Blog Tour // Newsletter Sneak Peek: The Savior by J.R. Ward

Waiting for this has been MURHDER…

The Savior by J.R. Ward
Series: Black Dagger Brotherhood #17 (full reading order below)
Publication Date: April 2nd 2019
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A vampire and a scientist’s fates are passionately entwined in a race against time in this thrilling romance in the #1 New York Times bestselling “utterly absorbing and deliciously erotic” (Angela Knight, New York Times bestselling author) Black Dagger Brotherhood series.

In the venerable history of the Black Dagger Brotherhood, only one male has ever been expelled—but Murhder’s insanity gave the Brothers no choice. Haunted by visions of a female he could not save, he nonetheless returns to Caldwell on a mission to right the wrong that ruined him. However, he is not prepared for what he must face in his quest for redemption.

Dr. Sarah Watkins, researcher at a biomedical firm, is struggling with the loss of her fellow scientist fiancé. When the FBI starts asking about his death, she questions what really happened and soon learns the terrible truth: Her firm is conducting inhumane experiments in secret and the man she thought she knew and loved was involved in the torture.

As Murhder and Sarah’s destinies become irrevocably entwined, desire ignites between them. But can they forge a future that spans the divide separating the two species? And as a new foe emerges in the war against the vampires, will Murhder return to his Brothers… or resume his lonely existence forevermore?

Buy Links:
Amazon • Barnes & NobleS&S • BAMIndieBound

Sneak Peek at J.R. Ward’s Brand-New Newsletter:
The Caldwell Courier Journal

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excerpt button

Who better to ask for honest, snarky relationship advice than Vishous?
Ask At Your Own Risk.

Dear Vishous, Agony Aunt Column
(with help from Mary)

Dear Vishous,

First of all, thank you for doing this. I need another perspective. I am a 27 year old woman, about fifteen months out of a five year relationship. I started dating a guy about two months ago. I’ll call him “Evan.” We met on Match.com. We both workout. We like a good time out at the clubs and the bars. We’re both Sox fans. He’s funny and he’s been good about keeping in touch when he travels frequently for work.

My problem is this. He told me he was twenty-eight. A week or so ago, when we were playing pool at our local, he told me to snag his wallet and pay for the next round at the bar. While I was getting money out, I saw his driver’s license. It said he’s thirty-six and the address listed was in a different area of the city than he told me he lives in. I got the drinks and put his wallet back in his pocket, and tried not to think about it.

But I can’t shake the idea he lied, and it’s causing me to obsess about things that are probably no big deal. Like, he only comes to stay at my place. I’ve never been to his apartment, and when I asked about this, he said he has two roommates who get on his nerves and he prefers the break he gets when he sleeps at my apartment. And I’ve introduced him to my friends, but he’s never offered to do the same. At first, I was psyched because my ex never wanted to hang with my people. But now? I guess I’m uneasy and looking for shadows everywhere.

I don’t care how old he is, and I know that some times folks on Match fudge their age to make them more attractive. And maybe it’s just an old license. I don’t want to ruin a good thing by looking like I’m second guessing him about stuff that only appears iffy and for which there is a reasonable explanation.

Please advise,

On The Fence In Beantown

#################

Vishous: Here’s what you need to do. Go to your local Stahp ‘n Shahp and get some Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ. Then get a good knife. After you slice his b*lls off, marinate them and then pan fry ‘em. Serve them to him hot and spicy and-

Mary: Okaaaaaaay. Let’s just all take a deep breath here.

V: I know, because the BBQ sauce smells great, right?

Mary: Ah, no. It’s because we should not settle this type of conflict through bodily harm.

V: Whatever, that lying sack of sh*t with the fake Match profile doesn’t deserve a set of nuts. S’all I’m sayin’.

Mary: I think we’ve heard your point of view loud and clear. And now, I’d like to offer a more nuanced opinion. On The Fence, it’s clear that there are some reasons to be concerned about this guy. One of the things that I tell people in my practice is to always trust your instincts. As much as you want to believe the best-

V: Fine. No BBQ sauce, then. Just slice, dice and toss ‘em in the pan. He doesn’t deserve Sweet Baby Ray’s.

Mary: …………….

V: What. Oh, come on, don’t look at me like that.

Mary: I’ve never actually said this before to someone, but why don’t you light up a cigarette and take a few deep drags.

V: I thought you’d never ask.

Mary: Anyway, On The Fence, my suggestion is that you have a frank, face-to-face conversation with “Evan.” Share your concerns calmly and succinctly. See what his answers are. Based on how he responds, you should be able to tell a lot. Is he listening to you and taking you seriously? Is he offering to have you stay over at his place? Or is he defensive and turning everything back on you-

V: And his Red Sox card is revoked. He has to root for the Yankees now.

Mary: -in a way that makes you uncomfortable? At the end of the day, you deserve to be in a relationship with someone who’s as honest as you are and treats you the way you’re treating them.

V: I have to agree with Mary on this one. Even though you’re a human, being with a lying sack of sh*t is whack.

Mary: Remember, your physical safety comes first, and fast on its heels is your emotional health. Please do not sacrifice your happiness just because you are hoping that “Evan” is the one-

V: I think you’re going to find out he’s got a wife and kids and he’s playing you. Which brings us back to my solution to the problem-

Mary: -and let us know how it goes, please. Best of luck!

V: F**k him! Go get a real man- and that skillet.

Reading Order: Black Dagger Brotherhood series

    
    
    
   

#1 ~ Dark Lover: Ebook • Paperback • AudibleGoodreads
#2 ~ Lover Eternal: Ebook • Paperback • AudibleGoodreads
#3 ~ Lover Awakened: Ebook • Paperback • AudibleGoodreads
#4 ~ Lover Revealed: Ebook • Paperback • AudibleGoodreads
#5 ~ Lover Unbound: Ebook • Paperback • AudibleGoodreads
#6 ~ Lover Enshrined: Ebook • Paperback • AudibleGoodreads
#7 ~ Lover Avenged: Ebook • Paperback • AudibleGoodreads
#8 ~ Lover Mine: Ebook • Paperback • AudibleGoodreads
#9 ~ Lover Unleashed: Ebook • Paperback • AudibleGoodreads
#10 ~ Lover Reborn: Ebook • Paperback • AudibleGoodreads
#11 ~ Lover at Last: Ebook • Paperback • AudibleGoodreads
#12 ~ The King: Ebook • Paperback • AudibleGoodreads
#13 ~ The Shadows: Ebook • Paperback • AudibleGoodreads
#14 ~ The Beast: Ebook • Paperback • AudibleGoodreads
#15 ~ The Chosen: Ebook • Paperback • AudibleGoodreads
#15.5 ~ Dearest Ivie: EbookGoodreads
#16 ~ The Thief: EbookHardcover • Paperback • AudibleGoodreads
#16.5 ~ Prisoner of Night: Ebook • Audible • Goodreads
#17 ~ The Savior: EbookHardcoverAudibleGoodreads (April 2, 2019)

about the author button

J.R. Ward is the author of more than thirty novels, including those in her #1 New York Times bestselling Black Dagger Brotherhood series. There are more than fifteen million copies of her novels in print worldwide, and they have been published in twenty-six different countries around the world. She lives in the South with her family.

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Blog Tour // Review + Excerpt: Lady Derring Takes a Lover by Julie Anne Long

Lady Derring Takes a Lover by Julie Anne Long
Series: The Palace of Rogues #1 (full reading order below)
Publication Date: February 26th 2019
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A mistress. A mountain of debt. A mysterious wreck of a building.

Delilah Swanpoole, Countess of Derring, learns the hard way that her husband, “Dear Dull Derring,” is a lot more interesting—and perfidious—dead than alive. It’s a devil of an inheritance, but in the grand ruins of the one building Derring left her, are the seeds of her liberation. And she vows never again to place herself at the mercy of a man.

But battle-hardened Captain Tristan Hardy is nothing if not merciless. When the charismatic naval hero tracks a notorious smuggler to a London boarding house known as the Rogue’s Palace, seducing the beautiful, blue-blooded proprietress to get his man seems like a small sacrifice.

They both believe love is a myth. But a desire beyond reason threatens to destroy the armor around their hearts. Now a shattering decision looms: Will Tristan betray his own code of honor…or choose a love that might be the truest thing he’s ever known?

Buy Links:
Amazon • Barnes & NobleiTunesIndieBound

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Lady Derring Takes a Lover is my first Julie Anne Long book. I know many who love her work, so I was excited to dive into this. While I didn’t love it, I did overall enjoy the writing and the characters. JAL has a particular writing style that distinguishes her from other historical romances I’ve read, which I appreciated.

Delilah Swanpoole has just left her husband, who has left her with a mountain of debt. The only thing she inherits is a random building by the docks. Though she didn’t love her late husband, she cared for him, so she was surprised to find out he was in debt… and had a mistress. She meets this mistress, Angelique, and they form a wary truce that eventually deepens into a strong friendship and business relationship regarding the abandoned building.

Captain Tristan Hardy is tasked with tracking a cigar smuggling operation, and this leads him to the building that Delilah is now the owner of. He needs to investigate how much she was involved with the smuggling, if at all, but doesn’t expect to grow feelings for her. I’ll admit, I never particularly connected with Tristan as much as I did Delilah – he’s a very reserved and calm person, though I did enjoy the way his and Delilah’s relationship deepened. They bring out something different in each other, and it was fun reading their flirtation and banter.

Delilah is definitely my favorite part about this book. She is lost after her husband’s death, trying to navigate a life without financial security or even a home, but the one thing she does have is her dignity. She keeps her head high and strong, eventually learning about herself and what she wants in life. Her character development is wonderful!

Even though I didn’t love it, Lady Derring Takes a Lover is a strong historical romance that I’d recommend if you want something different than your typical romance with a duke or rake. I’m looking forward to the next book in the series!


lacey

Now here’s an excerpt from Lady Derring Takes a Lover! ❤

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She’d taken two steps when he said, his voice raised only a little, “Lady Derring . . . something puzzles me.”

She halted.

Closed her eyes.

Took a shuddering breath for courage.

Turned back to him. From the relatively safe distance of three feet, she said, “Surely not. We’ve established you know everything.”

His smile was small and patient. “You seem to excel at so very much here at The Grand Palace on the Thames. Yet you can’t seem to disguise how much you want me.”

Reading Order: The Palace of Rogues series

#1 ~ Lady Derring Takes a Lover: EbookPaperback • AudibleGoodreads
#2 ~ Angel in a Devil’s Arms: EbookPaperbackGoodreads (Oct. 29, 2019)

about the author button

USA Today bestselling author Julie Anne Long originally set out to be a rock star when she grew up (and she has the guitars and fringed clothing stuffed in the back of her closet to prove it), but writing was always her first love. Since hanging up her guitar for the computer keyboard, her books frequently top reader and critic polls and have been nominated for numerous awards, including the Rita, Romantic Times Reviewer’s Choice, and The Quills, and reviewers have been known to use words like “dazzling,” “brilliant,” and “impossible to put down” when describing them. Julie lives in Northern California.

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Blog Tour // Review: 99 Percent Mine by Sally Thorne

99 Percent Mine by Sally Thorne
Series: Standalone
Publication Date: January 29th 2019
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Crush (n.): a strong and often short-lived infatuation, particularly for someone beyond your reach…

Darcy Barrett has undertaken a global survey of men. She’s travelled the world, and can categorically say that no one measures up to Tom Valeska, whose only flaw is that Darcy’s twin brother Jamie saw him first and claimed him forever as his best friend. Despite Darcy’s best efforts, Tom’s off limits and loyal to her brother, 99%. That’s the problem with finding her dream man at age eight and peaking in her photography career at age twenty—ever since, she’s had to learn to settle for good enough.

When Darcy and Jamie inherit a tumble-down cottage from their grandmother, they’re left with strict instructions to bring it back to its former glory and sell the property. Darcy plans to be in an aisle seat halfway across the ocean as soon as the renovations start, but before she can cut and run, she finds a familiar face on her porch: house-flipper extraordinaire Tom’s arrived, he’s bearing power tools, and he’s single for the first time in almost a decade.

Suddenly Darcy’s considering sticking around to make sure her twin doesn’t ruin the cottage’s inherent magic with his penchant for grey and chrome. She’s definitely not staying because of her new business partner’s tight t-shirts, or that perfect face that’s inspiring her to pick up her camera again. Soon sparks are flying—and it’s not the faulty wiring. It turns out one percent of Tom’s heart might not be enough for Darcy anymore. This time around, she’s switching things up. She’s going to make Tom Valeska 99 percent hers.

Buy Links:
Ebook • PaperbackHardcoverAudible
HarperCollinsBarnes & Noble

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The Hating Game is one of my all time favorite books, so to say I was excited for Sally Thorne’s next release would be an understatement. Even though I didn’t quite obsess over 99 Percent Mine like I did THG, I still adored Darcy and Tom. The beginning was a little rough for me to get into, but once I hit my stride, I absolutely didn’t want to stop reading.

I adore a good brother’s best friend romance, and this one has everything I like about the trope: chemistry, forbidden elements, childhood crushes, angst. It’s also funny, witty, and quirky. Darcy is just so different from any other heroine I’ve read, and I appreciated her for that. Tom is an absolute SWEETHEART – the shy to Darcy’s aggressive. Big, shy heroes are my favorite. If you like opposites attract, I think you’ll fall for Tom and Darcy.

We’re all shareholders in Tom Valeska: Jamie, Megan, and me. His mom and my parents. Loretta and Patty. Everyone who’s ever met him wants a piece of him, because he’s the best person there is. I quickly count up all of those people. I include his dentist and doctor. Maybe he’s 1 percent mine. That has to be enough. I have to share.

Darcy Barrett has had a life-long crush on childhood friend Tom Valeska, but him being taken as her brother’s best friend put a stop on anything romantic developing between them growing up. But when there’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance to be near and around him for long periods of time – a chance to flip a house with him – Darcy seizes it. And what ensues is a romance story that is awkward, charming, funny, and endearing.

Darcy is beautifully flawed and complicated. Her insecurities sometimes get the best of her, which she hides behind her snark and sass. She’s a very hot and cold character, which was off-putting in the beginning, but she grew on me by the end. She believes that she’s not good enough for Tom, but Tom is just so loving and supportive of her. He’s a big, gentled, kind-hearted man who blushes around Darcy but isn’t afraid to be protective and possessive of her. I couldn’t help but swoon for him.

“If you were mine, I’d be careful with you. I bet that’s something you haven’t had much of.”…
“What else would you do?” I’ve got that husky voice he likes.
The animal in him is honest with me. “Everything. If you were mine, I’d do everything.”

I really appreciated that Sally Thorne didn’t write a The Hating Game 2.0. 99 Percent Mine is very different from THG, but Sally’s wit and charm comes across well in her writing. If you enjoyed THG, I highly recommend you try this second novel of hers. ALSO! For all you Josh and Lucy fans, there’s the sweetest little epilogue to THG at the end of 99 Percent Mine and it. is. glorious!


lacey

Quotes are taken from the arc and are subject to change in the final version.

Be sure to check out Sally’s previous novel, The Hating Game!

EbookPaperback • AudibleGoodreads

about the author button

Sally Thorne is the USA Today-bestselling author of The Hating Game. She spends her days climbing into fictional worlds of her own creation. She lives in Canberra, Australia with her husband in a house filled with vintage toys, too many cushions, a haunted dollhouse and the world’s sweetest pug.

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Blog Tour // Review + Excerpt: The Kiss Thief by L.J. Shen

The Kiss Thief by L.J. Shen
Series: Standalone
Publication Date: January 7th 2019
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From USA Today and Washington Post bestselling author L.J. Shen comes an enemies-to-lovers romance with a twist…

They say your first kiss should be earned.

Mine was stolen by a devil in a masquerade mask under the black Chicago sky.

They say the vows you take on your wedding day are sacred.

Mine were broken before we left church.

They say your heart only beats for one man.

Mine split and bled for two rivals who fought for it until the bitter end.

I was promised to Angelo Bandini, the heir to one of the most powerful families in the Chicago Outfit.

Then taken by Senator Wolfe Keaton, who held my father’s sins over his head to force me into marriage.

They say that all great love stories have a happy ending.

I, Francesca Rossi, found myself erasing and rewriting mine until the very last chapter.

One kiss.
Two men.
Three lives.
Entwined together.

And somewhere between these two men, I had to find my forever.

Buy Links:
Amazon US • Amazon UKAmazon CAAmazon AU
PaperbackAudible

review button

The Kiss Thief is my first read of 2019 and it’s already going on my favorites list for the year! TKT is deliciously hot, intense, and angsty, which is exactly what I expect from L.J. Shen. She blew me away with this arranged marriage romance, which a filthy, crude older hero and a younger heroine who finds independence and empowerment within herself. The story reminded me a bit of Kiss an Angel by Susan Elizabeth Phillips (one of my all time favorite romances) in terms of the forced marriage and the hero’s pride, but it’s different from it as well. There’s a bit of mafia, politics, and even gardening in this fantastic read, which I highly recommend everyone try. TKT had me hooked and I never wanted it to let me go.

I sucked in a breath, realizing for the first time what we were.
A story of a Nemesis and a Villain with no chance at a happy ending.
Where the prince doesn’t save the princess.
He tortures her.
And the beauty doesn’t sleep.
She’s stuck.
In a nightmare.

Nineteen-year-old Francesca Rossi is the beloved daughter of a powerful mafia man of The Outfit, and she’s always known how her future would be spelled out: to marry Angelo Bandini, the love of her life and heir to another powerful mafia family. But the future that she’s always thought was set in stone is turned upside down when her father arranges her instead to marry Senator Wolfe Keaton, a powerful political man who holds all the cards. Francesca refuses to make things easy for her fiancé, as she knows Angelo is the one meant for her… even when Wolfe is the one who awakens her mind and body.

Wolfe Keaton was a kiss thief, but it wasn’t only a kiss that he stole. He stole my heart, too. Ripped it from my chest and put it in his pocket.

Wolfe has an agenda: to take down The Outfit, starting with Francesca’s father. He’s determined to exact his revenge, and that includes taking Francesca as his wife and collateral damage. He expects a good, subservient girl of a wife, but instead gets a woman who grows and learns to stand up for herself and doesn’t take his shit lying down. Wolfe is cruel and ruthless at times, but it’s in these moments we get to see Francesca shine with her strength and independence. And it’s obvious that no one brings him to his knees like Francesca.

“It is you that I love. It is you whom I want. It is you whom makes living a spectacular thing I want to experience, rather than participate in reluctantly, every day.”

I always say I hate the asshole heroes, but man, there is just something about L.J. Shen’s heroes that I cannot resist. Maybe it’s their passion. Maybe it’s their growing obsession for their heroines. It most definitely has to do with the epic groveling Leigh makes her heroes do to win the heroines’ hearts. I adored Francesca, and while it took me a bit to warm up to Wolfe (when I say he’s a jerk, I mean he’s a JERK), I eventually fell in love with him as well. I was addicted to their romance, their push and pull, their passion. If you’re worried about the love triangle aspect, you don’t need to. It is very clear who the hero is (if my review hasn’t already said it). And if you love angst, age gaps, and arranged marriages, you definitely need TKT in your life.


lacey

Quotes are taken from the arc and are subject to change in the final version.

Now here’s an excerpt from The Kiss Thief! ❤

excerpt button

“Are you sure you’re on my card?” I turned to the man with a polite yet distant smile. I was still disoriented from the exchange with Angelo when the stranger pulled me against his hard body and pressed a possessive hand lower than socially acceptable on my back, a second from groping my butt.

“Answer me,” I hissed.

“My bid on your card was the highest,” he replied dryly.

“The bids are undisclosed. You don’t know how much other people have paid,” I kept my lips pursed to keep myself from yelling.

“I know it’s nowhere near the realm of what this dance is worth.”

Un-freaking-believable.

We began to waltz around the room as other couples were not only spinning and mingling but also stealing envious glances at us. Naked, raw ogles that told me that whomever the blonde he’d come to the masquerade with was, she wasn’t his wife. And that I might have been all the rage in The Outfit, but the rude man was in high demand, too.

I was stiff and cold in his arms, but he didn’t seem to notice—or mind. He knew how to waltz better than most men, but he was technical, and lacked warmth and Angelo’s playfulness.

“Nemesis.” He took me by surprise, his rapacious gaze stripping me bare. “Distributing glee and dealing misery. Seems at odds with the submissive girl who entertained Bishop and his horsey wife at the table.”

I choked on my own saliva. Did he just call the governor’s wife horsey? And me submissive? I looked away, ignoring the addictive scent of his cologne, and the way his marble body felt against mine.

“Nemesis is my spirit animal. She was the one to lure Narcissus to a pool where he saw his own reflection and died of vanity. Pride is a terrible illness.” I flashed him a taunting smirk.

“Some of us could use catching it.” He bared his straight white teeth.

“Arrogance is a disease. Compassion is the cure. Most gods didn’t like Nemesis, but that’s because she had a backbone.”

“Do you?” He arched a dark eyebrow.

“Do I…?” I blinked, the courteous grin on my face crumpling. He was even ruder when we were alone.

“Have a backbone,” he provided. He stared at me so boldly and intimately, it felt like he breathed fire into my soul. I wanted to step out of his touch and jump into a pool full of ice.

“Of course, I do,” I responded, my spine stiffening. “What’s with the manners? Were you raised by wild coyotes?”

“Give me an example,” he said, ignoring my quip. I was beginning to draw away from him, but he jerked me back into his arms. The glitzy ballroom distorted into a backdrop, and even though I was starting to notice that the man behind the demi-mask was unusually beautiful, the ugliness of his behavior was the only thing that stood out.

I am a warrior and a lady…and a sane person who can deal with this horrid man.

“I really like Angelo Bandini.” I dropped my voice, slicing my gaze from his eyes and toward the table where Angelo’s family had been seated. My father was sitting a few seats away, staring at us coldly, surrounded by Made Men who chatted away.

“And see, in my family, we have a tradition dating back ten generations. Prior to her wedding, a Rossi bride is to open a wooden chest—carved and made by a witch who lived in my ancestors’ Italian village—and read three notes written to her by the last Rossi girl to marry. It’s kind of a good luck charm mixed with a talisman and a bit of fortunetelling. I stole the chest tonight and opened one of the notes, all so I could rush fate. It said that tonight I was going to be kissed by the love of my life, and well…” I drew my lower lip into my mouth and sucked it, peering under my eyelashes at Angelo’s empty seat. The man stared at me stoically, as though I was a foreign film he couldn’t understand. “I’m going to kiss him tonight.”

“That’s your backbone?”

“When I have an ambition, I go for it.”

A conceited frown crinkled his mask, as if to say I was a complete and utter moron. I looked him straight in the eye. My father taught me that the best way to deal with men like him was to confront, not run. Because, this man? He’d chase.

about the author button

L.J. Shen is an International #1 best-selling author of Contemporary Romance and New Adult novels. She lives in Northern California with her husband, young son and chubby cat.

Before she’d settled down, L.J. (who thinks referring to herself in the third person is really silly, by the way) traveled the world, and collected friends from all across the globe. Friends who’d be happy to report that she is a rubbish companion, always forgets peoples’ birthdays and never sends Christmas cards.

She enjoys the simple things in life, like spending time with her family and friends, reading, HBO, Netflix and internet-stalking Stephen James. She reads between three to five books a week and firmly believes Crocs shoes and mullets should be outlawed.

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Spotlight Tour // Excerpt & Giveaway: The One You Fight For by Roni Loren

Roni Loren’s latest release, The One You Fight For, is here! This is book four in her The Ones Who Got Away series. Make sure to check out the excerpt and tour giveaway below!

The One You Fight For by Roni Loren
Series: The Ones Who Got Away #3 (full reading order below)
Publication Date: January 1st 2019
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How hard would you fight for the one you love?

Taryn Landry was there that awful night fourteen years ago when Long Acre changed from the name of a town to the title of a national tragedy. Everyone knows she lost her younger sister. No one knows it was her fault. Since then, psychology professor Taryn has dedicated her life’s work to preventing something like that from ever happening again. Falling in love was never part of the plan…

Shaw Miller has spent more than a decade dealing with the fallout of his brother’s horrific actions. After losing everything—his chance at Olympic gold, his family, almost his sanity—he’s changed his name, his look, and he’s finally starting a new life. As long as he keeps a low profile and his identity secret, everything will be okay, right?

When the world and everyone you know defines you by one catastrophic tragedy…
How do you find your happy ending?

Buy Links:
Amazon Ebook • Amazon Paperback
Barnes & NobleiTunes • IndieBound • BAMGoogle Play

Now here’s an excerpt from The One You Fight For! ❤

excerpt button

Lucas was waiting for her when she stepped inside the main part of the gym. The skylights flashed with the lightning outside, and the rain battered the roof, making it sound like they were inside a huge barrel. Lucas had changed into different clothes—a snug, black T-shirt and a pair of gray track pants. She worked hard not to stare.

Definitely failed.

Lucas smiled, clipboard in hand. “All ready to go?”

She shrugged. “As ready as I’ll ever be.”

He didn’t seem deterred by her lack of enthusiasm as he looked down at the clipboard. “All right. Let’s walk or jog a few laps around the track to get warmed up and then we’ll try The Wall.”

He said the last two words as if they were capitalized and should be followed by of Doom.

“Wait, hold up.” Taryn lifted a finger and pointed to the giant curved wall off to the left behind Lucas. “Surely you don’t mean that wall over there.”

He glanced over his shoulder. “The very one.”

“You’ve got jokes, Lucas.”

He gave her an amused glance. “No jokes. You’re trying that wall tonight.”

Yeah, and ice-skating in hell would follow that event. “You’re nuts.”

“Maybe.” He grinned and set aside his clipboard. “I said you’re safe with me. I never said I’d be easy on you.” He clapped his hands. “Now get moving, songbird.”

“Songbird?”

“Yep.” He started running in place. “A talented singer. But also a lady who’s doing a lot of crowing right now.”

She lifted a brow, affronted. “Did you just call me a crow? Don’t make me throw my shoe at you again.”

He jogged away. “You’ll have to catch me first.”

Well, that did it. She hadn’t been a runner in a long time, but that old competitive spirit from track fired up at the challenge. She jogged after him toward the narrow indoor track and poked him in the arm when she caught up. “I’m out of practice, but not slow.”

“Getting cocky already, songbird,” he said, keeping pace with her.

She picked up her speed a little to pass him and put her arms out to flap them like wings. “Caw-caw.”

His deep laugh was a balm to the nerves she’d felt coming in here tonight. This wasn’t so bad. Lucas was easy to be around, and it actually felt good to be moving. She jogged ahead but didn’t push it too hard, still wary of what had happened at the race, and soon Lucas caught up and kept a steady pace with her.

“I want you to stay at the level of effort where you can talk but it’s a bit of a challenge to hold a conversation,” he said, his feet pounding the track next to her. “And never be afraid to ask for a break. I’ll push you because that’s what you’re coming here for, but I need to be able to trust you to tell me when it’s too much.”

“I’ll tell you,” she promised. “I’m not known for keeping my mouth shut.”

“Good. Now let’s sweat.”

Half an hour later, Taryn was warm from the inside out and dripping with sweat. Lucas looked like he was barely glistening. She hated him a little in that moment.

He handed her a bottle of water and a towel and then took a towel for himself. He wrapped it around his neck and nodded at her. “That was good work. Feeling okay?”

“I’m feeling out of shape.” She took a long sip of the water. “But okay.”

“Out of practice. That’s all,” he said, his tone reassuring. “But that’s why you’re here. Today will be the worst day. The only place to go from this point is up.”

“Right.”

“And by up, I mean up that wall.” He cocked his head toward the ridiculous obstacle.

She dried her face with the towel and groaned. “Still with the wall?”

“I keep promises,” he said, a wicked gleam in his eye. “You and I have a date with that wall.”

“I thought you didn’t date,” she teased.

“I make an exception for Wally. We’re in a steady relationship. And we’re about to invite you in.”

“That sounds dirty.” She tossed the towel aside and set her water bottle on the floor next to it. “And is it a requirement for all trainers to be sadists? Do they screen for that? Because I feel like you’re enjoying this a little too much.”

A dimple appeared in his left cheek. “Yes, it’s the third class in trainer school…How to Make Your Clients Hate You Before They Love You.”

“Uh-huh. Gotta be honest. Not loving you so much right now.”

“You’re not supposed to.” He turned. “Let’s get started.”

She frowned, his tone sounding different from the playful one he’d been using, but she followed him to the obstacle course area anyway.

Taryn put her hands on her hips and stared at the giant curved wall in front of her. The thing had to be twelve feet tall, and the rope she was supposed to capture near the top seemed to be miles away. It might as well have been hanging off the side of a ten-story building. “Shouldn’t I have, like, a skateboard or something to get up this thing? A rocket booster?”

Lucas picked up his clipboard from where he’d set it down before their run and then dug around in a gym bag near his feet. He handed her a set of kneepads. “Nope. But don’t freak out. Day one, I just need to see where you are so I can track your progress. It’s a benchmark. I expect you to suck at this one.”

“Well gee, thanks, Coach,” she said as she strapped on the knee pads. “Good speech. Very motivating. You should do a TED talk.”

He smirked, blue eyes crinkling. “Would you rather I lie to you?”

She groaned and bounced on her toes, trying to rev herself up like she used to do before a race. “No, but a little positivity wouldn’t hurt.”

“Okay.” He swung his arm out. “The mat at the bottom is soft, and you’re wearing knee pads so it probably won’t hurt that much when you fall.”

She gave him a droll look. “Are you supposed to want to hit your trainer?”

He set the clipboard aside and crossed his arms over that broad chest, looking like a Greek god with a mean streak. “You should take off the sweatshirt. The bulk is going to make it even harder to build momentum.”

“Right.” She wet her lips and, after a moment of panicked hesitation, nervously tugged off the shirt. When she dropped it to the side, leaving her in what amounted to a skintight tank top and leggings, she felt more than a little exposed and the cold air was probably making things even more visible, but she tried to keep her expression neutral. This was a gym. These were gym clothes. Lucas’s gaze darted down her body and then quickly shifted to a spot over her shoulder.

He cleared his throat. “I’m ready when you are.”

Reading Order: The Ones Who Got Away series

 

#1 ~ The Ones Who Got Away: EbookPaperbackAudible • Goodreads
#2 ~ The One You Can’t Forget: EbookPaperbackAudible • Goodreads
#3 ~ The One You Fight For: EbookPaperbackAudibleGoodreads
#4 ~ The One For You: Ebook • Goodreads (Dec. 31, 2019)

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Roni wrote her first romance novel at age fifteen when she discovered writing about boys was way easier than actually talking to them. Since then, her flirting skills haven’t improved, but she likes to think her storytelling ability has. She holds a master’s degree in social work and spent years as a mental health counselor, but now she writes full time from her cozy office in Dallas, Texas where she puts her characters on the therapy couch instead. She is a two-time RITA Award winner and a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author.

Website • Twitter • Facebook • Goodreads

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