QSFer E.J. Russell has a new MM/bi fantasy romance out: “Duking it Out.”
Royal dukes from rival countries, shipwrecked on a deserted island. The grudge match of the century—or a love story of super-heroic proportions?
Sander Fiala, Duke of Roses, is fourth in line to the South Abarran throne, even though his rogue power earned him the nickname “The Monster of Roses” and got him banished from the Castle. But right before he’s about to set off on his annual birthday sailing trip, the Queen asks him to meet with the notoriously volatile North Abarran Duke of Arles.
Tarik Jaso, Duke of Arles, expects the worst from people because—let’s face it—people are the worst. His superpower bombards him with any and all electronic transmissions, which…yeah, people suck. So when he’s attacked and wakes up in the cabin of a stranded boat, he knows he’s royally screwed. Because the man looming over him—the man he’d gone toe-to-toe with right before the attack—is the infamous Monster of Roses.
Tarik is positive the Monster is behind his kidnapping. Sander is sure the whole thing is Tarik’s fault. As they work toward rescue, Tarik realizes that the disturbingly hot Sander is no monster, and Sander discovers that Tarik’s temper masks a caring soul wrapped in a cantankerous (though undeniably sexy) body.
For their burgeoning connection to endure, they’ll have to duke it out with political factions, dark conspiracies, and centuries of traditions that keep them on opposite sides of the border.
But first? They have to get off this damn island.
Duking It Out is a 46,000-word M/M enemies to lovers, opposites attract, superhero rom-com, featuring Only One Bed, a grumpy duke who should know better than to jump to conclusions, a self-doubting duke who’s good with his hands (heh), gossipy seagulls, competent assistants, a guaranteed HEA, and (unfortunately) capes.
“I can’t believe this.” Tarik Jaso slammed his desk drawer, startling his assistant into a flinch. “Sorry, Nico. I know this isn’t your fault.”
“Yes, Your Grace.”
Tarik lifted an eyebrow. “You only call me Your Grace when you think I’m being an asshole.”
Nico’s olive skin flared with a blush. “I mean no disrespect.”
“It’s the excess of respect that’s the problem. We came to terms with the informality I prefer by the end of your first week.”
“Of course, Your— Tarik. But the instructions from the South Abarran envoy were quite specific. No—”
“Cameras, cell phones, or electronics of any kind allowed at the meeting. Trust me, I heard the blasted instructions.” The way Tarik’s powers worked, any message that concerned him, especially those directed here at his office in the vineyard with its special signal-enhancing equipment, was loud and clear even if he hadn’t been listening for it—with special emphasis on the loud.
Fuck, my head is killing me.
He unloaded his cell phone from his inner jacket pocket, but before he could slam it on his desk, he recalled the dozen other broken phones that had suffered because he’d wanted to make a point. He set it down more gently—but still with intent.
“I suppose Queen Maialen is imposing this ludicrous restriction out of motherly jitters, given her heir was just targeted by some trigger-happy idiot in Dulibre?” Tarik buttoned his jacket. “The fool brought it on himself. He should have stayed in the southern part of the city where he belonged.”
“I believe Crown Prince Zorion was in south Dulibre, but he was visiting a homeless shelter near the boundary.”
“So nobody knows if the shot came from us or from them.” Tarik hmmmphed. “And now I’m paying the price.” Okay, he was definitely being a jackass now. With his powers, he didn’t need his cell phone to either send or receive messages. But it was the principle of the thing.
“Actually, the request—”
“You mean the demand?”
“The request is on behalf of the Duke of Roses.” Nico’s voice was carefully neutral, but Tarik gaped at him as if he’d shouted it from the rooftops.
“The Monster of Roses? What has he to do with anything?”
“He, ah, will be attending the meeting as the Queen’s representative.”
“Are you joking? The Queen is sending the fucking Monster of Roses to meet with me about a serious threat to North Abarran economy? That’s… that’s an outrage.”
“Well, with the crown prince in seclusion, the Queen and Princess Enara deep in the investigation of the attack, and Prince Frantzisko out of the country, the Duke is the highest ranked South Abarran Royal who’s available. Perhaps his participation should be viewed as an honor. An attempt to show that South Abarra is taking your concerns seriously.”
“So seriously they’re sending the most notorious murderer in their history to the meeting? Seems more like a slap in the face to me,” Tarik muttered. “They only needed to send Camprodon anyway, since he’s the one responsible.”
Tarik glared out his office window at the browning leaves on his merlot vines. This field was the principal source of Royal Crest’s premier Royal Velvet Blend and unless something happened tout de suite about the lack of rainfall, this year’s vintage was going to be nonexistent—and he’d have even less of a chance of defeating Roses Estate at future Wine Internationale competitions. Not that he’d ever defeated them. But he had hopes. As long as my fucking grapes don’t turn into raisins before harvest.
The roof of Roses Manor was visible atop its hill in the distance. When Tarik had taken over as operations director for the North Abarran royal vineyards, he’d insisted that the new facilities be built here, on the enemy’s very doorstep, and made sure his vines extended right up to the border.
Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Not that he had many friends. Go figure.
He’d expected to have a better chance of intercepting any messages from the Roses Estate winery or from Roses Manor itself here—which, if not strictly illegal according to those judgmental bastards in the Ministry of Powers, was certainly a gray area. Stupid consent laws. Except in the case of emergency or imminent loss of life, use of royal powers was forbidden without an explicit contract between the powered Royal—or supo, as the newscasters on both sides of the border referred to them in sneering voices—and the person requiring their services.
But as it happened, in all the years that he’d spent glaring at the Roses Estate fields beyond his own, he’d never intercepted a single message from that direction.
Highly suspicious. Maybe even criminal. Because why go to such lengths to conceal your communications unless you had something to hide?
Unless it’s more sinister than that. In all the years since his power had manifested, nobody had ever discovered a way to selectively cut Wavelength’s access to certain frequencies, although fuck knows they’d tried. Hmmm. Could the Monster have found a way to bypass my power? If that were the case, maybe this meeting wasn’t the worst thing that could happen. Better to know your enemies than get blindsided by them.
He tugged his suit jacket straight and smoothed his lapels. “All right. Let’s go.”
E.J. Russell–grace, mother of three, recovering actor–writes romance in a rainbow of flavors. Count on high snark, low angst and happy endings.
Reality? Eh, not so much.
She’s married to Curmudgeonly Husband, a man who cares even less about sports than she does. Luckily, C.H. also loves to cook, or all three of their children (Lovely Daughter and Darling Sons A and B) would have survived on nothing but Cheerios, beef jerky, and Satsuma mandarins (the extent of E.J.’s culinary skill set).
E.J. lives in rural Oregon, enjoys visits from her wonderful adult children, and indulges in good books, red wine, and the occasional hyperbole.