Book Blitz & Excerpt: Antiques + Giveaway

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Antiques by Bailey Bradford

Book 2 in the Intrinsic Values series

Word Count: 53,479
Book Length: NOVEL
Pages: 214

Genres:

CONTEMPORARY
EROTIC ROMANCE
GAY
GLBTQI
THRILLERS AND SUSPENSE

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Book Description

Elliot Douglas lived his life on the sidelines—until Drew Harrington smashed front and center into it…

Since rebuilding his life, Elliot Douglas has led a quiet existence, hiding behind a routine and the old-fashioned clothes and behavior that make him seem older than his early forties. Now he’s taking one step at a time toward creating a more fulfilling life…one in which his sexual needs to submit are met.

However, baby steps are left behind when he meets Detective Andrew Harrington.

A driven—some say obsessed—Scotland Yard detective, Drew lives by compartmentalizing, focusing on his work and, as a Dom, enjoying BDSM sex as a stress relief. On the track of stolen paintings, he’s traced them to San Antonio, where he’s distracted from the case by an infuriatingly handsome antiques trader who’s not as predictable or fuddy-duddy as he wants the world to think.

Intrigued, Drew’s drawn to that mystery as much as the one he’s there to solve, which blindsides him.

Elliot and Drew’s attraction is instant, and their feelings strong, especially when Drew poses as Elliot’s boyfriend to infiltrate the local antiques scene. But nothing is what it seems—not the case, not Drew…and not even Elliot. With deception all around them, what hope do two men unused to trust and commitment have of a relationship?

Reader advisory: This book contains a scene of on-page stabbing, assault and the threat of sexual assault.

Excerpt

Elliot Douglas knew he should have been hurrying. He detested being late for anything, considering it disorganized at best and impolite at worst, when he prided himself on being neither of those things. In addition, he was very much looking forward to this appointment. No—he very much needed this appointment. While those undeniable facts made him lengthen his stride a tad, his interest in the architecture and design of the houses on the midtown streets he was walking along meant he kept glimpsing things that grabbed his attention.

As the proprietor and manager of San Antonio’s Intrinsic Value antiques shop, his wide-ranging interest in art and design had him taking in everything from the houses’ building styles to their colors and trims. He’d been to many well-known interactive museums and ever since his first visit to this area of San Antonio had thought of it as a living architectural gallery.

His whimsical feeling that he should have a chart or worksheet so he could tick off examples of the different building types all around him made him smile. Maybe he should make something along those lines, some mini poster to be labeled and even colored in? Edwardian, Victorian, Tudor… His quickening steps echoed the rhythm of his thoughts that listed the design styles he passed. I would design that, yes, if I could draw.

Should he have chosen this neighborhood to settle in? The question surged whenever he came here to Tobin Hill, where his love of collectible objects and period pieces had him slowing down to appreciate details of everything from lawn or porch furniture to hanging lanterns or even lampposts that caught his eye. If his pace slackened, it was because of that and nothing to do with him being in his forties. Forty-two wasn’t old, no matter how old-fashioned he was or even how he might feel at times, and Elliot kept his six-foot-plus frame fit and in shape.

But the visual appeal of this community, and the location, so convenient for his store, had him second-guessing yet again the area he’d actually bought real estate in. Well, too bad. With all the work he was putting into his property, he couldn’t see himself moving. And besides, he really liked his house, his refuge from the world.

His destination was in sight, and he hurried up the short drive and onto the small porch of the square ranch-style house, smiling anew as always at the realtor description of these nineteen-seventies stucco properties as “California bungalow style”.

There would be no need to lift the brass knocker, so Elliot raked both hands through his light-brown hair to settle the slightly long waves that sprang from his temples, trying not to think that he’d combed his fingers through where his hair had started to silver. He even went to polish his wire-framed glasses before remembering he didn’t wear them in the daytime any longer…which of course had him blinking, aware of his relatively new contact lenses.

“Lars.” Elliot greeted the man who’d opened the door for him and who now stood back to usher him in with his usual pleasant, welcoming expression.

“Elliot.” Lars was discreet, never saying Elliot’s—or anyone’s name—until the front door was firmly closed. He tended to blend into the room, tasteful yet unremarkable, and was now unobtrusively noting Elliot’s arrival on a slim handheld tablet, the dark-gray cover of which he flipped open and immediately flicked closed again.

The computer equipment had grated on Elliot at first. He wasn’t at all a fan of technology, but he knew he couldn’t expect people to keep track of appointments in ledgers or books these days. And goodness, he had a cellular phone—as he still called it—himself nowadays. A friend from the club where Elliot exercised and swam worked in IT and had helped him choose a sleek, slimline model. Nothing big or bulky or flashy, and Elliot was still in the forgetting it in his office or kitchen phase of coexistence with it.

Karl, the man he was here to see, came out into the waiting room and regarded him. “Good morning, Elliot. Do come on in…or do you need another minute yet to look around and think how you’d decorate and furnish the place?”

He’d told Karl about that silly habit of his, something he did in homes or stores or restaurants, and Karl had found it charming, always remembering it. Elliot gave a rueful nod of acknowledgment and, casting his eyes down, walked past Karl into the next room, where there was calm and peace and barely audible soft music playing. He waited for Karl to enter behind him, close the door and sit, then nod toward a chair for Elliot to seat himself.

“You walked here?” Karl asked, his steely blue eyes catching the light. The morning sun made his neatly groomed dark hair, short beard and mustache shine. He probably chose to sit where he was on purpose and his stillness ensured he’d remain in the light. “Elliot?”

“Oh, excuse me. Wool-gathering. Yes. I like the walk. It’s part of coming here, for me. A warm-up.”

He knew what he meant. The distance was nothing from Intrinsic Value, in the city’s cultural Pearl District, but more of a stretch from his home in Lavaca.

“And you came from home? I’d hate to think you were at work so early.” Karl gave him an assessing once-over. “Help yourself to water.” His short, sharp chin jerk indicated the jug and glasses on the small table. “Have you been overworking since your last visit?”

“Well…” Elliot hedged, pouring himself a little water that he didn’t want and wouldn’t drink.

“Elliot. You know better than that.” Karl sharpened his tone a little. “Tell me.”

He hadn’t gone into recent…incidents in any great detail with Karl but had shared some of what had been happening at the store and with his employees lately. Now he caught Karl up on how things had finally settled down again after the events that had been set in motion when Elliot had purchased items from the Buckman sale.

“I swore off them, but I did go to another estate sale last week actually. There’s the local art and antiques fair coming up soon and I have a list of items to look out for there,” he finished.

“With most of them being for your house, on which you’re still working nonstop,” Karl surmised. Elliot dropped his gaze. “But you’ve found time to relax, to exercise? You look in great shape.”

Elliot’s face heated at the kind words. “Swimming most evenings, and I took up squash again.” More like he’d forced himself. But…

“Excellent. And we’ll have you switching to racquetball soon!” Karl’s eyes gleamed and he stood, motioning Elliot to his feet with a quick crook of his fingers. “It’s time. Go on through.”

Through into what Elliot thought of as the real room, after he’d showered and prepared, of course. Elliot was used to older mirrors, in the store and his house, and tended to avoid modern ones, but the full-length bathroom mirror here didn’t give too stark a reflection. The recessed lighting made his eyes seem more tawny than brown when he peered at his irises, checking on his lenses. Towel tucked around his waist, he walked into the treatment room. The real room.

“Elliot.” Karl coming in the other door caught him by surprise. “You’re not lying down.”

“Sorry,” Elliot muttered.

“Don’t be sorry. Be more obedient.” Karl took off his suit jacket, leaving him in his shirt and vest. He rolled up his sleeves, revealing his muscular forearms. He was powerfully built, with quiet, contained strength.

It was starting, frissons whispering down Elliot’s spine. Nodding, he lay on the table, swallowing at the snick of the door being locked, then the splat of the oil being pumped. The noises, the scents, were familiar, as were Karl’s hands smoothing his upper back and shoulders. Him pressing strong thumbs up the nape of Elliot’s neck had Elliot holding in a moan.

“Head to the side on the rest…hands on the wings…” Karl ordered, a second before the table’s mechanism popped out the armrests either side for Elliot to hold on to. In seconds, a padded strap snaked across his neck, holding his head in position and leather straps were buckled around his wrists, keeping his hands in place.

Buckled by Lars, who Elliot hadn’t even heard come in or lock the door again after him, although Elliot knew he would have, just as he knew Lars would now position the flat mirror to the side of the head of the table, angling it in such a way that Elliot could see what Karl would be doing to him. Everything Karl would be doing to him.

Karl paused, even after Lars finished, making Elliot shiver and ask, “Now what?”

“You know what.” Karl whisked Elliot’s towel away, leaving him naked. In seconds, the table’s end section was extended and widened, spreading Elliot’s legs to Karl’s satisfaction, and further straps secured his ankles to the corners. He peeped in the mirror—he was fully bound, as pulling at his bonds showed him.

“The ball gag, I think,” Karl said.

Elliot shook his head.

“Hmm. I’ll let you have that…” Karl’s voiced faded as he appeared to think. A quiet command had Lars offering him a tray from which Karl made his choice of the selection of bandannas it held. He twisted the cotton cloth into a strip and made a knot in its middle, tying another on top of the first to make it bigger. Big enough to gag Elliot, when placed in his mouth and the fabric tied around the back of his head.

“I like the look of over-the-mouth on you,” Karl reflected. “And it soaks up the saliva. But it’s the ball gag next time.”

The hard edge to his voice had tiny tremors rippling Elliot’s skin and his rapidly filling balls had him shifting on the table.

“Although I do like to hear you,” Karl commented, drawing a sharp fingernail down Elliot’s spine.

Elliot, eyes wide, struggled around the gag.

“You struggle so prettily,” Karl told him, watching his face.

Elliot didn’t think he looked pretty at all. He thought he looked like the thickset, almost middle-aged man he was. But here, at Karl’s, he felt pretty, perhaps, and loved the sensation. He thrilled at all the different feelings that each part of the appointment provided, and underlying them all was pride in himself for having taken this stride toward what he needed. Another step out from behind the wall I built around myself.

Karl’s “Ready?” had hardly reached Elliot’s ears before Karl delivered the first blow, an open-handed spank to one ass cheek. Although Elliot knew what was coming, the first strike was always a jolt, a blow he felt radiate out from the point of impact to his toes in one direction and his head in the other—Karl hit hard. Elliot breathed out around the cloth in his mouth, riding the sensations in the few seconds Karl allowed before he followed the initial smack with a second to the other cheek, one that made Elliot pant through the gag.

More powerful, meaty smacks followed, Lars’ quiet voice counting them. Having Karl’s sub witness what his Dom, Karl, did to Elliot was part of the process.

“Ten. And that’s the warm-up.”

Elliot was almost relieved. He was already burning, tears slipping from his eyes. He turned slightly to catch Lars’ impassive expression and that added to the sensations buffeting him. He turned back to see Karl in the mirror, shaking out his hand.

“Now, sting or thud?” Karl watched Elliot’s hand and repeated, his voice harsher, “Elliot, sting? Thud?”

On the second choice, Elliot curled his fingers twice, their agreed signal for yes. Everything they practiced was always pre-negotiated.

“Good.” Karl took a wooden paddle from the flat box Lars held out to him. He motioned to Lars to loosen Elliot’s gag a little. “How many?”

“U…up to you, sir,” Elliot managed before Lars replaced the gag again.

“Is the correct answer.”

Elliot thought Karl rewarded him for it by hitting extra hard.

“Five, I think…” The blows Karl, pro-Dom, landed were precise. He’d never once come anywhere near to striking Elliot’s hip or tailbones. The impact of each tightened every nerve in Elliot’s body and fired heat through every vein, intensifying with each hit.

Ai’ive,” Elliot counted, as well as he could around the soaked cloth in his mouth.

“And now the other…” Karl murmured, and selected a new paddle for Elliot’s other butt cheek.

No!” Elliot implored through the gag, trying to struggle. “Nuff. Can’t take more…”

Karl waited a few seconds then bent low to speak next to Elliot’s head. “Oh, you’ll take it, Elliot. And any more protest, and I add strokes to the tally.”

That extra bite, that element of being forced that inch beyond what he said he could handle—thought he could handle—was everything to Elliot. It had started with being strapped down—he still remembered his struggles—then having another person witness his play… All things Elliot had barely understood deep down in the recesses of his psyche that he craved. But he was starting to understand more and more…and act on his needs.

Karl straightened and began again, and there was only the impact, the blows, and Elliot’s soul vibrating to each one, to take him soaring. Heat burning through him, he was shaking and sweating when Karl finished. He had his eyes closed, but felt hands undoing his straps, then Karl was helping him to turn over. He cried out when his abused ass made contact with the table.

“Look at you.” Karl’s voice held admiration for Elliot’s straining cock, the head wet and shiny with pre-cum. “How badly do you need to come?”

This was another Karl question that didn’t need an answer. “You’re going to wait a full minute. Do not touch yourself until I say. Understood? Say the word.”

“Understood.” It came out in nothing like his usual cultured tone.

The second hand on the large wall clock had never moved so slowly. Elliot, desperate, was just beginning to suspect something was wrong with it or that Karl had rigged it, when Karl nodded. “Do it. Let me see you.”

It didn’t take Elliot long. A few pulls at himself, a loud moan and he climaxed over his stomach and chest, his body a rigid arch off the table. His eyes on Karl, basking in the warmth on his face and the praise he loosed, Elliot milked his cock to the last drops. He accepted the soft tissues Karl held out to him to dab at himself. It didn’t matter, because the session always finished with another shower.

His after-shower always felt totally different from the one before, and now Elliot was less keyed up, he could appreciate the finer details, such as Karl having ready the bergamot and sandalwood soap Elliot liked, which he used at home. Elliot lathered his body, wondering as he always did if he’d ever have someone do that for him, in the same ways as he’d soap that person, both of them caring for the other.

He made himself wait until he was toweling himself dry to examine his ass cheeks. What he saw had him grinning, and not just at the reddened color—the paddles Karl had used on him had been imprinted.

He’d tried to glimpse the words or designs on them during the session but had been unable. Now, though, he stared at his right cheek, with its new image of a heart, right in its center, and at his left, which bore the word love. He did love it, every aspect of coming here, the service Karl provided, the careful way he ran his business, how it didn’t feel like a transaction…

As much as Elliot thrilled to the anticipation and thrived on the acts themselves, he also loved the winding down. The final stage was always out on the back porch with Karl, for light chat and the herbal tea they both enjoyed…and Elliot forced himself not to wince at how sitting on his recently paddled ass felt.

“Do you get to the club much?” Elliot thought to ask. The place they’d met, where Karl played as a Dom.

“Not as much now.” Karl put his cup down. “And I know you don’t either. The atmosphere’s a little different in there recently. I think there are some changes on the horizon—I heard it’s getting a little harder-edged, more extreme, and maybe new management? But we’ll see if the changes are for the better. Some can be.”

Elliot’s preference for a routine was a half-joke between them. When he stood to go, Karl looped a hand around his upper back to bring him close. “Take care,” he murmured.

Elliot started his walk to the store. He felt good, lighter, as he always did after a session with Karl, yet heaviness was creeping in sooner than it usually did. He reviewed the progress he’d made. Trying to come out from behind the barricades he’d shuttered himself behind, he’d gone for coffee with a couple of guys from his sports club and even a drink once, but there’d been no spark.

Then, when he’d come to understand that rough, submissive sex was what he craved, he’d gone looking for it in Caress, where there were plenty of Doms. But as much as he might crave to play in public, the idea of subbing to someone he didn’t know, who didn’t know him, and who Elliot didn’t know if he could trust, made him freeze up.

He’d found a good compromise in Karl and his behind-closed-doors service. He liked the kind of man Karl was, and also their arrangement, but couldn’t help envying what Karl and Lars had.

What must that be like, that sort of relationship? To be with someone he could give all of himself to, voice all his needs to, and for that person to act on them with him…because they met his needs too? And all of them, including companionship, domesticity… He’d never had that and doubted he ever would.

Wishes and dreams, maybes and moonbeams.” It was a silly expression of his grandmother’s, one he hadn’t thought of for years, and it came to him out of the blue.

No. Elliot focused on the day ahead, on his schedule, what he’d be doing and when. He planned to order something different for lunch—that was the next brick he was going to topple from the wall around himself. Maybe one day, in the future, he’d be ready to take bigger actions, but for now…

Now was longing, as tenuous and as strong as a moonbeam, slipping through the cracks.

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About the Author

Bailey Bradford

A native Texan, Bailey spends her days spinning stories around in her head, which has contributed to more than one incident of tripping over her own feet. Evenings are reserved for pounding away at the keyboard, as are early morning hours. Sleep? Doesn’t happen much. Writing is too much fun, and there are too many characters bouncing about, tapping on Bailey’s brain demanding to be let out.

Caffeine and chocolate are permanent fixtures in Bailey’s office and are never far from hand at any given time. Removing either of those necessities from Bailey’s presence can result in what is known as A Very, Very Scary Bailey and is not advised under any circumstances.

Giveaway

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Book Blitz & Excerpt: In a Devil Bind + Giveaway

In A Devil Bind Banner

In a Devil Bind, by Makayla Roberts

Word Count: 66,127
Book Length: NOVEL
Pages: 242

GENRES:

ACTION AND ADVENTURE
ANGELS AND DEMONS
CONTEMPORARY
CRIME AND MYSTERY
EROTIC ROMANCE
MYSTERY
THRILLERS AND SUSPENSE

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Book Description

 

It has been one hell of a week.

With a serial killer on the loose and her carnal needs spiraling out of control, the last thing Detective Cheyenne Wilcox needs is to be deterred. As her cursed fate would have it, she gets the biggest hindrance of all when she winds up drugged with a spell that prevents her from moving more than six feet away from none other than Thorne Lucifer—an egotistical playboy whom she hates more than anything. Perhaps it was a good thing he didn’t remember her from the past, because the moment they manage to find a way to break the spell, she’s going to go above and beyond to erase all traces of him from her life…again.

Chey is one hot succubus, but her detached attitude is nothing but a nuisance to Thorne. Plus, having her following him everywhere presents a threat to his hard-earned reputation as Elysium’s most eligible bachelor. However, he can’t deny the sizzling attraction between them, or the fact that her feistiness only makes him eager to have her submit to him.

There’s a fine line between lust and love, and though Chey seems determined to keep things casual until the spell is broken, for the first time in his life, Thorne is leaning more toward the latter.

Reader advisory: This book contains scenes of violence, stalking and murder. It is best read as book two in The Lucifer Brothers series.

Excerpt

Waking up in a stranger’s bed was nothing new to Thorne Lucifer. At age eighty and some change, sex was one of the few things he had to keep from dying of boredom most days. If someone asked him to count how many lovers he’d taken in the past year alone—hell, the past month—he couldn’t even give two names. They all came and went—pun intended.

On this occasion, however, he couldn’t recall a day in his life when he’d awakened chained to a stranger’s bed with a splitting headache and a bad case of nausea, having been stripped down to nothing more than his socks. With a grunt, he squinted his eyes open, sighing with relief when the only lights he could make out were from a handful of dim candles that had been placed on top of a wooden dresser. He didn’t think his hangover would be very kind to him if he’d been encased in full illumination. A faint orange glow shone from the open door across from him—a bathroom, most likely.

He soon became aware of his other senses. Something smelled like mildew, piss and the very ass of hell. There was the sound of shuffling and scraping, though it was very light. It was distant, perhaps coming from another room.

Something cold and wet soaked one side of his head, so he turned a bit to spot a clear zipped bag filled with water, though the outside was coated in condensation.

Aw, his lover had been considerate enough to give him an ice pack for his hangover. How sweet.

With a snort, he waited until his vision cleared further before taking in his surroundings—moldy walls with chipped paint that had lost color long ago, a busted bubble-back TV, a crooked painting of a bland flower and furniture covered in stains that came from only-the-gods-knew what. Even the bed he was on was lumpy and uncomfortable, resulting in a deep ache in his lower back. A pile of sharp rocks would have been preferable.

He crinkled his nose in disgust. While he wasn’t as particular about his sex partners as his uptight brothers were, he was damn sure not down with doing business in raggedy motel rooms. He was a classier dude than that. He’d screw his partner in a dark alley and send her on her way before bedding down in one of these shitholes.

What gives?

He frowned, images of the previous night coming back in bits and pieces. He’d gone to one of his favorite bars on the east side of town after leaving work. It had been a slow Saturday, so he’d wanted to go out for some drinks to pass the time. He was a big drinker, so throwing back shot after shot hadn’t even given him a buzz. Instead, it’d put him in a horny mood, and he’d been scanning the crowd for the hottest woman to take home for a night of fun. If he were lucky, he would have found two of them.

It hadn’t taken long before he’d spotted a petite blonde sashaying toward him. She hadn’t been the only one interested, of course. Despite being a Lucifer, his devilishly handsome looks and easy smile always aided him in attracting the opposite sex. But that woman had been a nymph—his favorite. He’d sensed that right off the bat and wasted no time ordering a drink for her while they made small talk.

Everything went blurry from there. He vaguely recalled her leading him to the dance floor, grinding against his dick in tune with the music. Then they were outside and…everything went blank.

Frown deepening, he realized the wench must have slipped something into one of his drinks. He glanced down at his naked body, checking for any damage. Nothing. Not even a little nick from a needle drawing blood. He grunted, pushing himself up the musty pillows.

Well, damn. If she hadn’t cut him open in his sleep, what the hell had she drugged him for? He’d already planned on screwing her brains out, so if she’d thought to use him for sex, it was pointless.

“Yo, nympho. You there?” he called, his voice rough from waking up. “You can unchain me now.”

Of course, he didn’t receive an answer. However, there was another collection of shuffling and thumping from the other room. He tugged on the chains binding his wrists in a way that made him look like he was being fucking crucified. A quick glance around showed a key on the nightstand next to him, and he sighed.

An ice pack and the key to free himself. How freaking considerate of her.

As he unlocked his chains, he grumbled a series of expletives under his breath, all directed at the vixen who’d caused this. While he didn’t mind being used for sex, he’d be damned if he’d let it slide that someone had drugged him and left him in such a dank room. He didn’t even know where he was. The blondie better pray he didn’t find out her identity. He might be known as a pretty laid-back man, but he damn sure wasn’t one to be crossed.

Freed, he stood and bent his body this way and that to inspect his backside for any blemishes. It wouldn’t surprise him to find his back and ass ate up by bed bugs. He didn’t see any, but he wouldn’t hold his breath on that one. The longer he stood in the room, the grosser his skin felt.

He spotted his pants and shirt thrown over the back of an armchair and swiftly donned them, sneezing as a chill washed over him. Great. Not only were his surroundings filthy beyond repair, but there was also a draft. The top of his head felt cold as ice, despite the rest of the room feeling like a damn furnace. He pulled on his shoes and spotted his leather jacket tossed on top of the half-broken dining table. Next to it sat his cell phone and wallet, and a quick check showed that his battery had a little juice—and nothing was missing from his wallet, not even a single torq.

Before he could reach for his jacket, he paused at the sound of someone knocking—not at the front door but the one that connected his room to another.

Tensing in preparation to kick someone’s ass, he strolled over and unlocked the latch, then threw the off-white panel open. “You have two seconds to explain what—”

Thorne stumbled backward as someone crashed into him. “Fuck,” a female growled against his chest before shoving him away. Dressed only in a black bra and panties, she clutched the side of her head, her hand coming away with blood. “Fuck! I’m going to kill them. Ohhh, someone is going to fucking die tonight.”

He stiffened when she looked at him, her dark eyes mere slits of coal. She bared her teeth like a wild animal. “Did you have something to do with this?” She flashed him her palm.

He cocked one eyebrow and jerked his thumb over his shoulder. “I just woke up tied to the bed, lady. Not sure what the hell’s going on.” He narrowed his eyes, taking her in. She wasn’t the nymph, that was for sure. That woman had been blonde with sparkling green eyes and alabaster skin. The one before him was the total opposite. “Did you have something to do with this?”

She grumbled a curse and rushed over to his bathroom, dismissing his presence. Despite the strangeness of the circumstances and the amount of blood and dirt covering her, Thorne couldn’t help the way his gaze dropped to her rear. Hey, he was a man, after all, and he’d always loved his women with bigger assets—special emphasis on the ‘ass’ portion.

The thong she wore was shaped against her like a custom fit, the lush globes jiggling with each step she took. Her lower back had two dimples, another thing he’d always liked on women. What bits of almond-colored skin he could see looked smooth to the touch, everything tight with lean muscles that spoke of a regular exercise routine. Her raven hair was parted down the middle and pulled into two thick braids that fell nearly to her waist.

His dick grew a bit hard while he followed from a safe distance as she entered the bathroom.

Snatching up a half-empty water bottle from the sink, she grabbed a washcloth and wet it, then began to dab at her wound with light touches. “Those motherfuckers,” she jeered, wincing in pain when she applied pressure.

Thorne leaned against the doorjamb of the bathroom. “Do you have even the slightest clue what’s going on here? I can’t remember shit from last night.”

She scoffed. “That’s because somebody drugged you.”

“No shit. I’m asking who did it—and why.”

She tossed the bloodied towel aside before turning to face him. He tried to keep from gaping at her full breasts, which were barely contained by her lacy bra. She pouted, then planted one fist on her hip with no shame whatsoever at her lack of clothing. “Do you see this?” She pointed to her bleeding temple.

Forcing his gaze away from the breasts, Thorne grimaced at the deep gash struggling to knit itself closed. It was a wonder she was even conscious, given how much blood soaked her. A wave of nausea rolled through him. “Yeah, that’s gross.”

She twisted her lips into a grim line. “Those bastards are dead when I get my hands on them. Do you hear me? D-E-A-D.” Before he could ask what she meant, she eyed him with caution. “You’d better get yourself checked. From what I know about devils, you guys can regenerate, but you can still catch an infection.”

He frowned, doing everything he could to keep himself from throwing up. The bleeding had slowed to a stop, but the raw pink tissue lying beneath was what sickened him. “What are you talking about? I’m fine.”

She lifted a brow, peering at the top of his head. “Sure, you are, Thorne.”

With that, she slid past him and made her way back to her room. Thorne frowned after her. “How do you know my name?” He didn’t bother trying to hide the suspicion in his voice. He’d be lying if he said she looked familiar. He’d come across so many women in his life that there was no telling who she was. Then again, there were few people who didn’t know him. He was a Lucifer, after all. Their name was known far and wide as they sat atop the pillar of the Big Four families in Sheol. “Have we met before?”

She snorted in derision. “If you have to ask that, then no.” She didn’t even hesitate as she stepped over the threshold.

Thorne meant to follow her to get more information, but he paused at the sight of himself in the broken mirror. All the color drained from his face as he blinked at his reflection.

There, on the top of his head, was the worst monstrosity he’d seen since…since…hell if he knew. He couldn’t even think of the proper words to compare it to, but it was disastrous.

His horns. His beautiful, six-inch, curved horns that held engraved patterns that were a proud sign of maturity and virility…

One was missing. Gone. Cut from his head, leaving him looking like a lopsided freak of nature. Like a fucking unicorn or something.

At the top of his lungs, he bellowed, “What the fuck!

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About the Author

Makayla Roberts

Makayla’s love for reading began at the age of twelve when her mother introduced her to the world of mystical creatures. From then on, she discovered a talent for turning her own imagination into words. From fanfictions to short stories to full-length novels and novellas, if she wasn’t focused on school activities, she was either reading or writing.

Raised on the coast of Mississippi, Makayla juggles her everyday life between work and being a mom. In her free time, she enjoys binge watching criminal suspense shows, shopping, painting, wood burning, and of course, working on her books.

Makayla enjoys writing stories with strong elements of romance, adventure, and paranormal. Vampires, shifters, fairies, dragons—she loves them all!

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Book Blitz & Excerpt: Dark Summer + Giveaway

Dark Summer Banner

Dark Summer by S.J. Coles

Word Count: 50,247
Book Length: NOVEL
Pages: 204

Genres:

ACTION AND ADVENTURE
EROTIC ROMANCE
GAY
GLBTQI
PARANORMAL
THRILLERS AND SUSPENSE
VAMPIRES

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Book Description

Is a human lifetime long enough to learn to love a vampire?

The tumultuous events of the Blood Winter are a fading nightmare, and Alec and Terje are trying to build a life together at Alec’s newly restored ancestral home of Glenroe. There’s just one problem… Terje doesn’t appear to be committed—constantly called away on mysterious errands and seemingly unable to forsake his own kind. Alec begins to wonder if Terje is capable of loving anyone, let alone him.

When an old uni friend Jay Singh, recently out of the closet and looking rather too good to be true, returns to Alec’s life, he becomes more conflicted than ever. Things only escalate when Alec is forced into the social and political issues still surrounding the haemophiles’ tumultuous integration into human society and soon it is more than just his relationship on the line.

Can Alec figure out what kind of future is possible with a vampire—and if it can ever be enough for either of them—before it’s too late?

Reader advisory: This book contains scenes of violence, murder, alcohol abuse and blood drinking.

Publisher’s Note: This story is best read as a sequel to Blood Winter.

Excerpt

The sun was warm on my face. The brisk wind brought with it the smells of sun-drenched heather and dry grass. The sky was a shade of blue so bright that it almost hurt to look at it. Summer was spreading through the mountains like molten gold, enhancing the colors and the smells, sinking into my flesh and heating my blood. The wind picked up as I reached the ridge and the sweat cooled on my face.

I stood for a moment, breathing deep, and had to admit that I missed sunshine. I’d kept haemophile hours for so long that I hadn’t even realized summer had come to the Cairngorms. But despite being out in the sun’s heat for the first time in months, the vague chill under my skin didn’t dissipate.

I rubbed a hand over my face and made myself take in the view. The undulating mountains, green glens and glistening jewels of the lochs always made me feel like I was standing alone on the face of heaven. Glenroe perched on its rocky outcrop below, the gray stone dark, even in the midday sun, like it couldn’t quite let go of its shadows. Scaffolding was bright against the dark stone, and even at this height, I could hear the shouts, clangs and rumbles of the dozens of contractors in the final stages of restoration work. It had taken almost two years and more money than I had ever dreamed, but the sixteenth-century hall was now, finally, almost up to twenty-first-century living standards. The new roof still looked odd to me, accustomed as I was to the gaping holes and worn tarpaulin patch jobs I’d grown up with. But the novelty of not having to share the house with the unpredictable Scottish elements had not yet worn off.

But Terje was gone…again. It had been almost a month this time, the longest he’d ever been away. And my doubts had now permeated me almost to the bone.

I’d made myself accept, right at the start, that there were things I would never be able to understand about my haemophile lover. I was now well-practiced at steering my thoughts away from the industrial refrigeration unit behind a locked door in the cellar, stocked with a mysteriously replenished supply of bottled human blood. And Terje had always gone to great pains to explain that he wouldn’t always be around—that, sometimes, he would need to be alone. I told myself that I had accepted that too, and as much as the huge master bed and the high-ceilinged rooms of Glenroe were achingly empty when he was gone, his return was always so full of wonder and pleasure that I soon forgot the strain of his absence.

I’d never met anyone who could absorb my turns of mood like Terje. If I was riled, he let me rant until I ran out of steam, gently questioning to better understand me then offering an insight that either validated or completely deflated my anger. Other times, if there was nothing to be said, he would take my hand and kiss me gently, letting me know without words that it would all be okay, even if he couldn’t tell me how.

As the weeks had turned into months, I’d found my habitual fire easing to a warm, steady glow that was oddly pleasant but so unfamiliar that I didn’t entirely trust it.

We would walk in the mountains by moonlight and Terje would talk about the places he’d been, the things he’d seen. He talked about the mountains of Norway—the peaks, the caves, the rivers and the ice-bound lakes. He said the Cairngorms were a gentler land, raw and wild but rolling and tranquil, the landscape welcoming, the weather more forgiving.

He said I was like the mountains I’d been born in, that I held the same mysteries and beauty, the same potential for both adventure and danger. For the first time in my life, I had started to entertain the idea that maybe I had the capacity to be happy.

Though I also knew there were parts of him I could never reach and, sometimes, he vanished without warning for days on end. But I had endured this, told myself I’d accepted it. But he’d never been away for more than a fortnight before.

We had our final meeting with the architects restoring Glenroe in Edinburgh the next day. I’d booked a room at a haemophile-friendly hotel. We were supposed to be making a holiday of it—a chance to spend time together in a city we both adored, to make love in a new bed and enjoy a change of scene. Now it looked like I would be going alone.

I shook away the gloomy thoughts, knowing from bitter experience that brooding wouldn’t bring him back any quicker, and started back down the mountain, mentally scanning the contents of the new wine cellar. There were several new acquisitions I’d been looking forward to trying, hoping they might taste enough like Terje’s Blood to suppress the craving.

The thought sent a finger of ice up my spine.

My uneasiness changed as I approached the house. The machine noise had died. The men who had been tasked with dismantling the scaffolding were clustered together, exchanging words in low voices. Other men were darting between the demountable field office and the open front door of the hall. As I approached, McGregor, the site manager, came out of the office in rock-climbing gear.

“What’s going on?”

“Got a man missing,” the red-bearded man grumbled in his thick Glaswegian accent. “He went to check on the foundation work and didn’t come back.”

I blanched. “He went into the caves alone?”

“Sounds like it, the silly sod,” McGregor grumbled, shooting a look at a pale-faced man in a helmet and sweat-soaked T-shirt.

“Doug thought he’d better eyeball the foundations before we take the west wing scaffolding down,” the man said. “It was supposed to be a quick check…two minutes tops.”

“No one’s supposed to go down there alone,” McGregor said. “Ye all know the score… MacCarthy, what’re you playing at?” I was already hurrying inside. “MacCarthy”—McGregor dogged my footsteps—”ye better not be—”

“I know those caves,” I insisted, grabbing climbing gloves and a head torch from the racks next to the cellar door.

“You’re a civilian,” McGregor argued. “Let the rescue team—”

“They’re my caves,” I said. “And you aren’t supposed to be down there, anyway. I’m going. I’ll be quicker.”

McGregor started to protest further, but I was already opening the door, noting with a flare of anger that the keypad had been set to ‘unlocked’, then racing down the stairs. The door at the bottom was wedged open with a toolbox, and the lights in Terje’s apartment were all on. The sleeping cell and industrial fridges were both still locked, but I couldn’t stop a surge of anxiety.

By the time I reached the bottom of the second, longer flight of stairs, it was pitch black. The air smelled like stillness and rock. I flicked on the head torch and the echoing emptiness of the Gateway sprang into existence. This high, dry cavern had been cleared of debris hundreds of years before and had been used for everything from sheltering Catholic priests to smuggling illicit whiskey. The rock arched overhead in a series of sharp, black shoulders and the walls were scratched with generations of sacred marks and not-so-sacred graffiti. I hurried past all this to the narrow, black fissure in the wall.

The fissure had been artificially widened at some point in the distant past for some unguessable reason and was the last mark man had made on the Glenroe caverns. It was just wide enough for me to pass through stooped, then I was standing on the lip of a sheer cliff that disappeared into blackness below.

I held my breath and listened. All was silent.

“MacCarthy, you mad bastard,” McGregor grumbled, squeezing through after me, his voice echoing in the cavernous chamber, “get yerself back here or so help me—”

“What’s the man’s name?”

“Doug. Doug Bliss. But we should wait—”

Bliss?” I called, pitching my voice to carry. The sound bounced off the walls and ceiling then faded away. I called again, then once more. After the third echo faded to nothing, I heard a very faint, plaintive call, so weak that the echo barely reached us.

“That’s him,” McGregor said. “Jesus, Mary and Joseph… Where’s the daft prick got to?”

“He’s somewhere in the east cave system,” I said, scrambling over the edge. “I’ll go find him. When the rescue team get here, have them set up ropes and ladders here.”

“I still think—”

“It would take them hours to get to him,” I cut in as I started to climb, finding the foot and handholds with practiced ease. “I want everyone out of here quickly. Just do as I say.”

McGregor’s muttered reply was lost in the echo of my boots scraping rock. My arms started to burn, a feeling I hadn’t had since my last real climb, years ago. I allowed myself a moment enjoying the pleasant memories it stirred. But then I remembered David Carlisle had been with me and hurriedly shook the thoughts away.

Soon my boots connected with a boulder slide. I scrambled to more level ground then began the arduous clamber across the slanting chamber. Dripping water echoed somewhere to the right. I heaved myself over a rockfall and took a moment to catch my breath. I wasn’t as fit as I used to be, and a stitch was starting in my side.

Bliss’ pained cries were louder now. I stamped down another flare of anger. The man had just risked his own life climbing down this far, and I couldn’t think of a single legitimate reason for him doing so. The events of Blood Winter were now almost two years past, but the memory of Jon Ogdell’s, and other corporations’ before his, desperation to get ownership of this cave system still made my distrust flare. I climbed on, knowing that the sooner this was over, the sooner I could get the strangers out of Terje’s apartment.

Graeme Byrnes Architects were a haemo-friendly company, recommended personally by Ivor Novák, the haemophiles’ head lobbyist and parliamentary representative. They’d installed the apartment, complete with a lightproof sleeping cell and fridges, no questions asked. But the need for Terje’s survival of Blood Winter to remain secret was imperative, and despite Novák’s assurances, I didn’t want anyone poking around anymore than they had to.

I could hear Bliss clearly now. I stretched, preparing to tackle the last scramble, but froze with my hands on the rock. I strained my ears, resisting the urge to shush the whimpering man, trying to decide if I had heard the scrape of something solid moving across the rock overhead. But that was impossible… Those chambers were only accessible with ropes. I’d done it once before, against my father’s express orders, mainly because he’d told me not to. It had been exhilarating, and the cave beyond, known as the Ballroom, was a thing of such ragged, wild and dangerous beauty that I had been dumbstruck and dreamed about revisiting it many times. But my father had confiscated my rock-climbing gear directly after I’d returned, and by the time he was dead, I’d lost interest in the sport—along with a lot of other things.

No one had laid eyes on the Ballroom since.

I stood, listening, holding my breath, but there was only me, Bliss’ labored breathing and the vast, cold silence.

I clambered on. Finally, I spotted the contractor, propped at an awkward angle against a boulder. He squinted up into my light and his expression flattened with relief. He tried to raise an arm but grimaced and clutched his ribs.

“Bliss?” I said, dropping down next to him.

The man nodded, his face screwed up with pain. “Thank Christ,” he panted.

“You hurt?”

He nodded, wincing. “Think…think I busted a rib. That’s…that’s why I couldn’t shout.”

“What the hell were you doing down here?”

The man’s face shifted under its coating of dirt. “Checking…foundations…”

“The foundations are under the house,” I muttered, kneeling and checking his legs for broken bones.

“Thought…thought I heard…something.”

A prickle went up my spine. “What?”

The man shook his head. “Someone moving around. Thought someone was stuck…wanted to check…” He made a pained noise and I let out an impatient one.

“Okay, okay. Stop trying to speak. Can you stand?”

The man took a couple of moments to catch his breath then tried to get his feet under him. I took hold of the arm opposite the injured ribs and, slowly, he stood. He paled under his coating of dirt.

“Broken rib all right,” I said. “Maybe two. Not bloody surprised. This climb’s tricky if you don’t know where to put your feet.”

Bliss nodded. “Yeah, I was fucking dumb. But…but I swear there was someone…”

“Stop talking,” I said, not acknowledging the crawling sensation across my skin. “We need to get you as close to the entrance as we can for the rescue team. You ready?”

Bliss set his jaw and nodded. I steadied my footing then pulled the man’s arm over my shoulders, dug my foot into the first foothold and eased us up.

It was a slow, painful and sweaty scramble, taking over twice as long as the journey in. Bliss was a capable climber and used his feet and legs well, but with one arm over my shoulders and the other clutching his hurt side, it was awkward and labored, and we had to stop frequently for him to catch his breath. By the time we were within sight of the cliff, I was sweating and aching—and not in a way that generated pleasant memories.

Four Mountain Rescue volunteers were ready with ropes and a stretcher. They hurried forward to take charge of Bliss. I spent the time it took to strap him to a stretcher scanning the caves and listening, but nothing moved or made a sound.

I followed the rescue team back into the house, locking all the doors as I went and making a mental note to change the codes. Bliss was loaded into an ambulance as his colleagues watched in grim silence.

I breathed a sigh of relief and was just about to make my way to the workshop when McGregor, having seen Bliss safely on his way, stopped me. His forehead was tightly furrowed. When he spoke, his voice was low.

“Bliss says he heard someone down there.”

“He’s mistaken.”

McGregor frowned harder. “He seems pretty sure.”

“There’s no access apart from through the house.”

“For a human, maybe.”

I kept my face blank. McGregor lowered his voice further. “We’ve installed apartments like yours for lots of clients. It’s our job. But it’s my contractual obligation to remind ye of the law against harboring unregistered haemophiles.”

I took a moment to ensure my voice was steady before speaking. “We provided you with all the registration documentation before the work started.”

“Aye, that I know—or we wouldn’t be here. So why is your friend roaming the caves during the day instead of secured in the cell?”

“The resident of the cellar is currently away. But his whereabouts are, frankly, none of your business.”

McGregor’s lined face shifted. “We’ll leave it there then, sir. You understand it’s my job to check.”

“I understand. Now, if you don’t mind, I have my own work to do.”

I felt McGregor’s eyes on me all the way down the hill.

Clem straightened with a wince from the engine of a ruby-red 1972 VW Beetle at the sound of the workshop door.

“Didn’t think I’d see you today,” Clem said as I pulled on overalls and a mask.

“Thought I’d get ahead on the Triumph,” I said, grabbing the sander and making for the silver Triumph Herald, the only other car in the workshop.

“Phone’s been buzzing.”

I paused. Clem was wiping his hands on a rag and glaring at the Beetle engine like it had just insulted his mother. I retrieved my phone from where it was sitting on the workshop windowsill.

“This fancy company not sorting a new phone mast?” Clem grumbled as I brushed the thin layer of dust off the phone screen.

“I thought you liked being out of phone range?” I said, noting three emails, two text messages and a missed call notification.

“Aye. But it’s distracting, having that thing buzzing away in here all the time.”

“I’ve had all of four calls all year.”

“Yeah…and most of them today.”

My throat tightened. The emails, missed call and one of the text messages were all from Ivor Novák.

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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’ Dark Summer Giveaway

S.J. COLE IS GIVING AWAY THIS FABULOUS PRIZE TO ONE LUCKY WINNER. ENTER HERE FOR YOUR CHANCE TO WIN A LOVELY GIFT PACKAGE AND YOUR FREE S.J. COLE ROMANCE BOOK! Notice: This competition ends on 10th August 2021 at 5pm GMT. Competition hosted by Totally Entwined Group.