Friday, August 31, 2018

BLOG TOUR - The Duke with the Dragon Tattoo


Today is my day for the blog tour for The Duke with the Dragon Tattoo by Kerrigan Byrne.


DESCRIPTION:

The bravest of heroes. The brashest of rebels. The boldest of lovers. These are the men who risk their hearts and their souls—for the passionate women who dare to love them…
He is known only as The Rook. A man with no name, no past, no memories. He awakens in a mass grave, a magnificent dragon tattoo on his muscled forearm the sole clue to his mysterious origins. His only hope for survival—and salvation—lies in the deep, fiery eyes of the beautiful stranger who finds him. Who nurses him back to health. And who calms the restless demons in his soul…

A LEGENDARY LOVE

Lorelai will never forget the night she rescued the broken dark angel in the woods, a devilishly handsome man who haunts her dreams to this day. Crippled as a child, she devoted herself to healing the poor tortured man. And when he left, he took a piece of her heart with him. Now, after all these years, The Rook has returned. Like a phantom, he sweeps back into her life and avenges those who wronged her. But can she trust a man who’s been branded a rebel, a thief, and a killer? And can she trust herself to resist him when he takes her in his arms?

“Byrne is a force in the genre.”—RT Book Reviews

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MY REVIEW:

Title:  The Duke with the Dragon Tattoo
Author:  Kerrigan Byrne
Genre:  Historical Romance
Format:  Kindle ARC
Series:  Victorian Rebels #6
Date Published:  August 28, 2018
Publisher:  St. Martins Press
No. of Pages:  384
My rating:  5 Stars


While riding in a carriage one day with her brother Mortimer and her father, fourteen-year-old Lorelai Weatherstroke was looking out the window. Shockingly she saw what appeared to be a dead body underneath a tree. She begged for the carriage to be stopped. Mortimer gathered up a man, not a corpse, who was very close to death. They brought him back to their home and, with the aid of a doctor, Lorelai nursed him back to health. With no memory of his past, his name, or anything else, he is at their mercy.

Lorelai has always taken in injured animals, and brought them back to good health. So it is only natural to care of this young stranger. In so doing, one of the things she does is to name him. As he was found underneath an ancient ash tree, that is the name she gave him: Ash. It takes months for Ash to heal from his injuries, and the two draw become very close. Although they can never say the words that are in their hearts, the feelings that grew were incredibly powerful. But...they become separated.

Enter The Rook - a pirate who is wanted by everyone, including the Royal Navy. He is no longer Ash, but a bold pirate with a reputation for brutality and a man who wins whatever he wants to attain. Now he wants Lorelai, but he is not the Ash she remembers, the Ash she has dreamed of, the Ash she has cried for....

What ensues between Lorelai and Ash/The Rook is a compelling story that became impossible to put down. I couldn't imagine how the two could come together. IF they could ever come together. The Duke with the Dragon Tattoo is an enthralling read with strong characters and a powerful plot. I was riveted to this story, especially as my curiosity of how the tender Lorelai and the now brutal Ash could get past the barriers between them.

The character development was just so wonderful. I absolutely loved Lorelai. She was a very strong heroine and took no foolishness. Ash went through so many transformations that I couldn't help but feel for him. The passionate romance in this story was well worth the wait. I do wish that I read the previous books in the series, but this book stood well as a standalone, as I got just enough of a glimpse of the past stories. Nonetheless, I am eager to read the other stories in the series. Kerrigan Byne has done a superb job with this book. I truly enjoyed her writing style and I am very glad to have read it and am now on the hunt for the first five books in the series.

Many thanks to St. Martins Press for this ARC to review in exchange for an honest review.



Q&A WITH KERRIGAN BYRNE:

Q: Describe the hero and heroine of The Duke with the Dragon Tattoo in three words each.
A:  Hero: Tenacious. Lethal. Unyielding. Heroine: Wounded. Enduring. Lonely.


Q: What is one thing the heroine, Lorelei, can’t live without?
A: Lorelai can’t live without her animals. She runs an unofficial wildlife preserve where she nurses wounded animals from the estuary back to health. If she didn’t have her precious friends to care for, I don’t know what she’d do!


Q: What was the most played song on your playlist while writing this novel?
A:  I listened to the soundtrack to the most recent Anna Karenina and Pride & Prejudice by Dario Marianelli over and over. I know it by heart.


Q: What was your hardest scene to write in The Duke with the Dragon Tattoo?
A: One of my favorite scenes was the “wedding” of The Rook and Lorelai. I loved how it was so serious, but because of who was in attendance and the way pirates view marriage, it became rather ridiculous. I giggled through the whole thing.


Q: What is one thing you would like readers to take away from this story?
A: That forgiveness and communication are just as important in a relationship as passion and excitement. I love that Lorelai


Q: What inspired you to write your first book?
A:  I think every writer has that moment when their love of reading is so voracious because they’re looking for one perfect story that they are aching to read about. Then, the idea dawns on us that in order for that story to exist, perhaps we have to write it ourselves. Not that any story is ever perfect, but finally the one that has been burning a hole in your soul is finally told! That’s how it happened for me, anyhow.


Q: Is there another particular author that inspires you or that you enjoy reading?
A:  Within my genre, I’d say Lisa Kleypas is just an incredible and inspiring writer. I devour everything of hers. Outside of my genre, I am constantly inspired by Christopher Moore. He’s alternately poignant and hilarious and I learn more about great content from him than almost anyone else!


Q: Where do you go or what resources do you use to make sure your novels are historically correct?
A: Burke’s peerage is always super helpful. I have a bevy of books and resource material on everything from Jack the Ripper to Harper’s Bazaar to help me learn about a time period and the people who lived there. Unfortunately, I still don’t get everything right 100% of the time. It would certainly be more useful to time travel.


Q: Did you learn anything surprising while researching for this novel?
A: I did! I did a ton of research on the practice they used to call “Shanghai.” Life at sea was so difficult, shipping captains were always understaffed. And so, to supplement their crew, they’d pay brothels, cafes, and restaurants (not particularly reputable ones) to often drug their customers and deliver them to the docks. The poor men would wake up on a ship half way to Shanghai (thus the name) and had no choice but to work for his keep until the ship docked again. Can you imagine?


Q: Why do you write historical and contemporary romance?
A:  While history is my first love, I am also nuts about paranormal, suspense, and mystery. I LOVE to unravel a good mystery. I used to work in law enforcement, and I met so many incredible characters, that I knew I had to write about them. I’m burning to have the time to revisit my contemporary world.


Q: What do you do if you don’t feel like writing anymore?
A: I try to do something inspiring. Go to a concert, a winery, on a drive or hike, or hang out with friends. If it’s crunch time and I can’t indulge myself, I call my wonderful brainstorm and critique partners and they’re always there to help me cobble something together, even when I don’t feel like it’s there. I rely on them heavily for inspiration!


Q: How did you feel the first time you realized one of your books was a hit?
A: To be honest, I’m still not certain I’ve ever really had that realization! However, I’m pretty sure I have the most incredible fans and friends in the entire world and when I’m doubting myself, or when I am in need of encouragement or validation, they’re always right there with the kindest and most encouraging words.


Q: What’s next for the Victorian Rebels series?
A: I’m very excited to be working on a brand new series entitled THE DEVILS OF DEVONSHIRE. However, I am absolutely planning on writing two more books in the Victorian Rebels series because I know that Chief Inspector Carlton Morley and Sebastian Moncrieff both need to have their stories told. I’ve been yearning to write them for years!  They’ll both be coming in 2019, so keep an eye out!


AN EXCERPT FROM CHAPTER ONE:

If Lorelai Weatherstoke hadn’t been appreciating the storm out the carriage window, she’d have missed the naked corpse beneath the ancient ash tree.

“Father, look!” She seized Lord Southbourne’s thin wrist, but a barrage of visual stimuli overwhelmed her, paralyzing her tongue.

In all her fourteen years, she’d never seen a naked man, let alone a deceased one.

He lay facedown, strong arms reached over his head as though he’d been trying to swim through the shallow grass lining the road. Ghastly dark bruises covered what little flesh was visible beneath the blood. He was all mounds and cords, his long body different from hers in every way a person could be.

Her heart squeezed, and she fought to find her voice as the carriage trundled past. The poor man must be cold, she worried, then castigated herself for such an absurd thought.

The dead became one with the cold. She’d learned that by kissing her mother’s forehead before they closed her casket forever.

“What is it, duck?” Her father may have been an earl, but the Weatherstokes were gentry of reduced circumstances, and didn’t spend enough time in London to escape the Essex accent.

Lorelai had not missed the dialect while at school in Mayfair, and it had been the first thing she’d rid herself of in favor of a more proper London inflection. In this case, however, it was Lord Southbourne’s words, more than his accent, that caused her to flinch.

As cruel as the girls could be at Braithwaite’s Boarding School, none of their taunts had made her feel quite so hollow as the one her own family bestowed upon her.

Duck.

“I-it’s a man,” she stammered. “A corp—” Oh no, had he just moved, or had she imagined it? Squinting through the downpour, she pressed her face to the window in time to see battered knuckles clenching the grass, and straining arms pulling the heavy body forward.

“Stop,” she wheezed, overtaken by tremors. “Stop the carriage!”

“What’s bunched your garters, then?” Sneering across from her, Mortimer, her elder brother, brushed aside the drapes at his window. “Blimey! There’s a bleedin’ corpse by the road.” Three powerful strikes on the roof of the coach prompted the driver to stop.

“He’s alive!” Lorelai exclaimed, pawing at the door handle. “I swear he moved. We have to help him.”

“I thought that fancy, expensive school was supposed to make you less of an idiot, Duck.” Mortimer’s heavy brows barely separated on a good day and met to create one thick line when he adopted the expression of disdainful scorn he reserved solely for her. “What’s a cripple like you going to do in the mud?”

“We should probably drive through to Brentwood,” Lord Southbourne suggested diplomatically. “We can send back an ambulance to fetch him.”

“He’ll need an undertaker by then,” Lorelai pleaded. “We must save him, mustn’t we?”

“I’ve never seen so much blood.” It was morbid fascination rather than pity darkening her brother’s eyes. “I’m going out there.”

“I’m coming with you.”

A cruel hand smacked Lorelai out of the way, and shoved her back against the faded brocade velvet of her seat. “You’ll stay with Father. I’ll take the driver.”

As usual, Lord Robert Weatherstoke said and did nothing to contradict his only son as Mortimer leaped from the coach and slammed the door behind him.

Lorelai barely blamed her passive father anymore. Mortimer was so much larger than him these days, and ever so much crueler.

She had to adjust her throbbing leg to see the men making their way through the gray of the early-evening deluge. Just enough remained of daylight to delineate color variations.

The unfortunate man was a large smudge of gore against the verdant spring ground cover. Upon Mortimer and the driver’s approach, he curled in upon himself not unlike a salted snail. Only he had no shell to protect his beaten body.

Lorelai swallowed profusely in a vain attempt to keep her heart from escaping through her throat as the man was hoisted aloft, each arm yoked like an ox’s burden behind a proffered neck. Even though Mortimer was the tallest man she knew, the stranger’s feet dragged in the mud. His head lolled below his shoulders, so she couldn’t get a good look at his face to ascertain his level of consciousness.

Other parts of him, though, she couldn’t seem to drag her eyes away from.

She did her best not to look between his legs, and mostly succeeded. At a time like this, modesty hardly mattered, but she figured the poor soul deserved whatever dignity she could allow him.

That is to say, she only peeked twice before wrenching her eyes upward.

The muscles winging from his back beneath where his arms spread were ugly shades of darkness painted by trauma. The ripples of his ribs were purple on his left side, and red on the other. Blunt bruises interrupted the symmetrical ridges of his stomach, as though he’d been kicked or struck repeatedly. As they dragged him closer, what she’d feared had been blood became something infinitely worse.

It was as though his flesh had been chewed away, but by something with no teeth. The plentiful meat of his shoulder and chest, his torso, hips, and down his thigh were grotesquely visible.

Burns, maybe?

“Good God, how is he still alive?” The awe in her father’s voice reminded her of his presence as they scurried to open the carriage door and help drag the man inside. It took the four of them to manage it.

“He won’t be unless we hurry.” The driver tucked the man’s long, long legs inside, resting his knees against the seat. “I fear he won’t last the few miles to Brentwood.”

Ripping her cloak off, Lorelai spread it over the shuddering body on the floor. “We must do what we can,” she insisted. “Is there a doctor in Brentwood?”

“Aye, and a good one.”

“Please take us there without delay.”

“O’course, miss.” He secured the door and leaped into his seat, whipping the team of fresh horses into a gallop.

As they lurched forward, the most pitiful sound she’d ever heard burst from the injured man’s lips, which flaked with white. His big arm flailed from beneath the cloak to protect his face, in a gesture that tore Lorelai’s heart out of her chest.

The burn scored the sinew of his neck and up his jaw to his cheekbone.

Pangs of sympathy slashed at her own skin, and drew her muscles taut with strain. Lorelai blinked a sheen of tears away, and cleared emotion out of her tight throat with a husky sound she’d made to soothe many a wounded animal on the Black Water Estuary.

His breaths became shallower, his skin paler beneath the bruises.

He was dying.

Without thinking, she slid a hand out of her glove, and gently pressed her palm to his, allowing her fingers to wrap around his hand one by one.

“Don’t go,” she urged. “Stay here. With me.”

His rough, filthy hand gripped her with such strength, the pain of it stole her breath. His face turned toward her, though his eyes remained closed.

Still, it heartened her, this evidence of awareness. Perhaps, on some level, she could comfort him.

“You’re going to be all right,” she crooned.

“Don’t lie to the poor bastard.” Mortimer’s lip curled in disgust. “He’s no goose with a defective wing, or a three-legged cat, like the strays you’re always harboring. Like as not he’s too broken to be put back together with a bandage, a meal, and one of your warbling songs. He’s going to die, Lorelai.”

“You don’t know that,” she said more sharply than she’d intended, and received a sharp slap for her lapse in wariness.

“And you don’t know what I’ll do to you if you speak to me in that tone again.”

Most girls would look to their fathers for protection, but Lorelai had learned long ago that protection was something upon which she could never rely.

Her cheek stinging, Lorelai lowered her eyes. Mortimer would take it as a sign of submission, but she only did it to hide her anger. She’d learned by now to take care around him in times of high stress, or excitement. It had been her folly to forget … because she knew exactly what he was capable of. The pinch of her patient’s strong grip was nothing next to what she’d experienced at the hands of her brother on any given month.

Ignoring the aching throb in her foot, Lorelai dismissed Mortimer, leaning down instead to stroke a dripping lock of midnight hair away from an eye so swollen, he’d not have been able to open it were he awake.

Across from her, Mortimer leaned in, as well, ostensibly studying the man on the floor with equal parts intrigue and disgust. “Wonder what happened to the sod. I haven’t seen a beating like this in all my years.”

Lorelai schooled a level expression from her face at the reference to his many perceived years. He was all of twenty, and the only violence he witnessed outside of sport, he perpetrated himself.

“Brigands, you suspect?” Sir Robert fretted from beside her, checking the gathering darkness for villains.

“Entirely possible,” Mortimer said flippantly. “Or maybe he is one. We are disturbingly close to Gallows Corner.”

“Mortimer,” their father wheezed. “Tell me you haven’t pulled a criminal into my coach. What would people say?”

The Weatherstoke crest bore the motto Fortunam maris, “fortune from the sea,” but if anyone had asked Lorelai what it was, she’d have replied, Quid dicam homines? “What would people say?”

It had been her father’s favorite invocation—and his greatest fear—for as long as she could remember.

Lorelai opened her mouth to protest, but her brother beat her to it, a speculative glint turning his eyes the color of royal sapphires. “If I’d hazard a guess, it would be that this assault was personal. A fellow doesn’t go to the trouble to inflict this sort of damage lest his aim is retribution or death. Perhaps he’s a gentleman with gambling debts run afoul of a syndicate. Or, maybe a few locals caught him deflowering their sister … though they left those parts intact, didn’t they, Duck?” His sly expression told Lorelai that he’d caught her looking where she ought not to.

Blushing painfully, she could no longer bring herself to meet Mortimer’s cruel eyes. They were the only trait Lorelai shared with her brother. Her father called them the Weatherstoke jewels. She actively hated looking in the mirror and seeing Mortimer’s eyes staring back at her.

Instead, she inspected the filthy nails of the hand engulfing her own. The poor man’s entire palm was one big callus against hers. The skin on his knuckles, tough as an old shoe, had broken open with devastating impact.

Whatever had happened to him, he’d fought back.

“He’s no gentleman,” she observed. “Too many calluses. A local farmhand, perhaps, or a stable master?” It didn’t strain the imagination to envision these hands gripping the rope of an erstwhile stallion. Large, magnificent beasts pitting their strength one against the other.

“More like stable boy,” Mortimer snorted. “I’d wager my inheritance he’s younger than me.”

“How can you tell?” With his features beyond recognition, Lorelai was at a loss as to the man’s age. No gray streaked his midnight hair, nor did lines bracket his swollen lips, so she knew he couldn’t be old, but beyond that …

“He’s not possessed of enough body hair for a man long grown.”

“But he’s so big,” she reasoned. “And his chest appears to have been badly burned, the hair might have singed right off.”

“I’m not referring to his chest, you dull-wit, but to his coc—”

“Mortimer, please.”

Lorelai winced. It was as close to a reprimand as her father ever ventured. Mortimer must have been very wicked, indeed. It was just her luck that he did so on perhaps the first occasion Lorelai had actually wanted her brother to finish a sentence.

A rut in the road jostled them with such force at their frantic pace, Lorelai nearly landed on the injured man. His chest heaved a scream into his throat, but it only escaped as a piteous, gurgling groan.

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,” she whimpered. Dropping to her knees, she hovered above him, the fingers of her free hand fluttering over his quaking form, looking for a place to land that wouldn’t cause him pain.

She could find none. He was one massive wound.

A tear splashed from her eye and disappeared into the crease between his fingers.

“Duck, perhaps it’s best you take your seat.” Her father’s jowly voice reminded her of steam wheezing from a teakettle before it’s gathered enough strength to whistle. “It isn’t seemly for a girl of your standing to be thus prostrated on the floor.”

With a sigh, she did her best to get her good foot beneath her, reaching for the plush golden velvet of the seat to push herself back into it.

An insistent tug on her arm tested the limits of her shoulder socket, forcing her to catch herself once more.

“Lorelai, I said sit,” Lord Southbourne blustered.

“I can’t,” she gasped incredulously. “He won’t let me go.”

“What’s this, then?” Mortimer wiped some of the mud away from the straining cords of the man’s forearm, uncovering an even darker smudge beneath. As he cleared it, a picture began to take shape, the artful angles and curves both intriguing and sinister until mottled, injured skin ruptured the rendering. “Was it a bird of some kind? A serpent?”

“No.” Lorelai shook her head, studying the confusion of shapes intently. “It’s a dragon.”

Copyright © 2018 by Kerrigan Byrne

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Kerrigan has done many things to pay the bills, from law enforcement to belly dance instructor. Now she’s finally able to have the career she’d decided upon at thirteen when she announced to her very skeptical family that she was going to “grow up to be a romance novelist.” Whether she’s writing about Celtic Druids, Victorian bad boys, or brash Irish FBI Agents, Kerrigan uses her borderline-obsessive passion for history, her extensive Celtic ancestry, and her love of Shakespeare in almost every story.
She lives in a little Victorian coast town on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State with her wonderful husband. When she’s not writing you can find her sailing, beach combing, kayaking, visiting wineries, breweries, and restaurants with friends, and hiking…okay…wandering aimlessly clenching bear spray in the mountains. .

Social Links:
Author Website: http://www.kerriganbyrne.com/
Twitter: @Kerrigan_Byrne
Facebook: @KerriganByrneAuthor
Instagram: @KerriganByrne


Thursday, August 30, 2018

Review: Tear Me Apart

Title:  Tear Me Apart
Author:  J. T. Ellison
Genre:  Psychological Thriller
Format:  Kindle ARC
Date Published:  August 28, 2018
Publisher:  Harlequin - Mira
No. of Pages:  496
My Rating:  5 Stars

GOODREADS BLURB:

The follow-up to her critically acclaimed Lie to Me, J.T. Ellison’s Tear Me Apart is the powerful story of a mother willing to do anything to protect her daughter even as their carefully constructed world unravels around them.

One moment will change their lives forever…

Competitive skier Mindy Wright is a superstar in the making until a spectacular downhill crash threatens not just her racing career but her life. During surgery, doctors discover she’s suffering from a severe form of leukemia, and a stem cell transplant is her only hope. But when her parents are tested, a frightening truth emerges. Mindy is not their daughter.

Who knows the answers?

The race to save Mindy’s life means unraveling years of lies. Was she accidentally switched at birth or is there something more sinister at play? The search for the truth will tear a family apart…and someone is going to deadly extremes to protect the family’s deepest secrets.

With vivid movement through time, Tear Me Apart examines the impact layer after layer of lies and betrayal has on two families, the secrets they guard, and the desperate fight to hide the darkness within.


MY THOUGHTS:

When Olympic hopeful, a competitive skier, Mindy Wright takes a horrible tumble while on a downhill course, the most devastating news her parents expected to hear was that she would miss weeks of skiing while healing. Imagine their horror when it is discovered that Mindy was suffering from a severe form of leukemia. Before long, the news gets even worse - not only does she need an immediate stem cell transplant - her parents' DNA is not a match - Mindy is not their daughter.

Who is in Mindy's life? Her parents, Lauren and Jasper, and her aunt Juliet. Yet, none of them is a match. What actually happened? Juliet, a DNA specialist, will stop at nothing to get to the truth of the matter. As Juliet works with a federal agency, answers start to come to light, and these answers are not pretty.

There are so many OMG moments in this book! While it may have seemed innocuous enough about finding the birth parents to Mindy, it is far more. There have been over 17 years of lies and the truth is coming out in waves. I have read a massive number psychological thrillers and, let me tell you, this is by far one of the very best. It is full of twists and turns shooting left and right. Every time I thought I had a bead on the situation, the story would shift.

Before long I was constantly asking myself  - admittedly aloud - Lauren, what did you do? What did you DO? As a reader I was exceptionally curious, involved even. Mindy may be very ill, but she is exceptionally bright. She senses things are not right almost from the very beginning. Read the words of this absolutely stunning book and you will wonder too. You will wonder so much that you may find this book impossible to put down, even for a second. Also, how could I not root for Zack, who gets introduced to us later in the story?

Now, beyond the mystery, beyond the intrigue, Tear Me Apart is about much, much more. So many things come up - depression, self-harm and suicide. (Please be sure to read the Author's Note at the end of the book. It is pivotal.) Add in murder, and this all ties in together. So much so that the story flows at such a rapid pace, especially as it pulls two timelines together, that my head was truly spinning.

I was familiar with the author's name, J.T. Ellison, as I read the Brit in the FBI series, which she co-authors with Catherine Coulter. Otherwise, in my ignorance, I have never read Ellison's books until now. This is going to change. I am so thoroughly impressed with her writing. It is beyond spectacular. Ellison had my interest piqued from the very first, and this is a book that makes me want more, much more from her. Indeed, this book and this author comes highly recommended.

Many thanks to Harlequin - Mira and to NetGalley for this ARC to review; this was my honest opinion.



PLEASE ENJOY THE FOLLOWING EXCERPT:

PROLOGUE University Hospital Nashville, Tennessee 1993 Vivian

I REMEMBER the day she arrived so clearly. What quirk of fate led her to me? I wondered about this for years. If only I had stepped right instead of left at the corner, or taken the stairs instead of the elevator at the hospital, perhaps ordered chicken instead of steak for my last meal with my father before his death, the principles of chaos—the butterfly effect—would have altered the course of my life enough that she wouldn’t have appeared. But I did step right, and I took the elevator, and I had the steak, and she did appear, and I will never recover from her.

IT’S my eighth Turkey Tetrazzini Tuesday. I push the food around on my tray, not hungry. The meds they give me make me in turns nauseous and lacking in appetite and dinner is at five, anyway, only a few hours away. If I feel better then, I’ll eat.

Everyone else is happily communing with the glob of gray matter on their plates. They don’t know any better. Half are drooling in their trays, the other half are tracing the voyage of little green men through the gravy or wadding the tinfoil wrapping from their rolls into bouquets they hang on their bedsteads to keep away the government spies. Suffice it to say we don’t have anything common. I have no exciting diagnosis. I haven’t committed a crime. I’m just depressed. Like, suicidal ideation with three attempts under my belt depressed. Yes, it’s the bad kind.

I wander back to my room, glancing in the doors of the rest of the ward. Occasionally, the occupants leave out fun things to play with. Magazines. String. Cards. I’m not picky, anything to break the tedium. I’m out of luck today. The rooms are spotless. Beds are made, towels hang straight and even, the whole ward smells of Pine-Sol. The janitors have been through. They will have pocketed anything of worth.

I bail on the reconnaissance mission and swing by my small hole for my cigarettes. Four times a day, I am allowed to stand in a tiny six-by-six hutch off the back steps and smoke. I can see the sky and the huge brass padlock that, if opened, would give me my freedom, allow me to step into the parking lot and disappear into the world, but nothing else. Sometimes, I wonder if cigarette privileges are worth it. It must be how cows feel, penned in day after day, never able to cross to the other field.

My room, 8A, is white. White as week-old snow, the kind of white that isn’t crisp and clean, but dirtied, institutional. You won’t see the exact shade anywhere else. White walls, white bedding, white linoleum. White gowns. White long-sleeved jackets with shiny silver buckles if we’re naughty.

Normally, we’re all double-bunked, but I haven’t shared in a month, not since the last roommate was sent home. As much as I hate her for getting out, I’ve found I enjoy the silence of having my

2 J.T. ELLISON

own space. Being alone always frightened me before. I despised the dark and its creeping pulchritude. Now, I crave its simplicity. Its emptiness and solitude. Caring about fear is too hard anymore. I stop in the doorway. There is someone in my room. Her hair is dark and cascading, freshly washed; she reeks of the squeaky-clean scent of Johnson’s Baby Shampoo. The hospital passes it out to all new inductees in their plastic “welcome” bucket. She sits on the bed, head cocked to the side, her back to the door, staring out the four-by-two wire mesh screen window, which looks at the parking lot—bleak gray asphalt and a never-ending parade of cars. It’s a strange torture, this taste of freedom they give us. We are fish in the aquarium; we can see the rest of the world passing by, disinterested people living uninteresting lives. This intrusion into my private space infuriates me, and I slam back out to the nurses’ station. There is a nurse named Eleanor Snow who runs the ward, but we all call her Ratchet because she is a bitch. No one said we had to be original.

Ratchet is calmly doing an intake form. Probably for my new roommate. Her serenity infuriates me further. I don’t get serenity. My mind never quiets and allows me to sit, smiling, as I fill in forms.

I snarl at her, “Who is in my room?”

“Your new roommate. I suggest you go introduce yourself. And keep your hands to yourself. You don’t want me to cut your nails again.”

I shudder. I don’t, and she knows it.

“You didn’t ask my permission to move someone in.”

“We don’t have to. Now scat. I have work to do. And eat your dinner, or I’ll talk with Dr. Freeman about your lack of eating.” “Be sure to tell him the meds he gives me make me puke.” I storm off. It’s the only power I have, not eating. They force the drugs in me, tell me when to sleep, shower, and shit; make me sit in a circle with the other drooling idiots to share my story—you’ll feel so much better after you’ve talked it out, dear. No. No! To hell with the cigarette break. I head back to 8A, and the girl

TEAR ME APART 3

is still sitting in the same spot, her head cocked the same way. She has long hands. They prop her up, to the sides of her hips, as if they are grounding her to the world.

I make noise, and she doesn’t turn. I step in front of the window, looming over her so she’ll look at me. I snap my fingers under her nose, and she barely flinches.

Oh.

It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to diagnose her silence and lack of movement. She’s riding with King Thor. Thorazine for the uninitiated. A strong antipsychotic agent overused in mental facilities to keep rowdy, disturbed, or otherwise uncooperative patients calm. I like riding with the King even less than having Ratchet snip my nails, so I cut the stranger some slack. I rifle through her things. Her few clothes are wadded in the bottom of the laundry bag, and she wears the same baggy sweats and sweatshirt I currently model because my civvies are in the laundry. The rest of the bag has small toiletries, a hospital-issued toothbrush and toothpaste, a comb. She isn’t a voluntary.

Voluntary commitment, when the patient agrees to come in for a certain amount of time to get their head shrunk. Technically, I am a voluntary, which is why I have a few more privileges than most. I’ve also been here for a little over two months, and I am ready as fuck to get out of here. What they don’t like to tell you is when you go in voluntarily, you don’t get the choice to voluntarily leave. No, that’s up to them, to Dr. Freakazoid and Ratchet and the “treatment team.”

Bastards.

I quickly search the rest of the room and see she only has the clothes on her back and in her bag. Interesting. A non-voluntary could be a nice diversion. When she comes back from her ride, I might find she’s a mumbling, drooling idiot, or a tinfoil baby, or a suicide, or even a criminal. We’re all mixed in, the permanent residents and the temporary, the clinically insane and the criminally. The latter makes for fascinating conversation. The bandage on her

4 J.T. ELLISON

arm tells me the rest of the story. Someone was a bad girl. I like her already.

I pick up her comb. Mine is missing several teeth. I need a brush—my hair is too thick for this tiny piece of plastic crap—but a fresh comb is better than what I have. I switch them out, then get to work on my hair.

Without moving, in a voice low and melodious and laden with the sharpness of a thousand razors, she says, “Touch my things again, and I’ll kill you.”

“Right.”

I continue with the comb. She turns, and when I look up, I am startled. The hatred in her eyes is so intense it’s like a demon from hell is suddenly perched on the bed. Her hair floats around her head like a dark storm cloud, and I can practically smell the thunder coming off her. I take a step back and toss the comb on her bed.

At this movement, she smiles and turns back toward the window.

TEAR ME APART 5

1

Vail, Colorado FIS Alpine World Cup January 4, 2018

“NOW COMING TO THE GATES, last year’s junior Alpine Downhill champion, Mindy Wright.”

Mindy hears her name called, and her heart pounds in her throat. She knows what they are saying in the booth. They are discussing her leap into the majors. A year ago she was the Junior World Champion in three disciplines and the overall. She is special. Unique. Now, barely one year into her adult career, she is killing it. They are comparing her to her heroes, Lindsey Vonn and Mikaela Shiffrin, speculating that with this final run, she can overtake their records and become the new youngest Alpine Downhill champion. They are talking about her parents, their sacrifices, and Mindy’s grueling training, the intense life she’s led, uncomplaining, with a smile on her face all the time. Sunny. They call her the girl with the sunny disposition.

This sunny girl is going to become the world’s fastest female downhill skier in less than two minutes, and then what will they call her?

Mindy can feel the energy in the air; the tension is palpable. She has a good chance, she knows it. Her practice run was at a record-breaking pace. She is going to blow this run away. The mountain is hers for the taking.

Everyone wants her to win this race and take the trophy. Trophy be damned, if she hits her points, she will automatically qualify for the US Olympic team. No pressure or anything.

She takes the little burst of adrenaline from that thought, lets it get her moving. The snow started falling intensely about ten minutes earlier. She’d heard the officials discussing whether to hold the skiers on the hill until it passed, but now their radios crackle with assurances that the blizzard is only at the very top and the course clears after the first turn.

Mindy readies herself, visualizes the course, her body bending and weaving as her mind takes her through every turn one last time.

A buzzer pulls her to the surface. There are no shouts and screams as Mindy slides into place in the starting house; the crowds are at the bottom of the mountain, less than ninety seconds away. It’s snowing hard up top, not gentle whispers of white drifting down, but tiny flakes wedged together in the sky creating a perpetual wall of white. The eerie silence, the loneliness of it, makes her heart pump harder. She often feels like this when she takes her place at the gate. Beat, alone. Beat, alone. Beat, alone. It feels good. It feels right.

She adjusts her goggles against the blinding white and slaps her skis against the icy snow, digging in her poles, making sure her ankles are seated and her boots tightly clipped. In response, the snow seems to come down even faster; the first section of the course is completely obscured from her vantage point above the gates. She has to have faith that they won’t send her down if it is too dangerous, that the reports saying it clears after the first turn hold

8 J.T. ELLISON

true. Anyway, Mindy knows this course like the back of her hand. She has raced here many times. Considering the awful weather, it is a blessing that the championships are being held in Vail. She has the home field advantage.

Kill it, Mindy!

It is her mom’s voice, spectral and distant. It happens every race, and it’s strange because she knows her mom and dad are at the bottom of the mountain, waiting for her to slide to a stop in front of them, her skis shuddering on the snow, her fist in the air, pumping hard because she’s won.

Once, she’d told her mom how cool it was, standing up there alone, hearing her voice cheer her on. It had become the talisman, the good luck charm. Her mom smoothed down her hair with a quizzical smile and said, “I’m always with you, Mindy. No matter what.”

Not for the first time, Mindy wishes her mom had ridden up the mountain in the gondola with her. She can imagine her perfectly: starkly beautiful, not speaking, her mouth tight, her blond hair mussed and sticking out from under her red snowflake hat, holding her daughter’s gloved hand tightly. It isn’t allowed, but it would be nice. Then again, maybe it wouldn’t. Mindy sometimes wonders if her mom is more nervous than she is when it comes to the final run. She wouldn’t want that negative energy seeping into her psyche.

Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go.

Finally, the official signals. It’s time. She slaps her skis against the ice again. Tight, a little grainy, and she can barely see the track now because the snow is coming down so hard. But she knows it’s there, a long, invisible line flowing out from the tips of her skis downward. Without another thought, she leans forward, into the mountain, feels the hard bar across her shins. Sets her poles again. Takes a deep breath. Her coach’s voice now. Visualize it. Visualize winning.

The beep sounds, three times, and at the last she’s off, bursting out of the gate, poling hard, gaining speed quickly. She slices

TEAR ME APART 9

through the first turn, a hard bank left, her downhill edge rattling against the ice. It feels good, so good, and she tucks her poles against her body and lets the skis take her through the first flat. The skies do clear; she can finally see the blue lanes of the race course. Into the second turn, she starts gaining speed, feels the total thrill when she accelerates to eighty-five, ninety, ninety-five miles per hour. She is a rocket, a cheetah, the fastest girl on earth. Left, right, left, right, poles stuck to her body, over the jump, airborne, arms windmilling slightly, but she stays tucked perfectly, totally in control. She has it; she has it, she is flying down the slopes. She can hear the screams and cheers as she flies past. She knows with the assurance of years of skiing that she is in the zone, is going faster than she ever has. All the hard work, the ski camps, the weight training, it is all coming together.

Left. Right. Left. Tuck.

The burst of swirling snow comes from nowhere. It catches her full in the face just as she makes the last gate. Her skis slip out of the ruts. The tip of her left ski hits the plastic guard of the flag, and she is in midair, flying for real this time.

Everything is silent. She doesn’t hear the gasps, the screams, just focuses on relaxing, like she’s always been taught. Though she is airborne, if she isn’t too far off, she can still make it if she keeps her tuck, lands correctly, gets the damn right ski down, and makes the next turn… The flag slaps her in the face, and she goes down in a flurry of skis and poles and snow.

She doesn’t know how long she lies there before she registers she has crashed. Her champion’s body resists the idea, continues to make the turns, her torso writhing in the snow.

The snow is cold.

My face hurts.

My leg hurts.

Her eyes are closed. She opens them to whiteness. I’m blind, oh my God, then realizes her face is freezing. She is facedown. She plants her arms in the snow and tries to rise. The pain in her leg is white-hot, and she cries out. Seconds later, she is surrounded. Ski

10 J.T. ELLISON

patrols, red jackets, white crosses. The first touch is from a woman, her face deeply tanned, her goggles opaque.

“Your leg’s broken, sweetie, try not to move. I know it’s cold. Hang tight. We’ll get you splinted and get you on the sled.” “My leg? It’s broken? How do you know? Did I make it all the way down?”

“Tough girl, you didn’t. You tagged that last flag, and it knocked you upside down. You did a backflip, came down hard. You’ve been out for a few minutes. Pretty spectacular crash. And your leg…trust me, honey, it’s broken. No, no, don’t look.”

Mindy ignores the admonition, wishes she hadn’t. There is a large jag of white sticking out of her shin. Her blood looks like rubies against the icy slush. She fights back the urge to scream. “But my time…if I don’t finish, I’m DQd from the event. I have to get down. You’ve gotta let me up.”

The patrol’s voice is sympathetic. “You’re out of it, now, sweetie, I’m sorry. Maybe you have enough points to qualify from your other races. But you can’t go anywhere, this leg’s pretty gnarly. Okay, here’s the splint, hang tight, this is going to hurt like a bitch.” Mindy grits her teeth as they start pumping up the air cast. Fights back the tears, focuses on the voice that keeps saying, you didn’t make it, you didn’t make it. She stops fighting, tries to relax as they lift her into the sled and start down the remainder of the mountain. She tries to be a good sport about it, as she’s been taught, raises a fist toward the worried faces, and the crowd goes absolutely wild, cheering for their girl, but inside she is wailing.

She wanted this so badly. It’s all she’s ever wanted. And she’s blown it.

What happened? She runs the course again in her mind, realizes there is a big blank. She doesn’t remember how she went down. She knows this isn’t entirely unusual, she’s heard about it happening to other racers. She’s been so blessed, so lucky, never to have had a major injury. Granted, she’s seventeen, and she’s only been on the circuit at this level for a year. But still. What if I can never ski again?

TEAR ME APART 11

This spike to her heart is too much to bear. She wipes away tears as they reach the bottom. Her dad is waiting; she can see his bright red North Face jacket, concern etched on his handsome face. He pushes aside two ski patrols and kneels beside her.

“Poor baby. Does it hurt?”

“Daddy, I didn’t make it.”

“Let’s worry about your leg first, peanut, then we’ll worry about the rest.”

“I don’t remember falling. What happened?”

“Microburst of snow. Came out of nowhere.” As if to prove his point a swirl of snow surrounds them. Her father says, “They really should close the course, it’s too dangerous now.” He pats her hand. Mindy can only feel pressure through the glove, not the warm reassurance of her father’s hand.

“Where’s Mom?”

“I’m right here, honey. Right here. You’re okay. I’m here.”

Mindy hears the calm concern of her mother’s voice and takes a deep breath. If her mom isn’t frantic, it isn’t too bad. “Mom will meet us at the hospital, honey. They won’t let us both ride with you. She’s going to drive the car—”

“No!”

Her dad’s face registers a tiny bit of shock. “Okay, no worries. Mom will ride with you, and I’ll bring the car.”

“No, it’s fine. I don’t care who rides with me. But we can’t leave. I need to find out who wins.” As she speaks, she hears them blow the

horn. The course is being closed.

Her dad’s smile warms her. He leans close, whispers, “Maybe we’ll get lucky. You’re still in first place overall.”

The EMT isn’t quite glaring at them but is clearly anxious to get moving. “We have to take her now, folks. Who’s riding with us?” Her mom presses her palm against Mindy’s cheek, unstraps her helmet. “Hang tight, baby. I’ll meet you at the hospital. We’ll get you fixed up. Be strong.”

Mindy grits her teeth again when they put her into the ambulance; the jostling makes red-hot pokers shoot through her leg. Her

12 J.T. ELLISON

mother’s face disappears as the doors slam closed, the worry etched as deep as a fissure in granite.

Her dad takes a seat on the bench, trying to stay out of the way. The paramedic leans over her, takes her blood pressure and pulse. She tries to stay calm, not cry, not fall apart. All she can think about is her coach’s disappointment that someone else will be standing on the podium because she got too aggressive toward the bottom and let her ski get caught in that rut. He’s always told her aggressive equals arrogance, and arrogance equals crash.

“Mindy, I’m Todd. I’m going to start an IV and give you some pain meds so that leg doesn’t hurt so bad. Okay? A little pinch here, hang tight…that’s a brave girl, well done.”

Within moments, the horrible pain in her leg is gone. Her thoughts become disjointed.

Arrogant Crash. That’s a good band name. I wonder if they’ll let me have the gate I hit. Would it be arrogant to ask? The snow was so cold. I didn’t make it.

Mindy doesn’t care, which surprises her. She feels sleepy and warm, hears her dad and Todd talking. And then there is nothing.

YOU KNOW YOU WANT TO READ THE REST.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


J.T. Ellison is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of twenty critically acclaimed novels, including LIE TO ME, NO ONE KNOWS, WHAT LIES BEHIND, and ALL THE PRETTY GIRLS, and is the coauthor of the "A Brit in the FBI" series with #1 New York Times bestselling author Catherine Coulter. J.T. also cohosts the EMMY® Award-winning television series A Word on Words.

With millions of books in print, Ellison’s work has been published in twenty-six countries and fourteen languages. Her novel THE COLD ROOM won the ITW Thriller Award for Best Paperback Original. Her novels FIELD OF GRAVES and WHERE ALL THE DEAD LIE were each a RITA® nominee for Best Romantic Suspense. She is also the author of multiple short stories.

Ellison grew up in Colorado and Virginia. After graduating from Randolph-Macon Woman's College and receiving her master's degree from George Washington University, she was a presidential appointee and worked in The White House and the Department of Commerce before moving into the private sector to work as a financial analyst and marketing director for several defense and aerospace contractors.

After moving to Nashville, Ellison began to research her hidden passions, forensics and crime, and was compelled to begin writing down her stories. To research her books, she has worked with the Metro Nashville Police Department and the FBI, as well as performing autopsies and studying survivalists.

In 2012, Ellison teamed up with #1 New York Times bestselling author Catherine Coulter to co-write a new FBI series. The first book, THE FINAL CUT, released in September of 2013 and hit every major bestseller list. The series continues with THE LOST KEY, THE END GAME, THE DEVIL'S TRIANGLE, and THE SIXTH DAY. The next installment will be published in Spring 2019.

Ellison published her first standalone novel, NO ONE KNOWS, a Nashville-based domestic thriller, in 2016 with Gallery Books, followed by the critically acclaimed LIE TO ME, published in 2017 with MIRA Books. Her newest standalone, TEAR ME APART, will be published on September 18, 2018.

She also has co-written with Erica Spindler and Alex Kava on two anthology collaborations: SLICES OF NIGHT and STORM SEASON.

J.T.'s interests go beyond writing books—she publishes them, too. In 2015, Ellison founded her own independent publishing house, Two Tales Press, which features spine-chilling short stories and novellas, including THE FIRST DECADE and DEAD ENDS. An avid oenophile, Ellison teamed up with her right-hand, Amy Kerr, to launch The Wine Vixen, a wine review website focusing on all varietals and price ranges.

In 2015, Ellison was named a cohost of the Nashville literary television series A Word on Words. The series was hosted by respected journalist John Seigenthaler for more than 40 years and remains a favorite among viewers. The rebooted show builds on Mr. Seigenthaler’s distinguished legacy with an exciting new version of the literary series. The show won its first Emmy for Best Interstitial in 2017. Follow #keepreading for more updates on the show guests and lively literary discussions.

She also has an active following on Twitter @thrillerchick and Instagram @thrillerchick, and has a robust Facebook community.

She lives with her husband and twin kittens in Nashville, where she enjoys fine wine and good notebooks.

Contact J.T. Ellison
Website
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Twitter
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BLOG TOUR - Murder at Midnight



Today I have the pleasure of being a part of the blog tour for Murder at Midnight by Faith Martin.


Looking for a brilliant best-selling murder mystery with a feisty female detective?

DETECTIVE HILLARY GREENE IS SOLVING THE COLD CASES NO ONE ELSE COULD CRACK.

PLEASE NOTE THIS IS A REVISED EDITION OF A BOOK FIRST PUBLISHED AS “A NARROW VICTORY.”

Felix Olliphant was found stabbed to death at a New Year’s Eve costume party for the turn of the millennium.

Seemingly liked by everyone, motives for his murder are hard to find. There was one suspect, but no evidence.

Hillary struggles to solve this baffling case. And she has to contend with a new colleague, Jake Barnes. Young and rich, he says he wants to give something back to the community, but Hillary has her doubts.

Will Hillary finally be defeated by this cold case and will she lose her boss and love interest to a new job?

Hillary Greene has returned to Thames Valley Police HQ, acting as a cold-case consultant for the Crime Review Team, looking into murders which the police have never been able to solve.

She wasn’t sure she wanted to go back. But solving crimes is irresistible for Hillary Greene. And it doesn’t hurt that her new boss is devastatingly handsome.

This is a crime mystery full of well-observed characters, which will have you gripped from start to the absolutely thrilling conclusion.


THE DETECTIVE
DI Hillary Greene
An attractive, single woman nearing the landmark age of fifty, Hillary Greene was a police officer of many years’ experience (earning the rank of DI) and came up through the ranks. Consequently, she knew how the system worked, and was always fiercely loyal to the force without being blinkered to its faults. Forced to retire early through no fault of her own, she has now returned to the force as a civilian consultant on cold cases. She still enjoys a rather enigmatic relationship with the wily Commander Marcus Donleavy, but it is her new boss, the very attractive Steven Crayle, who is likely to cause her the most problems now!

PLEASE NOTE THIS IS A REVISED EDITION OF A BOOK FIRST PUBLISHED AS “A NARROW VICTORY.”


DI HILLARY GREENE SERIES
BOOK 1: MURDER ON THE OXFORD CANAL
BOOK 2: MURDER AT THE UNIVERSITY
BOOK 3: MURDER OF THE BRIDE
BOOK 4: MURDER IN THE VILLAGE
BOOK 5: MURDER IN THE FAMILY
BOOK 6: MURDER AT HOME
BOOK 7: MURDER IN THE MEADOW
BOOK 8: MURDER IN THE MANSION
BOOK 9: MURDER IN THE GARDEN
BOOK 10: MURDER BY FIRE
BOOK 11: MURDER AT WORK
BOOK 12: MURDER NEVER RETIRES
BOOK 13: MURDER OF A LOVER
BOOK 14: MURDER NEVER MISSES
BOOK 15: MURDER AT MIDNIGHT

Books 16-17 coming soon!
Join the Joffe Books mailing list to be the first to hear about new
releases.

MY REVIEW:

Title:  Murder at Midnight
Author:  Faith Martin
Series:  DI Hillary Greene
Format:  Kindle ARC
Genre:  Mystery/Thrillers
Date Published:  August 25, 2018
Publisher:  Joffe Books
No. of Pages:  196
My rating: 4.5 Stars

Felix Olliphant's body was found during a party. He was brutally murdered, and it was determined that he was drunk at the time. This fact is highly disputed because everyone interviewed said that he was a teetotaler. Yet, the autopsy showed a high content of alcohol. This was in 1999 and ex-DI Hillary Greene and two new team members are now working to solve this as a cold case.

There is no doubt that Hillary will solve this case, because she has a reputation that is second to none. She looks up every lead and talks to everyone she can find, although it has been many years since the murder. Meanwhile, one of the new team members is rather suspect and she must also keep an eye on him.

I have read the previous two books in this series, although I do wish I read the rest, and enjoyed this as much as I did those. Hillary is as solid as they come and has a an incredible work ethic. Murder at Midnight is a smooth and easy read. I really like Faith Martin's writing style and loved reading this book. This is a great police procedural story with a nice twist with Jake, one of the team members. As mentioned, this book is part of a series, but there are enough explanations easily made that it can be read as a standalone. I really need to read the next in the series, because this was left with just the right cliffhanger. Indeed, I can barely wait!

Many thanks to Joffe Books, Books n All Promotions  and to NetGalley for this ARC to review and this is my honest opinion.


AUTHOR BIO:

Faith Martin has been writing for over 25 years, in four genres and under four different pen names. She was born in Oxford and sets most of her crime novels within sight of the city of dreaming spires. A real nature lover and afficionado of the countryside, descriptions of wildlife and native flora often find their way into her manuscripts. Right now, JOFFE BOOKS are re-issuing the DI Hillary Greene novels in new updated editions! The first 15 books in the series are available now.

Her romance novels, written under the name of Maxine Barry, are now available from Corazon Books. IMPOSTERS In PARADISE, and HEART OF FIRE are both out, and others will very quickly become available in the future.

Her first foray into writing 'spooky' crime, (and written under the pen name of Jessie Daniels) comes out in November 2017. THE LAVENDER LADY CASEFILE is published by Robert Hale, an imprint of Crowood Press.

As Joyce Cato, she writes more classically-inspired 'proper' whodunits. So, if you like an amateur sleuth, plenty of clues and red herrings, plus a baffling murder mystery to solve, these are the books for you.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Review: The Breakup

Title:  The Breakup
Author:  Erin McCarthy
Series:  The Jordan Brothers #2
Genre:  Romance / Women's Fiction
Format:  Kindle ARC
Date Published:  August 28, 2018
Publisher:  Loveswept  
No. of Pages:  204
Rating:  3.5 Stars

GOODREADS BLURB:

Bella: I know I’m a princess. I’m used to getting what I want. But all I ever really wanted was a husband and a family. Unlike my sister, Sophie, I’ll never have a brilliant career to fall back on. So what’s a bride to do when she learns that Prince Charming is a cheating snake just a few days before her fairy-tale wedding? With my fiancé begging for another chance, the only way to save the wedding is to even things out with a little revenge sex—and local bartender Christian Jordan seems like the right man for the job.

Christian: If gorgeous Bella Bigelow thinks sleeping with me will somehow lead to happily ever after, I’m not going to turn her down. The guy she wants to marry is a jerk, and her sister is fooling around with my estranged twin brother, Cain. So what’s the problem? Besides falling for a woman who doesn’t know what she wants out of life? All I want to do is whisk her away from that church, take her to a cabin in the woods, and act out all our naughtiest fantasies. And I may just get the chance. . . .


MY THOUGHTS:

We met Bella Bigelow in The Hookup, which was Sophie and Cain's story. Cain's twin brother Christian Jordan becomes Bella's love interest in The Breakup. Currently, Bella is engaged to Bradley. She has suspected him of cheating. Once it is confirmed, she comes up with a plan. She wants Christian to teach her all about sex so that she can make Bradley want her - and then she'll dump him. Meanwhile, Christian is looking for his next hookup. He wants an unavailable woman and Bella may just be that woman. But then he discovers more than a few complications when it comes to his plan to seduce her.

For the most part Christian and Bella are interesting characters. Christian is a single father, a bartender and is not such a likeable guy in the first book, The Hookup. But this is his story here, and we get to see some layers peeled off. But, he still could have been better. Bella is quite confused. Actually she is rather vapid at times. She wants Bradley. She doesn't want Bradley. She wants Christian. She doesn't want Christian. It was a real boon when she came around to accepting who her heart, mind and body really wanted.

If you like a truly spicy read, then be sure to pick up this book! Bella and Christian share an amazing chemistry. The two make a great pair - he is as hot as they come and she is sexy as hell. If you want a quick, light and enjoyable read, be sure to pick up this book as well as the first in the series, which I would definitely recommend reading first. As there are more brothers, no doubt the series will continue.

Many thanks to Loveswept and to NetGalley for this ARC to review; this is my honest opinion.

PLEASE ENJOY THE FOLLOWING EXCERPT:

I opened the car door and grabbed the box of doughnuts and the very large bottle of chardonnay I had purchased on the drive over. I had taken a shower, removed the rest of my acrylics, fixed my hair extensions, and put on a sundress. Originally I had intended to smash on the doughnuts in my car, but that felt too criminal. I wasn’t trying to impress Christian Jordan. He could deal with me eating fried balls of dough. Thinking his son might be asleep for the night, I texted Christian instead of knocking on the door, so I didn’t wake Camp. When the door swung open I smiled at him, even as my mouth went dry. He was standing there with no shirt on and he was muscular and strong. Tan. Sexy. He had beard stubble, like he’d had a rough day and hadn’t bothered to shave. Which I had to assume he had since he’d spent the night before in jail. Even the dark circles under his eyes only served to make him look more rugged, more manly. He had on jeans, hanging low on his hips, the waistband of his black underwear visible. I swallowed hard when I noticed how carved his abs were and that there seemed to be a V leading down into his pants. My eyes shot back up to his and he looked amused, like he knew what I had been checking out. “Hi!” I said, and my voice was high-pitched and overly cheerful. “Thanks for letting me stop by. I brought you doughnuts and wine.” I flipped the lid of the doughnut box open to display an assortment of flavors. His eyebrows shot up. “Thanks. Come on in.” He didn’t offer to take anything from me and I struggled to hold the wine and close the lid again. It made me feel flustered. I wasn’t sure I could do this. I wasn’t sure I could ask Christian to teach me how to satisfy my fiancé so I could make him want me again, then dump him. But I followed Christian into the house. It was small and dark and dated. But when I stepped in and set the wine and the box on the coffee table, I could see it was very clean. I sank onto a plaid couch and glanced around. “Is your son in bed already?” He nodded. “Just put him down.” Christian was barefoot and he moved past me toward a small kitchen. “I’ll get you a glass.” “The wine is for you,” I lied. It was clear he didn’t believe me. “I’m not going to drink since I’m here alone with Camp. But I’ll get you a glass.” “Oh, well, there’s no point in opening the bottle then,” I said, and yes, I was disappointed. It must have been obvious, because he reversed his position. “Fine, I’ll have a glass too. Just one though.” I actually sighed in relief, and I think he was smart enough to notice. Christian returned with two mismatched wineglasses and a corkscrew. The glass he handed me had holly berries etched on it with Mayor’s Ball above the design. It looked like a party favor of some kind. “Sorry, that’s all my mother has,” he said. “I think she drinks wine out of juice glasses usually. We’re not about appearances here, in case you hadn’t noticed.” “This is fine, thank you.” He opened the wine and poured a full glass first for me, then for himself. I took a delicate sip. “Which doughnut would you like? You get first pick.” I turned the box with a flourish. “You seem like a chocolate glaze kind of guy. Or no, I think the bacon one. Do you like bacon?” I pointed to it and smiled at Christian. He stared at me and said with a slow, sexy drawl, “I want a cream filled.” “Oh!” I wasn’t even sure if I had gotten a cream-filled one. I scanned the box, flustered. Then my cheeks burned when I realized he had just meant it as a sexual innuendo. He probably didn’t even want a dang doughnut. But I snagged the Boston cream out of the box and held it out to him. “Here you go.” Christian took it from me and bit into it, taking nearly half the pastry into his mouth. “Mmm. Thanks.” He wasn’t doing anything unusual, but for some reason I felt hot all over. I fanned myself. “Is it warm in here?” “Yes, sorry. No air-conditioning.” “Does that mean you’re not going to put a shirt on?” I was both horrified and intrigued by that. I didn’t want to see him shirtless. Yet I couldn’t stop looking at his chest. “That’s exactly what it means. Pretend we’re at the beach. Or maybe locked in a closet together.” Not something I wanted to picture at all. No room to move. Christian close to me. Our bodies brushing. I crossed my legs tightly and chose a doughnut covered in sprinkles. I took a minuscule bite, so tiny it almost wasn’t worth it. But I was afraid of it, in a weird way. I had trained myself to think of sweets and fat and carbs as the enemy. Sugar exploded in my mouth. I closed my eyes, overcome with pleasure. “Holy moly, that tastes so good. Oh my God.” I took another, bigger bite. “You haven’t had a doughnut in a while?” he asked, sitting down on a chair next to the couch and sliding back into it, his legs spread. “It’s been eleven years since I ate a doughnut. It’s like a unicorn to me at this point. They don’t exist.” The feeling that swept over me was legitimate euphoria. I dipped my tongue inside the doughnut to scrape away a huge blob of buttercream icing. It actually gave me goosebumps and I sighed in ecstasy. “Do you have any idea how sexy you are?” he asked. “Or is that the game? You know it and you’re trying to drive me crazy. Because if that’s what it is, it’s working.” Shocked, I shook my head. Beautiful, attractive, thin, sure. I knew I was those things. But sexy? No. I never felt sexy. Sexy was for women who knew how to let down their guard and get messy and dirty. That wasn’t me. Ever. “I wasn’t trying to do anything. I just really forgot how good doughnuts taste.” “That’s kind of insane, you know. Eleven years?” He took a sip of his wine and swished it around like it was mouthwash. “But I’m glad you’re enjoying it.” I was too busy chewing another mouthful to respond. “So, besides wanting an excuse to eat a doughnut in a judgment-free zone, can I ask why you’re here?” This was the tricky part. How did I express myself without sounding totally pathetic? “Is this a judgment-free zone?” I asked to stall and gauge his receptiveness. “Yes.” Christian nodded. He finished off his wine, watching me as he did. “And I think you picked me because you know that. Look around you. Nothing here to be pretentious about. Local loser and all that.” My pleasure was interrupted by the shame of those words. “I’m sorry. I still can’t believe I said that. Honestly, I’m a nice person.” I wanted everyone around me to be happy, to feel special—I’ve always been this way. I couldn’t believe I had taken out my insecurity on Christian in such an ugly way when I was drunk. “Water under the bridge, Bella. Doesn’t mean I won’t give you s*** about it when I can though.” He grinned and leaned forward, picked up a doughnut with powdered sugar dusted over the top. “Here. You know you want it.” I did. My mouth watered. I fought with myself. One was fine, but two? Like how disgusting would that be? But he was smiling at me and it wasn’t a lecherous smile. It was oddly sweet. Like he thought I was cute. I took it and bit it, feeling a little sullen and a lot guilty. “Don’t feel guilty,” he said, as if he could read my thoughts. “You’re too skinny anyway.” That had me dropping the doughnut. “What? What are you talking about? I’m not emaciated.” I was mortified. I worked hard to be thin and in shape. Really hard. To hear that he thought I was unattractive was just absolutely humiliating. I stood up quickly. “I should go.” “What?” He stood up too and grabbed my arm. “Why? Why did that upset you?” I forced myself to look at him. “It’s not a big deal.” Just that my fiancé apparently thought I was unattractive and now clearly this random guy did too. “I just think I made a mistake in coming here.” I wasn’t even sure what the heck I was doing anymore. It was a new sensation for me and I hated it. I had never felt so unsure of myself. “Just tell me what’s going on,” he said. “And then we can decide if it was a mistake or not.” I stopped to consider his words. Normally, I was tenacious in getting what I wanted. I had inherited that from my mother. And I was here already anyway. So I forced my chin up and told him the truth. “I came here to ask you to help me be better at sex.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

USA Today and New York Times Bestselling author Erin McCarthy first published in 2002 and has since written over sixty novels and novellas in teen fiction, new adult romance, paranormal, and contemporary romance. Erin is a RITA finalist and an ALA Reluctant Young Reader award recipient, and is both traditionally and indie published.
When she’s not writing she can be found sipping martinis in high heels or eating ice cream in fleece pajamas depending on the day, and herding her animals, kids, and amazing renovation-addicted husband.

Contact Erin:

Review: Reclaiming Raven

Title:  Reclaiming Raven
Author:  Mary Holt
Genre:  Psychological Thriller
Series:  Raven, Book 1
Format:  Kindle ARC
Date Published:  July 27, 2018
Publisher:  Solstice Publishing
No. of Pages:  286
Rating:  4.5 Stars


GOODREADS BLURB:

Murder, even in self-defense, is a preemptive act. Raven Balback’s obsessive husband demands she return to their marriage. The frightened woman, partially paralyzed from her last encounter with him, flees. Unable to locate his wife, Cole burns the buildings that sheltered her in the past and endangers lives. Raven must decide whether to sacrifice herself for strangers or grasp for a life free of her vows.


MY THOUGHTS:


Raven Ballback  takes a powerful action against her wickedly abusive husband Cole. She strikes him in the cane when he is in the process of attacking her. Rachel is severely disabled, and is rather shocked that she finally got the upper hand against Cole. If she had been in danger from him before, she is even more so now. When he comes around, she knows he will be after her.

Paralyzed on one side, running away will not be easy for her, but Raven has made a plan to run, and follows through. Due to an unfortunate incident, he may know where she is, so she runs even further away. Raven is very intelligent, strong and enterprising. Although she is always in danger, she fights with everything she has. She knows that Cole will not stop any anything to find her and reclaim her.  In order to stay safe, Raven must learn to trust again - but oh, what a risk that is!

Reclaiming Raven starts out with a bang and the book holds that level of intensity throughout. While reading this book, I found it incredibly amazing that this is a debut author. My interest was captured throughout and I read this book in one sitting. It is wickedly fast-paced and I was on the edge of my seat for Raven. Cole is a man with demons, but enough smarts to always be ahead of the game. Would Cole find her?

With an overfull queue, I expected this book to be in my TBR for quite a while, but after gleaning the first few words - not even pages in - I realized that I could not put it down! I even tried to sleep after the first 20% or so, but, alas, I had to wait it through and read it from cover-to-cover. As I reached the thrilling conclusion, I was incredibly impressed by Raven's strength.

Raven is as strong as they come. Though Cole nearly took her life more than once and caused her disability, what he did not take was her fighting spirit. Cole is not just dangerous to Raven, but to anyone connected to her. In all honesty, I was afraid this book could possibly trigger me as Raven suffered such horrible abuse, and the memories of it were haunting. Instead, I was left rallying for her, page after page. There were many warm and sensitive moments in this book. Kudos to Mary Holt for a such a well-written story that was utterly captivating. I will definitely be following this author for more in this series and any future works she produces.

Many thanks to Mary Holt for this ARC to review in exchange for my honest opinion.


EXCERPT FROM CHAPTER ONE:

Raven startled awake and thrashed to free herself. Cole sat on her chest, and the moonlight lit the steel in his hand, matching the glint in his eyes. He lowered his voice and spoke as if to a frightened animal. “I missed you, love. So frigging much.” She knew from experience that the sweeter his tone, the harsher the action to follow. Raven guessed her death would arrive with low, honeyed laughter. His left hand stroked her jaw, and she fought not to scream. “Did you lie, bitch?” His voice cut as sharp as the knife he held under her right eye, the unaffected one. “I can’t breathe,” she said. “The truth. Tell me what you told them.” He bullied details for days and his wife for eternity. A hatred of sleep and intense focus made him relentless. “I didn’t say anything. I couldn’t speak.” The rhythm of her voice had changed after the incident. It became unbalanced, rushed in places and drawn out in others. The syllables often slurred in a muddle. “Doctors helped you, but I suffered alone.” His injured tone pierced her heart. She felt the compassion the stories of his childhood brought. Raven understood why solitude frightened him. “You found me,” she said. His triumphs often resulted in her hell. His face brightened. Marriage to Cole demanded unending praise. Admiration fueled him, food never did. “Now, we’ll be together forever. I’ll make sure,” he said, a blissful smile on his face. Lightning shot through her brain. Blinding. Electric. Fatal. How had her nightmare picked up in the same spot? All precautions had proven useless. He leaned down and looked into her eyes, “I still see you in there.” If he saw her, he would not be here. The naïve bride had vanished. If her life ended tonight, a different woman than the one he set out to kill would die. His left hand claimed her breast and found the nipple, taunting it. She felt his excitement increase, and metal clanged as he set the blade on the table. Cole lifted his hips to gain access to her panties. She knew the rules, had learned them long ago. No sound of protest escaped her lips. No flash of temper crossed her face. Cries of terror only bounced off the walls of her mind. He rocked back to grasp the white-cotton protecting her sex, and his weight lifted from her strong right arm. Raven’s hand found the hardwood cane lying along the bed frame, and she swung it with all her strength. The brass end struck Cole’s skull, which God had made of a far more fragile material. Garbled grief and fear poured out of Raven’s mouth. Anyone who overheard would believe tortured aliens created the sound. She struggled to remove her legs from under her husband’s collapsed and bleeding body. Being wedged under a rotting corpse could not have terrified her more. Once freed, she planned to make sure he would never rise again. If Cole woke up, he would kill her. She preferred that to spending the rest of their lives together, but only one of them could walk out of this room. Raven closed her eyes and concentrated her courage. With a distressed howl, she swung again and felt the shock as wood struck bone. Sick, she dropped her weapon. The second blow connected with cheekbone, not skull. Her head swam, and she needed to vomit. No physical or mental strength remained to launch a third strike. “Hurry, darn it,” she ordered herself as she dressed with the functional use of only one arm. Sweatpants on, she attached a shoe to her lifeless left foot. Her right slid into the footwear without trouble. Cole lay sprawled across the bed, and she smelled his blood. Underestimating him had caused her great misery in the past. If she failed to kill him, she knew she granted him another chance to murder her. She reminded herself that he had once given her Rohypnol and taken a Viagra. Days later, he forced her to watch the tapes. The memory of the violation gripped her as she reconsidered allowing him to live. Raping her did not satisfy him as much as humiliating her with the knowledge did. The external world had gone silent, but the demons inside her head shrieked curses. “Do it now,” she said out loud. “You’ve got to get out of here.” She gulped air by the lungful, hoping to inhale the nerve to finish it. Time grew short. Prison frightened her as much as her husband did. The police would lock her up with a thousand tormentors just like the one knocked out on the bed. Marriage taught her freedom meant everything. She would not jeopardize it. Raven had packed an escape pack and placed it in the closet near the door. She opened it and found Cole had not disturbed the contents. Possessions meant nothing to him. For the last year of their marriage, they had lived in a remote cabin with only necessary comforts. She made her way to the elevator. On the street, the first morning commuters headed into the day. She had parked her car four blocks away, a vast distance to drag a dead leg and a bag. The icy air bit into her face and her teeth chattered. In Raven’s new life, pain remained constant and relief only visited. The bullet to the brain had sentenced her to a lifetime of dragging a paralyzed left side. Afraid her husband had found his feet and chased her; she pushed faster. An uneven sidewalk heaved up and plunged down, uncaring about her rush. The hostile wind forced her eyes shut for a moment too long, and she fell hard to the pavement. Her unbuttoned coat blew back, away from her wretched body. “Just fricking kill me!” she screamed. The irony that she stumbled while running for her life did not cross her mind. Raven let go of the bag and cane while she struggled to her knees. Her skinned palm grasped the cold mesh of a chain link fence, and she pulled herself to a standing position. The sweatpants had torn, and blood stained her knee. “Damn it all to hell,” she cursed. Cole did not allow her to use foul language, and she felt a forbidden rush. She picked up her belongings and hobbled down the street, aware of the lost time. The white film coating the twenty-year-old wreck did nothing to improve its looks. Most people walked past without registering a make, model or color. That’s precisely why she chose it. A glance down the block failed to reassure her, even though she saw no one she knew. Her key stuck momentarily, and she mewled in fear. What if Cole came before she got it open? She could not outrun him. She leaned in and placed her stuff on the passenger side. Holding onto the door frame, she turned the back of her knees to the driver’s seat and sat when they hit. Spinning to face the windshield, Raven grabbed the fabric of her pants and lifted the weak left leg into the car. She called 911 before putting it in gear. Fifteen minutes later, she entered the highway. Her hand relaxed on the wheel, and she breathed a bit easier. The rearview showed neither Cole nor the police. She had never sought a restraining order against her husband. Isolation had made it impossible, and a piece of paper would never convince him to leave her alone. Now the cops would want to talk to her, and might even issue a warrant. Raven worried she had killed him. She had hit him as hard as she could. Twice. Her stomach lurched upwards in a dry heave. If the only man she had ever wanted still lived, he would find her. If he died, she had committed murder. Both scenarios spun off tornadoes of terror. Sobs shook her, so she steered to the shoulder. Not wanting a patrol car to stop and offer help, Raven moved on again after five minutes. She had no confidence the trembling would ever stop and dreaded the combination of spastcity and paralysis. An hour later, she pulled off I-95. The disinfectant smell of the rest area gagged her and made her remember months of physical rehab spent relearning to walk. As Raven fought the massive double doors, the floor became spongy. Waves appeared in the air as if someone had superheated the building. Crossing the lobby, the tip of her cane seemed to sink into solid flooring. Hell lay beneath the world’s false veneer, but she already knew that. No one else shared the ladies room, and she indulged in a long-delayed meltdown. Her good fist pounded the walls as she cried. Unable to kick, she rammed her shoulder against the partitions. “Why?” Raven knew the answer to that. She had auditioned for her part in this horror film, begged for it. Alone and afraid, she had thrown herself at Cole, drowning them both. “Lady, you okay?” The voice must have belonged to the geriatric maintenance man she had watched mop the red tiled floor. She had not realized noise from her tantrum carried through the wall. “Yes,” she lied. “Can I call someone to help?” asked the janitor. “No. Please.” Raven turned her aggression toward herself for drawing attention. “I’m okay. I swear.” “I’m supposed to report any damage--” Fear jumped in her chest, and she tried to sound normal. “Sir, it's fine. I promise you. You can come check in a moment.” The words separated themselves from one another instead of piling up. She hoped her voice sounded like it belonged to a sane person. After a quick wash in the sink, Raven made her halting way into the lobby. Embarrassed, she apologized to the attendant and waited while he checked the restroom. “Seizure?” the man asked upon his return. “Yes,” she said. Telling lies on the morning she might have killed her husband seemed a forgivable sin. She moved the car to a spot behind a semi, out of the attendant’s view. An ancient hand-crank opened the window and let out the stench of fear. Cole stood little chance of locating her on the road unless she pulled a stupid stunt like her bathroom fit. Official involvement in her life became trackable, the last thing she wished to be. She looked up the address of the closest spy shop on her smartphone. The store catered to voyeurs, blackmailers and private detectives. She needed to confirm he did not track her. The GPS formulated a route, and she pulled out to follow it. The store had not opened yet, so she stopped for breakfast on the way. A plate of pancakes disappeared without guilt. Her husband had decided when or if she ate. The thought of unrestricted food still made her greedy. She paid the tab and drove the final blocks. The large specialty store handled the sale of firearms and ammo in addition to surveillance cameras and equipment. The handgun case drew her attention while she waited. “Need a weapon?” The clerk appraised her. She thought the fact that her face slid down until it pooled at her jawline should provide n enough protection, but it did not. A decent severe disability should both repel people and score a good parking spot. “Yes,” she said. Her heart lurched, and bile sprayed into her stomach. “There’s no waiting period, but the state requires you obtain the permit first.” “How long’s that take?” “It’s no mistake.” The man had misunderstood her. Strangers often did. “How long does the paperwork take?” She did her best to separate each syllable and keep them from humping one another. “They respond within forty days,” said the clerk. “I’ll be gone. Any way we can--” She let the suggestion linger. BC, before Cole, her natural attributes as a woman worked to grant her desires. This side of the abyss, she thought of herself as a charmless crone. If people extended kindness, it sprang from a well of pity. “No,” he said and meant it. Raven reminded herself that she hated guns. Look what happened last time. She might blow her head off to make the voices and memories disappear. Maybe that is why she looked in the case. Jumpy, she could always tell herself it had been an accident. Cash ran low, too. Disability did not pay, especially if it happened before a person built a career. In a quarter century of life, she had only established an inability to judge people. Marriage entitled her to money, but drawing any of it out would lead her husband straight to her. “Would you be willing to check my car for tracking devices?” she asked the clerk. He stared to calculate her level of paranoia. She knew the skill protected his business but thought his profits relied on the unstable. “I can sell you one,” he offered. “How much?” she asked. “Two hundred.” She said, “I don’t have it. Wand it for twenty?” She pulled the bill from a pocket. The sight of money made people greedy. The muscular man looked around the store and out the plate glass window to assess the danger. She watched the scenarios flip through his expression. He might be worried about an accomplice outside, ready to bash in his head. Leaving made him and the store vulnerable. Inside his domain, he stood a fighting chance. “I don’t think so,” he said after a brief delay. The clerk must have concluded the risk to be greater than the reward Stressed beyond her limits, she cried. “Jesus Christ,” the man said after a change of heart. “Fast.” Raven had run for sport in the past. The concept now struck her as funny. She whirled toward the door and clomped her way through it before the clerk changed his mind. He grabbed a handheld device from under the counter and followed. Five minutes later, she thanked him and got back in the car. “The twenty,” he said. She handed over the bill. Knowing that Cole did not trace her movements brought her peace. Sitting in the parking lot would have made the store guy nervous, so she drove a few blocks to a fast food restaurant. She had accomplished her one vital task. Now, she needed to form a plan. In the beginning, she had believed the immensity of her husband’s love had given her the upper hand. Intoxicated with sexual power, she felt Cole would bend to her will. She abandoned herself to his world-changing passion and found the depths profound and addicting. His obsession taught her personal validation. An inner warning chimed in Raven’s head, and she sought the parking lot exit. She had not put enough distance between herself and Boston. She did not know her destination but must drive. He could not anticipate her whereabouts if she did not know where she headed. The highway forced a decision. North or South? More US territory lie to the South of Boston, and the weather boasted above freezing temperatures. Any child could have told her husband which direction she chose. Fifteen hundred miles away, the temperatures hung in the eighties. She concentrated on that as the sleet changed to snow. Ice made forward progress painstaking, and the defroster did not clear the windshield. Her gloved right hand held an ice scraper. Every three or four minutes, she steadied the wheel with her left elbow and used the tool to create a porthole. The day had grown darker, not lighter as most do. Snow limited visibility to a few car lengths. She could not discern travel lanes. Brake lights indicated other beings still existed, and that she was not trapped alone in a snow globe shaken by Cole. Driving conditions had become unsafe, and most motorists had abandoned the roadways. Headlights broke Raven’s trance as a semi approached in the rearview mirror. The eighteen-wheeler’s weight, size, and decent tires provided him with a stability her junker did not possess. She decided to follow the bigger vehicle instead of breaking trail. Getting behind the trucker required a lane change. The left lane remained unused. No tracks marked the deepening snow. The shoulder to the right had not been driven on, either. She scraped the inside of the windshield and muttered. “Please. Go around, go around.” The driver blew his horn and blinked his lights, startling her. He wanted her out of his way. She turned on her cautions, but the truck drew closer to her bumper. Her wipers beat but failed to remove the snow. The idea that the powerful forced lesser individuals to sacrifice themselves infuriated her. “Damn you!” she shouted. “You’ve no right!” Paid by the mile, the eighteen-wheeler continued his attempt to coerce her into driving faster or pulling over. Let him take the risk in the unplowed lane, she thought. She could not afford to crash the car. # Raven awoke on a stretcher with no idea of her whereabouts. She attempted to sit up, but straps thwarted her. She struggled against her bonds, terrified. A kind-faced EMT said, “Ma’am, can you hear me? You’re going to be alright. My partner and I are here to take care of you, and we’re good at our jobs.” He yelled at the ambulance driver, “She’s awake.” “What’s going on?” she asked. The paramedic’s expression showed genuine confusion. “Song? You hear a song? Sometimes I sing, but my friend up front told me to stop. He doesn’t have a musical ear.” She repeated herself, and this time the man smiled with understanding. “You were in an accident. Slid into the guardrail from what I saw. Your front bumper’s a mess. The roads are treacherous, and they’re calling for six more inches of snow. How do you feel?” “My head hurts.” “You must’ve hit it on the steering wheel. We don’t see that much anymore due to the air bags in new vehicles. Yours is far from new, though, huh? The old ones have actual metal, though. The bumpers aren’t plastic like nowadays. That probably helped you. It’s a tradeoff. The--” The chatty man took her vitals and relayed them on the radio. “I can’t be here,” she said. The restraints held, and she wiggled in claustrophobia and fear. Immobilization managed to raise the anxiety level of a woman fleeing a killer. Awareness of her physical vulnerability heightened every nerve ending. “We’ll be to the hospital in ten minutes. It’s slow going. You wouldn’t want to be in two accidents in one day, would you? I once heard a--” “Take me back to my car,” Her voice sounded more strident than pleading. She shifted her shoulders again. “And untie me.” “As I said, it's not that far. I got you. You’re--” “My car. My car. Where is it?” They couldn’t keep her, could they? Her mind raced to remember what she knew of the law. She knew they were to help an unconscious person but not someone who refused their assistance. “A tow truck took it. It’ll be in the impound. You can go over there and make arrangements to have it moved to a repair shop. The doctors need to check you out first. You suffered quite a bump on the noggin.” “Crap.” “Excuse me?” “Never mind.” Cole provided her health insurance. Inputting that information would leave a trail, but she did not have cash to pay. There might be an arrest warrant out for her. Did hospitals check those? “Where’s my stuff?” she asked. “I’ve got your backpack. It was the only thing I saw that I thought you’d need right away. The rest’s in the car,” said the kind man who had no idea that instead of saving her life, he endangered it. “Don’t worry.” “Give it here,” she demanded. “It’s safe. I put it on the--,” said the attendant, pointing. “Give it to me!” “Calm down,” he said, but he handed her the bag. “Getting upset will not help your headache or your blood pressure.” She found her wallet, phone, and laptop. She would have to do without the rest. “It hurts,” she said. “We’re here,” said the driver as the vehicle came to a stop. “Let’s get her unloaded.” The paramedic released the giant metal clasps that held the stretcher in place. He jumped down and stood to the right side. The driver manned the left. Together, they pulled the gurney forward until the rolling legs unfolded from underneath, one set at a time. The transition felt smooth, but a bolt of pain shot through Raven’s head nonetheless. “AAAggghh,” she cried. “Sorry about that,” said the man who had ridden in back with her. They entered the automatic doors into the Emergency Department, bypassing the desk and the triage station out front. A nurse, clipboard in hand, said, “What do we have?” “MVA, female, twenty-five-years-old, possible head trauma. Unconscious for up to ten minutes. Respirations 20, BP 130/76, pulse 90.” Good. She thought she would be fine unless a subdural hematoma put pressure on her brain. That could kill her in a matter of hours. If it were that or Cole, she would gamble on the pain-free death and consider it a win. “How’re you, dear?” The nurse asked. Prominent impairment caused strangers to use endearments when speaking to Raven. Most days the infantilization angered her. “My head hurts.” She let her speech remain thick. Her only hope lay in the nurse believing her incapable of providing personal information. Disability as disguise. “A doctor will be right in, sweetie. Let’s get you comfortable.” The nurse and EMT’s used the sheet to transfer her from the stretcher to the bed. She moaned with conviction and clutched her belongings. The paramedics took another radio call and left. She smiled. Now they could not inform the condescending caregiver that she functioned well enough to drive and know her name. A white coat wearing physician arrived moments later and reviewed the nurse’s preliminary report. She checked Raven’s pupillary reactions and said, “Do you know your name?” She didn’t answer. “Do you know what day it is?” Still no reply. “CT scan STAT,” the doctor ordered the nurse. “Draw labs when she returns.” “I’ll help you into a gown, honey.” The nurse reached to set the bag out of the way. “No! Mine!” Her scream sounded bloodcurdling in a pathetic, garbled way. Let them assume a developmental disability, she thought. “Don’t upset her,” said the doctor. “She might injure herself, and we can’t sedate her until we know what’s going on.” “I can’t put her in the--” began the nurse. The doctor said, “It’s a head CT. Her clothing doesn’t matter.” The nurse flushed red. She left the room and returned carrying a wristband which she attached to Raven’s right hand. “A nice man is coming to take you for a test. It won’t hurt. We’ve called your husband, and he’s on his way.” She looked in horror at the words ‘Raven Balback’ printed on the band. The hospital knew her name. The paramedic must have rifled her bag while she lay unconscious. Her wallet held an old emergency card. She had acted as retarded as she wanted them to believe. She needed to run. Now. Cole must be a hero in the nurse’s eyes. He stuck around after his wife’s horrific transformation. A vow-keeper. Her blood ran cold, and she shook with dread. The room temperature dropped as if a cadre of ghosts visited. A young man in green scrubs walked through the door. “CT?” He scanned the wristband that sealed her fate, and they took off. Fluorescent lights lined the hallways. She concentrated on memorizing the turns. Returning here meant death. Three minutes later, she arrived in the radiology department. A large red sign hung outside the Magnetic Resonance Imaging Lab. No metal allowed in the room. Years ago, she had read about a fatal accident in an MRI lab. The magnet had pulled an oxygen tank from across the room and crushed a patient’s skull. The orderly entered the CT booth to announce their arrival. Raven’s thoughts ran a loop of the single word, ‘run.’ The young man returned and said, “I’ve got a STAT call. They’ll be out within five minutes.” With that, he strode off. Her head screamed and vision blurred from the pain when she pulled herself to a sitting position. Putting the bag over her back involved threading it over the useless left arm and shimmying her right side into it. She lost expensive seconds. The staff had called him. He answered. Cole was alive and would come for her. She tried to manipulate the safety railing, but her fingers could not complete the motion. It required two hands, and she had one. Tears obstructed her vision. Panicked and frustrated, she shook the barrier to her freedom. Her lifeless leg would not allow her to hop over the side. The foot or head of the bed provided the only hope. If she backed off of the closest raised end, she would land on her back. She decided to scoot her bottom towards the opening on the far end. Her right hand pulled her forward, but the left side impeded progress by refusing to inchworm. Lifting the leg each time she wiggled cost valuable time. Her brain criticized her, just as it had done before the gun went off. The selfish organ had delegated most of the trauma to her lower limbs then issued judgments about their pace. The door to the CT room remained closed, and her ears strained for the sounds of someone approaching. The open hallway presented dangers of employees to stop her, or worse, Cole. The exposure frightened her, and sobs rose in her throat. She squelched them. Time flattened out, and Raven reached her destination three feet away. She sat for a half a second with her knees dangled over the edge. Someone had left a walker outside the MRI lab. To get to it, she must make her way back to the head of the bed. Exhausted and in pain, she wanted to give up. A sound inside the room indicated people moved closer to the door. Her injury precluded walking without her cane. The rails that had kept her captive provided stability as she moved towards the goal. The trip around the bed took far too long. When she reached the bed corner nearest the MRI lab, Raven was forced to let go of her support. One step. Two. Unassisted and wobbling, she reminded herself that as a child, she had once hopped on one leg. She could do this. Between attempts, she stopped to regain her balance. A fall at this time would ruin everything. Her headache worsened with the action and the stress. Reaching the objective required a total of ten steps. When at last she clasped the walker in her right hand, she shook with relief. Overheard movement on the other side of the door did not allow her to remain and relish her victory. Any second now, someone would come to get her for the scan. Or the patient undergoing an MRI would finish and desire their walker back. She had come too close to give up now. A group stood at the far side end of the hallway. She turned her back to them and made her way around the corner. Following signs, she sought the elevator. A restroom appeared on the right, and though she had no time, she entered it. She heard voices in the hall as she pulled up her pants. “I left her here,” said the orderly’s familiar voice. “You saw the bed.” He sounded defensive. “CT hasn’t seen her,” said an unknown female. “Maybe she’s in the ladies room.” Raven held her breath. The facilities she had chosen were marked employees only. “Let’s check it out before we issue an alert,” said one, and the voices moved away. Raven washed her hands, adjusted her bag and opened the door. Peering out, she saw no one she recognized. The elevator lie twenty yards ahead. Once there, she punched the button and prayed for the car to show up. A ding alerted her, and she wheeled in the walker. Elevator door still open, she heard the orderly’s voice once again. “Any other ideas?” he said. She hit the ‘close doors’ symbol, and they slid shut. ‘L’ for lobby started the descent, and relief washed over her. Almost there. Almost where? She did not have the time or money to get the car out of the impound lot. She chose to leave it. # A valet stand stood in front of the hospital. “Can I get a taxi?” she asked. Raven read pity in the employee’s look. Whether he directed it to her overall wretchedness or the large bruise that now obscured the good side of her face, she did not know. In either case, his glance did not last. “Sure,” he said and pulled out a cell phone. She extended two crumpled one-dollar bills, but he shook his head and said, “You keep it.” A cab pulled up, and the driver opened her door and helped her in. He took the walker around to place it in the trunk. “Main bus station,” she said, and they left. She wondered about how long it would take her husband to catch up. Not long. He had found her in Boston, and he would find her again. Cole’s parents had insisted their son become their version of a man. They taught him to persevere against pain, never to give ground, and to take what he desired. They had given him money instead of love, and he would use that to locate her. Raven did not know which city she was in, much less the route to the terminal. She would have to trust the driver and the meter. Seven minutes after she entered the taxi, they arrived at the destination. The driver unloaded a wheelchair from the back as well as the walker. He had mistaken one used for hospital transport as hers. The man helped her into the chair and hung the walker on the push pegs. She paid him, engaged the one-armed drive on the chair, and pushed her way up the ramp. She located the restroom sign and rolled towards it. Once in the stall, she took inventory of all she owned. Laptop, sunglasses, and a change of clothing were in the bag. She found her phone, two protein bars, and a bottle of water at the bottom. Raven checked the contents of her wallet and discovered her debit card, a never used Visa, and two hundred and fifty-seven dollars. She would not receive another disability check for nine days. The lighted board displayed bus schedules, and she scanned for the next departure. One left for Chicago in thirteen minutes. She hurried to the counter and ordered the sixty-seven dollar ticket. “The bus isn’t equipped with a lift,” said the agent. “An accessible bus has to be requested at least twenty-four hours in advance. The information’s on the website. “It’s okay.” “There are three steps.” The words unsettled her, but she clenched her teeth and nodded understanding. She must get on that bus. If she crawled, so be it. Ticket on her lap, she made her way out the door to bay two. A group of passengers delivered their luggage to the storage compartments on the side of the bus and boarded. She looked for the cutout access but did not find one. The entire curb sat six inches high. “Sir,” she called to the man loading bags. “Can you please help me?” The wheelchair increased her level of patheticness. She needed all the compassion she could garner at the moment. Her intuition screamed that she ran out of time. Raven received a blank look in response and became unsure if the man spoke English. Maybe he lacked fluency in brain injury dialect. She indicated her chair and walker with a wave of her arm. The employee looked around to see if anyone else could exempt him from assisting, then came forward. She set the brakes and used her right hand to push off from the chair. In her hurry, she forgot the ticket on her lap. It fluttered down, and the wind caught it and carried it away. “Please,” she said. “The ticket!” Her voice became a dolphin’s shriek, unintelligible even to her. She sat back in the chair to keep from falling. The uniformed baggage man chased after her receipt, but it flew under a bus two lanes over. “All aboard for Chicago and points in between,” came the final call from the driver. “Wait,” she said. “He’s gone after my ticket.” Missing this bus was not an option. Cole headed to the hospital. From there, it would not take him long to find her. “Without a ticket, I can’t let you on,” said the driver. He did not appear heartbroken. Before she had regained her ability to stand, buses used to stop and board everyone else. The driver would then inform her the lift was out of order and leave without an apology. “Please,” her voice sounded thick and shaky again. “I bought one. It blew away.” The driver stepped out of the doorway, closed the baggage compartment himself, then said again, “All aboard!” He did not glance at her. “Asshole!” she yelled as the bus backed out. Impotent rage consumed her until fear overshadowed it. In a panic, she fumbled her phone. It fell to the pavement. Seated in the wheelchair, Raven could not reach the ground. She struggled to her feet and hung onto the unstable frame to reclaim the lost item. As she lowered her head, the pain intensified. Upright again, it took a moment for the assault to clear. The attendant handed her dirty and damp ticket back. She burst into tears, and he responded in soothing Spanish. Another driver approached and said, “I’m leaving in five. Want me to exchange that for you?” Raven offered tears of gratitude. Every exit had shut as she reached for it. Maybe hope still existed. “Next bus to Chicago?” he asked after inspecting the ticket. “No,” she said with conviction. “Where are you going?” “Miami. With ten stops.” “How much more?” “Through to Miami? I don’t know. Probably a hundred.” He reappraised her with caution. She thought he must wonder why she would change her destination. The cost would leave her less than a hundred dollars but would take her far from Boston. She must get away. The police would not help. Cole could prove he was her husband, and that she fled the hospital with a head injury. If they did not arrest her, they would return her to his care. A woman with significant disabilities lost her voice. She passed the driver the money. In basic Spanish, he asked the baggage handler to get her settled. The man wheeled her to the door and stood protectively behind as she made her laborious way up the stairs. She found a seat in the rear. The chemical toilet smelled unpleasant, so no other passengers had chosen to sit that far back. She did not wish to embarrass herself every time she needed the facilities, so the position worked for her. The shorter the walking distance, the better. “It’s thirty hours to Miami,” said the driver when he returned and handed her the ticket and ten dollars in change. “I get off in DC.” The words warned her she could not cling to him. The driver did not need to worry. She desired to be left alone.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


For twenty years, I was a foster mom to two profoundly disabled young women. They became the center of the family, and everyone who knew us, knew them. We traveled all over the US and Canada, schlepping wheelchairs, oxygen tanks, G-tube feeding supplies and medications for six weeks at a time every summer.

T
he idea for Raven was born from my experience with the girls. Though one was non-verbal and the other used very few words, they knew so much more than they were able to express. I would make a terrible eye-witness to a crime, but they noticed the smallest changes in their surroundings.

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