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REVIEW : Healing Gabriel by Elizabeth Kelly

Title : Healing Gabriel Author : Elizabeth Kelly Series : N/A Release date : January 20th 2014 Rating : 4 Stars Blurb : Fifteen years ago, Gabriel Dern was involved in a car accident that left terrible scars covering half of his body. He retreats from society and rejects the idea of ever finding a woman who will accept him for who he is. After her mother’s death, Morgan Wilson moves to the small town of Martinvale to begin her new life. While living in the carriage house on Gabriel’s property,

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Release Package: Love Hurts by Leah Sharelle

    Title: Love Hurts Series: The Love Duet Book One Author: Leah Sharelle Genre: Romance Release Date: August 23, 2019...
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[Release Promotion] Love Notes by LK Shaw

♦ ♦ ♦ There are only two things in this world I give a sh*t about. My beloved piano, and...
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[COVER REVEAL] Secret Admirer by Harlow Layne

♦ ♦ ♦ Title: Secret Admirer Author: Harlow Layne Genre: Contemporary Romance, Romantic Suspense Release Day: September 20, 2019 Cover...
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4 STAR BOOKSHELF REVIEW

REVIEW : Gold Shimmer (In the Shadows #4) by P.T. Michelle

       Gold Shimmer In the Shadows #4 P.T. Michelle  August 4th 2015   Want more of your favorite...
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REVIEW UPON RELEASE : Undeniable (Key West #4) by C.A. Harms

Title : Undeniable Author : C.A. Harms Series : Key West #4 Release date : December 15th 2015 Blurb : Sometimes in life you are forced to do things you may not agree with. Family meant everything to Jude Calvert. He would do whatever it took to keep them safe and provide for them no matter what it took to make that happen. Even if that meant putting his own safety at risk, he had no other choice. Callie Raine has always felt a heavy attraction toward Jude. He was fascinating. He was undeniable.

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Spotlight Tour Package: Aether Magic by Isobelle Carmichael

    Title: Aether Magic Series: Elements of Twilight #2 Author: Isobelle Carmichael Genre: Adult Paranormal Harem Romance Release Date: July...
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Blog Tour: BROKEN KNIGHT by L.J. Shen

"Everyone needs to read this book. " - Harloe Rae, USA Today bestselling author. Broken Knight, an all new standalone...
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PROMO / REVIEW : I Hate You by Ilsa Madden-Mills

I want you . . . even when I hate you. I Hate You, an all-new enemies to lovers sports...
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REVIEW : Reddest Black (In the Shadows #7) by P.T. Michelle

         Reddest Black  In the Shadows #7   P.T. Michelle October 24th 2017   Passion, betrayal, and...
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Cover Reveal : Park Avenue Player by Penelope Ward & Vi Keeland

Park Avenue Player Release date September 23, 2019  A Standalone Contemporary Romance   New York Times Bestselling Authors Penelope Ward...
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REVIEW :Blood, Ink & Fire by Ashley Mansour

Title : Blood, Ink & Fire Author : Ashley Mansour Series : N/A Release date :Dec 1, 2015 Rating : 3 Stars Blurb : IMAGINE A WORLD WITHOUT BOOKS...In the future, books are a distant memory. The written word has been replaced by an ever-present stream of images known as Verity. In the controlling dominion of the United Vales of Fell, reading is obsolete and forbidden, and readers themselves do not—cannot—exist.But where others see images in the stream, teenager Noelle Hartley sees words. She’s

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Release Package: Tatum by Nancy George

    Title: Tatum Series: The Widows of Birch Harbor Author: Nancy George Genre: Romance Suspense Novella Release Date: August 21,...
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[Release Promotion] Making a Play by Abbi Glines

  ♦ ♦ ♦ The fifth book in the #1 New York Times bestselling Field Party series—a southern soap opera...
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Release Package: Hulk by MLJ Quigg

    Title: Hulk: Thorny Devils MC #2  Author: MLJ Quigg  Genre: MC Romance        Add on Goodreads   ...
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5 STAR BOOKSHELF RECOMMEND REVIEW

REVIEW : Black Platinum (In the Shadows #6) by P.T. Michelle

         Black Platinum  In the Shadows #6   P.T. Michelle February 24th 2015   You are cordially...
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REVIEW : Perfect Ruin (Unyielding Book #2) by Nashoda Rose

Title : Perfect Ruin Author : Nashoda Rose Series : Unyielding Book #2 Release date : Nov 13, 2015 Rating : 5 Stars Blurb : Kai - There is nothing I care about. No attachments. No connections. Outwardly, I’m a perfect gentleman until my target sees my knife .I fear nothing, not even death. In my world, death is considered a privilege. But my life comes with unbreakable cruel strings andwhen I met her, I should’ve walked away.I didn’t. I was too selfish. And that sealed her fate. Because one week

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Today is the release day of Claire Cain’s HOME WITH YOU!

Today is the release day of Claire Cain’s HOME WITH YOU! Check it out and be sure to grab your...
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Death of Darkness by Dianne Duvall Release Day Blitz

Delve into the most eagerly anticipated book in New York Times bestselling author Dianne Duvall’s “utterly addictive” (RT Book Reviews),...
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REVIEW : Blackest Red (In the Shadows #3) by P.T. Michelle

       Blackest Red  In the Shadows #3   P.T. Michelle February 24th 2015   New York Times, USA...
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Release Package: Life Unscripted by Taylor Delong

 
 
Title: Life Unscripted
Duet: The Unscripted Duet Book Two
Author: Taylor Delong
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Release Date: August 9, 2019
 
 
 
 
 
One night. 

 

What I thought I knew, what I thought I deserved, what I thought life had planned for me was all thrown out the window in one night. 

 

 
“I’m not naive to believe that the road will be easy by any means, that I won’t stumble, have roadblocks in my path.”
 
I thought I knew love, what it meant to love another person so strongly that it consumed me. Except all that changed in one night. My life was all laid out, but apparently fate had other ideas. 
 
Thrown into the unknown, I learned who I could count on. What I didn’t count on was her and the unconventional relationship we started to build.
 
“What I do know is I’m not alone; I won’t ever have to walk alone.” 
 
As much as I’m struggling to deal with this loss, it’s not just about me anymore. She needs me more than ever, and I’m not prepared to let her down. 
 
In one night, my life became unscripted.
 

 

 
 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Taylor Delong has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember. It’s always been her dream to be a published author. She spends her days chasing after toddlers and her nights scribbling down stories and ideas the characters in her head dictate to her. She lives in CT with her two children.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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Release Blitz For Loni Ree’s Sideswiping Mr. Lane

 



Title: Sideswiping Mr. Lane 
Author: Loni Ree 
Genre: Contemporary Romance 
Series: Fielding-Stone Gallery Book One
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 
 
When Trevor Lane’s car is sideswiped in the parking lot of the Fielding-Stone Gallery, all he wants is to figure out who caused the damage and make them pay. A quick stop at the gallery changes his life forever. 
Cassidy Landon never thought her Saturday morning painting class would turn into a date with the hottest guy she’s ever seen. When her hot date turns out to be, Mr. Lane, her employer of the last two years, things get really interesting. 
Love for Cassie sideswipes Mr. Lane, and he forgets all about his car and worries about keeping his girl.
 
 
 

 

 
 

 

 

 
Loni Ree, a very busy mom of six, loves to read because she finds that reading helps her escape the chaos of everyday life. She loves quick, red-hot reads that are on the excessive side. Writing is a passion of hers, so Loni decided to share the stories floating around in her mind. Her short, steamy stories are a little over the top because she believes reading should be an escape from real life. Her steamy romances turn Alphaholes into Pussycats and always have a happily ever after, guaranteed!

 

 
 
 
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Release Boost Package: Flash by Stella Andrews

 
 
Title: Flash
Series: A Twisted Romance
Author: Stella Andrews
Genre: Steamy Contemporary Romance
Release Date: August 4, 2019
FOR A LIMITED TIME, THIS INCLUDES A SECOND STORY FREE – COUNTRY GIRL
 
 
Flash
I’m a fighter by day and take my pick of the ladies at night.
I thought my life was perfect – I was wrong.
When Jennifer walked through those doors, I saw what perfection really is.
Long, dark, hair that would look good wrapped in my fist.
Soft curves that beg for my touch and a wicked mouth that promises pleasure of the most sinful kind.
The trouble is, she’s not here for me and I must look but not touch.
Warned to stay away because our protection is what she needs most because Jennifer has a secret that causes power to shift and continents to fall.
It’s a good thing I love a good fight and I’m about to have the fight of my life.
 
Jennifer
He’s the man that steals the breath from your body and dares you to survive.
Irresistible, insufferable and more man than one woman can stand.
A smart mouth and eyes that sparkle with sin.
Did I mention he’s off-limits?
I shouldn’t want him but I do.
I shouldn’t let him in but I can’t turn him away.
I have a child to protect and her life has more meaning than mine.
But I have needs and I need him.
Can he save me from falling because I’m about to fall – hard?
 
 
A Reaper Novella, short, sexy and sweet with a second chance romance that gave Kindle Fire its name.
 
Sunny
He took my first kiss. 
He took my virginity.
Then on the happiest day of my life, he stole my heart and left like the thief he was.
I moved on regardless and became a star.
To the rest of the world, I’m living the dream. That dream is a nightmare
Now he’s back and wants to give my heart back.
It’s battered and bruised and I’ve changed so much it may no longer fit.
He sees the real me – he always has.
Can love work the second time around, or is it too late?
As I said, I’m living a nightmare because tomorrow is my wedding – he’s four years too late.
 
Tyson
She was my first love.
She was my only love.
I made the ultimate sacrifice and regretted it every day for four long and lonely years.
She doesn’t see it like that and now I’m back I must prove myself all over again.
This time the clock’s ticking because tomorrow, I stand to lose her all over again.
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

These men are fiercely protective, devilishly handsome and so sexy they should come with a government warning. I’ve tried to steer clear, but it’s impossible. Flash grabbed my attention from the moment I arrived because when he enters a room, it’s difficult to remember your name let alone that you should stay clear. He ruins people for a living and when he comes home, he does it all over again.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Stella Andrews loves to write about hot men and strong, beautiful women. These are the books she loves to read and spends hours wrapped in a fictitious world wishing such men were real. She firmly believes that happy ever afters do exist and there’s someone special out there for everyone.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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THE SECRET by J.L. Beck & C. Hamman is out now!

Today we have a release blitz for THE SECRET by J. Beck & C. Hallman! Check it out and be sure to grab your copy today!

Title: THE Secret

Author: J. Beck & C. Hallman

Genre: Contemporary Romance

 

 

 

About The Secret:

Secrets… they can make or break you.

 

I would know. I’m hiding the biggest secret of all. My scars are so much more than skin deep. They consume me, control me.

 

Then I meet him, Clark Jefferson. Six foot two inches of greek god hotness, with a smile that’ll make your panties disappear. He wears a clear warning label: Heartbreaker, and if I was smart I would stay away from him.

 

With my past, my secrets nothing could ever come of being with a man like him. Still I cannot ignore the feelings he stirs inside me. He frightens me and excites me all at once.

He makes me want to break free of the suffocating fear that claims my heart.

 

Our meeting isn’t fate though, he needs me as much as I need him, and so we strike a deal.

He’ll be my fake boyfriend and I’ll help him get out of trouble with his dad.

 

But secrets can’t remain secrets forever and as I grow closer to Clark my feelings for him grow too. Soon the line between fake and real blurs and when the past I’ve been running from finally catches up with me I’ll have to confess to Clark the truth or let go of a love that was only ever supposed to be fake.

 

This is book three in the North Woods University Series. It can be read as a complete standalone and contains NO cliffhanger, NO cheating, and a HEA. Please be advised this series contains material not suitable to all readers. This is NOT a YA series.

 

Grab your Copy Today:

AMAZON US | AMAZON UK | AMAZON CA | AMAZON AU

Exclusive Excerpt:

“Please don’t look at me like that…” I slur.

“Please leave… just… leave me alone,” she pleads and my heart breaks at her words. That’s what my mom used to tell me. She asked me to leave her alone and I listened to her. Maybe if I hadn’t listened to her and listened to my gut instead she would still be here, alive.

“I won’t leave you,” I tell her, shaking my head, determination coating my words. “But please don’t look at me like I’m going to hurt you. Please, don’t be scared of me.”

“You’re dunk,” she points out and that wild look in her eyes overtakes her features now. She continues taking small steps backwards, retreating further into the room, further away from me. I want her close, in my arms, safe, secure. It’s the strangest, but truest emotion I’ve ever felt before.

“Yes… I had something to drink, but that doesn’t change the fact that I would never hurt you. I can control myself,” I sigh and set the plate down on top of the dresser

“You’re scaring me,” she admits, her voice small and shaky. I don’t know who hurt her, but in that moment I vowed to myself to find out. I will find out who did this to her and then I will make them pay. It’s obvious she was powerless, weak, but she’s not anymore. She has me now, and I’ll protect her, defend her till my last breath. I know this without even thinking.

Holding my hands up, with my palms showing, I try to calm her like I would a scared animal. “You don’t have to be scared of me. Not ever,” I assured her. “I just want… I want you to feel safe. You don’t have to be scared here. I promise I’ll keep you safe. No one will hurt you, least of all me.”

 

 

About J.L. Beck & C. Hallman:

J.L. Beck & C. Hallman are two ladies with a love for coffee, books, and the bad boys who live inside them.

 

They’re a dynamic duo who love writing all genres of romance, from erotica, to suspense. To date they’ve written ten books together and don’t plan to stop any time soon.

 

When they aren’t writing you can find them making jokes, discussing their next book, arguing over cover photos, and of course drinking more coffee.

 

They’re humble, and truly blessed to have found such amazing readers.

 

Connect with J.L. Beck:

 

Newsletter | Join Smut Queens | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest | Instagram | Follow her on Amazon | Bookbub

 

Connect with C. Hallman:

Newsletter | Facebook Group | Facebook | Goodreads | Instagram | Bookbub | Twitter

 

 

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Release Package: Infernal Justice by N.P. Martin

 
 
Title: Infernal Justice
Series: Ethan Drake Book One
Author: N.P. Martin
Genre: Urban Fantasy 16+
Release Date: August 1, 2019
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
In a lightless world, only darkness can drive out darkness.

 

 
My name is Ethan Drake and I’m a police detective…and I got plenty darkness to give.
So does my partner, who’s a demon, and frankly, a royal pain in my ass. But occult investigators are in short supply in the PD, so what are you going to do? Anyway, we just caught a bodysnatching case that has the stench of occult workings all over it. Seems someone wants to summon something bad into this world, something that threatens the very fate of humanity. I could care less about the fate of humanity myself, but hey, when it’s your job, you gotta do something, right?
Only my job has been made harder by a demon who’s decided it wants me as a vessel, and will stop at nothing until it gets what it wants. Internal affairs are also gunning for my badge over the murder of some guy who deserved it, and on top of that, I’m trying to solve the murders of my ex-wife and daughter. Oh, and don’t even get me started on the snarkiest Hellicorn in the known universe…
You know that thing threatening all of humanity? 
I might just let it succeed…
 
Harry Bosch meets John Constantine in this gripping urban fantasy noir thriller.
 
 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
N.P. Martin is a writer of dark urban fantasy. His bestselling series include, Wizard’s Creed Series, Nephilim Rising Series and The Corvin Chance Chronicles. He lives in N.Ireland with his wife and daughters.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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Review Tour For Toni Denise Old Friends

 

Title: Old Friends 
Author: Toni Denise 
Genre: Romance, Suspense 
Series: Westbeach #1 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Sometimes a second chance can be the last chance.Recently divorced, Kelly finds herself back in her hometown. Deciding that starting over is key, she and her son take to living a new life.When a second chance with Mason, an old flame, ignites, Kelly is excited to feel love again. But something is wrong. Someone is watching them, waiting to strike. Someone that knows them. Someone. . . close. Not knowing who she can trust, Kelly is thrust into a life of fear and looking over her shoulder. Where do you turn when the one person you thought you could trust might actually be the person you’re running from?
 
 
 
 
 
 ***** Mona 
 
wow this book kinda freaked me out reading it! she is on her own now with her son. that is where she meets her old flame and things heat up. only someone is watching them. read to find out what happens.
 
***** Wendy 
 
 Kelly is newly divorced and moves back to her hometown with her son, and she reconnects with Mason who is an old fling. Mysterious things start to happen though, and who will the culprit be? This is a well written story which is intense, thrilling, mysterious and is filled with twists, suspense, and romance.
 
***** Cassandra
 
I really enjoyed the book. It had a good balance of suspense and romance. It was a very good read and well written. I am excited for the next book!
 
***** Gwen 
 
This is the first book I have had the pleasure to read from Toni. This was a great book. It was full of suspense, romance and twist and turns.
 
 
 
 
On The Run Westbeach Series #2
 
Liz just wanted to confront her cheating boyfriend instead she ended up running for her life.

Finally fed up, Liz chose the wrong night to confront Mickey when she accidentally witnesses him committing a murder. After a terrifying escort home, she escapes, only making it a few states away before her car breaks down. Luckily for her when it does, she ends up with help from the Cole’s.

Nate Cole is done with undercover work and was planning to quit after his last assignment. Unfortunately, his boss has other plans for one of his best agents, one last case before he turns in his badge. Nate begrudgingly agrees to look it over but doesn’t get a chance to turn it down before it lands in his lap, in the form of Liz in his kitchen. 

Nate knows he needs to help Liz and close this case, but can he keep his feelings out of it and keep her safe?
 
Pre-Order Here 
 
 
 
 
Toni Denise was born and raised in Southeastern Virginia where she now raises her own children, two dogs, and lives with her husband. She has an Associates degree in Business Administration, a Bachelors degree in Human Resources Management, and is pursuing her MBA. She is an avid reader of romance as well as an author. She also works for a large company as tech support.
 
 
 
 
 
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(Release Promotion) Love in an Undead Age by A.M. Geever

Love in an Undead Age RD
 
Anne-2

 

♦ ♦ ♦

 
Love in an Undead Age RD-2
 
LIUA_Digital_Cover_2560 x 1600 pixels 

Surviving the zombie apocalypse was hard but saving the human race might be fatal.
Ten years after the zombie apocalypse a good man is still hard to find… just ask Miranda Tucci. Most are ill-equipped to breach Miranda’s emotional defenses, and even in San Jose, California, the most technologically advanced outpost of civilization left on the planet, there’s no app for mending a broken heart. But when Connor MacGuire turns up at nearby Santa Clara University, even Miranda begins to wonder if she has finally found someone she can trust.
The Jesuit priests who lead the community at Santa Clara University are the only counter-balance to the ruthless City Council that rules Silicon Valley. They have hatched a scheme to break the monopoly on a vaccine for the zombie virus that the Council and its powerful ally, Mario Santorello, control.
As the Jesuits’ plan approaches a critical stage and Miranda is recruited to join their mission, the ghosts of her past collide with the present, plunging her into territory both strange and familiar. Will corruption continue to spread and the vaccine be used for political advantage, or can Miranda survive long enough to usher in a new age of civilization? It’s only the fate of humanity that’s suddenly resting on her shoulders. If she can bring her love life back from the dead, how tough can saving the world be?
Love in an Undead Age is a post-apocalyptic romance wrapped inside an adventure that explores universal themes: love and loss, betrayal and redemption. What choices do we make in order to survive, what do they cost us, and are they worth it in the end? Are some breaches of trust too damaging to forgive, or can the healing power of love truly conquer all?

 
Love in an Undead Age RD-3

 

 

♦ ♦ ♦

 
GOODREADS GIVEAWAY

Enter to win the Goodreads Giveaway HERE!

 

 

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Love in an Undead Age RD-10

8. RELEASE WEEK TEASER JULY 29 AM Geever - Love In An Undead Age TEASER

 

10. RELEASE WEEK 2 AMGeever - Love In An Undead Age TEASER

 

 

♦ ♦ ♦

 
  
 
Love in an Undead Age RD-9  

 
“Are they inside?” she yelled as she powered the hatchet down again. 

“Just trying to block their path,” said Doug. “How you doing there?”
Another shot, then another.
“I need another minute,” Miranda said.
“That’s about all you’re gonna get.”
Doug’s rifle fired almost continuously. Then the world began to sparkle as bits of glass showered over her. Miranda flinched away and leapt up, turning once again to the window behind her. Zombies were trying to slither through. They cut their arms on jagged glass still stuck in the frame, but didn’t stop. Zombies didn’t feel pain. They never even noticed.

 

♦ ♦ ♦

 
Love in an Undead Age RD-6
 
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I enjoy stories of survival in extraordinary circumstances. It’s not the incident itself that I find interesting but how people react to it. Why brings out the best and the worst of human nature? Do people always break one way or the other, or is it a bit of both? Since zombies can be anything – metaphors, monsters, even jokes – the possibilities for exploring these questions are endless. 
As a native Pittsburgher and fan of George Romero films, perhaps it was inevitable that the hours-long NIGHT OF THE LIVING/DAWN OF THE DEAD postmortems that my brothers and I conducted led to this novel. Despite all this my husband and our menagerie of furry critters are woefully unprepared for the zombie apocalypse. The idea of becoming a zombie because my car runs out of gas has gotten me to the gas station on more than one occasion.
 
Love in an Undead Age RD-7
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Release Package: Queen of All by Kathryn Ann Kingsley

 
 
Title: Queen of All
Series: The Masks of Under #6
Author: Kathryn Ann Kingsley
Genre: Dark Adult Fantasy Romance
Release Date: July 30, 2019
Publisher: Limitless Publishing
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

“The world of Under has been remade into what it was long before the Ancients were put in their prison. They are free, and with them comes the reign of the callous, merciless King who was once the man I loved.
 
I always knew Aon was a monster, and as the King of All he is far worse. But a part of me refuses to give up on him, hoping that Aon might be strong enough to shed the skin of the ruthless King he had become. 
 
But time is running out, and the Ancients are forcing me to choose. Either I let them destroy who I truly am, or fall to my knees and be remade into the one thing the King of All has always wanted, yet has always been denied…
 
The Queen of All.”

 

 
 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
“Queen of All” Extended Excerpt
The Masks of Under
Kathryn Ann Kingsley
 
Chapter One
 
“Kneel for me…or kill me.”
The look in his eyes. There had been such dark desperation, hunger, and desire. He meant every word. That was the choice before her. There was no third way out. There was nowhere left to run, nowhere left to hide.
Submit or take his marks and end his life.
Really, that was what she should do. Take the second option and end the havoc and the death.
That’d be the logical choice.
The moment they had reappeared from the battlefield, he had pinned her to a column in his bedroom. In a panic, she had summoned a knife and tried to defend herself. Now she held that obsidian blade against the pitch-black ink on his pale cheek, and he made no move to stop her. In fact, he turned his head so she had better access and a clean shot to slice them off.
She should kill him. She really should.
It’d be the smart thing to do.
She never claimed to be smart.
He watched her with that icy, stone-like expression of a king, a man who was the master of everything around him, but his eyes were flashing in fascination and that heady mix of darkness and passion she had come to love so much. He might be like the oldest brother to the man she knew, but this was still—in some strange and horrible way—her Aon.
“Well? Make your choice.”
She couldn’t do it.
As her grasp on the blade loosened, his expression smoothed into a haughty one. He could see her defeat. He traced his flesh-and-blood hand slowly up her arm, leaving goosebumps in his wake. As he reached the back of her hand, he gently took the knife from her. Slowly enough that she could change her mind. Gently enough that she could argue.
She let him.
Her hand was trembling. She was trembling. His presence was washing over her like a dark cloud, like a fog. He flicked his wrist and tossed the knife away, letting it skitter across the floor toward the wall.
Aon stepped into her, pinning her to the column. His other hand grasped her hair, holding her head still, as his lips descended on hers.
The warlock was like a whirlwind or the crash of a storm as he overtook her instantly. God, how quickly she melted against him as he kissed her, possessive and passionate. He turned his head to deepen it, demanding entrance to her mouth with his tongue. She let him in without any resistance, letting her eyes slip shut. The stone column felt more escapable than he was right now.
He moaned against her lips. When he finally let up from the kiss, she was breathless and trembling. His own chest was heaving. He let his finger trail across her lower lip, swollen from his attention.
He took another step back, releasing her, leaving her standing there on her own, shivering at his sudden absence even in the hot air of the desert that flowed through the room. He seemed to be waiting for her to do something. But what?
Then it hit her. 
Oh.
“Kneel for me…or kill me.”
If she couldn’t do the latter, then he expected the former.
Swallowing the lump in her throat, her stomach twisted into a knot, that same familiar sense of fear and excitement he had always had over her. He was terrifying and always had been. And now, he was a whole different animal. 
“You asked me to take what was mine. Do not forget that.”
“Because you made me.”
“And what did I give you in return?”
Lydia cringed and lowered her head, her hands tightening into fists. She had asked him to take her, but to spare the lives of everyone else. She shouldn’t have been so surprised he was going to take her words very literally. That was what he had been wanting her to do, after all. And no small part of her wanted the same thing.
“Do not look so morose. You will lead me to think you have not anticipated this as much as I.” He chuckled at the defiant glare she gave him, and his features twisted into a playful, fiendish grin. One that was almost familiar. “What an expression…how long will you stay bitter at me, I wonder?”
“A good long while,” she snapped back at him angrily.
He let out a thoughtful noise as he watched her. “Fear, anger, and desire, in equal measures…makes for such an irresistible drug, don’t you think? Kneel. I grow impatient.”
“Wh—”
“You heard me. Kneel to your King. Or do you break your vow so quickly?”
“I—” Lydia began, but as his expression turned wicked, she knew he would put her there on his own if she said no. This was part of his game. She had agreed to do as he asked as part of her prisoner of war exchange. Herself, for everyone else. He was testing her resolve—to see if she was willing to shatter their agreement so quickly.
Wincing, she looked away from him and growled quietly in frustration. Fine. Fine! Okay. This wasn’t anything outrageous. He wasn’t asking her to kill someone. He wasn’t asking her to cut off her own arm.
This wasn’t anything she didn’t want, if she was honest with herself. She took a few steps forward away from the column and clenched her fists at her sides. She could do this. She had to do this. 
Slowly, she dropped to her knees on the polished stone floor. He let out a small moan at the sight, and he stepped up to her until he was only a few inches away. The smell of him was no longer of old books and dusty leather—it was of crisp summer air and the wind. It was of incense and spices. His human hand reached down and stroked her hair. “Good girl. Now, look up at me.”
She lifted her head and met his gaze. The lust and hunger there lodged a rock in her throat. She felt equal parts fear and excitement at what she saw. She was now also level with something else, proof of his desire for her. His expression was one pure darkness as he looked down at her.
“Your new King demands his tribute.”
 
***
 
The memory of the night prior was still running through her head. The images of what Aon had done—no, what the King of All had done—were pouring over her. And here she thought her version of Aon had been controlling. This man was another creature entirely.
He hadn’t hurt her. Not in any way that mattered. Not in any way that some sick, dark part of her hadn’t really enjoyed. This man merely didn’t feel the need to hold back. He had taken what he wanted or demanded she give it to him. The Aon she knew had wished to ease her into the hot water that was the dark side of his desires. This man felt no such compulsion. This man felt no need to take things one at a time.
Now that she healed so fast, she didn’t even have any bruises, bite marks, or claw marks from what had transpired. She felt no aches that she really should have after what he did to her.
The King of All had come to claim what he wanted, and he had taken the spoils of war for his own. And god damn her, she had enjoyed every moment of it. Even when she protested, when she had begged him to slow down or wait, some part of her was reveling in the act. She hadn’t wanted him to stop.
She couldn’t deny it. Her body had betrayed her dignity.
He had held her as they fell asleep, tangled in the thin sheets of his bed. He had whispered to her of how much he loved her, about how she was the only thing in his world that had ever really mattered. He had told her that his soul, his life, belonged to her. She would have cried if she hadn’t been so tired. And it was there that she had woken, curled up in his arms.
Really, his bed was more of a platform with a mat, feeling just as ancient as everything else in this palace of his. Two of the walls of the room were open to the world outside, framed only by the massive columns that soared overhead. It felt exceedingly exposed. But as they were up several hundred feet from the ground, she supposed she shouldn’t worry too much about last night’s escapades being heard or them being spied on.
Not that she suspected the man beneath her gave a flying fuck about any of that.
So here she found herself, in thin cotton nightclothes. Straddling his waist, one hand pressing against the headboard over him, the other holding one of her obsidian daggers against his throat.
It’d be so damn easy.
So simple.
He was asleep, after all. Dark hair splayed out on the unbleached cotton pillows around him. He looked so…contented. So peaceful. As though he had never enjoyed this kind of sleep before in his life.
Maybe he never has. Maybe he’s never been happy before. Maybe he never had anyone he wanted to share his bed with.
No. He was a tyrant and a murderer. He was going to kill everyone on that battlefield if she hadn’t bargained herself away. Worse yet, he admitted he was more than willing to destroy everyone in Under except for the two of them—just because they were a distraction. He only let them live because their presence here made her “happy.” He was a sociopath, at best.
One swipe of her knife across his throat and he wouldn’t wake up for half an hour. That’d give her time to remove the marks that decorated his face, and that’d be the end. The end of all this stupidity.
It would be so damn easy.
She looked down at him. When she had woken up, she was tucked against him like a lover, his knees against hers, her head under his chin, arm draped over her. It was a familiar pose. She had woken up with Aon like that many, many times. But this man was a stranger in his own right.
One motion.
Left to right.
It wouldn’t take much force—her daggers were sharp, after all. It really would just take commitment more than anything else. Just dedication. She wouldn’t even really feel it.
Just do it. Come on, it’s so simple! Just commit, then it’s all over!
Why couldn’t she do it? Why the hell couldn’t she kill him?
Lydia had been like this for ten minutes, hovering over him and screaming at herself in her mind to just kill him already. End it all! End his miserable life and your part in it! But she couldn’t. No matter how hard she shouted at herself inside her own head, she couldn’t make her hand move.
It wasn’t hypnotism.
It wasn’t the work of the Ancients.
It was her own inability to kill him.
Whoever the King of All was, he wore the face of the man she loved. He shared shades of the man she adored. This was the body and, just maybe, the soul of the man she would throw her whole life away for. If a portal opened to Earth this very moment, she would reject it to stand beside her warlock, this man beneath her. The man she had, for better or worse, whether or not she should, come to love. Her monster. Her madman.
But now, she didn’t know what, or who, he was. She had no clue who wore this mask of flesh and blood. Last night he had been so similar yet so foreign to the man she knew—reverent and violent in the same breath. He had pledged himself to her, swore that he was hers, even as he broke her down and pieced her back together. She couldn’t deny she had enjoyed every second of him and every inch of what he gave her.
But now?
What happened now?
Left to right. It would be so easy. Just do it, you stupid idiot!
Doubt gnawed at her like termites under a house. What if her Aon was still in there somewhere? What if he was really in any way the same man who lay sleeping peacefully beneath her? Could she really kill him?
She loved him.
What if his insistence that they were the same man was right? 
Or was he a monstrous creature that made all others pale before him? 
Lydia cringed, tears flowing down her cheeks. Edu and the rest were terrified of this man. They had hated the King of Shadows because some part of them could remember the King of All.
She could end it. Right now.
“If you wanted to be on top, all you had to do was ask.”
She froze. She had thought he was asleep. But as his dark eyes drifted open, he turned his head to look up at her. He didn’t grab at her wrist and didn’t force the knife away from his throat. If anything, he tipped his chin back to give her easier access. He watched her, his face free of anything but a kind of passive acceptance edged in grief.
She hung there silently, wide-eyed and unsure of what to do.
“I take this to mean you are upset with me,” he said after letting her inability to answer hang in the air for a long moment. He still didn’t move to stop her. “Do it, if you must. My life is yours to spend. Now, as it always has been, and ever will be, my love.”
With a frustrated growl, she rammed the knife into the headboard over his head. Stuck it halfway to the hilt. She couldn’t do it. Not when he had been asleep, and certainly not when he was looking up at her with sorrow in his eyes.
She pushed herself off him but couldn’t find the strength to go far. She sat on the bed and buried her head in her hands, feeling the tears redouble their efforts. His weight shifted on the bed. At first, she flinched, wondering if he would be angry at her. But instead, she felt his hand slowly stroke over her hair. He knelt behind her, his knees on either side of her legs. His arms curled around her, gently urging her to lean back into him. She gave in. His bare chest was warm against her back, and it lulled away some of her turmoil, even if her issues were about him.
His head settled atop hers. “I braced myself for what I might see in your eyes. But I admit, it stings worse than I could have imagined.”
“Which is what?” she murmured into her hands, trying to keep herself from all-out weeping.
“You look at me as you would a stranger.” Aon’s voice was tight in pain. “You look at me as if you do not know me. There is mistrust in your eyes. You look at me, truly wary. Not the mix of fear and delight when I seduced you as a madman, but real dread…”
Suddenly, his hand fisted in her hair and yanked her down. He bent her backward and twisted her over his right thigh. She hissed in a breath of surprise and found herself with another dagger in her hand. She didn’t even have to think about it before it was in her palm. She held it up against his throat once more, startled into action, thinking he was about to hurt her.
“You see? You would never have reacted in such a way to the man you knew before. You would have seen this as another game and relished my touch. Now you think I am going to hurt you—you—the only thing in this world that carries value to me. You trusted me as a madman, but you do not trust me now. You would never believe that version of me would hurt you, so why do you think I would do so now?”
His power seemed to fill the room, seemed to crackle through the air like lightning and clench around her stronger than the fist that curled in her hair. Aon had been intimidating before, but not like this. Still, he didn’t move her dagger from his throat. He knew as well as she did that she wasn’t going to use it. “You’re more dangerous than he is.”
Spilled-ink eyes narrowed as they bored into her. There was such age in those depths. The cold-hearted King who loomed over her was as sure and as cold as a stone mountainside. “That is false. Very false.”
“What do you mean?”
His eyes flicked over the writing on her face, as if reading them again. Only then did his gaze soften even a little. The hand in her hair did no such thing. His clawed hand drifted up to settle over her throat. Not tightening, but as if he were remembering a keen desire to do just that. “I nearly killed you so many times, Lydia. So many moments where I was on the brink of giving in to what I wanted to do to your mortal flesh. Or worse, losing myself into the insanity and tearing you to pieces as though I were a rabid animal. You walked the razor’s edge every day you spent in my presence, ignorant to how close to real danger you truly were.”
“But he never did it.”
“We are the same man,” he snarled, annoyed again that she had called them different people. “And I would have. It would have only been a matter of time. Edu merely killed you before my own insanity would have done the deed. And after, you chose to reject your mask and you did not hide your marks from me, even then. How long before, in a fit of darkness, I tore them from your skin and returned you to the void?”
“I trusted—” him. She stopped herself from calling him different people again, but just barely. “You.”
He leaned his head down to place a kiss at the corner of her mouth. It made her shudder despite herself and the compromising position she was in. “You are naïve. You are young. You will learn.” When he ghosted his lips over hers, she tightened her grip on the knife at his throat. “Now…either use that dagger or stop your hopeless grandstanding.”
“I’m not grandstanding.”
“Then do it. Slit my throat, take my marks, and send me to the void.” He tilted his head away for her. “You could not do it a moment ago. You could not do it last night. You could not do it when we fought. Make good upon your threat now or stop your whining. The blade is in my way, and it is irritating to be interrupted repeatedly in such a fashion.”
The icy wind that was his tone froze her to the core. She felt it roll down her spine, and she shuddered as if he had thrown her into a frozen lake. She struggled, pushing against him vehemently. He let her go, and she stood from the bed to pace away from him. The sun was out, but the room was still cast in shadow. She shivered again, even in the hot air. 
She looked down at her body, at the turquoise marks that decorated her skin. She wanted them gone.
She wanted to quit.
Please, let this end.
Nothing was worse than the heartlessness she had just seen reflected in his features. Aon may have not been in full control of his emotions—he was so quick to snap into jealousy or a fit of rage—but he had them.
“What do you want from me?” she asked quietly. 
“I want you to love me.”
“My love? Or my surrender?”
“They are one and the same. Come to the Altar of the Ancients. Kneel before our makers and join me. Be my queen.”
“So why not just drag me there? Why not re-write my head and make me love you? Why wait?”
“While I will love you, no matter what may remain of you…if they were to take you by force, you may end up little more than a shell. If you fight their dominion, you will break. I do not wish to see that terrible pain come to you.” Hands settled on her shoulders, one metal and one warm. She jolted in surprise and shouldn’t have been shocked she didn’t hear him approach. “If you accept them willingly, as the Priest has done, you will merely know peace. It will be as though nothing had changed.”
Lydia squeezed her eyes shut and lowered her head, trying to hide behind her long hair as it fell alongside her face. Surrender to having her mind rewritten or have it torn to shreds as they remade her. Kneel or have her knees broken. “My love would be a lie.”
“A shattered queen whose love is a fabrication is better than an eternity alone. I have destroyed this world countless times in my need to have someone at my side. You are the answer to that hole in my very being. Whether you wish to be or not. I am sorry, my love. But I will not let you slip away. You belong to me.”
Give up or be broken. There had to be another way out. There had to be some talking sense into him—some way to get through to him. There had to be. Otherwise, there was only one other way out. She looked down at the knife in her palm, and she had the sudden urge to tear her own marks off with it. To simply end it all.
Death was a better fate than this.
“Kill me, Aon. Just kill me. Or I’ll do it myself.”
Hands whirled her around to face him. “Do not say such a thing!”
She looked up at him, startled at his sudden reaction. “I’d rather be dead than—”
“No! No. Do not speak the words.” His eyes were wide in panic. He snatched the knife from her hand and hurled it away. “Do not leave me alone! Do not make me drag you to them so soon. I will not let you harm yourself. I will chain you to the wall, bind your arms and legs if I must.”
She glared at him. “I’ll find a way to do it. You know I will. I’m a lot of things, Aon, one of them being stubborn.”
“I—” His eyes went glassy, and his body jerked suddenly, as if something had been torn out from his back. His hands slipped from her shoulders, and he collapsed to his knees. His shoulders were now hunched, his head down. He buried his hands into his hair, clenching them tightly, shoulders heaving as he pulled in sharp, painful breaths. He moaned in agony.
Lydia blinked at the abrupt change. What the hell just happened to him?
Not knowing what else to do, she knelt in front of him and put her hand on his shoulder. He flinched at her touch. “Aon?”
“Dragonfly…”
Her heart wrenched so hard, it may have stopped. Her breath hung in her throat, and she looked at the man in wide-eyed horror. As his face turned up to hers, there was such torment in those flickering dark eyes that she knew the image would be burned into her memory for the rest of time.
There was no coldness there. Just a raw, exposed fire. Emotions flashed over his face. Pain, fear, torment. Love.
“Aon—”
He interrupted her before she could tell him how much she loved him. How much she missed him. He reached out and cupped her head in his hands, shifting to kneel closer to her. “They let me go. Just for a moment. Just so you could see. They wanted to sway you from seeking to take your own life.” His breaths were still coming fast and hard, as if he might hyperventilate. As if he were fighting off the edge of panic. “It is false hope. They are liars. This is an illusion—” Face twisting in pure suffering, he doubled over again. “I am an illusion.”
She threw her arms around him, cradling him against her. He half-collapsed into her embrace. “Aon, I love you. I love you, and I’m so sorry.”
“I beg you, do not end your life. Do not doom me to a reality where you are truly gone. The wrath I would pay to this world and all the others…there would be no returning from the damage that would do to my soul.” His body spasmed as if someone had shoved a red-hot poker against him. He pulled in a hissing breath. “This is why they have freed me, if but for a moment. To convince you to live. For in this desire, in this common goal, all parties are agreed.”
“I don’t know what else to do.”
“Do not take your life. Take mine instead. Find a way to end me. Please, my love.” He lifted his head and rested his forehead against hers. His voice was tight and thick with whatever pain the Ancients were flooding him with.
“I can’t—”
“There is no way to save me, and there is no hope of my return.” Tears rolled down his cheeks. “You are stronger than me. Stronger than the man I truly am.”
“I tried to kill you. I love you. I…I can’t.”
“You must.” He kissed her, a frantic press of lips to hers, as though they were on a sinking ship and this was their last chance. Perhaps it was. “Or I will destroy you. I will destroy this world and everyone in it, just to have you…and the man I really am will tear you to pieces to get what I want.” He held her face in his hands in his frantic need for her to understand.
She understood. But knowing and doing were very different things. 
“My life has been a ceaseless cycle of destruction, of yearning for what I could never have. Do you think the Great War was the first time I acted in such desperation? Your history is repeating itself, and so is mine. You are on this terrible, endless circular path beside me. End it all.” His eyes were turning glassy again. His hands were slipping from her cheeks. He was fighting to stay conscious, and he was losing.
“Aon, don’t go.” Don’t leave me alone again. “Please, don’t—”
“Do you know your eyes are now turquoise? Since you returned from the lake where Rxa had put you…I haven’t had the chance to tell you how beautiful they are.”
Her heart was cracking, and she let out a small, choked sob.
“I will always love you, my dragonfly.”
And with that, his eyes rolled into his head, and he slumped down against her.
Laying her head against his shoulders, she held him. Held him and wept. For him, for her…for them both.
Chapter Two
 
For a moment, Lydia could almost forget. 
She could run her fingers through his hair as he slept and believe just for a second that when he woke up, everything would be back to “normal.”
Normal. Right. None of this shit’s been normal for months.
Normal was her home in Boston. Her job. Nick. Her apartment. Normal was far, far away from here. It was all gone to her now, either through a portal or buried under sand and blood. God, she missed Nick. But like everything else, he was dead and gone.
All that was left…was him.
After he had passed out, she had hauled him back into bed. It hadn’t been graceful, but she was stronger than she used to be. She didn’t feel like sleeping, but it felt wrong to leave him. And so, she stayed with him, leaning up against the headboard, with his head in her lap. She traced her hand through his long black hair, and once her tears had finally dried out, she took the time to think.
Maybe she should give in. Maybe it’d be easier that way. To just let him drag her to the Altar of the Ancients and let them rewrite her brain. Let them possess her in the same way they were doing to Lyon. Or worse, like Aon, where they were plugging holes in his head like a sinking ship.
So far, she preferred the sinking ship to the man she was just starting to get to know.
For a moment, the Ancients had shown her they really were the same man. They had let go of their control of him so she could speak to the part of him that she recognized. And her Aon had begged her to kill him. Begged her to end his life. But she just couldn’t bring herself to do it. He was still, somehow, some way, the man she loved. Even if he was just a smaller part of the whole, he was still there.
Could she love this man? Could she love the “bigger picture?” She honestly didn’t know. He was cruel, but so had been the man she knew. He was egotistical—no change there. But the one thing that worried her more than anything else was his coldness, the stoic loftiness she saw in his dark eyes.
It was as though Aon really had been changed out for his older brother. There was a hardness there, an aloofness that scared her. But could she learn to love it, this dark king? Or would she always miss her madman, even if he was right in front of her? Even if those eyes that seemed so cold to her now softened—just a little—when he looked at her?
She didn’t know, and there was the problem. If she knew the answer, she’d kill him, or herself, or let him drag her off into the altar and let them bash her head open like a coconut and put someone else in her place. The fact that she didn’t know left her locked in indecision, stuck in the mire and unable to move.
How long the Ancients would let her linger like this, she had no idea. But she was certain it wouldn’t be enough time, in her opinion. For giant, world-controlling super-monsters, they seemed damn impatient.
For all her problems, she felt for the man who was unconscious in her lap, this King of All. It seemed he was doomed to always be suffering. Even when he finally had the only thing he ever wanted—her—she didn’t know if she loved him back anymore. That had to hurt worse than she could imagine. He had been alone for longer than the mountains on Earth had names. And now she was taunting him with her very presence.
That was the other reason she stayed with him; she sympathized with him. She couldn’t fix the problem, she couldn’t flick a switch and just magically love him again, but she couldn’t abandon him either.
His metal hand was lying in her lap, palm up. She watched as one of his fingers twitched once and then went still. His breathing never changed, but she knew better. Aon had done this a few times before. He had just woken up but didn’t want to move. He’d pretend to be asleep so he could stay where he was with her. “Hey,” she said, her voice barely above a whisper. Just in case she was wrong, even though she was damn sure she wasn’t. 
Nothing.
Lydia couldn’t help but grin. “I know you’re awake,” she said, her tone still low.
Silence. Just slow, perfectly paced breathing. It was a good act. Too bad she wasn’t buying it. She thought for a moment before an evil plan came to mind. “On Earth, we invented a thing called a ‘wet willy.’ It’s when you stick your finger in your mouth and then shove it into another person’s ear.” She stuck her finger into her mouth and let it make a pop noise as she withdrew it. Grinning, she lowered her hand toward his ear. This time, she was going to call his bluff for once.
His human hand shot up to catch hers before she could follow through. He kept his eyes shut and otherwise hadn’t moved. “Do not dare.”
Lydia chuckled. “Just proving my point.”
He was fighting off a smile and losing. It caught purchase for a moment before he finally let it have its way. It hung on him for a second or two and then faded away. He let go of her wrist as his eyes drifted open, but he didn’t lift his head or make any other movement to get up. She let her hand fall on his shoulder, and he placed his human hand back where it had been, idly resting on her leg.
“I’m glad my stupid antics can still make you smile, even if you don’t want to let them.”
“They always will, even if perhaps I do not show it as much as I used to.” He curled the fingers of his metal hand in toward his palm one at a time before releasing them and repeating, as if he were testing the mechanism. As if it really were foreign to him. “I know I am…less emotive than the man you knew. I know I am quieter than he. I am sorry for that. But I do not know how to change.”
She went back to gently stroking his hair. He was hurting. It was hard to see, but it was in his eyes, even if his face and tone were flat. “It’s not your fault.”
“But it is still my burden to bear.” His eyes slipped shut again, and his brow furrowed. “I find myself jealous of my own shadow. For it is that which I cast upon the ground that you love, not me.”
Wincing at his words, she leaned down and placed a kiss on his temple. “I’m not giving up hope. I don’t know yet.”
“You are resilient above all else. I remember the first time I laid eyes upon you in the waking world. Thrown from a horse, you were terrified, battered, and beaten. You had certain death chasing at your back. And yet you were brave enough to face down one demon with another close behind.”
“You remember that?”
“I remember a girl. A mortal, weak in body but stronger in heart than any I have ever known. One who took pity on a broken man. One who saw value in his empty heart and took his darkest needs with joy. And then she rose like a phoenix from the grave… I remember her forgiveness, her sympathy, her kindness, even as I took away her friend and her freedom.” 
He took her hand from his shoulder with his human one and pulled it to his lips, pressing a kiss to her fingers. His breath was hot against her skin. “I remember how she looked at me, blue eyes wide in fear and excitement. How she delighted in running from me yet how she would let me take her by the hand and lead her into the darkness. I recall how—despite all that broken monster had done—she loved me. I remember those who were too jealous, too afraid, to give that shell of a man the only thing he had ever wanted.”
He too waffled back and forth between calling his nightmare the same man and calling his mad self “he.” It must be hard for him to resolve as well, she realized. 
“I think you need a new name.”
“Hm?”
“It’s not fair to call you Aon.” She smiled faintly down at him. “It’s not fair to call you after your shadow.”
“It is somewhat adding insult to injury, yes.” He sighed and let his eyes slip shut. “Then name me, my Queen of Dreams.”
“Hmm…” She looked off thoughtfully. Naming things was fun, even if she was terribly bad at it. “Koa? For the ‘King of All?’”
“No. Sounds feminine.”
“Aoff. Y’know, like A-on, but A-off.”
“Absolutely not.” He was fighting a smile again.
“Well, if he was the alpha and you’re the omega, how about Oon?”
“Are you attempting to insult me more?”
Lydia snickered, and now the man in her lap was grinning despite his best efforts. She looked down at him and thought it over for another moment. “How about Noa? ‘Aon’ backwards. All the parts are there, but…just…different.” 
“He is my reflection in the glass.”
“Right.”
“Very well. Noa. I accept this name, my mother of monsters. Although I worry for the species of creatures you will create as time goes on. Your sense of humor is…pervasive…if nothing else.”
She laughed and leaned down to kiss his temple. “You have no idea.”
“I look forward to finding out.” The amusement faded from his eyes. “If the Ancients do not take that from you.” The moment of levity was gone, as he was reminded of the position they were both in. All that she was suffering, he was going through as well.
They fell silent as she felt the weight of her looming debate over them once more. “If it were your choice, what would you do?”
“Between what options?” He seemed as though her running her fingers through his hair was lulling him back into sleep. His voice was faraway sounding. It seemed her touch still did that to him, even if as he said, it showed less on the outside.
“As far as I can figure, I have two choices. My options are either to kill you or surrender my mind to the Ancients. Either willingly or unwillingly.”
“I would argue that willing and unwilling are very disparate choices and should therefore be listed separately.”
“I get mind-fucked either way.”
He chuckled at her crass language. “Yes. Precisely. And there is a far cry difference between willing intercourse and rape.”
When he had a point, he had a point. She couldn’t think up a retort. “Fair. Fine, there are three choices. What would you do?”
“If our situations were reversed?”
“Yeah.”
He paused for a long time. “I could not bring myself to kill you. Even thinking that there was a shadow of a woman I loved within you, I could not do the deed. Faced with the other choices? I would kneel willingly before their altar and sacrifice the sanctity of my mind.”
“Bullshit.”
“I would rather no longer be my true self than to be alone a moment longer. The man you knew believed the same. That is why he burned the world away to save you. I am no different. I am he. Do not forget your youth in comparison to my years. I have been alone for a very, very long time.”
She paused and considered his words. She couldn’t accuse him of lying, not really. He really would lay it all down to be with her. He already had. After a long pause, she finally admitted to him what she was feeling. “I’m scared.”
“I know.” He wove his fingers between hers and held her hand close to his chest. “If I could kiss your fears away, I would. But once you kneel before them, you will no longer feel such things.”
“That’s the problem.”
His brow knit together, and he seemed unable to find a way to argue with her. With a long, weary breath, he finally broke the silence. “Please, do not leave me.” 
“If I was planning on getting up, I would’ve by now.”
“That is not what I meant.”
He meant not to leave him here, in this world alone without her. It was his own plea for her not to kill herself or try to find a more permanent way out of this mess. Tears threatened to fall. She shuffled down to lie on the bed, pulling his head onto her shoulder, holding him.
The way he nuzzled into her broke her heart. He clung to her, draping his arm over her, and she knew he was listening to her heartbeat. The tension melted out of him. The warmth of his body and her own exhaustion were starting to lure her own eyes shut.
It had been a hopeless threat, saying she wanted to kill herself. She couldn’t leave him alone. Not her Aon, and not Noa. She found that she couldn’t bear to look at this man and turn her back on him. She didn’t know if she loved him…but she couldn’t abandon him.
“I’ll stay,” she whispered. It felt like an admission. It was the truth, and she couldn’t bring herself to lie to him.
“I am sorry I am not the man you love.”
“It’s okay.” It wasn’t. But she didn’t know what else to say. “Maybe you can be, someday.”
“Someday.”
“We’re immortal, aren’t we?”
“I suppose we are.” He leaned his head in and kissed her collarbone, and she couldn’t help but feel herself grow warm even at the innocent gesture from a half-asleep man. “Tomorrow, I must sit upon my throne and deal with the needs of my people. They squabble and bicker like children. Will you attend?”
“That sounds horrible.”
“It will be. But come with me.”
Lydia snickered. “Why?”
“It lifts my mood when you are near me.”
“Wait. This has been you in a good mood?”
He chuckled and clutched her to him as though she were a stuffed animal. “I love you, Lydia…”
When she couldn’t say it back, her heart broke, just shattered in her chest, and she felt the tears form and run along her face into her hair. She leaned her head in to kiss his forehead. If he cared, she couldn’t tell—he was already asleep.
She wrapped her arms around him and cried until sleep took her as well.
Chapter Three
 
Edu felt the chains biting into his flesh.
It was a memory he had long since sought to wipe from his mind. And for a very long time, he had succeeded.
But now, the nightmares he had banished to the recesses of his mind had returned. He was on his knees in a dungeon, hidden away from the blinding sunlight, save for one small window that cast a single square of light upon the floor. It never moved, for the sun did not track through the sky like it did on Earth. He could only tell the passage of time by its presence or absence as it slipped into eclipse.
His mask was gone. His arms were bound behind his back and attached to the wall behind him, and another chain was wound around his throat, tethering him to a heavy metal loop in the floor between his knees.
He knew he could not break it.
He had tried for thousands of years, after all.
The worn groove in the metal told him that yes, this was indeed the same ring of steel. He had put that dip in the metal with his constant thrashing. This was the same place. The question remained: which was the dream? This agony, or the past five thousand years of a peace they had, if only by comparison?
He had not expected to wake. Not after Ylena had died, and the King of All stood poised over him to remove his marks and send him to the void. But Lydia had intervened and seemingly spared his life and sent him to the pits of this hell instead.
He could not even straighten up, trapped as he was in this forced supplication. His arms were lashed to the wall behind him and his neck to the floor beneath him. He could not crack his aching bones or stretch his sore muscles in any way. It was meant to be an insult—it was meant to demean and degrade—and it worked. He knew that no matter how his body screamed to move, he would not be allowed such respite. The King of All knew how to break him.
The King of All knew how to destroy anyone. He always had. Now that he had regained the memories he had so willingly thrown away, he could see the comparisons between the man he knew as Aon and his true self. To call the King of All a sadist was to call a tree a flower. It was a gross understatement.
He was not the only one who dwelled within this dungeon suffering. While he could not lift his head well enough to see very much, he could hear the voices of those around him. Ini, and by her narration of things, Vjo, and Dtu were here as well but still unconscious. One voice hurt him more than most.
“You okay, Big Red?”
Evie. 
The King of All had taken Evie. Kept her as a prisoner in the same cell as him. There was no doubt as to why he had done it and not put her in the cages with the other lesser-ranked and rebellious souls. 
It’s a reminder of who I still have to lose. It’s a reminder that Ylena is gone, but there are others I must protect. He wants to tell me that he can still hurt me.
Edu nodded faintly. No, he was not okay. Not under any circumstances. But he did his best to lie.
“You sucked at lying b’fore I could see your cute face. Now you’re just awful.”
His fib had gone about as far as he had expected it to. He huffed a laugh and lifted his head as far as he could to look at her where she sat, chained to the wall, still finding the ability to smile at him. Although it didn’t quite reach her eyes.
“No wonder you all hid your faces. You’re all crap at lying without them.”
“Oh, wonderful child, we hid our faces for many reasons. Our desire to hide our motives is just one of them,” Ini said from where she lay. If he turned his head as far as he could to one side, he could see her where she was chained by one wall. 
It was dangerous keeping them all here in one cell—Dtu, Vjo, Ini, himself, and…Evie. Notable by her impending danger, Edu knew. But it took a great deal of power to keep their own gifts tamped down, captured and kept muted by the symbols etched upon every surface around them. There were not many cells that could hold a king or queen of Under, let alone four.
“But, yes, Edu is a miserable liar.” Ini giggled. The woman was battered and broken, spent beyond the point of healing her wounds, but not being allowed to die. And yet the glimmer hadn’t left her unnaturally bright sapphire eyes. It never would, no matter how hard the King of All tried to remove it.
He found himself smiling faintly at the Queen of Fate, the only one the King of All could not break. And oh…how he had tried throughout the years. Edu could remember her screams. It seemed these walls had heard them once more, judging by the bruises and cuts that adorned her small frame.
For the King of All knew how to ply his favorite trade—torture. Never was there a creature more skilled in the art of twisting a body to his whim than he. Not in this world or any other. Even Edu had begged for mercy on more than one occasion. Even Edu’s pride had fallen before knife and needle and screw. But not the Queen of Fate. She would only laugh when she had the air to do so.
Now that Edu could see Ini’s face, he remembered it, with her almond-shaped sapphire eyes and stunning features. Dtu and Vjo were also stripped of their masks and their pride, lying on the ground or propped up against a wall. Neither of them had awoken from their slumber of death yet. Dtu was going to be livid when he awoke. With the chains that bound them keeping their powers as shackled as their bodies, he couldn’t take his wolf form and howl, which was some small favor. Edu did not know if his headache could withstand the noise.
The door to the chamber swung open. He turned his head and strained to see who had entered. His heart fell along with his hopes. 
“Good evening, all.”
“Hello, Aon!” Ini piped brightly, greeting the man in such a manner to purposefully needle him, both in her tone and her use of his false name. “A wonderful night, isn’t it?”
The King of All ignored the attempt at goading him. “I see the dog and the spider have yet to wake. A shame. I wished to speak to you all at once. You will have to convey my message to them once they rise.”
A whisper of fabric on the packed dirt floor was all the warning Edu had before a metal hand twisted into his hair and yanked his head backward painfully, not caring for the iron around his neck that made that position send stabbing pain through his shoulders. “I suppose you will be unable to convey any message at all, hm? How clever of my false self to take your tongue. I think I prefer you this way.”
Edu glared and listed off a myriad of insults in his mind.
“I do not think you want to know what he said,” Ini said with a snicker. The psychic could hear his thoughts, and those had been particularly loud and colorful. “But know it was quite clever and unique.”
The King of All laughed dryly and let go of Edu’s hair, letting him drop his head back down to lessen the pain. “To think I would have expected gratitude that I allow you all to live. How foolish of me.”
“I was wondering, why do you let us live?” Ini asked.
“If I were to kill you, the Ancients would replace you,” the King replied simply.
“And what is the matter with that?”
“That’s easy,” Evie said and tried to stretch her shoulders. His fiery redhead did not know when to keep her mouth shut. He loved that about her. When he had owned a tongue with which to speak, he was quite similarly matched in that trait. “’Cuz he doesn’t want bunny to know we’re down here,” Evie interjected. 
The King of All merely turned to her and glowered dangerously. Evie, either blissfully unaware of the danger she was in, or more likely, belligerently uncaring, merely grinned back at him. “Oooh, look at that face! I’m right, I knew it. She doesn’t know we’re down here. She thinks you let us go. If you killed us, she’d know the jig was up when some other idiot walked around in red ink.”
“Bunny? Ah, you mean Lydia.” The King of All walked toward Evie. 
Edu yanked on the chains viciously and knew what was to come by the tone in his voice. No! Anyone but her. Let him flay the skin from my flesh before touching her! 
Hearing the racket, the King turned to look at Edu with an arched eyebrow. “You know why she is here. You know why she shares your prison. Certainly not for your comfort or peace of mind. I know you are an idiot, but you are not that foolish. You know what is to come.”
Yes, he knew. But it did not stop him from howling and yanking on the chains, trying—as if he had not done so a million times before and failed—to snap them.
“You really do make this too easy, Edu.”
Edu snarled in rage and yanked on the chains again. But he could no more budge them than he could the whole of the temple itself. His futile redoubling of his efforts brought a laugh out of the other man. Aon turned back to Evie and reached down to grasp her by the hair and drag her up to her feet. Evie squeaked and froze, but to her credit, she levied her best glare up at the warlock. She did not cower. She did not cry or beg. Edu could not have been prouder.
“Tell me I’m wrong,” the redhead piped up at the King. “She don’t know we’re down here.”
He seemed to debate his answer for a moment before shrugging idly, seeing no harm in telling a prisoner the truth even Edu already suspected. “No. She believes I have let you all go to find a new life on the horizons, far away from here.” He sneered at the childishness of the idea.
“Why not, though?” Evie asked, her innocence showing. 
A metal hand snapped around her throat, and Evie jumped in fear but barely made more than a wince of pain as the man tightened his grasp. Edu yanked on the chains again, but he was a proverbial dog barking on the end of his leash. He could do nothing to help her.
“Why not? Oh, poor, little, young thing. You think you know this world? You think you understand the players who live within it? Do you think that cretin”—he pointed back at Edu—“would ever let me live in peace? Do you think I have not let him try when I have tired of stripping his flesh from his bones for my own amusement? No. Time and time again, he comes back to hound me, to pester me like the insect that he is! I have beaten you. I have beaten you all, but that will not convince you that I am the rightful ruler of this place. This world is mine.”
“It ain’t yours, you pompous—”
The King of All backhanded Evie across the face, cutting off her insult. Edu pulled against the chains so hard he felt them bite into his skin. Blood, hot and thick, ran down his wrists and his neck, but he did not care.
“Mind your betters, girl.”
“You’re right. You’re older than me. You’ve been here fer longer than I can imagine. But y’know what? I know enough ’bout this world,” Evie’s voice was tight with pain and lack of air, “to know they’re better than you’ll ever be.”
Edu expected him to tear out her throat. To rip out her eyes or strip her of her mark right then and there for such an insult. But as his smile turned cold and vicious, he knew that would have been a kinder fate.
“I think,” the King said with sick amusement in his voice, “I would like to take the time to teach you some respect.” He reached up to release the chains that held her to the wall. His metal claw twisted in her red curls, and he dragged her beside him as he turned to leave.
“Lemme go!” Evie shrieked and tried to kick at the man. But he was far stronger than she, and he kept her under control like an adult might an angry toddler.
Edu roared in rage. How he wished to pitch invectives at the man, to threaten him with as much death and torment as he was capable. He thrashed, and the metal creaked but did not give way. No! Not Evie. Anyone, anything, but her!
 
The King of All looked back at Edu with a grin. “Do not fret so, old friend. I will be kinder to you than you were to Lydia. I will return your little love to you alive. You burned my love’s heart out of her chest with your own hand. Yet,” he paused thoughtfully, “what will be left of this one when I am done, I cannot promise you will recognize.” He dragged Evie from the room and slammed the door shut behind him, leaving Edu to his wordless rage.
 
 
 
    
 
 
 
Kat has always been a storyteller. With ten years in script-writing for performances on both the stage and for tourism, she has always been writing in one form or another. When she isn’t penning down fiction, she works as Creative Director for a company that designs and builds large-scale interactive adventure games. There, she is the lead concept designer, handling everything from game and set design, to audio and lighting, to illustration and script writing. Also on her list of skills are artistic direction, scenic painting and props, special effects, and electronics. A graduate of Boston University with a BFA in Theatre Design, she has a passion for unique, creative, and unconventional experiences. In her spare time, she builds animatronics and takes trapeze classes.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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BOOKPROMO RELEASE

Release Blitz For Loni Ree’s The Merger

 

 

Title: The Merger 
Author: Loni Ree 
Genre: Contemporary Romance 
Series: The Ryan Family Books One – Three 
 
 
 
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Bundled together in one book with an all-new bonus extended epilogue, the first three books in The Ryan Family Series-The Merger, Lukas’ Angel, Blake’s Bombshell and Drew’s Undoing.
 
Drew Steele and George Ryan decided to merge two powerful families. Only things didn’t turn out the way they originally intended…
 
Lukas Ryan was supposed to marry Lucy Steele but…
 
Although he isn’t looking for forever, Fate hands Lukas Ryan his “Angel” in an arranged marriage. Well, she’s supposed to marry one of his brothers, but he puts an end to that real quick. Once they’re married, Lukas must fight to gain his wife’s love while trying to protect his company from someone intent on destroying it.
 
Lucy Steele was supposed to marry Lukas Ryan but…
 
When the hot stranger Lucy Steele spends the night with after a night of drinking turns out to be Blake David, her Uncle’s best friend, she flees, but Blake pursues her. She’s crushed when a misunderstanding causes him to walk away. Blake and Lucy soon realize their powerful feelings aren’t temporary, but while they’ve been fighting their feelings for each other, fate has stepped in and changed the game. Fate drops a bombshell on Blake but is it too late to mend fences with Lucy?
 
Annie Ryan was supposed to marry Bradley Steele but…
 
After one look at Annie Ryan, Drew Steele is hooked. There is only one problem she’s about to become engaged to his nephew to secure a business deal. Considering the engagement and merger were his idea, Drew should stay away, but he finds it impossible to fight his feelings for Annie.
 

 

The all-new bonus extended epilogue gives you a peek inside the Ryan’s and Steele’s lives soon after The Merger.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 
 
 
 
Loni Ree, a very busy mom of six, loves to read because she finds that reading helps her escape the chaos of everyday life. She loves quick, red-hot reads that are on the excessive side. Writing is a passion of hers, so Loni decided to share the stories floating around in her mind. Her short, steamy stories are a little over the top because she believes reading should be an escape from real life. Her steamy romances turn Alphaholes into Pussycats and always have a happily ever after, guaranteed!

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

BOOKPROMO RELEASE

THE ROGUE KING by Abigail Owen – Release Day Promo

 

 

Kasia Amon is a master at
hiding. Who―and what―she is makes her a mark for the entire supernatural world. 
Especially dragon
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their highest throne. But she can’t stop bursting into flames, 
and there’s a sexy dragon shifter in town hunting for her…
 
As a rogue dragon, Brand Astarot has spent his life in the
dark, shunned by his own kind, concealing his true identity. Only his dangerous
reputation ensures his survival. Delivering a phoenix to the feared Blood King
will bring him one step closer to the revenge he’s waited centuries to take. No 
way is he letting the feisty beauty get away.

 
But when Kasia sparks a white-hot need in him that’s
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Multi-award-winning
paranormal romance author, Abigail Owen, loves plots that move hot and fast,
feisty heroines with sass, alpha heroes with heart, a dash of snark, and oodles
of sexy shifters! Other titles include wife, mother, Star Wars geek,
ex-competitive skydiver, spreadsheet lover, Dr. Seuss quoter, eMBA,
organizational guru, Texan, Aggie, and chocoholic.


Abigail grew up consuming books and exploring the world
through her writing. She attempted to find a practical career related to her
favorite pastime by earning a degree in English Rhetoric (Technical Writing).
However, she swiftly discovered that writing without imagination is not nearly
as fun as writing with it. She currently resides in Austin, Texas, with her own
personal hero, her husband, and their two children, who are growing up way too
fast.


For the latest news and exclusive excerpts, sign up for her
newsletter here: http://eepurl.com/Lw2XH


Abigail also writes award-winning sexy contemporary romance
and romantic comedy under the name Kadie Scott. AND sweet contemporary romance
under the name Kristen McKanagh.
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