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Thursday, January 21, 2016

Book Blitz: Happily Ever Alpha (Twenty One Hot Paranormal Books)

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Genres: Paranormal Romance
When Once Upon A Time Isn’t Enough

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The Witch Who Cried Wolf’s Soundtrack

Hey everyone! 
Music plays a big role in helping to spark my creativity while I write. That was definitely true for The Witch Who Cried Wolf. Here’s a sampling of the music I listened to while writing the first installment in the Cry Wolf series:

Between Two Points (feat. Swan) by The Glitch Mob
Crave You (Adventure Club Remix) by Flight Facilities
Let Me Go by Kaskade
Run for Cover by Kito & Reija Lee
Walls by Crywolf
Oh Miah by Blackmill
Magnet (Infuze Remix) Killgore & Polina
Crystalised by The xx
Strange Behavior (feat. Tasha Baxter) by Feed Me
Too Late by Klaypex



Copyright © 2014 Ambrielle Kirk, Amber Ella Monroe

A deep penetrating sensation hit Aiden, capturing his next breath and forcing him to stumble back. Intense hunger and wanting overtook him, and he almost dropped his bag. He shivered and waves of conflicting feelings ran throughout him. He parted his mouth in shock. His taste buds swelled, and his manhood stirred behind the zipper of his pants.
He’d never had this type of reaction to any client. Yet, Keira was not just any client. There was a reason he was good at his profession. His sense of smell and the ability to detect fear and danger within milliseconds were his greatest assets. This same sense of smell told him the woman inside was his mate.
There was no other explanation. Or perhaps he’d completely lost it. Had he made a mistake by taking this job? He should have turned this assignment down and remained retired. He was no use to a client if his nose was playing tricks on him. But had his nose ever deceived him?
This woman—Keira Ellis—was his mate.
His wolf rejoiced, but this feral need to take, ravish, and claim her confused his human side.
“Mr. Price?” Thomas opened the door a little wider.
Aiden swallowed as more of the woman’s scent slammed into him. He stepped over the threshold, ready to meet the woman who inflamed his heart with desire.
Thomas nodded once and then began to back away. “There are preparations to be made for dinner. Francine will be around this evening to assist you with anything else you may need during your stay.” With that, he left Aiden in the doorway.
Aiden scanned the room for Ms. Ellis, but she wasn’t anywhere to be seen and he didn’t hear a sound. But Ms. Ellis was in there, all right. He could smell the subtle fragrance of her perfume.
This was some sort of an office or maybe just a library. Rows of bookcases lined the
walls. A massive red oak desk sat in the center of the room. The big black chair behind it was empty. There was a leather-bound book open in the center of the desk and a fountain pen lying beside it.
Aiden picked up his bags, not wanting to leave his weapons in the hallway. Just as he took a step past the door, a gust of fresh wind rolled in his direction and a strong, relaxing aura overtook him. Aiden turned toward the breeze. A woman sat with a book in her hand in front of an open bay window. A powerful energy rushed down his spine, and his mouth became dry.
Ms. Ellis didn’t pay him any attention. She was busy reading the book on her lap. She sat on a plump cushion with her legs crossed; the curtains billowed around her. Her hair was wound in a bun at her nape. When she bowed her head, Aiden admired the long gracefulness of her neck. She looked extremely young—which wasn’t something Aiden expected.
The dress she wore clung to her ripe breasts. Her arms, the color of warm melted caramel, were completely exposed. The sole of one foot was bared to him. It was small, delicate, and looked baby soft.
Another hot flash of feral need spread through Aiden’s core. His nostrils flared as he identified the mesmerizing scent. Besides another set of lavender in the vase poised on the desk was the smell of something sweeter. Like a fruit. Peaches.
At that moment she chose to look up.
Gods, she was beautiful. Young and beautiful. Delicate and exotic.
Her eyelashes fluttered as she focused on him. Deep hazel eyes examined him from head to toe with precision. Her plush lips parted as she observed him, and her eyebrows lifted momentarily, hinting at a bit of surprise.
Why had he expected an older woman? Maybe because Jamison Ellis was in his late fifties? Perhaps she was his daughter and not his wife, but nothing in the files indicated the Ellises had any children.
When she closed the book and placed it on the sill beside her, he noticed her fingernails were painted a deep red.
He attempted to regain his composure and met her at the bay window.
He dropped his duffle bags, and the heavy weight hit the floor with a thud. “Aiden Price reporting for duty, ma’am.”
A shy smile crossed her face. “Call me Keira.”
He wanted Keira. He wanted her to himself.
At his side. In his arms. On his bed.
Without a doubt, the wolf knew the connection between the pair. She was the one the animal craved to possess. She would make both of them happy. Satisfied, not just temporarily, but indefinitely. Now that the wolf inside him had identified his mate, he would hunger for her, never really fulfilled unless she accepted his bite and the bond that would make them whole.
“Hello, Keira.” Everything about her was beautiful. Even her name was mesmerizing. His soul warmed, and he couldn’t keep his eyes off her. Whatever he’d learned during his training over fifteen years ago about containing strong emotions toward a client was now only a distant memory. “I hope I wasn’t interrupting, but I was told to report at 1500 hours sharp.”
“I was only reading.” She picked up the paperback book she had set down and waved it in front of him before putting it back.
Aiden noted on the cover a knight in full armor embracing a scantily dressed woman. She was into romance novels and happily ever afters. Interesting. “Forgive me, but this assignment was impromptu. I’d like to perform a physical inspection of the property and surrounding areas.”
Keira squinted up at him in confusion. Her gaze traveled once again from his head to his toe, and then lingered on the bags near his feet before trailing back up. She pursed her lips before saying, “That leather bag looks heavy. What do you have in it?”
Her lips parted slightly in shock. “Do you think you’ll need them?”
“The report says you’re a moderately high-risk client. They’re for your protection.”
She frowned and wrinkled her brow.
Aiden moved closer. He longed to touch her; he wanted to console her. “Don’t worry. I’m highly skilled and effective at what I do. I’m the man who will keep you safe.”
The delicate veins shifted on her neck as she swallowed.
“Thank you,” she whispered.
She didn’t seem to show the same instant bond he did, but then again she was human. His mate was human? Was it a mistake? Maybe the smell of her perfume clouded his wolf’s judgment.
He was here to protect Keira Ellis, not take her to bed. He had rules. One of them was:
never fuck a client.
This feeling would fade…perhaps. And if it didn’t, he’d worry about that later.
There was something else he registered in her scent.
Keira Ellis was afraid. Along with the aura of ripe peaches, the air was also tinged with an abundance of fear and apprehension. Aiden felt sorry for her. He’d lost many he loved over the years, but nothing could have been as terrible as losing a spouse to a killer.
“According to Thomas, there is a room where I’ll be staying. I’d like to drop off my bags and tour of the property, if you don’t mind.” Aiden looked over her shoulders at yet another pot of lavender sitting against the bay window. “After that, I won’t inconvenience you anymore.”
She nodded and dropped her gaze to the floor. “I’ll have Thomas show you. He knows this property very well.” She picked up her book again.
He’d been dismissed for a romance novel hero. Very interesting.
Aiden grimaced. “You misunderstand. You hired me as your bodyguard. Twenty-four seven. Except during times calling for privacy. The terms of the contract require me to be in your presence or not less than a room away, depending on the situation and the security at the present time. Were you not made aware of these arrangements or did you not request them?”
“It’s just I’ve never had a bodyguard.” Her voice sounded strained and troubled, and tears pooled in her eyes. “Nothing like this has ever happened to me before. If someone killed me tomorrow, no one would care.”
“I would care,” Aiden said without hesitation. “And I won’t let that happen.”

Excerpt: Creature of Habit, Angel Lawson

"I know you have a secret."
My still heart plummeted to my ancient stomach, igniting a feeling of absolute dread and horror. These were the words of my deepest fears. Miles had warned me—this is what Olivia was trying to tell me. I’d gotten too close. My mouth became dry and I had to force myself to breathe in order to appear normal.
I steadied my voice. "A secret?"
The sound of her metal spoon, tracing the edge of her cup, was the only noise in the room until she said, "The signs were all there. I mean, they’re stereotypical but stereotypes are for a reason, right?"
“I’m, uh, not following.”
“Well, you’re freakishly neat and tidy. Your closet alone should have sent up a red flag.”
Okay. This was true. I had an extreme case of obsessive compulsive disorder, but that was hardly an identifiable trait of being a vampire. It was more of a personal quirk exaggerated by the vampirism. I braced myself for more.
“Obviously your body is like…killer.” Her heart beat like a hummingbird's wings and I could almost feel the heat of nervousness rolling off her body. Only this silly woman
would be embarrassed as she destroyed my life. Abruptly she said, "I mean, killer. I know a lot of men who would die for your physique."
She thought I looked amazing. A smug grin crept across my face before I shook it off, wondering for the millionth time what thoughts were running though her head. I was aware women found me attractive, as it was one of the lures that made humans such susceptible prey. To hear Amelia say those words brought about a rush of feelings I wasn't used to, but was it really important to say right now?
"Your skin is flawless, unblemished. And your hair…it’s a work of art."
“My hair?”
I hated my hair. Loathed it. It was the one thing that drove me absolutely insane post transition, but that alone was nothing definitive. I mean, look at Miles. He was bald. Forever.
She stepped closer and peered at my neck and chest. “You man-scape, right?”
I shook my head silently, afraid to speak. I had no idea what this 'man-scaping' thing was but I knew I didn't have it.
"Huh," she considered and turned back to the counter, her long hair swaying a bit as she took a sip of her tea. "You probably have more clothes than Kanye West."
The uneasy knot in my stomach quickly morphed into one of confusion. Kanye West? Who?
She continued, rambling now. "Sometimes you speak like you've never been around a woman, and you never have company, and the only time you did it was a man. Who, coincidentally, was also unbelievably gorgeous."
What? I literally was unable to follow her train of thought. What man was she talking about? I searched my memory and came up with the only male visitor we'd had.
She stilled, palms flat on the counter. When she spoke it was low and with conviction. "Like I said, I know what you’re hiding, Grant.”
Here it comes. Images of what would come flashed in my mind. Would she run screaming? Would I have to kill her? In over a hundred years I'd never had a moment of exposure like this.
“I want you to know that I support you—no matter what.”
I waited for a beat. I waited for the earth to stop. For the fear to sink in her eyes.
“Uh, what?”

The Witches of Dark Root (Excerpt)

Prologue: Magic Man

Miss Sasha’s Magick Shoppe, Dark Root, Oregon
February, 2005

The shop was cold and dimly lit, musty and confining.
A spider web had attached itself to the archway that separated the main room from the back and I ducked each time I passed beneath it, not bothering to sweep it down. Shelves lined every wall of Mother’s Magick shop, displaying the hundreds of candles, masks, figurines, and baubles that made Miss Sasha’s the most popular attraction in all of Dark Root.
While the oddities fascinated tourists, I hardly noticed them anymore as I went about my work. I hardly noticed anything anymore, except the clock that ticked down the minutes until I was released from my daily servitude.
“Excuse me,” said a woman who had been meandering near the book section for the last hour. “Where is your restroom?”
I responded by opening the front door.
She looked like she was going to protest but decided against it. My apathy for the shop was notorious. She would probably lodge a complaint with my mother instead.
“You need to order more peppermint,” my sister Eve said, emerging from the back room and sucking on a piece of candy. “We’ve been out for almost a week.”
“You order it,” I responded.
If she was going to eat the supplies, she could order them as well.
Eve launched into a series of reasons why I should perform the task––I was practically a boy and therefore, better at math, I had no social life and thus had far more time for work, etc. I was about to tell her that it wouldn’t bother me if we ran out of everything, that the whole place could implode for all I cared, when a crystal figurine on a low shelf caught my eye. It was an owl, an ugly thing with eyes that bulged and a beak that hooked. I wasn’t sure who had ordered it but I was certain it would never find a buyer.
“Bet I beat you out of this town,” I said, tapping its beak.
A losing bet, I realized. It had wings. I didn’t even have a car.
I checked the clock again––five minutes ‘til closing time––and glanced around the shop. It wasn’t as clean as my mother would have wanted, but then again my mother wasn’t here.
“I say we call it done,” I said, tossing my apron on the counter.
“Maggie, come take a look.”
Eve stood by the window. Her fingers twitched as she pointed to a man I had never seen before, seated by the window in Delilah’s Deli across the street.
“Who is he?” she asked. “I don’t recognize him.”
I moved to get a better view, nudging her out of the way. “Well, he isn’t from around here.”
Eve clucked her tongue. Of course, he wasn’t from around here. His sophisticated clothing identified him as a city person, not a man who spent much time slinking around a small town in Central Oregon.
“He’s handsome,” she said and I silently agreed. Though it was getting dark I could still make out his thick mane of wavy brown hair and the strong line of his jaw. He was leaning forward, talking to a gaunt young man who hung on his every word.
“We have to find out what he’s doing here,” Eve said. “It’s just not natural.” Though the town festered with tourists during the fall months when we held the Haunted Dark Root Festival, it was rare to see anyone arrive after November and before May.
“Probably just passing through on his way to Salem or Portland. Blew out a tire or had to use the bathroom.”
“You have no imagination.”
Eve chattered on about how he was probably a famous Hollywood producer. She couldn’t allow anyone a normal life; she always reached for the dramatic.
But she was right. There was something special about the stranger. He had an energy that popped and sparkled.
As if he knew he was being watched, he turned in our direction. Eve ducked but I held my position, staring back. His eyes were as grey and stormy as the Oregon coastline. He knew things...secrets and mysteries.
I felt jolted awake after a long sleep.
“We should bring him over.” Eve’s dark eyes flashed as she pushed a step-stool across the floor to gather oils and vials from the top shelf. Next, she collected an assortment of herbs from bins beneath the counter. “...Candles. I need purple candles.”
Like a fly to a spider, I thought as I watched her. She was driven when she had a mission, not the same dreamy girl who stared out the window all day talking about the life she was missing out on while she ignored customers.
“We could just walk across the street and talk to him,” I said, moving away from the window.
“Just because you’re too good for magic, doesn’t mean some of us don’t respect the craft.”
“I never said I was against magic.”
“Just practicing it. We can’t all be Wilders, you know?” Eve placed her stack onto the counter and arranged the objects into neat piles.
I felt my face redden. Wilder was a slang word, used to describe a witch who had no control over her magic. The light above us flickered.
Besides,” Eve grinned, as if she had said nothing wrong. “This is far more fun. Now, where’s the book?” She scanned the room for our mother’s spell book.
I shrugged. If she wanted to lure a man here against his will that was her business, but I wasn’t going to help.
“Here it is!” She held up a small, leather-bound journal in her hands. It was a rare book, Mother claimed, filled with spells and incantations that would have been lost to time were they not carefully preserved on these pages. As a result, only Mother’s direct descendants could remove the book from her store without suffering a terrible curse.
What the curse was, nobody knew, but Miss Sasha’s magick was formidable, and no one in Dark Root wanted to risk it.
Eve went to work creating a concoction of vanilla, rose petals and thyme, hardly glancing at the open book beside her. She had probably committed her man-luring spell to heart.
“Wouldn’t it be exciting if we fell in love and he took me away from this horrible town? Now that Merry is gone, there’s nothing to keep me here.”
I felt a dagger in my heart at the mention of our older sister’s name. Merry had left three years ago to marry some guy she barely knew and nothing had been the same since.
“You really think you’re going to get out of here before me?” I asked.
“Someone’s got to take care of Mom. Besides,” Eve looked at the clock on the far wall then back to me, “I have to get out of here. I’m going to be a famous actress one day. A psychic told me.”
I snorted, peeking out the window again. The curtains to Delilah’s Deli were shut now, indicating that the cafe was closed. I glanced up and down the street, hoping to see a sign of him or his car, but the street was empty. “Even if your spell does work and you get him to wander over here, what makes you think he’s going to fall in love with you?”
“The travel spell is only part of it,” she said. “One sip of my special tea and he’ll treat me like the goddess I am.” Eve retreated into the back room, returning with a white porcelain cup and matching teapot. “You might not have dreams, Maggie, but I do. God forbid that three years from now when I’m your age, I’m still working as a sales girl in this dump.” She dropped her apron on the floor and kicked it under the counter.
Without warning the door opened, startling us both.
The stranger entered, removing his grey felt hat. He looked around the shop, taking it in. I glanced at Eve, wondering how her travel spell could have worked so quickly.
She shrugged in response.
“Well, hello there,” she said, regaining her composure “Our shop is closed but we were just making tea. You are welcome to join us.” She slinked towards the man, offering him the teacup.
The stranger blinked uncertainly, declining the tea with a wave of his hand. He strode past my sister and stood before me.
“Actually,” he said, staring at me with mystical eyes. “Maggie Maddock, I’m here for you.”

Excerpt of Beast by Kim Faulks

My arms and legs still felt heavy, but fear made me move. I slid from the bed, keeping one eye on my captor. My feet hit the wooden floor. The room was small and dirty. Thin strips of peeling paint hung from the ceiling overhead. I stumbled to the window.
The derelict room was made colder by the crowding trees and bleak winter sky. White wisps of fog lingered, forcing me to squint to see towering trunks which hemmed me in. Behind me, Mark kept talking in soothing tones that reminded me of my therapist. I gripped the chipped window frame and pushed my body against the glass, straining to see as far left as I could. A waving green ocean of pine needles was all I could see. I wrenched my head to the right. There had to be a way out somehow.
Mark's droning voice dragged me into the room. I couldn't take anymore. I couldn't stand the noise. "Shut up. Why can't you just shut up?"
I wasn't that girl who cried, or played dumb, leaving others to pave their way in this world. I was the loner, the soldier. I was the survivor. But as the green sea wavered outside the window, I realized I was none of those things now.
I was a captive.
I squeezed my eyes closed and tried to think. Midnight Mountain Range was the last thing I remember. I could be further east, or south. Think, dammit.
How long had I been out?
My breath fogged the dirty window as hopelessness circled like a predator. "If you let me go, I won't say anything. I won't go to the police. I won't say a word to anyone, I swear."
The beating of my heart was too fast. Still I waited for an answer. Please. Please let me go. I left the wintery view and turned back to my cage, to the dust covered floor and the stained, striped mattress.
"Please, Belle. The story is important."
I swiped my eyes with my thumb, feeling the slick tears glide away. I couldn't breathe in this damn dress. I couldn't think. I yanked the material and reached for the collar.
"You look so beautiful standing there, you know? Your scowl matches your dress. The moon and the night, that's what you remind me of. Haunting, filled with mystery. He's going to fall in love with you, I just know he will."
Mark never answered. Mark. If that even was his name. His full red lips were those of an angel, or a seductive devil. He reached to pat the filthy mattress. "Belle. The story."
I glanced toward the door, eying the pitted knob.
"Don't bother. It's locked. There's no way out of here. Even if you did get out, we're surrounded by the forest. Please, don't run, Belle. Don't make me set the dogs free."

I woke the next morning in a cold sweat, jolted from my bed by a nightmare. I dreamed I'd gone into the forest to perform the rite, only instead of conjuring a man, great buboes grew all over my body, and the skin on my hands grew black and flaked away. It was just a dream. You don't have the pestilence.
I clutched my chest, waiting for my pounding heart to return to normal. My wool blanket was dripping with my sweat. With shaking hands, I lit my candle and checked every inch of my body – running my hands over the flawless skin, searching for the buboes or rash that announced the arrival of death. Nothing.
It was only a dream, I told myself again. But I couldn't stop my hands from shaking. My aunts, as seasoned witches, placed much importance on the contents of dreams. Was my dream a prediction, or a warning? Is it telling me that death waits for me in the grove?
I sat down at the table as Aunt Aubrey cut thick chunks of bread, and gave me a wooden bowl containing a foul-smelling tea. "Drink that," she patted my shoulder. "And do not fear, Ada. I have mixed it perfectly. It is not dangerous."
"How long until it takes affect?" I lifted the bowl to my lips with shaking hands, stealing myself to gulp down to foul liquid.
"A few hours. Are you ready? You will need to hurry to the grove."
The grove was a long distance from the village – nearly a full day's hike, even from someone as young and fit as me. The women in my family had used it for centuries as a safe and secret place to perform rituals. The last time I had visited the grove had been for my ritual of initiation into our family coven – two summers ago. Now I had to return on my own to ask the Goddess for a man.
I nodded, threw my head back, and drowned the bowl in one gulp. My stomach twisted in protest as the foul concoction wound its way through my body, but I managed to keep it down. Aunt Aubrey handed me a walking staff and a pouch with some food, a knife, and the other implements for the ritual. She wrapped her warmest fur cloak around my shoulders, and strapped my bow and a quiver of arrows across my back.
"Where's Aunt Bernadine?" I demanded, my voice hoarse from the burning tea.
"She's by the stream, performing a ritual of her own," Aunt Aubrey hugged my shoulders. "Do not mind her – she cares for you deeply, in her own way. May the Goddess protect you, Ada." She kissed my forehead, and pushed me out the door.
The morning air was crisp, and a light pattern of crunchy snow dotted the forest floor. As I walked I kept my eyes on the ground, searching for the herbs and ingredients I would need to complete the spell. Patchouli, juniper, myrtle, white oak bark … Aunt Aubrey assured me the walk to the grove and the searching out of the herbs were an important part of the ritual – my movements now would help the magic become stronger.
If I wanted a man, I needed all the help I could get.
Minutes turned into hours, and I covered the ground quickly, unhindered by my elderly aunts and their weak bones. I found the patchouli easily – it grew wild in this part of the forest. I knew there were juniper bushes near the edge of the grove. Now all I needed was some white oak bark. I scanned the forest for the right tree, twisting my neck one way, then the other, searching for the
familiar thick trunk and rugged branches. I could feel the potion churning in my belly, a strange warm sensation that spread out into my limbs.
Finally, I saw a white oak tree, down at the bottom of the gully. I descended the slope slowly, gathering my skirts in my hands so they would not drag in the mud. As I stepped around a fallen trunk, my foot slipped on a pile of wet leaves and I fell forward, sliding on my hands and knees, drenching my clothing and satchel in mud and snow. I sighed, pulling myself to my feet. "Just look at yourself," I muttered. "You're a mess. No wonder you need magic to find a man."
At least I was only a mile or so from the grove, and could soon wash away the filth under the waterfall.
I reached the base of the oak tree. Taking my knife from my pocket, I began to scrape away a section of bark. As I scraped, I heard a noise behind me. Just a bird. Or a deer. I kept cutting.
No. It wasn't a deer. It was a larger animal, its steps heavy in the crunching snow. There was a road – not often travelled – not far away. It might be a horse and rider perhaps? Or it could be a wolf, stalking the foolish girl who'd entered his territory? Either could be dangerous. I swirled around, scanning the forest for any sign of life. It wouldn't do to be caught out here by myself, clutching a satchel laden with magical implements. I squinted through the trees around the gully, but could see nothing.
A twig snapped. My heart leapt to my chest.
As silently as possible, I pulled the small bow from my back and removed an arrow from my quiver. Although most women in the village were forbidden the use of weapons, my aunts taught me to use a bow to hunt animals in the forest. I was a decent shot. There's many a winter we wouldn't have survived if it hadn't been for the rabbits and birds I brought home for the stew pot.
Again, I searched the undergrowth, listening for the familiar tread of a wolf's paw, or the faint whiff of rotten flesh that often accompanied them.
I waited for several moments, steadying my breathing, my senses poised for an attack. But there was nothing. It is nothing. My stomach twisted again, Aunt Aubrey's potion working its foul magic. My imagination was getting the better of me. I replaced the bow and arrow and moved toward the grove.
I moved silently now, as if I were approaching an animal. If there was something out there, I didn't want it to follow me. I entered the grove through a line of fir saplings, several of their branches bent or broken from last week's storm. The rain had raised the level of the pool inside, which lapped at the edges of the firs, the stones on the bank submerged under clear water. It was not yet cold enough for the water to turn to ice. I remembered the pool being fed by a peaceful, trickling waterfall, but the recent rains had turned it into a torrent, churning the water around it into white froth.
The grove was empty, and even the birds fell silent as I walked to the edge of the lagoon. Nothing would disturb my ritual today.
Humming to myself, I shrugged off the heavy cloak and arranged my implements at the edge of the water. The walk had warmed my body, causing me to sweat through my thick layers. I was looking forward to cooling down in the water. Using the knife on my belt, I traced a faint circle in the dirt, and sat inside, placing the mortar and pestle, the scrap of parchment containing the
spell, the leather thong, and my herbs and bark in a semi-circle in front of me. I dumped the herbs into the bowl and worked them into a paste, speaking an incantation aloud, my tongue slipping easily over the ancient words.
My voice carried great power in the silence of the grove – I could feel the magic tingling in the air. The Goddess is listening.
I set down the pestle, satisfied I had created a fine paste. I stood and lifted my sheath over my head. Naked now, I dipped my fingers into the paste and drew the sigils across my body, my skin tingling under my touch as I traced the lines across my bare breasts and belly.
The magic is working. The Goddess will bring me a man, so that my aunts and I can continue to use our magic.
I twirled around three times, laughing at my giddiness. Now it was time to wash. Speaking a final prayer, I stepped across the circle, moving slowly into the pool. I shivered as the water lapped against my toes, inched up my calves, and splashed against the downy triangle between my legs. When I was waist-deep I dived, enjoying the shock as my body penetrated the coolness. Laughing, I emerged again, lying back and floating on the skin of the water, the sigils smudged across my pale skin.
Divine Goddess, I prayed, closing my eyes and imagining my prayer being carried away on the breeze. Bring me a man to cool my fires as this water cools me, and to restore to my family the powers you have bestowed upon us.
I lifted my head out of the water, and felt a scream catch in my throat. On the edge of the lagoon stood a man, clothed in only a tunic and black trousers. A heavy sword hung from a scabbard around his waist. He was watching me.
The Goddess works fast.
I shut my eyes and opened them again. He was still there. A man – a real man – stood before me in the sacred grove.
My spell brought him here. I can perform magic after all!
And what magic it was. I licked my lips as I regarded my gift from the Goddess. He was more handsome then I ever could have wished. Tall, with long hair as black as night, held back from his face with plaits and leather thongs. Beneath his thin tunic, his shoulders bulged – a man didn't get muscles like that working in the village. He was a warrior. The skin on his arms was rough, criss-crossed with the white scars of battle. He had shaved recently, and a thin line of stubble darkened his square, proud jaw. A smattering of black hair ran across his chest, leading in a dark line from his belly button down, down below his leather sword belt. He wore dark trousers and thick leather boots, and leather braces encircled his forearms.
Our eyes met, and he did not look away. His sharp features betrayed nothing, just high cheekbones framing a smouldering gaze. This was the man the Goddess has chosen for me? I could hardly believe my good fortune.
"Why have you come here?" I managed to choke out.
He did not answer.
Mesmerised, I rolled on to my stomach and drifted across the water toward him. A water-skin, half filled, bobbed in the pool in front of him. The sun caught the glint of metal on the rocks beside him – he had laid aside a dagger. His sheathed sword swung menacingly at his side. He was a warrior. I would have
a warrior. Wait until Rebekah hears about this-
"Have you come for me?"
Again, the man said nothing. I stopped a few feet from him, unsettled by his silence and that stony, unfaltering gaze. I drew up in the shallow water, my full height only reaching his broad shoulders, revealing the full length of my nakedness. That disarmed him at last, and he glanced away, stepping back across the rocks.
"Have you come for me?" I asked again, suddenly feeling very exposed and nervous.
The man took another step back, glancing at me and looking away again. "You must … clothe yourself, woman."
"Why?" I felt confused. Being naked was an important part of the ritual. "Do I not please you?"
"You …" he turned toward me again, and this time his gaze fell on the two sigils above my breasts. They hadn't completely washed away in the water. He seemed to trace the design in the air with his pupils. "You are … I know what you are. You are a vision come to tempt me from the path of righteousness."
"I am no vision. I am yours." What is happening? Why does he not want me? I tried to fight the tears that clutched at the corners of my eyes. Why can I not even convince this man, whom the Goddess has given me, to lay with me?
The man nodded, still not meeting my gaze. When he spoke again, his voice was tinged with sadness. "Yes, you are mine. But I am a servant of Death. Knowing me could be your doom."
I took a step back, more unsure than ever. At the mention of death, I remembered my dream from the night before. Was it predicting this man? Is this how it is supposed to go? Goddess, help me understand what to do next.
"I don't understand." My heel caught the edge of a rock, and I staggered forward to regain my balance. Warm, rough hands grabbed me by the shoulders, pulling me upright. I stood, panting, gazing up at him. His eyes bore into mine, deep pools of brown with a flicker of orange flame around the iris. The eyes of a fire god.
The warrior broke his gaze and scanned the horizon, his eyes darting from tree to tree before focusing intently on the rock ledge above the waterfall.
"It is safe here," I said. "The nearest village is a day’s hike from the grove. This is why I have come–"
He held his finger to his lips. "You're not safe here," he whispered. "Not while you're with me."
I did not know what to say, or if I should say anything at all. He could break me in two with his bare hands. His gaze was so hard, so cruel. Were the men the Goddess sent always this fearsome? Is it some kind of test? His grip against my shoulder tightened, his fingers digging into my skin. I whimpered.
"You are beautiful," he whispered. He said it with venom, as though it were an accusation. He released my shoulder and raised his hand toward me. I sucked in a breath, half expecting him to slap me, but instead he stroked the edge of my breast, just above my nipple.
My reaction to that simple touch surprised me. Far from frightening me, when he touched my skin it sent a shiver through me, as if every hair on my body stood on end. My stomach contracted at his touch, and my nipple swelled before him. He stroked it again, and my stomach clenched further, my skin like fire beneath his finger. I let out a low moan.
The warrior leaned forward, so close that I could feel the warmth of his body across my cool skin, even though we did not touch. His smell invaded my nostrils – a hearty scent of horse and smoke and sweat and something much darker and forbidden.
He leaner closer, closer … and brushed his lips lightly against mine. The touch sent a jolt through my whole body, and I felt light, as though I might float away. He brushed my lips once more, and before I could cry out, he pressed himself against me, the warmth of his chest burning against mine, and devoured my mouth in his.

Saving Grace: The Ryan Chronicles - Book One

J.E. Taylor


She smiled and I felt a need stir inside me and it had nothing to do with my heart, or soul, for that matter.
“You really let a demon tie you up?” Dimples appeared in her cheeks and mine bloomed with heat.
I shifted, focusing back on the darkness beyond the glass, suddenly uncomfortable and unable to look at her. I swear my face must be the shade of a bright red kickball. “I wasn’t exactly myself,” I said without looking at her.
She chuckled.
The kind of chuckle that was meant as a turn on and I slid my gaze to her. “You like your men tied up?” I raised an eyebrow. It was her turn to blush and she grinned, shrugging and looking back outside. Before I could explore more of this conversation, she paled and took a step back, dragging me with her.
There must have been a dozen pale creatures slinking across the back yard. I gave her hand that gripped my upper arm a gentle pat and she turned her frightened gaze to me.
“They won’t get through.” My voice held confidence, but deep inside, I was trembling just as much as she was. Damian, Steve, and I had wiped out more than this at the cove, but that was three of us and of course Paradise Cove probably had a lot to do with it.
We both focused on the approaching horde and without much thought, I slung my arm around Valerie’s shoulder and pulled her close. It was time to concentrate on the deadly quality of the wall I put up. I wasn’t sure of how much sizzle to put into it.

“I want to see them burn,” Valerie said, answering my silent contemplation and a chill ran up my spine.
She had every right to hate these creatures as much as demons and I concentrated, glaring at the approaching danger. Saliva ran from their lips and their teeth gleamed in the moonlight. My heart pounded in my chest, sending throbbing vibrations through my skin. The harder my heart beat, the hungrier the approaching vampires looked.
“Just a few more feet,” I muttered, focusing on the entire perimeter of the house because I wasn’t as much of an idiot as they thought. This wasn’t the only line of assault. Still, when they advanced, I took a cautious step backwards, pulling Valerie with me. The power inside me grew and I couldn’t tell whether it was the adrenaline or the power raking across my skin like a hundred finely manicured nails. The sensation grew, moving from the land of pleasure into the world of discomfort and I gritted my teeth.
“Come on, you motherfuckers,” I growled, loud enough for their acute hearing to pick up. I moved Valerie behind me and positioned myself in a fighting stance, waving them in with my leading hand. The results were memorable.
They all launched towards the glass slider and the moment they hit my invisible barrier each vampire burst into a ball of flame. The roar of fire drowned out their screams, but I heard them and the dark part of my soul reveled in it.
Valerie let out a high pitched laugh and I glanced back at her, smiling.
She met my gaze with a measure of awe. “The only one I ever saw do something that impressive was Michael.”
Being compared to an archangel was humbling and I glanced outside at the black dust that spun

on the wind. “I’m not an angel.”
“Oh, I gathered that,” she said and stepped away.
I turned towards her. “What do you mean by that?”
“You’re more recent activities?”
I shoved my hands into my pockets and stared at the floor, shamed by the fact she was privy to my more decadent actions. Instead of apologizing, I lifted my gaze to hers, studying her memories of past events, especially the times after the more traumatic events. Naomi was right about one thing. The girl never freaked out. Ever.
And therein lay the challenge.
I let a grin slowly surface and narrowed my eyes, stepping closer. “So, you want to try out some of those ‘activities’ with me?”
She laughed. The kind of laugh that bruised a man’s ego and when she went into the gale realm, I crossed my arms, my good humor turning sourer by the second.

Diana had Daniel drive them to the safe house so she could change. She was no longer concerned with Alec knowing the location. After pulling on clean cargo pants, she joined him in the living room to search for her boots while he wandered around, checking out the various knick-knacks and weapons displayed. He’d already been through all the swords and crossbows in the gym and had even tested one of the maces.
He was fingering a fourteenth century Japanese Koto when she finally found her left boot.
He turned to her, shock lining his features. “This is from the Kamakura period. It’s spectacular. And priceless in certain circles.”
“Yeah, I know,” Diana said with genuine nonchalance, bending down to tie her shoelace.
“But this thing is not only for display. You. . .you’ve been using it.”
“It’s a weapon,” she said dryly. “It’s common for a soldier to train with a variety of them.”
Alec stared, mouth slightly open. “It’s worth thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of dollars. I can’t believe you practice with this as if it’s any old sword,” he said, taking it in hand and turning to display it to her, as though he was trying to make her see it clearly.
Suppressing a smile, Diana took the sword from him and put it back in its holder. “All of the weapons you see here are used. We train with them throughout our lives. We have to be ready to use whatever comes to hand. It all depends on the situation. We hone our skills with these as well as our Elemental abilities. Sometimes it’s better not to have to start a fire.”
“But this sword,” he said pointing, “it’s meant to be used from horseback.”
“I know that,” Diana said with a laugh.
“You’ve trained with it on horseback?”
“Well, actually, I used my bike most of the time.” She turned to grab her jacket. “Horses don’t like fire.”
“And the other times?”
She paused. “Well, you remember the lion?”
Alec stopped short. “You can ride your element like a. . .a. . .”
“Yes,” she said pointedly, cutting him off before the mental imagery became too colorful.

Excerpt 1:
Van smiled to himself when he heard Dulcie’s light footsteps approach.
She had to know that the real reason he came in all the time was to see her.
From their first meeting when he’d stormed in, feeling angry and defensive before he’d even opened his mouth, the mere sight of Dulcie had soothed him. Her soft dark hair, her sweet smile, the gentle curves of her body, they all seemed to have been created to absorb his hard angles.
And she was funny.
The world of shifters could be sexy, intense, scary… But there wasn’t a lot of light-heartedness in Van’s past.
Dulcie’s first dry comment didn’t even land on him because he wasn’t expecting it.
But the goofy grin that followed filled him with surprised delight. He didn’t laugh, but it made his chest lighten.
And then, looking down in embarrassment at the joke she thought had failed, she’d taken a sip of her drink.
Her pouty lips parted. The tip of her tongue sucked the straw into her mouth, her eyes closed in ecstasy.
And he was lost.


The ArcKnight Chronicles #1
Alexia Purdy

“My Lady, I cannot leave you here alone. It’s not safe.”
I whipped my eyes open and glared at him. “I told you I was banished. You can stop with the formalities and get. I don’t have time to waste on a pathetic royal guard. Especially a MarkTier. I'm okay on my own.”
“If you come with me, I know a safe place where you can get out of the rain and get warm.”
I laughed. It came out more hysterical than I intended, but I was not in a mood to keep it together any longer. The fact that he offered me any shelter at all, most likely his home, was gracious, yet the knowledge that it was most likely on ArcKnight territory made the offer even more bittersweet. I was banished not only from the royal ArcKnight palace but from lingering on any of the pack’s territories, which included a substantial chunk of the city.
I was truly alone now.
“You’d be punished for harboring a non-citizen… a traitor like me. I can’t. You know I can’t.”
He held out his hand. It glistened with water, for he was soaked to the bone, just like me. The cold rain didn’t affect him at all. I was the one shivering and on the verge of hypothermia, and yet he waited patiently.
“It’s beyond the ArcKnight border. I promise.” His eyes gleamed in the momentary moonlight sneaking past the storm clouds above. They were breathtaking and unusual. I’d never seen another shifter with eyes like his.
It may be beyond the ArcKnight stronghold, but they weren’t the only pack ruling the city.
“But the MarkTiers….”
“They have no jurisdiction there either.”
Staring at him in disbelief, I let my eyes linger on his for an eternal moment. His offer brought more questions to my mind than anything else. Even so, there was something there that held me in a trance and beckoned me to follow. Taken in by that hypnotizing cobalt sea, I reached out, accepted his hand and let him lead me through the murky city paths I’d never trodden, deeper into the unknown.
This place was now my new home, and it was nothing but strange and frightening.
But what choice did I have?

~Lily & Ephrem - The ArcKnight Chronicles


J.E. Taylor is an award winning author, a publisher, an editor, a manuscript formatter, a mother, a wife, a business analyst, and a Supernatural fangirl, not necessarily in that order. She first sat down to seriously write in February of 2007 after her daughter asked:

“Mom, if you could do anything, what would you do?”

From that moment on, she hasn’t looked back.

In addition to being co-owner of Novel Concept Publishing, Ms. Taylor also moonlights as a Senior Editor of Allegory E-zine; an online venue for Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror.

She lives in Connecticut with her husband and two children and during the summer months enjoys her weekends on the shore in southern Maine.

Visit her on her website and sign up for her newsletter for early previews of her upcoming books, release announcements, and special opportunities for free swag!

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