Friday, November 30, 2012

Unwrapping: Avon Addicts' December Blog Hop Is Coming!

As you all know I am an Avon Addict Alum, having been a member of the prestigious first group of super readers, called Avon Addicts. Well, the Alums have gotten together with the new Avon Addicts to spread the word about some of the fabulous new Avon Romances. We're having a Blog Hop and it's going to run through December straight up to Christmas so for some of you, Santa's coming early with lots of fun and lots of Giveaways! So I hope you'll bookmark this post so you can refer back to it to see what blog is being featured and when.


The Avon Addicts December Blog Hop officially begins tomorrow, December 1st -  so let the Holidays begin!

If you check the calendar of events, you'll see UNWRAPPING ROMANCE is scheduled for December 17th but you know I'll have more goodies coming your way throughout the month.

From now through December, you'll also be able to access this schedule by clicking on the Avon Addict Blog Hop badge located on the sidebar. So don't worry, you'll always have a way to find the next exciting event during this fabulous Blog Hop. Enjoy!

Happy Reading Everyone!








 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Wacky Wednesday: Coffee Break With Jaye Shields at Tera's Coffee Shop in SECRETS OF THE FOG

A while back, I reviewed the fabulous new paranormal romance novel, SECRETS OF THE FOG by Jaye Shields. It is book one in the Immortals in Alameda Trilogy and an absolutely wonderful read whether you're into paranormal or not. Think Clash of the Titans or Thor - if you enjoyed those, you're going to love this one! Before we get started on our adventure with Jaye Shields today, if you haven't read my review of SECRETS OF THE FOG, please feel free to click on the title but hurry back, we're going on a journey and when we return, you'll have a chance at winning a copy of this exciting new book!

Blurb for SECRETS OF THE FOG:

When the dryad Tera’s friends inform her that the portal on Alcatraz Island is buzzing with an arrival, she thinks her goddess mother has come to visit. When Tera arrives at the portal to welcome her, she doesn’t find her mother, she finds a gigantic otherworldly warrior causing mass destruction among the San Francisco tourists. Being a forest dryad born from the Goddess of the Hunt has its perks, and kicking ass is one of them.

Sabin is six-feet-six of hard-bodied soldier, used to subduing demons twice his size. One day after chasing an elusive smoke demon through a portal into the human realm, Sabin is brought to his knees by a beautiful woman, literally. After arriving at a pier full of dead bodies, Tera issues a passionate smack-down before Sabin can explain that he’s the good guy.

He’s just in time: an ancient grudge has come to life. Eris, the Goddess of Chaos, has held a bitter hatred for Tera’s mother, Artemis, for over 400 years – and now she’s ready to destroy all dryads – including Tera.


                                    *                         *                         *                        *

***The following passage has been created with the permission and approval of the author, Jaye Shields, using an excerpt from SECRETS OF THE FOG. Everything in italics is taken directly from the book and the rest I created. Enjoy!


Jaye Shields and I sat quietly at a table in the coffee shop owned by Tera, whose real name is Agrotera. She is a Dryad of the Muir Woods. We're quietly nursed our drinks, Jaye with her latte, a heart drawn in the foam, and me with my unsweetened iced tea. We watched the goings on in the busy café while enjoying our quiet coffee break.

Two women were working behind the counter. We've learned from listening in that their names are Morgana and Melissandra Reed. They are the aunts of the barista who usually takes over the café when the owner is MIA, as she was now.

Speaking of their niece, her name is Sparrow Reed and she had just arrived for her shift. She was a tiny little bird-like woman befitting her name. We watched as she tied on one of the many homemade, colorful aprons as she pushed past her aunts at the front counter and disappears into the kitchen.

Jaye and I exchange dglances when we heard the aunts, both of them, trying to convince a gentleman at the counter to try one of their delicious biscotti. We've been nibbling on some of our own that we ordered so we know they are delicious. They just seemed so insistent.

Sparrow hurried back into the customer area and approached us when we heard the man at the counter speak up.

“No, thank you.” The voice was deep and masculine, and utterly sexy. “I’m not hungry.”

Sparrow groaned.

"Obviously, my aunts have been trying to trick Duncan, the local vampire, into a mystically enhanced treat. I keep telling them, he doesn't eat." Sparrow told us with a shrug of her shoulders. "Can I get you folks anything else?"

Before we could answer, we heard one of the aunts say to the other, “I told you, Melissandra, he’d never take food. It’s always the same, black coffee, untouched.”

“Well, excuse me, sister, if I thought it wouldn’t hurt to try to get him to taste a hexed
biscotti,” Melissandra frowned at her older sister.

Heaving a long sigh, Sparrow tossed a towel over her shoulder. "They strong arm me into an absinthe binge, and then don’t even bother with a measly levitation to put me in my bed?”

Morgana, who has wandered nearby, smiled sweetly. and patted Sparrow’s head while Melissandra explained from behind her. “Well, Tera said the vamp was harmless, so I didn’t think it’d be a problem to charm the guy’s biscotti with an anti-shirt incantation—oh, and it wasn’t an absinthe binge. You’re just a lightweight, darling.”

“Don’t be such a cougar, Melissandra.”

“I resent that label.” Dropping her jaw as if to imply scandal, the fifty-something-year-old
toyed with her long silver and blond-streaked hair. “Besides, he is decades older than I am, I’m sure.”

“I am not a lightweight. You guys just drink too much.” Sparrow threw up her hands in
exasperation before pointing a finger at Melissandra. “And you. He looks like he’s my age for crying out loud, so please don’t sign up for Blood Banks Anonymous.”

The three Reeds glanced over their shoulders to drink in the sight of the vampire and we joined them.

He was stretched out comfortably on one of the armchairs, with faded blue jeans and a Green River band tee. Sparrow commented her appreciation for his musical taste but still didn't trust him as far as she could throw him.

Jaye remarked quietly to me that judging from the ropes of lean muscle under the grunge band shirt, she wouldn’t be throwing him at all.

Sparrow disclosed to us in a low voice that after much sleuthing though, Tera had deemed him harmless, and she had deemed him a good tipper. Melissandra had deemed him eye candy. And Morgana liked to watch her sister make a fool out of herself around the gorgeous vampire.

“So, elephant in the room...” Sparrow finally tried to turn the conversation to the ritual from the prior evening.

“You really think he’s too old for me?”

No, you’re too old for him.” Morgana slapped her sister over the head playfully.

“I meant the chaos we saw last night in the looking glass.” Sparrow rolled her eyes dramatically, which only earned her a whack on the head from both her aunts.

The bells on the front door jingled and a customer walked in. All of us looked to see who it was.

"Uh oh," Sparrow murmured. "Something unusual yet familiar about this one."

We all watched the young woman approach. The girl was exotic-looking, definitely new in town. Her tan, olive-tone skin peeked out of a bright blue pea coat, and long, raven-colored hair framed electric blue eyes. Eyes that apparently couldn’t be pried away from the vampire lounging on one of the couches. Not that any of us could blame her.

"There is something," Sparrow began to say. "Shape shifter." We watched as Sparrow shot a glance at her aunts. She received nods of agreement; they had sensed the same thing.

Smiling, Sparrow greeted the young woman as if she was none the wiser. “Hi, what can I get for you today?”

“Oh, hi. Actually, I was hoping to see if you guys needed any help. I just moved to the area.
Back home I was a barista and I smelled coffee so I thought this might be a good place to start.”

We watched carefully as Sparrow surveyed the girl’s hopeful, shy face.

Well, you’ve got a great nose and perfect timing.” Smiling mischievously, she paid attention to see if the girl reacted to the subtle compliment on her sense of smell. Generally, animals did have a superior sense of smell. “One of our girls is having a baby soon, so she’ll hang up her barista apron shortly. Let me give you an application and I’ll give it to Tera when she comes in.”

Sparrow returned to where her aunts were standing just off to the side of us. Thankfully, we were able to listen in.

“I sense a feline in that woman,” Morgana voted.

“No, she’s far more exotic. I bet she’s a wolf,” Melissandra quipped.

“I think Morgana is right this time. Feline, definitely. I sensed it. Just say it’s the bird in me
looking out for my feathers.”

After Sparrow gave the stranger an application, we all watched the shifter make her way back through the coffee shop. On her way out, the vampire stopped her.

"What’s going on? I thought you said Duncan was harmless?” Morgana whispered.

“Here, child.” Melissandra swatted Sparrow with a damp cloth. “Go clean that table over
there and keep an ear out for what he’s saying.”

 I leaned toward Jaye so that only she could hear my question.

"So what do you think? Is the vampire interested in the shape shifter?"

“As a matter of fact,” Jaye tossed her blonde locks behind her and eyed the handsome vampire, “I’d bet a book contract on it.”


 

Amy:  Folks, Jaye Shields won that bet!!  I hope you all enjoyed our little visit to Tera's coffee shop as featured in SECRETS OF THE FOG by Jaye Shields. Jaye and I certainly did!

Jaye:  Amy, thank you for having me today on Unwrapping Romance. I’m honored to have gotten to know you after I submitted my first release, CONFESSIONS OF A SEX DEMON for review. I had so much fun back in September and love that I’ve gotten to read a bit from you as well, you talented woman, you!

Amy:  Jaye, accepting COASD for a read and review was one of the best things I ever did. Not only did I get introduced to an extraordinary new talent and some wonderful reads but made a good friend in the process. Thank you, sweetie!
My dear readers, if you missed my review of CONFESSIONS OF A SEX DEMON, feel free to click on the title to go there but do come back, we've got more fun coming! 
 
Jaye:  I love that you chose this excerpt because I was hoping that readers would enjoy all these characters as much as I do. SECRETS OF THE FOG is the first release in the Immortals in Alameda series, but the first book I actually wrote was SECRETS OF THE JAGUAR, Michelle and Duncan’s story. The next book set to release is SECRETS OF THE SKY,  Sparrow and Rowan’s book. I’m glad you’ve had a chance to meet Sparrow here today. Look forward to more antics between her and her aunts. Oh, and a studly half-naked, immortal warrior - of course. *cough* Anyone want a piece of Rowen, our Knight of the Fog? He and Sparrow will be hitting book shelves in February!
 
Amy:  How exciting! I know I'm looking forward to both of these stories very much and definitely want a piece of Rowan! These Immortals are super hot and the action is non-stop with these guys - all kinds of action, if you know what I mean. *wink*
 
Speaking of action - how about we give away a digital copy of this fabulous first book in a series destined to become must reads for anyone who reads SECRETS OF THE FOG? I'm going to ask my dear friend and wonderful guest, Jaye Shields, to ask the question to give you a reason to comment for a chance to win! Jaye?
 
Jaye:  I’m so excited that Unwrapping Romance is hosting a giveaway for a copy of SECRETS OF THE FOG. My question for the Giveaway is:
 
Who’s your fave character from the excerpt shared? Who do you want to hear more from?

Thanks for stopping by, everyone! Hope you read and fall in love with SECRETS OF THE FOG and the Immortals In Alameda trilogy!
 
Amy: Thanks for coming by, Jaye. As always it's a delight when you stop by and we all wish you the greatest luck with both of your series. By the way, if you enjoyed CONFESSIONS OF A SEX DEMON by Jaye Shields, keep a watch out for her next one, CLAIMING OF A SEX DEMON, to be released December 17th, 2012 from Beachwalk Press - I know I'm looking forward to it!
 
Happy Reading Everyone!
 
Now on to the Giveaway!
 
Prize:   One Digital Copy of SECRETS OF THE FOG by Jaye Shields
 
One lucky commenter will win a digital copy of SECRETS OF THE FOG by Jaye Shields merely by leaving a comment with a valid email address. 
 
This Giveaway is OPEN TO EVERYONE!  (void where prohibited)
 
Remember the magic formula for entry - it must be like this or you will not qualify for entry in the Giveaway and that would be a real shame.
 
THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED!
 
THIS GIVEAWAY WILL RUN UNTIL 11:30PM EST, Friday, November 30, 2012 at which time one lucky comment will be chosen at random to win. The winner will be notified by email and then announced in a special post on Saturday.
 
GOOD LUCK!!
 
SECRETS OF THE FOG, an Immortals in Alameda novel by Jaye Shields, Crimson Romance, available now in ebook formats.
 
CONFESSIONS OF A SEX DEMON, a Sex Demon Trilogy novella by Jaye Shields, Beachwalk Press, available now in ebook formats.
 
CLAIMING OF A SEX DEMON, a Sex Demon Trilogy novella by Jaye Shields, Beachwalk Press, release date - December 17, 2012 in ebook formats.
 
For more information about Jaye and her fabulous books, please visit her website.


                                              
 
 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

IT'S NEW RELEASE TUESDAY!!

 
I almost forgot that today is New Release Tuesday. It sneaked up on me but I'm on top of it. There are some wonderful new reads coming your way! Get that TRB list and start adding. Here's just a sample!



 
 
 
 
 
 
Happy Reading Everyone!
 
 

        

Monday, November 26, 2012

Unwrapping: Review of KING OF THE DAMNED, a League of Guardians novel by Juliana Stone

The League of Guardians series by Juliana Stone is one of the most amazing paranormal romance series I've ever encountered. So when I got the chance to read and review the upcoming new release, KING OF THE DAMNED, I jumped at it. I was certainly not disappointed.

***eARC provided by publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest and unscripted review.

Blurb for KING OF THE DAMNED:

For millennia the struggle between light and dark, between the upper and lower realms, has been policed by a secret group of warriors culled from every fabric of existence. They are both otherworld and human, male and female. They are light and dark themselves and known to each other as the League of Guardians. Their pledge, to protect the line between dominions and make sure neither side grows too powerful. If they fall, so shall the earth, the heavens and hell. And there will be no more.

With darkness all around him, The League of Guardians is his only means of redemption…

Azaiel, the fallen, has been given a second chance to atone for the sins of his past. With demons gathering and threatening the league, he must find out if their circle has been breached. What he doesn’t foresee is a woman—a fierce warrior—who will turn his world upside down and awaken his tortured soul.

Rowan James is a powerful witch out to avenge the death of her beloved grandmother, but she needs an ally. Will she be able to trust a man with secrets as dark as the sorrow in his eyes? Loving Rowan means risking salvation and yet Azaiel cannot ignore the hunger burning hot between them—his one last chance at happiness. With danger all around them, will these two desperate souls finally find love in each other? Or be forever damned…


                            *                    *                    *                     *                      *

Rowan James comes from a long line of witches marked by a demon named Mallick. This demon is determined now to take Rowan as his and her power, which is exceptional, to give him the edge that will turn the balance of power in his favor. Rowan has no intention of being taken and after discovering her grandmother has been murdered is determined to avenge the death of the most dear person in her life. The night she returns to her home in Salem, Massachusetts, she encounters a man who she has no reason to trust but who claims to be there to help her avenge her grandmother's death. Will she be strong enough to bring her coven together, get beyond the events of the past that threaten to keep her family separated, and forgive her mother her own tragic past in order to bring them all together to defeat Mallick? What of this stranger and his otherworld friends? Have they truly come to help or are they there merely to make sure she doesn't fall into the hands of Mallick? With her fate set one way or the other, Rowan fights to protect her world, her life, all while attempting not to fall victim to the extraordinary pull she feels toward the stranger who she has learned is called the Fallen.

Azaiel, the Fallen, has lived a long time. He's suffered the depths of Hell and has been treated, for too long, with disdain for the evil he has done. Now having been given the charge of protecting Rowan James and avenging the death of a member of the League of Guardians, will he be able to redeem himself, gain the trust of a powerful witch and that of his fellow guardians, while ignoring the burning passion that is rising between him and Rowan? To have her, will he be willing to make the ultimate sacrifice?

Extraordinary, filled with action, passion, and a dark intensity, KING OF THE DAMNED - book 2 in the League of Guardians series - by Juliana Stone is beyond good, it is incredible. Imagery that pulls you into a story that is amazingly real and terrifying - this is more than a romance, it's an adventure. A cast of characters, some of whom we've already met in both the League of Guardians series and the Jaguar Warriors series, takes this story to a new level. Whereas the darkness is deep and dark, Juliana has infused some wonderful humor that will have you laughing out loud at the images she creates. Fortunately for us, the gorgeous men in this novel, especially Azaiel, end up without their shirts on quite often but when poor Azaiel is left with only the strangest of costume, the image pulled from the reader's imagination is one that is priceless.

KING OF THE DAMNED by Juliana Stone is a riveting, passionate story about forgiveness, redemption, and giving up one's immortality (life) for true love. This is a story that everyone, who has even the slightest attraction to paranormal romance, should read. I was a bit worried that if you hadn't read any of the previous novels, you might feel lost but no! Juliana has written this story so well, so incredibly detailed that it works very well as a stand-alone. However, I highly recommend that you read some of her previous works just because they're all worth it.

I highly recommend the newest League of Guardians novel, KING OF THE DAMNED by Juliana Stone for to miss it would be such a shame as I cannot even begin to describe. Get it, read it and fall in love with the League of Guardians led by KING OF THE DAMNED.

Happy Reading Everyone!

KING OF THE DAMNED, a League of Guardians novel by Juliana Stone, Avon Romance, release date - November 27, 2012, available in print and ebook formats.


                                                             

Friday, November 23, 2012

Unwrapping: NOT SHOPPING ON BLACK FRIDAY - JUST BROWSING

Well, the turkey and goodies have all been eaten, all those high carbs slept off and now it's what some call the biggest shopping day of the year! Black Friday!

I don't shop on Black Friday. I hate shopping. I hate crowds and personally think online shopping is the greatest invention since sliced bread but I do love to browse - window shop for the mall rats.

How about you? Do you venture out on Black Friday to take advantage of the great deals - the same one's that I find later? Do you brave the crowds or just stay in and relax? So what are you doing today?

I thought I'd do a little browsing - the kind that piques the imagination, that is. Come on - join me!

 
Let the browsing begin!!
 
 
 







I love this one on the dock - so creative.


HAPPY READING (& SHOPPING) EVERYONE!!
 

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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

THANKSGIVING THANKS & A NaNoWriMo EXCERPT


Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and I've much to be thankful for this year. I'm thankful for my health and the enduring health of my family and friends. One dear friend who is need of a kidney transplant will be having her surgery a week from now. An early Christmas miracle, you could say.

I'm especially thankful for the success of this quirky blog over the past year and I have you, my faithful wonderful readers, to thank for that. As I've said in the past, I do it all for you and adore you all for your consistent patronage. You lend greatly to my enjoyment in doing this blog and keeping me going.

You've been my greatest support and your comments on my creative works has been such a boost to continuing my attempts at getting published.

Speaking of which, some of you already know that I participated in this year's NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) event. I'm pleased as punch to tell you all that I have succeeded in reaching the goal of 50,000 words with 11 days yet to go. I wrote 50,000 plus words in 20 days - I'm still pinching myself. Of course, I am still writing as the novel is not yet finished but the end is in sight. Avon Romance is accepting any completed NaNoWriMo romance novels in their own National Romance Writing Month event. My new deadline is December 1oth! I plan to have it done. It may not be as polished as I'd like but there's time for revision later if they decide to publish it. Wish me luck, my dears.

My NaNoWriMo Novel is a historical romance titled - IN THE ARMS OF HER ANGEL - and to say thank you for always following, I'd like to share the first chapter with you. It's not polished but I hope you enjoy it.

EXCERPT FROM  -  IN THE ARMS OF HER ANGEL by Amy Valentini

South Carolina 1802


            “Stop that filthy little bugger! He stole my purse!”

            The Sea Angler Tavern was noisy and crowded with men tipping back tankards of ale and shots of whiskey after long hours working on the docks of the busy Port of Charleston. Many of them, already deep in their drinks, would probably have made a better target for Ginny Blackwood but when she spotted the portly man standing among his friends, his purse openly displayed on his belt which was slung below his belly, she knew she’d have no better chance. She had not expected him to be so alert to her hands at his side when she cut the purse free.

            Now, with escape foremost in her mind, Ginny grumbled a curse through gritted teeth as she tucked her head. Pulling her oversized hat over her eyes, she kept her eyes on the floor just ahead of her as she moved quickly between the crowded tables. When a round bellied man reeking of sweat and whiskey stepped in front her, his gluttonous middle jiggling as he laughed at a humorous tale, she quickly changed her direction and skirted around another crowded table.

           “Somebody do something - that wharf rat stole my money!” The shout went out again through the noisy room. Ginny silently prayed that no one was paying attention to the drunk’s alarm. Scrambling past another group of merry makers, she nearly sighed with relief when she noted that there was only one more table between her and the door to freedom.

          Her heart pounded in her ears as she scurried past the last table, her hand clutching the stolen purse tight to her middle. Thievery was not her strong suit but Ginny was desperate for currency. She’d taken a great gamble pinching any purse but if she was going to survive alone in this city until she could gain passage home, she needed money. More than that, she needed to find the thing that would save her father.

          The noise of the hot, crowded room seemed to fade away as the beating of her heart filled her ears. A satisfied grin teased at her lips when she saw the door to the street so close. However, when a large hand suddenly grabbed the front of her patched jacket and pulled at the dirty linen blouse beneath it, that satisfaction vanished. Yanked to a sudden halt from the side, she slammed against something hard. The air in her lungs exhaled in a great whooshing sound.  

         Caught red-handed, panic descended on Ginny as every sound disappeared around her. Fear forced her focus on the broad chest inches from her face. A hard wall of flesh over muscle covered in fine embroidered cloth and surrounded by soft, tanned calfskin. Her gaze slowly slid up the façade of the mountain of masculinity standing before her. The scent of sandalwood and soap filled her nose as her eyes caressed fine linen and a neatly tied cravat. Just above the edge of fine fabric, a strong jaw shifted and a full mouth curled slightly. Her eyes widened when a set of smiling dark eyes that looked like melted chocolate surrounded by thick curling lashes came into view. The full shapely lips beneath a straight perfect nose parted exposing straight white teeth. She fought back a smile when the tall man furrowed his black brow slightly before lifting one dark slash as if he was trying to resolve his curiosity about the creature he’d captured.  

          “What have we here?” The brick wall asked with a chuckle that sounded overly loud in Ginny’s ears. Heat flushed her cheeks and beads of sweat formed on the back of her neck and when a couple of drops slid down her back, she shivered. “Did you steal old Pete’s purse, poppet?”

          Laughter from nearby joined the brick wall’s chuckles and for a brief moment, Ginny was tempted to join in with a giggle in response to the man’s use of so many pees. His voice was smooth, deep and strangely soothing. It sent a ripple of warmth through her body pooling in her gut. She almost relaxed against him for comfort but as the pounding in her ears began to wane, her panic and a desperate need to escape came rushing back.

          In that moment, Ginny knew what she needed to do. She pressed her fists against a rock hard chest and pushed until she could swing up her right knee even as his grip on her clothing caused her blouse and ragtag jacket to climb over her ears. Her intended aim was for the softer parts of this tower of muscle whose firm hold on her kept her prisoner but his legs were so long that her knee connected with the man’s inner thigh instead. It mattered not, for her assault on his body was enough for him to react as any man would. The man quickly bent to protect his manhood and his hold on her clothing loosened.

          Pain stung her knee on impact. She caught herself wondering if he had a wooden leg beneath those black britches. It mattered not for her maneuver had worked. With a loud groan and exhalation of air, the tall dark-eyed man with a captivating smile stopped smiling and backed away slightly. His grip on her clothing loosened just enough to give Ginny the edge. She yanked herself in the opposite direction. A ripping sound filled her ears. A moment later, she was falling away from the brick wall. Caught off balance, she quickly found her footing, raced for the door and into the street.

 
#

 
          Rubbing the inside of his thigh where the curious urchin had caught him off guard and slammed him with his knee, Daniel Embry cursed under his breath. For all of his well-intended efforts, all he’d succeeded in doing was getting a bruised leg and a handful of cloth from the wharf rat’s filthy coat. He glanced at the piece of cloth in his hand. Something glittered in the glow of the hanging lanterns sprinkled throughout the rafters of the tavern. He looked more closely. It was slim gold chain.
        
         “Old Pete ain’t going to be happy about you letting the brat get away, old man!” Finn McShane exclaimed, laughing heartily. The red-haired man slapped Daniel on the back nearly knocking the piece of gold from hand. The jolt caused something attached to the chain to drop and dangle just below his wrist - a delicate gold charm. Daniel eyed the elongated charm and thought it strange that a lad would be wearing such a thing. Then when the image of deep blue eyes the color of the deepest seas fringed by long dusky lashes flashed through his mind, he wondered if it had been a boy at all.
        
        “You all right, Daniel,” Finn asked with a worried frown. For the first time, Daniel noticed weathered wrinkles had begun to groove his old friend’s forehead. 

         Daniel snagged the gold chain and its charm from the cloth and pushed it into his coat pocket. Turning to face his first mate, he grimaced at the tightness in his thigh.

         “The bugger kicked me too close for comfort,” Daniel growled before raising his mug of ale to his lips. His gaze caught Finn’s puzzled look. Daniel grinned at the man whose bushy red hair glowed like blood-tinged cotton around his head. “Fortunately, all is well and intact.”

         Loud shouts from the back of the tavern where some of his crew, including the victim of the urchin’s crime, had spent the last couple of hours drinking and eating drew their attention. Daniel recognized one of the men as his quartermaster who was standing over a smaller unknown man. The men were nearly growling in each other’s faces.

        Finn McShane ran his thick fingers through his red mass of curls and groaned. “Want me to break that up?”

        Daniel gave his first mate’s question some thought then smiled. His men deserved a chance to blow off some steam after a long day of loading cargo into the hold of the Falcon. Of course, he preferred they take it outside so that he wouldn’t have to bail them out of jail or pay for damages but he doubted that would happen as he watched the rest of his crew join the men intent on fisticuffs.

        “If it looks like they’re going to bust the place up or kill someone - yes,” Daniel announced with a loud guffaw as he grabbed a nearby serving girl and switched his empty tankard for a full one. He winked at her, receiving a giggle and blush in return. “Otherwise, let ‘em be.”

        Daniel and Finn watched the somewhat attractive young woman saunter away swaying her hips deliberately before glancing over her shoulder at them as she moved through the crowd.

        “You need to get yourself a woman, old man,” Finn remarked leaning close so only Daniel would hear his words.

       “No. Thanks.”

       “Gad, man, you can’t go on mourning a woman who wasn’t even yours yet,” Finn groaned then immediately regretted his words when he saw Daniel’s eyes narrow and blacken. “I … uh … I just mean,” he stammered.

       Daniel dropped his gaze to his tankard. Finn had touched on something that was too close to the mark. His betrothed died four years earlier in a tragic carriage accident leaving his heart broken and empty. It wasn’t as if Daniel had shunned women completely from his life for he’d partaken in the occasional tumble but with no promise of a future.

      “Never mind, Finn,” Daniel said before taking a long draught on the tankard. “I’m tired is all.”

      Raising his hand, he clapped it on the firm shoulder of his right hand man and friend. Finn McShane had been his friend since they’d played together as children at Green Mount Farm. Finn’s father worked with Jason Embry, Daniel’s father helping build his shipping business while his mother worked as one of the cooks at the Embry farm. When Daniel and Finn were old enough, the two lads went to work on the ships learning all they needed to know from their fathers. Several years ago, Daniel became the captain of the Falcon and he’d immediately named Finn his first mate. Daniel put his full trust in his old friend. He knew Finn would always put his safety and that of the crew before anything or anyone. He also new his old friend had his best interest at heart when he suggested Daniel’s pursuit of feminine companionship, even if only for a night. As a man, married to his first sweetheart, Finn suggestion was well intentioned but Daniel’s heart was still broken and filled with pain and betrayal.

      “That sweet morsel over there is eager to make your acquaintance,” Finn murmured as he nodded his head in the direction of the serving girl who while delivering tankards of ale to a table of patrons, glanced over her shoulder at Daniel. When she noticed Daniel glance in her direction, she moved to the next table and while setting a tankard before a man who slid his hand along her backside, the girl bent low over the table, which allowed Daniel a purposeful display of her full bosom. “Very eager, it seems.” Finn winked at Daniel.

      Turning his back on the girl’s obvious seductive pose, Daniel drained his tankard and set it down heavily on the table. “Like I said, I’m tired and frankly, not interested. You think her so delectable, why don’t you go for it, Finn?”

      The red-haired man threw his head back with a loud guffaw then shook his head, his curls bouncing around his head. “My Molly would have my head on a pike if I were to even sniff after such a young thing.”

      “Oh, so you’re saying she’d be okay with you tupping her if she were older?” Daniel teased his friend. At first Finn must have thought him serious for his laughter ceased and his brow furrowed into deep grooves. Then the man widened bright blue eyes and laughed again.

      “Ha, she wouldn’t care the girl’s age! Molly would cut off my xxxx and feed it to me with biscuits and gravy,” Finn grumbled as he restrained his laughter but his twinkling red-lashed lined eyes belied his humor.
        
      Daniel slapped his friend on the back.

      “You’re right about that,” Daniel laughed along with his friend even as he envied him his loving wife and two little girls. If Christina had not died, he was sure they would have a family together as did Finn and Molly McShane. “I’m heading out. I’ll see you in the morning. I’d appreciate you keeping an eye on those fools, Finn.”

      Finn glanced toward the men. They were no longer growling at each other but laughing as the quartermaster held the smaller man in a bear hug, bouncing him up and down. He rolled his eyes and smiled at Daniel. “Of course - get some sleep, old man.”

      Daniel always got a kick out of Finn calling him old man since this red-haired son of an Irishman was one year older than his own twenty-six years. Daniel nodded his head, turned and strolled to the exit. The inn, where he’d taken a room while in the port of Charleston was just two blocks away. As he strolled along the street, his thoughts went to the wharf rat that had stolen Pete’s purse. His hand slid into his pocket, he fingered the charm secreted there, and his thoughts turned to wide azure tinted eyes and pale clear skin with a flush of pink riding high on delicate cheeks. A pink moist mouth that opened and pulled into a pucker as  captivating eyes blinked just before the mischievous urchin kneed him in the groin. Was it possible that cherub face and this charm belonged to a boy? If it had then perhaps, Finn was right and Daniel had best see to finding some female company for an attraction to a lad was not something he wanted to consider.
 
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