Monday, July 16, 2018

A Mage's Power by Casey Wolfe

Title: A Mage's Power
Series: The Inquisition Trilogy, Book One
Author: Casey Wolfe
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: July 16, 2018
Heat Level: 2 - Fade to Black Sex
Pairing: Male/Male
Length: 70800
Genre: Paranormal, mages, witches, shifters, dark, magic

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Built on the bones of an ancient city, modern-day Everstrand is where master mage, Rowan, has set up his enchantment shop. When not hanging out with his werewolf best friend, Caleb, or studying, he dabbles in herbology and the controversial practice of blood magic. A prodigy who has already earned two masters, Rowan’s bound and determined to reach the distinction of grandmaster, a mage who obtains a masters in all five Schools of Magic.

Shaw works for the Inquisition, the organization charged with policing the magical races collectively known as magicae. Recently, it has come under scrutiny as magicae begin to disappear and reports of violence increase. With secrets of his own on the line, Shaw is willing to risk everything to find out just what is going on behind all the locked doors.

When Rowan and Shaw are entangled in each other’s worlds, it becomes evident that their hearts are as much at risk as their lives. They must find the truth and stop a conspiracy before it’s too late.


A Mage’s Power
Casey Wolfe © 2018
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One
The city of Everstrand came into view when Rowan’s dirt bike broke through the last of the forest. The engine whirred as he caught a little air over a bump, wind whipping at his blond hair. He laughed, leaving dust in his wake. Spring was fast approaching and Rowan was enjoying the sunshine and warming temperatures perhaps a bit too much.

The dirt roads leading from the Sacred Timber, where he lived, gave way to the paved roadways of civilization. Rowan much preferred the solitude of nature to the bustle of Osterian’s capital city, so it was just as well he tended to keep his trips there to a minimum.

Not that the city was completely horrible. It was ancient, and a lot of the original structures had been well-preserved as the city expanded over the centuries. The Everstrand Mages Guild was part of the oldest section. It sat on a broken piece of land that was enchanted to float in the air above the Grey Tides—visible even now. Chains kept it bound to the cliffside so that it didn’t drift away.

Rowan needed to stop by the Guild at some point, but he wanted to go to his shop first. One wouldn’t think he’d be able to make a living by being open a few days out of the week; however, an enchanter’s services were always a valuable commodity. Considering Rowan was the sole master enchanter in the entire city offering his services to the public, he wasn’t worried about losing business.

Having timed his arrival after the morning rush, Rowan had no problems getting to the shop. He cut through a few narrow side alleys to the Orchard Street Mall. He loved that it was all outdoors, restricted to foot traffic only, instead of a typical mall complex. It gave the area a certain charm, with the unique facades and plentiful landscaping.

Rowan parked his bike in the section reserved for vendors, permit tag sealed in place with magic to prevent theft. Satchel strap over his shoulder, he made his way down the cobblestone paths, past shops of every size and type.

Nestled between a bookstore and a pastry shop—that he frequented probably more than he should have—was Charmed to Meet You. Even now, the name made him cringe a little. It had been his late grandmother’s suggestion, and with no counter-name in hand, Rowan had relented. It seemed he was stuck with it too—at least his customers thought it was cute.

Once inside, he flipped on the lights and tossed his satchel onto the counter. He shrugged out of his brown leather jacket, hanging it on the rack. The weather may have been breaking, but riding his bike still required protection from the chill. It was nice enough to open the windows, which he did with a flick of his hand. A breeze swept inside, the fresh air swapping out the stale from over the weekend.

It was a small shop, designed more as a work space than a storefront, with all the shelving behind the counter holding his supplies. There were no displays or little charm trinkets lying around. Everything he did was custom. Let them go to a kitschy tourist trap if they wanted some run-of-the-mill good luck charm. He had better things to do.

Already finished with current orders, Rowan decided today was a good day to work on his own projects. He sat on his stool and pulled a thick book from his satchel before stowing the bag under the counter by his parchment, ink, and quills. It might have been old-fashioned of him, but he enjoyed the feel of a quill in his hand and handmade paper under his fingers—his grandmother’s influence, no doubt, as she had been the one to give him his first grimoire filled with parchment. After that, a notebook and pen simply wouldn’t do for anything involving his magical studies.

“Now, where was I?”

One of the few things he’d taken from his grandmother’s cottage was her magic books, but he hadn’t been able to read them until recently. Even looking at them had invoked powerful memories of her, and it was far too heartbreaking to consider. They had sat around, gathering dust, for the last half-dozen years, and Rowan thought it was about time to get over it. Thus, he’d begun pouring over her old grimoires and spell theory books in earnest.

Naturally, no sooner had he gotten settled, his cell phone chimed. It turned out to be his best friend, Caleb, and Rowan wasn’t surprised at the inquiry: “Lunch today?”

Rowan smiled while typing out a reply text: “Of course.” As though Caleb didn’t come out to Rowan’s cottage enough, the werewolf was always on him to hang out when he was in town. “Now hush. I’m studying.”

The returned zipped-lip emoji made Rowan laugh. “Damn wolf,” he said affectionately, shaking his head as he set the phone aside.

Not that the silence lasted long. From the back of the shop, Rowan heard a soft meow. He turned to find the brown tabby cat that roamed the neighborhood, slipping through the window and landing gracefully on a stack of books. “Hey, Badger.”

The cat meowed again, making his way along the shelves before jumping onto the front counter. Badger purred, rubbing his head against Rowan’s arm, demanding attention. Rowan scratched behind the cat’s ears. He certainly was an animal magnet.

Badger had shown up in the shop one day when Rowan had opened one of the back windows to vent the smoke from a failed experiment—not one of his prouder moments. Rowan had no desire for a cat, but he couldn’t just throw the guy back out into the wet snow either. Thankfully for Rowan, the cat didn’t exactly want to be kept.

Badger came and went on his own whims, although it seemed he’d picked up Rowan’s schedule and was sure to drop by to see him. Rowan figured part of it had to do with the fact he was keeping meat treats around. Not that he minded. Badger was a quiet, comforting presence who mostly took advantage of the warm, dry place by curling up on the counter and napping.

Caleb had saddled the cat with his name. Rowan wasn’t planning to name him—after all, he had proven to be his own animal—but Caleb had pointed out they couldn’t keep calling him “the cat.” Badger should have been thankful Rowan vetoed Whiskers.

The bell above the door announced the arrival of a customer, one of Rowan’s regulars. Most of Marian’s requests were idiotic, but he wasn’t about to turn down her money. If she wanted to keep wasting it at his shop, that was fine by him.

“Rowan, hon, there you are,” the older woman gushed, coming up to the counter. “Did you get my message?”

“I actually just got in.” Rowan may have sounded apologetic, but he wasn’t in the least. Marian had the habit of freaking out over nothing and believing she needed magical interference to deal with every little challenge. Think of the money, he reminded himself.

“Oh, I am in desperate need of your help. It’s my neighbor. The old fool has been trying to curse me.”

Rowan had to hold back an exasperated sigh. This was going to take a while. He closed his book regretfully.

“Curses are serious business,” Rowan said. “Are you sure?” Despite his words, he was already moving toward the shelves. They were set perpendicular to the counter, so he was still able to see Marian as he searched for various things he would require.

“I’m certain,” Marian insisted, as Rowan knew she would. “It’s my garden! Everything is just…dying. It was fine one day, and the next…” She threw her hands in the air, which was apparently supposed to mean something.

Rowan hummed in false agreement. “Yes, that does sound serious. Have you thought of reporting it?” Humoring her didn’t mean he couldn’t take a few jabs at her expense.

“Heavens, no. Those fools don’t do a thing. You should know that, dear.”

Rowan rolled his eyes. This is what I got a masters for?

It wasn’t the first time he’d thought it, and not even with Marian’s ridiculous requests. There he was, the youngest mage ever with a masters degree—now two—and he was humoring people who needed to keep plants alive despite their lack of green thumb, prevent a neighbor’s dog from shitting in their yard, or protect from griffin attack—because somebody told them they were rampant in the south of Osterian where they planned to vacation. Money was money, though, so Rowan stomached the inane requests and prayed for those that were a good use of his time.

“Do you think you can help me?” Marian asked, before cooing at Badger. He was thoroughly unamused, relocating himself to one of the shelves near Rowan. “He is such a beautiful cat. It’s so precious how he follows you.”

“Yes, he is,” Rowan agreed, Badger rubbing his head against his shoulder. “And, yes, I can most certainly help you out. If you have more shopping to get done, I can have it ready in about an hour.”

Marian clapped her hands together. “Oh, that’s wonderful. I do appreciate it.”

“No trouble at all.” He kept the fake smile in place until the door shut behind her. “One charm to stop you from murdering your own plants, coming up,” he griped. Looking at Badger, he raised a brow. “Why is everything a curse or whatever with her? I swear I don’t understand mundanes.” He spoke of those without magic.

Badger meowed as if he understood. Rowan smiled at him, gathering up the supplies he needed to make the charm in question.

He turned to another shelf, pausing when he saw the potion sitting there. “I forgot about this.” Rowan had been dabbling with potion-making lately. Despite not being an actual School of Magic, herbology—like divination and runes—was an offered course at many guilds. While anyone could learn such skills, magic could often enhance the effects.

“This…wasn’t exactly the color I hoped for,” Rowan admitted, turning the small glass bottle over in his hand. The sickly green liquid sloshed around, unchanged. “So much for that.”

He may have been something of a prodigy—passing his apprenticeship at eighteen, and earning his first masters at twenty-one—but he was far from great at all areas of magic. Likely, his grandmother would have kept him on track, except she’d died shortly after he opened Charmed to Meet You. She missed his second masters at twenty-four, and without her around to scold him, he’d spent the last four years messing around here and there with all sorts of other magic—including intensive study in blood magic—without truly settling on a new course of study.

Perhaps two masters would have been more than enough for any mage to have, but not him. He was bound and determined to reach the distinction of grandmaster, a mage who had obtained a masters in all five Schools of Magic. First, he needed to get through his next exam.


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Meet the Author

Author of gay romantic fiction, from contemporary to paranormal and everything in between. For Casey, existence equals writing. History nerd, film enthusiast, music lover, avid gamer, and just an all-around geek. Add in an unapologetic addiction to loose-leaf tea and you get the general picture. Married, with furry four-legged children, Casey lives happily in the middle of nowhere Ohio.

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Bodies Beautiful by Steve Burford

Title: Bodies Beautiful
Series: Summerskill and Lyon, Book Two
Author: Steve Burford
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: July 16, 2018
Heat Level: 2 - Fade to Black Sex
Pairing: No Romance
Length: 72400
Genre: Contemporary Thriller, contemporary, crime, murder, bodybuilders, detectives, MP, family drama, mystery

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“Y’know, time was when the serial killers went after helpless young women. Now they’re taking out bodybuilders.”

When promising young bodybuilder Paul Best is found gruesomely murdered, DI Claire Summerskill and DS Dave Lyon find themselves deep in the unfamiliar territory of hard core gyms and weights, supplements and steroids. But when the one thing linking the growing list of murder victims is that they are the last men you’d expect to be victims, Summerskill and Lyon are faced with their toughest case yet.

“Bodies Beautiful” is the second in the Summerskill and Lyon series of police procedural novels.


Bodies Beautiful
Steve Burford © 2018
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One
7:00 p.m.


Fierce fire across his chest, up his arms, burning the muscles. More intense than any he had ever known.

It was…awesome!

“Go, Paul!”

“C’mon, man!”

“Push it.”

“Push it!”

With one last, titanic effort and with a strangled, inarticulate bellow, Paul Best pushed the massively stacked barbell that last, all important, near impossible centimetre up over his heaving chest, locked his arms, held for one second, two, then let go. The men on either end of the barbell staggered as they took its weight, hauled it back, and let it drop with a crash on the support framework behind Paul’s head.


“Brilliant, mate!”


Face flushed, near blinded by his own sweat but grinning like a loon, Paul lay momentarily exhausted on the bench, gasping like a landed fish, and accepting his mates’ extravagant praises. A new gym record. A new personal record. A whole one point two five kilos over his last best weight, way beyond anything any of the other guys in that gym could bench-press.

But still not good enough. It was never good enough.

Paul waited for his heart and breathing to slow back to something like normal, dragging a towel one of the guys had thrown at him across his eyes to clear the sweat. The small crowd of enthusiastic admirers who had surrounded his bench drifted back to their own workouts, some inspired by what they had just seen; a couple completely demoralised. Still grinning, Paul sat back up on the bench and accepted the water bottle held out by one who had stayed, one of the two men who had taken the weight from him. “Thanks, Rob.”

His mate stood to one side, shaking his head in amazement. “That was just beyond, man, y’know?”

Paul wiped the towel across the top of his pumped chest and under both armpits before hanging it around his thick neck. “Was, wasn’t it?”

“Want me to spot some more, or do you want to stretch off?”

Paul squinted at the clock on the far wall. “Nah,” he said, standing up from the bench. “Think I’ll just grab a shower and get going.”

Rob frowned. “You sure?” It was a standing joke at the Heavy Metal gym that Paul would be there all the hours God sent if he could, and the staff frequently almost had to throw him out at closing time which was still three hours away. Even Paul might not have anything left to give after that last display, but hitting the showers without stretching off? That was like… Rob struggled for an appropriate comparison but couldn’t find one. Similes weren’t really his thing. But whatever it was like, it was wrong. Paul Best didn’t cut corners in the gym.

“Okay.” Rob sounded uncertain. “Fancy a shake then? I’ve got some of the new protein formula from that show up in Brum. Doesn’t taste like shit. Pure protein. That’s what it says on the label. I mean,” he added, “it doesn’t say, doesn’t taste like shit, just…well, y’know what I mean.”

“Nah, mate. Thanks all the same. Save it for tomorrow, yeah?” Paul pointed his finger at Rob as if aiming a gun, winked, and made a clicking sound with his tongue. “Things to do tonight, y’know?”

Rob shuffled his feet uncomfortably. “Oh yeah. Right.”

Paul laughed. “You in tomorrow?”

Rob nodded vigorously. “Course.”

“Good man!” Paul thumped his friend on the shoulder then made his way across the crowded gym to the small changing room and shower area. All around him, standing, sitting, lying and squatting, men, and some women, pushed, pressed, pulled and lifted barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells and, in one instance, a sandbag. Soft grunts, gasps, and the occasional guttural cry punctured the air which was heavy with sweat and muscle rub.

He stopped just short of the changing room door. On the bench there lay a man, stretching out his arms and pectoral muscles, eyes closed, psyching himself to press the impressively loaded barbell resting over his head on its stand. Either side of the stand were two other men, ready to lift the weight up and over to him and stand by in case he needed their help. Paul came and stood over the man on his back. To the untrained eye, he might have appeared as built as Paul himself. His skimpy vest, like Paul’s, did little to conceal his massively overdeveloped chest and arm muscles. But with the eye of the obsessive, Paul could see the differences: the lack of definition here, the extra eighth of an inch of fat there. And the weight this man was going to try to press… Paul’s grin became positively wolf-like. It was heavy all right, heavier than anything else anyone was pressing in the gym right then. And a good five kilos short of what Paul had just shifted.

“Warming up, Danny?” Paul said, just loud enough for everyone around to hear.

The man on the bench hissed in what might have been a reaction to Paul’s words or might have been part of his mental preparation. He opened his eyes but stayed staring at the ceiling. He nodded once to the men on either side of his head. They heaved the weight up from its rest, brought it forward until the bar was over his chest and he could grasp it, waited until they were sure he had a firm hold, arms locked, then let go and stepped back. For a moment, the weight stayed right where it was. Then, very slowly, teeth bared in a rictus of effort, his breath a series of sharp hisses, the man on the bench let the bar come down until the metal was just resting across his heaving chest. With a cry like a yelp of pain, he then thrust powerfully upwards. The bar moved, an inch, then another. On either side of him, the helpers shifted uneasily. Veins stood out on the forehead of the man on the bench as he strained against the weight. The bar moved another inch, then part of another. Then inexorably sank back downwards. The two standing men stepped in, seized the ends of the barbell, and hauled it back into its place on the stand.

Paul laughed out loud. “Bad luck, Danny,” he yelled, as he threw open the changing room doors. “Like to stick around and help you out but things to do, people to see. You know how it is.” He turned and stood for a moment in the doorframe, arms held out at his side as if inviting everyone there to gaze adoringly at his powerful body. “I mean, you know how it was. Keep taking the tablets.”

Dan Thompson lay on his bench, gasping like a man who had run a marathon, while his training partners shuffled uncomfortably off to one side, avoiding any eye contact with him. “Prick!” Dan gasped. “Fucking little prick!”

The door swung shut behind Paul but didn’t completely muffle the sound of his mocking laughter.

In the changing rooms, Paul pulled his sweat-sodden vest up over his head, tossed it to one side, and stood in front of the mirror, admiring his body in the almost dispassionate way a car enthusiast might admire a sports car he had built from scratch. Biceps pose. Triceps pose. Quad flex. Yeah, looking good. Looking big and looking really good. And burning Thompson had felt good too. So good it had just about made him forget the nagging in his gut. But not quite.

Rob’s confused surprise at his early exit from the gym had been a laugh but tearing himself away from his training so early had not been easy for Paul. Not at all! The obsessive compulsion that was part of his life, that was almost all of his life, that drove him through the pain and privations of bodybuilding day after day, week in, week out, was all but impossible to ignore. Besides, it would have been cool to hang around and bask some more in the mingled admiration and envy of the other guys there.

But when sweet deals came along, you had to make the most of them. And tonight’s deal promised to be so sweet Paul would be able to keep himself in allegedly delicious protein drinks for many months to come. And not just milkshakes. He whistled happily to himself as he took one last admiring look over his shoulder at the reflection of his flared lat muscles and enviable narrow waist before padding off to the showers.


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Meet the Author

Steve Burford lives in one of the less well-to-do areas of Malvern mentioned in the novel. When not writing in a variety of genres under a variety of names, he tries to teach drama to teenagers. He has only occasionally been in trouble with the police. You can reach Steve via eMail.


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