Friday, May 24, 2013

Big Birthday Bookie Bash - Bringing Back Bookish Beatitude

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Contributing Authors/Bloggers/Book Lovers

Dannika Dark Mary Ann Bernal Jeannette Medina
(JP Medina)
Kitten K. Jackson G.D. Steel
Sandee Woolf Elena Gray Yezall Strongheart Natalie Hancock N. Kuhn
Cindy Hardwell Saranna DeWylde Paula Shene Audrey Harte Kelli McCracken
Kimberly Knight Alexis Alexander D.N. Simmons Rachel A Olson Mark Barry
Brandy Nacole Alex Shippe Robynn Gabel Crystal Schall Jessica Humphrey
Christin Berger Susan Jean Ricci Gena D. Lutz Carolyn Jewel J. C. S.
Kerry Brackett Samantha Atkin
(Passionate About Books)
Michelle Turner Lisa Logue Wendy Knight
Cyma Rizwaan Khan Jessica Chase Nike Campbell-Fatoki RM Gilmore Kimmi “Smoochy” of
LipSmackin GoodBooks
Peggy Warren of
Le' BookSquirrel
Fiona Wilson of
Fiona's Book Review
Indie Author Network Danielle Cosenza of
Danielle's Book Reviews
Patricia Green of
Crystal Schall of
The Book Rack
Sylvianne Breton of
Les Lectures
Pamela Foreman Michael Brookes of
The Cult of Me
Tim Ouellette
Lasaki Redbird of
The Girl With the Red Cape
Tiffany Webb of
Book-Marks the Spot
Michelle Turner Mary Unterstab of
Sandi Contreras-Morayla of
Book Boyfriend Reviews
Samantha Truesdale of
Mom of 2 Book Reviews
Dawn “Froggarita” Saenz of
Froggarita's Bookcase
Mira Garland of
(Mira's) Great Books
Amanda AJ Jones of
Mama's Reading Break
I Heart Books
 (Kris Pittman, Jeannette Medina, Fiona Wilson)
Julia Mills
 (PA of RM Gilmore)
Toni Carter of
Everything Books and Authors
Jasmine Christine Scott Zee Hayat of
Zee's Book Blog

Apologies ahead of time to anyone I misspelled, got incorrect, or missed altogether. If you see an error that you'd like corrected, please contact me ASAP. Thanks! 

ALL potential winning entries will be reviewed before winners are officially announced. Please be honest with your answers and entries. Also, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE be sure to pay attention to the giveaway location, giveaway type, and EACH INDIVIDUAL FORMAT TYPE. Thank you.

a Rafflecopter giveaway a Rafflecopter giveaway
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First Place: Signed Paperback of Anguished Immortals: Book One, Acts of the Fallen, a signed shirt, and a signed print from the upcoming Graphic Novel Edition.

Second Place: Surprise from the author

Third Place: Surprise from the author

An e-copy of Eternal Darkness by Natalie Hancock is available to ANYONE who will like her page, rate/review Eternal Darkness after reading, and help promote (post, tweet, share, etc.). If interested, head over to her page by clicking here, like her page, and tell her ParaSuperNormalism sent you.

Here's a giveaway offered by author R.M. Gilmore! This is worldwide!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Giveaways run until 11:59PM Mountain Daylight Time on May 31st. Winners will be contacted via email within a week after all giveaways end. Be sure to keep an eye on your inboxes AND spam folders. Thanks to all who helped with this awesome week, and to everyone who comes and joins us!
NOTE: If you see your name posted on a rafflecopter and do NOT receive contact, please email me at Thank you!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Keeping Secrets & Keeping Secrets II by Kitten K Jackson Blog Tour

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Keeping Secrets

Keeping Secrets II: No More Skeletons


“And now you found her on Facebook.”
“It was easy. She spells her name with an ‘ie’, instead of a ‘y’. Abbie Rae Kolbeck. I searched it, and there she was.”
“Dude, how is it that she doesn’t know it’s you? You don’t have any photos on?”
“No, I have photos. Like I said, she knows me as Johnny Moretti. And when she knew me, I was this skinny little geek with big, wavy hair, bad teeth, zits, green eyes and big-ass glasses. Now, I’m four inches taller, about 50 pounds heavier, my hair is short, and I have the mustache and goatee. Oh, and I got my nose fixed. And I have brown contacts. And I had braces.”
“You got a nose job?”
“Yeah. Before I met you.”
“Yeah. You didn’t look like that when I met you.”
“That was the idea.”
“Hmm. So why did you send her the friend request?”
“I want to see her.”
“You what?”
“I want to see her.”
“Greg, you’re drunk. Let’s talk about this when—”
“No! I haven’t been drunk for the past 15 years! I’ve never stopped loving her, and I’ve never stopped wanting her.”
“But Greg. You said you’ve done something that could get you’re ass thrown in prison. What’s the statute of limitations for rape down there?”
“In Florida, there isn’t one.”
“What? You mean, for the rest of your life, you have to worry about going to prison?”
“I guess. I’m not sure the law’s reto…retroactive, but that’s Johnny Moretti. I’m not Johnny Moretti.”
“Greg, do you hear yourself? You need to go home and sleep this off, and in the morning, you’ll see how crazy this is.”
“I didn’t come up with this tonight, Mark. I’ve been thinking a lot about it on and off for the past few years.”
“Mostly off, I hope.”
“No, mostly on. And I think I can pull it off.”
“Look, going to a new place and starting over as someone else is one thing. But going back to where people knew you before and pretending to be someone else is a different thing entirely.”
“I’m not pretending. I am someone else.”
Greg reached into his back pocket. He pulled out his wallet and started going through it. There in the back, under some business cards, was a picture of an unattractive, skinny boy with shoulder-length, big hair, a huge nose, bad teeth, and big, ugly glasses. He showed Mark the picture.
“Does that look like me?”
Mark studied the picture, then looked at Greg. “No. Not at all. Damn!”
“See what I mean?”
“Okay, but what about your voice? Surely, your voice isn’t different from when you were in college.”
“That’s the only thing I’m a little bit concerned about. But back then, I was a southern boy. Now, I’m a full-on New Yorka. Fuhgetaboutit! Ya know? I’m a completely different guy, other than maybe my voice sounds a little like someone she used to know.”
“Yeah, someone who raped her! If you weren’t drunk, you’d realize how ridiculous that sounds.”
“Hey, I’ve thought this through when I was sober, and I know it’s a big chance, but I think it’s something I have to do. It’s a chance I have to take, Mark. She’s the reason I can’t, and don’t even want, to get close to anyone else. I still love her!


Abbie went to The Coffee Break for a while, and then met Angela at the restaurant. When they met, they hugged as if they hadn’t seen each other in years.
“Are you okay?” Angela whispered, her pretty, grey eyes looking down into Abbie’s.
“Yeah. I’ll be so happy to get this stupid brace off my arm. It gets on my last nerve.”
“When can you take it off?”
“I can take it off any time I want, but I have to keep it on for another few weeks, if I want the bone to heal the right way.”
“Well, leave it on and deal with it. What I meant was last night.”
“Oh! He held my neighbors prisoner last night, watching my house.”
“Yuh-huh. When I got home, I noticed a black Suburban in their driveway, and my neighbors don’t ever have company at night, so it worried me. So I called over there, and Martha answered and sounded really weird. When I asked her if she had company, she said it was her daughter, and she doesn’t have a daughter.”
“Good thinkin’.”
“Right. Thank God, I knew that! But I didn’t know what to do, so after we hung up, I went and looked out the window. I saw him leave, so I went over there.”
“It’s a good thing, I did! They were taped up with duct tape in their closet! If I hadn’t gone over there, they would’ve probably died ‘cause they don’t have any children, and they hardly ever have any company.”
“And it was him.”
“Oh, I forgot to tell you!”
Abbie reached into her purse, pulled out the note, and handed it to Angela, saying, “Check this out.”
Angela opened it up, read it, and gasped.
“It was him!”
“Yep. The Townsends were talking about how polite he was. Ang, he even made sandwiches for ‘em and let ‘em eat! And look at that note. He was concerned about me—protecting me!”
“He made sandwiches for his kidnappin’ victims? Oh, how precious! You’ve got to get back together with him!” Angela said, eyes wide, shaking her head.
“Stoooop,” Abbie whined. “You know how hard this is for me. I love this guy.”
“Abbie, you were only with him, what? Three or four weeks?”
“Not even.”
“So how are you so in love with him?”
“I don’t know how to explain it, Ang. It’s like we’ve always been together—like we’re made for each other. We just fit together so perfectly. Seriously, I’ve never felt this way before. And I’ve never had anybody really love me before. You’ve gotta agree with that.”
“Oh, I definitely agree with that. As gorgeous as you are, you could have any man you want, and you attract assholes like flies on shit.”
“Ew! That’s just gross, Angela! And we’re about to eat!”
“Abbie, you need some serious help.” Then whispering, leaning across the tiny table, Angela said, “The guy is a fuckin’ murderer! He killed his parents! Does that mean nothin’ to you?”
“Of course, it means something to me. I guess I can’t wrap my head around it. It’s like, I can’t put together the sweet guy I know him to be, with the kind of person who could murder somebody.”
“I’m really worried about you, Abbie. You wouldn’t be with him again, would you?”
“Of course, not. I know what he’s done. It’s hard to believe, but I do know it.”
Angela said, “Oh, I went to see Phillip this mornin’, and he’s gonna find me a .38.”
“So he’s one of your friends in low places?”
“I didn’t know you had friends in low places.”
“I didn’t know you liked to date murderers.”
Abbie was shocked. Eyes wide, she said, “Witch!”
Angela sighed and hung her head. “I know. I’m sorry. I’m PMSin’. Abbie, promise me you won’t take up with that guy again.”
“Hell, Ang, how can I? He’s on the freaking lam!” Abbie said, arms flailing.
Simultaneously, they burst into laughter, cackling loudly. Everyone seated near them turned and looked at them. In their own little world, where friends in low places get guns for normally law-abiding citizens and murdering ex-boyfriends are on the lam, they didn’t notice anyone else around them. In that moment, it was all good.
When the laughter subsided, and Abbie and Angela noticed several of the people near them still looking, they both blushed and said sheepishly, “Sorry.”
“Where do you think he is?”
“I have no idea.”
“Well, at least, you don’t have to worry about the sandwiches,” Angela said, grinning.
Abbie bit her lip to keep from laughing. “You’re bad.”
“I know. But this is all so insane, you have to laugh at it.”
“Yeah. It feels a heck of a lot better than crying. I’m so sick of crying, I could puke.”
“Does he know about Taylor?”
“No, it’s okay. He won’t hurt Taylor. And anyway, he already figured it out before I told him.”
“How do you know he won’t hurt her?”
“I just know. He won’t hurt her.”
“You’re puttin’ way too much trust in this guy. I mean, if he can kill his own mother, and you’re afraid he could kill us…”
Adoptive mother, who got drunk and read romances while he was being raped by his father in the next room…a woman he hated with every fiber of his being…”
“Yeah, but—”
“But nothing. Taylor’s fine. But I’ll call her, and you’ll see.”
Abbie called her, and a minute or so into the call, Abbie found that Taylor had seen Greg at the mall the day before.
Abbie ended the call, looking at Angela. “Did you get that?”
“Yeah, I got it. He’s stalkin’ your daughter.”
“She said she saw him at the mall, and he waved and smiled at her, and when she spoke to him, he said ‘hi’, and then he walked away.”
“You don’t really think that’s coincidence, do ya?”
“No, but I think it’s proof that he’s not gonna hurt her.”
“How the hell is it proof he’s not gonna hurt her?”
“Because he walked away from her.”
“Abbie, lean over here, so I can slap the shit out o’ you!”
“He’s not gonna do anything to her in public, where there’s security! Abbie, this is your daughter we’re talkin’ about here!”
“And his! And he knows it! I’m telling you, Ang, he won’t hurt her. He kept trying to talk me into telling her we were her parents. He wanted her to know that, and for us to be able to see her.”
“Abbie, you’re not seein’ this the way I am. To me, that sounds like all the more reason he would try to take her. Maybe not to hurt her, but to have her with him.”
“I told him that as long as he stayed away from Taylor, me, and my family, I wouldn’t tell the police anything about him killing his father.”
“Yeah, and that’s obviously workin’ out real well for ya! He’s stalkin’ you and Taylor!”
“Ang, I know it sounds crazy, and maybe it is, but I don’t think he would hurt either of us—especially Taylor. That’s his flesh and blood.”
“You need to be committed. I’m callin’ your mom right now.”
“Shut up.”
“I mean it, Abbie. Again, we’re talkin’ about a guy who killed his parents!” Angela whispered.
“Okay, call the crazy hospital and have ‘em pick me up.”
“You think I’m jokin’. I really think you’re losin’ your grip on reality, Abbie. There is nobody in the world that would see this the way you do.”
“Apparently, that psychologist thinks so, too. Hell, maybe I am crazy! How would I know?”
“Really. You’re not thinkin’ rationally. Last night when you were at my house, you were makin’ a lot more sense than you are now, and you thought you were bein’ crazy then. So did I. But the more I hear about this guy, the more I think he’s capable of almost anything.”
“When is that guy getting you the gun?”
“I’m not sure. It’s not like he’s goin’ to a gun shop. He knows a pawn shop owner that said he could get him one under the table, but I don’t know when.”
“Well, getting it for a Christmas present might be a little late. Time is of the essence, ya know?”
“What do you want me to do? Tell the guy who’s doin’ me a huge favor he’d better hurry his ass up?”
“Do you have the .357 with you?”
“No. That thing weighs a ton. If I put it in my purse, it would probably break my shoulder.”
“Don’t be a puss.”
“Now I’m a puss for not carrying a .357 Magnum in my purse? What am I, Dirty Harry?”
“Dirty Angie,” Abbie said, giggling.
“Yeah, that’s me.”
“I want you to be safe.”
“Okay. Now you’re makin’ some sense. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.”

Why the middle initial? Well, with a name like “Kitten,” I was hoping the middle initial would give it a more serious, “grown-up” sound. And no, I was never a stripper, contrary to what the name might convey! LOL! My dad started calling me Kitten when I was only days old, so there was no pole dancer connotation intended there!
I wrote both Keeping Secrets and Keeping Secrets II in 2012. I then went back and edited and published the first book in December, ‘12. Then I edited and published the sequel on Smashwords on May 5th and on Amazon on May 8th of this year.

I’m from Muscle Shoals, Alabama (Roll Tide!). I’m in Wilmington, North Carolina now, homesick for my daughter, the rest of my family, and sweet home Alabama. For those of you who don’t know, Muscle Shoals was “The Hit Recording Capital of the World” back in the late 60s, through the 70s. Everyone from The Rolling Stones to Aretha Franklin, and lots in between came to that tiny town on the Tennessee River to record hits such as Wild Horses, Brown Sugar, Mustang Sally, When a Man Loves a Woman, and many more. And I went to school with the sons (great guys) of the man who started it all at FAME Recording Studios—Rick Hall.
My best friend is my little black and tan doxie, Peej. “Peej?” you might ask. Peej is short for PJ. PJ is short for Precious Jackson. Peej was my dad’s baby. When he died in 2009, she became mine. When I would tell people her name was PJ, they would say, “He’s so cute.” So I started calling her Peej, which just confuses everyone, but it’s okay. It fits her.


  1. Why did you want to be a writer?
I’ve always loved to write. It’s just who I am. But I’ve wanted to be a published author for as long as I can remember. But why? I think part of it is that I wanted to create something that could live beyond me. I guess I have a fear of being forgotten, and it makes me feel good to know that someday, after I’m gone, someone might actually read my books.
  1. What is your favorite genre of book? Which genre do you like the least?
My favorite genre is the same that I write—thrillers. I guess my least favorite would be the “sweetsie” romances or maybe hardcore horror.
  1. Have you ever faced writers block and what are some suggestions to get past writers block?
I haven’t ever experienced writer’s block. (Fingers crossed!) Hmmm… I suppose if I did get writer’s block, I would read or watch a movie. Not to copy anything, of course, but just to get the creative part of my mind in gear.
  1. What is your least favorite aspect of writing a book?
Choosing the title! I didn’t have the title for Keeping Secrets until right before I published it, when I was writing the description. That’s when it clicked for me. I went for months thinking of something I liked, then searching it and finding that it was already taken. I saw an “expert” asking for suggestions for a book title in a Facebook group. Someone gave a great one, and the expert said, “That one is already taken.” All the best titles are taken! You can’t copyright a title. But it’s best to find a title that hasn’t had another work recently released with it. I finally gave up on finding something original, and found something that fit perfectly, and I went with it.
  1. Are any of your characters based on anyone you know?
Yes. I’m a part of most of the characters, and a large part of who Abbie is in Keeping Secrets. Angela, Abbie’s best friend, is based on a friend of mine—Angela. Her personality is almost identical to my friend’s.
  1. Which one of your characters would you want with you on a deserted island?
LOL! Well, I think I would like to hang out with Abbie. But then, Greg is pretty hot! But he might be dangerous, so I’d go with Abbie.
  1. If your book(s) were turned into a movie, who could you see playing them?
Good question! I don’t know how many of you will remember Jason Patric from The Lost Boys, but I have someone with that sort of look in mind for Greg. As for Abbie, I think Kristen Bell would probably be good to play her part.

8. What makes your book different from others in this genre?
I’ve had several bloggers/reviewers tell me that it’s different from anything they’ve ever read because it puts romance and horror together. Not horror as in gory, slasher horror, but as in fearing for one of the characters’ life. And as for the genre—I’ve yet to figure out which category to put it in. It’s so many things, rather than one or two.

9. What advice would you give people wanting to get into writing?
Read everything you can get your hands on in the genre you’re interested in writing. And write every day. Practice makes perfect. Well, nothing is perfect but in most cases, the more you write, the better you write. And find out everything you can about marketing books, because no matter how good the book is, it won’t sell if no one knows about it.

Thanks for having me for this interesting interview and tour stop, Rachel. I’ve really enjoyed it!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Branded Trailer Reveal @AbiandMissy

Title: Branded
Author: Abi Ketner & Missy Kalicicki
Release Date: June 28, 2013
Genre: Mature Young Adult, Dystopian
Reveal Host: Lady Amber's Tours

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

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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