As Dust Dances by Samantha Young ~ Sarah A’s Review


The New York Times Bestselling author of the On Dublin Street series and PLAY ON returns to the world of the arts in this intense and emotional standalone romance about love, sacrifice, and surviving both. AS DUST DANCES is AVAILABLE NOW!

Once upon a time Skylar Finch was the lead singer of a hugely successful American pop-rock band. But fame made her miserable. When years of living a lie suddenly ended in tragedy, Skylar fell off the map.

Eighteen months later she’s sleeping in a tent in a cemetery in Glasgow, making just enough money to eat by busking on the streets. She manages to avoid recognition, but not the attention of one of Glasgow’s ambitious A&R executives.

Killian O’Dea works at Skyscraper Records, Scotland’s most successful record label. Raised by his uncle and owner of the label, Killian’s upbringing would have been devoid of affection entirely if it wasn’t for his loving sister. Killian is unflinchingly determined to bring the label more success than ever, and the young homeless woman who busks on Buchanan Street is going to help him do that. Her music speaks to him in a way he refuses to over-analyze. All he knows is that if it can touch his dark soul, it’ll set everyone else’s alight.

Skylar makes it clear that she doesn’t want to sign with him. But when she experiences the dangerous reality of a woman sleeping rough, Skylar has no one else but Killian to turn to. An undeniable connection forms between them. But Skylar doesn’t want the career Killian is trying to forge for her, and when her past comes back to haunt her Killian will be faced with a decision that could ruin him. He must either free Skylar from his selfish machinations and destroy everything he’s ever worked for, or lose a woman who has come to mean more to him than he ever thought possible…

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Heartbreak, hope, hurt, and healing. As Dust Dances was rife with a litany of emotions, those four being at the top of that list. After reading the blurb, I knew this book was going to be uniquely spectacular, and I was not mistaken. Samantha Young has consistently blown me away with her stories, and this one reinforced how special a storyteller she is.

My heart broke for Skylar from the off. Regardless of what had led her to a life of homelessness, her life was difficult. Learning about how she had arrived at that point was a different kind of devastating. Skylar’s story shone a light on the side of fame we like to pretend doesn’t exist in horrifying relief. Ms. Young gave us a small glimpse of what it might be like to not have a modicum of privacy and just how arduous that life would be, how deeply it would scar you, and how costly the complete lack of privacy would be.

I loved Skylar and Killian’s connection; it went beyond physical chemistry into something transcendent. From the moment Skylar let her guard down an inch I could feel how important their bond would be. Though neither of them wanted to admit it, they were both searching for something to fix their broken pieces and when he found her, saved her, cared for her at her weakest point you could almost feel their souls call out to one another as if they recognized each other and knew they were destined. The music they made together only further strengthened that feeling for me and I was in love with how deeply they were both connected to each other and their music.

Family was a huge theme in As Dust Dances. I adored how Ms. Young demonstrated time and again that family is less about sharing DNA with a person and more about finding the people who love you, care for you, support you regardless of what you can give to them. There is a purity in the love of family that isn’t found in any other kind of relationship and the familial relationships, the ones built on those foundations of love, care, and support, in this book were beautifully illustrated.

As Dust Dances is the second book in Samantha Young’s Play On series. These books are complete standalones and do not need to be read in order. As Dust Dances is written in first-person perspective, narrated by Skylar.

Samantha Young showed not only her storytelling chops but also her lyrical skills in this novel. While the storytelling in As Dust Dances was fabulous, I was utterly enamored with the lyrics she wrote. They were raw and provocative and, even without melody, I could feel how profoundly emotional the songs would be.

It was my turn to stare at him quizzically, but he didn’t acknowledge the look. He sipped his water and stared around the restaurant as if this weren’t awkward and weird. His nose had a slight bump in it, his cheekbones high, and his jaw chiseled and angular. Overall, he had a very hawklike profile, masculine, rugged, and intimidating. And at that moment I felt like prey, stupidly allowing myself to be caught.

Still, I couldn’t shake the feeling that he genuinely didn’t want anything sexual from me.

I stared at him unabashedly, wanting answers.

He remained steadfast, ignoring me, until the waitress he’d called out to returned with a plastic carrier bag. “Will this do?”

“Aye.” He took it from her. “Thanks.” When I returned to the main restaurant, I put the folded-up wet clothes beside me on the bench, my underwear tucked out of sight.

I couldn’t meet the stranger’s eyes as I reached for the Diet Coke I’d asked for, savoring the taste. On tour, I’d needed lots of energy so I’d eaten well and drank plenty of water. Soda was a treat at the best of times. But I hadn’t had a Diet Coke in months, and it tasted great.

“Excuse me,” my companion’s voice jolted my gaze upward and I saw him wave down a passing waitress. “Do you have a bag?”

“A bag?”

“Carrier bag, paper bag. A bag.”

“Um … let me check.”

He held it out, staring at me with those eyes that would’ve been much more suited to a Lothario, to someone who knew how to be charming. “For your clothes.”

Oh.

It was a kind gesture, also at odds with his demeanor, and my suspicion increased. I took the bag, however, sliding my wet clothes into it and out of sight. Exasperated, I said, “What the hell do you want?”

“Food first.”

“So I’ll be well fed, satisfied, and more amenable to whatever the hell it is you want from me?”

He looked at me now, really looked at me, and the corner of his mouth curled up ever so slightly. “Exactly.”

“A good villain doesn’t admit to his plan, you know.”

“I’m not a villain.”

“What are you?”

“Fo—”

“Food first. Yeah, yeah.”

And so we sat in silence until the food arrived, and the smell of my sea bass made my stomach grumble loudly. Years ago, it would’ve embarrassed me. Now I couldn’t give a shit. All I cared about was that fish.

I dug in, closing my eyes in joy as I ate.

When I opened them to scoop up buttery mashed potatoes, I felt his gaze on me.

The furrowed brow, the glimmer of concern in his eyes, made me stiffen. But just like that, his expression cleared, blank, and he went back to eating his burger as if I didn’t exist.

I savored every morsel of that meal, including the Chocolate Fudge Fixation I ordered for dessert.

My belly felt full and satisfied, and exhaustion began to force my eyelids to droop.

And I knew it was time to pay the piper. “So …” I pushed away my empty dessert plate and slumped back against the booth, my expression baleful. “What the hell do you want from me?”

His answer was to reach into his wallet, pull out a business card, and hand it over.

I stared down at it, disbelief flooding me.

Samantha Young is the New York Times, USA Today and Wall Street Journal bestselling author of adult contemporary romances, including the On Dublin Street series and Hero, as well as the New Adult duology Into the Deep and Out of the Shallows.  Every Little Thing, the second book in her new Hart’s Boardwalk series, will be published by Berkley in March 2017. Before turning to contemporary fiction, she wrote several young adult paranormal and fantasy series, including the amazon bestselling Tale of Lunarmorte trilogy. Samantha’s debut YA contemporary novel The Impossible Vastness of Us will be published by Harlequin TEEN in ebook & hardback June 2017

Samantha has been nominated for the Goodreads Choice Award 2012 for Best Author and Best Romance for On Dublin Street, Best Romance 2014 for Before Jamaica Lane, and Best Romance 2015 for Hero. On Dublin Street, a #1 bestseller in Germany, was the Bronze Award Winner in the LeserPreis German Readers Choice Awards for Best Romance 2013, Before Jamaica Lane the Gold Medal Winner for the LeserPreis German Readers Choice Awards for Best Romance 2014 and Echoes of Scotland Street the Bronze Medal Winner for the LeserPreis German Readers Choice Awards for Best Romance 2015.

Samantha is currently published in 30 countries and is a #1 international bestselling author.

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It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time by Kylie Scott ~ Sarah A’s Review

Returning home for her father’s wedding was never going to be easy for Adele. If being sent away at eighteen hadn’t been bad enough, the mess she left behind when she made a pass at her dad’s business partner sure was.

Fifteen years older than her, Pete had been her crush for as long as she could remember. But she’d misread the situation—confusing friendliness for undying love. Awkward. Add her father to the misunderstanding, and Pete was left with a broken nose and a business on the edge of ruin. The man had to be just as glad as everyone else when she left town.

Seven years later, things are different. Adele is no longer a kid, but a fully grown adult more than capable of getting through the wedding and being polite. But all it takes is seeing him again to bring back those old feelings.

Sometimes first loves are the truest. 

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If it hadn’t been for the author, I might have passed up this book as soon as I saw the title.  It didn’t do anything for me, and even after reading I feel like it belies the depth of the story.  Fortunately, I knew what to expect from Kylie Scott, so I read the book and knew this was a story with a ton of potential.  This book was angsty and fun, and I found myself holding my breath and stifling a laugh in turn.

Adele was fascinating.  She was crass and unforgiving, while still being sweet and vulnerable.  For all her bluster, she had been thoroughly destroyed by Pete’s rejection when she was younger, and it showed through that cracked façade of snark she wore like armor.  I loved her brash honesty and ability to keep her head held high when it was painfully obvious she just wanted to let herself crumble.

I’m not sure how I feel about Pete since this book was told in single perspective we never got to see his thoughts.  I could make some assumptions, but I still had so many questions about him, and this is one book where I think having at least a couple of chapters in his POV would have added so much to the overall experience of the novel.  I did, however, sense his struggle, even when she was a teenager.  Their connection was strong from the off, and there was no denying they would be something special if only he’d give in to the pull.

I loved Adele so much, and my heart hurt for her so badly by the way she kept getting so thoroughly crushed by the love of her life.  I’m always a sucker for a friends-to-lovers romance, which is the best way to describe It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time.  Adele and Pete had a connection that transcended age (there are no questionable situations in this title) and carried through years of not speaking.  No matter how hard one or both of them tried to refuse it, they kept coming back to each other for the comfort and understanding they couldn’t find elsewhere.

I adored the plot of It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time.  It was heartwrenching, angsty, fun, and fraught with unmasked desire.  I was deliriously happy that there wasn’t any extra action in this book beyond navigating the pitfalls of Adele and Pete’s complicated and historied relationship.  The flashbacks lent an interesting view of how deep their relationship was from the off and gave great insight into Pete’s affection for Adele.

As I said earlier, my wish for this book would have been to get even the tiniest glimpse into Pete’s head.  I felt I knew Adele so well; she was so straightforward it wasn’t hard to understand her motivations and compulsions, whereas Pete played everything so close to the vest it was hard to get a great read on him.  I feel like his would have been the more interesting head to get into and I would die to get my hands on an alternate POV from him.

It was meant to be a soft kiss. A chaste one, even.

The minute my lips touched his, however, everything changed. Callused hands grabbed the sides of my face and my mouth opened on a gasp. His tongue swept inside, taking me over. Holy hell. Shoes and purse hit the floor, forgotten. Nothing about this kiss was slow or easy. The man devoured me. Every ounce of emotion poured into that kiss, all of the anger and frustration between us. His tongue was teasing and tasting, driving me wild. Then he drew back to suck and nip at my bottom lip. One hand slid around the back of my neck, the other over my hip to grab at my ass. His hold was firm, a little rough even. He treated my body like it belonged to him and I wasn’t gentle either.

Apparently experience mattered. Because all I could do was try and keep up.

I held on tight to his open shirt, straining against him, trying to get closer. I’d have crawled inside the man if I could. Turned out that under certain circumstances, the taste of scotch worked for me in a big way. Against my hip, his cock hardened, digging into me. And oh my God, I’d done that to him. Me. How amazing! Meanwhile, my body felt liquid, core aching and empty. I needed him inside of me and it seemed like I’d already been waiting forever.

“Pete. Please.”

“Fuck,” he muttered, breath hot against my ear.

I fumbled at the remaining buttons on his shirt. My damn fingers didn’t seem to be working. Easier to just push the whole thing upward. Luckily, the man decided to help, tearing the shirt off over his head. More skin was good. And he was so hot and smooth, a thrill to the touch. The solid flesh of his pecs and the flat plane of his stomach.

He tore at the zipper on the back of my dress, dragging fabric down over my shoulders. A growl came from the back of his throat, a noise of frustration, impatience. I’m reasonably certain I heard the silk rip. I didn’t care. His hands and mouth seemed to cover every bit of skin revealed, touching and tasting me everywhere. The dress got stuck on my hips. Out of the way enough for now.

He didn’t even bother undoing my bra, simply peeling down one of the lace cups to free my flesh. My breast filled his hot palm as it took the weight. Fingers plumped me, his thumb flicking over my hard nipple. The sting of pain followed by the heat of his kiss made my head spin and my body ache. There was no room for thought as he fed me deep, wet kisses. Slowly, he took us to the floor. No time for anything else. Just the urgent need to have him inside me.

The hardness of the polished wood was cool against my back. My legs were spread, his body between them. And with his broad chest above me, his weight taken on one arm, he was all I could see. I swear even the insides of my thighs were wet, I was so ready. It would have been embarrassing with anybody else. But this man, he had to know, he had to understand. It had always been him.

“Pete, I need—”

“I know,” he said, voice harsh and low.

Kylie is a New York Times and USA Today best-selling author. She was voted Australian Romance Writer of the year, 2013 & 2014, by the Australian Romance Writer’s Association and her books have been translated into eleven different languages. She is a long time fan of romance, rock music, and B-grade horror films. Based in Queensland, Australia with her two children and husband, she reads, writes and never dithers around on the internet. You can learn more about Kylie from http://www.kylie-scott.com/

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What If duet by Nina Lane ~ COVER REVEAL

We fell in love. Then our world fell apart. 

I wished so hard for Cole Danforth. And one day, he came true. He was my first boyfriend, my first lover, my first and only love. He should also have been my last. 

But in a split-second, we were ripped apart, our lives broken, my heart shattered. After ten years, I’ve returned to my hometown, the place of my greatest joy and darkest pain. 

Cole is still here, but the beautiful boy I’d loved is gone. Now he’s a ruthless, unforgiving man determined to feed both my resentment and my lust. 

Then our torturous past encroaches again, trapping us in a violent storm. 

But this time, there is no escape.

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The conclusion to the What If Duet

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New York Times & USA Today bestselling author Nina Lane writes hot, sexy romances about professors, bad boys, candy makers, and protective alpha males who find themselves consumed with love for one woman alone. Originally from California, Nina holds a PhD in Art History and an MA in Library and Information Studies, which means she loves both research and organization. She also enjoys traveling and thinks St. Petersburg, Russia is a city everyone should visit at least once. Although Nina would go back to college for another degree because she’s that much of a bookworm and a perpetual student, she now lives the happy life of a full-time writer.

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NEW RELEASE!! It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time by Kylie Scott

Returning home for her father’s wedding was never going to be easy for Adele. If being sent away at eighteen hadn’t been bad enough, the mess she left behind when she made a pass at her dad’s business partner sure was.

Fifteen years older than her, Pete had been her crush for as long as she could remember. But she’d misread the situation—confusing friendliness for undying love. Awkward. Add her father to the misunderstanding, and Pete was left with a broken nose and a business on the edge of ruin. The man had to be just as glad as everyone else when she left town.

Seven years later, things are different. Adele is no longer a kid, but a fully grown adult more than capable of getting through the wedding and being polite. But all it takes is seeing him again to bring back those old feelings.

Sometimes first loves are the truest. 

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“Did you enjoy the wedding?” he asked.

“W-what?”

The man stood much closer than necessary. “The wedding. It was nice, right?”

“Sure.”

Faint strains of music carried from across the road. It seemed worlds away. He downed a mouthful of scotch, gaze never leaving my face. All I could smell was the single malt, his cologne, and the slight scent of salt on his skin. After all, it’d been a hot night and he’d been dancing in the suit. He wasn’t happy; I knew the signs well enough. The tension in his jawline and the look in his eyes. All heated and intense.

“So you’ve been sitting in the dark, drinking and brooding, huh?” I asked. “That sounds constructive.”

“What did Leona have to say?”

I laughed. “Oh, hell no. I’m not getting caught in the middle of you two again. Why don’t you try settling your issues like normal people and actually talk to one another?”

“You have such a clever mouth, Adele.” He cocked his head. “Always got an answer, don’t you?”

“Enjoy your scotch, Pete.” I turned away. “I’m going to bed.”

“What’s the rush?” Strong fingers wrapped around my arm, not gripping me hard, just enough to hold me in place.

“I’ve spent enough time tonight in the company of a drunken asshole, thank you.” I smiled.

His return smile was lopsided. “You’re angry.”

“I’m tired.”

“You’re angry and tired. Me too,” he said. “Less so on the tired, though. Actually, I’m wide the fuck awake.”

“Good for you.”

He finished off his drink, then reached past me, setting the empty glass on the kitchen counter. “Keep me company.”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“Why not?” he asked, expression full of false interest. “Thought you’d love the chance to tell me off some more.”

I looked away. “We’re done here.”

“No, we’re not.”

“Yes, we are.” I pulled my arm out of his grasp. “We’re finished, Pete. Our friendship or whatever the hell it is these days . . . It’s over, kaput, the end. Took me seven years, but tonight I finally wised up.”

“That so?”

“Yep,” I said. “I refuse to keep feeling this way about you. It’s such a stupid waste.”

His gaze narrowed.

“You know, I even have a plan.”

“What might that be?”

“In the morning, I’m going to go home and fuck every available man I meet until one of them does it for me.” My smile felt jagged and horrible. It couldn’t have been pretty so see. “And then I won’t think about you anymore.”

His fingers curled into tight fists. Nice to know I wasn’t the only one affected. I put my hand on his chest, getting up in his face. Two could play the invading-personal-space game, for fun and intimidation. As if I would back down.

Kylie is a New York Times and USA Today best-selling author. She was voted Australian Romance Writer of the year, 2013 & 2014, by the Australian Romance Writer’s Association and her books have been translated into eleven different languages. She is a long time fan of romance, rock music, and B-grade horror films. Based in Queensland, Australia with her two children and husband, she reads, writes and never dithers around on the internet. You can learn more about Kylie from http://www.kylie-scott.com/

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NOW AVAILABLE!! Mixed Up Love by Natasha Madison ~ Sarah A’s Review

Hunter

When my business partner asked me to do him a favor, I had no idea he was sending me on a blind date his mother arranged for him. I walked into the bar, saw the woman drinking her third martini, and knew I was in for an eventful night. After the unexpected second date, she didn’t know my real name or who I really was. By that time, the lie was too far gone, and I wanted her too much to admit the truth.

Laney

It’s not every day you find out your ex-boyfriend is engaged. I shouldn’t have agreed to the blind date. My mother insisted, and I wasn’t in any position to turn down a night out. I will admit, I definitely shouldn’t have ordered that fourth martini before said blind date even arrived. The man turned out to be swoon-worthy, handsome, condescending—a perfect distraction. Then I found out he was a liar. I’ve never been in over my head to this degree. Then again, I’ve never been in love.

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Mixed Up Love was a fun, quick read, but didn’t quite hit the mark for me. While I did enjoy the ride, when I reached the destination it was just left wanting. After reading some of Natasha Madison’s other work, this one just fell short of the expectations I have for her writing. I did have fun and find myself chuckling throughout this book. Both Laney and Hunter were hardheaded and reluctant to admit when they were mistaken about things, which led to some interesting standoffs and misunderstandings. I felt like they had great chemistry and they both had enough of a voice to stand up for what they wanted out of it, but I felt like Ms. Madison may have needed to spend a little more time building the emotional connection between them, as I could feel that bond starting to develop but it wasn’t quite fleshed out In the novel. The premise of Mixed Up Love was adorable, and I loved the banter. The secondary characters added a lot of entertainment to the story. I almost found myself wanting to know some of their stories as much as I wanted to get Laney and Hunter’s. I enjoyed all the little details Hunter kept recalling, and it added some swoon-worthy moments and hinted at the depth of his feelings for her. Overall, this was a cute read and great for wasting away an afternoon. My primary wish for this book was that it had more substance. A good portion of the book felt more like an exercise in describing the wealth of the characters, from dropping brand names like the author was getting royalties, to the detailed extravagance of the homes, businesses, and vehicles, I was a little put off by it. Also, while I am all for everyone in the book finding their HEA, I found myself rolling my eyes at the relationships of convenience in this book. Had this book been longer, I think all the issues I had with it would have been solved, as the story had great bones but failed in the delivery. I pull up to the front door, and the valet meets me at my door once I stop. “Good evening, sir,” he says once I open my door. “Yeah, I won’t be here long,” I tell him as I get out, not bothering to take off my sunglasses when I hand him the keys. “No worries, sir. It will be here when you are ready,” he says, handing me the ticket for later. I put it in the inside pocket of my suit jacket. I walk inside to the hostess table, where a woman who looks like she is eighteen stands smiling. “How may I help you?” she asks sweetly. I stop and look around to see if I might recognize the woman I’m here to meet, even though I’ve never met her. I spot a couple of women at the bar, but I instinctively know they aren’t her. I also check for exits. It’s not my fault; it’s just instilled in me. Looking to the left, I don’t see anyone sitting alone, but then I look to the right, and I see her. I don’t know why I know it’s her, but I just do. With curly long blond hair, she downs a martini, then picks up another one and brings it to her mouth. I spot a waiter walking with two more martinis on his tray, and I’m not surprised when I see him approaching her table. “Great,” I say under my breath. “I found her,” I tell the hostess and start walking toward the table. She spots me and watches my every move. Luckily, the glasses I’m wearing stop her from seeing my eyes. The closer I get to her, the more my pulse speeds up. What the fuck? This is weird. I look around maybe to see if something else is piquing my interest or maybe I spotted something to elevate my pulse, but no, it’s her. The fact that a gorgeous woman is sitting by herself and drinking like a fish is enough to get any man’s adrenaline pumping. Isn’t it? “Are you Laney?” I ask, taking off my glasses, and my gray eyes finally meet her blue ones. She opens her mouth, expecting, I think, something to come out, but nothing does. I continue looking around to see if anyone is watching her, and it’s no surprise that I spot two guys at the bar sizing her up. “Here are two more.” The waiter smiles at her, putting two more glasses down on the table and taking the two now empty ones away. She laughs nervously, and I want to reach out and trip him when he walks away. “It isn’t what it looks like.” Her soft voice breaks me out of my plan, and I turn back to her as she smiles at me, causing my heartbeat to skyrocket. The collar of my shirt suddenly feels tight, but it’s not even buttoned. “Really? I find it hard to believe,” I finally say. Looking around again, I spot the same two guys in suits sitting at the bar watching her. This time, one of them spots me and looks back down at his drink. “It looks like you’re sitting here waiting for something bad to happen.” I pull out the chair and sit in front of her. “Um.” She still doesn’t say anything. 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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Mixed Up Love by Natasha Madison ~ EXCERPT REVEAL

Hunter

When my business partner asked me to do him a favor, I had no idea he was sending me on a blind date his mother arranged for him. I walked into the bar, saw the woman drinking her third martini, and knew I was in for an eventful night.

After the unexpected second date, she didn’t know my real name or who I really was. By that time, the lie was too far gone, and I wanted her too much to admit the truth.

Laney

It’s not every day you find out your ex-boyfriend is engaged.

I shouldn’t have agreed to the blind date. My mother insisted, and I wasn’t in any position to turn down a night out.

I will admit, I definitely shouldn’t have ordered that fourth martini before said blind date even arrived.

The man turned out to be swoon-worthy, handsome, condescending—a perfect distraction. Then I found out he was a liar.

I’ve never been in over my head to this degree.

Then again, I’ve never been in love.

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Walking into the restaurant, the hostess stands there with a smile on her face while I look around and see if maybe there is a guy sitting alone. I notice a couple of guys at the bar, but they look like they are together. Most of the tables are taken but none of them with a single man. “Good evening. How many I help you?” she says.

“I’m supposed to be meeting someone, and I don’t see him, reservations under Anthony,” I say, still looking around. The clanking of plates and cutlery fill the room along with soft music coming out of the speaker. She looks down at the pad in front of her.

“Yes, Anthony, table for two?” she asks, and I look at her and nod. She grabs two menus and another one that I’m assuming is the wine list. “If you can follow me,” she says and walks to the right of the restaurant. Passing a couple of tables, she sits me at a table for two near the bar and in front of the outdoor patio. “Here you go. Your waiter will be right with you.” I take the seat facing the front door so I can see everyone coming in and out. I grab the linen napkin on the table under my utensils and place it on my lap. I grab the brown menu and open it, my eyes scanning to see what they serve here.

I’m not sitting here for more than a minute when the waiter comes to the table, pouring water into the two glasses on the table. “My name is Henry, and I’ll be your server for the evening. Can I start you off with a cocktail while you wait?”

“Oh, that sounds so good. I’ll have two.” I laugh, not really joking. “Give me two martinis, two olives with one ice cube.”

“Very well,” he says and nods at me. I giggle to myself, scanning the restaurant and people watching. I see a couple of men sitting at the bar facing me as they talk to each other. I look out at the street and watch as cars zoom through and around other cars. Henry comes over a couple of minutes later with two martinis on his tray. He places them both in front of me. I smile at him, raising a glass to him, then take a long gulp. Yup, no sipping here, not after the news I just got. “This is fantastic,” I say. “I’ll take another.” He just nods and walks away, no doubt judging me in his head. But it’s not every day you find out that your gay ex-boyfriend is engaged to another woman. I don’t even think there is a greeting card for that shit, but I could be wrong.

I finish off the first martini in record time. The heat of the alcohol slowly creeps up, making my cheeks flustered. I’m glad I took an Uber, I think as I grab the second martini and bring it to my lips. I’m one sip into drinking my second martini when I see a man walk in the door, and the glass stops midair. The only thing going through my mind is holy shit.

His black suit molds to his body with a crisp white button-down shirt underneath, and he left the top two buttons open, showing a hint of his tan skin. His black aviator glasses hide his eyes, but it doesn’t matter. His hair is cut short, his face is clean shaven, and his lips—oh my god, his lips are so full, which conjures an image of me sucking his bottom lip to run through my mind. I shake my head; it must be the vodka. “No more drinks for me,” I say under my breath, looking down at the drink in my hand. Then I make the mistake of looking up again, and I see the woman at the hostess stand turn and look around the room.

Her eyes stop on me as she points at me, smiling at the man who doesn’t even pay attention to her. He dips his head to her and makes his way over to me. I still can’t see his eyes, but there is no denying that I feel his stare right through me. “Oh, shit,” I whisper to myself, and as he comes closer, I see that his jaw is square, and his chest is wider than I thought. I don’t think I inhale or exhale a breath while he walks around the tables, finally stopping at mine. He takes off his glasses, and I finally see his smoky gray eyes. “Are you Laney?”

I don’t know what happens, but my throat closes. I try to talk, but no words come out of my mouth, so I don’t say anything. My mouth opens and then closes again, but not a sound is made. Instead, the waiter comes back, smiling. “Here are two more.” I look at who I think is my blind date as he glares at the man, and I laugh nervously.

“It isn’t what it looks like,” I tell the man standing beside the table.

“Really? I find it hard to believe. It looks like you’re sitting here waiting for something bad to happen.” He then looks around, eyeing everyone in the place, and it’s a good thing I’m not standing because my legs would give out.

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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Saving Beck by Courtney Cole ~ Sarah A’s Review

Reminiscent of the beloved novels by Mary Kubica and Jodi Picoult comes a chilling portrayal of a son’s addiction and its harrowing effects on both him and his mother from New York Times bestselling author Courtney Cole. Get your copy TODAY!!

There comes a time when offering your life for your child’s doesn’t work, when you realize that it’ll never be enough. 

The cold needle in his warm vein was a welcome comfort to my son at first. But then it became the monster that kept us apart. 

Heroin lied, and my son believed. It took him to a world where the last year didn’t happen, to a place where his father was still alive. What Beck didn’t understand was that it couldn’t bring his father back from the dead. It couldn’t take away his pain, not permanently. 

You think it can’t happen to you, that your kids, your family, will never be in this situation. 
I thought that too. But you’re wrong. 

Step into our world, and see for yourself. 
Watch my golden boy become a slave to this raging epidemic. Watch me try and save him. 

Drug addiction comes with a price. 
Trust me, you’re not equipped to pay it. 

Don’t miss this heart wrenching, evocative, yet hopeful novel—it will leave you forever changed.

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Saving Beck is a poignant and powerful story of loss, grief, coping with addiction, and the dynamics of a family attempting to survive some of the worst experiences a human can experience. Courtney Cole takes her readers through the depths of hell while relaying this harrowing tale of addiction from both the side of a mother trying to save her son and the son falling into the abyss of the horrific disease.

Every moment of Saving Beck was gut-wrenching, both as we were looking at Beck through his mother’s eyes and while we were experiencing Beck’s descent into heroin addiction through his own thoughts. I felt as if I had personally experienced the both Natalie and Beck’s pain in excruciating relief. The raw emotions captured by Ms. Cole in this book were wholly captivating and accentuated by her personal experiences with her son’s addiction.

While Saving Beck is a fictional account of addiction, the very real threads of Ms. Cole’s story bled through the pages. There were moments when it was hard to keep reading because the horrors on the page felt too real, too terrifying to willingly face. But, I couldn’t stop it would have been a disservice to the author, her son, to families everywhere affected by addiction, and addicts themselves. The personal aspect of Saving Beck is what made it so painful to read and also what made it such a standout book amongst a sea of books written from research rather than experience.

The format of this book was fascinating. The back and forth between the past and present as Beck and Natalie were in the fight of his life and recounted the millions of little moments that led them to crash headlong into his mortality made the story a whirlwind of emotion and pain, as we experienced so many traumatic moments in such a short period. In the twenty-four hours the book covered, we lived through the most agonizing year of the Kingsley family’s life, and I felt every second of that year as if I’d been a part of it.

Courtney Cole has put her heart and soul down in ink and paper with Saving Beck. Though she has written several novels across different genres, this is her best work to date. She captured more grief, misery, and hope in these pages than I have felt reading in a long time. I am so thankful for her decision to convey this story and share her struggles with her son with the world, it can’t have been easy, but it was a story that needed to be told.

The hospital is a beacon of light and hope as we pull in. I barely remember to put my car in park before I jump out and I leave it in the middle of the lane, the tires wrenched haphazardly toward the curb.

“Ma’am, you can’t park there,” a guy in a security uniform says with his fake badge, but I don’t answer. I toss him my keys and push my way to the doors, and that’s when I see him.

My son.

They’ve pulled him out of the ambulance, and he’s so still, so white. He’s got the body of a man and the face of a boy, and he’s got vomit in his hair. One hand dangles over the edge of the gurney, orange flecks dripping from his fingers to the floor, but no one notices, no one cares.

“Beck,” I breathe, and he doesn’t open his eyes. “Beck,” I say louder, as loud as I can. His mouth is slack, but he’s not dead, he can’t be dead because someone is pumping his heart with her fist. She’s running next to the gurney, and she’s pounding on his heart, making it beat.

“Coming through,” she yells at the doors, and there is a team of people working on him. They’re frantic, and that’s not good.

I chase after them, through the emergency room, through the people, but someone grabs me at a giant set of double-doors, the gateway to the important rooms.

“You can’t go in there,” a nurse tells me.

“That’s my son,” I try to tell her, but she doesn’t care. “Beck,” I scream, and I try to see through the windows, but I can’t because he’s gone. “I love you, Beck. Stay here. Stay here.”

Courtney Cole is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling novelist who would eat mythology for breakfast if she could.

She has a degree in Business, but has since discovered that corporate America is not nearly as fun to live in as fictional worlds.

Courtney was born and raised in rural Kansas, but has since migrated south. She now lives in Florida and writes beneath palm trees.

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The Naked Truth by Vi Keeland ~ SNEAK PEEK

It was just a typical Monday.

Until the big boss asked me to make the pitch for a prospective new client.

After two years on shaky ground at work because of my screw up, an opportunity to impress the senior partners was just what I needed.  

Or so I thought…

Until I walked into the conference room and collided with the man I was supposed to pitch.

My coffee spilled, my files tumbled to the ground, and I almost lost my balance.

And that was the good part of my day.

Because the gorgeous man crouched down and looking at me like he wanted to eat me alive, was none other than my ex, Gray Westbrook.

A man who I’d only just begun to move on from.

A man who my heart despised—yet my body obviously still had other ideas about.

A man who was as charismatic and confident as he was sexy.

Somehow, I managed to make it through my presentation ignoring his intense stare.  

Although it was impossible to ignore all the dirty things he whispered into my ear right after I was done.

But there was no way I was giving him another chance, especially now that he was a client…was there?

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“May I get you something to drink while you wait for the rest of your party?” the waiter asked.

I would normally wait to see what the client did and follow his lead on alcohol. But tonight was not the norm.

I rubbed at my stiff neck. “I’ll take a vodka cranberry, please.”

I hoped it would help calm my nerves and release some of the tension in my jaw before I gave myself a full-blown headache. Taking out my phone, I started to scroll through emails to distract myself while waiting for my drink and dinner companion.

My head whipped up at the sound of Gray’s voice behind me. “Sorry I’m late.”

My heart unexpectedly fluttered, and I fought against the feeling of excitement. “Are you really? Because I get the sense you don’t have any manners after the way you interrupted me a million times today.”

He completely ignored my attitude as he took the seat across from me. “Traffic is a bitch getting downtown at this time. Next time we’ll have dinner at my place.”

“There won’t be a next time.”

Gray’s mouth curved into a smug smile as he snagged my gaze. “Sure there will. There’ll be plenty of next times. And eventually you’ll stop pretending you don’t enjoy my company.”

I hated that my body reacted to him. Right from the very start, we’d had a crazy chemistry between us that was difficult to dull.

I sighed. “What are you doing, Gray? Why did you come to my firm?”

He lifted the cloth napkin in front of him and laid it across his lap. “Isn’t that obvious? I need new legal representation.”

“At my firm? And you’d prefer that representation come from an associate instead of my boss’s boss—the head of our securities division? Or even from Pittman, who would gladly hold your hand and provide you whatever legal advice you need from his fifty-plus years of experience?”

“Loyalty is important to me. I want someone I can trust with my business.”

“And you’ve decided that’s me? An associate with five years experience who just got off probation with the Bar Association for violating attorney-client privilege?”

The waiter arrived with my drink. “Here you go, ma’am.” He turned to Gray. “May I get you something to drink? Or would you like to wait until the last of your party joins you this evening?”

“It’s just the two of us. I’ll have a Macallan, neat, please.”

“Coming right up.” The waiter walked around to the other side of the table and started to remove the third place setting.

I put my hand out, stopping him. “We actually do have another party coming, so you can leave that.”

“Very well.” He nodded.

Gray waited until the waiter was out of earshot. “I didn’t invite anyone else to dinner.”

I sipped my drink and offered a saccharine-sweet fake smile. “I did. Figured an important client like you should have more than one attorney to answer his questions.”

Just as I set down my glass, I saw the other man I was waiting for enter the restaurant. He scanned the room, looking for me, so I held up my hand and waved.

“Perfect timing. There’s Oliver now.”

Gray glanced at the man heading toward us and back to me. Instead of being pissed off, the jerk was amused. “That’s cute. You invited a chaperone because you don’t trust yourself with me.”

Vi Keeland is a #1 New York Times and Wall Street Journal Bestselling author. With more than a million books sold, her titles have appeared in over fifty Bestseller lists and are currently translated in fourteen languages. She lives in New York with her husband and their three children where she is living out her own happily ever after with the boy she met at age six.

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Break by Cassia Leo ~ CHAPTER REVEAL

A humorous and heartbreaking second-chance stand-alone romance from the New York Times bestselling author of the Shattered Hearts Series.

For six years, she was the only one. My best friend. My kitten. My world. Then, I broke us by getting caught in a web of lies.

Hard to believe, after everything we’d been through, I could do what I did to her… in front of 600,000 people.  I doubt she’ll ever believe I did it because I love her.

Three years later, my music career is booming. I have a movie deal in the next comic book reboot. And now the only parent I have left has been given a death sentence. I have to go home, but going home means facing what I did to her.

***   BREAK is available for preorder on all retailers. It will be available for purchase on all retailers for ONE DAY ONLY, July 26, 2018. After July 26th, it will only be available on Amazon. You do not need to have a Kindle Unlimited subscription to purchase BREAK on Amazon.   ***
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Prologue

Charlie

Then

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. I would say a picture is worth a lifetime of words, since a single photograph can change your entire life.

When I was fourteen, a chubby girl in my freshman Spanish class attempted suicide after her former boyfriend posted a naked photo of her on MySpace. It was the scandal of the school year. I publicly expressed my disappointment with the way my fellow classmates were body-shaming her. Privately, though, I judged that girl. I couldn’t help but wonder… Who would be foolish enough to trust a teenage boy with nudes?

 

* * *

 

Just ten more minutes. Don’t pass out yet. Just hold on for ten more minutes.

I repeat the words over and over in my mind, like a mantra. Just ten more minutes and I can go home, drink a gallon of NyQuil, and sleep away this dreadful flu.

The art gallery just off the Sonoma State campus is small, but not quaint. Situated in the middle of 4th Street in Santa Rosa, among an eclectic mix of upscale and fair trade shops, the gallery has a wall of windows facing south. This wouldn’t be a problem if it wasn’t eighty-two degrees outside and the gallery’s air conditioning wasn’t working.

I loosen my black scarf and swallow the saliva pooling in my mouth as the urge to vomit begins to overtake me again. Closing my eyes, I take a few deep breaths as I attempt to quell the sensation.

“I’m sorry. I just need a minute,” I say to my professor as we move onto the next photograph in the exhibit.

If I knew, when I chose to be an art major, that I’d have to do my final exam — a solo show using selected pieces from my photography portfolio to tell a story — in an overheated art gallery, while secretly popping Tylenol every time my professor turns his back on me, I might have seriously reconsidered my dream of being the next Annie Leibovitz. Or I might have chosen a major where I could take my final exam in an air-conditioned lecture hall. At the very least, I’d rethink my brilliant idea to wear a scarf today.

My attempt to look like an artsy-fartsy ballerina — in my lucky black scarf, baby-pink bateau-neck top, black skinny jeans, and pink ballerina flats — and my refusal to request a postponement of the solo show the moment I came down with the flu, will be my downfall. No matter how hot it gets in this gallery, I can’t take off my lucky scarf. Therefore, I predict, if I don’t get high marks on this final, I’m going to drop dead on the high-gloss marble floor.

I trail behind Professor Healy like a baby duckling, answering his questions about lenses, exposures, and filters while trying not to stare at the Florida-shaped birthmark in the center of his bald spot. The show is supposed to tell a story, and the only story that matters in my world is the story of Ben and me. The exhibit begins with images of the beach, where Ben and I first met, then moves through a collection of places we’ve visited together. With Ben’s fame becoming such an issue these past few years, most of the pictures depict secluded landscapes: sparkling lakes, rocky coves, and misty forests.

As I discreetly wipe the sweat trickling down the back of my ear, my phone vibrates in my hand. I quickly slide it into my back pocket as we approach the picture I took of the Sky-house.

The Sky-house is a hollowed out Redwood tree near the forested campsites of the Bodega sand dunes, just steps away from where my boyfriend Ben Hayes and I grew up next door to each other in Bodega Bay, California. The Sky-house was Ben’s hideout before it became ours, and we promised we would never reveal the location to anyone. He approves of my use of the photo for my final, but I’m supposed to destroy the evidence after my solo show. We named our tree the Sky-house because you can look straight up through the hollow trunk and see the sky.

Also, because it was fun to play “house” in there.

I wish Ben was here. He would kiss my forehead and tell me everything was going to be okay. Afterward, he’d take me home and make me some instant ramen — because he couldn’t make chicken soup if his life depended on it. Then, we’d cuddle on the couch to watch Futurama until falling asleep.

Oddly enough, I didn’t get my usual good morning text from Ben today. He must have been up late and decided to sleep in. But he knows today is my show. It’s not like him to forget to wish me well before a big test.

As Professor Healy examines the photograph of our hideout from various angles, my phone begins vibrating in my back pocket — nonstop. One pulse of vibration after another, like a phone call that keeps ringing or when one of my Instagram pics goes viral and my notifications are blowing up. But I haven’t posted any pics on social media in a few days. I’ve been too busy preparing for the show.

Bzzz. Bzzz. Bzzz. Bzzz. Bzzz.

Maybe my voicemail isn’t working. Or maybe the mailbox is full. I’m notoriously guilty of letting unchecked voicemails pile up.

Bzzz. Bzzz. Bzzz. Bzzz. Bzzz.

The vibrating continues for what feels like at least five minutes straight, but is probably only a couple minutes. I finally pull the phone out of my pocket and apologize to Healy for the interruption. Glancing at the screen as I reach for the power button, I see a long list of Instagram mention notifications on my lock screen, and my heart drops along with my jaw.

 

2 min ago: @charleywinters have you seen this, girl?

2 min ago: lmao. @charleywinters just got dumped in front of 600K people. #sorrycharley

2 min ago: @charleywinters More like millions of people! This is gonna be news.

1 min ago: @charleywinters Don’t pay attention to these assholes. You didn’t deserve this. #sorrycharley

1 min ago: so fucked up. can’t believe @officialbenhayes would do something like this to @charleywinters #sorrycharley

1 min ago: @charleywinters don’t pretend you haven’t seen this post. @officialbenhayes is too good for you. #byefelicia #sorrycharley #actuallynotsorry

1 min ago: haha! so true! Why doesn’t @charleywinters get that bump on her nose fixed? #sorrycharley

 

“Charlotte, are you listening?”

I suddenly understood why Ben didn’t text me this morning. I can literally feel my blood pressure dropping. My entire body feels cold and light as a feather, like I barely exist.

The room begins to spin as I look up from my phone screen. “What?” I murmur as Healy’s red, bulbous nose comes in and out of focus.

I unlock the phone as my professor’s voice murmurs in the background of my consciousness. Tapping the Instagram app, then a recent notification, I’m taken to a picture of Ben riding a motorcycle on the beach at sunset. Sitting on the back seat, with her head thrown back in gleeful laughter, is a blonde I recognize right away. A blonde the entire world could probably recognize.

The caption on the photo reads:

@officialbenhayes to new beginnings. #instalove #newlove

MAY 11

I blink as Professor Healy steps around me so he’s facing me straight on.

“I asked, ‘How long is the exposure on this picture?’” he glances at the label beneath the frame then turns back to me. “The one titled ‘Sky-house.’ You’ve achieved a stunning depth of field with this lens. How long is the exposure? Based on the softness, I’m guessing it’s at least a thirty-minute exposure, since it doesn’t appear to be motion-blurred or out of focus or over-exposed.”

I open my mouth to speak, but only word comes out. “Exposed.”

“Charlotte, your face is blood-red. Are you all right?” he says, grabbing my elbows.

I shake my head, still unable to speak as my phone continues to vibrate in my hand.

“Oh, dear. Let’s sit you down. This is not the first time I’ve seen this happen,” he says, placing a hand on the middle of my back to guide me toward a gold velvet tufted bench about ten feet away.

“Do you need some water?” the gallery curator, a middle-aged woman with dark hair as glossy as the marble floor, asks.

I shake my head again as I sit on the bench. “No,” I whisper, reaching up to pull off my lucky scarf.

“Are you sure? Do you mind if I feel your forehead?” the woman asks gently.

I nod this time, closing my eyes and flinching slightly at the sensation of her cold hand on my face.

“Oh, my God. You’re burning up. I’m calling an ambulance,” she says, setting off to find a phone.

“Wait,” I call out, holding up my still-vibrating iPhone. “I have a phone… Here. Take it. I don’t want it.”

As she walks toward me, I can’t help but think about that chubby girl in my Spanish class. We are kin now. Today will be known as the day a single photograph changed my life.

The curator is a couple feet away from me when I lose my grip, dropping the phone on the floor as I pass out.

 

 Chapter One

Charlie

Now

 

Social media is a blessing and a curse. It can be used to galvanize support for important issues, like shedding light on social injustice. It’s the best resource we have for sharing inspiring art and funny memes. On the other hand, social media has also become a means to pass judgment on people before they can defend themselves. The court of public opinion delivers its justice swiftly and without remorse.

I killed all my social media accounts about two and a half years ago. I’d rather be a nobody than a cog in that kind of machine. My friends, however, have started to question my commitment to this philosophy.

The yellow glow from the streetlight pours in through the glass storefront, illuminating Michelle’s cinnamon skin as she hits the switch on the wall to dim the lights inside The Dunk seafood restaurant. Her silky black hair is pulled up tightly in one of those high ponytails that always make me wonder if she’s secretly walking around all day with a massive headache.

Michelle works as the general manager at The Dunk, because her dad doesn’t trust anyone else to run their family business. After locking the entry doors, she slides her jangling gaggle of keys into the front pocket of her black waist-apron and begins wiping down the tabletops.

I stand up from the table nearest the register, to stretch my arms and legs. Every Tuesday through Sunday, from eight p.m. to eleven p.m., I sit at this table to keep my best friend company while she closes up the restaurant. Sometimes, I help her clean so we can get out of there faster. Mostly, I use the time to edit photos on my laptop while chatting with Michelle.

“Is there any chili left?” I ask, closing the lid on my MacBook.

Michelle makes a mean chicken and white bean chili. Her mom, Monica, started making it for me when we were kids, when she realized I couldn’t eat their original chili recipe because it contained pork sausage. It was one of the rare times my mother’s Jewish heritage resulted in the creation of a culinary masterpiece.

Michelle grabs a clean towel off the shelf under the counter and heads toward the dining area. “Julio! Pack me a quart of chili, please!” she shouts toward the kitchen.

“Okay, Mitch!” the cook shouts back.

“Want to hit the beach tomorrow?” I ask as I slide my laptop into the snug foam compartment of my waterproof travel case.

Michelle sprays lemon-scented cleaner on the table next to mine and nods. “Fuck yeah. I need a beach day,” she replies, then sinks down into the seat across from me. “Which one?”

“Portuguese?” I reply, closing my laptop case and taking a seat again.

Michelle slides her phone out of the pocket of her blue skinny jeans, her top lip curling in disapproval. “Portuguese Beach is so crowded in the end of June.”

“Not on Monday mornings. We can get there early to get a good spot, then book it when it starts getting too crowded in the afternoon.”

She shrugs. “That’s probably better. It’s not like I need a tan.”

Every time Michelle references her skin color, it makes me sad. It reminds me of the one time she let down her guard and admitted to me how she hated the way people treated her differently in the summer, when her cinnamon-brown skin became a rich coffee-brown. We all have things we hate about ourselves, physical features that feel more like betrayals than assets. For me, it’s the bump in my nose I inherited from my Jewish mother. For Michelle, it’s her skin color. For our other BFF, Allie Kim, it’s her slanted eyes. Maybe that common thread of self-hatred is why we’ve been best friends since elementary school.

I pull my phone out of my pocket and text Michelle a single, lonely poop emoji.

She looks up from her phone screen. “If you need to release the chili demon, just go. You know you don’t have to ask to use the restroom.”

I smile as I let out a fart. “Not necessary when I can let it out right here. I just wanted you to look up from your phone.”

She rolls her eyes as she understands this reference. “You have to dump him. Stat. That guy gives me the creeps.”

The “him” Michelle is referring to is Tyler Bradford, the son of Mayor Tom Bradford, whom I had started dating four months ago. Tyler has an annoying habit of texting me emojis to get me to look up from my phone when we’re hanging out. Michelle and Allie do not like Tyler. To be fair, I don’t know if I even like him. But in my opinion, being alone during the summer is worse than being alone during the holidays. If I do dump Tyler, it will be in September or October.

“He’s not that bad,” I say, opening up my bank account app to check my balance for the tenth time today, a new and disgusting habit I acquired recently.

Michelle looks up from her phone again and cocks an eyebrow. “The guy nicknamed you his ‘little oyster.’ He’s a creep.”

The smile on my face vanishes when I see my account balance. “Ugh. I need some new clients ASAP.”

Michelle’s face softens. “Are you in trouble? Like, are you not going to be able to pay your phone bill, or something?”

“It’s not that bad… yet. But I definitely need to figure out a way to bring in more clients or it’s R.I.P. Winters’ Weddings.”

She turns her attention back to her phone, types something, then turns the screen toward me. “Maybe if you put your photos on Instagram, like this girl, you’d get more business.”

I stare at the Instagram profile for a girl named Elizabeth Messina, who Michelle follows on Instagram. “Yeah, and maybe if I hadn’t failed my final exam, I’d have a degree I could use to get a job.”

“You didn’t fail your final. You refused to retake it,” she replied as casually as if she were commenting on the weather.

“Really? This again?” I reply, my voice climbing an octave. “You’re saying I was supposed to fight my way past the sweaty paparazzos so I could give a solo show of pictures depicting the places where my boyfriend and I had sex? The boyfriend who dumped me on Instagram?”

Her eyebrows shot up as she looked up from the screen. “I’m just saying that maybe you could have chosen some different pictures and hired a bodyguard to get you past the paparazzi. If you really wanted the degree, that stuff shouldn’t have stopped you.”

I shook my head. “You know what happened the last time I tried to create another Instagram account.”

I narrowed my eyes at her, telepathically willing her to remember the time I created a new profile for Winters’ Weddings. A client named “Isla” messaged me on Instagram and booked me to do her engagement shoot at a nearby vineyard in Sonoma. She even paid the fifty-percent deposit. When I got to the vineyard, I parked my car and entered the barn, where we planned to meet. “Isla” and her friends were there with their cell phone cameras at the ready to record my reaction to a cardboard cutout of Ben down on one knee proposing to Becca Kingsley, the pop singer he dumped me for. I vomited on the straw-covered floor and ran to my car.

I shook my head when Michelle didn’t acknowledge this catastrophe. “Forget it. I’m not arguing about this again.”

“You’re the one who brought up your cash flow problems. I was just offering social media as a solution. A little self-promotion can’t hurt, you know? And yet you still shoot me down, as usual. Anyway, we both know that’s not what this is about.”

“What are you talking about?”

She purses her lips. “I’m talking about that gigantic chip on your shoulder. It’s been there since Hunter’s graduation last month.”

My eyes widen. “Are you kidding me right now? Are you accusing me of being jealous of my little brother?”

“There’s a difference between bitterness and strength. You’ve gotten more bitter with every year that passes since you and Ben broke up. If you’re not careful, you’re going to push away the people who helped you get through that shit-storm. Which is sad, because we’re the ones who actually love you.”

I lower my gaze and take a deep breath to tame the angry lion inside me. I also try not to think about Ben, but the tattoo on my wrist makes that impossible. Michelle is pretty strongly implying that what Ben did to me indicates he’s obviously not one of the people who actually loves me. But after three years, I still look at the tattoo on the inside of my left wrist and wonder if that’s true. Could Ben have been pretending to love me for all those years?

I lay my hand over my wrist to cover the words “I love us” written in Ben’s handwriting. He has a matching tattoo on the inside of his left wrist in my handwriting, if he hasn’t attempted to get it covered up. During the four years that Ben and I were officially together, and the few years before where we hid our relationship from our families, we only got into one huge fight that almost tore us apart. Almost.

I remember vividly how I told Ben I loved him, but I didn’t think I was secure enough to be with someone famous. He told me I had nothing to feel insecure about. “I don’t like myself without you. Actually, sometimes I think you’re the only thing I like about myself. I love you, Charley, and I’m not ashamed to say I love you more when you’re mine. I love us.” After that, “I love us” became our slogan. I cringe inside as I remember how we joked about trademarking the phrase.

“Let’s change the subject,” Michelle says, probably reading the signs in the painful expression on my face, the signs my mind has wandered into the dark corner where I hide my memories of Ben. “If you don’t want to do social media — which I totally understand — then, maybe all you need to do is figure out what’s worked in the past, you know, to generate business.”

I lean my head back and sigh. “I feel like this is the hundredth time we’ve had this conversation. I don’t know why you put up with me.”

“Because I love you,” she replied casually. “Okay, I remember when you were booking wedding shoots more than six months in advance because you were so busy. When was that? Two years ago? Maybe you were doing something back then that you might not be doing now.”

I shook my head. “That was pretty much right after the breakup, when I first started the business. When people were still googling ‘Charley Winters ugly cry’ a thousand times a day. Bookings have steadily decreased since then.”

Michelle winces at my reminder of the time a paparazzo published a video of me ugly-crying while talking to my mom in our backyard shortly after the breakup. The video went viral and, at its peak, the phrase “Charley Winters ugly cry” was Googled more than 800,000 times in one day. The video is still on every celebrity gossip channel on YouTube. I don’t have the emotional fortitude or the money to hire a lawyer to force Google to take it down.

Michelle stands up and rounds the table so she can wrap her arms around my shoulders. “The only good thing I can say about Benjamin Hayes is that he’s smart enough not to show his face around here anymore. I hope he gets antibiotic-resistant chlamydia and his dick falls off.”

I laugh a little too hard and another tiny toot comes out. “I don’t think that’s how chlamydia works.”

“I’m still holding out hope. And you really need to stop eating so much damn chili,” she says, giving my shoulders one more squeeze before she sets off toward the back of the restaurant. As she rounds the counter, she glances back at me and flashes me a beaming smile, which quickly disappears as her eyes become fixated on something outside.

I glance over my shoulder toward the storefront and a flicker of intense pain fires through every nerve in my body when I see Ben standing on the other side of the glass.

New York Times bestselling author Cassia Leo loves her coffee, chocolate, and margaritas with salt. When she’s not writing, she spends way too much time re-watching Game of Thrones and Sex and the City. When she’s not binge-watching, she’s usually enjoying the Oregon rain with a hot cup of coffee and a book.

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NEW RELEASE!! Saving Beck by Courtney Cole

Reminiscent of the beloved novels by Mary Kubica and Jodi Picoult comes a chilling portrayal of a son’s addiction and its harrowing effects on both him and his mother from New York Times bestselling author Courtney Cole. SAVING BECK releases July 17, 2018. Check out the teaser below, and pre-order your copy of SAVING BECK today!

There comes a time when offering your life for your child’s doesn’t work, when you realize that it’ll never be enough. 

The cold needle in his warm vein was a welcome comfort to my son at first. But then it became the monster that kept us apart. 

Heroin lied, and my son believed. It took him to a world where the last year didn’t happen, to a place where his father was still alive. What Beck didn’t understand was that it couldn’t bring his father back from the dead. It couldn’t take away his pain, not permanently. 

You think it can’t happen to you, that your kids, your family, will never be in this situation. 
I thought that too. But you’re wrong. 

Step into our world, and see for yourself. 
Watch my golden boy become a slave to this raging epidemic. Watch me try and save him. 

Drug addiction comes with a price. 
Trust me, you’re not equipped to pay it. 

Don’t miss this heart wrenching, evocative, yet hopeful novel—it will leave you forever changed.

Amazon | B&N | iBooks | Kobo | Audible

“Isn’t that Taps?” I asked finally, and my eyes were wet. I didn’t look up from Angel’s lap.

“My mom used to sing it to me when I couldn’t sleep. It was the only lullaby she knew,” Angels said, defensively.

“I’m not attacking your mother,” I told her.

“I know.”

“Why did your mother send you away?” I asked, because Angel’s song was so sad, and her voice was so broken. “She must’ve loved you.”

She shrugged and held me tight, her fingers afraid to let go of me.

“She said I was better off going back to foster care. That should she couldn’t afford to live on her own, and her boyfriend hated me. She said she wanted me to have a shot at life, and she couldn’t give to that to me.”

“I’m sorry.” I patted her back with my free hand. It was a mindless motion and it didn’t help, but I tried.“How long were you in foster care?”

“A while,” she answered. “The state thought I was better taken care of there. I lost my virginity to a foster father. I don’t have a sweet story like yours and Elin’s.”

Her voice was bitter now and she was so hurt and she was so used.

I wanted to pick her up and shield her from the world.

I told her that.

She laughed, a hard sound. “Too late, King,” she said.

“It’s never too late,” I argued.

She was thoughtful now.

“So why did you leave your home?” she asked. “If it’s never too late. Maybe you should go back?”

“It’s complicated,” I answered. “I can’t go back.”

“But why? Your mom is a good mom, right?”

I paused. “Yeah. She is. But she’s got her own shit going on. There’s a lot to deal with, you know. When someone dies.”

“Yeah, I bet,” she answered. “But she probably misses you.”

I shrugged. “It’s hard to say.”

The silence swallowed us up, and we wallowed in it, stretching our legs and swimming in it.

“I was thinking that when this is done,” and she gestured toward my crown royal bag that held our stash, “that we should give it up.”

That hit me in the face and I stared at her.

“Give it up?”

The idea was ludicrous, because without H, I’d feel everything. I wouldn’t be able to escape and there was nothing I wanted less than to do that. But Angel was nodding and she was serious.

“I think we should,” she said finally. “Look what it did to my mother. She gave up her own kid. You left a good life behind. For what? For this?” she swept her arm around gesturing to the rickety walls of the warehouse. “We’ve got to make good on ourselves, King.”

I eyed her.

“What’s your real name?” I asked, trying to change the subject. She scowled.

“Don’t do that. This is serious.”

“So is your name,” I answered.

“My name is Angel now,” she answered. “And I want us to get clean. We’ll have to do it together so we can help each other. We’ll get each other through it, King.”

I stared at her hard, and she was so solemn, so determined.

“You can’t be serious,” I said and I was shaky just thinking about it.

“I am,” she nodded. “You don’t know it because you haven’t seen it, but when I’m sober, I can do anything, King. We could get a little house, and be roommates. Winston can have his own little bed. You can go to college and I’ll get a GED, and we’ll have a life, King. A real life.”

I thought on that for a second.

A real life.

I studied the track marks in my arm, and I knew what I’d have to give up.

“I don’t know if I can,” I said truthfully. “I don’t know if I’m strong enough.”

“Of course you are,” Angel said firmly. “You just don’t know that right now. But I do, King.”

“My name isn’t really King,” I told her. She smiled and in this moment, she was pretty, even with her jagged extra-short hair.

“I know,” she answered. “I’m not stupid. But you’re my King, and I like it that way.”

“Do you want to know my real name?” I gave her the choice, but she squeezed my hand.

“No. That was then, and this is now. You’re King and I’m Angel.”

She fell asleep, so I was left awake alone.

I held her tight because she was all I had, and her breathing was soft and quick. It was still chilly enough in here to see her breaths in the air, but I kept her warm with my body.

She’s Angel and I’m King.

I thought about that.

Then I thought about a time when I was still Beck.

I was another person, with the world on a string and all the promises it had to offer sat on my lap.

Potential was a shiny thing and I’d been full of it then, so much so that I couldn’t see past the bright promises.

But with those promises came curses. If I hadn’t gone to Notre Dame that day, if we hadn’t stayed so long, then it wouldn’t have been so late when we drove home. Elin wouldn’t have called to check on me, and I wouldn’t have answered. My dad wouldn’t be dead.

My life would still be shiny and bright.

I would still be at home and my mom would be making me banana pancakes on Saturdays.

I was sure she’s still making them now for Dev and Annabelle. Thoughts of them hurt my heart and I missed them. I hadn’t allowed that for weeks and weeks, but it was true.

I missed them.

Looking down at Angel’s face, I wondered what they’d think of her.

But I already knew.

They’d take one look and know she’s an addict too, and I’d be just another disappointment. One of many.

No matter how much I missed my life, that was then. This was now.

Angel stirred and moaned a little and I soothed her quietly, my hand on her shoulder.

“Shhh,” I said into her ear. “It’s going to be all right.”

“King, promise me we’ll quit,” she said, half asleep. “Promise me.”

I didn’t want to. I wanted to. I didn’t want to.

“Okay,” I finally said. “Okay.”

She smiled and her lips were curved and pink in the night. She was happy now, I realized with a start.

“Sing to me,” she said. “Make me feel safe.”

I sang her mother’s lullaby and she closed her eyes to sleep.

Courtney Cole is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling novelist who would eat mythology for breakfast if she could.

She has a degree in Business, but has since discovered that corporate America is not nearly as fun to live in as fictional worlds.

Courtney was born and raised in rural Kansas, but has since migrated south. She now lives in Florida and writes beneath palm trees.

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