Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Excerpt, Spotlight, and GIveaway: Vegas Miracle by Liz Crowe

Vegas Miracle
Liz Crowe

Release Date: May 5, 2015 (Re-release)

Genre: MMF Ménage Romance

Book Description:

Ryan and Grace Sullivan have all the outward indications of a happy life: money, success, an undeniable physical attraction that quickly evolved from whirlwind relationship to marriage. But lately, Ryan's become moody and distant. As their relationship starts to crumble, Ryan discovers something about himself he can't admit just as Grace realizes the young man she encounters at an invitation only party, Henri Christophe, a celebrity chef with the most successful restaurant in Las Vegas, is her husband's lover. But Henri holds a secret himself. He wants to be more to both of them.

As they attempt to make their unconventional arrangement work, Ryan's deep-seated fear of relationship failure continues to thwart everyone's happiness. When he finally walks away instead of confronting the emotional connection the trio shares, he returns to find their lives flipped inside out. A sought after hotel and resort consultant, Ryan has yet to meet a problem he couldn't solve. But when it comes to his own heart, he may be too late.

Available at  

Amazon   Smashwords   BN 

iTunes   Goodreads  

Excerpt 1: Rated R for language

At the sound of the key in the lock, Ryan closed his eyes and didn’t move as Henri entered, made a tsk-tsk sound over the mess in the foyer and joined him on the balcony. The sound of liquid splashing over ice and the hiss of the fabric as Henri eased back into his chair brought no response from Ryan. He remained standing, staring at the night sky, unable to form words as his lover sat and watched him in silence. Then he spoke out to the air.
"Just what, exactly were you hoping to accomplish by fucking my wife?"
Henri stood and leaned over the balcony, mirroring Ryan’s stance. 
"I thought it was why you brought her. But I'll say, you were right. She's amazing."  Henri sipped his bourbon and looked at him. 
Ryan turned and frowned at Henri’s deep brown eyes, the eyes that held him the moment they met in Cannes two years ago. That compulsion, the weekend they shared together, led him places he never imagined he’d go and now couldn’t give it up. He shook his head and gazed back out over the Detroit River, remorse and dread twisting his gut in knots.
He shut his eyes once more as Henri’s hands touched his shoulders, kneading, smoothing out the tension in his muscles. 
"You can’t distract me. I’m hugely pissed off at you."
"I know, but at least you won’t be tense so you can really focus on the anger. Now sit so I can reach you."
Ryan sighed, suppressing a smile at the man’s ability to defuse. It was a talent he wished Grace had. Her tendency to ramp up the ante, to find the sore spot and grind her heel into it until Ryan lashed out, made the whole situation much worse than it usually warranted. Sitting, pouring himself one final splash of bourbon, he let Henri work on his shoulders and upper back, groaning as the knots untied and his neck lost some of its rigid stress.
"Ow, Jesus," Ryan yelped when Henri’s knuckle dug into his trapezoid. 
"Shut up already." The young man’s voice sounded airy and relaxed. "Let me work."
After about twenty solid minutes spent over Ryan’s shoulders and upper back, Henri leaned down to his ear.
"She’ll be okay."
Ryan turned and frowned, wincing as the freshly released nerves in his neck sang out in protest.
"You don’t have to treat her with kid gloves, Ryan. She’s a grown woman, a successful author. She's used to being on her own. Just because you swept her off her feet in an admittedly romantic fashion doesn’t mean she needs to be coddled like some hot house rose."
"I think I know how to..."
Henri took his hands off Ryan’s shoulders. “You know what, I don’t think you do.  And that’s part of the problem."
Henri flopped into his chair and propped his bare feet in Ryan’s lap.
"I hardly think a guy who managed to stay married about thirty minutes is qualified to…"
Henri held a hand up cutting him off yet again.
"Don’t be condescending. I never claimed to know anything about women. I just think I have a handle on this one—you know, they one we want to share our lives with?"  He raised an eyebrow at Ryan. “If that’s still your grand plan, that is.”
Ryan pushed the younger man’s feet off his legs and stalked back inside the condo. "How did she get home?"
"I took her."
Ryan stuck his head back outside as he unbuttoned his shirt and yanked it off. "Great."
Henri rose and took the two steps between them quickly, hands on Ryan’s biceps, pinning the taller man against the French doors, his dark eyes angry and hurt. Ryan glared at him.
"Park the attitude all right? I’m just trying to fucking help you get over yourself long enough to salvage your marriage. If you stepped out of your God-damned pity party for half a second you’d see that, you ass."  

About the Author:

Amazon best-selling author, mom of three, Realtor, beer blogger, brewery marketing expert, and soccer fan, Liz Crowe is a Kentucky native and graduate of the University of Louisville currently living in Ann Arbor. She has decades of experience in sales and fund raising, plus an eight-year stint as a three-continent, ex-pat trailing spouse.

Her early forays into the publishing world led to a groundbreaking fiction hybrid, “Romance. Worth the Risk,” which has gained thousands of fans and followers interested less in the “HEA” and more in the “WHA” (“What Happens After?”).
With stories set in the not-so-common worlds of breweries, on the soccer pitch, in successful real estate offices and at times in exotic locales like Istanbul, Turkey, her books are unique and told with a fresh voice. The Liz Crowe backlist has something for any reader seeking complex storylines with humor and complete casts of characters that will delight, frustrate and linger in the imagination long after the book is finished.

Don’t ever ask her for anything “like a Budweiser” or risk bodily injury.

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Guest Blog and Giveaway Just Desserts: Tales of the Curious Cookbook by Mary Calmes

Just Desserts and Why There’s A Chef in This One

First off I’d like to thank Wenona for having me on her blog today; it was so nice to be invited. As I looked over all the wonderful ideas here I’m reminded that I am not crafty in the least, and wishing I was, and that leads me to think on many other things I’m not and how that has, over the years, effected my writing.
My characters do all the things I can’t. They are wittier than me, smarter, funnier, snarkier, and they also have gifts I don’t possess and a biggie is cooking. I can make, perhaps, three things. Fortunately for me, I’ve been blessed with a husband who is not only supportive and kind, but who is also a whiz in the kitchen as well as friends who try very hard to teach me. As a direct result of that, many of my characters are excellent cooks. When the idea for this anthology came along, Tales of the Curious Cookbook, I was excited because this time I could elevate a character from being a good cook to a chef.
Originally, I was going to make the main character the chef but then I realized that there was no way I could do that. I don’t have the skill-set, but more importantly, the way a chef thinks about food, with that reverence of creation, is probably the same way I feel about writing and that can’t be faked. So I elected to make the chef the secondary character and have the main character talk to him about food the way I experience it, with appreciation. I’m in awe of people who cook and every time I eat a wonderful meal, I’m amazed at someone else’s creative process. Hopefully a little bit of that comes through in my novella from my main character, Boone Walton.
And now the blurb for the book:
Boone Walton has tried hard to create some distance between himself and his past. He's invested in his new life, his New Orleans art gallery, and in his friendship with Scott Wren. Things finally seem to be settling down to normal, and Boone couldn’t be happier.

Chef Scott Wren wants much more than normal with Boone. He wants to raise things to the next level, but Boone is terrified—and not because of the ghost in Scott’s apartment or Scott’s relatives. No, Boone's past is about to pay him a visit, and the only thing that can get between Boone, Scott, and a hinky recipe for chocolate mousse found in a curious cookbook is the river of pain Boone had to swim to get to this side of The Big Easy. There’s a secret behind the ingredients, though—one that might reveal the trust and love that have been missing from Boone’s life.

Just Desserts
Tales of the Curious Cookbook
Book 5
Mary Calmes

Genre: Contemporary       

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Date of Publication: April 29, 2015       

Number of pages: 87
Word Count: 29k

Cover Artist: Reese Dante

Book Description:

Boone Walton has tried hard to create some distance between himself and his past. He's invested in his new life, his New Orleans art gallery, and in his friendship with Scott Wren. Things finally seem to be settling down to normal, and Boone couldn’t be happier.

Chef Scott Wren wants much more than normal with Boone. He wants to raise things to the next level, but Boone is terrified—and not because of the ghost in Scott’s apartment or Scott’s relatives. No, Boone's past is about to pay him a visit, and the only thing that can get between Boone, Scott, and a hinky recipe for chocolate mousse found in a curious cookbook is the river of pain Boone had to swim to get to this side of The Big Easy. There’s a secret behind the ingredients, though—one that might reveal the trust and love that have been missing from Boone’s life.

Each Book in Tales of The Curious Cookbook Can Be Read As a Standalone

Tales of the Curious Cookbook

It’s called comfort food for a reason.

Not much is known about the cookbook, except that years ago, the mysterious Granny B collected a set of magical recipes and wrote them down. Over the years, each book has been modified, corrected, added to, and passed down through the generations to accumulate its own unique history. The secrets behind these very special recipes are about to find their way into new hands and new lives, just when they’re needed the most.

Food created out of love casts a spell all its own, but Granny B’s recipes add a little something extra. This curious cookbook holds not only delicious food, but also the secrets of love, trust, and healing, and it’s about to work its magic once again.

Excerpt from Just Desserts

IT SMELLED like jasmine.
In the whole city of New Orleans, jasmine was the scent hanging heavy in the air, and no one could tell me any different. When I first moved to NOLA five years ago, I would walk around sniffing, asking people what it was, and after answers of crawfish or gumbo, dogwood or honeysuckle, the river or the rain, it always came back to that one underlying current: jasmine. It wafted through the Garden District or came in on a faint breeze off Dumaine, and when I walked the uneven, broken sidewalks in the quarter early in the morning or very late at night, it’s what I inhaled deep in my lungs. My friends thought I was nuts, especially my closest one, my best one, the guy I’d not gone a day without talking to since I met him two years ago. Scott Wren.
When he’d walked into my gallery to give me the flyer touting that he was moving into the French Quarter and bringing his semitraditional Spanish cuisine with him, I noted the gray eyes first, then the thick dirty-blond hair swept up, longer on top, short on the sides and in back, his graceful artist hands, long legs, and lastly his perfect, tight round ass. I was planning to lay a line on him when his mouth dropped open as he glanced around the main room.
It wasn’t my art—I was an interior design guy, not an artist, but I ran a very successful gallery that had my name, Boone Walton, on it, and the fact that he was gazing around in awe gave me pause, made me rethink.
“Holy crap,” he whispered. “I’ve been to ten or so galleries today, but this one is amazing. No wonder everyone said to skip it.”
I instantly bristled. “People told you to not come in my place?”
He nodded, still taking in everything, not giving me much attention. “They said you didn’t need anything, that you never had local food at your openings, that you had a catering company that came in from New York.”
It was all true.
“They said I would be wasting my time.”
And he would have been, had he not noticed the art, had he not appreciated it and thus opened my eyes to the possibility of what he had to offer.
“But I figure, we’re both transplants, yeah?” he asked, turning to regard me. “And you probably just haven’t found someone you trust. You’ve had no one to believe in who had the same things to lose as well as gain.”
“Am I right?”
He was, and the wink I got was adorable, so of course I glowered back. “What?”
“Would it kill you to smile?”
It might.
“I promise you can stop scowling. We’re gonna be friends.”
There were no guarantees.
“Does the glare thing usually work? Do people normally scatter?”
They did. Yes.
I could be as enthralling as the next guy, or just plain old menacing. My height combined with the way my clothes fit, hugging hard, heavy muscle, made people wary. If they’d been aware of the tattoos under my clothes, most of my patrons would probably run, but as it was, I could dial down the scary and turn up the charming to make a sale. And at that moment, even though I very much wanted to sell Scott Wren on me—because I really wanted to discover what he tasted like—more than that, I wanted him to go. I could already tell he could get under my skin and make me care about him. He wasn’t scared of me, and that could be bad.
“I hate to burst your bubble,” he informed me, “but I’m not going anywhere. I can already tell you need me.”
“I don’t—” I began, growling. “I have more than enough friends, thank you.”
“Nobody ever has enough of those.”
I couldn’t dispute him with any real authority. I’d made, up to this point, one friend in California and one in New Orleans, and all the rest of them from my childhood were dead or worse.
“So whaddya say? You want to take a chance on me?”
Did I? More importantly, could I? Because if my first instinct had been to want to sleep with him, could we be just friends?
 “I think we could help each other out. Maybe you’d like to hang some pictures in my restaurant, and in return, I could cater for you. What do you think?”
It was a gamble. “Is your place nice?”
“Not yet,” he sighed, gazing wistfully around my gallery. “It’s not really anything yet. I wish it could look like this, though. God, it’s just gorgeous in here.”
Reluctantly, I was interested, wanted to take a peek at his space.
His focus returned to me. “This is the beginning of my dream; you want to take a ride with me?”
He wanted to be partners of a kind, and anything that included my business, I was serious about. So I had to make a decision right there on the spot. Were we going to be friends or simply a hot one-night stand?
“Come eat at my place,” he offered, moving close to me, into my personal space, touching my veined forearm. “Just see what you think.”
I was deciding, and then he took hold of my hand.
“Please. Let me cook for you.”
So I did. I allowed him into my home over the gallery. And everything I had from the Shrimp Azafrán to the Paella Valenciana to the roast pork was amazing. I had him cater my next opening, and the tapas and red wine were a huge hit. My patrons were thrilled; the referrals Scott got made him delirious, so all in all, we were great together. It removed him permanently from the conquest column and firmly into the colleague one, but that was better for me. The men I slept with were a dime a dozen, utterly forgettable. A collaborator, and then friend, was much harder to come by.
At the moment, my best friend was squinting at me from across a table at Café du Monde. We never came here; it was too loud, too crowded, but sometimes he just had to have beignets, and since he’d vowed never to make them at his own restaurant, we schlepped over to the packed tourist trap and ordered some.
“You should break down and make these,” I offered before shoving one in my mouth, using my fingers to cram the doughy morsel in.
He chuckled. “Wow.”
I flashed him a powdered-sugar smile.
I gestured for him to listen.
 “No, babe, not a chance. I am never making beignets. I don’t ever want to be compared to the original.”
“I ha beyah,” I said through the food in my mouth.
“We’ve all had better, and worse,” he agreed, translating me even with my mouth full. “But frankly, why bother? I need something else, some kind of fabulous dessert. I need some kind of wow factor that will make people remember the restaurant.”
I arched one eyebrow.
“You know what I mean. Everyone needs a signature something.”
He’d been trying out lots of different desserts in his search for what would be that “one thing” people ordered when they visited his place. So far he’d been unsuccessful.
“They have this coffee down to a science,” he said as we got up, leaving a ridiculous tip, something we always did. “You gotta admit.”
It was café au lait, and yes, it was good, but his café con leche was better because he swapped out the chicory I wasn’t crazy about for cinnamon. Before I tried it, I would have thought it would be too sweet for me, but really, it was soothing, like chamomile before bed. “I like yours better.”
He snorted out a laugh. “Don’t placate me, I can take it.”
“Oh no, g’head, assume I’m lying to you, that’s perfect.”
His grin was huge and changed his face so much that a few people around us did a quick double take. When Scott Wren smiled, he went from being just another guy you’d pass on the street to a movie star. He stood shorter than me, five nine to my six two, leaner with long sleek muscles under golden skin. His eyes glittered a gorgeous shade of silver-flecked gray, his lips curled wickedly, his dimples popped, his nose scrunched up—and you noticed not only that he was adorable, but breathtaking as well. All the beauty was topped off with a husky chuckle that made everyone who ever heard it want to follow him home.
Normally he was too dog-tired to care. Scott worked really hard every week, so when he was finally done on that sixth night, I would get a call to come get him since higher brain function was over and he needed me to feed and water him, then tuck him into bed.
Tonight was his Friday, even though it was actually Sunday, just after close. His place, the bungalow—all the signage in lowercase letters, dark brown on lighter tan—was closed every Monday. So when he walked out at midnight, two hours after closing, he’d stroll over to my place. It wasn’t far from his restaurant down on St. Peter to my gallery three doors down from the corner of Bienville and Royal close to the Hotel Monteleone.
Sometimes, like tonight, he’d call and tell me to meet him at his place, and I’d always warn him that since the bungalow was closed, I’d be tempted to stop at The Gumbo Shop on my way to meet him.
“I’ll cook at your place,” he promised. “The shrimp you like.”
He left the shrimp intact so I had to pull it apart and suck the juices out of the head, and served it in an almost-soup I had to dig into to get at. It was heaven in a bowl.
“Yeah, okay,” I said, salivating.
He chuckled. “Come get me. I need coffee and beignets to wake up, and I wanna walk through Jackson Square on the way home and check if that guy is there.”
Always there was a guy.
No one trusted faster, fell harder, or jumped into the deep end with more abandon than Scott. He wore his heart on his sleeve and he would give it to anyone. It made me absolutely crazy how easily someone became “the one”—but even worse was the inevitable pain when he was disappointed. Each and every time, he was surprised when people either walked out of his life, disappearing as though they were never there, or screwed him over big time. The last guy, Jason Daly, had actually emptied Scott’s bank account. Luckily, Scott had put my name on his business account six months ago so no one could take a cent, not even him, without my approval unless the funds were being transferred to a vendor. So while Jason got about two hundred dollars and change, the nineteen grand—there right after Scott did payroll and paid everyone else on the first of the month, from his webmaster to the cleaning crew, laundry service, produce, meat and fish, etc.—was safe. Scott hadn’t wanted to report it to the police, feeling ten kinds of lame, but I’d pushed and he’d filed a report. Jason was long gone when the police went by his place, which turned out to be another friend’s, but at least if he ever showed up again, I could call and have him arrested after I beat the shit out of him.
“I’m swearing off men,” Scott had promised me.
And yet, here we were, on our way to check out another guy. I had no idea where he got either the interest or the energy.
Crossing the street from Café du Monde, we walked along St. Ann, in Jackson Square, toward St. Louis Cathedral.
 “So,” I began, “if your tarot card reader is out tonight, does that mean I’m not getting fed?”
“No,” he said quickly. “I’m going to invite him out another day. This is the time he’s at work, for crissakes.”
I nodded sagely, brows furrowed.
“Don’t be an ass.”
“I didn’t say anything.”
We passed many tarot card readers along the way, but he had no interest in them, instead searching for the one he’d made a so-called connection with. I couldn’t have cared less, instead focused on the warm spring air, not quite hot yet, only a bit sticky, the slight breeze making the walk with my friend truly enjoyable.
“God, he almost killed himself.”
“I’m sorry?” I asked after a moment, realizing he was talking to me.
Scott was grinning crazily. “Did you even notice that guy who nearly walked into a pillar because he was staring at you?”
“No. Where?”
He shook his head. “Man, if I looked like you, I’d clean up.”
I glowered at him.
“You know it’s true. That’s why you run every morning and why you lift weights and don’t own a car because you walk everywhere. Your body is important to you.”
“I own a motorcycle,” I corrected. “And I don’t own it because it’s good for cardio, as clearly it’s not, but because there’s room for me to park it in the alley on the side of my building. I can’t fit a car in there no matter how small it is.”
“Don’t get me started on the frickin’ cafe racer that—”
“It’s a Norton Commando 961 Cafe Racer and I saved up years to get it,” I stated flatly. “And don’t make me out to be some douche bag who only rides a bike to get laid.”
“I wasn’t,” he said, chuckling. “What I was trying to insinuate was that you’re a rich douche bag trying to get laid.”
“Oh fuck you.”
“You do own a whole building on the 300 block of Royal Street, Boone.”
“Which I bought with what little savings my mom had, and my own,” I reminded him. “I didn’t inherit it or come by it any way that was easy.”
He had no idea how I’d gotten the money needed to run away from Japan. After Haru died, I’d taken what was given to me and run.
“Yeah, but not only did you buy it, you had to renovate it, as well. The cost had to be astronomical.”
It had been. “What’s your point?”
“I don’t remember,” he teased.
“And as you recall, no one else wanted that building anyway. It was empty for years.”
“Because it’s expensive,” he retorted. “Which brings me back to my rich comment.”
“Yes and no,” I said, responding to the first part of his reply but not the last. “Buying it was one thing, but that place was a mess. It needed to be completely renovated.”
“Plus, it’s haunted,” he told me.
“Every building in New Orleans is haunted.”
He grunted.
“Something you wanna say?”
“Just the fact of the matter is that you had the money to make a go of your dream.”
I’d needed to get a new one after the old one died with the guy who had been my whole world. “If you want something bad enough to work only for it, anything is obtainable.”
“That’s true, I believe that.”
“And I saved a lot of money because I didn’t have to pay anyone else to fix up my place. I did it all myself.”
“I know,” he said, bumping me with his shoulder. “It took you three years to get it how you wanted. You did most of the work yourself. That’s why it’s so gorgeous. Everything you do is stunning. Look at my place.”
I had renovated the entire interior of his restaurant from installing the Spanish colonial revival tiled entryway to hanging the Turkish mosaic lamps. Both bathrooms were redone in vibrant Mexican tile with Talavera sinks; I removed an ugly drop ceiling and fake paneling to reveal vaulted wood-beamed ceilings and exposed brick walls, along with finding farmhouse-style reclaimed wood dining tables. The wall behind the bar—lit with soft blue to give off a dreamy glow at night—was now stacked to the ceiling with liquor bottles, a rolling ladder like in an old library hung to reach everything. I treated the concrete floor to look like Tuscan slate, which added to the overall feeling of warmth and a depth to the room.
It was cozy but not stifling—you could breathe in his restaurant and familiarity settled around you even if it was your first time through the door. Every review he got said the same thing: it was simply a place where you wanted to be. People loved being in his restaurant, and eating there was even better.
“Your place was easy to do,” I yawned.
“Oh? How so?”
I shrugged. “I just made it like you.”
He stepped in front of me so that I had to stop moving or walk into him.
“What?” I asked, stilling as I frowned slightly.
“How do you mean, you made it like me?”
“Bright, cheerful, warm,” I explained. “Like you.”
His smile was brilliant. “You say the nicest things, Boone.”
I groaned, stepping around him.
“And for the record, if I had your dimples or your ridiculous jawline or your gorgeous shoulders, I would get all the pretty boys.”
I processed his words. “Ridiculous?” I asked, not sure if I should take offense.
“Only superheroes have your bone structure, buddy.”
I nodded, patting his shoulder, placating him.
“Oh, there he is,” Scott announced, darting away from me, intent on the tarot card reader sitting close to the wrought iron fence, in one of two chairs normally deployed only at soccer games by parents cheering on eight-year-olds, a small table in front of him. The twenty-four-ounce Pabst Blue Ribbon can beside his chair was a nice touch.
I had no doubt some of the fortune-tellers were actually legitimate, and I had great respect for those few who had a gift. But come on… how gullible did Scott have to be?
As he flopped down into the chair in front of the guy, I walked down to the corner of St. Ann and Chartres, glancing over at Muriel’s for a moment.
It made sense to me why Anne Rice put her vampires in New Orleans; if I was one, the dark streets, deep shadows, and lonely alleyways were where I would hide out. I meandered, no clear destination in mind, just walking, stopping at one of the jewelry stores and peering in the window. All the sparkling things were there to catch my eye, but even though it appeared expensive, it couldn’t be. If they were real diamonds and rubies, they would be locked up in a vault for the evening. It occurred to me then that my best friend should be safe behind closed doors as well. Flirting with some guy he barely knew was not smart.
Jogging back to the corner, worried for some strange reason, I made it in time to find Scott standing now, talking to some new guy while the tarot card reader, still seated, was checking out his ass and giving the new arrival a thumbs-up behind Scott’s back. It was crass and obnoxious and right there, it sealed his fate. No one disrespected my boy in front of me.
“Scott!” I barked across the space, using my Tokyo subway voice, the one that used to carry over the noises from the trains and the milling crowds.
He jolted and spun around, searching for me.
“I’m hungry now.”
He lifted one finger to get me to wait.
“Fuck that!” I snarled as I charged over to the three men, brows furrowed, reaching them and grabbing his bicep, my hand closing around it as I jerked him up against me. “I waited, I did what you wanted, now let’s go.”
He smiled sheepishly at the two men, muttered some half-assed apology and a promise to catch them later, and then yanked his arm out of my grip and stalked away.
I pivoted to face the fortune-teller. “You see him coming again, you walk the other way or I’ll hire some guy to stand behind you all night, every night, and warn off anyone that comes near your table.”
“Aww man, you don’t hafta—”
“I do,” I assured him darkly. “And I will.”
He put up both hands. “Hey, I’m sorry, all right, I had no idea the sweet little chef was spoken for.”
My eyes flicked to his friend who took a step back, shoving his hands down hard into the pockets of his jeans.
“Come on, man, just go already. I promise not to say another word to him.”
I returned my attention to the fortune-teller.
“Neither one of us,” he said flatly. “I swear. You don’t hafta tell me twice.”
I waited, like I always did, like I’d been taught, letting the silence stretch so they both understood beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was capable of more than they knew. Before I went legitimate and became first a construction contractor and then a gallery owner, I had moved and fenced all kinds of merchandise, starting in Tokyo when I was still in my teens. I wasn’t proud of it, but at the time, right after my mother died when I was all alone, I’d had two choices, and the other one was moving drugs. I didn’t want to do that; I’d already lost too many friends to a variety of illegal substances, so I went the other way. It was no more aboveboard, but as shatei—little brother—my options were to work or be an enforcer. The prostitution was just as hard to deal with as the drugs, so I put myself directly in the line of fire instead of in the shadows behind someone else. I wasn’t proud of it, but it had been, for me, the least of all evils.
Now, with those days long behind me except for the tattoos on my body, I no longer needed to carry a gun. The most important part for the two losers in front of me was that I still walked like I was packing, and that combined with my height and build gave them the message loud and clear.
“We get it, man, hands off your boy. He’s invisible from here on out.”
Excellent. “Okay,” I growled, then turned and strode away.
I caught up with Scott after he passed the Court of the Two Sisters, and I was glad that even though he was moving really fast, very obviously pissed, he was walking toward my place and not his.
“Sorry,” I said as I slipped into step beside him and threw my arm around his shoulders, “but they were assholes.”
“They’re just guys, Boone, and I need to get laid,” he explained as we crossed Toulouse.
I would take care of that for him whenever he wanted.
“And I know you don’t need it like I do.”
How could one person be so wrong?
“But me—I need it.”
Taking a breath, calming my pounding heart, I tightened my hold to bring him in closer so I could smell his cologne, the lavender and burnt wood, and then the spices from his restaurant, nutmeg, pepper, all swirled together with the musk that was him alone.
“So the next time I meet a guy—”
“He’s gotta be nice,” I insisted, leaning into him and nuzzling my face into his thick, silky blond hair.
“Fine,” he grumbled, giving up any and all irritation, content as he always was once we were alone.
I shoved him away gently before I was tempted to veer off the street and down an alley to take him right there up against the side of a building. There was no doubt in my mind that we would fit together perfectly; already his head notched easily under my chin. I was sure his legs would feel amazing wrapped around my hips. It was really a terrible waste that he didn’t notice me at all and that I couldn’t make him see me without the worry of losing him. He was in and out of relationships at the drop of a hat, and by the time he broke it off with one and I had talked myself into going for it, there was a new guy to wait out. The end was inevitable, but my timing was crappy. Unless….
“I’m sorry I got pissed. I know you’re just being a good guy and watching out for me. I don’t know what I’d do without you as my guardian angel.”
“You’re the only one who’s always on my side.”
With Scott, it was better to keep him as my best friend than to try and turn him into the dream in my head. A couple of weeks of having him in my bed wasn’t worth missing him for a lifetime after he bailed. At least, that was what I told myself.
“Okay,” he sighed, as we fell into step again, side by side. “Since I apparently can’t pick for crap, you need to find a good guy for me, all right?”

“I certainly will,” I promised.

About the Author:

Mary Calmes lives in Lexington, Kentucky, with her husband and two children and loves all the seasons except summer. She graduated from the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California, with a bachelor's degree in English literature. Due to the fact that it is English lit and not English grammar, do not ask her to point out a clause for you, as it will so not happen. She loves writing, becoming immersed in the process, and falling into the work.

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Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Guest Blog and Giveaway: After Life Lessons: Book Two by Laila Blake and L.C. Spoering

Zombies hate gender stereotypes!

Often we’re asked: why post-apocalypse? Why set books that are, at their core, stories about human emotion and interaction in such a terrible setting?

There are a variety of reasons, of course, but one of the biggest is wrapped up in our desire to explore the notion of strength and what it means. Specifically: what kind of strengths are necessary for survival?

So often, strength in an apocalypse is conveyed with muscles and guns, with military experience and grit hard enough to sand down a stone. While this is all well and good-- and, certainly, one of our main characters, Aaron, has an Army background-- we wanted to explore other strengths, those of people who never spent any time considering fighting to live, or even without wifi.

In action movies, the Strong Female Character is a badass, seemingly trained in kung fu, and unburdened by emotions. Emily is hardened by her past, but has a tenderness for her son, and, later, daughter; when the apocalypse comes down, she’s never so much as held a gun, let alone shot it. Emily is in mourning, but has a will as strong as steel.

Annika has survived on her own with a child, too, but has a deeper fear of the world outside her door. In After Life Lessons Book Two, we meet Kenzie, merely a child when the world ended, armed only with a rusty knife and a wit to match.

The majority of our characters have never gone up against more than a bully on the playground. While some, like Iago and his nomadic friends, have had a desire to live outside society, a zombie apocalypse brings about a much more level playing ground.

Take for instance Aaron, our “Army boy” as he is so lovingly called. Combat trained, he is sensitive and careful, far more hesitant than Emily in aggressive actions both in relationships and against the enemy. He lets his heart lead more than his head. But Emily has her limits, too, as she learns in Book Two: that strength and will come in a hundred different varieties, with just as many limits and issues that come to light.

Personality, more than ability, plays a big part in reaction to trauma and tragedy. We strived to create characters who did not fit the mold, but were survivors nonetheless: Characters who find out that brute strength or combat ability isn’t enough to survive, that strength is found where hardness and softness meet and balance each other out.

After Life Lessons
Book Two
Laila Blake and L.C. Spoering

Genre: post apocalyptic

Publisher: Lilt Literary

Date of Publication: April 28, 2015

Number of pages: 350
Word Count: 95.000

Cover Artist: Laila Blake

Book Description:

Years after the end of the world, the scattered survivors have begun to reconcile with their fate and are starting to build communities from the rubble. Life has been kind to Aaron and Emily, and maybe it is that infusion of hope that leads them on a winter trip to search for Aaron’s family. But the world outside their little haven has grown harsher, the conditions rough and dangerous.

Not everybody they meet on their journey allowed the grim realities to harden their hearts, however. Malachi and Kenzie - an easy-going drifter with a bum leg and amnesia, and a teenage girl who has lost everyone and everything - are on an ill-conceived mission to Mexico, while Iago and his band of nomads work to forge trading connections between the small settlements of the south.

All of them will discover new nightmares on the road, far surpassing the threat of the last rotting zombies still roaming the countryside. And now they must come together to fight for peace and justice in the world they trying to rebuild.

Warning: This novel contains language some might find offensive, some gore and situations of a sexual nature. Reader's discretion is advised.

Excerpt 3: Kenzie & Malachi - 966 words

“Is that a house over there?” Mali asked, and Kenzie looked where he pointed, ahead down the tracks. She felt a momentary sense of annoyance that he’d seen it first while she’d had her nose on the ground, looking for more loot. But then she shrugged.
“Kinda small for a house.”
“What kind of house did you live in?” he asked, poking her in the side before picking up his pace. Given his bum leg and the fact that he was eight hundred years old and falling apart, it just meant he moved with a more acceptable speed.
“It’s skinny, I mean,” she grumbled, stomping just a little. “Like, no bed could be in there. It’s not like I lived in a mansion...”
“You’re skinny.”
He grinned a sweet, winsome smile, but Kenzie ignored the quip and squinted into the distance. It was hard to see because of the sun, but she tilted her head this way and that, biting at her lower lip. Finally, she laughed.
“It’s a train, doofus.” But she looked far too delighted for the insult to sting.
“Really?” He shaded his eyes despite the hat on his head actually doing the job. There was a sort of impressed tone to his voice that made Kenzie straighten her back in pride.
“See? Told you if we followed the tracks we’d find something.”
This time, she couldn’t help it. She tried to keep his pace, but before she knew it, she was skipping ahead, pressing her nose against the dusty windows. They made her sneeze, but she looked with longing at the cushioned seats. They looked like heaven to her hurting ankle.
Malachi finally arrived next to her, a little out of breath. He pushed his hat back on his head to look through another window, more easily than she with his height.
“Huh,” he breathed, tipping his forehead against the glass, making an instant sort of mud with his sweat. “I wonder when they stopped using this.”
“Who cares?” she asked with the kind of childlike glee she usually hid far better. “It’s ours now.” And she whooped, once and happy, until a sound washed every hint joy from her face.
Something banged against the wall of the compartment. Kenzie jumped back, Mali on her heels. The next came muffled against the window. One rotted hand stood out quite clearly against the gloom, leaving a trace of brown slime on the glass.
They both stood still. The zombie was old, clearly, and locked safely inside the train car—the doors were shut and latches firmly in place, if a little rusted.
“Oh.” Mali looked at Kenzie with a small smile. “So that’s why this is just sitting here.”
She huffed. “Okay, maybe it’s his.” Pouting a little, she banged back against the window with a stick she’d used to swipe at the tall grass with. The zombie growled, threw itself harder against the window. It didn’t even quiver in its frame, and Kenzie couldn’t help but chuckle. “Sucks for you,” she said, eyes on the dead thing.
Mali, for his part, backed a bit further away with each new advance. “Maybe we should just let him have it,” he suggested.
“No way,” she protested, smashing the stick against the window again. “I bet he just stank up that one compartment. And where else are we gonna sleep?”
She glared at the thing as it hurled itself against the window once more, like a stupid dog when the postman was in the yard. Her smile turned something dangerous then, a cool, distant thing.
“I bet I can take it.”
Mali opened his mouth, but couldn’t speak. After a second or two, he closed it, lifted his hands, and tried again. “Are you kidding?”
“No.” And it was as though she’d only just realized that herself. She squinted her eyes at the window, watched it move like a tiger in a cage. “I’m serious. Fuckers have taken enough from me. I want that train.”
He lowered his hands very slowly. There was an expression on his face that Kenzie couldn’t quite puzzle out, but she was already so busy planning, she didn’t bother to think about it for more than a beat.
“All we have to do is be ready and lure it out,” she informed him, setting her pack on the ground in front of them. “I mean, it’s all in the surprise, right? If we’re ready, then it’s like shooting fish in a barrel.”
“Fish don’t generally try to kill you though,” Mali pointed out, but his voice petered away almost immediately.
“Sharks do,” Kenzie pointed out, “and, like, piranhas.” It was a silly argument, but she didn’t put any effort into it, as she rifled through her things. She found the thickest sweater she could find, then wrapped a scarf around her hands and grabbed her knife.
“Kenzie, wait a second,” Mali said. He had his arms crossed in front of his chest. He looked green.
“No.” She was louder than she had intended to be, looked angrier, too. “We have to stop just… letting them have everything. It’s just one. Look how rotted he is.” A few more of her things went flying, scattering across the ground until she found a piece of rope, and grinned, nodding to herself before she focused on Mali again. “If we want to become more… like, proactive, we gotta train somewhere, don’t we?”
The man was silent again, and she could see something like a fight on his face, like he wanted to agree with her but couldn’t, not without a struggle. She waited, hopping from foot to foot, before she sighed heavily.
“I don’t want to be scared all the time,” she told him, and, finally, Mali nodded. Like she knew he would.

About the Authors:

Laila Blake is an author, linguist and translator. She writes character-driven love stories and blogs about writing, feminism and society. Her work has been featured in numerous anthologies. Keeping a balance between her different interests, Laila Blake’s body of work encompasses literary erotica, romance, and various fields in speculative fiction (dystopian/post-apocalypse, fantasy, paranormal romance and urban fantasy) and she adores finding ways to mix and match.

A self-proclaimed nerd, she lives in Cologne/Germany with her cat Liene, harbors a deep fondness for obscure folk singers and plays the guitar badly. She loves photography, science documentaries and classic literature as well as a number of popular TV-Shows.

L.C. Spoering has a degree in English writing from University of Colorado, and a lesser degree in sarcasm earned from the days of yore on AOL. A storyteller since she started talking, she now spends her days writing, reading and contemplating the universe through various pop culture lenses.

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