Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Review of 'Malevolent Gateway' by Dawn Gray

Blurb from Amazon

The Green Mountains of Vermont is a wonderland of picturesque valleys and hills, a landscape of fields and small towns that are hidden treasures. However, they can also hide many secrets.

Burke Flats, located in the upper right hand corner of the state, the Northeast Kingdom, has many skeletons in its closet.

Lieutenant Will Stiles and his group of men, the S.P.I.R.I.T. team, are called in to investigate the strange happenings around the marshlands of Burke Flats. For generations the marshes have been a place of ghostly lore, disappearances, and strange deaths.

Anna and Blake call the Flats home, but when the deaths begin to pick up in numbers they are more than happy to have the help of the military’s new elite. Will having the S.P.I.R.I.T. team so close open up a world of evil that they aren’t prepared for? Can a member of a different unit help spread some light on the subject? Join Anna, Blake, Will, and his team in a fight against a stronger malevolent presence than anyone ever expected.

**My thoughts**

I liked this book so much better than the first one in the series! I can't really put my finger on why, though. Somehow, I cared more about these characters and was more interested in their plight. I thought this one was somehow more believable and definitely creepier. There was a lot more action and romance to maintain my attention. I could see all of it unfolding as if I was watching a more modern horror movie. Perhaps it even reminded me a bit of some that I have seen lately, though it definitely is its own story.

I received a complimentary copy in exchange for my honest review. 

Book links

The Ideal Writing Space by Gregory Delaurentis, author of 'Cover of Darkness'

Today, I would like to welcome Gregory Delaurentis, author of 'Cover of Darkness' to Andi's Book Reviews. He is sharing with us some insight into his writing.


I have a small desk, a wide laptop, and a wide monitor surrounding me. There are hard drives on my right, humming. I am in my little world where I can put on a pair of headsets and block out all other stimuli as if I were in an isolation tank. I can see everything in my world from here in my little writing space. I can close out all sound and immerse myself in my thoughts. That’s ideal for me.
When I visited friends in Florida, I spent a lot of time writing in their den, where I sat in front of their bay window that overlooked a beautifully sculptured front yard with wonderful trees towering overhead, hanging Spanish Moss draping down like curtains, and explosions of lovely colored flowers. This was amazing to me, and I spent much of my writing time staring at such beauty, my attention grabbed by quickly flying birds zipping past. And to be honest with you…when compared to my small desk back in New York, I didn’t write much.
I wrote a lot, and in fact probably more than some writers may that enjoy such a space, but when weighed against the sheer volume of material that I can produce at home, the difference is staggering.
An ideal writing space is extremely personal, almost as personal as the blood running through our veins. It is the source of our inspiration, the center of our ideas and thoughts. If it’s one that we’re used to, it’s extremely hard to replace, although not impossible.
But whatever your ideal writing space, be it a craggy hole in a cliff face, a pasture land with a river running through it, the busy streets of New York city, or a foldable card table in the basement, may your best work come from it—work that you are proud of.


Gregory Delaurentis spent his adult life roaming from job to job, working for Lockheed in California, various law firms in New York, and financial firms on Wall Street. Throughout this period of time, he was writing—unceasingly—finally producing a large body of work, albeit unrecognized and unpublished . . . until now. Cover of Darkness is the first in a series of upcoming books that include Edge of Darkness, Pale of Darkness and Cries of Darkness. These novels follow the lives of three individuals who do battle bringing criminals to justice, while they struggle to understand the complex relationships that exist among themselves. This intriguing trio has absorbed the attention of Mr. Delaurentis for the past year and a half, so much so he decided to self-publish their stories to bring them to a wider audience. [AUTHORS DISCLAIMER: These are works of fiction. Name, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.]

General links

Gregory Delaurentis


A high profile murder of a Wall Street executive in Westchester pits three people against the criminal underbelly of Manhattan nightlife. The key players are two ex-cops turned private investigators—Kevin Whitehouse, whose sharpest tool is his keen analytical mind, and David Allerton, a former Special Forces operative—and Margaret Alexander, Kevin’s lover. In their search for a killer, they are forced to travel to the edge of sanity and morality, while stumbling onto their own confusing secrets as well. The Cover of Darkness is a gritty noir saga that untangles a web of deceit in the course of tracking down a brutal murderer.

Read an excerpt:
David stopped pacing, and then started working on a rock embedded in the dirt with the toe of his shoe. “I wonder why MacDonald didn’t say anything in the interview about the cops being present. He should have told us that there were cops in the Midnight for protection—making sure the dealers were selling and not using.”

“Maybe,” Kevin ventured, “he didn’t want to drop a dime on his cop friends. Maybe he was frightened.”

“Maybe. That would have helped us a lot,” David said, his eye caught by a shapely girl on a bike riding nearby.

Margaret sat up. “That would also explain how the killer got past the gate and simply walked into the house. He could have been flashing a badge.”

“That makes some sense,” Kevin said. “And certainly cops can kill.”

“They make the best assassins, don’t they?” David quipped.

“So now this is a cop hunt?” Kevin asked.

“I would rather it end here, guys,” Margaret said.

David approached the two and stood over them. “The question is now how to hunt the most dangerous thing in New York. Crossing the thin blue line is not going to be fun or easy.”

“Fun?” Margaret said. “It’s downright dangerous.”

“We can’t go to Ferryman and Reynolds,” Kevin said, nervously running his fingers through his hair, and retrieving his arm from around Margaret as he sat up. “They’ll only go on the defensive. And if the case starts turning in that direction, they’ll only deflect it.”

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Review of 'The Posse' by Tawdra Kandle

The Posse

Being a widow at the age of forty-four was never in Jude Hawthorne’s plans. After her husband’s death, she’s left with her family’s beach restaurant and two nearly-grown children. The last thing she’s looking for is another chance at love. However, if her husband’s best friends, the Posse, have anything to say about it, love is just what she’s going to get. The Posse is determined to take care of Jude, and when they decide the best way to do that is for one of them to sweep her off her feet, three begin to vie for her affections. But only one can reach her heart.

In a story of friendship, loss and second chances, Jude will learn her life is far from being over.

**My thoughts**

This book is one of those feel-good, uplifting, heartwrenching romances that we need from time to time in our lives. It's about love lost, love found, love revisited, and love shared. More than one love story takes place in this book. You have the memories of Jude's husband. You have the newfound love within the Posse. You have the love of parents for children and of children for their parents. You have the love between friends. Each one of these is special in its own way and affects Jude's life in a different manner. 

Jude is a strong woman who has been reeling from the early death of her husband. She continued to raise their two almost-grown children, and to run the family business, all by herself. She has leaned on her closest friends, known as The Posse, for love and support. She continues to put one foot in front of the other, but is really deserving of so much more. Her friends decide to try to give her that. It turns out differently than any of them imagine, but also in the best possible fashion. 

Life also has plenty of other surprises to throw Jude's way, in life and love, particularly with her children. For a woman who has lost so much, she has so much more to gain, and slowly makes her way down that path. There isn't a lot of drama, nor conflict, making this a sweet romance story. It touches your heart and may even bring a tear to your eye. I was out at a restaurant reading, and had to order an extra margarita, because I was so emotionally involved and engrossed in it!

I applaud Tawdra's first adult novel and look forward to reading more of them!

Purchase - Amazon / Barnes and Noble / iTunes  

Twitter Chat with Author Tawdra Kandle August 20 @ 9pm EST #ThePosse  

Tawdra KandleAbout Author Tawdra Kandle

Tawdra Kandle is the author of THE KING SERIES, a young adult urban fantasy quartet. Born in South Jersey, Tawdra published her first short story at the age of 13 in Child’s Life magazine. During the early years of her marriage and motherhood, she wrote articles and columns on parenting and homeschooling, as well as some homeschooling curriculum. THE KING SERIES is her first published full-length fiction. Tawdra currently lives in central Florida with her husband, and children, both skin and fur types. And yes, she has purple hair.  

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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Review of 'Mismatch' by Nana Malone

Book blurb from Amazon

Spunky artist manager, Jessica Stanton, isn’t looking for love. She’s looking for a savior. When a business rival steals yet another of her rising stars, she’s in danger of losing everything she’s worked so hard for…and the only person who can save her fledgling business is the one man she shouldn’t want.

Art authenticator, Eli Marks, doesn’t have time for love. He’s too busy saving his brother from the demons of his drug addicted past. For the past ten years he’s cultivated a façade to keep his distance from everyone else. But when a string of high-profile art forgeries threatens the security of the only family he has left, he must turn for help to a woman who breaks through his carefully constructed façade every time she’s near.

Will Jessica and Eli save each other? Or will secrets and lies stop them from finding true love?

**My thoughts**

I got a kick out of this story. Jessica and Eli have nothing in common, other than a searing attraction for each other. And unfortunately, their relationship is built on a bunch of lies. The only truth is their feelings for each other. Somehow, though, those feelings are based on enough truth that they should be able to overcome the lies. And really, some of those lies are for the greater good! But to give that part away is to give away spoilers...

I admit that it is hard for me to believe that a girl as young as Jessica can have such a lucrative career, but she is quite determined and works hard for what she has. The mess between Eli and his brother is just crazy, but adds to the intrigue of the tale. That's part of the fun of rom com! 

All three of these characters are hot! Can anyone say brotherly love? And now, I am craving art and artists...

This book made for an awesome summer read, with plenty of chuckles and romance. As soon as I was done with it, I downloaded 'Game, Set, Match,' which is the prequel to this story. Each book can be read independently of each other, but I just have to find out more about the other characters!

I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Buy it on Amazon

Also check out 'Game Set Match'
Off the court, tennis star Jason Cartwright's playboy image is taking a public beating. On the court, he's down forty-love. A knee injury is shutting down his game, and the paparazzi are splashing his love life on every magazine. A comeback is in order, but the makeover he needs to save his faltering career is in the hands of the woman he loved and left fifteen years ago.

While single-mom, Izzy Connors, sees people for who they really are through the lens of her camera, even without it, she knows Jason isn't the star he appears to be. Although his charm and good looks haven't dimmed since he broke her heart, all she sees is his wasted talent and playboy lifestyle.

Can Izzy put the past behind her and help Jason get his game, and his image, back on track? Or will the click of her camera shatter his world as well as his heart?

Currently free on Kindle!

Alex Siegel and 'Apocalypse Cult'

Apocalypse CultAPOCALYPSE CULT is the first book in the Gray Spear Society series. They are God's secret warriors, His henchmen, His assassins cloaked in shadows. When lives and souls are at risk, He sends the Gray Spear Society to save mankind. This time the enemy is the Church of One Soul, a cult that intends to kill thousands of unsuspecting tourists in Chicago. But this is merely the first step in plunging the world into a devastating war. The Society has only a few days to destroy their elusive foe, despite interference by overzealous federal agents. 

Read an excerpt:
A twig snapped in the distance. 
Slowly and silently, Aaron looked back. It wouldn't surprise him if the cult had patrols in the woods searching for intruders like him. The freaks were obviously obsessed with security. He had carefully chosen a spot with thick cover on all sides. As long as he stayed down, his plain dark clothing would conceal him. 
After watching carefully for a few minutes, he located the source of the sound. Two people were sneaking from tree to tree about fifty yards away. Their graceful movements told Aaron they were professionals. One person was as big and wide as a football player, and the other was medium height and slender. No green robes. Not a patrol, Aaron thought. Who are they? 
On his elbows and knees, he crept towards the mysterious pair. His progress could be measured in inches, but he knew that patience was key. He had to approach undetected. 
Dry leaves and twigs covered the forest floor. Aaron stepped over the piles of litter as best he could. He couldn't risk raising his head above the bushes, and soon his lower back ached from bending over. Every shadow was an island of safety amid dangerous shafts of sunlight. 
After about twenty minutes of this slow pursuit, he realized he had lost one of his targets. The large man was still directly ahead, easily visible, but the slender one had vanished from sight. Aaron looked in all directions, afraid that the missing person was hanging back to ambush him. 
The large man was still moving, and if Aaron didn't follow, he would lose him, too. Aaron clenched his jaw as he considered what to do. He really had no choice. He started forward but glanced over his shoulder every few seconds, listening carefully for the smallest unnatural noise. He kept his hands in a defensive position. 
He heard the sound of a gun being cocked above his head. Slowly, he looked up. A woman was sitting on a tree branch and holding a 9mm semiautomatic. The barrel was pointed at his forehead. 
From the author:
The Gray Spear Society books are meant to be read in a specific order. They are all part of one overarching story with a clear beginning, middle, and end. I'm presently planning to write fourteen books in total. When I tell people these facts, they think I'm insane. Writing just one novel is already ambitious. Publishing 1.4 million words as a single work of art is a feat that only the most compulsive and foolhardy author would attempt. That's me in a nutshell though. Where other people see impossibility, I see a worthy challenge.
Purchase Apocalypse Cult: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iBooks
Also available on Audible!

About Alex Siegel

Alex Siegel Alex Siegel grew up a math and computer geek. At the age of twenty-five, he received a Ph.D. in Computer Science from Cornell. He continues to make a good living as a software developer in Chicago. In his late twenties, he took up creative writing as a serious pastime with the intention of eventually making it his career. This goal has been elusive, but failure is not an option. In 2001, his wife gave birth to triplet boys. People often ask him how he still finds time to write. In 2009, he began the Gray Spear Society series, and he hopes it will be his key to literary fame.

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A conversation with Cynthia Owens, author of 'Deceptive Hearts (Wild Geese Series)'

Good morning, everyone, and Andi, thank you so much for hosting me today! I’m so happy to be able to talk about Deceptive Hearts. I fell in love with Shane, Lydia, and all the Wild Geese, and I was so grateful they allowed me to visit their world, if only for a short while. I hope you’ll all love their story as much as I loved writing it!

What was the inspiration behind 'Deceptive Hearts'?
I was inspired by the Irish people who fled famished Ireland on the coffin ships. The opening scene of Deceptive Hearts takes place on a coffin ship, and I hope I’ve captured the horrors of the Atlantic crossings of 1847, a year known to the Irish as “Black ’47.” I wanted this story to be about a man who had overcome hunger and deprivation, who had thrived in America. I wanted it to be about an honorable man who went to war to defend his adopted country, and who came home to find his family decimated. And I wanted him to struggle back to life and love.
Which character spoke to you the most during the writing process?
Oh, definitely my hero, Shane. In fact, he and I have had many long heart-to-hearts over the course of writing his story. I saw in him my favorite kind of hero, tortured, honorable, determined to succeed no matter what the obstacles. Shane’s not your typical strong and silent type. He knows how to laugh, how to tell a story—though not as well as his friend, Cathal Donnelly. He’s intelligent, too, and knows instinctively when someone is trying to pull the wool over his eyes. And he’s compassionate, too. A former boxer, he’ll still go out of his way to avoid hurting people. And he’s not above bending the law—just a little, mind you—when need be.
But you’ll have to read Deceptive Hearts to find out more about that
Which scene is your favorite?
I think there are two: One, in which my hero, Shane MacDermott, is approached by a fourteen-year-old prostitute in the Five Points district of New York City. I thought the girl’s reaction to being turned down was rather amusing, but I think I also managed to inject a little pathos into the scene as I highlighted the plight of the young 19th Century orphan girl cast out onto the streets by fate.
The second scene is near the end of the book, when Lydia is granted her first real Christmas with all five of the Wild Geese and their families. There’s something so special about families at Christmas, and for Lydia especially, the family she cobbled together after years of unhappiness. As you might guess, Christmas is my favorite time of year, and it features in several of my books.
This is the first book in the Wild Geese series. How many books do you anticipate being in it? When can we expect the next installment?
Well, there are five “Wild Geese,” so naturally I’m hoping for five stories. Shane MacDermott, hero of Deceptive Hearts, is the protector. His best friend, Kieran Donnelly, is the artist, and Kieran’s twin brother, Cathal, is the rebel. Then there’s Declan Morrissey, the healer, and finally Dary Greely, everyone’s friend.
Book II of the series, Keeper of the Light, is Cathal Donnelly’s story, and I’m thrilled to announce it’s just been contracted by Highland Press! This handsome, mercurial storyteller has…shall we say…well, let’s call them Fenian leanings, to use an Irish expression. There’s something big coming up in the Fenian community, and you can bet Cathal is eager to be a part of it.
But…something goes wrong, and he finds himself on an island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, with no memory of who he is, where he came from, or why he was in a boat that capsized in a wild Atlantic sea storm. The only thing he knows is that he’s desperately attracted to his beautiful rescuer…even though she’s as English as the British soldiers who drove Cathal and his family from Ireland’s green shores during the famine.
I’m really excited about Keeper of the Light because it allowed me to combine some of my favorite things: Irish history, Irish mythology, and a very important, but little-known piece of Canadian history. You might say I’m showing my Canadian pride with this book, and I’m really pleased at the way it turned out.
Book III of the series, My Dark Rose, is on my editor’s desk now.
Please tell us about your other published works. 
The Claddagh Series started with Rory O’Brien and Siobhán Desmond of In Sunshine or in Shadow. Gambler and survivor. Landlord and tenant. A love that couldn’t be denied. It continued with Coming Home, when Ashleen O’Brien showed an Irish-American war hero that you can find a home and a family in the most unlikely place. And in Playing For Keeps, a half-Irish beauty returns to Baltimore to visit the family she barely remembers, and fall head-over-heels with a mysterious Shakespearean actor.
On what projects are you currently working?
I’m currently working on the fourth book of both the Claddagh Series and the Wild Geese Series. Hmm, is that a coincidence? Perhaps I tend to write in threes without realizing it!
Anyway, the fourth book of the Claddagh Series is tentatively entitled “Everlasting.” It’s Shannon Flynn’s story. Shannon appears briefly in Book II, Coming Home.  Since her shy, tentative romance with Mike Donavan, she’s had a lot of heartache. Can a mysterious stranger with burnt-cinnamon hair and sea-mist eyes bring her the joy and fulfillment she deserves?
I’m also plotting Kieran Donnelly’s story, but Kieran’s a bit shy about telling it to me. Something tells me I’m going to have to be a bit patient with this artist, who’s lost his will to capture beauty on canvas since the war.
The romance genre is very competitive. How do you make yourself stand out?
I don’t know that I do anything special. Oh, I do the guest post on various writing- and romance-related blogs. I hold contests, and I try to come up with unique give-aways that tie in with my stories. And I try to keep up a presence on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter. But in my opinion, the best way I can make myself stand out is to write the best book I’m capable of writing, and just hope it finds an audience.
What is it about an Irish man that is so appealing?
Everything, at least as far as I’m concerned! After all, what’s not to like? His sense of mysticism, his sense of humor, his stubborn loyalty, his pride. He’s never predictable, that’s for sure. He can tell a story or sing a song, laugh one moment and cry the next. He’s practical and emotional, quick tempered and tender. Oh, and the accent—always the accent. The musical lilt that can lure a woman into total enchantment.
You have interesting ancestors. Have you ever thought about researching and writing about them?
I have! When I found out that one of my ancestors was a King’s Girl, my imagination went to work! What experiences she must have had! And when I learned that one of my forebears may have sailed to Canada years before Jacques Cartier (who got credit for the discovery) I wondered how I might make that into a story. Perhaps one day I’ll write about them—or maybe I should say, one day they’ll allow me to write their stories—but for now, I’m enjoying my mercurial Irish heroes.
What is something readers may be surprised to learn about you?
I hated history when I was younger. And by “younger,” I mean when I was in high school, when it was a course required for graduation. I studied the history of Quebec in Canada, and it seemed all we ever discussed was the fur trade. Granted, that was an important part of what made Canada the great country it is now, but other things happened too!
I think a large part of the problem with history classes in general is the way in which it’s taught. I’m not a teacher, but I believe there are ways of bringing history to life that could be used in the classroom. Here in Montreal, there are several historical museums we might have visited—museums I’ve since visited—that would have taught us more about the fur trade, Confederation, and the founding of Ville Marie (now Montreal) than an entire year’s worth of studying text books.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
I love hearing from my readers! It’s always a thrill to find a message in my inbox from someone who’s read my book, enjoyed it, and has taken the time to let me know. I love to connect with them on Facebook too. And if anyone makes the effort to contact me, they can be sure they’ll get an answer.
Thank you so much for your time!

AUTHOR Bio and Links:

I believe I was destined to be interested in history. One of my distant ancestors, Thomas Aubert, reportedly sailed up the St. Lawrence River to discover Canada some 26 years before Jacques Cartier’s 1534 voyage. Another relative was a 17thCentury “King’s Girl,” one of a group of young unmarried girls sent to New France (now the province of Quebec) as brides for the habitants (settlers) there.

My passion for reading made me long to write books like the ones I enjoyed, and I tried penning sequels to my favorite Nancy Drew mysteries. Later, fancying myself a female version of Andrew Lloyd Weber, I drafted a musical set in Paris during WWII.

A former journalist and lifelong Celtophile, I enjoyed a previous career as a reporter/editor for a small chain of community newspapers before returning to my first love, romantic fiction. My stories usually include an Irish setting, hero or heroine, and sometimes all three. My novels, In Sunshine or in Shadow and Coming Home, set in post-Famine Ireland, are available from Highland Press. Playing For Keeps, the third book in the Claddagh series, is now available from Highland Press.

I am a member of the Romance Writers of America, Hearts Through History Romance Writers, and Celtic Hearts Romance Writers. A lifelong resident of Montreal, Canada, I still live there with my own Celtic hero and our two school-aged children.




  Deceptive Hearts
by Cynthia Owens



…Like the Wild Geese of Old Ireland, five boys grew to manhood despite hunger, war, and the mean streets of New York…

He survived war, and returned to devastation

A hero of the Irish Brigade, Shane MacDermott returned home to New York to find his family decimated and his world shattered.

She risks her life to save the people she loves

Lydia Daniels will risk anything to protect the women she shelters beneath the roof of her elegant Gramercy Park mansion—even if she has to trust the one man who can destroy her.

Shane and Lydia both hide secrets that could destroy them – and put their lives in jeopardy. Can their love overcome their carefully guarded deceptive hearts?

Tag line from front cover: He’d vowed to protect those he loved – but can he protect the woman who came to mean everything to him?

Something wasn’t right.

Shane strode through the dark, damp autumn night, memories of the woman he’d seen near Nan Daly’s room still niggling at him. Her story about bringing food to one of the neighbors didn’t ring true.

Hugh had once told him, “If something feels wrong, lad, sure there must be a reason for it. Listen to your instincts.”

Shane’s instincts screamed out that something wasn’t right.

A picture of the woman floated before him. She was the loveliest thing he’d ever seen, with her honey-blonde hair piled carefully atop her head, her mysterious gray eyes shrouded by that little wisp of a veil on the pretty hat she wore. Had he caught a whiff of roses emanating from her delicate peaches-and-cream skin? Her hands, long-fingered, elegant hands, a lady’s hands, had been encased in white lace gloves that would feed a family hereabouts for a month. And her gown… Shane knew nothing about fashion, but that silk and lace confection must have cost someone a pretty penny.

And the figure that gown concealed was enough to send a man’s wits astray.

But an angel of mercy? Shane doubted it. She’d seemed too jumpy, too eager to get away from him. Why? True, he’d been wearing his uniform, but a woman like that had to be wealthy and well-connected. Sure, she’d have nothing to fear from the law.

He shook his head, dismissing the woman from his mind, and turned to race up the steps to his flat.

Buy links
 Also available at Books-a-Million \ The Book Depository

Cynthia will be awarding a Grand Prize of a wooden trinket box with the Trinity Knot applique on the lid - US/Canada only, and a handmade ribbon bookmark to a randomly drawn commenter during the tour. A second prize of a Reader's Choice of The Claddagh Series books (In Sunshine or In Shadow, Coming Home, or Playing For Keeps), and a handmade ribbon bookmark will be awarded to another randomly drawn commenter. Follow the tour for more chances to win.


'A Time of Dying (Araneae Nation #3)' by Hailey Edwards

A Time of Dying
Araneae Nation, Book Three
Hailey Edwards

Genre: Fantasy Romance
Publisher: Samhain Publishing

Date of Publication: July 30, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-61921-660-0

Number of pages: 249
Word Count: 75k

Cover Artist: Kanaxa

Book Description:

They just might survive…if they don’t kill each other first.

Once the future Segestriidae maven, Kaidi lived a privileged life. Now she spends her nights haunting cities ravaged by the plague. Spade in hand, she stalks rows of freshly dug graves for corpses…and then she takes their heads.

Her new life is caked in blood and spattered with gore, but it’s hers. At least until—to her fury—she’s caught napping.

A plague survivor by the skin of his teeth, Murdoch risks his neck to solve the mysteries left in its wake. Bodies have gone missing. Guards have left their posts and never returned home.

When he rouses a female dozing among the dead, he’s unprepared for the violence of her response. Or his. Beneath the grime, she’s lovely. Too bad the blood under her fingernails belongs to his clansmen.

He has no choice but to follow this alluring creature deeper into her world of winged beasts and flesh-eating monsters. She holds the knowledge he craves, but the price is high—and they may both pay for it with their lives.

Warnings: This book contains one heroine in desperate need of a bath and one hero willing to wash away her sins. Expect threats, swears and general cursing. Love is a slippery slope, and these two are sliding.

Read an excerpt:
Chapter One
Freckled skin gave beneath my spade as I angled its honed point at the hollow of some poor female’s throat. Milky eyes bored into mine when I braced my foot on the spade’s tread, shifting my weight, bearing down until the blade sliced through her slender neck, tearing flesh and crunching bone. Her lips parted on a gasp, or perhaps I imagined that flicker of awareness before I snuffed her final remnants. Gods knew I hoped it was only guilt picking at scabs on my weary conscious.
The death of even one innocent would break me, if any scrap of the old Kaidi remained.
Tossing the spade aside, I wiped sweat from my brow and bent to check her pockets, finding them as empty as my own. No coin meant going another day without food. Not that I had much of an appetite after this, but I couldn’t live on stale water for much longer. Soon I would need a hot meal and a safe place to rest, if one still existed.
Gaze skimming the grassy field littered with the corpses of plague victims, I had my doubts.
Exhaustion bore me to my knees. I was too tired to wince when one knee cracked on a loose stone. My chin hit my chest, and my eyes shut. The pulse of pain, of hunger, of regret, lulled me.
One minute lapsed, then two. Any moment I would rise. Any time now…
The press of cold metal against my throat shocked me awake.
“I’ll have your name, female.” The booming masculine voice made my head throb.
“I hope not.” I ignored the blade and rubbed my eyes clear. “It would sound silly on a male.”
More pressure made breathing without cutting my neck difficult. “Tell me your name.”
I rolled around a few choices before saying, “Imani.”
His grunt called me on my lie. Interesting. Usually they couldn’t tell.
He nudged me with his boot. “What’s your purpose here?”
I shrugged. “The same as my purpose elsewhere, I imagine.”
Grasping my upper arm, he hauled me onto my feet and spun me to face him. I stifled a gasp when I met the pitch-black eyes informing me that I had run afoul of a Mimetidae warrior. I had tracked the plague to Cathis, the Mimetidae’s clan home, but had I been in my right mind, a state I barely recalled these days, I would have avoided their borders and continued on to the next city.
Contrary to my actions these past few months, I did not have a death wish.
Thinly leashed anger radiated through his tightened fingers. “You play a dangerous game.”
“You have no idea,” I murmured, while measuring the distance from here to the forest.
His gaze trailed after mine. “You won’t make it.”
“So you say.” I struggled until he released me, then I hit the ground like a sack of stones.
“If you can’t stand, then you can’t run.” He sheathed his weapon, turning to appraise my long night’s work by the dawn’s soft glow. “Care to explain this?” He gestured toward the headless corpse. “Or those?”
I forced myself to count victims—sixteen females and one male for good measure.
My laugh was rusty. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”
His brow creased. “Try me.”
I fisted a palm’s worth of loose dirt. “Well, it’s like this…”
When he folded his arms over his chest, away from that lovely sword of his, and inclined his head, waiting, I exhaled hard and prayed the gods gave my feet wings. His frown cut deeper, lips parting on his next demand, when I gathered my nerve and flung the contents of my hand at him.
“What in the gods’ names—” He staggered back, blinking in surprise.
Shoving to my feet, I bolted past him, snagged my spade and ran for the safety of the trees. His bellow of rage made my heart race and chest tighten. Those were not the sounds of a happy male. No, they were the sounds of a male preparing to rend a female in two, if he could catch her.
Scenery blurred as I ran harder, faster, until my foot rung a hole and I tumbled onto all fours. I was halfway to standing when the male burst into the small clearing, head lifted, nostrils flared.
“Move,” he warned, “and we’ll see if your head comes off as easy as theirs did.”
Turning my head slowly, I noticed his arms were out, but his sword remained tethered at his hip as if he didn’t want to harm me. Pity. Once I might have appreciated his misguided chivalry. Now I saw it for the weakness it was. I was female, but I was not soft. Not my heart, and not my arms. They were lean and muscled from digging up graves, as firm and cold as the ground where I had buried my mother, my sisters and cousins, all the members of my family but one, my uncle.
I did this for them, as practice for the day we met again and I added their names to my tally.
Can’t kill what’s already dead, I reminded myself.
While my thoughts churned over each other, the male took a step, and I tightened my grip on the spade. Before he got near enough to lay his hands on me, I twisted on my side and swung my weapon. The flat side cracked against his jaw, popping his neck as his head twisted. In a daze, he faced me, eyes whirling. Staggering back, he smeared the blood welling from his smashed cheek.
Scrambling out of his reach, I clawed my way upright, and a heartbeat later I was running. I barely dared to hope I might escape him unscathed when an impact knocked me against a tree. Ears ringing, I clamped my head between my hands and focused on not vomiting as the world lurched beneath me. A second hit from behind sent me tumbling onto the ground and burst my lip.
I wheezed when my attacker collapsed across my back, crushing the air from my lungs.
“I can’t…breathe.” My sight tunneled, turning hazy around the edges.
His low growl rumbled against my spine. “That makes two of us.”
Strong hands grasped my shoulders and flipped me onto my back. Before I brought my knee up to greet his tender parts, the male straddled my legs and sat on my shins, pinning me in place. His fingers dug into my collarbones, and the twist of his lips told me that if he had another set of hands, my wrists would be shackled too. Luckily for me, he didn’t, and I knew what I had to do.
I brought the spade up, but seconds from contact, he noticed. Wrenching the handle from my grasp, he flung it so far I lost sight of it. He lowered his head until his blood dripped on my chin. His breath was hot and hissed between his teeth. His expression sent fear shivering up my spine.
I swallowed hard. “Please—”
His palm sealed the plea in my mouth. “Save your lies for those who might believe them.”
Trapped beneath a snarling male who stood a head taller than me, three times wider than me, I had no choice but to obey. He was battered, his judgment clouded, and I knew I would outlast him.
“Those eyes—that hair—” His gaze narrowed on my left ear. “You’re Segestriidae.”
A name I could falsify. The golden hair and lavender eyes common to my clansmen, those I had no way to alter. Failing those telling signs, there was the clear quartz crystal suspended from my earlobe by a golden strand of Araneidae silk. The expense of that silk confirmed my identity. If their nigh-unbreakable silk made the Araneidae the wealthiest clan in the Araneae Nation, then the craftsmanship of mine made us almost equals in worth. Our skill with crystals was unrivaled.
To possess the appearance of the Segestriidae and indicators of my status was foolhardy.
Vanity kept me clinging to one while desperation made me reliant on the other. At least I had the good sense to travel with the matching necklace concealed. Bad enough to be a lone female on the road. That earned me unwanted attention. But if my fellow rogues had coveted the earring, they would have gutted me for the pendant.
Behind my captor’s eyes, I imagined his mind at work puzzling out my identity. My clothes were heavy and meant for travel, dyed soot black because I hunted my prey after the sun had set.
Briefly, I wished for his midnight hair and eyes. How well he must complement the night.
After a moment’s hesitation, he wiped the blood from my mouth with a cloth pulled from his pocket. When he finished, he inhaled my scent, and dread tightened my stomach. The Mimetidae were trackers, the lot of them. What I had given him was a means of locating me should I escape.
While tucking away his prize, his gaze never left mine. “Why are you on Mimetidae land?”
I mumbled against his hand, and he removed it. “Let me go.”
His eyes crossed. “I asked you a question.”
“Why bother answering when we both know I won’t tell you the truth?”
“I suspected as much, but as you’re female, I thought to give you the benefit of the doubt.”
“Well,” I countered, “as you’re male, I thought honesty and small words were prudent.”
A tic started beneath his right eye. “You’re insulting me.”
The seriousness of his expression made me laugh. “You’re a quick one, you are. Did you enjoy the chase?” I winked at him. “Set me on my feet and we can have another go.”
“I prefer you just as you are…” he shifted his hips, “…flat on your back.”
His words dried the spit from my mouth. All the ways this encounter could end poorly—for me—spun wild through my head. Though the guard’s heavy thighs pinned mine together, he was not aroused. That realization somewhat eased my mind. Now if he would only stay uninterested.
When he slid his hands down my body, then up my waist and over my breasts, I launched my fist at his bloodied jaw, but he swatted aside my arm.
“Calm yourself.” He went still, his face earnest. “I would never harm a female in that way. I must search you for more weapons. Understand?”
I nodded as if I believed that was all he was after.
“What’s this?” His patting had located my necklace. When he fished it from my shirt, his eyes widened. “I’ve never seen such a large crystal. The setting…” he turned it over in his hand, “…it’s solid gold.” He wasn’t asking. He didn’t have to. What would be the point of using such a remarkable stone but denying it an equally elegant setting? He breathed, “This must be worth a small fortune.”
His tone implied I must have stolen it. In fact, it had been a gift from my betrothed, a bauble as beautiful as it was lethal.
Qualities Hishima had once ascribed to me.
“It was a gift from my uncle.” I wasn’t stretching the truth too far. The earring had truly been a gift from Ghubari, a match to the impressive novelty my betrothed had given me. “Please let me keep it. Better yet, let me go.”
“If I did, where would you go?” He glanced up, then back at me. “What would you do? Find another field of bodies to desecrate? Loot more poor souls bound for the Above?” His expression mirrored his repulsed tone as he shoved the pendant back into my shirt. “Have you not a decent bone in your body that you violate the dead?”
“You don’t know me.” My morals had been abandoned for the sake of survival.
“I know enough.” He pushed to his feet and took me with him. “Come on. Let’s go. You can keep the necklace until my paladin says otherwise.”
My palms turned sweaty. “Where are you taking me?”
“Has it slipped your recollection that you’ve mutilated our dead? That offense is punishable by five years imprisonment, and assaulting one of the city’s guards has earned you another five.”
“They were dead.” At least they were as far as he knew. “What does it matter to them?”
“They have family that will come to pay their respects and find their loved ones hacked into pieces and the silver tokens placed upon their eyes pocketed by the female who did the cutting.”
Shame prickled my skin, but I held my head high while he dragged me toward the city. Near the bodies stood a second male, whose short blond hair was so filthy it almost matched his mud-brown eyes. His frame was heavy with muscle, his shoulders as wide as the ursus northlanders rode.
He paused in his deliberation and jerked his chin my way. “Did that little thing do all this?”
My captor rubbed his discolored jawline. “All that and more.”
The blond smirked. “You taking her to Vaughn?”
“No.” His grip on me tightened. “The paladin has weightier matters on his mind.”
Paladin Vaughn? No, that couldn’t be right. The maven here was his mother, Isolde. She had ruled the Mimetidae since the death of her husband, since before I was born. Unless the plague…
“That’s the truth of it.” The blond male scrubbed a meaty hand over his head.
“Finish up, then check the perimeter.” He tugged me closer. “Her kind rarely travels alone.”
He was right about that. Most future paladins, especially Hishima, refused to let their future wives leave their clan home unguarded. What would this male say if I presented my necklace as a token from my once-beloved as proof of what my kind was? How would he react once he realized that I was the future maven of the Segestriidae? His scowl made me believe that neither the scrap of parchment bearing Father’s crest nor Hishima’s letters tucked into my pocket would sway his determination to see me punished, so I studied my captor and our surroundings as the males wagged their tongues.
“Get on with you, then.” The blond knelt and resumed whatever task we had interrupted.
A hard tug on my arm sent me stumbling. “Are you trying to yank my arm from its socket?”
The brute loosened his grip a fraction. “Stop dragging your feet.”
Out of spite, I was tempted to dig in my heels and make him haul me every step into Cathis. But I wanted freedom more, so I hurried along while slipping a hand into my shirt to grasp the pendant. With a firm jerk, I broke the silken chain’s metal clasp then shoved my hand into my pocket. My fingernail slid along the topmost edge, where the stone met its metal setting. A push of my thumb broke the seal and left me holding the crystal sheath while the petite dagger it had concealed dropped into my pocket. Careful of the blade’s razor edges, I grasped the short hilt in my palm.
“What will you do with me?” Sad to say, I had some idea. “Will it involve seasoning salts?”
He glanced back, his eye twitching again. “We do not partake of the flesh of our prisoners.”
Hit a tender spot, had I? Perhaps I ought to jab harder to prod a reaction from him.
“Ah. Well, that’s a comfort. I had heard Mimetidae consumed the flesh of their enemies. I’m relieved you said even my kind is exempt from your kind’s indelicate predilections for eating—”
He whirled around so fast, I yelped in surprise. Grasping my shirt, he reeled me hard against him. “What else have you heard? That we find the screams of helpless females intoxicating? Or a favorite of mine—how we peel the skin from our victims, dry the meat in strips to savor it later?”
I blanched when our chests bumped and his head lowered. I had what I wanted—his reaction was whip-sharp and furious. Riling him proved he was as far removed from Segestriidae males I had known as the moon was from the sun. He was no gentle craftsman. He was fierce, a warrior.
My knees quaked, but I stood my ground. “I don’t believe everything I hear.”
“In this case…” his eyes glittered, eager for truth to burn my ears, “…perhaps you should.”
By the time a scornful retort had readied itself, he had given me his back. I let my gaze slide over him while I deliberated, the broad expanse of his muscled shoulders coaxing my eyes lower.
No time to be squeamish. While he was distracted, I had to strike. I had to break free of him.
Tightening my fist around the dagger’s hilt, I slipped it from my pocket. Its tip wavered as if it were a divining rod, angling toward his weak spots. I had never sunk a blade in a living person.
But since he had no intention of granting me freedom, I would seize it for myself.
Death awaited me in Cathis. If not in the teeth of his clansmen, then at the hands of mine.
Steeling my nerves, I brought my arm across my body. My wrist rested on my shoulder for a moment before I used all my strength to bury the blade deep in the tender meat above his left hip.
My captor howled, and I struggled to break his grip on one arm while twisting the knife with the other. When pain brought him to his knee, I shoved him, retrieving my dagger and toppling him to the dirt on his back.
Guilt and relief made me lightheaded as I pocketed the blade and sprinted for the forest. The fallen male’s furious shouts would set his friend on my trail for certain. I had to hurry. I had to—
Bones popped in my shoulder when a wall of muscle slammed me against a tree. Thick arms banded about my waist and cut off my air. Gasping, I squirmed and kicked, but the blond giant held tight. He lifted me, tucking me under his arm as if I were a bedroll. With my arms pinned, I threw my leg to trip him. He caught that too and swung me high on his hip as he would a child.
Blood heated my cheeks when he smirked at me. “Nice try, but I’m one tree you won’t fell.” To prove his point, he trapped both my ankles at his hip with one hand while the other supported me by crushing me so tight against his side his lungs might have been supplying the air for mine.
“Shouldn’t you see to your friend?” I twisted my head, the only part of me I could move, but I saw no sign of the male I had stabbed. The field was littered with bodies, but none of them his.
“Murdoch?” The behemoth grinned. “He’s not my friend.” He chuckled at something behind me, and I dreaded what lurked past my shoulder. “Female, I don’t think he’s your friend, either.”
“I’ll take her from here, Lleu,” a familiar voice grated near my ear.
“You sure?” The giant squeezed until I gasped. “Shouldn’t you get sewn up first?”
“I’m sure.” Murdoch wrenched my arms behind my back. “Do you have your hawser?”
A tense pause stretched between them. “Always.”
Murdoch held out his hand. “May I use it to secure the prisoner?”
“Use this instead.” The blond tossed him a length of black thread that made Murdoch frown.
He ran the thick, knobby silk rope through his fingers. “You’re a male of many talents.”
His friend waggled his eyebrows at me. “So the females tell me.”
After binding my wrists, Murdoch smoothed his thumb over the stump of my missing ring finger. I cringed when he touched it. The first two joints were missing, and his caress of what remained felt too intimate somehow. I was grateful he showed me the small mercy of not asking about it, but resumed his task. He pried my legs from Lleu’s grip and crossed my ankles to hobble me before he knotted the rope. Lleu was all that held me upright while Murdoch searched me. This time his efforts produced the bloody dagger and its crystal sheath, which he kept.
Assured I was unarmed, he slung me over his shoulder. My face hit a wet spot on his lower back, and I recoiled from the blood turning his worn shirt brown. The wound splashed crimson over his tan skin, and the stain kept growing.
He must be in terrible pain. I wasn’t being wholly facetious when I offered, “I can walk.”
“Very fast,” he said, “and in the opposite direction of where I want you to go.”
Huffing hair from my eyes, I glared at his arse, figuring it was the same as arguing to his face. “Release me.” When he grunted, I promised, “I’m more trouble than I’m worth, Murdoch.”
His shoulders tensed at my use of his name, but he continued on without comment.
“You will regret this.” We both would if Hishima got word. “Put me down, please.”
“There.” He winced when he set me on my feet. “You’re down.” He reached into his pocket and produced the cloth he’d wiped my face with earlier. “Open your mouth.” He waited. “Now.”
My eyes rounded. “You can’t be—”
He crammed the cloth into my mouth too fast for me to even bite him. After hefting me over his shoulder again, this effort costing him a muttered oath, Murdoch lumbered on toward Cathis.
Chortling sounds made me lift my head. Lleu sauntered past me, a grin splitting his face. He tipped his head when our eyes met. I narrowed mine, which appeared to amuse him all the more.
Let him smile.
If Hishima found me at long last, his retribution would be no laughing matter.
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About the Author :

Born in the Deep South, Hailey is a lifelong resident of Alabama. Her husband works for the local sheriff’s department and her daughter is counting down the days until she’s old enough to audition for American Idol. Their dachshund, Poochie, helps Hailey write by snoozing on his dog bed in her office.

Her desire to explore without leaving the comforts of home fueled her love of reading and writing. Whenever the itch for adventure strikes, Hailey can be found with her nose glued to her Kindle’s screen or squinting at her monitor as she writes her next happily-ever-after.

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