Blog Tour | Silver in the Mist by Emily Victoria | Excerpt

Silver in the Mist by Emily Victoria is a YA fantasy featuring asexual representation that follows a palace spy sent to infiltrate a neighboring kingdom in hopes of returning magic to her dying land.

Eight years ago, everything changed for Devlin: Her country was attacked. Her father was killed. And her mother became the Whisperer of Aris, the head of the spies, retreating into her position away from everyone… even her daughter.

Joining the spy ranks herself, Dev sees her mother only when receiving assignments. She wants more, but she understands the peril their country, Aris, is in. The malevolent magic force of The Mists is swallowing Aris’s edges, their country is vulnerable to another attack from their wealthier neighbor, and the magic casters who protect them from both are burning out.

Dev has known strength and survival her whole life, but with a dangerous new assignment of infiltrating the royal court of their neighbor country Cerena to steal the magic they need, she learns that not all that glitters is weak. And not all stories are true.

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The camp around me is shadowy and asleep—vulnerable—just the way I like it. At my back, metal poles hold lanterns that let out an erratic flicker of a glow. But it doesn’t reach as far in as I am, and even the patrolling soldiers barely stray from their circles of firelight. It’s sloppy, this whole camp.

I feel, rather than see, someone slip into the shadow of the tent behind me.

“Devlin.”

Lochlan’s jesting voice is that low tone that barely carries as far as my ears. I shift closer to the canvas of the tent so they can crouch beside me. “Fancy seeing you here,” they say.

Even though this is serious, my own lips twitch in response. Like me, Lochlan is dressed in tight-fitting clothes with their hood up, dark and practical and perfect for getting up to no good. They tug the strip of cloth covering their face down as they let out a huff. “This thing gets so itchy.”

I raise a brow. “That’s not regulation.”

They give me a look, but it’s edged with that sharp excitement neither of us can hide in the field. It tingles in my own fingertips. I want to get on with it, but as always, the Whisperer’s voice echoes in my head, tempering the impulse.

Take the time to observe. Know the lay of the land.

No matter how many missions I do, how much experience I think I’ve gained, it’s always my mother’s voice that sounds in my head out here in the field.

I scan the tents in front of us. There are three of them in the inner circle, five in the outer. If this camp has the usual layout, then the barracks, the mess, and the supplies will be in the outer tents. The scribes and those in command—in other words, everyone important—will be in this inner ring.

The tent on the far left is larger than the two beside it. All are in that deep navy color that is dyed even darker by the night, which only serves to offset the fabric’s silver lining. The canvas is thick enough that even if there was light inside the tents, we wouldn’t be able to see any silhouettes. It doesn’t give us much to go on, but at least it means once we’re inside, no one will be able to see us either.

“What did you find out?” I ask.

“Captain’s quarters are in the middle. The large one on the left is for the scribes. The last one houses the captain’s two pages.”

“So are the captain’s office and his sleeping quarters the same?”

“Guess.”

I stifle my sigh. That will be a pain to deal with, but it’s not like we haven’t done it before. Multiple times. “The scribes?” 

“They sleep with the soldiers as far as I can tell.”

That’s promising. I scan the area. The captain’s tent is the only one with a guard. The man is bored, idly fiddling with his sword’s sheath. He wears a tunic of soft blue lined with white, so neat it looks as if it’d get dirty if the guard glanced at the ground wrong.

“We can take him,” Lochlan says.

I elbow them. “No evidence outside of the theft, remember?” The scribes’ tent isn’t guarded, and there’s barely a foot of space between it and the captain’s tent beside it. That’s our best chance. “This way.”

We track down the row we’re sheltered by, moving from shadow to shadow, aware of the guards and the torchlight hovering just around the corners. At the end of the lane, I wait for the guard’s attention to shift and then we’re just two shadows slipping over the grassy gap. The canvas of the scribes’ tent is secured with thick ties, and I undo the row to let us in.

The space is shadowy in the dark and I take a moment to let my eyes adjust. Rows of portable desks fill the tent so tightly I have to step carefully as I ghost between them, Lochlan behind me.

The desks are littered with papers and worn writing implements, and among them lie pieces of filigree. The delicate swirls of the silvery patterns shine in the darkness, like fallen pieces of moonglow. My fingers hover over them. We aren’t supposed to leave any evidence, but I can’t resist swiping a couple of the shards into my pocket. This is a Cerenian camp. They won’t notice one or two missing pieces of filigree, while we need all the stolen magic we can get.

Behind me, Lochlan pauses as they look at the filigree.

Even though I can’t make out the expression on their face from this angle, I know what will be there. Loss.

I nudge them. “Bet you a week’s worth of chores I can find what we need first.”

Lochlan’s eyes glint in the dark as they grin. “You’re going to regret that.”

“You wish.”

A couple more ties get us out the far wall, and I give a quick glance to make sure the guard can’t see us before slipping into the captain’s tent.

He’s a snorer. That much is obvious as we step in and a grinding noise like rocks being smashed together echoes over to us. Lochlan’s face contorts in laughter and I grab their face cloth and yank it back over their mouth.

There’s not much in here. Besides the bed, the only things are a camp desk and a chest. Well, that and the clothes scattered all over the place. There’s even a discarded sword not a foot away from where I stand. He’s not a strict captain then. I’m betting he’s the type to leave his papers lying out rather than filing them away at the end of the day.

I take the desk and sure enough, it’s cluttered with writing instruments and parchment. The Whisperer ordered us to bring back the original orders from the Cerenian monarch that sent these soldiers here. I don’t know exactly what they will say, but I can guess. There are a number of patrolling camps that work their way up and down the Cerenian border, making sure it’s secure. Normally they follow the exact same route. This camp, though, is well into the neutral territory of the Peaks.

The last true attack from Cerena was decades ago, long before I was born, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t planning another. I can’t see why else they would have strayed so far into the Peaks, when it’s such difficult territory to cover. We can’t face the Mists and an army.

My fingers shift through the papers, careful to disturb them as little as possible. Then in the dark, I catch the image of a songbird sitting on a branch: Cerena’s royal seal. The orders themselves are written in code but that seal means this is what we’ve come for.

I lift the paper high, so Lochlan can see it.

I win.

The snoring cuts off. I drop to a crouch behind the desk. As I peer around its edge I see the captain blinking sleepy eyes open.

I look at where Lochlan is hiding behind the chest. They’re closer to where we entered than I am. They should be able to get out if they move right now, before the captain is fully awake.

I wave my hand at them. They hesitate, but I give them a glare. Moving as silent as a shadow, they’re gone.

There’s a creak from the bed as the captain gets up, muttering beneath his breath. His footsteps come closer, padding over the canvas floor. My hand finds the knife at my hip. As soon as he’s close enough, I’ll jab the knife in his leg. Then I’ll run.

Fast.

His feet come into view and I’m tensing to move when there’s a panicked shout from outside. It’s taken up, the sound multiplying.

What did Lochlan do?

The captain grabs his boots and races outside. As soon as he’s gone, I slip out the side of the tent. I smell the smoke the moment I’m free, the ring of light at the eastern outskirts of the camp now shining decidedly angrier.

“A lantern has fallen!” someone shouts. “Bring water!”

The camp is a flurry of activity. All of the soldiers, most only half-dressed and with mussed hair, are heading one way. I catch a clear moment and dash in the opposite direction.

I dart between the tents, breaking out of the last line and plunging into the forest at the base of the mountain. It’s darker beneath the trees, the branches scratching at my clothes, and even though I’m risking a broken ankle, I don’t slow. Better a broken ankle than an arrow in my back.

The ground beneath my feet turns from moss to dirt to stone, and the forest fades as I track up the path.

I turn the corner, and there it is.

A wall of white clings to the mountain like a shroud. It’s so thick I can’t even make out the rocks in it. All I can see are the flashes of lightning deep in its depths, bright and fierce.

The Mists.

Lochlan sits on a rock just outside the border of white, idly swinging one of their legs. Their hood is already down, showing their auburn hair with the single streak of gray, currently tied back into a ponytail. The filigree lantern we’d hidden on our way down shines at their feet, sparking off their bright green eyes.

I tug the cloth away from my face. “What did you set on fire?”

They grin at me. “You’re welcome.”

There’s a shout behind us from the direction of the camp and we plunge into the Mists.

Excerpted from Silver in the Mist. Copyright © 2022 by Emily Victoria. Published by Inkyard Press.

Emily Victoria is a Canadian prairie girl who writes young adult science fiction and fantasy. When not wordsmithing, she likes walking her overexcitable dog, drinking far too much tea, and crocheting things she no longer has the space to store. Her librarian degree has allowed her to work at a library and take home far too many books.

SOCIAL LINKS | Author Website: https://www.avictoriantale.com/ | Twitter: @avictoriantale | Instagram: @avictoriantale

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Blog Tour | Snowed in for Christmas by Sarah Morgan | Excerpt

What happens if the only Christmas celebration you want to attend is one you haven’t been invited to? USA Today bestselling author Sarah Morgan delights with this hilarious and heartwarming Christmas cracker of a novel!

The Miller family Christmas is legendary – it’s the kind of perfect festive gathering that advertising exec Lucy has only ever read about. Until now. Because this year, she needs to get Ross Miller on board with a new contract, and he’s not taking her calls. So she has no choice – she’ll gatecrash the Miller Christmas, get Ross’s signature, then disappear before her envy at their epic family celebrations gets too much.

The Miller sisters couldn’t be more different – tough cookie doctor Alice despairs of soft-hearted nanny Clemmie – but they are united by two things. A wish to see their disreputable older brother Ross settle down, and horror at their parents’ well-meaning interrogations every Christmas! Especially this year, with both women hiding life-changing secrets they do not want dissected over the Christmas turkey. So when a woman shows up on their snowy Highland doorstep, asking for Ross, and their grandma mistakes her for Ross’s new girlfriend, an opportunity presents itself

Before she knows it, Lucy has been invited to stay for the holidays, as the newest Miller plus-one. Her ‘boyfriend’ is furious, but the chemistry between them is as tempting as it is surprising. It’s shaping up to be either Lucy’s worst Christmas of all, or the best mistake of her life….

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“Are you sure this is a good idea?” Maya helped Lucy pack boxes of the Fingersnug into a bag. “Isn’t there a risk that turning up at his house in Scotland makes you look like a stalker?”

“I can see why you might be concerned about that and I’m not going to say it didn’t cross my mind, but no. Firstly because I’m in Scotland anyway, doing a photoshoot for the Fingersnug along with reindeer and several influencers, and secondly because this is what Zoe told me to do. I’m simply following her advice. And it’s not as if I haven’t tried every other route first.” Maybe she was overstepping a little, but sometimes you had to take a risk to get ahead.

Ever since Arnie’s health scare she’d been working flat out to put together ideas for Miller Active. She was excited about her plan and desperate to get her proposal in front of Ross Miller before the competition snagged his attention. She was willing to take the chance that the whole thing could explode in her face. What was the worst that could happen? He’d slam the door on her, which wouldn’t be pleasant but at least she’d be able to limp home knowing that she’d done everything she could to help Arnie and protect people’s jobs.

“Who is Zoe?”

“Ross Miller’s personal assistant. She’s great. She’s organized, and she knows everything. We went to that new wine bar near the river last night, and—”

“You went to a wine bar with Ross Miller’s assistant?”

“Yes.” Lucy tucked some of the festive “props” she’d bought into the bag. “We’ve been talking every day for the past week, and we’ve become friendly.”

Maya shook her head in disbelief. “How do you do it? If someone stands still for long enough, you befriend them.”

“It wasn’t hard. I like her. I took my proposal over to the office and we got chatting. Turns out she’s from Scotland, too, and she knows Ross from school.”

“And he gave her a job?”

“Why not? She’s brilliant. And who knows, maybe she threatened to reveal all his secrets if he didn’t employ her.” Lucy added two boxes of fairy lights to the bag. “They’re obviously good friends. Sounds as if they have one of those fun relationships full of banter where she scolds him, and he pretends to do as he’s told. Can you pass me the snow globe?”

Maya handed it to her. “Good friends? Or very good friends.”

“Not romantic. According to Zoe, Ross isn’t involved with anyone. He occasionally dates, but women tend to get frustrated by his focus on work. He actually forgot about his last date, left her sitting in a restaurant.” She forced the snow globe into the bulging bag. Maybe it had been optimistic of her to think she could manage with the one bag.

“Not the king of romance, then,” Maya said. “Does Ross know that his assistant is revealing his entire personal life to strangers?”

“I’m not a stranger. I’ve seen her four times this week.”

May rolled her eyes. “And no doubt by Friday you’ll be godmother to her children.”

“She doesn’t have children, although she would like to. She’s dating William, but he’s currently living in Edinburgh and she misses him horribly. William, it seems, is very slow to make a commitment so Zoe is thinking of proposing herself. We talked through a few strategies.” Lucy tried to close the bag and failed. “A little help, please?”

Maya pushed the sides of the bag together. “No offense, but since when did you become the expert on marriage proposals?”

“I know a lot about the theory.” Finally, Lucy managed to close the bag. “You don’t have to travel the world to teach geography. I’m creative, that’s my job. I know how to make an impact. Also, I pay attention to what people want and need. That’s the basis of successful selling and, in the end, that’s what we’re doing. All the time. Every day. I’m going to be selling the idea of me to Ross.”

“So where does William fit into this?”

“William works in risk assurance so it’s understandable that he won’t be given to impulse. He needs a little something to nudge him past that caution barrier. Fortunately Ross Miller closes the office for a week over Christmas, which means Zoe can go home, too.” Lucy lifted the bag. “This weighs a ton. Nothing else is fitting in there.”

“He closes the office?”

“Yes. He goes home to Scotland to spend time with his family.”

“That’s nice.”

“It is. I like it when people appreciate family.” Lucy lowered the bag back to the floor. “I feel as if I’ve forgotten something. What else do I need?”

“A whole lot of good luck and the bound copies of your proposal. You wanted two, is that right?” Maya handed them to her. “You haven’t discussed this with Arnie, have you?”

“No. He is supposed to be resting. No stress. You know what he’s like. If I even mention this, he’ll want to be involved.” She knew she’d never forget the sight of Arnie being taken away in an ambulance. For a horrible moment she’d thought she might lose another person she loved, but fortunately it hadn’t turned out to be as serious as they’d feared.

Arnie had been discharged with medication and a lecture on lifestyle.

He was keeping in touch with the office, but Lucy had given everyone strict instructions not to contact him.

The office felt strange without him there. Even the Christmas tree and the decorations couldn’t make up for his absence. But if he rested now, hopefully he’d be well enough to come back to work in January.

In the meantime she was holding the fort.

Maya gestured to the proposals in Lucy’s hand. “Good work, by the way. Clever. I think Ross Miller will be impressed.”

“Let’s hope so.” She grabbed some Christmas wrapping. “Did you see the photo Ted sent round? The baby is gorgeous.”

“They’re not getting any sleep.”

“I know. Ted says he watches the baby half the night to check she’s still breathing.” Lucy knelt on the floor, cut the wrapping paper and measured a length of ribbon.

“Ribbon?” Maya frowned. “You’re not seriously gift wrapping the proposal?”

“Why not? It’s Christmas.” She wrapped the document carefully. “Even the most hard-hearted businessman can’t help but respond to wrapping paper covered in cheerful robins, surely?”

“That’s why you’re wrapping it? To fill his hardened heart with festive joy?”

“No.” Lucy tied the ribbon and secured the label she’d handwritten in careful script. “I’m wrapping it in case something happens and I’m not able to deliver it to him personally. It’s Christmas, and they have a big family gathering every year.”

“Zoe again?”

“No. I read about it in that magazine feature I mentioned.” She’d pored over every page, envious of the oversize Christmas trees, the lush garlands adorning fireplaces and the curved bannister. “If I hand them a boring-looking proposal the chances are they’re going to forget about it. Who wants to read a boring document at Christmas? If I wrap it, then there is a good chance that at some point over the festive season it’s going to be opened.”

“Possibly by one very disappointed kid who is immediately going to throw a tantrum before tossing it out of the window.”

“No young children in the family, according to my research.” She tucked the wrapped parcel carefully into her laptop bag, along with the spare unwrapped proposal.

“Please tell me you’re not dressing as Santa when you drop it off.”

“I wasn’t planning to—” Lucy rocked back on her heels “—but now you’re making me think.”

“Well don’t think. You’ve done enough thinking.” Maya rested her hip on the desk and folded her arms. “So why didn’t he go into the family business?”

“Ross? I have no idea, and it’s not relevant. I am not there to interfere with family politics. I am simply going to ring the doorbell and hand over my gift. Merry Christmas. That’s it.”

“You should have put a copy of that marketing magazine in with the proposal. Cover girl Lucy.”

Lucy stood up and put the unused wrapping paper back on her desk. “That’s one of those awards that we are all super proud of, but no one else in the world has ever heard of.”

“But you’re the face of modern marketing. He might be impressed.”

“Or not.” Lucy glanced at her phone. “I have an hour before my train leaves.”

“The sleeper. I’ve always thought that sounds romantic. Traveling on a train through the darkness, clickety-clack, clickety-clack.”

“There is nothing romantic about having a carriage to myself.”

“Maybe it will be like one of those spy movies,” Maya said, “where the bad guy is lurking, waiting to throw you out of the window.”

“And for that comforting thought, I thank you.”

“You should have taken some days for yourself while you’re up there. Have a mini break.”

Lucy couldn’t think of anything worse. “I’ve already booked my return journey the following night. All organized. It’s a flying visit.”

Even if she had the money for it, she didn’t want to spend time in a hotel on her own at Christmas. How miserable would that be?

No, she’d spend the day taking creative photos of the Fingersnug with the reindeer herd as her backdrop, and then she’d deliver her proposal to Ross Miller on her way back to catch the train.

As far as she could see, there was nothing that could go wrong.

Sarah Morgan is a USA Today and Sunday Times bestselling author of contemporary romance and women’s fiction. She has sold more than 21 million copies of her books and her trademark humour and warmth have gained her fans across the globe. Sarah lives with her family near London, England, where the rain frequently keeps her trapped in her office. Visit her at http://www.sarahmorgan.com.

Author Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Goodreads

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Blog Tour | The Book Hater’s Book Club by Gretchen Anthony | Excerpt

Filled with humor, family hijinks, and actual reading recommendations, The Book Haters’ Book Club features a messy group of people trying to save their local Indie bookstore —  and who might just save each other along the way. This heartwarming, wildly entertaining novel is both a celebration of found family, and a love letter to booksellers and librarians everywhere. 

Elliot, co-owner of Over the Rainbow Bookshop in Minneapolis, started The Book Haters’ Book Club—a newsletter of reading recommendations for the self-proclaimed “nonreader” – because he believed that it only takes the right book to turn a Book Hater into a Book Lover. Now, after they’re all reeling after Elliot’s sudden death, his business partner, Irma, has agreed to sell Over the Rainbow to a developer. When Irma breaks the news to her daughters, and Elliott’s romantic partner, Thom, they are aghast. Especially since Irma won’t explain why she’s so intent on selling. 

Irma’s daughters and Thom conspire to save the bookshop. Even if it takes some snooping, gossip and (minor) sabotage, they won’t give up without a fight.

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Thom Winslow swept through the glass doors of Vandaveer Investments a titan. “Good afternoon,” he announced to the receptionist, his voice bold, his tenor unwavering. “I’m here for the Over the Rai-iin-bow—” He faltered as the word “rainbow” indiscriminately, and most unpleasantly, stuck to his throat like jelly, leaving him no choice but to clear it with a sickening “HUUCCHH!”

“I’m here for the meeting about the bookstore.” This he said with the voice of a defeated man, aware that his too-narrow shoulders and pigeon neck were rapidly deflating in shame. Damn his rehearsed confidence.

The receptionist barely paid attention, his focus on the tablet attached to his hand. (Was it glued there?) “You’re meeting in the Lake Minnetonka conference room. I’ll escort you.”

Irma Bedford, co-owner of the Over the Rainbow Bookshop with Thom’s recently deceased partner, Elliot, was already inside, waiting. Seeing her, Thom felt a second blow, his vision for today’s meeting all but stomped dead. He’d arrived early to be the first one in the room—he’d read it was a power move—and yet here she was, extending her hand.

“Thom.” She stood when he entered. “They’re running a few minutes behind.”

She was rumpled. He hadn’t expected that. Of the few things  Thom appreciated in Irma, it was her easy chic, a style that never failed to impress—well-ironed jeans, crisp white shirt, flawless foundation and knockout lips. Today they were an unfortunate shade of coral.

“Here.” He plucked a tissue from a box on the side table. “Lipstick. On your tooth.”

She accepted it and turned discreetly to fix herself. There was a stain on her back pocket, the flowering blue swell of ink that would never come out, and before realizing, he said, “I’ll walk behind you when we leave so no one can see that spot on your slacks.” It was a kindness she perhaps did not deserve, and yet he couldn’t help himself.

Irma smiled, gratefully. “Before they come,” she began to say but hadn’t finished before James and Trevor Vandaveer, father and son, walked through the door and started the handshaking and back-patting portion of the afternoon. Trevor, the younger, pulled out chairs for Thom and Irma, as if they were elderly, joints too swollen with arthritis to do it themselves. Or in Thom’s case, enfeebled by a set of useless-looking shoulders.

“Will your daughters be joining you, Irma?” Trevor asked.

“Laney’s flight was delayed.” She nodded toward the glass wall behind him. “But here’s Bree now.”

Bree Bedford exited the elevator, armpits sweating through her shirt, the voice in her head hyperventilating about what a stupid mistake she’d made by not having worn a blazer, as usual failing to avoid even one of the mini disasters that, together, comprised her average day.

“I’m sorry to keep you waiting.” The clock on the wall above the crystal water pitcher that looked too fancy to touch read 2:58 p.m., two minutes early. But the energy in the room said she was embarrassingly late. She slipped silently into a chair next to her mother and pulled her planner from her purse for notes. The clasp snapped loudly, echoing against the room’s hard surfaces. “Sorry. Again.”

She and Trevor Vandaveer had graduated high school together, and twenty years on, he looked just as much the tailored son of privilege as he always had, wearing a suit that probably cost more than she was comfortable thinking about. His father, whose first name she kicked herself for not being able to remember, remained the only one standing. She sensed he spent too much time in the sun—though his cheeks and forehead were shiny and taut as if fresh from the dermatologist, the wrinkles on his hands betrayed his age, all but undoing the medical illusion up top.

“We waiting for more?” he barked.

“Just Laney,” Irma, Bree, and Thom said in unison. Irma added, “She texted me a few minutes ago. She’s on her way from the airport.”

It had been upon learning that Laney was flying in from California that Bree began to feel anxious about what she might learn at this meeting. Their mother had only said, “With Elliot gone, I’ve enlisted an outside firm to help me make some decisions about the Rainbow.” Bree was more or less the bookshop’s assistant manager—it made sense for her to attend. Her sister, Laney, though, never flew in for store matters. In fact, she almost never flew in for personal matters, either. Their mom’s best friend and business partner, Elliot, had died several months ago and Laney hadn’t flown in for his funeral. She hadn’t flown in when their mom’s late-in-life boyfriend, Nestor, passed away unexpectedly last year, and she hadn’t spent a Christmas or Thanksgiving in Minneapolis for as long as Bree could remember. Laney didn’t come home for things, and yet she was coming home for this.

The receptionist opened the door a third time. “Laney Hartwell,” he announced.

Before stepping through, Laney pulled her baseball cap low and made a wish to whatever god, genie, or fairy watching over her that Old Man Vandaveer would keep on talking. The sooner this was over, the better. She was tired. She didn’t need to be here. It was too big of an ask.

“What are you doing over there?” Mr. Vandaveer saw her choose a seat in the corner and, grossly offended, slapped his notes on the table with a violent, outsize thwak!

She rubbed at the back of her neck, her hair at full attention. “I’m trying not to interrupt.”

“Laney.” Her mother tapped the chair beside Bree. “There’s plenty of room right here.”

“It’s a big table,” Old Man Vandaveer barked, a man showing off his territory—big office, big voice, big dude-jewel ring rapping on his big table’s glass top. “Alright, brass tacks.” He returned to his agenda. “Ms. Bedford, on behalf of Over the Rainbow Bookshop, LLC, has entered into a contract for sale of said business with Vandaveer Investments. Per her request, we’ve agreed to brief you all, her stakeholders, on the terms.”

Trevor handed each of them a slick folder adorned with the firm’s green-and-gold logo. Laney accepted hers, placed it unopened on the table, and set her brain free to wander. It was strange, flying in from her grown-up life in Oakland, only to come face-to-face with a kid she’d graduated with, now an adult with a tailored suit and a haircut too slick for his conservative, monochromatic tie.

“Let’s begin with the Terms of Sale,” Trevor said. The words entered the air, floated around the room. Laney didn’t try to catch them.

“‘…will be paid by the Seller in full upon closing in the form of certified check, agreed to by both Buyer and Seller…’”

Bounce. Bounce.

He had a tiny blue dot above his lip. She’d thought it was an ink spot, a rogue pen leaving its mark. But the more she watched, the more she became convinced. Trevor had a perfect dot of a mole above his lip.

“‘—six weeks,’” the mole said. 

“I’m sorry?” Bree’s voice cut through Laney’s foggy thoughts.

“Yes, July 1,” Trevor said. “When Irma signed the Statement of Intent, we agreed to an expedited, six-week timeframe. We’ll sign the final closing documents at the end of the month.”

“But that’s only three weeks from today.” Bree double-checked the date. She was correct. “You sold the shop three weeks ago and you’re just telling us now?” A panicked chill seized her; she didn’t think she could lift her arms. “What about all our customers? What about the neighborhood? We’re the only independent bookstore left in Lyn-Lake.”

“I admit the timeframe is less than ideal.” Her mother did not sound remotely apologetic. “I needed time to get Laney here.”

Bree dug her fingers into the edge of the glass tabletop to keep from crying. Three weeks until her life came to a crashing halt, until the bookshop that had first been her refuge, then family, and then career, ceased to exist. “I don’t understand.” Tears slipped from her chin to the table. “How can you close the Rainbow?”

Irma didn’t respond.

“If you’ll turn to page seventy-nine,” Trevor said, apparently anxious to move the meeting along, “you may understand more after hearing the details.”

“Take a look at the offer price,” his father said. “That oughta dry your boo-hoos.”

Thom pushed the tissue box down the table toward Bree. That Irma was only now telling her daughters of the sale did not surprise him. She was a beauty with fangs, and he’d known from the very beginning it was dangerous to get too close. She and the bookshop had consumed Elliot, and just as a new chapter of their lives was to begin, just as Elliot had agreed to cut back on his work there, to consider retirement, to refocus on his life with Thom, he’d died. In a flash. Gone without warning or goodbyes.

Thom turned to the correct page and looked for the price Irma had received for the beloved Over the Rainbow, aware that no amount of money would ever dull the resentment he’d sharpened for the woman and her bookstore over so many years. Trevor was now spewing gibberish, a tactic meant to blunt the impact of what he could see with his very own eyes: Irma had sold Elliot’s life’s work for practically nothing.

“Oh, Mom,” Bree cried. “Is that all the Rainbow means to you?”

Laney flipped her page, assuming there had to be more on the other side. “So, is this just the first installment or what?”

Thom felt his jaw, followed by stoic resolve, go slack. “Irma,” he hissed.

The woman didn’t flinch. “These are the terms the Vandaveers offered, and I’ve accepted them,” she said, her back an iron rod. “If you have questions, please direct them to our hosts.”

Thom looked at the sale price again, convinced they’d misplaced a comma.

Bree shifted from being quietly tearful to a sobbing soap opera star.

Laney checked her watch.

GRETCHEN ANTHONY is the author of Evergreen Tidings from the Baumgartners, which was a Midwestern Connections Pick and a best books pick by Amazon, BookBub, PopSugar, and the New York Post. Her work has been featured in The Washington Post, Medium, and The Write Life, among others. She lives in Minneapolis with her family.

Social Links | Author Website  | Twitter: @granthony  | Facebook: Gretchen Anthony |
Instagram: @gretchenanthony.writer  | Goodreads

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Blog Tour | Small Town, Big Magic by Hazel Beck | Review

For fans of THE EX HEX and PAYBACK’S A WITCH, a fun, witchy rom-com in which a bookstore owner who is fighting to revitalize a small midwestern town clashes with her rival, the mayor, and uncovers not only a clandestine group that wields a dark magic to control the idyllic river hamlet, but hidden powers she never knew she possessed.

There’s no such thing as witches…right?

Emerson Wilde has built the life of her dreams. Youngest Chamber of Commerce president in St. Cyprian history, successful indie bookstore owner, and lucky enough to have her best friends as found family? Done.

But when Emerson is attacked by creatures that shouldn’t be real, and kills them with what can only be called magic, Emerson finds that the past decade of her life has been…a lie. St. Cyprian isn’t your average Midwestern river town—it’s a haven for witches. When Emerson failed a power test years ago, she was stripped of her magical memories. Turns out, Emerson’s friends are all witches.

And so is she.

That’s not all, though: evil is lurking in the charming streets of St. Cyprian. Emerson will need to learn to control what’s inside of her, remember her magic, and deal with old, complicated feelings for her childhood friend–cranky-yet-gorgeous local farmer Jacob North—to defeat an enemy that hides in the rivers and shadows of everything she loves.

Even before she had magic, Emerson would have done anything for St. Cyprian, but now she’ll have to risk not just her livelihood…but her life.

Buy Links | BookShop | Harlequin | Barnes & Noble | Amazon | Books-A-Million |  Powell’s

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The first thing that drew me into this book was the small town setting. I immediately liked Emerson’s attitude but she does change over time and not just for the better. I felt that this was a good introduction to a series and the foundation was pretty well constructed. There were certainly aspects of the book that were a little detracting for me, some things were a little too convenient or without consequences. I did really like the witch lore and the way all of that was set up so I would probably read the next book when it comes out to see what happens, especially with the way this one ended.

HAZEL BECK is the magical partnership of a river witch and an earth witch. Together, they have collected two husbands, three familiars, two children, five degrees, and written around 200 books. As one, their books will delight with breathtaking magic, emotional romance, and stories of witches you won’t soon forget. You can find them at www.Hazel-Beck.com.

Social Links | Author Website | Facebook | Instagram

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Blog Tour | The Second First Chance by Mona Shroff | Excerpt

For fans of Katherine Center’s THINGS YOU SAVE IN A FIRE and Jill Santopolo’s THE LIGHT WE LOST, THE SECOND FIRST CHANCE is a deeply emotional romance about two neighboring families, the Voras and the Desais, who experience a devastating fire and the fallout it creates in their lives–particularly for Dhillon Vora and Riya Desai, who struggle to admit their feelings for one another.

On one terrible night, everything changed.

Riya Desai has struggled to move beyond the devastating fire that claimed the life of her brother, Samir, and set her on a path she never anticipated. Determined to keep other families from experiencing the loss that hers did, she’s become a firefighter herself, but it hasn’t been an easy road. The other firefighters are her fire hall are overwhelmingly white–and entirely male. As a rookie and as the only woman at the station, she has to keep proving herself, over and over, in a way her male colleagues never have to. Oh, and her other problem? Her family thinks she’s a paramedic–they have no idea she’s a firefighter, and she knows they won’t be happy about her running into fires instead of away from them.

Dhillon Vora is a healer. After the fire that killed his father, he becomes a vet, his faithful dog Lucky–who survived the fire at the Voras’ and Desais’ townhouses–behind his side. On a visit to the fire hall across from his clinic, he is dumbfounded to find the girl next door, Riya Desai. Riya has become a firefighter? Dhillon is livid. And–though he can’t really admit it–kind of impressed. Even though he knows, deep down, that he’s never stopped loving Riya, he isn’t sure he’s ready to have her in his life again. Especially if he has to worry constantly about her safety.

THE SECOND FIRST CHANCE is not only a deeply moving tale of two people learning to love each other again, but an uplifting story of two families overcoming tragedy with hope, love, and the unbreakable bonds that keep us shining together even through our darkest hours.

Buy Links | BookShop | Harlequin | Barnes & Noble | Amazon | Books-A-Million | Powell’s

DHILLON

A dark brown Lab-pit mix puppy raised its head to look at Dhillon as he entered the exam room. Dhillon’s joy was instant, which was why he loved his job. His nurse, Shelly, was right behind him with the brief introduction.

“Dr. Vora, this is Scout. She is being brought in by today Firefighter Ian Walsh. Scout was found abandoned at one of their scenes and is currently under the care of the Howard County Fire Department.”

It was at the word firefighter that Dhillon tensed. He made eye contact with the man and extended his hand, anxiety flooding through his system, increasing his heart rate and beading sweat on his upper lip.

Shelly threw him a worried look. He ignored her.

“Good morning. I’m Dr. Vora.” Dhillon found his voice but focused on the leashed puppy as the man’s walkie-talkie emitted an irritating squeal. “Everything okay?” Dhillon nodded at the walkie-talkie. “We can reschedule if you have to go.” 

The Lab-pit puppy twitched her ears and raised her head at the squawk. Shelly made a cooing sound and went over to pet their patient. Any remaining anxiety Dhillon might have had melted away as he took in the befuddled pup. The firefighter didn’t even look at the puppy.

“Nah. It’s all good. I’m supposed to get the pup tended to, so let’s just do it.” The firefighter shook his hand.

Dhillon nodded to Shelly as she moved from the dog’s side to the computer so she could enter the information they had so far. He got down on the ground where the puppy had lain down. fallen asleep. “She looks like my Lucky.”

“You mean that older dog out front? With the scarring?”

“Mmm-hmm.” Dhillon picked up Scout and let her climb into his lap. He played with her a moment. He held a small treat out and watched her track it as he moved it from side to side. She lifted her mouth to grab it, but Dhillon made her wait another second before letting her have the treat and a scratch cuddle under her chin. Best part of being a veterinarian. He glanced at Walsh, who watched him with a scowl. “Lucky was caught in a house fire.” Dhillon tried to keep his voice neutral. It wasn’t this man’s fault that Lucky was burned. He stood, bringing Scout with him.

Her coat looked almost pure black, and her big brown eyes reminded Dhillon of Lucky’s when he’d been a puppy. For a moment, Dhillon was dragged back to the day he brought Lucky home from the SPCA. Best day of his life. Well, maybe second best.

“The vet at the time was the previous owner of this practice. He did excellent work. Shelly here used to work with him. That scarring barely reflects how bad his injuries were.”

Dhillon laid Scout on the rickety old exam table which stood in the middle of the room. Nice shiny coat, alert and playful. “How old is she?” 

“Uh…maybe ten weeks. I’m not entirely sure. We just got her. Our station’s new recruit found her on scene, no collar, nothing. She hasn’t even been chipped yet, as far as we know. We’re keeping her at the firehouse for now until we find her a home.” Ian shook his head and pursed his lips.

“Why not take her to the SPCA? They can help find her a home.”

Ian shook his head. “Our new recruit insists that’s not necessary. She thinks someone’s going to claim the little thing.” He shrugged. “My experience says not likely.”

Dhillon turned to Scout, the sight of the puppy putting a grin on his face again. “I know someone who’d say the same thing.” Or used to know, anyway. Sadness flitted through him for an instant before it was replaced with resignation. He’d given up his chance to keep knowing her long ago.

Dhillon scratched the puppy’s belly. “I can chip her today.” He held out a small treat and softly said, “Sit.” Scout flipped over and sat on the table. He rewarded her with the treat.

He looked in Scout’s ears and checked her teeth and paws, dictating his assessment to Shelly as he went along. The puppy looked cared for, healthy. Maybe three months old. Obviously, the guys at the firehouse had cared for her. “Does she eat well?”

Ian shrugged. “We have her dog food, but a lot of the guys spoil her, slipping her a bit of meatball, steak, hot dog. Not me, though. You can believe that.”

“Can any of you take her home?”

Ian shook his head. “But there’s always someone at the station because we do twenty-four- and forty-eight-hour shifts. She works out with us. The new recruit is teaching her to sit, stay, come. Even to go fetch gear. Like that’s practical.” Ian shrugged, as if taking care of a dog was really not his idea of firefighter work. “You know anyone who would want her?” 

Dhillon had a thought flash through his mind. Nah. She was likely too busy, and honestly, she might even have a dog already for all he knew. Running into her occasionally outside the house didn’t really give him much information about her life. “No. But I can keep an eye out.” He continued with his examination, prepping Scout’s shots as Shelly held her.

“Are you Indian?” Ian asked.

Dhillon sighed, knowing the reason for this question. Ian knew someone who was Indian. “Yes. Well, my parents are from India, but I was born here.” Dhillon barely afforded Ian a glance. He approached Scout and administered the shot. Scout gave a small yelp.

“It’s okay, sweetie,” Dhillon cooed softly. “Just one more.”

“Just asking because the new recruit—who’s all about this dog—she’s Indian.”

She? Dhillon snapped his attention back to Ian and could not refrain from raising an eyebrow. Interesting. An Indian woman firefighter? Didn’t see that every day.

“Maybe you know her?”

Dhillon did his best to not roll his eyes as he focused on administering the second shot, but a sigh escaped all the same, as did a small hmph from Shelly. Just because he and this firefighter were both Indian didn’t mean they knew each other. “I doubt it.” He ran a gentle hand over Scout’s head and body as if to soothe away her discomfort.

If someone he knew was a firefighter—male or female—he’d already know.

Scout turned a full circle, sniffing, then promptly peed on the table.

Ian scowled at the puppy and stepped back. Shelly made a move to grab the paper towels, but Dhillon was closer. He shared a look with Shelly as he cleaned up the mess. “Potty training can take some time. Helps if she has a crate, where she feels safe.”

Ian shook his head and put out his hands. “I saw a crate in the bunk area. Desai would know.”

Dhillon’s heart skipped a beat. “Desai?” It couldn’t be. Desai was a common-enough Indian last name. Could be anybody.

Right?

He stared at Ian, who continued, completely unaware of Dhillon’s rising panic, as blood pounded through his body, his heart rate increased. “The new recruit. Who wanted this dog. The Indian girl. Riya Desai.”

Of all the names Ian could have said, that was the absolute last one he wanted to hear.

It couldn’t be her. The Riya he knew would never run into a fire. As far as he knew, she had the same reaction to anything fire-related that he did: panic and anxiety.

But then again, he didn’t really know anything about her, did he? They never really talked anymore, outside of uncomfortable pleasantries when they were forced together. Riya avoided him, and he avoided Riya.

Dhillon’s heart hammered in his chest, and the blood drained from his head. He fought to maintain professional composure as he continued his examination of Scout. “It’s a common name.” Dhillon tried to sound casual, as if he really believed his own words. He needed to believe them.

“Brown skin, dark brown eyes.”

Really? That was his description? Dhillon took a breath so he wouldn’t lay into this guy. He fought fires, after all. Saved people.

Some people.

“She’s a paramedic, too. Which helps because we have to do EMT training.”

Dhillon’s stomach plummeted, and his head spun. It was his Riya. Dhillon clenched his jaw. Well, it was the Riya Desai that he knew.

She’d never been his.

He should have picked up on it when Ian said she was teaching Scout to get gear. It was exactly what she had taught Lucky to do when they were young teenagers. Go get their backpacks or books or whatever they had forgotten. Lucky would do it, too. For her. Even though Lucky was really his dog.

What the fuck was she doing going into fires? She’d never bring back what they’d lost.

Ian was still talking. “Between you and me? She’s hot. She has the sexiest mole just below her ear, and she is stacked.” Ian put his hands in front of his chest to indicate large breasts, and Dhillon saw red.

“You know, I actually do know her.” He stared Ian down. “She grew up next door to me. So you’ll want to shut up now.” He didn’t usually talk to patients this way, but this guy was asking for it, and technically Scout was his patient. And she seemed fine with it.

“Oh, dude, sorry. I didn’t know she’d be like a sister to you.”

“She’s not a sister to me. Just a neighbor.” Dhillon had spent too much time imagining kissing that mole to look at Riya like a sister. “Either way, isn’t she your colleague? Maybe show a little respect?”

Ian waved him off. “Whatever, she won’t last long. Doubt if she can do the job.”

Oh, she could do the job. Riya and Dhillon may not be best friends anymore, but one thing he did know was that Riya Desai was fantastic at whatever she put her mind to. If she was the rookie in the department, that meant she’d made it through the academy. Since she made it through the academy, Dhillon knew she had put her mind to becoming a firefighter a long time ago.

Dhillon finished up with little Scout and—reluctantly—handed her back to Ian. “Scout will need another set of shots in one month.” His mouth moved as if by rote as he doled out instructions, but his mind was spinning.

What the fuck had Riya gotten herself into now?

Mona is obsessed with everything romantic, so she writes romantic stories by night, even though she’s an optometrist by day. If she’s not writing, she’s making chocolate truffles, riding her bike, or reading, and is just as likely to be drinking wine or gin & tonic with friends and family. She’s blessed with an amazing daughter and loving son who have both gone to college. Mona lives in Maryland with her romance-loving husband.

Social Links | Author Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Goodreads

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Blog Tour | For Butter Or Worse by Erin La Rosa | Review

An enemies-to-lovers mash-up of THE HATING GAME and THE GREAT BRITISH BAKE-OFF, in which two rival hosts of a massively popular cooking show have to fake a relationship to save their careers after an explosive on-air fallout, only to find their feelings for each other becoming real.

Their feelings are about to boil over…

Chef Nina Lyon dreams of cooking her way to culinary stardom and becoming a household name. She thought hosting The Next Cooking Champ! was her golden ticket, but she and her co-host/arch-nemesis Leo O’Donnell go together like water and oil and he undercuts her at every turn.

So when Nina unexpectedly quits the show–on live TV, no less–to focus on her restaurant, she doesn’t anticipate the he-devil himself showing up at her door begging her to come back. Nor does she expect the paparazzi to catch them in what looks like a passionate kiss, but is actually Leo tripping into her. When the fans go crazy over Nina and Leo’s “secret romance”, keeping the ruse going might be the only way to save both their careers. That is, if they don’t kill each other first…

Perfect for fans of THE HATING GAME and Netflix’s GREAT BRITISH BAKE-OFF (…if Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood were hot thirty-somethings), FOR BUTTER OR WORSE is the escapist enemies-to-lovers romance we all need right now.

Buy Links | The Ripped Bodice (signed copies!) | Bookshop.org | B&N | Amazon

Rating: 4 out of 5.

As soon as I saw the comparison to The Great British Bake Off I wanted to pick up this book. I have a fondness fo books that include food elements, so that right there had me hooked.

That being said, I actually enjoyed this book even more than I thought I would. Nina and Leo are both complex characters with a very complicated relationship. Because they are enemies they have a lot to work through and this book has a ton of different tropes at play from enemies to lovers to miscommunication, fake dating and more. I also appreciated the supporting characters such as Leo’s family, they brought an additional human element to the story.

Also, this story isn’t just a romance – there are a lot of real world issues that are tackled and presented not only in Leo and Nina’s relationship, but throughout the story itself. All in all it was a great read and I would definitely pick up more from the author.

ERIN LA ROSA is a writer living in Los Angeles. As a writer for BuzzFeed, she frequently writes about the perils and triumphs of being a redhead. Before BuzzFeed, Erin worked for the comedy websites Funny or Die and MadAtoms, as well as E!s Fashion Police, Wetpaint, and Ecorazzi. Erin has appeared on CNN, Headline News, Jimmy Kimmel, and The Today Show on behalf of BuzzFeed. She is the author of Womanskills and The Big Redhead Book.

Social Links | Author Website | IG | Twitter | Facebook | TikTok

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Blog Tour | The Lost and Found Girl by Maisey Yates | Review

The small Oregon town of Pear Blossom welcomes the return of its prodigal daughter Ruby McKee. Found abandoned as a baby by the McKee family, Ruby is the unofficial town mascot, but when she and her adoptive sisters start investigating the true circumstances around her discovery, it soon becomes clear that this small town is hiding the biggest, and darkest, of secrets. A raw, powerful exploration of the lengths people go to protect their loved ones, for fans of Lori Wilde and Carolyn Brown.

Ruby McKee is a miracle.

It’s a miracle she survived, abandoned as a newborn baby. A miracle that she was found by the McKee sisters. Her discovery allowed the community of Pear Blossom, Oregon, broken by a devastating crime, to heal. Since then, Ruby has lived a charmed life. But she can’t let go of the need to know why she was abandoned, and she’s tired of not having answers.

Dahlia McKee knows it’s not right to resent Ruby for being special. But uncovering the truth about sister Ruby’s origins could allow Dahlia to carve her own place in Pear Blossom history… if she’s brave enough to follow her heart.

Widowed sister Lydia McKee doesn’t have time for Ruby’s what if’s – when Lydia’s right now is so, so hard. Her husband’s best friend Chase might be offering to share some of the load, but can Lydia ever trust her instincts around him?

Marianne Martin is glad that her youngest sister is back in town, but balancing Ruby’s crusade with the way her own life is imploding is turning into a bigger chore than she imagined. Especially when Ruby starts overturning secrets about the past that Marianne has spent a lifetime trying to pretend don’t exist.

And when the truth about Ruby’s miraculous origins, and the crime from long ago, turn out to be connected in ways no one could have expected, will the McKee sisters band together, or fall apart?

Buy Links | BookShop.org | Harlequin  | Barnes & Noble | Amazon | Books-A-Million | Powell’s

I’ve enjoyed the books I’ve read previously from Maisey Yates, so I was excited to pick this one up. I loved the setting, especially since it’s very similar to my neck of the woods. I did really like the individual personalities and situations of the three sisters, and the look at their past relationships as well as how their current relationships are being shaped through their experiences with each other. I also really enjoyed the mystery element that kept the story going and made it a read that flew by. Maisey Yates’ writing is easy to read and flows wonderfully, which also keeps the story moving at a great pace. All in all this was a read I really enjoyed.

Maisey Yates is a New York Times bestselling author of over one hundred romance novels. Whether she’s writing strong, hard working cowboys, dissolute princes or multigenerational family stories, she loves getting lost in fictional worlds. An avid knitter with a dangerous yarn addiction and an aversion to housework, Maisey lives with her husband and three kids in rural Oregon. Check out her website, maiseyyates.com or find her on Facebook.

Social Links | Author Website: http://www.maiseyyates.com/ | Facebook: Maisey Yates |
Twitter: @maiseyyates | Instagram: @MaiseyYates

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Blog Tour | Ruthless by Gena Showalter | Excerpt

Forbidden. Powerful. Ruthless.

Micah the Unwilling, fae King of the Forgotten, can tame even the most violent of beasts. Forged on the battlefield, this iron-willed warrior considers his soldiers his family, and he will stop at nothing to reclaim their dispossessed land. Gearing for war with a sadistic enemy, he is disciplined and focused—until a feral beauty he encountered long ago wanders into his camp.

Viori de Aoibheall wields a terrifying ability to sing monsters to life. Having spent her childhood in a forest, raising herself and her frightening creations—the only friends she’s ever known—she’s ill prepared for the scarred royal and his fearsome brutality. Not to mention the ferocity of their connection and the carnality of his touch. But the real problem? Her brother is Micah’s greatest foe. And though the sensual king makes her burn, she must stop him, whatever the cost.

Buy Links | BookShop.org | Harlequin | Barnes & Noble | Amazon | Books-A-Million | Powell’s

Not quite present day

Fifteen-year-old Micah spun slowly, his jaw slack. What is this place? Spears of lightning forked across a dark sky heavy with darker clouds. Glowing silvery orbs hung from tree branches, illuminating a forest clearing he wished he hadn’t discovered. The eeriness of it all boggled the mind.

From the outside, thick white fog had enveloped the interlocking trees set in a wide circle. From the inside, however, he had an unobstructed view of the dried blood that stained the bark—and the faces carved within. Fierce expressions projected everything from dread to malice, and he shuddered.

Someone had gone to great trouble to make the gnarled giants resemble belua. Monsters of unimaginable strength, somehow birthed from the elements themselves. Able to live and breathe and walk among fae.

Micah tightened his grip on a makeshift dagger—a twig he’d sharpened with his teeth and what remained of his nails.

Beady eyes seemed to track his every movement as he trod deeper into the clearing. A large, moss-covered stone with a wide base and a flat top occupied the center of the ring. An altar?

A chilled breeze blustered past, rousing goose bumps on his skin. Scanning… The vibrant moss provided the only foliage here. There were no animals or insects. No other life whatsoever.

Death reigned here.

A crack of thunder boomed, punctuating his thought, and he almost jumped out of his skin. The next lightning bolt charged the atmosphere; electric currents pricked his spine. Micah dragged in the scent of ash and… What was that? Sweetness itself? A unique fragrance brimming with all the glories of the Summer Court. Sunshine, flowers and citrus.

His mouth watered, and his empty stomach protested. When had he last eaten?

Twig at the ready, he approached the stone and gathered a fistful of moss. The first bite proved bitter, the second more so. But as the greenery settled in his stomach, some of his pains faded; he only desired more.

He shoveled another fistful into his mouth, then another and another, unable to slow himself. For over a year, he’d wandered the wastelands of Astaria alone. Originally, he’d traveled with his guardian. A great warrior named Erwen. A great man, period. He’d found baby Micah inside a basket, and saved him from being eaten by trolls.

He bit his tongue, tasting blood. Erwen had died in battle with a belua. A massive snow beast in the Winterlands.

Micah had expected to perish alongside his guardian. A part of him had hoped to die. How he’d loved Erwen, his sole companion—the only person willing to be near him.

Like his guardian, Micah was a chimera. A rare fae born with dual glamaras that were constantly at odds. The clash created a negative force field around them. Unwanted by fae and humans alike. Feared by everyone. Known for scarring—outward evidence of weakness and a badge of shame.

Chilly wind rattled branches. Lightning peppered the sky, spotlighting— Micah froze, his breath hitched. Were their limbs untangling? Had the one to his left narrowed its eyes?

An illusion?

Genuine belua? Had he stumbled into a nest?

He dropped the newest handful of moss, preparing to bolt. But, from the corner of his eye, he perceived an array of color. Smooth gold. Vivid pink. Gleaming scarlet. He meant to glance, nothing more. A quick peek to ensure no one sneaked up on him. Instead, he stared and reared back, his eyes going wide.

Was he seeing what he thought he was seeing? Surely not. And yet…

Maybe.

Heart jumping, he lurched closer to the stone. Sucked in a breath. A girl. A fae. Exquisite. She slept upon the slab, seemingly growing from the surface. Or from the forest itself.

Lightning flashed, there and gone, showcasing a smattering of freckles, pink cheeks and cherry lips that were bowed in the center. Other details hit him, throwing him for loop after loop. They might be the same age. Flawless skin the color of sunlight, vibrant with life. Delicate features usually only found on royalty. A plain gown too short and tight to cover the abundance of shapely curves.

Who was she? Why was she here? What color were her eyes?

Excitement arced through Micah. Would she mind being friends with a chimera?

A rolling rumble precipitated the first splatter of rain. Cold droplets splashed his cheeks, and he grinned. Let the liquid soak him. What did he care? He’d uncovered a treasure of unsurpassed value.

The rain deluged her, too, her gown becoming transparent. Trembling suddenly more pronounced, he reached out to brush droplets from her cheek.

A rustle sounded behind him, and he wheeled around, ready to defend his prize. Too late. A tree loomed before him, and the truth hit, hard.

Belua!” Hiding in plain sight.

A fat branch slammed into his head. He flew across the clearing, dropping his makeshift weapon when he crashed into another tree.

His lungs emptied. So dizzy. No time to recover. Another branch flung him in the opposite direction.

Ribs broke on impact, and agony seared him. Before he could rise, roots coiled around his ankle and attempted to eject him from the clearing. He clawed at the ground, determined to hold his position and shield the girl. Dirt and blood coated his tongue.

Bark scraped his spine. Limbs stabbed into different bones. Wheezing, fighting the urge to vomit, Micah rolled out of the way.

A limb pierced a vital organ, and an agonized scream burst from him. The pain! Then, suddenly, he was airborne, soaring across the expanse. When he landed, a world of darkness crackled open its jaw and swallowed him whole.

As Micah healed, he realized a startling truth. The monsters safeguarded the girl. They hadn’t attacked until he uncovered her. More than that, they hadn’t struck to kill him. Otherwise, he would be dead.

Why they guarded her—why they had shown him mercy—he didn’t know. But he wondered. Was little Red on that stone slab of her own volition or a captive?

There was one way to find out…

Micah returned to the clearing—to her—with a firm goal in mind. Befriend these belua. If he could join them, protect the girl until she awoke…

Was this a betrayal to Erwen and everything he’d stood for? Surely not. His guardian had lived by four rules.

Do no harm to the innocent. Protect what’s yours. Always do what’s right. Never be without a backup plan.

The sleeping beauty was vulnerable and in need of another fae. Just in case the trees held her against her will.

What better path to travel than keeping her safe?

Micah advanced on the creatures cautiously, both hands lifted. “You had every right to eject me,” he told them. In their minds, he’d committed a terrible offense. Touching a female without her willing consent. Or theirs. Now, he hoped to prove the innocence of his intentions. “I did your fair lady wrong. Allow me to present her with a gift of apology. And respect.” He revealed a red crystal he’d dug from the earth bright and early this morning. “So much respect.”

A prolonged hesitation followed his words, anticipation stealing his breath. Finally, the trees opened a doorway for him.

Giddy but remaining vigilant, he entered slowly, placed the present on a step leading to the altar and backed away. Rather than exit, he faced the largest of the bunch. “I mean her no harm, and I won’t touch her again. If you’ll let me, I’ll help you with her protection.”

He wasn’t immediately impaled, a good sign. Micah set up camp. As one week blended into another, the trees relaxed around him. As their tension faded, bright leaves budded, creating a vibrant paradise.

For the first time in Micah’s life, provision without price abounded. Various species of flowers, fruits and nuts flourished without cease, dropping from overburdened limbs.

Nourishment rained all hours. In offering or apology, he didn’t know which.

Morning and evening, he thanked his companions for the bounty. Never had Micah enjoyed such delicious meals. But…when will she awaken?

Fresh moss covered the girl, protecting her from sun, wind and rain. Her sweet scent magnified daily, coating the air; he considered every inhalation a precious gift.

How did she sleep so deeply? And why? For how long? Why did belua continue to protect her, no matter how much time passed?

Did she crave a friend? If the beautiful fae with freckles sought a fellow fae companion, shouldn’t he oblige her?

Longing gripped Micah. But you aren’t a fae, are you? Not exactly. He shifted in the bed he’d constructed with twigs and fallen hanks of moss. He just…he wanted to belong to someone. To be welcomed. Maybe even admired.

What did such affection even feel like? And what was the beauty’s name? Would she like his offerings? There were many.

Anytime a troll or centaur neared the clearing, Micah departed the ring to end the threat. He collected supplies left by the dead, amassing a treasure trove of weapons, dried meats, clothing, maps, coins and jewels. All for her. Well, mostly for her. He’d kept some of the clothing for himself, exchanging a filthy, tattered tunic and ripped leathers for higher quality garments. Even a cloak to help him hide the scars left by the tree attack.

Would she like him?

As he gathered an array of fruit for breakfast, he stole glances at her. For the first time, much of the moss withered, baring her fully. Morning sunlight lent her golden skin an otherworldly glow. Silken locks of auburn hair gleamed.

Curling black lashes cast spiky shadows over pinkened cheeks. Plump red lips with a bowed center and a stubborn chin added to her captivating allure.

The girl— Wait. Had that cherry mouth parted? Micah froze, every cell buzzing. Even the trees stilled, as if time suspended. Then…

A soft moan left her. The first sound she’d made since his arrival. Then she stretched her arms over her head.

He dropped the bundle in his arms, pink-and-red fruit thudding to the ground, rolling away. Startled by the noise, the girl jolted upright, auburn locks tumbling around her delicate shoulders. She blinked to orient herself.

His mind raced with a thousand thought fragments. Even more beautiful… jade eyes, brighter than the leaves…gown soon to tear apart at the seams…friend… Mine?

She turned, maneuvering her legs over the side of the bed. Standing. Stretching. As graceful as a swan he’d once spied in the Summer Court.

Micah stood in awe, utterly transfixed.

As if sensing him at last, she looked his way and gasped. Her mouth floundered open and closed, fright overtaking her expression.

He hurried to offer a reassurance. “I mean you no—”

A high-pierced scream burst from her. The most horrifying sound he’d ever heard. Sharp pains stabbed his brain, hot blood dripping from his ears. He slapped his palms over the blood-soaked shells, but it didn’t help.

The trees snapped to attention. In an instant, leaves wilted. Fruit dried up. The belua army lunged at him, and this time, they attacked to kill, stabbing and pummeling full force. Pain wracked him, each injury teaching him a new lesson in agony.

Deserve this. He’d foolishly shown favor to an enemy. Had thought to become friends with vessels of evil.

But the girl…

Will come back for her. The trees wouldn’t harm her. Even now, they kept her out of harm’s way. If she required freedom, Micah would free her. But first, he must survive.

He escaped the clearing, crawling out of range before collapsing in a beam of sunlight, eating dirt. Then the darkness came…

Gena Showalter is the New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author of over seventy books, including the acclaimed Lords of the Underworld series, the Gods of War series, the White Rabbit Chronicles, and the Forest of Good and Evil series. She writes sizzling paranormal romance, heartwarming contemporary romance, and unputdownable young adult novels, and lives in Oklahoma City with her family and menagerie of dogs. Visit her at GenaShowalter.com.

Author Website: https://genashowalter.com/ | Facebook: Gena Showalter | Twitter: @genashowalter | Instagram: @genashowalter | Goodreads

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Blog Tour | The Binding Room by Nadine Matheson | Excerpt

Detective Anjelica Henley confronts a series of ritualistic murders in this heart-pounding thriller about race, power and the corrupt institutions that threaten us for fans of S.A. Crosby and Tami Hoag

When Detective Anjelica Henley is called to investigate the murder of popular preacher in his own church, she discovers a second victim, tortured and tied to a bed in an upstairs room. He is alive, but barely, and his body show signs of a dark religious ritual.

With a revolving list of suspects and the media spotlight firmly on her, Henley is left with more questions than answers as she attempts to untangle both crimes. But when another body appears, the case takes on a new urgency. Unless she can apprehend the killer, the next victim may just be Henley herself.

Drawing on her experiences as a criminal attorney, Nadine Matheson’s new novel deftly explores issues of race, class and justice through an action-packed story that will hold you captive until the last terrifying page.

Buy Links | Bookshop.org | Harlequin  | Barnes & Noble | Amazon | Books-A-Million | Powell’s

“We all lost,” said DS Paul Stanford as he held out a Quality Street tin in front of Henley.

“What on earth are you talking about?” Henley asked as she took off her coat and flung it onto a spare desk. “Are there any toffee pennies in there?”

“You might want to keep your coat on. The heating’s on the blink again. Either that or they’ve forgotten all about us and haven’t paid the bill. There’s a hundred and forty pounds in the pot and no toffee pennies.”

“Why is there a hundred and forty quid in there?”

Stanford rolled his eyes in mock exasperation. “Remember our bet?” he said. “On him. Our illustrious fully fledged Detective Constable Ramouter.”

“What have I done?” Ramouter asked from his position in the kitchen where he’d been eyeing the bottom of a mug with disgust.

“This is ridiculous,” Henley said. Her ears picked up the whirr coming from the electric fan heaters and the ice-fueled wind whistling outside and rattling the glass.

“You lasted, Ramouter; that’s what you did,” said Stanford. “We had a bet on how long you would last in the SCU.”

“And you didn’t think that I would last six months?” asked Ramouter as he picked up another mug.

“Mate, I didn’t think you would last six days. I’ll have a coffee if you’re making.”

“You shouldn’t be so mean to him,” said Henley as she took off her scarf and pushed it against the rotting frame of the window to block the icy draft that was sweeping across her desk.

“How am I being mean? I’m paying him a bloody compliment. After everything that happened, no one would have blamed him if he’d bolted for the door.”

“Well, he didn’t. He’s stuck with it. So, what are you going to do with the money?”

“I could give Ramouter the money. He could spend it on a train ticket to Bradford or something.”

“Now who’s getting soft?” Henley said. The phone on her desk started to ring.

“Or I could book a table at the curry house down the road. It will be teambuilding.”

“Or a normal Friday night out with you falling asleep in your chili chicken.”

“Rude,” Stanford replied as Henley picked up the phone and Ramouter appeared by his side with a mug of steaming coffee for him.

“Right. I see,” said Henley, reaching for the pad of blue Post-it notes on her desk and a ballpoint pen with a chewed cap. “I didn’t realize that we were still on duty. Can you send me the CAD details? No, I can’t get it myself because the system has crashed again. Thank you. Who found the body? Right.”

Henley pulled off the Post-it note and stuck it to the side of Ramouter’s mug. He peeled it off and looked at it quizzically. “Depending on traffic, we should be there in fifteen minutes.”

“You’re not going to have time to finish that,” said Henley, putting the phone down and grabbing her scarf.

“There’s a body in a church?” Ramouter said as he read the note. “Seriously?”

“That’s what it says.”

“Why are we dealing with this?”

“We’re dealing with it because the borough commander decided that the Serial Crime Unit should be helping out Homicide and Serious Crime with their caseload,” Henley replied wearily.

“Anyone would think that we were just sitting here watching Netflix all day,” Ramouter moaned. “Is it even a murder?”

“We won’t know until we get there, will we?”

“Can I say it?” asked Stanford, a grin spreading across his face.

“No, you can’t,” Henley replied. She picked up her bag and headed toward the door, with Ramouter in tow. She knew Stanford well enough to know exactly what he was going to say.

“I bet you a tenner that it was the Reverend Green with a candlestick in the library,” Stanford shouted out as Henley slammed the door shut behind her.

“I’m not telling you again. Step away from the tape.”

“What’s going on?”

“If I knew I was going to spend the afternoon standing out in the freezing cold I would have stayed in bed this morning.”

“I bet that they’ve found a body or something.”

“Look, those CSI lot have turned up.”

“I only popped out for a coffee and now the old bill are saying that I can’t go back into my own office.”

“F this. I’m going home.”

“I’m telling you that they’ve found a body.”

“Wouldn’t be the first time.”

“I don’t understand these kids. Too busy stabbing each other up. No value for life.”

“You can dress it up as much as you like. It’s Deptford innit.”

The murmurings of the curious and disgruntled crowd met Henley and Ramouter as they walked toward the scene of the crime.

“This is a church?” Ramouter asked as he looked up at the cream-colored facade of the brickwork. “I was expecting something a bit more… I don’t know, church-like. Maybe a steeple. This looks like a bank.”

“It used to be a NatWest when I was seventeen. The space was once cheap to rent. Not so sure now,” Henley replied.

“I did a quick Google search—”

“Of course you did.”

“And there’s another seven churches on the Broadway.”

“I’m not surprised,” said Henley. “Betting shops, churches and chicken shops on literally every London high street.”

Henley and Ramouter held up their warrant cards to the officer behind the police tape. Henley scoped the gathering crowd. Nothing about them raised any alarms, but she knew from experience that some murderers were voyeuristic by nature.

“Look likes Dr. Choi is here,” Ramouter said, pointing out the car of Henley’s friend and the Serial Crime Unit’s favorite pathologist, parked between a police motorbike and small white transit van that had ‘Forensic Services Crime Scene Investigation’ marked in black font on the side.

Henley stopped and looked around the small car park. There were no security cameras. She felt a sense of calm as she walked closer to the crime scene. It was a welcome emotion and a respite from the anxiety that was usually coursing through her veins, which she could keep at bay if she bothered to take her prescription to the chemist. She spotted the police officer that she was looking for leaning against the side of a police car, flipping through the pages of his notebook with a pen in his mouth.

“PC Tanaka? DI Henley from the SCU.”

PC Tanaka looked up and then stood to attention a little bit too quickly as Henley walked toward him.

“Ma’am,” said PC Tanaka.

“This is my colleague, DC Ramouter.”

“Shit,” said PC Tanaka when he dropped his notebook. “Sorry.” He brushed off slush from the cover. “It’s bloody freezing.”

“You were first on scene?” Henley asked.

Tanaka nodded. Henley could tell that he wanted to get it right. Giving a senior officer information about a murder scene was a lot different to dealing with burglaries, domestics and breaking up a fight between a couple of crackheads at the bottom of the high street.

“We, that’s the sarge, Sergeant Rivers, and I were driving back to the station. We’re based around the corner at Deptford station. We had just finished our shifts and was coming back from the McDonald’s up the road…”

PC Tanaka paused and took a breath.

Henley felt sorry for him as nerves or possibly shock overtook him. She saw a look of sympathy on Ramouter’s face as they both waited for PC Tanaka to continue.

“Sorry, guv, I mean ma’am,” said PC Tanaka straightening himself again and lowering the volume on his crackling police radio. “As I said, we were heading back to the station and one of the guys who works in the design agency practically threw himself onto the bonnet of the car. He was screaming about a body. We found the cleaner in hysterics in the staffroom of the agency. She refused to leave and take us to the church. I left her with the sarge and I went into the church and yeah, I won’t forget what I saw.”

Nadine Matheson is a criminal defense attorney and winner of the City University Crime Writing competition. She lives in London, UK.

Social Links | Author Website | Twitter: @NadineMatheson | Facebook: @NadineMathesonWriter | Instagram: @QueenNads | Goodreads

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Blog Tour | Out of Her Depth by Lizzy Barber | Excerpt

Rachel lands her dream summer job at a luxurious Tuscan villa. She’s quickly drawn into a new group of rich and beautiful sophisticates and their world of partying, toxic relationships, and even more toxic substances. They’ve never faced consequences, are used to getting everything. But then someone goes too far. Someone dies. And nothing will ever be the same.

Lizzy Barber’s debut A Girl Named Anna won the Daily Mail First Novel Competition. In her newest and even more unputdownable work, she weaves a clever and deadly web of manipulation and desire. A summer thriller rife with back-stabbing, bed-hopping, and murder, Out of Her Depth is a perfect escapist read for fans of Euphoria, J.T. Ellison’s Her Dark Lies, or Rachel Hawkins’s Reckless Girls.

Buy Links | BookShop.org | Harlequin | Barnes & Noble | Amazon | Books-A-Million | Powell’s

Before you judge me, remember this: a girl died, but it wasn’t my fault.

I know that seems like a pathetic confessional. Even more pathetic because the confession itself has, until this point, never been uttered.

I’ve wanted to. Believe me, I’ve wanted to.

The words have formed themselves on the precipice of my tongue, palpitating with their ugly need to be heard, to make me part of the narrative. To declare to the A-level students when I see it coming up on their news feeds, languorously debating it, now, once more, as it has risen into public consciousness twenty-one years after the fact: I was there.

When they stumble in late to my lesson, less eager to talk of the trapassato prossimo than about who fucked whom at last night’s social, and whether crimped hair really is making a comeback.

I was there.

When they blink at me from faces still etched with yesterday’s makeup, reeking of the top-shelf vodka and menthol cigarettes that their house mistresses will studiously ignore.

I was there.

When they declare they “really struggled with this week’s essay” so they only have notes, and they say, “About that C on the mock exam… Did you know my parents funded the library?” and they don’t even bother to wait for the response as they pull out their laptops and glance at their watches, and they think to themselves, Boring bitch has never lived.

I was there.

I imagine each letter incubating in the saliva that pools in the side of my gums. I picture myself standing, drawing the blinds. An illicit eyebrow raise that will make them pause, look up at me anew, place their laptops on the floor as I edge toward them.

Screw Dante. Let me tell you a real story about Florence.

..….

Now

I am just leaving for dinner when I hear.

People talk of remembering exactly where they were when great events happened: Princess Di, the Twin Towers, Trump. I know this isn’t quite on the same scale, but I’ll remember exactly where I was, all the same.

I’ve had back-to-back lessons all day, but now, at last, I have an hour to myself, the only person left in the languages office. I spend it working on my paper “Pirandello and the Search for Truth” for the Modern Language Review, barely coming up for air. This is the part of academia I enjoy the most: the research, the pulling together of an idea, the rearranging of words and thoughts on the page until they start to take on a life of their own, form arguments, cohesion. I’m hoping that this will be the one they’ll finally agree to publish.

I am the only French and Italian teacher at Graybridge Hall, 

have been for the last ten years. When they decided to introduce Italian for the younger years, as well as the older students, I did suggest that perhaps now it would be time to look at hiring someone else. But Ms. Graybridge, the eponymous head—and third of that name to have held the position—reminded me that the school’s ethos was “personal and continuous care for every girl.” Which didn’t really make sense as a rebuttal, but which I knew was shorthand for no, and which she knew—because of certain circumstances under which I assumed my position in the first place—I wouldn’t argue with.

Not that I don’t enjoy teaching. Sometimes. “shaping young minds” and all that seems like it should be a worthy cause. When I was younger, much younger, I imagined maybe I would do a PhD, become a professor. I also thought about diplomatic service, traveling the world as a translator, journalism, maybe, why not? Instead I sit through mock orals on topics as ground-breaking as Food and Eating Out, Cinema and TV, and My Family.

My rumbling stomach is the first signal I have that evening is approaching, and when I tear myself away from my laptop screen to look at the darkening sky, I decide to ditch my planned root around in the fridge, and be sociable instead. Wednesday is quiz night at the pub near school. A group of teachers go every week, the little thrill they get as their cerebral cortexes light up with a correct answer just about making up for a day spent asking the girls to kindly not look at their Apple Watches until break, and maybe not take their makeup out of their Marc Jacobs backpacks until class is over just this once.

I close down my laptop and do a brisk tidy of the room before slipping on my coat and scarf, and am just about to slide my phone into my rucksack when an alert catches my eye—specifically, a name, bouncing out of the BBC News push notification, one I have avoided all thought of for a long while, as much out of circumstance as necessity.

Sebastian Hale.

I freeze in the doorway—phone clutched in my hand as preciously as though it were the Rosetta stone—and look again, not quite believing I saw it right, presuming perhaps it was just wishful thinking, a long hour of screen-staring playing tricks on my eyes, that could have conjured his name before me.

But there it is. That name. Those five syllables. The six vowels and seven consonants that have held more significance for me than any word or sentence written in my entire attempted academic career.

And next to them, three words that throw my whole world off kilter, that see me reaching for the door handle and wrenching it shut, all thoughts of dinner gone from my mind:

Sebastian Hale Appeal Proceeds Tonight.

I sit at my desk, lights off, face illuminated by the white glow of my phone screen, and read someone else’s report of the story I know so well. The story I have lived. I place the phone facedown on the desk, snuffing out its light, and press my palms into the woodwork. The feel of my flesh rubbing against the desk’s smooth surface grounds me, helps me process the report—think.

I knew there had been requests for appeals over the years, all denied by the Corte d’Assise d’Appello. A change of lawyer, probably hoping that new eyes on the case could find something that was missed. But they’ve all come to nothing. How did I miss this?

If he is retried, if there is any possibility that he might be released…everything would change.

After the initial trial, after my part was done and I could finally go home and resume the life I had worked so hard to live. I tried—I really, truly tried—to put it behind me.

That was what she did, after all, and I wanted to follow her lead. I have always wanted to follow her lead. But that time has never truly left me. Sometimes, it will take the smallest thing—the light filtering through a window just so, a particular kind of humid heat, walking past a patisserie and being hit with a waft of baked vanilla sweetness—and it all comes back to me with cut-glass clarity. The sound of our laughter ricocheting off ocher-colored walls. The clink of glasses and the taste of hot weather, raw red wine. The touch of sweat-dewed skin. The scent of pine. The giddy, delightful feeling of being young and happy and having the rest of our lives spooling out in front of us.

These are the good things—the things I want to remember.

The bad things…those I have no choice but to remember.

And now, at the sight of his name alone, I am instantly transported: flying on the wings of a deep déjà vu, away from the cold late-autumn day and the dusty corners of my tired office and back, back, back to that time—that summer.

To those gold-tinged days and months that crescendoed so spectacularly into those final, onyx hours.

To the start.

Lizzy Barber studied English at Cambridge University. Having previously dabbled in acting and film development, she has spent the last ten years as head of marketing for a restaurant group. Her first novel, A Girl Named Anna, won the Daily Mail and Random House First Novel Prize. She lives in London with her family.

Social Links | Author Website | Twitter: @ByLizzyBarber | Facebook: @ByLizzyBarber |
Instagram: @ByLizzyBarber | Goodreads

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