Book Blitz: The Winter Heals by Marie McGrath #YoungAdult #ContemporaryRomance @Marie_McGrath_ @XpressoTours

The Winter Heals
Marie McGrath
(Honey Cove, #2)
Publication date: January 12th 2021
Genres: Contemporary, Romance, Young Adult

It was almost impossible to heal when everyone was out to get you.

Shelby Rowe was stuck between two worlds—the one she wanted and the one everyone else wanted for her. As the daughter of a prominent family in Honey Cove, Shelby’s life was out of her control. Her friends, interests, and even her love life was controlled by others.

When a new girl moves to town, Shelby’s life was turned upside down as she gets a glimpse of what life could be like—no obligations, no pressure. As the Christmas break begins, Shelby is left stuck between what is expected and what she feels is right. Split in half, Shelby has to make decisions to correct her life and heal her spirit.

Will she allow others to control who she is? Or will she finally go out on her own?

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EXCERPT:

Luke watched me as I eyed Priscilla and Tabitha from across the room. “Don’t panic, Shelby. You’re by far the most beautiful one in this ballroom tonight.”
“Thanks, Luke, but I’m not worried about what anyone else looks like.”

He nodded and smiled, but it didn’t quite make it to his eyes.

I probably wouldn’t have believed me either. I wasn’t fully lying, just wasn’t the entire truth. Priscilla had a chance to outdo me; it was just her insecurities that came back for her. If she had more confidence, people wouldn’t hate her as much for the nasty things she always inflicted on others. Although, I supposed someone else could say similar things to me. I certainly hadn’t always been the nicest one around. I had done plenty of cruel things, things I still was ashamed of, but I tried to change. That had to account for something, right?

Priscilla and Tabitha spotted me and strutted my way.

Luke tightened his grip around my arm and into his chest. Did he think I needed protecting?

Tabitha leaned forward to air-kiss my cheek. “Shelby, darling. You look fabulous.”

I reciprocated the gesture. “As do you. This color is stunning on you.”

She smiled and swished her dress against her ankles.

Priscilla’s eyebrow arched as she came closer for a hug. “Beautiful accessories, Shelby. It all really makes your eyes pop.”

I strained to smile, knowing anything they uttered about my appearance was merely a nod to social etiquette. It wasn’t genuine, at least not in the way I longed for a true compliment.

“Your mother outdid herself this year, Shelby,” Tabitha said.

“I’ll let her know you think so.”

Luke cleared his throat and nudged my side with his elbow.

“Sorry, ladies, how rude of me. You know Luke, obviously, but he’s my date.”

Luke grinned from ear to ear. “Ladies, you both look radiant this evening.”

They both curtsied.

“Well, we would love to stay and chat all night, but we must socialize with the guests. I’ll see you two later.”

I pulled Luke to stand at the second Christmas tree halfway between both exits.

Luke’s eyebrow rose. “Why did we walk away from them? We should be mingling with everyone.”

I snorted. “Please, Luke. I will mingle with the people who matter. Those two don’t matter. They will just gossip about anything they hear anyway, not worth our time.”

“Then who should we talk to, in your opinion? I think they matter to everyone else. If you aren’t flaunting me to your friends, what will people say?”

“They will have plenty to say, and we can discuss things with them when we are stuck at a table for dinner.”

“I suppose.” Luke moved his arm around me and hovered his right hand on the small of my back.

I bit the corner of my lip to avoid from shivering—or worse, cringing at his touch. It wasn’t awful, but it was more than I wish I had to endure.

“You know, you never told me if I looked dashing or not,” Luke said with a devilish grin.

I smiled. “You and I both know you do, especially with all of your matchy-matchy to my dress color.”

Luke feigned shock. “Is that a compliment from Shelby Rowe. Oh man. Alert Santa we’ll have a blizzard.”

I rolled my eyes. “Dramatic much?”

“Not at all. I only seem to get snarkiness from you.”

I shrugged. “Not always.”

“I apologize. You’re correct. I get snarky Shelby unless we’re pretending to be together. In which case, I get hushed-tone snarky Shelby.”

I giggled. “Is that so? How does one emanate snark in a hushed-tone kind of way?”

“I think you know how.”

I smiled and looked into his hazel eyes. Okay, so he could be charming when he wanted to.

“There it is.”

“There’s what?”

“A genuine smile.”

My father, with my mother in tow, strutted toward us. “Shelby and Luke, how splendid. You both look exquisite,” my father said. “Are you ready to meet a few people, Shelby?”

I followed my parents as Luke accompanied me. I straightened my frame and plastered a smile on my face. It was showtime.

An older couple stood to the side of the ballroom.

My father shook the older man’s hand and clapped his back. “Mr. Wyatt, this is my daughter Shelby and her date, Luke Warrington. Shelby, Mr. Wyatt is the head of sales at Rowe Industries.”

I curtsied as Luke shook the man’s hand.

“It’s nice to meet you, Mr. Wyatt,” I said.

“Hello again, sir,” Luke added.

My mother looked between us all but stayed silent. Her voice echoed in my head, “A true Rowe woman is seen but not heard. She makes her presence known but never overshadows the man she is with.”

Author Bio:

Marie McGrath lives in a small rural town in Maryland. She hopes to inspire others with her stories. Her favorite genres to read are YA Romance and Contemporary Fiction. She loves the color turquoise, tigers, and listening to music.

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Book Blitz: Fetching by Kylie Gilmore #RomCom @KylieGilmoreToo @XpressoTours

Fetching
Kylie Gilmore
(Unleashed Romance, #1)
Publication date: January 12th 2021
Genres: Adult, Comedy, Romance

He’s her knight in shining armor. Only she’s no damsel in distress.

Wyatt
I’m a self-made billionaire with a soft spot for damsels in distress, so when I move to the quirky lakeside community of Summerdale, I immediately zero in on the woman I most want to…ahem, rescue. Only the stubborn woman refuses to cooperate.

Sydney
When Satan, aka Wyatt Winters, moves to town, I do my best to be welcoming. After all, I’m the owner of the historic restaurant and bar that he keeps showing up at, despite criticizing nearly everything about it. Deep breath. I might’ve lost my cool and made a rude gesture in his direction. And told him off. How was I to know he was considering investing in my place?

Did I mention I’m in debt up to my eyeballs and every bank has turned me down?

Still, there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell I’d ever work with him. Or admit he fires me up in every way.

And then a snowstorm traps us together and—

I’m melting.

This romantic comedy stands alone with a swoonworthy happy-ever-after! No cliffhangers.

NOTE: A portion of Fetching’s book sales will go to Pets for Vets, a nonprofit that trains shelter dogs to be therapy companions for military veterans with PTSD.

Unleashed Romance Series
Fetching (Book 1)
Dashing (Book 2)
Sporting (Book 3)
Toying (Book 4)
Blazing (Book 5)

Goodreads / Bookbub / Amazon / Barnes & Noble / iBooks / Kobo

EXCERPT:

Sydney

Wyatt catches my eye. “Appetizers are good.”

Pleased that he finally said something positive about my place, I close the distance, stopping at his table. “Glad you’re enjoying them.”

He leans back in his chair. “Have you ever thought of upgrading the dinner menu?”

My temper flares, but I manage to keep a civil tone. “No. Locals love it.”

“Not saying it’s bad, just unoriginal. I mean, every meal comes with either French fries or baked potato. A new chef might bring some life to the place. Isn’t that what tonight’s fundraiser’s all about? Keeping this place open?” He taps the table. “With the right management, a better chef, this place has potential.”

I manage this place, and the chef is a family friend. I bare my teeth. “Seems you know a lot about the restaurant business.”

“Not at all. I just appreciate a good one.”

I jam my hands on my hips and glare at him. Obviously he thinks we’re a bad one! I’m so furious I can’t even speak.

He cocks his head. “Cindy, are you cross with me?”

“Who the hell do you think you are?” I snap. “Coming in here and insulting my place left and right! If you don’t like it, don’t come back.”

He arches a brow. “Since you own the place, maybe we could talk about some serious improvements. You don’t know what you don’t know, am I right?”

I bristle. “This place was my great-grandfather’s, passed down the generations, and now it’s mine.” I leave out that Drew is the one who actually inherited it and declared it a lost cause because of the debt dragging it down. I took it over rather than let him sell it. “It’s an institution in this town, and we’re doing just fine without your city snark. How dare you walk in here and spew your judgment over all of us!”

He smirks. “I don’t recall spewing.”

My heartbeat roars in my ears, anger clouding all good reason. I desperately want to smack that smirk off his face.

He gestures to his ale, which he barely touched. “I didn’t like this one. Could I get one of those local Connecticut ales you mentioned?”

I stare at his glass of ale. I want to throw it in his face and watch his shock as it drips down his beard, fancy sport coat, and dress shirt.

He chuckles. “That’s an evil look in your eye, Cindy. You’re thinking about dumping this drink on my head, aren’t you?”

How did he know? “Not at all,” I lie.

He leans close and smirks. “I dare you.”

Author Bio:

Kylie Gilmore is the USA Today bestselling author of the Unleashed Romance series, the Rourkes series, the Happy Endings Book Club series, the Clover Park series, and the Clover Park STUDS series. She writes humorous romance that makes you laugh, cry, and reach for a cold glass of water.

Kylie lives in New York with her family, two cats, and a nutso dog. When she’s not writing, reading hot romance, or dutifully taking notes at writing conferences, you can find her flexing her muscles all the way to the high cabinet for her secret chocolate stash.

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Book Blitz: Witch Unexpected by Debbie Cassidy #UrbanFantasy @authordcassidy @xpressotours

Witch Unexpected
Debbie Cassidy
(The Thirteenth Sign #1)
Publication date: December 29th 2020
Genres: Adult, Romance, Urban Fantasy

An ancient war, a tenuous truce, a delicate balance.

Sounds ominous right?

It is.

The tri-pack collective has existed for centuries—three dire wolf packs bound to the most powerful coven in the world through a single witch born under the thirteenth sign of the zodiac.

Through this covenant they keep an ancient threat unlike any other at bay.

At the next blood moon, I’ll be that witch—bound to the three leaders of the dire wolf packs. Responsible for keeping the peace.

That is If I make it to the blood moon alive, because someone is trying to kill me.

Now the hot-headed wolves are going to have to work together to make sure our inventive little murderer doesn’t succeed.

And me?

Well, I don’t take kindly to being targeted, so whoever’s gunning for me better watch out, because they just became the hunted.

An Urban Fantasy Romance filled with witches, shifters, warlocks, Gargoyles, Ghosts and Vampires.

Goodreads / Amazon

Author Bio:

Debbie Cassidy lives in England, Bedfordshire, with her three kids and very supportive husband. Coffee and chocolate biscuits are her writing fuels of choice, and she is still working on getting that perfect tower of solitude built in her back garden. Obsessed with building new worlds and reading about them, she spends her spare time daydreaming and conversing with the characters in her head – in a totally non psychotic way of course. She writes Urban Fantasy, Fantasy and Reverse Harem Fantasy. All her books contain plenty of action, romance and twisty plots.

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Book Blitz: Unplugged by Sigal Ehrlich #NewAdult @Sigal_Ehrlich

Unplugged
Sigal Ehrlich
(Unplugged, #1)
Publication date: March 10th 2017
Genres: Contemporary, New Adult, Romance

An against-all-odds & forbidden rockstar romance

After surviving the long and excruciating recruitment process, I thought I would end up working for Madonna or the CIA at the very least.
Boy, was I wrong.

Even in my wildest dreams I couldn’t have imagined what I was in for. What my heart was in for.

I couldn’t have possibly fathomed the lifestyle, the responsibility, how much it would take out of me, the inner battles, and mostly, the emotional whirlwind.
I could never have imagined, prepared myself for, or anticipated…

Him.

It was supposed to be a job. Just a temporary job. Just a few months. Just a short stop before the journey I was about to take to follow my dream.

It was supposed to be a lot of things…but not this.
Little did I know it would be the one event that would shape me, would change me, would bring on such a shift in the balance of my world.
Would bring…

Him.

Would bring…

Them.
Both.
Into my life.

*UNPLUGGED is the first part in a two-part series; it has a cliffhanger-ish ending.

Goodreads / Amazon

NOW ON KINDLE UNLIMITED!

EXCERPT:

I hold one of the monstrous fridge doors open, taking inventory of the profusion of goods on display. I twitch my lips, moving them from side to side, as I muse what can best serve as a natural sedative. I stoop slightly forward for the carton and stop dead. More precisely, I find myself being stopped by an iron grip. Instinctively, I suck in a breath as a firm arm slides to wrap around my waist. A warm, hard body presses against me in tandem to someone’s lips nuzzling me right below my ear. A momentary stupor enfolds me as a few things register concurrently. The prickly feel of the scruff on my neck, and the smell hovering near that is a mixture of part masculine, part alcohol. Heavy alcohol. The most tantalizing fact, though, would have to be that the body pressed against my back is very much naked, as I can distinctively feel every part of the firm torso through my thin, cotton tee.

Still utterly startled, I chance a hesitant glance at the strong arm embracing me. Suntanned and large, it could be easily mistaken for a canvas crowded with colorful, detailed illustrations. The other hand, the one not holding me firmly, is another art creation in the form of a human limb extended toward the OJ carton.

“Open that for me, babe,” a raspy, low voice demands. And I do. The carton is lifted above my shoulder, and right after a pause, it is set in my stunned hand. Lightly moist, cold lips, bordered by a prickly beard, kiss my neck next. “Come back to bed, babe,” says the utterly seductive voice. A light smack on the butt jolts me, and I’m left by myself. My heart is beating in my ears, and my lips part in shock. I swallow hard and slowly turn to see who just groped-spanked me. There’s so much to take in. The lion’s head tattoo covering the right shin, the dark hair messily knotted, the toned arms, the musical notes tattooed on the left shoulder blade. But one thing calls for my full attention. A delectable, as in an award-winning, butt.

Author Bio:

Sigal Ehrlich is a bestselling author of refreshing, fun, and sweet romance books. She loves books, cold weather, and the occasional bubbly drink. Living as an expat for most of her life, Sigal has been lucky enough to visit many exotic places and meet some unique people from all corners of the world, while experiencing the sweet triumphs and travails of trying to acclimate to new “homes.” Currently, Sigal calls the Czech Republic home where she lives with her husband and three kids.

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Book Blitz: Foreplayer by Kate Meader #ContemporaryRomance @kittymeader

Foreplayer
Kate Meader
(Rookie Rebels #4)
Publication date: December 29th 2020
Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Romance

The next Rookie Rebels novel

Featuring Mia Wallace, Vadim Petrov’s sister!

She’s all grown up and ready to play . . .

She’s got game everywhere but the bedroom. Enter the player who knows exactly how to grade her curves . . .

After a very public breakup and a viral post that declares him the villain, power forward Cal Foreman is taking a timeout from women and relationships to focus on hockey. When Chicago Rebels captain and old friend, Vadim Petrov, “volunteers” him to help train Vadim’s sister Mia, Cal figures he can do a favor for a pal and get ready for the season with his new team. But the imperious Russian would slice a skate blade through Cal’s internal organs if he knew what lessons Mia really wants.

Yeah, not that kind of stickhandling.

Hockey phenom and Olympics hopeful Mia Wallace needs help seducing the man of her dreams. That man is most definitely not Cal Foreman: notorious playboy, thorn in her side, and her brother’s bestie. But surely a guy with his reputed skill set has a few tips on how she can nail her target—which makes him the perfect foreplayer.

Cal knows Mia sees him as merely the warm-up act in her grand plan to win another man, but as they spend more time together, he wonders if that’s enough.

If they could be more.

And if he could convince her he’s worthy of the starting line-up . . . in her heart?

Goodreads / Amazon / iBooks / Kobo

EXCERPT:

With a stony glare, he headed to the kitchen and removed a bottle of water from the fridge. “I don’t drink the devil’s bubbles.”

The devil’s bubbles. Cute. “You should use a water filter instead of these one-shot deals,” she said. “It’s terrible for the environment.” She unscrewed the cap because she was a hypocrite and her throat was bone dry.

He took the water from her after she’d downed a quarter of it and put it to his lips.

And drank.

She watched, mesmerized. Her lips had been there, right there, and he was … treating her like one of the guys. This boded well for their upcoming buddy chat.

“I need advice.”

He passed the bottle back to her and headed out to the living room. “Okay. Come sit.” He patted the seat beside him. She could sit where his hand had touched and it would be like her … no. What was wrong with her?

Surely she wasn’t attracted to Cal Foreman. While she could see the appeal—the man had a rough and ready sexual charisma and Tara had talked him up in the sex department—he was not her type at all. Not that she had a recognizable type but she knew it wasn’t this.

She took a seat one cushion over and placed the bottle on a Quebec Royals coaster on the coffee table.

“Is this about your tryout?” he asked.

“No.”

“Vadim?”

“Why would it be about Vadim?”

He squinted at her, obviously annoyed she was skirting the main event. “I assume he’s being his usual big dick brotherly self, so you’re here to learn how to handle him. Or vent about him.”

“No. I mean, yes, he’s being his usual big dick brotherly self but that’s not why I’m here.” Ah hell, here goes. “I like someone, and I need advice about it.”

He inhaled a deep, give-me-strength breath. “Mia, I’m flattered but—”

“For the love of Gretzky, not you, Foreman.”

His brow darkened. “Is it someone on the Rebels roster? Because Vadim won’t like that.”

“God, no. Hockey players, ugh!”

“Present company excepted.”

She shook her head vehemently. “Present company most definitely not excepted. You and your ilk are so not what I’m interested in.”

He grinned and leaned back as if … oh, God … he was presenting all the action below the waist area. He actually liked her diss of his species. Probably saw it as a challenge.

“What’s so funny?”

“I love how you act like being with a jock is so beneath you. You’re a jock, Mia. You’re one of us.” He waved casually between them.

“Okay, but that’s only because I like sports and I’m excellent at my chosen one. However, I don’t have that jock brain cell that you all share and pass like a puck to each other on the ice.”

“I suspect I’m not smart enough to completely understand that, but did you just call me dumb?”

“If the skate fits.”

That made him laugh. It was a nice, warm, wrap-her-up-in-a-sweater laugh and she almost felt bad for calling him stupid because he wasn’t stupid. Not at all. Apparently he read books as big as toasters. But like his hockey brethren, he did have a one-track mind which is what she needed to groove into right this minute.

“So, how can I and the jock brain cell I’m currently renting from the cell pool be of service, Mia?”

“I like someone.”

His brow furrowed again. “Right, you said, but not a player. Because players, dummies, yes?”

She rolled her eyes. “Yes. This guy is kind of, uh, sophisticated, I suppose. And experienced. More experienced than me. I want to know what guys like.”

At which point dumber than a box of pucks Cal Foreman burst out laughing.

Author Bio:

Originally from Ireland, USA Today bestselling author Kate Meader cut her romance reader teeth on Maeve Binchy and Jilly Cooper novels, with some Harlequins thrown in for variety. Give her tales about brooding mill owners, oversexed equestrians, and men who can rock an apron, a fire hose, or a hockey stick, and she’s there. Now based in Chicago, she writes sexy contemporary romance with alpha heroes and strong heroines who can match their men quip for quip.

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Book Blitz: Rhyker’s Key by M.C. Solaris #ParanormalRomance @XpressoTours

Rhyker’s Key
M.C. Solaris
(Orion’s Order, #2)
Publication date: December 21st 2020
Genres: Adult, Paranormal, Romance

Rhyker, tattooed bad boy and lethal jaguar shifter, falls for the sweet and caring healer, Keena. Except, she’s determined to keep him in the friend zone… good thing he’s a predator that enjoys the hunt.

Together, can they heal their past and forge a future bonded with true love?

SECOND BOOK IN THE ORION’S ORDER SERIES

Orion’s Order returns in another addictive installment about their secret world of magic and mystery. A world where the most powerful words in the Universe are discovered in the fight against an ancient evil force.

KEENA OLIVER
I am haunted by my past mistakes. Mistakes that I have no idea how I even made. I am an educated mind and spirit healer after all. So how in the holy healer hell did I end up in a relationship where the male who I thought I loved…
Yeah, it’s probably best not to rehash those nightmares. But if I don’t dare open up that box to my past, then how am I ever going to be able to move on? Especially because I so want to move on with a certain sexy male. A male whose lips devoured mine in a darkened corner that one time. A male whose predatory piercing blue eyes practically track my every move. A male who I shouldn’t be fantasizing about every second of every day. Why? Because it would ruin me.

RHYKER KINGSLEY
I’ve had my eye on a certain female for almost a year now. A female who is damn determined to keep me in the friend zone. A female who’s been hurt by her ex but refuses to open up to me about it. So, you could say I go through a lot of smokes… a f*cking lot.

Meanwhile, my pack of lethally trained and skilled hunters and I are gunning for an evil SOB who not only signed his death warrant the second he tried to come after my pack sister and mate to our alpha, but also the f*cker poses a threat to our world as we know it. Yet, said ancient powerful bastard has gone off the grid and is all but impossible to track.

Oh, and did I mention that the past seems to be mixing with the present? I mean, the f*ck is this? The revenge year of the shitty exes?

So, excuse me while I light up a smoke… or two.

Devour this addictive series at your own risk…
+ Happily Ever After
+ Sexy Paranormal Jaguar Shifter Romance
+ Multiple POV
+ Mature Content
+ This series is meant to be read in order for the best reading experience
———————————————-
RHYKER’S KEY is an adult paranormal jaguar shifter romance. If you like swoon-worthy males, heroines with feminine strength, an engaging plot, satisfying relationships, steamy love stories, happy ever afters, and getting sucked into a supernatural story, then you’ll want to immerse yourself in the world of species!

Goodreads / Amazon / Barnes & Noble / iBooks / Kobo / Google Play

EXCERPT:

Words. She needed to find words so she could respond because that was how conversations went. But words eluded her at the moment because she was still trying to recover from the debilitating tease from a moment ago when his lips were… Wait, you need to respond. But what did he say again?

“What do you use the second bedroom for?” he asked again in that curious feline way of his as he walked back toward her from the hall.

What do you use the second bedroom for? She had to slowly repeat his question in her mind in order for her brain to get with the program and understand what he was even asking. My second bedroom? Oh god, do I tell him what’s in there? She bit her lip in slight hesitation and he noticed, of course.

“What? Is that like your secret sex dungeon or something?” His lips turned up at the corners in a very feline way.

“Sex dungeon?” She laughed. “Of course that’s immediately where your mind goes.”

“Well, where else would it go when I’m with you.” He took a step closer to her. “In your home.” He closed the distance between them so they were separated by mere inches. “Alone.”

Her pulse quickened to a hummingbird’s pace and suddenly, she was back to being in the scorcher of desire.

Noticing her reaction, his mischievous grin transformed into his irresistibly sinful smirk.

She knew he was just playing with her but before he could continue, she broke the erotic tension between them by taking a step back and saying, “Here’s my sex dungeon.” And she didn’t mean for it to come out as husky as it did.

She opened the door to the second bedroom and he peered inside. His brows shot up in surprise before refocusing back on her in a silent question.

She laughed. “No, this is not my sex dungeon. This is my therapy room.”

“Therapy. Is that what they’re calling it these days?” he drawled, walking over to the pole. Without warning, he gripped the pole and lifted his body effortlessly so he was completely parallel to the ground. He gave her a wink and she laughed. As soon as his feet touched the ground, he climbed up the pole with just his arm strength.

“Good thing I had that installed for the highest weight class or else you may have fallen flat on your face,” she quipped, trying not to notice the way his biceps flexed and tantalized her feminine essence.

“Don’t insult me. I always land on my feet.” As if in emphasis of his point, he let go of his grip at the very top of the pole and landed softly on his feet with feline grace.

“So not fair.” She shook her head, still smiling. “I’ve trained for years and yet here you go showing me up.”

“I’ll gladly be the judge of that.” He stepped aside and held his arm out to the pole in invitation for her.


Author Bio:

M.C. Solaris’s life took an unexpected turn during the super blood moon eclipse on January 20, 2019. She woke up and began writing bios for her imaginary friends that she met that day. As soon as the pen hit the paper (or fingertips to the iPhone), she couldn’t stop. It was kind of like one of those fire hydrants, spewing copious amounts of water all over the place. The characters and their stories just flowed out of her. She is honored to be the scribe, getting to share her friends’ stories. You can read all about her gifted friends in the Orion’s Order series (Book 1 is Calypso’s Heart).

On a personal note, M.C. Solaris is actually the pseudonym of Marina Schroeder, women’s health enthusiast and lover of all things paranormal romance (PNR) and happily ever after (HEA). When she is not curled up on the sofa with her partner’s oversized hoodie, a PNR novel, peppermint tea, and one of her three cats, you will find her either at the ocean with her toes in the sand or in a forest hugging a tree. Well truthfully? There is one more place you might find her: trolling the aisles of Whole Foods for a satisfying combination of salty and sweet while hiding in her partner’s hoodie… like any proper PNR-writing introvert.

Want to get the latest scoop, sneak peeks, and short shares all about her imaginary friends? Go to http://www.mcsolaris.com and sign up for the newsletter.
Welcome to The Order!

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Cover Reveal: Blane (The Chaos Chasers MC) by C.M. Marin #ContemporaryRomance @CMMarinAuthor

Blane
C.M. Marin
(The Chaos Chasers MC, #5)
Publication date: TBA
Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Romance

BLANE

She’s back home.

My friend from a time that feels so distant is as beautiful and as kind as she was over five years ago, but her eyes now hold a confidence that didn’t use to shine there. Lana has returned as a fully independent woman sporting something hard that’s masking the pain that I know was etched in by her past.

And fuck if she isn’t sexier than I ever remember her being.

But after vanishing from my life without any sort of explanation or a goodbye, she’s come back home, and not for just a few nights of pleasure. She’s on a mission. One that has her diving into a world where danger lurks in its every corner. And even though I wish she wouldn’t keep her distance, I also know it might be for the best. Losing someone I care about again isn’t an option. But as more time passes, more worry creeps into my gut.

And when Lana allows me to get close to her in a way that destroys all boundaries of friendship, it becomes even harder to stay away.

Or rather fucking impossible.

LANA

I’m back home.

Trying to bring justice to my family should have been my hardest challenge once back in Texas. But the hardest part of being back home has been staying away from the friend I left behind all of those years ago.

I expected Blane to hold a massive grudge against me for disappearing without a word, but I should have known he would be there for me.

The grieving college student I met back then has become a brawny biker with a roughness and an intensity that slightly darkens his expression, but he instantly becomes like a rainbow to me, bringing colors to my dull, lonely days. That’s why it’s too bad that I have to keep him at a safe distance. And I was succeeding with flying colors until our chemistry explodes and I let myself crumble under the weight of my craving for him.

Now everything has lost its clarity, and the only part of my mind that’s not blurry with uncertainty is the one reminding me how much I want Blane in my life.

How much I care about him.

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Author Bio:

C.M. Marin is an author of romantic suspense and contemporary romance.

Even though she lived in the crowded and beautiful city of London for a few years, she is now a small-town girl. Quiet and nature are all she really needs now… as long as there are books and a box full of assorted teas within easy reach!

She hasn’t found her own happily ever after yet, but she sure loves to write about falling in love and finding forever. With a touch of suspense, just the right amount of sexiness, and plenty of love, she writes books for every lover of romance around the world!

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Book Blitz: Murder Mittens by R.J. Blain #ContemporaryRomance @RJ_Blain

Murder Mittens
R.J. Blain
(Magical Romantic Comedies, #13)
Publication date: December 25th 2020
Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Romance

Becoming a bounty hunter and taking on the call sign of Murder Mittens wasn’t Harri’s brightest move, but what’s a lynx to do with millions of debt while working a customer service gig? The scars deforming her face won’t remove themselves, and she’ll bag and tag every criminal in the United States to get rid of them if necessary.

Being assigned a handler could make or break her, but did the powers that be really have to toss Sebastian Sumners her way? The lion with a stubborn streak as wide as hers tests her patience on a good day, but nothing makes her purr more than goading him into roaring.

Add in a protective family, a serial killer on the loose, and more trouble than any one cat needs, and it’s going to take a miracle for Harri to get through the most important job of her life.

Warning: contains magic, humor, cranky shapeshifters, cats, murder, and mayhem. Proceed with caution.

Goodreads / Amazon / Barnes & Noble / iBooks / Kobo

EXCERPT:

Chapter One

Why was murdering irate, irrational, ignorant, and flat-out wrong customers illegal? The idiot on the phone rambled about how it wasn’t fair that dumping coffee on his router invalidated his warranty.

I thought it wasn’t fair his stupidity might lose me IQ points, and I’d learned long ago that humans—or lycanthropes, such as myself—didn’t come with warranties or guarantees. I had bills to pay, and murdering one of the customers wouldn’t pay my bills.

Then again, in prison, I wouldn’t have to pay any bills. Every day by the end of my shift, I considered incarceration as a viable option.

Free board, free food, good medical care, and asshole inmates to beat on sounded a lot better than dealing with an idiot customer.

“Sir,” I said in the hopes of circumventing his tirade. Mr. Edward Lavell ignored me.

The idiots always ignored me. I bet my gender had something to do with it. On average, the men finished their calls five minutes faster, and every supervisor to review the situation came to the same general conclusion: customers took men in tech more seriously than women, and I, unfortunately, sounded too feminine.

“Sir,” I repeated, only to be ignored again.

Why couldn’t I just hang up on him? Oh, right. I valued my job. As I valued my job, I couldn’t hang up on him, I couldn’t curse, I couldn’t threaten to rip his throat out, and I couldn’t indulge in my desire to murder him.

There was a time and a place for murder, and on the job at a call center for a cable internet company was not the time nor the place.

For the fourth time since calling in, Mr. Lavell explained that it really wasn’t his fault he’d dumped coffee on his router.

“Sir, liquid spills are right in the contract for the router. I’m sorry, but I can’t change the rules for you. Spilling coffee on your router invalidates its warranty.”

“It’s not my fault the cup holder in my computer has a mind of its own,” he complained.

Wait. What?

His computer’s cup holder has a mind of its own? The realization I dealt with someone far worse than just an idiot sank in. Every call center had legends of Code Red customers, who were in an entirely different class from the standard 1-D10T and the unfortunately common PEBKAC. With Mr. Lavell, I had it all. A problem certainly did exist between the keyboard and chair, and he’d definitely deserved his flag as an 1-D10T.

Until his call, I had remained safe from the evils of a Code Red customer.

By the time I got off the phone with him, I’d need some alcohol and someone to kill.

It’d be easier to find someone to kill than the alcohol; me and booze just didn’t mix, and I’d been banned out of every damned bar in town to keep the peace.

Maybe I could whip on some makeup, grab a gray wig, and pass for a little old lady. With my face covered in burn scars, it wouldn’t take much to pull off some makeup artistry and transform myself into an older woman rather than a mutilated one. I could become a conventional beauty given an hour and the right products. An old lady wasn’t an impossibility.

Alternatively, I could shift, pay my family a visit, and steal a bottle of liquor from one of the cabinets. With the number of lynxes running around the place, they might not even notice me before I made off with my alcoholic prize.

As sighing was not acceptable when dealing with paying customers, I took a moment to steel my nerves before saying, “Sir, computers do not include cup holders.”

That caught his attention. “What?”

“Sir, computers do not include cup holders,” I repeated, already dreading the moment I would have to explain what a CD was, how they were used, and what the player’s actual purpose was. Few systems still had any disc drives at all, as most companies had moved to online downloads of their programs and games.

The next few minutes of my life would not be fun, and I typed a message to my supervisor warning him I had a major 1-D10T on my hands, a possible Code Red situation, and to make sure he was aware I faced the demise of some IQ points, I notified him the customer had opted to use his disc drive as a coffee cup holder.

“What the hell is this thing for, then?”

“CDs, sir.” I closed my eyes and waited for the meltdown.

“First, you claim I invalidated my warranty, and now you’re telling me my cup holder plays music?”

“As this is an internet company, sir, I can’t help you with your CD player. However, it is not a cup holder, nor should it be used as one. As for your router, you owe $35.79 on the device. Once you finish paying for the damaged equipment, I can schedule a tech to come to your home and install your new router. Since you’ve been a customer for so long, I can waive the fifty dollar installation fee. Your monthly bill will not change if you opt to pay off the damaged equipment and start a new rental.”

If he gave me a hard time, I’d take my time and give him all of his options. None of them would be as good as my initial offer. I cracked open an eye and checked my messages with my boss.

He wished me the best of luck and promised to send flowers to my funeral. He also begged me not to tell my brothers about the menace wasting my time. If any one of my forty-seven brothers found out I dealt with customers screaming at me five days a week, they’d go on a rampage.

That my boss knew my family drove me crazy on a good day.

I figured my idiot family had gone on a hunt to meet my boss, and because we were all infected with lycanthropy, my boss wouldn’t have thought twice about their behavior.

Lycanthropes had a reputation.

Most days, it wasn’t a good one.

Only an idiot would piss off a bunch of male lycanthropes out to protect their precious little sister. Unfortunately for me, I counted as an endangered species, as the odds of a lycanthrope having daughters in the first place fell somewhere in around ten thousand to one.

I needed to notify my mother she needed to have more daughters. While she was at it, she needed to give me a new name, because nobody ever believed Harri was a woman’s name. I figured she’d meant to name me Harry because she’d expected yet another boy, swapping out the ‘y’ for an ‘i’ to make things easier on her.

When on the job, I went by Christine because Christine seemed gloriously feminine and nobody on the team used their real names. Technically, I was supposed to change my name every day, but I went by Christine for all new callers, and I only rotated through when I knew I was dealing with someone who gave me issues.

My method worked well enough, so my boss didn’t complain.

While Mr. Lavell spluttered and began the tedious process of mulling over his options, I began making plans for after work—assuming I escaped from my job without succumbing to the temptation of informing the customer he was most definitely wrong, he needed to go back to school to join the modern world, and it wouldn’t hurt if he learned to be civil.

I had to explain his options four times before he finally conceded he should stick with his old plan, pay for the damaged router, and move on with life. It took an extra ten minutes of listening to him whine before he finally hung up.

Above all, I hated the rule that we were not supposed to hang up on clients. It wasted time. Had I been allowed to just hang up, I would have wished him a good day, disconnected the call, and began the tedious process of adding notes to his file so the next customer service representatives stuck with him knew they had trouble on their hands.

My phone rang, but instead of a customer, my phone reported my boss wanted to speak with me. With slumped shoulders, I accepted his call and answered, “Sir?”

“I listened in on your Code Red.”

I hated when my boss actively monitored my calls; thanks to how the system worked, he could listen in on me at any time. But, a job was a job, and with my scarred face, finding a job became troublesome at best—and nobody in the call center knew or cared what I looked like. Oh, well. Before I jumped to conclusions, I’d ask. “What’s my grade, sir?”

“You did fine. You stayed professional, you didn’t come across as too condescending, and frankly, there’s no sane tech on this planet stays totally cool a Code Red. It could have been much worse.”

I checked the clock, breathing a sigh of relief that I’d hit the end of my shift and wouldn’t have to take any more calls. “What do you need?”

“I had a question about your schedule. You’re off for the next week, correct?”

“Yes, sir.” I had plans, and they involved the International Most Wanted List along with every legal bounty list I had managed to get my hands on in the past month. If my boss tried to put an end to my hard-earned vacation, I’d finally do what I should have done months ago, snap, and quit.

I wanted him to cross my last line so badly.

“Ted wants an extra shift. How would you feel about an unpaid day added to your vacation? I’ve already gotten approval if you’d like to claim the unpaid day.”

Score. I’d bid for time off almost a year ago, but sick days were the bare minimum the state allowed, which accounted to five for the entire year. An extra day tacked onto my vacation might let me bag an extra bounty.

Any day I bagged an extra bounty was a good day in my opinion.

“I can take an unpaid day, sir. That’s fine. Can you send me an email confirming the unpaid day off?”

“It’ll be in your inbox within the next ten minutes, and I’ll CC human resources notifying them you’re excused for that day.”

“Okay. Will the rest of my schedule remain the same once I’m back from vacation?”

“Yes. Ted just asked for extra hours, and the others with seniority declined the day off.”

I bet; on our income, every hour mattered. Most who worked for the call center had seen better days. I lived like I’d seen better days and I looked like I’d seen better days, but appearances lied. I only worked at the call center to maintain appearances. Thanks to depression in my teens and therapy that hadn’t gone like my parents had wanted, my entire family demanded I check in at least three times a week to ensure I remained human.

They believed if they took their eyes off me, I might shift into a lynx and never come back.

Two years ago, they wouldn’t have been wrong, but I’d found a new purpose in life. Not a single one of my brothers would approve, my mother would have yet another litter of kittens, and my father would be so disappointed.

Personally, I thought it was obvious. I worked in customer service. I was a prime candidate to become a murderous asshole. I did so legally, on behalf of the government and other legal entities, and I did so for a filthy amount of money.

Smiling stretched my scars, but I did it anyway. “If anyone needs any extra hours, I can afford another day or two off,” I offered. “I can take up to a week unpaid. I’ve been saving up to take some time off if any opportunities allowed.”

It would delay paying for the expensive procedure required to piece my face back together and remove the evidence of the fire that’d almost killed me as a child. It took a lot of magic to convince the lycanthropy virus I wasn’t supposed to be a scarred wreck.

A lot of magic cost a lot of money, and I figured I might have the three million dollars within five years if I landed a bounty every weekend and took on some of the more dangerous jobs. While I waited for my boss to mull over my offer, I considered the various jobs on offer.

I liked hunting other lycanthropes. Unmated males were easy catches, and the fugitives usually brought in a pretty penny. The last one I’d bagged as a live capture had added fifty thousand to my bank account.

Then again, if I landed an entire extra week, I’d make up the lost hours with a single small bounty, and anything else would be extra cash in my savings account.

My boss grunted, signaling he’d come to a decision. “I’ll keep that in mind and pitch the offer. I’ll email your personal and work addresses if there are any takers plus text your phone.”

“Thanks, sir. Have a good evening.”

“You, too.”

He hung up, and before something could go wrong, I clocked out, filed my paperwork for my final call, and logged out of the system so I couldn’t be sucked back into doing even more work.

If all went well, I’d be a hundred grand richer by the end of the week and that much closer to being able to look in the mirror without wincing.


Author Bio:

RJ Blain suffers from a Moleskine journal obsession, a pen fixation, and a terrible tendency to pun without warning.

In her spare time, she daydreams about being a spy. Her contingency plan involves tying her best of enemies to spinning wheels and quoting James Bond villains until satisfied.

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Book Blitz: The Art of Loving Ellie by Loren Beeson #ContemporaryRomance @XpressoTours

The Art of Loving Ellie
Loren Beeson
Publication date: November 14th 2020
Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Romance

Smart, beautiful, talented, and… awkward.

Ellie Clark has big dreams of moving to the city to become a well-known artist. With the help of her eccentric boss, Alex, and his influence in the New York City art scene, everything should go according to plan. Until suddenly, Ellie comes to realize that her passion for painting has vanished with no explanation.

Despite her best attempts at avoiding distractions, she not so gracefully tumbles into a sexy stranger, adding more chaos to her already unsteady life. He continues to challenge her to the point of losing her grip on the one thing that keeps her grounded—her control, and to make matters worse, a past she had long ago made peace with is ripped wide open when she receives a phone call from a ghost of her previous life.

The refuge of her comfort zone is her greatest dependency, but Ellie doesn’t see the bigger picture. Can she risk opening her heart to this exciting, overconfident trouble-maker, or will she embrace the trauma of her past to discover that second chances aren’t just for the storybooks…

Goodreads / Amazon

EXCERPT:

The wind whirls around me on my walk from the train to the office, and I continuously have to pull my hair out of my sticky lip gloss. My scarf has come loose from my coat and is flapping around, slapping me in the face repeatedly, and I’m starting to get irritated. I promised myself today would be a better day and dammit, I’m not going to let a little wind ruin it.

I’m attempting to wrangle my scarf and push the door open, all while trying to somewhat maintain my composure so Margaux doesn’t think I’m a total twit. Judging by her squinted eyes and puckered face, I can see that I’ve less than succeeded in that mission.

Finally getting inside the building, I turn around to scold the doors and realize I’ve dropped one of my bags in all of the chaos. I huff as I walk over to grab it off the floor, and turn to make my way back toward the elevator.

Instead of advancing forward to my desired destination, I’m propelled backward when I full-on body slam the solid form standing in front of me. Without even knowing who I’ve run in to, I start to sputter, “Oh my God! I’m so sorry!” Reaching out to try and stabilize us both, my hands wrap around what I realize are firm, male biceps.

My eyebrows rise in shock as my eyes adjust to what they can only perceive as the most attractive man in all of New York City. I’m struck by the curious way he’s staring at me, making me feel like a bug in a petri dish. The warm amber scent of his cologne slams my senses, and I feel a quick head rush. I expect him to be annoyed by my clumsiness, but to my surprise, he appears amused.

He lightly chuckles, “Whoa there, Windy.”

His deep, masculine voice rumbles between us, and I have to blink a few times to keep myself focused. The long sleeves of his shirt are folded halfway up his forearms, showcasing a tan that practically glows with warmth, and my fingers twitch with wonder at what it would be like to run them across his exposed skin.

The humor in his eyes shines bright, and he appears to be laughing at me. Did he happen to see the scarf display? Surely he didn’t.

“I thought that scarf was going to strangle you before you even got through the door,” he says teasingly.

Dear God, he did. My heart beats loudly in my chest, and I feel my face burning hot. My gaze follows his movements as his arm flexes to fix his disheveled hair. His shoulders are wide, and even under his button-up shirt, and form-fitting vest, I can tell he is physically fit. His slacks hug his legs in all the right places, and I’m immediately drawn to his warm, welcoming presence.

His laughter is gentle, but I feel awkward standing here in front of this gorgeous guy, looking like a klutz. The man is taller than me, and I have to bend my head back slightly just to look up at him. He blinds me with a bright white smile as my eyes travel to a small scar on his left cheek just below his eye, and I’m curious as to how he acquired it.

There’s something about him I can’t put my finger on. He’s attractive, sure—but he’s unlike any guy I’ve ever met before. A lazy, confident smile graces his lips, and the way he crowds me while keeping just the right amount of distance causes my skin to flush.

I feel self-conscious, so of course, I have to blurt out something super embarrassing. “Yeah, this scarf is a real bad boy!” My eyes practically bug out of my head in shock.

Please, tell me that did not just come out of my mouth.

With a hand cupping my eyes to block him from my sight, I try to skirt around Mr. Attractive to find anywhere to repeat to myself what a big, awkward idiot I feel like.

“Hey, wait a second!” he calls after me. His large hand wraps around my arm gently, the casual touch warming its way to my skin through my layers. I turn toward him, halting my escape.

“Look, I—I’m sorry that I ran into you, and I’m glad I could give you a good laugh, but there’s no need to carry on.” I rub the back of my neck nervously with my free hand.

Trying to move around a man who’s a good foot taller than me is a lot harder than I realized. His eyes, which I now notice are the most beautiful shade of whiskey brown I have ever seen, lock with mine, momentarily freezing time. Though smacking the amusement out of them is pretty tempting, I’m finding it increasingly hard to breathe around this man.

The stranger continues staring at me, making me a little uncomfortable, and I glance around the lobby nervously as I wait for him to speak. I rock back and forth on my heels, gently shrugging out of his hold. “I really should get upstairs. My boss is kind of an ass when I’m late, and god-forbid I tell him I’ve been terrorizing guests downstairs.”

Tilting his head slightly, as if something about me perplexes him, he asks, “Would you like to get coffee with me?”

“G—get coffee with you?” I stutter uncertainly. He hasn’t stopped smiling since I attempted to take him down Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson style, and I’m starting to wonder just how crazy this guy is. “We’ve only known each other for five minutes?”

My heart begins to flutter a little when he takes a step forward into my personal space. “I think I’d like five more.” He winks at me and my jaw drops a little in surprise. He laughs lightly at my reaction to his request.

“Listen, uh—” I give him a second to insert his name. When he doesn’t supply me with one, I continue, “I’m not exactly the dating type.”

“Who said anything about dating?” he teases, but there’s a confident look in his eyes as if he knows I’m going to agree.

This guy is charming, and if I had to bet—a lady killer. His light brown hair is tousled about, but it’s not too long to be unmanageable. I momentarily let my eyes roam over him and think how he favors Alex Pettyfer quite a bit.

I’m staring at the adorable way his hair curls away from his ears when he politely clears his throat. Shaking my head, I clear my thoughts, “Oh! Well, I—I suppose coffee couldn’t hurt.”

“Charlie’s?” he asks, and I squint my eyes at him in question. There are at least five different coffee shops between this block and the next, and he chooses my favorite one. It’s odd, but I can’t find a single good reason to say no, so I breathe out an unsteady, “Okay.”

“How’s noon, tomorrow sound?” I look past him to see that he’s left his bags by Margaux’s desk. Curious. I wonder what business he has here, but I smile up at him, trying not to give away my thoughts.

“Sure, sounds great.” Maybe he’s an artist too, or possibly meeting with someone to reserve space on a floor here.

“May I have your name?” He extends his hand for me to shake, and I reach out, feeling the soft heat of his palm against mine. “Elizabeth, but I prefer Ellie.”

He pulls my hand up to his unbelievably soft lips, giving the back of it a quick kiss, and the crooked grin he gives me piques my interest as he turns away, swaggering back toward Margaux’s desk.

I begin to sweat with nervousness on my walk over to the elevator, nausea coating the back of my tongue, and my stomach threatens to heave its contents. What was I thinking saying yes? Turning back toward the lobby slightly, I see him leaning over to Margaux with both elbows on her desk as they smile and talk about something that I can’t make out.

Mmhmm, he’s a lady killer alright.

She’s practically drooling. Poor thing probably isn’t even listening to what he’s saying, but he uses his hands excitedly while talking to her and I find it almost… endearing.

I get on the elevator and I’m forced to stare at them as I wait for the doors to shut. Margaux’s back is to me, but Mr. Attractive flicks his gaze up to meet mine right as the elevator doors are beginning to close and gives me a smile so mischievous, it causes my body temperature to rise to a feverish degree. The doors shut and I realize—I gave him my name, but he didn’t give me his.

Author Bio:

Loren is a dreamer, artist, radiologic technologist, and author who loves animals and people. Always writing short stories as a young child and young adult, she knew she wanted to become an author someday. The Art of Loving Ellie is Loren’s debut novel.

Loren can be found in her cozy home in Texas with her nose in a book, her corgi and mini-aussie on her lap, and her son trailing along with her and her husband through their many adventures.

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Book Blitz: Cemetery Songs by Julie Gilbert #YoungAdult @JulieKGilbert

Cemetery Songs
Julie Gilbert
Publication date: December 15th 2020
Genres: Young Adult Fiction

Poignant and uplifting, Cemetery Songs is a compelling YA about a girl, a ghost, and the graveyard that sends them both on a journey of self-acceptance.

When Polly Stone’s birthmother dies, she feels lost and adrift. How do you mourn someone you never knew? Even the dead, whose final thoughts Polly can hear, offer no advice.

Instead Polly fails her classes, alienates her friends, gets fired from her summer job, and accidentally sets fire to the high school. At a loss, Polly’s parents ground her and insist she volunteer at the local archives.

The dusty boxes are boring, but Polly is intrigued by her assignment: mapping an abandoned Black settlement on the edge of town. At the very least, it gives her time to examine her confused feelings for Billy Meyer, a former classmate who is also blackmailing her.

Amid weedy tombstones, Polly and Billy encounter the charming ghost of Harrison Card, who died in 1924. Sensing there’s more to the story than Harrison can recall, the unlikely trio investigates the mysterious circumstances surrounding his death.

The discoveries are unnerving, especially since the ugly racist history reflects some of Polly’s own experiences as a biracial teenager. Past and present collide when Polly’s attempts to help Harrison go tragically wrong. As Polly grapples with the consequences of her actions, she must decide if she is brave enough to heed the wisdom of the dead.

Goodreads / Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Kobo

EXCERPT:

“You about ready?” I ask as I sit in the grass at the corner of the gravestone.

“Sure,” Billy says, sitting back on his heels. He swings the flashlight to illuminate his handiwork. A series of objects is arranged around the perimeter of the grave. Nearest me is a chipped coffee mug with the Monroe city logo on it. Next to that there’s a single golf glove and a pile of tees. A worn dog leash curls in the corner, nestled against a plastic water dish.

“He’s the guy who died at his desk, isn’t he?” I ask. “Like two weeks ago or something.” My mom mentioned it over dinner the other night, the city employee who’d been physically fit but plagued with anger management issues. Apparently he died in the middle of a conversation.

“Yeah, that’s him. You know him?”

“No, but I’m about to.”

I wrap my hands around the mug, drawing in a few deep, clean breaths and turning my attention to Arnold Weber, sliding into his mind, or whatever’s left of it.

He died during an argument, I learn. What the hell, Scott? was his final thought. I hold the mug tighter and images start to appear in my mind. I see the inside of an office paneled in wood and carpeted in gray. There’s an industrial desk dominating the small space, buttressed by several filing cabinets. A clock ticks on the desk and I see that it’s golf-themed and inscribed with the word “Pinehurst.”

A wave of memories rushes through me as I amplify Arnold’s mind further. I see a woman’s blonde hair shot gray at the temples, her eyes tired and distant. I see the same woman in a photograph, younger, her eyes wary but hopeful beneath the veil of her wedding dress. I see a

parade of children and I see Arnold and the woman standing near this very spot on a cold, October day, watching as a tiny coffin is laid into the ground.

There are more memories. Christmas morning, Halloween night. Endless meetings and workshops where the phrases “organic synergy” and “workflow analysis” rattle around sterile conference tables. There’s a cruise in the Bahamas where everyone got sick and another to Alaska where they saw whales. As I release the mug, there’s one last image of Arnold as a college student, skipping over the art class that tugs at his pen and reluctantly signing up for an accounting class instead.

I can feel myself return to the surface, can hear Arnold’s voice yelling at Scott in my mind. Before I break through into consciousness, I hear the words “Jessam Crossing” and a voice says, “She can’t use what she can’t find.” Then I’m back in my own body, crouching over a mound of earth.

Billy is studying me.

“How long was I gone?” I ask.

“About thirty minutes. You okay?”

“Yeah.”

“What did you learn?” he asks.

“Lots.” I shake my head. “Lots of images and memories. I’m not sure where to start.”

“I can ask you the security questions when I find them,” Billy says, his voice low.

“Might be easier,” I interrupt. I clamber to my feet and we start walking back to the truck. I’m concentrating so hard on trying to recall other snippets of the conversation that I step into a badger hole and stumble to my knees.

“I gotcha,” Billy says. His hands slide from behind me to cup my elbows and leverage me to my feet. When I’m standing again, I’ve got my back to him. We’re not touching, other than his hands at my elbows, but I can sense him, his entire body towering over me, sheltering me. It’s electric. I swallow and feel my breath speed up. He moves a hair closer to me, his chest against my back, his legs brushing mine. He’s so much taller than me but I feel tall and strong standing here like this. His head dips and I can feel his breath on my neck.

“Polly—” he says, just as a bat swoops overhead, breaking the spell. I jump and take a few steps toward the truck.

“I should get home,” I say. I put my hand over my throat to conceal the rapid flutter of my heart, even though I know he can’t see it in the dark anyway.

“Let’s go,” he says at last, his voice gravelly. We go back to the truck and don’t talk the rest of the way.

Author Bio:

Although Julie K. Gilbert’s masterpiece, The Adventures of Kitty Bob: Alien Warlord Cat, has sadly been out of print since Julie last stapled it together in the fourth grade, she continues to write. Her short fiction, which has appeared in numerous publications, explores topics ranging from airport security lines to adoption to antique wreaths made of hair. Julie makes her home in southern Minnesota with her husband and two children.

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