Friday, April 16, 2021

Discover Dianne Hartsock's Luka and Enter the Giveaway


Discover the world of author Dianne Hartsock in her new book, Luka and don't forget to enter the give away at the end of the post for a chance to win a $20 Amazon/BN GC from the author. The tour is sponsored by Goddess Fish Promotions and you can find all the tour stops HERE.

Now let's chat with author Dianne Hartsock

Thanks for stopping by to talk a little about your writing! Let's jump right in. When did you begin writing and why? 

I wrote my first story in first grade, a story of a giraffe we went to visit at the zoo. It was full of adventure and intrigue in just two painstakingly written pages. I’d always enjoyed being read to or have someone tell me stories, so being able to write one of my own was so satisfying, I’ve been writing ever since. The fact the teacher pinned my story to the board for others to read only added to my sense of accomplishment.

Do you have a favorite genre? Is it the same genre you prefer to write? 

I read pretty much everything except non-fiction. I use books as my escape from reality. At the moment I'm obsessed with gay romance and mystery/crime drama stories, but tomorrow I might change to fantasy. That’s why I write in so many different genres. I enjoy them all. I write mostly m/m romances, with the subgenres of fantasy, paranormal, thriller, crime/drama, with paranormal being my favorite.  

Do certain themes and ideas tend to capture your writer’s imagination and fascinate you? 

I’ve always been intrigued with the power of the mind and psychic ability. Even though it’s not been proven, I enjoy writing stories about the paranormal, psychics, the power of healing with the mind. I’ve even written a ghost or two. Anything with a paranormal flavor with capture my attention.

How do you balance long-term thinking vs. being nimble in today's market? 

I always plan to release several short stories between novels. They’re quick to write, easier to sell since they cost the reader less. If I can hook a reader on a short story of mine, they usually will buy the next novel, and maybe even ones off my backlist. Being flexible helps. I’m always trying new marketing techniques trying to reach as many readers as possible. Not everything works, so it’s a good idea to be diverse.

How do you find readers in today's market? 

It’s been harder since the loss of Yahoo Groups and the fact Facebook has stricter rules all the time for authors. But I’m branching out to other social media venues, blog and newsletter, and once we’re able to gather socially again, I’ll go back to book signing events and Pride gatherings.  

Do you come up with the hook first, or do you create characters first and then dig through until you find a hook? 

I usually start with characters, daydreaming a story up around them for months or maybe years before I start to write their story. More often than not the hook comes to me out of the blue, the one thing that brings the story into focus. But this isn’t always the case. In my current WIP I’ve already started telling the story, but with confidence the hook will come to me when I need it. These are such delightful characters I’m thinking of them even when not writing. I just need the hook to be something extraordinary, as they are.  

How do you create your characters? 

Everything inspires me, from movies to song lyrics or a person I pass on the street. And it’s usually an emotion they spark in me. I begin to wonder who’d be feeling this? What would they look like? Who brings out this emotion in them? My characters begin to take shape, and before I know it, I start to dream up a story around them and we’re off! And I feel very blessed that once I start writing, supporting characters introduce themselves when I need them, usually with names and backgrounds they have no problem sharing with me.

What's on the top of your TBR pile right now? 

The next book by C.S. Poe, Gregory Ashe, Jordan Castillo Price, K.J. Charles, Jordan L. Hawk. Between them they manage to keep me busy. I also read books recommended to me by friends who know my tastes.

Tell me a little about the characters in Luka. 

Luka: He was born from the love of two magical beings when the ancient oaks in the grove were mere saplings. He appears a man in his prime, virile, skin dark as his beloved oaks, wise and powerful, wanting only to live in peace with his lover bartering his herbs.


Rhys: Rescued by Luka from imprisonment and torture at the hands of the sorcerer. Fair skin and hair, brave and beautiful, Luka’s lover. He aides Luka on his quest to bring hope back to the world.


Aethan: The dark sorcerer who wishes to take hope from the earth, keep it for himself, have the world and all it holds at his feet, doing his will for the treacherous promise, the faintest glimmer of hope in their lives. 


Lorin: Rhys’s cousin and half-brother. The son and servant of Aethan, aiding him in his designs against Luka.


Ravan: Luka’s daughter and a powerful witch in her own right.

Where’s the story set? How much influence did the setting have on the atmosphere/characters/development of the story? 

LUKA is set in the small villages and countryside of medieval times, when anyone with extraordinary abilities is labeled a witch or sorcerer and viewed with suspicion and fear. I was able to have Luka living in an isolated, cozy hut in the woods, bartering his herbs in the nearby village. There are close-nit towns where everyone knows each other and stand against outsiders. There are powerful lords who control the lives of the people in their vicinity. All this influences my characters’ behavior and the paths they choose to fulfill their goals.

If you had to write your memoir in five words, what would you write? 

Family, friends, love are everything.

How often does your muse distract you from day to day minutiae? 

Ha! I have a very rich internal life, my characters and their worlds never far from the surface of my thoughts. I’ve had coworkers come up to me and ask if everything’s okay, when I’ve only been trying to work out a problem a character is having with their significant other. The worse is when I have to do something and leave my characters in a perilous spot, unable to rescue them until my chores are done. 

What do readers have to look forward to in the future from you? 

My contemporary m/m erotic romance, Shelton in Love, should be out soon. I also have the second book in my The Karthagans series entitled, The Red Twins, will be out later this year. My current WIP, Jonathan Frost, is my own take on the Jack Frost legend, which I’m having a lot of fun writing. After that, I have several sequels I’d like to write, but everything in its time.

GENRE:   mm romance/fantasy



Luka makes a desperate wish and the earth shifts to his will. Regretting it immediately, he tries to undue the sorcery, but it is too late. He asked for hope, and to his horror, all the hope in the world is given into his keeping. He desires nothing more than to return this gift to the world.

Aethan wants to get his hands on the Well of Hope in Luka’s keeping. If he can ransom out hope to others at his whim, the world will be at his feet. Where it belongs.

With the aid of his lover, Rhys, Luka stays one step ahead of Aethan. But Rhys has his own enemy in Aethan, his estranged father.

Rescued by Luka, his sweet, gentle witch, Rhys now stands with him against Aethan. They have vowed to return the Well of Hope to the earth despite all odds, or die trying. For what is life worth, for anyone, without hope?



Excerpt One:


He missed his lover, though he’d been the one to send him away. Luka had wanted him to find a better life than he could offer, a solitary witch bartering his potions. And he had wanted Rhys safe from his enemies. But he may as well have cut out his own heart when Rhys had left.


Luka sipped his tea, enjoyed its comfort, then heat flushed his skin as he recalled his dream last night, the feel of Rhys in his bed. Rhys had been tender and passionate and welcoming. Luka had cried in his arms, overwhelmed with the joy of it. Had wept again on waking to find himself alone on the hearth, Rhys across the room, reading a book in the morning light spilling through a window, as far away as the years that had separated them.


A bird fluttered past, calling his attention, and Luka’s spirit flew with it, soaring into the sky. The rush of air exhilarated him, and he dropped with a smile back into his body. After hastily setting aside his tea, he pulled a crystal from a pocket and held it up to the faint winter sunlight. He marveled at the earth reflected in glass. Focusing his gaze, his essence slipped easily into the encapsulated world and flew along the pathways, flitting between trees and brush. He scampered with a family of squirrels along a branch, leaping with wild glee from limb to limb.

Luka Buy Links:


 Amazon US

 Amazon UK

 Amazon CA

 Amazon DE

 Amazon AUS

 Google Books





Dianne Hartsock will be awarding a $20 Amazon or Barnes and Noble GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

About the Author and Where to find them:

Dianne is the author of m/m romance, paranormal suspense, fantasy adventure, the occasional thriller, and anything else that comes to mind. She lives in the beautiful Willamette Valley of Oregon with her incredibly patient husband, who puts up with the endless hours she spends hunched over the keyboard letting her characters play. She says Oregon’s raindrops are the perfect setting in which to write. There’s something about being cooped up in the house with a fire crackling on the hearth and a cup of hot coffee warming her hands, which kindles her imagination.

Currently, Dianne works as a floral designer in a locally-owned gift shop. Which is the perfect job for her. When not writing, she can express herself through the rich colors and textures of flowers and foliage.



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Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Discover Winner Takes All by Sandra Kitt and a GIVEAWAY


Winner Takes All

by Sandra Kitt

Publication Date: 4/6/2021


“Great story-telling of the most romantic kind.”—Brenda Jackson, New York Times bestselling author

“A warm-hearted story and a clever plot reflecting current issues with sensitivity, warmth, and wisdom.”—Susan Wiggs, #1 New York Times bestselling author


Jean Travis has the job of announcing the latest lottery winner on TV and is stunned to find that Patrick Bennett, her teenage crush, is the top mega winner. They haven’t seen each other in years, and Patrick is thrilled to renew their acquaintance. Jean, not so much. After all, a lot has changed since they used to study together and Jean worked so hard to hide her feelings. Now that he’s won so much money, Patrick faces a whole new world of demands from family, friends, coworkers, strangers. The only person he knows for sure he can trust, is Jean…


“Romantic, tender, emotional, and compelling.”—RaeAnne Thayne, New York Times bestselling author

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“Hello! I’m Jean Travis, assistant director of Public Affairs at the mayor’s office. I’d like to…to…” She fumbled and hesitated when she was distracted by another person making what could only be described as a perfectly timed grand entrance into the room. 

Jean could detect a tall figure, a man, but couldn’t see much else. He managed to create a stir and a brief buzz of whispering, taking his seat. Jean tried to cover her lapse. 

“So much excitement,” she said with a bright smile. “Thank you for being here tonight as we recognize the latest winners in our state lottery. And, of course, everyone wants to know—and see—who will walk away with the Mega Million prize that has grown over the past two drawings when there was no winning ticket.” 

Jean then had a chance to catch her breath while she read an official statement from the State Lottery Commission about the rules governing the program. Her attention was briefly caught again by the latecomer, who, incredibly, appeared to be giving her a covert hand wave. She ignored it and continued. 

“So let’s get to it! Like all of you, I’m excited to meet the lucky ones who will walk away with checks from the State Lottery, with numbers ending in a lot of zeros.” 

A cheer went up through the room. One camera turned to capture the seated group demonstrating their enthusiasm. 

Jean smiled, and then she suddenly gasped. 

The list! 

She had not yet even looked at the winning names on the list Brad had given her. As smoothly as possible, she pulled the list from the other announcements. She briefly glanced at the names. The last name grabbed her attention. She recognized it. But from where? 

“And now, our winners!” 

Jean called the first name, including where he was from and the amount of the winnings. Shouts and applause erupted from the audience as an elderly man and woman came forward, broad smiles and clasped hand-pumps denoting their victory. Jean kissed the cheeks of the woman and man to interject a little human connection. A giant cardboard sign was passed to her, a replica of a check with the amount the couple had won. Jean asked them a few questions about how they planned to use their winnings. The gushing, excited reactions from the couple evoked laughter and shout-outs around the room. Then they retook their seats to another round of applause. 

And so it went, down the list of names for the next forty-five minutes. By the time she called the fourth winner, Jean had her comments to a science, and everything went smoothly. But there was a heightened energy and anticipation, as everyone clearly wanted to know who had won the Mega Millions. Who was going to be set for life? She looked at the name again, and recognition finally sunk in. Jean knew this name. An unexpected catch lodged in her chest. She had to quickly swallow to get her next breath. 

“Will Trick… Will, er… Patrick Bennett, please come to the front to accept your check.” 

She joined in the clapping for the winner, as she’d done for all the others. But this time she was more interested in who came forward. Out of the bright lights, a tall figure emerged. He was casually but smartly dressed in dark charcoal cargo pants, a black Henley, and a collarless, short black leather jacket. Great presence, Jean thought, keeping her attention on his approach, her smile fixed as her gaze widened with recognition. Jean reached out with her hand to touch his arm so that he’d face the camera in the right position. But he stunned her by taking hold of her hand and giving it a subtle squeeze…and not letting go. And he knew exactly how to position himself in front of a studio camera. 

Jean made a discreet attempt to pull free, but Patrick Bennett wasn’t having it. She gave in and tried to relax. Catching her off guard even more, he brought their clasped hands to his mouth and planted a light kiss to the back of hers. The audience loved it, cheering and whistling. Jean played it through and gave a faux blushing gaze into the cameras. 

“Many congratulations to…to Patrick Bennett,” she said with the right amount of enthusiasm and professionalism. “Mr. Bennett is the grand winner today of—are you ready?—seventy-five million dollars!” 

There were whoops and gasps, and one audacious request from a female in the back of the room. 

“I love you! Will you marry me? We’re already here at city hall!” The room erupted into wild laughter. 

Do it, do it, do it…” went up the boisterous chorus. 

Patrick Bennett, still holding Jean’s hand, raised both in a kind of victory wave. He grinned broadly but didn’t respond to the proposal. His free hand swept through his hair in a gesture that had Jean momentarily transfixed. Then she was able to extract her hand when she was handed the last cardboard check. Cameras flashed, dozens of cell phones were poised in the air, the glow of their blue-lit screens scattered throughout the audience. 

Jean started the applause again, gazing openly at Patrick Bennett. It was an unavoidable sign of recognition between them. And then Patrick winked at her and murmured so that only she could hear, “Surprised?” 

The quiet drawl of his voice made her stomach tense. That word, his tone, seemed much too intimate for the setting. She couldn’t think of a thing to say. She just kept clapping and smiling. 

Jean was so glad when it was finally over. She made a few concluding remarks, thanking everyone for coming and congratulating the winners again. As people got up and began moving around, many, if not most, headed to surround Patrick. She was curious about the familiarity with which people approached and spoke to him, as if they knew him. She covertly watched Trick. Patrick. Jean had known him by the former moniker from the past. Trick. Jean gathered her things, absently chatting with some of the camera crew and making arrangements with the maintenance and security staff to have the room put back to rights. 

She could just hear Patrick’s deep voice off to the side, the easy way he chatted with everyone, even posing for selfies, which completely mystified Jean. He didn’t know any of these people. What came across was a confidence and vibrancy to him, so unlike the other winners…just regular everyday folk who’d had a stroke of extraordinary luck. Perhaps this was one of the biggest, if not the biggest, moment of their lives. Patrick answered questions and accepted the good wishes of those around him with humility and a surprising grace, Jean considered. She kept stealing little glances at him, once catching Patrick doing the same to her. Her curiosity betrayed her once more. 

Reporters continued to ask How do you feel winning so much money? questions, looking for cute, amusing, moving quotes for their profile pieces. She thought there might be an opportunity to use some footage for promo or marketing later on from her office. 

The room finally began to empty out. She took a deep breath and approached the last few people, including Patrick. There was no way to leave without acknowledging him. Without remembering. Was he doing the same?



Excerpted from Winner Takes All by Sandra Kitt. © 2021 by Sandra Kitt. Used with permission of the publisher, Sourcebooks Casablanca, an imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc. All rights reserved.



About the Author

Sandra Kitt is the author of more than twenty novels, including the acclaimed and bestselling The Color of Love. Her work has been nominated for the NAACP Image Award and has appeared on the Essence and Blackboard bestseller lists. She is the recipient of the Romantic Times Lifetime Achievement Award and the Zora Neale Hurston Literary Award. She lives in New York.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Book Spotlight: These Feathered Flames



By Alexandra Overy

On Sale: April 20, 2021


YOUNG ADULT FICTION/Fantasy/ Epic/Fairy Tales & Folklore/ Adaptations/Family/Siblings/Romance/LGBTQ+

9781335147967; 1335147969

$19.99 USD

496 pages

About the Book

Three Dark Crowns meets Wicked Saints in this queer #ownvoices retelling of “The Firebird,” a Russian folktale, by debut author Alexandra Overy. 

When twin heirs are born in Tourin, their fates are decided at a young age. While Izaveta remained at court to learn the skills she’d need as the future queen, Asya was taken away to train with her aunt, the mysterious Firebird, who ensured magic remained balanced in the realm. 

But before Asya’s training is completed, the ancient power blooms inside her, which can mean only one thing: the queen is dead, and a new ruler must be crowned.

As the princesses come to understand everything their roles entail, they’ll discover who they can trust, who they can love—and who killed their mother.

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Excerpted from These Feathered Flames by Alexandra Overy © 2021, used with permission from Inkyard Press/HarperCollins.

Chapter One

The prey wasn’t meant to be a child.

When Asya had smelled the sharp tang of magic—strong even before she emerged from the tree line—that possibil­ity hadn’t so much as fluttered across her mind. It was never meant to be a child.

But the scent of magic was undeniable. That indistinguish­able combination of damp overturned earth and the metallic copper of blood, cut through with the acrid burn of power. It was overlaid with the cloying sweetness of waterose, as if someone had tried to mask it.

A futile attempt.

And Asya was sure this time. The person they were look­ing for had to be here.

The comfort of the forest stood at her back, the dark can­opy of trees stretching behind her in every direction. The fading sunlight could not break through the writhing tan­gle of branches, so in the shadow of the trunks, it was dark as twilight.

Most people feared the forest. Stories of monsters that lurked in its depths, witches who lured unsuspecting children in and tore out their hearts. But to Asya it had always felt safe, the gnarled trunks and rustling leaves were like old friends.

“This is it,” Asya said, inclining her head toward the clear­ing in front of them.

A slight smile tugged at her lips. Two years ago, when her great-aunt had first deemed her ready to try tracking herself—to follow the magic with only her mortal senses once they were close enough to the source—she’d found it impossible. More often than not, she just led them in circles until Tarya gave up on her. But today, Asya had managed it.

She might not be as unwavering as her aunt, as strong or as dutiful, but at least Asya had succeeded in this.

She glanced over at Tarya, waiting for her reaction. But her aunt stood stiller than the trees, an immovable presence in their midst. The shadowed light filtering through the leaves cast her face in stark relief, carving deep hollows into her snow-white cheeks and emphasizing the wrinkles at her brow. She could have been a painting—one of the old oil portraits of the gods, soft brushstrokes of light adding an ethereal glow to her stern face.

It made her look otherworldly. Inhuman.

Which she was. One of the creatures that prowled these trees.

While Asya, or any other mortal, could smell the resid­ual magic, her aunt could feel it. No amount of waterose or burned sage—or any of the other tricks people tried—could hide magic from Tarya.

Her dark eyes flickered to Asya. “Correct,” her aunt mur­mured, a hint of satisfaction in her soft voice.

In front of them, the comforting trees gave way to an open paddock. It had been allowed to run wild, chamomile glint­ing yellow in the long grass, like sun spots on water. Pur­ple-capped mushrooms pushed their way through the weeds, intertwining with the soft lilac of scattered crocuses.

The tinge of pride in Asya’s chest melted away, replaced by a thrumming anticipation. The paddock could have been beautiful, she supposed. But the cold apprehension burning in her stomach overshadowed it, darkening the flowers to poisonous thorns and muting the colors like fog. It was al­ways like this. Ever since the first time Tarya had taken her on a hunt. Once she was left without a task to complete—a distraction—Asya couldn’t pretend to forget what came next. She’d hoped it would get better, but she still couldn’t shake the lingering fear.

She shifted her feet, trying to ignore the erratic rhythm of her heart. She hated waiting. Each frantic beat stretching out into an eternity.

She just wanted this to be over.

After all, her sister had always been the brave one.

But that was why Asya was here. Why she had to follow this path, no matter how she wavered. She owed it to her sister. They were the two sides of a coin, and if Asya failed, then her sister would too.

Tarya’s words—the words Asya had to live by—pounded through her. This is our duty. Not a question of right or wrong, but balance.

Her aunt stepped forward. She moved silently, slipping like a shadow untethered from its owner, from the gnarled trees and out into the overgrown paddock beyond. She didn’t speak—she rarely did when she felt a Calling—but Asya knew she was meant to follow.

Asya took a shaky breath, touching one finger to the wooden icon around her neck. An unspoken prayer. She could do this.

Far less quietly, she followed Tarya into the uneven grass, wincing at the snapping twigs beneath her boots.

The paddock led to a small cottage, surrounded by more soft crocuses. Their purple seeped out from the house like a bruise. The building’s thatched roof had clearly been recently repaired, and the gray stone was all but consumed by creeping moss. The stench of magic grew with each step Asya took. Wateroses lay scattered on the ground, interspersed with dried rosemary sprigs. The too-sweet scent, cut through with the burn of magic, made her stomach turn.

Tarya stopped by the wooden door. Marks of various saints had been daubed across it in stark black paint, uneven and still wet. Acts of desperation. They felt out of place in the idyllic scene. The sight sent a prickle of unease through Asya’s gut.

“Your weapon,” Tarya prompted, her voice as low as the rustle of grass behind them.

Asya’s fingers jumped to the curved bronze shashka at her waist. A careless mistake. She should have drawn the short blade long before. She couldn’t let the apprehension clawing at the edge of her mind overwhelm her. Not this time.

She had to be sure. Uncompromising. She had to be like Tarya.

Asya unsheathed the weapon, the bronze glinting in the fading light, and forced her hand to steady.

Her aunt gave her a long look, one that said she knew just how Asya’s heart roiled beneath the surface. But Tarya just nodded, turning back to the freshly marked door. Sparks al­ready danced behind her eyes—deep red and burnished-gold flames swallowing her dark irises. It transformed her from ethereal into something powerful.


Asya swallowed, pushing that thought away. Her aunt wasn’t a monster.

Tarya reached out and pressed her palm to the wood. Heat rolled from her in a great wave, making Asya’s eyes water. A low splintering noise fractured the air, followed by the snap of the metal bolt. The door swung open. All that was left of the painted sigils was a scorched handprint. Asya’s mouth went dry. She couldn’t help but feel that breaking the saints’ signs was violating some ancient covenant.

But Tarya just stepped inside. Asya tightened her grip on the blade, trying to shake off the sense of foreboding nipping at her heels, and followed.

The cottage was comprised of a single small room. Heavy fabric hung over the windows, leaving them half in shadow. As Asya’s vision adjusted, she took in the shapes of furniture—all overturned or smashed against the cracked walls. Clothes were strewn across the floor in a whirl, along with a few shat­tered plates and even a broken viila, its strings snapped and useless. A statue of Saint Meshnik lay on its side, their head several paces from their armored body. The room looked like it had been ransacked, perhaps set upon by thieves.

Or like someone wanted it to seem that way.

Tarya turned slowly, her sparking eyes taking in the room. Then her gaze fixed on a spot to her left, and flames reared across her irises again. Asya couldn’t see anything. But she knew her aunt was not really looking at the wall, she was feeling—reaching for those intangible threads that bound the world and using them to narrow in on her prey.

Asya waited, her breath caught in her chest.

Tarya moved in a flash, as though Vetviya herself had looked down and granted her secret passage through the In-Between. One moment beside Asya, the next in front of the wall. Flames, as golden and bright as sunlight, sputtered from her wrists, licking along her forearms. She put her hands on the wall, and the flames eagerly reached out to devour.

They burned away what must have been a false panel, re­vealing a tight crevice behind. Three faces stared out, eyes wide and afraid. Two children, a boy and a girl, clutching onto a man with ash-white hair, now covered in a faint sheen of soot.

“Oryaze,” he breathed, terror rising on his face like waves over a hapless ship. Firebird.

Bile burned in Asya’s throat. She took a halting step back, staring at the huddled family. It’s the man, she told herself. It had to be. The thought murmured through her, a desperate prayer to any god or saint who might be listening.

The man leaped forward, spreading his arms as though hid­ing the children from view might protect them. As though anything he did would make a difference. “I won’t let you touch her!” he cried, grabbing one of the broken chair legs and brandishing it like a sword.

Asya clenched her teeth, a sharp jab of pity shooting through her. It would be no use. Nothing would.

The flames coiled lazily around Tarya’s wrists as she watched the man with a detached curiosity. “The price must be paid.”

He let out a low sob, the chair leg clattering uselessly to the ground as he clasped his hands together as if in prayer. “Please, take it from me. She didn’t know what she was doing.”

The room was too hot, the flames scorching the very air in Asya’s lungs. This is what has to be done, she intoned. This is our duty. The same words her aunt had hammered into her. Asya’s knuckles shone white on the hilt of her shashka, the cool metal tethering her to the ground, to this moment, and not the rising guilt in the back of her mind. A panic that threatened to crush her.

“I cannot,” Tarya said, her voice hollow. “The price must be taken from the one who cast the spell.” With a casual flick of her wrist, a burst of fire sprang at the man. He dived aside, toppling into an overturned table.

The little boy was crying now, soft whimpers barely louder than the spitting flames. But the girl did not cry, even as Tarya wrapped an elegant hand around her arm and dragged her forward.

Asya saw the stratsviye clearly against the milk-white skin of the girl’s wrist. A mass of black lines that coalesced to form a burning feather, seared into her flesh like a brand. The mark of the Firebird. The mark that meant a debt had to be paid.

“Please,” the man said again, pulling himself from the col­lapsed table. “Please, she didn’t mean to—”

“Asya,” her aunt said, without looking up from the mark.

Asya knew what she was meant to do, but her legs took a moment to obey. Muscles protesting though her mind could not. But she moved forward anyway, placing herself between the man and the little girl, shashka raised in warning.

No one could interfere with the price.

The man scrambled for the chair leg again, leveling it at Asya with trembling hands. “She only did it to save her brother,” he pleaded, emotion cracking through his voice like summer ice. “He was sick. She didn’t know the conse­quences.”

Asya’s gaze slid to the little girl. To the determined set of her jaw, her defiantly dry eyes. That look wrenched something in Asya’s chest. The resolve she’d so carefully built crumbled around her. She knew what is was like to have a sibling you would do anything—risk anything—for.

But Tarya was unmoved. “Now she will know—magic always comes with a price.”

He lunged. He was clumsy, fueled by fear and desperation. Asya should have been able to stop him easily, but she hesi­tated. A single thought caught in her mind: Is it so wrong of him to want to protect his daughter?

That one, faltering breath cost her. The man swung the chair leg at her, catching the side of her head. Bright lights danced in front of her eyes. She stumbled into the wall as the man let out a fractured cry and threw himself toward Tarya.

Tarya did not hesitate.

Another tongue of flame reared from her, forcing the man back. This one was more than a warning. The acrid smell of burnt flesh sliced through the scent of magic. A low, broken sob trembled in the air as the man clutched his now-scorched left side.

Tarya’s head snapped to Asya, flames flashing bloodred.

Ignoring the throbbing pain in her head, Asya darted for­ward. She grabbed the man’s arm and twisted, sending the chair leg tumbling to the ground again. It was painfully easy. The injury made his attempt to swing back at her fly wide, and her hands fastened on him again. She spun him, one arm wrapping around him, the other holding the shashka to his throat. Her chest heaved, and her head reeled. But she didn’t move.

He let out a low whimper, still trying to struggle free. Asya pressed the blade deeper, almost wincing as a trickle of blood ran down his throat. “Don’t,” she said, half command, half plea. “You’ll just make it worse.”

Tarya had already turned back to her prey. Her gleaming eyes, still threaded with flame, stared down at the girl. There was no malice on her face, just a cold emptiness. Asya wasn’t sure if that made it better or worse.

“You must understand, child,” Tarya said. “The price has to be paid.”

And in a breath, she transformed.

Flames devoured her eyes, spreading from the pupils until they were no more than luminous orbs. Twin suns, captured in a face. But the fire did not end there. It rose up out of her like a living thing. Glinting golds and burnt oranges twisted with deepest crimson to form hooked wings, spread behind her like a blazing cape. Another head loomed above her own, a vicious, living mask. It formed a sharp beak, feathered flames rising from it to forge the great bird’s plumage. They arched up into an expression of cruel indifference, mirroring the human features below. The very walls of the cottage trembled.

The Firebird.

Asya felt her hand go slack. A deep, instinctual fear sank into her bones. She had seen her aunt transform before, more times than she could count. But that primal fear never went away. The mortal instinct that she should run from this crea­ture.

She was eleven when she’d first seen her aunt exact a price. Asya had been naive and desperate to shirk her new respon­sibility, to run back to her sister. Tarya had brought her on a hunt to see—to truly understand—the weight of this re­sponsibility.

It had terrified Asya then. It still terrified her now, six years later.

Everything about the flaming creature exuded power. Not the simple spells mortals toyed with, but the kind of power drawn from the depths of the earth, ancient and deadly.

The girl could not hide her fear now. It shone in her dark eyes like a beacon as she tried to back away, but Tarya’s curled fingers held her tight. The boy was screaming. The sound rose in Asya’s ears to a high keening, writhing through her insides.

The creature—Tarya—looked down at the girl, head cocked to one side. Considering.

Asya wanted to close her eyes. To pretend she was some­where far away, safe beneath a canopy of trees. But she couldn’t.

She had to do this. This was the duty the gods had chosen her for. The burden she had accepted.

And looking away would feel like abandoning the little girl.

Asya tried to take a breath to steady her whirling thoughts, but the very air was bitter and scorched. Please be something small, she thought. Not her heart.

She couldn’t stand back and watch that. Or, perhaps, she didn’t want to believe that she would just stand aside as this monster tore the girl’s heart from her body.

Because Asya knew she would. Knew she had to. That was her price.

The flames spread down Tarya’s left arm, coiling like a great serpent as they bridged across her fingers to the girl. A cry tore through the air, raw and achingly human. The greedy, blazing tendrils wrapped around the girl’s arm, as un­moved by the screams as their master. They consumed the flesh as if it were nothing more than parchment.

In only a few frantic beats of Asya’s heart, the girl’s left arm was gone. Not just burned, but gone. No trace of it remained. No charred bone, not even a scattering of ashes.

The price had been paid.

The flames receded, the creature folding back in on itself until it was no more than a spark in Tarya’s eyes. All that was left was a heavy smoke in the air, thick and choking.

Asya let her hand holding the shashka fall. The man threw himself forward—though Asya had a feeling he would have moved even if her blade had still been at his throat—and clutched the little girl, who was still half-frozen in shock. The boy flung himself at his sister too, his screams reduced to gasping cries.

Asya’s stomach curled as she stared down at the huddled family, enclosed in a grief she had helped cause.

She backed away. It was suddenly all too much. The suf­focating smoke. The man’s ragged sobs. The blistered stump that had been the girl’s arm. Her aunt’s impassive face, as empty as the carved saint’s head on the ground.

Asya whirled around, pushing back through the broken door. She doubled over as she stumbled across the threshold, leaning a hand against the moss-eaten stone to keep upright. Bile rose in her throat.

It had never been a child before. Despite all the hunts Tarya had taken her on, all the training lessons, Asya hadn’t thought of that possibility—that it could be a little girl desperate to save her brother.

Something wet trickled from the wound on Asya’s head, but she barely felt it. Her insides had been hollowed out.

All she could see were the little girl’s eyes. The ghastly re­flection of the Firebird in them, looming and monstrous. A creature of legend.

A creature that, one day, Asya would become.

About the Author

ALEXANDRA OVERY was born in London, England. Ever since she was little she has loved being able to escape into another world through books. She currently lives in Los Angeles, and is completing her MFA in Screenwriting at UCLA. When she's not working on a new manuscript or procrastinating on doing homework, she can be found obsessing over Netflix shows, or eating all the ice cream she can.


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Monday, April 12, 2021

Book Spotlight & Giveaway: Wounded Alpha

Title: Wounded Alpha

Author: Mell Eight

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: 04/12/2021

Heat Level: 1 - No Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 22100

Genre#LGBTQIA+ #paranormal #shifters #bookstagram #booklover #bookblogger #bookaddict #romancereadersofinstagram #booknerd #bookworm

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While Ryker’s body came back from Afghanistan just fine, his mind didn’t, and his thoughts wander back there in painful flashbacks that have present-time consequences. In order to avoid hurting anyone, Ryker secludes himself in a cabin in the middle of nowhere. Then Officer Chess Medcull shows up with a case of were-animals being tortured and killed in a way similar to how Ryker almost died in the war. In order to stop the murders, Ryker must face the demons in his head, and maybe, just maybe, allow Chess to help. That is, as long as neither is the next victim.


Wounded Alpha
Mell Eight © 2021
All Rights Reserved

Ryker’s back wasn’t burning any longer, which brought both relief and terror. He healed quickly, even for a werewolf, and the stinging, sharp pain of the blood and bruising of the whip were definitely something he wanted to end as fast as possible. Except, his captors had some sort of sixth sense for when he had healed enough for the pain to fade, and that was when they returned.

He wasn’t healing as quickly now as in those first few days. His body was emaciated from what must have been a month or two of very little food and almost constant abuse. Ryker’s clothing was completely shredded, the desert camo print more rags than anything resembling his Marine Corps Combat Utility Uniform. The jacket had been taken on day one by his captors, and his white undershirt hadn’t survived the first whipping. The pants had gotten bloodstained immediately, but the shredding hadn’t started until they decided to find out what happened to his healing ability if they stabbed him a couple of times. Those initial rips had spread until only the barest strips of fabric covered his long legs.

And then there was his right wrist. The inch-thick silver band was tight around his wrist and held in place by a heavy padlock that none of his attempts had broken. Werewolf strength would have broken an ordinary lock, but this massive one combined with the immediate effects of silver poisoning kept him trapped. The skin around Ryker’s wrist had bubbled and blistered underneath the touch of silver. His head ached constantly as the silver slowly poisoned his blood, and every time he bled a little more under the hands of his captors, the silver’s fangs dug a little deeper.

A rasping sound came from outside the narrow door that was the only way to get in and out of the small, dirty room. Ryker managed to suppress a whimper of fear, certain that any moment the lock would scrape and his grinning captors would stalk in with some new torture planned.

Except, he suddenly heard yelling, and that was definitely the booming pop of gunfire. He didn’t dare get up to see; this could easily be some new form of torture they had thought up to torment him. The dragging scrape of the lock sounded a moment later, and Ryker was glad he had remained huddled in his corner where they would have to drag him out into the open to get a good chance at him. But it wasn’t one of his captors.

The clean-shaven face and bright eyes were foreign to Afghanistan, and the white smile spoke of access to decent healthcare. That, plus the uniform, told Ryker he was saved.

“Hey,” the soldier said cheerily.


Ryker blinked, and suddenly he was standing in bright afternoon sunlight, a man wearing a business suit running toward him. The musty, sewage smell of his dark cell faded, replaced with car exhaust and a floral-scented summer breeze.

“Let him go, man!” said the suited man.

Ryker blinked again, and his eyes followed the length of his left arm, down to the wrist and the fingers he had clamped around the throat of a stranger.

The stranger was choking and spluttering, his fingers scrabbling at Ryker’s sleeve and his dark-brown eyes bugging out as his face turned purple. Ryker immediately let go, stepping back from the stranger. This time he knew what had set him off. The stranger had been walking behind him, and his shoe had scraped on the concrete. A sound so similar to that damned cell lock opening and suddenly Ryker was gone.

He couldn’t keep doing this. Ryker looked at the man crumpled on the ground, gasping for air, and knew he had to find another answer. Any time he went out into a crowd, even one as small as the sidewalk in front of the grocery store, was one too many for him.

The stranger wasn’t injured, just scared, so Ryker bent to pick up the plastic bag of groceries he had dropped.

“Sorry,” he said softly before hurrying off. If he made it back to his apartment without having another episode, he would reevaluate his circumstances. He needed to find somewhere he wouldn’t be a threat to anyone else around him, and that meant leaving the city.

Ryker didn’t have a choice.


NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

When Mell Eight was in high school, she discovered dragons. Beautiful, wondrous creatures that took her on epic adventures both to faraway lands and on journeys of the heart. Mell wanted to create dragons of her own, so she put pen to paper. Mell Eight is now known for her own soaring dragons, as well as for other wonderful characters dancing across the pages of her books. While she mostly writes paranormal or fantasy stories, she has been seen exploring the real world once or twice.

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