Today I am so pleased to welcome Gus Li & Melanie Tushmore to Joyfully Jay. Gus and Tushmore have come to talk to us about their recent releases, Wine and Roses and Love on the Rocks. They have also brought along a great tour wide giveaway. Please join me in giving them a big welcome!
Join authors Gus Li and Tushmore on their virtual boozy blog crawl as they chat about new releases ‘Wine and Roses’ (Gus Li) and ‘Love on the Rocks’ (Tushmore) both available from Dreamspinner Press this August. Both authors will answer some quick questions about their romance stories, as well as recommend wines and cocktails of the day.
Please read on for excerpts from both new releases, and be sure to leave a comment on ANY of the Tipsy Blog Tour posts to automatically be entered into the grand prize draw! Your chance to win ebook copies of ‘Wine and Roses’, ‘Love on the Rocks’, plus a whole host of other goodies including signed artwork, wine stoppers, and more!
Cheers from Gus, and Tush.
First Ingredient – Speaking for yourself, the author, what is your favourite drink, and why?
Actually, at the moment I am tee total, not that I was a big drinker anyway, BUT my favourite drinks are incredibly sweet and OTT cocktails. The sweeter the better. Something like a Mudslide, or Pina Colada, or Baileys, except then I’d feel sick after more than one. So to drink without the bloat, I’d choose something rum based, or even a refreshing Pimm’s with lemonade.
(I only found out recently that Pimm’s is a gin. And I thought I hated gin! LOL)
Second Ingredient – What would be your main character’s favourites drinks, and why?
Justin isn’t terribly bothered about alcohol either, so he’ll go with the flow of what his mates are having. He likes drinking cocktails, even if he can’t prepare them. He doesn’t get on well with white wine, as evidenced in the story when he makes himself feel poorly. Probably nerves!
His date, Yena, isn’t a big drinker either, but probably likes a bit of everything. He drinks an Espresso Martini at midnight to keep him going during a long shift. ?
Mix! – What shakes things up?
If you mixed these drinks, what would you get? 😉
Well, Justin already comes a cropper a couple of times in this story because of booze (and nerves) which is why he realises he needs to sober up and approach this romance seriously if he stands any chance with Yena.
Cocktail of the day – Pina Colada
I’ve never made one of these in my life, but I’ve drunk a few! Okay, so a recipe says it’s white rum (personally I like Koko Kanu, which is coconut flavoured white rum), with coconut milk, pineapple juice, crushed ice, and shake. Sounds easy enough, and shaking’s my favourite part. Be nice to drink it out of a coconut too!
Wine and Roses by Gus Li
First Ingredient – Speaking for yourself, the author, what is your favourite drink, and why?
I’m very fond of trying wines, and I like most of them as long as they aren’t too sweet. I really like sparkling wines and am always looking for an excuse to buy a bottle to celebrate something. Every time I sell a book, I try another sparkling wine.
Other than that, the wine I prefer is either seasonal or depends what I’m eating. When it’s hot, I like white wines that can be served chilled. Lately I’ve been leaning toward light, floral wines like Torrontes (an Argentinian or Chilean white) and loin de l’oeill, which means “far from the eye.” This white grape is grown in south western France, almost exclusively in Gaillac. It really does taste like flowers.
The first time I tried it, I thought it tasted like something a faerie would drink. It sounds fancy, but it’s actually between ten and fifteen dollars a bottle. It’s good with fruit and mild cheeses, though I like it fine by itself!
I’m not really a wine snob. I enjoy getting to try rare and wonderful things on occasion, but I’m not above enjoying a cheap bottle with friends—far from it. Lots of reasonably priced bottles are just as good as more expensive bottles, and looking for them is part of the fun. Lucky me, my roommate is a sommelier, and he basically gets to taste wine for a living. If he gets a great bottle for a low price, we stock up.
Second Ingredient – What would be your main character’s favourites drinks, and why?
Well, Alain Lamont is the heir to a vineyard and winery that has been in his family over five hundred years. He’s a master vintner and has a very fine palate. There is a grape in his universe called fierrine. It’s native to the island of Espero and is deep red, almost black, full-bodied, and tannic. I’d compare it to a Cabernet Sauvignon or a Petite Syrah, but it’s probably even a little more powerful than those.
Most people in northern Selindria, where Alain lives, find the wine too heavy, so he uses it as part of blend, mellowing the strong flavour with the addition of other grapes and by aging in wooden barrels. But he always bottles some pure fierrine for his own cellar. The wine ages well gains character and complexity with time.
Some of the best vintages were bottled by Alain’s grandfather, and they’re what he opens when he has the occasion to celebrate something very special.
Mix! – What shakes things up?
If you mixed these drinks, what would you get? 😉
Imagine mixing champagne, a citrusy, floral white, and Cabernet Sauvignon. It would be completely horrifying. I guess Alain is just more refined than I am. I can live with that, though. It would be a nasty, pinkish mess. Breeze would probably drink it as a last resort. Alain would probably rather die.
Wine of the day – Cocktail Wine[Tush] Seeing as Gus was talking about mixing wines anyway! 😉 How about a summery wine cocktail? Although it would be adviseable to choose red or white, and stick to one! Add some fruit to flavour red wine. Or for white, try adding frozen raspberries to your drink; works especially well with a fizzy wine!
We’re like to thank Beau Schemery for all his wine expertise on this blog tour: thank you, Beau!
Love on the Rocks
Arm in arm, the trio weaved their way down the small, decorative alleys of Soho. When they arrived at the third venue of the evening, a smiling doorman greeted them and held open the door. The bar inside wasn’t anything like the previous tiki-themed palace. Though the interior was bathed in ambient gold and blue lighting, there were no frills about it—one large room full of tables, brimming with patrons, and interspersed by big, sturdy pillars. The bar itself was long and straight along the right-hand wall, and it was currently drowning in customers.
Justin looked around in dismay at how busy it was. “It’s busy,” he whined. “By the time we get to the bar, I’ll be fucking sober.”
“Cocktails are two for one,” Tam told him.
“Ooh, sounds good,” Tara said, striding for the bar. “Come on.”
“Yeah, but…” Justin’s words trailed off as he caught sight of a bartender—tall, blond, and gorgeous, and flashing a brilliant smile at the customers he served. “Holy fuck,” Justin whispered. “Dibs on that one.”
Tam followed his line of sight. “The blond? That’s Eric.”
“Oh?” Justin turned to Tam and eyed his friend with a smile. “How do you know?”
Tam smirked but tried to hide it. “Not the way you’re thinking, dirty boy. I happen to know someone who shagged him.”
“Apparently,” Tam hissed in his ear, “he’s bloody good.”
“Yeah, I bet.” Justin grabbed Tam’s arm and pulled him to the bar. “Onward!”
Even though the bar was packed, Justin was willing to wait. And wait. The music was loud and pop-centric, so he amused himself by singing along to the songs and trying to catch glimpses of the hot bartender over people’s heads and shoulders.
Tara’s head popped into view a little farther along the bar, and she waved a hand to them, indicating she had a good spot. Tam and Justin edged their way through, relieved to find Tara had snatched them a couple of barstools.
As they waited their turn, they took advantage of their front row view of the bartenders. The space behind the bar was quite big, and currently one woman and two men were working. The tall blond that Justin had spotted earlier was the clear front runner in the looks department, but all of them could’ve easily stepped out of a high end fashion shoot. They wore dark trousers and matching fitted black shirts, open low at the collar. The bar’s name, Foxy’s, was printed in bright pink on the left breast pocket.
Eventually, realization hit Tara. “Is this a gay bar?”
Tam shrugged. “It’s not flaming, but it’s gay friendly. The bar staff are all gay.”
“You could’ve said.” She rolled her eyes. “There’s me trying to smile at the men. No wonder they don’t look at me twice.”
“Join the club,” Justin said sidelong. “I’ve been trying to get that blond’s attention for, like, half an hour now. This is ridiculous.”
“Patience, Justin.” Tam’s attention was drawn to the end of the bar. “Hel-lo.” He craned his neck as he watched a new barman enter the scene, carrying a tall tower of stacked glasses. “I like him.”
Justin and Tara also craned around to see, eyeing the new barman. The colored lights and people sticking their heads in the way made it hard for Justin to get a good look.
A bartender stopped in front of them, and Justin was thrilled to see it was Mr. Tall, Blond, and Gorgeous, who flashed them a dazzling smile. “I know you guys have been waiting ages,” he said, his voice a rich baritone. “I promise I’ll do you next.” He winked, though Justin wasn’t sure if the wink was directed at himself or at Tam, and then flitted away.
“Mmm. Hot.” Tara smiled, as Tam raised his eyebrows in agreement.
“Mm, honey,” Justin muttered. “He can do me any time.” His gaze followed the blond hottie as he worked behind the bar, watching his precise movements as he mixed drinks and chatted with his customers, making it all look effortless.
Very flirty, Justin decided. Bet he’s dynamite in bed.
Justin’s neck muscles started to protest at craning so far around to watch this prized specimen of man. Just then, another bartender appeared in front of him, drawing his attention.
“Are you waiting?” he asked in a voice so quiet Justin barely heard him above the music.
Flashing him a cursory glance, Justin’s attention went back to the blond barman further along the bar before his sozzled brain digested who stood in front of him: Brunet. Long hair.
Slowly, Justin looked back. The man standing before him was definitely cute, with a mop of dark, curly hair and even darker eyes.
Tam jumped in. “Yes, can we order cocktails?”
The bartender turned to Tam with a smile. “Sure. What do you want?”
“Three Caipirinhas, please.”
“No problem. I just need to get some crushed ice.” The bartender flitted off.
Wait,” Justin began, “can we—” Tam stuck a boot out, aiming at Justin’s leg. “Ow.”
Tam flashed him a look. “Dibs,” he said firmly.
“Huh?” Justin wanted to argue. “But—”
“What do you mean but?” Tam chuckled. “You called dibs on the other one.”
“Boys, boys.” Tara laid a hand on their arms. “I know no one in their right mind could possibly resist either of you, but let’s be chill about it, okay?”
Tam sniffed in mock indignation, while Justin grinned. “I can feel another bet coming on.”
This time Tam snorted. “Mm-hmm. Well, you’d better hope that whoever you end up pulling doesn’t mind your spicy breath, darling.”
“What?” Justin was alarmed and raised a hand to breathe into it. The brunet bartender returned, and Justin quickly dropped his hand, forcing a smile.
Tam watched with a predatory gaze as the bartender placed three rocks glasses on the bar and started mixing their drinks. Tara leaned over the bar to watch, focused on the drinks. “May I have extra lime in mine, please?”
The bartender smiled at her. “Of course you can.”
“Thank you, hon. Sorry to be a pain. We’re bartenders too.”
“Oh, yeah? All of you?” He flicked his eyes up, and they locked with Justin’s momentarily.
Justin tasted victory already and tried for his best smile. “I am! I’m supposed to be learning new cocktails.”
“Whereas I work in fashion,” Tam added, vying for attention. “But Justin and I dance together.”
“Oh, right?” Again, the barman’s eyes locked with Justin’s.
He’s interested. Justin picked up on the vibes and found he was interested in return. Score! He studied the barman closer as he mixed the drinks. He had a nice mouth, with full lips that were just asking to be kissed; his curly hair was cute, and he had dark brows to match. There was something about him that hinted at the exotic, if only that he wasn’t the usual short-haired, styled blond that was prevalent in gay bars.
He was very attractive. Definitely.
“What sort of dancing?” he asked, having taken the bait Tam offered.
“Anything.” Tam winked at him. “We do it together.”
Justin smiled and nodded along, though he noted the bartender’s smile seemed more strained than flirty.
“I dance too,” Tara said, unaware of Tam’s double entendre. “I teach tap.”
Tam shot her a look of annoyance, but the bartender seemed amused. “Tap is awesome.” He smiled at her, and Justin decided he had a very pretty smile.
A taller man materialized at the brunet’s side; the blond barman had returned. He flashed another dazzling smile with perfect white teeth. “Yena beat me to it,” he said, leaning on the bar. “Sorry I took so long, guys.”
Tam seized his chance to lean in, touching the blond’s arm. “Oh, no trouble. But thank you so much.”
“My pleasure.” The blond’s perma-smile turned knowing. “I’m Eric,” he said, offering his hand.
Tam’s hand shot out to grasp his. “I’m Tam. And this is Tara and Justin.”
Eric shook Tam’s hand, then moved along the bar, shaking Tara’s next. He nudged his colleague aside, heedless to the fact he was still trying to mix the drinks, in a bid to reach Justin.
Justin noted Eric’s pushiness, and something about it annoyed him, but he took Eric’s hand anyway. “Justin.”
Eric looked into his eyes as he groped his hand. His touch was warm and confident, sending electric pulses up Justin’s arm. From one touch, Justin knew instinctively that if he were to go to bed with
Eric, they’d have a struggle for dominance.
Which could be fun.
“Great to meet you.” Eric’s blue eyes danced with intent. “Stick around,” he added, apparently to Justin. “It’ll calm down later on. I can make you a drink then.” With that, he extracted himself and flitted away, leaving his colleague to continue serving.
The brunet got on with mixing the drinks, placing three beautifully crafted cocktails in front of them. It wasn’t Justin’s round, but he produced his wallet, mostly as an excuse to command the barman’s attention. He took longer than necessary to find the correct money, instead putting all his concentration into flirting. “What was your name?” he asked with a smile. He’d heard Eric say it, but being an unusual name it hadn’t stuck in Justin’s memory.
Dark eyes fixed on his, though the playfulness in them had disappeared. “Yena,” he said quietly.
Justin still couldn’t get it. “Pardon?”
“Yena,” he said again, an edge to his voice.
“That’s a nice name,” Tara said.
Still unsure, Justin asked, “How’d you spell that?”
Yena looked at him, this time in disbelief. “Y-E-N-A,” he said flatly. “Look”—he glanced along the bar—“I’ve got to serve someone else, can you…?”
He didn’t say hurry up, but Justin heard it clearly. He felt slightly deflated at being rushed. “Oh, sure. Sorry.” He handed over a note, which Yena whipped out of his hand before he had a chance to say anything else. As he marched off to the till, Justin glanced at Tam, frowning at him in confusion.
Tam shrugged in answer. Either he didn’t know why Yena was cross, or he didn’t care.
When Yena returned with the change, Justin decided to lay on the charm. “Keep it.” He smiled warmly. “Put it towards tips.”
Yena looked surprised. “But there’s over five quid here.”
Justin waved it away. “Please.”
“All right.” Yena glanced at him, unsure. “Thanks.”
Yena turned away, and that was that.
“—come.” Justin snorted. “Well.”
Tara was already sipping her drink, oblivious to Justin’s troubles. “Mm, these are good.”
“You bet.” Tam raised his drink, catching Justin’s eye. “Cheers, dears.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Justin picked up his glass to down a large amount. Cocktails always made things better. He scanned along the bar, looking for Yena.
What’d happened? Had Eric’s interruption annoyed Yena somehow? Or was it something else? Justin couldn’t work it out.
Wine and Roses
Alain looked wan and pale when he came in with Breeze’s breakfast the following morning. The dark crescents under his blue eyes made Breeze wonder if he’d slept at all. He suspected Alain’s restlessness might have been his fault. He hadn’t realized Alain had lost his wife in the fire. What an ass.
Still, Alain offered him a smile as he set a tray bearing some porridge, boiled eggs, a slice of ham, and a bowl of beans on Breeze’s lap. He sat on the edge of the bed as he always did and poured wine.
“How are you feeling this morning? Did you sleep well?”
“Better than it looks like you did. Why is that?”
Breeze put down the forkful of bacon-flavored beans he’d been about to shovel into his mouth and took Alain’s hand. At his touch, Alain flinched and tried to pull away, but Breeze held firm, and eventually he relaxed. “Look, Alain. I’m just a sell-sword. I never claimed to be a scholar, but I feel like a stupid ass for not realizing you lost your wife in the fire. I hope that damned mage rots in the rankest pit of the Shades’ Abode. But I’m sorry for being dull-witted, and for letting my tongue wag like the fucking fool I am. I know I hurt you, and I’m sorry.”
When Alain looked at Breeze, tears glittered in his summer-sky eyes but didn’t fall. He shook his head. “No, I’ve never had a wife.”
“But Courtenay and Fenn?”
“My twin sister’s children. My niece and nephew. My brother-in-law, their father, died in the fire. I’m all they have left now. I… I don’t know if I’m good enough to raise them on my own. I love them, but I’m afraid I’ll fail them.”
“What happened to your sister?”
Alain caught the single tear he let fall on his fingertip and looked away to hide his grief. “She died giving birth to Fenn. Six years ago.”
Breeze didn’t know what to say, so he squeezed Alain’s hand a little tighter, and Alain squeezed back. What he really wanted to know was how Alain had remained unmarried. Breeze freely admitted he was a handsome man, with his rose-and-honey coloring and those expressive eyes. And lips—pink, firm, and full without looking pillowy or slack. Add to that his estate, and he could have his pick of the buxom country girls. If he wanted help with the children, why not take a wife? Could he be…. Damn, out of nowhere, Breeze really wanted to know whose body Alain imagined when he slid into bed and slipped his hand into his trousers. He could see it: Alain’s teeth denting his lower lip, red rushing all the way to the tips of his ears—
And he was a fucking pig for thinking about that while Alain struggled not to break down. Besides, it was none of his damned business who or what the vintner fucked, if anyone. Hopefully, in another month or so, he’d be long gone. On to better things. Still, he didn’t like seeing Alain suffering. “I’m sorry.” What a platitude. Breeze just wasn’t used to men who needed comforting.
Alain nodded. “Thank you. You should finish your breakfast so I can change your dressings. Best to get it over with.”
After a few more bites of food, Breeze asked, “Do you have a bathtub? I’m as rank as a whore’s underpants, and I’d kill for a proper wash.” He set his fork on his plate and scratched his chin. “And a shave.”
He didn’t know why that made Alain smile, but seeing it pleased him. “Why do you want to shave off your whiskers?”
“That’s just how it’s done in Espero. Men shave every day. The heat, I suppose. I’m just not used to these whiskers. Why, do you like them?”
Alain tensed visibly, and Breeze felt like horse’s ass. Again. He was making this a habit. Why had he said that?
“I don’t care about them one way or another. I just wondered. Most men in Selindria don’t shave their whiskers.”
“You do,” Breeze observed.
Alain touched his soft-looking cheek with the fingers of his splinted hand. The way Alain worked and took care of him, Breeze found it easy to forget about the other man’s injury. Truth be told, he bore it like a warrior. “Mine comes in all patchy. I can’t grow a proper beard, just little scraps here and there. I look like a fool when I don’t shave.”
Breeze wondered if the hair grew in little golden swaths down the center of his chest, his soft belly, between his legs. Bleeding Shades, he had to drive off the pictures in his head. They’d make an Elvaran street slag blush. “So, could I trouble you for a bath? I’m sure you’ve had your fill of my stink.”
“You’ll have to come down the stairs, to the kitchen. We have an indoor well and a tub in a room just beyond it. I can help you, if you think you can make it.”
“I think I can. I feel heartier than I have since I woke up.” And if Alain looked beneath Breeze’s sheets, he’d see plenty of proof. Probably best to get rid of that before Alain helped him bathe. He struggled to focus on his breakfast and think about anything else. Luckily, Alain helped distract him.
“So, I guessed you were from Espero. I haven’t met many people from the island. How long have you been away?”
“About seven years.”
“You must have been quite young when you left home,” Alain said.
“Yes, I’d just come of age.”
“Why did you leave?”
“Wanted to see the world, I suppose. Don’t you?”
Alain laughed. “No! I have everything I need right here. This land has been in my family for nine generations—almost five hundred years. Since my ancestors accepted this property from the valen of Lockhaven, it’s taken care of us. I love this place. I can’t imagine leaving. Espero wasn’t like that for you?”
“No.” Silence fell between them as Breeze finished his breakfast. He didn’t want to talk about Espero, and it wasn’t anything Alain would be able to comprehend. “You don’t want more for yourself? Something grander? Adventure and glory for your name?” What young man didn’t?
“No. I have no one to prove anything to. I love tending the grapes and the land. The goddesses have blessed us, and I’m thankful. My heart is here.”
Sounds frightfully dull, Breeze thought, if comfortable. “No aspirations at all?”
“Maybe just… someone to share it with. But that won’t happen.” Alain seemed ready say more, but stopped himself and paused before rushing to quantify his statement. “Not anytime soon, at least. I have too much to do to get the vineyard back to where it can support us. Buildings need repaired, and over half of the vines will have to be replanted. I can only pray we’ll be able to harvest enough come Berris’s Moon to produce enough wine to sell next year. What we have to take to market this summer will barely get us by. Too many of the cellars caved in when the support beams burned. Luckily, last year was good, and we’ll fetch a good price for what’s left. And we have the ice wine. I’m sorry. You probably don’t care about any of this.”
To Breeze’s surprise, he found he did, a little, and he caught himself imagining ways to help the vineyard thrive. Not that he knew a thing about it. “What is ice wine?”
“We leave the grapes on the vine until the frost, let them freeze before harvesting. The water in them turns to ice, and it concentrates their sweetness. We press them while they’re still frozen, and it produces the most exquisite wine, as golden as the sunlight, sweet as honey, and with a taste of the mountains and the winter. It can be sold for exorbitant prices; the nobles here in the north adore it. Ice wine is risky, though. First off, if the frost comes too late, we chance letting the grapes rot on the vine and losing an entire crop. Secondly, the frozen grapes produce much less juice than they would if we picked them normally, so of course they produce less wine.”
“That seems the thing to do, then. You might end up with less wine, but you’ll make more gold in the long run, won’t you?”
Alain wiggled his fingers in Breeze’s hand like he wanted to tap them on something as he considered. “Possibly. Not all the grapes will work, though. And there’s a good chance the goddesses and seasons won’t cooperate. We usually only risk a small portion of the grapes for the ice wine, those we can afford to lose. If we made them all into ice wine, we would do quite well, but if we lost them to rot, we’d be doomed.”
“Octavian always tells me destiny smiles on the bold man and ignores the timid.”
“You speak highly of him,” Alain said.
“He’s a good man, as I explained. Shrewd, though. Sharp as a dagger. And, I suppose, he was good to me. Gave me a chance.”
Alain looked at him intently, batting his long golden lashes, so Breeze continued. “He could have turned me away. I wasn’t much of a warrior when I went to join the Roses. But I told him my story, and he told me his, and it turned out they weren’t so different. He gave me a place to belong. Saw some worth in me that no one else ever had. I owe him a great deal.”
“You didn’t feel like you belonged in Espero?”
“No.” Dammit, he didn’t want to talk about this. He pulled loose of Alain’s hand and took a long drink of wine to avoid speaking.
“I just wanted a different life from the one laid out for me there. Same as Octavian. I wanted to make it on my own like he did. He’s not much older than us, you know.”
“He sounds like a remarkable man.” Alain looked like he wanted to say something else, but he busied himself with stacking Breeze’s empty dishes onto the tray. “I suppose we should see to your bath.”
Alain left the tray on the floor next to the bed and helped Breeze to stand. He arranged Breeze’s arm over his shoulders, and Breeze caught his own scent. Goddesses, he really reeked, and he felt suddenly self-conscious.
The trip down the stairs and through the cheery kitchen hurt less than Breeze expected, but by the time they reached the small, whitewashed room at the end of the long corridor, the side of his left thigh trembled and threatened to cramp. Alain helped him to sit on a wooden chair while he filled three metal pails from the pump and suspended them over a raised pit of coals in the corner of the room. Then he picked up a pair of shears. “Oh no. I have to take your bandages off, and you didn’t take your elixir.”
Breeze laughed. “I can hardly wash and shave myself if I’m fast asleep. Or were you planning to do it?”
Alain colored. Goddesses, that was alluring, and Breeze wondered how far the dusky-rose color spread down his neck. Even his lips darkened when he spoke. “I have done it, you know. Bathed you.”
“I know. Thank you. I was only teasing. I did not mean to upset you.”
“I’m not upset. I just don’t like doing this. I know it’s necessary to the healing, but I don’t like seeing you… seeing anyone suffering. I should go back to your room and fetch the tonic.”
“I’d rather do without it,” Breeze said. “I’ve had enough of feeling fuzzy.”
“You really should—”
“Alain, I will be fine. This isn’t the first time I’ve been injured.” He didn’t add that it was by far the worst, or that he wanted to experience what was about to happen without the haze of the elixir.
“I’ll at least go the kitchen and get you more wine to dull the pain.”
He returned with an open bottle, and Breeze drank. Goddesses, this would spoil him. This tasted like wine from Espero, bright and bold with notes of bitter cherry, currant, the black stone Pherara had pulled from the sea to form the island, leather, and tarberry. He almost moaned as it slid down his throat to warm his belly. “Amazing. You made this?”
“It takes a great many people,” Alain said as he emptied the buckets into the round wooden tub.
“But according to your instructions,” Breeze pressed.
“Yes, I suppose.”
“You, my friend, are an artist.”
“Thank you, but that’s hardly the best we have to offer. Just table wine, really.”
“Your bath is ready. I should take your dressings off. Drink some more.”
Breeze didn’t need to be told twice. After a few long pulls, he carefully rolled the loose brown trousers the children had given him to his ankles and lifted his feet out. Aside from the linen strips, he was completely naked. Not that he was shy—at Rosecairn, the men swam together in the summer and helped each other on and off with their armor. Besides, Alain had seen him, so he didn’t bother covering himself. When Alain turned and saw him sitting with his legs open, everything on display, he blushed almost as burgundy as the wine and tossed Breeze a towel.
Breeze chuckled but draped it across his sensitive bits. “I’m sure you’ve seen it.”
“I have seen it,” Alain said a little shortly, “not that I was trying to look, or staring at it, or something. I kept it covered up when I could!”
“I never meant to imply otherwise, friend.” Alain did not like being teased. Breeze was used to the back and forth jibes between the warriors at Rosecairn, and sometimes they grew quite vicious, but he didn’t want to make Alain uncomfortable. “You know me. Not used to the company of civilized men. I apologize.”
Love on the Rocks
Twenty-six-year-old barman and cabaret entertainer Justin has recently moved to London for a fresh start. Charismatic and flirty, Justin is naturally the center of attention wherever he goes. There’s only one problem: the object of Justin’s affections, a handsome, enigmatic bartender named Yena, isn’t won over by Justin’s charm. In fact, he flat out turns Justin down.
Stripping off his showmanship frills and charms, Justin aims for a different approach: reveal himself for who he is. Underneath his public face Justin is an honest young man who wants someone special to share his time with… and laugh at his awful jokes.
Justin can only hope the real him is irresistible to the man he loves.
Wine and Roses
Mage Yarroway L’Estrella decided the Battle of the Starlight Bridge when he summoned fire from the heavens. The blaze decimated much of the vineyard that has been in Alain Lamont’s family for nine generations. Mountain Shadow Winery may no longer be able to support Alain’s family or the dozens of others who call it home, but Alain vows not to fail all those depending on him.
Mercenary Fabrezio Orvina d’Caelus, Breeze to his friends, appreciates Alain taking him in when he’s badly wounded after the battle, but he has no intention of living the dull life of a farmer any longer than necessary. Though he likes the vintner, he sees Alain as soft and sheltered, hardly a man who can understand a warrior’s calling.
As they live and work together, Alain realizes Breeze isn’t exactly the amoral opportunist he suspected, and Breeze sees more strength in Alain than he thought possible of a simple winemaker. Life on the estate is richer and less boring than Breeze first imagined. With ingenuity, courage, and cooperation, they may devise a way to revitalize the vineyard and move beyond the pain and loss of their pasts.
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Gus Li (Augusta Li)
Tushmore (Melanie Tushmore)
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