That Special Something – coming July 11, 2023

Yes, we still exist, and yes, we have a new book coming out!

Culinary school dropout Callie Giordano never intended to wind up in a small town with a terrible name, but after surviving a serious cycling accident in New York City, she needed a change of pace. At 26, she is now the sole doughnut entrepreneur living in Fly-Debate, Maine.

But Fly-Debate isn’t just a one-stoplight town deep in lobster country. It’s also home to the cast and crew of hit historical heist TV series, Hidden Cove. Beckett Brown, its star, may as well have a resume that says 44, single, and nesty, but between his celebrity status and a reputation for falling too hard and too fast, dating feels impossible.

At least until he meets Callie.

That Special Something is a high-heat, queer M/F romance featuring large quantities of sugar, bird watching, and more plastic prop lobsters than you can shake a net at.

This book revisits something we’ve done before — the Hollywood romance — in a way we’ve never done it before, which is as a celebrity/civilian romance. For us, this came less from the fantasy of a fan attaining the unattainable and more from a place of “wow, that looks hard.” In fact, our heroine Callie hates TV and has no idea who Beckett is when she first meets him, and when she finds out, she’s not best thrilled.

One of the recurring themes of this book is the gap between who we are as people who change and evolve and who other people think we are — either because they’ve known us forever but aren’t acknowledging our personal growth or because when one lives a public life there are lots of people with opinions out there who don’t know us at all. I think that’s a relatable experience; social media is just a highlight reel and our parents always see us as much younger, and more inept, than we are.

Meanwhile, although this book is an age-gap romance, our heroine has a thriving business, a secure financial position, and has Been Through Some Stuff. She doesn’t just want to be the heroes equal; she needs him to step up and be her equal.

Things you might want to know about this book:

  • Both the hero and heroine are bisexual. They are both cis. The hero has a complex relationship with his gender.
  • The heroine is sexually harassed by a donut shop customer at one point and other people in the scene step up to deal with it, which she appreciates but she also notes she could have handled it herself.
  • Late in the book, the heroine described the cycling accident she was in and her recovery. This isn’t graphic but the scene is very tense and may be stressful for some readers
  • The heroine has a challenging relationship with her family of origin. How to navigate that, including the option of going no-contact, is discussed in places in the book.
  • There is a fair amount of discussion about pregnancy and having kids in this book. However, there are no pregnancies in the course of this book, nor are any characters trying to get pregnant or dealing with infertility.

Pre-order is now available on Amazon and will be rolling out to other platforms soon. A paperback release will come in a month or two after the digital release.

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A QUEEN FROM THE NORTH one of the top circulating IAP Select books in 2020!

Yes, 2020! Great news from last year that we just found out about.

And a great time to remind you that all our titles are available to libraries through Overdrive, Hoopla, and the Indie Author Project collections. We love libraries and we love our books being in libraries. If you’re looking for a title — digitally or in print — and your library doesn’t have it yet, be sure to fill out a request. We make it easy for collections managers to get our books, so you’ll stand a good chance of success!

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INK AND ICE wins 4th Annual IAP Adult Fiction Prize for New York State!

INK AND ICE has been named the winner of the NYS Indie Author Project contest in Adult Fiction. As a regional contest winner, we’re now under consideration for the Indie Author of the Year Award, which will be announced in early 2022 and would, among other things, bring INK AND ICE to audio.

It’s particularly special for us to win and award that is not specific to the romance genre or the LGBTQ community, demonstrating that stories don’t have to reflect every individual’s personal experience to resonate. Also, seriously, it’s about selkies.

We also love libraries — we’re heavy researchers, so libraries are at the start of each of our novel projects and a significant market for us after publication.

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A Queen from the North is a nominee for two SOVAS Awards!

You can see all the nominees here and read the announcement here.

The audiobook of A QUEEN FROM THE NORTH is a nominee for two Society of Voice Arts and Sciences Awards!

Our full cast, led by Jane Wing, have been nominated for AUDIOBOOK NARRATION – ROMANCE OR EROTICA – BEST VOICEOVER. And Ryan Manning has been nominated for AUDIO ENGINEERING – AUDIOBOOK – BEST SOUND DESIGN.

The eight annual awards will be announced in a ceremony in New York City on December 19, 2021. The audiobook of A QUEEN FROM THE NORTH was produced by Pagewater Publishing.

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A Queen from the North is coming to audio!!!

Erin and I have been looking to get some of our titles into audio for some time, but the proposition was always complicated — in part because so many of our books require such specific voices, but we finally found an audiobook publisher willing to take on the challenge.

Pagewater Publishing will be releasing the A Queen from the North unabridged audiobook on June 1. It has a full cast (credited below), amazing sound design, and will transport you to the very weird world of a modern U.K., where the Wars of the Roses have never ended.

The book is narrated by Jane Wing, who is also voicing both Amelia and her mother. Arthur, King Henry, Lord Brockett, and the male narrator are being voiced by Simon Jackson.

You never really realize how much you’re asking of your actors until you hear them inhabit your words. We are in awe of the heavy lifting Jane and Simon are doing in bringing this book to life and also the Amelia and Arthur chemistry is Off. The. Charts.

Completing the cast are (in alphabetical order):

Max Blackman (Charlie, Footman, Chief Steward, Fashion Designer, Announcer, Escort)
Len Clarke (Cecile, Hyacinth, Reporter)
Robyn Holdaway (George)
Adrianne Jeffries (Robin)
Dee Meir (Priya, Violet, Lady Olivia, Helen)
Dafydd Morse (Mr Jones, Vyvian, Gary, Nick)
Jenny Steel (Jo, Docent, Wedding Coordinator, Head Seamstress, Aide)
JP Wright (Edward)

We’ve had the amazing experience of being super involved in casting and getting to hear each chapter as it is completed. I can’t tell you how often Erin and I email each other with some version of “[actor] is PERFECT” because it’s utterly constant. We hope to be bringing you more info about the cast and the production process soon as the release approaches.

If you’ve already read and loved A Queen from the North, we hope you’ll come along with us on the ride. If you haven’t experienced this contemporary romance full of ancient rivalries, we hope you’ll join us for the audio.

The audiobook will be available on June 1 from Audible and other audiobook platforms. Because we believe choice is important, we’re not going exclusive, which prevents us from doing a traditional preorder. But you can sign up here to receive a reminder of when the audio is available.

And yes, we are hard at work on the sequel, A Royal of Ravens. Robyn Holdaway was cast with this book (in which George is the main protagonist) in mind and we hope we’ll be able to bring that story to you in audio as well.

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Great Review for AFTER THE GOLD at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books!

It’s been a really good week for our figure skating novels (they are linked, but are each full complete romances with an HEA about different couples, they do not have to be read in order).

Not only did Ink & Ice get named a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award, SBTB reviewed After the Gold and really, really got it. And, most wonderfully, the reviewer dug Katie, who might be our most maligned heroine of all time.

Anyway, go check it out!

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INK AND ICE Now a Finalist for the 2021 Lambda Literary Award in Gay Romance!

In my first year of college, in DC, I worked at Lambda Rising, one of the great gay bookstores of all time. I worked in the warehouse, shipping books in plain packaging to queers in far-flung places. This was 1990, before online shopping, and we took orders by phone and by mail. I remember unfolding the order slips in creaky handwriting, a money order for the fees tucked in the middle, and taking the long, long phone calls of someone in Alaska, who ordered several hundred dollars of books each quarter.

I had just turned 18 and was trying to survive an up or out journalism program that would only let half of us continue past sophomore year. My professor, a former Washington Post editor known as Puff, used to tell me that if it had been twenty years earlier and I’d been a boy, I wouldn’t need to be in college at all. I had what it took — I was fast and clever and knew to make friends with the cleaning staff.

I wanted to be a war reporter.

But working for the campus paper didn’t pay. And the gay bookstore warehouse did. Every day, me and a couple of the guys shrink wrapped books (and really anything else we could find — we loved shrink wrapping) and discussed our inventory of erotic coloring books, foot fetish magazines, and the blossoming world of queer literature with our callers.

College was not a happy time for me. I wound up campus famous for getting rape and death threats for being queerer than a three dollar bill and the whole thing was basically a disaster. But I loved that book store. I loved that shrink wrap gun. And I loved our clique of people — from the Deadhead to the seminary student — coming by after our shifts to go to the bars and cafes before going home to get ready to go to the clubs.

Lambda Rising was seen as a center of the gay literary scene thanks to our store’s owner, Deacon Mccubbin, publishing the Lambda Book Report starting in 1987. That led to the first Lambda Literary Awards in 1989. 32 year later. I’m nominated for one of those awards with Erin. For a gay romance novel about, among other things, the sort of war reporter I never got to be.

Puff died in 1997. The store closed in 2010.

And none of this was what I was supposed to do with my life.

But all of that is why I’m so very very very emotional about being named a Lambda Literary Award finalist for Ink and Ice.

Here’s the full list for 2021.

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About that liberation vs. compliance thing in more than 280 characters

Back in October (which, consider how 2020 is going might as well be another geologic age), I tweeted in response to the latest article about the romance genre that didn’t actually get what the romance genre was:

Anyone outside of Romancelandia trying to do a hot take about our genre _really_ needs to understand that, broadly speaking, we have both a liberation wing (protagonists bend the world to find their joy) and a compliance wing (protagonists bend themselves to find their joy).

On one hand, this is really pithy and helps to break down a lot of what’s going on in the genre. On the other hand, it is Twitter, so I did want to expand on it, because it’s not actually that simple.  

Certainly, many romance novels feature tension between these two ideas, although one will usually dominate. And my suspicion is that if you’re not well-read in romance (and are, in fact, suspicious of romance) and don’t like compliance narratives, if you stumble on one you may just have a “romance is regressive and bad” reaction.

But that’s not fair – either to the genre, or to compliance narratives.

Because while this idea of liberation vs. compliance can tie into politics and conflicts within the romance genre (they are legion and the genre has a very publicly documented history of racism and homophobia that was until quite recently even entrenched in its national professional organization), it’s not always clear cut. Ultimately, I’d argue that there’s a subset of compliance out there that I think of as enforcement. And while not all compliance stories are inherently toxic or even small-c conservative, enforcement narratives are where the big warning red siren goes off – at least for me.

When we were all discussing this on Twitter (maybe we’re still discussing it on Twitter?) people asked me for examples of liberation vs compliance, and I went with two different books – neither of which exist – that I could theoretically write that draw on my background as a Sicilian-American with a (now-deceased) grandmother who married very young and worried about me when I did no such similar thing.

In a book I would think of as a liberation romance, Our Heroine’s grandmother pressures her to go back to the Old Country to meet Some Guy who is the grandson of her BFF from back in the day. Our Heroine goes, meets this guy, and they are both like, “wow, what a weird nightmare this is and surprise we’re both queer!” Some Guy introduces Our Heroine to his friends and ultimately Our Heroine hooks up with Sicilian Artist Lady, and they fall in love and move back to the U.S. Some Guy coming to visit the U.S. in the sequel to find his HEA (with whom he moves back to Sicily) seems like a given. None of this is how the grandmothers thought it was going to turn out, but they love that these kids today were able to help each other find happiness.

In a book I would think of as a compliance romance, Our Heroine’s grandmother pressures her to go back to the Old Country to meet The Hero who is the grandson of her BFF from back in the day. Our Heroine and The Hero have instant chemistry, but he sure has some ideas about how a proper Sicilian woman should dress and behave that Our Heroine bristles at. But as she spends more time with The Hero and more time in Sicily, she realizes that maybe she’s happy in this place, that she feels comfortable in this role, and that she might even be happier if she gives into some traditional Sicilian wife choices – it’s not like her supposedly super liberated life back home in the U.S. was making her actually happy – and there’s real joy in letting someone else make some decisions sometimes. She and dude eventually get engaged; Our Heroine celebrates the new freedom from (as opposed to freedom to) in her life.

Both books contain a lot of food, some fish out of water stuff, and are about grappling with how much the past should influence our present and how big the space should be between what a person should be and what a person wants to be.

Depending on the reader, either book could actually be termed liberation, and with a bit more effort I’m pretty sure either could also be termed compliance. But at the end of the day, at least in my head, the first book is about changing the rules the characters are faced with and the second book is about learning how to accept those rules and find joy in them.

So, while one of those books appeals to me a lot more as a writer (because I do tend to lean liberation), it’s not like I’m out here being “Compliance stories mean you’re a big old mean bigoted racist Trump supporter.” As previously mentioned, that’s an issue in Romancelandia, but it’s not one that can be reliably or comprehensively pinpointed and described by liberation vs. compliance.

And that’s where enforcement comes in. Enforcement is where the bad guys are. It’s the people who say “It’s not a romance novel unless it’s about white, educated, cisgender, heterosexual woman finding an HEA with a white, educated, cisgender, heterosexual man in the form of marriage and babies.” And yes, there are people out there writing essays trying to make that argument, usually along side arguments that aren’t just about books, but are about who romance writers and readers are allowed to be.

If you aren’t deep into Romancelandia, this perhaps sound cartoonishly villainous, but for those of us who are in any way marginalized, we’ve all heard this nonsense more than once. At one point there was actually an effort to limit the definition of a romance by the Romance Writers of America to a love story between one man and one woman – something which RWA has since (but quite recently!) apologized for. The people who brought that type of initiative haven’t gone away. They’re still writing books and parts of the market are still gobbling those books up.

So, to recap:

Liberation stories are about protagonists who change the world to get what they want. Does this mean these books have inherently progressive ideals or are written by politically progressive people? Probably, but not necessarily (and let’s not overlook the risk of White Feminism hiding over in this part of the genre. Racism, among other things, can be anywhere and books with what feels like liberation stories aren’t exempt from that, no matter how much we might like that to be true – I’d like to think we’re working on it though).

Liberation is just a type of story, and it’s useful to know if it’s the type of story you like. Because if you’re looking for liberation stories and you keep reading compliance stories, you’re going to be pretty unhappy with the romance genre.

Compliance stories are about protagonists who change themselves to get what they want. These stories can include makeover narratives as well as stories about people in diaspora rediscovering family heritage and culture they might not have previously had significant access to. These stories can be liberating for some readers. But these are more likely to be freedom from narratives than freedom to narratives. Can you make any sort of assumption about the authors and their politics here? Not in any way I’d be willing to generalize.

But as a subset of compliance is definitely enforcement, which is about books that set down narrow and restrictive parameters (and I don’t mean ones like “requiring consent”) about relationships and gender in a way that penalizes characters and authors outside of them. These books have a conservative agenda that generally targets the shape of women’s lives and who is allowed to even be considered for a Happily Ever After, not just on the page, but in real life.

The marketplace may be rapidly being swamped by liberation books and books that grapple with compliance themes, but that enforcement stuff is still out there doing harm and limiting the idea of who even deserves a love story.

Where do my own habits fall within this?

Well, I’ll be honest, as a reader, I can love a good compliance narrative. Why? Because I’m personally terrible at compliance in my actual life. I don’t wear makeup, half my head is shaved, I use they/them pronouns, and I haven’t had a traditional office job in over two decades. Whether it’s to my grandma’s cultural values or pre-pandemic workplace norms or to my off-ice training, I suck at compliance. So, when I read compliance books, it’s because I want to know how that works and I want to see a type of happiness that’s very different from my own.

As writers, Erin and I are all over the place on this spectrum, so I’ve tried to rank some of our stories accordingly below:

The Opposite of Drowning – This is pure liberation. Our heroine ditches a fiancé that only values her as a society wife to host parties during his political campaign. She then falls in love with her eccentric coworker who’s trying to break out of a shell of hating his job, his friends, and his life. The biggest liberation moment of the book may also be one of its funniest – when the heroine gets busted in her office’s kitchen melting down the key to her hope chest that she had always previously worn around her neck. Not only is she done with the now ex-fiancé and that tradition, she’s not letting anyone else get her hands on the symbol of what she was supposed to – and now refuses – to be.

The Art of Three – This is also pure liberation and low-conflict liberation at that. It’s about a polyamorous relationship, in which no one has any significant drama about being polyamorous. But at every turn every character chooses what’s best for them and the people they love, regardless of what nosey neighbors or traditional relatives (who are eventually won over) have to say.

Ink and Ice – Also all liberation all the time. Our hero is trying to find the courage to show his true self, including the creepy island with the selkie mythology from which he comes, on and off the ice.

After the Gold – On the surface this is very much a liberation narrative. Skater with anxiety has to trust her self enough to let her partner, who has always loved her, in. But it also has elements of compliance… to manage her anxiety, she eventually has to trust other people enough to make some decisions – with her consent and cooperation – for her.

A Queen from the North – This book unavoidably has elements of compliance; after all, it’s a royal romance, although one set in a contemporary alternate U.K. where the Wars of the Roses never ended and the political and social landscape of the country is still riven by the conflict between York and Lancaster. One of the notes I kept giving Erin as we were drafting this book was that the landscape needed to feel “darker, more totalitarian, and more Thatcherite.” But this is a book about confronting, rejecting, and reforming that. Out of its marriage of convenience narrative, we see the heroine telling the Palace’s head PR woman to stuff it because she will not apologize for being slut shamed by her ex and she will marry the Lancastrian Prince of Wales (that she eventually falls in love with) to save her Yorkish people, opinions about her past be damned. If you have hesitancy about even touching something involving the monarchy (because, legitimately, yikes), I’ll tell you… we have some plans for that.

(While all of these buy links are to Amazon, our books are available on all major ebook platforms including Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, and Google Play, as well as in print and ebook for libraries.)

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Ink & Ice preview

Our ninth novel, Ink & Ice comes out in just a few weeks, and we wanted to give you a preview of it. While it’s a sequel to After the Gold, you don’t have to have read that book to follow this one, which is an M/M romance about figure skating, falling in love, and maybe being a selkie.

It’s very strange. Because it’s not a shifter book. It’s not PNR. It’s just our world, but where sometimes legends and fairy tales are true (which, frankly, is how we experience the world). So if you link hints of magic, a bit of Jewish fabulism, a side of light bondage, and seals (which are totally the murder kittens of the sea), this one’s for you.

Below the cover image and the blurb, you’ll find a note from us about the setting, and the entire first chapter (before final proofer, so be warned).

Ink & Ice will be available on all ebook platforms on September 24 and available in print sometime thereafter. You can preorder it on Amazon now.

InkandIceFinalGrowing up on an isolated island in the middle of Lake Erie, Aaron Sheftall learned to skate as a young child when extreme weather would cut his off his small community — and its legends about a lost colony of seals — from the rest of the world. Now an elite figure skater, Aaron dreams of getting to the Olympics. Yet competition is fierce and in a sport filled with injuries and drama, careers are short. But when a fluke accident changes the stakes for the entire U.S. team, Aaron sees his chance.

Zack Kelly used to be a war reporter. But a successful book about his time covering global conflicts, an unsuccessful marriage, and a dose of PTSD have sidelined him from the journalism game. When an old friend calls up him with a long-form assignment about competitive figure skating, Zack has no idea what he’s getting into. He also doesn’t care — it’s a change of scenery and a paycheck.

Thrown together under circumstances neither of them are initially enthused about, Aaron and Zack ultimately embark on an unlikely — and ill-advised — romance about trust, myth, and what it really means to be comfortable in your own skin.

Ink and Ice is part of the same series as After the Gold. The books can be read in any order. Katie and Brendan’s story continues here as a key part of Aaron’s coaching team.


A Note on the Setting

A significant portion of this book is set on a group of islands in Lake Erie. 

While one of those islands — Whisker Island — is purely a product of our imagination, the others, including South Bass and Middle Bass are perfectly real. South Bass, in particular, is worth a visit as it is the home of Put-In Bay, a lake-side village which has a small year-round local population and serves as a summer resort for the Ohio region. It is easily accessible by ferry in the warm season. 

Several smaller islands, not all of which are accessible to the public, also dot the area. These include Mouse, Turtle, and Starve. Due to their small size, rocky soil, and the extreme nature of the environment in the winter months, none of these islands have had a history of permanent human settlement either by indigenous people or by colonizers and their descendants.

While seals are mostly saltwater creatures, freshwater seals do exist. The only true freshwater seal is the Baikal, which is native to Russia. Generally, what are termed freshwater seals are actually isolated colonies of saltwater species that became trapped inland and now persist in freshwater environments throughout Canada, Alaska, and Russia. To our knowledge there are no such colonies — or myths about such colonies — in Lake Erie.

Chapter 1

Eight Months before the Winter Olympics in Almaty, Kazakhstan

Lake Erie Islands

Aaron Sheftall was glad to be home for the summer, even if summer on the string of tiny islands in the middle of Lake Erie meant hard work, drunk people, and fish. So much fish. 

Growing up, Aaron hadn’t always appreciated how strange his life was. In the summers, his parents boated to and from the biggest island to work fourteen-hour days for the tourist crowd that wanted some fried perch and bottomless margaritas before the world turned cold. Then summer ended, the tourists left, and the one-hundred-or-so full time residents of the islands eventually became frozen in.

Now though, at twenty-three, Aaron knew exactly how odd his life had been. His high school graduating class had contained just four people, including him and his twin sister Arianne (Ari, for short). The two of them had boated or snowmobiled, as the weather dictated, to Middle Bass Island each day for classes. Whisker Island, where they and four other families lived, was much too small to have its own school. 

But all of it — the isolation, the brutal winters, the intense sense of community born of both — had served Aaron well; he wouldn’t have learned to ice skate if it hadn’t been necessary to get around in those winters. And he wouldn’t have picked up figure skating as a sport or moved into elite competition if he hadn’t been so desperate sometimes to not just see, but live, in the world beyond the speck of rocks and trees from which he’d come. Sometimes Aaron wasn’t sure the place existed at all.

But in summers it did. Tourist publications called it the Key West of the Midwest, and their brief seasonal attention was enough to keep the islands going year-round. Aaron’s parents’ restaurant kept their freezers full and funded Aaron’s skating career. So in the off-season, while his fellow competitors were either on the road doing ice shows or showing off their beach bodies on social media, he was stuck here, in a place he loved and could never explain to anyone else, elbow-deep in raw fish.

Aaron’s phone rang. More accurately, it barked; his ringtone was the sound of seals.

The device rested on the shelf above the counter where he and Ari worked. In unison they both went up on their toes to look at the screen and see who it was.

Ari frowned. “Your ex-boyfriend is calling.”

While it was definitely Huy calling, Aaron did need to object to that description. Their thing had been brief, and they had been friends before, during, and most importantly, after it. 

“He’s my friend, not just…whatever. And we train at the same rink.”

“Still, he’s calling. He doesn’t call much, does he?”

“No. And I’m not answering right now, I’m covered in perch.” Not that Huy would know that, and not that Aaron was embarrassed. But mentally shifting from summer restaurant help to chatty figure skater felt hard. Especially with an ex, no matter how delightfully amicable.

After a few more rounds of barking seals — Ari shot Aaron a dire look; she had never thought the seals were a thing to make light of — the phone fell silent. And then started barking again.

The two of them both went up on their toes to check the screen once more.

“Your ex-boyfriend is calling…again,” Ari proclaimed.

“Would you stop calling him that?” Aaron mentally paged through the summer schedules of the other Twin City Ice skaters and tried to remember where Huy was this week. “I think he’s on vacation, it’s probably a drunk dial?”

Still, the repeated calls were odd enough that he peeled off his gloves and moved to the sink to wash fish bits off his hands.

The phone barked again.

“It’s still him,” Ari announced as Aaron was drying his hands.

He grabbed the phone off the shelf and accepted the call. “What’s up?”

“Where are you right now?” Huy asked urgently and without preamble.

Huy Le, Canada’s top men’s figure skater who currently ranked third in the world, had a knack for both friendship and quad flips. He was usually energetic and outgoing, and Aaron had rarely heard him upset. He was definitely upset now. Aaron found it jarring. Whatever this was, it wasn’t a drunk dial.

“The restaurant.” Aaron took a deep breath and tried to calm the sudden pounding of his heart. Something was wrong.

“You’re working?”

“Yes, I work all summer.” Aaron hoped he didn’t sound sharp but was quite sure he did. There were two types of people who skated: Those who could afford it comfortably and those who would always be struggling to afford it. Huy fell into the first category. Aaron did not.

“Take a break.” The tone sounded suspiciously like you had better sit down for this, which did not lessen Aaron’s sense of unease.

He pulled the phone away from his ear. 

“I’m stepping out for a minute; let Mom know?” he said to Ari, already on his way out the door. 

Aaron stepped out the kitchen’s back door and took a deep breath, letting his lungs fill with the fresh air. The sun was out, and the lake breeze blowing in off the water kept everything cool and somewhat damp. There was a bench by the door in the shade of the massive maple tree still in the process of putting out leaves. Summer came late to the islands and left early. Aaron propped his foot up on the seat to stretch while they talked. 

“All right, I’m taking a break. What’s happening?” He tried to keep the worry out of his voice as he continued to run through possible disaster scenarios in his head. 

“Go on the internet,” Huy said briskly. “Actually, no. Don’t do that. There’s video.”

That was not remotely clarifying. Or reassuring. Had something happened to the rink? “Huy, what are you talking about? Is everything all right?”

“Luke just had an accident. At the ice show in Regina.”

“What happened? Is he okay?” Luke Koval was the top-ranked US men’s skater. He and Aaron weren’t close, but the world of elite competitive skating was like a family. Everyone knew and cared about everyone else.

“Well, he’s not dead. But no, he’s not okay.”

“How not okay?” Aaron asked.

Huy paused. “It happened on a spin. A spiral fracture.” 

Aaron made an agonized noise and tried very hard not to imagine what that would look like, much less feel like. The physical pain would be agonizing, and an injury like that was career-ending. The fact was obvious to both of them, but neither said it out loud. Skaters — and, Aaron suspected, most competitive athletes — were superstitious. Talking about it was too terrible. 

“Yeah,” Huy said. “Yeah, it wasn’t good. And obviously he won’t be skating for the rest of the season. Which means –”

“The whole field just opened up,” Aaron breathed. 

It didn’t seem like the sort of thing that should be said too loudly. No one ever wanted anything bad to happen to a fellow skater, in part because you always knew on another day it could be you. But the reality was that the top US men’s skater was suddenly and unexpectedly out of the running or the foreseeable future. In an Olympic year.

Which meant opportunity.

Huy made a noise of agreement.

“I need to get back to St. Paul.”

“My favorite ambitious murder kitten of the sea.” Huy sounded proud. “Yeah, you do.”

“But–” Almost as soon as the idea had occurred to him, Aaron saw the obstacles. Of which there were several. But one was the most pertinent.  “Is anyone even there right now?” 

“If they’re not, they will be soon. Everyone’s going to want Luke’s — well, everything. Funding. Sponsorships. Grand Prix assignments….” his voice trailed off for a moment. Aaron knew what Huy was going to say next, because he’d done the math, too. “His Olympic team spot.”

“That’s a really long shot,” Aaron said to try to contain the wild excitement that was building in his chest. Rushing back to training months early didn’t necessarily make sense. And wasn’t necessarily feasible. The restaurant needed every hand it could get this time of year…and training was expensive. His federation covered some of his costs, but not all of them; he wasn’t ranked highly enough. 

“I know,” Huy said. “And I know the situation with your family and your island and your funding is complicated. But you really do need to think about getting back to TCI.”

“Lucky you’re going to the Olympics anyway.” 

“Hush, don’t jinx anything,” Huy warned. 

Huy was too good a skater and too good a friend for Aaron to resent his medals or his consistency. Still, Aaron was glad they were only in competition with each other for international medals, not national team spots. This upset was a sliver of a chance for him, not a guarantee. Aaron would have to fight tooth and nail for a chance to go to the winter Olympics in Almaty, while a spot on the Canadian team was Huy’s to lose. But as Luke’s accident proved, those losses did happen.

Aaron wanted to run inside and book his flights. Instead he sank down onto the bench.

“I’ll work on it,” he said into the phone. He couldn’t promise more than that. Not to Huy, and sadly, not even to himself. Not yet.

“You should,” Huy said. “You’ve always been better than your results.”

After they hung up, Aaron sat there feeling like he’d had the air punched out of him by Huy’s last comment on his skating. There was validation in it, but it also stung. Aaron had a potential — he knew it, the people around him knew it — and he just wasn’t meeting it. And no one could figure out why.

He needed to get back inside; Ari couldn’t deal with all that perch by herself. But first he needed to text his coaches. 

Katie Nowacki and Brendan Reid had won Olympic gold as a pairs team. After they had retired — and resolved one of the longest-running and highest-drama on-again-off-again relationships in figure skating by getting married — they’d devoted themselves to coaching and, in Katie’s case, to the bafflement of most of the skating community, dairy farming. 

He texted Brendan. He would have preferred Katie, who understood his brain and life best, but Brendan dealt with all things logistics. If Aaron had contacted Katie, she’d have made him talk to Brendan anyway. That was how they did things. 

Aaron: Hi! I just heard about Luke’s accident. What happens if I come back to training early?

Aaron didn’t even know if they were in the Twin Cities right now. Probably, because of Katie’s farm, but in the summers she and Brendan always seemed to be travelling all over the world for something for a week here and there. In either case, there wasn’t anything he could but wait to hear back.


For the rest of the day Aaron kept his phone muted and in his pocket so he wouldn’t be tempted to check for notifications every five minutes. He finally let himself dig it out and look that evening while he was at the dock waiting for his mom to finish refueling the boat so they could head back home after a too-long day. His dad was sitting next to him, checking his own phone for the weather forecast, and Ari was somewhere along the shore, probably making friends with more seagulls.

There was, in fact, a reply from Brendan, and Aaron tapped on it hastily.

Brendan: Hi! Good to hear from you. Hope your family’s doing well. Short answer: Yes, If you decide you want to come back early, Katie and I will be here for you. Longer answer: Before you make a decision, think about what your goals are, think about resources you’ll need outside of federation funding, and think about whether the extra training is going to be useful to you vs overtraining. 

Aaron breathed a sigh of relief at the first part of the message. As for the rest — Well. His goal was obvious: He wanted to make the Olympic team.

More training vs over training was easy. Aaron could moderate himself once he got there. In part, because Katie and Brendan would make sure of it, but Aaron liked to think he was self-aware enough that he didn’t have to put the burden of saying stop on his coaches.  

Resources, however, was the question mark. Brendan meant Aaron’s own internal resources of determination and physical endurance, yes. But resources was also code for money and time. And time was more complicated for Aaron than most. 

He texted Brendan back.

Aaron: Thanks! I’ll talk to my parents and figure some things out.

Brendan’s reply came almost immediately. 

Brendan: We look forward to hearing from you! 

Aaron knew Brendan meant it, but there were times — like right now — he wanted a hell of a lot more hand holding than that.


The ride back to Whisker Island was one of Aaron’s favorite parts of the day, and not just because work was over. In the middle of the lake, surrounded by water and sky, the world felt young and simpler. Tonight the lake was calm under a velvety lavender sky, silver-dark ripples spreading out to the horizon. Now that the sun had set, the air was cold, and the speed of the boat only amplified that.

As much as Aaron wanted to savor this moment, he suspected it would be easier to start this conversation now than when they were back on dry land.

“Something happened in skating today,” he said over the rush of the wind and the steady slice of the boat through the water.

“What’s that?” Aaron’s mom asked. His dad was piloting, but Aaron knew he was listening too.

Aaron explained Luke’s accident. He didn’t need to use any more words than Huy had; his parents knew the realities of skating as well as non-skaters could. Ari, in the stern of the boat, sat with her face turned out over the water, her hair whipping back. Aaron was sure she was listening too and that she would have opinions.

“This changes things…the lineup for the U.S. team,” Aaron said. “I have a chance now. And — I know this is a big ask, and that there’s going to be a lot of details to work out, but….”

“Spit it out, Aaron,” his father said.

“I want to find a way to go back to training early.”

“How early?” his mom asked.

Tomorrow, Aaron wanted to say. But he couldn’t. Many things might or might not be possible, but that certainly wasn’t. “As soon as possible.”

“It’s almost Memorial Day weekend,” she pointed out. She wasn’t saying no, but she didn’t sound happy.

“I know.”

“We open in two days and then it’s one of the busiest seventy-two hours of the year.”

Aaron was just about to reply in the frustrated affirmative, again, when Ari shushed them. 

He whipped his head around towards her. “What?”

“Cut the motor,” she said quietly.

When her father didn’t, she shouted. “Dad, cut the fucking motor!”

As the boat spluttered to its swaying stop in the middle of the dark lake, Aaron held his breath. In the darkness, something barked.

“It’s a dog,” their mother said.

“Quiet!” Ari hissed. In the dark the barking seemed to multiply.

“Someone just got an awful lot of dogs,” Aaron said. The sound, whatever it was, was definitely not a dog.

“There,” Ari said, pointing to a spot in the middle distance, somewhat vaguely in the direction of Canada.

What seemed to be the sleek rounded head of a seal rose up out of the water, before diving again. Then, a few more, glimpsed and gone. Then dozens. 

“It’s the wind, stirring up the water,” their mother said softly. 

Aaron had to admit that was probably true. The wind could get so strong that eight-foot waves on the lake happened often enough. What looked like seal heads was probably just the breeze, lacing between the islands in the twilight and tricking their tired eyes.

The barking stopped, as if dispelled by reason.

“I don’t want us to hit one,” Ari said.

“Pretty sure magic freshwater seals are smart enough not to get hit by boats, kiddo,” their dad said. He restarted the motor, but far more gently than before. 

“We’ll talk about your season Monday night,” Aaron’s mother said, as if they hadn’t just been interrupted by the myth of the place they were all from and Aaron always felt guilty to leave.


Memorial Day weekend arrived, and with it the rush of tourists that would swarm over the island all summer. That first day especially, Ari was quiet, almost sullen; she never liked when outsiders came to the islands, and the beginning of the season was always hardest on her. So she took the kitchen shift, and Aaron took the front of house duties. The day wore on in endless hours, throbbing feet, and his first sunburn of the season.

Yet as tiring as the work was, he couldn’t stop thinking about St Paul and training. All he wanted was to be back on the ice. At the same time, he dreaded having to leave. What was summer, if not spent on the islands? He wondered what Brendan had told Katie of their conversation, and what Katie’s reaction had been. 

Late that night, once they’d returned to Whisker Island, he took a walk down to the edge of the lake and called Katie. Maybe that was too much, but he needed to talk to someone about this. She had always understood him, when it came to skating at least, in a way that no one else did.

Only after the phone started ringing did he realize that it was a weeknight, late for civilians, and even later for Katie, who kept skaters’ hours during the season and farmers’ hours otherwise.

She did, however, pick up the phone after only a few rings. “Hi Aaron, what’s up?” 

Her tone wasn’t exactly brusque, but it did make Aaron ask, “Is this a good time?”

“Depends why you’re calling, Please tell me you haven’t also had a season-ending injury out there on your island.”

Your island would have made Aaron bristle from anyone else, but Katie had been a farm girl before she became a skater, and still was with twenty head of dairy cows ten miles outside the Cities. Why anyone would want two professions so hard on the heart, body, and wallet, Aaron didn’t know. But he didn’t need to. They were cut from some of the same stuff.

“Ah, no,” he stammered. “But it’s kind of about that.” 

“Brendan told me you texted him. Have you been able to talk things through with your parents yet?”

“Not yet,” Aaron admitted. “With the holiday weekend, everything’s busy. They want to wait til Monday.”

“That’s certainly fair. So why are you calling me?”

Aaron forced himself not to shrink at the question; he wanted Katie’s approval, but was getting a challenge instead. “Because I don’t know what’s possible and I can’t stop thinking about it. And I can’t wait til Monday night to make any kind of decision. I need to know what my options are, as far as you’re concerned, so I can make plans. For every eventuality.”

Katie seemed to consider that. “You already know Brendan and I will be here for whatever you need from us. Same as we are for all our skaters.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Then we’re not your limiting factor. And you don’t know what your parents are going to say yet. In some ways, the only limiting factor is you. Now what do you want?”

Aaron took a breath. What he wanted — a shot at the Olympics — was no more and no less than what any athlete at his level dreamed of. Expressing that, especially to one of his coaches, shouldn’t have been difficult. But Aaron had always kept part of himself carefully tucked away from the rest of his life — the part that reveled in the lake’s winter storms and calm summer dawns, the part that was happiest here by the water and wondered if maybe, just maybe, there was truth to the old stories about the seals. It was that part now that was making it hard for him to articulate the things he so badly wanted.

“If I leave early, I might make the team. Might. Even if I do, I won’t medal.”

“The team isn’t the only thing at stake in the season,” Katie said kindly, but Aaron would not be deterred.

“Not in an Olympic year.” 

Katie hummed down the phone line. “You coming back early may not be the thing that makes or breaks your shot at that or anything else.”

“I know that,” Aaron said. “But don’t I have to at least try?”

“But you’re uncertain,” Katie led.

“Of course I’m uncertain,” Aaron said. He was also exasperated. “If I leave now, I leave my parents without my help for the entire summer. It’s about money, but not just that. I spend maybe four months here a year. I’ve only been here a month so far. It’s not fair to them. And it’s not enough time for me.”

“I see.” Katie’s voice was calm, nearly cold. Apparently she was going to force him to figure this out on his own.

“You grew up on your family’s farm. You know what it’s like.” Aaron took another deep breath to steady himself for the plunge, the way he always did before a performance began. Because there was just one thing he had to know. “If you hadn’t won a medal, and you’d gone into the Olympics knowing you wouldn’t win a medal, would it still be worth everything you had to do in order to get there?”

There was a corresponding breath on the other side of the line. Aaron smiled; skaters were all the same in some ways.

“Everything has always felt like life and death for me,” Katie said. “And there was a lot going on for me that year.” 

Brendan, Aaron interpreted. 

“I might have given you a different answer in the middle of it,” she said, “but I never would have been able to live with myself if I hadn’t made it.” She paused for a long moment. “Honestly, sometimes the fact that I got there is the only reason I can live with myself now.”

“Okay.” Aaron took a moment to digest that. 

Once he had, the way forward seemed as clear as it had when he had first heard the news from Huy. The island would still be here after this season. His family would still be here. But he only had one chance at this season. No matter what the cost, he had to take it. 

“Okay,” he said again, committing to the only decision that now made sense. “I still need to get through the next few days. And work with my family to figure out how to fill the gap I’ll be leaving. But I’m going to get out of here Tuesday morning and I will see you at the rink on Wednesday.”

“Good.” Katie sounded pleased. “Once you have your flights, text Brendan and we’ll pick you up.”

“Are you sure? I can get the bus, or a car service or whatever –”

Katie laughed. “If you’re coming back to work early, that means we’re all coming back to work early. You want to actually get in the game now? That means talking and making a plan. Otherwise there’s no reason for you to be running away from your family up there. Right?”

Katie was always a hard ass about people keeping their lives in order off the ice. It cut down on distractions and made for good habits. Aaron agreed in principle, but thought it was a little funny coming from someone who, when she had been competing, was legendary for being kind of a mess.

“Right,” he agreed. 

“Then we’ll pick you up and we’ll have lunch and we’ll talk. Or rather, we’ll have the first of what is going to be a long series of conversations because there’s what you want, what you can have, and the options in between,” Katie said. In the background, someone chuckled. 

Which reminded Aaron that she had a whole life he was upending with his own desperate need to do the impossible. “Thank you. Sorry if I interrupted.”

Katie shushed him. “Don’t worry about it. Do what you need to do there and we’ll see you in a few days.”

“Okay. Thanks.”  Aaron was about to say goodbye and pull the phone away from his ear when Katie’s voice pulled him back. 

“And Aaron?”


He could hear the smile in her voice. “Good boy.”


After he finished talking to Katie Aaron sat at the end of his family’s dock for a long time, lying back and looking up at the stars. He knew he should go to bed; he had to be up at five to ride back to South Bass Island with everyone else for the morning shift. But he couldn’t bring himself to go back to the house. Now that he’d started planning to leave, all he could think about was the summer nights under the stars he wouldn’t have here, lulled to peace and restfulness with the soft slap of the waves on the shore. He could leave, and he would survive, but missing this place would still hurt. No matter the choice he made, there would be a price to pay. That was the nature of skating.

Eventually he became aware that the soft sound he was hearing wasn’t some nighttime creature, but footsteps. Ari’s.

“How was it out front at the restaurant tonight?” she asked as she sat down next to him. “I didn’t ask before.”

“Eh.” Aaron tried to think that far back. It had only been a few hours ago, but already it seemed like a separate lifetime. “Not bad. Only had to toss out one drunk and rowdy dude.”

There was the soft tap of foam on wood as she kicked off her flip flops and dangled her feet in the water. 

“Sorry you had to deal with that crap,” she said.

“You’ll have to deal with it when I’m gone,” he pointed out.

“I always do, when you leave. And you always leave before the end of the season here,” Ari said, that strange blend of easy and resigned about her role as always. 

Aaron never stopped feeling guilty about it. How could he, when every one of his own career choices had been made with an eye to his own advantage, never mind how that left the rest of his family? Especially now. Especially with what he’d told Katie.

They were silent for a few long moments. The evening was calm, and the lake rippled in the moonlight. The quiet hiss and rush of water tossed tiny pebbles about as little wavelets crested on the beach. 

“So you’re going back,” Ari finally said.

“Yeah.” There was no use demurring. “Were you listening?”

“Always. I’ll miss you.”

“I’ll miss you too,” Aaron said. It wasn’t like she could come with him.

“I bet you’ll miss hooking up with all the cute tourists, too,” she teased.

“I don’t hook up with them! I merely flirt with them.” He couldn’t believe they were talking about this, but it was better, he supposed, than addressing any of the actual repercussions of the departure he was planning.

“Because you live with your family and have nowhere discreet to take them?”

Aaron chuckled. “Well, yeah.”

Ari laughed. “You’re strange. And should have better taste than to settle for a main-lander.” 

“Well, if you happen to encounter an eligible islander that we haven’t known since we were babies, be sure to let me know.”

They grinned at each other and the old terrible joke that was forever true. 

Ari’s expression sobered, and she looked at her feet in the water. “When are you leaving?”

“Tuesday. Mom and Dad don’t know yet; we still have to talk about it. But I can still come back for some of the busier weekends,” he offered, even though he knew it made no sense.

“You won’t,” she said, that same even tone. There was no blame in it, but Aaron flinched anyway.

“Well, I’ll try.”

“You really think you can make the team?”

“I don’t know,” Aaron confessed. “If I did, if I was sure, I wouldn’t hesitate to go.”

“You don’t seem like you’re hesitating now.”

“Not on the outside,” Aaron pointed out. Being a competitive athlete often meant he was very very good at squishing his emotions into a box and letting them out as infrequently as possible.

“If you’re going to go regardless, why waste time feeling bad about it?” Ari kicked at the water, as if for emphasis.

“We’re Jewish. We’re very good at feeling guilty about things.” 

Ari laughed. “Well if you don’t want your outside to match your inside — that is, if you’re not going to let your guilt stop you –”

“I got that, thank you.” So much was easier said than done.

“Then make your insides match your outsides!” 

“I’m not sure my insides and outsides have ever matched.”

“Yeah.” Ari looked thoughtful. “Me neither.”


Aaron was almost grateful for the length of the days at the restaurant as the tourist season finally kicked off officially. Business and exhaustion served to quiet his brain, and when Monday night came the conversation with his parents was less painful than it might have been. Aaron felt guilty through the entirety of it nonetheless.

There was enough money for ice time and coaching fees for now, and whatever difference the extra weeks added up to, Aaron knew that Luke’s accident would leave some sponsorships and federation funding up for grabs. And he could always teach a few more basic skating classes if he needed to. 

As for the restaurant, Aaron volunteered to do what paperwork and administration he could via distance and the magic of the internet. He knew that organizing spreadsheets and making calls to suppliers after a day of training would be the last thing he’d want to do, but being able to contribute mattered.

But even with those problems solved, he still had to get to Minneapolis. Aaron had to confess to his parents that he’d already called the Put-in Bay airport and arranged a flight to Detroit for the next morning. Getting off the island itself was a little like taking a taxi. You just let the airport know you needed to fly. Then, if someone who could pilot the six-seat Cessna was around, you paid them $100 and off you went. It was summer, so he could have taken the ferry to the mainland and then driven to Detroit, but flying was easier and faster. And he wouldn’t have to rent a car. Once he got to Detroit, he would need to get on a big plane like anyone else. 

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T-shirts, tote bags and more

We’ve recently started producing some merchandise related to our books, all of which is now grabbable through Threadless.

T-shirts are available in multiple styles and colors (some of which go up to size 5X) and most designs are also available as mugs, totebags, phone cases, and various housewares.

Shirts normally start at $20, but some are now on sale for $15 through May 17. Additionally you can use code FREESHIP5200d6b0e for free shipping on orders over $45 (domestic) / $80 (international).

If there’s something you want that you don’t see available, ask, and we’ll see what we can do!

A Queen from the North

Right now we have two designs for A Queen from the North. One, shows a Tower raven, wearing a crown, and holding the white rose of York while it stands on top of a pile of red Lancastrian roses. 

The other, celebrates George. You too can be a genderqueer court witch.

Both designs are available on shirts, totes, and other objects.

Love in Los Angeles

Currently you can grab a shirt for the fifth season of a TV show that never existed, The Fourth Estate. Yes, that’s Alex leaning against the inkwell, and yes, this is his firsrt season on the show that sets the events of the series in motion.

Design is available on shirts, totes, mugs, and other objects.

We’re hoping to create shirts for other fictional shows in the series soon, including Paul’s porject, Winsome, AZ. Also, maybe for the Combat Dolphins! show

After the Gold and Ink and Ice

These designs (one for pairs, one for singles) feature the logo of the fiction figure skating club (Twin Cities Ice) in our two figure skating romance novels. In addition to shirts, mugs, totes, phone cases, and other objects are available.


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