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Chapter Reveal – UNLOCKING SHADOWS (Keys to Love) by Kennedy Layne

UNLOCKING SHADOWS Chapter Reveal

USA Today bestselling author, Kennedy Layne, is revealing the first chapter from UNLOCKING SHADOWS, the fourth book in her adult mystery/romantic suspense series, Keys to Love, releasing September 18, 2018. See below for information on the book and series, pre-order links, and the exclusive excerpt.

UNLOCKING SHADOWS (Keys to Love #4) by Kennedy Layne

UNLOCKING SHADOWS (Keys to Love #4) by Kennedy Layne

About the Book
Title: UNLOCKING SHADOWS
Series: Keys to Love #4
Author: Kennedy Layne
Release Date: September 18, 2018
Genre:
 Adult Mystery/Romantic Suspense/Military Romance
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | Amazon AU | Barnes & Noble | iBooks | Kobo

Synopsis
Their homecoming wasn’t so welcoming. Four brothers and one sister each gave twelve years of their lives to serve their country and fulfill their family’s legacy of service. As each of them return to their home of record, they weren’t prepared for what awaited them—an unforgiveable sin that has been hidden for twelve long years. Secrets and lies are concealed in the dark shadows of the very town they were raised in, and the Kendall family will have no choice but to rely on one another to unravel the sinister evil that they all hold the keys to unlock.

About Unlocking Shadows
Gwen Kendall spent ten years in the Navy and used the last four to create a life for herself she could be proud of away from the confines of her overprotective family. Being the only woman in the Kendall clan tended to be a bit overwhelming at times. 

Chad Schaeffer had been hired on to help restore an old farmhouse for one of the returning Kendall siblings. He’d heard about the trouble the family had encountered and honestly didn’t want to go anywhere near their properties. He had a change of heart when he saw the most recently returned Kendall sibling stepping out of her car with a key in her hand.

Gwen had waited a very long time to have a place to call her own, just as she had waited for the right man to share her life. One night of seduction convinces her she’s found both, but someone wants to take it all away. It’s been said that old houses retain a piece of each person who has lived there, but she never counted on the dark shadows wanting a piece of her. 

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Excerpt
Chapter 1

Twelve years ago…

Hope.

How could an individual still have such an impractical yearning after facing such a malicious, unrelenting evil?

Emma Irwin still desperately grasped at the prospect that she’d be with her family soon. She’d tell them all about the things that people took for granted, such as how much she loved them. She’d apologize to her older sister for acting so childish and to her mother for not doing the dishes like she’d promised this morning. The simplest acts of kindness weren’t hard to perform, yet she’d never realized how selfish she’d been until just this moment.

Until she’d found herself in a situation that was her father’s worst nightmare.

Emma bit back another sob as the old wooden dock underneath her back jostled her from side to side in time with the storm. The gusting winds from the gale had churned up the lake, and the choppy waves were slamming into the weathered planks. Cold rain was descending from the black sky overhead, washing away her tears as if they never existed.

When a crack of thunder overhead was followed a second later by a streak of lightning, it was a harsh reminder that she was still alive.

Emma shifted so that her bound hands didn’t dig into the small of her back quite as badly. She struggled to free herself from the thick white zip tie secured tightly around her wrists, refusing to accept that she would die at the hands of someone she’d once trusted.

How could he do this to her?

The hard, half-inch wide plastic cut into her skin, a cruel reminder that she was at his mercy.

His muttered curses were drowned out by the torrential downpour, which served her well. He wouldn’t be able to hear what she was doing behind him.

The wooden deck jarred abruptly, providing her the momentum to roll forward. Her cheek scraped against the wet, rough plank as she leveraged herself to her knees. The cold rain had numbed her skin long ago, but that could easily have been from the terror that had flooded her system when she realized that a man she’d known her entire life was a monster.

“I’ll give you a family of your own.”

Emma screamed as he suddenly appeared before her. “Please,” Emma choked out, having strained her voice after he’d all but thrown her into the bed of his truck. “Please don’t do this. You know me. You know my family. I have a family.”

“You were unhappy.”

“I wasn’t,” Emma denied emphatically with a shake of her head, swallowing back the sob that rose in her throat. “I wasn’t unhappy. I love my family. I do. I always have.”

Emma could have continued pleading, but her frantic claims would have fallen on deaf ears. She began crying uncontrollably. He wasn’t hearing anything she said, and he’d even turned away to throw what looked like a pile of chains into a boat that wasn’t even his.

Her mind registered his horrific intentions, and she instinctively managed to scramble to her feet.

She ran as fast as she could despite of her wrists being bound, ignoring the rain pelting her face and the wind attempting to knock her off the deck and into the lake. She’d just learned to swim this past summer, but she’d done so with the use of her hands. She’d most likely drown immediately without being able to move her arms.

Adrenaline kept her moving forward, though she blinked furiously to clear her vision so that she could make it to land.

There!

Up ahead.

Headlights pulled into one of the cabins that Birdie rented out to fishermen or families on vacation. She instinctively began screaming, but the rumbling thunder overhead drowned out her cries for hope.

That didn’t stop her from trying again.

Unfortunately, it was too late.

“No, no, no, no.” He’d grabbed ahold of her wet strands of hair, yanking her back against him with such force that it knocked the air right out of her lungs. She couldn’t scream, and she couldn’t even cry. “I’m taking you home.”

Emma didn’t need to be told that she would die if he got her into that boat. She fought his constricting grip around her upper body, kicking and twisting in an attempt to free herself at all costs.

It was of no use. He was too strong, and the lights she’d seen were no longer there.

The hope she’d been holding onto had been doused by the rain and swallowed by the darkness of his soul.

“I’m taking you home where you belong, Emma.”

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UNLOCKING SHADOWS Teaser

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Get Caught Up on the Series

Book 1: UNLOCKING FEAR
 Goodreads | Amazon | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | Amazon AU | Barnes & Noble | iBooks | Kobo

Book 2: UNLOCKING SECRETS
Goodreads | Amazon | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | Amazon AU | Barnes & Noble | iBooks | Kobo

Book 3: UNLOCKING LIES
Goodreads | Amazon | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | Amazon AU | Barnes & Noble | iBooks | Kobo

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Author Kennedy Layne

Author Kennedy Layne

About the Author
Kennedy Layne is a USA Today bestselling author. She draws inspiration for her military romantic suspense novels in part from her not-so-secret second life as a wife of a retired Marine Master Sergeant. He doubles as her critique partner, beta reader, and military consultant. They live in the Midwest with their teenage son and menagerie of pets. The loyal dogs and mischievous cats appreciate her writing days as much as she does, usually curled up in front of the fireplace. She loves hearing from readers–find out how to connect with her at www.kennedylayne.com..

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Where to find Kennedy Layne
Goodreads Website | Newsletter | Facebook Twitter | Instagram
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Chapter Reveal – OPPORTUNITY (Office Roulette) by Kennedy Layne

OPPORTUNITY Chapter Reveal

USA Today bestselling author, Kennedy Layne, is unveiling the first chapter from OPPORTUNITY, the third book in her adult mystery/romantic suspense series, Office Roulette, releasing August 14, 2018. See below for information on the book and series, pre-order links, and an exclusive first look at Chapter 1.

OPPORTUNITY (Office Roulette #3) by Kennedy Layne

OPPORTUNITY (Office Roulette #3) by Kennedy Layne

About Book 3
Title: OPPORTUNITY
Series: Office Roulette #3
Author: Kennedy Layne
Release Date: August 14, 2018
Genre:
 Adult Mystery/Romantic Suspense
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | Amazon AU | Barnes & Noble | iBooks | Kobo

Synopsis
USA Today Bestselling Author Kennedy Layne brings you the thrilling conclusion to the Office Roulette trilogy…

Gareth Nicollet had been born into wealth, but he’d learned at an early age that money wasn’t everything it was cracked up to be.  Regrettably, he’d made a meaningful choice early on in his life that now threatened his future with the woman he loved.

Cynthia Ellsworth valued many things, but trust and loyalty were at the top of her list.  She’d always known the man who shared her bed had secrets, but she never thought in a million years that he had the ability to destroy her career and her heart with a single blow.

Someone once said that greed was balanced by fear, but that wasn’t entirely true when there was nothing left to lose.  Unfortunately, Gareth’s secret is the very reason the roulette wheel is spinning and Cynthia’s life hangs in the balance.

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Chapter 1
“I couldn’t bring myself to end it.” Laurel Calanthe pulled open the pristine glass door that led to the offices of Manon Investments. The well-established hedge fund catered only to high net worth individuals and select business partnerships. The expensive décor was designed with those clients in mind.

In all honesty, even the air smelled of the same linen used in the manufacturing of U.S. currency. The heavy fragrance hanging in the air never failed to bring a smile to Laurel’s lips.

The fact that the door was unlocked meant someone was still burning the midnight oil, but that wasn’t unusual in their line of business. Brad Manon was fanatically selective in who he chose to add to the employment at his firm, most often ensuring the analysts understood loyalty and the importance of total commitment. Such marked dedication went the whole nine yards when it came to bonus time.

It was going on one o’clock in the morning on a Friday night, but that didn’t matter in the financial world. One of the world’s markets was always open, trading, and willing to take money from the fund’s capital holdings.

“You’ve worked too hard to give up your success for Smith Gallo,” Grace reprimanded, her voice of reason coming through loud and clear over the cell phone. Unfortunately, no advice she offered now could take back the fact that Laurel had just spent the last three glorious hours in Smith’s bed. “I’m not saying that you shouldn’t have a personal life, but does it have to be Smith? You’re both up for partnership. How’s it going to look if word gets out that the two of you are sleeping together?”

“That I’ve got tremendous taste?” Laurel asked halfheartedly, recognizing that she’d only put off the inevitable. It wasn’t good for her career to get involved with her competition nor was it wise to dip one’s quill in company ink. Oh, Smith had definitely dipped his quill in company ink. She’d even questioned if the partnership wasn’t why Smith had propositioned her to begin with, though their attraction had started long before either of them were up for promotion. Did he believe he could ruin her chances if Brad discovered their indiscretions? “I know, I know. I’ll tell him tomorrow that we should take things down a notch or two.”

Soft backlighting accentuated the empty reception area, though she didn’t pause on her way across the tiled entrance. She had one last destination in mind for the workday, and that was her private office where she’d left some files she’d planned to take home with her this weekend. Her black high heels clicked on the marble tile with each step she took until she reached the plush carpet of the private hallway.

“A notch or two?” Grace wasn’t being fooled in the least. “I was at today’s morning meeting, Laurel. The papers in your hand almost combusted from the way Smith was staring at you. Taking it down a notch isn’t going to cut it, not even close.”

“You only noticed that because you already know about the two of us.”

Laurel continued to walk down the hallway, noticing that a dim light was coming from Brad’s office. His private domain was located at the end of the corridor. The spacious corner office overlooked the beautiful city of Minneapolis, but he wasn’t the type to have an open-door policy. Quite the opposite. It hadn’t always been that way, but his demeanor had changed in the past few years… and not for the better.

It seemed it was in her favor to have stopped by for the files she needed, even at this time of the night when her boss was still here. Her presence in the office so late on a Friday would look good come next week when a final decision was to be made regarding the partnership slot.

Her chance at turning the fates was in the making.

“Look, Smith has a reputation for business and with women.” Grace muffled a yawn, reminding Laurel of the time. “Mixing the two together is just a recipe for disaster. I don’t want to see you get hurt.”

Laurel rested her tongue against the back of her teeth in an effort to counter that sentiment. Smith only allowed the world to see what he wanted them to see, and nothing more. He’d been born into one of the most prestigious families in the city, but he’d worked hard to make a name for himself based on I contribution to society. He was an enigma to most of the people he interacted with on a daily basis. He was nothing like his spoiled siblings who lived off their trust funds while traipsing around the world with the jet set crowd.

“I’m not going to get hurt,” Laurel argued, not truly believing her own contradiction. She had no idea where she stood with Smith, other than the sex was scorching hot. “Listen, I can’t talk about this now.”

She reached around the wall of her office and flipped on the overhead light. She hung the strap of her purse on the door handle before continuing down the corridor. Her heels sunk into the plush carpet as she got closer to Brad’s office door. It would ultimately benefit her if she dropped by and checked in, letting him see that she took her work seriously.

“Brad’s working late,” Laurel said, lowering her voice so that it didn’t carry through the empty hall. “I should say hello so that he knows I’ve been by.”

Laurel waited for Grace to acknowledge her bid at goodbye, not bothering to stop outside the doorway. She took a step into Brad’s office. The upcoming moment was mapped out in her head like a gambit in a game of chess.

She’d finish her phone conversation, not letting on that it was a personal call. He didn’t need to know that she wasn’t speaking with the London office. Such an appearance could only assist her in the meeting by the board in regard to the partnership, in which Brad’s opinion weighed heavily with the other partners.

Unfortunately, her night just went from bad to worse.

“… got an early breakfast with my mom,” Grace explained with disdain, not having the best relationship with her mother. Grace had no idea of the gravity of horror Laurel had just discovered. “Give me a call when—”

“I think… I think he’s dead.”

Laurel closed her eyes in disbelief, ignoring the hot sensation that practically singed her lashes. She hadn’t been sleeping well lately, and with the amount of overtime she’d been putting in at the office and additional hours she shouldn’t have spared in Smith’s bed, it was obvious she was having an acute panic attack.

The grisly sight before her didn’t change when she blinked her eyes multiple times. She tried to curtail her rapid breathing, afraid she would hyperventilate on one of the gasps in the back of her throat. She leaned back against the doorframe of her boss’ office and did her best to stop retching. She attempted to recover, seeking the support of her best friend, along with a dose of realism.

“Grace, I think he’s dead,” Laurel managed to say once again, her voice no louder than a whisper as she struggled to maintain what little composure she could muster.

Brad Manon couldn’t be dead.

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Get Caught Up on the Series

Book 1: MEANS
Goodreads | Amazon | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | Amazon AU | Barnes & Noble | iBooks | Kobo

Book 2: MOTIVE
Goodreads | Amazon | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | Amazon AU | Barnes & Noble | iBooks | Kobo

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Author Kennedy Layne

Author Kennedy Layne

About the Author
Kennedy Layne is a USA Today bestselling author. She draws inspiration for her military romantic suspense novels in part from her not-so-secret second life as a wife of a retired Marine Master Sergeant. He doubles as her critique partner, beta reader, and military consultant. They live in the Midwest with their teenage son and menagerie of pets. The loyal dogs and mischievous cats appreciate her writing days as much as she does, usually curled up in front of the fireplace. She loves hearing from readers–find out how to connect with her at www.kennedylayne.com..

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Where to find Kennedy Layne
Goodreads Website | Newsletter | Facebook Twitter | Instagram
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Chapter Reveal – BREAK by Cassia Leo

BREAK Chapter Reveal

New York Times bestselling author Cassia Leo is releasing the first chapter from BREAK, a stand-alone new adult contemporary second-chance romance, releasing July 26, 2018. See below for the cover, information on the book, pre-order links, an exclusive first look at Chapter 1, and details on her Facebook giveaway. You can currently preorder the eBook for just $2.99.

BREAK by Cassia Leo

BREAK by Cassia Leo

About the Book – Pre-Order for just $2.99
Title: BREAK
Author: Cassia Leo
Release Date: July 26, 2018
Genre:
 New Adult Contemporary Romance
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | Amazon AU | Barnes & Noble | iBooksKobo | GooglePlay

Synopsis
From the New York Times bestselling author of the Shattered Hearts Series comes a sweet and sexy stand-alone rock star romance.

He broke  up with her in front of millions. Now, he’ll break all the rules to get her back.

For most of my life, Ben Hayes was the gorgeous bad boy musician next door. My brother’s heart throb best friend.

Then, he was my boyfriend for six of the happiest years of my life. Until he dumped me on social media in front of millions of people, officially cementing his role as my worst enemy.

Three years later, Ben returns to our small beach town with an ego the size of California, a drinking problem, a movie deal that’s about to fall through, and a secret that only he and his dying father know.

I’m not the same pathetic girl I was when he broke my heart. I’m stronger now. I won’t let him break me again.

But it’s hard to resist those ocean-blue eyes, that sculpted, tattooed body, that smooth voice, that enormous… Well, you get the picture.

Every time he makes me laugh or swoon, my defenses fracture. The walls around my heart are crumbling fast. And Ben’s wrecking ball of a secret is about to deliver the final blow.

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BREAK Teaser 2

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Excerpt
Prologue

Then

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. I would say a picture is worth a lifetime of words, since a single photograph can change your entire life.

When I was fourteen, a chubby girl in my freshman Spanish class attempted suicide after her former boyfriend posted a naked photo of her on MySpace. It was the scandal of the school year. I publicly expressed my disappointment with the way my fellow classmates were body-shaming her. Privately, though, I judged that girl. I couldn’t help but wonder… Who would be foolish enough to trust a teenage boy with nudes?

* * *

Just ten more minutes. Don’t pass out yet. Just hold on for ten more minutes.

I repeat the words over and over in my mind, like a mantra. Just ten more minutes and I can go home, drink a gallon of NyQuil, and sleep away this dreadful flu.

The art gallery just off the Sonoma State campus is small, but not quaint. Situated in the middle of 4th Street in Santa Rosa, among an eclectic mix of upscale and fair trade shops, the gallery has a wall of windows facing south. This wouldn’t be a problem if it wasn’t eighty-two degrees outside and the gallery’s air conditioning wasn’t working.

I loosen my black scarf and swallow the saliva pooling in my mouth as the urge to vomit begins to overtake me again. Closing my eyes, I take a few deep breaths as I attempt to quell the sensation.

“I’m sorry. I just need a minute,” I say to my professor as we move onto the next photograph in the exhibit.

If I knew, when I chose to be an art major, that I’d have to do my final exam — a solo show using selected pieces from my photography portfolio to tell a story — in an overheated art gallery, while secretly popping Tylenol every time my professor turns his back on me, I might have seriously reconsidered my dream of being the next Annie Leibovitz. Or I might have chosen a major where I could take my final exam in an air-conditioned lecture hall. At the very least, I’d rethink my brilliant idea to wear a scarf today.

My attempt to look like an artsy-fartsy ballerina — in my lucky black scarf, baby-pink bateau-neck top, black skinny jeans, and pink ballerina flats — and my refusal to request a postponement of the solo show the moment I came down with the flu, will be my downfall. No matter how hot it gets in this gallery, I can’t take off my lucky scarf. Therefore, I predict, if I don’t get high marks on this final, I’m going to drop dead on the high-gloss marble floor.

I trail behind Professor Healy like a baby duckling, answering his questions about lenses, exposures, and filters while trying not to stare at the Florida-shaped birthmark in the center of his bald spot. The show is supposed to tell a story, and the only story that matters in my world is the story of Ben and me. The exhibit begins with images of the beach, where Ben and I first met, then moves through a collection of places we’ve visited together. With Ben’s fame becoming such an issue these past few years, most of the pictures depict secluded landscapes: sparkling lakes, rocky coves, and misty forests.

As I discreetly wipe the sweat trickling down the back of my ear, my phone vibrates in my hand. I quickly slide it into my back pocket as we approach the picture I took of the Sky-house.

The Sky-house is a hollowed out Redwood tree near the forested campsites of the Bodega sand dunes, just steps away from where my boyfriend Ben Hayes and I grew up next door to each other in Bodega Bay, California. The Sky-house was Ben’s hideout before it became ours, and we promised we would never reveal the location to anyone. He approves of my use of the photo for my final, but I’m supposed to destroy the evidence after my solo show. We named our tree the Sky-house because you can look straight up through the hollow trunk and see the sky.

Also, because it was fun to play “house” in there.

I wish Ben was here. He would kiss my forehead and tell me everything was going to be okay. Afterward, he’d take me home and make me some instant ramen — because he couldn’t make chicken soup if his life depended on it. Then, we’d cuddle on the couch to watch Futurama until falling asleep.

Oddly enough, I didn’t get my usual good morning text from Ben today. He must have been up late and decided to sleep in. But he knows today is my show. It’s not like him to forget to wish me well before a big test.

As Professor Healy examines the photograph of our hideout from various angles, my phone begins vibrating in my back pocket — nonstop. One pulse of vibration after another, like a phone call that keeps ringing or when one of my Instagram pics goes viral and my notifications are blowing up. But I haven’t posted any pics on social media in a few days. I’ve been too busy preparing for the show.

Bzzz. Bzzz. Bzzz. Bzzz. Bzzz.

Maybe my voicemail isn’t working. Or maybe the mailbox is full. I’m notoriously guilty of letting unchecked voicemails pile up.

Bzzz. Bzzz. Bzzz. Bzzz. Bzzz.

The vibrating continues for what feels like at least five minutes straight, but is probably only a couple minutes. I finally pull the phone out of my pocket and apologize to Healy for the interruption. Glancing at the screen as I reach for the power button, I see a long list of Instagram mention notifications on my lock screen, and my heart drops along with my jaw.

2 min ago: @charleywinters have you seen this, girl?
2 min ago: lmao. @charleywinters just got dumped in front of 600K people. #sorrycharley
2 min ago: @charleywinters More like millions of people! This is gonna be news.
1 min ago: @charleywinters Don’t pay attention to these assholes. You didn’t deserve this. #sorrycharley
1 min ago: so fucked up. can’t believe @officialbenhayes would do something like this to @charleywinters #sorrycharley
1 min ago: @charleywinters don’t pretend you haven’t seen this post. @officialbenhayes is too good for you. #byefelicia #sorrycharley #actuallynotsorry
1 min ago: haha! so true! Why doesn’t @charleywinters get that bump on her nose fixed? #sorrycharley

“Charlotte, are you listening?”

I suddenly understood why Ben didn’t text me this morning. I can literally feel my blood pressure dropping. My entire body feels cold and light as a feather, like I barely exist.

The room begins to spin as I look up from my phone screen. “What?” I murmur as Healy’s red, bulbous nose comes in and out of focus.

I unlock the phone as my professor’s voice murmurs in the background of my consciousness. Tapping the Instagram app, then a recent notification, I’m taken to a picture of Ben riding a motorcycle on the beach at sunset. Sitting on the back seat, with her head thrown back in gleeful laughter, is a blonde I recognize right away. A blonde the entire world could probably recognize.

The caption on the photo reads: @officialbenhayes to new beginnings. #instalove #newlove

MAY 11

I blink as Professor Healy steps around me so he’s facing me straight on.

“I asked, ‘How long is the exposure on this picture?’” he glances at the label beneath the frame then turns back to me. “The one titled ‘Sky-house.’ You’ve achieved a stunning depth of field with this lens. How long is the exposure? Based on the softness, I’m guessing it’s at least a thirty-minute exposure, since it doesn’t appear to be motion-blurred or out of focus or over-exposed.”

I open my mouth to speak, but only word comes out. “Exposed.”

“Charlotte, your face is blood-red. Are you all right?” he says, grabbing my elbows.

I shake my head, still unable to speak as my phone continues to vibrate in my hand.

“Oh, dear. Let’s sit you down. This is not the first time I’ve seen this happen,” he says, placing a hand on the middle of my back to guide me toward a gold velvet tufted bench about ten feet away.

“Do you need some water?” the gallery curator, a middle-aged woman with dark hair as glossy as the marble floor, asks.

I shake my head again as I sit on the bench. “No,” I whisper, reaching up to pull off my lucky scarf.

“Are you sure? Do you mind if I feel your forehead?” the woman asks gently.

I nod this time, closing my eyes and flinching slightly at the sensation of her cold hand on my face.

“Oh, my God. You’re burning up. I’m calling an ambulance,” she says, setting off to find a phone.

“Wait,” I call out, holding up my still-vibrating iPhone. “I have a phone… Here. Take it. I don’t want it.”

As she walks toward me, I can’t help but think about that chubby girl in my Spanish class. We are kin now. Today will be known as the day a single photograph changed my life.

The curator is a couple feet away from me when I lose my grip, dropping the phone on the floor as I pass out.

Chapter 1

Now

Social media is a blessing and a curse. It can be used to galvanize support for important issues, like shedding light on social injustice. It’s the best resource we have for sharing inspiring art and funny memes. On the other hand, social media has also become a means to pass judgment on people before they can defend themselves. The court of public opinion delivers its justice swiftly and without remorse.

I killed all my social media accounts about two and a half years ago. I’d rather be a nobody than a cog in that kind of machine. My friends, however, have started to question my commitment to this philosophy.

The yellow glow from the streetlight pours in through the glass storefront, illuminating Michelle’s cinnamon skin as she hits the switch on the wall to dim the lights inside The Dunk seafood restaurant. Her silky black hair is pulled up tightly in one of those high ponytails that always make me wonder if she’s secretly walking around all day with a massive headache.

Michelle works as the general manager at The Dunk, because her dad doesn’t trust anyone else to run their family business. After locking the entry doors, she slides her jangling gaggle of keys into the front pocket of her black waist-apron and begins wiping down the tabletops.

I stand up from the table nearest the register, to stretch my arms and legs. Every Tuesday through Sunday, from eight p.m. to eleven p.m., I sit at this table to keep my best friend company while she closes up the restaurant. Sometimes, I help her clean so we can get out of there faster. Mostly, I use the time to edit photos on my laptop while chatting with Michelle.

“Is there any chili left?” I ask, closing the lid on my MacBook.

Michelle makes a mean chicken and white bean chili. Her mom, Monica, started making it for me when we were kids, when she realized I couldn’t eat their original chili recipe because it contained pork sausage. It was one of the rare times my mother’s Jewish heritage resulted in the creation of a culinary masterpiece. Michelle grabs a clean towel off the shelf under the counter and heads toward the dining area. “Julio! Pack me a quart of chili, please!” she shouts toward the kitchen.

“Okay, Mitch!” the cook shouts back.

“Want to hit the beach tomorrow?” I ask as I slide my laptop into the snug foam compartment of my waterproof travel case.

Michelle sprays lemon-scented cleaner on the table next to mine and nods. “Fuck yeah. I need a beach day,” she replies, then sinks down into the seat across from me. “Which one?”

“Portuguese?” I reply, closing my laptop case and taking a seat again.

Michelle slides her phone out of the pocket of her blue skinny jeans, her top lip curling in disapproval. “Portuguese Beach is so crowded in the end of June.”

“Not on Monday mornings. We can get there early to get a good spot, then book it when it starts getting too crowded in the afternoon.”

She shrugs. “That’s probably better. It’s not like I need a tan.”

Every time Michelle references her skin color, it makes me sad. It reminds me of the one time she let down her guard and admitted to me how she hated the way people treated her differently in the summer, when her cinnamon-brown skin became a rich coffee-brown. We all have things we hate about ourselves, physical features that feel more like betrayals than assets. For me, it’s the bump in my nose I inherited from my Jewish mother. For Michelle, it’s her skin color. For our other BFF, Allie Kim, it’s her slanted eyes. Maybe that common thread of self-hatred is why we’ve been best friends since elementary school.

I pull my phone out of my pocket and text Michelle a single, lonely poop emoji.

She looks up from her phone screen. “If you need to release the chili demon, just go. You know you don’t have to ask to use the restroom.”

I smile as I let out a fart. “Not necessary when I can let it out right here. I just wanted you to look up from your phone.”

She rolls her eyes as she understands this reference. “You have to dump him. Stat. That guy gives me the creeps.”

The “him” Michelle is referring to is Tyler Bradford, the son of Mayor Tom Bradford, whom I had started dating four months ago. Tyler has an annoying habit of texting me emojis to get me to look up from my phone when we’re hanging out. Michelle and Allie do not like Tyler. To be fair, I don’t know if I even like him. But in my opinion, being alone during the summer is worse than being alone during the holidays. If I do dump Tyler, it will be in September or October.

“He’s not that bad,” I say, opening up my bank account app to check my balance for the tenth time today, a new and disgusting habit I acquired recently.

Michelle looks up from her phone again and cocks an eyebrow. “The guy nicknamed you his ‘little oyster.’ He’s a creep.”

The smile on my face vanishes when I see my account balance. “Ugh. I need some new clients ASAP.”

Michelle’s face softens. “Are you in trouble? Like, are you not going to be able to pay your phone bill, or something?”

“It’s not that bad… yet. But I definitely need to figure out a way to bring in more clients or it’s R.I.P. Winters’ Weddings.”

She turns her attention back to her phone, types something, then turns the screen toward me. “Maybe if you put your photos on Instagram, like this girl, you’d get more business.”

I stare at the Instagram profile for a girl named Elizabeth Messina, who Michelle follows on Instagram. “Yeah, and maybe if I hadn’t failed my final exam, I’d have a degree I could use to get a job.”

“You didn’t fail your final. You refused to retake it,” she replied as casually as if she were commenting on the weather.

“Really? This again?” I reply, my voice climbing an octave. “You’re saying I was supposed to fight my way past the sweaty paparazzos so I could give a solo show of pictures depicting the places where my boyfriend and I had sex? The boyfriend who dumped me on Instagram?”

Her eyebrows shot up as she looked up from the screen. “I’m just saying that maybe you could have chosen some different pictures and hired a bodyguard to get you past the paparazzi. If you really wanted the degree, that stuff shouldn’t have stopped you.”

I shook my head. “You know what happened the last time I tried to create another Instagram account.”

I narrowed my eyes at her, telepathically willing her to remember the time I created a new profile for Winters’ Weddings. A client named “Isla” messaged me on Instagram and booked me to do her engagement shoot at a nearby vineyard in Sonoma. She even paid the fifty-percent deposit. When I got to the vineyard, I parked my car and entered the barn, where we planned to meet. “Isla” and her friends were there with their cell phone cameras at the ready to record my reaction to a cardboard cutout of Ben down on one knee proposing to Becca Kingsley, the pop singer he dumped me for. I vomited on the straw-covered floor and ran to my car.

I shook my head when Michelle didn’t acknowledge this catastrophe. “Forget it. I’m not arguing about this again.”

“You’re the one who brought up your cash flow problems. I was just offering social media as a solution. A little self-promotion can’t hurt, you know? And yet you still shoot me down, as usual. Anyway, we both know that’s not what this is about.”

“What are you talking about?”

She purses her lips. “I’m talking about that gigantic chip on your shoulder. It’s been there since Hunter’s graduation last month.”

My eyes widen. “Are you kidding me right now? Are you accusing me of being jealous of my little brother?”

“There’s a difference between bitterness and strength. You’ve gotten more bitter with every year that passes since you and Ben broke up. If you’re not careful, you’re going to push away the people who helped you get through that shit-storm. Which is sad, because we’re the ones who actually love you.”

I lower my gaze and take a deep breath to tame the angry lion inside me. I also try not to think about Ben, but the tattoo on my wrist makes that impossible. Michelle is pretty strongly implying that what Ben did to me indicates he’s obviously not one of the people who actually loves me. But after three years, I still look at the tattoo on the inside of my left wrist and wonder if that’s true. Could Ben have been pretending to love me for all those years?

I lay my hand over my wrist to cover the words “I love us” written in Ben’s handwriting. He has a matching tattoo on the inside of his left wrist in my handwriting, if he hasn’t attempted to get it covered up. During the four years that Ben and I were officially together, and the few years before where we hid our relationship from our families, we only got into one huge fight that almost tore us apart. Almost.

I remember vividly how I told Ben I loved him, but I didn’t think I was secure enough to be with someone famous. He told me I had nothing to feel insecure about. “I don’t like myself without you. Actually, sometimes I think you’re the only thing I like about myself. I love you, Charley, and I’m not ashamed to say I love you more when you’re mine. I love us.” After that, “I love us” became our slogan. I cringe inside as I remember how we joked about trademarking the phrase.

“Let’s change the subject,” Michelle says, probably reading the signs in the painful expression on my face, the signs that my mind has wandered into the dark corner where I hide my memories of Ben. “If you don’t want to do social media — which I totally understand — then, maybe all you need to do is figure out what’s worked in the past, you know, to generate business.”

I lean my head back and sigh. “I feel like this is the hundredth time we’ve had this conversation. I don’t know why you put up with me.”

“Because I love you,” she replied casually. “Okay, I remember when you were booking wedding shoots more than six months in advance because you were so busy. When was that? Two years ago? Maybe you were doing something back then that you might not be doing now.”

I shook my head. “That was pretty much right after the breakup, when I first started the business. When people were still googling ‘Charley Winters ugly cry’ a thousand times a day. Bookings have steadily decreased since then.”

Michelle winces at my reminder of the time a paparazzo published a video of me ugly-crying while talking to my mom in our backyard shortly after the breakup. The video went viral and, at its peak, the phrase “Charley Winters ugly cry” was Googled more than 800,000 times in one day. The video is still on every celebrity gossip channel on YouTube. I don’t have the emotional fortitude or the money to hire a lawyer to force Google to take it down.

Michelle stands up and rounds the table so she can wrap her arms around my shoulders. “The only good thing I can say about Benjamin Hayes is that he’s smart enough not to show his face around here anymore. I hope he gets antibiotic-resistant chlamydia and his dick falls off.”

I laugh a little too hard and another tiny toot comes out. “I don’t think that’s how chlamydia works.”

“I’m still holding out hope. And you really need to stop eating so much damn chili,” she says, giving my shoulders one more squeeze before she sets off toward the back of the restaurant. As she rounds the counter, she glances back at me and flashes me a beaming smile, which quickly disappears as her eyes become fixated on something outside.

I glance over my shoulder toward the storefront and a flicker of intense pain fires through every nerve in my body when I see Ben standing on the other side of the glass.

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BREAK Teaser

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Author Cassia Leo

Author Cassia Leo

About the Author
New York Times bestselling author Cassia Leo loves her coffee, chocolate, and margaritas with salt. When she’s not writing, she spends way too much time re-watching Game of Thrones and Sex and the City. When she’s not binge watching, she’s usually enjoying the Oregon rain with a hot cup of coffee and a book.

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Where to find Cassia Leo
Goodreads Website | NewsletterFacebook | Club CassiaTwitter | Instagram

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Giveaway

 

Chapter Reveal – MEANS (Office Roulette) by Kennedy Layne

MEANS Excerpt Reveal

USA Today bestselling author, Kennedy Layne, is unveiling the first chapter from MEANS, the first book in her latest adult mystery/romantic suspense series, Office Roulette, releasing June 19, 2018. See below for information on the book and series, pre-order links, and the exclusive excerpt.

MEANS (Office Roulette #1) by Kennedy Layne

MEANS (Office Roulette #1) by Kennedy Layne

About Book 1
Title: MEANS
Series: Office Roulette #1
Author: Kennedy Layne
Release Date: June 18, 2018
Genre:
 Adult Mystery/Romantic Suspense
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | Amazon AU | Barnes & Noble | iBooks | Kobo

Synopsis
From USA Today Bestselling Author Kennedy Layne comes a sexy trilogy that involves greed, power, and the desire to do it all over again…

Smith Gallo has everything a man could ever want at the tip of his fingertips, except of course the woman he loves.  To what lengths will he be willing to go to make his ambitions come true?

Laurel Calanthe is one successful stock pick away from making partner when she finds herself in desperate need of an alibi.  There’s only one problem. The man who can save her from being arrested is her only competitor and the one who now holds her fate in his hands.

Greed is a powerful motivator in the game of making money, but desire can overcome even the strongest motive.

 

 

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Chapter 1
“I couldn’t bring myself to end it.” Laurel Calanthe pulled open the pristine glass door that led to the offices of Manon Investments. The well-established hedge fund catered only to high net worth individuals and select business partnerships. The expensive décor was designed with those clients in mind.

In all honesty, even the air smelled of the same linen used in the manufacturing of U.S. currency. The heavy fragrance hanging in the air never failed to bring a smile to Laurel’s lips.

The fact that the door was unlocked meant someone was still burning the midnight oil, but that wasn’t unusual in their line of business. Brad Manon was fanatically selective in who he chose to add to the employment at his firm, most often ensuring the analysts understood loyalty and the importance of total commitment. Such marked dedication went the whole nine yards when it came to bonus time.

It was going on one o’clock in the morning on a Friday night, but that didn’t matter in the financial world. One of the world’s markets was always open, trading, and willing to take money from the fund’s capital holdings.

“You’ve worked too hard to give up your success for Smith Gallo,” Grace reprimanded, her voice of reason coming through loud and clear over the cell phone. Unfortunately, no advice she offered now could take back the fact that Laurel had just spent the last three glorious hours in Smith’s bed. “I’m not saying that you shouldn’t have a personal life, but does it have to be Smith? You’re both up for partnership. How’s it going to look if word gets out that the two of you are sleeping together?”

“That I’ve got tremendous taste?” Laurel asked halfheartedly, recognizing that she’d only put off the inevitable. It wasn’t good for her career to get involved with her competition nor was it wise to dip one’s quill in company ink. Oh, Smith had definitely dipped his quill in company ink. She’d even questioned if the partnership wasn’t why Smith had propositioned her to begin with, though their attraction had started long before either of them were up for promotion. Did he believe he could ruin her chances if Brad discovered their indiscretions? “I know, I know. I’ll tell him tomorrow that we should take things down a notch or two.”

Soft backlighting accentuated the empty reception area, though she didn’t pause on her way across the tiled entrance. She had one last destination in mind for the workday, and that was her private office where she’d left some files she’d planned to take home with her this weekend. Her black high heels clicked on the marble tile with each step she took until she reached the plush carpet of the private hallway.

“A notch or two?” Grace wasn’t being fooled in the least. “I was at today’s morning meeting, Laurel. The papers in your hand almost combusted from the way Smith was staring at you. Taking it down a notch isn’t going to cut it, not even close.”

“You only noticed that because you already know about the two of us.”

Laurel continued to walk down the hallway, noticing that a dim light was coming from Brad’s office. His private domain was located at the end of the corridor. The spacious corner office overlooked the beautiful city of Minneapolis, but he wasn’t the type to have an open-door policy. Quite the opposite. It hadn’t always been that way, but his demeanor had changed in the past few years… and not for the better.

It seemed it was in her favor to have stopped by for the files she needed, even at this time of the night when her boss was still here. Her presence in the office so late on a Friday would look good come next week when a final decision was to be made regarding the partnership slot.

Her chance at turning the fates was in the making.

“Look, Smith has a reputation for business and with women.” Grace muffled a yawn, reminding Laurel of the time. “Mixing the two together is just a recipe for disaster. I don’t want to see you get hurt.”

Laurel rested her tongue against the back of her teeth in an effort to counter that sentiment. Smith only allowed the world to see what he wanted them to see, and nothing more. He’d been born into one of the most prestigious families in the city, but he’d worked hard to make a name for himself based on I contribution to society. He was an enigma to most of the people he interacted with on a daily basis. He was nothing like his spoiled siblings who lived off their trust funds while traipsing around the world with the jet set crowd.

“I’m not going to get hurt,” Laurel argued, not truly believing her own contradiction. She had no idea where she stood with Smith, other than the sex was scorching hot. “Listen, I can’t talk about this now.”

She reached around the wall of her office and flipped on the overhead light. She hung the strap of her purse on the door handle before continuing down the corridor. Her heels sunk into the plush carpet as she got closer to Brad’s office door. It would ultimately benefit her if she dropped by and checked in, letting him see that she took her work seriously.

“Brad’s working late,” Laurel said, lowering her voice so that it didn’t carry through the empty hall. “I should say hello so that he knows I’ve been by.”

Laurel waited for Grace to acknowledge her bid at goodbye, not bothering to stop outside the doorway. She took a step into Brad’s office. The upcoming moment was mapped out in her head like a gambit in a game of chess.

She’d finish her phone conversation, not letting on that it was a personal call. He didn’t need to know that she wasn’t speaking with the London office. Such an appearance could only assist her in the meeting by the board in regard to the partnership, in which Brad’s opinion weighed heavily with the other partners.

Unfortunately, her night just went from bad to worse.

“… got an early breakfast with my mom,” Grace explained with disdain, not having the best relationship with her mother. Grace had no idea of the gravity of horror Laurel had just discovered. “Give me a call when—”

“I think… I think he’s dead.”

Laurel closed her eyes in disbelief, ignoring the hot sensation that practically singed her lashes. She hadn’t been sleeping well lately, and with the amount of overtime she’d been putting in at the office and additional hours she shouldn’t have spared in Smith’s bed, it was obvious she was having an acute panic attack.

The grisly sight before her didn’t change when she blinked her eyes multiple times. She tried to curtail her rapid breathing, afraid she would hyperventilate on one of the gasps in the back of her throat. She leaned back against the doorframe of her boss’ office and did her best to stop retching. She attempted to recover, seeking the support of her best friend, along with a dose of realism.

“Grace, I think he’s dead,” Laurel managed to say once again, her voice no louder than a whisper as she struggled to maintain what little composure she could muster.

Brad Manon couldn’t be dead.

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MOTIVE (Office Roulette #2) by Kennedy Layne

MOTIVE (Office Roulette #2) by Kennedy Layne

About Book 2
Title: MOTIVE
Series: Office Roulette #2
Author: Kennedy Layne
Release Date: July 17, 2018
Genre:
 Adult Mystery/Romantic Suspense
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | Amazon AU | Barnes & Noble | iBooks | Kobo

Synopsis
The Office Roulette trilogy continues with an epic battle between blame and forgiveness…

Rye Marshall had it all—wealth, prominence, and the love of his life.  But nothing lasts forever, and his perfect world came crashing down around him.  When the dust settled, he found himself alone and starting from a clean slate.

Grace Dorrance had made many mistakes in her life, but one stood out above the rest—an epic ending to a complex and passionate relationship.  She left her former lover’s life in complete ruins and tried her best never to look back at the wreckage.

Seconds chances are hard to come by, but even more difficult when Grace is arrested for a murder she didn’t commit.  This gives Rye the perfect motive to forgive and forget, allowing for new beginnings. Unfortunately, someone’s playing a game of office roulette with everyone’s lives.

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OPPORTUNITY (Office Roulette #3) by Kennedy Layne

OPPORTUNITY (Office Roulette #3) by Kennedy Layne

About Book 3
Title: OPPORTUNITY
Series: Office Roulette #3
Author: Kennedy Layne
Release Date: August 14, 2018
Genre:
 Adult Mystery/Romantic Suspense
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | Amazon AU | Barnes & Noble | iBooks | Kobo

Synopsis
USA Today Bestselling Author Kennedy Layne brings you the thrilling conclusion to the Office Roulette trilogy…

Gareth Nicollet had been born into wealth, but he’d learned at an early age that money wasn’t everything it was cracked up to be.  Regrettably, he’d made a meaningful choice early on in his life that now threatened his future with the woman he loved.

Cynthia Ellsworth valued many things, but trust and loyalty were at the top of her list.  She’d always known the man who shared her bed had secrets, but she never thought in a million years that he had the ability to destroy her career and her heart with a single blow.

Someone once said that greed was balanced by fear, but that wasn’t entirely true when there was nothing left to lose.  Unfortunately, Gareth’s secret is the very reason the roulette wheel is spinning and Cynthia’s life hangs in the balance.

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Author Kennedy Layne

Author Kennedy Layne

About the Author
Kennedy Layne is a USA Today bestselling author. She draws inspiration for her military romantic suspense novels in part from her not-so-secret second life as a wife of a retired Marine Master Sergeant. He doubles as her critique partner, beta reader, and military consultant. They live in the Midwest with their teenage son and menagerie of pets. The loyal dogs and mischievous cats appreciate her writing days as much as she does, usually curled up in front of the fireplace. She loves hearing from readers–find out how to connect with her at www.kennedylayne.com..

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Where to find Kennedy Layne
Goodreads Website | Newsletter | Facebook Twitter | Instagram
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Chapter Reveal – UNLOCKING LIES (Keys to Love) by Kennedy Layne

UNLOCKING LIES Chapter Reveal

USA Today bestselling author, Kennedy Layne, is unveiling the first chapter to UNLOCKING LIES, the third book in her adult mystery/romantic suspense series, Keys to Love, releasing May 22, 2018. See below for information on the book, pre-order links, and the exclusive excerpt.

UNLOCKING LIES (Keys to Love #3) by Kennedy Layne

UNLOCKING LIES (Keys to Love #3) by Kennedy Layne

About the Book
Title: UNLOCKING LIES
Series: Keys to Love #3
Author: Kennedy Layne
Release Date: May 22, 2018
Genre:
 Adult Mystery/Romantic Suspense/Military Romance
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | Amazon AU | Barnes & Noble | iBooks | Kobo

Synopsis
Their homecoming wasn’t so welcoming. Four brothers and one sister each gave twelve years of their lives to serve their country and fulfill their family’s legacy of service. As each of them return to their home of record, they weren’t prepared for what awaited them—an unforgiveable sin that has been hidden for twelve long years. Secrets and lies are concealed in the dark shadows of the very town they were raised in, and the Kendall family will have no choice but to rely on one another to unravel the sinister evil that they all hold the keys to unlock.

About Unlocking Lies
Secrets and lies have a way of weaving a deadly web. Returning home from his last deployment shouldn’t have been complicated, but Jace Kendall was immediately drawn into a murder investigation that hits a little too close to home. The last thing he should be doing was reigniting old passions that should have been kept buried, but he’s never been a guy who plays by the rules.

Shae has suffered for twelve years without knowing why her sister disappeared. The long-awaited answers are now within reach, and she’ll have no choice but to trust the one man who knows more than he’s telling.

It isn’t long before Jace and Shae are lost in the mystery of solving a case that’s long gone cold. When they find the answers they’ve been looking for, a darkness is unveiled that will leave one of them in the crosshairs of a psychopath.

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Chapter 1
Twelve years ago…

Lightning streaked across the sky in multiple jagged forks overhead. The waning flash eventually morphed into an ominous rumble of thunder, creating a malevolent omen as it continued to sing its song throughout the collapsing resonance.

Emma Irwin bit back the sob that threatened to escape her throat, causing her breath to hitch.

She didn’t want to die today.

The hulking man standing in front of her abruptly lunged forward, causing her to cry out in alarm. She instinctively stumbled backwards and somehow managed to twist around without falling.

Emma ran for her life, and she didn’t look back.

There was only one path she could take that would lead her to safety. Under normal circumstances, she would have been able to navigate these woods like the back of her hand. Now? Terror flooded her bloodstream, making it nearly impossible for her to formulate a plan.

The thunderstorm above all but descended the forest into darkness after each flash. Without night vision, the footing amongst the roots crisscrossing the forest floor became treacherous. She had to keep an arm raised as she ran through the trees to prevent the low hanging branches from slamming into her face. Her hands were already bleeding from her previous fall, but fortunately, there was no pain as a result of the endorphins.

She couldn’t afford the distraction her pain would cause.

How could this be happening?

Emma wanted to stop and scream at him at the top of her lungs. She’d known him her whole life. She had trusted him, and yet she didn’t doubt that he would kill her with no more remorse than he would experience by putting down a game animal.

All she needed to do was make it to Seventh Street. If she could reach the edge of town, someone would help her.

Would anyone believe her? Was any of this even remotely plausible? She was a teenager. It was her word against…

Light!

The streetlamp was barely visible, but it was there ahead of her just up the gradual slope. The blazing beacon provided her hope.

The drizzling rain became more of a steadier stream the closer she got to the edge of the woods. Unadulterated fear kept up her forward momentum until her ankle boot slipped on a small pile of loose leaves.

Emma hit the ground so hard that her lungs emptied of any air that may have been left in her body after running so far at such a fast pace. She opened her mouth to drag in what oxygen she could, but her lungs seemed incapable of working. Her brain was screaming at her to get up and move or else she would die.

This was it.

She was going to die here, because she couldn’t overcome the fear.

Little by little, her straining muscles relaxed to the point where she was able to suck in a small measure of oxygen. It was enough to stop the flashing lights that had started to circulate in her line of vision. In their place, images of her sister began to materialize.

Would Shae miss her?

Emma didn’t want their last words to be those of hate. She’d said some awful things to her sister this afternoon all because Shae had gotten the car tonight.

“It’s not fair!” Emma screamed at her mom, stomping out of the kitchen and wishing there was a door to slam. All she wanted to do was hit something or someone. It didn’t help that Shae was coming down the staircase with an amused smirk on her face. “Why did you have to be the older one? How come you always get to be first?”

“I don’t know why you’re so upset.” Shae shrugged as if this night was no big deal. Emma bit her tongue as she passed her sister on the steps. Their mother was most likely listening to them in the kitchen, and the last thing Emma needed was to get grounded before the biggest bonfire of the year. “You get the car all week long while I’m at college. Besides, you got to use it last weekend.”

“No,” Emma argued, unable to stop herself. She spun around on the second step to face Shae, who had already reached the landing. “I only got to use the car on Friday night. Remember? You went into the city all day on Saturday.”

“I’m in college, Emma. I’m not allowed a vehicle on campus, so I should get the car two nights out of the week. Those days just happen to fall on the weekends.” Shae crossed her arms like she did when she was trying to make a point and look all mature. Just because she was in college didn’t mean that she was an adult. “What’s the big deal, anyway? You can have one of your friends pick you up. It’s safe that way.”

“Brynn’s car is in the shop, and you know that Julie doesn’t have access to one.” Why should Emma have to explain why she wanted the car? “You know what? Take the car. I don’t care anymore.”

“Good, because I am taking it. It’s my turn.”

“I hate you!”

A tear ran down Emma’s right cheek, though the rain washed it away. She didn’t hate her sister. Shae was everything Emma wanted to be.

Lightning lit up the sky overhead, illuminating her surroundings.

He was gone.

He was nowhere to be seen.

Emma was finally breathing again, though her heart was beating hard against her chest. She scrambled to her feet and did a full turn to scan her immediate surroundings. She was alone in the dark, but something told her he would appear out of nowhere her if she didn’t keep moving.

She took off once again for Seventh Street, relief washing over her as she finally reached the paved road. Not once did she think of slowing down her pace, though she did veer to the right so that she could follow the road that would lead her past the cemetery and toward the back end of town. She’d take the shortcut to her house from there.

It was then she saw the silhouette standing on the other side of the road blocking her path.

It was him.

That’s why he hadn’t come upon her when she’d fallen on the leaves. He’d somehow run ahead to cut her off before she could get home.

Emma had no choice but to run back toward the woods. There was no holding back the sobs that had been trying to escape. Why was he doing this to her? What had she done to him?

It was hard to see through her tears, but she ran blindly through the trees nonetheless. She didn’t follow any path, and she certainly never expected two arms to reach out of the darkness to save her. They embraced her warmly, and she even heard the soothing words that everything would be alright.

She was safe.

Emma broke down, holding onto the strong arms so that she wouldn’t sink to the ground.

“H-he’s coming,” Emma managed to say, trying to warn whoever had saved her. Was it Billy? Lance Kendall? Chad Schaeffer? It didn’t matter. “He’s right behind me and—”

Something was wrong.

Emma furiously blinked her tears away and looked up at her savior.

Only she was mistaken.

No one was here to save her.

All hope vanished. She didn’t understand how it happened, but the man she was running from hadn’t been the one standing in the middle of Seventh Street.

He’d been waiting for her in the shadows all along.

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Author Kennedy Layne

Author Kennedy Layne

About the Author
Kennedy Layne is a USA Today bestselling author. She draws inspiration for her military romantic suspense novels in part from her not-so-secret second life as a wife of a retired Marine Master Sergeant. He doubles as her critique partner, beta reader, and military consultant. They live in the Midwest with their teenage son and menagerie of pets. The loyal dogs and mischievous cats appreciate her writing days as much as she does, usually curled up in front of the fireplace. She loves hearing from readers–find out how to connect with her at www.kennedylayne.com..

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Where to find Kennedy Layne
Goodreads Website | Newsletter | Facebook Twitter | Instagram
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Chapter Reveal – UNLOCKING SECRETS (Keys to Love) by Kennedy Layne

UNLOCKING SECRETS Chapter Reveal

USA Today bestselling author, Kennedy Layne, is unveiling the first chapter to UNLOCKING SECRETS, the second book in her adult mystery/romantic suspense series, Keys to Love, releasing March 20, 2018. See below for information on the book, pre-order links, and the exclusive excerpt.

UNLOCKING SECRETS (Keys to Love #2) by Kennedy Layne

UNLOCKING SECRETS (Keys to Love #2) by Kennedy Layne

About the Book
Title: UNLOCKING SECRETS
Series: Keys to Love #2
Author: Kennedy Layne
Release Date: March 20, 2018
Genre:
 Adult Mystery/Romantic Suspense/Military Romance
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | Amazon AU | Barnes & Noble | iBooks | Kobo

Synopsis
Their homecoming wasn’t so welcoming. Four brothers and one sister each gave twelve years of their lives to serve their country and fulfill their family’s legacy of service. As each of them return to their home of record, they weren’t prepared for what awaited them—an unforgiveable sin that has been hidden for twelve long years. Secrets and lies are concealed in the dark shadows of the very town they were raised in, and the Kendall family will have no choice but to rely on one another to unravel the sinister evil that they all hold the keys to unlock.

About Unlocking Secrets

A grim discovery in Lance Kendall’s home proved one thing—the residents of Blyth Lake had a serial killer in their midst. Now Lance had unintentionally put a target on his back. Worst yet, he’s made the only woman he ever loved known to a murderer.

A trip down memory lane with the man who’d broken Brynn Mercer’s heart wasn’t the smartest thing she’d ever done in her life, but their reunion was a slow burn of temptation that she couldn’t ignore.

Together, they will only have one chance to correct the past. Will the hidden secrets he uncovered threaten their love or solidify it for a future that has always been out of their reach?

 —————————————————————————-

Chapter 1
Twelve years ago…

Emily stared into the cold dark eyes of a man she should have recognized—only she didn’t.Why did he seem so distant? So far away?

“I-I’m going home,” Emma choked out around the nervous constriction in her throat. Fear immobilized her feet to the ground. “Everyone is leaving the party. I’ve got to get home before my parents find out I’m not in bed.”

She ran her sweaty palms down the brand-new pair of ripped jeans she’d bought to impress Billy Stanton. She’d found them on the clearance rack after having saved enough of her allowance to afford them. She wanted to look over her shoulder where the bonfire was still raging, but his unsettling stare kept her from taking her attention off him.

What was he doing here anyway?

Something deeply inherent to her survival told her that she was in danger, but that was impossible. Things like that didn’t happen in their small town. He would never really hurt her, right?

“I know I’m late. My mom and dad will freak if they find out I’m late for curfew.” Emma wished she’d waited for Brynn or Julie, but it was already an hour past the curfew her parents had initially set up a few years ago. Is that why he was here? Had her parents discovered her empty bed? Shoot. That would mean the sheriff was on his way out here and everyone would blame her come Monday morning for the party being busted. “I didn’t m-mean to lose track of time.”

Emma shifted her weight in unease. He hadn’t said a word. Why was he staring at her with such a blank expression?

“Julie and Brynn are right behind me. They’ll be here in just a minute.”

Emma wasn’t sure why she’d lied like that. It wasn’t like he didn’t know the annual bonfire was taking place and who was in attendance. After all, the alcohol had to be supplied by someone.

His gaze drifted over her shoulders toward the farm.

It wasn’t until that moment that she became aware of how still he’d been standing in front of her with his arms hanging down at his sides.

Would he tell her parents where she’d been?

Wait. That didn’t make any sense. He’d be in just as much trouble as the rest of them, maybe even more so given the circumstances.

“You’re here to warn us, aren’t you?”

Relief came over her in waves as she finally connected the dots. She was so stressed about missing curfew that she must have misread the situation.

“My dad called the sheriff, and he’s on his way out here, isn’t he?” Emma did look over her shoulder, grimacing at the fact that mostly everyone would be grounded come the weekend. They’d all say it was her fault, and Billy would never ask her out. “You should go warn the rest of them. I’ll run home and try to make up an excuse as to why I was out so late.”

Emma didn’t wait around for him to answer. She took off at a dead run, brushing past him as the adrenaline and fear pumped through her at facing the disappointing reaction of her parents.

How could she possibly get out of the grounding of her life?

She ran deeper into the woods, ignoring the rumbling sound of thunder overhead. The gathering clouds made it rather difficult for her to see the path in front of her, but she’d memorized this route from the many times she’d taken it over the years.

The air contained a bit of a chill, especially since she’d been by the bonfire for the last few hours. The only good thing about the fast jog she’d undertaken was that it kept her heartrate up, chasing away the cool breeze stinging her cheeks. 

She cried out when the tip of her boot got caught in the root of a tree. The leaves on the ground cushioned her fall, but the palms of her hands still suffered scratches from the coarse sticks littered amongst the foliage. It wasn’t her skin she was worried about so much as the condition of the cute little ankle boots she’d borrowed from her sister. If she so much as scuffed the toe, she’d be in deep shit for taking them without asking.

Emma shifted off her hands and knees, choosing to stand instead of sitting on the ground. The clouds took advantage of the moment and slowly covered the moon, limiting the light she’d been using to lead the way. She couldn’t see the damage done to her sister’s boots, nor the severity of the cuts on her hand. The warm stickiness alerted her to the fact that she was bleeding at least a little.

Was it bad of her to think that she could use this to her advantage? She squinted to try and see how bad the scratches were so she could adjust her story. She could always say she’d fallen on her way home and stopped at Julie’s house to clean up the wounds. Would her parents believe her slight misdirection?

Emma didn’t have anything to wipe her hands on, but surely she could find something before reaching home.

She flinched when a raindrop hit her cheek. Simultaneously, a low rumble of thunder traveled across the sky. That didn’t stop a sliver of moonlight from slipping through the storm clouds…only to reveal a stretched shadow that was coming in her direction.

Emma spun around, surprised to find him no more than ten feet away.

“W-what are you doing? Didn’t you go and warn the rest of them?”

“Julie and Brynn haven’t started walking home yet, have they?”

It sounded more like a statement than a question. Why would he ask her that question?

A sickening sensation rolled her stomach to the point where she physically had to take a step back from the cause.

Something was wrong with him.

He didn’t sound like he usually did, always polite and fun to be around.

Why was he acting this way? Was he showing off?

“Y-you don’t want to get into trouble, either,” Emma pointed out as she struggled to maintain her composure. He was scaring her with his bravado, and she didn’t like it. She went on the offensive. “You supplied the keg. I know you did, and so does everyone else that was here tonight.”

The man lifted the left side of his mouth as if he were amused by her warning.

It was then she realized she was in trouble…real trouble.

“They couldn’t possibly imagine what I’m going to do to you, Emma. They’ll all be looking in the wrong direction.”

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Author Kennedy Layne

Author Kennedy Layne

About the Author
Kennedy Layne is a USA Today bestselling author. She draws inspiration for her military romantic suspense novels in part from her not-so-secret second life as a wife of a retired Marine Master Sergeant. He doubles as her critique partner, beta reader, and military consultant. They live in the Midwest with their teenage son and menagerie of pets. The loyal dogs and mischievous cats appreciate her writing days as much as she does, usually curled up in front of the fireplace. She loves hearing from readers–find out how to connect with her at www.kennedylayne.com.

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Where to find Kennedy Layne
Goodreads Website | Newsletter | Facebook Twitter | Instagram
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Chapter Reveal – DEADLY PREMONITIONS (Safeguard) by Kennedy Layne

DEADLY PREMONITIONS Chapter Reveal

USA Today bestselling author, Kennedy Layne, is unveiling the first chapter from DEADLY PREMONITIONS, the sixth book in her adult mystery/romantic suspense series, Safeguard, releasing November 14, 2017. See below for information on the book, pre-order links, and the exclusive excerpt.

DEADLY PREMONITIONS (Safeguard #6) by Kennedy Layne

DEADLY PREMONITIONS (Safeguard #6) by Kennedy Layne

About the Book
Title: DEADLY PREMONITIONS
Series: Safeguard #6
Author: Kennedy Layne
Release Date: November 14, 2017
Genre:
 Adult Mystery/Romantic Suspense
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | Amazon AU | Barnes & Noble | iBooks | Kobo

Synopsis
USA Today Bestselling Author Kennedy Layne continues the Safeguard Series with this fast-paced romantic suspense novel that leads the SSI team on the trail of a serial killer who continually seems to be one step ahead…

Coen Flynn has always done the right thing, even it meant siding against his own family. His sense of justice was what led him to take a job in law enforcement, though his choice of agency was a bit unorthodox. His current assignment was believed to be a simple protection detail.  He was never supposed to be identified by his charge, but a murder took priority and changed the course of his mission.

Brettany Lambert’s life is suddenly rocked when she finds the body of a dead friend on the eve of what was supposed to be a special wedding. Now Brettany and Coen are trapped in the middle of a blizzard and their attraction will fuel the heat of temptation. Good intentions always have a way of backfiring, but his desired intent won’t matter if a notorious serial killer can finish what he started.

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Chapter 1
Pain unlike anything she’d ever experienced before radiated throughout her body. There were no tears. She couldn’t manage a single teardrop. A deathlike chill had settled into her bones, chasing away all other bodily functions.

She was paralyzed.

She was unable to move, to scream… or to hide.

She was at his mercy, of which he had none.

Shailyn Doyle gasped as her upper body came off the bed. She couldn’t suck in enough oxygen. Her vision had become blurry. She would certainly die this time.

Panic took hold as its tentacles slithered around her soul, slowly strangling what life was left within her.

Shailyn wrapped her fingers around her throat in desperation. She struggled to draw air into her lungs to the point that even she could hear the whistling rattle of her frantic attempt at breathing. Seconds ticked by until the terrifying nightmare slowly fragmented into bits and pieces, eventually fading into dust as the terror disappeared. \

“Two hours,” Shailyn murmured to herself after glancing at the clock on her bedside table. The green illuminated numbers read three fourteen in the morning. “Progress.”

Shailyn tossed the heavy comforter and sheet to the side in acceptance. She wouldn’t get any more sleep tonight. What was noteworthy was the fact that the top sheet was dry. She hadn’t even broken a sweat in her throes of memories best forgotten. It was hard to be proud of that detail when she recognized her reaction for what it was— tolerance.

She swung her legs over the side of the bed. She recalled as a child always believing something or someone would reach out of the darkness and grab her ankles if she kept them dangling there long enough. She missed the days when the monsters had been nothing but a figment of her imagination.

Certain kinds of monsters were very real.

Shailyn automatically reached for the journal she kept on the bedside table, ignoring the slight tremor of her fingers. It was a byproduct of her time spent as a victim with a psychopath as her tormentor. She’d been left with a lot of daily reminders. That particular one didn’t rate high on the scale of her insecurities.

It wasn’t a conscious decision to write in her diary. It was a rote behavior after so many years of psychoanalysis. She didn’t even think twice about sliding the pen off the soft brown leather cover and setting the black ink to paper. Her psychiatrist had explained that keeping detailed notes of her dreams and reactions could render the next night a little easier and maybe even less intense. That had never been the truth as she knew it, but it did give her purpose.

She wrote down every facet of her nightmare underneath her last entry almost twenty hours earlier. There was no need for her to turn on a light considering she never slept in the dark anymore. As a matter of fact, every lamp and overhead light in this one-bedroom house was currently shining bright to keep the obscure shadows at bay.

It gave her a false sense of security. The dark represented the evil that crept in with the night.

She honestly didn’t care that the reassurance was a fabrication. The presence of the lights allowed her to physically walk through the rooms without hesitation.

Shailyn clipped the pen back onto the smooth jacket of her journal before setting both onto the nightstand. It didn’t take her long to cross the room and carefully draw the heavy curtain aside. Her bedroom was located on the main floor of the house, facing toward the front where a heavily armored, black government-plated SUV had been parked ever since Shepherd Moss had escaped from a federal prison.

Shepherd Moss— her own private monster.

He was a very special demon summoned from the depths of hell itself.

He was out there somewhere, biding his time as he savored her soul. Shailyn didn’t doubt that he was looking for her right this very moment.

After all, she was the only one who had ever gotten away.

Technically, that wasn’t true. She had not been able to work her way out of the restraints Moss had her bound in for three days. An Arthurian hero had found her instead, and her shining knight had refused to let her die. She barely recalled him arriving as dark as the night. His armor had been as rough as sackcloth, moving among the shadows as if they held no sway over him. He was the antithesis of her tormenter.

What did astound her was that the torture she’d undergone had only lasted three days.

A mere seventy-two hours.

How was that even possible when her time spent in that hellhole had seemed like an eternity of several lifetimes? Of course, the same thing could almost be said for the years she’d been in the witness protection program. Now those three hundred and sixty-five day spans seemed endless, consisting of nothingness. Was she actually awaiting Moss’ return with the promise of renewed torture?

She supposed she should be grateful. Eighteen women hadn’t been as lucky as her, but then again, what was so fortunate about living this so-called life she’d been given?

Shailyn let the curtain fall back into place, checking to make sure that not even a sliver of darkness was visible before she crossed the bedroom floor in her bare feet. The coolness of the hardwood didn’t bother her all that much, but wearing any type of shoe made her want to rip them off her feet and burn them. The scars on her ankles always became irritated when material rubbed against them for any period of time. She’d tried slip-ons in the past, as well as flip-flops, but those hadn’t worked either due to the damage done to the heels of her feet.

It didn’t take long for her to enter the living room and walk into the kitchen. The layout was simple, just as she liked it. The walls were devoid of pictures, there were no knick-knacks on the shelves or tabletops, and the few simple sticks of Ikea furniture had been rented with the house. It wasn’t like anyone questioned the way she lived, especially considering she never had any guests. No one was permitted to enter her home, though she did make an exception now and then to the U.S. Marshals who had taken up guarding her night and day since Moss had escaped federal prison. Why make any friendships when she would most likely be relocated sooner rather than later?

Groceries were delivered to a drop box on her front porch from the local store. She had access to the small area from inside the house. She could lock the outside access door to the box before ever opening the inside hatch. The delivery service was a special arrangement the grocery store provided for the elderly and shut-ins.

The Marshals vetted the designated delivery man and all the other employees of the friendly retailer. The grocery store tended to substitute their own brand a lot for other brand names, and they also charged a premium for nearly every item available through their service. Privacy apparently came with a price.

Shailyn hit the brew button, having already prepared the coffee maker three hours ago. She shivered slightly when condensation layered the sides of the glass carafe. Her feet were a little colder on the kitchen tile than they had been on the hardwood floor. The memory of a blue torch flame flashed across her mind’s eye.

She crossed into the living room and looked over at the bay window to ensure the drapes were closed like she’d left them. Her need for solitude had nothing to do with the fact that she was wearing a pair of flannel pajamas.

Everything was as it should be. She didn’t miss a step as she continued directly to the wall where her thermostat was positioned a little lower than eye level.

The digital numbers read seventy-two degrees. She didn’t care what digits were displayed and intentionally pressed the up arrow twice. Heat from the furnace had a tendency to rise from the vents, keeping only the upper half of the room warm while leaving the floors far too cold for her sensitive feet. Winters in Maine tended to get rather brisk, and this house wasn’t insulated properly. She honestly didn’t mind her electricity bill being higher. She always kept to her budget. It wasn’t like she spent her money on anything other than rent, utilities, and groceries.

She turned around to make her way back into the kitchen when the sight of her files on the desk caught her eye. The manila folder with ungraded essays sitting on top of the stack was crooked. She stopped walking, allowing her arms to drop to her sides, anticipating the assault.

Her heart stuttered in fear. Not because of death, but what came before it.

Everything on her desk had been perfect when she’d turned in for the couple hours of sleep she barely managed to obtain. She’d gotten into the habit of positioning items in a manner where only she would recognize if they’d been disturbed. And she was one hundred percent positive that the pile of schoolwork she’d been grading last night had been organized squarely in the left-hand corner. Not a millimeter had been out of place.

Okay. Ninety-nine percent sure, because one of the two U.S. Marshals sitting in the vehicle outside of her house had paid her a visit after noticing one of her two bulbs had burnt out on the porch. He had kindly replaced the lightbulb before rejoining his partner outside in the black sedan.

He could have easily bumped into the edge of her desk, causing the slight misalignment.

How many times had she overreacted over the years? Too many to count, that was for sure.

Shailyn bit her lip as she carefully looked over the living room for any other sign that someone other than the U.S. Marshal had been in her home. She cautiously put one foot in front of the other as she made her way through the entire house, eventually completing her search by returning to her desk after checking every room.

Nothing else was out of place.

“You’re losing your mind, girl.”

It was bound to happen, given the circumstances. She recalled a psychiatrist telling her that the average individual would have been institutionalized after suffering through the ordeal she’d been through. He couldn’t seem to accept that she was nothing extraordinary. She’d switched shrinks after that, going through a long line of men and women who had various opinions on how she should handle her future.

Shailyn gently rested the palm of her right hand underneath her breast on the opposite side. She had been left with a reminder that she would never have a normal life… at least, not the way she’d once envisioned.

The rich aroma of coffee filled the air, prompting her to return to the kitchen. She did stop briefly at the living room window and verify that the ever-present black sedan was still in position. Two silhouettes were easily discernible.

She thought about taking them out a thermos full of coffee, but a couple of things prevented her from doing so. For one, she didn’t go outside of these four walls any more than absolutely necessary. Two, she didn’t even own a thermos.

Shailyn pulled a single brown mug that had seen better days from the cupboard. The eighties-style porcelain dishes came with the rental house, allowing her to travel light when she had to move. Honestly, everything she owned fit in one suitcase and an oversized purse. She was a simple woman, really, even taking her coffee black without any further additions.

She sighed in resignation as she took her steaming coffee into the living room, snatching up the folder of essays that had given her more of a jolt than the caffeine in her coffee could provide. She looked forward to doing some mundane reading from the writing assignments she’d given her students taking the online course she taught to pass the time. It was also a way to make some additional money, though her students knew her as Ms. Rachel Smith.

Her online persona, as detailed in the course curriculum, featured a picture of a random middle-aged spinster freshly returned to the farm after retiring from some teaching position. She sometimes wondered about the identity of the woman in the photograph, considering the lack of a full-fledged backstory. WITSEC wasn’t that original when it came to assigning new identifications to their patrons. Ms. Smith was a retired teacher from Iowa. That was the best they could come up with.

Thud. Thud. Thud.

The essays scattered onto the hardwood floor as the papers fell from her lap, taking the manila folder with them. Each essay was now drenched in coffee as she scrambled to her feet and spilled her hot beverage all over them. Her first thought was that Shepherd Moss wouldn’t knock on her front door to gain entry. He would have just appeared behind her. Her second and most insightful deduction was that trouble had just landed on her front porch.

She quietly stepped over the wet papers and set down her coffee mug on the side table, not stopping until she reached her desk. One of those cheap buy-as-you-go cell phones purchased off the rack at the local drug store was tucked into the top drawer. She always made sure the device was charged and ready to go should she need to leave the property or contact the Marshals. It also came in handy when she needed to call 911… which had never happened in all the years she’d been in WITSEC.

Thud. Thud. Thud.

“Ms. Smith, it’s Deputy U.S. Marshal Sturridge.”

Sturridge was the Marshal who had changed her lightbulb a few hours ago, but she couldn’t fathom why he would need to speak with her at this hour. She quickly opened the top desk drawer and retrieved her phone, pressing in the three numbers without initiating the call. She rested her thumb on the button as she slowly made her way to the door to evaluate the situation further.

“What seems to be the matter, Marshal?” Shailyn asked with concern, but doing her best to keep her fear disguised. She tilted her head so that she could hear Sturridge’s reply through the heavy door. She left off that this wasn’t their usual procedure. Technically, the average WITSEC individual didn’t have two Marshals sitting outside of his or her home on a regular basis. They were all given new identities and then expected to adapt, as if their lives hadn’t been ripped out from underneath them in the most violent way imaginable. “Is everything okay?”

“Ms. Smith, there’s been a development. We need to take you down to the Bureau’s Portland Field Office as soon as possible.”

Shailyn swallowed back the lump of alarm that formed in her throat. Had Moss killed someone else she’d known in her childhood? He’d done that exact thing a couple of months ago, most likely trying to draw her out from under the concealment of her WITSEC identity. The U.S. Marshals Service had been very adamant that she follow their instructions down to the exact letter since Moss had escaped federal custody. She’d complied, but she wasn’t so sure she could continue to do so should he target her friends or family again.

Shailyn rested her forehead against the hard surface of the door and pretended for just a moment that this night was like any other. She’d get close to a couple hours of sleep, work for a couple more on the computer, and then maybe get a half hour rest before her day started with her schedule of online classes. The visual gave her the composure she needed before releasing all three security locks they had installed upon moving her into this house.

“My family?” Shailyn asked hesitantly after opening the door. Sturridge gave her an encouraging smile, though sadness was visible in his soft, brown eyes. He reminded her of those gentle cowboy giants Louis L’Amour had written about when her father had been a young man. She recalled her dad reading her books of the Wild West when she’d been younger, allowing them both to enjoy her bedtime stories. Sometimes she wondered if her father would have preferred a boy. “Are they okay?”

“Yes, ma’am, they’re all fine as far as I’m aware.”

“Then why am I needed at the Portland Field Office in the middle of the night?” Shailyn had once been the spontaneous type, living every second of every day like it was her last when she’d been younger. That day had arrived sooner rather than later, changing her outlook on the simplest of pleasures. “Am I being relocated again?” “

Ms. Smith, you—”

“Please.” The word was just short of a plea. She was only human, and a flawed one at that. “Just tell me.”

“Shepherd Moss killed an agent on the case yesterday.”

Shailyn wasn’t surprised. At least, she shouldn’t have been surprised. Her breathing faltered, though. Moss had targeted someone else, someone unrelated to her. She suspected that it wasn’t with no strings attached. She shouldn’t feel any guilt over the man’s predilection for torturing and killing people, particularly women. She’d done her part by sitting on that witness stand and testifying— no, reliving— every painful cut he’d sliced into her body. That included every burn he branded into her flesh, as well.

“I still don’t understand what that has to do with me, Marshal.”

Shailyn’s mouth had gone dry and she couldn’t even lick her lips to get the words out smoothly. Sturridge was glancing at his watch, as if they should be in a rush to get to the Portland Field Office. Since when had her activities ever been on such a tight timetable?

“Ms. Smith, the agent who was murdered had been assigned to watch over a woman by the name of Brettany Lambert. She was a childhood friend of yours, correct?”

Yes. Brett had been Shailyn’s best friend through elementary and middle school. A memory of them turning up the dial on her old boom box came to mind, along with a made-up game that kept them busy for hours. The first lyric to come through the speaker was what the boy she liked at the time was thinking of her at that very moment. They would each take turns, giggling their weekends away.

“Ms. Smith?”

Shailyn cleared her throat before nodding her agreement. She would go with Sturridge to the Portland Field Office, believing one hundred percent that she would be on a plane by noon. The U.S. Marshals and the FBI had been very cautious. It was their job to ensure her safety from the monster she’d helped put away. There had only ever been one man who’d truly given her that precious sense of security, and she hadn’t seen him once since the day she entered WITSEC.

This was her life now… being alone with only a suitcase to her name. She often wondered when the hand underneath the bed would finally grab her ankles and pull her into the shadows. What if she were to go into that hiding place voluntarily? Was that how she would find her freedom? Was death her only escape?

Or could she slay the monster before he was able to kill her?

  • * * *

He closed his eyes, reliving every second he spent in the company of Shailyn Doyle. Her unblemished flesh had been a canvas from which he had created something beautiful. He did design his masterpiece on her body, but only she had the pleasure of seeing his work every single day in the mirror.

He wanted her back.

He needed to finish the seminal work he’d begun.

Did the authorities not understand that he was the one in control? Had he not proven his dominance time and time again? His parting gift in Colorado he’d left for Townes Calvert should have gotten his message across.

Townes Calvert.

The only adversary who had ever lived up to his most exacting standards. The man’s personal interest in Shailyn Doyle would only make this game that much sweeter in the end. They would meet again soon, but he wasn’t ready to see his entertainment come to an end. He preferred the long game.

He rocked back on the wooden porch and listened to the crickets and frogs communicate in their harmonious languages. Mother Nature could end their conversations with a mere slap of her hand.

He recalled the enchanting screams that fell from Shailyn’s chapped lips— now that was his favorite melody.

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Author Kennedy Layne

Author Kennedy Layne

About the Author
Kennedy Layne is a USA Today bestselling author. She draws inspiration for her military romantic suspense novels in part from her not-so-secret second life as a wife of a retired Marine Master Sergeant. He doubles as her critique partner, beta reader, and military consultant. They live in the Midwest with their teenage son and menagerie of pets. The loyal dogs and mischievous cats appreciate her writing days as much as she does, usually curled up in front of the fireplace. She loves hearing from readers–find out how to connect with her at www.kennedylayne.com.

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Where to find Kennedy Layne
Goodreads Website | Newsletter | Facebook Twitter | Instagram
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Chapter Reveal – THE HEIRESS by Cassia Leo

THE HEIRESS Chapter Reveal

Gloss Publishing, LLC and New York Times bestselling author Cassia Leo are releasing the first chapter from THE HEIRESS, a stand-alone new adult romantic suspense novel, releasing September 26, 2017. See below for information on the book, pre-order links, an exclusive first look at Chapter 1, and details on her giveaway.

THE HEIRESS by Cassia Leo

THE HEIRESS by Cassia Leo

About the Book
Title: THE HEIRESS
Author: Cassia Leo
Publisher: Gloss Publishing, LLC
Release Date: September 26, 2017
Genre:
New Adult Romantic Suspense
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | Amazon AU | Barnes & Noble | iBooksKobo | GooglePlay

Synopsis
A new heartfelt and suspenseful stand-alone novel from New York Times bestselling author Cassia Leo.

How much is love worth?

Twenty-two-year-old Kristin and her single mom have always struggled to make ends meet. When her mother’s body begins to deteriorate after many backbreaking years of working as a housekeeper, Kristin must say farewell to her college dreams and hello to a full-time job waitressing. She doesn’t really mind. After all, giving up on her dreams will be her penance for that one horrible night.

Her luck begins to turn when she meets Daniel Meyers. Daniel is sexy and funny, but most importantly, he wants to get to know the real Kristin. It doesn’t hurt that he’s also extremely wealthy and intent on protecting her. Kristin feels safe with him. She wants to open up to him, to share the details of the awful night that changed her life. But she can’t shake the feeling that Daniel may be keeping a dark secret of his own…

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Chapter 1 – Taken Care Of
The dimly lit stairwells in our five-floor walk-up in the Bronx smelled even more like cat piss than usual.

The August humidity had a lovely way of extracting the aromas that were usually trapped inside the dingy walls of our building. I tried to breathe through my mouth as I climbed the final steps to the fifth floor. But when I stepped into the corridor, a bright yellow notice taped to the front door of apartment 502 made me gasp, and the sharp smell got sucked into my nose again.

I gagged, then marched toward my apartment. “What the actual fuck?”

My curse came out much louder than I’d anticipated.

Dropping my canvas bag of groceries on the floor, I quickly snatched the paper off the door, but not quickly enough. Mr. Williams walked out of his apartment as I bent over to stuff the notice into my grocery bag.

“Good morning, Mr. Williams,” I said, breathing far too heavily for a casual walk to the bodega. “How’s your day so far?”

He tilted his head a bit as his dark eyes remained focused on my bag. “Is that an eviction notice?”

I unzipped my purse and dug frantically through the receipts and half-used drugstore makeup, which had probably been there since I dropped out of college two years ago. “It’s just a mix-up,” I replied with a chuckle when I found my house key. “Same thing happened a couple weeks ago. At least this time it happened on a Monday morning instead of a Friday night. I’m heading straight to the property manager’s office as soon as I get these groceries in the fridge.”

“Is everything okay with you and your ma?” he asked through narrowed eyes.

“We’re fine,” I said, forcing a smile. “Thank you so much for asking, but we’re just fine. This is just a huge mix-up.”

Mr. Williams scratched his scraggly white beard, which sparsely covered his chestnut-brown skin. “Okay,” he said, slowly nodding. “Well, if you need anything, don’t you hesitate to holler at this old fool.”

My smile widened, and this time it was genuine. “Thank you, Mr. Williams. I promise I’ll do that.”

He stuck his chin out and beamed with pride. “That’s a good girl. You take care now,” he said, then ambled back into the apartment across the hall.

When I was five, I often wondered if I was invisible—not metaphorically speaking, but actually invisible. I would watch in complete silence as my mom came home from a fourteen-hour shift, cleaning up other people’s messes. She’d collapse onto the sofa, turn on the evening news, and eat her dinner with a tired smile. Then I’d retreat to my bedroom and dream of a world where I existed.

It wasn’t until a fateful evening in September two years ago, my fingernails peeling off as I desperately clawed my way up a highway embankment, that I finally realized how tangible I was, how heavily I was anchored to this merciless world.

Now, as I rushed inside the humid apartment I shared with my mother in the South Bronx, I wished I could be invisible again.

Closing the door softly behind me—so as not to attract the attention of any more neighbors—I power-walked into the kitchen and tossed my canvas grocery bag onto the counter. Yanking out the bright yellow eviction notice, I contemplated the ten-digit phone number scrawled on it in black marker.

No. I wasn’t going to give those incompetent pricks at the property management office the courtesy of calling before I showed up. No way would I give them time to come up with some trumped-up violation that my mother or I had supposedly committed.

Despite the fact that our building was more than a hundred years old and in serious disrepair, the bylaws consisted of a list of rules—I kid you not—at least sixty pages long. The list was mailed to us every year with an offer to renew the lease—with another rent increase, of course. And every year, the list got longer.

One rule actually stipulated we were not allowed to walk around in high heels after ten p.m. I supposed it was a good thing I had no social life. I was in no danger of violating that rule.

Of course, whatever bone the management was picking with us now was probably not due to anything I did or didn’t do. The eviction notice was almost certainly a response to what I had threatened to do. Three weeks ago, I threatened to file an ADA—Americans with Disabilities Act—complaint if they didn’t fix the loose handrails in the stairwells.

When my mom and I moved into this apartment more than ten years ago, my mom was in excellent physical shape. Despite the fact that she had spent most of her life working as a housekeeper, she had managed to take good care of her body. Until she fell off a ladder at home and shattered her kneecap. Three surgeries later, she was desperate to return to work so I could return to NYU, but no one would hire her back.

If the eviction notice was left on our door, that meant my mom wasn’t home when the notice was served, which meant our neighbor Leslie had come by to take her shopping.

I put the groceries away and stuffed the eviction notice into my purse before I left the apartment. I thought of leaving a message with Leslie’s family, but decided against it. I didn’t want to worry her or my mom.

Leslie was a stay-at-home mother with two kids in high school and a husband who drove a bus for MTA. She helped my mom up and down the stairs once a week to go shopping. Having amazing neighbors like Leslie and Mr. Williams was one of the many reasons I was hesitant to move to another apartment building with an elevator.

One subway ride and nine blocks of walking in the glaring summer sun later, I arrived, sweaty and determined, at the front doors of Golde Property Management. I entered through the glass double doors, which squeaked on their hinges as I pushed my way inside. The black and gold confetti design on the linoleum looked like something straight out of a ’70s discotheque. The faux oak furniture in the waiting room, with the wood-grain laminate peeling off the corners, confirmed that I had stepped into an office stuck in another century.

In the decade since we moved into our apartment, and ever since I began paying the rent a couple of years ago, I’d never had to visit Golde Property Management. I always paid the rent on time, and I always agreed to the new lease terms. If I had known that they were living in the ’70s, I wouldn’t have bothered asking them to bring our apartment up to modern building standards.

Nonetheless, I needed to clear up this eviction nonsense. The last thing I needed was for my mother and me to be thrown out on our asses over a clerical error.

The receptionist sat at a desk behind a sliding-glass window at the back of the waiting room. She watched me approach without even attempting to smile.

I slid the yellow eviction notice across the counter onto her side of the glass. “I want to know what this is about.”

She spun in her chair to face the computer on her left, positioning her fingers over the keyboard. “What’s the property address?”

“Twenty-four eighty-three Hughes,” I replied sharply.

She typed in the address, then her eyes scanned down to the lower-right part of the computer screen and stopped. “It says here that the eviction notice was posted today at 10:02 a.m. by the Bronx County Sheriff’s Department due to violation of the rental agreement. The violation listed here is nonpayment of rental dues in the amount of $7,050.”

I couldn’t help but laugh. “Are you kidding me? Our monthly rent is $1,175. That means $7,050 is what, like, six months’ rent? We’re not even late one month, let alone six. I want to speak to a manager.”

She rolled her eyes as she picked up the beige phone handset and dialed an extension. “Is Jerry in his office?” she asked the person on the other end. “I’ve got a tenant here who says she’s paid up, but she just got served.” She sighed as she balanced the handset between her ear and shoulder. “Well, tell him when he’s done with his meeting that I got someone waiting for him up here. Okay? Okay.” She hung up the phone and looked up at me with a bored expression. “He’s in a meeting with an investor. You’ll have to wait a few minutes.”

I wanted to protest for the simple fact that if I caused a scene it might ruin their chances with this investor, but I decided not to press my luck. “I’ll be waiting right over there,” I said, nodding toward the tweed sofa in the waiting area.

Taking a seat on the sofa that smelled like desperation, I picked up a copy of the NY Post from the coffee table. The paper was dated thirteen months ago. This place needed an investor more than my mom needed a disability-accessible apartment building with an elevator.

Of course, my mom would never admit that she needed anything.

The eldest of four sisters, my mom left her small hometown in South Dakota to make her way in New York City when she was just nineteen. After a brief brush with homelessness, she started cleaning houses and saving up money to start her own cleaning business. Not long after that, I was born, and her dreams of being her own boss were tossed out the window.

I had just finished reading a story about a feud between the hosts of two popular YouTube channels when a door leading into the back office opened. The first man who stepped into the waiting area—whom I assumed was Jerry—looked to be about sixty years old, and wore brown slacks and a short-sleeved blue button-up shirt, the fabric thin enough to show the dinginess of the tank top he wore underneath.

The second man who walked through the door looked more like a mirage than a man.

He was no more than twenty-eight years old, wearing a sharp navy-blue suit and a swagger in his step that said he didn’t just own the place, he owned the world. His dark hair was short, but not so short you couldn’t help but notice it held the perfect amount of wave. Every inch of him, from his prominent brow to his broad shoulders and beyond looked sturdy. This man was built to last a thousand lifetimes.

But it was his face that made me wonder if I was actually staring at a desert mirage.

His strong jaw and brilliant green eyes looked as if they’d been chiseled by Michelangelo. As a former student of sculpture at NYU, I could make that type of comparison in the more literal sense.

If this investor bought out Golde Property Management, I’d probably sign a hundred-year lease.

I shrugged off this ridiculous thought. It wasn’t as if this wealthy godlike man was going to send my next lease renewal along with a handwritten marriage proposal.

Will you be my wife? Check yes or no. Please send reply in the enclosed envelope with full rent payment by the first of the month.

“Are you Kristin?”

I snapped out of my absurd fantasy to find the man I suspected to be Jerry staring at me as he held the door to the back office open. “Excuse me?”

“Are you Kristin Owens?” he replied. “Here about the eviction notice?”

His question set my blood on fire with anger. “Yes. I want to know what this is all about,” I said, getting to my feet as I held the yellow paper in front of me. “We’ve paid our rent on time every single month for the past ten years. If this is about me threatening to—”

Jerry held up his hand to interrupt me. “Okay, okay. Let’s go into my office,” he said, his expression a mixture of shame and anger, probably because I just made a scene in front of his potential investor. He looked up at the man. “I look forward to hearing from you again, Mr. Meyers. Jennie over there can validate your parking.”

Mr. Meyers cocked an eyebrow as he looked me over. “Maybe I should sit in on this.”

Jerry waved off the suggestion. “Oh, no, this is just routine admin stuff. It will be over in two minutes. Don’t want to waste your time.”

I stared at Jerry, making no attempt to avoid looking directly at the huge hairy mole protruding from his temple. “So now I’m a waste of time?” I asked. “If you think you can get away with—”

“Excuse me,” Meyers interrupted, taking a step forward. “Earlier, you said you’ve paid your rent on time every single month for the past ten years. So, forgive me if I’m wrong, but that allows you to continue living in the unit until any further disputes are settled in court. Am I right?”

Jerry shook his head. “But she hasn’t paid her rent,” he insisted. “I thought it was strange when the computer spat out the notice, but they only come up when a tenant is coming up on six months past due. Computers don’t lie. People lie.”

“Are you fucking kidding me?” I shouted. “Are you calling me a liar? You piece of trash. I swear to God, I will bury you in so many legal—”

“Whoa-whoa-whoa…” Meyers interrupted again. “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” he said, casting a calm, confident look in my direction, holding my gaze for a moment before he turned back to Jerry. “You said computers don’t lie, but they do sometimes glitch. You even said you thought it was strange the computer spat out her name.”

“Yeah, but it doesn’t randomly spit out names all day long,” Jerry objected.

Meyers nodded and pressed his lips together in an expression that said he understood where Jerry was coming from. This guy was good. He was refereeing this dispute like a seasoned mediator.

“But it’s possible the computer got it wrong,” Meyers continued as he looked back and forth between Jerry and me, smiling when I crossed my arms over my chest. “How about this? I’ll pay the past-due amount until you can figure out the glitch in the system. Does that sound fair?”

I narrowed my eyes at him. “Who the hell are you?”

His veneer of confidence cracked for just a fraction of a second before he regained his composure. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you,” he replied. “You’re right. It’s very presumptuous of me to think I could settle this with the swipe of a pen. Forgive me.” He turned to Jerry and gave him a curt nod. “I have some…thinking to do. I’m not sure your organization is a good fit for us. We’ll be in touch.”

“Wait!” Jerry shrieked. “I think she was just taken by surprise with your offer. Right, Christina?”

“Kristin,” I corrected him. “And I don’t need him to pay my rent. I already paid it. I need you to fix this!” I crumpled the yellow eviction notice and dropped it at his feet.

“I can’t,” Jerry replied as Meyers quietly made his way to the receptionist’s desk. “My lawyer handles the evictions. He won’t close the file until the rent’s paid in full. I can’t pay him if I don’t have your money.”

“You have my money!” I yelled so loudly I could almost hear my vocal cords snap.

I cursed myself as tears stung the corners of my eyes. Blinking them away, I glanced over my shoulder, expecting to find Meyers staring aghast at my lack of control. He probably wasn’t accustomed to that sort of thing in his perfect world of privilege. But he wasn’t there. He was gone. I didn’t know if I felt more relieved that he hadn’t witnessed my outburst, or disappointed that the only sure way out of this eviction mess—at least, temporarily—had just walked out of my life.

God, why didn’t I just let him help me? It wasn’t as if I knew the guy. I didn’t need to maintain some foolish sense of pride in front of him.

I was becoming more and more like my mother every day.

“It’s taken care of.”

I looked up at the sound of the receptionist’s bored voice.

She waved a piece of paper in the air, which looked suspiciously like a check. “He took care of your rent,” she said, looking annoyed.

I turned to Jerry, but all he did was shrug.

What the fuck just happened?

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THE HEIRESS Teaser

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Trailer

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Author Cassia Leo

Author Cassia Leo

About the Author
New York Times bestselling author Cassia Leo loves her coffee, chocolate, and margaritas with salt. When she’s not writing, she spends way too much time re-watching Game of Thrones and Sex and the City. When she’s not binge watching, she’s usually enjoying the Oregon rain with a hot cup of coffee and a book.

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Where to find Cassia Leo
Goodreads Website | NewsletterFacebook | Club CassiaTwitter | Instagram

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Giveaway
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Chapter Reveal + Giveaway – SAVING MERCY (Fatal Truth) by Abbie Roads

SAVING MERCY Chapter Reveal

Author Abbie Roads is revealing a chapter from SAVING MERCY, the first book in the adult romantic thriller series, Fatal Truth. For a limited time, you can pick up the ebook for just $0.99! See below for information on the book, buy links, an exclusive look at Chapter 1, and details on her giveaway.

SAVING MERCY (Fatal Truth #1) by Abbie Roads

SAVING MERCY (Fatal Truth #1) by Abbie Roads

About the Book – ON SALE FOR JUST $0.99!
Title:
SAVING MERCY
Series: Fatal Truth #1
Author: Abbie Roads
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Release Date: April 4, 2017
Genre: Adult Dark Romantic Thriller
Links: Goodreads | AmazonAmazon UK | Amazon CA | Amazon AU | Barnes & Noble | iBooks | GooglePlay

Synopsis
He’s found her at last…

Cain Killion knows himself to be a damaged man. His only redeeming quality? The extrasensory connection to blood that he uses to catch killers. His latest case takes a macabre turn when he discovers a familiar and haunting symbol linking the crime to his horrific past—and the one woman who might understand what it means.

Only to lose her to a nightmare.

Mercy Ledger is brave, resilient, beautiful—and in terrible danger. The moment Cain finds her the line between good and evil blurs and the only thing clear to them is that they belong together. Love is the antidote for blood—but is their bond strong enough to overcome the madness that stalks them?

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SAVING MERCY Teaser 1

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Excerpt
It’s a sad testament to the state of humanity that we elevate serial killers to the level of mega-celebrity.
~Ellsworth Garyington, M.D, Journal of Human and Philosophical Studies

Chapter 1

The air reeked of dirty pennies and death. Days ago the bodies had been removed, but Cain Killion could still feel the desperate energy of the dying and almost—almost—hear the echoes of their screams imprinted on the bones of the house. He abhorred the sight of blood and yet here he was standing in another murder house, in front of another wall smeared, splattered, and sprayed with gore.

His heart banged against the cage of his ribs, trying to bust out and make a break for it. A bead of sweat slid in agonizing slowness down the center of his spine.

“You don’t look so good.” MacNeil Anderson stepped into his line of sight, diverting his attention away from the blood. The furrows around Mac’s eyes cut deeper than normal and three days’ worth of old man stubble fuzzed his cheeks, giving him a haggard and homeless appearance. Not exactly the look the FBI was going for when they promoted Mac to Senior Special Agent.

Cain almost smiled at his own thoughts, but laughter no longer existed in this place. Only horror could thrive here now.

“Do I ever look good when I’m about to…?” Yeah. There wasn’t a name for what he did. To the bureaucrats with their thumbs jammed up their asses Mac called it profiling—had to call it something. But it wasn’t profiling. Not at all. What he had to do with the blood was something worse than profiling. So much worse.

“This is different.” Mac reached up and put his dry palm on Cain’s forehead. “You sick? Have a fever?”

Cain might be thirty years old and lived on his own since he was eighteen, but Mac had never outgrown the role of his adopted dad.

“You can always walk away.” Mac made this offer at every kill scene.

And every time, Cain’s legs twitched with the urge to run. Only determination, masochism, and the promise of sick satisfaction kept him locked in place. “I’m staying. I always stay.”

“I’d stop calling you out for these cases, but I know you’d just find someone else who would.” Mac’s words were slow and glossed with sadness.

“No one else has the history I have. No one else can do what I do. No one else can give you the information I can.” Yeah. His profiles were more accurate, more detailed than anything a traditional profiler could come up with. In the majority of cases his work guided law enforcement directly to their perpetrator. “It’d be stupid not to call me.” Not to mention he needed to be around that dynamic duo—blood and death. They stripped away his mask of normalcy leaving him naked to the one truth about himself he could never forget.

He was Killer Killion’s Kid—Triple K—the media called him. The spawn of a killer with the genetic predisposition to be a murdering machine. One of the only ways he’d found to curb the ugly urges was to force himself to attend these murder scenes. Force himself to witness the destruction.

His deepest, darkest, dirtiest secret—the thing he would never utter out loud because it terrified him: Sometimes he enjoyed himself.

“Son, you don’t have anything to prove. Not to me.” Mac used a caring tone, but that word—son—threatened to transport Cain back to his childhood. Back to his biological father using that word like a curse.

Not going there.

Cain stepped around Mac and moved to look out at window. The Victorian home sat on a miniature peninsula of land that jutted out into a large pond. Such an odd place for a house. A beautiful place, breathtaking, and yet eerie in its loneliness and total isolation. Just the kind of place Cain loved.

Had location been a consideration for the killer? Had he finished with his bloody work then stood in this very spot staring out the window at the water?

Cain sucked in a breath, held it for as long as his lungs would allow then blew it out slowly. “I know I don’t have anything to prove to you. I do this for me.” He tried to make his tone firm, but it came out a little shaky. Mac the-FBI-guy would hear it, but Mac his-adopted-dad wouldn’t press. Time for a change of subject. “You notice anything odd about this place?”

“It’s not the typical.” Mac’s words were spoken on a sigh. “Not that there is a typical. This just isn’t like any other location I’ve been called to investigate.”

“Yeah. Victorian house. In the woods. On a pond. I get why our guy would like the isolation of this place. But there’s something more. It has to do with…” He had trouble finding to words to describe the gut-level truth inside him. “… all of it. The house. The woods. The pond. The family. It’s like this guy wanted the complete package.”

Mac nodded, his expression serious as a gravedigger. “You get that from the blood?”

“Just a feeling I have.” It was the kind of place he’d choose if he were going to plan a murder. Kind of like how salt and sweet tasted so good together—this was violence and peace in one location.

Enough stalling. He turned away from the window and faced the room.

Three walls were covered in Victorian era wallpaper—rich gold background, red blossoms on a vine, and fancy peacocks. Ostentatious was the word that came to mind. One wall, the longest, largest wall had been painted the same color as the paper’s background. Yeah. Four walls of peacocks and posies might’ve caused bleeding eyeballs.

Finally, he forced himself to look at the blood on the wall. Rosettes of red seeped into the wallpaper, the fat watercolor splotches almost blending in with the flowers.

Mac cleared his throat as if gearing up for a formal speech. “The techs released the scene this morning. They worked round the clock to get everything cataloged and bagged so we could get you on this ASAP. The blood is, of course clean, I wouldn’t have called you in otherwise.” He pointed to the three distinct blood pools. “The family—Dad, Mom, girl—were found here. Killed here, too. Forensics places their time of death at—”

“Mac.” Cain spoke the name loud enough to smother whatever the guy had been about to say. “Quiet.” He needed the absence of sound to see what happened. And he needed to do it now before he pussied out.

Mac clamped his lips closed, nodded, and moved across the room—out of the way.

Just fucking get it over with.

Cain knelt at the altar of blood. The sweet scent of rotting biological material an abomination to his nose and yet, foul anticipation crawled underneath his skin. His mind slid sideways like it always did when around the red stuff. Back to his childhood. Back to a time when he was very much his father’s son. Back to when blood covered his skin—the slick, silky, warmness of it so wrong and yet so horribly soothing at the same time.

He slapped his hands down into the congealed sludge. The coldness sent pleasant shock waves up his arms. He didn’t want to feel pleasure, didn’t want to enjoy this, but that other part of him had terrible intentions. Helpless to stop himself, he smeared his hands around in the red like a kid playing with finger paints. Only when they were coated with the family’s blood did he raise them to his face.

A miniscule part of him rebelled against what he was about to do, but the rebellion was quashed before it began. He spread the blood over his forehead, his cheeks, coating his skin in the thick, sweet, goo. He painted his neck, his bare arms, then lifted his T-shirt and wiped his hands on his chest.

His head fell back on his shoulders. His breath came in shallow, hyper-ventilating gulps. From a distance, he heard himself moan, only it wasn’t a moan—it was more like the yowling of a feral cat fighting for its life. Or getting ready to mate.

Blood did that to him—was a pleasure and a pain. A gift and a curse.

He had a complicated relationship with blood. He hated it. He loved it. Blood was a conduit, a link, a connection, between him and those who slayed souls. Blood opened a doorway, allowing him to step into the mind and body of those who found bliss in ending life. He became the killer. He saw what the killer saw. Did what the killer did. Felt what the killer felt.

An incandescent light flashed behind his eyelids. Cain was gone. He was now the killer.
He stood on a ladder, rolling simple white primer on the wall.
A song had been locked inside his head for months and only now was it time to give voice to the words.
Lift your feet when you
Dance around the old well,
Be careful or you’ll tumble pell-mell.
Look into the dark, dark, waters
For the blood of your fathers.
Show some courage young man,
Find your calling young man.

He loved the song. He hated the song. But that was life, wasn’t it? It was all one big paradox.

A breathy sound intruded. He turned on the ladder to see the ones on the floor.

They were laid out in a neat row in the middle of the room. Each of them on their stomachs, hands bound behind their backs and tied to the shackles on their feet, mouths obliterated by duct tape. The male’s wrists were hamburger, dripping blood from fighting against the metal cuffs. But none of them struggled now.

Their faces were wet from tears, or maybe sweat—didn’t really matter—and splotchy red and pale. The child grunted.

“Do you want to sing along?” He used a soft tone, the same as he would if he were cajoling a whipped dog. “I will let you, but you must sing it properly. No mistakes.”

More tears slicked the girl’s face and dripped on the drop cloth underneath her. A bubble of snot blew from her nostril and hovered there waiting to pop. She shrank from him. The female seal-humped herself up and over the girl as if to hide the child beneath her body.
Oh, well. He wouldn’t allow them to destroy the pure freedom of this moment. He turned back to his task, losing himself in his song once more.
Save pomegranate seeds
as payment for the ferry man,
Offer red, red wine
as payment to the bar man.
Carve some red, red meat
as food for the hungry man.
Show some courage young man,
Find your calling young man.
And then, the wall was done, the completion of it sneaking up on him like a surprise party. He stepped off the ladder, moved it to the side to have an unobstructed view and then unzipped his painter’s coveralls and let them slide down his body.
The cool air whispered over his naked flesh like an endearment, the sensation wonderful after the confines of the material. His head fell back on his shoulders and he stood there absorbing and savoring. Everything from this moment to his finish would be carefully recorded in his memory. No matter what happened, no one could erase his memories. They were his alone—safe and untouchable—to be lovingly replayed until his death.
The female sobbed, deep throaty sounds similar to gagging. He faced the ones on the floor and used a gentle voice. “I do understand this is distressing for you, but I—” He dropped his tone a couple of octaves to show his seriousness. “—need. Complete. Silence.” He took his time, meeting and holding each one of their gazes before he continued. “I need to rest now.”
Only when they all quieted did he sit on the couch he had moved to face the wall. The material he’d spread over the cushions—couldn’t risk leaving DNA when he left—scratched against his ass and testicles, but that couldn’t be helped. He laid back, stretched out, waiting for his body to relax.
The blank canvas before him was a beautiful thing. All the potential in the world was right here. A picture waiting to be born.
He emptied his mind of all thoughts and feelings and stared at the wall. He stared, unblinking, until his vision yellowed and then darkened into something that looked akin to an x-ray. He stared, until tears watered his cheeks and his eyes burned like hot coals in their sockets. Only then did he catch a flash of what needed to be created—all he needed was a glimpse.
Wings. He saw wings.

He was about to create a masterpiece in blood.

A sense of timelessness came over him as he killed and painted. Painted and killed. He lost himself in his work. Not thinking about anything, just letting his hands wield the brushes mindless of the image he produced. When the blood was nearly gone and an image had been born upon the wall he came back to himself.

He stepped away from the wall taking more and more of it in with each footstep until he stood on the other side of the room, taking in the full magnitude.

The color contrast of blood on white was as breathtaking and beautiful as a flock of cardinal against the brilliance of snow. Tears burned his eyes. His face stung, and a wild freedom he’d hadn’t experienced in years surged through him. He recognized the feeling. In this moment he was God. The author of destruction. And creation.

The image he’d painted was so… No words existed to convey the gloriousness. Words were small and meaningless compared to this wall.

On the wall—a man knelt, head bowed, hair falling forward, shielding his face from view. Even in that supplicant’s position, supremacy and authority radiated from him. He looked like the strongest of warriors after a great battle—exhausted, but not weak. No. Never weak. There wasn’t an ounce of vulnerability in his sinew, muscle, and bone. Nor was there any delicacy to the lacework of scars marring the skin of his arms. And on his chest, directly over his heart were two criss-crossed slashes that dripped blood down his torso.

Surrounding him were a magnificent pair of wings. Not the kind you’d see on a sparrow or even on a chubby cupid, but the kind of wings that conveyed power and strength and utter indestructibility.

He loved the picture as he loved himself.

* * *

An incandescent flash and Cain returned to reality, to the stench of decomposing blood smeared over his face.

His brain re-categorized everything that he’d just seen and done into the it-wasn’t-really-me file. But that didn’t take the feelings away. The awe spreading through his chest at what he’d seen. The guilt sinking into his gut because he’d had no remorse.

A dull thumping started behind his eyes. Usually when he did his blood work, he was there for only a few seconds before skipping on to the next images and the next. Those flashes gave him a migraine every time, but seeing entire scenes like this…The migraine was gonna be a badass bitch today. He had maybe ten minutes before the pain ratcheted up to the level of axe-buried-in-his-brain.

Mac handed him a black towel—black concealed the blood better than any other color.

“You back?” Mac knelt next to him, his face full of concern, but Cain could see the concealed disgust in the way Mac’s mouth turned down at the corners, like he was fighting an outright grimace.

That look—especially when it was aimed at him—always took him back to the moment Mac found him. When Cain had been covered in snot and blood and shame. He had to give it Mac, the guy had tried to hide his horror, tried to pretend Cain was just a kid when he’d never been a kid. He’d been more monster than anything.

Cain scrubbed the material over his face, his arms, wiped his hands. The blood on his body—so thick and dry it smeared into his skin—would only come off after a good scouring down in a scalding shower.

He turned his attention to the image on the wall. But… There was no image, instead the wall had been painted gold, perfectly coordinated with the rest of the room. Mac must’ve called him back before the killer covered up his work with the paint.

Holy.

Fucking.

Christ.

His legs wobbled when he stood. His hand shook like an alcoholic in need of his jolly juice, but he pointed at the wall. “He painted a picture.” His brain bashed against the backs of his eyeballs. He wanted to press his hands to his eyes to keep them from exploding out of their sockets, but his hands were smeared with the family’s blood. The pain was only beginning.

“I… I don’t know what you mean.” Mac’s tone was full of question.

“He painted the wall white—made a blank canvas. Then he created a portrait—using the family’s blood—of some guy—” Cain closed his eyes, seeing on the back of his lids the scars lined up and down the man’s arms, the slashes over his heart, just like the ones on his—

“Fuck!” His lids popped open, his gaze automatically sought the wall, hoping to see the actual image again, but gold paint pulsed in his vision from the thumping inside his head. He held his arms out in front of him. Underneath the thin coating of blood on his skin, a network of white slashes ran from his wrists to his shoulders.

The wounds had healed decades ago, but the scars still remained. He pulled his shirt up high, and looked down at his chest stained with drying blood. A thick white criss-crossed scar rested over his heart—cut into his flesh by his father. Every scar on his body—placed there by his father.

“What is it?” Mac’s tone was full of question, mixed with a bit of suspicion. “You’ve got to talk to me. I don’t know what’s going on.”

Cain’s heart galloped up and down his rib cage, but he forced himself to speak slowly and quietly—in deference to the axe beating against his skull. He told Mac everything he’d seen and everything he remembered about the artwork in blood. “It’s there. You can’t see it, but it’s there. I’m there. Underneath that gold paint.”

It took a lot to catch Mac off guard and score one for Cain—he’d just done it.

Mac’s mouth was slightly open, lips twitching like they were trying to form words, until a one finally spilled out. “Infrared.” The word came out soft and hesitant. “We might be able to see the image using infrared photography.” Things went quiet for a moment while Mac stared at the perfectly painted gold wall. “Why paint you? Why not paint Killion? I mean people are obsessed with you both, but why choose you over him? And this guy made it clear it was you he painted. Without those scars we would’ve thought it was Killion.”

Yes. Cain was cursed with looking too much like his father—like one of the world’s most horrendous killers. It usually took a double-take and some head scratching before people realized he wasn’t Killer Killion.

Mac shook his head. “But then our guy covered up what he’d painted. Probably thinking we’d never know the image was there.”

“He even fucking signed it.” Cain didn’t realize until the words exited his mouth that he had seen a signature.

“He put his name on it?”

“Not his name. A symbol.” Cain wiped his hands harder on the towel then dropped it on the floor. He yanked his cell from his back pocket, and tapped on the art pad app. The white light from the phone lasered into his skull. It was all he could do to keep his eyes open and not groan out loud. He drew a Christian cross then put a hook on the bottom of it that looked like an upside down question mark “You’ve seen this before. I’ve seen this before.”

He showed the image to Mac and watched the guy’s face turn pink, then tomato with recognition.

“Yeah.” Cain voice was straight as a line. “It’s from my father’s last kill. But he didn’t do this. Not unless Petesville Super Max allows weekend furloughs.”

Mac snorted. “Only way he’s getting out of there is in a body bag.”

Couldn’t happen soon enough. His father was a stain on humanity. “So we know he didn’t do this.”

“But…” Mac’s words disappeared for eight thumps of Cain’s brain. “The girl—Mercy Ledger—made that mark on the wall as she was bleeding out from your father cutting… From her throat being cut. It didn’t mean anything. It doesn’t mean anything.”

Didn’t mean anything until today. That symbol was at that scene twenty years ago and it’s here now.”

Mac shook his head slowly like an old dog with neck problems. “No one ever questioned her about it. The prints on the wall were hers. Jesus—we need to find Mercy Ledger.”

Mac didn’t say it, but Cain knew how the man’s brain worked. Mac thought Mercy must’ve done this. “She didn’t do this. She’s been locked down in The Center of Balance and Wellness for the past few years.” The words popped out his mouth before he censored them. And he really should’ve censored them.

He lifted his arm, pressed his eyes against a clean patch of material near his shoulder, and spoke without looking at Mac. “I—” Yeah. Just what was he going to say? It wasn’t like he could confess that he’d been checking up on Mercy Ledger for the past twenty years. That would make him sound like a damned stalker. And stalking was considered the gateway drug to killing. “Liz told me.” Bold faced, flat-out, flaming-bright lie. And Mac would know it. The guy was trained to spot a lie at thirty paces. And yet, Cain would rather endure the cost of the lie, than spend the truth. Call him chicken shit—he would own it. He kept his eyes closed against his shoulder.

“Isn’t that a violation of confidentiality or something?” Mac worded it as a question, but it sounded like a statement. “Liz could lose her nursing license.”

But Liz hadn’t actually told him. He’d guessed. He’d known Liz long before he’d met Mac. In those dark days of childhood, his father had forced Cain to work with him at The Center. Liz had been a night nurse and the only person to ever show kindness to him. Even after his father had been caught, she remained a part of Cain’s life—babysitting him when Mac was away for work. She was one of the few people he considered a friend and the closest thing he’d ever had to a mother. And now he’d tossed her in front of the bus because he was a pussy.

The quiet closed in around him. His head felt like it was about to burst off his shoulders. His stomach started rolling.

“The Center?” Mac finally broke the quiet. “That’s a horrible irony.”

And it was. That Mercy Ledger had lived the past few years of her life among the same hallways his father had roamed as a janitor was beyond irony. It was downright wrong.

In a recent online auction, the knife Adam Killion used in the Ledger family murders sold for a record breaking 2.3 million dollars. The Son of Sam Law prohibits convicted felons from profiting from their crime, but someone just made a fortune.

~J. C. Brown, www.criminalnewsinvestigations.com

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Trailer

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Author Abbie Roads

Author Abbie Roads

About the Author
Seven Things about Abbie Roads:

She loves Snicker Parfaits. Gotta start with what’s most important, right?

She writes dark emotional books featuring damaged characters, but always gives her hero and heroine a happy ending… after torturing them for three hundred pages.

By day she’s a mental health counselor known for her blunt, honest style of therapy. At night she burns up the keyboard. Well… Burn might be too strong a word. She at least sits with her hands poised over the keyboard, waiting for inspiration to strike. And when it does—the keyboard might get a little warm.

She can’t stand it when people drive slowly in the passing lane. Just saying. That’s major annoying. Right?

She loves taking pictures of things she thinks are pretty.

She’s represented by Michelle Grajkowski of 3 Seas Literary.

Her first book RACE THE DARKNESS was a Publishers Weekly Top 10 Pick for Fall...

Where to find Abbie Roads
Goodreads | Website | NewsletterFacebook | Facebook GroupTwitter | Instagram | Pinterest

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Giveaway
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Chapter Reveal – FRACTURED SILENCE (Talon Pack) by Carrie Ann Ryan

New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author, Carrie Ann Ryan is revealing the first chapter from FRACTURED SILENCE, the fifth book in her adult paranormal romance series, Talon Pack, releasing April 18, 2017. See below for information the book, pre-order links, and an exclusive sneak peek at the first chapter.

FRACTURED SILENCE (Talon Pack #5) by Carrie Ann Ryan

FRACTURED SILENCE (Talon Pack #5) by Carrie Ann Ryan

About the Book
Title: FRACTURED SILENCE
Series: Talon Pack #5
Author: Carrie Ann Ryan
Publisher: Fated Desires, LLC
Release Date: April 18, 2017
Genre: Adult Paranormal Romance
Links: GoodreadsAmazon | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | Amazon AUBarnes & Noble | iBooksKobo | GooglePlay

Synopsis
The Talon Pack continues with a dark secret that could shatter the future of the Packs, or save them all.

Parker Jamenson is the son of three Packs, the sole mediator between every Pack in the United States and Europe, and…he’s dying. He knows he doesn’t have much left in him and is in desperate need of a mate. But with the new and unyielding changes thanks to the Moon Goddess, he might not have as much time as he thinks.

Brandon Brentwood is the Omega of the Talon Pack and the youngest of his family. He’s not only one of the famed triplets; he’s also the most secretive. There’s a good reason for that, however, and when a shocking revelation meshes the past and present in a very unexpected way, he’ll look to not only Parker but also a disgraced human to save them all.

Avery Montag knows she’s the daughter of a traitor and doesn’t have much to give the wolves in the way of atonement. But she’ll do everything she can to pay for her father’s sins and find a way to end the war between the humans and the wolves.

When the three turn to each other in a time of unrest and for vastly different reasons, temptation burns and seduction beckons. Only, the past, present, and future are never as solid as they seem, and the path the trio thought to travel may just vanish before they’re ready.

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FRACTURED SILENCE Teaser 1

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Chapter One
Before

Parker Jamenson woke with a start as someone knocked on the door to the small cabin he’d been staying in for the duration of his visit to this particular European Pack. Using his wolf’s senses, he inhaled deeply, noting that the person on the other side of the door was one of the younger wolves that had shown him around when he’d first gotten there. He hadn’t met most of the Pack, as the people of the den hadn’t been too keen on his presence. He’d only just fallen asleep in the armchair fully clothed, exhausted from the trip.

He’d already spoken to the Alpha about coming together with the Redwoods in times of war, but the damn man hadn’t been too eager to reveal his existence to the world. All Alphas were required to meet with Parker as the Voice of the Wolves because he was goddess-touched, but that didn’t mean they had to listen. Hell, most of them would rather bury their heads in the sand and ignore what was going on around them. And while his own Pack might be older than most in the United States, the European Packs were ancient and set in their ways. No one wanted to deal with the fact that the humans were aware of the shifters’ existence, but Parker knew that soon, no one would have a choice.

He opened the door after a moment and nodded at the young woman on the other side. “Tatiana.”

She smiled coyly at him before licking her lips. He could scent her wolf brushing up against her skin, wanting touch, but Parker wasn’t interested. He just wanted to get this meeting with the elders over with and head back home. Her long, honey-colored hair had been in a braid when he’d first met her, but now it looked as if she’d brushed it out over her shoulders and back so it cascaded over her curves. She’d also put on a long, white, flowing dress instead of the tan one she’d worn when he’d shown up.

And though she looked to be his same age and her power felt even younger, she dressed as if she were some maiden from a bygone era on the hunt for a knight.

Parker would not be that knight— no matter how much those eyes of hers flashed yearning.

“Parker,” she breathed. “I’m to take you to the elder circle for your last meeting before you go.” A pause. “It’s a shame we didn’t have more time to get to know one another while you were here. I understand you leave in the morning, but perhaps the meeting won’t take long, and I can show you more of the grounds. I’m sure your wolf could use some exercise.” She smiled. “And though it’s not a full moon, there’s just enough moonlight for the run to be… thrilling.”

He held back a chuckle that wanted to spill out since that would have been rude. She wasn’t hiding anything she wanted, and while he might have appreciated that on another day, he just wanted to go home. Besides, his wolf wasn’t interested in the woman in front of him, and while that might not matter for a quick night of heat, he didn’t have it in him to ignore his wolf tonight. Maybe I’m getting older, and in need of a mate, he thought. Or maybe he was just tired and missed his family. Either way, Tatiana wasn’t for him.

“I’m afraid I will have to get ready to head out after the elder circle.” He held back a frown at the crestfallen look on her face. They hadn’t said more than a few words before this, and though he was a new wolf to her, he wasn’t the only healthy adult male wolf around.

“I understand,” she said softly. “Follow me, then.” She turned without another word, but he didn’t miss the extra sway to her hips— an invitation if he were to change his mind.

Keeping his thoughts to himself so he wouldn’t inadvertently hurt her again if he were to change his mind— which he wouldn’t— he followed her through the winding, dirt paths of the den toward the oldest part at the edge of the center. It made sense that this was where the elders chose to live— just slightly outside the most used part of the den for privacy but not near the edge in case of an attack. As elders, they were to not only be respected but also protected.

Tatiana left Parker with a nod, and he bent to walk under a low-lying branch so he could make it to the elder’s circle. Encircling the firepit were seven older wolves of various sizes— three women and four men. At his entry, they all looked up as a unit and stared at him.

If he hadn’t seen his own elders do this before, he would have been creeped out. Elder wolves were those who had either lost their mates long ago or had never been mated, so they didn’t have a connection to the new world or the Pack except through their bonds to the Alpha and those in the hierarchy. After living for centuries, some wolves could no longer deal with the drastic changes of society and chose to cloister themselves. Many of the wolves held immense power on their own because of their age and used that strength to protect the Pack in any way they could.

Parker looked back at the elders respectfully. Though each of the wolves had at least two centuries on him, none of them looked a day over thirty-five. Wolf genetics never ceased to amaze him and he’d been born a wolf.

“Parker Jamenson, of the Redwoods,” the woman closest to him said after a moment. “Welcome. I am Aurora. We’re pleased you were able to take the time to meet with us before you head out on your journey home.”

Parker bowed his head in deference. “I will always meet with my elders, Aurora. To ignore those who have lived the past is to ignore what the future may bring.”

She smiled softly at his words and gestured for him to sit down before introducing him to the others. He kept their names in the back of his mind, but he knew that it was Aurora who led here, and she would be the one to speak.

“We’ve asked you to join us because we believe we have something that once belonged to your people. Your line.”

Parker’s eyes widened. “The Redwoods?” How did something of theirs find its way here?

“Not that line.” Aurora’s eyes went gold, her wolf rising to the surface. “The line of the first hunter. You are the son of the son of the son of the line of the first hunter, are you not?”

Parker froze. Not many people knew that his family came from that line. In fact, he’d only recently learned that his ancestor was the first human to be made into a wolf by the moon goddess as a punishment for what the man had done to defenseless prey. She’d forced the man to become the thing he killed for sport, compelled him to share a soul with that of a wolf. From there, new wolves were made, and shifters were born.

His uncle, Logan, had dealt with horrible side effects from that past, but other than his strength, Parker hadn’t really thought about what that meant. Logan had been far too aggressive even at a young age, and it had taken him years to learn how to fully control his wolf. He, like Parker, had also had to learn how to use their strength wisely when they’d been mere pups and still had to deal with some bursts of overextension some days. The family bloodline was diluted over time, and Parker had had more recent issues with it thanks to his birth father. His mother might be of the line of their honorable ancestors and campfire stories, but his birth father had been one of nightmares. He’d never truly met the man as he’d been young when Corbin died, but he knew the stories. Knew that the former Central Alpha had killed countless in his quest for power.

He pushed that thought out of his head, as he knew just letting it in would enrage him.

“I’m of that line, yes,” he answered after a moment. No need to lie as he had a feeling these wolves knew far more than this. “What did you find?” he asked.

Aurora nodded at one of the male wolves after Parker had spoken. The male stood up with shaky hands, a large box wrapped in cloth clasped between them.

Aurora took it gently from him. “This box is made of the woods of our people— Redwood, Aspen, Oak, and so forth. It is said those first Packs, along with the first ever, came together to make it.”

Parker frowned. “What’s in the box?”

“Open it and see.”

Though his wolf had stood at attention as soon as they’d mentioned the box, it wasn’t until Aurora unwrapped it— keeping her hands on the cloth rather than the wood— that his wolf howled.

He frowned. “I’m not going to open something I haven’t looked into with wolves I don’t know. I’m sorry if that’s disrespectful, but that just doesn’t seem like a good idea to me.”

Aurora’s eyes flashed, but he had a feeling it was more out of respect than anger. “It’s good you’re cautious. That will help.”

“Help what?”

“There is a prophecy,” she said after a moment. He blinked.

“A prophecy?” Why did he feel like he’d suddenly jumped into an old Indiana Jones movie?

Aurora’s eyes unfocused as she spoke in a deeper voice.

“A wolf of three Packs can break their will or unite them all.

“Once united, the Packs will reveal…

“If broken, the Packs will fall…”

Parker’s wolf rushed to the surface at her words, and he tried to blink, attempted to reach out and catch the woman as she fell forward after she’d finished speaking. Only he felt as if he were moving slower than usual, his mind not quite where it should be. His hand brushed the top of the box, and it slid to the ground, opening on impact.

He looked down, his head going fuzzy, his mouth dry.

An ancient dagger, or perhaps the tip of a spear, rolled out of the box amidst a dust cloud that slapped at his face.

“The weapon of the first hunter,” Aurora croaked before passing out completely. The others surrounded them, yet he could do nothing but try to keep himself upright.

Parker tried to speak but couldn’t force his mouth to work. Instead, his body broke out in a cold sweat, and he fell face-first to the ground.

The last thing he thought about before passing out was his family.

They weren’t here to help him.

No one was here to help him.

He was all alone.And it was his fault.

Again.

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FRACTURED SILENCE Teaser 2
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Author Carrie Ann Ryan

Author Carrie Ann Ryan

About the Author
Carrie Ann Ryan is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of contemporary and paranormal romance. Her works include the Montgomery Ink, Redwood Pack, Talon Pack, and Gallagher Brothers series, which have sold over 2.0 million books worldwide. She started writing while in graduate school for her advanced degree in chemistry and hasn’t stopped since. Carrie Ann has written over fifty novels and novellas with more in the works. When she’s not writing about bearded tattooed men or alpha wolves that need to find their mates, she’s reading as much as she can and exploring the world of baking and gourmet cooking.

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Where to Find Carrie Ann Ryan
Goodreads | Website | NewsletterFacebook | Twitter
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Excerpt Reveal – BETRAYED BY LIES (Bound and Broken) by Rebecca Shea

BETRAYED BY LIES Cover Reveal

USA Today bestselling author, Rebecca Shea, is unveiling the cover to BETRAYED BY LIES, the third book in her new adult romantic suspense series, Bound & Broken, releasing April 24. 2017. See below for information on the book and series, pre-order links, and an exclusive look at Chapter 1.

BETRAYED BY LIES (Bound & Broken #3) by Rebecca Shea

BETRAYED BY LIES (Bound & Broken #3) by Rebecca Shea

About the Book
Title: BETRAYED BY LIES
Series: Bound & Broken #3
Author: Rebecca Shea
Genre: New Adult Romantic Suspense
Release Date: April 24, 2017
Links: Goodreads | Barnes & NobleiBooks | Kobo | GooglePlay

Synopsis
From the USA Today bestselling author of the Unbreakable series, comes a sexy, heart-wrenching novel…Betrayed by Lies.

As an ATF agent, bringing down the Estrada cartel has been my sole mission. I’m a skilled agent, determined and fearless, but a relentless pursuit and a willingness to risk everything almost killed me.

A year later, when an opportunity in Los Angeles presents itself, I jump at the chance to start over and rebuild the career and life I almost lost.

Kate Stevens was not part of my new plan. I never expected she would be the one to save me from my past. She was exactly what I needed—smart, beautiful and independent. I finally have a future I look forward to.

Only nothing in my life ever goes according to plan. Losing Kate is not an option, but fate seems poised to ruin me, and there isn’t a damn thing I can do about it.

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Chapter 1 – Sam

I wake with a start, sitting straight up in my bed. Cool air fills my lungs when I gasp, pulling a deep breath in. My eyes slowly adjust to the dark room, and I rub the sweat from my forehead before swinging my feet over the edge of the bed and resting my arms on my knees. The dream is always the same, the piercing pain of the bullets hitting my flesh…and the fear of dying, scared and alone.

An exaggerated huff leaves my mouth when I see the alarm clock on the bedside table. It reads four-ten in the morning. That puts three hours and twenty minutes of sleep under my belt. It’s the longest I’ve slept since I arrived in Los Angeles three days ago.

I’m used to surviving on very little sleep, but the nightmares of that night are back and making it more difficult to find rest. I push myself out of bed and throw on a pair of athletic shorts and t-shirt. Grabbing my phone and hotel room key, I head to the gym. With no one else up this early, I play music directly from my phone while watching CNN with subtitles as I get my daily seven-mile run in.

I like running outdoors better, but it’s easier to use the gym and treadmill here at the hotel. My phone pings with incoming texts, but I focus on my run. The burn in my lungs relieves the stress in my shoulders. Sweat coats my skin and drips from my nose as I increase my speed—pushing myself harder. The treadmill roars as I increase the speed yet again, and my heart pounds wildly against my ribcage as my lungs fight for air.

Pain—it’s the only way I know I’m alive.

Pain in my chest. My mind. My body.

The treadmill slows just as my phone pings again, multiple times, alerting me to more incoming text messages—messages that I ignore. I’ve got three days’ worth waiting for a response, and I’m in no hurry to get to them. Transferring to the ATF offices in Los Angeles makes for an easy reason to avoid everyone and everything. Avoidance is what I do best.

I grab a bottle of water and return to my room for a shower before heading into my new office. New office. New job. New city. New state. New life.

A chance to start over. A chance to leave the past where it belongs…in the past. I pull a suit out of the closet and turn on the shower to let the water warm up.

Raking my hands over my face, I do my best to shove the events of last year to the back of my mind, but the life goes out of my eyes when I see the scars scattered across my chest. They’re a constant reminder of the day I lost almost everything…including my life.

Standing in front of the mirror, I run my hand up over my chest and shoulder, my fingertips brushing the smooth surface of the scars spread across the left side of my chest. I ball my hands tightly and release, repeating two more times, a coping mechanism my physical therapist taught me to deal with my anger.

I step into the shower and let the hot water ease my tension. My neck, shoulders, and back instantly begin to relax, and I allow my mind to let go at the same time. “New beginnings,” I mumble to myself as the shower cleanses me of my anger, a baptism of sorts.

I dress and am out the door in less than thirty minutes, easing my car onto the bumper-to-bumper packed L.A. freeway. A commute that would take me less than ten minutes in Phoenix takes me damn near forty-five. I find a covered parking spot just as my phone begins to ring. A number I don’t recognize flashes on the screen, and I decline the call. I don’t have the time nor patience to deal with unknown callers. Gathering my suit coat and phone, I find my way to the main entrance, using the security badge that was sent to me prior to my arrival to allow me entrance into the building.

My phone begins ringing again just as I’m weaving my way through the lobby and headed to the elevators. Same number. This time I press accept and answer. Before I even speak, the female voice on the other end catches me off guard.

“Oh my god, I didn’t expect you to answer.” She pauses. “I was leaving a voice mail and my call dropped so I was just calling back to finish the message.” I hear her sigh. “This is Kate Stevens. Nick Stevens sister. He gave me your number.” Nick Stevens, my new boss. “He mentioned that you might need a place to rent. I have a guesthouse he thought would be perfect for you, and he asked me to call you. I’m sorry if this caught you off guard. He said he was going to speak with you.” She finally stops speaking so I can get a word in.

“Hello, Kate. Nick didn’t mention this to me.”

I hear her sigh loudly. “He’s the most unorganized human being alive,” she mumbles, and I can’t help but chuckle. I’ve met the guy three times, and she’s right from my observation as well. “I’m so sorry to have called you,” she apologizes.

“Don’t be. I’d love to check out the place. I got here Friday, and I’ve been staying in a hotel while I look for something more permanent—”

“Don’t feel obligated,” she cuts me off.

“I don’t,” I answer her honestly. “I’m mainly looking for something not too far from the office and just somewhere to lay my head. Nothing fancy. I won’t be around much because all I ever do is work.”

“Sounds like Nick,” she says with a small laugh. “You’re welcome to check out the house anytime. It’s close to your office, but it’s a little off the beaten path near the foothills. Either call or text me, and we’ll schedule a time for you to stop by, or have Nick show it to you anytime. He knows where I hide the spare key. I’m also not home often so coordinating our schedules might be tough.”

I hear a horn honk in the background as she mutters a string of curse words worthy of an R-rating, and I can’t help but laugh. “That sounds great. Thanks for calling, Kate.”

She ends the call without another word, and I’m left standing in the lobby of my new office, laughing.

The morning is spent being briefed on projects that the team is working on and investigating. I’ll be taking over a case that my predecessor left when he was promoted to a position in Washington D.C., as well as anything new that comes in.

There’s a quick knock on my doorjamb before Nick sticks his head in my office. “You got any lunch plans?”

“Not today,” I toss over my shoulder as I close the folder on my desk.

“Let’s go grab a quick bite. I need to get the hell out of this office.” He loosens the tie around his neck. Nick is about my height and build, probably a few years older than me, California born and raised, and started in the San Diego field office. Worked his way up to Los Angeles and plans to retire here.

I grab my phone and slide it into the pocket of my suit jacket.

“How’s the first day treating you?” he asks as we weave through cubicles lining the rectangular office floor outside our offices.

“Good. Just briefing myself on the Navarro case.”

“We’ve been working on that for years,” he grumbles. “Hoping you can close the deal on that one.” His car beeps as we approach and he unlocks the doors. “Hey,” he buckles himself in and starts the car. “You do great work. I heard how you took down the Estrada cartel.” He slides his sunglasses on his face.

My heart races as I wonder how much he knows—if he’s aware the Estradas are my family. It was well known in the Phoenix office, but I’m not sure how much Los Angeles knows about my ‘family’ history. I nod but don’t say anything.

“You’re the best of the best, which is why you’re going to take down Navarro,” he continues as we take off down the road. “It was easy for me to approve the transfer request.”

“Thanks.” I offer a tight smile and turn to look out the passenger window.

“I’m excited for you to kick ass here in L.A. So why the hell did you want to leave Phoenix anyway? There’s so much shit going on in that office, you must’ve had years of work still.”

I blow a puff of air from my mouth. “My injuries—”

“Shit, I forgot about that. Sorry, continue.” He winces as I continue.

“My injuries fully healed with time and physical therapy, and I wrapped up the cases I was working on.” I look at him out of the corner of my eye to gauge his response. He raps his thumb against the steering wheel and nods his head slowly. “And it just felt like it was a good time to start fresh. Start over with a clean slate.”

He turns his head to look at me. “I cannot tell you how lucky we are to have you here in Los Angeles. I hope you’re fully prepared to kick ass and take names.”

I can’t help but smile, appreciating the vote of confidence.

***

As the day winds down and the office empties, I find myself wrapped up in the case file on my desk, familiarizing myself with all the key players, the locations where the guns are being held, and the evidence that we have to date, along with notes on what we still need to document.

Nick doesn’t knock when he enters my office this time, rather throwing himself into the chair across my desk with an exaggerated sigh.

“What’s the sigh for?” I ask him as I tuck the case file into my bag. I’ll finish combing through the remaining details tonight and make my own notes. I have a system for how I set up my case folders, and I need to rework all of these.

“Just a Monday,” he states, looking around my bare office. “You going to decorate or something? Throw a poster on the wall?” He waves his hand around, gesturing to the stark gray walls.

“Decorate? No. I do have some awards and diplomas I’ll hang once they arrive. They’re being sent from Phoenix.”

He nods, content with that answer.

I clear my throat. “Speaking of decorating, I got a call from Kate.” I raise my eyebrows and sit back in my desk chair. “She said something about having a guesthouse to rent. Were you going to tell me she was going to call?”

“I did. I sent you a text on Saturday.” He relaxes in his chair and props a foot on his opposite knee.  I really need to stop ignoring my messages. He continues, “I stopped by to see her this weekend and forgot she had that guesthouse. Immediately thought of you when I saw it.”

“Thanks. I need to find some time to check it out. Living out of a hotel room is less than ideal.” I reach over and power down my laptop.

“Let’s go now. It’s just down the road a few miles. I know where she keeps the spare key if she’s not there.”

“She also mentioned that,” I laugh.

“Grab your shit and let’s go. You can follow me there.” He jumps up from the chair and quickly pulls his tie off. Nick looks more like an outdoorsman than a senior agent with the ATF. He looks uncomfortable in a suit. I see him more as the park ranger type, running around in cargos and hiking boots.

I follow suit, loosening my tie as I follow him to our cars.

A few miles is more like fifteen, and about half of those miles are in bumper-to-bumper L.A. traffic. Something that I’m not sure I’ll ever adjust to. Once we exit the freeway, we wind through gorgeous neighborhoods all the way back to the base of the foothills. I would never in a million years guess the house we pull up to is a house in a suburb of Los Angeles. It sits on what I assume is about an acre of lush green land with neighbors spread out down a long secluded, tree-lined street. The ranch style house is simple yet modern with an updated exterior, wood shutters, and wrought iron accessories.

“Not a bad drive, eh,” Nick says as we both step out of our cars in the driveway. “I should say for L.A. standards. If your commute is under an hour, you’re pretty much living the life,” he laughs.

It really wasn’t a bad commute. I eyeball the watch on my wrist and the drive was just under thirty minutes. Nick reaches inside a hanging planter that swings from the covered front porch and pulls out a key. He waves me toward the side of the house where a brick sidewalk snakes around to the guesthouse that sits just off the main house. It looks exactly like the main house, just slightly smaller.

“This is it,” he says, sliding the key into the front door. “One bedroom, a small office slash library, kitchen, living room, and one and a half baths.”

We step inside. It’s obviously been remodeled recently. The smell of fresh paint hits me as I walk deeper into the house. Everything is brand new, sleek, and modern. Bright white trim and doors offset light gray walls. A dark wood floor makes the bright white kitchen pop against the stainless steel appliances.

“The only thing that’s missing is a washer and dryer. She said she’d order those once she leased the house. The laundry room is off the back.” He points to a door off the kitchen. “It’s a large pantry and a laundry room.”

I’m impressed with what I’ve seen thus far. I walk through the open living room and down the hall to the bedroom. It’s large and bright with one wall of windows that start near the ceiling and stretch about three quarters of the way down the wall. Long, dark gray curtains hang to each side of the paneled windows that overlooks more of the lush backyard. There’s a single French door that leads to a small brick patio off the master bedroom, and a table and chairs sit out there. In the middle of the table is a fire pit. I instantly imagine myself relaxing around this table with a beer after a long day at the office.

I head back down the hallway where I stop and peek my head in the office. It’s got two glass French doors that lead into the square room. One entire wall has built in bookshelves and a built in desk. It’s the perfect home office.

I scan the living room and kitchen again and make note that my dark furniture will fit perfectly in the space and complements the gray and white theme throughout. This might be the easiest decision I’ve made since deciding to move to Los Angeles.

Nick steps out front while I take one last look around, making mental notes of the space and things I’ll need shipped from Phoenix.

After we step outside and Nick locks the door, I hear him shuffling behind me on the brick walkway. “So what do you think?”

“Perfect. It’s everything I was looking for,” I say as I spin around and am met face-to-face with the bluest eyes I’ve ever seen. I stumble momentarily because, for half a second, those words mean so much more than just the house I was looking at.

“I’m Kate,” she says, her voice strong and secure. She holds her hand out to shake mine. She’s tall with light brown hair that hangs just past her shoulders, and she’s wearing a navy blue dress and heels that put her at almost my six-foot-two. Confident. She’s confident. I can read a woman by the way she carries herself, the tone of her voice, and what she wears.

I take her hand in mine and smile. “Sam. Sam Cortez. I’ll take it.” Again, those words mean so much more than just the house.

Her lips turn into a half smile, and she holds eye contact with me. She licks her lips and tilts her head before glancing over to Nick and then back to me. “Nice to meet you, Sam Cortez. Welcome home.”

And my heart begins to beat again for the first time in eighteen months.

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BROKEN BY LIES (Bound & Broken #1) by Rebecca Shea

BROKEN BY LIES (Bound & Broken #1) by Rebecca Shea

About Book 1
Title: BROKEN BY LIES
Series: Bound & Broken #1
Author: Rebecca Shea
Genre: New Adult Romantic Suspense
Release Date: February 17, 2015
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | Amazon AU | Barnes & NobleiBooks | Kobo | GooglePlay

Synopsis
I had no idea how much I would love Alex the day he walked into my life.
He changed everything.
The way I breathed.
The way I thought.
The way I loved.
He brought me back to life.
He gave me strength and a safe place to land.

And then he broke me.

Finding Emilia was a chance to do something good for once in my life.
I wanted to change.
She believed I was her savior.
I ached to be.
She found her way into my heart and claimed it as her safe place.
I should be telling her the truth about me…instead I break her with lies.

This book is a New Adult Romance and contains mature subject matter. It is not intended for those under 17 years of age.. .

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BOUND BY LIES (Bound & Broken #2) by Rebecca Shea

BOUND BY LIES (Bound & Broken #2) by Rebecca Shea

About Book 2
Title: BOUND BY LIES
Series: Bound & Broken #2
Author: Rebecca Shea
Genre: New Adult Romantic Suspense
Release Date: June 15, 2015
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | Amazon AU | Barnes & NobleiBooks | Kobo | GooglePlay

Synopsis
Torn between two men; one was what I needed, the other was what I wanted.

One man was safe and the other was dangerous.

But both men would lay down their lives to save me.

ATF agent Sam Cortez is fighting to bring down the Estrada family empire, which was built on murder and corruption.

Alex Estrada did what was needed to keep me safe…and paid with his life.

Starting over as I try to rebuild my life, it’s clear that the past is never what it seems.

What no one knew was that we were all bound by lies.

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Author Rebecca Shea

Author Rebecca Shea

About the Author
Rebecca Shea is the USA Today Bestselling author of the Unbreakable series (Unbreakable, Undone, and Unforgiven) and the Bound and Broken series (Broken by Lies and Bound by Lies). She lives in Phoenix, Arizona with her family. From the time Rebecca could read she has had a passion for books. Rebecca spends her days working and her nights writing, bringing stories to life. Born and raised in Minnesota, Rebecca moved to Arizona in 1999 to escape the bitter winters. When not working or writing, she can be found on the sidelines of her sons’ football games, or watching her daughter at ballet class.Rebecca is fueled by insane amounts of coffee, margaritas, Laffy Taffy (except the banana ones), and happily ever afters.

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Where to Find Rebecca Shea
Goodreads | Website | FacebookTwitter | Instagram
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Book Blitz – Excerpt + Giveaway – THE PENANCE OF PRIDE (Shadyia Ascendant) by T.S. Adrian

THE PENANCE OF PRIDE Book Blitz

Welcome to the book blitz for THE PENANCE OF PRIDE, the second book in the adult fantasy series, Shadiyia Ascendant, by T.S. Adrian. See below for information the book, buy links, an exclusive excerpt, and details on her giveaway.

THE PENANCE OF PRIDE (Shadyia Ascendant #2) by T.S. Adrian

THE PENANCE OF PRIDE (Shadyia Ascendant #2) by T.S. Adrian

About the Book
Title: THE PENANCE OF PRIDE
Series: Shadiyia Ascendant #2
Author: T.S. Adrian
Release Date: March 31, 2017
Genre: Adult Fantasy
Links: GoodreadsAmazon | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | Amazon AU

Synopsis
Shadyia’s Adventure Continues!

‘I will never leave you, and I will always come for you.’

Shadyia’s vow to her lover is put to the test when the Innocenti rise and envelope the sisterhood she adores.

As the magician she aided hunts for the path to an ancient city, the new madam of the Silver Rose strives to please the evil that has promised, upon its freedom, to make her a queen.

Meanwhile, the advisor to the Innocenti prepares the final stage of his strategy to crush the faith of the old gods. He needs but a bit of magic to carry out his ultimate plan.

Magicians. Zealots. Madams. Whores. It’s all the same to he who waits within the enchanted box. Soon he will unleash his servants, and every horror of the abyss will once again consume humanity.

 

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Excerpt
IN THE SHADOW of the Black Tower, Shadyia nudged the shoulder of the scruffy, tired woman strolling by her side. When Deresi turned her head, she offered her a spirited wave. Hello, my sweet friend. They both needed a hot bath and a good night’s rest, but that hardly mattered. Deresi was alive. They had each survived the horrors of Mirrikh’s labyrinth with whole skins and sound minds.

Deresi crossed her eyes and stuck out the tip of her tongue.

Shadyia shifted her attention to the damp street. Yes, I know. I should stop gawking at you. She couldn’t help it. Her fingers ached to get lost in the tangles of Deresi’s red curls; her ears yearned for the sounds of Deresi’s passion, and her skin craved the warmth they had not shared often enough. I almost lost you. The death they had faced during the past two days made her crave another night, like the smallest fox in a litter peering at the last quail egg. Words Shadyia had spoken that morning they lay entwined in arms, legs and blankets—the morning Deresi had pledged her love—coursed through Shadyia’s veins and spurred her heart to beat. I will never leave you, and I will always come for you. Shadyia had never made such a promise to anyone before.

She yanked her thoughts from the past and listened in on the men walking a few paces in front of her. Aaron was asking his apprentice what it had been like to hear Verthandi’s voice in his thoughts.

“I didn’t know it was his voice,” Benjamin replied. “I thought it was mine.”

Aaron swept a hand through his graying hair and narrowed his gaze at the young man. “But you had no idea how to open the tower. Didn’t it seem odd to you that these thoughts were in your head?”

Benjamin shrugged. “It does now. At the time, I thought I was just guessing, experimenting. Do this, turn that, push, pull—and then the doors opened. I couldn’t believe it.”

Shadyia seized the pommel of her blacksteel sword. She couldn’t believe Benjamin had left Janell outside while he bumbled around inside the Black Tower. Janell may be a fellow sister of the Silver Rose, but for all of Madam Amrita’s training, she was a mewling kitten lost in a rainstorm. Anderholm was no city to walk about alone, even for a veteran with a drawn sword and a stern gaze on every dark alley. Shadyia tamped down her anger. If Benjamin hadn’t opened the doors of the tower and entered, she, Deresi and Aaron would now be facing a slow death from thirst and starvation in Mirrikh’s oubliette, the place the ancient magician had used to forget people who had angered him.

Aaron led them north. They followed the smooth stones of Queen’s Way, the scrape of their footfalls the only sounds in the damp streets. Shadyia glanced around. Too quiet. Today was the second day of Samprina and so the citizens were either fasting in their homes or visiting relatives in the country, but the silence didn’t feel right. Anderholm was a city of noise. The clap of hooves, the roll of wagons, merchants bellowing over one another, armed guards hollering to clear a path for a snobbish lord on horseback, the squeal of orphaned children, the bark of dogs—chaos was the lifeblood of Anderholm. Quiet did not become the trade capitol of the northern realms.

“Here, this way.” Aaron turned them down a long alley between the Ministry of Art and a pottery warehouse. As Shadyia recalled, the alley ended at the Rum Barrel Inn near the Bridge of Swans. Aaron’s Featherquill Manor, packed with the historical books he had written over his many centuries, was a short walk up a winding road past the other mansions in the Artisan Quarter. When they arrived, he had promised to treat them to an evening of relaxing and recovering. Shadyia blew a gust through her lips at the thought. After two days and a night in the dark, twisting halls of labyrinth, pits of spikes hidden under false floors and shadow beasts that drained the life from their victims, she craved a quiet evening in Deresi’s arms more than all the gold in Anderholm. I just hope Janell made it back there without trouble.

Midway through the alley, a single-horse cart, driven by two cloaked men, rolled toward them. Shadyia and the others flattened themselves against the wall. She turned her head as it passed. Some mortified soul lay wrapped in a heavy cloth in the back of the cart. Likely the men were gravediggers on their way to—The corpse! Shadyia recognized its white boots.

“Stop that cart!”

The driver snapped his reins against the horse as Aaron grabbed the air and twisted his fist. The wheels locked and dragged until the cart screeched to a halt. The driver lashed his reins again, but the horse only reared. The men, one thin and the other large, jumped back off the bench, stepped around the wrapped figure and dropped to the street. They threw open their cloaks and pulled out a pair of long knives. Shadyia drew her blacksteel sword as she and Aaron met them halfway. Aaron twisted his hands, palms outward, and the fat one was hurled against the wall by an unseen force. The other stood dumbfounded until Shadyia knocked the knife out of his hand with a downward slash and pressed the tip of her sword under his chin.
“Over there, move,” she said, urging the driver, a man with dark lines tattooed on half his face, to stand next to his fat companion. He lifted his hands in surrender and complied.

The force holding the large man released, but Shadyia moved the tip and pricked the fleshy pouch under his chin. “Drop the knife.”

The knife clattered to the street and the fat man lifted his portly arms.

“Dee, check the cart.”

Deresi snatched the thin man’s knife off the ground and leaped into the cart. Shadyia heard her cut the ropes. She glanced down the alley to make sure no others were coming, but only Benjamin stood there, ringing his hands and looking as if he were not sure what he should do.

Silence from the cart drove Shadyia to risk a glance. Deresi was sitting back on her heels, her shoulders slumped, staring down at the person she had partly exposed beneath the cloth. “Dee, who is it? Is it Janell?”

Deresi’s mouth moved but no sound came out. “I…”

What’s wrong with her? “Dee!”

“I can’t tell!” Deresi briefly covered her lips with trembling fingers. “I think it is.”

Benjamin charged, jolting Shadyia as he passed, and leaped into the cart.

A freezing wave passed over Shadyia. Deresi couldn’t tell? She glanced at Aaron, who had remained at her side, then faced the portly man and jabbed him with the tip. “What did you do to her?”

The fat man’s jaw shuddered and a drop of blood leaked down his pouch. “She asked to join us.”

Shadyia nearly stabbed him again when Benjamin’s wail echoed along the alley. “Mentor, please help!”

Aaron rushed the cart as Shadyia coiled back her sword, daring either man to move. She glanced as Aaron further pulled open the cloth, stained dark red on the inside, to reveal a naked body. Benjamin wailed anew as Aaron placed a hand on her forehead. Deresi scooted back into the corner of the cart and stared at Janell, as motionless as one posing for a sculpture.

Benjamin sobbed. “What have they done to her?”

“She’s alive,” Aaron said.

Movement from the tattooed man caught Shadyia’s attention. His hands came down—back!—and she stabbed deep in his shoulder.

He snarled, reeled and fell against the wall, his hand over the wound. “You bitch.” He checked the blood on his fingers.“Next time it will be your eye.”

A bellow of anguish tore Shadyia from the men. Aaron fell off the cart, hit the cobbled stones hard, and rolled on the ground. Benjamin called his name and jumped down as Deresi stood high on her knees, her face pale.

Benjamin kneeled and grabbed Aaron by the shoulders. “Mentor, what’s wrong, what’s happened?”

Aaron knocked the hands away and rolled on his side, agony twisting his face. He howled and thrashed as if someone had set fire to his clothing. Shadyia glared at the men. Had they done something? No. They stood with gaping mouths and baffled stares.

His hands covering his face, Aaron seemed to bring his torment under control. He sat up and turned eyes of pure rage on Shadyia’s prisoners. “Innocenti. They mutilated her,” he said through seething gasps. “That one and that one. There was a third, but he’s not here. They raped and tortured her for hours.”

He pushed Benjamin back, rolled to his feet, and brought his hands up as if he were lifting the end of a table. The men slammed against the wall and slid up until their feet dangled.

“Vile warlock,” the tattooed one said then spat. “Fate will be your judge.”

Lowering her sword, Shadyia stepped back from Aaron, the wrath on his face choking her breath. Never had she seen him so enraged. A pair of sharp metal rods, twice as long as the men were tall, materialized in the air. With a clang of metal on rock that made her jolt, the spikes plunged into the stone at feet of the men.

They drifted forward and hovered over the sharp ends.

Terror filling his eyes, the tattooed one thrashed against the force that held him. “No, you can’t do that!”

The other pissed himself.

Shadyia reached out her hand. No, Aaron no. Don’t. The men deserved it, but not at the cost of Aaron’s humanity. She touched his shoulder, and a force struck away her hand.

Aaron didn’t even look in her direction. “Her name is Janell. Say it.”

“Janell,” both men said.

“Again.”

“Janell,” they repeated, louder.

Shadyia’s heart hammered as the stance of their feet widened. She couldn’t stop Aaron any more than grasp a boiling cauldron to stay its heat.

“Good,” Aaron said and pushed down his hands. The men dropped.

The spikes pierced their trousers between their legs. The men shrieked louder than Shadyia thought a human throat capable. Blood soaked their leggings as they slowly slid until their boots touched the street. She cringed before the horror. This had to be an illusion. Aaron had said he couldn’t make actual things, not without—

The men shrieked once more as the shirts behind their necks stretched and tore. The spikes reemerged, their tips glistening in blood.

Aaron turned his back on the screaming, flailing men and stepped into the cart. He pulled the cloth over Janell, leaving her face uncovered.

“I don’t know of a physician in Anderholm who could help her. Do you have any at the Silver Rose?”

“Yes, we do,” Shadyia replied, unable to stop her trembling. “And we use jilqu oil.”

He sat in the center of the bench and took the reins of the near panicked horse. Shadyia returned the blacksteel sword to its sheath and leaped in next to a pale-faced Deresi. Benjamin quickly joined her and the cart jerked straight thanks to an unseen force. Aaron tapped the reins.

The cries of the men followed as they rolled along the alley.

Darkness that made Shadyia think of the labyrinth pressed in on all sides as the wagon made its way along the forest road in Kingsleaf. Every bump the wagon’s wheels stuck jarred her like men beating her with their fists. Benjamin lay next to Janell and stroked what remained of her hair. The Innocenti torturers had hacked most of it off, probably with a knife. Tears made lines on his cheeks as he called her name. Janell didn’t respond.

Deresi sat with her back to the corner, hugging her knees. She didn’t speak or look at Janell. She’s as horrified as me, and not just as what had happened to Janell. Shadyia had never seen men impaled. The practice had been outlawed in Anderholm more than a century ago. The stories she heard had always seemed exaggerated. No man could actually survive an injury like that for more than a few seconds. She no longer believed that.

The rising moon gave them enough light to see the road, but just barely. Shadyia sighed. Soon they would arrive at the Silver Rose. Makayla will probably blame me for what happened to Janell. The new madam of the Silver Rose had commanded Shadyia not to leave the palace without her permission, and now she was returning in a wagon with a sister near death, a coin she was supposed to be seducing, his apprentice and Deresi. Fate hates me tonight. Shadyia chastised herself at the thought. If they had been a moment sooner or later, she never would have seen the cart and those vile men would likely now be burying Janell in a shallow grave outside the city. Aaron believed there were no gods, but at times like this, when events were too grave to be mere coincidence, Shadyia found it hard to agree with him.

She reached down and touched Janell’s neck. The pulse was there, but weak. She looked at Aaron, still at the reins. He hadn’t spoken since driving them out of the city and into the forest. Words formed in her mouth, but the will to utter them couldn’t cross her throat. The magic Aaron had used to kill those men wasn’t beautiful and wondrous. It wasn’t butterflies hovering over his hand or a variety of delicious treats to eat and drink. For the first time in her life, she feared a man.

They cleared the forest and approached the Dawn Gate. She unbuckled the baldric holding blacksteel sword and hid it as best she could. If anyone searched the cart they’d likely find it. She didn’t care.

Aaron stopped the cart and jumped off. He walked to the back, gathered up Janell and carried her to the gate. Benjamin raced him there and franticly rang the bell. The minutes that followed passed in a blur of activity. Guardian sisters escorted them in, calling for Mrs. Amber, the palace physician. Sisters cried out as they saw Janell. The word spread and soon a crowd of weeping, angry or shocked women gathered round. Sleepy-eyed Mrs. Amber appeared and ordered them back. She asked Aaron to carry Janell to the nearest bed, a pleasure room off the west wing. Allowing only two assistants to follow, she placed guardians outside the door and told everyone else to wait.

The doors to White Hall flew open and Makayla stormed through with Thoria—as always—close on her heels.

“Who brought her?” The madam’s voice silenced the chamber.

Aaron stepped forward. “I did.”

The fury drained from Makayla’s face. “I see.” She smoothed her black dress. “What happened?”

“Innocenti raped and tortured her,” Aaron replied evenly.

Makayla’s long black hair covered half her face as she tilted her head. “Unfortunate.”

Shadyia’s fists tightened at her side. “Unfortunate? That’s all you have to say?”

“No, Sister Shadyia, that’s not all I have to say. We will tend to Sister Janell’s wounds as best we can. In the morning, I will prepare a letter of complaint against the Innocenti and have it delivered to the magistrate. They will see those who committed these acts are brought to justice.” Makayla turned and walked toward the audience, her heels clicking.

Shadyia allowed her a few steps. Not so fast, bitch. “Maybe they’ll start with you.”

Deresi, the sisters, guardians, Benjamin and Aaron stood as statues as Makayla halted. She rounded on Shadyia. “Watch your tongue, Sister, or I will have it removed.”

Shadyia’s rage coiled like a serpent about to strike. If she had kept the blacksteel sword and not hidden it in the wagon, they’d be cleaning Makayla’s blood off the walls and floor for a week. “Give that command and I will kill you and any who try to carry it out.”

Thoria drew her baton and advanced on Shadyia. Aaron rushed forward and intercepted the blond guardian with his body.

“Madam, please call away your guard.”

“Thoria, step back.”

Her scowl locked on Shadyia, Thoria obeyed.

Makayla put her hands on her hips, her long sleeves hanging down. “Speak your mind, Sister. Why do you say such a thing?”

“If you hadn’t sent Janell to the Kaolins, she wouldn’t have sought refuge with the Innocenti.”

“And if she had carried out my command, none of this would have happened. What sort of fool asks the Innocenti for anything?”

“The sort that cannot see them for what they are,” Shadyia replied. “The sort that thinks they are knights from a fairy tale. The sort that talks about joining them—” She leveled her finger. “—as you knew perfectly well!”

Makayla huffed. “You dare accuse me of deliberately driving Janell to the Innocenti?”

“I do.”

Benjamin spoke up. “She didn’t go to the Innocenti. She came to me last night.”

Makayla pivoted toward him. “And who are you?”

“I am Aaron’s apprentice, Benjamin.”

Her hazel eyes moved from him to Aaron and back. “So how did she end up with the Innocenti?”

Benjamin looked to Aaron, who shook his head once.

“We got separated in the city this morning.” The young man dropped his gaze.

Makayla faced Shadyia. “And do you also blame me for this, Sister?”

“I do not,” Shadyia replied. Damn the boy and his honesty.

“The hour is late and our nerves are raw,” Aaron said. “Madam, please take the finest care of Janell. I will personally cover any expense.”

“Consider it done.”

“Madam,” Benjamin said, getting her attention, “may I stay with Janell?”
Makayla sighed. “That will be up to Mrs. Amber, but we will prepare a room for you in any case.”

“Thank you, Madam.”

Aaron stepped near to Shadyia and lowered his voice. “Why don’t you and Deresi come with me to Featherquill?”

The dying rage in Shadyia still seethed, but she looked to Deresi. Did she want to visit Featherquill? Deresi nodded in agreement.

Aaron turned back to Makayla. “Madam, may I have the pleasure of both Sister Shadyia and Sister Deresi this night?”

Makayla raised an eyebrow. “You wish them both, sir?”

“I have lots to celebrate.”

“These sisters look disheveled and exhausted, sir. May I ask how they came to be in this state?”

Shadyia glanced at Aaron. He mustn’t mention the labyrinth or—

“It’s my fault, Madam,” Aaron said. “We played a game in some ruins beyond the forest. I wanted Sister Shadyia to hide and I would search for her. Sister Deresi was concerned when her friend didn’t return and found us this morning. I invited her to play and…well, things got out of hand. My apologies.”

“None needed, Master Aaron. The coin you’ve offered more than pays for their services. But, do you not wish them bathed, perfumed and properly dressed before they leave with you?”

Aaron glanced at Shadyia and Deresi. “To be honest, Madam, I rather like them in this state and I’m not yet finished with them. By your leave, I will take them as they are.”

Makayla arched an eyebrow. “Your vigor will make you a legend, Aaron of Featherquill.” She grinned. “Very well, but have Sister

Deresi return by noon tomorrow.”

“As you wish.”

An arm around both their hips, Aaron led her and Deresi toward the main doors. The sisters dispersed, mumbling quietly among themselves. Makayla’s heels clicked away.

“Wait,” Deresi said as Shadyia put a hand on the outer doors. “I’ll be right back.”

Aaron watched her run off then turned to Shadyia. “You should better watch your words around your madam.”

Fuck her! If not for Benjamin’s blundering innocence and Aaron’s disarming remarks, there would have been a long-overdue fight here. A part of her still wished for that. “You have no idea how much I hate that woman.”

“I have some idea,” he said, his expression serious.

Maybe he does at that. Aaron had said Verthandi had seduced Makayla. “Do you still feel his influence on her?”

Aaron pressed his lips and nodded. “More than ever.”

She seized his arm and hushed her voice. “Then let’s deal with her, here and now. I’ll go with you.”

That infuriating calm crossed his features. “And what of her guards? And the other sisters? Are you prepared to fight them? And even if we could turn them to your side, what happens when the Redcloaks find out? From what you’ve told me, Makayla is the rightful heir to this palace. If we depose her, we would be criminals in the eyes of the law.”

She scowled. Damn his logic! He was worse than Sybaris.

He leaned close. “We will deal with her eventually, after this business with the ruby is completed. If Verthandi is released—” He glanced around at the walls. “—what does any of this matter?”

Shadyia hissed a sigh. “If you say so.” But if she crosses me just one more time…

Deresi returned carrying a familiar flat, wooden box.

“My dress,” Shadyia said.

“I wanted to see it on you.”

Aaron looked at the elegant box. “You have a dress in there?”

Shadyia took the box, glanced around to make sure they weren’t observed, and opened the lid with her thumbs.

Aaron whistled. “That is mag-nificent.”

Shadyia snapped closed the lid and kissed Deresi on the cheek. “Thanks, hon.”

“Where ever did you get that?” Aaron asked. “It must have cost a fortune.”

Deresi offered her an evil grin. “Go on, tell him.”

Shadyia cringed. “You know the seer in the market? The one posing as a tailor?”

Aaron nodded slowly. Just before the three of them had descended into the labyrinth, Aaron had confided that he too had had some dealings with that mysterious seer. She had prophesized that he must find Æthelmaer’s ruby in Mirrikh’s labyrinth or Verthandi would walk the world again.

Shadyia tapped the box. “She made this for me.” The seer had also told Shadyia that Anderholm would burn in a matter of days. More insanity added to an insane situation.

Aaron brushed his fingers over the flat box. “I have a feeling we have not seen the last of her. Let’s go to the stables. Our horses must be kicking the walls down by now.”

Shadyia recovered the blacksteel sword, still in its baldric, from the wagon. Careful to conceal it with her body from anyone who might be watching from the palace, she hid the fine weapon deep in the stables then roused two of the men from their cottage out back. Paying them a silver each, she asked them to bring out the Ramiero chargers, attach them to a carriage and drive Aaron, Deresi and herself to Featherquill. Xavier didn’t appreciate being employed as a carriage horse, but Shadyia rewarded him with a few carrots and words of praise until he grudgingly accepted the harness.

A swaying lantern flung their shadows along the walls as their closed carriage returned through the Kingsleaf. The rhythm of the wheels, and the peace of leaving the palace far behind, pulled Shadyia into blissful rest.

“May I see it?” Deresi asked.

Aaron unfastened the pouch at his side, brought out the ruby, and placed it in Deresi’s cupped hands.

Light from the lantern passed through the ruby and drew red marks on Deresi’s face. She made the kind of sound women usually reserve for holding a kitten. “It’s so beautiful.”

Shadyia forced open her eyes and considered the ruby. On the surface, it looked like the kind of gem an emperor would wear on his crown, but Aaron had said its true value lay within the magic it held. The ruby, he told them, absorbed the knowledge of all the magicians who had ever owned it like a cloth on spilt wine.

Shadyia leaned over and kissed Deresi’s cheek. “I can’t believe you picked Mirrikh’s pocket. You amaze me.” When Mirrikh had seized both her and Aaron in his magic, Deresi had slid to her knees, grabbed his robe, and begged Mirrikh not to harm them. It must have been in that instant that she had dipped her hand into his large pocket and fished out the ruby.

Deresi turned the tear-shaped ruby over and examined its base. The broad end had a shallow, round indention in it. “What is this for?”

“That is where you insert the end of a sagewood staff.”

Shadyia circled her finger inside the indention. Aaron had said if a staff made from sagewood touched the ruby, it would transform into a Valkyrise, an artifact of the magi lords. With this wondrous staff, a magician could triple his power and be immune to all magical attacks. Moreover, if anyone spent enough time with a Valkyrise, they could eventually learn to use magic like a magician. That last bit had particularly caught Deresi’s attention.

“Do you think we could get the sagewood staff from the Asyerian clerics?”

Aaron shook his head. “I seriously doubt it. Sagewood is as rare as any treasure in the world. We could be thrown into the Ahmeinian dungeons just for inquiring about their staff, let alone asking them to let us have it.”

Shadyia thought on that. “What if we were to tell the Asyerians about Verthandi and the Ashkhan escaping?”

The carriage jolted over a bump, making Aaron hop in his seat “That would get us tossed into an asylum instead of the dungeon.” He huffed a laugh and held out his hand in a silent request for the return of the ruby. “No, I will use this to find out how to travel to Celestrial. The archives there should have all known information about the prison of the Ashkhan.”

Deresi, her gaze locked on the gem, nodded. “Yeah, that might work.”

Shadyia nudged Deresi’s side. She had probably not heard anything Aaron had said. Grinning, he gently pried the ruby from Deresi’s fingers. She made a small sound of protest, but dropped her hands to her lap.

“Tell me something, please,” Deresi said as Aaron returned the ruby to his pouch.

“Yes?”

“What’s it like to use magic?”

The carriage tilted around a bend as Aaron seemed to consider his answer. “When you first feel the ether, it’s like being parched and drinking from an icy waterfall. It flows over you, refreshes you. You can’t imagine anything being more wonderful. But you can only drink so much and that feeling, believe it or not, passes. You want to learn where the water comes from—and you have this insatiable desire to control the water, make it stop or fall faster. That’s the trap.”

Deresi blinked. “What do you mean?”

“A wise man once said, there is none so improvised as he who wants more than he has. Look at this.” Aaron lifted his left hand, palm up, and passed his right over it. A sphere of blazing flames appeared and hovered just above his cupped fingers.

Deresi’s green eyes widened. “Whoa!” Before Shadyia could stop her, she reached for the flame. “Ouch!” She snatched her hand away and put the tips of two fingers in her mouth.

“Are you all right?” Shadyia took Deresi’s hand and inspected it.

Deresi nodded. “It’s fine.”

A wave of heat from the fire above Aaron’s hand brushed Shadyia’s face. Deresi had probably assumed the flames were an illusion. Maybe they were. “A little warning next time, if you please.”

He closed his hand and the flames vanished. “What I just did there was nothing to me. I felt no sense of wonder or accomplishment. If I were a cruel man, I would delight in hurting Deresi, but I’m not, so I can’t even enjoy that.”

Deresi glanced at her fingers. “It felt so real.”

“It wasn’t,” Aaron said, and leaned back on his seat.

He had created something to fool their minds—why? Shadyia cupped her hand over Deresi’s hand. “I still don’t see your point.”
“There was a time that when I made something like that, I felt like a god. I had created fire. Do you understand? Fire I knew wasn’t real, but still I would burn my fingers if I touched it. These days, creating an illusion like that is as easy as breathing. Imagine going from feeling like a god, to feeling nothing. Every magician who has ever used magic wants to feel that initial rush again—” Aaron’s hands became fists. “—craves it.”

Shadyia nodded. “Like breathing the smoke from the black ickrus.”

He stabbed a finger at her. “Exactly. Thankfully, I’ve never tried ickrus, but from what people have told me, it’s marvelous. You feel as if you are flying through the clouds. Over time, however, the fumes no longer give the same sensation, but the memory of that experience drives one to take more and more until it consumes your every thought.”

Deresi shook her head. “All right, but that’s illusion. You said there were magicians who could create things for real.”

Aaron rubbed his forehead. “Oh, that’s even worse.”

Deresi yelped in disbelief. “How could it be worse?”

“Imagine if I snapped my fingers and created a necklace of gold and emeralds. A real one.”

She grinned. “I like that thought.”

He lifted his chin. “Why?”

“Emeralds are beautiful, and you can buy things with them. Castles and servants and nice dresses.”

“Could I buy a thousand castles if I made a thousand emerald necklaces?”

The carriage creaked and swayed as Deresi chewed her lower lip in thought. “I guess not. It wouldn’t be worth anything if there were a thousand of them.”

“Exactly.”

Shadyia drummed her fingers on the leather armrest at her side. Easy for a king with rooms full of treasure to say gold and gems have no meaning, but for the rest of the peasants, wealth was still a splendid thing. “You told me in the castle ruins that no amount of power could thwart fear. Was that true of Mirrikh? Was he afraid?”

Aaron arched an eyebrow. “Do you even need to ask? He had power I could only imagine. He once owned a Valkyrise. When we found him, he wore enchanted artifacts that preserved his life and kept him from all magical harm. Yet…”

Shadyia nodded. “Yet he hid in a labyrinth for centuries.”

“Precisely. I am certain, despite all that he was and all that he owned, Mirrikh felt inadequate, paranoid and—yes—afraid.”
Shadyia shook her head against the thought. Would she be the same? If she had the power Mirrikh possessed, would she only crave more? It was difficult to believe there would come a time when working magic became as dull as doing the washing. Magic opened new worlds, new experiences. To grasp the unknown, to entertain the masses, to conquer the lands of your enemy…

To kill men who delighted in torture.

Shadyia stared at Aaron. Soon they would arrive in Anderholm and his manor in the Artisan Quarter. If she were to ever understand what had happened in the alley, now would be the time. “May I ask you about something difficult?”

Aaron turned grim as if he had expected her to breach this matter. “Go ahead.”

“What happened to you in the alley?” Shadyia asked.

He briefly closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and released it. “I touched Janell’s mind to learn who was responsible for her injuries.”

“You can do that too?” Deresi asked. “Remarkable.”

“No,” Aaron replied curtly. “Foolish. I acted in haste and didn’t put up the proper defenses. I felt a portion of what they did to Janell as if it were done to me. It nearly drove me insane.”

Deresi crossed her fingers over her lips. “You felt what she did?”

He nodded. “Some of it.”

A chill brushed Shadyia’s nape. Some of it. Aaron had writhed on the ground and screamed in agony. As he had recovered, he had said three Innocenti had taken turns on Janell. One of those three men was still out there, but two of them had paid for their acts with pain and humiliation equal, Shadyia hoped, to what they had done to Janell. Or had they? “Those men in the wagon, what you did to them, was that real?”

“It was real to them.”

Deresi visibly shuddered. “I wish I hadn’t seen that. I mean, I know they deserved it, but I can’t get it out of my mind.”

Aaron rubbed his forehead. “For that, I deeply apologize. I acted out of rage with no regard for you or Shadyia. I should have told you to look away.”

“I wouldn’t have, even if you’d asked.” Shadyia had wanted to see those vile men die.

The haunted look in Deresi’s eyes told she did not feel the same. “Will Janell recover?”

Aaron responded with a slight shrug. “I think she’ll survive, but she won’t be Janell any longer. At least, I don’t think so. She may prove us wrong.”

When Aaron opened the cloth covering Janell, her chin and neck had been covered in dry blood, probably form having her tongue cut out. They had pressed branding irons against her breasts until—Fuck! Shadyia quivered. Stop thinking about it! “So those men are still alive?” she asked, her tone hot with anger.

“Oh no.” Aaron shook his head. “In the morning, the city guard will find two dead men in that alley. There will be no evidence of what killed them, but to those Innocenti, they were impaled.”

Shadyia clenched the fingers on her thigh into a fist. “Good.”

Deresi soft hand cupped over Shadyia’s fist. She reached across the cabin and offered her other hand to Aaron. “I know you don’t believe in the gods, but can we pray for Janell?”

He took her hand. “Certainly.”

Deresi closed her eyes. “Hallowed Luun, goddess of strength, guide our fallen sister, Janell, back into the light. Let her know she is loved and we miss her and need her in our lives.”

“May it be so,” Shadyia said, her anger vanishing.

“May it be so,” Aaron repeated.

Shadyia lifted Deresi’s hand and kissed her knuckles. “I’ve never heard you pray before.”

She shrugged. “Can’t hurt.”

Aaron let go of Deresi’s hand. “We should arrive at my home soon. So, tell me ladies, how may I reward you for your magnificent service?”

Shadyia yawned. Enough of rewards and magic. “As I said outside the tower, a bath, a hot meal, and some rest are all I need.”

“There must be more.”

She leaned her head on Deresi’s shoulder and closed her eyes. “At the moment, I cannot see past that.”

“I know what she wants,” Deresi said.

“Tell me,” Aaron asked.

“She wants to dance at the Crystal Ballroom.”

That snapped Shadyia awake. “I do, eh?”

“Yes, and don’t even deny it.” Deresi bopped the end of Shadyia’s nose. “I saw how your eyes lit up when I told you how I snuck in there.”

Aaron arched his eyebrows as if impressed. “You did?”

Deresi bobbed her head. “About five years ago.” She pushed a lock of red hair behind one ear. “I broke in one night with some friends. Just make sure when you take her, there’s plenty of music. She has no imagination.”

Aaron pursed his lips and nodded. “I’ll see what I can do. And what about you, Dee? What would you like, besides a servant to polish your toes?”

Shadyia grinned. To lighten the tension in the labyrinth, Deresi had joked—had it been a joke?—that she had always wanted to be wealthy enough to employ someone to polish her toes. Just that and nothing else. Polish her toes.

“Oh the usual,” Deresi said with a flip of her wrist. “A castle in the clouds, a dozen flying horses and my own queendom.”

Aaron stared at her a moment then blinked. “That may take a bit longer, but I’ll get to work on it.”

Deresi exchanged her smirk for a serious look. “You know what I’d really like?”

“Tell me, please.”

“I’d like to be a magician. I want to do the things you do.” She wiggled her fingers.

Shadyia rolled her eyes. Oh, just great. Aaron would remind her that women were never trained as magicians and such power came with a price few were willing to pay. Deresi would argue and Shadyia would have to mediate. She’d get no rest on the way to Featherquill.

“I can help you there,” Aaron said with sincerity. “It will take some time and lots of hard work, but if you’re willing, so am I.”

Deresi lifted her chin. “I am.”

Shadyia silently admonished herself. Aaron wasn’t the type to have his hands tied by tradition, nor was he a stuffy lord of Anderholm who needed to dominate the women in his life. But Deresi as a magician? For some reason, Shadyia pictured a cat with wings. I only hope she doesn’t fly too close to the sun.

“All right then, but tell me something, both of you. Do you wish to leave the Silver Rose?”

Shadyia was aware that Deresi was looking at her even before she turned her head so she could meet her curious green eyes. Leave the Silver Rose? It had been more than her home for six years; it was her identity. The money was easy and she loved the work, the games of seduction. She was the finest of the sisters, a gold belt, envied and respected. Why should I leave?

Even as that question coursed through her mind, she knew the answer. She had dared to enter a labyrinth of death, fought deadly shadows and had even driven her sword through Mirrikh’s ghostly face so that her companions could escape. But it wasn’t just the adventures and terrors under the Black Tower. Aaron had told her of ancient civilizations and faraway lands.

There was so much to the world she had yet to see, so much she had yet to experience. Janell needed to be avenged, Makayla needed to be dealt with—probably with the help of Sybaris—and the sisters needed to be protected from the Innocenti, but when that was done, the time had come to seek new horizons and new challenges.

“Yes,” she said.

Deresi touched her knee. “Are you sure, hon?”

Shadyia nodded. “I can’t go back to whoring, not anymore. I think, maybe, finding Janell closed that door forever. I want to make a difference in this world. It’s what my foster father would have desired for me.”

Somewhere, beyond the veil where the spirits traveled, she imagined her foster father smiling. Maybe he didn’t ride celestial horses across the eternal plains of Eriensym, but Aaron said the spirits of good men continued on past a mortal death. She hoped so.

“What about the sisterhood?” Deresi asked.

“I’ll find a way to keep them safe from the Innocenti. I don’t know how just yet, but when that’s done, so am I.”

Deresi discreetly squeezed Shadyia’s thigh. “I’ll follow you anywhere.”

Shadyia kissed Deresi’s neck, just below the ear. If Aaron hadn’t been sitting there, it would have been her lips that got kissed, and more.

“You’re both welcome to stay at Featherquill as long as you wish,” Aaron said. “My home is your home.”

“Thank you, Aaron,” Shadyia said.

Deresi added her gratitude with a sweet smile.

“Listen, when we get there, you won’t see much of me until tomorrow. I’m going to be in a special room I’ve constructed under the house.” He patted the bulge in his pouch. “I want to study this as much as I can. I’ll show you how to contact me if you need to, it’s easy. Just a bell you need to ring. But please, make sure it’s important before you do.”

“I understand,” Shadyia said. “You need to save the world.”

“And you need to save your sisterhood.”

“And then we will take a long, lovely holiday,” Deresi added.

A long holiday. Shadyia hummed at the thought. That we will do.

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About the Author
The Shadyia Ascendant Book Series is the kind of fantasy book I wanted to read, but could never find. Sexy, powerful, positive. The heroes are beaten, but are never broken. Although this is a medieval setting (more or less 15th century Renaissance), the characters don’t scratch at fleas and trug through the book ass-deap in mud and blood and disease. I’m sure all that is accurate, but I never wanted to read about it.

I wanted magic that is rare, women that are bold and beautiful, mysterious magicians with a hidden agenda, and gods that move mortals about like pieces on a chessboard. That’s the book I wanted.  was inspired by the fantasy writer David Gemmell in terms of pace. When you read one of his books, you get your money’s worth. He won’t spend eleven chapters with this characters arguing in a castle. The term “I could never put it down” fits a Gemmell book perfectly, and it’s what I have striven to accomplish in the Shadyia Ascendant series. Get ready for a sexy adventure you won’t soon forget!

A graduate in history, specializing in Central-European history, I’m an avid computer gamer, reader enthusiast, and teacher of English as a foreign language. I’m American and currently reside in Poland.

Where to Find T.S. Adrian
Goodreads | Website | Facebook | Twitter

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Book Blitz – Excerpt + Giveaway – SONGS OF INSURRECTION (Daughter of the Dragon Throne) by J.C. Kang

SONGS OF INSURRECTION Book Blitz

Welcome to the book blitz for SONGS OF INSURRECTION, the first book in the adult fantasy series, Daughter of the Dragon Throne, by J.C. Kang. See below for information on the book, buy links, an exclusive excerpt, and details on her giveaway.Also, for a limited time, you can pick up all three books in the series for just $0.99 each.

SONGS OF INSURRECTION (Daughter of the Dragon Throne #1) by J.C. Kang

SONGS OF INSURRECTION (Daughter of the Dragon Throne #1) by J.C. Kang

About the Book
Title:
SONGS OF INSURRECTION
Series: Daughter of the Dragon Throne #1
Author: J.C. Kang
Publisher: Three Moons Press
Release Date: March 2, 2016
Genre: Adult Fantasy
Links: Goodreads | Amazon

Synopsis
Princess Kaiya’s voice could charm a dragon.

Had she lived when the power of music could still summon typhoons and rout armies, perhaps Cathay’s imperial court would see her as more than a singing fool. With alliances to build and ambitious lords to placate, they care more about her marriage prospects than her voice.

Only the handsome Prince Hardeep, a foreign martial mystic, recognizes her potential. Convinced Kaiya will rediscover the legendary but perilous art of invoking magic through music, he suggests her voice, not her marriage, might better serve the realm.

When members of the emperor’s elite spy clan– Kaiya’s childhood friend Tian and his half-elf sidekick (or maybe he’s her sidekick?)– discover mere discontent boiling over into full-scale rebellion, Kaiya must choose. Obediently wedding the depraved ringleader means giving up her music. Confronting him with the growing power of her voice could kill her.

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Excerpt #1
CHAPTER 1
Not-So-Chance Meetings

If marriage were a woman’s grave, as the proverb claimed, sixteen-year-old Princess Kaiya suspected the emperor was arranging her funeral. Entourage in tow, she shuffled through the castle halls toward the garden where General Lu waited. Given his notorious dislike of the arts, the self-proclaimed Guardian Dragon of Hua had undoubtedly envisioned a different kind of audition when he requested to hear her sing.

After all, she was dressed like a potential bride.

She buried a snort. The Guardian Dragon—such a pretentious nickname. The only real dragon, Avarax, who lorded over some faraway land, might make for a more appealing audience. A quick trip down his gullet would spare her a slow death in a marriage with neither love nor music.

And it wouldn’t matter what she wore.

The gaudy dress compensated for her numerous physical imperfections, but stifled the only thing that made her special. How was she supposed to sing with the inner robe and gold sash squeezing her chest, in a futile attempt to misrepresent her woefully underdeveloped curves? The tight fold of the skirts concealed her lanky legs, but forced a deliberate pace. At least the short stride delayed the inevitable, while preventing her unsightly feet from tripping on the hanging sleeves of the vermilion outer gown.

At her side, Crown Princess Xiulan glided across the chirping floorboards. Kaiya suppressed a sigh. If only she could move with the nonchalant grace of her sister-in-law, or even the six handmaidens trailing them. She dug her nails into clammy palms. Through this choreographed farce, appearances had to be maintained, lest she embarrass her father, the Tianzi.

Chin up, back straight. A racing heart threatened to ruin her already meager semblance of imperial grace. Eyes forward. Servants knelt on either side of the looming double doors, ready to slide them open. She forced a smile, with her best approximation of feminine charm. If only she’d lived before Dragon Songs had faded into legend, she could’ve sent the realm’s victorious hero fleeing with the song he supposedly wanted to hear.

An aging palace official stepped into her line of sight.

Singular focus on the doors broken, she blinked. Her fluttering pulse lurched to a stop as she blew out a breath.

His blue robes ruffled as he tottered forward with averted eyes and a bobbing head. He creaked down into a bow. “Emergency, Dian-xia,” he said, using the formal address for her rank. “The Tianzi commands you to greet a foreign delegation in the Hall of Bountiful Harvests.”

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SONGS OF INSURRECTION Teaser

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About the Author
JC Kang’s unhealthy obsession with Fantasy and Sci-Fi began at an early age when his brother introduced him to The Chronicles of Narnia, The Hobbit, Star Trek and Star Wars. As an adult, he combines his geek roots with his professional experiences as a Chinese Medicine doctor, martial arts instructor and technical writer to pen epic fantasy stories..

Where to Find J.C. Kang
Goodreads | Website | FacebookTwitter

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Chapter Reveal + Giveaway – SOUL MATES (Drag.Me.To.Hell) by Nadine Nightingale

SOUL MATES Chapter Reveal

Author Nadine Nightingale is unveiling the first chapter to SOUL MATES, the second book in her adult paranormal romance series, Drag.Me.To.Hell, releasing March 10, 2017. See below for information on the book and series, pre-order links, and an exclusive look at Chapter 1.

SOULMATES (Drag.Me.To.Hell #2) by Nadine Nightingale

SOULMATES (Drag.Me.To.Hell #2) by Nadine Nightingale

About the Book
Title: SOUL MATES
Series: Drag.Me.To.Hell #2
Author: Nadine Nightingale
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Release Date: March 10, 2017
Genre:
 Adult Paranormal Romance
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Amazon UKiBooks | Kobo

Synopsis
Alex is a righteous witch hunter. I’m a stab-worthy witch. We loved each other once. Now, we can’t stand to be near each other. It’s my fault. We are natural born enemies, after all. I had to help him save his brother from a psychotic voodoo priest, though. What can I say? I like Little Remington as much as I pretend to dislike Alex. Besides, he promised to never bother me again after that.

He kept his end of the bargain. I left my dubious life behind and started over. All is well. Until—

The truth about a deal with hell is revealed. I have to choose between the ultimate sacrifice or losing jerk-face forever. One will live, one will die. Who, solely depends on my selfishness.

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SOUL MATES Teaser 1

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Chapter 1
Jerking my eyes open, I’m blinded by the bright sunlight creeping through my chiffon curtains. “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” Alex’s favorite Guns N’ Roses song, blares through the speakers of my digital radio alarm clock. Awesome. As if jerk-face haunting me in my dreams isn’t bad enough. The universe seems to give a shit about the deal I’d made with my ex-lover. Or why else would it torture me with those fucking nightmares?

You’re such a slut!” Chelsea, aka the Nun, aka roommate from church-hell, yells from the living room. The walls of our three-bedroom apartment at Green House are too fucking thin.

“Oh yeah? And what are you, Jesus with boobs?” Bonnie, my best and only friend, barks.

Pressing a pillow over my head, I try to block their voices out. This isn’t how I pictured my new life at NYU, and it sure as hell isn’t what I had in mind when I’d given up my old, carefree life as a witch. I’m so over their senseless fights. They’ve been living together for a while now. They still can’t ignore each other. Granted, it’s hard to turn a blind eye to the Nun. If she isn’t demonstrating against abortion, or writing a blog post about Evil Women Who Scream Rape When They Practically Asked For It Because They Wore A Too- Short Skirt, she’s determined to make Bonnie’s life a living hell.

“That’s blasphemy, Bonnie!”

“Sue me.” The fighting continues.

That’s it! I’m going to kill ’em. With a headache from hell and still half asleep, I stumble to my door and yank it open. They’re standing in the common room, which consists of an open kitchen and a small living room. “Shut up! Both of you!”

Bonnie’s eyes almost pop out. “Did you hear what she just said?” She sounds offended.

“The whole freakin’ floor heard you guys,” I snap.

They shoot daggers at me. I don’t care. Running a hand through my disheveled hair, I walk to the fresh brewed coffee and pour some into a dirty cup. Why can’t these girls wash up?

Chelsea glares at me with an I’m-so-much-better- than-you expression, rolls her eyes, and heads to her room. The girl knows what’s good for her. Have to give her that much.

“I want her out!”

Jesus! “And I want you to stop yelling, Bonnie. I’m not deaf.”

She lowers her voice. “I’m serious. I can’t live with her.”

You don’t say? I take a drink of the black gold and pull myself onto the kitchen counter. “We’ve already tried to get rid of her, remember? But like it or not, all residence halls are full.”

Bonnie puts a hand on her hip. It’s paradoxical. Usually, I’m the one with temper issues. Lately, I couldn’t care less about bitch fights. “Did you have a good night?” I ask, trying to take her mind off the Nun. Bonnie’s pained expression fades, and she flashes me a bright smile. “I had a date with Cappuccino Guy. He was…” She pauses. “Wow. Just wow. I can totally set you up with one of his buddies. Just say the word.”

I knit my brows. “Nah. If I need a date doctor, I’ll call Hitch.” Downing the rest of the coffee, I get on my feet. “I need a shower.”

Bonnie throws her cute curls over her shoulder. Her shiny cognac eyes fill with concern. “Did you have another nightmare?”

I lean my hip against the counter and close my eyes. The vicious dream pushes through my subconscious. The images are so fucking vivid, it’s as if I’m still trapped in it.

****

The wind rattled the leaves of the massive trees as plants wove around my ankles like poisonous snakes. I looked up. The sky closed in on me. Black wings beat the chilly air. Ravens owned the firmament. Hundreds of them blocked the faint light from the crescent moon.

Quickening my pace, I reached an old, savaged cemetery. My pulse jackknifed in my neck as I stared at an inverted cross leaning against the king-sized iron gates. I moved closer and read the inscription carved into the black wood: Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate. My Italian was rusty, but I knew Dante by heart. “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” With a jarring sound, the gates opened.

Don’t do this.

Too late. It felt as if a magnetic pull lured me into the cemetery. I passed through the gates of hell.

Ravens perched on crooked gravestones, throwing spooky shadows on the burned grass. The tang of sulfur engulfed me, stinging my nostrils.

This was insane. Turn the fuck around and walk away.

Every cell in my body wanted to listen to the voice in my head. I couldn’t. The place had me under its spell.

“Amanda!”

Bonnie? I turned, trying to locate her.

“Amanda.”

Hysteria tinged my voice. “Bonnie, where the fuck are you?” Desperate, I faced one of the ravens. “Where is she?”

The bird’s charcoal eyes pierced me. Then it spread its wings and flew toward a shabby mausoleum. A single black candle burned on the steps. There it was again, the magnetic pull. In a trance-like state, I stumbled toward the old tomb and the door swung open.

“In here.” Bonnie’s honey-colored skin was wrapped in a white toga. She looked like a Greek goddess, but her beautiful cognac eyes were white and empty.

I blinked. “What the hell is going on?”

A crooked smile on her lips, she yanked the door open farther. “Come and see for yourself.”

“What the—” Peeking over her shoulder, words stuck in my throat. My heart stopped. “Alex?” He laid on a mortuary table.

Was he—

No! I tried to push past my best friend, but inhuman and terrifying laughter pulsated through the eerie night.

“He’s gone, Amanda,” a dark voice whispered.

An ocean of black feathers covered the ground.

Ravens croaked in agony as a shadowy figure in a dark cloak crushed them with its boots.

Dread infected my system and I had trouble breathing. I wanted to run, but the black feathers turned into rattling snakes. The creatures hissed, and I knew they’d attack if I made a wrong move. “W-who the hell are you?”

The demon laughed. “Ah, love. ‘What is in a name?’” The snakes crawled left and right, opening a path for the cloaked creature. “‘That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet,’” the black shadow said, advancing toward me.

I should have been shocked by the fact a demon quoted Shakespeare, but my gaze drifted back to Alex. “What did you do to him?”

The shadow figure stopped inches in front of me and ran its blazing hand over my cheeks. “All in good time, love.” Then Bonnie slammed the mausoleum door shut, trapping Alex’s lifeless body inside.

****

“Amanda?” Bonnie’s voice draws me back to the present. “Did you have another nightmare?”

I run an index finger over the dark circles beneath my eyes and nod. “They’re getting worse.”

“Worse how?”

I trace the scar Walter’s bullet left on my chest, not sure how to describe the uncanny feeling. “They’re way too real. I’ve slept eight hours, yet I feel like I was up all night, running a triathlon.”

Bonnie grabs the coffee pot and pours me another cup. “Did you call Alex?”

Did Cappuccino Guy screw her brains out? Alex, aka jerk-face, is the last person I’d give a buzz. Twenty- one months ago, hunter-heroic barged into my life and made me believe we had a chance at happiness. For the first time, I indulged in the fantasy love wasn’t just an illusion. When the witch hunter learned I was his favorite kind of prey, things turned ugly fast. He threatened to kill me, and if it wasn’t for his brother Jesse, he would have gone through with his threat. Then, three months ago, he walked back in my life with a proposal I couldn’t pass up. His brother had gone missing, and if I helped him, he would never bother me again. We found Jesse and saved a bunch of kids abducted by a bokor and his pedophile asshole friend, Walter. Alex honored his promise and didn’t contact me again.

“Why would I call him? Jesse is safe, I paid my dues, and he hasn’t bothered me again. Everything is perfect.”

Bonnie arches a brow. “You don’t look so perfect, Amanda.”

“Really?” I grin, or at least I try. “I thought I totally rocked this American Apparel underwear.”

“Amanda.” She folds her hands over my shoulders. “We both know he isn’t just any guy. He’s the f—”

Anger rises through me like toxic smoke. “Don’t you dare,” I warn her. “You promised you’d never bring this up.”

She plays with a strand of her rebellious curls. “I’m sorry. It’s just… I’m worried. Ever since you went on that stupid road trip, you don’t date, don’t screw.” She draws a deep breath. “Fuck. You don’t even live.”

I’m so not up for this conversation. I put the cup in the sink and stalk to our tiny bathroom next to my room. “Don’t wait on me,” I hiss, slamming the door shut.
“You’re such a bitch,” she barks. I couldn’t agree more.

****

Working the dayshift at Lindy’s Diner, I refill the sticky sugar bowls. It’s been three months since I said goodbye to my past. Two months without reading cards. One month of respectable work as a waitress, and two fucking weeks of nightmares. Goddammit, I feel like a freaking member of AA.

“Amanda!” Lindy calls from the kitchen.

Hands shaking, head thumping, I put the sugar down and turn around. “Yeah?”

Deep lines on her forehead, she raises a brow at me. “New customer. Table two.”

God, I miss my old life. I straighten my apron and grab a menu. Approaching table two with a half-hearted smile, I put the menu down. “Welcome to Lindy’s Diner.” I point to my tag. “My name is Amanda. What can I get ya?” The sentence is branded into my brain. You wanted this, I remind myself. Yeah, but back then I hadn’t known a normal life was equivalent with becoming suicidal.

“What would you suggest?” my new customer asks. He’s about twenty-five, wears a fancy black suit and expensive leather shoes. Not exactly a typical Lindy’s Diner customer.

I pull the pen out of my ponytail and reach for my notepad. “Pancakes are nice. Apple pie is great. Everything else pretty much sucks.” Joe, our Italian chef, is freakin’ amazing, but Lindy likes to keep her costs low. Even Joe can’t turn shit into gold.

The dude leans back, and his lips curve up at the corners. “Pancakes and pie it is, then.”

I jot down his order and walk to the kitchen. After handing the paper to Joe, I nibble on cookies until my phone vibrates in the back pocket of my jeans. Peeking through the kitchen door, I check if Lindy is nearby before pulling it out.

Bonnie’s name flickers across the screen. I hadn’t expected to hear from her after our little argument that morning, but the girl doesn’t just love me at my best. She also accepts me at my worst. And in the last couple of weeks, I’ve been nothing but at my worst.

Still mad? she texted.

Maybe, I sent back, not ready to let her off the hook so easily.

Suck it up. Double-date tonight nine. Dress up, he’s hot!

Has she lost her mind? I look like one of the zombie strippers. Hot on the outside, rotten and dead within. No!

Yes!

Bonnie had made up her mind, and the girl is like a pit bull when she wants something. I’m bound to lose a WhatsApp argument with her, so I decide to talk her out of it later. We’ll see.

See you in Penrose’s class?

Yes. I hit the send button and put the phone away before Lindy catches me texting.

I return to the counter and see the guy with the fancy leather shoes holding up his cup. “Table two,” Lindy snaps.

“I’m not blind.”

“Then move your lazy ass. The coffee ain’t serving itself.”

Grabbing the pot, I stalk toward him. “Anything else?” I ask, filling his cup. I don’t mean to sound like a bitch, but I just can’t help it.

He studies me with big, arctic-blue eyes. There’s something about them that gives me the creeps. I just can’t put my finger on what it is. I try to read his aura, but the colors are blurred. I haven’t had a clear reading since the damn nightmares started. I’ve tried, God knows I have, but it’s like I’m constantly glaring at a fucking rainbow. What good is it to be a witch if you can’t use your gifts?

“I’m Legend, by the way.”

Sure, and I’m Jada Pinkett Smith.

“Would you, maybe, care to join me?” He sounds casual, not pushy.

“Sorry. Can’t,” I grumble.

He holds my gaze. Chills ripple through me. Oh no. Not here. Not now.

****

The way too familiar scent of rusty iron and death hung in the air as Legend stood in the living room of the comfy family home. He’d been told by the first responding officers the scene was barbaric, but the word couldn’t adequately describe what he saw. Vicious crimson stains covered the walls, part of a liver lay on a white leather sofa, and a bloody hand print decorated the large flat-screen TV.

Legend drew a deep breath and focused on the disfigured corpse. The weird symbol carved into his head bugged Legend a lot. Four people slaughtered, and all wearing the same mark.

“Sir,” a young officer said to him. “The coroner is here.”

“Give me a sec,” he ordered, scanning the crime scene. No sign of forced entry, no murder weapon, and he’d bet his ass there’d be no DNA or fingerprints.

The young officer glared at the corpse. His face slightly green, he looked sick to his stomach. “What animal would do something like that?”

Animal was the keyword. The rib cage of the poor bastard was torn into pieces, most of his organs removed, the body had been twisted in an unnatural way, and the victim’s face unrecognizable. “I don’t know,” Legend said. “But whatever killed him won’t stop.”

“Whatever? You mean whoever, right?”

Legend pulled a pack of cigarettes out of his jacket and went to the door. “No. I meant whatever.”

****

My knees are like jelly as the sickening vision fades. The symbol carved into the man’s head had been a sigil. In other words, a demon’s calling card. Every demon has its own. But this one, I had seen before. It had been carved into the chest of Mister Sinister, the guy who’d attacked me in an alley. The dude Alex thought I’d iced.

“Are you all right?” Legend sounds genuinely concerned.

My hands tremble. “Just a little dizzy.”

He loosens the collar of his shirt. A weird tattoo crawls over his neck. Looks like some sort of symbol. “Sure you don’t want to join me, Amanda?”

Before I can answer, Lindy shouts, “Amanda!”

For once, I’m glad my boss is a freaking tyrant. “Sorry. Gotta go.”

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KARMA (Drag.Me.To.Hell #1) by Nadine Nightingale

KARMA (Drag.Me.To.Hell #1) by Nadine Nightingale

About Book 1
Title: KARMA
Series: Drag.Me.To.Hell #1
Author: Nadine Nightingale
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Release Date: May 4, 2016
Genre:
 Adult Paranormal Romance
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Amazon UK | Amazon AU | Barnes & NobleiBooks | Kobo

Synopsis
People call me all sorts of names—bad girl, black sheep, and my all-time favorite…Satan’s bride. I could blame the fact I’m a witch for my behavior, but the truth is I’m infuriating, arrogant, and stab-worthy.

Alex Remington is a hunter and everything I’m not—righteous, honest, caring. We used to have a thing, but that was before he learned I’m a witch and tried to kill me.

Eighteen months later, he’s back in my life and we have a deal; I’ll help him save his brother and he’ll disappear from my life for good. But karma can be a real bitch…

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Author Nadine Nightingale

Author Nadine Nightingale

About the Author
Nadine aka Dini is a traveler at heart. She considers the world her home and practically lives out of her suitcases. When she’s not glaring at a blank page or abusing her poor keyboard, she spends her time reading, watching movies (preferably horror), pretends to work out, and hangs out with friends and family. Poor girl also suffers from a serious Marvel superhero addiction. So, if you run into her at night, wearing black, know she’s secretly dreaming of being the infamous Black Widow.

Her love for writing started in the sixth grade where she annoyed her classmates with a short story featuring Sailor Moon characters, a cemetery, and creepy ghosts. Yes, she’s always been addicted to the dark side. Nadine writes paranormal romance. Her debut novel “Karma” the first book in her paranormal romance series Drag.Me.To.Hell. is published by the Wild Rose Press and will be out in May 2016. She has a serious girl crush on her protagonist Amanda Bishop.

Nadine has a BA in Comparative Religions and studied Creative Writing at the University of Oxford.

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Where to Find Nadine Nightingale
Goodreads | Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest

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Giveaway
a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Chapter Reveal – Ink Exposed (Montgomery Ink) by Carrie Ann Ryan

New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author, Carrie Ann Ryan is revealing a chapter to her upcoming Ink Exposed, the sixth book in the adult contemporary romance series, Montgomery Ink, releasing November 29, 2016. See below for information the book, pre-order links, and the exclusive chapter reveal.

Ink Exposed (Montgomery Ink #6) by Carrie Ann Ryan

Ink Exposed (Montgomery Ink #6) by Carrie Ann Ryan

About the Book
Title: Ink Exposed
Series: Montgomery Ink #6
Author: Carrie Ann Ryan
Genre: Adult Contemporary Romance
Release Date: November 29, 2016
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iBooks | Kobo | GooglePlay

Synopsis
The Montgomery Ink series continues with the brother that deserves a second chance, and the woman who has always loved him.

Alex Montgomery lost his first love and then proceeded to leave himself in the bottle. Only he and his ex-wife truly know why he fell so hard and so fast down a path he never thought he’d take. Now he’s clean, out of rehab, and learning how to be a Montgomery once again—a task that isn’t quite as easy as some of his family assumes.

Tabby Collins is an honorary Montgomery and the organizational mastermind behind Montgomery Inc., the family’s construction company. She loves her planners, friends, and a certain dark-haired man who’s never given her a second glance.

Alex is slowly re-immersing himself back into the world, but the demons he faced before aren’t out of the picture, and he’ll have to learn to rely on others to make it out whole. When Alex discovers that Tabby’s life is in danger, he not only finds a way to help her but also learns the true woman behind the soft smiles he’s always seen. Their romance won’t be an easy one, but nothing this passionate and heart-pounding ever is.

Watch the INK EXPOSED trailer: https://youtu.be/KxFF-OArb5g

Find out who your Montgomery Ink hero is: https://www.buzzfeed.com/tarawrawr/who-is-your-montgomery-ink-hero-1ll89

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Excerpt
Alex Montgomery didn’t need a drink.But he fucking craved one.This feeling wasn’t new, of course. The craving was always there. It burned in his gut, spiraled up his spine, and parched his throat. It clawed at him, seduced him, rammed into him like it couldn’t help itself. It was like an angry linebacker, screaming in one ear while a seductive temptress whispered sexy innuendos in the other, both of them telling him to just take one drink.

It would only be one drink, they taunted. Just one.Only it never ended at one drink.Because Alex was an alcoholic. He hadn’t had a drink soothe his parched throat, or tried to drown his demons in over a year. He still couldn’t quite believe it sometimes, and yet, other times it felt as if it had been so much longer. Sixteen months sober, but an addict nonetheless. No matter how many days passed and how many drinks he didn’t imbibe, he’d always be an alcoholic. That was something he’d learned to face over the past few months, but sometimes knowing it didn’t make trying to live a normal life any easier.

“You’re here early,” Marie Montgomery said as she made her way to his side. He’d been standing outside even in the cold Denver air, but his mother had found him anyway. He loved the scent of mountains and comfort that seemed to permeate his childhood home, and just looking at the woman who’d raised him made him feel that much closer to what he’d lost…and that much farther away from where he’d started.

His mother had aged well, he thought. To the point he wasn’t sure she’d aged at all. If her genes were what the family could go by when they got older, then most of his siblings were going to look just fine as they entered their fifties and sixties. Alex had probably pickled his liver during his depression so he figured it probably wouldn’t be quite the same for him. He’d more than likely end up harder-edged than his already edgy siblings. But that had been his choice at one point, and then out of his hands after he’d fallen too hard. Now, he’d face the consequences of his decisions. And it was about time he faced the aftermath according to his sponsor and therapist.

His mother wrapped her arms around his waist and held on tightly. He ignored the way his stomach tightened, and hugged her back, the action almost rusty. It hadn’t been easy these past few months to remember how affectionate his family had once been with him. He’d pushed them all away over time, and he was just now learning how to come back—if there were a way to come back. When he closed his eyes and inhaled the scent that had once calmed him, he prayed that one day he’d find himself tranquil again.

He used to drink to forget, and then, because he didn’t know anything else, he’d kept drinking. But now, he needed to remember, damn it.

He kissed the top of his mother’s head since she was so much smaller than he was and took a step back. She was a few inches shorter than all of her sons and even a couple of inches shorter than her three daughters. How Marie Montgomery had been able to raise eight kids as well as all of their friends who’d come to their home day after day was beyond him.

“I’m glad you’re here, though.” She patted his chest and looked up at him with worried eyes. She always held that worry now; and he knew it was his fault that it was there.

“I wouldn’t be anywhere else,” he said honestly. His mother’s eyes softened, and he figured he’d said the right thing. “I know the family dinner starts in a couple hours, but I wanted to come early and see if I could help.” Though their family was considered huge in this day and age, the immediate family members all lived within thirty minutes of each other in the Denver suburbs. Some of them had moved away for a year or two for school or life, but they’d all come back to Denver in the end. Once he’d gotten out of rehab, he’d considered moving away and starting over, but he’d just be hurting those who had loved him through all his crap. They’d stayed with him, pushed him toward the decision he’d had to make for himself, and now, he was glad he’d stayed in the city.

At least, that’s how he felt in that moment. With the way his mind kept going in a thousand different directions, he could change his mind again soon.

Since his parents were ecstatic that all of their babies were so close, they held family dinners twice a month. Sometimes, they made it happen more often; sometimes, they could only get everybody together once, but all of Alex’s siblings tried to make it when they could. Add in the fact that the rest of his family had been having children at an alarming rate recently, and their family dinners were always loud, full, and exhausting.

Once again, he ignored the tightening in his stomach.I can do this, he told himself again.He’d been normal once. He could try to at least play at being normal again.

“Anyway, you could have come right into the house, Alex,” his mother continued. “You didn’t have to come in through the backyard. You could have just come right in through the front door. No need to even knock since you’re one of my babies. Since the chemo and radiation treatments are over, your father wasn’t taking a nap like he used to.”

Alex’s father, Harry, had battled prostate cancer the year before when Alex had been going through his own self-induced downward spiral. Alex hadn’t been in any shape to be the kind of son Harry needed when he’d faced death and won. Thankfully, Alex had four other brothers who were far stronger than he was, and three sisters who kicked ass at anything they did.

“I wanted to walk the long way before I made it inside.” He shrugged, and she gave him a curious look. He sighed and pointed to one of the picnic tables on the large patio his father and his brother Austin had built over a decade ago. Austin was a few years older than Alex and had always been good with his hands. Yet it had been the next two siblings in the line, Wes and Storm, who had joined Harry in his construction company. While Austin had opened his own tattoo shop with their sister, Maya.

“I brought my camera in case you wanted photos or something and figured I’d see if anything caught my eye out here.” He didn’t look in her direction as he said it, suddenly self-conscious. He was a photographer and photojournalist by trade, but he’d lost many of his contacts when he found himself at the bottom of a bottle. He’d spent the past year trying to atone for his sins, making new connections and repairing the ones he’d broken, but he wasn’t quite there yet.

His mother put her hand on his forearm, and he looked down at her again. “I think that would be wonderful. Nothing formal I suppose since we didn’t warn anyone, but I’d love some shots of the family being who they are and just enjoying themselves. You were always talented at capturing that.” Tears filled her eyes, and she blinked them away, though not fast enough for him not to feel like a heel for putting them there. “I look forward to seeing what you come up with. You’re so talented.”

He nodded, swallowing hard. Maybe one day he wouldn’t feel like a stranger in the home he’d grown up in, but today wouldn’t be that day. Hell, he felt like a stranger in his own skin, let alone allowing space for anyone else to see who he was.

He didn’t even know who he was anymore.

“Mrs. Montgomery?”

Alex turned at the sound of the soft voice behind him, his heart suddenly beating just a bit faster, though he didn’t know why.

Tabitha moved toward them, a hesitant smile on her face as she studied him and his mom. She wore her light auburn hair up high in a ponytail, but he was pretty sure at one point she’d been blonde. Though it might have just been a trick of the light. If he were honest with himself, he couldn’t quite remember much of the past couple of years. She was a little above average height and all legs—legs he’d checked out more than once in the past year.

But he’d always pushed those thoughts aside, just as he would now. He was in recovery, damn it, and though he was past the year mark that most people suggested addicts wait to start a relationship, he knew that Tabitha wouldn’t be the woman he started up with once he was ready.

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Author Carrie Ann Ryan

Author Carrie Ann Ryan

About the Author
Carrie Ann Ryan is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of contemporary and paranormal romance. Her works include the Montgomery Ink, Redwood Pack, Talon Pack, and Gallagher Brothers series, which have sold over 2.0 million books worldwide. She started writing while in graduate school for her advanced degree in chemistry and hasn’t stopped since. Carrie Ann has written over fifty novels and novellas with more in the works. When she’s not writing about bearded tattooed men or alpha wolves that need to find their mates, she’s reading as much as she can and exploring the world of baking and gourmet cooking.

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Where to Find Carrie Ann Ryan
Goodreads | Website | NewsletterFacebook | Twitter
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Book Blitz – Excerpt + Giveaway – The Fairest Poison by Lauren Skidmore

The Fairest Poison Book Blitz

Welcome to the book blitz for The Fairest Poison, a young adult fantasy romance retelling by Lauren SkidmoreSee below for information on the book, buy links, an exclusive look at Chapter 1, and details on her giveaway.

The Fairest Poison by Lauren Skidmore

The Fairest Poison by Lauren Skidmore

About the Book
Title: The Fairest Poison
Author: Lauren Skidmore
Publisher: Cedar Fort, Inc.
Release Date: May 10, 2016
Genre:
 Young Adult Fantasy Romance Retelling
Links: Goodreads | AmazonBarnes & NobleBook DepositorySigned copy @ The King’s English

Synopsis
Princess Bianca returns to her court to find it poisoned from the inside out. Faced with mysterious sicknesses, power disputes, and whispers of impending death, Bianca turns to an unlikely ally—a former assassin—to find the antidote that will save her kingdom. But Bianca quickly realizes that she might not even be able to save her own life in this Snow White story.

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Excerpt

Chapter 1

My parents were sick.

That was the first news I received when I returned to the palace after nearly six months away. I was Venesia’s princess, and so its ambassador. I was happy to serve . . . but not if it meant coming home to this.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, shedding my cloak and shaking it out before handing it to a servant. It was still damp with seawater from the journey. It hadn’t exactly been a peaceful trip.

“Are they up to visitors now?”

The two handmaidens that had greeted me exchanged glances. “You should rest from your journey first, princess. It’s late, and the details can wait until the morning.”

I frowned. “No. You cannot welcome me back by saying my return may aid my parents’ recovery and then refuse to tell me what’s wrong.”

“We don’t want to worry you, princess,” the other one said, throwing a nervous glance at her companion. She’d been with the palace longer and knew I would not be easily dissuaded from getting what I wanted.

“It’s too late for that.” I sighed. “Where is my brother?”

“Prince Aiden went to speak to the Guard about the successful capture of that Chameleon. He was eager to see the killer in person.”

I braced myself. Aiden was in for a surprise on that front. “Maybe I will go rest after all,” I said, brushing a dark curl behind my ear and adjusting the purple mask I wore across the upper half of my face. I would miss the freedom of not wearing my full Venesian mask while I was away from court. “But don’t think it’s because you dissuaded me from seeing the king and queen tonight. Surely, if they were seriously ill, they’d have ordered you to take me to them right away. I won’t disturb their sleep.”

“Of course, princess.” They both curtseyed.

“Bianca!”

I cringed. Aiden.

“You’re dismissed,” I said quickly to my handmaidens. I didn’t need spectators for this.

They scurried away—though I’m sure to only just around the corner so they could eavesdrop—and I turned to face my elder brother. He came barreling down the dimly lit corridor, his half-cloak billowing out behind him. He wore the emerald green mask he favored when he was out of the palace so no one would bother him as the prince. The pure white masks of the royal family tend to stand out in a sea of blues and green.

“Where is he?” he demanded. The head guard and a young woman in a green mask were just a few steps behind him. Looks like we were going to have an audience after all.

I was tempted to play dumb but knew that would only make him even more upset. And he had good reason to be upset; I couldn’t deny him that.

“Please hear me out,” I began slowly, my voice even and calm.

“You set him free, didn’t you?” He shook his head in disbelief. “Bianca, he killed Evie’s father.” He gestured to the woman behind him, who shifted her weight from foot to foot uncomfortably, a medium-sized brown dog with a fluffy, curled tail at her heels. “He tried to kill me.”

“I know that, but—”

“There is no excuse here! He killed and was willing to kill again. He stole masks and identities. He betrayed the trust of a kingdom who took him in. He is a criminal who needs to pay for his crimes.”

“He saved my life. I owe him,” I explained simply.

That made Aiden pause, but only for the length of a breath before retorting, “One good act does not make up for all the evil he’s done.”

“But it proves there is good in him.”

“Or he is just trying to save his own skin by having you in his debt.”

“He’s not as terrible as you think he is.”

“But you admit he is terrible.”

“Aiden.” I started to truly feel the late hour now and my shoulders drooped. “He deserves a fair trial at the very least.”

“I can’t give him a trial if he is mysteriously set free in the middle of the night.”

“You’re being dramatic.”

“I think I’m being understandably upset. I went from news of my baby sister returning home with the scum I’ve been hunting for the past three months—to finding out that the scum has vanished and has said sister to thank for it! With everything that’s been going on in court, and now with Mother and Father ill—”

“Do you know what’s wrong with them?” I interrupted, both wanting to know and hoping to change the subject. I’d bristled slightly at being called his “baby sister”—there were only two years between us, after all—but was willing to overlook it in the name of the greater good of the moment. His accusations weren’t untrue; he just didn’t know the Chameleon like I did.

I might have been part of the reason he’d been captured, but we had a history. And that history meant that I owed him his freedom.

It seemed Aiden was as tired of arguing as I was. He answered, “The doctors aren’t

sure. It’s not an illness they’re familiar with. Mother and Father are on bed rest now until a cure can be found. They can barely eat and are very weak, and they both have a pink rash all over their bodies. It happened so suddenly, but no one else in court has the same symptoms, so we don’t know where it came from.”

“How long have they been like this? Why did no one tell me?”

“They only just felt sick enough to admit it and seek a doctor, though Father mentioned to me he’d been feeling poorly for several days.”

I sighed. It was just like them to overlook any health problems until they got too serious to ignore. They didn’t want to appear weak in front of the kingdom, and to appear human was to appear weak. In the king’s eyes, at least.

“I’ll go see them first thing in the morning. We all need our rest.” I gave Aiden a meaningful look. “That means you as well.” I was sure his mask hid dark circles under his eyes, one benefit of our country’s tradition. I knew my brother, and he’d been pushing himself too hard. I’d gotten snippets of the unrest that had crept into our court from his letters while I was away, but it was another matter to see him in person.

From what I understood, the court was reluctant to accept him as their next ruler. He had no respect for tradition, they claimed. For generations, the royal family protected themselves behind pure white masks, fine clothes, and strict rules. Aiden wanted to make changes that gave him more personal freedom as well as control over the country.

“We’ll all of us go to sleep, and discuss things again after breakfast.”

“Fine,” he begrudged as he turned, offering his arm to the woman beside him, who looked as tired as I felt, plus awkward after witnessing a royal argument. Evie, he said her name was. He’d written about her. He had proposed marriage to her, and she’d said no.

I was very curious about her.

“I am glad you’re home, though. I missed you,” he said.

I smiled. “I missed you too.” My gaze shifted to Evie, and I opened my mouth to

greet her properly.

“Let’s save introductions for a less unconventional time,” he interrupted before I could say anything. He reached for her hand, tucking it in the crook of his arm. “I’d rather your official meeting be a more pleasant one. Or at least one where we’re not arguing.”

She rolled her eyes at him but offered me a shy smile.

“If you insist,” I replied with a smile for her and a raised eyebrow for him. Its effect was somewhat lessened thanks to my mask, but he knew my expressions well enough to spot it.

He chuckled and shook his head with affection in his eyes. “Until tomorrow,” he said, and we parted ways.

The halls were dim and quiet, but I could have found my way to my chambers in the dark. I rarely left the palace growing up, and walking through these halls now felt like slipping into a warm bath. I loved the palace.

Servants had already brought my trunk to my parlor. Normally, I would need help dressing for bed, thanks to the complex finery of the clothing that comes with royalty, but since I was still dressed in a simple traveling dress, I didn’t bother ringing for a handmaiden.

I’d missed my rooms. It had been a long time since I’d been alone, and my rooms were the one place I was granted my privacy.

For six months, I’d been acting as ambassador to Nishima, a neighboring country we had strong ties with. That meant that for nearly six months, I’d been constantly surrounded by people—if not by the dignitaries I was there to see, then by my own guards who never left my side. Even on the journey home, when we’d been sidetracked by the hunt for the Chameleon, I’d never been left on my own.

But in my own palace, in my own rooms, I was alone. And I felt safe.

I fell asleep almost as soon as my head touched my pillow.

The next morning, I’d barely dressed before I heard insistent knocks at the doors to my suite. I knew it was Aiden even before my handmaiden opened the door to reveal him.

“I said after breakfast, Aiden. I’m still—”

“They’ve gotten worse,” he interrupted me, his eyes grim. “Mother and Father. And another doctor, a specialist from Nishima, has examined them.”

He opened and closed his mouth several times, searching for the right words.

“Just say it. What is it?”

“Bianca . . . they’ve been poisoned.”

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Trailer

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Author Lauren Skidmore

Author Lauren Skidmore

About the Author
Lauren Skidmore grew up in Kansas, with stints in Ohio and New York, and currently lives in Utah. She attended Brigham Young University where she earned a BA in English Teaching with an emphasis in Teaching English as a Second Language and Japanese. She then spent a year in Japan teaching and travelling. She hasn’t made it to Europe yet, but it’s on the list and has been to 30 states in the U.S. so far. When she’s not exploring new places, you can probably find her on the internet with fifteen windows open and looking at just one more thing before actually getting something done.

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Where to Find Audrey Greathouse
Goodreads | Website | Facebook | Twitter

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Giveaway
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Blog Tour – Excerpt + Giveaway Casquette Girls by Alys Arden

The Casquette Girls Blog Tour

Welcome to the blog tour for The Casquette Girls, the first book in the young adult paranormal/fantasy series, The Casquette Girls, by Alys Arden. See below for information on the book, buy links, an exclusive excerpt, and details on her giveaway.

The Casquette Girls (The Casquette Girls #1) by Alys Arden

The Casquette Girls (The Casquette Girls #1) by Alys Arden

About the Book
Title: The Casquette Girls
Series: The Casquette Girls #1
Author: Alys Arden
Publisher: Skyscape
Genre: Young Adult Paranormal/Fantasy
Release Date: November 17, 2015
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | The Casquette Girls

Synopsis
Seven girls tied by time.
Five powers that bind.
One curse to lock the horror away.
One attic to keep the monsters at bay.

After the storm of the century rips apart New Orleans, sixteen-year-old Adele Le Moyne wants nothing more than her now silent city to return to normal. But with home resembling a war zone, a parish-wide curfew, and mysterious new faces lurking in the abandoned French Quarter, normal needs a new definition.

As the city murder rate soars, Adele finds herself tangled in a web of magic that weaves back to her own ancestors. Caught in a hurricane of myths and monsters, who can she trust when everyone has a secret and keeping them can mean life or death?

Unless . . . you’re immortal.

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Excerpt

CHAPTER 3

Home, Sweet Home

A wall of warm air hit us when we walked into the foyer. My chest tightened thinking about mold. The dampness lingered, wrapping around my skin as if we had entered a gym locker room. Total darkness. Total silence. But after sixteen years of hearing the pendulum swings of the old grandfather clock, an impression of the sound was burned in my mind. The phantom ticks became louder in my head as we crept into the living room. I flicked the light switch just to be certain. Nothing. We both reached for our phones. That feeling of peculiarity versus familiarity crept over me once again.

My father walked ahead of me with his makeshift flashlight thrust forward and his right arm extended over me in a protective stance. There’d been countless reports of people breaking into homes and squatting in the less flooded neighborhoods.

By the glow of our phones, nothing appeared to be out of place— not that either of us could remember exactly how we had left it.

No signs of water or mold. My father exhaled loudly.

“I’m going to get the hurricane box,” I said.

“Adele, wait—”

But I was already halfway through the dormant dining room, the thick, old walls muffling his protest.

Despite the long journey, I felt incredibly alert. My eyes darted back and forth like an animal’s as I surveyed each room. Alone in the dark silence, I suddenly became very aware of the beating of my own heart.

Thump, thump.

Thump, thump.

The deeper I moved into the house, the harder it thumped.

Everything seemed okay . . . but I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was very wrong.

I stood still in the kitchen. Listening. My hair lifted from my shoulders, sending a wave of shivers down my back. A delicate touch brushed my bare neck, causing me to twist around. “Who’s there?”

A slow creak answered.

I spun toward the noise, dropping my phone. I grabbed it from the floor, and when I rose, my head collided with something soft but solid.

“What the—?” My hair yanked backward.

“Don’t touch me!” I yelled, jerking my head.

A sharp hook pierced the skin at the base of my neck. I screamed as the claw ripped all the way up my cheekbone.

Wings flapped frantically in my face, and high-pitched squawks assaulted my ears. Blood smeared from my neck to my face as I tried to keep my ears covered while thrashing wildly in the dark. “Get away!”

“Adele!”

“Dad! Kitchen!” My head jerked backward again as my hair became entangled with the bird’s talons, ripping from my scalp, and my arms got scratched up shielding my face. “Dad!”

Alys Arden

Each touch of feathers to my skin sent a wave of shudders down my spine. I fell to my knees, ripping the last of my tangled hair free from the bird’s claws.

Tears poured down as I caught my breath.

“Adele! Where are you?”

Glassware fell from the counter, smashing onto the tile floor around me.

“Down here!” I called, crouching into a ball next to a cabinet.

“What the hell?” my father yelled over the ruckus, sliding onto the floor. “Are you okay?” He pulled me close.

His phone illuminated a giant black crow frantically opening and closing its wings, breaking everything it came into contact with.

He helped me up, then swiftly grabbed a broom from behind the refrigerator and shooed the trespasser out the kitchen door. I jumped up and slammed the door behind it.

“Are you hurt?” He held his phone up to my face. My arm covered the wound, but still, his eyes bulged, causing me to look down. Red covered most of my right shoulder.

“It looks worse than it is,” I lied, my throat raw from screaming. My face throbbed, but I kept it covered so he’d calm down. “All of this over a bird?” I tried to joke, fighting the tears.

He still had the broom clutched in one hand and his lit phone in the other. I didn’t know if it was the anxiety, the weariness, or just how ridiculous we both must have looked, but I started laughing, and soon he did too.

He put the broom down and wrapped his arms around me. “Home, sweet home.”

“Never a dull moment.” My voice was muffled by his shoulder. I squirmed, trying not to get blood on his shirt. “Wait a second.” I raised my head. “That door was open.”

“What?”

“The kitchen door . . . I never opened it for the crow to fly out.”

22

He held his phone up to the old brass doorknob. Someone had smashed the lock. He tapped the keypad on his phone three times and brought it to his ear.

“Dammit! No service.”

They warned everyone not to come home yet . . .

He gave up on the call, went to the pantry, and lifted out a large cardboard box, putting it on the kitchen counter. I didn’t need any light to know it was appropriately labeled “Hurricane Box” in my six-yearold scribble. On the side, written in a range of green Crayola to metallic silver Sharpie, was a list of every hurricane it had been used in, along with the date. We were pretty diligent about keeping it fully stocked because we weren’t the type who evacuated every time bad weather brewed in the Atlantic.

He pulled out a robust first aid kit.

I nervously removed my sticky fingers from the wound.

“Dammit, Adele!”

“What?”

“I’m taking you to the hospital.”

“Dad, there aren’t any hospitals.”

“Jesus . . .” He hesitated for a second before he managed his manlydad poker face.

“Dad!” The tears began to well again.

“I’m sorry, baby, it’s not that bad.” He lied this time. “It’s just a lot of blood.” He pressed the gauze against my face. “Damn bird.”

When the bleeding subsided, he spun the lid off the bottle of rubbing alcohol. My nose scrunched at the chemical smell. “It’s gonna burn,” he said gently and poured a generous stream of the clear liquid down my face and neck.

My limbs twisted together. I tried not to yelp as the solvent spidered into the wound. He pressed my hand over a fresh piece of gauze.

“Stay here, and I’ll check out the rest of the house.”

“No, I want to see!” I yelled. But really I didn’t want to be left alone.

Alys Arden

“Okay, but stay put for two minutes. Keep applying pressure. I’ll be right back. I promise.”

Something about his exit made me suspicious. I attached the gauze to my skin with some medical tape and dug through the remaining contents of the supply box: a transistor radio, an assortment of nonperishable food items, various kinds of batteries. Voilà. Two flashlights. I flicked them on and off to test the batteries.

When he returned, the beams of light revealed a small black object in his hand. I did a double take. “What is that?” I exclaimed in a loud whisper. “You own a gun? Do you even know how to use that thing?”

“Calm down, sweetheart. It was Grandpa’s, and it’s always been locked up in the safe.” He seemed oddly at ease holding the weapon, as if it was something he used on a daily basis. Who is this guy?

I placed the second flashlight into his free hand and filed behind him down the hall to his bedroom. He waved his light around to check out the state of his things, while I continued to the back. His bedroom was an old double parlor, separated by sliding wooden doors. The rear room, which led to the courtyard, was his studio. I unlatched the hook and slid open the pocket doors a couple feet.

My brain refused to register what I saw in front of me as I hastily moved my flashlight from one thing to the next.

No.

No.

No.

“I’m so sorry, Dad.” I stood frozen, unable to think of anything else to say.

He rushed over, slid the wooden doors completely open, and stepped into the work space.

“Stay here.”

Most of my father’s lifework was in total disarray, strewn about the large, open room. I focused my light on the rear wall and gasped. My flashlight was shining straight into the back courtyard—a humongous

24

Greek Revival–style column from a neighboring house had smashed through our exterior brick wall and created a gaping hole at least ten feet tall and seven feet wide. Wind, rain, and Lord knows what else had poured in. I thought of the crow as I slowly approached the hole and wondered if there were any other creatures lurking in the house.

“Adele, stay back! There might be serious structural damage.”

Backing away, I picked up two unstretched canvases and tried to separate them, but they had fused together upon drying. I put them down to avoid further wrecking my father’s art.

Why couldn’t that column have fallen into any other room in the house? Even my own bedroom would have been better. I wondered if any of his paintings or charcoals had survived. A sinking feeling told me, unlikely. At least his main medium was metal . . . Anxiety rushed through my veins, thinking about my own bedroom.

“Come on, Dad, there isn’t much we can do tonight.” My hand rested on his shoulder as I pulled him away from the acetylene tank he was examining. “We’ll get a better look in the morning.”

We did a quick run-through of the rest of the house and ended up back in the kitchen. To our relief, everything else appeared unscathed.

Including my stuff.

“No squatters or pools of standing water,” said my father.

“Just crows and gaping holes.”

Dodging broken glass on the floor, he tossed me a bottle of water. “Don’t even brush your teeth with water from the sink until the boil-water advisory is lifted.” He jammed a kitchen chair under the broken knob, securing the door. “Can you get through the night without electricity?”

“Definitely.” I nodded with a jet lag–induced yawn then pulled out my phone, hoping a quick text to Brooke would go through.

Adele 8:57 p.m. Made it home. Able to sleep

in the house. Full report tomorrow. xo.

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Trailer

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Author Alyse Arden

Author Alyse Arden

About the Author
Alys Arden was raised by the street performers, tea leaf-readers, and glittering drag queens of the New Orleans, French Quarter. She cut her teeth on the streets of New York and has worked all around the world since.

She either talks too much or not at all. She obsessively documents things. Her hair ranges from eggplant to cotton-candy-colored.

One dreary day in London, while dreaming of running away with the circus, she started writing The Casquette Girls.

Her debut novel garnered over one million reads online before being acquired by Skyscape in a two book deal. Rep’d by ICM.

Where to Find Alys Arden
Goodreads | Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Google+ | Pinterest

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Giveaway
a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Prologue Reveal + Sale – Transparent (Luminous Series) by Erin Noelle

Transparent Prologue Reveal

USA Today bestselling author, Erin Noelle, is releasing the Prologue to Transparent, the second book in her new adult contemporary romance series, Luminous. And for a limited time, you can pick up the ebook of Translucent, the first book in the series, for just $0.99. See below for all the details.

Transparent (Luminous #2) by Erin Noelle

Transparent (Luminous #2) by Erin Noelle

About the Book
Title: Transparent
Series: Luminous #2
Author: Erin Noelle
Release Date: October 15, 2015
Genre: New Adult Contemporary Romance
Links: Goodreads | Amazon

Synopsis
Her elusive past didn’t worry me,

Her heartbreaking scars never made me cringe,

And her haunting demons only made me a stronger man.

But the day Blake Martin was stolen from me, 

I was scared to death.

Prepared to do anything necessary to get her back,

Little did I know it just might cost me my life.

My name is Madden Decker, and this is my story.

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Prologue

(“Something I Can Never Have” ~ Nine Inch Nails)

UNKNOWN

The day I turned fourteen, I tortured a man for the first time. Strung him up naked in one of my dad’s warehouses. Gagged him so I didn’t have to listen to him scream like the traitorous cunt he was as I cut off a different body part every ten minutes. Just as I’d watched it be done numerous times over the past couple of years.

First were his hands and feet, each removed with a single swing of the new sword my father had given me that morning at breakfast for my birthday. I remembered how proud he and my uncles were of my clean, precise form, insisting we all toast with a shot of Baikal vodka after each strike. The alcohol boosted my confidence and conviction, and by the fifth time I walked into the seedy back interrogation room, illuminated only by a flickering fluorescent light hanging in the middle of the cracked ceiling, I felt like The Man himself—invincible, immortal, and on top of the mafia world.

Another swift swipe of my gold-plated sword, and the man was no longer a man, anatomically speaking. And when I brought his pretty bride in to see him one last time, I demonstrated all the ways he would never enjoy her again, brutally fucking every hole her body had to offer, all less than a couple feet from him. His eyelids were stapled open, forcing him to watch as she abandoned their vows and trembled with release on top of my teenaged cock while I viciously pounded in and out of her.

Then, as my family members—both blood and sworn by oath—had their way with her in the next room, I brought my blade to the cockless bastard’s throat and whispered the words “Forgive me, Lord, for I have sinned” in my native tongue as I sliced him from ear to ear.

The entire warehouse erupted in cheers and applause as the lowest associates in my father’s brigade rushed in to clean up the bloody mess before our women and my school friends arrived for the actual birthday party.

I may have been born into this powerful family by chance, but I would die in the Brotherhood by choice.

That was over eighteen years ago, and though I’m now third in line to rule one of the most powerful organized crime rings in the world, a lot changes when a boy becomes a man. No longer am I interested in spending time filleting the scum of the earth or fucking tainted whore pussy. No. I don’t waste my time on that shit any more. I’m saving my wrath for the day the man responsible for the murder of my wife and my brother, as well as a handful of others in my family, stands before me to answer for what he’s done.

And with the Lord above and the Demon below as my witnesses, I swear once I get my hands on him, Vincent Ricci is going to wish with every fiber of his being that I was still that fourteen-year-old boy who didn’t know what it was like to have the most precious thing in the world taken from him. A boy who didn’t know the fierce agony and mind-controlling rage that comes along with losing the person you love most.

The boss of the powerful Ricci Family of Chicago may have been able to evade me and my men for the last two years, but finally, I have the one thing he desires most of all. The one thing that will make him vulnerable and careless and irresponsible.

And she is currently bound to my bed.

Staring down at her as she sleeps soundly, knocked out from whatever drugs they gave her, I can’t help but notice the resemblance of her to my Darya.

Porcelain skin. Thick, dark lashes resting peacefully on her high, prominent cheekbones. Rosy lips so full and lush they beg to be kissed. I’m almost scared to see her with her eyes open. Will she have those same blue sapphires that can…

I stand up abruptly from the bedside chair and step toward the window, peering out at the waves as they lap relentlessly along the rocky Pacific Coast, laughing at myself for the absurd thoughts. Now is not the time to think about lashes or lips or eye color. Now is not the time to adulate over my prisoner—this American Princess, as they call her.

She is only the means to an end.

Because now is the time for revenge.

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Transparent Teaser 1

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Translucent (Luminous #1) by Erin Noelle

Translucent (Luminous #1) by Erin Noelle

About Book 1
Title: Translucent
Series: Luminous #1
Author: Erin Noelle
Release Date: June 22, 2014
Genre: New Adult Contemporary Romance
Links: Goodreads | Amazon

Synopsis
Sometimes you reach a point where you just can’t take any more — a breaking point, some call it.

The day I watched my husband murder the woman who was pregnant with his child, my point didn’t just break, it exploded like a full magazine’s worth of hollow points firing through the barrel of a fully-automatic AK-47.

Literally.

I am no longer his American Princess, nor am I his slave.

Now, I’m a murderer in hiding. My name was Bryleigh Carter Oliveira, and that was my story.

Translucent is one woman’s story of breaking free, starting over, and learning to trust again through willful submission.

.

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Author Erin Noelle

Author Erin Noelle

About the Author
Erin Noelle is a Texas native, where she lives with her husband and two young daughters. While earning her degree in History at the University of Houston, she rediscovered her love for reading that was first instilled by her grandmother when she was a young child.

A lover of happily-ever-afters, both historical and current, Erin is an avid reader of all romance novels. Her titles published include the Book Boyfriend Series, the Dusk ‘Til Dawn Series, Translucent, Conspire — co-authored with SE Hall, Surviving Us, MILF: Wrong Kind of Love and Spark.

Her books have been a part of the USA Today Bestselling list and the Amazon and Barnes & Noble overall Top 100.

Where to find Erin Noelle
Goodreads Website | NewsletterFacebook Twitter | Amazon | Instagram | Tumblr | Tsu | Pinterest
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Chapter Reveal – Fatal Beauty by Nazarea Andrews

Fatal Beauty Chapter Reveal

Author Nazarea Andrews is unveiling the first chapter of Fatal Beauty, an adult thriller releasing October 13, 2015See below for information on the book, a link to add it to your Goodreads TBR, the chapter reveal, and a couple of teasers.

Fatal Beauty by Nazarea Andrews

Fatal Beauty by Nazarea Andrews

About the Book
Title: Fatal Beauty
Author: Nazarea Andrews
Release Date: October 13, 2015
Genre: Adult Thriller
Links: Goodreads

Synopsis
Charlotte was a good girl. Sweet and innocent, a debutante with her Daddy’s credit card and a fiancée who doted on her. She was destined for a perfect picture life in Charleston. Until everything goes wrong.

EJ grew up with everything she could ever want, and bored as hell. Nothing surprises her and nothing ever changes, and she wants out—whatever it takes. Getting involved with Anthony Jacobs is probably the worst idea she’s ever had—and that makes it irresistible.

Until Charlie needs her.

New Orleans. Los Angles. Vegas.

Beautiful girls who know just how to get exactly what they want.

It’s all fun and games, sexy nights and wild parties.

But you can only manipulate your way out of so much, and when their past catches up, not even a pretty fucking smile will get them out of trouble this time.

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Fatal Beauty Teaser

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Chapter Reveal
Las Vegas Police Department, Interrogation Room B.

Detective Blackmon: State your name for the record.
Charlotte Brooks: (clears throat) Charlie Brooks.
Detective Blackmon: Your legal name, ma’am.
Brooks: Charlotte Suzanne Brooks.
Detective Blackmon: Have you been advised of your rights, ma’am?
Brooks: (soft laugh) you advised me of them. So yes.
Detective Blackmon:  Do you want to tell us how you came to know Ms Ella Jane Munro?
Brooks: Where is she?
Detective Blackmon: Ma’am, I need you to calm down and give your statement.
Brooks: Where the fuck is EJ?
Detective Blackmon: At night fifty pm the LVPD were called to a hotel room secured with a credit card in your name. Upon searching it, we found drugs, weapons and almost two hundred in cash. Do you want to say anything about that?
Brooks: I wasn’t in that room, and neither were my belongings. You verified that. My wallet was stolen. And I want EJ.
Brooks: Why the hell are you looking at me like that?
Detective Blackmon: Ma’am…
Brooks: (screaming) where the hell is EJ?

Chapter 1

If she could look at it, with the hindsight of everything that had happened, she would say that it all began six months before Wallace Bryce Talbert went missing. The day Ella Jane Munro sold Llewellyn Koonts a hit of blow in the locker room of her father’s country club.

Of course, if she had the luxury of hindsight, she might have changed everything by simply going to lunch at the Greenhouse instead of tennis at the club.

Then again. Charlotte had never had much use for hindsight and even less for regrets.

 

* * *

Charlie Brooks was an institution at the Buringtree Country Club. She had grown up in the halls, played tennis early and well, swam in the summer and pranced around the greens in tiny shorts, her blonde hair bobbing in her signature braid.

She was a perfect debutant. Sweet as sugar when it suited her, and an utter bitch when it didn’t. The staff at the club lived in fear of her temper. HR had to step in when she was in high school and they couldn’t keep a staff–Charlie either terrorized them into quitting or demanded they were fired over minor infractions.

And because she was Travis Brooks only daughter, she usually got her way.

Ella Jane Munro was different from Charlie. Just as bitchy, just as demanding. Filthy fucking rich. But Charlie revealed in who and what she was born to. She never wanted anything but to be the queen bee at her private school, at the club, and Vanderbilt. Everything she did was carefully calculated for how it would reflect on her and how people viewed her.

It’s why she and Ella Jane had never gotten along, despite being in the same circles.

From the outside, they would have made the perfect frenemies. Self-destructive, the kind of too close back-stabbing that would fuel the wet dreams of high school boys with visions of love hate sexcapdes.

Ella Jane and Charlie didn’t cooperate. Ella was bored to death with country club life and everything expected of a deb. And she might be an it girl, in her blasé way, but she never aspired to steal Charlie’s crown.

They existed for most of their life, in a kind of live and let live détente.

No one could explain why that changed. It was whispered about, of course. Two of Charleston’s favorite daughters, suddenly inseparable? Everyone had a theory. No one knew the truth, though.

No one would have ever believed the truth.

* * *

The door to her office opened and closed again, in the kind of way that was an announcement. She swallowed a smirk and layered another coat of pale pink on her nails.

Most girls would pay for a manicure, but she had always found the ritual of her nail care to be soothing.

The cash slapped down on her desk and she blinked at it slowly before letting her gaze slide lazily up to the woman across from her.

Sharp green eyes, long jet black hair with a single streak of magenta in bangs cut across her forehead. A pair of designer skinny jeans and a loose, sheer black tank top scattered with polka dot skull and cross bones, lace edged cami under it showing off her amazing tits.

Only Ella Jane could stalk into her office in designer jeans and a Walmart clearance top and look perfect instead of ridiculous.

“Your half.” She says.

Charlie finishes her last finger, admiring it briefly before screwing the lid on her nail polish and giving the other woman her attention.

“When are you meeting with Jacobs?”

“Tomorrow. Don’t be impatient, greedy girl.”

She bites down on the acidic response that wants to rise, and arches an eyebrow silently. EJ stares at her for a long moment, before she huffs a sigh and drops into the high back leather chair across from her.

“You can’t do anything until Monday anyway. Isn’t your engagement thing tonight.”

It’s posed as a question, but she knows damn well when it is. Charlie goes still and her gaze clouds for a heartbeat.

“Do you want me to come?” EJ asks, quietly.

The offer startles a laugh from Charlie and she grins, a dry, mocking thing. “And how the hell would I explain that? No. Stay on your side of the club, and I’ll stay on mine. I’ll be fine.”

There’ a tense moment, as they stare at each other, and Charlie wonders just how much EJ suspects.

They weren’t supposed to become friends—it was a business arrangement. One that benefited them both and made EJ’s supplier happy. But it had evolved.

It made her nervous, and nothing made her nervous. She didn’t like it.

“Don’t be a bitch, Charlie,” EJ says coldly.

“Then don’t fucking hover.” Charlie snaps.

Anger flares in EJ’s eyes, for a moment, and then it vanished, and she stands. “Fine. Have fun with your boy.”

Her tone is mocking and knowing and it stings a little as she watches EJ leave.

For a moment, it occurs to her that she should apologize. She dismisses it just as quickly and grabs the stack of cash, standing and moving to the wall where her safe is.

It’s crammed with cash and a small black revolver. As she adds the new stack to the others, she touches the gun.

It’s soothing, and her unease and nerves settle at the touch of the cool metal.

It’ a standard black Glock. Most of her girlfriends carry a tiny pink pistols they can tuck into their Coach bags with equally ridiculous sized dogs. But Travis Brooks always said that if she wanted to be man enough to carry a gun, she’d damn well carry a man’s gun.

“Charlotte? We have a meeting with the partners.”

She snaps the safe shut, keying the lock and spins to smile at her fiancée.

Wallace Bryce Talbert the Third. Tre to his friends and enemies alike. A golden boy in her father’s law firm, and the man she had promised to spend her entire life with.

He’s grinning at her, holding a hand out and she swallows her nerves and fear as she places her hand in his and follows him out of the office.

* * *

EJ pads out of her bedroom, her naked body wrapped in moonlight. A bottle of spumante sits discarded in a silver wine chiller, and she grabs it as she moves to her purse and pull out a pack of cigarettes. She smokes almost pensively, staring out the window. Behind her, she can hear him moving and she keeps her gaze trained on the window as smoke curls around her, dissipating slowly.

“You should come back to bed,” he says, and she can hear the tease in his tone. She barely manages to keep from rolling her eyes as she wraps her lips around the cigarette again, pulling one last time before dropping it into a forgotten champagne flute.

“You should go. I’ve got an early morning tomorrow.”

Surprise and anger chase across his face, and she waits to see if he’ll follow through.

Clayton Poole was the heir of an ancient oil tycoon, and would be much more interesting if he would lose his temper every once in a while.

He was a fun fuck, always took care to get her off, and he opened doors even she couldn’t walk though. But he was boring as fuck when they weren’t naked.

“I’ll call you tomorrow,” he says, lamely, and she flick a look at him as she pours a glass of spumante.

“Don’t. I’ll call you soon.” She gives him a smile and kisses his cheek before returning to her bedroom.

She lets out a sigh when the door shuts behind him, and settles on her bed. It smells of sex still, but she’s too drunk and lazy just now to strip the sheets.

Besides, she likes the smell of sex, even if Clayton isn’t her favorite fuck buddy.

There is a joint in her bedside table and she fishes it out and lights it, pulling on it deeply as she thumbs through her social media.

The entire newsfeed is abuzz with the engagement party of the year, and she grits her teeth. She should have been there. Clayton had been invited—Charlie will be pissed he didn’t show, a thought that strings a smirk across her lips—and she could have crashed it. Nothing to be done once she was there.

Once upon a time, it would have been amusing just to get a rise from Charlie.

When the fuck had that changed? When she realized that Charlie was just as unhappy in their fucking perfect life as she was?

Or was it when Charlie blackmailed EJ into sharing her distribution, earning her respect as more than another empty headed social climber.

She huffs, and takes another pull on the joint. The smell of weed fill the bedroom, covering the scent of sex. Her muscles are loose and relaxed against the bed and she let’s her phone drop beside her, drifting on her high, drunk and post-orgasmic relaxation combining to pull her down into sleep.

The room is pitch black, her body hot and sweating against the rough duvet when she wakes. Her mouth is dry and for a disorienting moment, she wonders where the hell she is, and what happened.

Her phone buzzes against her thigh again, and she fumbles for it.

“Charlie?” she croaks, and swallows. Reaches for the spumante on the bedside table.

“I need you.”

The whisper from the other end of the line chills her, and she shudders, rubbing away the goosebumps that trace along her arms.

That’s it—those three words and nothing more.

Sleep is forgotten completely as she sits up and nods. “I’ll be right there.”

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fatal Beauty 2 Weeks

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Author Nazarea Andrews

Author Nazarea Andrews

About the Author
Nazarea Andrews (N to almost everyone) is an avid reader and tends to write the stories she wants to read. Which means she writes everything from zombies and dystopia to contemporary love stories.

When not writing, she can most often be found driving her kids to practice and burning dinner while she reads, or binging watching TV shows on Netflix. N loves chocolate, wine, and coffee almost as much as she loves books, but not quite as much as she loves her kids.

She lives in south Georgia with her husband, daughters, spoiled cat and overgrown dog. She is the author of World Without End series, Neverland Found, Edge of the Falls, and The University of Branton Series. Stop by her twitter (@NazareaAndrews) and tell her what fantastic book she should read next.

Where to Find Nazarea Andrews
Goodreads Website | Blog | Twitter | Facebook | Street Team | Newsletter | Pinterest
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Pre-Release Teaser – Heart-Shaped Hack by Tracey Garvis Graves

Heart Shaped Hack Pre-Release

We’re still a week away from the release of Heart-Shaped Hack, a contemporary romance from New York TimesWall Street Journal, and USA Today bestselling author, Tracey Garvis Graves, but she’s offering up a sneak-peek for us today along with a teaser, and a link to read the first five chapters. See below for details.

Heart-Shaped Hack by Tracey Garvis Graves

Heart-Shaped Hack by Tracey Garvis Graves

About the Book
Title: Heart-Shaped Hack
Author: Tracey Garvis Graves
Publisher: Love Potion Books
Release Date: August 25, 2015
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iBooks | First Five Chapters

Synopsis
When Kate Watts abandoned her law career to open a food pantry in Northeast Minneapolis, she never dreamed it would be this difficult. Facing the heartbreaking prospect of turning hungry people away, she is grateful for the anonymous donations that begin appearing at the end of each month.

Determined to identify and thank her secret benefactor, she launches a plan and catches Ian —a charismatic hacker with a Robin Hood complex—in the act.

Ian intrigues Kate in a way no man ever has. But after learning he’s snooped around on her personal computer, she demands retribution. Impressed with her tolerance and captivated by her spirit, he complies and begins to slowly charm his way past her defenses.

Time spent with Ian is never boring, and Kate soon finds herself falling for the mysterious hacker.

But Ian has enemies and they’re growing restless. In the hacking world, exploiting a target’s weakness is paramount, and no price is too high to stop an attack. And when Kate learns exactly how much Ian has paid, she’ll discover just how strong her love is for the man who has hacked his way into her heart.

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Excerpt
Kate was taking a break and having coffee and a muffin at Wilde Roast Café when Ian slid into the booth and sat across from her. He was wearing a lightweight cream-colored sweater with a tan-and-green-patterned shirt underneath, and he smelled good.

“Hello again.”

Confused, Kate looked around. “Where did you come from?”

“I walked in the door like everyone else.”

“Do you live nearby?” Kate lived in the St. Anthony Main neighborhood of Northeast Minneapolis. The food pantry was conveniently located on SE Main Street, which was a short three-block walk from her apartment. The quiet brick-paved street was lined with restaurants, shops, and a movie theater and included a stunning view of the Mississippi River and St. Anthony Falls. There were also bars that featured live music and plenty of green space in nearby parks.

He shook his head. “Not really.”

“Then why are you here?”

“I felt like talking to you again. You’re seated, so you probably won’t try to strangle me this time.”

“How did you know where to find me?” She was tucked away in a back booth instead of one of the tables near the windows that looked out over SE Main, so it wasn’t like he’d walked by and spotted her.

He held a steaming cup of coffee and blew on it to cool it. “I tracked your credit card activity. According to Capital One, you bought a cup of coffee and a muffin here twelve minutes ago.”

“You tracked my credit card?” Her voice sounded rather loud and shrieky.

He held a finger in front of his mouth. “Shh, Katie Long Legs. That information is for your ears only. How’s your coffee? Would you like a refill?”

Kate did not appreciate being shushed, but she lowered her voice. “Are you some kind of cyberthief?” she whispered. And since when were criminals so well-dressed and impeccably groomed?

“I did not steal your credit card number. I simply accessed your account to see where and when you’d used it last. Then I came here.”

“If you wanted to talk to me again, why didn’t you just go to the food pantry?”

He looked at her like it was obvious. “Because you’re not there. You’re here at this café.”

“If you’re not a cyberthief, then what are you?”

“I’m a hacker.”

“Is there a difference?”

“Most definitely.”

“When you said you steal from the rich to give to the poor, I thought you were kidding. Is that how you get the money?”

“I don’t steal it. I appropriate it from people who shouldn’t have it in the first place. Then I give it to those who are more deserving.”

Kate twisted her napkin. “I can’t keep the money. I’ve already spent the first two donations, but if you come back to the food pantry with me, I can return the most recent one. It’s still locked in the safe because I wasn’t planning on going shopping until tomorrow.”

“No, Katie. I don’t want it back. It’s for you. It’s for the babies.”

“It’s wrong,” she said quietly.

“Is it?”

“It’s against the law.”

“Trust me when I say the people I took it from don’t want the law involved any more than I do.”

“What are you saying? That you’re a thief who steals from other thieves?”

He wrinkled his nose, and it was adorable.

Stop! Thief!

“It sounds so distasteful when you say it like that. I prefer master appropriator of ill-gotten funds. You can call me master for short.”

“I have lots of things I’d like to call you. Master is not one of them.”

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Heart Shaped Hack Teaser 1

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Read the First Five Chapters

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Author Tracey Garvis-Graves

Author Tracey Garvis-Graves

About the Author
Tracey Garvis Graves is a New York TimesWall Street Journal, and USA Today bestselling author. Her debut novel, On the Island, spent 9 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, has been translated into twenty-seven languages, and is in development with MGM and Temple Hill Productions for a feature film. She is also the author of Uncharted, Covet, Every Time I Think of You, and Cherish.

Where to Find Tracey Garvis Graves
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