Book Blitz & Excerpt: Taking Chances in Cedarwood + Giveaway

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Taking Chances in Cedarwood, by Megan Slayer

Word Count: 41,902
Book Length: SHORT NOVEL
Pages: 172

GENRES:

CELEBRITIES
CONTEMPORARY
EROTIC ROMANCE
GAY
GLBTQI

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Book Description

He found his freedom…in Cedarwood.

Cain Ables is the it actor in Hollywood. Everyone wants to work with him, his movies make money and he’s handsome—but all that glitters isn’t gold. He’s lonely. Growing up in the glare of the spotlight with the stage parents from hell and being protected from any scandal—and real life—has left him empty. Cain wants freedom and experience. He also wants to come out. The man who plays by the rules is about to break them all.

Andrew Meadows isn’t looking for love. He’s at the farmers’ market to sell the fruit and vegetables he’s grown. When Cain shows up at his stall, he’s captivated. The more they talk, the more he likes Cain, but Cain’s got baggage—and he’s not out yet. Yet something about Cain makes Andrew want to take a chance on romance…and forever.

Will the farmer and actor find the love they both deserve, or will the glare of the spotlight ruin their future?

Reader advisory: This book contains mentions of homophobia, and controlling, emotionally and financially abusive parenting.

Excerpt

“This is the script that’s going to catapult me into the next level?” Cain Ables stared at his agent, Dixon Nell. “You’re sure?” Cain read through the script again. He’d always wanted to do an LGBTQ movie and stretch his acting abilities. He also wanted to finally come out and admit he was gay. Jesus. No one wanted their boy wonder to be gay. He had to be approachable and make people desire him. According to his agent and parents, no one would want him if he wasn’t perfect.

Apparently, being gay wasn’t perfect.

What the fuck did anyone else know? He was gay and very imperfect.

“You’re going to work with Liam Blackwell,” Dixon said. “He’s a good guy and careful with his costars. He won’t make you do anything you’re not comfortable doing. Just say the word and he won’t kiss you or anything without your being okay. You know him, remember? You met at the celebrity baseball game last year.”

“I remember.” Cain closed the script. “How do you know I won’t want him to kiss me?”

“Please.” Dixon rolled his eyes. “You’re being a maverick by stepping out of your comfort zone. This role will have award nods all over it. You need to do this.”

“But?” He both loved and hated his agent. Dixon could act like he cared one thousand percent for Cain and his career, then he could turn on him and be so scathing. Cain never knew which side of Dixon he’d get.

“But you’re not gay. You’re the it guy in Hollywood. This is going to be a big risk, but it’ll be worth it when you get the statuette.” Dixon grasped Cain by the shoulders. “You’re getting older, and while you can age in Hollywood, you can’t be the pretty boy all your life. You’ll have to age with the roles. You’ll have to mature.”

Cain knew that. He wasn’t stupid. In his thirty years, he’d played so many roles that he swore the business had to be tired of him. He curled the script in his hands. For someone who disappeared into characters, he’d damn near lost his true self along the way. He stared at Dixon again. “What if I am gay?”

Dixon burst out laughing. “You’re not gay. Confused, maybe, and intrigued by this role, but you’re not gay.” He shook his head and continued laughing. “God, if you were really gay, you’d have come out by now and you’d be chasing Penn. That kid will fuck anything who asks.”

Cain glared at Dixon as he walked away. What an asshole. I’d be chasing Penn. Who does Dixon think he is? Dixon knew lots about the business, but nothing about dating or relationships. He certainly knew nothing about Cain. Penn wasn’t Cain’s type. Too pushy and way too young.

“Hey.” Penn strutted up to Cain. “I hear you’re working with Liam Blackwell and going to Cedarwood to make a movie.” He rubbed his hands together. “There’s not much to do in Cedarwood. It’s small, boring, dull…” His eyes flashed. “You could always take an assistant or two with you. I’ll bet Lucia would go along. She wants more exposure.”

He shook his head. Penn was not his type. He’d kept his preferences to himself, but honed them over the years. He wanted a man with muscles, a forthright attitude, who wasn’t afraid of manual labor and looked good in a baseball cap. Penn wouldn’t know what to do with himself if he had to wear a T-shirt and jeans for a living. “How old are you?”

“Twenty-three.” Penn grinned. His green eyes glittered and the smattering of hairs on his chin belied his age. He rested his hands on his narrow hips. “Interested? I’m game to go to Cedarwood. I bet we could have a great time. I’d keep my mouth shut.”

His stomach churned. Is Penn coming on to me? He hadn’t come out yet and was already being propositioned. Penn would keep quiet for a hefty price. “No thanks.”

“You’re sure?” Penn rubbed Cain’s thigh. “You don’t know what you want until you can’t have it.”

“I’m okay.” He left the chair and squeezed the script in his hand. He’d agreed to do the movie and agreed to film in Cedarwood. Maybe it was time to head out to Ohio and find himself. He knew damn well he was gay, but he had to decide what he wanted out of life. Did he want to come out? Could he live his life in the closet?

He massaged his forehead and continued walking away from Penn. In some ways, the man was attractive. He also offered an interesting proposition—he could be the first lover Cain wanted without having strings…unless he counted the financial ones. Penn would attempt to bleed him dry. If he wasn’t begging for money, he’d take him to court or wring him out in the tabloids.

His stomach churned harder. In the last year, Cain had fought the twisting ache in his belly and the fear he’d be found out. He was gay. No question. He’d dated starlets and had been with women, but he’d rather be looking at their dates or admiring another certain actor’s ass.

He was supposed to be the guy every woman wanted to fuck and the man the guys wanted to hang out with—attainable, even if he wasn’t going to be anywhere near most of his fans. His parents made sure he stayed as isolated as possible. Maybe that was his problem. He needed to get out from under their thumb. He’d been under it for long enough.

The limo waited at the side door of the offices. The driver opened the door for him and ensured Cain was ensconced in the back seat. The scent of rich leather swirled around Cain, and the darkened windows of the vehicle ensured no one would see him. He could move around without anyone knowing he was there. A ghost of himself.

He unrolled the script and read through the first three pages again. Two men, quiet romance, small town and everyone rooting for them. He needed to do this movie. If he did, he’d get to go on location. His parents wouldn’t follow him to Ohio. They detested anywhere that wasn’t Beverly Hills. He’d go to Ohio, read, relax and be a human being. Yeah, he’d do this movie. He’d do the hell out of it. If he happened to grow as a person or found a lover, then even better. First, he had to get the fuck out of California and be on his own.

The vehicle lurched and swerved, then stopped. He had no idea how long he’d been in the back or where he was, but he assumed the driver had taken him home. He might be a big celebrity and wanted by millions, but he had little free will.

The door opened and a valet gestured to him. “Good afternoon, Mr. Ables.”

“Hello.” He didn’t recognize this valet. “Where’s Green?”

“Reassigned, sir.” The valet closed the limo door. “Your mother requests your presence.”

“Thanks.” He patted the valet on the arm. The guy was only doing his job. Cain’s mother and father insisted on orchestrating his life as much as possible. He knew damn well why—if he stopped working or fell out of favor, they’d lose their funding. He’d kept the family afloat nearly his entire life.

He strode through the house to the massive living room. The opulence and expense of the place suffocated him. Everywhere he looked, he recognized something bought with the money he’d made over his career. His parents hadn’t worked for a damn thing.

His mother lounged on the expansive couch. She had pillows around her and a magazine on her lap. She flipped through the pages. “You’re home.”

“I am.” He didn’t sit. Not now. He couldn’t relax. “Reading anything important?”

“You’re featured in this magazine.” She held up the periodical. “I see you’re with Aidyn Malachi. Good. She’s up-and-coming. You need to be seen with someone fresh.”

“I do.” Someone who isn’t a starlet.

“You look like you’re upset.” His father stood by the bar. He sipped a brandy and crossed his ankles. “Something on your mind?”

He shored up his courage. He had no plan to get to Cedarwood. No money of his own. Fuck it. He’d figure something out. Rami had always been good for a favor. He’d call his best friend to get him to the airport. “I’m leaving.”

“You are?” His father laughed. “Christ. You have no idea how to live on your own. Where in the fuck do you think you’re going? You can’t handle life without us guiding you.”

His father was such a stereotype—elbow-bending closet drunk pretending to be macho and perfect, all while he’d lost control. His wife had cheated on him multiple times. He’d cheated on her, too, and Cain swore he had a sibling somewhere he knew nothing about. The odds were in his favor for the assumption to be true. Cain gritted his teeth. “I’m being called out for a movie and need to go on location. Plain and simple. I don’t need a babysitter. Remember? I’m thirty years old. I can handle my life.” Maybe, but maybe not. He’d never actually lived on his own. He’d been given spending money and the catering trucks made sure he was fed.

“You’re not going.” His mother didn’t look up from the magazine. “You aren’t ready.” She pointed to an image of Cain tangled up with Aidyn in a bed. Both looked disheveled and sated after sex. “This is what you should be doing. Marry her. Or fake it. The public needs more of these pictures.”

He rolled his eyes. The photoshoot had been a gigantic disaster. Aidyn had cried half the time, wanting her actual boyfriend, and the photographer had pushed him and Aidyn to look more in love than they’d ever be. No one wanted to see fake pictures.

“If you’re going, then you’ll have your full treatment of servants and the corps. I won’t have you making an ass of yourself.” His father slashed his hand through the air. “You’re not a child, no, but you’re not smart enough to be on your own. You can memorize lines and channel characters, but anyone can do that.”

He groaned. If I pack a small bag, I could take one of the sports cars and drive there, right? Nah. His parents probably had trackers on the cars. He nodded to hide his frustration. “I suppose you’re right.” He turned on his heel and headed up to his bedroom.

Wouldn’t his fellow actors laugh? He still lived with his parents in the house he’d bought for them when he’d made his first television show at age five. He couldn’t bring a lover home—male or female. What would he say? Mom, Dad? I need you to go so I can fuck this lovely person. Right.

Cain shoved his wallet, license, some money he’d squirreled away over the last year, two changes of clothes, an extra pair of shoes and the stuffed cat he’d had since he was a baby into a knapsack. If he was going to blow up his home life, he refused to leave the last vestige of his childhood in the hands of his parents. The stuffed cat might look like hell and have almost no fur left, but he gave Cain more comfort than anyone. He swept his gaze around his room. Even his bedroom had no personality. It could be the room of any celebrity—perfect decor, nothing to denote that he lived there and nothing out of place.

The churning in his stomach increased. If he didn’t get the fuck out of the house and away from his life for a while, he’d have a huge-ass ulcer. The stress of living a life he didn’t want had gotten to him. The doctor on the set of Victor’s Rules had urged him to get some rest. Why not do it now?

He deserved to live the life he wanted.

Cain hurried down the back steps clutching his bag. The valet from before stood by the doors leading to the garage.

“Sir?” He opened the door for Cain. “Going out?”

“To Aidyn’s.” Cain winked. “You know.”

“I used to.” The man smiled. “Shall I let your mother in on this?”

“Please do. I’ll be over there for a few days.” He winked again and elbowed the valet. “We don’t plan on coming up for air in that time.” God, he was laying it on thick.

“Yes, sir.” The valet dispatched a driver, then disappeared into the main portion of the house.

Cain slipped into the back seat of the limo and waited until the car moved. His heart hammered. He was doing it—leaving the nest. He’d lied, of course, but that didn’t matter. Fuck it. His hands shook and he held the bag tight. He’d never acted out before, never tried to be something he wasn’t or push anyone. He’d fallen right into line because it had been required of him.

The driver dropped him off at Aidyn’s hotel. Instead of expecting the car to wait on him, Cain waved him home. “Get some rest. God knows I won’t be.” He grinned. “I’ll call for you.”

The driver nodded once and left.

Cain ducked into the hotel. He’d never stayed at this particular building and hoped no one would recognize him without his Cain Ables celebrity persona in place. He was just Cain Ables, regular guy.

He headed through the lobby to the side entrance. An attendant smiled at him. “May I help you, sir?”

“I’d like a taxi to the airport.” Holy fuck. He was doing this. “Please?”

“Sure.” The attendant waved down one of the drivers. “May I help you with anything else?”

“No, thank you.” He shook hands with the man and settled into the back seat of the taxi. As the car sped toward the airport, Cain sighed. He’d really escaped. His parents would be thrilled when they found out he was at the hotel with a woman. He was being the bad-boy actor everyone expected.

Except he wasn’t bad and he wasn’t with a woman. Fear and doubt crept into his brain. Part of him wasn’t sure he could get away with his act of transgression. The rest of him couldn’t wait to get to Ohio and be a nobody.

Time to be myself.

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About the Author

Megan Slayer

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

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

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

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Megan Slayer’s Taking Chances in Cedarwood Giveaway

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Book Blitz & Excerpt: Unlikely Harmony + Giveaway

Unlikely Harmony

Unlikely Harmony by Lily Michaels

Book 3 in the Improbable Bonds series

Word Count: 32,368
Book Length: SHORT NOVEL
Pages: 140

Genres:

BONDAGE AND BDSM
CELEBRITIES
CONTEMPORARY
EROTIC ROMANCE
GAY
GLBTQI

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Book Description

In the middle of his darkest moment, Sebastian finds an unexpected light.

Since his immense gift was first discovered, Sebastian Chevalier has led a life of blissful indulgence—crisscrossing the globe to perform to thousands of adoring fans and garnering international attention for putting a modern face on opera—that is until a vocal cord injury steals Sebastian’s most prized possession.

While he rehabilitates, he turns his focus to composing an opera and hires Jasper Lorde to join as his accompanist to help turn his written music into a living creation. Although Jasper is the polar opposite of everything he is normally attracted to, Sebastian finds himself with an overwhelming desire for the man and as he slowly regains his ability to speak, the two men explore the passion building between them.

Once the opera is complete and Sebastian has been cleared to sing, he books a debut at the prestigious LA Opera House. But this decision releases a Pandora’s box of demons for Jasper that threatens their tentative connection.

Reader advisory: This book includes the impact of PTSD and anxiety and reference to a car crash with multiple fatalities.

Excerpt

Just standing in front of the imposing oak door soothed the part of my soul that had been scattered, erratic and unsettled. A two-hundred-city tour could easily do that to a person. I missed home. I missed my bed. And damned if I didn’t miss this.

Instead of falling into the comfort my two-thousand-thread-count sheets afforded, I was waiting in the cool, late summer night air for the host to swing open the door and welcome me in…because I needed this.

At any point during the tour, I could have—and probably should have—made a few phone calls and found a similar club in Luxemburg, Paris or New York, but none possessed the familiarity and anonymity Sergio insisted upon for Devour.

In the way that only Sergio could, he—not a designated attendant—opened the door with a flourish and a wicked grin. “Did you miss me, darling?”

I leaned forward and kissed each of his cheeks, as had become our custom over the years. “Terribly, but not quite as much as your dark room.”

His slate-colored eyes glimmered with mischief and knowing all melded into one. “It is your favorite place in Devour.” He stood to the side and held out one arm. “We’ve had a new visitor over the past couple of months while you were gone. He memorized the vocabulary of the dark room with freakish speed. He’s here tonight and I think he may be right up your alley.”

Never in the three years I’d known Sergio and frequented his club had he drawn my attention to anyone in particular, even though he knew I had a very specific type. “What makes you say that?”

He tipped his head to the side, his devious grin melting into a much more serene smile. “You’ll see, cupcake. He’s the only one in the dark room not currently paired up.”

In a familiar routine that soothed some of the aching remnants of my tattered nerves, I handed my leather coat to the clerk, slid the ticket into the pocket of my tight black denim pants and made my way to the room I’d spent the entire flight home from London thinking about.

I’ve lived my life on overload and typically loved every minute of it. Crisscrossing the globe, performing, recording, giving interviews and personal appearances… Every second of it fed my already admittedly healthy ego. It was impossible to not be rather enamored with yourself when men and women from twenty to sixty-five threw themselves at you. About half only salivated over me because of my singing abilities, the others because of my appearance. Either reason was okay with me.

But in the dark room everything stilled, quieted and was at peace. I was wanted for who I was at my core, the most authentic part of me. Hell, no one I’d ever encountered within those four walls had known my name, much less my public identity, and I adored that fact.

Just outside the door I slid on the required half-mask and closed my eyes, giving them a moment to transition from the low lights in the hall to the black lights minimally filling the room. I stepped inside and didn’t open them again until the click of the mechanism closing sounded behind me.

As Sergio had indicated, there were several couples paired up in various positions and stages of play throughout the dimly lit space. A solitary figure stood swirling a drink no more than a dozen paces from me. The black light, which tended to toy with and distort a person’s vision, flashed off the silver mask covering half his face. His body was a little on the lanky side, but the fitted tank top he wore showed off lean muscles on his upper arms and a modest bulge to his chest. He had a thick mop of curly hair that appeared dark in the room, although I was well acquainted with not only the tricks the lights played with appearances but also the lengths to which some people went to keep themselves from being recognized when they came to Devour.

I closed the space between us and reached for his hand. The dark room was about feeling and immersing oneself in the moment, all while keeping the interactions anonymous. Everyone was required to conceal their face, and the ultraviolet bulbs assisted in making the players unrecognizable.

Most important to me, however, was the ‘no talking’ rule. Sergio had set up a system of tracing letters and a few basic symbols on the hand of whomever one wished to partner with for the night as the way to communicate and confirm consent, but no words were ever spoken. And based on his little disclosure, the newbie had caught on quickly and would be able to follow along.

Sub? I moved my index finger just below his knuckles and my heart rate kicked up a notch at his responding nod.

From what I could tell, he was certainly my type physically, but the confirmation that he was submissive was truly what ticked my box. Play? I drew each letter painstakingly slow to be certain he understood what I was asking. I loved embracing my Dominant side and certainly was a fan of a little rough play, but only with both partners fully on board.

He nodded again and I led him to the wall where Sergio had created a handful of signs that would help us outline what we wanted for the night without the long process of spelling it out and possibly creating a misunderstanding. I held out my hand to the papers on the wall, indicating he could choose. I had been too-long deprived and was ready for nearly anything, as long as I could flex the muscles of authority that had lain dormant.

And as much of an arrogant asshole as I was in my daily life, nothing meant more to me than meeting the needs of the submissive under my control, even if only for a night. I needed to know what he wanted from me, what he needed.

The other man pointed at the ‘sadist’ sign and himself simultaneously, then tapped his finger on the points below that said, ‘nipple clamps’, ‘paddle’, ‘flogger’. He then slid over to the list of sexual acts identifying ‘blow job’, ‘bottom’, ‘rimming’.

Once more, for my own peace of mind, I grabbed his hand and traced Play? Sure?

Instead of a response, he grabbed the back of my neck and pulled me in for a kiss. Sparks ricocheted through my entire being from the point where we were connected. I reached beneath his top, which was damn near a second skin on him, and pinched each of his nipples simultaneously as I plundered his mouth with my tongue. He whimpered and the sound shot confidence directly into my spine.

The moans and gasps from the three other couples in the room faded into the background. An unusual charge of energy I couldn’t define passed between us, and within seconds, I was desperate to get the man naked and discover if the fine muscles hinted at beneath his clothes were as enticing when exposed to the minimal light the room offered. It took longer than I wanted to free him from the form-hugging material. Once he had been, I drew in a very necessary lungful of air. The man was gorgeous.

I leaned down and sucked on one nipple for the briefest moment before sinking my teeth into the tender flesh. He swayed a little and I quickly held his back to keep him upright as I moved to repeat my ministrations on the other side.

My aching cock was pressing painfully against the fly of my jeans and desperate for freedom. I disentangled his fingers from where they’d knotted in my hair and wrapped them around his own hard dick before turning him around and pushing him against the wall.

Once I’d shed my own clothes, I rummaged through the tall wardrobe a few feet away and came back with a bottle of lube, a condom, nipple clamps and a flogger. I moved to the man’s side, hooked a finger around his chin and turned him so he faced me. I held up the items and nearly exploded with gratitude at his affirmative nod to accept the various forms of play.

First I affixed the clamps and I traced, OK? on his hand again. My breath was trapped in my lungs for the half a second before he answered. At his affirmative response, I turned him to face the wall again then trailed the tips of the flogger over his shoulder and down his spine. I rotated my wrist a few times before delivering the first strike, followed quickly by two more. Even in the low light, he visibly stiffened beneath the three blows.

OK? I drew once more. This time he shook his head, grabbed my still-extended finger, and wrote More on my palm. The plea sent a jolt of unnecessary extra desire straight to my dick, and I happily obliged, landing another four hits to his backside, which was now brightly reddened, visible even under the ultraviolet rays.

Normally my willpower was damn near infinite, but everything about the brief interaction with the man was unusual. Sooner than I’d have preferred, I was sheathing my cock with the latex barrier and lathering it, as well as his ass, with an excessive amount of slippery lubricant.

Once more I broke many of my own rules when I spun the man around and pressed his back and hands to the wall, lifting him against the wooden surface, hiking his thighs over my hips and sliding inside him easily. Perfectly. Our dual moans mixed and mingled to create a beautiful harmony.

I was never so thankful for the dogged insistence of my personal trainer to make me lift and work-out hardcore, even while on tour, as I was when I was easily holding him with one arm and removing one clamp with my free hand, quickly replacing the metal with my lips. I repeated the action on the other side, licking and sucking the tiny pebble until he gave me the whimpering response I wanted…needed.

I pulled back and crashed my mouth into his, gripping each of his ass cheeks firmly, the knowledge that I’d leave him with reminders of me much more thrilling than it should be.

Two more strokes inside and a shudder ran through his entire body as liquid lava erupted between us. The proof he’d met his release gave me permission to launch myself from the precipice I’d been dangling from into the warm, welcome abyss of ecstasy that beckoned me.

He leaned forward and planted soft kisses on my shoulder. New threads of pleasure wove around every cell in my body because of him, every part of him—his hands, his lips, his hot breath on my skin.

Damn, what I wouldn’t give to know his name.

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About the Author

Lily Michaels

Lily MichaelsCoffee, chocolate, and books make up Lily’s world, often all three at the same time. Whether reading or writing she is a sucker for an over-the-top happily ever after… only following an appropriate amount of pain, of course.

When she is not writing or reading (which is not very often) she enjoys exercising her right brain in non authorly ways such as creating mosaics, crocheting, knitting, scrapbooking, and taking one man’s trash to create something new. But never, ever ask her to draw something. That is a beast best left alone.

You can find Lily on her website here and follow her on Pinterest.

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Lily Michaels Unlikely Harmony Giveaway

ENTER TO WIN A FREE LILY MICHAELS ROMANCE BOOK! Notice: This competition ends on 11TH May 2021 at 5pm GMT. Competition hosted by Totally Entwined Group.

Book Blitz & Excerpt: One Motion More + Giveaway

One Motion More Banner

One Motion More
by L.A. Tavares

Word Count: 83,762
Book Length: SUPER NOVEL
Pages: 314

GENRES:

CELEBRITIES
CHICK LIT
ROMANCE
SWEET ROMANCE

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Actions speak louder than words.

Long-haired bad-boy guitarist Xander has skeletons in his closest that refuse to stay dead. After a series of setbacks, Xander hits new lows, almost costing himself his reputation and career. While trying to take steps in the right direction toward better decisions and good choices, he meets Natalie, and for the first time—maybe ever—Xander sees past himself and past the music his rock band is famous for.

Their relationship is an unlikely one, with outside factors creating obstacles the two would have to tackle to make their love work.

He is reckless while she responsible.

He thrives in the spotlight while she will do anything to avoid it.

He speaks fluent profanity while she doesn’t speak at all.

He works to win her heart, despite having to overcome the communication barrier, while she tries to look past the intensity of the spotlight they find themselves in.

Excerpt

The locked, guarded door and shiny new mark on my already scarred record are laughable penalties. The real punishment is the smell in these small quarters—body odors, stale alcohol. One thing is for sure… There are no VIP suites in New York police stations.

More like a bench than a bed, the slab of flat ceramic I lay on is uncomfortable and determined to punish me with back problems that will last longer than this overnight hold.

My eyes snap shut each time I try to open them—an involuntary response to block out the outdated fluorescent light overhead. I press the palms of my hands into my eye sockets and run my fingers through my overgrown hair. Sure, the lights don’t help my already throbbing head and the sleeping arrangement is a far cry from comfortable, but the atmosphere is ‘welcoming’. I purposely bent the rules just far enough to win myself a one-night, all-inclusive stay at the nearest precinct.

Quiet. No crowds. No screaming fans. Nowhere for me to be, no way for me to screw up. Most people would find the locked doors, silence and lack of company alarming. Not me. For me, it’s tranquil. A vacation. Maybe that’s why I frequent the sin-bin so often.

“Hey there, sunshine,” a plump guard says, opening the thick-paned glass door so it swings into the hallway. He leans into the metal door frame, holding a large stick of beef jerky in one hand, tearing off a chunk between his teeth and chewing so I can hear it.

“The doors are a nice upgrade,” I say through a yawn as I knock on the glass. “They were bars when I was here last.”

He gnaws on the dried meat, unamused. “There’s someone here to pick you up,” he says as he chews, spewing small chunks of meat and saliva as he speaks.

“Aw, so soon?” I bring myself to my feet and stretch—every muscle protests. “Guess I’m not twenty-one anymore, eh?” I ask.

“Maybe you should stop trying to be,” he says. His stone expression remains as such.

“Noted,” I add, and salute him as I step away from the cell, turn around and head toward the station’s lobby to retrieve my sunglasses and cell phone before heading out of the doors.

Blake—my bass guitarist and lifelong best friend—leans against a car I’ve never seen before, opens the back door and gets in without waiting for me to approach him. He slides to the opposite side of the hired car and I slide in next to him, closing the door as the driver pulls away from the curb.

“How bad this time?” I ask, one side of my mouth lifting at the corner.

“You really don’t remember?” he asks.

“No. That was the whole point.” I drop my phone into the breast pocket of my shirt and place my sunglasses over my eyes.

Blake tilts back the top of a box of Marlboro Reds, a flagrant disregard of the No Smoking sticker adhered to the car’s dash. The lingering tobacco smell of the car tells me he’s already broken that rule.

“Never fear,” I say, elbowing him in the arm. “Social media and the news will remind me, I’m sure.”

“If Cooper doesn’t kill you first,” Blake adds, cracking the window and fishing for a Bic in his breast pocket. His words come out draped in a mix of his slightly faded South African accent and the dialect he has picked up during his years in the States.

Blake moved into my house at a time when his mother couldn’t provide for him anymore—right as we started tenth grade and, truthfully, his appearance hasn’t changed much since I met him in junior high. He looks almost the same way now as he did then, down to his stupid blond-tipped faux hawk and slightly spaced teeth. Only now, the tall, slender physique he boasted back then has morphed into a ‘definitely enjoys beer’-type body. Though, the same could be said for me.

The car arrives back at the venue where we are set to have our second show in a back-to-back schedule.

We enter the building and Blake walks ahead of me by about five strides. I am in no condition to keep up. He turns a corner, disappearing from view. As I turn the same corner, Cooper, our band’s manager, is standing there waiting for me. Startled, I jump out of my boots and my stomach takes a drop it can barely handle. I swallow back whatever threatens to make a reappearance.

“Jeez—” I start, but he has no intention of letting me talk.

“Leave,” he says, his eyes an even deeper brown than they usually are, enhanced by the dark bags beneath them. “Go find food, water and a shower. Whatever it is you need to do to clean up and be ready for today.”

“I’ll be ready, Coop. I always am.”

“You should be grateful we have a show today because I can tell you—no, I can promise you—if I didn’t need you today, you would still be sitting in that cell.” Cooper paces the width of the hallway, pausing every few moments to make a hand gesture my direction, as if he can’t walk and shake his fist all at the same time. “You’re lucky the cops here are fans of yours, you know. There will come a day where just being Xander Varro doesn’t get you what you want. Your status won’t get you out of everything forever. The sooner you understand that the better.”

“I had a few drinks. I was having a good time—”

“Drunk and disorderly, disturbing the peace, resisting arrest.” Cooper starts listing off, using his fingers to keep track of all the misdemeanors. “This band can’t keep a publicist because they’re tired of covering for you. You can’t keep yourself out of the negativity and the spotlight. You’re dependent on drama. You’re going to be a father, for crying out loud. When do you plan to grow up, Xander? When is enough, enough?”

He’s right, but I’m too proud to admit it. Cooper’s growl shifts to a hushed pause, allowing me to say my piece or apologize, but I don’t do either, so he continues, filling the silent void.

“This isn’t just about you, you know. Your band counts on you. Your fans count on you. I count on you. Someday your kid will count on you, and you are becoming the kind of guy who can’t be counted on.” His pacing comes to a halt and his eyes soften. His voice quiets, falling so calm that I would almost prefer the yelling. “You have it all, Xander. Everything. Stop trying to throw it all away.”

I nod, a silent response, even though I know Cooper wants more from me. It’s all I have to offer.

“Just go, Xander,” he says. “Come back when you’re ready to be on that stage and not a second sooner.”

“Can you send a car to take me back to the hotel?”

“You can walk.”

I laugh at his joke, but the sound becomes a scoff when I realize he’s serious. I nod without enthusiasm and turn toward the door, slamming my bodyweight into the metal push bar though the signs clearly indicate Emergency Exit Only.

The hotel is only just over a mile away, but I’m still annoyed. These boots definitely were not made for walking. My feet are throbbing by the time I arrive at the lavish hotel doors. The lock clicks as I hold the key card to the door of the hotel room that I was supposed to be long-checked-out of. I lay on the bed longer than I should, ignoring the clothes and other items strewn across it. A red light blinks at the base of the landline phone the hotel provides, most likely a wakeup call ordered by Cooper or a message about the late fees incurred as a result of the ignored check-out. I almost delete it without listening, figuring whatever message it holds is either now irrelevant or I just don’t care what it has to say.

But I click it, and my girlfriend’s voice is on the other end. I smile at first, listening to her words.

“Hey, it’s Mariah.”

But the smile fades to a flatline. Why would she call the hotel and not my cell phone?

“I have something to tell you.”

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About the Author

L. A. Tavares

When it comes to romance, L A doesn’t have a type. Sometimes it’s dark and devastating, sometimes it’s soft and simple – truly, it just depends what her imaginary friends are doing at the time she starts writing about them.

L A has moved to various parts of the country over the last ten years but her heart has never left Boston.

And no, the “A” does not stand for Anne.

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