Tag: romance

The Warrior Maiden Blog Tour: Book Review

BOOK INFORMATION

The Warrior Maiden (Hagenheim #9)

by Melanie Dickerson

Publisher: Thomas Nelson

Release Date: February 5th 2019

Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fiction, Romance, Retellings, Christian Fiction

Synopsis:

From New York Times bestselling author Melanie Dickerson comes a fresh reimagining of the classic Mulan tale.

Mulan isn’t afraid to pretend to be a son and assume her father’s soldier duties in war. But what happens when the handsome son of a duke discovers her secret?

Mulan is trying to resign herself to marrying the village butcher for the good of her family, but her adventurous spirit just can’t stand the thought. At the last minute, she pretends to be the son her father never had, assumes his duties as a soldier, and rides off to join the fight to protect the castle of her liege lord’s ally from the besieging Teutonic Knights.

Wolfgang and his brother Steffan leave Hagenheim with several other soldiers to help their father’s ally in Poland. When they arrive, Wolfgang is exasperated by the young soldier Mikolai who seems to either always be one step away from disaster . . . or showing Wolfgang up in embarrassing ways.

When Wolfgang discovers his former rival and reluctant friend Mikolai is actually a girl, he is determined to protect her. But battle is a dangerous place where anything can happen—and usually does.

When Mulan receives word that her mother has been accused of practicing witchcraft through her healing herbs and skills, Mulan’s only thought is of defending her. Will she be able to trust Wolfgang to help? Or will sacrificing her own life be the only way to save her mother?

BOOK LINKS

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/40590283-the-warrior-maiden

Amazon: https://amzn.to/2E5MuHD

B&N: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-warrior-maiden-melanie-dickerson/1128930048?ean=9780718074777#/

Bookdepository: https://www.bookdepository.com/Warrior-Maiden-Melanie-Dickerson/9780718074777?ref=grid-view&qid=1543621444535&sr=1-2

iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/gb/book/the-warrior-maiden/id1400066202?mt=11

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/the-warrior-maiden

Review

The Warrior Maiden is a story about bravery, courage, love and faith. Mulan’s father, Mikolai was a soldier and until and unless someone took his place in the battle, Mulan and her mother would be thrown out of their house. As Mikolai had no son she had to join in instead and pretended to be man as it wasn’t allowed in those times for a woman to fight. On the other hand Wolfgang is a son of a Duke who is been sent to fight for the first time in his life along with his rebellious brother.

I loved Mulan’s character, our brave heroine, the warrior maiden. She beat the odds, ignored the objections and proved herself a worthy soldier. She is a perfect example of a strong, independent and brave woman. She is woman that I definitely inspire to be. Though it is not a era of battle between kingdoms but the spirit that she embodies is something we should all imbibe in ourselves. Apart from her, I absolutely loved our hero’s character Wolfgang, a man who fought with all his power even when he was injured and very weak. His compassion, strength, courage and in total his whole character will impress anyone who would read this book.

The Warrior Maiden is filled with action and suspense and I actually would have finished the book in one sitting if I could have managed the time, the plot was just so engaging. The Warrior Maiden keeps you at the edge of the seat throughout with ample amount of twists, turns and thrills arriving as the story advances.

Apart from all the action on the battlefield, their is a sweet love story going on between Wolfgang and Mulan. It is really beautiful, sweet and heartwarming.

This book is just perfect for anyone who loves historical fiction and strong heroines. So if you’re one of them then I suggest you should go and order yourself a copy of The Warrior Maiden right now and I hope you would enjoy it as much as I did.

LIFE AT 17 RATING

🏮🏮🏮🏮🏮

(5 stars out of 5)

QUOTES

“Mulan held her head high, but Wolfgang may have been the only one to notice that she set her hand on the table, as if to steady herself. As she calmly turned to look at the men cheering for her, she could have easily been a queen observing her subjects, that ever-so-faint smile on her lips. He was so proud of her. But an uneasy tightening in his chest alerted him to some unwelcome emotion. He wished they were alone together in a tree, talking about their childhoods or fighting side by side.

“Her father had probably asked Mother to marry him in just such a feeble, unromantic manner as this. And she would not be trapped in that kind of marriage, no matter how handsome the man was or how much she loved him.

“I . . .” Was it because she loved Wolfgang too much to let him get killed for her? That was part of it, but it was more than that. Even though he’d proven himself, part of her still didn’t trust him. Was she imagining that all men, even Wolfgang, would hurt her, like her father did? She’d risked her own life so many times in battle. She’d always taken responsibility and never asked anyone for help. She had to do it herself. Was that wrong? Never to let anyone help her?”

AUTHOR INFORMATION

Melanie Dickerson is a New York Times bestselling author, a two-time Christy Award finalist, two-time Maggie Award winner, Carol Award winner, two-time winner of the Christian Retailing’s Best award, and her book, The Healer’s Apprentice, won the National Readers Choice Award for Best First Book. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and Romance Writers of America (RWA). Melanie earned a bachelors degree in special education of the hearing impaired from The University of Alabama and has worked as a teacher in Georgia, Tennessee, and Ukraine. She lives with her husband and two children in Huntsville, Alabama.

AUTHOR LINKS

Website|Goodreads|Twitter|Facebook|Pinterest

TOUR SCHEDULE

https://fantasticflyingbookclub.blogspot.com/2018/12/tour-schedule-warrior-maiden-hagenheim.html

EXTRA MATERIALS (exclusive to the FFBC Tours)

Premium extended excerpt:

https://aerbook.com/books/The_Warrior_Maiden-192838.html?utm_source=pubpage

Extended audio clip:

https://soundcloud.com/harperaudio_us/warrior-maiden-by-melanie-dickerson

GIVEAWAY

Prize: Win (1) physical copy of THE WARRIOR MAIDEN by Melanie Dickerson (US ONLY) or e-copy for (INT)

Giveaway Starts: 30th January, 2019

Giveaway Ends: 13th February, 2019

Direct Link: http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/d9681b86340/?

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Never Have I Ever… Kissed my Brother’s Best Friend: Cover Reveal

NEVER HAVE I EVER KISSED MY BROTHER’S BEST FRIEND

(Book #1 of the NEVER EVER LOVE Series)

By JULIET BARDSLEY

The release date: FEBRUARY 12, 2019

Publisher: Snowy Wings Publishing (www.snowywingspublishing.com)

SYNOPSIS

She’s crushed on him for the past six years. He’s always seen her as his best friend’s little sister. What happens when they’re forced together?
Gavin Mitchell is a star soccer player, the best looking senior at Cedar Oaks High, and a potential recruit for the college of his dreams. But if Gavin doesn’t raise his English grade, all his plans of playing soccer for his dream school will be crushed. Enter Kenzie Fair, his best friend’s smart little sister.
Mackenzie (Kenzie) Fair has the best friend in the world, an enviable collection of books, and the highest grades in the junior class. But there’s one thing she doesn’t have—Gavin Mitchell—the guy she’s crushed on for forever. The guy she acts like a total spaz around. The guy who also happens to be her brother’s best friend.
When the two are forced to spend time together studying Shakespeare, it’s only a matter of time before Gavin sees Kenzie as more than his best friend’s little sister.
The problem is, she still is. Is it worth risking his lifelong friendship for the chance to date Kenzie?

You can follow Juliet Bradsley at:
Website: www.julietbardsley.com

Twitter: @bardsleyjuliet

Instagram: @julietbardsley

Let It Snow Blog Tour: Promo

Let It Snow: A Holly Grove Anthology

Publication Date: November 13, 2018
Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Holiday, Anthology

Read for FREE in KindleUnlimited: Amazon

Welcome to Holly Grove, Vermont, dubbed the “best little town in the country.”

It’s going to take the residents of Holly Grove a lot more than an evergreen and a few strings of lights to pull off their famous holiday tree lighting ceremony this Christmas Eve. First of all, Mother Nature is not cooperating with her plans to dump the Blizzard of the Century as a Christmas present. Not to mention that the Mayor and Sheriff are both distracted, native Holly Grovers brought their complications back home with them, and the newbies to the town are causing their own special types of ruckuses. Each resident will have to be brave, face their fears, accept changes, and embrace their pasts, to pull together and accomplish the sacred tradition of their small town—the adorably quaint, low on acreage but high on drama, Holly Grove.

Experience the true meaning of the holidays, fall in love, laugh, and cry in these eight novellas, each a full story on its own, with characters who pop in and out of each other’s lives. We think you’ll like it here…

About the Authors

In 2016, a group of multi-published and award winning authors found accountability on Twitter in reaching their writing and editing goals through the hashtag #ameditingcrew. A strong bond full of encouragement and friendship led to discussion that fall to write a holiday anthology. Unlike other anthologies, where stories are 100% independent, this group created a quaint, fictional town called Holly Grove, Vermont where their characters lived. Each story is a stand alone, but with a small twist: characters pop in and out of each story through cameo appearances. Pitched as an anthology with the small town feel of THE GIRLMORE GIRLS, and the woven story line like the movies LOVE, ACTUALLY and VALENTINE’S DAY, there is a little something for everyone.

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Distant Memory Blog Tour: Promo

You don’t want to miss the next thrilling installment of Colleen Myers’ fan favorite #fantasyromance series, Solum, with DISTANT MEMORY!

Title: Distant Memory

Author: Colleen Myers

Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy Romance

Series: Solum

Release Date: November 13, 2018

Format: Digital eBook

ISBN: TBD

Synopsis:

19 year old Elizabeth Camden survived it all, the experiments, the escape, the retaliation. But it never ends does it?

Available at: Amazon

Add Distant Memory to your GOODREADS TBR pile!

About Colleen:

Colleen S. Myers was raised in a large catholic family in the outskirts of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where she grew up on Harlequin teen romances and stories from her mother’s days as a paramedic. She went on to attend Allegheny College majoring in Biology and English.

After college, Colleen spent a year in service in the Americorp giving back to the community at a local Pittsburgh Women Infants and Children Clinic (WICC) before attending Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine on a military scholarship.

Upon completing medical school, Colleen attended residency at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland and was on base in Washington, DC during 9/11. She earned three meritorious service awards from the military. After serving seven years of active duty, she promptly landed a position at the VA to provide fellow veterans with optimum medical care. Still an avid fan of romances into adulthood, her love of the genre inspired her to hone her craft as a writer, focusing on contemporary romance and science fiction. Her background in medicine and the military provides an inspiring layer of creative realism to her stories and characters.

Her first book, Must Remember, the first book in the Solum series, is published by Champagne Press. The sequel, Can’t Forget, coming in June 2016, is the recipient of the 2015 RWA New England Readers Award.

Colleen currently resides in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with her husband and son, and spends her spare time writing. She is also working on a new contemporary romance.

Connect with Colleen: Website  | Twitter  |  Facebook  |  Goodreads | Pinterest | Instagram

Giveaway!!

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Make Me Fall Release Week Celebration: Excerpt

Review and Excerpt Tour for MAKE ME FALL by Sara Rider!

Enemies make the worst neighbors, but the best lovers in Sara Rider’s MAKE ME FALL, the second book in her standalone Books & Brews series. Eli doesn’t have a lot of sympathy for his uptight neighbor, Nora, until he hears about her “un-datable” status and all it takes is one disastrous date with Nora for Eli to fall hard. Fans of Lauren Layne, Jenny Holiday’s ONE AND ONLY, and THE FINE ART OF FAKING IT by Lucy Score will devour this opposites attract, fun buy sexy romance.

Title: Make Me Fall
Author: Sara Rider
Release Date: September 24, 2018
Publisher: Self-published
Series: Books & Brews #2
Genres: Contemporary Romance
Page Count: 226

Synopsis

After losing her job, her home, and her friends in her divorce, Nora Pitts is determined not to make the same mistakes when she starts over in the small town of Shadow Creek, Washington. No more toiling away in the lab at the expense of her social life, and definitely no more men. Ever. But making friends in her thirties is so much harder than she anticipated. And when it comes to her gorgeous yet obnoxious neighbor, it’s a whole lot easier to make enemies.

Eli Hardin doesn’t have a lot of sympathy for his uptight neighbor, until he overhears her so-called new friends making fun of her un-datable status. Suddenly he finds himself volunteering for a date with a woman who’s been leaving angry hate-notes in his mailbox, and in way over his head. Because all it takes is one disastrous date with Nora for Eli to fall hard.

But falling for Eli isn’t something Nora’s ready for—not when he’s her complete opposite, and especially not when he turns out to be the best friend she’s made in Shadow Creek. But as her attraction and her feelings for Eli grow hotter, resisting him might just lead to heartbreak anyway.

Find out more at: Amazon | iBooks | B&N | Kobo

Add to Goodreads → http://bit.ly/2v1Vbws

MAKE ME FALL Excerpt

Copyright © 2018 Sara Rider

Eli marked off twenty-six and three-quarter inches as precisely as he could and lifted the blade of the circular saw.
“Oh my God, I soooo wasn’t kidding,” one of the women next door said loudly. “Nora really does need to get laid.”
His shoulders tensed. This wasn’t the first time he’d overheard the women loudly shit-talking his neighbor behind her back. He had no idea why she hung out with them.
“Maybe you should set her up with someone,” another woman added.
The other two laughed. “Can you imagine Nora on a date? She’s so uptight and frigid. Who would want to date her? No lay is worth that kind of torture. Can’t you just picture her busting out her bottle of sanitizer before the poor sap tries to hold her hand?”
His jaw tensed and he felt the last of his patience snap like an icicle in his warm hands. He sliced the saw through the wood, threw his protective glasses onto the ground, and marched over to the waist-high chain link fence. “I’d do it.”
All three women turned to look at him like he was a space alien who’d just beamed down to earth. The one who’d been talking the most leaned forward in her seat. “What did you just say?”
“You heard me. I’d go out with her.”
“You can’t be serious.”
The more this woman pushed, the more he wanted to put her in her place. No, Nora was not the kind of woman he would normally ask out—mainly because she was one of the few who didn’t seem to fall for his charm. In fact, he was pretty sure she didn’t think he had any charm whatsoever, but she was attractive and smart enough to read a book every month. That alone made her more dateable than half the population in this town. “Sure as hell am.”
The woman leaned forward, smiling at him like he was freshly caught prey in her snare. “If you’re looking for a date, I could show you a much better time.”
He shrugged, keeping his fake smile on his face. “No thanks. Backstabbing and mean isn’t my type.”
He probably enjoyed the shocked look on the woman’s face a little too much, but it was seriously fucking rude to trash-talk the hostess while sitting on her porch and eating her canapés.
The screen door slid open right at that moment. Nora walked out with a plate of decadent-looking mini-chocolate cakes that made his mouth water on sight. Her eyes darted from her friends to him and back again. “Um, what’s going on?”
He rested his hands against the old chain-link fence. “What’s going on is that your so-called friends are talking trash about your love life behind your back and don’t seem to think you can get a date. So I volunteered.”
“You what?”
“Volunteered. You and me. Tomorrow night at seven. I’ll drive.”
She slammed the cake tray onto the coffee table and set her hands on her hips. She looked around, like she couldn’t decide where to focus her anger. Of course she settled on him. “Who says I’d want to go out with you?”
He raised his eyebrow, liking the way she got flustered around him a little too much. “Got better plans?”
Even at the distance between them, he could see her suck in a breath. Her mouth hardened into a flat line, but she didn’t say no.
“Tomorrow. Seven. Dinner. Oh, and consider making new friends who aren’t so damn mean. These ladies don’t deserve any of those amazing-looking cakes.” He grabbed his plank of wood and headed into the house, wondering what the hell he’d just gotten himself into.

Want Some More Books & Brews from Sara Rider? Pick up a copy of RIGHT KIND OF LOVE today!
Amazon | iBooks | B&N | Kobo
Amazon → https://amzn.to/2DXG096
iBooks → https://apple.co/2uuSAx6
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Enter to win a $25 Amazon Gift Card and six digital copies of REAL KIND OF LOVE!

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About Sara Rider:

Sara Rider writes contemporary romance full of heart, heat, and happily ever after. She lives in British Columbia with her husband and daughters. She spends far too much time in public libraries and never leaves the home without her e-reader stuffed in her purse.
Follow: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Amazon | BookBub | Pinterest

Don’t Call Me Cupcake Blog Tour: Book Review

DON’T CALL ME CUPCAKE
The Holloway Girls #1
by Tara Sheets
Genre: Supernatural Romance

Synopsis

Most families have a favorite recipe or two, handed down through generations. The Holloway women are a little different. Emma Holloway, like her grandmother before her, bakes wishes into her delicious cupcakes, granting the recipient comfort, sweet dreams, or any number of good things. It’s a strange gift, but it brings only happiness. Until gorgeous, smooth-talking newcomer Hunter Kane strolls into her shop, Fairy Cakes—and Emma makes the mistake of selling him not one, but three Sweet Success cupcakes.

Hunter, it turns out, is opening a fancy new restaurant and bakery right on the waterfront—Emma’s competition. To make matters worse, the town committee has decided to split the upcoming summer festival contract between the two, forcing Emma to work with her nemesis. But she can’t afford to split her profits. The solution: create a recipe that will make Hunter leave town permanently.

The Holloway charms are powerful. But there are other kinds of magic in the world—like red-hot first kisses, secret glances, and the feeling that comes with falling truly, madly, inconveniently
in love . . .

Add to Goodreads
Amazon * Apple * B&N * Google * Kobo

Review

I really enjoyed reading this romance novel. There were so many things that I loved about this book, the characters, the small town setting, the heartwarming romance and obviously the cupcake magic.

From the very first page, the author draws you into the world of Emma who is has a gift using which she can make magic cupcakes. I loved how the story progressed through hate then love, and in the middle some self realization, heartfelt talks and some magic.

Don’t Call Me Cupcake was like every other love story but was still different, it holds some really nice surprises for the reader. The whole magic angle adds something different to an all too common enemies to lovers story.

I just feel that this book could have been a bit shorter, because at some parts I felt it dragged on unnecessarily. But still Don’t Call Me Cupcake was a really nice read and I would love to recommend this book all romance readers out there.

LIFE AT 17 RATING

🎐🎐🎐🎐

(4 out of 5 stars)

About the Author

Tara Sheets is an award-winning author of contemporary romance and women’s fiction. Her debut novel, Don’t Call Me Cupcake, won the 2016 Golden Heart® award sponsored by Romance Writers of America. Tara began her career as an author in the Pacific Northwest, inspired by the rain and the misty mountains and the rivers of Starbucks coffee. She now lives in the warm, wonderful South where she can stand outside with no coat on, and she finds that pretty inspiring too. When not writing, Tara enjoys life with her book-loving family and a book-eating dog named Merlin.

Author Links
Website: https://tarasheets.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TaraSheetsBooks/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/tara_sheets
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/tarasheets/
Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/tarasheets3/
Bookbub: https://www.bookbub.com/profile/tara-sheets
Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Tara-Sheets/e/B078BRTFVZ
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/17082616.Tara_Sheets

Giveaway

$10 Amazon, ebook

Follow the tour HERE for exclusive content and a giveaway!
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Stolen Obsession Blog Tour: Book Review

STOLEN OBSESSION
By Marlene Bell
Genre: Romantic Mystery

Synopsis

PEOPLE DIE, BUT LEGENDS LIVE ON.
Manhattan antiquities appraiser Annalisse Drury dreams of a quiet life on the family farm among the sheep she loves, when her best friend is murdered. The police assume robbery is the motive because her friend’s expensive bracelet is missing. But the 500-year-old artifact is rumored to carry an ancient curse, one that unleashes evil upon any who dare wear the jewelry created for the Persian royal family—and Annalisse believes her friend is the latest victim.
Weeks later, Annalisse sees a necklace matching the stolen bracelet at a gallery opening. Convinced the necklace is part of the deadly collection, Annalisse begs the gallery’s owner to destroy the piece, but her pleas are ignored— despite the unnatural death that occurs during the opening. With two victims linked to the jewelry, Annalisse is certain she must act.
Desperate to keep the gallery owner safe, Annalisse reluctantly enlists the owner’s son to help—even though she’s afraid he’ll break her heart. Wealthy and devastatingly handsome, with a string of bereft women in his wake, Greek playboy Alec Zavos dismisses Annalisse’s concerns—until his parents are ripped from the Zavos family yacht during their ocean voyage near Crete.
Annalisse and Alec race across two oceans to save his mother, feared dead or kidnapped. As time lapses, the killer switches mode and closes in on the man who’s meant for Annalisse with the lifestyle she wants most.
But when it’s her turn as the hunted, will she choose to save Alec and his mother, or sacrifice everything to save herself?

Review

Stolen Obsession is filled with suspense. Right from the moment Harry was killed, this book takes you deeper and deeper into the mystery with twists and turns and some very unexpected incidents.

Another thing that goes side by side with the mystery is Alec and Annalisse romance. I loved reading about their love story. Though I am some who complains about love story taking away the spotlight from mystery, but in this nothing of that sort happened. Both mystery and romance went side by side, never trying to take away the spotlight from the other.

Though I loved reading this book but I had a problem with this book too. I don’t know in some places I just failed to understand certain things, like there were some jokes that went totally over my head and there were few other things that I think I would have a liked a bit more clarity about.

Even though I had the problem above, but still I really enjoyed reading this novel and would love to recommend this book to all romantic suspense readers out there.

LIFE AT 17 RATING

🎐🎐🎐🎐

(4 out of 5 stars)

About the Author

Marlene M Bell is an acclaimed artist and photographer as well as a writer. Her sheep landscapes grace the covers of publications such as,Sheep!, The Shepherd, Ranch & Rural Living and Sheep Industry News. Ewephoric, her mail order venture, began in 1985 out of a desire for realistic sheep stationery. A color catalog of non-fiction books and sheep-related gifts may be requested at http://www.marlenembell.com orwww.texassheep.com.

Marlene and her husband, Gregg reside on a wooded ranch in East Texas with their 50 head of Horned Dorset sheep, a lovable Maremma guard dog named, Tia, and 3 spoiled cats who rule the household.
On Facebook: fb.me/marlenembell
On Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/ewephoric

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0794B81QG
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/38189444-stolen-obsession

Excerpt

Chapter Ten

On the short drive past boutiques filled with weekend shoppers to her place on Bank Street, Alec’s behavior froze Annalisse to the leather upholstery. When he’d bothered to talk, curt and formal blasted her side of the car, making her uncomfortable the entire trip. She couldn’t blame him. He’d been very kind to her since the gallery party and Harry’s death, and she’d offered him ingratitude in return. A sheet of solid ice separated them rather than the beautiful wooden console at her left. In fact, the entire dashboard of Alec’s distinctive car was polished to a shiny gloss, not unlike the deck on a fancy boat. The convertible had to be worth more than her annual salary—ex-salary.
“How long should we stare at the dash?” Alec leaned over, squinting into the direct sun.
“Honestly, I’ve had some body language training, and yours is a doozie.”
Alec’s expression hardened and his eyes flashed. “What happened back there?”
“When?”
“You choose.”
“You heard everything I told Mooney. Do I have to regurgitate it again?”
He shook his head. “Help me out, here. I’m trying to understand what I’ve done.” Alec squeezed the steering wheel, his frustration evident. “I feel like you’re letting everyone in but me.”
“Chase is family. We’ve been a team for a long time.”
“If you’d been—”
“It’s hot, and I’m hungry. Come inside and help me eat all this pastrami before it turns.”
He huffed disappointment and looked away.
“I’m offering an olive branch. Let’s eat, then we’ll talk.” She batted her lashes flirtatiously. “Promise.”
She turned to open her door and he touched her arm.
“Hold on.” Alec leapt out of the driver’s seat and bounded over the hood in one giant vault to the passenger side.
He opened her door and she slid around and made as gracious an exit she could from a car whose frame sat six inches from the asphalt.
“Give me your key.” He held out his hand in a way that suggested he wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer.
She dug into her zipper compartment and gave him the fob, house key extended.
With a gentle nudge, Alec guided her up the steps.
She flinched from his touch but, at the same time, felt somewhat grateful for the caring gesture after what she’d been through with Peter.
He turned the knob before inserting the key.
The door gave way.
“Don’t you lock up before you leave?”
“I’m sure Chase did.”
“Ladies first.”
The door swung in but caught midway on an overturned chair.
“What happened?” Annalisse felt lightheaded. She caught her toe on the threshold, and unbalanced by the tote on her shoulder, fell against the jamb, her funny bone taking the brunt.
“Ouch.” She cupped her elbow while the pain dissipated. “Who’d do this in daylight?” She scanned the room. “All my stuff.”
“Stay outside while I check the house out, but if you won’t, stick close.”
If someone had taken a high velocity fan to the room it would’ve been an improvement. Following Alec, she picked her way over magazines and binders scattered over the hardwood. Nothing was in its rightful place.
He reached back for her, his vision still trained ahead. “Stay close.” Alec locked his fingers with hers.
“My cat! Boris! Here, kitty. Alec, what if something’s happened to him? Boris! Please be hiding somewhere.” She left Alec’s side to close the front door and swallowed back tears. Her faithful little roommate had been a rescued stray. He’d shown up at the farm as a few week-old kitten, thin and hungry. A pile of trembling orange fur who’d nestled into her palm, his golden eyes unsure of her. She forced back the fear of losing him, too.
Tiptoeing around books and papers, she surveyed the damage from kitchen to living area and went back to Alec. She took his warm hand and a shiver fluttered through her body. Home invasions happened to other people. She found no logic in the break in unless the act was a random burglary.
“I’d better check for anything stolen.”
“No.” He turned to her, his Adam’s apple working his throat. He stared at her as if he were trying to read her innermost thoughts.
Neither of them spoke.
Annalisse was certain Alec could hear the banging in her chest, or maybe it was his heart hammering her ears.
Most of her paintings were ripped from the walls, twisted in broken frames, lying helter-skelter. Chunks of white plaster at the missing nail heads and hangers marked their places. Every kitchen cupboard and drawer was slid to the stops or spilled on the tile. Pots, skillets, tableware, canned goods, junk drawer, and glassware—her favorite set of iced tea glasses were among the broken and injured. Not the work of a typical rob-and-run burglar, but the handiwork of a creature who preyed on destruction of the psyche.
“Why the demolition? What were they after?” Annalisse looked over at her pristine desk—empty. “My life was on that computer, dammit.”
Alec broke eye contact, then dropped her hand. “Yeah, but you were gone. Stuff can be replaced. I’d better check the rest of the house myself.” He moved deliberately toward the staircase.
Annalisse set her purse down into the flipped over cushions on the couch, repositioned them, and stepped through what used to be neat stacks, years of gallery research. A groan passed her lips when she walked to the desk marred with new scratches, bereft of her monitor and tower hard drive. She looked around the room for her laptop; it, too, was missing.
Cursing under her breath, she saw her prized possession, a two-foot bronze statue of a shepherdess with a pair of sheep grazing near her feet, lying on its side next to a toppled plant stand. An expensive work of art from Florence she’d had no business buying, but she couldn’t resist. When Generosa had called from Italy describing it, Annalisse had to have it. Everyone who knew her well understood her love for sheep. Even if she’d declined Generosa’s offer to bring it back for her, she’d felt certain the bronze would end up in her hands eventually.
Alec waited by the stairs and whispered, “Your bedroom up there?” He pointed upstairs.
She nodded, lifted the mahogany stand upright and, with both hands, replaced the hefty bronze to its rightful place next to the desk. Close enough to admire its detail while she worked. “Wait for me. I need to see what’s missing upstairs.”
Standing at the oak banister, he shook his head.
“No. You’ll be safer down there. I won’t be long, and I’ll look for your cat while I’m up there.”
“Be careful.”
Boris had to be scared out of his mind. She hoped he’d escaped to his hiding place in the closet.
Whoever destroyed her home had acted with malice. They had her personal data and internet search history, where she shopped online, email correspondence as well as business contacts. A privacy breach she couldn’t afford. Compiling a list of possible suspects in her head, she felt so violated, even more so than by what had happened with Peter. Names and faces blurred together. With fingertips pressed at her temples, she willed the jackhammers in her head to stop.
Raising her arms, as if a make-believe thief told her to, she said, “I give up. I may as well set a match to this place, for all the good it’s going to do me now.”
Alec uttered a sentence upstairs she couldn’t make out.
“Alec, did you find Boris?”
The sound of shuffling filtered downstairs then a thump.
“Alec, what fell?” She looked up at an empty landing. The unnatural silence pricked the hairs straight out on her neck. “Answer me.”
A mechanical voice broke the silence. “Don’t move.”
She stopped breathing and froze, afraid to look up, but then looked anyway.
A figure in a brownish ski mask and desert camouflage occupied the top of the staircase. Holding Alec. He—or she—held him at gunpoint. One arm cradled Alec’s waist and a black pistol so close to Alec’s right ear, his curls hid part of the barrel.
She’d expected Alec’s expression to be as wild as hers must have been, but he appeared strangely calm.
“I’m all right, Annalisse.”
“Shut up.” The voice was distorted with some kind of voice altering mechanism. Deep tones, similar to a bumblebee in distress.
The masked person let go of Alec long enough to backhand him across the mouth.
The intruder sure smacked like a man.
Annalisse covered her mouth in horror. Her blood boiled as she watched the two men descending the stairs side by side. She was several feet from her pistol at the bottom of her purse, and the man who held Alec had to be the same man who’d turned over everything in her home. Where were her computers? Did he have a partner? Soon, he’d find what he wanted. She suspected that since the opening, or earlier, either she or Alec had been surveilled.
The buzzing voice came again, and an evil glint shone through the eyeholes in the mask. “You run, he dies. Get into kitchen. Let’s have a little zakuski, malysh.”
A breath caught in her lungs. They were Russian terms she understood.
She’d nearly become a main course earlier in the day. Damned if she would stand back and play appetizer to another creep.