Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Brenda Sparks Double Whammy Blog Tour @brenda_sparks #giveaway

Title: Weaver of Dreams
Author: Brenda Sparks
Genre: Fantasy Romance
Tour Host: Lady Amber's Tours

When guidance counselor Maggie O’Connell is plagued by terrible nightmares, she believes stress is the reason for her torment, but she couldn’t be more wrong. Unfortunately for Maggie, in the shadows of her dreams lurks a Dream Stalker who is addicted to the dark emotions produced by her night terrors.

Zane, a Dream Weaver from another dimension, visits Maggie in her nighttime fantasies to discover there is more than just a Dream Stalker after her. As the man of her fantasies becomes real, Maggie’s true nightmare begins.

US || UK

Zane glided over the tall grass, letting the tips brush the bottom of his energy as he floated through the warm air with ease. A pleasant sensation, the grass felt like something between a tickle and a massage as he went. Like all Dream Weavers, in this dimension he was pure energy that took the shape of a ball of light.
His essence flowed over the land, and he could not help but admire the scenery as he passed through. He noted the way the purple and burgundy flowers mixed with the royal blue florae to form colorful waves in the tall emerald-colored grass. Appreciating their beauty as he passed, he flowed through a copse of harlequin-patterned trees with black and white diamond-shaped leaves. The splendor of the nature around him went undisturbed until the breeze blew to send the plants swaying in a gentle rhythm and make the shiny leaves of the trees sparkle as they shook.
A tingling sensation stopped him. He recognized the sensation, had been exposed to this before; a long time ago, during his training to become a Peacemaker. This was the steady pulsing sensation created by negative energy.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

When Silver Moons Rise Paperback Release @kasonndraleigh

Title: When Silver Moons Rise (The Lost Immortals 2)

Author: KaSonndra Leigh

ebook release: January 20, 2013

Paperback Release: April 21, 2013

Genre: Young Adult

Blitz Host: Lady Amber's Tours

Facing an unstable future, Chela Prizeon leaves Castle Hayne and crosses over to enemy territory in pursuit of Faris--the boy of royal blood who is cursed by a bitter rival. But soon Chela learns that he has been taken deep into the treacherous frozen prisons--a majestic, but deadly place where people enter and are never seen again. To find the boy she loves, Chela must join forces with one of her greatest enemies. And even though she pulls strength from the good in her powers, she finds herself drawn to the dark side's temptation as well.

Narrated from both Chela's and Faris's point of view, this enchanting sequel to When Copper Suns Fall will take them on a voyage into unknown lands, where the dark, twisted, and revengeful wait to make this their most dangerous journey ever.

Please Note: This book contains mature content including profanity, drug/alcohol use, and sexual situations/language.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Just Horsin' Around

Today is a freebie day over here on the blog, so I'm just playing around. Honestly I'm posting this JUST so I can test some things on my NetworkedBlogs account (because I'm having some double posting issues on my Facebook author page). 

I was thinking...why don't I make the most of this? I know I already have one giveaway running, but why not a second one? I have a Love During Death wifebeater that needs a home. I honestly don't remember off the top of my head what size it is (either L or XL). I've got some massive moving to do this weekend, so why don't we run this until midnight, Sunday night (the 28th)?

Here's what you gotta do. Send as many friends to my Facebook blog page as you can, and have them like it. Also - and this is the kicker - they HAVE to comment on the page, telling me who sent them! You only get credit for it IF they tell me you sent them!

Alright! Who's excited?! I'm always excited to give stuff away. 


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Ashes & Ice Book Blitz @rockyiswriting

Title: Ashes & Ice
Author: Rochelle Maya Callen
Release Day: February 4th, 2013
Genre: Young Adult
Blitz Host: Lady Amber's Tours

 She is desperate to remember.
He is aching to forget.
Together, they are not broken.
But together, one may not survive.

​Jade wakes up with no memory of her past and blood on her hands.

Plagued by wicked thoughts, she searches for answers. Instead, she finds a boy who doesn't offer her answers, but hope. But sometimes, when nightmares turn into reality and death follows you everywhere, hope is not enough.

LUST. LOVE. LOSS. Sometimes, all that is left are Ashes and Ice

 Amazon || B&N


Mohawk Moon

Janelle hasn't been back to Fort Edward in ten years. All of a sudden, she's dealing with her mothers death, her broken relationship with her sister, and a dark, sexy stranger following her. She doesn't know whether to be scared, or excited.

Damien needs to restore his families honor. He wants to use Janelle to do it. There's one problem, someone is standing in the way. He's vowed that no one will stop him from getting what rightly belongs to his family. But, can he sacrifice Janelle for it?

Together they must try to save what's left of both their families, and along the way, deal with what's growing between them. Join Damien and Janelle on the beginning of their journey, under the Mohawk Moon.

I love how this is a fast read. Why? Because that means I was hooked. I really did enjoy how N. Kuhn gives a new voice different from anything I've really ever read before. My attention was snagged from the very beginning and I quickly fell in love with Jany and Damien. I look forward to reading more by this author! Easy 4 stars from me!

I was born and raised in western New York. I grew up with a love of books, and a passion for writing. I was always found with my nose in a book. At times it's hard for me to decide to write or read a book! I just love anything to do with books. I read to my youngest daughter daily, hoping she will grow up with the same love of books as I have.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Into the Light Release Day Blitz @HKSavage

Title: Into the Light
Author: HK Savage (Book 2, The Admiral's Elite)
Genre: Adult
Publisher: Staccato Publishing
Blitz Host: Lady Amber's Tours

A vicious serial killer is on the loose in Wisconsin and it's up to the Admiral's Elite to stop him. Admiral Black's second in command, Captain Michael Rossi, has been tasked with finding out who or what the killer is and put an end to his reign of bloodshed while avoiding some pitfalls of his own. Like hiding the fact that he's falling in love with Becca from the admiral who would be sure to use it against them. Ghosts from Gabrielle's past threaten her place with her unit and Ryan's bed.

Local police are puzzled and the town is terrified. The Admiral's Elite must find a killer, stop him without anyone finding out their true identities, and not be torn apart in the process.

Amazon || B&N

The smell of decay hit him full in the nose and Michael skidded to a halt, putting a hand out unnecessarily to signal Ryan to do the same. He’d caught the same scent. Both fell into a crouch and Michael squinted into the white mess, scanning for signs of movement.
“Holy fuck,” Ryan breathed from beside him. “Found it.”
Michael followed the track of his unit member’s gaze to behold the skeleton hovering on the rock, a living creature straight out of a nightmare. The wind had picked up with the storm and whipped the dark tattered clothing about the bony gray creature’s filthy head. He registered that the lump in front of it was alive and not a part of the rock. She was curled into a ball and a howling sob rolled out just as the creature lowered itself to touch her.
Ryan’s snarl cut through the wind and the creature’s face came up. It was cut short as he beheld the thing exactly as horrible as Michael had described it. The gray flesh hung loosely over hollow cheeks and empty black eyes. Sagging lips did nothing to hide the fangs that were as long as a man’s ring finger and nearly reached the bottom of its chin.
Seeing the stronger being that was Gabrielle incapacitated had Michael in a frenzy. Casting his eyes wildly about, he searched the area for Becca. There was no sign on the rocks or in the woods. And to further inflame his frustration, the wind gusted again, filling his nose with aged death and taking with it any chance of finding Becca that way. A second growl erupted from his shoulder mate and Michael quit any semblance of secrecy.
“Becca!” he yelled.
No answer.

In the Shadows Blog Tour

I, Emma Mayweather, was the victim of bullying. Some of the students at my school thought it would be funny to charge the other students to see a particularly embarrassing video of me in the locker room, and as a result of the trauma I endured, I lost my eyesight and now I have to get use to living life without the benefit of my eyes. I spend most of my days in the shadows, because that's where I feel the safest and don't feel like an outside in the school that I've attending for the past fifteen years, but when I overhear someone say something that could be potentially dangerous to another student, I have to decide whether to come out into the light and reveal the truth or sit on my hands and keep my mouth shut. 


It’s called a shadow, I wrote in my notebook as I sat behind the old water heater; the ancient contraption overcasting me with its dark shadow and hiding me from the world that lay beyond the four walls that surrounded me. In fairy tales, it’s where the light is extinguished and the evil beings take up residence. But, for me, it’s my salvation. The shadows are where I spend my life, feeding off of the seclusion from the world and the bullies that torment my days. When I step into the black haze, a warmth envelopes me like a velvet blanket on a cold winter night. I feel safe in the shadows, with only the dust bunnies and a few occasional spiders as company. Spiders might be scary and ugly, but spiders don’t bully me because my hair is particularly frizzy that day or because I choose not to dress like the popular kids.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Darkspire Reaches - Elizabeth Hull HOP

Her birth mother left her as a sacrifice to the Wyvern, believing a second born twin had no soul.

Her foster mother thought Raven possessed the magic of the First born. She believed she raised a slave.

The emperor of all the lands believed she knew the secret of his birth and that he must silence her.

Her tribe thought they could trade her for safe passage out of the emperor’s lands.

The Wyvern knows better. He is coming for her. His fury has no limits. 

Raven worked on a poultice, trying hard to ignore the sound of children’s laughter from the forest. The ill-luck child they called her, and she hated them for it. A patch of sunlight crept across the hard-packed dirt floor of the rickety shack to while she pounded a root between mortar and pestle. Her arms ached, but her foster mother needed the crushed remains ready that day. Old Margie’s spells to the Earth Spirits would bind together healing magic with the waxing light of a full moon as the final ingredient. This was a new spell for Raven and one she must commit to memory if she wanted to be a healer, too.
The table wobbled, sending the implements slithering across it. Dropping the pestle, Raven grabbed Margie’s scrying bowl, now dangerously near the edge. An ice-cold tingle ran up her fingers into her arms as she held tight, biting her lips until she could push the table back into a better place with her hip.
Ever since Raven could remember Margie had warned never to look into her scrying bowl when it bore the water of sight; the water that now slopped in the bowl, swaying in a shaft of sunlight. Her reflection wavered against the black interior of the vessel. It was a face the village youngsters said belonged to the witch’s bastard offspring. Not fair of skin with corn-colored hair like the other children, but a darker coloring and night-black lock. ‘Sins of the mother’, they had yelled when she tried to join in their play as a little child. Yet she wasn’t Margie’s child.
The reflection altered, becoming a woman grown, shifting and maturing. Raven shuddered—this wasn’t her face anymore, not with those hollowed cheeks under brown eyes, and those full lips. The image changed perspective until all of the woman’s body showed against a moorland landscape. Wind howled between boulders that stood like giant bones in scraggy patches of grass and scrub. A gust tugged at the ankle-length green and brown tunic to tease the fringes decorating the strange attire. The figure hurried to a large flat rock, and placed a bundle in the center. Now the thin wail of a newborn carried on breeze.
The great shape of a wyvern blotted out the stars as it swooped closer. Wings as big as the meeting-hall roof flapped with the sound of wet leather smacked on rock, and a huge head on a long neck snaked back and forth, searching. Wicked talons extended from birdlike feet, and flames erupted from the beast’s mouth. Stars, the thing wasn’t even close, and it was clear it could swallow a person whole.
Was this her future? No, for she’d die before she let a wyvern take a child of hers. This was her past.
“Raven! What are you doing?”
The image dissolved into blackness. Shaken, Raven backed away from the table, far from the tang of water magic. She hadn’t meant to touch the bowl. She knew Margie didn’t want the magic weakened by the feel of another hand.
“I didn’t be looking on purpose. The table lurched, and I afeared your scrying bowl might smash.”
Margie took the bowl outside to dump the contents on a radish patch near their door. Her old, jowly face wobbled as she shook her head.
“Peasant talk.” Margie slammed down the bowl with such force that the table creaked in protest. “How many times must I tell you not to copy their talk? It won’t make them like you any better, and why would you want to be friends with peasants? If we don’t sound better than them why would they trust us to know more?”
“I wasn’t looking on purpose,” Raven said, concentrating on proper words.
“Afraid and never afeared, too. Now put some water to boil. We eat of the beasts of the earth tonight.”
Water for boiling and no talk of a roasting spit? Not a feast, by any means, yet the meat needed a slow boil. Raven tried to guess the contents of the small sack Margie carried.
“Chicken feet.” Margie looked in the direction of the village, scowling. “The headman wanted a son birthed and got himself another daughter after I’d told him when to try for a boy. We pay the price for his lust.”
“Poor payment for a lying-in,” Raven agreed, not looking forward to watery soup thickened with the few shriveled carrots left from the last payment. Herbs would give more flavors, though.
“I saw some turnip-tops growing by the old healer’s place in Delvin’s Hollow.” Margie settled in her chair by the hearth, ready to keep an eye on their soup. “You’ve seen the wild garden by the burnt-out ruins?”
Raven’s skin crawled. The wise-woman’s shade haunted that rubble-strewn hollow where a stone cottage once stood, and some of the villagers claimed to have heard the echo of the woman’s shrieks when she burned alive. How had a fire started in a house built of stone? If it had been more intact, she guessed it would have been home to her and Margie instead of where they were.
“After you have drawn water, go and get us something filling for our soup,” Margie said.
Once she’d set the cauldron over their hearth-fire, Raven collected their broken-handled shovel—what was left of the shaft served her shorter frame better than a full-sized implement. While she dreaded Delvin’s Hollow, she wanted to get outside and into the forest. The cool greenness called to her in a way she had never been able to explain to Margie.
Raven liked walking the deer tracks, away from any people, all except one. Only Tomar, the baker’s son, had welcomed her whenever she had happened on the village children, and when they wouldn’t play, he’d walk with her in the forest. Since he’d grown to a man’s stature this year the sight or even just the thought of him brought a blush to her cheeks, for she liked his looks along with his care for her feelings. His growing beard fuzz had tickled her when he’d given her a shy kiss in thanks for one of Margie’s healing potions.
Thinking of Tomar helped dim the image of the wyvern in the scrying bowl. Margie had often said Raven was left as a sacrifice to the wyvern and the vision of the woman in the water gave truth to Margie’s claims; although Raven had never really doubted them, for she had heard the call of the beast in the night many times. The sound burrowed into her soul, trying to compel her to go to the nearest clearing. Her magic fought it off each time.
Fern fronds rustled, tugging at her long brown skirts, and the leaf-litter underfoot released a pungent odor of dirt and toadstools. A white-tailed doe and her spotted fawn ambled across Raven’s path, pausing to savor her scent. Liquid eyes stared into hers without a trace of unease. Raven smiled at the beautiful fawn, not sure if the doe understood or not. None of the beasts of the earth feared her, yet they ran away from old Margie. Maybe the creatures disliked her bright clothes. Raven preferred the earth-tones Margie left to her when they got a barter gift of cloth.
She continued into the dappled greenness until she stood on the brink of the hollow. High-pitched nervous laughter rippled through the sunlight. She crouched in a tall bank of ferns. If the young villagers were here, she preferred to keep out of sight. From her leafy screen, Raven scanned the area to see if the people were staying. Tomar’s blond head came into view and Raven started to stand up, her heart beating faster.
He was just a few yards away, holding hands with Katra, his long strides shortened to keep pace with the girl. Katra, always fond of showing her importance as the headman’s daughter, had often made her dislike of Raven plain. Raven guessed what might be coming next if they caught sight of her. She didn’t want Tomar to hear the cruel words and so called within to a place of power, imagining herself fading into the forest colors so that none could see her; a trick she had learned accidentally when hiding from Margie.
“Where be your little black mongrel today?” The girl giggled. “Off the leash?”
“Our dog is brindle-colored.” Tomar paused, a half-smile lighting his face. “Unlessen you did mean Raven?” He joined in the laughter, catching Katra to him. “I keep her sweet in case I do need herbs. She’ll give me what others pay to get.”
Raven’s heart contracted painfully. Where was the friend she trusted? Who was this stranger in his body? Was he just lying to please Katra? But Tomar didn’t lie, did he?
“Please me well to stay away from the First Born savage. She isn’t fit to mingle with pure-bred Angressi folk.”
“She did saved my dog from a poison he’d eaten. All it costed me was a kiss.” Tomar pulled Katra closer. “What’ll you give me to shun her?”
Katra stood on her toes to kiss his lips, but Tomar turned his face away. He slowly unlaced the front of her bodice. When she didn’t stop him, he reached inside.
“I’ll do be wanting more than this.” He pulled down her chemise to bare her breasts.
Katra, her face flaming, didn’t move away. “Is this what your black dog lets you be doing to her?”
“That and more if I do want. Shall I get my needs from you or from her?” He bent to kiss her nipples, first one and then the other.
“Not here, someone might come.” Now Katra pushed him away, but she didn’t cover herself. Instead, she took his hand and led him from the path into the trees.
Raven didn’t cry, no tears came to give an outlet for her grief. Fifteen summers old with a life holding no purpose after this moment. Her heart pounded while a lump in her throat threatened to choke her; yet her eyes remained dry, her lack of tears another bitter reminder of being different. As the forest grew quiet around her, all those oddities separating her from others came to haunt her.
She moved into the dappled shadows to become a creature of the forest.
Tomar didn’t care for her. She was the pet dog who gave him herbs, only useful until a pretty village girl caught his eye. She had loved him so much, still loved him. How could he say such a thing? And the way Katra said the name ‘First Born savage’.
She speared the ground with her shovel, thinking all the while of Katra’s face on the dirt. Several turnips suffered for her anger before she saw what she had done with her savage thrusts.
Sounds of movement brought Raven back to the present. She peered out of her green sanctuary. Tomar stepped back onto the forest trail with Katra hanging on his arm, talking quietly with a whine in her tone. Catching the smug look of triumph on Tomar’s face, Raven melted back into her quiet shield of fronds. The couple headed off in the direction of the village.
A cloud slid over the sun, darkening the day. From deep in the forest the lone howl of a wolf left ripples of silence in its wake. Raven stashed her tubers in a sack, hefted it over her shoulder and made for home, burning with questions, but not about Tomar. She’d seen and heard enough to know he wasn’t the person she thought was her friend. He had laughed at her, he had told lies about her and now she wouldn’t think about him anymore. Better to feel nothing than to give a man a weapon to carve a path of misery through her life. Raven wouldn’t run after him like Katra. Those two deserved each other.
“Truth cuts sharp and straight to the bone, Raven,” Margie said, her rheumy eyes filling with ancient injury. “Aye, I’ve heard them, cruel little devils. People fit into who they think they are. First Born tribes aren’t civilized like us, they are wandering nomads to the north east of our lands.”
“But why am I here? Why so far south and out of their range?” The image of the woman with black hair haunted Raven. Why would a tribeswoman come into Angressi territory to abandon her child?
“The stars only know why someone of the tribes would leave a babe here. Our hunters kill any of their kind on sight, and the same holds true for them. Their warriors loose their arrows at the first glimpse of any Angressi.” She sighed. “I knew you were First Born and should have left you when I found the bundle of misery you were, laying out on a rock on the moor. But the wyvern hunted overhead, and by the time I had hidden us… well, it was too late when I found you had been left as a sacrifice.”
“Margie–the First Born tribes?” Raven wriggled on her stool, dying inside from Margie’s opinions of the nomads. Surely Margie could remember one good trait? Would she remember, though? Sometimes the old woman didn’t seem to know where she was.
Margie set out their soup in wooden bowls on the rickety table and picked up a stale crust of bread that had been left on their doorstep. She broke the bread in unequal portions, putting the larger piece by her own serving.
“They arrived here before the Angressi people.” Margie spat on the earth floor; a stream of saliva clumped over one hapless roach. “They’re a wandering race who worships the wyvern. They’re hunters, not warriors, who flit through the forest glades with no more sound than a butterfly.”
“The women plant crops when the tribe makes camp for the warm season. Then there’s Samara Maidens dedicated to the mysteries. I’m reckoned a wise woman, but them …”
Margie gummed a piece of chicken skin, rolling it around in a futile attempt to find a place in her mouth not hurting. “My family turned me out when they caught me scrying. They said I must have witch blood. Never proved it. We got away, my brother and me. No justice and no home except what I found—”
Raven knew by rote how the rest of it went. She’d get no more sense until the old woman had finished her long list of grievances against those dead for so many years that even Margie couldn’t remember their names. Raven continued picking at her meal to the sound of the old woman’s drone.
“Just as well I took you, for you’d have fed the wyvern and I’d have lost the dark magic inside you,” Margie said, rolling self-justification into her list of woes, as if one balanced off the other. “Even if we had been at peace with the tribes, taking you to them would have meant the terrible life of a Samara Maiden for you.”
“Samara Maidens?” Raven seized the opportunity to stem the flow before Margie slipped back into her memories again. “I’ve never heard tell of such women. What are they?”
“The First Born maidens keeping the festival of Samhain are never-mated women. They can bring storms strong enough to destroy a harvest, or drown a village under floods. All their life-giving force is channeled into magic till the day they die, unless some man defiles them. Angressi men make much sport of a captured Samara Maiden.” Margie snickered. “An arrow or a thrown rock, any pain to stop the woman focusing her power will bring her down and at their mercy. Didn’t steal my powers with their nasty tricks. Not First Born power–something else. Thought they …”
Raven let the rest roll over her head. Margie’s voice had taken on a singsong tone, a sign that the old woman’s sorrows buried her for another evening. The tongues of flames from their fire drew Raven’s eyes and gave her a form of comfort. A Samara Maiden with magic? How different a life from living with Margie: no one to taunt her for being strange and no need to hide what little magic she had.
Margie liked Raven using her healing hands to soothe old and aching bones, but her foster mother wouldn’t let her touch any of the villagers to cure sickness. Did Margie think they would be frightened of her, or was it because Raven couldn’t abide the touch of iron? It froze her to the bone and drained her power. What if a man came to her with an arrow wound? All of the village men stole game from the Imperial forests, risking the warden’s retaliation.
Raven rolled her thumb and forefinger together, idly kneading a fireball into existence. The ball tingled with a need for release, and yet Raven held it captive. Looking at the flaming sphere, she hid an urge to transform it into a lightning ball; this was a newly learned skill and Margie got angry if she thought Raven knew more about magic.
Samara Maidens lost their magic if they mated, did they? The village lads didn’t like her anyway, and Raven had no mind to be used like Katra. The girl had become Tomar’s creature in her desperation to keep his attention after giving him her body, her greatest gift. Katra meant to trap him into marriage, and yet who snared who? Tomar would gain much wealth from Katra’s dowry. Ashamed for him and relieved she now knew his true feelings, Raven wondered if he would have abused their friendship if she had golden hair. How could she trust men after Tomar had let her down? No man was going to strip away her life by such a selfish act. Determination awoke inside her to dull the pain.
Now she understood the vision in the scrying bowl. Her mother had abandoned her, left her as a sacrifice to the wyvern, a creature Margie said dined off living human flesh. Raven wouldn’t be an easy target now. Feed the power, nurture the magic and take the gifts given, until she had all the strength to fend off the evil beast if she ever encountered it.

Elizabeth Hull, writing under the by line of C.N.Lesley, lives in Alberta with her husband and cats. Her three daughters live close by. When she isn’t writing, Elizabeth likes to read and to paint watercolors. She is also a keen gardener, despite the very short summers and now has a mature shade garden. Once a worker in the communications sector, mostly concentrating on local news and events, she now writes full time.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Branded Cover Reveal @abiandmissy

Twenty years ago the Commander came into power and murdered all who opposed him. In his warped mind, the seven deadly sins were the downfall of society. He created the Hole where sinners are branded according to their sins and might survive a few years. At best.
Now LUST wraps around my neck like blue fingers strangling me. I’ve been accused of a crime I didn’t commit and now the Hole is my new home.

Darkness. Death. Violence. Pain.

Now every day is a fight for survival. But I won’t die. I won’t let them win.
The Hole can’t keep me. The Hole can’t break me.
I am more than my brand. I’m a fighter.
My name is Lexi Hamilton, and this is my story.

Chapter One Excerpt

I’m buried six feet under, and no one hears my screams.

The rope chafes as I loop it around my neck. I pull down on it, making sure the knot is secure. It seems sturdy enough.

My legs shake. My heart beats heavy in my throat. Sweat pours down my back.

Death and I glare at each other through my tears.

I take one last look at the crystal chandelier, the foyer outlined with mirrors, and the flawless decorations. No photographs adorn the walls. No happy memories here.

I’m ready to go. On the count of three.

I inhale, preparing myself for the finality of it all. Dropping my hands, a glimmer catches my eye. It’s my ring, the last precious gift my father gave me. I twist it around to read the inscription. Picturing his face forces me to reconsider my choice. He’d be heartbroken if he could see me now.

A door slams in the hallway, almost causing me to lose my balance. My thoughts already muddled, I stand, waiting with the rope around my neck. Voices I don’t recognize creep through the walls.

Curiosity overshadows my current thoughts. It’s late at night, and this is a secure building in High Society. No one disturbs the peace here—ever. I tug on the noose and pull it back over my head.

Peering through the eyehole in our doorway, I see a large group of armed guards banging on my neighbors’ door. A heated conversation ensues, and my neighbors point toward my family’s home.

It hits me. I’ve been accused and they’re here to arrest me.

My father would want me to run, and in that split second, I decide to listen to his voice within me. Flinging myself forward in fear, I scramble up the marble staircase and into my brother’s old bedroom. The door is partially covered, but it exists. Pushing his dresser aside, my fingers claw at the opening. Breathing hard, I lodge myself against it. Nothing. I step back and kick it with all my strength. The wood splinters open, and my foot gets caught. I wrench it backward, scraping my calf, but adrenaline pushes me forward. The voices at the front door shout my name.

On hands and knees, I squeeze through the jagged opening. My brother left through this passage, and now it’s my escape too. Cobwebs entangle my face, hands, and hair. At the end, I feel for the knob, twisting it clockwise. It swings open, creaking from disuse. I sprint into the hallway and smash through the large fire escape doors at the end. A burst of cool air strikes me in the face as I jump down the ladder.

Reaching the fifth floor, I knock on a friend’s window. The lights flicker on, and I see the curtains move, but no one answers. I bang on the window harder.

“Let me in! Please!” I say, but the lights darken. They know I’ve been accused and refuse to help me. Fear and adrenaline rush through my veins as I keep running, knocking on more windows along the way. No one has mercy. They all know what happens to sinners.

Another flight of stairs passes in a blur when I hear the guards’ heavy footfalls from above. I can’t hide, but I don’t want to go without trying.

Help me, Daddy. I need your strength now.

My previous desolation evolves into a will to survive. I have to keep running, but I tremble and gasp for air. I steel my nerves and force my body to keep moving. In a matter of minutes, my legs cramp and my chest burns. I plunge to the ground, scraping my knee and elbow. A moan escapes from my chest.

Gotta keep going.

“Stop!” Their voices bounce off the buildings. “Lexi Hamilton, surrender yourself,” they command. They’re gaining on me.

I resist the urge to glance back, running into what I assume is an alley. I’m far from our high-rise in High Society as I plunge into a poorer section of the city where the streets all look the same and the darkness prevents me from recognizing anything. I’m lost.

My first instinct is to leap into a dumpster, but I retain enough sense to stay still. I crouch and peek around it, watching them dash by. The abhorrent smell soon leaves me vomiting until nothing remains in my stomach. Desperation overtakes me, as I know my retching was anything but silent. My last few seconds tick away before they find me. Everyone knows about their special means of tracking sinners.

I push myself to my feet and look left, right, and left again. Their batons click against their black, leather belts, and their boots stomp the cement on both sides of me. I shrink into myself. Their heavy steps mock my fear, growing closer and closer until I know I’m trapped.

Never did I imagine they’d come for me. Never did I imagine all those nights I heard them dragging someone else away that I’d join them.

“You’re a sinner,” they say. “Time to leave our society.”

I stand defiant. I refuse to bend or break before them even as I shiver with fear.

“There’s no reason to make this difficult. The more you cooperate, the smoother this will be for everyone,” a guard says.

I cringe into the blackness along the wall. I’m innocent, but they won’t believe me or care.

The next instant, my face slams into the pavement as one guard plants a knee in my back and another handcuffs me. A warm liquid trails into my mouth. Blood. Their fingers grip my arms like steel traps as they peel me off the cement. The tops of my shoes scrape along the ground as I’m dragged behind them until they discard me into the back of a black vehicle. The doors slam in unison with one guard stationed on each side of me, my shoulders digging into their arms. The handcuffs dig into my wrists, so I clasp them together hard behind me and press my back into the seat, unwilling to admit how much it hurts. My dignity is all I have left.

Swallowing hard, I stare ahead to avoid their eyes.

Did they need so many guards to capture me?

I’m not carrying any weapons, nor do I own any. I don’t even know self-defense. High Society frowns on activities like that.

The driver jerks the vehicle around and I try to keep my bearings, but it’s dark and the scenery changes too fast. Hours pass and the air grows warmer, more humid, the farther we drive. The landscape mutates from city to rolling hills. They don’t bother blindfolding me because they escort all the sinners to the same place—the Hole. Twenty-foot cement walls encase the chaos within. There’s no way out and no way in unless they transport you. They say the Hole is a prison with no rules. We learned about it last year in twelfth grade.

To the outside, I’m filth now. I’ll never be allowed to return to the life I knew. No one ever does.

“All sinners go through a transformation,” one of the guards says to me. His smirk infuriates me. “I’m sure you’ve heard all kinds of stories.” I don’t respond. I don’t want to think about the things I’ve been told.

“You won’t last too long, though. Young girls like you get eaten alive.” He pulls a strand of my hair up to his face.

Get your hands off me, you pig. I want to lash out, but resist. The punishment for disobeying authority is severe, and I’m not positioned to defy him.

They’re the Guards of the Commander. They’re chosen from a young age and trained in combat. They keep the order of society by using violent methods of intimidation. No one befriends a guard. Relationships with them are forbidden inside the Hole.

Few have seen the commander. His identity stays under lock and key. His own paranoia and desire to stay pure drove him to live this way. He controls our depraved society and believes sinners make the human race unforgivable. His power is a crushing fist, rendering all beneath him helpless. So much so, even family members turn on each other when an accusation surfaces. Just an accusation. No trial, no evidence, nothing but an accusation.

I lose myself in thoughts of my father.

“Never show fear, Lexi,” my father said to me before he was taken. “They’ll use it against you.” His compassionate eyes filled with warning as he commanded me to be strong. That was many years ago, but I remember it clearly. My father. My rock. The one person in my life who provided unconditional love.

The vehicle stops, and I’m jerked back to reality. “Get out,” the guard orders while pulling me to my feet. The doors slide open and the two guards lift me up and out into the night. A windowless cement building looms in front of us, looking barren in the darkness.

The coolness of the air sends a shiver up my spine. This is really happening. I’ve been labeled a sinner. My lip starts to quiver, but I bite it before anyone sees. They shove me in line and I realize I’m not alone. Women and men stand with faces frozen white in fear. A guard grabs my finger, pricks it, and dabs my blood on a tiny microchip.

I follow the man in front of me into the next room where we’re lined up facing the wall. Glancing right, I see one of the men crying.

“Spread your legs,” one of the guards says.

They remove my outer layers and their hands roam up and down my body.

What do they think I could possibly be hiding? I press my head into the wall, trying to block out what they’re doing to me.

“MOVE!” a guard commands. So I shuffle across the room, trying to cover up.





Five of us sit in the holding room. One by one, they pull people into the next room, forcing the rest of us to wonder what torture we’ll endure. An agonizing amount of time passes. I lean my head back and try to imagine a place far away. The door opens.

“Lexi Hamilton.”

A guard escorts me out of the room, and I don’t have time to look back. As soon as the door closes, they pick me up and place me on a table. It’s cold and my skin sticks to it slightly, like wet fingers on an ice cube. Then, they exit in procession, and I lie on the table with a doctor standing over me. His hands are busy as he speaks.

“Don’t move. This will only take a few minutes. It’s time for you to be branded.”

A wet cloth that smells like rubbing alcohol is used to clean my skin. Then he places a metal collar around my neck.

Click. Click. Click.

The collar locks into place, and I struggle to breathe. The doctor loosens it some as I focus on the painted black words above me.

The Seven Deadly Sins:

Lust ¾ Blue

Gluttony ¾ Orange

Greed ¾ Yellow

Sloth ¾ Light Blue

Wrath ¾ Red

Envy ¾ Green

Pride ¾ Purple

“Memorize it. Might keep you alive longer if you know who to stay away from.” He opens my mouth, placing a bit inside. “Bite this.”

Within seconds, the collar heats from hot to scorching. The smell of flesh sizzling makes my head spin. I bite down so hard a tooth cracks.

“GRRRRRRRRR,” escapes from deep within my chest. Just when I’m about to pass out, the temperature drops, and the doctor loosens the collar.

He removes it and sits me up. Excruciating pain rips through me and I’m on the verge of a mental and physical breakdown. Focus. Don’t pass out.

Stainless steel counters and boring white walls press in on me. A guard laughs at me from an observation room above and yells, “Blue. It’s a great color for a pretty young thing like yourself.” His eyes dance with suggestion. The others meander around like it’s business as usual.

I finally find my voice and turn to the doctor.

“Are you going to give me clothes?” A burning pain spreads like fire from my neck to my jaw, making me wince.

He points to a set of folded grey scrubs on a chair. I cover myself as much as I can and scurry sideways. Grabbing my new clothes, I pull the shirt over my head and try to avoid the raw meat around my throat. I quickly knot the cord of my pants around my waist and slide my feet into the hospital-issue slippers as the doctor observes. He hands me a bag labeled with my name.

“Nothing is allowed through the door but what we’ve given you,” he says.

I hide my right hand behind me, hoping no one notices. A guard scans my body and opens his hand.

“Give it to me,” he says. “Don’t make me rip off your finger.” He crouches down and I turn to stone. I don’t know what to do, so I beg.

“My father gave this to me. Please, let me keep it.” I smash my eyes shut and think of the moment my father handed the golden ring to me.

It was my mother’s ring,” he’d said. “She’s the strongest woman I ever knew.” With tears in his eyes, he reached for my hand. “Lexi, you’re exactly like her. She’d want you to wear this. No matter how this world changes, you can survive.” I turned the gold band over in my palm and read the engraving.

You can overcome anything… short of death.

“You’re going to take the one thing that matters the most to me?” I say, glaring into the guard’s emotionless eyes. “Isn’t it enough taking my life, dignity, and respect?”

A hard blow falls upon my back. As I fall, my hands shoot out to stop me from smashing into the wall in front of me. The guard bends down and grabs my chin with his meaty fist.

“Look at me,” he commands. I look up and he smiles with arrogance.

“What the hell?” He staggers a step backward. “What’s wrong with you? What’s wrong with your eyes?”

“Nothing,” I respond, confused.

“What color are they?”

“Turquoise.” I glower at him.

“Interesting,” he says, regaining his composure. “Now those’ll get you in trouble.”

Reality slaps me across the face. I have my father’s eyes. They can't take them from me. I twist the ring off my finger and drop it in his hand.

“Take the damn ring,” I say. I walk to the door. He swipes a card and the massive door slides open to the outside.

“You have to wear your hair back at all times, so everyone knows what you are.” He hands me a tie, so I pull my frizzy hair away from my face and secure it into a ponytail. My neck burns and itches as my hand traces the scabs that have already begun to form. Squinting ahead into the darkness, I almost run into a guard standing on the sidewalk.

“Watch where you’re going,” he says, shoving me backward. His stiff figure stands tall and I cringe at the sharpness of his voice.

“Cole, this is your new assignment, Lexi Hamilton. See to it she feels welcome in her new home.” The guard departs with a salute.

“Let’s move,” Cole says.

I take two steps and collapse, my knees giving out. The unforgiving pavement reopens the scrapes from earlier and I struggle to stand. A powerful arm snatches me up, and I see his face for the first time.

Abi Ketner is a registered nurse with a passion for novels, the beaches of St. John, and her Philadelphia Phillies. A talented singer, Abi loves to go running and spend lots of time with her family. She currently resides in Lancaster, Pennsylvania with her husband, triplet daughters and two very spoiled dogs.

Melissa Kalicicki received her bachelor’s degree from Millersville University in 2003. She married, had two boys and currently lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Aside from reading and writing, her interests include running and mixed martial arts. She also remains an avid Cleveland sports fan.

Abi and Missy met in the summer of 1999 at college orientation and have been best friends ever since. After college, they added jobs, husbands and kids to their lives, but they still found time for their friendship. Instead of hanging out on weekends, they went to dinner once a month and reviewed books. What started out as an enjoyable hobby has now become an incredible adventure.

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