Category Archives: Cover Reveals

M9B Friday Reveal: IN THE SHADOW OF THE DRAGON KING Cover and Chapter 1 by J. Keller Ford

 

Whoo hooo!!!
Today J. Keller Ford and Month9Books are revealing the cover and first chapter for
IN THE SHADOW OF THE DRAGON KING!
Book 1 in the Chronicles of Fallhallow Series which releases May 31,  2016!
Check out the gorgeous cover and enter to be one of the first readers to
receive an eGalley!!

Here’s a short intro from the author!

Hi there! I’m so excited to share this cover
with you. I love the stunning blue background with the silver accents, and the
dragon medallion totally captures the personality of the book. I knew I wanted
the cover to be classic, timeless, yet dark and enchanting, and boy, did the
designers deliver! I couldn’t be more thrilled. Thanks so much for stopping by!
On to the reveal! 

I lurve this cover, ya’ll!!! 


 

Title: IN THE SHADOW OF THE DRAGON KING
(The Chronicles of Fallhallow #1)
Author: J. Keller Ford
Pub. Date: May 31, 2016
Publisher: Month9Books
Format: Paperback & eBook
Find it: Amazon | B&N | TBD | BAM | Kobo | Google Play Books
Seventeen-year-old, Eric, is a kick-butt squire to the most revered knight in Fallhollow.
Well he would be if Sir Trogsdill allowed him to do anything even remotely awesome.
Determined to prove his worth, Eric sets out to find the mythical paladin summoned
to protect the realm from the evil lurking nearby.
Sixteen-year-old, David, spends his days collecting school honors,
winning archery tournaments, and trying not to fall in love with his
scrappy best friend, Charlotte.
Right when things start to get interesting, he is whisked away to the
magical realm of Fallhollow where everyone thinks he’s some sort of paladin
destined to fulfill a two-hundred-year-old prophecy. He’s supposed to help kill a
dragon with some sort of magic key. The same key that happens to adorn the neck
of an annoying squire who’s too wrapped up in proving himself to be much help
to anyone.
With egos as big as the dragon they need to destroy, Eric and David must get over
themselves, or watch everything they know and love, burn.
Excerpt

“War is a necessary evil. There is not a day or time when each of us does not battle some sort of enemy either within or around us. The true test of our character lies in the instant when we choose to either ignore or defeat that which seeks to destroy us. It is the same in our kingdom. Hirth has seen its share of battles and this great province has ridden the wings of freedom for many an age; however, there will come a day when an evil so immense will seek to threaten our very existence. It is then the knights of Gyllen Castle will rise to the aid of Hirth and defend all that is dear – our families, our land, and our right to survive. When such a time comes, I will fight with honor and for glory and give my life, if my forfeiture of it will allow Hirth the chance to endure in peace. And while I know that the enemy may prevail and my life be extinguished from this body, my death will not be in vain for what is more honorable than giving one’s life for love of family, country…and freedom.”Sir Trogsdill Domnall.

Chapter 1

If Eric had known what the daylight would bring after the nightmares ended, he would have remained in bed, the covers pulled over his head.

Instead, he waded through the puddles of the castle’s upper courtyard, each gong from the clock tower further coiling his stomach into knots. Sloshing along beside him, down the aisle of topiaries and statues, was his best friend, a devilish lad with unkempt hair the color of dirt and a cock-eyed grin.

“I don’t know why you’re in such a hurry,” Sestian said, polishing an apple on his sleeve. “Weapons class began fifteen minutes ago. Master Mafi won’t allow us in.” The apple crunched in his teeth.

“You don’t understand, Ses. I have to try.” Eric swatted at the spindly arms of a willow tree. “This will be the third day in a row I missed. If I don’t go, word will get back to Trog and he’ll flog me. You know how he gets.”

“You worry too much. He’d never physically hurt you, however, I do have to admit, he is quite an odd fellow. I saw him make another midnight trek to the fountain last night. He sat there all hunched over like he’d lost his best friend, then he stood, dropped a rose in the water, and left.”

Eric’s muscles bunched under his light shirt, his brow pinched. “That is bizarre, even for him.”

“Want to hear something even more bizarre?” Sestian paused, took another bite of the apple and buried the core in a potted plant. “I overheard Trog and my own headache of a master talking this morning. I believe the exact words out of Farnsworth’s mouth were, ‘Fallhollow is under attack’.”

Eric came to a stop, his eyes wide. “Attack? From who?”

Sestian shrugged. “Don’t know, but members of the Senate and the Mage’s High Council arrived an hour ago, including the Supreme Master himself. They’re meeting with the Order as we speak.”

“What?” Eric’s pulse quickened. “Jared’s here? You saw him?”

The grand mage of all magical beings never involved himself in the affairs of men. Ever.

“No, but I plan to change that.” An impish twinkle glistened in Sestian’s eyes. “Are you game?”

“What? You want to—you mean—you’re joking, right?”

The puckish grin on Sestian’s face answered his question.

Eric shook his head. “Oh, no. There is no way you’re going to get me to eavesdrop on a secret council meeting. I’d rather get hit by lightning than suffer the punishment from anyone sitting in that room.”

“Aww, come on, Eric. Must you always be so dull? Aren’t you the least bit curious?”

“That sort of curiosity will land us in the pillory at best.” Eric pushed past his friend through the carved citadel doors. Sestian darted in front of him and stopped.

“Your point?”

“My point is that I value my life.”

“And what of Fallhollow? Don’t you value our home?”

“Of course I do, but—”

“Then what are you waiting for?” Sestian punched Eric’s arm. “Let’s go.”

“Ses, no!” Eric’s protest fell on empty ears. His friend was gone.

Eric brushed past the lapis columns of the marble vestibule into the Great Hall, a wide-open space topped by a domed ceiling so high its ornate detail was almost lost in the darkness. Nobles and servants milled about, coming and going out of the many rooms, laughter echoing off the walls speckled with massive tapestries and oiled paintings. A flock of girls dressed in aristocratic finery stood upon the majestic staircase, twittering like excited canaries. One of them, Lady Emelia, a startling girl with red hair and striking features, waved at him and winked. Eric rolled his eyes and scurried down the hall past the stairs. The last thing he wanted or needed was a flighty girl choking his freedom.

He passed several lavish rooms before spotting his friend at the far end of the music room, leaning on a harp.

“What took you so long?” Sestian grinned, then pushed aside a wall tapestry and vanished through a secret door.

“Drat you, Ses. How do you find these things?” Eric glanced over his shoulder and followed.

Inside, Sestian struck a wooden match against the stone wall and lit a torch he plucked from an iron sconce. They climbed a set of narrow steps. The guttering flame of Sestian’s torch cast shadows on the walls. More than once the passageway twisted and turned as they ascended.

“Are you sure you know where you’re going?” Eric asked.

Sestian laughed. “We’re in the heart of the castle and you’re going to ask that question now?”

They continued upward. After what seemed an eternity, the steps emptied onto the landing of a dark corridor filled with cobwebs. Sestian stopped and thrust the torch at Eric. “Hold this.” He spun a wall sconce in a combination of left and right turns until a latch popped, and a hidden door opened inward, exposing a small room filled with wooden crates.

“What the—?” Eric stepped inside, his mouth open.

Sestian placed his finger to his lips and motioned to a jagged hole the size of a man’s fist in the wall.

Curious, Eric squatted and peered through a banner of delicate silk.

“Dragon’s breath,” he whispered. “That’s the king’s arbitration room!” He flicked a sideways glance at Sestian. “How did you find this?”

“I don’t sleep much, remember?”

“Good heavens, you are crazy.”

A chair scraped across the wood floor below. Four mages, recognizable by their golden skin, turquoise eyes, and sapphire–blue garments, sat on one side of an immense oval table. Four senators clad in similar garments of purple and gold sat across from them. At one head of the table sat Trog and Farnsworth. At the other, a sojourner shrouded in black with silver rings upon his fingers and tattoos etched upon his hands. And at one of the five arched windows stood the sorceress, Slavandria, her thick lavender hair plaited in a single braid to the floor.

“Jared,” Eric said under his breath.

“Yep,” Sestian said. “That’d be my guess.”

Below, Trog leaned forward, his massive hands clasped together, and addressed the cloaked figure opposite him. “We will heed your warnings, Master Jared, and dispatch a legion to His Majesty’s entourage. I also think it wise to notify our neighbors to the north of the encroaching threat. If this enemy’s intentions are to see Hirth fall, he will attack our allies first to render our kingdom helpless.”

“Agreed.” Jared’s voice resonated deep within the chambers, and into Eric’s core. “Master Camden, see to it the kingdoms of Trent and Banning are informed of the possible threat. Also, instruct the shime to dispatch regiments and secure the borders of Hirth.”

“Do you feel that necessary?” replied the bald man clad in blue. “There is no proof the kingdom of Hirth or the realm of Fallhollow, for that matter, is under attack. There have only been a few isolated incidents of bloodshed, nothing that could be construed as acts of war.”

“Master Camden,” Jared said, “several families of barbegazis, nine unicorns, and over a hundred humans are dead all in the course of four days. This morning, patrols rescued a herd of pixies from a crow’s cage in the Elmwithian Marsh. They were swathed in dragon’s blood. Might I remind you a single act of brutality, especially one steeped in black magic as these incidences are, is one violation too many. Our job is to protect this world, and more so this kingdom, from any dark sorcery that may threaten it. If this directive is in any way unclear, I will be more than happy to personally instruct you in the importance of upholding your defensive role.”

A chill crept up Eric’s spine.

“Oh, come on. Instruct him,” Sestian said, a grin stretched across his face.

A palpable silence fell over the room. Master Camden shifted in his seat and wiped the beads of sweat from his forehead. “Personal instruction is not necessary, Supreme Master.”

“I find that to be a wise decision.”

Eric exhaled. “Yes, so do I.”

Jared stood and pulled the hood of his cloak forward. “Since we are in agreement, I believe we can dismiss. Sir Trogsdill, if I may, I’d like to speak with my daughter alone.”

“Of course,” Trog said, standing. “The rest of you, follow me to the dining hall where you can feast before your journey home.”

“I don’t believe this, Sestian whispered as Trog ushered the last of the visitors out and closed the door behind him.

“Shh,” Eric said.

Down below, Slavandria, said “What is on your mind, Father?”

Jared strolled past her, his hands tucked into his voluminous sleeves. “I have given this a great deal of thought and I have reached a decision. Considering all that has happened, I am left with no other choice. As queen of the Southern Forest and protector of this realm, you must summon the paladin.”

Her gasp could have ripped leaves from their stems.

“Father, no! I can’t! The paladin is only to be summoned in the direst of circumstances. While these attacks are horrid, they are far from extreme.”

“Daughter—”

“Father, please. The ramifications will be devastating to all those involved. Together with the shime, we’ll find this enemy and bring him into the light. I beg you. Please do not do this.”

“If that were true, they would have done so by now. As such, your arguing is futile. My decision is made. By sunset within three days, you must fulfill your duties. I will have the document drawn and sealed. Have Mangus deliver it. So it is said?”

Slavandria’s jaw tightened. “You’re being unreasonable.”

“And you are bordering the line of punishment.”

Eric shuddered at the menacing tone.

“Do I have your word?” Jared said.

Slavandria straightened her back and steadied her voice. “Yes, Father. So it is said. So it shall be done, but don’t think for one-minute I won’t improvise when the time presents itself.”

“You have always been my challenge child. I would expect nothing less from you. Now, if you will forgive me, I must go.”

“Where this time?”

“Home, to Felindil for a day. Afterwards, I will be in seclusion, communing with the heavens before taking to the sea.”

“What? And leave me here to set the world right once the paladin arrives?”

Jared’s full-bodied laughter filled the room. “You sound as if the demon of the underworld will rise, spewing fire and ash.”

“And how do you know he won’t?” She paused, her fingers steepled to her lips before continuing. “Father, please. All I ask is for once, in your long, stubborn life, you listen to me. The people of this kingdom and all of Fallhollow are innocent. They need our protection. I fear what the paladin’s presence will do. You can’t bring such devastation upon Fallhollow and then leave me to salvage whatever is left.”

“I bring nothing upon this realm; therefore, I leave you with nothing to clean up. The course of the world is set. Events will unfold as they will. The paladin will not change that which is set in motion.”

“You’re wrong, Father.” Slavandria brushed past him.

“Disagree if you must. You always do. For now, go home. Wait for my summoning papers and prepare the traveler. I will come to you in Chalisdawn three days hence.”

Jared snapped his fingers. White shards of light crackled and zapped around him, and he was gone.

Slavandria shook her head. “You have no idea what you’ve done, Father.” She gathered her cloak from the back of a chair and incanted some strange words. A swift pale-blue mist rose from the floor, swirling, engulfing her in a vortex. The air sizzled and splintered, and she, too, disappeared.

“Whoa,” Sestian said. “This is worse than bad.”

“No kidding,” Eric stood and brushed the dust from his breeches, “and I have a feeling it’s going to get a lot worse.”

Sestian withdrew the torch as they left the room and shut the door. “You do realize we’re going to have to find out who this paladin is, right?”

Eric walked down the steps. “Why is that?”

“Come on. Are you that daft? How else are we going to prove to Trog and Farnsworth that we’re deserving of becoming knights? Right now they think we’re nothing but a pair of imbeciles worthy of nothing more than polishing armor and performing duties of a valet.”

“We’re squires, Ses. That’s what we do.”

“And it’s all we’ll ever do if we don’t prove ourselves. Don’t you get it? When was the last time Gyllen Castle or Hirth saw battle, hmm?”

“You sound as if you want war.”

“No, but I haven’t trained all my life to become a knight only to end up as a fat, lazy, well-paid manservant.”

Eric turned a corner and continued downward, his voice hollow in the muted dark. “I don’t think you’ll ever be fat or lazy.”

“Eric, come on. Why must you be so difficult? Without a skirmish or two, acts of heroism for us are limited to rescuing girls from over-zealous drunkards and protecting the royal dinner from the palace dogs. I want more than that. When I die, I don’t want to be remembered for how well I polished a sword, but for something grand and heroic. Don’t you want the same?”

“Of course I do, but I don’t sit around thinking about what legacy I want to leave behind when I die.”

“Liar. All you ever talk about is how much you want to be a knight like Trog.” Sestian shoved past Eric and blocked his descent. “Think about it. You know as well as I we’ll be relegated to the stables to saddle horses and pack rations and bedrolls if there is the slightest hint of a conflict. They won’t let us anywhere near a battlefield, especially you. It’s like you’re some kind of poster boy for squire school.”

“I know, but—”

“No, there are no buts. Don’t you see? Now is our chance to show our mettle. If we team up with this paladin, we have a chance to prove ourselves. Trog and Farnsworth will have to take notice.”

“Yeah, after they flog, tar and feather us. Besides, what makes you think this paladin will want us, huh? He’s probably some powerful sorcerer like Jared.”

“No one is as powerful as Jared, but I’ll bet you a rooster against a duck this savior dabbles not only in white, but black magic, too. That’s why Jared needs him.”

“Which is all the more reason for us to keep our distance.”

“No! It’s all the more reason for us to find him. He’ll need guides to help him maneuver through our lands. We’ll be heroes for saving Fallhollow from a murderous foe. King Gildore will praise us. Songs will be written about us.”

Eric rolled his eyes.

Sestian snorted. “Don’t think I can’t hear your eyes flipping around in their sockets. You know I’m right. We know every crack in the earth Fallhollow possesses. We’ve been trained by the very best knights in the world. On top of that, I have a knack for getting us in and out of places unseen. You’re extraordinary with a blade. Together, we’re dangerous. We can be his eyes and ears. And when we defeat whatever is out there, Trog and Farnsworth will have no choice but to admit our accomplishments and recommend us for knighthood.”

Sestian’s stance and the set of his eyes conveyed an intensity Eric admired and feared. He sighed aloud. “All right. You win, but we say nothing. If Trog and Farnsworth found out, they’d roll us in dragon dung and set us on fire.”

Sestian punched Eric playfully on the arm and smiled, wide. “Ha! I knew I could break you.”

They hurried from the music room and fell in with other students leaving classrooms. In the sunlit courtyard, Eric stopped short. Sestian plowed into him from behind.

“What’s wrong?”

Eric gritted his teeth. “Do you not see who is standing in front of us?”

Sestian turned his gaze to their masters leaning against the balustrade, their arms folded to their chests, waiting. “Great. Let me handle this.”

Trog stood upright and adjusted the sword on his hip, flexing the intersecting scars on his arms—reminders of dozens of battles fought. He took a step forward, and a gust of wind blew his dark hair back from his weathered, sun-darkened face, exposing a high forehead, square jaw, and intense peridot eyes. Eric gulped as a childhood tale about a sly mouse captured by a blind owl scampered through his brain.

“You’re late,” Trog said, tossing Eric a suede satchel weighed down with sheathed knives. “Where have you been?” He spoke softly, but his voice reverberated through the crisp morning air.

“Listening to Magister Timan’s lecture on ceremonial magic,” Sestian replied. “Did you know there are magical portals that allow us to travel between realms?”

“Did you know I have a magical foot that can disappear up your backside if you don’t get down to the stables right now?” Farnsworth asked. His brow furrowed beneath a curtain of wavy straw-colored hair. He walked toward Sestian, the seams of his green tunic strained over his wide shoulders, his eyes as brown and penetrating as a wolf’s.

“So I’ve heard. Several times.” Sestian grinned and tapped Eric on the arm. “We’ll get together later and go over what we learned today, eh?”

Eric nodded and shuffled his feet under the weight of Trog’s stare. He waited for Sestian and Farnsworth to get far enough away before lifting his head and meeting Trog’s gaze. The knight lifted a brow.

“Are you going to tell me where you really were, or are you going to hold to your story that you were listening to a lecture that ended this time yesterday?”

“Which one will get me in the least amount of trouble?”

Trog placed his hand on Eric’s back and edged him down the stone steps to the lower courtyard. “The truth, Eric. Always the truth.”

“What if I promised not to tell?”

“Secrets are grave burdens to bear.”

“I can’t betray his confidence, sir. I promised.”

Trog nodded. “Then you’ll sleep in the stables tonight as punishment.”

“What? How is that fair?”

“You know the rules as my squire, and you still choose to withhold the truth. Therefore, you shall be punished accordingly.”

“But the rules of knighthood require I not reveal confidences or secrets under any circumstance to anyone at any time, even under pain of death.”

“Nice try, lad, but the last time I looked, you have not been captured nor are you under pain of death.” Trog placed a heavy hand on Eric’s shoulder. “I’m going to give you one more chance. What will it be?”

Eric clenched and unclenched his fists at his sides. “With all due respect, sir, I cannot and will not betray my friend.”

Trog removed his hand. “I commend you on your loyalty, son, but you have made your choice. Therefore, you will suffer the consequences of it. Now go on and get busy with your chores. I want each of those blades in your hand sharpened and polished by morning—”

“But, sir—”

“And for protesting when you should not, you will also sharpen and polish Sir Farnsworth’s blades. I’ll see to it they are dropped off.” Eric opened his mouth to speak, but changed his mind when Trog dipped his brow in warning. “Would you like me to add Sir Gowran’s and Sir Crohn’s weapons to your load?”

Eric bit back the irritation boiling below the surface. “No, sir.”

“Very well. Bring the blades to the farrier’s stall in the morning around eight. It will be a dual-fold meeting as you can visit your father at the same time.”

Trog paused for a moment, his expression thoughtful, then turned and strolled across the courtyard. He hoisted a young page from a game of marbles and lectured him on the pitfalls of wasting time. Eric snorted at the boy’s bewildered expression and the speed at which he ran once set down upon his feet. Been there, boy. He cursed beneath his breath. What am I talking about? I’m still there.

Eric’s boots clicked on the cobblestones as he plodded toward Crafter’s Row. He passed beneath the archway connecting the cathedral to the knights’ quarters and turned left down the tree-shaded lane toward the royal stables. After informing the stablemaster of his upcoming sleeping arrangements, Eric returned the way he came. At the crossroad, he turned and made his way toward the smithy. Horses clomped and wagons rattled over the pavers while thick clouds gathered overhead, suffocating the sun. A light drizzle set in as he entered a stone building marked by a metal plate engraved with a hammer and anvil. The blacksmith wiped the sweat from his brow and motioned Eric to a table set with vials of oils, and various whetstones.

Eric sighed. Lovely.

He settled into the monotonous task of sharpening and polishing, taking on Farnsworth’s load a few hours later. He finished his arduous task just after dusk. Cursing his sore muscles, he packed up the satchels and shuffled to the stables where a plate of bread, cheese and a pint of goat’s milk waited for him.

Great. Is he trying to starve me, too?

He ate what was given and settled into the hayloft, his stomach a knot of protests. He sighed. Who was this paladin, and from who or what was he destined to save the realm? There was only one way to find out. Tomorrow he and Sestian would devise a plan, and it would be worthy of a knight’s tale. When all was said and done, Trog would have no other choice than to see him as a worthy knight instead of an incompetent fool. An image of Trog groveling for forgiveness appeared in his mind. Eric snuggled into a bed of hay and fell into a blissful dream, a wide grin on his face.

 

 

About J. Keller Ford 

J. (Jenny) Keller Ford grew up as an Army brat, traveling the world and
wandering the halls of some of Germany’s most extraordinary castles.
From the time she was old enough to hold a crayon, she wove fantasy tales of dragons,
warriors, and princesses.  A former paralegal, she’s the author of several short stories
including The Amulet of Ormisez, Dragon Flight, and The Passing of Millie Hudson. 
When not at her keyboard breathing new life into fantasy worlds, Jenny spends time
overloading on coffee, collecting seashells, bowling, swimming, riding roller coasters and
talking plotlines with anyone who will listen.  She lives on the west coast of Florida with
her husband, two sons, two dogs, and a pretentious orange cat.  Her two daughters and
grand-daughter make their homes in Seattle, WA.

 

Giveaway Details:

1 winner will receive an eGalley of IN
THE SHADOW OF THE DRAGON KING. International.

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M9B Reveal: THE UNDERTAKERS: END OF THE WORLD Chapter 1 by Ty Drago #Month9Squad #Month9Books

 

Today Ty Drago and Month9Books are revealing
the first chapter for THE UNDERTAKERS: THE END OF THE WORLD!
Book 5 in the Undertakers Series which releases March 29, 2016!
Check out the gorgeous cover and enter to be one of the first readers to receive an eGalley!!

 

Title: THE UNDERTAKERS: THE END OF THE WORLD
Author: Ty Drago
Pub. Date: March 29, 2016
Publisher: Month9Books
Format: Paperback & eBook
Find it: Amazon | B&N | TBD | Kobo | Google Play Books | iBooks |  Goodreads

 

Think the Corpse War was over?
So did Will Ritter until he was led through a doorway in time and finds himself in a
future where the Earth has been all but destroyed.
The Corpses, alien invaders who wear the dead like suits of clothing, have returned in
horrific numbers. In the wake of their destructive onslaught, a rag-tag group of survivors
with some of Will’s now grownup friends among them is all that’s left of mankind.
Will must take part in a desperate, last ditch effort to rewrite history, prevent the
Second Corpse War from ever happening, and defeat this evil that has consumed
mankind once and for all.
But victory, if such a thing is even possible, carries a heavy cost. 
Excerpt

Chapter 1Dreamer

Folks don’t sweat in dreams, do they?

“Ready?” the dude in the broken glasses asked.

The dreamer nodded, readying her javelin, feeling the familiar cold steel of its shaft in her strong fists. This wasn’t the “real” javelin, of course. The dude in the broken glasses, the one who kept bringing her to this strange place while she slept, had told her that the “real” javelin was too unique and important to risk in a training exercise. But he assured her that this one was the same length and weight as the genuine article.

 

 

Whatever. It worked well enough. And she was getting good with it.

But then, she’d always had a knack with pointy things like this.

This was her fifth simulation tonight and the sweat of the last four stung her eyes.

Even in her scariest nightmares, and Heaven knew she’d had her share of those, in which she was either running from Corpses or defending the people she cared about from those undead invaders, she never sweated. Oh sure, when she woke up with a gasp of alarm or even a terrified cry, she was often soaked in cold, sticky perspiration.

But never during the actual dream.

Until now.

Her eyes looked everywhere at once as she turned in a slow circle, surveying the dimly lit room. This place had a high ceiling, with walls and a floor all covered in white tile. It was big too, maybe sixty feet by thirty.

But with the lights off, it seemed even bigger.

And more menacing.

That’s ’cause I know what hides in this darkness.

There!

The first mechanical monster charged her left flank, just a flash of movement, a shadow against other shadows. She got the impression of something large, with ten legs and a single piercing red eye.

No time to parry. So she dove, rolled, and felt the charging thing rush past her. Then, finding one knee, she thrust one of the javelin’s two pointed ends up and out. It was one of the dozen moves that she’d been painstakingly mastering.

In these dreams, that is.

Her thrust struck home, the javelin’s point jabbing deeply into the ten-legged monster’s flank, knocking it over. The dreamer, still holding the weapon’s other end, went with it, using its weight to leverage her to her feet before yanking the javelin free and spinning around, poised for the next assault.

Two of them came at her this time, ten o’clock and one o’clock. Their maws were wide open, rows of teeth shimmering in the darkness.

She went left, running straight at her nearest attacker, only to leap at the last second, putting one bare foot atop the monster’s bulbous head and vaulting over it. As she did, she let her body tumble rearward, executing a backflip that allowed her to drive the javelin viciously into the creature’s steel spine. As the weapon’s point sliced through the thick armor, the dreamer’s momentum pulled the javelin along, slicing open the creature’s metal plating, exposing rent gears, severed cables and electronic circuitry that sputtered in its death throes.

The monster collapsed.

The dreamer landed smoothly on her feet behind it.

And that’s when the other one struck her.

As quick as she’d been, she hadn’t been quick enough. She’d stupidly allowed the last monster to anticipate her, and now she was paying for it, her body a mass of pain as she was slammed against the floor and sent sliding along its tiled surface.

Somewhere in the surrounding darkness, she heard the dude with the broken glasses gasp in alarm.

Wincing, the dreamer rolled with the blow, controlled it, and managed to get her feet under her and the javelin up just as the ten-legged thing pounced at her for the killing blow.

This time, the weapon’s point rammed straight up under the creature’s chin, if you could call that place under its mouth a “chin.” Bracing herself, and ignoring the sharp agony that lanced up her left arm—wrenched, but not broken—the dreamer pushed harder, and harder still, until the javelin exploded out the top of the monster’s head.

It toppled over as the other had.

“The crystal!” the man in the broken glasses cried. “There’s the crystal!”

The dreamer looked up and saw it.

It shone brightly, high overhead, an enormous construct of glowing glass. It hung there, supported by nothing, pulsing with strange, unnatural energy.

Pure evil.

Pushing away her pain and ignoring the sweat stinging her eyes, the dreamer planted one foot on the last monster’s broken, lifeless body and yanked the javelin free. Then she spun, reared back, and hurled the shining shaft of pointed metal upward.

She watched it fly, cutting the air like a laser beam, almost seeming to glow itself.

It slammed into the hateful, malevolent crystal, piercing it deeply, and sending a splintering web of cracks running along the face of it.

“Yes!” the dude in the broken glasses exclaimed. As had often happened before, something in the sound of his voice struck the dreamer as familiar.

I almost get who he is …

“It didn’t break!” the dreamer exclaimed.

“It will,” the dude said, emerging from the shadows to her right. “It’ll take a little over four minutes for the harmonic resonance to build up, but then it’ll shatter spectacularly. You’ll need to be gone by then.”

“Gone from where?” she asked.

He didn’t reply.

Abruptly, the crystal vanished. The javelin, she now saw, was buried in the room’s high ceiling, having pierced one of the white tiles.

An illusion, as always. “Hologram” was what the dude called it.

But illusion or not, after something like two dozen tries, I finally crushed it!

The lights came on, which was freaky, since there were no visible lamps.

The dreamer regarded the three broken creatures around her. Robots. Just metal and computer chips and what she supposed had to be some pretty hardcore programming. But the dude in the broken glasses had assured her that they were as close to the real thing as he could make them.

And the dreamer, who’d seen the real thing up close and personal, agreed.

The dude in the broken glasses wore a broad, toothy smile. The dreamer was certain that she knew that smile, and not just from her nocturnal visits to this strange place. She knew it from somewhere else, somewhere in the waking world.

But, try as she might, she couldn’t—

“That was very well done,” he said.

“Thanks,” the dreamer replied. “Does that mean I graduated? Am I done comin’ back here?”

The man’s smile faded and he shook his head. “Not yet. You did get hit, after all. We need to practice until you don’t. We need to get you to the point where those things don’t lay a claw on you. Even so, you’re doing wonderfully. Well beyond projections!”

“Thanks,” she said again. “But it’d help if I could practice with the javelin on my own time. These dream sessions are cool and all, but they ain’t really enough to let me master a new weapon.”

The dude in the broken glasses shrugged. “They’re all we’ve got.”

“Ain’t you ever gonna tell me who you are?” the dreamer asked.

“Probably not,” he replied. “But you’ll likely figure it out one day. For now, we should call it a night. Time’s short for me this evening. He’s coming.”

“Who’s coming?”

The dude considered before answering. Then, with a shrug, he replied, “Will Ritter.”

The dreamer blinked in surprise. “Red’s coming here?”

“Well, not to this exact room. But he’s coming to this place and time.”

“And what place and time is that?” the dreamer demanded, bothered by the fact that poor Will was somehow being dragged into—whatever this was. Though, she supposed it shouldn’t surprise her. Will Ritter was always in the thick of things, especially where the Corpse War was concerned.

But, as usual, the dude in the broken glasses didn’t reply.

She’d been coming to this strange room for close to a month now, night after night, repeating the same exercise over and over. Each time she would fight the ten-legged monsters and then try to destroy the crystal. She didn’t know what it was all for. She didn’t know why it was happening, and had never been able to coax a straight answer from the man in the broken glasses, not even to the most obvious question:

Where am I?

Then, suddenly, an alarm sounded.

It rang somewhere outside the room, not blaring but loud enough to be easily heard. The dude in the broken glasses spun around with a startled gasp.

“What’s that?” the dreamer asked.

“They’ve found us!” he replied, and the panic in his voice sent a sharp chill racing down the dreamer’s spine. “No! It’s too soon!”

“Too soon?” she begged. “For what?”

He looked at her, a little desperately, she thought. But then he steadied himself and said, “You’ve done great work, but it looks like this is our last session after all. Thank you for your efforts and your patience during this past month. You’re as strong as I remember you being. I’ll send you home now.”

“Wait!” the dreamer exclaimed as the dude in the broken glasses took a gadget from inside the threadbare white lab coat he wore. Some kind of flashlight. “What’s goin’ down? What is all this?”

And, for once, her mystery man gave her an answer.

Sort of.

“It’s the end of the world, Sharyn.”

Then he pointed the flashlight thingy at her, and she knew what was coming. For an instant, white light filled her vision. And an instant after that, Sharyn Jefferson, Co-Chief of the Undertakers, awoke on her cot in Haven, and remembered that Hot Dog was dead.

 

About Ty:
Ty Drago does his writing just across the river from Philadelphia,
where the Undertakers novels take place. In addition to The Undertakers:
Rise of the Corpses, The Undertakers: Queen of the Dead, and The Undertakers:
Secret of the Corpse Eater, he is the author of The Franklin Affair and Phobos,
as well as short stories and articles that have appeared in numerous publications,
including Writer’s Digest. 
He currently lives in southern New Jersey with his wife and best friend, the real
Helene Drago née Boettcher.

 


 

Giveaway Details:

 

1 winner will receive an eBook of all 3
of Ty Drago’s Undertakers books.

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Cover Reveal: Life in the Lucky Zone (The Zone, #2) by Patricia B. Tighe with Giveaway

SR-Cover-Reveal-BannerNEW

 

Welcome to the cover reveal for

Life in the Lucky Zone (The Zone, #2)
by Patricia B. Tighe

presented by Swoon Romance!

Be sure to enter the giveaway found at the end of the post!

 

Life in the Lucky Zone

Seventeen-year-old Lindsey Taylor has been living a charmed life—always the lead in school plays, possessor of a healthy entourage and a hot boyfriend. But halfway through her junior year, the unthinkable happens. Her boyfriend dumps her. She screws up her audition for the spring play. And to top it all off, her theater teacher wants her to run lines with Trey Berger, a gamer guy who irritates her practically every time he opens his mouth. Lindsey needs to find some better luck and quick.

Trey Berger can barely tolerate Lindsey Taylor. It’s bad enough that their best friends are dating and he has to see Lindsey at group hangouts. Now they have to rehearse together. Berger would rather do just about anything else, even chill with his grandmother, whose dementia has forced her to move in with his family.

But as the semester continues, Berger discovers there’s more to Lindsey than the drama queen
persona she puts on for everyone else’s benefit. And the person behind the mask might be someone he cares about. A lot. So what exactly is he going to do about it?

And while Lindsey desperately tries to change her luck and heal from the breakup, she slowly realizes Berger has become her best friend. This video-game-playing boy makes her laugh. And holds her when she cries. Could he possibly become something more?

 

add to goodreads

Life in the Lucky Zone (The Zone #2)
by Patricia B. Tighe
Publication Date: April 5, 2016
Publisher: Swoon Romance

Available for Pre-Order:
Amazon

 

About-the-Author2

Patricia B. Tighe

The mother of two grown sons, Patricia B. Tighe lives in El Paso, Texas, with her husband and two dogs. Her love of the written word caused her to get a journalism degree from Texas A&M University in 1980 and an MA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University in 2008. When not writing or reading, she can be found walking the dogs or yelling at the TV during an NFL game. She’s also a fan of British TV shows. Downton Abbey, anyone?

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads | Tumblr | Instagram

 

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M9B Friday Reveal: THE MISSING Cover and Chapter 1 by @lenkwrites @Month9Books

Today Jerico Lenk and Month9Books are
revealing the cover and first chapter for THE MISSING which releases August 30,
2016! Check out the gorgeous cover and enter to be one of the first readers to
receive an eGalley!!
 
Here’s a short message from the author.
I’m really partial to the color scheme of the cover.
Darker and gloomier blues are my aesthetic, for sure. There’s a sense of
mystery about it that feels perfectly phantasmal—and of course, t
he skyline of London sells me right there!
 
 
 
On to the reveal! 
 
 
Title: THE MISSING
Author: Jerico Lenk
Pub. Date: August 30, 2016
Publisher: Month9Books
Format: Paperback & eBook
Find it: Amazon | B&N | Goodreads
Seeing is believing, and believing is seeing… London in the year 1890 is smitten with the
dark and the curious. Nothing fazes sixteen-year-old Willow Winchester. Not
only has she been raised as “Will” instead of “Willow” since her mother’s
disappearance, a simple ruse and one that makes life a lot easier most of the
time, but for as long as she can remember she’s been the indiscriminate witness
to the extracurricular goings-on of what she calls the Missing—ghosts. But no one has ever treated it
like a good thing until the Black Cross Ministry of Mysterious Occurrences.
After accidentally interrupting a Black Cross ghost hunt, Willow takes up the
investigators’ offer to work with them, keeping peace between London’s living
and dead. In pursuit of a purpose for her supernatural gifts … and whatever the
Black Cross knows about her estranged mother … Willow learns to investigate
hauntings with a patchwork team who quickly become her new family. But some of
the dead aren’t just Missing—they’re the spirits of murder victims, and they’re
missing from public records, too! Together with her teammates, Willow struggles
to piece together clues in the victims’ memories. But can they discover the
villain’s identity in time to stop him before Willow falls right into his
hands, herself? 
Excerpt

Chapter OneCHAPTER ONE

My father ran a maison de passé of respectable mistresses for respectable men nicknamed, after himself, Julien’s-off-the-Strand. Under the guise of stylish after-dinner parties, it was a gentlemen’s club right out of our 110 Belgrave Square townhouse—certainly not a place for children.

But I was sixteen, hardly a child anymore, and besides, all the guests loved that I played waiter at the parties, my father’s androgynous little acolyte. They loved it nearly as much as they loved my father’s girls in their lace Oriental robes, and scandalous black stockings.

I made my rounds, weaving to and fro between the back and front drawing rooms, sporting a flashy waistcoat with silver-thread embroidery and carrying propped against my side a tray of treats, Brandy, and smoking pipes laced with the good powder. It was a little too heavy for me to display in one hand. My father had no butler, but nobody cared about proper serving decorum here, and the outrageousness of it all was just part of the fun.

“Look at you, Will, all dapper. But your collar’s crooked—” Mr. Shelby, the editor for a rather popular serial magazine, stretched from a chair to straighten my collar. I paused just long enough to accept his kindness before passing a Brandy his way.

“Make room, make room … ” Dr. Lowells said under a chuckle, parting some other men with whom he mingled near the mantle so I could slip through. One of the men snatched a pipe off my tray.

“Will—you missed it last week, unfortunately—we had Letty Lind on loan from the Gaiety!”

I blushed hot, not because I cared if Baron Berthold’s cabaret had Letty Lind on loan last week, but because I didn’t want my father or his head mistress Miss Valérie overhearing and making inferences about just how much I explored on my own.

Long after dinner now, the townhouse was full of laughter and tobacco smoke, pretty girls and lonely gentlemen. A Berliner in the back drawing room spewed a lighthearted German opera. The violent chatter of billiards echoed from the other reception room, along with bellowing voices sloshing together with ladies’ praise like champagne in glistening stemware. God knew what sort of oppression or repression or depression or humdrum Hyde Park persuasion drove men to rent a night’s companion, but bankers, scholars, bachelors, and even aristocrats sometimes, all paid an awful lot of money for an evening with one my father’s girls.

Then there was the occasional set of eyes that followed me around the place more than they followed any of my father’s girls—like tonight, a man with hair so slicked it looked like polished wood in the lamplight. I caught him staring twice and he looked away as soon as I did. The third time, his hand twitched and I knew he was about to wave me over for refreshment, so I turned sharp on my heel and marched back to the other room before he could do so.

“Here he comes, the little master of the house!”

Agatha, one of my father’s girls, and her most regular visitor waved at me from the corner, at an open window that overlooked the back garden.

“I want one of those cakes, John,” Agatha said, looking so pretty and young with her long dark hair falling casually down the back of her gauzy gown. Her visitor Mr. John Belwether plucked some sweet things from the tray. I liked when Mr. Belwether came to visit Agatha, because he treated her very nicely. They were always exchanging playful glances and secretive laughter, teasing and elbowing like brother and sister.

“Why, Will, your eyes are like a stormy summer sky,” John remarked, mustache dancing as he grinned at me around a sip of his brandywine.

“He always looks that way in the wake of his father’s neglect.” Agatha reached out and affectionately finger-combed the hair around my ears.

“Look what way?” I echoed, brow knotting. “Father’s neglect?”

“Have they always been that blue?” John insisted about my eyes.

“I think so,” I teased back.

Agatha sighed dramatically. “‘A stormy summer sky,’ he says—why can’t the man be as poetic about my eyes? My eyes are plain, then?”

John laughed and hooked an arm around Agatha’s waist, leaning forward against her even as she smiled and avoided his kisses. “Your eyes,” he said, “your eyes, sweet dove, are finer than the Crown Jewels … ”

Nina came up beside us then, prodding me in the side with her closed hand-fan. “She’s giving you that look again,” she muttered into my ear as she gracefully swiped a drink from the tray I’d rested against the side of a table.

She meant Miss Valérie. I turned a little, casting a glance around the rest of the drawing room.

Yes, elegant Miss Valérie was in her usual spot on the floral-print loveseat, smiling and watching with hooded eyes, her feet in bejeweled slippers tucked up on the sofa. My father had six girls—Athena, Agatha, Daphne, Calico, Nina, and Miss Valérie. She was the oldest, and my father’s obvious favorite. She could have been my stepmother if there were any papers to say so. In her heels and Russian sable, Miss Valérie was the head mistress, the unofficial manager of the place. She had her own room in the house while only Daphne and Agatha got a room upstairs across the attic hall from mine. The other three girls just had to show up no later than seven o’clock in the evening.

The look Nina meant was Miss Valérie’s uniquely sharp observation face, at once soft and lofty yet cold, disdaining, and very obviously critical, which could come and go in the blink of an eye. When I looked around, her eyes lingered on me a moment longer—one brow lifted a little at the corner as if she meant to say, Yes, I am looking at you. And then she was greeted by a barrister friend of my father’s so she was back to her carefully sociable character, accepting the kisses he rained on her ringed hand.

“She hates me,” I muttered as I turned around again with a sigh, raising my brows. What else was new? I was sure she thought me mollycoddled and ungrateful, some sort of inconvenience for her and my father. She reminded me of a spoiled family cat, the grumpy and fluffy kind with a ribbon on its throat that never wanted to be held.

John held his drink up as if he meant to toast. “Well!” he said. “One day, this will all be yours, you lucky little chap.”

Thump!

I leaned to the side just a bit, looking out the doorway and down the hall to the other drawing room, wondering if someone had tripped and fallen. I saw no such scene. In fact, no one else seemed to have heard the sound.

“What do you mean?” I prompted John, distractedly.

“You’ll inherit the business, won’t you?” John said. “You could send Lady Valérie off for good!”

“I suppose … ” I shrugged. I didn’t want to think about that yet. I didn’t really want to inherit the business. I had many other projects in life to which I wanted to attend, like travel or even university or—

Thump, thump-thump.

The thumping came from upstairs, like someone had jumped up and down gently on the floor of the attic room just overhead. My room. I bristled first, wondering if someone had snuck upstairs into my room instead of one of the girls’ rooms.

Thump-thump-thump-thump-thump.

Agatha heard it. She looked to me sharply, almost demandingly, from around John’s shoulder. It was quite the ruckus, like two children playing tag or chasing hoops—

My heart sank. I realized what it was. “Oh, blast,” I hissed, not angry but a little flustered. I needed to stop the noise before anyone else noticed, especially my father. This was how it always went. I pushed the tray at John, who took it in tipsy confusion. Behind his back, Agatha urged me on with a flap of her hands.

I didn’t really hurry until I hit the stairs, because I didn’t want anyone to notice and ask what was wrong.

On the attic floor were a handful of bedrooms—one for Cook, one for the maid, Madame Zelda, one for Daphne and Agatha to share, and mine which was the largest. I already knew what was going on before I burst in.

Patter of feet, hollow giggles.

I saw them in the mirror across the room under the slanted skylights, felt the gust of air and throb of fast footsteps as Charlie and Colette dashed to and fro before me, playing some game all around the loft room.

“Charlie!” Colette whined because Charlie was cheating per usual, peeking through his fingers. But she should have known better because Charlie always cheated.

Outside the mirror, the room was empty.

“Hey!” I said, very sternly, and the children had moved beyond the scope of the mirror but I could feel them looking at me guiltily. “Could you both kindly hush up?” I pressed, quietly but firmly. The sound of the party downstairs echoed up through the house like their play had echoed down. “You’re being very loud. You can’t have my father’s company hear you.”

“Sorry,” the two of them chorused, voices tiny and warped by the in-between. And then, just like that, they were gone like candles blown out in the wind.

Charlie and Colette were dead, after all.

A friend of their scoundrel brother’s had murdered them in the attic back in 1866. They were still here because the clothes in which they’d died were hidden under the floorboards. My father hadn’t known that when he’d acquired the townhouse, and I surely was not about to tell him, just as I surely was not about to remove the clothes after I found them in candlelight one night two years ago.

I breathed a short sigh, relieved but feeling sort of guilty. I hated telling them to quiet down. They kept Agatha and Daphne up at night a lot—scared them, more often than not—and the fact of the matter was that I felt responsible for them sometimes.

It had always been my solitary curse, anyway, to see and hear the Missing with a hypersensitivity normal men and women didn’t generally possess.

The Missing—ghosts, I mean. Spirits, phantoms, the dead. It was with an odd sense of fondness that I thought of them as the Missing, because they quite obviously weren’t completely gone, just caught somewhere in the in-between, consigned to wander mostly unseen and unnoticed by those who weren’t predisposed like I was.

When I was younger, I didn’t hesitate telling everyone, especially with the way Charlie and Colette used to get naughty and puckish around the house—moving things, playing music boxes, running up and down the stairs or grabbing people’s ankles from under beds and chairs. At first my father’s other girls cooed about my wonderful imagination and pinched my sides because I spooked them with my tales of ghost children in the attic. But very soon they realized I was not full of fancies. Now when anything out of the ordinary happened, they came to me to put a stop to it. They knew my father would fly into a fit about preposterous, illogical fears and how things like demons and ghosts were merely business tricks like the occasional séance parties during which I was banished to my room because I nitpicked the frauds. Miss Valérie was no better, and everyone had witnessed enough of my father lecturing me to know who would believe what.

“Those deplorable fancies and imaginary friends won’t get you anywhere,” my father, the frowning hypocrite, was quick to chastise. “And talking to yourself won’t, either.”

Madame Zelda didn’t lecture me, but when she caught me with books on astral projection and the occult, or found me sneaking out to see West End spirit photography and spiritualist galas, the worried shadow on her face was enough to guilt me into obedience.

“Too dangerous,” she’d whisper. “Too dangerous, Will. Please listen to your father and pay no heed to charlatans and parlor games.”

Well, nobody but Agatha or Daphne believed me, and even they only believed enough to send me off to make Charlie and Colette stop playing pranks.

I didn’t hold it against any of them because they hadn’t grown up observing the extracurricular activities of the Missing like I had. It was my ghastly cross to bear, though for what sins, I was never totally positive.

The attic was finally peaceful. “Be good and don’t cause any more ruckus tonight,” I said to Charlie and Colette, if they were even there to listen anymore. “I mean it.”

Voices muffled and thin, like they’d hidden behind the attic door, full of mischief yet, they chimed, “Yes, Will!”

***

“What’s the matter, Will?” my father asked as I came down from the attic and back into the noise and splendor.

“Nothing, of course,” I said, letting him tousle my hair and give a loving pat to my shoulder, reminders of fatherly affection that came easily to him after a few drinks but were never enough to distract from his duties as business host and man of the house.

He went off toward the front drawing room and I hurried back to where I’d left Agatha and the others—but just as I stepped through the doorway, a hand closed on my arm and I staggered to a halt, looking around in bristled dismay.

But it was just Athena, only one half of her lit by the drawing room lights and the other draped in the dimness of the hall.

And something wasn’t right.

Athena’s face was white. Her lower lip quivered and a veneer of tears sharpened her owl-eyed stare. The last time she’d looked at me like that, Charlie had chased her down the stairs sometime after midnight, laughing and tugging at the ribbons on her dress.

Yet somehow I knew even before Athena opened her mouth to speak that it had nothing to do with ghost children’s pranks.

“It’s Daphne,” Athena choked out, looking like an overgrown doll with her Empire silhouette and cold, fearful confusion. “Daphne’s left, Will. She told me she was really through with it all this time, and couldn’t even bear the rest of the night—she’s headed to Waterloo—”

My heart fell and some awful intuitive ringing in the ears swallowed all the noise around. Everything except for the German romping from the Berliner in the corner, like a soundtrack to the gnawing dread. I did not even realize until then that Calico had followed Athena over. She looked between Athena and me sharply, as aware as anyone in the house that Daphne was my best friend. Sometimes I felt guilt for how obvious it was, but tonight there wasn’t time for that. The miserable finger of protective terror pierced right through me as I shook loose of Athena’s grip so suddenly, I almost knocked the cigarette out of some gentleman’s hand as he passed by us.

I didn’t even have to ask to understand immediately—but ask I did.

“Do you think she really means it tonight?” I sputtered.

How many times had Daphne said those words empty of action before? And how many times would we continue to fear the worst?

“I watched her leave!” Athena’s face pinched, and then she burst into tears. “Will, I’m scared! I don’t think she’s coming back—”

I shoved my way out of the party, hardly even noticing those I collided with. As Athena hurried after me, I heard Calico simper, “There he goes, little Romeo, after his precious Daphne … ”

But she didn’t get it. Daphne was my best friend. Daphne was my favorite, to be honest. Daphne, who sat by me on cold winter nights to read Fun and Tales of the Dead. Daphne, who went off on long threads with me about Apollo and Dionysus and the fall of Rome when the stars were spinning overhead, and sneaked green fairy was fresh on the tongue. Daphne, who was the most like a sister to me out of all my father’s girls, so close to me in age—Daphne, who never complained and never said bad things about others and who hid a terrible aching sadness behind her dimpled smile—my Daphne, whom I wanted to trust with not just my petty secrets, but my real secrets, because she trusted me with hers, too—

Instinct drove me. I didn’t think to grab my coat, not even when Madame Zelda called down the stairs for me to remember it. How perfect was she? No, I just flew out the door with Athena on my heels, and my father’s demanding voice echoing after us:

“What the devil—the bad deportment—where are you two off to like this? Come back!”

I couldn’t. Daphne was about to do something unspeakable, and I couldn’t let her, so it was straight to the Bridge of Sighs with Athena’s clammy hand tight in mine. I wanted to run, but it was too dark and mucky, and Athena wouldn’t have kept up in her satin slippers. Instead we stole a hansom cab from a group of distracted gentlemen, apologizing out the window.

I didn’t want to believe it. I didn’t want to imagine Daphne really meant to jump from the bridge tonight and end it all. My heart felt like a glass prism waiting to shatter into a million pieces.

“I can’t!” Athena moaned as the cab rattled to a stop at the better end of Waterloo Bridge, which was particularly inhospitable and glum. I was already halfway out and on the ground. “I’m scared, Will! Haven’t you heard about the Wraith at Waterloo?”

Of course, I’d heard the latest gossip about a ghost haunting the despicable Waterloo Bridge. Who hadn’t? It was some of the most popular parlor talk of the season. But even if I wasn’t well-acquainted with the Missing, my fear of Daphne’s demise was greater than the fear of some infamous specter.

“It’s all right, Athena,” I promised. “You wait here for me. I’ll be back with Daphne.”

I hoped. I hoped and prayed I’d be back with Daphne.

Through the fog, I barreled up Waterloo. Athena stayed with the cab. Oddly enough, the bridge was almost vacant, except for a few men in overcoats huddled under a streetlamp. The slap of water distorted the echo of the city around me, making it seem far away from this desperate moment. Horses, coaches, voices …

“Daphne!” I cried, voice hoarse. “Daphne!”

“I’m sorry!” Athena was sobbing now, calling from the cab at the corner. “I’m sorry I told him when I promised not to, Daphne, but I couldn’t let you do it, I couldn’t—”

I saw Daphne’s silhouette through the nighttime mist, standing at the side of the bridge. A numbing sort of relief washed through me. Ah, thank God! She hadn’t jumped—she hadn’t even climbed up yet—she was just looking down into the water, courting unthinkable dangers to be in this place alone at night—

I staggered to a sudden halt, breath ripping from my chest.

No, there she was, on the other side of the road. I blamed the fragile panic for mistaking a stranger for her, my Daphne, whom I recognized every inch of as she clung to the stone of the bridge, midnight wind tugging and yanking at her thin coat and gown. Either she hadn’t heard us yelling for her, or she was that lost to the tides of her worst feelings. I had to get her down. I would never forgive myself if I watched her jump, too late to grab her off the ledge—

I bolted forward, but I tripped over a tight wire and hit the cobbles hard as a series of bells apparently attached to the imperceptible string rang to announce my gracelessness.

I bit my tongue when my chin hit the stone. The pain circled my jaw and the taste of blood bloomed on my tongue. “Christ Almighty!” I howled. “What even is all this?”

I was angry. But I was also a mess of vicious emotions, and so it was very easy to misdirect the feelings as lamplight sparked off a whole web of strings and bells, a perimeter posted on the cobbles of one side of Waterloo Bridge. I hadn’t even noticed them—that is until I’d snagged myself on one. What on earth?

Daphne—

My chin throbbed. I stained my sleeve wiping the blood from my lower lip, spitting a little bit of red at my feet. But those things became trivial concerns as panic seized me again. I looked up and saw Daphne on the stone, barefoot, gauzy skirts dancing about her naked ankles. Her slippers sat discarded at the base of the lamppost.

I stomped on some of the wires so they snapped underfoot, to clear my path. Bells rang shrilly from the broken tension as I bounded across the bridge. Ears ringing, heart pounding, terror gripped me icy and certain—but the moment my fingers closed around Daphne’s wind-chilled wrist, I knew everything was going to be okay.

I pulled her off the ledge, tumbling down all flaring petticoat and pearls. This time when I hit the stone, I had Daphne in my grasp, and her damp hair in my mouth, and the ground bit at my elbows but I didn’t even care. With all the feel of a porcelain figurine falling to shards on the floor, Daphne shattered into tears against my shoulder.

It was hardly a sweet triumph. It felt sore and heavy on the soul, and did it make me selfish to feel so wounded beyond the relief? I couldn’t believe Daphne would have actually gone to end her life without saying goodbye to me—I couldn’t stand to think she was still that unhappy inside, in spite of all the smiles and laughter—

“I almost did it!” Daphne moaned, not really crying, just hiccupping on shocked gasps like she’d been under some sort of spell and my yanking her to the ground had broken it. “I almost did it, Will, oh God, I almost did it—”

There was no time for us to recover from the little adventure.

The men who’d been clustered a few lampposts down suddenly hovered over us, two of them casting hateful scowls and the other pair looking torn between curiosity and obligation in the midst of the crisis—a young bachelor with messy hair whose tetchy countenance ruined his handsome face, another, very tall and broad and fierce-looking even with tiny spectacles perched atop his head, an antsy and nervous third with a knapsack, and a fourth who was only about my size and probably not much older.

“You’re interfering with our investigation!” the messy-haired bachelor roared.

“Are you two all right?” the one about my size sputtered out. He had a dark softness about him that brought to mind paintings of martyred saints and cupids. His eyes were two different colors—that is, one was gray and fogged like there was no color to it at all. “That was quite the fall!”

“You ruined all our bells! Do you know how long it took to set those up?”

“Clement, the ambience compass is going wild—” The nervous one was somewhat skeletal, with that awkward course of motion that long gangly people have.

The tall man with the spectacles helped us off the ground. “Be a gentleman and take your lady home now, sir. She’s safe, and we’re in the middle of something.”

“All our bells, God damn it—”

“Please, go,” the bespectacled man urged again, gruffly. “You’re just in the way now, boy.”

“Daphne!” Athena called from the corner in a ragged sob of relief. She’d watched the entire timely rescue. Daphne pulled away and darted down the bridge, colliding with Athena in a tangle of tears and messy curls at the cab. She left her shoes.

“You set up those bells?” The panic didn’t really subside, just coiled in on itself and sharpened into fury. Real gentlemen wouldn’t have dared turn an almost-crisis back around for their good. But maybe they weren’t real gentlemen. Or maybe my impression of gentlemen was skewed by my father’s line of work. The silhouette of the other girl was there again, only a few lamps up the bridge. Staring at us, it seemed. Ah—there was that familiar feeling. I understood.

The peculiar ladylike shadow was not alive.

I wouldn’t let it distract me. The Missing didn’t know when it was rude to interrupt, and she’d probably leave us alone. I hissed, “Those wires could kill a man who doesn’t know they’re there—”

“Well, you’re not dead, are you?” the grouchy one snorted.

“Clement—the ambience compass—”

“Quinn, tell Clement to let it alone—it is our fault, after all.”

Somewhere beyond the embankment, laughter echoed from crepuscular crowds. The hair rose on the back of my neck and a faint ringing shivered in my ears. I knew what it meant. I knew the shift in the silence too well. Where was that wretched silhouette? Gone again. There was something unsettling about it. Charlie and Colette didn’t give me such a feeling of dread; I tried to avoid any Missing that made the air hard to breathe.

“There’s something else here,” I blurted before even realizing I’d said it aloud, backing away from the arguing men. But I didn’t have a chance to explain and they didn’t have a chance to question me.

Up from the ground sprang that silhouette, right there between us and blocking my view of the messy-haired and loudmouthed one the men had called Clement.

It was a featureless black shape at first, but then the silhouette’s details shivered forth, clear as day. With wide, bloodshot eyes and sunken cheeks, her hair flowed about her face as lusciously and unnaturally as a drop of ink in water. A terrible, shrill wheezing sound rang through my ears, a new and more violent panic clanging its alarm in my heart.

The Wraith at Waterloo!

Just as I managed to look through the ghost again, meeting the startled eyes of Clement, a gust that reeked of the Thames hit me and dissolved into fingers around my neck. I gagged with the blow like I’d been punched in the throat.

It was so cold. I screamed. I tried to breathe, but I couldn’t. My throat was full of water.

I tried desperately to collect my scrambled thoughts, but a breath like a tomb being pried open crept through me like the damn wraith had reached into my gasping mouth and was trying to take over my body. A sensation of doom stirred in me suddenly, an unbridled wave of sadness and fear and emptiness surging through with every throb of my heart. And then all my bearings were utterly ripped away from me, and I tumbled backward—

I opened my eyes. I could breathe again.

I sat on a crooked bed in a dingy, cluttered room where echoes swirled all around, incomprehensible and warped, like they came from under water.

For one blessed instant, I decided I must have passed out and been brought somewhere to recover by the dubious foursome on the bridge.

But then I knew that was not so.

It wasn’t so because I wasn’t myself anymore. When I turned to a smudged little looking-glass sitting next to me, the face I saw was not my own.

It was the dead girl’s, and her name was Kitty.

How did I know that?

I had no explanation. I drew a slow breath, forcing myself to look. Not at my reflection, no—

Her reflection.

But it seemed to be mine, too!

In some inharmonious rush of colors and lights and smells and muffled sounds, this was Kitty’s life, and I knew it because I was Kitty.

I knew hunger and poverty. I knew the burn of being disparaged and browbeaten. I knew too many siblings and not enough love. Mother pitied me. Father hated me. I knew the shiver of cold desperation as it sliced through me and I saw street after street, and man after man, and the business of the bed, lying flat on my back, the air cold on bare skin. The collision of scenes was disorienting, degrading. Every sane bit of me wailed for release. No, no, no, what was all this torment? It felt so dirty and wrong; pray this was some squalid nightmare far from the lovely life my father gave his ladies at Julien’s-off-the-Strand!

Then there was Darcy James and his morphine dreams, and Darcy James’s touch made my heart swell because Kitty’s heart swelled. And when Kitty vomited everything she ate into a rusty pail in the corner, I vomited everything I ate into that same rusty pail, prisoner of the scene.

Help! I tried to scream, but it hurt because my voice got trapped in my throat and went nowhere.

My head was going to explode if this kept up. My eyes would bulge out of my skull, and my mind would ooze bloody from every orifice and … Bethnal Green, dress houses, white powder, Darcy James, whore, whore, whore!

The stone of Waterloo Bridge was icy and slick below my bare feet. I leaned out until there was nothing to hold me, and I fell into the Thames, taking deep breaths and choking on the dirty water because I wanted to die, because Darcy James stopped coming because he was married now. He had moved to the country, and I was tired of being a dirty, lonely, forsaken whore, and there were so many voices, so many buzzing whispering voices closing in on me, all the voices and screams of the more deteriorated Missing as they clawed and tore at the strange void where I was now, somewhere in between the in-between and—

I’m pretty positive that’s when the towering man they called Quinn slapped me across the face.

I sucked in a stuttering breath as my eyes rolled open to the fog and the nighttime sky. This Quinn fellow hovered over me in his leather overcoat, his thin wire spectacles dropped to his nose again. I didn’t even care that Quinn had hit me. This close, I could really see his dark curls and the shadow of his beard. I grabbed for something to hold on to, crouched on unswaying ground but still reeling.

The strange trance-like stream of visions had ceased, and I struggled against shocked tears and heaving gasps.

God, but that had never happened to me before. There was something so personal about it, feeling a spirit’s agony and utter hatred for the living. Something so shaking, so jarring, so traumatic … The Missing could change the feel in an empty room, sure, but—never in my life had I felt it like it was my own before—

Quinn coached me through a few shuddering breaths until I realized I wasn’t actually drowning.

“I saw—” I coughed again. Quinn kept one arm around me. “I saw it all—”

“What did you see?” the nervous-looking one asked, far too spirited for my comfort. His Irish accent wasn’t unsettling, but he was waiting impatiently to write down whatever I said, and I didn’t like that. I tried to push him away.

“O’Brien!” the one my age hissed. “Give him some room, man, for Christ’s sake … ”

Daphne—Athena—they needed to get home now—and Kitty—

“Where’s Kitty?” I demanded, turning roughly against Quinn’s thick shoulder. “Where’d the bloody wench go?”

O’Brien’s face pinched up as if he’d taken offense to that on Kitty’s behalf. I couldn’t care. “Kitty?” he echoed, perplexed.

I writhed out of Quinn’s strong hands, tripping over Daphne’s shoes as I threw myself against the stone to get sick off the side of the bridge.

Spitting a little bit of blood still, this time with the unpleasant tang of vomit, I turned back to the men more meekly than before.

“What just happened?” I croaked, breath quivering on my lower lip. I was utterly lost, but … admittedly galvanized.

“A mild possession,” Quinn grunted casually.

Mild possession! Christ!

Clement seemed to try his very best to mimic Quinn’s previous compassion as he looked me right in the eye and asked in a cool, calculative manner, “What was her full name, boy? Could you discern the year? Can you recall any details whatsoever?”

“Kittredge Ann McGowell,” I husked, eyes wide, and the most frightening part was that I hadn’t even had to think about it. Wiping my mouth with the back of my sleeve one last time, I just knew it, and I felt so very violated by the knowledge. “From Bethnal Green. She jumped—”

“Suicides,” Quinn interrupted, nodding his head decisively. “Told you. She’s still here, Clement. Malevolent echo. Knew it wouldn’t be that easy. The ambience compass is going mad, you see?”

I stared dumbly at the tool they’d been calling the ambience compass, its little arrow stuttering and jerking in wild readings. Finally I realized it measured the change in the air that came with the Missing. What a strange little invention—it seemed magical, except that it was all too real. Could it really read what I felt so naturally when the Missing showed up to play?

What came next was an absolute whirlwind.

“What’s going on?” I demanded hoarsely.

Quinn grabbed me by the collar and ordered, “You’re staying until we collect your testimony.”

“What?” I sputtered. “I can’t—I have to get Daphne and Athena home—are you from the press?”

“Kingsley can take them home,” Clement announced, gesturing to the young man about my age. “Can’t you, Kingsley?”

Kingsley’s face pinched. “Ah, I suppose I can … ”

“A malevolent residual,” O’Brien mumbled to himself as he wrote.

“A malevolent echo,” Quinn corrected.

Clement sighed. “Oh, they’re just my favorite,” he complained.

“Sorry, but … ” I almost swallowed my question at all their curt glances. “What does all that mean?”

“A residual is an unintelligent spirit attached to a location by lingering emotion, usually due to the circumstances of their life or death,” Kingsley answered as Quinn ignored me once again and Clement’s lip curled at my ignorance. “An echo is a semi-intelligent residual.”

A system of classification to the Missing was something new to me. Something new and strangely fascinating, sinking its teeth right into the heart of my worst curiosity. Like some strange siren song in the dark, I wasn’t angry anymore—now I was loath to leave. My heart thundered. A cold but revitalizing thrill had infected me. What were these men doing? How did they know that? This was normal to them?

“Malevolent echo, that’s precisely what I thought, too.” Clement heaved a dissatisfied sigh. “Certainly suicide would leave enough bad energy for that.”

“But so many jump so often—”

“Precisely.”

“What are we to do?” owl-eyed Kingsley urged as a few miserable coaches rattled by. “Mr. Zayne’s, Clement?”

“Yes. Zayne’s it is.”

“Stop!”

All four of them halted and looked at me like they’d forgotten I was there. I was shaking. But I was also terribly turned on to the whole affair. They spoke of the Missing like they were a normal thing. They were cool and composed, like interacting with the Missing was hardly surprising. They weren’t afraid, they weren’t judging, and they weren’t rationalizing like skeptics, either, and—

I met Clement’s narrowed eyes grimly, standing my ground. “I must insist I will not be giving you my testimony, whatever you need my testimony for, unless you take me with you to see what you’re doing.” I wanted to know. Oh God, I needed to know. “And I have to return Daphne and Athena home safely first.”

The other three all looked to Clement. Clement gawked at me. For all his rotten attitude, he really was actually quite young. Tired-looking, but young. His jaw tightened, and he squinted at me harder, seemingly resenting my unnegotiable conditions.

“Fine,” he conceded coarsely. “Let’s go.”

I thought maybe they’d part ways with us regardless, but they truly followed us back to Julien’s-off-the-Strand—where the night’s reception was still spinning along like nothing out of the ordinary had happened at all. That hurt a little.

“Will, what are you doing?” Daphne hissed as I handed her shoes back to her on the stoop. There was a strange wide-eyed peace about her now, like she was in shock she’d almost done it. Almost jumped. Almost died … “Your father will not be happy. You don’t know those men. You can’t—”

“You don’t understand,” I insisted, pushing her and Athena to the door. “This is something I must do for myself.”

Yes, something I had to do for myself—to see if there were others like me who were the indiscriminate witnesses to the motions of the Missing, and what might become of someone with a curse like that.

“But Will—”

“I think you owe it to me after that stunt tonight, don’t you, Daphne?”

Daphne’s face hardened. Curls all broken up and windblown about her shoulders, she mumbled, “Abandon your high horse, Will Winchester. We all have our demons.”

What was I supposed to do? What was I to say? That finally I had the chance to talk one-on-one with spiritualists who might actually believe what I said? That I’d finally found spiritualists who were more truth than fraud? Could I even speak words with that dreadful lump in my throat?

“What am I to tell your father, then?” Daphne asked wearily, tearstained and shivering and looking far too fragile for my liking.

“Tell him nothing.” I shrugged. I kissed her cheek. And then I sprinted down the block to where the men from the bridge waited in their cabs.

I was ready.

 

Jerico Lenk has always been spellbound by the haunting and the historic.
He loves ghost stories, romance novels, transgressive fiction, and “fanfic” that’s sometimes
all of that in one. When not writing, he also dabbles in acting, modeling, and other art
which can be seen on his personal blog. Although Seattle is his hometown, he’s
currently studying English (Creative Writing), History, and Russian Studies at
USF Tampa.

Website | Twitter | Instagram | Goodreads

 

1 winner will receive the first eGalley of THE MISSING. International.

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SPECIAL REVEAL- BRANDED and HUNTED by Abi Ketner and Missy Kalicicki Special Hardcover Fan Editions

 

Today Abi Ketner, Missy Kalicicki and Month9Books are revealing the covers
for the special hardcover fan editions of BRANDED & HUNTED, book 2 in the
Sinners Series releasing in April 19, 2016!

Check out the smoking hot covers and enter the giveaway
to win special  notebooks with the covers on them!
On to the reveal!

 

Title: BRANDED
Author: Abi Ketner & Missy Kalicicki
Publisher: Month9Books
Pub. Date: July 19, 2016
Find it: Amazon |  Goodreads
Fifty years ago The Commander came into
power and murdered all who opposed him. In his warped mind, the seven deadly
sins were the downfall of society.
To punish the guilty, he created the
Hole, a place where sinners are branded according to their sins. Sinners are
forced to live a less than human existence in deplorable conditions, under the
watchful eye of guards who are ready to kill anyone who steps out of line.
Now, LUST wraps around my neck like
thick, blue fingers, threatening to choke the life out of me. I’ve been accused
of a crime I didn’t commit, and the Hole is my new home.
Constant darkness.
Brutal and savage violence.
Excruciating pain.
Every day is a fight for survival.
But I won’t let them win. I will not die
in the Hole.
I am more than my brand. I’m a fighter.
My name is Lexi Hamilton, and this is my story.
What readers are saying about BRANDED …
“Branded was a riveting and exciting dystopian read that will have you at the edge of your
seat. I could not put it down and was entranced by this dark and unique world!”
-Ben Alderson, Booktuber at BenjaminofTomes
“Fast paced and fun, BRANDED has something everyone will love.
Abi Ketner and Missy Kalicicki have created a unique dystopian romance that’s
sure to stand out in today’s market!” -Lindsay Cummings, Author of The Murder Complex
“Branded is a fast paced, heart pounding and swoon worthy read that will make
you fall inlove with this dark and twisted world.”
-Sasha Alsberg, Booktuber at ABookUtopia
Connect with BRANDED fans on Instagram at:
#abiandmissy
#Sinnersfandom
#Sinnersseries
#Colexi
#Sinnersseriesbranded
#Brandedofficialfanpage
#Brandedfandom
#Lexihamilton

 

Title: HUNTED
Author: Abi Ketner & Missy Kalicicki
Publisher: Month9Books
Pub. Date: April 19, 2016
Find it: Amazon | Goodreads
It’s been three months since the revolt against the
Commander’s fifty-year-old regime failed. 
Under a new ruler, things were supposed to change.
Get better. 
Now, Wilson is in charge. But, can he really be trusted?
Can anyone?
Lexi and Cole
soon find out, as life takes an unexpected turn for the worse.
In this ever-changing world, you must hunt or be hunted.
Many more lives will be lost.
Many more dreams will be crushed.
Many more fears will be realized.
When Cole is once again faced with losing Lexi
at the hands of a monster, one capture will change everything.
Forever. 
HUNTED is the electrifying sequel to the bestselling debut BRANDED,
A Sinners Series, by Abi Ketner and Missy Kalicicki.

 

About Abi and Missy 

 

Abi and Missy met in the summer of 1999
at college orientation and have been best friends ever since. After college,
they added jobs, husbands and kids to their lives, but they still found time
for their friendship. Instead of hanging out on weekends, they went to dinner
once a month and reviewed books. What started out as an enjoyable hobby has now
become an incredible adventure.

 

Giveaway Details:
1 winner will receive a special edition BRANDED
notebook from the Month9Books Café Press store and a BRANDED Bracelet, US Only.

 

1 winner will receive a special edition HUNTED
notebook from the Month9Books Café Press store and a HUNTED Bracelet, US Only.

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M9B Friday Reveal: NOBODY’S LADY Cover and Chapter 1 by @McNultyAmy @Month9Books

 

Today Amy McNulty and Month9Books are
revealing the cover and first chapter for NOBODY’S LADY! Book 2 in the Never
Veil Series which releases April 12, 2016! Check out the gorgeous cover and
enter to be one of the first readers to receive an eGalley!!
 
On to the reveal!
 
 
Title: NOBODY’S LADY
Author: Amy McNulty
Pub. Date: April 12, 2016
Publisher: Month9Books
Format: Paperback and eBook
Find it: Amazon | Goodreads
 
For the first time in a thousand years,
the men in Noll’s village possess the freedom to love whom they will. In order
to give each man the chance to fully explore his feelings, the lord of the
village decrees all marriages null and void until both spouses declare their
love for one another and their desire to wed again. What many women think will
be a simple matter becomes a source of village-wide tension as most men decide
to leave their families and responsibilities behind.
 


Rejected by the lord and ashamed of her
part in the village’s history, Noll withdraws from her family and lives life as
an independent woodcarver. This changes when her sister accuses her of hiding
her former husband Jurij from her—and when Jurij eventually does ask to move
in. Determined not to make the same mistakes, Noll decides to support her male
friends through their new emotional experiences, but she’s soon caught up in a
darker plot than she ever dared imagine possible from the men she thought she
knew so well. And the lord for whom she still has feelings may be hiding the
most frightening truth of them all.


 
Excerpt


Chapter One



When I thought I understood real friendship, I was a long-lost queen. When I discovered there was so much more to my life than love and hate, that those around me were just pawns in a game whose rules I’d unwittingly put in place, I discovered I was a long-forgotten goddess. But goddess or not, powerless or powerful, my feet were taking me someplace I wasn’t sure I wanted to go. What did I hope to find? Did I truly believe I could hear him call me—that he’d want to call me? Yes, I did. I wanted to see him again. I wanted to hope, even if I wasn’t sure I was allowed. If I deserved to. I headed down the familiar dirt path beneath the lattice of trees overhead, pausing beside the bush with a partially snapped stem that jutted outward like a broken limb. The one that pointed to the secret cavern.



Only, it’s not much of a secret anymore, is it?



My feet picked themselves up. Glowing pools would never again tempt me.



I reached the black, towering fortress that had for so long shaken and screamed at the power of my glance.



For the first time in this lifetime, I stared up at it, and nothing moved. My legs, unused to such steady footing while in the sight of the lord’s castle, twitched in anticipation of a fall that never came.



There was no need. My feet dragged me forward.



At the grand wooden door, I raised a fist to knock.



But I stopped. I felt like if I touched it, the entire castle might crumble. It had done so once before. Not at my touch exactly. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was responsible for whatever destruction I’d find in this place. But that was presumptuous of me. He was strong-willed, and he wouldn’t crumble at the prospect of freedom. If anything, he’d be triumphant over it.



You can’t stop now. I pulled my sleeves over my wrists and propped both elbows against the door, pushing until it gave way.



The darkness inside the foyer tried to deceive me into thinking night had fallen. The stream of light that trickled from the familiar crack in the garden door called the darkness a liar.



I gripped the small iron handles, the material of my sleeves guarding the cold metal from my touch, and pulled.



My touch had come to the garden before me.



The rose bushes that surrounded the enclosed circular area were torn, ripped, trodden, and plucked. The blooms lay withered, scattered and turned to dust, their once-white petals a sickly shade of yellowish brown, smooth blooms turned coarse and wrinkled.



The fountain at the center no longer trickled with water. Its shallow pool was stagnant, piles of brown festering in mildewing green liquid. Dotted amongst the brown was pallid stone rubble. The tears of the weeping elf child statue, which belonged at the top of the fountain, had ceased at last. But the gash across its face told me the child’s tears had not been staunched by joy. I wondered if Ailill had had it carved to represent the pain I’d inflicted on him as a child. And I wondered if now he could no longer bear to remind himself of what I’d done.



I hadn’t done this. But I felt as if I had. If Ailill had gone on a rampage after he came back to the castle, it was because of what I’d done to him. Everything I touched turned sour. I yanked and pulled, trying to draw my hands further into my sleeves, but there wasn’t enough material to cover them entirely.



“Well, what a surprise.”
I gazed into the shadow beside the doorway. How could I have not seen? The stone table was occupied. The place where I’d sat alone for hours, days, and months was littered with crumpled and decaying leaves, branches, and petals, obscuring the scars left by a dagger or knife striking time and time again across its surface. The matching bench that once nestled on the opposite side was toppled over, leaving only dark imprints in the dirt.



“A pity you could not make yourself at home here when you were welcome.”



My breath caught in my throat.



The man at the table was clad entirely in black, as I knew he would be. The full-length jacket had been swapped for a jerkin, but I could see the embossing of roses hadn’t been discarded in the exchange. He wore dark leather gloves, the fingers of which were crossed like the wings of a bird in flight. His pale elbows rested on the table amongst the leaves and branches and thorns. He wore the hat I was used to seeing him wear, a dark, pointed top resting on a wide brim. Its black metal band caught a ray of the sunlight almost imperceptibly. But I noticed. I always did.



His face was entirely uncovered. Those large and dark eyes, locked on me, demanded my attention. They were the same eyes of the boy I’d left alone to face my curse—not so long ago from my point of view. He was more frightened then, but there was no mistaking the hurt in those eyes both then and now.



“You are not welcome here, Olivière.”



His words sliced daggers through my stomach.



“I … I thought I heard you call me.”



He cocked his head to the side, his brown eyes moving askance. “You heard me call you?”



“Yes … ” I realized how foolish it sounded. I was a fool to come. Why had I let myself fall for that sound again, for my name whispered on the wind? Why was I so certain it was he who’d said my name?



He smiled, not kindly. “And where, pray tell, have you been lurking? Under a rose bush? Behind the garden door? Or do those rounded female ears possess a far greater sense of hearing than my jagged male ones?”



I brushed the tips of my ears self-consciously. Elric had been so fascinated by them, by what he saw as a mutilation. This lord—Ailill—wasn’t like that. He’d touched them once, as a child. He’d tried to heal them, thinking they were meant to be pointed.



The boy with a heart was the man sitting there before me. Even after all we’d been through, he’d still done me a kindness by healing my mother. “No, I just thought—”



“No, you did not think, or you would not have come.”



I clenched my jaw. My tongue was threatening to spew the vile anger that had gotten us into this mess to begin with.



He sighed and crossed his arms across his chest. “I gave explicit instructions that I not be disturbed.” He leaned back against the wall behind him, his chin jutting outward slightly.



I wiped my sweaty fingertips on my skirt. I wouldn’t let the rest of my hands out from the insides of my sleeves. The sweat had already soaked through them. “I needed to thank you.”



He scoffed. “Thank me for what? For your prolonged captivity, or for not murdering both your mother and your lover when I had the chance?”



So you admit you took Jurij to punish me? You admit they were both in danger in your “care”? Quickly, I had to clench my jaw to keep down the words that threatened to spill over. He’s not who I thought he was. He wouldn’t have harmed them.



I loosened the muscles in my jaw one hair’s breadth at a time.



“For healing me when you were a child. For accepting me into your castle instead of putting me to death for trespassing in it. For … For forgiving me for cursing you, even though you were innocent.” My voice was quiet, but I was determined to make it grow louder. “For saving my mother’s life.”



He waved one hand lazily in the air. “Unfinished projects irk me.”



“But you didn’t have to.”



A shrug. “The magic was nearly entirely spent on the churl anyway.”



“I beg your pardon?”



He leaned forward and placed both palms across the rotted forest remnants on the table. “My apologies,” he said, his lips curled into a sneer. “I simply meant that I wasted years and years and let the magic wither from my body to save a person of no consequence. You may thank me for that if you like. I would rather not be reminded of it.”



How odd it was to see the face I’d imagined come to life. The mocking, the condescending—it was all there. I just hadn’t known the canvas before.



And what a strange and beautiful canvas it was. That creamy peach skin, the brownish tint of his shoulder-length tresses. He was so much paler than any person I had ever seen. Save for the specters.



Despite the paleness, part of me felt I wasn’t wrong to have mistaken one brother for another. Elric had been dark-skinned, but they seemed almost like reflections of the same person; they shared the same brows, the same lips, and even eyes of a similar shape if not color. Perhaps the face before me was a bit gaunter, the nose a bit longer. It was easier to focus on the differences. Thinking of the similarities made me want to punch the face in front of me all the more—and that would undermine everything I had set out to do when I made my way to him. I wanted to see if you were really restored to life. Say it. I wanted to know if you really forgave me. Say it. I wanted to know why I … Why I feel this way about you, why I keep thinking about you, when I used to be unable to stand the sight of you. Say it, Noll! I dug my nails into my palm and shook the thoughts from my head. He’d called my mother a “churl.” I couldn’t just tell him everything I was thinking. “Have you no sense of empathy?”



“What a coincidence that you should mention that. I am sending Ailill to the village with an edict. He can escort


you there.”“Ailill?” But aren’t you him? Could I have been mistaken? Oh, goddess, help me, why do I do this to myself? Why do I think I know everything?


He waved his hand, and one of the specters appeared beside me from the foyer.



The specters. There were about a hundred of them in the castle. Pale as snow in skin and hair with red, burning eyes. Mute servants who seemed to anticipate the lord’s every command. Only now I knew who they really were.



Oh. “You call him by your own name?” I asked.



He raised an eyebrow. “I call them all by my name. They are me, remember?”



His icy stare sent another invisible dagger through my stomach. “Yes, but—”



“A shame you never cared to ask my name when you were my guest,” he said. “I have a feeling things might have turned out much differently—for all of us.”



“You knew what would happen! Why didn’t you warn me?” I had to squeeze my fists and teeth together to stop myself from screaming. This wasn’t going at all like I had hoped. But what had I hoped? What could I have possibly expected? I thought I’d be forgiven. I thought that Ailill and I might start over, that we could be friends, perhaps even … What a fool I’ve been.



Ailill turned slightly, his attention suddenly absorbed in a single white petal that remained on a half-trodden bush beside him. “I was not entirely in control of my emotions,” he said, “as you may well know.”



“I tried to give you a way out!” My jaw wouldn’t stay shut.



Ailill laughed and reached over to pluck the petal from its thorns. “Remind me exactly when that was? Perhaps between condemning me to an eternal life of solitude and wretchedness and providing yourself with a way to feel less guilty about the whole affair? And then you just popped right back to the present, I suppose, skipping over those endless years in a matter of moments.” He crushed the petal in his hand.



“A way to let myself feel less guilty?” He wasn’t entirely wrong. But it wasn’t as if he had done nothing wrong.



Ailill bolted upright, slamming the fist that gripped the petal against the twigs and grass on the table. “Your last words to me were entirely for your own benefit, as well you know!”



If, after your own Returning, you can find it in your heart to forgive me, the last of the men whose blood runs with his own power will free all men bound by my curse.



“How is wishing to break the curse on the village for my benefit?”



“Perhaps because the curse was your doing? Perhaps because you only wanted the curse broken to free your lover from it in the first place?”



“Stop calling Jurij my ‘lover.’ He’s not—”



“And you did free him with those words. You knew I would forgive you.”



“How could I have known? I didn’t think it possible you’d forgive me, not after all we’ve been through.”



“You knew because you knew I wanted to be free myself. That I would do anything—even forgive you for half a moment—to earn that freedom.” His voice grew quieter. “You never wanted anything from me, not really. I was just a pawn in your game, a way to free the other men in your village, a way to punish the men from mine.”



I fought back what I couldn’t believe was threatening to spring to my eyes. No tears, not in front of him.



“The men of the old village deserved everything they got,” I spat at last, knowing full well that wasn’t the whole story.



Ailill scoffed and put both hands on his hips, his arms akimbo. Oh, how I tired of that pose. The crushed petal remained on the table. Its bright white added a bit of life to the decay.



“There were plenty of young boys not yet corrupted,” he said. “And some that might have never been.” He took a deep breath. “But, of course, you are not entirely to blame. I blame myself every day for ever taking a childish interest in you. That should not have counted as love.”



I swallowed. Of course. Before the curse of the village had broken, a woman had absolute power over the one man who loved or yearned for her. When I visited the past through the pool in the secret cavern, I discovered a horde of lusty men who knew nothing of love but were overcome with desire. Since so many had lusted for any female who walked before them, and I had carried the power from my own version of the village with me, it had been child’s play to control the men. But why had that power extended to Ailill? He had only been a boy then, broken, near silent—and kindhearted. He couldn’t have regarded me with more than a simple crush on an older sisterly figure, but it had been enough.



“But you did forgive me.” Why couldn’t I stop the words from flowing?



Ailill shook his head and let a weary smile spread across his features. “Forgive you? I could never forgive you. No more than I could forgive myself for daring to think, if just for a moment, that I … ” He stopped.



I shook my head. “The curse wouldn’t have been broken. The men in the village wouldn’t now be walking around without masks. Nor you without your veil. If you hadn’t forgiven me.”



Ailill tilted his head slightly. His dark eyes searched mine, perhaps for some answer he thought could be found there. “I would still need the veil even now?” he asked, his voice quiet. “Are you certain?”



Removing the veil before the curse was broken would have required the Returning, a ritual in which I freely and earnestly bestowed my heart and affection to him. It would have never happened, not with the man I knew at the time to be mine. So yes, he would still need the veil to survive the gaze of women. I was sure of it. He’d been arrogant, erratic, and even cruel. Perhaps not so much as Elric, Ailill’s even more volatile older brother, the one who wound up with a mob of angry, murderous women in his castle and a gouge through his heart. But even so.



It was my turn to cross my arms and sneer. “I said you could break the curse after your own Returning, and I specified that you didn’t need my affection to have a Returning. All you needed to do was crawl out of whatever abyss I’d sent you to.” I shifted uncomfortably in place. “And I suppose I should be grateful—for my mother’s sake—that you did.”



Ailill waved a hand at the specter beside me and brushed aside a pile of clippings on the table to reveal a hand-written letter. It was yellowed and a tad soggy. “Yes, well, the endless droning that made up your curse gets a bit foggy in my mind—assuming it even made sense in your mind to begin with. I am afraid I lack the ability to retain exact memories of an event that took place a hundred lifetimes ago when I was but a scarred child terrified of the monster before him.” He looked up to face me as the specter retrieved the letter from his extended hand. “But I suppose it was not all that long ago for the monster, was it?” He turned again to the table, shuffling brush about aimlessly. “Take her with you to the market,” he said.



The specter made to grab my arm as he passed. I slipped out of his reach only to back into another specter who had appeared quick as lightning from the foyer. He grabbed one arm, and the first specter seized the other.



“Let go of me!” I shouted as they began to drag me away.



The specters didn’t pause, as they once would have.



“Stop!” called Ailill from behind me. The specters did as they were told.



Ailill spoke. “I forgot to inform you that my retainers lost all desire to follow your orders when I did.” He waved his fingers in the air. “Carry on.”



I struggled against the grip the specters had on my arms. Again. He has me under his thumb again. “I can walk by myself!” I screamed as my toes slid awkwardly against the dark foyer floor. “I don’t need to go to the market!”



A black carriage awaited us outside the castle doorway. A third specter opened the carriage door, and my captors heaved me up into the seat like a sack of grain. The one with the letter slid in and took the seat across from me. He stared vacantly at the top of the seat behind me.



I leaned forward, whipping my hand out to stop the carriage door as one of the specters moved to close it. I didn’t care what I touched in the castle anymore. Let the whole thing crumble.



A black-gloved hand covered mine. I jumped back. Ailill stuck his head inside the carriage. His face stopped right before mine, the brim of his hat practically shading me under it. The sight of his face so close to mine, unveiled and painted with disdain, caused a thunderous racing of my heart. It was as if I’d just run the length of the entire village.



“You kept your hair short,” he said. He reached his free hand toward it, then pulled back.



I’d once let the bushy mess of black hair grow as long as it wanted, but once I cropped it closely to my scalp, I found it easier to deal with. “There hasn’t been enough time for it to grow, anyway. Not for me.”



He snorted. “Of course. But it makes me remember you as you were, long ago. When you cursed me and every man whether he deserved it or not.” He leaned back a bit, putting more space between our faces. “I think you will be most interested in going with my servants to the market,” he said. “But there will be no need to thank me in person afterward. I would rather not see you again.” His eyes drifted upwards, thoughtfully. “In fact, remind the villagers that I am closed to all audiences. My servants will be out there to see that my edict is obeyed.”



Before I could speak, he leaned back and let my hand fall from his. He reached around the door to close it.



“Wait—”



And slammed it in my face.


 
 
About Amy: 
 
Amy McNulty is a freelance writer and
editor from Wisconsin with an honors degree in English. She was first published
in a national scholarly journal (The Concord Review) while in high
school and currently writes professionally about everything from business
marketing to anime. In her down time, you can find her crafting stories with
dastardly villains and antiheroes set in fantastical medieval settings. Visit
her website at amymcnulty.com.

 


 
Giveaway Details:


 
1 winner will receive an eBook of NOBODY’S
GODDESS and an eGalley of NOBODY’S LADY. International.

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M9B Friday Reveal: TRIUMPH OF CHAOS Cover and Chapter 1 by @Jen_McConnel

 

Whoo hoo! I’m so exited because pub sister Jen McConnel and Month9Books are
revealing the cover and first chapter for TRIUMPH OF CHAOS the final book in
the Red Magic Series, which releases March 8, 2016! Check out the gorgeous
cover, and don’t forget to enter to win the complete eBook series on the link at the end of the post!!



A quick note from the author:

I can’t tell you how bittersweet it is to see the cover for Triumph of Chaos.
In a few weeks, the Red Magic series will be entirely in your hands, and while
it’s hard to let these characters go, I’m thrilled that you’ll be able to
follow Darlena as her journey culminates in Triumph. The cover is a perfect way
to wrap up this trilogy, and I hope you love it (and the story!) as much as I
do. Red Magic has been a part of my life for five years, and of all the
characters I’ve created, Darlena feels the most familiar, the most real to me.
I can’t wait for the last installment of her story to be out in the world!
On to the reveal! 
 
 
Title: TRIUMPH OF CHAOS
Author: Jen McConnel
Pub. Date: March 8, 2016
Publisher: Month9Books
Format: Paperback & eBook
Find it: Amazon| B&N| Goodreads
After the disaster in Europe, Darlena’s
starting to get desperate. She knows the only way to defeat Hecate and the
other crazy Red Gods is by banding together with other Witches, but is it any
wonder she has a hard time trusting them?
With Izzy’s support, Darlena begins
making fragile strides toward repairing the mess she made, but she just can’t
catch a break. As chaos runs rampant around her, Darlena begins to think that
things would be better if she’d never become a Red Witch in the first place.
But there’s no way to change the past…is there?

 

The final book in the Red Magic series brings Darlena face to face with impossible odds, and a terrifying choice.

 

Exclusive Excerpt

Chapter one

For months, I thought I’d killed my best friend.

Now I sort of wish I had.

What kind of person does that make me?
Justin had once told me that I’d go crazy if I tried to decide who should live or die, but I kept thinking that if I’d been able to make that kind of choice in the first place, none of this would have happened. If Rochelle had really died on that rooftop last fall, then the world wouldn’t be falling apart, and I wouldn’t be to blame.

Sometimes, it sucks to be a Witch.

I used to scoff at people who preached about the end of the world, but ever since Marcus, I hadn’t been able to laugh off the sandwich-board crazies popping up everywhere. Maybe it would have been funny if I didn’t know the truth.

The world was ending. Or at least it would be if I couldn’t stop it.

Sulking, I followed my parents into our favorite breakfast place. They didn’t seem to notice the group of people standing on the corner holding signs that promised the end was nigh.

“Phew,” Mom said, pulling off her light-blue cardigan. “Summer will be here before we know it!”

A waitress bustled over, handing out menus and smiling at us. “Feels to me like summer’s already started!”

“Weather like this is exactly why people need to pay attention to global warming. I’ll have a sweet tea, and the breakfast special,” my dad added, settling back into his chair without glancing at the menu.

The waitress scribbled on a notepad. “I don’t know about all that, but eighty degrees in March is odd, even for North Carolina!”

Mom nodded, shooting a look in my direction. “We just have to stay cool and try not to think about what July will be like.”

After the waitress had taken our orders and moved on, I leaned forward. “You don’t think this heat has anything to do with … ” I gestured helplessly.

Mom shook her head. “Not something we should talk about here.”

Dad snorted, and I heard him mutter, “Not something we should talk about, period.”

My stomach clenched, and I stared at my hands, trying to pretend I hadn’t heard him. Ever since I got back from Scotland in January, my parents had kept me at arm’s length. Well, not Mom as much, but even she was more reserved than usual. My father seemed to want to pretend that I didn’t exist.

I had thought I’d only been away for a month, but the trip had actually taken over a year. I’d ended up in the Celtic Underworld, and time runs differently in Underworlds; I should have remembered that. While I’d been there, Rochelle had glamoured herself and pretended to be me. My parents said they believed I was who I said I was, but there was an edge to our relationship that hadn’t been there before.

It probably didn’t help that I had participated in what had become the biggest nuclear disaster in the history of the world.

Mom and Dad are both Green Witches, hippie-dippie earth-loving types, and they seemed to take it personally that their daughter had so thoughtlessly damaged the earth. To be fair, I had thought what Marcus and I did could be fixed, but that’s beside the point. My parents seemed to think the fact that I had messed with nuclear power at all was an intentional act of rebellion. It made talking to them nearly impossible, but I kept trying. Whether they liked it or not, I needed their help to fix the mess I’d made of things.

“So,” I began, forcing myself to sound cheerful, “what are you guys going to do this weekend?”

Dad muttered something about saving the world, but Mom shot him a dark look. “I might work in the garden.” She hesitated. “Did you want to help?”

Before I could answer, Dad butted in. “Lena doesn’t exactly have a green thumb.”

His words stung, but he was right—my gift seemed to be destruction, not growth. I tried to shrug it off. “I can help, if you want.”

Mom smiled, and for a moment, I could almost forget about everything that had happened, but by the time the food came, the familiar knot was back in my stomach, and I picked at my pancakes without enthusiasm. It had been hard for me to eat ever since Marcus died.

Marcus had been another Red Witch, like me. He was a little older than me and hard as granite. He’d been trained by his patron, the goddess Cerridwyn, and she had shown him how to use his magic by subjecting him to countless battles and acts of brutality. I’d never known anyone as powerful or frightening, and I had killed him.

Well, not directly. I released this crazy god of chaos, Loki, and Loki was the one who instigated Marcus’s death. But it still felt like the guilt rested solely on my shoulders: if I hadn’t listened to any of the Red gods, maybe Marcus would still be alive, and then I could figure out if I hated him or was in love with him. Yeah, I’m not messed up at all, I thought sourly.

“How’s breakfast?” Mom interrupted my thoughts, staring pointedly at my plate.

I looked down, surprised. I had eaten everything in front of me, and it even looked like I’d licked the plate clean. I didn’t remember taking a single bite. “Um. Good,” I lied. “What about you?”

She shrugged. “The toast was a bit dry, but the omelet was good.”

I nodded, struggling to make small talk. Before I could think of anything else to say, someone cranked up the volume on the TV suspended over the doorway.

“Europe is still in a state of chaos as leaders scramble to secure the countryside of France. Meanwhile, the president is preparing for a visit to Germany to discuss nuclear energy. It is assumed that he will push for stricter safety regulations.” The reporter read the teleprompter with no emotion, clearly unaware of the effect his words were having on my family.

Dad slurped his sweet tea loudly. “I thought you said you were working on it.”

I shrugged, but I felt my hands starting to shake. “I’m trying. There’s not a lot I can do, remember? It’s not my territory.” If I didn’t get a grip on myself, I knew I’d light up like a sparkler in a minute.

“You should have thought of that before.”

“Richard.” My mom’s voice was low with warning. “This is not the place.”

He glared at me. “Fine. But she needs to think about the consequences of her actions.”

I met his gaze, furious. “Believe me. That’s all I’ve been doing lately.” A burst of Red energy crackled on my skin, and I gritted my teeth, pulling the power back inside.

Dad snorted, oblivious, and Mom flagged down the waitress for the bill. When my arms stopped sparking, I stood up and headed for the door. Neither of them asked where I was going, but I didn’t care.

I marched up to the apocalyptic group, still chanting on the corner. “Give me one,” I said, sticking my hand out for a flier.

An older man with gray hair and a sagging chin frowned at me. “There isn’t much time left.” He handed me a flier solemnly. “Repent now, before it’s too late.”

“It’s already too late.” I pretended not to notice the fearful look he shot me as I sat down on the curb, skimming the paper. It was the same old religious drivel, talking about Armageddon and God. According to this group, the only way to escape the coming end times was to give up worldly goods and join them in their quest to spread the truth.

I crumpled the flier in disgust. It had been foolish of me to expect Nons to have a solution, but I couldn’t stop hoping that they might know more than they let on. Evidently, that group didn’t. What am I going to do? Resisting the urge to bury my head in my hands and sob, I slapped the hot pavement underneath me instead. Cracks shot through the sidewalk, like ice, and someone in the little group on the corner shrieked. Good. You should be afraid. I glared at them, and one by one they picked up their signs and crossed the street.

When my parents finally walked by me, I stood without a word and followed them to our Subaru parked at the curb. The seatbelt buckle burned my fingers, but I barely noticed. The heat was miserable, but something about it made me feel powerful, too. I almost laughed at that thought. Powerful and destructive. Red magic was linked to fire, something I’d learned firsthand after meeting Loki. It’s no wonder the hot weather is winding me up. I glanced up at the front seat, wondering if I should tell my parents how close to exploding I’d come that morning, but then I shook my head.

We drove home in silence, even though I knew the storm would have to break sometime.

A few blocks from our house, my phone buzzed insistently in my pocket, and I looked at the screen. My throat clenched. Justin. My ex had been trying to get me to sit down and talk with him ever since I came back, but I hadn’t felt up to it. I didn’t know what to say to him about Loki and Rochelle, and I couldn’t even imagine telling him about Marcus. So, yeah, I met the other Red Witch, and we sort of made out, but now he’s dead, so we can get back to normal, right? Still, talking to him would be a break from not talking to my parents. Anything was better than that.

“Mom,” I leaned forward, tapping her on the shoulder, “could you drop me off at Justin’s house?”

She hesitated, glancing at Dad, but he didn’t act like he’d heard my question. Finally, Mom nodded. “I suppose. But be home in time for dinner.” Her eyes flicked quickly to the rearview mirror, and I heard her unspoken thought: sooner or later, we’d have to deal with all this.

“Thanks.” I hopped out of the car as soon as we pulled up in front of Justin’s house. He only lived a few blocks away from us; I could have just walked over once we got home. But for some reason, now that I’d decided to see him, I couldn’t wait a minute longer.

He was sitting on the sidewalk in front of his house. His shoulders looked a little wider, and maybe his hair was shorter than I remembered, but nothing else about Justin had really changed. He was still the first boy I’d ever loved, and the poor guy had been the recipient of my disastrous attempts at love magic twice. And he’d spent a year with the fake me. My stomach clenched.

I had no idea what had happened between him and Rochelle while I was gone, but I had a feeling whatever it was would be more than I could handle. That was only one of the reasons I had been avoiding him: the whole Marcus situation had been holding me back, too. I tried to push the other Red Witch out of my head when I saw Justin.

He stood up and smiled his heart-melting smile, and just like that, it was like I’d never been gone. Without thinking, I threw my arms around his neck. He embraced me, and it felt good to just stand there, safe in his familiar arms. Tingles raced up my spine, and I shivered in pleasure. It wasn’t the same electric shock I’d gotten whenever I touched Marcus, but I still leaned into his body, enjoying the sensation.

“That’s quite a hello.” He chuckled, letting me go, and I tugged on the bottom of my T-shirt, not meeting his eyes. Maybe I still wasn’t ready to be around him.

I cleared my throat, preparing to tell him everything. “I’ve been gone a long time.”

He nodded. “I know.”

Startled by his serious tone, I looked at him closely. “What do you know?”

Instead of answering, he silently opened the front door. He led me up to his bedroom, and then warded the door behind us. “I know that you were gone for over a year.”

If I had been sitting down, I would have fallen off the chair. Instead, I lowered myself shakily to perch on the corner of his desk. “How long have you known?”

“Lena, come on. Do you really think I can’t tell the difference between the real you and a glamour?”

I blushed, thinking about the glamour Aphrodite had taught me to weave. Justin had been fooled by that for a few days, but there was no way I was going to bring that up. “My parents didn’t know.”

He shrugged. “They probably expect you to be different all the time. We’re teenagers, right?”

I laughed weakly. “So you knew this whole time. But I thought—” I broke off, remembering something Mom had said over the phone while I’d been gone.

“I kept hanging out with her. I mean you. I didn’t know who it was, and I didn’t want to do anything to make your parents suspicious. But nothing happened.” He spread his palms wide. “I wouldn’t do anything to hurt you.”

So you got back together with the fake me, but you didn’t do anything? I looked at him, wanting desperately to believe what he said. “It was Rochelle.”

He stared at me as if I’d slapped him. “I thought she was dead.”

“So did I. But I didn’t kill her, I guess, and she glamoured herself to look like me to take revenge.” I forced a laugh, trying not to imagine Rochelle making out with Justin. “I’m actually surprised she didn’t hurt you. She’s always hated you, you know.”

His brown eyes were full of concern. “How did you get rid of her?”

“My friend Izzy helped me.” I kept my words short, hoping he wouldn’t ask me any questions about Izzy. Talking about her would lead to talking about Marcus, and I wasn’t sure I could do that yet.

Justin closed his eyes, pressing his fingertips to his forehead in concentration. “How has she gained so much power? Black magic is strong, but this is ridiculous.”

I took a deep a breath. We’d gotten there quicker than I’d hoped, but I couldn’t lie to him. I could never lie to Justin, but that didn’t mean I had to tell him everything. I measured my words carefully. “Another Red died, and Rochelle took his place.”

Justin opened his mouth, and I shook my head.

“It’s complicated. But Rochelle is a Red Witch now.” I took a deep breath. “And it’s even worse than that. While I was gone, I found out what Hecate wants.”

I told Justin what I could, haltingly, doing my best to leave out Marcus while telling him about Hecate’s plan to remake the world. Finally, with shaking hands, I told him about Loki.

“So now the worst of the Red gods is free again, and between him and Hecate, the world could end at any time.” I swallowed the lump in my throat and tried to sound matter-of-fact. “Rochelle controls a third of the world, and if you’ve been watching the news, this hasn’t been a good few months for Europe.” I held up my hands helplessly. “I just don’t know how to stop any of it.”

Justin didn’t say anything for a minute. I watched him nervously, waiting for the cold glances and accusations that I’d gotten used to from my parents, but he didn’t tell me I was a monster. He studied me, and then he sat down on his desk chair and reached for my hands. Smoothly, he pulled me into his lap, one arm circling me firmly for support, and I leaned against him, surprised at how easy it was to be so close. “You said your friend Izzy helped you stop Rochelle. So maybe it’s a question of working together.”

I nodded, relieved that he wasn’t asking any questions yet, and I tried to think straight. It wasn’t easy with his breath tickling my ear. “Did you know that there are six types of magic?”

He looked at me as if I’d grown wings. “There’s White, Black, and Green. And of course, Red.” He squeezed me gently when he said that, and my heart began to speed up.

I shook my head, trying to focus. “For some reason, when magic came to America, part of it was left behind. There’s also Blue and Yellow; my friend Izzy is a Blue Witch.”

Justin paused for a moment, digesting what I’d said. “Why wouldn’t they teach us that?” He rested his chin on my shoulder, and I shivered at the contact.

“I don’t know.” I wanted to lose myself in the simple sensation of being pressed against Justin, but finally I leaned away from him, still perched on his knees. “I have a lot of questions, and I don’t know where to start. But the important thing is the six magics. Together, they’re balanced. Green is earth magic, Blue controls water, Yellow is for air, and Red is for fire. And White and Black are the balance of spirit.” I twisted around, watching his face. “If we can balance the paths, maybe all six together is more powerful than any Red Witch.”

“Or the Red gods.” Justin spoke without inflection, and I watched him nervously.

“If we could form a group, a Coven—”

He stood up abruptly, dropping me onto the chair. “What kind of crap did you get into over there?”

I hopped out of the chair, clenching my fists. “It isn’t crap! I met a Coven there, and Izzy and I think that might be our only option.” I could feel the swirl of Red energy pulsing through my hands, but I struggled to control it.

His lips parted in surprise. “Covens are things in horror movies, Darlena! And besides, how could Witches of such different paths work together? It would all turn into chaos.”

“No,” I said tightly. “This is our only chance to stop chaos.”

He shook his head. “Look, I want to help you. You know that.” His eyes searched mine. “But you’ve changed since you came back. I can’t,” he paused, taking a deep breath, “I can’t tell what it is, but it’s as if you’re somebody else.” He stared at me for a long moment. “Maybe I just got used to the way Rochelle felt.”

I reeled as if he’d slapped me. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

He held up his hands quickly. “You were gone for over a year. I knew that she wasn’t you, but I still spent a lot of time with her. I got used to the way her energy felt. Yours feels—well, it isn’t the way I remember it.”

I glared at him, fighting the urge to kiss him and show him I was exactly the girl he remembered. Instead, I gritted my teeth. “People change. That’s part of life.”

Justin shook his head. “But are you sure you’ve changed for the good?”

 






About Jen:

 

Jen McConnel first began writing poetryas a child.
Since then, her words have appeared in a variety of magazines and
journals, including Sagewoman, PanGaia, and The Storyteller (where she won the
people’s choice 3rd place award for her poem, “Luna”).
She is also a former reviewer for Voices of Youth Advocates (VOYA),
and a proud member of SCBWI, NCWN, and SCWW.
A Michigander by birth, she now lives and writes in the beautiful state of North Carolina.
She’s a graduate of Western Michigan University, and she also earned her MS in Library Science
at Clarion University of Pennsylvania.
When she isn’t crafting worlds offiction, she teaches writing composition at a
community college. Once upon a time, she was a middle school teacher,
 a librarian, and a bookseller, but those are stories for another time.
Follow Jen on Twitter @Jen_McConnel, and
visit www.jenmcconnel.com to learn more.
Author
Links:  
Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads


 

Giveaway Details:
1 winner will receive the all 3 Red Magic eBooks. International.

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M9B Friday Reveal: ASHES IN THE SKY Chapter 1 by @JenniferMEaton #FridayReveals #Month9Squad #Month9Books

 

Hi everybody! *waves*
Today my pub sister Jennifer M. Eaton and Month9Books
are revealing the first chapter for ASHES IN THE SKY, which releases March 15,
2016! Check out the gorgeous cover and enter to be one of the first readers to
receive a eGalley!!
*Don’t forget to enter the giveaway at the bottom of the post! 
 
A quick note from the author:
Hello alien fans!

I have to admit that Fire in the Woods was meant to be a stand-alone. When approached
to write a second novel, I really had to scratch my head. I mean, the story was
over, right?

Well, apparently I “left them screaming for more” as everyone always says.
I really didn’t want to deal with the direct
aftermath of book one, so I decided to fast forward a few months: to a time
when things should be settling down for poor, exhausted Jess. All she wants to
do is get her life back to normal again, and to do that, she needs to get back
to school.

Unfortunately for Jess (and maybe fortunately for us) it will be a little while
before our girl has anything close to a normal life again. So enjoy Jess’s
first day back at school after saving the world. Here is chapter one of Ashes
in the Sky: book two of Fire in the Woods.

Alien Kisses!
Jennifer M. Eaton


Title: ASHES IN THE SKY
Author: Jennifer M. Eaton
Pub. Date: March 15, 2016
Publisher: Month9Books
Format: Paperback & eBook
Find it: Amazon |
B&N
Goodreads
After inadvertently saving the world,
eighteen-year-old Jessica Martinez is ready to put adventure behind her and
settle back into the familiar routine of high school.
 
Though when she’s offered an opportunity
to photograph the inside of an alien space ship, Jess jumps at the chance.
After all, she’d be crazy to turn something like that down, right?
 
Spending time with David on the ship has
definite advantages and the two seem to pick up right where they left off. But
when Jess discovers a plot to sabotage David’s efforts to establish a new home
for his people on another planet, neither David’s advanced tech nor Jess’s
smarts will be able to save them.
 


ASHES IN THE SKY is an action-packed,
romantic Sci Fi adventure that will leave readers screaming for more.

 

Exclusive Excerpt

1

Dad’s brow creased. “You don’t have to do this, Jess. We can turn around now and go home.”

His fingers rapped on the limousine’s armrest as we pulled up to the entrance of my normally quiet school. Outside, police officers and several uniformed security guards held advancing reporters and camera crews on the sidewalks.

“Relax, Major,” Elaine said, across from me. She pulled out a compact and touched up her lipstick. “Two months after single-handedly saving the world from an alien invasion, Earth’s teenage savior returns to finish high school.” She snapped the case shut. “This is the public interest story of the year.”

Dad’s nose flared. “Yes, she’s supposed to be going to school, but you’ve made it a media circus. Why’d you have to schedule a press conference in the auditorium?”

She slipped her lipstick back into her designer purse. “They would have been here anyway. The best way to calm a stalking fox is to invite him in for tea.”

“Tea? I’ll give you tea.”

I held up my hand. “Dad … ” I didn’t have to finish. I never did. Their arguments were always the same. Father protects daughter, while the publicist pushes media exposure as far as she can legally get away with—and me stuck in between.

Elaine wasn’t all that bad, as far as publicists went. Not that I’d known any other publicists, but she’d been by my side since my very first press conference, and the hundred or so more over the past two months. She could be pushy, but she understood the power of a pint of Death By Chocolate ice cream at the end of a long day, which totally earned her brownie points in my book.

Dad’s gaze returned to me. “We just got back. Do you really need to do another press conference?” The deep lines around his eyes added to the weight of my own exhaustion.

I shifted in my seat, my hands clammy against the leather interior. “If we go home, they’ll just show up here again tomorrow. Let’s get this over with. Maybe then things can get back to normal.” I grabbed his hand. “I can do this.”

Dad pressed his lips together. Of course, he knew I could do it. But knowing and wanting me to answer another set of invasive questions were two different things, and I loved every stubborn inch of him for it.

Elaine fluffed my hair and adjusted the collar of my shirt. “Show time.” She knocked twice on the window, and the Secret Service agent outside opened the door for her. She glided through the crowd with a practiced grace.

Camera-palooza erupted outside. Dang, there weren’t this many photographers when I met the president.

Dad stepped out before me, an imposing figure in his combat uniform. Having an over-protective father did have its advantages. No one was getting by this bodyguard. No one.

I closed my eyes and clutched the charm on my necklace. My mother’s strength seeped into me, giving me courage. You’ll be fine, I heard her whisper. You’re my strong little girl. Always have been.

“I’ll try, Mom.” I opened my eyes and shuddered. You would think I’d be used to the feeding frenzy by now. This was the longest fifteen minutes of fame ever.

Steadying myself on the limo door, I stood.

“Jess, look over here.” Flash.

“Miss Martinez, how does it feel to be back at school?” Flash.

“Jessica, to your right.” Flash. Flash.

The faces and camera lenses blurred. My mind filled with the phantom sounds of alien weapons. I closed my eyes and breathed deeply to ward off memories of blinding lights and screaming voices.

It was over. The aliens had left, and I was alive. We were all still alive.

The Secret Service closed in around us as Dad placed his hand on my back, guiding me to the front entrance. With a well-rehearsed smile, I made my way forward, hoping to avoid a repeat of tabloid-gate when the worst-of-the-worst photos of me turned up on the cover of the National Daily.

Dad moved beside me as we stepped over the threshold. I slipped my fingers into his hand and squeezed. One more press conference. Just one more. I could do this.

We made our way through a throng of reporters, students, parents, and teachers to the auditorium. Hundreds of voices jumbled into one chaotic roar rebounding off the lockers.

A microphone appeared in front of my face. “Ms. Martinez, how did you—”

Dad pulled me to his chest as two Secret Service agents pounced on the guy. The reporter and the agents sunk back into the crowd, disappearing like a stone thrown into water.

“There will be question and answer time after the presentation,” Elaine called as we passed through the auditorium’s stage door.

I exhaled, rubbing my arms. That had to be the worst crowd ever.

Dad circled the area behind the curtains and checked the cracks and crevices backstage. The Secret Service agents had long since given up on trying to convince him that the government pre-secured all of my speaking engagements. I used to joke about their paranoia, until someone actually found a bomb. Those guys in ugly suits quickly became my best friends.

“Did you practice your speech?” Elaine asked.

I raised an eyebrow. “No.” You’d think she’d stop asking me that. I hadn’t memorized one yet. Why would I start now?

I pulled aside the curtain and scoped out the auditorium. A sea of smiling, wide-eyed faces filled the room. Camera crews and reporters intermingled with the student body.

Going back to high school was supposed to help me get my life back.

This fiasco was not getting my life back. But maybe if I answered everyone’s questions now, they wouldn’t keep asking later.

Hey, a girl could dream.

Elaine patted my shoulder before heading out past the curtains. Her heels clopped across the wooden stage as she passed a huge poster of National Geographic’s “The Night the World Stood Still: Special Edition.”

Steven Callup’s cover photo was one of those shots every aspiring photographer dreamed of catching: perfect lighting, engaging subject, active backdrop, and undeniable emotional tone. I wasn’t drooling over this masterpiece, though; because the photograph featured me.

The flames over my shoulder were in crisp focus and flawlessly mirrored in my dark hair. The mottled hues of a fresh sunrise blended perfectly with the devastation in the background. And my God, the expression on Dad’s face as we embraced … the love in his eyes.

That night would haunt me forever. Something incredible had happened, and it had nothing to do with an alien invasion. That cover immortalized the moment for the world to see: a year after my mother’s death, my father finally opened up and started to feel again.

I released the curtain, ready to face my peers, knowing that no one gave a rat’s ass about me or my dad.

They only wanted to know more about David.

I mean, I totally got it. An alien guy crash lands on Earth and has to escape before his people wipe out humanity. Heck, I’d be interested, too. But the clincher was that David changed his people’s minds because of me. I was the heroine in the story of the millennia, whether I liked it or not.

I cringed, thinking of how many people had contacted me for the movie rights. Ashes in the Sky, they wanted to call it. What kind of idiotic title was that? Ridiculous, all of it. The world almost ended right in front of me. I didn’t need to see it again on a big screen.

As Elaine announced my name, and the audience applauded, I wondered if anything would ever be as it was before David’s people arrived.

I took my place behind the microphone and squinted into the harsh auditorium lighting. I’d been in that audience dozens of times, but never on stage. The faces looking back at me were familiar, but distant. Awestruck.

This place was my school. My safe haven. Having the media here was wrong.

I gritted my teeth and gripped the sides of the lectern. This assembly would be the absolute last time I talked about what happened to me in public. Ever.

A mop of perky, blond curls caught my attention from the third row. My BFF Maggie beamed as she gave me a thumbs-up. Part of me relaxed, knowing I had a friend near.

Maggs was the only other person who’d known about David before the Army started chasing us. She even risked her own rear-end helping us escape. She’d talked her way out of a grounding from her father, the general, thank goodness. Damn, he must have been ticked when he found out what she’d done.

Taking one last breath to steady myself, I edged closer to the mic. “You’d have to be dead not to know what happened two months ago. So I’m just going to open it up to questions.”

Hundreds of hands shot into the air.

One of the moderators handed a microphone to a bubbly girl with a blond ponytail. “Is it true that the alien looked just like Jared Linden?”

And, it starts.

“Yes. David mimicked an advertisement and looked just like Jared Linden’s character in that movie Fire in the Woods.”

Okay, that was only half of it. The truth was far too embarrassing. David pulled Jared Linden’s features from my mind. He didn’t look exactly like Jared. Just the hotter parts. The rest was an amalgamation of other cute guys he’d yanked out of my brain. There was no way I would admit to that, though.

A tall kid in a black band tee stood. “So what really happened out there? They were going to annihilate us. How’d you get them to change their minds?”

I cleared my throat. A flash of David’s smile and the warmth of his touch sent a shiver down my spine. “Luck was totally in our favor. If David’s plane hadn’t crashed, we never would have met. It didn’t take long before he realized the human race was worth saving.”

A teacher handed a microphone to a girl wearing glasses. “How long will it take them to terraform Mars?”

Ugh. I tried to think of David’s new home like Seattle or Los Angeles, but it wasn’t. It was Mars. As in: not Earth. Talk about your long distance romance.

“I have no idea how long it will take them to make Mars livable. I do know that they are running short on supplies, so I’m hoping it will happen pretty quickly.”

A girl in a cheerleader uniform flagged down the lady with the microphone. “Everyone says you and the alien were doing it. Inquiring minds want to know. Was he any good?”

Camera flashes singed my eyes as a teacher tried to pull the mic away from the girl.

“No,” a reporter shouted. “Let’s hear the answer.”

The audience murmured, shifting like hyenas waiting to pounce on an unsuspecting foal. Beside the stage, Dad’s face became an unnatural shade of crimson.

Crap.

“Well?” the cheerleader asked.

I wiped the sweat from my palms, remembering the shockwave that raged through me when David’s lips covered mine. The tabloids had reduced our relationship to supermarket trash, and Rah-Rah Girl probably wouldn’t know a real emotional connection if it bit her.

David and I shared something so deeply intimate it transcended everything. No one could possibly understand. I wasn’t even sure I understood. All I knew was that I was in love, and I’d probably never see him again.

I blinked, realizing the room had gone quiet, awaiting my answer about doing it.

My hands fisted, but I forced a smile and rustled up the rote response Elaine had prepared for me. “I heard that rumor, too, but David and I were only friends.” A sickly gash sliced through my heart. The thought of living the rest of my life with him on another planet was akin to living in the desert without water.

Was he out there somewhere, longing for me as much as I yearned for him?

My stomach fluttered. I hated how people’s stupid questions dredged up feelings I’d worked hard to suppress. I had to get off that podium.

A kid in the back stood. “How does it feel to know that six million people died while you were out there hugging dear old dad?” He pointed over my shoulder to the huge magazine cover behind me. “How does it feel to know the death count is still rising?”

It was? “Umm—”

“When did you know they were hostile?” someone else shouted.

My heart thumped against my ribcage. “I, uh—”

A reporter snatched the microphone. “Do you honestly believe they won’t come back and finish us off?”

The rumble of voices intensified. Cameras flashed as dozens of voices drowned one another out. So much for school being my safe haven.

Elaine gripped my shoulder and pulled me from the dais. “Thank you,” she said. “That’s all the questions we have time for today.”

She scooted me past the curtains, Dad following close behind. The volume in the auditorium escalated.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “We should’ve been ready for that. Next time—”

“There’s not going to be a next time.” I thrust my chin in the air. “That was my last public appearance. I’m already behind in school, and I need to graduate this year. I just want to get back to my classes and put this all behind me.”

She grinned in that syrupy way adults do when they are about to condescend your butt. “We’ll talk about this later, honey.”

Dad’s gaze seared through her before he offered me a nod of approval.

No, Elaine. We would definitely not be talking about this later.

 




 

Corporate Team Leader by day, and
Ranting Writer by night. Jennifer M. Eaton calls the East Coast of the USA
home, where she lives with her husband, three energetic boys, and a pepped up
poodle.
 
Jennifer hosts an informational blog “A
Reference of Writing Rants for Writers (or Learn from My Mistakes)” aimed at
helping all writers be the best they can be.
 
Beyond writing and motivating others,
she also enjoys teaching her dog to jump through hoops—literally.
 
Jennifer’s perfect day includes long
hikes in the woods, bicycling, swimming, snorkeling, and snuggling up by the
fire with a great book; but her greatest joy is using her over-active
imagination constructively… creating new worlds for everyone to enjoy.
Connect with the
Author: 
Website | Twitter Facebook | Goodreads





 

Giveaway Details:

1 winner will receive an eGalley of ASHES IN THE SKY. International.

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Cover Reveal and Giveaway: FEAR MY MORTALITY by @EverlyFrost @Month9Books

Today Everly Frost and Month9Books are
revealing the cover and first chapter for FEAR MY MORTALITY, which releases April
5, 2016! Check out the gorgeous cover and enter to be one of the first readers
to receive a eGalley!!
A quick note from the author:

Hi there! I’m so excited to share this cover with you. I love the dark, intense
colors and the girl who shows the determination, heart, and resilience that my
main character needs to survive in her world. (Do you see the gold scorpion?
Keep an eye out for that in the book.) Thanks so much for stopping by!
On to the reveal!
 
 
Title: FEAR MY MORTALITY
Author: Everly Frost
Pub. Date: April 5, 2016
Publisher: Month9Books
Format: Paperback & eBook
Find it: Amazon
|
Goodreads

 

In a world where people are invulnerable
to illness and death, with lives spanning hundreds of years, a sixteen-year-old
becomes witness to the impossible – her brother’s failure to regenerate after
death after which she suspects that she too may be mortal.

Chapter Reveal HTML

Exclusive Excerpt

But Eve turned from the serpent

and did not eat of the fruit.

And for her obedience,

she was allowed to reach out her hand,

take from the tree of life and eat,

and live forever.

Evereach Origins, Second EditionChapter One

I never could watch anyone die.

Tricycle wheels flipped through the air. Brakes shrieked and metal crunched. The kid’s trike rattled all the way across the road and hit my foot. I froze at the curb in front of my house, school bag sliding off my shoulder, vision filled with the spinning wheels. I told myself to walk away, pretend I hadn’t heard the smash or seen the boy go under the vehicle. I should shrug it off, like I was supposed to.

I should ignore the impulse to help.

I bounded around the broken bike and sprinted to the car in the middle of the road. A little arm extended from underneath the front fender, palm up, motionless. Biting my lip, I sank to my heels, wishing his fingers would twitch, fighting the tears that welled behind my eyes.

First death.

The silence was heavy after the squeal and crash. I hovered, not sure if I should pull him out. I hated my brother for leaving me behind. If Josh had driven me to dance class like he was supposed to, I wouldn’t be here now, staring at first death and not knowing what to do. I’d be going about my day like normal. No, I reminded myself. Today was not an ordinary day. Today was Implosion.

The driver emerged from the car with annoyance on her face. I flinched as she slammed the car door. Another woman ran from a nearby house, screaming into a phone. She raced to the driver and gave her a shove. “That’s my son! I’m calling the Hazard Police. You’d better be insured!”

The driver threw up her hands and backed off, slumping against the side of her car, clicking her fingernails together, and tapping her heels against the pavement.

I knelt down to the boy as his mother continued to yell into the phone. She paced up and down the road, her voice shrill. “How long will it take to get a recovery dome here? What—you’ve got to be kidding me. I’m already late for work.”

Wisps of his blond hair touched the side of the wheel like yellow cotton candy, all floating and soft. I wondered if his soul floated there too, inches above the hot road, waiting to get back to his body. I was glad I couldn’t see the rest of his head.

Before I touched him, something zipped past my shoulder.

The drone circled up and back, swinging close to my ear. Shaped like a metal cross no bigger than my hand, it skimmed the air in front of the car. Beneath the hum of its four miniature rotor blades came the chatter of shutters. It was taking shots of the damage: the boy’s hand, the wheel, a piece of tricycle jammed under there with him. Assessing the situation and relaying the information twenty miles west to the nearest Hazard Police station.

The information drone flitted from spot to spot, whirring around the car straight toward the driver, hovering and clicking, transmitting her image back to the police. The kid’s mother was next, before the drone flew to me. A pinprick of light struck my eyes, and I stopped still, waiting for it to take the shot and move on, but the clicking stopped.

I frowned as the mechanical chattering died. Instead of taking my picture, the drone floated, paused for the first time. I stared back at it, waiting, a feeling of unease spreading through my chest.

Someone grabbed my arm.

My elderly neighbor, Mrs. Hubert, wrenched me to my feet, a pair of pruning shears wavering in her other hand. The camera clicked behind me—just once—and I imagined the blur of my body captured in the image. Before I drew breath, Mrs. Hubert’s strong grip propelled me several feet from the car. Her long braid—a sign of her age—slapped against her thigh as she strode away from the accident, taking me with her.

“Come away, Ava. You don’t need to get caught up in that.” She flicked her head in the direction of the scowling driver who looked like she wanted to strangle someone. I guessed she didn’t have insurance, after all.

“But, he’s still under there … ” I threw a confused look at the boy’s mother. She still hadn’t checked him.

“Everyone deals with first death differently. You need to get used to it, if you want to get through Implosion tonight.”

Implosion. When I get to see the color of my own blood.

She tugged on my arm again. “Besides, the Hazard Police will be here soon. They’ll take care of him.”

Behind us, the info drone returned to the crash as Mrs. Hubert urged me further away from the accident. I picked up my bag and tried to forget about the child. I guessed it would be at least half an hour before he regenerated and was fully conscious again—faster if the Hazards brought a recovery dome.

Mrs. Hubert opened her gate and went back to pruning her rose bushes like nothing had happened. The shears snapped. Petals floated to newly mulched earth, bright red on brown. “Go on. There’s nothing more to do here.”

I forced myself to focus. If I didn’t hurry, I’d miss dance class completely.

It took me twenty minutes to rush to the dance studio downtown, which made me ten minutes late. Dance was part of my schooling and counted as the first two classes of my day. Luckily, the studio was located just a few blocks up from the school. As I puffed toward the café below the studio, I slowed for a moment to breathe in the normality of people drinking coffee, the crackle of open newspapers, and the soft jumble of conversation. No more broken bike and tiny hand.

Approaching the corner of the building, I gave Lucy, the owner of the café, a quick wave. She’d offered me a waitressing job over summer holidays, which was perfect because I could head upstairs to dance practice after my shift. She returned the wave with a bright smile. With her olive skin and dark brown hair, Lucy had the kind of complexion that hinted at what some people called an ‘unfortunate’ Seversandian heritage. Not that my own features were far off: brown hair, brown eyes, and skin that was a shade darker than pale. A very long time ago, there was free movement between our country, Evereach, and the country across the sea, Seversand, but not anymore.

I took the stairs two at a time, raced past the poster I normally drooled over—an ad for the Conservatorium, the most prestigious dance academy in all of Evereach—and launched myself through the door.

Inside the studio, students were moving away from the warm-up bar into the center of the room. Ms. White towered at the head of the dance floor, her reflection tall and straight in the mirror behind her. “Hurry up, class! Selections for the Conservatorium are only six months away and I won’t accept dawdling because summer’s here.”

I ran to put my bag down, searching the group for my best friend, Hannah. I caught sight of her pale blond head among the other students, shining like the first ray of sunlight that morning. She threw me a questioning look as Ms. White pointed me to the warm up bar. I rushed through my stretches and positioned myself at the back of the room, focusing on the new routine, until Hannah maneuvered her way over to me.

“Where were you?”

“There was a car accident. One of my neighbor’s kids got hit.”

Her eyes glazed over. The boy’s death wouldn’t matter to her. It shouldn’t matter to me.

“And Josh hates me, but what’s new.” I leaped, twisting my body mid-air and landing on my feet, to spring upward again.

Hannah dipped away, and when she moved back, she edged closer so we could talk. “Are you ready for Implosion tonight? My Mom was all mushy about it this morning, it was embarrassing.”

I forced a laugh. “Yeah, my parents not so much.” Mom had taken me shopping for a new dress in all black so it didn’t show the blood. Black wasn’t compulsory and Josh had told me that some kids at his Implosion ceremony the previous year wore white, but those were mostly the religious kids, and they framed their Implosion clothes afterward to remind themselves about faith. I only had Josh’s word for it, since only adult members of the family were allowed to attend the ceremony and it wasn’t televised. Other than the dress shopping, my parents hadn’t talked about Implosion much, like it wasn’t important that I was becoming an adult.

After tonight, I’d be allowed to grow my hair past my shoulders—but only about half an inch, since the length of our hair had to match our age. And I’d be allowed to drink. And move out of home, except only the really fast healers did that since they were offered paid Hazard training while they completed their last year of school. I figured I’d be stuck at home for the next year, but Josh was heading to college after summer holidays.

“So, what about Josh? He’s going to the Terminal tonight? I heard it’s going to be a massive fight.”

My stomach clenched and I missed the move Ms. White was demonstrating. Josh had begged to go to his graduation party, but our parents insisted he come to Implosion with me. “Dad said no.”

“But all the graduates are going. It’s the last time they’ll get to kill each other.” The lightness was gone from her voice. “He has to be there.”

I shrugged, but the nonchalant gesture was a lie. How could I tell her that the very idea of the Terminal made me sick? That my heart hurt every time I remembered the little boy under the car. That the thought of Implosion—of being killed—made me shudder so hard I couldn’t breathe. Hannah hadn’t died before either, but I knew she didn’t feel the same way.

I said none of those things as Ms. White’s voice drowned out my thoughts, beating out a warning with a finger pointed firmly in my direction. “Concentrate, Miss Holland. Or I’ll have to send you to school without your Extra-Curricular Pass.”

Hannah flicked me a quick, apologetic glance and I ducked my head and willed my body to obey the music, to turn when it should and leap when it should. Finally, I lost myself in rhythm and movement and the quiet that always fell over me when I danced.

When we arrived at school, it was morning break and students crowded the halls. I pushed on the doors just in time for someone to release a wash of red flyers advertising the Terminal.
A familiar giggle told me that Sarah Watson posed against the nearby wall. Her nail scissors glinted as she tilted her bleeding ear, showing off how her blood didn’t even drip before her skin healed.

Fast healer.

I rolled my eyes and turned away before the inevitable face sucking with her latest conquest, but I was surprised when it was Michael Bradley. He had Sarah hanging off his arm like she was an extension of his elbow.

“Remember when we said we’d never be some guy’s accessory?” Hannah grabbed my hand with her eyebrows way up in her hair. “That’s the one guy I’d make an exception for. Do you know he’s never lost a fight at the Terminal?”

Josh didn’t say how fast Michael healed at Implosion the previous year, but I’d heard he turned down Hazard training. I guessed, if my Dad were part owner of the Terminal, I wouldn’t bother with a job either.

Sarah caught my eye before I could pretend to look somewhere else. “Hey, Ava,” she said, looking me up and down from my regulation-length short ponytail to my leggings. “Been to dance class? Seems like a waste of time to me.”

She turned away before I could reply, but Michael gave me a nod, a strangely serious acknowledgement of my presence, and I wasn’t sure how to respond. I frowned at him as Hannah pulled me along. “Pfft. She’s just jealous. Besides, did you know she’s a third child?”

“Truly?” When I turned twelve, Mom had given me ‘the talk.’ At the end of it, she’d told me that our bodies were only designed to have one child, maybe two, and that was a good thing given how long people lived. Otherwise the world would be overpopulated.

Hannah drew me into the swarm of students. “Did you see how fast she heals? She’s probably a Basher.”

I glanced back at Sarah and Michael as they disappeared into the milling students. Members of the Basher gang were always fast healers. There were images of them on the news, always slightly blurry and concealed in full camouflage gear, and I’d heard stories about them, whispers of espionage and subterfuge, talk of theft and threats, hatred of slow healers, but they were always far away, somewhere else. They went to extremes to keep their identities secret and nobody knew who their leader was, but their message appeared in graffiti sprawled on the corners of billboards or across the sides of buildings: Bury the weak.

“Do you think it’s true what they say about the Basher cells underground?”

“That they bury slow healers alive.” She screwed up her face in disgust. “The police seem to take it seriously, but I don’t know. Sounds like a scary story.”

“I don’t understand why they hate people who don’t heal fast.” I struggled to say the words ‘slow healer.’ It was insulting to label someone that way.

Hannah shrugged. “I heard they think slow healers make us look weak, vulnerable; everything we use Implosion to prove we aren’t.” She smiled and bumped my shoulder, trying to lighten the mood. “Hey, if I turn out to be a slow healer tonight, you’ve got my back, right?”

I attempted a smile as she pulled me down the hallway. Heading to class, I checked the steady stream of students for my brother. School was finishing early in honor of Implosion—I had only two classes left—and I didn’t trust him to wait to give me a lift home.

As soon as the final bell rang, I raided my locker, hugged Hannah, and raced out to the parking lot.

Josh was already opening the driver side door as I ran up. “Hey.”

He didn’t answer, settling behind the wheel with his hair blending into the cracked black leather seat. He pointed at me and then to the passenger seat.

I raced around to the side and dropped into the seat, just as his best friend, Aaron Reid, appeared, his red hair tousled and full of gel. He drummed his fists on the hood of the car and shouted at Josh through the windscreen. “See you at the Terminal, buddy!”

He signaled to Josh, put a finger to the underside of his chin, and pretended to pull the trigger. Josh mocked a slit throat in return. A ghost of a smile crept onto my brother’s face as he revved the engine and slammed the car into reverse. Josh drove faster than the speed limit, but I picked my battles.

I chose my words carefully. “Aaron seems to think you’re going to the Terminal tonight.”

His jaw flexed and there were murky stains under his eyes that made him look hollow. “So what if I am?”

I took a deep breath. It wasn’t because I didn’t want him to go to the Terminal—as much as I couldn’t stand the idea of people killing each other with swords or guns or drones, or whatever new thrill the Terminal came up with. I didn’t want him to miss his graduation party either. But he’d been through Implosion before. He knew what was coming.

“Josh, it’s my Implosion. You’re my brother. I need … ”

I don’t want to be alone when I die.

I swallowed the words I couldn’t say. I’d be surrounded by hundreds of kids. My parents would be there. But, somehow, the thought of my brother standing beside me gave me courage. Even if I regenerated straight away. Even if there was a chance I was a fast healer, I didn’t want to lose myself to that moment of darkness. That moment of death.

The words tumbled out of my mouth. “I need you to be there.”

He didn’t look at me, his expression hooded and unreadable, as his hands tightened on the wheel. He was quiet for so long that exasperation bubbled up inside me.

“How can playing at the Terminal be more important than my first death?”

“Because I’d rather kill than watch you be killed.” He glared at me as we stopped at an intersection, a deep darkness behind his eyes.

I struggled to understand. “Implosion’s important … ”

“You’re a freak, Ava. It’s a stupid ceremony that lets people sleep at night. Seversand isn’t coming to kill us. Because we can’t die. Nobody can.”

He tapped his temple and pressed his finger there, his eyes boring holes into me. “The only war we fight is the one in here.”

I struggled against the burn of tears behind my eyes. At school, we’d learned about the old world war that began when Seversand attacked Evereach and was fought over control of Evereach’s rich soil and water supplies. It lasted a hundred years while both countries raced to create a nuclear bomb. In the end, when Seversand dropped the bomb on Dell city—the city where I now lived—it didn’t kill anybody. After that, they drew up an international treaty: as long as each country’s children regenerated at Implosion each year, no country would try to conquer another again. There was no point in wasting resources on a war that couldn’t be won.

But it wasn’t the past that bothered me. It was the look in my brother’s eyes. I’d practically said aloud that I was scared to die and now he knew my deepest fear.

I didn’t understand why I felt this way, why death bothered me so much.

Why am I like this?

It was a question I’d asked myself a thousand times and I still didn’t have any answers. All I knew for sure was that I was alone. Alone and different. I couldn’t stand to see the pity in Josh’s expression. I slumped in the seat for the rest of the trip, until we pulled into the driveway.

Josh was out of the car before I had time to gather my things. I dragged myself toward the front door as the local neighborhood-watch drone coasted by the house. There was a happy shout behind me and the little boy pedaled past on a shiny, new tricycle, his fine hair puffed up and wafting as he picked up speed. His mom gave me a wave. I tried to smile as I headed inside, down the corridor, past the connecting door to the garage, and around the corner to the bottom of the stairs.

Mom was sitting at the computer, visible through the open door opposite the stairwell. She jumped out of her seat as soon as she saw me. “Ava?”

I was already part way up the stairs. “Yeah?”

“Get ready, sweetie. We’ll have a bite to eat and then we’ll go.”

I dragged myself to the landing halfway up, pausing as the air screen in Mom’s study blared after me, the excitement in the female newsreader’s voice palpable.

“Sixteen-year-olds all around Evereach are preparing for Implosion tonight. At exactly 6:00 p.m. in each time zone, young people of every nation have proven their ability to regenerate, including teens in Seversand.” A hint of derision crept into the newsreader’s voice as she mentioned Seversand, but she continued without pause. “In other news, Starsgard has refused to extradite the computer hacker known as Arachne … ”

Starsgard. It was the only country that didn’t take part in the world war or Implosion and its borders were heavily-protected. On a map, the three countries reminded me of a set of lungs. Evereach and Seversand formed the lungs on either side, a wide sea between them, but they were joined at the top by a backbone of impassable mountains. Starsgard was those mountains.

The newsreader’s voice faded as I made it to the top of the stairs, turned left, and headed to my room, passing Josh’s closed door on the way. Farther down the hall was the upstairs lounge. I wanted to run through it to the deck beyond, push the sliding doors open, and gulp fresh air. Instead, I turned into my room where I found the black dress, pressed and clean, lying on my bed next to a pair of dark stockings. Shiny black heels waited on the floor.

Next door, Mrs. Hubert’s lights weren’t on. Normally, her flickering television turned my bedroom into a disco, a kaleidoscope of moving lights. I peered out to see that her blinds were drawn and shuttered, and at the side of her house the garbage can was overturned, spilling white plastic bags across the side path. I frowned as I headed to the bathroom across the hall to wash up.

Too soon, I was dressed and ready and Mom was calling. “Ava? Josh? Time to go.”

Dad met me at the bottom of the stairs, dressed in a new black suit and Mom in a dress similar to mine. Dad held out his hands for me.

I didn’t know what to say, so I blurted. “I don’t feel like eating.”

“That’s okay, honey, let’s just go. There’s been a change of venue, so we have further to travel.”

I followed Mom and Dad to the car and seconds later Josh thumped down the stairs behind us. Climbing into the car, I tried not to crush my dress, smoothing it out in my lap.

Dad spoke to the navigation system and the serene female voice confirmed: The Terminal. I started, glanced at Josh, and he smirked back at me.

As the car passed the darkness shrouding our neighbor’s house, I said, “Mrs. Hubert’s place is dark tonight. Is she out?”

In the front seat, Mom tilted toward me. “I’m sorry, sweetie. Mrs. Hubert had her final death today.”

I stared at the window, frowning at my own reflection, as Mom said, “We mustn’t be sad. She had a wonderful life. I’m sure all her descendents will come to the wake.”

“She just didn’t seem that old. I mean, her hair was longer than anybody’s, but … ” I remembered her braid slapping her thigh. Halfway down the back meant fifty years old. To the waist was one hundred. To the top of the thigh was two hundred and after that people stopped measuring as long as it stayed long.

Dad said, “There isn’t always warning. Our bodies just stop regenerating. She must have been at least 350 years old.”

Mom gave me a calming smile as the car continued out onto the main street. “I’m sure we’ll be invited to the wake. Come on now, it’s time to enjoy the evening.”

Thirty minutes later, the entertainment precinct glowed ahead. Movie theaters, malls, and restaurants surrounded the massive Terminal skyscraper like ants swarming around a dirt mound. Once there, we pulled into a multi-level parking lot and followed the complicated neon signs to the entrance. The glass walkway opened into what looked like a living room, lined with plush leather couches and fine wooden coffee tables. A security camera drone floated in each corner of the room and on the opposite side, a big mahogany door advertised the entrance, with a touch screen in the middle.

There was a short line, with other people dressed like us, all in black. Mom tapped in a code and tugged me through with Dad and Josh close behind. Moving across a walkway, we entered an enormous, dimly-lit room, with people already milling about—500 kids and their parents—all of the sixteen-year-olds in Dell city. The room was flat across the floor, but the sides curved up and over like a dome around us.

Surveillance drones hummed across the ceiling, recording what was happening for the eyes only of each country’s highest authorities: Presidents, Prime Ministers, and monarchs. Somewhere in the heart of Evereach, President Scott would be watching, flanked by the Head of the Hazards and the High Justice. The Seversandian President would be watching too. I’d seen pictures of her, standing at the head of an army amassed across shimmering sand dunes, her dark brown hair tied into a high ponytail and a row of jewels strung across her cheek from a ring in the side of her nose.

To one side of the room, a group of kids stood praying, heads bowed, all wearing identical white cloaks that made them stand out like glow-in-the-dark figurines. I wished I could see the world the way they did—that our fate was decided by a woman in a garden who told a serpent to get lost and was rewarded for her faith with eternal life. Implosion for the faith community was a part of remembering and giving thanks. But the drones hummed and the room was like a crypt and it was impossible to think about new beginnings when the whole world waited for us to die.

“Hey, buddy!” Josh’s friend, Aaron, appeared out of nowhere, fist thumping with my brother.

Dad looked surprised. “Aaron, I didn’t know you had a sibling here tonight.”

Aaron pointed over his shoulder and I noticed for the first time the Hazard officers standing at intervals around the room. They were covered from neck to foot in fitted green uniform, designed to allow them to move fast. Each wore a pair of drone-control visors, so transparent I could barely see them from that distance.

The man Aaron pointed to had the same color red hair as Aaron and a drone hovering at his shoulder. “My brother’s with the Hazards, so I got to help set up.”

As Aaron spoke, his brother’s drone drifted toward us, and mom wasn’t the only one pointing at it. “That’s new.”

Smooth and sleek, the drone was striped gold and black and was bigger than any I’d seen before. Silver protrusions dotted its underbelly, tranquilizer darts masquerading as decorative studs. Its movements were calm, wafting close to the ceiling.

Aaron’s response was indifferent. “It’s a wasp.”

I’d heard about them on the news. They were Weapons to Apprehend Suspect Persons—the latest police response to the Bashers. This one was the same black and gold as the other wasps, but it had narrow stripes all around its body, and I realized that each wasp was decorated differently.

Aaron winked at me. “I’ll be taking off now.” He shook my father’s hand. “Have a good evening, Mr. Holland. Mrs. Holland.” A quick glance at Josh and Aaron was gone.

My skin prickled as Mom and Dad gave me a gentle push forward. Other kids were separating from their families and moving into the center of the room. Somehow, I ended up close to the front as we formed rows in rough arrow shapes across the floor. I hadn’t even had the chance to look for Hannah. What was already dim lighting darkened so I could barely see.

I looked back for my family, frowning as Josh slid away from my parents, carefully angling his way toward the back of the room. He was taking his chance to leave and part of me sank to the floor. He could have stayed just this once.

The lights went off and the sudden silence crashed over me.

I flinched as sound boomed around the curved walls, an explosion in the air. A giant, orange mushroom billowed up around us: an air screen of projected images engulfing us in pictures of an inferno, as though we’d been dropped into the heart of a fireball. I gasped as the shape of the first exploding nuclear bomb splashed color across the height of the walls, swelling around us, a reminder to the world’s authorities that it was our city on which the bomb had fallen hundreds of years ago.

The image of a woman appeared in front of me, kneeling inside the flames, her body cracking and roiling, separating and pulling together, trembling as she resisted the force of the explosion around her. I shuddered at the realization that I was looking at real footage of the day the bomb exploded.

The woman opened her eyes as words etched the air around us.

We are Evereach. We are invincible.

She struggled to her feet, her voice a whisper that may as well have been a shout. “We aren’t dead. You didn’t hurt us.” Her braid swished around her body, flicking into the air under a force that I could only imagine, lit up by flame and heat.

She reached to the ground and for the first time I noticed there was someone at her feet: a teenage girl, her eyes big and dark, fissions forming across her skin and healing all at once like her body was a jigsaw puzzle fighting to stay whole.

The woman’s voice rose. She threw back her head and shouted into the air, shouting at Seversand and all the countries allied with it. “Look at us! Our children are alive. You cannot hurt us!”

She grit her teeth against flame and heat. There was an echo of her words as others appeared, others who’d fallen. They clambered to their feet and joined in her shout against the wind and fire, the dust of exploded buildings, shards of glass and wood whirling around them.

The people of Evereach roared. “Our children do not die.”

Suddenly, my parents were beside me, each of them holding one of my wrists. I tried to pull away from them, and they shot me alarmed looks. Nobody else was trying to run. Nobody else was afraid.

They each held a knife in one hand, gripped one of my wrists in the other, pulling me close. I tried to wrench myself away from them, but the image of the woman and her daughter ghosted through me, leaving me cold and frozen. Above us, the drones swarmed, buzzing like a thousand insects, capturing the flash of steel, exposed skin, determined eyes.

When I died, I’d find out whether my soul floated or whether it left me or whether there was no such thing as a soul at all. I tried to take deep breaths, tried to stop shaking. We were strong, and we had to show the world that we could never be broken.

The woman’s voice whispered into the silent dark. “You will never defeat us, for our children do not die.”

Blades bit my wrists.

 

 
 
 

 

Everly Frost is a writer. If she doesn’t
have her laptop handy, then she has a pen and paper stashed nearby. She writes
young adult and middle grade fiction set in worlds like ours with unexpected
differences. She lives in Brisbane, Australia.


Her debut YA fantasy FEAR MY MORTALITY is coming in early 2016!


For updates on FEAR MY MORTALITY and the
Mortal Eternity Series, and more, please follow Everly on
Facebook
 and on Twitter.


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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M9B Friday Reveal: Redesigned Series Cover Reveal – Dragonrider Chronicles by Nicole Conway with Giveaway #M9BFridayReveals

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Welcome to this week’s M9B Friday Reveal!

This week, we are reveal the cover for

Traitor (Dragonrider Chronicles #3)
by Nicole Conway

an upcoming Month9Books title!

Not only are we revealing this gorgeous new cover,
we are also reveal the redesigned cover for the series!

You guys are in for a treat!

Be sure to enter the giveaway found at the end of the post!

 

Adobe Photoshop PDF

Can anyone survive being lost in Luntharda?

No amount of training has prepared Jaevid Broadfeather for the frontlines of battle. Now facing the true horrors of war, with Luntharda looming on the horizon, Jaevid has begun to question everything he thought about his heritage. The only thing keeping him going is his oath to protect his dragonrider brothers. But in an instant, even that slips through Jaevid’s fingers as he steps from the safety of his dragon’s saddle into the depths of his mother’s wild homeland—the kingdom of the gray elves.

Stranded in Luntharda with his partner, Lieutenant Jace Rordin, Jaevid must finally confront the demons of his own past as he uncovers the truth about a war that began before he was ever born. Armed with a new appreciation for destiny, and flanked by his trusted friends, Jaevid moves to make the final strike against an enemy that has hidden in plain sight for far too long.

One kingdom’s traitor will become the world’s last hope.

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Available for Pre-Order:
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AND NOW HERE ARE THE REDESIGNED COVERS
FOR BOOKS 1 AND 2!

 

Fledgling NEW 1800x2700

When Jaevid Broadfeather is given the rare opportunity to become a dragonrider for the king’s army, the 15-year-old boy has no idea that he is part of a conspiracy that will rock the very foundations of the kingdom.

Jaevid Broadfeather has grown up as a wartime refugee, hiding from the world because of his mixed racial heritage. He feels his future is hopeless, until a chance encounter with a wild dragon lands him in Blybrig Academy—a place usually forbidden to anyone but the rich and royal. But Jaevid’s case is special; no dragon has voluntarily chosen a rider in decades, so the proud riders of Blybrig must begrudgingly let him join their brotherhood despite his bloodline. Lieutenant Sile Derrick, a sternly tempered man with a mysterious past, becomes his instructor and immediately takes a peculiar interest in Jaevid’s future.

While struggling through the rigorous physical demands of training, things begin to go awry. Jaevid witnesses the king’s private guards kidnapping Sile in the dead of night. When none of the elder riders are willing to help him, Jaevid begins a dangerous adventure to save his instructor.

Everything Jaevid learned at the academy will now be put to the ultimate test.

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Avian NEW 1800x2700

Jaevid wants to pass his Avian year of training . . . but will he even survive it?

What kind of power is lurking inside him? After a year of training to become a dragonrider, Jaevid Broadfeather has been sent home to rest during a three-month interlude. But when he returns to find the king drake has chosen Beckah Derrick as his new rider, Jaevid realizes something big is about to happen. Every fiber of his being is pushed to the breaking point as Jaevid battles through his avian year, preparing for the final graduation test of the battle scenario. But there is more standing in his way than a few pushups and fancy sword moves. Jaevid must face a new fear as he is tormented by a gruesome nightmare of a mysterious gray elf warrior murdering the royal family of Maldobar. It seems obvious to him that this is some kind of message about how the war started long ago—until Felix assures him the king is very much alive. With his strange powers growing stronger by the day, and that violent dream replaying in his mind every night, Jaevid no longer wonders if he will pass his avian year or not—he wonders if he will even survive it.

The truth will soon be set loose.

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Google Play | BAM | Chapters | IndieBound | Amazon | B&N | Kobo | TBD | iBooks

 

NicoleConwayPhoto

Nicole is the author of the children’s fantasy series, THE DRAGONRIDER CHRONICLES, about a young boy’s journey into manhood as he trains to become a dragonrider. She has completed the first two books in the series, and is now working on the third and final book.

Originally from a small town in North Alabama, Nicole moves frequently due to her husband’s career as a pilot for the United States Air Force. She received a B.A. in English with a concentration in Classics from Auburn University, and will soon attend graduate school.

She has previously worked as a freelance and graphic artist for promotional companies, but has now embraced writing as a full-time occupation.

Nicole enjoys hiking, camping, shopping, cooking, and spending time with her family and friends. She also loves watching children’s movies and collecting books. She lives at home with her husband, two cats, and dog.

Connect with the Author: Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads | Instagram

 

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Title will be sent upon its release.

 

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