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….

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

“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

Happy reading!

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.

Buy Links | HarperCollins.com  | BookShop.org | Barnes & Noble | Amazon | Books-A-Million | IndieBound

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

Happy reading!

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

Happy reading!

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

Happy reading!

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

Happy reading!

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

Happy reading!

Blog Tour | A Proposal They Can’t Refuse by Natalie Caña | Excerpt

“My Big Fat Greek Wedding” but make it Latinx when a Puerto Rican chef and an Irish American whiskey distiller are blackmailed into a fake relationship by their scheming octogenarian grandfathers.

Ain’t nobody got time for octogenarian blackmail, especially Kamilah Vega. Convincing her parents to update the family’s Puerto Rican restaurant and enter it into The Fall Foodie Tour is quite enough on her plate, muchas gracias. And with the gentrification of their Chicago neighborhood, the tour looks like the only way to save the place. Too bad her abuelo made himself very clear; if she wants to change anything in his restaurant, she must marry the one man she can’t stand: his best friend’s grandson.

Liam Kane spent a decade working his ass off to turn his family’s distillery into a contender. Now he and his grandfather are on the verge of winning a national competition. Then Granda hits him with a one-two punch: he has cancer and has his heart set on seeing Liam married before it’s too late. And his Granda knows just the girl… yup, you guessed it, Kamilah Vega.

If they refuse, their grandfathers will sell the building that houses their businesses, ruining all their well-laid plans. With their legacies and futures on the line, Kamilah and Liam plan to outfox the devious duo, faking an engagement until they both get what they want. But the more time they spend together, the more they realize how much there is to love. Soon, they find themselves tangled up in more than either of them bargained for.

BUY LINKS | Bookshop.org | Barnes & Noble | Amazon

Kamilah Vega stomped up the short entryway and yanked the heavy glass door open with more force than necessary. A strong wind, the type only ever experienced in Chicago, grabbed a hold of the door and pushed it back so roughly that it made a loud bang. The front-desk secretary jumped and gave her a dirty look, but Kamilah barely noticed. Her attention went immediately to the two bodies slumped in the love seat outside the director’s office. 

She tried her best to keep the anger out of her voice because she already knew how the two troublemakers in front of her would react to it. “What did you do now?” 

That garnered an immediate and very predictable response of “Nothing” from both occupants. It was a lie, of course. It always was whenever these two started claiming innocence in unison. 

Kamilah rubbed both hands over her face and let out the type of deep and weary sigh that someone should let out at midnight after a hard and long day—not at eight thirty in the morning. She dropped her hands. “Don’t you think it’s time to stop with the shenanigans? You’re eighty years old, Abuelo.”

Her grandfather gasped in outrage at the mention of his age and scowled at her. His salt-and-pepper hair was sticking up all over the place like a fuzzy baby monkey, making him look adorable despite the baleful glare.

Looking decidedly more put together, even in his tattered denim overalls and faded flannel, Abuelo’s roommate and best friend gave her his own version of the stink eye. “You’re only as old as you feel,” Killian replied in his deep Irish brogue.

“And that means what? That you two feel twelve?”

Before they could answer, the door to the office opened, and there stood Maria Lopez-Hermann, the director of Casa del Sol Senior Living. “Hello, Kamilah. I’m glad you were able to come on such short notice. I know you were probably in the middle of morning prep at the restaurant.”

Kamilah didn’t bother telling Maria that after closing the night before, she’d slept through her many alarms and was late to work. Now, thanks to the two hooligans next to her, she was going to be very, very late. Her employers wouldn’t care about her excuses. It didn’t matter that they were her parents. Kamilah was a Vega and an employee, so her main responsibility was to the family restaurant. Always.

Maria motioned for them to enter her office, and they filed in. Kamilah purposely let Abuelo and Killian sit in the two chairs in front of Maria’s desk, while she stood behind them, a hand on each of their shoulders. It was the same stance her mami had taken the time she and her cousin Lucy had got in trouble for skipping gym class for two weeks.

Abuelo crossed one leg over the other and tucked his hands under his armpits, while Killian leaned back, spread his legs wide, and let his arms hang over the short back of the barrel chair. Kamilah once again marveled at their ability to look summarily unconcerned while she was sweating bullets, and she hadn’t even done anything.

Maria took a seat behind her desk and interlocked her fingers, resting them on top of her desktop calendar. “I thought I had made myself clear after the bird incident that being banned from pet therapy would be the least of your worries if there were any more pranks pulled.”

Kamilah closed her eyes and shook her head. It was a variation on what she’d said right before giving the Devious Duo a monthlong suspension from bingo for starting an illicit gambling ring; before that, there was a security-enforced curfew after the strip-poker fiasco. “What did they do now?” she asked, well aware that it was the third or fourth time she’d asked the question that morning and had yet to get a response.

“This morning we had two residents with high blood pressure show alarmingly high readings after breakfast. We did some investigating and found that Mr. Kane and Mr. Vega had snuck into the cafeteria last night and replaced the decaffeinated coffee grounds with fully caffeinated espresso.”

“Abuelo!” Kamilah exclaimed.

“They don’t have any proof it was us,” Killian interjected. “They just want to blame us for everything that happens in this godforsaken prison.”

“Prison,” Kamilah scoffed. “You two have more freedom than anyone else in here.” It was true. Because of their relatively good physical health and stable mental health, Abuelo and Killian didn’t require as much care as many of the other residents. It was more as if Casa del Sol were their college dorm rather than their senior-care facility. It didn’t help that the two tended to view the senior-living center’s strict rules as friendly suggestions.

“Your feelings aside,” Maria continued, “we do have proof. The cameras that we installed in the cafeteria and kitchen caught very clear images of you both.”

Abuelo softly damned the cameras. “Condenados cámaras.”

But Killian had other concerns. “You hear that, Papo? Freedom,” he harrumphed.

“They won’t even let me drink café con leche,” Abuelo added. “They give me light brown poop water and call it coffee.”

“It’s decaf with a splash of coconut milk, and your doctor says it’s better for your heart,” Kamilah pointed out. Abuelo’s doctor also said his congestive heart failure was very treatable as long as he took his meds, stuck to a heart-healthy diet, and remained relatively active. Of course, Abuelo paid him no attention.

As if on cue, Abuelo made a noise of disdain. “Ese doctor no sabe na’. Cuando me duele el pecho, me pongo un poco de Vaporú y ya.”

Kamilah sucked her teeth more at the claim that his doctor knew nothing than at the miraculous healing quality of Vicks VapoRub. All Latinx people knew Vaporú was the cure for everything from a common cold to heartbreak.

Abuelo looked at the director of the complex with petulance. “And when are you going to start serving carne frita con mofongo?” Abuelo continued, because apparently he was on a roll. “I’m sick of eating all these steamed vegetables like a damn rabbit.”

Maria leaned forward. “Mr. Vega, if you are so unhappy with Casa del Sol, you are welcome to find another living facility to reside in.”

Kamilah jumped in before her hardheaded grandfather could ruin the best thing he had going for him. “Maria, could I talk to these two alone for a few minutes before you lower the hammer?”

Used to their antics, Maria nodded her head and left the office.

Kamilah sank to her haunches between their chairs and waited until both men looked at her. “You guys have to stop this,” she said in her voice of reason tone. She placed a hand on each of theirs. “I don’t have time for you to be staging weekly high jinks like you’re the Little Rascals. I can’t be here all the time making sure that you don’t get kicked out.”

Abuelo turned his face away. “Nobody told you to come act like our mother.”

Killian nodded. “We are grown men.”

“Bullshite,” a deep voice sneered from too damn close, startling Kamilah right as she felt a presence looming over her.

A girl who grew up on the West Side of Chicago and with four tormenting older brothers knew to strike first and ask questions later.

“Not today,” Kamilah declared in her You-Messed-Withthe-Wrong-Bitch voice, spinning around in her crouched position, morphing into famous Chicago heavyweight champion Ernie Terrell, and swinging her fist at her would-be attacker’s crotch.

The moment her fist connected with the very sensitive part of the man’s anatomy and she heard his pained “Son of a bitch,” she knew she’d made a grave mistake.

Oh dear God, no. Not him. Please don’t let him be here.

Meanwhile, Tweedledum and Tweedledee laughed their asses off like a pair of demented hyenas.

When he fell to his knees, Kamilah suddenly found herself face-to-face with the exact man she’d just prayed wasn’t there.

Big, broad, and brooding, Killian’s grandson didn’t resemble him in the least. Where Killian had a round face and wide nose with a bit of a hook at the end, Liam looked like something conjured out of the tie me up and spank me books her sister-in-law was always reading. His face was all sharp angles, set off by dark stubble, a stern mouth, and cool eyes.

“What is wrong with you?” He wheezed. “You can’t just go around dick-punching people.”

The hyenas laughed harder.

Kamilah’s jaw dropped. “What’s wrong with me?” she asked, incredulous. “What’s wrong with you, coming up on me like that? You don’t sneak up on a woman and expect not to get junk-punched. Especially not a woman born and raised in Humboldt Park.”

His French-blue eyes narrowed under dark brows. His nostrils flared while he inhaled deeply. That was Liam speak for I’d really like to tell you off right now, but not going to engage.

Kamilah saw that look often. Whatever. He pissed her off too.

“She has a point, lad,” Killian said, the amusement still thick in his voice. “You deserved that whack to the wanker.” He stood and pulled his grandson to his feet.

Kamilah found herself once again eye level with Liam’s crotch. She quickly stood and turned away from him, her face flushing with embarrassment. She met Abuelo’s gaze.

He arched his brows. “Nena, aren’t you going to apologize to him?”

“Me? Apologize to him?” Kamilah let out an incredulous bark of laughter. “He should apologize for sneaking in here and scaring me.”

“He didn’t sneak. The door was open.”

Kamilah didn’t answer. She should own up to her part and apologize, but her pride wouldn’t let her. Pride was the only thing protecting her from Liam. She couldn’t let it go now.

Liam stared, expressionless. Then he ignored her comment completely. “Granda, what did you do now?”

Kamilah hated when he ignored her.

Killian opened his mouth, but Liam cut him off. “And don’t say nothing, because I know you better than that.”

Before Killian could come up with a story, Maria walked back into the office. “They threw away all of the decaf coffee and replaced it with Café Bustelo espresso.”

“What the hell, Granda? You are willing to get kicked out of this place over coffee? Seriously?”

“It’s not the coffee. It’s the principle,” Killian replied, his nose in the air.

Liam threw up his hands and let out a sound of exasperation. “What principle? That the people you pay to take care of you actually take care of you?”

Killian crossed his arms. “You don’t get it because you’re young.”

“I don’t get it because it’s nonsense. Granda, where do you plan to go if you get kicked out? You sold your house to move in here with Papo.”

At the mention of the house he once shared with the love of his life, Killian’s face fell. That had been his wife’s dream house, and Kamilah had always suspected that he hadn’t really been ready to sell it.

“If you get thrown out, you can’t live with me, Granda.”

That was too much. Kamilah certainly wasn’t in agreement with their troublemaking, but Liam didn’t have the right to speak to his grandfather that way. Not after all Killian had done for him. “Because God forbid Super Loner Liam has to allow someone into his hermit cave.”

He turned on her. “Excuse me?”

“I’m saying that if they did get asked to leave, which we don’t know is going to happen, it wouldn’t kill you to let your grandpa move in with you. That’s what family does.”

“I was referring to the fact that he can’t walk that many stairs anymore, but I guess, as the almost thirty-year-old woman living with her parents, I should take your word on that other stuff.”

Kamilah scowled. He didn’t have to bring up her living situation like that. “It’s interesting, isn’t it? It’s like it’s not a big deal for us, because I’m not a miserable person who is extremely difficult to be around.”

Liam scowled at her. “Don’t you have somewhere to be? Like, off making someone else’s day shitty?”

Rude. Her pulse sped up. “I usually would, but since I already started with you, I can check it off my to-do list and it’s not even ten o’clock. Thanks a bunch.” She added a sweet smile.

“Glad to be of service.”

“Would you two just get a room already?” Killian said. Liam turned his dark look on his grandfather, and she made a disgusted noise.

“What?” Killian shrugged. “All I’m saying is you two fight like a couple.”

“Yeah.” Abuelo added his two cents. “You should just get married already.”

There was a beat of silence, and then both octogenarians’ eyes lit with the same mischievousness. The kind that had no doubt led to all of them being in their current situation.

You know what? Let’s get back to the reason we are here.” She faced Maria. “They may not look it, but I know Abuelo and Killian are sorry for the danger they put their fellow residents in, and next time they will think more about the consequences before they do something so incredibly stupid.”

Maria let loose a world-weary sigh, much like the one Kamilah had released earlier. She gave a small eye roll while shaking her head because they both knew Kamilah was full of shit. “Their cafeteria privileges have been revoked for the next two weeks. Prepackaged paper-bag meals will be sent to their apartment, or their families will have to provide their meals for them.”

“Is that supposed to be a punishment?” Abuelo asked.

“With the stuff they serve here, it feels more like a rew—”

Kamilah covered his mouth with her hand. “That seems totally fair.” In her head she was freaking out because she just knew she was going to be the one providing said meals, and she did not have the time for all that. “I’ll make sure they get fed.” She felt Abuelo’s mouth curve behind her hand, and she saw Killian’s pleased smile. “Don’t get too happy,” she warned. “You think they denied you? Just wait to see what I have in store. When I’m done with you, you are going to wish you could eat rabbit food.”

They were completely unfazed by her threats. Probably because they knew Kamilah was a crème brûlée—right below a crackly hard surface, she was really just pudding.

Echoing her thoughts, Liam scoffed. “As if you aren’t going to end up making them three-course meals complete with dessert.”

Kamilah fought the urge to stick her tongue out at him like a six-year-old. Instead, she ignored him. “I have to go to work, but for the love of God, please behave yourselves today,” she begged the duo of deviants.

She was almost positive she heard Killian mumble, “We make no promises.”

Natalie Caña writes contemporary romances that allow her to incorporate her witty sense of humor and her love for her culture (Puertominican whoop whoop!) for heroines and heroes like her. A PROPOSAL THEY CAN’T REFUSE is her debut novel.

SOCIAL LINKS | Author website: http://nataliecana.com/services-and-pricing | Twitter: @NatCanaWrites | Tik Tok: @nataliecwrites

Happy reading!

Blog Tour | Christmas at the Chateau by Rochelle Alers

The halls are decked for holiday romance in nationally bestselling author Rochelle Alers’s latest book in the Bainbridge House series! Christmas dinner’s on the table, and it’s being served with a side of romance! Executive chef Viola Williamson has to have the kitchen up and running by the time the Bainbridge House restoration is complete. Working closely with Dom Shaw, Viola is struck by her hotter-than-mulled-cider attraction to her family estate’s handsome caretaker. It’s obvious that he feels it, too—yet Dom keeps his distance. Can Viola convince him that with all this cooking going on, he’s the only one stirring her heart? 

Buy Links | Amazon | Barnes & NobleHarlequin

I’m excited to show you guys an excerpt for this book today, enjoy!

Dom turned his head, successfully hiding the smile struggling to emerge. He didn’t know why, but he hadn’t expected to overhear the ribald curse that had flowed so effortlessly from Viola. “That’s good to know because that would definitely negate us becoming friends.”

Viola narrowed her eyes, reminding him of a cat ready to attack. “Do you always test your friends?”

“Most times I do.”

“Why, Dom?”

“Because I have trust issues.” The admission had come out unbidden. But if he were completely forthcoming with Viola, then he would’ve said his distrust was with women. It didn’t matter whether they were platonic or intimate, he’d made it a practice to keep their relationships at a distance.

“Bad breakup with a girlfriend?”

“No,” he said truthfully. “It was a marriage that ended with irreconcilable differences.”

She blinked slowly. “Well, you’re not the only one with trust issues. And mine are not with an ex-husband but with the men I’ve dated. They say one thing and do something entirely different.”

This time Dom did smile. She’d just given him the opening he’d needed to discover more about her. “Are you saying you’re not currently involved with anyone?”

“That’s exactly what I’m saying. I’m not involved and don’t want to become involved. Right now, my sole focus is getting these kitchens renovated so that I can be ready once the hotel opens for business.”

It appeared as if they were on the same page when it came to relationships. Neither wanted one. And for him, it would make her presence on the property a win-win. Although he’d found Viola attractive, just knowing she didn’t want anything more than friendship would make it easy for Dom to relate to her as a friend.

“Do you have an idea as to what you want to offer your guests?” he asked, deftly changing the topic of conversation.

“That all depends on the clientele. If it’s a wedding, then that would be at the discretion of the bride and groom. However, for guests coming for a business conference, the food would be different from what would be served at a wedding reception. Then there are folks that may just want to stop by to hang out at the lounge for drinks and to watch sports. For them, I would have a special bar menu.”

“It sounds as if you have everything planned out in advance.”

Viola flashed a dreamy smile. “I would have to. I can’t afford to wait until we’re ready to open for business to begin creating menus without taste testing every item beforehand.”

Dom grinned from ear to ear. “I wouldn’t mind becoming one of your taste testers.”

She laughed. “I’ll definitely keep that in mind.”

Dom sobered. “When do you intend to come back here again?”

Viola also sobered. “Why?”

Hailed by readers and booksellers alike as one of today’s most popular African-American authors of women’s fiction, Ms. Alers is a regular on bestsellers list, and has been a recipient of numerous awards, including the Vivian Stephens Award for Excellence in Romance Writing and a Zora Neale Hurston Literary Award.  Visit her Web site www.rochellealers.com

Happy reading!

Blog Tour | The Sorority Murder by Allison Brennan | Excerpt

New York Times bestselling author Allison Brennan’s suspenseful new mass market original about a college senior’s podcast that delves into an unsolved campus murder of a sorority girl three years earlier, as individual callers explode every fact previously thought to be true.

Lucas Vega is obsessed with the death of Candace Swain, who left a sorority party one night and never came back. Her body was found two weeks later, and the case has grown cold. Three years later while interning at the Medical Examiner’s, Lucas discovers new information, but the police are not interested.

Lucas knows he has several credible pieces of the puzzle, he just isn’t sure how they fit together. So he creates a podcast to revisit Candace’s last hours. He asks listeners to crowdsource what they remember and invites guest lecturer, former US Marshal Regan Merritt, to come on and share her expertise.

New tips come in that convince Lucas and Regan they are onto something. Then shockingly one of the podcast callers turns up dead. Another hints at Candace’s secret life…a much darker picture than Lucas imagined—and one that implicates other sorority sisters. Regan uses her own resources to bolster their theory and learns that Lucas is hiding his own dark secret. The pressure is to solve the murder, but first Lucas must come clean about his real motives in pursuing this podcast – before the killer silences him forever.

Buy Links | Bookshop.org | Indie Bound | Barnes & Noble | Amazon |
Books A Million | Kindle | Nook | Kobo | Google PlayApple books

I’m thrilled to be able to include an excerpt in today’s post from this book. Enjoy!

One

Three Years Ago

Friday, April 10

 Candace Swain forced a smile as she walked out of her dorm room.

Smiling was the last thing she wanted to do, but Candace had an image to uphold.

She was going to be late for the Sigma Rho Spring Fling—the last big party before the end-of-year crunch. Studying for finals, capstones and senior projects, stress and more stress, and—for some of them—graduation.

The mild April weather was perfect for an outdoor gathering. Candace had led the sorority’s social-events committee with setup, and they’d included heat lamps along the perimeter. The Mountain View dorm—which housed all campus sororities, each with their own wing—was on the northeast corner of campus, adjacent to the football field. The Spring Fling was held on the large lawn that framed the north entrance, where they had the most room. It was open to all students for a five-dollar admission, and was one of the biggest moneymakers for the sorority, more than charities. Candace had fought for—and won—giving the profits to a rescue mission that helped people get back on their feet. She volunteered weekly for Sunrise Center, and it had changed how she viewed herself and her future. She now planned to be a nurse in the inner city, working for a clinic or public hospital, where people deserved quality health care, even if they were struggling. She even considered specializing in drug and alcohol issues, which were unfortunately prevalent among the homeless community.

She used to think of her volunteerism as penance for her failings. She wasn’t religious but had had enough preaching from her devout grandmother to have absorbed things like guilt, penance, sacrifice. Now, she looked forward to Tuesdays when she gave six hours of her time to those who were far worse off than she. It reminded her to be grateful for what she had, that things could be worse.

Candace exited through the north doors and stood at the top of the short flight of stairs that led to the main lawn. Though still early in the evening, the party was already hopping. Music played from all corners of the yard, the din of voices and laughter mingling with a popular song. In the dusk, the towering mountains to the north were etched in fading light. She breathed deeply. She loved everything about Flagstaff. The green mountains filled with pine and juniper. The crisp, fresh air. The sense of community and belonging felt so natural here, something she’d never had growing up in Colorado Springs. With graduation on the horizon, she had been feeling a sense of loss, knowing she was going to miss this special place.

She wasn’t close to her parents, who divorced right before she started high school and still fought as much as they did when they were married. She desperately missed her younger sister, Chrissy, a freshman at the University of South Carolina. She’d wanted Chrissy to come here for college, but Chrissy was a champion swimmer and had received a full scholarship to study practically a world away. Candace had no plans to return to Colorado Springs, but she didn’t know if she wanted to follow her sister to the East Coast or head down to Phoenix where they had some of the best job opportunities for what she wanted to do.

Vicky Ryan, a first year student who had aspirations of leadership, ran up to her.

“That weirdo is back,” Vicky said quietly. “Near the west steps. Just loitering there, freaking people out. Should I call campus police?”

Candace frowned. The man Vicky was referring to was Joseph, and he wasn’t really a weirdo. He was an alcoholic, and mostly homeless, who sometimes wandered onto campus and wouldn’t accept the help he had been repeatedly offered. He wasn’t violent, just confused, and sometimes got lost in his own head, largely from how alcohol had messed with his mind and body. But his problems understandably made her sorority sisters uncomfortable. He’d twice been caught urinating against the wall outside their dorm; both times, he’d been cited by campus police. He wasn’t supposed to be on campus at all anymore, and Candace knew they’d arrest him if he was caught.

“I’ll take care of it,” Candace said and made her way around the edge of the party.

She found Joseph on the narrow grassy knoll that separated the football field from the dorms. A small group of students approached her, but one in their group turned toward the grass, likely to confront Joseph.

Candace walked faster, caught up with the student, and smiled brightly. “I got this.”

“It’s okay,” he said. “I’ll handle him.”

“I said I will take care of this. I know him. But thank you anyway.”

Mr. Macho didn’t want to walk away, yet Candace stood firm. She didn’t want anyone to harass Joseph, and she knew he would listen to her. While he wasn’t violent, he could be belligerent, and being confronted by a jerk wanting to impress his girlfriend was a surefire way to trigger Joseph and have him dig in his heels. It would only lead to an arrest, and that wasn’t going to help him in the long run.

The group walked off, grumbling; Candace ignored them. She approached Joseph cautiously, so as not to startle him. “Joseph, it’s Candace,” she said. “Remember me? From Sunrise Center?”

He turned slowly at the sound of her voice. A tall man, nearly six foot four, he could intimidate people. But he was also skinny and hunched over from years of walking the streets and looking down, rummaging through garbage, with his hangdog face, ragged salt-and-pepper beard, and watery blue eyes. He was the kind of guy her grandmother would have called a bum—dressed in multiple layers of dirty, mismatched clothes, and smelling of dirt and stale beer. He looked about sixty, but she knew that he was only in his early forties. She’d heard he’d been living along Route 66 for the better part of ten years. The people who ran Sunrise Center didn’t know much about his personal life, only that when he was sober (which was rare), he would talk about home being east, at the “end of the line.” But no one knew if that meant Chicago or any of the stops in between.

Candace wanted to know more about his story, how he came to be in these circumstances, why he wouldn’t—or couldn’t—accept help. Many of the homeless who came to Sunrise for shelter or food would talk to her freely. But not Joseph. When she’d pried once, he disappeared for a while, so she stopped asking. She would rather him be safe than riding the rails, which was dangerous.

“Candace,” he said slowly after several moments.

“You can’t be here, Joseph. The campus police told you that. Don’t you remember?”

He didn’t say anything or acknowledge that he understood what she said.

“Would you like me to take you over to Sunrise Center? You can get a hot meal there, maybe a cot for the night.”

Again, silence. He turned away from her but didn’t leave.

She really didn’t want to call campus police, but if she didn’t do something, someone else would.

“Is there a reason you are here?” she asked.

“Leave me alone,” he said.

“I will, but you have to leave. Otherwise someone is going to call the police.” If they haven’t already.

He abruptly turned toward her, staggered on the slope of the lawn. His sudden movement startled her; she stepped back.

“No cops!” he shouted.

“You have to leave, Joseph,” she said, emphatic. Her heart pounded in her chest, not so much from fear but uncertainty. “Please go.”

Again, he turned abruptly, this time staggering down the short slope toward the stadium fence. She held her breath, watching him. He almost ran into the fence, put his arms out to stop himself, then just stood there. A minute later, he shuffled along the field perimeter, shoulders hunched, without looking back.

She breathed easier, relieved that he was heading off campus. She would talk to the director of Sunrise on Tuesday, when she went in to volunteer. Joseph couldn’t keep coming here, but she didn’t really want to call the authorities on him. He needed help, not more trouble, and definitely not incarceration.

Candace was about to return to the party when she heard someone call her name. She turned and saw one of her former tutoring students, Lucas Vega, running toward her. She didn’t want to talk to Lucas tonight. How many times did she have to tell him to leave her alone?

She stopped anyway and waited.

“Candace,” he said, catching his breath. “Thanks.”

“What do you want?” she snapped, crossing her arms over her chest.

“I’m sorry.”

“Sorry,” she said bluntly.

“I didn’t mean to upset you the other day. I am sorry about that.”

She blinked. He sounded so sincere. And truth be told, something he’d said to her a few days earlier made her think long and hard about herself, her life, and the time she’d spent as a student at Northern Arizona University.

A lie for a good reason is still a lie.

Lucas and his wide-eyed, good-natured innocence, his innocuous questions had her feeling guilty for no reason. He had picked up on that. And pushed.

No reason? Ha. Plenty of reasons. All these doubts and worries she’d been having this semester, the sleepless nights, all came from something she’d done as a freshman that she now had good reason to regret. But what could she do about it? What would come of the truth now?

Maybe there was no good reason to lie.

“All right,” she said. “Thank you.” It was easier to forgive Lucas than to hold on to this anger. None of what happened was Lucas’s fault.

“So will you tutor me again, for finals?”

“No. Afraid not.” She could forgive him for prying, but she really needed first to forgive herself. And she didn’t know if she could do that with Lucas around, reminding her of her failures and mistakes. He didn’t even know what she’d done, but seeing him now was like reliving the past, and her chest tightened. “I’m sorry, but I have too much studying of my own, too many tests. And I’m not working at the writing lab anymore.”

Because of you.

Was that even fair? Was it because of Lucas…or because of her own guilt?

He was disappointed, but that wasn’t her problem.

“Okay, I understand,” he said.

“Besides, you’re smart. You’ll be fine.”

He shrugged. “Thanks.”

“Uh, you want to come to the party?” She gestured over her shoulder. They could hear the music from where they stood. “I’ll get you a pass. Won’t even cost you the five bucks.”

He shook his head. “I’m fine. I’m not really one for parties. But thanks anyway.”

He turned to leave.

“Lucas,” she said. He looked at her over his shoulder. “I’m really sorry.”

Then she left him there, waiting for something she couldn’t give him.

It took Candace several minutes before she could work up the courage to return to the party. An idea she’d been thinking about for the last few months was now fully developed, as if something inside clicked after her brief conversation with Lucas. Everything shifted into place, and she knew what she needed to do; it was the only thing she could do.

No one was going to like her decision.

When she realized she no longer cared what anyone thought, a burden lifted from her heart. She was certain then that she was doing the right thing.

Everyone at the party was asking for Candace, and Vicky had become worried when her friend and mentor hadn’t returned after thirty minutes. She sought out Taylor James, the Sigma Rho president, and told her about the homeless guy. “I don’t know where Candace is,” she said. “I should have just called campus police.”

“Candace says he’s harmless,” Taylor said, frowning. “Sometimes she’s so naive. I’ll go look for her.”

“Thanks. The party is great by the way. Everyone seems to be having fun. How does it compare to previous years?” This was the first party Vicky had helped put together for the sorority, so she was eager to know how well she’d done.

“As good or better,” Taylor said with a wide smile.

Vicky tried not to gloat as she practically floated over to her friends chatting near one of the heat lamps. It wasn’t cold, but the warmth of the heat lamp and the glow from the string lights added terrific ambience to the place.

“Oh my God, Vicky, this is a blast,” her roommate, Nicole Bergamo, said. Nicole was a half-Black, half-Italian math major who could have easily been a model she was so tall and stunning. “Everyone is talking about how great it is.”

Vicky smiled, talked for a bit, then moved around, being social, doing all the things that she’d seen Sigma Rho board members do. Hundreds of people were dancing, talking, mingling, eating, drinking, playing games. Mostly, they were having fun, which was the whole purpose. When the new Sigma Rho advisor, Rachel Wagner, told her it was the best Sigma Rho party she’d been to ever, Vicky thought she’d never come down from cloud nine.

“I agree,” said the gorgeous woman who was with Rachel. “I’m Kimberly Foster, by the way,” she introduced herself. “I’m a sorority alum, and I’m so happy I came up this weekend. You’ve done a fantastic job. Rachel said you’re part of the social-events committee. Isn’t Candace leading the committee? I haven’t seen her yet.”

“Yes, she’s around,” Vicky said. “This is all her vision. We just implemented it.”

“I love Candace. Oh! I see her over there.”

Vicky looked to where Kimberly was gesturing. Candace was talking in a small group.

“I’m going to catch up with her,” Kimberly said. “Nice to meet you, Vicky.”

The two women walked away, and Vicky continued her rounds. She was having a blast as her worries that the party might flop were replaced with pride and satisfaction over its success.

Hours later it was midnight, and per city ordinance—because their dorm bordered a public street—they had to cut off the music. That put a damper on things, but it was fine with Vicky—she was exhausted after working all day prepping and all night making sure everything was running smoothly. She was a little miffed that Candace was hardly there: Vicky had only caught a glimpse of her twice. But whatever, she’d seemed preoccupied, and that would have been a party downer.

Vicky ran into the dorm to get extra trash bags—they had to clean up tonight so wild animals wouldn’t get into the garbage and create a bigger mess in the morning. She came back out and heard voices arguing near where the DJ had been set up. He’d already packed up and left. She couldn’t hear exactly what was being said. It seemed like a quiet, intense exchange between Taylor and Candace though Rachel and her guest Kimberly were there, too. Everyone, especially Taylor, seemed angry.

About sixty people were still milling around, mostly Sigma Rho sisters helping with the cleanup. Nicole came up to Vicky and said, “What are Candace and Taylor fighting about?”

“I don’t know. It’s probably nothing.”

“It’s not nothing,” Nicole said. “I heard Taylor call Candace a selfish bitch.”

“Ouch. Well, Rachel is there. She’ll mediate.”

But Rachel looked angry as well; it seemed that Candace was on one side, and the other three women were yelling at her.

“You’re wrong!” Candace screamed, and Vicky jumped. She glanced at Nicole, who looked perplexed as well. Vicky handed her a garbage bag, and they both started picking up trash. She didn’t want anyone to think she was eavesdropping.

But she was. As she inched closer to the group, she heard Kimberly say, “Let’s talk about this tomorrow, okay? When everyone has had a good night’s sleep and we can all think more clearly.”

“I am thinking clearly,” Candace said. “I’m done. Just…done.”

She left, walked right past Vicky without even seeing her. There were tears in Candace’s eyes, and Vicky didn’t know if she was angry or upset, but probably both. Vicky thought about going after her to make sure she was okay, then felt a hand on her shoulder.

She jumped, then laughed nervously when she saw Rachel. Taylor and Kim had walked away in the other direction.

“Sorry. You startled me.”

“I’m sorry you had to witness that,” Rachel said.

“I didn’t, really. Just saw that Taylor and Candace were arguing about something. I didn’t want to intrude.”

“It’s going to be fine. Just a little disagreement that Candace took personally.”

“About the party?” Vicky asked, her insecurities rising that she’d messed up something.

“Oh, no, the party was perfect. Don’t worry about that.”

Relieved, she said, “Maybe I should go talk to Candace.”

“No, let her be. I’ve known her since she was a freshman and took my Intro to Bio class. She has a big heart, and sometimes you can’t help everyone.”

Now Vicky understood, or thought she did. Taylor had been the most vocal about the creepy homeless guy hanging around the dorms, and she’d been the one who’d called campus police last time, after Candace said not to.

“Let me help,” Rachel said and took a garbage bag from Vicky’s stash.

Rachel chatted with Vicky, who felt lucky to be able to spend so much one-on-one time with her sorority advisor. Rachel was so smart, an associate professor at just thirty-two, an alum of the University of Arizona Sigma Rho chapter. Plus she had such interesting stories to share. By the time they were done with the cleanup—it didn’t take long with so many people working together—Vicky had forgotten all about the argument between Candace and Taylor.

It was the last time anyone saw Candace alive.

Excerpted from The Sorority Murder by Allison Brennan, Copyright © 2021 by Allison Brennan. Published by MIRA Books.

ALLISON BRENNAN is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of over thirty novels. She has been nominated for Best Paperback Original Thriller by International Thriller Writers and the Daphne du Maurier Award. A former consultant in the California State Legislature, Allison lives in Arizona with her husband, five kids and assorted pets. The Sorority Murder is the first of a new mass market series.

Social Links | Author website | Facebook: @AllisonBrennan | Twitter: @Allison_Brennan |
Instagram: @abwrites | Goodreads

Happy reading!

Blog Tour | A Golden Fury by Samantha Cohoe | Excerpt

Thea Hope longs to be an alchemist out of the shadow of her famous mother. The two of them are close to creating the legendary Philosopher’s Stone—whose properties include immortality and can turn any metal into gold—but just when the promise of the Stone’s riches is in their grasp, Thea’s mother destroys the Stone in a sudden fit of violent madness.

While combing through her mother’s notes, Thea learns that there’s a curse on the Stone that causes anyone who tries to make it to lose their sanity. With the threat of the French Revolution looming, Thea is sent to Oxford for her safety, to live with the father who doesn’t know she exists.

But in Oxford, there are alchemists after the Stone who don’t believe Thea’s warning about the curse—instead, they’ll stop at nothing to steal Thea’s knowledge of how to create the Stone. But Thea can only run for so long, and soon she will have to choose: create the Stone and sacrifice her sanity, or let the people she loves die.

A GOLDEN FURY and the curse of the Philosopher’s Stone will haunt you long after the final page.

Buy Link | Macmillan

Today I’m thrilled to be able to share an excerpt from the book!

My mother was screaming at the Comte. Again.

I slammed the front doors behind me and walked down the carriageway, under the dappled shade of the pop- lars that lined it. A hundred paces away, I still heard her, though at least I could no longer hear the Comte’s frantic endearments and low, rapid pleading. He should know by now that wasn’t the way. Perhaps I should tell him. Adrien was the first of my mother’s patrons I had ever liked, and I did not want to leave Normandy just as spring was break- ing. Just as we were beginning to make progress.

Though perhaps we were not. Mother would not be screaming at the Comte if the work were going well. She would not take the time. Alchemy was a demanding sci- ence, even if some scoffed and called it charlatanry or magic. It required total concentration. If the work were going well, the Comte would scarcely exist to her, nor

would I, now that she would not let me be of use. The com- position must have broken again. This was about when it had, last round. I could not be certain, since she had taken away my key to the laboratory. She could hardly have de- vised a worse insult than that if she had tried, and lately she did seem to be trying. The laboratory was mine as much as it was hers. If she did succeed in producing the White Elixir—which turned all metals into silver—then it was only because of my help. She had found Jābir’s text languishing in a Spanish monastery, but it had been I who translated it when her Arabic wasn’t nearly up to the job. I had labored for months over the calcinary furnace to make the philosophic mercury the text took as its starting point. I had the scars on my hands and arms to prove it. And now that success might be close, she wished to shut me out and deny my part, and claim it for herself alone.

But if she was acting ill and cross, it meant she had failed. A low, smug hum of satisfaction warmed me. I didn’t want the work to fail, but I didn’t want her to suc- ceed without me, either.

A distant smashing sound rang out from the chateau. My mother shattering something against the wall, no doubt.

I sighed and shifted my letter box to the crook of my other arm.

I knew what this meant. Another move. Another man. The Comte had lasted longer than the rest. Over two years, long enough that I had begun to hope I would not have to do it all again. I hated the uncertainty of those first weeks, before I knew what was expected of me, whether Mother’s new patron had a temper and what might set it off, whether he liked children to speak or be silent. Though I was no

longer a child, and that might bring its own problems. A chill passed over me, despite the warm afternoon sunshine. God only knew what the next one would be like. My mother had already run through so many of them. And with the recent changes in France, there were fewer rich men than ever looking to give patronage to an expensive alchemist, even one as beautiful and famous as Marguerite Hope.

I veered off the carriageway, into the soft spring grass, dotted here and there with the first of the lavender anemo- nes. I sat by the stream, under the plum tree.

There was no screaming here, no pleading, no signs that my life was about to change for the worse. I inhaled the soft, sweet scent of plum blossoms and opened my letter box. If this was to be my last spring in Normandy, I wanted to re- member it like this. Springtime in Normandy was soft and sweet, sun shining brightly and so many things blossoming that the very air was perfumed with promise. Everything was coming extravagantly to life, bursting out of the dead ground and bare trees with so much energy other impos- sible things seemed likely, too. I had always been hopeful in Normandy when it was spring. Especially last spring, when Will was still here. When we sat under this very tree, drank both bottles of champagne he had stolen from the cellars, and spun tales of everything we could achieve.

I took out his last letter, dated two months ago.

Dear Bee,

This is my address now—as you see I’ve left Prussia. It turns out that everything they say about the Prussians is quite true. I’ve never met a more unbending man than my patron

there. One day past the appointed date and he tried to throw me in prison for breach of contract! He thinks alchemy can be held to the same strict schedule as his serfs.

Laws against false alchemists were very harsh in Ger- many, as Will knew full well when he sought patronage there. I had begged him to go somewhere else, though he had few enough choices. He was my mother’s apprentice, with no achievements of his own to make his reputation. His training had been cut abruptly short when Mother found us together under this plum tree, watching the sun- rise with clasped hands and two empty bottles of cham- pagne. She’d seen to it that Will was gone by noon. It was no use telling her that all we’d done was talk through the night, or that the one kiss we’d shared had been our first, and had gone no further. He had behaved with perfect re- spect for me, but she wouldn’t believe it. My mother had imagined a whole path laid before my feet in that moment, and scorched it from the earth with Greek fire.

I turned to the next page.

I blame myself, of course, Bee, for not heeding your advice. I can picture your face now, wondering what I expected. It would almost be worth all the trouble I’ve caused myself if I could come to you and see your expression. You must be the only woman in the world who is never lovelier than when you’ve been proven right.

The keen thrill of pleasure those words had brought me when I first read them had faded now, and left me feeling uncertain. Should I write back knowingly, teasing him for his recklessness? I had tried this, and was sure I sounded like a scold no matter what he said about my loveliness when proven right. I took out my latest draft, which struck a more sincere tone. I read the lines over, saying how I worried for him, how I missed him. I crumpled it in my hand halfway through. Too much emotion. It didn’t do to show such dependence on a man. My mother had shown me that. I didn’t wish to emulate her in everything, but I would be a fool to deny her skill at winning masculine devotion. I tried again.

Dear Will,

I am sitting under the plum tree where we had our last picnic. I know how you feel about nostalgia, but I hope you will forgive me this one instance. I fear this will be our last spring in Normandy—perhaps even in France. Many of my mother’s friends have left already, and though you may well condemn

them as reactionaries, the fact remains that there are very few good Republicans with the ready cash to pay for our pursuits.

I sighed again and crumpled the page. Somehow I could never seem to write to him about the Revolution without a touch of irony creeping in. I didn’t want that. Will had put his hopes for a better world in the new order, and even though I was less hopeful than he, I loved him for it. At least he wanted a better world. Most alchemists simply wanted better metals.

I tried to imagine he was here. It wouldn’t be difficult then. He was so good at setting me at ease. His admira- tion was as intoxicating as wine, but unlike wine it sharp- ened my wits instead of dulling them. I was never cleverer than when Will was there to laugh with me.

My chest constricted at the memory of Will’s laugh. I didn’t know anyone who laughed like him. The Parisian aristocrats I had known all had so much consciousness of the sound they made when they did it. The Comte wasn’t like them, but he was a serious man and laughed rarely. My mother didn’t laugh at all.

But Will. He laughed like it came from the loud, bursting core of him. Like he couldn’t have kept it in if he wanted to, and why would he want to? And when he was done laughing, he would look at me like no one else ever had. Like he saw only me, not as an accessory to my mother, but as myself. And not as an odd girl whose sharp edges would need to be softened. Will liked the edges. The sharper they cut, the more they delighted him.

“Thea!”

I threw my letters into the letter box and snapped it shut. I looked around for somewhere to hide the box, and noticed too late that one of my crumpled drafts had blown toward the stream. My mother appeared on the hill above me, the late afternoon sun lighting up her golden hair like an unearned halo. She walked down the hill with measured steps and stopped a few yards above me, I assumed because she wished to enjoy the experi- ence of being taller than me again for a few moments. Her eye moved to the crumpled paper. I ran to it and stuffed it into my pocket before she could take it, though

my haste in hiding the failed letter told her all I didn’t wish her to know.

“Oh dear,” said my mother. “I do hope you haven’t been wasting your afternoon trying to find the right words to say to that boy.”

My mother was tolerant of my letter writing these days, perhaps because she was confident I would never see Will again. She had smiled when she heard of Will’s contract in Prussia. He won’t find it so easy to charm his way past the Prussian alchemy laws. In Germany, one must deliver results, not pretty smiles, or end in prison.

“I wouldn’t have an afternoon to waste if you would let me into the laboratory,” I said.

“Don’t be pitiful, Thea,” said my mother. “Surely you can think of something worthwhile to do when I don’t happen to need your assistance.”

I clenched my teeth so tight that my jaw ached. Shut- ting me out of the laboratory, our laboratory, was the great- est injustice she had ever committed against me. Worse than all the moving about, worse than sending Will away, worse than any insult she could think to level at me. Before she had done that, I believed we were together in alchemy at least, even if nothing else. That she had raised and trained me not simply to be of use to her, but to be her partner. Her equal, one day. Throwing me out of the lab- oratory just when we might achieve what we had worked for told me that Will was right. She would never let me claim credit for my part of the work. She would never ac- cept me as an alchemist in my own right.

And yet she described it as though she had simply let me off my chores. As if I were no more necessary than a

servant. There was no point in arguing with her, but even so I could not let it stand.

“I am not your assistant,” I said.

“Oh?” she asked. “Do you have news, then? Have you found a patron on your own merits? Do you intend to strike out on your own?”

“Perhaps I will,” I said, my face growing hot. “Perhaps I will stay here when you are finally finished tormenting the poor Comte.”

My mother had a perfect, deceptively sweet beauty: golden blond and blue-eyed with a round, doll-like face. It made the venom that sometimes twisted her expression hard to quite believe in. Many men simply didn’t. They preferred to ignore the evidence of their minds for the evidence of their senses. I, of course, knew her better than they did. I tensed, preparing.

But instead of lashing out, my mother turned aside, a hand to her chest. A tremor passed over her; she bowed her head against it.

Mother had been strangely unwell for weeks. At first I responded to her illness as she had taught me to, with distaste and disapproval, as though falling sick were an ill-considered pastime of those with insufficient moral for- titude. But if she noticed how unpleasant it was to receive so little sympathy when unwell, she did not show it. She had locked herself away in the laboratory every day until late at night, ignoring my silence as much as she ignored the Comte’s pleas that she rest. I had not thought much of it until this moment. Any pain great enough to turn her from chastising me for thinking I could do alchemy with- out her must be serious indeed.

“Mother?” I asked.

“You will go where I tell you.” Her voice was low and breathless, almost a gasp. “For now, that is to dinner. Wear the green taffeta.”

“The robe à la française?” I asked, perplexed. I hadn’t worn that dress since before the Estates General met. Its style was the hallmark of the ancien régime: wide pan- niered hips, structured bodice, and elaborate flounces. “But it’s out of fashion.”

“So is our guest,” said my mother.

She went up the hill again, then turned back to me at the top.

“Thea,” she said, all the sharpness gone from her voice. “I know you do not believe it any longer, but everything I do is for you.”

It was the sort of thing she always said. Before this year, I had always believed it, more or less. At least, everything she did was for the both of us. She had considered me an extension of herself, so that doing things for me was no different than doing them for herself. Why else take so much care to train me, to see to it that I had the tutors I needed to learn every language necessary—more even than she knew? To take me with her in all her travels to seek out manuscripts? She was an impatient teacher at times, but a good one. A thorough one. And in turn I was a good student. The best.

Until we were close to our goal. Then, suddenly, I was a rival. And my mother did not tolerate rivals.

“You are right, Mother,” I said. “I don’t believe that any longer.”

Samantha Cohoe writes historically-inspired young adult fantasy. She was raised in San Luis Obispo, California, where she enjoyed an idyllic childhood of beach trips, omnivorous reading, and writing stories brimming with adverbs. She currently lives in Denver with her family and divides her time among teaching Latin, mothering, writing, reading, and deleting adverbs. A Golden Fury is her debut novel.

Social Links | Twitter | Instagram

Happy reading!