Blog Tour + Excerpt: NOT QUITE # PERFECT (A Sweet# Challenge High School ) by TESSA MACKAY!

Title: Not Quite #Perfect

Series: A Sweet #Challenge High Novel

Author: Tess Mackay

Genre: YA Contemporary Romance

Release Date: March 29, 2019

How far would you go to get back your perfect life.

Victoria has the perfect life: looks, money, and marks. She’s the popular kid everyone looks up to.
 
But it’s all just a facade, if only people knew.
 
When a new girl, Vee, infiltrates Tori’s friendships and takes over her life, Tori knows she has to do something. Not only is she losing her friends, but Vee’s stolen the role of Beauty from her in the annual school production.
 
The only person she can turn to for help is Cole Black, who she’s just found sleeping in her tree-house. Laidback Cole, with his surfboard and motor bike, seems to be the only person not under Vee’s spell. No stranger to pushing the limits to get what he wants, Cole accepts the challenge to help Tori in her quest.
 
However, if her mother finds out the truth about the lead role mix-up, or the delectable bad boy in the back yard, all hell will break loose.
 
But maybe there’s a way Tori can win back her friends and keep her not quite #perfect life on her own terms. She just has to find it.
 
Perfection is over-rated. Or is it?

Tess Mackay lives by the beach in country Australia. She loves all things creative and can usually be found with her iPhone in hand checking out the latest thing on social media. 
 
According to Tess, beach walks and book boyfriends are two of the best things in life. She writes sweet romance, because some things are best left to your imagination.
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Blog Tour + Review: FROM BREATH AND RUIN ( Elements of Five Book 1 ) by New York Times Bestselling Author CARRIEANNE RYAN! @CarrieAnnRyan @InkslingerPR

FROM BREATH & RUIN by Carrie Ann Ryan is available now – get your hands on this stunning first book in a debut YA fantasy series now!

About FROM BREATH AND RUIN

Available March 19, 2019

In her YA debut, New York Times bestselling author Carrie Ann Ryan dives into a world with magic and sacrifice with the Elements of Five.

Five hundred years ago, the Maison Realm was shattered, divided into warring kingdoms of elemental Wielders with fate and truth shadowed and uncertain. Now, factions of both the light and dark venture into the human realm in search of the prophesied Spirit Priestess who is said to Wield the Elements of Five and bring the two fractured kingdoms together.

Lyric has no idea that there’s a realm outside the human one she lives in. When fate and circumstances are pulled from her hands after an accident, and she finds out that nothing is at it seems.

There is a war surrounding her and when Lyric realizes that they are searching for her, she must rely on those she once trusted: a boy who isn’t who she thought, and a new realm of warriors who have come to protect her as she trains.

For the darkness is coming, and the Queen of Obscurité wants to ensure that the King of Lumière can’t get his hands on Lyric. And the only way to ensure that is if Lyric herself is no more…no matter the cost to prophecy.

GET your copy of FROM BREATH AND RUIN now!

Amazon https://amzn.to/2CQOMda
Apple Books https://apple.co/2PyXmjb
B&N http://bit.ly/2CQma3Q

Kobo http://bit.ly/2ylrnN9
Google Play http://bit.ly/2EvwL5F

Amazon Paperback https://amzn.to/2q4vcBL

Audio (Read by Bailey Carr):

Audible https://adbl.co/2OjccxI
Amazon https://amzn.to/2A3fJrw
B&N http://bit.ly/2CQma3Q

Kobo http://bit.ly/2QLISgr
Downpour http://bit.ly/2EuUq6q

Add FROM BREATH AND RUIN to your Goodreads shelves!

Read the first two chapters of FROM BREATH AND RUIN now!

About the ELEMENTS OF FIVE series

One thousand years ago, there was one realm of magic. The Maison Realm. It held five kingdoms with five kings or queens, who worked together to keep the Maison people safe and ensure the balance of magic. Over the last five hundred years following the Fall, the great war that began the fracture, many of the kingdoms’ inhabitants intermated, and the magics soon became tied to one another in pairs. Except for the Spirit Wielders. The two remaining kingdoms are now converging, and the veil between the two is fading. Only the human realm lies between the two, and no one there knows there is a war surrounding them.

Over time, certain children of the Fall began to leave their respective kingdoms to venture into the human realm in search of the prophesied Spirit Priestess who is said to wield the Elements of Five and bring the two fractured kingdoms together. For the realms are dying without their sister magics. And soon, there will be no more power left to rule the kingdoms, for there will be no more kingdoms left to rule.

breath and ruin ig

REVIEW:

Wow what a start to an exciting and enthralling world created by Carrie Ann Ryan. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I enjoy YA fantasy especially when its been done well. We follow Lyric’s journey and two of her friends when they follow Rhodes into the Maison Realm to save Rhodes sister who was captured while saving Lyric.
We follow Lyric’s journey through the realms, and the different characters and fighting they have to do. Even though Lyric know she has dreamed of the realms and some the people it’s hard for her to believe in herself.
This is a must read to all fan of YA Fantasy this is only book one and the author has promised more to come. Get into the journey with book one and travel to the Maison Realm with Lyric and find out what happens.

5 stars

About Carrie Ann Ryan

Carrie Ann Ryan is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of contemporary and paranormal romance. Her works include the Montgomery Ink, Redwood Pack, Talon Pack, and Gallagher Brothers series, which have sold over 3.0 million books worldwide. She started writing while in graduate school for her advanced degree in chemistry and hasn’t stopped since. Carrie Ann has written over fifty novels and novellas with more in the works. When she’s not writing about bearded tattooed men or alpha wolves that need to find their mates, she’s reading as much as she can and exploring the world of baking and gourmet cooking.

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Newsletter | Instagram | Tumblr | Pinterest

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Release Blitz: FROM BREATH AND RUIN ( Elements of Five Book One ) by New York Times Bestselling Author CARRIE ANN RYAN’S New YA Fantasy is HERE! @CarrieAnnRyan @InkslingerPR

 

FROM BREATH & RUIN by Carrie Ann Ryan is available now – get your hands on this stunning first book in a debut YA fantasy series now!

About FROM BREATH AND RUIN

Available March 19, 2019

In her YA debut, New York Times bestselling author Carrie Ann Ryan dives into a world with magic and sacrifice with the Elements of Five.

Five hundred years ago, the Maison Realm was shattered, divided into warring kingdoms of elemental Wielders with fate and truth shadowed and uncertain. Now, factions of both the light and dark venture into the human realm in search of the prophesied Spirit Priestess who is said to Wield the Elements of Five and bring the two fractured kingdoms together.

Lyric has no idea that there’s a realm outside the human one she lives in. When fate and circumstances are pulled from her hands after an accident, and she finds out that nothing is at it seems.

There is a war surrounding her and when Lyric realizes that they are searching for her, she must rely on those she once trusted: a boy who isn’t who she thought, and a new realm of warriors who have come to protect her as she trains.

For the darkness is coming, and the Queen of Obscurité wants to ensure that the King of Lumière can’t get his hands on Lyric. And the only way to ensure that is if Lyric herself is no more…no matter the cost to prophecy.

GET your copy of FROM BREATH AND RUIN now!

Amazon https://amzn.to/2CQOMda
Apple Books https://apple.co/2PyXmjb
B&N http://bit.ly/2CQma3Q

Kobo http://bit.ly/2ylrnN9
Google Play http://bit.ly/2EvwL5F

Amazon Paperback https://amzn.to/2q4vcBL

Audio (Read by Bailey Carr):

Audible https://adbl.co/2OjccxI
Amazon https://amzn.to/2A3fJrw
B&N http://bit.ly/2CQma3Q

Kobo http://bit.ly/2QLISgr
Downpour http://bit.ly/2EuUq6q

Add FROM BREATH AND RUIN to your Goodreads shelves!

Read the first two chapters of FROM BREATH AND RUIN now!

About the ELEMENTS OF FIVE series

One thousand years ago, there was one realm of magic. The Maison Realm. It held five kingdoms with five kings or queens, who worked together to keep the Maison people safe and ensure the balance of magic. Over the last five hundred years following the Fall, the great war that began the fracture, many of the kingdoms’ inhabitants intermated, and the magics soon became tied to one another in pairs. Except for the Spirit Wielders. The two remaining kingdoms are now converging, and the veil between the two is fading. Only the human realm lies between the two, and no one there knows there is a war surrounding them.

Over time, certain children of the Fall began to leave their respective kingdoms to venture into the human realm in search of the prophesied Spirit Priestess who is said to wield the Elements of Five and bring the two fractured kingdoms together. For the realms are dying without their sister magics. And soon, there will be no more power left to rule the kingdoms, for there will be no more kingdoms left to rule.

About Carrie Ann Ryan

Carrie Ann Ryan is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of contemporary and paranormal romance. Her works include the Montgomery Ink, Redwood Pack, Talon Pack, and Gallagher Brothers series, which have sold over 3.0 million books worldwide. She started writing while in graduate school for her advanced degree in chemistry and hasn’t stopped since. Carrie Ann has written over fifty novels and novellas with more in the works. When she’s not writing about bearded tattooed men or alpha wolves that need to find their mates, she’s reading as much as she can and exploring the world of baking and gourmet cooking.

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Newsletter | Instagram | Tumblr | Pinterest

Breath and Ruin Banner

 

Come and READ The First Two Chapters From FROM BREATH AND RUIN by New York Times Bestselling Author CARRIE ANN RYAN Now! @CarrieAnnRyan @InkslingerPR

We’re less than a week away from the release of FROM BREATH AND RUIN by Carrie Ann, but you can read the first two chapters now!

 

 

About FROM BREATH AND RUIN

Available March 19, 2019

In her YA debut, New York Times bestselling author Carrie Ann Ryan dives into a world with magic and sacrifice with the Elements of Five.

Five hundred years ago, the Maison Realm was shattered, divided into warring kingdoms of elemental Wielders with fate and truth shadowed and uncertain. Now, factions of both the light and dark venture into the human realm in search of the prophesied Spirit Priestess who is said to Wield the Elements of Five and bring the two fractured kingdoms together.

Lyric has no idea that there’s a realm outside the human one she lives in. When fate and circumstances are pulled from her hands after an accident, and she finds out that nothing is at it seems.

There is a war surrounding her and when Lyric realizes that they are searching for her, she must rely on those she once trusted: a boy who isn’t who she thought, and a new realm of warriors who have come to protect her as she trains.

For the darkness is coming, and the Queen of Obscurité wants to ensure that the King of Lumière can’t get his hands on Lyric. And the only way to ensure that is if Lyric herself is no more…no matter the cost to prophecy.

PreOrder your copy of FROM BREATH AND RUIN now!

Amazon https://amzn.to/2CQOMda
Apple Books https://apple.co/2PyXmjb
B&N http://bit.ly/2CQma3Q

Kobo http://bit.ly/2ylrnN9
Google Play http://bit.ly/2EvwL5F

Amazon Paperback https://amzn.to/2q4vcBL

Audio (Read by Bailey Carr):

Audible https://adbl.co/2OjccxI
Amazon https://amzn.to/2A3fJrw
B&N http://bit.ly/2CQma3Q

Kobo http://bit.ly/2QLISgr
Downpour http://bit.ly/2EuUq6q
✦iTunes Coming Soon

Add FROM BREATH AND RUIN to your Goodreads shelves!

 

Read the first two chapters of FROM BREATH AND RUIN:

Chapter 1

The dreams didn’t come often, but when they did, it usually took me far too long to realize I could find my way out of them. At least, most of the time, I could make my way out. Other times, no matter how hard I tried to shake myself awake or tear at the seams of what the dream could be, I was forced to live within them, in the nightmares that felt far too real.

My heartbeat thudded in my ears as I tried to get my bearings once again. The dreams were never the same in what happened or even where I was when they occurred, but there was a thread that seemed familiar, as if it were calling to me in a way I could never understand.

Sometimes, I was on the fringe, watching the court of royals dance and hide their daggers of both wit and steel. Then they’d bow and turn to smoke, the ashes of their lies and hidden admissions blowing away like dust in the wind.

Other times, I was in the middle of the action, hurtling from side to side as towers fell, and water rushed by. Air blew through my hair, whipping it into my face, the earth below me trembling as fire rained down on all of us.

Tonight, however, the visions weren’t either of those. Yes, I was in the present, the dream happening to me rather than me being a witness to an absolution I would neverunderstand.

But I stood in a clearing, winter on my back, summer facing me down with wicked heat. Spring danced along my right side with a cool warmth that didn’t make sense, while fall brushed my left, its warming coolness confusing me even further.

There were two shadows in front of me, their arms outstretched, each calling my name in whispers. I could only hear their breaths, not their voices, so I had no idea who they were or what they represented in this dream that I knew would linger long after I woke.

“Lyric,” they called in unison.

“Lyric.”

And though that was my name, it still didn’t sound as if they were truly calling to me. Instead, it was as if they called to the person they needed me to be. I wasn’t that person, though. Wasn’t what they needed, and I knew I may not ever be.

And while I still had the same body shape as I did when I was awake—my slightly larger-than-average curves filling out my dress, and my height just below average so the bottom of my hem slid along the mud—I wasn’t truly me in the dream.

My blond hair blew in the wind, catching the light and making it look white at times, gold at others. The shade was always changing depending on how much sun I took in during the season, but in this dream, it changed with the direction I turned.

It isn’t truly me, I told myself again. This wasn’t my dress, this wasn’t my life.

Those shadows couldn’t actually call to me because I wasn’t me.

“Lyric,” the shadows called again.

“Wake up,” the one nearest the spring side demanded.

“It’s time,” the one closest to fall whispered.

And though they were both whispers, they sounded like screams in my ear.

I jolted awake, my sweat-slick skin clammy as I tried to catch my breath. My tank was soaked, sticking to my body, and my shorts had ridden up as if I’d thrashed in my sleep. Considering my comforter was on the floor, and my sheet was currently a knot at the end of my bed, I would say that was probably exactly what had happened.

I swallowed hard, narrowing my eyes at the clock, trying to see what time it was. The sun was already up, even though it wasn’t quite seven in the morning, but it was summer in Denver, Colorado, and that meant blue skies, bright sun, and the occasional rain that came out of nowhere.

I had my white curtains drawn, but they didn’t really block out the light, so I’d learned to sleep through the rays on my face long ago. I had to if I ever wanted to sleep in. And since I was also a teenager, sleeping in was part of life—especially during the summer.

I might be eighteen, out of high school and ready to start college in the fall, but I still felt like the teenager who wanted to sleep in and not have to wake up early for classes. It didn’t help that my walls were still a light lilac from when I’d been in my purple phase, and there was still lace on my curtains and the skirt of my bed.

My family made a decent income, but we were firmly in the middle of middle class, and these days, that meant there wasn’t money to update my bedroom to something a little less tween girl and a little more college-bound woman. I didn’t care too much, however. I wasn’t staying here long. Soon, I’d be in a dorm at the local university, an offshoot of theUniversity of Colorado since there was no way I could afford Boulder’s campus. Plus, this way, I could still be close to home.

Because as much as I might think I was ready to start my new life and be an adult, the nightmares that had plagued me for as long as I could remember told me that I wasn’t as grown-up as I thought.

Honestly, what kind of teenager still needed a nightlight because she was scared of the shadows?

Me, apparently. Lyric Camaron, the walking embodiment of indecision and someone not quite ready for anything.

I ran a hand over my face, holding back a gag at how sweaty I was, and let out a sigh. The dreams hadn’t happened so often before, but now they came almost every other night, and I had no idea what they meant. I’d always had a vivid imagination, but my dreams took that to a whole new level.

I wasn’t a little girl anymore, and yet I still dreamed of princes and princesses, of magic and might. I dreamed of courts and pretty dresses, and flowers and rain. Still, I thought that was probably all just a front for what the dreams actually carried. A veil across the hate and lies and mystery of everything that came with them.

I’d always secretly wanted to write them down, to make them into a book or just a few stories, but for some reason, I’d held myself back. There was no use documenting what never made sense. The dreams scared me even when they shouldn’t, and writing them down would only make them more real.

And it wasn’t like writing would help me in my real life outside of the dreams. I needed to grow up, stop thinking about fairy tales that weren’t bright and shiny, and figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. Because I wasn’t a little kid anymore and, sadly, the time to make those choices had already started to pass me by, and I was struggling to keep up.

“Shut up, Lyric,” I mumbled to myself. It was far too early, and I still wasn’t awake enough for my mind to be going down that path. I’d likely be getting a very similar lecture from my parents over breakfast—and perhaps lunch and dinner—as it was.

They loved me, and I loved them.

And that meant I needed to be a better daughter.

The first step to doing that was getting out of bed and washing off the sweat that coated my skin. Then, I’d wash my sheets, air out my comforter, and maybe even go for a run so I could get the cobwebs out of my mind. I wasn’t a coffee fan since I tended to need far too much sugar to even like it, so I couldn’t have a cup of that to help. So, that meant chores and fresh air so I could get out of my funk, let the dreams lie where they needed to be—far from my reality—and get on with my day.

I could do that. Totally. If only I could get the images from the dream out of my mind.

Those two shadows had been in more than one of my nightmares, and I couldn’t help but think that they meant something. Who or what did they represent? Why were they important? I didn’t know if they were male or female or if they were truly people at all. If they were supposed to be love interests, then having them be either a man or a woman would only mean that my dream-self represented my real-self since I was attracted to both and had dated both in real life. But I still didn’t know what the dreams or the shadows in them really meant.

In a few, the apparitions had moved, and I could almost imagine them wanting to be even closer. They always held out their hands, as if I had to make a decision between them, to go to one or the other.

The seasons coming at me all at once seemed like another symbol for choice and change, as well. The same with the instances where I was covered in earth or water, air or flame. All of it indicated choice.

So maybe the dreams didn’t mean anything beyond what I already knew.

It was time for me to make a choice.

A choice regarding who I could be—who Lyric Camaron would be as an adult.

That choice seemed the hardest of all, and yet I knew it was important. All teenagers went through this, they all had to make decisions, no matter what course outside forces wanted them to take.

I knew there was a path laid out before me, one that would lead to a life not unlike the one I held now, one made of decisions that made practical sense. That was the one I knew I should take, the one that would be easier and yet far more thought-out.

And yet part of me wanted something different. I wanted to be a Lyric who wasn’t so middle-of-the-road as I currently was as a bisexual teenager living in Denver, Colorado.

There were choices I had to make. Clear-cut ones that had nothing to do with royals and elements, nothing to do with seasons and change.

I would make the right choice.

I had to.

And I would ignore the dreams and the idea that there could be something more for me. There hadn’t been before, and I wasn’t going to lie in wait for answers that scared me, translations of dreams that challenged me.

I would make my own way, make my own choices.

And they would be the right ones because they would be mine.

The dreams would go away eventually.

They would fade just like the young girl I used to be. In its place would be the future I needed, the one I craved.

I told myself I wouldn’t dream again. I couldn’t.

Because I didn’t want to know what those shadows meant. I didn’t want to know why they knew my name.

I didn’t want to know why it all felt so real. And, above all else, I didn’t want to know why I saw those same shadows when I was awake. Because those were the ones that scared me. The ones that were far too real.

I was Lyric, the girl with everything to look forward to. I wasn’t the girl who saw shadows, who had dreams.

I couldn’t be.

Chapter 2

After I’d put my sheets into the washer, I set the load, took a quick shower to rinse off, and headed out for my jog. I’d decided to go with long, black leggings, a hot pink sports bra under two black tanks, and a black jacket that had air holes all through it and thumb holes in the sleeves. It was my favorite jacket of all time, and I was seriously disappointed when I went to buy another one and found out that they were no longer making them. There were already frayed edges on the cuffs and, sometimes, the metal on my purse got caught in the mesh of the body, making me wince.

The fact that I had such an emotional attachment to my running gear told me I needed to get out of the house more—and not just for jogging around the neighborhood. I huffed a breath as I slowly ran up the steep hill at one of the entrances to the sub-division, cursing the fact that I lived in a mountainous city. Sure, once you got outside city lines to the east, it was all flat planes and easy walking, but within the city limits and west toward the Rockies? Hills galore that did nothing but make my side ache as I ran.

I’d always been a runner, but never in an organized way when it came to school. I hadn’t played sports or joined the cross-country team. While I played soccer and T-ball as a kid, I hadn’t been particularly good at it, not enough to focus so much of my time on it. I’d even tried gymnastics and ballet as a little girl like most kids did, but it wasn’t my thing. And while I enjoyed running—still do—doing it to compete took the fun out of it for me. I was always a little jealous of people who could put in that effort and still have fun, but for me, sports wasn’t where it was at. I did well in school, knowing I’d need any academic scholarship I could get so I could go to college, but I’d had to work at anything not English-related. Writing I could do. Writing, I loved to do.

Differentials? Not so much.

I held back a shiver at that thought and pushed myself into my second mile. I wasn’t going to do any more than that today since I wanted breakfast, and I figured that most of the strain from my dreams was now gone. But I thought I might go out again later in the day after the hottest part of the afternoon for another run. Increments worked best for me and my attention span.

I thought I caught a shadow out of the corner of my eye, but as I whipped my head to look at it, nearly tripping over my own feet as I did, I figured it was just my hair and a trick of the light. I wasn’t seeing shadows outside of dreams. I wasn’t.

I just needed to get those weird thoughts and remnants out of my head and start my day off better.

My parents hadn’t been awake when I left for my jog, but thanks to the note I placed by the coffee machine, they’d know I was out of the house. I might be an adult, but I was still their child and living under their roof. There were rules to be followed, a curfew to be kept, and manners to be upheld. I didn’t know how I was going to handle living outside of their rules when I went to the dorms, but I also didn’t think I’d be the type to go crazy like so many of the stories I’d heard growing up. I didn’t want to flunk out of college when I hadn’t even chosen my major yet. And I sure as heck didn’t want to end up drinking the whole time and wind up with a minor in possession misdemeanor or something that would forever stain my record.

No, thank you, evil temptation and all.

By the time I got home, my parents were off to work, but I knew I’d see them for dinner. My best friend Braelynn, and my ex-girlfriend/friend Emory were coming over to eat with us, and I knew my parents were excited to see what the other two ladies planned for college. In Mom’s and Dad’s way of thinking, if I knew what others were doing, it would push me to make a decision. The problem was, the more they pressured me, the more I wanted to hide in my shell like a turtle and not make a choice at all.

The dream came back to me, and I tried not to frown as I poured myself some juice and put two slices of bread into the toaster. Just because I was once again having weird dreams that I tried to make sense of, didn’t mean they actually meant anything.

I had more to do today than think about nightmares that didn’t mean anything more than I needed to watch what I ate before bed. Sure, it was summer, and I was between jobs since the coffee shop I had been working at shut down unexpectedly, but I had other things in my life. Like that whole deciding what I wanted to do with my life thing.

But first, I would focus on my friends and the certain impending doom from the conversation that would surely happen over mashed potatoes and roasted chicken tonight.

Oddly enough, I wasn’t lulled into a sense of security once my parents came home and didn’t once mention school or my future. I knew the talk was coming, but they were giving me time to drop my defenses so they could pounce.

I didn’t know why I kept floundering whenever it came to making a decision about majors and life choices, but the enormity of it just seemed overwhelming. I was eighteen, an adult who could fight and die in wars, but I couldn’t drink. I could buy cigarettes and vote, but I was still technically a teenager.

Having to make a huge life choice when all I really wanted to do was explore and learn and find out what suited me felt so far out of my depth, it wasn’t funny. I knew thousands upon thousands of people did it every year, and many of them even went in not knowing exactly what they wanted to do—but they still had an idea.

Me? I knew what I loved, but I also knew that love wouldn’t pay the bills. At least that’s what I’d been told. And, frankly, I sort of believed it.

My mind had always been full of dreams and layers upon layers of vivid imagery my imagination would tumble over and over. I loved putting those visions into work, at least in my mind. Picking a major that worked with that, wasn’t something my parents were going to go for. The idea of doing it all on my own, or choosing a major and finding out that I wasn’t really good at it or didn’t like it anymore was just too much.

It was all too much.

I saw another shadow out of the corner of my eye, and I turned, trying to catch it, only to see my father staring at me instead. His eyes were wide since I’d moved so fast, clearly startled.

“Whoa there, Lyric. Didn’t mean to scare you.” I looked like a perfect mix of my parents, something that I’d never truly noticed until I got older. I had my mom’s blond hair and height, but my dad’s light brown eyes. Everything else was a complete mix of the two, and I’d always loved that I knew where I came from, despite not knowing where I was going.

Dad continued. “I was just wondering when Braelynn and Emory would be here.” Dad didn’t particularly like Emory. Not because she was gay, and I was bisexual—that part he was totally on board with, and I knew I had the best parents for that part of my life—no, he didn’t like her because she was my ex. He didn’t get how we could still be friends after she’d dumped me. Frankly, I didn’t understand it either. Sometimes, I felt like our friendship was fraying on the edges, but I didn’t think that had to do with our breakup. We were just finding out we were two different people, and everyone was moving on to college anyway. It sucked, and I didn’t know how I felt about it. I never did, really, when it came to Emory.

That explanation hadn’t been good enough for Dad. I still didn’t know how my mother felt about it since she was so good at hiding it, but she at least put on a better face.

“They’ll be here soon.” The doorbell rang, and I grinned. “And there they are.”

Dad nodded and moved out of the way so I could make it to the door before Mom did. My parents were great, but they were parents and liked to know exactly what my friends were doing at all times, even if it wasn’t their business. I was pretty sure all parents were wired that way, and I’d learned to deal with it.

Braelynn smiled widely at me, her shoulder-length black hair up in a ponytail so I could see the honey highlights she’d put in on the lower layers. Her moms hated it, and Emory called her a skunk, but I loved them.

“Yay for dinner. I brought rolls.” Braelynn held up a basket, and I moved back to let her in, knowing that Emory was right behind my friend.

“Yay rolls! I know Mom will be happy since you and your moms make like the best bread ever.”

“Totally true. I do have the best moms.” Braelynn winked and handed over the basket as Emory sauntered in. Why she had to saunter, I didn’t know, but whatever worked for her.

“I’m starving,” Emory said in way of greeting before leaning down to buss a kiss on my cheek. She’d done that before we began dating and hadn’t stopped. Since I didn’t care either way, I didn’t push her off. Once I started to care and put up those boundaries, she’d stop. That was who she was.

“I’m hungry, too,” I said. “Hi, Emory.”

Emory studied my face and frowned. “You didn’t sleep.”

I tried to school my features, but I knew I wasn’t good at it. “I’m fine. Let’s go finish setting the table.”

“Hmm.” That was all she said as she made her way into the dining room, saying hello to my parents as if she hadn’t broken part of my heart and left me wondering what I’d done.

And…I had no idea where that thought had come from. Maybe I really needed more sleep and fewer dreams about random shadows, seasons, and elements messing with my head.

By the time we were all seated at the table, Braelynn’s rolls like manna to us all, I was on edge since Emory kept studying me. I didn’t know why, and it bugged me because I knew this dinner would only get worse when my parents brought up the dreaded subject of majors.

They always did, and I knew there was nothing I could do about it other than choose a freaking major. But I didn’t want to make the wrong choice.

I couldn’t make the wrong choice.

“So, Emory, what did you decide to study again?” Mom asked, not even trying to be subtle.

Here we go.

Emory shrugged. “Photography with a minor in history. I want to work for the AP or something, going around the world, taking photos of the people left behind in war and strife.”

My parents nodded as if they totally understood and not just because they were happy Emory had chosen a direction for her life. It didn’t matter that it was dangerous and could end up being a career that didn’t keep her financially set, Emory wasn’t their daughter.

“And, Braelynn?”

My best friend smiled sweetly. She was always so sweet, so gentle. I loved her to the end of the world and back and knew I’d chosen well on that first day of preschool when we shared our blocks.

“Vet school, eventually. I know it’s going to be hard, but it’s my passion.”

I winced at that word. Passion.

I didn’t have that, not that I could tell anyway. How was I supposed to know what to do when I still had so much to learn? I tried not to let any of those thoughts cross my face, however, because my parents turned to me, expectant looks on their faces.

They loved me. They truly did.

But they didn’t understand me.

And the thing was, I wasn’t so sure I understood myself.

three books

About the ELEMENTS OF FIVE series

One thousand years ago, there was one realm of magic. The Maison Realm. It held five kingdoms with five kings or queens, who worked together to keep the Maison people safe and ensure the balance of magic. Over the last five hundred years following the Fall, the great war that began the fracture, many of the kingdoms’ inhabitants intermated, and the magics soon became tied to one another in pairs. Except for the Spirit Wielders. The two remaining kingdoms are now converging, and the veil between the two is fading. Only the human realm lies between the two, and no one there knows there is a war surrounding them.

Over time, certain children of the Fall began to leave their respective kingdoms to venture into the human realm in search of the prophesied Spirit Priestess who is said to wield the Elements of Five and bring the two fractured kingdoms together. For the realms are dying without their sister magics. And soon, there will be no more power left to rule the kingdoms, for there will be no more kingdoms left to rule.

About Carrie Ann Ryan

Carrie Ann Ryan is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of contemporary and paranormal romance. Her works include the Montgomery Ink, Redwood Pack, Talon Pack, and Gallagher Brothers series, which have sold over 3.0 million books worldwide. She started writing while in graduate school for her advanced degree in chemistry and hasn’t stopped since. Carrie Ann has written over fifty novels and novellas with more in the works. When she’s not writing about bearded tattooed men or alpha wolves that need to find their mates, she’s reading as much as she can and exploring the world of baking and gourmet cooking.

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Elements of Five Series FBC

Book Blitz: SPORTS WIVES by JOHN VANCE is Now LIVE!@victorianvance @RABTBookTours

 
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Women’s Fiction, Humor
Published: January 2017
Publisher: Champlain Avenue Books
 
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Mary Wulf, wife of baseball slugger Gary Wulf, has invited her four dearest friends to her Southern Connecticut home for a fun-filled late August weekend get-together. They’re coming from Maryland, Ohio, Colorado, and as near as next door. Sports Wives coming together with their unique personalities and emotional perspectives.
Being together for the very first time, the women reveal far more of themselves during the weekend than they ever expected. Indeed, the humor is continuous—while tenderness, poignancy, and sorority will also pull at your emotions. There is much on multiple levels to draw one into the lives of these women—who are in effect, wedded to sports as well as to their men.
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EXCERPT:

Chapter 1

All right, let’s take stock.  I am thirty-five years old.  A reasonable, loving, and notoriously cautious woman.  I am married to Gary Wulf, the current right fielder for the New York Mets.  I am deeply in love with his agent.  I have violated the Seventh Commandment.  On several occasions. Other than that, I have no complications in my life. 
Mary Wulf stood in her kitchen staring at her reflection in a bottle of tequila, wondering how much of the bottle would be consumed before the evening was out.   She couldn’t contain her delight at the prospect.  The weekend series was about to begin–only minutes away now from the first pitcher .  . . of margaritas. Ha, ha.
Look, it’s late August, and the Mets are only seven games out of first.  They could still win the division; it’s not too late.  But I can’t say the same thing about my marriage, can I?  Nor would I want to.  At least the Mets have a chance not to finish in the Eastern Division cellar, the way Philadelphia ‘s playing.  Yes, the cellar.  If Gary only knew what I have hidden in mine.  Figuratively, I mean.  The poor Mets.  This will be their sixth straight losing season.  How many have I had in a row with my husband?  About the same?  More than that?  Up in Boston they were for forever saying that this year could be the year they’d win The Series.  The Curse of the Bambino once and for all exorcised.  And they finally had their year–twice.  Here it’s the curse of Mary Wulf.  But this also could be the year.  My year. 
            While Mary pondered her personal life in the context of Major League Baseball, she put the CD player in “Random” mode.  For once the batting order of her Broadway CD mix would be shaken up, providing Mary some variety and surprise rather than disgorging once again the same tracks in the same familiar pattern—one long ago memorized.  “Memory” from Cats was hitting second, instead of eighth as it usually did.  Then again, this wasn’t the song to come so early in the lineup—it seemed highly out of place in that position.  It spoke too deeply to its listener; it was too emotional, too relevant for it simply to waft through a room without adequate preparation, without at least some expectation, without any anticipation from the woman in the house, who played it whenever she attempted to communicate with her soul. 
Hearing the opening bars of the song, Mary came quickly into the room from the kitchen, where she had begun filling bowls with high-calorie, indefensible, and long-denied tortilla chips, pouring two kinds of salsa into “authentic” Mexican serving bowls, after having pulled down from the shelves of the liquor cabinet the accompanying tequila and margarita mix.  She felt a bit startled moving from the gaiety south of the border to the tragic and poignant setting of Griselda the Glamor Cat among the piles of unwanted junk.  Mary disliked sudden shifts of mood, sudden news of any kind, sudden demands on her time and emotions.  And now one of her favorite songs was causing her sudden anxiety.  
Six weeks into their relationship, eight months before they were married, she had given herself to Gary Wulf only because the tune was playing in the living room of her small apartment.  She thought earlier in the evening that in spite of her physical attraction to the young and ardently insistent ballplayer, it was really too early in their relationship for sex.  She just had too many questions about him as a man and as a potential husband.  But the tune had begun to play at the exact moment he touched the top of her thigh with unmistakable amorous purpose—and there was little she could do or wanted to do to make him cease.  The song stimulated her pity and understanding, and she felt more vulnerable every time she heard it.  She had loved the song long before she had fallen in love with Gary Wulf, having sung it as part of a musical revue at a local community theatre, and she had frequently fantasized about making love while it provided the most erotic musical accompaniment she could have imagined.  She wondered if she wanted a sexual encounter to purge the pain the song featured—the loneliness and regret as one’s life sped off course to it’s inevitable end.  Her doubts after that night about what she had allowed to happen with Gary had absolutely no effect on her love for the song.  She knew now, however, that her feelings for Gary were never the same afterward.  And still she had married him.  When she was only twenty and a far distance from the aging Glamor Cat.
Mary turned off the disc, felt her tension immediately lessening, and replaced the compilation with the other CD sitting on top of the player—Carole King’s gift to the 1970’s, the album Tapestry.  Mary felt it almost a duty to listen to the CD at least once a month—that is, a duty to her mother, who found almost every cut an anthem worthy of respect if not devotion.   Carole King was the first singer Mary could recall from her childhood. Her mother had loved the album for almost ten years before Mary was born, and Mary felt unashamedly wistful recalling how her mother wore her hair in King’s curly mane as shown on the album cover and how from the ages of one and a half to seven she would dance to “Smackwater Jack” while her mother roared with delight, giving Mary a standing ovation after every performance.  Mary put the CD in the player but this time did not want the “Random” mode dictating the lineup; no, what she needed now was familiarity and control.  Of course she wanted to hear the album’s opening song—after all, her closest friends would arrive soon, and they would surely make the earth move if Carole King couldn’t.  But more importantly, Mary wanted to know where that third cut on the album was.  She wouldn’t listen to it. She hadn’t listened to it for months.  She couldn’t, even though she knew it was too late for her and Gary.  
Mary decided to stay in the room until the second song finished; then she could skip to cut four and go back in the kitchen and begin mixing the margaritas.  She swished her lips from side to side—her familiar though unconventional gesture of approval—as she thought how well the renovations of this room had gone this past March.   Her spring training, as it were, while Gary was doing his with the Mets in Port St. Lucie.  The room was so much brighter—yellow and white—so perfect for listening to her music, contemplating the backyard through the French doors, and entertaining friends and guests.  And how perfectly the room would serve the purposes of this special weekend.  The inaugural meeting of “Sports Wives”—the name Mary came up with in the middle of the summer for her and her four closest friends, all married to men with intimate connections to sports.  Why not invite them all to come to her place and meet each other?  Why not have them all here in Connecticut to help shove her toward a decision about terminating her marriage?  It seemed like such a brilliant idea. 
Mary made a final check for neatness—and for anything that might cause discomfort or embarrassment.  As the song concluded, she noticed something lying behind the plush chair against the wall.  She headed toward the chair at the moment the piano intro to “So Far Away” began.  Halting, Mary felt an immediate and depressing realization that she didn’t want to hear that selection either, so she walked to the CD player and turned it off.  The silence in the room put its arms around her; it was what she needed–at least until her friends arrived.  This silence did not chide her, as had her conscience the past several months. 
Expelling a soft breath, she bent down and pulled from behind the chair a baseball bat and a vintage Brooklyn Dodger baseball cap—one of the many bits of sports memorabilia her husband just had to have but soon after discarded with indifference. Mary’s face registered no disdain or pleasure; she simply laid the bat on the sofa and brought the cap closer to her face. She traced the classic white “B” on the blue cap with her finger and once more accepted the fact that she ought to think of herself as one lucky girl.  Oh, absolutely–one lucky girl.  But . . .  that’s what the “B” stood for at this moment—the contradictory tag “But . . .”   After taking the bat and cap to her husband’s game room, she heard the steps on her patio, followed by the sound of a platter breaking on the flagstones, and then the expected “Oh, Mother of Shit!”   Yes, of course.  Miranda Peterson.  The weekend could now formally begin.
            “Mary, Mary, the song canary—my, how your garbage grows!”  Miranda Peterson had branded her claim to Mary’s Wulf’s friendship with the habitual pun on familiar nursery rhymes when she was inclined to make a grand entrance.   “There was a young woman who lived in I-talian shoes. / She spent so much on sandals, her husband had no money left to lose” was one Mary particularly loved, as her neighbor–one of America’s most successful authors of romance novels–didn’t have enough of an ear for poetry to get the number of syllables right.  On the other hand, Mary was highly embarrassed by “Little Miss Wulfit sat on a toilet, touching her curls so gray,” because Miranda had thrice offered it while others were in the room.  On the first two occasions, Mary protested with animation the unfair characterization; on the third, she merely smiled, recalling that she had in fact just celebrated the first anniversary of her touching-up the gray in her curls.  
            “Do you need a broom, Miranda?”  Mary stuck her head out the French doors.
            “I wouldn’t want to borrow your favorite mode of transportation, Mary.  Let’s just leave it alone.  Clams on the half-shell biodegrade, don’t they?”  That face—that puckish pretty face.  Not the same austere and intimidating one that graced a good number of dust jackets and that garish website of hers. 
            Mary headed for the kitchen.  “The clams biodegrade perhaps–not sure about the half-shells.”  Within thirty seconds she was out on the back patio helping Miranda dump the two-dozen clams with accompanying half-shells in a paper grocery bag.  She complimented Miranda for at least having her heart in the right place. 
            “My heart may be, but unfortunately my heel got stuck between the flagstones on your patio.  Right time, but wrong place.” 
Mary’s face exploded like popcorn.  “My God, Miranda.  I just realized.  You’re actually on time!   How does it feel?”
“Not bad.  I think the heel will stay on.  Seriously, Mary, I told you that I wouldn’t be late for the first of what we hope will be many an annual meeting of ‘Sports Wives.’  I promised I’d be the first of the wives to check in, and–Voila!—here I am.  Sans clams, sans shells, sans everything.”  Miranda was bouncing her heads from side to side in childlike excitement.  Mary thought she looked like a little leaguer entering Yankee Stadium for the first time.
“Right, Miranda.  Anyway, you’re the first here, but not actually the first to check in.”  Miranda’s face dropped and her lips bubbled forward in the classic pout that made her the darling of all her friends.  “I am truly sorry, but Sherry McDuffie called me from New Rochelle, where she spent last night with a favorite cousin she hasn’t seen in nearly fifteen years.  She has a rental car and is on the way.”  Mary knew Sherry would be both the jaw dropper and the ultra sweetener the others would absolutely adore.  She might also be the soft rod of stability Mary would require if she could conquer her fear and share her big news with the rest of the Sports Wives.  But then again, the happily-married and traditional Sherry McDuffie would likely be the last one to sympathize.  But then again.  Yes, but then again.  How tired Mary was of all the “Buts” and “But then agains” that more and more bedeviled her waking hours.  For her part, Miranda lamented the fate of her best friend–the “poor, poor woman” who had to take that “horrific drive from parkway to parkway to parkway past golf course and golf course and another golf course until arriving at this little nineteenth hole” Mary called a home in Southeastern Connecticut.  
When the two women entered the house, Mary headed for the kitchen with the bag of unusable clams and Miranda toward the CD player.   As she dumped the clams in the trash container, Mary heard Miranda informing her that she forgotten to take the “Best Value” sticker from her Carole King CD–and then uttering some half-unintelligible remark about how impossible it was to open those “damned CD’s” the way they have them wrapped.  “The ancient Egyptians should have been so good.  Anyway, when are you going to upgrade to MP3?” Miranda flipped the case over and began going down the song list as Mary returned from the kitchen. “Tell you what, Mary, let’s put on ‘You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman’ and get naked on the couch when your friend Sherry comes in.   What do you say?”  Miranda began to unbutton her blouse.  Again, one would not have imagined such behavior by looking at Miranda Peterson’s website.
“Whoa, Tigress.  Sherry wouldn’t quite approve.”  Mary was therefore reminded of the single most glaring difference between the two of them.  Miranda had seemingly never met that distasteful brood called The Inhibitions, whereas Mary had given them room and board for her entire life.  Miranda would often brag to anyone who listened that she was one of the leaders of the short-lived “Streaking” craze in the early 70’s.  And even when Mary reminded her that she only five or six years old at the time, Miranda grinned and added, “Want me to show you?”  Mary wondered whether her neighbor’s effusive influence had finally begun to make inroads when she considered the changes she herself was making in her wardrobe since the spring.  What made her uncomfortable about her new outfits and shoes, however, was any assumption that she was dressing to please Gary.  She had claimed to friends on more than a few occasions that she was refitting herself to please herself and no one else.  But she knew that to be a lie.  There was most certainly someone else.
            Miranda offered her characteristic mock horror at the possibility that Sherry McDuffie was a prude and would therefore ruin the entire weekend. 
Mary countered, “No, she’s not a prude, Miranda.  She’s a lot of fun.  A lot of fun.  She’s just a bit more conservative than you are when it comes to the matter of . . . you know.”  Miranda raised her eyes in a way any hard-working imp would have envied.  “Then again, Miranda, the far left is more conservative than you are.”
Miranda flung herself onto the sofa.  “Now this fun-loving prude is just like me, right.”  Mary spent the next six seconds shaking her head back and forth.  “No, no, Mary.  I mean she’s never met three of the five Sports Wives, right?”      “Right.  She knows only me.  You know only me.  The other two know me and each other.”  Having noticed Miranda’s expanding and examining eyes, Mary was now unhappy with the color of her blouse.  Miranda thanked her for the clarification and asked if Sherry was married to the college football coach “Alan” McDuffie.  Mary knew light blue, not the black she was wearing, would be the right color, especially since Miranda was wearing silver and black.  “Alex McDuffie, Miranda.  And he’s the defensive coordinator for the University of Cincinnati Bearcats.”
Miranda now lay completely stretched out on the sofa, appearing more fit for an interment or necrophiliac sex with Poe’s Roderick Usher than a fun weekend with Mary’s other friends.  “Hmm.  She should tell old Alan that he’d get a lot more coordinating done if he weren’t so defensive.  Do you have an apple, Mary?”   Miranda lifted her left leg straight up—for a reason known only to her.        
            Perhaps red would be better, Mary thought.  She ignored the apple request and informed her best friend that she’d get the chips and margaritas percolating just as soon as the others arrived.
            “Wonder what it would be like to be married to a football coach.  Think, old Alvin . . .”
            “Alex.”
            “. . . makes Sherry bend over and . . .”
            “Miranda, don’t start with the lewd jokes now.  You have no audience here for . . .”           
            “. . . hand him his eggs and bacon . . .”
            “What?”
            “. . . through her legs like one of those centers?”
            Yet, Miranda Peterson’s brand of vulgarity was always sanitized by her infectious and playful spirit.  She never wrote in a vulgar way—although her novels were surely far more than mildly stimulating—but her mouth was clearly sprightlier than her pen.  At this moment, Mary couldn’t help visualizing Gary Wulf, like Alex McDuffie, as a coach or manager when his playing days were over.  And at thirty-seven, his days were surely numbered.  The thought frightened her but only because she also saw herself standing next to him, older than she was now.  Next to him.  Having lost her chance at something to revitalize her spirits.  She just couldn’t tolerate the thought.
            “Will you love me tomorrow?”
            Miranda’s intrusion startled Mary, but it at least swept away her disturbing vision of a lifeless future.  “No, Miranda.  I’m just in it for the quick and cheap thrill.  What are you talking about?”
            “One of the songs on the Carole King album.”  Miranda lurched off the sofa and walked again to the CD player.  Yes, Mary concluded.  Red was the right color.  She informed Miranda that she was going to change her blouse and to “hold the fort.”   Miranda saluted and as soon as Mary walked out of the room, Miranda commenced a thorough search for any trace evidence of Mary’s husband in the room.  She wasn’t quite sure, but it seemed to her that, recently, every time she came over to Mary’s something new was in the room and something Gary was removed. 
The various tokens of Gary Wulf’s career in Major League Baseball, though certainly impossible to coordinate with the décor, still had been conspicuous only eight months before, but after the Christmas Holidays, Miranda began to sense that an object here or an object there was no longer in the room.  By the end of April, she was certain something was up.  By June she knew pretty much what it was.  Now it was late August and she wasn’t yet sure what it would end up being.
“Okay, what do you think, Miranda?”  Somewhere along the way, another color had lain in ambush.
            “As I’ve always said, green’s your color, Mary.  Goes really well with your red shoes.  Christmas come early this year—or are you auditioning to be a traffic light?”  Yes, Mary thought, how perfect for her emotions–the green and red of “Go” and “Stop.”   She found grim humor in the realization that she had out of character ignored the yellow caution light.  First when she was beginning her relationship with Gary and especially more recently when she had given herself to . . . well, she didn’t want to think about that now.
“Damn. Be right back.”  Mary returned to her bedroom and Miranda finished her general sweep of the room, turning her attention to the CDs for any sign of Gary Wulf music.   Admittedly, she had made frequent humor out of Mary’s love of classical music, opera, and Broadway tunes and Gary’s refusal to listen to, let alone understand, any of them.  Gary preferred the hits of his youth and the videos that garnished them throughout the later 1980’s and early 90’s.  He reached his teens in January of 1991 and, on the very last day of the 1995, he received yet one more recognition of his incredible athletic prowess with the offer to sign with Cincinnati Reds following his high school graduation. 
Now at thirty-seven, Gary Wulf was playing for the Mets, at the end of what many felt was a sure Hall-of-Fame career, even though the last four years were many miles from Cooperstown.  Mary had encouraged him to take the first steps toward the new period of his life by expanding his musical and recreational interests.  But he would have none of it.   He wasn’t a man to let go.  Miranda recalled that those were the very words Mary had only recently quoted to her over several Long Island Ice Teas—“Gary’s not a man to let go.”  Miranda had her share of friends and acquaintances whose marriages resulted in depression and a few of them in violence, but she had always been assured that the advice she freely offered was correct and appropriate.   But with Mary, she found it difficult to come right out and ask the tough questions—and she wasn’t sure why it was so.  Perhaps she had never cared for a friend or respected one as much as she did Mary Wulf.  In many ways, she looked up to her, although again she wasn’t exactly sure why.
            “Okay, how are these?”  Mary displayed her green sandals.  
            “Hmm.  Let’s see.  It’s not yet Labor Day—but it’s after St. Patrick’s Day—so they’re perfect.”  Miranda started sifting through several discs.  “Carole King I always hear—that is, when I’m here.  Diana Krall?  Could be.  Nora Jones?  Love her.  Charlotte Church?  Cute but I don’t like mixing religion and surnames.  Or perhaps some soprano arias by—how do you pronounce this?  Really Mary, what gives with these opera singers’ names?  Mary patiently informed her that the name was pronounced “Renée Fleming.” 
            “Here’s one you like ‘Vissi d’arte’  I know, I know.“  That’s from Wagner’s Tosca—right?
            Almost.  It’s by Puccini.  But I’m impressed, Miranda.  It wasn’t long ago that you thought a ‘Tosca’ was something new and tasty from ‘Taco Guaco.’”
            “Hey.  I was getting tired of burritos.   So sue me.” 
            “You should have gone to see the opera with me at the Met when it played a couple of years ago.  Quite fabulous.”  Mary had gone to Lincoln Center by herself while Gary was on a road trip with the Mets.  It was at that performance that she began contemplating the possibility of saying goodbye to a husband and a way of life.  But there would be no bows, no eruption of cheers, no flowers thrown at her feet.  She wouldn’t be surrounded by family and friends who would see the justice or inevitability of the split with Gary.  His family and friends would of course view her as the villain.  Gary wasn’t agitating for a separation; he hadn’t abused her in any way; he hadn’t had an affair–at least as far as she knew.  The scouting report his side would have on her would be nothing short of devastating.   She was the one who had the affair—and with Gary’s agent no less.  The line behind Judas wasn’t very long, and she’d have a prime place in it.
After the comfortable and exciting life Gary Wulf had provided her, she could do such a thing to him—and then want to leave him?   She wanted badly to be taken out of the game, relieved of the responsibility of being Mrs. Gary Wulf—the wife of one of the very few men good enough to make a successful career in Major League Baseball.  She wanted to tell all the reporters in the locker room after the game was over that she couldn’t help it.  She had given it her all, but time had taken away the edge.  She had lost her curve ball, her power, her speed on the bases.  She had to call it a day.  But Mary knew these now so familiar metaphors were literally what her husband was beginning to say about the past few years of his career—about the literal erosion of his athletic skills—and she felt absolutely horrible for him. 
            “I know I should have gone to the Met with you, Mary.  It’s just that I don’t like the kind of farewells you see at the end of operas.  People dying and singing at the same time, with a knife sticking out of their throats.  Ugghh.  Too horrifying.  That is, for a deeply sensitive soul like me.”  Miranda’s eyes met Mary’s and each understood what the other was trying to say with them.  She knew Mary was thinking of “Farewell” as some kind of grim literary personification, hovering over her and masking its intentions while it accelerated her anxiety.  For a moment, Miranda didn’t know where to go, but, as always, sports provided a welcome signpost.  “Speaking of the Met, Gary has been with them for how many years now?” 
            “This is his sixth.  He also played two transitional years with Colorado after his nine years with the Reds, before we came to New York.”  Mary recited these facts without blinking her eyes.  She now touched her blouse—so happy that she had chosen green.  She could have told Miranda more about her husband’s exploits, if her friend had the desire or capacity for remembering such specifics.  She might then have reminded Miranda that when Gary was with the Reds he was an eight-time All-Star, twice National League Batting Champion.  Just two home-runs shy in 2006 of winning the Triple Crown.  That he made enough money to give his wife the kind of financial security very few women ever get.  That he provided her with comfortable surroundings, money enough for her occasional desire for the lavish shopping spree, and time alone to pursue her needed diversions.  Indeed, those needed diversions.  Her friends, her occasional singing, and now another man.
            “Mary, I should know all that.  You’ve—my husband’s–told me plenty of times.  I just don’t have the head for dates and statistics that you—my Tony has.”  Miranda was back in random comic mode again, convinced she could reanimate her closest friend.  “I swear if my husband could recall the location of my erogenous zones as well as he does the middle initials of the eight guys who played third base for the 1962 Chicago White Sox, I’d be one contented woman.”  Miranda demanded that her friend enjoy the remark—and Mary complied.  Mary appreciated just how essential Miranda Peterson was to her life.  She was always there—with her puns, with her bawdiness, with her teasing, and with her loving encouragement. 
Mary sat on the arm of the sofa.  “I wonder that they’re saying about us about now?”
“Tonight, Mary, our boys are in San Diego.”
            “San Francisco, actually.  The first of three with the Giants.”  Mary focused on the clock above the mantle of the fireplace.  “It’s after 1:00 there.  He’s . . . they’re probably through with lunch.  How many road trips has your Tony taken this year with the Mets?” Mary again looked at the time and wondered how Sherry and the other two Sports Wives were doing in their life and death struggles with the traffic. 
            “This would be, I believe, only this third.  Been more of a homeboy this season.  He actually once went twelve straight days without taking a sports-related trip.” Now it was Mary’s turn to provide the mock horror.  Miranda ignored it.  “Though I must say, Mary, that Tony’s certainly had his share of epic sports travels over the past several months.  Let’s see.  In no particular order, this year he’s been to Churchill Downs for the Derby.  Followed the Mets to St. Louis and Atlanta.  He also went to Fenway Park for the intramural games the Mets played with the Yankees.”  Mary reminded her that the proper term was “interleague.” “But I don’t count going to the Bronx as a real trip.  Anyway.  Umm, Augusta for the Masters.  Somewhere in the South for Tennis—or was it for bowling?  Can’t remember.  Oh yes, in January up to Massachusetts for the KFC Championship game.”  Mary asked if she meant “AFC.”  Miranda said no.  She was starving–that was why she said “KFC.”  Again advising patience as a futile antidote to hunger, Mary felt once more buoyed by the familiar banter between them.  Miranda continued.  “And a few championship fights, some basketball, and who knows what else.  Ah, the freedom of wealth.  But I’m in love.” 
            “With the freedom, the wealth, or the man?”
“Mary, dearest one, you know the answer to that.  Ménage à trois!”  Mary’s smile seemed to Miranda only a bit qualified.  Mary was laughing now at Tony’s miscellaneous sports caravans—very few on which Miranda ever ventured.  And Miranda found a brief moment to think of the peculiar match she and her husband made.  She knew of Tony’s pathological obsession with all things sports when she first met him eight years ago, at the time she turned thirty.  After he learned she was a highly successful novelist—his library respectfully expansive but consisting of only one subject, of course–he demonstrated a gentlemanly regard for her career, restricting his inquiries to the way she worked as a writer, not to any feigned interest in her characters or plots.  Miranda was especially pleased by his line of questioning, as no one had ever, at least socially, wished to know about the nuts and bolts of her craft.  Tony had immediately made her feel comfortable, but more–appreciated and safe.  Miranda knew she would never have to work to please him, as he was seemingly pleased just being around her.  Pleased that she let him be him.  Teasing him certainly, but more importantly indulging all of his sports-related activities and accoutrements without being part of them.  Stepping over, around, and through a minefield of sports memorabilia filled her with neither frustration nor trepidation.  Miranda appreciated what a good deal she had with Tony as a mate.  Predictability and conservatism—two qualities that seemed like anathemas to her vivacious and daring personality—merged to form the very spine of her daily life. 
            “And you insist, Miranda, that Tony’s never shown any jealousy over your success?”
            “Nor any reluctance to spend my money.  Just kidding.  No, Mary, to be fair–as a successful computer geek working out of the home, he makes enough to pay for all his trips.  Of course, my money allows him to forego the bus and actually fly first-class all over the country—and actually stay in nice hotels—and actually eat decent meals.”
            “As you have so often told me—but I ask again—no jealousy over the fact that his wife is Miranda Peterson, nationally . . .” Miranda interrupted with an “internationally.”  “ . . . adored author of best-selling romance novels?” 
            “No, and I mean that.  You know Tony. He’s never strays beyond the borders of his own little sports empire.  Only drinks out of cups with team logos on them.  You know, his Florida Marlin martinis?  Wears little else but replica uniform jerseys.”  Feeling her own stomach growl, Mary asked if he so bedecked himself on formal occasions. Miranda pointed to Mary’s stomach.  “Heard that.  No, on formal occasions it’s black tie and Cleveland Browns.  More well-adjusted women might put on the latest hot number from Victoria’s Secret and prepare for a night to remember.  But in my case, I don a jock strap, a pair of shoulder pads, and catcher’s mask–and my forty-five year old tiger is rarin’ to go.  Ruff.”
            “And I know he sings a devastating ‘Take Me Out to the Ball Game.’”  Mary often saw herself as an engineer shoveling coal into the witty and amusing locomotive that was Miranda Peterson.
            “His ‘Star Spangled Banner’ needs a little work, though.  You know how low his voice is.  Well, he always begins it in a tenor’s key—or soprano’s—and that part ‘and the la-a-a-nd of the freeeee’ is so bad that we’ve had five cats pack their litter boxes and move out of the house in the last year alone.  That’s why we finally had to get a dog.  Maybe you should give Tony voice lessons, Mary.”  Mary was reminded that since she had no children, she ought to spend more time teaching voice.  She would love to do that—if she had more time.  Yes.  Time.  More time.  She wondered if there was still time or was it that now was the time?  She wanted more time but she was running out of it.  Miranda saw her friend’s fingers touch the bottom of her lower lip—the tell-tale sign that Mary Wulf was once more giving in to her fears.
            “Mary, I cannot tell you how much I am looking forward to this weekend.”
            “You’re really going to like Sherry, Miranda.”  Mary stared intently at Miranda’s left wrist.  When she needed a brief moment alone with her feelings, she refused to look anyone in the eye.
            “So . . . also soon to arrive are the pro football player’s wife and the PGA golfer’s bride.”  Mary nodded and lowered her hand, providing her mouth the room to smile.  The other two were coming together from La Guardia.  They had called Mary earlier and she assumed they would arrive any moment as well.  They might even beat Sherry. 
            “Rand told me that her flight arrived on time and that she was waiting for Kip’s to land.   I’m sure they had no trouble getting a rental.”  Miranda wanted to twist her head around in a circle.  Did she really hear Mary correctly?  Rand and Kip?  “Miranda, didn’t I ever tell you their names?”  Miranda shook her head in that highly exaggerated manner that denoted incredulity.  “Rand Connor was born with the name Randee Lynn Beaufort.  But as you will soon see, Miranda, she’s not a Randee Lynn.”
            “Okay.  But what about Clip—or Crip?”  Miranda and names.  Natural enemies.  Mary said that she would let Kip explain that one—but Miranda was certain she was a pretty young thing, to say the least.  Miranda puckered her lips like an experienced crone.  “Oh, good.  Someone to hate.” 
            “No, Miranda.  No hating.  Just bonding.  Sports Wives, remember?”
            “First Annual Meeting.  Got it.  And good on the name too.  Now refresh my memory.  When did you meet the other three again?”  Miranda sat down in one of the easy chairs, certain that she was weakening owing to starvation.  She made a little finger gesture to Mary suggesting food going into mouth.  She did a simply superb job of simulating a difficult death in an easy chair. 
            “I met Sherry in Cincinnati when Gary played for the Reds.  And I met Rand and Kip at a party David threw four years ago for his new clients.  Rand’s Jeff, Kip’s Chris, and my . . . husband.”
            “Whoa, whoa, partner.  Too many names—not enough chips.  I’m not good with names even when I’m stuffed.”  Mary had never been able to resolve this bizarre paradox. She asked how Miranda could have that much trouble with names considering all the characters she had created over the years.  “Yes, but I write them down, remember?”  Miranda knew better, but the opportunity defied all restraint.  No time was going to be a good time.  Therefore, why the hell not?  Miranda didn’t even offer Mary a heads-up by clearing her throat. “And just how is that sports agent extraordinaire, Mr. David Rowe these days?”
            Mary’s heart halted and then accelerated at the sound of his name from another pair of lips other than her own.  “Miranda, not now.”  Yet Mary’s voice belied the assertion.  Miranda hesitated for a few seconds, and then rejected the impulse to pursue the matter at this time.  Still, she was sure that Mary was simply dying to tell her everything about her relationship with her husband’s agent.  Yes, Miranda was sure about that.  She just wasn’t sure that Mary really understood that she was really dying to tell Miranda everything about that relationship.
            “Okay, Mary.  So you’ve got Sherry coming from Ohio and the other two from . . .?”  Mary replied that Rand was flying in from Maryland and Kip from Chicago.  Having spent several years in the Chicago area when she was in her twenties, Miranda was curious to know exactly where Kip lived.  “She doesn’t live in Chicago, Miranda.  She lives in Denver.”  Mary thought it was interesting how her friend’s top lip vibrated whenever she was confused.  “She’s flying in from Chicago.”  No help to Miranda.  “Where she visited her parents—who just moved there from San Diego.”  Miranda nodded, implying cautiously at any rate that she was all straightened out now.  “And you cruised in from next door.”
            “I did?  Gee, Mary, all of these women coming from all parts of the good old USA just to see you.  What an ego trip.  Should make you feel like singing.” 
            A lovely melody began playing in Mary’s mind, but in an instant it was obliterated by the blaring sound of a car horn in her driveway.

About the Author

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During his career as Professor of English at the University of Georgia, John Vance was the author of six books and numerous articles devoted to literary biography and criticism. He also began indulging his love of theater as actor, director, and playwright, with thirty-five of his plays staged. Now he has turned exclusively to fiction, and is the author of fourteen novels, including the humorous memoir Setting Sail for Golden Harbor and the recently BookBub featured In Mind of the Vampire. He lives in Athens, Georgia with his wife Susan.
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SPORTS WIVES

Chapter Reveal: DOWN WE’LL COME, BABY by CARRIE AARONS is Releasing January 27th!@AuthorCarrieA @InkslingerPR

🖤 HAPPY TEASER TUESDAY 🖤

Down We’ll Come, Baby releases this Sunday, January 27, and to celebrate, Carrie Aarons is sharing the entire first chapter with you!

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Down We’ll Come Baby by Carrie Aarons

Releasing January 27

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Book Blurb:

Imogen

There is no way we can still love and cherish one and other.

When I married Theo Walsh, the rough, bearded townie who worked construction on my family’s summer house, I’d found my happily ever after.

That was before the fighting.
Before the jealousy.
Before the infertility.

We’ll be divorced long before death does us part.

But to secure my place in the family dynasty, there is just one more hoop I have to jump through. And I need him to do it.

Faking the marriage we once thrived in will gut me.
Especially with the secret I’m carrying.

Theo

I would have sacrificed for her until the end of time.

My job.
My home.
My happiness.

I’d given it all up to marry her. That’s how much I loved Imogen Weston, the daughter to one of the world’s richest families.

From the day we met, I’d done nothing but try to live up to the man she expected to be with. And now, I was done.

Sure, I’d complete this one final ask of hers, even if it destroyed me.

But I’ve made her promise the one thing that might save me. She swore that after she got everything she ever wanted, she wouldn’t look back.

I made my wife vow to leave me forever.

Chapter 1

Theo

I slept with my wife on our first date.

I’m not revealing this to brag or boast, or for you to infer anything from either of our personalities. It was just the simple fact that I knew from that first chance meeting, deep in my bones, that she would be the woman I’d spend the rest of my life with.

Honestly, I was never the kind of guy to get naked with a woman that quickly. If I were going for romance, which in Imogen Weston’s, the future Imogen Walsh, case I should have been … I would have laid out the red carpet. Flowers, picnics on the beach, candles, and gazing at the stars … my definition of dating was something out of a Nicholas Sparks’ novel. It’s just how you did things if you wanted to impress a woman.

To read the rest of the first chapter, click here:bit.ly/2AY06l1

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AUTHOR INFORMATION:

Author of romance novels such as Red Card and Privileged, Carrie Aarons writes books that are just as swoon-worthy as they are sarcastic. A former journalist, she prefers the stories she dreams up, and the yoga pant dress code, much better.

When she isn’t writing, Carrie is busy binging reality TV, having a love/hate relationship with cardio, and trying not to burn dinner. She lives in the suburbs of New Jersey with her husband, daughter and dog.

 

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Chapter Reveal: DUCHESS OF DECEPTION ( A Gilded Novel ) by New York Times Bestselling Author MARIE FORCE is Releasing January 29th! @MarieForce @InkslingerPR

Today we are sharing a chapter reveal from DUCHESS OF DECEPTION by Marie Force. This is Marie’s first historical romance title and is part of the Gilded series. It releases January 29th. Read chapter one from the book below.

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DUCHESS BY DECEPTION by Marie Force

Coming January 29!

Book Blurb:

In New York Times bestselling author Marie Force’s dazzling historical romance debut, the clock is ticking for a wealthy Duke who must marry by his thirtieth birthday—or lose his title…

Derek Eagan, the dashing Duke of Westwood, is well aware of his looming deadline. But weary of tiresome debutantes, he seeks a respite at his country home in Essex—and encounters a man digging on his property. Except he’s not a man. He’s a very lovely woman. Who suddenly faints at his feet.

Catherine McCabe’s disdain for the aristocracy has already led her to flee an arranged marriage with a boorish Viscount. The last thing she wants is to be waylaid in a Duke’s home. Yet, she is compelled to stay by the handsome, thoughtful man who introduces himself as the Duke’s estate manager.

Derek realizes two things immediately: he is captivated by her delicate beauty, and to figure out what she was up to, Catherine must not know he is the Duke. But as they fall passionately in love, Derek’s lie spins out of control. Will their bond survive his deception, not to mention the scorned Viscount’s pursuit? Most important, can Catherine fall in love all over again—this time with the Duke?

“…Force has crafted a masterpiece with the perfect amount of romance.” —Starred Review from Publisher’s Weekly

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Chapter 1

London, May 5, 1902

“I cannot bear another minute of this charade,” Derek Eagan, the seventh Duke of Westwood, declared to his cohorts as they watched a simpering group of debutantes work the gilded ballroom. He tugged impatiently at his starched attachable collar and wished he could remove it and the tie that choked him without sending yet another tedious scandal rippling through the ton.

“What charade?” asked Lord Justin Enderly, his smile dripping with the charm that had endeared him to many a mother. “Watching nubile young things flit about with love and marriage on their minds?” As the second son of an earl, Enderly was much less desirable to the simpering debs than Derek, once again considered the Season’s top prize—and Enderly knew it, of course.

“All of it.” Derek gestured to the glittering scene before them in the Earl of Chadwick’s enormous ballroom. Surely half the aristocracy was in attendance at one of the Season’s most anticipated balls. Women in frothy gowns made of the finest silks and satins, dripping in exquisite gems. Men in their most dashing evening wear. “The balls, the gowns, the dance cards, the ludicrous conversations, the desperate mothers. I’ve grown so weary of it, I could spit.”

Aubrey Nelson, the American-born industrialist who’d humored his English-born mother with a second Season, nodded in agreement. “The pomp, the ceremony, the rules.” He shook his head. “I’ll be back in New York—or banished from polite society—long before I master them all.”

Unlike Nelson, Derek had been raised for the charade, but many of the rules escaped him, as well. “Utter drivel,” Derek murmured. “I’ve half a mind to compromise a willing young maiden and be done with the whole nightmare.”

“What’s stopping you?” Enderly asked, crooking a wicked eyebrow.

“I’d have to attempt to converse with her for the rest of my days,” Derek grumbled. His friends and the hangers-on surrounding them howled with laughter. “I’ve talked to every one of them and haven’t found one who interests me enough to pursue anything further.”

“Same as last year,” Enderly said.

“And the year before, and the year before that,” Derek said, the despair creeping in once again. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to find a wife. He would love nothing more than to have one person in the world who belonged only to him and vice versa. Not to mention he needed a wife, albeit for altogether different reasons. Yet he wasn’t willing to settle.

Each year he approached the Season with a new sense of hope, and each year, as the young women got younger and he got older, the disappointment afterward became more intense and longer lasting. This year, however, the bloody deadline loomed large, coloring his view of the Season’s limited options.

“This year’s group seems particularly young,” Enderly noted.

“Or perhaps we’re just getting particularly old,” Derek said morosely.

“No doubt,” Enderly said. As a second son he was under much less pressure to marry than Derek and enjoyed his bachelor life far too much to give it up before he absolutely had to. For that matter, everyone was under less pressure to marry than Derek, thanks to the damned deadline.

“Is there one among them who cares about something other than her hair or her gown or her slippers?” Derek asked. Was there one among them, he wanted to ask, who looked at him and saw anything other than his title, his rank, his wealth or the looming deadlinethat had filled the betting books all over town?

“They all care about their dance cards,” Nelson said dryly.

“Too true,” Derek concurred. “Speaking only for myself, I’ve had enough. I’m returning to Westwood Hall in the morning.”

“But the Season still has weeks left to go,” Enderly said in obvious distress. “You can’t go yet, Your Grace. What of your deadline? What will Lord Anthony say?”

“He would hardly care. He’s practically salivating, hoping I fail to marry in time.”

Whatever could your ancestor have been thinking, with such an utterly daft provision?” Nelson asked. “Enter into a ‘suitable state of matrimony’— whatever that is—by thirty or abdicate your title? I’ve never heard of such a thing.”

Of course, he hadn’t, Derek mused. The colonists had left such barbaric practices behind in England. “I suppose he was out to ensure the bloodline. Instead, he placed a matrimonial pox upon each succeeding generation.”

“Is it even legal?” Justin asked.

“Probably not, but the previous dukes married young so it was never an issue for them, and I chose not to contest it with Anthony waiting in the wings drooling all over the duchy.”

What happens if you don’t marry in time?” Nelson asked.

“The title and all accompanying holdings transfer to my uncle and then later to Simon, who, as the heir, would also be required to marry post haste. That would truly be a travesty.” If anyone was less suited to a life of marriage, responsibility and duty, it was Derek’s happy-go-lucky first cousin and dear friend.

“Have any of your ancestors missed the deadline?” Nelson asked, seeming genuinely intrigued by the drama of it all whereas Derek was just weary—from thinking about it, dreading it and from imagining being married to a nameless, faceless woman just to preserve his title. He shuddered at the thought of shackles and chains.

“Not so far, and I have no desire to be the first. However, I refuse to pick just anyone in order to keep my title.” His ancestor’s efforts to ensure the dukedom had put Derek in a serious quandary. His thirtieth birthday was now mere days away without a female prospect in sight who sparked anything in him other than utter apathy, not to mention despair at the idea of having to actually talk to her for the rest of his life.

Naturally, the entire haute ton was captivated by Derek’s plight, but not a one of them gave a fig about his happiness or well-being. He would almost prefer to surrender the title than be shackled for life to a “suitable” woman who did nothing else for him but ensure his place in the aristocracy.

Almost.

With his deadline the talk of the Season, every available young maiden had been marched before him—more than once. Judging his prospects by what he’d seen of the Season’s available crop, he was in no danger of imminent betrothal. “What’s the point of hanging around when I already know that none of them suit me?”

“They don’t have to suit you, your Grace,” Enderly reminded him. “You only need one with the proper equipment to provide an heir—and a spare if you’re feeling particularly randy.”

“And you need her to say, ‘I do,’ by the sixteenth of May,” Nelson added with a wry grin.

“Don’t remind me,” Derek grumbled. Was it just him, or was it exceedingly warm tonight? Or was it the reminder of his coming birthday that had him sweating? Perhaps it was the rampant wagering that had him on edge. He’d lost track of whom among his so-called peers and “friends” was betting for or against the likelihood of his securing a suitable marriage before his birthday.

Derek never would’ve chosen the title he’d inherited at the tender age of six when his parents were killed in a carriage accident. Over the years since his majority, however, he’d grown into his role as one of the most powerful and influential men in England. He didn’t relish the idea of turning over his title and holdings to an arrogant, greedy, overly ambitious uncle who would care far more about how he was judged in polite society than he ever would about ensuring that their tenants had adequate roofs over their heads. Nor did Derek wish to see his cousin constrained by a life he had no interest in. Too many people depended on the dukedom to see it end up in the hands of someone who couldn’t care less about it.

A vexing debate for sure, especially since Derek often dreamed of shedding his responsibilities and taking off to see the world as he’d always wanted to do. But then he thought, as he often did, of his late parents. Since their deaths, he’d aimed to live his life in a manner and fashion that would’ve made them proud. Losing his title, especially to an uncle his father had despised, would not make them proud, so Derek would do what was expected of him because that was what he’d always done—no matter what it might’ve cost him.

“What of all your meetings?” Enderly asked.

“I had the last of them today with the Newcastle upon Tyne Electric Supply Company to pump some capital into their Neptune Bank Power Station. They’re doing some intriguing work with three-phase electrical power distribution.” The blank looks on the faces of his friends tampered his enthusiasm. Where he would absorb such information with obsessive attention to detail, he’d come to realize that others were less interested in the how of electrical lighting and other innovations. They were far more than content to fully luxuriate in modern conveniences without bothering themselves with the details. Electricity was making its way into wealthy homes and public buildings in town, but it would be a while yet before it made its way to the country.

“Wasn’t there another one?” Justin asked. “Something with brothers?”

Derek nodded. “I’ll be providing emergency financing to the brothers from America who believe they’ve found the secret to manned flight.”

“You can’t be serious,” Nelson said. “The Wright brothers?”

Derek nodded, used to his peers finding his investment decisions questionable at best. They couldn’t, however, argue with his results.

“Has everyone in America finally said no to them?” Nelson asked.

“I didn’t ask that. I simply wish to be a part of what they’re doing. I believe they will attain success, perhaps before the end of the decade.”

Nelson rolled his eyes. “It’s your money to throw away.”

“What’s next?” Enderly asked, his tone tinged with sarcasm. “Motorcars?”

“As a matter of fact, due to my involvement in Wolseley Tool and Motor Car Company, I was asked to back a venture with Lord Austin and his brother that will bring production of motorcars to England in the foreseeable future.”

“Why am I not surprised?” Enderly asked with a smile.

One of the most annoying of that year’s debutantes, Lady Charlotte something or other, flashed Derek a suggestive smile full of invitation. As he’d learned early in his first Season, he didn’t make eye contact unless he wished to encourage attention, which he most assuredly did not.

“All you’d have to do is snap your fingers, and Lady Charlotte would say ‘I do,’” Enderly said.

Derek could have been mistaken, but it seemed as if his friend was enjoying baiting him. “If I’m going to shackle myself to a woman for life, she’s got to have more than the proper plumbing.” Derek tugged again on the collar that poked at his neck and the strangling tie. His valet Gregory had been rather rigid in his knot tying that night, as if he too were out to constrain Derek to his husbandly fate.

“What is it exactly that you seek, Your Grace?” Nelson asked with a kind smile.

“Damned if I know. I just hope I’ll recognize it when I see it, and I hope I’ll see it soon.” She was out there somewhere. He had no doubt of that. If only he knew where to look.

“You’re holding out for a love match then?” Enderly asked.

“I don’t necessarily yearn for the mess that accompanies a love match, but is it too much to hope for some intelligent conversation with my after-dinner port?” The utter despair of his situation came crashing down as he viewed the gay scene before him. “What in the world would I talk about to any of them?”

Apparently, neither of his friends could supply a satisfactory answer.

Enderly shifted with discomfort from one foot to the other. “What are your plans, Westy?” he asked softly, reverting to Derek’s nickname from their years together at Eton.

“I need to spend some time riding Hercules and thinking. I can’t think here. Just a few days, and then I’ll come back and bite the proverbial bullet.” He’d have no other option but to choose one of the young women flitting before him unless he wanted everything he had to slip through his fingers to an uncle who didn’t deserve it. But the thought of being stuck with a wife who didn’t suit him made him ill.

“You’ll be the talk of the ton,” Enderly declared, scandalized.

“Let them talk. I won’t hear it in Essex.”

“But it won’t be any fun without you, Your Grace,” Nelson said mournfully.

Enderly nodded in agreement. “Nor will the ladies flock about us with quite the same . . . ”

Desperation?” Derek asked with a grin. His friends laughed. As usual, they had kept this dreadful experience from being a total loss.

“Lady Patience will wish to visit,” Enderly said with an evil grin. “She’s apt to follow you to the country.”

“She won’t gain an audience with me even if she does give chase,” Derek said of the Duke of Devonshire’s daughter, who had pursued him with relentless determination. “She holds even less appeal than the others.”

“Why is that?” Nelson asked.

“She brays like a donkey when she laughs.”

“Ouch,” Enderly said, chuckling.

“I quite fear that no woman will meet the discriminating requirements of our dear, distinguished friend,” Nelson said to Enderly.

“That’s just fine with me,” Derek said, happier than he’d been in weeks now that a decision had been made. “I’d rather be a lonely commoner than be shackled for life to a ‘suitable’ braying donkey.”

***

Lord Anthony Eagan, son of a duke, brother of a duke and uncle to the current duke, reclined on a red velvet chaise and took a sip from his glass of port. Always on the outside looking in, just barely on the fringes of tremendous wealth and power. Thankfully, all three dukes had provided handsomely for him, allowing him the freedom to pursue his own interests.

But what interested Anthony, what seduced him more than anything else ever could, was the power of the title. When the Duke of Westwood entered a room, people noticed. Society noticed. No one paid much heed, on the other hand, to the duke’s second son, his brother, or his uncle. In the fifteen years he’d served as his nephew’s guardian, he had sampled a generous helping of power. Having to cede it to a boy just barely out of leading strings had been demoralizing, to say the least. The subsequent years had reduced Anthony once again to the fringes. He didn’t much care for the fringes, and he never had.

While Derek had stepped nobly and with infuriating independence into the position he’d been born to, Anthony had been relegated to watching and seething and planning. Now, on the eve of Derek’s thirtieth birthday, came opportunity. If Derek failed to marry by the sixteenth of May, the title would revert to Anthony, and he would finally be the Duke of Westwood. The way it always should have been.

And while he had come to grudgingly respect his nephew’s acumen with finance and his bearing among the haute ton, he disdained the boy’s inner softness. That softness, Anthony mused, would be his downfall, just as it had been his father’s. Perhaps it was because Derek had lost his parents at such a tender age or maybe it was the guilt that came from being the twin who’d survived the journey into this world. Regardless of the cause, Derek lacked the inner fortitude that Anthony possessed in spades.

Anthony wasn’t afraid to use that fortitude to gain what should’ve been his all along. Derek was supposed to have been in that carriage the night his parents had been killed. They had planned to dine as a family at a neighboring estate. No one had bothered to tell Anthony that the boy had been left behind in the nursery when he showed signs of fever.

No one had told him until it was far too late, until he’d been saddled with an orphaned young nephew and vast holdings to “oversee” until that nephew gained his majority.

The holdings were supposed to have been his. Instead, he became the steward rather than the duke. Instead, it was left to him to nurse his grief-stricken nephew through those dreadful months after “the accident.” Since another “accident” so soon after the first would’ve raised suspicions, he had nursed when he’d wanted to strangle. He’d mentored when he wanted to stab. If only the boy had been where he was supposed to be, Anthony would’ve had what was rightfully his for all this time.

Soon, Anthony mused. That softness within Derek wouldn’t permit him to marry for the sake of his title. Like the fool he was, Derek wanted more. The softness would be his downfall. Anthony was betting on it and breathing a bit easier after realizing that none of the Season’s debutantes had caught his discerning nephew’s eye.

Lucy Dexter, one of London’s most accomplished courtesans, crawled from the foot of the chaise to envelop him in soft curves and sweet scent. Silky dark hair cascaded invitingly over his chest.

“What troubles you tonight, my lord?”

“Nothing of any consequence.”

“You ponder the fate of your nephew and the duchy you covet.”

Anthony raised an imperious brow. “It is rather impertinent for you to speak so boldly of things that are none of your concern.”

Lucy’s husky laugh caught the attention of his recently satisfied libido. “How can you say such things are none of my concern when you’ve made them my concern by unburdening yourself to me quite regularly?”

The double entendre wasn’t lost on Anthony. Through the silk dressing gown he had given her, he cupped a bountiful breast and pinched the nipple roughly between his fingers, drawing a surprised gasp from her bow-shaped mouth. “If you speak of my concerns with anyone else, madam, you will quickly discover my less-than-amiable side, which I usually prefer to keep hidden from the fairer sex.”

Her blue eyes hardened with displeasure. “I believe I have proven my allegiance time and again over these many years, my lord. There is no need for threats nor less-than- subtle attempts at intimidation.”

She could quite ruin him. She knew it. He knew it. Power. He had given her far too much, he realized, and that was something he might, at some point, need to contend with. But certainly not right now, not when she was pushing his dressing gown aside to drop soft, open-mouthed kisses on his chest.

Anthony sighed with satisfaction, placed the empty glass on a table and buried his fingers in silky tresses. When she took his cock into the velvety warmth of her mouth, he closed his eyes and let his head fall back in surrender.

Power—the only commodity that truly counted. As she sucked and licked him to explosive fulfillment, it hardly mattered that he had ceded some of his to her for the time being. Before long, he’d have more than he knew what to do with. It was only a matter of time.

—————————-

AUTHOR INFORMATION:

Marie Force is the New York Times bestselling author of more than 50 contemporary romances, including the Gansett Island Series, which has sold more than 3 million books, and the Fatal Series from Harlequin Books, which has sold 1.5 million books. In addition, she is the author of the Butler, Vermont Series, the Green Mountain Series and the erotic romance Quantum Series, written under the slightly modified name of M.S. Force. All together, her books have sold more than 5.5 million copies worldwide!

Her goals in life are simple—to finish raising two happy, healthy, productive young adults, to keep writing books for as long as she possibly can and to never be on a flight that makes the news.
Join Marie’s mailing list for news about new books and upcoming appearances in your area. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter @marieforce and on Instagram. Join one of Marie’s many reader groups. Contact Marie at marie@marieforce.com.

 

AUTHOR LINKS:

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Newsletter | Goodreads

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Chapter Reveal: A PLACE WITHOUT YOU, An All-New Emotional, New Adult Romance from JEWEL E. ANN is Coming January 2nd! @JewelE_Ann

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A Place Without You, an all-new emotional, new adult romance from Jewel E. Ann is coming January 2nd, and we have a sneak peek for you!

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The Law of Henna and Bodhi:

When love breaks, fall inward, fall together, and fall hard. Then let time pick up the pieces.

Everything feels temporary when you’ve experienced tragedy—until Henna Lane meets Bodhi at a music festival.

Young and spontaneous, they have a lust for seizing the moment, falling hard and fast.

When Bodhi is forced to leave without a goodbye, Henna thinks she’ll never get over him. But then she meets Mr. Malone, her sexy, new guidance counselor.

They are reckless.

They are forbidden.

When their secret is discovered, Henna has to choose between finishing school—banned from seeing Mr. Malone—or dropping out to follow her nomad dreams.

Henna chooses her dreams.

Over time, she learns that life is not a destination or a journey, some things are more than temporary, and the forbidden can never be ignored. But if she returns for him, will he still be hers?

A Place Without You is an emotional story of young love, shattered dreams, and impossible decisions.

Add to GoodReads: http://bit.ly/2AHhTNT

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Excerpt from Chapter One

His lips move. I stare at them for a few breaths before I realize he’s talking. My hand tugs out my earbud again.

“Sorry. Did you say something?”

“What are you listening to?” he asks in a voice as smooth as his Mediterranean eyes.

“That’s kind of a personal question. Like asking my underwear color.”

He grins. It’s all kinds of wicked. “Personal?” He shrugs. “I don’t know about that. Depends on the song … and the color.”

“Amy Shark, ‘Adore.’And red and silver polka dots.”

“Mmm …” He nods slowly. “Good choice.”

The song?” I bite the corner of my lower lip to control my grin.

“The underwear.”

My heart wakes up as if to say, “Whoa, is something going on here I should know about?”

“Wanna see mine?”

My eyebrows lift a fraction. “Your underwear?”

He digs his phone out of his front pocket. “Do I look like a perv? My song.”

Damn. He’s good. My tummy joins in on the little dance happening inside of me.

Twisting his wrist, he shows me his phone screen.

“Apocalyptica, ‘Nothing Else Matters.’ Hmm … that’s unexpected.” I let my gaze fall into his, a dangerous place to be. “You going to Coachella?”

He nods several times, glancing over the seats to the road before us. “I’m working there.”

Oh, cool. Doing what?”

He inspects my hair. I’d planned on changing clothes and doing something a bit more original with my crazy, dark auburn hair than a messy braid over one shoulder, but sushi dad took away my hotel room. Sexy stranger grins like either my question or my messy hair pleases him. “I’m an in-house tech—audio, lighting, video.”

Dear God, he’s the full package, especially when that grin of his grows as I continue to violate him with my eyes. Maybe it’s just the lollipop I had on my way to the hotel. Everything seems aesthetically pleasing when I’m a little high.

“So, I’ll know who to blame if the sound is a bit off while one of my favorite bands performs.”

“You’ll know who to thank when it isn’t.” He leans toward the middle of the backseat. I follow his lead because I’m curious if he smells as good as he looks. “But I get this feeling that in your state, everything will sound good.”

Ignoring his whispered accusation that I’m high, I sniff. “You smell like lemon.”

He sticks his tongue out, revealing a half-melted lemon drop.

I grin as we sit straight again. “Last year my mom brought back lemon drops from the Limoncello factory in Sorrento. They were amazing.”

Sucking more intensely on his sour goodness, he nods slowly. “I’m sure they were. Sadly, I don’t think my lemon drop was made in Italy.”

“That is incredibly sad.”

He chuckles. Is he laughing at me?

“Nice tats.” He nods to my arms.

Holding them out, I admire my art. “They’re henna, like me.”

“Like you?”

“Yes. My name is Henna. And these will be much more intense tomorrow.”

“Like you?” His teeth scrape along his bottom lip. It’s ridiculously sexy.

“Are you flirting with me?”

He chuckles. “We met less than five minutes ago. I have a little more tact than that.”

“Tact? Like asking the color of my underwear?”

He runs his hands over the legs of his jeans. Is he sweating? Am I making him sweat? That possibility gives me a whole other kind of high.

“I didn’t ask. You freely offered that information. Besides, I have rules about flirting.”

“Well, I despise rules, but you must share your rules anyway.”

“Never flirt with someone who is not sober.” He stares out his window like his rule is the end of our friendly conversation.

“Sober? Dude, this is as sober as I get.” Leaning forward, I shove down the waist of my shorts in back, exposing a long L-shaped scar.

He glances over, forehead wrinkled.

“If I sit too long or stand too long or do anything too long, life kinda sucks. But a little high can go a long way with making said life a lot less sucky.”

Sitting back, I exhale. Sexy stranger seems at a loss for words.

“Tell me, tech guy, do you have a name?”

The driver stops at the crowded entrance.

“Thank you,” we say while getting out of the car.

To read the rest of Chapter One, visit:

http://bit.ly/2r9bWU0

About Jewel:

Jewel is a free-spirited romance junkie with a quirky sense of humor.

With 10 years of flossing lectures under her belt, she took early retirement from her dental hygiene career to stay home with her three awesome boys and manage the family business.

After her best friend of nearly 30 years suggested a few books from the Contemporary Romance genre, Jewel was hooked. Devouring two and three books a week but still craving more, she decided to practice sustainable reading, AKA writing.

When she’s not donning her cape and saving the planet one tree at a time, she enjoys yoga with friends, good food with family, rock climbing with her kids, watching How I Met Your Mother reruns, and of course…heart-wrenching, tear-jerking, panty-scorching novels.

Connect with Jewel:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/authorjeweleann/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/JewelE_Ann

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/authorjeweleann/

BookBub: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/jewel-e-ann

Stay up to date with Jewel by joining her mailing list:

http://www.jeweleann.com/free-booksubscribe/

http://www.jeweleann.com

Release Blitz + Excerpt: A CHRISTMAS STAR by JUDITH KEIM is Now LIVE!@judithkeim @RABTBookTours

 

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Romance, Women’s Fiction
Date Published: November 2, 2018
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Two years ago, Noelle North’s then-fiancé left her waiting at the church on Christmas—her wedding day and birthday. She knows she cannot endure another holiday season at home in Boston. At the urging of four women at the assisted-living community where she serves as health director, Noelle decides to rent Seashell Cottage on the Gulf Coast of Florida for the holidays. She meets Silas Bellingham, the cutest seven-year-old boy she’s ever seen, and his great-grandmother, Althea. Noelle discovers Althea’s caretaker has been abusing her and goes into action, ending up with the temporary care of both Althea and Silas. Becoming part of the Bellingham household has an entirely different series of challenges when it comes to Althea’s grandsons, Jake and Brett, who are having problems of their own with hotels to run and their parents missing in a plane crash. But after sparring with her, Silas’ father, Jake, realizes Noelle is just what he and his family need, and when she finds the perfect Christmas star for Silas, they both know he’s right.
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EXCERPT:

CHAPTER ONE
               On the Gulf Coast of Florida, Noelle North walked along the white, sandy beach that lined the shore like the fur on her slippers back home. The sun’s heat washed over her, hugging her with its warmth on this early December morning. She unzipped her light jacket and lifted her arms to the blue sky, welcoming the day with an embrace. She had a whole six weeks of freedom from work and her dismal life back home.
Her family had wanted her to stay in Boston with them for the holidays, but Noelle knew she couldn’t endure another Christmas of everyone feeling sorry for her. Two years ago, on Christmas Day, her fiancé, Alexander Cabot, had left her waiting at the church on her wedding day, while he’d taken off with another woman, his best friend’s wife. She’d wanted to die of embarrassment. Even now, thinking of that humiliation, a shudder shook her shoulders, and her stomach filled with acid.
               The one thing that had helped her keep going throughout the healing process was the conviction that she’d never fall for a glamour guy again. Besides, at thirty-two and with her grim track record with men, she was pretty sure she was destined to be single for the rest of her life. The thought didn’t bother her as much as it used to. Why should it? She had the freedom to come and go as she pleased, nobody was around to tell her what she could or couldn’t do, and evenings after a hard day of work at the New Life Assisted-Living Community were blissfully quiet.
               Noelle stopped walking and gazed out over the water. Waves rolled toward her in a steady pattern, greeting the shore with a kiss and pulling away like a shy child. Above her, seagulls wheeled in circles, their cries shrill in the stillness of the early morning. She watched as a group of sandpipers darted toward the water’s edge, dipped their beaks into the sand for whatever little morsel they could catch, and continued on their way, leaving tiny footprints behind.
               A flash of black caught her attention. She turned to see a big dog galloping toward her, yellow tennis ball in his mouth. She braced herself to greet him and then chuckled as the dog circled and ran right by her toward a small figure farther down the beach.
               She walked on, watching with interest as the dog ran into the water and came out again carrying the wet ball in his mouth. As she came closer, she saw that the person throwing the ball was a boy whom she guessed was seven or eight.
               The boy smiled at her as she approached.
“Your dog is a very good catcher,” Noelle said. “What’s his name?”
“Duke,” the boy said. The dog, hearing his name, came and sat by him.
“And what’s your name?” Noelle asked, thinking the boy with dark red hair, bright green eyes, and freckles was one of the cutest kids she’d ever seen.
“Silas. Silas Bellingham.” He studied her. “Who are you? And why aren’t you working?”
She grinned. “I’m Noelle North, and I’m not working because I’m on vacation for the next month or so.” She glanced around. “Are you here by the water on your own?”
“Naw. My great-grandmother’s over there. See?” He pointed to a woman sitting in a wheelchair on the porch of a sizeable house overlooking the beach.
               Noelle smiled and lifted a hand in greeting, but the woman didn’t wave back.
               “See you later,” the boy said and ran toward his great-grandmother.
               Noelle watched him go, thinking of all her friends’ children back home. Of the four women who had stuck together through everything since college, she was the only one who was unmarried and without children. She’d always wanted a large family, but that didn’t seem possible now. At her age and with no prospects of a husband in sight, she would be lucky to have even one baby.
               Trying to fight off depression, Noelle resumed walking. It was bad enough to have been dumped at the altar on Christmas, but that day was also her birthday. With a name like Noelle,  she’d always felt the holiday season was something extra special, almost magical, in her life. Until two years ago, that is. Now, Christmas trees, Christmas decorations, and especially Christmas music were nauseating to her.
               She walked on wishing her grandmother was alive. From an early age, she and Gran had had a special relationship. In fact, Gran was the reason why, as a graduate of Boston College’s nursing program, Noelle decided to specialize in caring for the elderly. She now headed the health program at an exclusive, assisted-living community outside of Boston. Over the past several years, some of the more active residents had become dear friends. Without them, she would not be in Florida.
               Noelle smiled at the memory of Edith Greenbaum confronting her with three of her closest elderly friends. “Now you listen here, young lady,” Edith had said with great earnestness, “it’s time for you to go somewhere, kick up your heels, and have a little fun. I was doing some research on the internet, and I’ve come up with the right place for you.”
               Shocked and pleased, Noelle had played along. “And where might that be, boss?”
               Edith and the other three women had tittered happily.
               “I’ve printed it out for you.” Edith handed her a sheet of information on the Seashell Cottage just south of Clearwater Beach in Florida.
               The minute Noelle saw the picture, she knew it was a perfect idea, the perfect place. Sitting on the edge of a broad expanse of white beach, a small, pink cottage beckoned to her.
With its painted clapboards, wide front porch, and two palm trees spreading shade nearby, it was everything she’d imagined in a beach getaway.
               “Thank you, Edith,” she’d said with meaning. “I’ll see if it is at all possible.”
               “You know we’re right, Noelle,” Edith replied kindly. “It’s time for you to move on with your life. If you don’t do it for yourself, at least do it for us. We’re stuck here. But you’re not.”
               Tears stung Noelle’s eyes as she’d embraced each one. It was the perfect time of year for her to do as they suggested.
               Thinking of those dear women, Noelle’s spirits lifted and she began to run.
###
               For the second morning in a row, Noelle awoke and stretched, relieved to be away from home. She’d wanted to come to Florida in time for Thanksgiving, but her mother had put her foot down and insisted that Thanksgiving be spent with all four of her children at home. Noelle loved her parents and her three older brothers and their families. But being with them for Thanksgiving had convinced her it was right to come to Florida for the Christmas holidays. Chaos reigned when the whole family was together. Eight nieces and nephews between the ages of one and fourteen were enough to rattle anyone. Even her mother, Jen, went to bed as soon as she could after everyone else had gone, leaving Noelle to do the last-minute tidying.
               Noelle put on her fuzzy pink robe, padded into the kitchen, and turned on the coffee maker. Through the kitchen window, she saw that the clouds the weatherman had predicted were marring the blue sky and hiding the sun. Still, with ice and snow back home, the day seemed full of promise.
               She took her cup of coffee out to the front porch and gazed out at the water. A sense of peace washed over her. Edith had told her life was full of challenges, forcing people to grow and change. Thinking of the past two years, she realized she’d been stuck in a pattern of self-doubt and hurt. No man, she vowed, was worth it. Edith was right. It was time for a change.
               With a fresh resolve to enjoy each day free from the past, she went inside, changed into shorts and a T-shirt, and headed out to the beach. Though the air was cool, the sun felt warm on her face as she headed down the sand at a brisk pace.
               Along the shore, egrets were dipping their beaks into the shallow water, retrieving small, silvery fish. Noelle loved their long legs and the orange beaks that accented their white feathers. How long has it been, she wondered, since she’d taken the time to stop and study the beauty around her.
               A number of people, children included, were searching the sand at the water’s edge for seashells. Some of the more experienced searchers held net bags that sagged with the weight of their treasures. She understood how hooked some people could be on searching for the best and the most unusual shells they could find. Each shell was truly a gift from the sea.
               As she got closer to the part of the beach where she’d met Silas, she slowed. But neither Silas nor the dog named Duke was in sight. Sorry to have missed them, she walked on.
               When she reached the long, wooden pier that reached out into the water like a finger testing for coldness, she sat down on one of the benches at the end of it. For a while, she watched fishermen patiently waiting for a strike. She especially liked to watch the young boys and girls fishing. The hope on their faces was priceless.
               Yawning softly, Noelle headed back to the cottage. The sea air, sun, and freedom from home were working their magic on her body, relaxing muscles that had been tight too long.
               In the distance, she could see Silas and his dog playing on the sand. Picking up her speed, she headed toward them.
               Duke bounded toward her. His black paws pounded the sand in steady, eager beats. Wagging his tail, he stopped in front of her, tongue hanging out. Laughing, she patted him on the head. “Hello, Duke.”
               She looked up to see Silas running toward her, waving.
               Her heart filled at the sight of him. She’d hoped for a little boy just like him one day.
               “Hi,” said Silas, beaming at her. “You’re early today.”
               “Yes, it was such a beautiful morning I decided not to stay in bed. How are you?”
               He looked down, kicked at the sand, and looked up at her with a sour expression. “Mrs. Wicked is back.”
               “Mrs. Wicked?”
               He nodded. “She’s my Nana’s nurse. I don’t like her. She’s mean. She was on her break. And now she’s back.”
               “I see. Well, nursing can be difficult,” Noelle ventured to say, unsure what the real problem was in the house.
               Silas took hold of her hand. “C’mon! I’ve got to hurry back. I’m supposed to stay right in front of Nana’s house. If I don’t, Mrs. Wicked will be mad.”
               Noelle allowed herself to be hurried along.
               Standing in front of Silas’s great-grandmother’s house, Noelle studied the old woman.
Even from a small distance, she seemed bowed in spirit and fragile as she sat in her wheelchair staring out at them. Others might not recognize these signs, but from her years of experience with the elderly, Noelle was used to seeing this. On a whim, she turned to Silas.
“Let’s go say hello to your grandmother.”
“She doesn’t talk much,” Silas said with a note of sadness in his voice.
Noelle smiled. “That won’t matter. I bet she’s curious about me and might like a visitor.”
As they walked toward the front porch, a figure emerged from the house. Noelle observed the big-boned, broad-chested woman and guessed that this was the person Silas called Mrs. Wicked.
“There she is,” whispered Silas.
Pretending not to have heard, Noelle lifted a hand in greeting. “Hello!”
The woman did not return Noelle’s greeting and, instead, went inside.
Noelle climbed onto the porch, walked up to Silas’s great-grandmother, and held out a hand. “I’m Noelle North, a new friend of Silas’s. I thought I’d come to say hello to you.”
From among the wrinkles and the downcast look on her face, her blue eyes lit and a smile emerged. “I’m Althea. Althea Bellingham.” Noelle could see how beautiful the woman must have been and wondered what kind of injuries kept Althea in a wheelchair when there seemed so much life to her.
“She’s Mrs. Bellingham to you,” said the woman emerging from the house to stand behind Althea. Dressed in dark slacks and a white shirt, she scowled at Silas and turned her disapproval on Noelle.
“And you are?” Noelle asked, curious about Silas’ name for her.
“Betty Wickstrom,” the woman said with a challenging expression.
Noelle held back a chuckle. Mrs. Wicked seemed such an appropriate name. She turned to Althea. “Maybe someday Silas and I can get you out in the sun for a bit. He and Duke play a mean game of catch.”
Althea nodded and then glanced at Betty.
“She’s doing very well right where she is. Right, Althea? And now it’s time for her medicine. So say goodbye to her.”
Althea’s expression changed to one of defeat.
Silas, time for you to come into the house,” said Betty.
“No! I don’t want to go inside. I want to stay with Noelle. She lets me play with Duke.”
Noelle smiled at both women. “I’m happy to stay with him for a while longer. Will that is okay?”
“No!” said Betty.
As Althea reached up to touch Betty’s arm, her long-sleeved shirt revealed a bruise on her forearm. “Yes.”
“What happened to your arm?” Noelle asked as calmly as she could while suspicion rolled through her in a wave of unease.
Althea glanced at Betty.
“She’s fine, just a little clumsy, that’s all,” said Betty, waving away Noelle’s concern.
“You hit Nana there,” said Silas, moving closer to Noelle. “I saw you.”
“Why, you little … You know that didn’t happen. That’s where I helped her up from another fall.”
Silas clasped Noelle’s hand and shook his head. “Adults aren’t supposed to lie.”
Noelle knelt down in front of Althea’s wheelchair and spoke softly. “Althea, you can trust me. I’m a registered nurse who helps the elderly where I live in New England. Are you being hurt?”
Althea looked at Betty, turned back to Noelle, and nodded. Then she lifted her shirt. Bruises were everywhere.
Noelle scrambled to her feet and faced Betty, her hands fisted. The burning desire to attack the awful woman was almost overwhelming. Through gritted teeth, Noelle said, “I would suggest you pack up your things and leave now, Betty, or I’m calling the authorities.”
“You wouldn’t dare!” snarled Betty.
“I would, I can, and I will,” said Noelle, flexing her fists. The abuse of the elderly wasn’t new, but each time she saw an example, it made her sick to her stomach.
Noelle turned to Silas. “You stay here with your great-grandmother. I’m going inside to make sure Mrs. Wickstrom leaves.”
Mrs. Wickstrom placed her hands on her hips and glared at Noelle. “You can’t make me leave. You didn’t hire me.”
“If you don’t leave, I’m calling the police. I mean it. I’ve handled cases like this before,” Noelle said, well aware this really wasn’t her business. But she wouldn’t, she couldn’t let the abuse continue. The sight of those bruises felt like a punch to her gut.
“Okay then, I’m not leaving until I get paid,” said Betty.
Write down what you’re owed, and I’ll see that you get the money. That’s the best I can do under the circumstances,” said Noelle. “It’s the nicest offer you’re going to get because if it were left up to me, you wouldn’t get a dime. You’d get a jail sentence.”
“You have no proof that I did anything wrong,” countered Betty.
Noelle’s smile was cold. “Oh, but I do. I have two very credible witnesses and, if necessary, I’ll take photographs to show the authorities. Now, get your things, and I’ll escort you to your car.”
Noelle followed Betty inside and to a bedroom off the kitchen in the back of the house. She watched carefully as Betty hastily threw her things into a small suitcase. When she’d zipped her suitcase closed, she turned to Noelle.
“What are you going to do about it now?”
Noelle drew a deep breath. “I’m taking your keys to the house and escorting you to your car.”
“And then what?” sneered Betty. “Althea isn’t an easy woman to deal with. Too stubborn, too demanding for her own good.”
“We’ll see about that. Come on, let’s go.”
Noelle escorted Betty outside, wrote down the license number, and stood by as Betty threw her suitcase into the back of a small, blue sedan and climbed behind the wheel. After starting the engine, Betty gave her a middle-finger wave and took off with a roar.
Alone, Noelle stood in the driveway, breathing in and out in a calming pattern to slow her heartbeat. What in the hell had she done? She didn’t know Althea Bellingham. And now she was in charge of her until her family could find other help for her.
She went inside the house and out to the seaside porch. Silas was sitting next to the wheelchair, holding his great-grandmother’s hand. Althea was asleep in the chair. At the sweet sight of them, tears sprang to Noelle’s eyes.
“Hello,” she said softly to Silas. “Mrs. Wicked is gone. Come with me. I need your help.”
Silas followed her into the kitchen.
“Who do I need to call? Where are your parents?” Noelle asked.
Silas gave her a look that was so sad, Noelle’s heart clenched. “My dad is in New York. He’ll be back at the end of the week.”
“Do you have a phone number for him?”
Silas smiled and pointed to a printed list by the kitchen phone. “It’s the one on the top. His name is Jake.”
Noelle studied the mounted paper. Jake Bellingham’s phone number was listed at the top. She picked up the phone and dialed the number.
“The Bellingham Hotel New York. How may I help you today?” came a practiced, professional-sounding voice.
Noelle’s heart pounded with dismay. Bellingham Hotel? The family-owned hotels? “May I please speak to Jake Bellingham?”
“I’ll buzz his office for you.”
After a minute, a feminine voice came on the line. “Mr. Bellingham’s office. How may I help you?”
“Please, I need to speak to him. I’m a visiting neighbor calling from his grandmother’s house in Florida.” Noelle’s pulse sprinted at the idea of telling him what she’d done.
“Please hold, and I’ll see if he can take the call,” his secretary said.
A moment later, Noelle heard a deep voice say, “Jake Bellingham.”
Noelle swallowed hard. “Mr. Bellingham, you don’t know me, but I’m a new friend of Silas’s. My name is Noelle North, I’m a registered nurse visiting from Massachusetts, but not licensed in Florida, and I’m calling to tell you that I just escorted your grandmother’s caretaker out of the house for abusing her. I specialize in care for the elderly and recognize abuse when I see it. I did not call the police. I need to know what you want me to do next.”
“Let me get this straight. You don’t know me, my grandmother, or the woman who was taking care of her. Yet you had the balls to throw her out after, what, five or ten minutes in the house?  Is that it?”
“Yes,” said Noelle with a confidence she didn’t feel. “That’s about it. As I said, I am a registered nurse, so I’ve seen too many cases of abuse like this before. She has bruises on her arms and torso that are very telling.”
“Abuse? Really? Put Silas on the phone,” growled his father.
Noelle handed Silas the phone. “Your father wants to speak to you.”
Silas’s eyes grew round. He took the phone and listened, then he spoke in a series of staccato sentences. “Yes! I told you Mrs. Wicked was mean! Yes, I like her! Her name is Noelle and she’s here on vacation. Nana showed Noelle her bruises. That’s why.”
After a pause, Silas said, “Love you too, Daddy,” and handed the phone back to Noelle.
I had no idea this was happening to my grandmother,” said Jake. “I have you to thank for uncovering the situation. I’ve been mostly away for the last several weeks, and Althea never mentioned any problems with Mrs. Wickstrom. Nor did I notice anything like that. I’m sorry, but I can’t make it home for another few days due to some international legal problems. Can you stay with my grandmother and Silas until I can send someone else to take over for you? In the meantime, who can I call for references on you?”
“You can speak to anyone at the New Life Assisted-Care Community outside of Boston. I handle the health program there. I’m in Florida for a vacation, and as I mentioned earlier, I’m not licensed to practice in Florida, and won’t be able to stay with your family for any length of time, and then only as a caretaker, not a nurse.”
“Until just this weekend, I promise,” said Silas’ father. “And if I can find a better service than the one I used for Mrs. Wickstrom, it could be for only a few hours. Don’t worry, I’ll pay you well.”
Noelle bristled. “You may be used to paying people to do your bidding, but it’s not necessary for me. I’ve done this because I care about others. Not to get your money.”
“Whoa! I didn’t mean … Forget it! I’ll be in touch.”
Noelle hung up the phone, still steaming from the notion that she and her work were for sale when she was just voluntarily helping to resolve a very tough situation.
“You’re going to stay with me now?” Silas asked, giving her a wide smile. “Maybe for a long time.”
“Just until your father can find a replacement,” Noelle said, not wanting to get Silas’s hopes up for something that wasn’t going to happen. She already knew she didn’t like Jake Bellingham.
About the Author

 photo A Christmas Star Author Judith Keim_zpskhgxygvr.jpg

Judith Keim was born and raised in Elmira, New York, and now makes her home in Idaho with her husband and their two dachshunds, Winston and Wally, and other members of her family.
Growing up, books were always present being read, ready to go back to the library, or about to be discovered. Information from the books was shared in general conversation, giving all of us in the family a wealth of knowledge and a lot of imagination. Perhaps that is why I was drawn to the idea of writing stories early on. I particularly love to write novels about women who face unexpected challenges and meet them with strength.
A hybrid author who both has a publisher and who self-publishes, Ms. Keim writes heart-warming stories of strong women who face challenges and find love and happiness along the way. Her books are based, in part, on many of the places she’s lived or visited and on the interesting people, she’s met, creating believable characters and realistic settings her many, loyal readers love.
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A CHRISTMAS STAR

Chapter Reveal: THE WILDERNESS, ( Lavender Shores Book 8 ) by ROSALIND ABEL @IARTG @Jo_isalovebooks @isajones75 @LHNGBlog @rosalind_abel

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Will Epstein had it all—playboy good looks, wealth and prestige, and a gorgeous fiancé to costar with him on a reality television show. But that was years ago, before he was abandoned at the altar on national television. In the aftermath, Will’s world completely crumbled, leaving him humiliated, alone and lost.

Andre Rivera married his first love and lived a dream life until tragedy stepped in. His wife’s sudden death left him devastated and struggling to build a life for his young daughter. Being a pilot offers Andre a sense of freedom from Lavender Shores, but he feels trapped in his grief and unable to move forward.

A shared sense of loss fosters a surprising friendship between Will and Andre, giving them both the salvation they need. But when feelings cross the lines of friendship and secrets are revealed, Will and Andre have to confront their own fears.

Amid the gold of a Lavender Shores autumn, Will and Andre must grasp their chance at love… before it slips away.

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84889-rosalind

Rosalind Abel grew up tending chickens alongside her sweet and faithful Chow, Lord Elgin. While her fantasy of writing novels was born during her teen years, she never would have dreamed she’d one day publish steamy romances about gorgeous men. However, sometimes life turns out better than planned.

In between crafting scorching sex scenes and helping her men find their soul mates, Rosalind enjoys cooking, collecting toys, and making the best damn scrapbooks in the world (this claim hasn’t been proven, but she’s willing to put good money on it).

She adores MM Romance, the power it has to sweep the reader away into worlds filled with passion, steam, and love. Rosalind also enjoys her collection of plot bunnies and welcomes new fuzzy ones into her home all the time, so feel free to send any adorable ones her way.

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