Albert Camus

Don't walk behind me; I may not lead. Don't walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Summer 2013 Giveaway Hop International!

Click HERE or HERE to see the list of blogs participating to this hop!

There are so many books I want to read that it becomes really hard to choose or to make a list. The "short list" is already a very long one.
I ask only because I'll be leave on you the chore to choose the book you want (again); the only limit is the price - up to 17$ (again)

Good luck!
The Giveaway is INTERNATIONAL as long as The Book Depository ships to you for free OR you want ebooks from Smashwords or Amazon 

The winner will be announced here, on Mythical Books
a Rafflecopter giveaway

King of Bad (Super Villain Academy Book 1) by Kai Strand

King of Bad Description:

Jeff Mean would rather set fires than follow rules or observe curfew. He wears his bad boy image like a favorite old hoodie; that is until he learns he has superpowers and is recruited by Super Villain Academy – where you learn to be good at being bad. In a school where one kid can evaporate all the water from your body and the girl you hang around with can perform psychic sex in your head, bad takes on a whole new meaning. Jeff wonders if he’s bad enough for SVA. He may never find out. Classmates vilify him when he develops good manners. Then he’s kidnapped by those closest to him and left to wonder who is good and who is bad. His rescue is the climactic episode that balances good and evil in the super world. The catalyst – the girl he’s crushing on. A girlfriend and balancing the Supers is good, right? Or is it…bad?  

About the author:
kai When the electricity winked out, Kai Strand gathered her family around the fire and they told stories, one sentence at a time. Her boys were rather fond of the ending, “And then everybody died, the end.” Now an award winning children’s author, Kai crafts fiction for kids and teens to provide an escape hatch from their reality. With a selection of novels for young adult and middle grade readers and short stories for younger children Kai entertains children of all ages, and their adults. 

BookBlast Giveaway $100 Amazon Gift Card or Paypal Cash Ends 8/15/13 Open only to those who can legally enter, receive and use an Amazon.com Gift Code or Paypal Cash. Winning Entry will be verified prior to prize being awarded. No purchase necessary. You must be 18 or older to enter or have your parent enter for you. The winner will be chosen by rafflecopter and announced here as well as emailed and will have 48 hours to respond or a new winner will be chosen. This giveaway is in no way associated with Facebook, Twitter, Rafflecopter or any other entity unless otherwise specified. The number of eligible entries received determines the odds of winning. Giveaway was organized by Kathy from I Am A Reader, Not A Writer http://iamareader.com and sponsored by the author. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW.  a Rafflecopter giveaway

Guest Post Blaze Ignites by J.L. Madore


BLAZE IGNITES blends strong, clever women and tough, sexy men in a fast paced, volatile cocktail of action, seduction and wicked humour.

"Destiny my ass." Jade Glaster refuses to believe the Fates rule her life. After a Scourge attack leaves her orphaned as a child, a young Jade vowes never to be powerless again. Now, grown and strong, wielding the affinities of fire and healing, Jade protects innocents as an enforcer for her world's elite policing agency—The Talon.

When an emissary mission to reinstate a race of exiled Elves brings Galan into her life, Jade finds herself overwhelmed by new passions, some welcome, some not. Although Galan's antiquated views on women offend her to her heated core, when the Scourge target his family, she helps him navigate the outside worlds he knows nothing about—the magical Realm of the Fair and, stranger still . . . the modern streets of Toronto.

Through their sensually charged pursuit of justice, Jade discovers that when dealing with the Fates—destiny is never random.


Everything has Potential—by: JL Madore

My family often laughs when I stop what we're doing and pull out my pad and pencil. It doesn't matter where we are—in the movie theatre, in the car, in a restaurant, or just hanging out in the living room watching TV—if I hear a one liner, a play on words, or just one word that makes me think of one of my characters or makes me laugh, I write it down. Quickly before it's lost.

Now, this recording of verbal gems is different from the times I see a scene unfolding and need to capture the nebulous ideas of plot and character before they evaporate from my jumbled mind. Or when I wake in the morning and the troubles I'd been having with my story seem to have worked themselves out miraculously as I slept and I'm filled with solutions at the crack of dawn.

No, the jotting down of real-life tidbits is more like recording inspiration. It's a launching point for another day—a prompt for later. These ideas spark my creativity, humour or a new direction which I might have overlooked. They get me going, and if they still make me laugh when I read them days, weeks or months later, I rework them to my own style and into my story they go.

God forbid anyone in the household recycle a scrap of paper, because inspiration could be scribbled anywhere: on envelopes, bank slips, grocery receipts, and occasionally I even get a few onto note pads. And as you can imagine, after years of this habit, the paper mountain has piled up.

The trick is—whether you're an aspiring writer or seasoned—keep your eyes and ears open as you move through your day. Last week, I was in Walmart with my daughter and a little girl walking towards us said something to her mom that made both of us crack up. She was obviously getting ready to have a party—her fourth birthday I'd guess by the size of her—and she said in such a grown up voice. "Oh mommy, I just want everything to be perrrrfect."

Whether it's a couple having a blow-out fight in a Wendy's parking lot or a conversation between fans at the soccer field, if it smacks of real life, drama, wit or humour—I jot it down. Everything has potential.

Have you ever laughed out loud from someone else's conversation and thought, 'That's a good one.' Well, write it down for later. You never know where you'll find inspiration.

 About the author:
September 2009 marked the beginning of my journey with writing paranormal/fantasy romance novels. After spending a year hiatus in Panama with my family, I returned to Ontario relaxed and ready to let stories flow from my mind onto the page. The only problem was—I didn’t know a thing about the craft of writing.

Almost four years later, after dozens of workshops, reading hundreds of books, joining a writing community and two critique groups, I've won two writing scholarships and believe I've got a handle on what I’m trying to say and the voice with which I want to say it.

Currently, I am working on the five book Scourge Survivor Series as well as a darker, erotic/romance paranormal series currently called Watchers of the Grey.

Guest Post and Giveaway Scorched Treachery (Imdalind #3) by Rebecca Ethington


While Joclyn is trapped in the tormenting hell of Cail’s mind, the battle around her only continues to grow and spread.
Edmund has infiltrated the underground hallways of Prague, guiding the massacre that would end the lives of the last of the great magical race. In her attempts to stop him, Wynifred has been captured and her magic restrained. Chained up in the ancient dungeons of Prague, her fate is left in the hands of her father, who has tried to kill her before.

With Ryland’s screams and Sain’s fragmented sights as her only company, Wyn must rely on something that has been hidden deep inside of her for centuries to help them break free.
Ilyan’s whole life has been building up to one purpose. Protect the Silnỳ. He knows what he must do, and he has no doubt in his ability to do so.

But when his father’s magic removes Joclyn’s mind from her body, he is left protecting the shell of the one person he loves. Desperate to find a way to break her free of her prison, he makes a choice. And that one choice changes everything.
Now, Ilyan finds himself bound to Joclyn in a way that he never knew to be possible.

They say that blood is thicker than water, but Black Water burns, and Ilyan’s heart may not be strong enough to keep it pumping through his veins and give the girl he loves back into his brother’s care.
Even if he can, it may not be safe to do so.


Falling in love for the first time…
The year was 1860. I was sitting on a bench with several of my acquaintances discussing the festivities for the ball that was to occur that weekend when I saw what can only be described as the most handsome gentleman in our small village. He was proper as he hung the banner for the ball, his brow covered with sweat as his muscles pulsed against his suspenders.
I immediately inquired of my friends about who this handsome stranger may be, only to learn that he was the newly arrived brother of one of the most disagreeable girls in our circle. Alas! Was true love not to be?
But no, it seems we were destined. For he too, saw my beauty and sought me out for his own, the affections of which I heartily accepted…
Wait a second…
I am actually married to my first love. Of course there were guys in between, but my darling husband returned to me after several years… and as for before… I met him when I was fifteen and we were both volunteering at a local Living History Museum – so I guess the above story is correct, there was just probably a lot more giggling involved…
 Goodreads ** Smashwords ** Amazon ** Barnes&Noble

About the author:
Rebecca Ethington has been telling stories since she was small. First, with writing crude scripts, and then on stage with years of theatrical performances. The Imdalind Series is her first stint into the world of literary writing. Rebecca is a mother to two, and wife to her best friend of 14 years. She was born and raised in the mountains of Salt Lake City, and hasn’t found the desire to leave yet. Her days are spent writing, running, and enjoying life with her amazing family.

Website ** Goodreads ** Facebook ** Twitter

Author's Giveaway:
(1) ebook copy of either book 1, 2, or 3 in the series (winner can choose) + a swag pack. Open internationally.
a Rafflecopter giveaway 

Cover Reveal Blood Craving (Sons of Navarus #5) by Gabrielle Bisset

Publication Date: Winter 2013


I am everything you hunger for. I am vampire.

For Sion, reason and logic are his only solace. Since becoming vampire in the 1940s, he has shunned feelings, morphing into a being more machine than man. As a Son, he keeps his distance from the others, allowing only one soul in the world to stir his icy heart.

A vampire turned in ancient Greece, Kali is the only hope the Sons and the Order of Macaria have to decipher the prophecy now that Thane is gone. But her past hides a dark secret that has finally caught up with her. Demons she only barely controlled now threaten her very life and the safety of all dear to her.

The one vampire who can help her knows nothing of how to reach another's heart, but without him, they both may be lost.

Books in series:

About the author:
Gabrielle Bisset's first book was published in June 2011, and since then she's been busy writing the bestselling 'Sons of Navarus' series. The series includes the following books: Blood Avenged (Sons of Navarus #1), Blood Betrayed (Sons of Navarus #2), Longing (A Sons of Navarus Short Story), Blood Spirit (Sons of Navarus #3), The Deepest Cut (A Sons of Navarus Short Story) and Blood Prophecy (Sons of Navarus #4). When she's not writing, she enjoys cooking, reading, and watching movies. She lives in Pennsylvania with her teenage son and a herd of pets. Readers can contact her at gabriellebisset@gmail.com

Cover Reveal organized by CBLS Promotions

Cover Reveal Tone Deaf by Olivia Rivers

Release Day: November 4th, 2013


His world is music…
…Her world is silent.

Ali Blinde was a prodigy destined to become one of the greatest musicians of the 21st century.

Until the brain tumor struck.

Now seventeen, Ali lives in a soundless world where she gets by with ASL and lip-reading. So when she meets Jace Beckett, she thinks he’s her worst nightmare come true. Jace is the lead singer in the wildly-popular band, Tone Deaf, and he’s exactly the kind of success-story Ali hates and resents.

Nineteen-year-old Jace has it all: fame, money, and any girl he wants. Every night on tour brings a new performance and a new girl, which is just what he needs to avoid the pain of relationships.

But when Jace learns Ali is being abused, he reluctantly proposes a solution: Run away with him and his band as they tour the country. With freedom in sight, Ali takes the offer. Immediately, she’s swept into a world filled with wild punk music, wilder musicians, and maybe—just maybe—love.

About the author:
Olivia Rivers is the author of five novels, ranging in genres from Epic Fantasy to Contemporary Romance. Along with being a writer, she’s a freelance digital artist, a literary agent assistant, and a high school student. She’s a nerd at heart, and is a hopeless fan-girl for Doctor Who and Pokémon. Olivia lives in California with a dog who thinks he’s a cat, a cat who thinks he’s a dog, and a kitten who is just generally confused. 

Cover reveal organized by Xpresso Book Tours

Cover Reveal Evanescent (Broken #2) by Carlyle Labuschagne

Release Date: November 2013

Only his touch can save her from The shift that threatens them all.

Within my blood runs a thing our kind calls The Shadowing Disease. It shadows over, and bends everything to its will. When the first blood- shift came, it tore through flesh and blood, threatening to bend me, break bone, shatter my mind and entrap my heart with its honeyed, seductive poison. It came with vicious intent, moving my thoughts and altering me forever. The shift has caused a rift within me.I feel myself slipping away. No one was safe when it entrapped me in its claws of foul lust. But I have the only antidote against the evil that becomes me – his touch alone has the power to release the spurs of sweet darkness that clung on for dear life. I knew what I had to do; the desperation pulled my mind with the deep determination of a hungry predator. But by the time the revelation raised me from the dark dungeon of my bounds – it might have been too late.


My makers would say I was created for revenge. I say, I was born to prove them wrong. Inflicted with the dark disease I was lost in every possible way, and they were wrong – death does not bring you your true purpose. After death, I am more misplaced than ever, but only because I am immune to guidance. I relive my darkest moments over and over again, just to remind myself of who I am. I am the destined one. The haltered. For me, there is no love, and no release; only destruction, but I am on a path to be free of its burden. I do love and I will have it, absorb it and never, ever, let all its enchanting affections go. In order to be with love, there is only one path to lead me there; through this war. But nothing and no one, knows what awaits on the other side, or what lies have been afflicted upon us about the after. Remorse is an infection I no longer want. I had made apocalyptic mistakes, and will probably keep on faltering forward. It has become my only direction in a reality where there is none. To him, there is no him, if there is no me. He is bound to me, and I hated it more than I will ever confess. His cross to bear is me, and to be that – to be this –might never let me go. Acceptance? I will never accept it. With him, I have found hope where the word does not exist. I want him to love me for who I am, not for what he is to me. When I say my worst enemy is me – it really is. It’s in me, and it’s getting stronger, because I am without my seal. I am like a boiled-over pot of living poison, seeking somewhere to belong. Thing is, I do not belong anywhere but the in- between. And without my seal, and without him, that is exactly where I will stay. Everything that is, that exists, will try to keep us apart, because of what I am. If we ignite, we could either burn it all down, or alter existence forever. Yes, I shifted, probably something I could have prevented, but now that I have tasted it – it moves on its own accord, and it gets harder to come out of each time it happens. The blood-shift has caused a rift within me. It has torn everything I hold dear from me. And perhaps I am now damned for it, but as I said, I will not accept damnation. That word no longer exists to me. I am the in-between. The one to bring the dark and the light together. When the first true blood- shift came, it tore through flesh and parted blood, threatening to bend me, break bone, shatter my mind and entrap my heart to become its will. It comes with vicious intent, moving my thoughts, touching me with a cutting effect from the inside. It has many ways of bleeding out, and when it releases, there is nothing I can do to stop it. No one is safe when it entraps me in its claws of foul lust. Corrupt, damnable, depraved, destructive, hideous, demonic – your kind would call it many things. I have a weapon against the profane that becomes me – his touch alone has the power to release the talons of a sweet darkness that clings on for dear life. It has one trigger – me. I can change it if only I can take the leap, surrender myself utterly. I am ready with all of me, for all of him. I know what I have to do; the desperation of it pulls my mind with the unfathomable determination of a ravenous predator. I let it sink in hard and true. I feel the swell of the fight fill me with a bitter sweetness, and with a glorious soothing pain that tears my mind from the disease which transforms me. In a moments revelations my mind shows me a glimpse of what has transpired. It works on pure logic, showing me that I am too late? How can I stop him from igniting with the wrong one? My loss has become my fight as I watch it all wither away. But, I will never stop fighting. I am my own destiny. And my destiny is to be with him. My eyes fling open. My heart pounds, searing to life. The geometric shapes I had seen before, become one big silhouette. I find myself seeing where there is no light. I can hear him, feel his heart’s rhythm – so close. I will take back what is mine. Everything else becomes Evanescent.

Ava knows much more, and feels much more than she is allowed to. When she starts questioning her origins and the destruction of Earth, things go horribly wrong for her. She is saved by a Minoan boy from an attempted kidnapping on her life – the perpetrators are evil Zulus and their dark ancient magic. Humans and Minoans are forbidden to interact with each other, and as she is taken back to their village she finds out why – they know of her, her kind and her destiny to save a dying race. Ava must rid them from the Council’s ruling and free the galaxy of The Shadow. Her destiny is to rise above the fall, because within her soul is the key to an archaic weapon that has been missing in the mix of a genetic code since the time of the ancients. As the prophecy unfolds she learns of her bloodline – a bloodline that makes her less human than she could ever have imagined. She alone has the power to destroy or save, but the mind-shift is a horrible thing. Ava will become what she hates to save the ones she loves. Beaten, poisoned, possessed and betrayed by her own emotions, she has no choice but to rise above it all… for that is her Destiny.

About the author:
Carlyle Labuschagne is a South African debut author working her way into the hearts of international readers with her first young adult dystopian novel "The Broken Destiny". She is not only an author, but works as a sales rep and marketing manager by day. She holds a diploma in creative writing through the writing school at College SA.

Carlyle loves to swim, fights for the trees, and is a food lover who is driven by her passion for life. Carlyle also writes for IU e-magazine India, an inspirational non-profit magazine that aims at inspiring the world through words. The drive behind her author career is healing through words. Carlyle is also the founder of the first annual book drive – Help Build A Library in Africa Project.

“My goal as an author is to touch people’s lives, and help others love their differences and one another.”


Author's Giveaway:
a Rafflecopter giveaway
Cover reveal organized by Lady Amber's Tours 

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Review and Giveaway Lexia (The Deadwood Hunter, #1) by Rachel M. Raithby


I think if I would say: "I really liked the book, read it!" would be enough. But I do not think that would be fair ... to the author or to the tour. So, again, I have to find a way to tell you some things I liked (with no spoilers - here's one of the challenges), but remember what I told you ¬ (especially if the rows below will not convince you – damn inspiration!): "I really liked the book, read it!"

The action starts immediately. There are no downtimes or unnecessary introductions. That does not mean that they will be continuously  fighting , but that everything that happens is well connected, and flow smoothly and harmoniously. The reader will get the same "treatment" as the heroine, being brought into action just as Lexia is thrown in the midst of changes. Changes about she knows nothing and have the "gift" to save her in the same measure that they threaten her life. I liked how the author played Lexie’s inner struggle on the one hand to understand the changes she’s going through and put her in terrifying situations, and on the other to not give in to the pleasure to kill. (Do not worry, she is not a vampire, nor other supernatural being… all these creatures seem to become her victims ... well, not all of them ...). And if that is hard, it will become even harder when she has to do it alone and when she does not know anymore what thinks the only person she trusts and was close to her and could help her .

In fact, the situation will become more puzzling not only because she will become the prey of many, but also because she will be chased for revenge. Even if he can be a cold-blood killer, searching for an optimum moment and her weak points to take her out easier, Lincoln will start to be intrigued by "Little Wildcat". And from here what were for him black and white will become a lot of shades of gray. From the same moment starts a game of seduction, but also a cat and mouse game in which new, contradictory feelings and assumed risks spices the romance that we all expected. I think you'll like this.

When everything is resolved between the two of them, the major problem appears and everything was so far looks like a trifle. Lexia’s inner struggle that she has to bear gets new values and that will be much harder for her to prevail. The good part is that everything that could destroy her like a human, rational being remain the same that will help her in the fight against the new discovered enemies. But only if she will find a way to control and she will have the power to not give in to this changes.

Love, friendship, the life of everyone involved (and more) can be easily lost. No sacrifice seems to be too great, and the assumed risks lead to an ending that will leave you not only on the edge, but already with a foot over. It will be a long wait for the second book.

If you think that all this looks (too) familiar, do not worry! The author has done a good job and she has a fresh style, originality and talent to not give you the impression that you re-read another book. Remember what I said at the beginning: "I really liked the book, read it!"

I received the book for review as part of Book Tour - Thank you!

Cred că dacă aş spune: „Mi-a plăcut mult cartea, citiți-o!” ar fi suficient. Totuşi nu cred că ar fi corect... față de autor şi nici față de tur. Aşadar trebuie să găsesc din nou o modalitate de a vă spune câte ceva din ceea ce mi-a plăcut (fără spoilere – aici e una din hibe), dar țineți minte ce v­am zis (mai ales dacă rândurile de jos nu o să vă convingă –inspirația, bat-o vina): „Mi-a plăcut mult cartea, citiți-o!”

Acțiunea începe imediat. Nu există timpi morți şi nici introduceri inutile. Asta nu înseamnă că vor fi lupte în continuu, ci că tot ceea ce se petrece este legat, cursiv şi... armonios. Cititorul va avea parte de acelaşi „tratament” ca al eroinei, fiind introdus în acțiune tot aşa cum Lexia este aruncată în mijlocul unor schimbări. Schimbări despre care nu ştie nimic şi care au „darul” de a o salva în aceeaşi măsură în care îi amenință viața. Mi-a plăcut cum autoarea a redat lupta interioară a Lexiei pe de o parte pentru a înțelege modificările prin care trece şi care o pun în situații terifiante, iar pe de altă parte pentru a nu ceda plăcerii de a ucide. (Nu vă speriați, nu e nici vampir, nici... toate aceste ființe supranaturale par să-i ajungă victime... mă rog, nu chiar toate...). Şi dacă asta e greu, atunci va deveni şi mai greu când trebuie să o ducă singură şi când nu mai ştie ce crede singura persoană care i-a fost aproape şi care ar putea-o ajuta.

De fapt, situația se va încurca şi mai mult nu doar din cauză că va deveni vânatul multora, dar şi pentru faptul că va fi căutată pentru răzbunare. Putând fi chiar şi un ucigaş cu sânge rece şi căutând un moment optim şi punctele ei slabe pentru a o elimina mai uşor, Lincoln va începe să fie intrigat de „Little Wildcat” şi de aici pentru el lucrurile din alb şi negru vor deveni multe nuanțe de gri. Tot de aici începe un joc al seducției, dar şi un joc de-a şoarecele cu pisica în care sentimente noi, contradictorii şi riscuri asumate condimentează povestea de dragoste pe care toți o aşteptam. Cred că o să vă placă.

Când totul se rezolvă între cei doi apare problema majoră față de care tot ceea ce fost până acum pare o bagatelă. Lupta pe care o are de dus Lexia cu sine însăşi capătă alte valori şi va dovedi că e mult mai greu de câştigat. Partea bună este că tot ceea ce ar putea-o distruge ca ființă umană, rațională este şi ceea ce o va ajuta în lupta împotriva noilor duşmani descoperiți. Asta dacă va găsi o cale de a controla şi va avea puterea de a nu ceda acestor schimbări.

Dragoste, prietenie, viața tuturor celor implicați (şi nu numai) pot fi pierdute uşor. Niciun sacrificiu nu pare prea mare, iar riscurile asumate duc la un final care te va lăsa nu doar pe muchie de cuțit, ci deja un pic tăiat de lama acestuia. Va fi o lungă aşteptare.

Dacă vi se pare că totul sună (prea) cunoscut nu vă speriați! Autoarea a făcut o treabă bună şi are un stil proaspăt, originalitate şi talent pentru a nu vă lăsa impresia că recitiți altă carte. Aduceți-vă aminte ce v-am spus la început: „Mi-a plăcut mult cartea, citiți-o!”

About the author:

Rachel was born and raised in North, East, England before she moved to New Zealand at the age of 20. She now lives in Queensland Australia with her husband and two children plus the family dog and horse.

She is currently self publishing the first novel in The Deadwood Hunter Series whilst working on book 2 and a YA Fantasy Novel.

Rachel would love to hear from you, find her at:

Author's Giveaway
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Happy Release Day A Time of Dying (Araneae Nation #3) by Hailey Edwards!

Cover Artist: Kanaxa


"They just might survive...if they don't kill each other first. "

Once the future Segestriidae maven, Kaidi lived a privileged life. Now she spends her nights haunting cities ravaged by the plague. Spade in hand, she stalks rows of freshly dug graves for corpses...and then she takes their heads.

Her new life is caked in blood and spattered with gore, but it's hers. At least until-to her fury-she's caught napping.

A plague survivor by the skin of his teeth, Murdoch risks his neck to solve the mysteries left in its wake. Bodies have gone missing. Guards have left their posts and never returned home.

When he rouses a female dozing among the dead, he's unprepared for the violence of her response. Or his. Beneath the grime, she's lovely. Too bad the blood under her fingernails belongs to his clansmen.

He has no choice but to follow this alluring creature deeper into her world of winged beasts and flesh-eating monsters. She holds the knowledge he craves, but the price is high-and they may both pay for it with their lives.

Warning: This book contains one heroine in desperate need of a bath and one hero willing to wash away her sins. Expect threats, swears and general cursing. Love is a slippery slope, and these two are sliding.


Chapter One

Freckled skin gave beneath my spade as I angled its honed point at the hollow of some poor female’s throat. Milky eyes bored into mine when I braced my foot on the spade’s tread, shifting my weight, bearing down until the blade sliced through her slender neck, tearing flesh and crunching bone. Her lips parted on a gasp, or perhaps I imagined that flicker of awareness before I snuffed her final remnants. Gods knew I hoped it was only guilt picking at scabs on my weary conscious.

The death of even one innocent would break me, if any scrap of the old Kaidi remained.

Tossing the spade aside, I wiped sweat from my brow and bent to check her pockets, finding them as empty as my own. No coin meant going another day without food. Not that I had much of an appetite after this, but I couldn’t live on stale water for much longer. Soon I would need a hot meal and a safe place to rest, if one still existed.

Gaze skimming the grassy field littered with the corpses of plague victims, I had my doubts.

Exhaustion bore me to my knees. I was too tired to wince when one knee cracked on a loose stone. My chin hit my chest, and my eyes shut. The pulse of pain, of hunger, of regret, lulled me.

One minute lapsed, then two. Any moment I would rise. Any time now…

The press of cold metal against my throat shocked me awake.

“I’ll have your name, female.” The booming masculine voice made my head throb.

“I hope not.” I ignored the blade and rubbed my eyes clear. “It would sound silly on a male.”

More pressure made breathing without cutting my neck difficult. “Tell me your name.”

I rolled around a few choices before saying, “Imani.”

His grunt called me on my lie. Interesting. Usually they couldn’t tell.

He nudged me with his boot. “What’s your purpose here?”

I shrugged. “The same as my purpose elsewhere, I imagine.”

Grasping my upper arm, he hauled me onto my feet and spun me to face him. I stifled a gasp when I met the pitch-black eyes informing me that I had run afoul of a Mimetidae warrior. I had tracked the plague to Cathis, the Mimetidae’s clan home, but had I been in my right mind, a state I barely recalled these days, I would have avoided their borders and continued on to the next city.

Contrary to my actions these past few months, I did not have a death wish.

Thinly leashed anger radiated through his tightened fingers. “You play a dangerous game.”

“You have no idea,” I murmured, while measuring the distance from here to the forest.

His gaze trailed after mine. “You won’t make it.”

“So you say.” I struggled until he released me, then I hit the ground like a sack of stones.

“If you can’t stand, then you can’t run.” He sheathed his weapon, turning to appraise my long night’s work by the dawn’s soft glow. “Care to explain this?” He gestured toward the headless corpse. “Or those?”

I forced myself to count victims—sixteen females and one male for good measure.

My laugh was rusty. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

His brow creased. “Try me.”

I fisted a palm’s worth of loose dirt. “Well, it’s like this…”

When he folded his arms over his chest, away from that lovely sword of his, and inclined his head, waiting, I exhaled hard and prayed the gods gave my feet wings. His frown cut deeper, lips parting on his next demand, when I gathered my nerve and flung the contents of my hand at him.

“What in the gods’ names—” He staggered back, blinking in surprise.

Shoving to my feet, I bolted past him, snagged my spade and ran for the safety of the trees. His bellow of rage made my heart race and chest tighten. Those were not the sounds of a happy male. No, they were the sounds of a male preparing to rend a female in two, if he could catch her.

Scenery blurred as I ran harder, faster, until my foot rung a hole and I tumbled onto all fours. I was halfway to standing when the male burst into the small clearing, head lifted, nostrils flared.

“Move,” he warned, “and we’ll see if your head comes off as easy as theirs did.”

Turning my head slowly, I noticed his arms were out, but his sword remained tethered at his hip as if he didn’t want to harm me. Pity. Once I might have appreciated his misguided chivalry. Now I saw it for the weakness it was. I was female, but I was not soft. Not my heart, and not my arms. They were lean and muscled from digging up graves, as firm and cold as the ground where I had buried my mother, my sisters and cousins, all the members of my family but one, my uncle.

I did this for them, as practice for the day we met again and I added their names to my tally.

Can’t kill what’s already dead, I reminded myself.

While my thoughts churned over each other, the male took a step, and I tightened my grip on the spade. Before he got near enough to lay his hands on me, I twisted on my side and swung my weapon. The flat side cracked against his jaw, popping his neck as his head twisted. In a daze, he faced me, eyes whirling. Staggering back, he smeared the blood welling from his smashed cheek.

Scrambling out of his reach, I clawed my way upright, and a heartbeat later I was running. I barely dared to hope I might escape him unscathed when an impact knocked me against a tree. Ears ringing, I clamped my head between my hands and focused on not vomiting as the world lurched beneath me. A second hit from behind sent me tumbling onto the ground and burst my lip.

I wheezed when my attacker collapsed across my back, crushing the air from my lungs.

“I can’t…breathe.” My sight tunneled, turning hazy around the edges.

His low growl rumbled against my spine. “That makes two of us.”

Strong hands grasped my shoulders and flipped me onto my back. Before I brought my knee up to greet his tender parts, the male straddled my legs and sat on my shins, pinning me in place. His fingers dug into my collarbones, and the twist of his lips told me that if he had another set of hands, my wrists would be shackled too. Luckily for me, he didn’t, and I knew what I had to do.

I brought the spade up, but seconds from contact, he noticed. Wrenching the handle from my grasp, he flung it so far I lost sight of it. He lowered his head until his blood dripped on my chin. His breath was hot and hissed between his teeth. His expression sent fear shivering up my spine.

I swallowed hard. “Please—”

His palm sealed the plea in my mouth. “Save your lies for those who might believe them.”

Trapped beneath a snarling male who stood a head taller than me, three times wider than me, I had no choice but to obey. He was battered, his judgment clouded, and I knew I would outlast him.

“Those eyes—that hair—” His gaze narrowed on my left ear. “You’re Segestriidae.”

A name I could falsify. The golden hair and lavender eyes common to my clansmen, those I had no way to alter. Failing those telling signs, there was the clear quartz crystal suspended from my earlobe by a golden strand of Araneidae silk. The expense of that silk confirmed my identity. If their nigh-unbreakable silk made the Araneidae the wealthiest clan in the Araneae Nation, then the craftsmanship of mine made us almost equals in worth. Our skill with crystals was unrivaled.

To possess the appearance of the Segestriidae and indicators of my status was foolhardy.

Vanity kept me clinging to one while desperation made me reliant on the other. At least I had the good sense to travel with the matching necklace concealed. Bad enough to be a lone female on the road. That earned me unwanted attention. But if my fellow rogues had coveted the earring, they would have gutted me for the pendant.

Behind my captor’s eyes, I imagined his mind at work puzzling out my identity. My clothes were heavy and meant for travel, dyed soot black because I hunted my prey after the sun had set.

Briefly, I wished for his midnight hair and eyes. How well he must complement the night.

After a moment’s hesitation, he wiped the blood from my mouth with a cloth pulled from his pocket. When he finished, he inhaled my scent, and dread tightened my stomach. The Mimetidae were trackers, the lot of them. What I had given him was a means of locating me should I escape.

While tucking away his prize, his gaze never left mine. “Why are you on Mimetidae land?”

I mumbled against his hand, and he removed it. “Let me go.”

His eyes crossed. “I asked you a question.”

“Why bother answering when we both know I won’t tell you the truth?”

“I suspected as much, but as you’re female, I thought to give you the benefit of the doubt.”

“Well,” I countered, “as you’re male, I thought honesty and small words were prudent.”

A tic started beneath his right eye. “You’re insulting me.”

The seriousness of his expression made me laugh. “You’re a quick one, you are. Did you enjoy the chase?” I winked at him. “Set me on my feet and we can have another go.”

“I prefer you just as you are…” he shifted his hips, “…flat on your back.”

His words dried the spit from my mouth. All the ways this encounter could end poorly—for me—spun wild through my head. Though the guard’s heavy thighs pinned mine together, he was not aroused. That realization somewhat eased my mind. Now if he would only stay uninterested.

When he slid his hands down my body, then up my waist and over my breasts, I launched my fist at his bloodied jaw, but he swatted aside my arm.

“Calm yourself.” He went still, his face earnest. “I would never harm a female in that way. I must search you for more weapons. Understand?”

I nodded as if I believed that was all he was after.

“What’s this?” His patting had located my necklace. When he fished it from my shirt, his eyes widened. “I’ve never seen such a large crystal. The setting…” he turned it over in his hand, “…it’s solid gold.” He wasn’t asking. He didn’t have to. What would be the point of using such a remarkable stone but denying it an equally elegant setting? He breathed, “This must be worth a small fortune.”

His tone implied I must have stolen it. In fact, it had been a gift from my betrothed, a bauble as beautiful as it was lethal.

Qualities Hishima had once ascribed to me.

“It was a gift from my uncle.” I wasn’t stretching the truth too far. The earring had truly been a gift from Ghubari, a match to the impressive novelty my betrothed had given me. “Please let me keep it. Better yet, let me go.”

“If I did, where would you go?” He glanced up, then back at me. “What would you do? Find another field of bodies to desecrate? Loot more poor souls bound for the Above?” His expression mirrored his repulsed tone as he shoved the pendant back into my shirt. “Have you not a decent bone in your body that you violate the dead?”

“You don’t know me.” My morals had been abandoned for the sake of survival.

“I know enough.” He pushed to his feet and took me with him. “Come on. Let’s go. You can keep the necklace until my paladin says otherwise.”

My palms turned sweaty. “Where are you taking me?”

“Has it slipped your recollection that you’ve mutilated our dead? That offense is punishable by five years imprisonment, and assaulting one of the city’s guards has earned you another five.”

“They were dead.” At least they were as far as he knew. “What does it matter to them?”

“They have family that will come to pay their respects and find their loved ones hacked into pieces and the silver tokens placed upon their eyes pocketed by the female who did the cutting.”

Shame prickled my skin, but I held my head high while he dragged me toward the city. Near the bodies stood a second male, whose short blond hair was so filthy it almost matched his mud-brown eyes. His frame was heavy with muscle, his shoulders as wide as the ursus northlanders rode.

He paused in his deliberation and jerked his chin my way. “Did that little thing do all this?”

My captor rubbed his discolored jawline. “All that and more.”

The blond smirked. “You taking her to Vaughn?”

“No.” His grip on me tightened. “The paladin has weightier matters on his mind.”

Paladin Vaughn? No, that couldn’t be right. The maven here was his mother, Isolde. She had ruled the Mimetidae since the death of her husband, since before I was born. Unless the plague…

“That’s the truth of it.” The blond male scrubbed a meaty hand over his head.

“Finish up, then check the perimeter.” He tugged me closer. “Her kind rarely travels alone.”

He was right about that. Most future paladins, especially Hishima, refused to let their future wives leave their clan home unguarded. What would this male say if I presented my necklace as a token from my once-beloved as proof of what my kind was? How would he react once he realized that I was the future maven of the Segestriidae? His scowl made me believe that neither the scrap of parchment bearing Father’s crest nor Hishima’s letters tucked into my pocket would sway his determination to see me punished, so I studied my captor and our surroundings as the males wagged their tongues.

“Get on with you, then.” The blond knelt and resumed whatever task we had interrupted.

A hard tug on my arm sent me stumbling. “Are you trying to yank my arm from its socket?”

The brute loosened his grip a fraction. “Stop dragging your feet.”

Out of spite, I was tempted to dig in my heels and make him haul me every step into Cathis. But I wanted freedom more, so I hurried along while slipping a hand into my shirt to grasp the pendant. With a firm jerk, I broke the silken chain’s metal clasp then shoved my hand into my pocket. My fingernail slid along the topmost edge, where the stone met its metal setting. A push of my thumb broke the seal and left me holding the crystal sheath while the petite dagger it had concealed dropped into my pocket. Careful of the blade’s razor edges, I grasped the short hilt in my palm.

“What will you do with me?” Sad to say, I had some idea. “Will it involve seasoning salts?”

He glanced back, his eye twitching again. “We do not partake of the flesh of our prisoners.”

Hit a tender spot, had I? Perhaps I ought to jab harder to prod a reaction from him.

“Ah. Well, that’s a comfort. I had heard Mimetidae consumed the flesh of their enemies. I’m relieved you said even my kind is exempt from your kind’s indelicate predilections for eating—”

He whirled around so fast, I yelped in surprise. Grasping my shirt, he reeled me hard against him. “What else have you heard? That we find the screams of helpless females intoxicating? Or a favorite of mine—how we peel the skin from our victims, dry the meat in strips to savor it later?”

I blanched when our chests bumped and his head lowered. I had what I wanted—his reaction was whip-sharp and furious. Riling him proved he was as far removed from Segestriidae males I had known as the moon was from the sun. He was no gentle craftsman. He was fierce, a warrior.

My knees quaked, but I stood my ground. “I don’t believe everything I hear.”

“In this case…” his eyes glittered, eager for truth to burn my ears, “…perhaps you should.”

By the time a scornful retort had readied itself, he had given me his back. I let my gaze slide over him while I deliberated, the broad expanse of his muscled shoulders coaxing my eyes lower.

No time to be squeamish. While he was distracted, I had to strike. I had to break free of him.

Tightening my fist around the dagger’s hilt, I slipped it from my pocket. Its tip wavered as if it were a divining rod, angling toward his weak spots. I had never sunk a blade in a living person.

But since he had no intention of granting me freedom, I would seize it for myself.

Death awaited me in Cathis. If not in the teeth of his clansmen, then at the hands of mine.

Steeling my nerves, I brought my arm across my body. My wrist rested on my shoulder for a moment before I used all my strength to bury the blade deep in the tender meat above his left hip.

My captor howled, and I struggled to break his grip on one arm while twisting the knife with the other. When pain brought him to his knee, I shoved him, retrieving my dagger and toppling him to the dirt on his back.

Guilt and relief made me lightheaded as I pocketed the blade and sprinted for the forest. The fallen male’s furious shouts would set his friend on my trail for certain. I had to hurry. I had to—

Bones popped in my shoulder when a wall of muscle slammed me against a tree. Thick arms banded about my waist and cut off my air. Gasping, I squirmed and kicked, but the blond giant held tight. He lifted me, tucking me under his arm as if I were a bedroll. With my arms pinned, I threw my leg to trip him. He caught that too and swung me high on his hip as he would a child.

Blood heated my cheeks when he smirked at me. “Nice try, but I’m one tree you won’t fell.” To prove his point, he trapped both my ankles at his hip with one hand while the other supported me by crushing me so tight against his side his lungs might have been supplying the air for mine.

“Shouldn’t you see to your friend?” I twisted my head, the only part of me I could move, but I saw no sign of the male I had stabbed. The field was littered with bodies, but none of them his.

“Murdoch?” The behemoth grinned. “He’s not my friend.” He chuckled at something behind me, and I dreaded what lurked past my shoulder. “Female, I don’t think he’s your friend, either.”

“I’ll take her from here, Lleu,” a familiar voice grated near my ear.

“You sure?” The giant squeezed until I gasped. “Shouldn’t you get sewn up first?”

“I’m sure.” Murdoch wrenched my arms behind my back. “Do you have your hawser?”

A tense pause stretched between them. “Always.”

Murdoch held out his hand. “May I use it to secure the prisoner?”

“Use this instead.” The blond tossed him a length of black thread that made Murdoch frown.

He ran the thick, knobby silk rope through his fingers. “You’re a male of many talents.”

His friend waggled his eyebrows at me. “So the females tell me.”

After binding my wrists, Murdoch smoothed his thumb over the stump of my missing ring finger. I cringed when he touched it. The first two joints were missing, and his caress of what remained felt too intimate somehow. I was grateful he showed me the small mercy of not asking about it, but resumed his task. He pried my legs from Lleu’s grip and crossed my ankles to hobble me before he knotted the rope. Lleu was all that held me upright while Murdoch searched me. This time his efforts produced the bloody dagger and its crystal sheath, which he kept.

Assured I was unarmed, he slung me over his shoulder. My face hit a wet spot on his lower back, and I recoiled from the blood turning his worn shirt brown. The wound splashed crimson over his tan skin, and the stain kept growing.

He must be in terrible pain. I wasn’t being wholly facetious when I offered, “I can walk.”

“Very fast,” he said, “and in the opposite direction of where I want you to go.”

Huffing hair from my eyes, I glared at his arse, figuring it was the same as arguing to his face. “Release me.” When he grunted, I promised, “I’m more trouble than I’m worth, Murdoch.”

His shoulders tensed at my use of his name, but he continued on without comment.

“You will regret this.” We both would if Hishima got word. “Put me down, please.”

“There.” He winced when he set me on my feet. “You’re down.” He reached into his pocket and produced the cloth he’d wiped my face with earlier. “Open your mouth.” He waited. “Now.”

My eyes rounded. “You can’t be—”

He crammed the cloth into my mouth too fast for me to even bite him. After hefting me over his shoulder again, this effort costing him a muttered oath, Murdoch lumbered on toward Cathis.

Chortling sounds made me lift my head. Lleu sauntered past me, a grin splitting his face. He tipped his head when our eyes met. I narrowed mine, which appeared to amuse him all the more.

Let him smile.

If Hishima found me at long last, his retribution would be no laughing matter.

About the author:
Born in the Deep South, Hailey is a lifelong resident of Alabama. Her husband works for the local sheriff’s department and her daughter is counting down the days until she’s old enough to audition for American Idol. Their dachshund, Poochie, helps Hailey write by snoozing on his dog bed in her office.

Her desire to explore without leaving the comforts of home fueled her love of reading and writing. Whenever the itch for adventure strikes, Hailey can be found with her nose glued to her Kindle’s screen or squinting at her monitor as she writes her next happily-ever-after.

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