A fisherman with everything to prove and a nation to save.
In Japan of 1852, the peace imposed by the Tokugawa Shoguns has lasted 250 years. Peace has turned to stagnation, however, as commoners grow impoverished and their lords restless. Swords rust. Martial values decay. Foreign barbarians circle the island nation’s closed borders like vultures.
Tōru, a shipwrecked young fisherman rescued by traders and taken to America, defies the Shogun’s ban on returning to Japan, determined to save his homeland from foreign invasion. Can he rouse his countrymen in time? Or will the cruel Shogun carry out his vow to execute all who set foot in Japan after traveling abroad? Armed only with his will, a few books, dirigible plans and dangerous ideas, Tōru must transform the Emperor’s realm before the Black Ships come.
“No, daughter. You are not coming with us.” The daimyō looked down at his daughter’s norimono palanquin.
They looked to her father for instruction.
“No!” he bellowed, but his voice bore hints of the frustration of a man who knows he is beaten before the battle even begins.
She signaled once again for her bearers to lift her up. Caught between their implacable mistress and her fierce father, the men looked miserable.
“This is no journey for a woman. We will be gone a week. We have to travel through hostile territory. It is the mud season. There are bandits on the road. We have to move swiftly. Your mother would not approve.” Reasons poured out of the daimyō, endless reasons, all of them quite reasonable, at louder and louder volume.
His daughter made no answer. She merely motioned for the third time for her bearers to lift her up.
“Toranosuke! I command you, stay here!”
At her nickname, the girl finally popped her head outside the norimono in a most unladylike manner. She beamed at her father in joyful triumph, confident now in her victory. “Hai! O-tō-sama! I will stay here! For one hour. To make you happy. And then I will follow you, dressed as a man, riding on a horse, wearing your old hakama. If I obey you and stay here for that hour, you will force me to face the mud and the bandits alone. Surely it is better for me to travel under your protection. You cannot make me stay here. And I will follow you, Father. You know I will.”
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Stephanie is a writer based in the Victorian mining town of Leadville, Colorado, where she lives at 10,251 feet with her husband, five chickens, two bantam English game hens and one Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. After a former life in big cities-New York City, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Boston, Mexico City, Atlanta, Los Angeles and Santa Fe-she now enjoys the birdsong and quiet writing time she finds in Leadville. Her first novel draws on her experience living and working in Japan; her next historical novel is set in Mexico where she also lived for several years. As a Leadville local, she likes her Victorian attire spiced with a little neo-Victorian futurism and the biggest bustle possible.
Recognition for “Toru: Wayfarer Returns”
Secrets: In Wolf Lake
Secret Series Book 1
Genre: YA, sci-fi, fantasy
Samantha discovers a gifted creature living in Wolf Lake; now his life depends on her saving him.
Samantha’s dealing with a lot of emotional blow-back from her mother’s new marriage. Then she discovers a gifted creature living in Wolf Lake, and life suddenly becomes all about keeping his existence a secret, earning his trust. That is until his life depends on her saving him. But she won’t be able to do it alone…
A series of secrets, invisible yet glaring, and most include a Supernatural spin, like an unwelcomed sensation sparking every nerve ending.
Buy it at: Amazon
“This freakin’ rocks!” Lisa zipped by again, spraying diamonds of water all over me. I gripped hard on the rod and stood up to keep the fishing line from snagging onher or the jet-ski. The boat pitched, dipping. I shuffled to regain my balance then turned to give Lisa a piece of my mind. In that nano-secondthe fishing line snapped. I spun around and tumbled nose first over the top of Koko. My rod splashedinto the water in front of me as if I’d thrown it.
Instant coldness prickled through me, but I didn’t want to lose that fishing pole. I dove a little deeper, waiting for the water to settle. The sun illuminated beneath the surface and made it easy to see the rod leaning against a big rock right below me. I swam toward it.
A curl of water slid along my arm as something swam near me. I expected the lunker fish, the big guythat snappedthe fishing line, butinstead, I stared at two round black eyes. I couldn’t look away from its flat green face, the size of a baseball, with small slits for nostrils and a wider slash for its mouth.Shorttubular ears stuck out from each side of its head.Not any kind of fish or amphibian I’d ever seen.
It stared back at me andmoved closer.
When it touched my arm, I screamed.A stream of bubbles flushed out of my mouth, blinding my vision. I pushed off from the huge rock with my feet andfought my way to the surface.
Air, I needed air.
Koko’s paws churned through the water just above me. His nails scratched across my cheek as I surfaced.
“Koko, get back, buddy,” I croaked, sucking in air,and then I nudged him to move back.But I didn’t want him too far away. My mind flashed to the thing beneath the water, greenish body, short arms and legs, and a long lizard-like tail. But those black eyes…the way it stared at me, almost like it had intelligence.
DK Davis writes YA sci-fi, supernatural, and fantasy with a good dollop of all the relationships woven in between. When she’s not writing, editing, or reading, she’s hiking, RV’ing, fishing, spending time with grandchildren or her favorite muse (her husband) in Southwest Michigan.
Twitter – https://twitter.com/DKDavisBooks
Website – http://suda788.wixsite.com/dkdavis
Books We Love Ltd. Author Page –http://www.bookswelove.com/authors/davis-dk/
The Cities Below Book Two
Genre: Paranormal Romance
The streets are a battleground for humans, vampires, and demons alike—where survival is a skill, love is a weapon, and the most dangerous act is to care for another . . .
Keir is an assassin devoted to Lady Arianne, the last of her royal bloodline. He is sworn to protect her, and that means eliminating any threat to her life. But while on a mission, he is set upon by a pack of demons, barely escaping with his life.
Cleopatra lives by a set of rules so rigid she no longer knows her true self. But her kind and loving nature resurfaces when she finds a man, bloodied and dying. Moved to help him, she risks her future and her life to save a stranger far below her aristocratic station.
Their attraction to each other is as powerful as it is forbidden. But even as their love grows, Keir keeps his true identity a secret—and this lie is not the only threat to their love . . . or their lives.
Cleopatra was utterly trapped. She longed to close her eyes and block him out, but fear of the unknown kept them wide open. The man had no weapon, couldn’t possibly mean to harm her. Except, would he really need a weapon? She couldn’t fight him, wouldn’t even know where to begin.
He studied her closely, and when his head tilted slightly, she noticed every bit of his focus fixated on her neck. Not a murderer. He wanted to mark her, to bite her neck, leave the wound to heal and forever bind her to him. This was why daughters of the aristocracy were kept under a tight watch. The mark, unbreakable and indisputable, would give this man access to her family’s wealth and prestige, and bind her to him until death.
He reached for her, head descending to her neck. Cleopatra quickly covered his target with both hands. Tears gathered in her eyes, sorrow distorted her voice. “I don’t want this. Please, don’t hurt me.”
The man rocked back as if she’d smacked him, and for the first time since he’d appeared, he looked at her face. His eyes met hers and didn’t look away as he brought his hand to her cheek and brushed away a tear. He saw her, truly saw her, and the adoration in his eyes sent a completely different shimmy down her spine.
In one step, he crowded her, pressing his cheek against hers. “Could never hurt you. My angel,” his captivating voice crooned, so close to her ear. He drew in a deep breath, his face buried in her hair. Then he whispered, “My Cleo.”
She gasped. The shortened version of her name on his lips sounded strangely intimate, as though he’d known her for years. The warmth rolling off his body kept her intensely aware of his close proximity, and she held her breath, waiting for his next move to prove his intent. He didn’t bite her, didn’t hurt her, and the sincere affection in his gentle touch left her so very confused. Any other man would have bitten her, taken advantage of the opportunity laid before him. But this man? His intent to bite her had been unmistakable, and he’d stopped because he…cared for her? She didn’t understand.
His hand slipped from her face, dropped to his side, and he staggered back, moving as if through a dream. He still watched her, but he swayed, that intense focus suddenly gone. The man crumpled to the floor with a heavy thud.
Dragging in a long, shaky breath, she blinked away tears she’d been staring through. A few more deep breaths, and she allowed herself to really look at him. He lay on his side, knees slightly curled, motionless. Something was wrong with him. People didn’t just fall over.
Gripping the railing, which had swiftly become her personal anchor, she pointed her foot and gingerly nudged his arm. When he didn’t move, she put more force behind the kick. Cleopatra jumped as his hand fell away from his ribs, thumping onto the floor. Blood coated his fingers.
He was bleeding? She’d missed the injury completely. The saturated, glistening spot had been hidden under his hand and camouflaged by his black button-up shirt. He’d been so close and she hadn’t… She glanced down at herself. Blood streaked across her pale blue gown, more evidence of his severe injury.
The elevator doors slid open. Oh God, if someone were to see them together in this state, what would they think? What would happen to her, or to him? Her heart hammered, panic flooding through her as she peeked out into the main corridor of Sterling.
The white, gold-trimmed corridor stretched on, empty. The elevator doors slid shut, and there it would stay, unless called. She might not have much time. Peering down at the unconscious man, she tried to fit the puzzle pieces together.
She’d mistaken his intent. He’d needed sustenance badly, and now he bled out, dying at her feet. Because of who she was, he refused to harm her, to take from her. How did he have the willpower to block his instincts from taking over, to stop from feeding?
Whoever he was, she had to save him. She dropped to her knees and pushed away any lingering fear under her newfound resolve. Tugging his shirt from his dark jeans, she searched for the injury. In the midst of his blood-slicked skin, the wound gaped open between his ribs. It looked like he’d been slashed, the nasty gash a result of being on the wrong end of a knife. Just a guess. She had no experience with this sort of villainy.
Her hand flew to her mouth. The murderer running loose in Galbraith used a knife. Could this man be yet another victim?
“Can you hear me? What happened to you? Who did this?” She awkwardly patted his whiskered cheek. His eyes fluttered open, then shut again.
“Balinese is safe.” His voice trembled, his words slurred without support from his shallow breath. “Paris. Demons.”
Cleopatra’s fingers fumbled as she pulled away his shirt collar. Several teeth-like gouges in his shredded skin oozed blood near his collarbone. Demons. They’d almost made a meal of him, and he was a bloody mess, but the real danger came from that knife wound. It looked deep, and if he’d been damaged internally and lost too much blood, he might not survive.
He needed blood now. She bit her wrist and pressed it against his mouth. His lips didn’t part, and his body refused to respond. A rivulet of blood slid down his cheek. He’d die if she didn’t fight for him.
Jen Colly is the rare case of an author who rebelled against reading assignments throughout her school years. Now she prefers reading books in a series, which has led her to writing her first paranormal romance series: The Cities Below. She will write about anything that catches her fancy, though truth be told, her weaknesses are pirates and vampires.
She lives in Ohio with her supportive husband, two kids, one big fluffy dog, and four rescued cats.
Because You Want Me
Genres: Erotica, Romance
Penny Robertson just wanted to get through the events leading to her sister’s wedding with as little drama as possible. Smile until it hurt, avoid questions about her lack of someone special, then put it all in the rearview.
She wasn’t counting on traipsing to The Red Door Club–or meeting the drop-your-panties sexy businessman, Xander Wade. Xander has a proposition for her: if she agrees to pretend she’s his girlfriend for a month, he’ll go with her to the wedding…and pay her twenty thousand dollars.
It seems like easy money; a business arrangement that benefits them both, but she wasn’t counting on falling for him.
Xander Wade works hard and plays even harder. CEO of a cutthroat investment firm, his philosophy on romance is no strings attached.
When his ailing father threatens to boot him from the company if he doesn’t settle down, Xander makes a choice to play the game. He’ll pretend he’s the marrying type for a month, then go back to the jet set life. No complications. No love.
He wasn’t betting on Penny. A month seemed like a breeze before her. Now, a month isn’t long enough…
The complete series:
“Hi.” Just one word. It felt heavy and as airy as the smoke that hung in fog around us. I wanted to clear it all out. With this woman, I didn’t want the lights out. I wanted to see every beautiful inch of her.
“Get over here.”
The shock on his face my body smile. I could still surprise him. Still keep him on his toes. “What?”
Lust gripped me tighter as I sank my teeth into my bottom lip. The memory of his touch and knowing that I’d get to feel it really, really soon, emboldened me. I’d get to have him again. He’d get to have me-and this time, it was real. “Get over here.”
I watched his every move, his body commanding my gaze in the heather gray sweater that made his pale green eyes glimmer. I’d only touched him briefly back in the hall but I had the feeling that beneath those jeans it was all Xander…no pesky underwear to tear off.
He was enthralled, stopping a few feet from me. Close, but not nearly close enough.
Ava Claire is a sucker for Alpha males and happily ever afters. When not putting pen to paper or glued to her Kindle, Ava likes road tripping, watching an unhealthy amount of Netflix, karaoke and vintage fashion.
The Driel Trilogy #1
After losing everything, all seventeen-year-old Thea wanted was to be a normal teenager. Instead, she was attacked by a mysterious creature she thought only existed in fairy tales.
Now thrown into the unknown realm of Faey, Thea is forced to determine the difference between reality and fantasy, in a world ruled by a dark elite and a society wracked by intolerance and prejudice. With the support of her new friends and a mysterious dark haired, blue-eyed guardian watching her every move, Thea will discover that when it comes to Faey, nothing is what it seems.
Will her courage and desire to save this new world from darkness be enough? Or will Thea be the next victim to fall to the dark whispers of fate…
I live in Surrey, England, a short walk from the beautiful Windsor Park, with my husband Richard and our two gorgeous children Noah and Olivia. For me, writing is nothing short of an addiction and I often find myself sneaking out to my writing shed for just a few minutes, which can often turn into hours of pure, unadulterated bliss catching up with my characters and continuing their story.
In-between writing, I teach in a primary school where there’s never a dull moment! I will also often be found Kindle in hand, reading a wide variety of genres but with YA fantasy and paranormal romance at the forefront of my reading list. Although I’m currently writing the second book in the Driel trilogy, other characters involving all things fantasy, paranormal and YA romance are jockeying for position, wanting me to write their story next, so watch this space! It is such a privilege to share my stories with you the reader. Thank you enough for taking the time to find out more about me.
Over 1000 years ago, nearly all the ancient wizards were destroyed after the Wizard Wars. However, the one who started the War still remains, having worked his will in secret. If he can find the last Dragonwand, he will regain his powers as the dark dragon. Unaware of the Dragonwand or the betrayer, sixteen-year-old Markus is looking for a wizard who will give him a letter of recommendation for the College of Wizardry. During his journey, he stumbles upon Tolen the Wise, who sends Markus on a quest to end the darkness and find the Dragonwand before it gets into the wrong hands. As Markus discovers growing powers and makes allies, will he find what he needs to complete Tolen’s task, or will the ancient, dark wizard uncover the Dragonwand and forever change the fate of the land of Gallenor?
The Rakki representative decided he might address the King in person, in private. His people had been asking him for almost a year now to negotiate the return of their wizards from the Pale Labyrinth. He would be returning home soon, and he wanted to at least go back with the knowledge that he had tried everything he could.
Norl approached the throne and asked the Chief of the Palace Guard for an audience with the King, as procedure dictated that the Chief must escort any who ask for an audience. Chief Alex quickly agreed and walked Norl back toward the King’s personal chambers. Few courtiers were more respected or well known as Norl of the Rakki. He was wise, calm, humble, and, above all, intelligent. The Palace Guards held him in high regard and would often give him allowances not granted to others. In fact, Norl was escorted to the King’s chambers. It was not customary for anyone to stand there to wait. If the King was speaking with anyone else, the person waiting was usually asked to wait by the throne until called upon. Not even the Guards stood so near the King’s chamber doors, but Norl posed no threat to security, and surely the King wouldn’t mind.
The dog man stood there quietly. Being a courtier meant a lot of waiting and patience, which Norl demonstrated often. As a Rakki, he had superior hearing over most humans or any of the other races. Right then, this keen hearing picked up on the conversation within the King’s chambers all too well. The King was speaking with Wizard Hallond. Norl attempted to ignore the conversation for their benefit, but their words drew his attention.
“Do you think we can keep them at bay for much longer?” the King asked Hallond.
The wizard responded coolly, “Yes. By the time they finally realize what is truly happening, it will be far too late.”
“The Shlan ambassador was in to see me a day ago about freeing her people, and I’m sure the others will not be far behind. Keeping up the pretense about the wizards is not easy,” the King lamented.
Hallond calmly replied, “History supports our story. Wizards did dark deeds during the War. If it had not been for the dragons, the dark wizards could have taken control of everything.”
“Are you sure this will work?” the King asked the question as though he had asked it many times before.
“As sure as I am a wizard. Once we have the Dragonwand and can finally destroy that horrible statue, my real students will be able to put to rest all the pathetic leaders of the people and make you supreme lord of all. Then, with the combined magic of all the prisoners, I can finalize the spell that will grant you and all my followers immortality.”
“What of Tolen’s plans?”
Hallond’s response was quick and sharp. “Tolen is dead, and with him died any possible resistance. I have waited for over a thousand years for that old fool to die. I cannot say I did not try to help him along a few times. How amazing that time itself finally did him in.”
“The dragon statue still stands and keeps your powers at bay. Tolen’s statue should be dead if he is dead!” The King was angry.
“Rest assured, My Lord, the statue’s seal over me and my followers is waning quickly. Once we have the Dragonwand in our possession, the statue will be rubble and a new age of Gallenor will rise.”
The King let out a tired sigh. “I don’t know, Hallond. I’m still having second thoughts about all of this.”
Hallond put on the convincing tone that politicians attain for such situations as the present. “Sire, you must not let those foolish ideas enter your head. We are too far along with this to have second thoughts. Besides, we are doing this for the good of the kingdom.”
“I know. But, it is just so many lies. We have told the people of Gallenor nothing but lies for years now.”
Hallond comforted the King. “Is it not the duty of every citizen of Gallenor to work for a better tomorrow?”
“Well, yes,” the King answered.
“You have no heir, and, pardon me, but at your age, you are unlikely to produce an heir. So, my plan is the best thing for our future. You will be granted immortality, along with a few others with real power. Gallenor will have a leadership that will not age or die, and a brighter future will be ahead. All it will cost are the lives of a few loyal citizens of Gallenor.”
“Do we have to kill all of the wizards for this?” When the King said this, Norl whimpered a little outside the door, but it did not draw attention to him. The Rakki quickly covered his mouth and though his tail was between his legs, he stayed to keep listening. He had to hear this.
“I am afraid that it has to be.” Realizing the King was in need of more convincing, Hallond asked a leading question. “Would you not ask your soldiers to die for Gallenor?”
“Of course. But, this is different.”
“I don’t see how. Do not worry. In time, the brilliance of this will truly sink in. Once you are granted immortality, all the answers will be made perfectly clear. Trust me.”
The King asked the question that was on Norl’s mind. “Won’t the people resist this once they find out the truth?”
Hallond calmly answered, “Have faith in me, Sire. All will work out according to my plans.” He paused and then said, “I think I hear someone.”
Norl’s ears perked up and he started to step back. When he realized Hallond was approaching the door, he bolted. Hallond opened the door to find exactly what he hoped: nothing. So, he returned to the King, after making sure the door was securely closed.
Standing on the other side of a square column, Norl’s heart was pounding and his breath was trembling. In all his years of service to Gallenor and his people, he had never expected to hear such hideous things. A deep part of him begged for it to be a dream—a terrible, horrible dream. But, the reality was that it was no dream and he had to tell someone. But who could he trust? He had to go home. He had to bring this to his own leaders. The head of the Rakki people was a wise and honorable man. He would know what to do next.
Daniel Peyton is a fresh author whose talents includes, writing, sketching and dreaming out adventures in faraway places that he seeks to bring to paper. He lives in East Tennessee where he draws a great deal of inspiration from the unique landscape. He has been featured in short story e-zines as well as flash fiction blogs. Legacy of Dragonwand: Book I is the first book in the Dragonwand Trilogy. Outside of authoring books, Daniel is an award winning cook, artist, and embroiderer. He is a distinguished member of the Sigma Alpha Iota, and often can be found teaching classes at his church. Before he began seriously devoting himself to becoming a published author, he spent over ten years traveling the country as a member of the Miyagi Ryu Nosho Kai dance school, performing Okinawan classic and modern dances.
The Billionaire Escape Plan
(Friends with Benefits)
Publication date: June 17th 2016
Genres: Comedy, New Adult, Romance
A sweet & spicy standalone romance from USA Today bestselling author Ember Casey.
Most girls dream of marrying a billionaire.
Me? I’d rather make fun of one. Especially if the billionaire in question is Alexander Grant.
Excuse me–Xander Grant. That’s right–the mega-hot entrepreneur who seems to top every magazine’s “Rich Eligible Bachelors” list these days.
To me, he’ll always be Alex–my childhood best friend. The guy who joined me on all sorts of wild teenage misadventures. The only person in our small town who understood me.
It’s been four years since I’ve seen Alex. But suddenly he’s back in our town at the exact same time my life is imploding around me.
We’ve both changed so much–I mean, the guy used to live in ripped jeans, and now he wears nothing but designer suits–but when I need it most, he offers me exactly the escape I need. A chance to run away from my life, if only for a few days.
I only hope my heart is prepared.
Alex steps toward me.
“You’re asking me to be your rebound guy?” he says. He stops just short of me, not touching but close enough that I can feel the heat radiating off his bare chest.
“Not a rebound,” I say quickly. “As I’ve told you, that thing with Wes was over long ago. Just…”
I nod. “Just sex. Unless…unless you think our friendship couldn’t survive it.”
“Do you believe our friendship couldn’t survive it?”
Now it’s my turn to hesitate before answering. Honestly, I hadn’t really thought about it. I was more concerned with his opinion on the matter than my own.
“Maybe,” I say. “Or maybe not. But our friendship has certainly survived a lot up to now. I mean, we haven’t lived in the same place for years and years. And you’ve seen me at my drunkest and stupidest—”
“And you’ve seen me at mine.”
“Exactly. And we survived a kiss, and now I’ve seen you naked, and…and…feel free to stop me at any point, because if I keep talking I’m probably only going to make this more embarrassing for both of us.” I raise my chin, looking up at him. “Have I scared you yet?”
“No,” he says. “But I’m still wondering if you’ve really thought this through.”
No, of course not. But again, it’s too late to unsay all of the things I’ve just said.
“You can tell me if you think it’s a terrible idea,” I say. “Or if you don’t want to. I swear I won’t get upset.” It’ll just be me and my ice and my fingers alone together forever and ever. I’m going to die alone with a bunch of cats.
He’s still far too close to me. I can see his chest rising and falling with his breaths, smell the scent of his soap on his skin.
“I’m not entirely sure two people can have sex without things getting complicated,” he says.
“Plenty of people seem to think that men and women can’t be friends either, and somehow we’ve managed it,” I point out. What are you doing, Mae? The more you argue for this, the more desperate you sound.
But Alex doesn’t seem to notice. “I suppose that’s true.”
I press my toes against the cool tiles of the floor. When am I allowed to escape to my room again? If he hasn’t said yes yet, he’s not going to—and him dragging this conversation out to spare my feelings is only making things weirder between us.
“I propose this,” he says slowly, softly. “We go over to that couch, and the moment you tell me to stop, we stop.”
I frown. “I don’t understand. Are you agreeing?”
“I’m merely suggesting that we don’t jump into anything too quickly. And that you stop me the moment you change your mind.”
And if I don’t change my mind? I want to ask. But I don’t. I’m not entirely sure what he means to do, but I want to find out.
He drops his hand from my face and instead takes my fingers in his. He leads me across the dark room toward the couch while I’m still trying to understand what his intentions are.
“Are you just humoring me?” I ask him. “If you don’t want to do this, Alex, you can just tell me. I know you have plenty of supermodels—”
“Maybe I’m just as curious as you are,” he says in that low rumble of his.
“About whether or not this would ruin our friendship. I suppose there’s only one way to find out, isn’t there?”
Ember Casey is a USA Today bestselling author who lives in Atlanta, Georgia in a den of iniquity (or so she likes to tell people). She writes contemporary romances about sexy alpha billionaires, smokin’ hot Hollywood hunks, and adventurous bad boys.
When she’s not writing steamy romances, you can find her whipping up baked goods (usually of the chocolate variety), traveling (her bucket list is infinite), or generally causing trouble (because somebody has to do it).
Want to make sure you never miss a release (and get some awesome extras)? Join her mailing list here > embercasey.com/newsletter
Changes Book Two
Jennifer Allis Provost
Genre: Contemporary Romance, New Adult
For Astrid Janvier, image is everything…
Astrid is a world-renowned model, as famous for her strut as her startling green eyes. She’s modeled for the biggest names in the fashion world, and is regularly invited to parties in New York, London, and Paris. Thanks to a designer label addiction, she’s also broke, and takes a job as a cocktail waitress just to make rent. When her best friend Britt asks her to be her maid of honor at her upcoming wedding, their first task is to decide the menu.
Donnie Coehlo is a young, up-and-coming chef with a dinner menu to plan…
Donato—Donnie for short—is the head chef at Thirty-Nine and Twelve, a seafood bistro on the Connecticut shore. It’s a great accomplishment given his youthful age, but Donnie doesn’t brag. He just wants to find the right girl, settle down, and have a bunch of kids. When Astrid arrives at his restaurant, Donnie hopes she is the one. But would a high-priced model like Astrid be interested in a regular guy like him?
As Astrid’s life crumbles around her, and Donnie makes a terrible choice, Astrid learns the two of them are irrevocably tied together.
Will their connection be enough for Astrid to leave her high-fashion life behind, and accept what Donnie has to offer?
Or will she chase her dreams as a model, leaving Donnie as part of her past?
What better time than the holiday season to be with the ones you love? In Changing Scenes, circumstances force Astrid and Donnie to spend their first Christmas apart. This is a much bigger deal for Donnie than it is for Astrid; while she sees holidays as something to endure, he enjoys going back to his grandmother’s house and spending a day or two cooking up a feast for his family.
In order to show Astrid just how much he is going to miss her, Donnie plans a special breakfast for Astrid—but this breakfast doesn’t involve bacon and eggs. Instead of traditional breakfast foods, he makes a few different chocolate pastries for Astrid, and she gets to choose between the sinful desserts. Does that make Donnie the dessert to the dessert? I guess it does.
In the spirit of Donnie’s romantic breakfast of desserts, here’s a recipe for one of the most sinful chocolate cakes you’ll ever encounter. Below that breakfast scene itself.
Happy reading—and baking!
butter and flour for coating and dusting the cake pan
3 cups all-purpose flour
3 cups granulated sugar
1½ cups unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon baking soda
1½ teaspoons baking powder
1½ teaspoons salt
4 large eggs
1½ cups buttermilk
1½ cups warm water
½ cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Butter three 9-inch cake rounds. Dust with flour and tap out the excess. (see cooking lesson below)
Mix together flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a stand mixer using a low speed until combined.
Add eggs, buttermilk, warm water, oil, and vanilla. Beat on a medium speed until smooth. This should take just a couple of minutes.
Divide batter among the three pans. I found that it took just over 3 cups of the batter to divide it evenly.
Bake for 30-35 minutes until the cake meets the toothpick test (stick a toothpick in and it comes out clean).
Cool on wire racks for 15 minutes and then turn out the cakes onto the racks and allow to cool completely.
Frost with your favorite frosting and enjoy!
Excerpt from Changing Scenes: Donnie makes Astrid a special breakfast
After the session wrapped, I went home, showered, and took a nice, long nap. When I woke I ate a bowl of cereal, then I got dressed in my warmest socks, leggings, and sweater while I waited for Donnie to pick me up. My man was right on time and came bearing hot coffee, and we did our usual circuit of the market.
“These fish get heavier every week,” I said when we were loading up. “And I think Trevor put rocks in those sacks instead of clams.”
“I hope they’re not clams,” Donnie said. “I paid for mussels.”
I shook my head, unsuccessfully stifling my latest round of laughter; my chef thought he was a comedian. “I’m ready to head out if you are.”
“You know it, babe.”
We hopped into the fishmobile and left the market. I watched the market get smaller and smaller in the rearview mirror, wondering how big of a catastrophe would be needed for Donnie to cancel Christmas and hang out with me instead. The restaurant burning down? No, since he’s not an owner he’d probably go back to his family and wait for word from his boss. Massive snowstorm? No again, since he’s a New Englander; they laugh at snow. Me breaking a leg? Hmm, now that could work. Donnie would have to stay in my apartment with me, taking care of me, keeping me company… Of course, I would have that broken leg to deal with…
“What?” I asked, blinking myself back to reality.
“You’re a dreamer, you know that?”
I looked down. “I was just thinking.”
“Hey.” I glanced up, saw his smile. “Dreams are good.”
I returned his smile, then I realized we were headed toward my apartment instead of the diner. “We’re not going to breakfast?”
“I thought we’d do something special.”
“What special thing?” I pressed.
“I’ll make breakfast at your place.”
I flopped back in my seat, totally speechless. Just when I thought Donnie couldn’t be any more perfect, he goes and one-ups himself. Then I remembered that all this cooking would be taking place in my kitchen, and my happiness turned to horror.
“I don’t have a lot of food at home,” I babbled. “I haven’t had time to shop, and I don’t own things like spatulas and cooking spray.”
“I brought everything we’ll need.”
“’Course I did. When I was in your place before I checked out your kitchen.” He gave me a look, and added, “The stove didn’t look like it’d been used this year.”
“I’m not a cooker like you.”
“Babe, there was dust on the burners.”
I crossed my arms and fidgeted in my seat. “What can I say, housekeeping hadn’t come by.”
“It sure hadn’t.”
We reached my building, and I directed Donnie toward my parking space. Once that was complete he handed me a cooler, then he grabbed a second bag and we headed toward the elevator.
“Will the fish be all right?” I asked.
“They’ll be fine for a few hours,” he said. “It’s cold, even in here, and they’re packed in tons of ice.”
When we entered my apartment Donnie went straight to the kitchen. “What do you want me to do?” I asked.
“What do you usually do after I drop you off?”
“Change and go to bed.”
“Go change, then.”
I blinked. “I thought if I didn’t help, I didn’t get to eat.”
He kissed the corner of my mouth. “Grandma’s rules, not mine. Don’t worry, I got this.”
I did as ordered, and shed my fish market gear. Since I wasn’t going to see Donnie for a while I decided to dress sexy, and put on a blue satin spaghetti strapped nightie and matching robe. The smell of coffee lured me back to the kitchen, and I saw little pastries set up on the counter.
“What’s all this?” I asked. “No bacon and eggs?”
“Sweets for a sweet lady,” he replied. The coffeemaker beeped, so Donnie poured a cupful and handed it to me. “Gonna try one?”
“Sure.” I selected a tiny chocolate confection, then I took it and my coffee to the couch. Donnie sat beside me a moment later. “What brought this on?”
“I’m going to miss you, that’s what,” he said. “Not gonna lie, I was single for a long time before we met. Been a long time since I found anyone I wanted to spend time with…” Donnie shook his head. “And now, I won’t even be with you over the holidays.”
“It’s not like you’ll be gone forever,” I said, ignoring the pang in my heart. “If it’s any consolation, I’ll be miserable with my family.”
Donnie made a face. “I’d be miserable too, if they dragged me to some restaurant on Christmas.”
“Yeah, restaurants are terrible,” I said. “And the chefs, especially the head chefs, now they are the worst.”
“Hey, take that back.”
Donnie grabbed my coffee and pastry from my hands and set them on the table, then he grabbed my waist. “Take it back,” he insisted, his hand sliding up my spine toward my neck.
About the Author:
Jennifer Allis Provost writes books about faeries, orcs and elves. Zombies too. She grew up in the wilds of Western Massachusetts and had read every book in the local library by age twelve. (It was a small library). An early love of mythology and folklore led to her epic fantasy series, The Chronicles of Parthalan, and her day job as a cubicle monkey helped shape her urban fantasy, Copper Girl. When she’s not writing about things that go bump in the night (and sometimes during the day) she’s working on her MFA in Creative Nonfiction.