Wednesday, March 31, 2021

New #ReleaseBlitz...Runaway Royal...#Contemporary #Erotic #Romance #Royals #Giveaway

Runaway Royal by Wendi Zwaduk

Word Count: 50,742
Book Length: NOVEL
Pages: 198
Heat Rating: Sizzling
Sexometer: 2



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Book Description

Will this runaway royal ever find her place…and true love?

All Princess Catherine Zara of Lysianna wants to do is attend college like everyone else her age. So she’s a royal and requires a security guard to move about in public, but if she goes to university, she doesn’t have to marry the man chosen for her. He’s not her true love, so why torture herself? All she has to do to get her life started is to run away to the US…

And then she meets Luke.

Luke Cobb wants to survive college with a degree in studio art and guarantees that he can show his paintings in the local galleries. All he needs is the right break to get his work mainstream and the right woman to stoke his dormant muse. When he meets Zara, he’s smitten and his creativity sparks.

Except, she’s a princess and he’s a commoner, which could be a big problem


“I can do this.” Princess Catherine shored up her courage. She was a royal. A princess. She could do anything she set her mind to—except stand up to the king and queen.

She stared at her reflection in the mirror. Her parents, the king and queen of Lysianna, wouldn’t allow her to head to another country on her own. They insisted she be an advisor to her brother, the future king. Charlie could handle himself and he’d be a great king—whenever the time came.

If she didn’t practice what she wanted to say, she’d flounder and this was not the time to lose her nerve. She tucked her hair behind her ears. “Mother, Father, I need to speak with you. I’ve completed two years of online schooling towards a degree in art history and I’m going to Kenton State College in the United States to finish it.” Did she sound convincing enough?

She’d already completed her application for acceptance on campus, chosen her classes for the first semester and landed a good apartment in a building just across from the main portion of the campus. Her plane ticket had been paid for and she’d packed most of her things. All she needed to do was tell her parents she’d be leaving.

She abandoned her image in the mirror and resumed packing the last of her things—her brushes, photos and stuffed rabbit in her bag. She’d come back, but she wasn’t sure when. Sadness filled her mind. Change would be hard—she’d only ever lived in the castle—but she needed to move forward with her life. She’d never be happy living as part of the court. Even if she did nothing more than teach an art class or run a portion of a museum back home, she’d be happy and doing something with her life.

Her lady-in-waiting, Corinne, hurried into the room. “I guess you’re ready to go.” She folded her arms. “Want me to go with you? I should.”

She had plans for her lady and wasn’t about to disclose them now. Corinne was terrible with secrets and would’ve told her parents before the point of no return. “It’s handled.”

Corinne sat on the bed. “What am I going to do with myself? I have nothing to do if you’re not here. They might let me go.”

“They won’t.” She closed her bag. “They like you. If my brother wasn’t gay, they’d have married you off to him by now.”

“But he is gay.” Corinne groaned. “Sucks.”

Her lady hadn’t been shy about her crush on Charlie. In the whole of their time together, Corinne had insisted to Catherine she wanted to marry Charlie. The problem? Besides Charlie being gay, he wasn’t going to marry Corinne simply to make an heir. He refused to change just for the royal line.

“Your parents would rather you marry Duke Elmore. He’s handsome,” Corinne said. “If you’re into older guys.”

Catherine shivered. “Older isn’t the half of it. He’s almost twenty years older than me, he’s not handsome at all and I don’t like him. I don’t want to be married to someone who sees me as a ticket to the good life. He wants a title beyond duke.” Her stepmother would never understand. She’d married the king, despite their ten-year age difference, just to have a title.

“So you’re going to America to avoid him?”

“No.” She simply refused to marry someone out of duty, not love. “I want to finish my degree. Art makes me happy. Him? Not so much.”

“Well, it’s time to talk to your parents.” Corinne walked with her to the corridor. “Need me to do anything?”

“Nope. I’ve got this handled.” Catherine gave her bag to the butler. “Thank you.” She shored herself up again and headed down to the throne room. The car was ready and once she reached the airport, the plane would be waiting to whisk her to the States. Even if her parents said no, she’d left nothing to chance.

“Catherine.” Her stepmother, Eloise, closed her book. “You look determined. Have you made a decision concerning the duke?”

“I have.” She clasped her hands together. “I refuse to marry him.” She stood tall. “I’ve made a choice about my future, too.”

“Oh?” Her father finally looked up from his paperwork. “What have you decided?”

She sucked in a ragged breath, then sighed. “Mother, Father, I’m attending college.”

Her father tipped his head and said nothing. Her stepmother gasped. “Why? You’re a royal. You don’t have to do schooling. Elmore will take care of you and you can play with your art all you want. Royals don’t dirty their hands with studies.”

Her stepmother spit the words out like sour candies. Catherine didn’t care. She had to focus. “I want a degree in art history. I’d like to learn about the art here in Lysianna and around the world—like my mother used to know.”

“Interesting,” her father said. He tapped his pen on the table. “Why do you want to follow in your mother’s footsteps?”

She’d prepared for this question. “I need to have something that’s mine. I love art and I’m dying to continue my studies.” She had to keep her explanation short and sweet. The more she talked, the greater the chance her parents would coerce her to change her mind. “I want something to hold on to that reminds me of my mother. I don’t remember her and this is my private link.”

“She’s gone,” her stepmother snapped.

“Let her have this, Queen. It’s her choice,” her father said. “She’ll get bored after a year or she’ll find this is the thing she wants to do. As for Elmore, he can wait. Or maybe he can’t and he’ll choose someone else. Doesn’t matter to me. He’s a pest.”

She wasn’t going to get bored, but if her father thought Elmore was a pest, then why try to palm her off on him?

“What about Charles?” her stepmother said. “He should be the one to go first. Yes, he deserves a degree.”

“He already has one.” Catherine gritted her teeth. Their parents didn’t know Charlie well. He hated being referred to as Charles and he wasn’t interested in going to college again. Charlie had attained a degree on his own and had his plan for making his own way without their parents to intervene. Now was her chance to do the same.

“Anyway, I’m leaving.” She turned on her heel and left the room. If she looked back, she risked changing her mind. Only forward now.

“You’re what?” Her stepmother chased after her. “You cannot. We need to arrange lodgings and security and everything else. You’ll need handlers and Elmore should accompany you for protection. Or he should set up a security detail so he can keep you safe, but stay here to run his businesses.”

God, no. Catherine headed through the foyer to the waiting car. “Goodbye, Mother.” The idea of calling her stepmother Mother annoyed her. She’d had a mother and the queen wasn’t a very good substitute.

“Catherine.” Her stepmother caught up to her. “We’ll summon Elmore. You cannot make the flight unprotected.”

She sighed. “He’s old enough to be my father and he’s not attractive, so no.” She tossed her bag onto the seat. “I’ll be fine. No one in the United States knows me, so I won’t need the huge protection you’re planning.” She’d have her roommate in her new apartment and a few transplanted palace security guards around, but out of sight.

“Take Corinne, please?” Her stepmother pushed Corinne at her. “You can’t go alone. And don’t forget, you need to have an approved consort by the time of your official portrait reveal.”

“Fine.” Catherine nodded to her lady-in-waiting. “Let’s go.” She ducked into the car without bothering for hugs or kisses from her stepmother. That wasn’t her stepmother’s style. Her father hadn’t left the throne room. Her stepmother glared at her, but didn’t otherwise show emotion. She wouldn’t dare. Any bit of cracking might show she was human and the people of Lysianna didn’t think she had emotions. She wanted to say goodbye to her brother, but he wasn’t even in the country.

Catherine settled on the seat and sighed. “That worked out exactly as I planned.”

“What about me?” Corinne asked. “You said I’d stay here.”

“I lied.” She winked. “I couldn’t go totally alone. They’re right. I do need someone with me that I can trust.” Well, mostly trust. “I packed you a bag and added your name to the charter. You’re flying with me.”

Corinne’s eyes widened. “My princess.” She grinned. “Naughty.”

She sighed again. “I’ve never been naughty a day in my life. Crafty, maybe, but never naughty.”

“You’ve lived in your brother’s shadow for too long.”

“He’ll be king and I won’t hold the throne. Even if something happens to him, they won’t let me be queen, so why not have something that’s mine?” Catherine asked. “I don’t mind.” She didn’t. “This way I’m out from under their thumb and can experience life.” She couldn’t wait for the next chapter to start. There was a great big world out there just waiting for her to explore it.

There was the tricky thing about her needing a consort, but she had plenty of time. The portrait reveal wasn’t for another year. The world wouldn’t wait a year—not when her consort might be out there somewhere.

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About the Author. . .

Wendi Zwaduk

Wendi Zwaduk is a multi-published, award-winning author of more than one-hundred short stories and novels. She’s been writing since 2008 and published since 2009. Her stories range from the contemporary and paranormal to BDSM and LGBTQ themes. No matter what the length, her works are always hot, but with a lot of heart. She enjoys giving her characters a second chance at love, no matter what the form. She’s been the runner up in the Kink Category at Love Romances Cafรฉ as well as nominated at the LRC for best contemporary, best mรฉnage and best anthology. Her books have made it to the bestseller lists on and the former AllRomance Ebooks. She also writes under the name of Megan Slayer.

When she’s not writing, she spends time with her husband and son as well as three dogs and three cats. She enjoys art, music and racing, but football is her sport of choice.

You can find out more about Wendi on her website or on her blog. You can also find her on Instagram, Bookbub and Amazon.


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Runaway Royal by Wendi Zwaduk


#AudioBook #Tour...Love's Lawyer...#Contemporary #MM #Romance


Would law school do what a drug lord’s bullet could not - hand Colin Campbell the bitter defeat he never believed he’d have to face? Or would the man he loved find a way to draw him back from the abyss?

Book Title:  Love’s Lawyer

Author:  Janice Jarrell

Publisher: Self-Published

Narrator: Walker Williams

Release Date: March 4, 2021

Genre:  Contemporary M/M Romance

Themes: Law school stress

Heat Rating: 4 flames

Length: 8 hours and 42 minutes

It is a standalone story but also part of a group of books.

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Audible US  |   Audible UK  |  Amazon US  |   Amazon UK

Colin Campbell had been a champion all his life. Nothing had ever beaten him, not even a drug lord’s bullet. He approached law school the same way he approached everything in life, with cocky confidence fizzing through his veins like ginger ale. He had it all. He had the looks, the brains, the experience, the know-how and he also had the love of his life at his side. He couldn’t be defeated... he thought.

But he hadn’t counted on the gravitas of law school, the reading, the preparation, the cases, the competition, the Socratic Method, the concepts, the grading curve, the expectations, the finals, memos, study groups, outlines... all of it piled and heaped upon those preparing for a career as an attorney until it wasn’t surprising that some of them simply imploded under the weight of it all.

Suddenly Colin was spinning out of control, scrambling to keep up, rarely ever seeing Joshua. His grades slumped as he tried desperately to balance the opposing forces in his life, but his only solution was stretching himself thinner and thinner, until he feared he’d be torn in two. Joshua pleaded with him to slow down, but Colin refused to lighten his load and the path before them grew darker and darker.

They’d been through so much and survived. Would law school do what a drug lord’s bullet could not - hand Colin Campbell the bitter defeat he never believed he’d have to face?

Or would the man he loved find a way to draw him back from the abyss?

About the Author  

My name is Janice Jarrell. I am a retired grandmother who lives in Seattle, WA.  I have two children and three grandsons. I’ve been writing gay romance since I was twelve years old, only back then it wasn’t called ‘gay romance’. In fact, it had no name at all. It was the fifty’s, and it was worth your life to admit to being gay, let alone confess to being a girl who constantly fantasized about relationships between gay men. Hell, I didn’t even know what a homosexual was. I lived on a farm out in the sticks in a tiny Michigan village and I’d never, to my knowledge, even heard the word. I just knew I loved the thought of boy on boy romance. I just knew that there was something hot going on between Tom Corbett and his Space Cadets and all those guys on ‘Combat’.

I wrote slash fanfiction for 30 years, writing over 337 stories, some as short as 100 words (a drabble) some as long as a series which was over 119,012 words. I enjoy writing my stories. I enjoyed the feedback I received from my readers. It was a creative release I’d been searching for my entire life and I blessed the Internet for leading me to this artistic oasis for my spirit.

Love’s Magic was my very first step into writing my own characters. I will always be grateful the slash fanfiction community for nurturing the budding author until she was ready to blossom into a fully realized novelist. It’s been an amazing thing to watch the gay community’s growth over these past twenty years. My own journey has echoed theirs in many ways, and I’m grateful to all those gay activists who fought to give the gay community the rights and privileges they always deserved.

My second contemporary gay romance novel, Love's Trials followed Colin and Joshua on their journey as men and as a couple. The readers who fell in love with them in Love’s Magic were thrilled to see their romance continue to grow and blossom, but were forced to watch our beloved boys go through some pretty traumatic trials in this book, trials which nearly shattered their relationship. But their love proved stronger than any troubles in the end and they now move forward into the happiness they know they deserve.

In Love’s Glory, Colin and Joshua bask in the happiness that eluded them in Love’s Trials. If you’re looking for a book filled with anger, fear, and anxiety... look elsewhere. Love’s Glory is about just that... the glory of love and the continued growth of these two extraordinary men and the amazing friends who are a large part of their lives.

I’m also grateful to the gay romance community, readers, authors, publishers and promoters, who are making these, my retirement years, the most creative ones of my life. When I'm not writing, I'm traveling, walking, hiking, knitting, crocheting, and weaving, and enjoying my life here in the heart of the Pacific Northwest.

Social Media Links

Audible Profile  |  YouTube

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Hosted by Gay Book Promotions

Follow the tour and check out the other blog posts and reviews here

#BookTour...Team Fear #Book 4...#Romantic #Suspense #Giveaway

Die By the Team
Team Fear Book 4
by Cindy Skaggs
Genre: Romantic Suspense
An explosion at a university research facility exposes a tie between an unauthorized experiment and a classified military program to create fearless soldiers. Reclusive scientist ALLYSON BOWEN is stalked by crazed soldiers who want her silenced, but her drive to discover what happened to the scientists who disappeared from the lab has her joining forces with CALEB CRAFT, soldier and computer specialist, as they expose the company who funded the Prometheus Project. Negotiating death threats, hit squads, and a growing attraction, Allyson and Craft fight against the elusive Team Echo in order to put the failed experiment back in Pandora’s box forever.

Team Fear: An elite Special Forces unit involved in an experimental program to create fearless soldiers.

Background: Military trained, medically enhanced, designed to kill.

Mission: The surviving members of Team Fear are out of the military and in a world of secrets, lies, and cover-ups in this steamy romantic suspense series by Cindy Skaggs.

Survive By the Team
Team Fear Book 3
5 stars. "Every Team Fear novel seems better than the last." -Jess Molly Brown

Team Fear: An elite Special Forces unit involved in an experimental program to create fearless soldiers.

Background: Military trained, medically enhanced, designed to kill.

Mission: The surviving members of Team Fear are out of the military and in a world of secrets, lies, and cover-ups in this steamy romantic suspense series by Cindy Skaggs.

He is about to meet the woman he can't walk away from.

Mandi Gault's brother died in a conspiracy threatening Team Fear--a defunct military team--so when she winds up in the hospital, a former teammate is forced to leave the safety of the team's compound. He recognizes her attacker as a member of a rogue military unit with orders to eliminate Team Fear. Now they're on the run while they unravel why Team Echo wants her dead.

As the danger escalates, they share a wild night of down and dirty fun that would put a blush on a corpse, but he made it clear it was one and done. Now he must decide if he's brave enough to forget about vengeance and live.

Military trained, medically enhanced, designed to kill. The surviving members of Team Fear are out of the military and in a world of secrets, lies, and cover-ups in this fast-paced romantic suspense series by Cindy Skaggs.

Fight By the Team
Team Fear Book 2
"A rollercoaster ride ... [that] keeps the reader riveted." --Splashes Into Books

Team Fear: An elite Special Forces unit involved in an experimental program to create fearless soldiers.

Background: Military trained, medically enhanced, designed to kill.

Mission: The surviving members of Team Fear are out of the military and in a world of secrets, lies, and cover-ups in this steamy romantic suspense series by Cindy Skaggs.

Sergeant Rose is a former Special Forces soldier turned fearless through a classified program designed to inhibit the physiological reactions to fear, but the secret cocktail of drugs has lethal side effects. The soldiers are still fearless, but they're also angry, paranoid, violent, and potentially suicidal, making them a danger to anyone close to them, which sends Rose on a mission of revenge against the military and the scientists who used Team Fear as guinea pigs to further a twisted agenda.

A discredited chemist fired for rushing testing protocols, Debi works as a bartender and longs for a way to redeem an impulsive, life-altering mistake. When she is kidnapped and nearly killed by the men sent to destroy Team Fear and all evidence of the experimental program, she has no choice but to join Team Fear on their quest for vengeance. Now she's in the crosshairs of a rogue military team bent on her destruction.

The threat of annihilation should be enough to prevent Rose from acting on his fantasies about the beautiful scientist, but he can't fight fate, the Army, and their explosive chemistry. As they're drawn deeper into the conspiracy, will their relationship survive the truth?

Military trained, medically enhanced, designed to kill. The surviving members of Team Fear are out of the military and in a world of secrets, lies, and cover-ups in this fast-paced romantic suspense series by Cindy Skaggs.

Live By the Team
Team Fear Book 1
Reads like a Jason Bourne type flick. -Typical Distractions

Team Fear: An elite Special Forces unit involved in an experimental program to create fearless soldiers.

Background: Military trained, medically enhanced, designed to kill.

Mission: The surviving members of Team Fear are out of the military and in a world of secrets, lies, and cover-ups in this steamy romantic suspense series by Cindy Skaggs.

As a member of an elite Special Forces unit, Ryder bleeds red, white, and blue until a tragic accident causes Uncle Sam to cut the experimental team loose. The government program created a near-invincible fighting force but left the men with horrific side effects. When a fellow soldier loses his tether to reality and does the unthinkable, Ryder goes underground to protect his new wife.

Lauren thought her marriage was perfect until her husband disappeared. Now she's determined to move on alone, but when someone tries to kill her, Ryder returns to protect what's his.

The threats to Lauren intensify and Ryder must call in his disgraced team to protect her. She's not safe alone, but loving a fearless soldier might be her most dangerous mission yet.

**Get it FREE Mar 11th-15th!!**
Cindy Skaggs grew up on stories of mob bosses, horse thieves, cold-blooded killers, and the last honest man. Those mostly true stories gave her a lifelong love of storytelling and heroes. Her search for story took her around the world with the Air Force before returning to Colorado where she’s turning her lifelong love of storytelling into fast-paced romantic suspense. She has an MFA in Creative Writing, three jobs, two kids, and more pets than she can possibly handle. She also plays the flute, makes crazy-good sculptures out of tortilla dough, and can wrangle the neurotic dog without getting mauled. Find her @CLSkaggs on Twitter or to sign up for her newsletter.

Follow the tour HERE for special content and a giveaway!
A $10 Amazon Gift Card and a signed print copy of the first book in the series: LIVE BY THE TEAM (International winners will receive TEAM FEAR ebooks 1-3 instead of the signed first copy)

Brought to You By:

#BookTour...What If #Series #Book 1...#ContemporaryRomance #Giveaway

Fatality: An Alternative Ending of Imperfect Love
What If Series Book 1
by Isabella White
Genre: Contemporary Romance
What if Holly phoned Jake?

With a broken heart 24-year-old Holly Scallanger gave birth to Romalie and Jamie Bernice. But things doesn’t look good.

Romalia is weak, and the little one finally lost the battle.

Her rage and fury blinded her and she made that one phone call, scolding Jake and voicing her hatred to him?

Just a small change, but everything would’ve been so much different.

The What if Series can be read in any order, but would be better to understand if you finished reading Imperfect Love and Secret Love. They are not standalones at all, but an added bonus.

Luck: An Alternative Version of Secret Love
What If Series Book 2
Luck is What If Novel #2 and an alternative story to Secret Love.

It takes place 4 years later.

Jake Peter's engagement to Kate Niagelli is going to be a huge affair. He knows it, and everyone that is invited knows it.

His parents booked out an entire resort for everyone to enjoy the weekend with the Peters to celebrate the event.

Little do they know that Frank Edwards, a childhood friend of Gus Peters and Jake's godfather, brings an extra special guest, or three.

What If: An Alternative Version of Secret Love
What If Series Book 3
In the third novel of the What if Series, called What if, follows Holly and Jamie eighteen months later since the split up from the heartthrob Hooligan, Jake Peters.

Set off to spend a few days at the Alta resort with Rod and her friends, Holly was sure that she would be free from the Peters. Boy is she wrong.

Her getaway turned into her nightmare when Amelia confronted her about the baby and why she left.

The truth always have a funny way of revealing itself.

IF ONLY.....

**Get the rest of the series here!**
Get Fortuitous Free if you subscribe here:
What If Series BoxSet
Alternate Endings to the 4ever Series
The What If Series is now available in a boxset (Digital).
What if Holly phoned Jake?
With a broken heart 24-year-old, Holly Scallanger gave birth to Romalie and Jamie Bernice. But things don’t look good.
Romalia is weak, and the little one finally lost the battle.
Her rage and fury blinded her and she made that one phone call, scolding Jake and voicing her hatred to him?
Just a small change, but everything would’ve been so much different.
Get it exclusively at Firequill Publishing!
The 4ever Series BoxSet

The 4ever Series is now available in a boxset (Digital).

Two people begrudgingly perfect for each other creates the ideal recipe for imperfect love.

At 24 years old, Holly Scallanger has a perfect life. Everything a girl could want; a beautiful man, a stunning home, as well as being in the midst of preparing for the wedding of her dreams. This all vanishes the night she catches her fiancรฉ, Brandon Morgan, in bed with her worst nightmare, Donna Sinclair, just a week before Holly is set to walk down the aisle.

Attempting to recover from his betrayal, Holly swears off the affections of men in order to pick up the pieces of her crumbling life. Unfortunately, meeting Jake ‘Hooligan’ Peters is not part of her plan. The tall, dark-haired and handsome as hell med student, sweeps Holly away from the pain of her past and reveals to her the bright future that lies ahead. That is, until she falls pregnant just as Jake begins his internship at P&E; his family’s hospital.

Will this love, at first sight, lead her to the fairytale she has always craved? Or, will she fall victim to a betrayal of the heart yet again?

Get it exclusively at Firequill Publishing!
Isabella White is a USA Today Bestselling author.  She published her first novel Imperfect Love in 2015, which is finally available in audio now, with Secret Love following two years later. Endless Love the third and final part was published in 2018.

When she isn't writing she is listening to audios as her time is limited and found a new way of reading books. Or she spends it with her family and pets, enjoying the journey that life takes them on.

Follow the tour HERE for special content and a giveaway!
$10 Amazon

Brought to You By:

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

New #ReleaseBlitz...Ridden Hard...#Contemporary #Cowboys #Erotic #Romance #GLBTQI #Giveaway

Ridden Hard by Jon Keys

Book 4 in the Leather and Grit series

Word Count: 52,387
Book Length: NOVEL
Pages: 193



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Book Description

Seth and Travis are single parents of junior rodeo competitors. Now their lives are changing, and the two men are fighting for their futures and finding love.

Only a few years ago, Travis and Seth began letting their kids compete in the junior rodeo circuit. Seth’s son is working his way through his final season while Travis’ daughter’s interest in her events wanes. No matter what life throws at them, however, their attraction grows, and the two men become closer.

Travis is the latest generation of ranchers, beginning with his great-grandfather who migrated to the area from Mexico. Now years of drought and dwindling cattle markets have him questioning how long he can keep the ranch afloat. Seth is a city boy by rearing but a cowboy by heart, and when he loses his marketing job, he and his daughter move in with Travis and his son to save money. Keeping their relationship platonic seemed to be a good idea years ago, but sharing a bedroom now reveals the men’s need to revisit that arrangement.

Both Travis and Seth are invested in not only seeing their children succeed but also having their own dreams come true. Unfortunately, even the elements are high on the list of hurdles stacking up against them.


Seth sat on the bleachers in the scorching Texas sun, which made him feel like an overcooked piece of beef. But the day’s brutal heat was far from his primary concern. What made his legs tremble and shake like an alcoholic at the end of a three-day bender? That would be the frenzy of the rodeo arena located only a few dozen feet away. The clang of metal against metal had become part of the symphony he lived for every summer weekend. Yes, that was the source of the uproar, but the cause was the two-thousand-pound bull trying to break free of its narrow confines.

Anyone who witnessed the scene before him understood. Seth’s distilled emotions weren’t over the animal itself but the seventeen-year-old cowboy who would shortly be fighting to stay on for eight agonizing seconds.

To put the cherry on the stress sundae, the bull rider who would be trying to keep his seat was…his son.

His friend Travis slid onto the bench beside him. He turned to Seth with a smile. “Zane’s having a good run. He drew his bull from one of the best stock operations on the circuit. He should build up some points this round.”

Seth studied Travis briefly then shrugged. “I know. We’ve been doing this since he was big enough to throw his leg over the sheep they ride in the mutton-busting competition. But the lambs have morphed into huge ugly bulls who live to break every bone in Zane’s body. It’s been the same for years, but somehow, with each rodeo it’s more of my focus,” Seth said.

“Well, every rodeo puts you nearer to your goal of Zane winning the scholarship he needs to pay for his college education. I can’t seem to get my Amy too excited about anything since my divorce from her mother was finalized.”

Seth’s glance at his friend revealed a troubling change from his typical smart-ass attitude as Travis became lost in his thoughts. The arrangement they had reached years ago when both families had begun competing on the junior rodeo circuit was that they would not be more than supportive friends. He and Travis were in agreement that their kids were the focus, not any potential attraction between the two of them.

With a snort from the bull and the ring of metal against metal, Seth’s focus snapped back to Zane as his ride was about to begin.

Zane cocked his head and double-checked his helmet. That was one of Seth’s unbendable rules, that he would wear all the safety equipment possible, starting with the helmet and vest. The bull rider’s dance began when Zane’s head bobbed his readiness and the gate swung open.

The brindle-colored animal with its massive hump paused for a millisecond to identify its targets before exiting the chute with a single jump. Zane stuck his arm in the air like a proud flagpole on Independence Day. The bull filled his part of the contract with leaps and spins Seth would’ve thought impossible. The animal tang of arena rodeo filled Seth’s nostrils. Seth jumped up and down with enough nervous energy to make a hummingbird proud. Then they reached the part of the performance that drove Seth crazy—the other seven seconds of the ride.

He held on to the bleachers with the tenacity of a pack of winter-starved wolves after an elk. The crowd groaned and Seth cringed as Zane swung wide, almost losing his grip. But he knew his son’s determination only grew with each competition driving him closer to his goal. Seth ground his teeth together and held his laser-focus through the spectacle. Seth had heard rodeo cowboys called ‘modern-day gladiators’. Watching his son, he could see where that came from.

They reached the point where Seth wasn’t sure Zane could go any further and the timer went off. It felt like a reprieve from death row.

Seth glanced down just in time to see Zane hit the ground on two feet with his hands thrust above him. That’s when he realized Zane had stopped paying attention to the bull. Bad mistake. In a split second it had turned and taken aim at his son and was lunging forward with a sound like a diesel engine. Some kind of animal vendetta his son hadn’t watched for came to life. Seth wanted to scream, to run into the arena to protect his child, but none of that happened. Zane would have a record-setting shit-fit if he did, and he wouldn’t have to anyway. That situation was the exact reason the bullfighter was in the arena. Even better, today’s was among the best. Seth was confident everything would turn out fine so long as Shane Neri was in charge. He sprinted toward the bull still wearing some of the clown outfit from his earlier entertainment routine, but this was not a performance. This was life-threatening serious, which was what brought people to the rodeo—to see the rider pitted against the bull and become wrapped in the drama of life and death.

The pickup men charged the bull on their muscular quarter horses, forcing it out of the arena while Shane provided a distraction. It took only seconds. Zane ran for the fence and Shane finished his job.

Travis jumped up and down with excitement while his daughter Amy was relieved that her friend had survived another battle against nature, due in part to Shane’s athletic performance.

“It was a fantastic dismount! You can bank on Zane sticking them every time,” said Travis while pounding Seth on the back. He dodged the blow from his muscular friend with a laugh. “He’s showboating and he knows it. This isn’t gymnastics. There are no more points for sticking a dismount. Hell, it’s not even called a dismount. It’s getting off the bull without being hurt.”

“Damn! Did you see that? Shane’s an amazing bullfighter,” Amy said.

“You got that right, I’m glad he was there when we needed him. I’ll help Zane check everything and make sure he can get through his next ride with as few problems as possible,” Seth said.

The other two nodded in agreement and the trio made their way off the scorching aluminum bleachers. People underestimated the cumulative impact the unending parade of rodeos had on the contestants. Most discounted today’s performance as just another county fair event in Texas. But the competition’s points counted toward the state championship—and a college scholarship.

They left in search of Zane and reached the penning area. It didn’t take long before they found him strutting in his leather chaps, swinging his helmet from his hand. He saw Seth and ran to his father, wrapping his arms tight around him.

“Dad, did you see? That bull pulled every trick it had, and I rode right on the edge. It might not have been a perfect ride, but it was a damn good one,” Zane said.

“Zane! Watch your mouth. What would your mother think if she heard you talking like that?”

He calmed down, but only a little. “She would tell me it was okay occasionally. Sometimes you even have to drop a big one.”

He studied his son and formed a slight smile. “Okay. I’ll let you off on that one. She would give you some slack since that was a nasty bull. I’m just glad you’re not hurt.”

About the time he thought the conversation would end, Travis and Amy chimed in.

“That was amazing. There’s no way they won’t give you a scholarship. Who else would be better competing for Texas than Zane Davis?” Amy said.

Travis added to the support. “It was a great ride, Zane…one of your best in the last few weeks. Keep it up and you’ll win that scholarship.”

A smile grew across Seth’s face. “You two are getting carried away. Let’s get the boy in college and have it paid for with no injuries. That’s the basic goal. Once that’s accomplished, we can talk about him taking over the ranch and raising his own kids on it.” He glanced at Zane, uncertain about what he might see on his son’s face at those bits of information.

Travis lifted an eyebrow but resisted any comments about ranch ownership. “Okay, there’s only a few more contestants left before they announce the winners of the senior boys bull riding. Let’s get a Coke, then we’ll see what happens.”

None of the next contestants came close to Zane’s score, and Travis offered to take everyone out to eat if Zane won. Close by was one of the best taqueria trucks, so devouring tacos might be the activity of the night.

But shortly afterward, it was announced that Zane was the winner for his category, and after the cheering subsided, the teenagers clamored for food, especially the kind that might fill a teenage boy. Travis could remember those days when puberty had left him famished most of the time. They found a favorite truck, not tacos but the best corndogs on the fairgrounds. He’d been waiting in line for several minutes when someone called his name. He turned and smiled at a familiar face in the truck waiting to take his order.

“Hey, Cheryl. It’s good to see you. How did you end up making corndogs?”

“Oh, you know how it is. The kids are in college and we retired the old man. I thought it would be a perfect chance for me to earn extra Christmas money. Grandma doesn’t pay well.”

Travis chuckled, “That’s ambitious…doing everything this early.”

“Yup, that’s me. Now, what can I get for you?”

“Well, I have the whole crowd, so hang on.”

“No problem, ready when you are.”

“We need a corndog for Amy. No, scratch that. Amy wants one hotdog with the neon-green relish.” He shook his head. “She loves those things. I don’t get it. A corndog each for Seth and me. Then, for the champion junior bull rider four—yes, count them, four—corndogs with a side of waffle fries coated in chili.”

She finished taking the last of the order and winked at Travis. “Nothing else? A side of beef? Moose?”

Travis chuckled. “Nope. If he wants dessert, I’m sending him back alone.”

She laughed then disappeared to fill his request.

Soon he was being passed two paper bags full of food. He spotted his group where he’d left them, under the awning with a picnic table that Seth had located after Zane and Amy had joined them for refueling.

The closer he got, the more uncertain Travis was that he wanted to deal with the hungry denizens he traveled with. They looked like extras from Shark Week. But as soon as they ate, especially Zane, life would be better.

He pulled his food out of the sack, sat beside Amy and doused his meal with a couple of squirts of ketchup and mustard. The meal lasted only a few minutes before the young ones had eaten everything and wanted more. This time Travis was not as congenial.

“It’s your turn now. There’s plenty of junk food to eat when you get out on the midway. Just watch out for each other, please,” Travis said.

Amy gave him a condescending glance and patted his head. “Father, Father… We’ll be fine. We are not still the little munchkins from your childhood. Cowboys know how to survive.”

“It’s not a joke, Amy. People are different now than they were when I was your age. Back in the old days, we had a quarter for a call and people knocked on your door to use your phone because they’d had a wreck. We let them in because it was the decent thing to do. Nowadays I’m not sure you’d get anybody to let you in their house unless you were dripping blood—and probably not even then.”

“I was just teasing. Sorry. I shouldn’t have done it. I know how that gets your goat,” Amy said.

Zane finished the last of the fries, adding ketchup and homemade hot sauce to the chili. He wiped the remnants from his face and turned to the adults. “We recognize what you guys went through. It’s not like we don’t think about being careful. We’ll watch out for each other.”

Travis was vacillating—and by the look in Seth’s eyes, he was thinking similarly—as to whether their kids were humorous or obnoxious. In the next few moments, Zane and Amy broke into a spontaneous chorus of We Will Survive, and the choice for ‘obnoxious’ was made.

Travis let out a long, exhausted sigh. Why do I keep trying to educate modern-day kids? Though they don’t seem much like kids anymore. A consolation, if there was one, might be that none of the other parents were in any better situation. Travis’ sixteen-year-old girl was wearing him out just as fast as Zane was doing to Seth.

Travis glanced at his watch and waved to their kids. “Go. Have fun. Take care of each other. Yes, I know I’ve told you the same thing a dozen times. Make your parents happy and pretend to listen—and be back here when we told you to be.”

To their surprise, the kids left with hugs and reassurances, even though they sprinted the last fifty feet before disappearing into the midway crowd. Travis watched for a moment, wishing the pair would revert to five-year-olds and come running back to be protected by their fathers. That wasn’t happening, Travis knew, but he was sure Seth wished the same thing.

Seth gave him a crooked smile. “We can hope for their safety, and we’ll have to keep each other sane in the meantime. I’m feeling too old for the midway, even if it’s like Disney on Ice.”

Travis smiled and did the two-step for a few feet before motioning Seth ahead of him. “Let’s go through the 4-H and FFA exhibits. We can pretend we aren’t parents with blood, sweat and tears invested in our children’s projects.”

“Sounds like a good idea. Maybe it will give us more perspective.”

Seth nodded and Travis tried not to react to his endearing expression. It was times like these he wished they hadn’t agreed to keep their relationship to just friendship. Travis didn’t think he’d mind exploring something more intimate.

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About the Author. . .

Jon Keys

Jon Keys’ earliest memories revolve around books; with the first ones he can recall reading himself being “The Warlord of Mars” and anything with Tarzan. (The local library wasn’t particularly up to date.) But as puberty set in, he started sneaking his mother’s romance magazines and added the world of romance and erotica to his mix of science fiction, fantasy, Native American, westerns and comic books.

A voracious reader for almost half a century, Jon has only recently begun creating his own flights of fiction for the entertainment of others. Born in the Southwest and now living in the Midwest, Jon has worked as a ranch hand, teacher, computer tech, roughneck, designer, retail clerk, welder, artist, and, yes, pool boy; with interests ranging from kayaking and hunting to painting and cooking, he draws from a wide range of life experiences to create written works that draw the reader in and wrap them in a good story.

You can follow Jon on Twitter and Facebook.


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