Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Excerpt & Giveaway for Painting Sky by Rita Branches


Publication date: April 25th 2016
Genres: New Adult, Romance

Nobody ever said life was easy…
People pleaser, Jane Skylar wants nothing more than to earn her art degree, start her life, and bask in the bliss of living with her boyfriend.
But things don’t always go as planned…
Struggling with her creative side, Jane finds herself in turmoil, often confiding in her roommate – another, more talented art student, Keith Hale. Keith just so happens to be her boyfriend’s older, brooding brother. After a devastating breakup, Jane turns to Keith for comfort. But when the lines blur between roommate and lover, Jane’s life becomes more complicated than ever before.
When Keith’s past comes back to haunt him, their lives all get turned upside down, forcing the truth to surface. Now Jane must fight for what she wants–even if it hurts everyone she loves.

When I pulled the door open, the last person I wanted to see was sitting on a stool, sipping his morning coffee. He didn’t acknowledge me.
I poured some coffee in a random mug, since Keith was using my favorite one, and tried to reach the last package of cookies on the top shelf. I really didn’t want to use the stool in front of Keith.
What was the least humiliating decision? Trying to reach it by jumping on the counter or getting the stupid stool? I almost decided on just eating something at school when a throat being cleared sounded just behind me. I knew that, if I turned around, he would be invading my personal space. I had no intention of letting him ruin my birthday, so I stayed put with my arms crossed over my chest.
“Were you deciding between the cookies, the canned peas, or the rice? Because I can help with either one of them, just not sure which one you get in the morning.” Keith snickered. I could smell him, and the fact that such a pleasant smell could come from such an unpleasant person puzzled me.
I had the strong urge to turn and flip him the finger. I had never done that in my life, but could now understand why people did it. Instead, I turned slowly, thinking about how to have the upper hand this time.
I was right about the personal space: I leaned back and rested my hands behind me on the counter. He was standing so close to me that I had to look up to see his eyes. For a second, I saw the indecision there, as if he knew he should step back.
I had to think of a witty response fast, but then I noticed he had shaved— that was where the amazing smell was coming from. He had a small cut on his throat.
Keith wasn’t smirking now; he was genuinely waiting for me to do something. I wished I could read his thoughts so I could do the exact opposite of what he was hoping for.
I quickly took the wish back. It was my birthday, after all, and we never did know when a wish would be granted. This was one I really didn’t want to come true. Hearing his words hurt enough without having to hear his thoughts, as well.
“Next time you shave, try standing an inch or two closer to the blade,” I whispered, leaning closer to his shoulder.
I was so pleased with my joke that I pondered going upstairs and writing it down. I smiled triumphantly at my quick response and did a little happy dance inside.
“Did you have to think on that one this whole time, or were you just checking me out?”
My smile faltered and then completely disappeared. That had been a good one. Okay, I must have thought about it a little longer than I realized. Maybe I had been kind of checking him out—not in a “you’re so hot” way, but more of a “if you could just be a statue and never speak or move, I would thank the powers that be” way.
I stuck my chin out to try to appear taller. “That was a good one and you know it.” I crossed my arms again and brushed against his chest in the process.



Rita Branches is an independent YA (young adult) author who enjoys spending every free moment (when she´s not reading) writing emotional stories. Visit: http://ritabranches.wordpress.com/




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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Happy Release Day to THE ROSE & THE DAGGER by Renée Ahdieh


I am so excited that THE ROSE & THE DAGGER by Renée Ahdieh releases today and that I get to share the news, along with an awesome giveaway!

If you haven’t yet heard about this wonderful book by Author Renée Ahdieh, be sure to check out all the details below.

This blitz also includes a giveaway for a paperback of THE WRATH & THE DAWN and a hardcover of THE ROSE & THE DAGGER and an awesome candle from The Melting Library’s Etsy Store, US Only!  So if you’d like a chance to win, enter in the Rafflecopter at the bottom of this post.


Release Date: April 26, 2016
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
Pages: 432
Formats: Hardcover, eBook, & audiobook
Find it: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | iBooks

The much anticipated sequel to the breathtaking The Wrath and the Dawn, lauded by Publishers Weekly as "a potent page-turner of intrigue and romance."

I am surrounded on all sides by a desert. A guest, in a prison of sand and sun. My family is here. And I do not know whom I can trust.


In a land on the brink of war, Shahrzad has been torn from the love of her husband Khalid, the Caliph of Khorasan. She once believed him a monster, but his secrets revealed a man tormented by guilt and a powerful curse—one that might keep them apart forever. Reunited with her family, who have taken refuge with enemies of Khalid, and Tariq, her childhood sweetheart, she should be happy. But Tariq now commands forces set on destroying Khalid's empire. Shahrzad is almost a prisoner caught between loyalties to people she loves. But she refuses to be a pawn and devises a plan.



While her father, Jahandar, continues to play with magical forces he doesn't yet understand, Shahrzad tries to uncover powers that may lie dormant within her. With the help of a tattered old carpet and a tempestuous but sage young man, Shahrzad will attempt to break the curse and reunite with her one true love.


Praise for The Rose and the Dagger:

“Above all there is the shattering, triumphant catharsis of love… In a story about stories, love is ‘the power to speak without words.’ Thrillingly full of feeling.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Fiery romance, a spirited heroine, shifting loyalties… With more than a few heartrending twists and turns.”—Booklist 






IN THE SERIES
IN CURAND IN ROMANIA, LA EDITURA EPICA!

Renée lives in North Carolina (Go Heels!) with her husband Victor and their dog Mushu. Her YA fantasy novel, THE WRATH AND THE DAWN, will be published on May 12th, 2015. In her spare time, she likes to cook, dance salsa, and wreak havoc on the lives of her characters.

She’s also a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, as well as an active member of theScience Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America.



1 winner will receive a paperback of THE WRATH & THE DAWN, a hardcover of THE ROSE & THE DAGGER, and a His Calipha candle from The Melting Library’s Etsy Store, US Only.


Ends on May 3rd at Midnight EST!


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Excerpt & Giveaway for Hope (Indigo Ballet Series, #2) by Grier Cooper

Publication date: April 26th 2016
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult

Indigo is living the life she’s always imagined at the famed New York School of Ballet. Or is she? Although she hopes she’ll be chosen for the company, her ballet teachers aren’t talking and their silence is confusing.

When Indigo is singled out for a coveted solo she feels her dreams are finally within reach, until she finds out she’s dancing with Felipe Gonzalez, the school’s smolderingly hot rising star. In the days that follow, Indigo questions everything she thought was true and finds herself making surprising choices.

After a fateful piece of paper reveals the truth, Indigo must ask herself the hardest question of all: can she take control of her own future to create the life she wants?

IN THE SERIES

Maggie plunks her bag down, grabbing the spot next to me. “Ten minutes ‘til the fun begins,” she says. She glances around furtively before adding, “Who knows what torture she’ll dish out today. But inquiring minds want to know: will she reach new levels of cattiness or will we be left sorely disappointed?” She grins wickedly as she finishes tying a ribbon on her pointe shoe.

Neither of us fares well when Alexa Damore teaches class. She’s known for her snide comments and keen ability to pick people apart. “I’ll take disappointment over outright humiliation any day,” I counter. “But who knows. Maybe one of these days she’ll be miraculously transformed.”

Maggie arches an eyebrow. “What?” I continue. “It’s not too much to hope for–a little prayer can’t hurt. Pray with me. ” I fold my hands together and duck my head down. Maggie smacks me.I stick my tongue out at her while I finish tying my shoes. I refuse to climb on the negativity train with her. It’s never a good way to start class.

The door to the studio glides open and a sudden hush sweeps through the room, as if the oxygen has been sucked away. Alexa Damore has arrived–but she’s wearing street clothes–and she’s not alone.

Benjamin Stafford, Artistic Director of Manhattan Ballet Theater, also known as the man who holds our future in his hands, stands in the center of the room. From where I stand, the ambient light behind him illuminates the outline of his body, as if he’s a living embodiment of a god. Then again, he is a god in the world of ballet. The silence is deafening as he slowly rotates around, gazing at each of us in turn. He flashes a brilliant smile and it’s all I can barely look at him. He’s even larger in life than he is onstage with broad shoulders, chiseled features, dark, tousled hair, and blazing blue eyes. On any given day he’s something to look at, but the glowing outline thing further illustrates the glaring difference between him and everyone else in the room.

His eyes fall on me and my heart flutters in my ribcage. I immediately stand a little bit taller and suck in my gut. My breath gets shallower and tighter. I close my eyes and force myself to breath normally. Passing out in class is not the way I want to make an impression.

I may not survive this class.



Grier began ballet lessons at age five and left home at fourteen to study at the School of American Ballet in New York. She has performed on three out of seven continents with companies such as San Francisco Ballet, Miami City Ballet, and Pacific Northwest Ballet, totaling more than thirty years of experience as a dancer, teacher and performer.

Her work has been praised as “poignant and honest” with “emotional hooks that penetrate deeply.” She writes and blogs about dance in the San Francisco Bay Area and has interviewed and photographed a diverse collection dancers and performers including Clive Owen, Nicole Kidman, Glen Allen Sims and Jessica Sutta. She is the author of Build a Ballerina Body and The Daily Book of Photography.



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Happy Release Day to After We Fall (Take the Fall #3) by Marquita Valentine

Genre: New Adult Contemporary Romance
Release Date: April 26, 2016
AMAZON US / UK / B&N / KOBO / iBOOKS / GOOGLE PLAY / BAM

After winning raves for Take the Fall (“crackling with tension, intrigue, and romance”—Katy Evans) and When We Fall (“sexy, emotional, heartfelt”—Monica Murphy), Marquita Valentine ratchets up the tension as new beginnings lead to undeniable passion.

A tough cop with an even tougher past, Hunter Sloan has never let anyone stop him from getting what he wants—and he wants Evangeline Ambrose bad. With her gentle curves and raw vulnerability, Hunter’s beautiful, mysterious new neighbor awakens his protective side. Determined to do right by a woman who’s gone through hell and back, Hunter could be the one to take away the pain—so long as his own secrets don’t sink their relationship before it begins.

Having escaped an abusive marriage, Evangeline simply wants to start over in the small, quiet town of Forrestville. She’s also avoiding all contact with the opposite sex, because she just can’t trust her instincts when it comes to men—not even with the sinfully sexy cop next door. So why can’t she stop thinking about him? Hunter has darkness in his soul, and yet no one ever made her feel so safe. For all her best laid plans, Evangeline didn’t count on choices this hard—or temptation this hot.


IN THE SERIES
WHEN WE FALL
AMAZON US / UK / B&N / KOBO / iBOOKS / GOOGLE PLAY / BOOKS A MILLION
TAKE THE FALL
AMAZON US / UK / B&N / KOBO / iBOOKS / GOOGLE PLAY / BOOKS A MILLION

PRE-ORDER
HARD TO FALL
AMAZON US / UK / B&N / KOBO / iBOOKS / GOOGLE PLAY / BOOKS A MILLION


Marquita Valentine is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Take the Fall, Holland Springs, and Boys of the South series, having sold more than a quarter of a million books around the world. She’s been called “one of the best new voices in romance” (Guilty Pleasures Book Reviews) and her books have been praised as “sexy, fun, and slightly addicting” (The Book Queen). When she’s not writing sexy heroes who adore their sassy heroines, she enjoys shopping, reading, and spending time with her family and friends. Married to her high-school sweetheart, Marquita Valentine lives in a seriously small town in the south with her husband, two kids, and a dog.







Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Book Tour: Excerpt and Giveaway for The One That Got Away (The Kingston Ale House, #1) by AJ Pine

Publication Date: April 18, 2016
Genres: Adult, Contemporary Romance, Entangled Select Contemporary
  Amazon | Print | Amazon CA | Amazon UK | B&N | Kobo | iTunes

 How far will one man go for the woman he’s loved since high school?

Jamie Kingston has been Brynn Chandler’s best friend since middle school. Only once was their friendship tested—when Brynn gave Jamie a single kiss. Since then, they’ve had an unspoken agreement never to cross that line again, and she’s ready to let go of the past and move on.

But Jamie has loved Brynn for as long as he can remember, and nowthat he’s ready to tell her, she has her sights set on someone else. Knowing this is his last chance, he asks Brynn to go on a two-week road trip. But their time alone brings old hurts to the surface, and Brynn has to decide if the one that got away lies at the end of thejourney or if he’s been by her side all along.



She touched him, gently this time, a hand on his chest. And though his shirt was damp and cold, heat radiated from her palm and through his veins. How had he ever thought hecould be okay with just her friendship? And what would he do now if he lost it? He’d lose her forever.

Right now, though, in this room and with the magic that was Amarillo and tequila and lucky bouquets, she was his.

“Maybe you should kiss it and make it better.” He touched his chin again, and his fingers came away clean.

Brynn mirrored his action, but her skin was like satin compared to his own rough touch. And the heat, again he felt it from the pit of his stomach to the nerve endings in his fingers and toes. He felt everything when she touched him, and when her lips took the place of her hand, all reason wentout the window. 

“Like this?” she asked, her voice breathy and sweet and like nothing he’d ever heard from any other woman.

His eyes fluttered shut. “Yes.”

“And this?”

He opened his eyes to watch as, standing on her toes, she peppered his neck with kisses.

“Mmmm-hmmm.”

He raked his fingers into her hair, and she looked up at him.

“You know we’re going to see each other naked, right?”

Jamie barked out a laugh.

“It’s kind of what I hoped.”

“What if you laugh?” she asked.

“I won’t laugh.”

“What if I laugh?” she asked, her cheeks growing pink, and shit she was adorable when she was nervous. He took off his shirt, and Brynn sucked in a sharp breath. 

They’d seen each other at the beach. This wasn’t anything new. And yet it was miles away from the boundaries offriendship.

“You’re not laughing,” he said, and she shook her head.

He liked seeing her speechless. He liked being the one to make her speechless. 

“Now you,” he told her, his voice gentle as he tried to ease them both into the unknown.

Her fingers fidgeted with the top button of her shirt, but she couldn’t quite get it open. Jamie’s hands covered hers, steadied them, and they undid the buttons together. 

She let the open garment fall from her shoulders, and there she stood, the cream lace of her bra against the flushed pink of her otherwise pale skin.

Jamie wasn’t laughing, either. In fact, he had to remind himself to breathe so he had enough oxygen to formulate any sound at all, because her hands moved to the front clasp of her bra, and yep. He still wasn’t breathing.

“What?” she asked, pausing to look at him.

He pulled her hands down to her sides before she completed her task.

“You don’t want me to…” she started, but he shook his head.

“Seventeen-year-old me is out of his mind with how long he’s wanted to touch you like this. He needs a second to collect himself.”


AJ Pine writes stories to break readers’ hearts, but don’t worry—she’ll mend them with a happily ever after. As an English teacher and a librarian, AJ has always surrounded herself with books. All her favorites have one big commonality–romance. Naturally, her books have the same. When she’s not writing, she’s of course reading. Then there’s online shopping (everything from groceries to shoes) and, of course, a tiny bit of TV where she nourishes her undying love of vampires and superheroes. And in the midst of all of this, you’ll also find her hanging with her family in the Chicago burbs.





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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Book Promo for Black Jack (The Ace of Hearts #2) by Mikki Kells!


Black Jack (The Ace of Hearts #2)
by Mikki Kells
Genre: YA Paranormal
Release Date: November 20th 2015

Summary from Goodreads:
Melanie S’velare is a survivor, the strongest witch in her coven, and a princess. With the key to her magic, the Ace of Hearts, presumably destroyed, her powers continue to grow. As her power increases, her control on them becomes weaker until it is clear she may be the most powerful witch on the planet and the most dangerous. The Alaman, another coven, concerned by her strength, send an ambassador to gauge her control, stability, and how dangerous she truly is. The Alaman are well known for killing witches who pose a threat to their own powerful hold over the globe and if they see fit to end her life, she will have no choice but to fight. 

With her soulmate by her side and the remains of her Vanguard, Melanie strives to maneuver a maze of political scandals designed to make her falter. If she fails, she will not only lose her throne to the traitorous Lord Rossi, but also her life to the fiery Alaman. 

Melanie can only pray her secret that the Ace of Hearts is alive and manipulating them all in a final deadly game is never revealed.



Book One
 (click on image for Goodreads link):


Black Jack is on sale for $0.99!

Buy Links: AmazonBarnes & NobleKobo




Mikki Kells is both a writer and a rider. She spends her nights crafting fantastical stories and her afternoons bowing to the demands of her beloved horse. Her interests in fantasy and paranormal subjects developed from a childhood of imaginary exploits and continue to influence her professional career. She resides in central Utah.




CHAPTER ONE


If there was one thing Melanie S'velare was sure of, it was that her soul was in jeopardy because she was a witch. Not because she'd made a demonic deal, but because she suspected her powers might be stronger than she was. She was afraid that one day, the lightning and thunder churning inside her would rip through her 
control, leaving her soul and body open to the Ace of Hearts, like an unlocked door to a burglar.
The Ace of Hearts, if it was still alive, would kill for that chance.
"Princess, are you listening?" Mrs. Elyse Clovis Bouchard asked. Melanie's tutor in political arts, Mrs. Bouchard was of average height, average weight, and fish mouthed, which sent the whole picture of the woman off kilter. When she spoke, spit flew across the library in direct proportion to how much enthusiasm she had for the subject. She was currently attempting to teach Melanie the finer arts of political maneuvering that led to the rise of the Ottoman Empire, known not only for its wealth, but in the secret world that Melanie occupied, for its elemental power over huge swaths of civilization. Mrs. Bouchard's spit had spattered on Melanie's notebook paper in three fat drops.
"Yes," Melanie said, looking up from the spittle wrinkling the paper. She was in a class of one, no longer able to attend public school because of the unusual things that tended to happen when she was in any sort of mood that wasn't perfect relaxation. That, and she'd destroyed an entire classroom and traumatized several students three months previously when an azri had attacked her, tried to eat her soul and take the Ace of Hearts, her reliquary of power, from her. Also, Melanie was a huge insurance liability because she tended to start electrical fires every twenty-eight days or so when her emotions took a turn into the depressive and destructive, in a three day hormonal sprint.
"Have you some other place to be?"
Melanie pushed herself straight in her chair and rapidly blinked her eyes, trying in vain to force herself awake. "No," Melanie said. "I'm just having a hard time staying awake."
"Do I bore you, Princess?" Mrs. Bouchard looked down her nose over those fish lips at her.
Melanie swallowed. She needed to know these things. She needed this strategy if she was ever to be a good leader for her people. There were other covens out there in the world, and the political interactions in the magical community made the mortal world's politics seem like commercials for cupcakes. "No, I need to learn this. Please, keep going."
"Perhaps we will take an extended lunch today. Let's meet back here in an hour."
Melanie sighed and nodded. She needed to get out of the dreary library. She gathered her bag and put her books inside, thinking that she would study over lunch. At the bottom of the bag, a bottle of unused pills rattled. The prescription anti-anxiety meds messed with her ability to keep control of her magic, so she'd stopped taking them weeks ago. She still couldn't control the flood of panic every time she thought a shadow was the noir reaching out to corrupt her.
Melanie wouldn't be attending a public school again, not until college. She was far too dangerous. One stray argument with pretty much anyone, and in seconds there could be an electrical storm of biblical proportions terrorizing all the teenagers at her high school, setting off fire alarms, with follow-up videos posted to the internet. The damnable internet.
A video of Melanie, in the grips of the Ace of Hearts's consciousness, while she and her Vanguard tried to destroy it, had surfaced online. She couldn't afford to be recognized by anyone as the girl in that video. There would be far too many questions, and it would endanger the coven. The last thing anyone wanted was a conflict with the mortal humans. Melanie had also learned that there were strict international laws about magic and its use in public. The kind of laws that, when broken, resulted in death, dismemberment, or worse.
According to several of her mother's advisors, Lord Rossi's mustache among them, she wasn't fit for public interaction because the risk that she would break one of those international laws of magic. One fuzzy video of a girl with auburn hair spewing lightning from her hands at a man who looked like a teacher, and she was banned from public appearances beyond the rare outing to lunch. Not the glamorous, paparazzi-filled life of the crown princess.
It was a good thing she wasn't in public very often. Her control on her magic was still weak. She could snap at any second and voila! Twenty thousand volts of raw witch anger, depression, or just downright irritation could electrocute the nearest bystander. She could probably solve the world's energy crisis if someone hooked her to a set of jumper cables and a battery array. Until she got control of her powers, she was on a strict "no use" ruling from her mother.
"Rough lesson?" Jack, her friend and a member of her Vanguard, asked as he caught up to her. He'd been reading in an overlarge chair near the door. He was her guard today. He and his twin sister, Luciana, attended public school, with him taking classes Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, and Luciana attending Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.
Melanie sighed dramatically and hiked her bag higher on her shoulder. "Do the words 'ce n'est pas terrible' cover it?"
Jack didn't laugh. It wasn't that funny. With his six-foot-two frame, his shoulders broad enough to make any body builder salivate, Jack walked with both a natural swagger and like a man about to crack skulls. He kept pace at her side and considered. When Jack considered, he took his time about it.
"Want to get out of here for lunch?" he finally asked, his impossibly deep voice rumbling in his chest.
"I need to study," Melanie said. "I need to know this stuff if—"
"Hey," he said. "You're going to break something if you keep that up. Relax. Let's just find a place to eat. Someplace you like, that you won't accidentally burn down." From their mind-to-mind connection, Melanie felt a flicker of emotion from Jack: a dash of comfort, some humor, a hefty helping of happiness, and the relaxed satisfaction of belonging. There was only one place that filled that order: the Tattered Ear, where the local pack of Scottish-bred shape shifters met. It was also where Ignatius Bruce, the pack's alpha, and Melanie's soul mate, worked during the day.
It didn't take much prodding to get her to agree. "We'll have to sneak out," she said. 
"Let's go then," Jack said. His huskiness intimidated the shape shifters enough that Melanie soon learned if any of her Vanguard would be accepted into the pack's circle, it would be Jack. Also Ignatius co-owned the local pub with his uncle, Fergusson. "Sneak out the back?"
"My thoughts, exactly," she said. Besides, it was finally warm enough to go outside without a parka, so walking wouldn't be miserable.
"Keep a lid on the weather," he said. "It's a dead giveaway whenever you are up to something."
Melanie felt her smile slip. "Right," she said.
"Mel," Jack said, stopping, "I'm sorry." He ran a hand through his short brown hair. "I didn't mean it like that."
The problem with having a Vanguard who was blood bound to her is that they could sense her emotions and her thoughts through touch. Any one of them could pinpoint her exact location as long as they were within a ten-mile radius of each other. So when her depression hit her like a two-ton brick, he felt the shockwave. Likewise, his remorse filtered through the bond, and the combination was a power-punch of teenage angst, regret, and mutual suffering, that neither of them wanted or needed more of.
"Don't worry about it," she said, forcing her thoughts away from the one thing she couldn't think of, the one thing she kept a secret from everyone. The one thing that terrified her as much as her out of control abilities did. "Let's just go."
Jack nodded and waited for her to go first, still feeling as sorry as a kicked puppy. Which made it worse, because Jack was like a puppy. He just loved everyone. When he was sad, it was like a double shot of negativity in her brew of already-hard-to-swallow latte called life.
The Manor was huge. Castle huge. It was also decorated with expensive furnishings that were the remains of Melanie's family history. Her ancestors were mostly Italian, and the frescoes and tapestries were of spreading fields of olives and grapes and European landscapes. It was all very idyllic, very much a lie compared to the truth about the S'velare's.
Under normal circumstances they would shift out, using their magical abilities to travel through the space. Lately, Melanie's magic had become a liability rather than a boon when jumping from place to place. It was safer to walk. The last time she'd made the attempt with another person, it had been in the depths of February, soon after Valentine's Day, and she and Luciana had ended up waist-deep in a frozen pond, halfway to their destination. An emergency trip to the witch doctor had saved them both from hypothermia. Still, Melanie hadn't tried to shift since. She didn't trust her control not to accidentally drop her and Jack over a cliff, or worse, inside it.
"Let's go out the back this time. I'll throw you over the wall or something."
Melanie had to smile at the joke. She sensed his humor in her mind, and it helped.
Her smile vanished when they rounded the corner and her black-eyed brother, Owen, stood in the exact middle of the corridor, waiting for them.        
Jack placed a protective hand on her shoulder, ready to draw her behind him. She could feel his pulse through the contact, his shock and the sudden instinctive fear that matched her own.
Owen's eyes were black as pitch, like an azri's, but he wasn't one. He was still a mage, but he no longer had a soul. He'd been totally exposed to the raw darkness of the noir, black magic. What looked out through his eyes was neither human nor azri, but something in-between. Melanie felt stripped down to her soul when he turned that black gaze on her, as if he could see every secret she was keeping from the coven, her Vanguard, and her boyfriend. Worse still, Owen's soullessness was her fault.
She swallowed.
"Someone is looking for you," he said, tonelessly. "To give you a message. Listen carefully to what he has to say. It will be very important."
"Who is looking for me?" Melanie asked.
Owen frowned. "I don't know. I just know that someone is looking for you. I will cover your escape." Then a slight tug of power filled the air and her brother vanished, shifting as if it were child's play. He was only thirteen and such abilities should have been beyond him, or at least more difficult. But without a soul, Owen was thirteen going on infinity.
A cold sweat broke out over Melanie's body.
Let’s agree to not think about it, Melanie thought to Jack.
He nodded, his brown eyes still wide. I'm going to have nightmares tonight. I wish he wouldn't do that.
Melanie didn't respond. She always had nightmares. Ever since the Ace of Hearts had come into her life, night was rife with terror of the thing she couldn't let her waking self think about. No one could know.
The guards posted in the early spring garden were absent. Jack gave Melanie a leg up near the back wall closest to the dark forest of silver aspens and spruce spires before he pulled himself over and joined her on the other side.            
Melanie took a deep breath of the free air. When she first arrived in Park City, Utah, she had hated it. At the time it had been under several feet of snow. Now, a cool wind caused the trees to sway gently, and the spring shoots poking through the waves of gray dead grass from last season, rustled under foot. Park City was beautiful, and possessed a wildness all to itself that conjured images of plaid button-downs and leather boots. Everything smelled perfect, no hint of city pollution for miles in any direction. The trees and mountains parting its streets dispelled any urban feel and replaced it with artsy communities of athletic outdoorsmen. Park City itself was an elementally charged place. Even without the magical inhabitants, it was a magical place tucked away from the rest of the world.
The walk into downtown wasn't long. Soon the sounds of main street were close, the rumble of cars and conversation of people interweaved with nature's rhythms.
Jack, his hands in his pockets, sighed. "I love this town, but you know, sometimes I just wish we could leave."
Melanie smiled at him. She didn't have to say that she did too.
How many times had she wondered that? The shape shifters could do it. In fact, Ignatius, Nate for short, had done it several times when he needed a break. She'd never seen him leave before; he was always where she could find him, or finding her when she wasn't looking for him. But she knew he had escaped into the wilderness more than once. At night, when he wasn't allowed in the ManorManor, he would sit at the edge of the trees and watch over her until the moon rose high and heavy among the stars. Those were the nights when she slept until morning. For him, it wasn't anything to melt into the trees and disappear from a world that was happy to forget about him.
Perhaps that was the problem. The world was not ready to forget about Melanie S'velare, Keeper of the Ace of Hearts, heir to the S'velare throne, the strongest witch ever to live.
"I think you'd end up living in a rockslide or something," Melanie said as they stepped from the forest onto concrete sidewalk.
"Probably," he said. "But that would be pretty cool. I bet I could." Jack's reliquary was the King of Spades, meaning he was a mage gifted with power over earth. Luciana's reliquary was the Queen of Spades and she also had power over earth, but over plants instead. Together they were a badass team of nearly unstoppable power.
Melanie smiled and adjusted the bag on her shoulder. It was a warm day, the Utah sun already beating down, promising a dry and brutal summer ahead. She shielded her eyes and looked up toward the tallest buildings, the two and three story historic constructs comprising main street, a mass of artistry, talent, good food, and outrageous resort pricing. The ski lifts were still active in April due to the unusual snowfall this year. Snowboarders and skiers carried their equipment in bikini's and swim trunks. Here, the beach wasn't a sandy stretch, it was where the snow met the street. Lawn chairs were set out and people were sunbathing. 
This year the resorts were doing well. Melanie's nightmares messed with her emotions enough that, for several weeks, nightly blizzards had coated the resort town in some of the best powder Utah had experienced in years. The result was a longer season and a boosted economy. So while she was damn good at destroying buildings with accidental tornadoes, many members of the coven had complimented her on the increased income her instability had brought them. Lord Rossi and her mother were decidedly not pleased by this.
"What are you looking at?" Jack asked, leaning down next to her and squinting in the direction she was looking.
"I think there's someone standing on top of the theater." With the sun behind the person, it was hard to tell. It could be a movie gimmick, or something from one of the new indie films coming to town. The wind picked up and the man's clothes shifted. His coat, too warm for the unseasonably warm weather, swept out behind him like a cape and Melanie recognized him.
Gavin.

She swallowed and lowered her hand and he disappeared in a sliver of black vapor. Gavin was an azri, a soul eater. He was also her birth father.



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