Review: Risky Biscuits (Book #2: A Sugar & Spice Mystery Series) by Mary Lee Ashford

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Sugar and Spice Cookbooks’ newest project is a fundraiser organized by the St. Ignatius Crack of Dawn Breakfast Club, famous for their all-you-can-eat biscuits and gravy events. But when a group member is found dead, Sugar and Spice’s priorities change from raising dough to figuring out who put murder on the menu. 

The return of former badboy Nick Marchant has stirred the town’s gossips too. Add a few grudges and some old-fashioned greed over a land deal into the mix, and it’s a recipe for mayhem. And when someone serves up a second helping of murder, Sugar and Spice need to sift the guilty from the blameless, or their next breakfast may be their last . . .

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Source: NetGalley and Lyrical Underground          Rating: 4½/5 stars

The girls are back with a new project, the prospect of several future projects, and another dead body or two 😊

Following the success of their first cookbook and crime solving foray, Sugar and Dixie are back in business with a small but significant project.  The morning breakfast group at the senior center is intent on refurbishing one of the building in the park and to raise funds, they intend to sell a cookbook full of nothing but yummy breakfast foods.  Trouble is, just as the project is getting off the ground, the senior charge is found dead, run over by her own car. 

With only one case behind them, Sugar and Dixie have no intention of becoming involved in this newest St. Ignatius crime.  Unfortunately, because of their involvement with the cookbook, they’re smack dab in the middle of the mess.  If the cookbook is going to move forward and be completed, Sugar and Dixie are going to have to do some poking and prodding.  Poking and prodding usually means discomfort, especially for the person responsible for the crime. 

Poking around into this new murder has Dixie and Sugar digging up secrets at least two local families would much rather stay buried!  From an illegitimate birth to a set of twins with clear and present issues, the murder of one little lady has stirred up a hornet’s nest of trouble.  With each new revelation, Dixie and Sugar discover some people/families will go to any lengths necessary to preserve the status quo.  To Dixie and Sugar’s dismay they dig deep enough, accidentally discover just enough, and ask just enough questions to trigger a second death.  With a load of guilt and great sense of responsibility, the ladies work harder than ever to uncover the truth behind all the awful. 

The Bottom Line:  In case y’all didn’t know, I LOVE breakfast foods which makes this the perfect book for me 😊 Dixie and Sugar are a bit more experienced with the crime solving and because they were involved by default have a vested interest in solving the crime.  What I liked most about this installment of the series, beyond the food, of course, is the subtle little ways the author is setting up story lines for future installments of the series.  For example, Sugar is interviewing with another group for a future cookbook project, Max the photographer is more committed than ever to staying in town, Sugar’s neighbor is pesky as ever and not going anywhere, and Dixie’s love life is slowly making a comeback following the death of her husband.  All of these bits and pieces play out as the girls work on their current project and solve yet another crime.  All is blended together seamlessly to create yet another totally yummy cozy mystery.

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Review: Game of Scones (Book #1: A Sugar & Spice Mystery Series) by Mary Lee Ashford

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After losing her job as food editor at a glossy magazine, Rosetta Sugarbaker Calloway—aka “Sugar” to friends—isn’t sweet on accepting defeat and crawling back to her gossipy southern hometown. So when she has an opportunity to launch a community cookbook business with blue-ribbon baker Dixie Spicer in peaceful St. Ignatius, Iowa, she jumps at the chance to start over from scratch . . .   

But as Sugar assembles recipes for the local centennial celebration, it’s not long before she’s up to her oven mitts in explosive threats, too-hot-to-handle scandals, and a dead body belonging to the moody matriarch of the town’s first family. With suspicions running wild, Sugar and Spice must solve the murder before someone innocent takes the heat—and the real culprit gathers enough ingredients to strike again . . .

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Source: Purchase          Rating: 4/5 stars

Though Sugar Calloway never expected to be starting over at her age, she is doing just that and loving her new life in small town Iowa.  St. Ignatius is a wonderfully tight-knit community with loads of charm and personality.  With her best-friend, Dixie Spicer, Sugar has launched a small publishing house focused on cookbooks, community and otherwise.  With a large project already in the works, Sugar and Dixie are hoping for a smooth, successful project for their first time out of the gate.

And the universe laughs . . . . .

With the enormous good in small towns also come the bad in small towns: nosy neighbors, long-standing rivalries, and contrary personalities.  Every one of those personality types seem to be involved in Sugar and Dixie’s project and the latest explosion involves two ladies with a decades-long and well-known hatred of one another and their respective scone recipes.  The cookbook only has room for one and each of the ladies is certain her recipe is the one that needs to be included if the cookbook is to be at all successful.  Though everyone involved with the project is certain this argument is just the latest in the ladies’ very long feud and will blow over in no time, the group, as it turns out, is wrong, dead wrong.  Within days, one of the ladies is found dead and the other is to blame.  Poison by scone is no way to go and the murder weapon seems to point clearly to one culprit, Dixie’s beloved aunt who just happens to have skipped town. 

Though Sugar and Dixie have no experience solving crimes, Sugar found the body and Dixie’s aunt is accused so they’re going to do their best to suss out the real culprit and clear Dixie’s aunt’s name.  Everyone knows the murder cannot have really been over a scone recipe which leaves Sugar and Dixie with a load of questions.  Primary on their list of questions, who hated the old bird enough to kill her?  The answer to that question turns out to be quite a few people as the old lady was known for her surly attitude and sharp tongue.  What’s more, her husband seems to have been stepping out on her which brings up even more questions.  Suddenly, Sugar and Dixie have more suspects than they know what to do with and very little time to solve the mystery.

The Bottom Line: There are two things that really stick out for me in this first in a series book: 1) the wonderful descriptions and variety of foods being used in the community cookbook and 2) the fact that both Dixie and Sugar have no idea what they’re doing when it comes to solving crime.  Between the two, there is a wonderful mix of vast experience and zero experience and I found that be a lovely combination.  Sugar and Dixie are completely likeable characters who have nothing but kind spirits and good intentions.  When you add to the likeable characters a fine small town setting, an interesting cozy mystery plot, and loads of yummy food, you have a recipe for success!

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Review: Don’t Give Me Butterflies (Book #3: The Holloway Girls Series) by Tara Sheets

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As the Queen of Impulsive Decisions, Kat Davenport has found herself without a job or a place to live. So settling on Pine Cove Island isn’t the sanest choice–meaning it’s perfect. Like the mysterious Holloway cousins, Kat has her own unique gift. In her case, it’s a knack for communicating with animals. Which makes getting hired at the local animal shelter feel like kismet. Especially when she finds a room to rent at a nearby lavender farm–complete with a sweet landlord and her brawny grandson–a guy who happens to give Kat an all-too-familiar flutter in her stomach…

Jordan Prescott isn’t back in Pine Cove to find romance. He’s here to sell the family farm, a fact that bewilders Kat. A former foster kid, she can’t understand why he’d give up his childhood home. So when the big-hearted beauty starts bringing home strays from the shelter, Jordan is suddenly her adversary. Until their fiery disagreements turn into fiery kisses…

Now Kat is falling for a man who will likely make her homeless yet again. Unless she learns how to lend her considerable powers to taming the beast lurking inside this prince…

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Source: NetGalley, Zebra, and Purchase          Rating: 5/5 stars

 

“I’ve never done this,” she mused.

“Had s’mores and beer with a donkey in the middle of the night?  Me neither.”

Jordan Prescott couldn’t imagine a place a he wants to be less than Pine Cove.  If it weren’t for his beloved grandmother, Jordan would have never returned to his hometown and the memories that have haunted him for the bulk of his life.  Jordan’s time in Pine Cove is going to be as short as is humanly possible and once he leaves, there will never be a reason to return. 

Jordan’s goal is to get his family’s failing lavender farm into shape, cleaned up, and on the market in as little time as possible.  Though he more than has the money to have the work done from afar, Jordan knows coming home and dealing with the issues in person will also help him deal with his own demons.  In addition, seeing his grandmother and getting her settled is an added bonus.  Finding the woman he’s always wanted and falling in love, not on the agenda.  Finding a woman with an unusual connection to animals and magic who has no interest in ever leaving Pine Cove, absolutely not on the agenda. 

Kat Davenport has never had a true home.  As a foster child with an unusual gift for communicating with animals, finding a forever home was never in the cards for Kat.  On impulse, Kat recently decided to stay in Pine Cove in the hopes of turning over a new leaf and finally finding a place for herself in the world.  Her first order of business is finding a new job and a place to live: the job is covered by the local pet rescue facility and the place to live is covered by Jordan Prescott and his garage apartment.  Though her relationship with Jordan isn’t stellar, Kat needs a place to live and the farm is quite ideal.  Add to the perfection of the site the space for rescue animals and Kat feels she’s found her version of heaven.  With the help of Jordan’s enthusiastic grandmother, Kat is able to give a home to a three-legged dog, a pregnant kitty, a hyperactive goat, and set of cocooned butterflies.  While Kat, her animals, and Jordan’s grandmother are thrilled with the arrangement, Jordan is less so and takes every opportunity to remind Kat of the temporary nature of their arrangement. 

As so often happens in Pine Cove and especially with the Holloway’s, there is magic afoot and acting on all the players.  Kat finds a most unexpected connection to the Holloways, her job and living arrangement provides her with a very real way to help the animals she so easily communicates with, and Jordan, under the crusty, sexy exterior proves to be quite a wonderful surprise.  For Jordan, the magic isn’t quite as real as it is for Kat, but it is certainly working on him.  The time spent on the farm causes Jordan to not only deal with his issues related to his parents, but to reevaluate his own life, wants, and desires.  Jordan is stubborn and it isn’t until he has lost everything that he pulls his head out and admits the truth of his heart. 

The Bottom Line: There is so much to love about this book and I just going to call it right here and now, this is the best book in the series.  Kat isn’t just delightful, she’s a load of wonderful and her affinity with animals makes her so very special.  I devoured every interaction between Kat and her animals and reread several passages just to take it all in again.  Jordan is one of my favorite character types, the tall, broody, sexy man who thinks he knows it all until he encounters what it is he truly needs to have and know it all.  My favorite example of this in this book is undoubtedly Jordan’s responses throughout the book to Clementine and her babies.  I also quite enjoyed the interaction with the Holloway house!  The house is in fine form in this book and it becomes a very real part of the story and bringing Kat into the fold.  In all, this is a wonderfully imaginative feel-good read that had me hooked from page one; seriously, I read this thing in a single sitting 😊  If this is, as I suspect, the end of this series, then Don’t Give Me Butterflies is the perfect end to a fantastic series that has really brought me a great deal of pleasure.

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Review: Meet Me at the Cupcake Café (Book #1: At the Cupcake Café Series) by Jenny Colgan

Meet Me at the Cupcake Cafe (A Novel with Recipes Book 0) by [Colgan, Jenny]

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Issy Randall can bake. No, more than that – Issy can create stunning, mouth-wateringly divine cakes. After a childhood spent in her beloved Grampa Joe’s bakery she has undoubtedly inherited his talent. So when she’s made redundant from her safe but dull City job, Issy decides to seize the moment and open up her own cafe.

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Source: NetGalley and Little, Brown Book Group     Rating: 4/5 stars

Issy Randall has a crappy job and an even crappier “boyfriend.”  When both are lost on the same day, Issy can see no way forward that doesn’t involve yet another crappy, unfulfilling job and loneliness.  The only thing that brings her any joy is the time she spends in the kitchen backing cupcakes from recipes she learned at her beloved grandfather’s side.  What it amounts to for Issy is two choices: 1) continue as she has and be, at best, unhappy, or 2) make a huge change that will be challenging but will make her happy. 

Armed with her grandfather’s recipes and a can-do attitude, Issy decides to make a huge change in her life and rents a small space in her neighborhood with the intention of opening a cupcake café.  The only aspect of this crazy plan Issy is sure about is her cupcakes which take delectable to a whole new level.  Issy is calm, cool, and collected in the kitchen and doesn’t doubt the neighborhood will love her sweet treats. All she has to do is learn how to open and run a business and bring customers into a site that has historically been an utter failure.  No pressure!

In short order, Issy finds herself a banking/business advisor, Austin and hires a down on her luck single mom, Pearl who is a force of nature.  Between Issy, Pearl, Austin, and the construction crew, the Cupcake Café gets a face lift, a swift and thorough cleaning, and is ready for business.  With high hopes and glass cases full of delights, Issy is ready for the crowds to descend upon her.  Unfortunately, as most new business owners quickly discover, unless you’ve done a ton of advertising (Issy has not), there will be no crowds in the early day ☹  It takes word of mouth, a quality product, and, as it turns out, a bus accident for Issy’s labor of love to get off the ground and see success. 

Issy is thrilled with her success but finds that with success comes sacrifices.  Her love life is a mess thanks to the crappier “boyfriend,” her best friend is slipping away thanks to lack of time spent together, and Issy’s beloved grandfather is quickly fading leaving her precious little time to be with him.  As events begin to spiral out of control, Issy begins to understand that she must find a balance between her work and personal life or one day she is going to look up and find she is right back where she started and not at all happy.

The Bottom Line: In real life, I greatly admire people who are able to recognize both their strengths and their weaknesses; what’s more I like it when those same people play to their strengths and know who to ask to help them with their weaknesses.  I got a whole lot of that kind of like out of Issy in this book!  Despite some setbacks and some really poor decisions, Issy is determined to make her dream happen and she surrounds herself (mostly!) with people who can help her realize her dream.  Pearl helps Issy find her strength and her voice, Austin and his scary accountant help Issy keep her business on track, financially speaking, and Caroline, in her own acerbic way helps Issy break into a segment of the population she wouldn’t normally have access to.  In return, Issy helps both women with the various issues in their own lives; ultimately, everyone involved learns valuable lessons about love, friendship, kindness, and loyalty.  Take all of this and combine it with some truly scrumptious descriptions of cupcakes and Meet Me at the Cupcake Café is a pretty perfect read.

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Review: The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris by Jenny Colgan

The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris (A Novel with Recipes) by [Colgan, Jenny]

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As dawn breaks over the Pont Neuf, and the cobbled alleyways of Paris come to life, Anna Trent is already awake and at work; mixing and stirring the finest, smoothest, richest chocolate; made entirely by hand, it is sold to the grandes dames of Paris. 

It’s a huge shift from the chocolate factory she worked in at home in the north of England. But when an accident changed everything, Anna was thrown back in touch with her French teacher, Claire, who offered her the chance of a lifetime — to work in Paris with her former sweetheart, Thierry, a master chocolatier. 

With old wounds about to be uncovered and healed, Anna is set to discover more about real chocolate — and herself — than she ever dreamed.

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Source: NetGalley and Sphere          Rating: 2½/5 stars

On the surface, The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris is exactly the kind of book I was going to dive into and not come out of until the very least page.  On the surface, what’s not to love?  A chocolate shop, wonderful descriptions of delightful sweets, a woman trying to get her life back on track following a strange but true accident, and the sites and scenery of Paris. 

As I dove into the book, I found a very different book than I expected, and I can’t say I was at all thrilled with what I found.  I am the type of reader who loves good, strong, interesting, and full-bodied characters and when they work, they can carry a weaker plot, but when they don’t work, they take a good book and just sink it.  Unfortunately, the latter and not the former is what I found with The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris.

 Character breakdown:

Alice: Likely the most horrible character in the book!  From start to finish, Alice is a tremendous terror with nothing in her blood but spite and anger.  Alice is only ever concerned with her own life, her own well-being, and her own wants and desires.  She is selfish beyond belief and has not one single redeeming quality.  I found every scene and every encounter with her to be absolutely painful. 

Anna: This is the one character I genuinely liked in this book.  Anna has had a rough go of life of late and Paris and the chocolate shop is her chance to alter the course of her life.  From the moment she arrives in Paris, Anna is faced with uncertainty and difficulties in every aspect of her life.  The chocolate shop isn’t at all what she expected, her work hours make a social life difficult, and the people she is surrounded with are unpredictable and often difficult.  What sets Anna apart from the rest of the characters is her resilience, her kindness, and determination to live her life in a way that makes her truly happy and not just content.

Claire: I feel bad disliking a character who is dying, but Claire made it difficult to like and sympathize with her.  Though I know and understand Claire’s intentions toward Anna came from a good place, they also came from a selfish place.  Claire has spent her life always wanting something she once had but lost.  In all the years since she left Paris (as a teenager!), Claire has never been able to move forward, to appreciate the love and people she had in her life.  In essence, Claire has lived a sad life of her own making thanks to her inability to let go of the past and focus on the good in the present.

Laurent:  Meet the man-child of the bunch!  Laurent and his father have creative difference where their chocolate making is concerned and unfortunately, those creative differences (and ALICE!) have driven a wedge between them.  Like Claire, Laurent can’t seem to let go of the past nor can he let go of petty grievances.  His general attitude toward his father, Alice (she deserves it!), and people in general is one of indifference and if their presence in his life doesn’t help him, they likely aren’t worth his time or energy and when things don’t go his way, he tends towards a fit.  Man. Child.

Thierry: Because of his generally affable nature, Thierry is a man I desperately wanted to like, but just could not, in the end.  Thierry has spent his life, his entire life, pursuing his own interests and appetites with little interest in how his actions and pursuits have consequences for not only himself but others.  While Thierry’s attitude towards life has always been happy-go-lucky, his attitude towards his work has been single-minded, focused, and uncompromising.  Thierry wants only to produce the best chocolate and his reputation certainly reflects his passion.  What most don’t know is how his uncompromising nature has caused tension between he and his son and ruined nearly every relationship he has ever had.

The Bottom Line: I liked the premise of this book, I really liked the descriptions of the food and sweets, but all that cancelled out by truly disagreeable characters.  What’s more, I found the shifts between the past and the present to be abrupt rather than smooth transitions.  Though I never gave up on this book, I found it difficult to get through and I think I stayed with it simply because of the author and other books of hers I have quite liked.  As with every accomplished and long-running author, not every book is a winner for every reader, and The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris is that book for me.

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Guest Post and Spotlight: Mahoney by Andrew Joyce

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In this compelling, richly researched novel, author Andrew Joyce tells a riveting story of adventure, endurance, and hope as the Mahoney clan fights to gain a foothold in America.

In the second year of an Gorta Mhór—the Great Famine—nineteen-year-old Devin Mahoney lies on the dirt floor of his small, dark cabin. He has not eaten in five days. His only hope of survival is to get to America, the land of milk and honey. After surviving disease and storms at sea that decimate crew and passengers alike, Devin’s ship limps into New York Harbor three days before Christmas, 1849. Thus starts an epic journey that will take him and his descendants through one hundred and fourteen years of American history, including the Civil War, the Wild West, and the Great Depression.

Guest Post by Andrew Joyce:

My name is Andrew Joyce and I write books for a living. Leisha has been kind enough to allow me a little space on her blog to promote my new book, Mahoney. So I thought I might entertain you with a story about the publishing business.

My first book, Yellow Hair, was a 164,000-word historical novel. And in the publishing world, anything over 80,000 words for a first-time author is heresy. Or so I was told time and time again when I approached an agent for representation. After two years of research and writing and a year of trying to secure the services of an agent, I got angry. To be told that my efforts were meaningless was somewhat demoralizing, to say the least. I mean, those rejections were coming from people who had never even read my book.

So you want an 80,000-word novel?” I said to no one in particular, unless you count my dog, because he was the only one around at the time. Consequently, I decided to show them City Slickers that I could write an 80,000-word novel!

I had just finished reading Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn for the third time, and I started thinking about what ever happened to those boys, Tom and Huck. They must have grown up, but then what? So I sat down at my computer and banged out Redemption: The Further Adventures of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer in two months. I had them as adults in the Old West. Then I sent out query letters to literary agents.

A few weeks later, the chairman of one of the biggest agencies in the country emailed me. He loved the story and suggested a few changes. They were good suggestions, and I incorporated about 80% of them into the book. We signed a contract and it was off to the races, or so I thought. But then the real fun began: the serious editing. Seven months later, I gave birth to Huck and Tom as adults. And just for the record, the final word count was 79,914. The book went on to reach #1 status in its category on Amazon (twice) and won the Editor’s Choice Award for Best Western of 2013. The rest, as they say, is history.

But not quite.

Now we come to the crux of the matter. My readers really enjoyed the book. Reviewer after reviewer said they would love a sequel, but given how I ended the story, I could not envision that being possible. Then I started getting emails and phone calls from my agent, badgering me to continue the adventure. At first I ignored him. Finally, to stop the badgering, I started MOLLY LEE, a “sort of” sequel. It’s a stand-alone book, a parallel story, if you will. (Molly was a minor character in Redemption.)

Then, of course, I had to do a sequel to the sequel, hence RESOLUTION: Huck Finn’s Greatest Adventure.

After I got done with Huck, Tom, and Molly, I turned my attention to my first novel, the one I couldn’t sell to an agent. I whittled it down from 164,000 words to 132,000 and published it myself. And guess what? It won Book of the Year from one outfit and Best Historical Fiction of 2016 from another.

So, I reckon the moral of the story is: Stay true to your vision, but along the way, it’s all right to conform to the norms people try to place on you.

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About the author and where to find him:

AndrewAndrew Joyce left home at seventeen to hitchhike throughout the US, Canada, and Mexico. He wouldn’t return from his journey until years later when he decided to become a writer. Joyce has written seven books. His first novel, Redemption: The Further Adventures of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer, was awarded the Editors’ Choice Award for Best Western of 2013. A subsequent novel, Yellow Hair, received the Book of the Year award from Just Reviews and Best Historical Fiction of 2016 from Colleen’s Book Reviews.

Andrew’s Website

 

Excerpt: Bang Bang by Belle Brooks

Bang, bang!
They shot us down.
Bang, bang!
We ran through town.
Bang, bang!
Now here I am …
Bang, bang
… in an undercover police sting. 
 
Miranda Sikes is a twenty-year-old university student who hates venturing into the city, but her grandmother’s watchband isn’t going to repair itself.
The watchband doesn’t get fixed. 
She misses the bus home.
She’s stuck in the one place she loathes.
But there’s a silver lining: free wedding cake by Alessandro. It’s only the best cake in the world. Now all Miranda needs is a fiancé to dine with so she can meet the store’s terms. 
Miranda’s next decision will change the course of her day, her year, and her life. 
And it all happens when she grabs the arm of a man named Haggerty, finds herself shoeless while running down a busy street, and is forced to dive to the ground when she hears …
 
BANG! BANG!
Excerpt
We stand across the room from each other. Lane with a huge smirk plastered across his handsome face. I rub my chin, wondering how I can bring down this brick shithouse. I used the only trick I had in my bag of moves. What to do, what to do?

“Are you ready to charge at me again, or are you going to let me show you how to do this properly?”

I match his smirk. “Oh, you’re going down, doll face.”

“Doll face? Really?” His eyebrows hitch.

“It’s what I said, isn’t it?” I flip him the bird, which causes him to laugh once more.

“Okay, then it’s your funeral,” he teases.

“Or yours.”

“If you say so.”

“I do say so.”

“Well, come on then. I’m getting bored waiting.” He fake yawns, patting his hand in front of his lips.

Him and his smart mouth.
I bend my knees then sway from side to side. Go for his throat. That’s what I need to do.

“Are you coming or what?” He winks.

I need to show him I’m in control. I push my shoulders back and bounce on the balls of my feet until I take off at full pace towards him, bending my right arm and leaning in with my elbow.

Lane’s hands take my legs, and he flips me upside down. Mothertrucker. I scramble against his strength, and flick my legs around his neck, crossing my feet over each other behind his head, my head bouncing by his knees.

“Wrong move again,” he says. I feel his breath between my legs.

No shit!
I dangle, like a dead weight, until I cackle and squeeze my thighs as hard as I can around his neck.

Death by thigh strangulation. It could happen.

“Stop!” he shouts.

It’s working. I’m winning … until I’m not.

Born in Australia, Belle Brooks has always had a passion for books and creative writing. She loves exploring the different ways stories can be told through the use of text and in-depth characters. Since she was a child her strong talent and interest in creative writing was evident, explaining that her favourite class in school was English. Despite her love for all things books, she decided the world of advertising and marketing was where she could put her talents to use in the business realm, well that is until now. Belle enjoys creative writing and creating fictional stories that leave a valued message inside the pages.
 
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