Book Blitz + Excerpt: The Queen by Skye Warren

Happy release day to Skye Warren – The Queen is now live!

The Queen by Skye Warren
Series: Masterpiece #2 (full reading order below)
Publication Date: September 19th 2017
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THE FINAL BOOK IN THE MASTERPIECE DUET!

I have one chance at a new life. A college education. A future outside of Tanglewood’s dark walls. For a breathless moment it seems like I might actually escape.

Then I get a phone call from home.

Damon Scott is my own personal dragon, the fight I’ve always lost, the secret hope of my heart. And he needs my help right now. Only my mind can solve the puzzle. Only my presence can keep him sane as the city fights against him.

Only my heart can unlock a man with such a tragic past.

This is my final gamble, with everything at stake. One last game to win a future for both of us.

And a love strong enough to break the city apart.

THE QUEEN is the final novel in the bestselling Masterpiece duet, about a game of lies and loyalty, of betrayal and power, and ascension to the city’s throne.

Buy Links:
Amazon • Barnes & NobleiTunes • Kobo

Now here’s an excerpt from The Queen! ❤

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I flinch, glad he can’t see me across two thousand miles. Even working in the kitchens most nights only covers my food, my textbooks. Not the tuition bill. “You’re the one who wanted him to work for you. You’re the one who made him the stake in our last game.”

“And you’re the one who lost,” he says lightly.

“Do you know where he is?”

“Of course. Like you said, he works for me. I would be a careless employer if I let my men go wandering off, gambling and racking up debt and questioning their loyalty to me.”

A shiver runs through me. “Then where is he?”

“He’s a grown-up, Penny. Like you are now. He’s responsible for himself. You only need to worry about your studies. I’m sure Algebraic Topology is taking up plenty of your focus.”

It’s one of my courses this semester. How does he know that?

“Stop playing with me.”

“Why should I?” he says with a soft laugh. “It’s so much fun.”

Frustration stings my eyes, hot and damp. I look up at the wide-open sky, willing myself not to cry. There are a million stars visible here, most of the land owned by Smith College or one of the other campuses. So much land, so much pride. There aren’t buildings climbing on top of other buildings, as if they might sink into the concrete ground if they don’t. There aren’t glass towers reaching to an endless black sky.

“I’m never coming back,” I say abruptly.

His laugh falls silent. “I know.”

“I hate it there. I hate Tanglewood and being powerless. And most of all I hate you.”

The last part is a lie, because I don’t hate him. I’m drawn to him; I’m repelled by him. It’s far too complex a relationship, an equation I’ve never been able to write. It makes me wonder if I’m lying about the other parts—if maybe some twisted part of me misses home.

If some twisted part of me misses being powerless, too.

“Ah, Penny,” he says, sounding infinitely weary. “I hate you too.”

The words shock me, but the hurt inside shocks me more. He shouldn’t be able to wound me. Three years away from home, growing up, growing strong. It should have been enough armor to protect against anything he could say to me. But the arrow sinks deep, proving that I’ll never be able to escape him.

“What did I do to you?” I ask, quiet, in a voice like I’m six years old again. Like I’m speaking to the wild boy I found by the lake, one I lured into my trailer like a wolf.

He answers the same way, a surly teenage boy, fierce and vulnerable at once. “You made me care. You made me want, when I needed to leave. You made me feel, when I would have preferred to die. You brought me back to life.”

And I condemned him to torture. That’s what happened when he sacrificed himself so that I could stay safe. Two children with so few choices. “I’m sorry,” I whisper.

“Don’t worry. I got my revenge, after all.”

My blood runs cold, almost subzero at the words. There’s only one person left in my sad little family. One person he could hurt. “Did you hurt him?”

“By giving him a job when he couldn’t hold one down? By paying him enough that his daughter could escape the city, could go to a fancy college instead of becoming a corner-store whore? Yes, I’ve been horrible to him. A monster.”

“Then why isn’t he answering his phone?”

In the pause I can picture him in a three-piece suit, reclining in one of his ridiculously expensive leather chairs. Some amber liquid in a crystal-cut glass. “Don’t come back,” he says, his voice grim. “You made it out of here. Let that be enough.”

A soft click ends the connection, leaving me bereft.

And more worried than before.

Something is happening in Tanglewood, something bad enough for my father not to call, something horrible enough that even Damon Scott has warned me away. I look up at the infinite stars, but they’re dimmer than before. The whole world muted. It wasn’t a new life that I found so far from home. It was a long dream, and now I’m painfully awake.

Reading Order: Masterpiece Duet series

 

#1 ~ The King: Ebook • Paperback • Goodreads
#2 ~ The Queen: Ebook • Paperback • Goodreads

Also be sure to check out the Endgame series!

Reading Order: Endgame series

  

#1 ~ The Pawn: Ebook • PaperbackGoodreads
#2 ~ The Knight: Ebook • Paperback • Goodreads
#3 ~ The Castle: Ebook • PaperbackGoodreads

about the author button

Skye Warren is the New York Times bestselling author of contemporary romance such as the Chicago Underground series. Her books have been featured in Jezebel, Buzzfeed, USA Today Happily Ever After, Glamour, and Elle Magazine. She makes her home in Texas with her loving family, two sweet dogs, and one evil cat.

Website • Twitter • Facebook • Instagram • Goodreads • Youtube • Pinterest


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Blog Tour + Review & Excerpt: Dirty Filthy Rich Love by Laurelin Paige

Dirty Filthy Rich Love by Laurelin Paige
Series: Dirty Duet #2 (full reading order below)
Publication Date: September 11th 2017
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The conclusion to the story begun in the USA Today Bestselling Dirty Filthy Rich Men.

I’ve discovered Donovan Kincaid’s secret.

It’s dirty and filthy and rich – as dirty and filthy and rich as he is – and it haunts me as much as he ever did.

Even after knowing what I know now, I still want to talk to him, to touch him. But there’s an ocean between us, and I’m not sure it can be crossed with something as easy as a phone call or a plane ride.

Yet I’m willing to try.

He doesn’t know this yet, but this time I’m the one with the power. And maybe – just maybe – if the air were cleared and all our secrets bared, there could still be a chance for us.

And this dirty, filthy thing between us might end up being love after all.

Buy links:
Amazon • iTunes • Barnes & Noble • Kobo

I have been WAITING for this sequel ever since finishing Dirty Filthy Rich Men. After the cliffhanger from the first book, I absolutely needed to get my hands on this finale, and I’m so happy to say that Dirty Filthy Rich Love was the perfect conclusion to Sabrina and Donovan’s story. It’s erotic, passionate, emotional, intense, addicting – I felt so much while reading this heart-pounding book.

If you haven’t read Dirty Filthy Rich Men, stop right here and start reading the wild ride that is that book. You will definitely need to read it before starting Dirty Filthy Rich Love, as Sabrina and Donovan’s story is told through both books. Now, if you have read the first book, get ready to see Sabrina and Donovan overcome the biggest challenges to their relationship – and see Donovan proving his love to Sabrina.

Donovan was not an easy person to interact with, but I wasn’t a cakewalk either. I had my own issues. I was too proud. Too serious. And I had a borderline unhealthy comfort level with the kind of sex I liked.
We were both works in progress. I needed to be better about remembering that.

Now that Donovan’s secret is out, Sabrina needs to decide whether that secret will make or break their relationship. Going into this book, I was worried about Donovan and I thought he would continue to push Sabrina away. Thankfully, Donovan gets his head out of his ass in time and changes the dynamics of their relationship to something that includes honestly and love. He knows what he has with Sabrina and this time, he’s not about to make a mess of their relationship. He sets out to win the heart of the woman who has owned his for a very long time.

“You wanted to know what you are.”
“Okay.”
“What you are is mine.”

I LOVE Sabrina so much – she’s tough, unapologetic about who she is, and all-around an amazing, admirable woman. She definitely doesn’t make it easy for Donovan while he apologizes and proves he’s in it for the long haul. She demands complete honesty and open communication from him – which Donovan may struggle with time to time, but he tries, for her. I loved how much they grow throughout this book and this series. Their relationship truly shines in this novel.

“You’re such a dirty girl.” His tone was filled with mischief. He reached his hand out toward me.
“And you’re such a filthy man.” I put my hand in his, and it fit, exactly. “I guess we’re perfect together.”

Dirty Filthy Rich Love is dirty and filthy, no doubt, but it was also beautiful in the way it was told. I love Laurelin Paige’s writing so much. Her stories are always deeply erotic and romantic. I loved reading Donovan and Sabrina’s story and am sad to see it end. But I’m desperately hoping that Laurelin Paige will be writing books for all of Donovan’s business partners – she can’t leave us hanging like this!


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

Now here’s an excerpt from Dirty Filthy Rich Love! ❤

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He took another step toward me, and I started to step back, but there was a counter behind me, so I had to stay put. And maybe I wanted to stay put. He was only a foot and a half away from me now.

“But I haven’t lied to you, Sabrina.” His gaze never left mine. “And I’m not lying when I say I don’t give a fuck about anybody else’s cunt but yours.”

We stood there, not touching, not speaking, each of us standing our ground. But I had no basis to keep my position, and it felt like he’d won so much already.

I couldn’t back down.

“Prove it,” I said.

His expression flared, his eyes growing dark and mean, and I realized what I’d done. Donovan wasn’t one to be provoked.

I’d just invited the devil out to play.

“Unzip your skirt and put your hands on the counter behind you.”

My heart hammered and my belly twisted. My panties were embarrassingly drenched all of a sudden, and I wanted him. But I stood completely still. “I didn’t—”

He cut me off. “No talking and unzip your skirt.”

My mouth slammed shut, but I still didn’t move. If I moved, I’d be asking for this. But if I talked, I’d be telling him to stop.

And I didn’t want this to stop.

I just didn’t want to ask for it because I was stubborn and stupid for wanting him in the first place.

But he would give it to me without the words, without my obedience. Because he knew me. He knew what I needed.

With his eyes never leaving mine, he found the zipper at the side of my waist and pulled it down. After that, the skirt was loose enough that all he had to do was tug it once and it fell easily to my feet. He nudged his knee against my inner leg, and automatically I stepped that foot out of the pool of material on the floor, widening my stance.

He gave a nod of praise, sending a jolt of warmth through my entire body.

Then he bent down in front of me.

Suddenly, breathing was harder than it should have been. My chest moved up and down, air passed through my mouth, but I couldn’t get enough of it to my lungs. And he hadn’t even touched me yet.

The sight of him alone—Donovan Kincaid, one of the most powerful men in the world, down on his knees in his black Ermenegildo Zegna suit—it was overwhelming and erotic, and by the time he put his hand at the back of my knee, I was already trembling.

Reading Order: Dirty Duet series

  

#0.5 ~ Dirty Filthy Rich Boys: Ebook • Goodreads
#1 ~ Dirty Filthy Rich Men: My Review • Ebook • Paperback • AudibleGoodreads
#2 ~ Dirty Filthy Rich Love: Ebook • Paperback • Goodreads

about the author button

Laurelin PaigeUSA Today and New York Times Bestselling Author Laurelin Paige is a sucker for a good romance and gets giddy anytime there’s kissing, much to the embarrassment of her three daughters. Her husband doesn’t seem to complain, however. When she isn’t reading or writing sexy stories, she’s probably singing, watching Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead, or dreaming of Michael Fassbender. She’s also a proud member of Mensa International though she doesn’t do anything with the organization except use it as material for her bio. She is represented by Rebecca Friedman.

Website • Facebook • Twitter • Amazon Page • Facebook Group • Mailing List


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Blog Tour + Review, Excerpt & Giveaway: Drumline by Stacy Kestwick

Drumline by Stacy Kestwick
Series: Standalone
Publication Date: September 5th 2017
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Traditions are important. Especially in the South.
College football. Rivalries. Tailgating. Halftime shows.
Some things just don’t change.
Until Reese Holland shows up with her long legs and no-bullsh*t attitude to audition for the prestigious all-male Rodner University snare line.
It doesn’t matter how much hazing she has to endure from Laird Bronson, with his narrowed green eyes and arrogant smirk. She wants that damn spot, and she’s more than good enough to earn it.
She expects there to be tension. Even friction.
But not sparks hot enough to burn the entire campus down.

Buy Links:
Amazon Ebook • Amazon Paperback

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Drumline was my first Stacy Kestwick book – I usually don’t read new authors without heavy recommendations from people I trust, but I just couldn’t resist a new adult college romance. It feels like it’s been forever since the last time I read a college romance, so Drumline came at the perfect time. I enjoyed it – it took me by surprise in a good way. If you love anything related to new adult, I highly recommend you give this book a try! It’s sweet, sexy, and just an overall fun read.

Laird Bronson is captain of the snare line, and as its his last year at school, he needs the band to go out with a bang. What he doesn’t expect is for a spitfire of a woman to audition for the previously all-male Rodner University snare line. He’s utterly enthralled by Reese Holland and can’t seem to resist her. She’s tough, gorgeous, ambitious, determined, and gives as good she gets. I fell a little in love with her myself right alongside Laird.

I wanted to know her everything.
I wanted to fucking be her everything.

In spite of the wild attraction she feels for Laird, Reese isn’t about to let her feelings for the band’s captain get in the way of her earning her spot in the snare line. But Laird isn’t like any college boy she knows – he’s as sweet as he is alpha, and incredibly supportive of her ambitions. She tries to keep her distance but can’t help herself to the sexy wonder that is Laird.

I LOVE that this was about the marching band rather than the athletes, etc. because how many books are there about football players? And how many books are there about the drummers of a marching band? Because Drumline is the first I’ve read of them. We need more band geek romances!

I have to say that while I was a big fan of the romance, I wasn’t the biggest fan of the drama in Drumline, especially when it had to do with the antagonist. I could’ve done with less of it, but that’s just me. I’m sure many won’t have the same problem, but this was just the reason why I couldn’t fully love the story like I wanted to.

Drumline is full of sexual tension, sweet romance, and did I mention a snare line!? It was such a unique take on a college romance so I have to give props to the author. I may have to check out her other books now, but I do hope she writes more college romances in the future!


lacey

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

Now here’s an excerpt from Drumline! ❤

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He devoured me.

Being eaten alive had never felt so good.

His lips. His hands. His heat. My entire being was overwhelmed by him finally, finally touching me.

The kiss started hard, desperate, the inevitable conclusion to the tension that had been building between us for two weeks. With my eyes closed and my breasts flattened against the wall of his chest, I gave into it, surrendered to the moment. My mouth clung to his as he tilted my head to the side, changing the angle to deepen the contact.

His hands moved over me restlessly, hungrily, skimming down my back on the way to my ass, then back up my sides to frame my face, his fingers leaving a trail of heat behind on every inch of skin he claimed for himself. I pulled at his shirt while he pushed me against the solidness of the door. My heart tripped over itself in its race to keep up. Muffled sounds came from both of us, vibrating in our throats but not escaping our lips because we hadn’t even parted for a breath yet.

Who needed fucking air when Laird Bronson was kissing them? Not me.

His lips were somehow firm and soft at the same time as he slanted them over me again and again. It was like being called up to the major league from the minors. Nothing in my past compared. I shivered from the intensity of it, from the innate authority of his mouth as he consumed me. Like I was made to bend to him, as inevitable as the moon ceding to the sun.

I lifted on my tiptoes to get closer, one of my hands snaking up to tangle in his dark hair. The strands were barely long enough at the top to grip, and when I gave them a tug, he rolled his hips against me, showing me just how much he liked it. I moaned and felt an answering wetness gather at the juncture of my thighs.

Dear sweet rosy-cheeked baby Jesus and all the saints in heaven.

His mouth needed to come with a warning label. Danger. Highly flammable.

But it was too late. I’d had a taste and I liked the burn.

about the author button

USA TODAY Bestseller Stacy Kestwick is a Southern girl who firmly believes mornings should be outlawed. Her perfect day would include puppies, carbohydrates, and lounging on a hammock with a good book. No adulting, cleaning, or bacon allowed.

Where to Find Stacy:

Website • FacebookTwitter • Instagram

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Drumline Prize Pack: Signed copy of Drumline, “I Have Some Nonfictional Feelings About Some Fictional Characters” tote bag, Stacy Kestwick water bottle, and lots of swag!

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Blog Tour + Review & Excerpt: Second Chances: A Romance Writers of America Collection

Second Chances: A Romance Writers of America Collection
Series: Anthology
Publication Date: September 12th 2017
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Do you believe in second chances?

Romance Writers of America® brings together seventeen of today’s hottest authors in an anthology of never-before-published tales that reveal true love always deserves a happy ending.

Follow New York Times best-selling authors J. Kenner and Christina Lauren back to reader-favorite worlds.

New York Times bestseller Alyssa Day sprinkles djinn magic in her humorous paranormal romance, while Rachel Hauck brings the enchantment of the holidays in her New Year’s Eve contemporary love story.

And Liliana Hart delivers thrills and adventure in her hero and heroine’s search for the impossible.

With characters who find love through tough situations, in elegant 1800s ballrooms, with an old friend who shows up when least expected, at a tender age when cliques and homework get in the way of relationships, or after a random encounter in an unlikely setting, Second Chances delivers romance to strike every reader’s fancy.

Plus tales from:
Marilyn Brant
Kerri Carpenter
CiCi Coughlin
Cassandra Dean
Tina Ferraro
Renee Luke
Ariella Moon
Brandi Willis Schreiber
Lizzie Shane
Sharon Sobel
Damon Suede
Tara Wyatt

Buy Links:
Amazon • Barnes & NobleiTunes

review button

I love love love second chance romances, so this anthology chock-full of second chance romance stories was perfect for me. It was interesting to see so many different takes on this trope. And despite being short story length, they were all highly developed and well-written. If you love second chance romances too, I highly recommend picking this up!

It’s hard for me to review this with seventeen different stories, but I do want to mention few that stood out to me. Christina Lauren’s The Fisher Men: Levi’s Story was the one that I was most anticipating, and this beloved author duo didn’t disappoint. Levi is the youngest of the Roberts men (he’s Finn’s younger brother!), who are all part of a fishing company reality show. When the only girl he ever loved shows up on his boat to be his nurse after he gets injured, he gets a second chance at admitting his feelings and winning her heart. I adored this sweet, simple story. I wish we could have gotten more of it, not only because I loved Levi and Emmy, but also because I loved seeing Finn and their other brother.

Scandalous by Cassandra Dean is a historical romance and a second chance romance ten years in the making. The scandalous Earl of Edgington may have abandoned Sofie when she needed him the most, but now that she’s back from her travels around the world, he’s not about to make the same mistake and let her go again. Angsty yet sweet, I loved this story and its determined hero.

One Night was my first J. Kenner story, but it won’t be my last. It’s a fast-paced, sexy romance about putting your heart on the line and taking a second chance at love. I love when one night stands turn into something more, and Penny and Blake’s story just worked for me. I definitely need to go and read the rest of the Stark World books!

With seventeen stories in Second Chances, you’re sure to find one that you love. There’s every kind of second chance romance in this anthology, from being jilted at the altar to falling in love with a magical Djinn. They are all quick, easy, romantic reads that are sure to satisfy the second chance romance lover.


lacey

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

Now here’s an excerpt from Fortune’s Treasure”​by Liliana Hart! ❤

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​[Lucas Fortune finds himself captured by rival treasure hunter Damian Hunter. He soon finds himself joined in captivity by an unexpected blast from the past..]

He’d learned over the years that an opportunity for wealth and fame could come at any moment, but only to those who were prepared. Most treasure hunters lived by the same basic rules he did. Those who didn’t … well … they didn’t last long. It was a brutal and addictive lifestyle, and only the strongest survived. Damian Hunter wasn’t the strongest or smartest or most talented treasure hunter, but he was the most cunning. And he was definitely the most ruthless.

Lucas perked up at the sound of muffled voices and footsteps coming in his direction, and he got up quickly, looking for something—anything—he could use as a weapon. To no avail—even the rusted iron bedframe was solid and too heavy to tear apart.

The voices quieted as they got closer and he settled himself on the bed, trying to look non-threatening and still weakened from the blow they gave him earlier. Not an easy accomplishment for a man who was six foot two in his bare feet and built like a brawler. His fists had gotten him out of more than one sticky situation. Learning to defend himself had been a priority once he’d realized hunting treasure left him with a target. The six-inch scar on his back from a knife was as much of a reminder of his first find as the gold doubloon now missing from his pocket.

He was a hell of a poker player, and that ability was the only thing that kept him seated and looking bored as two of Damian’s men charged in, dragging another prisoner behind them. And dragging her was exactly what they had to do. She wasn’t going to make it easy on them. He almost smiled at that. Miranda George had never made things easy. She was a hundred and twenty pounds of pure fire and prickly temper. And she’d once been all his.


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Excerpt Reveal: Exes with Benefits by Nicole Williams

Exes with Benefits by Nicole Williams
Series: Standalone
Publication Date: September 18th 2017
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***He wants a second chance. I want a divorce. To get what I want, I’ll have to give him what he does.***

From New York Times & USA Today bestselling author, Nicole Williams:

The only benefit I want from my ex is a divorce.

We got married for all the wrong reasons. The one thing we got right was our separation. I should have known better than to think I could bet on forever with a guy like Canaan Ford. Everything about him screamed impermanent, from his wild eyes to his restless soul.

When I left him and the small town I’d spent my whole life in, I swore I’d never go back. Never only turned out to be five years. Canaan claims he’s changed, but he hasn’t—same knowing smile, same rough demeanor, same body crafted from sin and sinew. And yet, something is different. He thinks this is his chance for redemption. My disagreement comes in the form of divorce papers dropped in his lap. He refuses to sign them. Unless . . .

He wants a month to prove himself to me—that’s his offer. One month to make me fall in love with him again and if I don’t, he’ll sign the papers. As much as I want to say no, I agree. I can suffer my ex for a short amount of time if that’s what it takes to be free of him once and for all. I fell for him once; I won’t make that same mistake twice.

He says we’re not over. I say we were over before we got started. Only one of us can be right, and I can’t let it be him.

Buy Links:
AmazonBarnes & NobleiTunes

Now here’s an excerpt from Exes with Benefits! ❤

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PROLOGUE

Goodbye.

It was the one relationship guarantee we could all expect. Whether it was death or circumstance, tragedy or choice, it was the only promise we were assured. Goodbye. It had been coming since the day we met, and now it was here. Sooner than I’d hoped. Even sooner than the sensible segment of me had predicted.

Still, it was later than maybe I should have expected out of a relationship with Canaan Ford.

I’d been waiting all night for his truck to rumble up the driveway when it finally did just past two a.m.. Before his footsteps echoed up the stairs, I shouldered the couple of bags I’d packed and waited in the shadows of the hallway. My paintbrushes were sticking out of one of my oversized totes, tickling the underside of my arm. I’d packed everything that seemed important at the time, but now, I wasn’t sure that what I’d stuffed in my bags mattered at all.

It was late, dark, and Canaan would be coming home exhausted, hurting, and some degree of drunk. He wouldn’t see me, and I could just slip away without him knowing.

Maybe I should have left before he made it back, but whenever I tried, my feet froze to the floor before I could make it to the door. I needed to wait for him to get home first—to make sure he was okay before I left him. That might have been a messed up model of morality, but most of Canaan’s and my relationship was messed up, from the beginning to now, the ending.

He struggled with the key in the lock before shoving the door open and clomping straight toward the couch. He’d stopped crawling into bed beside me after a night of fighting and drinking months ago, like he thought it would spare me the pain of seeing him bloodied and plastered. It never had. The black eyes, the swollen lips, the bruised ribs; they were that much worse in the light of morning.

Canaan had barely crashed onto the sofa before his breathing evened out. Still, I waited another minute in the hallway before moving into the living room.

Don’t look, Maggie. Don’t let yourself look at him.

I looked. Of course I looked. I never listened to what was best for me—if I had, my life would have wound up so much differently.

He was already passed out, sprawled across the couch we’d bought at a yard sale the summer before . . .

Before all of this.

One arm and one leg were hanging off the end, his face tipped far enough toward me I could gauge the type of fight he’d been in tonight. A good one by Canaan’s definition—the best kind. The type where his opponent got in as many hits as he did. The type of fight that made him almost question if it would be the first one he’d lose. Canaan loved the challenge, the fight. He thrived off of chaos, seeming to wilt when life was simple. I used to admire that about him, and maybe I still did. It just wasn’t the life for me. I couldn’t live life like it was a battle—not anymore.

He was passed out hard, but I still crept slowly toward the front door, my heart thundering as the boards creaked below me. Even though I was moving toward the door, my eyes stayed on him.

Look away.

I couldn’t. Canaan was the best part of my life. And the worst. The best memories. And the worst. He was the high and the low and I was so damn tired of the sick cycle I thought would kill me one day.

As my hand cupped around the cool doorknob, my eyes burned. This was it. As resolved as I’d felt in the weeks leading up to this, I felt like I was being torn in half by walking away. I knew if I stayed, this relationship would be the end of me. But at the moment, leaving felt like the same.

Lying on that couch, he looked so vulnerable. Almost like he needed someone to protect him. From the world. From his demons. From himself. I’d tried. God, I’d been trying for what felt like forever, but the only thing I had to show for my efforts was scars and pain.

One of his eyes was swollen shut, his bottom lip three times its normal size, and he’d split the same eyebrow open again. It was going to need stitches. Six, I guessed. I’d gotten really good as estimating the number of stiches needed to seal a wound.

A sob rose from my chest, but I managed to swallow it back down. He was the only boy I’d ever loved—the only one I’d ever come close to loving. In some ways, he was perfect for me. But in more ways, especially lately, he was entirely wrong for me.

That was why I needed to leave. We might have been good together, but we weren’t good for each other. I knew that now.

I opened the door slowly, so it wouldn’t make a sound, then I let myself take one last look at the life I was leaving behind before I forced myself to walk away.

Now that I wasn’t looking at him, moving was easier. Each step down from our little apartment above the garage came quicker, so by the time I reached the ground, I was jogging.

Canaan’s truck was parked right beside my old car. Ancient was maybe a better description of how “mature” my car was. It was almost like he’d known I was going to leave tonight, because he’d parked his truck so close I could barely crack my door open half a foot. Getting my bags tossed into the backseat and managing to wiggle in through the door was a tight fit, but I made it work.

The moment I was inside, I jammed the key in the ignition and turned it over. I didn’t pause. I didn’t flinch. The hardest part was behind me, and now I needed to keep moving.

Easing my car around the truck, I noticed the one light burning inside the big house in my rearview mirror. Grandma knew what was happening tonight and was keeping her light on for me as her unique way of expressing that no matter what, she was here for me. She’d keep the light on—even when it felt like there was nothing but darkness around me.

My throat constricted as I kept backing down the long driveway. I’d tried saving him, but it had cost me almost everything. I was taking what I had left and saving myself.

As I rolled past Grandma’s front porch, my gaze shifted from the rearview mirror to that little garage apartment I’d lived the last eleven months in. The door was open, light was streaming from inside, and a dark, towering shadow loomed in the doorway.

My foot instinctively moved toward the brake. Canaan was too far away for me to determine the look on his face, but I could imagine it. It came easy since I’d known him as long as I had. Knowing his face was like second nature.

He stayed unmoving in that doorway for a moment, my car doing the same. It wasn’t until he started moving down the stairs that my foot flew back to the gas. If he got to me before I made it out of this driveway, I wouldn’t leave. I knew it. Walking away from someone I loved was hard enough, but Canaan wasn’t just someone I loved—he was someone I’d shared everything with. He’d walked with me through the hardest part of my life, and I’d walked with him through his. We’d been each other’s beacon, shelter, and compass through all of life’s shit . . .

So how had we gotten here? To this hopeless, dead end of a place?

He was charging down the stairs now, taking them two at a time. How was he able to move that nimbly when he’d just been comatose on the couch?

“Maggie!”

The windows were rolled up, but his shout broke through the glass, sounding so close it was almost like he was pressed against me, whispering it into my ear.

He sprinted the moment his feet touched the ground, his long arms pumping hard at his sides.

“Canaan, don’t,” I whispered inside the car, my lower lip trembling as I focused on the driveway behind me. “Please don’t.”

I didn’t miss the shadow that had appeared in that lit window. Grandma was watching me leave, witnessing Canaan trying to convince me to stay. Before, his attempts had been successful, but not this time. I couldn’t stay for him one more time—I had to leave for me.

“Maggie! Please!”

Canaan’s shouts were so loud, they were going to wake up the neighbors a few acres over. Each word emanated like a blast inside the car.

“Let me go,” I whispered as I swung the car onto the street.

Right before I could punch it into drive and hit the gas, Canaan swooped in front of the car. His chest was moving hard from the exertion, his snug white tee stained with fresh and dried blood. His face was so messed up it was practically unrecognizable, but I couldn’t help seeing the young boy with a clip-on tie walk up to me when I was frozen on a porch step, appraising me with those wild gold eyes before holding out a tiny box. How had that boy, who’d saved me back then, become the ruin of me now?

When I revved the engine, he didn’t move. Instead, he slid closer so his legs were pushing against the bumper. He raised his arms like he was surrendering, his unswollen eye landing on me. “I’m not letting you leave. Not without a fight.”

A breath rolled past my lips—a fight. Everything was a fight with him. He couldn’t land enough hits or take enough. His guilt wouldn’t let him.

Cranking down the window, I made myself glare at him. It was harder to achieve than it should have been. “I’m not something you win or lose in a fight.”

His jaw moved as he pressed his hands into the hood of the car. “You fight for what’s important. That’s the way life is. And you are worth every fight I have in me.”

“You’re too busy fighting everyone else—including yourself—to fight for me.” My sight blurred as I stared at him. So little of the person I’d fallen in love with remained. So little of who he’d fallen in love with remained in me as well. “I can’t wait around, watching you kill yourself one fight and drink at a time.”

He wiped at his split-open brow, leaving a streak of blood on his forearm. “I can change.”

My fingers tightened around the steering wheel. How many times had I heard those words come from his lips? Those same lips that claimed ownership of my first kiss?

“Yeah, you can.” I steeled myself against him a little more. “That’s not your problem. Your problem is that you won’t change.”

“This time I will.” His head whipped side to side. “It’s taken this, you trying to leave me, to slap some sense into me.”

I’d tried leaving so many times. This was just the furthest I’d ever made it. “I’m not trying to leave you. I am leaving you.” I made myself look at him. I made myself appear strong when I felt so very opposite. “This is it.”

He slowly came around the side of the car toward me. I rolled up the window halfway, aiming my eyes at the road in front of me.

“One more chance.” Even from a few feet back, I could smell the alcohol on his breath. I could smell the sweat and blood on him mixed with it, the trace of perfume that didn’t belong to me.

“You’ve had a thousand one more chances.” I studied him from the corners of my eyes, knowing better than to let them lock on his when he was this close. “This was your last one.”

“Maggie . . .” His hands formed around the lip of the window. His knuckles were split open and swollen, dried blood covering them. Still, I wasn’t sure I’d ever craved having them reach for me more. I wasn’t sure I’d ever needed him to pull me to his broken body and soul more than I did right then.

In that moment, I might have needed him more than I needed air, but I couldn’t give in. Kicking the habit was the only way to cure myself.

“Let me go, Canaan.” My legs were trembling as my foot moved back to the gas.

His head lowered so it was in line with mine. “You’re my wife.”

My left hand curled farther around the steering wheel, until I couldn’t see the gold band circling my finger. “No. I was your wife.”

His head dropped for half a second, his eyes flashing with defeat right before. “I love you.”

​My chest ached. The man was the boy again, and I wanted to save him the way he’d saved me. But I couldn’t. The only person who could save Canaan Ford was Canaan Ford.

“I promised to love you forever, and I will.” My foot touched the accelerator. “But I can’t spend forever with you.”

His hands braced around the window harder when I rolled forward. “I made a promise. To you, and to myself. A promise to love you forever. To look after you as long.”

When I found my mind drifting to that overcast afternoon eleven months ago, my heart wringing when I remembered the way he’d stared at me as we repeated those phrases in the courthouse, I shook my head. Good memories weren’t enough. Hope wasn’t enough. Empty promises weren’t even close to enough.

“We exchanged vows.” My eyes focused on the road in front of me, letting go of the dead end beside me. “There’s a difference between saying them and meaning them.”

When my foot pushed down on the gas, Canaan moved with the car. “I’m not letting you go. I’m not giving up.” The car moved faster, his feet pounding the asphalt as he struggled to keep up.

“I know. But I’m giving in.” Breaking my own rule, I let my eyes meet his before punching the gas pedal as far down as it would go. “Goodbye.”

That was enough. Hearing that word shocked him just enough to still him. For one second. I didn’t ease up on the gas, not even when I heard his fists pounding the trunk as he struggled to keep up.

“I can change!” His footsteps were thundering after the car. “I will change.”

With him behind me, I let the tears I’d been fighting fall. Everything I’d ever known—my whole life—was getting smaller and smaller behind me. With every tick of the odometer.

“MAGGIE!!!” His voice pierced the air one last time before I was too far away to hear whatever came next.

It was morning by the time I stopped seeing his reflection in the rearview mirror, still chasing me into my new life.

about the author button

Nicole Williams is the New York Times and USATODAY bestselling author of contemporary and young adult romance, including the Crash and Lost & Found series. Her books have been published by HarperTeen and Simon & Schuster in both domestic and foreign markets, while she continues to self-publish additional titles. She is working on a new YA series with Crown Books (a division of Random House) as well. She loves romance, from the sweet to the steamy, and writes stories about characters in search of their happily even after. She grew up surrounded by books and plans on writing until the day she dies, even if it’s just for her own personal enjoyment. She still buys paperbacks because she’s all nostalgic like that, but her kindle never goes neglected for too long. When not writing, she spends her time with her husband and daughter, and whatever time’s left over she’s forced to fit too many hobbies into too little time.

Nicole is represented by Jane Dystel, of Dystel and Goderich Literary Agency.

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