Saturday, April 1, 2017

Working Stiff: Casimir Blitz, Excerpt & Giveaway!

Working Stiff: Casimir
Blair Babylon
(Runaway Billionaires #1)
Publication date: May 17th 2016
Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Romance

Here’s the problem: when Rox was hired, she told her smoking-hot boss Cash that she was married, but she’s not. Now, three years later, she’s kind of accidentally living with him, and he’s being a perfect gentleman, dang it.
Everybody in the office said that Cash was a heartbreaker, that he’d bump her and dump her, so Rox decided not to become a statistic. She went out and bought herself some rings of the finest cubic zirconia so that she could work with Cash, who was several inches over six feet tall, emerald-eyed, ripped, gorgeous, his tailored suit clinging to his athletic body, sporting a British accent, and loaded.
It had seemed like such a good plan at the time.
But now, three years later, she and Cash have become friends. They travel together for work often, and they’re the best of buddies.When Rox gets thrown out of her apartment, Cash insists that she come live with him until they can find her a place because that’s what friends do.
Now, even though everyone insists that Cash never goes after married women, something about him has changed. There are little touches, little slips, and Rox is more and more tempted to tell hunky, gorgeous Cash that she never was married.
And then he’ll take her and break her, and then he’ll walk away, and then she’ll lose her job, and she still hasn’t found a place to live.
And yet, every time her looks at her with mischief in his dark green eyes, every time they’re teasing and it somehow turns into tickling, every time she swats at him and somehow ends up in his arms, she wants so much to risk everything.
What’s a working stiff to do when she falls in love with her friend, the boss?

FREE for a limited time only!


Casimir bounced the back of his head softly against the door in time with his thoughts.
She. Was. Married.
It did not matter if Rox would be under his roof for a day or two. It did not matter that sometimes a ghost of other circumstances had flitted through the house and through Casimir’s mind, a ghost that looked suspiciously like her sumptuous dark hair spread on his pillows or her plush body sprawled on his sheets.
She. Was. Married.
Perhaps his attraction for her was merely for forbidden fruit, he consoled himself. If he’d had a chance with her, perhaps he wouldn’t feel so strongly. It was probably an illusion.
Perhaps she wouldn’t walk through his dreams, handing him contracts and then looking up through dark eyelashes with her hazel eyes that reminded him of pale caramels from home before she melted into his arms.
She would only be at his home for a day or two.
Casimir would survive a day or two of her walking around his house, drinking coffee with him in the morning or maybe a cocktail after work, perhaps watching a little late-night television on the deep couches in the media room before they retired, or perhaps, finally, she might steal into his bedroom near midnight—
She. Was. Married.
He rubbed the back of his skull. That last bonk had smarted a bit.

Author Bio:
Blair Babylon often releases ebooks at a special release-day price of 99c.
To never miss a sale, CLICK HERE:
Blair Babylon is the nom de plume of an award-winning, USA Today-bestselling author who used to publish literary fiction. Because professional reviews of her other fiction usually included the caveat that there was too much deviant sex and too much interesting plot, she decided to abandon all literary pretensions, let her freak flag fly, and write hot, sexy, erotic romance, plus wild, suspenseful thrillers, science fiction, and urban fantasy using the super-secret pen name Blair C. Babylon.


Friday, March 31, 2017

Marked Blitz, Excerpt & Giveaway!

D. Laine
(Apocalypse Assassins Trilogy #1)
Publication date: March 28th 2017
Genres: New Adult, Paranormal, Post-Apocalyptic

For trained assassin Dylan Romero, business is good. As the agency’s top warriors, he and partner Jake Walker are the last two people evil wants to see on the other side of a gun.
When a mission takes them to the college town of Bozeman, Montana, they discover that there is more than just another mark in another town to keep them there. With a heavy concentration of vessels doing their demon masters’ dirty work and flesh-craving monsters lurking around every corner, the secluded Midwest town is set to become the first battleground of the apocalypse.
The last thing Dylan needs is a distraction. With the fate of the world at stake, the life of one girl shouldn’t matter – until the day she changes everything.


Seconds later, the bartender set two matching drinks on the counter in front of the guy from the parking lot.
He wordlessly slid one of the glasses toward me. My eyes darted to his in surprise, and he shrugged. “You look thirsty.”
I picked up the glass with a grateful smile, and helped myself to a sip of the cool liquid. Jack and Coke—exactly what I wanted. He was observant. “Thank you.”
As he nodded, his eyes moved over my shoulder, in the general vicinity of Vivian. A small grin tugged at the corner of his lips. He glanced up at me briefly before giving undivided attention to his drink. “How’s your boyfriend?”
“Who? You mean the guy from earlier?”
“Well, I’m not talking about him.” His head nodded across the bar, where David was doing his best to catch the waitress’s attention. “That poor fucker doesn’t stand a chance, does he?”
“David is my friend,” I responded defensively. “And Kyle isn’t my boyfriend. You’re wrong on both counts.”
His eyes snapped to mine, then slowly lowered. Heat followed his gaze as it swept across my lips before settling on my neck. I was forced to sweep the hair off my shoulders in an attempt to cool off. It didn’t help.
He squinted at my neck like he considered devouring me right then and there. With the hot ball of lava tumbling through me, and ultimately settling in my core, I considered letting him. One look. That was all it took.
No guy had ever . . .
Oh, God. Vivian was totally right.
His mouth curved like he had read my thoughts. Then his hand shot out to mine as he stated, “Dylan.”
I accepted his hand with a smile. “Thea.”
His head angled closer to mine. “Thea?” When I nodded, he leaned back with a smirk. “Are you a librarian, or something?”
“What?” I demanded, suddenly on edge.
“Hot librarian,” he corrected with a lazy shrug, as if that somehow made his comment less insulting. At my unamused glare, he used his hand to cover the smile spreading across his face, and muttered, “I’m sorry. I don’t think I’ve ever met a Thea before. It’s, uh . . .”
“A librarian’s name, apparently,” I finished for him sourly.
He chuckled. “I like it, alright? I do. In fact, you’ve given me a new standard to associate with the name Thea. Next time I hear it, I won’t imagine a ninety-year-old librarian. I’ll picture you instead.”
He somehow made me like the sound of him thinking about me, despite the example he used. Some small, gullible part of me liked it. The rest of me reared back with revulsion.
“Need to picture me to get you through the night, huh?” I quipped.
His lips pursed as he considered my question. Then a broad grin turned his lips up. “Never really gone for a good girl before. Unless it’s an act . . .” His eyes swept down the length of me with obvious interest, and I folded my arms over my chest to interrupt his uncensored gaze. When he finally made it back to my eyes, he hooked an inquisitive brow.
“It’s not an act,” I stated firmly, “and I don’t play games.”
He shook his head at the counter, and muttered, “I didn’t think so.”
“Not like it would matter anyway.” My eyes lowered to his lap in mock consideration, then to the drink in front of him. “You’ve had so many of those, I doubt you could even play your part at this point.”
Dylan’s head rolled back as a deep laugh rumbled through him. I refused to acknowledge how sexy it sounded.
“First of all . . .” He lifted a finger in the air. “I’m always up to playing my part. Got it?” I kept my arms folded, my face unreadable, as he lifted another finger. “Secondly . . . I find it interesting that you know how much I’ve had to drink tonight.”
My arms slowly uncrossed under his amused and knowing gaze. His eyebrows shot up in silent inquiry, and when I offered no explanation, his grin broadened.
“I thought so.” With a flirty wink, he turned in his seat to face the bar.

Author Bio:
I write relationships. Whether contemporary or fantasy, they are always real and never easy.
When I'm not writing, you can usually find me with my nose in my Kindle - reading romance of course - or running around after my three little boys, or catching up on an episode of Supernatural or This Is Us. 


Thursday, March 30, 2017

Stiff Drink Blitz, Excerpt & Giveaway!

Stiff Drink
Blair Babylon
(Runaway Billionaires: Arthur Duet #1)
Publication date: March 21st 2017
Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Romance

Genevieve is a lawyer, not a babysitter, and certainly not a dog trainer. She is just about to become a full barrister, a British litigating attorney, when her law mentor dies unexpectedly. She is shuffled off to another barrister, one who’s nothing at all like her kind and decent former mentor, and then she is assigned the office’s worst case: Arthur Finch-Hatten, six-feet and four-inches of ripped, loaded, hot English nobleman who is wasting his life and his inherited estate so audaciously that his younger brother is suing him for control of their family’s earldom. There is a darn good chance that Arthur will lose everything, even his crazed, badly behaved puppy.
Unless he shapes up.
Her new boss hasn’t been able to convince Arthur to mend his ways. His uncle’s lectures haven’t had any effect on his depraved debauchery and lavish lifestyle.
The only way for Genevieve to make partner is to win Arthur’s case, and the only way to win his case and save his earldom is to keep him from spending his days hungover in bed and his nights pouring Cristal on naked, drunk women before flying off in his private jumbo jet to the next party.
Arthur was enough to make any woman need a stiff drink.


When he strolled in, Lord Arthur Finch-Hatton, the Earl of Severn, was still staring straight ahead at the window that overlooked the crowded streets of central London, so Gen’s first look at him was his profile.
Morning sunlight streaming in the window clung to his golden skin. His cheekbones were hard slashes, and his jaw was a sharp right angle above the crisp, white collar of the dress shirt and black business suit he wore. His lush lips curved in a smile, as if looking over London from such a prestigious advantage suited him. The subtle lift of his chin and roll of his broad shoulders suggested that, had history been different, he might have ruled the land that spread beneath the window.
He turned to survey the rest of the room and caught Gen sitting at the table, gaping at him.
Oh, God. She was staring.
He always caught her staring.
She was staring at the black curls of his dark hair that stroked his ears and the back of his neck, and she was staring at the way his very precisely tailored suit skimmed his strong shoulders and the rounded biceps of his arms and then narrowed at his waist and hips, and she was staring at his extravagant height and his long legs and the way his head tilted with amusement as he caught her staring at him again.
Gen’s brain turned to goo.
Damn, Lord Severn was one gorgeous man.
The goo in her mind grew fuzzy tendrils, and cotton candy filled her skull and stopped up her ears.
Her thoughts slowed as she met his eyes.
My God. His eyes.
His eyes weren’t blue or gray or any color that she had ever seen on a real human being before.
His eyes shimmered with an unexpected delight and intelligence.
They narrowed when he smiled that good-natured, natural smile that beckoned to her.
And most of all, his eyes sparkled silver and were bounded by a dark blue ring.
They changed color depending on the light, from baby blue to silvery-gray and all the shades in-between. Gen saw all the variations as he turned his face from the sunlight toward her.
They were beguiling, magical, unearthly.
That was not damn fair.
Gen had heard about peoples’ knees weakening, but she was already sitting down. Still, her bones turned to soft clay, and she grabbed the sides of her chair because she was in danger of slithering out of it and onto the carpeting under the conference room table.
Lord Severn walked toward her.
It was customary for barristers to stand when greeting a client.
She should stand up. You really should stand up.
Stand up, dammit.
Gen gripped the sides of her chair and pushed with her arms to lift herself to her feet.
Even though too-tall Gen was wearing blunt, two-inch heels, Lord Severn was still inches taller than she was. At least four inches. Which meant he was at least six-four.
Blathering. Her brain was blathering.
His tie was the same azure-silver as his eyes but glimmering silk.
Dizziness spun her head, and she gasped for air because she had forgotten how to breathe.
At her stupid sucking sound, Lord Severn smiled, though it was a sad smile like he regretted that his mere presence was overwhelming her so.
He pulled out a chair on the other side of the table. “I was terribly sorry to hear about Horace Lindsey’s untimely death. He was an excellent barrister and a family friend.”
Even though it was only eleven-thirty in the morning, Lord Severn’s breath carried a faint whiff of whiskey under the mint, like he had just come from a gentleman’s brunch.
Gen’s mind searched for words.
Any words.
Wut arrre werdz.
She gathered her brain together and squeezed something out.
“Yes, it was a great loss to us all,” she managed.

Author Bio:
Blair Babylon often releases ebooks at a special release-day price of 99c.
To never miss a sale, CLICK HERE:
Blair Babylon is the nom de plume of an award-winning, USA Today-bestselling author who used to publish literary fiction. Because professional reviews of her other fiction usually included the caveat that there was too much deviant sex and too much interesting plot, she decided to abandon all literary pretensions, let her freak flag fly, and write hot, sexy, erotic romance, plus wild, suspenseful thrillers, science fiction, and urban fantasy using the super-secret pen name Blair C. Babylon.


Digging in the Stars Blitz, Excerpt & Giveaway!

Digging in the Stars
Katherine Blakeney
Published by: Blaze Publishing
Publication date: March 28th 2017
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult

A lost ancient civilization and the tomb of a legendary king lie buried beneath centuries of ash on the volcanic planet Thror, but that’s not the only reason sixteen-year-old Carter has tricked her Archaeology of Outer Space class into coming here. Her best friend Conrad has just disappeared on a trip to Thror, leaving behind little more than a broken vintage camera. The strange and disturbing photographs she manages to extract make her suspect Conrad’s disappearance is somehow connected to the hidden tomb of the last king of Thror.
Unfortunately, the ludicrously over-friendly ‘Furry Giants’ who have taken over the planet’s barren surface would rather offer her cheap souvenirs than answers, and the local officials insist they have no record of Conrad’s existence. Inspired by fear for Conrad’s life and the chance to make the greatest archaeological discovery of the century, Carter and her friends follow Conrad’s footsteps deep into the mountains of Thror’s forbidden Black Zone and launch an illicit excavation.
Coded messages, stunning ancient ruins, and clues left by Conrad himself begin to surface as the young archaeologists fall victim to an alarming series of accidents staged by the increasingly hostile Furry Giants. Piecing together a history of dictatorship, terrorism and disguise, Carter glimpses the horrors beyond Thror’s flamboyant fa├žade and startling revelations about the friend she thought she knew. The masks of Thror hide devastating secrets, and the golden tomb buried deep in the frozen core may claim the lives of everyone she loves.


“Please remain seated as we begin our descent into Thror. Welcome, and enjoy your stay.”
The time for action was at hand, and she still didn’t feel ready. The flight felt much shorter than she’d expected.
The girls exchanged bewildered looks across the aisles. Stunned silence. They couldn’t have missed that final announcement. Avoiding Professor P’s gaze, Carter still felt the look of shock the professor shot across the cabin. Once, Carter had seen herself arriving on Thror as a great explorer. Instead, she would be remembered as a half-baked deceiver and kidnapper. The Throrians would have called her a scent-changer.
* * *
Carter had been so close to her goal. She saw that crack with her own eyes, a portal into a lost ancient world, chambers filed with carvings, images that had never been recorded or reproduced. The greatest discovery of this or any other century, waiting less than twenty feet away. Waiting for her. And Conrad had been there first. The moment she thought it, she felt guilty. She was allowing herself to get carried away by archaeological fervor, mentally competing with Conrad, when he might have paid a terrible price for his discovery.

Author Bio:
I am an author and independent filmmaker/stop motion animator with a BFA in Stop Motion Animation from the School of Visual Arts in New York and a PhD in Film Studies from the University of Edinburgh (Scotland, UK). My thesis focuses on silent film adaptations of late nineteenth and early twentieth century Gothic novels, with a special emphasis on psychological and aesthetic representations of the Monster figure. My debut novel, a YA Sci-Fi adventure called Digging in the Stars, is forthcoming with Blaze Publishing on March 28, 2017.
Raised by an Egyptologist mother, I grew up among museums and excavation sites, where I developed an unhealthy fascination with ancient art and mythology. I divide my time between bringing 12”-tall people to life in my studio in Edinburgh, excavating ancient tombs in the Egyptian desert, and researching Gothic literary monsters in silent film. I have worked for more than 10 years as photographer and videographer for the South Asasif Conservation Project, an archaeological expedition in Egypt and I have published numerous articles on film and archaeology.
I write, direct, design, and animate short films and commissioned projects in my studio in Edinburgh, Scotland and have been employed as an animator, screenwriter, modelmaker and art director for studios in Edinburgh, South Korea and Qatar. I have produced commissioned projects for IdeasTap in London, the Arts Trust Scotland and the British Library. My shorts have won competitions and screened at various international festivals including the Edinburgh Fringe. In 2015, my short film The Burglar With the Yellow Hand was nominated for an Arts and Humanities Research Council (UK) Research in Film Award.
You can find out more about all aspects of my work on my website,
My new blog is all about Digging in the Stars and my references and inspirations as a writer.


Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Legacy Lost Tour, Excerpt & Giveaway!

Legacy Lost
Hell’s Valley Series
Book Two
Jillian David

Genre: paranormal romance/western romance

Publisher: Crimson Romance

Date of Publication: 3/27/17

ISBN: 1507202326


Number of pages: 250
Word Count: 66,700

Tagline: The melding of the contemporary western with paranormal elements—think Big Valley meets Alphas—makes for a compelling, fresh mix for Jillian David’s sophomore series.

Book Description:

Growing up as an honorary Taggart, Eric Patterson found the family he’d always wanted. Almost. He couldn’t ever manage to see the clan’s youngest and only daughter, stubborn spitfire Shelby, quite like a little sister. Suddenly, his long-suppressed feelings are determined to come to light.

Too bad Shelby’s cursed. Her double whammy psychic powers to read emotions and locate anyone anywhere have always made relationships impossible—and now they’ve begun to endanger her life. If she uses her echolocation skills again, it just might kill her.

But when a malevolent supernatural force invades the valley, threatening the Taggarts and their neighbors, the Brands, Eric and Shelby must contend with both their blossoming feelings and the increasing danger. Does Shelby dare risk using her powers one more time, sacrificing her own life to save Eric?

Amazon    BN    Kobo


Wait until Eric found out she could read anyone’s emotions.
Not that she’d ever tell him.
It was bad enough he knew about her homing beacon skills.
A wave of something else wafted over her filters. Warm, smoky caramel. The scent of Eric’s concern and worry about her.
His light brown brows drew together. “So, how’s your breathing? Really?” By the way he asked, he damn well knew the answer.
“Want to try that answer again?” The curve of his sensual mouth pressed into a hard line as he studied her. Did he seriously move into a wide alpha-dude stance? Not that she was affected by him. No way. Her disgust stemmed from the fact that hard muscled, denim-clad legs like those should be illegal to display without a license.
“Sure.” She suppressed a betraying wheeze. “How about it’s none of your business and let’s get back to work?”
He barked what passed for a laugh and moved not one inch. “You bet it’s my business.” He extended a work-roughened hand toward her then dropped it. “I can’t believe you’re on call for Search and Rescue in this condition.”
“In this condition?” Virtual heat steamed from the top of her head. “Now you’re checking on my condition?”
“I’m an EMT, same as you. Someone should assess how you’re doing since you refused medical treatment after the fire.”
“Don’t need to assess anything. I’m fine.”
He rolled a gloved hand into a fist and propped it on a central beam, leaning like he wanted to shove down the entire structure. “Damn it, Shel, you’re going to get yourself killed if you don’t take care of yourself. I’m one of the team leaders on Search and Rescue. And I will pull you from a mission if you’re not healthy.”

Irritation crackled along her nerves. No way could she give in to the undertone of concern in his voice. “That would be the last thing on earth that you did, getting in my way of doing my job.”
His mouth barely moved. “If it’s a medical call, I’ll do it.”
“This conversation was getting too serious too quickly. And she couldn’t detect a rock bottom for this uncomfortable chat. “So now you’re a medical expert?”
“As close as we’re going to get right now.”
Spin the topic, damn it. Change the subject. Now. “No way, dude. You’re not evaluating my medical condition. Because then I’d have to make you wear the stupid nurse costume and call you ‘ma’am.’”
He paused then shook his head. With a glint in his dark blue eyes, he shot her a broad grin that made her heart flop. “How about I wear the hat?”
“Well . . . ”
“And nothing else.”
Today’s verbal judo wasn’t working like it normally did. Her cheeks warmed up at the thought of an exam by Eric. With him wearing only a nurse’s cap. That image cast her childhood friend in a whole new and uncomfortable light. She broke eye contact. Nope. Nothing would ever happen beyond friendship, and life was better for both of them that way.
Because, with her crappy gift to detect emotion, Shelby’s problem wasn’t intimacy, it was the aftermath, the judgment, the inevitable disapproval, the garbage and static that came along with even the nicest thoughts. Way too much closeness.
She and Eric were friends. That’s the way it had been for years, and that’s how it would be for years to come. Period.

“Fine, Nurse Patterson.” She sniffed. “But I get to decide how to use the stethoscope and blood pressure cuff.”

About the Author:

Jillian David lives near the end of the Earth with her nut of a husband and two bossy cats. To escape the sometimes-stressful world of the rural physician, she writes while on call and in her free time. She enjoys taking realistic settings and adding a twist of “what if.” Running or hiking on local trails often promotes plot development.

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Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Fixing Sydney Tour, Excerpt & Giveaway!

Fixing Sydney
Diane Zparkki
Young Adult Romantic Suspense
Date Published: August 1 2016

Sydney Sommer’s world fell apart after senior prom. Since then, her life had become a constant loop of unfortunate scenarios that kept her in constant fear of what might be lurking around the next corner. Her trust in others was at a standstill. Even those who were closest to her were held at a distance.

After serving active duty overseas, Jaxon Triggs moved away from his hometown, hoping the change in scenery would help him build a new future for himself. What he wasn’t expecting was to fall for a girl who was broken.

From the first moment Jaxon laid eyes on Sydney, he was curious. He became determined to do everything he could to break through the armor Sydney held around her so securely. His instinct to protect her and keep her safe kicked in as the dangers she encountered became more personal.

With dread always looming close by and secrets discovered, would Sydney be able to handle the new changes in her life yet heal at the same time?

Purchase Links


Barnes and Noble:


staring at myself in the mirror propped up in the corner of my bedroom, I wondered, How the hell did I get here? I stood there for another ten minutes, thinking I better contemplate
My outfit included black jeans, converse, and a black tank top. My wardrobe mostly consisted of jeans, hoodies, sneakers, and boots. No dresses. In fact, the only formal dresses I had owned were the two I had worn to prom. The first one was to my best friend Shannon’s prom. Billy asked me to be his date after his girlfriend dumped him two days before to go with one of the football stars. Bitch. I donated that dress to a local charity. The other dress was worn to my own prom the following year. That dress was now long gone, buried at the bottom of some garbage landfill, being wormed back into the earth. Good riddance.
I was ready for my parents’ famous Sunday barbeque—well, my mom and stepdad, but I just called him “Dad” now. They loved having the family over for dinner. I didn’t know why they thought it was such a big deal when one of us was always there during the week, mooching dinner. If I were honest with myself, the real reason they had these dinners was to check on my mental stability. Over the past few years, those dinners had become a regular occurrence after I moved out to attend college.
I had taken a year off after high school to get myself back on track after I’d had a major meltdown that would have taken out three towns. Now I was coming back at a turtle’s pace, but I was coming back.
High school was so long ago, filled with great memories of football games, soccer games, pep rallies, dances, drinking, and school pranks. It had been the ultimate high school experience…until I had started dating Steve. Prom night had destroyed all those happy memories. That evening had twisted me up inside, shut me down so tightly nothing was going to penetrate my Teflon wall. It

was the closest I had ever felt to death.

Death…Maybe death had occurred, just not in the physical sense.

I knew what death looked like, and I knew how people acted around it.

My father died when I was four. My memory was cloudy of him, but I remembered that day clearly.
My father lay in a plain mahogany coffin, wearing his favorite blue, checkered shirt. I had no idea why I knew it was his favorite; I just knew. He also had on a pair of black jeans, his boots, and his leather vest that had patches on it, like the other men at the funeral. To this day, every once in a while, I would get a whiff of worked-in leather, and it would remind me of him. I didn’t know why I would remember that above all else, though.
I also remembered a man at the back of the parlor, dressed similar to my dad. He had several tattoos, as did the rest of the men who stood with him and shook his hand.
“Mommy, is Daddy sleeping? Why can’t I wake him? Why won’t he wake up? Daddy, wake up!” I remembered saying.
My mother took my hand and brought me over to the casket where she laid her hand on my dad’s. “Daddy died, sweetheart. His soul is already in Heaven. His body is here so that all his friends and family can say good-bye.” As she explained death to me, it was the first time I saw tears stream down her saddened face.
I had no idea what a soul was, so she tried explaining it again to me. “It’s like when your daddy would ride his motorcycle. He was the soul of the bike; he controlled it. He brought the bike to life and made it move. When he got off the bike and turned the engine off, the bike stood still. His body is like the bike, and his soul is the engine.” She looked down at me and gave me a big sigh because I stood there with big doe-eyes in confusion.
“Daddy’s a motorcycle?”

That was when a blonde lady came up behind me and asked if I needed to use the bathroom. My mom nodded her head at the lady and hugged me before sending me off to the bathroom.
The lady came into the stall to help me fix my tights. Even as a child, I hated getting dressed


While we were in there, we heard two women speaking in the bathroom.

“Poor Sara. What is she going to do with that little girl now, raising her alone so far away

from her family? Maybe she will move back home,” one woman said.

“She might when she realizes her husband’s so-called family will no longer take care of her,”

added the other woman.

I looked up at the blonde lady, trying to make sense of what my little ears were hearing. She just continued to fix my clothes until the women left. Then we walked out of the stall and washed our hands.
I remembered looking up into the reflection of the mirror and seeing the blonde lady’s eyes held anger in them, but she also wiped a tear away from her cheek. I never asked the lady about it.
She brought me back into the funeral parlor, and I noticed a lot of people I had never seen before, most of them dressed in black, hugging my mom and speaking in another language.
I had no idea my mom spoke another language until that day. I always thought she spoke gibberish when she was angry. However, I later learned that she was actually speaking Italian and cursing like a sailor.
Mom always said families were great, but you couldn’t pick your family. Sometimes, the families you built with friendships were the greatest ones. They knew how to support you the best. I would guess that was why we never spent much time with my mother’s family.
We rarely saw her family, only a few phone calls on birthdays or Christmas. As the years moved on the phone calls started to dwindle. We were on our own.
The next few years were hard on us. We moved from our home to a small two-bedroom apartment not too far from my school. Mom worked a lot of hours as an accountant and took on new clients, working late into the night after putting me to bed. I was always in before and after school programs. Regardless, my mom made sure I never went without, and she absolutely made sure I knew I was loved.
We had teddy bear picnics in the park, put lick and stick tattoos up and down our arms, or on rainy days, built forts in the living room. She never made me feel like I was missing out on anything.
What she didn’t know was that I could hear her crying in her room at night. Her cries were muffled, probably because she was sobbing into her pillow, but I could hear her. Still, she never showed her heartbreak over the loss of my dad to me or anyone else. Instead, each morning, she would get up and start her day with a smile. She had done better than I was doing now.
When I was seven, Mom started dating Brad. I wasn’t sure how I felt about him, but I knew he made my mom happy. She laughed more, her smiles were genuine, and her late night cries were

replaced by phone calls that had her giggling.

Mom had met Brad at a singles mixer—well, that was the story they told everyone. They actually met at a bereavement group for widows and widowers raising children on their own.
Brad had lost his wife Jenny due to a freak complication during childbirth. She had been giving birth to their second son, Logan, when something had gone wrong. Logan had only met his mother for a short few seconds before she had lost consciousness and died.
Just before Mom and Brad moved in together, the man from the funeral home came to the apartment. I remembered how nervous Brad was, pacing the floor and rubbing his hands up and down the front of his jeans. Mom, on the other hand, was as calm as a Hindu cow. It was rare that she would get flustered.
The boys and I played video games in the living room while Brad, Mom, and the man talked in the kitchen. The boys had just looked up at him when he had first come in, seeming unaffected by his presence, and continued playing.
The man had sat with his back to me, so I couldn’t see his face. They talked for a while, and once the man finished his beer, he shook Brad’s hand, hugged Mom, and then left. He never came back to our home again.
The following month, Brad, his boys, Mom, and I all moved in together. The house they bought had two huge oak trees in the backyard. They were so big I couldn’t put my little arms around the trunks. We had tire swings hanging from them, a tree house built in one, and Mom even made Brad rent the tallest ladder he could find to climb up the tree and carve our deceased parents’ names in them—Thomas in one tree and Jenny in the other. She said, that way, as the trees grew, they could watch over our growing family, too.
Mom was raised Catholic, but she had become more spiritual than religious. She often would say their spouses had brought them together. I thought that was a little morbid but sweet in a bizarre kind of way. That was my mom.
It was a week after we moved in that I met Shannon. She walked right up to me, wearing a little pink summer dress with white sandals, and her dark brown hair was pulled up in a ponytail with barrettes holding the strands in place.
“Hi, I’m Shannon. What’s your name?” she introduced herself.

There I was, lying on my belly on a floral blanket in the front yard, coloring. My messy, curly red hair was all over the place as I looked up at her and blew a strand out of my face, swearing I

had put it up in a ponytail that morning. I was wearing my favorite purple tank top and little jean shorts with a purple flower on them, and I was barefoot.
“Hi…I’m Sydney,” I said. “Why are you all dressed up? You going to a party?”

Shannon smoothed out the front of her dress, looking at me with confusion in her eyes. “No, this is my summer dress.”
Oh, boy, were we in trouble, and trouble we were from then on.

We were inseparable and as opposite as opposites could be, but she was still my best friend, and I knew she was also worried about me.
Shannon was a year older than me, whereas my new brothers and I were all two years apart. Therefore, I had to spend my last year of high school without my best friend. Meanwhile, my brother Holden was in his third year of college away from home, and Logan had enlisted and was deployed overseas in Afghanistan. That whole year, it was just me, Mom, and Brad holding down
the fort.


I noticed the digital clock flashing behind me from the reflection in the mirror, telling me I had been standing there, pondering for way too long. I sighed at myself, thinking I hoped my happy ending came soon.
I looked at myself one last time as I picked up my bag, put on my happy face, and headed to my red Jeep.
I lived in a small loft over my brother’s garage. Holden had bought a farmhouse a few years ago and renovated it. Logan had moved in to help pay the bills when he had returned from his tour of duty and had invited a friend from his squad to come back with him to rent the third bedroom.
I had originally been staying on campus at the university, but a lot of freaky things had been happening to me there. At the beginning of this year, my room had been broken into and trashed. Holden had suggested I move into the loft, and I had jumped all over that idea, loving the idea of creating my own space.
A short drive later, I pulled into my parents’ driveway and noticed the boys had gotten there before me. There were three Harleys sitting in the driveway, two belonging to my brothers. It never surprised me to find there was an extra person at our dinner table; it had been like that my whole

I could see the barbeque smoke billowing up in the backyard, so I decided to go straight to the

back. Just before I swung the gate open, though, I took a deep breath and blew it out. I put my hand on the gate and debated about how this evening’s questioning was going to go. I decided I couldn’t think of that. Happy face.
I pushed the gate open, calling out, “Hello, everyone,” and quickly noticed the new face looking back at me.
I had met most of my brothers’ friends, but not this one. I actually found myself stopping to size him up.
When he stood up, I noticed he was a little taller than Logan—maybe six-one or six-two. He had sandy brown hair cut short and was wearing a fitted black T-shirt, which showed the guy worked out, and jeans that had a worn-in look that sat right on his hips with a black belt and black boots. I couldn’t get a look at his eyes, though, since he had on wraparound sunglasses. Eyes were my thing. I could usually tell a person’s character by their eyes.
“Hello, Cat!” Logan called out to me as Holden came around the corner with some corn to put on the flames, bumping my shoulder in greeting and bringing me out of my daydream.
I must have looked like an idiot.

I walked over to Dad and gave him a peck on the cheek then turned to introduce myself to

Logan’s friend.

“Hi, I’m Sydney, these bozos’ sister.” I pointed over my shoulder to where my brothers were standing.
He looked confused. “Sydney? I thought your name was Catherine. Logan always refers to his sister as Cat.”
“Nope, Sydney’s the name.”

“When she was little, her hair was a lot redder, and you could never hear her coming,” Logan piped in. “She always snuck up on us and scared the living shit out of us, so we started calling her ginger cat, and eventually, we shortened it to Cat.”
I hated that nickname. Only my brothers were allowed to call me that.

As he leaned forward to shake my hand, I could see dog tags under his shirt, and that was when I realized this was Logan’s Army buddy who was going to rent the third room.
“Well, I’m Jaxon. Hi.” His handshake was firm with just enough gentleness, and it gave my body a spark I hadn’t felt in a long time.
My mom came into the backyard, interrupting my train of thought.

“Hi, sweetheart.” “Hey, Mom.”
“Did you meet Jaxon, Logan’s friend?”

Oh, have I met Jaxon…I grinned to myself.

“Yeah, just now.” Tonight’s dinner was going to be an interesting one, but hopefully, the focus would be off me. No awkward silence. I could just sit there and enjoy checking out Jaxon.
We all sat around outside on the patio, chatting. Logan and Jaxon told us how they had met the first week of basic training and how they’d wreaked havoc, which didn’t surprise me. Holden told us about his new renovation job in the city and what a pain in the ass it was to travel back and forth. Then the awkward silence rolled in, which was my cue that the conversation was about to turn to me.
I needed an escape.

“Dessert, Mom?” I started to clear the table and bring the dishes inside.

I knew I needed about twenty minutes before they would forget about me. I didn’t want to answer the same questions they always asked: When are you going to be normal again? Have you made any real decisions about your future? How are your sessions going with Dr. Thore?
I knew my parents were happy I had decided to return to school after taking online classes and picking up a few courses over the summer. Then Dr. Thore had suggested I adjust my path, so now I was back in school full-time. I had worked my ass off to get there, and now I was going to graduate at the end of this school year.
I was taking my time cleaning up the last of the dishes when I heard the ruckus of someone coming in.
“Sydney, you in here?” Shannon asked a moment later. Mom had invited Shannon and Danny, her boyfriend, over for dessert since they had been over at Shannon’s parents’ place for dinner,

“In the kitchen!” I shouted back. “Hey, you hiding out again?”
I laughed. Shannon knew me well.

Sunday night dinner attire for Shannon was nice, blue, cropped pants with a white golf shirt and white sneakers. She actually looked like she had just gotten off the golf course. Me? I was still the opposite: black on black on black.


“Well, aren’t you a lucky girl, then?” We both laughed.
“Girls, do you mind running to the store to get some cream?” Mom interrupted as she came into the kitchen.
Great, there was my escape!

“Sure, Mom, no problem.” I grabbed my bag.

Shannon offered to drive her nice, safe, silver Acura as we listened to the new tunes she had uploaded.
“Park anywhere, Shanny. I’ll run in,” I told her when we pulled into the shopping center.

She turned into the grocery store parking lot and was circling the lot when we both saw the green Ford pickup truck with the worn-out bumper sticker that read: Education is Important, But Big Biceps are Importanter.”
When I saw that truck, it felt like someone had just kicked me in the gut. I could feel the blood draining from my face, and my hands started to sweat. I knew whom the truck belonged to, and I just wanted to press down on the gas pedal and peel out of there. Thank God for Shannon, because that is exactly what she did.
She looked over at me with concern in her eyes, heading right back toward my parents’ house. “Shannon, we can’t go home without the cream. They’re gonna ask why.” I had left my body
for just a few minutes, but I was getting better at controlling my inner freak-outs.

Shannon looked at me with confusion.

“I don’t want this to become a manhunt when I get home,” I explained. “Things have been getting better. I haven’t seen Steve in almost three years. We don’t even know if that was him. He might’ve sold his truck.”
Shannon continued to look at me in bewilderment. “Are you shitting me, Sydney? You know that was his fucking truck, and that means he’s back in town. He can’t be anywhere near you.” There was no official police document saying that. Steve just knew better, and Shannon never held back.
“Please, let’s go to the corner store to get the cream then go home.”

they both felt guilty for not being there when all the craziness had happened. “Please, Shannon!”
Shannon reached over and squeezed my hand.

We stopped at the corner store, and Shannon ran in while I continued to collect myself. I can do this. Then Shannon ran back to the car, and we drove back to my parents’.
“Please don’t say anything to them,” I begged, my hands shaking again as we turned down my parents’ street. I needed to do the whole meditation self-talk before I went in and faced all of them.
Shannon just looked at me with frustration and anger. “You know your family loves you. You need to let them in. You need to let me in.”
I knew she was right, but I couldn’t do it. I needed to handle this on my own. Besides, I was in therapy once a week now and doing great. Dr. Thore had even said she was pleased with my progress and suggested cutting back to once a month. After today, I doubted that would happen.
“Just cover for me. I’ll be right out after I go to the bathroom.” What I really needed was to pull myself together. I had taught myself how to get my control back, but I needed some more time.
Shannon shook her head in disapproval, but I knew she would do it.

I went straight to my parents’ en suite bathroom and looked in the mirror for the second time today, trying to pull myself together.
“Don’t cry. Don’t cry.”

I cried for the first time in a long time. Seeing that truck had hit me hard.

Once I was done, I cleaned up my eyes the best I could and pulled down my sunglasses and looked back in the mirror. It would have to do.
I came around the back again where everyone was lazing around the outdoor fireplace, another addition to the backyard. Mom was cleaning up the dessert dishes while Shannon was pouring coffee.
When Shannon saw me come around the corner, she mouthed, Are you okay?

I gave her a thumbs up and the best fake smile I could muster. Then I looked over at the boys and noticed Jaxon’s shades were pushed back onto his head, the perfect distraction I needed.

started cursing in Italian on the way down, landing flat on her face. There she was, sprawled on the patio with the dessert’s remains across the ground.
When she sat up, I saw her knees were scratched up and starting to swell a bit.

Always attentive to my mom, Logan quickly came over to help her into a chair and took a closer look at her knees. Holden sent me in to get ice and the first-aid kit.
We patched Mom up, and then Brad sat with her while the rest of us finished cleaning up the dishes for her. With all the excitement, I forgot about my own inner crisis.
After all the cleaning was done, the boys decided to take Jaxon over to the Open Cork, the bar I worked at on the weekends where I could pretend for a few hours I was normal and alive. It was the only social interaction I had.
The boys mounted their bikes after thanking Mom for dinner and rumbled off. I stuck around a bit longer to chat with Shannon, Danny, and my parents. However, the whole time I sat by the fire, talking, all I could think about was Jaxon and his caramel eyes. I didn’t get a good look at them, but I knew I wanted to get to know them better.

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Diane Zparkki——lives in the greater Toronto area. She is a working mom, and with her husband,
she has raised three great kids. She is a thrill seeker who usually drags her family along with her.

She was never a big reader or writer in her youth—Coles Notes were her best friend through college. Her enthusiasm for reading came later in life when she joined a book club. She loved those books, but she wanted raw, simple, and happily ever after with a bit of get down and dirty. That was when her love for bad boys on a Harley was set in motion.

After reading so many books, her mind started to create her first story, and she needed to get it out.

Fixing Sydney of the Branson’s Kind of Love trilogy is her first book, and she hopes you enjoy it as much as she has enjoyed having these characters running around in her head.

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