Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Fall Time Cozy Time | Book Tag + Book Recs

Wednesday, October 28, 2015 with
Hello everyone,
Happy Wednesday! I thought it would be fun to do the Fall Time Cozy Time book tag (created by Novels and Nonsense on YouTube) today. I love fall! Or, what I imagine a true fall season is like--I've never actually experienced it since I live in perpetually sunny Hawaii. But I love the idea of fall.

All the books I mention here I recommend. Okey, dokey, here we go...

Crunching Leaves: The world is full of color - choose a book that had reds/oranges/yellows
on the cover.

I'm picking 3 books for this question. 

Heart of Obsidian by Nalini Singh was so intense and dark--I don't recommend you pick it though unless you've read all eleven books the came before it--it's the 12th book in the Psy-Changeling series. 

All I Ever Wanted by Kristan Higgins has a different cover now but I prefer the one above. It's so GOOD! Contemporary romance at it's best! It was my first book by Kristan Higgins and it was one of the books made me fall in love with contemporary romance at a time when all I read was paranormal and historical.

While I didn't love The Distance Between Us by Kasie West, it was a light, fun read. If you need a fluffy read to get you out of a reading slump, it's a good one to pick up.

Cozy Sweater: It's finally cold enough to wear warm cozy clothing: what book gives you the warm fuzzies?

Every time I'm bored with my current read or I'm in between books or I have insomnia, Something About You by Julie James and The Deal by Elle Kennedy are my go-to books. I hardly reread books in their entirety, but I often revisit my favorite parts and they still give me the warm fuzzies no matter how many times I reread them. 

Fall Storm: The wind is howling & the rain is pounding - choose your favorite book OR genre that you like to read on a stormy day.

I don't read more if it's raining outside, or rain doesn't make want to reach for a book more than any other kind of weather. But there's something romantic about cuddling up in bed with a warm blanket while it's cold and rainy outside. And I don't know about you, but for me epic fantasy feels more epic if read on a cold, rainy day while you're cuddled in bed. Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson, and The Storyspinner by Becky Wallace are some of my all-time favorites fantasy novels.

Cool Crisp Air: What's the coolest character you'd want to trade places with?

I want to trade places with Anna from Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins. Besides the fact that she ends up with one of my favorite YA hottie Etienne St. Clair, she got to attend a boarding school in Paris. She got to explore Paris, learn French, eat all the food, and... basically she got to do everything in this video, which is everything I want to do in Paris.

Hot Apple Cider: What under hyped book do you want to see become the next biggest, hottest thing?

The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh is my favorite book this year (I don't know if I'll find another book that will top it) and one of my all-time favorites. I want it to be the biggest, hottest thing because I want all the things: the movies, a soundtrack, the merchandise, all the fan-made stuff, a swoony, sexy actor for Khalid, a bad-ass actress for Shazi and basically everyone talking about it from the high schoolers to the grandmas.

Coat, Scarves, and Mittens: The weather has turned cold & it's time to cover up - What's the most embarrassing book cover you own that you like to keep hidden in public?

I read a lot of romance and NA books and I prefer physical books rather than e-books so I'm very familiar and I know all about the pain of embarrassing book covers, especially for amazing books whose covers just don't do it justice and actually serve a turn-off for the unenlightened. 

So, I'm picking only from the books I've read this year. Soulbound by Kristen Callihan has the worst cover out of all the books I've read this year. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely LOVE Soulbound (I gave it 5 out of 5 stars!)--loved it so much that I bought the first 4 books in the series that came for it. But that heinous cover! Yuck! There's nothing sexy about it--instead the guy looks sleazy. I don't know why it's thought that the open-button-down-shirt-off-the-shoulder is a sexy look. It's not! The cover doesn't do Soulbound any justice and it's sad that other readers will not pick up this book because of they're put off by the cringe-worthy cover.

Pumpkin Spice: What's your favorite Fall time comforts food/foods?
All the Thanksgiving foods--mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, stuffing, turkey, pumpkin pie, sweet potatoes, corn... I love it and I stuff myself silly every November.

Warm, Cozy Bonfire: Spread the cozy warmth - Who do you tag?
Everybody who loves (or loves the idea of) fall!

Let me know if you did this tag already so I can stop by to read your answers. If you haven't, I tag you!!

Happy reading,

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Darkest Before Dawn by Maya Banks | Excerpt

Tuesday, October 27, 2015 with
Hello everyone,
Today is the release date for the 10th book in the KGI series, Darkest Before Dawn by Maya Banks. If you don't know, I'm a big Maya Banks fan and I am so excited to get to Darkest Before Dawn--unfortunately I still need to get caught up in the series so I can't read it just yet. BUT! It's out and it's the long-awaited book about the mysterious Hancock. And I have an awesome treat for you all today! An excerpt of Darkest Before Dawn for your enjoyment.

The Kelly Group International (KGI): A super-elite, top secret, family-run business.

Qualifications: High intelligence, rock-hard body, military background.

Mission: Hostage/kidnap victim recovery. Intelligence gathering. Handling jobs the U.S. government can’t...

The enigmatic Hancock has been both opponent and ally to the KGI teams for as long as they've known him. Always working a deep game, Hancock's true allegiance has never been apparent, but one thing is for certain—he never lets anything get in the way of duty.

But now, his absolute belief in the primacy of his ultimate goal is challenged by a captive he's been ordered to guard, no matter how much she suffers in her prison. She's the only woman who's ever managed to penetrate the rigid walls surrounding his icy heart, but will he allow his perplexing feelings for the beautiful victim to destroy a mission he's spent years working to complete or will he be forced to sacrifice her for “the greater good.”

“You want me and my men to do what?” Hancock asked mildly, not betraying his feelings of What the fuck.

Guy Hancock, or Hancock as he was generally known, although not many knew his given name, faced Russell Bristow, his incredulity over Bristow’s stupidity not showing, but there nonetheless.

Hancock’s identity changed with the winds, and at times it was hard for him to keep up with who he currently was. It was a tired existence, one he grew wearier of all the time. But at least he had a purpose. Or at least he had at one time. Now he wasn’t as sure has he’d been earlier on. Time had robbed him of that strict code of honor until he wondered just how close to the line he was and how close he’d come to becoming the very thing he worked so tirelessly to extinguish and protect the innocent from. He knew no other life except killing. Manipulating. Mastering the masters of evil and exacting justice in his own cold, methodical way that had nothing to do with any established legal code.

He’d long ago forgone any semblance of a conscience. He had an unwavering and deeply ingrained sense of honor, but not everyone would agree that with honor came a conscience. And his personal code was just that. Personal to him. He didn’t see in black and white. His world was steeped in grey. Great looming shadows that threatened to consume him. At times he felt hunted-and he was-but it was as though he knew his time was limited. The urgency of taking down his target, one he’d waited a very long time to get close to, was like a ticking time bomb. Success had eluded him, and now time had run out. Hancock would never get this close again. He knew it. His men knew it. They felt, too, that they would all likely die carrying out their mission. And yet none turned their back on their duty. They embraced death as the result of victory. Nothing more.

Russell Bristow’s lips curled in distaste, anger flaring in his eyes. The stupid bastard wasn’t smart enough to mask his emotions or control his temper. It would get him killed, and Hancock mentally shrugged. It would mean one less asshole in the world and one less person he had to take out himself in the end. But until his ultimate goal was achieved, he needed to keep the stupid bastard alive, though he’d love nothing more than to break his neck and rid the world of his foul presence. Bristow was a means to an end, and so Hancock had to rein in his utter distaste of the man until he served his purpose. Then he would die, because Hancock would never let such depravity live.

“Don’t you mean my men?” Bristow snapped.

Hancock lifted one eyebrow and simply stared the other man down, pinning him with a gaze he knew others feared and were intimidated by, until a mottled flush worked its way up Bristow’s neck and he fidgeted like a bug under a microscope. He looked away and then back but didn’t meet Hancock’s eyes this time. His fear was a stench in the air that offended Hancock and disgusted his men. Courage came in many forms, shapes and colors. Courage wasn’t always necessary to succeed. Determination was. But fear bred stupidity. Fear caused mistakes. Fear could lead men to betray themselves, their cause and anyone impending one’s goal of others.

Bristow was loyal to none save himself, and Hancock never made the mistake of thinking otherwise or of misjudging him-or anyone else, for that matter. Bristow would sacrifice Hancock and all his men if he felt at any time his life was in danger. And it was. It was Hancock and his men’s job to ensure that Bristow felt safe and invincible. To feed his natural arrogance and desire for power. If he knew just what he was up against, he’d crawl into a deep dark hole, terrified, and Hancock’s last link to his objective would be forfeit. No, he needed Bristow in all his stupidity and vainness. Maksimov knew what he was dealing with as well. A puppet. A man who thought he was in control and yet was easily controlled by others. In a game of chess, the most important match of Hancock’s life, he had to make it appear that Bristow was easily manipulated by Maksimov and yet move him in such a way that it positioned Maksimov as Hancock, wanted. So that in fact, Hancock manipulated both men without either being aware.

“As you are all on my payroll and take orders from me, that makes all of you my men,” Bristow said, his voice not as commanding as it had been a moment earlier. But then he was a coward, always employing others to do his dirty work for him. If his options were to stay and fight with his men or abandon them and run, he’d run. His kind always did. It was precisely why Hancock had his own team here under the guise of having vetted and employed them for Bristow. Bristow had no knowledge of the fact that Hancock’s team had worked together for years and that their loyalty to one another ran deep. That they answered to Hancock and no other. Ever.

In a world where Hancock trusted none but a precious few, his trust was given to Titan, though it was no longer Titan. It wasn’t…anything. The very government who’d created them, faking their deaths and then raising them from the ashes like the phoenix, had given them new identities and they were to have no ties to the outside world. The mission was all that mattered. Not people. Not politics or the delicate dance of diplomacy.

The government had created…monsters. Killing machines without mercy or conscience, trained to carry out orders at all cost. The good of the many always outweighed the good of the few. And when Titan grew too powerful, when they began to question their orders, their objective and how it aided the greater good, when the missions seemed to grow too personal, too inconsequential for a group of Titan’s training and abilities, they’d been disbanded, branded traitors, loose cannons, murderers. Even terrorists. They’d been labeled the very thing they hunted and it still burned a hole in Hancock’s gut. After living so many years with no feelings, no emotions turning them off at will and doing his job with cool efficiency, he learned true rage. Not since his foster mother, a woman who’d made Hancock feel that he had worth and had given him the first and only sense of family, had been murdered in retaliation for her husband’s mission, had Hancock felt anger and overwhelming rage. That mission had been personal. The only one. Big Eddie, the man who called him son, had come to him for help. Revenge. And even if Big Eddie hadn’t asked, Hancock would have hunted Caroline Sinclair’s murderer.

But things had changed since then. That was years ago, when Titan operated under the authority of the U.S. government, though only a select few even knew of Titan’s existence. They had much freedom then to ferret out those who were at threat to national security, to take out any threat at will. And then, their own government turned on them, thinking them expendable and easily disposed of.

Even now the hunters had become the hunted, and any number of classified military groups had orders to kill on sight. Having gained access to a shadowy CIA operative’s computer filed, Hancock had learned a hell of a lot about the country he swore his allegiance to.

No, not everyone charge with defense of America and its people was evil and self-serving, betraying the trust of the citizens they were sworn to protect and defend. There were men and women who tirelessly took up the charge. But any one of those would kill Hancock on sight, thinking him a traitor to the principles they followed, lived, and would die for.

Titan had refused to die. They had evolved far beyond what their trainers in the beginning had taught them, And now, they not only fought to protect even those who’d betrayed them and countless innocent American lives but they had expanded their reach into a world filled with the same good and bad reflected in the U.S. government and military.

Innocence had no boundaries. No one nationality. One wasn’t good or bad simply because one was a certain nationality or held a different belief system. Innocents died every day simply because there was no one to fight for them. Not even their own governments. Titan couldn’t save the entire world, but they saved pieces of it. One piece at a time.

Taking out Maksimov-finally-would save a lot of lives. The sheer time it would take for someone else to pick up the remnants of his empire, to pick up the reins and take over operations, would enable other countries, other special ops groups to infiltrate and shut it down before it ever got back off the ground.

Because after Maksimov…Hancock shut his mind down, returning to the issue at hand, before Bristow truly understood the depth of Hancock’s lack of respect and the fact that he in no way feared this man, that he was so confident of his superiority that he knew he could get to Bristow at any time and end his miserable existence. Despite his attempt to silence the many voices in his head, all replaying past events and ensuring his absolute focus on this mission above all else, a whisper slid insidiously through his mind, tracing each pathway so he had no choice but to hear it. It settled deep within him, taking root as it had done so many times before, and this time Hancock didn’t even bother to uproot it, push it away, force it free so he could forget it was ever there.

After Maksimov you will be free of this life. It will be time for you to rest.

He nearly gritted his teeth. The whisper bothered him when so little else did. When so little else had the power to affect him. Rest could mean many different things to a man like him. But the one prevailing thought, the suspicion that took hold when nothing else would, was that in this case, rest meant eternal rest. And worse than the thought of it being final was the fact that he didn’t fear it, didn’t feel sadness or regret. All he felt was…anticipation. He didn’t share his acceptance of this with his team or with the four people he considered family, the only people in the world who mattered to him. The only people he felt real emotion for. Love. Loyalty. Respect. And the knowledge that he’d die for any one of them. No, if they knew, they’d make it much harder for him. They’d never understand. They’d want him away from this life. They’d want him to life. For them. With them. They’d never understand that he could never adapt to civilian life-normal life. He didn’t even know what normal was. He didn’t fit into a world where everything was black and white, where grey wasn’t accepted. He couldn’t live or exist in a life where if something happened to someone he loved he couldn’t go after the people responsible, couldn’t make them pay. He would be expected to rely on and trust law enforcement and then the justice system to get justice for the person he loved. How fucked up was that?

He was a law unto himself, and that would never change. God help him, he didn’t want it to change. Never would he sit back and allow someone else to do what was his duty alone.

Bristow was seething with impatience, taking Hancock’s prolonged silence for disdain and insubordination. As much as Hancock wanted to tell him to get fucked, there was a higher purpose at hand, and Bristow mattered only as much as a pawn used to achieve that higher goal. Hancock wouldn’t get rid of him yet. But he would allow the man to know who was really in control. Bristow would know not to cross Hancock, even as he wouldn’t be certain why. It would be nothing Hancock said-directly. But Bristow would know absolutely.

“You pay men.” Hancock said mildly. “I hired and pay my men. They follow my orders. Never think otherwise.”

Though the statement seemed bland, a simple truth, there was a soft warning that Bristow didn’t misunderstand. For a brief moment fear flashed in the career criminal’s eyes before he visibly chased it away with a shake of his head, a scowl replacing any hint of intimidation. He hated the feeling of inferiority. That Hancock, so rough around the edges, hard and unyielding, not handsome or appealing by anyone’s standards, could possibly make a man like Bristow feel so subservient. And yet he was too aware of Hancock’s power to challenge the man who worked for him. He was…afraid…of him. And that rankled him most of all.

Hancock almost smiled, but he was too disciplined to do so. He wanted the little bastard afraid of him-of his men. And he damn sure wanted the power-hungry warlord to know just where his men’s loyalties lay. It wasn’t with Bristow, and he’d be a fool to ever believe so.

“Now, about this woman,” Hancock said, deliberately bringing them back to the original subject. “What could be so important about a lone woman that you would risk pissing off one of the most powerful men in the world?”

Once again, anger flashed in Bristow’s eyes. Impatience caused a twitch to his right eyelid, and he was barely maintaining a grasp on his temper. With anyone else, he would have already acted. He would have ordered the person who dared to question him and suggest he wasn’t the most powerful man in the world to be killed. And it wouldn’t be a quick merciful death either. Hancock had witnessed Bristow’s depravities firsthand. He’d been forced to participate in order to prove himself. To enter Bristow’s inner circle, gain his trust-and confidence-and position himself as Bristow’s second in command.

The man was foul, and only the knowledge that when Hancock brought down his primary target he would then take out Bristow and dismantle his entire organization had kept him from killing Bristow on the spot. But he needed this man-or rather pawn, as loath as he was to admit it. Any idiot with Bristow’s connections would do. It wasn’t personal to Bristow or any greatness he perceived on his behalf. Maksimov, the primary target, the end goal, was a cagey bastard, and Hancock had come close too many times to count, only for the Russian to elude him.

He was determined that this was his final chase. It would all end here. He would bring down every kingpin in this macabre chain of evil. They preyed on the innocent, providing all the necessary tools for anyone with the money and the means to wage war on the innocent. They were the cause of so much bloodshed. Rivers of it. Hundreds of thousands of deaths could be attributed to the links in the chain, but all pieces led back to the same man, Maksimov. He had his fingers in every imaginable pie there was. If there was a way to profit from pain, suffering and terrorism, he found it.

Ironically, Maksimov provided equally to opposing factions, no doubt finding it amusing to see groups waging war against one another with weapons he provided, his pockets fat from the veritable monopoly he held on arms, explosives, every imaginable military weapon and even the necessary components to build nuclear weapons.

He was on every civilized country’s most-wanted list. He was the most-wanted man in the world, and yet on one had succeeded in taking him down. Over the years, Hancock had tasted failure more times than he wished to remember as he relentlessly pursued Maksimov. Took advantage of avenues to him. Cultivated partnerships with those high up in the chain leading to Maksimov. Were it not for an attack on the very thing he swore he didn’t possess-a conscience-he’d have nailed the bastard twice over.

He’d mentally berated himself a hundred times, and yet he couldn’t find it within him to have true regret over the choices he’d made. The only thing he’d been able to summon was the iron will to never again put the good of the one over the good of the many. The price was too high. He’d sacrificed his objective for a single innocent. On not one, but two occasions. And when he imagined how many thousands of innocent people had died-were still dying-because he saved two innocents, two people who were nothing but good-everything he wasn’t-it only hardened his resolve to never forfeit his honor, his belief system. He understood that the loss of the two women he’d chosen to forfeit his mission in order to save would have been a travesty. The world needed people like Grace and Maren. But he had no choice but to once again embrace the emotionless existence he’d lived for so many years and wrap himself deep in the layers so he would feel nothing but the burning drive to complete his mission at all costs.

He would not feel guilt over sacrificing the few for the many. It was a choice no one should ever have to make, but it was what he had been made into. His skills honed by fire. Taught by the best. The knowledge that completing the mission at all costs was necessary and that failure was not an option had been so solidly ingrained into him that hit had become a part of him. No, not a part.. It had become all-consuming, the whole of his existence. So deeply rooted in his soul that it became who he was. What he was. Until there was nothing left of the person he’d once been, and in his place a ruthless warrior had been born. Forged by fire. Resolve of steel. No hesitation to do his sworn duty and uphold the only honor and code he adhered to. His own.

“You think me a fool,” Bristow hissed, some of his earlier fire once again flashing in his eyes, his temper quick and churlish. “I don’t pay you to judge me, I pay you for absolute obedience. If you can’t handle that, then show yourself-and your men,” he added snidely, “to the door.”

Hancock did smile then, but it was mocking, meant to demonstrate contempt for Bristow and his utter lack of respect or fear of a man used to inspiring both.

“No, you pay me to do your dirty work. You pay me to save your ass. And you pay me because you fear that the many enemies you’ve made over the years will get to you, so you sought to hire the best and you did. By all means, if you are so confident in your abilities to see to those matters yourself, then my men and I will go elsewhere. There is always someone looking for one with my capabilities and who will certainly be more appreciative of them. I’m sure you will sleep just fine at night, confident in your safety.”

Fear didn’t merely flicker in Bristow’s eyes, like a shadow chased away nearly soon as it appeared. His entire face whitened and he swallowed visibly. Hancock felt confident calling the coward’s bluff because above all things, Bristow feared death. His own, that is. He had no regard for the death of others and liked being the instrument of death. It made him feel godlike and powerful, that he could decide whether another lived or died. And he loved others to have that knowledge of who and what he was so they’d fear him, acknowledge him and placate him, even worship him.

And there was the reason he despised Hancock so much. Because not only had Hancock proven himself invincible and impervious to death, but he held Bristow in no esteem whatsoever. He was confident in his own abilities and would never have to hire others to do his bidding. And he was a man others instinctively feared and deferred to. Bristow saw everything he craved-and lacked-in the man he’d hired, and he hated Hancock for it.

Not waiting, Hancock made a motion to his men as if to go, and he simply turned his back on Bristow, making sure at least two of his men had Bristow in their sight line so he didn’t do something stupid like pull a gun and shoot Hancock in the back. Which would be completely in keeping with his character, because Bristow was both a coward and not one who could control his temper.

“Maksimov will want her,” Bristow blurted out. “You have no idea how much. You don’t know who she is, only that I told you I wanted her.”

His tone was beseeching. He hoped to get Hancock and his men to stay without begging outright. He knew better than to command them to stay. And it tore at his already tattered pride to beg, to allow Hancock to know how much Bristow did need him and feared his world without Hancock there to be a barrier between him and his enemies.

It wasn’t Bristow’s desperation that stopped Hancock and his men. It was that one magic word. Maksimov.

Hancock slowly turned so he didn’t tip his hand. He leveled a stare at Bristow.

“Maksimov wants a lot of things,” he said matter-of-factly. “What makes the woman so special?”

“It’s not her,” Bristow said impatiently. “I mean it’s not personal to her. You don’t understand. She escaped from an attack on a relief center where she and many Westerners worked. She was the only survivor, and the militant group took no chances. They recovered all bodies and compared it to the list of people they knew worked there. They were the target. Once they discovered the woman wasn’t among the dead and was nowhere to found, they launched a search for her. So far, she’s evaded them and hasn’t been discovered.”

Hancock made a motion for his men to stand down and take their places in the room once more. A protective formation so Bristow was watched from every angle, though Bristow wasn’t smart enough to know that his every action was being monitored and that he’d be taken out immediately if he made one wrong move.

Hancock crossed his arms over his stomach in a deceptively relaxed and inquisitive mode.

“And why would this woman be of interest to Maksimov? So much so that you want me to track her and be the one to capture her before this group finds her? I doubt you have any interest in protecting her or saving her life, as surely when her pursuers find her—and they will—she’ll be dead. Or wish she were dead.”

Bristow seated himself behind the ornate desk he used for his business dealings. It reeked of wealth and opulence, but then Hancock would expect nothing less from a man who made certain everyone he came into contact with knew of his wealth and imagined power.

His eyes gleamed with . . . excitement. There was obviously something about the woman that gave Bristow an edge, imagined or not. His entire body bristled with impatience and anticipation.

“Because a New Era, the terrorist cell turning the country upside down hunting the woman, is well known and ruthless. They are feared by many. Entire nations fear them, and in fact even enemy nations have joined together in a summit to focus their combined efforts to stop them. They grow more powerful every day. They have unlimited resources and operate using fear and intimidation to achieve their agenda.”

“And what is their agenda exactly?” Hancock asked.

“That’s the question, isn’t it? What does any fanatical terrorist cell truly want? They want power, reverence. They want people to not only fear them but to respect their capabilities. They want to rule the entire region, not just a single country or territory. They want nations to fear them and concede that they are superior to any military force. Their numbers grow steadily. They recruit far and wide. Men and women of any ethnicity, nationality. They are very persuasive and promise ultimate wealth, power and domination. And so far, no one, no army, no country, no organized effort has been able to get close to them. They have few casualties and are unaffected by them. Everyone who joins feels it is a great honor to die for their cause, and that makes them even more dangerous because they have no fear of death. They are . . . unstoppable.”

“What is Maksimov’s connection to this group and why would the woman be of interest to him?” Hancock asked impatiently, tired of information he deemed useless.

There was no shortage of independent cells all seeking dominance in an already war-torn region. So what made this one any different than the others? But he’d detected a hint of fear—and respect—for this group he spoke of, and Maksimov neither feared nor respected anyone, though it made him a fool because he was weak, and without strong, ruthless people to do his bidding, he was nothing.

“They owe Maksimov money. He is their main supplier of arms and explosives. They believe themselves untouchable by anyone and have no fear of Maksimov, the fools. If Maksimov has something they want very badly, then that gives him an edge. And they do want this woman. Already word has spread through the region of a lone woman, a defenseless American woman who has evaded capture, and it makes them look weak. Like fools who can’t manage to find a woman. They are furious, no doubt, and if they do find her and I have no doubt they eventually will—their reach is too far, their power too great—she will not die quickly. They will seek to make an example of her. They’ll use her to demonstrate just how ruthless they are, and they’ll use her to send a message to all who oppose them. I have no doubt Maksimov would not only pay much to have her in his possession but he would be indebted. To me.”

He said the last with supreme satisfaction, arrogance and greed lighting his eyes. So this was his goal. To dangle something Maksimov wanted desperately in front of his nose and to be the one to deliver the woman to Maksimov. It would elevate Bristow’s status with Maksimov, which would bring him more power and wealth. It would set him up for years to come, and when he was under Maksimov’s protection as one known to be in his inner circle, Bristow’s enemies would hesitate to strike at him, knowing that whatever was done to Bristow would be taken by Maksimov to be an insult—an attack—on Maksimov himself. And few dared to take on Maksimov, which allowed Maksimov to grow in power, expanding his already enormous reach and his empire into something truly frightening. If Hancock wasn’t successful in taking him down this time, he knew his time had run out. He had firsthand experience with how ruthless Maksimov could be. He still bore the scars of his last run-in with the man, but thankfully, Hancock had been in deep cover and his appearance had been altered such that it was doubtful Maksimov would recognize the man he believed to be the minion of the man who’d gone against Maksimov. It was his only up close and personal contact with the man he’d hunted for years, and by the time Maksimov had gotten close to Hancock, his already disguised features were bloodied, bruised and swollen, so Hancock felt confident the man wouldn’t recognize him. He planned to get very close to the man this time, and perhaps this woman Bristow spoke of would afford him just that chance.

He glanced at Bristow with interest, no longer viewing the task Bristow had ordered him to do as a delay he couldn’t afford, a pointless endeavor that would only lessen his chances of striking at Maksimov at the first opportunity.

“So you want me to go after this woman, intercept her before the men hunting her find her and bring her to Maksimov?”

Bristow frowned and shook his head. “No. Not immediately. Bring her to me. I won’t simply hand her over to Maksimov before gaining what I want from the exchange. And that will take time. Maksimov is reclusive and cagey. Not much brings him to the surface. If he really wants her, and I’m positive he will, I plan to make him wait and grow restless to the point he’ll give me whatever I want. It will be a negotiation. If I don’t get what I want from Maksimov, then I will bargain with the militants who want her so desperately. Either would give much to have the woman. Perhaps the militants would give me even more so they save face,” he added with a shrug.

It was a stupid, dangerous game to toy with and attempt to manipulate Maksimov, but Hancock didn’t warn Bristow of that fact. If the woman lured Maksimov into a personal meeting where he’d take possession of the woman, then that fit perfectly into Hancock’s agenda, and he didn’t particularly care what the consequences to Bristow were.

And it was equally stupid to bargain with a fanatical group because after giving Bristow what he wanted in exchange for the girl, they’d simply execute Bristow in very bloody fashion and take back not only what they’d given as payment for the woman but everything Bristow possessed, which would only add to their considerable wealth and power.

Anticipation licked through Hancock’s veins and his pulse sped up, the taste of victory in his mouth. If all it took was capturing a single woman who was running and hiding from a terrorist group to enable him to achieve his objective, then he’d do it without hesitation. He’d have to ensure that Maksimov took the bait because it did him no good for Bristow to turn to the terrorist cell to get what he wanted. It had to be Maksimov.

He glanced up at his men and saw answering resolve in their eyes. They wanted to take down Maksimov every bit as much as he did. And like him, they grew weary of their existence or rather nonexistence. To the world, they were dead. To their government they were traitors and had been given a death sentence. To their prey, they were angels of death, without mercy or compassion. They were feared by all and they mattered to no one. To even the strongest, unfeeling soul, such a life eventually wore on them. They were all ready to step down from their cause and allow others to do the work they’d done without thanks or regard for over a decade. And make whatever kind of life was left to them, knowing that even after they stood down, they’d always be hunted.

“Give me what intel you have,” Hancock said to Bristow, determination and resolve Bristow couldn’t possibly miss in his tone. And Bristow had seen him in action long enough to know he didn’t offer his assurances lightly. “I’ll find the woman and bring her to you.”

I hope you enjoyed the excerpt! A big thanks to Caroline and Sullivan and Partners for the excerpt. Pick up Darkest Before Dawn at your favorite book retailer.

Happy reading,

Monday, October 26, 2015

ARC: 320 pages
Publisher: Running Press Kids
Release Date: November 3, 2015
Source of my copy: ALA Annual Conference
Series: standalone
When Two Truths and One Lie Turn Deadly . . .
A narrow escape from a bomb attack.
A radical insurgent organization on the rise.
A place and a people to call her own.
K has a choice to make, and her answer is yes.
Yes to spying.
Yes to making right wrongs of the past.
Yes to leading a double life.
But when the two worlds lead to one trapdoor, will K be able to avoid falling through?

I was initially very intrigued by One of Us because it sounded like the main character is a double agent. Overall, it was a good read a realistic, timely plot line. 
K (like the letter) lives in a divided world between the Brotherhood (recognizable by their red clothing) and the Citizens. The Brotherhood and the Citizens have an uneasy truce and were working towards reconciliation, but with constant treats of violence by the Brotherhood a full-out war seemed inevitable. After K narrowly escapes a terrorist attack by the Brotherhood, she met undercover policeman Oskar and he soon recruits her to spy for his unit. She was placed in a Brotherhood school and was supposed to identify would-be extremists. But as K got in deeper to her role, she learned that there's always two sides to every story. That what the Citizens preached as "truths" may not be wholly accurate and the violent actions of a few radicals do not represent the entirety of the group.

One of Us wasn't a bad read--actually once I really got into it, it's a fascinating story of a sectarian society riddled with terrorism, paranoia, propaganda, manipulation and about a girl's search for a place to belong while navigating a dangerous world. K, whose parents have died in a Brotherhood bombing, had been taught to distrust and hate the Brotherhood by her grandma. As a Citizen she also sees the Brotherhood's seeming resistance to peace and was surrounded by media constantly who paint the Brotherhood in a negative light. So, K has this prejudice and fear of the people who identify with the Brotherhood. But when she has to live with them at the school, she realized that there's more to them than what the media painted them to be and we see her outlook change. K was a strong character and I really liked seeing her evolve as she began to question the "truths" she grew up with. 

Some of the issues One of Us touched on parallels issues we have today and I really enjoyed that aspect of the novel. I did enjoy the plot overall. It was mostly interesting and at times thrilling, but there were times I was inattentive and stalled. The beginning was especially rough--the first few chapters felt kind of all over the place and because of this it took me a while to really get into the story. Another issue I had was that I wanted more background information about the Brotherhood and the Citizens and the reasons for their strife (it was never explicitly addressed) and I wish it delved more into the differences between the two society so we get a better picture beyond the differences in the color of their clothing and the Brotherhood's fanaticism. 

While I had my issues with One of Us and I didn't love it as I was hoping to, it's still a worthy, timely read. A lot of the issues and the questions the author brought up bear thinking about. The story did stay with me after I finished reading the last page.

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Monday, October 19, 2015

E-ARC: 400 pages
Publisher: Entangled Teen
Release Date: November 3, 2015
Source of my copy: publisher
Series: The Book of Ivy #2
Ivy Westfall is beyond the fence and she is alone. Abandoned by her family and separated from Bishop Lattimer, Ivy must find a way to survive on her own in a land filled with countless dangers, both human and natural. She has traded a more civilized type of cruelty--forced marriages and murder plots--for the bare-knuckled brutality required to survive outside Westfall's borders.

But there is hope beyond the fence, as well. And when Bishop reappears in Ivy's life, she must decide if returning to Westfall to take a final stand for what she believes is right is worth losing everything she's fought for.

Warning: Mild spoilers.

I was dying to read The Revolution of Ivy to find out what happened to Ivy and Bishop after all the things happened at the end of The Book of Ivy.
The Revolution of Ivy picks up where The Book of Ivy ended. She was supposed to kill her new husband Bishop Lattimer (the son of her family's enemy), but in the end she fell in love with Bishop and couldn't go through with her father and sister's plan. She took the fall for them and as punishment, she was thrown out of Westfall and left outside the fenced compound. She must find a way to survive on her own amidst all the dangers both human and natural.

The first third of the novel, Ivy was on her own in the wilderness trying to survive but eventually she was rescued by a girl about her age Ash and her adopted brother Caleb. She formed a friendship with them and they took her in, but she kept the reason why she was kicked out of Westfall to herself. Ivy was getting along well until Bishop reappeared in her life. When she learned that Westfall was in chaos and her dad and sister were in trouble, she had to decide whether to return and save the family who turned their back on her or live a new life with Bishop away from Westfall.

Ivy grew up a lot in this book because she was no longer under the influence of her dad and sister. But after the events in The Book of Ivy, she was carrying a lot of emotional weight on her shoulders. When Bishop came back into her life, she didn't know quite what to do with him because there was a lot of unresolved issues between them--like her planning to kill him after they got married. She would run hot and cold towards him and despite Bishop wanting to talk about what happened between them, for the longest time she refused. I grew frustrated and aggravated with her. I wanted to reach into the pages and shake her because she was pushing away the one person who really loved her. I felt so bad for Bishop, who was my precious baby. Yep, Bishop was as swoon-worthy as ever. Really, he's the epitome of a perfect guy: strong, sensitive, sweet, caring, supportive... Seriously, where can I find a Bishop of my own?

But once they got over that hump in their relationship, Ivy and Bishop grew closer in a way they couldn't in the first book. I loved watching their relationship grow. Despite my frustration with Ivy, I was rooting for her and Bishop to have their happy ending.

I mentioned the two new characters Ash and Caleb. They were both great! Ash became the best friend Ivy never had. At first I was nervous about Caleb--I mean, I always get nervous when authors introduce a new guy to the story because they could potentially be a second love interest to the main female character forming a love triangle, a YA standard these days. But fear not, friends! Ms. Engel did no such thing. Caleb was just a friend--there was no romantic feeling between him and Ivy at all. None. Thank you Ms. Engel! And I love Caleb's character all the more for that reason. If Ms. Engel decided to write spin-off series about Ash and Caleb, I'd be totally down. I might even ship Ash and Caleb even though they only had a strict sibling relationship in The Revolution of Ivy.

Okay, besides Ivy going hot and cold to my precious baby Bishop, another thing that aggravated me about her was her choice to go back to Westfall to save her dad and sister. Seriously?! These people were horrible to Ivy and they turned their back on her, betrayed her. If I were Ivy, I'd say good riddance. I didn't agree with her decision to go back. I don't care if they're her family, what they did was unforgivable. The dad and the sister got what was coming to them in the end, so I was satisfied.

The Book of Ivy series is only a duology, so all the questions you're left with at the end of the first book is answered in The Revolution of Ivy and is, therefore, a must-read. If you got this far of my rambling review, I obviously had a lot of emotions especially towards Ivy where reading this book. But I had a great time! The Revolution of Ivy was a very entertaining read and I devoured it very quickly. I admit I didn't love it as much as I did The Book of Ivy, which I found more complex in terms of plot and character motivations, but it is a worthy sequel and a satisfying conclusion to the series. The Revolution of Ivy is a must-read for fans of The Book of Ivy.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Release Date: October 6, 2015
Source of my copy: publisher
Series: none
A troubled teen, living in Paris, is torn between two boys, one of whom encourages her to embrace life, while the other—dark, dangerous, and attractive—urges her to embrace her fatal flaws.

Summer Barnes just moved to Paris to repeat her senior year of high school. After being kicked out of four boarding schools, she has to get on the right track or she risks losing her hefty inheritance. Summer is convinced that meeting the right guy will solve everything. She meets two. Moony, a classmate, is recovering against all odds from a serious car accident, and he encourages Summer to embrace life despite how hard it can be to make it through even one day. But when Summer meets Kurt, a hot, mysterious older man who she just can't shake, he leads her through the creepy underbelly of the city-and way out of her depth.

When Summer's behavior manage to alienate everyone, even Moony, she's forced to decide if a life so difficult is worth living. With an ending that'll surprise even the most seasoned reader,
Romancing the Dark in the City of Light is an unputdownable and utterly compelling novel.

Do not let Romancing the Dark in the City of Light pass you by. It will surprise you in a very good way.
With the Eiffel Tower in the background and a couple holding hands, you're probably expecting a contemporary love story set in Paris. It is not. Instead, Romancing the Dark in the City of Light is a dark, realistic story about Summer Barnes who just moved to Paris to live her mom and attend a boarding school. 

In the first chapter Summer is on the train and she's comparing how the tunnel and the brightness up ahead as a near-death experience--rushing through darkness toward the light ahead with her dad and grandma (who are dead) there to welcome her with open arms. Then, during the same train ride, when a woman jumped on the tracks and died, she thought about how "the lady is lucky to be out of here" and that it's a release and a deliverance rather than a horrible incident. It's because of these suicidal thoughts that she wants to find a boyfriend to care for and for him to care for her. She thought having a boyfriend will give her a purpose.

Summer meets two guys. Moony, from her school, and Kurt, a sexy older guy who's also new to Paris. She likes both of them for different reasons and the two guys are polar opposites of each other. Basically, Moony is the light and Kurt is darkness--they personify the ups and downs, the inner struggle of Summer's depression. I don't want to say anymore than that because the way the author crafted the story, there's a lot of deeper meaning behind certain words, metaphors and scenes that you as a reader need to interpret and reflect on your own. It's one of those books where it will be a different reading experience for everyone, and everyone will see the characters and their actions and what they represent a little differently based on their own life experiences. Romancing the Dark in the City of Light is a really good book club book for that reason, and it comes with ready discussion questions at the end of the novel. Actually, reading those questions made me think about the story a little deeper after I finished reading it.

Summer was a complicated character. She's battling depression, thoughts of suicide, and alcoholism. I felt for her, but she also frustrated me with all her poor decisions when it came to Kurt. I did feel that her struggles, her dark, jumbled thoughts, and her self-destructiveness were realistic. It wasn't easy to read as she spiraled to her lowest. I know there are people out there who are just like Summer and going through (or went through) the same.

I welcomed the darker side of Paris we saw in this novel. Paris, more often than not, is described as a romantic city of light with its famous landmarks, cute boutiques, art galleries, and hole-in-the-wall tearooms, bookshops, and restaurants. But in Romancing the Dark in the City of Light we glimpse a darker, grimy side of the city we don't often see.

I tend to avoid dark "issues" books like Romancing the Dark in the City of Light, preferring my happy, fluffy romantic contemporaries but I'm very glad I picked up this novel. It's not my usual read, but I appreciated it. It made me see things in a different perspective and it shed light on what someone with severe depression might be going through inside their head. This was a powerful debut novel by Ms. Jacobus and she's definitely an author to look out for.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

E-ARC: 314 pages
Release Date: October 6, 2015
Source of my copy: TRSOR/author
Series: Rock Kiss #3
Kit Devigny could have loved rock guitarist Noah St. John. Their friendship burned with the promise of intense passion and searing tenderness…until the night Noah deliberately shattered her heart.

Noah knows he destroyed something precious the night he chose to betray Kit, but he’d rather she hate him than learn his darkest secret. All he has left is his music. It’s his saving grace, but it doesn’t silence the voices that keep him up at night. Chasing oblivion through endless one-night-stands, he earns a few hours’ sleep and his bad boy reputation.

When a media error sees Noah and Kit dubbed the new “it” couple, Kit discovers her chance at the role of a lifetime hinges on riding the media wave. Wanting—needing—to give Kit this, even if he can’t give her everything, Noah agrees to play the adoring boyfriend. Only the illusion is suddenly too real, too painful, too beautiful…and it may be too late for the redemption of Noah St. John.

Nalini Singh is one of my favorite authors so I had quite the high expectation for Rock Redemption. Of course, it didn't disappoint. I loved it!

Kit, an actress, and Noah, Schoolboy Choir's guitarist, were best friends before either of them hit it big. But feelings between them started to grow and Kit was ready for them to be more than just friends when she found him having sex with another woman on the night. Noah not only broke her heart, but he also stomped all over it. But, unbeknownst to Kit, Noah loved her and he thought if they have sex it will break Kit because his life was a huge mess and he didn't want her tainted by him. So, he staged it so Kit will find him with another woman. They did not talk again for over two years after that until Noah called Kit one night (read the excerpt below!) and the story takes off from there. 

Before I go on, I do want to mention that Noah never cheated on Kit in the story. I mean, he's a manwhore but there was zero cheating, so don't let that deter you from reading this novel.

Okay, you know how I praised the previous books in the series Rock Courtship (my review) and Rock Hard (my review) for having the best slow burn romance? Rock Redemption is slow burn romance extreme. Kit and Noah's romance didn't really start until the last 20% of the novel. The romance took a backseat to Noah and Kit trying to repair their friendship without their attraction to each other getting in the way. This might bother some readers but it didn't bother me. Kit and Noah had a lot to overcome, secrets to reveal, and issues to solve and, while I felt some frustration at times, I really enjoyed their journey to their HEA. It would left the story shallow and unrealistic if they jumped into a romantic relationship without all the things first.  

I did like Kit's character more than Noah's in the beginning. He did the whole I'll-hurt-you-now-so-I-don't-hurt-you-more-later/I'm-protecting-you-from-myself bit, which is one of my character pet peeves, and he's a rockstar manwhore, which is my least favorite kind of rockstar. He did redeem himself quickly and I ended up loving him.

I really enjoyed seeing and getting an update on the other pairs from previous books in the series, Molly and Fox and Thea and David. We also got a glimpse of Abe, and a hint of what his book is going to be about--his is going to be another angsty one and I can't wait!

Rock Redemption was wonderful and I knew I was going to enjoy it because it's by Nalini Singh and I was right. It was very angsty and there was lots of drama, instances when my heart just broke for Kit and Noah, and I thoroughly enjoyed it all. If you're following this series, then this is a must-read. If you're a fan of Nalini Singh and haven't pick up this series, I recommend that you do. It's different from her paranormal/urban fantasy books, but her signature writing, complex characters and well-plotted style is every much evident in this contemporary series.

Kit groaned at the sound of her phone. Reaching out blindly toward the nightstand, she hurled mental curses upon herself for forgetting to turn it off so she could catch some uninterrupted sleep before her four-a.m. makeup call.

It’d be fun and great for her career, her agent had said when recommending Kit take the superhero flick. Coming off two serious and emotionally wrenching projects, Kit had taken Harper’s advice and jumped on board the high-budget, high-octane venture. Unfortunately, Harper had forgotten to mention the four hours it would take to put her into the head-to-toe makeup required for the role. Daily.

“What?” she snarled into the phone without checking to see who it was.

“Hey, Katie.”

Every cell in her body snapped wide awake. Lifting her eyelids, she just stared at the ceiling through gritty eyes. Her heart thumped, her throat moving convulsively as she swallowed. She hated that he could still do this to her, hated it, but her visceral response to Noah wasn’t something she could stop. She knew because she’d tried for the past two years and three months.

“Noah,” she said flatly. “Do you know what time it is?”

“Two fifteen,” he answered.

Kit should’ve hung up. God, he’d hurt her. So much. But there was something in his voice that had her sitting up. “Are you drunk?” One thing she knew about Noah: no matter his bad-boy rep, he was never wasted. He might give a good indication of it, but look closely and those dark gray eyes were always sober.

“Probably.” A silence, followed by, “I just wanted to hear your voice. Sorry for waking you.”

“Wait,” she said when he would’ve hung up. “Where are you?”

“Some dive.” He took a deep breath, released it in a harsh exhale. “I’m sorry for being an asshole. I wanted to tell you that. I don’t want to go without saying that.”

“Noah,” she said, a horrible feeling in her stomach. “Where exactly are you?”

“The Blue Flamingo Inn off Hollywood Boulevard. Far, far, far off.” He laughed, and it held no humor. “It has a neon sign of a blue—surprise!—flamingo that’s flashing right through my window. Looks like someone stole the curtains.”

Having already grabbed her laptop, which she’d left beside the bed after answering some e-mails before sleep claimed her, she found the Blue Flamingo Inn. But Noah was already gone, having said, “I love your voice, Kit,” in an oddly raw tone before hanging up.

He didn’t pick up when she called back.

“Damn it! Damn it!” She shoved aside the blanket under which she’d been buried, having turned the AC to ice-cold as she usually did at night. Shivering, she tugged on a pair of jeans and an old sweatshirt over the panties and tank top in which she’d gone to sleep.

Pulling her black hair into a rough ponytail to keep it out of her eyes, she ran through the house, phone in one pocket, credit card and driver’s license in the other. In the kitchen, she grabbed her keys off the counter and shoved her feet into the tennis shoes by the door that led to the garage.

She was in her car and on the way to the motel three minutes after Noah had hung up, mouth dry and an ugliness in her gut. “Please be okay, please be okay, please be okay,” she kept saying, the mantra doing nothing to calm her down, but at least it kept her mind focused.

She wanted to call Molly and Fox, or the others in the band, but no one was currently in the city. Schoolboy Choir had completed the final show in the band’s hugely successful tour just over two weeks earlier. Day after that, they’d all gone their separate ways to recharge and regroup.

“Much as I love these guys,” David had said with a grin that reached the dark gold of his eyes, “I’ve been looking at their ugly mugs daily for months. We need to go blow off some steam separately before we start snarling at each other.”

At the time, Kit had nodded in understanding, having had that same experience while working on location for long periods. Tonight, however, she wished the others were all here, not scattered across the country, because something was very wrong with Noah.

“Noah doesn’t do drugs,” she told herself as she drove as fast as she dared, not wanting to risk getting pulled over and further delayed. “He isn’t the kind to—” She couldn’t say it, couldn’t even think of Noah ending his life. “No,” she said firmly, her hands white-knuckled on the steering wheel. “Noah isn’t like that.”

If you’d like to read the rest of this chapter, as well as the next, click this link:

About the Author
New York Times AND USA Today bestselling author of the Psy-Changeling and Guild Hunter series Nalini Singh usually writes about hot shapeshifters and dangerous angels. This time around, she decided to write about a hot and wickedly tempting rock star. If you’re seeing a theme here, you’re not wrong. Nalini lives and works in beautiful New Zealand, and is passionate about writing. If you’d like to explore her other books, you can find lots of excerpts on her website. Slave to Sensation is the first book in the Psy-Changeling series, while Angels’ Blood is the first book in the Guild Hunter series. Once Rock Addiction is out, swing by the site to check out the special behind-
the-scenes page, complete with photos of many of the locations used in the book.

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Monday, October 5, 2015

Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Berkley
Release Date: October 6, 2015
Source of my copy: publisher
Series: Madame X #1
My name is Madame X.
I’m the best at what I do.
And you’d do well to follow my rules...

Hired to transform the uncultured, inept sons of the wealthy and powerful into decisive, confident men, Madame X is a master of the art of control. With a single glance she can cut you down to nothing, or make you feel like a king.

But there is only one man who can claim her body—and her soul.

Undone time and again by his exquisite dominance, X craves and fears his desire in equal measure. And while she longs for a different path, X has never known anything or anyone else—until now...

I admit I was a bit apprehensive starting Madame X because part of the story is told in second-person and I wasn't sure I'd like the format. But Madame X ended up being such a unique read that I am dying to get my hands on the second book in the series.

I've been wanting to read a novel by Jasinda Wilder for a while now because I kept seeing her novels suggested to me every time I browse on Goodreads so when I got the chance to review Madame X I jumped at the chance. Madame X is one of the most well-written books I've read in this genre this year. Every word feels deliberate to convey Madame X's emotions, fears and true desires. I was left with the biggest book hangover because holy crap! It's amazing!

Wealthy men send their spoiled, whiny, douche-y sons to Madame X and she turns them into polished gentlemen. She's very good at what she does because it's all she knows. Madame X has no memory who she was before she was rescued by her employer Caleb Indigo. And not only is Caleb her employer and protector, he is also her sexual dominant. He taught her rigid control, and she's basically a sophisticated, cold robot owned by Caleb. But in the heart of her that she keeps tamped down, she yearns for something more. Then, she meets Logan... and I'm not going to say anymore.

I didn't know where the heck this book was going to take me because just when I thought I had it figured out, I was proved wrong. I felt so many emotions reading this book. I felt for Madame X but she also made me angry and confused and I disliked her at times. Caleb, too, I was prepared to hate but is he truly 100% evil? I don't know. He's not. There's more secrets to him... Logan is supposed to be the white knight and will he play that part in book 2? So much I don't know and I have so many theories. I'm so excited to see what's going to happen to all three of them in the second book.

Don't go into Madame X thinking you're reading a typical romance. It's not. Not yet, anyway. I soooo wish that I already have books 2 and 3, because this is the kind of series you'd want to marathon. Madame X is a compelling, twisty read that will totally mess with your mind and make you question everything and making some crackpot theories. It's a dark, sexy psychological mystery and if you want a different kind of romance read, you have to pick this book up. I highly recommend it!

This excerpt is rated PG-13. Madame X will be out tomorrow.
A knock on the door, the silent swing of hinges, and then heat and hardness behind me, a faint but intoxicating hint of cologne, the creak of leather. Hands on my waist, lips at my neck. Breath on my skin.

I don’t dare tense, don’t dare suck in a sharp breath of fear. I don’t dare pull away.

Strong, hard, powerful hands twist me in place, and an index finger touches my chin, lifts my face, tilts my gaze. I cannot breathe, don’t dare, haven’t been given permission.

“You are lovelier than ever, X.” A deep, smooth, cultured voice, like the purr of a finely tuned engine.

“Thank you, Caleb.” My own voice is quiet, careful, my words chosen and precise.

“Scotch.” The command is a murmur, barely audible.

I know how to prepare it: a cut-crystal tumbler, a single ice cube, thick amber liquid an inch from the top. I offer the tumbler and wait, keep my eyes downcast, hands behind my back.

“You were too harsh on Jonathan.”

“I must respectfully disagree.”

“His father expects results.”

I bristle, and it does not go unnoticed. “Have I ever failed to produce results?”

“You sent him away after less than an hour.”

“He wasn’t ready. He needed to be shown his faults. He needs to understand how much he has to learn.”

“Perhaps you’re right.” Ice clinks, and I take the empty tumbler, set it aside, and force myself to remain in place, force myself to keep breathing and remind myself that I must obey. “I didn’t come here to discuss Jonathan Cartwright, however.”

“I suppose not.” I shouldn’t have said that. I regret it as soon as the words tumble free.

My wrist bones scrape together under a crushing grip. Hard dark eyes find mine, piercing and frightening. “You suppose not?”

I should beg forgiveness, but I know better. I lift my chin and meet those cold, cruel, intelligent dark eyes. “You know I will fulfill the contract. That’s all I meant.”

“No, that isn’t all you meant.” A hand passes through artfully messy black hair. “Tell me what you really meant, X.”

I swallow hard. “You’re here for what you always want when you visit me.”

“Which is?” A warm finger touches my breastbone, slides into the valley of my cleavage. “Tell me what I want.”

“Me.” I whisper it, so not even the walls can hear.

“All too true.” My skin burns where that strong finger with its manicured nail traces a cutting line up to my shoulder. “You test my patience, at times.”

I stand stock-still, not even breathing. Breath whispers across my neck, huffs hot on my nape, and fingers toy with the zipper of my dress.

“I know,” I say.

And then, just when I expect to feel the zipper slide down my spine, body heat recedes and that hot breath now laced with hints of scotch is gone, and a single word sears my soul:“Strip.”

My tongue scrapes over dry lips, and my lungs constrict, protesting my inability to breathe. My hands tremble. I know this is expected of me, and I cannot, dare not resist, or protest. And... part of me doesn’t want to. But I wish... I wish for the freedom to choose what I want.

I have hesitated too long.

“X. I said . . . strip.” The zipper slides down to between my shoulder blades. “Show me your skin.”

Reaching behind my back, I lower the zipper to its nesting place at the base of my spine. Hard, insistent hands assist me in brushing the sleeves from my shoulders, down my arms, and then the dress is floating to the floor at my feet. That’s all the help I’ll get. I know from long experience that I must make a show of what comes next.

I turn my head, and see tanned skin and the perpetual two-day stubble on a refined, powerful jawline, sharp cheekbones, firm, thin lips, black eyes like voids, eyes that drip desire. My hair drapes over one shoulder. I lift one knee so my now-bare toes touch the gleaming teak, curl my shoulders in, let my gaze show my vulnerability. With a deep breath, I unhook my bra, let the garment fall away.

I reach for my underwear.

“No,” comes the purr, “leave them. Let me.”

I let my fingers graze my thighs, wait. My underwear slides down slowly, and where fingers touch, so too do lips, hot and damp, touching my skin, and I cannot flinch, cannot pull away or express how badly I want only to be alone, to even once have the right to want something else.

But I do not have that right.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

The Secret Life of Book Blogger TAG

Thursday, October 1, 2015 with
Hello everyone,
This is a slow week blogging-wise, but a very busy week work-wise. It's the end of first quarter so I'm working on grades and prepping for parent-teacher conferences, as well as working on teacher evaluation stuff. But, I thought I'd take a break and do this really fun tag that I saw on Amber's blog Du Livre. I'm always interested in knowing a bit more about the person behind the blog and I'd like you to get to know me as well. Here we go...

How long have you been a blogger?
I've been blogging since September 2009. I've taken a few one- or two-week hiatuses here and there over the years, but I've been blogging for SIX years. Holy cow!

At what point do you think you’ll stop blogging?
When things got busy, I was tempted to permanently stop but I think I'll miss it too much. I don't post as much as I did when I first started, but the content I put up now are more meaningful and substantial so I'm happy. I don't see myself stopping anytime soon.

What is the best thing about blogging?
I'm not going to lie, being able to read a book (especially one I am dying to read) weeks or months before the release day is a HUGE perk of blogging. I am always grateful and thankful for the opportunity to be able to do that. Another thing I love about blogging is sharing my thoughts and opinions about a book. Besides my sister, I have anyone to talk to about books (especially romance novels--Leslie doesn't read them) in real life so getting my thoughts out there and knowing others are reading it is wonderful for an introvert like me.

What is the worst thing? What do you do to make it OK?
The worst thing about blogging is never having enough time to read my own books because review books take priority. If I give my word that I'm going to review a book at a certain date, I need to get that book read before anything else. Unfortunately, I am a very slow reader and I'm very busy with my job so I hardly read during the weekdays. Most of my reading is done during the weekend and I can maybe squeeze reading two novels. Don't get me wrong, I'm very thankful for the review books I get and I find it amazing that publishers care enough about my opinion and think our blog significant enough to send me books. But it does take away from reading the books I bought and I am very much excited for.

How do I make it okay? Well, I am very choosy these days with which books I accept for review and keep a strict calendar so I can gauge if I have enough time to read and review before I commit. I'm happy to say, almost all of the books I accept for review are ones that I would've bought anyway. There's one or two titles I take a chance on, but no longer do I say "yes" to every book pitch e-mail I receive like I did when I was a newbie blogger.

How long does it take you to make/find pictures to use?
It depends on the type of post. If it's a review, then I just go to Goodreads to get the book cover image. If it's a more elaborate like my In Which I Pair the Best Summer Reads to the Cutest Cats post, then I scour Pinterest and Google for hours to find the perfect pictures and then spend another hour to edit the photos on PicMonkey.

Who is your book crush?
Lots! Bishop from The Book of Ivy and The Revolution of Ivy (I just finished it! It's fantastic!), Khalid from The Wrath and the Dawn, T.J. Callahan from On the Island, Wesley from The Duff, Hawke from Kiss of Snow, Bennett from Beautiful Bastard, Garrett Graham from The Deal, Drew Baylor from The Hook Up, Special Agent Jack Pallas from Something About You... and many others!

What author would you like to have on your blog?
Renee Ahdieh and Marie Rutkoski so I can pick their brains about The Rose and the Dagger and The Winner's Kiss respectively.

What do you wear when you write your blog post?
My "house clothes," which consists of a tank top and men's boxers. I own a lot of men's boxers because they're cheaper than women's sleep shorts and are just as comfy to wear them around the house and in bed.

How long does it take you to prepare?
It depends. I write mostly book reviews and some just flow out of me--those usually take an hour to an hour thirty minutes. Others take longer and there's a lot of typing, staring blankly at the computer screen and deleting and typing again and those take me from 2-3 hours.

How do you feel about the book blogger community?
I can't really answer this question because I don't feel like I participate enough, or not as much as I want to. I'm on social media only sporadically. But I have nothing negative to say. It's a good community to be in, I just wish I'm able to participate in it more. I'd especially love to take part in buddy reads.

What do you think one should do to get a successful blog?
For me, as long as you enjoy book blogging and it brings you joy you're already successful.

I can't figure out who started this tag, but if you do please let me know so I can give credit. Let me know if you guys are going to do this tag or already did it. I'd love to read your answers.

Happy reading,