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Book Blitz, Excerpt, and Giveaway: The White Raven

 

The White Raven
by Carrie D. Miller
Publication date: April 1st 2017
Genres: Adult, Fantasy

Finally, after nearly a thousand years, Aven Dovenelle is truly happy. In her thirteenth life, she’s settled into the now witchcraft-friendly Salem, Massachusetts, where she has opened her own shop and made great friends—there’s even a possibility of love blooming.

Despite her contentment in this new life, the truth of Aven’s existence haunts her. She is cursed to live life after life, with all the memories of her horrific past. For all her powers, she’s never discovered why she was cursed nor how to break it. Hope may come in the form of a mysterious white raven, who has followed Aven through each of her lives. Although they have a connection that neither understands, it may prove to be her salvation.

An evil force from Aven’s past isn’t finished with her. Driven by vengeance and hate, he emerges to torment her anew and threatens all she’s built. He strikes without warning—her loved ones are caught in the wake of his attack and may not survive the encounter.

The cost of her happiness and freedom could be too high as Aven uncovers the truth about her curse and that dark magick lingers.

Goodreads / Amazon

PROLOGUE:

Calico, California

1886

They are close. I sense their hatred. Though I am prepared, I must force myself to be calm. I do not fear what comes although I know I will be dead soon. Running from this place now is not something I wish to do, nor do I care to fight anymore. I’m ready to seek out a new land, a new time, and to continue on to the next life I am cursed to begin.

My Pyrenees is at attention by my side, ears pricked and hackles raised. “It is time to go, my girl.” She whines and lowers her head, her big brown eyes pools of concern. “You go ahead,” I say with a smile. “I’ll be along soon.”

I hear the gallop of fast-moving horses and the shouts of agitated men as they approach my home. The sound of heavy boots bounding onto the porch makes my skin prickle. Torchlight fills the windows and I steel myself. The front door splinters when one of those heavy boots comes through it.

“I knew there was somethin’ not right about you.” The man in the lead is Morris Stiles, the town’s bully. I’m sure he took quick ownership of the lynching party so he could exercise his insatiable need to inflict pain and suffering without the threat of retribution. Not to mention the chance to snare himself a witch.

His face seethes with hostility. The men who crowd into the room behind him wear the same expression. The grin forming on his face as he looks me over is filled with decaying stubs that once passed for teeth. Many months ago, I offered to ease his pain, but was met with the back of his hand followed by a brown, revolting gob of spit aimed at my face.

Life in Calico has been filled with hardships. Each time I felt a modicum of acceptance, someone like Morris Stiles would speak against me. My goats and chickens were taken one by one, and the sheriff was not the least bit sympathetic or helpful in retrieving them. I am not one to back down so I held on, hoping for the relief of simply being ignored.

Now, yet another angry mob is at my doorstep. I know my lover has not had a direct hand in this. I am certain that due to the effects of much drink, his lips recounted events he should have kept hidden. I confessed to him this very morning that I am, in fact, a witch, and his reaction was what I had expected. I am unable to hide my true self for very long, and I am either revealed by my actions or by my simple confession. I will not deceive my lover with lies and trickery. I have told myself time and time again to stay away from love but the pangs and yearnings cannot be ignored, not even by one such as myself.

There is no fear on my face as I glare at the five men who have invaded my little home. Each one averts his eyes. As I inhale, my lungs fill with the thick, heavy air the men brought with them—full of sweat, dirt, whiskey, and anger.

I glower at the still grinning man. “Morris Stiles, you are a fool.” My voice resonates throughout the room. The sound makes the men jump and look around, wide-eyed.

Morris grunts and spits a brown mass onto the floor. “Them’s funny words coming from a whore a’ Satan!”

I scoff. “Tell me one thing, just one thing—any of you—that I have done to remotely reflect the work of the devil?” No one meets my eyes and nothing intelligible passes from their lips. Feeling the mood of his men shift, Morris lurches forward.

“Don’t matter! You do things no livin’ person should be doin’. Ain’t but God himself that can mend a broke back, or make Jenny’s fever break even after Doc said nuthin’ could be done. You got wrong in you, woman, and we gon’ fix that!” He lunges for me. Emboldened by Morris, three other men follow. I do not cry out as they grip my arms and shoulders with rough, dirty hands. Morris binds my hands in front of me. The smell of their breath and body odor stings my nose. I am ushered from my home with shouts

and laughter. The night is fresh and crisp after the all-day rain. I welcome the clean air into my lungs.

“Why don’t she fight?” someone mutters behind me. “Why don’t she scream? Ain’t never known a woman not to go screamin’.”

“’Nother thing that ain’t natural ’bout her. Like them purple eyes!”

I am shoved up onto an old, work-worn mare. A timid voice comes from behind the rest.

“But she made Pa’s leg stop hurtin’. He’s able to get out in the fields again. Ma said it was a miracle and that God was workin’ through her.”

“Shut yer mouth, boy!” Morris slaps the young man hard on the back of the head. He grips the boy by his collar. “Yer Pa’s lucky she didn’t turn that leg into a cloven hoof!” He pushes the boy backward and turns to face me.

“We gonna show you what we do to witches!” He throws his head back and hoots manically. Several men follow suit; some punctuate their exuberance with gunshots into the air.

The horse underneath me snorts and pulls back from the man holding the reins, jerking her head from side to side. He yells obscenities at her and yanks her bridle. I run my hands along her taut neck and make her listen to my words in her mind. She calms to the song I sing to her.

I am paraded down the main street through town towards the cemetery where the gallows stands. Many outlaws have met their end in this manner, and it appears so will I.

The cemetery is unusually bright this evening with torches on every fence post. They cast a harsh yellow glow onto the weathered wood of the gallows. I am aware of the shouts, calls, and other verbal assaults around me, but I hear nothing except the steady beating of my heart. I focus on controlling my movements and breathing. I will not give them the satisfaction of seeing my fear. While I am not afraid of death itself as I have done it eleven times before, it is the act of dying I fear. But I am pleased by the method they have chosen, for it is a fast end if done properly.

I am shoved up the steps and I will my legs to keep up. I am jerked around into position in front of the freshly tied noose of new rope. Morris presents it and me to the crowd—the ringmaster to this circus.

“Lookie what we got here!” He shoves me forward as if they couldn’t already see me. “By her own confession to Roy Shackleford, she’s a gawd damn witch!” The crowd becomes deafening.

I catch the eye of the town preacher at the far end of the massive throng. His face is smug and his eyes dance with spiteful glee. Under my glare, his grin falters and he moves behind a large elderly woman who’s covered herself in a quilt and grasps a wooden cross tightly in her meaty fists.

Morris continues to speak random sentences describing my unnatural and ungodly ways, inciting the crowd further. I look upon their hateful faces, devoid of any resemblance to the humans they were earlier in the day. I pity them all for their small, feeble minds. I become aware that Morris is attempting to put the noose around my neck.

“I wish to speak!” I yank myself away from Morris’s grip. Much to his dismay, I am stronger than I have led him to believe.

I am booed and hissed at, and the crowd calls for my immediate death. I clench my teeth and hiss back at them. “Silence!” The force in my voice, the unearthly sound I make, strikes them dumb. “You will listen.

“Almost half of you have benefited from my healing skill.” My gaze seeks those I readily find who have been under my care. Their eyes do not meet mine.

“I have caused no harm to any of you, nor your land, nor your property. I have done only good deeds. Refute that, anyone!” People shift their feet and hide their faces behind those in front of them. The people in the front look at the ground. In the silence, I hear the flapping of large wings and see the heavy flames of the torches dance in the air currents. I cannot see the creature but I know it. I have always known it. A sharp, angry cry from the bird peals out above the crowd. There are gasps and cries of fear; some crouch down as they stare into the black sky. I feel strangely calmed by the bird’s presence.

Morris steps forward to speak, and my thoughts close his windpipe. He grips his throat, his eyes widening. My eyes warn him not to proceed. I will be allowed to speak, Morris, but you no longer will.

“As I look at each of your faces, I know none of my words will make the slightest difference. Your minds are small and petty. The only danger here is you. You believe you are ridding the world of some great evil tonight. But all you are doing is worsening your own lives. Ponder that as you lay your heads on your pillows. The evil here is you, for there is none in me.”

I release Morris from where he stands still gasping for air. As he tries to recover himself, he waves several men forward to put me back into place. Coughing is all he can manage as he puts the noose over my head and jerks it tight. When he is close to my face, he spits at me. The smell of it would be nauseating if I could feel anything other than rage.

He shoves each man out of the way so he is the one to pull the lever that controls the trap door upon which I stand. He stumbles and is still sputtering to get words out, but he can only cough and spit. As my last act of defiance, I make those the only sounds that will ever come out of his mouth. My petty revenge makes me smile.

The movement of the well-worn mechanism opening the trap door is loud in my ears. It is all I hear though I’m certain the crowd has reached a frenzied state. For the length of a breath, I am suspended in midair. I look above the crowd as I plummet downward, seeing a flash of white wings in my periphery.

I relax my neck and let the noose perform its job without resistance. I want this over quickly, to have my neck snap immediately. The noose tightens as my weight pulls my body down. The pain is but a quick jolt and then the world is black and silent to me.

 

Author Bio:

Carrie D. Miller was born in Hutchinson, Kansas, on October 31, 1970. She credits her vivid imagination, as well as her sugar addiction, to being a Halloween baby. In a former life, she was an executive in the software industry for many years. Her career in

the technology world included software product management, website design, training, and technical writing just to name a few. Although Carrie’s written a great deal over the decades which has been read by thousands of people, software documentation allows for about as much creativity as pouring cement. At the age of 45, she decided to chuck it all to become an author which had been a life-long dream.

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Book Blitz, Excerpt, and Giveaway: The Penance of Pride

 

The Penance of Pride
(Shadyia Ascendant, #2)

by T.S. Adrian
Publication date: March 31st 2017
Genres: Adult, Fantasy

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.

Goodreads / Amazon

CHAPTER 1:

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.

 

Author Bio:

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.

I 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.

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Book Blitz, Teasers, and Giveaway: The Animal Under the Fur

 

The Animal Under
by E.J. Mellow
Publication date: March 30th 2017
Genres: Action, Adult, Romance

From award-winning author E. J. Mellow comes an action romance dripping with vengeful delight.

Orphaned on the streets as a baby, Nashville Brown, a.k.a Kill Operative 3, knows better than to rely on anyone. With heightened senses and superhuman strength to survive, she’s been raised as the perfect assassin.

The trick to her success? Keeping everyone, even her best friend, at arm’s length.

Losing his entire family in the span of a year, Carter Smith left his ability to love buried deep in their graves. His only concerns now are completing his missions and effortlessly charming the next temptress to warm his bed.

The key to his accomplishments? Working alone mixed with a Casanova smile.

But when a deadly weapon needs to be stopped from falling into the wrong hands, the lone wolves find themselves thrown into an explosive partnership. Can Carter and 3 lower their guns aimed at one another long enough to succeed, or will their unwillingness to compromise end up destroying more than their perfect records? Whatever their differences, both agree on one thing—in the game of lies and deceit, the line between friend and foe is often blurred by blood splatter.

The Animal Under The Fur is a hate-to-loath-to-love standalone novel filled with savagery, secrets, and enough angst to wrinkle the pages you’ll find gripped in your hands.

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Author Bio:

E.J. Mellow is the award-winning author of the contemporary fantasy trilogy The Dreamland Series and The Animal Under The Fur. With a bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts, E.J. Mellow splits her time between her two loves – visual design and writing. Residing in NYC, E.J. is a member of Romance Writers of America and their Fantasy, Futuristic & Paranormal Chapter. She has no animals but loves those who do.

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Book Blitz, Excerpt, Teasers, and Giveaway: Untapped

 

Untapped
by Weston Parker
Publication date: March 28th 2017
Genres: Adult, Romance, Thriller

Some desires are better left uncovered…

Erik Bertinelli is the son of the vilest mob boss in all of New York’s underbelly. He’s the enforcer, the hitman for the syndicate, and the type of guy who doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty. His hideaway is as unconventional as they come… the New York Public Library.

With a thirst for knowledge and a grand getaway at his fingertips, he loses himself daily in the dusty tales of old. Life is too f*cked up most days of the week. Peace would be beyond welcomed.

Grace Adams desires more than anything to live fully alive, and yet, she’s doing just the opposite of that. She’s a librarian at the New York Public Library and spends her days wishing like hell that she could disappear into one of the romance novels she reads.

With an imagination that would shock her family and friends, she keeps to herself and lives in the colorful parts of her mind – alone. Untapped.

When the same deliciously dangerous alpha male keeps showing up between the bookshelves, her daydreams quickly dive into passion that feels too good to be true. The kind that could burn anyone involved. The kind she would do anything for. Maybe even kill…

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EXCERPT:

Grace

“It’s finally starting to get cold.” Thomas glanced over at me and smiled as we jogged side by side. His freckles were fading now that summer was gone, but a faint splattering of them was still there.

“This isn’t cold.” I snorted and reached up to tug at my ponytail as we ran past the University. The library rose up in the distance, and I felt a sense of belonging. I’d been working there for a while, and even though I had some difficulty with some of the staff, most of the people there liked me. And it was where I could find Erik.

“Hey. Did I lose you?” My brother reached over and tugged on my sleeve.

“Oh yeah, sorry. There’s this new guy at the library, and I think I’m going to ask him out.” I turned the corner and slowed for a minute as my lungs screamed for air.

“A new guy, hm?” He didn’t look too thrilled. “I don’t like it.”

“You’re my older brother, dimwit.” I stopped by a cement bench and dropped down to fix one of my tennis shoes. “You’re not supposed to like it.”

“When do I get to meet him?” Thomas ran in place as he scanned the lawn in front of us. His smile widened as he lifted his hand and waved. “Kara. Nancy. Hey girls. Looking good.”

“Oh brother.” I stood up and reached up to adjust my hair again as I turned to see who he was waving at. Cheerleaders. Had to be. Their shorts looked more like panties, and they were wearing sports bras. “There should be a dress code out here. That’s just offensive.”

He laughed. “Just because you dress like a Granny doesn’t mean you have the right to be ugly about other girls dressing their age.”

“Oh yeah?” I lifted my eyebrow and ran my hands down my long-sleeve t-shirt. “And you’d be okay with me wearing what they have on?”

“What?” His brow pulled tight. “Hell no. That’s not happening.”

“Right.” I rolled my eyes and started to jog away from him. “What did you want to talk about that we couldn’t talk at home where it was warm and cozy?”

“Mom and Dad were there, Grace.”

“You could have come by my apartment.” I glanced over at him, noticing the dark circles under his eyes now that I was really looking. He’d been a little on edge lately, but he was nearing his last senior semester at NYU. I assumed it had everything to do with that. What other stress could he have in his life? He was president of the largest fraternity on campus and everyone worshiped the ground he walked on.

Everyone but Jenna. I forced myself not to chuckle. My poor brother had been after my best friend for years, and Jenna was oblivious to it. Now he was too late. She was dating a hottie bad boy from the coffee shop where she worked.

“I hate going to your apartment.” He shook his head. “It’s embarrassing enough getting caught in a movie that has a sex scene with your little sister, but to go to her apartment and hear the perverts next door bonking every fifteen minutes is sick. No fucking way. Count me out.”

“They’re in love, Thomas. It’s cute.”

“Fucking all the time is cute?” He lifted his hand as he paled a little. “You know what? Don’t answer that. We’re good just talking out here.”

“Alright. Spill then.” I laughed as he gave me a ‘watch it’ look. My brother was a bit of a prude from what I knew, but we never really talked too much about our love lives. That was gross.

Love life. What a fucking joke. I’d never been tongue kissed by a guy, much less anything else. After my mother had Thomas when she was sixteen, she used a scare tactic to keep me a virgin, and it worked well.

I’d never been around anyone that left me wanting to defy her and my father and spread my legs anyways. Not until Erik Bertinelli. The thought of him left my heart racing, my body tightening. The things I wanted him to do to me were over the top, horrible, embarrassing.

UNTAPPEDteaser3redo

 

Author Bio:

Romance is a genre that is oftentimes written by women, but my novels give you the chance to see through the eyes of some of the men that perhaps you fantasize about, and the opportunity to read about passion from the other side for a change. Stories told about real relationships, legit problems and past experiences… unless you’re an ex, in which case any resemblance to women living or dead is merely a coincidence. 😉

My name is Weston. I’m a full time firefighter during the day, but I’m not here to put out any fires. I’m here to start them. Hope you enjoy my stories and feel free to reach out at any time. I love to flirt.

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Cover Reveal: Beautiful Sacrifice

 

Beautiful Sacrifice
(Pride and Honor, #2)

by Ember Raine Winters
Publication date: April 20th 2017
Genres: Adult, Romance, Suspense

Tasha

Being a cop, I didn’t have any choice, but I really wish I hadn’t got mixed up in this case. My dark past is catching up to me ever since he barreled into my life without a care. It terrifies me that he sees right through me. He could be the one to save me . . . or break me.

Twitch

It was just a job. Until it wasn’t. By then the sexy little redhead had her claws in me. Now, she’s in my life and I’m lost. How am I supposed to keep the demons from her past from eating her alive? I don’t know, but I will do whatever it takes to make her mine.

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Author Bio:

Ember Raine Winters is a new author who just self published her first book. She went to community college to study political science and philosophy. She is currently taking classes to get her BS in business majoring in Sports management. She is an avid reader mostly fantasy and science fiction with a little romance thrown in as well. She loves writing Science Fiction mainly dystopian but is trying her hand in Fantasy as well.

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Cover Reveal and Teasers: Match Made

 

Match Made: Bad Boys and Show Girls
(Love and Play, #2)

Amélie S. Duncan
Publication date: April 10th 2017
Genres: Adult, Romance, Sports

In order to win his heart, she’ll have to play the game…

All over Broadway, my name is up in lights. From New York to London, the words ‘Gemma Sinclair’ are synonymous with up-and-coming fame, and a super-fast rise to success.

Yeah, well, super isn’t how I feel…

Between my deadbeat addict of an ex-boyfriend and the stress of my parents relying on me back home—sometimes I feel like the ground beneath my feet is slipping away.

Until I crossed paths with Knox Callahan, the hot and sexy as hell veteran player for the New York Football Club—and a total player when it comes to women. A year after our disastrous first date, I’m still in no position to have anything to do with a guy like him.

But then right at my lowest, here he comes, riding back into my life and offering me something I’ve been desperately longing for—support. And truth.

And, well, the truth is—now I can’t for the life of me remember why I didn’t want to be a part of his team…

Author’s Note: This is a standalone from the Love and Play Series. It’s HEA, No cheating friends-to-lovers contemporary romance with some sports, a loving alpha dominant male, strong female lead, and a little smut between the steam

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Love and Play #1:

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Author Bio:

Amélie S. Duncan writes contemporary, erotic romances with a dark edge. Her inspiration comes from many sources including her life experiences and travels. She lives on the West Coast of the United States with her husband.

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Book Blitz, Excerpt, and Giveaway: Stiff Drink

 

Stiff Drink
(Runaway Billionaires: Arthur Duet #1)

by Blair Babylon
Publication date: March 21st 2017
Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Romance

Genevieve is a lawyer, not a babysitter, and certainly not a dog trainer. She is just about to become a full barrister, a British litigating attorney, when her law mentor dies unexpectedly. She is shuffled off to another barrister, one who’s nothing at all like her kind and decent former mentor, and then she is assigned the office’s worst case: Arthur Finch-Hatten, six-feet and four-inches of ripped, loaded, hot English nobleman who is wasting his life and his inherited estate so audaciously that his younger brother is suing him for control of their family’s earldom. There is a darn good chance that Arthur will lose everything, even his crazed, badly behaved puppy.

Unless he shapes up.

Her new boss hasn’t been able to convince Arthur to mend his ways. His uncle’s lectures haven’t had any effect on his depraved debauchery and lavish lifestyle.

The only way for Genevieve to make partner is to win Arthur’s case, and the only way to win his case and save his earldom is to keep him from spending his days hungover in bed and his nights pouring Cristal on naked, drunk women before flying off in his private jumbo jet to the next party.

Arthur was enough to make any woman need a stiff drink.

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EXCERPT:

When he strolled in, Lord Arthur Finch-Hatton, the Earl of Severn, was still staring straight ahead at the window that overlooked the crowded streets of central London, so Gen’s first look at him was his profile.

Morning sunlight streaming in the window clung to his golden skin. His cheekbones were hard slashes, and his jaw was a sharp right angle above the crisp, white collar of

the dress shirt and black business suit he wore. His lush lips curved in a smile, as if looking over London from such a prestigious advantage suited him. The subtle lift of his chin and roll of his broad shoulders suggested that, had history been different, he might have ruled the land that spread beneath the window.

He turned to survey the rest of the room and caught Gen sitting at the table, gaping at him.

Oh, God. She was staring.

He always caught her staring.

She was staring at the black curls of his dark hair that stroked his ears and the back of his neck, and she was staring at the way his very precisely tailored suit skimmed his strong shoulders and the rounded biceps of his arms and then narrowed at his waist and hips, and she was staring at his extravagant height and his long legs and the way his head tilted with amusement as he caught her staring at him again.

Gen’s brain turned to goo.

Damn, Lord Severn was one gorgeous man.

The goo in her mind grew fuzzy tendrils, and cotton candy filled her skull and stopped up her ears.

Her thoughts slowed as she met his eyes.

My God. His eyes.

His eyes weren’t blue or gray or any color that she had ever seen on a real human being before.

His eyes shimmered with an unexpected delight and intelligence.

They narrowed when he smiled that good-natured, natural smile that beckoned to her.

And most of all, his eyes sparkled silver and were bounded by a dark blue ring.

They changed color depending on the light, from baby blue to silvery-gray and all the shades in-between. Gen saw all the variations as he turned his face from the sunlight toward her.

They were beguiling, magical, unearthly.

That was not damn fair.

Gen had heard about peoples’ knees weakening, but she was already sitting down. Still, her bones turned to soft clay, and she grabbed the sides of her chair because she was in danger of slithering out of it and onto the carpeting under the conference room table.

Lord Severn walked toward her.

It was customary for barristers to stand when greeting a client.

She should stand up. You really should stand up.

Stand up, dammit.

Gen gripped the sides of her chair and pushed with her arms to lift herself to her feet.

Even though too-tall Gen was wearing blunt, two-inch heels, Lord Severn was still inches taller than she was. At least four inches. Which meant he was at least six-four.

Blathering. Her brain was blathering.

His tie was the same azure-silver as his eyes but glimmering silk.

Dizziness spun her head, and she gasped for air because she had forgotten how to breathe.

At her stupid sucking sound, Lord Severn smiled, though it was a sad smile like he regretted that his mere presence was overwhelming her so.

He pulled out a chair on the other side of the table. “I was terribly sorry to hear about Horace Lindsey’s untimely death. He was an excellent barrister and a family friend.”

Even though it was only eleven-thirty in the morning, Lord Severn’s breath carried a faint whiff of whiskey under the mint, like he had just come from a gentleman’s brunch.

Gen’s mind searched for words.

Any words.

Wut arrre werdz.

She gathered her brain together and squeezed something out.

“Yes, it was a great loss to us all,” she managed.

 

Author Bio:

Blair Babylon often releases ebooks at a special release-day price of 99c.

To never miss a sale, CLICK HERE: http://smarturl.it/Babylon-Email

Blair Babylon is the nom de plume of an award-winning, USA Today-bestselling author who used to publish literary fiction. Because professional reviews of her other fiction usually included the caveat that there was too much deviant sex and too much interesting plot, she decided to abandon all literary pretensions, let her freak flag fly, and write hot, sexy, erotic romance, plus wild, suspenseful thrillers, science fiction, and urban fantasy using the super-secret pen name Blair C. Babylon.

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Book Blitz, Excerpt, and Giveaway: Working Stiff

 

Working Stiff: Casimir
(Runaway Billionaires #1)

by Blair Babylon
Publication date: May 17th 2016
Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Romance

Here’s the problem: when Rox was hired, she told her smoking-hot boss Cash that she was married, but she’s not. Now, three years later, she’s kind of accidentally living with him, and he’s being a perfect gentleman, dang it.

Everybody in the office said that Cash was a heartbreaker, that he’d bump her and dump her, so Rox decided not to become a statistic. She went out and bought herself some rings of the finest cubic zirconia so that she could work with Cash, who was several inches over six feet tall, emerald-eyed, ripped, gorgeous, his tailored suit clinging to his athletic body, sporting a British accent, and loaded.

It had seemed like such a good plan at the time.

But now, three years later, she and Cash have become friends. They travel together for work often, and they’re the best of buddies.When Rox gets thrown out of her apartment, Cash insists that she come live with him until they can find her a place because that’s what friends do.

Now, even though everyone insists that Cash never goes after married women, something about him has changed. There are little touches, little slips, and Rox is more and more tempted to tell hunky, gorgeous Cash that she never was married.

And then he’ll take her and break her, and then he’ll walk away, and then she’ll lose her job, and she still hasn’t found a place to live.

And yet, every time her looks at her with mischief in his dark green eyes, every time they’re teasing and it somehow turns into tickling, every time she swats at him and somehow ends up in his arms, she wants so much to risk everything.

What’s a working stiff to do when she falls in love with her friend, the boss?

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EXCERPT:

Casimir bounced the back of his head softly against the door in time with his thoughts.

She. Was. Married.

It did not matter if Rox would be under his roof for a day or two. It did not matter that sometimes a ghost of other circumstances had flitted through the house and through Casimir’s mind, a ghost that looked suspiciously like her sumptuous dark hair spread on his pillows or her plush body sprawled on his sheets.

She. Was. Married.

Perhaps his attraction for her was merely for forbidden fruit, he consoled himself. If he’d had a chance with her, perhaps he wouldn’t feel so strongly. It was probably an illusion.

Perhaps she wouldn’t walk through his dreams, handing him contracts and then looking up through dark eyelashes with her hazel eyes that reminded him of pale caramels from home before she melted into his arms.

She would only be at his home for a day or two.

Casimir would survive a day or two of her walking around his house, drinking coffee with him in the morning or maybe a cocktail after work, perhaps watching a little late-night television on the deep couches in the media room before they retired, or perhaps, finally, she might steal into his bedroom near midnight—

She. Was. Married.

He rubbed the back of his skull. That last bonk had smarted a bit.

 

Author Bio:

Blair Babylon often releases ebooks at a special release-day price of 99c.

To never miss a sale, CLICK HERE: http://smarturl.it/Babylon-Email

Blair Babylon is the nom de plume of an award-winning, USA Today-bestselling author who used to publish literary fiction. Because professional reviews of her other fiction usually included the caveat that there was too much deviant sex and too much interesting plot, she decided to abandon all literary pretensions, let her freak flag fly, and write hot, sexy, erotic romance, plus wild, suspenseful thrillers, science fiction, and urban fantasy using the super-secret pen name Blair C. Babylon.

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Book Blitz, Excerpt, Teasers, and Giveaway: Hunted

 

Hunted
(ALIAS, #2)

by Lisa Hughey
Publication date: February 28th 2017
Genres: Adult, Romance, Suspense

Hunted: There’s only one thing worse than seeing your unrequited crush every day at the office…and that’s getting trapped with him in a snowy mountain cabin.

Maria Torres has been through hell and back. A former kidnapping victim, she’s used to being famous for all the wrong reasons and having people handle her with kid gloves. And it seems that the man of her dreams, Dwayne Lameko, is no different.

So when an ALIAS client requests her presence on an op, Maria believes she’s ready to spread her wings and prove all her co-workers wrong…especially Dwayne. But when danger follows them into the wilderness, Maria has no choice but to prove to herself and Dwayne that she’s strong enough to handle anything…even his love.

Maria Torres was first introduced in the Family Stone series, Still the One. She finally gets her happily ever after.

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Lisa Hughey Teaser 1

EXCERPT:

He was sorry? She stepped to her left, trying again to go around him and get away from his dominating presence. “I don’t need your pity.”

He stepped to his right, blocking her way again. He loomed over her, but she didn’t feel threatened. Caged, anxious to get away from him? Yes.

But not scared. She knew in her soul he wouldn’t hurt her.

“You really think pity is what I feel?” He tipped his head, bringing their faces closer together. So close she was again aware of the flecks of brown and green and gold in his dark eyes.

“No. Yes. I don’t know.” She’d been lost for eight years. Social cues bewildered her. She had no idea what he was thinking. She only knew she needed to get away from him.

But he appeared oddly hurt.

His broad shoulders blocked the fading light from the window, casting the kitchen in shadows and mystery.

“I would never hurt you.”

Not physically. “I know.”

As if he couldn’t help himself, he cupped her shoulders in his big palms. Maria’s breath caught. Held.

He was touching her again. Third time today.

#

Dwayne frowned. Maria had tensed beneath his hands.

On the ride from the airport, the scent of her shampoo had swirled in his senses. When she’d stroked the leather seat of the of the Range Rover, he’d started to get an erection, imagining her stroking him in more intimate places. But that was never going to happen.

His stomach churned with regret. “Then why are you still so upset?”

Her body language was all wrong. She was stiff, uncomfortable, and he didn’t know why. Her shoulders were delicate beneath his much larger palms. “No one touches me.”

Shit. He lifted his hands away from her body, fast. “Sorry.” Jesus, he’d apologized to her more in the past hour than he’d apologized to anyone in years. He was a “live and let live” guy with solid core values and a confidence in his moral compass.

“No. No.” She straightened her shoulders, stared defiantly. “No one touches me.”

His heart clenched. No one touched her? He thought about his family. They were always touching. Affectionate. He recalled her stiffness in his mother’s arms.

“Why?”

“They’re afraid.”

Dwayne snorted. She was five feet of nothing with soft curves and a sweet smile. “Of what?”

She shrugged. Looked out the kitchen window over the sink. “I’m a freak,” she said softly. “Nature or nurture. Except I didn’t have any nurture for…a while.”

“I’m sorry.”

She stomped her foot. “Don’t be sorry. Talk to me.”

How could she throw him so far off his stride? “I am.”

“Not like you talk to other…people.”

Other people?

“Women. Dwayne.” Once she let go, she let go. “Other women. You flirt, you tease. But with me, you just….”

Avoid. Of course he did. He wanted her far too much.

What the hell had Jillian been thinking to pair them together on this op? He took an instinctive step back.

“Am I so repellent then?”

What? “It’s not you.”

She laughed harshly. “C’mon, Dwayne. I might have been in forced solitary confinement for eight years but even I know that’s bullshit.”

He blinked. He’d never heard her swear before.

“It’s not bullshit,” he began defensively.

She snorted, that little sound of derision goading him. “Right.” Her sarcasm hit him in the gut. When she didn’t argue any more, didn’t fight back, underscoring the truth that she didn’t believe him, something snapped.

“I’m attracted to you.” The confession burst out of him with an alarming speed.

Her mouth opened and closed like she was a fish out of water. “What?” she said faintly. A deep burgundy flush spread up her neck and over her face, her eyes sparkling with temper. He’d clearly rendered her speechless.

“You heard me the first time.”

Lisa Hughey Teaser 2

 

Author Bio:

USA Today Bestselling Author Lisa Hughey has been writing romance since the fourth grade, which was also about the time she began her love affair with spies. Harriet and Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys later gave way to James Bond and Lara Croft and Jason Bourne.

Exploring the complex nature of a profession that requires subterfuge and lies fascinates her. She loves combining her two passions into fiction. As evidenced by her Black Cipher Files series.

Archangel Rafe was her first foray into the paranormal but after spending time in the Angelic Realm, it won’t be her last. At their heart, the Seven novels are about the dynamics of family relationships. But the really hot Archangels don’t hurt.

And recently she’s been immersed in the Stone Family novellas, four stories about a blended family of brothers and sister who have a lot more in common than they realize. But of course she couldn’t just write about family and romance. There are complex plots, bad guys, and suspense too.

Lisa loves to hear from readers and has various places you can connect with her, although, shh, Twitter is her favorite.

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Book Blitz, Teasers, and Giveaway: Thank You for Holding

 

Thank You for Holding
by Elisa Reed & Julia Kent
Publication date: March 21st 2017
Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Romance

Having it all is a fantasy, right?

Carrie Shelton thought her boyfriend was too good to be true. Her best friend’s brother? A guy who loved antiquing? Who cuddled on the couch while watching foodie YouTube clips and talking about artisanal spices? Who helped her accessorize her outfits?

Right.

Fantasy.

So when he ran off with Kevin, the owner of an antique shop, right before his sister’s wedding, Carrie’s life went from fantasy to nightmare.

As maid of honor, she can’t back out of the wedding. And her ex is the best man – but now he has his own best man.

She needs a date. Stat.

Enter Ryan. Sure, he’s a hot male stripper at the O Spa where she works as junior designer, but he’s a few years younger and just, you know — a friend.

Perfect. She needs a friend more than she needs a boyfriend.

A weekend of playing her boyfriend so she can save face is a lot to ask, but for some reason Carrie doesn’t understand, Ryan’s all in. Enthusiastic, even.

Especially when it comes to physical displays of affection.

Public kisses turn to private confessions, and pretty soon, Carrie can’t tell the difference between fantasy and reality.

Because if Ryan’s just pretending he’s in love with her, then why does the chemistry between them — and between the sheets — feel so real?

Carrie can’t settle for almost, though. She’s already done that. She’s not putting her life on hold anymore.

Turns out Ryan won’t, either.

He’s holding out for more.

Thank You For Holding is a STANDALONE in the On Hold series. You do not need to have read book 1 in the series, but after reading about Carrie and Ryan’s friends-to-lovers adventure, you’ll want to.

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Author Bio:

New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author Julia Kent writes romantic comedy with an edge. From billionaires to BBWs to new adult rock stars, Julia finds a sensual, goofy joy in every contemporary romance she writes. Unlike Shannon from Shopping for a Billionaire, she did not meet her husband after dropping her phone in a men’s room toilet (and he isn’t a billionaire). She lives in New England with her husband and three sons in a household where the toilet seat is never, ever, down.

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