An Open Letter To The 20-Year-Old Faceless Girl On My Book Cover

Oy yeah, this… so many times THIS!

Tara Sparling writes

Open Letter To The 20-Year-Old Faceless Girl On My Book Cover

I know it isn’t technically your fault. You didn’t ask to be there.

One day you’re just a working model standing on a beach, a clifftop, a bridge, or under a lamppost; the next, you’re blazing across bookshelves and bookshop windows, the cover girl of a bestseller.

I know you were just thinking to earn a few quid, getting your photograph taken whilst preserving your anonymity (because your job is to never face the camera, and girl, are you GOOD at that). You didn’t ask to be the Faceless Representative Of All Femininity. And yet, here you are.

Or rather there you are, your twenty-year-old legs firmly planted on the soil of whichever dreamy landscape was photoshopped around you. There you are, your twenty-year-old arms lithe and long, clutching that old-fashioned handbag, quaintly addressed letter, or hand of a small child. There you are, facing away from me, your slim and trim twenty-year-old body…

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The Blinders are Still in Place

And the beat goes on…

Mad Genius Club

Ten years.

That is approximately how long it’s been since Amazon first allowed the infidels to dip their toes into the sacred waters of publishing.  From the beginning, traditional publishing has taken a two-pronged attack against not only indies but readers. They have told us that e-books were a passing fad, something that wouldn’t last. They also warned that allowing just anyone to publish without having to prove themselves by finding a way past the gatekeepers would allow nothing but dreck into the holy waters of publishing.

Well, almost 10 years into this so-called experiment in mediocrity, e-books are still here and more and more indie authors are earning more than pocket change for their work — and the blinders are still, at least as far as most of those in traditional publishing are concerned, firmly in place.

We’ve seen the Big 5 (which used to be the Big 6)…

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Tickbox diagnosis: can you measure trans feeling?

As the mother of a trans who is well-adjusted, taking the lead in her own self-care, and setting parameters to serve the person she has always been… this… this troubles me more than I can articulate.

Dr Ruth Pearce

Nottingham Centre for Transgender Health are currently developing a “Gender Dissonance Severity Scale”.

Gender Dissonance Severity Scale

I can see why some practitioner-researchers might think this is a good idea. The clinical protocols at GICs such as Nottingham currently require trans patients to demonstrate that they can cope with living a “trans” life in order to access “irreversible” treatments such as hormone therapy. At present, this is demonstrated through patients’ adherance to the “Real Life Test”.

“[I]t is the view of many clinicians working in the field – including some of whom are transgender themselves – that living as their experienced gender allows individuals to test their gender identity in the real world before the initiation of potentially irreversible treatments […] transgender people who have poor social and interpersonal skills may be more likely to encounter difficulties when socially transitioning.. […] In order for an individual to be accepted for treatment, they need to…

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HELP! I’m Drowning in Free Books! or why dear author your sales have tanked

I conducted a wee experiment: to find out how many free books I could amass in a two month period, but not just any free book. I carefully screened and evaluated each giveaway for genre, blurb, writing style and author (based on familiarity, claims to being best selling). In addition, I deselected any that were short stories, novellas as prequels to series, single teaser chapters, or collections of first chapters (faux box sets: buyer beware, these are often touted as 99c box sets on Amazon and elsewhere).

I mainly used these giveaway services, some of which require sign-ups to newsletters: eBook Discovery, The Rainbow Shelf, LGBT Romance Deals, and Instafreebie.

The genres were quite diverse, though heavily weighted to contemporary MF and MM romance, but not exclusively. I scored books in the gayfic, SF, SFR, LitFic, mystery & suspense, cozy mystery, chicklit, high fantasy, paranormal, dark urban fantasy, YA and NA, and some indeterminate genres.

Many of the books were fed through Instafreebie which acts like a tree: chose a book in your choice of format, then three more titles pop up, select one and three more appear in random order vis-a-vis genres.

A lot of those freebies come with a price tag: an author newsletter, which isn’t a burden IF and only if they aren’t weekly—sometimes even daily, flirty, chatty, invasive of my time and patience—emails that require evaluation, then an unsubscribe. In other words, it demands my time… an upfront cost of doing business, but the real challenge will come when I start actually reading my newest acquisitions (and mind you, I have >850 titles on the Kindle Fire alone, most unread and unrelated to this experiment).

So, how extensive is that list of freebies?

Well, I tallied up the curated inventory and, as of today, it stands at 149 books. Mind you, this is a *small fraction* of what was on offer. I had to go to the Amazon page, read the blurb, scan the reviews, and read the “Look Inside” feature before making the final decision to download the mobi file, usually via Instafreebie.

Note that this exercise does not include free books offered on Amazon which downloads directly onto my Kindle Fire. Nope, these selections go to a special computer file for later transfer to Kindle #2.

Instrafreebie is the succubus of word herders, but it’s not the only one. There are other services (paid or otherwise) that offer steeply discounted or free books, many with no strings attached and you can specify which genre is of interest. They will tailor their offerings to you, either monthly, weekly or daily depending on how you wish to interact with them.

Then there are the periodic groupings of authors in similar sub-genres who combine resources for limited time offers, often themed to occur with holidays or with specialties (western romance, biker romance, M/M romance, etc).

It is truly staggering.

And it is rather disheartening… at least from this author’s perspective. We’ve been led by the short and curlies into believing the only way to attract attention in a sea of possibilities is to bribe potential readers with free content, above and beyond the blog, or Twitter and Face Book ramblings.


And I get it, I really do. It’s a HUGE ocean and we’re all just tiny drops…

But… big but… if the average reader consumes less than five books a year (and, gawd, for some it’s one and done), and even if you discount the voracious nature of readers of all things romance, that’s still a staggering number of free books and that number is growing exponentially… Every. Single. Day.

When, from down the endless tunnel of despair, an author whimpers, “But I tried BookBub and [insert link for a very expensive service to help giveaway your intellectual content] and still sales are flatlining or tanking or…” it makes me wonder who is more at fault: the reader for expecting, nee DEMANDING free books, or the author for being so desperate for instant gratification that they cave to advice that flies in the face of logic and economic viability.

Sigh, I’m waiting for the next guru to come along and affirm what the entitled internet generation has been avowing since its inception: if it’s digital, if it’s on the internet, then it should be, ought to be, must be… FREE!

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m investing hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars to create a product called a book or an audiobook, so how exactly does my giving the results of that effort away serve to feed anything other than reader avariciousness? Heaven knows, it doesn’t pay my mortgage or put food on the table.

As for my own sputtering writing career, I haven’t completed any of the six books I’ve started, and it’s coming 15 months since I published a new title. I have reasons for that, most I’m keeping close to the vest because they are hot button topics (more on that another time).

Writing is who I am, it’s not a hobby. Never was, never will be. But there are other ways to self-flagellate that require fewer pieces of my hide and far fewer hits to my limited budget, yet still allow me a measure of peace and fulfillment.

Yes, I could write for myself… but the question is: why?

I’ve always viewed writing as an interactive process—the execution being solitary for the most part, indeed—but the endgame is a sharing of stories that reflect our cultural values, challenge our beliefs, entertain, or any of hundreds of other ways that words become woven into the fabric of our perceptions, our hopes, and our dreams.

Sadly, I have no answers.

But lordie, Mizz Scarlet, I sure as hell have a boatload of new books to read.

For those of you who celebrate this day, either as Easter or Passover, blessings to you.

Wishing you all peace, contentment, and above all… love.



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DRAGON ACADEMY #CountdownDeal #Audiobook #KindleUnlimited

#CountdownDeal #Audiobook #KindleUnlimited #Trifecta


(brought to you by my alter ego)

99c for a limited time

Horses, dragons, high action & adventure

A Perfect Escape for Teens and Adults Alike!

Also available in #audiobook with Michael Ferraiuolo,

bringing all the characters to life in living color.




A young man finds himself after the loss of the father he idolized.

Dietrich walked quietly up to Nick, then slid down next to his sobbing nephew, drawing up his knees and hunching forward in sympathy and understanding. Nick acknowledged his uncle’s presence with a nod and rubbed his palms roughly across his eyes, angrily brushing the tears away.

“Uncle Dietrich? What are you doing out here?”

“Your aunt sent some food up for you.” He waved toward the doorway where the cooler lay discarded. “How are you doing?”

“I’m fine. It’s just been a long day, that’s all.”

“Um, yes, a very long day.” Dietrich avoided his nephew’s eyes, not wishing to force him into a confidence until he was ready.

Sighing, Nick moaned, “How do I do this? How do I get along without him?”

The simple words, etched in agony, echoed down the wide aisle, sluicing and reflecting off the plasma-coated surfaces. The dragons shifted uneasily before settling back into a near slumber. Dietrich stared at the floor for a long moment.

“How? That is the thing I have not worked out. My Rolf, your father, was the other half of my heart and soul. We were alike, exactly, in so many ways. And so different, too.”

Nick looked up, curious. “Different, how?”

Dietrich grinned. “Well, for one thing, he was terrified of horses.”



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Guest Blog – Christian Baines

I have been criticized in the past for including female characters in my gay fiction (by gay men). This blog is a breath of fresh air and very much needed.

kevin klehr

I’d like to welcome back Christian Baines to my website. When asked to join the team of authors sharing their thoughts on writing, Christian took a unique approach, and I’m glad he did. Today he offers perspective as he calls for certain characters in gay fiction to be fleshed out more honestly.

Plus he’d like to offer one reader of today’s guest blog any one of his novels, but you can read about how to enter at the end of this post. For now, he’d like writers to consider women.

All About My Mother
(and my sister, and my aunt, and my best friend, and my daughter, and my high school beard…)

Thanks Kevin, for having me back on the blog! As I write this, we’re barely more than a month into 2017, and already two events this year that have inspired me. One took place when millions of women (and men, and others) who…

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#Review of EXPOSED by Bey Deckard

This fangirl went to her happy place with EXPOSED. Here’s why…


Bey Deckard

Contemporary gay fiction, romance, lite BDSM

280 pages

The Blurb

With middle-age looming, Greg offsets his boring day job with what truly feeds his soul: photography. The camera is an extension of himself where he exposes his passion for the intersect of pleasure and pain. However, the lens also acts as a barrier, protecting his subjects from the shameful mistakes of his past, and Greg is left isolated and lonely.

Emyr stands on the cusp of fame, but adulation and abuse are both eroding his confidence, and one night, at the river’s edge, he seeks solace in the rain, hoping to hide his tears.

The photographer and the virgin rock star share an accidental connection on that dark, drizzly night. When Greg invites Emyr back to his hotel room, no strings attached, the young man should have bolted. Instead, an odd sense of trust allows him to follow Greg’s lead.

When the camera comes out, Emyr learns the stage isn’t the only place he loves to perform as Greg touches something inside him that rarely awakens. Faced with a beautiful, talented boy whose soul is as lonely as his own, will Greg be able to face his past and come to terms with it, or will he run from the connection he so desperately desires?

Once more, Bey Deckard has dazzled me with his grasp of craft and his ability to engage all my senses, pulling me into the story until I lose myself completely to the sensuality, power and complexity of the human spirit.

The pairing of Greg, the photographer who uses his avocation as a filter that leads only to alienation and profound loneliness, and Emyr, a young man on the cusp of becoming, with a world sans barriers spread before him, is both perilous and joyous.

This is no simple May-December match-up, fraught with the usual tropes, but rather an exploration of connectivity, that ephemeral first attraction that—only rarely—ignites with passion, then settles with time into enduring, and endearing, sympatico.

Greg, with history and a catalog of errors dogging his psyche, is the one who must battle on a multitude of fronts: social, cultural, familial… but more importantly, himself. And though how he comes to terms with how he’s changing to meet the challenges he faces with Emyr is compelling on its own merits, it is the young man who most commands my interest and, ultimately, my empathy.

At the tender age of twenty-three, on the cusp of fame and all the tribulations and challenges that entails, there is unexpected depth to Emyr that I found intriguing and charming. In many ways, he presents as the adult in their budding relationship, and this allows Greg time and space to ground himself in his new reality.

At the same time, Emyr enjoys a freedom of choice and expression unthinkable to a man a full generation removed from his own. This makes for a very fluid dynamic, one that shifts and wavers, until finally settling into an edgy comfort zone that allows the best of both men to blossom.

What Emyr lacks, on first contact, is a path to fully realize his own sexuality, independent of the heady freedom and abandon afforded his stage persona. It is Greg, in his hotel room, camera in hand, who fabricates a new script and a new stage upon which Emyr’s sensuality can take flight. It is a liberation that quite simply explodes on the page.

That initial scene, with Greg, camera recording every expression, asking questions—at first innocent, then progressively less so—is so fraught with violent sensuality it took my breath away. So, too, the spanking scene that edges the reader’s anticipation with the very real expectation of Greg finally losing control in a battle that’s not his to own. The outcome was a splendid mix of heady validation and vague disappointment, making this my second favorite scene in the book.

Aside from the depth of characterizations and the beautifully rendered descriptions, there’s an underpinning of hope and joy and affirmation… that two people as different as night and day can find the missing puzzle pieces that complete the whole… that love can be more than lip service to an unrealized fantasy.

The writing is stellar, as always. Exposed invited me into the hearts and souls of two men I came to care about deeply. Their story, plus all the minor characters who brought both gravitas and levity to the proceedings, and… finally… the resolution, all of those elements left me feeling insanely happy.

Thank you, Bey Deckard.

An unreserved and enthusiastic Five Stars.


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Sports Romance with Sass: THE 90 DAY RULE

I finally bowed to the inevitable… that doggone branding thing caught up with me, wore me down. My alter ego—the “real me” some would say—could not bypass Face Book insistence on using Diane, rather than Nya, so all attempts to talk about books failed because…

Well, the truth?

Everybody *knew* Diane wrote, everybody *talked about* the books Diane wrote, but gloriosky… nobody could FIND the books Diane wrote because… Nya held them in bondage.

*headdesk*  *facepalm* #wailing-gnashing-teeth#

Nya, of course, has her tribe, but that tribe doesn’t care so much about romantic comedies, heartwarming tales of life in the country, YA fantasies with horses and dragons, and sports romances… all M/F. Diane’s tribe loves that stuff, along with the lighter touch for scenes of affection (no linoleum gets melted).

What to do, what to do?

Well, after a bit, it occurred… why not just let Diane have her thing, and Nya have… the other thing?

Sounds simple, but in practice, not so much. It required re-editing and reformatting, new book covers, new approaches to marketing, and decisions on whether or not to stay in Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited or to go wide.

And those decisions came with a side of carpal tunnel syndrome in both hands, confirmed by nerve induction tests that 1) were a real hoot… not, and 2) cost an arm and… the other arm (jaw-dropping charges!).

I’m slowly working through the catalog, the two sports romances first, then I’ll proceed to the other titles on an as-time-and-nerve-damage-permits basis.

So, without further ado, may I present a Romance with Sass and

a heroine who’s slightly past her use-by-date…


When playing by the rules means stepping over the line…

Sometimes starting over means trying out assault and battery, especially when the object d’ violence is a cheating husband caught in the act. Restraining orders aside, safety comes in numbers and having certain … standards.

For Jessamine chaos and capitulation are facts of life. Giving up dreams to service her husband’s ambitions and enabling the same blind submission in her own daughter ends abruptly, leaving her rootless, homeless and destitute.

For some people, it is the kindness of strangers who make the difference but for Jes it is the unlikely alliance of the mother-in-law-from-hell, a devastatingly handsome basketball coach and a phalanx of determined team members who convince a woman of a certain age that beginning again doesn’t mean giving up or giving in.

The only problem is … there’s that pesky 90 day rule.


Jack glared at me, our bodies locked in a rigid stand-off, guns cocked, ready to unleash with both barrels.

He answered my unspoken question with one of his own. “When he pressed you, what did you do?”


“Roddie. He was all over you. What. Did. You. Do?” Each word was punctuated with latent aggression.

“I pushed back.”

“Exactly.” Jack leaned in, so close it made me afraid. Terrified. Because I knew what was coming.

“You are a force of nature out there, Jes, a warrior. Nothing on God’s earth can stop you when you go after what you want.”

But that was different. It was a game. Just a game. Wasn’t it?

“It’s not just a game. Not to people like us. We live and breathe the same air, Jessamine Cavanaugh.” He stroked my collar bone, his voice ragged and needy. “Do you understand what I’m saying?”



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Two More Down Plus a Box Set #CrowCreek

I’m halfway through re-editing and reformating the Crow Creek Series for ebook and print and… dayyum… I’m falling in love all over again with this epic tale of two men running from their pasts toward an uncertain future.

Tagline: It’s as big as the wilderness, as intimate as a heartbeat.

Bey Deckard did a fabulous job redesigning the book covers.


AMAZON (Available until 3/15/17 in Kindle Unlimited)

Former rodeo champion Jess Carpenter’s been rode hard and put up lonely. Lucas Santiago has anger management issues and a passion for the livestock in his care. When they meet, the fanboy crush on the older bronc rider turns into a fierce attraction, for both men.

But Jess’ visit to Crow Creek Ranch brings a complication—a history with owner Ash MacBryde that ignites an emotional firestorm. It threatens not only Jess’ budding feelings for the young wrangler Luc, but it also drives a wedge between Ash and his married partner Oak.

While Ash and Jess struggle to understand and control their still smoldering feelings for each other, the two young men who would love them unite in desperation, making the kinds of bad choices that lead to jealous rage and soul-searing hurt.

To save Oak, Luc will do whatever it takes, including jail time. To save themselves, Jess and Ash must finally confront what they’ve hidden for years.

Four men vie to hold onto the things they hold dear. Riding for the time. Riding for the glory. And it takes only one misstep to disqualify any one of them from the competition … and from love.


AMAZON (Available until 3/15/17 in Kindle Unlimited)

“I think you love that boy so much you’re insane with it — and you don’t have a clue how to show him.”

The reappearance of an old love drives more than a wedge between Ash MacBryde and his partner and husband, Oak Richards. It sends Oak flying back to Vermont and into the employ of a man determined to win a chance to race at the World Endurance Cup in Dubai.

To Oak’s delight and dismay, the man who taught him what it means to be different is there, working for the same man with the same end. They will be partners on horseback and, if Ben Kincaid has any say in it, in other ways as well.

Someone holds a grudge against Oak’s new employer and as the race approaches, the dirty tricks escalate until no one is safe.

Oak and Ben are in danger, and when Ash shows up to bring his man back home, there’s more at stake than just a shot at a million dollar purse. MacBryde’s got his work cut out for him because keeping Oak safe might mean shattering all chances at mending their broken marriage.

Three men set out on a perilous journey through traps set not just by their enemies but by their own tangled emotions. And the only way the domineering possessive man and the gentle reclusive soul can find their way back to Crow Creek Ranch means learning that…

Sometimes it takes two wrongs to make it right.

I’ve bundled the first three in the series into a BOX SET. Love’s never gonna be easy for Oak Richards and Ash MacBryde, and as Ash’s ex-lover says…

“This won’t come as a big shock, but you and me, kiddo… we’re hard men to love.”



“But he’s still out there ridin’ fences

Still makes his livin’ with his rope

As long as there’s a sunset he’ll keep ridin’ for the brand

You just can’t see him from the road

Well he’s tall in the saddle short on the cash

The last to quit the first to buy the beer

Well he’s a knight in leather armor still livin’ by the code

That’s made him what he’s been a hundred years”

~ From a song by Chris LeDoux




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Freshening Up Old Favorites: Book Cover Reveal #Ash&Oak #CrowCreek

While I’m laid up with carpal tunnel in both hands/wrists/arms (ouch), I’m re-visiting my beloved Crow Creek Series, freshening up the formatting, re-doing the editing (going from comma-lite to comma-medium, tightening up the dialog and descriptions), and giving them a whole new look, cover-wise.

The amazingly talented Bey Deckard took the helm, providing a uniform “look” and some splendid visuals that tie this series’ stories into a unified whole.

To begin the roll-out, here’s a first look at ASH & OAK, book 1 of the Crow Creek Series:

ash-oak-ebookAsh MacBryde thinks he knows what he wants. When his sister offers him the chance to return to his roots and take over running the ranch, he jumps at the chance. Ranching has always been his first love but it doesn’t fill the long lonely nights.

Oak Richards’ career is skyrocketing, earning him national recognition in his sport of endurance racing. But after an unfortunate riding accident, when his mentor and lover decides Oak is no longer flavor of the month, he’s cast adrift.

Will a little luck, a healthy dose of fate, and a matchmaking sister conspire to bring together two damaged men living two thousand miles apart?

For the shy, reclusive Oak and the domineering, territorial Ash there’s more than distance separating them. When they finally meet, sparks fly; but it will take more than just a powerful attraction to bridge the gap between them.

Susan Mac Nicol (Men of London Series) says:

Beautifully written and with male leads that will just break your heart with their emotional stories, depth of character and sheer sexiness, this is a true love story of two men coming together on the ranch to find in each other what is missing in themselves.



After quickly brushing his teeth, Ash plopped on top of the down quilt, not minding the cool air on his skin. He left the nightstand light on and stared at the ceiling, still marveling at the giddy wash of excitement when Oakley Richard’s face had appeared on the monitor via the wonder of technology and Skype…


Unlike Ash, who had flopped like a rag doll in his leather desk chair, Richards sat rigidly upright, his hands folded on the table. The only indication of nervousness was his unconscious stroking of one thumb over the over. Ash concentrated on that thumb, couldn’t take his eyes off it, because if he did, he’d have to look at the kid’s face. Not just his face, but into those eyes, and what he might see there scared him half to death.

Ash was righteously tongue-tied. He tried getting out a ‘howdy’, then a ‘hi’, but nothing moved past his suddenly parched throat. Light-headed, he feared he might pass out. He’d eaten, he’d hydrated. He had no excuses.

I came. I saw. I swooned.


After an interminable pause, he finally managed, “You’re Oakley Richards.”

“Oak, sir. Yes sir.”

Amy was making googly faces at him behind the kid’s shoulder. Normally she’d have him howling in laughter with that kind of distraction, but something inside him overrode her antics and had him peering intently at a spot just to the left of the kid’s strong hands and a thumb he imagined stroking his cock…

No, no, no, no…

“Oak. Yeah, okay. I guess Amy explained…”

“Yes, sir and I think, if you look at my record, that I can…”

“…help me train and…”

“…condition, yes, but I can also…”

Amy’s head bobbed like she was watching a tennis match, her grin growing broader as they’d fleshed out an understanding. Finally, Ash waved the contract at the screen and read the more pertinent details to his rapt audience.

“If that will suit, I’d like for you to come out as soon as you can make arrangements.”


Christ, the kid was big on ‘sirs’. He’d bet the ranch his sister was up the whazoo in ma’ams from that one. It was the kind of polite from the bone marrow out that he’d gotten used to from spending so many years in the deep south.

It was no wonder Amy liked the kid.

His problem wasn’t going to be whether or not he ‘liked’ Oakley Richards, finger-quotes and all. No, he was going to have other issues that only a cold shower and some alone time were going to address.

He was looking down the gullet of the three ‘Ls’: like, lust and love. Without having met Richards, he’d already ticked off two of the three. He was going to have to work damn hard to tamp down the lust because that never worked out well with business partners. As for love? He’d tried that when he was twenty.

Look how well that worked out, MacBryde.

No, love was completely off the table. But like? Yeah, he’d be willing to give that one a shot.

Ash missed most of what the kid had been saying while his cock and his brain switched positions. He tried refocusing on the thumb but Richards had moved his hands, forcing Ash to finally look at his face.

What he saw almost made him come.

The kid was rubbing a hand through his hair, his eyes focusing on a spot, probably on a wall, while he worked out logistics. The words, “I don’t have much…” were over-ridden by a buzzing in Ash’s ears, then, “…probably as soon as you need…”

Then he stared at Ash, his expression so open, so honest, so … so fucking sexy, if he’d been in the same room, Ash would have cave-manned him into his bedroom and spent the next twenty years making love to him.

God damn, I have it bad.

Going on automatic pilot, he mumbled something about making arrangements and letting his sister know and she could tell him and blah, blah, blah. Finally Amy had shushed the kid off the chair, taking his place.

She mouthed, “Love you,” and the screen went to his wallpaper. Unfortunately his wallpaper was the photo of Oakley Richards riding Tuck, the pinto Saddlebred cross.

The thought crossed his mind that he’d have to change that. He didn’t need the kid thinking he was some kind of randy perv, no matter that it came pretty close to what he was feeling.

He was caught in that hard place, between the rock, his cock, and the higher functions that suggested he was letting himself in for some monumental hurt.

“What the hell are you doing, MacBryde?”







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