Today I am so pleased to welcome J.L. Gribble to Joyfully Jay. J.L. has come as part of the Rainbow Readers Cruise Blog Tour to talk to us about her latest release, Earth and Water. Please join me in giving her a big welcome!
In a funny instance of life imitating art, and vice versa, my debut MM romance novel features a journey by cruise ship, and my first professional MM romance event will take place on a cruise ship! None of this was planned, of course. Not only was the first draft of Earth and Water finished mid-2023, before I learned about the Rainbow Readers Cruise, but the book itself overlaps with a previous story written and published back in 2016.
Our real-life adventure will be a short jaunch between Florida and the Bahamas, not the trans-Atlantic journey featured in Earth and Water and originally inspired by my own crossing back in 2014. However, just as I hope readers enjoy the romance that grows between my characters out of the forced proximity of their cruise journey, I look forward to meeting so many fellow lovers of queer romance during our own adventure this summer!
The Rainbow Readers Cruise celebrates the readers and creators of LGBTQ+ fiction and romance. The cruise departs from the Port of Fort Lauderdale on August 19, 2024 and returns August 23, 2024, with stops at Key West and Coco Cay (Celebrity’s private island). Along the way, meet and mingle with some of your favorite LGBTQ+ fiction and romance authors and creators, as well as attend panels, meet and greets, small group social activities, and the Signing at Sea. Plus, the cruise itself, with fabulous destinations, food and drinks, entertainment, and more. You can find all the details about the Rainbow Readers Cruise on our website: https://rainbowreaderscruise.com.
Illusion fell away from him in a dust of energy. Same clothes, same face, but much more interesting hair. A mass of thick locs rested over one broad shoulder, some dyed the same blue as his illusory eyes. The plain brown of his natural eyes suited him much better, creating an intensity that livened his face in a way that compelled Kane to stare back.
Without the illusion, Kane found himself captivated. His initial surge of attraction had been no more than appreciation for a handsome face, like he’d spare a man who passed on the street. Kane may have found the first version of him stunning, but reality made him much more interesting.
Toria’s sense of familiarity strengthened in the back of Kane’s mind. “Archer?” she asked.
Finally, the man broke Kane’s gaze. He grinned at the others. “Hey, Tor. Long time, no see.”
With a squeal, Toria threw her arms around him. “What the hell are you doing here?”
He laughed as he returned her embrace. “Making a nuisance of myself, mostly, since I’m not teaching any classes during summer term. But look at you, all grown up.” He pulled away to hold Toria at arm’s length.
“You’re one to talk. What the hell is up with your hair? And why the ridiculous illusion?”
Archer feigned indignation. “Hey, I worked hard on that illusion. The hair isn’t exactly dress code around here, that’s why I hide it. No one ever cracks the illusion that fast, though.” He released Toria and offered Syri a glance before his attention once more settled heavily on Kane. “And you must be why. Limani’s infamous warrior-mage pair.”
“I’m not sure we’re exactly infamous,” Kane said. When he shook Archer’s hand, his shields sparked at the touch of another mage, but he’d have found the firm clasp appealing regardless. “Kane Nalamas. And this is our friend Syri.”
Archer’s fingers slid across Kane’s palm when he released their grasp, leaving heat in their wake. “I guess infamous isn’t the best term. But when you’re the only warrior-mages on this continent, stories are going to travel.”
Kane shot Toria a wordless inquiry, since the opposite was true on his end. In their early teens, the first moment they’d brushed against each other, the physical connection of skin against skin activated the bond that merged their magic permanently and linked together their souls. They’d lived in each other’s pockets since, but Toria had never mentioned this man.
“Archer was a student in Limani while I was still an apprentice,” Toria said. “His family moved away before you and I bonded.” Which explained why he’d never encountered the older student—Kane’s magic didn’t manifest until his bond with Toria.
“Tor used to follow me around like a puppy,” Archer said, winking at her.
“You were a menace who made fun of me constantly.” Toria bumped shoulders with him, and proprietary feelings jolted Kane. “Don’t go rewriting history to make yourself look clever.”
Kane wasn’t used to anyone else teasing Toria. That was his job. Or did he feel left out because he hadn’t been around to be teased by Archer, too? Either way, Toria shot his unsettled reaction the mental equivalent of an eye roll.
“Are you here to escort us to Master Burrows?” Syri asked, reminding them of the real reason for their visit.
“Alas, no. But I heard your names on the wire and had to run down to see my old friend.” Belying his answer, Archer’s attention rested on Kane instead of the old friend in question. “Someone else should be in shortly.”
As if on cue, a gray-haired woman entered from the same door behind Archer. “Master Sophin,” she snapped. “Hair.”
With a wink to Kane, which he forced himself not to react to, Archer donned his illusory guise once more. “My apologies, Master Wick. Allow me to introduce—”
“I know who they are. I am here to escort them to Master Burrows. I believe you have a tutoring session to attend to?” Despite her gray hair, there was nothing elderly about the stiff-spined woman. And contrary to Archer’s previous statement, the sharp lines of her professional suit could have cut as easily as Kane’s blade.
Her rudeness piqued Kane’s irritation but appeared to roll right off Archer’s back. He offered a short bow, just shy of mocking. “I’m sure I can wrangle some poor student’s time for an hour or so. Catch you later, Tor.”
He disappeared the way he came. Kane did his best to shield his jolt of disappointment from Toria, wanting to avoid any questions. Hopefully, their mission in New Angouleme brought them into contact with the other mage again.
A life with no room for distraction
Earth mage Kane Nalamas may be on his first official contract as a mercenary, but his years of experience and training don’t prepare him for immediate betrayal. Within days, he loses both his client and his freedom.
A prison of his own creation
Water mage Archer Sophin would not wish his half-life as a human magical battery on anyone. Especially not the sweet mercenary who has no idea he’s stumbled upon one of the greatest secrets in the magical world: magic is dying.
An unlikely partnership
Kane will take any help he can get from the intriguing water mage, even if he’s not sure whether Archer’s role is villain or fellow victim. Drawn further together by an unexpected voyage, what begins as a temporary arrangement turns into the potential for so much more.
To live free in a world that craves their power, the elemental mages will have to use earth and water in ways never seen before. And for a chance to build a future together, they’ll have to escape the chains of their past.
Earth and Water is an M/M paranormal romance featuring a broody pansexual water mage, a stubborn gay earth mage, forced proximity, meddling best friends, and magic as an accidental aphrodisiac. It is set in the same universe as the author’s Steel Empires series but can be read as a standalone novel with a happily ever after and no cliffhanger.
J.L. Gribble writes speculative fiction and romance, but she’s happiest when combining the two and adding a dose of the unexpected or nontraditional. When not writing, Gribble reads an eclectic range of books, adds to her LEGO collection, and plays video games. She lives in Ellicott City, Maryland, with her husband and three vocal Siamese cats. Find her book review blog and info about her publications at jlgribble.com.