Wednesday, December 26, 2012

ARC Review + Chapter 1: Lullaby by Amanda Hocking



Lullaby by Amanda Hocking

  • Reading level: Ages 12 and up
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin; First Edition edition (November 27, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1250005655

Harper only wanted a safe, normal life. But when her younger sister Gemma runs off with a dangerous clique of beautiful girls, Penn, Thea, and Lexi, everything changes. Vowing to get her sister back no matter what the cost, Harper must face dangers unlike any she's ever experienced. Fortunately, she has Daniel by her side, a gorgeous guy who's devoted to helping her find her sister—and who's immune to the girls' dark powers.

While Harper searches for her sister, Gemma struggles to adjust to her new life.  Gemma's powers are growing by the day, and the longer she lives with her new "sisters," the harder it is to resist entering their magical world.  It's a realm both dark and beautiful, and where she's plagued by strange hungers and unspeakable needs.  Just as she's drifting far away from her old life,  Harper and Daniel find her...but no one can deny how much she's changed.  All she wants is to return to her family and the mortal world, but how can she do that when she's become something else entirely—and will they still love her once they learn the truth?

Prepare to fall under the spell of Lullaby, the second book in the Watersong series from New York Times bestselling author Amanda Hocking.

I had read the ARC of Wake, the first book in the Watersong Series and although I didn’t really love it that much, I still want to know what happens next to Gemma and Harper, and LULLABY provided a very nice second book.

Gemma is now powerful, stronger and more beautiful, she can even turn into a mermaid. But this new life also costs her, her family and her normal life. Struggling not to become monsters like her new sisters, Penn, Thea, and Lexi, proves to be difficult especially that being a Siren requires killing people for survival. Can she really resist the sea and the new her, even if her hair’s falling out?

Harper will not be stopped until she got her sister back. With the gorgeous Daniel at her side, who seems to be immune to the Sirens, and Alex, together they’ll find clues which not only will bring them to Gemma but opens up to more questions. Will she also find the courage to finally figure out what Daniel meant to her? Could she ever bring back her sister after she finds out the truth about what Gemma had become?

Unlike Wake, LULLABY delves deeper into each characters psyche, we still have the POV’s of Gemma and Harper, but it’s mostly onto Harper. We got to know Harper more, how she loved Gemma like her own child, how she struggles with her feelings for Daniel, thinking that love isn’t meant for her. Seriously?!, this couple is the cutest I’ve ever seen. They’re love for each other is true, the chemistry is there although they’re not officially in the relationship. Whenever they are on the same page, the pull is kinda magnetic and electric.

Gemma’s character also has developed a lot, she now considers what her actions could do to the people she loved, and realize what she’d just become and struggles to keep her morality. The boys, Daniel and Alex also have mysteries surrounding them, though we could find that out in the next book. Marcy appeared again, and her snarky comments still define her. I wish Nathalie appeared more on here; I miss her just as the sisters missed her.

The story is more on transition, there are not many action scenes, but we discover some mystery and are left with more. We’re given knowledge about the mythology in this book, the siren ways and the curse. The writing is quick though; the conversations and scenes are lively and do not drag on. And the ending is a cliffhanger, like expected and it did a good job of making me want to have the next book.:D

I will read the next book in the series and hopefully will figure out some of the questions running in my head, especially what’s so special with the Boys of Capri. If you’re a fan or just intrigue with Amanda Hocking, you should give this series a try!

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 DISCLAIMER: I received this pdf  from FreshFiction in exchange of my honest review. First appeared on FreshFiction.

CHAPTER ONE

Aftermath


Harper woke up when the sun was just beginning to set, and squinted at the dim orange light streaming in through her curtains. For one moment—one brief, glorious moment—she’d forgotten about the night before, the night when her little sister had been attacked before turning into some kind of mermaid and disappearing in the ocean.
Then it all came back to her. Her head throbbed at the memory, and she squeezed her eyes shut.
After Gemma had swum away, leaving Harper alone on the dock at Bernie’s Island, Daniel had checked on Alex to make sure that he was all right. When they’d arrived at the cabin, Alex had been lying unconscious on the floor. Harper hadn’t seen what had happened, but it wasn’t hard for her to imagine.
A horrible bird-creature stood over him. Its mouth was filled with razor-sharp teeth, and massive black wings stretched out behind it. Then it had shifted, changing form into a different kind of monster—the beautiful Penn.
It was almost impossible for Harper to wrap her mind around. When Alex had come to, he’d been certain the things he remembered were a bizarre dream brought on by head trauma. But Harper and Daniel had been forced to tell him that it was all true. The monsters were real, and Gemma was gone.
Then, after all of that, Harper knew she had to go home and attempt to explain to her father what had happened, even though she didn’t understand it herself. Not that she could tell him the truth—there was no way any sane person would believe it unless he had witnessed it for himself.
So Harper told Brian that Gemma had run off with Penn and her friends. It was something close to the truth, but even that was still hard for him to comprehend. Harper stayed up all morning convincing her father that Gemma wasn’t coming home, and that was one of the hardest things she’d ever had to do.
But she knew things were only going to get harder. Harper didn’t even know what Penn and the other girls were, let alone how to stop them or how to get Gemma back.
Lying in bed all day wouldn’t solve anything, though. Harper rolled over and grabbed her cell phone from the bedside table, meaning to check the time, and noticed she had two missed calls from a number she didn’t know. Gemma had left her cell phone behind, so if she called, it would be from an unfamiliar number.
Harper’s heart dropped to her stomach. She’d been so dead tired that she’d slept right through her phone ringing. Harper hurried to check her voice mail.
“You have one new message,” the automated voice told her, and Harper cursed herself under her breath. If she’d missed a call from her sister, she’d never be able to forgive herself.
“Hey, Harper, this is Daniel,” his deep voice came through the phone.
Daniel,” Harper whispered, and put her free hand on her forehead, listening to his message.
“I got your number from the surly girl at the library. I wanted to make sure that you got home all right and see how you’re doing after … well, you know, what happened last night.
“I’ve been keeping an eye out for Gemma, like you asked me to. I took the boat out earlier, but I didn’t see her. I’ll keep looking, and I’ll let you know if I find anything.
“So anyway, give me a call later.” Daniel paused. “I hope you’re doing okay.”
When his message ended, she left her phone at her ear for a minute, even after the automated voice assured her that she had no other messages.
It was thoughtful of Daniel to call and check up on her, but Harper couldn’t call him back. The strange dalliance she’d had with him had to be pushed out of her mind. If he found out anything about Gemma, Daniel would let her know, but that was the only time she should be talking to him. Whatever was happening to Gemma came first. Harper had to deal with that before she could think of anything else.
Harper had slept in her clothes from last night, and they stank like the ocean and sweat. She grabbed a change of clothes, then crept across the hall to the bathroom in case her father was home. There was nothing more she could say to him about Gemma’s disappearance, but she knew Brian would want to keep rehashing it until it made sense.
She cleaned up quickly, then got dressed. She’d started to sneak back to her room when she glanced over at Gemma’s. Something about the sight of the darkened room broke her heart. Pausing at the doorway, Harper couldn’t help but wonder if Gemma would ever stay in this room again.
Harper swallowed the lump in her throat and shook her head, trying to shake off the feeling. Of course Gemma would stay here again. Harper wouldn’t stop searching until Gemma was home.
When Harper turned back to her own room, she nearly yelped in surprise. Alex was sitting on her bed, staring down at the floor and looking forlorn.
“Alex?” Harper managed once the beating of her heart slowed. “What are you doing here?” She stepped into her room.
“Oh, sorry.” He lifted his head and motioned toward the downstairs. “Your dad let me in. I came over to talk.”
She glanced back behind her, half expecting Brian to be standing in the hall eavesdropping, and then she shut the bedroom door.
“How did my dad seem?” Harper asked.
“Okay, I guess.” Alex shrugged, and she noticed a cut on his forehead, probably from whatever had knocked him out last night. “A little sad and confused. He asked me about Gemma, but I told him I don’t know where she is.”
She’d meant to call Alex so they could get their stories straight about what had happened to Gemma. The truth was that they didn’t know where she was, and that was as good an answer as any.
“So, what the hell happened last night?” Alex asked her directly.
“I have no idea.” Harper shook her head and sat down in the chair in front of her desk. “I don’t even know what those … those things were.”
“I can barely even remember what they look like anymore.” His brow furrowed as he tried to think. “Last night’s a weird blur of images that don’t even make sense.”
“That’s probably because you hit your head,” Harper said.
Alex seemed to think about it for a minute, then said, “No. I don’t think so. I remember everything really clearly until we were in the cove and that song started.”
Harper had actually forgotten about the song until Alex mentioned it. She couldn’t remember the words, but the melody surfaced, like a half-forgotten dream.
There were a few minutes in the cove that Harper couldn’t really remember, either. The events were a haze of confusion, though she recalled a longing and a pull toward the phantom song. Daniel had helped keep her from diving into the ocean the way Alex had, but that was about all she could remember until they were on the boat again.
“Did you swim to the island?” Harper asked, realizing that he must have.
“I think so.” He shook his head again. “I can’t really remember much. There was the song, then I was swimming, and then I was on the island. Those pretty girls were there, and … and Gemma. She kissed me…” He swallowed hard.
“Do you remember the creature?” Harper asked.
“The bird?” Alex asked, and she nodded. “Is that what it was? A really big bird?”
“It was more like a bird-monster,” Harper tried to explain. “But then it changed and turned into Penn.”
“So those pretty girls are some kind of shape-shifters?” Alex asked. “Because they turned into fish, right? Gemma and the girls turned into fish, then swam off?”
“Mermaids, I think,” Harper corrected him.
“This is so insane,” Alex said quietly, almost to himself, then he looked up at Harper, his dark brown eyes locking seriously on hers. “Stupid question time, but I have to ask. Gemma hasn’t, like … always been a mermaid, has she? This isn’t some family curse thing like on Teen Wolf?”
“No.” Harper smiled despite herself and shook her head. “No. There’s no history of mermaids or any other mythological beings in our family.”
“Okay. Good,” Alex said, then changed his mind and wagged his head back and forth. “Well, not really. If you knew what this was, it would be easier to deal with.”
“It certainly would,” she agreed.
“So you don’t have any idea what Gemma or Penn or the girls might be?” Alex asked.
“No,” Harper admitted regretfully.
“And you don’t know where they went?”
“Nope.”
“So. How are we gonna get her back?” Alex asked.
“Well…” Harper took a deep breath. “We figure out what they are and how to stop them, then we find them and we take Gemma back.”

Copyright © 2012 by Amanda Hocking

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

ARC Review + Chapter 1: Whispers at Moonrise by C.C. Hunter



Whispers at Moonrise by C.C. Hunter

  • Reading level: Ages 12 and up
  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin; Original edition (October 2, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1250011914

Shadow Falls Camp is back in session with the most explosive installment yet.  A shocking new threat will rock Shadow Falls—changing it forever and altering Kylie’s journey in ways she never imagined.

Even at a camp for supernatural teens, Kylie Galen has never been normal. Not only can she see ghosts, but she doesn’t seem to belong to any one species—she exhibits traits from them all. As Kylie struggles to unlock the secrets of her identity, she begins to worry that Lucas will never be able to accept her for what she is, and what she isn’t…a werewolf.  With his pack standing in their way, Kylie finds herself turning more and more to Derek, the only person in her life who’s willing to accept the impossible.

As if life isn’t hard enough, she starts getting visits from the ghost of Holiday, her closest confidante.  Trouble is, Holiday isn’t dead…not yet anyway.  Now Kylie must race to save one of her own from an unseen danger before it’s too late—all while trying to stop her relationship with Lucas from slipping away forever.   In a world of constant confusion, there’s only one thing Kylie knows for sure.  Change is inevitable and all things must come to an end…maybe even her time at Shadow Falls.

The breathtaking fourth installment of the New York Times bestselling Shadow Falls series from author C. C. Hunter...Whispers at Moonrise.


Hmmm, I feel guilty because this will surely be a biased review. WHY? I hadn’t followed the series; in fact this is the first book I’ll be reading from C.C. Hunter. I just asked to review this when I saw her name and all the fussed about her books, not even thinking that this is the fourth book in the series. So, I’m not so totally in love with the story! Sorry!

Kylie Galen, the heroine, finally knew what she is, a Chameleon, BUT she doesn’t know what that means! More confusing of all, she can see ghosts and she seems to have the characteristics of all supernatural species. As if she doesn’t have enough problems, her love life goes in the way. Lucas, a werewolf has been torn because he must be with a werewolf too to have his way in the council, and Kylie isn’t one. So Kylie doesn’t have a choice but to lean on Derek, only that he is having problems of his own too!!! Amazingly, Holiday, a friend of hers visits her as a ghost, only that he isn’t dead! (Now, I’m finally sure, this book is getting in my head!!!).Now, Kylie must save someone, then mend her relationship with Lucas, and figure out Derek and finally understand what really she is! Confusion really is in the air.

The plot is something I will never get tired of. Mystery, confusion, shocking revelations and twists are all over the book. Hunter wrote a well-developed storyline, only that I hope it didn’t dwell much on figuring out about the chameleon thing. It was action-packed, and I was constantly in a roller-coaster of emotions, I laughed, cried, got pissed, and anything in between! The ending is a certified cliffhanger I never saw coming, and for that, I look forward to reading C.C. Hunter’s book, and if given the chance will even want to read the prior books.

What annoys me a little of this book is how many times, Kylie doesn’t know what she was but still keeps thinking about it plus, who should she choose between Derek and Lucas, but knowing that she don’t know too. These are two topics that I may as well skip. I’m not a hater of love triangles, but this book made me frustrated. In my humble opinion, she don’t deserve to have any of those boys, they’re too stupid and unworthy of her!!! (Good job to Hunter though, for pulling a triangle like that, making one think who’s perfect, then ruining it after, to change her reader’s mind).

WHISPERS AT MOONRISE is the sequel in C.C. Hunter’s “Shadow Falls” that you shouldn’t miss. Filled with mystery, resolutions, more questions, love story, friendship, creepiness, magic, werewolves, chameleon, this book will leave you breathless and wanting for more, especially to those who followed the series! Another paranormal at its best! Highly recommended for everyone!

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DISCLAIMER: I received this pdf  from FreshFiction in exchange of my honest review. First appeared on FreshFiction.

Chapter One


Kylie Galen stood on the porch outside the Shadow Falls office, panic stabbing at her sanity. A gust of late August wind, still chilled by her father’s departing spirit, picked up her long strands of blond hair and scattered them across her face. She didn’t brush them away. She didn’t breathe. She just stood there, air trapped in her lungs, while she stared through the wisps of hair at the trees swaying in the breeze.
Why does my life have to be so damn hard? The question rolled around her head like a Ping-Pong ball gone wild. The answer spun back just as quick.
Because you’re not all human. For the last few months, she’d struggled to identify the type of non-human blood that rushed through her veins. Now she knew.
According to her dear ol’ dad, she was … a chameleon. As in a lizard, just like the ones she’d seen sunning themselves in her backyard. Okay, so maybe not just like those, but close enough. And here she’d been worried about being a vampire or a werewolf because it would be a little hard to adjust to drinking blood or shape-shifting on full moons. But this … this was … unfathomable. Her father had to be wrong.
Her heart pounded against her chest as if seeking escape. She finally breathed. In, and then out. Her thoughts shot away from the lizard issue to the other bad stuff.
Yup. In the last five minutes she’d been slapped with not one, not two, not even three, but with four oh-crap eye-opening revelations.
Well, one thing—Derek’s confession that he loved her—couldn’t completely be called bad. But it sure as hell couldn’t be called good. Not now. Not when she considered them history. Not when she’d spent the last few weeks trying to convince herself that they were just friends.
Her mind juggled all four disclosures. She didn’t know which to focus on first. Or maybe her mind did know. I’m a freaking lizard!
“For real?” she spoke aloud. The Texas wind snatched away her words. She hoped it would take them all the way to her father—wherever the dead who hadn’t completely passed over went to wait. “Seriously, Dad?”
Of course, Dad didn’t answer. After two months of dealing with one spirit or another, the whole ghost-whispering gift and its limitations still managed to piss her off. “Damn!”
She took another step toward the main office’s door to unload on Holiday Brandon, the camp leader, then stopped. Burnett James, the other camp leader and a cold to the touch but hot to look at vampire, was with Holiday. Since Kylie couldn’t hear them arguing anymore, she figured that meant they might be doing something else—like sucking face, swapping spit, doing the tongue tango. All phrases her bad-attitude vampire roommate Della would use. Which probably meant Kylie was in a bad mood. But didn’t she deserve a little attitude after everything that had happened?
Clenching her fists, she stared at the office’s front door. She’d inadvertently interrupted their first kiss and she didn’t want to do the same with their second. Especially when Burnett had threatened to resign from Shadow Falls. Surely Holiday could change his mind. Couldn’t she?
Besides, maybe Kylie needed to calm down. To think things through before she ran to Holiday in bad-attitude hysterics. Her thoughts shifted to her latest ghost issue. How could a ghost of someone who was alive appear to Kylie? A trick, right? Had to be a trick.
She glanced around to make sure the ghost had really gone. The cold had vanished.
Turning, she shot down the porch steps and headed around to the back of the office. She started running, wanting to experience the sense of freedom she got when she ran, when she ran fast, ran non-human fast.
The wind picked up the black dress she’d worn to Ellie’s funeral and sent the hem dancing against her thighs. Her feet moved in rhythm, barely missing the Reeboks she usually wore, but when she arrived at the edge of the woods, she came to an abrupt halt—so abrupt that the heels on her black dress shoes cut deep ruts into the earth.
She couldn’t go into the woods. She didn’t have a shadow—the mandatory person with her to help ward off the evil Mario and his rogue buddies if they decided to attack.
Attack again.
So far the old man’s attempts at ending her life had proved futile, but two of those times had resulted in the death of someone else.
Guilt fluttered through her already tight chest. Fear followed it. Mario had proven how far he’d go to get to her, how evil he was when he’d taken his own grandson’s life right in front of her. How could anyone be that wicked?
She stared at the trees and watched as their leaves danced in the breeze. It was a completely normal slice of scenery that should have put her at peace.
But she felt no peace. The woods, or rather something that hid within, dared her to enter. Taunted her to move into the thick line of trees. Confused by the strange feeling, she tried to push it away, but the feeling intensified.
She inhaled the green scent of the forest, and she knew.
Knew with clarity.
Knew with certainty.
Mario wouldn’t give up. Sooner or later she would face him again. And it wouldn’t be serene, tranquil, or peaceful. Only one of them would walk away.
You will not be alone. The words echoed deep within her as if to offer her peace. No peace came. The shadows between the trees danced on the ground. Calling her, beckoning her. To do what, she didn’t know.
Trepidation took another lap around her chest. She dug the heels of her shoes deeper into the hard dirt. The heel of her right shoe cracked—an ominous little sound that seemed to punctuate the silence.
“Crap!” She stared down at her feet. The one word seemed yanked from the air, leaving nothing but a hum of eeriness.
And that’s when she heard it.
Someone drew in a raspy breath. While the sound came only at a whisper, she knew that the owner of this breath stood behind her. Stood close. And since no chill of death surrounded her, she knew it wasn’t from the spirit world.
The sound came again. Someone fed life-giving air into their lungs. Odd how she now feared the living more than she feared the dead.
Her heart thudded to a stop. Much like the grooves left in the earth by her three-inch heels, her growing dread left ruts in her courage.
She wasn’t ready. If it was Mario, she wasn’t ready. Whatever it was she needed to do, whatever plan or fate she was destined to follow, she needed more time.


Copyright © 2012 by Christie Craig

Monday, December 24, 2012

Book Review + Read Online: Hunter's Season by Thea Harrison



Hunter's Season by Thea Harrison
  • File Size: 290 KB
  • Print Length: 105 pages
  • Publisher: Samhain Publishing, Ltd. (September 18, 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0098ZYB3U
A Novella of the Elder Races

Duty. Devotion. Desire. When fate brings two isolated people together, love is in the cards.

As a palace guard and assassin for the Dark Fae, Xanthe always wore a mask, hiding her emotions to do her duty. But when her identity is compromised, she trades undercover work for guarding Queen Niniane—a position that often brings her in contact with Chancellor Aubrey Riordan.

Aubrey’s trust is shattered. A year ago his wife tried to assassinate their new queen in his name, a betrayal of everything he believes in. And now an attack on his life is proof the dark conspiracy is not yet over. Although injured and weak, Aubrey can’t help but be drawn to this shy assassin and loyal protector. Xanthe is everything Naida wasn’t, and the passion she stirs in him is something he thought had long passed him by.

Warning: Take a man recovering from an assassination attempt, the assassin sworn to protect him, add in a magical Tarot card deck and an isolated cabin, and watch the sparks fly!


I can’t believe this is the last book in the arc of The Tarot’s Journey. I’m very disappointed in myself that this is my first and last chance with this story, however I’m glad I enjoyed HUNTER’S SEASON.

Like I said, I haven’t read the previous books in the novella and although other reviewers said Xanthe and Aubrey appeared in previous books, I think their past/history was given well in the story that I need not to ask. A standalone book really serves its purpose.

Xanthe is an assassin that’s sworn to protect a Chancellor who was injured from an attack. She could kick ass, she’s fierce, but when it comes to Aubrey (chancellor) she’s so emotionally vulnerable. Worse, she was asked to take him under her roof! Aubrey, still broken and hurt from the betrayal of his wife by trying to assassinate the queen, is in risk. Unable to trust quickly as he did before, he’s on guard from Xanthe but can’t deny the feelings she arouse in him whenever she’s around. Can he realize his errors in time, to give their growing attraction time to blossom? Brought together by a very wise plot of Queen Niniane who noticed Xanthe’s tenderness for Aubrey, they now have their sweet little time together to explore each other’s feelings.

This novella, is a nice break from fantasy/paranormal stories, in here, we have pure romance. The adventures were mentioned but it does not occur between the main characters. There’s the mystery, action but it happened off the page. All we have is two people who had their own little bubble outside the world. Not that I’m complaining!

Their love story is a slow dance that I enjoyed well, it’s not instantaneous although the attraction is already there. Every minute, every exchange of words, is romantic. It’s nice to see Xanthe belittles herself that Aubrey wouldn’t like her and Aubrey always proves her wrong, not only he recovers from his injury but also from a broken heart that only Xanthe could fix. The characters were engaging and complements one another.

One thing though, since this my first glimpse of the Tarot’s journey, I may not feel as connected to the other characters that were mentioned before. However, based on my romantic side, this is a very good book, that would leave you breathless and thankful. Highly Recommended if you’re looking for sweet/hot romance!

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DISCLAIMER: I received this pdf  from FreshFiction in exchange of my honest review. First appeared on FreshFiction.

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Sunday, December 23, 2012

ARC Review + Read Online: Shadow of the Wolf by Dana Marie Bell



Shadow of the Wolf by Dana Marie Bell
  • File Size: 419 KB
  • Print Length: 207 pages
  • Publisher: Samhain Publishing, Ltd. (September 18, 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B008QWCSTK
  • Strike a match, light the candle…and fall into the spell.
    Heart’s Desire, Book 1

    Christopher Beckett is from an ancient line of wizards, but with one aspect that sets him apart. His wolf. Right now that wolf is howling for a mate. Knowing it’s only a matter of time before the wolf’s needs override everything else in his life, Chris casts the spell all the Becketts have used to call their mates to them.

    His wish list is short: She must be of a lineage at least as old as his own. And she must accept his wolf. When his mate appears, he realizes his list should have been one item longer.

    Alannah Evans, a powerful witch of the Evans Coven, has no problem with Chris’s wolf. It’s the wizard part that sticks in her magical craw. Witches and wizards have always been at odds, so by rights, she and Chris shouldn’t be striking sparks of attraction this bright. But Chris will not be denied, and gradually she finds herself trusting him—then falling into the fire of desire.

    When it becomes clear an old enemy has targeted them both for death, Chris charges into a duel that could cost him his life. Or worse: Lana.

    Product Warnings
    Product contains explicit sex, graphic language, magic, mayhem, and a wet, naked wolf shifter bearing hot chocolate. Mmm… chocolate.

SHADOW OF THE WOLF is a modern story of a wizard Christopher Beckett who casts a spell to bring him a mate. He also happens to be cursed as a werewolf due to his ancestor’s misbehavior in jilting a witch. So, to grant the desire of the wolf form, he must find a mate who’s willing to accept the wolf in him. And to aid him in selecting his mate, his wish list includes: she must be of a lineage as old as his own. Bonus if she’s a beauty.

And then here comes Allanah Evans who, as it seems got stuck in the middle of nowhere. Everything seems to say she can’t go home just yet—her car won’t run, her phone’s lowbatt, no one’s around to call for help, the storm’s getting worse. Little does she know that she was called to be the mate of a powerful wizard. Yes, she came from a lineage as old as his own, the only problem is, she’s a witch. And as far as everyone knows, wizards and witches don’t mix well together. Add to their conflicting romance, is the evil plot of an old enemy who wants Chris dead, or rather both of them dead.

From the moment I read the synopsis, I know that this book is for me. I have always been fascinated with witches, their spells and their magic. Luckily, I wasn’t disappointed since we’re not only treated for poetic spells (sometimes funny), but also with lots of magic-fighting scenes, distorting spells and sensuous romance.

The characters are funny—I always caught myself laughing at their banters, especially Chris’ brothers, I think humor’s their surname :D. Also, each of the characters is unique and easy to relate to. Dana Marie Bell really gives them life.

And Chris’ brothers? They’re kind of immature, but totally swoon-worthy. I would love to read more from each of them in the upcoming books.

SHADOW OF THE WOLF, is a fun, sexy, magical, read, of two people who learned to love each other despite their differences and willing to sacrifice their lives just to save the other.

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DISCLAIMER: I received this pdf  from FreshFiction in exchange of my honest review. First appeared on FreshFiction.

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Saturday, December 22, 2012

Blog Tour (Ten's List+Giveaway): For What It's Worth by Karey White

 

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Cedar Fort, Inc. (December 11, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1462110665
  • ISBN-13: 978-1462110667
Twenty-four year-old, Abby Benson has dreams of owning her own wedding cake shop. An inheritance from her aunt gives her the ability to make those dreams come true. She hires Dane, a handsome contractor, to help her get the bakery up and running and soon they’re moving toward their own happy ending.

Unsure what to charge for her cakes, Abby has a crazy idea to let the customers decide what they think their cake is worth. This plan has its ups and downs, but the novelty of the idea makes her a local celebrity. When she is interviewed on television about the unusual idea, business booms and Abby has cake adventures she never dreamed possible. But as her fame grows, Abby is swept up in a whirlwind that threatens everything she values. With the challenges that face her, will she be able to determine what is worth the most?


Praise for For What It's Worth


Reading Karey White’s books, like eating chocolate cake, is always satisfying and brings a smile to my face. For What It’s Worth is light, romantic, and delicious. It’s a great pleasure read. Sit down and get lost in the charming world of wedding cakes and love. As an added bonus, each chapter  starts with a recipe, so it’s a novel and cookbook all in one. A fun read!
—Teri Harman, KSL columnist, Studio 5 contributor, and author of Blood Moon, available June 22, 2013

I just loved the book – loved it. Hated putting it down and hated finishing it. Karey White is my new Maeve Binchy, her writing as warm as the bakery her novel is set in. For What It’s Worth surprised me, made me smile, say “no” out loud in a public place. I love when a character feels like my sister. I didn’t want to finish it, so now I may try the recipes that began every chapter.
—Amanda Dickson, author and radio personality

This book oozes charm, romance, and mouth-watering recipes. If you want to escape reality and curl up with a darling story, For What It’s Worth is the perfect fit. Thank you, Karey White!
—Rachael Anderson, author

This is a book worth every penny of the price. In the business of baking wedding cakes, every detail must be perfection, but this story remembers that real life is oh-so-messy. White’s clear and honest writing left me hungry for good food, a close family, and a little romance. A beautiful marriage of food, family, and faith.
—Regina Sirois, author of On Little Wings, 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award

Purchase
Amazon * Barnes & Noble

Book Trailer


 Favorite Books I Read in 2012

On Little Wings by Regina Sirois
Sean Griswold's Head by Lindsey Leavitt
Letters in the Jade Dragon Box by Gale Sears
The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
Becoming Bayley by Susan Auten
Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson
The Reluctant Bachelorette by Rachael Anderson
The Death of a Disco Dancer by David Clark
Crossed by Ally Condie
A Wanted Man by Lee Child

Follow the rest of the tour

**GIVEAWAY**
$25 Amazon Gift Card + A Copy of For What It's Worth
Paperback available to US only, Ebook Available Internationally
ends on 12/25/12 

Author Karey White


Karey White grew up in Utah, Idaho, Oregon, and Missouri. She attended Ricks College and Brigham Young University. Her first novel, Gifted, was a Whitney Award Finalist.

She loves to travel, read, bake treats, and spend time with family and friends. She and her husband are the parents of four great children. She teaches summer creative writing courses to young people and is currently working on her next book.





Links

Friday, December 21, 2012

99 books Grand Promo

These prices are available on Amazon only.

For a listing of books offered and to enter to win, click here!!

  The giveaway opportunities that can be found on the site are:  
$500,
 Amazon Kindle Fire HD 7", 
Amazon Paperwhite, 
$75, 
$50, 
$25, 
$20.  
More specifics will be found at the host site on Dec. 21st.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Quick Review: Connection


Connection
Connection by Emily Ann Ward

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



Quick review:

Plot: Unique, it's the first time I heard about characters having a supernatural (unique gifts/powers) connection.

Characters: Not very memorable, just your significant high school, with love plus supernatural problems.Love aspect isn't insta, in fact, the girl has another boyfriend.

Writing Style: Didn't encounter typos...readable

Audience: I think, anyone may want to read this, sci-fi fans would love this.

Overall: Good enough, there are just some parts that drag the story, and there seems to be few things happening for the entire storyline.. would want to read more from this author and would love to read more from this series

Won from Librarything



View all my reviews

Yay! Completed my Goodreads Reading CHallenge

I actually thought I won't be able to, good thing I have written reviews on FreshFiction which I did forget to include in Goodreads, plus there are more reviews to come from me this year. And after a year of good books..here's the result!

2012 Reading Challenge

2012 Reading Challenge
Avry15 has completed her goal of reading 100 books in 2012!
hide
You can view all the books I read this year- here.


TO SUM IT UP:
2012 Reading Challenge


303,132 Participants
17,849,935 Total Books Pledged
58 Average Books Per Challenge
6,761 Challenges Completed 

How about you? Did you took this challenge too? IF not, then you should sign up for 2013 Reading  Challenge!

Cover Unveiled+ Giveaway: The Obvious Game by Rita Arens

Everyone trusted me back then. Good old, dependable Diana. Which is why most people didn’t notice at first.”

 
Publisher: Inkspell Publishing
Release Date: Feb 7th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-9856562-7-0 (ebook), 978-0-9856562-8-7 (Paperback)
Paperback Price: $13.99
Kindle: $4.99
To be available at all major online outlets: Amazon, B&N, The Book Depository
"Your shirt is yellow."
 "Your eyes are blue."
 "You have to stop running away from your problems."
 "You're too skinny."
 Fifteen-year-old Diana Keller accidentally begins teaching The Obvious Game to new kid Jesse on his sixteenth birthday. As their relationship deepens, Diana avoids Jesse's past with her own secrets -- which she'll protect at any cost. 

Pre-order now at Inkspell Publishing Website at a special discount of 30% on both paperback and ebook!


Praise for The Obvious Game:

I couldn’t put down The Obvious Game. Arens perfectly captures the hunger, pain and uncertainty of adolescence.” -- Ann Napolitano, author of A GOOD HARD LOOK and WITHIN ARM'S REACH

"THE OBVIOUS GAME is a fearless, honest, and intense look into the psychology of anorexia. The characters—especially Diana--are so natural and emotionally authentic that you’ll find yourself yelling at the page even as you’re compelled to turn it." -- Coert Voorhees, author of LUCKY FOOLS and THE BROTHERS TORRES

"Let’s be clear about one thing: there’s nothing obvious about The Obvious Game. Arens has written a moving, sometimes heart-breaking story about one girl’s attempt to control the uncontrollable. You can’t help but relate to Diana and her struggles as you delve into this gem of a novel." -- Risa Green, author of THE SECRET SOCIETY OF THE PINK CRYSTAL BALL

About The Author:
Rita Arens is the author of The Obvious Game and the editor of the award-winning parenting anthology Sleep Is for the Weak. She writes the popular blog Surrender, Dorothy (www.surrenderdorothyblog.com) and lives in Kansas City with her husband and daughter. The Obvious Game is her first young adult novel. She is at work on a second.
She’s been quoted by Bloomberg Businessweek, The Associated Press, Forbes Woman, the Wall Street Journal, Businessweek and Businessweek Online and featured in Breathe magazine, Get Your Biz Savvy, The Kansas City Star (archived material available on request), Today Moms (Today Show blog) and Ink KC.

**GIVEAWAY** 
The giveaway is open for US, UK and Canada only.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Chapter 1: Avow by Chelsea Fine


  • File Size: 609 KB
  • Publisher: Firefall Publishing (December 9, 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00AM38E8A
 Scarlet remembers. Everything. Her past lives, Tristan, Gabriel, Nate: she remembers it all--including how to get to the Fountain of Youth. But time is running out.

Heather and Gabriel have been kidnapped by Raven, while the curse that has plagued Scarlet and Tristan for centuries has shifted, putting the star-crossed lovers in more danger than ever before. Water from the Fountain of Youth is the only thing that can save Scarlet and her loved ones. But the water comes at a price.

With lives--and hearts--at stake, Scarlet leads her friends on a dangerous journey to the Fountain of Youth. Where eternal life is possible, but death is certain
CHAPTER 1
Scarlet had her memories back, which meant two things.
She knew where the Fountain of Youth was. 
And she was mad at Tristan.
Still clutching a bloodstained knife in her hand, she marched through the graveyard and glanced over her shoulder at the green-eyed boy she’d loved for centuries. “By the way, you suck.”

“Wow,” he said.
“I can’t believe you tried to kill yourself.”
“I was trying to keep you alive.”
“Agh. Spare me your sacrificial agenda.” Another memory hit her and she turned to face him, her blood boiling. “And you let me wander around with amnesia for two years before meeting me?”
He opened his mouth, but Scarlet cut him off. “And then you let me date Gabriel? What the hell, Tristan?”
A muscle flexed in his jaw. “First of all, I was supposed to die. So I didn’t think intervening in your love life was any of my business. Gabriel made you feel happy and safe and I wasn’t about to screw that up for you. And second,” he raised his voice over the protest on Scarlet’s lips, “the reason I didn’t ‘meet’ you for two years was because I didn’t think I’d be able to follow through with killing myself if you and I were, you know…pals.” His eyes glinted.
She scowled. “Well that was selfish of you.” Turning, she resumed her walk through the dark cemetery.
“You think I was selfish?” Scarlet could almost hear his jaw drop as he followed behind her. “You’re the one who shut everyone out. You’re the one who kept secrets and stole stuff and ran away—“
“I had to run away,” she snapped.
His voice rumbled in anger. “Did you have to die too?”
Spinning around to face him—again—Scarlet met his hard eyes in the darkness. “I wasn’t trying to die.”
“But you did,” he said coldly.
They stared at each other for a moment, heartbreak colliding in the space between them. Because of her connection to him, Scarlet could feel the hurt and fear pulsing through his veins as his eyes traced over her in the moonlight.
But she could also feel the love heating his core as he took her in. And it was the love—that undying fire that blazed in him and burned through her—that stole her words away as she looked at him.
He was so beautiful. Even standing in a graveyard, covered in dirt and blood, he was striking. His dark hair fell wild around his face and his green eyes shone in the moonlight.
A shiver of desire ran through him--or was it her?--and Scarlet clenched the knife in her hand so she wouldn't do something stupid. Like crush her mouth to his and claw at his clothes until there was nothing between them but heat and skin. But that would, of course, lead to death.
Everything always led to death.
Tristan softened his voice as he scanned her face. “What happened in your last life, Scar? What are you hiding?” 
Scarlet's chest tightened at his question.
Millions of Avalon stars winked from above and reminded her of a time when she and Tristan spent their days in the trees and everything was fair; everything was simple.
Nothing was simple anymore.
He tilted his head and repeated,"What are you hiding, Scar?"
She could feel his heartbeat echoing inside her soul; powerful and constant, as his emotions swam into her.
Patience... Love... Worry...
Could she tell him the truth about the fountain? The whole truth?
The truth that would undo any hope they had of a happy ending?
She opened her mouth—
“Holy crap! Did you guys see that?” Nate jogged up to them with a knife in his hand, a grin on his face, and a trickle of blood running down his neck. “I totally kicked Ashman ass over there! I was all like hi-ya and you wanna piece of me? I was a super slayer! Buffy’s got nothing on me.”
Scarlet shut her mouth and shifted away from Tristan’s searching eyes as Nate continued.
“It was life and death out there, guys. Life and death. They just kept coming at me and I just kept putting them down.” Nate took a moment to catch his breath. “I mean, sure, I screamed like a girl a few times and accidently stabbed myself at the beginning, but still. I feel amazing! For the first time in five hundred years I feel alive.”
Moving his gaze away from Scarlet, Tristan eyed Nate's neck. “You’re bleeding.”
Nate touched his wound and drew back bloody fingers. “I’m bleeding. Haha! I have a battle wound. Oh, this is so awesome.” Tucking his knife into his waistband with a smile, he looked around. “Where’s everyone else?”
Scarlet’s stomach churned as reality whooshed in and slapped her in the face. “Raven kidnapped Heather.” Saying it out loud had emotion crawling up her throat.
Nate’s face fell. “What?”
With a deep breath, Scarlet summed up the evening’s events. “Raven is actually Clare—Heather’s boss at the coffee shop—not Laura. Laura was working for Raven, but Raven killed her and dumped her body in a grave—”
Ohmygoodness. Laura was really dead.
Scarlet blinked.
My guardian is dead.
More emotion wiggled up her throat and she quickly swallowed, trying to keep her focus on the things at hand.
Scarlet cleared her throat. “Then Raven had an Ashman kick the crap out of me so she could kidnap Heather and hold her ransom for the map to the fountain. And the lifeforce between Tristan and I shifted. So I can still feel his emotions, but he can’t feel mine anymore.”
Thank God.
If Tristan were still able to sense her, he’d know she was freaking out. Not just about Heather or Laura. But about the fountain and what finding it would mean.
A sick feeling swirled inside her gut.
“And because the lifeforce shifted, Scarlet now has her memories back,” Tristan added, sliding his eyes to her.
Nate blinked. “What? I go slaying for ten minutes and I miss everything—wait.” His eyes shot to Scarlet. “Does that mean you know where the fountain is?”
Scarlet hesitated.
It was decision time.
No truth? The whole truth? A vague truth?
“Yes,” she said, going with vague. It was always safer to start vague. “But we need to rescue Heather before we do anything else.”
Her heart started to hammer at the thought of her happy friend being held hostage by a vengeful witch with a drug problem. So many things could go wrong.
So many things already had.
Nate nodded. “Did you see which direction Raven took her?”
Looking around the cemetery, Scarlet shook her head and let out a groan of frustration as guilt swamped her soul. “This is all my fault. I should have stayed by Heather’s side. I should have protected her.”
Tristan scanned the premises. His coat was sliced open in several places and dark splotches of blood slowly seeped through the shredded fabric of the black T-shirt he wore beneath.
His immortal body wasn’t healing like it should, which meant his wounds had been inflicted with Bluestone weapons.
Not good.
“Dude.” Nate caught sight of Tristan’s injuries. “Are you okay?”
Tristan looked down at his stained clothes and shrugged as if the slashes in his skin were more of a nuisance than anything else. “I’m fine. The cuts are shallow. Where’s Gabriel?”
Scarlet furrowed her brow. “He came with me to the coffee shop, but he was gone when I came out. He wasn’t with you guys?”
They shook their heads and worry crept through Scarlet’s veins.
“I’m sure he’s around here somewhere.” Tristan looked calm as he glanced around, but Scarlet could feel concern coiling inside his chest. “Why don’t you two go look for him at The Millhouse and I’ll search the rest of the graveyard.”
Scarlet nodded.
Good plan.
Split up. Find Gabriel. Rescue Heather.
And stay away from the fountain.
Okay, that last part might be difficult since Amnesia Scarlet spilled the beans about the freaking map, but whatever. She could still throw them off. She could lie.
She’d been lying for years.
As Scarlet and Nate headed out of the cemetery, Tristan walked deeper into its shadowy depths. Distant music from the ongoing Avalon carnival drifted through the night air, making the wind sound eerily happy as it wrapped around headstones and swept through Scarlet’s hair.
Putting her knife away, she rubbed her head where it still throbbed from the blow Raven had dealt her with the business end of a crossbow.
One more reason to hate the crazy witch.
Everything was so screwed up—
A sharp pain darted up Scarlet’s body and twisted around her insides with liquid fire until she doubled over. Sinking to the ground, Scarlet clutched her chest and stomach, afraid her skin might split open and empty her insides all over the grass. She tried to suck in air, but her lungs wouldn’t work.
Nate dropped down beside her with terror in his eyes. “What’s wrong?”
The fire turned to ice and wrapped around her organs and bones, squeezing without mercy. Scarlet couldn’t help but cry out loud.
“Tristan!” Nate called, checking her pulse before pulling at the skin beneath her eyes to check their color.
Usually when Scarlet felt pain of any sort it was because her heart was failing. And when her heart started to fail, her eyes would glow and her nose would bleed. But this didn’t feel like heart failure.
This felt like something else entirely.
She squeezed her eyes shut and grimaced until the agony started to subside. Her muscles loosened, her lungs started to expand, and soon Scarlet wasn’t hurting anymore.
Out of pain, but still very confused, she opened her eyes to find Tristan crouched beside her.
His green eyes were glowing into the night as panic oozed from his pores. “What just happened?” He searched her face.
Good question.
Scarlet rubbed her chest to make sure all her insides were where they were supposed to be. Yep. Still in one piece.
Phew.
“She just collapsed in pain.” Nate turned his eyes from Scarlet to Tristan. “Dude. You need to calm down. Your eyes are super green.”
Tristan rubbed a hand over his mouth, still looking at Scarlet. “It must be the transition. Maybe when the curse shifted we switched places, putting Scarlet in pain without me, just like I used to be in pain when I was without her.”
Well crap.
That would suck.
“I guess that would make sense.” Nate scratched the back of his head. “Especially since her pain went away when you walked back over to us.”
Scarlet stood from the ground and brushed the cemetery grass off her pants as Tristan and Nate rose to stand beside her.
A surge of guilt rolled through Tristan and Scarlet hurried to reassure him. “I’m fine now—”
“You’re not fine,” he snapped. “You fell to the ground in pain when I was only thirty feet away from you.”
Yeah.
That was weird.
Nate pressed a finger to his lips. “If the lifeforce reversed your roles—”
“Oh no.” Scarlet’s eyes widened as the possibility sank in. “If our roles have been reversed, does that mean my touch can make Tristan sick? My touch can kill him?”
She took a step away from Tristan and felt his pounding heartbeat soften. Stepping back up to him, the pounding resumed. “Oh no. No, no—”
“Okay. Don’t freak out.” Nate held a hand up.
Too late.
“His heart responds to my nearness.” Scarlet shook her head as her chest tightened in despair. “No, no, no.”
This couldn’t be happening.
“So it appears the curse has shifted,” Nate said calmly. “We can handle this.” He held up a calm hand to match his calm face and calm eyes as he looked at her. “All we need to do is make sure you two stay within close range of one another so you don’t writhe in pain, but far enough away so Tristan doesn’t, you know, die.” He shrugged. “Easy. We’ll just reenact the ten-foot rule between you guys.”
Nate stared at them. Waiting.
“What?” Tristan said.
Nate rolled his eyes and thrust his hands in between Scarlet and Tristan, pushing their bodies away from one another. “Ten feet. There you go. Now let’s go find Gabriel so we can get our Heather rescue on. Then we can finally find the Fountain of Youth and cure everyone of this God-forsaken and completely obnoxious curse.” Turning, he headed down the street toward the Millhouse.
Scarlet and Tristan slowly followed after him in stunned silence. 
She was killing Tristan with her very presence.
Glancing at him under the yellow glow of the streetlamps, Scarlet ran her eyes along his profile as he stared forward with a clenched jaw. He was fierce. He was patient. He was everything she loved.
And he was dying.
Divulging the truth about the Fountain of Youth was no longer an option. Tristan’s life was at stake.
To hell with happily ever after.

AVOW available December 11th! Whoo-hoo!!!

I've read Anew late this 2012, so I'm still coping with the series,..come back here for my review of Anew..and maybe I could ask the publisher too for the next two books..:D

Book Review+Chapter 1: Immortal Surrender by Claire Ashgrove



Immortal Surrender by Claire Ashgrove

  • Mass Market Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Tor Books; 1 edition (September 25, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0765367599
  • ISBN-13: 978-0765367594
Farran de Clare, loyal member of the cursed Knights Templar, wants nothing to do with predestined mates. Even the Almighty won’t turn him into a fool again—he’d rather sacrifice his soul. Yet in the scientist Noelle Keane, a devout atheist, Farran meets the seraph designed for him.

Ordered by the archangel Gabriel to protect Noelle, the possessor of a sacred relic that could give Azazel incredible power, Farran swears to do his duty—but in name only. Fighting an attraction that grows with each day, he’s determined that he’ll never pledge himself to her.

As they war over her future, their mutual passion ignites a conflict far more damning. But before Noelle will agree to eternity with him, she demands the ultimate sacrifice—his heart.


IMMORTAL SURRENDER, just by the title catches my attention. And I was so glad to find out that this book is all about angels, demons and cursed Templars! A mixed I heard so much about but hadn’t had time to read!

Reading the prologue, we get a glimpse, of Ian, a cursed Templar, who’s supposed to meet his seraph (a nephilim destined to purify his soul and end his course), only that what he found, left him breathless. Well, he found his seraph making out with no other than Azazel, the evil incarnate (that shows just how much Azazel would do to stop the Templars from having redemption) I could definitely say this prologue pulled me in to the world of Templars, and for the few hours that I’ve read it, I was there, enjoying the adventure and the romance!

Even though I’d rather read the first book just to know the minor characters more, this does not stop me from falling in love with this series. In fact, the book is a standalone, so there shouldn’t be any worries. And Ashgrove gave enough details to keep us in the story, but not too much that it’ll overwhelm us. She wonderfully weaves history with mythology and fantasy, that I cannot just get enough!

Farran and Noelle’s romance is a witty, tense and yet sweet encounter. Miscommunication leading to misunderstandings was used wisely in creating conflicts between these two protagonists. Farran, the ever loyal Templar, still broken from his ex-wife is afraid to fall in love again, worse to swore loyalty to a woman. Noelle, a certified atheist and scientist, doesn’t believe in destinies, more on the Almighty but not knowing that she’s a seraph, a creature she proves even in her dreams to be non-existent. Gabrielle, the ever-conniving Gabrielle, teams up this two, to let them grow and know each other, before dropping the bomb, that is—they’re fated!!!

In line with the battle of good and evil is the battle of wills from these two. The tension, may it be sexual or emotional leap off the pages. Their unique personalities are so well-defined that it suits the story perfectly well. We got a slow dance full of obstacles along the way from these two while discovering and protecting the artifact, and once the dance is in its peak, one can’t help but be carried away by their passion and devoted love for each other.

Overall, IMMORTAL SURRENDER is an adult book filled with fantasy, myth, curses, seraphs, Templars, evil, honor, courage and romance that you could happily wallow yourself in! This is a fast-paced, mystery filled, and romance-intense book, anyone will have fun enjoying!
Claire Ashgrove is an author I will definitely be reading more of! Very Highly Recommended!

Thanks so much Ms. Leah Withers @ TOR for giving me this book in exchange of an unbiased review, this book is one of my favorites..: :D

View all my reviews

Chapter 1


“How’s it feel to prove the existence of Christ?”

The wavering masculine voice invaded Noelle Keane’s laboratory as a door clicked shut. She looked over her shoulder to greet aging archaeologist Gabriel San Lucee with a smile. “Morning, Gabriel.” She turned back to the cloth.

Thirty-three inches of fragile cloth swathed the laboratory table. Laid out with less care than anyone had given the delicate weave in centuries, it bore dark stains in the wrinkled center, telltale marks of its original insignificance. But though it had once been little more than a scrap meant for the trash, millions revered it. Now the flimsy piece of material would gain more respect and attract thousands of devotees. All in the name of a mythical being who no one could prove existed.

Noelle ran her gloved hand across the rough surface, smoothing out wrinkles that would never see an iron. In her other hand, she held a typed printout of her carbon-dated findings. The evidence was there, and yet all it proved was that the Sudarium of Oviedo covered a body in the approximate year 33.

Not what body. Not which month. Not even where it had been used. Supposition laid claim to all those things. Scientific fact, however, verified only its age. That and the blood type AB. All the rest of the findings—such as pollen type and traces of myrrh that had been verified in the midnineties—could relate to any number of ancient funerary practices in Palestine.

She folded it into a loose square, small enough to fit into the airtight canister that protected it.

“You didn’t answer my question.” Pulling on gloves, Gabriel joined her at the table and leaned a hip on the edge. He extended a wrinkled hand toward the metal container. “May I hold it?”

She passed him the canister. “I haven’t proved Christ existed. Until they dig up his bones, that won’t happen. And even if they do dig up his bones, barring your God suddenly appearing to tell us otherwise, we can’t prove the bones are Jesus Christ’s.”

He clucked his tongue as he pulled the veil-thin cloth out and draped it between his palms. “You still haven’t come to see the truth?”

“The truth is here.” Noelle wagged her paper beneath his nose. “Black and white.”

A lazy grin crinkled the corners of his gray-blue eyes. He put the Sudarium back into the canister and reverently set it in the middle of the table. “Tell that to all the people lined up outside and the throngs of Christians waiting to follow that little can to the airport.”

“I suppose that’s why you’re here?” She picked up her travel log, signed the necessary forms to verify she’d performed the accelerator mass spectrometry herself, and stuffed them all into her briefcase. She couldn’t remember a time Gabriel hadn’t dropped into her sanitized laboratory unannounced. Since she’d accepted the lead scientist position in D.C. six years ago, he popped in almost monthly.

Truthfully, she already knew what brought him here today. Gabriel had been part of the team of scientists that dated the Shroud of Turin in the eighties. He’d want to see this supposed counterpart.

“Well, yes and no.” He slung a leather satchel that had seen better days over his shoulder and set it on the table.

“Yes, I wanted to see the Sudarium. But I needed to talk to you as well.”

“Make it quick. I’ve got a flight to catch. That little baby has to be back in the C├ímara Santa tonight. If it’s not, Father Phanuel will have a coronary.” She shrugged out of her lab coat, hung it on the wall, and went to the mirror to tighten her ponytail. “He’s convinced someone’s going to steal it.”

“With good reason, Noelle.” Gabriel pulled out a rolling stool and sat down. “The same reason I wanted to talk to you. People coveted that cloth before it came here. Now, people would kill just to touch it. Let alone possess it.”

She shot him a glance through the mirror and adjusted her glasses. “I think I can handle escorting the thing back to Spain. I got it here, didn’t I? Seth’s going to meet me at the airport and keep me company across the ocean.”

“Ah yes, your faithful shadow, Seth.” Humor lightened Gabriel’s eyes. He pushed a hand through short, thick, white hair, and a frown tugged at bushy eyebrows. “I don’t think you should trust anyone with this, Noelle. It’s too significant.”

Slowly turning, Noelle dropped her gaze to the gnarled cane resting against Gabriel’s left leg. He’d devoted his life to proving the Shroud of Turin was legitimate. Now he was almost eighty, and all he had to show for his research was a shroud that dated from the thirteenth century and a crippled leg. His shooting upon that shroud’s return was the reason for her cadre of governmental guards.

She met his concerned gaze with a warm smile. “I’ll be fine. There’s four cars ahead and behind me. The Church owns the plane. My assistant will be with me—I’ll be just fine.”

His eyes narrowed as he studied her expression. She’d seen that look enough times to know Gabriel was about to dump some revelation on her she wouldn’t like. The hairs on the back of her neck lifted, and unease rolled in her belly.

“I’ve arranged for a personal guard.”

“You what?” She blinked. Her glasses slipped down her nose, and she hastily shoved them back into place.

“I spoke with the director. We both feel it would be a good idea to have someone with you. Driving you. The caravan is nice, yes. But the men inside are strangers easily bought. It’s not like Pope Benedict arranged for the Secret Service to escort you.”

Noelle folded her arms over her chest and scowled. “I thought you retired. Doesn’t that mean you can’t piddle around in my lab and interfere at will?”

A hearty chuckle rumbled in the back of his throat. “Come now, don’t be cross. It’s one day out of your life. Besides, I brought you something to make up for it.” He flopped open his satchel and stuffed a hand inside.

“More like something to bribe me with.” Unable to keep her grin under wraps, Noelle sidled into a chair next to him. Gabriel’s trinkets were always fascinating. But what ever he brought for her always included a personal request. Date some little object he’d picked up from someplace he wouldn’t say, in some corner of the world he’d forgotten. She suspected half of them ended up on eBay.

True to form, he pulled out two felt-wrapped parcels tied with a white string. He selected the smaller and gently tugged at the ties. The ribbon fell away. Gabriel plucked the folded fabric apart. He held his open hand beneath her chin.

Noelle looked down on a gold ring set with a vibrant red stone. She gingerly took it between thumb and forefinger and held it to the light. Intricate etching along the band formed a crude basket weave pattern that lacked even a hint of patina. Yet the artistry was old. Imprecise and rough—a product of an era where everything came from the hands of men. She brought it closer and traced a short nail over the prominent cabochon. Etched into the polished surface, a clubbed chevron had been spared the scars of centuries.

Though beautiful, she’d seen many of similar type. “Roman.”

Gabriel nodded. “I know that much. But I want to know if it’s empire or republic.” He nudged her elbow. “Try it on.”

Smirking, Noelle gave in to the tradition. If she had a jewelry box for all the ancient decorations Gabriel had made her try on over the years, she’d never want for accessories again. She slid the ring onto her finger and cocked her hand, allowing him to inspect the trinket.

“Lovely. Can’t you see who might have worn it? She would have dark hair like yours. Elegant hands.” He caught her fingertips and turned her wrist under the light. “It would glint at banquets, a symbol of her husband’s wealth. Perhaps she was an empress. That’s gold, you know.”

She retracted her hand and slipped the ring off. “I figured as much. There’s no tarnish on it at all. This doesn’t look polished—but we won’t know until I get it tested. We might find chemical residue.”

He winked in the affectionate way that always reminded her of her long-gone father. “You’ll tell me if you do.” Freckled hands pressed the protective cloth into hers.

She wrapped it up, twisted on her stool, and stuffed it into the bag that would hold her precious cargo. When she swiveled around to face him again, Gabriel had the next package unwrapped. Sitting on the tabletop, a heavily patinaed arm torc waited. The patches of green and red iron oxide shimmered in iridescent color, marking it as bronze.

Noelle picked it up to examine it more closely. Triple wound, it coiled in a near- perfect circle. On each end, a tiny serpent’s head came to rest in the center. Each bore fragments of some jewel, or perhaps glass, which served as onyx eyes. Cross- hatching behind the miniature heads created masterful scale work.

“This is gorgeous,” she murmured. She turned the torc beneath the light, and her eyebrows furrowed. Out of place with the other artwork, a Templar cross had been etched into each serpent’s head. “That’s odd.”

“I thought so too. Can you see if there’s any difference in the age between the crosses and the rest of it?”

She brought the torc closer and squinted at the miniscule carvings. “I’ll do my best. When do you need these back?” Before he could instruct her, she eased the torc up over her elbow, fitting it snugly onto her arm. She pushed her shirtsleeve to her shoulder, then twisted to admire the piece. For the first time since Gabriel had started bringing her objects on the side, she could see what he did—a visual of the long-ago person who might have cherished the forgotten object.

“It’s really pretty, Gabriel.”

His heavy hand clapped her shoulder. “I’m glad you like it. That one’s yours.”

“Mine?” Noelle’s eyes widened. “I can’t accept this. It’s got to be worth a fortune.”

Features that still held a hint of color from all his years in the field lifted with a smirk. “Where’d my skeptic go? You don’t know how old that is.”

A flush crept into her cheeks. “I know it’s authentic. You’ve never brought me a fake. No matter how old this is, it’s still got to have significant value.” She pushed at the trinket to slip it off her arm. “I can’t accept it.”

Gabriel grabbed his satchel, snapped it shut, and stood. “You can. Consider it your reward for successfully dating the Sudarium.” He slung his bag over his shoulder, then braced himself on his cane. “Come on. I’ll introduce you to the men I hired.”

Noelle pushed at the torc again, but it refused to budge. Under her breath, she muttered an oath. She should have known better than to shove it onto her arm thoughtlessly. The last time she’d tried on something that was a little too tight, she and Gabriel nearly had to cut it off. If not for his brilliant idea to soak her hand in ice water until her fingers almost froze, she’d have destroyed a ring worth thousands.

“Try soap later,” he commented.

Noelle watched Gabriel limp toward the door. A frown pulled at her forehead as his long- ago accident sifted into her mind. He hadn’t expected someone would try to shoot him, especially not after disproving the theory on the shroud. Maybe his guard wouldn’t be such a bad idea after all. She glanced at the canister. “I need a few minutes, Gabriel. I don’t have this packed right.”

Knowing glinted in his eyes. “I’ll hobble over to the candy machine. Want anything?”

Noelle shook her head.

When the door to her laboratory thumped shut, Noelle picked up the canister and shoved it inside her oversized purse. She lugged the larger satchel Father Phanuel had packed it in to her locker, and stuffed in the change of clothes she kept on hand in case of a chemical spill. Satisfied it didn’t look too bulky, she snapped the tiny padlock on the fastener shut and pocketed the key. Stopping at her cluttered desk, she scribbled a note to Seth instructing him to pick up the relic at the boarding gate. While she’d like to convince herself Gabriel was being overprotective, she knew in her heart he was a practical man. He wouldn’t caution her unless he felt she had reason to worry. Better to take precautions, even if they were unnecessary.

Still, the idea he’d hired private security niggled at her pride. She did a reasonable job living on her own in D.C., even with her apartment being in a shadier side of town. She hadn’t been mugged, hadn’t been threatened, and hadn’t once felt as if she needed a protector. Accepting Gabriel’s suggestion that now might be a wise time to become dependent on someone else just didn’t sit well.

A knock signaled Gabriel’s return. She tossed the bag and her purse over her shoulder, grabbed her coat, and pulled on her winter hat. Winding her heavy scarf around her neck, she headed for the door.

In the hall, she handed Gabriel the canister’s satchel. “Take this to the airport for me, would you? Gate 23—I’ll meet you there with Seth.”

Gabriel reached down, and in a gesture that could only be marked as fatherly, he clasped her hand in an affectionate squeeze. “I’ll have Lucan do the honors.”

“Who’s he?”

“One of the men I hired.”

Even better. Gabriel might observe the weight difference. Someone unfamiliar with transporting artifacts probably wouldn’t catch on. When she arrived at the airport, she’d reclaim the bag, and no one would ever be the wiser.

Gabriel urged her toward the back stairs. “We’ll go this way. There’s a slew of reporters on the front steps.”

Noelle rolled her eyes. The things people would do over a myth. She’d never understand religion or the power it held over mankind. It was so much easier to comprehend the properties of science, the genetic links between the different species, as opposed to trying to sell the creative fiction of a greater power. Science could be proved. Theology only existed as long as people believed.

She followed Gabriel up the musty metal stairs reserved for employees onto the rooftop parking lot. The sun glared off high banks of snow, a false illusion of warmth against the frigid blast that whipped through her hair.

As they stepped around the first row of multicolored vehicles, the front doors on a silver SUV opened. Two men climbed out. Two giant men who looked like they could turn that SUV on its side with little effort.

Noelle bristled. Gabriel hadn’t hired security, he’d hired damn bodyguards. “I won’t forget this, Gabriel,” she mumbled under her breath.

His chuckle only annoyed her further. Gritting her teeth, she sank into her coat and accepted she didn’t have a choice. Maybe she could have gotten out of this back in her laboratory. But not now. Not after she’d agreed. And certainly not when she couldn’t pry his bribe off her arm.

As they approached the waiting vehicle, Gabriel gave her a sideways glance. “I’ll send Lucan ahead with the Sudarium. I would trust him with my life, so you don’t need to worry about its safety. Farran will escort you to your apartment, then take you to the airport when it’s time to leave.” He came to an abrupt stop and pulled on her elbow to turn her around. Bracing his hands on her shoulders, he dropped his head to meet her gaze. All traces of good humor drained from his expression. His eyes glinted with warning.

“When you get to Spain, Gareth will meet you at the baggage claim. He’ll have a red armband over his jacket. Allow no one but him to escort you to your hotel.”

A chill worked its way down Noelle’s spine, and she shivered. In all the time she’d known Gabriel, she’d never seen such deadly seriousness.

She opened her mouth to ask for an explanation, but Gabriel silenced her question with a gesture at the waiting men. “Dr. Keane, please meet Lucan.”

To her utter surprise, the dark-haired man took her hand and kissed the back of it. “A pleasure.” Silver eyes shone with sincerity, a striking contrast to the tousled locks that brushed against his shoulders.

Before she could recover from the surprising greeting, Gabriel cut in. “Lucan, you will take the second car with me, and we will go to the airport ahead of Dr. Keane.”

With a respectful, subordinate nod, Lucan accepted the directive.

Curiosity pulled Noelle’s gaze to the larger giant at the same time Gabriel addressed him. “Farran, this is Dr. Keane. You will escort Noelle to her apartment so she can gather what she needs. Do not leave her side.”

Noelle’s gaze traveled over the imposing figure leaning against the driver’s door. Blond hair tumbled in the crisp winter breeze. A slight wave to his long lengths gave them a softer appearance. He dwarfed her easily, his broad shoulders a good five inches taller than the top of her head. Dressed in faded blue jeans that hugged thick thighs, and a well-worn leather jacket that accented a trim waist, he cut a breathtaking picture. As her gaze drifted up, taking in his well-defined chin, high cheekbones, and nose that sat slightly off center, they skidded to a stop and locked with an intoxicating pair of ale-brown eyes.

Her heart kicked into her ribs. Wow. Maybe Gabriel’s bodyguard wouldn’t be half bad. She could spend a few hours with this guy and live off the resulting high for months to come.

With a tentative smile, she extended her hand.

Farran glanced at it. Then, on an indistinguishable mutter, he scowled. Not even bothering to accept her handshake, he pushed off the door, yanked it open, and climbed behind the steering wheel.

To her shame, Noelle wilted inside. Although his gruff rebuke stung, his reaction didn’t surprise her. Men like Farran had never found her remotely attractive. Then again, glasses, ponytails, and lab coats didn’t appeal to many men, period. If Farran hadn’t brushed her off now, he would have when she tried to talk to him and all that came out was drivel about elements, reactive compounds, and carbon footprints.

Anger rose on the heels of her hurt, and she shot Gabriel a look meant to kill. Except Gabriel had already crossed the parking lot, leaving her the only option of getting in Farran’s vehicle. She grumbled to herself, crossed to the passenger’s side, and opened the door. So much for that euphoric high. In this man’s company, time would crawl at a turtle’s pace and with each agonizing tick, remind her of all her shortcomings.

~~~~~
copyright by Claire Ashgrove

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