Monday, July 14, 2014

#Giveaway ~ Divide by Jessa Russo ~Fairytail Redux (Beauty and the Beast retelling) ~ Excerpt~ Review

Jessa Russo

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Genre: Young adult, fantasy, fairytale redux, paranormal
Date of Publication: 4/17/14

ISBN: 149540899X
ASIN: 978-1495408991

Number of pages: 340
Word Count: 80K

Book Description:

From senior class president to dejected social outcast, with just the flick of a match.

After accusations of torching her ex-boyfriend’s home are followed by the mysterious poisoning of her ex-best friend, seventeen-year-old Holland Briggs assumes her life is over. And it is. But not in the way she thinks.

As Holland learns the truth about her cursed fate—that she is descended from the Beast most have only ever heard of in fairytales—she unites with an unlikely ally, good-looking newcomer Mick Stevenson.

Mick knows more about Holland’s twisted history than she does, and enlightening as it is to learn about, his suggestion for a cure is unsettling at best. Holland must fall in love with Mick in order to break the spell, and save their future generations from repeating her cursed fate. Having sworn off love after the betrayals of her ex-boyfriend and ex-best friend, this may be difficult to accomplish.

Complicating things further for Holland and Mick, time runs out, and Holland’s change begins way before schedule. With Holland quickly morphing into a dangerous mythical creature, Mick struggles to save her.

Should they fail, Holland will be lost to the beast inside her forever.

Buy Links
Amazon   BN  Kobo

About the Author:

Jessa Russo believes in fairytales, ghosts, and Jake Ryan. She insists mimosas were created for Sundays, and that’s not up for discussion.  She’s obsessed with the great city of New Orleans—where she’s collected too many beads to count, eventually married her sweetheart, and visited graveyards they don’t include on maps.

She’s loud, painfully honest, and passionate about living life to the fullest, because she’s seen how abruptly it can be taken away.

What began as a desire for reading and writing young adult paranormal has bled into stories of all kinds. From fantasy to pre-dystopian to erotic contemporary, Jessa’s stories always include romance, though she’s given up on pigeonholing her work into a category or genre box.

Jessa was born and raised in Southern California, and remains there to this day with her husband (a classic car fanatic), their daughter (a Tim Burton superfan), and a Great Dane who thinks he’s the same size as his Chihuahua sister.
ENTWINED, the final installment of Russo’s Ever Trilogy, will be released later this year, as well as an erotic romance written under the pseudonym Parker Jameson, so please stay tuned!

If you'd like to connect with Jessa online, please visit the following pages:

Tour giveaway

1book bundle that includes:

1 signed paperback of DIVIDE
1 signed paperback of EVER (Book One of The Ever Trilogy)
1 signed paperback of EVADE (Book Two of The Ever Trilogy)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

My Review

I really enjoyed this book. Had a modern, but yet strange twist on Beauty and the Beast. In this case the “beast” is a girl. It has to do with a family curse and lots of other things. Really not much like any other re-telling.  I like how this story very loosely follows the original, and that for me means barely, but that’s a good thing.

Its written really well, and had a hard time putting it down. It’s been awhile since I read a book that was not a part of a series. It was kindof nice.

I liked the twist and turns that came up, made it exciting. It’s a short (for me) quick read. I can’t say too much about it without some spoilers, so will keep this short.

Overall a great paranormal read, I highly recommend it.

I was provided a copy of this book for my honest review.

This review is also at Goodreads and Amazon (Likes are always appreciated)


Jessa Russo

Chapter One

The girl looking back at me didn’t seem half as broken as I felt. She was beautiful, confident, sure of herself. A mask I’d worn for years out of habit, and more recently, necessity.
With a sigh, I slammed my locker door a bit harder than I’d meant to, shutting the magnetic mirror away for at least another hour. At least until I returned for more books between my next two classes and found myself staring at that pretty face again.
She was any magazine’s idea of perfection.
So unlike what lurked just under the surface.
I felt it. Moving around beneath my skin, waiting, calculating—counting down the days.
“Holl! Wait up!”
I turned around to see my little brother heading toward me. The broad smile on his face pushed away my dark thoughts. With only eleven months between us, Cameron was busy enjoying the hell out of his junior year as I trudged through my senior. With way less enthusiasm.
Although, this time last year I’d felt differently. So much changed in a few short months.
“You cussed in French again, sis. People are going to think you’re a freak.”
I raised an eyebrow at my brother. “Seriously?”
As if saying a bad word in French would cause people to think I was a freak any more than all the rumors flying around about me.
Cam waved off my question with a flick of his wrist. “You ditching at lunch today?” he asked, pulling on his black and gold letterman’s jacket.
“No, Cam. That was just one time. Mom and Dad will kill me if I lead you down the path of destruction.” I over-emphasized the words the way our dad had so frequently.
Cam laughed and threw his arm around my shoulder, giving me a light noogie with his free hand. “If they only knew, huh, Holl?”
He leaned down and kissed the side of my head before he headed off to meet his water polo buddies. He may have been younger than me, but he’d already outgrown me by about six inches or so.
I headed to Physics, dreading what I’d find when I got there. The same thing I faced every day. I took a deep breath, straightened my back, and jutted out my chin. Walk in like you own the place. I repeated my mom’s advice for the millionth time as I entered room thirty-two and faced him.
As if it wasn’t enough that Rod had broken up with me two days before homecoming this past October—leaving me both broken-hearted and painfully dateless—I had to see him and Leslie draped all over each other every day in not just one, but two of my classes.
Just get through the year.
As I did every day, I walked past them without making eye contact and sat down at my desk. I pulled out my notebook, flipped it open and started my daily doodling. Somehow, I could excel at Physics with my eyes closed and a somewhat shoddy attendance record. 
By the end of the period, Leslie had only glanced back at me four times. A new record. If this continued, then maybe she’d only look back at me once by the time Spring Break arrived, and no times at all by the time the school year ended.
Then I’d be out of Crappo Valley for good and could move on with my life. Maybe I should have switched schools like my parents had suggested. It sounded appealing, but it wasn’t like my fame would stay safely inside the walls of Capistrano Valley High School.
No, my fame would follow me. I had no doubt about that.
I waited for everyone to leave the class, then slowly headed for the door.
“Hollie? Can I talk to you for a minute?”
I closed my eyes, unable to believe it. She waited for me outside the classroom again. I don’t know why that surprised me, just that every day I hoped she’d change her routine. We’d gone over it a thousand times. Her pleas and my responses never changed. Would she ever stop?
“Hollie, please look at me.”
I slowly opened my eyes and repeated my mantra in my head. Like you own the place.
I faced Leslie and waited. She was neatly put together, as usual: dressed in a mint cashmere sweater, paired with a slightly-darker mint pleather skater skirt. I didn’t have to look down to know her toenails were impeccably painted in a contrasting yet complimentary pastel shade. Leslie’s blazing red-orange hair was pulled back into a perfect ponytail, with not even a single strand out of place. Though some would wonder how she created such a sleek hairdo, I knew her secret—Tres Flores hair pomade with massive amounts of Aqua Net. She’d die if anyone knew she used those products.
She’d also die if anyone lit a match within a five mile radius of her hair. 
She licked her lips in preparation to speak the same tired words she’d spoken a million times. I fought the temptation to recite her speech for her, but she’d cried last time I did that, so I refrained. One of us had to be the bigger person. Or something like that.
Plus, her eyes already glistened the warning of yet-unshed tears. Ugh. I hated this.
“I miss you.”
I felt my jaw tighten at her words. Fact was that I missed her, too. And I missed Rod. And I missed my childhood spent with the two of them. My two best friends.
“We didn’t mean for this to happen. Please believe me. What can I do to fix this?”
Right on schedule, a tear slipped past the gate, sliding down her pale, freckled cheek. I watched the watery descent and began the same retort I’d repeated a million times.
“Look, Leslie. Just stop, okay? Do us both a favor and move on. You and Rod are in love. I get it. You didn’t mean to hurt me. Fine. But you did. And you can’t fix that kind of betrayal.”
I turned and walked away, not wanting to hear any more apologies. How many would I have to hear? I think I’d paid my dues and suffered enough. After all, I wasn’t the one who went behind her back with her boyfriend of four years.
I’d lost the two most important people in my life and she was the one crying? Ha.
I made it to the bathroom before my tears fell. I hadn’t let them really see how they’d broken me yet, and after four months, I sure as hell wasn’t going to start now. After checking to see that the room was empty, I huddled in the handicap stall and cried as quietly as I could, surrounded by graffiti-damaged gray walls, perfectly fitting for my mood.
When the bell rang a few minutes later, signaling I was late for my next class, I pulled out my compact and looked at my face. Puffy eyes. Fantastic. The red nose I could blame on the cold February winds, but the puffiness was a dead giveaway.
I focused on my blue eyes for a moment; sure I could see it if I only stared long enough.
I know you’re in there.
My eyes had started to change, the blue of my irises slowly seeping away. Only slightly, but enough that I could see the transformation. They were dull, grayer in color than they used to be. Surely, if anyone noticed, they’d probably just attribute the change to my depression.
I knew differently. Something wrong lived inside me, something that wasn’t fully me. Something foreign. Though, what it was, I had no idea.
The main bathroom door opened with a swoosh, followed by the loud thumping of heavy footsteps. I heard each stall door open with the bang of a fist against the metal door, and a swoosh-clank as each door flew inward and slammed against the toilet paper dispenser. One by one, the doors opened as the person made their way to me.
When the cacophony stopped, black boots—with flat soles that had to have been a good five inches tall—parked right outside my stall. Squatting, with both feet up on the lid of the toilet seat, whoever stood there couldn’t see me. But the previous nine stall doors slamming open were plenty indication of what to expect next.
I climbed off the toilet lid and stood, unwilling to be caught off guard, even though I absolutely already was. I waited.
She cleared her throat.
Screw this. I wiped my tears from my cheeks. Like you own the place, I reminded myself. I opened the door and took a step back so I could see this psycho chick, whoever she was.
“Hey, Holland, right? I’m Rosemarie Stevenson. I’m new here.”
Her feminine name and sweet-sounding voice were in stark contrast from her strange clothing and door-punching habits. And her boots had more buckles than a straitjacket.
I almost laughed when I noticed that her face wasn’t nearly as scary as I’d assumed it would be. My gaze travelled down, from her tutu-corset thing-a-ma-jig, to her ripped purple and black tights, down to her crazy-ass boots. Then I brought my focus back to her face, and my head tilted slightly on its own accord. She was actually really pretty.
For a crazy chick in a Halloween costume.
The purple glitter eye shadow made her irises seem almost violet in color, and her jet black hair was cropped short and somewhat jagged. All she lacked were some sparkly fairy wings.
I peered over her shoulder, just to make sure wings weren’t fluttering behind her.
Her arm was still outstretched in front of me. I glanced at her black-tipped fingernails and ignored her awaiting hand, instead deciding to ask the pressing question.
“If you’re new here, how do you know my name?”
“Oh, please. You’re Holland Briggs. Aren’t you, like, famous around here?”
“Yeah, well, if you’re wondering if I burned a house down with my ex-boyfriend and ex-best friend inside, you can wonder no longer. I just had last period with both of them, and they’re as fine as ever.”
I pushed past her, irritated that she was new here and already knew the rumors that I’d hoped to one day live down. How people could think I tried to kill Rod and Leslie even after they both returned to school and hung out with these idiots every day, I had no idea. Add to that Leslie’s daily pleading fests, and it was any wonder how people could still blame me, when she clearly did not.
“Wait! Holland! I’m sorry. We got off on the wrong foot. Can we start over?”
I spun on my heels and faced the new girl.
“Okay, Rosemarie, was it? I appreciate that you’re new here, and by looking at you I can see that you wanted to align yourself with the biggest freak in school, but I tend to keep to myself and don’t need any crazy-ass fangirls, okay?”
Her mouth fell open, but I didn’t care. She’d get over it.
I slipped out the door and back into the hallway, heading not for the cafeteria, but instead for the senior parking lot. Turned out I was ditching for lunch at Harbor House after all.
When I got to the car, Cam waited for me, his infectious smile already making me feel better.
“I knew you’d change your mind.”
I shook my head and slid into the driver’s seat of my red VW Cabriolet. Cam climbed in on the other side and tried to roll down his window, even though he knew from trying every single day before this one that it was a lost cause.
“Sure glad it’s cold out today because I can’t seem to get my window to roll down,” he said. “I don’t know why you insist on driving this car. You know Mom and Dad will get you whatever you want. Maybe even something from this century.” 
“I love this car. It was Mr. Greenburg’s, and he trusts me to take care of it. Plus”—I waved my hand around the old interior—“character.”
Cam scoffed.
“If you hate Penny so much, why do you insist on driving to school with me?”
As soon as the words left my mouth I regretted them. We both knew why Cam hardly ever left my side, and I hated bringing it up. I was past it, but no one else seemed to think so. My little brother had sort of taken on the role of bodyguard, confidant, and babysitter. Always making sure poor Holland wasn’t heading for the deep end again.
“So who was that weird fairy-looking chick that followed you outside?”
I quickly glanced back at the doors to the school as I left the parking lot, and sure enough, my newest fan stood outside watching us drive away. As I brought my attention back to the road, I turned the corner and my view of her disappeared.
“Some new girl. She heard about my experience with pyromania and wanted my autograph.”
“Nice! Did you give it to her?”
“Fuck off, Cam.”
“Nice again! Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?”
I glanced at him, his brown eyes sparkling. “I kiss your mother with this mouth.”
He groaned. “You do know that ‘your mama’ jokes aren’t funny when she’s your mom too, right?”
“So, was Leslie waiting outside for you after Physics again?”
“Is she ever not?” I asked, pulling Penny onto the freeway.
“Wow. She needs to give up already. But I have to hand it to her: she’s got a lot of nerve. And stamina. Nerve for thinking you’ll ever forgive her, and stamina for the relentless apologizing. I couldn’t apologize for that long, that’s for sure.”
“When have you ever apologized anyway, Cam?”
“Pssh, when have I ever needed to?”
Twenty minutes later, we parked in the lot behind the Harbor House Café in Dana Point. My stomach growled just thinking about it. Cheese fries and a chocolate shake: the lunch of champions.
Cam clapped his hands one time, his thoughts clearly mimicking my own, then climbed out of the car. He pulled off his water polo jacket, revealing a shirt that was about two sizes too small and stretched around his arms, showing all of his muscle definition.
“Your shirt. Are you serious?”
He flexed his bicep and winked at me, his brown eyes sparkling. “The ladies love it.”
I shook my head at his ridiculousness.
Cam ran a hand over his cropped brown hair, then matched his pace to mine and draped his arm across my shoulders. Clearly still stuck on Leslie, he asked, “Did she say anything different this time? Anything to change your mind about her?”
“What, like the past few months were all a big mistake, and I’ve only been dreaming that she slept with my best friend slash boyfriend? Nah. She didn’t say anything like that. I’m pretty sure this all actually happened to me.”
“Yeah, well, their loss, Holl.” He squeezed my shoulder.
“Yeah, their loss.”
Cam had said those words so many times, and I was pretty sure he believed it was their loss. I wasn’t so convinced anymore though.

The rest of the tour can be found here

Thursday, July 10, 2014

#Giveaway ~ Surrender the Sky by Meradeth Houston ~

Surrender the Sky 
by Meradeth Houston
Publication date: May 2nd 2014
Genres: Paranormal, Young Adult

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Gabby lives by two unbreakable rules: don’t expose her kind, the Sary, and don’t fall in love—too bad some rules are made to be broken.

When Gabby’s most difficult charge accidentally shoots her in front of a class full of students, the event exposes her carefully hidden identity. She shifts from looking like a normal teen to her secret Sary form, revealing her wings and the existence of her kind—immortals who try to keep people from committing suicide. Her incident attracts the attention of the next leader of the Sary, Jassen, who offers her an impossible bargain: she can keep her wings if she makes amends with those who know the truth. Things get more complicated when a rebel Sary, intent on exposing them to the world, starts interfering with Gabby’s work. And there’s no denying her attraction to Jassen, who is torn between his duties and his heart. With threats at every turn and her immortality on the line, Gabby has to find a way to save the Sary or surrender the sky forever.

Buy Links


Meradeth’s never been a big fan of talking about herself, but if you really want to know, here are some random tidbits about her:

>She’s a Northern California girl. This generally means she talks too fast and use “like” a lot.
>When she’s not writing, she’s sequencing dead people’s DNA. For fun!
>She’s been writing since she was 11 years old. It’s her hobby, her passion, and she’s so happy to get to share her work!
>If she could have a super-power, it would totally be flying. Which is a little strange, because she’s terrified of heights.

Author Links

I was so happy when I found out this is another book about the Sary, they are angel like that try to save people who are wanting to commit suicide. I fell in love with this unique world of the Sary back last year when I read Colors Like Memories, and loved that one too.

I was hooked from the start, and really was able to connect with the main characters. I liked Gabby a lot and really liked Jassen.

This book had many twist an turns I didn’t see coming at all. I was pretty shocked at a few of them. I can’t stress enough how awesome this Paranormal Romance book is. If you  like paranormal romance books at all, then this is for you.

I highly recommend this book, and give it 5 out of 5 stars.

I was given this book by the author for my honest review.

Cover review: I think this cover is really cool. Besides the fact that the same model and look and style ( not color) has been used before in another book I read. But still, very cool. I still love the first books cover best.

This review is also at Goodreads and Amazon (Likes are appreciated)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, July 7, 2014

#Giveaway ~ Bad Blood: Aurora Sky:Vampire Hunter Book 3 by Nikki Jefford ~ #Review ~ Excerpt

Bad Blood by Nikki Jefford
(Aurora Sky: Vampire Hunter #3)

Publication date: June 4th 2014
Genres: Paranormal, Urban Fantasy, Young Adult

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Aurora returns from boot camp to a new assignment, an unwelcome roommate, and the increasingly amorous attentions of a certain vampire hunter.
College is starting, and so is Aurora’s undercover work at a network of swanky parties known as “Tastings” for high rolling vampires who like their blood laced with fine wine. But Aurora’s not the only one on the prowl. An underground investigation is under way to find out who killed one of Anchorage’s most prominent vampires… and Aurora is a prime suspect.

***Don’t miss STAKEOUT, Vol. 2.5, a 54,000 word novella featuring Noel Harper and the entire Aurora Sky gang. Now available on Kindle, Nook, Kobo, & iTunes.***

( 1st Book in series is Free, Amazon)

Buy Links for Bad Blood 

Bad Blood (Aurora Sky: Vampire Hunter #3) Review

I just loved this book. Almost forgot how awesome this series is. Lol. There were some twist I hadn't seen coming at all, which make it that much better.

I just love Dante, and think Aurora should be with him. Fane is ok, but he never had been my favorite. I am glad that Aurora found out the “secret” Fane has kept from her for awhile now. Not really till the end but still she figured it out, won’t mention what it is, if you didn’t figure it out yet, then you will find out when Aurora does. I had my suspicions early on, but now it’s confirmed.

If you hadn’t started this series yet, you need to now, especially if you like paranormal books with vampires and vampire hunters in it. These vampires are explained to be humans with a disease that only can infect a certain rare blood type (AB ). It’s a very different concept of vampires.

I do not want to spoil this, so won’t say much more. Just that its awesome, written very well, and I can’t wait till the next book, Hunting Season (Aurora Sky: Vampire Hunter #4) but have to wait till fall 2014. Its too long!!!!!!!
I give this 5 out of 5 stars. I am a true fan!

I was provided a copy of this book from the author for my honest review.

Cover review: 4 out of 5, the reason for me, is it’s so different than previous covers, the model is different, and I had pictured Aurora looking more like the girl on the redone book 1. The model used for this one, looks too old, and to me she doesn’t look like Aurora at all. The dress is a lot like described in a scene in the book, so matches that. I personally would have rather seen a more dreary paranormal type scene to fit the book better and what it is about. A girl in a dress could be a contemporary romance or any other type of book. Just too generic for my personal taste. As a cover alone, it’s done well, just not a good fit for this story in my honest opinion.

This review is also posted at Goodreads and Amazon (likes are always appreciated :)

Author Bio: Nikki Jefford

Bookaholic, nature girl, and animal lover.

Nikki Jefford is a third generation Alaskan who found paradise in the not-so-tropical San Juan Islands (WA) where she is, once more, neighbors with Canada in a town without a single traffic light.

She married the love of her life, Sebastien, while working as a teaching assistant in France. They reside with their Westie, Cosmo in Friday Harbor.

Loves fictional bad boys and heroines who kick butt.

Author links:
Twitter | Website | Goodreads | Facebook

Tour wide giveaway
-Femme Fatale Handmade Sterling Silver Pendant {INTL}
-"Bite Me" Drawstring bag with Swag {INTL}

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Fifteen Minutes

Tonight I had to kill a vampire.
I had yet to hear the details, but once I passed this final field test I could leave boot camp and go home.
Jones, one of the female drill sergeants, entered the mess hall shortly after dinner. Five of us sat around a table playing “Go Fish” with a deck of cards. I had three sevens and I knew exactly who had the fourth because she’d asked Amber for it and was told to “Go fish.”
“Sky,” Sergeant Jones called in her megaphone voice.
Now? Really? I looked at her over my hand of cards.
“It’s time to get ready.”
The ladies at my table pounded the surface in unison. Amber whistled. The women playing dominoes at the next table joined in the ruckus, banging their table with their fists.
“Stake that sucker, Sky!” someone yelled through the din.
“All right, that’s enough,” Jones said. “Sky, come with me.”
I set my cards face down.
“Hey, Sky,” Donna called from across the table. “Catch a big one.”
Easy for her to say. She’d killed a vampire yesterday and had only to pass the time before going home next week. I did have an advantage over everyone in our group, though. They had only killed one vampire in a locked room during initiation, whereas I had killed four out in the real world. Marcus really ought to count as ten, but who was keeping track?
Donna mimicked flinging a fishing rod across the table, reeling it back in with gusto. The girls tittered.
I blew them a kiss before following Jones out. The mess hall wasn’t big. There were between fifteen and twenty of us girls at any given time, which meant lots of one-on-one with the sergeants and instructors.
Jones supervised our warm-ups in addition to random inspections inside our sleeping quarters. She walked me there now.
“Your clothing for this operation has been laid out on top of your bed,” she said at the door.
The barracks felt more like one long hallway than a room. Florescent lights hummed above the dingy laminate floor and two rows of metal-framed beds on either side. The hall was empty save for two newbie recruits sitting on top of their beds, textbooks open, cramming for written exams.
They had beds on opposite sides of the hall, closest to the double-doors that remained open until lights out at eight o’clock.
Jones stopped in the doorway.
“Be ready in ten,” she said.
The two recruits looked up briefly before sticking their noses back in their books.
I approached my bed at the end of the hall.
I’d gone six whole months without shedding blood or being bitten. Boot camp was no picnic, but it had been a necessary respite from my old life even when it felt like it would break me.
Now I had one final test before I could go home. Obviously I couldn’t carry out an assignment in army greens, but the outfit waiting on top of the bedspread stopped me in my tracks. Jones had done her best to fold a skimpy pink halter top and denim mini skirt. A pair of black stilettos crowned the thin pile. The halter top looked obnoxious compared to the olive green cotton T-shirt I’d grown accustomed to wearing day in and day out. I took it they weren’t sending me to the suburbs. This outfit screamed club or worse… escort.
I unlaced my boots and dressed quickly. I needed all the extra time I could spare to practice walking in heels. Before putting the stilettos on, I eyed the shoes and wondered if my assignment would involve stabbing a vamp to death with the heel.
God, I hoped not.
After folding my pants and T-shirt, I set them neatly inside my locker, propped against the wall beside my bed.
I took my first tentative step, followed by the next, trying not to wobble past the rows of single beds. Five steps in, I concluded that walking in high heels belonged on the long list of physical tortures I planned to avoid at all costs in the near future.
So this was what it was like to walk on stilts. I had to remind myself I was getting ready for a mission, not a circus act.
I attempted to glide gracefully across the room, but the floor threatened to connect with my ass every time my heel landed on the ground.
How in the world did my instructors expect me to kill a vampire while wearing five-inch stilettos without first breaking my neck?
I wouldn’t know the assassination details until the last minute. Donna said Sergeant Hansen gave her an icepick right before he instructed her to take out a vamp operating an ice cream truck in the suburbs of Portland.
I’d come to boot camp willingly, but now I wanted out. My first semester of college started in just over a week, and I needed to move into the house Agent Melcher had secured near campus. I wanted my privacy and freedom back, to say nothing of the stifling heat I’d suffered through all summer.
Melcher had sent me to the high desert. If this was his way of getting me to appreciate the Far North, it was working. I felt like I couldn’t breathe in this inferno. And forget about sleeping. People wondered how we slept with the continual light all summer long in Alaska. It was called tinfoil! But how did people sleep in over ninety degree temperatures? Air-conditioning, I guess, but no, not at boot camp. No, sir. Let the recruits suffer. It built character.
At least I didn’t have to worry about a draft in this mini skirt.
It was bone cold when I first arrived at the end of February. My camp tenure had been twice as long as normal recruits. Melcher made special arrangements to get me out of town after killing Marcus, one of Anchorage’s most prominent vampires.
Jones recommended I graduate with the summer recruits. Until that time, I’d practiced drills with a handful of informants and assassins-in-training who came and went throughout the spring.
That said, I ought to be double prepared to do whatever my instructors had planned for me… just so long as I didn’t fall down face-first.
The sharp tips on the stilettos clicked as they stabbed the ground on my practice circuit across the hall.
“You look nice,” the new recruit with Shirley Temple curls said from her bed by the doors.
I flipped my long black hair over my shoulder. “Thanks,” I said in my most self-assured voice.
Everything I’d done at boot camp was to prepare me for tonight, and if I couldn’t act confident in front of a rookie, I wasn’t ready to take on my final assignment.
“I wonder what kind of weapon they’ll give you,” the girl mused.
I straightened my shoulders. “Maybe they won’t give me any weapon at all. Maybe I’ll have to take the vamp out with my bare hands.”
The girl’s eyes widened. She tugged on a curl.
I straightened my spine, paying attention to my weight distribution as I shifted on my feet. “I don’t care how they want me to kill him. He’s as good as dead.”
The girl gave an enthused nod.
Oh god, they wouldn’t ask me to kill a vamp with my bare hands, would they?
The tempo of my heels started anew as I made another go down the narrow space between beds.
A loud sigh came from the second recruit.
“I don’t know why I’m supposed to care about all these different kinds of vampires and their diseases,” she said, addressing her curly-haired comrade on the bed across the hall. “In the end, aren’t we going to kill them all anyway? What does it matter if they’ve got rabies or tuberculosis or whatever medieval disease they’re carrying?” She placed a finger inside her Vampire Forensics textbook, flipped through to the end and back to her spot with a groan.
I stopped at the foot of her bed. “I think it’s fascinating.”
The girl squinted at me right before lifting her book and reading aloud.
“Porphyria had its day before giving way to pellagra. First recognized in 1735, pellagra is a result of a niacin and tryptophan deficiency, typically a result of a diet dependent on corn or maize. These crops were planted widely across southern and eastern Europe, and that’s where pellagra became pandemic.” She lowered her book and frowned. “How are corn crops fascinating?”
My lips twisted into a smile. “Turn to page sixty-six.”
The recruits in my class actually referred to it as page “sexty-sex.” Hey, we had to get our kicks somehow out here in the bone-dry desert at a women-only camp.
The curly haired girl who had spoken to me first flipped to it on cue. “Got it! Page sixty-six.” With spark like that, she might just make it through boot camp. “Want me to read something?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Paragraph three.”
Her chest rose as she readied herself to read aloud.
“Rabies may supply an explanation for a vampire’s nocturnal habits,” she began eagerly before pausing. “And those of their erotic pursuits.”
I fought back a laugh, knowing what came next.
“Go on,” I said.
The girl sat up straighter. She was determined. I’d give her that.
“This is because the disease affects the part of the brain that regulates sleep cycles and the sex drive, keeping the afflicted up the entire night. Some reports conclude that rabies vampires have intercourse up to thirty times per night.”
The girls exchanged glances.
“That’s messed up,” the girl who’d complained earlier said. Maybe, but she was suddenly flipping through her textbook with a lot more enthusiasm.
“Be glad you’re not an informant,” I said. “Or that could be you spending quality time with a rabid vampire thirty times a night depending on your assignment.”
The girl stopped turning pages and swallowed. “I am an informant.”
“Oh,” I said. “Sucks to be you.”
I didn’t have much love in my heart for informants. Not after working with Noel and Valerie. As far as I could tell, they enjoyed all the sucking and sleeping around. It wasn’t like they had to worry about pregnancy or disease. None of us did: hunters, informants, and vampires alike. We couldn’t procreate. We were barren. Sterile. Individually diseased, courtesy of the agency.
We couldn’t spread our illness thanks to the government’s controlled virus cocktail created especially for AB positive and negative recruits. It worked similar to the way a disease activated and remained contained inside a vampire’s immune system. Vampires weren’t contagious. Most didn’t mind an affliction that promised everlasting life.
I’d only just learned I was infertile at camp. Melcher failed to mention it during orientation. I wondered what else he’d failed to mention.
I never trusted him. Once I found out he knowingly employed a vampire, I was downright suspicious, but getting the truth out of Melcher would take more than high kicks and kung fu moves.
Heavy footsteps interrupted my thoughts as Sergeant Jones entered the dormitory. Her combat boots looked a heck of a lot more comfortable than the spikes I had to wear. She stopped near the double-doors. “Sky, Sergeant Hansen is ready for you.”
Maybe I wasn’t ready for him. Did they ever think about that?
Probably not.
All of my bravado instantly abandoned ship, leaving me to sink or swim on my own. I lifted my chin for show and headed for the door. Surprisingly, the click of the heels managed to boost my confidence a fraction.
“Good luck,” the cheerier of my dorm mates called after me. That one had to be a hunter.
I stopped and turned. “You, too. Don’t study too hard. And remember to get plenty of shut-eye.”
The girl chuckled, earning her a stern look from Jones. She turned to me. “Sergeant Hansen is waiting.”
Yeah, yeah. I was walking as fast as I could on mini stilts. Good thing there was no ice in the desert. I’d slip and break my neck in five seconds flat. All I had to worry about now was not getting the shiny black heels dusty.
Damn desert.
After tonight, I’d be headed home and wouldn’t look back. Boot camp had served its purpose. It had gotten me away from the mess I’d made at the palace. It had saved me from having to see or speak to either Noel or Fane after they ripped my heart apart and destroyed any trust I’d ever felt for either of them by hooking up right under my nose. And it had prepared me to deal with Jared—the reason I was here to begin with. The reason for everything I’d gone through since my accident. All of it! Everything that was wrong with my life. My dad leaving. My dreams of attending Notre Dame crumbling to dust. Losing my virginity to that ass hat, Scott Stevens. Transferring high schools in the middle of senior year. Not even getting to attend graduation!
If Jared hadn’t run me down on the road, I wouldn’t have needed a transfusion in order to live. I wouldn’t have been recruited. I wouldn’t have to kill. And most importantly, I wouldn’t have ever lost my heart to that rat bastard vampire, Fane Donado.
I would have gone on thinking he was King of the Freaks, a loser in a black trench coat with terrible hair.
I’d pushed Noel and Fane out of my head, but now that my time at camp was ending, they were shoving their way back inside my brain.
At least I had a renewed sense of disgust for vampires. It helped on mission.
I followed Jones outside to a waiting SUV. I had to hold both arms out to balance myself over the uneven ground and use my upper body strength to pull myself into the back seat. Sergeant Hansen was buckled into the seat beside me. He had on a beige pair of pants and a matching military-style jacket that blended into the landscape, turning him into a commanding chameleon with a crew cut.
Once I was inside, the vehicle drove forward.
This was it. All I had to do was kill a vampire, and I could go home. It’s not like I hadn’t done this before.
“Congratulations on making it to your final assignment,” Sergeant Hansen said in his gravelly voice. “Your target goes by the name of Jeremy Phillips. Here are several photographs taken of him for you to familiarize yourself with on the drive.”
Hansen handed over three snapshots. From the photos, I saw that the vamp was Caucasian, approximately twenty-two, had brown-eyes and brown hair that curled at the edges. In one of the photos, he was wearing a tank top that showed off his muscled arms. He could probably break my bones with his bare hands. Just great. At least he had a narrow frame.
Once I’d shuffled through the pictures a few times and set them on my lap, Hansen resumed speaking.
“Tonight Jeremy is hosting a large house party. A young woman died at the last house party he threw, two more before that.”
Hansen reached into his coat pocket. He flattened his palm, presenting me with a tightly wound phone cord. My heart dropped as though I were in free fall.
“Take it,” Hansen said.
There was no other option. I took the cord.
“After you get Jeremy alone and he has bitten you, you will need to strangle him with this cord.”
I clenched and relaxed my fist around the cord, studying the thin red indents it made in my skin.
“This will be a timed exercise,” Hansen continued.
I loved how he called it an exercise rather than what it really was—an assassination.
“You have fifteen minutes to complete your mission. Every minute after fifteen will add an extra day to your training, and you will have to perform another field test.”
“What if I finish early?” I asked. “Do I get to leave an extra day for every minute before fifteen?”
Hansen locked eyes with me. “Just concentrate on getting the job done in fifteen minutes.”
“Won’t it look weird for me to wander in uninvited?”
Walking into a house party unannounced made me about as nervous as the mission at hand. What was I supposed to do? Pretend that a friend of a friend had invited me?
“No one will notice,” Hansen said. “His house is near a community college and a lot of kids end up wandering over.”
“What city is this in?”
Bend, Oregon. Not like driving from Anchorage to Fairbanks, but still a good couple hours in the car with Hansen and our driver. Plenty of time to stress over my assignment.
I loosened the phone cord and wound the ends around each of my palms, pulling it taut. I’d stabbed vampires in the past, so I wasn’t sure why strangulation seemed more gruesome. Perhaps because stabbing, when done correctly, was swift—over and done with in a flash. Strangling a vampire meant pulling and choking him as he fought for breath until slumping back, lifeless, in my arms.
Eternal life wasn’t the only characteristic that set vampires apart from humans, nor their need for blood. They couldn’t get sick, which wasn’t the most incredible super power, but must really save on doctor bills. They couldn’t get anyone pregnant or find themselves in the family way. I supposed that came in handy, as well, considering their nocturnal habits and erotic pursuits.
But they could die, and there wasn’t a special way to do it. An ax, gun, knife, icepick—or any other pointy object—would do the trick… to say nothing of a phone cord.
Slowly, I wound the cord up and set it on my lap with the photos.
Light faded outside the SUV’s tinted windows. Dust clouds billowed behind us as the vehicle’s tires spun across the high desert floor. Once we hit pavement, everything inside felt louder: the thoughts inside my head, my heartbeat, even my throat when I swallowed.
There was no music and no conversation between Hansen or the driver.
Juniper trees flew by along the road.
I closed my eyes and envisioned spruce trees dusted in snow and tall, skinny willows with their white and black bark. As I breathed in and out, I tried to imagine the crisp, clean Alaskan air filling my lungs.
For six months, I’d trained physically and mentally. Now it was time to prepare myself emotionally for the kill.
I was glad Hansen told me about the girls who wound up dead. That always helped. Take one life to save many. It made the whole thing feel like a moral responsibility. But the thought still nagged at me that if Jared hadn’t arranged my accident, I wouldn’t be saddled with the burden to kill.
I should have let Valerie shoot him while he was unconscious in Sitka.
That was before I’d discovered Jared had been behind the wheel of the vehicle that hit me and, more than likely, the one responsible for Valerie’s placement within the agency. It was before I knew he and Melcher were in cahoots together.
If Melcher knew Jared was a vampire, what else did he know? Did he know that Jared had gone out of his way to harm Valerie and me in the interest of the agency?
Nothing would surprise me at this point, and I couldn’t imagine Jared doing all this behind Melcher’s back.
Somehow, I needed to find out how much Melcher knew without coming right out and asking. He ran the show, after all, which made him even more dangerous than Jared.
And to find out, I needed to return home.

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A little after eleven o’clock, we rolled into Bend. Our driver got off the highway at the community college exit. There weren’t any high rises. The city was comprised of cute little shops, restaurants, and neighborhoods. The streets looked clean and landscaped. Footpaths and bike lanes bisected the roadways.
We crossed a river, passing more neighborhood parks and juniper-lined streets. Farther up, we turned into one of the subdivisions. Now that we were on the right street, I didn’t need an address to locate the party. All of the street parking was bumper-to-bumper in front of a two-story brown home with green trim.
Volcanic rock lined the driveway.
“This is the place,” Hansen said.
I immediately sat up in my seat. “When do my fifteen minutes start?”
“The moment the front door closes behind you.”
What if I left the front door open? Somehow, I didn’t think Hansen would find that question clever.
“And when does the clock stop ticking?”
“When I see you come back through the door, after which Samuel here will confirm the kill and cause of death.” Hansen glanced at the driver, who said nothing in response.
I really only had about ten minutes to kill this vamp, if that. Five minutes to make an entrance, locate Jeremy, and pull him aside somewhere private. I also needed time to make my way out of the house and out the front door.
The kill would have to be quick.
How long did it take to strangle a vampire?
At least they’d prepared us for all possible scenarios at boot camp, but it was one thing to strangle a practice dummy, another to go at it hands-on with a live target.
Hansen raised a brow. “Any questions?”
I uncrossed my legs. “Can I go in barefoot?”
“Well, then can I get an extra five minutes? These shoes on spikes are going to slow me down.”
“Tough,” Hansen said.
Jerk. What did wearing high heels have to do with killing a vampire? I didn’t need any extra handicaps tonight.
“Fine,” I said, unbuckling the seatbelt. “But as soon as I’m finished they’re coming off.”
I set the photographs on the middle seat and stuffed as much of the telephone cord inside my fist as I could.
After opening the car door, I slid down, careful to land on my feet. With a quick smile I said, “See you in fifteen.”
I shut the car door and headed up the driveway, which, for added torture, sloped to a steep incline. A gaggle of girls in front of me walked in without knocking, so I figured I’d do the same, but not before taking one final breath. Once I went through that door, the clock started ticking.
A watch would have been helpful… or distracting. Maybe I was better off without the hands of time flashing every second that passed.
Music pounded within.
At the door, I squared my shoulders, reached with my free hand, and let myself in.