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?”

“Yeah?”

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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Ink and Ice… a sequel to After the Gold

Ink & Ice, available August 25, 2020. Now available for preorder.

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.

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The Opposite of Drowning preview

opposite4With the release of The Opposite of Drowning, our workplace romance about publishing, food, international travel, and the drowned city of Ys, less than three weeks away, we thought it was time to give you a preview. While this isn’t the first meeting of our hero and heroine, it is something of an inciting incident. Business trips are always sooooo awkward:

That night Eliza slept poorly and had dream after dream that she was running late. Late for flights, late for meetings, late even to her own wedding. She was relieved to wake up and realize it was five in the morning in Frankfurt and hours before she had to be anywhere. She had no planes to catch, her wedding was still more than a year away, and she had plenty of time to address anything needed before the work day began.

A quick glance at her inbox showed only a handful of emails, none of which were urgent. Going back to sleep would have been ideal, but Eliza was too keyed up from the nightmares. And the hotel had a pool.

She would never admit to anyone that, for as long as she could remember, she had always believed that the water called to her. Her affinity for it was not defined by skill or hobby so much as a need to be submerged in it that was as fundamental as her body’s need for food. She’d realized young it was too peculiar to explain and had learned to swim laps to have the excuse.

She dug through her suitcase until she found her swimsuit. It took a little while; her clothes were tangled together messily. Not a useful state for them to be in, given how most of them needed to be perfectly neat and pressed. But if her clothes would need to be ironed anyway, she saw no reason not to let them get wrinkled in transit.

The pool, when she located it, was a dreary basement affair, long and narrow and split down the middle with a single rope marking it off into two lanes. It was, however, mercifully empty, and she shed the hotel bathrobe she’d used as a cover-up and slid in. The water was too cold, so she did the only thing she could: dove under and began. Soon the world fell away — her bad dreams, her new job, the specter of her engagement party. There was only the strange muffled peace of the water around her ears, here under the earth. She counted as she swam, neither laps nor strokes, but a steady beat as if to music she could not quite remember.

Eventually, out of breath, Eliza stopped. She spread her toes against the tiled bottom of the pool and hauled herself up to sit on its side. Across from her, in the other lane, another swimmer — a man — slowed, then stopped as well. She’d been alone when she had arrived and hadn’t heard or felt anyone enter the water. She wondered now if there was any way to grab her robe and flee to her room without looking like she was in a hurried panic to avoid human contact.

But when the man hauled himself out of the water, it was Harry. She felt all the more impulse to flee. They hadn’t even been colleagues for a day and now here they were in their swimsuits! Eliza took a deep breath. She’d been born a WASP for something, and if it wasn’t to suppress all her emotions in this incredibly awkward moment, it wasn’t for anything at all.

“Oh,” he said, startled, when he finally looked up and saw her.

“Oh,” she echoed. It only seemed natural. Their body postures mirrored each other across the water; why not their repressed horror too?

“Of course it’s you.” His voice wasn’t mocking; he sounded and looked as dismayed as she was.

“Yes.”

They sat in silence for a few moments, probably because standing up and revealing more of their bodies to each other would make the whole thing worse. Each of them absently kicked at the water which rippled between them, sending darts and flashes of light onto the ceiling.

“Good morning,” she tried awkwardly.

“You’re up early,” Harry replied with only somewhat more aplomb.

To Eliza’s surprise he kept his eyes on her face. Not once did his gaze drop to her body, clad only in her blue swimsuit. With any other man she would have dived back into the water to cover herself with it; men could just be so awful about their gaze. But now that they were here, she could feel no threat emanating from him. Only a resigned weariness.

“I couldn’t sleep,” she confessed. She tried to match Harry’s courtesy and not look anywhere but his eyes, but she found it difficult. Not because of desire, although he was fit and handsome, all long limbs and strongly built. But because he was an infuriating and curious creature. She wanted to know things about him, even if the stories of men were often less written on their flesh than the stories of women.

“Neither could I,” he admitted.

The conversation, stilted as it was, felt strangely intimate, even though they weren’t really saying anything, just sharing space while they swirled their legs in the water and caught their breath from swimming. After their near-combativeness yesterday, Eliza didn’t know what to make of it.

“Anything wrong? Other than jet lag?” she asked, mocking his remark to her at dinner in an attempt to get back on that footing.

Harry gave a surprisingly weary shrug. “One of my best friends is dying of cancer,” he said. “Which was also true yesterday, but now he’s doing it faster. And we’re talking about it.”

Eliza’s training for nearly any and all social eventualities continued to fail her. She did not immediately know how to respond. When she said nothing, Harry frowned — at her or at himself for being so honest, she didn’t know — and began to hoist himself up from his seat at the edge of the pool.

“Well, fuck,” she said, in lieu of anything else. She didn’t want him to leave because of her silence.

He stopped and looked down at her. “That was rather my reaction, yes.”

She hurried to scramble to her feet. Even on opposite sides of the pool she couldn’t stand the idea of him towering over her any more than she could stand the idea of leaving him alone to his circumstances.

“I suppose the suggestion of bier und brotzeit would be inadequate?”

Curiosity sparked behind the sadness in Harry’s eyes, and Eliza tried not to wince at herself. She’d effectively invited Harry out for a booze breakfast.

The ebook of The Opposite of Drowning will be available on all platforms on April 23, 2019, but can be pre-ordered at  Amazon.com now. A paperback edition will follow shortly thereafter.

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After the Gold on sale… for reasons

Winning isn't everything (3)Erin and I each started skating after we wrote a figure skating romance.

Then I broke my arm….

Broken arm for me, means price break to $2.99 for you til I’m back on the ice.

Aside from writing being our jobs, these sales will also help me pay my insurance deductible and replace the skating gear that had to be cut off me in the ER (skating is no joke, folks). (date of injury: Feb 13, 2019; expected return to ice: late March to mid-April if all goes well).

P.S., If you’ve ever been the unlovable anxiety-ridden heroine in your own life, this book is for you.

Also contains: tour bus dance party, awesome gay farm uncles, cows, magic, and a Russian best friend who is super sick of this shit.

Has a bit of yelling and door slamming and a knee injury (no medical details). No common triggers.

A 2018 Finalist for the BookLife Prize from Publisher’s Weekly.

A “magnetic tale of life and love after professional sports that explores what happens when two people must decide if what’s between them has been for the cameras or what is truly in their hearts.” — Rebekah Weatherspoon, 2016 Lambda Literary Award Winner

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07BK9DR9L/

https://books2read.com/u/bwYdd0

(Also available in paperback)

“Figure skating fans will delight in this fun and engaging new work, rooting for Katie and Brendan long after they leave the ice.” – The BookLife Prize

“…a fascinating and tender look at obsession and anxiety, competition, and love – both for the sport, and for each other.” – Tamara Lush, 2018 RITA© Finalist

“I ripped through this in a day, rooting hard for both characters the whole damned time….Highly recommended contemporary romance.”
 – Lynne Thomas, seven-time Hugo Award Winner


For over a decade, world-champion ice skaters Katie Nowacki and Brendan Reid have been partners in every way but one. But now that their electric on-ice chemistry has led them to Olympic gold, they’re retiring from competition.

As they cross America on an exhibition tour with their fellow athletes, Katie and Brendan’s always volatile relationship becomes more turbulent than ever as they face down the media, their fans, and their increasingly nosy teammates.

When Katie realizes she wants to go back to the farm she grew up on, Brendan knows he has one last chance to make sure their fairy tale ends with happily ever after.

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The Opposite of Drowning now available for pre-order!

opposite4.jpgIf you like May/December romances about publishing industry snark, food trucks, late night talk show hosts, European travel, and apps about competitive extreme dog grooming, this book may be for you.

Includes: M/F central romance with a bisexual hero, M/M and F/F romances in the b plots, adventures in Frankfurt, Vienna, Paris, and NYC, hints of magic, freak hail storms, the drowned city of Ys, a ghost horse, some angry feelings about New York Society, and lots and lots of banter and bickering.

Releases on all platforms April 23, 2019. Amazon pre-order available now.

 

Harry Sargent hates his job in publishing, his life in New York City, and his motley collection of disreputable best friends. Making everything worse? He’s about to turn 50 and has a crush on the much-younger woman his company just hired to move them into the digital age.

At 27, Elizabeth Anne Abgral loves her job, her life, and maybe even her fiancé. But no one can have it all, and as long as she does everything her old-fashioned, high-society New England family expects of her, she’ll probably be happy. Right?!

But when she meets a handsome – and mischievous – older man at her new job, that illusion shatters.

As she and Harry bicker their way through industry events around the world, Elizabeth finds herself tossing rationality – and her plans – to the wind.

But just because Harry has long wished his life were different, doesn’t mean he’s ready to risk his heart on a passion that frightens him… or a peculiar young woman with the uncanny ability to make cities flood every time they kiss.

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Cardinal paperback now available!

CardinalFinalCardinal, book 4 in the Love in Los Angeles series is now available in paperback!

Hollywood mainstay J. Alex Cook has a growing family — and a growing career. But as he makes the move from television regular to blockbuster film star, the media scrutiny he’s never wanted gets more intense than he expects.

Returning to his childhood home in Indiana to confront his sister and their troubled past, Alex’s vision for his future is thrown into turmoil. Forced to realize that sometimes space is the only way to grow closer to the ones you love, Alex sets off on an international adventure that will change the way he views life, love, and logistics forever.

Please be aware, this is a high-heat, high-angst M/M romance and includes characters with a past history of self-harm.

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Love in Los Angeles series in print!

Lila-1-3The big beautiful single volume trade paperback edition of books 1-3 (Starling, Doves, Phoenix) of the Love in Los Angeles series is now available in print! We’ll do a matching set for books 4-6 when the series is complete.

Introvert. Ingenue. Accidental celebrity.

Hollywood’s newest star, 21-year-old J. Alex Cook never wanted to be famous, he just wanted to get out of Indiana. But when he hooks up with Paul, a writer on a hit TV show, Alex is thrown into a web of relationships involving friends, lovers, and everything in between.

Please be aware, this is high-heat, high-angst romance that includes characters with a past history of self-harm.

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After the Gold now a finalist for the BookLife Prize

AtG_finalistAfter the Gold was named one of six finalists for the BookLife Prize! Judge Rebekah Weatherspoon says,  “McRae and Maltese craft a light, yet magnetic tale of life and love after professional sports that explores what happens when two people must decide if what’s between them has been for the cameras or what is truly in their hearts.”

The winner of the BookLife Prize will be announced on December 17, 2018! Cross your fingers for us! A win here will allow us to prioritize more skating-related books (we have three to four we’re tossing around, all of which will include Katie and Brendan but will focus on new characters and new relationships).

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What we’re working on right now

Just a quick update on various things we’re currently working on:

  • A short book about self-publishing and how to create self-published books that mimic the experience — for readers, reviewers, and store buyers — of traditionally published novels. Consider this less a how-to book and more a strategic/tactical guide to successful self-publishing based on our own experiences. Our goal is to have this out by the end of NaNoWriMo and have it available during preorder and the initial release period for $.99. It will go up to $2.99 later.
  • The Evergreen rerelease. Love in Los Angeles fans, don’t forget to preorder!
  • We are still available for editing work, although not until 2019! More information here: https://avian30.com/editing-services/
  • We’re working on edits on our May/December romance, The Opposite of Drowning. Set in the world of non-fiction publishing, this book leans heavily on the myth of Ys and we expect to be able to announce the release date in early January.
  • And yes, we are working on George’s book for the sequel to A Queen from the NorthIt’s called A Royal of Ravens and we don’t have a release schedule yet.
  • More vaguely, we’re also working on sequels (yes, more than one!) to After the Gold, featuring new couples and romances, but with Katie and Brendan has supporting characters as well as an espionage series we’ve been talking about forever (um, which might cross over with some of our other projects, because why not?!).
  • P.S., since some of you asked — while we’re not deeply working on them yet, there will be two more full-length Love in Los Angeles books. It was created as a six book series and we will finish it! Meanwhile, paperbacks of Cardinal and the books 1 – 3 box set will be available soon.
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