Wednesday, August 28, 2013

No Angel by Daniel A. Kaine

Literary Nymphs Interview

Title: No Angel
Author: Daniel A. Kaine
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: Contemporary, Romance, Paranormal, Coming of Age
Release Date: 26th August 2013

Do you write in more than one genre?
I mainly write paranormal stories because I love having an element to my story that you wouldn’t find in everyday life, whether that’s magic or supernatural creatures. ‘No Angel’ has paranormal elements, but it’s more contemporary as it focuses on the relationship between the two main characters.

I’m currently working on a romance/thriller, and also have a short sci-fi story planned for the near future.

What if any, is the hardest part of writing for you?
The first draft. I’m the type of person who obsesses over every little word while I’m writing. Add that to a stressful day job with long shifts, and often I don’t get much writing done on an evening. For those reasons, a first draft can take forever for me to write and is definitely the hardest part of writing for me.

What inspired the story?
‘No Angel’ was inspired by many things. At the time I was living away from home for University. The city where I studied had quite a few homeless people on the streets, and sadly some of them were children. And so the idea came to me about the story of a boy who had been thrown out of home.

As I didn’t want the story to revolve around homophobia, I decided that my characters would be different in some other way that would cause them to be discriminated against.  It had to be some physical difference so that others could see it. I actually came across a story on the internet about a Chinese woman who had grown horns. I took that idea and made it into a fictional condition known as Devil Syndrome, which would cause a child to be born with two small stumps of bone on their heads.

Other random events that inspired parts of this story include a trip to the Christkindlmarkt, which is an annual event in Leeds, also known to most people as the ‘Christmas Market’. They sell lots of German foods, beers, mulled wine, and have small craft stalls there for a few weeks each year in the run up to Christmas. During the book, my characters visit the market. They also go to a sports stadium, which was very close to where I lived while at university.

Born with a birth defect called Devil Syndrome, it is impossible for Josh Harper to hide the two small stumps of hornlike bone atop his head. If people also knew about his ability to create force fields with his mind, they’d lock him up for sure. Left to fend for himself on his eighteenth birthday, Josh tries to make it on the streets. When he’s attacked, he’s rescued by Sam Mitchell, who has an equally strange power—and a set of pure white wings.
Sam ran away from home a year ago, and the new life he’s built for himself includes living in an abandoned house and looking after three younger kids, all with Devil Syndrome. Then along comes Josh. After a rough start their relationship grows and the two young men find a haven in each other’s arms. But when tragedy strikes their newfound family, Sam’s hatred of regular humans spirals out of control, and Josh will have to make Sam see sense before everything he’s worked so hard to build is destroyed.


“You should be taking it easy,” a voice said from the hallway.
Josh stilled, his body tensing as he glanced to his left. A boy about his age leaned against the doorframe, his arms folded. He pushed himself away and started toward Josh. The silvery moonlight caught his dirty-blond hair as he passed the window. Peeking out from beneath the messy fringe was a set of jade-green eyes, sparkling with mischief. Black marks stained his white T-shirt, and his light blue jeans were riddled with tears. The boy knelt next to the mattress and motioned for Josh to lie back down. Josh did as he was instructed. In his current state, there was no way he could do much but obey.
“You took quite the beating out there,” the boy said. “You’re lucky I found you when I did.”
Josh frowned, biting his lower lip. Perhaps the angel was in his imagination after all. “You found me?”
“Yeah. Don’t you remember?”
He shrugged. If the angel wasn’t real, then what was? “Not sure what I remember.”
“Not surprising. You took a few blows to the head. Nothing serious as far I can tell.” The boy brushed a few strands of dark hair from Josh’s temple and began to dab the damp cloth against his forehead. A stinging sensation stabbed at Josh’s skull, and he hissed. “So what do you remember?”
“You’ll probably think I’m crazy.”
“Try me.”
Josh hesitated for a moment. Even if it did sound strange, he could always blame it on his injuries. “Before I passed out, I saw something.”
He closed his eyes, picturing the dark alley and the image burned into his mind of the angel clenching his fists as he stalked silently toward Josh’s attackers. A head of messy blond hair clung to the angel’s rain-soaked skin, and his eyes appeared to burn with a green fire. Okay, so maybe some of it was true. The boy had been there. His mind must have been playing tricks on him though, because he certainly didn’t have any wings now. Josh laughed quietly.
“I do remember you. I thought you were an angel.”
The boy laughed too, a short, sharp chuckle. “An angel, huh? Well, trust me, I’m no angel.”
Where can we find your website?

A portion of all royalties from ‘No Angel’ will be donated to the Albert Kennedy Trust, which helps to provide shelter and mentoring for LGBT youths who have been made homeless, or are stuck living in hostile environments.

Monday, August 26, 2013

King Mai by Edmond Manning

Literary Nymphs Interview

Title: King Mai
Author: Edmond Manning
Publisher: Pickwick Ink Publishing
Genre: M/M Romance
Release Date: July 15, 2013

Do you write in more than one genre?
 In November of this year, I hope to publish a non-fiction collection of essays, reflections on heart-opening experiences, family, and drugs on airplanes. I guess that will make me a multi-genre author!

What if any, is the hardest part of writing for you?
 Getting started, I have ideas for books (heck, I have ideas for the next six books I’d like to write…) so this issue isn’t writer’s block. For me, it’s my vision. I have a vision in my head; the writing is a long, narrative poem almost. And the first draft is rarely poetic; it’s just “get the story out there.” I’m almost always disappointed by the first draft. It’s not crisp enough, I over use the phrase “a little bit” everywhere and there is not enough melody in the words. I get real happy with the second and third draft…but it sure makes it hard to start writing a first draft.  

What inspired the story?
I grew up in a farm town. My cousins are farmers. They would often miss holiday dinners or have to duck out early to go home and milk cows. I was always fascinated by their love of farming. I can’t imagine a harder, more exhausting job that is less appreciated in our country. They provide food and everyone complains about their tractors on the road, the price of green veggies, how the farm smell irritates.

I wanted to create a book that showed the beauty of farmers, these strange and powerful breed of men and women who love the earth the way they do – in a tougher, cruder, more committed way than many of us. Granted, this story focuses on a sexy gay farmer…but his love of the land is powerful stuff. That love will give him the power to find the king inside him.

Adopted from Thailand and never one to fit in with the local bubbas, life has been rough around the edges for Mai Kearns, even before he came out of the closet. Now, almost ten years past the torture of high school, Mai still can't catch a break: he and his parents stand to lose their beloved farm.
How will a “King Weekend” help change Mai’s fate? What has narrator Vin Vanbly been up to for the four weeks he’s been sneaking around Mai’s hometown? At the urging of a ransom note from ‘The Lost Kings,’ Mai embarks on an impossible treasure hunt chasing mystic poetry, Fibonacci Hopscotch, ancient prophecy, the letter ‘x,’ and a confounding, penguin-marching army.
The stakes are high: if Mai fails, the Lost Kings will permanently claim him as their own. Finding the treasure may unlock the secret to saving his family farm. But can this angry farmer risk opening his broken heart before the weekend is over? Mai Kearns has 40 hours to get very, very curious in this second installment of The Lost and Founds.


SetupIllinois farmer, Mai Kearns, accepted an invitation from garage mechanic, Vin Vanbly, to participate in one of Vin’s unique King Weekends. Mai will spend forty hours following every single demand from Vin, the master of sexual (and non-sexual) manipulation. Vin promises by the end of the weekend, Mai will ‘remember the man he was always meant to be.’ This scene takes place Saturday morning. Mai and Vin spent Friday night elsewhere and now return to Mai’s farm around 10:00 a.m. As the first-person narrator, Vin has been whispering his unique love into Mai’s heart and soul through stories about a land filled with kings…
I nudge my truck into his driveway, the Kearns’ farmhouse down there on the left, the dilapidated barns bashfully hiding behind it. No suspicious cars in the driveway or yard, I’m delighted to see. Or not see. Flattened grass, but it’s subtle. He won’t notice that. I pull into the grass and park a good distance from the house. He doesn’t even ask why I don’t pull in further. Instead, he pleads his case for easier treasure hunt clues. The laminated map of DeKalb corn fields sits between us on the front seat. I should stash this in my back pocket when he’s distracted. We may need this later.
 As he argues, I allow my gaze to cross beyond him, and I frown, staring hard. After a minute he recognizes I’m not listening and turns to peer over his right shoulder, his gaze chasing mine.
Staring at the dead tree right off the cornfield where I emerged last night, I ask, “Are those wasps?”
He stares for a moment, uncertain.
“What the fuck?” He wedges open the passenger door handle.
By the time he slams the truck door shut, he’s already striding hard down the driveway and I race to catch his lead. I need to be at his side as he discovers the truth.
My God. It’s beautiful.
The fluttering, bulky clouds of insects buzzing the dead tree are too large to be wasps; that’s evident immediately. Kearns walks hard toward them without knowing anything more. Oh God, I love this moment. I can’t tell if he’s angry or if this is his fierce curiosity. Those two pugilists stand eye to eye, poised to strike across an invisible but critical line. His head snaps toward the house, then the barns, scanning everything in view. Where’s his mom? His dad? How are they not out here?
We arrive.
He stops abruptly to gape, slack-jawed. I grin madly at the perfect outdoor colors: the sky paints thick blue everywhere, the corn glows a primal green, and the fat August sun polishes everything with a cheerful, vibrant shine. In the foreground, our new friends’ orange and black wings fold incessantly upon themselves—orange and black, orange and black, orange and black.
“Monarchs,” Mai says, his voice wavering. “Holy shit, holy shit. These…hundreds.”
He turns to me and tears pour from him instantly, brain censors still jogging to catch up with his astonished delight. “Thousands, I think there must be…” he says, the words vanishing like ghosts.
I gaze into the intangible orange and black webbing above us. They’re so beautiful. “Not thousands.”
Later I will share my estimates, but to his credit, it’s awfully hard to guess real numbers with the immense orange and black flittering and fluttering, maybe four hundred or more. This massive cloud creates autumnal foliage in an otherwise barren tree.
Mai stops his unconscious spinning while staring straight up. He levels his head at me and now that gravity applies again, more tears leap down his face. “I don’t understand.”
“Wait,” I say, gasping. “Is this a Butterfly Tree?”
“How?” He says the word almost painfully, like the mere idea of asking questions is physical and arduous.
Without words, I point to one of the three dozen watermelon wedges dangling from the tree, the best bribe to keep butterflies close until late-morning sunlight seduces them away. Within the next two hours, the numbers will halve, then halve again. But it’s early enough they’re not quite ready to explore the big world.
“Mom,” he says with a dazed confusion, looking toward the house. “Where is she? How can she not…”
He crouches to study a few trunk-loving butterflies who choose to ride the bark. Standing a moment or two later, he reaches into a lower-hanging branch to mildly push the nearest watermelon with his index finger, creating an amusement park ride for dozens of dizzy breakfast-eaters. He stares at the tree with intense concentration for a full minute. Without looking at me, he says, “You did this.”
I wait until he turns to me before I shrug. “You and I spent every minute together since 6:00 p.m. last night. But if I were to guess, this looks suspiciously like the work of the Butterfly King.”
He ignores me, walking around the tree, staring up into the dead branches, taking steps back to peer higher. “I don’t understand. I—I have to get my mom. She loves monarchs. I mean, really loves them.”
“I know. You told me.”
The words have the effect I had hoped. Mai turns to face me, noticing me as part of the landscape.
“When you were a kid, you and she agreed to help butterfly migration researchers at NIU. For three summers, you two logged how many butterflies you each witnessed every day, but she wouldn’t let you tag them as the researchers requested. She couldn’t stand the notion of humans tagging a creature so pure and full of grace.”
Mai doesn’t even flinch. “I told you that. I told you how I spent my summers as a kid.” He wipes his arm across his face. “Son of a bitch.”
Oddly there’s no anger to this, no real recrimination.
Mai reaches into a nearby rind and rubs his finger against the fruit, smearing it. He digs his nail into the red flesh until a gooey trail slicks his finger to the knuckle, allowing him to entice two butterflies onto his finger.
“I have to get my mom,” Mai says, pleading.
“Wait, aren’t you curious about the Butterfly King?”
Through tears, he shoots me an exasperated look—“why are you fucking with me?”—but the expression is replaced immediately with resignation. He looks down and touches a slowly folding black-outlined wing, the very definition of vulnerability married to intricacy.
“I have to get my folks, Vin,” he says without looking up. “Please. This is…please.”
“The butterflies will stick around for another hour or two. There’s time.”
I’m tempted to explain his parents have already seen this, but he’ll know soon enough.
I say, “The Butterfly King lives in New York City and teaches diversity classes for Fortune 100 corporations. At home back in Harlem, he patrols the night with a wooden baseball bat, protecting those who cannot defend themselves. When he protects what he loves, the Butterfly King is fierce and furious. Even in his righteous anger, he carries the grace of these gentle creatures. On patrol, he travels with other men who follow butterfly wisdom. They keep each other safe. Kearns, he knows how tough it is to lead an army.”
Mai flinches at this last line but he can’t stop his eyes from chasing the dazzling air show around us. The Halloween-themed flags twitter everywhere, graceful, jerky movements as they bring a dead thing back to life.
One lands on my shoulder. Welcome, little king. I even love the word butterfly. It possesses a meandering quality much like the creature it describes. But-ter-fly. But-ter-fly. On his finger, one glides away but a new one settles in, a twin to the one who left.
With his free hand, Mai wipes his eyes. “We were together all night. I woke up first.”
I remain quiet.
He asks, “Did he do this, the Butterfly King? Who’s helping you?”
I scrutinize the landscape, craning my neck to scan the cornfields and the house. “I don’t see the Butterfly King. Yet this looks like his work. Best not to get too attached to the outcome. Best to stay curious.”
“You just said it was him.”
“I said it might be him. May not have been him personally, but his followers. I wonder what love he’s sending you, Kearns, what assistance he wanted to give you this weekend.”
“So, he’s a real person?”
“Monday, use the Yahoo search engine and type these three words: butterfly plus king plus NYC. The New York Post mentioned him a year or so ago wondering if he’s a myth. People in Harlem know his true identity. But nobody shares his real name. He’s like Batman.”
Mai cringes and tears pop out again, a new rivulet pouring over the still-fresh steam already there. I believe he would give anything to have a secret identity, to be someone other than Mai Kearns, homosexual DeKalb farmer of Thai descent. I’m sure he resented this life trapped in cornfields right up until he realized he loved it, and what the fuck do you do when you hate the life you love? Or love the life you hate? Very confusing.
I stare up and he instinctively follows my gaze.
Orange and black. Orange and black. Orange and black.
“There’s an envelope up there,” he says.
A plain white envelope dangles from a branch but not low enough to jump and grab. Climbing is required, exactly what I instructed.
Mai glances from the envelope to the tree trunk, presumably plotting a route to the letter while avoiding dangling watermelon. I’m sure he wants to disturb as few monarchs as possible. He may kill animals when necessary as a farmer, but he loves life in all its forms. I know this is true. I listened to his stories, the ones where he did not realize all that he revealed.
He leaps and grabs a first-tier branch, yanking himself off the ground readily as if he climbs trees daily. A few extra butterflies dance harder, shaken free and circling around the space where he used to stand, like one of those cartoon clouds indicating speed. Mai’s a strong motherfucker, give him that. He hoists himself higher with unconscious confidence in his own strength. He cautiously brushes aside butterflies or waits for them to take flight before he occupies their space.
While he’s distracted, I move beyond his vision and motion toward the house with my full arms.
Come out. Come out!
The back door opens as Mai gets to the envelope. I instructed them to do so silently, and I’m sure Mr. Blattner conveyed my pleading letter to Mai’s mom when he and the crew appeared on her back porch early this morning. I am pleased to not hear the screen door creak open. I wonder if his parents even noticed someone replaced that old spring. I must mention that to Kearns tomorrow. We’ll laugh.
As he unties the string connecting the envelope to the branch, I make one final sweeping gesture to confirm this is exactly the moment: come meet the king.
I cross again to stand on the ground in Mai’s vision again. Gotta keep his back to the farmhouse.
I say, “Who is it addressed to? What is it?”
As his fingers unknot the string, he says, “Gimme a minute.”
“What’s it say? What do you suppose is inside? Is my name on the envelope too?”
“Shut up, Mary,” he cries. “Give me a minute to concentrate.”
I babble the entire time he climbs down, forcing him into constant conversation, sometimes warning him of nearby monarchs, saying, “Look, there’s one by your foot, see it? See it? Careful with your foot.”
He drops to the ground a moment later and I stand right before him to keep him focused on me, careful not to touch him too intimately. His mom and dad now perch on the picnic table in the yard, and I don’t want to embarrass Mai. Well, not any more than I already intend.
He opens the unaddressed envelope and unfolds the single sheet of paper.
“Read it,” I say.
He reads it to himself and passes the paper to me, but I refuse to take it. “Read it aloud.”
With a smirk, he does just that. “That which haunts us will always find a way out. The wound will not heal unless given witness. The shadow that follows us is the way in.”
I frown and nod when he finishes, stroking my chin with my thumb and index finger, the classic thinker.
Mai says, “Vin, this is what I’m talking about your treasure hunt being too hard. It’s too artsy, man. I don’t fucking know poetry.”
“How do you know this is a poem?”
“It’s centered and in italics,” he says, waving the paper at me. “Plus, I’ve read your AOL page. You’re fruity for poetry. Your whole Lost and Founds mythology reads like a fucking poem.”
“Ah, so you do know something about poetry. I think you might be right. This wisdom sounds like the thirteenth century mystical poet, Rumi. But why would the Butterfly King send a Rumi poem as a clue? Read it again.”
Mai frowns at the paper. “Seriously, I’m not good with poetry. It’s not one of my things.”
“Sure, sure. But I wonder what it means, this message.”
“Vin, I can’t—”
“The King of Curiosity would care,” I say in a relaxed manner.
Mai cringes and looks at the note again.
Nice—another good reveal. His constant refusal to engage, to choose frustration and outright anger as his reaction betrays another of his Lost King secrets. He’s afraid of trying and losing. Afraid he may not be good enough. I want to squeeze him right now and tell him he’ll always be good enough. However, I know that despite good intentions, pleasant affirmations can’t make that true for him if he doesn’t believe it first.
“I mean, the King of Curiosity wasn’t fascinated by everything in the world, but he did enjoy wondering about new things to see if they shed new light on what he cared for.”
“Is this really a poem from the Butterfly King? Did he come from New York to help you?”
“It might have been him.” I put my hands on his shoulders.
Before Mai can speak, I spin him hard to face the opposite direction. “Or maybe them.”
Mai wobbles from my spinning him and peers across the yard. I hear his audible gasp as he takes in the crowd, sees them, jumping back into me, falling in my arms. I stand him up, keeping my hands on his upper back to steady him.
Thirty-odd people stand in his back yard, clumped in groups of three or four, or spread out with their hands on their hips. I can’t see their individual expressions from this distance, but I would bet they are smiling.
I wonder if he recognizes any of them.


Where can we find your website?

This excerpt came from King Mai, by Edmond Manning, courtesy of Pickwick Ink Publications. The first book in this series, King Perry, came out in 2012. You need not have read that first book to enjoy King Mai. You can reach Edmond for questions here:

Edmond Manning has been writing for many, many years.
After graduating from Northern Illinois University (NIU) with an English Education degree (graduated Valedictorian from the University Honors Program), Manning pursued and completed a Masters of Science within the field of Instructional Technology. These two curious backgrounds allowed for practicing a unique blend of creative and technical writing, skills that were enhanced over a 22+ year as an e-learning consultant.
During those consulting years, Manning feverishly wrote fiction, completed three novels, and yet never pursued publication because the writing simply didn’t meet his high standards. Something was missing: a spark. Looking back, Manning prefers to believe that he was living out Malcolm Gladwell’s maxim: you’ve got to ply your craft for 10,000 hours before you get good. Yes, that would be the preferred belief.
In 2008, Manning experimented with writing a new type of fiction, and ended up with his first “kinging” novel, published in serial format on a free website. (The original novel has been removed from that site.) The intense reaction from hundreds of readers around the globe suggested to Manning that something had indeed changed, so he decided to create a new novel based off these wild, frothy characters.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Syrah by Nessa L. Warin

Literary Nymphs Interview

Title: Syrah
Author: Nessa L. Warin
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: Gay romance
Release Date: August 8, 2013

Do you write in more than one genre?
I do. This is actually only my second contemporary book, and it’s the first one that doesn’t involve fantasy in some way. My first book, Sauntering Vaguely Downward, is a contemporary story set at Dragon*Con, a Science Fiction and Fantasy convention. My other books are fantasy, paranormal, and Sci-Fi. So, yeah, lots of different genres.

What if any, is the hardest part of writing for you?
At the moment, it’s focusing. I recently started to work from home, and instead of having lots of time to write like I thought I would, I find I get distracted easily and don’t get as much writing done. As far as what is the hardest for me to write, it’s sex. I rarely manage to write a sex scene that flows well. At the moment, in the sequel to Syrah, those two forces have conspired to have me stuck in the middle of a sex scene for weeks.

What inspired the story?
This story was inspired by my local wine shop, The Wine Merchant. It’s a great little shop that has tastings twice a month, and while I was at one of them, I had this idea of a guy coming into a wine shop a lot like it, meeting the owner, and there being an instant attraction. That’s actually the opening scene of Syrah.

All Shawn Neale is looking for when he stumbles into All Corked Up on Christmas Eve is some wine recommendations. What he finds is an instant attraction to Royce Wilkinson, the shop’s owner. After a few weeks of flirting during shopping and some semi-dates at Royce’s wine tastings, they decide on a real date. It goes well, but life isn’t that simple.

Shawn wants to buy Delicto, the local pub he manages. He’s been planning his life around this for years, but when the owner, who believes being gay is an illness, discovers Shawn went out with Royce, he gives Shawn an ultimatum: stop dating guys or he won’t get to buy Delicto. It’s a heartbreaking quandary: Can Royce and Shawn be happy with a secret relationship until Shawn buys Delicto or is Shawn going to have to choose between his dream job and his dream guy?

Three days later, Royce still hadn’t managed to stop replaying his conversation with Shawn, wondering how it could have gone differently. It wasn’t so bad that he couldn’t focus on anything else, but unless he was actively engaged in something that kept his mind occupied, he thought about what Shawn had said, and what Clint had said, and tried to twist things around in his mind until the conversation ended differently. He never quite managed the result he wanted because he didn’t know how Shawn would react to the changed flow, but he had done a lot of the store’s paperwork trying not to think about it.

He had just finished buying enough presents to give his niece and nephew on their next three birthdays when Clint rapped on the doorframe leaned into the office. “Hey, boss, can you—Why did you just buy a six-foot-tall stuffed giraffe?”

“For Ella, I bought a giant hippo for Kyler.”

“You bought your niece and nephew giant stuffed animals.” Clint shook his head as if to clear it as he stepped into the room. “Why?”

“They’ll like them!” Royce didn’t mention the Lego sets, books, art supplies, clothes, dolls, and trains he’d also bought. “I thought they’d make good birthday presents.”

“Kyler’s birthday is in April and Ella’s in September,” Clint said flatly. “It’s the end of January.”

He had a valid point, but anything that shipped fast enough would provide another distraction while Royce tried to figure out where to keep it for the next several months. “I know.”

“So why are you shopping now? I know you usually go overboard with their presents, but this is ridiculously early, especially for Ella. It’s almost like—Oh.” Clint looked at Royce shrewdly and the tiny spark of hope Royce had that he’d be able to fool Clint flickered and died. Clint was smarter than he let on and it was easy to forget sometimes. “You still haven’t called Shawn, have you?”

It was amazing how Clint could make Royce feel like a chastised child with just a look. He fought against the urge to look down and forced himself to meet Clint’s gaze. “No.”

Clint leaned against the desk. “Why not?”

Royce didn’t have a good answer for that. He’d thought about it several times while trying to rewrite the conversation in his head, but it had always been too late or too early or he’d upset himself too much and he’d never picked up the phone. “Haven’t gotten around to it,” he said, trying to sound nonchalant. “I’ve been busy.”

“You’ve been making yourself busy, you mean. If you have time to shop for stuffed animals, you have time to call Shawn.” Clint picked Royce’s phone up and handed it to him. “Go on.”

Royce put the phone back down. He needed to call or forget all about Shawn, he knew that, but he wasn’t going to do either with Clint looming over him. “Later.”

“Now” Clint nudged the phone back toward Royce. “Before you chicken out”

“I’m not chickening out. Honest.”

Clint didn’t look like he believed Royce and, honestly, Royce couldn’t blame him. It did look like he was trying to avoid making the call, and in a way, he was. He had to be sure he actually wanted to make it before he picked up the phone.

“Sure looks like you are.” Clint hopped up to sit on Royce’s desk. “Do you need me to tell you you’re an idiot, or do you need another heart-to-heart? I can do either, though I have to tell you, heart-to-hearts are not in my job description. I might need a raise for this.”

“Yes, they are,” Royce countered with a smirk. “They’re ‘other duties as assigned by management’. I’m management.”

Clint snorted. “I don’t think that phrase means what you think it means.”

“It means whatever I want it to. That’s the perk of being the boss. I get to pick these things.”

“Yeah, well, pick Brandy or Lisa the next time you need a heart-to-heart. Brandy loves gossip.”

Royce grimaced at the idea of sharing his personal life with his other employees. He liked Brandy, Lisa, and Jess on both personal and professional levels, but he wasn’t friends with them like he was with Clint. Clint had been Royce’s first employee, and they’d become true friends in those early days, before Royce could afford to employ anyone else. He’d barely been able to pay Clint some months, but Clint had stuck with him through it all and they’d bonded during long days and late nights when Royce’s personal life had fallen apart thanks to the time he had to spend on the shop. Without Clint, Royce doubted he would have made it through the first year he owned All Corked Up.

Clint had earned the right to pry in Royce’s personal life and granted Royce the same right in return. The others hadn’t.

“Yeah, no,” Royce said, vetoing Clint’s idea. “One of the other perks of being the boss is that I get to pick who I assign jobs to. You’re the lucky winner on this one.”

“Fantastic,” Clint said, his voice dripping with sarcasm. “I get the best jobs.”

“One of the perks of being here the longest”

“Great.” Clint hopped off the desk and looked down at Royce. “Seriously Royce. Call him. The worst that’s going to happen is he doesn’t change his mind. Then you’re still right where you are now, only you’ll know if you could have done something.”

“I don’t want to get my hopes up,” Royce admitted softly. It was hard to say, even to Clint, but it was the real reason he hadn’t called. The situation right now sucked enough. He didn’t want to make himself more vulnerable by putting himself out there like that.

“So don’t. Apologize and see what happens. If nothing else, maybe you can save him as a customer.” Clint pushed the phone back toward Royce. “Just call him.”

“All right!” Royce picked up the phone, more because it would get Clint to leave than because he intended to call. “Get out so I can.”

Clint tossed off a sloppy salute and left. As soon as the door clicked shut behind him, Royce put the phone down and turned back to the computer, determined to find something else to distract him.

Nessa L. Warin lives in a fantasy world that’s mostly inside her head, though her physical address is in southwestern Ohio. Her two cats kindly play along with her fantasies and graciously let her pay all the bills, but they do require her to provide pampering on a regular basis. Nessa enjoys exploring the wonders of this world through travel—something her cats strongly disapprove of as it cuts into their pampering time—and can find whimsy in the most mundane places. When the real world becomes too much, Nessa enjoys dressing in costume and going to Renaissance Festivals and fantasy conventions. A short trip to either does wonders for her state of mind, so she makes sure to attend at least one of each a year. These trips help Nessa add to her collection of faerie and dragon art, and she swears she will frame and hang all the prints she’s collected some time soon.
When she’s not living in a fantasy world, Nessa enjoys tasting and learning about wine, particularly since it’s one of the few things she and the rest of her family agree on. She’s a regular at the wine tastings held by her local wine shop, and considers it a sin for her wine rack to have more empty spots than full ones. She’d prefer her wine rack to be filled with Pinot Noir, Malbec, and Syrah, but one of her favorite things about wine is the way it can always surprise her. More than once she’s been taken aback by which wine she likes best at a tasting, and she loves the way her wine rack illustrates the joys of trying new things.

Where can we find your website?
My website is still under construction, but I can be found on Facebook ( and Twitter (

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Guarding Hope by Ann Mayburn

Guarding Hope
Contego Agency #1
Contemporary Interracial Romance
Steamy M/F
 Coming August 6th, 2013

    War hero Daniel Escobar has left behind his career as a Marine and now works for the Contego Agency, Detroit’s premier personal protection firm. Unfortunately his heroic actions on the battlefield cost him not only part of his sight, but also his peace of mind. Haunted by regrets of the past, Daniel finds a new purpose in life when he is given the job of protecting Hope, the only woman he’s ever truly loved, from the mob.
   Hope Walker can’t believe it when she finds Daniel, her first love, working at the Contego Agency. She’s searched for him for years, wanting to know why he left her after that terrible night their senior year in high school when a fight with his mother’s drug dealer boyfriend left Hope in the hospital and Daniel shipped off to parts unknown by Child Protective Services. For both Daniel and Hope the old memories and emotions come rushing back, and together they will have to fight to stay alive long enough to give their love a second chance.

Daniel Escobar eyed the row of tequila shots on the chipped and gouged wood table before them.

Nothing good would come of this.
“Dont be such a fucking pussy,” Eli Boden, one of his best friends and now co-worker, chided. “Youre working for the Contego Agency now, so buck the fuck up and take your shot.”

The man had long blond hair he kept back in a braid most of the time, but tonight it was  in a loose ponytail, and all the passing women stopped to run her fingers through it. They were in a biker club bar run by Elis dad, who also happened to be the president of a local motorcycle club, and a bad ass motherfucker who loved Daniel like a son. This probably explained why everyone was leaving them alone as they sat together for a victory toast. So, while this wasnt the cleanest or safest bar Daniel had ever been in, right now, being here with his buddies made him feel like hed finally come home.

It was also nice to be in a bar where he didnt get stared at for always wearing his sunglasses. People either tended to think he was a psycho or a douche, not realizing he wore   them because he’d almost gotten blown up by a fucking suicide bomber. Omar said it made Daniel look like the singer Pittbulls bastard son with a leprechaun. He did know one thing for sure, those glasses made it insanely easy to pick up chicks, just not the kind he would bring home to Mom, that is, if his mom wasnt a dead junkie.

Bitterness flowed through him and he forced himself to relax using some deep breathing bullshit the therapist taught him. It actually seemed to work. One of the prerequisites when working at the Contego Agency was mandatory time with the shrink. He had to be on his game every second that he was on duty as a bodyguard, because sometimes they dealt with some pretty gruesome shit. People didnt need protection when things were going great. The people who contacted the Contego Agency needed them to be in top form when shit hit the fan and they had no one else to turn to. Knowing he was making a difference with his job went a long way toward helping Daniel find a purpose in life outside of the military. And the big fucking paychecks would certainly help.

Across from Daniel sat his friend, Omar, a big, heavily muscled black man built like a bull. He grinned at Daniel then puckered up his lips. “Aww, do you need us to get you some salt and lemon or for us to water it down first so you can swallow it easier, sweetheart?

Speaking of swallowing,” Daniel replied with a lofty air and a smile of his own, how’s your Mom doing?

All three men busted out laughing. Talking shit with each other had been one of the few things that kept Daniel sane when he was stationed in the Middle East with the Marines. He’d been in some truly frightening situations, real crap your pants type affairs, only to find himself fighting laughter as Boden and Omar talked shit to each other in whispers.

Boden shook his head while a curvy brunette in a bikini top and daisy dukes rubbed his back. She was one of the biker clubs sluts. Normally, Daniel wouldnt use that word, but these bitches would open their legs for anyone friendly with the club, and it showed. As Boden liked to say, the women who worked here had been rode hard and put away wet. Daniel had no idea why they did it, but there never seemed to be a shortage of women around the bar. Daniel knew most of the club members and the thought of sticking his dick anywhere near a woman whod slept with those nasty motherfuckers made his stomach clench. Still, they were females so he did his best to respect them even if they didnt respect themselves.

Omar pounded the table with one giant fist. Take your fucking shot like a man. Jesus Christ, do I need to massage your clitty a little first?

Fuck off. Just because your dick is the size of a clit doesnt mean the rest of us have your issues.

Ladies, ladies” Boden chided. The night is getting old, Time to drink up or shut up.”

All three of them laughed again and a fond memory of drinking with his rather foul- mouthed uncle flashed through Daniels mind. The man had a way of taking a fucking tequila shot Daniel would never forget. That shit had hurt, made his eyes water and his nose run in addition to thinking he was going to die. He couldnt wait to see Boden and Omar take one.

“You wanna take it like a man, fine. Try this shit on for size, bitches. My uncle taught me this and swore it would get me wasted.” He swallowed hard at the memory. It sure as fuck did.” He motioned to the girl leaning on Boden. Sweetheart, could you go get me some of the spiciest wing sauce you have? Or some Tabasco sauce? I want the hottest shit youve got.”

Her eyes grew wide, but she nodded and ran off, her butt working her shorts in a way that made every man in the room take notice. Unfortunately, she was a club girl, meaning her pussy had more miles on it than a Greyhound bus. Too bad, she seemed nice, and he knew better than  to try to talk her into finding another way to fill her Saturday night. He’d learned a long time ago that you couldnt save someone who didnt want to be saved.

Boden had fallen silent, and Omar gave Daniel the stern look that made more than one brand new, fresh off the bus Marine recruit piss himself. Omar had been a drill instructor and, as a result, his voice was totally blown the fuck out. When he spoke, it was so raspy some people had a problem understanding him. What the fuck are you up to?

“Nothing good can come of this,” Boden agreed.

The girl returned with a water glass half full of some red sauce. I mixed the Tabasco with some of our habanera and ghost pepper wing sauce.”


She gave him a disbelieving look as she handed him the glass but shrugged her shoulders and went back to standing behind Boden. With the other two men watching intently, Daniel calmly poured a little bit of the sauce in each drink. “Gentlemen, to quote Ronald Reagan, Some people spend an entire lifetime wondering if they made a difference in the world. Marines dont have that problem.

All three of them grabbed their shot and downed it. The alcohol and pepper sauce hit his tongue and burned away the bad memories from past battles that tried to surface. The fun part of taking a shot like this was you knew instantly youd fucked up big time. Before he could react, the shot slid down his throat like lava, burning him from the inside out. Tears sprang to his eyes as he exhaled and his nose burned from the fumes in his mouth.

Welcome to the Contego Agency,” Boden managed to wheeze. Thank god we have good fucking insurance because I think I need to go to the hospital.”

Daniel immediately reached out for the stack of napkins he’d placed near himself,  shoving them over his face to control his running eyes and nose. Boden made some kind of weird gasping sound, and Omar choked out a steady stream of obscenities as only a man whod been in the Marines for the last twelve years could do. Daniel would have laughed, but right now he was trying to figure out if he was dying.

With a sick lurch, his stomach tried to reject the shit he’d just poured down his throat, but he swallowed hard and continued to wipe his face. All around them, people were laughing and Boden was promising he was going to fuck up every motherfucker he could identify by voice.

Daniel let out a burp that felt as if it came from a blast furnace.

Omar roared out like a wounded bear, Someone get me a goddamn napkin and a pitcher of milk!

Boden started to hiccup. Im gonna fuck your world up, Skeetez. I can hear you laughing, you hunchback bastard!

After what seemed like an eternity of suffering, their guts finally quieted enough so they could breathe. They were getting pretty toasty, and the bartender sent over two pitchers of beer on the house.

It was close to closing time, but all three men were crashing at the huge apartment above the bar. Boden lived there, and he’d made it into a luxurious flat that rivaled anything Daniel had seen in the movies. The Contego Agency paid well, and if Daniel was smart with his money, he could retire at fifty and spend the rest of his days living someplace where the lifestyle was slow and easy, the weather was warm, and girls wore string bikinis in neon colors that glowed against their dark, perfect skin.

There were less than a dozen people in the bar now, most of them women who were older, hard-looking females who seemed to radiate despair. Theyd been used and abused, and knew they werent going to be able to coast by on their looks anymore with nothing to show for their years spent servicing the motorcycle club members.

In a fucked up way, they reminded him of his mom.

Daniel looked away and focused back on his beer. Its really weird being back here, seeing how much my old neighborhood has changed.”

Boden nodded sagely, more than a little shitfaced. Thats right. Didnt you grow up in the ghetto off of Seven Mile?

He thought back to the shitty apartment his mother had rented because it was close to her drug dealer boyfriend. It seemed like things got worse with each move they made until Daniel started to wonder if he’d be homeless before he had a chance to graduate high school. The only good thing about the move to Detroit was that he got a scholarship to a private Catholic school. He wasnt actually Catholic, his mother had lied about that, but he was thirsty for knowledge and wanted to get the fuck out of the downward spiral his mom was dragging him into.

A maelstrom of discontent swept through his mind as he took a sip of his beer, drunk enough to think about the time in his life when hed been the happiest. “Yeah. It was a total shit hole. When we moved in, my mom had to keep the lights on at night or bugs woulda crawled all over us.”

Omar shook his head, an unusually grave expression on his face. I hear ya, man. I grew up in Chicago. That place made Afghanistan look like home.”

Someone turned on the jukebox and a classic Led Zeppelin tune came on. They sat in silence, each caught up in their own thoughts. One of the women came over and smiled flirtatiously with them. Anyone wanna have some fun?

All three men shook their heads and she shrugged then wandered off to the next remaining group of men.

Boden made a disgusted face. Such a fucking waste. I remember her from when I was a kid. She’d make me cookies and watched me while my dad did club shit. Used to be a nice lady then she got hooked on meth and turned into a zombie.”


Leaning on his forearms, Omar shook his head. It seems like all the decent women are

Daniel scoffed. Whatre you talking about? You sleep with a different woman every day of the week.
Omar frowned,
 Im not like that anymore.”
 What do you mean?

Twirling his half empty beer glass, Omar shrugged. “No matter how many women I fucked, it never felt the same as making love to someone you care about.

“Amen to that,” Boden said in a rough voice. Daniel felt pity for his friend. Bodens wife had died from a brain aneurysm while they were overseas. Theyd been out on a high risk, top secret mission, so Boden didnt find out until five days after it had happened.

Omar looked over at Daniel. What about you? You ever been in love?

Daniel actually had to swallow hard to keep tears from pooling in his eyes. Fucking tequila turned him into a maudlin drunk every single time. “Once,. A girl I knew from high school.” “You havent loved anyone since high school?”   
 “Not like that.”
He took a deep breath, memories of his ex-girlfriend, Hope, rushing through him. He remembered how his tanned hand looked against the dark cinnamon tone of her smooth belly, how she’d trusted him completely, and how he’d almost gotten her killed. No matter who hed been with since then, none of them stood up to Hope.

Too bad she hated him. How fucking pathetic was that? The one woman he loved couldnt stand him, and yet he just couldnt fucking seem to be able to move on. Something was always holding him back from committing all the way to a woman.

He was going to spend the rest of his life alone, mourning the one whod gotten away.

Depressed and shocked by how much it still hurt to think about Hope, he chugged the rest of his beer. Yeah, he’d pay for this in the morning, but whenever he thought about Hope he always dreamed about her. Good dreams where theyd been kissing each other for hours out in a field while lying on a thick quilt. He’d actually be able to smell the grass mixed with Hope’s sweet perfume and sun-warmed skin. Then he’d wake up with the feeling of the rough texture of her braids still brushing against his face and his heart would break anew.

He said a quick prayer that no matter where Hope was, she was happy with the man she’d chosen to marry while Daniel was in boot camp. Not that he blamed her for getting engaged, he’d fucked her world up so badly he knew she could never forgive him. She was better off without him.

He was bad luck, had been since the day hed been born. Daniels mother had said that to him so often he could hear her voice like she was standing in the room next to him instead of dead from a heroin overdose. A cold chill skated up his spine and he poured himself another beer, begging for one night where he wasnt haunted by his past.

About the Author

Ann is Queen of the Castle to her wonderful husband and three sons in the mountains of   West Virginia. In her past lives she's been an Import Broker, a Communications Specialist,   a US Navy Civilian Contractor, a Bartender/Waitress, and an actor at the Michigan   Renaissance Festival. She also spent a summer touring with the Grateful Dead-though she   will deny to her children that it ever happened.
   From a young age she's been fascinated by myths and fairytales, and the romance that   often was the center of the story. As Ann grew older and her hormones kicked in, she   discovered trashy romance novels. Great at first, but she soon grew tired of the endless   stories with a big wonderful emotional buildup to really short and crappy sex. Never a big fan of purple prose, throbbing spears of fleshy pleasure and wet honey pots make her giggle, she sought out books that gave the sex scenes in the story just as much detail and plot as everything else-without using cringe worthy euphemisms. This led her to the wonderful world of Erotic Romance, and she's never looked back.
Now Ann spends her days trying to tune out cartoons playing in the background to get into her 'sexy space' and has learned to type one handed while soothing a cranky baby.