Tag Archives: Melanie Tushmore

Best Reads of 2014

It’s that time of year when we look back on all the books we’ve read in 2014. Some books are barely memorable and others we cannot forget. Those that stuck with us, for whatever reason,  we’d like to share with you in hopes that you will find them as memorable as we did. Here’s to a year of wonderful books, creative writers, beautiful covers and profound stories. We can’t wait to see what 2015 holds for us!

Kristy’s List:

Every year I fail miserably at narrowing my list down to ten books. I will do my best but I seriously doubt I will be successful this year as there were so many books I loved this year. I’m happy to say that a few were not only ‘new to me’ authors, but also debut authors! Always take a chance, one never knows if a gem of a book is just waiting to be discovered. Here’s my favorites from 2014 (not necessarily published in 2014, just read in 2014).

Phoenix by Melanie Tushmore: A rockin’ kind of love!
For A Reason by Jessie G: A protective kind of love!
Grif’s Toy by Joseph Lance Tonlet: An unusual kinkster finds a partner.
Tales from the Edge Series by LM Somerton: BDSM heaven!
Sinners Series by Rhys Ford: Irish men, what’s not to love??
Guarded by Cat Grant and L.A. Witt: The rocker, the bodyguard and some kink.
Spencer by JP Barnaby: BROKEN BOY Aaron’s love, enough said.
Training Season by Leta Blake: Holy hot dominance…and skates.
Bonds of Denial by Lynda Aicher: Leaving the business for love.
Maybe This Time by AM Arthur: Taming the party boy.
Summer Symphony by Brandon Shire: Moving past grief.
Fear: A Copper Horse by KA Merikan: Dystopian horse fetish at its finest.

Janette’s List:

2014 was a great year for me book wise – I’ve had the privilege to read so many amazing books! As Kristy said, there are just so many I loved, so it’s always tough to put together this list. I could’ve included so many, but I forced myself to narrow it down to just 10. Many of them are written by writers I discovered in 2014, and others are new books by old favorites.  The one thing these books seem to have in common is that each surprised me. I didn’t really expect to love them the way that I did which just goes to show that preconceived notions can be misleading. I hope you’ll take the time to check them out if you haven’t had a chance already, and if you have, let me know what you thought. Here’s to finding more great reads in 2015!

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1.  A Forbidden Rumspringa by Keira Andrews
2. Complementary Colors by Adrienne Wilder
3. In the Raw by Eileen Griffin & Nikka Michaels
4. Strain by Amelia C. Gormley
5. After Christmas Eve by Michael Rupured
6. The Immortal Crown by Richelle Mead
7. Blackbird Knitting in a Bunny’s Lair by Amy Lane
8. The Trouble with Honor by Julia London
9. Public Display of Everything by Cara Dee
10. The Rebel Pirate by Donna Thorland

Pam’s List:

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Black Dog (Hellhound Chronicles #1) by Caitlin Kittredge
Immortal Crown (Age of X #2) by Richelle Mead
Love, in English (Love in English #1) by Karina Halle
Love, in Spanish (Love in English #2) by Karina Halle
Tangled (Tangled #1) by Emma Chase
Visions (Cainsville #2) by Kelley Armstrong
Seventh Grave and No Body (Charley Davidson #7) by Darynda Jones
The Professional (Gamemaker #1) by Kresley Cole
The King (Black Dagger Brotherhood #12) JR Ward
The Book of Life (All Souls Trilogy #3) by Deborah Harkness

Guest Post: Melanie Tushmore for Phoenix

We are so thrilled to have Melanie Tushmore as our guest today! She’s here to share a little more about Phoenix. As you know, the book was a big hit here at 3 Chicks After Dark so we asked to have her back and she graciously accepted!

 

“The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool.” ~ Lester Bangs, Almost Famous.

 

Danny sighed, staring at his pile of clothes. “I never know what to wear to these things. You know, Rock Word made fun of us before for wearing spandex and shit. So I thought, okay I won’t wear spandex tonight, but that leaves black, black, or more black… God, I don’t know.”

“Who cares what they think?” Alex came to stand beside him, gently sifting through Danny’s clothes. “Let the music speak for itself.” He held up a pair of leopard print leggings, and tried to hold back a smirk. “These would look cute on you.”

“Hah.” Danny shook his head, chuckling. “I only ever wore those under ripped jeans, when it was cold. I didn’t know they were in here.” He sat on the bed in defeat, and accepted the leggings Alex handed to him. He yanked the spandex in his hands thoughtfully. “Actually once, we were backstage waiting to go on… it was one of our very first gigs, and Jake and Zakk start having this discussion about tights. Like, which were the best tights to wear under ripped jeans.”

Alex stared at him. “What? Really?”

“Yeah.” Danny laughed, tossing the leggings over his shoulder onto the bed. “They were all like, well, I like leopard print… oh but, zebra print is cooler but the denier is thicker so you get hotter.” Danny groaned. “In the end, they concluded leopard print tights were the best to wear.” He glanced at Alex for his reaction and laughed anew. “Yeah, I know. Ridiculous, innit? I remember listening to them and thinking, Jesus Christ, who cares? They’re just clothes. I want to play a gig.”

Trying not to laugh, Alex sat next to him. “Sure, but clothes are… they’re like the icing on the cake, aren’t they? One of the first things I remember when going to concerts was seeing all the leather jackets people wore, with patches and studs and stuff. It’s a statement, isn’t it? Telling everyone what club you’re in. I loved that.” ~Phoenix, Melanie Tushmore.

Hey guys,

This is the last stop for the Phoenix blog tour, thank you for reading!

I wanted to touch on a topic, and also one of my favourite quotes from Almost Famous, the one about what really matters in life:

“The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool.” ~ Lester Bangs, Almost Famous.

As the story progresses, the reader will see young Alex grow from a clueless kid into an open-minded young man. He starts out as just a fan, and is lucky enough to meet and form a bond with his major-crush, guitarist Danny Death.

The way the boys’ relationship starts is Fan/Famous Person. It later changes and becomes more equal, as Danny offers Alex a part of his life that not many people are privy too. Later on in the story, their relationship is more Two Dorks Who Just Happen To Like Each Other.

As in, they’re just normal people.

Danny himself is only twenty-two, to Alex’s eighteen, when they begin getting to know each other properly, and Alex realises that Danny is pretty normal and clueless himself at times.

And that even famous people worry about their clothes. ;)

 

Phoenix

Published 17 September 2014

Published by Less Than Three Press LLC

Blurb:

Young painter Alex Tatton has always loved music. When a tragic accident takes away his parents, he turns to a darker style of music and discovers the rock band, Death Rose. Feeling isolated from his own life, Alex develops a crush on guitarist Danny Death who, despite the name, is vivacious, full of life, and has a reputation for being ‘the nicest guy in rock n’ roll’.

After a gig, Alex finds Danny to give him a signed painting. Danny is everything a star should be: charming, sexy, a beacon of light in Alex’s otherwise dark life, and after meeting him Alex is determined to see him again—and this time he wants more than just an autograph.

Pairing: M/M
Content: Contains explicit content.

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Excerpt:

Even with the AAA pass hanging from his neck, like some sort of illicit medal, Alex still couldn’t believe he was being granted access to the Death Rose dressing room. Giddy with excitement, he followed Danny inside.

The room was plain, but full of open bags and suitcases spilling their contents, promising clothes of sexy black leather, spandex, studded garments and more. When he imagined who’d be wearing them, Alex felt hot. The warm air in the room didn’t help matters.

There was no one else here, though voices filtered in from the hallway. The entire structure was temporary. Sounds eked through: music, shouts, bangs. Alex was about to ask where the others were, just for something to say, when Danny stopped in front of him and turned. Alex almost stepped away, about to apologise for getting under his feet. Danny’s arm snaked around his waist, drawing Alex to him. Alex barely had the wherewithal to look up as Danny’s mouth pressed against his.

It felt like a dream, too surreal. Alex opened his mouth and kissed back while he was still living the fantasy. Danny’s kiss was fast, full of want, but altogether too brief. Suddenly he pulled back, half turning away. Alex was left reeling, his lips wet and his nose full of Danny’s smell.

Voices preceded the arrival of people into the dressing room. With a shy glance from Danny, Alex realised this was why he’d stopped, and silently cursed whoever it was for interrupting them. He pressed his lips together, preserving the feel of Danny’s lips on his.

The people who’d entered the dressing room were arguing. Nicky D. Muir, Death Rose’s drummer, was being apparently told off by a pudgy, older man with a tan, wearing glasses. “Don’t push me, Nicky,” he said, as Nicky grumbled and collapsed into a battered couch.

Danny glanced at the pair over his shoulder, but otherwise kept his back to them. He didn’t seem overly concerned with the row unfolding.

Alex took the opportunity to risk a look at Danny’s body, wondering if Danny was hard, like he was. He so wanted to reach out and feel, onlookers or not. God, what he wouldn’t give to touch Danny … But nerves held him frozen. He would follow Danny’s lead, wait for his cue.

Alex’s eyes wandered. There was a suitcase open, balanced on a chair. Alex hadn’t noticed its existence until Danny rummaged inside it. It had to be his. Clothes of black and some varied colour escaped at either side.

Danny said quietly, “What do you want me to wear, Alex?”

The continued argument in the room was mildly distracting, but Alex’s focus was on Danny. Even so, he was sure he’d misheard him. “Pardon?” he stuttered.

A smile teased Danny’s lips, like he was about to laugh. He picked out a pair of black, spangly leggings. “What do you want me to wear? To be honest, I don’t think I can get away with leggings right now, unless you get my guitar for me so I can hide this stiffy.”

Alex’s groin flooded with warmth, making him even harder. He laughed, feeling dizzy with nerves and want. His next words came out more breathy than he’d intended. “I wouldn’t mind seeing that.”

Danny looked at him, like he had to check if Alex meant it. His eyes seemed larger, searching. Again, Alex had a small stab of realisation that perhaps Danny wasn’t as sure of himself as he’d assumed.

Either that or he was a pretty good actor.

Who cared, Alex thought. This was better than his fantasies of Danny. This was real. The desire must have showed in his eyes, on his face. Alex did nothing to hide it. A dirty grin spread over Danny’s lovely mouth, then his hands went to his belt. “Help me with my shoes, gorgeous.”

His words were barely audible, but they were the only thing Alex heard. Heedless of where he was, Alex dropped to a crouch. It seemed only fitting to kneel before someone like Danny, like he’d been born to please this man.

As much as Alex wanted to lean in and bury his face in Danny’s crotch, he kept himself in check. Perhaps he was still in shock at the situation, it all seemed too good to be true. What if one hasty move prompted Danny into action? Would Alex be expected to suck him off in a backstage dressing room?

Alex’s blood heated, and his dick clenched. I’d do it, I would. But … what would happen after? Would he throw me out, never speak to me again?

He swallowed, and tried to concentrate on the simple task at hand. Get Danny’s shoes off. Danny’s jean-clad legs were stuffed into black cowboy boots, and now Alex was closer he noticed patterns of rhinestones up the sides of the boots as they caught the light. Danny raised one foot, and Alex gripped the boot, wriggling it free. His whole body thrilled at the task. It wasn’t how he’d envisioned undressing Danny, but for now, this would do.

One boot off, and Alex helped rid Danny of the other boot. He noticed Danny’s black socks, saw one was actually inside out. Just that tiny detail made Alex’s heart expand to painful proportions. He longed to be the one to dress Danny, and undress him, every day for the rest of his days. Make sure he wore his socks the right way round.

Alex tried to quash down his impulsive thoughts. A potential hook up was one thing, and seeming more and more likely by the minute, but anything more than that? Hollie was right. He was only setting himself up for a fall. A big one.

He must have paused, as Danny said softly, “Hey? You okay?”

Alex snapped out of it. He resolved to deal with the fall out when it happened. He could just paint his experiences for the rest of his days. Being with Danny now was like having a real life muse. Raising his head, Alex looked up at him, memorising every detail.

Danny’s belt was undone, his hands poised at his fly, waiting.

Alex promised himself he would paint this picture one day. Smiling, he bit the bullet and said, “Sure am.”

Links:   Less Than Three Press • All Romance eBooks • Amazon

 

Tush’s 80s Playlist:
Mötley Crüe – Stick to your guns
The Cult – Sweet soul sister
WASP – Wild child
Ozzy Osbourne – Shot in the dark
Hanoi Rocks – Oriental beat

 

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Phoenix (Death Rose #1) by Melanie Tushmore

PhoenixPublished 17 September 2014

Published by Less Than Three Press, LLC

Copy obtained from publisher for review.

Synopsis:

Young painter Alex Tatton has always loved music. When a tragic accident takes away his parents, he turns to a darker style of music and discovers the rock band, Death Rose. Feeling isolated from his own life, Alex develops a crush on guitarist Danny Death who, despite the name, is vivacious, full of life, and has a reputation for being ‘the nicest guy in rock n’ roll’.

After a gig, Alex finds Danny to give him a signed painting. Danny is everything a star should be: charming, sexy, a beacon of light in Alex’s otherwise dark life, and after meeting him Alex is determined to see him again—and this time he wants more than just an autograph.

Our Thoughts:

Talk about a blast from the past! Reading the obsession with Danny Death and Death Rose brought back fond memories of my teen years. :) Watching Headbangers ball on MTV, reading Medal Edge and collecting posters from my favorite bands. I remember all too well how quickly teens obsess over an idol or rock musician.

For Alex, that’s exactly what happens. After losing his parents, Alex is living with his aunt and uncle. Having missed some of his exams he is repeating his last year of school. To avoid being the center of attention, he goes to a different school and that’s where he meets two girls in art class. They give him a cassette tape of the band Death Rose. It is life changing.

Alex becomes infatuated with everything Death Rose. He is a super fan, painting canvases of his favorite band member, Danny Death. He’s reading every interview, collecting posters and pictures of Danny and the band. When he has the chance to go to a live gig, Danny jumps on the chance. Alex is a bit awkward and in his words/thoughts a bit uncool. The scene is totally one he isn’t used to, but he’s willing to step out of his comfort zone to grab at a chance to meet Danny Death. The first gig he does get that chance and he also gives Danny a portrait he painted. Danny seems genuinely pleased and grateful. Alex leaves on a high and the meeting motivates him to continue his obsession.

The second time Danny goes to see Death Rose, he’s alone and things don’t go as he planned. He has a new work of art he wants to deliver personally to Danny but he’s having no luck even getting into the backstage area. His floppy hair, simple clothes and spotted skin make him pretty unremarkable. When he starts to see himself compared to the other groupies hanging around trying for a chance to meet the band he feels that he really doesn’t measure up to the scene around him. If anything, Alex is lucky, or maybe it’s just destiny because Hollie comes along. Hollie does band interviews and she takes Alex in under her wing. She pulls him backstage and stays with him. Danny and Alex meet once again but it isn’t exactly as Alex hoped it would go. If anything it propels him to make some changes. With Hollie’s help, he is on his way to a new Alex.

To sum it up, Alex is a little socially awkward with average looks. He’s a fabulous artist. He’s very lonely and Death Rose is his outlet.

In walks Danny Death! Danny is not the average rocker. He doesn’t drink or party. He loathes the backstage scene, sitting around watching people get drunk and act stupid. He doesn’t sleep around, he barely sleeps with anyone. He would rather talk about his amps, pedals and guitars than be stuck at a bar making small talk with drunks, interviewers and groupies. When the made-over Alex attends another Death Rose show and finally gets his moment with Danny, everything changes for Danny and Alex.

Danny is confident and pretty inspirational. Alex is anxious and always feeling out of his league in the surroundings wherever Death Rose is performing. Since Danny doesn’t like the bar scene they escape to some one-on-one time together and they really bond. Danny feels he can open up to Alex and connect with him on a more personal level. They both had parents die when they were young and both loathe alcohol. They actually take time to listen to each other and talk rather than party. They also kiss…

Alex is in heaven! He can’t believe Danny is interested in him. Unfortunately, Hollie tells him that she fears Danny will love and leave so she wants Alex prepared. That’s actually pretty sad because it overshadows every encounter they have afterward, Alex is always fearing that this will be the last time they are together. He’s always waiting for the ball to drop…Danny leaving.

Overall, I loved how Danny was so giving and insecure. Totally unexpected for a hard-core rocker! I loved that when Alex was feeling overwhelmed he just wanted to get home and grab his notepad and pens to ground himself. I like that they never made rash assumptions or went all angsty with each other. They always regrouped and talked things out. Alex being all awkward and feeling out-of-place eventually subsided but Danny was the big surprise with his quick declarations and support of Alex’s craft. They sizzle in the bedroom but it is a sensual pleasure with nothing but respect and love. Danny and Alex manage to find a way to be true to themselves and each other. Together they discover real love, one that can last and withstand distance and the rockstar lifestyle.

I loved this book!!

RATING: BAD ASS ROCKER BOOTS!!!!

Tipsy Blog Tour and Giveaway: Wine and Roses by Gus Li and Love on the Rocks by Melanie Tushmore

tipsy_promo banner

Join authors Gus Li and Tushmore on their virtual boozy blog crawl as they chat about new releases Wine and Roses( Gus Li) and Love on the Rocks (Tushmore) both available from Dreamspinner Press this August.

Both authors will answer some quick questions about their romance stories, as well as recommend wines and cocktails of the day  :)

Please read on for excerpts from both new releases, and be sure to leave a comment on ANY of the Tipsy Blog Tour posts to automatically be entered into the grand prize draw! Your chance to win ebook copies of Wine and Roses, Love on the Rocks, plus a whole host of other goodies including signed artwork, wine stoppers, and more!

Cheers from Gus, and Tush <3

Wine and Roses by Gus Li

First Ingredient - What does the main character love to do?

Alain Lamont is a farmer and vintner. Mountain Shadow Winery has been in his family for over five hundred years, and he has a talent for making wine so wonderful it’s coveted by the noble households in the region and beyond. He truly loves taking care of his land, pruning his vines, and making wine. This is something hard for Breeze to understand; he sees the vineyard as a cage, but Alain would never be able to survive away from it.

Second Ingredient - What do they hate doing, and what are they afraid of?

Alain’s greatest fear is being alone. Because he’s attracted to men instead of women, which isn’t acceptable in his culture, he has given up hope of ever finding a partner to share his life and help him run the vineyard. He knows one day his niece and nephew will grow up and start families of their own, and he’ll have no one. In some ways, he thinks of his land and his grapes as the one constant he can always depend on, the one thing that will remain when everyone leaves. He tries to convince himself it will be enough.

As for what he hates, it’s salesmanship. Alain is a master winemaker, but he’s awkward at social interaction and prefers to be alone in his fields. He often has a hard time relating to people, especially the wealthy and privileged whose lives and priorities he can’t really understand. Luckily, Breeze is very charming.

Mix! - What shakes things up?

When Alain finally finds a man who he can imagine spending his life with, that man has less than no interest in farming and making wine. Breeze is more interested in money and fleeting pleasures than putting down roots and raising a family. He can’t understand Alain’s contentment on the vineyard, just like Alain can’t understand Breeze’s desire to put himself in danger by working as a sword for hire. They agree that they’re too different in who they are and what they want out of life to be more than temporary friends, but that doesn’t erase the attraction between them.

Wine of the Day— Fortified Wines

Thanks to real-life sommelier Beau Schemery for the wine description of the day!

These wines include ports, sherries, madeira, and more. These are wines with neutral spirits added to arrest the fermentation process to retain sugar, though can be done in dry styles as well. They were originally created to withstand the long sea voyages from one country to another and became extremely popular hundreds of years ago. They are regaining that popularity now as people realize the level of quality and flavour they offer. You will often see them paired with desserts or appetizers or on their own as digestifs (after a meal) or aperitifs (before the meal). Though they are delicious any time at all.

mulled_red_wine

Love on the Rocks by Tushmore

First Ingredient - What does the main character love to do?

Justin isn’t the best bar tender around, simply because he doesn’t concentrate. He’s more interested in chatting with his colleagues, or flirting up a storm. His biggest love is performing, which he does with his best mate, Tam. They rehearse together, dancing and singing disco numbers, and go to little cabaret clubs to strut onstage. It’s very glittery, lots of fun, and Justin is a natural born entertainer.

Second Ingredient - What do they hate doing, and what are they afraid of?

Justin is a wonderful host, which is why he’s done bar tending as a side job for years, but he isn’t an expert on booze. He’s supposed to learn how to make cocktails properly, which is how he meets the man he wants to date, who is a professional cocktail waiter. As Justin pursues him in every way he can think of, it becomes clear that what Justin’s most afraid of is rejection (the same as most people!).

Mix! - What shakes things up?

Despite a sour experience in his past, Justin realises that he really likes Yena, and he wants to have a proper chance with him. To do that, he knows he has to come across as serious, because Yena wasn’t impressed with his drunken chat up lines previously. Justin bravely (and soberly) approaches Yena again, and is honest about his intentions. All he wants is a chance to show he’s a nice guy really, and convince Yena they should be together.

Cocktail of the day – Old Fashioned

I love making these! Looks simple, but it takes FOREVER, which is fine if the customer is nice and you fancy a break from running around, because you get to stand in one spot and mix it REALLY SLOWLY.

 

old fashioned

The Old Fashioned is a standard double shot of bourbon, but you don’t pour it in all at once. First you put a tiny bit of crushed ice in a half glass, one sugar cube, dash of Angostura bitters (which I always forgot, whoops) and even orange bitters if you fancy, muddle those together. Now pour in a dash of bourbon, a bit more ice, stir SLOWLY with the flat end of a bar spoon. There’s a knack to stirring properly that spreads the sugar mix around but doesn’t disturb the ice. Then pour in a dash more bourbon, and ice, repeat action, all slowly, build the drink till you’re out of bourbon. Add a bit more ice, garnish with rolled orange zest.

If you’re feeling extra snazzy you can light the orange zest as you roll it over the drink, which creates sparks. (Mind the customer’s eyebrows.) Use the garnish to stir the drink.

Love on the rocks_WEB
Blurb:

Twenty-six-year-old barman and cabaret entertainer Justin has recently moved to London for a fresh start. Charismatic and flirty, Justin is naturally the center of attention wherever he goes. There’s only one problem: the object of Justin’s affections, a handsome, enigmatic bartender named Yena, isn’t won over by Justin’s charm. In fact, he flat out turns Justin down. 

Stripping off his showmanship frills and charms, Justin aims for a different approach: reveal himself for who he is. Underneath his public face Justin is an honest young man who wants someone special to share his time with… and laugh at his awful jokes. 

Justin can only hope the real him is irresistible to the man he loves.

Excerpt:

Arm in arm, the trio weaved their way down the small, decorative alleys of Soho. When they arrived at the third venue of the evening, a smiling doorman greeted them and held open the door. The bar inside wasn’t anything like the previous tiki-themed palace. Though the interior was bathed in ambient gold and blue lighting, there were no frills about it—one large room full of tables, brimming with patrons, and interspersed by big, sturdy pillars. The bar itself was long and straight along the right-hand wall, and it was currently drowning in customers.

Justin looked around in dismay at how busy it was. “It’s busy,” he whined. “By the time we get to the bar, I’ll be fucking sober.”

“Cocktails are two for one,” Tam told him.

“Ooh, sounds good,” Tara said, striding for the bar. “Come on.”

“Yeah, but…” Justin’s words trailed off as he caught sight of a bartender—tall, blond, and gorgeous, and flashing a brilliant smile at the customers he served. “Holy fuck,” Justin whispered. “Dibs on that one.”

Tam followed his line of sight. “The blond? That’s Eric.”

“Oh?” Justin turned to Tam and eyed his friend with a smile. “How do you know?”

Tam smirked but tried to hide it. “Not the way you’re thinking, dirty boy. I happen to know someone who shagged him.”

“Ah.”

“Apparently,” Tam hissed in his ear, “he’s bloody good.”

“Yeah, I bet.” Justin grabbed Tam’s arm and pulled him to the bar. “Onward!”

Even though the bar was packed, Justin was willing to wait. And wait. The music was loud and pop-centric, so he amused himself by singing along to the songs and trying to catch glimpses of the hot bartender over people’s heads and shoulders.

Tara’s head popped into view a little farther along the bar, and she waved a hand to them, indicating she had a good spot. Tam and Justin edged their way through, relieved to find Tara had snatched them a couple of barstools.

As they waited their turn, they took advantage of their front row view of the bartenders. The space behind the bar was quite big, and currently one woman and two men were working. The tall blond that Justin had spotted earlier was the clear front runner in the looks department, but all of them could’ve easily stepped out of a high end fashion shoot. They wore dark trousers and matching fitted black shirts, open low at the collar. The bar’s name, Foxy’s, was printed in bright pink on the left breast pocket.

Eventually, realization hit Tara. “Is this a gay bar?”

Tam shrugged. “It’s not flaming, but it’s gay friendly. The bar staff are all gay.”

“You could’ve said.” She rolled her eyes. “There’s me trying to smile at the men. No wonder they don’t look at me twice.”

“Sorry, dear.”

“Join the club,” Justin said sidelong. “I’ve been trying to get that blond’s attention for, like, half an hour now. This is ridiculous.”

“Patience, Justin.” Tam’s attention was drawn to the end of the bar. “Hel-lo.” He craned his neck as he watched a new barman enter the scene, carrying a tall tower of stacked glasses. “I like him.”

Justin and Tara also craned around to see, eyeing the new barman. The colored lights and people sticking their heads in the way made it hard for Justin to get a good look.

A bartender stopped in front of them, and Justin was thrilled to see it was Mr. Tall, Blond, and Gorgeous, who flashed them a dazzling smile. “I know you guys have been waiting ages,” he said, his voice a rich baritone. “I promise I’ll do you next.” He winked, though Justin wasn’t sure if the wink was directed at himself or at Tam, and then flitted away.

“Mmm. Hot.” Tara smiled, as Tam raised his eyebrows in agreement.

“Mm, honey,” Justin muttered. “He can do me any time.” His gaze followed the blond hottie as he worked behind the bar, watching his precise movements as he mixed drinks and chatted with his customers, making it all look effortless.

Very flirty, Justin decided. Bet he’s dynamite in bed.

Justin’s neck muscles started to protest at craning so far around to watch this prized specimen of man. Just then, another bartender appeared in front of him, drawing his attention.

“Are you waiting?” he asked in a voice so quiet Justin barely heard him above the music.

Flashing him a cursory glance, Justin’s attention went back to the blond barman further along the bar before his sozzled brain digested who stood in front of him: Brunet. Long hair.

Ooh.

Slowly, Justin looked back. The man standing before him was definitely cute, with a mop of dark, curly hair and even darker eyes.

Tam jumped in. “Yes, can we order cocktails?”

The bartender turned to Tam with a smile. “Sure. What do you want?”

“Three Caipirinhas, please.”

“No problem. I just need to get some crushed ice.” The bartender flitted off.

“Wait,” Justin began, “can we—” Tam stuck a boot out, aiming at Justin’s leg. “Ow.”

Tam flashed him a look. “Dibs,” he said firmly.

“Huh?” Justin wanted to argue. “But—”

“What do you mean but?” Tam chuckled. “You called dibs on the other one.”

“Yeah, but—”

“Boys, boys.” Tara laid a hand on their arms. “I know no one in their right mind could possibly resist either of you, but let’s be chill about it, okay?”

Tam sniffed in mock indignation, while Justin grinned. “I can feel another bet coming on.”

This time Tam snorted. “Mm-hmm. Well, you’d better hope that whoever you end up pulling doesn’t mind your spicy breath, darling.”

“What?” Justin was alarmed and raised a hand to breathe into it. The brunet bartender returned, and Justin quickly dropped his hand, forcing a smile.

Tam watched with a predatory gaze as the bartender placed three rocks glasses on the bar and started mixing their drinks. Tara leaned over the bar to watch, focused on the drinks. “May I have extra lime in mine, please?”

The bartender smiled at her. “Of course you can.”

“Thank you, hon. Sorry to be a pain. We’re bartenders too.”

“Oh, yeah? All of you?” He flicked his eyes up, and they locked with Justin’s momentarily.

Justin tasted victory already and tried for his best smile. “I am! I’m supposed to be learning new cocktails.”

“Whereas I work in fashion,” Tam added, vying for attention. “But Justin and I dance together.”

“Oh, right?” Again, the barman’s eyes locked with Justin’s.

He’s interested. Justin picked up on the vibes and found he was interested in return. Score! He studied the barman closer as he mixed the drinks. He had a nice mouth, with full lips that were just asking to be kissed; his curly hair was cute, and he had dark brows to match. There was something about him that hinted at the exotic, if only that he wasn’t the usual short-haired, styled blond that was prevalent in gay bars.

He was very attractive. Definitely.

“What sort of dancing?” he asked, having taken the bait Tam offered.

“Anything.” Tam winked at him. “We do it together.”

Justin smiled and nodded along, though he noted the bartender’s smile seemed more strained than flirty.

“I dance too,” Tara said, unaware of Tam’s double entendre. “I teach tap.”

Tam shot her a look of annoyance, but the bartender seemed amused.

“Tap is awesome.” He smiled at her, and Justin decided he had a very pretty smile.

A taller man materialized at the brunet’s side; the blond barman had returned. He flashed another dazzling smile with perfect white teeth. “Yena beat me to it,” he said, leaning on the bar. “Sorry I took so long, guys.”

Tam seized his chance to lean in, touching the blond’s arm. “Oh, no trouble. But thank you so much.”

“My pleasure.” The blond’s perma-smile turned knowing. “I’m Eric,” he said, offering his hand.

Tam’s hand shot out to grasp his. “I’m Tam. And this is Tara and Justin.”

Eric shook Tam’s hand, then moved along the bar, shaking Tara’s next. He nudged his colleague aside, heedless to the fact he was still trying to mix the drinks, in a bid to reach Justin.

Justin noted Eric’s pushiness, and something about it annoyed him, but he took Eric’s hand anyway. “Justin.”

Eric looked into his eyes as he groped his hand. His touch was warm and confident, sending electric pulses up Justin’s arm. From one touch, Justin knew instinctively that if he were to go to bed with Eric, they’d have a struggle for dominance.

Which could be fun.

“Great to meet you.” Eric’s blue eyes danced with intent. “Stick around,” he added, apparently to Justin. “It’ll calm down later on. I can make you a drink then.” With that, he extracted himself and flitted away, leaving his colleague to continue serving.

The brunet got on with mixing the drinks, placing three beautifully crafted cocktails in front of them. It wasn’t Justin’s round, but he produced his wallet, mostly as an excuse to command the barman’s attention. He took longer than necessary to find the correct money, instead putting all his concentration into flirting. “What was your name?” he asked with a smile. He’d heard Eric say it, but being an unusual name it hadn’t stuck in Justin’s memory.

Dark eyes fixed on his, though the playfulness in them had disappeared. “Yena,” he said quietly.

Justin still couldn’t get it. “Pardon?”

“Yena,” he said again, an edge to his voice.

“That’s a nice name,” Tara said.

Still unsure, Justin asked, “How’d you spell that?”

Yena looked at him, this time in disbelief. “Y-E-N-A,” he said flatly. “Look”—he glanced along the bar—“I’ve got to serve someone else, can you…?”

He didn’t say hurry up, but Justin heard it clearly. He felt slightly deflated at being rushed. “Oh, sure. Sorry.” He handed over a note, which Yena whipped out of his hand before he had a chance to say anything else. As he marched off to the till, Justin glanced at Tam, frowning at him in confusion.

Tam shrugged in answer. Either he didn’t know why Yena was cross, or he didn’t care.

When Yena returned with the change, Justin decided to lay on the charm. “Keep it.” He smiled warmly. “Put it towards tips.”

Yena looked surprised. “But there’s over five quid here.”

Justin waved it away. “Please.”

“All right.” Yena glanced at him, unsure. “Thanks.”

“You’re wel—”

Yena turned away, and that was that.

“—come.” Justin snorted. “Well.”

Tara was already sipping her drink, oblivious to Justin’s troubles. “Mm, these are good.”

“You bet.” Tam raised his drink, catching Justin’s eye. “Cheers, dears.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Justin picked up his glass to down a large amount. Cocktails always made things better. He scanned along the bar, looking for Yena.

What’d happened? Had Eric’s interruption annoyed Yena somehow? Or was it something else? Justin couldn’t work it out.

wine and roses

Blurb:

Mage Yarroway L’Estrella decided the Battle of the Starlight Bridge when he summoned fire from the heavens. The blaze decimated much of the vineyard that has been in Alain Lamont’s family for nine generations. Mountain Shadow Winery may no longer be able to support Alain’s family or the dozens of others who call it home, but Alain vows not to fail all those depending on him.

Mercenary Fabrezio Orvina d’Caelus, Breeze to his friends, appreciates Alain taking him in when he’s badly wounded after the battle, but he has no intention of living the dull life of a farmer any longer than necessary. Though he likes the vintner, he sees Alain as soft and sheltered, hardly a man who can understand a warrior’s calling.

As they live and work together, Alain realizes Breeze isn’t exactly the amoral opportunist he suspected, and Breeze sees more strength in Alain than he thought possible of a simple winemaker. Life on the estate is richer and less boring than Breeze first imagined. With ingenuity, courage, and cooperation, they may devise a way to revitalize the vineyard and move beyond the pain and loss of their pasts.

Excerpt:

Alain looked wan and pale when he came in with Breeze’s breakfast the following morning. The dark crescents under his blue eyes made Breeze wonder if he’d slept at all. He suspected Alain’s restlessness might have been his fault. He hadn’t realized Alain had lost his wife in the fire. What an ass.

Still, Alain offered him a smile as he set a tray bearing some porridge, boiled eggs, a slice of ham, and a bowl of beans on Breeze’s lap. He sat on the edge of the bed as he always did and poured wine. “How are you feeling this morning? Did you sleep well?”

“Better than it looks like you did. Why is that?”

“I’m fine.”

Breeze put down the forkful of bacon-flavored beans he’d been about to shovel into his mouth and took Alain’s hand. At his touch, Alain flinched and tried to pull away, but Breeze held firm, and eventually he relaxed. “Look, Alain. I’m just a sell-sword. I never claimed to be a scholar, but I feel like a stupid ass for not realizing you lost your wife in the fire. I hope that damned mage rots in the rankest pit of the Shades’ Abode. But I’m sorry for being dull-witted, and for letting my tongue wag like the fucking fool I am. I know I hurt you, and I’m sorry.”

When Alain looked at Breeze, tears glittered in his summer-sky eyes but didn’t fall. He shook his head. “No, I’ve never had a wife.”

“But Courtenay and Fenn?”

“My twin sister’s children. My niece and nephew. My brother-in-law, their father, died in the fire. I’m all they have left now. I… I don’t know if I’m good enough to raise them on my own. I love them, but I’m afraid I’ll fail them.”

“What happened to your sister?”

Alain caught the single tear he let fall on his fingertip and looked away to hide his grief. “She died giving birth to Fenn. Six years ago.”

Breeze didn’t know what to say, so he squeezed Alain’s hand a little tighter, and Alain squeezed back. What he really wanted to know was how Alain had remained unmarried. Breeze freely admitted he was a handsome man, with his rose-and-honey coloring and those expressive eyes. And lips—pink, firm, and full without looking pillowy or slack. Add to that his estate, and he could have his pick of the buxom country girls. If he wanted help with the children, why not take a wife? Could he be…. Damn, out of nowhere, Breeze really wanted to know whose body Alain imagined when he slid into bed and slipped his hand into his trousers. He could see it: Alain’s teeth denting his lower lip, red rushing all the way to the tips of his ears—

And he was a fucking pig for thinking about that while Alain struggled not to break down. Besides, it was none of his damned business who or what the vintner fucked, if anyone. Hopefully, in another month or so, he’d be long gone. On to better things. Still, he didn’t like seeing Alain suffering. “I’m sorry.” What a platitude. Breeze just wasn’t used to men who needed comforting.

Alain nodded. “Thank you. You should finish your breakfast so I can change your dressings. Best to get it over with.”

After a few more bites of food, Breeze asked, “Do you have a bathtub? I’m as rank as a whore’s underpants, and I’d kill for a proper wash.” He set his fork on his plate and scratched his chin. “And a shave.”

He didn’t know why that made Alain smile, but seeing it pleased him. “Why do you want to shave off your whiskers?”

“That’s just how it’s done in Espero. Men shave every day. The heat, I suppose. I’m just not used to these whiskers. Why, do you like them?”

Alain tensed visibly, and Breeze felt like horse’s ass. Again. He was making this a habit. Why had he said that?

“I don’t care about them one way or another. I just wondered. Most men in Selindria don’t shave their whiskers.”

“You do,” Breeze observed.

Alain touched his soft-looking cheek with the fingers of his splinted hand. The way Alain worked and took care of him, Breeze found it easy to forget about the other man’s injury. Truth be told, he bore it like a warrior. “Mine comes in all patchy. I can’t grow a proper beard, just little scraps here and there. I look like a fool when I don’t shave.”

Breeze wondered if the hair grew in little golden swaths down the center of his chest, his soft belly, between his legs. Bleeding Shades, he had to drive off the pictures in his head. They’d make an Elvaran street slag blush. “So, could I trouble you for a bath? I’m sure you’ve had your fill of my stink.”

“You’ll have to come down the stairs, to the kitchen. We have an indoor well and a tub in a room just beyond it. I can help you, if you think you can make it.”

“I think I can. I feel heartier than I have since I woke up.” And if Alain looked beneath Breeze’s sheets, he’d see plenty of proof. Probably best to get rid of that before Alain helped him bathe. He struggled to focus on his breakfast and think about anything else. Luckily, Alain helped distract him.

“So, I guessed you were from Espero. I haven’t met many people from the island. How long have you been away?”

“About seven years.”

“You must have been quite young when you left home,” Alain said.

“Yes, I’d just come of age.”

“Why did you leave?”

“Wanted to see the world, I suppose. Don’t you?”

Alain laughed. “No! I have everything I need right here. This land has been in my family for nine generations—almost five hundred years. Since my ancestors accepted this property from the valen of Lockhaven, it’s taken care of us. I love this place. I can’t imagine leaving. Espero wasn’t like that for you?”

“No.” Silence fell between them as Breeze finished his breakfast. He didn’t want to talk about Espero, and it wasn’t anything Alain would be able to comprehend. “You don’t want more for yourself? Something grander? Adventure and glory for your name?” What young man didn’t?

“No. I have no one to prove anything to. I love tending the grapes and the land. The goddesses have blessed us, and I’m thankful. My heart is here.”

Sounds frightfully dull, Breeze thought, if comfortable. “No aspirations at all?”

“Maybe just… someone to share it with. But that won’t happen.” Alain seemed ready say more, but stopped himself and paused before rushing to quantify his statement. “Not anytime soon, at least. I have too much to do to get the vineyard back to where it can support us. Buildings need repaired, and over half of the vines will have to be replanted. I can only pray we’ll be able to harvest enough come Berris’s Moon to produce enough wine to sell next year. What we have to take to market this summer will barely get us by. Too many of the cellars caved in when the support beams burned. Luckily, last year was good, and we’ll fetch a good price for what’s left. And we have the ice wine. I’m sorry. You probably don’t care about any of this.”

To Breeze’s surprise, he found he did, a little, and he caught himself imagining ways to help the vineyard thrive. Not that he knew a thing about it. “What is ice wine?”

“We leave the grapes on the vine until the frost, let them freeze before harvesting. The water in them turns to ice, and it concentrates their sweetness. We press them while they’re still frozen, and it produces the most exquisite wine, as golden as the sunlight, sweet as honey, and with a taste of the mountains and the winter. It can be sold for exorbitant prices; the nobles here in the north adore it. Ice wine is risky, though. First off, if the frost comes too late, we chance letting the grapes rot on the vine and losing an entire crop. Secondly, the frozen grapes produce much less juice than they would if we picked them normally, so of course they produce less wine.”

“That seems the thing to do, then. You might end up with less wine, but you’ll make more gold in the long run, won’t you?”

Alain wiggled his fingers in Breeze’s hand like he wanted to tap them on something as he considered. “Possibly. Not all the grapes will work, though. And there’s a good chance the goddesses and seasons won’t cooperate. We usually only risk a small portion of the grapes for the ice wine, those we can afford to lose. If we made them all into ice wine, we would do quite well, but if we lost them to rot, we’d be doomed.”

“Octavian always tells me destiny smiles on the bold man and ignores the timid.”

“You speak highly of him,” Alain said.

“He’s a good man, as I explained. Shrewd, though. Sharp as a dagger. And, I suppose, he was good to me. Gave me a chance.”

Alain looked at him intently, batting his long golden lashes, so Breeze continued. “He could have turned me away. I wasn’t much of a warrior when I went to join the Roses. But I told him my story, and he told me his, and it turned out they weren’t so different. He gave me a place to belong. Saw some worth in me that no one else ever had. I owe him a great deal.”

“You didn’t feel like you belonged in Espero?”

“No.” Dammit, he didn’t want to talk about this. He pulled loose of Alain’s hand and took a long drink of wine to avoid speaking.

“Why?”

“I just wanted a different life from the one laid out for me there. Same as Octavian. I wanted to make it on my own like he did. He’s not much older than us, you know.”

“He sounds like a remarkable man.” Alain looked like he wanted to say something else, but he busied himself with stacking Breeze’s empty dishes onto the tray. “I suppose we should see to your bath.”

Alain left the tray on the floor next to the bed and helped Breeze to stand. He arranged Breeze’s arm over his shoulders, and Breeze caught his own scent. Goddesses, he really reeked, and he felt suddenly self-conscious.

The trip down the stairs and through the cheery kitchen hurt less than Breeze expected, but by the time they reached the small, whitewashed room at the end of the long corridor, the side of his left thigh trembled and threatened to cramp. Alain helped him to sit on a wooden chair while he filled three metal pails from the pump and suspended them over a raised pit of coals in the corner of the room. Then he picked up a pair of shears. “Oh no. I have to take your bandages off, and you didn’t take your elixir.”

Breeze laughed. “I can hardly wash and shave myself if I’m fast asleep. Or were you planning to do it?”

Alain colored. Goddesses, that was alluring, and Breeze wondered how far the dusky-rose color spread down his neck. Even his lips darkened when he spoke. “I have done it, you know. Bathed you.”

“I know. Thank you. I was only teasing. I did not mean to upset you.”

“I’m not upset. I just don’t like doing this. I know it’s necessary to the healing, but I don’t like seeing you… seeing anyone suffering. I should go back to your room and fetch the tonic.”

“I’d rather do without it,” Breeze said. “I’ve had enough of feeling fuzzy.”

“You really should—”

“Alain, I will be fine. This isn’t the first time I’ve been injured.” He didn’t add that it was by far the worst, or that he wanted to experience what was about to happen without the haze of the elixir.

“I’ll at least go the kitchen and get you more wine to dull the pain.”

He returned with an open bottle, and Breeze drank. Goddesses, this would spoil him. This tasted like wine from Espero, bright and bold with notes of bitter cherry, currant, the black stone Pherara had pulled from the sea to form the island, leather, and tarberry. He almost moaned as it slid down his throat to warm his belly. “Amazing. You made this?”

“It takes a great many people,” Alain said as he emptied the buckets into the round wooden tub.

“But according to your instructions,” Breeze pressed.
“Yes, I suppose.”

“You, my friend, are an artist.”

“Thank you, but that’s hardly the best we have to offer. Just table wine, really.”

“Goddesses.”

“Your bath is ready. I should take your dressings off. Drink some more.”

Breeze didn’t need to be told twice. After a few long pulls, he carefully rolled the loose brown trousers the children had given him to his ankles and lifted his feet out. Aside from the linen strips, he was completely naked. Not that he was shy—at Rosecairn, the men swam together in the summer and helped each other on and off with their armor. Besides, Alain had seen him, so he didn’t bother covering himself. When Alain turned and saw him sitting with his legs open, everything on display, he blushed almost as burgundy as the wine and tossed Breeze a towel.

Breeze chuckled but draped it across his sensitive bits. “I’m sure you’ve seen it.”

“I have seen it,” Alain said a little shortly, “not that I was trying to look, or staring at it, or something. I kept it covered up when I could!”

“I never meant to imply otherwise, friend.” Alain did not like being teased. Breeze was used to the back and forth jibes between the warriors at Rosecairn, and sometimes they grew quite vicious, but he didn’t want to make Alain uncomfortable. “You know me. Not used to the company of civilized men. I apologize.”
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Gus Li (Augusta Li)
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Tushmore (Melanie Tushmore)
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