How to Handle Negative Criticism by Karin Rita Gastreich – Guest Blog and Giveaway


This post is part of a virtual book tour organized by Goddess Fish Promotions. Karin Rita Gastreich will be awarding a $15 Amazon or Barnes and Noble GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour. Click on the tour banner to see the other stops on the tour.

How to Handle Negative Criticism

Every novel we write is a labor of love. So, it’s upsetting to receive negative criticism. Yet this is an inevitable part of the writer’s journey; no matter how stellar your book is, there will always be someone out there who doesn’t like it. Here are five strategies for managing negative feedback when it comes your way:

1. Make sure your work is the best it can be.

Many readers who complain have something legitimate to complain about. The market – especially the self-publishing market – is flooded with mediocre novels. Even I get angry after paying for a bad novel. Unfortunately, many readers vent their anger through scathing reviews.

If you don’t want to experience readers’ rage, do everything in your power to give them a great reading experience. For first time novelists, this means finding a legitimate press that provides rock-solid editing support. (Small press is a great place to start, but do your research before signing a contract!) If you’ve worked with a publishing house and are ready to strike out on your own, secure the support of a competent, professional editor. Doing these things will not make you immune to negative criticism, but it will reduce the risk of attacks by rabid readers.

2. Remember your story is not for everyone.

Even the best novels garner occasional 1-star or 2-star reviews. When your turn comes, stop! Before you read the comments, take a deep breath. Remember that not all critical reviews are negative reviews.

There are many reasons a reader might not like a story, most of which have nothing to do with the quality of the writing. Sometimes readers were simply looking for a different kind of novel than the one you wrote. I’ve run into this in my own work, when some readers were caught off guard by the dark and violent tones of my second novel, Sword of Shadows. As an author, I respect the fact that some of my readers may have a low tolerance for violence. (Ironically, I do too!) But I also must respect my characters and the story they want to tell. If the characters lead me to dark places, it’s my responsibility to follow. In being true to my craft, I occasionally upset a reader, and that’s okay. The more authentic a story is, the more likely it will touch a raw nerve somewhere along the way.

3. File away reader’s suggestions for later use.

I’ve found that poor reviews generally have little to offer me as a writer, because most of them fall in the category just mentioned: readers who don’t like a novel because it wasn’t the type of story they were looking for. But once in a great while, critical reviews have given me good ideas. For example, when I prepared the second editions of Eolyn and Sword of Shadows, I made some changes in response to reader reviews of previous editions. I am very grateful to those readers who took the time to detail the issues they saw in the earlier versions, as this helped me improve my craft.

4. Vent with friends.

The worst kind of negative review is the mindless rant. In some cases, it seems as if the reviewer hasn’t even read the novel. For example, I had one review complain about the “lascivious sex” in my first novel, Eolyn. The odd thing is, Eolyn has no sex scenes! Reviewers like this one are not interested in insightful analysis; they simply relish attacking someone through an anonymous platform. In other words, they are cyber bullies.

There are three things you should do when you run into a cyber bully review. First, ignore the reviewer (see step five below).
Second, report the review. Amazon, Goodreads, and other on-line reviewing platforms have guidelines that reviewers must adhere to. They are not always good at listening to authors who point out violators, but you should report every cyberbully you run into nonetheless.

Third, vent with friends. Sharing your frustration helps you gain some perspective on the situation and your work. Remember your path as an author does not depend on the opinion of one low-life who had nothing better to do with their time than write a nasty, dishonest review. Turn away from that negativity and reconnect to the people who appreciate your work. They will always lead you to a better place.

5. Never engage with a negative reviewer.

In every single case discussed above, and especially in the last one, you should never engage directly with someone who has written a negative review. In the case of reviewers who wanted a different kind of story and/or put forward some honest criticism, it is your job as an author to respect their opinion and let it be. Remember: When you published your novel, you surrender control over it. That novel belongs to your readers now, as does the discussion of its faults and merits.

In the case of cyber bully reviewers, nothing good can come of interacting with them. Do not give them fuel for their fire. Ignoring them will douse their flame, and allow you to turn your energy to more productive and creative endeavors.

Those are some of my strategies for dealing with negative reviews. How about you? Have you had experience with negative criticism? What are your thoughts on reviews and how to manage them?

Betrayed by her own prodigy, Eolyn stands accused of treason. As power-hungry nobles dismantle her life’s work and honor, the desperate queen forges a risky alliance with the ruthless and cunning Mage Corey. Determined to defend her son’s claim to the throne of the Mage King, Eolyn prepares for her last and greatest battle, this time against her own sisters in magic.

Across the Furma River, Taesara of Roenfyn is drawn out of seclusion and into an ever-more vicious game of intrigue and war. Subject to the schemes of a shrewd uncle and the mysterious ambitions of the wizards of Galia, Taesara struggles to assert her own destiny, even as she takes up arms to defend her daughter’s inheritance.

In the climactic finale to The Silver Web trilogy, threads of love, honor, betrayal, and vengeance culminate in a violent conflict between powerful women, opposed to each other yet destined to shatter a thousand-year cycle of war.

“An enticing and elegant series finale, filled with magic and turmoil.” -KIRKUS REVIEWS>

Enjoy an Excerpt

Taesara stiffened as Penamor took her chin in his fingers and subjected her to cold inspection. After a moment, his frown deepened and he shook his head. “Only the Sisters of the Poor could take a woman at the height of her flower and turn her into a dried-up weed.”

Taesara bristled. “There is no place for vanity within these walls.”

“Apparently not. They’ve made you skinny and sallow. Though it is nothing, I’ll wager, that a bit of sun and some proper food cannot remedy. What are these rags they dress you in?”

She stepped away, clenching her jaw. “This is all I need. All anyone needs, to live at peace in this world.”

Penamor snorted. “Indeed.”

“Why are you here?”

“I’ve come to fetch you home.”

“This is my home.”

“This was your temporary refuge. A foul place, but one of your choosing. We were generous enough to let you stay, first your father and then I, as we put the outside world in order. Now it is time for you to return.”

“I am not going back.”

“Oh, but I think you will.” Penamor spoke with an odd tone, at once menacing and full of promise. “War is at hand, and you will be the one to lead it.”

Taesara forced a laugh. “You know I will have no part of it. Eliasara would die at their hands if we so much as—”

“They do not have Eliasara,” he said. “We do.”

Shadows flashed through Taesara’s vision. She stumbled and caught hold of the back of a chair. A chasm opened inside her heart, swallowing the vines and trees with which she had concealed her love and pain during all these years. The bitter anguish of the day she was separated from Eliasara returned full force.

“Where is she? Where is my daughter?”

About the Author: Karin Rita Gastreich writes stories of ordinary women and the extraordinary paths they choose. She lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she is part of the biology faculty at Avila University. An ecologist by vocation, Karin has wandered forests and wildlands all her life. Her pastimes include camping, hiking, music, and flamenco dance. In addition to THE SILVER WEB trilogy, Karin has published short stories in World Jumping, Zahir, Adventures for the Average Woman, and 69 Flavors of Paranoia. She is a recipient of the Spring 2011 Andrews Forest Writer’s Residency.

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Buy EOLYN, Book One of THE SILVER WEB at Amazon.
Buy SWORD OF SHADOWS, Book Two of THE SILVER WEB at Amazon.
Buy DAUGHTER OF AITHNE, Book Three of THE SILVER WEB at Amazon.

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Of the Divine by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes – Spotlight and Giveaway


This post is part of a virtual book tour organized by Goddess Fish Promotions. Amelia Atwater-Rhodes will be awarding a limited edition print copy of the book *U.S. only* to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour. Click on the tour banner to see the other stops on the tour.

Please welcome the author to our blog!

Thanks for having me. I’ve spent the last few days of this blog tour talking about myself, and I expect to do so for much of the rest of the month. For today, I want to take a break and talk about someone else who is absolutely essential for a novel’s survival: the reader.

Publishing is an exhausting process full of exhilaration and heartache. When you ask most authors what advice they would give an aspiring writer, they say something like, “Write what you love,” or “don’t let anyone tell you it isn’t worth it.” When you ask what advice they would give an aspiring published writer, they say, “Grow a thick skin.” Publishing means taking a work of your heart and soul and putting it before the world, where it will inevitably be criticized, scrutinized, and torn apart. It is the job of your editor to tell you everything that is wrong with your baby in excruciating detail– and your editor is on your side. Then the reviews come in, and the Twitter threads. No matter how good a writer you are, you can’t please everyone, so inevitably something negative hits you.

Top that off with the fact that most published writers make very little money on this extraordinarily time-consuming career, and it’s easy to wonder, Why do you do it? Why not just keep that story to yourself, or print copies at Office Max to hand to your friends and relatives if you want to share it around?

The answer is: the readers.

At conventions and signings and readings, readers often approach my table cautiously, as if they’re wary of bothering me. They act embarrassed and apologize as they hand over a shabby first edition of In the Forests of the Night, my debut novel, and explain they’ve read it a hundred times and it inspired them to start writing. Or it’s a copy of Midnight Predator, and a story about how it inspired them to escape from or finally start to process an abusive relationship, or Wolfcry, and a coming out story where they explain that this was the first book where they encountered a gay protagonist, and how much it means to them because of it.

Just like the advice given to the aspiring writer, I write first because I love to do so. I have stories inside me and they want to come out. I first published because I was fourteen and didn’t know what I was getting into.

I keep publishing now, despite working more than full time and having a million other tugs on my time and energy, for you, my readers. For those of you who write to me, Tweet at me, talk to me in person. You are never a bother, never an inconvenience. You are my inspiration.

 

Henna is one of the most powerful sorcerers in the Order of Napthol, and her runes ’s runes tell her that the future of Kavet is balanced on the edge of the knife. The treaties between Kavet and the dragon-like race known as the Osei have become intolerable. The time has come for the royal house to magically challenge Osei dominion. Prince Verte, Henna’ lover, is to serve as the nexus for the powerful but dangerous spell, with Naples–an untested young sorcerer from the Order of Napthol–a volatile but critical support to its creation.

Amid these plans, Dahlia Indathrone’s arrival in the city shouldn’t matter. She has no magic and no royal lineage, and yet, Henna immediately knows Dahlia is important. She just can’t see why.

As their lives intertwine, the four will learn that they are pawns in a larger game, one played by the forces of the Abyss and of the Numen—the infernal and the divine.

A game no mortal can ever hope to win.

Enjoy an Excerpt

The ocean that covered most of the Numen’s first level was clear and sweet. It lapped against diamond sand where tiny long-legged birds spread wings the color of honey as they raced back and forth, plucking drifting seeds from the air. The Numini—those perfect, beautiful sentinels who ruled the divine realm by might and decree—watched the birds’ antics with gentle amusement.

One Numini looked past the white sands and crystal waters below to a realm where the ocean was cold and tasted of salt, where verdant green cascaded across rich earth, and where the mortal creatures lived.

Soon, she thought. She was one of the three arbiters who ruled the Numen, second only to the high justice of her kind.

“I am concerned about the Abyssi,” remarked one of her brothers, a lesser judge. “We have worked for generations to nurture these lines of power, and now they could all be—”

“Have faith,” she assured him. “Abyssi scrabble at the mortal realm like dogs at a closed door. They always have. They lack the wisdom or discipline to do more than that.”

“But do the mortals have the wisdom to keep the door closed?” he challenged.

“Faith,” the arbiter said again. This time it was a clear chastisement.

She knew their children in the mortal world were defenseless. Humans had minds barely capable of comprehending their own existence, and as a consequence lived short and brutal lives. They needed their divine guardians to guide and nurture them. The Abyssi—vicious, mindless beasts of the infernal realm—could fight for sovereignty all they wanted. In the end, it wouldn’t matter.

In the mortal realm, all things served the divine.

About the Author: Amelia Atwater-Rhodes wrote her first novel, In the Forests of the Night, when she was 13 years old. Other books in the Den of Shadows series are Demon in My View, Shattered Mirror, Midnight Predator, all ALA Quick Picks for Young Adults. She has also published the five-volume series The Kiesha’ra: Hawksong, a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year and VOYA Best Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror List Selection; Snakecharm; Falcondance; Wolfcry; and Wyvernhail.

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How to Handle Negative Criticism by Cindy Lynn Speer – Guest Blog and Giveaway

This post is part of a virtual book tour organized by Goddess Fish Promotions. One randomly chosen winner via rafflecopter will win a $50 Amazon/BN.com gift card. Click on the tour banner to see the other stops on the tour.

How to handle negative criticism

Sometimes you will get some really odd criticism. Reviews, for example, that complain about the book not downloading right or having a glitch in it. If you see a review where you can do something to help the reader, I think you should try and bounce it back to your publisher so that they get what they paid for (and maybe they will make that one star review a little nicer) but if you can’t fix things, you just have to ignore it.

I sometimes talk about how you cannot control what people think or what they do about their thoughts. Consider, for a second, your absolute favorite author. I promise you, there are people who hate them with a furious passion. There are people who think my prose is like chewing tin foil. That’s not their fault or mine, it just is. Not everything in this world is everyone’s cup of tea. Think about the people who enjoy your stories, the others don’t really matter because there is nothing you can do about it. Again this is not an indictment against someone who didn’t like your work, but why grind your guts over things you cannot change?

But, internet criticism is always easier to deal with than face to face criticism. If someone says something to you, weigh the person first. Are they a well-meaning friend? Are they someone who is invested somehow in your success, whether they are your editor or someone who likes you and would like to see you do well? Or are they a stranger? I try and get the idea of what they are trying to accomplish as I listen to their words, because that will help you separate the well-meaning from the people who like cutting others down.

Then, I think, does their criticism have merit? Is it something I have heard before? Can I go back and fix it? If it is someone invested in my success, I admit, they get a little more weight, because their agenda is for me to do well. Also, if I hear the same piece of criticism over and over (and it is something specific) I figure that is a flaw I need to fix.

If your book is published, printed, and done — then consider whether this is a problem you will have in future works and you will need to fix.

If you think it is worth fixing, fix it. If you cannot or do not…smile, thank them, and walk away.

If you are like me, you will feel embarrassed and weirdly guilty. The best thing to do is to remind yourself that you did your best and that all is well. Once you’ve extracted any possible good out of their comments, forget it and walk away.

The Chocolatier’s Wife: ROMANCE, MAGIC, MYSTERY…. AND CHOCOLATE

A truly original, spellbinding love story, featuring vivid characters in a highly realistic historical setting.

When Tasmin’s bethrothed, William, is accused of murder, she gathers her wind sprites and rushes to his home town to investigate. She doesn’t have a shred of doubt about his innocence. But as she settles in his chocolate shop, she finds more in store than she bargained for. Facing suspicious townsfolk, gossiping neighbors, and William’s own family, who all resent her kind – the sorcerer folk from the North — she must also learn to tell friend from foe, and fast. For the real killer is still on the loose – and he is intent on ruining William’s family at all cost.

The Chocolatier’s Ghost: Married to her soul mate, the chocolatier William, Tasmin should not have to worry about anything at all. But when her happily ever after is interrupted by the disappearance of the town’s wise woman, she rushes in to investigate. Faced with dangers, dead bodies, and more mysterious disappearances, Tasmin and William must act fast to save their town and themselves – especially when Tasmin starts to be haunted by a most unwelcome ghost from her past…literally.

The Chocolatier’s Ghost is an enchanting sequel to Cindy Lynn Speer’s bestselling romantic mystery, The Chocolatier’s Wife.

Enjoy an Excerpt from The Chocolatier’s Wife:

Time was, in the kingdom of Berengeny, that no one picked their spouses. No one courted—not officially, at any rate—and no one married in a moment’s foolish passion. It was the charge of the town Wise Woman, who would fill her spell bowl with clear, pure water; a little salt; and the essence of roses, and rosemary, and sage. Next, she would prick the finger of the newborn child and let his or her blood drip into the potion. If a face showed in the waters, then it was known that the best possible mate (they never said true love, for that was the stuff of foolish fancy) had been born, and the Wise Woman could then tell where the future spouse lived, and arrangements were made.

For the parents of William of the House of Almsley, this process would turn out to be less than pleasant.

The first year that the baby William’s finger was pricked and nothing showed, the Wise Woman said, “Fear not, a wife is often younger than the husband.”

The second, third, and even fifth year she said much the same.

But you see, since the spell was meant to choose the best match—not the true love—of the heart the blood in the bowl belonged to, this did not mean, as years passed, that the boy was special. It meant that he would be impossible to live with.

On his seventh birthday, it seemed everyone had quite forgotten all about visiting the Wise Woman until William, who knew this of long habit to be a major part of his day–along with cake, a new toy, and a new set of clothes–tugged on his mother’s skirt and asked when they were going. She stared at him a long moment, tea cup in hand, before sighing and calling for the carriage. She didn’t even bother to change into formal clothes this time, and the Wise Woman seemed surprised to see them at all. “Well, we might as well try while you’re here,” she said, her voice obviously doubtful.

William obediently held out the ring finger on his left hand and watched as the blood dripped into the bowl. “She has dark brown eyes,” William observed, “and some hair already.” He shrugged, and looked at the two women. “I suppose she’ll do. I’m just glad ‘tis over, and that I can go on with my life.”

“For you, perhaps,” his mother said, thinking of what she would now have to accomplish.

“Do not fret, mother, I shall write a letter to the little girl. Not that she can read it, anyway.” He petted his mother’s arm. He was a sweet boy, but he was always charging forward, never worrying about feelings.

The Wise Woman rolled out an elegantly painted silk map of the kingdom and all its regions, his mother smoothed the fabric across the table, and then the Wise Woman dipped a brass weight into the bowl. Henriette, William’s mother, placed her hands on William’s shoulders as the Wise Woman held the weight, suspended, over the map.

Henriette held her breath, waiting to see where it would land. Andrew, her younger son, had his intended living just down the street, which was quite convenient. At least they knew what they were getting into immediately.

The plumb-bob made huge circles around the map, spinning and spinning as the Wise Woman recited the words over and over. It stopped, stiffly pointing toward the North.

“Tarnia? Not possible, nor even probable. You must try again!”

For once, William’s mother wasn’t being stubbornly demanding. Tarnia, a place of cruel and wild magic, was the last place from whence one would wish a bride. They did not have Wise Women there, for anyone could perform spells. The Hags of the North ate their dead and sent the harsh winter wind to ravage the crops of the people of the South. Five hundred years ago, the North and the South had fought a bitter war over a cause no one could quite remember, only that it had been a brutal thing, and that many had died, and it led to the South losing most of its magic. Though the war was long over and the two supposedly united again, memory lingered. “I have cast it twice.” The Wise Woman chewed her lower lip, but therewas naught else she could do.

“Not Tarnia, please?” Henriette, usually a rather fierce and cold woman, begged.

“I am afraid so.” The Wise Woman began cleaning up; her shoulders set a little lower. “I am sorry.”

William, staring out the window at the children playing outside, couldn’t care less. What did it matter where anyone was from? She was a baby, and babies didn’t cause that much trouble.

“Only you, William,” his mother said, shaking her head. “Why can you not do anything normal?”

This was to be the tenor of most of their conversations throughout their lives.

About the Author:

Cindy Lynn Speer has been writing since she was 13. She has Blue Moon and Unbalanced published by Zumaya. Her other works, including The Chocolatier’s Wife (recently out in an illustrated hardcover to celebrate its 10th anniversary) and the Chocolatier’s Ghost, as well as the short story anthology Wishes and Sorrows. When she is not writing she is either practicing historical swordsmanship, sewing, or pretending she can garden. She also loves road trips and seeing nature. Her secret side hobby is to write really boring bios about herself.


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Top 8 Tips For Surviving The Zombie Apocalypse by Samie Sands – Guest Blog and Giveaway

This post is part of a virtual book tour organized by Goddess Fish Promotions. Samie Sands will be awarding a $10 Amazon or BN GC to one winner, and three additional winners will each receive a print copy of a book in the series.

Top 8 Tips For Surviving The Zombie Apocalypse
Since Lockdown and the AM13 Outbreak Series are set in the middle of the zombie apocalypse, I thought I would share the top 8 tips for surviving that I learned while researching for my books:

1. The Rule of Three – Alyssa in Forgotten notes the rule of three: you can survive for 3 minutes without oxygen, 3 hours without shelter, 3 days without water, and 3 weeks without food…if necessary.

2. Clear First – Leah in Lockdown learns the hard way that before anything else you need to make sure that a room is cleared out of any infected first!

3. Know your Enemy – as Georgie in Extinct discovers, zombies aren’t always the biggest threat out there. The apocalypse brings out the worst in people.

4. Be Careful – Michelle in Lockdown gets injured before she even has to face any zombies which instantly puts her at as disadvantage.

5. Choose your Weapon – Ethan in Forgotten struggles with the world anyway because of his severe Obsessive Compulsive Disorder so when the outbreak happens that intensifies massively. Choosing the right weapon is key to his survival.

6. Pack a Bug Out Bag – all the characters in the AM13 Outbreak series have to get hold of supplies for moving about during the apocalypse. Just ensure it has food, water, medical supplies, weapons, something to protect yourself from bad weather, and a flashlight in it as the essentials.

7. Find a Safe Place – many of the characters in Not Dead Yet are trying to find somewhere safe to survive while the outbreak happens around them. For some of them it’s their own home, for others it’s more public buildings such as shopping malls. Whatever you pick, make sure it’s safe.

8. Don’t get Bit – it might be an obvious one, but avoid the zombies as much as possible. Don’t try to be a hero for the sake of it, you’ll just end up another one of the shuffling, undead army roaming the streets outside.

Leah Watton’s practical joke has spiralled way out of control—all to impress a crush…

With a prank online video, Leah hopes to catch the attention of Jake Colton, a cute, blond-haired, blue-eyed co-worker she’s had a crush on for months. But instead of sending it to Jake, she manages to forward the clip to her boss—who buys every gory second.

When mass panic ensues, Leah learns the video is more than a staged act…

The government is calling the virus AM13. As the outbreak spreads, citizens are forced to stay indoors while they assess the gravity of the illness. Most people are quarantined in their homes, but Leah, Jake, and Leah’s best friend Michelle are some of the unlucky few who are stuck at work when the Lockdown occurs.

That’s where she first encounters one of the infected…

Aside from a contaminated woman devouring one of her co-workers, Leah has another problem. Does she do as she’s ordered and stay at work? Or should she disobey government orders and break free to reunite with her family?

She can’t go it alone—after all, Leah has none of the skills needed to survive—but with Michelle and Jake by her side, not even a contagious virus and a sea of the dead can keep her from…

Breaking out of the Lockdown…

Enjoy an Excerpt

I know that others are walking alongside and behind me, but I don’t know if they’re infected or healthy. I’ve become weirdly desensitised to it all. Logic would dictate that there are no other humans out here, but as I’m not in direct trouble right now, I’m not too bothered about figuring it out.

I spot a girl, maybe six or seven-years-old. She’s fallen over before me, in the middle of the road. I need to help her. That’s what people do, help children, isn’t it? Others are just stepping over her, ignoring her. But I won’t do that. I’m going to help her. There’s a tight knot of anxiety forming and twisting in my chest. I need to help her.

I try to pick up the pace and get to her before anything bad can happen, but my sluggish body can only do so much. As I get nearer to where she lays, I feel the familiar rage overtaking me. I’m suddenly angrier than I’ve ever been in my life. How can people just leave this sweet innocent girl like this? In the middle of the road, potentially injured, definitely in a lot of danger! God, the human race is so screwed up. I can’t be the only one who can see that she needs someone to look after her.

That’s when I realise, with a sickening crunch that she hasn’t fallen. Both her legs have broken. And not just broken, snapped off her body. And she’s growling. Moaning and growling just like the others…

About the Author: Samie Sands is the author of the AM13 Outbreak series – Lockdown, Forgotten, and Extinct. She’s also had a number of short stories published in very successful short story anthologies. To find out more about her and her work, check out her website.

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What Happens in Velos Stays in Velos… by Amanda Bouchet – Giveaway


Long and Short Reviews is happy to share an original piece written by Amanda Bouchet to celebrate the upcoming release of the final installment in her The Kingmaker Chronicles, Heart of Fire. Readers of The Kingmaker Chronicles are already well-acquainted with Griffin, but never before have we had the chance to see the world of Thalyria—and Cat—through his eyes. In anticipation of the final installment of the series, Heart on Fire, Amanda Bouchet has written this companion piece from Griffin’s POV!

So, get comfy and dig in!

What Happened in Velos Stays in Velos…
by Amanda Bouchet
Griffin watched Cat figure out their location from only architectural clues and the fact that there was a nearby forest. The way she put things together using a knowledge base most people didn’t possess amazed him.

“How do you know so much about Velos?” he asked, curious. “The circus travels a route farther to the west.”

“I’ve met people, heard things,” she answered with a small shrug.

Annoyance ground against his earlier admiration. Cat knew the truth—always—and yet she lied to him constantly. He could see it in her face, knew when she was hiding something. He wanted what was best for Sinta. Griffin was convinced that Cat did, too, but for them to start making changes happen, he had to break through her animosity first. Sometimes, he saw flashes of something else in her when she forgot to guard her expression, something that made his chest clench. Maybe there was still hope.

“Help me, Cat,” he said, trying not to sound like he was begging. Weakness wouldn’t go over well with her. She responded negatively to force—that much was clear—but she respected strength. “Or at least tell me the truth. I know when you’re lying.”

“Oh?” She looked like her last meal was abruptly curdling in her stomach.

“Your eyes get twitchy.”

“My eyes do not get twitchy!” she spat back, clearly horrified.

Did she really not know? She had so many tells, but he almost felt like he was alone in seeing them. No one else seemed to notice every nuance of her breath and skin.

“This one gets narrower.” Griffin lightly touched the tip of his finger to the corner of her right eye. Cat jolted at the contact. He wasn’t sure if that brought him satisfaction or regret. Maybe it was some of both. He couldn’t figure out a lot of things when it came to Cat, but he knew his own heart and body. They didn’t lie to him. He cared about her deeply; he wanted her madly.

“It’s as if you’re expecting the lie to hurt, but it doesn’t because it’s your own,” he explained.

Still looking like there was a sour grape in her mouth, she leaned away from him and started walking again. “Thank you for telling me. I’ll have to work on that,” she said through clenched teeth.

“Cat…” he growled, stalking after her. “Everything would be so much easier if—”

“—you let me go.”

Griffin shook his head. “I can’t. You’re too valuable.”

“Aren’t you the lucky despot? The one who caught the Kingmaker. Forgive me for not being overjoyed about becoming your slave.”

“Not a slave.” Impulsively, he reached out and grabbed her arm, swinging her back to him. “One of us.”

Cat wrenched out of his hold, looking more than incredulous. She looked furious, her mesmerizing green eyes practically on fire.

Gods, he wanted to shake her. Kiss her. Make her believe him. It should have been obvious to her of all people that he was telling the truth.

Once again, the fact that he’d dragged her unwillingly from her home punched Griffin in the stomach, making his gut twist. What in the bloody Underworld had he been thinking? His logic and reason had seemed to melt in the heat between them and then abandon him entirely when they’d really begun interacting. In the end, he’d just known she had to be with him. They had to be together.

He inwardly grimaced. As far as choices went about how to make that happen, though, there were undoubtedly better ones. And now he was paying. Cat was making sure of it—as she should.

“I’ll never be one of you,” she bit out with enough conviction to almost convince him.

Almost.

Griffin dragged a hand through his hair, tugging it back. “You’re too stubborn for your own good.”

She glared at him. She was something fierce.

Emotion tore through his chest. Would she ever forgive him?

The five of them—Beta Team, Cat, and him—eventually reached the market rows, and Griffin pulled four silver coins from his money pouch.

Flynn’s eyes brightened as he rubbed his hands together. “Payday!”

Flynn, Carver, and Kato each took the coin Griffin owed them, leaving one in the palm of his hand.

“Cat.” Griffin extended the coin to her, an uncomfortable hesitancy making his heart pound. “Your pay.”

As he expected, Cat refused the money. He wouldn’t push her. He wasn’t out to prove she was part of their team with one gesture. It was a long-term effort, one that meant a great deal to him.

He put the coin away. “I’ll hold it for you. I know what you want. You complain about it often enough.”

She looked up sharply, and then her eyes narrowed. Did she like it when he teased her?

Cat moved along next to him while he bought her some fruit he thought she would like as well as some bread and cheese. Not goat cheese. He knew better than that. Griffin tried to keep the rope from pulling taut, but it wasn’t always easy. He hated to remind her it was there. Not that she ever forgot. He just didn’t want to make things worse between them.

He located a soap seller next and tried to find something nice-smelling to replace Cat’s shrinking bar. He’d been using hers, and there wasn’t much left.

The turn of his thoughts reminded him of bathing so close to her, only a few feet apart. Gods, he wished he could see her. Just a glimpse. Just the slope of her bare shoulder while her hair was slicked back and water slid down the column of her throat…

Taking a deep breath, Griffin tried to control the jagged, unsatisfied heat prowling through him like a caged beast.

Cat rolled her eyes. “You’re worse than a woman. Just take the yellow one. It’s always the best.”

He reached for a block of bright-yellow soap, picked it up, and sniffed. “Lemon.” He closed his eyes and inhaled again, imagining breathing against Cat’s smooth skin. “Smells like you.”

“And you,” she shot back, her color rising. “My soap should have lasted another month.”

Ignoring the bite in her tone and doing his best to redirect his blood to his brain, Griffin handed over payment to the vendor. “We’ll take two,” he said in a voice like gravel.

“There is no we,” Cat muttered irritably as they continued down the row of market stalls. “Don’t act like I have a say in any of this.”

Now that wasn’t true. Griffin turned, frustrated again. Yes, he’d willingly pay for his highhanded stupidity. He’d pay forever if it kept Cat with him, but short of letting her go just to watch her walk away from him, from Sinta, and from everything they could accomplish together, he’d give her anything she asked for. And she damn well knew it.

“You could have a say,” he growled at her. “And you could bloody well choose your own soap!”

“I did! I told you to take the yellow one.”

“And I did!” Cursing under his breath, Griffin stalked toward the next vendor, somehow forgetting about the magic rope. The bloody thing pulled taut, and he accidentally jerked Cat right into someone who suddenly stumbled in from the side. The man looked innocuous enough, but off-balance and dazed. High from some spell, no doubt.

Griffin was about to intervene when Cat gasped and reached out to the stranger with a visible shudder. Her face lit up as she grabbed the man’s shoulders and pulled him even closer.

Griffin scowled. What in the Underworld was she up to now?

***

“Cat?” Griffin stepped closer to her. “Cat! What are you doing?”

Laughing, she finally released the stunned-looking man. She turned and stumbled straight into Griffin, sucking in a sharp breath when he caught her bare arms to steady her. Her eyes flared, then softened.

“You’re pink!” She giggled, the sound seeming strange and unnatural coming from her.

Griffin frowned, which apparently made her laugh harder. Her eyes unfocused, Cat splayed her hand over his chest. He thought it was for balance. She probably wouldn’t have touched him otherwise. He still reveled in the warm, light weight of her fingers. He’d longed to have her hands on him.

Cat stared at his chest. She seemed fascinated. She slowed her breathing to match his.

“Poseidon’s balls! What in the Underworld did you do to me?” The man who’d stumbled into Cat didn’t look dazed anymore; he looked infuriated.

Cat blinked. She blinked again, tilting her head to one side. She stayed right next to Griffin, her hand still on his chest.

The man staggered, fighting tremors and hiccupping down a series of short, disjointed breaths. His overly lean, unhealthy frame spoke of dependence and bad choices. Griffin tensed in case the addict got any stupid ideas about accosting Cat—who had clearly done something to him with her magic.

“That dose was supposed to last all day!” the man snarled. “I paid good silver for it. Give it back!” He lunged at Cat.

Griffin wrapped his arm around Cat’s waist and swept her out of the man’s path. The addict howled, and she laughed, leaning into Griffin in a way that warmed his entire side. Enraged, the addict drew a knife and waved it in Cat’s direction, a crazed light sparking in his already frantic eyes.

No one threatened Cat. Griffin shot out his hand and knocked the knife from the other man’s grip. It wasn’t hard; the addict already shook. He had no intention of stopping there. He leapt forward and wrapped his hand around the man’s throat. He held on to Cat as well. There was no way he was letting her go.

Her gaze bright, almost rapt, Cat stared fixedly at Griffin’s arm until he tossed the man to the ground. Kato, Flynn, and Carver formed a perimeter, keeping everyone else away and the addict in. Cat clapped and smiled, wiggling in apparent delight.

“Dose of what?” Griffin demanded in a hard voice. He needed to know what was wrong with her, and he needed to know now.

Cat shivered, and he couldn’t help gripping her tighter. He was self-aware enough to know he didn’t pull her closer solely for her protection.

Banking on sheer intimidation as the best way to handle the addict, Griffin drew a knife and threw it with precision, sticking it a mere inch from the man’s ear. “The next one lands somewhere that hurts,” he snarled.

The addict paled, his mouth going slack as his eyes darted to the blade next to his face.

“Brutal,” Cat commented. She didn’t sound averse.

Griffin glanced at her. “No one touches you.”

She bit her lower lip, looking adorably confused. “You’re touching me.”

Griffin’s eyes fixed on her mouth. “I’m the exception.”

She seemed to stop breathing, to maybe even like what she heard. Hope jerked in his chest. Smiling, Cat swayed toward him, and his fingers tightened on her hip. It took an almost herculean effort to resist hauling her up against him and kissing her like he’d wanted to since the moment he’d first laid eyes on her, weeks ago.

Griffin briefly closed his eyes. Cat wasn’t herself, and he wouldn’t take advantage of her.

Focusing on the addict again, he ground out, “I’m waiting.”

Cat turned back to the man at their feet as well and pointed her finger. “Answer or die!”

She did menace with absolute believability, and the man’s face went cloud-white. Cat burst out laughing.

“Euphoria,” he finally answered, pushing himself up to sitting. “Paid five silvers for it, and the little leech stole it with one touch.”

The addict spat at Cat, and a low growl rumbled in Griffin’s throat. He wasn’t in the habit of beating on people weaker than himself, but right then, he was sorely tempted.

“You bumped into me,” Cat announced, although she didn’t look entirely certain. She peeled Griffin’s arm off her waist and then stumbled away, unsteady on her feet.

The rope snapped tight, and she swayed. Following her, Griffin put his hand on her lower back to steady her, and the slight, momentary hitch in Cat’s stride was the only indication that she’d felt him behind her. She ignored him otherwise.

“What about the addict?” Carver asked, handing Griffin back his knife.

“Leave him.” Griffin stayed close to Cat as he sheathed the blade. “Make sure he’s not following.”

Cat hummed as she walked, almost dancing. Without her usual dark cloud of cynicism and understandable fury in place, there was a brightness to her that riveted him. Griffin wanted to enjoy it, enjoy her, but he was too worried about what she’d done to herself—and how it would end. Highs inevitably came with lows.

She stumbled, dizzy and distracted, and he easily caught her around the waist. Gods, he loved the feel of this woman in his hands. He wanted her under him. Over him. Everywhere.

“You’re high on euphoria.” He slid his hands up her ribcage to better balance her as she swayed. “A strong dose, calibrated to a man twice your size.” Their eyes met, and Griffin felt her soft, dreamy gaze straight down to his groin. “How did that happen?”

Cat beckoned, and he lowered his head. Their faces brushed, and he wished he could turn and capture her lips with his. It was torture to hold back, especially when Cat pressed into him, seeming to enjoy the contact.

“I can steal magic,” she told him in a conspiratorial whisper. “If you had any, I’d steal yours.”

Griffin kept a steady expression, even though her words shocked him. He’d never heard of that. He’d known Cat was valuable, powerful, but good Gods, was there nothing she couldn’t do?

Without his immunity to harmful magic, he could never hold on to a Magoi like Cat—magic rope or not. Although the rope certainly helped.

Helped keep her, he thought grimly. It didn’t help their relationship.

Her sudden smile nearly winded him.

“I can give it away, too.” Cat laid her hands on his chest and then shuddered. She frowned, seeming baffled.

“You don’t want any?” She pushed on his chest again before dropping her hands. “There’s something very strange about you.”

The realization appeared to delight her. Laughter bubbled up straight from her belly. Griffin felt his own mouth twitch.
Her amusement cut off abruptly, and she scooted out of his arms, reaching for Kato. Kato’s eyes glazed over the instant she touched him. He grinned like a fool.

“Everything’s pink!” Kato turned, lost his balance, and knocked over an entire table of leather goods.

“For the Gods’ sakes!” Griffin muttered. Now there were two of them.

The irate vendor started grumbling curses, so Griffin handed over some money. Nothing was broken, and the silver coin would more than pay for the mess.

He turned to someone who still had his wits intact. “Flynn! Take care of him. Take him back to the inn. Make sure he doesn’t do anything stupid or kill anyone by accident.”

“Oh, no!” Cat sang out in a loud voice. “We mustn’t kill by accident. Only on purpose.”

“My sentiment exactly.” Griffin gripped her hand and led her away from the growing crowd of staring people.

Cat giggled. Carver kept pace behind them.

“Where are we going?” Cat asked, starting to dance in circles around him. Griffin turned as well to keep the rope from tangling—not that he’d mind if it drew her right up against him.

Her hands suddenly flew up, and she started almost frantically taking apart her braid.

“We have one more thing to buy,” Griffin answered, wondering if he should help her with whatever she was doing.

“I knew it!” She seemed to forget about her now-disheveled hair and clapped, beaming. “What?”

“A drying cloth.”

Her face fell. Griffin knew a drying cloth wasn’t very exciting, but she needed one, so there was that.

Cat’s head swiveled around, and she walked off to the right, taking Griffin with her.

Her expression brightened once more. “A sword! I want a sword. Can I have a sword?”

The way her eyes glittered when she looked up at him punched a hole of happiness straight through his ribs. Right then, he knew he could deny her nothing—except the freedom she wanted most.

“You can’t even lift a sword.” He followed her toward the table of blades anyway. Maybe the vendor had something small.

“I can. Watch me.” She reached for a huge monstrosity of a weapon. It looked big, even to Griffin’s eyes.

“That’s odd. Someone must have glued it.” She bent over the sword for a closer look and ended up hitting her face on it.
Griffin’s heart spasmed. Was she hurt?

“Ow!” Cat popped up, rubbing her nose and nearly falling over backward. His hand shot out to steady her, but this time, she didn’t need him.

She frowned ferociously at the blood on her fingers, but Griffin breathed a sigh of relief. The cut was a small thing.

Cat eventually shrugged and then wiped the red smudge from her hand, laughing again. The euphoria must still have been strong in her system.

Brushing flyaway hair out of her face, Griffin leaned in for a closer look. The nick had already stopped bleeding.

In a move that startled him, Cat’s hands shot up and gripped his face back. Griffin’s heart stopped dead in his chest. She held on, her grasp tight at first. Then it loosened, and she trailed her fingertips down his cheeks.

Heat rushed through him. He wished he’d shaved for her. He didn’t dare breathe.

“Hmmm.” Her eyelids seemed to grow heavy, her lashing dipping to shade her beautiful eyes. “Scratchy.”

Griffin swallowed hard. Cat was touching him, and circumstances made it so that he couldn’t reciprocate.

He captured her hands in his and slowly lowered them. He couldn’t help the light caress he gave her knuckles. He didn’t do it consciously.

“The cut’s nothing.” Hardly recognizing his own voice, he released her. If he’d held on to her much longer, his skin would have caught fire.

With what felt like an Olympian effort, Griffin turned away from Cat and nodded to a small blade at the end of the table. The merchant handed it over, and he tested it, only partially to distract himself. If it wasn’t a quality blade, it wasn’t for Cat.
The sword turned out to be sturdy, well-crafted, and straight. “We’ll take it,” he announced. “And your smallest sword belt with dagger loops.”

Cat looked thrilled, and Griffin felt his chest expand.

“You’re buying me a sword? And a belt for my knives?” Grinning, she astonished him by leaping on him.

Griffin caught her as her arms and legs clamped around him. His heart thudded hard, his lungs seized, and his whole body ignited. She felt painfully perfect in his arms.

Unable to resist, he angled his head toward her and inhaled deeply. Cat smelled like frosted lemons—fresh and tangy, with a hint of acidity. He loved her bite. He was fairly certain he loved her.

As he breathed her in, his chest pressed against hers. The contact was exhilarating. His long, slow exhale shuddered over her neck, and Cat shivered in his arms.

Breathy laughter fluttered against his ear. “Ack! That tickles!”

A strained chuckle was Griffin’s only response.

He forced himself to unlock his greedy arms from around her and set her back on her feet. He knew Cat—an undrugged Cat—wouldn’t want to be in his embrace.

Staying close to him of her own accord, she smiled up at him in a way she never had before, like she meant it, rather than like she wanted to chew him up, spit him out, and then stomp on him until he was good and bloody.

Was this how things between them could be if she trusted him? If he’d convinced her that night at the circus fair instead of capturing her?

The thought made his chest ache, and Griffin cleared his throat, chasing out regret and need with a gruff sound. He’d figure out a way to win her over. He had to.

“The sword’s really for me?” Cat asked.

He hadn’t fully let her go since she hadn’t stepped back, and his fingers pressed lightly into her sides. “You said you wanted one.”

Cat’s smile grew brilliant. “In that case, I want two! One for each hip.”

He chuckled in spite of everything, imagining it all too well. The problem was, Cat was dangerous enough already.

“Let’s start with one,” he answered, drawing her a fraction closer.

Her breath caught, and it was agony not to lower his head and kiss her.

To avoid temptation, Griffin turned and paid for the sword.

Cat hopped along next to him when he began walking again. “Can I have it? Can I? Can I, please?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“You can have it when I can trust you.”

She nodded. “Okay.”

“Okay?” Griffin’s eyebrows flew up in surprise. “That’s it?”

“What’s it?” She flapped her hands, swatting at something. “Did you see that?”

He frowned. “See what?”

“The bee. The Centaur bee. The pink one.”

Glancing briefly toward Olympus for guidance—and to keep from laughing—Griffin took Cat’s hand and led her through the market. It would have been easier if she hadn’t been dancing—not that he would ever stop her.

When she looked up at him again, the joy in her eyes almost blinded him. “Thank you.”

Her simple words punched the air from his lungs. “You’re welcome,” he answered gruffly.

“Not you,” she declared in an exasperated tone.

Griffin was content to not comment and watch her dance some more. She stumbled over Carver’s feet. Quick, as always, his brother helped her back up before he could reach for her, and Griffin’s hands clenched with the need to steady her himself.
In thanks for Carver’s aid, Cat dipped into a deep and graceful curtsy that looked like it could have been executed in any royal court. He was surprised she managed it so well, given her current state. The ease with which she moved smacked of years of practice and raised questions he knew she wouldn’t answer.

Carver bowed back awkwardly enough to make Cat laugh until she could barely breathe. They weren’t used to such pomp in the south. Court etiquette was something he and his family still had to figure out—preferably fast.

Feeling a rush of worry for his family right now trying to integrate into royal life in Sinta City without him, Griffin guided Cat toward a table covered in drying cloths. Cat jumped, trying to catch the hanging ones while he looked through the selection on the table, suddenly ready to be done with the market in Velos and get back on the road.

“This one,” he said, selecting a yellow one about the same shade as Cat’s usual soap. She’d like that, wouldn’t she? It was almost like having a set.

“Is that for me?” she asked.

Griffin nodded, his stomach sinking at how disgusted she looked by his choice.

“Not that one. It looks like Cerberus threw up on it.” She glanced from side to side. “I want that one!”

She seemed ecstatic about a flashy red cloth big enough to cover four of her, so he put the yellow one back and bought the red.
He couldn’t think of anything else she—or anyone—needed, so Griffin steered Cat back toward the inn. Without warning, she sat down in the street, yanking the rope tight between them and pulling him to a sudden stop. Griffin let out a grunt of surprise.
Cat looked up at him, her nose scrunching. “Serves you right. You could just untie me. Or let me go.”

There was the usual Cat. Her tongue was still sharp, even if her mind was fuzzy. “And miss all this fun?” he teased.

Her laughter shook her all over. Griffin smiled back, wishing things could always be this easy and enjoyable between them. Maybe they would have been if he hadn’t been such a colossal arse the night they met.

He opened his mouth to apologize for capturing her, to solemnly ask her forgiveness, for another chance, for a better them he was desperate to have, when Cat’s head snapped around, and she jumped up, already running.

Bollocks! He’d missed his opportunity. He knew himself; there was a good chance he wouldn’t take it again. Cat’s barbed tongue could make even him hesitate, and she’d be back to her normal self soon. And in the end, he wasn’t sorry they were together. He’d never be sorry for that. Griffin ran after her.

“Where are you going?” he asked. Carver jogged next to them on Cat’s other side.

She didn’t answer but then veered off and ran up the steps of a bathhouse, crashing through the doors and nearly plowing into a couple. She reached for the woman but then pulled back before Griffin had to intervene. She kept going.

Chortling with glee, Cat raced toward what Griffin suspected was the men’s pool from the artwork on the walls. She didn’t seem to notice the increasingly explicit mosaics lining the corridor.

They arrived at a tall door that Cat tried unsuccessfully to open. She repeatedly groped for and missed the very prominent latch.

Griffin reached around her to open the door, not sure he shouldn’t have been barring the way instead. “I get the feeling you’ve never been high before.”

She glanced up at him. “Have you?”

He shook his head. Never—and he didn’t plan on it.

“Looks like fun,” Carver chimed in, rather idiotically in Griffin’s opinion. It looked like a dangerous loss of control to him.

Cat teetered toward Carver. “Want some? It’s fabulous!”

Carver grinned. “No thanks. Offering anything else?” he asked so smoothly that Griffin had to do a double-take before the urge to punch his brother hit him.

Cat laughed, blushing prettily. Then she sighed. “Don’t flirt.”

“Why not?” Carver asked, completely ignoring Griffin’s hard stare.

“Don’t you know? Poseidon sent your incredibly annoying brother to me with an oracular dream. Once-in-a-lifetime thing. Except for most people. Most people never have one. Anyway”—she rolled her eyes—“he probably thinks it means something.” She snorted like that was beyond ridiculous when it was likely the most important thing that had ever happened to him. “I’d rather eat goat balls. Or goat shit.” She frowned, clearly confused. “Or goat cheese!” she abruptly shouted.

“Oracular dream?” Griffin turned the term over in his mind and in his mouth. He hadn’t known what it was called, or that it occasionally happened to others, but he’d known it was life-changing. He’d known it meant he was supposed to be with Cat.

“She’s a wealth of information,” Carver murmured.

“What? Never heard of one?” Cat shrugged. “I’m hot.” She turned, tripped, and went down before Griffin could catch her.

He helped her to her feet again and then followed as she ran straight into the men’s bathing chamber. Three naked men looked over, startled.

Cat yanked her tunic over her head.

Griffin’s eyes widened. “For the Gods’ sakes, Cat!” He wanted to look. He knew he shouldn’t.

Everyone else needed to get out now.

She kept stripping, and something roared inside him.

“Out!” he shouted to the other men. What in the Underworld was he supposed to do? He couldn’t leave her alone in here. Not looking seemed impossible, especially when he needed to keep her safe. And because he desperately wanted to.

The need to protect her, even from himself, battered his chest. At the savage look on his face, the three men scrambled out of the pool and ran. They averted their gazes from Cat, obviously knowing what was good for them.

Cat turned back to him, completely bare. Heat built in his groin and crept through his abdomen. Griffin wanted to reach for her, to cover her. To cover her with himself. He nearly groaned.

His brother moved in his peripheral vision. What in the Gods’ names was Carver still doing here? A growl ground deep in his throat.

Before his narrowed eyes could snap to Carver, Cat reached up and swept her fingers through his hair. Her touch was light but sure. There was no hesitation, and even some gentleness. He wished she would never stop.

She smiled and patted his head. “Good Beta.”

The growl meant for Carver turned into a grunted laugh.

“Woof!” she barked back.

Gods, she was amazing. And fun. And strong. The knowledge made him grin and hit him square in the chest—which made his eyes automatically drop to hers.

Griffin froze, balling his hands into fists to keep from reaching for her.

She flushed. Her nipples hardened as he watched, and the tension inside him exploded into something nearly unbearable—hot and urgent. Griffin felt a muscle tick in his jaw as he clenched his teeth, fighting to tear his eyes away from her. He lost the battle, and his eyes dipped, sweeping over her. He swallowed hard. He wanted this woman more than his next breath. But he wanted her to like him first.

“Untie me or get in.” Cat’s throaty whisper, her invitation, nearly brought him to his knees.

Griffin stepped closer to hide her nakedness from Carver. He didn’t watch Carver leave the room, but he did watch Cat blow his brother a kiss, and Griffin practically saw red. He’d never felt so barbarically possessive in his life.

Finally alone with her, Griffin lifted his eyes to Cat’s. “Give me your binding word you won’t leave without me.”

“All right,” she agreed.

Could it be that easy? “Say it,” he insisted.

She rolled her eyes with extra exuberance and then bowed dramatically. “I won’t leave the bathing chamber without you, O Imperious One.”

It was hard not to laugh. His ire deflated instantly. Cat was his only concern.

Griffin untied the rope, trying to keep his hands to himself. He accidentally brushed Cat’s waist at one point, though, and his fingers almost caught fire. His whole body tightened with the need to claim Cat for his own.

The instant she was free of the rope, Cat turned and dove into the pool. She stayed underwater for so long that Griffin started to get anxious. He realized he shouldn’t have worried when she popped up a moment later, whooping and laughing.
She swam forever, and Griffin couldn’t do anything but watch and make sure she didn’t hurt herself. She played, frolicking in a way that made him long to join her. But she wouldn’t like that. She might like it now—she’d even splashed him and tried to coax him in—but she wouldn’t like it later. He wouldn’t make the inevitable end of her fun worse by joining her and giving her something more to regret from today.

Besides, how would he keep from touching her? From showing her how hot he burned for her? If he got in, the whole damn pool might evaporate just from the fire inside him.

Another long hour of torture later, Griffin pulled up short. He saw the exact moment Cat’s high burned itself out and fatigue and reality came crashing back to take its place.

She gasped, paling to near-translucent. She started to sink.

Griffin stepped forward, but then she seemed to recover enough to float. He hesitated. He wanted to help her, but she probably wouldn’t want him touching her.

Cat’s face went from white to red so fast it was blinding. She bowed her head, looking defeated, and Griffin’s heart clenched hard.

“That’s why addicts stay high,” he said softly. “It’s too awful when it ends.”

She sniffed but didn’t look up.

“Come.” Dropping his gaze to the marble floor, Griffin held out her new drying cloth. It was more than big enough to cover her up and warm her.

He didn’t look directly at Cat, but he could still tell that she crawled up the steps, shaking, shivering, and almost too weak to make it to the cloth he held. Griffin was going to hand it to her, but then she just oozed into the material and waited. He wrapped it around her and began gently patting her dry.

“Why did you take it?” he asked when she closed her eyes, looking mortified, weary, and utterly alone.

Right then, Griffin wished more than ever that he’d earned the right to take her into his arms and comfort her. But he hadn’t, so he wrapped the cloth more firmly around her instead. She trembled.

“The magic wanted to be inside me.” She spoke so softly he barely heard. “I couldn’t control it. I-I didn’t even try.”

Was it just his imagination, or had Cat leaned into him?

He cleared his throat.

“It wasn’t his magic. It was a spell.” Griffin straightened, wanting a better look at her. Pale face. Grey lips. Blank eyes. The sight of her made his chest ache.

“It doesn’t matter.” She slumped, hardly even upright. “It’s the same to me.”

Not knowing what else to do, Griffin made sure the cloth was secure around her before trying to guide her toward her clothes. “Let’s go.”

Instead of walking, Cat dropped to the floor and curled up in a ball.

Watching her, Griffin’s gut sank. He’d put her in a position where she’d felt compelled to steal unknown magic, undoubtedly to help her escape. Now she was sick and miserable, and it was in good part his fault. No wonder she hated him.

Griffin gathered their belongings and then carefully picked Cat up off the floor. She surprised him by not protesting. She even rested her wet head on his shoulder, her breath a sweet warmth against his neck. He cradled her against him. He’d build trust one heartbeat at a time if he had to.

“You never smell bad,” she murmured, barely forming words around her fatigue.

“Should I?” Griffin asked.

“It would make you mortal, like the rest of us.”

“I am mortal. That’s why I need—”

“—your help,” she finished with a sigh.

“This isn’t a game, Cat.”

“Just leave me here,” she said despondently. “You can’t carry me all the way back.”

Griffin grunted. That was absurd—in more ways than one. “And leave behind my most valued treasure?”

She hesitated. Her breath seemed to catch. “I won’t be used.”

Ah, the usual rhetoric. He smiled vaguely. Was she coming back to herself?

“Egeria will win you over,” he said. And he would, too.

She yawned, bringing the tip of her nose into contact with his neck. He wished she’d let herself come even closer, thought maybe a small part of her even wanted to, but suddenly she stiffened in his arms.

“It won’t get that far.” Those five words were sharper than anything she’d said in hours.

Griffin’s mouth flattened. And so it began again. “You’re wrong. You’re wrong about a lot of things.” And somehow, someday, he would prove it.

“I bled on that sword and didn’t dilute it.” The panic in Cat’s voice shot tension through his body. “They’ll track my blood. It’s been hours. They’re already on their way.”

“Who?” he demanded.

Wilting again, she yawned, exhaustion seeming to drown her fear. “It’s your fault. You exposed me.”

Griffin held her tighter, his heart hammering out adrenaline-laced beats. “I’ll protect you.”

She closed her eyes, looking alarmingly weak. Almost unconscious. “You could try,” she whispered just before her head lolled, and her body went limp in his arms.

Grim-faced, Griffin carried her toward the inn. He had to do better than try. The fate of Thalyria and both of their futures depended upon it.

The riveting conclusion to The Kingmaker Chronicles coming January 2018!

GODS. I’M AN IDIOT.
Without Griffin—and apparently a few meddling Gods—to push me along, I’d still be telling fortunes at the circus, lying about my past, ignoring my future, and living as far away from my tyrant mother as humanly possible.

True understanding thuds into place. Hope isn’t just an abstract concept; it’s me. Flesh and blood me. Griffin knew it all along. Probably everyone did. I’m an idea in human form._

I have the power of the Gods at my fingertips.
The only thing ever stopping me has been me.

About the Author:USA Today bestselling author AMANDA BOUCHET grew up in New England and studied French at the undergraduate and graduate levels, first at Bowdoin College and then at Bowling Green State University. She moved to Paris, France, in 2001 and has been there ever since. She met her husband while studying abroad, and the family now includes two bilingual children, who will soon be correcting her French.

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Ten Things Most People Don’t Know About Charles O’Keefe – Guest Blog and Giveaway


This post is part of a virtual book tour organized by Goddess Fish Promotions. Charles O’Keefe will be awarding a $15 Amazon/BN GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour. Click on the tour banner to see the other stops on the tour.

10 Things most people don’t know about me

First off thank you for being a part of my blog tour, I really appreciate it.

Ten things most people don’t know about me. This is an interesting topic because I am an open and honest guy (not all the time of course). Everyone has a private side to their life but I’m willing to give readers a little glimpse into what makes me tick.

10. When I write fiction it has to be double-spaced on a computer

I think this was drilled into me when I was junior high and high school (I do also have a degree in English). I know that when a story/book is finished it will be single-spaced but the look of that drives me bonkers! When I write it just looks so much better to have it double-spaced. The same also applies for writing comments, you need the space. I used to do stories, when I was around thirteen, on paper. I don’t know about you but my handwriting is atrocious. So much so that if I write fast enough even I would have trouble making it out. It’s one of the reasons I got a computer when I was fourteen and never looked back. Also if you write it on paper and the paper is lost, it’s gone forever. At least with something on a computer there is hopefully a copy (I love Dropbox and would highly recommend it for backups) that you can recover.

9. I really hate touching or having anything near my eyes.

Most people have this fear I think, something you are told often as a child is to be careful with your eyes around anything sharp. I’ve had glasses since I was eight and when I was nineteen I tried contacts. I was so freaked out with touching my eyes all the time that I had to give them up. So yes, getting something caught in my eye can be a nightmare for me.

8. I’m a cat person, always have been, always will be.

Dogs drool, cat’s rule! Seriously, dogs are ok but a cat is so much easier to care for, no walking or letting them outside to do their business. Cats have (in my experience) much nicer fur, can purr, and show you affection when they truly need it (or when you really need it). Dogs are too easy to please, (most) cats make you work for it.

7. I’m very picky with music, mostly I like the same groups/artists that I did when I was 16.

I’m a firm believer that anything made after 2000 is 90% crap. For example Kayne, utter garbage!

6. I can’t stand the sound of a baby/child crying

Like nails on a chalkboard to me, I’ll leave a store/place if I can when a child acts up.

5. I love oranges above any other food

When I say oranges I mean Clementines or Mandarins, I have to be able to peel them with my fingers. It’s one of the reasons I love going to Florida so much, they have the best oranges and orange juice I’ve ever had.

4. I’ve loved Star Trek since I was four years old.

I’m a lifelong Trekker. My friend kept a postcard I sent where I mention Star Trek, it was dated 1980. That doesn’t mean I loved every incarnation, some of the shows and movies are terrible but I’ve stuck by it. I was even President of a Star Trek fan club in university.

3. I always look for a window seat whenever I’m in any public place.

I love to read, write, watch stuff and play games on my iPad but I always want to take breaks and look out the window. I will pay extra for a window seat and I will go around a whole library if I means finding a seat near a window.

2. I prefer to listen to books rather than read them.

I think this goes back to my childhood. Having a few drinks and having a good story read to you is bliss (Audible rules!).

1. I hate cold, snowy weather above all else in the world.

This is the reason I go somewhere warm every winter (unless something really strange happens). I know Florida gets bad press sometimes but I love it there, I plan to retire there as soon as I can afford it.

Here you’ll find nine new short-stories, some which have been from my life, or things that could have happened. One is inspired from the many games of Dungeons and Dragons I’ve played over twenty years while another is from the Call of Cthulhu role-playing game. Some are even some from other authors, who kindly contributed to my collection.

As a treat for fans of my series, I have included six deleted chapters, two from each of the three Newfoundland Vampire novels, which have been all cleaned up and have been made better than ever for your reading pleasure.

I have also included not one, but two chapters from the upcoming fourth book in the Newfoundland Vampire series, War of the Fangs. I’ve filled this collection with tales that will make you laugh, or will scare you, and will hopefully make you think a little about the world around us and the people in it.

Enjoy an Excerpt

“I’m not leaving you behind, no man gets left behind, GET MOVING!” Marlon screamed the last part at the top of his lungs and they bolted forward. It wasn’t easy with all the roots and holes in the ground. Larry fell once as did Marlon, painfully twisting his ankle so that now Larry had to help him but they moved on, spotting one mark on a tree and chalk on another. The mist had started to rise, it was at their ankles now.

“Mar I can’t feel my feet, it feels as if I’m running on blocks of ice. We need to get out!” Marlon looked about frantically, the trees were still thick, he couldn’t see the tall grass from where they had started this morning. Everything felt tight, his chest felt like it was going to explode, his heart felt like it would leap out through his throat at any second. The trees seems to be closing in on them, he felt like he was back in France, just waiting for the first bullet to split the air.

Marlon looked down for a second, legs are numb up to my knees but somehow I’m moving, I don’t feel the pain in my ankle. “We’ll get out, you are the best woodsman I’ve ever seen. I know you can do it.” Larry nodded and Marlon was glad to see a small smile creep onto one side of his face, he pointed with his right arm to a mark, an arrow pointing to the east, the way they were going. You better be, he thought, I’ll be damned if I die in a forest by some mist, I made it out of the war, I’ll make it out of here!

About the Author:Charles O’Keefe lives in the beautiful province of Newfoundland, Canada, with his wife and two feline ‘children,’ Jude and Eleanor. He is a part-owner of a beauty wholesale business. He enjoys many hobbies and activities that include reading, gaming, poker, Pilates, Dungeons and Dragons, and of course, fantasizing about vampires. Charles is the author of three books in the Newfoundland Vampire series, but this is his first collection of short-stories. Look for the fourth Newfoundland Vampire book sometime in the near future.

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Just Off the Path by Weston Sullivan – Spotlight and Giveaway

This post is part of a virtual book tour organized by Goddess Fish Promotions. Weston Sullivan will be awarding a $10 Amazon or Barnes and Noble GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour. Click on the tour banner to see the other stops on the tour.

 

Hansel never asked to be a hero. He never wanted to fall in love with Rapunzel, Queen of the East. He didn’t ask to be raised by Gothel the Wretch, and he certainly never wanted to be credited for her arrest. But more than any of that, Hansel never wanted to lie: but he did. He lied about everything. He thought that he was done with it all when he and his sister Gretel retreated into the woods to reclaim their land, but he should have known better.
Hansel needs to find a way to fix this, otherwise he will be responsible for Grimm’s destruction, or that is what he thinks. As Hansel isn’t the only liar in Grimm.

Enjoy an Excerpt

The Girl in the Red Cape

My rude brother’s name is Hansel,” Gretel said, pushing her way past a particularly thorny vine. “And I’m Gretel.”

“How am I rude?” Hansel asked, his voice sharp. He wasn’t in the mood to argue. Their hunt was fruitless, and it was cold enough that his breath rushed from his nostrils and plumed into the air above his head. “I saved her life, didn’t I?”

The girls walked ahead of him, Ceara only steps ahead of Gretel. Every few seconds, she stopped to gather her bearings. They were fast friends; Hansel knew Gretel was intrigued by Ceara’s fearlessness. She walked the thickets as if they were a second home to her, leaving Hansel behind to worry about the things that hid in the darkness. He kept his bow drawn. It felt as though the briar was pulling him back and with each step he took, he could feel the thorns prick his skin, snag his clothes, like Grimm itself was assaulting him. Touching the thorns was unavoidable. His skin was on fire after the first few steps, and tiny pools of blood formed all over his body. Gretel was bleeding, too. But not Ceara, since her cloak shielded her from the thickets.

Gretel shoved her elbow into his ribcage. “It’s rude not to introduce yourself.”

“It’s rude to call someone else rude,” Hansel retorted. To his relief, he saw the light of the moon streaking through the overgrowth ahead. The three of them shimmied their way through the final layer of hanging briar and back into the woods. Hansel sucked in a breath of air. It tasted clean, crisp and cold, instead of stagnant and sour. Leaving the thickets was like taking a plunge into the river on the hottest day in summer. His muscles loosened and he strapped his bow on his back. They weren’t home, but they were safe.

They walked in silence for a few minutes, until they could see The Path. When they passed a tall tree, Ceara stopped and placed her palm on its trunk, admiring it. And when they reached a particularly tall tree, she stopped.

“Have you ever wondered why the trees shed their leaves in the winter?” she asked. “I don’t know about you two, but when it starts to get cold, I put more clothes on. I certainly don’t get naked and stand in the middle of the forest.” Her thought was interrupted by the sound of hooves in the distance.
Hansel squinted, looking off into the distance. Before he saw anything, Ceara tackled him to the ground. He mumbled an angry demand for explanation, but Ceara shushed him, pointing.

Five horses raced across the worn trail that cut through the wood. The horsemen were spots of light in the gray-brown haze of early winter. They wore gold and white—the colors of the Eastern region, Rapunzel’s territory. When they passed in front of him, he noted their tunics were dirty and their swords drawn. After they disappeared behind a wall of pale trees, he stood and brushed himself off.

“Why did you do that?” he asked.

Ceara shook the leaves from her cloak. “They’re tracking The Wolf.”

“So?” Hansel asked.

“You don’t want them to spot you anywhere near him,” Ceara replied. “All three regions are out for his head.”

“We’re friends of Rapunzel,” Hansel said. “She knows we hunt here. No harm would come to any of us.”

Ceara’s eyes widened emphatically. She closed her cloak over her bodice, her wicker basket producing the illusion of pregnancy. “It doesn’t matter.”

Gretel stepped between them, taking charge of the conversation. “Why are all three regions after him?”

“They think he’s the one who’s committed all the murders,” Ceara said. She leaned in close, even though there wasn’t another soul in sight.

“Murders?” Gretel asked.

“You haven’t heard?”

The word murder made Hansel cringe. He felt cold and vulnerable with it floating in the air around him. “We need to keep going. It will be dark soon.”
The girls followed him, but they hunched over like housewives in the market square, gossiping among themselves.

“What murders?” Gretel repeated.

“There’ve been murders all across Grimm for weeks. Close to twenty of them, at least!”

“I have no words.” Gretel shook her head. “There’s never been anything like this in Grimm. Not since…”

“Gothel,” Ceara finished her sentence. “I know.”


About the Author:

After graduating with a BA in Creative Writing from the University of South Florida in 2017, Weston Sullivan moved to New York City to live and write in the heart of the industry. In late 2016, he began working as an intern in the submissions department of BookFish Books. His short story, “On the Hillside”, won the Anspaugh Award for Fiction in February of 2017, and his novel, JUST OFF THE PATH, is due for release in early September. 

He likes to believe that he is in charge of his own destiny, but at the end of the day, he knows that he was born to serve his two beloved cats.

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The King’s Own by W. Marshall – Spotlight and Giveaway


This post is part of a virtual book tour organized by Goddess Fish Promotions. W. Marshall will be awarding a $50 Amazon/BN GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour. Click on the tour banner to see the other stops on the tour.

The King’s Own are as feared as they are ruthless, doing all of those hard, and sometimes terrible, things necessary to ensure the safety of the realm. Owing allegiance to the King alone, they are his spies, his assassins, and his advisors. They exist to walk in the shadows, to enforce the King’s will, to change the course of entire wars, and to root out dissenters. They live without family, in service to the crown, unknown and unsung.

A young man conscripted to fight in a war far away from home. Blood and loss tempered with hope and a vow. Recruited into the King’s Own, he must learn quickly to do whatever it takes to serve the kingdom so that others can live their lives in relative peace and safety. But just how far will he go to keep his oath, especially when the King is murdered?

Enjoy an Excerpt

“Alright,” Commodus said. “I guess I’ll be the bait. I’ll just stroll right up there and announce myself and hope they don’t riddle me with arrows.” I smirked, pointing off to the left to show Samarra where I wanted her to scout. “You’ll be fine, old timer,” I said, giving him a familiar nod. I turned and slipped off into the thick woods, circling far enough around to avoid detection by the sentries. Samarra had proven to be even more skilled than I was at infiltration like this, moving quietly and quickly, unseen and unheard. Years of practice had made me an expert, but she took to it as naturally as walking. I blended with the shadows, slipping among the trees as easily as a panther, my eyes searching for my targets. There. Not very well-hidden to the trained eye. My hand clamped over the first sentry’s mouth, my dagger slitting his throat. Two more followed, their bows showing me they were indeed there to kill us if things turned sour for the rebels. Quickly then, back to Commodus, before he decided to pull something stupid and become a martyr by attempting to rescue the Princess by himself.

About the Author:W. Marshall was born in Florida, but found his home when he moved to Colorado. He is a lover of movies, books, dogs, science fiction, fantasy, and military history. His debut novel, The King’s Own, is a work of dark fiction that asks hard questions as it examines the life and labors of the protagonist.

In his free time, he enjoys running, reading a wide array of fiction, and writing science fiction and fantasy.

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Dark Genius by H. Peter Alesso – Spotlight and Giveaway


This post is part of a virtual book tour organized by Goddess Fish Promotions. The author will be awarding a $25 Amazon or B/N GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour. Click on the tour banner to see the other stops on the tour.

To the insatiably curious—science is the greatest adventure. So, when scientists at CERN announced the discovery of the ‘God’ particle in 2012, all the world wondered, “How did they find it?”

A decade later, despite his past academic failures and egregious family circumstance, Andrew Lawrence embarked on a journey of discovery, competing against rival scientists to be the first to solve the greatest unsolved mystery of the universe—dark matter—and win the ultimate prize; the Nobel.

Emma Franklin, a PhD candidate at Harvard, developed software for detecting particle reactions using a quantum computer. To the amazement and excitement of the scientific community, her work revealed two possible bumps in the energy curve that were not predicted by any established theory.

At MIT, Lawrence created a model that predicted the scattering processes of a dark matter supersymmetry particle. Though his early work was disparaged, he improved his theory and found that it predicted the data Emma had discovered. Their professional collaboration deepened into a personal relationship, but when critical data was stolen, Emma found evidence that incriminated Lawrence. Though she withheld the impeaching material from the authorities, she felt she could no longer trust him.

Despite their troubled partnership, and notwithstanding the complexities of nature, Lawrence and Emma persevered against the egos, jealousy, and envy of rivals, on their exhilarating quest to find the ‘Holy Grail’ of physics

Enjoy an Excerpt

I thought all was lost—now I have a second chance.

With a profound sense of relief, Andrew Lawrence slide his tablet into his shoulder holster and walked briskly along the Boston sidewalk. His past academic failures and egregious family circumstances were behind him. He was ready for a fresh start.

Tall, slender, and dark-haired, he listened to the clicking and clacking of shuffling shoes on the pavement as students jostled alongside him. The hint of autumn from the cool morning air brought a frenzy of activity to the sprawling campuses of both MIT and Harvard which nurtured a flourishing rivalry among their ambitious students. He could feel the undercurrent of tension for the start of the fall term.

By the time he crossed Longfellow Bridge, his adrenaline was pumping. He noticed several eight-man sculls already rowing down the Charles River, their school colors plainly visible. Squinting his eyes against the glare, he could make out the MIT and Harvard boats vying for the lead, stroke by stroke.

Striding across the rambling campus, his lips concealed a secret smile as he contemplated a revolutionary solution to a problem he had been daydreaming about. When he swung around a corner, he ran smack-dab into a young woman. Her armload of books, papers, and assorted technology flew into the air and scattered across the walkway.

“Sor . . . sorry.”

“You should be,” the woman said, her face screwed into a tight scowl. “Your head was in the clouds.”

Lawrence opened his mouth, but before he could speak, she pointed down and said, “See what you’ve done?”

She stooped and frantically tried to corral her absconding belongings.

“Let me help,” said Lawrence, grasping some loose papers about to blow away.

Spying her tablet on the grass, she exclaimed, “Oh no! All my work.”

Carefully, she picked up the device and turned it on, tapping her fingers impatiently until the screen lit up. She heaved a sigh and looked Lawrence directly in the eyes. “You’re lucky. Sooo . . . lucky.”

Lawrence mumbled another apology and helped her pick up the last few books.

As she struggled to reorganize her treasures, Lawrence brushed a strand of hair away from his eyes and for the first time cast an appraising glance at the young woman.

She was attractive.

It wasn’t that she was a striking beauty—though her smooth white skin, olive green eyes, and classic profile complemented the hazelnut hair that cascaded over her shoulders. Nor was her carriage especially eye-catching, though she displayed an appealing youthful vitality. No, what seemed most appealing was her confident determined poise, as if she possessed a special hidden talent.

“You really should use a backpack.”

“The lining ripped,” she retorted.

Seeing the logos on her tablet’s screen, Lawrence asked, “Harvard? Math?”

“I can tell by your tone that you’re MIT,” she said, her eyes flashing.

Lawrence grinned, “Physics.” As an afterthought, he asked, “What are you doing on this campus?”

“Well, Mr. Physics, that’s none of your concern.”

Something in the way she said it, caused him to laugh.

They faced each other in a stand-off for a long moment—saying nothing.

Then the young woman heaved a sigh, gathered her possessions to her chest, and brushed past him.

Lawrence watched her figure disappear into the crowd.

Damn. I didn’t get her name.

As he turned to leave, something shiny on the ground caught his eye. It was a flash drive.

Picking it up, he spun around and called, “Wait!”

But she was gone.

He looked at the memory stick, thinking . . .

I’ll have to crack her password, if I’m going to see her again.

About the Author: As a scientist and author specializing in technology innovation, H. Peter Alesso has over twenty years research experience at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL). As Engineering Group Leader at LLNL he led a team of scientists and engineers in innovative applications across a wide range of supercomputers, workstations, and networks. He graduated from the United States Naval Academy with a B.S. and served in the U.S. Navy on nuclear submarines before completing an M.S. and an advanced Engineering Degree at M.I.T. He has published several software titles and numerous scientific journal and conference articles, and he is the author/co-author of ten books.

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LASR Anniversary Scavenger Hunt: Key of Mystery by K.H. Mezek


Thanks for joining us on our anniversary scavenger hunt! It’s easy to play– first read the blurb below, then answer the question on the Rafflecopter. You might win a $100 Amazon/BN GC.

Be careful who you love, it just might kill you.” When Sera’s father is killed in a horrific accident, all he leaves behind is a mysterious key. Sera places the key on a chain around her neck and vows to avenge her father. Strange characters arrive in town including the otherworldly Night Angels, who claim to be sent for her protection. Sera falls hard for one of them—exotic, arrogant Peter. But what if his promise of love is only a ruse to gain access to the key? As Sera’s connection to the key grows, so do her supernatural powers. Guided by clues left by her father, Sera searches for the hidden chamber beneath the city, hoping to save what lies within before the sinister mayor and his deadly followers drown humanity in a bloodbath.

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