Friday, 31 January 2014

Cover Re-reveal: Girl with Guitar & Girl on Tour by Caisey Quinn

The Kylie Ryans series has all new covers! 


Custom Photography by Lauren Perry of L. Perry Designs
Book Cover Design by E.M. Tippetts Book Design
Cover Model: Teale Murdock

THE KYLIE RYANS SERIES 

A girl with a dream and a guitar...
A troubled artist struggling to hold onto his career...

What they found was each other.


Girl with Guitar



Girl on Tour



Girl in Love 

Coming February 4th! 



*Titles are also available on iTunes & Kobo. 

*Special DELUXE EDITION paperbacks with bonus content will be available for a limited time at http://www.caiseyquinnwrites.com/store.html


Want to join the Kylie Ryans Read Along Happening RIGHT NOW on Facebook? 
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GIVEAWAY





ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Caisey Quinn lives in Birmingham, Alabama with her husband, daughter, and other assorted animals. She is the bestselling author of the Kylie Ryans series as well as several New and Young Adult Romance novels featuring country girls finding love in unexpected places. You can find her online at www.caiseyquinnwrites.com. 

Cover Reveal: Before You by Amber Hart & giveaway


Title: Before You
Author: Amber Hart
Genre: New Adult


Synopsis

Some say love is deadly. Some say love is beautiful. I say it is both.

Faith Watters spent her junior year traveling the world, studying in exquisite places, before returning to Oviedo High School. From the outside her life is picture-perfect. Captain of the dance team. Popular. Happy. Too bad it’s all a lie.

It will haunt me. It will claim me. It will shatter me. And I don't care.

Eighteen-year-old Diego Alvarez hates his new life in the States, but staying in Cuba is not an option. Covered in tattoos and scars, Diego doesn’t stand a chance of fitting in. Nor does he want to. His only concern is staying hidden from his past—a past, which if it were to surface, would cost him everything. Including his life.

At Oviedo High School, it seems that Faith Watters and Diego Alvarez do not belong together. But fate is as tricky as it is lovely. Freedom with no restraint is what they long for. What they get is something different entirely.

Love—it will ruin you and save you, both.    

What other authors had to say:

"Beautiful and evocative!" ~New York Times Bestselling author Sophie Jordan
"Fresh and unique...will hook and hold you." ~Bestselling author K.A. Tucker


Read the first four chapters


1

Faith

My closet is a place of secrets. 
        This is where I change into Her, the girl everybody knows as me. Searching through hanger after hanger of neatly pressed clothes, I find the outfit I’m looking for. A black knee-length pleated skirt, a loose-fitting white top, and two-inch wedge shoes. Looking good at school is a must. Not that I do it for me. It’s more for my dad’s reputation. I have to play the part. 
        I am stuffed into a borrowed frame. One that fits too tightly. One that couldn’t possibly capture the real me. 
       “Faith,” my stepmom calls. “Are you joining us for breakfast?” 
       There is no time. “No,” I reply, my voice carrying downstairs. 
       I quickly dress for school, catching my reflection in the closet door mirror. Waking sun shines off my hair, highlighting a few strands brighter than the rest. Everybody has a favorite body part. Mine is my hair, which is the fiery-brown of autumn leaves. My best friend, Melissa, swears my eyes are my best asset. Ivy-green, deep-set, haunting. Like they go on forever. 
       Speaking of Melissa, her horn blares outside. Beep, beep, pause, beep. That’s our code. I race downstairs, passing my dad, stepmom, and little sister on the way out.              “Wait,” Dad says. 
       I sigh. “Yes, Dad?” 
       He glances at my outfit, pausing at my shoes. If it were up to Dad, I would wear turtleneck shirts and dress pants with lace-up boots forever. The perfect ensemble, it seems. As it is, I dress conservatively to protect his image. I’m eighteen. You’d think he’d stop cringing every time he saw me in anything that showed the least bit of skin.            “Hug,” he says, waving me over. 
       I hug him. Place a kiss on my five-year-old sister’s jelly-covered cheek. Then, grab a napkin to wipe the sticky jelly from my lips. 
       “Bye, Gracie,” I say to her. “See you after school.” 
       She waves a small hand at me and smiles.
       “Take this.” Susan, my stepmom, hands me a bagel even though I already declined breakfast. It’s poppy seed. I’m allergic to poppy seed. 
       As usual, I don’t put up a fight. My frame feels especially uncomfortable at the moment. It’s always the same thing. I learned early on that it’s easier to go with the flow than to be different. Different is bad. Standing out attracts attention, something I try to avoid at all costs. Unfortunately, being the dance captain makes that more difficult. 
       “Have to go,” I say, shoving the bagel in my bag. 
       The screen door swings shut behind me. 
       Melissa waits in my driveway. We live in a modest, yellow-paneled house in Oviedo, Florida. The majority of the people here are middle class. We fit in well.                  “What’s up?” Melissa smiles. “Took you long enough.” 
       “Yeah, well, you try waking up late and still looking as good as I do,” I joke. 
       Melissa whips her blond hair into a ponytail and puts her red Camaro in reverse, careful not to hit my Jeep on the way out. I have my own car, but since Melissa lives three doors down, we have a deal where we alternate driving to school. She takes the first month; I take the second, and so on. Saves gas. 
       “You look smokin’,” Melissa says, lighting a cigarette. 
       I roll my eyes. 
       “Liar.” 
       She’s always hated the way I dress. 
       Melissa laughs. “Okay, true, the clothes need to go. But your hair and makeup are flawless. And no matter what you wear, you still look beautiful.” 
       “Thanks, you too,” I say, eyeing her tight jeans and sequined top. Melissa is effortlessly beautiful with her sun-freckled face and athletic build. 
       “Prediction,” Melissa begins. This is something we have done since ninth grade: predict three things that will happen during the year. “Tracy Ram will try to overthrow you as dance captain, once again, but you’ll keep your spot, of course, ’cause you rock. You’ll quit dressing like an eighty-year-old and finally wear what you want to wear instead of what society dictates is appropriate for a pastor’s daughter. And you’ll come to your senses and dump Jason Magg for a hot new boy.” 
       Melissa always predicts that I’ll dump Jason, has done since Jason and I began dating freshman year. It’s not that she doesn’t like him. It’s just that she thinks my life is too bland, like the taste of celery. What’s the point, she figures. 
       “First of all, I do not dress like the elderly,” I say. “And second, I don’t know what you have against Jason. He treats me nicely. It’s not like he’s a jerk.” 
       “It’s not like he’s exciting, either,” Melissa says. 
She’s right. What I have with Jason is comfortable, nice even, but excitement left a long time ago. 
       “Prediction,” I say, turning to Melissa. “You will not be able to quit bugging me about dumping Jason, even though last year you swore you would. Despite your doubts, you will pass senior calculus. And you’re going to win homecoming.” 
      Melissa shakes her head. “No way. Homecoming is all you, girl.” 
       I groan. “But I don’t want to win.” 
       Melissa laughs. “Tracy Ram would have a heart attack if she ever heard you say that.” 
       “Great,” I say. “Let her win homecoming.” 
       We grin. Melissa and I have been friends since kindergarten. Memories come to me suddenly. I’m in elementary school, and it’s sleepover night at Melissa’s. In my overnight bag, I carry a small stuffed bunny, my steadfast companion since forever. People would laugh if they knew, me carrying around a stuffed baby toy, but Melissa never tells. Fast forward to middle school. The braces on Melissa’s teeth are still so new that the silver catches the light from the fluorescent fixtures when she smiles. The headgear is huge, cumbersome, and no one lets her forget it. But I relentlessly defend my friend. She’s so beautiful, can’t they see? Sometimes I leave flowers stolen from a neighbor’s rose bush at her locker when no one is looking. That way people will know that she is loved. High school. Melissa and me, same as always. 
       “What do you want to bet?” Melissa asks. 
       Whoever gets the most predictions right wins. 
       “Hmm,” I say. “If I win, you have to quit smoking.” 
       Melissa almost chokes. “Pulling out the big guns, are we? Okay, then. If I win, you have to break up with Jason.” 
       “Deal,” I say, knowing that she won’t win. She never does. Melissa purses her lips and gives me the stink eye. She knows I have a better chance. “Faith, I will find a way to break you out of your mold,” she says. I laugh, partially because of the determination in my friend’s eyes, but mostly because of the absurdity of her statement. Everybody knows that girls like me never break free.

 2

Diego 

 “Diego, vamonos.” 
       I can’t help the frustrated sigh that escapes my lips, hurled at mi padre, my dad, like a gust of wind that threatens to flatten our house of cards. It’s my fault. I should have built something stronger with the cards I was dealt. But I didn’t. I didn’t know how. 
       “Go away,” I say. “Vete.” 
       I’m not planning to attend school today. 
       In fact, I didn’t plan to be in the States at all. 
       “Vamonos. Let’s go,” mi padre repeats in his heavily accented voice, yanking me off of the couch. “You will not miss senior year.” 
       He has this new thing where we have to speak English as much as possible now that we live in the States. I almost wish I weren’t fluent. Several trips to Florida, and I am. 
       With a grimace, I pass him, reluctantly moving toward my room. It feels like my feet are sinking, like I’m walking over sticky sand instead of thick, dirty carpet. 
       How did I get stuck in this place? 
       I open my dresser drawer and pull out faded jeans, a white T-shirt, and my Smith & Wesson. 
       “No,” mi padre says, grabbing the gun. 
       I take a step toward him, challenging. He does not back down. 
       “This is why we left,” he says. 
       Hypocrite. Under his bed is a similar gun, waiting. Just in case. But he’s also the one who taught me how to fight. I’m bigger than he is, but he has more experience. And the scars to prove it. 
       Not that I haven’t been in countless fights myself. 
       “Fine,” I say through clenched teeth, and turn toward the bathroom. 
       The hot water heater goes out after five minutes. The tiny two-bedroom apartment—this hole we now call home—is the only thing mi padre could afford. It’s not much, but it’s inexpensive. That’s all that matters. The plain white walls remind me of an asylum. Feels like I’m going crazy already. 
       Our jobs keep us afloat. They’re our life vests, our only chance of survival in a sea of ravenous sharks. Mi padre found a job with a lawn crew a couple weeks ago. Not many people would hire him with his scarred face and tattooed body. A restaurant offered me work part-time. Two shifts as a cook, one as a busboy. They promised a free meal every night that I worked. Couldn’t pass that up. 
       “Don’t be late for school or work,” mi padre says as I step out of the house.                School’s only ten minutes away. I walk, staring at the graffiti-covered sidewalk that stretches in front of me like a ribbed canvas. Latinos roam the block. It didn’t take moving to the States for me to know that’s how it is. The gringos, white people, live in nice houses and drive cars to school while the rest of the world waits for a piece of their leftovers. I’m trying not to think about how screwed up it all is when a Latina walks up to me. 
       “Hola,” she says. “¿Hablas inglés?” 
       “Yeah, I speak English,” I answer, though I’m not sure why she asks since both of us speak Spanish. 
       “I’m Lola.” She smiles, sexy brown eyes big and wide. She reminds me of a girl I knew back home. Just the thought, the image of home, makes my guts clench. 
       “What’s your name?” she purrs. 
       “Lola,” a Latino calls from across the street. She ignores him. He calls again. When she doesn’t come, he approaches us. 
       One look tells me he’s angry. He has a cocky stance and a shaved head. 
       “Am I interrupting something?” he snaps. 
       What’s this guy’s problem? 
       “Yep,” Lola says, turning her back on him. “My ex,” she explains, brushing a strand of curly hair out of her face. 
       Perfecto. Just what I need. I didn’t even do anything. Not that I’m going to explain. 
       “She’s mine,” the guy says, staring me down. “¿Entiendes, amigo?” 
       “I’m not your friend,” I say, gritting my teeth. “And you do not want to mess with me.” 
       Lola is smiling. I wonder if she enjoys the attention. Probably. I’ve met too many girls like her. She fits the type. 
       “You don’t know who you’re messing with,” he says, stepping closer. 
       A few guys come out of nowhere, closing in on me. Blue and white bandanas hang from their pockets like a bad-luck charm. I know what the colors signify. Mara Salvatrucha 13 Gang, or MS-13. 
       I turn to Lola. Watch her smile. 
       This is all part of the game. What I can’t figure out is if the guy really is her ex and she doesn’t care that she could be getting me killed, or if he sent her to see how tough I am, to help decide whether he wants to recruit me. 
       I turn to walk away, but someone blocks my path. 
       “Going somewhere?” another gang-banger asks. 
       This whole time I’ve wondered if I’d end up fighting at school. I hadn’t thought about the fact that I may never make it in the first place. I silently curse mi padre for hiding my gun. He wouldn’t get rid of it completely, though. 
       “What do you want?” I ask. The original guy laughs, looks me up and down. The number 67 is tattooed behind his right ear in bold black numbers. It only takes me a second to figure out the meaning. Six plus seven equals thirteen. 
       “What are those markings?” he asks, eyeing my tattoos. 
       “Nothing,” I lie. 
       If they wanted to fight me, they would’ve done it already. This is a recruit. 
       “Where you from?” he asks. I don’t answer. Members of MS-13 stretch around the globe like fingers. They can easily check my past. I’m not gonna give them a head start. 
       “Swallow your tongue?” one of the guys asks. 
       I’m trying to figure out if I can win a fight against the five guys who surround me. I look for weak spots, scars, old injuries. I look for bulges that might be weapons. I’m a good fighter. I think I can take them. But at the same time, fighting will guarantee me a follow-up visit from MS-13. 
       Just then, someone speaks behind us. “Is there a problem?” a police officer asks from the safety of his car. 
       Everyone backs away from me. 
       “Nope,” one of the gangbangers answers. “We were just leaving.” 
       “See you around,” 67 says, throwing an arm around Lola. 
       I turn my back and walk the last block to school. The police officer trails slowly behind, like a hungry dog sniffing for scraps. He leaves as I enter the double doors. 
       I think about what my dad said. Moving here will give you a brighter future. 
       His words sit heavily on my mind, like humidity on every pore of my skin. His intentions are good, but he’s wrong. So far, moving here has done nothing but remind me of my past. 


 

Faith

 “Hi, I’m Faith Watters.” 
       Those are the first words I speak to the new Cuban guy in the front office. He grimaces. He’ll be a tough one. I can handle it, though. He’s not the first. 
       I can’t help but notice that he looks a lot like a model from the neck up—eyes the color of oak, strong bone structure. Everywhere else, he looks a lot like a criminal. Chiseled, scarred body … I wonder for a second about the meaning behind the tattoos scratched into his arms. 
       One thing’s clear. He’s dangerous. 
       And he’s beautiful. 
       “I’ll show you to your classes,” I announce. 
       I’m one of the peer helpers at our school. It’s not my favorite thing to do, but it counts as a class. Basically I spend the first two days with new students, introducing them around and answering their questions. Some parents with kids new to the school voluntarily sign their students up, but it’s only mandatory for the international students, of which we have a lot. Mostly Latinos. 
       This Cuban guy towers over me. I’m five six. Not tall. Not short. Just average. Average is good. 
       This guy’s not average. Not even a little bit. He must be over six feet. 
       I glance up at him, kind of like I do when I’m searching for the moon in a sea of darkness. 
       “Looks like you have math first. I’ll walk you there,” I offer. 
       “No thanks, chica. I can handle it.” 
       “It’s no problem,” I say, leading the way. 
       He tries to snatch his schedule from my hands, but I move too fast. 
       “Why don’t we start with your name?” I suggest. 
       I already know his name. Plus some. Diego Alvarez. Eighteen years old. Moved from Cuba two weeks ago. Only child. No previous school records. I read it in his bio. I want to hear him say it. 
       “You got some kinda control issues or somethin’?” he asks harshly, voice slightly accented. 
       “You got some kind of social issues or somethin’?” I fire back, holding my stance. I won’t let him intimidate me, though I’ll admit, he’s hot. Too bad he has a nasty attitude. 
       The side of his lip twitches. “No. I just don’t mix with your type,” he answers. 
       “My type?” 
       “That’s what I said.” 
       “You don’t even know my type.” No one does. Well, except Melissa. 
       He chuckles humorlessly. “Sure I do. Head cheerleader? Date the football player? Daddy’s little girl who gets everything she wants?” He leans closer to whisper. “Probably a virgin.” 
       My cheeks burn hot. “I’m not a cheerleader,” I say through clamped teeth.
       “Whatever,” he says. “Are you gonna give me my schedule or not?” 
       “Not,” I answer. “But you can feel free to follow me to your first class.” 
       He steps in front of me, intimately close. “Listen, chica, nobody tells me what to do.” 
       I shrug. “Fine, suit yourself. It’s your life. But if you want to attend this school, it’s mandatory for me to show you to your classes for two days.” 
       His eyes narrow. “Who says I want to attend this school?” 
       I take the last step toward him, closing the gap between us. When we were little, Melissa and I used to collect glass bottles. Whenever we accumulated twenty, we’d break them on the concrete. When the glass shattered, the slivered pieces made a breathtaking prism of light. 
       I cut myself on the glass by accident once. It was painful, but worth it. The beauty was worth it. It’s funny how the bottle was never as beautiful as when it was broken.
       You will not shatter me, I silently tell Diego. Somebody already did. 
       “If you don’t want to be here, then don’t come back,” I say. 
       A taunting smile spreads across his face. My first thought is that he has nice teeth, but then I scold myself for thinking about him like that. 
       “My name is Diego,” he says, like he’s letting me in on some kind of secret. 
       “Well, Diego,” I say, “better hurry. Class starts in two minutes.” I step around him to lead the way. 
       While we walk to math, I feel Diego’s eyes on me. I don’t know what it is about him. All the other confident students had nothing on me, and I swear I’ve heard it all, but he seems different. He shines. In a dark way. When he looks at me, I get a tingly sensation, like I’m being zapped by electricity. 
       It doesn’t matter. He’s rude. And besides, I have a wonderful boyfriend. Jason. Think about Jason. 
       “Quit staring at me,” I say, glancing at him. 
       He laughs, and strands of black hair fall into his eyes. I imagine it’s a little like looking at the world through charred silk. 
       “Why? Does it make you uncomfortable?” 
He’s messing with me to get under my skin, like a pesky little splinter. 
       It’s working. 
       “Yes,” I answer. 
       In his white shirt, Diego’s skin is dark. Perpetually tanned by heritage. 
       I keep Diego’s schedule out of his reach. He inches closer, no doubt to grab it and run. I try to concentrate on the newly painted beige walls and tiled floors. Every few feet hangs a plaque about achievement or school clubs or tutoring programs. 
       When we come to the door, Diego rests an arm on the wall and leans toward me.
       “I have a proposition for you,” he says in a sultry voice. 
       It’s hard to seem unaffected. 
       “I don’t do propositions,” I say dismissively. 
       He grins, his mouth arching up like the curl of a wave. 
       “But you haven’t even heard me out,” he says. 
       “Don’t need to.” 
       He ignores my comment. “What do you say we forget about this thing where I follow you around like a little dog? And when the guidance counselor asks, I will say you were superlative.” 
       “Big word,” I mumble. This guy did not do well on his entry exams, but he says things like superlative? What’s with that? 
       He glares at me; I sigh. 
       “You know, it wouldn’t kill you to drop the tough-guy act for two days. You’ll be rid of me soon.” 
       I turn to leave but Diego grabs my arm gently. My breath catches. 
       “It’s not an act,” he says, jaw hard. 
       I wave him away nonchalantly, like his touch didn’t just do all kinds of crazy things to my body—things that make me want to forget about the warning blaring in my mind.
       I need to stay away from him. 
       I need to forget him. 
       Will you touch me again please? 
       I walk away. He watches me go. 
       “By the way,” I say as I flick a look over my shoulder at his hardened face, “I see right through you.”


 4 

Diego 

She sees right through me? What does that mean? I wonder for the twentieth time as I enter the cafeteria. I managed to avoid my peer helper after my first few classes, rushing out before she could meet me. Did she really think I couldn’t get another class schedule? Maybe next time she won’t underestimate me. 
       A sweet smell hits my nostrils as I pass the fruit section. It smells like my peer helper, and I’m reminded of my disgust for her. She thinks she knows me, but she knows nothing. She’s a snob, trying to prove something. They’re all the same. 
       Girls like her don’t know what it’s like to struggle, really struggle. 
       She’s probably never gone so hungry her stomach knots. Never roamed the streets wondering if she’ll have a safe place to sleep. With a face and body like hers, she’s probably never had to work for anything in her life. The people she represents, the life she lives, it’s all fake. 
       Javier, my cousin, warned me about her. She’s one of the Big Five, the ones who think they rule this school. Even with her perfect boyfriend and flawless life, she isn’t fooling me. 
       I hear Javier before I see him. “Diego, aquí.” 
       Through the crowd, I spot my cousin sitting with a group of Latinos. With his six-foot, two-hundred-pound frame, he’s hard to miss. I approach him. One of his friends mumbles something in Spanish about how tall I am. 
       “Hey, what can I say? They make ’em big in mi familia,” Javier says, laughing.
       Truth backhands me. I realize now that I never actually thought I would see Javier again. After … after … no. I shove the thoughts away. Not here. 
       Not here. 
       “What’s up, ’cuz?” Javier says. 
       “Nada.” I force a smile, though my relief is real. It’s good to see family.
       “¡Siéntate! Javier says. 
       I sit. Sitting is usually an indulgence for those who can afford to relax. I pretend for a moment that I’m one of them. My cousin takes a minute to introduce his friends.
       “Diego, this is Ramon, Esteban, Juan, Rodolfo, and Luis.” 
       Ramon and Esteban, with their slight overbites and similar features, must be brothers. Juan has a large head for his small frame; he’s covered in tattoos. Rodolfo has a smile full of white teeth and a dimple on the left side of his cheek. What happened to the other dimple? It’s as though God had an asymmetrical look in mind when He created him. Next to my cousin, Luis is the biggest. He has lots of freckles, splattered on his face like paint, seeping into his skin. 
       “Welcome to los Estados Unidos,” Juan says, biting into his burger. 
       “Gracias,” I reply. 
       My stomach growls, an animal hungry to live. Javier notices. 
       “Come with me.” He motions for me to follow him through the crowd. 
       As we walk to the lunch line, I spot my peer helper at a table, surrounded by her friends. There’s one of her kind at every school. The girl everyone hates to love and loves to hate. She’s probably been stabbed in the back countless times. Not that she would know, since everyone acts fake to her face. Her friends remind me of worker bees, buzzing for the queen’s attention. I wonder if she knows that the workers eventually kill the queen. 
       “When you get to the front, show them your student ID,” Javier says. 
       The guidance counselor already explained that I get one free lunch a day because of our low income. As we pass the food selections, I cannot believe the prices. 
       “Are they for real?” I ask. “Six dollars for chicken and fries?” 
       I have an image of Faith Watters taking out her designer wallet and easily paying for one of the pretentious lunches. 
       “Yep. Gringos,” Javier says, eyes hardening. He remembers what it was like in Cuba, the struggle. 
       Just by looking at the lunchroom crowd, it’s clear who the haves and have-nots are. Surprisingly, though, there are more Latinos than I expected. 
       I grab a burger and make my way to the register. As I pull out my ID, football players in letterman jackets glance my way. Part of me wishes I had it easy like them: popular, at ease, able to pay for things. 
       I shouldn’t want to be like them. 
       I don’t want to be like them. 
       Yes, I do. 
       Some days. 
       The bigger part of me knows that a life like that will never happen for someone like me. It’s just the way things are. 
       I grab a water bottle and head back to the table with Javier. Do people here know that most of the world doesn’t get water from a bottle, but from a stream or river or muddy ground? 
       “So, you fittin’ in well?” Javier asks. 
       “Yep.” For the most part. No one has singled me out for being new. 
       “Latinos blend around here. One of the good things about Florida,” he says. 
       We pass a beautiful girl on the way back to our seat. I take a moment to look. She smiles. 
       “That’s Isabella,” Javier explains. “Sexy, but taken.” 
       “Too bad,” I say. 
       I’m not looking for a girlfriend, but it would be nice to have a little fun. I’m almost at the table when someone steps in front of me. 
       “What’s your problem?” my peer helper asks, one of her friends in tow.
       Momentarily shocked by her boldness, I quickly regain my hard stance. Just like earlier, she doesn’t seem fazed by me. She’s either tougher than I thought, or she puts on a great front. 
       “I don’t know what you mean,” I reply. I try to feign confusion, but a smile creeps through. 
       “Oh, you think this is funny?” she asks, hands on her hips. For a second, she looks kind of beautiful, eyes hard and old. Wisps of hair fall out of her ponytail and around her face like angel feathers. 
       “A little.” I grin. 
       She huffs. “You weren’t there to meet me after your classes this morning. If I report you, you could lose your chance to attend this school.” 
       Is she threatening me? “Like I said, I already have a mamá. I don’t answer to you.” 
       I hand my tray to Javier. He sets it on the table so I can deal with her.
       “You’re being difficult,” she says. 
       “So are you.” 
       What is your weakness? is what I want to ask. 
       She doesn’t back down. “I’ll be there before the end of your next class. Don’t even think about ditching me again.” 
       I have to, don’t you see? 
       “I’m serious,” she says. 
       This girl is asking for it. I glance at her blond friend, who’s eyeing Javier, not paying us any attention. I wish my peer helper was as easily distracted. 
       Being tough does not scare Faith Watters. Time to change tactics. I relax and flash a grin. 
       “Mami, why don’t I help you loosen up a little?” 
       She blinks, but doesn’t show any outward evidence that my words have affected her. I move close, very close. When I look down at her, she doesn’t look away. 
       Her eyes remind me of stained glass, bright and cutting. 
       “We could have a good time, you and me,” I say, mischief punctuating my voice.
       “I don’t think so,” she says coldly. 
       I will not let her upstage me. I give her a long, slow once over. She dresses older than she is, like she doesn’t belong in high school. I wonder what makes her so uptight.
       What are you hiding, chica? 
       I usually don’t have to try with girls. It’s one of the very few advantages life has thrown my way. 
       “Oh, come on. You might like Latino if you tried it,” I say, voice low. The guys behind me laugh, egging me on. 
       “When you’re done with him, I’m available, mamacita,” Juan says. “I don’t mind leftovers.” 
       She sneers. Good. That’s progress. 
       “Let me take you out,” I say. 
       I’m not really going to take her anywhere. I just want to make a crack in her icy shield. 
       Why do you have a shield, anyway? 
       “Why?” she asks suspiciously. 
       Because I know it annoys you when someone else has control. “Because it would be fun,” I say, bending close to her face. “And I can promise you one thing.”
       She looks cautious. 
       It’s a look I know well. 
       “What?” she asks. 
       That one night with me will relax you.
       Girls like her love bad boys, whether they admit it or not. I imagine it’s similar to visiting a haunted mansion. Exciting, at first. One foot slips through the door, then the next. Heart hammers. Blood races. It’s a rush. A fix. Never knowing what’s around the next corner, through the closed door, beyond the shadows. Trying to find a way out. Not really wanting to leave. Wondering how close a person can come to danger before something bad happens. Looking for the moonlight at the end of the tunnel, an exit.
       Sometimes there is no light at the end of the tunnel. 
       I can show her excitement like she’ll never experience with that boyfriend of hers.
       But I don’t say any of those things. Instead I let my lips brush her ear lobe as I answer. 
       “That you will leave satisfied.”


Author Bio

Amber Hart grew up in Orlando, Florida and Atlanta, Georgia. She now resides on the Florida coastline with family and animals including, but not limited to, bulldogs, a cat, and dragons. When unable to find a book, she can be found writing, daydreaming, or with her toes in the sand. She's the author of BEFORE YOU, AFTER US, ECHOES, and ECHOES' sequel (untitled as of yet). Rep'd by Beth Miller of Writers House. 

Connect with Amber here 



Giveaway


Thursday, 30 January 2014

Prince Of Blood & Steel Release Day Blitz & giveaway



Title: Prince Of Blood And Steel 
( The Morgan Syndicate Series #1)
Authors: Nazarea Andrews & AJ Elmore
Genre: New Adult Romantic Suspense
Release Date: January 30, 2014



Synopsis

Seth Morgan has returned home after two years spent building an alliance that will take his family's crime syndicate to a new level in New York City's black collar society. He expects a warm welcome as heir of the Morgan empire. He hopes to finally marry Nicolette, the woman he's loved his whole life.
 What he finds is a different world, one where his family's legacy is in ruins. His big brother, Caleb, has changed into someone cold and bitter, plotting to overthrow their patriarch. And Nicolette, daughter of the criminal banking industry, has left the family entirely.
 When a vicious misunderstanding leaves Caleb dead, Seth is left reeling. Desperate for truth, Seth is forced to turn to his only remaining cousin, Emma, for support. As he tries to mend his relationship with Nicolette, he begins a search for answers that will take him from the dirty streets to the highest reaches of their illicit empire.
 Torn between the desire to protect those who mean the most to him, and a need to learn more about Caleb's death, he grows distant to protect them. As each secret surfaces, he realizes that the only way to restore his family is to take his place at its head, and fully embrace the brutal way they live.



Author Bio
AJ and Nazarea became friends in a writers group. Drawn together by a love of fictional bad boys and good wine, they are best kept several states apart but rack up a ton of emails and text messages arguing plot points.




Nazarea Andrews is an avid reader and tends to write the stories she wants to read. She loves chocolate and coffee almost as much as she loves books, but not quite as much as she loves her kids. She lives in south Georgia with her husband, daughters, and overgrown dog.





AJ has seven tattoos, two dogs, and a bachelor's degree in journalism.  She enjoys live music, and a diverse range of writing styles and genres.  She has been writing creatively and therapeutically since childhood.  She also supports artist collaboration and cross-media projects.  She is an advocate of experience as inspiration.  She lives and works in southern West Virginia as a bartender novelist.


AUTHOR LINKS:
Nazarea Andrews: Website | Blog | Twitter | Facebook |  Newsletter
A.J. Elmore: Facebook | Twitter

Giveaway

Cover Reveal: Deviant by Callie Hart

DEVIANT COVER

Title: Deviant (Blood & Roses, #1)
Author: Callie Hart
Genre: Erotic Romance
Expected Release Date: February 20, 2014
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Synopsis
Sloane
I'm not proud of the things I've done. The things I've had to do. The things I've given away. but I'd give it all over again to find her. Even if I die trying, I have to find Alexis. Zeth She wants me to help her, But I won't. She wants me to save her sister, But I can't. She wants me to be her hero, But I'm not a good man. I am her damnation.


Available for pre-order now at iTunes


Book Trailer



Connect with the Author
 
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Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Prince of Blood and Steel - First two chapters

We have the first two chapters of Prince Of Blood And Steel
to whet your appetite before release day tomorrow, January 30, 2014.
Can't wait to meet Seth!!!


Title: Prince Of Blood And Steel 
( The Morgan Syndicate Series #1)
Authors: Nazarea Andrews & AJ Elmore
Genre: New Adult Romantic Suspense
Release Date: January 30, 2014



Synopsis

Seth Morgan has returned home after two years spent building an alliance that will take his family's crime syndicate to a new level in New York City's black collar society. He expects a warm welcome as heir of the Morgan empire. He hopes to finally marry Nicolette, the woman he's loved his whole life.
 What he finds is a different world, one where his family's legacy is in ruins. His big brother, Caleb, has changed into someone cold and bitter, plotting to overthrow their patriarch. And Nicolette, daughter of the criminal banking industry, has left the family entirely.
 When a vicious misunderstanding leaves Caleb dead, Seth is left reeling. Desperate for truth, Seth is forced to turn to his only remaining cousin, Emma, for support. As he tries to mend his relationship with Nicolette, he begins a search for answers that will take him from the dirty streets to the highest reaches of their illicit empire.
 Torn between the desire to protect those who mean the most to him, and a need to learn more about Caleb's death, he grows distant to protect them. As each secret surfaces, he realizes that the only way to restore his family is to take his place at its head, and fully embrace the brutal way they live.



TEASER

Woodlawn Cemetery, New York City. October 16, 2011

Rain pounds on the tops of two huge black umbrellas, one slightly higher than the other. Two brothers stand as the remnants of a long and winding funeral party that has already departed to seek shelter at a reception organized for the mourners. The brothers have been silent since well before the line of tossed roses ended. Their uncle had stood beside them for some time, wearing heartbreak on his face, watching the men in parkas doing their ghastly work. Even he had turned away when the casket began to lower.
The world around them is a dreary, soggy weight, but the faces beneath the umbrellas are dry. The taller takes a long pull on a cigarette, hand moving mechanically. Mirrored shades set the scenery at an acceptable visibility, dimming the details. The pole of his umbrella rests against his other shoulder. His knuckles are white against the handle. The shorter, darker brother holds his umbrella in his right hand, abandoned in front of him as if it were some sort of lifeline. His suit jacket rests on his shoulders, covering the sling that will confine his left arm for some time. His deep brown eyes are heavy, with dark pools beneath them. The roots of his teeth are numb. Their shoulders are touching. They ignore the cautious glances from the men who start the machinery that will cover their dead father with the earth from whence he came. Ashes to ashes, or something like that.
The Marzetti clan has been mercilessly slaughtered, wiped from the city's books in a series of well-disguised and strategic hits. Anyone with a direct tie to that family's fronts is as good as dead. Retribution seems little more than routine on a day like this.
“He didn't talk to me,” says Caleb, the taller, older brother who has no regard for the serenity of silence he destroys. The younger, Seth, looks questioningly to him, searching Caleb's blank mask for some explanation. He can't tell where his brother is looking and, for some reason, it makes him angry. “He didn't have any last words of wisdom for me,” Caleb says, face front, voice carefully neutral. He introspectively hits his cigarette.
Seth gasps, unable to hide his raw emotions from his family after upholding his charade of 'dealing with it' all day. He had presumed, after the way they had woken him from dead sleep the night his dad died, and rushed him upstairs to speak to his father alone, that Caleb had already had his time with their dad. What Seth's brother is telling him now is that the scene didn't play out that way. His dad's last words play so differently with that change in perspective.
Caleb watches the mud dripping from the mouth of the backhoe as it struggles against the waterlogged ground. He imagines the grave filling with rain before they can cover it, and all Gabe’s transgressions and guilt float to the surface. How many skeletons would that flood unearth? Mud to mud, that is all it comes down to in the end. “He didn't talk to Mikie, either,” he continues, battling against an irrational aggravation at his brother's innocence and surprise.
Seth looks away, eyes unwittingly falling on the same sullied scene as Caleb's. What a fittingly messy tribute to a gruesomely mucked up circumstance. Slowly, deliberately, he answers, “He said that if you find yourself cold inside, you're not fit to be a king.”
Seth can sense the tension take hold of Caleb. He can feel muscles pull and tighten beside him, though Caleb never moves. Seth recognizes the storm that takes his brother, he has seen it a thousand times. Caleb has always been chillingly good at hiding his feelings, but Seth knows them all as well as his own. Caleb is partly jealous, partly crushed that a birthright that should fall to the eldest son has instead gone to the younger. Seth looks back to the other, knowing without a doubt that Caleb can feel the attention. The cigarette burns unheeded. “Family is most important—”
“Don't mock me!” Caleb cries. What is left of his cigarette snaps in his fingers. Ash scatters into the rain as he flings the pieces at the ground.
Seth sighs. Maybe it is too soon to talk about it. Caleb only ever works at his own pace, and he hardly lets anyone in on his progress. Seth looks to his mud-covered shoes. “I love you, Caleb,” he says, voice barely audible over the hum of the heavy equipment.
He sees Caleb in his periphery, watches him jerk his shades off to rub at his eyes with the back of hand. He hears him sigh, too. “I love you too, Seth,” he whispers, and fixes the sunglasses firmly back in place. Only then does he allow himself to glance at his sibling, who looks so much like his dad.


Part One
Coup de Main

Chapter 1

Louis Blues and Booze, New York City. January 19, 2013.

He is sitting at the bar, drinking Gentleman Jack on the rocks. The bar is trimmed in neon yellow paled by frosty glass. His back is to her, but he knows she's there.
She sits in a booth for two with vinyl seat covers the color of midnight. She wears a little black dress. She's sipping on a Manhattan, dry. Two more collect condensation beside her. She could be wasted, but she's not. She doesn't want charity drinks from men who want her number. She doesn't even see what they look like anymore when the cocktail server brings them.
Seth can't help but overhear a group of guys his age debating why she hasn’t touched the drinks they bought for her. They don't know her; he takes pity on them. “She's here for the band,” he says without looking at them.
Their chatter dies away as they turn their pack-animal eyes to him. He's wearing a white button-down shirt with a black tie, knot hanging halfway down his chest. His top two buttons are undone, and he's wearing expensive jeans. They don't know what to think of him in their Armani suits and their professional haircuts. One of them snorts indignantly. “This guy has been burned one too many times,” Mr. Corporate laughs, exuding masculinity.
Seth smiles. Once—he's only been burned once. How can he explain that when you're as rich as he is, it only takes once? They cease to be worth his time. They don't understand the situation upon which they have happened, and they obviously don't know him. That's the problem with these uppity types, they never appreciate anything.
Finally, he swivels to face her, muse of his dreams. He orders white wine, Riesling, from the bartender in a bow tie who has suddenly materialized behind him. The professional brigade is bolstered by superiority, the irresistible self, and they snicker at him. He catches the closest server with merely a glance. She blushes. Most likely, she knows who he is. It’s been two years, but he wasn’t forgotten. “Will you please take this to the lady at the booth over there?” he asks, setting the glass carefully in the center of her tray.
“With all due respect, sir, she hasn't touched any gifts yet this evening,” the server says, eyes glancing toward the suits with whom she did not share the same advice, then back to the godly creature before her. Yes, they are suddenly watching the exchange with hardly disguised interest.
Seth smiles. He understands,—the drink is overkill at this point. He slips a ten dollar bill beside his wine and lets his smile disarm. His brother always told him that it didn't matter what he actually said, as long as he smiled. The server's disappointment shows as her expression falls. Seth knows she'd just as soon offer herself in the place of the cool lady across the room, but she leaves him with only two words. “Thank you.”
Seth chases away thoughts of his brother with a deep drink and the thickness of anticipation. He has only been back in town for a couple of weeks. He has stayed off the radar so far, hasn't even seen the brother he has sorely missed, or Emma, or the rest of his family. The city must have time to forgive him for leaving, and he must have time to learn his city from an entirely changed perspective; as an outsider, like he never could before he left.
He's heard things have changed. He's heard that power has been shifting behind closed doors. Even after two years, old connections aren't hard to rekindle. They tell him that traditions and morals on which his kingdom has been based are now failing, a fact that the little communication he survived upon failed to mention.
He left to gain an ally, to expand the empire. Now, he has seemingly lost his place in his family and it's crumbling at its foundation—all rumors from trusted sources that he doesn't want to believe. It is so much easier to focus on her and this moment than face the inevitable.
The drink is being presented. The cocktail waitress is telling her that the gentleman at the bar wanted her to have this. She's taking the wine with wary stiffness. She says, her voice dazed, “Thank you.”
She stares at the carbonation. The wine is something that comes into one's life like news of the death of someone close, unsolicited and gut-wrenching. She passes the glass under her nose. It is fruity and acidic, inviting. She can imagine its taste, full and citric, and her blood runs cold in her veins. In her mind, she sees the night-time cityscape from a rooftop. His arms are around her. She hears him say, “Someday, we'll rule this city. We'll make it everything we want it to be.” They were drinking Riesling together.
The band has died away. In the now, she forces her body to turn, hoping to see some blundering idiot who just happened to order her favorite wine, oblivious to the memory it summons. But no, her wide eyes find him immediately. He is casual, errantly comfortable, and brown against white, devilishly sexy. He smiles, the bastard, and raises his rocks glass. He is like a living saint among men, washed in holy neon yellow, back from the blackened hells.
Why now, when she has finally stopped believing his family when they tell her that he's still alive? Her hands are shaking.
Beside him, the suits are wondering in hushed tones how he got her attention. He is lost in her eyes, which have been missing from his life for too long. It's like his dreams have stepped out of his head. She looks more amazing than he could have ever remembered. “White wine is her favorite,” he tells the suits, without looking away from her. She breaks eye contact first. “Excuse me,” he adds, downing his courage as he grabs his long, dark coat.
She is collecting her little black bag and her jacket. She moves toward the exit, leaving the wine abandoned on the table. She hasn't tasted it in over two years and tonight is not a good one for reminiscing. She avoids the eyes of strangers, doesn't take the time to put on the jacket as she rushes out of the bar. The biting cold is like a knife to the chest, but his reappearance hurts more. Her breath rises in front of her and, suddenly, she hates the metal and concrete around her. Who would want to rule this? Her mind goes blank. Her heart aches. She feels so much that she feels nothing.
“Please wait!”
His voice grips her, his first words to her in so long. They seize her feet. Despite all her resolve, she is bound by his voice, like black magic. She stops in her tracks, but she will not face him. “You're dead to me,” she spits through her tightening throat. Tears are fighting to surface. She swore that if she ever saw him again, she wouldn't cry. “You're dead to this place.”
“No,” he says to her back. “The city is cold, but she's not that cold. She won't turn her back on one of her own.”
“You abandoned us. What could you possibly want now?” she asks the night.
His voice and presence surround her, pull her in. She sees him in her memory, two summers ago, against the green of Central Park. She can still feel the warm afternoon rays. That had been the day before he told her he was leaving, the last perfect day and the end of a fairy tale in which she can no longer believe. It was for the good of the family, he said. He would come back soon, and everything would be different.
Well, it's different.
“I had to go,” he says.
“For the family, I know,” she says shortly. But it had been too soon after his father's death. The change of power was too new. They had done it for the opportunity, but no one understood how he could leave at a time like that, and as people do—even family—they turned on him. Her jaw clenches. She bites down on her bitterness. “And now your goddamned family is falling apart!” She turns away.
“Then I'll fix it!” Seth calls. He almost watches her walk away. Almost. But he can't. She feels his fingers close around her arm. “Please wait,” begs the man who would die rather than be a beggar.
She whips around upon the contact, pulled by some invisible force. The moment before her open hand connects with his face, her eyes lock onto his. He has to know she really means this. And she smacks the shit out of him. His head snaps to the side, and a tang rises in his mouth. “Dead people don't speak,” she says flatly and rips her arm away from him. Then she turns on her heel, leaves him stinging in the relentless cold, alone with his hot breath that bleeds white upon the freezing air.
“You sure know how to get a girl's attention,” a voice says from behind him. Seth turns. He's not quite alone. It's one of the suits. He's smoking a cigarette and leaning against the railing to the stairs of the bar. A curious expression plays upon the man's face as he studies Seth, as if he might recognize him. Seth makes a sad smile, for he is merely a ghost in this place these days. Once, he would be followed by reporters and cameras. Once.
“Some people are just born with it.” He shrugs, laughing humorlessly into the night. He looks up at the haze of light emanating from the city. In the south, sometimes he could see the stars. He misses them, suddenly.
“That was some stunt, straight outuva movie.” The suit says, grinning.
Seth laughs again, shaking his head. “No, what you mean to say is desperation.”
“Buy you a drink, buddy?”
“Thanks, but no thanks. I've got some business,” Seth says, eyes shifting down the street where he imagines he can still feel her.
“Well, good luck.” The guy laughs, flipping his cigarette at the sidewalk and stamping it out. He is shaking his head in disbelief, then he adds, “This may sound weird, but I swear you look familiar.”
Now, a real smile turns Seth's lips. Perhaps his people haven't forgotten him altogether. He says, “That's because I'm Seth Morgan. And I'll need more than luck tonight. Have a good one.”
He sets off down the sidewalk as the realization dawns upon the other man.
He's not in the mood to play the dangerous celebrity, so he makes his pace quick until he is several blocks away from the little bar. Despite the cold, he convinces himself that it's a good time for a walk, so he wanders for a while to take in the sights and impersonal assault of his city. He lets himself believe that he's walking aimlessly, but he knows he is getting closer to her. He tells himself he won't end up at her door, that he's just a dead man, traveling among his memories; but once his toes are numb and his nose is too cold to run, he turns down an alley that hosts a little stoop about half way down the block. There, he stares at the gray door with the bare bulb above it. He can't quite make himself climb the two steps that lead up to the door. Her address was the first thing he found when he learned that she no longer lived in her father's palatial home, yet this is his first visit. He wants to knock, but his arms betray him. Can it be true that she doesn't want to see him?
“You've gotten sloppy, making scenes in public,” a voice says from the darkness at the other end of the alley. It is a voice Seth has both missed and hated, dressed in a callous tone he can perfectly understand. He has missed the sound, because it belongs to his brother. He has hated it, because the last thing his brother told him was that he was making a mistake.
He sighs in aggravation and turns toward someone who has been his rival and best friend. He does not have an answer, only raises his eyebrows expectantly. He knows Caleb is also someone who won't be rushed into anything, a trait that has been consistently true since childhood. Two years away, and this is the hostile welcome that the only living member of his immediate family has for him. The tall, angular blond spreads his hands before him in a shrug and says, “It only took me a week to find out you were back. I’ve been following you for a week.”
“I'm not hiding,” Seth answers. This isn't the homecoming he had anticipated.
“You couldn't bother to let your only family know that you were back before going to her? You couldn't really have thought we wouldn't know you were here. We own these streets, every crevice and every alley. Even this one.”
Seth stands his ground. He knows there are guns in the darkness. He wonders what they see —a golden-skinned, shaggy stranger; an impossibly casual, relaxed-fit man who was once a clean-cut youth. “Of course I know that. Are you jealous you weren’t my first stop, Caleb? Are you mad you were number two?” he says. How can he say that the readjustment to his city has been damn-near immobilizing? He can't.
“Uncle Mikie doesn't trust you anymore, Seth.”
All the slack in Seth's frame pulls taught. All of his infuriating grace dies around him as rage racks him like a slug in the flesh. Caleb may be the only one who can dismantle his composure so effortlessly, because he is the only one who knows exactly where all the holes are in Seth's emotional armor.
Seth says, “Why is that, Caleb? I left on Uncle Mikie's bidding. He knew it would be like this.” He steps up to his brother, looks him in the eye. “Has there been a snake in our Uncle's ear?”
Blue eyes go so hard they seem they will shatter. “Things change, little bro. Uncle Mikie's plans have changed. He’s looking into something more Eastern,” Caleb says with an out-of-place languor that has been his infuriating manner since childhood. He is looking down on his sibling.
Seth's brow furrows. He looks the differences age has produced in Caleb as he searches for sense in the conversation that spills from them. Just a few lines at the corners of his eyes, a wide, strong jaw, and an impenetrable mask. He is trim and fit, and mad as hell.
Seth says, “I don't believe you. I think that's your idea. People will die if we cross the alliance we have made, he knows that.” I will die, is what he doesn't say. He feels lightning in his veins. No wonder things have decayed so badly if a main player in this game has turned against his own team.
“Not if everyone's precious prince is already dead,” Caleb says, his expression distorting in a way that Seth recognizes as menacing. There's a blur of movement, merely a twitch, and he feels the end of a gun barrel push against the bottom of his chin. He laughs, and it is so cold, the realization that his brother has drawn arms against him.
This is the culmination of silent and prolonged grievances. Of leaving too soon and staying so long.
Caleb says, “Mikie doesn't trust anyone anymore, but he knows now that you've got some major pull, you'll take everything away just like you always do. And in his eyes, you're the only one who can take everything away from him.”
Hatred runs through Seth colder than the ice around them. His eyes narrow. He is about to snap, he doesn't care if it gets him shot by his own people. He's taken a bullet before. Everything he worked for, the new opportunities for a real stake for his family, all of it has been undermined before it has had a chance. He says, quietly, “Are you saying that our uncle is planning a coup, Caleb? Really? And you really expect me to believe that Mikie wants me dead? We're supposed to work together, not turn against each other. Don't be an idiot about this.” The metal is biting his skin.
He can hardly endure that his brother is holding a gun to his head.
“It's hard to work together when you're in another hemisphere,” Caleb spits. “The family hasn't worked together since Dad died. You're such a self-righteous prick.” He pushes the gun harder, stretching Seth's neck a little.
“I think you're mad that Mikie sent me and not you,” Seth manages through grinding teeth. Just as brothers will do, he goes straight for the jugular, brings up a painful issue that has haunted Caleb. There is a part of him, small and hard, that believes his flesh and blood intends to kill him. “Just like you've always been mad that Dad picked me.”
“Or maybe I've been back here in reality for two fucking years, alone,” says Caleb, bitterness lacing his words. “Maybe I've seen everything fall to shit around me. Maybe I’ve been the one trying to protect the innocents we swore to keep safe. Maybe, for once, I actually know what the fuck I'm talking about.”
Seth seethes as his brother pushes him. Soon, the whole city will melt from the heat of his rage. He has devoted two years of his life to gaining the trust of the syndicate's new business partners. He has been watched by the FBI, the DEA, and who knows what other departments, not to mention the Cubans themselves. He has been cut off from everyone he loves, missing his dead father, who never warned him the reins would be so hard to control. He had always thought it ran naturally through some divine fountain of intuition, but he could not make it seem as simple as his father had. His soul hurts. He locks his stare onto his brother, raises his hands at his shoulders to show that he will not fight, and says, “If you really think you can pull the trigger, our customs say you’ll die right after me.  What would Dad say if he saw you right now?”
“Dad's dead!” Caleb screams, drawing back into a swift pistol whip to his brother's jaw. He leans his face in close and softly says, “Your customs are dead. I'm already dead, like you.” As if some silent alarm is triggered, two figures emerge from the end of the alley. They are cousins.
Seth finds himself against the icy pavement, head ringing. The right side of his face goes numb. The slap he has already received seems like a good dream now. He remembers where he is, her apartment. Caleb had always managed to ignore some glaring details that might prove to be obstacles for him. Caleb says, “This whole family is dead, Seth, and it's not about blood anymore, it's about business. It's time for a change, or we'll be extinct because of old customs. All I have to do is twitch my finger, and that change begins. If Dad could see you, bleeding on the pavement upon your triumphant return, playing the victim when you're just a self-centered little fuck. It's pathetic, because it's easy to see, you're still just a fucking child.”
The cousins reach for Seth's arms, but Caleb screams, “Get away! I can do this myself!”
The anger that has been growing for the two longest years of his life breaks at the sight of Seth on his knees, and his body reacts violently. He lands several kicks in Seth's ribs, the impact of each earth-shaking in its magnitude. Caleb has always been violent, but never before has he been so ruthless in an attack; he shows no compassion and doesn't hold back in the least. He says, “You look like Dad, and your face is making me sick,” and points the gun at Seth's forehead.
Seth spits blood at his brother's feet. His insides ache. His head is raging. What was left of his faith in humanity breaks into tiny pieces and pits into his gut. He's dizzy. He searches to the very dregs of his cruelty and whispers, “Dad was right. You are too weak to handle power.” Every word wrenches from his body, each like a brutal stab of red-hot metal.
Caleb delivers another blow to Seth's cheekbone with the butt of his gun. He watches the blood run into Seth's eyes and from his mouth. Seth makes wavering eye contact, despite the fact that it hurts to open his right eye, despite the blood and pain shooting through the side of his face. He is well aware that he is provoking a man who is already well past his threshold, but he is past the point of sense. Both brothers are breaking—he can tell that Caleb is about to cry, and Caleb doesn't cry.
The cousins, distant relations, know too, and they shift uneasily. Nothing good can come of this encounter now. They exchange worried glances as Seth tries to pull away from them and stand. They have been told that Seth is idealistic, and crazy, but at this moment, maybe he's right. The thing about Seth is that he has this personality with the gravitational pull of a star. When he's around, you feel his warmth like you need water; and when he's not, shit gets cold.
Caleb speaks, shakes them all into the moment. “You don't understand, Seth. You never did. I am more like our family than you could ever hope to be, because you are weak.”
Seth's head hangs. Blood and saliva run freely onto the pavement. He hears the mechanical clicks of a gun. His brother is going to kill him.
“Do it and you're dead,” a voice says, female, familiar.
Another gun has come into play as the elder Morgan crew's attention was diverted. Caleb freezes because he can feel the lifeless chill of a barrel trained on the back of his head. The cousins make for their guns, but fortune has not favored them, and they are too slow. A second gun is immediately on cousin number one, and number two receives a quick kick to the groin.
“Get out of here, you pieces of shit,” she spits, pushing her weight against the gun that is resting against cousin number one's head. His eyes roll to his boss, pleading for the permission to retreat. His knees are buckling under him. Caleb's head barely flicks to the side, and number one is gone down the alley without so much as a glance at his commander. Number two limps behind him. She trains both guns on Caleb.
“Nicolette,” he drawls, “how nice to see you, as always.”
“Why are you here?” she asks flatly. She is all jeans and black sweater now, all pink nose and gun barrels. Her hair is down and still slightly curled. Her expression is violent—no bullshit or you might die.
“Listen, Nic,” he says, raising his hands slightly in innocence.
“Don't 'Nic' me. What the hell are you doing here? I told you to stay away. That wasn't conditional.”  She walks around him, stands in front of him with guns in his face. “And this—” She nods toward Seth, who has become motionless. “You beat your own brother? I've always known there was something wrong with you, but this is too much.” She leans forward. “Get the fuck out of here, huh?”
He coldly eyes the guns. He’s lost his ground. To stand up to her now would be a move that would leave him alive, but without testicles. “Of course, I was just leaving,” he says, taking several steps backward. She can see a loss of composure seeping into his arrogant eyes. He knows he fucked up, real bad. Caleb bows. “Good night, princess.” Then he turns and leaves, melting into the night. He does not look back. 


Author Bio
AJ and Nazarea became friends in a writers group. Drawn together by a love of fictional bad boys and good wine, they are best kept several states apart but rack up a ton of emails and text messages arguing plot points.




Nazarea Andrews is an avid reader and tends to write the stories she wants to read. She loves chocolate and coffee almost as much as she loves books, but not quite as much as she loves her kids. She lives in south Georgia with her husband, daughters, and overgrown dog.





AJ has seven tattoos, two dogs, and a bachelor's degree in journalism.  She enjoys live music, and a diverse range of writing styles and genres.  She has been writing creatively and therapeutically since childhood.  She also supports artist collaboration and cross-media projects.  She is an advocate of experience as inspiration.  She lives and works in southern West Virginia as a bartender novelist.