Archive for category Chapter Reveal

“The Rebound” by Winter Renshaw #ChapterReveal

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The last time I saw Nevada Kane, I was seventeen and he was loading his things into the back of his truck, about to embark on a fourteen-hour drive to the only college that offered him a full ride to play basketball.

I told him I’d wait for him. He promised to do the same.

But life happened. I broke my promise long before he ever broke his. And not because I wanted to.

We never saw each other again …

Until ten years later when Nevada unexpectedly returned to our hometown after an abrupt retirement from his professional basketball career.

Suddenly he was everywhere, always staring through me with that brooding gaze, never returning my smiles or “hellos.”

Over the years, I’d heard that he’d changed. And that despite his multi-million dollar contracts and rampant success, life hadn’t been so kind to him.

He was a widower.

And a single father.

And rumor had it, he’d spent his last ten years trying to forget me, refusing to so much as breathe my name … hating me.

But just like a rebound, he’s back.

And I have to believe everything happens for a reason.

 

 

 

Prologue



Yardley Devereaux {Ten Years Ago}

He sent my letter back.
I re-read my words, imagining the way they must have made him feel.
Nevada,
I’m writing because you haven’t been taking my calls or answering my texts. I’m sure you’ve heard the rumors, so I thought you should hear it straight from me…
I’ve broken my promise.
But you should know that I never wanted to hurt you, none of this was planned, and I still love you more than anything I’ve ever loved in this world.
This is something I had to do. And I think if you’ll let me, I can explain in a way that makes sense and doesn’t completely obliterate the beauty of what we had.
Please don’t hate me, Nevada.
Please let me explain.
Please answer your phone.
I love you. So much.
Your dove,
Yardley
The paper is torn at the top, as if he was about to rip it to shreds but changed his mind, and on the back of my letter, in bold, black marker, is a message of his own.
NEVER CONTACT ME AGAIN.

Chapter One

Yardley Devereaux, age 16

I don’t belong here.
I realize being the new kid makes people give you a second look, but I don’t think it should give them permission to stare at you like you have a second head growing out of your nose. Or a monstrous zit on your chin. Or a period stain on your pants.
At this point it’s all the same.
Not to mention, I don’t think anyone can prepare you for what it feels like to eat lunch alone, like some social reject.
The smell of burnt tater tots makes my stomach churn, and the milk on my tray expires today. I’m pretty sure the “chicken patty on a bun” they gave me is nothing more than pink slime baked to a rock-hard consistency. I’m unwilling to risk chipping a tooth, so I refuse to try it.
Checking my watch for the millionth time, I calculate approximately 3 1/2 hours left until I can go home and tell my parents what an amazing first day I had. That’s what they want to hear anyway. Dad moved us here from California with the promise that we were going to be richer than sin, whatever that means. But if Missouri is such a gold mine then why doesn’t the rest of the world move here? So far, Lambs Grove looks like the kind of place you’d see in some independent film about a mother trying to solve her son’s murder with the help of a crooked police department, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, JK Simmons, and Frances McDormand.
Okay, I’m probably being dramatic.
But this place is pretty lame. I miss the ocean. I miss the constant sunshine and the steady stream of seventy-five degree days. I miss the swaying palm trees.
I miss my friends.
Forcing your kid to move away from the town they’ve grown up in their entire life—in the middle of their sophomore—year is cruel. I don’t care how rich dad says we’re going to get, I’d have rather stayed in Del Mar, driven a rusting Honda, and paid my own way through a technical college if it had meant we didn’t have to move.
And can we talk about my name for a second? Yardley. Everyone here has normal names. Alyssa. Monica. Taylor. Heather. Courtney. If I have to spell my name for someone one more time I’m going to scream. My mom wanted my name to be special and different because apparently she thinks I’m special and different, but naming your daughter Yardley doesn’t make her special. It just makes it so she’ll never find her name on a souvenir license plate.
I’d go by my middle name if it weren’t equally as bad, but choosing between Yardley and Dove is akin to picking your own poison.
Yardley Dove Devereaux.
My parents are cruel.
I rest my case.
I pop a cold tater tot into my mouth and force myself to chew. I’ll be damned if I’m that girl sitting in third block with a stomach growling so loud it drowns out the teacher. I don’t need more people staring.
Pulling my notebook from my messenger bag, I pretend to focus on homework despite the fact that it’s the first day of spring semester and none of my teachers have assigned anything yet, but it’s better than sitting here staring at the block walls of the cafeteria like some loser.
Pressing my pen into the paper, I begin to write:
Monday, January 7, 2008
This day sucks.
The school sucks.
This town sucks.
These people suck.
After a minute, I toss my pen aside and exhale.
“What about me? Do I suck?” A pastel peach lunch tray plops down beside me followed by a raven-haired boy with eyes like honey and a heartbreaker’s smile. My heart flutters in my chest. He’s gorgeous. And I have no idea why he’s sitting next to me. “Nevada.”
“No. California. I’m from Del Mar,” I say, clearing my throat and sitting up straight.
The boy laughs through his perfectly straight nose.
I can’t take my eyes off his dimpled smirk. He can’t take his eyes off me.
“My name,” he says. “It’s Nevada. Like the state. And you are?”
“New,” I say.
He laughs at me again, eyes rolling. “Obviously. What’s your name?”
My cheeks warm. Apparently, I can’t human today. “Yardley.”
“Yardley from California.” He says my name like he’s trying to memorize it as he studies me. I squirm, wanting to know what he’s thinking and why he’s gazing at me like I’m some kind of magnificent creature and not some circus sideshow new girl freak. “What brings you here?”
He pops one of my tator tots between his full lips, grinning while he chews.
Nevada doesn’t look like the boys where I’m from. He doesn’t sound like them either. He isn’t sun kissed with windswept surfer hair. His features are darker, more mysterious. One look at this tall drink of water and I know he’s wise beyond his years. Mischievous and charismatic but also personable.
He’s … everything.
And he’s everything I never expected to come across in a town like this.
A group of girls at the table behind us gape and gawk, whispering and nudging each other. It occurs to me then that this might be a set-up, that this beautiful boy might be talking to this awkward new girl as a dare.
“Ignore them,” he says when he follows my gaze toward the plastic cheerleader squad sitting a few feet away. “They’re just jealous.”
I lift a brow. “Of what?”
He smirks, laughing at me like I’m supposed to ‘get it.’
“What?” I ask. If this is a joke, I want to be in on it. I refuse to add butt-of-the-joke to the list of reasons why this day can go to hell.
“They’re jealous because they think I’m about to ask you out,” he says, licking his lips. Nevada hasn’t taken his eyes off me since the moment he sat down.
“Should I go inform them that they have absolutely no reason to shoot daggers our way?”
His expression fades. “Why would you say that?”
“Because …” I laugh. “You’re not about to ask me out.”
“I’m not?”
I peel my gaze off of him and glance down at my untouched lunch. “Why are you doing this?”
“Why am I doing what? Talking to you? Trying to get the courage to ask you on a date?”
I glance up, studying his golden gaze and trying to determine if he’s being completely serious right now.
“You’ve never seen me before in your life and then you just … plop down next to me and ask me on a date?” I shake my head before rising. If I have to dump my tray and hide in the bathroom until the bell rings, then so be it.
“Where are you going?”
My lips part. “I … I don’t know. I …”
Nevada reaches for me, wrapping his hand around my wrist in a silent plea for me to stay. “Do you have a boyfriend back in California? Is that what this is about?”
“What? No.” This guy is relentless.
“Then go on a date with me,” he says, rising. “Friday.”
“Why?”
His expression fades. “Why?”
The bell rings. Thank God.
“I was new once. So I get it,” he says, fighting another dimpled smirk. God, I could never get tired of looking at a face like his. “And, uh … I think you’re, like, really fucking hot.”
Biting my lower lip and trying my damnedest to keep a straight face, I decide I won’t be won over that easily. It takes a lot more than a sexy smile, some kind words, and a curious glint in his sunset eyes. If he truly wants me … if this isn’t a joke and he honestly thinks I’m “really fucking hot,” he’s going to have to prove it.
“Bye, Nevada,” I say, gathering my things and disappearing into a crowd of students veering toward two giant trash cans.
I don’t wait for him to respond and I don’t turn around, but I feel him watching me—if that’s even possible. There’s this electric energy pulsing through me from the top of my head to the tips of my toes. I’m not sure if it’s excitement or anticipation or the promise of hope … but I can’t deny that it’s real and it’s there.
Making my way to the second floor of Lambs Grove High, I find my English Lit classroom and settle into a seat in the back.
For the tiniest sliver of a second, I imagine the two of us together. We’re laughing and happy and so in love that it physically hurts—the kind of thing I’ve never had with anyone else.
The tardy bell rings and a few more students shuffle in. My teacher takes roll call before beginning his lecture, but I don’t hear any of it.
I can’t stop thinking about that beautiful boy.

 

 

 

 

Wall Street Journal and #1 Amazon bestselling author Winter Renshaw is a bona fide daydream believer. She lives somewhere in the middle of the USA and can rarely be seen without her trusty Mead notebook and ultra portable laptop. When she’s not writing, she’s living the American dream with her husband, three kids, and the laziest puggle this side of the Mississippi.

And if you’d like to be the first to know when a new book is coming out, please sign up for her private mailing list here —> http://eepurl.com/bfQU2j

 

 

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“Undefeated” by Stuart Reardon and Jane Harvey-Berrick #ChapterReveal

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A powerful contemporary romance set in the fast-moving world of international rugby.

When your world crashes down
When they all say you’re out
When your body is broken
I will rise.
I will return.
And I will be undefeated.

Nick Renshaw is the golden boy of British rugby. When a serious injury threatens his career, he starts to spiral downwards, a broken man.
Feeling abandoned and betrayed by those closest to him, he fights to restart his life. Maybe there’s someone out there who can help him. Maybe he can find his way back toward the light. Maybe … not.
Dr. Anna Scott might be the one person who can help Nick, but she has her own secrets. And when Nick’s past comes back to haunt them both, the enigmatic doctor is more vulnerable than she seems.
Broken and betrayed, the struggle to survive seems intolerable. Who will give in, and who will rise, undefeated?

 

Coming January 23rd, 2018

 

 

Prologue

It’s a beautiful game.

It’s a hard game.

And even on a good day your body is battered and bruised. It’s a brutal game with blood, mud, and dirt.

See this scar on my cheek? Rugby.

See this scar running through my eyebrow? Rugby.

I have a lot of scars.

I have 13 scars on each arm from keyhole surgery, knee surgery, scars on my forehead and the back of my head, scars on my knuckles, broken fingers. I’ve had both eyelids stitched, surgery on both shoulders, suffered a broken nose twice and spiral fractures in my hands, I’ve broken my fingers so many times, I don’t even count those. I’ve had cartilage cleaned out of my left knee, two medial ligament grade two tears on each knee, three lots of surgery for Achilles tendon injuries, and once I put my bottom teeth through my top lip. Getting stitches in your mouth isn’t much fun. They tug when you eat or speak.

There’s nothing nice about rugby. Maybe that’s why I bloody love it.

Chicks dig scars? Yeah, I’ve heard that, too.

In my experience, they’re not so keen on being around while you’re healing. Being the loser who’s benched, not so sexy. Being the guy whose career went down the toilet … I’m looking a lot less appealing now.

Trusting a woman when you’re at your lowest—dumbest, stupidest thing ever.

Beat me, break me, butcher my heart.

I’m coming for you. And this time…

I’m going to win.

 

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Stuart Reardon

 

Stuart is a retired England International Rugby League player whose career spanned 16 years as a professional playing for several top League clubs. He has had several major injuries that nearly ended his career just as in Undefeated, the amazing collaboration with Jane.
Currently, he is a Personal trainer living in Cheshire, and has an online fitness program: Fear Nothing Fitness.

 

 

Jane Harvey-Berrick

 

I enjoy watching surfers at my local beach and weaving stories of romance in the modern world, with all its trials and tribulations.
It’s been the best fun working with Stu on this story. And yes, he did think about joining the Marines once.

 

 

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“Carnival (The Traveling Series #4)” by Jane Harvey-Berrick #ChapterReveal


 

 

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Empty inside, cold in his heart, Zef turned to whisky and drugs to fill the void.

Instead, he ended up with a prison sentence and a new determination to get clean and make something of his life.

Since his release, Zef has been on the road, finding his spiritual home with a traveling carnival and working as a motorcycle stunt rider.

Live fast, live hard, keep moving.

He doesn’t want to be tied down to anyone or anything. Fiercely loyal, the only people he cares about are his brother and his carnie family.

Until a crazy girl who’s run away to join the circus crashes into his world.
But now his old life is catching up with him, and Zef has to choose a new road.

A standalone story, and the last one in the TRAVELING SERIES.

Heredity

I watched the flames leap and dance, sending a shower of sparks into the sky as one of the logs caught light.

Even though the daytime temperatures had soared into the nineties, it was considerably cooler now and everyone gathered around the circle of fire. It was a carnie tradition that went way back, signaling the end of another day.

Tonight was special because it was the penultimate night at this pitch, and our last chance to take it easy for a few days. The final night was always crazy busy because it was a jump day—which meant that all the roustabouts were taking down the carnival rides and packing everything back into the rigs, then driving through the night to get to the next town by morning, to set up for the following afternoon, when the whole cycle started over again.

In fact, the 24-Hour Man had already left. He was the guy who went ahead, signposting the way for the rest of us to follow. It may not sound important, but you don’t want fifteen eight-wheelers getting stuck or ending up driving down a one lane road to the wrong field.

So tonight was our night—our time to kick back, relax, and visit with other carnies.

“Bro, you look like someone just kicked your dog. What’s up with you? You’ve been a pain in my ass all week.”

Tucker left the others by the fire and squatted down beside me, ignoring the fuck-off vibes I’d been giving everyone else.

“What’s eating you, man? Tell Uncle Tucker all about it.”

Tucker was a year younger than me, but sometimes he acted like a teenager and spoke like a California surfer, if you ignored his Tennessee accent. We were all like that in the carnival—mongrels who didn’t call any place home, but everywhere was our kingdom and the road was our right.

He sighed when I didn’t reply and threw an arm around my shoulder.

“I know about Mirelle. Tough break, brother.”

I shot him an angry glance and he pulled a face.

“Mirelle called Aimee, Aimee told Kes, and well … you know how it goes.”

Yeah. I knew. Kes and Tucker were my family, my blood brothers—cut one, we all bleed. We didn’t keep secrets. And since Mirelle was Aimee’s best friend, I’d expected the news to circulate faster than it had. Perhaps she’d thought I’d tell them myself.

I should have, but I couldn’t do it. I didn’t want their pity.

“She wasn’t right for you,” Tucker said softly. “I like Mirelle, but she wasn’t going to make it as a carnie. She has roots and that big ole Puerto Rican family back on the East Coast.”

I knew he was right, but the sharp cut of disillusionment was hard to take. Aimee had lived out East and she’d followed Kes to the carnival; Tucker’s woman flew out to see him every couple of weeks. Why couldn’t that work for me?

I shrugged off his arm and stood up. I was ready to walk away when a thought stopped me in my tracks.

“Did she tell Aimee who the father is?”

“Yeah.” He stared down at the dirt, idly pushing his fingers through the tough, brown grass. “Some dude who teaches at the same school.”

Figured.

Suddenly Kes rose to his feet. Everyone stopped talking and we all turned to face him.

He stood with the fire at his back, the flames dancing behind as he faced us. His people, his family.

“I’ve got some news I want to share with you,” he said. “Perhaps I’d better say that we’ve got some news to share with you.”

He smiled at Aimee as she walked to his side, her eyes glowing with love as she looked at him, and he slid his arm around her waist.

“We’re going to be parents. By January, there’ll be a new little carnie joining the family.”
Yells and cheers rose from the carnies around the fire, then Tucker called out,

“Oh my God! Does that mean you’ve been having sex?”

“No, it’s an immaculate conception, dufus,” I muttered, slapping him around the back of the head.

Aimee shot Tucker a look that said he’d be paying for his dumb joke later.

Everyone crowded around offering congratulations.

“A new little stunt rider for the family business?” asked one of the carnies.

Kes shrugged, his whole body lit with happiness as men slapped him on the back or shook hands, and women kissed him on the cheek. Aimee was surrounded with her own admirers, smiling and laughing, glowing with joy as she turned to look at Kes to hear his answer.

“Our kid can be whatever he wants.”

“So, it’s a boy?”

“Maybe. We don’t know yet.”

When the crowd around them thinned, I walked over to give Aimee a kiss on the cheek. Then I turned to Kes.

“Congratulations, man. That’s great news.”

“Thanks, Zef. I appreciate it. And I wanted to ask you—Aimee wants the baby to be Christened, something old school, you know? So I was wondering if you’d be Godfather.”

That was the last thing I’d been expecting. I wasn’t the kind of guy that a kid could look up to.

Kes read the doubt on my face and laughed.

“I’m going to ask Tucker, too. So the kid will need at least one Godfather who’s not completely crazy.”

I grinned at him.

“Well, when you put it that way … I’m the lesser of two evils?”

“Something like that.” His voice sobered. “So, will you do it? If anything happened to me and Aimee…” he swallowed, a flicker of fear on his face, “if anything happened, I’d want to know that I could count on you.”

“Fuck, man, nothing’s gonna happen to you!”

“Yeah, but it could. We both know … we know it could and … I need to you to say it, man. I need to know that you’d be there. If I hadn’t had Dono to take care of me and Con, I’d have been in a fucking foster home. ”

I rubbed my hand across of my face.

“Of course. Of course I’d do it—anything.”

I stuck out my hand and he shook it before pulling me into a swift hug.

“Thanks, Zef.”

I nodded, then asked the question that had been burning me since he’d made his announcement.

“Are you scared … about being a father?

Kes cocked his head to one side, thinking about it.”

“Nah, I couldn’t fuck it up as bad as Mom the alcoholic or dear ole dad who barely knew I existed, or cared. Anyway, I’ve got Aimee to keep me straight.”

He grinned and turned to accept more congratulations from other carnies.

I walked away, surprised by the emotions I was feeling.

Kes, a father!

That was some pretty serious shit. Coming on top of Mirelle’s news, I was feeling off kilter. I tried not to picture her with a guy who wore a collared shirt to work, some nice, safe townie who’d give her security. But she deserved that. She deserved more than a tatted up wiseass who jumped motorcycles for a living—a man with a criminal record who’d served time in prison.

Someone walked over my grave and a shiver ran down my spine. I’d cleaned up my act since then and I wasn’t ever going back.

And I meant what I’d said to Kes: if anything happened to him and Aimee, I’d take care of their kid. Fuck knows what kind of parent I’d be, but he’d asked me and I’d sure as hell try.

The breeze had picked up since sunset and I could see the tops of the distant trees swaying blackly against the rising moon.

The Ferris wheel was still and silent, a towering monument to man’s desire for mindless pleasure. It didn’t go anywhere, it didn’t do anything—except give the illusion of movement. And wasn’t that what the carnival was all about? Cheap thrills for a few bucks before moving on to the next small town. And yet, even with the existence of Netflix, tablets and smartphones, people still came, searching for a little of that stardust, that elusive magic, the freewheeling world of the carnies. Maybe that was what made it so unreal: we’d arrive in the half-light of dawn, and by the evening a world of bright neon and music erupted from an empty field. A few days of eating cotton candy and corn dogs, a few moments of adrenaline as you were whirled around the Tilt-A-Whirl or rode the bumper cars, and then we’d vanish in the night, leaving patches of flattened grass and an empty field.

I pushed my hands into my jean pockets and stared up at the moon as if it had called my name.

How many years did I have before my body broke down, before my knees or ankles or spine couldn’t take it anymore, when throwing myself through the air on 200 pounds of metal no longer seemed like a good idea? Then what? What would my life be then?

“The Cheyenne tell a story that the moon was held by a warring tribe, so a pair of antelope tried to rescue the moon and take it to a good village. But Coyote, the trickster, decides to make trouble and the antelope chase him. Coyote tosses the moon into a river each night, just out of reach of the antelope.”

I didn’t turn around as Ollo spoke.

“Is that supposed to mean something to me, old man?”

I heard his soft chuckle behind me, a wheezing hiccupping laugh.

“Nope, it’s just a story about the moon.”

“Great, thanks for that. Very educational.”

He sat down behind me, ignoring the obvious message that I didn’t want company.
I felt a soft tug on my pants leg as Bo started to climb me like a jungle gym, nestling into me and throwing his thin arms around my neck, chattering in my ear.

“Damn monkey doesn’t know when he’s not wanted,” I grumbled, supporting Bo’s tiny furry body as he snuggled into my chest.

Ollo laughed again.

“I’d say he knows exactly when he’s wanted. Capuchins are smart critters—smarter than most damn humans.”

I sighed, knowing I wasn’t getting any alone time tonight.

I sat down on the bone-dry dirt next to Ollo, smiling as Bo took his chance to go scampering off into the darkness. For a moment, I listened to him rustling in the tall grasses at the side of the swing-boats and I leaned against the canvas backdrop of the Ghost Train.

When I was a kid back in Georgia, I used to try and sneak in under the canvas without paying when the carnival came to town. Sometimes I made it, and sometimes I got dragged out by a hard-faced carnie and sent packing with a smack to the back of the head.

It didn’t matter how many times that happened, I always snuck back. I was fascinated by the mechanics, all of those big machines whipping you into the air or speeding around in circles. I hadn’t heard of hydraulics or knew anything about the physics of gravity, but I loved the dirt and grease behind the scenes, and the rides that made people laugh and scream.

Now, I could take a ghost ride anytime I wanted, but I never did.

I sighed, wondering if the carnival would ever feel magical to me again.

“Good news about Kes and Aimee—new life. A child will keep the carnival alive.”

I nodded, but I wasn’t sure that Ollo was right. It was a hard life, the traveling carnival, and many of the smaller outfits had shut down or gone out of business. I knew as well as anyone that there were no guarantees in life, but I hoped Ollo was right.

“Yeah, I’m happy for them.”

I watched a shooting star shimmer across the sky, wondering what the world had in store for me, wondering if fate was planning some new torture.

“She wasn’t right for you, Zef.”

Ollo’s voice broke and squeaked like a twelve year-old boy, although his body was no taller than the average seven year-old.

Ollo was a dwarf and had lived his whole life in a traveling carnival. He’d done every job from clowning to tumbling, fire-eating and fire-breathing to knife-thrower and rodeo rider, fairground barker to roustabout, and everything in between. He was old now; no one knew how old, probably not even Ollo, but he’d been with Kes’s family since the second world war, so he must be at least eighty.

He probably weighed no more than ninety pounds. I could have picked him up and tossed him over my shoulder without a problem, but I had too much respect for him to do something like that.

So I sat back and listened to what he had to tell me.

“You’re the second person tonight to say that Mirelle wasn’t right for me,” I said, my voice wry.

Ollo spit a stream of tobacco juice onto the hard-packed soil, aiming at one of the iron tent pegs.

“Are you surprised? Her family has uprooted once—she wasn’t going to do it again. Not for you.”

“Feel free to sugarcoat it!”

“Aw, is the big, tough stunt rider feelin’ sorry for hisself?”

I shook my head.

“Nah. Just pissed that she was seeing someone else and didn’t tell me.”

There was a long silence and in the distance I could hear the sound of Luke’s guitar playing.

“I had a woman once,” Ollo said softly. “Long time ago.”

His voice was quiet and it sounded like a confession.

“She wasn’t like me,” he said. “She was a townie, a petite lil’ thing. Delicate all over, tiny waist. Taller than me, of course. We were in Boise for the summer and it was the swinging sixties. She had long straight hair, golden brown, the color of corn. I was a rodeo clown in those days, and she’d come to see the ponies. We got talking and became friends. I’d wait for her to come for me at night. We’d hold hands and sit watching the stars from the top of the Ferris wheel. We fell in love.”

“Sounds … nice?”

“Yeah, it was. She was going to come with me at the end of the summer,” he chuckled quietly. “Run away and join the circus.”

“But she changed her mind?”

Ollo shook his head.

“I don’t know. One night, she didn’t come. I waited every night, knowing that soon we’d be moving on. I went to look for her. In the town.”

I stared up at Ollo’s stars, knowing that this story didn’t have a happy ending. I imagined how brave he’d have to be, leaving the carnies—his people—to go look for this girl among strangers, among townies.

“I didn’t find her, but her father found me. Gave me what they used to call a damn good beat-down, and told me he wouldn’t let a deformed freak like me near his daughter. I don’t know if she’d been sent away or whether she was locked in her room, listening to her father whip me with his belt as I kicked and screamed and tried everything to fight him off. I always wondered about that.”

“Jesus, Ollo!”

My voice was quiet, shocked, and he was silent for a moment.

“You never saw her again?”

“Ah, but I did. Ten years later, we were in Boise again doing the northern circuit. By then, the music was louder and angrier. We were all trying to forget about Vietnam, and everything seemed a little wilder. Borders were breaking down, and even the townie boys were starting to wear their hair long. That’s when I saw her. She was with a rube and they had two kids—a boy and a girl, maybe seven or eight years old. They had her eyes, I remember that. She saw me watching her and she stared back. She smiled at me, then she turned and walked away.”

His voice disappeared, lost in memories.

“That was the last time I saw her. I never tried anything with a townie again.”

“What was her name?”

“Jeanie. Jeanie with the light brown hair.”

I heard the soft patter of Bo’s footsteps, and he appeared out of the darkness, his tiny body curling into Ollo’s arms as he chirruped quietly.

I watched Ollo stroke the soft gray-and-white fur.

“Am I supposed to take some deep meaning from that story?” I asked, hoping to lighten the mood.

Ollo coughed out a laugh.

“Nope, just a story about a boy and a girl under the stars.”

And then, as silently as he’d arrived, he stood up and walked away, Bo still cradled in his arms.

I leaned back against the canvas, thinking about everything he’d said. If I was honest with myself, I’d known from the start that me and Mirelle wouldn’t last, but it still stung that she’d obviously been with this other guy for a while. And that she’d picked someone who was the complete opposite of me.

I didn’t have any trouble hooking up with women who wanted a one-night stand with a biker carnie, but even I had to admit that had gotten old. And now Kes was married and about to become a father, and Tucker lived half the year with his woman in LA. Everything was changing.

I’d had a family once—Mom, Dad, and a little brother. I still had my brother, but he was a man full grown now, successful and living his own life. He didn’t need me anymore, and he definitely didn’t need the shit I’d brought to his door. It was better that I kept moving, kept those wheels rolling.

The other Daredevils were my brothers too, but now they all had partners and I was on the outside again.
Sometimes it felt so damn lonely.

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Writing is my passion and my obsession. I write every day and I love it. My head is full of stories and characters. I’ll never keep up with all my ideas!

I live in a small village by the ocean and walk my little dog, Pip, every day. It’s on those beachside walks that I have all my best ideas.

Writing has become a way of life – and one that I love to share.

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“Jeremiah (Drake Brothers #2)” by Casey Peeler #ChapterReveal #Giveaway


 

Jeremiah Drake is good with his hands, and has taken on the responsibility of Mayes’ Body Shop. However, when a badass beauty named Landry is put in charge of the shop, Jeremiah is caught off guard by her beauty, but more importantly how she is under the hood.
Chapter 1
Jeremiah
With the sound of the small metal bell clanging against the glass door, I glance up from underneath the Chevy Impala I’m changing the oil in. Looking to it, I do a double-take as a blonde with long, flowing hair like an ocean walks in and smiles my direction. Her jeans are painted on, with a tight-fitting black tank top and curves that would make every man’s dick hard. She doesn’t say a word; instead, she walks toward Mr. Mayes’ office and closes the door. What the fuck is going on? Who the hell does she think she is and why is she in that office?
As soon as the last few drops have escaped, I place the oil plug back in place and change out the filter before lowering it from the lift. Once its four wheels hit the concrete, I take off the cap and fill it with the golden liquid. Taking the dip stick, I check it once more and turn the engine to make sure all the lights are off. Killing the engine, I glance over my shoulder to Davis.
“I’m gonna go see who the fuck that was walkin’ in Mr. Mayes’ office,” I say to him as I wipe my hands on the rag and toss it on the work table. Standing outside his office door, I see the same blonde sitting behind his dusty desk with a look of disgust on her face. Quickly, I knock on the door. She pauses and looks up. Without waiting for a reply, I turn the knob and walk in.
“Ma’am, is there something I can help ya with?” I question, trying my best to be polite.
She looks at me, rolls her eyes, and basically tells me to fuck off without opening her mouth, and all that has me wanting to do is turn her over my damn knee and spank her nice little ass.
“Excuse me?” she says with an abundance of attitude.
“I said can I help you? Mr. Mayes isn’t here, so maybe I can help you with what you need.”
She begins to laugh and it pisses me off.
“No fuckin’ shit, Sherlock! He’s in the hospital and I’m here to take care of things until he’s able to return.” What the hell did she say? I’ve been here since I was sixteen years old and he’s been priming me to take over the day he calls it quits. He’s left me in charge and I’ll be damned if a little girl comes in here acting all high and mighty wanting to take over.
“Ma’am,” I say cautiously once more, knowing I really want to cuss this bitch out. “I’m in charge while he’s out. What can I help you with?”
“Like hell you are, Jeremiah.” The way she says my name makes me pause. How the hell does she know my name?
“Why’s this the first I’ve heard of it? I just saw him yesterday.”
“Hell if I know, but whatever. Look, I’m here to handle the books, but I don’t mind helping out on the floor.”
“On the floor? What the hell does a pretty girl like you know about that?”
The look on her face goes blank as she slides back out of the worn green leather chair. She places her hands on the desk and looks me directly in the eyes as my legs press up against the old worn couch.
“I know plenty. Now, question my ass again about what I do and don’t know about this shop and I’ll show you who’s fuckin’ boss. Got that?”
Standing there, I look at her, speechless. I’ve heard of feisty women. I vaguely remember a woman with a mouth that got her slapped around as a kid, but I also remember a mom who took us in, didn’t take shit from anyone, but had the kindest heart. Something about her makes me want to climb over that desk and kiss the hell out of her until she screams my damn name, then it hits me.
“Landry?” I question.
“Damn right, it’s me.”
Landry
The moment that office door opens, I try my best to refrain from letting my mouth drop to the floor as I look at the hottest thing I’ve seen since sliced bread. It’s Jeremiah Drake, the youngest Drake brother. He’s tall, dark, handsome, and a grease monkey. It’s like music to my ears.
Growing up, I learned how to do anything and everything in this shop. I remember Jeremiah as I kid, but he never noticed me. I was a girl that was a few years younger, off limits, and a tomboy. Who am I kidding? No guy around here paid any attention to me so I focused on what I loved most—Paw and cars. My summers were spent in this shop, his old barn and out at the creek.
“You going back to work or you gonna gawk all fuckin’ day?” I ask.
The way he cuts his eyes toward me makes my damn panties want to drop. “I’m goin’ back to work. Look, I’m not sure what the deal is, but I was told I was in charge. I don’t mind you hanging around and looking pretty, but this place is no place for a girl.”
Without thinking twice, I begin to laugh at his comment. He might think that I can’t handle myself on the floor, but I learned from the best and I refuse to let the best down.
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Casey Peeler grew up in North Carolina and still lives there with her husband and daughter.

Growing up Casey wasn’t an avid reader or writer, but after reading Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neal Hurston during her senior year of high school, and multiple Nicholas Sparks’ novels, she found a hidden love and appreciation for reading.  That love ignited the passion for writing several years later, and her writing style combines real life scenarios with morals and values teenagers need in their daily lives.

When Casey isn’t writing, you can find her near a body of water listening to country music with a cold beverage and a great book.

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“Exp1re” by Erin Noelle #ChapterReveal


 

Exp1re

Coming October 26th

Numbers.
They haunt me.
I can’t look into a person’s eyes without seeing the six-digit date of their death.
I’m helpless to change it, no matter how hard I try.
I’ve trained myself to look down. Away. Anywhere but at their eyes.
My camera is my escape. My salvation. Through its lens, I see only beauty and life—not death and despair.
Disconnected from all those around me, I’m content being alone, simply existing.
Until I meet him.
Tavian.
The man beyond the numbers.
How can I stay away, when everything about him draws me in?
But how can I fall in love, knowing exactly when it will expire?

PROLOGUE
Lyra

10.18.02
The intercom crackles loudly throughout the classroom, interrupting Ms. Sherman’s rather uninspiring Friday afternoon lesson on the life cycle of a star. Even though most of the students around me are furiously jotting down notes about nebulas, red giants, and supernovas, I’m half listening while I doodle caricatures of me and my friends in the margin of my notebook. It’s not that I’m not interested in the material she’s talking about. No, that’s not the case at all. It’s quite the opposite actually; science is my favorite subject, especially anything that deals with astronomy and the unknowns in our universe.
But with a dad who is a super-smart astronomer at Johnson Space Center—or NASA, as most people here in Houston call it—I learned about this stuff she’s teaching before I ever started kindergarten. Heck, just this past summer before fifth grade, Mama and I went to visit him at a planetarium in Hawaii, where he was part of a team that discovered eleven new moons orbiting Jupiter! If I don’t ace this test next week, I better not even go home. I definitely wouldn’t be able to be an astronaut then.  
“Ms. Sherman, can you please have Lyra Jennings gather her things and come down to the office? She’s leaving for the day,” the office lady who reminds me of Paula Deen—Mama’s favorite chef—announces through the ancient intercom system.
At the sound of my name, my chin jerks upward from my pencil sketches to the standard black-and-white classroom clock mounted above the projection screen. The hands read 12:45 p.m., nearly three hours before the end of the school day, when my parents are supposed to pick me up as we head out to Dallas for the weekend to celebrate my eleventh birthday. Ooh, maybe getting out of school early was my surprise they mentioned!
I’ve been looking forward to this day since we came home from this same trip last year, and I know my parents planned something special for this year. Every birthday, instead of having one of those silly kids’ parties with pointy hats and piñatas, they take me to the Texas State Fair. There, we spend the weekend riding as many rides as possible, stuffing our mouths with sausage-on-a-stick and fried Twinkies, playing games until we win the biggest of the stuffed animals, and laughing until our faces hurt and happy tears stream down our cheeks. Hands down, it’s my favorite three days of the year, even better than Christmas. And I really, really like Christmas.
Excitement jets through me as I stand up from my desk and hurriedly cram my spiral notebook and textbook into my purple paisley backpack. If we make it there early, I’ll be able to go swimming at the fancy hotel’s indoor pool before dinner.
“Sure thing,” my teacher calls out in response. “She’ll be right down.”
Hoisting the strap of the bag up on my shoulder, I turn to leave the room and my gaze meets Ms. Sherman’s. Her warmth shines in her bright amber-colored eyes, highlighting the numbers 051123 that I see imprinted in her pupils. The same six white numbers I see every time we make eye contact. The numbers I’m not allowed to talk about. The ones everyone thinks are all a part of my healthy imagination.
But they’re wrong. They’re all wrong.
The numbers are real, and they never change or go away. I only wish I knew what they meant. Mama and Daddy—who, by the way, are the only two people I know that have the same numbers—call it my special superpower, but I know they just pretend to believe me. I see the looks they share when they think I’m not watching. They don’t want me to think about all those things the doctors say about me. I may only be ten years old, but I’m 100% sure I’m not crazy, nor do I lie for attention. I’m an only child, for Pete’s sake; my parents are overly interested in my life. Though I do appreciate their support, even if they don’t understand.
“Have a nice weekend, Lyra. Don’t forget we have a test over CHAPTERs six through eight on Monday. Make sure you’ve read all the material,” she reminds me.
“Yes, ma’am. I’ll be ready,” I reply modestly, not sharing with her or the rest of the class I’ve already read through CHAPTER thirteen in the text, including answering the study guide questions at the end of each section. I may be an overachiever, but I’m not a brown-noser.
Luckily, school just comes easy for me, and my parents get over-Jupiter’s-moons proud when I bring home straight A’s on my report card. It reassures them that I’m normal and well adjusted. At least that’s what I heard Mama whispering to Daddy on the phone one night when she thought I wasn’t listening.
I mouth a quick goodbye to my best friend, Beth, who I pass by as I scuttle toward the exit. With her last name being Blackmon and mine being Jennings, we rarely get to sit near each other, as most of our teachers put us in alphabetical order. Beth’s numbers are 022754, and like Ms. Sherman’s, they light up vibrantly when she looks up at me and mouths the words Have fun before I slip out the door.
I never want to break the rules or get in trouble, so I somehow fight the urge to sprint down the deserted hallway and force myself to walk as fast as my long, skinny legs will let me. The swishing sound from my denim shorts rubbing together fills my ears, creating a soundtrack for my excitement. My cheeks ache from smiling so big while I drop off my folders and books in my locker then make a beeline to the front of the school, where my parents are waiting for me. This is going to be the best of the best weekends ever, one that none of us will ever forget. I just know it.
Only, when I swing open the glass door to the main office, expecting to see my favorite two people in the world, I’m surprised to find my Aunt Kathy standing there, her face puffy and pink, the corners of her mouth pointing due south. Our eyes meet, and I can barely see her numbers—123148—because of how swollen the lids are around them.
The fluffy white cloud of elation I floated in on disappears instantly as a dark fog of dread takes its place. Engulfing me. Swallowing me whole. She doesn’t have to say a word—I already know. Not how or when or where it happened, but deep in my bones, I know.
I was right. This will definitely be a weekend I’ll never forget, only it will be for reasons I’ll never want to remember.
“I’m so sorry, Lyra baby girl,” she cries. “I’m so sorry. They’re… they’re gone.”
gone.
        Gone.
                   GONE.
The word bounces around between my ears, getting louder each time it echoes. The first time, it freezes my movements. The second steals all the air from my lungs. By the third time, I’m pretty sure I have no pulse. I want to go, too.
Go.
       Going.
                     GONE.
With my feet stuck to the floor and my body stiff as a statue, Aunt Kathy rushes over to me and wraps her arms around my shoulders. Pulling me up against her chest as uncontainable sobs shake her body, she breaks down in front of the receptionist and attendance clerk, neither of who bother to hide their open staring. Numb, I stand completely still while she wails for several minutes, and I never once make a single sound or try to break free from the death grip she has on me. My thoughts race so fast they’re standing still.
I’m just… here. And my parents just… aren’t. And they won’t ever be again.
They’re… gone.
Climbing into the passenger seat of Aunt Kathy’s fancy sports car—a car I usually beg to ride in because there’s no backseat—I fasten my safety belt and then close my eyes as I lean my head back on the black leather, warm from the hot southern Texas sun. Even though it’s mid-October, I’m still wearing shorts and sandals, and just last weekend I went swimming at Beth’s house. But as I sit here and wait for my aunt to start the car, my teeth chatter loudly and my entire body trembles uncontrollably. My heart is frozen solid, but I’ve yet to shed a tear.
The phone rings and I jump, automatically looking at the caller ID on the screen, thinking… hoping… praying it’s someone calling to let us know this has all been a big mistake, that my parents are really okay.
“Hey, Mom,” Aunt Kathy answers after just one ring. We still haven’t pulled out of the parking space. “Yeah, I have her now. She’s safe and sound.”
My heart plummets even lower into my stomach than it was before as she pauses to listen to Granny Gina on the other end. Granny Gina is my dad and Kathy’s mom who lives in New Orleans, where she moved about five years ago after my grandpa passed away from lung cancer. Since my mom’s parents both died before I was born, she’s the only living grandparent I have, and luckily for me, she’s a pretty awesome one. But today, nothing is awesome. Not even close.
“I don’t know. She hasn’t said a word. I’m sure she’s in shock.” My aunt talks about me like I’m not sitting right here, as I finally feel the car jerk back in reverse.
Another pause. The car lurches forward into drive then we bounce hard as Aunt Kathy flies over a speed bump. I think I’m going to throw up.
“Okay, I’ll take her home so she can pack a suitcase of whatever she wants to bring, and then we’ll go to my place until you get here. You should be in about 5:00?”
Pack a suitcase of what I want to bring where? Where am I going? Why is this happening to me? I’m a good kid. I make good grades and I’m nice to people, even those people who everyone else makes fun of, and I listen to my parents and my teachers. What did I do to deserve this? Why me?
“Yeah, Mom, I know,” Aunt Kathy hiccups. She’s crying hard again. “I’ll take good care of her, and we’ll see you later. I love you.”
I keep my eyes screwed shut as she disconnects the call, scared she’ll want to talk if I open them. I don’t want to talk to her or Granny Gina or anyone but my parents. I want my mom and dad!
Thankfully, Aunt Kathy doesn’t try to talk to me as we drive, but when I feel the car come to a stop and hear the engine turn off, she gently taps my arm. “Lyra, sweetheart, we’re at your house. We’re going to go inside, and I need you to pack up a suitcase or two of the clothes and things you want to take to New Orleans. Whatever you need.”
“New Orleans?” My lids snap open and I whip my chin in her direction. I don’t even recognize my harsh, scratchy voice. “I’m going to New Orleans?”
“Yeah”—she nods sadly as she swipes at the black mascara streaks on her face with her thumbs—“with Granny Gina. After we take care of, uh, of everything here, you’ll go live with her there.”
Scowling, I cross my arms over my chest and grunt. “I don’t want to leave Houston, or my friends, or my school. Why can’t I stay here with you?”
“You know I travel with my job, Lyra. Sometimes I’m gone a week or two at a time, and there won’t be anybody here to stay with you. Granny Gina’s house has an extra bedroom, and since she doesn’t work, she’ll be able to better give you everything you need.”
What I need and will be better for me is my mom and dad. And my perfect birthday weekend at the fair.
She reaches out to attempt to soothe me with her touch, but I wrench away, banging my elbow on the car door in the process. The whack is loud, and the place I hit immediately turns red, but my brain doesn’t register the pain. I feel nothing. I’m broken.
I glance over at my aunt, and the tears spilling down her cheeks make me feel bad for acting the way I just did to her. What happened to my parents isn’t her fault, but I’m angry and this is all moving too fast. How am I supposed to pack up what I need in a couple of bags? I want to stay in my room, in my house, living with my parents.
“I know this is all unfair, baby,” she says through her sniffles, “and I can’t even to begin to understand what you’re thinking or feeling. I mean, I’m freaking the hell out and I’m a grownup who’s supposed to know how to handle these kinds of situations. All we can do is cling to each other as family and try to get through this together. Between me and Granny, we’ll do the best we can for you, and right now, we think the best thing is if you get your things and go stay with her.”
“How did they die?” I blurt out, completely off topic from what she’s talking about. My mind can’t stay focused on any one thing, but this is the question that keeps popping up. “I need to know how it happened.”
Swallowing hard, Aunt Kathy inhales a shaky breath through her nose and blows it out through her mouth, visibly trying to collect herself before she answers me. “It was a car accident,” she whispers after forever, barely loud enough for me to hear. “I don’t know why they were together in your mom’s car this morning or where they were going, but an eighteen-wheeler lost control and hit them. They were already gone by the time the first responders arrived.”
I nod, still unable to cry. I hear the words she’s saying, but they aren’t really registering. They make sense, but I don’t understand. It’s as if I’ve been swallowed up by one of the black holes Daddy taught me about and the darkness is sucking away my ability to think, to feel. All I hear is the word “gone” still replaying over and over and over.
“Okay. I’ll get my stuff,” I say flatly, finally opening the door and stepping out of the car.
My movements are robotic, and I can barely even feel the key in my hand as I unlock the front door to my house. Stepping inside, I’m overwhelmed by a combination of the sweet smell of my mom’s favorite vanilla cookie candle and the sight of my dad’s fuzzy slippers waiting by the coatrack—the slippers he puts on the minute he walks in the door from work every night. When I realize he’ll never wear those slippers again, nor will my mom ever be able to forget if she blew out the candle when we’re about to pull out of the driveway, an acute pain shoots through my chest and I stumble over to the staircase, grabbing the banister to keep my balance.
“I’m right here, Lyra,” Aunt Kathy murmurs from behind me as she slips her arm around my waist. “Let’s just get your things and head over to my place. Later, once we’ve had some time to deal with everything, we can come back to go through the house and all the stuff… if you want.”
Another nod and I let her guide me up the stairs to my room. I want to scream at her that there will never be enough time to deal with losing my parents, that I’ll never be able to go through their things, but I keep my lips pressed together and do as I’m told.
“Where do you guys keep your suitcases?” she asks, glancing around my room as if she’s doing an inventory of what I have. “I’ll go grab a couple while you start pulling out what you want to take. If you forget something, it’s no big deal, because you and Granny are going to be staying at my place for the next few days. I can just bring you back to get it, or I can even ship it to Louisiana if you remember once you’re there.”
“They’re in the storage cabinets in the garage,” I answer while walking over to my desk, my eyes locked in on a framed photo of me and my parents that sits next to my laptop.
“Okay, I’ll be right back.”
The thud of her heels on the hardwood floor grows quiet as she makes her way back down to the first floor, and just as I grab the picture and plop down on the chair, I hear her open the door to the garage. A few much-needed minutes by myself.
I gaze down at the photograph of the three of us from a day at the beach, me sandwiched between their cheerful, carefree expressions, and the first tear finally escapes. Once the dam breaks, I can’t stop the flow, and as I trace my finger over the outline of each of my parents’ faces, I cry for everything I’ll never have again. A supernova of tears.
Faces I’ll never see smile again.
Voices I’ll never hear say my name again.
Arms I’ll never be hugged by again.
A never-ending galaxy of love that I’ll never feel again.
It’s all just… gone.
After several minutes of vision-blurring bawling, I set the picture frame back upright on my desk. A hot pink heart drawn on my calendar with the words Birthday Weekend Begins written over today’s box catches my attention. I then notice the printed numbers next to my bubbly handwriting that read 10-18-02.
Snatching the picture up again, I stare directly into first my dad’s eyes, and then my mom’s. The numbers I see when I look people directly in the eyes only happens when I’m face-to-face with someone, never in photographs or through a screen or mirror. But even though I can’t actually see the numbers right now in the picture of my parents’ pupils, their numbers are forever etched in my brain from looking at them every day of my life. I used to think the reason they had the same numbers meant they were true soul mates, like God made them to match perfectly together, but now….
My gaze flicks over to today’s date of 10-18-02, then back to my parents’ faces, where I envision their numbers—101802.
My plummeting heart collides with my lurching stomach in an explosion of realization.
It’s my Big Bang Moment.


About Erin Noelle USA Today Bestselling Author

Erin Noelle is a Texas native, where she lives with her husband and two
young daughters. While earning her degree in History, she rediscovered her love for reading  that was first instilled by her grandmother when she was a young child. A lover of happily-ever-afters, both historical and current,Erin is an avid reader of all romance novels.

Most nights you can find her cuddled up in bed with her husband, her Kindle in hand and a sporting event of some sorts on television.

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“A Saving Grace” by Annie Stone #ChapterReveal


 

A grave injury leaves Hunter in a dangerous state. A place where he can no longer see the light. In anything. But Mackenzie can’t—and won’t—accept that.

So she sends him a reason to live. With that comes unforeseen difficulties.

Once again, Mackenzie sees firsthand how strong Hunter’s love and determination can really be. But is that enough? Will their lives ever be the same again?


ONE
Hunter

On our way back to Camp Leatherneck, I sit in the back seat, looking out the window at the monotonous wasteland around us. Our mission at the COP is over, and I’ve completed my second deployment to Afghanistan. It’s back to Virginia for me.
I’m looking forward to going back to the States. Maybe I’ll manage to meet up Carey this time. The more time that passes since the thing with Mac, the easier it gets to live with it. I haven’t forgotten her, of course—and I never will—but it no longer hurts as much as it did in the beginning.
Suddenly, the front left of the car is yanked up off the ground. I hear screams and swearing as I try to steady myself in my seat. But our armored vehicle flips and lands on its side. All I can hear are shots, moans, and screams in Pashto, Dari, and English.
I can’t move. My leg is stuck. I try to say something, but nothing comes out. As I attempt to free my leg, the vehicle is hit and thrown up in the air again, throwing me through the window. I land on the ground a few feet away, disoriented and confused.
I want to get up and look for my buddies, make sure everybody’s okay, but I realize I can hardly hear anything. Then my field of vision shrinks, blackness creeping in around the edges. Before I can even lift an arm, I pass out.

TWO
Mackenzie

I’m antsy throughout the entire flight, unable to focus on anything. Reading, watching a movie, distracting myself in any other way—forget about it.
I knew it all along. I was up all night, sure something had happened to Hunter, and the next morning, Carey and I heard Hunter had been injured in an attack and flown to Ramstein. By the time we were notified, he was in surgery. And that was all they could tell us.
I immediately got on a plane to go see him, even if it was tough for me to leave Hazel with Carey. I had to. I don’t know if Hunter is going to survive. I need to see him again, tell him how much I love him. I can’t let him go without that knowledge. Even if he can’t speak to me. He only needs to hear me. He needs to know I care.
I knead my hands until it feels like my skin’s going to fall off. I’m sitting beside the aisle, so I keep getting up to pace the length of the plane. How long can one flight last?
Twelve hours. Twelve long, agonizing hours later, we land in Frankfurt, and I board a shuttle bus Carey booked to take me to Ramstein Air Base. Carey also made sure I’ll get a visitor’s pass when I arrive.
The entire hour I’m on the van, I chew my nails, my thoughts going in circles. How is Hunter doing? Is he still alive? Am I too late?
Please, don’t let me be too late! I can’t imagine life without Hunter. Please, no! I don’t want to be without him.
When we get to the gates, I have to write my name on a form and show them my ID before they give me a pass and let the shuttle through. I go straight to the hospital and tell them at reception I’m here to see Hunter, but they ask me to have a seat in the waiting room. So I wait.
And keep waiting.
I call Carey to tell him I got here and ask about Hazel. Carey instructs me to hold the phone to Hunter’s ear as soon as possible he can hear him.
I swallow. “What if…” No. I can’t get the words out.
“No, Mac, no!” Carey snaps. “If it was that bad, somebody would have told me! I haven’t heard anything. We need to hope for the best.”
“You’re right. I’ll call you back later, okay?”
“Okay, wait a second. Hazel wants to talk to you.”
“Hazel?”
“Mommy! When you tummin bat?”
“Soon, angel. I’ll be back soon. You be good for Carey till then, okay?”
“Otay!” she squeals. “Ice tream!”
I smile. “Lots of ice cream, and then I’ll be back. I love you, honey.”
“Love you too!”
I didn’t cry on the plane, because I thought I simply had no tears left, but now they start rolling again.
“Mackenzie Hall?” somebody calls across the waiting room.
I turn and see a doctor in a doorway leading back into the hospital. With trembling legs, I get up. “Yes?”
“I’ll take you to your fiancé now. Sergeant Tilman’s brother told us you were authorized to see him. Obviously, Sergeant Tilman will need to confirm that when he wakes up from his coma.”
“Coma?” I repeat, shocked.
“Don’t worry. We thought it was best to induce a coma after surgery. We’re already reducing the meds, so he should wake up within the next few hours.”
“Can you tell me what’s wrong with him?”
“He suffered several non-lethal wounds, one to his shoulder, one to his arm, and a graze to his thigh. He has internal injuries, but we were able to stop the bleeding. The worst of it is that when he was ejected from the vehicle during the ambush, his leg suffered the greatest damage. We had to amputate below the knee.”
“Amputate?” I repeat dumbly. “He…He only has one leg now?”
The doctor nods gravely. “Yes. Amputating was the best option. He can wear a prosthetic, and if he’s lucky, he’ll be able to walk just like he used to.”
For a moment, I feel like I can’t breathe. But then relief wins out. “But…he’s going to make it?”
“There may be some other complications, but if everything heals like we think, then yes, he’ll make a full recovery. With some rehab and therapy, he’ll be able to lead a good life with his prosthetic.”
“Thank you,” I say, the words coming from the very depths of my heart. Everything is going to be okay, as long as Hunter lives. “Can I stay here with him?”
“Of course.” The doctor nods over his shoulder. “We’ll set up a cot for you in his room.”
“That won’t be necessary. I don’t think I’ll be able to sleep.”
The doctor gives me a strict look. “Ma’am, you look like you haven’t slept in a long time. You breaking down with exhaustion is not going to help Sergeant Tilman. He needs you to be strong right now. Do you understand?”
I nod. “I’m a trauma therapist. I understand.”
“Okay. I’ll take you to him.”
I follow the doctor through the double doors of the waiting room and down a hallway, only stopping in front of the last door the doctor walks through. I have to work up all the strength I have left in me.
Hunter needs me to be strong, I repeat to myself.
When I finally step through the doorway and see him, I’m shocked. He looks so different than he did three years ago. Like I expected, he looks more masculine. He’s grown a beard, and his brown hair is still cropped short, but he has a ghastly tube in his mouth, and several others protruding from his body.
But the worst thing of all is seeing the place where his calf used to be. Because now there is…nothing.
I’m glad he’s not awake, because it gives me a chance to get used to the sight of him. This way, when he wakes up, I really can be strong for him. It’s good I’m getting this moment. I shed a few tears before reminding myself it could have been worse. People live with prosthetics every day, and an amputation below the knee is the best-case scenario. Everything will be okay. What matters is that he’s alive, that he’s going to recover. And that he’s finally going to listen to me. The stubborn ass.
Sliding a chair next to his bed, I sit down and take his hand without the port in it. Gently stroke his knuckles, I watch his beautiful face. He seems bigger—at least wider. He didn’t have shoulders like that three years ago, did he? Even though he’d already grown in width back then, he seems even bigger now. But my memory is surely a little blurred. I met him when he was seventeen and only saw him once at the age of twenty-one. What a history we have.
“I don’t know if you can hear me, Hunter,” I say, swallowing. “Some say people in comas can hear what’s going on around them. I’ll tell you all of this again once you’re better, but just in case you can hear me, I want to tell you right now that I love you. I’m sorry I didn’t take your hand without hesitating, even for a second. I can only blame a moment of derangement. I did not choose Carter, do you hear me? I chose you. I love you. So much! And you have given me the greatest present a man can give a woman. Her name is Hazel Claire. H for her daddy, C for her uncle. Carey is crazy about your daughter, Hunter. And I hope you will be, too. I’ve missed you so much. Carey has missed you so much. Hazel needs her dad. Please, Hunter, wake up and get well again. For me, for her. We need you.”
I tell him little stories about Hazel, like when she tried to eat the needles of the Christmas tree we bought last week. And how she learned to write the letter H and took her paintbrush to write Hs all over the hallway. That she’s a good eater but doesn’t like Brussels sprouts, even if you mash them together with potatoes. That she can say “Dad,” even if she never gets to use it. But she knows her daddy from pictures and videos.
At some point, I put my head down next to Hunter’s hand on the bed. I’m exhausted. I haven’t slept in three days, which gives me an idea of how he must have felt in boot camp—minus all the other types of torture he had to endure, of course.
A nurse wakes me up to measure Hunter’s vital signs, and I look around sleepily. It looks like morning. “Why don’t you lie down on the cot?” she suggests gently.
“I want to be with him,” I murmur.
She nods. “But you need to take care of yourself, too. And your little girl.”
“How do you…?”
She smiles. “You told him stories about your daughter for hours last night. Hazel.”
I nod. “She’s so precious.”
“And he doesn’t know about her?”
I bite my lip. How do I explain that he doesn’t know we have a child when I’m supposed to be his fiancé? “He hasn’t met her, no. He hasn’t been home.”
“It’s okay, love.” She pats my hand. “I don’t need details.” She winks at me before leaving the room.
I don’t want to leave Hunter, but I need coffee. So I scurry away to the cafeteria and get myself a cup before returning to his bedside. The doctor said he would be awake within the next few hours.
How many hours? I think miserably. Maybe he meant days…
“Hunter?” I rush forward. Fluttering—I saw his eyelids fluttering!
I squeeze his hand, and all of a sudden, he’s squeezing back.
“Hunter!” I put a hand on his cheek. His lashes twitch in unison with his eyelids. Oh my God! He’s waking up! “Hunter, it’s me!” I sob. “I’m here. Please wake up.”
He moves his head a little, and then suddenly his eyes fly open. There’s panic in them. He fights against the tube in his mouth.
“Hunter, calm down, it’s all right!” I put both hands on his face, forcing him to look at me. “Shhh. It’s okay. They’ll remove the tube in a second. It’s okay. You’re safe.”
He gives me a confused look but calms down a little. Releasing him for just a second, I press the button to call the nurse, and she comes in a moment later. She calls the doctor, who checks Hunter’s pupils and vital signs before removing the tube from his throat. Hunter gasps, coughs, and retches, but when he starts breathing again, tears run down my cheeks.
“Mac?” he asks hoarsely.
“I’m here, babe,” I say, taking his hand again.
He squeezes my fingers.
“Sergeant Tilman,” the doctor interrupts gently, “I’m Dr. Ferguson. I operated on you. You sustained injuries to your shoulder, arm, thigh, and leg. And there was internal bleeding from damage to your spleen. Do you remember the mission on which you were injured?”
Hunter squints. “Yeah. We were on the way back to Camp Leatherneck… Wait, what happened to Jax?”
“Jax?”
“Corporal Jackson Halliwell,” Hunter clarifies with difficulty.
Dr. Ferguson shakes his head sympathetically. “I’m sorry. I’ve never heard the name. He wasn’t brought here.”
Hunter swallows heavily.
“Do you remember what happened?” the doctor asks.
“We were ambushed.” It’s still difficult for him to speak, so the nurse hands him a glass of water with a straw. He carefully drinks a few small sips before continuing. “The vehicle was thrown up into the air, and I was ejected through the window.”
The doctor nods. “Ripping off your leg.”
Hunter’s eyes widen, his nostrils trembling. “My leg?” he repeats, like he doesn’t quite understand. He tries to sit up, squeezing my fingers so hard I hear a popping sound.
“I’m sorry, Sergeant,” the doctor says. “We had to amputate your left leg below the knee.”
The nurse presses a button that raises the head of Hunter’s bed. The panic in his eyes breaks my heart. And when he sees the blanket lying flat on the mattress where his leg should be, he sobs. I squeeze his fingers, not knowing how to help him process this. It must be surreal. The last time he was awake, he still had two legs. Now he only has one.
“Oh God,” he mumbles, again and again and again.
“Hunter, babe,” I murmur, putting an arm around his shoulders.
“Fuck, Mac!” He leans his head against my chest and cries. I reach around him with both arms, pulling him firmly to my chest.
“I’m so sorry.”
His tears soak my shirt. Somehow, it’s different to not just see his pain but feel it, too. I kiss his head, whispering calming words, even though I know they’re completely inadequate. His world is breaking down.
“Everything’s going to be okay,” I murmur into his ear.
He pulls away, and there is madness in his eyes. “Nothing is going to be okay! I lost my leg!”
“I know, babe—”
“Don’t call me that! You chose him, you fucking whore!”
I know he doesn’t mean to hurt me. He’s just unable to deal with this situation. “Hunter—”
“I don’t want to see you.” He averts his eyes to the ceiling. “And I don’t want you to see me like this.”
“But I—”
“Get out, Mac! Be happy and forget about me,” he says bitterly.
I reach for his hand, but he pulls it away. “Don’t, Hunter, please… Listen to me!”
“Get out! Now!” He’s almost screaming by this point.
Though I don’t want to leave, the doctor and nurse escort me out of the room. Hunter’s not listening! He’s not interested in what I have to say. Not now.
“Ms. Hall, please go now,” Dr. Ferguson says. “You can talk to him later, when he’s had time to calm down. Right now, it’s best if you leave.”
“No, please,” I beg. “He needs me—”
“He does, but as long as he doesn’t understand that, he’ll just keep sending you away,” the nurse interrupts gently. “We’ll let you know when something changes. You can sit in the waiting room.”
“Okay,” I say defeated. “But please…d-don’t forget.” I walk down the hallway, my arms wrapped around myself. I haven’t felt this lonely in a very long time.
I don’t actually want to talk to anyone, but Carey must be worried, so I dial his number as I sit in an uncomfortable chair.
“Mac?” Carey answers. “How is he? Have you seen him? Can I talk to him?”
I sob the moment I hear his voice.
“No, Mac, no, no!” he desperately calls into the phone, his voice breaking.
“He’s alive, Carey, he’s alive,” I hurry to say, launching to my feet. His thoughts are taking him down the wrong track, and I can’t let him go there. “He’s awake.”
“Fuck! Mac!” Carey swears, relief evident in his voice. “What happened?”
“His convoy drove into an ambush. They were shot at, the vehicle was thrown up into the air, and he was ejected. His leg was ripped off.”
“Ripped off? What do you mean ripped…? Oh, no…”
“They amputated it.”
“Fuck! No! I… Oh my God!”
After a long moment in which neither of us know what to say, Carey asks, “How is he taking it?”
“Not great,” I admit. “And I didn’t make things any better. God, Carey, he hates me.” I lean against the wall, trying to control my tears.
“What did he say?”
“At first, he let me hug him, but then he sent me away and said he never wants to see me again because I chose Carter.”
“That was just the shock,” Carey says lamely.
I nod, even though he can’t see me. “Yes, I know, but I think he meant it, too.”
“Oh, Mac. Give him some time. He needs to sort himself out. After that, you’ll get your chance. I’m sure of it.”
I shake my head. “You didn’t see him. So cold and distant. I’ve never seen him like that before.”
“Give him time. Don’t rush things,” Carey insists, nearly begging. “You can’t leave him alone right now.”
“I’m not. I’ll stay here with him. Even if he doesn’t want me to.”
“Thank you, Mac.”
“How is Hazel?”
“She’s sleeping. She misses you.”
I smile a little. “My baby girl.”
“Mac, he loves you. I know he does. You just need to get through his hard shell. Don’t give up. He needs you.”
“I know.”
After we hang up, I wait there in the waiting room for hours. Every time I ask after Hunter, they tell me he still doesn’t want to see me. I curl up on one of the benches there, wrapping my sweater around myself for warmth. At some point, a nurse brings me a blanket. I fall asleep, but I’m restless the entire night.
I’m a contemporary romance writer, who likes her men tattooed, her women independent and her coffee strong.

My stories are all about love, but some are of the romantic kind, some of the sad kind and others of the very steamy kind. So if you can stand drama, foul language and sex, you came to the right place.

Love, Annie

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“Touched” by Mara White #ChapterReveal


 

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-Does your sister let you touch her, Gemini?
-Barely, but, yes, more than anyone else. I remember even in preschool when the teacher would grab her hand, she’d stare at the spot where their skin connected as if it were an affront to her existence. Just stand there and glare like she wanted to hurt someone.
-Junipera suffers from a rare phobia.
-Please, what does June not suffer from?
-When did she start chasing storms?
-In third grade she started obsessing about the rain. Full blown? I’d say after hurricane Katrina she never looked back. And she didn’t just chase them, June became those wild storms.

Junipera and Gemini Jones, Irish twins born during the month of June, survive a childhood of neglect and poverty by looking out for one another. Destined for a group home, the girls are rescued by a rich aunt and uncle who move them from Northern Minnesota to Fairfield, Connecticut. One sister thrives while the other spins out of control. A violent assault leaves Gemini searching for clues, but what she finds might be questions that are better left unanswered.

Coming September 25th

August 28th, 2005


June drove almost all night. The farthest south she’d ever been was Oklahoma, going after a tornado, and she’d flown past the Louisiana state line around four in the morning. She wasn’t exactly sure where she would stay since she’d heard on the radio that all of greater New Orleans had been placed under a mandatory evacuation order. Experience told her that there would be at least one hotel open downtown where reporters were holed up. She’d followed their lead before, pretending to be chasing the story and not the storm. They usually had the best intel and she would leech off of them if she could. The storm had been given a name when she turned into a hurricane—Katrina, they called her, and she’d become a category three when she hit land in Florida. But now she had free rein over warm open water. That meant her hunger would gain and when she touched Louisiana, she’d do it with a vengeance. She was expected to hit land around six in the morning, as a category five. June had never actually seen a five before, but she knew roofs, cars and trees would go flying through the air like paper dolls, sucked up into the vortex and spit out indiscriminately.
Traffic snaked away from the Gulf in impossibly long lines of chrome and glass, rubber tires packed full of momentum wishing they could go faster. June had the speed they wanted as hers was one of the very few cars racing in the opposite direction. She came down I-55, and when she hit the I-10 bypass, the seriousness of the evacuation became apparent. Anyone who could was getting the hell out of New Orleans.
Storm excitement felt very much like a hormone—tipsy, punch-drunk and out of control. June got high off the anticipation; she tuned out the radio and the long line of evacuees and listened to the storm. She spoke its language. June lowered the windows in the Beamer so she could feel the pressure in the air. Her blood surged in her body like the ocean tides do in response to its pull. Her extremities tingled; so did her nose. She could taste the storm on the tip of her tongue, like a spike, a live wire, a sharp blade laced with coppery blood. Katrina called to her and June’s thigh muscles quivered.
June laid into the gas. Sometimes municipal law enforcement would block incoming traffic as well. June knew how to pose as a news reporter, but she wasn’t the most convincing candidate. Stringy blonde baby hair, lithe body like a cattail reed, clothing that was two sizes too big for her. She looked more like a painter or a homeless person despite driving a BMW. But her passion was always convincing, and her hope was that if Katrina was as big as she promised to be, whoever was watching would be too distracted to waste precious energy on just one life when hundreds of thousands were at stake.
“You a chaser?” the man asked her. He was a plainclothes officer, or maybe a reporter? She couldn’t be sure. He was the third person to stop her since she’d made it into the abandoned city. Anyone left on the streets was in transit, looking for a way out. More than one person had flagged her down and asked for a ride to the Superdome.
“No, I report to the Weather Channel directly,” June snapped. She stuck her anemometer on top of her small rolling suitcase. “I’ve got a room at the Riverside Hilton,” she said. She’d parked Uncle Ben’s BMW in the closest parking garage, reserved the room with his Mastercard. The receptionist only asked her if she knew there was a city-wide mandatory evacuation in progress. June looked up at her as if she were insulted. She smacked a press card on the desk. It wasn’t hers and the receptionist didn’t check it.
The cop or reporter was sold with the card. He figured hustlers or chasers couldn’t afford digs like hers. She walked briskly past him and flashed him her key card. What was he going to do? Arrest her and take her to jail? They had bigger things to worry about. This city was about to get slammed and everyone who’d stayed knew their lives would be in danger.
There were maybe a hundred or so of them in the Hilton. June recognized all the chasers, and not just because she’d seen them at other storms. It was their wily nature, their eyes holding the spark instead of the dread that was written all over the faces of the real press in the crowd. Some were there for the historic record and others, like Junipera, were there for the fix.
The wind started to scream at around eleven that evening. June wrapped her camera and her meter tightly in Saran Wrap, then stuck them in Ziploc bags along with her paper and pens. She packed all of the tiny water bottles and soda, peanuts and pretzels from the mini fridge into her backpack. Rolled up her blue tarp, Swiss Army knife, extra pair of underwear, waterproof pants and windbreaker and stowed them alongside the food.
The rain lashed the windows and splashed against them in sheets as if her hotel window were the windshield and she was moving slowly through a vigorous carwash. June stepped outside onto the balcony around two in the morning; the rain seemed to have died down but the wind was picking up, the trees across the way bending and straining, at times leaning almost horizontally. Her anemometer picked up wind speeds over eighty miles per hour. It’s the eastern side of the hurricane that packs the power punch. When that came calling, the hotel would be bending like the trees.
The television in the room blared with the constant evacuation warnings. June watched the Doppler radar image on a loop, circling toward the city like a hanging jaw going from red to purple. Hungry, angry wind and water were coming. June filled the bath tub, reinforced the metal stopper with Saran Wrap, did the same to the sink. She plunked down on the bed, splayed her limbs wide and stared at the ceiling.
The demon bared its teeth, and the windsong progressed from scream to roar, drowning out the warnings on the television. The beast was in the room, she was everywhere, surrounding them. June flinched every time she heard glass pop and shatter.
The window shook with the ferocity of a King Kong tantrum. Junipera imagined the tall Hilton as a toy in a child’s diorama reproduction of the French Quarter. Her fingers dug in and she held tight to the edge of the mattress. The room went black and the television silent when the power failed. The roar got louder, filling up her ears to find a way inside her skull.
At six-thirty in the morning her windows finally burst; the shades flew into the room and danced a madcap jig, wrenching themselves from the sliding track. June watched, eyes wide, as the one on the left took flight, a flash of soaring white in the dark sky before it flew out of sight. She crawled along the carpeted floor that was now soaked in brackish water, rolled to her back and filmed the macabre sky. The center of the hurricane looked like the center of a starfish, opening and beckoning, then folding in on its own hungry embrace. If there were Gods they were angry, monsters immune to the rules of give and take. June’s ears popped with the pressure while debris flew over her head, sometimes inches from her face. Then the rain began to plop down again in enormous drops. She stuck her camera under her shirt.
No sun rose and daybreak came in without color. From white to grey to a drab blue, the subdued tones of pigeons colored the horizon. When the roar finally moved far enough west to quiet, her ears still buzzed with its scream as if it had taken up house in her head. June could hear the beating of propellers—Army, she assumed, and not meteorological. The sound of periodic gunfire she decided to tell herself was exploding transformers and not ruthless people taking advantage of a ghost city with only a weary skeleton crew to protect it. She washed her face and armpits in the water she’d saved in the sink. Brushed her teeth, spitting in the toilet. She drank from the bathwater as if it were a baptismal font. It tasted as warm as the humid air around her.
It was still a good storm raging outside but June figured she’d head to the command center and hang with the reporters, hear their assessment of the damage. Running her fingers through her tangled hair was the best she could do for appearances. Nobody would care. The room, which had probably been a continental breakfast concierge haven, was now buzzing with reporters using an antiquated form of dial-up to communicate with the greater world. With a crashed electrical grid, the means for direct communication were severed. Someone had made coffee from instant crystals and bathwater. June helped herself to two mugs full as she listened to their chatter and took notes. Analog reporting, they were relaying messages like it was 1984. June heard reports of levees breeched, ruptured, possible flooding, but no one seemed to know for certain. She left the command center and went back to her room, pulled on her waterproof pants and rain boots, and put a sweater on under her windbreaker even though the humidity was stifling. She walked out the door with nothing more than her equipment and tiny rations in a backpack.
“Which way is the ninth ward?” she asked the security guard standing by the sliding glass doors. He looked her up and down reproachfully and Junipera tried to stand even taller than her already generous five feet ten inches.
“To your left. It’s a long walk, and believe me, from what they’re saying you don’t want to go there. Head to the Convention Center instead.”
“Thanks,” June said. She stepped out into the dense fog and turned left.
“There’s still debris flying. Hurricane ain’t over yet!” the security guard shouted after her.
She disappeared from his view, swallowed up by the insatiable mouth that wasn’t yet finished feeding on New Orleans
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Mara White is a contemporary romance and erotica writer who laces forbidden love stories with hard issues, such as race, gender and inequality. She holds an Ivy League degree but has also worked in more strip clubs than even she can remember. She is not a former Mexican telenovela star contrary to what the tabloids might say, but she is a former ballerina and will always remain one in her heart. She lives in NYC with her husband and two children and yes, when she’s not writing you can find her on the playground.

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