These ‘about me’ sections, or even sections that inform you about blogs, have never been my forte. Much to my chagrin, I was never taught the unwritten rules of what you are supposed to say. The links at the side of the blog – Twitter and Goodreads, for example – are liable to tell you more than I could ever say in words.

Mostly, this will be a book blog. I read a lot, and I love to share my views on my most recent reads. I try to read a little bit of everything, but if you look closely you’ll notice I will occasionally become obsessed with one specific genre for a short period of time. Old books, new books, yet to be released books – I read them all. If you’re an author looking for advance readers or just wish for more reviews of a book you’ve already released, please feel free to contact me. There is a contact form at the side of my blog – if you scroll down below the Twitter and Goodreads sidebar you will find it – so drop me a message and I’ll be sure to get back to you in double time. After all, finding new authors is what makes the book world go around.

Thanks for taking your time to read this. With a little bit of luck, you will find my blog much more interesting than this mundane introductory section.

Friday, 31 March 2017

Review: Something Old

Something Old Something Old by Megan Ryder
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Something Old is my second Megan Ryder novel. Whilst it’s a very different read to her Knights of Passion series, it is still a wonderful read. In fact, it left me with the same main feeling: I want to read more of this series.

For me, Something Old took a little bit of getting into. I was intrigued by the storyline, yes, but I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about the characters. I didn’t quite connect with them at first, I wanted to roll my eyes at what was happening, but once I got part way through the story I found I loved them. They’re the kinds of characters you grow to love, the ones you come to enjoy more than you expected to. It’s always wonderful when such a thing happens, watching as your feelings change towards people and events always makes a reading a lot more fun. Thus, if like me you’re not one hundred percent into the characters at first, I suggest you carry on reading as you’ll come to love them.

There really is so much to be seen throughout this book. There are so many elements to be seen. It’s more than just a simple second change romance, being a story filled with many additional aspects. Mainly, these aspects are in the form of drama. Who doesn’t love a good bit of drama? Honestly, the drama is wonderful. Family drama. Friend drama. Work drama. Media drama. The general drama of everyday life. It’s wonderful. There’s so much of it, and yet it’s done in such a way that it’s never overpowering. There’s always something going on, yes, and yet you’re able to look at the larger story at the same time.

It’s not just the drama of the couple you’re pulled into; you’re also pulled into the storylines of the other couples in this book. Without a doubt, I cannot wait to find out the stories behind the other characters in the Lone Star Match series. They all offer up something different, with each promising wonderful stories. I’m honestly so excited to see certain stories play out, and cannot wait to get my hands on them.

Overall, this was a wonderfully addictive read. Once it pulled me in I found it impossible to put down, needing to know how things ended. If you’re a fan of second chance romance, this is certainly a book to pick up.

View all my reviews

Guest Post: Behind the Title by Cynthia Roberts.


Behind the Title 
(Creation of a Love Story) 
By Romance Author Cynthia Roberts

Creating romantic fiction has been a passion of mine, ever since I was old enough to understand the connection between the sexes. I think I was twelve, when I wrote my first love story and like most young minds; I truly thought it was a masterpiece.

There’s another masterful connection that has been going on now for centuries, and that, is the one between music and literature. There is a full alphabet of songs that have been written retelling a work of literature as far back as the 18th century.

“If I Die Young” by The Band Perry was based on a poem, Lady of Shallot. “Love Story” by Taylor Swift is loosely based on Romeo & Juliet. The artist Sting’s “Moon Over Bourbon Street” was based on an Anne Rice Novel, Interview With A Vampire.

More interesting though, the anatomy of a song has also within its lyrics a pretty fascinating back story as well. For more than five decades, authors have been creating fictional pieces and bringing readers deep inside the lyrics. I grew up listening to my mom’s collection of romantic ballads from the 40s, 50s, and 60s. Those lyrics have forever been embossed into my brain, I still sing along whenever I hear them. Lyrics like those back then told a story, and they were so strong, and emotional, their affect were everlasting.

I have a library of love songs on iTunes I listen to religiously, while I write, as a source of inspiration and a tool that gets me in the mood and mindset I need to be in. It is from this list, I began to formulate a series of ideas, followed by cryptic notes on paper, and finally the creation of my Love Song Standards Series. I made a list of the songs I connected with personally, whittling it down to thirty-five. That number was quite overwhelming and I thought virtually impossible to create that many scenarios. So, I chipped away at the songs and their lyrics, until I decided on a top ten.

I had made a commitment to myself to finish one book a month throughout 2016, writing a chapter every day, leaving me ample time to polish and edit each one. I knew from the on-start, what I wanted my covers to look like. They had to resemble each other in a way that would tie them together, but strong enough for them to stand on their own. My designer Covers by Ramona did an exceptional job tying all my ideas together.

After Book 6, Chances Are, was completed, my brain was fried. I took a short reprieve and switched it up a bit with a Romantic Suspense, A Pawn for Malice. Happily, the first two books of my series received a 5-Star Readers Favorite Award, which ended my promotion efforts. I was forced to take an extended break due to personal issues that had set me back both physically and emotionally. My focus now is to both promote my series and finish the final four titles All The Way, It’s Impossible, Sincerely, and Unforgettable.

If you’re a lover of contemporary romance, please do check out my Love Song Standards Series. I know you’ll be pleasantly pleased. Buy links and descriptions are available on my website at RomanceAuthorCynthiaRoberts.com. If you subscribe to my mailing list, we can stay in touch as to when the other titles are completed PLUS you’ll receive a complimentary copy of Book 1, Unchained Melody. All that I ask is for you to please, please share an honest review at the online retailer you use most. It will help me dramatically towards promoting my book and the series.


Hugs from me to you.


Release Tour: Tender Echoes.

TENDER ECHOES
A Dark Prequel to Digital Velocity (The McAllister Justice Series Book 1)
by Reily Garrett

Genre: Suspense/Thriller


Theft of spirit is no one’s birthright.

A quirk of her X chromosome furnished Alexis with an edge few others enjoyed. After fate plunged her into orphan status and an intolerable foster home forced her to the streets, a group of prostitutes sheltered her from their vicious pimp. Seeing something special within, they nurtured and shielded her from their harsh reality until she could forge her own path in life.

Destiny frequently takes us back to our roots. Lexi’s return journey begins when a serial killer attacks one of her adopted sisters. Relying on courage and wit, she must stay a step ahead and secure evidence to free her family from a psychopathic murderer.

“Jesus, Charlie. Hold on. I’ll get you to a hospital.” Lexi swallowed hard against the rising tide of acid degrading her throat’s lining as the unfolding scene corrupted her sanity. Pressure against the makeshift bandage on Charlie’s belly wound yielded a deeper crimson soaking her jacket, the provisional dressing secured by fingers encased in a thickening, sticky glove. So much blood.

This could’ve been Lexi’s fate—stabbed, slashed, disfigured for all time, blood forming rivulets pooling in the alley’s filth. Maroon puddles mingled with body fluids common to alleys sheltering the homeless as if destined to couple in a macabre, virulent concoction.

“R-run, Lexi. D-don’t let him make you a w-whore. I wasn’t—strong enough. Y-you were never p-part of the street life.” Trash and other filth from the narrow passageway cushioned Charlie’s bruised and battered head. One front tooth was missing, probably swallowed, while blood seeped from jagged slashes on her cheeks and brow, both career enders in the event she survived. “You shouldn’t be here. It was a mistake to text you, but the cops wouldn’t believe us girls.”

“Did your pimp do this, Charlie? What’s his real name?” Tell me so I can help you.

Remnants of a cardboard box, a vagabond’s homemade privy, retained odors of the dispossessed, rivaled only by the excrement saturating every molecule of thickened air drawn into her lungs. This was no place and no way to die.

“Yeah—said I stole from a customer. But I didn’t. The b-bastard just wanted a freebie.” Otherworldly pain glazed eyes forecasting a nonexistent future while icy wind leached color from a once-beautiful face now smeared with crimson streaks and pain. “Won’t tell you his name. I didn’t want to die alone. You’re f-free. You made it.”

“No, Charlie. I’ll get help. Lie still while I secure a pressure dressing.” This late at night, there’d be few cars to flag down and no foot traffic from which to enlist help. She was forced to rely on emergency personnel who’d classify the incident as NHI, no human involved.

Terror-induced flashbacks spewed forth of a stranger offering refuge to a teenager standing on a precipice, a choice. She’d first thought him relatively handsome, not understanding the slimy base of his character. She’d had no experience with pimps. Still, something inside steered her away from his pleasant fa├žade. Perhaps she’d sensed his underlying character. Instinct had directed her to the unknown, where a small group of prostitutes offered shelter and nurtured her mind.

With one hand, Lexi freed her belt and maneuvered it under the fallen girl’s tiny waist amid groans and mewling cries. Youth and a livelihood from flatbacking necessitated a svelte figure, which facilitated her efforts to cinch the leather strap tight. Lexi reached for the cell clutched in Charlie’s hand, knowing the late hour meant a longer wait for help. Her fingers, covered in sticky crimson ropes of blood, tangled briefly with Charlie’s, a squishy squeeze to lend encouragement. Another bolus of acid rose in her throat.

“No.” One word spoken from the disembodied voice behind her could flash freeze Hell and instigate the formation of ice crystals in any world, under any circumstance.




AmazonB&NKoboGoodreads


COMING APRIL 24!

“Digital Velocity is a fast-paced romantic suspense thriller that sophisticatedly weaves drama, excitement, grit, raw emotions and mystery. Garrett takes her readers on a journey where suspense and romance are taken up several notches as she unfolds and reveals the identity of a murderer that is on the loose. With her vivid prose, Garrett entices readers to see the bond that is brewing between Detective Ethan McAllister and his unlikely informant.” Michelle Tan, RT Book Reviews

Keyboard prodigy, Lexi Donovan has risen from teenage orphan of the streets to complete independence with little help along the way. When a friend is threatened, Lexi’s anonymous message sends police into a firefight, leading to a wounded cop.

Detective Ethan McAllister’s well-ordered life turned upside down the day an obscure text message led to a sexual predator’s identity. Since then, Callouston PD’s finest can’t trace the elusive hacker. The latest tip leads him to a brutal mutilation and a riddle indicating the identity of the next murder victim.

The dark net houses a playground for the morally depleted and criminally insane. When Lexi discovers the killer’s digital betting arena, she finds herself centered in a cyber stalker’s crosshairs bearing equal talent.

Street life strengthened Lexi while toughening her protective shell, but nothing could shield her from the shrewd detective forging a path to her heart.



Reily’s employment as an ICU nurse, private investigator, and work in the military police has given her countless experiences in a host of different environments to add a real world feel to her fiction.

Though her kids are her life, writing is Reily’s life after. The one enjoyed…after the kids are in bed or after they’re in school and the house is quiet. This is the time she kicks back with laptop and lapdog to give her imagination free rein.

In life, hobbies can come and go according to our physical abilities, but you can always enjoy a good book. Life isn’t perfect, but our imaginations can be. Relax, whether it’s in front of a fire or in your own personal dungeon. Take pleasure in a mental pause as you root for your favorite hero/heroine and bask in their accomplishments, then share your opinions of them over a coffee with your best friend (even if he’s four legged). Life is short. Cherish your time.

Website ✯ Amazon ✯ Goodreads ✯ Twitter ✯ Facebook

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Review: The Magician's Workshop, Volume Two

The Magician's Workshop, Volume Two The Magician's Workshop, Volume Two by Christopher Hansen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In my review of volume one, I spoke of how I’m not the biggest fan of serial stories but was willing to try for this one. At the end of the first volume, I was content to continue on with the serial releases; after finishing the second volume, my view has shifted. I’m no longer merely content to continue on – I need to continue on. Need with a capital ‘N’. This second volume has added so much to the story: so many new elements have come to light, so many things have become clearer, and I have a much better idea of what kind of beauty is waiting deeper in the story.

In volume one, I came to really enjoy the magical world. There was so much to it, the originality being amazing. I was left with a lot of questions, though, but that was okay. It was only part one, and I knew the answers would come. With volume two, we get quite a few of those answers. In fact, a large majority of my questions relating to the magic were answered. Oh, there’s still the big questions. Of course the big questions would remain, would grow, as they’re central to the story. But my small questions were answered. The little things I was curious about became clearer; details I wanted more of were expanded. The magic really does develop in this one, continuing the wonderful world building we experienced in the first volume. In the first volume it was obvious how the magical world was interconnected, we were given ideas of how the world would come together, but it grew so much in this one. In fact, it took some turns that I had not been expecting. Notions introduced in the first volume were taken further, turned around, and made into something more.

Honestly, I cannot even begin to explain all the development that occurred in this one in regards to the magical world.

Not only does the world develop, also the characters are taken to the next stage of their stories. This is no filler volume, as can sometimes be the case with serial stories – this volume is pure movement. We move forward, we get new pieces of information. Characters are set on their paths in this one, the journeys truly beginning. Whatever ideas you had in the first volume about the characters, whomever you believed would and would not have colour, be prepared for some shocks. I thought I had it all figured out, but there were some characters that caught me off guard. I won’t say who or why, but be ready for some surprises. From there, be ready for a range of emotional scenes. The interactions that occur following the news in this volume, the way in which things play out once people do or do not receive colour, is a thing of beauty. I just wanted to grab some characters and hug them, whereas others I wished to throttle. It really is a great move forward for all of the characters, clearly giving us an idea of where everyone will be going from here. As with the first volume, some aspects are clearer than others are, but this only works to leave you intrigued as to where everything will go from here.

It really is a strong four star read. The only thing that left me disappointed was that this volume wasn’t quite as action filled as I had hoped it would be. I was pulled in throughout. I found the story to be gripping. Yet when I was finished, a voice in the back of my head (the reason why so few five star ratings are handed out) spoke up. Whilst this story did move forward, whilst we did learn a lot, it wasn’t an action packed fantasy read. It was a lot of information, really. This makes it a very important read, but I would have liked my heart to be beating with something other than the colour related suspense. This is just me being pedantic, though. I’m positive in the future volumes things will progress with non-stop action.

Once again, I’m eager to see where the story goes from here. Volume one pulled me in, and volume two left me super excited. I cannot wait to see what happens in volume three!

As a final note, I would like to thank the authors for allowing me to read this in exchange for a review.

View all my reviews

Cover Reveal: The Truth About Love, Volume II

☆.•°☆.•°*°•.☆ ANNA BLOOM COVER REVEAL ☆.•°☆.•°*°•.☆


Check out this stunning cover of Anna Bloom's The Truth About Love Volume 2. Pre-order now - myBook.to/TruthAboutLovevol2
Read The Truth About Love Vol 1 while it's at the SPECIAL REDUCED PRICE OF .99!!- myBook.to/truthaboutlovevol1

Synopsis
Cherry Donaldson goes through dates like some women go through coffee. So when she find herself in need of a temporary roommate, saying yes to the gorgeous guy—even if he’s not her usual type—is a bad idea. A very bad idea. 

The last thing she expects is to fall into a friendship with Jared. But he makes it so easy. And before she knows it, the lines blur and his annoying habits become just a little bit charming.

Will Cherry break her own rules to take a chance on the guy she now calls a friend, or is The Truth About Love too much to bear?

Released 20th April
Pre-order now - myBook.to/TruthAboutLovevol2

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Review: Sin Eater

Sin Eater Sin Eater by P.K. Tyler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sin Eater is a dark and gritty novel, exactly the kind of novel I love to read.

Honestly, the warning that comes with this book is well placed. It is very far from those sweet paranormal reads where love conquers all. There are no rainbows and butterflies. We’re without the unicorns and glitter. This is taking us back to the dark ages of fantasy. Do you remember when everyone loved those really dark horror movies with the demons and the angels at loggerheads? Those movies where everything was dark – not just the storyline and characters, but the actual filming because there was never any light in the world. Well, this novel very much reminds me of those movies – and boy did I love those movies. This one was right up my street, exactly what I needed to read.

Sin Eater began life as a serial novel – the kind of novel I’m not crazy about reading. I prefer it when I can jump right into a completed story, hence why I was so happy to jump into the concluded story. Be forewarned, though, this isn’t the end. This isn’t a standalone novel – there is to be more. I’m not sure when that will be, but I am already eagerly anticipating the story. As I was getting towards the end of the story, I was thinking ‘there is no way everything will be wrapped up’, and I was not mistaken. There are plenty of things I need answers to, many reasons why I will be jumping into the second part of this story. I need it so badly; it’s almost unbelievable.

You see, Sin Eater is a story built up of many components. It’s one of those stories that does require a bit of brainpower. Not in the sense that it is overly complex, just that there is a lot to it. It is more than a simple tale of demons upon earth: there are many new and interesting aspects.

The first of these that we are introduced to is the life of a Sin Eater. Straight away, I was pulled into the Sin Eater storyline: it was something new, something that left me wanting more. Top marks instantly for this creative new take on the demon world. As the story progressed, this aspect of the story grew, giving us more. We slowly found out more and more about the Sin Eater world, and I found my initial love for it only grew. It went beyond being a single element aspect of life, to having many more components that left me adoring this new addition to the dark fantasy world.

It’s not just the life of the Sin Eater that is interesting, though. There are so many elements of hidden societies and twisted histories thrown into this story. We have the usual battle of the church against an outsider group, and whilst this happens quite often, I found myself really enjoying the way it was done in this one. There was more to it than you would believe, with this being another element of the story that grew beyond the proportions you would normally expect.

It’s not simply the world building that is wonderful; the characters are also a lot of fun. The angst – oh, gosh, do not get me started on the angst! It was brilliant. It was the perfect level of emotional turmoil without being annoying. You really felt for the characters and the issues they were dealing with. You couldn’t help but fall in love with them. You spent so long hoping for the best, whilst fearful of the worst. It’s truly wonderful when such a thing happens. Quite often with angst-ridden storylines and characters, I find I’m either annoyed very quickly or I know what the outcome will be – with this one, I was left guessing for so long. I really did fear the outcome of the interactions between characters.

Honestly, this was a brilliant read. I had so much fun with it. It’s exactly what a dark and gritty paranormal novel should be. It has a bit of everything, and by the end you’re left wanting more. If you enjoy these kinds of novels, it’s certainly worth picking up and jumping in.

I admit, it wasn’t quite perfect – hence the four stars instead of the five. There were some editing issues that distracted me a bit, and although this isn’t the end of the world, I am overly picky when handing out my five stars. Nevertheless, this is a very strong four star read.

I cannot wait to see what happens in the next segment of the story!

View all my reviews

Chapter Reveal: Tortured.





Coming April 9th


Pre-order exclusively via iBooks HERE

goodreads-badge.png



SYNOPSIS:

When he left for a twelve-month deployment, she knew it would feel like forever before they saw each other again. She didn’t realize how right she was.

When Lance Corporal Brecken Connolly gets taken as a POW, Camryn hopes for the best but steels herself for the worst. In the end, steel was what she needed to survive when he didn’t. She moves on the only way she knows how—gilding herself in more steel.

Years go by.

She builds a new life.

She leaves the old one behind.

Until one day, she sees the face of a ghost on the news. Brecken seems to have risen from the dead, but she knows she can’t perform the same miracle for herself. While Brecken was held in a torture camp for the past five years, she’s been trapped in her own kind of prison. One she can’t be freed from.  

The man she mourned comes back to join the living, but the girl he wanted to spend his life with isn’t the same woman he comes back for. Brecken isn’t the same person either. The past five years have changed them both. While he’s determined to put the pieces back together, she’s resolved to let hers rot where they shattered.

Broken or not, Brecken wants her back. He’ll do anything to achieve that. Even if it means going against the warden of Camryn’s personal prison—her husband.



PROLOGUE:


Whenever he had to leave, it was torture. You’d think I’d get used to it, but I didn’t—each time got harder. This one might have felt especially brutal because of how long he’d be gone. A year. We’d done weeks, we’d done months, but we’d never done the full year.
​Being with someone in the military, I knew I’d have to get used to it. The separation. The worry. The loneliness. The feeling that I was trying to catch my breath for however long he was gone.
​It was a way of life. And he was my life. So I’d just have to figure it out.
​“I’m never going to look at dog tags the same way again.” Brecken’s mouth turned up as his eyes roamed over me splayed across the backseat as he tucked in his T-shirt. He twisted his wrist, his gaze moving to his watch. A crease folded into his forehead. “But I’m going to need those back before I climb onto that bus. Something about military regulations. Not wandering around enemy territory without them. Those marines are sticklers for the rules.”
​He was trying to make me feel better—trying to get me to smile—but little could lift my spirits other than finding out he didn’t have to leave for the Middle East for twelve long months.
​“You don’t need them. Not really.”
​“Why’s that?”
​“Because you only need them if you’re planning on dying, and so help me god, I’m not taking these off my neck if you have plans for some kind of a hero’s death.” My hand curled almost defensively around the metal tags hanging against my bare skin as I focused on the way the cool metal warmed in my hand. The way it seemed to come to life in my hold.
​“I’m not planning on dying over there. I’m not going to die,” he corrected the moment my eyebrow started to lift. “But I do have plans of scoring some gnarly war wound so I have a story to tell our grandkids one day and can hang one of those Purple Hearts off my chest.”
​I flattened my face as best as I could, even though it was kind of impossible with the way he was grinning at me as he wrestled his jeans back into place. “Not funny.”
​“Come on. It’ll make me look tough.”
​“You already look tough. Too tough,” I added as I scanned him for the millionth time since he’d arrived back in Medford for a week-long vacation before shipping out. Whenever I looked at him, I didn’t just see the good-looking guy others did—I saw every good memory from my past. I saw every good memory that would be formed in the future. Brecken had been a part of my life since I was eight, and he was as much a part of me as I was.
​“Nah, I need one of those big, angry-looking scars running across my chest. Or one of those bullet hole scars on my thigh. Something real tough like that.”
​“And why do you need your dog tags for that?” My fingers tightened around the thin metal ovals, refusing to let them go as if I hoped in doing so, he couldn’t go either.
​“Blood transfusion. Medics are going to need to know my blood type when they’re trying to patch up my unconscious body.”
​“Unconscious body?”
​He nodded all solemn-like. “I can’t be one of those guys who earns his Purple Heart by getting a scratch on some barbed wire. I need to lose a quart or two of blood, maybe even code on the operating table. Something worthy of that medal.”
​The thought of Brecken marching through a hostile country with a rifle in his hands, with god only knew what aimed his way, made me feel weak with worry. The thought of him fighting for his life in some marine medical tent about took whatever was left of my sanity.
​I must not have been doing a good job hiding my emotions, because his face broke when he saw my eyes, his arms opening toward me. “It’s going to be okay, Camryn. I’m going to be okay. We’re going to be okay. The year will fly by, and before we know it, we’ll be getting married and buying a little house as close to the beach as we can afford. Okay?”
His arms wound around me, swallowing my body, and I let him tuck me close to him. I’d never known the feeling of being safe until Brecken Connolly’s arms had shown me the meaning.
​My hand planted in the middle of his chest, feeling his heartbeat vibrate against my palm. “Why can’t we just get married now? Why can’t I join the marines and go with you, wherever that is, so we can be together?”
​His laugh was muffled from his mouth being pressed against my temple. “Well, you can’t join the marines and my unit because the military’s under this impression that us marines of the male species become distracted and one-track minded when the women we love are marching beside us. They’re convinced the only things on our minds are protecting you, flirting with you, or screwing you.”
​Quietly, I counted off on my fingers, “Protecting, flirting, screwing . . .” Then I nodded. “Damn, they sure have you pegged.”
​Brecken’s fingers brushed up and down the bend of my waist. “And we can’t get married right now because you’ve got two more months of high school to finish before you earn that nifty diploma thing.” He kept going, undeterred by my grumble. “And I need to save some money to give you a proper ring and wedding. I’m not doing the courthouse thing with cheap silver bands. Not for you. You deserve the best.”
​My head tucked beneath his chin as I let him hold me in the backseat of his aunt’s old Corsica. The only good thing I could say about the car—which was a coin toss if it would start any given day—was that it had a decent-sized backseat that Brecken and I had made more than ample use of. Growing up in a strict household with my dad as Brecken grew up in the packed household a few houses down, privacy had been in short supply for both of us. Thankfully, his aunt was willing to lend Brecken her car whenever she could, like today, when I’d just made love to the only boy I’d ever loved for the last time for the next year.
My fingers curled into his chest as I willed time to freeze. “I have the best.”
Brecken grunted like he doubted that, his head lifting to check out the windshield. We were parked way back in the bus depot lot. His bus would be leaving for the long drive back to Camp Pendleton in a few short minutes.
“Besides, you already got me a ring.” I raised my left hand in front of him, rolling my fingers so he could see the adjustable birthstone ring on my finger.
He shook his head. “I won that for you at an arcade when we were ten.”
“It cost you twelve hundred tickets too. You saved up all summer to get that many tickets.”
His fingers touched the ring, twisting it around with a small smile on his face. “And it probably has the street value of a nickel. Not exactly the kind of wedding ring I want my wife to have.”
I found myself staring at the ring with him. The gold paint had started chipping off the thin band years ago, but the small pink birthstone still sparkled when the light hit it just right. “Well, it’s priceless to me. I don’t care what the street value is. Or how many tickets it cost.”
“Even so, I’m getting you a nice ring. With all of the hazard pay I’ll earn this year, you’d better start working that left ring finger out so it can bear the weight of the diamond I’ll be dropping on it.”
I was glad he couldn’t see my face, because he hated knowing how worried I was about him. He said hazard pay like a sales rep mentioned a bonus, but I heard it for what it really was—the government giving you a little more money for the likelihood of losing your life increasing.
“One more year. That’s it. Then we’ll be able to be together like we’ve always planned. Away from here.” Brecken’s arms loosened around me. We didn’t have much longer. “Away from these people.”
An uneven exhale came from him, the muscles in his arms twitching. I knew who he was talking about without him going into detail. Neither of our lives had been charmed or particularly easy, but mine had been worse. Being raised by a single dad who was so strict he made a monk’s life seem carefree, I’d had an unusual upbringing. Brecken only knew what I let him know about it, which was barely half of the reality.
“I don’t like leaving you alone with him,” he said, his voice a note lower. “If things get hard again, just leave. Move in with my insane family or a hotel or anywhere. Don’t let him hurt you. Words or fists. He does it again”—Brecken’s hands curled into balls as his back stiffened—“I’ll kill him. I swear I will.”
“He won’t,” I said instantly, in my most convincing voice. “He’s working on all that. Not drinking as much.” I made sure to hold his stare to sell as much conviction as I was capable.
My dad wasn’t just a strict man. He was a sad one, a lonely one. After my mom left, he’d turned into someone else, almost like she’d taken everything that had been good about him and stuffed it in that small suitcase too. Since I was the only one around and bore a striking resemblance to my mom, I’d taken the brunt of my dad’s grief. In the form of cutting words and, occasionally, outstretched palms.
Brecken had been walking down the sidewalk one day when he saw my dad strike me across the cheek for attempting to leave the house in a skirt he described as “fitting for a whore.” Brecken had only been thirteen, but he’d taken my dad down, managing to land a few punches before I could pull him off.
My dad stopped hitting me after that. At least where anyone passing by could see.
Not that I needed to tell Brecken that now. Though I guessed it would get him to stay a while longer . . . if only to be charged with murder and thrown into prison for the next twenty to thirty years.
Suddenly, that year didn’t seem so bad.
“He won’t,” I reiterated, when Brecken continued to give me that penetrating stare, like he was capable of finding a lie if I was hiding one.
Both of his brows lifted. “He better not.”
“If anything happens, I’ll crash at your family’s place, I swear.”
Sitting up, he pulled his wallet out of his back pocket. “With fourteen people sharing twelve hundred square feet of space, good luck finding a quiet spot to do your homework.” He pulled every bill out of his wallet. Even the last crumbled dollar. “Take this, hide it from your dad, and use it if you need to. That’s enough to get you a week or so at a hotel that isn’t a dump, and as soon as I get my next paycheck, I’ll send more.”
My head was shaking as I tried to stuff the money back into his wallet. He’d already closed it and was sliding it back into his pocket though. “I’ll be fine.”
Brecken’s gaze dropped to the money in my hand. “Yeah, I know.”
“Brecken.”
“Camryn,” he mimicked.
“I’m not taking the last dollar in your wallet.”
“Why not?” he asked, making a face. “I’d give you the shirt off my back, the air in my lungs, the last drop of blood in my veins. The last dollar’s a cakewalk compared to, you know, dying of suffocation or bleeding out.” He winked as he folded my fingers around the wad of money in my hand, then he leaned down to pull on his boots. He was moving quickly, glancing in the direction of the buses like he was making sure his wasn’t pulling away from the curb yet.
“Do you want to walk with me to the bus?” His focus stayed on cinching up his last boot as he waited for my answer.
He already knew it though. Good-byes weren’t my forte. Especially not the kind where I had to wave good-bye to the man I loved as he prepared to head into the middle of a war zone for the next year. Good-bye came with a whole different context when you said it to a marine.
“I know, Blue Bird. I know.” He sighed, his eyes narrowing at the weathered floorboards before he reached for the dog tags still hanging around my neck.
I didn’t make any move to lift my head or slide my hair aside to make it easier for him. As long as those tags were on my neck instead of his, he was safe. He was alive.
“I’m not going to die over there,” he whispered, pulling the tags over his head. They clinked together as they fell against his chest. “I’m coming back to you.”
My throat was burning from trying to keep myself from crying. “You can’t promise that.”
He reached for the blanket that had fallen on the floor and gently tucked it around my still-naked body. It was strange how I’d forgotten I was naked until he’d taken his tags off of me. Now though, I felt bare. Exposed. Vulnerable. My dress was somewhere around, even though I didn’t see it. We’d barely managed to make it to the parking lot before falling into the backseat together.
“Yes I can,” he said, his thumb tracing my collarbone before tucking the other corner around my shoulder. “Have I ever broken a promise to you?” He angled himself so he was in front of me, so I was forced to look him in the eyes.
“This is different. You can’t know for sure.”
“I’m going to enjoy watching you eat those words when I’m standing in front of that pretty face in twelve months, Blue Bird.”
I pulled the blanket tighter around me. “You know I don’t like it when you call me that when I’m mad at you.”
“You’re mad? At me?” He blinked. “Why?”
“You know why.” My eyes automatically moved toward the line of buses.
“To set the record straight, it’s the marine corps sending me to Iraq. Not me by personal choice.”
“No, but you made the personal choice to join the marine corps.”
“Yeah, because I didn’t want to spend the next twenty years pumping gas at the Qwik Mart.” His hand curled around the back of the front seat. “We’ve talked about this, Camryn. I’m not cut out for college, and I sure as shit am not going to spend my life working a minimum-wage part-time job and stuck in Medford. The marines is a chance at a real life. A career where I can be promoted and provide for a family and get a chance to kick a little ass every once in a while.” He leaned forward to kiss my forehead. Then my lips. “This is the ticket to that life we’ve been talking about for years. But it comes with a price.” His mouth covered mine again, this time a bit longer. “I’ll be okay. I’ll make it back.”
My eyes closed so I could focus on the taste of him left behind on my mouth. “You’re always the first to charge into anything. You don’t hang back. You don’t like the shadows. You like being the one who cast those shadows.”
When my eyes finally opened, I found his dark blue ones inches away from mine. His light hair, buzzed short so he was all ready for deployment, the few freckles scattered across the bridge of his nose, the way his jaw tightened when he stared at me, those were the things I’d remember when I’d lay awake at night, wondering where he was. If he was safe. If he was thinking about me. As long as I held on to a part of him, he could never really leave me.
“I’m coming home to you,” he said like a solemn vow. “It might be in more than one piece, but I’m coming home to you.”
I tucked his tags inside his shirt. They’d become cold again. “A thousand pieces, I don’t care. Just come home.”
His smile was almost as forced as mine as he leaned in, pulling me into his arms one last time. He held me for a minute, one hand secured around my neck, the other around my back, rocking me against him. Then he kissed me one last time. “Gotta go, Blue Bird. The Middle East isn’t going to settle itself down.”
As he threw open the back door to go around to the trunk to grab his bag, I leaned across the seat. He was leaving. For what felt like forever. “Yeah, don’t think you’re single-handedly responsible for tackling that agenda either.”
Throwing the bag over his shoulder, he crouched beside me. This smile wasn’t contrived. It was real. Perfect. “I’ll see you soon.”
“Soon?”
His hand formed around my cheek as his thumb traced the seam of my lips. “Sounds better than see you in a year, right?” Tucking his thumb into his mouth, tasting my lips on it, he gave me a wicked smirk before shoving to a stand and starting toward the buses. “I’m coming back for you, Camryn Blue Gardner, so you’d better be waiting for me, or I’ll just have to come find you and remind you why you fell crazy in love with me.”
Tucking the blanket around myself, I slid out of the car, leaning over the open door. “I’m not going anywhere. I’ll be waiting.”
He’d started to jog backward. “Waiting as in a few days until some other guy makes his play?”
My eyes rolled as I gave him a look. Brecken and I’d been together since I was fifteen and he was seventeen. Even before that, we’d been inseparable, no one able to come between us.
I cupped my hand around my mouth. “Waiting as in forever.”
“I won’t keep you waiting that long. Just long enough.” He was shouting now, the rumbling buses muffling his voice.
“Long enough for what?” I yelled back.
Even with this much distance between us, I didn’t miss it. The look in his eyes. The tip of his smile. “For you to agree to marry me the moment I get back.”
The breeze played with my hair, sending it away from him, like forces out of our control were already pulling us apart. “I will!”
He paused just below the bus steps, his eyes consuming me from a hundred yards away. “It’s, I do, Blue Bird. I do.” He grinned and handed his bag off to the person stuffing them into one of the outside compartments. Then his hands cupped around his mouth, and he dropped his head back. “I do, too!”
His voice echoed across the parking lot, earning the attention of more than just me.
That was it. He climbed the stairs, turned the corner, and disappeared inside the bus. I wouldn’t see him for a year. I might not see him ever . . .
My jaw tensed as I put a stop to that train of thought. Wedding vows and rings were the last things on my mind as his bus lurched away from the curb.
“Just come back to me,” I whispered to no one. “Just come back.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Nicole Williams is the New York Times and USATODAY bestselling author of contemporary and young adult romance, including the Crash and Lost & Found series. Her books have been published by HarperTeen and Simon & Schuster in both domestic and foreign markets, while she continues to self-publish additional titles. She is working on a new YA series with Crown Books (a division of Random House) as well. She loves romance, from the sweet to the steamy, and writes stories about characters in search of their happily even after. She grew up surrounded by books and plans on writing until the day she dies, even if it’s just for her own personal enjoyment. She still buys paperbacks because she’s all nostalgic like that, but her kindle never goes neglected for too long. When not writing, she spends her time with her husband and daughter, and whatever time’s left over she’s forced to fit too many hobbies into too little time.
Nicole is represented by Jane Dystel, of Dystel and Goderich Literary Agency.





ArdentProse_LogoMain.jpg