Book Blitz & Excerpt: The Captain and the Father of the Bride + Giveaway

The Captain and the Father of the Bride Banner

the captain and the father of the bride

The Captain and the Father of the Bride

by Catherine Curzon & Eleanor Harkstead

Book 8 in the Captivating Captains series

Word Count: 66,464
Book Length: NOVEL
Pages: 256

Genres:

CONTEMPORARY
EROTIC ROMANCE
GAY
GLBTQI

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Book Description

If Leo marries his best friend, they’ll inherit a fortune. The only trouble is, he’s already fallen for her father.

Yacht captain Leo’s never stayed in one place long enough to fall in love. That all could change when he’s left £1,000,000. But there’s a catch. Leo can only inherit the money if he takes a bride before the year is out. And Leo’s the kind of man who’s only interested in taking a husband.

So Leo and his best friend hatch a plan. She’ll be his pretend bride, and he’ll use his new-found wealth to support her animal sanctuary. What could possibly go wrong?

Archie’s the closest thing to perfect that Leo’s ever seen. Dashing, mature and sexy as hell, after one hot night in a London hotel, Leo can’t stop thinking about the legal eagle who’s stolen his heart.

When Leo meets the father of his bride-to-be, he’s in for the shock of his life. Can Archie and Leo join forces to give themselves and a stricken seal pup a second chance, or will a grasping lawyer with a chequebook in place of his heart scupper the happiness of the captain and the father of the bride?

Excerpt

Leo held Liv’s hand as he watched the solicitor flick through the file on his large mahogany desk. Leo had never been to the reading of a will before, never been inside a solicitor’s office before, and Liv had gamely agreed to come with him for moral support.

He was amazed to see the green-shaded lamp on the solicitor’s desk, as Leo had only seen them in films, yet it seemed that here they were a perfectly normal part of real life. The room was so quiet, all sound muffled by the thick carpet that ran through the wood-paneled offices. Leo’s breathing and his own heartbeat sounded twice as loud, and although they were in the middle of London, he could barely hear the traffic or pneumatic drills that had been so ear-piercing when he was outside.

The solicitor shuffled some papers. It wasn’t even as if Herr Schreiber, captain of Cologne industry and the most colorful man ever to leave North Rhine-Westphalia for a life on the ocean waves, had been Leo’s relative. He had merely been a client whose yacht he had skippered around the Mediterranean. A very rich, rather eccentric client, but a client nevertheless. And in his own way, a friend.

Gunther Schreiber’s death, coming as it did in the arms of his cabaret-singing lover in the eighty-first year of his life, hadn’t been unexpected. In fact, rarely did the platitude he died doing something he loved ring so true, but for Gunther Schreiber, being in the arms of his latest muse was exactly how he would have ended his own final chapter. Leo had no doubt about that, and for the same reason, his sadness at the death of his late client was tempered with a sense of satisfaction at a life well-lived and filled to the brim with the fizz of champagne and the hum of the super yacht’s engine.

The last thing Leo would have expected was to find himself sitting in this vast office with its scent of leather and wood polish, his best friend at his side as they waited for the last attendee to arrive. What could possibly be in the will of Gunther Schreiber that would concern Leo Maxwell? Perhaps a little token to mark their happy sailing. One of the handmade yachts from Gunther’s salon, or perhaps one of the paintings that had decorated the walls. Leo hoped it wasn’t that, because he doubted he’d be able to afford the insurance premiums to protect those priceless works.

This is probably a mistake. Or he’s left me something completely random, one last prank to send me on my way.

Yet Mr. Brockett of Brockett, Brockett and Holliday had been very clear in his letter that Leo should attend the meeting in person. A meeting to discuss the last will and testament of Gunther Jost Schreiber, said the neat type on the thick ivory paper with its green and gold lettering, at which you will learn something to your advantage.

Mr. Brockett tapped his pen on the cover of a buff file on his desk. He looked over his half-moon spectacles to the door and pursed his lips. Leo was surprised by the frames of his glasses as well—was the office furnished entirely from the contents of an antiques shop?

Telling himself the experience was fun and not terrifying, Leo grinned at Liv.

“All right?” he whispered, his voice absorbed at once by the deadening effects of the muffling carpet. She nodded, the high brunette ponytail on top of her head bouncing with the motion. Then she smiled and squeezed his hand.

“I am sorry,” Mr. Brockett offered. “I’m sure Mr. Beaucock will be here very soon. I understand he’s a very busy man. A fellow solicitor, you know.”

Beaucock? Seriously?

Trying to avoid laughing, Leo asked, “Is he Gunther’s nephew or…? He told me he’d never had any children.”

“A very distant connection,” he replied. “Herr Schreiber’s only living relative.”

Leo nodded. “I see. Are any other of Gunther’s friends coming? Those ladies on the yacht…”

Leo hoped Mr. Brockett would know what he meant by that. The ladies came and went, and Gunther had always been very fond of them. Surely at least one of them would trot in on their patent-heeled shoes and inherit Gunther’s villa in Cannes?

“I’m not at liberty to disclose any details, but I can assure you that Herr Schreiber has been most generous in his provisions. He stipulated that the parties each be informed in a strict order and according to strict instructions.” Brocket chanced a thin-lipped smile. “I’m sure you understand.”

Liv gave a little snigger and murmured, “So all of Gunther’s girls don’t bump into each other?”

Leo put his hand over his mouth, trying not to laugh. “I’ve seen that happen! Someone called Heidi threw someone called Marisol into the sea!”

“Oh God, we saw it all when we were crewing for Gunther,” Liv told Brockett. “He got more action than any of⁠—” She was silenced by the sound of the door opening, the gesture ushering in a cloud of potent aftershave ahead of the new arrival.

“Jesus Christ, this place is out in the bloody boondocks!” a voice announced. “Hardly the beating heart of legal London, is it? Beaucock. Pleasure to meet one of the real old guard!”

Leo turned in his seat. There before him was a man dressed in pinstripes, a sneer taking up most of his long face. Leo instinctively held Liv’s hand tighter. He gave the new arrival a polite nod, even though he would much rather have run away. He’d met people like Beaucock before, monied pillocks who would hire him to skipper their eye-wateringly expensive yacht and treat Leo with contempt as the hired help.

“Morning,” Leo said to Beaucock. “How do you do?”

“I’ve had a hell of a morning in the very best way.” Beaucock planted his feet a shoulder-width apart and held out his hand to Leo. “Let’s just say that’s one more Premier League player whose license won’t be snatched away by the so-called forces of law and order for a tiny bit of harmless speed. They see a Ferrari and they think it’s payday. Well, not today!”

“Mr. Beaucock specializes in motoring cases,” Brockett explained as Conrad waited for Leo to take his hand. “High-profile ones.”

“Teflon Con,” Beaucock said with obvious pride. “Conrad Beaucock.”

Leo shook Conrad’s moist hand. “I’ve never met one of Gun’s relatives before. Nice to meet you. I’m Leo Maxwell, but some people call me Max.” Leo grinned at Liv. Some people being Liv. “And this is my friend Liv.”

Conrad gave Liv the sort of look a man might give a new car, appraising her in one glance.

“Good to meet you, Leroy.” He released Leo’s hand. “And great to meet you, Liv.”

“It’s Leo,” he prompted. Yes, Conrad really was that type, the kind who consigned people to a bin marked inconsequential human being within seconds of meeting them. And Leo had bought a smart tweed three-piece just for this meeting. His oilskin jacket and wellies hadn’t seemed quite the thing to wear. He didn’t even have to look at Liv to know that she wouldn’t be impressed. Men like Conrad were all too easy to come by in the yachting world, and they were as far from Liv’s cup of tea as it was possible to get.

“Capricorn,” Conrad replied as he took a seat. “Don’t tell me you’re into that bullcrap?”

“Leo is my name.” Is this guy for real? “I can’t even remember what my star sign is. I don’t particularly care.” Leo glanced at Mr. Brockett and the file on his desk. Conrad rubbed his hands together, then looked at his watch with such theatrics that Leo knew he was waiting to be asked what was on his wrist.

So Leo wouldn’t ask.

“Let’s get this baby read,” he told the solicitor. “My Rolex tells me I can give you an hour.”

A Rolex. More like a load of Bolex.

Leo shook his head. Conrad Beaucock, you are a tosser. “I’m sure Gun would be over the moon to know you’ve managed to squeeze the reading of his last wishes into your busy schedule. It’s not very respectful to the old boy.”

“It’s not like he’s here to complain, is it?” Conrad sniggered. “Get over yourself. Who are you anyway?”

“Mr. Beaucock, this is Mr. Maxwell. He skippered Herr Schreiber’s yacht around—” Brockett began to explain.

“So you’re a taxi driver without a taxi, yeah?”

“I’m RYA Yachtmaster Offshore certified, actually.” So there. “And, more importantly, I was Gun’s friend.”

“We both were,” Liv said, taking Leo’s hand again. “And we miss him.”

Leo grinned at her, the days of larking about in the sunshine rushing back to him. “Life’s going to be a lot quieter without Gun around!”

“Not mine, mate.” Conrad sneered. “My life’s going to be a lot louder once I bank that check!”

“Why, are you buying a drum kit?” Leo quipped. Was that a childish riposte? Oh, tough titties, I don’t care.

Brockett cleared his throat and opened the file.

So this is the moment, then.

The mystery of the meeting was about to be solved and Conrad Beaucock was about to inherit everything Gunther hadn’t given to his girlfriends. And after five minutes in his company, Leo knew that he didn’t deserve a penny of it.

Gunther had kept an exquisite ship in a bottle on board. He’d spotted Leo admiring it and had waxed lyrical about it. Maybe that was Gunther’s bequest?

“Now,” Brockett began, “this is a rather complicated matter. Herr Schreiber’s posthumous wishes have been carried out by a will, as you might expect, and a trust. Due to the sensitive nature of some of the bequests, it’s been necessary to be rather…exacting. To ensure that the documents could be sealed, as Herr Schreiber wished. I hope you’ll understand?”

Leo glanced to Liv, who gave him an encouraging smile. He listened intently as Brockett began to read, the will and trust documents a dense tangle of legalese and arcane wording that soon had Leo lost. Conrad, Teflon Con, looked as though it was all old news to him, the flash lawyer in his pinstripes and pointed shoes. He was a world away from Gunther, white-bearded and lounging in kaftans and silk slippers, like a cross between a hippy and Father Christmas.

“And now we reach the bequests,” Brockett said eventually. “There’ll be time afterward for questions, but I’d appreciate it if you would allow things to proceed. The ladies were somewhat ungoverned during this portion, but do try to cooperate.”

“Of course,” Leo said.

Heidi, Marisol, Anook and Tjitske came to his mind in a flurry of big hair, long nails and metallic bikinis. They had always been ungoverned on the deck of the yacht, so Leo couldn’t imagine them being any different in Mr. Brockett’s office. What a scene that must’ve been.

Brockett reached down beneath his desk and, to Leo’s surprise, produced a laptop. He lifted the lid and danced his fingers across the keyboard, then turned the screen to face his audience. There was Gunther again, large as life and beaming with happiness on the deck of the Aphrodite. Behind him Leo could see the crystal-blue ocean, a horizon stretching off into infinity.

Leo sniffed back a tear. He missed that wide smile. He glanced at Liv, knowing she would feel the same. “There he is, Gun the man!”

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About the Authors

Eleanor Harkstead

Eleanor Harkstead likes to dash about in nineteenth-century costume, in bonnet or cravat as the mood takes her. She can occasionally be found wandering old graveyards. Eleanor is very fond of chocolate, wine, tweed waistcoats and nice pens. Her large collection of vintage hats would rival Hedda Hopper’s.

Originally from the south-east of England, Eleanor now lives somewhere in the Midlands with a large ginger cat who resembles a Viking.

You can follow Eleanor on Facebook and Twitter

Catherine Curzon

Catherine Curzon is a royal historian who writes on all matters of 18th century. Her work has been featured on many platforms and Catherine has also spoken at various venues including the Royal Pavilion, Brighton, and Dr Johnson’s House.

Catherine holds a Master’s degree in Film and when not dodging the furies of the guillotine, writes fiction set deep in the underbelly of Georgian London.

She lives in Yorkshire atop a ludicrously steep hill.

You can follow Catherine on Facebook and Twitter and take a look at her Website.

Giveaway

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Catherine Curzon & Eleanor Harkstead The Captain and the Father of the Bride Giveaway

ENTER TO WIN A FREE CATHERINE CURZON & ELEANOR HARKSTEAD ROMANCE BOOK! Notice: This competition ends on 4TH May 2021 at 5pm GMT. Competition hosted by Totally Entwined Group.

Book Blitz & Excerpt: Artifacts + Giveaway

Artifacts Banner

Artifacts by Bailey Bradford

Book 1 in the Intrinsic series

Word Count: 54,742
Book Length: NOVEL
Pages: 215

Genres:

CONTEMPORARY
EROTIC ROMANCE
GAY
GLBTQI
THRILLERS AND SUSPENSE

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Book Description

Aldric Beamer thought working in an antique shop would be safe and boring. He never expected to find his life—or his heart—in danger…

Being the low man on the totem pole is nothing new for Aldric Beamer. The youngest of three siblings, he was always the afterthought in his family, but Aldric’s trying hard not to let the little confidence he has sink any lower.

Aldric loves the job he managed to land at Intrinsic Value, so much so that he often works off the clock—or maybe he doesn’t want to go home to his empty apartment. Just as he’s slowly learning to trust his boss and co-workers, he’s attacked outside the store, and all the security he thought he had vanishes with the force of a blow to the head.

San Antonio cop Darrell Williams takes one look at the beautiful, bruised man he finds in a dingy alley behind an antiques store, and something in his heart melts. This weakness scares him, making Darrell gruff and indifferent when he should have been—and longs to be—compassionate and caring.

Aldric’s no pushover, though. He’s had enough of being ignored and treated like he doesn’t matter as much as everyone else. And he’ll make damn sure Patrol Officer Williams doesn’t dismiss him in any way…

Reader advisory: This book contains scenes of violence and assault. There are expressions of homophobia by several characters, mentions of non-nurturing parenting, references to addiction and a scene of attempted abduction.

Excerpt

The Help Wanted sign in the window stopped Aldric in his tracks. He’d been walking along San Antonio’s Pearl District, somewhat lost in his thoughts and worries, so why he noticed the sign, he couldn’t have said.

Maybe because it stood out in the day of internet-everything. All the job boards that he’d scanned and the applications for employment that he’d sent in had been online. That was just how it was done nowadays…except not at the business he’d stopped in front of.

Aldric stared at the sign for a solid minute while trying to calculate his chances of being hired if he went in and applied before going home and changing. Not that he had any fancier clothes. Jeans, T-shirts and one button-up were all that was in his wardrobe.

What are the chances someone else will apply and get hired by the time I go home, shower, shave, change and come back?

Whatever the odds were, his empty stomach didn’t want to risk them. Blinking away his musings, Aldric pushed his glasses farther up his nose, then caught himself screwing up his face to re-settle them exactly where they’d been. He attempted to smooth down his hair—being thick, it tended to tousle, even though it wasn’t long—and reached for the door handle, which was when he saw the name of the place that was hiring.

Intrinsic Value Antique Shop. At least shop wasn’t spelled all funky. It was a silly pet peeve he had, people adding extra letters onto words to make spellings like shoppe rather than shop. An antique store might have a better reason than most businesses or services to use an old spelling of the word, and he had no reason to be judgmental of anything—something he needed to keep in mind.

Even though he knew nothing about antiques, Aldric opened the door and stepped inside to the tinkling of chimes. He glanced down at the door handle inside and saw strings of silver and copper bells dangling from it.

“Good afternoon. May I help you?”

Aldric pivoted so quickly that he almost tripped over his own feet—nothing unusual for him. Heat rushed to his face, and he gulped as he spotted the older man standing with one hand on an ancient-looking cash register. “Er, yes, I, um, I—” Aldric took a deep breath and exhaled to the count of ten. If he didn’t get himself calmed down, he’d stumble over his words as well as his feet, as he tended to do when he was flustered.

“My name is Elliot Douglas. I’m the owner of Intrinsic Value. Please call me Elliot.” Elliot came around the counter and stopped in front of Aldric.

“Aldric Beamer.” Aldric offered his right hand to shake. “Nice to meet you, Elliot.” His mouth was dry, and a tickle started up in his throat.

“Nice to meet you, too.” Elliot pumped his hand one more time, then let go. “Are you here about the job? I noticed you standing outside and thought you might be considering it.”

Aldric covered his mouth and turned his head before he coughed. He lowered his hand and faced Elliot again. “Sorry, the mountain cedar is kicking my allergies into high gear. Yes, sir, I’m here about the job. Surprised me to see an actual sign in the window. Everything’s done online, it seems. I’ve been told to go home and apply online so often, I’ve quit thinking about actual signs.”

“Ah yes, the internet is an amazing tool for many things, but I prefer to meet people in person first, rather than online.” Elliot smiled, and Aldric realized the older, taller man, with his tawny-brown eyes and thick mane of slightly long, wavy light-brown hair that was just starting to silver, was quite handsome.

“Why don’t you come back this way and tell me what makes you think you’ll be a good fit at Intrinsic Value?” Elliot gestured in the direction of the cash register. “I was cleaning off my baby and would like to finish as we talk.”

“Yes, sir.” Aldric coughed again and wanted to melt into the floorboards.

“Would you like some cold water or hot tea?” Elliot offered. “I have both available.”

Aldric wasn’t sure about hot tea. He’d only ever had Texas tea—cold, with lots of sugar and ice in it. But maybe tea was a thing with Elliot. “Er, tea, please?”

Elliot glanced back at him. “You sound uncertain. Have you tried hot tea before?”

Lying wasn’t something Aldric did if he could help it. “I haven’t, but I thought a warm drink might help with my scratchy throat.”

“That it might. I have a few different kinds, but how about you try the chamomile? It’s good for all sorts of ailments.” Elliot stopped by an elegant-legged wooden table that had a silver tea kettle and several mismatched cups and saucers sitting on it.

A white ceramic dish held glass jars of tea and cubes of sugar, and a clear container was filled with what appeared to be honey. Delicate silver spoons were laid out as well. Aldric tucked his hands into the front pockets of his jeans. Everything on that table looked delicate, not only the spoons, and he was afraid to touch anything.

Which had to mean he shouldn’t apply for the job.

“Aldric?” Elliot arched one thick eyebrow. “Is chamomile okay?”

Realizing he’d more than likely made sure he wouldn’t get hired, because Elliot had to think he was on the dense side, Aldric shook his head. “It’s okay, thank you. I’ll just—” He started to take a step back.

“Just what?” Elliot asked, scooping tea from a jar before he put it into a little oval-shaped strainer. “Are you not interested in the job after all?”

Aldric bit his bottom lip and pondered whether he should stay or not. For one thing, he’d already made some kind of impression, good or bad. For another, Elliot hadn’t run him off. That has to mean I still have a chance, right? Until I tell him I know nothing about what this shop sells. Damn it.

“I’m interested, but I don’t have any experience with antiques,” Aldric rushed out, watching Elliot pour hot water over the strainer holding the tea. Elliot had put a lid on it so the tea leaves didn’t flow out.

Aldric took a step closer, unable to resist getting a better look at what Elliot was doing. He took off his round-framed glasses, polished them and shoved them back on.

“The tea needs to steep for a few minutes,” Elliot explained. “The infuser keeps most of the bits of tea leaves from escaping, but you still might have a few pieces in your cup. Those will usually settle at the bottom.”

“That’s the infuser?” Aldric asked when Elliot nudged the strainer holding the tea.

Elliot smiled at him. “Yes, it is. Do you like honey?”

“I—” Aldric’s stomach picked that moment to let out a rumbling growl. He dropped his gaze and pressed a fist to his belly. “Sorry. Skipped breakfast.”

“Well, that won’t do. It’s almost time for dinner. I’ll order us something to eat, then you and I will sit down for a proper interview—if you’re interested in the job?” Elliot picked up the jar of honey.

“Oh, I…I am, I just thought I’d blown any chance I had at it.” Aldric ducked his head and stared at the worn toes of his tennis shoes. “I don’t have any experience for it. I’ve only worked at fast-food places. I don’t know anything about antiques. I didn’t even know what that thing—the infuser—was.” His ignorance was embarrassing, and he hated that he didn’t know more.

“So,” Elliot drawled, one corner of his mouth curving up. “No experience at all? That would mean I’d have a clean slate in you, if I were to hire you. Wouldn’t have to rid you of bad habits and misinformation.”

Aldric was almost too afraid to believe he might have a chance of keeping his shitty apartment and not going hungry for much longer, after all. “Are you serious?”

“Utterly. Here, let me fix your tea, then I’ll order something from the restaurant across the street. It has a little of everything. I have a menu for it behind the counter. This won’t take a moment…” Elliot took the infuser out, then added honey to the tea.

“Thank you.” Aldric should have refused the offer of a meal, but the truth was, he was too hungry to let pride cost him sustenance. He took the warm cup of tea from Elliot and inhaled the fragrant steam rising from it. “Oh! This smells good.”

Elliot smiled at him, a delighted expression, if Aldric wasn’t reading him wrong. “I hope you’ll like the way it tastes as well. Let me grab that menu, then you can peruse it with me.”

“Okay, thanks.” Aldric took a sip of the tea. It was hotter on his tongue than he’d expected, and he winced as he swallowed. He was glad Elliot hadn’t seen him do that. The next sip he took was slower. The taste was as pleasant as the smell of the tea, the honey sweet but not overpowering.

“Here we go. I haven’t had anything bad from here yet, but then again, I always order the same thing. I’m a creature of habit in many ways.” Elliot’s smile had turned rueful.

“What do you get?” Aldric asked before taking another drink. He could get addicted to hot tea.

“Nothing adventurous, just the grilled salmon with steamed vegetables and mashed sweet potatoes.” Elliot handed him the menu. “I think the burgers should be good, though. Whenever I’m in the restaurant and see and smell them, they remind me very much of the ones my brother used to love.”

“Younger or older brother?” Aldric flipped the paper menu open to scan the selections.

Elliot froze for a second, as though something were wrong. Before Aldric could ask him if he was okay, Elliot drew in a breath, then touched his temples, where he had a few strands of gray. “Younger. Chris is thirty-two, Natty is thirty-four and I’m the old man at forty-something. Do you have any siblings?”

Aldric decided he’d get the bacon burger and sweet potato fries. He’d never had the latter before. “I have two, like you. Twins. They’re almost twenty years older than me.”

Elliot’s eyes widened. “That’s two whole decades!”

“Yeah. I was a surprise,” Aldric muttered. That was a nicer description than his family had called him at times. “Gregory and Simon are forty. I’m twenty-one.” He hoped Elliot wouldn’t ask any more questions about them, or Aldric’s family, period. Hoping to avert such possibilities, Aldric tapped the menu. “Can I get this? The bacon-mushroom burger?”

“Of course, of course.” Elliot moved back behind the counter and picked up something black. He stuck one finger in a silver ring that had smaller holes in it, and it took Aldric a moment to realize Elliot was using some kind of old phone.

Aldric had vague memories of his parents having a landline, but by the time he’d been old enough to care about it, they’d had cell phones. Even so, none of the phones Aldric had ever seen had looked like the one Elliot was now speaking into.

Elliot grinned as if he knew what Aldric was thinking, making Aldric look away and take another drink of his tea. When Elliot had looked at him then, it had occurred to Aldric that his potential boss was not only quite handsome, but very attractive. He’s about the same age as my brothers, so gross. Aldric needed a job more than he needed to get laid, and he’d never been attracted to older men, either—and he wasn’t about to start down that road now.

Not that Elliot would be interested in someone like him. Even though he’d only spent fifteen minutes in Elliot’s presence, Aldric could already tell that the guy was much classier than he’d ever be. There was also the very real possibility that Elliot wasn’t gay, despite the vibes Aldric was reading. Well, it didn’t matter one way or another.

Elliot hung up and tapped the black phone. “It’s an ancient rotary phone. My grandparents and parents had these, way back when, although we’d upgraded to a push-button phone by the time I started school. Want to see how it works?”

Aldric was itching to do just that. “Yeah, I mean, yes, I’d like that.”

The lesson taught him more than how to dial out on the phone—it taught him that Elliot was a patient and kind man. He encouraged and answered any questions Aldric had, which was freeing in a way that Aldric hadn’t experienced before. The old saying about children being seen but not heard had been a rule in his parents’ home.

“You have an inquisitive nature and a good brain.” Elliot propped a hip against the counter. “I think you’ll do well here.”

Aldric blinked in surprise. He was glad he’d set the teacup down, or else he might have dropped it, considering how much his hands trembled. “I have the job?”

Elliot nodded. “You do.”

“But…what about references and work history?” Aldric regretted asking as soon as the words were spoken.

“I like to believe I have excellent judgment when it comes to people,” Elliot said. “Am I wrong in regard to you?”

Aldric shook his head. “No. It’s just, I don’t know anything about antiques, or what I’ll be doing.”

“You can learn. Someone gave me a chance a few years ago and made this”—Elliot swept a hand toward the antiques in the shop—“possible. I’m still learning, one might say. That’s one reason I keep alphabetized cards on every item in the store, as well as those in the back. If someone asks about, say, this…” Elliot walked over to the second row of shelves and pointed to a silver tray. “What does it look like to you?”

Sweat broke out on Aldric’s brow. He knew what the object looked like to him, and it seemed obvious—was Elliot trying to trick him? No, Elliot had been nothing but kind to him. Aldric couldn’t let his own insecurity get the better of him now. “A-a silver tray?”

Elliot’s smile could have lit up the room. “Yes! So you’d just open the gold-leafed book under the register—go ahead and find it. Open it and look up ‘silver tray’.”

Aldric did as directed and was delighted to discover that most of the cards also had a small image of the item on the right corner. “It’s an eighteenth-century silver salver.” He read off the rest of the information, relief coursing through him even as he stumbled over some of the words. He could do this job.

“You won’t be alone in the store often, not at first,” Elliot said. “I’ll be out on the floor with you or, once you’ve been here for a while, in my office. Sometimes I’m away for a day or so, for instance at a fair or auction, or I might have to leave the city, to procure or sell an antique or attend an event, but I close the shop then.”

Aldric’s excitement fizzled out. “Oh. How…how long would you be gone? How often does that happen?” He’d lose out on work, and if he couldn’t support himself—

“I’d have you come in and work in the back while I’m gone. There will always be plenty of cleaning that can be done. I’ll show you how to polish silver and clean antiques—the ones that should be cleaned,” Elliot added before the door opened, and a young woman carrying a box entered. “Meredith! You are an angel of mercy.”

Meredith shook her head, making her brown hair ruffle over her shoulders, and chuckled. “Hardly. I’m just the delivery chick from across the street. Who’s this?”

“Aldric Beamer, my new employee,” Elliot answered, glancing at Aldric. “Right?”

“He’s not sure?” Meredith asked before Aldric could answer. She winked at him. “You should work for Mr. Douglas. He’s cool, and I bet he pays well, judging by the tips he gives me.”

Aldric hadn’t even thought to ask what his wages would be. The whole job-thing had happened so fast it felt like a dream.

“We haven’t discussed his pay.” Elliot took out his wallet and removed several bills from it. “But, of course, I believe in paying a livable wage.”

Aldric knew first-hand that minimum wage wasn’t a livable wage. He’d worked just under full-time and had often skipped meals to make rent. More than once, his electricity had been cut off. No fast-food joint he’d worked at had wanted to employ him full-time—that would have meant offering him health insurance. Then things had taken a turn for the worse and he’d found himself unemployed and hovering at the edge of homelessness.

“Aldric?”

Aldric lifted his glasses with one hand and rubbed a knuckle of the other into his eye. “Sorry. I sort of drifted off. I promise I won’t do that while I’m on the clock.”

Elliot held out a box and a drink. “I have utter faith in your ability to work well. Here, take this and head to the back. Second door on the left is my office. We’ll dine in there.”

“Fancy,” Meredith said, her brown eyes alive with humor. “Nice meeting you, Aldric.”

“Nice meeting you, too,” he replied, his face heating because he’d mentally checked out in front of her and Elliot.

He found Elliot’s office and was almost afraid to sit down in the plush leather chairs. The whole room looked like something out of an old-time movie, with its shiny wood surfaces, smooth leather seats and framed black-and-white photos from decades ago on the walls.

“Have a seat. Well, scoot closer to the desk if you want to use it for a table.” Elliot came around to the other side of his desk and sat, placing his own food on it. “There’s a coaster for your drink in the wood tray to your left.”

Aldric found the coaster and set his drink and boxed meal down before moving one of the leather chairs closer. “This is a very nice office. Is everything in it antique?”

Elliot began removing his food from the box it had come in. “Yes, except the pens and paper. Although I do have a quill pen!” He pointed at a long white feather. “It’s not quite an antique, but I like it.”

Aldric took a bite of his burger, and his stomach gave a happy rumble. “This is good,” he muttered after he’d swallowed.

Elliot grinned. “I’m glad you like it. My salmon smells amazing, as always. Before I start in on it, though, I want to cover salary, hours and health insurance.”

Aldric almost choked on the sweet potato fry he’d just bitten into. “Health insurance?” No. His ears were playing tricks on him.

But they weren’t. Elliot explained how he’d make sure Aldric was covered, without a waiting period. Aldric would have a full forty hours a week, would be paid at time and a half for any hours over that, and while he wouldn’t get rich working at Intrinsic Value, he’d earn that much-longed-for livable wage. It seemed too good to be true, and Aldric quickly and gratefully accepted everything he was offered, hoping that nothing happened to make this dream-come-true come crashing down around him.

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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.

You can follow Bailey Bradford on Twitter and Facebook.

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Bailey Bradford Artifacts Giveaway

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Book Blitz & Excerpt: Holding Onto Light + Giveaway

Holding onto Light Banner

Holding onto Light by Lucien Grey

Word Count: 51,608
Book Length: NOVEL
Pages: 197

Genres:

FANTASY
GAY
GLBTQI
ROMANCE

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Book Description

Two strangers running from their dark pasts find redemption in each other.

Harry, a former army doctor, lives in isolation after the devastating war between Rasacara and the Empire came to a bloody and violent conclusion. His lonely life is disrupted by a young, beautiful man surrounded by secrets and suspicion, who would likely destroy Harry if he knew who he was.

Kit, former member of the witch army’s Blue Crows, now on the run from his former master, must keep his identity a secret as his enemy is closing in and Harry, the gruff, mysterious woodsman, is all that stands between him and the man who wants him dead.

Forced together by Kit’s injuries, the two lonely men find comfort in each other, both scarred by the darkness of their pasts, but when Kit’s enemy catches up with him, they are forced to fight, revealing to each other the evils both of them have committed, and testing the strength of their new, fledgling love.

Reader advisory: This book contains reference to child abuse, graphic violence and injury, death, torture, PTSD and slavery. There are mentions of suicidal thought and homophobia.

Excerpt

Sunlight injected the indigo sky with golden threads earlier each day. Spring was drawing near, its sweet scent suspended in the cold air, even as crisp frost from the persistent winter lingered, crystalizing the blades of grass into fields of sparkling emeralds.

Harry surveyed his small patch of land, watching the sun peek over the serene, silent meadows beyond the encroaching forest. It shot streaking bursts of pinks and yellows, shrinking the night sky into a mild blue, pushing back clouds as it rose, a glorious, near-blinding orange orb. Birds in nearby trees were already welcoming the dawn with their delicate song. He would never tire of waking to this peaceful serenity.

Six years. How many sunrises was that?

Shivering out the tense muscles up and down his back, Harry went to work. The cold was not a friend to the scarred muscles of his left arm, which made their complaints known as he picked up his saw. Setting his jaw, he bit the saw’s teeth into the strong flesh of an oak he’d cut down and stripped yesterday.

He cut the trunk down to decent workable lengths. They would do well to replace the rotten floorboards near the fireplace, soaked with moisture from the cellar after it had flooded during the fall. It had taken weeks to dry out and create a soakaway around the house. He shouldered and lugged the timber over to the mounted flat rock he used as a dining table or a makeshift bed when the weather grew warm enough to eat and sleep outside, but right now it was his work bench. It took him most of the morning to saw the wood down to size and most of the afternoon to sand it smooth. The oak was a gorgeous color, clean and creamy for such a strong, unbending timber. It was hard-going work with only one fully serviceable arm, and it took him the rest of the day to make the new floorboards. His muscles soon began to ache, forcing him to take a frustrating number of breaks.

He’d long stripped off his coat, gloves and frayed woolen shirt, but the afternoon was already chasing away the daylight, prickling gooseflesh over his arms and chest. He sucked in his breath and shivered, basking in the cool air before pulling his abandoned shirt over his head and collecting the naked timber. A frosty night was settling in again and he didn’t want the boards exposed to the elements.

He gave a lingering glance at the dying sun disappearing behind the trees, twinkling as branches swayed against their sisters.

But that wasn’t all.

Something else was casting shadows in the forest, a moving silhouette that didn’t belong. Harry squinted, the waning light speckling through the fluttering leaves stinging his straining eyes.

Retreating inside the cabin, Harry gingerly propped the timber against his fireside with his good arm before sprinting upstairs, taking the steps two at a time. Skidding to the floor, he pulled his rifle from under the bed. When he got back into the yard the light had dimmed to a low glimmer. Harry brought his rifle up and aimed his sights on the treeline, ignoring the tightness in his left arm and shoulder, heartbeat drumming in his temples.

All was quiet and still.

Then it wasn’t.

A man emerged from a tight crop of trees and bushes, tripping over the log pile and stumbling gracelessly to the muddy ground at Harry’s feet. Startled, Harry quickly recovered, gritting his teeth to steady his weak arm, his rifle trained on the man’s downturned head. The man moaned and choked, picking himself up out of the mud, brushing himself down unsuccessfully, ignorant of Harry and his loaded rifle.

Harry cleared his throat. The man’s head snapped up. Feral eyes glared at the barrel, then Harry. Harry’s breath caught. Dying evening light reflected in the eerily familiar cobalt blue of the man’s eyes.

Louis.

The stranger blinked, his lips curling into a poised smile. The illusion broke and Harry glared down at him.

“Tell me, my good man, is that your house?”

He was well-spoken, if a little effete, with a slight lilt disguising an accent. His hair, soaked from sweat and plastered to his scalp, grew past his shoulders, the color of dull gold. His wan complexion did nothing to hide the beauty of his high cheekbones and full, pale lips.

Harry grunted, remembering himself. “What business is it of yours?”

The stranger offered an uneven smile, flashing dimples in his cheeks. “Forgive me. Allow me to introduce myself—”

“I don’t need your name, or any other. What is your business here?”

“I…I am merely seeking shelter, just for tonight. My carriage wheel buckled and the horses ran free of it, leaving me stranded on the road.”

“The village is eleven miles south. Follow the river until you reach Paix.”

The stranger gave a humorless chuckle, his smile collapsing under Harry’s unwavering grimace. “It is close to nightfall. I don’t wish to impose, but I’m rather desperate.”

Everything about this man screamed suspicious. His clothes, though finely made, were well-worn and covered in forest debris. Mud plastered his knees and palms. Bruising blossomed under a bleeding cut on his prominent cheekbone.

Harry continued to eye him. He didn’t want trouble. Yet here it was, scared and attractive and watching Harry with those painfully stunning eyes. But there was more. The way he held himself stiffly, drawing sharp breaths though he tried to hide it. He was in pain.

Harry set his jaw. He lowered the rifle. “One night.”

The dimples were back, the relieved exhale quickly smothered. “Thank you so much.”

“I want you gone at dawn.”

“Dawn?”

“Problem?”

“No, no, dawn it is.” He gestured to the house a little insistently. “Shall we?”

Already calculating over a dozen reasons not to let this man inside his home, Harry shouldered his rifle and led the way.

“Well, this is certainly…rustic,” the stranger said once inside.

“You’re free to try your luck in the forest.”

He said under his breath, “I think I already am.” He turned back to Harry, catching his scowl. “It’s wonderful. Thank you, mister…” He offered his hand. It was trembling. “Surely we can be civil?” he said when Harry continued to stare in silence.

“No ‘mister’. I’m Harry.”

“Harry, it’s a genuine pleasure.” He gripped Harry’s right hand. His shaking subsided a little. His palms were surprisingly rough where Harry had expected soft.

“I’m Kit.”

“Kit.”

“Just Kit, like you’re just Harry.”

Nodding, Harry released his hand.

“Don’t suppose there is any food going spare?”

“Not spare, but we can share what there is.”

“Wonderful.”

Harry set about lighting a fire and swung the remains of yesterday’s stew over the flames, the blackened pot squeaking loudly with age.

Stepping out of the cold and into the brewing heat inside the small room had brought a blush to Kit’s ashen cheeks. His hands trembled at his sides. “May I?” He gestured to a chair by the fire.

Harry eyed his mud-sodden clothes. “We should get you out of your wet things.”

“No.” Harry flinched at Kit’s vehemence. “They’ll be fine. The fire will dry them soon enough.” He stared into the flames, rubbing his dirtied hands together.

Harry nearly let the subject drop, but couldn’t. “I don’t know what you’re running from, but having you die from cold in my home will bring more trouble than I need. Also, I don’t want muck all over my furniture.”

Kit arched his brow then glanced guiltily at the wet trail he had brought in behind him. “Of course, I apologize.”

“I’ll get you a blanket and something for you to wear.”

“You…you’re very kind.”

Did Kit think him so uncivilized? Harry supposed he couldn’t blame Kit after having a rifle shoved in his face. He didn’t know what Kit had suffered. He didn’t want to know. It wasn’t his business.

With shaking fingers, Kit gingerly plucked open the buttons of his sodden coat, fine beneath the brown sludge and forest debris. He turned to Harry. Harry blinked away, heat rising under his skin.

“Would you mind giving a chap some privacy?”

Harry scowled. “Excuse me, your lordship, would you like me to wait outside?”

“No. Sorry. I just—”

Harry shook his head. “I’ll go get that blanket.” Begrudgingly, he left the warmth and the stranger and trotted upstairs. He tore the one decent blanket from his bed, unwilling, ridiculous as it was, to show the gentleman his moth-eaten linen stash. His clothes would be too big on Kit’s lithe form, but beggars couldn’t be choosers, especially beggars who arrived with nothing but the clothes on their back and suspicion circling them like flies around shit.

Harry shook his head. He’d been on his own too long to easily allow a strange gentleman into his house, into his haven.

A stranger he had left alone while his back was turned.

Swearing, he made his way quietly back downstairs, as though to catch the man in some criminal act.

Instead he caught sight of pale, naked flesh. Harry stopped in his tracks, half hidden by the stair bannister. Blood bloomed under his skin and his breath caught. It was alien for something so rare and beautiful to grace these humble, shabby walls. Kit’s fair skin was marked with numerous scars consistent with sword wounds, silvery lines atop a white canvas, some thicker than others. His chest and stomach were tightly muscled, his hips tapered, swaying a little as he moved out of his trousers and bent to drape them in front of the fire. His legs were sprinkled with a light covering of hair, matching the drying locks curling into loose golden ringlets around his face.

Wetting his lips, Harry knew he should look away. Kit wanted privacy. But he couldn’t bring himself to blink and risk missing a second of it. Kit’s naked ass was nothing short of glorious, small and pert, muscles clenching as he shivered, gooseflesh erupting all over. Old, long-buried sensations stirred, aching inside him. Harry imagined the pebbled texture under his fingers, his tongue, bathing it with warmth until it smoothed. His lame hand clenched at his side.

Kit gingerly lifted his shirt, hissing as he peeled the fabric from his side, and Harry’s unwelcome arousal withered.

Tight scar tissue stretched the skin on Kit’s side just above his hipbone, a white brand in the shape of a ‘W’. Witch. An equally cruel brand, fresh and raw, outlined with inflamed flesh beside the healed scar, branded him with a distorted ‘T’ for tethered, a binding brand cutting off his connection to magic.

Fuck.

Kit pulled the tatty knitted throw off the chair and wrapped it tight around his body. It was too small, full of holes and dropped stitches, but it covered the brands. He clutched it to his body, rubbing his hands up and down his bare legs, wincing with every movement.

Harry breathed out a deep sigh then cleared his throat. Kit whipped around before offering a small, grateful smile. He stared in surprise when instead of offering the blanket Harry draped it around his shoulders, hoping to catch a glimpse of the wounds. Their eyes met. Heat flared and traveled from Harry’s face to his chest.

Don’t get involved.

He shuffled around Kit to the now boiling stew, dropping the bundle of clothes in front of the fire to warm them through. He took it off the fire and moved to a safe distance, searching through the only cupboard not holding books or tools and digging out his two least-chipped bowls. He chastised himself, but couldn’t stop the urge to show this man he wasn’t an unsophisticated lout. He ladled them each a hearty bowlful.

Kit muttered his thanks and hugged the bowl close before abandoning his careful manners and clamping his mouth on the lip of the bowl, gulping it down in great guttural swallows. The stew overflowed and trickled down his chin. He paused for breath only to lick the bowl clean and wipe his mouth, sucking broth from his fingers.

His eyes flicked to Harry’s wide-eyed disbelief, his face growing red. “Forgive my enthusiasm. I have not eaten in days.”

Harry had guessed as much. His cooking wasn’t the worst, but it never warranted such gusto.

“More?” Harry offered.

“Thank you.” This time Kit sipped slowly, giving a satisfying smile, dimples back in place.

They sat in silence as they ate. Kit broke it first. “I am terribly sorry to put you through this trouble.”

Harry grunted. “As long as it’s the only trouble you bring me.”

Kit smiled weakly and lost eye contact, suddenly interested in his bowl. “I’ll do my best on that score.”

Harry finished his food, ruminating, fighting the urge to ask more. Bored curiosity, he told himself. He didn’t need another man’s problems. But his mind once more wandered back to the brands on Kit’s skin, worrying about the fresh wound. He opened his mouth then quickly shut it.

Kit finished his bowl and a third before finally lounging back in his seat, sighing contently. “That was wonderful. Thank you.” His smile was tired, his eyes blinking slowly.

“There’s a bed upstairs.”

Kit tensed. Feral eyes glinted in the firelight.

“I’ll stay down here,” Harry clarified calmly, as though he hadn’t noticed Kit’s discomfort.

Kit attempted a smile, but it looked uncomfortable on his ashen face. “That’s not necessary. You don’t need to give up your bed for me.”

Harry gestured to his rifle. “I’ll keep watch tonight.”

Kit opened his mouth to argue, but Harry was not stupid and offered a skeptical brow. Someone was after this man and Harry would not be caught unawares. Kit nodded. “Thank you,” he said again, his voice small. He blinked tiredly.

Harry offered Kit the clothes as he stood. Kit took them with a tight smile.

Well, better make myself comfortable, Harry thought as he watched the strange man disappear up the creaking stairs in a wobbly daze. Hooking his good arm through the back of his chair, he maneuvered it to the window. He pulled the other chair over to rest his feet on. Not the comfiest bed in the world, but he’d endured worse. He sat and watched the dark treeline, wondering what the hell he was doing allowing this man into his home.

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About the Author

Born and bred in the Midlands, Lucien spends most of his time inside his small bedroom/library/office reading and writing gay fiction, sacrificing his wardrobe space for his bookcases.

Stumbling upon Yaoi in his teens, Lucien’s passion for gay romance/erotica began, starting his once small, now consuming book collection. Not too long after, he started writing his own fiction and never looked back, even writing a lesbian themed short story in his GSCE English exam.

While a fan of most subgenres, he enjoys writing historical, fantasy and BDSM stories.

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Lucien Grey Holding onto Light Giveaway

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Notice: This competition ends on 27TH April 2021 at 5pm GMT. Competition hosted by Totally Entwined Group.