Wednesday, January 11, 2017

{Book Tour} Alphas In the Wild Books 1-3 by Ann Gimpel

Alphas in the Wild
Books 1-3
Ann Gimpel

Dream Shadow Press

102K words

Genre: Urban Fantasy Romance Anthology

The books are also available individually.

Dark. Daunting. Unforgettable.

Survival adds a demanding edge to love in the wilds.

Tumble into second-chance love, where magics collide, mountain gods are out for blood, and aliens invade Earth.

Hello Darkness
Alphas in the Wild
Book One

Earth magics collide, forcing Moira Shaughnessy to take a chance on a man who hurt her so badly she never forgave him.

A ranger for the U.S. Park Service, Moira is in serious trouble. Fleeing from Ryan, her cheating husband, who’s also a Native American shaman, she stumbles into the arms of a man she never thought she’d see again. He hurt her once by choosing his magic over her. Would she be a fool to take a chance on him now?

Tim hasn’t seen Moira in ten years. When her name shows up on his patient roster in the rural clinic where he’s a doctor, he can’t believe his luck. Deeply held secrets forced him from her side, but he’s never forgotten her. Never stopped loving her. This time, he’s determined to make different choices, even if it costs him his birthright as the next Arch Druid.

Pursuing very different motives, Tim and Ryan follow Moira deep into the backcountry, catching her in a crossfire between Celtic and Native American magic. A freak blizzard compounds her problems, taxing her survival skills to the max. Against the specter of almost-certain death, Moira has some hard choices to make.

Alpine Attraction
Alphas in the Wild
Book Two

Tina made a pact with the devil seven years ago. It’s time to pay the piper—or die.
Independent to the nth degree, Tina meets everything in her life head-on—except love. When an almost-forgotten pact with the devil returns to haunt her, Tina throws a trip to the Andes together to face her nemesis. Better to die on her feet than wait for him to make good on his threats.

Craig never understood why Tina walked out of his life years before. He’s never loved anyone like he loved her. His mountain guide service takes up all his time, but he’s never forgotten her. When his back’s been up against the wall, he’s invited her to fill in as expedition doctor, but beyond that, he’s kept his distance. Having his heart stomped on once was quite enough.

Caught between misgivings and need, Tina signs on as team doctor for one of Craig’s climbing trips to the Andes. Though he was the love of her life, she pushed him away years before to keep him safe. Even if he doesn’t love her anymore, there’s still no one she’d rather have by her side in the mountains. And if she’s going to die, she wants to make things right between them.

A Run For Her Money
Alphas in the Wild
Book Three

Sara’s day begins like any other. A routine extraction in tandem with a local Search and Rescue team. Routine crashes to a halt when she ends up trapped in a hut, high atop Muir Pass in the Sierras. Four days later, running out of food for herself and her dog, she makes a bold dash for safety.

Jared’s walking the Muir Trail when all hell breaks loose. After hunkering beneath a boulder pile for days, he dares a difficult cross-country route, hoping it’ll put him into position to approach a backcountry ranger station. Surely one of the rangers will know what happened, because he sure as hell doesn’t. Jared locates the cabin, but it’s locked tight. He’s getting ready to leave the next morning when a helicopter lands, with Sara at the helm. There’s no time to trade war stories. It takes a leap of faith, but they throw in their lot together. Can they face the impossible and come out the other side unscathed?

Fire Moon
Alphas in the Wild
Book 4
Ann Gimpel

Dream Shadow Press
75K words

Release Date: 11/16

Genre: Urban Fantasy Romance

Dark, Daunting, Unforgettable. Survival adds a demanding edge to love in the wilds.

Book Description:

Cara, a mountain guide with a hard luck past and John, a doctor running as hard as he can from his own demons, become unlikely allies. Fire raging through the Sierras forces them away from their planned route and makes escape a dicey proposition.

Cara struggles to outwit the inferno before it’s too late. John’s long-denied psychic side escapes its bonds, refusing to be ignored any longer. He recognizes the fire for what it is: magical creatures bearing the worst news of all. Fire dragons want Earth for themselves, and they’ll stop at nothing to make it theirs. Protecting Cara from the destiny that’s finally hunted him down turns into John’s top priority, but spirit guides shanghai him, forcing his hand.

He never wanted a woman in his life. Too many complications—but something about Cara touches his heart.

She was burned out on men and vowed she’d spend the rest of her life in the mountains, guiding clients—but something about John sings to her soul.

If they can survive the dragons that set the earth ablaze, a different kind of heat just might bind them to each other.

Click here for more information, buy links, and a
free sample download of the first few chapters.

About the Author:

Ann Gimpel is a USA Today bestselling author. A lifelong aficionado of the unusual, she began writing speculative fiction a few years ago. Since then her short fiction has appeared in a number of webzines and anthologies. Her longer books run the gamut from urban fantasy to paranormal romance. Once upon a time, she nurtured clients. Now she nurtures dark, gritty fantasy stories that push hard against reality. When she’s not writing, she’s in the backcountry getting down and dirty with her camera. She’s published over 45 books to date, with several more planned for 2017 and beyond. A husband, grown children, grandchildren, and wolf hybrids round out her family.

Find Ann At:

@AnnGimpel (for Twitter)

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

{Book Blast w/ #GIVEAWAY} War Hawk by James Rollins & Grant Blackwood

War Hawk

by James Rollins & Grant Blackwood

January 10, 2017 Book Blast

on Tour February 13 - 28, 2017


War Hawk by James Rollins
Former Army Ranger Tucker Wayne and his war dog Kane are thrust into a global conspiracy in this second Sigma Force spinoff adventure from #1 New York Times bestselling author James Rollins and Grant Blackwood.
Tucker Wayne's past and present collide when a former army colleague comes to him for help. She's on the run from brutal assassins hunting her and her son. To keep them safe, Tucker must discover who killed a brilliant young idealist-a crime that leads back to the most powerful figures in the U.S. government.
From the haunted swamplands of the deep South to the beachheads of a savage civil war in Trinidad, Tucker and his beloved war dog, Kane, must work together to discover the truth behind a mystery that dates back to World War II, involving the genius of a young code-breaker, Alan Turing...
They will be forced to break the law, expose national secrets, and risk everything to stop a madman determined to control the future of modern warfare for his own diabolical ends. But can Tucker and Kane withstand a force so indomitable that it threatens our future?

Book Details:

Genre: Thriller
Published by: William Morrow
Publication Date:December 27th 2016 (first published April 19th 2016)
Number of Pages: 544
ISBN: 0062135295 (ISBN13: 9780062135292)
Series: Tucker Wayne #2

Read an excerpt:


Spring 1940 Buckinghamshire, England
Few in the Abwehr’s military intelligence knew his true name or even his intent here on British soil. The spy went by the code name Geist, the German word for ghost, and for him failure was not an option.
He lay on his stomach in a muddy ditch, with ice-encrusted cattails stabbing at his face. He ignored the midnight cold, the frigid gusts of breezes, the ache of his frozen joints. Instead, he concentrated on the view through the binoculars fixed to his face.
He and his assigned team lay alongside the banks of a small lake. A hundred yards off, on the opposite shore, a row of stately rural mansions sat dark, brightened here and there by the rare sliver of yellow light peeking through blackout curtains. Still, he spotted rolls of barbed wire mounted atop the garden walls of one particular estate.
Bletchley Park.
The place also went by a code name: Station X.
The seemingly nondescript country house masked an operation run by British intelligence, a joint effort by MI6 and the Government Code and Cypher School. In a series of wooden huts set up on those idyllic acres, the Allied forces had gathered the greatest mathematicians and cryptographers from around the globe, including one man, Alan Turing, who was decades ahead of his peers. Station X’s goal was to break the German military’s Enigma code, using tools built by the geniuses here. The group had already succeeded in building an electromechanical decrypting device called The Bombe, and rumors abounded about a new project already under way, to build Colossus, the world’s first programmable electric computer.
But destroying such devices was not his goal this night.
Hidden upon those grounds was a prize beyond anything his superiors could imagine: a breakthrough that held the potential to change the very fate of the world.
And I will possess it—or die trying.
Geist felt his heart quicken.
To his left, his second in command, Lieutenant Hoffman, pulled the collar of his jacket tighter around his neck as an icy rain began to fall. He shifted, cursing his complaint. “Gott verlassenen Land.
Geist kept his binoculars in place as he scolded the head of the commandos. “Silence. If anyone hears you speaking German, we’ll be stuck here for the rest of the war.”
Geist knew a firm hand was needed with the eight-man team under his charge. The members had been handpicked by the Abwehr not only for their superb martial skills but for their grasp of English. Whatever the British might lack in military presence out here in the rural regions, they made up for by a vigilant citizenry.
“Truck!” Hoffman rasped.
Geist glanced over his shoulder to the road passing through the woods behind him. A lorry trundled along, its headlights muted by blackout slits.
“Hold your breath,” Geist hissed.
He wasn’t about to let their presence catch the attention of the passing driver. He and the others kept their faces pressed low until the sound of the truck’s puttering engine faded away.
“Clear,” Hoffman said.
Geist checked his watch and searched again with his binoculars.
What is taking them so long?
Everything depended on clockwork timing. He and his team had offloaded from a U-boat five days ago onto a lonely beach. Afterward, the group had split into teams of two or three and worked their way across the countryside, ready with papers identifying them as day laborers and farmhands. Once they reached the target area, they had regrouped at a nearby hunting shack, where a cache of weapons awaited them, left by sleeper agents who had prepped the way in advance for Geist’s team.
Only one last detail remained.
A wink of light caught his attention from the grounds neighboring the Bletchley Park estate. It shuttered off once, then back on again—then finally darkness returned.
It was the signal he had been waiting for.
Geist rolled up to an elbow. “Time to move out.”
Hoffman’s team gathered their weapons: assault rifles and noise-suppressed pistols. The largest commando—a true bull of a man named Kraus—hauled up an MG42 heavy machine gun, capable of firing twelve hundred rounds per minute.
Geist studied the black-streaked faces around him. They had trained for three months within a life-sized mock-up of Bletchley Park. By now, they could all walk those grounds blindfolded. The only unknown variable was the level of on-site defense. The research campus was secured by both soldiers and guards in civilian clothes.
Geist went over the plan one last time. “Once inside the estate, torch your assigned buildings. Cause as much panic and confusion as possible. In that chaos, Hoffman and I will attempt to secure the package. If shooting starts, take down anything that moves. Is that understood?”
Each man nodded his head.
With everyone prepared—ready to die if need be—the group set off and followed the contour of the lake, sticking to the mist-shrouded forest. Geist led them past the neighboring estates. Most of these old homes were shuttered, awaiting the summer months. Soon servants and staff would be arriving to prepare the country homes for the leisure season, but that was still a couple of weeks away.
It was one of the many reasons this narrow window of opportunity had been chosen by Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, head of German military intelligence. And there was one other time-critical element.
“Access to the bunker should be just up ahead,” Geist whispered back to Hoffman. “Ready the men.”
The British government—aware that Adolf Hitler would soon launch an air war against this island nation—had begun constructing underground bunkers for its critical installations, including Bletchley Park. The bunker at Station X was only half completed, offering a brief break in the secure perimeter around the estate.
Geist intended to take advantage of that weakness this night.
He led his team toward a country house that neighbored Bletchley Park. It was a red-brick Tudor with yellow shutters. He approached the stacked-stone fence that surrounded the grounds and waved his team to flatten against it.
“Where are we going?” Hoffman whispered. “I thought we were going through some bunker.”
“We are.” Only Geist had been given this last piece of intelligence.
He crouched low and hurried toward the gate, which he found unlocked. The winking signal earlier had confirmed that all was in readiness here.
Geist pushed open the gate, slipped through, and led his team across the lawn to the home’s glass-enclosed conservatory. He found another unlocked door there, hurried inside with his men, and crossed to the kitchen. The all-white cabinetry glowed in the moonlight streaming through the windows.
Wasting no time, he stepped to a door beside the pantry. He opened it and turned on his flashlight, revealing a set of stairs. At the bottom, he found a stone-floored cellar; the walls were white-painted brick, the exposed ceiling a maze of water pipes running through the floor joists. The cellar spanned the width of the house.
He led his team past stacks of boxes and furniture draped in dusty sheets to the cellar’s eastern wall. As directed, he pulled away a rug to reveal a hole that had been recently dug through the floor. Another bit of handiwork from Canaris’s sleeper agents.
Geist shone his flashlight down the hole, revealing water flowing below.
“What is it?” Hoffman asked.
“Old sewer pipe. It connects all the estates circling the lake.”
“Including Bletchley Park,” Hoffman realized with a nod.
“And its partially completed bunker,” Geist confirmed. “It’ll be a tight squeeze, but we’ll only need to cross a hundred meters to reach the construction site of that underground bomb shelter and climb back up.”
According to the latest intelligence, those new foundations of the bunker were mostly unguarded and should offer them immediate access into the very heart of the estate’s grounds.
“The Brits won’t know what hit them,” Hoffman said with a mean grin.
Geist again led the way, slipping feetfirst through the hole and dropping with a splash into the ankle-deep dank water. He kept one hand on the moldy wall and headed along the old stone pipe. It was only a meter and a half wide, so he had to keep his back bowed, holding his breath against the stink.
After a handful of steps, he clicked off his flashlight and aimed for the distant glow of moonlight. He moved more slowly along the curving pipe, keeping his sloshing to a minimum, not wanting to alert any guards who might be canvassing the bunker’s construction site. Hoffman’s teammates followed his example.
At last, he reached that moonlit hole in the pipe’s roof. A temporary grate covered the newly excavated access point to the old sewer. He fingered the chain and padlock that secured the grate in place.
Unexpected but not a problem.
Hoffman noted his attention and passed him a set of bolt cutters. With great care, Geist snapped through the lock’s hasp and freed the chain. He shared a glance with the lieutenant, confirming everyone was ready—then pushed the grate open and pulled himself up through the hole.
He found himself crouched atop the raw concrete foundations of the future bunker. The skeletal structure of walls, conduits, and plumbing surrounded him. Scaffolding and ladders led up toward the open grounds of the estate above. He hurried to one side, ducking under a scaffold, out of direct view. One by one the remaining eight commandoes joined him.
Geist took a moment to orient himself. He should be within forty meters of their target: Hut 8. It was one of several green-planked structures built on these grounds. Each had its own purpose, but his team’s goal was the research section overseen by the mathematician and cryptanalyst Alan Turing.
He gestured for the men to huddle together.
“Remember, no shooting unless you’re intercepted. Toss those incendiaries into Huts 4 and 6. Let the fire do the work for us. With any luck, the distraction will create enough confusion to cover our escape.”
Hoffman pointed to two of his men. “Schwab, you take your team to Hut 4. Faber, you and your men have Hut 6. Kraus, you trail us. Be ready to use that machine gun of yours if there is any trouble.”
The lieutenant’s men nodded in agreement, then scaled the ladders and disappeared out of the open pit of the bunker. Geist followed on their heels with Hoffman and Kraus trailing him.
Staying low, he headed north until he reached Hut 8 and flattened against the wooden siding. The door should be around the next corner. He waited a breath, making sure no alarm had been raised.
He counted down in his head until finally shouts arose to the east and west. “Fire, fire, fire!
Upon that signal, he slid around the corner and climbed a set of plank steps to reach the door into Hut 8. He turned the knob as the night grew brighter, flickering with fresh flames.
As more shouts rose, he pushed through the doorway and into a small room. The center was dominated by two trestle tables covered in stacks of punch cards. The whitewashed walls were plastered with propaganda posters warning about ever-present Nazi eyes and ears.
With his pistol raised, he and Hoffman rushed across and burst through the far doorway into the next room. Seated at a long table, two women sorted through more piles of punch cards. The woman to the right was already looking up. She spun in her chair, reaching for a red panic button on the wall.
Hoffmann shot her twice in the side. The suppressed gunfire was no louder than a couple of firm coughs.
Geist took out the second woman with a single round through her throat. She toppled backward, her face still frozen in an expression of surprise.
They must have been Wrens—members of the Women’s Royal Naval Service—who were assisting in the work being conducted here.
Geist hurried to the first woman, searched her pockets, and came up with a thumb-sized brass key. On the second woman, he found a second key, this one iron.
With his prizes in hand, he hurried back to the main room.
From outside, there arose the wonk-wonk-wonk of an alarm klaxon.
So far our subterfuge seems to be—
The rattling blasts of a submachine gun cut off this last thought. More gunfire followed. Hoffman cursed.
“We’ve been discovered,” the lieutenant warned.
Geist refused to give up. He crossed to a waist-high safe along one wall. As expected, it was secured by two keyed locks, top and bottom, and a combination dial in the center.
“Need to hurry, sir,” Hoffmann rasped next to him. “Sounds like we got a lot of foot traffic outside.”
Geist pointed to the door. “Kraus, clear a path for us back to the bunker.”
The large soldier nodded, hefted up his heavy weapon, and vanished out the door. As Geist inserted his two keys, Kraus’s MG42 opened up outside, roaring into the night.
Geist focused on the task at hand, turning one key, then the other, getting a satisfying thunk-thunk in return. He moved his hand to the combination lock. This was truly the test of the Abwehr’s reach.
He spun the dial: nine…twenty-nine…four.
He took a breath, let it out, and depressed the lever.
The safe door swung open.
Thank God.
A quick search inside revealed only one item: a brown accordion folder wrapped in red rubber bands. He read the name stenciled on the outside.
The ARES Project
He knew Ares was the Greek god of war, which was appropriate, considering the contents. But that connotation only hinted at the true nature of the work found inside. The acronym—ARES—stood for something far more earth-shattering, something powerful enough to rewrite history. He grabbed the folder with trembling hands, knowing the terrifying wonders it held, and stuffed the prize into his jacket.
His second in command, Hoffman, stepped over to the hut’s door, cracked it open, and yelled outside. “Kraus!”
“Komm!” Kraus answered in German, forsaking any need for further subterfuge. “Get out here before they regroup!”
Geist joined Hoffman at the door, pulled the pin on an incendiary grenade, and tossed it back into the center of the room. Both men lunged outside as it exploded behind them, blowing out the windows with gouts of flames
To their left, a pair of British soldiers sprinted around the corner of the hut. Kraus cut them down with his machine gun, but more soldiers followed, taking cover and returning fire, forcing Geist’s team away from the excavated bunker—away from their only escape route.
As they retreated deeper into the grounds, smoke billowed more thickly, accompanied by the acrid stench of burning wood.
Another set of figures burst through the pall. Kraus came close to carving them in half with his weapon, but at the last moment, he halted, recognizing his fellow commandos. It was Schwab’s team.
“What about Faber and the others?” Hoffman asked.
Schwab shook his head. “Saw them killed.”
That left only the six of them.
Geist quickly improvised. “We’ll make for the motor pool.”
He led the way at a dead run. The team tossed incendiaries as they went, adding to the confusion, strafing down alleyways, dropping anything that moved.
Finally they reached a row of small sheds. Fifty meters beyond, the main gate came into view. It looked like a dozen soldiers crouched behind concrete barriers, guns up, looking for targets. Spotlights panned the area.
Before being seen, Geist directed his group into a neighboring Quonset hut, where three canvas-sided lorries were parked.
“We need that gate cleared,” Geist said, looking at Hoffman and his men, knowing what he was asking of them. For any chance of escape, many of them would likely die in the attempt.
The lieutenant stared him down. “We’ll get it done.”
Geist clapped Hoffman on the shoulder, thanking him.
The lieutenant set out with his remaining four men.
Geist crossed and climbed into one of the lorries, where he found the keys in the ignition. He started the engine, warming it up, then hopped back out again. He crossed to the remaining two trucks and popped their hoods.
In the distance, Kraus’s machine gun began a lethal chattering, accompanied by the rattle of assault rifles and the overlapping crump of exploding grenades.
Finally, a faint call reached him.
Klar, klar, klar!” Hoffman shouted.
Geist hurried back to the idling lorry, climbed inside, and put the truck into gear—but not before tossing two grenades into each of the open engine compartments of the remaining lorries. As he rolled out and hit the accelerator, the grenades exploded behind him.
He raced to the main gate and braked hard. British soldiers lay dead; the spotlights shot out. Hoffman rolled the gate open, limping on a bloody leg. Supported by a teammate, Kraus hobbled his way into the back of the lorry. Hoffman joined him up front, climbing into the passenger seat and slamming the door angrily.
“Lost Schwab and Braatz.” Hoffman waved ahead. “Go, go.”
With no time to mourn, Geist gunned the engine and raced down the country road. He kept one eye on the side mirror, watching for any sign of pursuit. Taking a maze of turns, he tried to further confound their escape route. Finally, he steered the lorry down a narrow dirt tract lined by overgrown English oaks. At the end was a large barn, its roof half collapsed. To the left was a burned-out farmhouse.
Geist parked beneath some overhanging boughs and shut off the engine. “We should see to everyone’s injuries,” he said. “We’ve lost enough good men.”
“Everybody out,” Hoffman ordered, rapping a knuckle on the back of the compartment.
After they all climbed free, Geist surveyed the damage. “You’ll all get the Knight’s Cross for your bravery tonight. We should—”
A harsh shout cut him off, barked in German. “Halt! Hände hoch!
A dozen men, bristling with weapons, emerged from the foliage and from behind the barn.
“Nobody move!” the voice called again, revealing a tall American with a Tommy gun in hand.
Geist recognized the impossibility of their team’s situation and lifted his arms. Hoffman and his last two men followed his example, dropping their weapons and raising their hands.
It was over.
As the Americans frisked Hoffman and the others, a lone figure stepped from the darkened barn door and approached Geist. He pointed a .45-caliber pistol at Geist’s chest.
“Tie him up,” he ordered one of his men.
As his wrists were efficiently bound in rope, his captor spoke in a rich southern twang. “Colonel Ernie Duncan, 101st Airborne. You speak English?”
“Whom do I have the pleasure of addressing?”
Schweinhund,” Geist answered with a sneer.
“Son, I’m pretty sure that isn’t your name. I’ll assume that slur is intended for me. So then let’s just call you Fritz. You and I are going to have a talk. Whether it’s pleasant or ugly is up to you.”
The American colonel called to one of his men. “Lieutenant Ross, put those other three men into the back of their truck and get them ready for transport. Say good-bye to your team, Fritz.”
Geist turned to face his men and shouted, “Für das Vaterland!
Das Vaterland!” Hoffman and the others repeated in unison.
The American soldiers herded the commandos into the back of the lorry, while Colonel Duncan marched Geist over to the barn. Once inside, he closed the doors and waved to encompass the piles of hay and manure.
“Sorry for our meager accommodations, Fritz.”
Geist turned to face him and broke into a smile. “Damned good to see you, too, Duncan.”
“And you, my friend. How’d it go? Find what you were looking for?”
“It’s in my jacket. For whatever’s it worth, those Germans fight like the devil. Bletchley’s burning. But they should be up and running again in a week.”
“Good to know.” Duncan used a razor blade to free his bound wrists. “How do you want to play this from here?”
“I’ve got a small Mauser hidden in a crotch holster.” Geist stood up and rubbed his wrists, then unwound his scarf and folded it into a thick square. He reached into the front of his pants and withdrew the Mauser.
Geist glanced behind him. “Where’s the back door?”
Duncan pointed. “By those old horse stalls. Nobody’ll be back behind the barn to see you escape. But you’ll have to make it look convincing, you know. Really smack me good. Remember, we Americans are tough.”
“Duncan, I’m not keen on this idea.”
“Necessities of war, buddy. You can buy me a case of scotch when we get back to the States.”
Geist shook the colonel’s hand.
Duncan dropped his .45 to the ground and smiled. “Oh look, you’ve disarmed me.”
“We Germans are crafty that way.”
Next Duncan ripped open the front of his fatigue blouse, popping buttons off onto the straw-covered floor. “And there’s been a struggle.”
“Okay, Duncan, enough. Turn your head. I’ll rap you behind the ear. When you wake up, you’ll have a knot the size of a golf ball and a raging headache, but you asked for it.”
“Right.” He clasped Geist by the forearm. “Watch yourself out there. It’s a long way back to DC.”
As Duncan turned his head away, a flicker of guilt passed through Geist. Still, he knew what needed to be done.
Geist pressed the wadded scarf to the Mauser’s barrel and jammed it against Duncan’s ear.
The colonel shifted slightly. “Hey, what are you—”
He pulled the trigger. With the sound of a sharp slap, the bullet tore through Duncan’s skull, snapping his friend’s head back as the body toppled forward to the ground.
Geist stared down. “So sorry, my friend. As you said before, necessities of war. If it makes you feel any better, you’ve just changed the world.”
He pocketed the pistol, walked to the barn’s back door, and disappeared into the misty night, becoming at last…a true ghost.


Ghost Hunt
October 10, 6:39 p.m. MDT Bitterroot Mountains, Montana
All this trouble from a single damned nail…
Tucker Wayne tossed the flat tire into the back of his rental. The Jeep Grand Cherokee sat parked on the shoulder of a lonely stretch of road in the forested mountains of southwest Montana. These millions of acres of pines, glacier-cut canyons, and rugged peaks formed the largest expanse of pristine wilderness in the Lower 48.
He stretched a kink out of his back and searched down the winding stretch of blacktop, bracketed on both sides by sloping hills and dense stands of lodgepole pines.
Just my luck. Here in the middle of nowhere, I pick up a nail.
It seemed impossible that this great beast of an SUV could be brought low by a simple sliver of iron shorter than his pinkie. It was a reminder of how modern technological progress could still be ground to a halt by a single bit of antiquated hardware like a roofing nail.
He slammed the rear cargo hatch and whistled sharply. His companion on this cross-country journey pulled his long furry nose out of a huckleberry bush at the edge of the forest and glanced back at Tucker. Eyes the color of dark caramel looked plainly disappointed that this roadside pit stop had come to an end.
“Sorry, buddy. But we’ve got a long way to go if we hope to reach Yellowstone.”
Kane shook his heavy coat of black and tan fur, his thick tail flagging as he turned, readily accepting this reality. The two of them had been partners going back to his years with the U.S. Army Rangers, surviving multiple deployments across Afghanistan together. Upon leaving the service, Tucker took Kane with him—not exactly with the army’s permission, but that matter had been settled in the recent past.
The two were now an inseparable team, on their own, seeking new roads, new paths. Together.
Tucker opened the front passenger door and Kane hopped inside, his lean muscular seventy pounds fitting snugly into the seat. He was a Belgian Malinois, a breed of compact shepherd commonly used by the military and law enforcement. Known for their fierce loyalty and sharp intelligence, the breed was also well respected for their nimbleness and raw power in a battlefield environment.
But there was no one like Kane.
Tucker closed the door but lingered long enough to scratch his partner through the open window. His fingers discovered old scars under the fur, reminding Tucker of his own wounds: some easy to see, others just as well hidden.
“Let’s keep going,” he whispered before the ghosts of his past caught up with him.
He climbed behind the wheel and soon had them flying through the hills of the Bitterroot National Forest. Kane kept his head stuck out the passenger side, his tongue lolling, his nose taking in every scent. Tucker grinned, finding the tension melting from his shoulders as it always did when he was moving.
For the moment, he was between jobs—and he intended to keep it that way for as long as possible. He only took the occasional security position when his finances required it. After his last job—when he had been hired by Sigma Force, a covert branch of the military’s research-and-development department—his bank accounts continued to remain flush.
Taking advantage of the downtime, he and Kane had spent the last couple of days hiking the Lost Trail Pass, following in the footsteps of the Lewis and Clark expedition, and now they were moving onto Yellowstone National Park. He had timed this trip to the popular park to reach it in the late fall, to avoid the crush of the high season, preferring the company of Kane to anyone on two legs.
Around a bend in the dark road, a pool of fluorescent lights revealed a roadside gas station. The sign at the entrance read
Fort Edwin Gas and Grocery. He checked his fuel gauge.
Almost empty.
He flipped on his turn signal and swung into the small station. His motel was three miles farther up the road. His plan had been to take a fast shower, collect his bags, and continue straight toward Yellowstone, taking advantage of the empty roads at night.
Now he had a snag in those plans. He needed to replace the flat tire as soon as possible. Hopefully someone at the gas station knew the closest place to get that done in these remote hills.
He pulled next to one of the pumps and climbed out. Kane hopped through the window on the other side. Together they headed for the station.
Tucker pulled open the glass door, setting a brass bell to tinkling. The shop was laid out in the usual fashion: rows of snacks and food staples, backed up by a tall stand of coolers along the back wall. The air smelled of floor wax and microwaved sandwiches.
“Good evening, good evening,” a male voice greeted him, his voice rising and falling in a familiar singsong manner.
Tucker immediately recognized the accent as Dari Persian. From his years in the deserts of Afghanistan, he was familiar with the various dialects of that desert country. Despite the friendliness of the tone, Tucker’s belly tightened in a knot of old dread. Men with that very same accent had tried to kill him more times than he could count. Worse still, they had succeeded in butchering Kane’s littermate.
He flashed to the bounding joy of his lost partner, the unique bond they had shared. It took all of his effort to force that memory back into that knot of old pain, grief, and guilt.
“Good evening,” the man behind the counter repeated, smiling, oblivious to the tension along Tucker’s spine. The proprietor’s face was nut brown, his teeth perfectly white. He was mostly bald, save for a monk’s fringe of gray hair. His eyes twinkled as though Tucker was a friend he hadn’t seen in years.
Having met hundreds of Afghan villagers in his time, Tucker knew the man’s demeanor was genuine. Still, he found it hard to step inside.
The man’s brow formed one concerned crinkle at his obvious hesitation. “Welcome,” he offered again, waving an arm to encourage him.
“Thanks,” Tucker finally managed to reply. He kept one hand on Kane’s flank. “Okay if I bring my dog in?”
“Yes, of course. All are welcome.”
Tucker took a deep breath and crossed past the front shelves, neatly stocked with packets of beef jerky, Slim Jims, and corn chips. He stepped to the counter, noting he was the only one in the place.
“You have a beautiful dog,” the man said. “Is he a shepherd?”
“A Belgian Malinois…a type of shepherd. Name’s Kane.”
“And I am Aasif Qazi, owner of this fine establishment.”
The proprietor stretched a hand across the counter. Tucker took it, finding the man’s grip firm, the palm slightly calloused from hard labor.
“You’re from Kabul,” Tucker said.
The man’s eyebrows rose high. “How did you know?”
“Your accent. I spent some time in Afghanistan.”
“Recently, I am guessing.”
Not so recently, Tucker thought, but some days it felt like yesterday. “And you?” he asked.
“I came to the States as a boy. My parents wisely chose to emigrate when the Russians invaded back in the seventies. I met my wife in New York.” He raised his voice. “Lila, come say hello.”
From an office in the back, a petite, gray-haired Afghani woman peeked out and smiled. “Hello. Nice to meet you.”
“So how did you both end up here?”
“You mean in the middle of nowhere?” Aasif’s grin widened. “Lila and I got tired of the city. We wanted something that was exact opposite.”
“Looks like you succeeded.” Tucker glanced around the empty shop and the dark forest beyond the windows.
“We love it here. And it’s normally not this deserted. We’re between seasons at the moment. The summer crowds have left, and the skiers have yet to arrive. But we still have our regulars.”
Proving this, a diesel engine roared outside, and a white, rust-stained pickup truck pulled between the pumps, fishtailing slightly as it came to a stop.
Tucker turned back at Aasif. “Seems like business is picking—”
The man’s eyes had narrowed, his jaw clenched. The army had handpicked Tucker as a dog handler because of his unusually high empathy scores. Such sensitivity allowed him to bond more readily and deeply with his partner—and to read people. Still, it took no skill at all to tell Aasif was scared.
Aasif waved to his wife. “Lila, go back in the office.”
She obeyed, but not before casting a frightened glance toward her husband.
Tucker moved closer to the windows, trailed by Kane. He quickly assessed the situation, noting one odd detail: duct tape covered the truck’s license plate.
Definitely trouble.
No one with good intentions blacked out his license plate.
Tucker took a deep breath. The air suddenly felt heavier, crackling with electricity. He knew it was only a figment of his own spiking adrenaline. Still, he knew a storm was brewing. Kane reacted to his mood, the hackles rising along the shepherd’s back, accompanied by a low growl.
Two men in flannel shirts and baseball caps hopped out of the cab; a third jumped down from the truck’s bed. The driver of the truck sported a dirty red goatee and wore a green baseball cap emblazoned with
I’d rather be doin’ your wife.
Great…not only are these yokels trouble, they have a terrible sense of humor.
Without turning, he asked, “Aasif, do you have security cameras?”
“They’re broken. We haven’t been able to fix them.”
He sighed loudly. Not good.
The trio strutted toward the station entrance. Each man carried a wooden baseball bat.
“Call the sheriff. If you can trust him.”
“He’s a decent man.”
“Then call him.”
“Tucker, perhaps it is best if you do not —”
“Make the call, Aasif.”
Tucker headed to the door with Kane and pushed outside before the others could enter. Given the odds, he would need room to maneuver.
Tucker stopped the trio at the curb. “Evening, fellas.”
“Hey,” replied Mr. Goatee, making a move to slip past him.
Tucker stepped to block him. “Store’s closed.”
“Bull,” said one of the others and pointed his bat. “Look, Shane, I can see that raghead from here.”
“Then you can also see he’s on the phone,” Tucker said. “He’s calling the sheriff.”
“That idiot?” Shane said. “We’ll be long gone before he pulls his head outta his ass and gets here.”
Tucker let his grin turn dark. “I wouldn’t be so sure of that.”
He silently signaled Kane, pointing an index finger down—then tightening a fist. The command clear: threaten.
Kane lowered his head, bared his teeth, and let out a menacing growl. Still, the shepherd remained at his side. Kane wouldn’t move unless given another command or if this confrontation became physical.
Shane took a step back. “That mutt comes at me and I’ll bash his brains in.”
If this mutt comes at you, you’ll never know what hit you.
Tucker raised his hands. “Listen, guys, I get it. It’s Friday night, time to blow off some steam. All I’m asking is you find some other way of doing it. The people inside are just trying to make a living. Just like you and me.”
Shane snorted. “Like us? Them towelheads ain’t nothing like us. We’re Americans.”
“So are they.”
“I lost buddies in Iraq—”
“We all have.”
“What the hell do you know about it?” asked the third man.
“Enough to know the difference between these store owners and the kind of people you’re talking about.”
Tucker remembered his own reaction upon first entering the shop and felt a twinge of guilt.
Shane lifted his bat and aimed the end at Tucker’s face. “Get outta our way or you’ll regret siding with the enemy.”
Tucker knew the talking part of this encounter was over.
Proving this, Shane jabbed Tucker in the chest with the bat.
So be it.
Tucker’s left hand snapped out and grabbed the bat. He gave it a jerk, pulling Shane off balance toward him.
He whispered a command to his partner: “grab and drop.”
* * *
Kane hears those words—and reacts. He recognizes the threat in his target: the rasp of menace in his breath, the fury that has turned his sweat bitter. Tense muscles explode as the order is given. Kane is already moving before the last word is spoken, anticipating the other’s need, knowing what he must do.
He leaps upward, his jaws wide.
Teeth find flesh.
Blood swells over his tongue.
* * *
With satisfaction, Tucker watched Kane latch on to Shane’s forearm. Upon landing on his paws, the shepherd twisted and threw the combatant to the ground. The bat clattered across the concrete.
Shane screamed, froth flecking his words. “Get him off, get him off!”
One of the man’s friends charged forward, his bat swinging down toward Kane. Anticipating this, Tucker dove low and took the hit with his own body. Expertly blunting the blow by turning his back at an angle, he reached up and wrapped his forearm around the bat. He pinned it in place—then side kicked. His heel slammed into the man’s kneecap, triggering a muffled pop.
The man hollered, released the bat, and staggered backward.
Tucker swung his captured weapon toward the third attacker. “It’s over. Drop it.”
The last man glared, but he let the bat fall—
—then reached into his jacket and lashed out with his arm again.
Tucker’s mind barely had time to register the glint of a knife blade. He backpedaled, dodging the first slash. His heel struck the curb behind him, and he went down, crashing into a row of empty propane tanks and losing the bat.
Grinning cruelly, the man loomed over Tucker and brandished his knife. “Time to teach you a lesson about—”
Tucker reached over his shoulder and grabbed a loose propane tank as it rolled along the sidewalk behind him. He swung it low, cutting the man’s legs out from under him. With a pained cry of surprise, the attacker crashed to the ground.
Tucker rolled to him, snatched the man’s wrist, and bent it backward until a bone snapped. The knife fell free. Tucker retrieved the blade as the man curled into a ball, groaning and clutching his hand. His left ankle was also cocked sideways, plainly broken.
Lesson over.
He stood up and walked over to Shane, whose lips were compressed in fear and agony. Kane still held him pinned down, clamped on to the man’s bloody arm, his teeth sunk to bone.
“Release,” Tucker ordered.
The shepherd obeyed but stayed close, baring his bloody fangs at Shane. Tucker backed his partner up with the knife.
Sirens echoed through the forest, growing steadily louder.
Tucker felt his belly tighten. Though he’d acted in self-defense, he was in the middle of nowhere awaiting a sheriff who could arrest them if the whim struck him. Flashing lights appeared through the trees, and a cruiser swung fast into the parking lot and pulled to a stop twenty feet away.
Tucker raised his hands and tossed the knife aside.
He didn’t want anyone making a mistake here.
“Sit,” he told Kane. “Be happy.”
The dog dropped to his haunches, wagging his tail, his head cocked to the side quizzically.
Aasif joined him outside and must have noticed his tension. “Sheriff Walton is a fair man, Tucker.”
“If you say so.”
In the end, Aasif proved a good judge of character. It helped that the sheriff knew the trio on the ground and held them in no high opinion. These boys been raising hell for a year now, the sheriff eventually explained. So far, nobody’s had the sand to press charges against them.
Sheriff Walton took down their statements and noted the truck’s blacked-out license plate with a sad shake of his head. “I believe that would be your third strike, Shane. And from what I hear, redheads are very popular at the state pen this year.”
Shane lowered his head and groaned.
After another two cruisers arrived and the men were hauled away, Tucker faced the sheriff. “Do I need to stick around?”
“Do you want to?”
“Not especially.”
“Didn’t think so. I’ve got your details. I doubt you’ll need to testify, but if you do—”
“I’ll come back.”
“Good.” Walton passed him a card. Tucker expected it to have the local sheriff’s department’s contact information on it, but instead it was emblazoned with the image of a car with a smashed fender. “My brother owns a body-repair shop in Wisdom, next town down the highway. I’ll make sure he gets that flat tire of yours fixed at cost.”
Tucker took the card happily. “Thanks.”
With matters settled, Tucker was soon back on the road with Kane. He held out the card toward the shepherd as he sped toward his motel. “See, Kane. Who says no good deed goes unpunished?”
Unfortunately, he spoke too soon. As he turned into his motel and parked before the door to his room, his headlight shone upon an impossible sight.
Sitting on the bench before his cabin was a woman—a ghost out of his past. Only this figment wasn’t outfitted in desert khaki or in the blues of her dress uniform. Instead, she wore jeans and a light-blue blouse with an open wool cardigan.
Tucker’s heart missed several beats. He sat behind the wheel, engine idling, struggling to understand how she could be here, how she had found him.
Her name was Jane Sabatello. It had been over six years since he’d last set eyes on her. He found his gaze sweeping over her every feature, each triggering distinct memories, blurring past and present: the softness of her full lips, the shine of moonlight that turned her blond hair silver, the joy in her eyes each morning.
Tucker had never married, but Jane was as close as he’d come.
And now here she was, waiting for him—and she wasn’t alone.
A child sat at her side, a young boy tucked close to her hip.
For the briefest of moments, he wondered if the boy—
No, she would have told me.
He finally cut off the engine and stepped out of the vehicle. She stood up as she recognized him in turn.
“Jane?” he murmured.
She rushed to him and wrapped him in a hug, clinging to him for a long thirty seconds before pulling back. She searched his face, her eyes moist. Under the glare of the Cherokee’s headlamps, he noted a dark bruise under one cheekbone, poorly obscured by a smear of cosmetic concealer.
Even less hidden was the panic and raw fear in her face.
She kept one hand firmly on his arm, her fingers tight with desperation. “Tucker, I need your help.”
Before he could speak, she glanced to the boy.
“Someone’s trying to kill us.”

Our Authors' Bios:

James Rollins
JAMES ROLLINS is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of international thrillers, translated into more than forty languages. His Sigma series has been lauded as one of the “top crowd pleasers” (New York Times) and one of the “hottest summer reads” (People magazine). In each novel, acclaimed for its originality, Rollins unveils unseen worlds, scientific breakthroughs, and historical secrets–and he does it all at breakneck speed and with stunning insight.

Catch Up with James Rollins on his

  Website , Twitter , & Facebook .

In addition to his New York Times bestselling collaborations with Clive Cussler and Tom Clancy, GRANT BLACKWOOD is the author of three novels featuring Briggs Tanner: The End of Enemies, The Wall of Night, and An Echo of War. A U. S. Navy veteran, Grant spent three years as an Operations Specialist and a Pilot Rescue Swimmer. He lives in Colorado.

Catch Up with Grant Blackwood on his Website , Twitter , & Facebook 


January 10th Book Blast Participants:

Tour Participants:

Stop by to join in on the tour you can participate or just check out the awesome reviews & giveaways!  


This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners In Crime Virtual Book Tours for James Rollins and William Morrow. There will be 5 US winners of one (1) PRINT copy of War Hawk by James Rollins. The giveaway begins on January 9th and runs through January 17th, 2017.

Get More Great Reads at Partners In Crime Virtual Book Tours


Friday, January 6, 2017

{Cover Reveal w/ #GIVEAWAY} The Rise of Miss Notley by Rachael Anderson


The Rise of Miss Notley by Rachael Anderson

  To escape an undesirable match, Miss Notley must give up her riches for rags. When Miss Coralynn Notley’s father barters her off to the first titled gentleman to come along, she realizes she must flee her home or be forced to wed a despicable man. Driven by desperation, she applies for the position of housekeeper at Tanglewood Manor, the home of the handsome Mr. Jonathan Ludlow. The moment Jonathan sees Miss Notley, he is intrigued. She is far too young and inexperienced for the position, yet there is something about her that that inspires a certain hope within him. Does he dare offer her the position of housekeeper or will doing so result in catastrophe? The Rise of Miss Notley is the delightful tale of a mysterious gentleman and a determined young woman, caught together in a web so tangled it begs the question: Will they ever get out?

Coming February 2017

add to goodreads
Author Rachael Anderson
 A USA Today bestselling author, Rachael Anderson is the mother of four and is pretty good at breaking up fights, or at least sending guilty parties to their rooms. She can't sing, doesn't dance, and despises tragedies. But she recently figured out how yeast works and can now make homemade bread, which she is really good at eating.

  amazon or paypal 

  $25 Amazon Gift Card or Paypal Cash Giveaway 

 Ends 1/25/17 

 Open only to those who can legally enter, receive and use an Gift Code or Paypal Cash. Winning Entry will be verified prior to prize being awarded. No purchase necessary. You must be 18 or older to enter or have your parent enter for you. The winner will be chosen by rafflecopter and announced here as well as emailed and will have 48 hours to respond or a new winner will be chosen. This giveaway is in no way associated with Facebook, Twitter, Rafflecopter or any other entity unless otherwise specified. The number of eligible entries received determines the odds of winning. Giveaway was organized by Kathy from I Am A Reader and sponsored by the author. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

{#GIVEAWAY Event} The Love Your Pets Giveaway~Ends 1/26

The Love Your Pet Giveaway! 2 Winners! Ends 1/26

Deliciously Savvy is hosting a giveaway for all the pet lovers out there! There will be 2 winners in this giveaway (One 1st place winner and one 2nd place winner ~ TRV of $80).

  Enter Today & Good Luck!

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The Details:

2 Lucky Winners For This Giveaway! 1st Place wins a Pair of HandsOn Bath and Grooming Gloves ($25 RV) PLUS a Pet Giftbox (for either a cat or dog) full of treats, toys and fabulous products for your furry BFF ($30 RV). 2nd Place Winner will receive a Pair of the HandsOn Bath and Grooming Gloves ($25 RV)!

HandOn Bathing / Grooming Gloves (1st & 2nd Place Winner $50 TRV)

Pet GiftBox ~ Subscription Box for Cats or Dogs! Customize it to fit your needs! (1st Place Winner Only $30 RV)

And Now The Giveaway!

Giveaway Dates: 01/04/2017 9PM EST until 01/26/2017 11:59PM EST
Entrants must be 18 years old to enter and giveaway is open to US residents only.
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Tuesday, January 3, 2017

{#GIVEAWAY Event} January Amazon $150 Giveaway~Ends 1/31

We're giving away $150 to AMAZON!

January Giveaway

The cohosts and sponsors of this event are:

Think of all of the presents you can buy yourself that you didn't get for the holiday!

What would you do with $150 to Amazon?

Open anywhere that you can buy items from!

Disclosure/Disclaimer: This site or any other site associated with this event has in no way been compensated for the preceding information. This giveaway is valid where allowed by law, open to anyone who is able to shop at and who is over 18 years of age. One winner will be randomly selected on 02/01/17, notified via email, and will have until 02/03/17 to reply. If there is no reply another winner will be randomly selected.

{Blog Tour w/ #GIVEAWAY} Twisted: The Girl Who Uncovered Rumpelstiltskin's Name by Bonnie M Hennessy

Twisted: The Girl Who Uncovered Rumpelstiltskin’s Name
Bonnie M Hennessy

Genre: YA Fantasy
Date of Publication: November 19, 2016
ISBN13: 978-1539753421  
ISBN-10: 1539753425
Number of pages: 306
Word Count: 75,000
Cover Artist: Andreea Vraciu

Book Description:

An old tale tells the story of how a little man named Rumpelstiltskin spun straw into gold and tricked a desperate girl into trading away her baby. But that’s not exactly how it happened.

The real story began with a drunken father who kept throwing money away on alcohol and women, while his daughter, Aoife, ran the family farm on her own. When he gambled away everything they owned to the Duke, it was up to her to spin straw into gold to win it all back.

With her wits and the help of a magical guardian, she outsmarted the Duke and saved the day.

Well almost…

Her guardian suddenly turned on Aoife and sent her on a quest to find his name, the clues to which were hidden deep in the woods, a moldy dungeon, and a dead woman’s chamber.

This is not the tale of a damsel in distress, but a tenacious, young woman who solved a mystery so great that not even the enchanted man who spun straw into gold could figure it out.

Not until Aoife came along.

Chapter 1 Excerpt

The morning mist had almost lifted in the village of Stanishire, the farmers and fishermen were readying the market, women were shouting chores to sleepy children, and Aoife was on her way to collect her father from the town brothel, where the painted ladies entertained men’s nocturnal needs.
When she reached the main street, she dismounted and tied her horse to a hitching post. She walked around the corner of the brothel where no one could see her, adjusted her skirt, and ran her fingers through her hair. Practice had taught her how to jiggle the finicky latch so its reluctant grip released and granted her entrance. The back hallway was dark and quiet. Maggie, the young girl who helped cook and clean, was opening windows to release the sweat and perfume-laced air. Broken glass littered the floor, and cards from unfinished games lay scattered on tables.
“Maggie,” Aoife whispered.
Maggie turned into the dust motes in a sliver of daylight. Over the years, Aoife had learned to call her gently and not to sneak up on her lest she startle the young girl as she had done the first time they met here when Aoife was eleven and Maggie just nine.
“Eeeeef-uh!” Maggie’s eyes lit up as she called Aoife’s name. She had always over-enunciated each syllable in what sounded like a sigh of relief.
She took hold of Aoife’s hand, pulling her around the corner and into the kitchen, one of the only places in the residence that passed for a respectable room.
“Wait here,” Maggie said, kissing Aoife on the cheek. “I’ll be right back.”
Aoife looked around at the pots hanging on the wall that Maggie kept so shiny. A rolling pin on the counter was coated with flour and the smell of bread baking in the oven filled the dimly lit room. In the corner was Maggie’s chair with a basket of women’s stockings waiting to be darned. Aoife turned her back to the parlor door and everything that happened there, pretending her visits with Maggie by the fire were no different than a visit with any other village girl. The sight of Maggie humming as she patched up stockings always made Aoife think of her younger sister, Tara, lying under her heavy blankets, sewing away at some pattern their mother had her working on. Aoife felt that Tara and Maggie would have enjoyed chatting over their sewing, if only Tara were not stuck in bed with a perpetual cough and Maggie the progeny of a brothel.
“Aoife. You look quite bright and alive considering the early hour.”
Aoife jumped as Maeve strolled over and pulled a leaf from Aoife’s hair.
“I see you’ve been busy with your studies,” Maeve added.
Aoife touched her hair, searching for more debris. Maeve’s dressing gown exposed her cleavage and her long, dark curls draped over her bare shoulders without apology. Aoife had seen her dressed, powdered, and painted since she was a girl, and she admired the way her gaze, so piercing, seemed to command respect from everyone. But what had captivated Aoife the most was something more powerful and more impressive than Maeve’s beauty. Although crow’s feet now punctuated her eyes, and her waistline had thickened, the most powerful men deferred to her, bowing their heads in her direction when she traveled through the streets.
“I couldn’t resist the path through the woods,” Aoife replied, knowing she could hide nothing from her.
Maeve stared at her. The affection in her appraisal was always slightly distant, stopping just short of motherly.
“Seamus is taking care of things,” Maeve said with her usual calm.
Aoife nodded and looked again at the shiny pots, trying to focus on anything but Seamus’ highly embarrassing ritual of waking her father, the fairly infamous Finnegan, from wherever he had ended his evening and saddling him on his horse. Maggie pulled a loaf of steaming bread from the oven and set out plates, knives, and a bowl of fresh butter. Each of them took their place around the table as Maggie generously portioned out the bread. Maeve let her shawl fall over the back of her chair and straightened up her shoulders, exposing even more of herself. Aoife flushed and bit quietly into her bread, savoring the flavor and the moment.
There was an honesty and warmth in this kitchen that she never felt in the presence of her own mother. Conversation and warm bread was what made coming to get her father for all these years worth the lashings she used to receive from her mother when she returned home.
“I hear that your latest suitor was seen heading out of town yesterday,” Maeve said. “I gather his hasty departure means that there will be no nuptials?”
Aoife shook her head and cast a quick smile at Maggie.
“I can’t imagine why you didn’t want to marry that one,” Maeve said. “Lots of gold, a manor house to the east with more land than you and your horse could ever discover, and handsome, too. What more could a girl want than a man with piles of gold and a good set of teeth?”
“A man who is blind and deaf and preferably feeble – with deep pockets, of course. Then I can live my life in peace and never have to worry about his teeth – or mine for that matter.”
Maggie giggled, and Maeve raised an appreciative eyebrow, offering her signature half-smile, half-smirk. Aoife grinned and took another bite of the steaming bread.
“And what do your parents say?” Maeve asked. Her features had softened, but her thoughts remained inscrutable. “I can’t imagine they find your refusals as entertaining as we do.”
Aoife fell silent. This was an unexpected detour in the script. They avoided direct references to Aoife’s family. It made breaking bread between them possible, since the money Maeve took from Aoife’s father by night was one of the greatest strains on her family’s resources, reputation, and love. The medicine that Tara often went without after her father’s reckless trips was reason enough for Aoife to despise Maeve, but she had learned to avoid dwelling on these realities. She needed Maeve enough to tolerate her father’s indiscretions, since rescuing him had now become a means of escaping her life. Discussing her family jeopardized everything.
“Well, no, they are not exactly pleased,” Aoife replied, her brashness fading.
Maeve wiped the corner of her mouth and cleared her throat. Something in the air had changed.
“You know, at some point, perhaps sooner than you might expect, they will stop coming. First, the young ones with stacks of gold and good teeth. They have the most fragile egos and will seek out friendlier pastures. Then eventually, even the wrinkly ones, with and without gold, will find calling on you not worth the effort,” Maeve paused. “The tales of your beauty will be replaced by tales of new faces with more welcoming smiles. The choices left to you will be slim.”
The bread balled up in Aoife’s throat. She could have had breakfast in her own home if she wanted this type of talk. She suddenly felt incensed that Madame Maeve dared to criticize her.
“My mother mires me in these traps daily,” Aoife dusted the crumbs from her hands. “She appreciates neither the risk to my reputation I take coming here nor the fact that I am the one who has run the farm for years now.”
“This is true. Your family would be in the poor house and your sister probably with God if not for your courage and your brains,” Maeve said. “But I’m not talking about them. I’m talking about you and your future. You must understand that there are consequences for you, whether you say yes or no to the suitors who come your way.”
She raised an eyebrow, which seemed loaded with a warning left to Aoife to decipher. It had a familiar ring to it, like the warnings her mother made so often about the consequences of Aoife’s trips to Maeve’s house.  
“No respectable man will ever want to marry a girl who consorts with vile women, not when he thinks he can pay a few coins for her instead,” her mother would say.
Her mother lived in such a dream world she did not recognize that Aoife was trying to protect the family’s reputation and as much of their finances as was possible. Her mother worried more about Aoife’s reputation than the food on the table and Tara’s medicine. And because of that, a chasm had grown between them too deep to ever cross.
“My choices are just as narrow as every other girl’s. I know that,” Aoife said standing up abruptly. Her shawl dropped to the floor, its power to protect her no match for the storm brewing in the kitchen. “But I’d never compromise myself – or give men control over my body for money like you do. Of that you can be sure.”
“I wasn’t suggesting that,” Maeve replied, completely unruffled. “But it’s interesting that you did. And, Aoife, no matter what choice you make – your husband’s house, my house, or the nunnery – you are exchanging control over your body for money. Of that you can be sure.”
“I have given half my life already to protecting my family. Everyday, whether I’m seeing that fields are reseeded and sheep are sheared or carting my father home from here, I am picking up the pieces of my family’s fortune that my father has broken apart,” Aoife said with less command of her voice than she would have liked. “And now, after I’ve done everything I can to save this family, they – and you – expect me to sell myself off to the next buyer, supposedly to protect them? I can’t do it.”
Aoife knew there was no way for a woman to survive in the world without the protection of a man, yet the security they offered was never guaranteed. Her father’s choices still chipped away at the pieces of what was once her mother, Bronagh. Still bedecked in the jewels of their courtship, she found her only solace and comfort in embroidering ornate and regal designs and patterns by the night fire, awaiting his return from Maeve’s as if her delicate hands could somehow stitch back together the girl he had unraveled and the lives he had torn apart at the seams. Bronagh would not even consider selling her tapestries or needlework to help support her family, for that would have been beneath a woman of her status. Aoife, however, was not built to sit and sew while their fortune and Tara’s health deteriorated at the hands of her father. She needed to be on her feet fixing the problem, not decorating the home they were sure to lose if no one intervened.
Bronagh had traded away her soul for a broken promise of safety and love, and she expected Aoife to do the same. But now Maeve, too? Her advice was nothing less than a betrayal.
“For women not made to curtsey obediently through life, there is no easy choice.” A subtle urgency belied Maeve’s calm. “However, refusing every suitor is not a means of controlling your life, but rather giving over control to whatever or whomever is left over.”
“So I should marry the next man who comes along or end up in a whore house like you?” Aoife said, wincing at her angry words.
She was angry that Maeve had taken her mother’s side, but she did not relish wounding the one person who had always been a source of strength and understanding. Despite her words, Maeve’s features revealed not even the slightest hint of hurt.
“What I am saying is that you ought to turn away any option which would leave you without hope of peace and contentment,” Maeve replied. “But do not fool yourself into waiting for a perfect choice to present itself, because it never will.”
Aoife felt her stomach lurch. She needed to get away from this house, this woman, and the truth. Turning around, she marched outside where her father was standing. She walked to her horse and looked to see if he needed assistance. The legacy of too much mead weighed on his haggard figure as Seamus helped him to his horse.
“I’m so sorry to have inconvenienced you this morning, my sweet Aoife,” her father’s worn voice eschewed sadly.
“I know, father,” she replied. “You’re always sorry.”
He swayed precariously in either direction and then took Aoife’s hand suddenly.
“You’re too good to me, Aoife,” he whispered. “You should be reaching for the–”
“Stars,” she finished. “I know, Father.”
He closed his eyes and pressed her hand between his.
“My hand’s grown since we spent our nights stargazing.”
He nodded and Aoife felt a pang of nostalgia sweep over her. She missed the way he used to pick her up from her mother’s side by the fire and take her out of doors to look at the moon and stars. The memory of the polished scent of him from her childhood came back over the stench of mead that clung to him now. He had been a good father once upon a time. She looked up, searching for any fragment of the man who tossed her high in the air as a little girl. The sparkle of a tear danced at the corner of his eye. There he was. She kissed his forehead tenderly and he sighed with the soft smile reserved only for Aoife. His favorite.

About the Author:

Bonnie grew up a shy, quiet girl who the teachers always seated next to the noisy boys because they knew she was too afraid to talk to anyone. She always had a lot she wanted to say but was too afraid to share it for fear she might die of embarrassment if people actually noticed her. Somewhere along the line, perhaps after she surprised her eighth grade class by standing up to a teacher who was belittling a fellow student, she realized that she had a voice and she didn’t burst into flames when her classmates stared at her in surprise.

Not long after that, she began spinning tales, some of which got her into trouble with her mom. Whether persuading her father to take her to the candy store as a little girl or convincing her parents to let her move from Los Angeles to Manhattan to pursue a career at eighteen as a ballet dancer with only $200 in her pocket, Bonnie has proven that she knows how to tell a compelling story.

Now she spends her time reading and making up stories for her two children at night. By day she is an English teacher who never puts the quiet girls next to the noisy boys and works hard to persuade her students that stories, whether they are the ones she teaches in class or the ones she tells to keep them from daydreaming, are better escapes than computers, phones, and social media.

Twitter: @bonnieMHennessy

Tour giveaway

3 copies of Twisted

2 $10 Amazon cards