Category: Giveaways

Sunday Spotlight: Heart of Obsidian by Nalini Singh x2

Posted March 29, 2020 by Holly in Features, Giveaways | 3 Comments

Sunday Spotlight is a feature we began in 2016. This year we’re spotlighting our favorite books, old and new. We’ll be raving about the books we love and being total fangirls. You’ve been warned. 🙂

Casee and I were discussing the Psy/Changeling series the other day and it reminded me how much I love this book Featured this as a group some time ago, but I’m bringing it back today because I love it so much.

Sunday Spotlight: Heart of Obsidian by Nalini Singh x2Heart of Obsidian by Nalini Singh
Series: Psy/Changeling #12
Also in this series: Mine to Possess, Hostage to Pleasure, The Magical Christmas Cat , Kiss of Snow, Tangle of Need, Slave to Sensation , Wild Invitation, Heart of Obsidian, Shield of Winter, Shield of Winter, Visions of Heat, Mine to Possess, Caressed By Ice, Branded by Fire, Blaze of Memory, Mine to Possess, Hostage to Pleasure, Hostage to Pleasure, Shards of Hope, Shards of Hope, Heart of Obsidian, Caressed By Ice, Branded by Fire, Blaze of Memory, Play of Passion, Allegiance of Honor, Kiss of Snow, Tangle of Need, Shield of Winter, Shards of Hope, Allegiance of Honor, Allegiance of Honor, Wild Embrace, Wild Embrace, Wild Embrace, Silver Silence, Silver Silence, Tangle of Need, Ocean Light, Ocean Light , Caressed By Ice, Wolf Rain
Publisher: Berkley Sensation
Publication Date: June 4, 2013
Point-of-View: Alternating Third
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Pages: 360
Add It: Goodreads
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Series Rating: five-stars

Step into New York Times bestseller Nalini Singh’s explosive and shockingly passionate Psy-Changeling world…
A dangerous, volatile rebel, hands stained bloodred.
A woman whose very existence has been erased.
A love story so dark, it may shatter the world itself.
A deadly price that must be paid.
The day of reckoning is here.


Kaleb’s priorities and goals were murky in the beginnng of the series, but as time when on we saw there was more to him than we previously thought.

It was the greatest of ironies that the only person who had ever held him as if he mattered was the one person who did not need to hold him at all. If Sahara called, he would come. Always.

Sahara was the most important thing in the world to him, and he never faltered when it came to her.

[..]He rose to his feet and, placing his hands on the table, leaned toward her until she could’ve reached out and run her fingers along his freshly shaven jaw. “You are here,” he said in a tone that made her heart thump wildly against her ribs, “because you belong to me.”

They were both broken, and had issues.

[..]He sat on the edge with his back to her and his arms braced on his knees . . . and he remembered the seven years he had waited for her to come back, the countless days he’d stood on this terrace staring down at the gorge as the rational part of his mind tried to convince the obsessive madness that lived in him of her likely death.

The gorge, deep and without end, hadn’t existed until the first time he’d imagined her erased from existence.

I love how strong Kaleb’s determination to find Sahara was. How he continued to build a life for her, even though she’d been gone for so long.

“Who are you?”

“A caretaker,” he said, and it was a truth, if not everything.

Frown lines on her brow, her fingers flexing and clenching against his chest in a way that challenged his already unsteady control.

“Of this house?”

“Yes.” It was an anchor, a physical symbol of his search, of her.

“Who owns it?”

“You do.” He’d had it built according to specifications she’d outlined at fifteen, watched over it all the years of her captivity, using

On the surface, Kaleb seems to live in perfect Silence, but things are more complex than that.

“That,” Tatiana said, putting down the stylus, “is why we’d make an unbeatable team. Neither one of us has any flaws in our Silence.”

Kaleb thought of the woman who slept in the house he’d built for her, of the man with a broken neck who had burned to ash in a crematorium incinerator hours ago, and knew his Silence was far more complex than Tatiana could imagine.


Psy-Changeling Trinity

Giveaway Alert

We’re giving one lucky winner their choice of one of our Sunday Spotlight books. Use the widget below to enter for one of this month’s features.

Sunday Spotlight: March 2020

Have you read this series? What’s your favorite novel from the series to date? Let us know how excited you are and what other books you’re looking forward to this year!

About Nalini Singh

I've been writing as long as I can remember and all of my stories always held a thread of romance (even when I was writing about a prince who could shoot lasers out of his eyes). I love creating unique characters, love giving them happy endings and I even love the voices in my head. There's no other job I would rather be doing. In September 2002, when I got the call that Silhouette Desire wanted to buy my first book, Desert Warrior, it was a dream come true. I hope to continue living the dream until I keel over of old age on my keyboard.

I was born in Fiji and raised in New Zealand. I also spent three years living and working in Japan, during which time I took the chance to travel around Asia. I’m back in New Zealand now, but I’m always plotting new trips. If you’d like to see some of my travel snapshots, have a look at the Travel Diary page (updated every month).

So far, I've worked as a lawyer, a librarian, a candy factory general hand, a bank temp and an English teacher and not necessarily in that order. Some might call that inconsistency but I call it grist for the writer's mill.

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Sunday Spotlight: The Sinner by J.R. Ward

Posted March 22, 2020 by Casee in Features, Giveaways | 3 Comments

Sunday Spotlight is a feature we began in 2016. This year we’re spotlighting our favorite books, old and new. We’ll be raving about the books we love and being total fangirls. You’ve been warned. 🙂

Sunday Spotlight: The Sinner by J.R. WardThe Sinner by J.R. Ward
Series: Black Dagger Brotherhood #19
Also in this series: Lover Unbound, Lover Avenged, Lover Unleashed, Lover at Last, Lover at Last, The King, The Shadows, The Beast, Lover Enshrined, The Chosen, Lover Mine, The Thief, The Savior, Where Winter Finds You
Publisher: Gallery Books
Publication Date: March 24, 2020
Point-of-View: Alternating Third
Genres: Paranormal Romance
Pages: 512
Add It: Goodreads
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Series Rating: three-stars

A sinner’s only hope is true love in this passionate new novel in J.R. Ward’s #1 New York Times bestselling Black Dagger Brotherhood series.

Syn has kept his side hustle as a mercenary a secret from the Black Dagger Brotherhood. When he takes another hit job, he not only crosses the path of the vampire race’s new enemy, but also that of a half-breed in danger of dying during her transition. Jo Early has no idea what her true nature is, and when a mysterious man appears out of the darkness, she is torn between their erotic connection and the sense that something is very wrong.

Fate anointed Butch O’Neal as the Dhestroyer, the fulfiller of the prophecy that foresees the end of the Omega. As the war with the Lessening Society comes to a head, Butch gets an unexpected ally in Syn. But can he trust the male—or is the warrior with the bad past a deadly complication?

With time running out, Jo gets swept up in the fighting and must join with Syn and the Brotherhood against true evil. In the end, will love true prevail...or was the prophecy wrong all along?


Route 149
Caldwell, New York

Behind the wheel of her ten-year-old car, Jo Early bit into the Slim Jim and chewed like it was her last meal. She hated the fake-smoke taste and the boat-rope texture, and when she swallowed the last piece, she got another one out of her bag. Ripping the wrapper with her teeth, she peeled the taxidermied tube free and littered into the wheel well of her passenger side. There were so many spent casings like it down there, you couldn’t see the floor mat.

Up ahead, her anemic headlights swung around a curve, illuminating pine trees that had been limbed up three-quarters of the way, the puff y tops making toothpicks out of the trunks. She hit a pothole and bad-swallowed, and she was coughing as she reached her destination.

The abandoned Adirondack Outlets was yet another commentary on the pervasiveness of Amazon Prime. The one-story strip mall was a horseshoe without a hoof, the storefronts along the two long sides bearing the remnants of their brands, faded laminations and off -kilter signs with names like Van Heusen/Izod, and Nike, and Dansk the ghosts of commerce past. Behind dusty glass, there was no merchandise available for purchase anymore, and no one had been on the property with a charge card for at least a year, only hardscrabble weeds in the cracks of the promenade and barn swallows in the eaves inhabiting the site. Likewise, the food court that united the eastern and western arms was no longer offering soft serve or Starbucks or lunch.

As a hot flash cranked her internal temperature up, she cracked the window. And then put the thing all the way down. March in Caldwell, New York, was like winter in a lot of places still considered northerly in latitude, and thank God for it. Breathing in the cold, damp air, she told herself this was not a bad idea.

Nah, not at all. Here she was, alone at midnight, chasing down the lead on a story she wasn’t writing for her employer, the Caldwell Courier Journal. Without anyone at her new apartment waiting up for her. Without anyone on the planet who would claim her mangled corpse when it was found from the smell in a ditch a week from now.

Letting the car roll to a stop, she killed the headlights and stayed where she was. No moon out tonight so she’d dressed right. All black. But without any illumination from the heavens, her eyes strained at the darkness, and not because she was greedy to see the details on the decaying structure.

Nope. At the moment, she was worried she was about to provide fodder for True Crime Garage. As unease tickled her nape, like someone was trying to get her attention by running the point of a carving knife over her skin—

Her stomach let out a howl and she jumped. Without any debate, she went diving into her purse again. Passing by the three Slim Jims she had left, she went straight-up Hershey this time, and the efficiency with which she stripped that mass-produced chocolate of its clothing was a sad commentary on her diet. When she was finished, she was still hungry and not because there wasn’t food in her belly. As always, the only two things she could eat failed to satisfy her gnawing craving, to say nothing of her nutritional needs.

Putting up her window, she took her backpack and got out. The crackling sound of the treads of her running shoes on the shoulder of the road seemed loud as a concert, and she wished she wasn’t getting over a cold. Like her sense of smell could be helpful, though? And when was the last time she’d considered that possibility outside of a milk carton check.

She really needed to give these wild-goose chases up.

Two-strapping her backpack, she locked the car and pulled the hood of her windbreaker up over her red hair. No heel toeing. She leftright-left’d it, keeping the soles of her Brooks flat to quiet her footfalls. As her eyes adjusted, all she saw were the shadows around her, the hidey-holes in corners and nooks formed by the mall’s doorways and the benches pockets of gotcha with which mashers could play a grown‑up’s game of keep away until they were ready to attack.

When she got to a heavy chain that was strung across the entry to the promenade, she looked around. There was nobody in the parking lots that ran down the outside of the flanks. No one in the center area formed by the open-ended rectangle. Not a soul on the road that she had taken up to this rise above Rt. 149.

Jo told herself that this was good. It meant no one was going to jump her.

Her adrenal glands, on the other hand, informed her that this actually meant no one was around to hear her scream for help.

Refocusing on the chain, she had some thought that if she swung her leg over it and proceeded on the other side, she would not come back the same.

“Stop it,” she said, kicking her foot up.

She chose the right side of the stores, and as rain started to fall, she was glad the architect had thought to cover the walkways overhead. What had been not so smart was anyone thinking a shopping center with no interior corridors could survive in a zip code this close to Canada. Saving ten bucks on a pair of candlesticks or a bathing suit was not going to keep anybody warm enough to shop outside October to April, and that was true even before you factored in the current era of free next-day shipping.

Down at the far end, she stopped at what had to have been the ice cream place because there was a faded stencil of a cow holding a triple decker cone by its hoof on the window. She got out her phone.

Her call was answered on the first ring.

“Are you okay?” Bill said.

“Where am I going?” she whispered. “I don’t see anything.”

“It’s in the back. I told you that you have to go around back, remember?”

“Damn it.” Maybe the nitrates had fried her brain. “Hold on, I think I found a staircase.”

“I should come out there.”

Jo started walking again and shook her head even though he couldn’t see her. “I’m fine—yup, I’ve got the cut through to the rear. I’ll call you if I need you—”

“You shouldn’t be doing this alone!”

Ending the connection, she jogged down the concrete steps, her pack bouncing like it was doing push-ups on her back. As she bottomed out on the lower level, she scanned the empty parking lot—

The stench that stabbed into her nose was the kind of thing that triggered her gag reflex. Roadkill . . . and baby powder?

She looked to the source. The maintenance building by the tree line had a corrugated metal roof and metal walls that would not survive long in tornado alley. Half the size of a football field, with garage doors locked to the ground, she imagined it could have housed paving equipment as well as blowers, mowers, and snowplows.

The sole person-sized door was loose, and as a stiff gust from the rainstorm caught it, the creak was straight out of a George Romero movie—and then the panel immediately slammed shut with a clap, as if Mother Nature didn’t like the stink any more than Jo did.

Taking out her phone, she texted Bill: This smell is nasty.

Aware that her heart rate just tripled, she walked across the asphalt, the rain hitting the hood of her windbreaker in a disorganized staccato. Ducking her hand under the loose nylon of the jacket, she felt for her holstered gun and kept her hand on the butt.

The door creaked open and slammed shut again, another puff of that smell releasing out of the pitch-black interior. Swallowing through throat spasms, she had to fight to keep going and not because there was wind in her face.

When she stopped in front of the door, the opening and closing ceased, as if now that she was on the verge of entering, it didn’t need to catch her attention and draw her in.

So help her God, if Pennywise was on the other side . . .

Glancing around to check there were no red balloons lolling in the area, she reached out for the door.

I just have to know, she thought as she opened the way in. I need to . . . know.

Leaning around the jamb, she saw absolutely nothing, and yet was frozen by all that she confronted. Pure evil, the kind of thing that abducted and murdered children, that slaughtered the innocent, that enjoyed the suffering of the just and merciful, pushed at her body and then penetrated it, radiation that was toxic passing through to her bones.

Coughing, she stepped back and covered her mouth and nose with the crook of her elbow. After a couple of deep breaths into her sleeve, she fumbled with her phone.

Before Bill could say anything over the whirring in his background, she bit out, “You need to come—”

“I’m already halfway to you.”


“What’s going on—”

Jo ended the call again and got out her flashlight, triggering the beam. Stepping forward again, she shouldered the door open and trained the spear of illumination into the space.

The light was consumed.

Sure as if she were shining it into a bolt of thick fabric, the fragile glowing shaft was no match for what she was about to enter.
The threshold she stepped over was nothing more than weather stripping, but the inch-high lip was a barrier that felt like an obstacle course she could barely surmount—and then there was the stickiness on the floor. Pointing the flashlight to the ground, she picked up one of her feet. Something like old motor oil dripped off her running shoe, the sound of it finding home echoing in the empty space.

As Jo walked forward, she found the first of the buckets on the left. Home Depot. With an orange-and-white logo smudged by a rusty, translucent substance that turned her stomach.

The beam wobbled as she looked into the cylinder, her hand shaking. Inside there was a gallon of glossy, gleaming . . . red . . . liquid. And in the back of her throat, she tasted copper—

Jo wheeled around with the flashlight.

Through the doorway, the two men who had come up behind her without a sound loomed as if they had risen out of the pavement itself, wraiths conjured from her nightmares, fed by the cold spring rain, clothed in the night. One of them had a goatee and tattoos at one of his temples, a cigarette between his lips and a downright nasty expression on his hard face. The other wore a Boston Red Sox hat and a long camel-colored coat, the tails of which blew in slow motion even though the wind was choppy. Both had long black blades holstered handles down on their chest, and she knew there were more weapons where she couldn’t see them.

They had come to kill her. Tracked her as she’d moved away from her car. Seen her as she had not seen them.

Jo stumbled back and tried to get out her gun, but her sweaty palms had her dropping her phone and struggling to keep the flashlight—

And then she couldn’t move.

Even as her brain ordered her feet to run, her legs to run, her body to run, nothing obeyed the panic-commands, her muscles twitching under the lockdown of some invisible force of will, her bones aching, her breath turning into a pant. Pain firework’d her brain, a headache sizzling through her mind.

Opening her mouth, she screamed—

Black Dagger Brotherhood

Giveaway Alert

We’re giving one lucky winner their choice of one of our Sunday Spotlight books. Use the widget below to enter for one of this month’s features.

Sunday Spotlight: March 2020

Are you as excited for this release as we are? Let us know how excited you are and what other books you’re looking forward to this year!

About J.R. Ward

Author J.R. Ward wearing sunglasses

J.R. Ward is the author of over thirty novels, including those in her #1 New York Times and USA Today bestselling series, The Black Dagger Brotherhood. There are more than 15 million copies of Ward’s novels in print worldwide and they have been published in 25 different countries around the world.

After graduating from law school, Ward began working in healthcare in Boston and spent many years as Chief of Staff of one of the premier academic medical centers in the nation. She lives in the south with her incredibly supportive husband and her beloved golden retriever. Writing has always been her passion and her idea of heaven is a whole day of nothing but her computer, her dog and her coffee pot.

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Throwback Thursday Review: Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake by Sarah MacLean

Posted March 19, 2020 by Rowena in Giveaways, Reviews | 7 Comments

Throwback Thursday Review: Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake by Sarah MacLeanReviewer: Rowena
Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake (Love By Numbers, #1) by Sarah MacLean
Series: Love By Numbers #1
Also in this series: Ten Ways to Be Adored When Landing a Lord (Love By Numbers, #2), Ten Ways to Be Adored When Landing a Lord (Love By Numbers, #2), Eleven Scandals to Start to Win a Duke's Heart (Love By Numbers, #3), Eleven Scandals to Start to Win a Duke's Heart (Love By Numbers, #3), Eleven Scandals to Start to Win a Duke's Heart (Love By Numbers, #3)
Publisher: Avon
Publication Date: March 30, 2010
Point-of-View: Third
Genres: Historical Romance
Pages: 422
Add It: Goodreads
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Series Rating: four-stars

A lady does not smoke cheroot. She does not ride astride. She does not fence or attend duels. She does not fire a pistol, and she never gambles at a gentlemen's club.

Lady Calpurnia Hartwell has always followed the rules, rules that have left her unmarried—and more than a little unsatisfied. And so she's vowed to break the rules and live the life of pleasure she's been missing.

But to dance every dance, to steal a midnight kiss—to do those things, Callie will need a willing partner. Someone who knows everything about rule-breaking. Someone like Gabriel St. John, the Marquess of Ralston—charming and devastatingly handsome, his wicked reputation matched only by his sinful smile.

If she's not careful, she'll break the most important rule of all—the one that says that pleasure-seekers should never fall hopelessly, desperately in love.

*** Every Thursday, we’ll be posting throwback reviews of our favorite and not-so-favorite books. Enjoy! ***

This review was originally posted on March 31, 2010.

I am a sucker for the unrequited love story. The longing and the pining never cease to make my heart race as I wonder how the author is going to bring these two people together. Whether they’re best friends turned lovers or a woman with a longstanding crush, the excitement of that kind of story never fails to make my heart sigh as I’m reading the book. That was the case with this book.

I adored it.

It took me no time at all to read this book because every spare moment I had, I had my nose buried in this book. It’s funny because my sister was visiting from Colorado when I started this book and her 4-year-old son took to teasing me about all the reading I did with. He would sit on the couch and put his hands in the shape of a book in front of his face, pretending to read and ask me, “Who am I, Aunty Wena?”

Haha, Kainoa…very funny but I couldn’t help it. This book was so good. It wasn’t anything new, the storyline isn’t a storyline that was fresh but the dialogue and the characters were refreshing and unbelievably bewitching. My favorite part of this book is surprising, the heroine, Lady Calpurnia Hartwell. She’s a wallflower, a spinster. She’s on the shelf and after a conversation, she overheard between her younger sister and her sister’s fiance about her and another conversation with her brother, the Earl of Allendale, Callie sets about having adventures. She goes about learning how to fence, smoking cheroots, kissing men in the middle of the night and all sorts of other adventures that had me laughing, holding my breath and laughing all over again.

As great as Gabriel was, it was Callie that made this story for me. I loved seeing her interact with her family, most especially her brother and sister. You can tell that there was a wealth of love between the siblings and I loved the scene between Callie and Benny when Callie comes home late and Benny’s waiting up for her and she confesses all about her adventures and then asks him to let her smoke a cheroot and he finally caves. That scene was such a sweet and funny scene, one that I absolutely adored.

I seriously adored this book. I can’t recommend it enough because it was a great book with fantastic characters and a storyline that kept me entertained from the beginning to the end. I will definitely be checking out more books by Sarah McLean and I’m very anxious to do so. If you’re looking for a fantastic historical that will make you laugh, this is definitely the book for you.

Rating: 4.75 out of 5.

Love By Numbers


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Sunday Spotlight: Love Hard by Nalini Singh

Posted March 15, 2020 by Rowena in Features, Giveaways | 5 Comments

Sunday Spotlight is a feature we began in 2016. This year we’re spotlighting our favorite books, old and new. We’ll be raving about the books we love and being total fangirls. You’ve been warned. 🙂

I have been waiting for this book for ages now. I’m so stoked to finally be getting a Samoan romance. A sexy Samoan rugby player? Yes, please! Jake and Juliet sound like all kinds of fun so I’m all in. We’re pretty stoked to be sharing an excerpt from Love Hard so check it out!

Sunday Spotlight: Love Hard by Nalini SinghLove Hard by Nalini Singh
Series: Hard Play #3
Also in this series: Cherish Hard, Cherish Hard (Hard Play, #1), Cherish Hard (Hard Play, #1), Rebel Hard (Hard Play, #2), Cherish Hard (Hard Play, #1)
Publisher: Self-Published
Publication Date: March 10, 2020
Format: eARC
Source: Author
Point-of-View: Third
Cliffhanger: View Spoiler »
Genres: Contemporary Romance
Pages: 320
Add It: Goodreads
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Ripped Bodice | Google Play Books
Series Rating: four-stars

New York Times bestselling author Nalini Singh brings you the next sizzling story in her Hard Play contemporary romance series…

Jacob Esera, star rugby player and young single father, has worked hard to create a joyous life for his six-year-old daughter. After the death of his childhood sweetheart soon after their daughter’s birth, all Jake wants is safety and stability. No risks. No wild chances. And especially no Juliet Nelisi, former classmate, scandal magnet, and a woman who is a thorn in his side.

As a lonely teenager, Juliet embraced her bad-girl reputation as a shield against loneliness and rejection. Years later, having kicked a cheating sports-star ex to the curb, she has a prestigious job and loyal friends—and wants nothing to do with sportsmen. The last thing she expects is the fire that ignites between her and the stuffed-shirt golden boy who once loved her best friend.

Straitlaced Jacob Esera versus wild-at-heart Juliet Nelisi? Place your bets.


Jake checked on Esme—who was having a grand old time running wild with the other children—then went hunting Jules.

He was starting to think she’d ditched the reception when he finally saw her seated in a hidden alcove with a giant slice of wedding cake on a saucer. She cut into it with a fork as he watched, slipped the tines into her mouth. Her lashes drifted shut, her lips pursed; he could almost hear her moan of pleasure.

His cock twitched.

No, no, no. He couldn’t twitch for Juliet.

Yet he haphazardly grabbed a slice of cake for himself before going over to join her in the alcove.

She glared at him. “This is my spot. Go. Away.”

“I don’t see your name on it,” he said and took a seat. The alcove wasn’t that big, and his shoulder brushed hers, his hip pressing into a lush feminine curve. He was crowding her on purpose. Because the thing was… he wanted to fight with Juliet. Dangerous as it was, he hadn’t felt this alive in a long, long time.

Her eyes flashed. Then she elbowed him under the guise of getting comfortable.

“Oof.” He rubbed his ribs.

“Oh, did that hurt?” She pointed her fork in his direction. “So, so sorry.”

Jake was grinning when his father appeared nearby.

“Son,” he said. “Sorry to interrupt, but Uncle Tama wants to get home and his car isn’t starting.”

“I’ll have a look.” Jake took the keys his father held out… before he turned to Juliet and said, “It’s dark out. Mind coming and holding the torch for me?”

Joseph Esera broke in. “Oh, I can do that.”

“No, Mr. Esera.” Juliet’s smile was warm and generous. “It’s your son’s wedding. Stay, enjoy. I’m sure it won’t take Jake long to fix things.” She kept up that smile as Joseph patted her on the shoulder and told her she was a good girl before he walked away to tug Alison into a dance.

At which point Jake got the death glare magnified.

Driven to antagonize her by a madness he couldn’t shake, he took a bite of cake before rising to put his plate down on the alcove seat. “Cake’s gonna have to wait, Jules.”

“Where’s the damn torch?” She put down her own cake and stood.

“In my car,” Jake said automatically before realizing they’d come here in a limo. “On second thought—we’ll have to use our phones.”

Juliet took his phone when he handed it to her, then swung by the head table to pick up hers too. They’d just stepped outside when his phone flashed with light, a message popping onto the front screen.

Shuddering, Juliet handed it over. “I think it’s one of your groupies. Take it before I gag.”

The text was from a Trixi Kitten. “For your information,” he muttered after quickly scanning it, “that’s the name of my great-aunt’s cat.”

Juliet stared at him. “Do I look like I was born yesterday?”

“Read the message.” He held it out.

Folding her arms, she tilted her head to the side, just daring him to continue.

He held it up right in front of her face so she couldn’t miss the message: Jake, dear, are you checking your uncle’s car? Can you come look at Great-auntie’s in the next week? It’s making a strange noise and it scares me. Meow – Trixi Pussy

A kind of strangled sound erupting in her throat, Juliet nudged aside his phone. “Does she always…”

“Write messages as if it’s her cat?” He nodded. “She’s a perfectly sane human otherwise. Last week she beat everyone in her local pub quiz so she could win a nodding-cat thing.”

“The whole… er… pussy thing?”

“She’s eighty-nine. As far as she’s concerned, it means cat.” Jake rubbed his face. “She stood next to me while I was inputting her number and kept asking me why I didn’t list her as Trixi Pussy.”

Juliet’s laughter sounded like it was torn out of her. And the cock twitching got worse.

That didn’t make sense. Why was her laughter turning him on? Or maybe it was the way she looked when she laughed, so open and warm and… as if she’d make him that way. Not this staid, solid stranger he sometimes felt he’d become.

Shaking off the thought because his solid and staid nature was what made him a good dad, he pointed to a pale blue VW Bug. “That’s it.”

The two of them walked across the parking lot, which was empty of all other signs of life. Just rows of cars—some bedecked with flowers and streamers in honor of the wedding—and a few standing lamps that cast just enough light so people could find their vehicles.

Useless, however, for looking at an engine.

The land sloped down on the other side of the car, the old theater surrounded by manicured grounds that often hosted outdoor plays. Maybe he’d bring Esme to one of those, he thought absently as he unlocked his uncle’s car, then tried to start it to see what sounds it made, if any.

Juliet stood outside, tapping her toe on the tarmac and looking like a fantasy straight out of the midnight hours, times when Jake’s brain went its own merry way. Sex dreams weren’t exactly a surprise for a single male who had a sex drive he hadn’t been feeding, but the dreams had always been amorphous and erotic. No faces, nothing but sensations that led to frustrated arousal.

He had a feeling that was about to change.

When the hell had Juliet grown those curves?

Wishing he hadn’t left his jacket in the event space, he popped the hood before getting out of the driver’s seat; hopefully the dim lighting would conceal the interest in his pants.

“Here.” He handed her his phone. “I think I know the problem,” he said, propping the hood open.

The scent of Juliet washed over him as she stepped close enough to shine the torchlight from both phones into the engine.

“Tell me where you want it,” she said, and his brain decided to put those words in a totally different—and dirty —context.

Gritting his teeth, Jake said, “Where you have it is good.”


Not responding to Jake’s comment because she’d become fascinated by the way his muscles moved under the fine white fabric of his formal shirt as he bent over the engine, Juliet told herself to breathe. She also reminded herself that she’d already had this conversation with herself and decided the physical attraction was pure nonsense.

But jeez, did the universe have to make him so gorgeous?

There, fine, she’d admitted it. The gearhead jock had grown up into a panty-melting adult who adored his daughter, loved his family, and was kind to his elders. Even a great-aunt who liked to text using her cat alter ego. He might have a stick up his butt, but Juliet would still like to see that butt.

Juliet Nelisi, you stop checking out Jake’s butt. STOP.

But the man was muscled everywhere. It was hard not to eat up the eye candy when it was right in front of her. Also, since a visual was all it would ever be, she might as well enjoy… except, this wasn’t just a random hot guy.

This was Jake.

Hard Play

Giveaway Alert

We’re giving one lucky winner their choice of one of our Sunday Spotlight books. Use the widget below to enter for one of this month’s features.

Sunday Spotlight: March 2020

Are you as excited for this release as we are? Let us know how excited you are and what other books you’re looking forward to this year!

About Nalini Singh

I've been writing as long as I can remember and all of my stories always held a thread of romance (even when I was writing about a prince who could shoot lasers out of his eyes). I love creating unique characters, love giving them happy endings and I even love the voices in my head. There's no other job I would rather be doing. In September 2002, when I got the call that Silhouette Desire wanted to buy my first book, Desert Warrior, it was a dream come true. I hope to continue living the dream until I keel over of old age on my keyboard.

I was born in Fiji and raised in New Zealand. I also spent three years living and working in Japan, during which time I took the chance to travel around Asia. I’m back in New Zealand now, but I’m always plotting new trips. If you’d like to see some of my travel snapshots, have a look at the Travel Diary page (updated every month).

So far, I've worked as a lawyer, a librarian, a candy factory general hand, a bank temp and an English teacher and not necessarily in that order. Some might call that inconsistency but I call it grist for the writer's mill.

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Sunday Spotlight: Smoke Bitten by Patrica Briggs

Posted March 8, 2020 by Holly in Features, Giveaways | 6 Comments

Sunday Spotlight is a feature we began in 2016. This year we’re spotlighting our favorite books, old and new. We’ll be raving about the books we love and being total fangirls. You’ve been warned. 🙂

Smoke Bitten is the 12th book in the Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs. I love this series and eagerly anticipate each new release. Things are really heating up for Mercy, Adam and the Columbia Basic Pack. This excerpt had me on the edge of my seat.

Sunday Spotlight: Smoke Bitten by Patrica BriggsSmoke Bitten by Patricia Briggs
Series: Mercy Thompson #12
Also in this series: Frost Burned , Night Broken, Shifting Shadows, Blood Bound, Fire Touched, Silence Fallen , Moon Called, Blood Bound , Iron Kissed, Bone Crossed , River Marked , Frost Burned, Storm Cursed , Night Broken, Fire Touched, Storm Cursed, Smoke Bitten
Publisher: Ace
Publication Date: March 17, 2020
Point-of-View: First
Cliffhanger: View Spoiler »
Content Warning: View Spoiler »
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Pages: 352
Add It: Goodreads
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Ripped Bodice | Google Play Books
Series Rating: four-stars

Mercy Thompson, car mechanic and shapeshifter, faces a threat unlike any other in this thrilling entry in the #1 New York Times bestselling series.
I am Mercedes Athena Thompson Hauptman. My only “superpowers” are that I turn into a thirty-five pound coyote and fix Volkswagens. But I have friends in odd places and a pack of werewolves at my back. It looks like I’m going to need them.
Centuries ago, the fae dwelt in Underhill–until she locked her doors against them. They left behind their great castles and troves of magical artifacts. They abandoned their prisoners and their pets. Without the fae to mind them, those creatures who remained behind roamed freely through Underhill wreaking havoc. Only the deadliest survived.
Now one of those prisoners has escaped. It can look like anyone, any creature it chooses. But if it bites you, it controls you. It lives for chaos and destruction. It can make you do anything–even kill the person you love the most. Now it is here, in the Tri-Cities. In my territory.
It won’t, can’t, remain.
Not if I have anything to say about it.


Chapter One

“Are you okay, Mercy?” Tad asked me as he disconnected the wiring harness from the headlight of the 2000 Jetta we were working on.

We were replacing a radiator. To do that, we had to take the whole front clip off. It was a rush case on a couple of fronts. The owner had been driving from Portland to Missoula, Montana, when her car blew the radiator. We needed to get her back on the road so she could make her job interview tomorrow at eight a.m.

The task was made more urgent by the fact that the owner and her three children under five were occupying the office. She had, she told me, family in Missoula who could watch her children, but nobody but her alcoholic ex-husband to watch them in Portland so she’d brought them with her. I wished she had family here to watch them. I like kids. Tired kids cooped up in my office space were another matter.

To speed the repair up, then, Tad was taking the left side and I was working on the right.

Like me, he wore grease-stained overalls. Summer still held sway—if only just—so those overalls were stained with sweat, too.

Even his hair showed the effects of working in the heat, sticking out at odd angles. It was also tipped here and there with the same grease that marked the overalls. A smudge of black swooped across his right cheekbone and onto his ear like badly applied war paint. I was pretty sure that if anything, I looked worse than he did.

I’d worked on cars with Tad for more than a decade, nearly half his life. He’d left for an Ivy League education but returned without his degree, and without the cheery optimism that had once been his default. What he had retained was that scary competence that he’d had when I first walked into his father’s garage looking for a part to fix my Rabbit and found the elementary-aged Tad ably running the shop.

He was one of the people I most trusted in the world. And I still lied to him.

“Everything’s fine,” I said.

“Liar,” growled Zee’s voice from under a ’68 Beetle.

The little car bounced a bit, like a dog responding to its master. Cars do that sometimes around the old iron-kissed fae. Zee said something soft-voiced and calming in German, though I couldn’t catch exactly what the words were.

When he started talking to me again, he said, “You should not lie to the fae, Mercy. Say instead, ‘You are not my friends, I do not trust you with my secrets, so I will not tell you what is wrong.’”

Tad grinned at his father’s grumble.

“You are not my friends, I do not trust you with my secrets, so I will not tell you what is wrong,” I said, deadpan.

“And that, father of mine,” said Tad, grandly setting aside the headlight and starting on one of the bolts that held in the front clip, “is another lie.”

“I love you both,” I told them.

“You love me better,” said Tad.

“Most of the time I love you both,” I told him before getting serious. “Something is wrong, but it concerns another person’s private issues. If that changes, you’ll be the first on my list to talk to.”

I would not talk about problems with my mate to someone else—it would be a betrayal.

Tad leaned over, put an arm around me, and kissed the top of my head, which would have been sweet if it weren’t a hundred and six degrees outside. Though the new bays in the garage were cooler than the old ones had been, we were all drenched in sweat and the various fluids that were a part of the life of a VW mechanic.

“Yuck,” I squawked, batting him away from me. “You are wet and smelly. No kisses. No touches. Ick. Ick.”

He laughed and went back to work—and so did I. The laugh felt good. I hadn’t been doing a lot of laughing lately.

“There it is again,” said Tad, pointing at me with his ratchet. “That sad face. If you change your mind about talking to someone, I’m here. And if necessary, I can kill someone and put the body where no one will find it.”

“Drama, drama,” grumbled the old fae under the bug. “Always with you there is drama, Mercy.”

“Hey,” I said. “Keep that up and next time I have a horde of zombies to destroy, I won’t pick you.”

He grunted—either at me or at the bug. It was hard to tell with Zee.

“No one else could have done what I did,” he said after a moment. It sounded arrogant, but the fae can’t lie, so Zee thought it was true. I did, too. “It is good that you have me for a friend to call upon when your drama overwhelms your life, Liebling. And if you have a body, I can dispose of it in such a way that there would be nothing left to find.”

Zee was my very good friend, and useful in all sorts of ways besides hiding dead bodies—which he had done. Unlike Tad, Zee wasn’t an official employee of the garage he’d sold to me after teaching me how to work on cars and run the business. That didn’t mean he was unpaid, just that he came and went on his own terms. Or when I needed him. Zee was dependable like that.

“Hey,” said Tad. “Quit chatting, Mercy, and start working. I’m two bolts up on you—and one of those kids just knocked over the garbage can in the office.”

I’d heard it, too, despite the closed door between the office and us. Additionally, just before the garbage can had fallen, I’d heard the tired and overworked mom try to keep her oldest from taking all of the parts stored (for sale) on the shelving units that lined the walls. Tad might be half fae, but I was a coyote in my other form—my hearing was better than his.

Despite the possible destruction going on in the office, it felt good to fix the old car. I didn’t know how to fix my marriage. I didn’t even know what had gone wrong.

“Ready?” asked Tad.

I caught the cross member as he pulled the last bolt. A leaking radiator was something I knew how to make right.

Before I’d left work, I had showered and changed to clean clothes and shoes. Even so, when I got home, I’d gone across the back deck to go in the kitchen door because I didn’t want to risk getting anything from the shop on the new carpet.

I’d disemboweled a zombie werewolf on the old carpet, and one of the results of that was that I’d finally discovered a mess that Adam’s expert cleaning guru couldn’t get out of the white carpet. All of it had been torn up and replaced.

Adam had picked it out because I didn’t care beyond “anything but white.” His choice, a sandy color, was practical and warm. I liked it.

We’d had to replace the tile in the kitchen a few months earlier. Slowly but surely the house had been changing from the house that Adam’s ex-wife, Christy, had decorated into Adam’s and my home. If I’d known how much better I’d feel with new carpet, I’d have hunted down a zombie werewolf to disembowel a long time ago.

I toed off my shoes by the door, glanced farther into the kitchen, and paused. It was like walking into the middle of the last scene in a play. I had no idea what was causing all the tension, but I knew I’d interrupted something big.

Darryl drew my eye first—the more dominant wolves tend to do that. He leaned against the counter, his big arms crossed over his chest. He kept his eyes on the ground, his mouth a flat line. Our pack’s second carried the blood of warriors of two continents. He had to work to look friendly, and he wasn’t expending any effort on that right now. Even though he knew I’d come into the house, he didn’t look at me. His body held a coiled energy that told me he was ready for a fight.

Auriele, his mate, wore an aura of grim triumph—though she was seated at the table on the opposite side of the kitchen from Darryl. Not that she was afraid of him. If Darryl was descended from Chinese and African warlords (and he was—his sister, he’d told me once, had done the family history), Auriele could have been a Mayan warrior goddess. I had once seen the two of them fight as a no-holds-barred team against a volcano god, and it had been breathtaking. I liked and respected Auriele.

Auriele’s location, which was as far as she could get from Darryl and remain in the kitchen, probably indicated that they were having a disagreement. Interestingly, like Darryl, she didn’t look at me, either—though I could feel her attention straining in my direction.

The last person in the kitchen was Joel, who was the only pack member besides me who wasn’t a werewolf. In his presa Canario form, he sprawled out, as was his habit, and took up most of the free floor space. The strong sunlight streaming through the window brought out the brindle pattern that was usually hidden in the stygian darkness of his coat. His big muzzle rested on his outstretched paws. He glanced at me and then away, without otherwise moving.

No. Not away. I followed his gaze and saw that the door to Adam’s soundproofed (even to werewolf ears) office was shut. As I turned my attention back to the occupants of the kitchen, my gaze fell on my stepdaughter’s purse, which had been abandoned on the counter.

“What’s up?” I asked, looking at Auriele.

Maybe my voice was a little unfriendly, but Jesse’s purse, the shut door of Adam’s office, Darryl’s unhappiness, and Auriele’s expression combined to tell me that something had happened.

Probably, given the people involved and my insight into a few things going on in Jesse’s life, that something had to do with my nemesis, Adam’s ex-wife and Jesse’s mother, Christy.

The bane of my existence had finally returned to Eugene, Oregon, where I’d optimistically thought she might be less of a problem. But Christy had a claim on my husband’s protection and a stronger claim on my stepdaughter’s affection. She was going to be in my life as long as they were in my life.

Christy’s strikes on me seldom rated a level above annoyance. She was good at subtle attacks, but I’d grown up with Leah, the Marrok’s mate, who had been, if not as intelligent, infinitely more dangerous.

I would pay a much higher price than dealing with Christy to keep Adam and Jesse. That didn’t mean I was going to be happy about her any time soon. I might be able to take her on just fine, but she hurt Adam and Jesse on a regular basis.

Auriele’s chin rose, but it was Darryl who spoke. “My wife opened a letter meant for someone else,” he said heavily.

“This is your fault,” she snapped—and not at Darryl. “Your fault. You have Adam, her place in the pack, the home that she built, and you still won’t let Christy have anything.”

I might like Auriele, but the reverse was not true because Christy had a way of making everyone around her hyperprotective of her. Auriele was a dominant wolf, which meant she started out protective anyway. Christy just put all of Auriele’s instincts into overdrive.

Still, I couldn’t see her opening anyone else’s mail because I was Adam’s wife instead of Christy. I decided I didn’t have enough information to process her accusations.

So I asked for clarification. “You opened a letter from Christy? Or for Christy?”

“No,” said Darryl, staring at his mate. “She opened a letter for Jesse.”

Auriele glanced at the table, and I noticed, for the first time, that on the table in front of Auriele was a stack of mail. On the top of the stack was a white envelope with Washington State University’s distinctive cougar logo—and all the pieces clicked.

I pinched my nose. It was a gesture that Bran, the Marrok who ruled all the packs in North America except ours, did so often that it had spread to anyone who associated with him for very long. Since I’d been raised in his pack, it was bound to get to me sooner or later. It didn’t help with the frustration, though I felt like it helped me focus. Maybe that was why Bran used it.

“Oh, for the love of Pete,” I said. “Jesse told me she was going to call her mom a week ago. Let me guess—she put it off until yesterday or this morning. And Christy called you. You came over, found the letter from WSU on the table—”

“In the mailbox,” said Darryl.

I raised my eyebrows, and Auriele’s chin elevated a bit more and her shoulders stiffened. Yep, even in her current state of Christy-born madness, she was a little embarrassed about that one.
“We got here just as the mail carrier left,” she said stiffly. “I thought we could take the mail in.”

“You found the letter in the mailbox,” I corrected myself. “And, given the urgency and trauma that Christy expressed to you about her daughter’s change of plans—you had to open it to find proof that dire shenanigans were afoot.”

Jesse had been accepted to the University of Oregon in Eugene, where her mom lived. She had also been accepted to the University of Washington in Seattle, where Jesse’s boyfriend, Gabriel, was attending school.

Both were good schools, and she’d let her mother think that she’d been debating about which way to go. Adam and I had both been sure she intended to follow Gabriel—boyfriends outranked parents. I understood why Jesse hadn’t wanted to tell her mother—witness the current scene with Auriele. Though putting it off had just been postponing the explosion.

But all of Jesse’s schooling plans had changed thanks to recent events. Our pack had acquired some new and very dangerous enemies.

A week ago Jesse told me she’d decided to stay here and go to Washington State University’s Tri-Cities campus. I’d agreed with her reasons. Jesse was a practical person who made generally good choices when her mother wasn’t involved. The only advice I’d given Jesse was that she needed to tell Adam and Christy sooner rather than later.

“Hah,” Auriele said with bitter triumph, pointing at me. “I told you it was Mercy’s idea.”

I opened my mouth to retort, but the door to Adam’s office jerked open and Jesse stalked out, her cheeks flushed and her fists clenched. She glanced past me at Auriele, then gave her a betrayed look that lasted for a long moment until she rounded the corner and took the stairs at a pace that was not quite a run.

I started to go after her and had made it to the foot of the stairs when Adam barreled out the door of his office. The pause between Jesse’s escape and Adam’s pursuit told me that he’d tried to let her go, but the wolf drove him to pursue her.

I turned so I was blocking the way up the stairs.

“Move,” said Adam, his eyes bright yellow. “I will talk to you about this later.”

I could feel the push of his dominance, let it wash on by me without effect. I am a coyote shifter, not a werewolf. Adam’s Alpha dominance didn’t make me want to drop to my belly in instant obedience—it made me want to stick out my tongue or smack him on the nose. A month ago, I might have done that.

Today, I restrained myself to a simple “No.”

Adam took in a deep breath and made an effort to control his wolf; the resulting tension seemed to gain him another inch or so in height and breadth. Under other circumstances, I might have enjoyed a little battle with Adam. I don’t mind a fight as long as no one gets hurt.

But Jesse had already been unnecessarily hurt. That made me mad, so I didn’t trust myself to poke at Adam. It wasn’t, I told myself firmly, that I didn’t trust Adam.

“What result do you want?” I asked him in a calm voice. “You might be able to bully her into saying she will do what you want her to do—whatever that is. Is that really the shape you want your relationship with your daughter, who is an adult now, to take?”

“You might consider that I am madder at you than at Jesse,” he bit out.

That surprised me for a moment—and then I realized that he thought Auriele was right, that I’d done something to influence Jesse’s decision without talking to him. Hurt flooded me—he should know me better than that. But I stuffed that hurt down to look at later. Jesse was the important one at the moment.

“You calm down enough that your eyes aren’t gold, and I will step out of the way,” I told him.

“Fuck me,” he growled, then turned and stalked back to his office. He shut the door with a softness that fooled no one about his state of mind.

Adam never swore around me. Not unless all hell was breaking loose. I stared at the door—thoughtfully, I told myself. I wasn’t angry, because we already had too many angry people here. I wasn’t hurt, because that I took care of in private and not in front of enemies. And Auriele apparently saw me as an enemy—I wasn’t hurt about that, not at all. Not here where she could see me, anyway.

“You might want to consider,” Darryl told his wife in a soft voice, “that Adam told us all that anyone who said a word against his wife, his mate, he would kill.”

My stomach dropped to my toes—all the hurt that I was pretending not to feel was suddenly secondary. Yes, he had, hadn’t he? Oddly, because that declaration sometimes chafed me like wet wool underwear, I hadn’t brought that to bear on the current situation. And he wouldn’t go back on his word simply because he was mad at me.

Killing Auriele wouldn’t just be stupid; it would break him. And that, children, is why ultimatums are a bad idea, said a memory in my head in the Marrok’s voice. I think he’d been talking to one of his sons, but it had stuck in my head.

Urgently, I asked Auriele, “Did you say something against me? Or did you just repeat what Christy said?”

She didn’t answer, but Darryl did. “I think,” he told me, “that he will let us leave rather than fight me. And I won’t let him kill my mate without a fight.”

Auriele frowned at him. “What? Why? Someone had to tell him what was going on beneath his own nose.” From the tone of her voice, it was apparent she didn’t think it would be a problem. Darryl glanced at me and then away. He was worried.

“Jesse,” I said, then stopped because my own voice was a little shaky. Control was one of the things that werewolves respected. When I spoke again, my voice was quieter, a trick I’d learned from Adam because it made people listen.

“Jesse told me,” I said, “that she’d decided, on her own, to apply to Washington State here in the Tri-Cities. The events of the past few months demonstrated to her that if she goes elsewhere she will be a weakness for her father’s enemies to exploit.”

I let that hang in the air a minute. Saw them think about it.

“Eugene doesn’t have a werewolf pack,” I said, telling them what they already knew. “Vampires aplenty—but no werewolf pack we could call upon to watch over her. Worse, the vampires are a loosey-goosey bunch of misfits.” The vampire Frost had hit the Oregon vampires a few years ago and left not much organization behind. Bran had briefly moved the Portland werewolf pack to Eugene, away from Frost’s direct assault. After Frost had been disposed of, Bran had allowed the pack to return to Portland, leaving Eugene in the hands of the vampires Frost had left standing. “Those vampires have no central power, not that I’ve heard of, who could be negotiated with for Jesse’s protection.”

“That means that Christy is in danger,” said Auriele, her eyes widening. “Why did you make her leave here if you knew Christy would be in danger?”

“Christy is an unlikely target,” said Darryl before I could. Which was good, because Auriele was more likely to believe him than she would me. “We’ve discussed this, ’Riele. Adam’s ex-wife will not be seen by most powers as a good hostage. Their relationship never included a mating bond.”

Auriele sucked in a breath at this—but she didn’t say anything. I knew that the lack of a mating bond had been something that Christy had been bitter about throughout her marriage with Adam.
Darryl gave her a moment, then said, “Most Alphas would not protect a woman with whom they shared a temporary legal arrangement. If Christy had been his mate”—Darryl glanced at me—“it would be a different matter. But if she had been his mate, he would never have let her go in the first place. She is in a very safe position. Attacking her or taking her hostage would net no gains. They don’t need to know that hurting Christy or scaring her would mean that Adam and the pack go there to teach stray vampires a lesson they would never forget.”

Her expression made it clear Auriele didn’t want to agree that Christy was safe. But they had already, apparently, discussed the subject. Auriele knew as well as everyone else in the room did that Christy was probably safer away from the pack than she would be living here—unless she physically lived with the pack. But with her in Eugene, Adam’s enemies would look closer to home for Adam’s weaknesses.

When Adam’s door opened and my mate stepped out, I ignored him even though his movement didn’t sound angry anymore. One mostly unsolvable problem at a time.

Christy is safe in Eugene,” said Darryl heavily, repeating himself for Adam’s sake, though he didn’t look away from his wife. “Jesse, who is Adam’s only child, and publicly known as such, would be another matter entirely.”

“She worked out her college plans last spring and applied then,” I said. “But that was last year, when our pack was allied with the Marrok, and we—Adam, Jesse, and I—determined that it wouldn’t have been too dangerous.”

The Marrok, Bran Cornick, was a Power in the world. It would take creatures stronger and more rash than the vampires in Eugene to try to defy him—even given that he mostly stayed in the backwoods of Montana. He had people he could send out to mete justice or vengeance. It wasn’t just the werewolves who were afraid of his son Charles—or the Moor—or a number of other dangerous old werewolves in Bran’s pack.

Last summer, Adam and I had discussed sending a pack member or two as a bodyguard for Jesse, rotating them out. But our pack had to be more defensive now that I’d painted a target on us by making it clear that we looked upon the Tri-Cities as our territory—and all of those living here, human and not, as our charges. It had seemed, had been, the right thing to do. But it had changed things for us. Jesse’s ability to go to school wherever she wanted to—within reason—had been one of those things.

Sending a couple of pack members out to protect Jesse might mean that the pack would be two warriors short if we needed them—and without the umbrella of the Marrok’s protection, it would take more than two werewolves to ensure her safety. There was no sense discussing it now because Jesse wasn’t going to Seattle or Eugene.

“We don’t have the Marrok at our back anymore,” I said. “But it might not matter if we had. The Hardesty witches have shown themselves to be willing to take on the Marrok in his own territory—and we can argue how much good it did them. The point is that we, our pack, are a target for those witches. Given time, we might be able to teach them to respect us and our people. But after this last encounter, how safe do you think Jesse would be from them?”

Auriele paled and bit her lip. “I hadn’t thought about the witches.” For the first time she sounded uncertain.

Christy had this uncanny ability to blind people to common sense and make everything about her. Not that I was bitter or anything
“Jesse thought about them,” I said. “And she didn’t want to hurt her father by making him tell her she couldn’t follow her dreams, or that she’d have to find different dreams. So she took matters into her own hands. She met with a counselor at WSU and, though freshman admissions were officially closed, he managed to get her admitted. She told me she was worried that he pulled strings for her because of who her father is.”

The Tri-Cities had been treating Adam like he was their own personal superhero. He accepted accolades with dignity in public and with frustration, laughter, and (on a few memorable occasions) rage in private.

“I told her she should accept what help having us behind her could give,” I told them. “We certainly have cost her enough.”

She’d broken up with Gabriel, her boyfriend. She’d told me that it had been one thing to ask him to wait a year for her, and an entirely different thing to try to limp the relationship along long-distance. He had, she told me tearfully, found a new girlfriend not a week later. He thought that Jesse would like her.

Sometimes even smart men could be stupid.

But that was Jesse’s story to tell—and I wasn’t sure that Auriele, who had babysat Jesse in diapers and served as surrogate aunt, still had the privilege of knowing Jesse’s private pain. Not after she opened that letter and took sides with Christy against Jesse. If I were feeling more charitable, I would admit that Auriele likely didn’t look at it that way. She would have put Jesse on Christy’s side with me as the evil stepmother.

“She chose,” said Adam slowly. “Jesse chose. Because of—” He glanced at Darryl, at Auriele, and lastly at Joel, who returned his gaze with eyes that held a little more fire than they had when I first came into the kitchen. “Because of the pack.”

That hadn’t been his first thought, though.

Did he blame himself? Or me?

He hadn’t looked at me. I’d pushed the pack into a different role that had attracted the attention of some higher-level bad guys. So it was, in that sense, my fault that Jesse had to change her plans.

His tone had been deliberately bland and our mating bond had been shut down tight for weeks. I couldn’t tell what he was thinking. I wasn’t sure, just now, if I cared what he was thinking.

My first impulse was to say something biting in reply, something that would betray how hurt I was at how easily he’d fallen into Christy’s storyline. But I didn’t want to trust him with my feelings just then. I curbed my tongue and, as I turned my head to look at him, tried to think of something more neutral to say. I came up blank.

In the middle of that tense silence, full of unspoken words, Aiden opened the back door.

Aiden was . . . a member of the family, though if pressed, I wasn’t really sure I could have pinpointed the moment that had happened.

He’d arrived in my life dirty, defensive, and owed a favor for helping to rescue Zee and Tad.

Zee, when he wasn’t twisting wrenches at the garage, was an old and powerful fae that even the Gray Lords treated with wariness, if not actual fear. Tad, his half-human son, was a power in his own right. And Aiden, who would have blended into a third-grade classroom so long as he kept his mouth shut, had rescued them.

He had looked, then, like the boy he’d been when some fae lord had stolen him to bring to Underhill, the magical land where the fae ruled—or thought they did. I don’t know if humans just don’t age in Underhill, if that long-gone fae lord did something, or if Underhill herself preserved the human visitors for company when she exiled the fae, but, like Peter Pan, Aiden had never grown up. In all the centuries—he had no idea how many—he’d lived in Underhill, mostly on his own, in a land full of the monsters the fae had imprisoned and Underhill had freed, he had never grown an inch. Last week we’d had to go out and buy him new clothes. He could still blend in with a class of third-graders, but it looked like now he was going to grow up some day. A fact he was pretty cheerful about.

He was incredibly dangerous. Possibly to keep him alive—more probably for reasons of her own—Underhill had gifted him with fire. But we were dangerous, too, so we’d taken him into our family and largely treated him like the child he appeared to be. He seemed to take comfort in that, maybe even enjoy it.

Entering the house, he could have been any abnormally dirty human child. He appeared to have gotten wet, at some point, then rolled in the dust that was our dirt in late summer. One of his grubby hands was firmly gripping the equally ragged and dirty girl who was about an inch shorter than he was.

He paused, having yanked the girl halfway into the kitchen with irritation bordering on anger. He appeared to set all that aside as he observed the room and read the emotions with a brain that was not remotely childlike.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “This is a bad time.”

But the child he’d dragged in suddenly became cooperative and took another step into the room.

“No,” she told him. “It’s a wonderful time. I love battles. Blood and death followed by tears and mourning.” She scratched at her matted hair, gave me a sly look, then smiled delightedly at everyone else.

“Underhill,” Adam said dangerously, “what are you doing here in my home?”

Underhill was an ancient magical land. She was powerful enough to chew the fae up and spit them out again—even the fae who had the power to raise the seas or split the earth were cautious when dealing with her. She was capricious to the point of maliciousness, and when she chose, she manifested as a girl Aiden’s age. While Aiden had been a child, trying to survive in Underhill’s realm, she had joined his small group of friends as a fellow survivor. Eventually he’d figured out who and what she was, but she continued to treat him as a friend. I still didn’t know exactly how Aiden felt about her—it was possible that he didn’t know what he thought about her, either.

She was, understandably, not worried about facing down an irate Alpha werewolf.

“I heard you were inviting everyone in,” she said disingenuously. “The Dark Smith and his misbred but powerful son. The coyote and the tibicena-possessed man.” She smiled, displaying dimples. “The vampire—you know, the crazy one?”

She meant Wulfe.

The night the witches had died, Wulfe had been injured. Not physically, but mentally or spiritually or something—and it had been my fault. We brought Wulfe back with us, unconscious and babbling by turns, and Ogden, the pack member who was carrying him, had brought Wulfe into the house.

I found out later that he’d had no idea he was carrying a vampire. He didn’t know Wulfe personally, and something—probably my whammy—had affected his scent. But Ogden shouldn’t have been able to just bring Wulfe into the house. A vampire must be verbally invited into a home by someone who lives in that space. I suspected, given the function of our home for the wolves, that any member of our pack could invite a vampire in—but Ogden swore he hadn’t said a word to anyone.

So Wulfe could come and go in our home anytime he wished. Maybe he always could.

“That’s your fault, too,” said Auriele, looking at me.

I don’t know how she figured that, other than that I was the one who had knocked Wulfe silly so he could be carried into the house. True enough, I supposed, if you were looking for reasons to blame me for the sun rising in the east.

I looked at Auriele, then Darryl. I looked at Aiden and Underhill, a primordial being who was relatively powerless here in our world. “Relatively” being the correct word, as I had no doubt she could destroy our home and everyone in it with very little effort on her part. I looked at Adam, who was not looking at me — my mate, who had said nothing to contradict Auriele.
And I was done.

Without a word, I slipped around Underhill and Aiden and out the open back door, grabbing my shoes on the way out. No one tried to stop me, which was good. I’m not sure that I would have responded like a mature adult.

Our backyard was set up for pack gatherings, with scattered picnic areas and benches landscaped into the yard. There was a new huge wooden playset with a pirate ship’s lookout on top, complete with Jolly Roger.

We’d had all the pack and their families incarcerated here for a few days and decided that something for kids to play on would be a good idea. I hadn’t expected the whole pack to play on it, but they loved it.

The logs bore scars from werewolf claws, and the Jolly Roger had a tear on one corner from when a couple of the wolves had fought over it.

I paused to look at the other new thing in the yard.

Part of a wall, six feet or so high, had been constructed in the corner of the property. The stones were river rock, mostly gray and all uncut. They were set without mortar, the shape of the stones matched to hold the wall together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. The wall ran for about twenty feet on either side of the corner of the lawn.

About three feet from the corner, on the side that ran the border between what had once been only my property and Adam’s, was a battered oak door—even though with very little effort anyone could have walked around the wall.

The wall and its door hadn’t been there when I came home from work, not an hour ago.

And I knew why Aiden had been so hot when he’d come into the kitchen. Underhill had made the wall, so she could have a door.

When Aiden had left Underhill, she’d missed him. After a misadventure in Underhill’s realm, we had made a bargain. A couple of times a month we escorted Aiden to the Walla Walla fae reservation, where there were many doors to the magical land.

Now there was a door to Underhill in our backyard.

At another time, I would have run back into the house. But the thought of all those hostile faces . . . of Adam’s hostile face was too much for me. My stomach churned and my heart hurt. Let Adam, Darryl, and Auriele deal with Underhill.

I hopped over the old barbed-wire fence, which continued where the stone wall left off, and strode through the field of sagebrush and dead cheat grass toward my old house—or at least the house that stood where my old place had been.

A jackrabbit jumped out from somewhere, and my inner coyote took notice. There must have been something off about the rabbit for the coyote to be so excited by it when I wasn’t hungry at all.

I glanced at it again as it ran away. There was a ragged edge to the rhythm of its movement—not quite lame, just oddly awkward. But jacks are pretty fast, even sick ones, so it was out of sight before I could pin down what was wrong.

I stopped by the old VW Rabbit I’d originally placed just so to get back at Adam when he overstepped his bounds, back when we were nothing more to each other than neighbors. Adam was one of those people who walk around straightening paintings in museums. The old parts car with its various missing pieces had been nicely calculated to drive him crazy.

I thought about doing something else to it—but the Rabbit was part of the play-fighting that Adam and I did now. I wasn’t mad at Adam, wasn’t fighting with him—I would be mad tomorrow, maybe, when my heart didn’t ache. Today, I was just bewildered and sad. The old car couldn’t help me there, so I walked on.

I was pretty sure that Adam’s withdrawal from me had something to do with the witches, I reminded myself.

He’d seemed all right for the first few weeks after we killed all the witches. He’d had nightmares, but so had I.

I didn’t know when he’d decided to keep our mating bond closed because, to my shame, I didn’t notice at first.

I was bound to my mate, to my pack, and to a vampire. And if I thought about any of them too hard I understood why animals caught in the jaws of iron traps sometimes gnawed their own limbs off to get free. Of the three bonds, the one with Adam bothered me the least. And when, a short time ago, it had been obstructed—I found out that I had become . . . completed by that bond.

Still, I had made very little effort to learn how it worked, leaving that to Adam. It was usually open only a little, just enough to let me know that Adam was okay and tell him the same about me. Sometimes he left it open wide—usually when we were making love, which was both amazing and overwhelming.

We weren’t living in each other’s heads, but I generally knew when he was having a good day—or a bad one, though only strong emotions made it through. I could tell where he was and if he was in pain or not. And he could tell the same about me. But his keeping it tightened down left us both some privacy. That way, he told me, I wouldn’t try to chew off my foot to get free.

Sometime after the witches, he had closed it tight and I hadn’t noticed until a few days ago. Once I noticed, then I could look back and realize it had been weeks since I’d felt much from our bond. The way it was now, I could not tell anything except that he was alive.

He had been working long hours—and so had I, my business freshly reopened and requiring more time than usual because of it. How little time we were spending together hadn’t seemed abnormal until I stopped to think about it. He had been spending a lot of time at work, but he’d still had time to take care of pack business, and the problems of various pack members. But our time, the time he and I carved from our days and weeks, had disappeared.

I didn’t know when, exactly, it had happened or why, but I had been sure it was some kind of aftermath from the witches, from Elizaveta’s death. But tonight, his reaction, his willingness to believe I’d urge Jesse to change her plans without telling him, left me thinking that maybe the problem was me.

Was he finally tired of the trouble I caused? Or at least seemed to be surrounded by?

We hadn’t made love in weeks. My husband was a twice-a-night man unless one or the other of us was too beaten up. I found that with him, I was a twice-a-night woman, so it worked out well.
I leaned down to pat the old VW and then continued my walk. I didn’t want to think anymore, and movement seemed the right thing to do. I had no particular destination in mind other than away.
I stopped by the pole barn I used as a secondary base of operations the whole time my garage had been being rebuilt and glanced inside. It looked oddly empty, most of the tools moved back to the garage in town. The main occupant of the building was my old Vanagon.

I’d put a white tarp down and driven the van on top to see if I could find the leak in the coolant lines that ran from the radiator in the front of the van to the engine fourteen feet away. It was a last-ditch effort to find the leak before pulling all the lines and replacing them with new ones. I wasn’t hopeful, but I really wasn’t looking forward to taking the whole van apart.
I closed the door without checking the tarp and walked to the little manufactured home that had replaced my old trailer. The yard was in better condition than it had been when I’d lived there, Adam having installed an automatic watering system and adding my house to his yard man’s routine.

The oak tree, a gift of an oakman, had escaped the fire that destroyed my old home. It had grown since I last paid attention to it, a lot more than it should have, I thought—though I was no gardener or botanist. Its trunk was wider around than both of my hands could span.

Impulsively, I put my tear-damp cheek against the cool bark and closed my eyes. I couldn’t sense it, but my head had to be quieter than that for me to listen to the subtle magic the tree held.
“Hey,” I told it. “I’m sorry I haven’t visited for a while.”

It didn’t respond, so after a moment I turned to the little manufactured house that I had never lived in. My old trailer had burned down and I’d moved in with Adam. Gabriel, Jesse’s boyfriend who had been working for me when they met, had lived in it until he’d gone off to college. He’d planned to stay all summer, but a few weeks ago he’d moved his stuff out. At the time he’d told me that it didn’t make sense for him to take up space here when he was living in Seattle.

I’d known that there was something more, something that put sadness in his eyes, and I’d been pretty sure it had to do with Jesse by the way she didn’t come over to help him move. But I’d figured it was something that they would tell me when the time was right. When Jesse told me she was staying here for college, she’d also told me she and Gabriel had broken up.

I had Gabriel’s keys hanging on our key holder in the kitchen, and I wasn’t going back for them. The fake rock was still sitting next to the stairs—one side was blackened and melted a little and I could still smell the faint scent of the fire.

Adam had nearly killed himself trying to rescue me. I had not been in the house, but he’d thought I was. Even a werewolf can burn to death. Crouching beside the wooden steps I remembered the burns that covered him.

But I also remembered the look in his eye today when he told me, if not in so many words, that he believed I would go behind his back on something that I knew was important to him. That I would talk his daughter into an important life-changing decision without discussing it with him first.

I closed my hand on the plastic rock and found a shiny new key. Gabriel had put his spare key the same place I had. Adam, who ran a security company, would have chided us both had he known.
I opened the door.

Gabriel had cleaned the house before he left—and then his mother and sisters came and cleaned it again. She explained to me, “Gabriel is a good boy. But no male ever cleaned a house like a woman.”

And with that sexist statement, she proceeded to prove her point. The house smelled clean, not musty as do most places that are left empty for very long. The carpet looked new; the vinyl in the kitchen and bathrooms were pristine.

There was a white envelope on the counter of the kitchen marked Jesse in Gabriel’s handwriting. I left it alone. Someone had already opened Jesse’s mail today—I wasn’t going to do that again.
The manufactured house was larger than my old trailer had been, and better insulated, too. Even though the day had been hot and the electricity was off, the house was a bearable temperature.
Walking through the empty, clean house wasn’t making me feel any better. I was starting to think that I’d abandoned the fight in the middle—which wasn’t like me at all. I stared out the window of the master bedroom over at my home. My real home.

Time to go back and fight for it, I decided.

I strode out of the bedroom—and there was a woman standing in the living room with her back to me. Her hair was long and blond and straight. She wore a navy A-line skirt and a white blouse.
“Excuse me?” I said, even as I was wondering how she’d gotten into the house without me noticing her at all. I could smell her now, a light fragrance that was familiar.
She turned to look at me. Her face was oddly familiar, too. Her features were strong—handsome rather than lovely. A face made for a character actor. I’d have said memorable, but I couldn’t remember where I’d seen her before. Her eyes were blue-gray.

“I don’t understand,” she said. “He loves me. Why would he do such a thing?”

And upon her words, blood began to flow from wounds that opened on her body—shoulder, breast, belly, one arm and then the other, and the smell of fresh blood permeated the house.

Mercy Thompson

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About Patricia Briggs

Patricia is the #1 New York Times best selling author of the Mercy Thompson series and has written twenty four novels to date; she is currently writing novel number twenty five. She has short stories in several anthologies, as well as a series of comic books and graphic novels based on her Mercy Thompson and Alpha and Omega series. Patty began her career writing traditional high fantasy novels in 1993, and shifted gears in 2006 to write urban fantasy. Moon Called was the first of her signature series about Mercy; the non-stop adventure left readers wanting more and word of this exciting new urban fantasy series about a shape-shifting mechanic spread quickly. The series has continued to grow in popularity with the release of each book. Patty also writes the Alpha and Omega series, which are set in the same world as the Mercy Thompson novels; what began as a novella expanded into a full new series, all of which debuted on the NY Times bestsellers list as well.

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