Spotlight: Romancing The Pen by Kara Winters

Romancing The Pen
Kara Winters
Publication date: May 13th 2018
Genres: Adult, Comedy, Romance

A seasoned writer with secrets to protect…

Carson Reid is stuck, and not in a situation he’s unfamiliar with. He’s been writing romance novels for years now, so you would think that by now he’d be used to going through the motions. But once more, he’s stuck at the precipice of writing the big “sex scene”… But one quick encounter with a mystery beauty leads him to realize that she’s his long lost writing muse.

A powerful publisher with an agenda of her own…

Kate has had it with men. After building her entire publishing empire on the bones of those that have tried getting in her way, she’s not about to let some love-challeged writer blind her goals. But even under her toughened exterior there is a longing for something. Or someone.

The meeting seemed causal enough. No “shop talk”, no strings attached, and definitely no talking about one another’s history. So what’s one night of passion? Just pure, sexy fun. Again, and again, and again…

But once the spark returns to Carson’s writing, he’s hooked. And he will do anything to make sure that Kate sticks around to see the end of his story complete. Even if it means destroying every wall they both built to keep their hearts safe from harm.

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EXCERPT:

“I feel that I should at least tell you.” Again, I swept my fingers across her cheek. “That something’s been happening to me, each time we’ve been together. I don’t know what it is, but my writing has gotten back on track.”

Kate’s grin was contagious.

“So, keep that in mind,” I told her, my tone turning a little more serious.

She seemed to catch on that I had meant what I said. Blushing, she ran her hand through her hair, then scooted herself closer to me.

I reached out and pulled her the rest of the way. We lay there facing one another on the bed, staring at one another with our hands laced between us.

“You’re my muse,” I whispered.

Another blush formed on her cheeks and I realized I loved when she did that.

“But I haven’t even done anything,” she said. “And I don’t even know what you write exactly. Don’t you think you should tell me some of it, if I’m supposed to help you through things?”

I shook my head and closed my eyes.

My senses picked up on the warmth of Kate. Lips brushed my cheeks and trailed their way slowly up to my eyelids. The feeling tickled me, but I didn’t laugh. Kate’s lips found my mouth and she kissed me deeply. Though I wasn’t sure if she really was looking for an answer to her question, I didn’t want to answer.

Instead of speaking, I grabbed her hips and pulled her tight against my body to let her feel every inch of me. Kate moaned into my mouth and I took her cry down into my throat.

Not breaking the kiss, I turned us so that she straddled me on top again. Beneath her warm legs I could feel my cock sliding against her entrance. She was warm and wet and, fuck, we needed to be together.

“What were you writing last night?” she asked.

I almost didn’t hear her. I was so distracted with kissing the breath out of her body. Kate’s small hand wrapped itself around me and my eyes flew open. She began to stroke.

“Fuck.” I groaned.

She smiled against my mouth. “I thought you might be writing about that.”

I grinned. “You really want me tell you about what I was writing?”

Kate sat up, giving me one hell of a few. Her nipples were stiff and my mouth was craving to taste them. She lifted her hips and aligned herself with my cock, sliding just the tip of me past her folds.

My eyes threatened to roll back into my head, but I forced them to stay open and watch. I braced my hands on Kate’s hips, trying to ease her farther down, but she resisted.

I gave her a questioning look.

“Tell me what you were writing about,” she said, arching one brow and smiling.

The tease.

I played along. “Are you sure you want to play this game?”

“Oh, yes, I’m sure I do,” Kate replied. She eased herself down a half inch. Her wetness was reason enough for me to speak.

“The second love scene,” I started.

She eased down another half inch, then stopped again.

I shut my eyes and nodded. “Okay, okay. The second love scene–”

“We’ve established that there is another love scene already,” Kate cut in, lifting herself back up that half inch that had made me want to pound into her. I was determined to get that inch back, and more.

My fingers gripped her firmly, eliciting another moan from her.

“It begins with the hero and heroine having been away from each other for a little more than a month. He had to leave the country on business, trying to fix his family problems that have been plaguing him throughout the story.”

Kate began to slide down my cock, fueling me to talk more.

“The hero was wounded by the antagonist during a prior scene, and when he returns back to the heroine, he’s still recovering from the wound. She’s worried about him and tends to him at his bedside for days.”

Kate was halfway down my length by the time I stopped. Our eyes met and she parted her lips, her breath coming quicker. She bit her lower lip, adjusting to my girth. I wanted more than anything to thrust up and claim her, but I was afraid she wouldn’t allow me. After all, I wasn’t in charge of this coupling. Kate was.

“Continue,” she said.

Since she hadn’t said anything about me touching her, I reached up to her breasts, running my palms across her nipples. The only word I could use to describe how they felt was aching. Yes, Kate’s aching nipples were in my hands. I really was a romance writer, on and off paper. I chuckled in my head.

Without another thought, I wrapped one arm around her waist and flipped us over, pinning her under me. I continued massaging her breast tenderly.
“I’d rather show you how my love scene plays out,” I said, my mouth ghosting against hers.

Author Bio:

Kara Winters grew up sneaking in all the romance novels she could reach for on her grandmother’s bookshelves. Her love for a good story inspired her to pursue writing as a career and led to her published debut novel in 2013 entitled ‘Working Out the Kinks’.

Currently she lives in Los Angeles and is a member of the RWA (Romance Writers of America), as well as the Los Angeles branch of the guild.

If she is not at home in front of her laptop, Kara is out shopping for vinyl records, exploring the LACMA, or cruising up the California coastline, looking for inspiration to her next book.

Website / Goodreads / Facebook / Twitter


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Spotlight: My Fair Lacey & A Perfect Fit by Janette Rallison

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Lacey has dreamed of opening a restaurant for years - but first, she needs a loan. When Garrett Halifax, her roommate's Harvard-educated brother, offers to help her clean up her appearance and manner to impress the bank manager, she jumps at the chance. She makes mistake after mistake, and perhaps the biggest mistake is falling for sexy Garret.

This modern retelling of My Fair Lady offers all the humor of the original movie with a splash of romance thrown in.

Jojo Halifax, Lacey's roommate, believes that winning Echo Ridge's float competition is just what her fledgling art career needs. And if that means giving her ex-boyfriend, Anthony, a second chance so she can be a designer on his team, well, she's willing to make the sacrifice. But when a lost bet leads to a blind date with her brother's friend, Wyatt, she begins to have second thoughts about second chances. Wyatt is handsome and charming and just might have been paid to make her forget about Anthony. Is falling for his charm worth the risk or should she take Anthony back again?

Romantic comedy lovers will eat these two novellas up!

Excerpt

She pressed her lips together and tried again. “Couldn’t you find some authors who write more entertainingly?”

He didn’t answer because he was typing instructions into his laptop. He had a list of grammar rules that he kept adding to when she made a mistake. She was supposed to go over his list every day.

She glared at his bent head. Why did he always have to act like a teacher? Had he even given her parted lips the briefest of thoughts?

He turned his attention back to her. “Do you want a romance?”

Her breath hitched in her lungs. Was he really asking her this question so casually, and right after he’d written down a grammar rule for her? He wasn’t looking at her with any sort of passion, just bland interest.

She shifted in her chair. “Um. Maybe. I’m not sure.” She took a deep breath, and tried to think of a better way to phrase her feelings.

He didn’t wait for her to say more. His gaze dropped to the notebook in front of him. “All right, I’ll give you a few Jane Austen novels to read. A lot of women are partial to her works.”

Oh. He had asked her if she wanted to read a romance, not have a romance with him. A stab of disappointment went through her. One that was unexpectedly strong. She bit her lip, swallowed and hoped she wasn’t blushing. No use. She was definitely blushing. Heat rose in her neck and cheeks. She just had to hope he didn’t notice.

He tapped his pencil against the table absently. “I know classics aren’t as easy to read as modern novels, but you’re not only listening to these books because of their complex sentence structure and higher vocabulary; you also need to have a basic cultural understanding. When someone mentions Homer’s Odyssey at a dinner party, you need to know that they’re talking about an ancient Greek story, not a rock group. Do you see my point?”

“Yeah. Your point is that you go to a lot of boring dinner parties.”

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About the Author

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Janette Rallison is old. Don’t ask how old, because it isn’t polite. Let’s just say she’s older than she’d like to be and leave it at that.

Janette lives in Chandler, Arizona with her husband, five children and enough cats to classify her as “an eccentric cat lady.” She did not do this on purpose. (The cats, that is; she had the children on purpose.) Every single one of the felines showed up on its own and refuses to leave. Not even the family’s fearless little Westie dog can drive them off.

Since Janette has five children and deadlines to write books, she doesn’t have much time left over for hobbies. But since this is the internet and you can’t actually check up to see if anything on this site is true, let’s just say she enjoys dancing, scuba diving, horse back riding and long talks with Orlando Bloom. (Well, I never said he answers back.)

Connect: Goodreads | Website

Spotlight: How to Fall for the Wrong Man by Harmony Williams

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Publication Date: June 25, 2018
Genres: Adult, Entangled: Amara, Historical, Romance

If Mary Babington-Smith knows nothing else, it’s that Lord Edwin Sutton kissed her. Regardless of who-kissed-whom, with the deed witnessed, they have no choice but to carry on with a temporary, fake, engagement. When Edwin sweetens the deal, offering Mary the money she needs to pursue her independence if she can play the lovesick fiancée for two weeks, Mary rises to the challenge. In two weeks, she’ll have everything she wants, and this time she’ll be the one to walk out of his life.

Despite Sutton’s argumentative, self-assured nature, when Mary glimpses a sliver of the boy he used to be, she vows to peel away every layer of armor he uses to shield his emotions. Somewhere underneath that worldly exterior is the kind-hearted man she once loved, but in order to find him, she’ll have to give him the power to hurt her…and he’s already broken her trust once.

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Excerpt

He grabbed onto my hand and yanked me into the hall.

“Come back here, you rascals!”

I stampeded after Edwin. He ducked into the threshold of a sitting room, the closest one to the front door, and drew me in after him. Precious little space remained in the doorway, with the two of us pressed together. I peered around the corner in time to spot Nancy’s ample form enter the hallway, her shoulders drawn to her ears in exasperation. I ducked my head back.

“Those are for later…” Her voice trailed off as she heaved a sigh. “You two haven’t changed since you were children.”

I met Edwin’s twinkling gaze. The brown in his irises swallowed up the green as his pupils dilated. We burst into laughter. I pressed my hand against my mouth, trying to stifle it in case Nancy still patrolled the corridor. Edwin didn’t bother. His smile grew, wide and genuine. My heartbeat stuttered. I hadn’t seen that smile since we were children. Even then, it was rare. Teasing it out was like a treasure.

He offered me one of the turnovers. I juggled it between my hands as I bit into it. Hot, but oh, so delicious. I moaned with delight. Flavors burst over my tongue, apple mixed with cinnamon and a darker spice like nutmeg. I polished it off in record time, licking the grease from my fingers as Edwin finished his.

When I tilted my face up to meet his, a frown teased at his lips. I pursed my lips. “What?”

“You have something…” His gaze latched onto my mouth. Wait, no, beside my mouth. He lifted his thumb and wiped off a smutch of filling that hadn’t made its way onto my tongue.

He was one to talk. He had crumbs framing both corners of his lips.

The rough pad of his thumb caressed the side of my mouth. He held it, and the filling, in front of my lips, offering it to me. When I parted my lips and he obediently slipped his thumb inside. I licked off the filling. The burst of flavor coupled with the salty taste of his skin made me squirm in place. His eyes shone like black pools, his pupils swallowed his irises. I sucked on his thumb as he drew it away. His lips parted.

Whether I leaned up or he leaned down, it didn’t matter. The next instant, our lips met. His palm cradled my cheek. The other pressed me close against him. He lifted me, fitting me against him as he languidly explored my mouth. His hand dropped down to cup my bottom. Possessive. I twined my arms around his neck.

The kiss grew heated, urgent. He reversed our positions, pressing me against the open door. I clutched at his head, unwilling to let him break contact between us. The points of contact between us glowed as if on fire. I returned the kiss fiercely.

Someone rapped on the front door. We froze. Edwin lifted his head, staring down at me. He looked a bit bewildered, as if wondering at the madness that had overtaken us. Truthfully, I wondered, too.

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About the Author

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Harmony Williams has been living vicariously in Regency-era England since she discovered Jane Austen. Since time machines don’t yet exist, she’s had to make do with books—fictional and non-fictional. On the rare occasions she doesn’t have her nose stuck in a book, she likes to drink tea and spend time with her 90-lb lapdog. A feminist, she writes stories about strong women and the men who support them as equals.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest | Instagram | Newsletter | Goodreads | Amazon Author Profile

Spotlight: Back to the Start by Elle Keating

Morgan Kelley has left Boston and is settling in Philadelphia…to a city that harbors her most painful secrets. Will these secrets destroy Morgan’s new beginning or will coming clean give her the second chance she’s longing to have? Find out in Elle Keating’s BACK TO THE START!

Genre: Contemporary Romance
Series: Dangerous Love
Release Date: June 19, 2018

Synopsis

Jake McGinnis has the life he has dreamed of since childhood: a professional football career with adoring fans, financial security, and the unwavering support of his family. From the outside looking in, he has everything. But nothing could be further from the truth. Because there isn’t a day that goes by that Jake doesn’t think about his first love... and what his world would look like if she was still by his side. When he hears that she is relocating to start a new job less than a mile from him, the pain of their breakup feels fresher than ever. For eight years, he has wondered why their relationship ended and now she's settling in his city. A city that isn't big enough for the two of them.

For Morgan Kelley, moving to Philadelphia means living closer to her family and practicing veterinary medicine with two of her closest friends. It’s also her chance to start over and move on from her failed marriage. There’s only one con: the close proximity to Jake McGinnis. Once upon a time being near him was all she wanted, but now he is practically a stranger... and it's all her fault. Faced with awful memories and the possibility of bumping into him at her favorite coffee shop, Morgan is haunted by the real reason she once broke both of their hearts. Deep down, she knows she won’t be able to embrace this new chapter of her life without finally telling Jake the whole truth.  

But how will he react when she shares her secret? Their love story once felt inevitable, unshakable. Is this where it ends for good, or is it the beginning of a second chance

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Excerpt

Bacon?

She swore she smelled bacon cooking. How hung over was she?

Morgan reached for her phone, but it wasn’t in its usual place on her nightstand. She sat up in bed and rubbed her eyes. Her head pounded as she remembered the events of last night. She didn’t want to know how many shots she’d had. It must have been a significant amount because she remembered dancing to Wham and that would not have happened if she wasn’t shitfaced.

Morgan got out of bed and was halfway to the bathroom when she took notice of her sleeping attire. She was wearing a gray t-shirt she hadn’t worn in months and underwear. Everything hit her at once and she suddenly remembered how she had gotten home, who had apparently put her to bed…and who was in her kitchen right now cooking breakfast.

Morgan quickly went to the bathroom, brushed her teeth and threw on a pair of sweatpants. She crept downstairs and rounded the corner…and stared at the beautiful man in her kitchen. His back was to her as he stirred something on the stove. He was wearing jeans and a white cotton t-shirt that showed off his bulging biceps. She had always loved his body. Even during those awkward teenage years, she had thought he was the most gorgeous thing she had ever seen.

“How are you feeling?” he asked. He didn’t turn around. Jake continued to stir whatever was in the pot.

“I’ve been better,” she said. Morgan spotted her purse on the kitchen counter and immediately dug through it and found the last of her Advil. She popped two pills and chased them with a glass of water. Though her head throbbed, her stomach was surprisingly ready for whatever Jake was making for breakfast. But before she could take a single bite, she needed to ask Jake a few questions.

“Where did you sleep?”

Jake tapped the wooden spoon on the side of the pot. Morgan watched a few teaspoons’ worth of creamed chipped beef fall back into the pot. He then opened the oven door and produced at least a dozen fresh-baked biscuits. Her stomach rumbled at the sight of one of her favorite meals of all time.

“In your bed,” he said, plating their breakfasts. With her biscuit covered in creamed  chipped beef, he handed her the plate and a fork and flashed her a smile that left her uneasy. Morgan wasn’t worried that Jake had taken advantage of her in her drunken state. He would never do that to her or any woman. No, what she was fucking scared of was what she may have said while she was three sheets to the wind. Morgan placed her plate on the breakfast bar and took a seat on one of the stools.

“Did we…I mean, did I…”

“No.” His tone was absolute and for a foolish moment she breathed a sigh of relief. But her relief was short-lived. The heat in his eyes shook her and she looked down.

Start eating. Do something. Just don’t look at him again.

“I slept next to you just in case you needed my assistance in the middle of the night.”

Morgan winced. “I was that bad, huh?”

“You don’t remember me carrying you up the stairs?” he asked. She fought the urge to look at him as she shook her head. “Or putting you to bed?”

She closed her eyes. Morgan wasn’t a lush on a regular basis, but hell if he didn’t make her feel like a teenager drinking on a fake ID. “Thanks for taking care of me.”

“Just being a good friend,” he said.

Morgan could hear Jake round the breakfast bar. With her eyes closed her other senses were magnified, and she soon felt him behind her. “So you’re okay with being friends again?” she asked.

Jake spun her around on the stool and she was instantly face-to-face with the only man she had ever loved. “Maybe you should ask yourself that question.” Jake placed his hand over her heart. “Tell me, do your friends make your heart race like this?” Jake trailed two fingers to her bottom lip. “Or make your lip tremble like it is right now?” He leaned in close. His own intoxicating scent mingled with her shampoo, and she realized that he had made himself at home and had taken a shower. His lips curled to form a grin. He knew he had her. That strength she had gathered over the past two weeks, that shield of resistance she had carried in front of her like some silly badge of honor had been stripped away.

Jake released her quivering lip and reached behind her. Morgan heard keys scraping against her granite countertop. Just inches from her mouth he said, “Eat your breakfast, Morgan.” He looked at her beneath his long silky lashes for a moment and then left her townhome.

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About Elle

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Elle Keating is the author of romance novels with sexy heroes and fierce females. Her first book, Thrill of the Chase (Dangerous Love, #1), was published by Forever Romance’s digital imprint, Forever Yours, in 2015. Cut to the Chase (Dangerous Love, #2) soon followed. Most recently, Elle self-published Wanting More (Dangerous Love, #3) and a standalone novel, Keeping His Commandments.

An avid reader of gritty, dark romances, her favorite authors include Pepper Winters, Penelope Ward, and Anna Zaires.

When she isn’t torturing her heroes and heroines (don’t worry, there’s always a happily ever after), Elle is a public school administrator and enjoys spending time with her husband and 3 children in New Jersey.

Connect with Elle: Website  |  Amazon |  Facebook  |  Goodreads | Instagram  

Spotlight: Almost impossible by Nicole Williams

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Fans of Sarah Dessen, Stephanie Perkins, and Jenny Han will delight as the fireworks spark and the secrets fly in this delicious summer romance from a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author.

When Jade decided to spend the summer with her aunt in California, she thought she knew what she was getting into. But nothing could have prepared her for Quentin. Jade hasn't been in suburbia long and even she knows her annoying (and annoyingly cute) next-door neighbor spells T-R-O-U-B-L-E.

And when Quentin learns Jade plans to spend her first American summer hiding out reading books, he refuses to be ignored. Sneaking out, staying up, and even a midnight swim, Quentin is determined to give Jade days--and nights--worth remembering.

But despite their storybook-perfect romance, every time Jade moves closer, Quentin pulls away. And when rumors of a jilted ex-girlfriend come to light, Jade knows Quentin is hiding a secret--and she's determined to find out what it is.

Excerpt

   Anything was possible. At least that’s what it felt like.
   Summer seventeen was going to be one for the record books. I already knew it. I could feel it—from the nervous-excited swirl in my stomach to the buzz in the air around me. This was going to be the summer—my summer.
   “Last chance to cry uncle or forever hold your peace,” Mom sang beside me in the backseat of the cab we’d caught at the airport. Her hand managed to tighten around mine even more, cutting off the last bit of my circulation. If there
was any left.
   I tried to look the precise amount of unsure before answering. “So long, last  chance,” I said, waving out the window.
   Mom sighed, squeezing my hand harder still. It was starting to go numb now. Summer seventeen might find me one hand short if Mom didn’t ease up on the death grip.
   She and her band, the Shrinking Violets, were going to be touring internationally after finally hitting it big, but she was moping because this was the first summer we wouldn't be together. Actually, it would be the first time we’d been apart ever.
   I’d sold her on the idea of me staying in the States with her sister and family by going on about how badly I wanted to experience one summer as a normal, everyday American teenager before graduating from high school. One chance to
see what it was like to stay in the same place, with the same people, before I left for college. One last chance to see what life as an American teen was really like.
   She bought it . . . eventually.
   She’d have her bandmates and tens of thousands of adoring fans to keep her company—she could do without me for a couple of months. I hoped.
   It had always been just Mom and me from day one. She had me when she was young—like young young—and even though her boyfriend pretty much bailed before the line turned pink, she’d done just fine on her own.
   We’d both kind of grown up together, and I knew she’d missed out on a lot by raising me. I wanted this to be a summer for the record books for her, too. One she could really live up, not having to worry about taking care of her teenage
daughter. Plus, I wanted to give her a chance to experience what life without me would be like. Soon I’d be off to college somewhere, and I figured easing her into the empty-nester phase was a better approach than going cold turkey.
   “You packed sunscreen, right?” Mom’s bracelets jingled as she leaned to look out her window, staring at the bright blue sky like it was suspect.
   “SPF seventy for hot days, fifty for warm days, and thirty for overcast ones.” I toed the trusty duffel resting at my feet.It had traveled the globe with me for the past decade and had the wear to prove it.
   “That’s my fair-skinned girl.” When Mom looked over at me, the crease between her eyebrows carved deeper with worry.
   “You might want to check into SPF yourself. You’re not going to be in your mid thirties forever, you know?”
   Mom groaned. “Don’t remind me. But I’m already beyond SPF’s help at this point. Unless it can help fix a saggy butt and crow’s-feet.” She pinched invisible wrinkles and wiggled her butt against the seat.
   It was my turn to groan. It was annoying enough that people mistook us for sisters all the time, but it was worse that she could (and did) wear the same jeans as me. There should be some rule that moms aren’t allowed to takes clothes from the closets of their teenage daughters.
   When the cab turned down Providence Avenue, I felt a sudden streak of panic. Not for myself, but for my mom.
   Could she survive a summer when I wasn’t at her side, reminding her when the cell phone bill was due or updating her calendar so she knew where to be and when to be there? Would she be okay without me reminding her that fruits and vegetables were part of the food pyramid for a reason and
making sure everything was all set backstage?
   “Hey.” Mom gave me a look, her eyes suggesting she could read my thoughts. “I’ll be okay. I’m a strong, empowered thirty-four-year-old woman.”
   “Cell phone charger.” I yanked the one dangling from her oversized, metal-studded purse, which I’d wrapped in hot pink tape so it stood out. “I’ve packed you two extras to get you through the summer. When you get down to your last
one, make sure to pick up two more so you’re covered—”
   “Jade, please,” she interrupted. “I’ve only lost a few. It’s not like I’ve misplaced . . .”
   “Thirty-two phone chargers in the past five years?” When she opened her mouth to protest, I added, “I’ve got the receipts to prove it, too.”
   Her mouth clamped closed as the cab rolled up to my aunt’s house.
   “What am I going to do without you?” Mom swallowed, dropping her big black retro sunglasses over her eyes to hide the tears starting to form, to my surprise.
   I was better at keeping my emotions hidden, so I didn’t dig around in my purse for sunglasses. “Um, I don’t know? Maybe rock a sold-out international tour? Six continents in three months? Fifty concerts in ninety days? That kind of
thing?”
   Mom started to smile. She loved music—writing it, listening to it, playing it—and was a true musician. She hadn’t gotten into it to become famous or make the Top 40 or anything like that; she’d done it because it was who she was. She was the same person playing to a dozen people in a crowded café as she was now, the lead singer of one of the biggest bands in the world playing to an arena of thousands.
   “Sounds pretty killer. All of those countries. All of that adventure.” Mom’s hand was on the door handle, but it looked more like she was trying to keep the taxi door closed than to open it. “Sure you don’t want to be a part of it?”
   I smiled thinly back at my mom, her wild brown hair spilling over giant glasses. She had this boundless sense of adventure—always had and always would—so it was hard for her to comprehend how her own offspring could feel any different.
    “Promise to call me every day and send me pictures?” I said, feeling the driver lingering outside my door with luggage in hand. This was it. Mom exhaled, lifting her pinkie toward me. “Promise.”
   I curled my pinkie around hers and forced a smile. “Love
you, Mom.”
  Her finger wound around mine as tightly as she had clenched my other hand on the ride here. “Love you no matter what.” Then she shoved her door open and crawled out, but not before I noticed one tiny tear escape her sunglasses.
   By the time I’d stepped out of the cab, all signs of that tear or any others were gone. Mom did tears as often as she wrote moving love songs. In other words, never.
     As she dug around in her purse for her wallet to pay the driver, I took a minute to inspect the house in front of me.
     The last time we’d been here was for Thanksgiving three years ago. Or was it four? I couldn’t remember, but it was long enough to have forgotten how bright white my aunt and uncle’s house was, how the windows glowed from being so
clean and the landscaping looked almost fake it was so well kept.
     It was pretty much the total opposite of the tour buses and extended-stay hotels I’d spent most of my life in. My mother, Meg Abbott, did not do tidy.
     “Back zipper pocket,” I said as she struggled to find the money in her wallet.
     “Aha,” she announced, freeing a few bills to hand to the driver, whose patience was wilting. After taking her luggage, she shouldered up beside me.
     “So the neat-freak thing gets worse with time.” Mom gaped at the walkway leading up to the cobalt-blue front door, where a Davenport nameplate sparkled in the sunlight.
     It wasn’t an exaggeration to say most of the surfaces I’d eaten off of weren’t as clean as the stretch of concrete in front of me.
    “Mom . . . ,” I warned, when she shuddered after she roamed to inspect the window boxes bursting with scarlet geraniums.
     “I’m not being mean,” she replied as we started down the walkway. “I’m appreciating my sister’s and my differences.
     That’s all.”
     Right then, the front door whisked open and my aunt seemed to float from it, a measured smile in place, not a single hair out of place.
     “Appreciating our differences,” Mom muttered under her breath as we moved closer.
     I bit my lip to keep from laughing as the two sisters embraced.
     Mom had long dark hair and fell just under the average-height bar like me.   Aunt Julie, conversely, had light hair she kept swishing above her shoulders, and she was tall and thin. Her eyes were almost as light blue as mine, compared to Mom’s, which were almost as dark as her hair. It wasn’t only their physical differences that set them apart; it was everything. From the way they dressed Mom in some shade of dark, whereas the darkest color I’d ever seen Aunt Julie wear was periwinkle—to their taste in food, Mom was on the spicy end of the spectrum and Aunt Julie was on the mild.
     Mom stared at Aunt Julie.
     Aunt Julie stared back at Mom.
     This went on for twenty-one seconds. I counted. The last stare-down four years ago had gone forty-nine. So this was progress.
     Finally, Aunt Julie folded her hands together, her rounded nails shining from a fresh manicure. “Hello, Jade. Hello, Megan.”
     Mom’s back went ramrod straight when Aunt Julie referred to her by her given name. Aunt Julie was eight years older but acted more like her mother than her sister.
     “How’s it hangin’, Jules?”
     Aunt Julie’s lips pursed hearing her little sister’s nickname for her. Then she stepped back and motioned inside. “Well?”
     That was my cue to pick up my luggage and follow after Mom, who was tromping up the front steps. “Are we done already? Really?” she asked, nudging Aunt Julie as she passed.
     “I’m taking the higher road,” Aunt Julie replied.
     “What you call taking the higher road I call getting soft in your old age.” Mom hustled through the door after that, like she was afraid Aunt Julie would kick her butt or something.
     The image of Aunt Julie kicking anything made me giggle to myself.
     “Jade.” Aunt Julie’s smile was of the real variety this time as she took my duffel from me. “You were a girl the last time we saw you, and look at you now. All grown up.”
     “Hey, Aunt Julie. Thanks again for letting me spend the summer with you guys,” I said, pausing beside her, not sure whether to hug her or keep moving. A moment of awkwardness passed before she made the decision for me by reaching out and patting my back. I continued on after that.
     Aunt Julie wasn’t cold or removed; she just showed her affection differently. But I knew she cared about me and my mom. If she didn’t, she wouldn’t pick up the phone on the first ring whenever we did call every few months. She also wouldn’t have immediately said yes when Mom asked her a few months ago if I could spend the summer here.
     “Let me show you to your room.” She pulled the door shut behind her and led us through the living room. “Paul and I had the guest room redone to make it more fitting for a teenage girl.”
     “Instead of an eighty-year-old nun who had a thing for quilts and angel figurines?” Mom said, biting at her chipped black nail polish.
     “I wouldn’t expect someone whose idea of a feng shui living space is kicking the dirty clothes under their bed to appreciate my sense of style,” Aunt Julie fired back, like she’d been anticipating Mom’s dig.
     I cut in before they could get into it. “You didn’t have to do that, Aunt Julie. The guest room exactly the way it was would have been great.”
     “Speaking of the saint also known as my brother-in-law, where is Paul?” Mom spun around, moving down the hall backward.
     “At work.” Aunt Julie stopped outside of a room. “He wanted to be here, but his job’s been crazy lately.”
     Aunt Julie snatched the porcelain angel Mom had picked up from the hall table. She carefully returned it to the exact same spot, adjusting it a hair after a moment’s consideration.
     “Where are the twins?” I asked, scanning the hallway for Hannah and Hailey. The last time I’d seen them, they were in preschool but acted like they were in grad school or something. They were nice kids, just kind of freakishly well
behaved and brainy.
     “At Chinese camp,” Aunt Julie answered.
     “Getting to eat dim sum and make paper dragons?” Mom asked, sounding almost surprised.
     Aunt Julie sighed. “Learning the Chinese language.” Aunt Julie opened a door and motioned me inside. I’d barely set one foot into the room before my eyes almost crossed from what I found.
     Holy pink.
     Hot pink, light pink, glittery pink, Pepto-Bismol pink—every shade, texture, and variety of pink seemed to be represented inside this square of space.
     “What do you think?” Aunt Julie gushed, moving up
beside me with a giant smile.
     “I love it,” I said, working up a smile. “It’s great. So great.
     And so . . . pink.”
   “I know, right?” Aunt Julie practically squealed. I didn’t know she was capable of anything close to that high-pitched.
     “We hired a designer and everything. I told her you were a girly seventeen-year-old and let her do the rest.”
     Glancing over at the full-length mirror framed in, you bet, fuchsia rhinestones, I wondered what about me led my aunt to classify me as “girly.” I shopped at vintage thrift stores, lived in faded denim and colors found in nature, not ones manufactured in the land of Oz. I was wearing sneakers, cut-offs, and a flowy olive-colored blouse, pretty much the other end of the spectrum. The last girly thing I’d done was wear makeup on Halloween. I was a zombie.
   Beside me, Mom was gaping at the room like she’d walked in on a crime scene. A gruesome crime scene.
   “What the . . . pink?” she edited after I dug an elbow into her.
   “You shouldn’t have.” I smiled at Aunt Julie when she turned toward me, still beaming.
   “Yeah, Jules. You really shouldn’t have.” Mom shook her head, flinching when she noticed the furry pink stool tucked beneath the vanity that was resting beneath a huge cotton-candy-pink chandelier.
   “It’s the first real bedroom this girl’s ever had. Of course I should have. I couldn’t not.” Aunt Julie moved toward the bed, fixing the smallest fold in the comforter.
   “Jade’s had plenty of bedrooms.” Mom nudged me, glancing at the window.  She was giving me an out. She had no idea how much more it would take than a horrendously pink room for me to want to take it.
   “Oh, please. Harry Potter had a more suitable bedroom in that closet under the stairs than Jade’s ever had. You can’t consider something that either rolls down a highway or is bolted to a hotel floor an appropriate room for a young woman.” Aunt Julie wasn’t in dig mode; she was in honest mode.
   That put Mom in unleash-the-beast mode.
   Her face flashed red, but before she could spew whatever
comeback she had stewing inside, I cut in front of her. “Aunt Julie, would you mind if Mom and I had a few minutes alone?
You know, to say good-bye and everything?”
   As infrequently as we visited the house on Providence Avenue, I fell into my role of referee like it was second nature.
 “Of course not. We’ll have lots of time to catch up.” Aunt Julie gave me another pat on the shoulder as she headed for the door. “We’ll have all summer.” She’d just disappeared when her head popped back in the doorway. “Meg, can I get  you anything to drink before you have to dash?”
   “Whiskey,” Mom answered intently.
   Aunt Julie chuckled like she’d made a joke, continuing down the hall.
   I dropped my duffel on the pink zebra-striped throw rug.
  “Mom—”
   “You grew up seeing the world. Experiencing things most people will never get to in their whole lives.” Her voice was getting louder with every word. “You’ve got a million times the perspective of kids your age. A billion times more compassion and an understanding that the world doesn’t revolve around you.  Who is she to make me out to be some inadequate parent when all she cares about is raising obedient, genius robots? She doesn’t know what it was like for me. How hard it was.”
   “Mom,” I repeated, dropping my hands onto her shoulders as I looked her in the eye. “You did great.”
   It took a minute for the red to fade from her face, then another for her posture to relax. “You’re great. I just tried not to get in the way too much and screw all that greatness up.”
   “And if you must know, I’d take any of the hundreds of rooms we’ve shared over this pinktastrophe.” So it was kind of a lie, the littlest of ones. Sure, pink was on my offensive list, but the room was clean and had a door, and I would get to stay in the same place at least for the next few months. After living out of suitcases and overnight bags for most of my life, I was looking forward to discovering what drawer-and-closet living was like.
   Mom threw her arms around me, pulling me in for one of those final-feeling hugs. Except this time, it kind of wasa final one. Realizing that made me feel like someone had stuffed a tennis ball down my throat.
   “I love you no matter what,” she whispered into my ear again, the same words she’d sang, said, or on occasion shouted at me. Mom never just said I love you. She had something against those three words on their own. They were too open, too loosely defined, too easy to take back when something went wrong.
I love you no matter what had always been her way of telling me she loved me forever and for always. Unconditionally. She said that, before me, she’d never felt that type of love for anyone. What I’d picked up along the way on my own was that I was the only one she felt loved her back in the same way.
   Squeezing my arms around my mom a little harder, I returned her final kind of hug. “I love you no matter what, too.”

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About the Author

Nicole Williams is the New York Times and USA TODAY 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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Spotlight: Go Home, Afton by Brent Jones

Go Home, Afton
Brent Jones
(Afton Morrison, #1)
Publication date: June 25th 2018
Genres: Adult, Thriller

We all wear masks, and Afton Morrison is no exception.

A small-town librarian with a dark side, Afton, twenty-six, has suppressed violent impulses her entire adult life. Impulses that demand she commit murder.

Blending her urges with reason, Afton stalks a known sexual predator, intending to kill him. But her plan, inspired by true crime and hatched with meticulous care, is interrupted by a mysterious figure from her past. A dangerous man that lurks in the shadows, watching, threatening to turn the huntress into the hunted.

Go Home, Afton is the first of four parts in a new serial thriller by author Brent Jones. Packed with grit and action, The Afton Morrison Series delves into a world of moral ambiguity, delivering audiences an unlikely heroine in the form of a disturbed vigilante murderess.

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EXCERPT:

Parents—stay-at-home moms, mostly—brought in their toddlers once a week so I could read them a story. And I use the word toddlers loosely. Kids as old as six or seven sometimes attended during the summer. And the stories we would read were made up of fewer than fifty words, for the most part. A lot of the mothers in Wakefield were too lazy to read to their own children, I guess.

Oh, and crafts, too. After reading a story together, we’d break out glitter and colored pencils and paste and other nonsense, but that wasn’t the real reason a dozen women turned out with their little monsters each week. Storytime was an excuse for the mothers to gather and gossip. It always took a little while to get the children to settle down, sure. I’d press my finger to my lips and wait. Five or ten seconds at most, although I would have been happy to wait longer. Their mothers, on the other hand, were so much worse. Getting them to shut their fucking traps was a whole separate exercise in endurance.

But as much as I disliked children, there was something magical about them. It was their inability to see gray, I think. Their entire worlds existed in black and white, right and wrong, good and evil. You could see it in their faces as a story unfolded, rife with nervous energy at every inconsequential turn.

“And she just doesn’t know”—I read to the room, pointing to each gigantic word—“should she stay, should she go?”

I caught a boy’s expression, who sat just inches from me. The hippopotamus in our story was faced with a dilemma, and this boy was transfixed. His eyes were wide, his hands were cupped over his mouth, and he was vibrating with anticipation to see what the hippo would do next.

I flipped to the last page. “But yes the hippopotamus.”

The boy relaxed a little, making a deliberate show of letting his shoulders drop. A talented drama queen in the making. He was new to storytime and looked to be about five or six years old. He had dark hair, a tan complexion, and a missing front tooth. He’d attended just once before and he’d sat close that day, as well. I’d never really been big on learning children’s names, to be honest, but I knew his was Neil only because he’d come to the library alone both times. It sounds strange, I’m sure, but having a parent use the library as a free babysitting service happens more often than most people would guess.

I continued on, reading the final words of the story. “But not the armadillo.”

Neil was stressed all over again, and his tiny hand shot up. “Miss Afton?”

“Yes, ah, Neil? What is it, little man?”

“How come not the arma-darma?”

“Armadillo.” A woman in baggy gray sweatpants corrected him from the back of the room. She was a few years older than me, had bleach-blonde hair in a ponytail, and her voice resembled a seagull getting crushed by a car.

I shut the book and set it on my lap. “That’s a good question, Neil.” I bit my lower lip, deciding how much to share. “Well, let’s see. Ah, no one likes armadillos, for starters. They’re bullet-proof, if you can believe it, and ugly as sin. They carry leprosy, too, but they don’t bite children too often.”

The woman at the back of the room—Sweatpants, let’s call her—looked horrified. Her stained teeth chattered and she blinked in rapid succession. She placed her palms over her daughter’s ears, a girl around three or four in age.

Neil scratched his head. “What’s a lepra-she?”

“It’s—”

Sweatpants raised her hand to silence me—not that I minded—and looked to a few of the other mothers in the room for support, most of whom were checked out or occupied with their phones. She looked back at me again, then at her daughter. “It’s when good little boys and girls get ice cream.” That wasn’t how I might have defined the word, however. “You want to stop for ice cream on the way home, Jessi?”

It was hard enough getting these little turds to sit still for all fourteen pages of But Not the Hippopotamus. Why on earth would this woman want to stuff her daughter’s face with sugar before lunch? But the girl jumped up and squealed at the mention of sweets, and soon, other kids joined in, as did their mothers.

I peeked down at Neil to see him cradling his head in his hands, masking a look of disappointment by staring at the floor. It appeared he had forgotten all about armadillos and leprosy and storytime, and now sulked, wishing he had a parent present to take him for ice cream like the other children.

The mothers talked amongst themselves, and their toddlers fed on the elevated energy levels. The room was alive with discourse, and I wondered if the local Dairy Queen might consider paying me a small commission. “Well, that’s it for storytime, boys and girls. Thanks for coming.”

Sweatpants spoke up at the back of the room, the self-elected leader of Wakefield’s fattest and frumpiest. “But it’s only quarter past, Afton. Isn’t storytime supposed to be a full hour?”

“Just figured you were all on your way to get a double-scoop of leprosy.”

“Very funny.”

I raised my hands in a gesture of mock uncertainty. “We’ve got crafts we can do.” I pointed to three short tables covered in plastic, adorned with supplies that Kim had set up for us. “Should we get to it?”

“That won’t take long. Couldn’t you read them another story first?”

Couldn’t I read them another story? It’d been her idea to squeeze out one of these little nightmares. Why was I being punished for it? “Not this week, I’m afraid. Sorry.”

But she just wouldn’t give up. “Afton, do you know where Jessi’s daddy is right now?”

My first thought was that her husband was probably fucking her sister at some roadside motel with hourly rates, bed bugs, and a one-star rating on Trip Advisor. I couldn’t say that out loud, of course, and so I fought like hell to keep a smirk off my face. It helped to keep my sights trained on Jessi, who had sat back down, cross-legged in a checkered dress. She was drawing on the floor with one small finger.

Sweatpants answered her own question. “He’s at work, Afton. And he works hard, by the way, and we pay more than our share of taxes in this town. Taxes that pay your salary.”

Oh, the salary card. How I loved it when disgruntled parents brought up my salary, as if any one of them wanted to trade places with me. Yes, her taxes paid me a small fortune. That’s why I rented a one-bedroom apartment in a triplex. And it’s the same reason I drove a seven-year-old Corolla. I was so grateful—indebted, even—to Sweatpants and her husband that I just couldn’t wait to read another story.

“Sure thing.” I grabbed a second book off the pile next to me. “One more story, coming right up.”

Sweatpants smiled. It was a flat, fake smile, of course, the kind where the mouth curls tight but the eyes are dormant. It was about the best I could have hoped for, and it seemed to have a calming effect on the other mothers. They quieted down, eager to return to their various text message conversations.

I pointed my finger to more jumbo text on a colorful page. A story about an overweight and diabetic caterpillar with impulse control issues, who was always so very very fucking hungry. “In the light of the moon, a little egg lay on a leaf . . .”

And I couldn’t help but lose myself in thought. I was that little egg on a leaf, glimmering in the moonlight, and about to hatch. Soon after, the morning would come. And my hunger would be satiated at last, because Kenneth Pritchard would be dead.

Author Bio:

From bad checks to bathroom graffiti, Brent Jones has always been drawn to writing. He won a national creative writing competition at the age of fourteen, although he can’t recall what the story was about. Seventeen years later, he gave up his career to pursue creative writing full-time.

Jones writes from his home in Fort Erie, Canada. He’s happily married, a bearded cyclist, a mediocre guitarist, and the proud owner of two dogs with a God complex.

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Spotlight: SADIE by Courtney Summers

A gripping novel about the depth of a sister's love; poised to be the next book you won't be able to stop talking about.

A missing girl on a journey of revenge and a Serial—like podcast following the clues she's left behind.

Sadie hasn't had an easy life. Growing up on her own, she's been raising her sister Mattie in an isolated small town, trying her best to provide a normal life and keep their heads above water.

But when Mattie is found dead, Sadie's entire world crumbles. After a somewhat botched police investigation, Sadie is determined to bring her sister's killer to justice and hits the road following a few meager clues to find him.

When West McCray—a radio personality working on a segment about small, forgotten towns in America—overhears Sadie's story at a local gas station, he becomes obsessed with finding the missing girl. He starts his own podcast as he tracks Sadie's journey, trying to figure out what happened, hoping to find her before it's too late.

Courtney Summers has written the breakout book of her career. Sadie is propulsive and harrowing and will keep you riveted until the last page.

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About the Author

Courtney Summers is the author of young adult novels including Fall for Anything, Some Girls Are, and Cracked Up to Be. She lives and writes in Canada, where she divides her time between a piano, a camera, and a word-processing program when she’s not planning for the impending zombie apocalypse.

Spotlight: Something in the Water by Cathering Steadman

9781524797188.jpg

 A shocking discovery on a honeymoon in paradise changes the lives of a picture-perfect couple in this taut psychological thriller debut—for readers of Ruth Ware, Paula Hawkins, and Shari Lapena.

“A psychological thriller that captivated me from page one. What unfolds makes for a wild, page-turning ride! It’s the perfect beach read!”—Reese Witherspoon (Reese’s Book Club x Hello Sunshine book pick)

If you could make one simple choice that would change your life forever, would you?
 
Erin is a documentary filmmaker on the brink of a professional breakthrough, Mark a handsome investment banker with big plans. Passionately in love, they embark on a dream honeymoon to the tropical island of Bora Bora, where they enjoy the sun, the sand, and each other. Then, while scuba diving in the crystal blue sea, they find something in the water. . . .
 
Could the life of your dreams be the stuff of nightmares?
 
Suddenly the newlyweds must make a dangerous choice: to speak out or to protect their secret. After all, if no one else knows, who would be hurt? Their decision will trigger a devastating chain of events. . . .
 
Have you ever wondered how long it takes to dig a grave?
 
Wonder no longer. Catherine Steadman’s enthralling voice shines throughout this spellbinding debut novel. With piercing insight and fascinating twists, Something in the Water challenges the reader to confront the hopes we desperately cling to, the ideals we’re tempted to abandon, and the perfect lies we tell ourselves.

Excerpt

1

Saturday, October 1

The Grave

Have you ever wondered how long it takes to dig a grave? Wonder no longer. It takes an age. However long you think it takes, double that.

I’m sure you’ve seen it in movies: the hero, gun to his head perhaps, as he sweats and grunts his way deeper and deeper into the earth until he’s standing six feet down in his own grave. Or the two hapless crooks who argue and quip in the hilarious madcap chaos as they shovel frantically, dirt flying skyward with cartoonish ease.

It’s not like that. It’s hard. Nothing about it is easy. The ground is solid and heavy and slow. It’s so fucking hard.

And it’s boring. And long. And it has to be done.

The stress, the adrenaline, the desperate animal need to do it, sustains you for about twenty minutes. Then you crash.

Your muscles yawn against the bones in your arms and legs. Skin to bone, bone to skin. Your heart aches from the aftermath of the adrenal shock, your blood sugar drops, you hit the wall. A full-­body hit. But you know, you know with crystal clarity, that high or low, exhausted or not, that hole’s getting dug.

Then you kick into another gear. It’s that halfway point in a marathon when the novelty has worn off and you’ve just got to finish the joyless bloody thing. You’ve invested; you’re all in. You’ve told all your friends you’d do it, you made them pledge donations to some charity or other, one you have only a vague passing connection to. They guiltily promised more money than they really wanted to give, feeling obligated because of some bike ride or other they might have done at university, the details of which they bore you with every time they get drunk. I’m still talking about the marathon, stick with me. And then you went out every evening, on your own, shins throbbing, headphones in, building up miles, for this. So that you can fight yourself, fight with your body, right there, in that moment, in that stark moment, and see who wins. And no one but you is watching. And no one but you really cares. It’s just you and yourself trying to survive. That is what digging a grave feels like, like the music has stopped but you can’t stop dancing. Because if you stop dancing, you die.

So you keep digging. You do it, because the alternative is far worse than digging a never-­ending fucking hole in the hard compacted soil with a shovel you found in some old man’s shed.

As you dig you see colors drift across your eyes: phosphenes caused by metabolic stimulation of neurons in the visual cortex due to low oxygenation and low glucose. Your ears roar with blood: low blood pressure caused by dehydration and overexertion. But your thoughts? Your thoughts skim across the still pool of your consciousness, only occasionally glancing the surface. Gone before you can grasp them. Your mind is completely blank. The central nervous system treats this overexertion as a fight-­or-­flight situation; exercise-­induced neurogenesis, along with that ever-­popular sports mag favorite, “exercise-­induced endorphin release,” acts to both inhibit your brain and protect it from the sustained pain and stress of what you are doing.

Exhaustion is a fantastic emotional leveler. Running or digging.

Around the forty-­five-­minute mark I decide six feet is an unrealistic depth for this grave. I will not manage to dig down to six feet. I’m five foot six. How would I even climb out? I would literally have dug myself into a hole.

According to a 2014 YouGov survey, five foot six is the ideal height for a British woman. Apparently that is the height that the average British man would prefer his partner to be. So, lucky me. Lucky Mark. God, I wish Mark were here.

So if I’m not digging six feet under, how far under? How deep is deep enough?

Bodies tend to get found because of poor burial. I don’t want that to happen. I really don’t. That would definitely not be the outcome I’m after. And a poor burial, like a poor anything else really, comes down to three things:

1. Lack of time

2. Lack of initiative

3. Lack of care

In terms of time: I have three to six hours to do this. Three hours is my conservative estimate. Six hours is the daylight I have left. I have time.

I believe I have initiative; two brains are better than one. I hope. I just need to work through this step by step.

And number three: care? God, do I care. I care. More than I have ever cared in my entire life.

|||

Three feet is the minimum depth recommended by the ICCM (Institute of Cemetery and Crematorium Management). I know this because I Googled it. I Googled it before I started digging. See, initiative. Care. I squatted down next to the body, wet leaves and mud malty underfoot, and I Googled how to bury a body. I Googled this on the body’s burner phone. If they do find the body . . . they won’t find the body . . . and manage to retrieve the data . . . they won’t retrieve the data . . . then this search history is going to make fantastic reading.

Two full hours in, I stop digging. The hole is just over three feet deep. I don’t have a tape measure, but I remember that three feet is around crotch height. The height of the highest jump I managed on the horse-­riding vacation I took before I left for university twelve years ago. An eighteenth-­birthday present. Weird what sticks in the memory, isn’t it? But here I am, waist-­deep in a grave, remembering a gymkhana. I got second prize, by the way. I was very happy with it.

Anyway, I’ve dug approximately three feet deep, two feet wide, six feet long. Yes, that took two hours.

To reiterate: digging a grave is very hard.

Just to put this into perspective for you, this hole, my two-­hour hole, is: 3 ft x 2 ft x 6 ft, which is 36 cubic feet of soil, which is 1 cubic meter of soil, which is 1.5 tons of soil. And that—­that—­is the weight of a hatchback car or a fully grown beluga whale or the average hippopotamus. I have moved the equivalent of that up and slightly to the left of where it was before. And this grave is only three feet deep.

I look across the mud at the mound and slowly hoist myself out, forearms trembling under my own weight. The body lies across from me under a torn tarpaulin, its brilliant cobalt a slash of color against the brown forest floor. I’d found it abandoned, hanging like a veil from a branch, back toward the layby, in quiet communion with an abandoned fridge. The fridge’s small freezer-­box door creaking calmly in the breeze. Dumped.

There’s something so sad about abandoned objects, isn’t there? Desolate. But kind of beautiful. I suppose, in a sense, I’ve come to abandon a body.

The fridge has been here a while—­I know this because I saw it from the car window as we drove past here three months ago, and nobody has come for it yet. We were on our way back to London from Norfolk, Mark and I, after celebrating our anniversary, and here the fridge still is months later. Odd to think so much has happened—­to me, to us—­in that time, but nothing has changed here. As if this spot were adrift from time, a holding area. It has that feel. Perhaps no one has been here since the fridge owner was here, and God knows how long ago that might have been. The fridge looks distinctly seventies—­you know, in that bricky way. Bricky, Kubricky. A monolith in a damp English wood. Obsolete. Three months it’s been here at least and no collection, no men from the dump. No one comes here, that’s clear. Except us. No council workers, no disgruntled locals to write letters to the council, no early morning dog walkers to stumble across my quarry. This was the safest place I could think of. So here we are. It will take a while for it all to settle, the soil. But I think the fridge and I have enough time.

I look it over, the crumpled-­tarp mound. Underneath lie flesh, skin, bone, teeth. Three and a half hours dead.

I wonder if he’s still warm. My husband. Warm to the touch. I Google it. Either way, I don’t want the shock.

Okay.

Okay, the arms and legs should be cold to the touch but the main body will still be warm. Okay then.

I take a long, full exhalation.

Okay, here we go. . . .

I stop. Wait.

I don’t know why, but I clear his burner phone’s search history. It’s pointless, I know; the phone’s untraceable and after a couple of hours in the damp October ground it won’t work anyway. But then, maybe it will. I place the burner back in his coat pocket and slip his personal iPhone out of his chest pocket. It’s on airplane mode.

I look through the photo library. Us. Tears well and then streak in two hot dribbles down my face.

I fully remove the tarp, exposing everything it conceals. I wipe the phone for prints, return it to its warm chest pocket, and brace my knees to drag.

I’m not a bad person. Or maybe I am. Maybe you should decide?

But I should definitely explain. And to explain I need to go back. Back to that anniversary morning, three months ago.
Excerpted from Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman. Copyright © 2018 by Catherine Steadman. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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About the Author

Catherine Steadman is an actress and writer based in North London, UK. She has appeared in leading roles on British television as well as on stage in the West End. In 2016 she was nominated for a Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for her performance in Oppenheimer. She is best known in the United States for her role as Mabel Lane Fox in Downton Abbey. She grew up in the New Forest, UK, and lives with a small dog and an average-sized man. Something in the Water is her first novel.

Spotlight: Neverworld Wake by Marisha Pessl

Five friends. Only one can survive the Neverworld Wake. Who would you choose?

From the acclaimed New York Times bestselling author of Special Topics in Calamity Physics and Night Film comes an absorbing psychological suspense thriller in which fears are physical and memories come alive.

“A thriller that will grip readers from the start.” –Hypable

Once upon a time, back at Darrow-Harker School, Beatrice Hartley and her five best friends were the cool kids, the beautiful ones. Then the shocking death of Jim–their creative genius and Beatrice’s boyfriend–changed everything.

One year after graduation, Beatrice is returning to Wincroft–the seaside estate where they spent so many nights sharing secrets, crushes, plans to change the world–hoping she’ll get to the bottom of the dark questions gnawing at her about Jim’s death.

But as the night plays out in a haze of stilted jokes and unfathomable silence, Beatrice senses she’s never going to know what really happened. 

Then a mysterious man knocks on the door. Blithely, he announces the impossible: time for them has become stuck, snagged on a splinter that can only be removed if the former friends make the harshest of decisions. 

Now Beatrice has one last shot at answers . . . and at life.

And so begins the Neverworld Wake.

Excerpt

I hadn’t spoken to Whitley Lansing--or any of them--in over a year.

When her text arrived after my last final, it felt inevitable, like a comet tearing through the night sky, hinting of fate.

Too long. WTF. #notcool. Sorry. My Tourette’s again. How was your freshman year? Amazing? Awful?

Seriously. We miss you.

Breaking the silence bc the gang is heading to Wincroft for my bday. The Linda will be in Mallorca & ESS Burt is getting married in St. Bart’s for the 3rd time. (Vegan yogi.) So it’s ours for the weekend. Like yesteryear.

Can you come? What do you say Bumblebee?

Carpe noctem.

Seize the night.

She was the only girl I knew who surveyed everybody like a leather-clad Dior model and rattled off Latin like it was her native language.

“How was your exam?” my mom asked when she picked me up.

“I confused Socrates with Plato and ran out of time during the essay,” I said, pulling on my seat belt.

“I’m sure you did great.” She smiled, a careful look. “Anything else we need to do?”

I shook my head.

My dad and I had already cleared out my dorm room. I’d returned my textbooks to the student union to get the 30 percent off for next year. My roommate had been a girl from New Haven named Casey who’d gone home to see her boyfriend every weekend. I’d barely seen her since orientation.

The end of my freshman year at Emerson College had just come and gone with the indifferent silence usually reserved for a going-out-of-business sale at a mini-mall.

“Something dark’s a-brewin’,” Jim would have told me.

I had no plans all summer, except to work alongside my parents at the Captain’s Crow.

The Captain’s Crow--the Crow, it’s called by locals--is the seaside cafe and ice cream parlor my family owns in Watch Hill, Rhode Island, the tiny coastal village where I grew up.

Watch Hill, Rhode Island. Population: You Know Everyone.

My great-grandfather Burn Hartley opened the parlor in 1885, when Watch Hill was little more than a craggy hamlet where whaling captains came to shake off their sea legs and hold their children for the first time before taking off again for the Atlantic’s Great Unknowns. Burn’s framed pencil portrait hangs over the entrance, revealing him to have the mad glare of some dead genius writer, or a world explorer who never came home from the Arctic. The truth is, though, he could barely read, preferred familiar faces to strange ones and dry land to the sea. All he ever did was run our little dockside restaurant his whole life, and perfect the recipe for the best clam chowder in the world.

All summer I scooped ice cream for tan teenagers in flip-flops and pastel sweaters. They came and went in big skittish groups like schools of fish. I made cheeseburgers and tuna melts, coleslaw and milk shakes. I swept away sand dusting the black-and-white-checkered floor. I threw out napkins, ketchup packets, salt packets, over‑21 wristbands, Del’s Frozen Lemonade cups, deep-sea fishing party boat brochures. I put lost cell phones beside the register so they could be easily found when the panic-stricken owners came barging inside: “I lost my . . . Oh . . . thank you, you’re the best!” I cleaned up the torn blue tickets from the 1893 saltwater carousel, located just a few doors down by the beach, which featured faded faceless mermaids to ride, not horses. Watch Hill’s greatest claim to fame was that Eleanor Roosevelt had been photographed riding a redhead with a turquoise tail sidesaddle. (It was a town joke how put out she looked in the shot, how uncomfortable and buried alive under her plate-tectonic layers of ruffled skirt.)

I cleaned the barbecue sauce off the garbage cans, the melted Wreck Rummage off the tables (Wreck Rummage was every kid’s favorite ice cream flavor, a mash‑up of cookie dough, walnuts, cake batter, and dark chocolate nuggets). I Cloroxed and Fantasticked and Mr. Cleaned the windows and counters and doorknobs. I dusted the brine off the mussels and the clams, polishing every one like a gemstone dealer obsessively inspecting emeralds. Most days I rose at five and went with my dad to pick out the day’s seafood when the fishing boats came in, inspecting crab legs and fluke, oysters and bass, running my hands over their tapping legs and claws, barnacles and iridescent bellies. I composed song lyrics for a soundtrack to a made‑up movie called Lola Anderson’s Highway Robbery, drawing words, rhymes, faces, and hands on napkins and take-out menus, tossing them in the trash before anyone saw them. I attended grief support group for adolescents at the North Stonington Community Center. There was only one other kid in attendance, a silent boy named Turks whose dad had died from ALS. After two meetings he never returned, leaving me alone with the counselor, a jittery woman named Deb who wore pantsuits and wielded a three-inch-thick book called Grief Management for Young People.

“ ‘The purpose of this exercise is to construct a positive meaning around the lost relationship,’ ” she read from chapter seven, handing me a Goodbye Letter worksheet. “ ‘On this page, write a note to your lost loved one, detailing fond memories, hopes, and any final questions.’ ”

Slapping a chewed pen that read tabeego island resorts on my desk, she left. I could hear her on the phone out in the hall, arguing with someone named Barry, asking him why he didn’t come home last night.

I drew a screeching hawk on the Goodbye Letter, with lyrics to a made‑up Japanese animated film about a forgotten thought called Lost in a Head.

Then I slipped out the fire exit and never went back.

I taught Sleepy Sam (giant yawn of a teenager from England visiting his American dad) how to make clam cakes and the perfect grilled cheese. Grill on medium, butter, four minutes a side, six slices of Vermont sharp cheddar, two of fontina. For July Fourth, he invited me to a party at a friend of a friend’s. To his shock, I actually showed. I stood by a floor lamp with a warm beer, listening to talk about guitar lessons and Zach Galifianakis, trying to find the right moment to escape.

“That, by the way, is Bee,” said Sleepy Sam. “She does actually speak, I swear.”

I didn’t mention Whitley’s text to anyone, though it was always in the back of my mind.

It was the brand-new way-too-extravagant dress I’d bought but never taken out of the bag. I just left it there in the back of my closet, folded in tissue paper with the receipt, the tags still on, with intention of returning it.

Yet there was still the remote possibility I’d find the courage to put it on.

I knew the weekend of her birthday like I knew my own: August 30.

It was a Friday. The big event of the day had been the appearance of a stray dog wandering Main Street. It had no tags and the haunted look of a prisoner of war. He was gray, shaggy, and startled with every attempt to pet him. A honk sent him skidding into the garbage cans behind the Captain’s Crow.

“See that yellow salt-bed mud on his back paws? That’s from the west side of Nickybogg Creek,” announced Officer Locke, thrilled to have a mystery on his hands, his first of the year.

That stray dog had been the talk all that day--what to do with him, where he’d been--and it was only much later that I found my mind going back to that dog drifting into town out of the blue. I wondered if he was some kind of sign, a warning that something terrible was coming, that I should not take the much-exalted and mysterious Road Less Traveled, but the one well trod, wide-open, and brightly lit, the road I knew.

By then it was too late. The sun had set. Sleepy Sam was gone. I’d overturned the cafe chairs and put them on the tables. I’d hauled out the trash. And anyway, that flew in the face of human nature. No one ever heeded a warning sign when it came.

Excerpted from Neverworld Wake by Marisha Pessl. Copyright © 2018 by Marisha Pessl. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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About the Author

Marisha Pessl is the author of Night Film and Special Topics in Calamity Physics, which won the John Sargent Sr. First Novel Prize (now the Center for Fiction’s Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize) and was selected as one of the 10 Best Books of the Year by The New York Times Book Review. Pessl grew up in Asheville, North Carolina, and currently resides in New York City.

Spotlight: Sailing Lessons by Hannah McKinnon

On the shores of Cape Cod, the Bailey sisters reunite with their long-lost father for a summer of hope and forgiveness in this heartfelt novel from the author of the “sharp and evocative” (Kirkus Reviews) Mystic Summer, The Lake Season, and The Summer House, sure to appeal to “fans of Elin Hilderbrand” (Booklist).

Wrenn Bailey has lived all her life on Cape Cod with her mother Lindy, older sister Shannon, and younger sister Piper. Growing up, life was dictated by the seasons with sleepy gray winters where only the locals stayed on, followed by the sharp influx and colorful bustle of summer tourists who swept up the elbow of the Cape and infiltrated their small paradise.

But it wasn’t just the tourists who interrupted Wrenn’s formative years; her father—brilliant but troubled photographer Caleb—has long made a habit of drifting in and out of his girls’ lives. Until the one summer he left the Cape and did not return again.

Now, almost twenty years later, Caleb has come back one last time, suffering from pancreatic cancer and seeking absolution. Wrenn and her sisters each respond differently to their father’s return, determined to find closure. But that means returning to the past and revisiting old wounds—wounds that cause the tightknit Bailey women to confront their own wishes and wants, and admit to their own wrong-doings over the years. In a place that brings both great comfort and great pain, the Bailey sisters experience a summer on the Cape that promises not only hard endings, but perhaps, hopeful new beginnings.

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About the Author

Hannah McKinnon is the author of Lighthouse Beach, The Lake Season, Mystic Summer, and The Summer House. She graduated from Connecticut College and the University of South Australia. She lives in Fairfield County, Connecticut, with her family, a flock of chickens, and two rescue dogs.