Spotlight and Excerpt: The Arrows of the Heart by Jeffe Kennedy

arrows_smallA STRANGER’S FAITH

As the Twelve Kingdoms and their allies are drawn toward war, a princess cast aside must discover a purpose she never dreamed of…

Karyn af Hardie behaved like a proper Dasnarian wife. She acquiesced, she accepted, she submitted. Until her husband gave her a choice: their loveless, unconsummated royal marriage—or her freedom. Karyn chose freedom. But with nowhere to run except into the arms of Dasnaria’s enemies, she wonders if she’s made a mistake. She wants love, security, a family. She can’t imagine finding any of it among the mercurial Tala.   

Worst of all is Zyr. The uninhibited shapeshifter is everywhere she looks. He’s magnetic, relentless, teasing and tempting as if she’s free to take her pleasure where she wishes. As if there isn’t a war rising before them, against a vile and demanding force far stronger than they. But with Karyn’s loyalty far from certain, Zyr offers her only chance to aid the defense—a dangerous gambit to seek out a land not seen in centuries, using clues no one can decipher. Together, they’ll have every opportunity to fail—and one chance to steal something truly precious…

Excerpt from The Arrows of the Heart:

As soon as the sky lightened with the promise of dawn, I dressed and went out.

Better than staring at the empty foreign sky outside the unglazed windows, waiting until it was time to meet the Hawks for training. I’d walk down to the market stalls and get breakfast and hot floral tea, then sit and watch the sea, try to pretend I fit in. That way I could at least be around other people.

Walking out of the little apartment they’d assigned to me in the cliff city of Annfwn, capital of the Tala homeland, I took a deep breath, hoping it looked like I only admired the view, instead of needing a moment to steady myself. It was a spectacular one, to be sure. Only a broad path separated my front door from a stone balustrade and then a sheer drop to the beach below. The gentle, tropically warm sea lay in shadow still, with the sun yet to break over the mountain behind me. Farther out, though, the sun’s rays hit the water, turning it an astonishing shade of aqua.

If I had to be stranded in a foreign land, forever exiled from my family and the future that had once shone so bright, at least I’d ended up in a pretty place. Until they kicked me out for being at best useless and at worst an enemy.

For the moment, however, I had coin—actual money, for the first time in my life—and I could buy some food to assuage my empty belly. One aching hole in myself that could be easily filled.

Resolutely straightening my spine—after all, I’d been the fourth highest ranked woman in the Dasnarian Empire, until I threw it all away—I turned my feet downhill, walking on the public path down the cliff face to the market level.

I hadn’t gotten more than one level down when I came around a bend and saw the child. Like all Tala, she had long, dark hair, hers in elaborate ringlets. She perched, weeping piteously, and squatting on low wall that bordered the road—with a sheer drop beneath. My heart skipped into a panicked beat. The Tala were casual about such things, but I couldn’t understand how. I wanted to seize her and sweep her off the ledge, then lecture her furiously.

Though I’d be speaking in Common Tongue, which I understood reasonably well now from my friend Jepp’s thorough—and occasionally pointed—tutelage on board the Hákyrling. The warrior woman hadn’t taught me any of the liquid Tala language. The Tala didn’t seem to have rules for me to cite, regardless.

Still, I’d never forgive myself if the child fell and I’d done nothing. Moving swiftly, I put my hands on her shoulders. “Careful,” I said in Common Tongue. Or rather, started to say.

Beneath my touch, the girl vanished, a pretty songbird exploding to wing in her place. I shrieked in reflexive shock, clasping my hands over my mouth. The bird returned to circle my head, then became the little girl again. If she were a Dasnarian child, I’d guess her to be about eight, as I had several nieces that age. The Tala didn’t age the same as normal people, though, so I couldn’t be sure. She stared at me owlishly, eyes a light shade of blue, and she said something in her language.

I held up my palms in ignorance. “I’m sorry, I don’t understand.”

“I speak Common Tongue,” she said, with a better accent than mine. “You scared me.”

You scared me,” I said sternly. “It’s not safe to be…” I trailed off, realizing that a child who could become a bird at a moment’s notice would hardly be vulnerable to a fall. What a fool I was, in this strange place where nothing made sense. “I heard you weeping,” I finished instead. “Are you all right?”

Her smooth face crumpled, tears welling up again and magnifying the pretty blue. “My aunt is dead, and my mother is sad all the time.”

Oh. How terrible. “I’m so sorry,” I said, wanting to cuddle her. I didn’t know the customs for dealing with children here, though.

“Why are you sorry?” She asked, cocking her head, much as the bright-eyed bird would’ve done. “It was the Deyrr sleeper-spies. She was out swimming as a fish and an undead shark ate her.”

I wondered how they knew what happened to the aunt, if she’d been eaten, not that I’d be so rude as to ask. The magically animated corpses that the Tala called sleeper spies didn’t eat, so probably the thing had just chewed her up. Did the Tala revert to human form after death? A daunting thought. I shuddered. “I’m sorry. That sounds very hard.”

“You shouldn’t be sorry. I know you didn’t kill her. And even though you’re Dasnarian, you’re not them.” She said it with such scorn and disgust that she sounded very nearly adult.

I didn’t know what to say. The practitioners of Deyrr came from Dasnaria, but no right-thinking people had anything to do with the cult and their black magic. Still, I felt some responsibility, that such a dark thing had come from my homeland to hers. Not that I could affect anything in this ongoing war. I was only a woman, not a warrior. I was also a refugee and dependent on their tolerance. How to explain that to an eight-year-old girl?

“You seem to know a lot about the war,” I ventured. No girl child in Dasnaria would know so much.

“I have a very good teacher,” she explained. “Zyr teaches us about shapeshifting, and we’ve been practicing how to fight the sleeper spies. I jump on them from above and make them confused by flying around their heads really fast. I can only be a songbird, so I’m not much other use in a fight.” She made a face, clearly disappointed with that.

Privately I thought Zyr shouldn’t be teaching the girls to fight anyway—and who knew the flirtatious, changeable man who plagued me at every turn was a teacher? “That’s more than I can do,” I said.

“Yes, all Dasnarians are mossbacks,” she replied with authority. “Zyr said. But you can shoot a bow really well, he said, too. You’re Karyn and a nice person. You won’t hurt us. I’m Thalia,” she added, almost as an afterthought.

I curtseyed, lowering my gaze. Zyr had talked about me? How…disconcerting. “It’s a privilege to make your acquaintance, Thalia.”

She laughed. “You’re funny.”

It just figured that a Tala child would find good manners laughable.

http://www.jeffekennedy.com/the-arrows-of-the-heart/

About the author and where to find her:

JeffeKennedy2Jeffe Kennedy is an award-winning author whose works include novels, non-fiction, poetry, and short fiction. She has been a Ucross Foundation Fellow, received the Wyoming Arts Council Fellowship for Poetry, and was awarded a Frank Nelson Doubleday Memorial Award.

Her award-winning fantasy romance trilogy The Twelve Kingdoms hit the shelves starting in May 2014. Book 1, The Mark of the Tala, received a starred Library Journal review and was nominated for the RT Book of the Year while the sequel, The Tears of the Rose received a Top Pick Gold and was nominated for the RT Reviewers’ Choice Best Fantasy Romance of 2014. The third book, The Talon of the Hawk, won the RT Reviewers’ Choice Best Fantasy Romance of 2015. Two more books followed in this world, beginning the spin-off series The Uncharted Realms. Book one in that series, The Pages of the Mind, has also been nominated for the RT Reviewer’s Choice Best Fantasy Romance of 2016 and won RWA’s 2017 RITA® Award. The second book, The Edge of the Blade, released December 27, 2016, and is a PRISM finalist, along with The Pages of the Mind. The next in the series, The Shift of the Tide, will be out in August, 2017. A high fantasy trilogy taking place in The Twelve Kingdoms world is forthcoming from Rebel Base books in 2018.

She also introduced a new fantasy romance series, Sorcerous Moons, which includes Lonen’s War, Oria’s Gambit, The Tides of Bàra, and The Forests of Dru. She’s begun releasing a new contemporary erotic romance series, Missed Connections, which started with Last Dance and continues in With a Prince.

In 2019, St. Martins Press will release the first book, The Orchid Throne, in a new fantasy romance series, The Forgotten Empires.

Her other works include a number of fiction series: the fantasy romance novels of A Covenant of Thorns; the contemporary BDSM novellas of the Facets of Passion; an erotic contemporary serial novel, Master of the Opera; and the erotic romance trilogy, Falling Under, which includes Going Under, Under His Touch and Under Contract.

She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with two Maine coon cats, plentiful free-range lizards and a very handsome Doctor of Oriental Medicine.

Jeffe can be found online at her website: JeffeKennedy.com, every Sunday at the popular SFF Seven blog, on Facebook, on Goodreads and pretty much constantly on Twitter @jeffekennedy. She is represented by Sarah Younger of Nancy Yost Literary Agency.

Cover Reveal: Seasons of Sorcery by Jeffe Kennedy, Amanda Bouchet, Grace Draven, and Jennifer Estep

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Coming November 13, 2018:  Amazon | B&N | Kobo

About the author and where to find her:

JeffeKennedy2Jeffe Kennedy is an award-winning author whose works include novels, non-fiction, poetry, and short fiction. She has been a Ucross Foundation Fellow, received the Wyoming Arts Council Fellowship for Poetry, and was awarded a Frank Nelson Doubleday Memorial Award.

Her award-winning fantasy romance trilogy The Twelve Kingdoms hit the shelves starting in May 2014. Book 1, The Mark of the Tala, received a starred Library Journal review and was nominated for the RT Book of the Year while the sequel, The Tears of the Rose received a Top Pick Gold and was nominated for the RT Reviewers’ Choice Best Fantasy Romance of 2014. The third book, The Talon of the Hawk, won the RT Reviewers’ Choice Best Fantasy Romance of 2015. Two more books followed in this world, beginning the spin-off series The Uncharted Realms. Book one in that series, The Pages of the Mind, has also been nominated for the RT Reviewer’s Choice Best Fantasy Romance of 2016 and won RWA’s 2017 RITA® Award. The second book, The Edge of the Blade, released December 27, 2016, and is a PRISM finalist, along with The Pages of the Mind. The next in the series, The Shift of the Tide, will be out in August, 2017. A high fantasy trilogy taking place in The Twelve Kingdoms world is forthcoming from Rebel Base books in 2018.

She also introduced a new fantasy romance series, Sorcerous Moons, which includes Lonen’s War, Oria’s Gambit, The Tides of Bàra, and The Forests of Dru. She’s begun releasing a new contemporary erotic romance series, Missed Connections, which started with Last Dance and continues in With a Prince.

In 2019, St. Martins Press will release the first book, The Orchid Throne, in a new fantasy romance series, The Forgotten Empires.

Her other works include a number of fiction series: the fantasy romance novels of A Covenant of Thorns; the contemporary BDSM novellas of the Facets of Passion; an erotic contemporary serial novel, Master of the Opera; and the erotic romance trilogy, Falling Under, which includes Going Under, Under His Touch and Under Contract.

She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with two Maine coon cats, plentiful free-range lizards and a very handsome Doctor of Oriental Medicine.

Jeffe can be found online at her website: JeffeKennedy.com, every Sunday at the popular SFF Seven blog, on Facebook, on Goodreads and pretty much constantly on Twitter @jeffekennedy. She is represented by Sarah Younger of Nancy Yost Literary Agency.

Spotlight and Sweepstakes: Shine by Chandra Sparks Splond

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Summer can’t come fast enough for seventeen-year-old tomboy Nia Mitchell who is dealing with the fallout of making her most embarrassing mistake ever, all for love. Desperate to put junior year behind her, Nia reluctantly accepts what seems like the opportunity of a lifetime, but is it? As she gets drawn into her new life, Nia fears she’s about to make another huge mistake, this time with the world watching. When her past comes back to haunt her, Nia wonders if it’s possible to turn her biggest mistake into her biggest blessing. Can life teach her that even when you mess up, sometimes the best thing to do is take a deep breath, paste on your biggest smile and find the strength to shine?

Excerpt from Shine:

THE PINGING OF MY PHONE nearly jolted me from my chair as I sat hunched over the computer pretending to watch YouTube videos of this new skating move I wanted to learn. I was hoping it would take my mind off everything that had happened the last few days.

I glanced at the phone and released a breath, glad it wasn’t another text from Fallon Hargrove or one of her funky friends.

“Hey, girl,” I said to my best friend Patrina Mitchum, hitting pause on the computer as I propped up my phone for our video chat.

“Hey,” she said. “What are you doing?” Before I could even respond, she leaned into the screen, peered at me closely then frowned. “Have you been crying?”

“I was watching YouTube,” I said defensively.

“Um-huh,” she said. “Seriously, Nia, what’s going on with you? You’ve been acting weird for almost a week.”

As much as I wanted to tell Trina what was going on, I couldn’t. Even though I didn’t think she would judge me, what I’d done was just too embarrassing.

“I’ve got a lot on my mind,” I said, pushing up my glasses.

“Like what?”

I glanced at my skateboard as my mind raced, trying to think of a reason. “I’m just worried about this job.”

I had been hired to teach skateboarding at Railroad Park—the first black girl to ever land one of the coveted positions.

“You’re still excited about it, right?” she asked. She peered at me again, like she was still trying to figure out what was going.

“Yeah, but—”

“But nothing,” she said. “How many other people do you know who are getting paid to skate?”

I hadn’t thought of it like that, but she was right. I had vowed to become the best female skater Birmingham had ever seen. When I was done, everyone was going to know my name. I laughed at the irony of the thought that everyone might already know my name. I took a deep breath, trying to tell myself things weren’t as bad as I thought as a text notification flashed across my phone, making me jump again.

“You want to take a break?” Trina asked, squinting at me again. “I’m about to head to the mall, and I was calling to see if you wanted to go.”

I frowned, really not in the mood. It would be my luck to run into Fallon or some of her funky-acting friends from school or maybe worse, my boyfriend Brandon Jackson who still hadn’t responded to any of my messages. I was better off just keeping it at the house.

“I promise we won’t be gone long,” Trina begged, looking at me with perfectly made-up puppy dog eyes.

I sighed, knowing she wasn’t going to stop talking until I agreed to go. “Which mall are you going to?” I asked, not that it really mattered.

“Brookwood,” she said.

I twisted my lips. “You know I can’t afford to be up in there. Even their sale stuff is expensive.”

“Nia Yvonne Mitchell,” she said, calling my whole government name like she was somebody’s momma. “What’s wrong with you? You can’t hang with your girl for a few hours while I apply for jobs?”

Trina and I were like peanut butter and grape jelly, although she wouldn’t like the fact that I was using food analogies to describe us. My skin color made me the peanut butter, and Trina’s dark color made her the grape jelly. I was a total tomboy, and she was a girly girl, but we balanced each other. Where you saw one, you saw the other. On the outside, we looked totally different, but our hearts were the same. We were definitely sisters from different misters. I’d heard someone say that once, and for us, it was true.

She had been sick the day of the interviews for Kids and Jobs—a summer work program for youth in the city of Birmingham, Alabama—so she hadn’t been able to land one of the positions. Lucky for her, she could apply for regular jobs since she was seventeen like me. We had both agreed working was better than being home. Not only would we get paychecks, but working had the added benefit of getting us out of the house. If I were home, Momma would have a list of chores ready to greet me every morning when I woke up. I glanced over at the one she had stuck to the mirror before she went to study for finals, making a mental note to make sure everything was done before she got in that evening. Even though technically Momma and I lived with my grandparents since we stayed in an apartment above their garage in West End, Momma insisted we not impose on them, which meant we typically did our own cleaning and sometimes cooking.

“So are you coming?” Trina asked, breaking into my thoughts.

“Yeah,” I said, “but you knew that before you called.” Trina always supported me, and I wanted to be there for her too. “I need to get Momma a gift anyway.”

Momma was graduating from Cumberland School of Law the following week. I still had no clue what to get her, but I was hoping inspiration would strike.

“Cool,” Trina said. “I’ll treat you to lunch, and we can go to Great American Cookies for dessert. If we have time, bring your skateboard, and we can even go to the park.”

“I’m in,” I said, shutting down the computer at the mention of the word park. Maybe Brandon would be there and we could finally talk. “Why didn’t you say that when you first called?”

“Because I like messing with you,” she teased. “I know how much you hate going to the mall.”

“You also know how much I love skating—and food,” I said. “Give me ten minutes.”

Momma had started joking that it was a good thing I loved skating because as much as I liked to eat, I should be as big as a house. Instead, all the food seemed to go to my feet. At five-ten, I towered over Trina and most of the girls at Grover, wore a size ten shoe, and was thinner than a dollar bill as my granddaddy Big G liked to say.

By the time Trina and I made it to the mall, it felt like the temperature had gone up another thirty degrees. The weather in Birmingham had been crazy for the last few months, so since the highs were only in the forties the day before, I had thrown on my favorite red zip-up hoodie over a white t-shirt with Skater in graffiti letters across the front, a pair of ripped-up jeans and my black Converse.

Bad decision.

Sweat had already soaked through my t-shirt on the walk from the underground parking deck to Sky Cosmetics, a new store that had just opened.

While Trina filled out job applications, I roamed the mall for about thirty minutes before I realized I had to pee. On the way to the bathroom, I spotted another new store called Salzburg’s that had little trinkets on display and decided to stop in, thinking maybe I could get one as a graduation gift for Momma.

“Hi,” I said as I walked into the store.

The saleswoman glanced up, but she didn’t say a word, so I thought she hadn’t heard me. I shrugged and headed over to a clearance table.

“May I help you?” the woman asked as I picked up a snow globe, glanced at the price underneath and frowned at the fifty-dollar price tag.

“Just looking,” I said, glancing up at her as I replaced the globe.

She turned up her nose and gazed at me from the tips of my worn sneakers to my glasses and chipped tooth, which had happened a few weeks ago at the skate park. I turned my back to her and rolled my eyes. Another thing I hated about Brookwood was the way some of the people looked at you like they were better than you or something. I picked up a statue and quickly put it down when I realized it was seventy-five dollars.

I knew being in the store was a waste of my time, so I turned toward the exit, only to find the woman still glaring at me as she stood a few feet away.

“May I use your restroom?” I asked, thinking maybe I could get something out of my visit.

“It’s for paying customers only,” she said, crossing her arms and turning up her nose.

I held up the statue. “I’m going to buy this as soon as I come out,” I said, knowing that wasn’t going to happen. The way she was watching me though had me real curious to see how she was going to respond.

She gave this chirpy laugh that matched her bird-looking appearance and sniffed. “We both know you can’t afford anything in here,” she said. “Please leave.”

I just stood there, not sure I had heard her correctly.

“Don’t make me call the cops,” she threatened.

“But I haven’t done anything,” I said.

“You haven’t done anything—yet. You people get on my nerves. I don’t know why you’re allowed in here.”

I stood there in shock for a second, telling myself she really wasn’t serious, but when she headed for the phone, I knew she was, and I hightailed it to the exit. I was not trying to be placed in handcuffs or go viral on the internet.

The thought made me pause for a second when I realized thanks to Brandon and Fallon, I might already be all over social media.

I went to the bathroom near the food court then headed to Books-A-Million, hoping Trina would eventually come in there looking for me since I had left my phone at home and couldn’t text her.

I flipped through the latest People magazine, stopping when I caught a brief glimpse of the finest guy I had ever seen. I just stared, realizing it had to be his eyes that drew me in.

“Hello, Matthew Cook,” I said when I saw the headline that revealed who he was. I guess I had spoken out loud based on the way the woman standing next to me was giving me the side eye.

I skimmed the article, seeing what other information there was about Matthew Cook. There wasn’t much, other than he was eighteen and from a small southern town. I made a mental note to Google him later and to set my DVR for his show King Penn, a modern version of that old show The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. I couldn’t help but gaze at Matthew Cook’s Hershey brown skin, espresso eyes and sexy smile. I couldn’t be sure, but it looked like he might have a dimple.

I tucked the magazine under my arm and flipped through a few more until Trina showed up about twenty minutes later with a Sky Cosmetics bag in her hand.

“Now how did I know you’d be here?” she asked. “I tried texting you.”

I shrugged. “I left my phone at home.” I pulled the magazine from under my arm. “Look at this,” I said, flipping back to the article and pointing at the picture of Matthew Cook.

She glanced at him and nodded, which wasn’t the reaction I was expecting.

“You don’t think he’s fine?” I asked, frowning.

“He’s alright,” she said, shrugging.

I cut my eyes at her. “Are we looking at the same person?” I asked, tapping on the picture.

She shrugged and turned her attention to Allure magazine, so I changed the subject. “How did things go? I thought you were job hunting,” I said, nodding at her bag.

She grinned. “There’s always time to shop. I decided to treat myself since I got a job at Great American Cookies—Sky Cosmetics wasn’t hiring. The cookie company manager said he liked how professional I was. When he saw on my résumé that I went to Grover, he told me he graduated from there a few years ago and interviewed me on the spot.”

“If he graduated from Grover, why is he working at Great American Cookies?” I asked. It was pretty common knowledge that for the most part only the top students got accepted at Grover, and most went on to graduate from really great colleges.

“He’s in grad school at UAB,” she explained.

I nodded and put the magazine back after casting one last glance at Matthew Cook. “Congrats,” I said, turning to give her a hug. “After I get my first check, we’ll have to celebrate. My treat.”

“Sounds good to me,” Trina said, “but I’ve got you until then.”

As we waited in line at Chick-fil-A, I told Trina about my experience at Salzburg’s. She just shook her head. As we placed our orders and she pulled out her wallet. Part of me felt bad for letting her pay, even though I knew she didn’t mind. It was another way we were different. Trina got an allowance, and I didn’t ask Momma for money unless I really needed it. With Momma attending law school and only working part time, things were kind of tight. Momma was an only child and got pregnant with me when she was fifteen. Since my grandparents helped her so much with me while she finished high school and college, Momma tried not to ask them for anything. Now that she was finishing law school, I was hoping things were going to get better for us financially soon—and that I could get my tooth fixed. Momma still had to pass the bar exam after graduation and was planning on taking it in July.

“So did you find anything for your mom?” Trina asked, already knowing the answer since I didn’t have any bags.

I shook my head. I had gotten so caught up in what had happened at Salzburg’s and reading about Matthew Cook that I had forgotten about Momma’s gift. “You want to go to Walmart?” I asked, figuring I could at least get a card.

“Okay,” Trina said. “As soon as you tell me what’s really going on.” She stared at me, and I sighed, knowing she wasn’t going to budge until I told her.

“Brandon texted to wish me a happy birthday last week…”

At the mention of Brandon’s name, Trina frowned. It was no secret that she couldn’t stand him. She didn’t understand why I liked him. For the most part, she kept her thoughts to herself though.

I paused, not sure how to tell her.

“He asked me to send him a picture…”

Her frown deepened. “What kind of picture?”

I hesitated, not believing what I was about to admit. “Of me, with no clothes on.”

“And you did it?” She said the words so loud the women at the table next to us looked over at us curiously. “Sorry.”

My peanut butter–colored cheeks turned as red as my sweatshirt, which I had taken off and tied around my waist.

I took a sip of my lemonade in response.

“Nia,” she said. “You didn’t.”

My eyes filled with tears again as the memory of the last few days came flooding back. “He sent the picture out, and apparently Fallon got it. I’ve been getting all of these crazy texts…”

I shuddered, thinking of some of the things that had been said to me.

“Fallon and her friends cornered me in the bathroom the other day… Let’s just say it wasn’t a nice conversation.”

Trina narrowed her eyes. “Are you okay?” She scanned me as I nodded, and when she was satisfied I hadn’t been harmed physically, she went in. “She gets on my nerves. What is her deal?” she asked, not really wanting an answer.

Fallon, Trina and I had been friends—best friends actually—since sixth grade. We would have sleepovers, and we pretty much did everything together. That all changed freshman year at Grover. Fallon just stopped hanging with us. No explanation or anything. Suddenly whenever Trina and I walked by Fallon and her new friends, I was called the tomboy and Trina was the freak. Last week was the first time Fallon had said anything to me in years, all because of a picture I didn’t even send to her. It just didn’t make any sense.

“So why didn’t you tell me?” Trina asked as we dumped our trash.

“I was embarrassed,” I admitted. “I know you don’t like Brandon—”

“He’s a jerk,” she said. “He doesn’t deserve you.”

“He just has a hard time expressing his feelings,” I explained.

“Why are you defending him?” she asked, frowning.

“I’m not,” I said, but my words sounded weak, even to my own ears.

“Have you talked to him since you sent him the picture?”

“No,” I admitted.

Trina just stared at me.

“What?” I finally snapped.

“I’m sorry you’re going through this,” she said.

I don’t know what I expected her to say, but that wasn’t it. Tears filled my eyes, and she led me over to a private corridor where I finally let the tears flow.

“I don’t know what to do,” I said. “I feel so stupid. He’s been asking me to send the picture for months, and I finally just got tired of him asking. I figured if I sent it, he would be happy and stop bugging me. Now I haven’t heard from him, and Fallon and her friends and who knows who else knows about it. Do you know how embarrassing this is?”

“I’m sorry,” she said again. “What can I do to help?”

“Just have my back,” I said. “I don’t want to, but if things get any worse, I may have to fight.”

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About the author:

Image and video hosting by TinyPicChandra Sparks Splond is a blogger, editor, speaker and award-winning author. Her young adult novel Make It Work was named Alabama’s Great Read 2017, Spin It Like That was chosen as a Popular Paperback for Young Adults by the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA), and The Pledge was a YALSA Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers. Black Pearls Magazine honored Splond as a Legends & Leaders for 2017 for her blog, Book of Splond (formerly known as Magic City Momma).

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Excerpt and Sweepstakes: Quick Fall (Book #2: Tracy Brothers Series) by Michelle Dayton

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QuickFall_500pixJustin Tracy, the perennial life of the party, is used to being teased by his friends about his success with the ladies.  Not that he’ll ever get serious with one.  Why should he?  His life is absolutely perfect the way it is. But at his brother’s bachelor party, a drunken bet about his womanizing skill gets a little out of control. Before he knows it, his friends have invited his new tenant – a woman he’s never even met – to go to his brother’s wedding with him.

Single mom Maddy Trainor has just moved back to Chicago, ready to reclaim her life and conquer the city.  Maddy’s determined to get her new business off the ground and build a happy home for her son, Teddy.   She didn’t expect a gorgeous landlord, but ogling Justin Tracy is definitely a bonus to her new apartment.

Justin intends to apologize to Maddy for the out-of-the-blue wedding invitation and get gone, but his new neighbor turns out to be funny, whip-smart, and sexy as hell.  Why not take her to the wedding for real?  Just as friends, of course.  To Maddy, the wedding – one night of champagne and dancing with a self-admitted Peter Pan – sounds like amazing no-strings fun.  But the sparks that blaze between the two of them can’t be contained to one night.  And two people who think they have life figured out are about to realize they know nothing about love …

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Excerpt from Quick Fall (Book #2: Tracy Brothers Series):

Ding!

                Justin caught her hand and pulled her out of the elevator before the doors even had a chance to fully open. “I’m all the way at the end of the hall.”

He was walking too fast for her sore feet; she tripped in her heels. “Wait. Slow down. My feet. Blisters.”

                He assessed the complicated gold sandals. “How long does it take to get those off?”

                Given the tiny buckle on the ankle strap … with the way her hands were shaking… She sighed. “Two minutes.”

                He grinned, mischief sparking in his eyes. “That’s two minutes too long.” Without another word, he lunged forward and threw her over his shoulder in a fireman’s hold.

                Maddy shrieked. She’d never been picked up literally by a man before. Upside down, she felt both ridiculous and ridiculously feminine. Uncontrolled laugher—her noisy, high-pitched kind—bubbled out of her mouth. She wouldn’t have thought she could move from unspeakable arousal to hysterical laughter in the space of five seconds, but apparently that’s what Justin did to her.

 “Almost there,” he called.

                Another thirty seconds and he carefully set her down. She clung to his shoulders until she stopped quivering. Eyes sparkling, Justin inserted the key card into the lock. “After you.”

“Oh,” she breathed. The room was so pretty. Dark wood furniture, a crisp, white duvet on the bed, and an incredible view of Michigan Avenue.

                “The hotel sent up a bottle of champagne as a thank you,” Justin said. “Can I pour you a glass?”

                “Please.” She’d stopped drinking at the wedding once the dancing had started. Since that was more than three hours ago, she was stone-cold sober now. And since the laughter had subsided and the fact that she was in a hotel room with a man was sinking in, a glass of liquid courage would be very welcome indeed.

                Although … she wasn’t nervous, actually. There was nothing to be nervous about. She was a grown woman whose child was perfectly safe. For once, her legs were shaved and her bikini area was waxed. She was with a no-strings-attached man, but one who was genuinely kind and committed to his family. Someone funny. Someone trustworthy.

Justin handed her a glass of champagne and finished removing his bow tie.

                Someone unbelievably gorgeous. Someone who wanted her badly, if his hungry expression was anything to go by.

She set her champagne glass on the nightstand and slowly turned. “Unzip me?”

Copyright © 2018 Michelle Dayton

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About the author and where to find her:

Michelle_0074There are only three things Michelle Dayton loves more than sexy and suspenseful novels: her family, the city of Chicago, and Mr. Darcy. Michelle dreams of a year of world travel – as long as the trip would include weeks and weeks of beach time. As a bourbon lover and unabashed wine snob, Michelle thinks heaven is discussing a good book over an adult beverage.

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Mini-Review: The Love Letter by Rachel Hauck

Love LetterWith the colonies at war and his country divided, Hamilton Lightfoot must choose sides: Fight for the British Crown or for the Independence of America. But after witnessing the death of his family at the hands of redcoats, he fears he’ll fight for revenge instead of honor. On the verge of a great battle, he pens a letter to Esther, the woman he loves.  Esther Longfellow is in love with Hamilton, but her father is a loyalist, living in upcountry South Carolina and working for a wealthy British lord. When the Revolutionary War comes to her doorstep she is forced to choose between devotion to her father and her love for Hamilton.  Chloe Daschle is the daughter of Hollywood royalty—a great director and an Oscar-winning actress. Yet her career has taken an unexpected turn: She’s the queen of death scenes. Trying to break out, she accepts a supporting role in a revolutionary war film. But she longs for the perfect role and the perfect real-life romance. Does happily ever after only exist in the movies?  After a life-changing tragedy, MIT graduate Jesse Gates decides to leave his life behind and move to LA to try his hand at acting and screenwriting. When he finds a page from one of his ancestor’s letters, he becomes consumed with the love he finds there. Determined to help his grandfather find happiness at the end of his life, Jesse writes and sells a screenplay based on the events surrounding the lost love of previous generations.  When Jesse meets the woman he has cast to play Esther Longfellow—his grandfather’s one true love—the stories of all four collide across time and space. The love letter from the past might have more power to affect the future than any of them could have imagined.

Review. Text on the string. Conceptual 3d image

Source: Netgalley          My Rating: 4½/5 stars

The Bottom Line:  While I generally love a book where the past meets the present, I had a hard time with that concept in this book.  What I found difficult to deal with is the fact that Esther and Hamilton’s story is so compelling it can easily stand on its own as a proper historical fiction.  While I liked, Chloe and Jesse well enough, I don’t feel like their contemporary journey added at all to the overall read. I often found myself rushing through the Chloe and Jesse chapters, so I could get back to the Esther and Hamilton chapters.  Between the Revolutionary War setting, the emotional conflict, and the inevitable parting of ways, I found Esther and Hamilton to be absolutely fascinating.  What’s more, the ending!!  I am a huge fan of a good epilogue and the last several chapters really served as a wonderfully extended epilogue.  Finding out the fate of Esther of Hamilton, how their lives unfolded was so very, very satisfying.  As always, Hauck’s writing style is smooth and easy, punctuated with dialogue that is pointed, precise, and interesting.  Hauck’s characters (in this case only Esther and Hamilton!) are so big, they overtake every other aspect of the read, and that is one of my favorite things about reading.  Without doubt, Rachel Hauck is stuck with me as I am quickly becoming addicted to her brand of historical fiction.

P.S.  I also got the audiobook from my local library and found it to be a disservice to the story.  At the halfway point, I gave up on the audiobook and went back to the physical read which was significantly better!

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Review: One Wedding, Two Brides (Book #1: Fairy Tale Bride Series) by Heidi Betts

2 BridesJilted bride Monica Blair can’t believe it when she wakes up next to a blue-eyed, smooth-talking cowboy in the middle of nowhere and with a ring on her finger. It had sounded like a great plan at the time. Get married, get revenge, and get her money back. So why is she cleaning out stables and trying to keep her hands off the hot cowboy helping her?

Ryder Nash would have bet his best Stetson that you’d never see him walk down the aisle. But when the city girl with pink-streaked hair and a frog tattoo hatches a plan to expose the conman who married his sister, no idea is too crazy. And even though Monica might be the worst rancher’s wife he’s ever seen, he can’t stop thinking about the wedding night they never had.

What was supposed to be a temporary marriage for revenge is starting to feel a little too real…

Review. Text on the string. Conceptual 3d image

Source: Netgalley          My Rating: 3/5 stars

Monica Blair is having none of her shady ex-fiancé getting a happily ever after!  After all her planning, buying, arranging, and being totally stoked about her future with her fiancé, Monica is ready for a little retribution.  For Monica Blair, a generally spirited yet not crazy photographer, her form of retribution is to have her own happily ever after, RIGHT NOW!

With a bit too much alcohol, one smoking hot wedding dress, and a half-cocked plan, Monica shows up at her ex’s wedding reception and makes a complete and utter fool of herself.  To be sure, Monica’s show was quite the sight, but all it earns her is a trip out of the reception hall over the shoulder of seriously hot cowboy.  It is during that moment, while trying not to puke when the rest of her crazy plan make its presences known.  Why not marry the hot cowboy and make her ex crazy jealous?

Ryder Nash has 99 problems and a crazy, drunk woman is absolutely one of them!  What’s more, the crazy lady has an insane plan to get married, make her ex crazy, and pay Nash a ton of money for his involvement.  With a financially failing ranch, too many overdue notices to count, and a dream that is fading faster by the day, Nash sees the crazy lady’s plan as relatively insane and hard to explain to his family and friends, but an opportunity to save his ranch and all the animals he cares for.  Sometimes, a little bit of crazy is exactly what a cowboy needs in his life.

Once the alcohol and the intensity of the moment has passed, both Monica and Nash wake up to the reality of their shared situation.  Once she’s sober, Monica drops a bombshell on Nash: not only doesn’t she have the money she promised him, but the money has been stolen by her devious ex, the same guy now married to Nash’s sister.  Between the two of them, yet another crazy plan is hatched to retrieve Monica’s money, expose her ex for the rat bastard he is, and then part ways.  As far as plans go, it isn’t the craziest of the TWO they’ve had, but it does come with risks.  With nothing more to do than see the crazy through to the very end, Monica and Nash pack their bags and prepare to crash a honeymoon!

The Bottom Line: One Wedding, Two Brides is a cute, light read that kept me engaged, but didn’t overwhelm me with the awesome.  This is one of those books where you just accept the wild, the crazy, the totally implausible IS the premise and go with it or DNF it.  I chose to go with it, in large part because I liked Monica and Nash and the interactions between them.  Clearly, their situation isn’t normal, but they muddle through it with a great deal of stubbornness, sarcasm, wit, and humor.  In essence, this book is the epitome of fake it until you make it and that is exactly what Nash and Monica do.  While I can’t say this is an amazing read, it is a cute, mostly satisfying read that will appeal to a great number of romance readers.  I wouldn’t move this one up to the top of your TBR, but I would keep it on the list and save it for a rainy day.

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Excerpt and Sweepstakes: Tunes (Book #2: Beekman Hills Series) by KC Enders

Tunes_Badge

coverWhat’s more cliché than falling for a guy in a band?

A no-strings fling is all it was meant to be for Gracyn George. Sun, sand, sex, and then move on. That was before he strummed his way into her life. Each note leaving a tingle in her spine, their lasting melodies burned into her memory.

What’s more cliché than pining for the one who got away?

Gavin Keller has sacrificed far too much to chase after the girl who snuck out in the middle of the night and left him wondering, What if …

No matter how high his star rises or how many sold-out shows he plays, he ends each concert scanning the audience for her.

What was supposed to be temporary becomes a longing neither is willing to let go. After months of trying to move on, can they sync the tunes in their hearts?

Excerpt from Tunes (Book #2: Beekman Hills Series):

Gavin

Gracyn’s gone. She fucking left me in the middle of the night, buck-ass naked and in her bed.

I waited more than an hour for her to come back from wherever she’d scampered off to, almost certain that she’d just gone out to grab us some breakfast. Took a shower and threw on my clothes from last night. Well, my board shorts because my favorite fucking shirt was gone, too.

No Gracyn.

No note.

No shirt.

Nothing.

The sun blazes down on my bare shoulders as I walk back to my shitty motel. It’s petty and stupid, but I’m too pissed off to put on a different T-shirt. It’s the principle.

My fist connects with Ian’s door with three solid thumps. The last thing I want to do is walk in on him getting ass when my chick had taken her fill and bailed on me. No fucking way I feel like dealing with his shit over this. I don’t want to hear it.

“Dude, you good?” I call as I hit the door again.

“S’open,” Nate yells. “Hey, didn’t think we’d see you today. She leaves tomorrow, right? That chick you’ve been hanging with all week,” he asks, looking away from the movie he’s watching, head propped up against the headboard of his bed.

“Fuck, man. Forgot we swapped rooms. I’ll—”

Ian looks up from his laptop and leans back, the colorful tats shifting as he folds his arms across his chest. “Jesus, what did she do? Steal your clothes and skip town?” The disgusted look on his face probably mirrors my own.

The door closes behind me as I cross the room and sit my ass down on the edge of the empty bed. I dig through Ian’s pack for a T-shirt. I pull on the first one I find, not caring if it’s clean, and flop back, staring at the water stains blooming across the ceiling by the bathroom. Hopefully, it’s the shower leaking in the room above us and not the shitter.

What the fuck happened? Why did she leave like that?

“Gavin? Seriously, man, what happened?” Nate’s sitting on the edge of his bed, features twisted in concern.

“I don’t know. I woke up, and she was gone.”

“Gone? Or out for a minute?”

“Gone. Left. Bags packed, including my fucking shirt. Just gone.” No matter how many times I go over it in my mind, it doesn’t congeal into anything that makes sense.

“Shit, man. That sucks balls,” Ian mumbles as he goes back to tapping at his keyboard. “What’re you gonna do? You text her yet?”

If only.

I run my hands through my hair, gathering it in my fists, and blow out a frustrated breath. “I don’t have her number.”

“Wait, what? You spent all fucking week with her. How do you not have her number?”

I roll my head to the side, so he can see just how fucking miserable I am. “I spent all fucking week with her. I didn’t really need it … until now.” Jesus, this is the worst. “What time are we playing tonight?”

“Ten, down on the beach. So … nothing? You got nothing? No way to find her?” Nate asks.

“Fuck. No, not really. Just a general idea of where she goes to school, and … no, I don’t even have a last name. I mean, I’m sure I could try to stalk the shit out of her, but she bolted, man.”

“Yeah … I guess she just wasn’t that into you, man. Fucked the rocker on spring break and went back to her Ivy League boyfriend.” As soon as the words leave his mouth, Ian cringes, gritting his teeth and sucking a breath through them. “Sorry, shit. I didn’t mean …”

“Whatever.” I pull out my phone, hoping there’s a message, but this day is nothing but all kinds of disappointments. I pop my earbuds in and pull up my post-show playlist. I crank some old school ’70s disco to clear my mind. And hopefully drift off to sleep.

Copyright © 2018 KC Enders

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About the author and where to find her:

profilepicKarin is a New York Girl living in a Midwest world. A connoisseur of great words, fine bourbon, and strong coffee, she’s married to the love of her life who is also her best friend. The mother of two grown men, she is proud to say that they can cook, open car doors for the ladies, and clean up after themselves (you’re welcome, world). Even though her boys no longer live at home, the three dogs she’s rescued have taken up their empty space.

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