Tell Me Lies by Carola Lovering

Lucy Albright is far from her Long Island upbringing when she arrives on the campus of her small California college, and happy to be hundreds of miles from her mother, whom she’s never forgiven for an act of betrayal in her early teen years. Quickly grasping at her fresh start, Lucy embraces college life and all it has to offer—new friends, wild parties, stimulating classes. And then she meets Stephen DeMarco. Charming. Attractive. Complicated. Devastating.

Confident and cocksure, Stephen sees something in Lucy that no one else has, and she’s quickly seduced by this vision of herself, and the sense of possibility that his attention brings her. Meanwhile, Stephen is determined to forget an incident buried in his past that, if exposed, could ruin him, and his single-minded drive for success extends to winning, and keeping, Lucy’s heart.

Lucy knows there’s something about Stephen that isn’t to be trusted. Stephen knows Lucy can’t tear herself away. And their addicting entanglement will have consequences they never could have imagined.

Alternating between Lucy’s and Stephen’s voices, TELL ME LIES follows their connection through college and post-college life in New York City. With the psychological insight and biting wit of Luckiest Girl Alive, and the yearning ambitions and desires of Sweetbitter, this keenly intelligent and staggeringly resonant novel chronicles the exhilaration and dilemmas of young adulthood, and the difficulty of letting go—even when you know you should.

Carola Lovering attended Colorado College, and her work has appeared in W Magazine, National Geographic, Outside, and Yoga Journal, among other publications. Tell Me Lies is her first novel. She currently lives in Brooklyn.

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Tattered by Devney Perry ~ Sarah A’s Review

Thea Landry has always known her place in modern-day society. It’s somewhere just above the trash can her mother dumped her in as a newborn but below the class where much comes easy. With her tattered shoes and bargain-bin clothes, her life has never been full of glamour.

So when a rich and charismatic man takes interest, she doesn’t fool herself into thinking their encounter is anything more than a one-night stand. Months later, she’s kicking herself for not getting his phone number. Or his last name. She’s given up hope of seeing him ever again.

Until one day, years later, Logan Kendrick waltzes into her life once more and turns everything she’s built upside down. This time around, she won’t make the same mistake. She’s going to fight to keep him in her life—not for herself.

But for their daughter.

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Freakin’-A, man. Devney Perry knows how to deliver a fantastic story. Tattered had me in knots, completely obsessed with finishing the book, while never wanting it to end. While it may not have surpassed The Birthday List as my favorite book by her, it comes in a close second. Thea and Logan’s story was sublime and just completely sated a need in my heart for a therapeutic romance I didn’t know was there.

Tattered hit on a some of my favorite tropes, rich-poor, surprise-child, family-by-love-not-blood, and did it beautifully. I can’t express how masterfully Ms. Perry constructed this story and made several moving parts, not all harmonious, work together and create such a poignant tale of love and healing. Thea’s story, in particular, ripped my heart to pieces, but in true Devney Perry style, she knit those pieces back together and made my simultaneously more compassionate and more resilient.

Thea was everything. She may have come from less than nothing, but her strength, her drive, her fierce love and protection for those she loved made her worth more than anyone she encountered – maybe not Hazel, that woman was amazing, too. I loved that she never allowed anything to come before her and her daughter’s needs and happiness. She knew herself well enough and had fought hard enough in her life, to know loving herself was the key to making all the other parts of her life work. She was phenomenal.

Logan surprised me. From the beginning of the story, he was completely different than I had expected, better. Even when he was being obtuse and planning a life he hadn’t consulted Thea about, there was still something charming and compassionate about his choices. I appreciated that he was able to identify when he’d done something wrong and took steps to rectify those poor choices. Most of all, I loved how completely devoted he was to Charlie (their daughter) as soon as he found out about her.

Tattered is the first book in Devney Perry’s Lark Cove series. These books are interconnected standalones and will not need to be read in order for continuity, but honestly, if you read Devney Perry’s work, you’re going to want to read them all. Tattered is written in dual first-person perspective, narrated by Thea and Logan.

Devney Perry is proving herself to be the master of emotionally charged, put-my-heart-through-a-blender stories. She has an impeccable style that lends well to the type of powerful storylines and can deliver wonderful healing arcs for her characters with ease. Every time I pick up one of her books I am more impressed with how gifted a wordsmith she is, and I’m in awe of her skill.

He stared at me for a long moment. “You’re sure she’s mine?”

“She’s yours.”

“Then that’s good enough.”

“I—really?” I blinked. He didn’t want to verify paternity? He just . . . trusted me?

He nodded. “Really.”

“I swear, I tried to find you, Logan. On my life, I swear it. But the hotel wouldn’t give me your name no matter how much I begged. And you paid cash for your drinks and never mentioned your last name. I tried, but I just . . . didn’t know where to start.”

“It’s not your fault. I believe you.”

The sincerity in his voice made my throat burn. Goddamn it. I was going to cry.

I’d worked so hard not to cry today. I’d fought to keep my emotions in check and my head from spinning out of control. But this was going to make me break.

I wanted so badly for Logan to believe that I hadn’t kept Charlie from him intentionally. The fact that a man like him would trust someone like me without proof meant more than he’d ever know.

“Thank you,” I choked out past the lump in my throat.

“So, um, is Charlie inside with your husband? Or boyfriend?”

The urge to cry disappeared and I barked out a laugh. “Smooth.”

He chuckled. “It’s been a long day for me. Give me a break, will you? This morning I was in New York, then I came to Montana for a business meeting and discovered a daughter. I’m off my game.”

Devney lives in Montana with her husband and two children. After working in the technology industry for nearly a decade, she abandoned conference calls and project schedules to enjoy a slower pace at home with her kids. She loves reading and, after consuming hundreds of books, decided to share her own stories.

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Unconscious Hearts by Harper Sloan ~ Sarah A’s Review

Ari Daniels didn’t count on her whole world tumbling down around her in a mess of shredded promises, broken love, and unbelievable heartbreak. Alone and stricken with grief, she shouldered the blame and eventually closed her heart off, refusing to open it for another.  After all, anytime she tried, guilt and regret were waiting in the wings to remind her how painful it was.

A bet and one steamy night with a stranger force Ari to confront all she’s been hiding behind.  She tries to move on, but he refuses to stand down, wanting what she is terrified to give—herself.  This man may very well destroy her in the end, especially when it’s clear he has his own demons.

What happens when two broken souls come together, finally allowing themselves to believe in the beauty of love … only to have to fight harder than ever to keep it.

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Unconscious Hearts was heartbreaking in a way I never saw coming. The entire book took me through the emotional wringer, but that climax? Earth shattering, in so many ways. From the second I opened the book I was beyond obsessed with Ari and Thorn, the more I read, the stronger the addiction got. By the time I was finished reading, I wanted to erase it from my memory and start back from the beginning.

Ari and Thorn were both phenomenal. They’d each been so broken, so incapable of giving or feeling love before they stumbled into each other’s lives, watching them overcome their pasts to become whole and healed for each other, was beautiful. While each of their growth arcs were distinct and the catalysts for their decisions to change different, the ends results allowed them to find more love and happiness than either of them had ever imagined.

I was enamored with Ari and Thorn’s relationship. From the first second they saw each other, to the final chapter they set themselves apart from many other couples in the romance genre. I adored their honesty with one another, the way they trusted and supported each other, and just how wholly involved they were in being together. Their connection was electric regardless of what situation they were in, their need for one another seeped from the pages and colored every second of my reading experience. My reading experience was heightened because I believed so wholly in them.

The plot of Unconscious Hearts was intense and fast-paced. Between Ari and Thorn navigating a relationship unlike any they’d ever experienced, to their love and concern for their friends, to their pasts and how they’d been shaped by them, to the shadowy third voice hell-bent on seeing the world burn, there wasn’t a second when I felt a lull in the reading. Ms. Sloan did a fabulous job of weaving all those moving pieces into a coherent story that was twisted into a perfect tapestry of life and love by the end of the novel.

Unconscious Hearts is the first book in Harper Sloan’s Hearts of Vegas series. These books will be interconnected standalones. This book was a complete story and did not leave us with any questions as to Ari and Thorn’s relationship, though I am DYING to get my hands on the next book because I have SO many questions about those characters. Unconscious Hearts is primarily written in dual first-person perspective, narrated by Ari and Thorn.

Harper Sloan is an author I’ve promised myself I’d carve out time to read. However, I’m better with intentions than follow through when it comes to doing that. When I heard she had a new series coming out, I jumped at the chance to start at the beginning of something, rather than trying to catch-up with one of her other series. She more than lived up to my expectations with this novel. I was completely immersed in the world she built, in love with her characters, and blown away by how captivating and en pointe her plotting was. In short, I found every part of her creative process compelling and can’t wait to read more of her work.

His eyes get hard for a beat before his features smooth back out.  “Yeah, beyond sure.  No one to pass this shit down to, and even if there was, I wouldn’t be givin’ someone ideas of materialistic bullshit if I did.  More to life than all this shit.”

“Okay, well, in that case …” I cough, not wanting to fight with him about our views when it comes to expensive wants versus needs.  Last time I tried to argue the benefits of learning to care for and value something you work hard to buy, I had a black eye for almost two weeks.   “In that case, I’m prepared to offer you a lump sum as a buyout for the whole collection, but I also want to mention, again, that consignment would be a more lucrative approach.  Our buyout is just a standard percent of resale value, but consignment would allow us to mark up each to give you a larger profit.”

“Told you, babe, want it gone.  I don’t give a shit about making it more lucrative.  Look around you, hardly hurting.”

“Still, it’s my obligation to make sure you’re informed.”

“Consider me informed.”

“Okay … so I can offer a tentative amount of three million.  I would need more time to inspect each item in depth for any defects that could affect the value and also to research a few pieces I feel may be limited editions so that could also affect the value.  Meaning that amount could go up or down, but I wouldn’t expect it to be less than two point five or more than four point seven-ish.  I wouldn’t need but maybe five days tops, and I can come during the day if that works better for your schedule.”

“You get this gone in two days, and I’ll take one mil.”

My whole body jerks back as if I had been slapped, staring at him like he was absolutely insane. 

“That’s absolutely insane,” I tell him, voicing my thoughts.

“No, that’s me not giving a shit and wanting it gone so I can get out of this place and sell it and all this shit some hand with care placed around each room.  Woulda left this shit in and sold it with the house, but for some reason I’ll never understand, you’re here, and I still just want it gone.  You don’t need five days when I’m taking a two mil hit, babe.  That would waste your time and mine, and I’m not a huge fan of wasting my time.  Way I see it, you win, and I get a cold mil for some shit I didn’t buy nor care about.  So you get this shit outta here, and all I need is that.”

“Thorn, I can’t in good conscience accept that.”

“Then dirty that conscience up and laugh your tight little ass all the way to the bank.  Don’t give a shit as long as it’s gone, and I don’t have to do anything to make it that way.”

“This is insanity.”

“Insanity would be tossing it all at the Goodwill drop-off.  I’m making money.  You’re making money.  Only thing sweeter than making money is doing it while I’m getting my cock wet, and babe, that only happens when my stock rises at the same time my cock does.”  He steps closer, and I back into the island, my chest burning as I hold my breath.  “Course, never had four mil worth of shit to sell to a woman who makes my cock rise without even trying.”

“Thorn,” I whisper, placing my hand against his hard chest with the intention of pushing him back.  Only, the second his warmth burns through his shirt and hits my skin, I can’t move an inch.

“Ari,” he mocks, his eyes bright.

“I, uh, the paperwork …” I close my eyes and focus on my breaths and the words my mouth can’t seem to form.  When my heart slows enough that I won’t die of a heart attack right here in heaven, I look back up at him.  “You’re breaking my brain, Thorn.  Please step back so I can think clearly without my body trying to die on me.”

The corners of his eyes crinkle as he continues to gaze down at me, but he does step back.  My arm falling down to my side.

“As much as I wish I could have this room cleared out for you tomorrow, it will take at least until late Monday.  I’ll need to meet with you beforehand to have some legal paperwork signed for the sale due to its size.  But my lawyer is an old family friend, so I can have that by tomorrow around dinnertime, if you wouldn’t mind meeting me to take care of that.  I won’t be able to get the cashier’s check until after those are signed, so late Monday is the best I can offer you.”

“Want this shit gone, but it’s hardly a hardship to wait a few more days if that means I’ve got a few more opportunities to try to make you want me as much as you want this shit around you,” he says, his deep voice thick with desire.

“Good heavens, you don’t stop, do you?”

“Not unless you beg, babe.”

“I think it’s best we went back to keeping things professional, Mr. Evans.”

This time, it isn’t a ghost of a smile on his lips.  Oh, no.  Not this time.  If I thought he was handsome before this moment, I was a fool.  Because Thorn Evans giving you his full, unhindered smile and a gaze so thick with unspoken promise as it washes over you and creates a fire of the desire you already felt … well, that expression on him turns him from sinfully hot to heart-stopping and irresistible instantly.

“It would take me five minutes to get you to beg me for it, Ms. Daniels.  Admit it.”

Offended at the thought that I’m easy, I narrow my eyes.  Finally.  At least anger is an emotion I’ve had plenty of practice dealing with.  “I’m not sure what kind of women you’re used to, but I promise you, I am not that type of woman.”

“Maybe three,” he oddly says, ignoring me.

“Three, what?” I snap.

“Minutes, sweetness.  Three minutes and you’d be begging me for all this shit and my cock.”

My mouth flounders, and I gasp.

“Though, pretty sure I could get that in less than a minute and get you doin’ all the work while I watch from my back.”

My arm is up, palm cracking against his cheek before I have the ability to do anything to stop it.  “I think we’re done here.”

I walk around him, ready to find my way out and let him find someone else to take all of this off his hands even if it kills a little part of my lux loving soul.  When his hand curls around my bicep—not painfully, but firm enough to make me stop—I look over my shoulder with a frown.  For a man who was just slapped, he looks almost gleeful.

“One minute, Ari.  Give me a minute and if you aren’t ready to beg me for it, when those sixty seconds are up, you can take this shit and not give me a penny for it.”

Walk away, Ari.  Walk.  Away.  No amount of money is worth being some man’s whore.

Spinning away from his hold, I jerk my arm free and step toward him with a roll up to my toes, getting my face as close to his as I can.  His scent overwhelms me. The subtle notes of his cologne fog my rational thought, making me drunk with need, and I sway slightly before correcting myself.

“Thirty seconds,”  I retort, my jaw tight with stubbornness.  

I’m not sure who I shocked more—him or me.  I have my answer, though, when I see victory flash in his eyes.  Oh, my God … what have I done?

“You’re on,” he agrees, his eyes alight with the promise backed up by his devilish grin.

I nod, incapable of anything more.  I stand there in shocked silence as he takes my phone, his thick fingers moving quickly over the screen.  I vaguely hear a chime from his pocket and before I can so much as blink, he’s handing me my things.

“Tomorrow, I’ll text you.  Paperwork first, then you beg.”

I gulp, jerk my head in what I hope resembles a nod of agreement, and then … I flee.

Harper is a NEW YORK TIMES, WALL STREET JOURNAL and USA TODAY bestselling author residing in Georgia with her husband and three daughters. She has a borderline unhealthy obsession with books, hibachi, tattoos and Game of Thrones. When she isn’t writing you can almost always find her with a book in hand.

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Unexpected Love Story by Natasha Madison ~ Sarah A’s Review

When one man’s death exposes a complex web of lies, three couples discover the true meaning of love, loss and redemption.

Crystal

I was the strong one, they said, until two words brought me to my knees.
It was a secret I didn’t share with anyone. A secret that made me promise I’d never fall in love.
I no longer wanted that white picket fence of every woman’s dreams.
Until the unthinkable happened.

Gabe

I thought I had it all with the best medical practice in the state and the woman of my dreams.
I wore a smile on my face every single day.
I couldn’t wait to watch her walk down the aisle and start our forever, except she never did.
My runaway bride made me realize love isn’t worth it.

What happens when your dreams unexpectedly come true?

This is the story of unexpected love.

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After reading Perfect Love Story, I was so excited to get Crystal and Gabe’s story. Their side dalliances were so intriguing in that book; I wanted to know how they looked from the inside. Unexpected Love Story was okay but didn’t quite capture my heart the way its predecessor did.

I loved Crystal (though I hate the name, it reminds me of a stripper) in Perfect Love Story, and she was a great character in this book. My heart broke for her in the first chapter of this book. She was strong, though, and did everything she could to protect herself and those she loved. I loved her snark and her refusal to back down when she was certain of herself. I would have liked to have seen a little more organic growth from her, as I felt she only allowed herself to change when the choice was taken away from her. Gabe was the far more interesting character, in terms of growth, in Unexpected Love Story. Watching him change from the jaded, surly man he’d been at the beginning to the passionate, considerate man he was, in the end, was wonderfully heartwarming.

After reading Perfect Love Story, the plot of Unexpected Love Story was fairly predictable. There weren’t a lot of new scenes, just retellings of the scenes established in PLS, which lent to the feeling of knowing exactly what was coming. That being said, I did love getting to see what Crystal and Gabe were doing in all those secret moments from the first book. It was obvious – in both books – that their connection was explosive and unrestrainable. Their back and forth was exciting and served to show how well they really knew each other.

I have a few wishes for this book. First, it needs another round of editing. There were a lot of grammatical and continuity issues. Second, Crystal’s personal struggle and how that all planned out was too far-fetched – even for fiction – for me to be able to suspend my beliefs for. Finally, I felt like recapping the entirety of what had happened before Crystal and Hailey moved was redundant. Very little of it had anything to do with Crystal and Gabe’s story, and those pages could have been far better used in helping flesh out Crystal and Gabe’s journey.

Unexpected Love Story is the second book in Natasha Madison’s Love series. These books are technically interconnected standalones, as they each deal with a different couple, but reading them in order gives a better experience in understanding the nuances of what has happened to bring them to the point they’re at. Unexpected Love Story is written in dual first-person perspective, narrated by Crystal & Gabe.

Natasha Madison blew me away with when I read her first novel. This one didn’t seem to have the same magic as that one, however. There were glimpses of that same intense storytelling, and I loved those. As I was reading, I felt as if this book was an obligation, a bridge to reach from one story she wanted to tell, to the next, but not something that had the author’s heart and soul in it.

Perfect Love Story – Available Now
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Broken Love Story ~ Cover Reveal June 29, 2018
***  PREORDER NOW ~ Releases July 10, 2018  ***
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When her nose isn’t buried in a book, or her fingers flying across a keyboard writing, she’s in the kitchen creating gourmet meals. You can find her, in four-inch heels no less, in the car chauffeuring kids, or possibly with her husband scheduling his business trips. It’s a good thing her characters do what she says because even her Labrador doesn’t listen to her…

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Order of Protection by Lexi Blake ~ Sarah A’s Review

To high-end defense attorney Henry Garrison, Win Hughes is a woman he met during one of the most trying times of his life. She’s soft and warm, and he finds solace in their brief relationship. But Win has a secret. She’s actually Taylor Winston-Hughes—born to one of the wealthiest families in the country, orphaned as a child by a tragic accident. Win moves in the wealthiest circles, but her lavish lifestyle hides her pain.

When her best friend is murdered in the midst of a glittering New York gala, Win’s charged with the crime, and the only person in the world she wants to see is Henry.

Henry is shocked at the true identity of his lover, but he can’t reject the case. This case could take his new firm into the stratosphere. Still, he’s not getting burned by Win again. And yet every turn brings them closer together.

As the case takes a wild turn and Win’s entire life is upended, she must look to the people she’s closest to in order to find a killer. And Henry must decide between making his case and saving the woman he loves…

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Just when I was sure I knew exactly what to expect from a Lexi Blake book, she released Order of Protection and completely blew all my assumptions to pieces.  The one thing that didn’t change at all was how addictive this story was, I was completely pulled in and couldn’t stop thinking about what was coming next for Win and Henry any time I had to put Order of Protection down.

Win was a force, she battled so much, been through so much, had so few people in her corner, but she never let any of that dim her light.  I admired her strength to fight to get her life back, to make Henry see they were more than he wanted to admit, to be more than what the world had labeled her as.  Henry was harder to love, he made it a battle for me to find his silver lining, but when I did, when I understood why he was so callous, my heart ached for him, and I wanted nothing more than for him to allow himself to find happiness.

My favorite part of this book was how Win and Henry understood each other.  It came from such a painful place and could have easily destroyed them alone, but they allowed their struggles to strengthen them and their bond.  I loved how, even when they were angry with one another, they did everything they could to ensure the demons that haunted them didn’t pull them under.

Order of Protection was quite a ride.  From Win and Henry’s meet-cute to the final nitty-gritty reveals in the end, I couldn’t get enough of this book.   There were so many different kinds of conflict in this novel, so many pitfalls the characters were trying to navigate; there seemed never to be a second where thing settled enough for me to find a comfortable place to rest.  Lexi Blake kept her characters – and her readers – on their toes throughout this novel.  It was a high-octane crime thriller with a beautiful love story mixed in.

My only wish for this book, and it’s a selfish one at that, would have been to have seen those first two weeks Win and Henry spent together.  The story wasn’t lacking for not having it, but I loved these two together so much I would have loved to have seen more of the initial stages of their relationship.

Order of Protection is the first book in Lexi Blake’s Courting Justice series.  This was a complete story and can be read as a standalone.  There are connections to a few of Ms. Blake’s other series, though reading them is completely unnecessary to enjoy and understand this book.  Order of Protection is written in third-person limited perspective, alternating between Win and Henry’s perspective.

Lexi Blake continues to impress me with her storytelling.  As much as I love her usual fair of the world of BDSM, it was nice to have this departure from that and lean more toward vanilla.  She did an excellent job of showing her versatility as an author by taking this foray into something her readers aren’t used to seeing from her, while still leaving her distinct voice in the pages and on the characters.

Henry glanced up at the clock. Two thirty p.m. Somehow he’d expected Win to show up bright and early this morning. He’d woken up and made a pot of coffee, and he’d gone over all the ways he would explain to her that this was a bad idea.

Because it was still a bad idea.

Alicia might have given in to Noah and Drew Lawless’s blackmail, but she would be back at some point. Then there was the fact that he dealt with unsavory clients on a daily basis. He took on high-profile cases and often got dragged through the mud along with the client.

There were plenty of people out there who hated him. Loathed him and despised the very fact that he existed and cheered if he failed. He was used to it. Sweet little Win was not and would be horrified.

So he was going to tell her how amazing their night together was and then turn her down gently.

Except she hadn’t shown up and that bugged the hell out of him.

She’d been the one to claim she would be here despite the fact that he’d told her not to come. She’d told him she didn’t care what he thought.

It was perverse, but if he’d had her number, he might have called and said a few things about setting expectations and then not meeting them.

He started another pot of coffee. This was completely foolish. She’d put some distance between the two of them and realized how little they had in common. At least one of them had some sense.

The scent of French roast hit the air and he realized he was pro-crastinating. He was putting off the moment when he had to step back into the city and face the music. He would have to work his ass off to find anyone who wanted to hire a lawyer with his tarnished reputation. It didn’t matter that his addiction issues had never cost a client a dime. The perception would be there, and perception was over half the battle in life.

He should pack up tonight and leave it all to the agent. It’s what he should have done yesterday, but he’d enjoyed spending time with David, showing him places on the island and telling him stories.

It was time to go home now. Time to forget about pretending to be someone he couldn’t afford to be anymore. Time to put away thoughts of quiet and peace and get back to being the Monster of Manhattan. That was the only way he was going to survive.

The Monster of Manhattan didn’t give in to urges. He plowed through all problems with a single-minded, ruthless intent. The Monster didn’t need attention, though he tended to get it. Attention didn’t matter to the Monster. Money mattered. Power mattered.

He would get them both back.

The Monster certainly didn’t need some do-gooder in his bed. He would select a woman, rationally discuss his needs with her, and pay her for her services, whether they be as a plus-one to gatherings or as a body in bed. That was how he would view it. Transactional.

Transactional was safe.

So he was going to stop being such a whiny asshole and be grateful that Win had some sense.

A knock broke through the quiet of the house.

He practically ran for the door.


He opened it and there was Win, standing in the soft light of the afternoon, her hair up in a ponytail. She was wearing denim shorts and a blousy, feminine shirt. She had a bag of groceries in one hand and what looked like a duffel in the other.

“I know you said I shouldn’t come back, but you’re wrong and I’m going to give you all my reasons why.”

He didn’t care. She was here. He walked straight up to her and cupped that pretty face in his hands and kissed her for all he was worth.

Fuck transactional. He wanted something real for once in his damn life.

When he came back up, he was rewarded with a soft look in her eyes, her lips curving into a small smile.

“No arguing with me?”

He did have some problems they should discuss. “You’re late.”

Her smile went brilliant. “I had some things to clear up. I thought if you didn’t mind, I might stay with you for a few nights.”

He took the bag of groceries out of her hand and led her inside. “I think that sounds like a great idea.”

“This is way easier than I thought it would be,” she admitted. “Have you had lunch? I could whip up some sandwiches and we could have a picnic.”

He stashed the grocery bag in the fridge. She set down her duffel, and that made it much easier to scoop her up and into his arms. “I know exactly what I want for lunch.”

Her eyes went wide, but she didn’t struggle at all. Her arms went around his shoulders as he carried her to the big bedroom.

It had been cozy in his old room, but he needed more space if she was going to live here with him for a few weeks.

He stopped at the edge of the big bed he’d had brought in after he’d inherited the place. It was the only room he’d redone, with the thought of spending long weekends with his friends up here. He never had managed the time, but now he was happy he’d spent the cash to do it because he could share it with her.

The last few weeks of being Henry before going back to the real world.

He set her down on the bed and pulled his shirt over his head. He wasn’t playing around this time. That was for later. It had been entirely too long since he’d had her.

He needed her.

He knew it was something he should question, even be slightly afraid of, but he didn’t care in the moment. All that mattered was she was here and he could put off any thoughts of letting her go for a few days. He could sink into her.

She was his reward for every crappy thing he’d been through in the last couple of years.

NY Times and USA Today bestselling author Lexi Blake lives in North Texas with her husband, three kids, and the laziest rescue dog int eh world. She began writing at a young age, concentrating on plays and journalism. It wasn’t until she started writing romance and urban fantasy that she found the stories of her heart. She likes to find humor in the strangest places and believes in happy endings no matter how odd the couple, threesome, or foursome may seem.

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Confessions: Julien by Ella Frank ~ Sarah A’s Review

Confessions: Julien, book two in the steamy contemporary MMM Confessions Series from Ella Frank, is now available!

People are complex.
Love a double-edged sword.
And when it comes to a broken heart, there are no rules, only time…

For the past eight years, Julien Thornton has been living with a secret. One that only a handful of people know about.

To the outside world, he has it all.
A thriving career. A loving husband. And a face that the American public fell for by the millions, on a reality show that inadvertently saved his life.

But behind the shine of celebrity, behind the easygoing nature, a crippling truth fills Julien with pain and self-loathing. It’s a truth that he fights to overcome daily with the help of his husband, Joel Priestley, and now their boyfriend, Robbie Bianchi.

But unlike Priest, Robbie doesn’t know what he’s helping Julien to fight. He doesn’t know what Julien did all those years ago. And with the anniversary of his sister’s death fast approaching, the time for explanations is running out.

And thus the question: will the princess be able to forgive the prick as the priest once did?

Only time will tell.

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The Confessions series, thus far, has been a big surprise to me. I keep assuming I’m going to get one thing and end up receiving something completely different. Julien was far more of an emotional roller coaster than I had expected. I knew it was going to be sadder than Robbie, but I hadn’t anticipated how much Julien’s pain would impact me.

While Robbie primarily focused on Julien and Priest’s pursuit of Robbie and the beginning of their less than conventional relationship, Julien delved more into the dynamics of their partnership and the roles each of them played for one another. I was desperately worried that Robbie was going to end up being less than equal to Julien and Priest, but it was evident that his role was invaluable. Honestly, after reading this book, I’m a little unsure how Julien and Priest had waded through the emotional landmines of their pasts. Robbie was definitely the silver lining to their perpetual storm clouds.

Julien’s guilt had been evident in Robbie, but the depth and breadth of it were far beyond anything I could have fathomed. He wore that shame like a veritable crown of thorns, never letting anyone assuage the remorse he felt over his actions the night his sister had died. The flashbacks to his life with his sister gave us a great insight into how intensely close they were and helped to convey why her death, beyond any guilt he felt, was so devastating for him.

When I started reading Robbie, I never checked on the length of the story – or the order – and had assumed, based on the way that book had ended Priest’s book was next. After reading Julien, however, I’m glad Priest’s book was saved for last. Even with how emotional this story was, the crumbs we got about Priest’s past in this one makes me think Julien’s pain is going to pale in comparison to Priest’s. And I can’t wait to see what he has in store for us.

Confessions: Julien is the second book in Ella Frank’s Confessions series. These books are not standalones and need to be read in order. This series is a spinoff from Ms. Frank’s Temptations, though reading that series is not necessary for the comprehension of this one. Julien is written in third-person limited perspective, alternating between Julien, Robbie, and Priest’s voices.

I have currently filed Ella Frank under ‘must-read-M/M(/M) authors.’ I love M/M books but have found it hard to find authors who tip more to the romance part of the relationship than the erotica side, and Ella Frank does just that. She gives her readers plenty of erotic scenes, while still ensuring the emotional connection between her characters is at the forefront. Those scenes are used to solidify their relationships, rather than be gratuitous smut. I am highly impressed with Ms. Frank’s writing and how she gives each character’s voice enough distinction to tell one narrator from the next.

Chapter One

CONFESSION

Those who are meant to be yours
will always find you.
“WE MEET again, Mr. Thornton.”

A shiver of awareness raced up Julien Thornton’s spine as he stood in the jail cell of a downtown L.A. police station where he’d been thrown around an hour ago for public intoxication.

He didn’t need to turn to know who was on the opposite side of those steel bars. That voice was the one he’d been hoping to hear when he’d made his “one call” and left a message after a generic voicemail. That voice? It had been on his mind since the last time he’d heard it, nearly two weeks earlier when he’d met—and attempted to steal the car of—a man who called himself Priest.

Julien pivoted on his heels, and when he did, he realized that he’d grossly underestimated the impact that Joel Priestley had had on him the first time around.

Oui, he hadn’t been able to stop thinking about him, that was true, and oui, he might’ve purposely provoked the police officer tonight hoping he’d end up needing a lawyer. But Dieu, he’d forgotten the way Priest made his body respond. Like an inferno was licking through his veins.

With auburn hair, stormy eyes, and a presence that Julien gravitated toward like a magnetic force, he didn’t think anything could prepare a person for the powerful energy Priest exuded. Not to mention that cool, judgmental stare of his.

But Julien had no one to blame for that judgment but himself. Maybe if they didn’t always meet at the end of one of his week-long benders, he could have the upper hand with this man for once. And wouldn’t that be délicieux, he thought, as he looked at the lawyer who’d dropped him home two weeks before, instead of at the police station like he’d originally threatened.

Priest was as put together now, at three in the morning, as he had been that afternoon in the alley. Suited up in a tailored navy number that framed his broad shoulders and emphasized the rich color of his hair, he looked sharp, controlled, and dangerous to Julien’s already unstable state of mind as he stood there sizing him up with an unreadable expression.

“I’m curious,” Priest finally said, as he clasped his hands behind his back and took a step closer to the cell where Julien had spent most of the night sobering up. “Did you not understand me the last time we spoke?”

Julien clenched his jaw and wondered if Priest realized how condescending he sounded when he spoke—or just how much it turned Julien on. “Non. I understood just fine.”

“Then what part of ‘I won’t be so lenient next time’ made you think that calling me to bail you out of here was a good idea?”

Julien was still trying to work that out himself, but thought it might have something to do with the fact that he was drawn to this man. There was something about Priest that made him feel alive, when all he’d felt for months now was dead inside.

When Julien didn’t respond, Priest cocked his head, studying him closely, the disapproval rolling off him in waves. “Are you that hard up for a date that this was the only way you could think to get one?”

Putain, the man was arrogant. But for reasons Julien couldn’t explain, that seemed to make him all the more appealing. “You’re the one who gave me your card the last time we met. Perhaps it’s you who are hard up for a date, monsieur. Giving your number out to—”

“Criminals?” Priest frowned. “No. That’s called smart business acumen, considering I’m a criminal attorney.”

Julien scoffed. “I’m hardly a criminal.”

“Really?” Priest said, and took his time examining the six-by-eight space Julien currently stood in. He then leaned forward and said in a lowered voice, “Your current situation tells a different kind of story.”

Despite his “current situation,” and the reason he’d gotten himself into it, Julien felt his lips curve, and he realized exactly why he was drawn to Priest. He possessed the one thing that Julien had been looking for—the ability to take his mind off the black hole his life had become. “Maybe it’s le destin.”

“And what does that mean? Destiny?” Priest straightened and brought his arm around to check the time. “I doubt destiny has anything to do with it. A more likely scenario is that I was your only option.”

“Even if that’s true,” Julien said as he wrapped his fingers around the bars, “you came anyway.”

“As I said before, it’s my job.”

“At three in the morning?”

“At any hour of the morning,” Priest said, and then looked down the hallway that was devoid of anything other than dreary off-white tiles and horribly bright fluorescent lighting. “I’m going to go and see if I can get you out, and then you and I are going to have a talk.”

Something about the way Priest said you and I made Julien’s pulse race, and as Priest went to walk away, Julien whispered, “J’ai vraiment hâte,” and the ever-so-serious lawyer stopped in his tracks and looked back.

This time when those eyes roamed over Julien, his breath caught. There was nothing cool about that stare now. There was heat, interest, and an intensity that made Julien’s fingers tighten around the bars before Priest cut the connection and walked away.

Julien watched him go until he disappeared around the end of the hall, and then he released his breath on a rush. Merde. He’d never been so attracted to someone in all his life, and as he stood there waiting for Priest to save him yet again, Julien knew he needed to stop what he was thinking.

There was no way in hell he deserved someone like that. Non, no way at all. That didn’t, however, stop him from counting down the minutes until Priest returned to him…

Relationships are complex.
Love ever-changing.
And when it comes to rules of the heart,
they were made to be broken…

That’s what Robert Antonio Bianchi was telling himself, anyway.
Otherwise, he really had no excuse for what—or who—he’d done.

No excuse, except for his lonely heart, a pitcher of margaritas, four Bitter Bitches, and the apparent need to confess all his weaknesses to the two men he knew would bring him nothing but trouble.

But trouble was nothing new.
Just ask his crazy sisters or any of his friends, and they’d be the first to tell you:
If there was a bad decision to be made, Robbie always had a knack for making it.

And thus begins the story of the priest, the princess, and the prick.

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Ella Frank is the USA Today Bestselling author of the Temptation series, including Try, Take, and Trust and is the co-author of the fan-favorite contemporary romance, Sex Addict. Her Exquisite series has been praised as “scorching hot!” and “enticingly sexy!”

Some of her favorite authors include Tiffany Reisz, Kresley Cole, Riley Hart, J.R. Ward, Erika Wilde, Gena Showalter, and Carly Phillips.

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SALT by Mara White ~ Sarah A’s Review

Salana Livingston did everything right, from taking her multi-vitamin to kneeling before bed to say her prayers every night. She followed the path her parents had planned before she was born, never questioned the role until the day a bus-load of sweaty kids from the Bronx got dropped at her parent’s horse farm.

Tiago Alcazar knew a life of hard knocks. An incarcerated father, a missing and strung-out mother who left him to rely on his aged grandmother for most of his life.

Tiago runs the mean streets of the neighborhood that raised him, living hand-to-mouth, everyday a gift, if he can just make it.

Burdened by a world that only wants to see her as perfect, Salana finds her greatest confidant in a boy society has labeled as worthless. Their paths cross too many times for their stubborn hearts to deny the connection, but can the delinquent and the debutant defy the odds and overcome the social constructs that condemn them?

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Have you ever read a book and absolutely loved it while you were reading, but then when asked what you liked about it you couldn’t really say?  That’s how I feel about SALT.  I was obsessed with Salana and Tiago’s story while I was in the muck and mire with them, but then looking back it’s hard to put my finger on exactly why this novel worked for me.

I was surprised by how emotional this reading experience was.  More than a few times I felt myself tearing up.  When I finished reading I was left with this aching tightness in my chest because of the crazy emotional roller coaster I went on with Salana and Tiago.  My feelings ran the gamut on this one, and while there were times I was pissed and frustrated with everything, I know this is a story that is going to stick with me for a long time.

I love the rich girl/bad boy trope – I don’t know if it’s extensive enough to be a trope, but I do seem to read a lot of books with that premise.  SALT delivered to my preferences in a big way.  I especially appreciated how Ms. White so effortlessly demonstrated how having nothing and having everything can both be so confining and lonely.  Salana and Tiago were both so entangled in the worlds their parents had brought them into neither could see a way out and as soon as they saw the respite, they could give one another an impenetrable bond was formed.

I found both Salana and Tiago to be highly frustrating.  They both wanted out of the lives they’d been born into, yet for most of the book, it felt like they were doing their level best to stay firmly ensconced in the roles society had set forth for them.  Every time I felt like there was a glimpse of hope for one of them they quickly regressed back to the nice little molds they’d been born from.  When they each found the strength to destroy their self-imposed prisons I was ecstatic.

I feel like I didn’t know either character that well.  Now, I know that sounds bizarre because it is.  However, the book covers a pretty extensive time span with little snapshots of their lives together and apart throughout those years.  They both grew and changed so much with each time jump; it was almost like getting to know new people over and over again.  I loved their growth arcs, and they were important and wonderful. However, I almost wish this book had been a series because there was so much more to their stories – alone and together – that we barely glossed over since everything was covered in one book.

I’ve meant to read Mara White’s books for ages.  I know that her stories are right up my alley and have heard great things from some of my most trusted reading companions, after finishing SALT I know I was missing out by not moving her forward on my TBR.  Her writing was enchanting and addictive; once I started reading I literally could not put this book down, I carried my kindle with me everywhere I went until I finished reading.  The emotional impact she had on me would have won me over if her writing hadn’t.  Ms. White is the complete package, as far as I’m concerned, when it comes to a romance author.

Intro
Tiago


Fresh Air Fund, New York City 2008

Santiago had never left the city, unless you counted New Jersey. The school bus was sweltering and the chaperones hollered every time somebody cracked a window. Luckily, he and Chico were in the very last seat so there were too many infractions to bother with—the adults couldn’t even make it all the way to the back to reprimand them. Chico expertly spat sunflower seed shells out their very open window. He had silver braces and gold chains, a fade haircut and a perpetual pubescent mustache that he had yet to devirginize with a Bic razor.
Tiago shaved even though he didn’t need to; he was the man of the house. His pops had been locked up for years, even before he passed away, and Tiago had inherited his menagerie of grooming supplies and jewelry: a gold crucifix and bracelet, an old watch, a wallet-size laminated card of La Altagracia from the Cathedral of Santa María la Menor, his social security card, a can of Barbasol, a shoebox full of faded photos where some of the faces were scratched out with a pin, and a couple hundred dollars in cash. A legacy that didn’t even fill up half a box, but a reputation bad enough to declare Tiago a menace by the time he was four. He wore and used all of his inheritance, not only to feel closer to his father, but to approximate the manhood he was forced into too early.
​Chico had an iPod and headphones he’d snuck along on the trip; the kid didn’t go anywhere without music, constantly sang radio songs in Spanish. He’d sometimes do hilarious impressions that made Tiago lose his shit. He and Chico took turns murmuring the lyrics to reggaetón songs that narrated the kind of life they both lived. Being raised off and on by their grandmothers wasn’t the only thing they had in common. Parents incarcerated, living in the projects, no plausible out for their lives except dreams of professional baseball or rapper stardom. Chico always said he’d join the Marines, while Tiago instead dreamed of seeing the world on his own terms, maybe by backpacking or hitchhiking to California for starters. Money was always tight, food was scarce, and new clothes were a miracle from God el santísimo, himself. Chico and Tiago would sometimes rotate jeans just to freshen up their clothing game, which was pretty much already in the toilet. If Tiago ever got to see the world, he’d want to do it in some badass kicks. He’d rob a fucking bank if he had to someday to get himself some sneakers that were worth getting a beat-down trying to defend.
​Tiago wore his Yankees cap and an unbuttoned baseball jersey over a white tank top. His father’s watch and gold bracelet, a chain with a crucifix that dangled between his pecs. Cubic zirconia studs in his ears, which had been pierced by his mother when he was only three years old. His skin was dark and his maternal grandmother blamed it on his Dominican father. She said he would have been born with beautiful light skin had his deadbeat mother married a decent Puerto Rican or even a “gringuito,” if she were smart instead of una maldita, desgraciada, verguenza, or whatever insult of the day she felt the need to toss at her. She was old school, fell for that Caribbean obsession with whitening the race. Tiago didn’t pay much mind to the crazy shit she spouted. He liked his skin; it was dark in the summer, lighter in the New York City long-ass, dirty rain, gray skied winter. His drug addict mom was just as bad as his lying, cheating, stealing Dominican father, regardless of their skin colors, but he wasn’t keeping score. He wasn’t a saint, he’d be the first to admit—but he wasn’t taking no bad rap for something his pops did before he even took his first breath. His grandmother was the only consistent adult in his life who stayed out of trouble. So he let her complain; at least she kept him in food and underwear with a roof over his head and a mattress to fall on. Which was more than he could say for his mom and dad. They’d had him too young. They didn’t finish school. His dad got fired for the wrong reasons and it wasn’t his mother’s fault she’d gotten hooked on the bad shit and started turning tricks to feed her habit. He’d heard all the excuses. Tiago felt like people do the shit they gotta do in fucked-up situations. He didn’t judge, thought he probably wouldn’t have handled it any better if he were in their shoes. His hermano Chico’s family was similar, but he had two sisters and his mother took off and left with some guy who promised her a house with a pool in Vegas. What the fuck they gonna do? They were both sixteen years old. Stick it out. No sweat. Just chill. There were thousands of kids in the city who had it even worse off than they did.
But it was thanks to their paltry existence that they got into so many city-run programs. Their Fresh Air Fund trip today wasn’t being footed by their parents. Free trip to ride horses, lunch and snacks and on the way back to the Bronx, a stop-off at a local water park—all paid for by the city. Tiago and Chico made tiny paper airplanes out of the brochure for the Equestrian Farm they’d been given when they boarded the bus. They threw them into the back of an afro belonging to a kid sitting a few rows up. So far they’d each lodged one without the kid noticing and they laughed until they had tears in their eyes, the sound of their joy completely covered by the din of fifty excited kids and the wind rushing in the open windows as they tore south down 95.
​“Did you eat that girl Angelica’s pussy the other night?” he asked Chico as he tore paper for another plane.
​“Fuck yeah I did, and I couldn’t barely even get in her bra. Dumb bitch. But she shoved her cunt in my face like it was the all-you-can-eat buffet at the mall.”
​“You like her, you stupid fuck. You blush when you talk about her,” Tiago said. Chico punched his bicep hard and Tiago knew it would burn bright red. He also knew Chico was whipped and he was jealous. They’d bagged chicks before, bagged at their age meaning hit all the bases, but this thing with Angelica was getting serious. Chico had seen her at least a dozen times. He was afraid of losing his friend.
​“You gonna get pubes stuck in your braces if you eat so much pussy. Did she suck your dick yet?” Tiago asked. He knew it was a sore subject. Good. Helping himself to Chico’s seeds, he spilled half of them in the dip of the pleather seat between them.
​“No, but she jerked me off after I showed her how. She thought spit was gross so she used Ponds cold cream and my dick smelled like my grandma through at least three showers.”
Chico falling in love was disgusting, barely tolerable. Tiago elbowed him hard in the ribs. He wanted a girlfriend badly, but he would never let one of his boys know it if he’d gotten whipped. He knew how to treat girls so that they wouldn’t take advantage of you. Even his grandmother told him all women were gold diggers and they’d try to get pregnant just so they could spend a whole lifetime milking you for money. Grandma never told him not to have sex, she was practical and sharp, she told him to get his dick out before he got her pregnant and he still felt short of one hundred percent clear on how all that worked. He knew about condoms from Louie in his building who ripped them off from the drugstores. He once gave Tiago a lesson on how to put one on in the elevator, over a plantain from the bag which Tiago had bought for his grandmother at the bodega on the corner.
​“Pinch the end, so your jizz has some place to go. And if the pussy smells fishy, don’t put your dick in there in the first place. Best bet is in her mouth, or go in the back door if you don’t mind a little bit of clean-up. Give her the line about keeping her virginity and she’ll let you around the back, you’ll see.”
Tiago had been only twelve and although he thought most of the things Louie was telling him were suspect, he was still a rapt and captive audience. Louie then proceeded to tell him about gay men and to steer clear unless he wanted to volverse puto, as he put it. Tiago wasn’t positive, but it didn’t sound very plausible—then again, what did he know about gay men or buttholes? He didn’t have a dad or a big brother around to tell him how to get from A to B or even how to stay out of trouble. Louie drank forties all day, had two gold front teeth and could sing Guajira like nobody else. He lived alone but for a whole flock of pet birds, parrots, cockatoos, parakeets—you name it, it was screeching up in a cage in his apartment.
His grandmother sometimes made him bring the guy a plate of food. Louie would peel back the foil and inhale, salivate and smile. He’d jerk his chin for Santiago to come in. The floorboards were uneven but shiny as fuck. Louie kept a pretty neat apartment, considering he was a bachelor and always half drunk. Louie had a futon couch and it wasn’t covered by plastic, but it was covered in bird shit and Tiago always sat on it perched like a girl in Sunday school. It was over mouthfuls of beans and rice, with much gesturing from his fork, that Louie explained the ins and outs, the birds and bees, and most of the sexual education Tiago would get in his lifetime. The pretense was that he would stay and take the plate back up when Louie finished, and by that time he’d be halfway hard from imaging the things that Louie would lay out for him in graphic detail.
He’d lost his virginity when he was thirteen, to a friend of his mother’s. The lady had come by looking for his mom when Tiago and his grandmother hadn’t seen her in months. When his grandmother asked him to see her out, they took a short detour. She was drunk, gave him a beer and then sucked him off in the basement. He tore his nails gripping the over-painted, bumpy cement wall while he thrust into her pink lipstick-painted mouth. Her teeth were yellow and her breath smelled like cigarettes. But she was queen of the universe when she swallowed his cum, so much so that he almost wanted to kiss her. She didn’t know much about teenage boys and jerking off, because she thought after his first blowjob he’d be out for the night. But he was hard again before she’d wiped the saliva off of her lips.
“I want to stick it in you,” he’d said to her, his face open and curious.
She obliged him over a folding chair and the sagging dejected look of her vagina repulsed him—however, not quite enough to kill his boner. He’d desperately shoved himself in and out of her, with no rhythm or love, just lusty preteen madness and the story already buzzing past his lips to fly out on tomorrow’s school yard.
She’d groaned as the chair squeaked and Tiago wasn’t sure if the sounds meant pleasure or pain, but he couldn’t stop, he wouldn’t stop and he baptized her pale and pancaked ass with another shot of his tender boyhood semen. His introduction to love hadn’t been the least bit romantic or even sensual, but it was a rush of panic and adrenaline unlike anything he’d ever experienced. He felt like a man as he pulled up his jeans and did his belt buckle. His pearly essence dripped into her butt crack and he felt like he’d accomplished something rather monumental. Maybe his father would be proud? Maybe not?
But none of that changed the fact that he’d never had a real girlfriend, or the fact that Chico did—his face was busted, but he still got one first, go figure.  And not to mention, he was whipped and he liked it. Tiago couldn’t even imagine what sex would be like if you were into the person doing the giving or receiving. But Jesucristo, he wanted to find out. He’d take the baddest bitch in the Heights. He wouldn’t even care if she were ugly. He needed somebody to talk to.

Mara White is a contemporary romance and erotica writer who laces forbidden love stories with hard issues, such as race, gender and inequality. She holds an Ivy League degree but has also worked in more strip clubs than even she can remember. She is not a former Mexican telenovela star contrary to what the tabloids might say, but she is a former ballerina and will always remain one in her heart. She lives in NYC with her husband and two children and yes, when she’s not writing you can find her on the playground.

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The Lies I’ve Told by JL Berg ~ Sarah A’s Review

From USA Today bestselling author J.L. Berg comes a brand new By the Bay stand-alone novel…

Everything was going according to plan…

After years of working my way up the corporate ladder, it was finally my time to shine. I was about to receive the promotion of a lifetime.

But just like that, my life was destroyed with a single career crushing email.

Now, I am headed back home to North Carolina, under the ruse of an extended vacation to help run the family inn while my sister is on maternity leave. After all, what is family for? Plus, a few days at the beach could definitely help uncomplicate this crazy life of mine.

Enter Aiden Fisher.

Aiden is a guest at my sister’s inn. He’s wicked hot, a huge flirt and has one of the sexiest British accents I’ve ever heard. But beyond all that, I see a darkness in his soul, as if he’s carrying a great weight upon his shoulders.

I find myself pushing back my trip home to Florida in hopes that maybe I’ll look into those hazel brown eyes and finally see truth shining back instead of lies. That maybe he’ll stop running and tell me the truth for once.

But you know what they say about liars? It takes one to know one and I’ve been telling the biggest lie of all – I’ve fallen hopelessly in love with Aiden.

And isn’t that the scariest truth of all?

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I’ve loved all the book in this series, and this is not an exception.  They’ve each been packed with stories of overcoming circumstances, healing from life-changing surprises, and heartwarming love stories.  The Lies I’ve Told was an emotional roller coaster from the off, and those rises and falls didn’t slow down until we reached the fabulous finish line of the book.

I was surprised by how fond I was of Millie in this book since she seemed a little too snobbish and aloof in the first two novels for me to care for.   Once she was off and running in The Lies I’ve Told – back in her childhood home – she seemed to be an entirely different person, devoid of the mask she’d had to wear when she was a cog in the fashion machine she’d been in for so long.  That girl, the one who’d been so badly burned, was a thing of beauty.  She was so much stronger, smarter, and caring than I had given her credit for.  She definitely won me over.

Aiden broke my heart.  From the undisclosed bombshell that had been dropped on him just before the story began, to his childhood, to the unmeasurable losses he’d suffered so early in his life, he was broken in a way that called to my soul.  There were a few times when he made some impossibly frustrating choices, but in light of all he was dealing with, it was hard to hate him for those decisions.

The connection between Aiden and Millie jumped off the page.  Their bond was electric, and it sparked and danced with every interaction they had.  They both had been missing something from their lives for so long; it was lovely to get to see how they each filled the missing pieces of the other’s soul.  Witnessing them each begin to realize what they’d been missing, and how much richer and more rewarding life could be with the right person to share it with was moving.

The only wish I had for this story was to have seen more of the first night they spent together.  It seemed like such an important part of the story, but beyond a few little flashbacks we never really got to see how or why it was so monumental to Aiden.  I think it would have reinforced the depth of his feelings for her.

The Lies I’ve Told is the third book in JL Berg’s By the Bay series.  These books are interconnected standalones and, while they do not need to be read in order, the experience is much richer if you read all the book in the order intended.  The Lies I’ve Told is written in dual first-person perspective, narrated by Millie and Aiden.

JL Berg has done a wonderful job of crafting the world of her By the Bay series.  Each new book adds more layers of love and connection to this series.  I’ve loved each of these books for different reasons.  She packs an emotional punch with her writing and had made me crave each new story she releases.

My eyes bolted open as sunlight from the windows glared down at me. 

Where am I?

I sat up, quietly stretching as if I had all the time in the world. 

Because I did, right? 

No job. No responsibilities.

Responsibilities…

Shit! 

Breakfast for the guests! 

I bolted out of bed, frantically searching for my clothes. Where were my clothes? I tried to think back to the night before, but it was blurry.

Hazy.

And then the hammering in my head began. 

Shit, how much did I drink last night? 

“Where are you running off to so early?” 

The deep British accent had me stopping in my tracks.

Last night…

I turned on my heels, tugging on the short shirt I had on, wishing it were suddenly a dress. Or a robe. 

Or anything longer than a shirt. 

Aiden’s eyes perused my body with a wide grin on his face as he casually tucked his hands behind his head. I tried not to notice the way the muscles in his arms flexed.

Or the fact that, besides a carefully placed sheet, he was basically lying naked before me.

“Oh my God,” I whispered. My fingers raked through my hair as I tried to remember the night before. “We didn’t…did we?” 

The question had him immediately sitting up in bed, causing that well-placed sheet to shift. 

I gulped as all of him—and I did mean all of him—came into view.

Oh Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. 

I turned around, my cheeks flushing as heat spread through my body. He wasn’t just naked. He was naked and very much awake.

“You don’t remember?” he asked as I listened to the bed groan as he stood. 

“No,” I admitted. “Do you?”

I heard the telltale sign of jeans being zipped, giving me the courage to turn back around. Sure enough, he was decent.

Well, as decent as a shirtless, hot-as-fuck Brit could be. God, I thought his muscles had muscles. 

“Um, no,” he answered, but there was a hint of sadness to his eyes as he reached down to grab his shirt off the floor. 

I let out a tiny whimper of protest as the black T-shirt slid down his body.

He really was beautiful.

I shook my head, trying to keep focused. “Oh, that’s great. Just fucking great. So, what happened here exactly?”

He pointed to the pile of clothes and the mostly empty alcohol bottle on the nightstand, that sadness drying up as he let out a breath and straightened, his features hardening. “I think that’s pretty clear.”

My arms folded across my chest before I realized that only brought my shirt higher up my waist. Aiden didn’t miss the extra peek of flesh either as I watched his grin widen. 

“Nope, I don’t believe you. I don’t do one-night stands. Ever.”

“Ever?” he echoed, surprise written all over his stupid face.

“Yes. Ever. Why is that so hard to believe? Do I look like the one-night-stand kind of girl?”

“Well, right now. Sort of.”

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I’m a California native, who lives in the South – Virginia to be exact. I still prefer sushi to fried chicken, avocados to okra, and I absolutely loathe humidity. I do love watching the seasons change though. My husband and I have been here for over a decade, and I still get giddy like a school girl every time it snows. It’s magical!

I’m married to my high school sweetheart, and we’ve been blessed with two beautiful daughters and two rescue pups I like to call my “coworkers”. I’m obsessed with chocolate, minions, anything Harry Potter and I love to watch re-runs of Friends and Gilmore Girls!

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I Flipping Love You by Helena Hunting ~ Sarah A’s Review

SHE’S GOT CURB APPEAL. HE’S A FIXER UPPER…

From New York Times bestselling author Helena Hunting comes I Flipping Love You, a love story about flipping houses, taking risks, and landing that special someone who’s move-in ready.

Rian Sutter grew up with the finer things in life. Spending summers in the Hamptons was a normal occurrence for her until her parents lost everything years ago. Now Rian and her sister are getting their life, and finances, back on track through real estate. Not only do they buy and sell houses to the rich and famous but they finally have the capital to flip their very own beachfront property. But when she catches the attention of a sexy stranger who snaps up every house from under her, all bets are off…

Pierce Whitfield doesn’t normally demo kitchens, install dry wall, or tear apart a beautiful woman’s dreams. He’s just a down-on-his-luck lawyer who needed a break from the city and agreed to help his brother work on a few homes in the Hamptons. When he first meets Rian, the attraction is undeniable. But when they start competing for the same pieces of prime real estate, the early sparks turn into full-blown fireworks. Can these passionate rivals turn up the heat on their budding romance—without burning down the house?

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I flipping loved this book! I was taken aback by how emotional this book made me. I would have never guessed how emotionally involved I would get with Rian and Pierce, their relationship, and the way their lives had played out. Romantic comedies have been something I’ve eschewed for most of my life, but in the last several months I’ve read a few really smart ones that are slowly pulling me over to the lighter side.

Rian was amazing; the girl had chutzpah. She had a million and one things to worry about and often it would have been easier for her to give in, but she fought for herself and what she thought was right for her and her sister. I was in awe of her sass and strength; she was fascinatingly unapologetic when she knew she was right and I identified with her difficulty in admitting when she’d made a mistake.

Pierce, while maybe a tad jerky in the beginning, was such a great guy. I loved his single-minded pursuit of Rian. Pierce was the model of a perfect book boyfriend; he was chivalrous – yet let Rian have her independence, he was considerate, he was smart, he was, uh, talented in and out of the bedroom, and most of all he was unwaveringly devoted to Rian. The man won me over from the beginning and continually proved he was not a man who should be let go.

I Flipping Love You was so much more than a romantic comedy, yes there were plenty of laughable moments, but the intensity of Rian’s past and the effects it had on her trust gave this book an extra layer of intrigue. Add to that everything that was going on with Pierce’s career and family and the pace of this book never slowed. I was intrigued by all the moving pieces and how they were all going to fall in the end, while also being completely emotionally involved in their love story. There were even a few moments when I found myself getting choked up by the intensity of feeling brought out by Ms. Hunting’s writing.

I do have a couple of wishes for this book. There were a few storylines that didn’t seem to be wrapped up; there was one I was sure was going to explode into a huge conflict but seemed to just be forgotten about partway through the story. There were also a few scenes that didn’t seem to be necessary to the story and lent to the feeling of incomplete storylines. I don’t think the story would have lacked anything without them; they detracted from the primary storyline more than they added any real value.

I Flipping Love You is the third book in Helena Hunting’s Shacking Up series, a fact I was unaware of before I went to mark the book as read on my Goodreads account. Obviously, these stories do not need to be read in order, nor does the series need to be read in its entirety. I do wonder if reading the first two books would have relieved some of my feelings of incomplete storylines, as they mostly dealt with secondary characters, though. I Flipping Love You is written in dual first-person perspective, narrated by Rian and Pierce.

While I’ve been aware of Helena Hunting as an author for years and some of her more serious books – specifically her Clipped Wings series – have been on my TBR for years, I’d written off most of her comedic ventures seemed a little too on the nose for me, judging by the titles. Having read his book, I’m now painfully aware how rash a judgment that was and will definitely be taking a closer look at Ms. Hunting’s backlist and, at the very least, reading the other books in this series. I was quite impressed with the writing in this novel and could easily see myself becoming a rabid fan of Helena Hunting.

CHAPTER 1

ANGRY HOT GUY

RIAN

I flip through my stack of flyers, checking for a sale on the jumbo box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal so I can price match it. I’m a conscientious price matcher. I mark the sale with a big circle before tucking the red Sharpie into the front of my shirt. If I’m going to wheel and deal at the cash register, I want to make it as easy as possible for the cashier and the people in line behind me. Nothing is worse than getting stuck behind an unorganized price matcher.

I shimmy a little to the song playing over the store intercom as I toss boxes of my most favorite, unhealthy cereal in my cart. A prickly feeling climbs the back of my neck, and I shiver, glancing over my shoulder. A mom rushes past me down the aisle, her toddler leaning precariously out of the cart in an attempt to grab a box of Fruit Roll-Ups. I can’t blame him. They are artificially delicious.

But the mom-toddler combo isn’t the reason for the prickly feeling. Halfway down the aisle is a suit. A big suit. Well over six feet of man wrapped in expensive charcoal-gray fabric. He doesn’t have a cart or a basket. And he’s staring at me. Weird. I can’t look at him long enough to decide if he’s familiar or not without making it obvious that I’m staring back.

I have the urge to check my appearance, worried I have his attention because my hair is a mess, or there’s a sweat stain down the center of my back. I’m not particularly appealing at the moment. I’ve just come from a boot camp class at this new gym my twin sister forced me to try out.

Marley bought an online two-for-one coupon for forty bucks, so now I have to attend six of these stupid classes with her. I managed to get out of last week’s class, but she wouldn’t let me escape two weeks in a row. My tank is still dewy, post-exertion, I have terrible under-boob sweat, and my thong is all wonky. If I were alone in this aisle, I’d for sure fix the last issue, but suit guy is here so I must leave the thong where it is for now, wedged uncomfortably between my vagina lips.

The suit quickly shifts his attention to the shelves and picks up the jar directly in front of him, which happens to contain prunes. He inspects it, then maybe realizes what it is, because he rushes to return it, exchanging it for another item. I bite back a smile, pleased that even in my disgusting state I’m being checked out.

As suit man gives the shelf in front of him his full attention, I return the checkout favor. His attire and his posture scream money and a twinge of something like longing combined with jealousy makes my throat momentarily tight. At one time, price matching was a practice I would’ve laughed at—like an entitled jerk—now it’s a necessity.

Suit man must be warm, considering it’s late April and we’re experiencing temperatures far above average for this time of year. Based on the tapered fit of his suit, I’m guessing it’s a high-end brand. He’s complemented it with black patent leather shoes. Very impractical for this weather and location. Does he realize he’s in the Hamptons?

He’s wearing a watch, and from his profile, he can’t be much beyond his early thirties. I have to assume the only reason for the watch is because it’s expensive and he wants to show it off. In my head, I’ve already profiled him as a pretentious, rich prick who probably commutes to NYC a few times a week where he bones his secretary and has a penthouse with the barest of furniture. The rest of the time he works from home.

I return to shopping and continue down the aisle, in the opposite direction of the suit—it’s my way of finding out if he’s actually creeping on me or not. I keep tabs on him in my peripheral vision as I scope out more sales and more delicious, unhealthy food items. My job is to balance out all the fruit and vegetables my sister, Marley, is currently picking out in the produce section.

I grab a jar of the no-name peanut butter since we’re out and the good stuff isn’t on sale, dropping it in the cart. My phone keeps buzzing in my purse. It’s distracting, so I give up ignoring it and check my messages.

It’s my sister.

We’re in the same store. It’s not particularly huge, so I don’t know what could be so pressing that she needs to text four thousand times instead of finding me.

ABORT SHOPPING

LEAVE NOW

Meet me in parking lot

RIAN??????

Jeez. What the heck is going on? Maybe the grocery store is being robbed. Holy Hot Pockets. What if there is a grocery store heist going down? I’m about to abandon my cart in a bid to find Marley and escape the mayhem I’ve created in my head. It’s all very dramatic. As I turn, I come face-to-face with the suit.

I suck in a breath and slap my hand over my chest. The tank is still damp, and my skin’s a little gritty with salt-sweat, so I drop it quickly, because ew.

“Hi.” His expression is hard to read. He seems … smug.

“Hi, hey. Uh…” I wave a hand around in the air, a little flustered, and conflicted, because it’s not often I get approached by a guy this hot—and in a grocery store of all places. Maybe he’ll be here again next week. “I’m sorry, I’d like to stare at your pretty face, I mean…” Crap, why are words so hard? “I have to go.”

I try to step around him, but he mirrors the movement, taking a linebacker stance, as if he’s considering tackling me. Which is an odd way to stage an introduction.

“Recognize me?” he asks, one perfect eyebrow arched.

As I take him in, I wrack my brain for a time or place I might’ve run into him before. I don’t think so, though. His light brown hair is neatly styled, and the cut of his suit highlights all of his assets. Well, the visible PG ones, anyway.

He widens his stance and crosses his arms over his chest. His very broad chest. The sleeves of his suit jacket pull tight, biceps bulging and flexing. He’s a bit intimidating based on his size alone, but we’re in a public grocery store, so I feel relatively safe. And he’s just so gorgeous. Which is a silly reason not to be concerned, some of the most notorious serial killers are attractive men. Also, I need to find my sister, in case the grocery store is really under attack—although maybe this suit could save us.

I adopt his crossed arm pose, but I don’t think I look intimidating. All I succeed in doing is awkwardly squeezing my boobs together inside my damp sports bra and jabbing the right one with the Sharpie. “Should I?”

He looks me over, a slight smirk tipping his mouth. His gaze gets stuck on the Sharpie for a few seconds before they come back up to my eyes.

It’s possible I met him in a bar, but I swear I’d remember his face if I did. The bar scene is also more my sister’s speed than it is mine. Oh God. It’s also possible he’s mistaking me for her. It’s happened before.

While we look nearly identical at first to most people, we’re actually fraternal twins. After a few interactions, most people can tell us apart. I have a distinctive Marilyn Monroe mole on the right side above my lip, and my eyes are amber, where Marley’s are closer to green. My mouth is too big for my face, my lips a little too full and my nose too small. At least that’s my perception. Marley’s also the more outgoing of the two of us and an inch taller. And about ten pounds lighter.

Marley is a little less cautious than I am with men, so there have been a few uncomfortable occasions where her previous hookups have approached me, asking why I haven’t returned their calls. It’s too bad if this is the case, because this guy is inordinately attractive and it would be nice if he wasn’t one of my sister’s castoffs.

His face is a masterpiece of masculine perfection; straight nose, high cheekbones, an angular jawline that could cut glass, full lips. Especially the bottom one. The kind of full that makes me think of kissing, with tongue, of course. He’s all-American handsome with a shot of alpha hotness. It’s a lethal combination for the state of my already damp panties.

“I recognize you.” He has a low, rough voice, like the delicious scrape of fine grit sandpaper.

He breaks me out of my ogle daze. He must think I’m Marley. I’m actually rather disappointed. “I think maybe you’ve mistaken me for someone else.”

“Oh no, sweetheart.” His gaze rakes over me again. I feel very naked all of a sudden. And hot. It’s really hot in here. “You drive a powder-blue Buick.”

“How the heck—”

“I knew it!” he shouts, eyes alight with some kind of weird, victorious satisfaction as he points a long finger with a blue-black nail at me. Maybe he slammed it in a door or something. Or based on the way he’s rudely pointing, maybe someone slammed it for him. “I fucking knew it! You hit my car.”

I definitely would’ve remembered hitting someone’s car, especially if a guy this good looking was driving it. He should probably come with a warning, like: Panties may combust if you get too close, or something. I take a step back since he’s all up in my grill and clearly he’s not looking to flirt like I originally thought. “I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Don’t play dumb with me! You think you can flip your ponytail”—he reaches out and flicks the end, which is rather startling—“flash a smile and some cleavage, and it’s going to get you out of this. Well, think again, sweetheart. I guarantee my paint is still all over your bumper.” He’s leaning over me, face way too close to mine. So close I can see tiny gold flecks in his deep green eyes. They’re an unusual shade. Dark like pine tree needles.

And he’s chewing gum. Juicy Fruit. I can smell it when he breathes in my face. I would’ve expected a man like him to chew something more along the lines of Polar Ice, or Arctic Ice—strong mint.

I put a hand on his chest and take one deliberate step backward as he opens his mouth to resume his tangent. It’s a solid chest. Extremely hard. His gaze darts down, brows furrowed. I use his distracted state to my advantage. “First of all…” I point my finger in his face, like he did to me. “Don’t ‘sweetheart’ me. That’s condescending. Secondly, I’m sure I would’ve noticed if I’d hit another car. Thirdly, there are literally hundreds of powder-blue Buicks in this stupid city. It’s not an uncommon car. And I’d like to point out, that the cleavage comment was completely unnecessary and unwarranted and actually, pretty damn sexist.”

He blinks a couple of times, possibly taken aback. That expression doesn’t last long. His lip curls in a sneer and that pretty all-American handsomeness morphs into downright malevolent hotness. “Nice try, sweetheart. But there’s no way I’d forget you.” His gaze sweeps over me—it’s not in an unappreciative way either.

I poke his hard chest. “Stop leering at me, you pervert. I don’t know what kind of drugs you’ve been snorting, but I assure you, you’ve got the wrong person.”

“Oh shit!” my sister’s voice comes from behind me.

I turn to find Marley doing an about-face, and then she breaks into a little grapevine step as she moves back toward me. Her eyes are wide, mouth contorted into some kind of grimace as she grabs my wrist.

“What the fuck? There are two of you?” hot-crazy guy asks, eyes bouncing between us.

“We gotta go.” Marley latches onto my hand and drags me down the aisle, away from crazy-hot suit.

“Whoa! Wait a damn second!”

Hot suit makes a grab for me, but Marley yanks me out of the way and shoves my shopping cart at him—hard. He’s not quite quick enough to get out of the way, and the corner of the cart slams right into his crotch. He doubles over with a groan and aggressively pushes the cart aside. It ricochets into a display of canned peaches, which spill into the aisle with a deafening crash.

“What the heck, Mar?”

“Come the fuck on!” She sprints down the aisle, dragging me behind her. I’d protest, but I don’t think I have much choice in the matter, considering the death grip she has on my hand, or the fact that she’s assaulted the sexy-crazy suit with my shopping cart.

Marley fast-walks to the exit, glancing over her shoulder. “Act natural.”

“Will you tell me what’s going on? Who is that guy?”

She flips her hair over her shoulder and smiles as we pass the cashiers and the automatic doors open. Marley fast-walks down the sidewalk toward our car. “I may have tapped that guy’s car last Saturday when I was shopping.”

I stop walking, which brings her to a jarring halt. She yanks on my arm. “Seriously, come on. I’ll explain when we’re in the car.”

“Nope. No way. You explain now.”

Her eyes are bouncing all over the place. “It’s not a big deal. I just grazed his bumper.” Marley spin and tries to push me forward from behind. “Now let’s get out of here before he finds us again. We should probably shop somewhere else for a while.”

I stumble forward a step and then spin away from her. “You hit that guy’s car?”

“It was more of a graze. At least I think it was.” She wrings her hands and makes her oh crap face.

Now crazy-hot suit guy seems a lot less crazy and much more justified in his reaction. Except for the cleavage comment. That was still unnecessary. “It sure didn’t seem like nothing with the way he freaked out in there.”

“He’s probably overreacting. Where are your keys?” She’s still wringing her hands.

I pat my hip with the intention of keeping my purse safe and away from my sister. Except all I end up patting is my actual hip. I look down, running my hands over my stomach, searching for the cheap, faux-leather knockoff. “Oh fudge.”

“What?”

“My purse. It’s in the cart. I have to go back and get it.”

Marley grabs the back of my tank. “You can’t! What if he’s still in there?”

“It has my identification in it, Marley. And my bankcards, and my money, and keys to the car and the apartment. I can’t leave it in there!”

Marley flails and paces around in a circle. “What if he’s waiting for us to come back and get it?”

“You can stay here if you want, but I’m going back for it. I’m not leaving my purse behind because you hit some guy’s car in a parking lot. I can’t believe you just drove away!”

“I thought I tapped it, and then I panicked.” Her fingers are at her mouth now. “I didn’t want to drive up our insurance premiums over some guy and his Tesla.”

“You hit a Tesla?” This keeps getting worse.

“Anyone who has the money to buy a Tesla has the money to fix it, right?” Marley says.

“So you drove off! Jeez, Marley. What were you thinking?” I shake my head. I’d like to say I’m surprised by this, but sadly I’m not. Marley doesn’t always use common sense in day-to-day life.

“I don’t know. I wasn’t thinking. That’s the problem, I guess.”

I’m about to go back into the store, but stop short at the sight of the suit leaning against the side of my car, one ankle crossed over the other, all calm like. Dangling from a single finger is my knockoff, hot-pink Coach purse. “Forget something?”

** Copyright © 2018 by Helena Hunting in I Flipping Love You and reprinted with permission from St. Martin’s Paperbacks. **

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of PUCKED, Helena Hunting lives on the outskirts of Toronto with her incredibly tolerant family and two moderately intolerant cats. She’s writes contemporary romance ranging from new adult angst to romantic sports comedy.

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The Surviving Trace by Calia Read ~ Sarah A’s Review

Will is my fiancé. The shy man I met years ago in college. The person I’m supposed to spend the rest of my life with.

This is the life I’ve always wanted until finding a picture of four men changes everything…

Etienne says he’s my husband and the year is 1912. He can’t stand the sight of me, but I don’t know why.

Oh, and he’s one of the men from the picture.

I’ve done the impossible and have become trapped in time and I know Etienne is my key to going home.

The more time I spend with Etienne, the further I fall for him, until I’m questioning which time I belong in and if the life I left behind is the one I truly desire.

All I know for certain is I need to survive time.

I need to survive love.

And I need to make it out on the other side alive.

***  AVAILABLE IN KINDLE UNLIMITED  ***
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I love Calia Read, I’ve read everything she’s published. When I saw the cover for this book, I was enamored; it’s so freaking beautiful. However, when I read the synopsis, I wasn’t sold. Time travel? Not my thing. So, I took a step back and thought about it for a minute, I knew Calia wouldn’t lead me astray, and I threw myself into this book full steam ahead; such a great decision. The Surviving Trace was wonderful and different than anything else I’ve ever read.

The world building in this novel was phenomenal. I felt as if I’d been plucked right out of my living room and dropped into early 2oth century Charleston. Calia Read did an amazing job of capturing the feeling of a world before our time and how it would feel to suddenly be transplanted to a world without all the modern conveniences we enjoy. I loved how intensely Serene initially rebelled against her new life and how she slowly became more comfortable in 1912 Charleston than she was in her own time.

Étienne had a certain je ne sais quoi. Even when he was hard-headed and obtuse, there was something about him that was intensely enchanting. Getting past his gruff exterior to the center of who he was: a wonderfully compassionate, understanding, sensitive man. He was the perfect foil to Serene’s hugely colorful and outspoken persona. When they were together the electricity between them was palpable, and their dynamic was so entertaining. I was obsessed with how they knew how to push each other to the brink, then back with a single look.

I was completely enraptured with The Surviving Trace from the first page. The plot was insane; it had to be for it to work as sublimely as it did. I particularly loved how this whole thing started with an old photograph found at a flea market. That something so seemingly inconsequential could forever change the world was everything. It made this story feel so much bigger than a book. From there Serene herself said it best, ‘Nothing is impossible, and everything is a lie.’ I never knew what to expect because this story was so wholly unlike anything I’ve ever read. It was an entirely new and unique reading experience for me, and I can’t wait for more of it.

My biggest wish for this would be a correction to the timeline in 1912. I’m not going to delineate the entire timeline here, because it would spoil certain parts of the book, but there are about 12 weeks (3 months) accounted for, yet only two months pass. In a book about time travel, the dates that we get are very important, so it was a little frustrating. There were also several editorial mistakes: misspelled words, typos, incorrect usage of apostrophes, that need some attention.

The Surviving Trace is the first book in Calia Read’s Surviving Time series. This is a continuous storyline, involving the same primary characters and the books will have to be read to understand their story. The Surviving Trace is written in first-person perspective; most chapters are narrated by Serene with a few in Étienne’s point-of-view.

I first discovered Calia Read several years ago, I’ve reread her Sloan Brothers series a few times, and her Fairfax series is one of the most well-written looks into mental health I’ve read. Figure Eight was literary perfection in the way it made me feel like I was losing my grip on reality just as surely as Selah was. Ms. Read is a master of placing me firmly in the middle of the worlds she’s built, to the point it feels like I have a hard time discerning my reality from the fiction she’s woven.

“You have questions,” I say flatly.

“If the roles were reversed, what would you do?”

I glance at him from the corner of my eye. “I’d be demanding answers to the thousands of questions running through my head.”  

“Exactly.”

“So ask,” I say slowly. “But don’t stare. The people around us are doing enough of that.”

“Let me tell you a well-known fact about yourself, Mrs. Lacroix. You and I are hardly ever seen in public together, and the times we are, we barely look at each other.”

“Should I push away from you and tell you I hate you?” I ask innocently.

He snorts and, still staring straight ahead, the smallest of smirks graces his face. “It might make me feel better.”

A beat of silence passes by.

“I have a question.”

Étienne lifts a brow.

“When was the last time you were seen with… her?”

He goes silent for a few seconds. “Two months ago?”

“Good Lord. Why are you two even married?” I blurt before I can think twice. Almost immediately, I want to take the words back, but it isn’t as if Étienne cares.

He remains stoic as ever and shrugs a shoulder. “I ask myself that every day.”

His words spark a series of new questions. I have to remind myself I need to pace myself and not ask everything all at once.

“Also, it may benefit you to know that people might be starin’ because you’re walkin’ down the street in the middle of the day.”

My head whips in his direction. “Did your wife break one of her legs or something?”

Étienne gives a hearty laugh. It’s loud enough to earn the stares of people walking past us and powerful enough to make my heart speed up. God, when he smiles, it’s something else.  

“No, not at all,” he eventually replies. “People of wealth don’t walk unless it’s necessary. They take cars or horse and buggy. In fact, you see the buggy across the street?”

I crane my neck and see a buggy with a pale face staring out the back window. After the woman inside sees me staring at her, she moves away from the window. “Yeah?”

“That’s Lailah, one of your dearest friends. She probably thinks you’re gravely ill and have no idea what you’re doing right now, walkin’ down the street. I’m sure she’ll make a call to the house to see if you’re all right.”

“I can’t wait,” I say, deadpan.

Étienne stares at me with his brows furrowed as if I’m a puzzle he’s painstakingly putting together and he can’t seem to find all the pieces. I clear my throat and look away. The way he’s watching at me is unnerving.

The two of us become silent again. Fine with me; my eyes are drawn to the window display to my right. I slow down and watch as two women walk into the general store. There are handwritten signs in the window, and I stop long enough to read them. Coffee is only fifteen cents a pound, and eggs? They’re fourteen cents for a dozen. Another sign promotes a new toothpaste. The most prominent sign is for Coca-Cola that says, “Relieves fatigue. Drink Coca-Cola.” In a smaller font beneath, it says it’s sold everywhere for only five cents.

Cupping my hands over my eyes, I press my forehead against the window pane and peer inside. I can’t help myself. A huge part of me wants to go inside, but if I did, I wouldn’t be content until I’d looked at each item. This is the second-best thing.

“Serene? Are you coming?”

I turn and see Étienne impatiently waiting a few steps ahead. Reluctantly, I look away from the display and walk toward him.

“What was so fascinating?”

“I was looking at the display.”

“You don’t have Coca-Cola in your time?” he asks.

“Oh, we do. Just not for five cents.”

“How much?”

My eyes slide to Étienne; he stares at me with open curiosity.

“I don’t know how much a single bottle is,” I confess. “I usually buy a twelve-pack, and that’s about four dollars?”

For once, it’s Étienne’s turn to look shocked. I smile because I recognize the hunger in his eyes. He has thousands of questions that demand answers.

He opens his mouth and idly looks to his left before he does a double-take and abruptly stops and gestures to the door next to him. “Here we are.”

We stop in front of a door with textured glass. Embossed on the spotless, large window are the words E.A.L. Corporation.     

“Obviously you remember where I work from the last time you were here,” he remarks dryly.

I nod. “I thought your family owned a shipping company?”

“We do. Livingston works in the main office near the docks. I started my own company three years ago strictly for investments and real estate ventures.”

“Are you any good at what you do?” I challenge.

Would I typically be this blunt? No. But things between Étienne and me didn’t change overnight. I see the mistrust in his eyes. When he looks at me, he still sees his bitchy wife. And that’s okay, because I have a fiancé back home, waiting for me. Being polite is a pretense that neither one of us wants to use right now. Saying precisely what’s on my mind is a bit liberating.

“I like to think that I’m mildly successful at investing.”

I narrow my eyes at him. He’s being modest, and I don’t know why.

Étienne goes to open the door. I place my hand on his arm, stopping him in his tracks. He looks at my hand, then my face with curiously.

“Before we go in, I wanted to talk to you about something.” He says nothing, just stares at me with those whip-smart eyes. I take a deep breath and drop my hand to my side. “I can’t be like her all the time.”

“How so?”

“Oh, come on, you’re not blind. You saw how people were staring at us! It’s obvious that the two of you can’t stand the sight of each other.”

He reluctantly says, “Yes.”

“I know it’s probably in my best interest to keep up appearances, but I have no desire to go out of my way to be extra bitchy to you. I hope that means you won’t be a huge asshole to me.”

“Extra bitchy… has anyone told you that you have an amazing way with words?”

“I’m serious.”  

His eyes rake me from head to toe in that ruthless, cut-throat way of his. “You understand that a decision like that will make people talk. Some might think we’re… happy.”

“Let them talk.” I shrug. “I want to go home. And I know you’re the key. Consider me your new shadow. Where you go, so do I.”

Étienne looks at me for a moment longer before he nods. “Very well. We shall be kind to each other from here on out.”

I hold out my hand. “Let’s shake on it.”

He stares at my hand warily before his hand curves around mine.

It would be cliché to say that the minute our hands connected, I became frozen in place or a shock of awareness rushed through me. But something did happen and it was none of those things. It started with a small twist in my gut that traveled up my body, grazed the delicate edges of my heart before it seized it all together. The feeling came out of nowhere. I look at our connected hands. His is large and calloused, swallowing mine whole. As tall as I am, dainty isn’t exactly the first word I’d use to describe myself, but that’s how I feel right now. I jerk my hand back.

Étienne’s hard and unyielding face makes it impossible to tell if he felt the same way. He clears his throat and wordlessly holds the door open for me.

Calia Read lives in Texas with her husband and their five kids.

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