Posted in Adult Fiction, Adult Paranormal, Book Blast, Gay Romance, LGBT Romance, LGBTQ, M/M/M Romance, Mature Fiction, Mature Romance, Mature Themes, Menage Romance, MPreg, Omegaverse, Paranormal, Paranormal Romance, Passion, Romance, Sensual, Series, Shapeshifter, Spicy, Steamy Contemporary Romance, Wereshifters

Omega Challenge

 
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Book Title: Omega Challenge
Series: Pine Creek Lake Den, Book 4
Author: Quinn Michaels
Genre/s: Genre/s: gay romance, MMM, menage, omegaverse, mpreg, paranormal, wereshifters
Length: 35,920 words
Release Date: Sep. 26, 2018
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Blurb

One is forsworn. One is forsaken. One will pay.

Noah and Luther are in love. The problem, Luther is a beta, Noah is an omega, and their mating is forbidden. Worse, if Noah can’t find an acceptable alpha in the next three days, he will have no choice but to mate with Raymond, an alpha he despises.

Then Arthur arrives, and everything falls apart.

Arthur is an alpha with a secret. He and his mother were betrayed, and both wear the mark of it. Now, Arthur will stop at nothing to make the alpha who cursed them pay. Now, with revenge in his teeth, Arthur’s own body betrays him. Twice. Will Arthur sacrifice love and happiness for vengeance? Or will he choose another path?

Find out in Omega Challenge an action-packed Omegaverse romance. This is a short book set prior to the events of the other three books of the Pine Creek Lake series.

If you love shifters, mmm menage, alpha, omega, and beta dynamics, adventure, magic, and a touch of mpreg, grab Omega Challenge now!

 

Excerpt

The rock was red and rust-brown with fallen blood when the stranger approached.

He was large, blonde with a scruffy beard and a patch over his left eye. His right eye was gray. He wore a wide-brimmed cowboy hat, riding shirt and dungarees. Even from a distance, even through the smell of blood, this alpha’s scent was powerful. Noah felt something inside of him stir, like a vibrating banjo string only he could hear. To his embarrassment, his cock thickened.

Noah quickly averted his gaze. He took a gulp from a glass of lemonade he had been holding, and then, still feeling thirsty, he drank the last of it down.

Luther grazed his fingers over Noah’s neck, a seemingly absent touch, but one that grounded Noah. He didn’t dare look at the beta. His face was hot. He loved Luther, and this sudden attraction was a betrayal of the promises he’d made himself.

If only the alpha would leave. But no, he took his place in line behind another pair of alphas preparing to shed their blood and enter the Cluiche.

The stranger had a scar running from his hairline down his temple and beneath the eyepatch to the center of his cheek. Noah’s sight flashed. He saw a young, female omega wolf snapping her teeth. The edges of her muzzle were splattered with blood.

Noah blinked. In his moon vision, the alpha’s scar was a shimmering silver line.

Noah swallowed, wishing he had more lemonade.

The alpha approached the rock. “This is where I bleed for the challenge?”

Horace was quiet, and Noah scented fear on him.

Fear?

“Yes,” Noah said. The vision was beginning to fade, thankfully, but he couldn’t push away his attraction.

In one fluid motion, the stranger swiped a silver dagger over his palm. Squeezing his hand tight, he let three drops fall on to the stone. “I am Arthur, son of Marion,” he said, giving his family line and no pack affiliation.

A mutt.

Odd considering his youth and obvious physical strength. A small pack would have wanted an alpha and accepted him unless he had some deeper problem of disposition or character. Or maybe he was entering the Cluichewith the intention of proving himself so that he might join one of the packs here?

The stranger, Arthur turned to leave.

Horace said, “Wait.”

The stranger turned back around. He cocked his head. “Yes?”

“Show us your eye. Under the patch.”

Horace didn’t have the sight. He hadn’t seen the scar shimmer, had he?

“The Cluicheis open to all,” Arthur said. “Pack or no.”

Noah leaned towards Horace and whispered, “He’s right. There’s no reason to embarrass him this way.”

Horace said, “Show us your eye, mutt.”

Arthur reached up and, taking the patch in a tight, almost white-knuckled grip, yanked it down. Where Noah had expected to see a hollow space, scarred and sewn over, the eye was amber. A wolf’s eye with the pupil rimmed in red and a line of white through the center, following the path of his scar.

Noah’s breath caught. Around him, the others went silent.

About the Author

 

Pennsylvania native, Quinn Michaels loves fantasy, werewolves and M/M mpreg romance! Her goal is to write action-packed adventures of romance, self-discovery, and second chances, all served up with a hefty helping of sweet, sexy Omegas and hot, determined Alphas who will do anything to cherish, love, and protect them. She is ecstatic to share her characters and worlds, and she hopes you enjoy them (and the sexy times!)Her books are available on Kindle, via Gumroad directly, and also on Nook, iBooks, Kobo & Google Play.

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Posted in Adult Fiction, Contemporary, Contemporary Romance, LGBT Romance, LGBTQ, M/M, M/M Romance, Mature Fiction, Mature Romance, Mature Themes, MPreg, New, New Release, Paranormal, Paranormal Romance, Romance, Shapeshifter

The Selkie Prince and His Omega Guard

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Book Title: The Selkie Prince & His Omega Guard: An MM Mpreg Shifter Romance

Series: The Royal Alphas, Book 2

Author: J.J. Masters

Publisher: Self-Published

Cover Artist: Megan Parker of EmCat Designs

Release Date: October 6, 2018

Genre/s: Contemporary Romance (PNR/Gay/mpreg)

Length: 56427 words /236 pages

It is a standalone story but within a series

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Blurb

An alpha prince ready to find his fated mate. A Selkie who wishes he wasn’t omega-born…

Unlike his brothers, Prince Adrian, the dutiful second-born son to the King of the North, looks forward to finding his true mate and producing an heir. Until he stumbles across a beta guard with an enticing scent.

Del never wanted to be an omega. All his life, he’s only wanted one thing: to serve as a Royal Guard. Though forbidden, he found a concoction to mask his omega scent and was successful until his dwindling supply caused the alpha prince to discover his deception.

Rian not only breaks every cherished royal tradition, but ends up hiding Del until he can figure out the reason for the attraction between them. However, one selfish mistake puts them in a precarious position they can’t escape. Their reckless actions have them worried they’ll be banished from the Selkie community. Rian needs a plan to convince his father to accept his mate before he has to risk everything he’s ever known and loved for their future. Because, no matter what the king says, Rian will not give up Del.


Note: A 60k-plus word m/m shifter mpreg story, this is the second book in the Royal Alpha series. Due to the “knotty” times in this book, it is recommended for mature readers only. It can be read as a standalone and, of course, has an HEA.

 

Buy Links – Available in Kindle Unlimited

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Excerpt

Prince Adrian, the second born alpha son to the King of the North, frowned. As he stood near the throne where his father sat with his four brothers flanking him, his gaze bounced off the six omegas that had their foreheads pinned to the stone floor and their naked asses presented in the air.

He sighed quietly in disappointment. Not one of these omegas was his fated mate. The Selkie Seekers had gathered these males from good families all over the world, but none of the half dozen presented today belonged to him.

Rian—as his brothers liked to call him—glanced over at Luca who stood with his pup, Dylan, at the back of the Great Hall, bouncing the baby in his arms to keep him from fussing. He reminded himself that it had taken his oldest brother, Kai, several presentation ceremonies until he found his fated mate.

This was only Rian’s first. But still…

Unlike Kai, Rian had always preferred the Selkie traditions and he looked forward to finding his true mate and producing an heir. He was tired of rutting with the betas they had at their disposal. And to even think about rutting with a human…

He wrinkled his nose. His brothers may very well enjoy the sexual release the human males brought, but Rian refused to join them. He was a Selkie prince. He would rut only with another Selkie.

He found humans to be boring and figured none of them would be able to take his size anyway. As his brothers liked to point out time and time again, Rian was big. Most alphas were, but his was… extraordinary. As his younger brother Zale liked to call it… a dinosaur bone.

Not even all the betas could accommodate him. He knew which ones could and tended to use them for relief when needed.

He wrinkled his nose again, but this time it was for another reason. A sweet scent pulled at him. And it wasn’t coming from any of the omegas kneeling on the ground before him.

His eyes flicked back to Luca. Then he twisted his head and glanced over his shoulder at Kai. “Is Luca due to come into oestrus soon?”

Kai’s blue eyes narrowed as his gaze shot to his omega mate then back to Rian. “No.”

Rian inhaled deeply trying to pinpoint what the smell was and where it was coming from. “Do you smell that?”

Before any of his brothers could answer him, this father, the king, loudly pounded the end of his scepter onto the floor at his feet.

“Douglass! If Prince Adrian cannot identify any of these omegas as his fated mate, then let’s get this wrapped up.”

His father’s asshole assistant fluttered down the steps from where he’d been standing behind the king, and approached Rian.

Rian frowned at the weasel-faced beta servant. “What?”

“Has none of them caught your fancy, Your Highness?”

Rian let his gaze wander over the six naked males all bent over in a line. “None of these are my omega, Douglass. You may dismiss them all.” He tried to keep the disappointment out of his voice, but it was a struggle.

With a nod of his head and what curiously looked like a satisfied expression, Douglass clapped his hands, had the omegas rise to their feet, and herded them out of the Great Hall.

Rian couldn’t help but take one last look at the naked males. All were from acceptable families, all very handsome and some were even hung very well for an omega, but even if he was sexually interested in any of them, he was forbidden to rut with them.

Doing so could throw an omega into heat and with heat came pregnancy and then Rian would be stuck with an omega who was not his intended fated mate.

All for a quick dalliance.

Rutting for pleasure with an omega would also ruin the omega’s reputation. Omegas didn’t have to come to their mate with their corona membrane intact, but no matter what, they couldn’t rut with an alpha unless it was their mate. To do so was illegal and could mean imprisonment. Or worse, banishment.

 

About the Author

J.J. Masters is the alter-ego of a USA Today bestselling author who writes hot, gay romance filled with heart, humor and heat. J.J. became fascinated with mpreg romance as soon as she figured out what mpreg stood for. She loves to write about “knotty” men!

You can join JJ’s FB Group or subscribe to her newsletter to keep up with exclusive content and news.

 

 

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Posted in Adult Fiction, Adult Paranormal, Gay Romance, LGBT Romance, LGBTQ, M/M, M/M Romance, M/M Urban Fantasy, Mature Fiction, Mature Romance, Mature Themes, New, New Release, Paranormal, Paranormal Romance, Passion, Romance, Romantic Paranormal

Burn

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Book Title: Burn (Witchbane #1.5)

Author: Morgan Brice

Cover Artist: Lou Harper

Release Date: September 30, 2018

Genre/s: Urban Fantasy, MM paranormal romance

Sexy, satisfying supernatural suspense.

Blurb

One hundred years ago, a sheriff’s posse killed dark warlock Rhyfel Gremory, but his witch-disciples escaped, and their magic made them nearly immortal. To keep their power, each year one of the witch-disciples kills a descendant of one of the men in the posse, a twelve-year cycle that has cost dozens of lives, including that of Seth Tanner’s brother, Jesse.

Seth uncovers the cycle of ritual murders that feed the witch-disciples’ power, and he saves Evan Malone, one of the warlock’s potential victims. Neither Seth nor Evan expected to fall in love, but when the dust settles, they find themselves on the run and on the road together, heading toward Pittsburgh, on the trail of the next killer.

Seth wonders whether Evan will come to regret his choice to stay together, now that he’s living the reality of Seth’s nomadic life and the risks that come with it. He wants Evan to stay, but he’s afraid that Evan would be better off without him, living a normal life. Evan’s whole world has been upended, but there’s one thing he’s sure of, his love for Seth. Evan worries that he’s a liability, not yet able to hold his own in Seth’s rough-and-tumble world, but determined to do whatever necessary to have Seth’s back. On the way to face the next warlock, supernatural threats abound, forcing them to learn to fight as a team.

Fate and danger threw them together. But once the adrenaline fades, will love last?

Excerpt

Chapter One

Evan

“What do you mean, you’ve got a surprise for me?” Evan Malone’s tone was wary. “The last big surprise involved armed men shooting up my apartment before they burned it down.”

His boyfriend, Seth Tanner, winced a bit at that, and Evan wished he could take back the words. “I didn’t mean—”

Seth managed a smile. “It’s okay. And…it’s true. But this is a good surprise. Even if it’s kind of connected to that other time.”

Now Evan was really confused, but he let Seth lead him from the bedroom of the fifth-wheeler RV they shared out to the living room. With an electric fireplace, flat screen TV, and cushy leather furniture, it was easy to forget that their home was on wheels. On the table in the dining area was a large box and two smaller ones.

“It’s not Christmas—or my birthday,” Evan said, glancing at Seth again, who shooed him on with an expression Evan didn’t quite understand, something between pleased and sad.

“Open them.”

Evan saw that the boxes weren’t taped shut, so he went for the big one first, indulging his inner ten-year-old. The new laptop inside made him catch his breath. “Seth—”

“You still have two more.”

Biting back a comment, Evan opened the next biggest box to find a good quality, SLR digital camera, definitely capable of taking professional photographs. Knowing Seth would object if he didn’t finish his task, he opened the smallest box to find a cell phone.

About the Author

Morgan Brice is the romance pen name of bestselling author Gail Z. Martin. Morgan writes urban fantasy male/male paranormal romance, with plenty of action, adventure and supernatural thrills to go with the happily ever after. Gail writes epic fantasy and urban fantasy, and together with co-author hubby Larry N. Martin, steampunk and comedic horror, all of which have less romance, more explosions. Look for her other books—Witchbane and Badlands. Coming soon—Dark Rivers (Witchbane novel #2) and Lucky Town (a Christmas Badlands novella).

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Facebook: The Worlds of Morgan Brice

Twitter: @MorganBriceBook

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Posted in Action/Adventure, Adult Fiction, Gay Romance, LGBT Romance, LGBTQ, M/M, Mature Fiction, Mature Romance, Mature Themes, New, New Release, Paranormal, Paranormal Romance, Romance, Western, Western Romance

Claw Marks & Card Games

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Book Title: Claw Marks & Card Games (Stallion Ridge #2)

Author: Maz Maddox

Publisher: Self-Published

Cover Artist: Shaleah Poster

Genre/s: m/m romance, paranormal, western, action/adventure

Length: 74 000 words

Heat Rating: 3 flames

Release Date: October 1, 2018

Can be read as stand-alone story.

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Blurb

Cooper Woodlock is a man who can’t seem to stay out of trouble. Between his gambling debt and being a widowed father, he can never seem to get Lady Luck back on his side.

Desperate for a winning hand, Cooper starts hitting saloons and tempting fate in order to keep the blood thirsty Spades at bay.

When a black clad gunslinger enters the game promising a slice of freedom, Cooper realizes all too late what he is actually playing for.

Excerpt

His cards were a sure thing. He was winning. He was about to double his winnings, and it was making his stomach dance, even as he kept his face schooled. This would ease the tension in his shoulders for a good month after tonight. The Spades would be off his back, and he could figure out his job situation. Hell, he’d even get Marybell some sweets to celebrate. His daughter deserved something nice.

This beautiful stranger not only saved his life, but was also about to make some of his troubles ease for a little while. As their cards were tossed onto the table and Cooper drank in the sight of each hand, a cold pit formed in his gut.

He had lost.

Everything.

All the winnings of the night were swallowed up by one goddamn game. Cold sank into his bones as the blood drained from his face, his eyes locked on Gunner’s winning spread. The man didn’t make a move to collect everything. Instead he sat back and pulled a rolled cigarette from his vest and put it between his teeth.

“Guess you were right about your luck,” he said casually, striking a match and lighting his cigarette. The flare of the fire close to his face made his green eyes seem to glow as he focused them on Cooper’s devastated face.

“Fuck,” Cooper whispered, putting his head in his hands, fisting some of his hair in heartbreak. He had been so damn close to getting some peace in his life, and he blew it all in one stupid game of chance. Hell, he had almost died for that pot, and now it was all gone.

Smoke curled around Gunner’s face as he exhaled some smoke from his lips. “Win it back.”

Cooper shook his head, pulling his glasses off to rub at his tired eyes. “I ain’t got it in me. Not after all this.” Cooper huffed. “My head’s turned inside out, and my stomach’s in knots.”

“You have a chance to not leave empty-handed.”

Cooper glanced up as Gunner reached into his pocket, taking out a stack of rolled bills and tossing it onto the table. If Cooper’s jaw was able to reach the floor, it would have bounced off his boots. That stack was probably hundreds of dollars. Hundreds. Something that would actually put a real dent in what he owed the Spades and give him and Marybell a slice of life back.

Working some saliva back into his cottonmouth, Cooper finally croaked, “I ain’t got that much to wager.”

“What else do you have to wager?” Gunner asked, pulling from his cigarette, his tone deceptively calm. Cooper narrowed his eyes and pulled his glasses back on, sitting up taller to not look so defeated.

“What are you asking me, exactly?”

About the Author

Maz is an m/m romance fanatic, dabbles in yaoi, adores dinosaurs and writes romance stories with a healthy heaping of adventure mixed in.

When she’s not pairing up Centaurs with bank robbers, she’s plotting new stories and sending inappropriate texts to her friends.

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Twitter: @mazmaddox

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For You I Fall

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Book Title: For You I Fall

Series: Angels & Misfits Book 1

Author: T.N. Nova & Colette Davison

Publisher: Self-Published

Cover Artist: Colette Davison

Editor: A.C. Minx

Genre/s: MM, Paranormal, Gay Romance

Length: 78 000 words/ 239 pages

It’s the first of the series but can be read as a standalone story.

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**Contains explicit language and scenes**

Blurb

Sometimes you must fall before you can fly free.

Despite having had a rough life, Seth has a big heart. After spending nearly ten years sleeping rough on the streets of New York, he’s managed to get himself freelance work and a place to live. But his new-found security is about to be torn apart, as the horrors of his past come back to haunt him in the worst possible way.

Dante was sent to watch over a young Seth when his mother died. As an angel, he had many rules to follow. The most important of which was to never fall in love—especially when it involves a human who is your charge. For the last ten years, Dante has kept his feelings for Seth hidden. That is until the night Seth’s past catches up with him.

When Seth is murdered, their destinies are changed forever. Feelings and emotions come to the surface, but will the rules that govern the afterlife keep Dante and Seth apart for eternity, or will they be able to find their happily ever after together?

Buy Links – Available on Kindle Unlimited

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Excerpt

Seth kept the last cup of coffee, now barely lukewarm, for the man who always sat alone, distant from the rest. There was something about him that mesmerized Seth in a way he couldn’t describe. It was probably the man’s eyes, which were a vivid shade of blue that pierced even the darkest night. He sat on the same bench every night, huddled in a tatty black trench coat.

“Seth.” Blue Eyes nodded his thanks as he wrapped his hands around the cup Seth handed to him.

“It’s not very warm, I’m afraid.”

Blue Eyes shrugged, never taking his gaze off Seth as he sipped the coffee. His dark hair fell to his shoulders in waves, framing his handsome face. His olive skin tone made him appear healthier than the rest, although Seth was reasonably sure that was deceptive. A short beard and mustache helped further define his broad chin and sculpted cheekbones. Seth thought to ask his name, but couldn’t convince the question to leave his lips.

He was always like that around Blue Eyes: tongue-tied and awkward. The man was incredibly gorgeous, and Seth couldn’t help but be physically attracted to him. Maybe in another lifetime, under very different circumstances, he would have the confidence to ask Blue Eyes more about himself; discover the mysteries sparkling in the depths of his eyes. But things were what they were and showing interest in the man was wholly inappropriate. So, instead of asking Blue Eyes his name, he uttered a goodbye and turned to go.

About the Authors


T.N. Nova

T.N. Nova, Terri to her husband and Blazing Zane to her daughter, is the author of contemporary and paranormal gay romance. She’s lived in the desert southwest all of her adult life, most recently in Phoenix.

Her guilty pleasures are Minecraft, music, geeky stuff, diet Dr. Pepper, and all things Thor and Loki. She’s addicted, so now you know how to bribe her.

Colette Davison

Colette’s personal love story began at university, where she met her future husband. An evening of flirting, in the shadow of Lancaster castle, eventually led to a fairy tale wedding. She’s enjoying her own ‘happy ever after’ in the north of England with her husband, two beautiful children and her writing.

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A Thread in Time

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Book Title: A Thread in Time (The Chronicles of Darius #14)

Author: Jess Thomas

Publisher: Self-Published

Cover Artist: Jess Thomas

Genre/s: LGBT, Fantasy, Science-Fiction, Romance

Length: 86,456 words/472 pages

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Blurb

Trend is finally back with his clan and the man he loves, and the clan has grown into something that even the Jewel couldn’t imagine. He has a family that loves, cares for, and protects him. They will do anything to keep him safe, even go to the fourth. When Zihen, Vega’s mate, is taken, some of the elders of the clan have no choice but to try to get him back. Vega is determined to get him back and is bent on revenge, even if it means his life.

Meanwhile, Darius is being cared for by Gak the family friend and physician in his medical facility. Vien, Issaguard, and Chin-Me are dispatched to watch over him while the search for Zihen goes on. The rest of the family left on Eiravia have taken the precaution of staying in the great library for safety in case of trouble, and have to deal with the uncertainty of what their mates are facing in the fourth while coping with personal demons.

Come be a part of these adventures and more in Darius’s journey in A Thread in Time!

 

WATCH THE TRAILER VIDEO HERE

 

 

Buy Links – Available on Kindle Unlimited

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Excerpt

This is my continuing journal about the people I love and of my life. I have a large family, and even though I don’t talk about all them in a particular journal or just mention someone once or twice, they are around me, interact with me, and I love each and every one of them. If I wrote everything that everyone said, my journals would fill our library shelves. Some have said they haven’t read very many books in my style; that it’s hard to get used to. I invite you to read a few of my chronicles and become part of my world. Be part of my family, because you see, this isn’t just a story, it’s a celebration of life.

My name is Darius or for those who knew me on Eiravia where I was born, Paden. It used to seem strange that I had two names but now it seems right. I don’t think I’d give up either name because it would be a part of my life that I’d have to leave behind, a part of my life that will always be precious to me.

I was taken off the planet of Eiravia with two other children, the last three born on a planet of immortals. Maybe it was nature’s way of saying we couldn’t populate the universe, maybe it kept us unique, or maybe it was just a fluke. They shoved us on a ship bound for our sister planet Earth to forget who we were and where we came from, but home always has a pull. Together with Cas, Garrick, and I made it back home and realized where we belonged all along.

 

About the Author

Jess Thomas was born in the mid-west and she has a natural love for nature and animals. A gentle creature born to loving parents who believed in seeing the world for all its beauty, she learned the imperfections in life were something to be treasured and seen as a learning experience. An artist from an early age, she went to art school where she got a degree in drawing and painting, photography, and in Art Education. In 2009 she laid down her paintbrush and she picked up writing and channeling her creative energy in a fresh direction. A new writer, she pours sensitivity and her love of the world she has created into her emotions and the characters who live there.

 

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A Brush With Death

Title: A Brush with Death
Author: N.J. Ember
Genre: Adult Paranormal/horror
Cover Designer: Najla Qamber Designs
Publisher: Fire Lotus Books
Publication Date: July 31st, 2018
Blurb:
A darkened road.  A truck-stop diner.  A chance meeting.
All Marisol Pedilla wanted was to make the drive to her aunt’s house without incident. Instead, she meets a woman named Sasha. Together, they encounter more misfortune than Marisol has ever experienced.
Danger and deception seem to be all too common in Sasha’s world, and it’s a world Marisol wants no part of. But fate has other plans. The secrets Sasha’s keeping from her could change Marisol’s life forever.
BUY LINKS
N.J. Ember is a paranormal fiction author who loves to write stories about survival and triumph over adversity. Whether her characters are dealing with the paranormal or everyday life, she seeks to show that strength is not always about being superhuman or invulnerable. She enjoys anything with mystery, suspense and horror, so when she’s not writing you can find her watching shows like Orphan Black, Penny Dreadful and Sherlock. She currently lives in Michigan with her grandpa and a forever growing collection of books and Funko Pop! figures.
Author Links:
 
Chapter 1
I’d never been more thankful to be wearing jeans as I crawled around on the checkered floor of a truck-stop diner. It had to be here somewhere. “Mierda,” I cursed loudly as I smacked my head against the underside of the table. I climbed back into the booth, and the dark green vinyl squeaked in protest, sticking to the back of my legs. My stomach dropped as I dumped my purse out onto the table for a third time and rifled through the contents. I sighed. Yup, it was official. My wallet was missing, and I was screwed.
A waitress hurried towards me. She looked tired; dark shadows nestled under her eyes, and her mouth was turned down in a thin-lipped frown. “Have you decided yet, Honey?”
I looked up, panic fluttering hard in my stomach. The sizzle of food hitting the flat top caught my attention, its aroma flooding the tiny diner. Bacon. Possibly hash browns. My stomach growled, but spare change would only get me so far. “Uh, just coffee for now. Thanks.” I smiled politely then haphazardly shoved things back into my purse.
My hands felt grimy, and I grimaced. I threw my purse over my shoulder and pushed past incoming people towards the bathroom. I washed my hands twice. I didn’t know how it happened or where I could have lost it, but I knew what my mom was going to say when I called her. “I told you you were too young to drive to your aunt’s alone. I knew your brother should have gone with you.”
It didn’t matter that I was twenty-three. In her eyes, I wasn’t ready for so much responsibility, even though I’d been her shadow, her second in command for as long as I could remember. I knew I could handle this. While I’d never driven so far across the country before, I had the GPS on my phone and a printout of the directions in case that failed. What I didn’t factor in was bad luck, or maybe it was just my own stupidity.
Once I was sitting back in the booth, I rested my head on my arms. Exhaustion was tugging at my eyelids, making me sluggish, like I was dragging my body through water. I sat up, pushing my jet-black curls behind my ears. The lecture was coming no matter how long I put it off. I plucked my cell phone from my purse, but the screen stayed blank. I pushed the power button. Ugh, no charge. I picked up a menu instead, to avoid looking awkward, and glanced out the window.
The interior of the diner was tinged red from the glow of the neon sign hanging in it, providing some extra security against the inky darkness. It was already past midnight, and even once my phone was charged, it would still be too late to call.
I skimmed over the menu, not really taking it in. My stomach growled again, and I startled as I felt myself falling forward. I was hungry and tired, with no money and a lot of miles left to go. I wasn’t sure how, but there had to be some way I could manage to get to my aunt’s without my mom having to rescue me.
“You mind if I sit with you?”
I jumped again. I’d been so lost in my thoughts that I didn’t notice the woman come up to me. Her skin was a deep golden brown that reminded me of tiger’s-eye stones. Her voice was soft, but there was a hint of underlying smokiness. Tall, with a slender, athletic build, she looked imposing in a leather jacket and high-heeled boots. She had a long, angular face with full lips and high cheekbones, and her onyx hair billowed outward in an afro. I looked around. The diner was crowded but not completely full, and I failed to find a reason why a total stranger would try and sit with me.
She seemed to read my thoughts. “Hey, it’s cool. I thought it’d be nice to have some company, but I understand.”
She turned to go, and I felt a pang of remorse at my hesitation. I reached out and grabbed her wrist. “Wait!”
She turned back, and my heart flip-flopped. I ignored it. My fingers brushed against hers as I let go. “Sure, you can sit here.”
Her eyes widened, and the ghost of a smile showed on her face. It only lasted for a second, but the warmth of it seemed to make her brown eyes lighter. She slid into the seat opposite me. “Thanks. I’m Sasha.”
“Marisol.”
“So what brings you out this way, Marisol?”
Before I could answer, the waitress returned. “Would you like to order?”
Sasha glanced at me. “You haven’t ordered yet?”
I shook my head. “Just coffee.”
Sasha didn’t even bother looking at her menu. “I’ll have the western omelette, extra cheese, and she’ll have the pancakes with bacon.”
My face burned with embarrassment. “You don’t have to do that.”
“It’s the least I can do. Besides, you were staring at the picture so hard when I walked up; I thought you were going to burn a hole through the menu.”
My embarrassment deepened, and I looked away, desperately trying to think of anything else to talk about. “Do you come here often?” I mentally kicked myself. “I mean, I only ask because you seemed pretty sure of what you wanted.”
“No, not that often. I’ve passed through here a couple times though.”
I looked back to find her watching me, and I quickly dropped my eyes to the tabletop and fidgeted with the edge of the menu. “So, you do a lot of traveling?”
“You could say that, yeah.”
“For work?”
“Most of the time.”
“What kind of work do you do?”
This time it was Sasha’s turn to be interrupted. The waitress set two mugs in front of us and filled them. I moved my menu out of the way as she slid a steaming plate of pancakes in front of me. My mouth watered. “The rest of your order will be out in just a minute, hun,” she said to Sasha as she handed her a stack of buttered toast.
I grabbed three packets of sugar, ripped them open and dumped them into my coffee, along with two creams. I stirred, watching the color of it lighten to something more acceptable. Sasha’s gravelly laugh made me look up.
“You want any coffee with that?” I noticed she had left her own cup alone.
I smiled at her. “Not if I can help it.”
She shook her head as I drizzled syrup onto my pancakes and dipped a piece of crispy bacon in it. “So you never answered; what do you do for work?”
Sasha’s face fell, and I instantly regretted asking. The waitress brought her omelette. I waited as she cut into it. “This and that. Nothing worth talking about.”
I nodded. Conversation stopped for a few minutes as we ate. The neon sign flickered, and Sasha tensed. She stared out the window. I did the same, but beyond the procession of cars and trucks, I couldn’t see a thing. “What is it?”
“Nothing.”
But it didn’t seem like nothing. I watched as she shifted and reached for something I couldn’t see. The sleeve of her leather jacket lifted up, revealing a tattoo: a long-stemmed rose intertwined with a scythe.
“That’s beautiful.” I moved my plate out of the way so I could lean forward. “Would it be okay if I took a closer look?”
Sasha pulled her sleeve up some more and stretched her arm out towards me. I traced the lines with my eyes. “Why a scythe?”
“It’s a reminder.”
I looked up. Sasha’s gaze connected with mine, and my stomach lurched. I was scared to breathe. Scared to blink. Then she turned away, looking out the window again, and disappointment sank like a stone in my stomach.
“Marisol,” Sasha said sharply. “Get down!”
Hands grabbed my legs. I fell backwards, and my butt hit the floor. The window next to us exploded in a shower of jagged glass as the diner was plunged into darkness.