Welcome Birthday Guest Talia Carmichael!

Happy Birthday month to Amber! Thanks you Amber for letting me come and join the fun. Yay! Let’s party.

I’ve written a little interlude featuring characters from my Zander Oaks series.
Birthday Photo Shoot
By Talia Carmichael
An Zander Oaks Interlude
November 2020
Genre: Contemporary
Series: Zander Oaks
Length: Interlude


Turner smiled as he heard him approaching through the door. He lifted his camera and got ready. The front door opened and he took his first shot.
“That is priceless.” He laughed as he lowered the camera.
Jaxx scowled and his light grey eyes were stormy. “What the heck are you doing?”
“Taking your picture.” He lifted his camera and took another shot. “Another priceless shot.”
“Why are you taking my picture?” Jaxx scowl deepened.
“To make this wonderful day that you get older.” He said cheerfully.
Jaxx sighed. “I knew he was an alien. Mama said not to get involved with people from out of space.”
Turner smirked at his words. It had been one of the first things he asked him when they meet, if he was an alien. “You should have known better than to let stranger into your house like that. Now you’re stuck with me.”
“Yeah I know.” Jaxx sounded disgruntled.
“Hush you know you love me.”
“Must have lost my mind.” He grumped.
“No need to be pissy.” Turner paused then. “Just because it’s your birthday and you’re getting old.”
Jaxx glared at him. “That’s not what you said last night.”
Turner eyes widened and his mouth dropped open. Jaxx closed the door and sauntered over to him. When he was standing before him he stopped then put his finger under his chin and gently closed his mouth. Turner rolled his eyes. Jaxx smirked then leaned down and kissed him softly before he nipped his lip.
“Hey.” Turner protested as he licked his lip.
“That’s for the old crack.”
Turned opened his mouth.
“And no jokes about that.” Jaxx held up his finger in warning.
“Come on you laid it right out there for me.” Turner said. “So grumpy when you get older. Come on I have something to sweeten your mood.”
“No party.” Jaxx narrowed his eyes.
“Later.” Turner interrupted already seeing he was about to argue. “But before I have our own way of marking this occasion. You, me and this camera.”
“Look Mister big shot photographer who is in such demand.” Jaxx crossed his arms over his chest. “You don’t need to take my picture to butter me up to go to a birthday party. I’m not going.”
“Ohhh…butter.” Turner headed for the kitchen.
Jaxx followed him. “Why do you need butter? Never mind. I am not going to whatever cockamamie party you have cooked up.”
Turner ignored him and went to the fridge and grabbed the butter. “Come on.”
“No.”
Turner pushed past him and headed to his studio they had set up in the house.
“Turner you are not listening to me.” Jaxx followed him.
Turner turned and walked backward as he took some more shots of him. Jaxx strode toward him. The strength and raw masculinity was all on display.
“Stop taking my picture.”
“Nope.” Turner lowered the camera. “These are for the party so I can show in public.” He lifted his hand with the butter. “The others will be between us.”
Jaxx looked at the butter then him. “I see that devious look and I’m not sure if I want to know what you have planned.”
“Two words.” Turner turned and walked to the door of the studio paused and looked over his shoulder. “Birthday Suit.”
Jaxx eyes darkened and he smirked. “Naughty photographer. What would people say that Mister Award Winning Photojournalist is taking nude shots?”
“Lucky Man.” He stared at Jaxx then narrowed his eyes. “But I might change my mind since someone is being all grumpy birthday boy.” He turned and went into his studio.
Turner turned to the door and waited. Moments later Jaxx strode into the doorway.
Turner blinked. “Damn how did you get naked so fast?”
Jaxx put his hands on his hips. “I’m an alien.”
Turner laughed. Jaxx came toward him and pulled him into him. He rested against his naked body.
“Now as for this photo shoot.” Jaxx leaned close to his ear. “I hope I’m not the only one who will be in their birthday suit.”
“If you go to the party without complaining.”
Jaxx snorted.
“too much. I might be persuaded too.” Turner smoothed his hand over his side.
“You know this is going to become a birthday tradition.” Jaxx kissed the side of his neck. “Birthday suit.”
“I’m hoping it will.” Turner whispered.
“Definitely.” Jaxx turned his head to him. “And for your birthday I will be the one behind the camera. And,” He paused. “We won’t be having an indoor shoot.”
Turner breathed out. “Well damn. If I knew I could get you to agree to take some shots outside I so would have done that.”
“Never said for me.” Jaxx stroked his finger down his cheek. “You’d look good spread out in the sunshine.”
“I so would.”
“Mister Modest.”
Turner laughed. He pulled Jaxx closer and kissed him. He was one lucky man. A birthday suit photo shoot with this man who he loved. It was the best way to spend a birthday. And yep he’d make sure it would become a birthday tradition.
Copyright © Talia Carmichael, 2020.
All Rights Reserved.


To see how Turner and Jaxx got together check out Fall Into Me…


Here is the blurb:
Fall Into Me
By Talia Carmichael
Series: Zander Oaks, Book# 3

Universal: http://bit.ly/fallintome
Amazon: http://amzn.to/2DcElNGhttps://amzn.to/37eVWVn
Nook: http://bit.ly/2BbuusY
Apple Books: https://apple.co/2EFDLt0
Kobo: http://bit.ly/2EDvk1u

Blurb:

When a man who doesn’t like disorder meets a man who embraces it they find they are made to fall into each other…

Jaxx Coulter doesn’t like change. He’s used to things a certain way and in its place. When a man comes to his ranch and shakes up his orderly world, he’s not in the mood to deal with it. But this man doesn’t seem to get he’s not one to mess with. He challenges him and Jaxx is surprised he finds himself drawn to Turner who is unlike anyone he knows.

Turner Black doesn’t follow anyone’s rules. He walked away from a fortune because he refused to be dictated to. Now he’s here on a ranch at the request to help out a friend. Yet when he arrives, he finds that he’s not expected and confronted by a man who needs to loosen up. A man who pushes all his buttons. Now it’s time to show Jaxx that sometimes disorder can be a good thing. You just needed to embrace it.

Will Jaxx be able to release his need for control and embrace what Turner has to offer?


Contest: From the comments below, 1 winner will be selected at random from all the comments and the prize for winner will be a $5 Amazon egift card! (This is open to all. Note you will need to be able to get an egift card from Amazon)


The contest will go until 11:59 pm Eastern time on November 30, 2020, so you have time to enter. Please enter an email address when you post your comment below. Once I announce the winner your email is how I confirm I am sending the prize to the person who commented below for the contest.


I will post winner and instructions to claim the prize on December 1, 2020 on my blog here http://taliacarmichael.com/blog.
Good Luck!


I have some party favors for you all. Here are 3 free books that are part of my Palmer Series.
★.¸¸,.✶´.¸¸,.✶ FREE BOOKS ✶´.¸¸,.✶´`´*★
Maximum Exposure
Palmer, Book # 1
It will take an exposure of a maximum kind for them to admit what they want.
https://dl.bookfunnel.com/a00vqfn9mf
☆☆Note: This book is set in Palmer.

Forever His Fake
Palmer, Book # 2
What happens when two men afraid to take a step to get what they want enter into an arrangement – fake boyfriends with real dates for practice?
https://dl.bookfunnel.com/5ha4ptlhd5
☆☆Note: This book is set in Palmer.

Risk Everything
Palmer, Book # 3
To get what he wants he’s willing to reveal to his good friend how he feels and risk everything for a chance at making him his.
https://dl.bookfunnel.com/4xpyhxhr10

☆☆Note: This book is set in Palmer.


Bio: Talia Carmichael is a romantic who believes that family, no matter if it is by blood or those you choose as family, is integral to who you are. She is an author who writes sexy stories in a variety of genres. She believes in creating stories that encompass all that falling in love or lust entails, from the highs of that first blush of attraction to the lows of not knowing if you can make your coming together as a couple work, and then finally to the acceptance of the reality of making a life together. It’s all about the journey.


Among her books you’ll find contemporary, futuristic, fantasy, and paranormal settings with M/M themes that will have a happily-ever-after. Her books are passionate, intense, and real… to fill the craving.

Check out more about Talia at http://taliacarmichael.com or http://taliacarmichael.com/blog. Contact her at http://taliacarmichael.com/blog/contact
or check her out on facebook – https://www.facebook.com/TaliaCarmichaelAuthor.
facebook group – https://www.facebook.com/groups/TaliaCarmichaelBookNook
– Twitter: @taliacarmichael Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/talia_carmichael

Welcome Birthday Guest Aja Foxx!

“Roses red, violets blue, sugar sweet and so is you, but roses wilting, violets dead, sugar lumpy, and so is you head. So is you head. You head. You head. Lumpy you head.”
“No lumps this time, Bug.”
“Eeep!” I jumped back, pressing a hand to my heaving chest. A man who stood six and a half feet tall should not be able to sneak up on me like that. I pointed a threatening finger at Bear. “You no scare Bug!”
Bear chuckled as he drew me into his arms. “I wasn’t trying to scare you, Bug. Promise.”
“What you want?”
“I can’t just come to see you because I want to?”
I thought about it and then shook my head. “You working. Bug no bother you. Boss man get mad.”
“Well, I just so happen to be done working and thought we could go for a ride.”
“Mate ride or club ride?”
There was a difference.
“It’s not a club ride because it will be just you and me, and if it was a mate ride, we’d be headed upstairs.”
I wasn’t opposed to that.
“Mate ride good.”
Bear chuckled again. “How about we go for a ride on my bike now and then come home for a mate ride?”
I didn’t even have to think about that one. “Okay.”
Bear leaned down and brushed his lips across mine then gave me a little swat on the ass. “Go get your gear.”
I hurried upstairs to our room and grabbed my heavy riding jacket, gloves, and helmet. Bear never let me ride without them, not even in the summer time. Something about not getting road rash or a broken skull if we crashed.
Considering how much I loved being on the bike behind Bear, it wasn’t worth arguing, even when it was so hot I felt as if my skin was going to melt right off.
Bear was waiting for me out back, straddling his bike. It wasn’t until I climbed on behind him that I realized Bear’s bike was the only one in the garage. “Where everyone?”
“Oh, Ryder took them for a ride,” Bear said. “I wanted to ride with you.”
I was pretty good either way. I enjoyed the rides Ryder, the Soldiers of Fortune road captain organized, and I enjoyed the rides I took with just Bear. I just liked being on the back of Bear’s bike. I didn’t care who else was along for the ride.
Once we were on the road, we had to make it through weekend afternoon traffic before we reached the outskirts of the city and then it was nothing but hills and valleys and trees. Lots and lots of trees.
When we stopped at a four way stop and Bear turned right and started following the road that went along the river, I smiled. I knew where we were headed. “Bear play chase?”
It was one of Bear’s favorite games. He’d bring me up to this spot in the woods, I’d go hide, and he’d track me down. If he found me within a certain amount of time, he got to do whatever he wanted with me. More times than not, I purposely made noise so he’d find me.
Still, it was a fun game for both of us.
“Not today, Bug,” Bear replied through the comm. unit built into our helmets. “I have something else planned for you today.”
I was intrigued.
But I was also confused when Bear pulled onto the dirt road that led to the camp spot used by the club and not the one he usually took me to when we played chase. That was a little farther up the road.
“We miss meeting?” It was the only way I could think of to explain all the bikes parked in front of the trail that led down to a large wooden park pavilion where we had our outdoor meetings and get-togethers. “We in trouble?”
Bear parked next to the other bikes then turned the engine off. He grabbed me and pulled me around in front of him.
One of my favorite spots.
“No, Bug. I promise we’re not in trouble.”
“We miss meeting?” I asked again.
“There is a meeting, but we didn’t miss it.” Bear lifted me up in his arms and climbed off his bike. I groaned when he released me and I slid down his hard body. “In fact, they are waiting for us.”
“Why?” Yes, technically, I was a member of the Soldiers of Fortune MC. Butch had given me the patch right off his own cut. That didn’t mean I was involved in every aspect of the club. There were some things Bear didn’t want me involved in. Other things I just didn’t understand.
“How’s your tummy?” Bear asked.
I frowned. It acted up when danger was about. Since it wasn’t acting up, I figured I was safe. “Tummy okay.”
Shouldn’t it be fine?
Bear grinned. “Good.”
“You being weird.” Considering I was talking to a bear shifting biker, that was saying a lot. “What wrong?”
“Nothing is wrong, mate. I promise.”
Promises were important.
Bear gripped my hand and gave it a little tug. “Come with me.”
I’d follow him anywhere.
He led me down the trail that led to the through the trees to the wooden pavilion. I loved this spot. Not only was the pavilion right next to the river so we could go swimming, but it was set in the middle of a small field. Bear and the other members of the MC could shift and lay about in the sun or play in the river or just hunt for berries.
I could hear music playing and people talking before we reached the field. When we broke through the trees and I saw the small crowd of people, I could help feeling a bit apprehensive. “We not in trouble?”
“No, babe.” Bear’s arm settled on my shoulders. “We’re not in trouble.”
“What meeting for?” I don’t remember anyone saying anything about there being a meeting.
“Soldiers of Fortune,” Butch shouted out. “Front and center.”
Uh oh.
I swallowed tightly when every patched member of the club lined up next to Butch. Tex even stepped into line, and he was still a prospect.
Bear stopped me several feet in front of the line of men and stood behind me, his hands on my shoulders. “We don’t know exactly when you were born, Bug, so Butch and I decided to pick out a birthday for you, and that day is today, so happy birthday, Bug.”
One by one, the men standing in front of us brought out a present they had been hiding behind their backs. They all had grins on their faces, even Tex.
“Bug birthday?”
I didn’t remember ever having a birthday.
“Yeah, baby. This is all for you.”
It was good to be me.

To learn more about Bug, Bear, and the Soldiers for Fortune, check out their story in:

FORGIVENESS
Soldiers of Fortune 1
His name was Bug. I assumed it was because he was nuttier than a bed bug until he saved me when I was attacked. For reasons known only to him, Bug thought it was his duty to keep me safe. I was the sergeant-at-arms of the Soldiers of Fortune MC. I didn’t need saving, but I couldn’t bring myself to tell him so, especially not after I discovered he was my mate.

His name was Bear. It fit. He was tall and scary and built like a bear. He was also my savior, even if he didn’t know it. When I saw someone attack him in an alley one night, I knew I had to save him. When everyone brushed off my concern for his safety, I knew I was the only one who could save him. But, when he started talking about mates and bear shifters, I had to wonder if he was even crazier than I was.

When troubles comes for the Soldiers of Fortune MC, convincing Bear and his club brothers to listen to the whispers I hear from the shadows might be harder than accepting the fact that shifters are real and I’m mated to one of them.

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B088HBT2N4/

EXCERPT:
~ Bear ~
“Roses red, violets blue, sugar sweet and so is you, but roses wilting, violets dead, sugar lumpy, and so is you head. So is you head. You head. You head. Lumpy you head.”
I cracked an eye open and looked up at the man softly singing as he stroked his fingers through my hair. I wasn’t exactly sure what was going on. The world around me was a bit fuzzy, all except the man hovering over the top of me.
Pale skin, a thin face with high cheekbones, hollow, sunken eyes, and a wicked looking scar that went from his cheekbone back into his hairline. Long, stringy hair that might have been blond if it hadn’t been so matted and dirty. But it was the pale moss green eyes that held my attention the most. There was a world of pain and anguish in those little green orbs.
I frowned when a flower was placed on my cheek. When I went to reach for it, the grungy little man gasped then scurried back several feet. He stayed crouched on the floor, hunkering down as if trying to make himself as small as possible and covering his head with his arms.
“Lumpy, lumpy, lumpy,” the man whispered, but maybe he was more of a boy.
I couldn’t quite tell.
I started to sit up then groaned when shards of pain sliced through my skull. When I reached up and felt the nice sized egg on the back of my head, I suddenly understood what the man had meant by lumpy.
No wonder my head ached so damn much.
I sank back down onto the cold concrete and closed my eyes. I breathed in through my nose then out through my mouth, trying to calm myself enough to get through the pain slamming into me.
I opened my eyes again when I heard a scraping noise. The man moved closer, once again placing flowers on my face and down my neck, then over my chest as if the last thirty seconds had never happened.
He started chanting that stupid rhythm again.
“What is your name?” I asked.
The man froze. He didn’t even blink. He might not have even been breathing.
“What is your name?” I asked again, in the softest tone I knew how to make, which wasn’t easy. I didn’t exactly have a soft tone, but I didn’t want to scare him.
“Bug. I’m Bug. I scurry around and hide in dark, so yeah, I’m Bug. Not bad Bug. Not cockroach Bug. Good Bug.” He held up a handful of flower petals. “Maybe ladybug, but not lady. No, no, not lady. Boy Bug. Boy Bug. So, I’m Bug.”
Okay then.
“I’m—”
“Bear.” Bug nodded and started with the flowers again. “Bear. Bear. Big, bad Bear. Teddy Bear.” Bug patted my chest just open the collar of my shirt. “Furry Bear.”
Okay, apparently he knew who I was.
“Where are we, Bug?” It was dark and all I could see were shadows cast by a sliver of light coming in through a crack in the wall.
“Hole. Hidey hole. Small little hidey hole.” Bug’s brow flickered. “No bad guys here. No. No. Safe here. Bug keep Bear safe.” Bug shot up and hurried over to the corner. I watched as he dug into a pile of stuff stacked on the floor. It looked like garbage, but what did I know.
When he came back, he set a gun down on my chest then held his closed fist out. When I opened my hand, he dropped a handful of bullets into my palm. “Safe. Yes, Bug keep you safe. No more wilting flowers. No more lumpy.”
I moved slowly when I sat up, trying not to scare Bug, but he still scurried out of arm’s reach. I checked over the pistol. It wasn’t mine. I had no idea who it belonged to.
“Is this your gun, Bug?” For some odd reason, it didn’t sit well with me thinking that Bug needed a gun to protect himself.
“No, no.” My eyebrows shot up when Bug laughed. “Bug no like guns. Guns hurt. Guns loud. Guns make people go away. Guns bad.”
All of that was true.
“Where did you get the gun, Bug?”
“Mmm,” Bug hummed to himself as he tapped the side of his head with his fist. “Bad man, bad, bad, bad man. Hurt Lumpy. Hit Lumpy. Make Lumpy bleed. But Bug got him, yes he did. Bug make bad man go away. Bug keep Lumpy safe.”
Holy shit!

The vicious bite of an enemy, a shout, a cry in the dark. A lover’s touch, the whisper of a kiss. A sigh, a groan, heart beating faster, desire surging through a body. Love words spoken in the shadows. The yearning for a soft caress. I’m a writer of fiery passion in all its glorious forms. Paranormal, Contemporary, Sci-Fi, Fantasy, MM Romance books.
There is no limit to my imagination.

www.ajafoxx.com
www.twitter.com/Aja_Foxx
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www.amazon.com/author/ajafoxx
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Welcome Birthday Guest Arden Steele!

Hi Everyone!

First, I wanted to offer my gratitude to Amber Kell for allowing me to be a part of her celebration, as well as wish her a very Happy Birthday!

Secondly, I guess I should introduce myself. I’m Arden Steele, and I write both contemporary and paranormal M/M romance. To find out more about me, including a list of my available titles, check out www.ardensteele.com.

In the spirit of giving, I wanted to offer a little something to everyone! Just click the link to get your FREE copy of my short story, Only You. (Please note that signups for my newsletter are appreciated when claiming your free book but are completely optional.)

And now, without further ado, I give you Asher Dare and Cameron Stone. If you want to read more about them and find out where it all started, check out the beginning of their story in Flirt. (Side note: the third and final book of their trilogy will be releasing next year!)

Fortune

Copyright © 2020 by Arden Steele

Darkness had settled over Mission Grove, blanketing the sleepy, Texas town in shadows. The music, laughter, and conversation from the boardwalk across the lake had faded away, leaving only the frogs and crickets to serenade the night. A singular streetlamp outside the two-bedroom bungalow filtered through the slats in the blinds, casting skewed rows of amber across the hardwood floors.

Seated on his worn, but perfectly comfortable sofa, Cameron Stone flicked aimlessly through the channels on his television. Finding something to watch might have been easier if his attention hadn’t been constantly drawn to the clock in the corner of the screen, the numbers mocking him as they silently inched toward midnight.

It was tradition, and it had been ever since he’d first left home for college. Even when he had to wake up at an ungodly hour for work, he still stayed up every year on this day until the clock struck midnight—the official beginning of his birthday.

Precisely after the clock changed over, his phone would ring, and his mother would be on the other end of the line, always the first to wish him happiness and good fortune in the coming year. Then, she’d pass the phone to his father, who usually interspersed his congratulations with some tidbits of “dad wisdom.”

It was something Cameron looked forward to every year…until now.

“Happy Birthday to me,” he muttered under his breath when the display finally showed twelve o’clock. Picking up his cell phone, he held it ready, waiting for it to ring. And it did. Right on time. Sighing, he connected the call without really looking and brought the phone to his ear. “Hi, mom.”

“Nope,” came a familiar yet unexpected voice. “I’m hijacking her call this year.”

“Asher?” Cameron sat up straighter, all traces of weariness gone.

Warm, rich laughter drifted over the line. “Of course, it’s me.”

“Hey, Ash.” Cameron couldn’t help but smile at the edge of cockiness in Asher’s voice. “How are things going there?”

He’d known from the beginning that he would have to share Asher with the world. Such was the price of being in love with a successful author who had more than a dozen bestsellers under his belt. Even if that meant Asher was in California, on the set of the film adaptation of his latest mystery novel, instead of home for Cameron’s birthday.

“Everything is fine, but I don’t want to talk about me. It’s your day.” His tone took on a more subdued quality. “Tell me what you’re thinking right now.”

“I miss you,” Cameron blurted before Asher had even finished speaking.

“I miss you, too.” There was a long pause, then, “Hey, I got you something.”

“Oh?” All he wanted was Asher, but the guy was trying, so he did his best to feign enthusiasm. “Something from the movie set?”

“In a manner of speaking,” Asher said around another chuckle. “It should be there. Check your front porch.”

Cameron looked over his shoulder toward the windows that bracketed the front door, his brows drawn together. It was far too late for a delivery, but then again, it wasn’t the most outrageous thing Asher had ever done.

“Okay, one second.” Taking the phone with him, he made his way to the door, unlocked it, and pulled it open. “What exactly did you—”

His voice cut out abruptly, the last word still stuck in his throat as he gaped at the man standing in the circle of light cast by the porch lamp. He was dressed casually—well, as casually as he ever was—in fitted jeans and a lightweight shirt the same color blue as Cameron’s eyes. He looked tired, and maybe a little thinner than the last time Cameron had seen him, but the smile on his face seemed to light up his entire being.

“What are you doing here?”  The last he’d heard, Asher had another three weeks left in Hollywood before he could return home.

Reaching across the threshold, Asher grabbed him around the waist and pulled him into a crushing hug. “You really didn’t think I was going to miss your birthday, did you?” With a finger under Cameron’s chin, he tilted his head up for a hard, heated kiss. “I love you.”

Being with Asher meant fame and fortune were forever a part of their lives. Cameron had no interest in fame, but the lifestyle suited Asher. As for fortune, he enjoyed living comfortably, but he’d give it all up just to be in Asher’s arms. That was all the fortune he needed.

“I love you, too. I’m glad you’re here.”

“Me, too.” Taking his hand, Asher led him into the house and closed the door quietly behind them. “It’s good to be home.” Then, he caught Cameron up in his arms again and planted another kiss on him that made his head spin and his knees tremble. “Happy Birthday, sweetheart.”

Night and Fae

Blackhaven Manor, Book 2

Colorful and eccentric, Leelan Rivers knows he’s a little too “extra” for some people. Since those people are exceedingly boring, he couldn’t care less about their opinion. Yet, when a night out leads him right into the arms of fate, he never expected the broody vampire to deny the connection between them.

Wealthy and powerful, Sebastian Delgado is used to people wanting things from him. He’s not even surprised at the lies they’ll tell to get them. So, when Leelan claims to be his mate, he’s skeptical to say the least. Leelan might be beautiful and enchanting, but Sebastian has been disappointed too many times in the past not to be suspicious. 

All it takes is one bite to reveal the truth but claiming Leelan comes with its own set of problems. Especially when he realizes he’s not the only vampire at Blackhaven Manor interested in the faerie.

Available at Amazon

Free with Kindle Unlimited

Excerpt

“No need to play hard to get. You know you want it, or you wouldn’t be dressed like that.”

While true Leelan had been hoping to attract someone to take back to his room for the evening, that didn’t mean he lacked standards or self-respect. “I really think you should leave.”

Too fast for his eyes to follow, the vampire reached across the table, grabbing Leelan’s wrist and squeezing it roughly. “I think you should be nicer—”

“Now, now,” a smooth accented voice interrupted. “Is that any way to behave?”

Leelan’s eyes rounded as the most gorgeous specimen of male he’d ever seen stepped up behind his date and wrapped a hand around the back of the vampire’s neck. Dressed impeccably in a tailored black suit that molded to his broad, muscular frame, the stranger looked like he could have stepped right off of a runway.

No visible tattoos marked his tawny skin. He had no piercings, wore no jewelry, not even a watch. His dark hair was cut short and styled in a conservative though fashionable side part. While not really the type Leelan usually went for, he still somehow managed to embody every wet dream Leelan had ever had.

But that wasn’t why he couldn’t stop staring.

“Get your fucking hands off me,” the vampire growled as he struggled against the hold on his nape.

The new guy stroked the side of the male’s neck with his thumb. “Even a limited vocabulary doesn’t excuse poor manners.” As he spoke, his thumbnail grew, lengthening nearly two inches before ending in a sharp point. “Now, apologize.”

While he spoke calmly, danger practically radiated from his very being. The vampire must have felt it, too, because he subsided in his chair and lowered his head in obvious submission.

“I apologize,” he mumbled.

Leelan’s rescuer smiled then, revealing long, lethal-looking canines. “Not to me, fledgling.”

The guy seemed far less inclined to offer Leelan an apology, but he eventually lifted his head just enough to meet his gaze. “Sorry.” He winced when the sharp claw dug into his skin. “I’m sorry for being such a dick.”

The other vampire—Leelan was pretty sure the newcomer was a vampire as well—turned his dark, penetrating stare on him. “Well, it wasn’t very eloquent, but will that suffice?”

Leelan nodded numbly.

“Very well.” Releasing the younger male’s neck, he grabbed the collar of his tank top instead and dragged him to his feet. “Off you go.”

The guy wasted no time getting the hell out of there, and honestly, Leelan really couldn’t blame him. That had been simultaneously the sexiest and most terrifying thing he’d ever witnessed.

“Thank you,” he blurted. “For, well—” He waved his hand vaguely toward the exit. “—you know.”

“Of course.” Lowering himself into the now vacated seat, he reached across the table with another of those oddly chilling smiles. “Sebastian Delgado.”

Leelan took the proffered hand and shivered as a jolt of electricity raced up his arm from the contact. Distracted by the sensation, as well as the misty haze of pure golden light that surrounded the vampire, he lost all train of thought.

He knew he should say something, but by the fae, he couldn’t even remember his own name. Everything in his brain had been shunted to the side, allowing just one word to repeat on an endless loop.

Mine

Thanks for letting me entertain you for a bit! Before you go, don’t forget to grab your FREE copy of my short story, Only You.  (Please note that signups for my newsletter are appreciated when claiming your free book but are completely optional.)

Welcome Birthday Guest Tara Lain!

Hi everyone and Happy Thanksgiving to those in the US! Most of all, HAPPPPPPY BIRTHDAAAAAY Amber! I hear it’s a significant one. 39, right? I must confess to having been 39 for a while now (sort of in the sense that Edward Cullen has been 17 for a while. LOL). You’ll love it.


To celebrate, I’d like to give a $5 Amazon (US) GC and the winner’s choice of any ebook from my backlist to a winner chosen at random. Just leave a comment with birthday wishes for Amber!


Also if you’d like to join my Reader Group (the holidays are going to be super fun) we’d love to have you. https://www.facebook.com/groups/TaraLainsHEAMagicAndBeautifulBoys )


In honor of Amber’s birthday, all of your fortunate guests like me were asked to share a birthday scene or memory. Funny thing. I’m re-releasing this week one of my cowboy books that happens to begin on the hero’s 30th birthday. The hero is a world champion bull rider, so 30’s not good news for him, since it’s a very young man’s sport, but the universe compensates by introducing him to the guy who totally changes his life. Quite a birthday present. I decided to share with you the scene of my hero’s reluctant birthday celebration.


The book (and my new re-release) is COWBOYS DON’T SAMBA. This scene takes place right after my hero, Maury, has beaten his detested rival by a fluke —

They hurried through the fast-dropping temperatures of a Texas February, climbed in Earl’s rented SUV, drove for about two minutes, and pulled into a crowded parking lot, full of trucks for the most part. Maury glanced around. “I don’t know, Earl. I’m not crazy about seeing every cowboy from at least two countries tonight.”


“No help for it, man. Can’t get a drink in Texas without a cowboy.”
He sighed. “Okay.”


Cowboys and their girls were walking into the bar, some of the men with the compact bodies and athletic roll to their walk that said bull rider. If a rider was over six feet, he was pretty much a giant in that business. When Earl held the door and Maury walked in, a few guys looked up, and a couple started to clap. Not really what he’d wanted, but Maury gave a smile and touched his hat brim.


A pretty dark-haired waitress either recognized Maury or got a misimpression he was important from the reaction because she hurried over. “I’ve got a good table for you right back here.”


“Thanks, ma’am.”


They followed her to what was a really good table away from the band and the crush at the bar. Wonder who she chased away to give it to us.
Maury took the corner seat facing the room and ordered a beer.


Earl put a hand on his arm. “Don’t you want a margarita or something? Come on, it’s your birthday.”


Maury shook his head. “Gotta ride.”
“Not tomorrow.”


Maury shrugged.


Earl raised his eyebrows. “Okay, guess I’ll have a beer too.”


The waitress grinned. “Okay, two beers. And happy birthday.” She waggled her fingers as she walked through the crowd toward the bar.
Maury stared around the room, nodding toward men he knew. In the opposite corner of the big room, a group of Brazilian riders sat around a table together. He couldn’t hear them, but he knew they were chattering in Portuguese since some of them didn’t speak much English. No matter what language they spoke, the Brazilians still won a helluva lot.


Earl punched his arm. “Hey, man, what’s the big deal about having a birthday? You’re young. I mean, I’m gonna be thirty-five. You know what they say. Birthdays are better than—”
“—the alternative. Yeah, I know.”


The waitress brought the beers and a plate of french fries that she’d managed to bury a birthday candle in. “Happy birthday to you….”


She sang off-key, but people from a couple of surrounding tables picked it up, and pretty soon half the room was singing. Hell, a lot of them probably had no idea whose birthday it was. Enough beer would do that.
He wanted to say, “Fuck that fucking song,” but he didn’t. He smiled, blew out his candle with only the wish that they’d stop singing, picked up a fry, and waved it in the air before taking a big bite that got laughter and applause.


Someone yelled, “Speech. Speech.”
No effing way. Maury shook his head.
“Come on, Garcia. Tell us how it feels to get old—er.” That came from Andy O’Hara, one of the ranked riders who never managed to beat Maury.


“I guess what they say about getting better must be true, right, O’Hara? How else can you explain it?”
The girl sitting with O’Hara gave Maury a smile. “Better. Definitely better, baby.”


O’Hara glared at the girl, but he kept smiling at Maury.
The front door of the bar opened. Maury looked over. Oh shit.

BREATHING. BREATHING would be good.


Maury watched Xesús Silva swagger in the door, but he wasn’t alone. Behind him came another guy. Young. Dark hair, pale skin. And probably the most gorgeous human Maury’d ever seen. Not that he noticed guys’ looks all that much, but hell. This dude set new records in plain beautiful. He also resembled Silva, who was, after all, a pretty handsome man if you didn’t count his soul.


Silva made a straight line to the table where the Brazilians were sitting. Some of the men definitely didn’t look thrilled, but a couple of other guys hailed him. People moved aside, and someone pulled over two chairs.


Silva straddled the chair in that hypermacho way of his. The other guy? Holy crap. Poetry. Loose-hipped and graceful, he slid into the open chair and crossed his legs. Most of the Brazilians were squeaky clean-cut, but this dude’s inky hair hung down to his neck and curved around his ears. He was a little taller than usual for a bull rider and lean rather than the more compact build of a lot of the PBRA competitors. Of course, he looked young, so that might explain the lanky body.


“That’s the younger brother I told you about.” Earl helped himself to a french fry.


“Haven’t seen him ride, but I hear good things.”


“Let’s drink up and get out of here. I, uh, need some sleep.” Maury pushed back his chair with a scrape.


“Uh, boss, it’s five fifteen.” Earl grabbed for his wallet in his hip pocket. “Let me pay the check.”
Maury stood and started toward the door. Just need to get out before I meet the asshole again.


“I hear it’s your birthday, Wetback.”

Usually Silva was subtler, but he yelled this halfway across the room. “No wonder the judges felt like they had to let you cheat to beat me.”


Maury plastered on a smile and turned. “No one has to cheat to beat you, Silva. Little kids can do it.” He said it like a joke, and a few people laughed, but the serious competitors, especially the Brazilians, looked uneasy.


Silva stood at his chair. “I’ve got the baby that can beat you, Garcia.” He reached down, took the young man—younger—by the arm, and pulled him to his feet. “This is Tristão, and he can ride the butt off any bull and defeat a herd of American cowboys. He’s a Silva.”


Maury gave the young guy a direct gaze. Almost too much for his eyes to take. Like looking straight into the sun. “Hey, Tris, good to meet you. Welcome to American cowboying. Good luck with that whole winning thing.” He flashed a smile, but the guy didn’t return it.


Tristão yanked his arm from his brother’s grip. He said nothing. Probably didn’t speak English.
Maury dragged his eyes from Tristão, glanced around, and waved a hand.

“Thanks for the best wishes, everyone.” He thrust a fist into the air. “Go PBRA.”


With a collective breath, people went back to their conversations. Xesús took a step forward, but Maury walked straight to the door and out into the rapidly cooling evening. He tensed when the door opened behind him, but Earl walked up, stuffing his wallet in his jeans.


“Man, that dude’s a piece of work.”
Maury nodded. “And now I go to California.” He sighed.


You’ll find COWBOYS DON’T SAMBA at Amazon and in KU.
https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08NHNSWFT/

Is the brother of my enemy my lover?

Maury Garcia’s a world champion bull rider who’s always been attracted to guys –but never done crap about it
That’s because his lucrative career feeds his huge family – and he wants to stay alive. His brother learned that the hard way.
Besides, Maury likes women well enough and nobody’s ever tempted him to change that.

Hello temptation.

Tristão Silva sure as hell came all the way from Brazil to drive Maury insane – perfect face, sexy samba hips, gentle, kind nature. But Tristão’s the brother of Maury’s biggest enemy and together they could rob him of all that Maury’s given up everything to achieve.

Any chance these alpha males can survive machismo and make their love last longer than an 8 second ride?

COWBOYS DON’T SAMBA is a gay-for-you, enemies-to-lovers, gay bull riders, macho males, totally dysfunctional family, death-by-homophobia, MM romance.

Thank you so much to Amber for inviting me. I hope everyone is enjoying this gateway to the season and, despite the challenges of the year, have joyous holidays! Hugs and love!

Welcome Birthday Guest RJ Scott!

Baby’s first Christmas featuring Sean, Asher, and Mia from Single (Single Dads book 1)

Set between Single and Today (Single Dads book 2)rjscott.co.uk/read-always

ASHER

Cap’s nose was sticky with frosting as he finished off Mia’s entire birthday cake on the kitchen floor. It would have been cute to see if it wasn’t the cake I’d only finished decorating a short hour ago. Hell, it would have been cute if not for everything else that conspired to ruin Mia’s first birthday. Like the fact that, for some inexplicable reason, it was raining on what was supposed to be a hot San Diego day, and also that artfully arranged helium balloons were deflating and bobbing on the floor. Also, Sean was stuck at work because the ER had been inundated after a car-meets-storefront accident. Not only all of that but Mia was red-cheeked and fretful, cutting a tooth and chewing her fist, all while clinging to me like a limpet.
What did I do first? Did I shout at Cap and stop him eating? Was there any point in salvaging the cake? It was nearly two-thirds gone, smeared up the cupboard and as I watched in numb shock, the black lab bit off the frosty castle that had sat on top of the grand Frozen-themed cake, then swallowed it whole. No point in shouting now.
I couldn’t stop the rain.
I couldn’t fix the humidity that was messing with the balloons.
I couldn’t stop Mia from teething, or make the pain go away.
That just left Sean, and unfortunately for him, he answered the phone on the first ring.
“I’m just leaving,” he sounded out of breath, as if he’d been running, “I’m nearly at the car.”
Just hearing his voice was enough to make things better. Clever, capable Sean was going to come home and fix everything, and everything that had gone wrong spilled out of me in one long breath.
“Cap ate the entire cake, the balloons are dying, and it’s raining, Mia’s unhappy, and I wish you were here!” I said all of that in a run-on sentence that would have confused even the best of men. Add to that, Sean was coming off a fifteen-hour shift, and I bet none of what I was saying made any sense at all.
“I’m coming home now, babe—”
“Cap ate the cake! The entire fu—fudging cake, Sean. Why is Cap even here in our house?” I wasn’t angry, or pissed, I was just… done with today.
“Because Leo is away on that training course and—”
“That was a rhetorical question,” I said miserably, and slumped to the sofa, with Mia curled into my neck. All my textbook plans for the absolutely picture-perfect birthday had been destroyed in an instant. When I’d gone upstairs to change Mia, the balloons had been hanging perfectly over the bright blue cake, the garden was filled with sunshine, and I’d expected Sean home at three.
Somehow, I’d forgotten to lock up Cap who’d been eyeing the cake ever since I finished the work. It didn’t look exactly the same as the expensive one I’d seen in the window of Kelly’s Cakes but it wasn’t so bad that I would make it into an episode of Nailed It. I’d been proud of it and everything was going so well.
But in the space of an hour it was the opposite of going well, in fact it was bad.
“I’m in the car,” Sean advised, and I heard the noise of the engine. “I’ll be home soon.”
“Drive safe.”
“Love you,” he added, and then the line was dead.
As I stroked her back, Mia finally slept, curled up against me, blissfully unaware that her first birthday party was even happening, let alone ruined by the weather and a dog named Cap.
Talking of the devil dog, he slunk into the front room, tail between his legs, hugging the wall, and then darted past me and out into the yard. If he thought I was going to chase him then he was mistaken. It was my fault—I should never have left the cake where he could reach it, or in fact let Cap anywhere near the kitchen at all.
I was too tired to care—deadlines messed with teething, and this week had been so busy that sleep had been low on the list. Sean, Mia and I were on vacation from tomorrow—five whole days in a villa with a pool—and I’d tried to clear the decks of everything.
Overdone it as usual.
I just needed five minutes to close my eyes and get my head straight before I fixed the mess, but after getting hardly any sleep last night, the moment I closed my eyes I was dead to the world.

“Is he alive?” The murmured words woke me slowly. Eric.
“He’s definitely alive,” a second voice added. Leo
“We should poke him to see,” Eric added.
“I’m not poking him, that’s Sean’s job.” Leo sounded horrified.
I opened an eye to find Eric and Leo standing over me with matching shit-eating grins. Sean pushed past them to take Mia from my arms, and stole a kiss from me while he was at it.
“Up and at ‘em sleepyhead,” he said and offered a hand to help me stand. I took the help, ignored Eric and poked Leo in the chest.
“Your dog… your… dog…” I didn’t have all the words in my head yet, but I knew what I meant.
“Cap didn’t mean it,” Leo said, and stared pointedly at Cap sitting at his side acting as if butter wouldn’t melt. “Did you, Cap?”
“He’s a menace to cakes everywhere,” I muttered, but scratched his ears as I followed Sean through the kitchen, stopping when I saw what was in the middle of the table.
A cake just like the one in the window of Kelly’s Cakes, all blue and white and perfect.
“I ordered it last week as a surprise, but then Sean said you were going to make one, so I put it at our place with no plans what to do next, although Jason and Daisy have had their eyes on it. Good job they hadn’t started on it.” Leo laughed as he spoke, and I him a glance and he bit his lip. He was more serious. “So anyway, it’s the least I could do to bring it over, and Cap is really sorry.”
“Thank you,” I murmured.
“And I fixed the balloons,” Eric added helpfully.
Emotion welled inside me. The cake was nearly the same size as Mia, and the balloons were indeed bobbing gently in the breeze from the ceiling fan.
“Thanks guys,” I said, and then offered fist bumps and bro-hugs before going up to find Sean and Mia.
“Your best friends are idiots but they’re good idiots,” I announced as I watched Sean change Mia from a now drooled-on sleeper to the tiny party dress we’d bought.
“Believe me, I know that.” He threw me an amused glance and then scooped Mia up and danced around the room humming the tune to Stevie Wonder’s ‘Happy Birthday’. How had I got so lucky to have Eric and Leo in my life, not to mention Cap the ever-hungry dog?
And what miracle had happened that I’d met Sean, and we shared Mia, and I was so in love that it hurt?
“I love you,” I stopped him dancing and hugged him and Mia close. “I love you both so much.”
Sean held me and Mia, then kissed the top of my head.
“And we love you more.” He glanced out of the window, “Your family is here, ready to go down?”
“As I’ll ever be.”
We exchanged a quick kiss and then headed downstairs.
Who needed a three-tier princess cake, perfect balloons, and sunshine?
As long as family and friends were there, all you really needed was love.

THE END

❤ ❤ ❤

Read Sean and Asher’s story in Single – rjscott.co.uk/read-single
Read Eric and Brady’s story in Today – rjscott.co.uk/read-today
Read Leo and Jason’s story in Promise – rjscott.co.uk/read-promise

Coming January – Adam and Cameron, in Always – rjscott.co.uk/read-always

NEW THIS CHRISTMAS
Cupcakes and Christmas
rjscott.co.uk/read-cupcake

The story of long nights in a wintry mountain hotel, a baking show with secrets, a snowman called Jeremy, and finding the greatest love of all.

After winning season four of ratings hit the World’s Best Baking Show, Brody Thomas had become a sought-after cake maker to the stars. Happily married, he dreamed of a bright future, but his perfect life imploded when he discovered that his husband had done nothing but lie to him. A year later, Brody is mid-divorce, and his life has been turned upside down, so being part of the WBBS charity event is excellent timing. He’s sure it will give him time away from home and space to get his head straight, only he never expected to meet the man of his dreams in a snowy Alberta.

Winning season one of WBBS gave Justin Mallory a chance to outrun the demons of a childhood lost in the foster system. He’s a social media influencer, with millions of followers, and works every hour to make money that equals security for the rest of his life. His marketing team signs him up for the WBBS Christmas charity show, but he’s convinced he’ll fall at the first hurdle. Only, after a few days in the competition, his worry isn’t that he’ll be the first to leave, it’s that he’ll lose his heart to a rival baker, Brody.

rjscott.co.uk/read-cupcake

Welcome Birthday Guest BA Tortuga!

Hey y’all!

I’m BA Tortuga, and I’m here to wish Amber Kell a happy birthday. I love that I get to do this with her, and I hope you’ll stick around to read a little birthday extra in the Wrecked universe, which I co-write with Jodi Payne. I’ll have all the information after what I know you’re here for! The birthday story!


Parker fucking hated birthdays.

They meant that he wasn’t a kid anymore. They meant that the bulls were better and meaner and smarter, and the other cowboys called him things like “Pop”.

Him.

Like he was the same age as Sky or something. Shee-it.

He wasn’t fucking old. He was a spring chicken. He was a stud.

He was thirty. Fuck.

Sky and Beck were at their house in Vermont, recovering from Christmas. Momma was in Mexico doing some damn missionary work. Parker was sleeping in his fifth wheel on the road in ‘Jesus Christ there ain’t nothing here but coyotes and the biggest fucking ravens on earth’ New Mexico.

January was a shit month to have a birthday.

Cold. Dreary. Nobody wanted to be festive no more. Riding didn’t start ‘til damn near February.

He sighed dramatically, and flopped down on his little bed, snorting as the trailer rocked.

“Fuck birthdays. Fuck them hard, with a chainsaw.”

A knock came to the door of the trailer, scaring the living fuck out of him. He sat up with a frown, shaking his head. “Seriously? I’m having a pity party, and I didn’t invite no scary serial killers.”

Still, Parker answered the door, because he was curious as all get out. “’lo?”

A gorgeous son of a bitch stood there in the snow at the bottom of the steps, smiling at him, black eyes like holes burned in a blanket. He held up a little bitty cake, a six-pack of beer, and a wee container of ice cream. The paper on top said, “Happy birthday, buddy. Sky and family”.

There was a rainbow bracelet on his wrist.

Well, he’d be goddamned.

“I got a delivery for you – white bull rider named Parker?”

“That’s me.”

Mr. Pretty blushed dark and the pointed chin ducked. “I know. I’m a fan.”

Huh. Interesting. “Want to come have a beer? I apparently got cake.”

“I do. Ed Begay. I’m Ed Begay. You signed my hat in Vegas.”

He opened the door wider and took the beer. “Well, I’m glad to meet you. Come on in.”

He so owed Sky a thank you.

Happy birthday to him.


I hope y’all love Parker’s happy birthday. I had a ball writing it for you. Wrecked is Sky and Beck’s story, which is here https://amzn.to/3pVkCKX, and they had a second book out today, Special Delivery which is here https://amzn.to/35WbygP!

Bounces

Special Delivery

And baby makes three?

It’s fall in Vermont. The holidays are coming, the leaves are turning brilliant colors, and Skyler and Beckett are expecting a baby! They’re picking out furniture and paint colors for the nursery. They’re looking at ultrasounds and choosing names.

But nothing is ever simple for these two, and something they’re not expecting throws a wrench–or a great big crowbar–into Beck’s carefully planned paternity leave and Sky’s nursery decorations. But is it a disaster, a blessing, or both?

As with all deliveries, they’re at the mercy of fate and mother nature. They’ll be adding to their family for Christmas—but they’ll be doing it in the most chaotic way possible.


Thanks so much for letting me be here, and a super happy birthday to Amber. I hope if you liked Parker, you’ll check me out at my website, www.batortuga.com or at my Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/batortugascowboys

Welcome Birthday Guest Julia Talbot!

Hey y’all! I’m Julia Talbot, and I’m tickled to be here to wish Amber Kell a happy birthday! I look forward to the birthday bash every year!
This year, I’m doing a surprise birthday party for a character from one of my most popular series!


“Happy birthday!”

Preston jumped when the whole staff of the Dead and Breakfast Inn jumped out at him from the pantry, which was pretty impressive, because the owner, Tanner, was a bear shifter, and a big guy. Add in two vamps, a kitty shifter, a gorgon, and an imp wearing an apron, and it was a pretty motley crew.

A very loud squawk sounded from above him, and he looked up to see a magpie sitting on top of the fridge. “Ah, Ed. Did you give me away? I just wanted a midnight snack.”

The magpie bobbed, then flew out of the room.

Tanner beamed at him. “We knew it was your birthday, but you’ve been hiding all day.”

“I, uh, don’t usually celebrate.” Preston rubbed the back of his neck, smiling ruefully. “That’s a bug cake.”

Carter, the manager, clapped his hands. “It got out of control on me, but this way the rest of the guests can have some for breakfast. I made your favorite. Yellow cake with chocolate frosting.”

His eyebrows flew up. “How did you know that was my favorite?” He’d never talked cake that he knew of.

“Ed told me.”

He glanced at the doorway, where Ed reappeared moments later wearing sweats and a t-shirt his long black hair hanging down. God, he was pretty.

Ed flushed. “I hope you don’t mind. I thought you needed cake.”

“As long as you share it with me.” It had taken ages, but he thought Ed understood that Preston wasn’t just flirting to be nice. He was doing it with intent.

“I’ll cut you guys a double slice,” Tanner said. “Ed has the night off.”

“Tanner!” Ed fluttered.

“You want to come back to my cabin and share it, Ed?”

Now Ed really blushed. “After you open gifts? Yes.”

Oh, hello! That was his gift, but he could be gracious to the surprise party. “Good. Okay.” He rolled up his sleeves. “Bring it on.”


Preston is a magical doctor who’s taken up residence at the Dead and Breakfast Inn, a paranormal B&B. Book 3 of the series, Home for the Howlidays, is on preorder now! https://amzn.to/35S8L8z

I hope you’ll check them out, and I also hope you’ll check out my Facebook group where I’m just about to update a chapter a month free story I have running!

https://www.facebook.com/groups/juliatalbot

Thanks so much for letting me hang out, and happy birthday, Amber!

XXOO

Julia

Welcome Birthday Guest Stormy Glenn!

TJ’s Birthday Dilemma
~ A Hot Mess Short Story ~

I’d graduated from high school a couple of weeks ago, I was turning eighteen in a couple of days, and today I was my birthday party. Legally, I’d be an adult, able to make my own decisions and choose which direction my life went.
I knew my fathers would be planning a big birthday party for me, and that was great. I always loved it when the entire family got together. It was the conversation I needed to have with my fathers after that party that was weighing on me.
I’d been talking to my dad for awhile now about joining the service. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to follow in his footsteps and became a SWAT officer, but I wanted to do something that mattered. I figured the service would be a good start.
I just had to break it to my other father. Lany was going to flip his lid.
Lany Delvecchio had rescued me from hell, freeing me from a child slavery ring, and then he had invited me into his home and his heart. Between Lany and Sal, they had given me all the love a child should have and the time I needed to become the person I was today, a person I liked being, a person I hoped they were proud of.
I didn’t like the idea of upsetting them, but I felt strongly about this. I’d discussed it with Sal, my grandfather, Burke, Clarke, and even Vinnie. All men I looked up to. Each one had told me the same thing. I needed to do what felt right to me, and joining the service felt right.
It also felt scary.
Our massive estate was my safe place. Being with my family was my safety place. Hell, even the dog felt safe to me. The thought of leaving this all behind was gutting me, and I wasn’t sure what to do about that, but I also felt an overwhelming need to go.
“Hey, son.”
I glanced toward the doorway. “Hey, Dad.”
“Your grandparents are going to be here soon. Are you planning on coming downstairs to join us?”
I smiled. “Yeah.”
Sal frowned. “You okay, TJ?”
“Yeah.” I smiled, but I felt as if Sal saw right through me, especially when he stepped into the room and shut the door. He walked over and sat down on the bed next to me.
“You know you can come to me with anything, right?”
“Oh yeah, I know.”
“Then tell me what has you so upset?”
My shoulders slumped. “I want to sign up for the service, but I don’t know how to break it to Papà. I’m also not sure I’m quite ready to leave home.”
“Only you can make that decision, TJ. If you need to take the summer and figure that out, then do that. On the other hand, if you feel you have to go now, then that’s alright too. You’ll know when you’re ready. “
TJ glanced up. “How do you know?”
“You just do. You’ll still be a little scared, a little unsure. You’re leaving your safety zone and going somewhere new. New place, new people, new activities. I don’t care who you are, that’s always a little scary.”
My eyebrows lifted in surprise. “You’ve been scared before?” Sal Delvecchio was the most powerful man I knew. I was pretty sure there wasn’t anything in the world he couldn’t do.
“I get scared a lot, TJ. I’m scared that something will happen to one of you kids, Lany, Moe, one of our friends. I’m scared that one of these times I won’t be able to pull Lany’s butt out of the fire. I’m scared that someone I am trying to arrest will be faster or stronger than me and I won’t be able to come home to you all. I’m scared of what is going to happen the first time one of you gets your heart broken. I’m scared of a lot of things.”
My eyes widened with each word my Dad spoke. “How do you even get out of bed in the morning?”
I’d be hiding under the covers.
Sal chuckled. “I’m more scared of losing what I have by not appreciating it and living my life to the fullest.”
I wanted to say I didn’t understand what he meant, but I did. My fathers had been through more in the ten years they’d been together than anyone I’d ever met. It was pretty insane, but they always came out stronger, no matter what life threw their way.
“How do you think Papà will react if I tell him I want to join the service?”
“I think he’ll be sad, but he’ll do his best to hide it from you. He wants you to live your life to the fullest, too, even if that means you’re twenty thousand miles away from us.” Sal patted my knee. “Just remember to write home or your dad will hunt down your commander and demand to know what’s happening to his boy.”
“He would, too.” I laughed. I didn’t know who my commander would be, but he didn’t stand a chance against Lany Delvecchio.
“Come on, we need to head downstairs for your birthday party.”
Yeah.” I was actually a little excited about that. Not because of the presents, but because everyone was going to be there. I loved my family.
I knew we were closer than most families due to the different traumas we’d been through, but we all knew we were stronger together. Which was another reason why it was so hard for me to leave them all behind.
I could hear the noise level rise as I walked down the stairs. The kids were going crazy.
I could also hear Lany trying desperately to corral them. If they’d gotten into the cake or the food I’d seen Mrs. Martinez cooking earlier, there was no way they were going to calm down, not in this century.
My smile grew into a huge grin when I walked into the living room. Lany was sitting on the couch, his head in his hands. Jamie, Emily, and Mikey were tossing a balloon back and forth, with Moe, our dog, jumping up into the air trying to get the balloon. The twins sat on the floor out of the way, egging the dog on.
Sal walked over to the couch, sat down, then lifted Lany into his lap. I had no idea what Sal whispered into his ear, but within a few seconds, all the tension left Lany’s shoulders and he was laughing. Even after ten years of marriage and six kids, Dad seemed to have that affect on Papà.
I turned when the doorbell rang. I knew better than to answer it myself. That was Brant’s job. I did walk a little closer when I heard my grandparents’ voices. Lancaster and Cynthia Harris had adopted all of us into their family with welcome arms, thrilled to have grandchildren when they hadn’t thought it would ever happen because Lany was gay.
“TJ,” Cynthia called out as she walked toward me. “Happy birthday, son.”
“Thank you, Grandma.” I leaned in and pressed a kiss to her cheek and then turned to look at my grandfather. “Sir.”
“Is eighteen too old for a hug?” Lancaster asked.
“No, sir.” I’d always take a hug from him.
“Where’s your father, TJ?”
I snickered and gestured behind me. “Having a meltdown in the living room.”
Cynthia’s brow flickered. “Is everything okay?”
That was a loaded question.
“Yes, ma’am. The other kids are on overload.”
“Ah.” She nodded knowingly. “Well, I’ll just go see if I can scrape him off the floor.”
I smiled when my grandfather’s arm came around my shoulders as Grandma walked away.
“Eighteen, huh?”
I nodded.
“Got any plans?”
“I’ve been giving a few things some thought.”
I wasn’t sure I was quite ready to share them.
“Well, you’ve got plenty of time, but if I can help in any way, you just let me know.”
“I will, Grandpa.”
“Now, let me tell you about this new trip your grandmother wants us to go on,” he said as we started walking toward the living room. “We start out by flying to England.”
“England?”
Lancaster nodded. “It’s like thirteen countries in thirteen days or something crazy like that. I have no idea how we’re supposed to see anything if we spend all our time on a train, but your grandmother is so excited, she could bust.”
I wasn’t sure how I felt about this. The last time they had gone on vacation, their yacht had sank and they’d spend several days on a deserted island until they were rescued. I didn’t even want to think about what could happen if they were on a train traveling through thirteen different countries. The fall of Eastern Europe can immediately to mind.
“I’m sure you’ll have a wonderful time,” I said, even if I didn’t believe it. “Just make sure you have good insurance.”
Lancaster chuckled. “So, have you decided what your birthday wish is?”
“No.”
Yes.
Maybe.
I wanted to not be so scared about leaving home.
I wanted Papà to not freak when I told him what I wanted to do.
I wanted to join the service.
I wanted to stay home.
I wanted someone to tell me what to do.
I was pretty sure I wasn’t getting any of those wishes.
“No to worry, son.” Lancaster patted me on the back. “You’ll figure it out. You’ve got time.”
“That’s what Dad said.”
Maybe they were right.
“We’d better get in there.”
I nodded and then stepped into the living room. The kids had quieted down for the most part. They were all sitting in a circle on the floor, batting a balloon back and forth. Lany sat on the couch with Sal, both men talking with Cynthia. Moe had given up and gone to sleep in his cushioned bed over by the window.
“Happy birthday to you…” someone started to sing.
I turned to find Mrs. Martinez standing there with a big blue birthday cake with my name on it. I smiled when everyone jumped in and started singing happy birthday to me.
“Blow out the candles and make a wish!”
I don’t know who shouted that, but it didn’t matter. My attention was on the eighteen candles lighting up my cake. I closed my eyes and wished on the first thought that came to my mind. When I opened them, I leaned in and blew until every candle went out.

HOT MESS 10

coming November 19th

Lany
Many people believe that once you are married and have kids, the romance is gone. It’s not. You just have to work at it a little harder. It’s just too bad that our attempt at a romantic weekend alone ends with me in the hospital. If I survive getting shot, we’re going to have to try a little harder. I refuse to give up the romance with my hot Italian SWAT commander.

Salvador
My plans for a weekend of romance with the love of my life go up in an explosion of epic proportions when we’re attacked in our very own home and Lany’s life is put in danger. Snowstorms, intruders, and a hit man on the loose. It’s just another day in the Delvecchio household.

https://www.bookstrand.com/book/hot-mess-10-mm

STORY EXCERPT
Lany
“Why am I being relegated to the panic room?”
It had been three weeks since I’d gotten a restraining order against Harry Vanderport and I hadn’t seen hide nor hair of him. I hadn’t done anything wrong either. I hadn’t tripped, gotten taken hostage, crashed a car, or even been crushed by an elephant. There was no reason for Sal to make me stay in the panic room.
It just wasn’t fair.
“Please, for me, caro?”
My shoulders slumped. There was no way I could deny the man I married when he looked at me with those big copper colored puppy eyes of his.
Damn it.
“How long do I have to stay in here?”
“Not long, I promise. I’ll come for you just as soon as I can.”
I swallowed tightly. “How much danger am I in?”
It was a real concern.
I was not reassured by the grimace that crossed Sal’s face.
“It’s just a safety precaution, Lany.”
“For what?” That’s what confused me. Sal hadn’t said a word about what was going on. He’d just come into the house and ordered me to the panic room. “Where are the kids? Are they safe?”
“The kids are with your parents.”
I already knew that. My parents had taken them out to do a little Christmas shopping. I just wanted to know if I was going to see them anytime in this century.
“They are perfectly safe.”
So, it was just me in danger then.
Great.
“I just need you to stay in here until I come for you, Lany. Just me. No one else. Understand?”
My brow flickered. “What kind of danger am I in, Sal?” I asked again. I needed to know.
Sal’s arm wove around my waist and I was pulled flush with his chest. “I’m going to take care of you, Lany. You know that.”
I did, but that didn’t make me feel any better.
“I’ll be back, caro.”
I huffed and looked around after the solid steel door closed behind Sal and I heard the beep that let me know it was locked. I suppose as panic rooms went, this one was pretty nice. It actually had two entrances, one from our bedroom and one from the twins’ nursery.
Both doors were locked.
There was a small kitchenette, bathroom, a couch and TV, two bunk beds, and a full size bed for me and Sal. For a panic room, that was pretty good. My old panic room had a cot.
I flopped down on the couch and pulled out my cell phone. I sent out a quick text to Lyn. “How much trouble am I in?”
Lyn would know.
Whenever Sal needed help, he called in Lyn Philips, who used to be a member of his team, but now worked on the FBI’s Cyber Crimes Division. He was a mastermind behind a computer screen.
I suspected Lyn would be moving back to the SWAT team sooner or later, especially now that he’d gotten things smoothed out with Sgt. Victor Clarke, the second in command of the SWAT team under Sal.
I jumped up when the door to the panic room opened. Sal walked in, a deep grimace on his face. “What’s wrong?”
“I need your cell phone and your shoes?”
My eyebrows lifted quickly. “My shoes?”
“Hurry, Lany.”
I handed over my cell phone then slid my shoes off and gave them to Sal. “Why do you need my shoes?”
“I’ll let you know in a minute.”
Ten minutes later, I was still waiting for an explanation.
I was back on the couch.
This time I was aimlessly flipping through TV channels.
Yippee.
When the door opened for a second time, Sal walked in with my cuddle blanket. “I need your clothes.”
“My clothes?”
“Shirt, pants, underwear, everything.”
I wasn’t wearing any underwear.
Sal held out my blanket. “You can wrap up in this.”
“You can’t just bring me something to change into?”
“Not yet.”
I slowly stood and started peeling off my clothes. “This is really starting to scare me, Sal. What reason could you have to take my clothes?”
Had Harry done something?
“It’s just a precaution, Lany.”
“A precaution for what?”
Sal tossed the blanket on the couch then grabbed me by the arms. “Baby, I promise I’ll explain all of this just as soon as I can, but time is of the essence.”
I huffed. “Fine, but you’d better have a damn good excuse for all of this.”
Sal shot me a quick smile as he took my clothes. “I do, Lany. I promise. All of this will make perfect sense soon.”
I grabbed my cuddle blanket and wrapped it around me before flopping down on the couch yet again. “It had better.”
I had ways of making Sal pay if it didn’t.
Evil ways.
My balloon kung fu was legendary.
I got through two really insane afternoon talk shows before the door opened again. How people could watch those things, I would never know. I seriously didn’t understand why I had been so fascinated. Didn’t make sense.
I glanced toward the door when Sal didn’t appear. Very few people knew the code to open the panic room door. It wouldn’t open unless the code was typed in.
I swallowed tightly as I tossed the remote onto the couch then stood. “Sal?”
Nothing.
Not a single sound.
I took a hesitant step toward the door. Sal had told me to stay in the panic room until he came for me. He wouldn’t have said that if it wasn’t important.
Where was he?
“Sal?” I called out again.
When I didn’t hear anything, I walked across the floor to the door. I had to peek around the edge to see out into our bedroom. Fear unlike anything I’d ever known—and I’d known a lot—swept through me when I spotted a foot.
“Sal?” I whispered as I took another step and pushed the door out of the way to get a better look. The sight that I found was so shocking to me, I didn’t know whether to scream or run back into the panic room.
Sal lay spread out on the rug we had on the floor in front of the fireplace, buck ass naked.
He wasn’t moving.
“Sal?”