Zach

Zach Ahmad is a fun character from the One More Thing Series. I would explain more, but I think this quote showcases my point without needing more context. This is from One Little Lie, which is now available as a box set.

Zach nodded his head at her words, then changed tracks. “Don’t get me wrong, you’re a bitch and we can definitely be friends. But is this seriously the only reason you guys are here? To talk about our big gay feelings?” He grimaced. “I’m already getting enough of this from Luke.”

Maybe things were always weird

One Little Word involves pretend boyfriends, secret fake relationships, regular fake relationships, and actual feelings. All of this refers to one couple. In One Little Lie, there are secret relationships and fake relationships. Luke is one of the parties involved in both scenarios, but there are three people and two different relationships. I’m not sure why, but when talking about pretend dating scenarios, I like making everything sound as complicated as possible.

In one sense, I suppose fake dating is complicated enough. But if you like fake dating stories, then you like the kind of extra drama that can only happen in romcoms.

If you haven’t read One Little Word, no worries. One, it’s included in a box set with One Little Lie. And two, Ryan will also get you up to speed:

It started when an idiot from the baseball team (Luke Chambers) got himself in trouble. There was foul language, high stakes, dire consequences, and then… things got weird. The idiot, being an idiot, decided the best way to get out of the mess he created involved pretending to date me.

Wait, Luke’s moroncy aside, the whole thing worked out great for me. The broken leg sucked, but I healed, and now I had an awesome hottie boyfriend.

New M/M box set!

Completing a box set for the One More Thing Series has been on my to-do list for a long time. Finally, I can cross it off. Check out this four book bundle for the first four books in the series.

A straight jock thought it was all pretend… until he started to fall for the gay school nerd. Will romance be his best play yet?
Seventeen-year-old Luke Chambers has what every small-town boy desires: a car, varsity jacket, and phone numbers from all the pretty girls. But when a stupid mistake and zero-tolerance teacher could cost the popular pitcher everything, his only hope of redemption involves playing pretend with the school’s biggest loser.

Ryan Miller is sick of being bullied for his sexuality. And his town’s most-admired athlete represents almost everything the smart-mouthed geek hates. So when the guy proposes a fake relationship, he’s not sure cuddling up to a gorgeous straight boy will amount to anything except a huge disaster.

When sparks fly, Luke struggles with confusing feelings even as the sarcastic scientist tries to openly humiliate him. But as Ryan starts to fall for the softer, authentic side of the baseball player, he can’t decipher what’s real and what’s make-believe when their public displays of affection hit far too close to home…

One Little Word starts the One More Thing series when a clueless athlete and witty nerd go from enemies to fake boyfriends and begin an adventure that may change their lives forever.

Get One Little Word and 3 other fantastic books in the One Crazy Love Story Bundle!

Book Review: Lock & West

Writing this is interesting. I LOVE Lock & West by Alexander C. Eberhart. It’s beautiful and powerful, a really great book. Except when reading it, I had very little thoughts. I always have comments whether I love a book or not but it’s especially weird not to have a bunch of opinions about a book I really enjoyed. So we’ll see how this goes.

(Whenever I type Lock’s name, I want to write ‘Locke’ instead. We could say I’m intellectual and thinking of English philosopher John Locke… nah, I’m actually thinking about John Locke the character from Lost.)

Also, I have Kindle Unlimited so I typically borrow books, but I’m going to buy Lock & West. Because it’s fantastic!

Quick Summary: Two guys with different personalities from different backgrounds meet each other and form a connection while facing difficult years at home. Though as they grow closer, they learn home might not be a place. It’s a person. (which is the tagline and used very well in the novel!)

The Story

Lock is put into an awkward position. Lots of things are awkward for him. He’s the nervous type and prone to anxiety. Social interaction isn’t his strong suit, and he lives more in his head than the real word. Very relatable. But life is even more awkward as a new student at high school. He moved from Seattle to Atlanta.

-Quote about Lock

One of the new people he meets is West, who he agrees to tutor in math. They initially get along well enough, and West really likes Lock’s younger brother. They might even be crushing on each other. Though Lock isn’t out or even at the point where he admits his sexuality to himself.

West is an outgoing, funny theater kid who even convinces Lock to attend a party with him. Which is when things get interesting because those crazy kids get drunk and hook up. And that’s only the beginning of the drama.

-Quote about West

Between sorting out their feelings for each other, and Lock figuring out his sexuality, each guy also has their share of personal struggles. Lock’s mom is an alcoholic, his father is dead, and there are many secrets in his family history he doesn’t yet know. West has issues with his weight and his sister’s douchey fiancé.

I’m trying not to be too specific about all this, but there’s a lot of twists and obstacles that crop up. Right when you get used to the story, something changes and new complications and layers are added, which is done in the best ways and is a joy to read.

The Relationship

-Romance

There are moments when the personal issues blend with what’s happening between the guys and other parts where their stories verge off. Sometimes their feelings make things complicated while other times being together provides the only moment of peace in their otherwise hectic lives. They aren’t immediately a couple, and the relationship builds as the novel continues. Like everything else, it’s very emotional and well done and I enjoyed the hell out of these two separately and as a couple.

Only small issue is there are a few parts where their journeys were too separate. And while each storyline is captivating, I still wanted them to come back together for a few scenes. However, this is less something that actually bugged me and more a critique because I always try to find at least one downside to a novel so that I don’t sound like a paid infomercial or something.

Writing Style

Lock writes notes to himself with advice for being a human being while West makes lists. Each are in different handwriting and show up at the start of every chapter, so we see them a lot. This fun little detail makes the book more personalized.

A note from Lock
A list from West

Many chapters are bite-size, though never too brief. From my rambling nature to the way I try to fit as many words into a sentence as possible, these short and sweet chapters are a radical concept for me. However, I really enjoy them. It keeps the novel moving and each section stops at just the right point so you wanna keep reading.

From the Novel

Okay, the way the author describes anything? Amazing. Love how ordinary sentences are packed with so much meaning. You’re just reading the page, chugging along, and then boom, feelings. Several lines sneak up on your with their loveliness. Beautiful writing, just gorgeous from start to finish.

Tags & Warnings (Spoilers!) :

developing relationships, friends to lovers, theater, family, mental health issues, biracial character, mixed raced relationship, eating disorder, abuse, illness, rape, suicide.

I’m going to end with a funny quote from Lock & West:

-(obvi) a funny quote I’m ending with

New Novel Characters

Ready to meet the main characters of my new M/M contemporary romance? Hopefully, because that’s what this post is about. The novel is called The Boy Next Door, featuring a shy artist who works up the nerve to confess his feelings for the boy next door, only to have his love note fall into the wrong hands.

This is a Kindle Vella novel, and the first three chapter are free, or available without spending any tokens. And if you haven’t checked out Vella yet, you should, because you can claim some free tokens to get started. (Right now Vella is just for US audiences.)

Sam Bell is the main character. He’s made a lot of progress since he was a young boy suffering from crippling anxiety. He’s now a high school senior who isn’t sure if he wants to pursue art or something else in college. Despite the eccentricities of his teacher, he’s excited to be in an honors art class and thinks now might finally be the right time to confess his love for his sweet neighbor Dylan.

Dylan Cruse is popular, good-looking, and almost certainly the love of Sam’s life. Even if the other guy doesn’t know it yet. While nice and easy to talk to, Sam and Dylan don’t have a ton in common. But they are both in photography club and grew up together as next door neighbors.

Quote: The school doors open, light from outside hitting him just right and making his blue eyes sparkle. And his hair color, a rich chestnut brown, is new and makes my knees weak.

Hunter Cruse is Dylan’s older brother. He’s nearly 21 and left home years ago in order to move to the West Coast and become a huge rock star. Now the drummer is back and just as mysterious and superior as ever. Sam’s afraid Hunter is going to stand in his way when it comes to Dylan. And he’s right. Because when Sam confesses his feelings in a note, Hunter intercepts the message and thinks it’s for him.

Quote: Hunter dyed his hair black as night practically as soon as he reached preteen years. The blonde fringe falling in his eyes now reminds me of the cherubic golden curls that framed his face when we met. His angelic appearance duped me into trusting him and he pushed me into the pond when I couldn’t even swim.

One New Cover

One New Start has a new cover! Look at those cute boyfriends, it makes me happy. This new version is pretty simple, but I love the way it turned out. I’m also happy a stock photo site had a few pictures of a dark haired guy and light haired guy being a couple.

Here’s the book blurb and an excerpt:

They’re off to a promising start. Or at least an interesting one.
Ryan Miller’s last year of high school is going to be just as fabulous as him. The senior creates a bucket list of new adventures like pulling pranks and party crashing. He even has the perfect partner in crime, his boyfriend Luke. What could go wrong?

Just as life starts going Ryan’s way, everything begins going downhill for his father and Luke. Can Ryan help the people he loves most, or will their struggles drag him down too?

This section from the novel is Luke envisioning what he wants for his senior year of high school. Will reality live up to his dreams? (Hint: no, not at all.)

Luke

Ryan didn’t have a lot of friends or fun in high school before junior year. Senior year meant a new start, a different chapter in his life. I wanted to be around for his adventures when I could to support him and spend time with him… and to make sure no one suffered serious bodily harm, but my goals were different.

I wanted senior year to be, I don’t know, shoes or a purse or something.

God, note to self, never say that out loud to anyone.

Though really, yeah. This year should be shoes or a purse or a belt. A complement to the rest. All the good parts of my high school experience.

Okay, there was one new goal. To win the championships. What could be better than captaining a championship team my senior year, having a boyfriend to cheer me on from the stands, and then spending time with him? Answer, of course, was nothing.

 I was living my best life. Last year was full of ups and downs. Falling in love with Ryan Miller? Super, super awesome. Coming out and stuff? Good, though also awful. And it was over now. It was smooth sailing from here on out. A victory lap after a mostly awesome high school experience.

Putting on a show, in different ways

While their significant others pretend to date each other, two friends try to hang out and not think about the bearding shenanigans happening elsewhere. This is an extended scene from One Little Lie.

~

Ryan

Another weekend without the boo meant I was spending time with my bestie instead. We were at my house on Saturday night, sitting at the kitchen table. We had our books open, but we hadn’t gotten around to doing much studying yet. We could have done something more fun like watch a movie or something but that left too many opportunities for either of us to stop paying attention and worry about… other things.

In a silent, unspoken agreement, we weren’t mentioning our significant others and what they were currently doing while we sat at the kitchen table and pretended everything was fine.

“Haven’t decided who I want to be in Alice in Wonderland,” Alicia told me and I made an effort to tune back into the conversation. The good thing about our silent agreement: we didn’t have to talk about it. That meant she didn’t have to know how badly I was failing at not thinking about what we weren’t supposed to be thinking about.

Just, how was their latest sham date going? What was Luke wearing, were her parents totally scary, when would it be over? No, I had to get a grip…  What was so great about a stupid fair anyway? If I put on a wig, could I pass as a girl and then could Luke and I date without worry?

Anyway, Alicia! Theater. Was there a better, more exciting topic? Of course not. We had started making props for Alice before rehearsals started because we needed to do something in set design class and there were a lot of props to make. Mushrooms, trees, flowers, signs, and more. For a play everyone thought of as ‘the one that’s a great big acid trip,’ it was surprisingly involved.

Luke probably hadn’t seen the new movies. We should watch them. He would hate them. No, Alicia was talking about her part in Alice. Wait, I didn’t know a ton about theater, but I got how auditions worked. “Doesn’t the director pick out your part for you?”

She held her chin up in the air. “I can make sure they’re inspired to go in the right direction.”

“Aren’t you obviously the Red Queen?” She had the hair already. And who wouldn’t want to be the person who sentenced others to death? Off with their head! Who wanted to be a superhero when royalty had better powers?

Alicia shrugged. “I was a queen before in Midsummer.”

“So what? The fairy queen and a fairytale queen are…” Okay, they sounded pretty similar. “Totes different,” I finished lamely.

She shrugged. “I don’t think I have the correct vibe anyway.”

“You know someone who does.” If Lydia started shouting ‘off with their head,’ the world would be in grave danger. She had a lot of gravitas; people might be compelled to listen to her.

“Yeah,” Alicia sighed happily. “Lydia’s so great.”

Technically, Alicia brought up one of the people we weren’t mentioning first. I only alluded to her. That meant it was only fair that I got to talk about Luke a little. Before I could, Alicia continued. “I thought about being Alice but I don’t know. I’m not a tiny blonde ingenue.”

She was a curvy, gorgeous badass and maybe I should channel some inner stereotypical gay best friend persona and tell her she was fierce and could slay and throw in some yasses for good measure. I went with, “You’re an actress. You can be anything. Isn’t that the point?”

Alicia considered that for a moment before shaking it off. “There’s other people trying out that fit better. Cara Lewis is into drama now.” We both frowned. “She was an extra in one play and she thinks she knows everything. Plus, she looks at the rest of us like we’re totally beneath her the whole time.”

I meant to keep reassuring her that she was awesome and could do anything she set her mind to and whatever else Barney and Elmo and our childhood puppet mentors taught us, but instead I said, “Cara Lewis hit on Luke the other day.”

Alicia looked down at the book in front of her. “You know what? We should probably study.”

“Did you hear the piece of gossip I just gave you free of charge?” I was tempted to feel her forehead and see if she had a fever. Did I already tell her about it?

She smiled wryly. “The charge is you freaking out for the rest of the night about what it means.”

“No, Luke doesn’t like her like that,” I said sensibly. Nope, I couldn’t drop it that easily. “But she did it right in front of me.”

Alicia rolled her eyes.

With supreme will, I said, “We can talk about other things.”

She looked at me kindly. “I really don’t think it’s a big deal.”

“Yeah, totally, of course.” I knew that! I just still wanted to slap Cara a little bit.

“You’re agreeing too much,” Alicia informed me.

I grinned. “You’re absolutely right.”

“Smartass.” She laughed, then realized something. “Hey, didn’t have we have an unspoken agreement to not mention Lydia or Luke?”

I literally covered my mouth with a hand while I said, Technically, you brought them up first, so you’re the party at fault here, because I knew that was the wrong to say and I couldn’t stop myself, but I could stop her from hearing it. She just watched me evenly while I acted weird; that’s why we were besties.

Luke and Lydia were pretending to be a happy couple right now and that’s why we weren’t mentioning them. But the conversation I had with my father came back to me. Totally casually, I shared a random, no big deal thought with Alicia. “Hey, my dad said that I talk about Luke too much. That’s crazy, right?”

She didn’t immediately agree and start discussing whether my father needed to be committed into a mental institution or not. She didn’t look at me directly or say anything.

“What the hell, Alicia? Seriously?” She was a traitor and we weren’t besties anymore.

At least she looked apologetic while saying, “He does sort of have a point.”

“Don’t tell me that.” I buried my head in my hands and made a pathetic noise.

“Okay, I won’t tell you.” She paused, then murmured, “But he does.”

Nope, I wasn’t that person. I couldn’t be that person who was relationship crazy. I was too interesting! Had my focus really shifted so completely from myself to Luke? I didn’t even want to think about it… which probably meant it was true.

“I get it,” Alicia consoled. “Honestly, Lydia is pretty much always on my mind too. Are we pathetic?”

Yes, completely. I had so many great qualities… humility not being one of them. How could Luke have taken over my life? Aside from him being soooo cute and sweet and sexy and— Dammit, I was doing it again.

I tried to put on a brave face. “It’s our first relationships,” I reasoned with Alicia. “We’re allowed to get a little carried away.”

“You really think so?”

“Let’s tell ourselves that,” I said firmly.

“Did you ever think you’d actually get to date in high school?” Alicia asked me.

“Hell no.” I didn’t even have to consider the question.

“Maybe that’s why. I mean, you got this opportunity, it makes sense to make the most of it.”

My life had never been flat out miserable but perhaps it was a little lonely. I had one parent, few friends, and no love interests at all. I did the best I could, I laughed at everything, was quick with he jokes and got impeccable grades so I’d be able to leave this town behind. I’d been content. But not exactly happy.

Until Luke came along and didn’t just make me happy but freaking ecstatic.

Of course I took the opportunity to be ecstatic. I deserved to feel like that for once in my life. I just got a little carried away. That was one of the few faults I had.

Alicia drew me from my thoughts.  “Maybe we should go do something,” she suggested. Yeah, I wasn’t really in the mood to study anymore. “Wanna go hang out as besties?”

We could go to the diner and eat our feelings away. “French fries?” I suggested. “Oh, or pie? Ohhh, French fries and pie?”

She nodded. “And no discussing our love lives.”

“Didn’t we already try that?” It didn’t matter who I was talking to, Dad or Alicia or someone else, my thoughts always drifted back to Luke.

“That was an unspoken agreement,” She reasoned. “This is spoken.” Would that be enough? She thought about it and added, “There could be penalties.”

“If we mention our significant others, we can kick each other.” I couldn’t kick myself, there was no way I had that coordination, but kicking Alicia would have to do.

“Food and violence,” she mused, then nodded. “What a great combo.”

We went to the diner and ordered a bunch of junk food.

I didn’t really do things by halves. I threw myself into things, of course it would be like that with a relationship. Luke was going to be a big part of my life. But he wasn’t my whole life. And I needed nights like this every so often to remember that.

My supportive best friend powers kicked in once we had snacks. I told Alicia. “If you want to be Alice, you should go for Alice.”

“I might not get the part,” she answered back. I’m afraid I won’t get it, I translated.

“Like I said, that’s not up to you. But you can try. And if you don’t get it, you’ll be an amazing Queen but at least you gave it a shot. There’s nothing more you can do.” See, I was such a wise, excellent at giving advice person. I deserved lots of attention from myself and anyone would be lucky to have me. I would be lucky to have me.

Alicia made a thoughtful noise. “Hey, at the risk of being kicked, you should take your own advice.” I sent her a puzzled look and she elaborated. “Isn’t that part of the reason you’re talking to everyone else about Luke so much? You aren’t talking to him.”

Huh. So, if I took my own advice, I just needed to tell him my concerns. That was all I could do and maybe we would get somewhere.

“You’re right,” I told her. “Or no, I’m right. Obviously.” I couldn’t solve things on my own. At least I could give it a shot and tell him what was wrong. I needed to do that but was a little worried about it. I confided in Alicia. “I just want to go back to that happy little bubble we were in not that long ago.”

She acknowledged that with a nod but said, “Maybe there’s something even better waiting for you after this rough patch.”

Hmmm. There was only one way to find out.

In the beginning

You know the beginning of a novel when the protagonist is doing great? Everything is pretty close to perfect before an unexpected event happens and then it all starts going wrong. Well, in this scene from the LGBTQ young adult novel Instalove, Avery is doing great. He’s thinking back to the time he met his boyfriend, and everything totally isn’t going to go wrong. (Yes, it is.)

P.S. this is a modern fantasy novel with magic and spellcasting, but there’s no magic in this scene. Or is there? Hmmm…

The football players practiced on the field while groups from the track team ran laps on the track around them. We tended to run in groups even though this exercise was such a solitary endeavor. It made no sense, but I didn’t care enough to be the only one running by myself.

There was a sudden jolt from the force of a hit, but I was fine, so I picked up the ball and tossed it a short distance to the athlete heading towards me with a sheepish expression.

It took me a moment to think of his name: Chris Reyes. A light sheen of sweat dusted his arms, visible in his cut-off tee, making his bronze skin glow faintly.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

“I think I’ll live.”

“Danny the QB thought my job looked easy,” explained the affable, good looking athlete. He twirled the ball around casually in the air while he talked. “I bet him 20 bucks he couldn’t kick a field goal.” He smiled. “I won 20 bucks.”

“Do I get a cut of the profit?” I asked.

“I don’t know about that,” he said, grin turning less charming and more teasing.

“I was just out here minding my own business,” I explained innocently. “When I was attacked with a football.”

“Hmmm.” He fought a grin. “Sounds terrible.”

I regarded him seriously. “There may be permanent damage.”

“That bad, huh?” Chris played along. “How can I make it up to you?”

I made a show of thinking about it while a voice in the back of my head helpfully pointed out that he came out last year and was openly gay.

“My injuries are pretty grim, but I suppose they’re nothing 10 bucks can’t fix.”

“Oh, you want half my winnings? Is that fair?” He considered me, tilting his head and trying to place me. Wow, the full force of his attention? It’s worth being hit by a football.

“Unfair would be leaving me out here alone, injured, and poor.” I used my drama skills to don a pitiful expression.

“Okay, okay.” He held his hands up in surrender, sending me a grin that made my stomach do somersaults. “I’ll make sure you’re properly compensated.”

We were having fun, joking around, but that sounded downright suggestive.

“Are you flirting with me?” I asked.

He smiled slowly, taking in that I was someone who was alright with another guy flirting with him. “I wasn’t necessarily.” His eyes trailed up and down my body quickly. His smile widened. “But I am now.”

I suddenly found myself very okay with that.

A romcom might call this a meet cute. My father called it ordinary magic. I called it a Tuesday afternoon. There was nothing special about it yet, even if our actions closely resembled flirting.

He didn’t give me any of his winnings, but he did pay for dinner.

That was how it started.

Instalove is a coming of age novel where Avery Ward thinks the magic his family has doesn’t involve him. Until a spell calls everything in his life into question, even the desires of his heart. Grab your copy of the novel here!

Flowers and love spells

They say time heals all wounds. Do not ask me who ‘they’ are, but this is probably true. The trouble, however, is what happens when the wound is fresh. Waiting for the cut to heal isn’t easy. Especially if the injury is a broken heart and you’re a 17-year-old and these feelings are new, wonderful, and terrible.

We’ve all been there, right? To add insult to injury, the memories from the love spell haven’t faded yet. Okay, maybe that’s the part where things get less normal.

But this is what happens in my latest paranormal romance Instalove.

In Avery Ward’s case, he’s a regular guy who happens to come from a long line of witches and warlocks who bring real magic into the world. He’s just learned magic might be the reason he’s totally crazy about soccer player and smartie Chris Reyes.

But knowing a spell is happening and being free from its effects are two different things. And he hasn’t really begun the healing process yet. This scene is Avery sitting in his family garden, trying to process the new revelations in his life while his mother checks on him.

~

Mom found me outside and sat with me on the bench next to the aster.

“The gardenias are coming in nicely,” she noted.

As a licensed therapist, she’s usually all about healthy communication and sharing feelings. I had zero desire to share, so I watched her for the trick but found none.

“Really, that’s all?” I asked.

“You don’t want to talk. You don’t want me to talk at you.” She shrugged. “What else is there to say?”

Huh. I relaxed as we enjoyed the relative quiet together.

This was my happy place. Okay, time to feel happy. Anytime now. Go. I looked around. The garden was a lovely place, but it depended on one’s current prerogative.

The nearby larkspur meant lightness, yet it also meant fickleness or haughtiness. And talk about fickle, there were carnations in the next row over, and they had about 93 meanings attached to them depending on the color.

The daffodils over Mom’s shoulder needed company. Several meant happiness and joy while a solitary flower meant misfortune. That was probably a metaphor.

“Sure you don’t want to talk?” she asked quietly.

“There’s nothing to talk about.”

As she rose to leave, Mom placed a hand on my shoulder. “The spell will be undone, and you’ll laugh about this someday.”

“But not today.” There was a fountain just to the right of center in the garden. When we were quiet, I thought I could hear it.

“Not today,” she agreed quietly.

The iris grew next to me on my right. I was afraid to look at it. Irises symbolize hope.

— the rest is available here.