Review: For the Love of April French by Penny Aimes + Excerpt

Review: For the Love of April French by Penny Aimes + ExcerptFor the Love of April French by Penny Aimes
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: contemporary romance, LGBT
Pages: 352
Published by Carina Adores on August 31, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

An Entertainment Weekly Best Romance of Summer 2021!
“This book gave me every last one of the Intense Romance Feelings I crave.” —New York Times bestselling author Talia Hibbert

April French doesn't do relationships and she never asks for more.
A long-standing regular at kink club Frankie's, she's kind of seen it all. As a trans woman, she’s used to being the scenic rest stop for others on their way to a happily-ever-after. She knows how desire works, and she keeps hers carefully boxed up to take out on weekends only.
After all, you can't be let down if you never ask.
Then Dennis Martin walks into Frankie's, fresh from Seattle and looking a little lost. April just meant to be friendly, but one flirtatious drink turns into one hot night.
When Dennis asks for her number, she gives it to him.
When he asks for her trust, well…that's a little harder.
And when the desire she thought she had such a firm grip on comes alive with Dennis, April finds herself wanting passion, purpose and commitment.
But when their relationship moves from complicated to impossible, April will have to decide how much she's willing to want.
Carina Adores is home to highly romantic contemporary love stories where LGBTQ+ characters find their happily-ever-afters. Discover a new Carina Adores book every month!

My Review:

At the beating heart of this story is the romance between two people who might just be perfect for each other. The potential heartbreak in this romance is that just as much as their likes and dislikes, quirks and propensities align to make them a perfect match, their insecurities and emotional baggage are just as well (or poorly, depending on how you look at it) aligned to drive them apart.

Both April French and Dennis Martin are kind of new in Austin. Both have fled there, from opposite coasts, after each of them left places and lives that were just too full up of memories of everything that went wrong in their previous relationships.

April’s been in Austin just a few years, but long enough to have settled in, as much as she can, into Austin being her city and her home, with the kink club Frankie’s being the center of the life that she has carved out for herself, one painstaking piece at a time.

Dennis’ best friend Jason – rumored to be a silent partner in Frankie’s – steers him towards the club because he knows that Dennis has a place there, and that the kink community in Austin is at least one place Dennis will be able to call home.

April is a submissive whose previous long term relationship was with a Domme who abused both her love and her trust. In his last long term relationship, Dennis unknowingly abused his power as a newbie Dom over his sub because he didn’t learn how to separate the power dynamic of the play from the rest of their lives. She was drowning, he thought everything was copacetic until it all blew up in both their faces.

Both are feeling guilty and insecure. Both are starting over. When they meet for the first time, they connect instantly on multiple levels. Their kinks align perfectly. But the guilt and insecurity they carry from their previous relationships creates an emotional minefield. He’s learned enough to know that he needs clear consent at every stage. He’s afraid to push too hard out of fear that he’ll recreate the mess he caused before. He’s learned more but not nearly enough.

And April has learned to her cost that partners like her, and are interested in playing with her for a while, but that no one ever stays. She’s internalized the feeling that she is not enough, so she’s learned not to let herself get too involved, because that only ends in heartbreak.

But from the moment they meet, they each want more than just a fling, or even a friends with benefits kind of thing. In their heart of hearts, they want a happy-ever-after with each other.

And they’re both, out of their own equal and opposite baggage, afraid to reach for it.

Escape Rating A: On the one hand, For the Love of April French is some of the fluffiest fluff that ever fluffed. And that’s both in spite of AND because of the way that the story deals with a whole bunch of really serious stuff along with, under, besides and on top of its fluffy fluff. I want to say it’s like cotton candy with a Sweet-Tart center, which captures the flavor but perhaps trivializes issues that shouldn’t be trivialized and that the story does not.

This is a nerd romance. And it’s a BDSM romance that emphasizes the romance while not shortchanging either the BDSM or the sexual aspects of their relationship. It’s an interracial romance, as Dennis is black and April is white. It’s also a romance between a transwoman and a cis man. As the icing on the surprisingly sweet cake of all of the above, it is also, briefly – very briefly – a secret workplace romance, which turns out to be the straw that very nearly breaks the proverbial camel’s back.

There’s also an explicit message about not just acknowledging your own baggage but actually dealing with your own crap, because no one else can do it for you. They can support you through the hard parts, but they can’t pick up your emotional baggage and process it on your behalf. If you don’t do it for yourself, if you don’t learn to love and care for yourself, whoever and whatever and however you might be, you won’t truly be a fit partner for anyone else.

And that’s a message of universal applicability that doesn’t get the attention it deserves in romance. A happy ever after won’t heal your emotional wounds. Working on your own emotional scars gets you ready for an HEA.

Not that, in this story, both April and Dennis don’t have a few extra pieces of emotional baggage to deal with because of the ways that societal expectations and limitations impact them because of their identities. Something which gives them each an insight into the shape of what the other faces without having much knowledge of details of it.

An exploration that feels like it’s handled both well and not so well at the same time. For example, each knows that the other faces a metric buttload of microaggressions – and all too often macroaggressions – without knowing the details until they get slapped in the face with exactly what the other faces.

The way that this got dealt with was the one thing in the story that got handled both well and not so well. It feels fair to say that the author probably assumed that readers wouldn’t know every detail about what it’s like to live as a black man or as a white transwoman and/or a member of the kink community and every other detail of those lives that makes them different. We may have some knowledge and hopefully a lot of empathy but not full knowledge of absolutely everything.

The method for dealing with those different perspectives and levels of knowledge was to tell the story in the first person, first from April’s perspective and then from Dennis’. As Dennis has more to learn because he didn’t learn what he should have about being a Dom in addition to what he needs to know to be the right partner for April, his point of view is more informative for those of us who are less aware. But the story is more April’s journey than Dennis’ so we start with her point of view and stay with it for the first half or so of the story. Then we switch and see the exact same events from his perspective.

It’s a bit jarring, because we go back in time several months on that start over. I think it would have worked better as a storytelling device if they’d alternated perspectives chapter by chapter or event by event.

Both perspectives are necessary, because we see more from her perspective but we learn more from his. Still the switches between them are just awkward. And very much on my other hand, as rough as those changeovers were they give the reader way more than a glimpse into the minds of a transwoman in a cis world, and a Black man in a largely-white world, both in the kink community and in general. That the author covers this territory at all, and covers it well, is noteworthy and absolutely adds to the reader’s empathy for these characters.

So the roughness of the changes between perspectives, which is a writing thing and not a story thing, is enough to drop the rating from an A+ to an A because at that level I start getting a bit picky about the writing things.

But the story, oh this fluffy, romantic, wonderful story is so very worth reading. It’s the kind you finish with a smile on your face and possibly even a bit of a happy song in your heart.

Considering that this is the author’s debut novel, the whole thing is beautifully awesome and I can’t wait to read more of her work! But first, you get to experience a bit of this wonderfully fluffy romance with this excerpt from the first chapter. Enjoy!

Excerpt from For the Love of April French

April French was having what she considered to be a good night. She was lonely and she was horny, but the lovely thing about Frankie’s, even on a Wednesday, was that she was probably not the only one. And the welcome wagon gambit was working. New doms always responded well to a little attention. She wondered how many of the hookups in her limited sexual history it accounted for—post-transition, of course. Her sexual history pre-transition was not only limited but singular.

On second thought, that was a depressing thing to contemplate. She decided to steer her mind back to the present, because her present was damn good-looking. He was Black, looked to be about her age, dark-skinned and tall, with narrow hips and shoulders that were probably narrower than hers, too.

There were clear hints of lean muscle under his suit, and the suit looked expensive. She didn’t really care about the name brand, but she had to admit the cost was reflected in how well it draped his body. He had short-cropped, wiry hair and that sexy kind of two-day stubble thing happening. A reassuring bass voice and an unreadable calm that made his face a handsome mask. The tightly wound dominants were almost always the most fun to see come unraveled with desire.

“So. You can flirt,” she said, trying to keep her voice even despite the smile tugging the corners of her mouth. It wouldn’t do to tip her hand just yet about how attractive he was. “And you wear nice suits. What else should I know about you?”

“Well, I just moved here,” he said. “Which you also knew. My name is Dennis. I came here from Seattle.”

She nodded, as Aerith set down a new Painkiller in front of her. “I’m April. Grow up out there?”

“No,” he said, shaking his head. “Illinois, actually. Little tiny town.”

“Oh hey,” she said, her smile shifting to be a little less flirtatious and a lot more genuine. It was always a treat to meet someone from the same basic context; someone she could count on to get it. Not that she expected to spend much time talking about growing up in the Midwest, but it was still a nice bonus. “Ohio. I went to school out East, though, and worked there for a while.”

He laughed. “So a lot like me, but in the opposite direction. UC Santa Barbara.”

She bobbed her head. “Wesleyan.”

They exchanged graduation years; she guessed he was probably thirty-five or thirty-four to her thirty-two. “What took you out there?” he asked.

“It was as far away as I could get without driving into the

ocean,” she said with a laugh. “And they had good financial aid. You?”

“About the same, about the same. Lots of loans, in the end.” She nodded as he went on. “While I was getting my masters, a couple of my friends got a start-up going and brought me in, and we headed up the coast to Seattle.”

“Ooh,” she said. “A techie. I should’ve known.”

“Oh? Why’s that?”

“Well, most of the folks who come here from the West Coast are,” she said. Especially the ones who could afford that suit.

“You’re right, anyway. I was the support team, not the talent, though. My degree’s in technology management.” He sipped. “Start-up life isn’t for the long haul, so I came here to take a job as CTO for a small firm. What about you?” he asked.

She fidgeted with the little straw in her drink, then drew it out. Chomped a cherry deliberately. “Poli-sci major. I don’t use it, though.”

“Hm.” His eyes watched her mouth. Good. “So weird, isn’t Austin where they have that political particle accelerator?”

He was smirking at his pun, and she snorted. “Queeons and Kingons?” At his blank expression, she added, “You don’t read Terry Pratchett, do you?”

He shook his head. “No, I was just teasing.”

Her smile snatched at the corners of her mouth again. “Teasing’s okay.” She was fighting herself not to relax fully into the moment, to keep up her boundaries until they crossed the preliminary hurdles. This might not be anything, yet. But he was cute, and he was funny, and he was—so far—gentle. She thought she could really like this guy. She knew she liked the way his eyes settled on her, the weight his gaze seemed to have.

Review: Shiftless by TA Moore + Excerpt + Giveaway

Review: Shiftless by TA Moore + Excerpt + GiveawayShiftless (Night Shift #3) by T.A. Moore
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: M/M romance, paranormal, urban fantasy
Series: Night Shift #3
Pages: 112
Published by Rogue Firebird Press on June 19th 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Night Shift is the city's thin, silver line- and some nights it's thinner than others.

It isn't the fact he almost died last night that's thrown Night Shift officer Kit Marlow. He's used to that. It's the fact that instead of a werewolf trying to rip his throat out, it was his friend and colleague who tried to put him in the ground.

Well, 'friend.'

Now Marlow's been framed for a murder he didn't commit by a man who's committed more than his fair share. Half the cops in San Diego want to see Marlow behind bars for what he's supposedly done, and the other half want him dead before he can tell his side of the story. The problem is that he can't tell them apart.

There's only one person in town that Marlow can trust, even though he knows he shouldn't drag Cade Deacon into his problems. The sharp-tongued CEO of a private security firm might have gotten close to Marlow over the last few weeks, but taking on the SDPD is a lot to ask.

Marlow doesn't have much choice, though. If he can't clear his name before the last full moon of the month sets, he might not see another one. That'd be a shame since Marlow would really like to spend the night with Cade without needing protective gear.

My Review:

The one thing I knew going into this book was that she couldn’t do it to me again. Thank goodness.

Shiftless is the final novella in the Night Shift trilogy, which meant that the author simply couldn’t end the book on a damn cliffhanger the way that she did the first two books, Shift Work and Split Shift.

Honestly, if she’d managed to do it again anyway I’d have figured out a way to reach through the screen and deliver a Howler from up close and personal because damn that would have been the absolute limit.

Not that I won’t be riveted, again, if the author ever returns to Marlow and Cade’s world. Because it’s fascinating and they’re snarky, hot and a whole lot interesting to follow.

Escape Rating A-: First of all, the Night Shift series isn’t so much a “series” as it is a single story split into three bite-sized pieces. So if you love paranormal romance, if you enjoy enemies-into-lovers, if a world where even though it isn’t quite ours the story still captures your attention from the first page, takes you away and still manages to say quite a bit about our world into the excellent bargain, start with Shift Work and settle in for a compelling ride – and read.

This is a world where werewolves rule, and the laws are bent to fit them, because they have all the power and it seems like a fair amount of the money. One of the things that makes this world a bit different is that being a werewolf also seems to be completely normal – it’s the so-called “nulls” that are weird.

If you’ve ever heard of the 80/20 law, it’s kind of like that, only the proportions aren’t nearly so even. Some people, not a big percentage at all, can’t be turned. They don’t “wolf out” the three nights of the full moon and can’t be changed to do so.

Kit Marlow is one of those nulls. He’s a police officer, a member of the “Night Shift” who works those three nights. Because someone has to serve and protect the people who don’t have an inner wolf – and sometimes even the werewolves need to be protected from themselves or each other.

The problem Kit has – well, he has two, come to think of it. He can’t trust his fellow officers at his back. Too many of them are tied in with the dirty cop he sent to prison a few years ago – and the rest looked the other way. The one person he can trust is the one person he really shouldn’t. Because three nights of the month, Cade Deacon thinks Kit Marlow is dinner – and not in any good way from Kit’s perspective.

But Kit has been framed, and Cade is his only hope of something. Whether that’s rescue, protection or the opportunity to clear his name is to be determined. What they’ll be at the end of it all, if Kit will still be anywhere at all, is anybody’s guess.

So a big part of this story is Kit trying to clear his name. An important part of the story is Kit and Cade trying to figure out what they are to each other, as neither of them has any experience with relationships to begin with – and theirs has the possibility of being especially fraught. The occasionally-partially-resolved sexual tension between the two of them heats up the entire story.

The third part is, in its way, even more interesting. Because Marlow needs to figure out who he’s going to be when this whole mess comes out the other side. Unless he’s dead or in prison and then dead which is still a possibility. He trusts a person who’s supposed to be an enemy way more than anyone who is supposed to be at least a colleague if not a friend. There’s a whole lot wrong with that picture and what that says about the Night Shift in specific and possibly about the real world in general is still keeping me thinking.

I’m going to miss Marlow and Cade and their very fascinating world. While they seem to have reached as much of an HEA as either of them is capable of, I’d love to explore this place more. Lots, lots more.

Guest Post from TA Moore + Chapter 2 of the Night Shift short (check out Chapter 1 at Love Bytes)

First of all, thank you so much for having me! I’m thrilled to be here with my new release, Shiftless by TA Moore, which completes the Night Shift trilogy! I believe it is still technically a novella, although it’s the novella that kicked the other novellas out of the nest and ate all the food!

For the blog tour I’ve written a short story set in the Night Shift world. I hope you enjoy!

Chapter Two

Warden Brunell stepped back from the door and waved Marlow into the hut. He glanced over at the crowd of people still stuck behind red tape and reminded himself that there was only one way to find out what he needed to know.

Or only one he could think of.

Associate Warden Brunell’s office was warm and faintly ripe with the odor of old sweat and recent fear. There was no shame in that. Brunell spent the full moon with only pre-fab walls and chains between him and a few dozen hungry wolves, and not even a single silver bullet for emergencies.

Doesn’t seem fair, does it? The quiet echo of Piper’s voice bounced around inside Marlow’s skull. Shouldn’t there be a level playing field?

It sounded reasonable, but Piper always did. That was why Marlow was here and not at the bar with the rest of the squad. He wanted to make up his mind before Piper made it for him.
Brunell extended his hand. “Officer…?” he trailed off, one eyebrow raised expectantly.

“Marlow.”

“First or last?”

“Yes.”

There was a pause, and then Brunell laughed. It sounded scratchy and exhausted, but genuine.

“There it is,” he said. “Never met a Night Shift officer who wasn’t an asshole. No offence. Midnight under the full moon, that’s a survival instinct. Sit down. How can I help you?”

Brunell waved Marlow to one of the chairs—metal and folding. Like everything else in the hut, it was portable and cheap… just in case—as he went back behind his desk. There was a stack of folders by his elbow, intake forms that needed to be matched with the release forms being signed right now, and a glass of something that probably wasn’t water by one hand.

“Kit,” Marlow provided as he sat down. “Thirsty work running the Crate?”

“It is,” Brunell agreed, unphased, as he took a drink. If it was liquor—and Marlow would put money on it that it was—Brunell didn’t flinch as it hit the back of his throat. “But while I can’t leave until the last inmate has gone through their exit interview, my shift ended at the same time as yours. So, technically, I’m not drinking on the job. Want one?”

It was tequila, and it wasn’t good tequila. Marlow recognised the bottle that Brunell pulled out of a drawer. The idea of it made Marlow’s mouth twist in a confused mixture of parched and revolted. He might want a drink after last night, but the idea of getting cheap tequila drunk didn’t appeal.

“I’ve plans for the day I need to be upright for,” Marlow said. “At least, for part of the day.”

Brunell chuckled and winked at Marlow. “Enjoy it while you can. Night Shift don’t die in bed, so make the most of the time you do spend there, that’s what I say.”

He raised his glass in a toast. Marlow didn’t have the heart to disillusion him.

Night Shift could get laid, that was true. Sleep was more elusive. Given a choice between the two…

Okay, most of the time they’d pick sex. On the second day of the Full Moon? An empty mattress, cool sheets, and no-one who needed anything from you? Then it was a harder question.
Marlow’s only plans for his bed involved him, slightly more Tylenol than recommended on the bottle, and a good six hours of not doing anything at all. He didn’t want any company. If it got Brunell onside, though, let him think that Marlow had a much more Piper-like life.

“Doctor Ben Crenshaw,” Marlow said.

“Who?” Brunell asked, head cocked to the side.

“Could you check your records?” Marlow asked. “See if someone by that name checked out last month?”

Catch the next chapter tomorrow at Book Gemz and follow the tour for the rest of the story!

 

About the Author:

TA Moore is a Northern Irish writer of romantic suspense, urban fantasy, and contemporary romance novels. A childhood in a rural, seaside town fostered in her a suspicious nature, a love of mystery, and a streak of black humour a mile wide. As her grandmother always said, ‘she’d laugh at a bad thing that one’, mind you, that was the pot calling the kettle black. TA Moore studied History, Irish mythology, English at University, mostly because she has always loved a good story. She has worked as a journalist, a finance manager, and in the arts sector before she finally gave in to a lifelong desire to write.

Coffee, Doc Marten boots, and good friends are the essential things in life. Spiders, mayo, and heels are to be avoided.

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~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

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Spotlight + Excerpt: The Stepsisters by Susan Mallery

Spotlight + Excerpt: The Stepsisters by Susan MalleryThe Stepsisters by Susan Mallery
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Chick Lit, relationship fiction, women's fiction
Pages: 416
Published by Mira on May 25, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

#1
New York Times
bestselling author Susan Mallery pens a love story of a different sort…a heartfelt tale of friendship between two women who used to be sisters.
Once upon a time, when her dad married Sage’s mom, Daisy was thrilled to get a bright and shiny new sister. But Sage was beautiful and popular, everything Daisy was not, and she made sure Daisy knew it.
Sage didn’t have Daisy’s smarts—she had to go back a grade to enroll in the fancy rich-kid school. So she used her popularity as a weapon, putting Daisy down to elevate herself. After the divorce, the stepsisters’ rivalry continued until the final, improbable straw: Daisy married Sage’s first love, and Sage fled California.
Eighteen years, two kids and one troubled marriage later, Daisy never expects—or wants—to see Sage again. But when the little sister they have in common needs them both, they put aside their differences to care for Cassidy. As long-buried truths are revealed, no one is more surprised than they when friendship blossoms.
Their fragile truce is threatened by one careless act that could have devastating consequences. They could turn their backs on each other again…or they could learn to forgive once and for all and finally become true sisters of the heart.

Welcome to the Excerpt tour for The Stepsisters by Susan Mallery. She writes lovely filled with charming people in sometimes messy relationships that sweep me up, take me away, and put me right into the heart of stories that manage to be both heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time. I’m looking forward to reading and reviewing The Stepsisters in the weeks ahead, so here’s a teaser to whet all of our reading appetites!

Excerpt from The Stepsisters by Susan Mallery (continued from Friday’s Excerpt at Jathan & Heather)

Someone knocked on her window. She rolled it down.

“You okay?” Sage asked.

“Not really. My car won’t start.”

“Want me to take you home?”

Daisy thought about saying she would call an Uber or Lyft or something, but figured that fate was messing with her and she might as well simply surrender. The sooner she got through whatever hell this was, the sooner it would be over. Later, when the kids were in bed and she had showered, she would review her life and try to decide where she’d messed up so much that she had to be punished. But for now, she had a sick kid and someone willing to give her a ride.

“Thank you,” she said through clenched teeth, looking into the beautiful green eyes of the one woman on the planet she hated more than anyone. “That would be great.”

“How long have you known my mom?” Krissa asked, suddenly sounding significantly better than she had five minutes ago. Yet more proof of Sage’s endless powers, Daisy thought bitterly as she buckled her seat belt.

“Since we were young,” Sage told her. “I think we were eight or nine.”

“I’m eight!” Krissa’s tone indicated there was magic afoot. “But I don’t understand. You were stepsisters. So Grandpa was married to…”

“Sage’s mother,” Daisy explained. “For about six years. Do you remember Aunt Cassidy?”

“I don’t think so.” Her tone was doubtful. “Is she pretty like Sage?”

“Yes.” Annoyingly so. “Cassidy is our half-sister. My father, your grandfather, is her dad and Sage’s mother is Cassidy’s mom. I’m sure you’ve met Cassidy at least once.”

She glanced over her shoulder and saw Krissa’s face scrunch up, as if she were trying to work it all out.

“She’s your aunt,” Sage offered.

“Then why don’t I know her?”

An excellent question, Daisy thought. One of the answers might be that since the divorce all those years ago, Cassidy had made it clear she preferred Sage to Daisy and once Cassidy had turned eighteen, she’d taken off to explore the world. She stayed in touch with Wallace, their mutual father, but not with Daisy.

“You don’t hear from her?” Sage asked, driving through one of the open gates that marked the entrance to Bel Air. “I’m surprised.”

Are you really? But Daisy didn’t actually ask the question. What was the point? In a battle of the sisters, she had always come in last. When she’d been a child herself, she hadn’t understood why she and Sage couldn’t be friends. Unlike many only children, she’d been delighted when her father had told her he was marrying Joanne and giving her a stepsister. She’d imagined having someone to play with, a friend to confide in. She’d wanted a connection, a best friend, a closeness that always seemed to exist between sisters she read about or saw on TV.

But Sage had rebuffed every overture. Even when she was friendly for an afternoon, the next day, she would be cold and distant. At school, she delighted in mocking Daisy. Sage might have been the new girl at their exclusive private school, but Daisy was the one who had felt left out.

Sage glanced in the rearview mirror. “Your aunt Cassidy is a travel writer. She goes all over the world and writes about interesting places and people. Right now she’s in Patagonia studying a group of women selling textiles.”

Krissa’s eyes widened. “She sounds cool.”

“Even saint-like,” Daisy murmured under her breath, before pointing to the street on the right.

“It’s just up there.”

Sage smiled. “I remember where the house is.”

“I wasn’t sure.”

It had been a long time—over twenty years since Wallace and Joanne had divorced, although they’d shared custody of their daughter. Cassidy had gone back and forth between the houses right through high school. Sage had probably dropped her off or picked her up more than once.

Daisy instinctively pointed toward the long driveway. Sage laughed and repeated, “I know where I’m going.”

Which made Daisy feel foolish—a usual state of being when Sage was around.

“I’m surprised you’re in Los Angeles,” she said, mostly to distract herself. “Aren’t you living in Italy?”

“Rome,” Sage corrected. “I was.”

“You live in Rome?” Krissa’s disbelieving tone made it sound as if her almost-aunt had a pied-à-terre on Jupiter. “That’s in the EU.”

“It’s very beautiful there.” She glanced at Daisy. “I came home a couple of weeks ago. My mom was dealing with a cancer scare.”

And just like that, all Daisy’s mad deflated, leaving her feeling small and mean-spirited.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “If you’d like a recommendation for an oncologist, I can get you some names.”

Something flickered across Sage’s perfect face. “Thank you, but it turned out just to be a scare. She’s fine now.”

She reached the end of the long driveway and stared up at the big house.

“It looks the same.”

The inside was different, Daisy thought. They’d updated the kitchen and family room. The master bedroom and bath had also been redone, a remodel completed when Wallace had moved out, allowing Daisy and Jordan to live in the big house. Not that she was going to discuss any of that with Sage.

 

Author Info:

#1 NYT bestselling author Susan Mallery writes heartwarming, humorous novels about the relationships that define our lives-family, friendship, romance. She’s known for putting nuanced characters in emotional situations that surprise readers to laughter. Beloved by millions, her books have been translated into 28 languages.Susan lives in Washington with her husband, two cats, and a small poodle with delusions of grandeur. Visit her at SusanMallery.com.

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Review: Shift Work by TA Moore + Excerpt + Giveaway

Review: Shift Work by TA Moore + Excerpt + GiveawayShift Work (Night Shift #1) by T.A. Moore
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: M/M romance, paranormal, urban fantasy
Series: Night Shift #1
Pages: 117
Published by Rogue Firebird Press on March 19, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

You'd think the werewolves would be the worst thing about the Night Shift; you'd be wrong.

All Officer Kit Marlow wanted was a cup of coffee and some downtime before his next night shift. Instead, he got a naked man in the elevator and an unaccounted-for dead girl in the morgue. He's going to need to deal with both before he can head for his bed.

Or anyone else's. Although not much chance of that.

Reluctantly partnered with the acerbic security consultant Cade Deacon—last seen naked in the elevator—Marlow delves into the dead girl's life. Between them, they uncover a new crime scene with the whiff of old corruption. A corruption that, five years ago, nearly took Marlow's life and ended his career.

Finding out who killed the dead girl on the slab might only be the start of this investigation. Oh, and it's the second night of the full moon. So 80% of the city, including Cade, will turn into werewolves in the middle of the case.

So, there's that.

My Review:

I’m going to try for short and sweet with this review – at least in certain senses of sweet – because I’ve got plenty of content to go with it from today’s guest, author TA Moore.

It’s sweet because I loved this book. There’s plenty of bitter to go with that sweet, but that’s all to do with the way this version of our world is set up and especially the personality of the characters. Between Marlow and Cade, there’s plenty of bitter going around. Neither of them is exactly sweetness and light, not even on a good day.

And neither of them has much in the way of good days – especially not the days after a full moon.

Cade’s description of himself pretty much sets up his personality and his take on the world, when he considers that “the wolf version of him was the same asshole he was the rest of the month. Just happier about it.”

This is a world where 80% of the human population turns wolf on the three nights of the full moon. But in a world where 80% are werewolves, that means 20% are not. Marlow is one of those “nots”. He’s Null with a capital N. Whatever makes him incapable of going were makes him perfect for the Night Shift, the cops who work those three nights when most of the population isn’t completely responsible for whatever they do and whoever they do it to.

It’s a tough job, but somebody has to do it.

The story in Shift Work, the first book in the Night Shift series, puts cop Marlow on the same case as high-powered and highly paid private security consultant Cade Deacon.

The case of a young Null woman whose dead body was dumped in the police morgue the morning after a full moon without her hands – and whose last known location was an exclusive – and expensive – preserve for rich, entitled wolves.

Cade wants to protect his business – the firm responsible for security at the preserve. The dead girl’s last known location proves there’s at least one hole in his security net and he needs to close it up – fast.

Marlow knows that the way that the girl’s body was dumped in the morgue connects to an old, thought to be cold, case of one very dirty cop now behind bars. Marlow needs to find out if his old partner is somehow up to his old tricks – because if he is then Marlow is next on his to-do list.

All that Cade and Marlow have to do is focus on the case that’s temporarily tying them together – and not let themselves get wrapped up in the inappropriate and irresponsible attraction they have to each other.

Escape Rating A-: This is an A- because I want more so damn bad I can’t stand it. Honestly.

The reader gets dropped into this story – this world – at what feels a bit like the middle and it is one hell of a tease. Not just because Marlow is describing the naked man he’s sharing the elevator with.

The world felt fully fleshed out – pun definitely intended – but I really wanted to know more about how things got this way, because by this point in their history whatever happened happened far enough back that the world has adjusted around it. Which was great but left me wondering whether there was an “Event” and I missed it or if this is the way it’s always been.

The story is being labelled as MM romance because these two men are pulled together sexually and can’t help fantasizing about it even if they don’t get to act on it much in this first book. But really this story is urban fantasy, and like much of urban fantasy the protagonists are both hot messes and neither is ready for a real relationship – or possibly even friends with benefits because neither of them is able to handle friendship.

This one feels like its more about the case they have to solve – and the cases that this one leads back to – rather than the potential romantic relationship between Marlow and Cade. Because they’re not going to get there for a while. Just like they’re not going to get to the bottom of the crap they’ve uncovered.

And I love me some detective procedural-type urban fantasy, so this was absolutely my jam every step of the way.

But I ended the book wanting to scream! Not just because they haven’t gotten to the bottom of the case, but because when the story ends it’s a cliffie. Not just a figurative cliffie but a literal damn cliff that they’ve just been pushed off of. Where’s that next book already? I’m dying over here. And possibly Cade and Marlow are dying over there. I have to KNOW!

Guest Post from TA Moore + Chapter 2 of the Shift Work prequel short (check out Chapter 1 at Love Bytes)

First of all, thank you so much for having me! I’m thrilled to be here with my new release, Shift Work by TA Moore. It’s a novella. It’s a longish novella, but still a novella. It’s the first book in a three book series that will be coming out over the next….three months. So that’s easy! Well, for you. I’m going to have no nails left.

For the blog tour I’ve written a short story set in the Night Shift world. I hope you enjoy!

Chapter Two

Silver ammo didn’t make the gun feel any different.

Marlow weighed it in his hands for a second. He wasn’t sure what he’d expected, but apparently he’d expected something. When nothing changed, he slid the gun back into the holster and clipped it to his belt.

“What’s with those?” one of the other officers in the back of the Bearcat asked. She pointed forked fingers at her own eyes to demonstrate what she meant. “Contacts? You think they’ll scare the wolves off?”

He’d heard that before.

Marlow leaned back in the chair. He could feel the vibration of the engine and the uneven road under the tires through the padded leather.

“I wasn’t planning on letting wolves get that close,” he said.

She laughed, a throaty burst of genuine amusement. “Oh, they will,” she said. “Trust me.”

Up in the front of the carrier, next to the driver, Piper twisted around to look back at them.

“Listen to Bennett,” he said. “She’s a veteran now. What, six months?”

Colour swabbed Bennett’s cheekbones, and she glared at Marlow like it was his fault. “Sir,” she said. “It was seven yesterday.”

Piper grinned, a flash of perfect white teeth in a tanned face. “Excuse me,” he sing-singed. “And happy anniversary, Bennett.”

One of the other officers laughed, anonymous in the dim, jolting cab of the truck. Unable to pinpoint who, Bennett glared at all of them.

“Let’s check out the Gaslamp Quarter for that fouled meat,” Piper said as he shifted to face forward in the seat. “Clear it out.”

Bennett groaned. “Aw, come on,” she said. “It’s the rookie’s first shift, and we’re dumpster diving? What? You want him to quit?”

Piper slapped his hand against the roof without looking around. “Job’s not always glamorous, Bennie. You know that. The rookie needs to learn it sooner than later.”

Marlow scratched his neck where the harness rubbed. “I worked narcotics,” he said. “There’s worse places to look for things than dumpsters.”

Piper snorted out a laugh that was interrupted by the crackle of the radio as it cut in.

“20-David,” Dispatch said. “We’ve a 10-91 in progress on 5th Avenue and B. Can you respond.”

Piper slapped the driver’s shoulder, pointed to the next turn, and answered the radio. “20-David, responding now,” he said. “Keep us updated.”

Marlow took a deep breath, exhaled, and checked his gun again. All of a sudden, he could feel the difference between lead and silver in the weight of it.

10-91.

Werewolf attack in progress.

It looked like they weren’t going dumpster diving.

Catch the next chapter tomorrow at Book Gemz and follow the tour for the rest of the story!

About the Author:

TA Moore is a Northern Irish writer of romantic suspense, urban fantasy, and contemporary romance novels. A childhood in a rural, seaside town fostered in her a suspicious nature, a love of mystery, and a streak of black humour a mile wide. As her grandmother always said, ‘she’d laugh at a bad thing that one’, mind you, that was the pot calling the kettle black. TA Moore studied History, Irish mythology, English at University, mostly because she has always loved a good story. She has worked as a journalist, a finance manager, and in the arts sector before she finally gave in to a lifelong desire to write.

Coffee, Doc Marten boots, and good friends are the essential things in life. Spiders, mayo, and heels are to be avoided.

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Spotlight + Excerpt: Her Dark Lies by J.T. Ellison

Spotlight + Excerpt: Her Dark Lies by J.T. EllisonHer Dark Lies by J.T. Ellison
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, suspense, thriller
Pages: 416
Published by Mira on March 9, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

At the wedding of the year, a killer needs no invitation
Jutting from sparkling turquoise waters off the Italian coast, Isle Isola is an idyllic setting for a wedding. In the majestic cliff-top villa owned by the wealthy Compton family, up-and-coming artist Claire Hunter will marry handsome, charming Jack Compton, surrounded by close family, intimate friends…and a host of dark secrets.
From the moment Claire sets foot on the island, something seems amiss. Skeletal remains have just been found. There are other, newer disturbances, too. Menacing texts. A ruined wedding dress. And one troubling shadow hanging over Claire’s otherwise blissful relationship—the strange mystery surrounding Jack’s first wife.
Then a raging storm descends, the power goes out—and the real terror begins…

Welcome to the Excerpt tour for Her Dark Lies by J.T. Ellison. Ellison is a new author for me, but as I’ve been reading a bit more suspense recently it looks like an absolutely riveting read. I’m looking forward to reading and reviewing Her Dark Lies in the weeks ahead, so here’s a teaser to whet all of our reading appetites!

Excerpt from Her Dark Lies by J.T. Ellison (continued from yesterday’s excerpt at Berit Talks Books)

There is something…wistful on his face. I run my hand from his cheek to his temple, smoothing back his too-long hair. There is the lightest sprinkling of silver in his part, just a few hairs here and there, lending him a serious, studious air.

“A magic bed? What, does it fly?” I tease.

“In a way. Rumor has it ladies tend to get knocked up on their wedding nights. My grandmother and my mother swear by it.”

“Ah.” A deep sense of foreboding seizes me, and I instinctually scan my body for any signs of pregnancy. It’s a reflex, something I’ve done regularly since we first became intimate. An accidental pregnancy terrifies me. I can only imagine the headlines, how I’d be portrayed. Prevailing wisdom: a woman like me can only land a man like Jackson Compton if I get pregnant and he is forced to do the right thing.

I run my mind over our sexual escapades from the past month. I had my implant taken out; it was making me feel terrible. I have been taking my pills on time, haven’t I? We’ve been careful, yes?

Stop it. You’re being paranoid.

Yes, of course we’ve been careful. The dull ache deep in my stomach is certainly my impending monthly, just in time to ruin our wedding night. The malaise I’ve been feeling for the past couple of days is stress and travel related. I’ve never flown well, even short hops leave me with a headache, clammy and uncomfortable. Add in a mild concussion and a boat on slightly stormy seas? I’d gone to the doctor for a preventative motion sickness patch before we left; it is helping tamp down some of the nausea from the bump on my head, too.

The long night coupled with the long journey from Nashville to Naples is catching up to me. We’d been forced—quelle horreur—to fly first class on Delta instead of being chauffeured across the sea in the family jet. Jack’s father is flying in from Africa, where he’s been on business with Jack’s brother Elliot. As heads of the company, their travel needs take precedence.

Yes, it was a terrible burden for me to be waited upon by the dark-eyed flight attendants with their prettily accented Italian and sly smiles for Jack. The wine was plentiful, the carbonara and crusty bread delicious, the lay-down beds surprisingly comfortable. I’d only disliked being separated from Jack. He was in the cozy suite behind me, and I felt all alone, watching the flight attendants’ faces light up with pleasure as they walked past me to tend to Jack’s needs.

The breeze picks up, and I realize Jack is looking at me curiously. “Everything okay?”

“Yes, but good grief, don’t wish a baby on us just yet. I want to be married for a while, first.”

“No promises, darling. My parents will explode with happiness at the idea of another heir.”

There is a certain hopefulness in his voice. Jack is a decade older than me. A widower. His first life was stolen from him. He is ready to start a family. I understand. He’s already experienced so much. I’m only getting started. I’m not ready for a child. I might not ever be ready. I need to tell him that, before the wedding. In case it’s a deal breaker.

I take a deep breath. “Jack?”

“Yes, darling?”

But we are interrupted by a call from the upper deck. Gideon, beckoning. “We need you for a moment, Jack.”

Jack squeezes my shoulder. “Be right back.”

I watch Jack stride away and wrestle my urge to confess back into place. What purpose will it serve? He’ll just get upset, and who knows, maybe I’ll change my mind.

You know what they say about digging your own grave.

I turn back to the island.

Unlike the smoky gray open waters of the bay, the water in the shallower edges of the channel is cerulean and almost clear; schools of dark fish race away. What are they running from? The boat? A predator?

The breeze cools, the azure Mediterranean early summer sky turning hazy. Bad weather is coming. Italy is under a Red warning this long weekend, a severe weather alert, expecting the worst storms in a decade.

I hope everyone gets here in time. The channel crossing to Isle Isola is too dicey to manage anything smaller than the yacht or the hydrofoil ferry in bad weather, and the hydrofoil normally runs to Isola only once a week, though it’s running three days in a row for us to get all the guests on the island. And obviously, the choppers can’t fly if the storm is too bad.

The Hebrides is approaching the cliff’s edge now. The imposing granite face is sheer and unforgiving. We’re so close I can see the striations of the stone, the moss growing in the cracks. At the top, there is a flash of white. What is that?

A scarf, my mind fills in. A woman’s scarf.

And then it is gone.

Someone is watching for us.

TLC
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Spotlight + Excerpt: The Vineyard at Painted Moon by Susan Mallery

Spotlight + Excerpt: The Vineyard at Painted Moon by Susan MalleryThe Vineyard at Painted Moon by Susan Mallery
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Chick Lit, contemporary romance, women's fiction
Pages: 400
Published by HQN Books on February 9, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Step into the vineyard with Susan Mallery’s most irresistible novel yet, as one woman searches for the perfect blend of love, family and wine.
Mackenzie Dienes seems to have it all—a beautiful home, close friends and a successful career as an elite winemaker with the family winery. There’s just one problem—it’s not her family, it’s her husband’s. In fact, everything in her life is tied to him—his mother is the closest thing to a mom that she’s ever had, their home is on the family compound, his sister is her best friend. So when she and her husband admit their marriage is over, her pain goes beyond heartbreak. She’s on the brink of losing everything. Her job, her home, her friends and, worst of all, her family.
Staying is an option. She can continue to work at the winery, be friends with her mother-in-law, hug her nieces and nephews—but as an employee, nothing more. Or she can surrender every piece of her heart in order to build a legacy of her own. If she can dare to let go of the life she thought she wanted, she might discover something even more beautiful waiting for her beneath a painted moon.

Welcome to the Excerpt tour for The Vineyard at Painted Moon by Susan Mallery. She writes lovely and wonderful books that sweep me up, take me away, and put me right into the heart of relationships that manage to be both heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time. I’m looking forward to reading and reviewing The Vineyard at Painted Moon in the weeks ahead, so here’s a teaser to whet all of our reading appetites!

Excerpt from The Vineyard at Painted Moon by Susan Mallery (continued from Friday’s Excerpt at Jathan & Heather)

The song ended and Rhys led her back to Giorgio, who was chatting with several guests. As Barbara walked over to the bar to get a glass of wine, her youngest joined her.

 “Barbara,” Catherine said pleasantly. “Wonderful party.” 

Barbara did her best not to bristle. At the beginning of high school, Catherine had insisted on changing her name to Four, of all things. As in the fourth child. Barbara had refused to accommodate her, so Catherine had started calling her by her first name, to be annoying.

 Barbara simply didn’t understand where things had gone wrong. She’d been loving but fair, had limited TV and made all her children eat plenty of greens. Sometimes parenting was such a crapshoot. 

She motioned to her daughter’s dress. “One of your own creations?” 

Catherine spun in a circle. “It is. Don’t you love it?”

 “With all my heart.”

 Catherine grinned. “Sarcasm? Really?”

 “What did you want me to say?”

 Catherine’s good humor never faded. “What you said is perfect.” 

As her daughter drifted away, Barbara moved closer to Giorgio. He put his arm around her waist, the pressure against her back both comforting and familiar. She nodded as he talked, not really listening to the conversation. Whatever he was saying would be charming. He was like that—well-spoken, always dressed correctly for the occasion. He had an enviable way with people and a natural charm she’d never possessed. She supposed that was what she’d first noticed—how easy he made everything when he was around. 

This night, she thought with contentment. It was exactly right. Her children and grandchildren were around her. Giorgio was here. The vines were healthy and strong and come September there would be another harvest.

 She spotted Avery, her oldest grandchild, talking to her father, Stephanie’s ex. Kyle was too smooth by far, Barbara reminded herself. Their marriage had been a disaster from the beginning, but Stephanie had been pregnant, so there had been no way to avoid the entanglement or the subsequent divorce. 

At least Avery and Carson hadn’t been scarred by the breakup. Barbara couldn’t believe Avery was already sixteen. She was going to have to remind Stephanie to keep a close eye on her daughter when it came to boys and dating. If she didn’t, there was going to be a second generation with an unplanned pregnancy, and no one wanted that.

 She often told people that children and vineyards meant constant worry. Just when you were ready to relax, a new season started with new challenges. 

Stephanie walked over to her. “Mom, it’s about time for the toast, if you’re ready.” 

“I am.”

 Barbara excused herself to follow her daughter toward the DJ and the small platform by the dance floor. She took the microphone the young man offered and stared out at the crowd. Stephanie called for quiet and it took only a few seconds for the party to go silent.

 “Thank you so much for joining me and my family at our tenth annual Summer Solstice Party,” Barbara said, pausing for applause, then holding up her glass of chardonnay. 

“To my children—may the next year be one of happiness for each of you. To my grandchildren—know that you are loved by all of us.” She turned and found her daughter-in-law, then smiled at her. “To my special daughter of the heart—the day you came into our lives was a magnificent blessing.” 

There was more applause. 

Barbara looked at Giorgio and smiled. They’d discussed whether or not she should mention him, and he’d asked her not to. After all, he was just the boyfriend and he’d said tonight was about family—yet another reason she loved him. The man understood her and wasn’t that amazing.

Author Info:

#1 NYT bestselling author Susan Mallery writes heartwarming, humorous novels about the relationships that define our lives-family, friendship, romance. She’s known for putting nuanced characters in emotional situations that surprise readers to laughter. Beloved by millions, her books have been translated into 28 languages.Susan lives in Washington with her husband, two cats, and a small poodle with delusions of grandeur. Visit her at SusanMallery.com.

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TLC
This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews and features.

Review: Cash in Hand by TA Moore + Excerpt + Giveaway

Review: Cash in Hand by TA Moore + Excerpt + GiveawayCash in Hand by T.A. Moore
Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: M/M romance, paranormal romance, urban fantasy
Pages: 202
Published by Dreamspinner Press on December 15, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The last monster died a hundred years ago. At least, that’s what the monsters want you to think.
Half-monster Cash just wants to keep his head down and raise his daughter, Ellie, to be an upstanding member of monstrous society. Even if she’d rather spend the summer with her human friends than learn the art of man traps at Camp Dark Hollow.
So the last person Cash wants to see is her uncle Arkady Abascal, who’s also Cash’s ex-boyfriend.
Arkady has more than Ellie’s summer plans on his mind. He’s there to enlist Cash to find out who’s been selling monster secrets. Cash hasn’t gotten any better at telling Arkady no, but it’s not just his weakness for Arkady that makes him agree. The Prodigium thinks an Abascal exposed them to humans, and now the whole family is at risk—including Ellie.
Recruited to help Arkady identify the culprit—or frame a scapegoat—Cash finds the machinations of monstrous power easier to navigate than his feelings for Arkady. At least, at first. But when things get bloody, he wishes romantic disasters were all he had to worry about….

My Review:

The monsters hanging out at the Abascal Hotel and Spa make the creatures in that old Halloween staple, Monster Mash, look like the population of the proverbial Sunday School picnic.

Most of us wouldn’t want to meet any of these folks in a dark alley – or even at the Summer Camp dropoff for their children. Monsters’ children, who are off to camp to make the friends and especially the enemies they’ll have for all of their lives. To learn how to be successful predators – or evasive prey, as the case might be.

No one in this story is completely human. But we root for them anyway.

Especially Cash, his little girl Ellie, and his on again/off again flirtation with Arkady Abascal. Arkady, who just so happens to be Ellie’s uncle, a member of the family at the top of the local monster society – and the love of Cash’ life whether he wants to admit it or not.

Usually not. Definitely not.

Which makes Arkady’s bargain with Cash, that Cash will pose as Arkady’s boyfriend for a weekend wedding at the family mansion in return for more protection for Ellie, a dangerous proposition all the way around.

It’s not just Cash’ heart that is at stake, but also what’s left of his human soul – as well as his half-human life. And Ellie’s. Definitely Ellie’s.

Because there’s someone out to get Ellie’s grandmother. And if Donna Abascal, the queen of the immortal monsters, goes down, she’ll take the entire family with her. Including Arkady. Including Ellie.

Whether she’s guilty – this time – or not.

Escape Rating B: It’s pretty clear from the outset – even without the author’s acknowledgement below – that this was originally supposed to have been TA Moore’s entry in the Bad, Dad and Dangerous anthology. But the story grew too many tentacles and other extra limbs to fit inside that particular skin, rather like the monsters and their too tight and wrong-shaped human guises.

(Consider that a monster-sized hint that if you like this story you’ll enjoy Bad, Dad and Dangerous and very much vice-versa. All the stories in that collection as well as this one are just a terrific mix of urban fantasy, paranormal romance and that extra touch of shivery monstrousness that make for a great read!)

This is a bit different from the usual worlds of urban fantasy or paranormal romance in that this is a world where, rather than magic being real – although it sort of is – it’s the monsters that we believe are myths and legends that are real.

Monsters who have their own society and their own laws – especially their own version of the Statute of Secrecy – as well as their own enforcers of those laws. At the same time, these are monsters. They are apex predators, and they hate having to bow to any authority – even one of their own making – even if it gives them things they want in return.

Like willing victims. And good wi-fi.

So the worldbuilding in this story is really neat and just a bit different. I wish we’d gotten a bit more of it, because there are a lot of politics in this story and figuring out who’s doing who and how their rank matters was occasionally just a bit confusing. (The short story that is serialized over the course of this blog tour should help with that, but I wish I’d had it before I read the book. It would have helped!)

As much as some of the politics and relationships confounded a bit, the relationships at the heart of this story are very clear and extremely easy to grasp – and to occasionally gasp at as we figure out just what’s at stake.

In the end, that’s what takes your breath away. The depth of Cash’ love for his daughter Ellie, in spite of everything he knows about both her origins and his own. The love that Cash and Arkady have never been able to get over for each other, no matter how much both of their monster sides tell them it makes them devastatingly vulnerable. Because that’s what love does.

And just how deep and how high the machinations go, to protect what needs protecting, to save who needs saving, and to deceive whoever and whatever needs deceiving to hold on to the most important things in life. Or death. Or undeath.

Whatever the case might be.

And now a word from TA Moore:

First of all, thank you so much for having me! I’m thrilled to be here with my new release, Cash in Hand by TA Moore. Any of you who read Bad, Dad, and Dangerous very nearly got to read this in there. Cash in Hand was the first story I wrote for the anthology, the only problem with it was that it was…a bit long. It was a novel. So I was told to write another novella immediately, and Cash in Hand became a thing in itself! Which I hope you guys check out and enjoy!

For the blog tour I’ve written a short story set in the Prodigium world. I hope you enjoy!

 

Chapter Four

The damask puddled on the ground in front of Grandmother as she worked, peacock green with darker blue patterns woven into the fabric. She clicked her tongue.

“The Left Hand of the Prodigium,” she mused. “In our designs.”

“He’s been in the shop once.”

She waved one leg at him, a gesture that simultaneously dismissed his protest and told him to hush.

“We could put a sign over the door,” she said. “By charter from the Prodigium.”

“He was on his own.”

She gave him a hard look out of one beady, black eye. “You sound like your father.”

Dim pulled a face. He supposed he did. It had been the one thing he’d always swore he’d never do, back when he was Van’s age, but the older you got the more you realised that pessimism was just optimists called reality.

“If we tell people Kohary shops here,” he said. “We’ll lose business. People won’t darken our door for fear they’ll run into him in his underwear.”

For a moment Grandmother stopped work and cocked her head to the side. “Do you think he wears underwear?” she asked. “I would have assumed he was….what’s the word Van uses…commando?”

That was the last thing that Dim wanted to think about. He was going to now, probably for a few restless, sticky hours tonight, but that wasn’t the point. The naked (almost) Kohary in his head — hotter with black briefs that clung to his thighs and outlined his cock? Or without? A question for later — gave him a look that said he knew what he was doing.

Fuck. He might, for all Dim knew. No one really knew what Kohary’s monster was or what it could do. Well, no one knew for long. It was kind of ‘just before you horribly die’ information.

“That’s not the point,” Dim said. “What am I meant to do? I already have a dozen commissions for the end of the month, now I’m meant to come up with an outfit that’s fit for a banquet and an insult?”

Grandmother reached out and patted him on the shoulder. “Is it beyond you?”

Shit. Dim clenched his jaw on the unnatural compulsion that pushed on the bones of his skull. “Grandmother, don’t.”

She tilted her head to look at him with amusement. The curse had left her enough of her face to see the human she’d been, her nose and cheeks and the soft curve of her jaw. It had taken her eyes, though, and replaced them with the black, seed-jewel eyes of a spider. Black mandibles distorbed her mouth, the pink flesh stretched tight and peeled back in places. The black, mitten-fuzzed paw on his shoulder squeezed.

“Can you not do it?” she asked.

Dim clenched his jaw from sheer stubbornness. It didn’t matter. His monster crawled up his throat and wrestled control of his tongue off him.

“I can do it,” he said, through his teeth. Arrogance that wasn’t his–and wouldn’t have to understand the fucking consquences when they got here–filled him. “Just watch me.”

Grandmother swung forward on her line and kissed his cheek. Her mandibles were rough, like a brillo pad that was almost worn out.

“Go and make me proud,” she said. “Grandmother is hungry.”

Gloves hid his bloody fingers. They didn’t help with the restless jitter of his knees and tight shoulders as his monster plucked at his nerves like they were puppet strings.

Stitch. Sew. Buttons. Get it done, prove you can.

He ignored the rant with the ease of long practice and dumped more sugar in his coffee.

“When you imagine going to the Abascal wedding,” he asked idly. “How does it end badly?”

Astrid adjust the fingers on the hand of glory she had in front of her and turned it so the long-dead murderer gave him the bony finger.

“What makes you assume it goes wrong?” she sniffed. “And do you think these need to be tinted a shade more grey? Remember, the banquet will be in the caves?”

Dim cocked his head to the side.

“Remember they’re going to be lit,” he said. “You don’t want them to look alive. And it wouldn’t be an anxiety dream if everything went right.”

Astrid sighed and wiped her waxy hands on her apron. She picked up a shaved off ring of wrist bone and chewed thoughtfully on it as she considered the question. 

“I’m dancing with Belladonna,” she said, her eyes dreamy.It lasted a second and then she sighed as she went on. “She compliments me on what an amazing spread I’ve done, then she apologizes for stepping on my toes. People laugh. I realise I’m naked.”

“Could be a power move.” Dim pointed out.

Astrid sucked the marrow out of the centre of the wrist bone and sighed. “Naked except for my period pants,” she finished.

They both grimaced at that thought.

“Why?” she asked.

Dim shrugged. The scratch in his brain had settled when it realised he was still at work. “Just a thought,” he said. “I see the police are worried about gang violence up in Chesapeake? Anything to do with you?”

She mugged modestly for a moment. “Just a quick test, to see if executing them myself works.”

“And?”

Astrid held her hand out and wobbled it back and forth. “Burns without being consumed and opens a few locks. Good enough for the lunch, and I’ll save the real ones for the big event. I’ve got feelers out ”

“Just be careful,” Dim said. She frowned at him and he shrugged. “The great and the not-so-good are in town, cross them and they’ll sell you out to the Prodigium in a second.”

She rolled her eyes. “Some of us are willing to take risks to get ahead,” she said. “We can’t depend on our family to back us up.”

Dim shrugged. The warning that Kohary was in town stuck in his throat. He liked Astrid, but not enough to cross Kohary. If he wanted a terrible death that left no corpse, he’d go and kick some of his less good-natured relatives awake.

Black Demetrius, his namesake, had slaughtered a dozen hunters and made half of the Prespes his lair. Until Grandmother had tracked him down and tucked him in to sleep so she could get the Prodigium’s permission to come to the New World. 

He’d probably put Dim out of his misery quick enough.

“I should get back to work,” Dim said as he got up. “Thank you for the coffee.”

She grinned at him, her broken, yellow fangs and Gila Monster thick spit on display. “Thank you for the goodie bags,” she said and clapped her hands girlishly. “It’s just the right touch for the fancies.”

For the rest of the story, check out the other stops on this tour!

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Review: Daughter of Black Lake by Cathy Marie Buchanan + Excerpt

Review: Daughter of Black Lake by Cathy Marie Buchanan + ExcerptDaughter of Black Lake by Cathy Marie Buchanan
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 320
Published by Riverhead Books on October 6, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In a world of pagan traditions and deeply rooted love, a girl in jeopardy must save her family and community, in a transporting historical novel by nationally bestselling author Cathy Marie Buchanan.
It's the season of Fallow, in the era of iron. In a northern misty bog surrounded by woodlands and wheat fields, a settlement lies far beyond the reach of the Romans invading hundreds of miles to the southeast. Here, life is simple--or so it seems to the tightly knit community. Sow. Reap. Honor Mother Earth, who will provide at harvest time. A girl named Devout comes of age, sweetly flirting with the young man she's tilled alongside all her life, and envisions a future of love and abundance. Seventeen years later, though, the settlement is a changed place. Famine has brought struggle, and outsiders, with their foreign ways and military might, have arrived at the doorstep. For Devout's young daughter, life is more troubled than her mother ever anticipated. But this girl has an extraordinary gift. As worlds collide and peril threatens, it will be up to her to save her family and community.
Set in a time long forgotten, Daughter of Black Lake brings the ancient world to life and introduces us to an unforgettable family facing an unimaginable trial.

My Review:

This was marvelous. Not quite what I expected, but marvelous. And as the blurb says, transporting.

Daughter of Black Lake is a time slip story that itself is slipped in time to the first century A.D., to the Roman province of Britannia, in the relatively early years of the Roman occupation. At a time when the Druids still held sway over most of the tribes, and just before the last concerted – and ultimately failed – attempt to throw out the invaders.

But that’s not obvious at first.

The story takes place 17 years apart, among a village of bog people on the shores of Black Lake near modern-day Wroxeter in Shropshire. The village is remote, and life there hasn’t changed all that much since the Romans first attempt to conquer Britain, when they threw Julius Caesar back into the sea. Or so the Druids tell.

And yet, things do change, and events in the wider world impact life in the small village. As is exemplified by the events of the story’s present and what happened 17 years before.

The story revolves around one family, Smith, his mate Devout, and their daughter Hobble. Smith lost most of his family, and his family’s status, 17 years ago when his father and all of his brothers paid heed to the Druids who went to the tribes to drum up support to throw Claudius and his forces off their land.

They failed. They died. The Romans settled in for the long haul of “civilizing” this land of barbarians.

But history repeats. The Romans are expanding, and the influence of the Druids is contracting. They’re losing power and don’t want to give it up. And so they are fomenting a rebellion. Again.

The community at Black Lake is caught in the middle of the opposing forces – and betwixt and between the advances of the Romans and a desire to return to the “old ways”. Ways that included human sacrifice. Ways that would see Hobble sacrificed on an altar of blood to one ambitious Druid’s dreams of glory.

A glory that Hobble, apprentice medicine-woman and full-fledged seeress, knows is totally and utterly out of reach.

Escape Rating A-: The one thing that drove me to frequent, repeated dives into Wikipedia was my inability to fix this story in its historical time period until the very end. Thinking about it further, I realize that was part of the point, but it drove me crazy as I was reading. I needed to know and didn’t.

If the history grabs at you as much as it does me, the Book Club Guide at the author’s website is very informative. Particularly the drink recipes! But seriously, one of the terrific things about this book is that it is meticulously researched AND that the research magically disappears into the story as you read it. It gives the story depth and heft without weighing it down at all. Which is very hard to do.

The story here is about a community on the cusp of change, and that’s what gives the story its drive and dramatic tension. While the details are specific to this particular time and place, the concept is universal. The world of the people of Black Lake is changing, whether they want it to or not.

And, like people everywhere and everywhen, some of them want that change, some of them cling to the past, and there’s plenty of pain to go around as the village wrestles with a future that’s coming whether they want it or not. A tension and a wrestling that is happening right now all around us.

Everything old is new again.

So there’s the details of the story, Hobble’s ability to see the future, and the Druid Fox’s desire to make her see only what he wants to be seen – along with his willingness to kill her if she won’t go along with him.

And in the past, the love triangle between her mother, her father, and Arc, the man her mother loved and lost. When those two things intersect, the tragedy of one lost love and the possible tragedy of losing a child, Devout’s world explodes and ALL the lies are revealed, both of the past and of the present.

Reading Daughter of Black Lake, one is swept along into the rhythms of both Hobble’s and Devout’s stories, although I found Hobble’s the more compelling. At first the movement is slow, as life in its broad outlines changes slowly in this remote place. But the story speeds up as it centers more fully on Hobble’s life, just as the pace of change has sped up with the entrenchment of the Roman invaders.

This is one of those stories where, as it goes on, you’re right THERE, only to be dumped back out into the “real” world with a gasp at its bittersweet end.

Excerpt #4 from Daughter of Black Lake (Excerpt #3 at The Lit Bitch, Excerpt #5 next Tuesday at 100 Pages a Day…Stephanie’s Book Reviews)

   Devout took in his tentative mouth, his uncertain eyes, thick lashed as a doe’s. She could not claim friendship. She was a hand, and the hands and the tradesmen clans held themselves apart at Black Lake. Young Smith seldom spoke to her more than a few words called from the low‑walled forge where he worked alongside his kin. Usually “fine day” or “the wheat looks promising,” though once she had wondered if he had said “the hearth is ablaze here, if you’re…”before his voice trailed away.She had given little thought to him as other than a blacksmith of burgeoning skill.He ranked far above her, beyond her reach—a circumstance that was perhaps un‑fair given her usefulness as apprentice healer at Black Lake. And there was her piety,too. She bit her lip as she sometimes did at those moments when she recognized herself as prideful. Mother Earth expected humility.
“I made something for you,” he said now. He held out his hand, and she saw a packet of folded leather about the size of a walnut.
A blacksmith, a tradesman such as he, was offering a gift to a hand on this particular day? She took the packet.
She unfolded the leather and into the bowl of her palm slipped a gleaming silver amulet strung through with a loop of gut. She drew a finger over the raised detail of the arms of the Mother Earth’s cross at the amulet’s center. She touched the outer ring. How had he accomplished the detail—swirled tendrils as delicate and intricate as a fern,a spider’s web,a damselfly’s gossamer wings? Not in nature, not in all the clearing, woodland, or bog had she seen the handiwork surpassed. Never had she conceived that other than Mother Earth was capable of such beauty. Though it was small, the amulet weighed mightily on her palm. “Young Smith,”she whispered and raised her lit face to his.“It’s magnificent.”
He held her gaze and heat rose through her.

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Spotlight + Excerpt: The Friendship List by Susan Mallery

Spotlight + Excerpt: The Friendship List by Susan MalleryThe Friendship List by Susan Mallery
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Chick Lit, contemporary romance, women's fiction
Pages: 384
Published by HQN Books on August 4, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

[ ] Dance till dawn

[ ] Go skydiving

[ ] Wear a bikini in public

[ ] Start living


Two best friends jump-start their lives in a summer that will change them forever…
Single mom Ellen Fox couldn’t be more content—until she overhears her son saying he can’t go to his dream college because she needs him too much. If she wants him to live his best life, she has to convince him she’s living hers.
So Unity Leandre, her best friend since forever, creates a list of challenges to push Ellen out of her comfort zone. Unity will complete the list, too, but not because she needs to change. What’s wrong with a thirtysomething widow still sleeping in her late husband’s childhood bed?
The Friendship List begins as a way to make others believe they’re just fine. But somewhere between “wear three-inch heels” and “have sex with a gorgeous guy,” Ellen and Unity discover that life is meant to be lived with joy and abandon, in a story filled with humor, heartache and regrettable tattoos.

Welcome to the Excerpt tour for The Friendship List by Susan Mallery. Susan always manages to write stories that sweep me up and take me away, and I’m sure that The Friendship List will be no exception. I’m so sure, in fact, that I’ll be reviewing this book next week! I’m definitely looking forward to reading this, and I hope you will be too!

Excerpt from The Friendship List by Susan Mallery (continued from yesterday’s Excerpt at Moonlight Rendezvous)

When Unity had driven away, Ellen returned to the kitchen where she quickly loaded the dishwasher, then packed her lunch. Cooper had left before six. He was doing some end-of-school-year fitness challenge. Something about running and Ellen wasn’t sure what. To be honest, when he went on about his workouts, it was really hard not to tune him out. Especially when she had things like tuition to worry about.

“Not anymore today,” she said out loud. She would worry again in the morning. Unity was right—Cooper was going to keep changing his mind. Their road trip to look at colleges was only a few weeks away. After that they would narrow the list and he would start to apply. Only then would she know the final number and have to figure out how to pay for it.

Until then she had plenty to keep her busy. She was giving pop quizzes in both fourth and sixth periods and she wanted to update her year-end tests for her two algebra classes. She needed to buy groceries and put gas in the car and go by the library to get all her summer reading on the reserve list.

As she finished her morning routine and drove to the high school where she taught, Ellen thought about Cooper and the college issue. While she was afraid she couldn’t afford the tuition, she had to admit it was a great problem to have. Seventeen years ago, she’d been a terrified teenager, about to be a single mom, with nothing between her and living on the streets except incredibly disappointed and angry parents who had been determined to make her see the error of her ways.

Through hard work and determination, she’d managed to pull herself together—raise Cooper, go to college, get a good job, buy a duplex and save money for her kid’s education. Yay her.

But it sure would have been a lot easier if she’d simply married someone with money.

*

“How is it possible to get a C- in Spanish?” Coach Keith Kinne asked, not bothering to keep his voice down. “Half the population in town speaks Spanish. Hell, your sister’s husband is Hispanic.” He glared at the strapping football player standing in front of him. “Luka, you’re an idiot.”

Luka hung his head. “Yes, Coach.”

“Don’t ‘yes, Coach’ me. You knew this was happening—you’ve known for weeks. And did you ask for help? Did you tell me?”

“No, Coach.”

Keith thought about strangling the kid but he wasn’t sure he could physically wrap his hands around the teen’s thick neck. He swore silently, knowing they were where they were and now he had to fix things—like he always did with his students.

“You know the rules,” he pointed out. “To play on any varsity team you have to get a C+ or better in every class. Did you think the rules didn’t apply to you?”

Luka, nearly six-five and two hundred and fifty pounds, slumped even more. “I thought I was doing okay.”

“Really? So you’d been getting better grades on your tests?”

“Not exactly.” He raised his head, his expression miserable. “I thought I could pull up my grade at the last minute.”

“How did that plan work out?”

No bueno.”

Keith glared at him. “You think this is funny?”

“No, Coach.”

Keith shook his head. “You know there’s not a Spanish summer school class. That means we’re going to have to find an alternative.”

Despite his dark skin, Luka went pale. “Coach, don’t send me away.”

“No one gets sent away.” Sometimes athletes went to other districts that had a different summer curriculum. They stayed with families and focused on their studies.

“I need to stay with my family. My mom understands me.”

“It would be better for all of us if she understood Spanish.” Keith glared at the kid. “I’ll arrange for an online class. You’ll get a tutor. You will report to me twice a week, bringing me updates until you pass the class.” He sharpened his gaze. “With an A.”

Luka took a step back. “Coach, no! An A? I can’t.”

“Not with that attitude.”

“But, Coach.”

“You knew the rules and you broke them. You could have come to me for help early on. You know I’m always here for any of my students, but did you think about that or did you decide you were fine on your own?”

“I decided I was fine on my own,” Luka mumbled.

“Exactly. And deciding on your own is not how teams work. You go it alone and you fail.”

Tears filled Luka’s eyes. “Yes, Coach.”

Author Info:

#1 NYT bestselling author Susan Mallery writes heartwarming, humorous novels about the relationships that define our lives-family, friendship, romance. She’s known for putting nuanced characters in emotional situations that surprise readers to laughter. Beloved by millions, her books have been translated into 28 languages.Susan lives in Washington with her husband, two cats, and a small poodle with delusions of grandeur. Visit her at SusanMallery.com.

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Spotlight + Complete Excerpt: To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini

Spotlight + Complete Excerpt: To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher PaoliniTo Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction, space opera
Pages: 880
Published by Tor Books on September 15, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A brand new space opera on an epic scale from the New York Times bestselling author of a beloved YA fantasy series.
It was supposed to be a routine research mission on an uncolonized planet. But when xenobiologist Kira Navárez finds an alien relic beneath the surface of the world, the outcome transforms her forever and will alter the course of human history.
Her journey to discover the truth about the alien civilization will thrust her into the wonders and nightmares of first contact, epic space battles for the fate of humankind, and the farthest reaches of the galaxy.

Welcome back to the Excerpt tour for To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini. Today is the final day of the tour, which means that all of the blogs and sites that have participated this week by posting individual excerpts are posting the entire, complete excerpt today, including yours truly. After reading this much of the story, I’m sure you’ll agree that the journey we will all be going on in September when the book comes out is going to be EPIC!

Complete Excerpt from To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini

Cold fear shot through Kira’s gut.

Together, she and Alan scrambled into their clothes. Kira spared a second of thought for her strange dream—everything felt strange at the moment—and then they hurried out of the cabin and rushed over toward Neghar’s quarters.

As they approached, Kira heard hacking: a deep, wet, ripping sound that made her imagine raw flesh going through a shredder. She shuddered.

Neghar was standing in the middle of the hallway with the others gathered around her, doubled over, hands on her knees, coughing so hard Kira could hear her vocal cords fraying. Fizel was next to her, hand on her back. “Keep breathing,” he said. “We’ll get you to sickbay. Jenan! Alan! Grab her arms, help carry her. Quickly now, qu—”

Neghar heaved, and Kira heard a loud, distinct snap from inside the woman’s narrow chest.

Black blood sprayed from Neghar’s mouth, painting the deck in a wide fan.

Marie-Élise shrieked, and several people retched. The fear from Kira’s dream returned, intensified. This was bad. This was dangerous. “We have to go,” she said, and tugged on Alan’s sleeve. But he wasn’t listening.

“Back!” Fizel shouted. “Everyone back! Someone get the Extenuating Circumstances on the horn. Now!”

“Clear the way!” Mendoza bellowed.

More blood sprayed from Neghar’s mouth, and she dropped to one knee. The whites of her eyes were freakishly wide. Her face was crimson, and her throat worked as if she were choking.

“Alan,” said Kira. Too late; he was moving to help Fizel.

She took a step back. Then another. No one noticed; they were all looking at Neghar, trying to figure out what to do while staying out of the way of the blood flying from her mouth.

Kira felt like screaming at them to leave, to run, to escape.

She shook her head and pressed her fists against her mouth, scared blood was going to erupt out of her as well. Her head felt as if it were about to burst, and her skin was crawling with horror: a thousand ants skittering over every centimeter. Her whole body itched with revulsion.

Jenan and Alan tried to lift Neghar back to her feet. She shook her head and gagged. Once. Twice. And then she spat a clot of something onto the deck. It was too dark to be blood. Too liquid to be metal.

Kira dug her fingers into her arm, scrubbing at it as a scream of revulsion threatened to erupt out of her.

Neghar collapsed backwards. Then the clot moved. It twitched like a clump of muscle hit with an electrical current.

People shouted and jumped away. Alan retreated toward Kira, never taking his eyes off the unformed lump.

Kira dry-heaved. She took another step back. Her arm was burning: thin lines of fire squirming across her skin.

She looked down.

Her nails had carved furrows in her flesh, crimson gashes that ended with crumpled strips of skin. And within the furrows, she saw another something twitch.

Kira fell to the floor, screaming. The pain was all-consuming. That much she was aware of. It was the only thing she was aware of.

She arched her back and thrashed, clawing at the floor, desperate to escape the onslaught of agony. She screamed again; she screamed so hard her voice broke and a slick of hot blood coated her throat.

She couldn’t breathe. The pain was too intense. Her skin was burning, and it felt as if her veins were filled with acid and her flesh was tearing itself from her limbs.

Dark shapes blocked the light overhead as people moved around her. Alan’s face appeared next to her. She thrashed again, and she was on her stomach, her cheek pressed flat against the hard surface.

Her body relaxed for a second, and she took a single, gasping breath before going rigid and loosing a silent howl. The muscles of her face cramped with the force of her rictus, and tears leaked from the corners of her eyes.

Hands turned her over. They gripped her arms and legs, holding them in place. It did nothing to stop the pain.

“Kira!”

She forced her eyes open and, with blurry vision, saw Alan and, behind him, Fizel leaning toward her with a hypo. Farther back, Jenan, Yugo, and Seppo were pinning her legs to the floor, while Ivanova and Marie-Élise helped Neghar away from the clot on the deck.

Kira! Look at me! Look at me!”

She tried to reply, but all she succeeded in doing was uttering a strangled whimper.

Then Fizel pressed the hypo against her shoulder. Whatever he injected didn’t seem to have any effect. Her heels drummed against the floor, and she felt her head slam against the deck, again and again.

“Jesus, someone help her,” Alan cried.

“Watch out!” shouted Seppo. “That thing on the floor is moving! Shi—”

“Sickbay,” said Fizel. “Get her to sickbay. Now! Pick her up. Pick—”

The walls swam around her as they lifted her. Kira felt like she was being strangled. She tried to inhale, but her muscles were too cramped. Red sparks gathered around the edges of her vision as Alan and the others carried her down the hallway. She felt as if she were floating; everything seemed insubstantial except the pain and her fear.

A jolt as they dropped her onto Fizel’s exam table. Her abdomen relaxed for a second, just long enough for Kira to steal a breath before her muscles locked back up.

“Close the door! Keep that thing out!” A thunk as the sickbay pressure lock engaged.

“What’s happening?” said Alan. “Is—”

“Move!” shouted Fizel. Another hypo pressed against Kira’s neck.

As if in response, the pain tripled, something she wouldn’t have believed possible. A low groan escaped her, and she jerked, unable to control the motion. She could feel foam gathering in her mouth, clogging her throat. She gagged and convulsed.

“Shit. Get me an injector. Other drawer. No, other drawer!”

“Doc—”

“Not now!”

Doc, she isn’t breathing!”

Equipment clattered, and then fingers forced Kira’s jaw apart, and someone jammed a tube into her mouth, down her throat. She gagged again. A moment later, sweet, precious air poured into her lungs, sweeping aside the curtain darkening her vision.

Alan was hovering over her, his face contorted with worry.

Kira tried to talk. But the only sound she could make was an inarticulate groan.

“You’re going to be okay,” said Alan. “Just hold on. Fizel’s going to help you.” He looked as if he were about to cry.

Kira had never been so afraid. Something was wrong inside her, and it was getting worse.

Run, she thought. Run! Get away from here before—

Dark lines shot across her skin: black lightning bolts that twisted and squirmed as if alive. Then they froze in place, and where each one lay, her skin split and tore, like the carapace of a molting insect.

Kira’s fear overflowed, filling her with a feeling of utter and inescapable doom. If she could have screamed, her cry would have reached the stars.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Christopher Paolini was born in Southern California and has lived most of his life in Paradise Valley, Montana. He published his first novel, Eragon, in 2003 at the age of 19, and quickly became a publishing phenomenon. His Inheritance Cycle—Eragon and its three sequels—have sold nearly 40 million copies worldwide. This is his first adult novel.