and articles, traveled and didn’t say much. Henry liked order and could be cranky when things didn’t go his way.

Most people got irritated when things didn’t work out. He knew—he’d seen it at the shop. Hot dogs without the right toppings, with the right ones but cold or too hot, or swearing they’d been overcharged. He shook his head. Every hot dog cost exactly three dollars. Condiments were free, but cheese, jalapenos and chili cost an additional fifty cents each. The sodas were two bucks and fries cost a dollar. Easy.

Jack served up another handful of hot dogs, then read through the new orders. He added a new batch to the grill and glanced over at Henry. He wondered how old he was, since no one seemed to discuss that point. He couldn’t be much older than Jack’s forty-five years. Sure, he had some gray hairs on his temples and scattered through his short sandy tresses, but lots of people went gray far before middle age. Hell, he’d started showing grays at twenty-eight. He swore the loss of color came from the stress of the shop.

Maybe it did. Maybe he needed to loosen up. He’d been told he’d relieve stress if he visited a BDSM club, but he wasn’t sure he wanted someone spanking him.

He served up the hot dogs and only a few people were left in the shop. There tended to be a lull at two in the afternoon. People couldn’t seem to remember if his shop was open until two or three, even though he’d kept the same hours since he’d opened the shop twenty years before. The lull always happened at the same time, but the action ticked back up at two-thirty. “I’ve got to rush to get an order in before you close,” they’d say. He didn’t care.

Anna, his lone employee, closed the cash register and joined him at the grill. “That’s the last one for now—Henry’s paid.” She elbowed him. “He’s only asked for one refill.”

“He ordered,” Jack murmured. “All I ask is they buy food if they’re going to linger and he eats here every day. Leave him alone.”

She picked up an onion and one of the larger knives. She chopped the vegetable into small bits. “Just makes me wonder why he hangs out here so much. Think he’s bored?”

“No.” He’d kept an eye on Henry. Every day, Henry brought his notebook with him and jotted in the pages while he ate. Jack scraped the grill down, then lowered the heat. “I’m going to stretch.” He left the spatula in the holder, then rounded the grill. He strode right up to Henry. “Can I refresh your soda for you?”

“Oh.” Henry blushed. “Sure.” He closed the notebook. “Sorry. Got lost in my writing. Am I bothering you?”

“Nope.” He ducked behind the counter long enough to refill the cola, then brought the glass back to Henry. “I’m taking a break. Mind if I sit with you a moment?”

“No. Please, do.” Henry moved his notebook out of the way and gestured to the other chair.

Now that he was right across from Henry, he could really look at him. The grays in his hair worked for him and gave him the look of seriousness without seeming severe. His blue eyes sparkled when he smiled, and Jack swore he had a dimple on the left side. Henry folded his hands on his notebook. Jack liked hands and preferred men with clean ones. Blunt working ones were fine, but he preferred pianist ones. Henry didn’t disappoint. Jack wondered what he’d look like holding a fountain pen. Probably sexy. He suppressed a snort. He barely knew Henry, but he’d already fantasized about him. At least the man was handsome—close-up and far away, too.

“You’re staring at me.” Henry’s blush increased. “Am I wearing mustard on my mouth?”

“No.” Jack averted his gaze. This time, his ears burned. “I’m sorry. I spend so much time behind the counter, and I don’t get much of a chance to talk to the customers. You’re always in here, so I wanted to chat, but I got lost in the comfort of sitting.” Jesus. How ridiculous? The comfort of sitting? He pinched the bridge of his nose. “Sorry.”

“It’s okay.” Henry held out his hand. “I’m Henry Lord. I write travel articles for magazines and I’m a libra. I’m forty-seven and single. I like long walks at sunset and the quaintness of this shop.”

He laughed at Henry’s means to break the tension. “Thank you.” He nodded. “I’m Jack Walters. I own the Hot Dog Shop and I’m not sure which astrological sign I am. Never bothered to look. I’m forty-five and single, too. I spend too much time at the shop and not enough at home.”

“Nice to meet you.” Henry smiled. “Looks like we’re both a bit flawed.”

Jack shrugged. “There’s something to be said for flawed.”

“There is.”

The bell dinged and a group of customers entered the shop. Jack sighed. “Duty calls. Maybe next time we’ll get to chat for more than a few moments.” He winked, then left his seat and resumed his position behind the grill. Of all the times he had to work, it had to be this one, when he wanted to get to know more about Henry. A travel writer. Interesting. He’d barely ventured out of Ohio. Henry had probably traveled all over the globe. His partner had to be either very forgiving or the travel had led to their breakup.

A thought occurred to him. Henry hadn’t said he was gay, but he’d mentioned he was single. Christ, he had to get his overactive imagination under control. For all he knew, Henry wasn’t gay—just single. All the handsome ones in Cedarwood tended to be straight. Most of the gay men had paired up.

Jack focused on making food and tried to ignore the need to look over at Henry. He’d felt a spark when they’d locked gazes, but Henry seemed shy—not attracted. Jack shook his head. Knowing him, he’d overestimated the spark. Again.

He wanted to be in love. Wanted to be needed. There had to be someone out there for him. Someone who understood he had a business and was required to be there if he wanted to make money. Someone who could love him, despite his tendency to close himself off. He needed a partner. An equal.

Talk about a lot to superimpose on someone. Henry might not be interested in being all those things. Might not want to be any of them.

Jack focused on grilling hot dogs for the two-thirty rush and did his best to ignore Henry.

Why focus on what might not even be possible? Because sometimes the impossible did happen.

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About the Author

Megan Slayer

Megan Slayer, aka Wendi Zwaduk, is a multi-published, award-winning author of more than one-hundred short stories and novels. She’s been writing since 2008 and published since 2009. Her stories range from the contemporary and paranormal to LGBTQ and BDSM themes. No matter what the length, her works are always hot, but with a lot of heart. She enjoys giving her characters a second chance at love, no matter what the form. She’s been the runner up in the Kink Category at Love Romances Café as well as nominated at the LRC for best author, best contemporary, best ménage and best anthology. Her books have made it to the bestseller lists on Amazon.com.

When she’s not writing, Megan spends time with her husband and son as well as three dogs and three cats. She enjoys art, music and racing, but football is her sport of choice.

Find out more about Megan on her website and sign up for the newsletter here. You can also check out her Blog, Amazon Author Page, Bookbub and Instagram.

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