Sunday, March 20, 2016

Everything Wonderful About YA Romance Tied in a Bow

DESCRIPTION

Disclaimer: This Entangled Teen Crush book contains a kickass heroine, a boy so hot he’ll make you shiver, and a falling-in-love story fit for the big screen. You’ll want to settle in and have the popcorn ready.
It’s all fun and games until you fall in love…
After Mariely Hinojosa and Cabot Wheeler both break up with their significant others at the same party, Mariely sees a way to get even with both of their exes. Everyone knows that the best way to get over a breakup is a hookup—a fake hookup, that is. Three weeks, all fun, no strings, and definitely no heartbreak at the end.
But somewhere between the sweet hand-holding and melt-your-mind kisses, their fake relationship starts to feel less like an act and more like the real thing…but Mariely’s a free-spirited girl from the other side of the tracks, and Cabot’s the hot trust-fund guy from the Hills.
They’d never work for real…





MY REVIEW

CRAZY STUPID FAUXMANCE is everything wonderful about young adult romance wrapped up in a shiny bow. I absolutely adored this book and read it from start to finish because I just couldn't put it down.

In this book, the third in the Creative Hearts series, we follow Mariely Hinojosa and Cabot Wheeler as they suffer rather crushing betrayals by their boyfriend and girlfriend, leading to the ultimate break-up of their relationships. But when Mariely takes the advice of a friend and decides the best way to get over her ex is a hot hookup, she suggests to Cabot--who is desperately trying to get his exes claws out of him--that they fake a relationship until the school's most popular dance, then go their separate ways. They're sure this will be the key to getting Cabot's ex off his back and help Mariely recover and save face from her rather humiliating and public heartbreak.

But of course, nothing is ever quite that simple. Cabot is hot with a capital "H" (I mean, even the name is hot) and Mariely soon finds herself falling for him. She's not the only one who falls though, as Cabot finds her exuberance refreshing and falls for the gorgeous and unique theater nerd.

I loved that this book had plenty of conflict, yet none of the irritating situations we sometimes see introduced into ya romance. Both characters were mature, yet written so the age was still believable. I loved Cabot. He was truly a sweetheart and Mariely's silent strength and her style. I also found her positive attitude, despite her adversity, really nice. They were so sweet together and I could practically feel their chemistry leap off the pages.

At the time when I requested this book for review, I didn't realize it was a part of the series for a book I had already read, Willa Got Her Groove Back, but was pleasantly surprised when I started to read and realized that this book (and I'm assuming the rest in the series) continue with the same characters introduced from the first book, only with an emphasis on a different main character. And actually, I have to say, I liked this book even better than the first. Maybe because in the first book, Willa was really just starting to come into her own and her story had just begun for me.

In Crazy Stupid Fauxmance, I was entertained completely and loved every minute! The only negative was that it made me all the more anxious to discover  what happens with Willa and Finn!!!!

5 of 5 stars

*I was given a copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Friday, March 18, 2016

A Confusing But Solid Young Adult Fantasy

Description


MY REVIEW

PROGENY is a book with a promising premise and unique theme that, for the most part, held up to the promise of its synopsis.

I'm not gonna lie. This book confused me at times, and I'm hoping I'm not the only reader that will/does feel that way. (Because if I am, then what does that say about me? lol Duh!) This book is about Audra, the progeny, in a long line of descendants of a serial killer, who finds herself in the beginning of the book, explicably with no memories of her life. She knows very little and is aware of the fact that she has had her memory wiped in order to forget something, but what? She soon discovers she wanted to hide, as she finds herself being hunted by the very people that want the information she fought to forget.

The premise of this book was super interesting and the book was definitely action-packed. Overall, it was a good read. My confusion aside, what I wished we could've seen more of and would've made this a 5 star read was more emotional connection to the characters and a more developed romance between Audra and Luka (the main characters). Also, I don't know if I'm the only one who feels this way, but I feel like this was the second book in a trilogy. The first book should've been Audra and Luka's story, how he was supposed to be her hunter but changed sides and fell in love with her. That would've made for an amazing read. Of course, that could be the romantic in me speaking. 

Overall, the intrigue and action of the plot made up for the book's shortcomings though, so it gets 4 stars!

I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Food For Thought on this SciFi/Dystopian, Syncing Forward - My Review plus Giveaway!








DESCRIPTION

1st Place for 2015 Feathered Quill Award, Science Fiction/Fantasy

Finalist in the 2014 Book Pipeline Contest


--Travel to the future - it will only cost you everyone you love.--

Attacked and injected with a drug which slows his metabolism to a fraction of normal, Martin James becomes an unwilling time traveler who 
hurtles through the years. His children grow up, his wife grows older, and his only hope is finding the people who injected him in the first place- not an easy task when one day for Martin lasts four years. And while Martin James strives to find a cure before everyone he loves is gone, others are uncertain if his journey can be stopped at all.

W. Lawrence weaves a dystopian future filled with the best and worst of humanity, highlights the blessings and curses of technology, and pushes the limits of faith and hopelessness. Above all,Syncing Forward is a tale of one man's love for his family, and their devotion to saving him from being lost forever.





PURCHASE



MY REVIEW


SYNCING FORWARD is a super unique and intriguing spin on your typical SciFi/Dystopian, as it takes the reader to the future through the main characters POV, Martin, who's forced to fast forward through his life.

After being given a drug that slows down his metabolism so that time moves super slow for him but carries on as normal for everyone else, Martin struggles as he comes back into time again and again, only to discover just how much life has passed him by. The book takes us through his journey as scientists try to reverse the effects of the drug. I found this interesting and kind of sad because he basically is synced back in time only discover these major life events that he's missing-- his children growing up, grandchildren, friends and family passing away, and the world changing. But the book doesn't stop there, because as everything is fast forwarding around Martin, soon the ever-changing environment, politics, and technology around him proves threatening to humanity.

I enjoyed this book a lot and thought the underlying theme of people's reliance on technology and the destructive direction humanity is heading was spot-on. The glimpse of what may be in human kind's future was interesting and well thought out, and with Martin's passing of time and life, it made you think about what is really important in life. This book was food for thought, which is always a plus. It was well-paced and the writing solid.



ABOUT THE AUTHOR

W. Lawrence's Website / Twitter Facebook  / Goodreads

W Lawrence was born in San Francisco, California, and moved two dozen times before settling in Pennsylvania with his extraordinarily patient wife and two precocious daughters. He wants a boy dog. He works in the world of corporate security as an investigator and professional interviewer/interrogator.

Lawrence is obsessed with 5K zombie runs, comes home empty-handed from hunting turkeys, and loves non-fiction books about pirates. He has no problem reconciling that his two favorite shows are Downton Abbey and The Walking Dead.

ENTER THE GIVEAWAY






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Saturday, March 12, 2016

Sneak Peek, Not Sure What to Think

Description





Friday, March 11, 2016

A Kind of Crazy Book

Description


Thursday, March 10, 2016

Excerpt from Mind Matters - We Are Our Thoughts

DESCRIPTION

Do you ever get lost in the maze of your mind? When your thoughts start spiraling in a continuous loop—positive or negative—it can seem impossible to consider a different idea or even catch your breath.

If the way you think greatly influences the way you live, then it’s important to know how to manage your thoughts and channel their power to improve your life, rather than hinder it.

Mind Matters explores practical ways you can bring balance to your thought life, from replacing anxious thoughts with hopeful ones to curbing unnecessary thinking altogether. It also points out traps that keep you stuck, like “clearing your mind” by airing your thoughts on Facebook.

As you learn the art of controlling your thoughts, you will be able to focus on what you can do in the present to experience the life you want in the future. Whether you struggle with anxious thoughts or just need a few tips to better manage your mind, this easy-to-read guide provides you with simple instructions you can immediately put into practice.

PURCHASE


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tanya J. Miller is a certified life coach with over eighteen years’ experience working with youth, young adults, and women throughout the community and in ministry to pursue purpose, passion and destiny.

Tanya holds a BBA in finance and business management from Northwood University and an MBA from Regent University and is also certified as a Lean Six Sigma Green Belt and Scrum Master.

Her lifelong passion for writing eventually led her to start the blog Talking with Tanya in 2005. Mind Matters is her debut book. Tanya is married and currently lives in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex.



Don't Forget About the Mind Matters Journal!

Your thoughts are powerful, which means what you are thinking matters. However, it’s easy to get trapped in your mind whether by blissful daydreams or anxiety spirals and held back in your life.
In Mind Matters the book, it taught you simple steps that will enable you to keep your thoughts in check so you can focus on and improve your present reality. You will now need to ensure that you will do what it takes to stay out of your head and be a part of life.
With the Get Your Mind Right journal, you will have a way to talk through those tough times or hard situations that you may face or go through in life. Those unfortunate moments, those devastating memories, those challenging problems - they won’t own you. You will have the tools in this guide, and you will be able to put in the work necessary to take care of your mind matters.
Live well. Live life alive, on purpose, and out loud!



EXCERPT

Control what you can control – your thoughts – and leave the rest alone. You have no power or authority to do anything but that. If you didn’t know, know this: who you are at your core begins with your thoughts. What do you think about yourself really?

You need to realize that deep down inside, in your centermost thoughts, lies what you could be. A core is defined as the essential, basis, root, foundation, and bottom line. This means that the very makeup of who you are, what you are about, and where you want to go all come from your thought life. So whatever you think, so shall you be. It’ll come into fruition. It’ll become your real life.

What do you want your real life to look like? Do you want to allow yourself to be overwhelmed, bogged down, caught up in your feelings, going every which way but right? Or do you want it to be better, to be balanced, with you caring about the matters of your mind? If you want to jump back into life, you need to do the work. Get ahold of yourself, and make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons. You can’t do this for anybody but yourself.

 You have to want this for you.

If there’s something in your control that you can change,

don’t be afraid to do something about that!


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Sunday, March 6, 2016

Read an Excerrpt from Fantasy Novel, EXILE



SYNOPSIS


Epic fantasy from an exciting new talent



A gripping tale of heroism and the darkness within


On the fringes of the Verian Empire, two small boys stumble upon a strange altar, buried in the heart of a mountain. There they awaken a horror unseen for generations, that will descend upon the realm of men while it is at its weakest. For Veria is a nation at war with itself, only recently recovered from a bloody rebellion, and the time of heroes has passed. The empire is in a state of chaos, and while its ruler, the Empron Illis, rids the land of his remaining enemies, unseen forces are gathering at the borders. However all eyes are turned inwards. The Empron is not a well man, and there are whispers among the common folk that his advisors are spies; demons that only wear the flesh of men.

Yet there is hope...

In the distant mountains, a forester who has buried his past learns that he has not been forgotten, and that his crimes have sought him out at last. But he is no simple woodsman. He is Beccorban the Helhammer, Scourge, Burner and the Death of Nations, and his fury is a terrible thing.

For when all the heroes are gone, Veria will turn to those it has forgotten, before all is lost.





PURCHASE

*Available on Kindle Unlimited*

EXCERPT


The Forester watched from the undergrowth as they torched his home. It hurt more than he had thought it would. The flames stretched towards the sky, licking the tops of the trees and turning the snow to rain before it could hit the ground. The crimson men had searched the hut and its surroundings for over an hour. With the weather closing in, their commander had ordered the small wooden building set aflame.
That was clever, thought the Forester. There was no way that all eight of them would have been able to ride out the coming storm in the hut. Instead of taking the comfort for himself as many commanders would, he had removed the temptation, replacing it with a large fire to sustain them all equally. That showed bravery. That showed leadership.
It would not save him.
The Forester slid back from his hiding place and blended in to the shadows. Snow was falling so thickly now that it was hard to see more than a few yards ahead. A peal of thunder crashed around the forest as if some god had stamped his foot to keep warm. Soon it would be dark and cold and terrifying as a man's imagination turned every shadow into a monster from a children's story. That was when they should have come, just like the Sons of Iss had. He had already discarded the notion that these were they. The Sons of Iss came dressed all in dark cloth with long sharp knives, not in plate armour. These were something less. Something he could deal with.
The Forester pulled his hood over his head, becoming a great ogre of dun fur and white ice that only resembled a man. He brought his breathing under control and took one last look at the glowing fire that marked the ashes of his memory, before disappearing into the growing shadows.
The wind began to howl.



Kiren leant in close to Huril, shielding himself from the biting wind. It seemed to be a living thing, screaming in his ears as its icy fingers searched for every gap and crevice. After burning down the small hut, Barin had ordered the men to huddle close. Only a few of the older men — about three of them — had brought furs. The rest sat frozen and miserable, every bit of exposed skin wrapped in whatever they could find. The Guide had disappeared an hour before, hissing something in Barin’s ear and then melting into the bushes like a shadow. It felt as if a weight had been lifted off of Kiren’s shoulders, but he did not know why.
Dreng returned from his scout with a brace of winter hares. Whilst the others ransacked the hut, the wiry tracker skinned and prepared his catch, storing the still warm meat in his pack and scraping the skins clean. He sat now opposite Kiren with the white furs wrapped around his hands, each pelt still tinged pink with gore. At any other time Kiren's stomach would have lurched at the thought of touching the oily, recently dead flesh, but now he glared at Dreng with jealous eyes as his own hands threatened to turn blue.
These few days in the mountains had been miserable. Now it seemed that they would all freeze to death, their mission a failure. They had been outfoxed by one old man who was probably somewhere warm and dry with a full belly. If this weather continued he would return home to eight living statues in compensation for the loss of his dwelling.
Barin stood away from the group, leaning against a tree with his cloak wrapped around him. Kiren wasn't sure whether the Lommocel was dead or not. It was hard to look in any one place for longer than a moment yet he wasn’t about to get up and check. The snow was flying sideways and stung his cheeks with its force. Kiren wanted to close his eyes but every time he did so he felt incredibly tired. Before the storm struck, Barin had given them a short speech about staying awake. To fall asleep in this cold was death, he had said, and he tasked every man with keeping his neighbour alert. Nevertheless, it was hard to keep the mind active when all there was to do was sit and wait. Kiren turned his head and looked at the men around him. All were so covered in snow that their crimson armour was frozen and powdered white. In fact it was hard to tell them apart.
You still with me, boy?” Huril's gruff voice penetrated the fog of Kiren's thoughts.
Still here,” he said and Huril grunted in response. Kiren had never been this close to the old soldier. He smelt of tobacco and sweat. Strangely he found that comforting. It reminded him of a tavern; the smell of woodsmoke, cooking grease and packed humanity. Somewhere warm.
He looked at the men around him one by one. Next to Huril there was Millar, the farmer's son turned recruit. Next to him sat Sarif Morn and then Shume and Dreng. Next to him was Grosh... was that Grosh? Yes, it must have been. Then... Shume. Kiren shook his head. He must have counted wrong. There was no mistaking that the figure to his left was Shume. He had been staring at the back and side of his face all day and knew every inch of that jowly expanse, even huddled as it was into a cloak. Who was the other figure, then? The Guide? No, he was far too broad to be the Guide. Besides, the Guide had left an hour ago. He had to have counted wrong.
Kiren slowly turned his head and stared at the large man between Sarif Morn and Dreng. He was one of the few who had brought furs, although they were caked in frost and snow. He sat hunkered down, staring at the ground, his hands hidden inside the folds of… what was that? A bearskin? Kiren carefully counted the party in his head. Barin, Morn, Dreng... Huril, Grosh, Millar, himself and Shume. Eight men.
But there were nine in this clearing.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

I am from the wild lands of Essex, and have been all my life.
I've always been a student of history. My first history teacher at secondary school taught me that there are only five letters in the word history that matter: 'story.' Ever since then I've been hooked.

I'm somebody who loves to read. I love Bernard Cornwell's earlier works like the first Sharpe novels and the Warlord Chronicles. I've experienced the can't-put-down quality of Wilbur Smith's Courtney novels. I'm a big Conn Iggulden fan (Emperor and Conqueror series) and love A Song of Ice and Fire - who doesn't?

Arguably my favourite author is the late David Gemmell. His simple historical fantasies really struck a chord with me when I was younger, and encouraged me to write my own stories.

I like stories about heroes, or things that make you scared to turn the page, stories that leave you feeling empty or that you've left friends behind in the epilogue. A writer is someone who can reach out from a page of prose and grab your attention and not let go until your heart is beating faster or aching with loss.

If my own stories can make even one person feel something like that then I will consider myself a success. If they don't, I'm going to keep writing them anyway, so you might as well read one of them!

Join Tom on Goodreads!



FOLLOW THE ENTIRE EXILE TOUR HERE
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Friday, March 4, 2016

The Inspiration Behind Not Quite So Stories - Guest Post by Author David S. Atkinson

The Inspiration Behind Not Quite So Stories

Not Quite so Stories had a kind of convoluted and winding origin. At first, I had stories like "Context Driven" that were somewhat normal, but had very weird elements mixed in. I really wasn't sure what to do with them. They were too weird for the serious journals, but had too much realism for the more fantastic oriented places. It took a while to start finding places where stories like that were welcome. Even then, I wasn't sure why I was writing them or what I would end up doing in the big picture.

However, then I ran across The Nimrod Flipout by Etgar Keret and Museum of the Weird by Amelia Gray. They were doing similar sorts of things, though they clearly knew more what they were doing. I started seeing all kinds of possibilities. Then I ran across others: Haruki Murakami, Aimee Bender, George Saunders, and so on.

In the midst of intentionally trying to write these kind of stories and see what I could do with them, I thought about Rudyard Kipling's Just so Stories. I remembered loving the stories in that book as a kid, but I thought its approach tried to put magic into the world in a humorously dismissive kind of way. It was still trying to explain the world, jokingly of course…but still. I didn't want the world explained. I wanted wonder, sometimes hostile or indifferent wonder, but wonder.

The worst thing is to lose one's sense of wonder at the world. Nothing makes the world quite so cold.

So, I started writing stories as a refutation of that sort of view. I wanted to present a world that was inherently absurd, which is the way life usually seems to me. There is no explaining, no compartmentalizing and reducing other than as an academic exercise. Life is exiting and varied and overwhelming and so much more than we can take. Our humanity comes in where we make our choices in how we cope with that.

Not Quite so Stories is what came out of all that. Hopefully people end up having as much fun reading as I did writing. In any event, I had an immense amount of fun writing.




About the Author


David S. Atkinson is the author of "Not Quite so Stories" ("Literary Wanderlust" 2016), "The Garden of Good and Evil Pancakes" (2015 National Indie Excellence Awards finalist in humor), and "Bones Buried in the Dirt" (2014 Next Generation Indie Book Awards finalist, First Novel <80K). His writing appears in "Bartleby Snopes," "Grey Sparrow Journal," "Atticus Review," and others. His writing website is http://davidsatkinsonwriting.com/ and he spends his non-literary time working as a patent attorney in Denver.
For More Information
About the Book:

Title: NOT QUITE SO STORIES
Author: David S. Atkinson
Publisher: Literary Wanderlus LLC
Pages: 166
Genre: Absurdist Literary Fiction
The center of Not Quite So Stories is the idea that life is inherently absurd and all people can do is figure out how they will live in the face of that fact. The traditional explanation for the function of myth (including such works as the relatively modern Rudyard Kiping's Just So Stories) is as an attempt by humans to explain and demystify the world. However, that's hollow. We may be able to come to terms with small pieces, but existence as a whole is beyond our grasp. Life simply is absurd, ultimately beyond our comprehension, and the best we can do is to just proceed on with our lives. The stories in this collection proceed from this conception, each focusing on a character encountering an absurdity and focusing on how they manage to live with it.

For More Information

  • NOT QUITE SO STORIES is available at Amazon.
  • Pick up your copy at Barnes & Noble.
  • Discuss this book at PUYB Virtual Book Club at Goodreads.
  • Watch the book trailer at YouTube.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Who doesn't like ballpark food? Foodies and Baseball fans, don't miss these famous ballpark recipes!

Description




MY REVIEW

When I saw BALLPARK EATS, I knew I had to review it. I love the idea of a cookbook showcasing all the most popular foods from America's ballparks. I'm not a huge baseball fan, but I love going to live games if I get a chance and I LOVE the food! Who doesn't?!

Overall, I thought the book had a really nice selection of recipes, all of them being very different, and all of them being true to the "home team" and city of their stadiums. The pictures in the cookbook are wonderful and make the food look super delicious! There are pictures of the foods for all recipes, as well as pics of the stadiums. After looking over the book, all of the recipes seem fairly easy to execute and are definitely great "game day" foods. I also love how the book is set up, with there being a table of contents that lists the division, the team and ballpark, and then below that the foods. There is a cute trivia page and some fun facts throughout. That along with the awesome pics does make this appropriate for kids. I showed it to mine and my son loved the pics of the different ballparks, and both kids thought all of the food looked awesome.

Out of all the recipes, I personally tried the following: the steak sandwich (Yankee Stadium), the Coney dog and onion rings (Comerica Park),and the orange dream punch (Angel Stadium.) Can you say, orange juice, cream soda, and orange sherbet--oh my! All of the recipes were really delicious and I honestly can't wait to try them all.

* I was given a free copy of this book via Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review

EXCERPT from Romantic Suspense THE ASSET



Title: The Asset
Genre: Romantic suspense, Contemporary romance, Military romance, SEAL romance
Author: Anna del Mar
Publisher: Carina Press

Purchase on Amazon

About the Book:

Ash Hunter knows what it is to run. A SEAL gravely injured in Afghanistan, he’s gone AWOL from the military hospital. Physically and mentally scarred, he returns home to his grandmother’s isolated cottage—and finds a beautiful, haunted stranger inside.
Like recognizes like.
Lia Stewart’s in hiding from the cartel she barely escaped alive, holed up in this small Rocky Mountain town. Surviving, but only just. Helping the wounded warrior on her doorstep is the right thing to do…it’s loving him that might get them both killed.

Soon, Ash realizes he’s not the only one tormented by the past. Pushing the limits of his broken body, testing the boundaries of her shattered soul, he’ll protect Lia until his last breath.


About the Author:
Anna del Mar writes hot, smart romances that soothe the soul, challenge the mind, and satisfy the heart. Her stories focus on strong heroines struggling to find their place in the world and the brave, sexy, kickass, military heroes who defy the limits of their broken bodies to protect the women they love. She is the author of The Asset (Carina Press), the first novel of her Wounded Warrior series and three other novels scheduled for release during 2016.
A Georgetown University graduate, Anna enjoys traveling, hiking, skiing, and the sea. Writing is her addiction, her drug of choice, and what she wants to do all the time. The extraordinary men and women she met during her years as a Navy wife inspire the fabulous heroes and heroines at the center of her stories. When she stays put—which doesn’t happen very often—she lives in Florida with her indulgent husband and two very opinionated cats.
Connect with Anna del Mar on the web:




CHAPTER ONE

My finger twitched on the trigger as I stared down the barrel of my shotgun. A stranger stood on my stoop. The mere sight of him shoved my heart into my throat and sent my brain into default. I widened my stance, tightened my grip on the gun and aimed at the stranger’s chest. No way. He wasn’t going to take me alive.

A sharp bark startled me. The largest, darkest, most handsome German shepherd I’d ever seen stood next to the stranger, head tilted, ears forward, nose quivering in the air. It uttered a quiet whimper and padded over to me without a trace of aggression, circling me once before it leaned against my legs.

I kept my shotgun leveled, but I spared another glance at the stunning dog. The plea in his eyes tempered the adrenaline jolting through my body, reined in my runaway heart and gave me pause to consider the stranger before me.

Framed by the Rocky Mountains and the lake, the man at the threshold blocked the morning’s gray light and cast a huge shadow over my little porch. Raindrops tapped on his leather jacket, dripped from the rim of his cap and ran like tears down the sides of his face. Despite the exhaustion etched on his features, his glacial blue eyes narrowed on my gun.

“That’s a pretty old Remington,” he rumbled. “With the damn safety off, no less. Who the hell are you expecting, Jack the Ripper?”

“Stay back.” I forced the words out. “I’ll shoot if you come any closer.”

“Damn it, girl,” he said. “If you want us to leave, just say so.”
The scowl on his face contributed to his dangerous appearance. So did the scruffy beard and the shaggy hair sticking out from under his baseball cap. If he hadn’t come all the way out here to get to me—and that was still a big “if”—what on earth was he doing here?

I couldn’t see any weapons on him. Was he a drifter? He didn’t look dirty, but a metallic scent wafted from him, an odd, ripe trace I couldn’t place.

He must have seen my nose wrinkle. His whole body stiffened. He drew taller than six feet by several inches, but it was the outrage I spotted in his eyes that reinforced my fears.

“Aren’t you a spitfire?” He pulled out a rumpled piece of paper from his pocket, balled it and dropped it at my feet. “Secluded, cheap and quiet, that’s what the ad said. But I don’t think you want to rent out a room, at least not to me. Come on, Neil,” he said to the dog. “Let’s leave this little hellcat to count her bullets.” He touched the rim of his baseball cap. “And a good day to you, ma’am.”

He braced on a pair of sturdy crutches and hopped down from the stoop. Crutches? I should’ve noticed those before. The sable shepherd looked up at me, then nuzzled my hip and trotted off after his owner. The rubber bottoms of the man’s crutches stabbed the ground as he shuffled to the black truck parked in my driveway, a supercharged Ram 3500 that matched its owner’s brawn.

I exhaled the breath I’d been holding. Bad guys didn’t knock at your door. They didn’t back down, attack while on crutches or hobble away after they came for you. They didn’t call you ma’am, either. I picked up the crumpled paper and flattened it against the stair’s wobbly baluster. It was indeed the one flyer I’d dared to post at Kailyn’s convenience store, printed on pink paper, complete with the ten tear-off rectangles that listed my cell phone number.

The ad. My brain came on line. He was here about the ad?

Crap. Terror had a sure way of wiping reason from my mind. The ad talked about a stone cottage but didn’t include the address. True, mine was the only stone cottage around. Still, my stomach churned.

I stared at the paper in my hands. He’d taken down the ad. Now I had exactly zero chance to rent out the room, which also meant that, since I’d have no money to make the rent, I was going to lose my little stone cottage. I was going to be homeless and I’d have to move on. Again.

But I liked it here. The place suited me well. People in this secluded valley were nice and I’d managed to build a semblance of a life hidden out here. And what about my little friends out back? Who’d take care of them if I wasn’t around?

The pound, that’s who.

I took a deep breath and looked down on my flannel pajama pants and my extra-large sweater. With my hair up in a messy tail, I was pretty sure I looked like a gun-toting, gray-eyed witch, brimming with hostility. I’d just scared away my first and only customer.

A top-notch German shepherd like that couldn’t belong to a crook. It was obvious that the owner took excellent care of his dog. If that wasn’t enough, the man got around on crutches. He couldn’t hurt me and, if he tried, I wouldn’t need a shotgun to defend myself. I’d just have to trip him.

God, the things I thought about. Was I going to live in fear forever?

Yes, I would, but living in fear was better than not living at all.
Right?

I considered the paper in my hand. My rent was due next week.

“Wait!” I jammed my feet into my weathered rubber boots, gripped the gun in one hand and the umbrella in the other, and rushed out into the rain. I caught up with him as he slammed the door of his truck shut.

“Hey!” I waved the flyer in the air. “I didn’t know that you came for this.” I tapped on the window. “Could you please, like, talk to me…please?”

He rolled his eyes, but the window whirled down. “What now? You want to sue me for stinking up your stoop?”

“Oh, no.” I blushed all the way down to my toes. “I just wanted to say—I’m sorry. I’m…um…skittish, you know? Living out here in the boonies all by myself…”

“I get it.” The man’s glare didn’t waver. “Lots of folks don’t like dogs. Or vets. Sorry I scared you.”

“You didn’t scare me,” I lied. “I love dogs. I was just…being careful, that’s all.”

“Careful?” His mouth twisted into that terrible scowl. “Is that why you’re still toting that thing around, cocked and loaded no less?”

My eyes shifted to the shotgun, still clutched in my hand, and then back to the stranger glaring at me. “Oh.”

“That’s what I thought.” He turned the key on the ignition.

“Wait!”

On impulse, I stuck my hand through the window and placed it over his on the wheel. He flinched. I cringed. He was hot, and I mean scalding hot, to my touch. The look he fired in my direction burned just as bad.

“I…I…” I swallowed the lump in my throat. “I think you should come back inside.”

“No way,” he said. “I hate the wrong end of the barrel.”

“It didn’t register,” I said. “I didn’t realize that you were a vet.”

He growled like a cranky bear. “I don’t want your damn pity.”

It was a good thing I recognized pride, fury and defiance when I saw it. Otherwise, I might have forgotten the whole thing and fled back to the cottage with my tail between my legs. Instead, I steeled my nerves and stuck out my chin.

“I’m not offering you any pity,” I said. “But I do need to rent out a room. So let’s start over. Okay? I’m Lia.”

“Lia?” He lifted his cap and scratched his head. His eyebrows drew close together in a frown that deepened the two little vertical lines above his nose. “Have we met before?”

“Not in this lifetime.”

He let out an exasperated sigh. “I don’t think I’m the kind of tenant you were looking for.”

“You might be right about that,” I said. “You’re grouchy and we didn’t exactly get off to a good start. But right now, I’m offering you a cup of coffee. So follow me. If your references check, if you’re not a serial killer or wanted by the FBI, then we’ll talk.”
The dog barked and, stepping over his owner, stuck his huge muzzle out the window and licked my face.

“Come on, boy.” I opened the door. The German shepherd bounced out of the truck, running around me in an explosion of energy. I petted him as he loped beside me on the way to the cottage.

“Neil!” the man shouted. “You traitor. Come back right this minute!”

Neil sat on his hind legs halfway between the house and the truck and woofed.
“See?” I said. “Even your dog wants you to come in.”

The man slapped the wheel and cursed some more. Oh, Lord. He was stubborn. All that anger stiffened my shoulders and churned up my belly. Did I really want a bundle of rage as a tenant?

But Neil wasn’t moving either. This was a war of wills if I’d ever seen one. The umbrella sprang a leak so I got out of the rain, set it on the porch to dry and wiped my feet on the mat. I brought the shotgun into the kitchen and settled it on the counter for easy access. Better safe than sorry. I prayed that my instincts were right on this one.
The German shepherd trotted into the foyer, ears forward, mouth agape and long tongue lolling. He pawed at me, licked my hand and yapped in a way that sounded a lot like commiseration.

“That’s a surly owner you’ve got there.” I scratched him behind the ears. “He’s lucky to have you, yes, he is. I would have shot him without batting an eyelash, but you? No way. You’re too gorgeous.”

I went into the kitchen, grabbed an old towel and laid it on the floor next to the stove. Neil shook his coat and settled on the towel. I set up the coffeepot as the man shuffled with his crutches into the foyer and hesitated at the threshold. I kept my face blank but my senses on alert.

“You look goddamn comfortable,” he said to the dog, before his gaze zeroed in on me again. “He’s never done this before. Go with a stranger? Never.”

“Don’t take it personally.” I set out a pair of mugs. “Animals like me. I like them too. They’re better than people any day.”

“Amen to that,” he muttered, his glare leaving no doubt that I belonged in his despicable human race category.

“Take a seat.” I gestured toward the kitchen table and placed the clipboard at one end. “Fill that out. Coffee will be ready in a moment.”

He set his jaw at a stubborn angle. Yikes. The guy was nothing if not ornery. Neil got up and pressed his body against his owner’s legs. Bluster aside, the man couldn’t resist the plea in the dog’s eyes. He scratched Neil’s head with unmistakable affection. I took that as a good sign, but even as I went about the kitchen, I kept my eye on the man and the shotgun within reach.

“You’re a pain in the ass, Neil,” the guy said as he took off his leather coat and hung it on the rack. “You’re trained a lot better than that. We’ll give this a try, but I’m telling you, this isn’t going to end well. That gun-toting madwoman is not right in the head.”

“I heard that.” I poured some cream into a dish and stuck it in the microwave, “I’m not right in the head? What about you, Mr. Sourpuss who talks to dogs?”

“Neil isn’t just any dog.” He set the crutches against the wall and winced as he lowered himself into the chair. “He’s got brains. He deserves to be talked to. As to the rest, I’m not the one going about in my pajamas aiming loaded shotguns at people.”

“Sorry,” I said, duly contrite. “I’ve only been up for a bit. I’m a waitress, so I work late. But a girl’s got to do what a girl’s got to do—”

“Jesus Christ.” He stared at the clipboard with open alarm. “How many applicants were you expecting? You do know that the nearest town is Copperhill, population two thousand? You’ve got like ten applications here and each one is five pages long.”

“Maybe it was wishful thinking on my part, but I’m like the Boy Scouts, always prepared.”

“I can see that.” He glanced at the shotgun before returning his attention to the clipboard.

Hackles down, girl. I forced myself to breathe. He was only making a point. Still, the permanent knot of fear that churned at the center of my being tightened, an irrational impulse I couldn’t always control. It may have won out, if the ancient microwave hadn’t begun to clatter and rattle like my discombobulated, panic-prone brain.

“Come on.” I pounded on the thing. “Please, don’t break down now.”

“Wow.” The man shook his head. “You also talk to microwaves.”

“If it makes any difference, I only beat naughty appliances that want to quit on me.” I pounded some more until the microwave rattled back to life. “Yay.” I kissed the old clunker.

He rolled his eyes, leaving no doubt that he considered me foolish, eccentric, or both. I watched him from the corner of my eye as I finished fixing the coffee. He pulled out his driver’s license and began to write down his information with a shaky hand. After only a few pen strokes, he stopped midline and dug his fist into his thigh.

The lines on his face set with grim determination. He grumbled something under his breath and jotted down a few more lines. I poured a cup of coffee and parked it in front of him. He squinted, clutching the pen with a white-knuckled grip.

“Are you okay?” I said.

“Fine,” he muttered.

“Are you sure?” I said. “You don’t look fine to me.”

The pen snapped between his fingers.

“Christ.” He stared at the pieces in his hand. “This was a stupid idea.” He pushed away from the table. “I…I need to go.”

He faltered as he tried to get up. I moved quickly. I tucked my shoulder beneath his arm to steady him, but he was heavy and I stumbled under his weight.

“Easy, now.” I helped him to sit down again. Ooof. All that heat coming from his body. It enveloped me like a wave of steam. Neil whimpered. The man tried to stand up again, but he couldn’t.

“Give me a sec.” He slumped on the chair. “I’ll go in a moment.”

This man was sick and in a lot of pain, pain he concealed behind a mask of rage and gruff. He sat there, shivering like a penguin stranded on an iceberg, swaying dangerously in the chair. Who was he and why was he so ill?

I picked up the clipboard and read through the application. He’d only gotten far enough to fill out the top part, but the shaky script spelled a familiar name. I straightened. Holy cow. Could it be? I scanned the driver’s license on the table for confirmation.

“Ash?” I studied the man sweating all over my kitchen table. “Are you really Ashton Hunter?”

I’d never met Ashton Hunter, but I’d heard an awful lot about the town’s very own golden boy. I would have never recognized him from the pictures, but looking closely, seeing beyond the nearly healed scar that split his left eyebrow and all that facial hair…yes…I supposed it could be him. Wynona Hunter’s grandson in the flesh, right there before me, sick as a dog and, judging by his terrible pallor, about to throw up.
I got the pail just in time.

He vomited—such a violent explosion. I almost threw up myself. I did okay with animals, but people? I wasn’t so sure.

Man up, girl, this is Wynona Hunter’s grandson getting sick in your kitchen.
Wynona was the reason I had the cottage in the first place, the one person who’d gone all out for me and possibly the only reason why I’d survived on the lam this long. She was also the closest thing to a grandma—or a friend—I’d ever had.

Losing her had torn me to pieces. Her death had deprived me the opportunity to return her incomparable kindnesses. Which was why now, holding on to her beloved Ash as he puked out his liver, the universe was giving me a second chance to pay her back for everything she’d done for me.

To think I’d confused Ashton Hunter for a drifter. Well, at least he was a local, which explained how he knew where to find my cottage. What was he doing here? Why was he looking to rent a room from a stranger so far away from town? And why was he sick?
“Christ,” he mumbled. “This is embarrassing.”

“Don’t worry about it.” I got a paper towel and wiped his mouth. “Are you really Wynona’s grandson?”

“I am.” He shuddered like a wet dog. “Ash.”

“What’s wrong with you?”

“I’m fine,” he said before he heaved again.

“Hold on.” I groped for my cell. “I’ll call the ambulance. It’ll take a little time to get out here, but they’ll come.”

“No ambulance.” He snatched my hand and tightened his fingers around my wrist.
I jumped back, but I couldn’t shake his hold. God, he was strong. Even as he shuddered with fever, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t free my arm.

“Let go.”

I choked on a wave of panic fueled by the perverse memories that ruled my subconscious. My heart rate sped into triple digits. My fight response kicked in and I threw my best punch. With the reflexes of a baseball player, he caught my fist in his other hand.

“Stop it,” I said. “Let me go!”

His stare was cold, unfocused and remote, his face blank. He snarled some harsh words I couldn’t understand. Nothing that I said registered in his expression, that is, until Neil barked, a set of sharp, loud yaps.

Neil’s barks returned Ash to his senses. As if waking up from a dream, his eyes focused first on the dog, then on his hands, gripping my wrists, and finally on my face, surely frozen in a grimace of terror.

“Christ.” He released his hold on me. “Did I hurt you? Jesus, I’m sorry.”

I thrust myself away from him, against the wall. My knees shook like babies’ rattles. My wrists throbbed with the memory of his grip. Steady. Breathe. Cope. I rubbed my wrists and stared at the man before me, trying to squelch the dread churning in my belly. He was really sick, I reminded myself. He couldn’t harm me, not if he was truly Wynona’s grandson, the boy she’d raised, the man she adored.

“I didn’t mean to lose my cool.” He braced his hands on the table and tried to get up but his legs wouldn’t hold him, so he sat down again. “I’m not like that, I swear. I just need my meds.”

It took all I had to rally my wits and reclaim my courage—that, and the tremendous pain I spotted in Ash’s eyes, plus the memory of Wynona Hunter opening her world to me.

“This medicine of yours,” I said, cautiously. “Where is it? Is it in the truck?”

“Duffel bag,” he muttered. “Front seat.”

“Sit tight,” I said. “I’ll be right back.”

“Don’t call the ambulance. Don’t call anybody. I’m not ready, not like this.”

“Okay,” I mumbled, but I wasn’t sure.

Part of me understood what he meant. Wynona had told me that he was super smart, an extraordinary athlete and an officer in the United States Marine Corps. His family had been prominent in the area for several generations. I sensed he didn’t want to be seen weakened and sick by the folks who’d watched him grow up. Still, the other part of me worried.

My best guess was that Ash had been wounded while serving in the military. It made sense. Other than a curt statement from his unit’s commanding officer notifying us that he’d been “out of reach and on assignment” at the time of Wynona’s death four months ago, no one had heard a word from him.

I’d resented him for missing the funeral. Ash had been Wynona’s last living relative. She’d raised him. He’d been the center of her existence. He should have been there. Instead, he was here, now, four months late, in my house, sick and refusing to go to the hospital where he obviously belonged.

What would Wynona do if she was in my shoes?

I put on my coat, slipped on my boots and ran out to the truck. I grabbed the blue bag sporting the Marine Corps seal from the front seat. Neil waited by his owner when I came back, resting his chin on Ash’s lap. Ash sat slumped over the table, forehead leaning on his crossed arms.

I plopped the bag down on the table and rushed to unzip it. My jaw dropped. A jumble of prescription medicines filled the duffel. There must have been twenty different bottles of pills, liquids and injectables in there, all labeled and marked with instructions.
I forced myself to get over the shock. “Which one do you need?”

He lifted his head painfully and groped through the bag, squinting at a bottle. “No, not this one. It liquefies my gut.” He chucked it aside and picked up another bottle. “This one makes me drowsy. This one makes me stupid. This one, I think.”

I twisted off the cap and handed him the two pills indicated on the label.

He washed down the pills with a gulp of coffee and then picked out a pack containing a loaded syringe. “I’m supposed to have this one too. At least that’s what I think they said.”

He fumbled with his belt. For a sick guy, he moved swiftly. Leaning to one side and then the other, he dropped his pants, ripped the syringe out of the sterile pack and without so much as a word, stabbed it into his thigh and pushed down on the plunger.

A hiss escaped between his clenched teeth. “Motherfucker burns.”

I stared in horror as the veins in his neck bulged. My eyes shifted between the wicked syringe, dispensing its load of liquid fire, his muscular thighs, thick as tree trunks, and the bandage wrapped around his left calf. The ripe smell I’d detected earlier came from that bandage. Mother of God. I was no doctor, but Wynona’s grandson was clearly sick with a full-fledged infection.

He dropped the empty syringe in the bag and pushed himself to his feet. “Let’s go, Neil.”

“You can’t leave.”

“Why not?” He wavered on his feet but managed to pull up his pants and buckle his belt.

“You can’t drive like this.”

“Sure I can,” he said. “And I did.”

He slung the bag over his shoulder, gripped his crutches and, with Neil at his heels, shuffled to the coat stand. How long had he been running around like this?

“But…” I didn’t know what to say. “What about the room?”

He grabbed his jacket and sneered. “You don’t want to rent me a room any more than you want me to puke all over your damn kitchen again.”

“Well…” I gulped. “I’d prefer it if you kept your breakfast to yourself, but…um…you did say you were looking for peace and quiet. So if you want the room, you can have it.”
His blue eyes lasered through my brain, his gaze dulled with pain but alert all the same. This guy wouldn’t accept help from me, from anybody. He would get in that truck, pass out from the fever and kill himself—and his dog—in the process.

He more or less growled. “Why the hell would you want to rent me a room when that upturned nose of yours finds my stink so offensive?”

I fingered my nose, a little self-conscious. “I knew your grandmother. Wynona.”

“You knew her?” He frowned, a familiar gesture now. “How?”

“She—um—she helped me when I first arrived in Copperhill.” I measured my words carefully. “She took me under her wing, found me this place to live and helped me get a job. She was the kindest, most loving person I’ve ever met.”

He closed his eyes and leaned his head against the wall. “That she was.”

I had a moment of hope that he would reason with me, but then the grim expression reclaimed his face and he clutched the crutches with new resolve.

“Nona is dead.” His eyes darkened to indigo. “I don’t need help from you or from anyone else. Neil and I, we can take care of ourselves. So get the hell out of my way.”

I had to make a conscious effort to overcome my fears and differentiate violence from desperation, pain from danger. Helping Ash was a bad idea, but could I really let him leave in this condition, knowing that he had no place to go to and no family to take care of him?

“Your grandma and I were good friends,” I said, against my best judgment. “She told me lots of stories about you. And she gave me this.”

I pulled out the chain buried beneath my sweater and showed him the pendant I wore around my neck. I flinched when he reached out, but I got hold of my fear before he noticed. His square-tipped fingers closed over the pendant, a highly polished obsidian crystal mounted on a silver frame. His eyes narrowed on the stylized frog skeleton carved in the center of the stone. It had the look of an ancient fossil, but it was actually one of Wynona’s edgiest designs.

“Damn.” His broken eyebrow rose in surprise. “She gave this to you?”

I nodded, all too aware of his proximity as he leaned in closer to examine the pendant. A wave of intense, metallic-scented heat radiated from him. His pain-sharpened breaths came out in blustery bursts.

“Courage,” I mumbled.

“What?” he said.

“Wynona told me that obsidian was the stone of courage.” I rallied. “She told me it would balance and restore, calm and soothe.”

“Lia.” His eyes narrowed. “Now I remember. Nona emailed me. About you. You took care of her when she broke her hip last year.”

“It was the least I could do.”

He took off his cap and raked his hair with his fingers. “Damn meds. They muddle my brain. But I know who you are now.”

“Will you stay?”

His brows clashed over his nose. “I don’t need you to feel sorry for me.”

“I don’t, but I think your grandmother would have liked it if you stayed, and I need to pay my rent.”

“Ah.”

That last bit was the type of rationale I could sell to the proud and the stubborn.
The meds were kicking in. Ash’s eyelids drooped and his legs wobbled. His gaunt complexion matched his nickname. He looked like one of those giant lodgepole pines infected with beetles, colorless and brittle, swaying in the wind and about to topple over.
His words came out slow and slurred. “The house burned down.”

I swallowed hard. “I remember.”

“She was in there.”

I shivered inside.

“I was in goddamn Afghanistan.”

I reached out and squeezed his shoulder. “There was nothing you could’ve done.”

He tensed beneath my touch like a feral cat, but he didn’t pull back. He stared at my hand with an odd expression on his face, as if he expected me to recoil in horror, as if he hadn’t been touched with kindness in a long time.

“I think Wynona would’ve really liked it if you stayed with me,” I said. “Let’s do this, for her, at least while you get your act together?”

He fingered the pendant once again. “I don’t know.”

“You must have had a really good reason to come back, even if you don’t feel so good.”

“The property,” he mumbled, thumbing the stone. “I have to deal with that. This place is close. It’s nice here. Not so many people around. Besides…” His stare drifted out the window. “I grew up on that lake. I like looking at it.”

“I do too,” I said. “It’s peaceful and beautiful. Wynona told me that the two of you loved to hike around it.”

“She did?”

I nodded and held my breath. Maybe he would go along with my suggestion. Or maybe I was out of my freaking mind. His presence spelled only trouble for me. My life didn’t have room for complications or mistakes. If he stayed, I’d have to worry about his safety on top of mine.

If all of that wasn’t enough, he came across as proud, stubborn and bitter. He scared me, especially when he got angry. It would be so much easier if he just moved along. If I was smart, I’d let him leave in his fancy truck and be done with it. But how could I let Wynona’s grandson walk out when he needed help?

It was a bad idea. It was a dangerous idea, and reckless. I opened my mouth to send him on his way, but what came out of my lips had nothing to do with my impeccable logic.
“What’s it going to be?”

Ash hesitated for moment, then he squinted down at me. “You still want me to fill out that application?”

“That won’t be necessary.”

“What the hell,” he said. “I do need a place to crash. No one wants dogs. Or screwed-up vets.”

Way to go. I’d just persuaded Ashton Hunter to barge into my carefully conceived, little farce of a life. To my astonishment, he pulled out his wallet from his pocket, and, after counting out a few crisp, hundred-dollar bills, pressed them into my hand.

“First, last and deposit,” he said.

It was already spent, but it was more money than I’d seen all month.

Was I doing the right thing? I hoped so. Damage aside, I was basically a decent human being. But kindness was at the heart of catastrophe and evil thrived on good intentions. The danger in my life was very real. If I was going to come through unscathed, I needed to heal him quickly and then send him on his way. But first I had to think of a way of getting him up the stairs.

“Would you like to check out the room?” I said.

“Damn it.” He looked at the steps. “It’s up that way, isn’t it?”

“Yeah,” I said. “I don’t know if you can make it.”

Even in his drug-induced stupor, he wasn’t one to pass up a challenge. He tucked the crutches under one arm and, gripping the balustrade, tackled the staircase.

Neil whimpered.

“I know,” I mumbled. “This isn’t going to be easy.”

Ash nearly fainted on the landing, then regained his senses long enough to get his arm over my shoulder and make it to the bathroom at the top of the stairs, where he did faint. I managed to get him gently to the floor. He came to as I filled up the bathtub.

“What the hell?”

“Two choices.” I knelt on the tiles next to him. “Either I take you to the hospital or we get your fever down the old-fashion way.”

He lifted his head from the floor and contemplated the old claw-foot bathtub with trepidation. “No hospital.”

“Okay, then.”

He groaned when I took off his boots. I bit down on my lips and suppressed the grimace that tried to overtake my face. Ouch. His left foot was riddled with scars and swollen like a rotten gourd. He unbuckled his belt and, between the two of us, we managed to lower his pants. The swelling in his foot connected with his lower leg, which was also flushed and inflamed. I helped him to take off his shirt. I tried to keep my eyes averted from the other scars on his body, but they were many and most of them were still raw and red. My God. He’d been seriously injured.

He hunched over his arms, hugging himself, shaking uncontrollably, glowering at me through lidded eyes. He snapped when I tried to loosen the bandage around his calf.

“Forget this.”

He heaved himself from the floor to the toilet and from the toilet to the tub and, perching his calf on the ledge, slid into the bath, groaning as he immersed the bulk of his body in the tub, shivering nonstop. A tide of displaced water swelled and spilled over the edges, splashing on the floor and drenching my feet. Within moments, his teeth began to chatter.

“Are you sure you don’t want me to call the ambulance?”

“Sure as shit.”

“I could drive you to the hospital or call the sheriff for help.”

He snarled. “No.”

A tiger trapped in my bathtub might have been a safer bet. A swipe of his paw could take my head off.

Perhaps this was about more than embarrassment. “Ash,” I said. “Why don’t you want me to take you to the hospital or call the sheriff? Are you in trouble?”

“Yeah,” he mumbled. “I’m in trouble all right.”

“With the law?” I said, fearing his enemies as much as mine.

“No, not with the law,” he muttered before he closed his eyes. “With someone a lot more dangerous than the law.”​

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