Aria Release Day: Giveaways and Excerpt #2

December 24, 2012

Welcome to the release party for my new novel, Aria, the third in my Blue Notes Series of classical music themed gay romances!  I’m running a bunch of giveaways on my blog, so stop by and comment to be entered into all of them.  I’ll be drawing winners at midnight tonight!

One of the today’s giveaway is for a paperback copy of Blue Notes, the original book in the series. Loosely based on my experiences growing up in France, Blue Notes is the story of former pianist, now lawyer Jason Greene, and jazz violinist Jules Bardon. The two meet in a Paris jazz club after Jason runs away from his life in the US when he catches his fiancee cheating on him.

Like Blue Notes, Aria is a story about a musician and a lawyer. In fact, Sam Ryan from Aria and Jason from Blue Notes almost end up in bed together at one point in the original story. They’re former courtroom rivals who meet after Jason’s heart has been broken. Instead, the two men become close friends and when Sam visits Jason in Paris, Sam runs into former lover and international opera sensation Aiden Lind. So begins their rekindled romance.

Aria is at times sad, at times sweet and funny, and of course, there’s a happily ever after (no spoilers here – I only write books with happy endings!). In fact, the HEA in Aria is probably my favorite so far in the series. But that’s all I’m saying!

Aria has a bit of the backstage world of opera. From the wigs, to the pancake makeup that tends to run down your face when you sweat under the hot lights (the heavy costumes don’t help much either), it’s really hard work. They say singing an opera is a bit like running a marathon. Not sure about that (I’ve never run a marathon!), but I do know that it’s a physical career. And no, in this day and age, most opera singers are not fat. In fact, the thinnest I’ve ever been was when I was singing. You really do have to look the part! Tosca, by the way, was supposed to be a sexy opera singer. ;-) Want to see what I call sexy when it comes to opera singers? Check out this excerpt from Bizet’s “The Pearlfishers” – the operatic equivalent of a bromance. That would be Aiden (the baritone) on the right in the clip. Yummy! See, opera singers can be hot!

I’ll leave you with a NSFW excerpt from Aria. This is the scene where Aiden and Sam first meet, five years before present day action. It’s a long and hot one. Enjoy! -Shira

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Blurb: Five years after a prestigious scholarship jumpstarted his opera career, Aiden Lind has it all: fame, choice roles, and Lord Cameron Sherrington to share his life with. Maintaining his façade takes effort, but under his poised, sophisticated mask, Aiden is still the insecure kid from rural Mississippi. Then he walks in on Cam with another man, and the illusion of perfection shatters.

Philadelphia attorney Sam Ryan never moved on after his partner died, though he tried. Instead of dating, he keeps himself busy with work—but when he unexpectedly runs into ex-lover Aiden while on a rare vacation in Paris, he’s inspired to give their love a second chance. First, though, he’ll have to get Aiden to forgive him. Because when Sam was still grieving five years ago, he broke Aiden’s heart.

When rekindled lust blossoms into a true romance, it seems like the start of something wonderful. But Aiden’s career has him on the road much of the time, and the physical distance between him and Sam starts translating into an emotional disconnect. If Aiden and Sam can’t learn to communicate, their separation may prove more than their love can bear.

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Chapter Five:

New York, New York

The SoHo bar was crowded when Sam arrived a few minutes after eight o’clock. Some of his friends had recommended it to him, but he had never been inside. Typical of many establishments in the area, the walls were stripped bare of years of paint. Modern canvasses in various sizes and shapes broke the monotony of the ancient brick. Italian track lighting hung from the drop ceiling illuminated the artwork and the tables. Sam could make out the strains of classic jazz over the low drone of conversation. The smells of alcohol, aftershave, and musk hung in the air.

Sam realized his hand rested on his briefcase. He thought briefly of the metal cookie tin inside, which inevitably made him think of Nick. He and Nick first met in a bar, but Sam had never liked them much. As a couple, they had mostly socialized with friends, alternating hosting get-togethers at their loft apartment and spending weekends upstate in small B and Bs.

Sam felt overwhelmed as he sat down at the end of the bar and ordered a drink. He reminded himself that he was just here for the alcohol, but the Manhattan gay scene loomed frighteningly on the horizon, and he was woefully unprepared. Even now, a year after Nick’s death, he knew he wasn’t ready, though he’d already received a few appreciative looks in the few minutes since his arrival. He wasn’t sure he’d ever be ready for it again—it had been intimidating enough the first time around.

“Vodka tonic,” he told the bartender. Tonight he needed something stronger than his usual beer. Running a hand through his hair, he took a look around the bar for the first time. There was no dance floor, so the action was subtler. Men filled nearly every seat at the long bar, chatting in undertones over drinks. He fought the urge to leave. When the bartender placed a drink in front of him, he thanked the man and took a long, desperate swallow. The comforting effect of the alcohol began to kick in.

What am I doing here?

The man seated to his left got up and threw a twenty down on the bar, then waved to the bartender and the other men at the counter. Sam finished his drink in one long swallow and looked up again, this time into a pair of warm brown eyes framed by long lashes. The newcomer smiled affably at him. Sam managed to return the smile before quickly looking back down at his empty glass.

This was a mistake. He pulled his wallet out of his jacket and rummaged for a twenty.

“I hope you’re not leaving on my account,” said the man next to him. And, God, what a voice! A resonant, sexy-as-fuck baritone that went straight from Sam’s ears to his cock.

“Aiden Lind,” he said more formally as he offered Sam his hand.

“Sam Ryan. Nice to meet you.” Sam’s hand was warm, his grip firm.

Aiden gestured to the bartender. “Two more. On me.”

“I was just about to leave.” Sam didn’t want to be rude, but he needed to get out of the place. Coming here had been a mistake.

“Sure I can’t convince you to stay?”

“No. But thanks, Aiden. It was good meeting you.” Sam forced a smile and picked up his satchel before heading for the door. A moment later he stepped out into the chilly night air, taking deep breaths to calm his racing heart.

He wasn’t ready. He pulled his jacket collar up, then started for the subway station.

“Sam!”

Sam turned around to see someone running after him down the street. What was his name? Aiden.

“Look, Aiden,” Sam said as he caught up with him, “I’m tired.”

Aiden blinked. “Oh. No. It’s not like that.” He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a wallet. Sam’s wallet.

Shit. The guy was being nice, and Sam had tried to blow him off.

Sam took the wallet and their fingers brushed. Sam’s cheeks warmed as their eyes met. Uncomfortable, he shifted his briefcase from one hand to another. “Thanks. Damn good thing my head’s attached to my body tonight.”

“No problem.” Aiden shoved his hands back into his pockets.

“It was good meeting you.” Sam was hard-pressed not to like the man.

“You too, Sam.” Aiden hesitated a second longer, then turned and waved as he headed back toward the bar.

It’s only a drink. No strings. It’s not like you have anyone waiting at home.

“On second thought,” Sam called after Aiden, “I think I’ll have that drink.”

“Great!” Aiden turned around and beamed at him, and Sam’s initial hesitation evaporated in the warmth of Aiden’s smile.

A few minutes later, they walked back into the bar. Aiden motioned to a free table. “This okay with you?”

“Sure.” Sam set his briefcase back down and settled into one of the metal chairs.

“What are you drinking?” Aiden asked.

“Vodka tonic.”

“Great. I’ll be right back.” Aiden headed for the bar before Sam could offer to spring for the drinks.

Now that they were back inside in the light, Sam got his first good look at Aiden. He hadn’t noticed when they were sitting down, but Aiden was nearly as tall as he, probably around six feet. He’d already noticed Aiden’s curly hair, high cheekbones, and the strong line of his jaw. Now, Sam couldn’t help but notice the black jeans that hugged Aiden’s firm ass and the long-sleeved Henley that fit his upper torso tightly enough to hint at the muscle beneath. Casual but undeniably sexy.

Back a minute later, Aiden sat facing Sam, and Sam noticed Aiden’s foot tapping the leg of his chair.

He’s nervous too. That surprised Sam. The guy was good-looking, friendly. Trying to quell his own anxiety, Sam took a deep breath. “Thanks for the drink. And thanks again for the wallet.”

Aiden seemed buoyed by Sam’s change of heart. “Long day?” He brushed a stray lock of hair from his eyes.

“You could say that.” Sam shook his head and exhaled audibly. If only you knew….

A waiter brought their drinks. “Cheers.” Sam held up his glass and Aiden touched his beer against it.

“Cheers.”

They drank in silence for a few moments until Sam realized he must have been staring, because Aiden leaned in and gazed at him—a gaze that held more than a whisper of lust. For the past year, Sam hadn’t even considered how he looked to the world at large. He donned his expensive suits like the uniforms they were, shaved, and combed his unruly hair, but he’d just gone on living, nothing more. He’d had a few blind dates friends had set him up on, but none of them had gone anywhere and he hadn’t cared. Now he was suddenly self-conscious, his suit rumpled after a long day bent over piles of documents, his hair undoubtedly sticking up in odd places as it liked to do.

When did it get so hot in here?

Sam pulled off his jacket and draped it over the back of his chair. As the second drink went straight to his shoulders, he felt his old confidence return. “What do you do for a living, Aiden?”

“Musician.”

“Really? What kind?”

Aiden appeared uncomfortable, almost apologetic. “I’m a singer. An opera singer.”

“You’re serious?” Explains the voice of God vibe.

“Yeah.” Aiden shifted in his seat.

“That’s cool,” Sam said enthusiastically.

“You think?”

“Yes, definitely.”

Aiden laughed—a warm, rumbled laugh that made Sam melt like a puddle into his seat. Aiden Lind was a handsome man, even more so when he laughed. “I get a lot of flak from my family about it.”

“Really? Why?” Sam finished his drink and flagged down the waiter for another round.

“They think it’s queer. I used to sing rock and gospel. That was okay with them. But opera? And shit, if they knew I liked men and women….” He laughed again, but Sam heard an edge to the sound this time and saw a flash of something like pain in Aiden’s eyes. “So what do you do, Sam?”

“Compared to singing opera? Just boring stuff. I’m a lawyer for a firm near Wall Street.”

“I sort of guessed. Nice suit, briefcase ’n all. Nice tie too.” Aiden wasn’t looking at Sam’s tie, though; his gaze never left Sam’s.

Maybe it was the booze, but Sam wasn’t in the slightest bit tempted to look away. Instead, he loosened his tie and undid the top button of his shirt.

“So what kind of law do you practice?”

Shit. What was it about Aiden that made everything he said sound like an invitation to do something sexual? The voice. Definitely the voice.

“Personal injury. Not my first choice.” Sam had rationalized taking the job for many reasons, but one in particular topped the list: the prospect of going home to Tennessee and back into the same dark and claustrophobic closet he had come out of was too horrible to contemplate.

“What would you rather be doing?”

At that moment Sam could think of a few things he’d rather be doing that had nothing to do with practicing law. “Employment law. Plaintiff’s work. You know, the underdogs?”

“Nothing wrong with that, is there?”

“No. Nothing at all.” The job had been a compromise: it hadn’t been what Sam had wanted, but it hadn’t been part of Samuel Stetson Ryan III’s “plan” either. It had been a huge disappointment to the old man that Sam didn’t return to Memphis to work for his firm.

Sam shifted in his seat, brushing Aiden’s foot by accident. At least he thought he’d done it by accident. “So.” Sam changed the subject and tried to focus on something other than Aiden’s foot rubbing against his own. “What’s it like, singing opera?”

The waiter came with another round of drinks—Sam lost count of how many he’d downed. Was this three already? It was hard to focus, and Sam was pretty sure it wasn’t the alcohol that was turning his brain to mush.

Aiden leaned back in his seat with his legs slightly apart. It was an inviting pose. Aiden held his beer in his right hand and gesticulated with it as he spoke. As Aiden’s leg pressed against Sam’s, Sam did his utmost to keep his eyes focused on his companion’s face. His own face felt warm.

“It’s great,” Aiden replied. “I’m planning to go to Germany soon, maybe do a few auditions there.”

“Sounds exciting. What would you be auditioning for?” Laughter erupted from the bar, and Sam moved his chair closer to better hear Aiden’s answer.

“Most of the larger German cities hire contract singers for their opera houses. It’s better than in the States. Here, you mostly just string gigs together to make a living. There, you have a steady job for a year at a time, do stuff in repertory. Beats waiting tables.”

“I didn’t realize it was that tough getting work.” He and Aiden were only about a foot apart now. From this distance, Sam could see the hint of Aiden’s hard nipples beneath the close-fitting Henley. It was difficult to focus on the conversation when his mind was busy imagining how he might take one of those nubs between his teeth.

“Once you get an agent, it gets better. I only graduated from school a few years ago, and it’s hard to get hired for big roles right away.”

“Kind of like getting stuck doing the grunt work right out of law school.” Sam knew the feeling well. He’d only made partner last year, and he’d done his share of shit jobs before that.

“Yep.” Aiden finished the rest of his beer, lingering over the mouth of the bottle before giving Sam a smile.

Sam swallowed hard and tried to ignore the renewed jolt of sexual heat he sensed in Aiden’s gaze. He looked down at his drink. It definitely wasn’t only the booze talking. He got hard just thinking about kissing Aiden, tasting him. “Are you from around here, originally?”

“Nah. I’m from Mississippi. Little town named Fenton, right outside of Jackson.”

“Really? Hell, I grew up in Memphis.”

“No shit.” Aiden laughed. “I thought I heard a little Tennessee in you.”

“You had me fooled. I figured you were from up north.”

“Comes with the territory. Good ear. Had to study French, German, and Italian in school. You lose the drawl fast or they beat it out of you.”

They talked about growing up in the South for a few minutes. Comfortable, easy conversation. How long had it been, Sam wondered, since he’d had a conversation like this with someone other than Nick?

Too long.

“Listen,” Aiden began as he stared awkwardly at his beer, which was now clearly empty, “would you like to get out of here?”

Since Nick died, Sam had said no to anything but casual hints at dating. This was much more of an offer.

“I’d like that,” he heard himself say.

Aiden looked surprised and pleased, but no more than Sam. Had he really said yes?

“I live over in Alphabet City. It’s not much, but….”

“That’d be fine,” Sam reassured him. He might be ready to spend the night with someone, but he sure as hell wasn’t ready to take a man back to his own apartment—the apartment he and Nick had shared. Not yet, anyhow.

Maybe never.

After a short cab ride, Sam followed Aiden up the stairs of a third-floor walkup off Avenue C and into a small two-bedroom apartment. The living room appeared to double as a third bedroom. Pots, pans, and cooking utensils hung from every inch of the high-ceilinged walls of the tiny kitchen. An electronic keyboard sat atop a cardboard box, and piles of music filled the built-in shelves. In spite of the clutter, the apartment was clean and smelled vaguely of lemon.

“I live with two other singers,” Aiden said. “Mark works nights, and Rob is out of town at a gig, so we have the place to ourselves.”

Sam put his briefcase down and tossed his coat onto the couch. He turned to find Aiden only a few inches away. In the shadows of the semidarkness, Aiden’s high cheekbones were more defined, his body backlit by the light from the streetlamp outside.

A moment later they were kissing. Rough, hungry lips met with equally awkward eagerness, teeth tapping against each other as Sam and Aiden found their bearings. Sam ran his tongue against Aiden’s lower lip and gained entry before pressing inward to find the warmth that waited there. Aiden’s mouth tasted good, with a hint of dark beer that lingered from the bar.

“Bed?” Sam asked.

Aiden’s answer was a low growl with the same deep resonance of his speaking voice. Sam had never realized the sound of someone’s voice could be such a turn-on. His body was thrumming now, and he knew there was no going back. He’d waited so long, denying himself in silent penance for circumstances over which he’d never had any control. Now he would let that final piece of Nick go and give his body over to someone new.

You know he would have wanted this for you.

Aiden put his arm around Sam’s waist as he led him down the short hallway, then pushed the bedroom door open with his foot. Sam felt the bed at the backs of his knees as Aiden pushed him down on top of the ragged comforter. The bedding smelled clean, though. Sam didn’t have a chance to take in the rest of the room before they were kissing again. Sam scrabbled for purchase on Aiden’s shirt, reaching to pull it over his head. He needed to feel Aiden’s chest, to feel someone else’s skin beneath his fingers.

Aiden’s body was as finely honed as Sam had imagined it to be back at the bar. Lean—not the overly sculpted abs that graced Times Square billboards—but just the way Sam liked them, with more than a dusting of dark, curly hair between his nipples. He pressed his hand to Aiden’s enticing skin. He wondered what it would be like to feel that chest vibrate when the other man sang. The thought led him to a renewed jolt of desire, and he pinned Aiden to the bed before pushing down Aiden’s dark jeans along with the gray boxer briefs to reveal the purple tip of a sizeable cock. It took only another minute before Aiden was completely naked on the bed. The fact that Sam was still fully dressed only served to arouse him more.

He didn’t need any encouragement to take Aiden’s erection in his mouth; he had to taste it. God, but the man tasted so good! Sam swallowed Aiden’s long cock down, pulling back the foreskin as he went and grabbing the base with his hand, slicked up with saliva. For a man who made his living with his voice, Aiden remained remarkably silent, but the upward arch of his body was tacit reassurance. Sam licked with abandon at the underside of Aiden’s hard width, then tightened the suction until he was rewarded with a gasp.

Sam’s ran his teeth and lips over Aiden’s cock as he moved upward to the tip, then nibbled his way around the crown and probed the leaking slit with his tongue, sucking to milk the salty essence there. He could feel his own hard-on pressed against his pants, which only served to intensify the experience. Denial for now. But later….

“Shit, Sam,” Aiden murmured in a distant rumble. “So good. So fucking good….”

Sam smiled wickedly, happy to have finally coaxed a sound from Aiden’s lips. He reached his free hand underneath Aiden’s balls, rolled them in his palm, then licked them, all the while fisting Aiden’s hard cock. He swallowed it again, skating wet fingers to find the clenched ring of muscles between the tight asscheeks. The press of his finger against the tight opening was rewarded with a low drawn-out groan, so he teased it again.

“Lube?” he whispered as he released Aiden’s cock for a moment.

“Don’t want any,” came the tense response. “Just push your finger in.”

Sam hesitated.

“Nah, Sam. It’s good like that… I like it like that sometimes.”

The words shot through Sam like fire. He pressed his saliva-slicked finger inside and felt Aiden’s big hands grasp his shoulders and pull him closer, encouraging him to push deeper. Sam hollowed his cheeks and increased the suction, pulling and licking until he could feel Aiden’s balls pull tight against his forearm.

“Shit… Sam… gonna… come,” Aiden warned.

Sam released Aiden’s cock from his mouth but continued to rub his lips and hand over it until he felt the warmth of Aiden’s come on his cheek. After Aiden stopped shaking, Sam met his warm brown eyes and smiled.

Aiden reached up and wiped Aiden’s cheek with the sheet, then leaned back against the pillow and inhaled long and deep. “Good God,” he said in an impossibly low, sexy voice, “that was incredible.”

Sam’s face warmed at the compliment, and he fought the urge to protest. Even after so many years of living in New York as an openly gay man, he still felt the stirrings of shame from time to time, his Southern Baptist roots too well ingrained to ignore. But the moment of embarrassment was short-lived, eclipsed by his own unsatisfied need.

“I want to fuck you,” he whispered. “If that’s okay….” He had never been hesitant before, but he felt like he was seventeen all over again, doing it for the first time in the woods behind the cabins at summer camp.

“You’re joking, right?” Aiden laughed. “Hell, yeah.” He reached under the mattress and pulled out a box of condoms and a small bottle of lube, then tossed them within Sam’s reach.

The tension in Sam’s shoulders relaxed until he felt his companion’s hand rubbing at the crotch of his pants. His breath caught in his throat. Too long. Way too long. He started to loosen his tie, but Aiden stopped him.

“Fuck me in that suit. It’s so damn hot.” He rolled onto his stomach and lifted his ass in blatant invitation. “I want you to fuck me in your clothes.”

“Damn,” Sam hissed as he unzipped his fly and pulled his cock out. There was something thrilling about the way Aiden had taken control, something about the way Aiden’s words had sounded almost like an order that made Sam shiver. And, oh God, the globes of Aiden’s ass beckoned, tight and smooth. Sam began to stroke him while he uncapped the lube and slathered his fingers with it, then reached around to press at the hole he had only barely breached before.

“No prep,” Aiden rumbled. “Lube it up. I like it when it hurts a little.”

What the hell do I say to that?

Sam knew the feeling himself, although he had never admitted it to Nick. He and Nick had been tender lovers—the kind of lovers who explored every inch of each other’s bodies with gentle fingers and tongues. Their lovemaking had never approached the rough animal sex Sam had often fantasized about. That hadn’t been Nick’s style; he had been as laid-back and slow in bed as he was in life, and Sam had loved that about him. The sex had been great. Better than great, but now….

Sam rolled the condom over his erection and greased it well, then leaned over and spread Aiden wider. Aiden’s low laugh was an invitation, and Sam looked up to see Aiden’s eyes filled with a mixture of need and playfulness. He pressed the head of his cock against Aiden’s hole, inhaling sharply as the outer ring of muscle gave way and he felt the warm tightness nip at his sensitive tip.

“Come on,” Aiden urged him. “I want it all the way inside.”

He pushed harder, Aiden’s inner muscles gradually releasing with some resistance until Sam was seated up to his balls. Aiden was half-hard again, and Sam grasped his thickening flesh with one hand as he pulled out. Then he pushed in once more, making sure he brushed against Aiden’s prostate. He felt Aiden’s shudder and saw the look of pleasure on his face.

“Harder, Sam. Need it harder.”

“Oh God, yes. But it’s been too long. I won’t be able to….”

“I don’t care.” Aiden’s voice was now rough, husky with need. “Do it like you know you want to.”

The realization that Aiden had guessed at something Sam himself had long denied only served to intensify the urge to pound Aiden senseless. “Fuck,” he panted. “You’re so tight.”

The bed shook as he picked up speed, pistoning back and forth, letting go of all of his repressed desire. His shirt clung to his skin, his pants rode up his ass, but that only increased the pleasure that ran from his cock up his spine and pulled his sac tight. He came with a shout and a series of shudders, then leaned down so his face was only inches away from Aiden’s.

Their eyes met. For Sam it was like diving into dark water—he didn’t know what he might find, but he was caught in the siren song. Aiden’s lips met his, and something deep inside Sam’s heart let go. A door he had closed when Nick died opened just a crack. It stayed open for a brief instant before he felt ice in his veins as fear seeped back inside.

“Stay?” Aiden offered hopefully.

“I….” Sam hesitated. “Okay.” He knew he should leave, that he wasn’t ready for this, but he couldn’t do it. He was so raw, so hungry for Aiden’s touch. He wanted more.

Aiden smiled at Sam and began to unbutton his shirt.

Release Day: Aria (Blue Notes #3)

December 24, 2012

I’m getting the release party started today, counting down to Christmas Eve, when Aria will be released by Dreamspinner Press! Each day, I will have a different contest for goodies. Enter by leaving your name and email on my blog. On Monday night, 12/24, I will draw a name from the comments for each of the drawings. So comment once, and you’re entered into all the drawings! You can purchase Aria here.

For those of you not familiar with the Blue Notes Series, each of the novels in the series is a standalone story that can be read in any order. Secondary characters in one story often become the main characters in another. Aria is no exception.

In Aria, we meet Sam Ryan from the original Blue Notes, a year after he’s lost the love of his life and his longtime partner, Nick Savakis. To say Sam is floundering is an understatement. He goes through the paces of everyday life as a Manhattan attorney, does his job well, but he’s forgotten how to live. On the night he finally gathers the courage to spread Nick’s ashes over the water at New York Harbor, Sam goes to a gay bar for a drink. He’s not looking for anything except maybe a one-night stand–something to make the pain go away. The last thing he expects is that he’ll meet someone he really likes: struggling opera singer Aiden Lind.

Aria is a story of love, loss, and moving on with your life. It’s also the story of the very real challenges of a long-distance relationship. Based in part on my experiences when I was traveling and singing, Aria gives the reader a taste of what isn’t as glamorous a life as you might expect. I hope you’ll enjoy it!

I’ll leave you all with a little taste of the first chapter of Aria, the bittersweet scene at the beginning of the book as Sam tries to say good-bye to Nick in Battery Park. More excerpts to come throughout the day today, including a few NSFW I promise will warm you up, so check back later! -Shira

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Blurb: Five years after a prestigious scholarship jumpstarted his opera career, Aiden Lind has it all: fame, choice roles, and Lord Cameron Sherrington to share his life with. Maintaining his façade takes effort, but under his poised, sophisticated mask, Aiden is still the insecure kid from rural Mississippi. Then he walks in on Cam with another man, and the illusion of perfection shatters.

Philadelphia attorney Sam Ryan never moved on after his partner died, though he tried. Instead of dating, he keeps himself busy with work—but when he unexpectedly runs into ex-lover Aiden while on a rare vacation in Paris, he’s inspired to give their love a second chance. First, though, he’ll have to get Aiden to forgive him. Because when Sam was still grieving five years ago, he broke Aiden’s heart.

When rekindled lust blossoms into a true romance, it seems like the start of something wonderful. But Aiden’s career has him on the road much of the time, and the physical distance between him and Sam starts translating into an emotional disconnect. If Aiden and Sam can’t learn to communicate, their separation may prove more than their love can bear.

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Excerpt from Chapter One:

THE ashes flew from his fingers the moment he lifted his hand to the wind. Weightless, ephemeral, they caught the stiff breeze and vanished over the water. The sky grew darker; a sunset painted in bands of fuchsia, orange, yellow, and dark purple streaked the clouds. Lady Liberty stood sentinel against the vibrant backdrop as a ferry made its way toward Staten Island.

Goodbye, Nick.

Sam looked down at the now empty tin in his hands. He replaced the cover and sat down on one of the benches at the edge of Battery Park, smiling to see the words Macadamia Chocolate Chip printed on the top. How many times had he seen his lover toss his tubes of oil paints into the battered cookie tin as they headed to the park for a Sunday afternoon picnic? Even after Nicholas Savakis had made his name as a rising young painter, he never replaced that metal tin.

“Who needs all the bullshit?” Nick said when Sam suggested they buy him a new box for his paints. “This works fine.” So when the funeral director tried to sell Sam a fancy urn, he refused. Instead, he took Nick’s ashes in the hard plastic box and transferred half of them to the tin. He gave the rest to Nick’s family.

It’s what Nick would have wanted.

Sam had decided on this spot even before the funeral, but it took him more than a year to gather his courage to come here. This had been Nick’s favorite place to sit and paint. Sam had often met him here after work during the six years they lived together.

Sam loved to watch Nick’s dark hair blow about his face as his lean hands moved with careful precision over the canvas, his long brushstrokes capturing the multilayered colors of the water and sky. To someone unfamiliar with Nick’s work, his paintings might seem only an enticing blur of paint and texture. But over the years, Sam had come to see the world through the eyes of the lanky, slightly awkward man whose stained jeans echoed the blue and turquoise he favored in his art. The paintings were whispers of Nick’s soul, the beautiful soul Sam had cherished. Sam had hoped to spend the rest of his life with that perfect soul.

He inhaled the salty air and closed his eyes. In the distance, he could hear the drone of traffic. The air was warm for mid-November, but as the sun set below the water, he shivered. The lightweight coat over his suit jacket did nothing to stop the biting wind. Sam had planned to do this the summer after Nick’s death. Nick would have laughed at him; he’d have told Sam he always took too long to decide things.

“S’only your fault you’re sitting here freezing your ass off,” Sam could almost hear him tease.

I love you, Nick. Wherever you are.

He opened his eyes once more, realizing he still held the cookie tin in his hands. He stood up and slipped it back into his briefcase, then slung the strap of the case over his shoulder. He needed a drink; he wasn’t ready to face the empty apartment yet. Not tonight, of all nights.

You purchase Aria on Dreamspinner Press!

Stamp of Fate — The Last Game

July 30, 2012

The big “whodunit” clue is the main myth I used in Stamp of Fate, but it’s not the only one. Even in mortal guise, there’s a lot of history between these characters, and it’s all played out in Greek mythology. I could hardly ignore that, so bits and pieces of a few other myths made their way into the story.

For example, Hermione (aka Demeter) has some pomegranate trees in her garden, but they’re off to the side because she’s none-too-fond of the fruit that caused her daughter to have to spend time in the underworld every year. Lukas (aka Helios) owns an auto company, and the model names of his cars are the horses that drew his chariot across the sky.

There’s more, of course, but you’ll have to read the book to figure them out *winks*. Meanwhile, why don’t you show me how much mythology you know by answering another set of quiz questions? Remember, one correct answer on any of the quiz posts will enter you into a drawing to win an ebook copy of Stamp of Fate.

Question Set #3:

  1. This god was jealous of Zeus’s amorous affairs and punished both his mistresses and their children with implacable fury.
  2. This god fell in love with the mortal Psyche but asked her not to light her chamber when he visited.
  3. This god presented the Greek people with an olive tree at the Acropolis.
  4. This god was also known as the god of earthquakes and the god of horses.
  5. This god becalmed Agamemnon’s ships when he was on his way to Troy.

Stamp of Fate — A Question To You

July 30, 2012

A slightly bastardized version of one of the Greek myths is a big clue to “whodunit” in Stamp of Fate. (No, I’m not telling you which one.) I actually started with the murder mystery idea and then brought the myth into it when I was stuck as to who the killer was and why, but I really enjoyed pulling the mythology together with the mystery.

What myths do you think would make a good book (whether they’ve already been turned into one or not)? You don’t have to stick with Greek myths. I’d love to hear stories from mythologies I’m less familiar with.

I will select one random response to win a signed bookmark.

Stamp of Fate — Second Round of Games

July 30, 2012

My favorite part of writing Stamp of Fate was researching all the mythology. I (re)learned a lot of things I didn’t end up using in the book, and I probably spent far too much time surfing the web to find information as I tried to find everything I needed for the story, but I had a lot of fun doing it.

And since I hope you guys enjoy mythology as much as I do, it’s time for another set of Greek god/goddess quiz questions. Remember, one right answer to any of these will enter you in the drawing for an ebook of Stamp of Fate and if you get all 30 right, you may be eligible for some bigger prizes.

See the first post for full details.

Question Set #2:

  1. This god’s symbols were a cornucopia, a rudder of destiny, and a wheel of fortune.
  2. Some myths say this god was born from sea foam.
  3. This god forged a magic throne that entrapped Hera.
  4. This god was saved from being swallowed by his father when his mother and grandmother substituted a swaddling-wrapped stone in his place.
  5. This god often backed non-Greek people in battle, such as the Trojans and the Amazons

Leave your answers in the comments!

Stamp of Fate — Meet the Gods

July 30, 2012

In Stamp of Fate, the various Greek gods and goddesses live under mortal identities with mortal jobs. I had a lot of fun trying to match their characteristics to jobs in today’s world. I’ll tell you later who I gave what job, but I’m curious, what jobs would you give the Greek gods and goddesses today?

I’ve provided a list of gods and goddesses in Stamp of Fate below. Answer for one, all, or anywhere in between. My favorite answer will win an ebook of your choice from my back catalog.

Gods/Goddesses in Stamp of Fate:

  • Aphrodite, goddess of love and beauty
  • Apollo, god of the sun
  • Ares, god of war
  • Artemis, goddess of the hunt
  • Athena, goddess of wisdom and strategic warfare
  • Demeter, goddess of the harvest
  • Dionysus, god of wine
  • Eros, god of sexual love and beauty
  • Hades, ruler of the underworld
  • Helios, personification of the sun
  • Hephaestus, blacksmith of the gods
  • Hera, queen of the gods
  • Hermes, messenger of the gods
  • Hestia, goddess of the hearth
  • Pan, god of the wild
  • Persephone, queen of the underworld
  • Poseidon, god of the sea
  • Tyche, goddess of fortune
  • Zeus, king of the gods

Stamp of Fate — Let the Games Begin!

July 30, 2012

Stamp of Fate involves a lot of characters from the Greek Pantheon living under assumed mortal identities. I thought it could be fun to give away a copy by testing your knowledge of Greek mythology.

I have six sets of questions to go up today, and anyone who gets at least one right answer will be entered to win a Stamp of Fate ebook (you pick the format). If anyone happens to get all 30 questions right, there might be some other prizes. Please note I called them all gods in these questions, but some of them could be goddesses. Also, there are 30 questions and 19 answers, so some gods and goddesses are the answer to two questions.

I’ll post all the answers at the end of the day, so be sure to respond before midnight US Eastern time. The source I double checked with for these “facts” was Encyclopedia Mythica (http://www.pantheon.org/).

Every answer is a character that appears somewhere in Stamp of Fate.

Question Set #1:

  1. This god’s first achievement was to rid Delphi of Python.
  2. This god taught mankind the art of sowing and ploughing.
  3. This god sat on a throne made of ebony.
  4. This god made the first lyre and gave it to Apollo in payment for cattle he stole.
  5. This god was the patron god of the Greek stage.

Good luck!

Who won? Where will Luki and Sonny be tomorrow?

July 18, 2012

Seriously, Luki and Sonny and a couple of fellow characters are going on tour tomorrow… well, very limited tour. There will be another contest, I believe there may be an early review available, and the characters and I will have something to say. (I’m interviewing them again.) The shenanigans will begin at 12 noon Pacific on Thursday and go through Friday night sometime. (Too specific?)

Best to start at
my Goodreads blog.
The rest of the posts will be
at Drops of Ink (Anne Barwell’s page),
at Rhys Ford’s Blog,
at Emotion in Motion (Elizabeth Noble’s site),
and my own WordPress blog, Sylvre.com.

And, on Saturday, a last bash for Yes at Dreamspinner Groups discussion board.

What about today’s winner? I’ll announce in a comment to this post one hour after the party ends, and post at my Goodreads blog–the link is above.

Thank you everybody for coming to the party, reading, commenting, playing! It has truly been a pleasure.

Release Party: “The Trust” – Ebook Giveaway

June 18, 2012

We hope you’ve enjoyed the posts and excerpts throughout the day here on the Dreamspinner Press blog!  And, of course, we hope you enjoy reading more about Jake and Trace in “The Trust.”  Don’t forget to leave a comment here to be entered to win a free ebook copy in the format of your choice!  We’ll be picking a winner and announcing it tomorrow, June 19th, so stay tuned. – Shira and Venona

Release Party: “The Trust” – Excerpt Two (18+ excerpt, NSFW!)

June 18, 2012

This excerpt is a bit hotter than the last, so warning to all of you at work:  this one probably should be read at home!  Hope you like it.  -Shira

Blurb:   Eight years ago, Jake Anders was a college kid from the wrong side of the tracks. Then Trace Michelson recruited him into The Trust, a CIA-backed agency whose “executives” eliminate rogue biotechnology operations. Trace was everything Jake ever wanted in a man: powerful, brilliant, and gorgeous. But Jake never admitted his attraction to his mentor, and Trace always kept Jake at arm’s length.

Now Trace is dead and Jake is one of The Trust’s best operatives, highly skilled and loyal to the organization. But the secret agent has his own secret: six years ago, before he was assassinated, Trace designed a Sim chip containing his memories and experiences—and now that chip is part of Jake. It’s just data, designed to augment Jake’s knowledge, but when Sim becomes reality, Jake wonders if Trace is still alive or if Jake really is going crazy like everyone claims. He doesn’t know if he can trust himself, let alone anyone else.

To learn the truth about Trace and the chip, Jake embarks on a dangerous mission—except he’s not the only one looking for the information. Some of the answers are locked in his head, and unless he finds the key, he’ll be killed for the technology that’s become a part of him.

Now, more than ever, Jake wishes Trace were here to guide him. Too bad he’s dead… right?

*****************

Pre-publication Excerpt, final version may change!

Excerpt from Chapter Eleven:

He closed his eyes and imagined himself on a beach overlooking blue-green water. He could hear the sound of the surf hitting the sand; he felt the spray on his face and the warmth of the sun. He took a deep breath and followed the Sim’s instructions.

He felt a strong pair of hands on his shoulders, digging into the tense muscles there from above him, kneading at the stiffness. The surf pounded the shore, and a drop of salt water hit his cheek. For the first time during a meditation, he realized he could smell—the tangy scent of seaweed washed up on the sand, the salt on the breeze, and something else—the citrus aftershave he remembered from years before. Trace’s aftershave. It was deeply unnerving. It was as though Trace were there with him, beside him. The real Trace and not a simulation. He fought the urge to stand up and start pacing again.

“Relax.” Trace Michelson’s resonant voice was a surprising balm for the stress Jake could not seem to release. The voice was also different than before: warmer, perhaps. No longer in his mind, but right there, next to him. Real. Much like the difference between a painting of a beautiful sunset and the sunset as it paints the world with vibrant color, because you are there to experience it.

“You’ve never touched me before.” Jake marveled at the strength in those long, graceful fingers. He could almost hear the other man’s breath in his ear as he imagined Trace’s face above his own, looking down. He didn’t open his eyes for fear that the scene would disappear and he’d be back in his own apartment once more, alone.

“You’ve never let me touch you, not in this way,” the Sim responded. “Until now, you haven’t been comfortable letting me get this close to you.”

“Hell.” Jake sighed and gave in to the need to believe that it was Trace Michelson touching him, and not just a simulation. “It’s all in my head, anyhow. Why should I care what you do?” He began to relax into the warm sand, and all thoughts of what Grey might say if he told him his Sim massaged his shoulders on a Caribbean beach vanished.

“You will find the answers.” Trace began to work his way down Jake’s arm, kneading the muscles. “But you must be patient.”

“Easy for you to say,” said Jake with a laugh. Trace worked his fingers up Jake’s arms and lingered briefly at his shoulders, working through the tension, reaching around his neck to work the muscles of his upper back. Painful bliss.

“Relax,” Trace commanded after a few more minutes. Jake obliged as his head sank back further into the soft sand.

“God, that feels so good.”

“You’re fighting it,” Trace said, his face again close to Jake’s.

“Hell no. It’s just that I’m starting to feel like Jell-O.”

“I’m not talking about your body,” the Sim replied. “I’m talking about your mind, your spirit.”

“My mind?”

“You must open your mind, Jake, and see the infinite possibilities.”

A flash of color hovered on the periphery of Jake’s consciousness: the mandala. “What am I supposed to see in it?” he asked as Trace caressed his chest. “What am I missing?”

“The future. Your future is there.”

“Right now, I’m just seein’ myself dead,” Jake answered acerbically. “And that’s what I see, no matter which way I look.”

“You’re better than that—stronger. You’re capable of so much more than you’re willing to admit. This is no different from any mission you’ve been sent on in the past. Only perhaps there is more to be gained in the end.”

“Will you be waiting there?” Jake asked.

There was no answer. Trace followed a line to the sensitive skin under Jake’s ear, and he felt gooseflesh rise on his body.

“God, Trace,” he whispered, “what are you doing?”

“I’m merely responding to your wishes, to your desires.” Jake imagined Trace’s lips close to his ear. “It’s what I’m programmed to do.”

“My… desires?” Jake wondered aloud. “Trace… he programmed you to…?”

“My programming has never been completely static,” Trace replied as he ghosted a pair of silken palms over the muscles of Jake’s chest, and Jake’s body arched instinctively upward. “I’m only responding to your needs, your desires.”

“Have I desired this?” Jake mused. He was a sexual being, although he’d never found a man who could completely satisfy him. And yet, this man whom he’d worshipped from afar….

“You hesitate because you do not know what to believe of your unspoken need,” Trace explained calmly.

“I….”

“It’s your desire that guides me. And it’s your fear that holds you back.”

“I’m afraid,” Jake admitted.

“You’re afraid of being with me.” Jake knew Trace was right. Was it so unreasonable to be afraid of Trace? He was nothing more than a ghost.

“How did you know,” Jake asked, uncomprehending, “when I didn’t understand it myself?”

“I’m a part of you. I can’t be separated from you, nor can I fail to hear what’s in your heart.”

Jake moaned again. The feel of Trace’s fingers on his scalp made him want to….

“Open your eyes, Jake Anders,” that glorious voice now commanded. “Open your eyes.”

Jake obeyed, looking into the most stunning eyes he’d ever known, their deep blue now appearing almost gray in the bright sunlight. It was as if he were seeing those eyes for the first time—they were no longer the cold, controlled eyes of the man who had mentored him but the eyes of a lover, warm and deep. Trace was naked, his hair wet from the water. Jake realized that he was naked, as well.

“Trace,” he whispered as their lips met. He ran his fingers over the well-defined chest, the smooth pale skin that seemed to glow in the sunlight. “You’re so goddamn beautiful. I never knew….” His voice trailed off as he felt Trace run his hands through his hair with its ends now painted in sand. Trace licked his ear, and Jake gasped. Why did this all seem so real? And how hadn’t he understood what he’d felt all along? He smiled for a moment at the realization that Grey had correctly guessed at his heart, then silently cursed the man for it.

“Do you understand, now, what you’ve denied yourself all these years?” Trace whispered, biting the lobe of Jake’s ear and sucking it for a moment. “Do you understand why I always kept you at arm’s length?”

“You didn’t want to hurt me.” Jake was momentarily stricken by the thought that the real man behind the Sim might not have desired him in the same way. To Trace, he’d been just a kid, eager, willing, and yet unable to comprehend the adult whispers of his soul.

Jake couldn’t deny it any longer: after years spent with the Sim as his constant companion, he’d grown to love Trace. It was utterly absurd. But as he lay on the beach with the water lapping at his toes, the absurdity of falling in love with the ghost who inhabited his mind didn’t matter. Here, in this place, that love felt real.

“I wanted you to make your own choices.”

I want this now. I want him.

Jake pulled Trace on top of him, raking his back with his nails until he heard a low groan in response. Then, roughly, he drew Trace’s face back to his and found his lips once again, probing Trace’s mouth with an insistent and demanding tongue, relishing the warmth as it opened to him. He had never tasted anything as sinfully sweet.

“Jake, what do you want?” Trace wrapped his arms around Jake and pulled him closer.

“I want you,” moaned Jake, his hands grasping at the tensed muscles of Trace’s shoulders, feeling the power there.

Trace pushed Jake back onto the sand, his eyes hooded with lust. He sucked hard at the base of Jake’s neck, then moved lower, biting a nipple and laving the outline of it with his tongue. Jake growled as Trace took the pebbled flesh between his teeth and rolled it there, biting it again, just enough to sting.

“Oh, fuck… Trace!” he cried out. Where did a Sim chip learn to do that? The thought was quickly replaced by thrumming need. He went to push Trace over, to dominate him as he was being dominated, but Trace was far stronger than he remembered, and he remained pinned beneath the smaller man.

Trace’s eyes grew darker still as he pushed Jake’s wrists into the sand at his sides. Jake ceased his struggle, surrendering to his companion until he felt Trace’s hard cock against his. But the blissful pressure of that contact was quickly gone as Trace leaned down, then drew lazy circles on his abdomen with his pink tongue, making his way slowly downward to the point that Jake thought he might lose his sanity in the pleasure of the other man’s touch.

“God, Trace.” The sun-heated water lapped at Jake’s feet as Trace’s lips parted and he felt the warmth of Trace’s mouth, exploring the length of him, tasting and sucking there.

Now I’ve really lost my mind.

“Hardly,” murmured Trace, circling his tongue around the sensitive tip before swallowing it down until his mouth met the reddish curls at the base of Jake’s cock. “You’ve just found it.”

He could barely breathe to feel that warm heat. And that tongue! God, that tongue was at once both heavenly and sinful. Trace sucked in his cheeks, increasing the pressure—that incredible, perfect pressure that made Jake forget everything. Teeth, lips, and tongue combined in the most exquisite way.

Jake realized his lover no longer held his wrists when he felt lithe fingers scrape the sensitive skin of his perineum and a firm hand cup his balls, then roll them about. “Shit!” he cried out, the sound of his voice lost on the crashing waves. “Shit, shit, shit!” A finger pressed against his tight opening, and it was just too much for him. He came hard in Trace’s mouth, shuddering and clutching Trace’s hair in his hands.

The cell phone alarm buzzed, and Jake awoke with a start, panting. He was still on the couch, wearing the same pair of pants as before. The apartment was dark. He was soaked in sweat. He felt the sticky warmth of his release on his abdomen. He was half-hard just remembering.

“Helluva dream,” he muttered to himself. He got up and headed for the shower, stripped off his pants, and set the temperature as cold as he could stand it. “You are one fucked-up SOB,” he added, shaking his head and grabbing the shampoo.

That was a dream, wasn’t it? he wondered as he rinsed the shampoo from his long hair.