Book Blitz & Excerpt: The Diplomat’s Bride + Giveaway

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The Diplomat’s Bride by Samantha Cayto

Book 2 in the Treaty Brides series

Word Count: 53,223
Book Length: NOVEL
Pages: 188

Genres:

ACTION AND ADVENTURE
EROTIC ROMANCE
FANTASY
GAY
GLBTQI
ROYALS

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Book Description


Being a bride is a state of mind, not of body.

Kexen of the Outer Vale has made a unique splash in the Moorcondian palace and has captured the attention of Benedict, Lord Tentrees, a diplomat trying to make his mark. When a winter-long mission arises to negotiate a trading treaty with a foreign queen, Ben needs a wife by his side. Never having been attracted to women, he sets his sights on marrying the enticing Kexen. He means for him to be both a helpmate navigating court society and a shield against the flirtatious queen.

Because Kexen is someone who—by his own admission—is neither male nor female, he is intrigued by the idea of becoming Lady Tentrees and presenting entirely as a woman. Ben sweetens the offer with a lucrative trade deal between their families. Kexen will not ignore his duty while also being drawn to the virile diplomat who desires him. He cannot help but accept the proposal.

Their journey through both their diplomatic mission and marriage proves to be a rocky one. Kexen is not as experienced as his husband first believes, Ben is more driven by his career than Kexen appreciates and neither of them anticipates the intrigue waiting for them at their destination. The strength of their growing bond will be tested as they fight for their survival.


Excerpt

Benedict, Lord Tentrees of Northcliff, stood at the balcony’s rail and peered down at the colorful spectacle of the servants’ ball. Technically, he had no business being there. The ball season for the nobility had already ended earlier in the evening. These final hours were intended to benefit those who served the palace denizens so faithfully throughout the year. This was a grand gesture of thanks for their hard work and loyalty. Woe be it to anyone who didn’t give a servant these few hours to enjoy themselves with food, drink and merriment. The royal family had long made it clear that this was by decree. There would be some aching heads and sleepy eyes come the harsh light of the morning, but for now, the people twirling around the dance floor and taking liberties with each other in corners had no care in the world—or so it seemed to him. Not that his gaze landed on anyone for long, because he was there to find one person in particular.

It wasn’t difficult for him to spot his quarry. Even among the bright garments of the attendants, Kexen of the Outer Vale stood out. He was clothed in the colors of fall—deep red, bright orange and sparkling yellow. His daringly short doublet sported gathered sleeves that cascaded in folds down his slender arms while provocatively highlighting what lay behind the crotch of his almost obscenely snug trousers. His knee-high brown leather boots gave his legs an even longer look, while his elaborately braided hair swung with his every graceful turn. Kexen was not a tall man, but that was all to the good. The boy would fit perfectly with Ben’s own height. The vision of gathering him in his arms was captivating. His cock hardened at the thought of it, enjoying the spark of pleasure. With his demanding profession, there wasn’t much opportunity to slake his needs. Hopefully, that situation was about to change.

There was no reason to tarry any longer, so, stepping away from his vantage point, he headed toward the staircase that would send him into the midst of the revelers. He had intended to be as inconspicuous as possible, understanding that this was not his domain, that he was an interloper who might cause some alarm among the servants. His good intentions notwithstanding, the severity of his all-black clothing served to make him stand out among the festive outfits of those around him. There was a certain amount of startlement by those who saw and recognized his station, if not his identity, leading to smiles morphing into more respectful expressions. Some nodding of heads occurred, as well, in deference to his rank. Ben tried to convey that he was no threat to them, that he had no demands, not even any expectations—not from these people, in any event. Kexen was a different story altogether. If all went to plan, Ben would seduce the boy while judging up close whether they would make a good match.

Ben caught sight of Kexen on the dance floor again. He was being whirled around in the beefy arms of a footman. Ben settled against the wall to stay unobtrusive as he waited with less patience than he would have expected from himself for the musicians to end their song. The moment the last of the notes were played, he launched into the crowd. Now he appreciated being shown respect as the partying servants cleared a way for him, making his journey that much quicker. He caught up with Kexen and his partner just as they were stepping out onto one of the balconies. The night was brisk but, in contrast to the heat of the ballroom, very refreshing—not that the cold air served to dampen his ardor. Seeing Kexen up close only increased his desire for the boy.

Exquisite.

Kexen’s face was lit with joviality as he gazed up at the footman, laughing at something the man had said. There was a coy look to the boy’s expression, as well. Ben was surprised at the spurt of jealousy he felt at the sight. He reminded himself that Kexen was not his and might never be so unless he proved to be worthy. Charging forth as if he were an enraged lover was hardly going to serve that purpose. Being a diplomat, he knew how to bank his emotions and measure his words and actions. By the time he reached the couple, he hoped he appeared friendly and casual.

Kexen was the first to spot him. His jubilance dimmed somewhat, although he looked more curious than apprehensive. He nodded his head. “My lord, is there something you wish?”

You. In my bed. Ben didn’t voice this desire out loud, of course. Instead, he said, “I would love a dance, if you would honor me.” Ben had the pleasure of seeing surprise flash across the boy’s face. He was delighted that the obviously confident young man could still be caught off guard.

Kexen reached to twist one finger around the chain of a small ruby pendant and dropped his gaze. “I am honored, my lord. But your pardon, this is the servants’ ball. It is not fit for a nobleman.” Just as Ben was appreciating the subtlety of the rebuke, Kexen looked up at him from under his lashes.

Cheeky boy, you’re interested. Ben stepped closer. “And a fine event it is. Please forgive the intrusion, but I have been anticipating the opportunity to meet you, Kexen of the Outer Vale. This seemed the best occasion to do so.”

Now Kexen showed open welcome, his lips curling in a beckoning smile. “Oh. You flatter me, my lord.”

The footman proved that his brains weren’t as big as his muscles. When the man opened his mouth as if to object, Ben stepped deftly between him and Kexen and stared the footman down. “If you don’t mind?”

They were matched in height, and while Ben wasn’t quite as broad, he could hold his own in a brawl as well as at the negotiation table—not that either skill was required in this event. He didn’t hesitate to convey his social position in his gaze to encourage the footman to find someone else to dally with. The man was confident but not entirely stupid, apparently. With a curt nod, he strode away.

Pleased with the outcome, Ben turned to Kexen and held out his hand. “They are playing a waltz…my favorite.”

Kexen managed to convey shyness, something his reputation belied. Ben didn’t mind the pretext. The boy’s ability to navigate the complex waters of a court was one of the things that Ben coveted him for. He hadn’t been worried about a refusal, but when Kexen put his hand in his own, the jolt of excitement Ben felt was a surprise. He prided himself on being cool and measured in his actions. Something about the feel of this boy, however, made him want to drag him off into a corner and do a different kind of dance—one that involved his cock sliding past those slightly tinted and lovely lips. The way Kexen closed the distance between them, wrapping his arm around Ben’s neck, told him that the boy had similar ideas. Such a temptation, but Ben schooled himself to be patient, because this night was not a one-time seduction. It was hopefully the beginning of a short courtship.

Ben took his dance partner by the waist and pulled him in close, letting Kexen feel the measure of his arousal. “Let us stay out here. I wouldn’t want my presence to impede the others’ enjoyment. I will endeavor to keep you warm.” So saying, he began to slowly lead the boy in circles.

Kexen tilted his head to look him in the eye. “You are succeeding admirably, my lord.”

“I’m gratified to hear it. I’m Benedict, by the way.”

“I know who you are, Lord Tentrees. I must confess to being surprised that you know who I am.”

Ben whirled them into the far recesses of the balcony, taking them away from everyone else. “You shouldn’t be. Who at the palace hasn’t heard of the valiant groomer of the Duchess of Vostguard? You helped to save Prince Soren from an ambush at grave risk to your own safety.”

Kexen dropped his gaze and shrugged. “Oh, that. It was all the Duchess’ doing. I merely went along to serve him, as is my duty.”

Ben knew false modesty when he heard it, and this was decidedly not that. Kexen truly believed his actions weren’t worthy of special mention. Ben’s estimation of him increased. There was more to this boy than beauty and even bravery. Most people in his position would brag to anyone and everyone about such exploits, not caring if their words betrayed the secrets of those whom they served. Kexen’s humbleness and discretion were excellent traits in diplomatic circles. There was no doubt in Ben’s mind that he had made the right choice, even if it were really the only one afforded him.

“You don’t do yourself justice. I’ve attended a few meetings in the presence of the king. I assure you he feels quite differently.”

Kexen blushed despite the cold air swirling around them. “The royal family is very kind, my lord.”

“My friends call me Ben.”

“I am surely not that upon such a short acquaintance.”

“I should like you to be.” He let his passion show in his eyes. “Should we continue our dance somewhere more private inside?” He actually held his breath waiting for the reply. In theory, he could have his way whether Kexen wanted him or not. King Auden didn’t tolerate the abuse of servants, but pressure could be brought to bear quietly against even the most secure servants with little retribution, if one was careful about it. But that wasn’t how he intended this venture to go. An eager Kexen would be a far better prize than a reluctant and begrudging one.

Kexen rested his cheek on Ben’s shoulder. “I would like that very much.”

Ben wasted no time, ending their dance before tugging Kexen by the hand back into the ballroom. He skirted the crowd to leave through the nearest exit and led the boy to the first quiet alcove he could find. The palace had so many discreet places for assignations that he was inclined to believe it was by deliberate design. Part of him disliked being so public. He would have preferred to take Kexen back to his own apartment, but, despite his recent promotion in the diplomatic corps, he still didn’t have a room in the palace. Taking the time to dress for outside and head to his place in the city didn’t appeal to him. Plus, he didn’t want to burden Kexen with two trips—there and back—on such a cold and late night.

The moment they were out of the sight of prying eyes, he pulled the boy into a kiss. He’d intended to take it slowly, to do nothing that might alarm even an experienced person such as Kexen. One touch of their lips, however, had him devouring the boy’s mouth instead. His much-valued control snapped with a speed that alarmed him. Or, rather, it would have, if feasting on Kexen were not as delectable as it was. Within seconds, he was sitting on a tufted settee with Kexen straddling his lap. Their respective erections mashed against each other as much as their clothing allowed. Ben wanted nothing more than to strip those barriers away. He had to wrestle with himself to gain control over his passion.

Breaking the kiss, he peppered Kexen’s jaw with quick pecks. “We must slow down, my dear, or I won’t last much longer.”

Kexen giggled in a sweet voice. “Who says I want you to…Ben?”

Hearing his name spoken in a voice thick with need nearly sent him over the edge. He closed his eyes and nuzzled the side of the boy’s neck, breathing in the sharp scent of bergamot mixed with the more musky smell of his arousal. As Ben worried that his mind was becoming cloudy, Kexen slipped from his grasp and was kneeling between his legs before Ben knew what was happening.

“Let me make you happy.” That was all the boy said before undoing the laces of Ben’s trousers, freeing his cock.

What rational thought that was left in his mind fled in the next instance when Kexen swallowed him whole right down nearly to the root. It was an impressive feat based on his prior experience. No one had ever taken the entirety of his rather large dick, and few had been able to manage as much as Kexen was now. The intensity of being mostly encased in such tight, wet heat nearly undid him. Then Kexen worked his throat muscles to massage the top half of Ben’s shaft. That was all it took for him to double over from his orgasm, pressing his lips tight to keep from shouting his pleasure.

Kexen kept lavishing attention on Ben’s dick until it popped out of his mouth. The boy beamed up at him as Ben caught his breath. “Do you feel better now, my lord?”

By way of an answer, Ben hauled him back up to his lap with a swiftness that made Kexen gasp. “Not nearly enough. I want more.” He kissed the boy again, tasting his own bitterness. Far from being disgusted, he loved it, because it was a mingling of them both. He wanted to reciprocate the giving of such pleasure. But when he reached between them to cup Kexen’s erection, he found that the boy had already come from the cocksucking alone. Knowing that he’d had such a potent effect on him puffed up his chest. He wondered if he could do it again and found himself eager to try. There was plenty of time left in the night, and based on the way Kexen melted into his arms, he seemed just as eager for more.

This was proof that he’d been right all along. Kexen of the Outer Vale was the perfect bride for him.

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About the Author

Samantha Cayto

Samantha Cayto is a Boston-area native who practices as a business lawyer by day while writing erotic romance at night—the steamier the better. She likes to push the envelope when it comes to writing about passion and is delighted other women agree that guy-on-guy sex is the hottest ever.

She lives a typical suburban life with her husband, three kids and four dogs. Her children don’t understand why they can’t read what she writes, but her husband is always willing to lend her a hand—and anything else—when she needs to choreograph a scene.


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Book Blitz & Excerpt: The Way to a Man’s Heart + Giveaway

The Way to a Mans Heart

The Way to a Man’s Heart

by Ann Marie James

Book1 in the Kingdom of Corazón series

Word Count: 33,982
Book Length: SHORT NOVEL
Pages: 135

Genres:

CONTEMPORARY
EROTIC ROMANCE
FRIENDS TO LOVERS
GAY
GLBTQI
ROYALS
THRILLERS AND SUSPENSE

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Book Description

The heart wants what the heart wants…

Christian Diaz grew up as the best friend and unofficial bodyguard to the Crown Prince of the Kingdom of Corazón. After an incident left him questioning his place in the castle, Christian joined the military and didn’t return for ten long years.

Now he’s been assigned to the castle as Royal Military Liaison to investigate the source of some recent threats against the crown. The annual Midsummer’s Ball is the perfect place for the anti-monarchy group to make their next move, so that’s where Christian will be too. If it gives him a chance to reconnect with his friends in the castle and make a play for the man he has compared all others to, it’s even better.

Max Ramirez is now the head chef for the castle. He started as a sous chef at age twenty when Christian was just an awkward teen. Now that Christian’s back at the castle, all grown up and interested in Max, the chef is determined not to let an opportunity with Christian pass him by.

When someone tries to sabotage the Midsummer’s Ball, Max and Christian need to work together to track down the people determined to make this event their last.

Reader advisory: This book contains mentions of drug use, obsession, references to parental abuse, drink spiking, violence, attempted rape, and attempted murder.

Excerpt

The royal family of the Kingdom of Corazón greeted their guests for the Midsummers Ball as Christian watched. He ran a hand down the front of his dress military uniform to straighten it while he waited for his turn to be announced. This was his first formal duty as the newly appointed Royal Military Liaison, and he needed to make sure he looked his best. He shifted his feet to find some relief for his ankle, which was still sore from him standing for a long time. His last mission had not gone to plan, and a broken ankle had been the result. Although the cast had come off a couple of weeks prior, it still wasn’t one hundred percent.

“Royal Military Liaison Lieutenant Diaz,” the herald announced. Christian caught the eye of Crown Prince Sebastian toward the end of the greeting line and his best friend’s eyes widened in surprise before his face lit up with happiness at seeing him. As the only child of the Castle Commander, Christian had grown up here, but he’d been in the service away from the castle for ten years. At thirty, Christian was the same age as Crown Prince Sebastian. They had been best friends from the time they had been in diapers, and even though Christian and the prince still got together when their schedules allowed, it wasn’t the same as seeing and being with him every day. Christian had missed him fiercely.

The royal children of the kingdom were usually paired with a young playmate from the age of about ten. Christian had started earlier than age ten as Sebastian’s companion, since he was always with him anyway. As Castle Commander, his father was the head of the guard slash castle security. He’d taken the companion idea a step further and trained Christian to be as good as he could be in martial arts and marksmanship. In his father’s eyes, Christian was to act as another line of defense for the Crown Prince. While Christian had not carried a gun—that was the role of the actual bodyguards—he was trained in case he ever had to use one.

With a nod to the herald, Christian stepped forward to greet the Queen of the Kingdom of Corazón. Queen Tania reached out both hands to Christian, and he clasped them and raised them to his lips while bowing over them. “My Queen… It is a pleasure to see you. You haven’t changed a bit.”

“Lieutenant Diaz, it is a pleasure to see you as well. Ten years is way too long. We have missed you.”

“I apologize for the lengthy absence, Your Highness. I needed a change, but I am assigned here for the foreseeable future, so you will have time to get sick of me again.”

“So my husband has told me. I am excited to have you home, although in a different capacity as the Royal Military Liaison. I look forward to catching up.”

“As do I.”

The queen turned a stern eye on her eldest daughter, who was standing to her right. “Princess Zia, isn’t it wonderful that Christian will be back with us for a while?”

Christian tried to mask his sneer as his gaze went to Zia, who was not at all happy this evening. Of course, she wouldn’t be, since she wasn’t the center of attention. She wasn’t a very nice person and never had been. She was also part of the reason he’d left and joined the military. What she did… No, he wasn’t going to think about it. It was in the past. He was stronger and even more deadly now. It was time for him to face his demons. The military had finished the training his father had started, turning him into a true weapon. At twenty-eight, Christian had hoped Zia would have grown up and stopped being so self-absorbed, but the affliction seemed to have gotten worse instead of better in the time Christian had been away.

Christian gave Princess Zia a shallow bow. “Princess Zia.” That was all he could manage. He wasn’t going to lie and say he’d missed her.

Princess Zia tossed back her hair and gave him her haughtiest look. “Mr. Diaz.”

“It’s Lieutenant Diaz, actually, Your Highness.” Christian didn’t wait for her to respond, instead turning to greet the king of the Kingdom of Corazón. A striking man, even in his fifties, King Raul Hart exuded a sense of calm authority that Christian had always admired, making him seem larger than life. “King Raul.” Christian bowed low in front of the man. When he straightened, Christian was shocked to realize that he was now taller than the king. When they had met briefly the day before, the king had been busy on a phone call and had just waved him into his office and into a chair. Christian had experienced another surprise growth spurt after he had joined the military at age twenty and was now six-three, but he hadn’t realized that made him taller than the king.

“Hello again, Royal Military Liaison Lieutenant Diaz.” The king’s eyes twinkled at him as he ignored protocol and pulled Christian into a hug. “I didn’t get a chance to do that when we met yesterday. I wanted to correct that error.”

“Yes, sir.” Christian returned the hug before stepping back and offering him a crisp salute. “Lieutenant Diaz reporting for duty, sir.”

“As you were, Lieutenant. Now I think there’s someone here who can’t wait to greet you. It was hard keeping this a secret from him.”

“I know. I talked to him earlier, and I almost spilled the beans.”

Christian moved down the line and tried to keep a stern expression on his face as he saluted before grinning at one of his best friends. “Crown Prince.”

“Why didn’t you tell me you were being assigned to the castle as Royal Military Liaison?”

“I thought you would like the surprise of it. It just happened a few days ago.” Christian once more ran a hand down the front of his military uniform. “First mission, the Midsummer’s Ball. It’s a very tough assignment.”

“Well, I’m glad you’re here. I can’t wait to see more of you, and as a bonus, now I won’t have to drive to visit you.”

Christian scoffed. “Like it’s that far to the base or my house from here.”

“When I was used to you being always at my side, it’s too far.”

“It’s been ten years, Bas.”

“Too far. Too long.”

“Yes, Your Highness.” Christian couldn’t help the eye roll at the end. It was good to be back with friends.

Prince Sebastian just grinned in response.

“My turn. My turn.”

Christian turned his head to the left to see Princess Katarina waving him down the line. “Princess Katarina, it is a pleasure to see you again.”

“I am so excited you made it and that we will get to see more of you.”

“Me too, Your Highness.”

He leaned forward to kiss her cheek and she took the opportunity to whisper in his ear.

“I think you have broken our Head Chef.”

“What?” Christian pulled back so he could look in her eyes, as if that would somehow make what she’d said make sense.

“He is standing over by the hors d’oeuvres table and has been staring at you since you were announced.” Katarina giggled. “He looks like someone has struck him.”

Christian shook his head at her, although his heart sped up at the thought of seeing his old crush, but he tried not to show that her words had affected him. “I will leave you to greet the rest of your guests. We can catch up later.”

“Save me a dance, please, Lieutenant.”

“It would be an honor, Princess.”

Christian glanced over at the hors d’oeuvre table to find Max Ramirez indeed staring at him. The eye contact must have startled him because he jumped then looked at his shoes for a moment and clasped his hands behind his back. Christian strode across the room to greet him, determined not to make an ass of himself. He pulled Max into a quick hug in greeting, before holding him out at arm’s length so he could get a better look at him.

Max had been his older teenage crush and was the epitome of everything he had ever dreamed of in a man. I obviously still have it bad for the guy. At six-foot-five, Max was a giant—but a gentle one. Christian was still leaner than Max, but along with the growth spurt, he had put on a lot of muscle and his frame had filled out a lot since the last time they had seen each other, making them more equal in stature. There was something about the man that had always called to him.

“Max! How are you doing?”

“I’m doing great. Head Chef now.”

“I heard. Six years ago now, right? Everyone was talking about you being the youngest to ever get the job.”

“Yeah. They told me on my thirtieth birthday. I did not see it coming.” Max had started as an apprentice to the head chef, Howie Klein, straight out of culinary school. The twenty-year-old had met the chef’s cranky, militaristic style in the kitchen with a smile on his face. Which, as the last apprentice had stormed out of the kitchen after throwing a pan at Mr. Klein’s head, had been important.

“Yeah. It’s too bad about the arthritis in Mr. Klein’s feet. I still talk to his son Ryan frequently. He told me his father was gutted to have to retire but happy to have you to move into the position. Good for you. It was a well-earned promotion.”

“He still stops in from time to time to give his opinion on things, so I still get to see him. Thank you. I’m proud of their faith in me. I’m assuming this is a promotion for you?”

“Yep. Going to be assigned to the castle for a while.” There was an awkward pause in the conversation. Christian turned so he was standing shoulder to shoulder with Max and could have a better view of the room. He waved a hand indicating the greeting line. “I can’t believe Princess Katarina is eighteen already.”

“Right? She was, what? Eight when you left? She seemed pleased to see you. I’m surprised she remembered you.”

“I was assigned to be her personal guard when she visited colleges last summer. We spent eight weeks together. We got to know each other pretty well.”

“Oh. No one said. What about Prince Sebastian?”

“We still hang out and talk as often as we can. I inherited my grandmother’s cottage on the west side of the island. Sebastian usually visits me there when I’m on-island.”

“What about Ryan? You said you still talk to him frequently?”

“I still consider him one of my best friends, along with Prince Sebastian.” Christian laughed self-deprecatingly. “We bonded over our unrequited crushes. His on Prince Sebastian and mine on you.” He gave Max a quick wink before turning his attention back to the room. “I visit him as often as I can in Boston, and we try to talk at least once a week, when possible. He’ll be here tonight, actually, along with his best friend from college and her husband.”

“He will?”

“Yep. Princess Katarina insisted. We stayed with Ryan while touring colleges in Boston, and she got to know all of them.”

“Ryan is almost a full-fledged doctor now, right?”

“He’s actually done already. Four years as an undergrad at Harvard, then four years of medical school. He finished up his residency a few weeks ago. Speaking of…” Christian elbowed Max in the side, ignoring the tingle where they touched, and nodded toward the entry. Christian made sure to be watching Prince Sebastian’s expression, when first the Surgeon General of the Island, Doctor Guttschein, was announced, then Ryan Klein was there with his friends Emma and Ian Robinson.

“Wow. He’s definitely grown up.” Max chuckled. “The prince obviously thinks so too.”

He couldn’t help but chuckle as he watched Sebastian’s jaw drop in astonishment. Ryan had changed a lot over the years, going from gangly and coltish to becoming a well-proportioned hunk. Yep. He’s just Sebastian’s type now. He followed Ryan and his friends with his gaze as they made their way through the greeting line, chuckling to himself as he noted Sebastian’s impatience as he waited for his turn to speak to Ryan.

Princess Katarina waved a hand in Christian and Max’s direction as she finished greeting them. Ryan’s face lit up as he saw them, and he hurried over to embrace Max after shooting Christian a grin.

“You are certainly a sight for sore eyes, Ryan.”

“Thanks, Max. It’s great to see you.”

“Gah.” Max slapped Ryan on the back then gave him an assessing look. “You are way too thin. We need to work on fattening you up a bit.”

“I was busy learning. Didn’t have much time for cooking. Let me introduce you to my friends from America. Emily and Ian, this is the chef you heard me going on about. Emily is also a doctor in the Island Doctor program and will be working with me here on Corazón. Ian is her husband and a very talented carpenter. Ian did his best to keep us fed, but sometimes it was a decision between sleep or eating,” Ryan finished with a shrug.

“It is an honor to meet you, sir.” Ian extended his hand for a shake. “This one”—with a thumb point back to Ryan—“talked about yours and his dad’s cooking all the time. Memories of food and the kitchen were like his happy place when he was particularly stressed.”

Ryan grinned widely at Ian’s comment but didn’t deny it. “The kitchen was my happy place. Max did a great job of making sure there was always something available for Christian, Prince Sebastian and me during those starving teenage years.”

“Yes, I couldn’t wait to meet you. I feel like I know you already.” Emily stepped up and hugged Max instead of shaking his hand.

Max looked shocked for a moment but gently hugged her back. “It is great to meet you as well.”

“Christian,” Emily gushed, “how are you? Ian has missed you.”

“I did.” Ian nodded. “It’s great when I have someone to talk to about something non-medical related or who isn’t zombie-level tired.”

“Yes, dear, I know we have treated you so badly.” Emily patted his cheek in a condescending but loving manner before turning back to Christian. “Anyway, all that’s behind us. Ryan and I start at the hospital in August. They are giving us a few weeks to settle in and reset.”

“I look forward to hanging out with all of you. You’re staying with Ryan in his cottage, right?”

“Just for a short time. Surprise! We bought the cottage on the other side of Ryan from you.”

“Really? The Svenson place? I heard Mrs. Svenson passed away a couple of months ago but didn’t even think about it.”

“Yep. We bought it. It needs a lot of updating, though.”

Christian cringed thinking about the last time he had seen inside the very dated house. “I remember the avocado appliances.”

“Yeah, but it’s all ours.”

“Can’t wait.”

“How’s the ankle? Glad to see you are out of the cast.”

“What happened to your ankle?”

Christian looked at Max in surprise when he heard the note of panic in his voice. “I broke it about eight weeks ago on my last mission. Just got out of the cast a few weeks ago, so it’s light duty for a few more weeks until I can finish the physical therapy. Should be good as new after that.” Christian held his foot out and rotated it in a circle to show it was fine.

“Why didn’t you let me know? I could have come to help—or at least sent food, wherever you were. I’m assuming you were here on the island for at least part of your recovery.”

“Why would I have called for help? It’s just an ankle. I’ve had worse.”

A look of shock crossed Max’s face. “When were you hurt worse?”

Christian gave another one-shouldered shrug. “It comes with the job, Max. You know that.”

They were interrupted by the arrival of Christian’s father before the discussion could go any further.

“Christian. Ryan.” No hug. No smile. Just their names and a head nod. “I heard you were back.”

“Yes, sir. On light duty for a few more weeks, but the powers-that-be thought it would be good for me to represent them at this shindig.” Christian waved a hand to encompass the ballroom and all the people as he finished speaking. If Christian had expected the great Juan Diaz, head of the royal guard, to be happy to see him—which he hadn’t—he would have been hurt by his father’s reaction.

“Huh. And here I thought you’d actually smartened up and were ready to come back full-time and accept your responsibilities here.”

“I am coming back to accept my responsibilities here. I’m a lieutenant in this country’s army and I am doing my duty as assigned.”

“Don’t take that tone with me, young man.”

“I’m not, sir.” Christian squared his shoulders and faced his father, looking him directly in the eye and lowering his voice so the other people around them wouldn’t hear. “I am living my life the way I want to—not your plan for my life…mine. Now, if you’ll excuse me. I have some appetizers to eat and friends to catch up with. I’ll let you get back to your duties.” Christian made sure to put as much emphasis on the word ‘duties’ as he could.

He had heard enough lectures growing up about the importance of performing his duties—how he had to be at his best at all times, how he had to be serious. There had been no time for play in the Diaz household.

Juan Diaz’ only reaction was a clenched jaw. Christian swore he could almost hear his father’s teeth creak from the pressure. Without another word, Juan turned on his heel and strode away.

Christian closed his eyes while pinching the bridge of his nose for a moment to get his emotions under control. He’d done it. He’d stood up to his father. Ryan wrapped his arm around Christian’s waist and gave him a side hug.

“Good job,” he whispered.

“Thanks,” he whispered back. “Why are we whispering?”

Ryan squeezed him again. “Because I know you don’t know how to take a compliment. Not sure if he actually heard you, but you said what you’ve been wanting to say, so that’s good.”

Christian wrapped his arm around Ryan’s waist and gave him a quick squeeze in return before raising his voice to normal levels. “Yeah. Well, let’s forget about it for now and focus on the wonderful food Max and his crew have made for the ball.” He turned toward the chef. “You have truly outdone yourself, Max.”

“You know I love to do stuff like this. It’s been a blast working with Katarina. I love the tradition where the royal gets to plan the Midsummer’s Ball as their first adult event-planning after they turn eighteen. I think everyone is really going to enjoy everything she has come up with for this event.”

“I don’t think that’s what my father said when he was working with Princess Zia when it was her turn,” Ryan said dryly.

“Well, Zia’s event was a bit different. She wanted to make hers an exclusive event only for certain people, and that was her choice of how to use her budget. Katarina has been more about including as many people as possible. It’s been great to see her operate. She is well-loved—and look at how great everything is.”

Everyone turned to inspect how the room was decorated for the event. Princess Katarina had gone with a fairy garden party theme. Flowers in a rainbow of colors were distributed throughout the room, with small, twisted grapevine sculptures of different fairies sitting on beds of petals serving as the centerpieces. Christian was especially impressed by the artistry of the Fairy King and Queen ice sculpture over by the drinks table. The whole effect was warm and yet classy. The doors were open to the outside, where the garden was decorated with lights, and more grapevine sculptures were hidden in the branches of the bushes and trees.

Christian chuckled. “As I told you, I can’t believe she’s eighteen already and doing stuff like this. It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was feeding her a bottle and changing her diaper.”

Ryan scoffed. “If memory serves me correctly, you avoided diaper issues at all costs.”

“Only because I had very important duties to handle with the prince.”

“Uh-huh. Like sneaking out to go for ice cream?”

“We only did that once!” Christian’s feigned outrage made Ryan laugh, which had been his intention.

Ryan reached out and cupped Christian’s neck. “I’m glad you’re here right now. I’ve missed you. Hopefully now that I’ve moved here permanently, we will be able to hang out more.”

“We will. I only have a few months left on this enlistment. I’m not sure if I’m going to re-sign or not. Don’t know what I would do next, but I think I’m ready for something new. Right now, I’ve actually been reassigned as the liaison to the castle for the foreseeable future.”

“Wait. You’re going to be around more?” Ryan sounded truly pleased with the idea.

“Yep. Anyway”—Christian rubbed his hands together while looking over the food on the tables—“I’m starving. I know the dinner isn’t for another hour, so let’s dig in. I have definitely missed Max’s cooking.”

Max grinned at all of them. “I look forward to having you all around, both old friends and new. I have missed the two of you. Now, I must get back to my kitchen. Who knows what crisis is lurking?” With a wave, Max turned and disappeared through the door leading into his domain.

Christian couldn’t help watching Max’s ass as he walked away, only to be interrupted by Ryan clapping him on the back. “You’ve still got it bad, man.”

“Like you can talk,” Ian said as he threw his arm over his wife’s shoulders. “Did you see him drooling over the prince?”

“I did. I also saw the prince doing his own drooling.”

“I can’t deny it. Prince Sebastian is still very fine.”

“Agreed,” Christian said. “Now to put operation Come to Daddy in action.”

“For the last time, we are not calling it that.”

Operation Nookie Time?”

“No.” Ryan gave Christian a shove. “Let’s just get some food, dork.”

Christian laughed as he grabbed a plate and started loading it up with a little bit of everything…except the fish. Christian hated fish in any form. Always had. Max had tried for years to find a fish dish he liked. As they were an island country, that made it difficult for him sometimes. Luckily, the island also had sheep, poultry, some beef and he was okay with different kinds of seafood, but not fish.

Christian and Ryan talked and joked with everyone in the group, in between speaking to all the people who came up to welcome them home. Ryan introduced Emily and Ian as they talked and everyone made sure they both were included in the conversations as much as possible. Ryan snagged the hand of a sneak thief trying to steal a shrimp from his plate.

“Sorry, Your Highness,” Ryan quickly released Sebastian’s wrist, when he realized who it was. “You do know there’s a ton of food right there, don’t you?” Ryan pointed at the still-full tables of appetizers.

“Yep, but stolen treats taste better. It’s been scientifically proven.”

“Has it now?” Ryan queried dryly. “And where can I find the results of this scientific study?”

“It’s well known. You can find it anywhere,” the prince responded.

“Uh-huh.”

“Whew,” Emily interrupted fanning herself with her hand. “Is it getting hot in here or is just me?”

Christian shook his head in mock disgust. “The two of them have always been that way. Although it’s nice to see that the prince finally bought a clue and understood what is right in front of him.”

The prince whipped his head around so he could stare at his long-time friend. “What?”

“What? Ryan is one of the few people who can challenge you intellectually and keep up with you physically as far as training. I am one of the others, but there has never been any chemistry between the two of us. The two of you, on the other hand? You start talking and it’s like the rest of the world ceases to exist.”

“Really?” Ryan said. “That’s interesting to hear. I always thought my crush on the prince was hopeless. In fact, I believe the prince even told me he didn’t see me as anything but a friend.”

Christian pretended to lower his voice and spoke in a stage whisper. “Plot twist, spoiler alert. He lied.” Christian switched his voice to normal. “Especially now that Ryan has grown into”—Christian paused to wave a hand in Ryan’s direction, indicating his body from top to bottom—“all this. Ryan is everything Sebastian ever said he wanted.” Christian watched with amusement as the prince squirmed.

“Not to change the subject or anything, but what are you doing here? You didn’t tell me you were coming to the ball.” Prince Sebastian stepped forward and pulled Christian into a quick guy-clench.

His friend’s laughter and joking eased something inside Christian. Man, it’s good to be home.

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About the Author

Ann Marie James

Ann Marie James is fluent in two languages, English and sarcasm. She believes that you will never learn anything new if you don’t read as much as you can, and/or talk to every stranger you meet. She always looks for the best in people and to treat people the way she wants to be treated. Above all Ann Marie believes in love, whatever form it takes. Relationships are hard, love is the glue that keeps it together.

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Book Blitz & Excerpt: Runaway Royal + Giveaway

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Runaway Royal by Wendi Zwaduk

Word Count: 50,742
Book Length: NOVEL
Pages: 198
Heat Rating: Sizzling
Sexometer: 2

Genres:

CONTEMPORARY
EROTIC ROMANCE
ROYALS

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Book Description

Will this runaway royal ever find her place…and true love?

All Princess Catherine Zara of Lysianna wants to do is attend college like everyone else her age. So she’s a royal and requires a security guard to move about in public, but if she goes to university, she doesn’t have to marry the man chosen for her. He’s not her true love, so why torture herself? All she has to do to get her life started is to run away to the US…

And then she meets Luke.

Luke Cobb wants to survive college with a degree in studio art and guarantees that he can show his paintings in the local galleries. All he needs is the right break to get his work mainstream and the right woman to stoke his dormant muse. When he meets Zara, he’s smitten and his creativity sparks.

Except, she’s a princess and he’s a commoner, which could be a big problem…

Excerpt

“I can do this.” Princess Catherine shored up her courage. She was a royal. A princess. She could do anything she set her mind to—except stand up to the king and queen.

She stared at her reflection in the mirror. Her parents, the king and queen of Lysianna, wouldn’t allow her to head to another country on her own. They insisted she be an advisor to her brother, the future king. Charlie could handle himself and he’d be a great king—whenever the time came.

If she didn’t practice what she wanted to say, she’d flounder and this was not the time to lose her nerve. She tucked her hair behind her ears. “Mother, Father, I need to speak with you. I’ve completed two years of online schooling towards a degree in art history and I’m going to Kenton State College in the United States to finish it.” Did she sound convincing enough?

She’d already completed her application for acceptance on campus, chosen her classes for the first semester and landed a good apartment in a building just across from the main portion of the campus. Her plane ticket had been paid for and she’d packed most of her things. All she needed to do was tell her parents she’d be leaving.

She abandoned her image in the mirror and resumed packing the last of her things—her brushes, photos and stuffed rabbit in her bag. She’d come back, but she wasn’t sure when. Sadness filled her mind. Change would be hard—she’d only ever lived in the castle—but she needed to move forward with her life. She’d never be happy living as part of the court. Even if she did nothing more than teach an art class or run a portion of a museum back home, she’d be happy and doing something with her life.

Her lady-in-waiting, Corinne, hurried into the room. “I guess you’re ready to go.” She folded her arms. “Want me to go with you? I should.”

She had plans for her lady and wasn’t about to disclose them now. Corinne was terrible with secrets and would’ve told her parents before the point of no return. “It’s handled.”

Corinne sat on the bed. “What am I going to do with myself? I have nothing to do if you’re not here. They might let me go.”

“They won’t.” She closed her bag. “They like you. If my brother wasn’t gay, they’d have married you off to him by now.”

“But he is gay.” Corinne groaned. “Sucks.”

Her lady hadn’t been shy about her crush on Charlie. In the whole of their time together, Corinne had insisted to Catherine she wanted to marry Charlie. The problem? Besides Charlie being gay, he wasn’t going to marry Corinne simply to make an heir. He refused to change just for the royal line.

“Your parents would rather you marry Duke Elmore. He’s handsome,” Corinne said. “If you’re into older guys.”

Catherine shivered. “Older isn’t the half of it. He’s almost twenty years older than me, he’s not handsome at all and I don’t like him. I don’t want to be married to someone who sees me as a ticket to the good life. He wants a title beyond duke.” Her stepmother would never understand. She’d married the king, despite their ten-year age difference, just to have a title.

“So you’re going to America to avoid him?”

“No.” She simply refused to marry someone out of duty, not love. “I want to finish my degree. Art makes me happy. Him? Not so much.”

“Well, it’s time to talk to your parents.” Corinne walked with her to the corridor. “Need me to do anything?”

“Nope. I’ve got this handled.” Catherine gave her bag to the butler. “Thank you.” She shored herself up again and headed down to the throne room. The car was ready and once she reached the airport, the plane would be waiting to whisk her to the States. Even if her parents said no, she’d left nothing to chance.

“Catherine.” Her stepmother, Eloise, closed her book. “You look determined. Have you made a decision concerning the duke?”

“I have.” She clasped her hands together. “I refuse to marry him.” She stood tall. “I’ve made a choice about my future, too.”

“Oh?” Her father finally looked up from his paperwork. “What have you decided?”

She sucked in a ragged breath, then sighed. “Mother, Father, I’m attending college.”

Her father tipped his head and said nothing. Her stepmother gasped. “Why? You’re a royal. You don’t have to do schooling. Elmore will take care of you and you can play with your art all you want. Royals don’t dirty their hands with studies.”

Her stepmother spit the words out like sour candies. Catherine didn’t care. She had to focus. “I want a degree in art history. I’d like to learn about the art here in Lysianna and around the world—like my mother used to know.”

“Interesting,” her father said. He tapped his pen on the table. “Why do you want to follow in your mother’s footsteps?”

She’d prepared for this question. “I need to have something that’s mine. I love art and I’m dying to continue my studies.” She had to keep her explanation short and sweet. The more she talked, the greater the chance her parents would coerce her to change her mind. “I want something to hold on to that reminds me of my mother. I don’t remember her and this is my private link.”

“She’s gone,” her stepmother snapped.

“Let her have this, Queen. It’s her choice,” her father said. “She’ll get bored after a year or she’ll find this is the thing she wants to do. As for Elmore, he can wait. Or maybe he can’t and he’ll choose someone else. Doesn’t matter to me. He’s a pest.”

She wasn’t going to get bored, but if her father thought Elmore was a pest, then why try to palm her off on him?

“What about Charles?” her stepmother said. “He should be the one to go first. Yes, he deserves a degree.”

“He already has one.” Catherine gritted her teeth. Their parents didn’t know Charlie well. He hated being referred to as Charles and he wasn’t interested in going to college again. Charlie had attained a degree on his own and had his plan for making his own way without their parents to intervene. Now was her chance to do the same.

“Anyway, I’m leaving.” She turned on her heel and left the room. If she looked back, she risked changing her mind. Only forward now.

“You’re what?” Her stepmother chased after her. “You cannot. We need to arrange lodgings and security and everything else. You’ll need handlers and Elmore should accompany you for protection. Or he should set up a security detail so he can keep you safe, but stay here to run his businesses.”

God, no. Catherine headed through the foyer to the waiting car. “Goodbye, Mother.” The idea of calling her stepmother Mother annoyed her. She’d had a mother and the queen wasn’t a very good substitute.

“Catherine.” Her stepmother caught up to her. “We’ll summon Elmore. You cannot make the flight unprotected.”

She sighed. “He’s old enough to be my father and he’s not attractive, so no.” She tossed her bag onto the seat. “I’ll be fine. No one in the United States knows me, so I won’t need the huge protection you’re planning.” She’d have her roommate in her new apartment and a few transplanted palace security guards around, but out of sight.

“Take Corinne, please?” Her stepmother pushed Corinne at her. “You can’t go alone. And don’t forget, you need to have an approved consort by the time of your official portrait reveal.”

“Fine.” Catherine nodded to her lady-in-waiting. “Let’s go.” She ducked into the car without bothering for hugs or kisses from her stepmother. That wasn’t her stepmother’s style. Her father hadn’t left the throne room. Her stepmother glared at her, but didn’t otherwise show emotion. She wouldn’t dare. Any bit of cracking might show she was human and the people of Lysianna didn’t think she had emotions. She wanted to say goodbye to her brother, but he wasn’t even in the country.

Catherine settled on the seat and sighed. “That worked out exactly as I planned.”

“What about me?” Corinne asked. “You said I’d stay here.”

“I lied.” She winked. “I couldn’t go totally alone. They’re right. I do need someone with me that I can trust.” Well, mostly trust. “I packed you a bag and added your name to the charter. You’re flying with me.”

Corinne’s eyes widened. “My princess.” She grinned. “Naughty.”

She sighed again. “I’ve never been naughty a day in my life. Crafty, maybe, but never naughty.”

“You’ve lived in your brother’s shadow for too long.”

“He’ll be king and I won’t hold the throne. Even if something happens to him, they won’t let me be queen, so why not have something that’s mine?” Catherine asked. “I don’t mind.” She didn’t. “This way I’m out from under their thumb and can experience life.” She couldn’t wait for the next chapter to start. There was a great big world out there just waiting for her to explore it.

There was the tricky thing about her needing a consort, but she had plenty of time. The portrait reveal wasn’t for another year. The world wouldn’t wait a year—not when her consort might be out there somewhere.

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About the Author

Wendi Zwaduk

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 BDSM and LGBTQ 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 contemporary, best ménage and best anthology. Her books have made it to the bestseller lists on Amazon.com and the former AllRomance Ebooks. She also writes under the name of Megan Slayer.

When she’s not writing, she 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.

You can find out more about Wendi on her website or on her blog. You can also find her on Instagram, Bookbub and Amazon.

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Runaway Royal by Wendi Zwaduk

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