#BookTour “Anything But Love (California Hearts, Book 2)” by Dalia Dupris

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California Hearts, Book 2

Contemporary Romance

Date Published: 06-15-2022

Publisher: The Wild Rose Press

 

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Known as the anything but love girl, Morgan Hart has two passions, travelling and having fun. After reassuring her French lover, Marcel, that their relationship will resume unchanged when she returns, she’s ready to begin her Cape Town adventure, only to find that her friend Amber is a no-show at the airport, and Morgan’s stuck with having to travel solo, that is, until she falls into the lap of widowed single father, Dakar Ngosi, whose good looks and charm have her questioning her resolve to living life unattached and carefree.

Dr. Ngosi is beyond annoyed when a seemingly inebriated Morgan slumps down beside him in the airport lounge where he’s waiting with his sister for their flight. When his sister volunteers him to show the lovely American the sites of their country, his irritation grows, but he soon discovers that Morgan is as enticing as she is beautiful, and he must decide if he’ll stick to his vow to never love again or pursue the American woman whose captured his heart.

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EXCERPT

Chapter 1

Lovers & Friends

“We stayed in bed for too long.” Panicked, I peer at my watch for the tenth time in the last fifteen minutes before frowning at Marcel’s profile. His wavy brown hair is uncombed, tufts of it stand straight up in the back, and a stubble of new growth darkens his chin while his periwinkle blue eyes stay focused on the predictably slow-moving Los Angeles traffic. “I cannot miss this flight.” Even at five o’clock on a Saturday afternoon, it’s a sea of wall-to-wall cars. Squirming in my seat and growing more anxious by the minute, I tense, certain that we should have left an hour ago.

“Amber is probably at the airport already.”

Blowing out a puff of air, I know that he’s not the only one who looks like he just crawled out of bed after a wild night between the sheets. I barely had time to shower and grab my suitcases before shoving him out the front door.

“I still can’t believe she decided to join me. Claire and Chris won’t believe that  I’m the one running late today.”

Claire, Chris, and Amber are my best friends from high school. Claire’s as dependable as they come, with a solid marriage to her accountant husband, Craig, and two adorable children. Chris is married to Reggie.

Unfortunately, Amber’s relationship with Derrick is drama-filled. Hopefully, this vacation will help her come to her senses, and she’ll figure out that she deserves more than his lies and manipulations.

“Vous n’avez rien à craindre.” Glancing in my direction with a wicked sparkle in his eyes, Marcel winks before refocusing on the road.

“What does that mean?” Folding my arms, I send him a perturbed glare. It’s unfair of him to use the beauty of his native language against me. He knows I’m a sucker for accents—that his seductive utterances weaken my resolve to be irritated.

“You have nothing to worry about.” He shakes his head and smiles. “That, ma cherie, is the translation.”

“Yes, I do.” I rub my hands together. “Please stop using French. It’s a distraction.”

“Je suis désolé.” His deep laughter fills the car.

“What’s so funny?” I rub my hands together harder. If my palms were sticks, they would have already caught on fire. They get itchy when I’m stressed, so I tuck my fingers under my thighs, before my hands are raw.

“Hmm. I remember last night and earlier today.

You weren’t complaining about my French—or anything else.” Removing his hand from the steering wheel, he gently squeezes my thigh. “As for us running late, you are to blame as much as me. When a woman cries out for more, I have a duty to give her what she wants.”

“Okay.” An image of us tangled in the sheets and me gasping out urgent demands flashes in my memory.

“You’ve made your point.”

The man definitely knows his way around a woman’s body. So much so that I had lost track of time as we made love twice this afternoon, totally ignoring my two unpacked suitcases. What was I thinking? Oh, right — I wasn’t. I had allowed myself to be swept up in pure sensual pleasure while the clock kept ticking, and now, here I am, mad at myself for, once again, allowing desire to win out over logic. If only I were more practical like my older sister, Elaine. She’d never lose track of time by succumbing to passion. However, now that she’s married and on her honeymoon, I hope that’s exactly what she’s doing.

Smiling at the thought, I run a finger through my short cap of curls and peer out the window, trying to gage how long it will take to arrive at LAX.

Marcel has been driving his new toy—a candy-apple-red convertible sports car—for over two hours from my small hometown of Santa Lorena, which is sixty-five miles north of Los Angeles. What started out as a beautiful scenic drive overlooking the cresting white waves of the Pacific dramatically altered as we made our way through Santa Barbara, Ventura, and Malibu. At some point, we veered onto the six-lane 405 freeway, where we encountered a sea of slow-moving vehicles. Whenever there is a tornado or hurricane anywhere in the country, more people eagerly and understandably flock to our beach-lined shores. I can’t blame them.

Sighing loudly, I wonder why they all have to be on the road today.

“You have nothing to worry about.” Marcel grasps my hand and gives it what I expect is meant to be a reassuring kiss. “We will make your flight.” He points to a large green sign that spans across the congested lanes. “Culver City, home to the first movie studio.” He gestures to the sign. “It says we are only six miles from the airport.”

“Yes, but six miles in this city is the equivalent of twenty miles anywhere else.”

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About the Author

Dalia Dupris has been a book lover as long as she can remember. She has won two EMMA awards and is a Spectrum Grant recipient.

Dalia’s degrees in English Literature and Social Work, in addition to years of experience as a licensed therapist, contribute to her creation of relatable and complex characters.

In her spare time, she enjoys bike riding with her husband, and hiking with her daughter. She loves hearing from her readers.

To learn more about Dalia and her books check out http://www.daliadupris.com and https://linktr.ee/DaliasBooks.

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#ReleaseWeekBlitz “Circle of Roses (The Mystery of Frankenstein’s Bride Series)” by Martha Wickham

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The Mystery of Frankenstein’s Bride Series

Horror

Date Published: 06-24-2022

Stopping the unstoppable is what Rose Cortez does best.

Terra, Frankenstein’s ex, is using the old electric machine to bring the dead back for fun now. After running into zombies her old psychic Rose must do something about the machine Frankenstein’s Bride can’t give up. Is there a way to get the machine away from her and her terror of lurking zombies? Rose and her band of psychics find out when one of them is found dead.

Rose is a powerful psychic detective and ghost hunter. Revenge is what she wants after the death one year ago of her husband. Now her psychic comrade is dead too and she’s had enough. Terra’s second life can’t last forever.

The way to stop her is not so easy!

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EXCERPT

Fern was excited as she wanted to start immediately.  “I’ll be there first thing in the morning!”

***

     As soon as Rose opened the doors to the shop the next morning, Fern arrived with boxes of things she needed for readings. She started calling herself a psychic reader and ghost buster and had cards made up. Within a few days, her business was booming, and the other two psychics joined the team.  Rose kept her eyes open for Terra and her zombies but didn’t see any until one evening when she and Fern were alone in the shop and they heard a moan and then a dog barking. “I’m sure I heard a zombie,” Rose said. “What has Terra been up to?”

They ran to the window and looked out.  There were three long-dead zombies walking down the street to Terra’s house.  The two of them looked at each other, then ran into the bathroom and locked the door.  “I’m gonna get to the bottom of this,” Rose whispered.

“How can I help?” Fern asked.

“This will be more difficult than a reading.  They must be destroyed.  Do you know how to kill zombies?” she asked.

“Yes, just shoot them in the head,” Fern answered.

Rose nodded.  “Terra won’t go easy.  I want to get that galvanism machine from her.  It’s in her shed right now, but this will take more than one person.  Maybe Lily and Violet will help.”

“And you can’t just call the police.  They won’t believe you.”

“When I looked at her through the window the other day, she was different.  Old and deader looking.  Who knows how long she will last undead?”

“She can’t be that hard to destroy, then,” Fern said.

“I’ll see what my crystals can do. If anything.”

***

     The three zombies sat in Terra’s backyard.  Her galvanism machine was plugged into her backyard outlet as her creepy old mansion did not have a garage.  The zombies then approached the machine and one of them bent the wire back that conducts electricity.  Terra did a back-bend and her face wrinkled.  “You stupid heap!”  She stood up and straightened the wire.  Looking a little younger, she brushed the zombies away from the machine as her long gray hair blew in the wind.  The neighborhood dogs were barking now and she rolled her eyes.

“Maybe I should lock this thing away,”she said to herself.  Then to the zombies, “Curiosity killed the cat!  No, I think I’ll lock you away.”  She grabbed a pole and started pushing them toward the shed but the zombies managed to grab it out of her hands.  They began to hit her with it until she backed into the shed and then they locked her in!

Terra flipped on the shed light, trying to think happy thoughts.  She sat down and remembered things about her childhood.  Like her father cutting down the Christmas tree and ice skating with her cousins while her mom watched.  Thoughts of fireplaces and hot chocolate always warmed her.  Zombies were afraid of fire, not her.  The fear made her realize the zombies obviously knew her weakness.  They could kill her with the machine or by leaving her in the shed.

She created them hoping they would be like Frankenstein, but they never were.  Frankenstein was evil at the start.  There would never be another.  She heard the zombies shuffle away and wondered, How long will I last?

~~~

About the Author

Martha has studied writing with Writer’s Digest.  She is the author of many short stories and books and still likes getting writing prompts.

 

 

 

 

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#BookTour “You Can’t Hurry Love: Jukebox Collection Book 2” A.N. Verebes

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Contemporary Romance

Date Published 03-24-2022

 

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On Sale for $0.99 for a Limited Time

 

Sometimes love is worth the wait.

Sara Carlisle and Charlie Rhodes are complete opposites. Oil and water. Chalk and cheese.

Before Sara even meets Charlie, she hates him. He’s insulted her best friend -a woman Sara considers family- and that is unforgivable. In person he proves to be just as obnoxious and insufferable as she’d anticipated. And, as far as she’s concerned, the fact that he’s tall and muscular with an accent to die for is not enough to redeem him. Charlie Rhodes is an arrogant A–hole (with a capital A!) and that’s all there is to it!

For his part, Charlie thinks Sara is a conceited pain in the arse. A prissy princess to the nth degree. It becomes his prerogative to get under her skin for the sheer pleasure of riling her up. He feels genuine enjoyment in the face of her frustration, and he makes no secret of it. Besides, she gives as good as she gets!

Fundamentally opposed in every way, it’s obvious to those around them that they’re not going to get along.

But unfortunately, thanks to their respective families, they are stuck in each other’s lives for the foreseeable future. Being civil is as good as it is going to get…or is it?

When their relationship turns from reluctant acquaintances to red hot lovers, they find it’s good.

Really good.

What could possibly go wrong?

 

In a slow-burn romance that follows hot on the heels of Handle With Care*,
Sara and Charlie discover that you really can’t rush romance.

 

*Both Handle With Care and You Can’t Hurry Love can be read as standalone
novels in the expanding Jukebox Collection series.

~~~

EXCERPT

Chapter 2

“I had my reasons for avoiding serious relationships,” it seemed Everett wasn’t going to be discouraged, “but what’s stopping you?”

Charlie cast his gaze to the ceiling. “For fuck’s sake.”

“I watched at least five women attempt to get your attention at the airport the other day, so it’s not your looks.”

He knew Everett had always been a little jealous of his taller, broader physique and his naturally golden coloured hair, so he snorted. “Thanks, Rhett.”

“I’m serious, Charlie. You’re forty-two-”

“Please don’t remind me.”

“–and I can’t remember the last time you were seeing someone.”

It was Charlie’s turn to throw his brother a flat look. “One: we’ve not really had the sort of relationship where we talked about this stuff until recently,” he began, counting on his fingers for emphasis, “and two…well, alright, look, I’ve had a bit of a dry spell, but, like you, casual was always my thing. Is my thing.”

“Uh huh.” He hated that Everett didn’t sound convinced.

Scowling, Charlie demanded, “Did Mum put you up to this?”

He knew he was onto something when Everett shifted his gaze.

“I knew it!” Downing the last of his beer, Charlie stood up to deposit the bottle into the recycling bin in the kitchen.

“Shh!” Everett was frowning at him now. “Do you want to wake the baby?”

“If it’ll get you and Mum off my back about fucking settling down?” Charlie asked rhetorically as he ambled back to the couch and dropped down heavily. “Yes.”

“You wake her, you get to look after her.” The other man shot back, before asking, “Is it so wrong that we want you to be happy?”

Charlie blinked back at him, dumbstruck. “Who are you?”

“Oh, shove off.”

“No, I’m serious – you should know better than anyone that I don’t need to be in a relationship or have kids to be happy.”

“I never said you had to have kids.” Everett was standing firm. “You’re getting a bit old for it anyway.”

Despite himself, Charlie cracked a grin at the unexpected ribbing. “Piss off.”

His brother’s expression softened. “Look, I get it. Being alone’s easier, right? Nobody to hurt you or get hurt by, nobody to nag you or whatever. But,” he raised his hand as Charlie moved to interrupt, “and hear me out, alright?” Charlie shut his mouth and nodded defeatedly. “It’s going to sound ridiculous, but you just need the right person.”

Given that he’d already heard all about how effortless and easy Everett thought being with Gemma was, Charlie decided he didn’t need to hear him wax poetic any longer. “That’s probably true,” he acknowledged, “but I am happy as I am right now, Rhett. So lay off, alright?”

His brother pursed his lips and looked as though he wanted to beleaguer the point, but after another moment conceded, “Alright.”

“Thank you.”

“But–”

“Oh, Christ…”

“Just know that you can change your mind about it at any time, yeah?” Everett nudged his shoulder. “It won’t make you any less of a man, you stubborn git.”

Before Charlie could respond, a familiar, obnoxious voice cut in with a laugh. “That’s assuming he’s man enough to begin with.” Sara sauntered into the room, dropping a handful of shopping bags onto the floor beside the kitchen bench. She hopped up to sit on the granite surface, crossing her long legs at the ankle and chirping, “What are we talking about, anyway?”

From between gritted teeth, Charlie responded, “Nothing that concerns you, princess.” His spirits rose at the expression of distaste which flitted across her face. For some reason she despised the moniker, and so he used it frequently.

“Alright children,” Everett interrupted, narrowing his gaze at Charlie, “behave.” He stood up and crossed the room to greet Gemma with a kiss. “Did you lovely ladies enjoy your day?”

It was Jeff who answered, striding in arm-in-arm with their mother. “We did, thanks. It was just what the doctor ordered.”

“That massage was heavenly,” Beatrice agreed. “Worked out all the kinks from that Godawful flight.”

Charlie stretched his neck from side to side at the reminder. “I shoulda’ gone with you, then.”

Sara muttered something that was likely uncomplimentary under her breath, but, at Everett’s disapproving glower, Charlie bit his tongue. He was unused to this dynamic: previously, he’d been the one delivering looks like that in response to Rhett’s antics. He didn’t particularly appreciate being on the receiving end.

“How’d Zoe go?” Gemma asked. Charlie could tell she was attempting to change the topic, too, if the glare she’d sent Sara was anything to go by.

It was still strange to watch his brother switch completely into daddy mode. Everett grinned at his girlfriend. “We went to the park, came home and she tried some pureed sweet potato – she’s a fan, by the way.” At six months old, they were starting to introduce solids. How did Charlie know this? They’d regaled him and his mother with the information over dinner the previous night. His mum had lapped it up. Charlie had been bored as fuck. “And then she had a bottle and went down for her nap without any issues.”

With his mother cooing at his brother, Charlie did his best not to roll his eyes, but let his mind drift. He loved his niece, but he wasn’t all that concerned by the minutia of dealing with an infant. Glancing around the room, his gaze landed on Sara. Still perched on the kitchen bench, she was examining her fingernails, clearly just as interested in the conversation taking place as he was.

Look at that, he thought to himself with droll amusement, we’ve got something in common after all.

The moment was broken as she sensed his stare and looked up to catch him observing her. Her eyes rolled and she made a shooing motion with her perfectly manicured talons, which, he noted, were painted a vivid, cherry red. He flipped her off and looked away, wishing he could point out what a cliché she was.

Vapid cow.

~~~

 

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About the Author

Anita (A.N.) Verebes is a daydreamer and romance novelist. As a professional civil marriage celebrant, Anita makes a living telling other people’s love stories and celebrating real romance! Also armed with a
Bachelor of Education (Secondary), Anita is a qualified -but not practising- High School English teacher who loves to read anything she can get her hands on, including fanfiction. (And, yes, she’s written her fair share of that, too.) Living directly between Queensland’s sunny Gold and Sunshine coasts, Anita spends her days exploring the Great South East with her husband and their two rambunctious sons. When at home, she’s also a slave to two cats and one very spoilt Great Dane X.

 

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#BookTour “Tales from the Trail: Stories from the Oldest Hiker Hostel on the Appalachian Trail” by Sherry Blackman

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Stories from the Oldest Hiker Hostel on the Appalachian Trail

 

Nonfiction / Self-Help / Spirituality

Date Published: February 14, 2022

Publisher: MindStir Media

 

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During the 2020 pandemic, one thing held true: Scores of people headed out for a day hike on the Appalachian Trail (AT) as if being in the woods, immersed in beauty and mystery, immunized them against an invisible enemy.

The AT became a hospital for souls locked up in quarantine, needing to breathe, stretch, and be nourished by the earth beneath their feet.

For decades, the AT has been a sanctuary for seekers, the tired and the lost; those hungry for renewal, the broken and the grieving; and those who want to face and answer questions they have lugged around with them in invisible backpacks. Questions like, what is next for me? Is there a God? Should I live or end it all? How can I liberate my life from what weighs it down? How can I forgive God?

This book pays tribute to those who dare such a grueling and soul-satisfying adventure. It tells the tales of those on a pilgrimage through insightful conversations and encounters, exploring and revealing what angels the hikers wrestle with in the wilderness who call out to name them again. This collection unveils the spirituality of any such journey in
sometimes humorous, sometimes heart-wrenching portraits.

Tales from the Trail explores what it means to be human.

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EXCERPT

“So ISO,” I asked, swallowing wine like milk, “did you find what you were ‘in search of’ on the trail?”

“Did I find what I was looking for? Yes, but don’t ask me to define it. Being on the trail was a transformative experience,” he said, adding that he had given his marriage another chance, but he wasn’t convinced it could succeed; some truth was missing… His voice grew more silvery the longer he talked as if his tongue was dipped in moonlight, shedding light on the darkest places of life itself—rejection, reinventing a life, belonging, where, and to whom.

“You know, there’re a lot of people out on the trail with the trail name ISO,” he said.

“Really? My question is—can they find what they are in search of if they can’t name what they are in pursuit of?” I asked.

“Interesting question. I think they’re looking for a purpose beyond survival. People hike the trail during a mid-life crisis as a means of escape, but the reality is, you have to deal with everything you’re trying to escape while you’re out there. I found I was having eighty-hour conversations with myself, all day, every day, and these conversations allowed me to understand that the things I had, my possessions, had no bearing on my happiness. Possessions mean nothing—I had every material thing I needed in my pack: food, a change of clothes, water, a tent. What I needed was a connection, was family.”

ISO paused to pour more wine into his cup, then took a sip, gazing out into the trees across the street. “I met people on the trail I would never have met otherwise. I met a truck driver who was so happy, a family man. I would’ve traded everything I had built out of my life in an instant to have what he had. I made in one year what he made in five years. He’s a lifelong friend now living here in Pennsylvania. I came to understand what’s important and what really makes a person happy.”

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#BookTour “Stages” by Lamar K. Neal

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Contemporary Romance

Date Published: 03-04-2022

 

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Hendrix and Victoria live two different lives. He is a senior in college, who lives with his terminally ill father, and has no idea what he wants to be when he “grows up.” She is a young wife and mother in a failing marriage, her two sons being the only reasons she is still devoted to her household. But after both learn of family secrets, not only does the shape of their daily lives change forever, but their worlds collide, sparking an unlikely interest in one another. With their lives at a free fall, their
relationship is the hope, inspiration, and strength to help them persevere through it all. Although love is getting them through the bad times, what
will happen to their relationship when they realize they are still at
different stages in life?

~~~

 EXCERPT

Almost every blanket and sheet in the house draped across the boy’s room. Two nights ago, I never, in a million years, imagined I would kiss someone other than Hershey. I sure as hell never imagined that the same man would have made us a blanket fort.

I stood in the hall, outside the bedroom door, watching him crawl inside the fort with his plate in hand. Inside, he reached for mine, and I reluctantly gave it to him, and like that, he disappeared back into the fort.

“I thought you were joking,” I said. “But you were serious.  You really made a fort.”

He stuck his head out. “I never play about my blanket forts.” He extended his hand. “Come on in. You’re letting all the cold air out.”

I took his hand. Looking at the childish grin on his face and feeling how firm he held my hand, I felt at ease. I crawled inside as I giggled like a little girl.

His head barely cleared the bedsheets when he sat up straight.

“So, we’re here,” I said, “inside a blanket fort.”

“It kinda has a club vibe.”

“What? Dark and cramp?”

To the melodies of the most ratchet song—so ratchet I presumed it a parody—he scarfed down his food. Every few bits, he hiccupped, holding his chest as the food went down; I thought he was choking. Right after, he went right back to eating like he hadn’t in days.

I thought it was interesting that he didn’t touch his lasagna or salad until he finished his breadstick. But it was just weird that he was eating his lasagna before his salad. I covered my mouth to hide my laughter.

“Not you too,” he said.

“What?”

“You know exactly what I’m talking about.”

“What are you talking about?”

He stared with a deadpan look. “You find it weird I’m eating my salad last.”

I burst into laughter. “Why are you eating your salad last? It’s not like the greens are going to wash away the carbs. I can’t get over how weird you are.”

“I take offense to that. I don’t think I am weird at all.”

“But weird is good. You aren’t afraid to be yourself in a world that tells us who to be.”

“Do you consider yourself weird?”

“I’m sitting inside this fort with you, aren’t I?”

“You are. I can’t take that away from you. A lesser man would call you out for your hesitation to join this beautiful palace of the highest thread count.”

“You got me there.”

“Come on, you gotta give me something. Show me how weird you are. Show me how spontaneous you can be.”

He kept insisting, with his head tilted to the side and a mischievous grin. After the third or fourth time, he stopped, but the smirk stayed on his face while gazing at me, hopelessly. His gaze was as vibrant and welcoming as the other day.

My only desire was to feel his lips against mine a second time. My heart slammed intensely against my chest, throbbing harder by the second. My breath thinned. Then he called me a name that he never used before: Vita.

“Hmm?” I asked.

“Vita.”

My desire to feel his lips turned into a longing after I kissed him. Our lips barely stayed together before he moved his head back. His eyes stayed locked onto me, going from wanting me to confusion. I kissed him again, still without force to our kiss; our lips rested upon one another’s. I moved my head back, and he came closer, gently running his bottom lip across mine. No longer restraining ourselves, we kissed with passion, desire, and lust. I held his face, and he firmly grabbed my thighs.

Time didn’t exist in the moment.

He stopped kissing. I took a deep breath that smelt like sauce, moved my face closer to his so I could feel the warmth of his breath on my lips. I opened my eyes. He kept his eyes closed, and just when I thought the moment was over, he moved his tongue into my mouth. Like our hands, our tongues couldn’t refrain from touching each other.

When we finally stopped kissing, we kept our lips inches apart.

“Vita?” I asked, breathing heavily.

“Vita.”

“Where did you get that from?”

“There’s a Playstation Vita on the dresser. I always thought the name was cute, so I said to myself, ‘Hi self. Victoria is cute. The name is cute. Why not give the cute name to the cute girl?”

“You’re such a weirdo.”

“From what I heard, being a dork is a good thing.”

I caressed his cheek. “It is.”

“Oh, by the way, I meant to say ‘beautiful.’ You aren’t cute. You’re beautiful.”

 

The sun glared down on the back of our necks, and our clothes, soaked in sweat, stuck to us. One cloud looked like it waded through the sky, and Hendrix swore that it looked like a mouth, but I didn’t see it. In true Southern California fashion, the mid of November felt like a summer day.

We finished our fourth lap around the park, filled with screaming kids as they swung on the swings, hung from the monkey bars, went down the slide, or ran around aimlessly. It was the same park I took Daniel to let him burn off some energy, and he spent most of his time rolling around in the grass. On Saturdays, we took Martin.

Today was Saturday, and I wasn’t with my boys.

Maybe Hendrix could read my mind, or maybe my face told just how distraught I was. Whatever the reason, he let go of my hand, put his arm around my waist, and pulled me closer.

“We got this,” he said. “Even if it is us vs. the world. We got this.”

He sounded so positive. It was always like he knew something I didn’t. Like most times where he amused me, he smiled.

We walked down the street before we came to a McDonald’s three blocks down. As we passed, I saw a We’re Hiring sign in the window.

At that moment, I heard Hershey’s words, and they cut just as deep the second time.

“Are you going to apply?” Hendrix asked.

“You think I should?”

“That depends. Do you mind smelling like French fries all day?”

“I need the money.”

“There’s your answer.” He groaned, biting down on his lip. “I’m kinda in the mood for french fries now.”

 

Hendrix

It was almost midnight when I made it home. For the past few days, I drove around the city after class, going nowhere in particular, in hopes of getting back home as late as possible. My dad wasn’t sitting in his wicker chair on the porch, and there was no lingering smell of smoke. The air was still, and even at night, there was an essence of summer. A moth flew wildly across the porch, hitting and bouncing off the wall beside the light, which detected me as I came up the lawn. From the outside, it looked like every light inside the house was off. The sight of the palm tree arching over my house drained the little energy I had. Walking felt involuntary. I went inside and stopped, noticing my family at the kitchen table. They sat there, hunched forward, long-faced… worried.

“You didn’t come home for dinner,” Eve said. She got up and sat my backpack on the floor from over my shoulder.

“Sorry,” I said, walking into the kitchen. “I didn’t know you were cooking dinner.”

“She didn’t,” Vanessa said. “I did, and we told you this morning.”

“Now that I don’t remember.”

“You have been having quite the memory lapses lately.”

“Not to mention, you haven’t been looking well,” Eve said.

“Well,” I said, “I’m sorry to worry everybody, but I’m fine. Everybody can go to bed now.”

“You know we don’t believe that, right?”

“You don’t have to believe me.”

“I wish I could. You can take all that somewhere else, Hendrix. You don’t look fine. You don’t seem fine.”

I rested my hand on Eve’s cheek. We stared deep into one another’s eyes, and she squinted in an attempt to read my mind. “I’m good. I promise.” As she smiled in relief, I squeezed her nose and ran away before she could hit me. “You moved away and took our magic twin bond with you. You, of all people, shouldn’t have to ask how I’m feeling.”

“Our magic twin bond would be fine if you weren’t a little jerk.”

I opened the refrigerator, letting the cold air brush against my face, and pulled out containers of leftovers from that night’s dinner.

The smell of food didn’t overtake the house for hours, as it usually did. There wasn’t even a smell coming from the containers, which I found odd.

Eve rushed over and moved me aside by hitting me with her hips to fix me a plate of Turkey wings, yellow rice, and yams. She used the fork to tear pieces of turkey from the bone.

“Come sit down, Hendrix,” Vanessa said.

I sat beside dad. He stared down with his elbow on the table and his head in his hands.

Eve microwaved my meal and sat next to Vanessa on the other side of the table. Afterward, they stared at me as I used my fork to sort the turkey pieces from the rice.

My thoughts drowned out dad wheezing.

“You need to stop eating so fast,” Eve said. “When acid reflux has you up all night, I’m not bringing you tums.”

“I’ll be fine.”

“Of course, you’ll be fine. You were fine yesterday. You’re fine now. You’ll be fine tomorrow. You do know we’ll love and support you even if you aren’t fine, right? If life slaps you across the face, Vanessa and I will slap it back because you’re our brother, and we love you. Don’t let pride leave you miserable, alone, and with your chest on fire.”

“Okay.”

They wanted a long, drawn-out response about how I felt so much, they kept watching me. Their stares went from concern to eagerness while they still waited for me to say something.

“What?” I asked.

“Do you like the food?” Eve asked. “It’s like dad made it, right?”

“You’re slowly morphing into dad in the kitchen.”

“I’m slowly morphing into dad in the kitchen,” Vanessa said.

“Vanessa made a bet with dad. She said you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference,” Eve said to me and looked to our dad. “See, Dad, I told you. You better look out. You have some competition.”

“I guess so,” dad said, without looking up.

I looked at our dad. “What’s wrong with you?”

“You know what’s wrong with him,” Vanessa said. “He’s worried about Hendrix. What else?”

“We’re all worried about Hendrix,” Eve said.

“The difference is, dad can’t afford to be this stressed out.”

“He isn’t a child,” I said. I ate the last pieces of turkey from my plate and moved on to the rice.

“Want to know what’s worse than being treated like a child? Being terminally ill.”

“Can you not say that?” Eve asked, covering her ears. “No one is dying.”

“Grow up. This is real life we’re talking about, Eve. We can’t sit around and act like none of this is happening.”

“Why do you have to be so insensitive?”

“Why are you so sensitive?”

“Okay. Okay. I’m sensitive. Can we stop arguing now before we stress dad out more?”

“He’s already stressed out because of your twin!”

“Vanessa,” dad said, standing. The base in his voice startled Eve and made me look up from my plate. “Being unnecessarily extra won’t get us anywhere, sweetheart.”

“Can you stop protecting him? He isn’t a baby.”

“All of you are my babies.”

Vanessa, shaking her head and sighing, stood and walked towards the back door. Halfway, she glared at me from over her shoulder.

“Can you just stop being difficult and tell us what’s wrong with you?” She asked. “Nobody can help you if you don’t tell us what’s wrong. If it’s because of dad, I get it. Eve and I aren’t okay, either. We can get through this together.”

“I’m not upset about dad,” I said.

“Then what’s wrong?” Eve asked. “I know when there’s something wrong. I’m your twin, remember?”

“Eve-”

“You’re fine, I know.” Eve sighed. “Look me into my eyes and tell me you’re fine.”

I kept my eyes down.

“Hendrix, look me in my eyes.”

“Alright,” dad said. “Alright. I let this go on for too long. But we’re done. Vanessa. Eve. Drop it. Now.”

“I’m not dropping it,” Vanessa said, “because you’re going to keep working yourself up over Hendrix. He’s acting like a goddamn baby. He needs to grow the fuck up and realize that there are more important things than his problems!”

“Okay, now I’m stressed and pissed off. If your brother says he’s fine, drop it. Why are we pressing the issue?”

“And I’m stressed too. I have been working my ass off, cooking and cleaning because you can’t, and Hendrix won’t, but he has the nerve to be walking around like the world is against him!”

“Who says anything is wrong with him?”

“He looks like shit, dad! You know it. I know it. Eve knows it. For the last week, he hasn’t been eating, he hasn’t been sleeping, his memory has been shit, and he has barely said a word to anyone-you said so yourself. He comes home after school and sits in his room all night. Does that scream, okay?”

“And when I come into the room, he leaves,” Eve said.

If I ate any more, I would have thrown up from fullness. I still had enough yams and rice for a meal. I looked around to catch their gaze.

The air turned on, and the vents made a popping sound. The breeze went through me, and I shivered. I kept grinding my fork into the plate, and occasionally, I looked up to see if they were still looking. They glared. Vanessa looked upset, while Eve looked concerned.

“Let’s have a talk outside,” dad said, pulling me out by the elbow.

We walked outside, and I sat in the iron chair, crossing my arms.

“Is it your mother?” He asked.

“It’s everything.”

“You gotta be more specific than that.”

“Pick something. You, your health, the smoking, school, life, mom.”

“What about her?”

“She isn’t dead!”

“Hendrix, bring it down.”

I shot up from the chair, throwing my arms in the air and screaming. All my thoughts and emotions came out together, and I struggled to speak.

“Calm down, son.”

“Why did you tell me that? It’s like you wanted to mess with my head.”

“I wasn’t trying to mess with your head, son.” He reached out and grabbed my hand; I snatched away.

“Come on, dad.”

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

“Some things you should take to your grave. I didn’t need to know my mom was still alive.”

“You’re right. You’re right. I shouldn’t’ve forced you to carry my burden. I’ll tell them.”

“It’s not even that, dad. Keeping the secret isn’t what’s killing me-it’s the secret itself.” I winced. “Dad, our mom-your wife- is still alive. She never died. Dad, we had a funeral and everything. I try to wrap my head around it, and I just can’t. Mom left us. Why the hell didn’t she give us a chance?”

“She didn’t deserve you.”

“But, I deserved a mother!”

When he pulled me into his arms, I couldn’t hold the tears in any longer. “You did. All of you did.”

“I can’t lose you too, dad.”

“You have me.”

“But I won’t.”

“You’ll always have me.” He held me tighter. “You’ll always have me.” His voice cracked.

His week-old beard, black with patches of white, scraped my face. He let go and gently tapped my right arm with a fist. He slapped my left arm. Then my right arm again.

“Come on,” he said, “give me a smile.”

For whatever reason, I laughed. Then he joined along, but his wheezing stopped me immediately.

I pushed past him, purposely bumping shoulders, and walked towards my car. I patted myself down, searching for my keys. Since they were inside, I walked down the street. He followed. The spark wheel rotating and him inhaling and then exhaling sounded like a score in a horror movie.

“You’re more like me than I’m willing to admit,” he said. “A nice little walk always calms us down.” He inhaled.

I turned around, snatched the cigarette from his mouth, and took a puff. Bringing in too much smoke, I choked. After a few seconds, I still coughed, which turned into gagging—gagging into vomiting. After throwing up the only meal I had eaten on our neighbor’s lawn, I dry heaved. The ground seemed to move under my feet, and I leaned forward with my hands on my knees. Each breath burned and irritated my throat.

“That is hands down the worst thing I ever tasted,” I said and then coughed.

“Smoking is a disgusting habit for disgusting people.”

“How do you smoke those things?”

“I lost free will a long time ago. The first time was horrible. That didn’t stop you, old man. Curiosity brought me right back onto the road of addiction.”

“You make it look so relaxing.”

“It is, once your lungs are a little black.”

“I think I’ll stick to my walks.”

“Those are nice too. A man like myself needs to inhale and exhale.” He pulled a cigarette from a carton in his pants pocket, lit up, and inhaled in love. Smoke trailed behind him.

“And all it does is kill you,” I said to myself.

The smell churned my stomach and pulled more of my dinner into my throat. He was halfway down the street when I no longer had the urge to vomit and had the strength to stand upright. Under the streetlights, the smoke looked like clouds, radiating and captivating.

“Dad,” I said.

He stopped to let me catch up. “Son.”

“Tell me about her.”

“You know what I know. I may have lied about your mother dying, but she’s the woman I described through and through.”

“I get that, but how was she with me? What was she like? Was she ticklish? Did she put sugar on her grits? Who the hell is she?”

He thought long and hard before he spoke. With his eyes closed, he took a drag and let the smoke drift from his slightly opened lips. The smoke, burning my throat and nose, made it harder to breathe.

He smiled. It wasn’t long before that smile turned into a frown and then laughter. After, he grunted. He went to speak but laughed again just as he put the cigarette to his lips and inhaled. Smoke wildly burst from his mouth. When he found his words, he went on forever about her, finally having the chance to talk about the woman who left him all alone with three kids and a cigarette addiction.

He told me things I never knew about my mom. She was an esthetician who moved from New Hampshire to California on her 18th birthday with more hopes than dreams. Piss her off, and she would think about it every day for a week, not before cursing you out in the politest way possible. If it were up to her, she would have never listened to a Jimi Hendrix song. Like me, she was musically ambitious yet far from inclined; that never stopped her from singing original songs when working around the house. Dad couldn’t remember any of them.

Dad went on about her obsession with ice cream when she was pregnant with Eve and me. On Eve and I’s first birthday, mom let us try ice cream for the first time, and I spat up across her brand new dress. He wouldn’t stop talking about ice cream. My mom only ate it in a cone; they went to an ice cream parlor on their first date; the day she left us, I ate ice cream without throwing up for the first time and had it every day until high school.

“Demons could have crawled from the depths of Hell, and everything was A-Okay as long as you had your ice cream,” he said. “You had to have your ice cream. If you couldn’t, oh boy, you cried crocodile tears. That’s all you wanted. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Rainbow sherbet in a cone. It was like she was your ice cream. That’s one habit I wouldn’t mind having. Obesity and diabetes don’t sound as bad as cancer.”

“Yeah.”

“I could’ve sworn you saw her leave.”

“I would’ve remembered my mom leaving me.”

“You could’ve blocked it from your memory for a good reason. You wouldn’t stop asking for ice cream, especially the morning after. You woke up, begging me to get you some. So I did.”

He rambled, but I listened to everything he said. According to him, whenever I cried, mom sat in the laundry room because the rumbling sounds of the washer and dryer calmed me down.

There were owls out. Sometimes they would sit on the windowsills, hooting.

The neighborhood was like a maze. Many of the streets were dead-ends or cul-de-sacs. When I was younger, back before technology ruined our sense of fun, Eve, Vanessa, and I, along with all the other kids in the neighborhood, would watch cars backtrack, looking for a particular address.

Dad, yawning, dragging his feet across the concrete, and slurring his words, went back home around 1:30 in the morning. Not long after, I followed behind him.

Eve sat in bed, with her back against the wall, munching popcorn from a bowl.

“We used to make so many forts in here,” she said.

“Dad hated Fortlandia.”

“Really?”

“Oh yeah. If you paid attention, you could tell how much he hated us using his good sheets. It was all in the cabinet slamming. If he slammed a cabinet, he was pissed. That and smoking.”

“It’s not easy raising three kids on your own. He had every right to be stressed.”

“Yeah.”

“Remember that time we refused to take down our fort? We had it up for like four days before dad took it down when we were at school.”

The floor in the hall creaked from the weight of footsteps. I glanced over my shoulder at Vanessa walking down the hall, scratching her head.

“I smell popcorn,” Vanessa said.

“Please spare me from all these calories,” Eve said.

“What’s the password?” I asked, looking at Vanessa from over my shoulder.

“The sweetest strawberries picked on Wednesdays,” she said.

I let her in, and she sat beside Eve. She ate one popcorn at a time.

“I can’t believe you remember the password to the fortress of Edrix,” Eve said.

“Like you two made it easy to forget. I couldn’t come in here without saying it. Trust me; it’s permanently imprinted in my brain. It might just be the last thing I think about before I die. Thanks, by the way.”

“Thank Hendrix. That was his genius at work.”

Vanessa looked at me. “How did you come up with such a ridiculous password?”

“Does it matter 15 years later?”

“Has it been that long?”

“Eve and I were ten.”

“Can we stop walking down memory lane? I’m starting to feel old.”

“Scary, right? Our childhood is drifting further and further away, and the crazy thing is, we don’t even notice.”

“It seems like yesterday I was standing outside that door and saying that silly password for the first time.”

“I remember making it up.”

“So, are you going to share with the world how you came up with it?”

“I saw it on a show. Well, kind of. It was a documentary about a woman who lost her vision. The lady was talking about everything that she still does with her husband. One of them was picking strawberries every Wednesday morning. I assumed they would be sweet.”

“The sweetest strawberries picked on Wednesdays,” Eve said and smiled.

“The password is so ridiculous,” Vanessa said.

“It’s better than ‘The pizza place on Parkway pleasantly pleases Peter,” I said.

They, scrunching up their faces and looking off, tried to repeat the saying. They messed up and started over. Vanessa said it correctly first, but she spoke slowly. Her efforts to say it faster only ended with her getting tongue twisted.

“That’s a stupid password,” Eve said.

“The pizza place on Parkway pleasantly pleases Peter,” I said.

“I’m glad you went with the other one.”

“The pizza place on Parkway pleasantly pleases Peter.”

“Okay, I get it. You can say the password, and I can’t. No need to rub it in.”

“Hey, Eve,” Vanessa said. “The pizza place on Parkway pleasantly pleases Peter.”

Eve threw popcorn at us; she missed me-not even coming close. I ate it from off the ground, and grinning, winked at her.

“Thanks,” I said.

“Now that’s the Hen-Hen I like to see,” Eve said.

“Can you not call me that?”

“But that’s your name.”

“That’s not my name.”

“Aww, you don’t like your name? Stop acting like this is brand new. It’s been your name for years.”

“And I hated every minute of it.”

Vanessa threw popcorn at me.

“What’s wrong, Hen-Hen?” She asked.

“How did we go from the pizza place on Parkway that pleasantly pleases Peter to this?”

Vanessa shrugged and then got up and went downstairs. She came back with three bottles of water, one tucked under her arms. I stopped her at the door. She rolled her eyes at my sheepish grin.

“What’s the password?” Eve asked.

“The sweetest strawberries picked on Wednesdays,” Vanessa said. She handed me a bottle of water. Then she sat back on the bed, giving one to Eve.

“It’s nice that she can still enjoy life after everything that happened.”

“Who?” Vanessa asked.

“The woman in the documentary.”

“You aren’t wrong. There’s worse things than being blind.”

“It’s more than nice; it’s beautiful.”

I thought back to the look of satisfaction on the woman’s face after saying she still picked strawberries on Wednesdays. Everyone with a heart who had watched the documentary probably smiled and called her strong.

In the alternative universe that featured our dad in the documentary, viewers, looking for a feel-good story, shook their heads at his selfishness and poor decision-making.  He lived his best life at the cost of his health and family.

“I wish I could go back,” Eve said. “It was so much easier back then.”

“I’ll be right here in the present day,” Vanessa said.

“What? You wouldn’t kill to be a kid again. Us three in the backseat of the truck on our way to Toys-R-Us.”

“I’m not too big on living in the past.”

“I don’t want to live in the past. I just want to visit.”

“Be careful not to get lost. You’ll start asking ‘what ifs’ and ‘maybes.’ Those are never good.”

“What if mom never died?”

“That’s the shit I’m talking about–That right there. A what-if isn’t going to dig mom from that grave.”

“But, hear me out, what if she never died?”

“Stop being stupid.” She spoke sternly.

Eve watched Vanessa eat popcorn. The owls hooting and Vanessa eating made the only sounds. When the owls weren’t hooting, and Vanessa wasn’t chewing, it was dead quiet. Eve moved the bowl as Vanessa, looking forward, reached inside.

“Why do you have to be so rude?” Eve asked.

“I’m not trying to be rude. I’m trying to save you from yourself. Stop worrying about something you can’t change. Mom died. Why are we wondering about life if she didn’t?”

“The point is to dream.”

“Excuse me if I don’t concern myself with something that has no bearing on life whatsoever.”

They went back and forth about the purpose of dreaming. Eve thought dreaming was healthy for the soul, and Vanessa believed it was detrimental.

They are both right, I thought.

Since dad told me the truth about our mother, I saw her in my dreams every night, holding me so tight in her arms as she rubbed my head and kissed my cheeks like I was a child. Daydreams carried me through the day. The more she appeared in my dreams, speaking in a voice that was not her own, the more energy drained from my body. The dreams never stopped. I saw and heard her when I brushed my teeth, ate, showered. Everything. She clung to my life and made it her own.

I stood over them, took the bowl from Eve, and handed it to Vanessa.

“Life is all about balance,” I said. “You can’t do that, and you’ll fall. Dreaming is equally as important as air or water. It’s essential to our sanity. Life has its ways of knocking you to the ground and punching you while you’re trying to get up. Sometimes dreaming helps the dirt taste like cake.”

“If that doesn’t sound like something dad would say,” Vanessa said.

“He probably got it from dad,” Eve said and laughed. “There is no way he made that up himself.”

“Aww,” I said. “You two are just jealous.”

“Jealous of what? You? Please.”

“That’s right, jealous. You can’t stand seeing me flaming you with the quotables. It’s eating you up inside.”

“Whatever. Did you make that up?”

“I did. Right on the spot.”

“Oh, God. You’re becoming Dad.”

“Is that a bad thing?”

“No, it’s not, Hen-Hen.”

Vanessa left again, hurrying down the stairs, and came back with three cups and a bottle of cinnamon whiskey. She uttered both passwords, pushing me to the side. They drank cup after cup like water. I couldn’t bring myself to drink, too afraid of losing myself in the process.

They kept asking and nudging the bottle closer. That never changed my answer.  It wasn’t long until they could barely hold their glazed-over eyes open as they swayed from side to side. Eve fell across Vanessa’s lap. Vanessa nearly fell forward off the bed several times. Luckily, she caught herself.

Eve ate popcorn as Vanessa drummed on her head. They slurred their words, and I couldn’t understand what they were trying to say, but it had to be a joke because they laughed. Their laughter turned into silence as they dozed off mid-conversation.

Vanessa was still sitting up.

I sat the bowl of popcorn on the nightstand and laid them down in bed. Afterward, I lay on the inflatable bed and tried my best to fall asleep.  Eventually, I did.

The dreams about my mom woke me up.

When I ventured downstairs for a late-night snack, I stifled my fear at the sight of Vanessa standing in front of the refrigerator in pitch black. Her demeanor, calm and unbothered, settled on the same certainty she had the night before she moved away for college. Before I could acknowledge her with a hey or a smile, she slid over a pint of chocolate chip ice cream as she asked about graduation and if I planned to attend grad school or find a job. The day before, the Harper residence experienced the typical ups and downs of a dysfunctional family, where we took it as a personal challenge to bicker and fight. Thinking back on it all kept my mind in a fog, and before I knew it, I asked, “so, are you going back home?”

“Damn. Tell me how you really feel.”

“Not like that. You asked about my career plans, and then I thought about yours. This is coming from a place of concern, really. Vanessa, you’ve been here for a minute. Do you still have a job?”

“I graduated high school with an associate’s degree, finished undergrad with a 4.0 GPA, completed both my grad and Ph.D. programs before thirty, and rarely, if ever, took a day off work. I think I put in the work to afford bereavement.” She gingerly brushed the countertops with her fingertips, and in the low visibility, she resembled our mom with her downside turned lips and square-shaped face. “Besides, what do I look like leaving my dad and my annoying little twins?”

“Yeah.”

Plagued by guilt and a fear of never living up to Vanessa, I hobbled to the kitchen table and gorged on ice cream fast enough to cause a brain freeze.

Vanessa tapped my shoulder with a firm slap, which turned into a massage when I glanced up with the fakest of smiles.

“I know I act like I’m mom sometimes-”

“You aren’t mom. You’re far from it.”

Her eyes glazed over to fond and untainted memories of my mother that I would never have. With her voice jumping in volume and adoration every second, Vanessa shared untold stories about our mother, and right there, when she had so much love for the mom who eventually abandoned us, I understood why dad chose to lie over the years.

If only dad let me live in that lie.

~~~

~~~

About the Author

 Lamar Neal is an author of three poetry collections and one novel. When he’s not writing, you will most likely find him at home, playing video games, online shopping, or trying to decide his next hairstyle.

 

 

 

 

 

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#BookTour “Dead Butterflies: A Serial Killer Dark Romance” by Lacee Hightower

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Contemporary Romance

Date Published:  04-02-2022

 

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To forsake: To abandon, desert, or leave with no intention to return. The Bible states that those who forsake God’s laws of justice will be punished. But when a loved one dies unexpectedly and tragically, even the strongest or most religious man may cast aside their childhood beliefs and fall into a life of … the forsaken.

 This connection between us is instant, eerily so. He sets my body on fire, ignites my senses, and seduces my soul. But there’s something in him that most people don’t perceive. A sadness. A darkness. An evil aura. Behind the pretty face and awe-inspiring smile is a whole other person.

A criminal. A sociopath. A serial killer.

I should run, lock my doors, and never look back at this man who claims we’re nothing but an insurmountable disaster. He’s everything I should avoid. Everything I should loathe. Everything I should be terrified of.

But I don’t care what he’s done in the past. Knowing what I do doesn’t stop my heart from beating wildly every time he looks at me. It’s only a reminder that true love means taking the good with the bad, the darkness with the light, the dirty with the untainted … and
never forsaking those who mean the most.

The more Derek Kinnard tells me to walk away, the more I seem to persevere.

Some secrets are simply worth keeping hidden…

~~~

EXCERPT

“Who are they?” I spit out. “The men in the pictures?”

“Not your concern.”

“And why does it smell like something was just burning in here?”

“I don’t smell a damn thing.”

My belly twists and turns as he glowers at me with a cold, empty expression that looks like a death stare. I attempt a step forward, but before I manage, his hands are around my neck and he’s pushed me against the wall with such a force that one of the family portraits falls to the ground and shatters.

“I could snap this beautiful neck in the blink of a goddamned second,” he says in a tone laced with pure evil. “Paralyze you, or worse.” He releases the firm hold around my throat but keeps his body against mine.

“You’re insane,” I say shakily, while fear prickles through my body. “One minute you’re touching me and the next you’re threatening me. You aren’t right in the head, Derek. Clearly.”

“My sanity isn’t any concern of yours, and you’re correct. I owe you an apology for taking this somewhere I shouldn’t have. Now do yourself a favor and go home. Forget you met me. And if you’re as smart as you come across, then you will forget everything you just saw.”

Panting, I push at his chest. “Gladly. Just move and I’ll be gone.” I take a step toward the open door, then stop for another second. “And you know what? To hell with you! I don’t know what kind of evildoing you’re involved in, but I’m certain of one thing. You’re no different than you were back then.”

He glares at me with an unyielding coldness, like I’m the antichrist while he willingly holds the door open.

“Silence is always golden, Ms. Hunt. And one is smarter to remain mum than to risk being a victim.”

~~~

~~~

About the Author

Lacee Hightower is an American writer and romance novelist who loves all books dark and dirty and refers to her style as dark contemporary romance.
Living in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, she describes herself as a foodie that can’t cook, a large lover of fashion and SHOES, and an enormous
hopeless romantic.  Since she was old enough to know what the word meant, she loved the whole concept of romance and happy endings. Even though she has always enjoyed writing, life got in the way, and she never really thought of pursuing it seriously until she decided to write her first book
after both her children were grown in 2017. Since that time, she has won two Readers’ Choice Awards from Evernight Publishing and had three books hit the best seller list.

Now with a nice glass of wine in hand, or not, she is learning to love bringing the characters in her head to life on paper for those who enjoy peeking into another world.

Follow her on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and https://www.lacehightower.com for information on new releases, books on sales, and other news.

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#BookTour “The Insurgent” by Teri Polen

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Welcome to the book tour for the exciting sequel in The Colony series, The Insurgent by Teri Polen!

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The Insurgent (The Colony #2)

Expected Publication Date: May 19th, 2022

Genre: YA Dystopian

If a megalomaniac threatened your family, would you give up your freedom for them? Would you give up your soul?

Asher Solomon is faced with that choice. And makes the ultimate sacrifice.

Exactly as Director Silas Reeves expected him to.

Unable to live as the Colony’s premier assassin, Ash retreats to a corner of his mind, ceding control of his body to the alter-ego he was engineered to be—Subject A36. As he’s unleashed to battle the Insurgents, the only family he ever knew, the tide of war shifts in Silas’s favor.

Combined with his expansion into new territories, the director is poised to take over the world.

But the Insurgents don’t give up easily. Not on their cause, and not on their people. With the help of a few double agents deep in the Colony, they stand a fighting chance at ending Silas’s reign.

In order to shut down the program, they face almost insurmountable odds. And their most dangerous foe—their former champion turned killing machine, A36.

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Excerpt

Long-3

Asher

My legs collapsed, and I fell to my knees. The throbbing in my head hammered against my skull. Like my brain was trying to force its way out somehow. It was agonizing, and my stomach twisted with nausea. My lungs heaved, still short of oxygen. I crawled over to what was left of the mattress and rolled onto it.

I’m here.

Clutching my head, I searched the room for the source of the voice. I still couldn’t see. Someone could have easily slipped in while I destroyed the room.

Give me control.

So close. It was so close. But where?

End your pain.

In my head. The voice echoed in my head.

It was him. A36.

Through the crushing agony I gritted my teeth and struggled to force the word through my lips.

“No.”

But I felt him clawing his way out, inch by inch from the deep abyss inside me where I’d kept him imprisoned for my own sanity and the safety of others.

You have nothing left.

I squeezed my eyes shut and shook my head. But he spoke the truth. All that held me together were the scars of everything I’d lost. Everyone I’d ever loved.

And scars could be easily ripped open.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Black Rose Writing

Subject A36

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If genetic engineering could guarantee you and your family perfect health and unparalleled beauty, would you pay top dollar for it? Would you kill for it?

Residents of the Colony would. And do.

Only the Insurgents can stop them.

Seventeen-year-old Asher Solomon is a premier operative with the Insurgents. He and his team have rescued countless hostages, saving them from painful deaths in Colony labs as desirable genetic traits are stripped from their bodies.

He’s also suffered more losses than anyone should have to.

Then Asher gets intel that might give his people the upper hand. The Colony is searching for Subject A36. If the Insurgents determine the subject’s identity first, they might be able to turn the tide of the war.

Asher and his team embark on their riskiest mission ever, and the stakes have never been higher. But even if he survives the physical dangers, the devastating secrets he uncovers might destroy him.

About the Author

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Teri Polen reads and watches horror, sci-fi, and fantasy. The Walking Dead, Harry Potter, and anything Marvel-related are likely to cause fangirl delirium. She lives in Bowling Green, KY with her husband, sons, and black cat. Her first novel, Sarah, was a horror finalist in the 2017 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. Subject A36 was voted one of the 50 Best Indie Books of 2020 at ReadFree.ly. Visit her online at www.teripolen.com

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June 6th

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June 7th

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June 9th

Cheryl’s Book Nook (Review) https://cherylsbooknook.blogspot.com/

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Robbie Cheadle (Review) https://www.robbiecheadle.co.za/author/robertalouisecheadle/

Bunny’s Reviews (Review) https://bookwormbunnyreviews.blogspot.com/

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Reads & Reels (Spotlight) http://readsandreels.com

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#BookBlitz “From Brick & Darkness” by J.L. Sullivan

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Welcome to my stop on the tour for From Brick & Darkness, a gritty YA novel steeped in djinn mythology. Read on for an exclusive excerpt and a chance to win a signed copy!

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From Brick & Darkness

Publication Date: May 16, 2022

Genre: YA/ Modern Fantasy/ Retelling

Publisher: Wild Rose Press

The most powerful wishes aren’t said with words.

Bax always fantasized something remarkable would happen in his life. So when a decrepit man with glowing purple eyes offers him a ring intended for his estranged father, Bax accepts.

The ring speaks to Bax in a dream, tempting him with a vision of a powerful djinn. Desperate to make his fantasies a reality, Bax unleashes a creature called Ifrit, but soon learns this djinn isn’t what the ring led him to believe. Feeding off the depths of his subconscious, the sinister demon fulfills what he thinks Bax wants by manipulating, threatening, and murdering. With everyone he loves in danger and a trail of crimes pointing back at him, Bax must scramble to solve the puzzle that will banish Ifrit forever.

Add to Goodreads

Excerpt

Neck bones popped as his head rotated toward me, his face eclipsing the rays of the streetlight. His irises were dull purple, glazed over with a foggy film, and deep-set wrinkles radiated from the corners of his eyes like arrows drawing attention to them.

A shudder caused the keys to slip from my hand and clank on the ground. My face burned with shame that the poor man’s appearance had startled me. My rudeness would have disappointed Mom.

“I’m sorry, but really—” I snagged my keys.

His hand slithered out of the brick-colored sleeve as his arm rose, trembling as he strained to hold the weight of his own limb. Gloved in loose, veiny skin, his skeleton hand had yellowed fingernails so overgrown they grew in on themselves like curly birthday ribbons. As his fingers unfurled, he revealed a ring nestled in his palm.

It was large. Too large. The ring resembled the toy jewelry Jason’s sister played with or something from a Halloween costume. Grimy gold with a single dull purplish jewel that matched his eyes.

His hand trembled under the heaviness of the ring. “Take it.”

Shifting my backpack to my other shoulder, I took it. “What is this?”

The corners of his thin lips curled into a grin as a gust of warm, dry wind cut through the chilly October night and swirled around me

Available on Amazon and at Barnes & Noble

About the Author

John-Sullivan-headshot-BW-Cropped-Web

J.L. Sullivan writes young adult stories inspired by gritty urban environments and the tales that percolate within abandoned buildings and desolate alleys. He lives in St. Louis with his wife, two daughters, and a dog named Princess Penelope Picklesworth.

J.L. Sullivan | Twitter | Instagram | Facebook | Goodreads

Click the link below to enter for a chance to win a signed copy!

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June 6th

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Bunny’s Reviews (Review) https://bookwormbunnyreviews.blogspot.com/

The Faerie Review (Spotlight) http://www.thefaeriereview.com

June 7th

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Nesie’s Place (Spotlight) https://nesiesplace.wordpress.com

June 8th

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@takealookatmybookshelf (Review) https://www.instagram.com/takealookatmybookshelf/

June 9th

Freelance Writer, Janny (Spotlight) https://freelancewriterjannyc.com/

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Jessica Belmont (Review) https://jessicabelmont.com/

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June 10th

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#BookTour “Where There’s Doubt” by Terry Tyler

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Welcome to the book tour for Terry Tyler’s latest novel! A thriller called Where There’s Doubt. Read on for more info!

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Where There’s Doubt

Publication Date: March 24th, 2022

Genre: Psychological Thriller/ Drama

‘I can be anything you want me to be. Even if you don’t know you want it. Especially if you don’t know you want it.’

Café owner Kate is mentally drained after a tough two years; all she wants from her online chess partner is entertainment on lonely evenings, and maybe a little virtual flirtation.

She is unaware that Nico Lewis is a highly intelligent con artist who, with an intricately spun web of lies about their emotional connection, will soon convince her that he is The One.

Neither does Kate know that his schemes involve women who seek love on dating sites, as well as his small publishing business. A host of excited authors believe Nico is about to make their dreams come true.

Terry Tyler’s twenty-fourth publication is a sinister psychological drama that highlights the dark side of internet dating—and the danger of ignoring the doubts of your subconscious.

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Excerpt

“Nico is a romance scammer, and this excerpt is from his point of view.”

After the barbecue weekend with Kate I do an impromptu ‘just had to see you’ overnight with Heather because she’s been acting rather strangely via text, and I can’t risk her getting pissed off with me. I take her roses, and on the spur of the moment I come up with a story about my cousin Dieter (Dieter? Weird name choice, brain!) who throws the best New Year’s Eve parties.

“Low key, just an incredible dinner with a selected few. He’s got a stupidly big house in the Northamptonshire countryside—we could stay there, make a weekend of it.”

I chose a date six months away to demonstrate my commitment, but now I wonder if it might be an idea to start talking spring breaks for next year, too. I need to get her up to speed, because she’ll be the first hit—got to be, because her house will need to be sold. Andrew, our tame estate agent, is well in with a couple of property developer types who are always looking at places like Heather’s to flip, so we’re fairly confident of a quick cash sale, but obviously we can’t rest on our laurels. I leave the sales side to Andrew. Might as well get all I can out of him in return for his eventual pay-off.

He’s getting ten grand—he wants to quit his job and go backpacking.

I leave Heather on Wednesday, and speed straight to Diss to up the pace with Polly. Down on one knee, the whole works. The ring is white gold with a pear shaped aquamarine, set off with tiny diamonds. One thousand, two hundred and fifty pounds, paying for it on credit; we’ll need make a couple of payments so as not to draw attention to ourselves. Em thought it was better to go down this road than the ‘used to be my mother’s’ story, with some piece of old tat from a pawn shop; Polly’s exactly the type who would take her new engagement ring to be valued.

I don’t want to think about the night I was forced to endure after the proposal; my acting powers were stretched to breaking point, never mind my restraint. Before we went to bed, she insisted we stand in front of the mirror to practice corny wedding photo poses.

“Come on, it’ll be a giggle!” she said. That’s how she talks. Calls a drink a ‘tipple’, and refers to watching romcoms and eating cake as ‘guilty pleasures’. She has plenty of the latter, usually pink iced cupcakes. Oh, and then there’s her great friend the universe. She believes she won the lottery and met me because she asked the universe to ‘gift her’ with these delights.

“You just have to believe, and reach out to the universe,” she tells me.

It really is that simple. Allegedly. I’ve been asking it for this four million pound yacht I saw on a programme about the Southampton boat show, but it’s ignored me so far.

That night we stood there, me in a t-shirt and boxers, her in a silky, lace-edged ‘champagne’ coloured slip (I’d have called it off-white but she insists the colour is champagne), and she said, “Talk about hashtag blessed! Thank you, Universe!”

She told me about her life philosophy during an early email exchange (except that Polly doesn’t ‘tell’ people about things; she ‘fesses up’). I advised her to be very careful what she tells strangers on the internet, because there are a lot of unscrupulous characters out there. She took this as an indication of how much I care for her. You couldn’t make it up, could you?

I’ve had to weather a few meetings with her mother, too, but happily she fancies me as well, and can’t wait to welcome me into the family.

Of course, Polly being Polly, as soon as I proposed it became all about the wedding plans. The venue. The guest list. Buffet or sit-down meal? A themed wedding, perhaps? Okay by me; she was so excited about her new project that she was happy just to sit up in bed chattering away, which gave me a rest. Just when I thought I might have to put a pillow over her face and apply pressure, she got out her laptop and announced that she’d had a wonderful idea.

“A boutique hotel!”

Qu’est-ce que tu as dit, chéri?” She likes it when I ‘talk French’. It’s ‘so romantic’.

Available on Amazon

About the Author

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Terry Tyler is a writer of post-apocalyptic, dystopian and dark psychological fiction, and currently has 24 books published on Amazon.

When not busy writing she reads a great deal (she is a member of Rosie Amber’s Book Review Team), blogs about TV, writing and any random stuff that pops into her head, likes going for walks in the countryside and takes too many photos of trees. She loves history, Twitter, clever observational humour and is moderately obsessed with post-apocalyptic scenarios generally, and The Walking Dead. Terry lives with her husband in the north east of England.

Terry Tyler | Twitter | Goodreads | BookBub

WhereThere'sDoubt copy

Book Tour Schedule

May 23rd

R&R Book Tours (Kick-Off) http://rrbooktours.com

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Riss Reviews (Review) https://rissreviewsx.wixsite.com/website

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Books + Coffee = Happiness (Review) https://bookscoffeehappiness.com/

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@gryffindorbookishnerd (Review) https://www.instagram.com/gryffindorbookishnerd/

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May 25th

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Liliyana Shadowlyn (Review) https://lshadowlynauthor.com/

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Timeless Romance Blog (Spotlight) https://aubreywynne.com/

May 26th

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#TeaserTuesday “Thirst” by J. Hali Steele

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Erotica, Dark Fantasy, Vampires

Date Published: May 20, 2022

Publisher: Changeling Press

 

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Feeling thirsty?

Thirsty: Monique has finally found a place where she can live out her fantasies. Little does she know the den of iniquity she’s walked into is more than just a theme club. Omen’s is the playground for every type of monster in the world.

A Thirst to Die For: When Nolan gives life to Amanda’s carnal fantasies, his own life changes. Hell is coming to pay him a visit, and he’s about to lose control.

Bane of Existence: One night spent in a human woman’s arms brought Bane, a son of Satan, as close to heaven as he’ll ever get. Now the only way he can have Iris is to convince her she wants him as much as he needs her.

A Vampire’s Thirst: Once Nolan gave all souls moderation in everything. He was good at his job, and he called heaven home — until he fucked the wrong seraphim! Now he’s a vampire slayer serving the devil, keeping an eye on Omen’s, and babysitting Lucifer’s son. Not a job he expected to hold for damn near eight hundred years…

 

Publisher’s Note:  Thirst (Razor’s Edge Box Set) contains the
previously published novellas Thirsty, A Thirst to Die For, Bane of
Existence, and A Vampire’s Thirst.

~~~

Excerpt from Thirsty

All rights reserved.

Copyright ©2022 J. Hali Steele

 “Must be a cold day in hell. You haven’t come here alone in ages.
Losing your touch or what?”

Since Nolan had been asked to keep an eye on the club, and on the
devilishly handsome man behind the bar, he almost never visited without
someone to make his evening more exciting. Giving Omen’s owner, Peris, a
long, appraising look, Nolan’s cock twitched in regret. He’d been too busy
lately.

“You asking to be touched? ‘Cause I can do that, and make you like
it.” Nolan sat on his normal stool at the end of the long, shiny wooden
bar, and eyed too many empty tables. “Where is everyone?”

“Resting up from their wicked weekend. And you wouldn’t know what to
do with that cold dick up this hot ass.”

The sound of the swinging door distracted them both.

God damn, the woman was striking. Tall, curvaceous, with dark brown hair to
her ass. An ass that cried out to be fucked. Christ. Nolan’s cock came
alive. So did every other part of his body, which took a lot of doing,
considering he’d been dead too many years to count.

Peris chuckled from the other side of the counter, giving his balls a
noticeable squeeze. “Looks like a live one to me. I might make a play
for her myself.”

“Not unless you’re looking forward to visiting relatives.” Peris
had connections to the hierarchy below, but with the dark one’s permission,
Nolan would send the young man to Hell in a heartbeat.

Nolan had been called lots of things — dead, undead, bloodsucker,
motherfucker — and he lived up to every one of them. He was a Slayer, and
he was the best. “Get the lady a beer. Let’s see what she does with
it.”

Watching the woman make her way to the bar, he took a deep breath. Human.
Omen’s wasn’t a place humans popped into often, and for good reason. The
cloying feeling of imminent danger was prevalent, a vibe even the shallowest
human sensed the minute they entered the establishment.

This one ignored it, so she must be looking for something. Or someone. The
blood pulsing through her gorgeous body would soon be running through his
veins. Wouldn’t kill her. Vamps didn’t do that anymore. Okay, some did, but
they were the ones he took out of play, and he enjoyed every minute of
it.

She slid onto a stool at the opposite end of the bar, and it felt like
she’d plopped into his lap. Cum slipped from the slit on his dick, which
jerked violently inside his designer slacks. He reached up to loosen a
button or two at the collar of the stark white silk shirt he wore. Getting
into her panties, if she wore any, was going to be pure joy. After fucking
her senseless, he’d taste her — just a little bit if she was worth another
ride. If not, he’d have a full meal before sending her home.

Peris delivered a cold brew and a glass and turned away, pretending to
straighten the bottles of liquor on display. Nolan, adjusting his heightened
vision, gazed right into her eyes when she looked his way. One hazel, one
brown — not something he saw often. Tipping the bottle toward him, she
smiled and nodded before putting it to her lips. No glass! Excellent. A cock
sucker, and he’d bet every year he had lived she was a good one. When her
pink tongue darted through painted red lips, wrapped around the top of the
bottle and licked it clean, he made his move.

Easing into her mind, he sifted through all the day’s clutter. Such tiny
panties. With a groan that lodged in his throat, he backed out, sniffing at
the air. Sweet. What he’d unearthed in her mind made his dead heart beat
like a drum. Fantasies should be played out, and he intended to help with
hers.

~~~

About the Author

J. Hali Steele wishes she could grow fur, wings, or fangs, so she can stay warm, fly, or just plain bite the crap out of… Well, she can’t do those things but she wishes she could!

Multi-published and Amazon bestselling author of Romance in Paranormal, Fantasy, and Contemporary worlds which include ReligErotica and LGBTQ stories where humans, vampyres, shapeshifters and angels collide-they collide a lot! When J. Hali’s not writing or reading, she can be found snuggled in front of the TV with a cat in her lap, and a cup of
coffee.

Growl and roar — it’s okay to let the beast out. — J. Hali Steele

 

Facebook: @jhalisteele

Follow the Publisher on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter: @changelingpress

 

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