31 October 2016

Release Boost & Giveaway ~ Dirty Love by Kimberly Blalock


Dirty Love
Author: Kimberly Blalock
Genre: Contemporary Romance   
 Release Date: October 25, 2016


Blurb

In the light of darkness is an undeniable need to run, disappear, slither away only barely scraping by with hope that maybe just maybe, there's a way of escape.

My name is Oliva Basari. I escaped one hell only to be trapped inside another, darkness and fear seething through my veins and invading my every thought.

A new city, a new job, a new persona and then.... I fell in lust, I fell in love…hell, I just fell.

From the darkness my alter ego became real, I was Tess, the stirring of someone or something else burning in my gut until she was all there was.

I didn't fear what would happen if remorse knocked on my door nor did I fear the lustful way I stalked them, preyed upon them—the ones that couldn't have me, the ones who wished they could taste me—I was their darkness until I met one very tall, dark, and forbiddingly handsome Mr. Black. He hated me watching with darkness in his tormented eyes. He scared me, intimidated me, and left me questioning my own sanity.

Until he didn't.

He was the one thing I let myself submit too, his touch, the way he slid his knuckles across my flesh, igniting a dangerous spark inside of me.
In the end, we're all captured souls waiting for release or the escape from our own maniacal thoughts.
In the end, we are all prisoners of the flesh.



Purchase Links
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Trailer


Excerpt

She slept with blankets slipping from her taut body. I inhaled deeply as my dick ached to be inside of her tight pussy. I didn’t actually know what her pussy felt like… Was it soft, delectable, electric, and glorious? I imagined all of those possibilities and intended on finding out soon, but I wasn’t ready yet. I needed her to come to me. To beg me for it before I could give her everything that I couldn’t stop thinking about.

I slid my hand inside of my nightstand drawer retrieving the lube I’d used on the woman the night before. They were covetous, egocentric, and contemptuous. Nothing that interested me. It rather disinterested me, actually. Olivia was the exact opposite of those women, a contradiction of everything they stood for.

I unbuttoned my jeans and sagged against the chair that had the best view of her bed. Of course, I’d arranged it that way. Her ass was so fucking perfectly round, tight, and juicy. Nothing could possibly be as good as that ass. I was sure of it, and I intended on finding out soon enough.

I pulled my pants down to lay across my thick thighs and untucked my cock from my briefs. The slippery lube slid out of the bottle and melted against my heated hand. Her body shifted slowly as my hand dipped against my flesh. I stilled, waiting to see if she’d wake up this time. She’d been on edge lately, not sleeping well. It’d been pretty fucking obvious she’d been having a difficult time with something. I shrugged off the thought. I’d wanted to fix whatever was wrong, comfort her, fuck her until her problems were mere memories from a past before me or very thin memories that popped like bubbles do in the sunlight. But I’d remain a circumspect observer, for now.

Her body turned just as my hand landed on my hot, thick, pulsing cock. I squeezed, gripping the skin down my shaft… hard. A deep-seated moan reverberated from my throat. It felt so fucking relishable… gratifying. My cock jerked from the sensations it was experiencing. Her tits bounced into position… the position of foreplay among lovers. Nipples hard and round, perky and wanting, waiting for my tongue to flick across the hardened flesh in heated arousal. She adjusted from her stomach to her back, completing her task in search of comfort. Ironic really, that here at this moment she’d seemed extroverted, willing to be free when in reality she was demure. Well, unless she was dancing, but that was only a few hours a night. And I wouldn’t allow myself that opening to taste her flesh. Not yet.

“Ah fuck!” I moaned, the sound feral. I lived alone, and no one could hear me and fuck it if they could, I didn’t care.

My strokes became tight, stroking the entire length of my cock. Cum slipped out of the head as I smothered the silkiness of my arousal across the thin, sensitive flesh. I jacked off to her perfect fucking body.

Her hand crossed her chest, and I imagined she was touching herself there while I licked her pussy, sweeping my tongue against the nub bringing her to ecstasy.

I’d dreamt about that for a long fucking time. One year to be exact. She’d moved into the apartment across from mine with her friend. Her boyfriend moved in just a few months later. Fucking asshole is never there, and he fucks like he doesn’t know what he’s doing. Probably doesn’t, to be honest. Little prick has a small ass cock, too. If he came even a tiny bit close to getting her off, I’d rock her fucking world. When I finally take her in every way imaginable, I will do just that.

My strokes became shorter, tighter, faster as I watched her tight body. I imagined her full lips wrapped around my cock sucking hard, harder. Her tongue would flick across the head lapping up my cum into her hot mouth; she’d smile as she squeezed me roughly, begging for more of me to seep into her mouth. She’d suck me the hardest I’d ever been sucked.

“Oh fuck!” Cum shot from the head of my dick. “Fucking shit, Olivia!” I yelled her name as I pulsed against my palm.

Just as I cleaned myself, her jackoff boyfriend arrived stripping his clothes off as he snuck into bed like a predator, opening his mouth ready to take her. My fists slammed into the wall next to the window. It left a large, round hole that I’d deal with later.

My mind raced. I wanted to go over to her apartment and rip him out of her bed. I wanted to kill him. If he didn’t get a fucking clue, I was going to do just that. And soon!

I got plenty of pussy. Shit, where I worked, it was thrown at my cock in groves, but I wanted Olivia Basari. Only Olivia. When I fucked someone, she was the only face I saw. Her sweet lips sucking me off until I came in her sweet fuckable mouth.

Convenient for me, I’d get to see that face and body every day and night. She was a dancer at Epic, the strip club I owned. She worked for me, but it wasn’t enough. I want to own every inch of her. I’ve kept my thoughts to myself. No one knew how I felt, and they sure as fuck didn’t know the malevolent thoughts that infiltrated my mind. Funny really, infiltrate makes it sound as though I didn’t want the thoughts there. As though I’d set up a road block of sorts keeping them away, but in fact, I’d caressed every single one of them. I lured them in with the tips of my fingers promising jewels of satisfaction.

I watched her from the two-way window in my office while she danced for the scum of the city. I pretended that she was dancing exclusively for me. I fucked while I watched her from that window. The girls didn’t have a clue what I was doing when I had them bent over gripping their flesh into my hands. All they wanted was the orgasm they’d get whether I tried to give it or not. Sometimes I did. I loved pussy. It was only Olivia’s I was thinking of when I sucked on their clits, however. Slipping my fingers inside their wet, dripping, pulsating pussies brought cry after cry from their dirty mouths.

I stripped my clothes and showered. I’d see her at work in an hour. I couldn’t watch that fucker touch her any longer.

She was mine.


Author Bio

Kimberly is an International Bestselling author and has been writing since she was a young girl growing up in Kansas City, Mo. Reading and writing have always been a big part of her life. She enjoys the world she can get lost in while reading a good book. A wife and mother to four beautiful children she decided she wasn’t busy enough. She spent some time chasing down fugitives as a bounty hunter then laid down her handcuffs and finished her college degree in nursing.

Kimberly loves discovering new music to jam out to and loves anything that’s different. Her many interests include Google, you heard it! Google. If you need to know any unusual or interesting fact she has searched it and can recite it. Her motto is: Why be the same as everyone else when you can stand out?

When Kimberly isn’t writing she is playing superhero for her children.

Author Links

Book Tour & Giveaway ~ Three Simple Words, Kingston Ale House #3, by AJPine

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Three Simple Words
Kingston Ale House #3
by AJ Pine
Publication Date: October 17, 2016
Genres: Adult, Entangled: Select, Contemporary Romance

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Synopsis

She’s holding out for a happy ever after.

Annie

I know where to find my happily ever after—between the pages of a romance novel. It’s why I sell books, why I blog about them, and why I’ll never get disappointed by love.

So what if my brother’s best friend from high school is now a bestselling author? Or that he just blew back into town on a Harley, filling out a pair of jeans like he never did before? Or that he’s agreed to do a signing at my bookstore on such short notice? Because despite all his adoring female fans, I kind of hated his book.

Wes

The last time I saw Annie Denning, she was a senior in high school, three years older than me and way out of my league.

Now I’m her last-minute date to a wedding, and what started as a night of pure fun has turned into something more real than either of us anticipated.

Annie is my muse. When I’m with her, my writer’s block fades away, and the words finally flow.

The only problem? She wants the fairy tale—her very own happily ever after—and anyone who’s read my book knows the truth. I just don’t believe they exist.

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Review

If you've read the previous Kingston Ale House books, than you are going to love watching Annie get her due. If you're new to the Kingston Ale House books, than you picked a good book to start with.

Romance readers always love the happily ever after hangover after reading our beloved books, but when you read a book where the hero and heroine don't end up together it can leave you unsettled. That's what happened when Annie picked up Wes Hartley's book, a book that she wonders how much is based on real life. She knew Wes back in the day when he and her brother became friends. And he's back in town, for no one knows how long, and he's agreed to a book signing in Annie's shop. The years have been good to him, really good. Every woman is falling all over him and she doesn't want to be one of his many admires, but will she able to fight her attraction once he turns on the charm?

Wes never thought he'd be back in town, but he's willing to do almost everything to get through his current writer's block. Little does he know, the girl he had a crush in high school is about to rock is world in ways he never saw coming.

Three Simple Words is sweet, charming, funny, and sexy all rolled up in an appetizing package. I loved how Annie is romance book lovers and blogs about it, something I relate to. The chemistry between Annie and Wes is electric, off the charts. Getting to know Wes, the man behind the book, was intriguing and captivating.

When you first met him, you know is broken with well built walls that he doesn't plan on bring down. But watching Annie break through them is stunning and endearing. Of course they are hot in the bedroom, but it's outside the bedroom that really solidifies their relationship.

One person hides in a fictional world waiting for her own true love, and the other hides in his work keeping his pain and torment hidden. I always love watching two broken individuals work through their issues and come together making them stronger than ever.

I couldn't put Three Simple Words down once I started, following the yellow brick road to a happy beginning.


Don't miss the other books in the Kingston Ale House series!

Six Month Rule

Six Month Rule New CoverShe created the game, but the rules are about to change.

The second I met Will Evans in his three-piece suit with that hot as hell British accent, I wanted him.

That is...until he insulted my shoes and stole my corner office.

Now I have to work side-by-side with the surly British arsehole who just set my career back six months.

It's fine. That accent won't get to me, no matter how sexy it sounds when he asks permission to do things professionals shouldn't do. On the couch. In the corner office I still wish was mine.

Maybe we can't keep our hands off each other, but I'm sure as hell not falling for a guy who lives an ocean away. Because in six months, he's leaving for good.

I don't do broken hearts, but you know what they say...

There's a first time for everything.

Each book in the Kingston Ale House series is a standalone, full-length story that can be enjoyed out of order.

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The One That Got Away

the-one-that-got-away-1-coverHow far will one man go for the woman he's loved since high school?

Jamie Kingston has been Brynn Chandler's best friend since middle school. Only once was their friendship tested—when Brynn gave Jamie a single kiss. Since then, they've had an unspoken agreement never to cross that line again, and she’s ready to let go of the past and move on.

But Jamie has loved Brynn for as long as he can remember, and now that he's ready to tell her, she has her sights set on someone else. Knowing this is his last chance, he asks Brynn to go on a two-week road trip. But their time alone brings old hurts to the surface, and Brynn has to decide if the one that got away lies at the end of the journey or if he's been by her side all along.

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About AJ Pine

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AJ Pine writes stories to break readers’ hearts, but don’t worry—she’ll mend them with a happily ever after. As an English teacher and a librarian, AJ has always surrounded herself with books. All her favorites have one big commonality–romance. Naturally, her books have the same. When she’s not writing, she’s of course reading. Then there’s online shopping (everything from groceries to shoes) and, of course, a tiny bit of TV where she nourishes her undying love of vampires and superheroes. And in the midst of all of this, you’ll also find her hanging with her family in the Chicago burbs.


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Cover Reveal ~ Black Widow, Black Widow Series #1, by Jenni Moen

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Synopsis

“I bet I could make you fall in love in a week.” The offer seals Scott Russell’s fate.

After a bitter betrayal and an ugly divorce, the detective is forced to make a fresh start. His new position in a quiet suburb should be a walk in the park compared to his years in Chicago. However, he quickly learns that small towns come with their own issues, with citizens who are slow to forgive and even slower to forget.

The town’s wealthy and reclusive author is a mystery to most. To Scott, she’s just another nameless girl on the train. With a reserved smile and shoes worth more than a month’s rent, his only concern is she might be out of his league.

“I can give you seven days, but not my heart.” The acceptance is one more in a string of lies.

Celeste Smythe doesn’t believe in love at first sight. Relationships take time and sometimes even that isn’t enough. Not with the secrets she harbors in her guarded heart. Yet fate keeps pushing her toward the handsome and absurdly persistent man, and resisting may be more than she can endure, no matter the risks.

When the week is over, Scott may think he knows her. Celeste may know she loves him. But when the truth is revealed about the town’s most talked about citizen, he may discover he’s put more than his heart on the line.

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AboutTheAuthor

Jenni Moen lives in her hometown in Oklahoma with her husband and three crazy, exuberant kids who have the potential to burn the house down at any moment.

When she's not chauffeuring kids around town, performing her mom duties as a short order cook and maid, or vacuuming for her fastidious husband, she hammers away at her keyboard. Sometimes that means she's up to no good. But every now and then a new book is born.

AuthorLinks

30 October 2016

Book Tour ~ Submission Is Not Enough, Masters & Mercenaries #12, by Lexi Blake

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A fallen hero reborn

Theo Taggart lost everything the night he died. His family, his beautiful Erin, and worst of all, he lost himself. A twisted doctor brought him back from the brink of death, but reprogrammed his identity to serve her will. Rescued by his brothers, he must fight to reclaim the man he was and the life, and love, that were stolen from him.

A love worth fighting for

Erin Argent thought she'd lost Theo forever. When he walked back into her life, it was nothing short of a miracle. Months of torture and conditioning at the hands of Dr. Hope McDonald have done damage to Theo that may never be mended. He has no memory of her or the life they shared. Breaking through to him, and helping him rediscover all he lost, will be the toughest mission she's ever faced. Luckily for Theo, Erin loves a good fight.

Their reunion under siege

Unfortunately, Hope is far from done with Theo Taggart. Obsessed with her prize experiment, she will do anything to get him back. If the only way to finally break him of his past life is to kill Erin and his son, then she's only too happy to oblige…

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Excerpt

Theo took the stairs as quickly as he could. He knew where he was going, but he wasn’t going to think about it. For the first time since he’d gotten home, he didn’t care about his past or figuring out who he’d been. He wanted. He wanted something right now and that felt good.

She’d been right. There wasn’t a place for guilt here.

He strode up the stairs, her weight comforting in his arms. Yeah, he wasn’t going to think about that either. He was going to enjoy it, not wonder why his body remembered her when his mind would not. “Hey, is everything okay?”

Damn it. Case was standing at the top of the stairs, obviously having come out of the privacy rooms. His wife was at his side, her face flushed. Mia had sex hair. Good for them. Red was about to have sex hair, too. Lots of filthy sex hair. “Everything’s great. Night.”

Case put a hand on his shoulder. “Whoa. I thought you were going to take this slow, brother.” “If you don’t get your hand off him right this second, Taggart, I am going to ensure that you never have children,” Red said, her eyes narrowing on his brother. “You won’t be able to cock block anyone because you won’t have a damn cock. Am I clear?”

Case’s hands came up immediately as though he knew that tone and was not going there. “Trying to help.”

“Three is clean and has plenty of condoms. We’re taking a monitor turn up here. I checked all the rooms.” Mia grinned at him. She actually was helpful. “Have fun and we’ll see you at home.”

He didn’t bother to look back. Case could give him a lecture later. He wasn’t waiting anymore. He’d waited forever. Even when he couldn’t remember her face, he’d known she was there. He’d felt her, or rather he’d felt her absence.

Could he truly be with a woman whose name he couldn’t think without hurting her?

It didn’t matter. He wasn’t making those decisions tonight. He was enjoying her. His sub. He was bringing her pleasure and he probably should do a good job of it because his sub was fucking mean.

And fragile. He’d seen the moment she’d thought he was rejecting her. He’d watch her skin flush and her body start to turn in on itself. She was such a mix of strength and need. It was intoxicating. He wanted so badly to be the man who gave her what she needed.

Affection. Pleasure. Comfort.

Love—he wasn’t thinking that word tonight. Nope. Pleasure was way better.

He kicked out lightly at the partially open door number three. It looked like Mia had done her job. The room was perfectly clean, the lighting soft and romantic. The best thing about this room though was the complete lack of any of his friends or family being here.

It was him and her, and that was exactly what he wanted. No Ian. No Li. No Kai asking them hundreds of questions. Him and her and the night.

He tossed her on the bed and stood back, looking down at her. “Tell me why you thought I was rejecting you.”

The instant she hit the bed, she was up on her knees. So graceful. So deadly. What the hell was this woman like out in the field? She moved like a predator, but the look on her face was pure sarcasm. “Uhm, your words. That’s what sealed it for me. ‘I don’t want to do this’ is generally considered a rejection.”

Somehow she managed to put an unsaid “dumbass” on the end of her sentences. Not all of them. She’d been perfectly sweet most of the night, but she could turn it on when she wanted to. “I didn’t mean that. When I said the words, I watched you change. Why? You’re good at slapping people down. I wouldn’t have said that until today.”

“Because I’ve been careful around you,” she admitted.

“Why? You think I’m delicate?”

Her lips curled up. “I don’t think you’re delicate. I think I’m a lot to take, but I also am starting to believe I was wrong. You like me rough.”

“I like you a lot.” More than he could ever tell her.

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About The Author

NY Times and USA Today bestselling author Lexi Blake lives in North Texas with her husband, three kids, and the laziest rescue dog int eh world. She began writing at a young age, concentrating on plays and journalism. It wasn’t until she started writing romance and urban fantasy that she found the stories of her heart. She likes to find humor in the strangest places and believes in happy endings no matter how odd the couple, threesome, or foursome may seem.


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29 October 2016

Blog Tour & Giveaway ~ Heir to the Defendants, Rise of the Temple Gods #3, by K.L. Bone




Heir to the Defendants
Series: Rise of the Temple Gods #3
By: KL Bone
Publication Date: October 19, 2016
Genre: Fantasy

“Fear to the fearless. Hope to the hopeless. Mercy to those who hate you. Death to those who love you. That is your destiny, Princess of Kale, Princess of Koloso, heir to both.” – Prophecy of the Kalian Twins

Two heirs. One throne. Return to the land of Kale for the third installment in the Rise of the Temple Gods series and follow twin princesses Mariana and Ameria as their struggle for the crown divides not only their hearts, but the kingdom they strive to rule.

Named by her grandfather as the future Lady of Serenitas, Princess Ameria distinguishes herself as a ruler while, in secret, delving further into her family’s shadowed past. What is the meaning behind the wraith’s prophecy and how does it connect to the identity of her father’s killer?

Seated on the throne as acting queen, Mariana struggles to navigate royal court politics while grappling with the possibility the man she considered a second father, Master Leo, may not have been the hero she once believed. To discover the truth, Mariana sends her trusted captain and love, Kyle, to meet with her sister, Princess America. 


Kyle is not without secrets of his own. Each night he endures the same dream. Two men, trapped in eternal, mortal combat. And behind their clash of blades, a voice growling in the darkness: Beware the twins of Kale.
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Heir to Koloso
Rise of the Temple Gods #2
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Heir to Kale
Rise of the Temple Gods #1
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K.L. Bone is the author of the Black Rose Guard dark fantasy series. The Rise of the Temple Gods fantasy series. And a stand-alone science fiction novel, The Indoctrination.

Bone has a master’s degree in modern literary cultures and is working toward her PhD in literature. She wrote her first short story at the age of fifteen and grew up with an equally great love of both classical literature and speculative fiction. Bone has spent the last few years as a bit of a world traveler, living in California, London, and most recently, Dublin. When not immersed in words, of her own creation or studies, you’ll find her traveling to mythical sites and Game of Thrones filming locations.






Cover Reveal and Giveaway ~ Buried Secrets by J.C. Valentine

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Buried Secrets
by J.C. Valentine
Publication Date: November 29, 2016
Genres: Adult, New Adult, Mystery, Thriller, YA, Suspense

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Synopsis

How do you live with yourself when you don’t even know who you are?


On a chill October night, a girl goes missing setting the small town of Oakridge on edge. James has spent the last five years running from a past that still haunts him to this day. Now he finds himself thrust back into a life he thought he left behind. Finding out his new home may be haunted and reconnecting with an old friend while being thrust into a murder mystery, James finds himself trying to figure out which end is up while questioning his own sanity.

**Author's Note** Buried Secrets is a New Adult, mystery thriller with very little romance but heavy on the suspense.

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Special 99c #PreOrder Price!


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Excerpt

Prologue

Fall crept in like a burglar while the town slept. It brought with it a chill that felt refreshing after one of the hottest summers on Oakridge record. A slight, sticky fog hung in the air and evidence of Halloween was on nearly every doorstep in the form of carved jack-o-lanterns. Skeletons hung on doors, and festive orange lights draped roofs. Leaves coated the ground, wet and matted to the sidewalks and streets.

James breathed in the cool air that stung his nose just a bit. He loved when school let out at the end of the day. He never could wait to get out of the confines of the small, overcrowded classrooms. Even now he couldn’t fully escape it. Classmates of his walked and ran the same mile stretch he was, laughing and talking about anything and everything. Right now, he knew the junior high girl and her friend from his science class walking a few feet behind him were debating the hotness of Tommy Henderson, the varsity basketball player for Oakridge High. Everyone knew him, and everyone loved him. He was going to take the team to the championships. Probably would graduate and take some college to their championship, too. Something the whole town could be proud of.

They met a few years ago when James was playing in the woods. AJ found him digging for worms—he’d been on a mission, wanting to teach himself how to fish, to live off the land like the people from ancient times—and he’d offered to help. AJ had run off, leaving James to sit and wonder where he had come from—he hadn’t heard him approach in the first place. He returned cupping a handful of water in his palms. He’d dumped the liquid in the hole James had dug, and moments later, worms began squirming to the surface.

They became fast friends. James kept their friendship a secret. He wasn’t sure why exactly, except that AJ was his only friend, and he wanted to keep him all for himself. If he told someone, they might want to meet him, then the magic might go away. So they spent all that summer collecting worms and pretending to be hunters in the deep woods behind Oakridge Park. When summer break was over and school was back in session, James was disappointed to find that AJ wasn’t in any of his classes. In fact, he wasn’t in any classes in the school. No one heard of him.

He finally broke and told his mom and dad about him one evening over dinner, because he was worried about AJ and needed to share him with someone, so he could feel close to him again. Like if he kept him a secret, and didn’t see him, then he wouldn’t be real anymore. It was an odd way to look at it, he knew, but he hadn’t ever had a friend quite like AJ. He was fun and daring and super inventive, and he liked James, flaws and all.

So when he told his parents about AJ, they were happy for him. His mom said he probably just missed him in the halls. The schools weren’t huge, but they were big enough to lose someone in. His dad said that AJ probably just went to a different school. Maybe in the next town over, since no one knew him here. That settled it for a bit, and the next time James saw AJ, which was at the park just after sunset one evening when James was on his way home from skipping rocks in the small stream in the woods, he asked him about it. AJ had told him that both theories were wrong. He lived a few miles west through the woods and his mom homeschooled him. He said his dad did some sort of factory work in the next town, which was just enough to pay the bills and put food on the table, according to him. It was only then that James realized AJ didn’t wear the best of clothes, and he wasn’t as kempt as James was. But that didn’t make any difference to him. In fact, he felt closer to AJ than ever before. Finally, he had found someone who would never judge him. Someone who could truly understand him.

So when Mercy Worthington fell into step with him, James’s heart beat a rapid tempo and his stomach turned to knots.

“Hi,” she said in a very delicate, but cheerful voice.

James stared at the ground and muttered a hello, but he couldn’t get up the nerve to really look at her.

“I’m Mercy. You’re James, right? James Clearwater. I think my dad works with yours at old man Jenson’s. He does the proofs, doesn’t he?”

James nodded. His dad worked at Jenson Design Studio where he developed photographs in one of the two darkrooms. His dad had big dreams of one day owning his own studio and becoming a famous photographer. Mercy’s dad was a set designer. James knew everything there was to know about Mercy and her family, and not just because the whole town knew who her family was, but because he paid attention and took notes. James was in love with Mercy Worthington, and had been since the third grade when she’d taken a job behind the lunch counter for a day and handed him a carton of 2% with that big, white smile of hers trained squarely on him. She was a senior at the high school, which made her five years older than James, who was thirteen now and in the seventh grade.

Today, like every day, she was radiant. Her dull blond hair waved gently behind her as the breeze caught it and when he found the nerve to look up at her, he found her green eyes smiling on him.

He was going to marry her one day.

“I thought so,” she said, grinning. She took in their surroundings. “Do you take this route every day?” He nodded. “I’ve never seen you, and I walk this way every day. How come I’ve never seen you?”

He shrugged. “I dunno.” He felt awkward and short on words. He stuffed his hands in his pockets.

“You don’t talk much, do you?”

He glanced at her and caught her teasing smile. He smiled back, feeling a little of the tension leave his shoulders. Why was she being so nice to him? A part of him felt like this must be a trick, but when he looked around, he only saw other kids from school walking silently or in small groups or pairs, chatting quietly. Could she really be interested in him? The only kids besides AJ that talked to him were the ones who poked fun of his clothes or his haircut, his slight lisp or the way he tripped over his own feet. She probably just felt sorry for him. He had heard of that before, girls who felt sorry for the underdog and took pity on them. Normally, he would get mad at being a charity case, but right now he couldn’t care less. Someone other than his family knew he existed. Mercy Worthington knew he existed. Suddenly, he didn’t feel like a shadow slinking around in the world unnoticed anymore.

“So how long have you lived in Oakridge, James?” Mercy asked, as they crossed the street.

“My whole life,” he replied.

She nodded. “Do you have any friends? I never see you with anyone.”

He shrugged. “Some.” He didn’t want to look like too much of a loser.

“What about a girlfriend, do you have one of those?”

He felt himself blush. “No.”

“I know what your dad does for a living. So what does your mom do?”

“She likes to garden, but no one pays her for it,” he said. His dad was old-fashioned and believed that the wife should be home with the kids while the husband went out and provided for the family.

“That’s cool,” she said. “My mom is a painter. Sometimes she sells her art to the museum or to some person with lots of money. She’s pretty successful. I was thinking of painting when I get out of college. What about you? Do you know what you want to do after college?”

Honestly, James wasn’t sure he even wanted to go to college. His dad never pushed the notion, insisting that he wouldn’t amount to much more than a gas-station attendant anyway. He wanted to be an astronaut when he was little, like most boys that age did, then he switched to a fireman after a class field trip to the fire station in fifth grade. Now, he just wasn’t sure what he wanted.

“I’m not sure,” he said honestly. “Maybe I’ll just travel across the world for a while and live off the land until I figure it out.” That had been a dream of his and AJ’s, to hitch rides all over the country with nothing but a backpack and a few dollars in their wallet.

Her face lit up with excitement. “That is so cool that you said that. I always dreamed of seeing the world, but my dad said that education comes first. I will have all the time in the world to do what I want after I get my ducks in a row.”

James wasn’t sure he believed that, but he kept his mouth shut.

Heavy footsteps approached from behind and moments later a big, strong arm wrapped around Mercy’s shoulder. Tommy Henderson had arrived.

“Hey, babe.” Tightening his grip on her neck, he pulled her in for a sloppy kiss.

“Hey,” she said when she came up for air. “Tommy, this is James. His dad works with my dad. He’s going to travel across the world one day.” She said this with a grin that made James’ stomach flutter a little.

Tommy sized James up, and James knew he was trying to figure out where he knew him from. James knew him from the many times he “accidentally” knocked his books from his hands, and “inadvertently” tore up his homework. James was afraid if he recognized him, he might have to endure another embarrassing moment involving colorful adjectives and descriptive threats, and he just didn’t want to be made a fool of in front of a girl like Mercy Worthington.

He hung his head, allowing a few scraggly scraps of hair to shield his eyes.

“Travel the world, huh? Like a hobo or something?” He laughed, his deep, belly rolling chortle that made all the girls weak in the knees. James thought it made him look and sound stupid. “What are you hanging out with this joker for? He’s like two feet tall. I could smash him with my pinkie.”

James felt his finger press down on the crown of his head in demonstration.

“Hey,” Tommy said, putting himself between James and Mercy. “You trying to steal my girlfriend?”

“Stop picking on him, Tommy,” Mercy snapped.

Tommy sneered at James, then his features smoothed, and he turned on a smile for Mercy. “Whatever you say, babe. Just making sure the boy understands there’s no competition. You’re my girl, aren’t you, babe?”

Mercy rolled her eyes. “Of course, Tommy.”

They had come to a fork in the road where James’ house was to the left and Mercy’s to the right. “I’ll see you around, James,” Mercy told him, smiling apologetically.

“Yeah, see ya,” Tommy said, then ruffled James’ hair like he was some little kid.

James watched after them as they turned and walked off. After a few feet, Tommy turned to face James. “And, James.” James raised a questioning brow. “Stay away from my girl.”

Mercy punched Tommy in the side playfully, and he laughed, tugging her closer as they resumed walking. James felt his body begin to shake. He was angry. At that moment, he wanted to beat Tommy Henderson until his arms were too weak to continue. For the first time in his miserable existence, James thought he felt angry enough to kill.

As the sun set, the day turned bitter cold, and the rain had moved in. It was sheeting down now, and Mercy’s shoes were soaking wet as her feet beat through every puddle. She was running, the rain pouring down her face in rivers, filling her eyes and blinding her to her path. Someone was chasing her.

She’d decided to walk home after an evening at her boyfriend, Tommy’s, house, and almost as soon as she rounded the first street corner, she felt someone following her. The shadowy figure kept pace for a couple of blocks, then steadily picked up pace, until Mercy broke out running…and so did they.

She was crossing the park playground now, and she could just make out the hill ahead. Her house was just over that hill, and if she could make it, she could get help. As her feet slipped, trying to find purchase on the soft, mud covered ground, Mercy could feel her muscles begin to cramp and burn with exhaustion. Against her will, she was slowing. When her feet hit the loose bark covering the playground, Mercy did slip. She caught herself with her hands and scrambled to her feet, pushing herself harder until she finally reached the bottom of the hill. There she used her hands, her fingers digging into the grass, and pulled herself up until she could look over and beyond to her house. The lights inside were a warm beacon, and she felt a sudden urgency come over her.

As she came to her feet, Mercy heard a muffled thud, and glanced over her shoulder. It was a mistake that she wouldn’t live to regret.

The shadow stood before her, and to her surprise, she recognized the dark figure.

“What do you want from me!”

A visual sweep revealed something big and heavy looking in their hand, and with quick precision, the shadow raised its arm high in the air and brought it down hard. A slow trickle of blood broke through her hairline and ran down her forehead, then her face and dripped off her chin. A second blow caused it to grow thicker and run faster and Mercy fell to her knees, then finally her face, where her eyes focused and glazed over and her breaths faded away to nothing. And still the shadow hit her, until all the fury, all the anger subsided.

Her last vision was that of the warm yellow glow coming from the living room window where her mother and father, sister and brother sat watching the evening news and waiting for her to come walking in the door any moment.

Stooping down, the figure wrapped its cold, wet fingers around Mercy’s ankles and pulled, slipping frequently under the girl’s slight weight as it dragged her lifeless body into the copse of oak trees beyond the playground. Come morning, when the sun broke through the clouds, children would run and play, never knowing the horrors of what happened just a short distance away.

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About J.C. Valentine

JC ValentineJ.C. Valentine is the USA Today and International bestselling author of the Night Calls and Wayward Fighters Series and the Forbidden Series. Her vivid imagination and love of words and romance had her penning her own romance stories from an early age, which, despite being poorly edited and written longhand, she forced friends and family members to read. No, she isn’t sorry.

J.C. earned her own happily ever after when she married her high school sweetheart. Living in the Northwest, they have three amazing children and far too many pets and spend much of their free time together enjoying movies or the outdoors. Among the many hats she wears, J.C. is an entrepreneur. Having graduated with honors, she holds a Bachelor’s in English and when she isn’t writing, you can find her editing for fellow authors.

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