Book Spotlight: The Devil's Analyst by Dennis Frahmann


Mystery, Thriller, Crime 
Date Published:  08/11/2016

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Danny Lahti had it all: fame, fortune, friends, love - and an obsessed stalker.
Obsession can be a powerful curse. What happens when you think your world is perfect, but someone behind the scenes is determined to test you in every way possible? As the clock ticks toward the year 2000, Danny's world starts unraveling without explanation. An unknown hacker unleashes a digital attach on his Internet company just months before its public debut. A prowler attempts to break into his historic mansion which houses, according to Hollywood rumor, secret vaults. A long-time friend goes missing. Is it all coincidence, or are these just the first feats by a crazed admirer determined to force the truth from Danny?
And what is the truth? The complicated days that follow force Danny to have another look at his own relationships, misdeeds, and damaged past. But will he ever learn the lesson that will satisfy the devil who taunts him?


Excerpt

C  H A  P  T  E  R    O N E 

Midnight 
Twenty minutes to midnight, and the ice on the frozen lake outside cracked. The loud reverberations of winter echoed through the night and invaded Danny Lahti’s peace.
Danny was prepared to let time  move  forward  in   whatever incremental way  it chose. At that moment . . . sitting on a sofa  in  an enormous  room  near  midnight  .  .  .  huddled  within  a  century-old hunting lodge  of a long-dead lumber tycoon . . . on  the shoreline of a lake  nearly forgotten in  the isolated woods of  northern Wisconsin, Danny Lahti was not concerned about the potential for a technological apocalypse as time turned to the year  2000.
But  he  did   feel   on   the  brink. Something was   about to  happen. Things should change;  they needed to change. He  couldn’t  really say why.   Danny never  felt he  was   the   introspective  type.  But he   had always felt connected to a larger universe, one  in  which he  received premonitions of what was to come.
The  end  of the century. Or maybe the start of a new  millennium. It depended on  the pundit. But  computers only  knew what they were programmed to  know, and   they weren’t  programmed to  deal   with changing from 1999  to 2000.  Maybe early computer  scientists never thought about a century starting anew. December 31, 1999  could prove an  existential threat. They called it “Y2K.” Who knows, maybe every generation deserved its opportunity to restart the clock.
For   Danny,  his   past  was   too  painful,  but   the  future  felt  too uncertain. In a way,  his life could be the snowdrift-covered lawns that surrounded  this house. On  the surface, the drifts were unblemished and  glistening in the weak  moonlight. But beneath their surface, under the  shapeless accumulated flakes,  were the  remains of years of living. If Danny had  the time and  the tools and  the  energy, he  could shovel his  way  into discovering the   dead flowerbeds, the   abandoned lawn furniture, and  the  century’s worth of trails across the  grounds. But who could be  bothered?  Eventually, the warm sun  of  spring would surely melt the snow. Just wait. The  past would be exposed.
Danny had  always been the kind  of person willing to wait. When he was only  twelve, his mother committed suicide and  he found her dead body. He  waited then,  always expecting someone  would eventually arrive  to  explain  what  had   happened  and   why.   When  his   father withdrew   into   a   hermit-like   life    that   barely  acknowledged  his adolescent son’s existence, Danny still waited. Someone would surely make his  father forget his  dead wife  and  remember his  child. He  was still waiting.
And  when Josh  came into his  life,  promising an  escape from these cold  woods into the warm, loving life  of the Los  Angeles sun,  Danny followed and  waited for Josh’s direction.
He  waited. He  always had.  Perhaps he  always would. It was  his nature not to rebel and  not to question, to try to be good  and  not rock the   boat.   A  new   year, a  new   century, a  new   millennium, not even “Y2K” could change that. Because Danny Lahti had  never been able  to find  the  energy to  grab the  reins of his  own  life. And  he  didn’t intend to start now.  And  yet something was changing. He felt it.
The  ice cracked again.  Nineteen minutes to midnight. 




Dennis Frahmann is a former journalist and marketer,who now resides in Cambria, CA. He is the author of two other novels: Tales from the Loon Town Cafe and The Finnish Girl.

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Book Spotlight: Love to Win by Lisa Ricard Claro



Fireflies Series, Book Three
Contemporary Romance
Date Published: July 30, 2016
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She hates to lose…
Competitive barista Brenna Kinkaid loves a challenge, and she’ll do whatever it takes to win, especially when it comes to her nemesis, Dante Caravicci. But when forced to team up to save their best friends’ wedding, Brenna recognizes that Dante might just be her ultimate win.
He plays to win…
Restaurateur Dante Caravicci won’t quit anything until he can claim success. He’s bided his time, but he’s used to taking big risks and surviving, so he figures he’s got nothing to lose by playing for Brenna.
Hearts at risk…
These two fall fast, and it looks like a win-win—until a competition pits them head-to-head and one of them goes way too far. A nudge from an improbable source may be the only way these two competitors will ever admit that the only way to win is to lose their hearts.


Other Books in the Fireflies Series:

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Publisher: Black Opal Books
Published: June 2015

She can’t let go of her dead husband…
Maddie Kinkaid believes her late husband, Jack, gives her advice on everything from ordering a pizza to hiring a carpenter, so when she finds Caleb Walker’s business card on Jack’s desk, she’s convinced that he’s the guy to remodel her kitchen.
He can’t decide if she’s worth the risk…
Caleb is a single father, and protecting his young son means avoiding romantic entanglements. But there’s heat in every kitchen, and sparks ignite between Caleb and Maddie—until disaster strikes.
When Jack goes silent, Maddie’s guilt consumes her, and it looks as if she and Caleb will never find their happily-ever-after—at least, not without a little help from Jack…
LOVE BUILT TO LAST began as the award-winning short story Fireflies, and is now the first novel in the Fireflies series.




Excerpt

“Well, I like that,” Brenna said. “My own mother likes your cake better.”

Dante regarded her with amusement. “Not everything has to be a competition between us, does it? What difference does it make which of us bakes the better cake?”

“Or saut├ęs the better shrimp?” Brenna said, remembering Dante’s shrimp dish from Thanksgiving that she, Rebecca, and Maddie had all deemed to be almost better than sex. Not that she’d tell Dante that. She blew out a tired sigh. “I’m sick of losing to you in the food department. I try to so hard to be creative, and you whip something up at the last minute that takes home the gold.”

“Is it really that big a deal?” He raised his brows.

Brenna stared at him a moment and made him laugh when she said, “Bet your ass! I hate coming in second on anything, especially to you. And say what you will—” She poked his chest with her finger for emphasis. “—but you’re just as competitive as I am.” He moved back a step and she poked him again. “You don’t like to lose at anything either.” One more poke. “You always do whatever you have to do to win.”

Dante’s eyes narrowed, but his lips curved. He stepped forward against the press of her finger, forcing her to step back—once, twice, thrice—and she sucked in a breath when her hips bumped against the counter. She reached behind her to grab the edge of the countertop, and her eyes widened when Dante rested his hands on either side of hers, hemming her in as he had done in the storeroom.

Brenna’s heart sped to triple speed. Dante leaned down and she parted her lips, in spite of herself, when his mouth stopped a mere breath away from hers, so close she swore she felt the radiating heat. A second passed, and another. His gaze dipped to her mouth. Brenna licked her lips and her eyes fluttered shut in anticipation, and then the stubble darkening his jaw tickled the skin of her cheek with the barest touch, and his warm breath against her ear made her shiver when he whispered, “You’re right. I’ll do whatever I have to do to win. You’d do well to remember that, sweetheart.”

He pressed his lips against the tender skin just below her earlobe and made her shiver again, then stepped back. Brenna stared at him, her mind whirling.

“It’s late. I’ll follow you home when you’re ready to go, make sure you get there safe,” he said. “And relax, I don’t expect to be invited in. I know you just want to be friends.”

Brenna still gripped the edges of the counter, her eyes wide and lips parted in surprise when he disappeared out to the porch.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lisa Ricard Claro is a professional editor, award-winning author, and Pushcart Prize nominee with published articles and stories spanning multiple media. She resides in Georgia with her husband of more than three decades and counting, is mother to three (a ruggedly handsome son and two stunningly beautiful daughters—​Lisa might be a little biased), and dreams of one day living at the beach. Seriously dreams of it. As in, she’s already decorating her dream beach house. In addition to an array of sand dollars and seashells, she keeps a framed sign hanging in her office: Sandy Toes and Salty Kisses Welcome Here.
Lisa is also a lover of dogs and cats, and has a heart for rescues. This is why you will find a rescued pet companion in every one of her books. Sometimes they are part of the story line (Pirate the dog, in Love Built to Last), and sometimes they’re already ensconced in their forever home with one of Lisa’s characters (Pavarotti the cat, in Love to Win). As you read Lisa’s books, watch for the rescues!
While Lisa is a fan of storytelling in all genres, Romance is her favorite because she believes everyone deserves love and a happily-ever-after. But she adores a little mystery now and then, too, so keep an eye out for Lisa’s authorship of a whodunit one of these days soon.

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Book Spotligh & Giveaway: Hidden Deception by Coleen Helme



Mystery (cozy, psychic)
Date Published: August 12, 2016

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Just back from Paris, Shelby barely has time to get over her jet lag before she is right back in the thick of things. Uncle Joey, the local mob boss, needs her help to find out what his son is hiding from him. Detective Harris, AKA Dimples, has an unsolved homicide on his hands, along with a missing engagement ring. Shelby's husband, Chris, just got promoted to partner in his law firm, and she has yet to see his new office or meet his new secretary. Add to that the opportunity to purchase a beautiful home, and Shelby is racing from one thing to the next while trying to keep them all straight.
When a courier in Uncle Joey’s organization turns up dead, it’s up to Shelby and her mind-reading powers to find out who killed him and why. The house Shelby wants to buy has a few problems that go beyond the building code, and the murder she’s helping Dimples solve has ties to Chris’ law firm. Even using all of her skills, Shelby finds one hidden deception after another. And if she’s not careful, it might be the one she least expects that will kill her.



EXCERPT

Today began like any other Monday.
The routine of getting my kids off to school was just the same as it had always been, and I found it a little disconcerting to think that I’d just had the adventure of my life in Paris, and now it seemed like I’d never been gone.
We’d gotten home on Friday, so with the weekend to get over my jet-lag, there was no excuse for not going back to my everyday life. It would have been depressing except for the fact that I had something to look forward to. Just thinking about it sent a thrill of excitement through me.
My husband, Chris, had just made partner at his law firm. With that came a few other benefits, one of which was a big raise in pay. On the plane ride home from Paris, Chris had mentioned this to me, along with the news that the house I’d always admired from afar was for sale. Now, there was a real possibility we could afford it.
I’d had my eye on that house ever since we’d moved into the area. It had a certain enchantment about it that fueled my imagination. It was situated on a beautiful, stately, tree-lined street, and was built in the Old Victorian style. It even had a round turret on one side that spanned two floors, and another in the back. A wrap-around porch had recently been added, making it even more inviting.
It wasn’t a huge house, but big enough for our family, and I’d always thought it would be cool to live there. Even better, it was in our neighborhood and school district. So if we did buy it, our kids could stay in their schools and keep their friends. 
The only drawback I could see? People moved in and out a lot, so it might need some fixing up, especially the yard. But that also meant the price would be lower, so it could all work out in the end. Chris had called a realtor on Saturday, and I had an appointment to meet him there this afternoon.
This fit into my plans perfectly, since I needed to visit Thrasher Development this morning and have a talk with Uncle Joey. He was the local mob-boss and my employer. And he wasn’t even my real uncle. But since he knew my secret, I was more or less coerced into working for him. 
Recently, he’d sent his hit-man, Ramos, to look after me when I’d accompanied a federal agent to Paris on a routine trip. It had turned out to be a heck of a lot more than I’d bargained for. In fact, without Ramos’ help and protection, I’d be dead.
The last time I’d talked with Uncle Joey, he wasn’t too happy with me. And since he’d basically saved my life by sending Ramos… again, I owed him big-time, probably for as long as I lived. Or at least until my mind-reading abilities stopped. So far, that hadn’t happened. And deep inside, I hoped it never would. 
It had been a whole year since my life changed during a bank robbery at the grocery store while I was shopping for carrots. A bullet wound to my head had changed something in my brain, and now I could hear people’s thoughts. I could hardly believe how fast the time had gone since then. 
In fact, reading minds had become so much a part of my identity that I didn’t think I could ever go back to the person I was before. So, even though it might get me out of helping a mob-boss, and keep me out of trouble, and even keep me from getting killed, I’d hate to lose it. How crazy was that? 
On the other hand, Uncle Joey was getting older. He had to be over sixty-five. That meant he should retire at some point in the next few years. Maybe by then, he’d let me off the hook. Ha! Who was I kidding? Uncle Joey didn’t seem like the retiring type. He liked power way too much. And barring death, either his or mine, I didn’t think I’d ever be out from under his thumb. 
It also worried me a little that the circle of people who actually knew my secret had just widened to include French Inspector Gabriel Dumont. But since I’d helped save a chunk of Paris, he’d readily agreed to keep it to himself. 
So, including Uncle Joey, Ramos, my husband, Chris, and Detective Harris, whom I called Dimples, that still added up to only five people, so maybe it wasn’t so bad. Oh wait, there was one more… Kate.
How could I forget her? She was the main reason I got involved with Uncle Joey in the first place. As a new lawyer at Chris’ law firm, she’d set her sights on Chris, even though she knew he was happily married to me. In order to stop her, I’d threatened to expose her ties to the local mob-boss, Joe ‘The Knife’ Manetto, whom she called Uncle Joey. 
That’s when it all went wrong, and I had to tell Uncle Joey my secret in order to stay alive. Kate had since been banished to run Uncle Joey’s operations in Seattle, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t pop back up in my life at any time.
Just thinking about her brought a sick feeling to my stomach, but now that she was involved with Alec Passini and his shipping company, I hoped that kept her occupied. Still, I wouldn’t put it past her to ask for my help if she needed it. So, of all the people who knew my secret, Kate was the one I worried about the most. Good thing I had Uncle Joey on my side. Everyone else thought I had ‘premonitions,’ and I needed to make sure it stayed that way.
Now that I was back in the real world, it hit me that I had a lot to worry about, so to alleviate those worries, I decided to change my focus to the possibility of purchasing my dream home. That helped revive me and, with anticipation, I jumped into the shower to get ready for my day.
An hour later, I pulled into the parking garage of Thrasher Development and gathered the special gifts I’d purchased in Paris for Uncle Joey, his secretary and wife, Jackie, and Ramos. I was excited about the gifts I’d bought for Uncle Joey and Jackie, but more than a little nervous about the one I’d bought for Ramos. I mean, what could I possibly give to the man who’d rescued me from a bunch of crazy terrorists?
Not only that, but he’d stuck by my side when he could have easily been blown up. The little Eiffel Tower I’d gotten him seemed kind of silly, but it was also personal. The first time I’d seen it sparkle was the night he’d saved my life and took me there to help settle me down. Now, when I thought of the Eiffel Tower, it was always of that moment standing there with him. 
It was bad of me in so many ways, especially considering the kiss. Of course it wasn’t a personal kiss since Gabriel had kissed me too. It was kind of a French thing to celebrate not getting blown up; Joie de Vivre, and all that. 
Still, I had to admit that I’d liked it, and that I didn’t feel too guilty about it. That probably made me even more of a bad person, but it’s not like I’d ever do it again. I loved my husband more than I could say, and we had two great kids together. 
But Ramos was special to me too, and always would be. So giving him the Eiffel Tower was an okay thing to do, right? Still, maybe I should forget about it and just give him the extra chocolates instead. Then I wouldn’t have to worry that I’d crossed some sort of line.
“Babe.” 


About the Author

As the author of the Shelby Nichols Adventure Series, Colleen is often asked if Shelby Nichols is her alter-ego. “Definitely,” she says. “Shelby is the epitome of everything I wish I dared to be.” Known for her laugh since she was a kid, Colleen has always tried to find the humor in every situation and continues to enjoy writing about Shelby’s adventures. “I love getting Shelby into trouble…I just don’t always know how to get her out of it!” Colleen lives in the Rocky Mountains with her family. Besides writing, she loves a good book, biking, hiking, and playing board and card games with family and friends. She loves to connect with readers and admits that fans of the series keep her writing.


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Twitter: @ColleenHelme


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Teaser Tuesday: The Geisha with Green Eeyes by India Millar


Historical Romance
Release Date - August 16, 2016


By 1850, Japan had been closed to the outside world for centuries.  It was a secret, hidden world.  And deep within Edo (now Tokyo) was Yoshiwara − “The Floating World.”  The center of pleasure. And within Yoshiwara was the Hidden House. The place that only the very wealthiest could afford.  The place where the geisha were…special.

And in the Hidden House lived Midori No Me. Half Japanese, half foreign Barbarian, born captivity. She was trained to dedicate her life to serving the wealthiest men in Japan. Defiled at 13 when her virginity was sold to the highest bidder. Possessed by the greatest actor in the Kabuki theater.  Stolen by the most powerful Yakuza in Edo.

The geisha who escaped from the Floating World.

The Geisha with the Green Eyes.










EXCERPT



The birds on my roof

Fly away. Would that I

Could follow.

Carpi had collected me and taken me to the bathhouse earlier that afternoon. She had supervised critically as the maids poured hot water over me, soaped me from head to foot, and rinsed time and again until she was satisfied. Eventually, she had discarded her own kimono and gestured at me to climb into the bath with her, even grudgingly allowing me to help her climb down the rather slippery steps.
Both of us stood chin deep in the hot water. Within seconds, my skin had turned lobster red from the unrelenting heat. Carpi sighed luxuriantly, stretched, and turned to stare at me.
“Anything you need to know?”
I shook my head. In my stupidity, I had no idea what questions even to ask. What was there to know, I wondered? Auntie had already explained to me what was to happen. When my danna arrived, he would be taken to the bathhouse and would be bathed carefully by the maids. Once he was ready, he would proceed to the Hidden House itself and would be plied with sake by Auntie prior to the feast. Carpi, Kiku, and Masaki would enter the room with me. Naruko, still being a maiko, would follow later on her own. 
We would all bow to my danna and would sit at his command. Food would be brought in when he requested it. Masaki would probably be chosen to play the samisen. Kiku and Carpi would flirt politely with my danna. We would all eat and drink, at his signal.
At this stage, nothing would be expected of me except to sit and giggle at any witticism he might make. I could look at him with reverent adoration, of course, and if he wanted me to dance or play the samisen or sing, I could do so, but not unless he asked.
Either when Auntie thought the time was right or my danna became impatient for his money’s worth and made it clear that he wished us to be alone, Auntie would stand and she and the other girls would make their farewells. The maids would clear away the dishes and charcoal burners and bring in the bedding to change the room from a banqueting hall to a bedroom.
Then my mizuage would begin.
Although at least in principle we would be alone, I was well aware that Auntie would be outside the room, somewhere very close. She would certainly be able to hear everything. Knowing Auntie, I would guess that she would make sure that she could also see everything as well. I could only pray that she was alone and had not invited some favored patron to watch my deflowering. I would never know if she had, of course, but the thought made me feel sick.
Satisfied that we were clean, Carpi scrambled out of the bath, leaving me to follow. The maids dried us carefully, and then Carpi hustled me off to her room to attend to my makeup.
I was used to the thick, white makeup required of a maiko, but today’s was even more concealing than usual. I suppressed a hysterical giggle as I wondered if my danna would even recognize me underneath the coating.
Carpi sat me down on the matting and pursed her lips as she looked at the assortment of jars and bottles set out on the tatami.
“Sit still,” she commanded. I nodded, without thinking, and got a brisk slap from her left foot as a reward for daring to move.
I hated Carpi touching me anywhere, but especially on my face. I closed my eyes and tried to pretend it was Kiku, or Auntie, who was dabbing at my skin. It didn’t work, I still felt slightly sick. But I kept still, as instructed.
Carpi nodded at the bottle of camellia oil and the maid picked it up quickly, patting the oil on my face and neck and then rubbing it in gently. None of the incredibly expensive courtesan’s nightingale dung face cream for me! It was said – by those who could afford it – that the potions made from nightingale dung lightened and brightened the skin like nothing else could. I was grateful I wasn’t rich enough for it be used on me. The thought of rubbing unguent made from bird droppings into my skin did nothing for my queasy stomach. Satisfied that my skin was ready, Carpi grunted and the maid stepped back but hovered nearby, ready for Carpi’s commands.
Carpi leaned forward, a tiny bottle clasped between her finger and thumb. With the other fingers, she pried my eyelids wide apart. The bottle was tipped slowly toward my eye, and a single drop of thick liquid dripped out. It felt icy cold and stung. The action was repeated with my other eye. Within a minute, everything at any distance became blurred. I blinked.
“It’s a distillation made from a flower,” Carpi said briskly. “Don’t worry, it will wear off by morning. In the meantime, it makes your pupils look huge. I think it makes your eyes look even more green, if that’s possible.”
She sat back on her haunches and nodded in evident satisfaction. 
The pink undercoating came next. Carpi put that on herself, and I closed my eyes as I felt her touch, trying not to squirm. A white topcoat followed, brushed on quickly before it could set. For one insane moment, I thought about telling Carpi that I would do it myself, but my tongue refused to speak the words and I simply sat mute, suffering her touch.
I heard her grunt with satisfaction and I opened my lips and drew a deep breath.
Rouge followed, highlighting my cheeks. In spite of the fact that my eyes were tightly shut, Carpi snapped at me to keep them closed as she puffed white powder on my eyebrows and eyelids. My own eyebrows were hidden completely by the powder and I could feel Carpi’s breath on my face as she leaned forward to draw my new brows in place. Red paint first, then black over the top, with just the tiniest hint of red allowed to show through. 
“Open,” Carpi said, and I hurriedly opened my eyes, trying not to blink in the sudden light. With the tiniest of brushes, she outlined my eyes with red, which was – like my brows – then covered in black. 
“Pout.” In a second or two, my lips were bright red. Carpi sat back to consider her work and nodded. “You’ll do. You can still tell you’re a Barbarian, but then again I suppose that’s what your danna is paying for. Put your head back.”
I did as I was told and Carpi took up the large brush again to stroke the white paste over my throat and bosom, down as far as my undergarment. I turned automatically, praying that I was getting it right.
Finally, she gestured for me to turn around and painted me from my shoulders to my hairline at the nape of my neck, leaving only a strip of my own flesh showing down my spine. Japanese men find the nape of the neck to be especially erotic, often more so than a woman’s breasts, so this piece of painting had to be correct.
Finally satisfied, Carpi nodded at the maid to bring me a mirror. I stared into its depths wonderingly. Was this really me? Was this painted, anonymous doll that looked back at me from the mirror truly my own face? Fascinated, I reached up to touch my cheeks and got a sharp hiss from Carpi for my trouble.
“Don’t you dare! Do you really think I’ve gone to all that trouble for you to mess it up?”
I mumbled my apologies.
“Come on. Let’s get you dressed.”
I stood, naked and still pink from the heat of the bath, as Carpi shouted at the maids to get me properly dressed.
First, the tabi socks. I felt clumsy, and it took an age for the maid to get my big toe properly inserted in the divided sock. I remember laughing the first time I saw a Western sock and thinking it strange that there was no separate place for the big toe. Did foreign Barbarians not have a separate big toe, I wondered. But on that day I would have given a great deal for a pair of Western socks; they would have been so very much easier. Carpi tutted at my clumsiness, and I was suddenly all thumbs.
The maid helped me into the red-patterned undershirt and skirt and tied them around with a waist tie to keep them in place. A wide under sash followed. Then my lovely, silken kimono.
This was the first time I had seen it, and it was quite beautiful. Auntie had gone for simplicity – green silk with a subtle pattern of intricate embroidery in a slightly lighter shade. Whether the color choice was to enhance my eyes or was a play on my name, I had no idea. All I knew was that the kimono was by far the most beautiful thing I had ever owned. At that moment, I didn’t even care that I would spend the rest of my working life paying for it, and all the kimonos that were to follow. It was mine!
The maid slipped it around me, patting the right side under the left, and closing it off with another waist tie. An under sash followed, and then a wide obi that went around my waist twice with a knot tied at the back and the ends of the obi sash brought around to the front where they were tied off so tightly I had to fight to draw a deep breath.
And that was it. I was dressed. I was ready.
I looked at Carpi, desperate for her approval.
She rose and stretched lazily, walking around me. She pushed and tugged at the obi and tweaked my kimono at the neck. I stood stock still, trying not to show my distaste. Finally, to my relief, she shrugged.
“Your breasts are still far too big, even in the kimono.” I looked down at myself. She was right, they were. “And we can’t do anything at all about you being so tall. No, don’t slump. It just makes your breasts look even bigger. Your nose is too big, as well. And as for your eyes! Never mind. Your danna knows what he’s getting.”
From anybody else, the words would have been heartbreakingly rude, but from Carpi, they were simply matter of fact. No one, of course, would ever have dared make the same sort of comment to her. As if she had read my mind, she added, “We are all the same, here in the Hidden House. All of us are wrong.”
From Carpi, it was almost a comfort.
The feast was spread out on the tatami mats. The feast must have cost my danna a huge amount, not to mention the fee for me, of course. The matting was full and overflowing with dishes, grilled squid, seaweed, fruit, noodles of every description, beef, and – dominating everything – a huge platter of fugu fish, sliced so thinly that when it was picked up, you could see right through it. Teruki-san gestured at me munificently and I picked up a slice of the fish, bowing my head in gratitude for his generosity, although really I could never see a great deal in the stuff. It could, of course, kill you if it had not been prepared very well, but the only thing it did to me was to make my lips slightly numb.
I ate as slowly as I could, as if by doing so I could put off the moment when the food would be finished and Teruki-san decided the time had come to get his money’s worth. 
The screens had been pushed back to make a large, twelve-mat room so that there was plenty of space for all of us. Auntie had taken her place at the side of my danna and was leaning toward him, chuckling richly at some witticism he had made. 
I was flanked on each side by Carpi and Kiku, both dressed in their best kimonos and obi. As Teruki-san glanced at Kiku, she shook out her fan and retreated behind it, tittering politely. Even though Kiku’s eyes were almost hidden in folds of fat, they really were remarkably beautiful, perfectly almond-shaped and gleaming with a light that seemed to come from some source that only Kiku was aware of. Teruki-san beamed at her and shook his finger roguishly. I wondered how much sake he had drunk before he had come to us; already he was making inroads on his second flask, and even as I thought about it he glanced at his cup and held it out. Masaki reached out and plucked the flask from the charcoal burner to refill it for him. A maid immediately placed another flask into another warming vessel to be sure it would be ready when he needed it. With great dignity, Teruki-san gestured at Masaki to fill a cup for me. 
Taking his gesture as a signal, Auntie curled her fingers at me urgently, flicking me forward with her fingers. My legs were trembling so hard I knew that standing would be beyond my power, and so I shuffled forward on my knees, my head tucked down. Teruki-san seemed to like this, as he applauded and nodded.
As I approached, Masaki turned to Teruki-san and bowed, presenting the cup she had filled for me to him. With what I guessed was drunken dignity, he grasped the cup and took three deliberate, rather noisy sips. Auntie smiled widely. She leaned forward and took the cup from him, presenting it to me. In my turn, I took three careful sips, which emptied the cup.
Unsure what to do next, I simply remained crouching, clutching the cup in my fingers. It seemed to me that silence fell, and that everybody was staring at me. 
I will not speak of what followed again.
It is done, and what is done can never be undone, no more than time can be turned back. I will never be a maiko again. Never an innocent. But at least I will never have to suffer another mizuage.





Book Spotlight: Nightord: Sunset by Garon Whited


Fantasy / Epic Fantasy
Date Published: September 2014

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Eric didn't ask to be a vampire. In fact, he didn't even believe in them. Then he hooks up with a hot babe, wakes up with a hangover, and bites his tongue with his own fangs. 

Which pretty much settles the question. 

Now he's trying to hold down his day job while learning the rules of the Undead -- the most important being that bloodthirsty urges and predatory instincts are a real bitch. 

Upside; Eric has the beautiful Sasha to teach him the ropes, including the magic he'll need to survive. 

Downside; they're being hunted by members of the Church of Light, who are determined to rid the world of vampires. 

Then Sasha is killed, and Eric is thrust into an alternate world in his quest to avenge her death. There he becomes a Nightlord, fights a dragon with the help of his magical steed, Bronze, and upchucks a sword named Firebrand. 

But things get really interesting when Eric finally finds Tobias, head of the Church of Light. Soon Eric finds himself at the center of an epic battle at the literal edge of the world in a fight to keep a terrible darkness at bay. 

In other words, just another day in the life of the Nightlord. 

"When you fall off the Edge of the World into hordes of demonic Things from the Outer Darkness, you really start to wonder if you haven't made some mistakes."  --Eric, part-time undead, expectant father, and short-term astronaut.


Other Books in the Nightlord Series:


Published: August 2015


“I’ve awakened in a stone box about the size of a large coffin… I’m filthy, everything aches, and, by the various so-called gods, I smell awful.
“I’ve woken up in worse places.
“Hmm. What does that say about my life choices?” —Eric, amateur magician, part-time vampire, and accidental king.

It's not easy, being King. Especially when you've got an allergy to sunrise and sunset, a fire-goddess for a mother-in-law, demonic adversaries, random assassins, and a basement full of insecurities to cope with.

Add to that his daughter, the fire-priestess/princess, a couple of lightly-deranged professional magicians, a whole city full of wizards, and enough squabbling princes to resemble a kindergarten argument.

It's enough to make a man want to just go home.

Luckily for Eric, he has the world's fastest pet rock, a smart-mouthed sword, and a horse that not only understands him, but likes him anyway.

“An awful lot of young ladies seem to be up all night, wandering around the halls on the off-chance they’ll bump into the King when he’s in the mood for a snack. Since when did I become sexy? And why didn’t anybody warn me it was going to be work?” —Eric, elder geek and occasional idiot.


Published: May 2016

We all have inner demons. We fight them all the time. Some of us achieve inner peace by coming to terms with them.

But how do you come to terms with inner demons that tear free and become outer demons?

Eric has been a vampire for nearly a century, and his demons are more than metaphors. While they controlled him, he was the Demon King. Now he has to avoid the monsters in his own mind, as well as angry nobles, fanatical religions, assassins, magi, other vampires, criminal organizations, and the neighborhood gossip.

He wants two things: To find Tort, and to have someplace to call home.

It may be too much to ask.



EXCERPT

 I ignored the susurrus of voices, dashed up the avenue between the ruined monuments, and took the broad stairs before the door in three skipping jumps. The door itself was a carefully-balanced block of stone. It stood about eight feet tall and was perhaps twice that in width. Opening it required it to pivot around the center, its balance. Judging by the scrapes along the dusty portico, Tobias had found it no trouble at all. I, however, shoved on each side of the block in turn without result. Maybe he locked it. 
I backed off, got a running start, and jumped. I kicked it with both feet, as high up as I could manage. Something snapped in the wall as I hit the door. I came to a sudden halt, thudding into the stone like a cannonball, then fell heavily to the dusty floor. I rolled to my feet awkwardly—Firebrand can be an annoyingly large chunk of metal—and was in time to watch the whole block of stone finish a slow, majestic topple inward. It landed flat with an echoing, tomb-door thud and sent up a huge cloud of white dust. 
I was over that stone and past the cloud in an instant, dashing down a long tunnel before the echoes had finished. Directly ahead, far distant, I could see Tobias out in the open air. I came out of the mouth of the tunnel like the bullet from a gun. 
The plaza was large. Two football games and a cricket match could have been held concurrently in that space—complete with spectators. The tunnel I exited was at the floor level of a grandly-curving amphitheater facing Tobias. All of this was scoured from rock and worn by years of use. The floor was also natural stone, cut only to smooth it down and level it. There was no roof at all. 
Perhaps a quarter-mile away, the radius of the half-circle, Tobias had his back to me. Shada was lying naked on a slab of rock just beyond him. And beyond her… 
The world ended. 
I once wondered about the nature of the world I’m in. Is it round? Is it flat? Does it go around the Sun or vice versa? 
The world is flat. Sure, it may be round—like a coin. But it has an edge, very real, and sharply defined. I know. I’ve seen it. At least that explained why my compass never found north. 
Beyond that edge exists a gulf of yawning blackness, speckled here and there by the distant stars—or are they stars? I don’t know what they are. Maybe they’re just lights on the inside of a great sphere of crystal, or holes in that sphere to an even greater space that happens to be better illuminated. Maybe the stars are really angels with flaming swords and glowing halos. 
Maybe they really are distant suns… but I doubt it. 
Right up near the edge live the Things. I recognized a few from having seen them before. The rubbery monstrosity from the lab in Baret, along with the multi-tentacled creature that tried to eat me outside the gata camp. They had a bunch of brothers with them, along with a whole lot of more distant relations. There were hundreds, no, thousands of the Things in every shape and size imaginable—and many I wouldn’t choose to imagine without serious drugs. They seemed to have no gravity out there. They weren’t a flat crowd, but a wall, extending up and to the sides, as though they were all pressing against a barrier of glass, trying to get in. They were clustered most thickly near Tobias, thinner out away from him. All of them were fairly frothing at the mouth to pour from the outer darkness onto the stone floor of the world. They chattered and chittered, hissed and clacked and moaned. Their sounds were muted, as though there really was a barrier, but there was nothing to be seen holding them at bay. 
Tobias was chanting. He had some tools in his hands—I couldn’t tell quite what, but one seemed to be a knife.



About the Author


Garon Whited was supposedly born in either 1969 or 1970; the original birth certificate is suspiciously unavailable and other records do not agree.  After spending some years in college playing with computers, he finally joined a radical group of jellyfish herding nomads. Having fought zombie dolphins, quasi-corporeal spirits, and brain-sucking mole rats, he is uniquely qualified to write fantastic fiction. His subsequent attempts at professional salsa repairman and key line salesman met with similar success. He claims to live in Texarkana, on Earth, but people have been known to disagree.

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Book Spotlight: Shelter Me by Stephanie Tyler


New Adult Romance, Romantic Suspense
Date Published:  July 25, 2016

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There are ghosts in my past—ghosts I can't recognize.
My painting heals me, but Lucas Caine has made me come alive. My past could take both those things away forever. What started out as an undeniable need to create was quickly turning into danger as my longing for memories fed the rough canvases I filled.
Falling for Lucas will force me to revisit my lost memories—and possibly lose myself, my art, and him in the process.
And now he has me skating the thin edge between desire and fear as I use a past I don’t remember to leverage a future I’m not sure I want.

(This is book 1 in a 3 book series. Book 2 will be available November 2016 & Book 3, January 2017)


EXCERPT

I absently tucked it into a loose braid over one shoulder while I studied the painting in front of me. I'd wanted to let Brayden pick the order, but he'd refused earlier that morning, and told me I was running out of time. At that memory, I murmured "Bastard" in his absence.

That's when a low, rough voice said, "People usually know me at least five minutes before calling me that."

Still on the floor, I whipped around to see the tall, brutally handsome man standing maybe ten feet away. How long had he been there? I hadn't heard him come in, but now that he was coming closer, I couldn't tear my eyes away.

The fight or flight response had remained intact when my memory hadn't. Everyone, every stranger wasn't necessarily a stranger. They could know me. They could be a part of my past.

Whether this man was or not, my base response to him was a purely physical one.

"The door was open," the man explained.

And it might've been. Brayden told me to lock myself in but I often forgot. Panic must have flashed across my face because he stopped advancing and held up his hands like a show of surrender. But he didn't try to tell me he was harmless, because he wasn't. Never could be. And the man who waited for him had moved too, turned his back in an effort to appear less threatening.

"My name's Lucas. I buy a lot of art from Brayden."

"Mine?" I asked.

"Not yet."

"I guess you'll have to try harder."

A smile ghosted across his chiseled face and I liked that. Wanted to see it more, wanted to be the one who could always bring a smile to his face.

 These men could be here to harm me and I was too busy with my tongue hanging out to threaten them with the police.

Because you rely on your gut, Ryn, my therapist, foster mom and Brayden always told me. That will get you through just about any situation.

My gut said this man knew I was Ryn Taylor, artist, but didn't know anything beyond that about me except what he'd read in interviews. Maybe he was here for my art, or maybe it was for me. But how could I feel so connected to someone I'd just met?

Lucas.

I rolled the name around in my mind as my eyes took in the black leather motorcycle jacket and the tighter black T-shirt underneath…the worn-in jeans and the heavy black motorcycle boots. I saw the hint of an expensive watch peek out on his wrist as he came closer.

I knew too, if I pushed up those sleeves, I'd find some ink. Incongruous, and ultimately intriguing.

 The angles of his face begged to be drawn, to be touched, and I held my hands down rigidly at my sides so I wouldn't do just that. "My show's not until tomorrow night," I managed.

"I know."

"Are you here to…" I looked around for Brayden, like he would magically appear and caught another glance of the other man by the door. "Are you here for Brayden?"

"For Brayden? No." His mouth quirked up to the side a little and he ran a hand through his dark blond hair. It was long enough to curl a bit at the nape of his neck, and it was rumpled, like maybe he'd just rolled out of bed…and maybe he hadn't been alone.

"You're not his type."

 His blue eyes pierced me. They were a dark blue and they missed nothing. "Whose type am I?"

Mine, I nearly blurted out. I was nervous, my stomach fluttering but not in that panicked way I recognized. Just the opposite, actually. Heat flooded me as he stared at me in my tank top and jeans with utmost appreciation, the frank gaze of someone who understood beauty and acted on it.

I wanted him to act, but at the same time, I needed him to stay away. I was too drawn to him, an electromagnetic pull that spun the earth on its axis differently. Something told me that I'd never get this man out of my life. I'd never be done with him, or him of me, and holy hell, that was a heady enough thought to make me dizzy.

I remained on my knees, stock still, looking up at him. I had the odd feeling that if I moved, even a little, I'd fall, trip, completely ruin the moment.

He gave me a heated look, and dammit, he knew what I was thinking.

Every woman who came into contact with him probably had that reaction. And that made me unnaturally, irrationally jealous because, in my mind, I'd already claimed him.

Finally, his gaze shifted to the paintings I'd been appraising. He focused on one that was part of a series that'd already sold well, thanks to Brayden. I'd wanted to call the series Man in Trees (and still did so) but Brayden told me it was creepy and insisted on simply, Catskills as the official series title. And while I could see what he meant, the person these were based on had never, ever scared me. But I couldn't tell Brayden these were based on someone real, because he'd freak out.

 Even though I was building an entire series around him, I'd never seen the man's face. Still, I'd always sworn I'd be able to sense him the way I'd sensed him out there before I'd caught sight of the shadowed figure, and even though I hadn't been able to see his face clearly, I knew he was big, broad and utterly male. I'd wanted to walk across the lawn, strip him and paint him…and then climb him after I stripped myself.

When I'd shown Brayden the first picture, he'd insisted on bringing it to the gallery. I hadn't wanted that, but I'd felt foolish telling Brayden about why the painting was so special to me, why I wanted to keep it. He told me that if I was sentimental about my work, I'd never get anywhere. In the end, after a terrible fight, I agreed to let him show it in his gallery, but I'd have final say if it was to be sold.

It was stolen a week later.

I stared up at Lucas as he stared at my painting—the fourth in a collection of nine, not counting the missing first one, all attempts to recreate those initial feelings that had propelled me to paint the first one. His expression unshuttered for a brief moment, like he was letting me in, drawing me closer to the fire.

I couldn't afford to play with fire, but he was like the ghost of the man I thought I'd conjured up on that warm summer's night in the Catskills. I was seventeen, dizzy and half high from creating. I'd glanced over and watched him. He was half hidden among the trees and if I hadn't been coming off a painting, I would've been terrified. Instead, I noticed how handsome he was, chiseled and mysterious.

I dreamed about him that whole week, less as the years went by, but always when I needed comfort, or when I was coming out of the burn of my art.

He'd been there. He was now here. Could I have wanted him so badly that my dream turned into reality? A ridiculous thought and one I chided myself for.

Creation didn't work that way.

I tried to draw in a shaky breath when this ridiculously beautiful, rough man moved a few steps in my direction, even though he was still focused on the painting.

The walls were closing in on me until he said, "Your work is beautiful," and turned from me to the paintings.

What little space he'd given me let me breathe. Even though I swore his gaze heated me, the fact that he was pointing to various paintings soothed me.

"My first show is tomorrow," was all I could think of to say, even though it was probably obvious.

"Your work is ready."

Your work. Like he knew I wasn't. "I don't think I'll ever be."

He turned back to me then. "That's not a bad thing. Protect whatever the hell makes these."

What made those was a part of the nightmare of my blacked-out past. What if discovering what was behind it stole the art from me, left me limp, with nothing? What if I had to trade nightmares and the thing I loved for peace? That haunted me, so I'd chosen not to have peace.

I remained on the ground, drawn to him, wanting to rise but refusing to do so. Sheer stubbornness and self-preservation mixed together.

He reached a hand down to help me up but I couldn't touch him. Not yet.

I pushed myself up. He was at least six foot four to my five feet four inches. The difference was dramatic.

He was so still, a predator, watching me with keen interest. I'd never been as intensely aware of a man in my life. I could smell his skin, wanted to taste it, put my mouth on his and forget everything else, including basic human decency.

I blamed the art. The heat. My lack of proper nutrition.

I stuck out my hand without saying anything, almost a dare. He took it in his and my pulse beat a tattoo. I felt the slow burn and then the aftershock quake through my whole body.

There was a definite sense of street in him, a primal, easily willing and able to fight for his life street sense.

His eyes were haunted, like maybe he already had.

There was no doubt he'd won.




About the Author


Stephanie Tyler is the New York Times bestselling author of romance novels spanning multiple genres, including Romantic Suspense, New Adult, Paranormal Romance and Contemporary Romance.
She’s a hybrid author who writes for multiple publishers, including Random House, NAL/Penguin, Harlequin, Carina Press, Mammoth Books, Belle Books and Samhain Publishing, as well as Riptide (as SE Jakes) and indie publishing. Her books have been translated into half a dozen languages, nominated for an RT Readers’ Choice Award and garnered top picks from RT Magazine as well as starred reviews from Publishers Weekly. She’s a frequent workshop presenter and has contributed stories for anthologies for charities, including SEAL of My Dreams, which has raised over 150K for the Veterans Medical Association.

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