Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Introducing The Stranger by Anna del Mar

I’m so pleased to introduce The Stranger, my newest romantic suspense and the second book of the Wounded Warrior Series, out Monday, August 22nd and coming on the heels of the Amazon bestseller, The Asset

Like The Asset, The Stranger is also about a strong heroine trying to find her place in the world and a brave, hot alpha fighting his own demons who will stop at nothing to protect the woman he loves.
One cool fact about the Wounded Warrior Series is that you can read these novels in whichever order you prefer. The books are interrelated in themes but each story stands on its own. I want all of you to know that I strive to make each novel unique, each character different, each setting distinct, and each journey an exceptional romantic suspense adventure that leads to evolving, meaningful, heart-warming relationships and yes, true and forever love.
So while The Asset and The Stranger are both romantic suspense and share in theme, style and level of heat—read hot here—these two are bound to be very different novels. Don’t ever expect the same from me!
While I’m at it, this differentiation also holds true for the novels of my erotic romance series. If you’ve read At the Brink, then you know what I mean. My romantic suspense novels are different from my erotic romances, which are written at an even higher level of heat, meaning hot + edgy + most definitively naughty.
Having said all of that, I’m delighted to introduce you to the main characters of The Stranger, Seth Erickson and Summer Silva. Seth Erickson is a powerful Alaskan tycoon dealing with a quarreling family and a hostile takeover attempt. He’s also a helicopter pilot, a wounded warrior struggling to recover from injuries he sustained while serving in Afghanistan, a man haunted by his past and fighting his own demons. Seth is the classic alpha, blunt, systematic and precise, always cool and in command, a man who despises emotion and sticks to his icy logic… most of the time.
When Seth comes across a beautiful stranger stranded in a desolate Alaskan road, he’s aggravated. He’s got no time for a lady in distress and he suspects she’s a trap from his ruthless enemies. Imagine his surprise as he realizes she really does need his help. Imagine how he feels when he meets fire in the flesh, Summer Silva.
Summer Silva is a warmth-loving Miami architect who has come to Alaska chasing after her reckless sibling, who ran away with a guy she met on the internet. Summer is bright, curious, hard-working and dutiful. She’s essentially a tropical being with a fiery attitude and a heart of gold. Alaska had never been on her list of places to visit, but here she is, off-grid, having just survived an inexplicable murder attempt, with a Bering Sea superstorm bearing down on her. Because of her past, she doesn’t trust anyone outside her family and that includes the cantankerous, irritating stranger who is also her only hope for rescue.
Seth has no choice. He can’t very well leave the woman to freeze in the Alaskan wilderness. So he takes Summer to his high-tech cabin for the night. But Summer has a secret. Dream chasing, the Native Athabaskans call it. I’m afraid I can’t give up the twist here—you know me and my twists—but you’ll find out what that’s all about when you read the story. J
Suffice is to say that when Summer’s secret acts up, she ends up in Seth’s bed, where he embraces her sweet seduction and discovers the heat of Summer’s flame. Entwined in her arms, Summer becomes the superstorm of Seth’s lifetime.
As you may suspect, the morning after is quite a mess. Ice and fire meet and sparks fly. But Seth is determined to keep Summer safe from her foes, but also, from her nightmares. And now two strangers from different worlds and opposite spectrums of the thermometer are caught in a vortex of passion that defies their differences and enrages their enemies. To survive, they must unravel the intrigues that threaten their lives and chase after a new dream in spectacular Alaska. 
The Stranger
A Wounded Warrior Novel
Book Two
Anna del Mar

Genre: Romantic Suspense, Contemporary romance, SEAL romance, Military Romance

Publisher: Carina Press

Date of Publication: August 22, 2016

eISBN: 9781459294301

Number of pages: 323 pages
Word Count: 110,000 words approx.

Cover Artist: Carina Press

Tagline: Ex-military pilot Seth Erickson is fighting his own demons, but when he finds Summer Silva, a beautiful, warmth-loving, Miami woman stranded in the frozen wilderness, he’ll do everything in his power to keep her safe from murder, treason, and the ruthless Alaskan winter.

Book Description:

When a mysterious stranger is your only hope...

The scars of the past have left their mark, both physical and emotional, on former military pilot Seth Erickson. Off-grid in the far reaches of the bitter Alaskan wilderness, he wants only to be left alone with his ghosts. But he can’t ignore a woman in need—beautiful, stranded and nearly frozen with fear.

Summer Silva never imagined that the search for her missing sister would leave her abandoned on a wintry back road, barely escaping with her life from a cold-blooded killer for hire. Now, hiding out in the isolated cabin of the secretive wounded warrior who saved her, Summer knows she must do what she fears most. Putting her trust in a stranger is all she has left.

All defenses are down

After a fiery first night together, Seth and Summer are bound by a need as powerful as a Bering Sea superstorm—and vulnerable to enemies just as fierce. For Seth, reawakened by desire, there is no sacrifice too great, no memory too dark, to keep Summer safe. But murder and treason lurk everywhere and Summer may not survive Alaska’s ruthless winter.

Amazon    Carina Press    BN    Kobo     Google Play

Here’s a first review of The Stranger. And it’s an awesome one!

Short Excerpt/First Kiss:

“I think we’d be better off accepting what’s happening here.”
“And that is...?”
“That I want to kiss you.” I hit the point of no return. “And that you want me to kiss you.”
Her voice was a hoarse whisper. “It’s not true.”
“It’s true and you know it.” I ran my thumb over the soft expanse of her cheek. “So I propose that I kiss you now and get it out of the way. One kiss. Then we go to sleep and I mean just that, sleep, together, on my bed.” I held my breath. “What do you think? Is it too much to ask?”
She opened her mouth and closed it. A storm brewed in her eyes. She wasn’t sure. I knew it was a long shot, but I wasn’t one to hold back for fear of failure. Her nostrils widened, taking in my scent as if sniffing for danger. The seconds ticked by, minutes, hours, centuries. And then...surprise. She nodded ever so slightly.
I didn’t wait for her to change her mind. I kissed her, a connection that my body celebrated with fireworks. I put my arms around her waist and tasted her lips, her tongue, her breath. Glory. My body resonated with the memories of our night together.
I kissed her, as I’d wanted to do for two days, and the kiss confirmed that the connection that tugged on my senses was real. I held her face between my hands and kissed her some more until we were both out of breath and I hovered at the edge of no return. I made a huge effort to climb out of a very steep drop before I screwed everything up.
“Christ,” I rasped when I finally managed to tear my lips from hers.
Her breath came in short gasps, her eyes sparkled and her face flushed as if she had overexerted herself.
“Hell, I could kiss you all night.” I tucked a strand of hair behind her ear before letting go. “But this little taste of you is going to last me ’til morning.” Body screaming in protest, I took a step back. “Now go in there, get in bed, and don’t be scared. Okay? I’ll be along shortly.”
Her lips wavered, then a new smile birthed in her eyes and spread to her face, a mischievous grin that turned those luscious lips up at the corners and warned of all kinds of trouble.
She leaned into my space and, approaching me slowly, delivered her own kiss to my lips. The kiss was like an arctic wallop, but scalding; like a blow to the senses, but soft. Her tongue swiped a little taste of me. I gasped when she cut me off without warning, leaving me reeling, rock hard and without a trace of oxygen flowing to my lungs.
“Erickson?” she said before she sauntered off. “I don’t think you understand.”
“Understand what?”

She halted at the threshold and looked over her shoulder. “I’m not scared of you anymore,” she said. “I’m scared of me when I’m with you.”

About the Author:

Anna del Mar writes hot, smart romances that soothe the soul, challenge the mind, and satisfy the heart. Her stories focus on strong heroines struggling to find their place in the world and the brave, sexy, kickass, military heroes who defy the limits of their broken bodies to protect the women they love. Anna enjoys traveling, hiking, skiing, and the sea. Writing is her addiction, her drug of choice, and what she wants to do all the time. The extraordinary men and women she met during her years as a Navy wife inspire the fabulous heroes and heroines at the center of her stories. When she stays put—which doesn’t happen very often—she lives in Florida with her indulgent husband and two very opinionated cats.







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Music Playlist - Of Beasts and Bonds by N.D. Jones

Elton John once said, “Music has healing power. It has the ability to take people out of themselves for a few hours.” I believe the same is true for an entertaining and engaging novel. And it’s the healing power that, when a reader finishes the last page, the last word in a book, they feel better for having had the experience. Perhaps even a little sad because they’ve reached the end of an enjoyable journey. Music, like a great novel, evokes much emotion in the listener. There’s this beautiful song written by Luther Vandross entitled, “Dance with My Father.” It’s about a son whose father has passed away. As much as the son misses his father, his only wish is to give his grieving mother a final dance with her husband. If you’ve never heard the song before, treat yourself and listen. 

Here’s a YouTube link to the original music video:

I remember hearing the song while driving and it bringing tears to my eyes. A few years earlier, my father had passed away. Over a decade later, I cannot hear that lovely song without thinking of my father. That’s the healing power of music, the bone-deep emotional impact that lingers long after the song has ended. For this guest blog, I compiled a list of nine songs that, when I listen to the lyrics, truly expresses the various emotions I hope a reader will experience while reading “Of Beasts and Bonds.”

Here are a few lyrics to get you ready for the “Of Beasts and Bonds” musical experience.

I never knew love like this before, now I'm lonely never more
Since you came into my life You are my lovelight, this I know
And I'll never let you go You my all, you're part of me
Never Knew Love Like This Before, Stephanie Mills

Girl don't you know you’re so beautiful
I wanna give all my love to you girl
Not just tonight but the rest of your life
I wanna be always here by your side
So Beautiful, Musiq Soulchild

Every time I let you in, abracadabra magic happens as we swim
Higher and higher finally we reach heaven
Come back to earth and then we do it all again
Brown Skin, India Arie

“Where words leave off, music begins.” -Heindrich Heine

Enjoy the music playlist for “Of Beasts and Bonds.”

Of Beasts and Bonds
Death and Destiny Trilogy
Book 2
N.D. Jones

Genre: paranormal romance

Publisher: Kuumba Publishing

Date of Publication: August 18, 2016

ISBN: 9780997529333

Number of pages: 403

Cover Artist: Maduranga Nuwan

Book Description:

In a world of mystery and magic, sometimes old bonds must be broken before new ones can be formed. Who knew that finding one’s soul mate would test bonds and unleash beasts?

Mami Wata and Oya are now free from their watery prison and ready to wage a battle five hundred years in the making. Special Agent Assefa Berber and Dr. Sanura Williams are the prophesized Cat and Fire Witch of Legend. To save the world from Mami Wata, a water goddess with a bloody thirst for power and an insatiable appetite for death and destruction, they must defeat her beasts and the Water Witch of Legend.

Assefa and Sanura are fully in love but possess only a partial mate bond. While Sanura has merged their auras, bonding Assefa’s cat spirit to her, she has yet to accept his claiming bite. Their incomplete mate bond and their new relationship are tested when Mami Wata sets her malevolent eyes on them, manipulating beasts, sacrificing humans, and creating heartache. Can their bond survive, or will they drown under the vicious tide of godly might?

Amazon     BN      Kobo


With focused golden eyes, alert gray ears, and keen black snout, the Mngwa took in his surroundings.
The prickly grass under his large, wide paws.
The heat of the midday sun beating down on his thick black-and-gray fur.
The scent of mullah bamyah—garlic, tomato juice, minced beef, okra, salt, and pepper.
The four snarling big cats stalking him.
Scanning each strong, lithe, and ferocious cat, the Mngwa cataloged their stance, their position, and the distance between each other and from the Mngwa. They flanked him, a large cat to his front, rear, and sides. If the Mngwa could smile, he would have. Foolishly, they thought their numbers a strategic advantage that would fell the undefeated Mngwa of myth and legend. Instead of a smile, he snarled, a baring of elongated teeth.
A challenge.
The four cats attacked, their bestial response to his bait.
Four sets of paws struck the ground, claws digging into grass and dirt, brawny legs propelling them forward. Razor-sharp teeth bared, husky growls cut through the muggy June air, and feline eyes glowed with a premature win.
The leopard reached the Mngwa first, snapping and going for the bigger cat’s neck. Not wasting time with the youngest of the four attackers, the Mngwa sidestepped the snarling, snapping leopard. To only pivot, turn, and ram the side of the too-slow feline with the Mngwa’s massive head. Away from the Mngwa the leopard flew, sailing through the air and crashing to the ground several feet away.
The three other cats spared no pitying glance to the downed leopard, who lay on his side, breathing labored and ragged. A sure sign of broken ribs.
More growls and snapping, each cat trying for a different part of the Mngwa’s massive body. The Mngwa was having none of it, so he went on the offensive. Leaping over the biggest threat, the Bengal tiger, the Mngwa landed nimbly, then ran straight at the cheetah. Taking the speckled feline by surprise, the Mngwa powered over the cat, knocking him down before hauling him up by his scrawny neck and shaking. The cheetah’s fragile neck was held firm between the Mngwa’s curved saber-shaped teeth.
When the Mngwa no longer felt resistance, he opened his deadly jaws and allowed the cheetah to fall from his brutal clutch and slip, nearly unconscious, to the waiting grass.
Smack. Bite.
The lion and tiger claimed simultaneous strikes on the Mngwa. A swipe across his hindquarters and a bite to his side. The lion latched onto the Mngwa, his lethal teeth working to find purchase in the cat of legend’s winter dense fur and even thicker hide.
Like the predator he was, the Bengal tiger charged while the Mngwa grappled with the formidable lion. A mix of yellow-and-orange with wide dark-brown stripes, the 510-pound tiger landed on top of the Mngwa. His weight hefty, his claws long, sharp, and dangerous. The maw that threatened his nape even deadlier.
The lion kept up his offensive, kept clawing, kept sinking his teeth in deeper and deeper.
The Mngwa roared, reared back on his hind legs, forcing the tiger off him and to the hard ground. With a side dive, the Mngwa dropped the entirety of his 695 pounds onto the 380-pound lion. His long, dark mane shot up and out with the force of the attack.
The downed lion snapped and snarled but didn’t get up. No, with the Mngwa looming over him, golden eyes marble hard, paw raised, claws out and within striking range of the lion’s throat, the feline had only two choices.
One would see him dead, while the other …
The lion lowered his eyes, and then his head.
Pleased, the Mngwa shifted his gaze to the tiger, his other senses having tracked the big cat the entire time.
He knew it would come down to this—the Mngwa versus the Bengal tiger. It always did.
The big cats circled, taking each other’s measure. They searched for an opening, an opportunity to attack with the least probability of an effective and bruising counterattack. The combatants knew each other well—style of combat, defensive and offensive tactics.
Speed, size, and agility were on the Mngwa’s side. Yet, the toxin from an animal no longer than an inch, the golden poison frog could kill a dozen men. Its tiny size and bright colors deceiving. Not, at a length of 120 inches and 43 inches of shoulder height, with a tail just as long, there was anything small about the Bengal tiger baring his gleaming white teeth at the Mngwa.
The Mngwa underestimated no one—no matter the outward appearance of the enemy. Even the cat of legend, if incautious, could taste the bitter tang of defeat. So he watched and waited and plotted the tiger’s downfall.
The tiger charged, all muscle and menace. His long, powerful legs ate up the distance between them, determined copper eyes all for the Mngwa.
The cat of legend braced himself, choosing to face the big cat head-on. He wanted this fight, the primal challenge that only a great beast like the Bengal tiger could give him. A glorious battle of fangs, fur, and claws that would push, force, and compel the Mngwa to prove his worth, his manhood, his undisputed dominance as the predator of predators.
The ground shook - the Mngwa and tiger locked in a feral clench.
Strong. The tiger was so strong. But not strong enough.
The Mngwa opened his mouth wide and clamped down on fur and flesh. The neck of his opponent was thick with rigid muscles and delicate veins. The pulse of the tiger’s life a strong, fast throbbing beat in the Mngwa’s deadly mouth.
 The tiger whimpered his pain. Neither loud nor long. But enough, enough for the Mngwa’s ears to detect the effect of his attack. Yet the tiger fought on, as the Mngwa knew he would. As the Mngwa wanted him to, the tiger too stubborn, courageous, and fierce to submit so easily.
No, there was much fight left in the Bengal tiger.
He swiped at the Mngwa, vicious claws finding vulnerable underbelly and drawing blood. It hurt, but not enough for the bigger cat to release his vice grip. The Mngwa sank his teeth deeper into the side of the tiger’s neck, tasting blood and prideful were-cat magic.
Her gardenia scent slammed into his senses seconds before the Mngwa and the tiger were surrounded by a ring of raging fire. Breaking his hold on the smaller cat, the Mngwa turned to see an angry fire witch barreling toward them—green eyes cold, red-gold hair and long striped sundress blowing in a wind that came out of nowhere. Her deadly focus was all for the Bengal tiger who, unlike when he fought the Mngwa, trembled with fear.
Lightning hissed.
Thunder growled.
And fire witch magic crackled in the blistering summer air.
Dammit, he had to do something and fast. Retreating as far as he could go within the cage of fire, the Mngwa propelled himself forward, accelerating when he approached the heated barrier and jumped. With ease, he cleared the four-foot high ring of fire and landed, with an oompf, on top of a glaring Sanura.
“I can’t believe you just—”
He licked her. From the front ring bodice of her green-and-orange striped dress, up her toned shoulders and around the tie neck, and into thick hair covering an ear, the Mngwa tasted his witch.
“Get off me, you big furball. I can’t breathe.”
Satisfied and comfortable, the Mngwa nuzzled his witch’s face, neck, and her heaving breasts, unfazed by Sanura’s angry protestations. The only part of him that pinned the witch down was his massive head and part of his chest. But, the Mngwa supposed, even that much weight could be heavy on a woman who, while five-feet-ten-inches tall, weighed no more than 140 pounds. With a teasing snort that had a lock of her wavy hair flying upward and out of her eye, the Mngwa decided it best to give the fire breathing witch some relief.
With a single thought from Assefa—I’ll take care of our witch, my friend, go to sleep—the cat gave way to the man. A transformative effect where fur and hide succumbed to hair and skin, paws and claws shrank to hands and legs, and golden eyes, muzzle, and fangs retreated, waning under Assefa’s command.
“Is that better?” Assefa smiled down at his hot-tempered girlfriend, right before settling the whole of him on top of the whole of her.
Very nice. Sanura made for the best mattress—plush, lush and with the right amount of firmness.
“You’re naked.” A huffed complaint that did nothing to encourage Assefa to move off her.
“Of course. My Mngwa doesn’t like clothing.” He shifted on top of her, letting Sanura feel just how naked he was. “He thinks pants are too binding. What do you think?”
She closed her eyes and shook her head. “I think you need to worry more about that big damn tiger you were fighting rather than your Mngwa in boxers.”

About the Author:

N. D. Jones lives in Maryland with her husband and two children. She is the founder of Kuumba Publishing, an art, audiobook, eBook, and paperback company. Kuumba Publishing is a forum for creativity, with a special commitment to promoting and encouraging creative works of authors and artists of African descent.

A desire to see more novels with positive, sexy, and three-dimensional African American characters as soul mates, friends, and lovers, inspired the author to take on the challenge of penning such romantic reads. She is the author of two paranormal romance series: Winged Warriors and Death and Destiny. N.D. likes to read historical and paranormal romance novels, as well as comics and manga.

Tour giveaway

$50 Amazon Kindle gift card, Signed copy of "Of Fear and Faith" and "Of Beasts and Bonds," art print by Najja Creations

$30 Amazon Kindle gift card + eBook copy of "Of Fear and Faith" and "Of Beasts and Bonds"

$20 Amazon Kindle gift card + eBook copy of "Of Beasts and Bonds"

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Interview - Beautifully Burned by C.J. Burright

1.    Do you write in different genres?

I do! My own reading habits are all over the map, so it’s no surprise that I’m interested in writing different genres. Besides paranormal romance/urban fantasy, I also write YA dystopian/fantasy, and romance fantasy. I’m trying my hand at a contemporary romance right now, which has surprised me by how much I like it. I wasn’t sure I’d be inspired enough to write something without magic or supernatural going on, but yeah. Stretching my writerly wings.

2.    If yes which is your favorite genre to write?

My all-time favorite genre is fantasy, both reading and writing. Give me swords, castles, and magic with a side of romance any day!

3.    Do you title the book first or wait until after it’s complete?

I loathe titles. Loathe them! I never, ever have the title picked out first. It usually jumps out at me while I’m writing a scene. Eventually.

4.    Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

Redemption and acceptance are never beyond reach. I believe everyone deserves to be accepted and loved for who they are, scars, flaws and all.

5.    What books/authors have influenced your life?

Well, that’s a mean question. There are way too many to list, but I grew up reading Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Lloyd Alexander, and Piers Anthony (thanks, dad), so they had a huge influence on my writing life, even how I view the world at times. And later I discovered The Magic Garden by Gene Stratton Porter in my grandmother’s dusty, abandoned ranch house library. That book is one of my greatest treasures, and I can’t read it without weeping. I think that was the first story that gave me a heart for broken people who want to be loved and accepted.

6.    What books are in your to read pile?

Since I can’t list the entire library that makes up my TBR list, I’ll keep it to the next in my reading queue. First is Beast of All by J.C. McKenzie – her Carus series is awesome. I also have the last two books in Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle series I’m chomping at the bit to devour, so they’ll definitely be next. After that, my mood will decide.

7.    What is your current “work in progress” or upcoming projects?

I’m close to finishing up the rough draft of the contemporary romance I mentioned earlier. It’s about a woman who lost her brother, along with her zest for life, and the musician who invades her world and refuses to let her fizzle out. With my love for broken characters, this story has hit me hard, harder than any of my other stories, maybe because it’s so real. I adore it and can’t wait to share it with readers.

8.    Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?

I can’t possibly narrow my favorite authors down to one…but Anne Bishop is one of the few authors on my “must buy” list. I believe she shares my love for broken characters because a lot of hers are so damaged. There’s nothing more satisfying to me than seeing a character who believes they’re unworthy find their own worth and love. And when they kick the villain’s ass. That’s up there too.

9.    Who designed the cover of your latest book?

Fiona Jayde designed both covers for Wonderfully Wicked and Beautifully Burned. I love her covers! Plus, she’s so easy to work with and can somehow decipher all my unintelligible ideas and create exactly what I want. She’s a genius.

Just for fun....

If you could have one paranormal ability, what would it be?

It’s not exactly an ability, but I’d love to have Wonder Woman’s Lasso of Truth. There’d be a brand spankin’ new justice system under my magical rope, no joke.

If you could keep a mythical/ paranormal creature as a pet, what would you have?

Definitely a dragon. They could fly you around when you feel like leaving everything behind for awhile and crisp anyone who annoys you. Plus, I bet they purr in their own way, and you wouldn’t have to worry about getting cold in winter. So many benefits to owning a dragon, although feeding them might create some neighbor complications.

If you could spend a day with anyone from history, dead or alive, who would it be, and what would you do? What would you ask them?

Oh yeah. Jesus. I have a lot of questions for him, although he’d probably just answer me in parables, and I wouldn’t figure anything out by the time he had to leave. So maybe we’d just go to Disneyworld instead. I bet I could skip to the front of the line with him every time.

Beautifully Burned
The Dreamcaster Series
Book Two
C.J. Burright

Genre:  Paranormal Romance

Publisher:  Ravenrock Publishing, LLC

Date of Publication:  8/23/2016

ISBN:  9780996147

Number of pages:  274
Word Count:  74,700

Cover Artist:  Fiona Jayde

Book Description:

Grandma warned me to resist him.

I know what he is. Even if he doesn't sparkle in the sun, hiss at holy water, or go by the traditional name of vampire, I know.

He doesn't want or need my blood. He wants my dreams...more specifically, my nightmares. And I've got oodles of those, so many they leak.

He's emotionally scarred, growly, dangerous, and kindles all my senses. Love isn't on his agenda. Having him for a guardian isn't on my list of fun, either. My touch sends him into darkness.

I shouldn't want him.

I can't want him.

But I do.

If I surrender instead of escape, I'll lose everything--my sister, my will, my life. Gran forgot to tell me the most important detail of all: how am I supposed to resist him when he's everything I've ever dreamed of?

Beautifully Burned is told in a dual, third person POV, and may be read as a standalone.


“Leaving so soon, bartender?” asked a gravelly voice.
Ella whirled.
Daxen leaned against an iron lamppost several feet behind her, a plate of pie in one hand, as if he’d been watching her from that location the entire time. He leisurely licked the fork.
She ignored the responsive swirl in her belly. “Don’t you have anything better to do than spy on innocent people?”
“Not really.” He wiggled his plate. “Brought you some blueberry pie.”
A flutter awakened in her heart. He’d brought her pie, and not just any pie. Gran had baked blueberry pie every year for her birthday. She hadn’t eaten a single blueberry since the incident, which was enough of a reminder to resist.
“No thanks.” She made her tone full-on frosty. “I don’t accept pastries from people who threaten me.”
He shrugged and took another bite. “More for me.”
She huffed. Not even an apology. Resistance grew easier every second. “Unlike you, I have a life to get back to, a bar to manage. As you said, I’m not one of your precious dreamcasters, and I can’t pop monsters out of my mouth, ears or butt, so I’m leaving. Got it? Good.”
He worked his jaw, as if battling a smile. “Shame. I’d trade half my library to see nightmares pop out of your cute little rump.”
She drew herself up straight. How dare he compliment any part of her? And bring up his sexy love for books? “Well, I’d auction off my bottle of Kauffman Luxury Vintage Vodka to see your glossy hair on fire, Dingleberry.”
His eyebrows rose. “Dingleberry?”
“Don’t make me taunt you a second time.”
“What’s next? Dunghill? Vile worm?” Daxen shooed at a black fly buzzing near his nose. “Or perhaps lump of foul deformity?”
“All of those apply.” Ella crossed her arms. Of course he’d love Shakespeare too. “Take your pie and poetry and find someone else to pester.”
“I can’t figure you out.” He scratched his chin and his eyes narrowed. “I went after you to save Kalila the trouble and keep her away from Izzy. Now you’re here, the danger to her has passed, you have no value to the V’alkara, and yet…”
The fly landed on his pie, and he absently waved it away. The insect disappeared, swallowed by the black night.
He looked up into the star-studded sky, his brow furrowed. His intense gaze returned to hers. “You kissed me.”
Heat invaded her cheeks. “Obviously, a moment of stress-induced insanity.”
“I think I liked it.”
Her mouth opened, closed. He liked it? Or wasn’t sure, and if he had to think about liking it, not exactly a compliment.
Quick as a heartbeat, he cut the distance between them and leaned over her, so close the small mole below his eye stood out. The sweet scent of blueberries infused the air. “Why would I like it?”
Well, if that wasn’t a moment killer. She stepped back, and her shoulders hit the solid gate. “Might want to brush up on your flattery skills, sport. And for the record, I’ve never had any complaints before.”
His eyebrows slashed down. “You’ve kissed others?”
Sure. A sloppy peck on the cheek from Clark Johannsen in kindergarten, an awkward ten-second exchange of gum with Adam Parker beneath the bleachers during a middle school football game, and a best-forgotten moment with Dan the Band Geek. He didn’t need to know the extent of her inexperience. “That’s none of your business.”
“Who? I want names.” He crowded her against the gate, eyes icicle sharp, the pie still balanced in one hand.
“Why? And no.” Panic boiled in her breast, rising fast. The closer he got, the more she wanted to mold her body to his. “Generally, my lips are well-behaved and keep to themselves. You must have confused them with your V’alkara hocus-pocus. Back off.”
Instead, he eased nearer. His warm, sweet breath fanned her mouth.
Frick. He was going to kiss her, and that was the point of no return. She had to do something. Her pulse lurched into a jackhammer rat-a-tat. The gate’s metal latch dug into her right shoulder, a reminder of her goal. If she failed, Ginny would be alone. She had to resist. Ella sucked air and whipped up some much-needed oxygen to her brain.
“If you think I’m going to pucker up for you now, your brain’s malfunctioning. Besides, you don’t like to be touched.” She poked him in the chest for emphasis. “Remember?”
His shoulders stiffened. His throat worked, and he averted his gaze. The sweep of his long, midnight lashes above his cheeks gave him the impression of a forgotten child, lost and broken.
The painful summary of his adolescence surged to her memory, squeezing her stomach. Cages, torture, chains. She might want to break his straight nose for threatening her, but she hadn’t meant to rip the scar off a buried wound.
He stepped back before she could apologize, not that she had any genius words of emotional healing to offer anyway. As though suddenly remembering the pie, Daxen stabbed his fork into the unfortunate pastry and ripped off a ragged chunk. “Run if you wish, bartender, but you won’t get more than a mile away before a V’alkara on guard duty catches you.” His eyes gleamed silver in the overhead lamplight. “And most of them don’t have my tact and charm.”
“Let me guess, valedictorian of the Howard Stern Charm School? I totally see it.”
His smile flashed, there and gone.
The small gesture had the same effect as if he’d dumped her off in the gardens of Versailles Palace or at the top of Machu Picchu. Mind-blowing. Dizzying. Knee-shaking. She had to leave now, before she jumped on him.

About the Author:

C.J. Burright was born and raised in Oregon and loved it so much she never left. While she has worked for years in a law office, she chooses to avoid writing legal thrillers and instead leans toward urban fantasy, paranormal romance, or—since all things medieval and magical fascinate her—fantasy romance. A member of Romance Writers of America and the Fantasy, Futuristic & Paranormal chapter, C.J. also has her 4th Dan Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do and believes stories should always include a fight scene, gratuitous or not. In what spare time she has, she enjoys working out, gardening, all things musical, Assassin’s Creed, and rooting on the Seattle Mariners (preferably with wine to curb her outrage when they lose). She shares a house with her husband, daughter, and a devoted cat herd.  

Twitter:  @CJBurright

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