Spotlight & Excerpt: Of Mettle & Magic + Giveaway

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Of Mettle and Magic
The Magicsmith Book 5
by L.R. Braden
Genre: Urban Fantasy, Paranormal Romance


L.R. Braden’s Magicsmith series conetains the best of all worlds–murder, mayhem, and magic. How can you go wrong?” –Jeanne Stein, best-selling author of The Anna Strong Vampire Chronicles

Part fae, part human, all magic. .

Now it’s time to choose a side

When the Unified Church in Rome is destroyed by rogue sorcerers, tensions explode. Alex Blackwood will do whatever it takes to prevent a war between the humans, fae, and Earth paranaturals–even turn herself over to the PTF. But when a man she thought long dead walks back into her life at the head of a sorcerer army, surrender is no longer an option.

With all the world watching, and half hoping she fails, Alex and her friends scramble to find a peace that won’t cost them everything



I took a bite of buttered toast and watched Cari, the youngest of the children we’d rescued from Shedraziel’s prison, push scrambled eggs around her plate with a plastic fork. She huffed out a breath that fluttered her sleep-matted, wheat-blond hair. “My tummy feels funny.”
“Take a few more bites,” prompted Emma, my friend and co-conspirator who’d helped save the kids. She set her hand on the little girl’s back and gave her a warm smile. “We’ve got a long time till lunch. You don’t want to get hungry in between.”
My heart ached as I watched the four-year-old load her fork and shove it in her mouth. Emma wasn’t wrong about the girl needing to eat, but eggs weren’t going to solve the funny feeling Cari described. We’d saved a total of eleven children from Shedraziel’s realm and erased the memories of their time there, but the physical effects weren’t so easily overcome.
Behind Emma and Cari, children ranging from six to sixteen lounged among pillows and blankets in front of the cabin’s large, stone fireplace. All were battered, underfed, and hopelessly addicted to goblin fruit—the effects of which were just starting to show. Three had thrown up that morning. Half the kids had fevers. I could only hope my fae grandfather, Bael, sent the medicine he’d promised before their symptoms became more severe.
Long, cool fingers twined with mine under the table. James smiled at me, though the expression failed to crinkle the skin at the corners of his pale-blue eyes.
They’ll be all right. His voice echoed through our telepathic link—a side effect of sharing a piece of his vampire soul to save my life that had grown stronger since I’d given James my “true” fae name. His presence in my mind was simultaneously comforting and unsettling.
I hope so.
Cari took three more bites and announced she was done, then climbed off the bench to join the other children in front of the fire.
Emma pushed a wavy strand of teal-dyed hair back from her eyes and shook her head, causing her many piercings to flash and jingle. “All the kids are complaining about aches and pains. May says her stomach’s been cramped all morning.”
We all looked at Emma’s little sister, curled up in an overstuffed chair with faded floral upholstery. She wore the body of a girl in her mid- to late teens, but she’d been eleven less than a week ago—before being trapped in the altered time of Shedraziel’s prison. She had the same Japanese-Hawaiian features as Emma, but where Emma’s body was all soft curves, May had a willowy, stretched-out appearance marked by hard angles and protruding bones. She stared into space, her bandaged fingers tapping out a rhythm on the armrest.
“The treatment will be here soon,” I said with more confidence than I felt. “In the meantime, just make them as comfortable as you can.”
Emma’s deep, brown gaze swung back to me. “That makes it sound like you won’t be here.”
I shifted in my seat. I would have liked nothing better than to hole up in the little cabin with Emma and James until the kids were recovered and could be returned to their families. Even the single morning of near normal interactions as the kids woke up and ate breakfast had been a welcome break from the chaos of my life. But I had other obligations.
My recorded confession about being a fae halfer who could handle iron without the side effect of burning to death had stunned the human community, though not as much as the footage of my friend Sophie shifting into a werewolf and using my leg as a chew toy. Now the world was being torn apart. Lines were being drawn, sides chosen. Law-abiding members of the paranatural community, like Emma’s practitioner teacher Luke, were being rounded up and sent to detention centers. As were suspected paranatural sympathizers, like my very human, very pregnant friend Maggie.
Even with the PTF’s seeming acceptance that werewolves were a form of local paranatural—unlike the fae who came from different realms—an anti-fae fervor was sweeping the world. And the questions raised by my confession weren’t helping.
“I have to clean up the mess my confession caused, especially now that Shedraziel’s free. I need to do what I can to avert another war.” I hugged myself, my own breakfast suddenly feeling like a nest of insects crawling around my gut. “I’m turning myself in to the Paranatural Task Force.”
Emma’s jaw dropped. Her eyes went wide.
James stilled. No breath swelled his chest. I wouldn’t have been surprised to find his pulse absent for the space of time it took my words to settle over him. A trickle of silver swirled into the blue of his eyes. Then he blinked, and sucked in a long, deep breath.
“You’ve got to be kidding,” Emma blurted.
Several kids looked our way.
She lowered her voice. “You saved these kids from Shedraziel. How can you just abandon them?”
“So long as the PTF is hunting me, you’re all safer without me around. These kids have been through enough. The last thing they need is to get scooped up by the PTF and interrogated until they die of an addiction the humans won’t understand or be able to treat. We have to keep them hidden until the goblin fruit is out of their systems, but that could take weeks if not months. Meanwhile, the humans and fae are all gearing up for a war both sides seem to think is inevitable, and paranaturals like the practitioners and werewolves are being hunted and caged because no one’s sure where their loyalties lie.”
Her shoulders slumped. “I’m starting to think war is inevitable, too. And, speaking as a practitioner, I’m not sure where my loyalties lie right now. I feel like I belong with humans, but the humans want to lump me with the fae.”
“The problem is a lack of communication. We’ve got three plus groups that don’t understand each other. But Director Harris, for all that she’s been a serious pain in my ass, seems like a reasonable woman. If I can talk to her, convince her my immunity to iron is just a genetic fluke and not some fae countermeasure in preparation for an upcoming conflict with the humans, maybe I can get the PTF to stand down from this red alert they’ve been on since that video hit the internet. At the very least, I can shed some light on the werewolves . . . make her realize hunting them like animals will only make matters worse.”
Emma opened her mouth, but before she could speak, a shout went up among the kids.
Cari was kneeling on the hardwood floor, whimpering. The eggs we’d insisted she eat were splattered in front of her. The pungent, sickly-sweet smell of vomit wafted through the small cabin . . . again.
I started to rise, but Emma lifted a hand. “I’ve got this.” She cut her eyes to James, then back to me. “You guys finish talking.”
She waded through the wall of children standing in a circle around Cari. Emma wasn’t much taller than the oldest kids, but even the relatively subdued outfit of her faded jeans and pale-blue t-shirt with a series of yellow emoji faces across her chest stood out like a beacon in the crowd of oversized green tunics and leather pants provided to the kids by Bael’s guards. They looked like a troupe of child actors from a Robin Hood play.
Carefully avoiding the mess on the floor, Emma scooped Cari up and carried her into the bathroom. May grabbed a bottle of cleaner and a roll of paper towels from under the sink.
I shifted my attention to James’s profile. His long, jet-black hair fell over his shoulders, unbound. I reached out and slid my fingers through the silky strands. “You’re being awfully quiet.”
He continued to watch the children, his eyes half-lidded, his lips pursed. “I finally have you back by my side, and now you’d have me watch you leave again?”
I closed my eyes, but I couldn’t hide from the hurt and frustration coming through our connection.
“It’s not as if I want to go.”
“Then don’t.”
His words rattled me, but he hadn’t drawn on the power of my true name. His plea was just that—something I could heed or ignore as I chose. James had only issued one command since learning my true name, and it had saved my life. He’d given his word not to use the strange power of the fae name I now carried against me, but I couldn’t silence the niggling voice that insisted I’d made a mistake, that I’d regret giving anyone, even James, the means to control me.
“The PTF is looking for someone to lynch right now,” he said. “Handing yourself over to those fools is almost as bad as throwing yourself on the mercy of Purity.”
I flinched. I’d been in the hands of Purity members before—zealots who believed all magic should be eradicated. I’d barely survived. One of my friends hadn’t. James really knew how to hit where it hurt.
“The humans, fae, and paranaturals are all at each other’s throats because they’re afraid of one another,” I said. “As someone with a vested interest in all three groups—” I took a deep breath. I’d only just discovered I had practitioner blood mixed with my already confused DNA, and I hadn’t had time to fully come to terms with it yet. “—maybe I can act as a . . . a bridge, an intermediary.”
“What makes you think you’ll even get to speak with Harris?” he continued. “Or that she’ll be willing to listen?”
“Harris will want to talk to me, to interrogate me if nothing else. But I’ve also got an ace in the hole that ensures she’ll want to hear what I have to say.”
He quirked an eyebrow.
“Bael.” The name dropped like a bomb. “The PTF doesn’t have a direct line to any of the fae lords. I do. If Harris wants to avoid a full-out conflict, I’m her best chance at negotiating.”
“What if she doesn’t want to avoid a war?”
“Then we’re already screwed. But I can’t believe that’s true.”
His pale-blue eyes stared into me, through me. He held my name. I had no secrets from him. I let him see my fear and uncertainty, but also my determination. It was my fault the PTF was freaking out about iron-resistant fae. It was my fault Shedraziel, the psychotic fae general, was out of prison and preparing an army. It was my fault the werewolves were targeted, their secret exposed. I’d made a mess. I needed to do what I could to clean it up before any given side reached a breaking point and the conflict we all feared was coming couldn’t be stopped. Right now, there was still a chance.
I have to try. I pushed the thought through our link.
Anger and grief mixed with pride and love flowed back.
For one terrifying moment, I worried he might try to compel me despite his promise—to use the power of the true name I’d given him and command me to stay, to keep me safe despite my wishes.
Then he cupped my face in his hands and pressed his lips gently against mine. “My beautiful, brave, reckless love . . . you will be the death of me.”
Resignation radiated through our connection. He wasn’t happy—not by a long shot—but he wouldn’t try to stop me from doing what I felt I must.
The tension binding my muscles slowly released. I reached in my pocket and pulled out the fist-sized glass marble given to me by Rhoana, the captain of Bael’s guards. “Keep this with you. Rhoana, or whoever she sends with the kids’ medicine, will use it to find you.”
He lowered his hands and I dropped the ball on his palm. The lines around his eyes grew tighter. He looked over the table to the gathered children. May was still scrubbing the floor. The others were sitting or lying on the sparse furniture. Many were pale and glassy-eyed. Some hugged themselves as though cold.
James’s frown grew more pronounced. “I might prefer facing Purity zealots and PTF troops.”
I started to smile, thinking his words a joke, but the sadness in his heart froze me. James had been alive for a long, long time. He’d had lovers . . . and he’d had children. Facing an armed enemy was easy compared to watching a bunch of kids wasting away when you couldn’t do a damn thing to stop it.
“Rhoana will send the treatment soon,” I said again, though my words came out choked. “In the meantime, Emma seems capable of taking care of them. But she can’t protect them if they’re discovered. Not alone.” I waited until his gaze locked with mine. “Promise me you’ll protect them.”
Silver danced in his eyes like whitecaps on a pale ocean, showing the depth of his turmoil, but when he spoke, they settled to the color of pure glacial ice. “You have my word.”
Part of me felt like a coward for dumping the kids on Emma and James, but I was useless with children anyway. This way, the kids would be taken care of, and maybe I could prevent a war. That was for the good of everybody, right?
I swung my legs over the bench seat and stood up. “Time to arrange my ride.”
Morgan sipped black coffee from a chipped green mug in the shade of the cabin’s front porch. The rusty chains of the bench swing she sat on creaked as she pushed herself back and forth with one foot, the other tucked beneath her. Her ash-gray complexion, long, dark hair, and Victorian Gothic blouse made her look like the subject of an old photograph, but her tight leather pants, tall boots, and black trench coat ruined the effect.
I pulled the blanket I’d snagged on my way out the door tighter around my shoulders and watched my breath steam in the chill air. We’d all slept well past dawn, but the pale sunlight couldn’t dissipate the cold. Beyond the porch, patchy snow covered the ground, broken by muddy trails that led between a half dozen cabins like our own. One housed the property manager from whom James had rented the cabin. The rest were, presumably, full of vacationers looking for a bit of seclusion. Hopefully none of our neighbors were the type to say hello.
“Mind if I join you?” I nodded to the space next to Morgan on the swing.
She lowered her tucked leg and shifted to make room.
“Was our little escapade enough to ease your boredom?” I kept my voice light, my face forward, but I studied her out of the corner of my eye.
“You tell a good story,” she said. “I especially liked the part about Bael showing up to rescue you only to find you’d gotten the upper hand on Shedraziel.” She took a drink. “I would have liked to see that for myself.”
I nodded. Morgan was a high-ranking fae from the Shadow Realm. As such, she couldn’t just walk willy-nilly into Enchantment with us. She’d had to remain behind in the mortal realm while I faced off against Shedraziel—just like James, blocked as he was from crossing realms by the demon twined in his soul.
She took another sip of coffee. “What’s next?”
I rocked the swing back, eliciting another loud squeak. “James and Emma are going to stay with the kids, hopefully treat their addiction. Then we’ll start contacting their families.”
“And you?” She quirked an eyebrow. “I realize I may look young to you, but I’m two hundred and fifty years old. An adolescent slumber party is not my idea of a good time.”
“You don’t want to come where I’m going.”
She straightened, lowering her mug. “Do tell.”
I smiled. Like many of the court fae I’d met, Morgan seemed desperate for entertainment, and she was willing to trade services to get it. “Will you give me a ride?”
She pursed her lips. “Depends. Do I get to see the action this time?”
I shrugged. “I’ll be staying in the mortal realm, if that’s what you mean.”
“Where do you need to go?”
“Back to Missouri, near the gas station we visited on our way east.” With any luck, there’d be a PTF presence, thanks to my previous phone call, and finding me there would stop them looking as far away as Ohio for my friends.
“And what will you be doing there?”
“Will you take me?”
“One trip? There and back?”
“One trip,” I agreed. Though I wouldn’t need the return.
She lifted her chin. “Deal. What are you going to do in Missouri?”
“Turn myself over to the PTF. I’m going to try to avert the war Bael thinks is inevitable between the humans and fae.”
She perked up. “Now that sounds like an interesting diversion.”
I frowned. “This isn’t a game. As an unregistered, full-blooded fae, in the current political climate, you’d probably be executed if the PTF got their hands on you.”
She snorted. “I’d like to see them try.”
“I wouldn’t,” I said. “The point of this mission is to avoid bloodshed.”
“And if you can’t?”
I sighed. “Then I guess I’ll have a front-row seat for the start of the next Faerie War.”
She set her mug on the ground, folded her hands behind her neck, and leaned back. “Battles are fun—I love a good skirmish—but all-out wars?” She shook her head. “They’re not as exciting as you might think.”
I raised an eyebrow. “What’s the difference?”
“A bar fight, a riot, a raid, those are fast and passionate. War though . . . war is cold, calculated. When there’s a war, everything becomes about that war. I prefer to observe the full spectrum of mortal behavior. Drama, humor, angst, action, romance.” She put her arms down and twisted toward me. “Imagine you’re in the mood for a light romantic comedy, but the only movies you can find are dramas.”
It was weird to think of human behavior in terms of browsing movie selections, but I could kind of see where she was coming from. And any fae against the war, for whatever reason, was a win in my book.
“Will you help me negotiate a new peace treaty? I can get to Bael and the Shifter Lord—I’ve dealt with them before—but someone with the ear of the Shadow Lord would certainly help. The more factions we can bring to the table, the better our chances.”
“Long, boring conversations aren’t exactly my bailiwick,” she said. “But if you get the mortals and Enchantment to a table, I’ll call my brother. He handles most of Shadow’s diplomacy.”
Morgan’s twin brother, Galen, was the Shadow Lord’s heir, and we were on decent terms since I’d saved him from a vampire dungeon not long ago. Too bad I’d already called in the marker that had earned me.
“In the meantime, will you stay with James and Emma? They could use a fast escape if the authorities discover them, and nothing’s faster than the shadow roads.”
“I’m not a babysitter, and I’m not taking a bunch of snot-nosed bedwetters onto the shadow roads. It was bad enough dragging them through one at a time. Together . . .” She shuddered and held up a single finger. “One kid loses focus and the whole lot are ghosts. I don’t need that kind of karma.”
My heart sank. “Then what will you do after you drop me off? Do you have a number I can call to reach you? A magic hankie I can summon you with?”
“Maybe I’ll head down to New Orleans. Carnival season should be in full swing right now.” She smiled at me. “I’ll keep an eye on the news. If it looks like you’ve got a shot at peace, I’ll call my brother.” She shrugged. “Though, more likely, I’ll see a thirty-second report on your arrest and you’ll be sitting in a PTF cell while your world burns. I intend to get what enjoyment I can from this realm before that happens.”


Other Books in the Series:


A Drop of Magic
The Magicsmith Book 1
**Only .99 cents!!**
Courting Darkness
The Magicsmith Book 2
Faerie Forged
The Magicsmith Book 3
Casting Shadows
The Magicsmith Book 4
L.R. Braden is the bestselling author of the Magicsmith urban fantasy series. Her work has won the Eric Hoffer Book Award for Sci-fi/Fantasy, the New Horizon Award for debut authors, and the Imadjinn Award for Best Urban Fantasy. She lives in the foothills of the Colorado Rockies with her wonderful husband, precocious daughter, and psychotic cat. To connect online, visit her website and Facebook page.
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Book Blitz & Excerpt: The Hidden Princess + Giveaway

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The Hidden Princess
by Mira Crest
(Princess League, #1)
Publication date: April 16th 2020
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult

Penny is an ugly princess born to a family known for its beautiful offspring. To protect the royal bloodline’s reputation, the king proclaims her dead since birth and locks her away in the castle cellar.

But unbeknown to most, including herself, Penny has a gift: she can see the darkness within one’s mind through touch.

Everett is a dragon prince whose land is plagued by a deadly sickness in the form of black mist, capable of turning any fairy being it touches into stone. He comes to Penny’s kingdom seeking the one princess foretold to end the darkness.

The choice is clear, it’s either Penny’s cynical eldest sister, Tatiana, or her kind elder sister, Sarah, because Penny does not exist, not officially. But a twist of fate and Penny’s gift bring her to Everett’s attention, and she takes on a secret identity to aid him to trace the origin of the black mist.

What follows is a journey into a dark magical world within the minds of the corrupt, ruled by demons that plague on the dark aspects of the human psyche.

With the clock fast ticking, the prince must discover who the chosen one is in order to defeat the black mist before it turns him to stone and spreads to the rest of the world. But there are those who will do anything to keep Penny’s identity hidden.

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Hidden Princess


The shopkeeper grabbed the doll from among the top shelves. “Here you go.” He handed it to her. Just then, her fingers met his, and she heard the shopkeeper’s voice. “Where did this hideous and filthy-looking girl come from? Good thing I noticed her fast, lest she would get my dolls tainted with her hands. Let’s hope she leaves soon.”

She gazed at the shopkeeper, whose mouth remained closed. Those words stung. Even though the shopkeeper never said them, Penny knew they held more truth than those he said. These were his thoughts, and she was reading them when she accidentally touched him.

Then she felt dizzy, and a gloom fell over the store as if something had suddenly blocked out the sunlight from the windows. But it wasn’t the windows. It was the shopkeeper. His form emitted an ominous light and right above his head, she saw black mist rising, forming the shape of a face with eerie glowing eyes. It stared straight at Penny. “Penny…Penny….” Penny heard an insidious voice calling her.

Stop! Stop! She willed her mind to look away.

“Penny…Penny!” A force pulled her back and she almost crumpled to the floor if Thomas had not held her firmly. “Are you alright?” he asked.

“There’s someone–!” Penny pointed toward the shopkeeper, who was frowning at her. The eerie face and black mist were gone.

“What is it?” Thomas asked.

It took her a while before she spoke again. “I don’t know. It was there a while ago.” As she looked down, she saw the doll lying on the floor. She picked it up and slowly stroked any dust off it as if it were a real girl.

“How much is it?” he asked the beleaguered keeper.

“Four silver pieces.” Thomas handed the silver to the shopkeeper. A look of relief appeared on his face as he took the money. The horror of the black mist weighed heavy on Penny’s mind as she made her way out. She recalled the mean thoughts of the shopkeeper. For a moment, she had believed the outside world was different and she finally found a place she belonged. Penny blinked hard as her eyes began to water.

Suddenly, the streets seemed less joyful than before, and the sounds of the people and activities seemed drowned out by the memory of the black mist.

That voice. It called her name.

She knew for certain it was no hallucination. It was the first time such a vision had occurred. She never saw it when she touched others before, although there weren’t really that many, to begin with. There were only a few who could tolerate standing within inches of her.

She must have drifted off in her thoughts because the next thing she knew, she had fallen behind Thomas and someone bumped into her from the side.

“Watch where you are going, you–!” A rough-looking man said. “Hey, little girl, are you lost?”


“Don’t be afraid, I just want to help. Let me take you home.” He grabbed her by the arm.

“Stop it, let me go!” Penny tried to pry his fingers free.

“This must be my lucky day. I wonder how much this girl would fetch.” She heard the man’s voice, yet his mouth remained closed.

She stared at the man, who stood there, frozen in time. Not just him. The entire town had come to a standstill. A ball was floating in the air, as the boy who threw it waited an eternity for it to fall back down.

Then, the surroundings turned black, and the black mist appeared around the man’s frame. The eyes of the black misty face shone a pale white.

“Penny…Penny…” spoke the insidious voice.

“NO!” Penny screamed and forced her eyes shut. At once, the darkness lifted, and the sounds of reality replaced the heavy silence. “Get away from me!” she screamed with her real voice audible.

“Hey!” A familiar voice said, and the rough-looking man turned around, his face meeting head-on with a big fist. The man fell to the ground before Penny. “Touch her again, and you will never touch anything for the rest of your life!”

The man crawled to his feet and bolted. “Penny, didn’t I tell you not to—Penny? Penny!” Penny ran off before Thomas could finish his sentence.

Penny kept running. All she wanted then was to get as far away as possible from this place, from the prejudice, the black mist.

She didn’t know how long she ran before Thomas finally caught up with her. “Penny, it’s alright now.” He wrapped his hands around her head, and she tucked her head in his tummy. “What happened, Penny? Please tell me.”

Penny told Thomas about all that had happened. The black mist, the eerie face. Although Thomas understood little of it, he listened, for he knew there was always much truth in what she said. The world wasn’t as great as Penny thought out to be. It broke his heart she had to learn this fact on her first outing.

The outing had come to an end, and they returned to the castle. The one happy thing the outing brought her was the doll she bought. She gave her a name. Cinder. And she became Penny’s companion ever since.

She thought of the boy named Canyon, and how he was the only person without disdain for her, though, she wondered if it would be the same way if she touched him and read his mind.

But most of all, she wondered about the black mist. What was it? And that eerie face. Who, or rather, what was it? What disturbed her most was the fact that it called her name like it was reaching into her mind.

Author Bio:

Since young, Mira loves fantasy romance with strong female protagonists and perilous adventures to magical realms and parallel universes to visit dragons, witches, shifters, and fairy tale creatures, bringing heroes and heroines together and aiding their epic fantasy battles against dark enemies so they can have the happily-ever-afters they deserve.
When she grew up, she takes a liking to young adult stories, which explains her passion writing in the young adult fantasy romance genre. Her books are clean romance with character development as the prime focus. Even now, she still journeys to fantasy realms whenever she’s not writing.

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Cover Reveal & Excerpt: The Art of Living , by Abrianna Denae

The Art of Living by Abrianna Denae cover


Book Title: The Art of Living 

Author: Abrianna Denae

Cover Artist: Pretty in Ink Creations

Release Date: June 10, 2021

Genre: Contemporary gay romance

Tropes: Single dad, hurt/comfort, office romance, slow burn

Themes: Trust, meddling family

Heat Rating: 3 flames

Length: 35 000 words/ 90 pages

It is a standalone book, though the reader may be interested in The Gift of Believing, a companion book featuring the MC’s son:

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Buy Links – Available for Pre-Order 

Universal pre-order link  |  Amazon US  |  Amazon UK 

cover reveal the art of living

Letting go is the hardest thing a person can do…

Blurb  Robert Harper has spent the past seventeen years living for his son. He doesn’t know who he is if he’s not being a caregiver and protector all rolled into one. Niall Ross is finally ready to make a life of his own. After years spent making sure his younger brother had everything he needed, it’s time for Niall to discover who he is. All it takes is one glance across a crowded meeting room for the men to feel a connection, but Robert is terrified his life is too complicated for the other man. Luckily, Niall has patience in abundance. With a little help from Robert’s meddling family, the two begin a tentative relationship. Just as they’re finding their footing, all of Robert’s worst fears come to life and he falters under the pressure. Niall takes the challenge to show Robert that he’s a safe place to lean on, but when his own life begins to unravel, he places his heart in Robert’s hands. When two independent men are forced to trust each other will the love win out, or will vulnerability and fear cause them to lose the best thing they didn’t even know they had. Excerpt  Ice cream for dinner is the best grown-up way to celebrate all the good changes in my life. I find a cute little old-fashioned ice cream parlor in a shopping center about fifteen minutes from my house. I probably don’t need the sugar, but after weeks of interviews, packing, moving, and general life shit, I deserve it. I order two scoops of cherries jubilee and as I turn to find somewhere to sit, I crash into someone. “Shit,” I exclaim as my lovely, hard-earned ice cream drops to the floor. “Oh my God,” the person I ran into says. “I am so sorry, I wasn’t looking where I was going and I can buy you another one. I’m so sorry, I really am, I swear I didn’t see you there-” “Breathe, Pres,” someone else says. I look up from the mess at my feet to the two kids in front of me. One of them looks like he’s about ready to cry, his blue eyes are shiny with what must be tears. The other is speaking to him in soft, gentle tones and holding his hands, trying to soothe him. “It’s okay,” I tell them. “Accidents happen. A little mess can get cleaned up, nobody got hurt and that’s the important thing.” “I really am sorry,” he says again. “Let us buy you more?” I want to protest, but if it’ll make the kid feel better, I’ll let him. “You don’t have to, but the thought is appreciated.” “Go sit down,” his friend says, “I’ll get everything taken care of.” By this point, one of the employees has come over to clean up the mess and the few people sitting at tables are back to minding their own business. “We really are sorry,” the other boy says after his friend walks off to sit down. “No harm done.” We step up to the counter and I let the boy order theirs first. “Is he going to be okay?” He gives me a small smile, “Yeah, he will, he’s just a bit shaken up. He gets…anxious easily, I guess.” When we get to the cash register I hand over my card. “You were supposed to let us pay!” “It’s fine, my treat, please.” “Thank you.” “You’re welcome. You can pay it forward in some other way.” “We will.” He gives me a smile and heads over to his friend. I find my own table and watch them interact. The dark-haired kid I was talking to in line grabs the other one’s hand and the way they smile and lean toward each other tells me there’s more to their relationship. It makes me happy to see them so comfortable in their own skin. I would have loved to have what they do when I was their age. Turning away from them, I focus on my own ice cream. The flavor bursts across my tongue and I have to hold back a moan. To some, having ice cream for dinner, alone to boot, might seem like the loneliest mini-celebration ever, but for me, it’s perfect. I spent so long trying to make sure my brother was taken care of, and that he understood how much I cared and valued his accomplishments, teaching him that it’s the little things that matter just as much as the big ones. Now I’m on my own, and I’m okay with making my own celebrations memorable in the little ways that I enjoy. As long as they bring me happiness, who cares how small it is? The two teens leave before I do. I watch as the blond, the one who ran into me, takes his boyfriend’s backpack. The smile that lights up on the brunet’s face makes my heart ache with a longing I haven’t felt in a very long time. Maybe it’s because the dark hair and eyes remind me of Robert, maybe it’s because they have what I would have killed for at that age, or maybe it’s something else entirely.

About the Author 

Abrianna Denae is a twenty-four-year-old author living in Northern California. An English major, she has always had a passion for writing.

Deciding to sit down and write one of the many stories that had plagued her mind for years was the easy part—finding the time to do it was a different story.

Caffeine is her best friend, and sleep is her worst enemy.

A lover of books that make the reader feel something, she tries to incorporate as much of her real-world views and feelings into her stories as she can.

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