#TirgearrTuesday – Age of Secret by Christy Nicholas

Fingin had no drive in his life until he finds a half-drowned dog who becomes his best friend. That friend leads him to a cottage where a powerful woman sends him on a quest to find his grandmother. With his dog, Bran, and a donkey, Sean, they embark upon their journey. The problem is, his grandmother no longer seems to exist in this world.


Between falling in with a band of Fianna, nearly drowning in a river, and climbing to the rocky top of Skellig Michael, Fingin had just about had enough of this quest when some magical creatures sent him in the correct direction.


Once he finds his grandmother, he realizes nothing works out as it should have. She is far from what he remembers and even further from what he’d expected. And she entangled in a power struggle of her own and has little time to attend her wayward grandson.


Soon, a battle ensues, and Fingin is caught in the middle. He decisions will have long-term consequences for himself and those he loves.

• • •

Fingin flung the fishing net with all his might. The circular sieve spun wide and nestled onto the surface of the gently flowing An Ruirthech River. Slowly, the weights on the edge sank to the rocky floor. With gentle tugs, Fingin pulled the handline and tightened his snare. A few times the net caught on stones, but a slight twitch freed the twine. He frowned when he hauled the whole thing to shore; only three small salmon and a young pike.

Typically, he did much better at this time of the evening, as the sun kissed the edge of the dusky horizon. Still, he had plenty to eat and more for the market in the morning. Since he left home seven winters before, he’d learned to balance his work and his needs pretty well.

Perhaps just one more cast would be wise. He cleaned his catch, sniffed the fresh wind for a hint of rain, and finding none, waded back into the river.

The river narrowed here at the sharp bend, making the current run swift and strong. It also corralled the fish into a smaller area. Fingin whispered, urging the fish to come closer. His voice flowed out through the air and into the water.

Sometimes they listened. More often, they fled. Fish grew naturally wary of any fisherman, despite his unique ability to talk to them. Just because they understood him didn’t mean he had command over their actions.

He avoided speaking with fish, especially since his voice, even with magic, got distorted through the water. He preferred talking with larger animals, as they had more grasp of conversation. But sometimes he persuaded the fish to swim closer toward his net.

A ripple upriver caught his eye, glinting in the setting sun. Fingin squinted as the disturbance grew closer. Something large swam beneath the surface, something he wouldn’t want in his net. Hastily, he tried to pull the net in, but it caught on a rock and refused to budge. With frantic hands, he attempted to untie the handline from his wrist, but the water-soaked knot stuck fast.

“No, no, no! Go away! Go around!”

The salmon ignored his imprecations and hummed a sprightly tune as he leapt, cutting the river’s surface with a glint of silver and pink, before barreling into Fingin’s net. He held on for dear life as the fish plowed through, snapping the bits of braided horsehair and vine like a rotten bit of thatch, but the main part of the net held. The force pulled Fingin well into the center of the river, spluttering and gasping for breath like the fish he often tossed on shore.

The water roared above him and into his lungs, forcing the breath from him. His panic rose as the current slammed him into a jagged rock. Pain shot through his midriff. He gasped when his face found air for a moment. The water snatched him away from blessed air. He gasped again, but water flooded his mouth. His lungs burned from lack of breath.

The handline cut deep into his wrist, digging through his soaked skin. He clawed at it as the water swept him downriver, but it remained tight. The raging current and the power of the large fish pulled him with surprising ease. The salmon wriggled through two more bends in the bank as Fingin’s sight dimmed. Gray surrounded him, and he faded.

A wrench to his arms signaled the huge salmon tearing through the net. Fingin scrabbled back to the surface. He rasped a huge breath, drawing sweet, fresh air into his lungs. He continued to drift down the river, the destroyed net trailing behind him.

With a set jaw and an angry step, Fingin retrieved the shredded remains of his net and slogged back to the shore.

He pulled the now useless net to the banks, squelching through the river mud and reeds to dry land. He wrapped it into a ball and considered throwing it back into the river—a just reward for the betrayal it caused.

With a deep sigh, Fingin tucked the awkward, sopping bundle under his arm and walked upriver. The net hadn’t been at fault. A salmon that size had no business being this far up An Ruirthech. He lived leagues away from the sea, and only the smaller salmon made it this far past the weirs and the rapids.

The hike to his small hut didn’t take too long, despite his adventure in the river. The river wound through the countryside, but walking overland got him there much more directly.

He didn’t live in high style. The rough hut wouldn’t last more than a winter or two. He never bothered with the hard work anything more permanent would require. Not anymore.

Not after the last time.

His current home stood next to a large open area in the woods, nestled within a tight bend of the river. A small beach allowed easy access to the water, and a large, flat rock lay next to the hut. This rock allowed Fingin to spread out his net when it needed repairs, like today. It also made a great place to clean his catch.

Fingin lived a simple life, but he liked it simple. He craved human companionship, but daren’t seek it out. He spoke to birds and squirrels, but they only spoke of sweet, simple things. They had no deep philosophies.

From his net-repairing rock, he glanced up to watch the river as it meandered, wiggling his hands to keep them from aching. He bent back to his task with industry, determined to fix at least half the damage while the light of the day remained strong. Occasionally, he’d glance up at a sound or to stretch his back.

It must have been a cursed fish, or maybe some faerie conjuration. Regardless, his net had no chance against such a thing. Still, he jerked the strands with frustration as he repaired the net out on the big stone.

He rose to go into his hut and retrieved his supply of thin rope. He’d need to make more. Although the ball of rope seemed hefty, repairs on this scale would use most of it up.

When Fingin sat again, he let out a deep sigh. He’d forgotten to stoke the fire. It remained banked from the morning, and if he didn’t start it now, the night would fall before he had time to cook his meal.

He stood again, peering at the river. A large log swung lazily along with the current, with something round and furry in the middle. Fingin squinted to make out the object between the glints of the setting sun.

The object lifted its head, and Fingin recognized it to be a scraggly wolfhound, soaked and scrambling to stay on the branch.

Without a thought, Fingin rushed to the far end of the river bend, to cut off the path of the log. He scurried down to the small beach and dove into the water, swimming with powerful strokes to reach the log before it floated away. He almost got a handhold before it spun away.

• • •

Christy Nicholas, also known as Green Dragon, has her hands in many crafts, including digital art, beaded jewelry, writing, and photography. In real life, she’s a CPA, but having grown up with art all around her (her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother are/were all artists), it sort of infected her, as it were. She loves to draw and to create things. She says it’s more of an obsession than a hobby. She likes looking up into the sky and seeing a beautiful sunset, or seeing a fragrant blossom or a dramatic seaside. She takes a picture or creates a piece of jewelry as her way of sharing this serenity, this joy, this beauty with others. Sometimes this sharing requires explanation – and thus she writes. Combine this love of beauty with a bit of financial sense and you get an art business. She does local art and craft shows, as well as sending her art to various science fiction conventions throughout the country and abroad.

• • •

Find Christy Online:

#TirgearrTuesday – Memory Magic by C.V. Leigh

The Kincaid family is still recovering. Betrayal and secrets have ripped them apart.


Alistair Kincaid sends his lycanthrope brother, Jacob, to America to track down the witches who can help save his sister-in-law, Megan. On his flight, he meets Lauren Summers, who he learns is a witch, and might be the key to undoing Megan’s curse, as well as his way back into the family fold.


When Lauren takes Jacob to Salem, it becomes apparent that she has her own reasons for helping him. She introduces him to the strange world of magic, revealing the truths behind myths and legend.


However, not all secrets have been revealed, and when someone from Jacob’s past makes an appearance, he’s left with difficult decisions to make.


Can Jacob control his growing feelings for Lauren, and keep his mind on saving his family? The battle has been won, but a war is brewing…

• • •

Lauren Summers sucked the lemon juice from the jet-black polish on her nails, never once letting her green gaze stray from the foreboding figure of Jacob Kincaid. He sat on the other side of the aisle, his blue eyes closed. She grazed her teeth over her thumb, before licking it clean, and savoured the acidic citrus sliding down her throat. Picking up the little plastic cup, she then drained what was left of the gin and tonic and dropped the naked peel onto the remaining ice cubes yet to melt.

“Can I get another?” she asked when an air hostess passed by, picking up empty cups and cans, and dropping them into a black bag hanging off the end of her trolley.

“Of course,” the hostess replied with a fake smile. She took tins from the cart, snapped them open, then placed them on the cream tray in front of Lauren, along with a clean cup. “Ice and lemon?”

“Thanks,” Lauren said, peering at the man opposite. He fascinated her. He had since the first moment she’d laid eyes on him.

She’d been following the Kincaid family for weeks. Well… Nathan Trevell, actually. When he left the safety of the pack assigned to him, the Council of American Paranormal Activity had sent her to track him down. It didn’t take him long to find the youngest Kincaid boys, then follow them up to Faol Hall, hidden away in the Cairngorms of Scotland. Lauren had kept on his tail, but not closely enough. And now he was dead—killed by Tess Lowry, girlfriend of Zane Kincaid.

Unable to retrieve the magic Nathan had stolen from the witches, Lauren had thought she might be able to return to Boston, but CAPA, and her mother, had other ideas.

“Mr. Kincaid?” The air hostess gave him a genuine smile.

Lauren thought most women must smile at Jacob. He was one of those men who was perpetually brooding, with an air of mystery worn around him like a superhero’s cape. He was also incredibly attractive, with piercing blue eyes she could have drowned in, and wavy red-brown hair that fell to just above his shoulders, she wanted to run her fingers through.

Lauren caught her breath and put her hormones in check. He was just another job—nothing more. He was also a werewolf; a huge no-no. Witches and werewolves were forbidden to be friends, let alone have an intimate relationship. They were incompatible, genetically.

“Whisky,” Jacob grunted, and the woman poured another drink into a clean cup before handing it to him.

Despite their spacious business class seats, Jacob still managed to fill his with his broad frame; his body rippled with muscle a weightlifter would have envied, threatening to tear his shirt if he moved awkwardly. His strong jaw was covered in a short brown beard, a shade darker than his hair, which he had a habit of raking his fingers through when he thought.

“Would either of you like a final snack before we land?” the air hostess asked.

“No thanks,” Lauren said graciously. Jacob shook his head, and the air hostess continued down the aisle, asking the same question to other passengers.

“You’re making me uncomfortable,” Jacob grumbled, not looking at her. He picked up his drink and took a swig, hissing when the golden liquid hit the back of his throat. She’d been listening to him speak with that delicious accent for several hours now. The soft Scottish lilt of his deep tone was soothing, and she hadn’t grown bored of it. She didn’t think she ever would.

His elbow hung over the armrest, vibrating in time with the plane’s engines. They’d entered American airspace and had begun their descent.

“Tell me more about yourself.” She relaxed into her seat and adjusted the seatbelt’s buckle. Quickly, she glanced around the rest of the compartment. Were there were any other members of the paranormal community onboard—anyone she needed to be concerned about? It was part of her training to always be alert, although she figured Jacob’s heightened senses would probably identify a possible threat before she could.

“You seem to know enough already.” He pressed back into the headrest. The muscle that lined his cheekbone ticced.

“Yeah, about your company and family, but not about you. Not anything personal, anyway. We’ve been sat on each other’s laps for almost half a day, and I still don’t know anything about you.”

• • •

Originally from the Nottingham/Lincoln borders, C.V. Leigh now lives in Somerset with her family and pets. She comes from a long line of natural witches, and spent her childhood learning to read tea leaves from her grandmother and Tarot from her mother, so it’s no surprise that she has a love for the fantastical and paranormal.

When she’s not creating new worlds, C.V. enjoys reading with a hot cup of tea, or exploring the beautiful countryside that Somerset has to offer.

C.V. Leigh’s favourite authors include Kelley Armstrong, George R.R. Martin, Douglas Adams, Grant Naylor, Terry Pratchett, and Roald Dahl.

• • •

Find C.V. Online:

#TirgearrTuesday – Violet Spirit by Abbey MacMunn

A half human, half alien.


A violet-eyed shapeshifter.


Their destinies bound by magic from a disappearing world.


Ever since free-spirited Lexie Mills learned she was half human, half alien, her life has been far from ordinary. But living a privileged life in a Cotswold manor with her over-protective family isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and not helped by her confusing feelings for her best friend, Drew.


Evoxian shapeshifter, Drew Morgan, longs to tell Lexie he’s her destined soulmate, but until she embraces her alien heritage, he must wait. Trouble is, staying in the friend zone proves harder than he thought.


Tensions sizzle and chemistry sparks between them, but as their friendship blossoms into something magical, Lexie uncovers a heart-breaking truth about Drew and she must make a choice…


Forgive Drew and accept her destiny, or decide her own Fate?

• • •

 

Good little Lexie Mills always did as she was told, right?

Wrong. Not anymore.

Her stomach churned, but there was no going back now. She had to do this for her own sanity.

Three sets of violet eyes stared expectantly at her.

Lexie’s gaze flitted around the opulent sitting room of Hawton Hall, the eighteenth-century Cotswold manor she felt privileged to call home, but it was also a gilded cage.

She blurted it out before she lost her nerve. “I want to get a job.” Now for the repercussions.

The room fell silent, as she’d predicted.

Scents of beeswax and decades-old fabrics mingled with the aromatic, seasoned oakwood that burned inside the huge Georgian fireplace. The antique clock ticked monotonously on the mantlepiece, like the calm before the storm.

“Over my dead body,” Drew declared, his sudden hostility taking her by surprise.

Her heart sank. She’d expected more from him, at least hoped he would be on her side.

From the moment she’d met Drew—when her mum learned of her alien heritage—he’d impressed her with his shape-shifting abilities. He’d become like a big brother and a best friend wrapped into one, her confidant, the person who made her laugh when everything had changed so rapidly, and he was usually so amicable. But not today, it seemed.

Drew folded his giant arms, drawing her attention to the striking tattoo of the naghari that snaked around his forearm, a fearsome creature he could morph into in three seconds if he wanted to. His jaw tightened, and his expression took on an arrogant stubbornness, evoking a sudden urge within to slap him across his handsome face.

What right does he have to tell me what I can and can’t do?

She looked to her parents, pleading they would understand her need for independence.

“You don’t need a job, love,” her mum, Bree, told her. “It’s not as if we need the money anymore.”

Yeah right, because her Evoxian royal heritage, and the numerous properties and land on Earth her family owned, meant she could buy anything and everything she could ever want.

Everything except her freedom.

• • •

Abbey MacMunn writes paranormal and fantasy romances. She lives in Hampshire, UK, with her husband and their four children.

When she’s not writing, she likes to watch films and TV shows – anything from rom-coms to superheroes to science fiction movies.

She is a proud member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association.

• • •

Find Abbey Online:

First Chapter Friday – Four Letter Words

fourletterwordsbycharlottehoward-500

ISBN: 9781311701978
ASIN: B01F82U040

Laying my head back against the black leather seats of the Jag and gazing ahead, I lifted a finger and touched my lips that were swollen from his kiss. The weariness of the past few weeks was beginning to take over, weighing on my eyelids as they began to droop. I should have been reassured by the man sitting next to me.

I shifted in my seat so I could watch him as he drove on. He was a force that even nature had no hold over. There was an urge to reach out and cling to his broad bicep, a need to feel the security of his physical strength, aching somewhere deep inside of me.

We didn’t speak as he pressed all his weight onto the accelerator, urging the car until it was over the speed limit. I half expected the shine of blue lights to fill the inside of the car, with sirens blaring around us. But they didn’t. Of course they didn’t. Even if a marked car was to pass, I doubted Vance Ellery would slow down, and I had even less that the police would attempt to pull him over. I suspected that the personal phone number of every single high-ranking officer in the country, was tucked away in a neat Rolodex on Vance’s desk or even stored in the memory bank of his mobile phone for easy access.

The silence should have been soothing. I should have been able to let my lashes flutter against my cheeks, and slip into a relaxing slumber. Instead the lack of conversation added to the tension that built behind my eyes. I closed them, hoping that soon I would drift off into a deep sleep, where I would be surrounded by falling flowers, rainbows, and sunlight. Ha! If only I was deserving of such luck. There were no pleasant dreams awaiting me after the sandman visited. Only nightmares wanted to be part of my night. They tormented me, bringing memories that I’d tried to bury and forget. They hounded the darkness, giving me nothing but misery and pain and suffering. It was as though all my sins from a previous life had been rolled over into this one.

If the visions of his face, the sound of his voice had been the only elements of my slumber, then I might have been willing to slip away and let the desperation of rest take me to the shadowed places I dreaded. My soul was destined for torture though. I was to be punished for his crime.

The mere suggestion of sleep forced my blood to pulsate until it was the only thing I could hear, throbbing in my temples. The searing pain of anxiety and panic stabbed at my chest, pins pricking my skin, as I let my eyelids fall. A shudder fell down my spine, waking me from the light doze I’d stumbled into.

Breathe in, breathe out. In with the good, out with the bad. In through the nose, out through the mouth. Breathe in, breathe out. A mantra, taught to me by a yoga instructor years before hell had entered my life, repeated over and over in my mind. I inhaled the cool air through my nasal passages, allowing it to slip down into my painfilled lungs, exhaling all the bad out of my mouth in a gigantic whoosh.

Ahead, the roads were empty, weaving out of the village and headed towards Richart Courts, the hotel that was to be my sanctuary for the next couple of days before I had to face the next challenge. New York City.

How anyone could expect me to go back there was beyond belief. The only logical explanation for their plans for my future was that facing New York was the lesser of the two evils that haunted me, threatening to rip away the seams that had begun to fray around my already tattered edges.

I reached above my head, flipping the visor down and peering at my reflection in

the tiny mirror. My God, I looked a mess. I’d always strived for perfection. I worked and played in a male-dominated world, living with two fully-grown boys, spending my free time being rugby tackled or defending myself against a martial arts master, and until recently, acting as a secretary-cum-personal-assistant-cum-receptionist at a local car body shop. My appearance had been an escape, showing off my femininity and sexuality. I wore my brunette mane long, although it spent most of its time restricted by a piece of elastic. I made sure that my wardrobe was bursting with dresses, fitted jeans, and heels of a ridiculous height. My makeup was always immaculate.

Not now though. I stared at the ghost in the mirror. Ashen skin in desperate need of a deep cleansing facial, lank hair that could have been anywhere between dark blonde and light brown, but the grease on it made it difficult to tell, and puffy, naked eyes, ringed by a distinct lack of rest.

I made a mental note to book myself into the spa once we arrived at the hotel. I was long overdue for some pampering. A Swedish massage wouldn’t go amiss either. The idea of a good-looking man, pressing down into the aching sinew of my shoulders and neck brought a small smile to my lips. Perhaps I would take a long-needed trip to the hairdressers as well, maybe even treat myself to a makeover…

Flipping the visor back into place, I glanced towards the man driving and wondered if he’d oblige on the massage request. It was doubtful. Vance Ellery paid for masseuses, he didn’t act as one. Not unless it was leading somewhere that would pleasure him as well. I clucked my tongue against the roof my mouth and shifted back into my seat, keeping my eyes on him.

A smirk flickered across his lips as though he could read my sordid thoughts.

Chewing on my bottom lip, I stared straight-ahead as Richart Courts came into view. Illustrious and grand were the only words I could think of to describe the hotel, with its rolling grounds that spread over at least a hundred acres, if not more. I knew that behind the building was a state-of-the-art eighteen-hole golf course Vance played on when conducting business with local councillors and MPs.

Inside was as palatial, with gold-leaf filigree, marble flooring, and impressive Colonial columns supporting an expansive ceiling. And that was just the hotel lobby.

The rooms were even more decadent.

The Jag rolled to a stop at the bottom of the steps. Vance stepped out, and I waited as one of the young boys, dressed in a fine combination of cream trouser, wine-red coat with gold buttons, and gleaming white gloves, standing by the front of the hotel skipped down the stairs and opened my door for me. Words were exchanged along with keys, but no tip was given. Why would he hand a few notes over to the lad when he already paid his wages? It still hadn’t sunk in that my lover not only owned Richart Courts, but hotels around the world, including in New York, as well as several other affluent businesses.

We walked past the front desk without saying a word. There was no need to inform reception of our arrival, sign ledgers, or accept key-cards when the entire top floor was ready for him at all times. I followed in his shadow, side-stepping into the lift, and watched as he pressed the button marked ‘Private’. I’d never noticed that before…

I glanced up at him. Dark indigo eyes stared straight ahead. The muscles in his cheeks twitched. I could watch him all day, with those hooded eyes, always looking beyond my skin, and that straight nose leading to lips that urged me to kiss them.

I opened my mouth to say something to break the silence, but nothing came to mind. What would I say? Sorry? He wouldn’t want to hear it. Thank you? Again, a pointless remark that would garner me nothing but an astute glare and perhaps a kiss to shut me up. The thought of a kiss was almost tempting. I could… No. I was powerless beneath him, even when we didn’t touch. He was a formidable man, one that most feared to anger. Yet somehow, it was the one thing I was good at, infuriating him.

Shifting my stance, I felt the cold glass behind me press into my back and shoulders. It was almost as soothing as a hot bath would have been at that moment.

I opened my mouth and let out a sigh of relief. He looked down and smirked. Goddamn his smirkiness. It was a trait I’d noticed ran in his family, finding its way to his son’s lips as readily as it did his. A snarl rumbled in the base of my throat as I thought about him and his son.

That was it. My mind sprang towards Matthew Jackson, the other man in my life. I hated myself for the way I’d left things with him. But it was for the best, or so I kept trying to convince myself. The best for whom? Certainly not me. He’d confessed his undying love to me. Well… Perhaps not undying… But he had said that four letter word most women long to hear. It only hurt that it had come from the wrong person.

Still, looking up at the man beside me, I knew that he loved me. He didn’t have to say it. He showed it on a regular basis. The way he held me, the way he would do anything to protect me… I didn’t need to hear it slip from between his lips.

The bell of the lift dinged, the sound reverberating off the reflective walls, indicating our arrival. We stepped out and headed towards the door that separated the hallway from our privacy. I took a deep breath before stepping over that threshold, preparing myself for the future I was about to bring upon myself.

I had to face up to my past. But I was unsure. Was I ready for the fight that lay before me? Only time would tell. Time, and Vance Ellery.

 

fourletterwordsbycharlottehoward-fbbanner

#TirgearrTuesday – One Night in Tampa by Angelique Migliore

Blended Worlds Are Better Worlds


Mari Fuentes is running her first 5K race—dreaming about the grant she hopes to win for her next documentary—when she discovers Convivio “Viv” Ricco—former ordnance soldier, wounded warrior with deadly Italian sex appeal, and notorious smartass—is keeping up with her. Finishing the race together is just the start to her day.


Viv is new to the Tampa area, and even though he’s hotter than the sand on a Florida beach in August and doesn’t need any distractions, Mari agrees to spend the day with him to show him around.


Viv thinks Mari is the most determined woman he’s ever met. But even as her passion bubbles to the surface, he can’t convince her to stay with him. She has an exclusive community event to attend that he isn’t allowed to attend. Nevertheless, Viv embarks on a new mission to become the most import celebrity Tampa has ever embraced.


If Viv can’t steal Mari away for one night, how will he ever steal her heart?

• • •

 

Mariposa del Pilar Fuentes

I smiled at myself and inhaled a deep breath of pride as I ran along with the thinning masses. Being a slow runner had its advantages as the route along Bayshore Boulevard wasn’t nearly as crowded now as in the beginning. And running my first 5K proved doable as long as I focused on something else—like something other than the sweat tickling its way down in between my tetas. I gave my modest bosom a quick, hopefully inconspicuous, shake to dislodge any other would-be travelers, and I said a quick “thank you” to Santa Maria del Pilar for my no more than B cups. My big ass required enough attention—from care to clothes. I didn’t know how the bigger-breasted girls managed boob sweat in the Tampa Bay humidity. I crossed myself on their behalf. Dios las bendiga, señoritas.

I ran to finish this race, but the excitement of finishing grad school also spurred me on. How much dinero did I need, exactly? I mentally ticked off a list in my brain of everything left to schedule for my final documentary project. Cinematographer. Sound recordist. Van, plus driver. Luckily, I would be the scriptwriter and the editor, so I still had a choice to pay myself a stipend or not. It wasn’t as if I lacked my own money, but that negated the skills required to successfully budget for a documentary.

The stipend decision could wait until after the fundraiser tonight. I already had the production management software, and I would use the university’s studio to edit. The marketing dollars and cents still required calculations, but that part of my graduate project and thesis challenged me the most. More time, however, couldn’t be bought at any price. Grad school completion hung in the cool morning air in front of my face like a fat, juicy carrot.

My first documentary on the homeless population of Tampa Bay exceeded my benchmark for success last year, and I intended to further my investigations this year with an expanded project.

A refreshingly cool early-spring breeze blew over me from the gulf. The sun barely broke the horizon and was peeking through the ‘land of the flowers.’ Foot races around here had to start super early, else the runners dropped like flies when it got too hot. My reward for all this early-morning training and running: tickets to the Strawberry Festival with unlimited strawberries and whipped cream! Also, the beautiful Spanish-tiled houses, towering waterfront palms, and skyline of downtown Tampa painted a picture-perfect running route.

If I weren’t running, I wouldn’t be breaking a sweat, but the weather would change soon. The homeless who were forced to live in the elements would get uncomfortable before long, and it would be harder for me to find them when the weather increased to sweltering. I needed the money to make the documentary sooner rather than later. I swallowed hard and swallowed my pride even harder at the idea of the ball tonight and what I had signed myself up for to make sure I had the money sooner.

I erased thoughts of my impending humiliation out of my mind and took in my surroundings. With Davis Islands and the water on my right and the convention center’s bright blue columns in sight down the boulevard, I heard the finish line nearing as the music and celebrations pounded their way to me. It was time to get my head out of the clouds and back into this race.

Even at my fastest, I still ran pretty slow compared to everyone else, so I stayed to the far-right side of the lane. I adjusted my sunglasses, glanced down at the track, and jumped as if I had been assaulted in a B-rated horror movie.

“¡Mierda!” I screamed at the sneaker as I jumped over it, and as if the sneaker didn’t scare me bad enough, something hung out of the shoe. A foot? Without a leg attached to it? “¡Dios Mio!”

I changed direction, screamed again, and flailed my hands in front of my face in the most pathetic attempt to rid my eyes of the sight. Oh, God, I think I’m going to be sick.

An evil laugh—no, a hysterical laugh—belted out beside me. I found the owner of said laugh, and all I could see was a neon green racing shirt which, not coincidentally, matched the one I wore. The race shirt spread taut over a chest as wide as Cuba with a thick arm on either side, and its owner leaned up against a streetlight pole with one hand and held his gut with the other, as he all but pointed and laughed at me.

• • •

While in her third year of French at high school, Angelique was forced to journal every day. Never the lover of her own personal diaries, she instead rewrote Romeo and Juliet, en Françias. Except that Romeo was a duck-billed platypus, and Juliet was a strawberry. It was a doomed, albeit deliciously sweet, relationship from the start.

Long before that, Angelique wrote and performed ridiculously caddy commercials in grade school with her best friend Shannon. Ever the optimist, she believes the best is yet to come, sharing a meal is the quickest route to peace, and love conquers all. Although she was born and raised in the paradise that is the Emerald Coast of the Florida Panhandle, not traveling has never been an option for Angelique.

Today, Angelique writes character-driven love stories of various heat levels in settings from Earth to the nearest Black Hole which range from the Cosmic past to the Inter-galactic future. She also loves rugby. And champagne. With fresh raspberries, if you please.

• • •

Find Angelique Online:

First Chapter Friday – Seven Dirty Words

seven_dirty_words_by_charlotte_howard_500

ISBN: 9781310160417
ASIN: B00XB8JCH0

I died for a short while the first time we met. There was no fluttering in my chest, no somersault of my stomach, no burning in my loins; my heart literally stopped. He was tall, at least six foot four, and dressed in a pair of worn indigo jeans that perfectly matched his intense stare. A silk black shirt covered what I imagined to be a ripple of hard muscle, and opened at the top, showing a dusting of tight dark curls. His thick neck led towards a razor-sharp, square jaw line, a straight nose that had clearly never seen the ill-effects of rough play, and deep hooded eyes. His hair had been styled with a slight wave. I was sure it was dark brown, but it could have easily been black, and had shots of silver-grey streaking through it.

My face was lined up with his toes, or more precisely, his pristinely polished black patent Chukka boots. Palms down in the thick mud beneath me, I pushed up and sneaked a glance at the man in front of me. He looked none-too-pleased to see his clothes spattered with flecks of dirt from where I had landed and splashed him. I struggled to get to my feet as my boots slipped against the wet grass. Eventually I got to my knees and leant back, looking up at him. I forced a grin onto my mud-covered face, but he didn’t return it. Finally able to stand, I wiped my hands down the sides of my bare thighs.

His glare speared through the apology that I tried to splutter, words failing to come. In the distance I heard someone call my name. Looking over my shoulder I saw my teammates beckoning me to re-join the group.

“Sorry.” The word leapt forward.

A dark eyebrow flicked upwards. “Are you going to pay for the dry-cleaning?” he asked, enunciating each word as though he was talking to some insolent child.

“It’s a muddy field, you’re watching a rugby match,” I countered, my eyes narrowing. “Try stepping away from the lines.”

“You’ve got a mouth on you.” A smile twitched at the corners of his lips.

I’ve got a mouth on me? What the hell was that supposed to mean? I was about to make some comment about him being arrogant and conceited, but the captain of the team had already reached my heel.

“You coming?” Lou tugged on my elbow, throwing a smile towards the man who loomed over me.

“Yeah,” I said, racing back into the game.

“Who’s your friend?” Lou asked, nodding towards Tall, Dark, and Smouldering.

“I haven’t got a clue, but he wasn’t impressed by my skidding halt!” I laughed, tossing her the ball.

We finished practice at two o’clock, as we did every Saturday afternoon. I listened to the laughter and loud chattering of my teammates and friends as I scrubbed at the mud that caked my arms, legs, and face. Warm water pummelled at my aching muscles. I rubbed away the dirt and sweat with a floral shower gel. I made a point of using feminine scented products, since I lived in such a masculine world.

Not only did I play rugby—a game that my mother always told me was unbecoming for a woman of my standing—I lived with two men, and worked in an office where I was the only female. I was also incredibly single. My exes were exes because they found my lifestyle impossible to deal with, and non-conquests refused to believe that I wasn’t a lesbian. Saying that, it had been over a year since I’d even tried to get anyone into my bed…

After the game, I decided to forego the usual routine of drinks at the local pub, and instead headed home to nurse the scrapes and scratches that marked my elbows, knees and chin.

Walking back to my Volkswagen Golf, I saw Tall, Dark, and Smouldering leaning against a tree. His arms were folded tightly in front of him, and he had a foot resting on one of the many boulders that separated the car park from the fields.

I threw a nod and a smile towards him as I rummaged in my jean pockets for my keys, dumping the battered and muddied holdall next to the wheel.

“Good game?” he asked, but when I looked up I realised he wasn’t pointing the question in my direction. A stick-thin, terribly young blonde had appeared by his side and kissed him on the cheek. She clutched a hockey stick in her right hand, and handed him a pink rucksack with the other.

Part of me felt almost embarrassed that I had wanted him to be talking to me. I hurriedly bundled into the car and went home.

Home was an old farmhouse at the edge of a well-to-do village, nestled in the heart of Hampshire, shared with two men; and no, neither of them were gay. I’d occasionally questioned the sexuality of my brother Mark, what with his flair for style, and his love of shopping and spas. Then again, I’d also been introduced to the many girls that had graced our home for a single night.

The other man to reside with us was Daniel Turnbull. Danny was gorgeous in every sense of the word, but may as well have been my other brother. I’d known him all my life, since he and Mark were best friends. He was also ultra-macho to the point of being a Neanderthal. It would not surprise me if one day I caught him dragging the lifeless body of some poor girl he’d clonked over the head, taking her back to his cave.

When I arrived home, both men sat in the living room, feet resting on the coffee table, beer bottle in one hand, Xbox controller in the other.

“Jeez,” I muttered, as I tried to resist sniffing the air in fear of my gag reflex reacting to the scent of primal male. Unfortunately, when you live with two men under the age of thirty, it is impossible to avoid the stench of sweaty socks, stale beer, and cheesy nachos. Combined with the fact that it was the height of summer, and you have one highly stink-filled house.

I dumped the holdall next to the washing machine and looked around the kitchen. Bowls filled with the residue of the morning’s breakfasts, an empty milk carton, several empty booze bottles, used newspapers, and layers of shed clothes were scattered around the room.

“We seriously need to tidy up,” I yelled, knowing full well that the only reaction I’d get would be an annoyed grunt or two.

Opening the dishwasher, I peered in, sighing as I discovered that it was still full of dirty pots from two days ago. The stench of old food was unbelievable, and my head snapped backwards with such force I was surprised I still had neck bones. Ripping open a packet from under the sink, I aimed the blue and yellow tablet at the little box in the door, before slamming it shut and pressing the white button. It whirred and chugged noisily as I ran the water in what little space I could find in the sink and began to sort through the pots and rubbish, attempting to find a clean spot.

Peeling a pair of boxer shorts from the back of a chair, I grimaced and flung them towards the holdall by the washing machine. “Disgusting men,” I chuntered, even though I knew that our living arrangements were as much my fault as theirs.

But that didn’t stop me from blaming them.

“Stick the kettle on,” called a voice from the front room, grating on my final nerve.

A deep growl vibrated in the base of my throat as I stormed into the room and began yelling several obscenities at them.

“All right, chill Butch!” Mark laughed.

He knew I hated that school nickname. I wanted to throw something at my brother’s head, but knew that Mother would only chastise me for having put him in hospital with a split skull yet again. Golden Boy could do no wrong. Fortunately, our father always took my side when it came to arguments, so we were evenly defended.

Danny saw sense and ducked into the next room to make tea for everyone. That is the glorious, if not slightly annoying, thing about living in England. We are the country that truly believes, without any shadow of a doubt, that a simple hot beverage can solve all issues. Arguing kids? Cup of tea. Problems at work? Cup of tea. World war, mass hunger, poverty? Have a cup of bleeding Rosy Lee.

I marched after Danny, spitting my annoyances out as he busied himself by the kettle. Throwing dirty clothes towards the washing machine and chucking empty packets in the bin did nothing to soothe my frustrations.

“Bad game?” Danny asked in an attempt at small talk.

“Not really,” I grunted, sinking into the one chair that no longer had clothes, newspapers, and pots covering it.

“Go on then.”

“Go on then, what?” I asked, squinting to emphasise my annoyance.

“Go on then, tell us what your problem is.” By this time Mark had joined us, shoving everything off the chair opposite me to land on the floor. I glowered at him like an angry cat threatening to hiss and spit.

“Jesus H. Someone’s pissed you off,” Mark groaned.

“No,” I said, my eyebrows furrowing into a tight knot. Confusion settled in. Had someone pissed me off?

“Seriously Butch, we know you far too well. Spill it.”

“Nothing!” I snapped, perhaps too quickly.

“What’s his name, and what did he do?” Danny this time, his voice getting deeper as though ready to go into full-blown protective mode.

I rolled my eyes and tried to ignore him.

“Sis, you have to tell us now.” Mark leant forward and grabbed my hands. I pulled away and threw him a ‘What-the-hell?’ look. He laughed and fell backwards into the seat again.

Danny plonked a mug each in front of us. The liquid sloshed over the sides, giving me yet more to clean up.

“Okay, okay,” I relented, picking up the mug and sipping at the too-cool drink. Danny always added too much milk for my taste, but it was still welcomed, helping to massage away the aches and pains that plagued my muscles.

I proceeded to tell them all about Tall, Dark, and Smouldering—whom I’d already shortened to TDS—even though I wasn’t sure why he was the one in my head. I could have come up with a thousand excuses for my foul mood. Rough game, bad drivers, untidy house, but the truth was that he was still at the front of my thoughts.

He had riled me in a way that I had never been riled before.

“Sounds like you’re in L.O.V.E!” cooed Mark, ridiculing me.

I wanted to slap him, but couldn’t reach, and didn’t dare throw lukewarm tea across the room, so I settled for a scowl.

Downing the rest of my drink, I headed for the holdall and dirty clothes piled on top of it, shoving them all into the machine before filling it with powder and liquids to get rid of the muck and smells, and switching it on.

“You two can finish the kitchen,” I yelled as I went up to the sanctuary of my bedroom.

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#TirgearrTuesday – Lacey Goes to Tokyo by CH Lyn

International travel means international danger.


Lacey Devaine is a four-year veteran of a spy ring which fronts as an exclusive escort service, Miss Belle’s Travel Guides. Maintaining her cover is Lacey’s number one priority to protect the integrity of the operation she works for.


While on assignment in Tokyo, a nosy newspaper reporter threatens to blow the lid off a scandal that will put dozens of innocent lives at risk. To protect her cover, Miss Belle is called in to act on intelligence Lacey has uncovered.


Can these beautiful, intelligent, and deadly women complete this assignment in time and emerge unscathed? Or will this mission be their last?

• • •

 

Lacey

Layovers are a Hassle

I hurry through the massive food court, focusing on the coffee shop ahead of me, rather than the dozen or so different scents forcing their way into my nose. The sweetness of sugary glaze you can almost taste on the back of your tongue; the thick, salty, warmth in the air from the multitude of fryers; the weird, cold smell that accompanies cheap sandwich meat… I march through them all to order my drink and then sink into a plush armchair in the far corner.

My fingers curl automatically around the small blue and green orb dangling from a silver chain around my neck. I lean back, take a deep breath, cross my short legs, and sigh. Four hours. There are now four hours to burn in Heathrow, one of England’s largest airports.

Miss Belle is a mess. The poor woman’s been working for weeks with no break. She set up my assignment in record time. When the congresswoman called, we only had a week to get things together. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad to be placed on this assignment. It’s one of the more important ones I’ve done lately, and I get to see Nathan again. It’s been a long time.

I haven’t seen him since my old life.

The barista brings me a small Americano. I flash her a smile and take a sip before pulling out my little black book.

I need to call Chang and have him set up the room. The Park Hyatt isn’t my favorite hotel in Tokyo (it’s a little far from any of the national gardens for my taste), but the Auto Manufacturing Leaders conference takes place there this week. It makes sense that the CFO of the second most productive car manufacturing company in the United States is staying in the same hotel.

The phone rings once, twice, three times. I glance at the round silver watch on my wrist and realize it’s three in the morning in Tokyo. I wince and go to hang up when a sleepy voice barks, “Who the fuck is this?” in Japanese.

“I’m so sorry, Chang,” I respond in the same language. “I didn’t realize what time it is there. It’s Lacey.”

His tone immediately changes, and it’s clear he’s woken up at hearing my name. It’s been that way since high school. Men try to be charming around me.

“Lacey!” Heavily accented English this time. “How wonderful to hear from you. What can I do for you?”

“I’m headed out your way for some business. I planned on getting there four hours before my appointment, but I got stuck with a delay and won’t be leaving London for a while.”

“Oh, no.”

I hear the grin in his voice. He didn’t know I was heading to Tokyo. Miss Belle must have been serious about cutting him out after the last Japan trip.

“What can I do to help? You know I’d do anything to help one of Miss Belle’s girls.”

I let out a silent chuckle. Miss Belle is the only one allowed to call us “girls.” I’m fairly sure it’s one of the reasons for the cutting out. “I need you to set up my staging room. I’ll email you the details. It’s a normal set up, but no video this time. Just audio and emergency equipment. Do you still have my bag?”

“Of course!” There is a shuffle on the other end of the phone. “I’ll have it all taken care of before you arrive. I’ll be waiting for your email.”

“Thanks, Chang. I owe you one.”

“Yes.” His tone goes dry. “Perhaps you will speak to Miss Belle on my behalf? I notice I do not get a call from her as often as I used to.”

This time my chuckle is loud. “I’ll see what I can do. And I’ll call you when I fly in.”

“Thank you, Lacey. It is always wonderful to hear from you.”

I hang up and set down my phone. I sip my Americano and gaze around the bustling airport. A row of fluffy teddy bears with Britain’s flag line the edge of the coffee counter. Twin little boys keep pulling one down while their mother (I assume) exasperatedly tries to order a drink.

Men in suits, women in heels, and tourists with their camera phones clicking away furiously pass me in a sea of faces.

Miss Belle always says I sit too still. She says I have too much patience. She and I were in line at Starbucks, and the people in front of us took about five minutes ordering. By our turn, she was cursing under her breath and stamping her foot hard enough to break a heel.

My gran always said we need to have patience and understanding for those around us. She taught my foster siblings and me the meaning of a deep breath and the value of a calm mind. Those lessons helped a lot after she died. I learned to be still, at peace when fire raged around me.

It’s not a lesson any sixteen-year-old should have to learn. But it was Amanda or me, and she was only ten. I told Miss Belle when she found me, I knew what I was doing. I’d have done it again.

I shake my head and focus on something else. Gran passed a long time ago, but it still burns to remember she is gone.

I buy a New York Times from the barista, offering a smile to the twins as I sit back down. Their mother glares.

It’s probably the shirt. Or the pants. Or the belly ring. Or the whole combination. I used to mind when people looked at me that way. Now it barely grabs my attention.

I settle back into my chair and flip open the paper. I should do some research on Nathan’s security team, and on the other guests at this week’s event, but I’ll have time for that on the flight. Now, to catch up on current events. Another chuckle escapes my lips. If the paper knew half the current events I know about, a lot more people would be reading it.

• • •

 

C.H. Lyn grew up in a small town in Northern California and still loves visiting her hometown. Her obsession with books cannot be overstated. She grew up reading on the playground, writing during her classes, and sneaking that next chapter with a flashlight underneath the covers, long after she was supposed be asleep. Now, she works part time at a bookstore while following her husband around the world during his time in the U.S. Air Force. With a beautiful little girl, and a giant German Shepard, their family looks forward to experiencing new people, places, and cultures.

C.H. Lyn has been lucky enough to have friend and family who constantly provide all the support she could ask for. It is her hope that the strong and diverse female characters she writes will have a positive impact, and help to motivate young women to do everything they want with their lives.

• • •

Find Melora Online:

Website – https://www.chlyn.com