BLOG TOUR w/ REVIEW: Tortured by Nicole Williams

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♦BLURB♦

When he left for a twelve-month deployment, she knew it would feel like forever before they saw each other again. She didn’t realize how right she was.

When Lance Corporal Brecken Connolly gets taken as a POW, Camryn hopes for the best but steels herself for the worst. In the end, steel was what she needed to survive when he didn’t. She moves on the only way she knows how—gilding herself in more steel.

Years go by.

She builds a new life.

She leaves the old one behind.

Until one day, she sees the face of a ghost on the news. Brecken seems to have risen from the dead, but she knows she can’t perform the same miracle for herself. While Brecken was held in a torture camp for the past five years, she’s been trapped in her own kind of prison. One she can’t be freed from.  

The man she mourned comes back to join the living, but the girl he wanted to spend his life with isn’t the same woman he comes back for. Brecken isn’t the same person either. The past five years have changed them both. While he’s determined to put the pieces back together, she’s resolved to let hers rot where they shattered.
Broken or not, Brecken wants her back. He’ll do anything to achieve that. Even if it means going against the warden of Camryn’s personal prison—her husband.

 

♦4.5-STAR REVIEW♦

An emotional and powerful second-chance romance, Tortured shines a bright light on the strength of love and its power on a persons inner strength. Torn apart by horrible circumstance, Camryn and Brecken fall prey to distance and the effect of moving on, but Williams never once fails to bring that connection to the front and center. There is so much pain, tension, and love flowing at all times that the reader can’t help but be pulled in by it.

Delicately and with grace, Williams manages to delve into the mind of our survivor heroine, a woman who may be battered and bruised on the outside, but harvests the will and strength of any warrior on the inside. Along with our battle worn hero, the two share more than just a once-in-a-lifetime love, but the effects of a strong hand that have only gotten heavier in the last six years they’ve been apart. With everything they suffered through, I loved that I could still feel the power of their connection and that soul-deep love that transcends any and all hurdles. And that Brecken still felt like the man he was before: sweet, kind, and self-sacrificing. The love he felt for Camryn made my own heart hurt; it was powerful and it leapt from the pages.

The beauty lies within the love these two characters share, and while the story is sad, it’s also empowering and sexy and bright. I loved the duality to these characters; how they had weakness, but so, so much strength in spite of it. I loved their journey and the sweetness that is simply them. Tortured has a great, inspiring love story that’ll break your heart and then mend it right back together.

**Those with triggers for domestic violence may have some issue with the content

 

♦EXCERPT♦

“It’s been six years. Everything’s changed. I have. You have.” My eyes lifted. “Why? Why are you trying to win me back?”
He exhaled, his lips parting. “I’m going to win you back.”
When his hand slid around the bend of my waist, winding behind my back, I jerked. His touch was different tonight, hungry, determined. My head clouded, blocking out reason or letting it surface to the top, one or the other.
“I married him,” I whispered even as my hand found his chest.
“But you belong to me.”
My eyes closed as he bowed me against him. I wasn’t sure how two bodies that had been as broken as ours could be so strong when joined. “How do you know?”
“I can see it in your eyes. Every time you look at me.” His other hand lifted to my chin, tipping it until our eyes connected. His brow rose slowly, like I was proving his point right that very moment.
“That’s a confident statement.” My voice shook, but my body felt steady. Unwavering.
“It’s the truth.”
My chest was moving so hard, it brushed his with every breath. What was I doing? Where had I found myself? The man holding me had died only to be resurrected six years later. It was too late, but it wasn’t over.
No matter what, Brecken Connolly and I would never be over.
“Twenty-six days,” I said slowly. “That’s all I have to give you. That’s all I have to give. Four weeks. Once he’s back, you know the way it has to be.”
His face broke, but his hold didn’t budge. “It’s not enough.”
My fingers curled into his shirt, looking for some way to hold on to him. “I know.”
His other arm suddenly looped around me and he lifted me off the ground, his grip going around my backside when my legs tied around him. “But a fucking eternity wouldn’t be enough either, so it’ll just have to do.”
He carried me through the sand and up the stairs of the cabin, then he propped me against the wall so he could open the screen door. Something slipped out of my mouth when he flexed his hips into mine.
“Told you it wasn’t a morning issue,” he whispered in my ear, but I could hear the smile in his voice. “Just a Camryn one.”
He made the same motion with his hips, applying a little more friction this time, causing a louder sound to echo from my lungs.
Opening the screen door as silently as he could, he carried me inside.
“You can set me down, you know?” I whispered.
“I know,” he said, his arms tying tighter. Once all of the lights were off, the cabin closed up for the night, he padded down the hall.
“You know where you’re going?”
His head nodded beside mine. “I’ve always known.”
My hands went behind his neck. His skin was warm and familiar. “And where’s that?”
He exhaled against my skin as he closed the bedroom door. “Toward you.”
He set me down once he’d untied my legs from around his waist, and he took a few steps back. He stared at me for a moment then reached for the lamp on the dresser.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“Turning on the lights.”
I watched him flip on another. “Why?”
“Because I want to see you. Because I want to watch your face as I move inside you. Because I want to see your skin flush when I make you come.” He flipped on one more light, then all of his attention turned to me. “Because I want to see everything.”
My heart took off as I imagined being intimate with him with every light in the room on. My body wasn’t the same one he’d left. It had carried a burden; it bore the scars of a shattered soul and a broken body. “I don’t want you to see me. Not like that. In the dark, you can imagine the way I was before.”
When I reached for the closest lamp to switch it off, he stopped me. “I don’t want to imagine.” His hand curled around mine, guiding it away from the lamp. “I want the real thing. I want the real you.”
“You’ve seen my body. You know what I look like beneath all of this.” I motioned at the fresh clothes hanging off of me, covering me from my wrists to my ankles to my neck.
“When I look at you, I see beauty and strength, and the one person in the world who gives me a reason to live and a reason to die.” He drew me to him, his face creased in lines of concentration. “That’s what I see when I look at you.”

 

♦ABOUT THE AUTHOR♦

Nicole Williams is the New York Times and USATODAY bestselling author of contemporary and young adult romance, including the Crash and Lost & Found series. Her books have been published by HarperTeen and Simon & Schuster in both domestic and foreign markets, while she continues to self-publish additional titles. She is working on a new YA series with Crown Books (a division of Random House) as well. She loves romance, from the sweet to the steamy, and writes stories about characters in search of their happily even after. She grew up surrounded by books and plans on writing until the day she dies, even if it’s just for her own personal enjoyment. She still buys paperbacks because she’s all nostalgic like that, but her kindle never goes neglected for too long. When not writing, she spends her time with her husband and daughter, and whatever time’s left over she’s forced to fit too many hobbies into too little time.

Nicole is represented by Jane Dystel, of Dystel and Goderich Literary Agency.

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NEW RELEASE & EXCERPT: 72 Hours by Bella Jewel

Purchase: Kindle | Mass Market

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♦BLURB♦

A FATE WORSE THAN DEATH.
It’s all part of his sick game. A game he’s been planning for an entire decade. Now everything is perfect: One woman and one man have been selected. They used to be a couple—and they can no longer stand one another. They are the perfect victims. He doesn’t intend for the game to be easy. He wants to push them to the brink of insanity, to make his hunt real. . .

A DESIRE WORTH FIGHTING FOR. . .
The couple has been captured and dumped into a massive wooded area. There’s only one rule in this fatal game: They will have 72 hours to find a way out before the sadistic serial killer begins his hunt . . .But what he never could have expected was the explosive passion that ignites between the two ex-lovers—one that makes them strong. Fierce. And determined to do whatever it takes to escape—and to survive. . .

♦EXCERPT♦

“Lara, can you please put my mug under the coffee machine and press start before you go for your run?” Rachel calls out.

“Already done,” I call softly, leaning down to lace up my shoes.

Rachel took me in after Noah and I broke up and I moved out. I do as much as I can to help her out, including making sure she’s got hot coffee every morning before I go out. She saved my ass. It’s the least I can do.

“You’re a gem.” So I’ve been told.

“I’ll be back in an hour.”

I grab my water bottle and move to the front door, checking that I’ve got my phone before heading out. The weather is warm in Orlando today, a soft breeze trickling through the trees.

After pulling my long chestnut hair into a pony- tail, I step out onto the path in front of my apartment and put my earbuds in, starting my usual morning jog. I move down two blocks and then cross a road to a local park. It has a path running beside it that goes into some thick forest before coming out close to downtown.

My one hour of peace each day.

I sing softly to the music, pounding harder and faster as my body warms up. Crossing the road, I move past the park and into the trees. The weather instantly cools without the warmth of the sun breaking through, and it dries up some of the sweat forming on my brow. I think about Noah and how much it hurt to see him at the bar last night, let alone with another woman.

Will it ever stop hurting?

A hand taps my shoulder and I scream, spin- ning around to see Noah standing behind me, sweat running down and soaking the front of his tank. I press a hand to my heart, studying him, then pull out my earbuds. Only he would find a way to be on his run at the same time I’m on mine. Can’t this man just leave me alone? “What are you doing here, Noah?”

“I recently moved into an apartment in the area and was jogging when I saw you. I see you still enjoy running?”

“Why did you move into this area?”

He shrugs. “I liked it.”

This is too much. “Why now?”

“For a while I was traveling for work. I volunteered to train some other recruits. Considering you wouldn’t talk to me, I needed a distraction.” He shrugs again. “Now I have a little time on my hands and it felt like time to relocate.”

I take a step back, my mind reeling. “I want to finish my run,” I say. “And you’re going to leave me alone.”

“Lara, come on,” he sighs. “Let’s talk about this.”

I take a drink from my bottle, ignoring his pleading. My eyes focus on anything but him.

“Are you seriously still doing this?” he grunts. “I’ve been tryin’ to call you for months with little success. You ignored me without a word and you’re really not going to give me five minutes to explain?”

“Explain what?” I ask, crossing my arms. “The fact that I walked in and found you with a woman on your lap in your office?”

He jerks, and his face grows tight with frustration. “You read it wrong.”

“I can’t imagine how,” I mumble.

He uses the back of his hand to wipe the sweat from his brow. It takes all my inner strength not to stare at his big, muscled form. Mostly to avoid remembering how good it felt to be tucked into his arms, how secure and safe he could make me feel. He just had that way. He made me feel like nothing in the world could ever touch me when I was in his arms. And then he took that all away in one moment. The only feeling of safety I had left was gone in an instant.

“Is Noah in?” I smile to the young girl sitting at the front desk of the firehouse.

“Yeah, he’s in his office.”

“Mind if I go through?”

“No, go for it.”

I walk down the hall, heading toward Noah’s office. I thought I’d bring him lunch, spend some time with him. Things have been rough in the last few months, and he’s been by my side through it all. He’s seen me at my worst and picked me up when I fell. After Nan died, I have felt like noth- ing is enough, like I’m not enough. I feel like I’m not being the girlfriend he deserves. He deserves me to try, so that’s what I’m doing. I’m trying.

I open the door and step in, opening my mouth to greet him when I see her. She’s on his lap, long blond hair flowing around her back, pretty as can be. The kind of woman that looks like his per- fect fit. She’s kissing him. Their mouths, connected, touching—it’s all I see before my vision blurs, tears clouding it. I feel like I’ve been punched in the gut. I stumble back, gasping for air.

How could he do this to me?

I already know how. Because I’m an emotional, broken woman who got her nanna killed because she couldn’t control her loud mouth. Then I became this weak, pathetic mess who spends most days crying and trying to figure out who I should be and who I am now. Of course he’s with another woman. Why the hell wouldn’t he be? This is exactly what I deserve.

I turn and leave, but not before I hear Noah call out my name.

I run, tears flowing down my cheeks. “Lara!” he calls. “Lara, wait!”

He catches me at the door, hand curling around my upper arm. He spins me around but I shove at his chest, causing him to stumble backward.

“Dont touch me!” I scream. “Don’t touch me.”

“Lara, it isn’t—”

“Get away from me.”

I turn and keep going, darting straight across the road. I reach the park and drop to my knees, sobbing with agony, and pain, and regret. Maybe this is my karma. Maybe this is the universe’s way of punishing me for what happened with my nanna. Or maybe, just maybe, Noah is better off without  me.

Of course he is. I’m worth nothing.

“Lara, fuck, how could you throw it all away? We were together over two years.”

His question brings me back to the present. “Seriously?” I ask, eyes wide with shock. “You think I’m the one who threw it away?”

God, if only he knew how much it meant to me. I wanted to marry this man, to have kids with him, to be with him for the rest of my life. Walking in and seeing him with another woman ripped my heart out. It sent my whole world crashing down. Leaving him was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to endure in my life. How he could think it meant nothing is beyond me. He was the one who hurt me.

He grunts. “Yet you won’t talk to me, you just broke it off and ran.”

I flinch. “It was what I had to do.”

He shakes his head, jaw tight. “God, you’re a pain in the ass.”

That hurts. He’s acting as if all this is my fault, when it was he who cheated on me.

“I don’t need to listen to this, Noah. I don’t deserve it.”

“That’s just the thing,” he yells. “You’re not listening. You’re refusing to listen.”

The familiar sting of anger bubbles in my chest, but I push it down. Be calm. Don’t react. It isn’t worth getting upset over. “I don’t want to hear your excuses.”

He makes a frustrated noise in his throat.

I shake my head. I can’t listen to any more of this. I can’t take any more of this. “I have to go.” I turn my back to him and start walking away.

“Fuck, Lara,” he barks. “Let me talk to you.”

I pick up into a jog and disappear out the other side of the trees, but not before I hear his angry curse. I run until I’m out of breath, but I could swear he’s still behind me. I stop and turn every now and then, glancing into the trees, but nobody is there. Yet it feels as though someone is. He’s probably following me—he’s protective like that, always wanting to know I’m safe. He doesn’t need to worry anymore—I’m no longer his burden.

 

♦ABOUT THE AUTHOR♦

BELLA JEWEL is a USA Today bestselling author of over 18 e-books, including the popular Alphas Heart eOriginal series with St. Martin’s Press. She lives in North Queensland where she’s working on her next novel.

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CHAPTER REVEAL: Tortured by Nicole Williams

Release Date: April 9, 2017

PreOrder: iBooks

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♦BLURB♦

When he left for a twelve-month deployment, she knew it would feel like forever before they saw each other again. She didn’t realize how right she was.

When Lance Corporal Brecken Connolly gets taken as a POW, Camryn hopes for the best but steels herself for the worst. In the end, steel was what she needed to survive when he didn’t. She moves on the only way she knows how—gilding herself in more steel.

Years go by.

She builds a new life.

She leaves the old one behind.

Until one day, she sees the face of a ghost on the news. Brecken seems to have risen from the dead, but she knows she can’t perform the same miracle for herself. While Brecken was held in a torture camp for the past five years, she’s been trapped in her own kind of prison. One she can’t be freed from.  

The man she mourned comes back to join the living, but the girl he wanted to spend his life with isn’t the same woman he comes back for. Brecken isn’t the same person either. The past five years have changed them both. While he’s determined to put the pieces back together, she’s resolved to let hers rot where they shattered.
Broken or not, Brecken wants her back. He’ll do anything to achieve that. Even if it means going against the warden of Camryn’s personal prison—her husband.

 

♦EXCERPT♦

Today we have the entire first chapter! Read on:

PROLOGUE

Whenever he had to leave, it was torture. You’d think I’d get used to it, but I didn’t—each time got harder. This one might have felt especially brutal because of how long he’d be gone. A year. We’d done weeks, we’d done months, but we’d never done the full year.
​Being with someone in the military, I knew I’d have to get used to it. The separation. The worry. The loneliness. The feeling that I was trying to catch my breath for however long he was gone.
​It was a way of life. And he was my life. So I’d just have to figure it out.
​“I’m never going to look at dog tags the same way again.” Brecken’s mouth turned up as his eyes roamed over me splayed across the backseat as he tucked in his T-shirt. He twisted his wrist, his gaze moving to his watch. A crease folded into his forehead. “But I’m going to need those back before I climb onto that bus. Something about military regulations. Not wandering around enemy territory without them. Those marines are sticklers for the rules.”
​He was trying to make me feel better—trying to get me to smile—but little could lift my spirits other than finding out he didn’t have to leave for the Middle East for twelve long months.
​“You don’t need them. Not really.”
​“Why’s that?”
​“Because you only need them if you’re planning on dying, and so help me god, I’m not taking these off my neck if you have plans for some kind of a hero’s death.” My hand curled almost defensively around the metal tags hanging against my bare skin as I focused on the way the cool metal warmed in my hand. The way it seemed to come to life in my hold.
​“I’m not planning on dying over there. I’m not going to die,” he corrected the moment my eyebrow started to lift. “But I do have plans of scoring some gnarly war wound so I have a story to tell our grandkids one day and can hang one of those Purple Hearts off my chest.”
​I flattened my face as best as I could, even though it was kind of impossible with the way he was grinning at me as he wrestled his jeans back into place. “Not funny.”
​“Come on. It’ll make me look tough.”
​“You already look tough. Too tough,” I added as I scanned him for the millionth time since he’d arrived back in Medford for a week-long vacation before shipping out. Whenever I looked at him, I didn’t just see the good-looking guy others did—I saw every good memory from my past. I saw every good memory that would be formed in the future. Brecken had been a part of my life since I was eight, and he was as much a part of me as I was.
​“Nah, I need one of those big, angry-looking scars running across my chest. Or one of those bullet hole scars on my thigh. Something real tough like that.”
​“And why do you need your dog tags for that?” My fingers tightened around the thin metal ovals, refusing to let them go as if I hoped in doing so, he couldn’t go either.
​“Blood transfusion. Medics are going to need to know my blood type when they’re trying to patch up my unconscious body.”
​“Unconscious body?”
​He nodded all solemn-like. “I can’t be one of those guys who earns his Purple Heart by getting a scratch on some barbed wire. I need to lose a quart or two of blood, maybe even code on the operating table. Something worthy of that medal.”
​The thought of Brecken marching through a hostile country with a rifle in his hands, with god only knew what aimed his way, made me feel weak with worry. The thought of him fighting for his life in some marine medical tent about took whatever was left of my sanity.
​I must not have been doing a good job hiding my emotions, because his face broke when he saw my eyes, his arms opening toward me. “It’s going to be okay, Camryn. I’m going to be okay. We’re going to be okay. The year will fly by, and before we know it, we’ll be getting married and buying a little house as close to the beach as we can afford. Okay?”
His arms wound around me, swallowing my body, and I let him tuck me close to him. I’d never known the feeling of being safe until Brecken Connolly’s arms had shown me the meaning.
​My hand planted in the middle of his chest, feeling his heartbeat vibrate against my palm. “Why can’t we just get married now? Why can’t I join the marines and go with you, wherever that is, so we can be together?”
​His laugh was muffled from his mouth being pressed against my temple. “Well, you can’t join the marines and my unit because the military’s under this impression that us marines of the male species become distracted and one-track minded when the women we love are marching beside us. They’re convinced the only things on our minds are protecting you, flirting with you, or screwing you.”
​Quietly, I counted off on my fingers, “Protecting, flirting, screwing . . .” Then I nodded. “Damn, they sure have you pegged.”
​Brecken’s fingers brushed up and down the bend of my waist. “And we can’t get married right now because you’ve got two more months of high school to finish before you earn that nifty diploma thing.” He kept going, undeterred by my grumble. “And I need to save some money to give you a proper ring and wedding. I’m not doing the courthouse thing with cheap silver bands. Not for you. You deserve the best.”
​My head tucked beneath his chin as I let him hold me in the backseat of his aunt’s old Corsica. The only good thing I could say about the car—which was a coin toss if it would start any given day—was that it had a decent-sized backseat that Brecken and I had made more than ample use of. Growing up in a strict household with my dad as Brecken grew up in the packed household a few houses down, privacy had been in short supply for both of us. Thankfully, his aunt was willing to lend Brecken her car whenever she could, like today, when I’d just made love to the only boy I’d ever loved for the last time for the next year.
My fingers curled into his chest as I willed time to freeze. “I have the best.”
Brecken grunted like he doubted that, his head lifting to check out the windshield. We were parked way back in the bus depot lot. His bus would be leaving for the long drive back to Camp Pendleton in a few short minutes.
“Besides, you already got me a ring.” I raised my left hand in front of him, rolling my fingers so he could see the adjustable birthstone ring on my finger.
He shook his head. “I won that for you at an arcade when we were ten.”
“It cost you twelve hundred tickets too. You saved up all summer to get that many tickets.”
His fingers touched the ring, twisting it around with a small smile on his face. “And it probably has the street value of a nickel. Not exactly the kind of wedding ring I want my wife to have.”
I found myself staring at the ring with him. The gold paint had started chipping off the thin band years ago, but the small pink birthstone still sparkled when the light hit it just right. “Well, it’s priceless to me. I don’t care what the street value is. Or how many tickets it cost.”
“Even so, I’m getting you a nice ring. With all of the hazard pay I’ll earn this year, you’d better start working that left ring finger out so it can bear the weight of the diamond I’ll be dropping on it.”
I was glad he couldn’t see my face, because he hated knowing how worried I was about him. He said hazard pay like a sales rep mentioned a bonus, but I heard it for what it really was—the government giving you a little more money for the likelihood of losing your life increasing.
“One more year. That’s it. Then we’ll be able to be together like we’ve always planned. Away from here.” Brecken’s arms loosened around me. We didn’t have much longer. “Away from these people.”
An uneven exhale came from him, the muscles in his arms twitching. I knew who he was talking about without him going into detail. Neither of our lives had been charmed or particularly easy, but mine had been worse. Being raised by a single dad who was so strict he made a monk’s life seem carefree, I’d had an unusual upbringing. Brecken only knew what I let him know about it, which was barely half of the reality.
“I don’t like leaving you alone with him,” he said, his voice a note lower. “If things get hard again, just leave. Move in with my insane family or a hotel or anywhere. Don’t let him hurt you. Words or fists. He does it again”—Brecken’s hands curled into balls as his back stiffened—“I’ll kill him. I swear I will.”
“He won’t,” I said instantly, in my most convincing voice. “He’s working on all that. Not drinking as much.” I made sure to hold his stare to sell as much conviction as I was capable.
My dad wasn’t just a strict man. He was a sad one, a lonely one. After my mom left, he’d turned into someone else, almost like she’d taken everything that had been good about him and stuffed it in that small suitcase too. Since I was the only one around and bore a striking resemblance to my mom, I’d taken the brunt of my dad’s grief. In the form of cutting words and, occasionally, outstretched palms.
Brecken had been walking down the sidewalk one day when he saw my dad strike me across the cheek for attempting to leave the house in a skirt he described as “fitting for a whore.” Brecken had only been thirteen, but he’d taken my dad down, managing to land a few punches before I could pull him off.
My dad stopped hitting me after that. At least where anyone passing by could see.
Not that I needed to tell Brecken that now. Though I guessed it would get him to stay a while longer . . . if only to be charged with murder and thrown into prison for the next twenty to thirty years.
Suddenly, that year didn’t seem so bad.
“He won’t,” I reiterated, when Brecken continued to give me that penetrating stare, like he was capable of finding a lie if I was hiding one.
Both of his brows lifted. “He better not.”
“If anything happens, I’ll crash at your family’s place, I swear.”
Sitting up, he pulled his wallet out of his back pocket. “With fourteen people sharing twelve hundred square feet of space, good luck finding a quiet spot to do your homework.” He pulled every bill out of his wallet. Even the last crumbled dollar. “Take this, hide it from your dad, and use it if you need to. That’s enough to get you a week or so at a hotel that isn’t a dump, and as soon as I get my next paycheck, I’ll send more.”
My head was shaking as I tried to stuff the money back into his wallet. He’d already closed it and was sliding it back into his pocket though. “I’ll be fine.”
Brecken’s gaze dropped to the money in my hand. “Yeah, I know.”
“Brecken.”
“Camryn,” he mimicked.
“I’m not taking the last dollar in your wallet.”
“Why not?” he asked, making a face. “I’d give you the shirt off my back, the air in my lungs, the last drop of blood in my veins. The last dollar’s a cakewalk compared to, you know, dying of suffocation or bleeding out.” He winked as he folded my fingers around the wad of money in my hand, then he leaned down to pull on his boots. He was moving quickly, glancing in the direction of the buses like he was making sure his wasn’t pulling away from the curb yet.
“Do you want to walk with me to the bus?” His focus stayed on cinching up his last boot as he waited for my answer.
He already knew it though. Good-byes weren’t my forte. Especially not the kind where I had to wave good-bye to the man I loved as he prepared to head into the middle of a war zone for the next year. Good-bye came with a whole different context when you said it to a marine.
“I know, Blue Bird. I know.” He sighed, his eyes narrowing at the weathered floorboards before he reached for the dog tags still hanging around my neck.
I didn’t make any move to lift my head or slide my hair aside to make it easier for him. As long as those tags were on my neck instead of his, he was safe. He was alive.
“I’m not going to die over there,” he whispered, pulling the tags over his head. They clinked together as they fell against his chest. “I’m coming back to you.”
My throat was burning from trying to keep myself from crying. “You can’t promise that.”
He reached for the blanket that had fallen on the floor and gently tucked it around my still-naked body. It was strange how I’d forgotten I was naked until he’d taken his tags off of me. Now though, I felt bare. Exposed. Vulnerable. My dress was somewhere around, even though I didn’t see it. We’d barely managed to make it to the parking lot before falling into the backseat together.
“Yes I can,” he said, his thumb tracing my collarbone before tucking the other corner around my shoulder. “Have I ever broken a promise to you?” He angled himself so he was in front of me, so I was forced to look him in the eyes.
“This is different. You can’t know for sure.”
“I’m going to enjoy watching you eat those words when I’m standing in front of that pretty face in twelve months, Blue Bird.”
I pulled the blanket tighter around me. “You know I don’t like it when you call me that when I’m mad at you.”
“You’re mad? At me?” He blinked. “Why?”
“You know why.” My eyes automatically moved toward the line of buses.
“To set the record straight, it’s the marine corps sending me to Iraq. Not me by personal choice.”
“No, but you made the personal choice to join the marine corps.”
“Yeah, because I didn’t want to spend the next twenty years pumping gas at the Qwik Mart.” His hand curled around the back of the front seat. “We’ve talked about this, Camryn. I’m not cut out for college, and I sure as shit am not going to spend my life working a minimum-wage part-time job and stuck in Medford. The marines is a chance at a real life. A career where I can be promoted and provide for a family and get a chance to kick a little ass every once in a while.” He leaned forward to kiss my forehead. Then my lips. “This is the ticket to that life we’ve been talking about for years. But it comes with a price.” His mouth covered mine again, this time a bit longer. “I’ll be okay. I’ll make it back.”
My eyes closed so I could focus on the taste of him left behind on my mouth. “You’re always the first to charge into anything. You don’t hang back. You don’t like the shadows. You like being the one who cast those shadows.”
When my eyes finally opened, I found his dark blue ones inches away from mine. His light hair, buzzed short so he was all ready for deployment, the few freckles scattered across the bridge of his nose, the way his jaw tightened when he stared at me, those were the things I’d remember when I’d lay awake at night, wondering where he was. If he was safe. If he was thinking about me. As long as I held on to a part of him, he could never really leave me.
“I’m coming home to you,” he said like a solemn vow. “It might be in more than one piece, but I’m coming home to you.”
I tucked his tags inside his shirt. They’d become cold again. “A thousand pieces, I don’t care. Just come home.”
His smile was almost as forced as mine as he leaned in, pulling me into his arms one last time. He held me for a minute, one hand secured around my neck, the other around my back, rocking me against him. Then he kissed me one last time. “Gotta go, Blue Bird. The Middle East isn’t going to settle itself down.”
As he threw open the back door to go around to the trunk to grab his bag, I leaned across the seat. He was leaving. For what felt like forever. “Yeah, don’t think you’re single-handedly responsible for tackling that agenda either.”
Throwing the bag over his shoulder, he crouched beside me. This smile wasn’t contrived. It was real. Perfect. “I’ll see you soon.”
“Soon?”
His hand formed around my cheek as his thumb traced the seam of my lips. “Sounds better than see you in a year, right?” Tucking his thumb into his mouth, tasting my lips on it, he gave me a wicked smirk before shoving to a stand and starting toward the buses. “I’m coming back for you, Camryn Blue Gardner, so you’d better be waiting for me, or I’ll just have to come find you and remind you why you fell crazy in love with me.”
Tucking the blanket around myself, I slid out of the car, leaning over the open door. “I’m not going anywhere. I’ll be waiting.”
He’d started to jog backward. “Waiting as in a few days until some other guy makes his play?”
My eyes rolled as I gave him a look. Brecken and I’d been together since I was fifteen and he was seventeen. Even before that, we’d been inseparable, no one able to come between us.
I cupped my hand around my mouth. “Waiting as in forever.”
“I won’t keep you waiting that long. Just long enough.” He was shouting now, the rumbling buses muffling his voice.
“Long enough for what?” I yelled back.
Even with this much distance between us, I didn’t miss it. The look in his eyes. The tip of his smile. “For you to agree to marry me the moment I get back.”
The breeze played with my hair, sending it away from him, like forces out of our control were already pulling us apart. “I will!”
He paused just below the bus steps, his eyes consuming me from a hundred yards away. “It’s, I do, Blue Bird. I do.” He grinned and handed his bag off to the person stuffing them into one of the outside compartments. Then his hands cupped around his mouth, and he dropped his head back. “I do, too!”
His voice echoed across the parking lot, earning the attention of more than just me.
That was it. He climbed the stairs, turned the corner, and disappeared inside the bus. I wouldn’t see him for a year. I might not see him ever . . .
My jaw tensed as I put a stop to that train of thought. Wedding vows and rings were the last things on my mind as his bus lurched away from the curb.
“Just come back to me,” I whispered to no one. “Just come back.”

 

♦ABOUT THE AUTHOR♦

Nicole Williams is the New York Times and USATODAY bestselling author of contemporary and young adult romance, including the Crash and Lost & Found series. Her books have been published by HarperTeen and Simon & Schuster in both domestic and foreign markets, while she continues to self-publish additional titles. She is working on a new YA series with Crown Books (a division of Random House) as well. She loves romance, from the sweet to the steamy, and writes stories about characters in search of their happily even after. She grew up surrounded by books and plans on writing until the day she dies, even if it’s just for her own personal enjoyment. She still buys paperbacks because she’s all nostalgic like that, but her kindle never goes neglected for too long. When not writing, she spends her time with her husband and daughter, and whatever time’s left over she’s forced to fit too many hobbies into too little time.

Nicole is represented by Jane Dystel, of Dystel and Goderich Literary Agency.

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OUT IN PAPERBACK & NEW COVER: Three Wishes by Kristen Ashley

I adore this new cover! Three Wishes is now available in paperback for the first time! This heartwarming and epic love story from New York Times bestselling author, Kristen Ashley, returns with an amazing new cover! And that’s not all! It is also being re-released in eBook (for $2.99) form with beautiful, new formatting! So make a wish, grab your copy, and prepare to fall in love all over again!

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Purchase:  Kindle | Amazon PaperbackB&N | GooglePlay | iBooks | Kobo

♦BLURB♦

When Lily Jacobs was born, she inherited Fazire – a genie. Her family had three wishes and they’d only ever used one so Fazire was stuck in the human world. This worked since he’d become a member of the family anyway.

Even with a genie, Lily’s young life wasn’t perfect. To escape the kids making her miserable at school, Lily buried herself in romance novels. One day, when the teasing was just too much, she used one of her wishes. She told Fazire she wanted to find a man like in her books and she made the most complicated wish Fazire had ever heard. Her wished-for man had to be impossibly handsome, virile, fierce, rugged and ruthless (amongst a dozen other things).

He also had to think she was beautiful and he had to love her more than anything in the world.

Nathaniel McAllister wasn’t born to a life where there were such things as genies granting wishes. His life was filled with drugs, crime and neglect. He was running errands for a gangster before he was in his teens and, even though life and hard work led him to wealth and respectability, he always knew, deep down, he was dirty. When Nate met Lily he knew he was no good for her but as virile, fierce, rugged and ruthless as he was, Nate was no match for the pull of sweet, innocent Lily.

Unfortunately, Lily’s wish included that she and her hero go through trials and tribulations to test their love. And Fazire wasn’t only a good genie, he loved Lily – so he gave her exactly what she wanted.

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♦EXCERPT♦

Nate didn’t know what he wanted but whatever it was, it certainly was not Georgia.

He was saved from answering Victor when he spied a youth wearing a gray hooded sweatshirt, the hood worn up even though it was a warm day. The boy was slouching down the pavement, head bowed, hands in the front pocket of the sweatshirt, his head swinging this way and that, looking for his mark.

Nate’s guard, already on alert—always on alert—went into overdrive.

Nate’s eyes narrowed as he watched the youth, and Victor started to get into the Rolls. Then, as expected, the boy darted toward his target and Nate heard a woman’s outraged cry.

“Hey!” she yelled.

He watched the boy snatch the woman’s purse, his body tensing for action.

And then his eyes moved to the woman and uncharacteristically, he froze.

“Hey! He stole my purse! Stop him! He stole my purse!” she shouted.

Nate vaguely registered she was an American tourist. Nate also absently noticed that no one moved to assist.

In that brief moment in time, Nate was too busy drinking in the vision that was her, he himself didn’t move a muscle.

She was tall, incredibly tall.

And curvy, delectably curvy.

She had the most unusual colored hair. Hair that he knew from vast experience living in a house with Laura and Danielle for years came through a supremely talented and expensive stylist’s hands.

And she had an exquisite face, flawless skin and a bearing that was extraordinary. She had been given a wide berth around her even on the crowded pavement. Not because she was screaming her head off but instead because she was majestic, radiant, elegant…

Untouchable.

In a stupor from simply looking at her, the boy with her purse charged right by Nate.

Not in a stupor, she realized no one was going to help her, gave up screaming and charged right after the boy.

At the noise, Victor turned away from the car and Nate shifted to watch in astonishment as she deftly and agilely dodged the crowd, her long legs a match for the short boy. Then Nate watched in stunned surprise as she jumped onto the thief’s back with a graceful leap.

Everyone stared in shock but no one lifted a finger except a few started to take photographs.

“Give me back my purse, you thug!” she shouted.

Wrapping her long legs around her prey, one arm around his neck, she slapped him around the head with the other hand.

The thief staggered back then he staggered with intent and slammed her against the side of the building. Her head snapped back and cracked against the stone so loudly Nate could hear it from where he stood twenty paces away.

At the sound Nate jerked out of his stupor and forged forward.

 

♦ABOUT THE AUTHOR♦

KristenAshley

I was born a middle class white child in Gary, Indiana, USA. One of the last of a dying breed. I nearly killed my mother and myself making it into the world, seeing as I had the umbilical cord wrapped around my neck (already attempting to accessorize and I hadn’t taken my first breath!). Mom says they took me away, put her back in her room, she looked out the window, and Gary was on fire (Dr. King had been assassinated four days before). She remembered thinking it was the end of the world. Quite the dramatic beginning.

Nothing’s changed.

All I’ve ever wanted to do was write (well, and be the Queen of the World, but you gotta start small) and I’ve published a gazillion books and counting (and a gazillion is a lot! shoo!).You can learn about my titles that have been released or that are soon to be released in the Titles section of the website.

Even though I jump genres, there is always a theme to my books…humor (hopefully), engaging characters (again, hopefully) and romance (definitely).

My loves are movies, music, food and fashion and I partake of all of them as often as I can (the middle two more than the others, the former, which takes time I don’t often have and the latter, which takes money I rarely have). In fact, I love food so much, I like to share my good fortune so I put my recipes on offer for you on this page (see top menu and don’t miss them, they’re awesome!).

I grew up in Brownsburg, Indiana and have lived in Denver, Colorado and the West Country of England. Thus I’m blessed to have friends and family around the globe. My family was (is) loopy (to say the least) but loopy is good when you want to write and growing up it was large and multi-generational. We all lived together on a very small farm in a small farm town in the heartland. I grew up with Glenn Miller, The Everly Brothers, REO Speedwagon and Whitesnake (and the wardrobes that matched). Needless to say, growing up in a house full of music, clothes and love was a good way to grow up.

And as I keep growing up, it keeps getting better.

So here I am, thank goodness.

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