Excerpt: Make Him Howl (Book #3: Shift Series) by Zoe Ashwood

Title: Make Him Howl
Series: Shift Book #3
Author: Zoe Ashwood
Genre: Shapeshifter Romance
Release Date: April 4, 2019
Cover Design: Natasha Snow Designs
Funny how a wolf can survive after losing half his soul. Twice.
Gabriel is living in a nightmare. His sloppy mistake allowed rogue shifters to kidnap Parker, his best friend and partner. Unwilling to rest and plagued with memories of his twin brother who’d died in his arms, he pushes himself to the limits of endurance in his hunt to retrieve Parker.
Until the day she saves herself.
Parker thought that being secretly in love with her partner was the low point of her career. She was wrong. Forced to compete in shapeshifter cage fights, she commits an unspeakable act she can never undo. With her mind and body too bruised to resume her former job, she’s fighting to keep sane. Keeping away from overprotective Gabriel is even harder.
But their enemies are closing in, hurting shifters and humans alike. With so much to lose, their only solution will be to fight together, even if this brings up truths they’re not ready to face.

Excerpt from Make Him Howl:

Chapter One: Gabriel
A cold January wind whipped a gust of snowflakes around the corner of the rusty barn. Gabriel gripped his gun tighter and jerked his chin at Lucas Thibault, the universal signal for ‘I’ve got you covered.’ The young soldier raised his weapon and stepped around the pile of corrugated iron, scanning the dark yard for potential Guard activity.
This was the fourth location they’d raided that week. Their fourth attempt to find Gabriel’s missing partner. Their fourth failure. Parker Bourne had been missing for two weeks, and Gabriel was starting to lose hope that they’d find her in one piece. Or that they’d find her at all.
The thought hollowed his insides, and he barely kept down the bile rising in his throat.
“Clear,” Lucas said under his breath, but Gabriel’s sensitive ears picked up the sound easily, even over the whistling wind.
They approached the door but didn’t enter, waiting for Kai’s signal. The general had two more teams doing a perimeter search, so not one Guard member would escape this raid. They needed all the information they could get. Letting someone go by mistake was not an option.
“Breach now.” Kai’s voice crackled through the ear pieces.
Gabriel winced at the sound but grabbed the edge of the old sliding doors and shoved them wide while Lucas burst into the barn, ready to put a tranquilizer dart into whomever was hiding inside.
The vast, disused barn was completely abandoned, but the smell of urine, blood, and shifter sweat had Gabriel gagging and breathing through his mouth.
“Holy shit.” Lucas kicked over a wooden crate to check that it was empty. “This place stinks.”
From the other side of the barn, Kai and Nik approached, the general and the former Guard lieutenant an incongruous pair. Their partnership just showed how much this hidden war was affecting everyone’s lives. Enemies became friends became enemies—they’d been betrayed by allies and learned to forgive their opponents.
Though right now, Gabriel wanted to shake Nik, press him for more information. Surely he had at least some idea where Reid Maxwell was taking his cage fighting ring?
“All clear.” Kai’s announcement was followed by a series of groans from the soldiers outside, then both team leaders dispatched sentries to form a perimeter.
Finally, the forensic unit was allowed inside, and with them, Claire Thibault, Nik’s mate and future Councilwoman. And Parker’s best friend. She’d insisted on coming along, hoping that they’d find Parker, or at least some clue of her, though they hadn’t had luck before.
Still, Gabriel had to admire her tenacity. In fact, everyone at SANA was working double time to find clues about Maxwell’s maneuvers. Were they also having trouble sleeping? Did they wake up from nightmares in which Parker was being dragged into Maxwell’s car, limp and unconscious?
No, that was likely only him. Because he’d caused Parker’s abduction and—
“Sir, you should come look at this.” A middle-aged woman, a polecat shifter by her scent, was kneeling in the dirt.
Gabriel was the first to arrive at her side. She was pointing at the ground, where a trap door was visible beneath a layer of dirty sawdust and sand.
“Weapons,” Kai barked, and their team all drew their guns, aiming them at the hatch.
“What do you think is in there?” Lucas murmured. The bear still hadn’t learned to keep his mouth shut in dangerous situations—a fact that bothered Gabriel more than he cared to admit. Parker had always known when silence was called for. As partners, they’d developed a sort of non-verbal language that served them perfectly in cases like this.
But now Kai had put Lucas as Gabriel’s temporary partner, and Gabriel refused to teach the youngster that same code. He wanted Parker back, not some rookie who insisted on bringing homemade snacks to a stakeout.
“It could be a tornado shelter,” offered Nik.
“Or the entrance to a secret prohibition vault,” Lucas countered.
Stifled groans from everyone followed his suggestion. Clearly, raiding three empty warehouses and a barn wasn’t sufficiently exciting for him.
“Enough.” Gabriel holstered his gun and crouched to grip the iron handle. He looked at the general. “Ready?”
They all trained their weapons, and Gabriel pulled.
And saw…a woman. She was lying in a small, coffin-like cubbyhole. She wasn’t moving. His heart stopped, then skittered madly; blonde hair covered her face, her thin shoulders dressed in a black blouse…
“Oh god, is she—” Claire’s voice from above him, strangled, almost a sob.
With a trembling hand, Gabriel brushed the hair from the woman’s face…and his heart sank. Not Parker. This wasn’t Parker. The woman’s cheek was warm under his touch, and when he slipped his fingertips to her throat, her pulse beat steadily.
“She’s just sedated,” he informed his colleagues.
“Get her out of there,” ordered Kai. “Get the medical team here, check her vitals.”
Gabriel looked up at his boss, surprised at the gruff tone of his voice.
“They had to have left just before we got here.” Nik was holding Claire and spoke over the top of her dark head. “For her to still be unconscious.”
“They knew we were coming.” Gabriel had come to the same conclusion. This space, remote and derelict but in Long Island, of all places, was too perfect to be abandoned for no reason. They should have at least found some supplies, maybe a lowly guard or two. Instead, Maxwell had left them with this parting gift.
“Who do you think she is?” Claire, clearly recovered from her shock, peered at the unknown woman being lifted onto a stretcher. “She smells like a shifter.”
“A jackal, I’d say,” replied Kai. “If she doesn’t wake up soon and identify herself, we’ll have to run her prints against the SANA database. In fact…” He motioned at a technician dusting a long old table for prints. “Run her prints anyway. She could be a Guard spy.”
“You think she let herself be tranquilized and stuffed into a box just so she could infiltrate SANA?” Claire’s eyes went wide at the thought.
“You would have done it, wouldn’t you?” Nik countered, but there was no rancor in his voice.
Instead, Gabriel had to look away at the man’s admiring gaze. These two were just perfect for each other.
“There’s something tucked into her back pocket, sir.” One of the medics pulled a small envelope from beneath the woman’s shirt and handed it to Kai.
“Gloves,” barked the general.
A panicked technician rushed over to get him a pair.
Kai slid his army knife under the flap and sliced the envelope open. Gabriel inched closer for a look, so he felt more than saw Kai flinch when he glimpsed the contents.
Gabriel moved without realizing it, snatching the Polaroid photograph from the general’s hands.
Parker was lying in a cage in her fox form, sleeping, her fur dirty and stuck in clumps. A small chunk of her left ear was missing, a folded newspaper propped up next to her.
The pain that punched through Gabriel’s gut was enough to make him drop the photo; he fumbled it, nearly crumpling it in his fist. That’s when he saw the back held a message.
Your friend for Nik. Leave a message at this number. A telephone number was scribbled underneath in blue ink.
Kai took the photo back and read the message aloud.
“Let’s do it,” Nik said, earning himself a punch from Claire. “What?” The former Guard lieutenant looked from Kai to Gabriel and then back at Claire. “You know it’s a good trade. I’d… I’d do anything to bring her back. I know how much she means to you.”
“Let’s do it,” Gabriel agreed.
If there was a way to rescue Parker, and Nik agreed…
“No!” Claire pushed Nik away and strode up to Gabriel.
She was almost a head shorter than him, and he had to remind himself to stand his ground when she yelled at him.
“Do you think that’s what Parker would want?” Claire asked. “To trade someone else for her? We’re not trading Nikolai, and you’re an ass to even suggest it, Gabriel West.”
Gabriel was about to point out that he wasn’t the one who’d come up with the idea, but Kai’s deep voice boomed over them all.
“SANA doesn’t negotiate with terrorists.”
They all turned to look at him.
“Your offer to sacrifice yourself is admirable, Gorski,” he continued. “But you know better than I that Reid Maxwell isn’t to be trusted. If we decided to trade you for Parker, chances are, you’d both end up dead. There’s no saying she’s still—”
“Don’t say it.” Gabriel didn’t recognize his voice. “Don’t you dare say she’s…” Dead. His mind supplied the word even though his lips couldn’t form it.
Claire tentatively touched his arm. “We’re not, Gabe. We’re just as worried about her as you are.”
You’re not. He wanted to shout at her, to push them all away. You can’t know what it’s like to lose your partner, to lose the one person who makes your days bearable.
They didn’t understand. Claire had found Nikolai, and Kai—Kai was some kind of robot who never seemed to need anyone. And Gabriel was stuck with young Lucas Thibault who talked too much, baked homemade bread, and refused to understand that eating smoked salmon in Gabriel’s car was strictly forbidden.
He laughed, a bitter, hollow sound—because the alternative was to cry. And he had no intention of breaking down right there. “What else are we going to do?” he asked. “We have no leads. No more thugs to shake down for information. We’ve exhausted every single scrap of data we got, and we’re still no closer to finding that motherfucker.”
When he got his hands on Reid Maxwell, he was going to rip off the bastard’s tail and shove it down his throat. Then set him on fire.
His body shivered, heralding his shift.
“Gabe, calm down.” Kai might have lowered his voice, but the words bore the unmistakable edge of command. “You know we’re doing everything we possibly can. And while we’re at it, please hand over that photo. Let my crew see if there’s a print on it—apart from yours, of course.”
The gentle rebuke brought him back from the brink of shifting. “Shit. Sorry.” He slipped the Polaroid into a clear baggie that a round-eyed technician held out to him. What was he thinking?
“We’ll try to arrange a meeting via that number,” Kai went on, “try to at least catch any messengers they send to the drop-off point. But I’m worried they might hurt Parker if they see we’re trying to double-cross them.”
“Don’t you think it would be better…”
Gabriel tuned out the chatter when others joined the discussion to determine the best next step. He turned to face the empty barn, sweeping his gaze across the churned-up, dirty floor. What had happened here? Had Parker fought in those cage fights? Was she hurt badly? Half her fucking ear was missing.
Another shiver wracked his body, and he knew he only had moments before the need to shift overwhelmed him. Stripping out of his combat gear, he piled his two guns on top. Then he whistled to get the others’ attention.
“Can someone make sure this gets back to HQ?”
Kai dipped his head ever so slightly, though his lips pressed together in disapproval. But it was Claire who said, “Are you crazy? It’ll take you hours to get home. And how will you get into the city?”
“Subway.” He forced a grin, though his cheek muscles hurt; he probably looked as if he was in pain.
The truth was that human brains glossed over the unexpected. If they saw a wolf trotting down First Avenue, they’d convince themselves it was a large stray dog. And even the city that never sleeps got quieter at four in the morning.
He turned his back on his colleagues, shoved his underwear down, and shifted mid-step. His more sensitive wolf’s nose twitched at the acrid scents hanging in the air, so he raced for the open back door, plunging into the darkness outside. A medic gave a startled gasp, but Gabriel paid her no mind.
All he knew was the frozen ground beneath his paws and the disappointment of having failed, yet again, to retrieve his partner. For a couple of hours at least, he would leave behind the worry and the powerless rage at the Guard and everything they stood for. He howled to the crescent moon, just visible through the thin winter clouds, and surged into the woods.

Zoe Ashwood is a romance writer with a passion for sweet stories with a sexy twist. While she’s always been a reader, Zoe’s writing used to be limited to diary scribbles and bad (really bad) teenage poetry. Then she participated in NaNoWriMo 2015 and never looked back.
Some 400,000 words later, she’s still in love with the art of making up stories—and making her characters fall in love. Trust the Wolf is her debut novel.
When she’s not writing, Zoe works as a literary translator. She’s happily married to her best friend and has two small boys who are as stubborn as they’re cute.
She’s active on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, but her newsletter or Facebook Group are the best way of keeping in touch!
Get Bearly Married, a free prequel novella to the Shift series, for free here: https://zoeashwood.com/newsletter/
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Excerpt: South Point by Dianna Wilkes

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Mystery & Suspense
Date Published: February 6, 2018
Publisher: RedBird Books
 
Paige Carson never expected that both a handsome sheriff and a charismatic newcomer would be vying for her affections. The choice isn’t an easy one, as she’s now responsible for raising her orphaned goddaughter, Jess.
Sheriff Sam Wallace didn’t lose at love. He got kicked to the curb. Hopeful that courting the feisty Paige will end differently, he can’t help but feel suspicious about his romantic rival. Is Ben Hampshire the man he seems—or is Sam’s jealousy clouding his perspective?
Sam’s determined to win Paige’s and Jess’s love, but he also has to keep Providence Island safe. More than just Sam’s heart is at risk if he fails to find the killer who walks the streets of PI—a killer with more than one agenda.

Excerpt from South Pointe:

Sam parked in front of Paige’s home. The drive from the restaurant had been a quiet one. Paige’s attempts to draw Jess into the conversation had resulted in the briefest of responses. As for the attempts he’d made… Well, Jess hadn’t entirely ignored him, but she’d put even less effort into her responses. No doubt she was worn out. The swift change from dynamo to drowsy wasn’t a surprise. Kids seemed to run on an on/off switch.

“I enjoyed our evening,” Paige said, breaking into his thoughts. “Though it wasn’t what you expected for a first date, was it?”

“I never know what to expect when it comes to you, and that’s what makes you so exciting.”

Her eyebrows shot upward. “Exciting, me? Hardly.”

“Why do you think that?”

“I’m just plain Paige.”

He released his seat belt and shifted slightly. A quick glance to the back revealed that Jess had fallen asleep. Even so, he lowered his voice. “You have the face of an angel and a joy for life that doesn’t stop. I haven’t known a dull moment in all the times we’ve spent together. Everything about you makes me want to know more.”

Her lips parted, and those gorgeous brown eyes gazed into his. “Wow.”

Sam chuckled. “Seems I’ve left you speechless.”

Her chin tilted upward, her luscious mouth just inches away. “So, that’s your secret power?”

“No, baby.” Sam cupped the nape of her neck in his palm. “This is.”

His lips touched hers, igniting a spark so unique, it had no comparison in his life.

The winning touchdown at his final high-school game. His first collar as a law-enforcement officer. All the kisses from every woman he’d ever dated. Everything paled beside what should have been a simple good-night kiss. But this kiss meant more than all those experiences combined. This kiss was the next step toward the life he yearned to have.

Paige slid closer, her fingertips touching his face. Her lips parted, accepting his gentle invitation.

He breathed her in, savoring her sigh just before he deepened the kiss. Her fingers slid through his hair to the nape of his neck, and it took every ounce of restraint he possessed not to take things further.

He eased away, ending the kiss sooner than he wanted. A girl next door didn’t neck in the front seat of a truck in a quiet residential neighborhood, especially not with a child in the back seat.

A child showing signs of waking up.

“Are we home?” Jess asked, her voice thick and drowsy.

A small gasp escaped through Paige’s lips, and she twisted her head toward the back of the truck. “Sure are. Ready to get out?”

Sam swallowed his disappointment and reached for the door handle. By the time he rounded the truck, Paige was helping Jess to the ground.

“I’ll get the car seat out while you unlock the door,” he said.

Heading toward the front walk, Jess whirled around. “It’s a booster, not a car seat.”

Sam bit back a laugh. “Excuse me. I’m new to this sort of stuff.”

“Mr. Nick knows the difference.” She whirled around and stomped to the front door.

“Sure put me in my place.” He pushed the car door shut and strolled up the front walk to where Paige waited.

“Sam, I’m sorry. She’s tired—”

“It’s okay.” He set the booster inside the door. “How did Nick get so high on her list this quick?”

“They bonded over dinner last night. Plus, he spent time with her while I talked with Danny about the custody case. To top it all off, he’s engaged to ‘Miss Dana’ and calls her Sprite.”

Sam winced. “Ouch, tough competition.”

She punched his arm. “I’m sure you can win her over.”

A gentle snore sounded from the couch. They both turned to see Jess curled on the cushions.

“Want me to carry her to her room?” He lowered his tone to avoid waking her.

“I can manage.”

Paige walked to the door and rested one hand on the latch. His cue to leave.

“I enjoyed tonight more than I’ve enjoyed anything in a long time.” He paused, hand on the doorframe. “Love to do it again.”

Head tilted, she smiled up at him. “I’d like that too.”

He looked around the room a final time. His gaze lingered a second longer on the sleeping child, then several more on the woman in front of him. “Make sure you lock up behind me.”

She burst out laughing, then tipped him a salute. “Yes, sir, Sheriff, and thank you very much. Never would have thought of that.”

He returned the salute. “Here to serve and protect.” Seeing Jess was beginning to stir, he stepped outside. “What’s up for tomorrow?”

“Painting Jess’s room. I’ll probably stop by the restaurant around noon to check in.” Paige shrugged. “And give the paint fumes time to clear out.”

“I might stop in and say hello. Maybe we could plan something in the evening.”

She glanced over her shoulder. “Let me see how things go. Jess and I both might need an early night.”

“Fair enough.”

One more kiss wouldn’t be out of line. Before he could put that plan into action, Paige made the move. Hands on his shoulders for balance, she lifted onto her toes. With her still several inches short of their lips meeting, Sam lowered his head.

She kept the kiss light and quick, barely more than a peck. Not the kiss he wanted, but one he cherished as a signal that Paige was ready to move forward.

“Night, Paige.”

“Good night, Sam. I had a nice time.”

The door closed behind him. He waited until he heard the lock being turned, then walked to his truck. Seconds later, the front of the house darkened. He sat for a moment, considering Paige’s last words.

Nice. A bland word for what had been the best evening he’d had in a long time. But it wasn’t a condemnation from Paige. “Nice” meant something else to her. She might be the girl next door, but from his point of view, temptation and chaos lived on the other side of that door.

A chuckle broke loose as he started the ignition. Nope, not a thing wrong with nice.

About the author and where to find her:

 photo DiannaWilkes_zpsbnv4sncv.jpgDianna Wilkes is an award-winning contemporary romance author, known for the Providence Island mystery series.  Reading has always been an important part of her life. “I learned to read when I was four years old,” she said. “Writing my own stories seemed a natural progression.”Dianna holds a B.A. in Visual Communication and a M.Ed. in Instructional Technology. She worked as an Education Consultant for a medical technology company before leaving the corporate world to write full time. Despite all that nerdy stuff, she loves creating stories of romance and mystery with touches of humor.When she isn’t writing, Dianna is deep in researching various twigs and branches on her family tree or fulfilling entries on her travel bucket list.

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Release Week Mini-Review: The Ghost Manuscript by Kris Frieswick

42101715Rare book authenticator Carys Jones wanted nothing more than to be left alone to pursue her obsession with ancient manuscripts. But when her biggest client is committed to an asylum, he gives Carys an offer she cannot refuse. In exchange for his entire library of priceless, Dark Age manuscripts, Carys must track the clues hidden in a previously unknown journal, clues that lead to a tomb that could rewrite the history of Western civilization.

But there are people who would do anything to stop Carys from finding what she seeks—for reasons both noble and evil. The hunt takes Carys to places she never thought she’d go, physically and emotionally; first to Wales, her estranged father’s homeland, then to bed with Dafydd, a mysterious Welshman who agrees to help her with the search, and finally, deep inside her own psyche, when the monk who wrote the journal 1,500 years ago appears and assists her in her search.

Review. Text on the string. Conceptual 3d image

Source: NetGalley and Post Hill Press          Rating: 2½/5 stars

The Bottom Line: By the time I finished this book, a book I truly wanted to LOVE, I found myself somewhat angry and feeling as if I just read a book I have already read many times over by other authors.  Make no mistake, I am not suggesting plagiarism or any nefarious issue, just a rehashing of a story line and theme that has already been done.  At its core, this is the story of the hunt for King Arthur via clues, hints, history, and sleuthing.  There is the requisite bad guy pulling all the strings in the background, the sexy intelligent hunter (Carys), the ultra-rich benefactor, the sexy male companion, and the expected pitfalls and dangers that come along with such searches.  As if to reinforce my own feelings about the book, several characters throughout the read openly scoff and note how cliché the search for the legendary King Arthur is at this stage in history.  While I was in no way impressed with the plot line, I didn’t dislike everything about this book.  In fact, I liked Carys and her best friend, Annie quite a lot and would love to see those two feisty women in a very different story and/or setting.  Additionally, there is nothing to complain about in terms of the technical aspects of this read.  The author is clearly a competent and capable writer, she just needs a more original story to allow her skills to shine through and not dull her abilities and craft.

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Spotlight: Stumbling Into Forever (Stumbling Through Life Series) by Molly O’Hare

Title: Stumbling Into Forever
Series: Stumbling Through Life Series
Author: Molly O’Hare
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Release Date: March 25, 2019
Continue Holly and Ben’s story in Stumbling Into Forever
Life would be boring without some chaos thrown in, right? Surprisingly enough, that was Holly and Lord Waffles’ specialty.
What kind of trouble will they get into next?

 
Much like any author out there, sleeping does not come easy to Molly. As it turns out, she has horrible insomnia . When she was younger, to help herself fall asleep she would recite stories. Each night she’d pick up where the story left off previously until the tale was complete. One morning, after she finished a particularly fun adventure, she decided she wanted to start sharing them with others. A few months later, here she is, sharing her lack of sleep with all of you. Who says the stories in our heads can’t be fun for others?
Also, she loves Fun Facts. New ones are at the end of each of her book. If you look close enough, some are hidden on her website too.
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Excerpt: King of Shadows (Book #2: The Masks of Under Series) by Kathryn Ann Kingsley

Title: King of Shadows
Series: The Masks of Under #2
Author: Kathryn Ann Kingsley
Genre: Adult Dark Fantasy Romance
Release Date: March 26, 2019
Publisher: Limitless Publishing
I tried to run. I tried to escape. I failed.
When I was dragged from Earth to Under, my life as I knew it ended. Everyone else who was brought here with me has found their place in this world of myths and monsters. They are all now a part of the fabric of a strange universe. Everyone, except me.
The ceremony that turned everyone else into supernatural creatures left me as a human. More importantly, it left me mortal. This has never happened before. Because of that, they think I’m a threat. Edu, the King of Flames, threatened to kill me. So, I did the only logical thing—I tried to run.
But a second king has woken from his slumber. Aon, the King of Shadows, the demon amongst monsters, has risen. And he’s come for me. They call him a warlock and a madman. And now I’m a “guest” in his home, and I am afraid to learn if they’re right. I don’t know what his plans for me are…but I think I’m about to find out.
Edu still wants me dead. Aon is a dangerous mystery. I must try and survive, but this world called Under seems to have other plans.

Excerpt from King of Shadows (Book #2: The Masks of Under Series):

Chapter One
“Hello, my dear.”
Aon.
“How wonderful to finally meet you, Lydia.”
Aon looked like a nightmare come to life. His suit made him look all at once as though he didn’t belong against the twisted and warped woods, and yet like there was nowhere he should rather be.
Lydia tried not to cry. Tried not to scream or turn and run the other direction. She wanted to do all those things. Her bleeding knee felt like it was on fire, and the rest of her wasn’t in much better condition. Running would be pointless.
Aon stood before her, twenty feet away, the moonlight reflecting off his featureless black metal mask. He had not moved and seemed content to let her decide what she wanted to do.
Lydia could try to turn and run. She could cry or scream. She could fall to her knees and beg. None of them felt right, so everything locked up. There was nothing she could do to stop whatever Aon wanted to do to her. She had nothing. No hope, no power, no knowledge she could bargain with. There was one thing she could cling to in desperation.
Defiance was all she had left.
So Lydia raised her head, straightened her shoulders, and did her best to look brave. Not because she felt brave, but because there wasn’t anything else left to do.
Aon chuckled, a sound that carried easily in the silence of the forest. He began to walk toward her, and although she wavered, she didn’t back away. He closed the distance in slow, long, easy strides, seemingly in no hurry. One of his hands moved to tuck across his lower back, adding to his dramatism as he approached. He was giving her the chance to balk and run from him. He was seeing her bet and raising it, pointedly challenging her resolve.
Good god, he was terrifying. Far more so now that he was real and not a ghost in Lydia’s dreams. Lydia knew her imagination was probably falling short of what that man was likely about to do to her.
When Aon finally got within arm’s reach, he extended his gauntleted hand to touch her face, the sharp claws glinting in the moonlight. Lydia flinched away from his touch, but by some miracle, she managed to stand her ground. Aon let out a small hmm in his throat. He curled his fingers in toward his palm and brushed the backs of the metal fingers down her cheek.
In the absence of adrenaline, she was shaking in the cold truth of her failure and the chill night air. The touch of metal on her cheek didn’t help matters. Aon was pushing her, calling her bluff once more.
Lydia ran through her options again. Sink to her knees and cry. Turn and run. Plead for mercy. Bargain with him for her freedom. Try to fight him. Faint was now solidly high up on that list.
Each one, Lydia scratched off in order again. Not her style, wouldn’t make it ten feet, pointless, pointless, hilariously pointless, and maybe, in that order. With no other option but accepting her fate, she resigned herself to whatever Aon was going to do and let him run his metal-clad fingers down her cheek without any further fuss from her.
“Tell me, what was it I have just witnessed play out upon these lovely features of yours?” Aon said, his voice low and soft but no less dangerous than before. When Lydia sought him with a questioning, confused glance, he tilted his head back. When he spoke again, his voice was a rumble that made her stomach twist. “Indulge me…”
Lydia stammered twice before getting a word out edgewise, but Aon seemed content to wait. She stopped, took a breath, and tried again. “Crying won’t help. Begging won’t work. I can’t run, and struggling will do more harm than good. I…I’ve lost. The only thing left to do is die with pride,” she admitted, and only fear kept her from just shutting her eyes and accepting her fate.
“Mmh, beautiful.” Aon stepped in closer, and Lydia went rigid. The talons of his gauntleted hand stroked through her hair slowly, brushing her blonde waves away from her face and tucking the strands behind her ear. She pulled in a breath and held it. Even if he wasn’t hurting her now, she had already seen firsthand how abrupt his moods could be. “Then you are no fool, my clever child, to see the truth so easily. Good. That will make this far more interesting.”
“If you’re going to kill me, please do it already,” Lydia said quietly, her voice shaking. That was all she could ask of him. Just please, don’t let it linger.
Metal fingers curled under her chin and broke her gaze from where she had fixated on his black-on-black striped tie. “Oh, my dear. Kill you? Why ever would I do that?” He sounded legitimately surprised.
Was he kidding? “I mean, last time…you…”
“Ah. Yes.” He shifted his weight from one foot to the other, his masked face turning away for a moment as if in thought. “I think perhaps I have given you the wrong impression. What I did was merely to teach you a lesson. Hopefully, I will not have cause to demonstrate another.”
Aon turned his face back toward her as he pressed the point of the thumb of his clawed hand against the line of her lower lip. He stepped in closer, just a few inches away. “No, beautiful darling, you are the first unusual thing to happen in this forsaken world in a long, long time. I have no desire to kill you. Far from it.”
Lydia’s world suddenly felt unsteady. The ground tipped and swerved. Her hands grasped Aon’s arms in a desperate attempt to hold herself upright. He let out a curious hmm at her movement, and then realizing she was about to fall, wrapped his arm around her waist, pressing her to him. “Well, now, all you had to do was ask,” he teased.
“I…uh. I don’t feel so good.” Lydia’s world was spinning. She must have hit her head when she fell from the horse, and her fear and adrenaline had only lasted so long. Fainting was now solidly at the top of her options.
“My poor little thing,” he murmured. “It is quite all right. You are injured. Do not fight it. I will take care of you.”
“Edu’s going to kill me,” she mumbled, barely able to get the words out. Her head was reeling, and she felt the soft fabric of his suit against her as he pulled her closer.
“Oh?” The smell of books was there again, like an old library.
“To keep me away,” the world spun dangerously, “from you, Edu…” Lydia couldn’t hold on to consciousness anymore. Her grip on it was slipping, just as her hands were falling from clinging onto his coat to stay standing.
His metal-clad face was close to her ear, and she heard his words—quiet, dangerous, and a threat even as it was meant to be comforting. “He will not harm you. With me, you will be safe. I promise.”
***
Edu’s drake landed with a hard thud on the dirt road. The bolt of lightning had been not a terribly subtle way to announce where he might find the girl. He arrived in time to watch her head roll to the side as she collapsed against a figure in black that he knew quite well.
Aon leaned down and scooped up her legs with one arm and held her behind the shoulders in the other, carrying her like he might a bride. The thought that the man would seek to instantly claim such possession of his prisoner was beyond infuriating. Instantly, Edu wished nothing more than to pound Aon’s face into the packed ground.
“Ah. Hello, Edu. I was wondering when you might arrive,” Aon said idly, as if what had transpired was no matter at all. “Wonderful evening, don’t you think?” He was clearly goading Edu, taunting him by belittling what was happening.
Edu dismounted his drake and stormed toward the other man, his fists clenched.
“Oh, pull the reins, you great buffoon. You are king no longer. I see you have forgotten!” Aon’s voice raised from casual and idle annoyance to sharp anger with no warning.
Edu shook his head, pointed at the girl, then crooked his finger back at himself.
“Give her to you? Are you mad? You would murder this poor thing to spite me, no less. When have you become so callous? The years have been cold to you. Weren’t you always the sympathetic, forgiving one? To cradle a butterfly in your hands, for fear it might die without your care? She must terrify you greatly to end her life without due cause.” Aon shook his head and tsked. “For shame.”
Edu growled angrily, but the warlock paid him no heed.
Aon cast a glance down at the girl whose head was tucked into his chest, resting against the black fabric of his suit. Blonde hair trailed around her face in stark contrast to the tones of the man’s clothing. “I must see to it that Lydia is attended. She is injured, and as she has been cast away from the ancients,” Aon said, obviously enjoying digging the seriousness of her rejection from the pool into Edu like a knife to the ribs, “she is fragile.”
With that, the warlock disappeared. Merely blinked out of existence as if he had never been there at all. He took Lydia with him without even a swirl of power or a crack of thunder left in his wake.
Edu let out a wordless howl of anger and slammed his fist deep into a tree next to him in his impotent rage, splintering the bark. In the hollow emptiness left behind by his temper, he lowered his head and admitted his folly to himself in the silence of the woods. He should have killed the girl when he had his chance.
Now, it may be too late for them all.

Kat has always been a storyteller. With ten years in script-writing for performances on both the stage and for tourism, she has always been writing in one form or another. When she isn’t penning down fiction, she works as Creative Director for a company that designs and builds large-scale interactive adventure games. There, she is the lead concept designer, handling everything from game and set design, to audio and lighting, to illustration and script writing. Also on her list of skills are artistic direction, scenic painting and props, special effects, and electronics. A graduate of Boston University with a BFA in Theatre Design, she has a passion for unique, creative, and unconventional experiences. In her spare time, she builds animatronics and takes trapeze classes.
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Release Day Review: The Library of Lost and Found by Phaedra Patrick

Tuesday, March 26th

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Librarian Martha Storm has always found it easier to connect with books than people–though not for lack of trying. She keeps careful lists of how to help others in her superhero-themed notebook. And yet, sometimes it feels like she’s invisible. All of that changes when a book of fairy tales arrives on her doorstep. Inside, Martha finds a dedication written to her by her best friend–her grandmother Zelda–who died under mysterious circumstances years earlier. When Martha discovers a clue within the book that her grandmother may still be alive, she becomes determined to discover the truth. As she delves deeper into Zelda’s past, she unwittingly reveals a family secret that will change her life forever. Filled with Phaedra Patrick’s signature charm and vivid characters, The Library of Lost and Found is a heartwarming and poignant tale of how one woman must take control of her destiny to write her own happy ending.

Review. Text on the string. Conceptual 3d image

Source: NetGalley and Park Row          Rating: 4/5 stars

Martha Storm’s life isn’t exciting nor is it all enviable.  In fact, most of the people in Martha’s life do one of two things, use her or pity her; worst of all are those who both use and pity Martha.  While some of the circumstances of Martha’s life are not of her own making or choosing, she has left other circumstances get out of hand which has led her to a most unhappy and unenviable place. 

As a child, Martha was keenly aware of her ultra-controlling feelings towards her and they were, at best, tolerant.  Martha was also keenly aware of her mother’s absolute inability to stand up to her father, think, and/or live for herself.  Finally, Martha was keenly aware that the only member of her family who truly appreciated, loved, and encouraged her was her beloved grandmother, Zelda.  Unlike everyone else in her life, Zelda fosters Martha’s creativity, she supports her imagination, and encourages her general zest for life.  Right up until Zelda suddenly dies, Martha is certain she will make it through her childhood and her life.

From the moment Zelda exited Martha’s life, nothing seems to go to plan.  Though Martha works towards her goals, there always seems to be an impediment.  For example, just as her love life appeared settled and set, Martha’s parents took a turn for the worse and her mother begged Martha to care for them . . . . 10 long years later, Martha has essentially given up on every dream and goal she ever felt dear.  She has no love life, her parents are gone, her job at the library, though she loves it isn’t going anywhere, and she has a serious need to please others at her own expense.

And then, one day, a book from her childhood comes back into her life and changes absolutely everything in Martha’s life.

From the moment Martha discovers the book her life takes a path she never could have conceived of.  In the process, Martha doesn’t just discover the truth of her past, but also of her present and her future.  Martha begins her adventure by learning to stand up for herself, asserting herself, and slowly but surely discovering she indeed matters and what she wants and needs from her life is just as important as what everyone else wants and needs from their own lives.  The discoveries Martha makes on her journey are often painful, but once she is able to see beyond the pain, she is able to see her life from an entirely new perspective and in a far more positive light.

The Bottom Line: I can’t say I loved this book, but I think, based on the Goodreads rating, I enjoyed it far more than most.  In large part, I enjoyed the total transformation Martha Storm goes through; in fact, this is one of the best character evolution books I’ve read in quite some time.  In the beginning, Martha is a thoroughly disagreeable character and then that book comes into her possession and the switch flips!  Martha taking control of her life, overcoming her insecurities, and finding the person she had so much promise of becoming as a child is truly entertaining.  The cherry on top of the character evolution had to be the change in the others around Martha following her own transformation.  The moment Martha begins to respect herself the pity and the using stop and that is a beautiful thing.  Though I think this book may be a bit of a rough read for some, I found it to be totally worth the time and effort especially if you are particularly interested in total character transformation.

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Spotlight: Under the Lies by Sarah E. Green

Six years.  That’s how long I was able to stay away.  To ignore the call back home.  I could’ve stayed away longer. Could’ve stayed away forever, but I came back for someone who’s now gone.  Leaving me alone.  I thought it’d be safe. That I’d be okay back in a city that’s always felt more like my prison, but then he took notice.  Noah Kincaid.  My tormentor, my first crush. My devil.  And he’s not only after me. Something was taken from him. Something he requires my help with to get back. Six years ago, I left this city unscathed by the man who ruled my teenage angst. Now? I don’t think I’ll be as lucky.

Sarah E. Green is a Florida girl through and through; she thrives in warm weather and hides from the cold. When she’s not writing at a cute café, you can either find her on the beach, marathoning tv shows, reading, or drinking all the wines and hard ciders with some of her favorite people. She’s a lover of history, mythology, and fluent in sarcasm. She’s a romantic at heart and is always thinking about what HEA to write next.
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