Friday, January 31, 2014

Blog Tour (Review) & Giveaway: Used by Lynetta Halat

Welcome to my stop in the USED by Lynetta Halat Blog Tour, hosted by Love Between the Sheets.


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Title: Used (Unlovable #1)
Author: Lynetta Halat
Genre: New Adult Romance
Release Date: January 19, 2014
Series: Unlovable
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Synopsis
I am a slut. No worries. I've come to terms with it, and you will too. I’m not one of those girls who thinks she’s too plain, too fat, too skinny, too shy … no, I don’t have that kind of luck. I’m the girl who knows she’s just right for everyone. — Denver A reputation as a manwhore–with–a–heart–of–gold tends to precede me. But, I don’t do girls with issues, that is until this girl. It's this girl I want to fix. This girl I want to protect. And maybe … more. — Ransom Being in love with the same girl your entire life isn't all it's cracked up to be. She uses me in every way imaginable. How does she see me? I am her perpetual one-night stand. No strings, no attachments. Just mind-numbing sex ... for her anyway. — Greer Feeling like the life is being choked out of her in the small town of Anaconda, Montana, Denver Dempsey craves the escape that college offers … even if that means leaving her “best friend with benefits” and looking for a new way to forget. Thinking she's found the perfect hookup in Ransom, Denver's outlook on college is bright. That is, until Greer shows up looking for a second chance, and Ransom's interest turns to hatred. Love. Hate. Triangle.  Who's using who?
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My Thoughts

 

Use or be Used.
Wow. Talk about a book hang over. This is one thing I love about Lynetta Halat. All of her stories and characters are always different. I will never get bored of reading her books :D! Whenever I finish one of her books I am always left wanting more! I'm so glad I discovered her writing last year when she debuted her book Every Rose.

I don't feel like me anymore. So what does that mean? If I'm not me, who am I?
Denver is a complete emotional and psychological wreck. Her mother, father, and the men in her mother's life have completely ruined her. Denver believes she is a slut because of her mother's reputation. This leads Denver to carry all of her mothers burden on her shoulders. She is even afraid to show even a little bit of love to other guys, because she is afraid that she will turn out to be like her mother. Denver believes that she is the only one to blame in the situations she gets herself into. My heart seriously broke for her character, because of all the suffering she endures since a young age and all the way to the present time.

Liking her too much...even beyond liking her...is the real problem.
Ransom is your bull rider in shinning armor :D! Ransom is hot, a bull rider, all tattoos, and he is all alpha male. I have never read a book in which the guy is a bull rider. I have read a few books where the guy is your typical cowboy, but not a professional bull rider- Kodos for Lynetta Halat. I loved him since the very beginning of the story. There are a few sections in the story told from Ransom's POV. I loved reading the from his POV, because we get to see how deep Denver affects him and how he struggles with his feelings towards her. Now, I was not expecting the revelation Lynetta gives us about Ransom's character at the end of the book! I just can't wait to get more of Ransom in FREED.

"If I let you go, I'll go blind. I'll see nothing, be nothing."
I don't know where to start with Greer or how I even feel about his character. Greer is sweet, romantic, and lovable at the beginning of the book. I did like his character but I didn't love him as much as Ransom. There was just something about Greer that didn't hit me in the right way, and this was before the big situation in the story. After that I just hated him so much that I just couldn't stand reading more about him, especially the letter-sorry all Greer fans. I will flat out say that his love for Denver felt more like an obsession to me. I just didn't like how Greer acted and treated Denver in Used. But I won't lay all the blame on Greer's actions here, because Denver is also at fault.

I don't want to want to be with Ransom. I want to want to be with you.
I hate love triangles, because they just get on my fucking nerves with the whole indecisive love and jumping back on forth from one guy to the other. In Used, Lynette didn't make it seem like a love triangle at all. Thank you for saving my sanity! Denver's relationship with Greer is sweet, innocent love at a young age. As they grow up it just becomes a toxic, obsessive, possessive relationship. I loved the sweet memories and moments they share, but when it gets out of control it fucking broke my heart. Denver's relationship with Ransom is all desire, lust, and control. They both want each other and Ransom knows he can give Denver the type of relationship she needs to heal. I can't wait to see where it goes in FREED.

A wrecking ball only goes the direction you send it. It was only fair that it'd had come crashing back into me full force.
Used by Lynette is a gut wrenching that has lust, friendship, loss, betrayal, hate, desire, and angst. The setting and the story stand out from all the other NEW ADULT genre. Used has become a memorable, favorite and out-standing read. Thank you Lynette for writing heart breaking and gut wrenching stories that never fail to emotionally affect me. I will put down any book to read any new release from Lynetta. The ending wasn't much of a cliff-hanger, but Lynette definitely leaves you wanting more. I want FREED NOW! 


Final Verdict: 5 Stars

 

 


About the Author
author2 Since the dawn of time, Lynetta Halat has lived to read and has written innumerable stories and plays. A lover of good books, bad boys, and kickass tunes, she'd always dreamt of penning books that people could connect with and remember. She also has a secret penchant for wringing the emotions out of unsuspecting readers, and she collects reader's tears in much the same way that wine connoisseurs collect their favorite vintage. Her first novel, Every Rose, was the perfect catalyst to launch her into the world of publishing, effectively burrowing her way into the hearts and minds of readers throughout the world. Everything I've Never Had was her follow-up adult romance novel. Now, she has penned Used, a New Adult Romance that she hopes sinks its teeth into you and doesn't let go. Her love of the English language prompted her to pursue a Master's degree in English from Old Dominion University in Virginia, where she also minored in snark and interpretive dance. She lives somewhere along the Mississippi Gulf Coast with her adorable husband, two amazing sons, and two loveable dogs. When she's not writing riveting stories, she likes to focus on her macramé art and her scouring of eBay, where she buys locks of hair from her favorite rock stars, most especially Bret Michaels and Dave Grohl.  

Facebook Page | Website | Twitter: @LynettaHalat | Goodreads | Amazon

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Giveaway

Book Blitz (Excerpt) & Giveaway: A Beautiful Mess by T.K. Leigh

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  Synopsis 
What happens when you lose everyone that promised they would always be there for you? How can you protect the few pieces of your shattered heart that remain? Olivia Adler is a woman with a troubled past. After losing her parents at the young age of six and being raised by an uncle who she lost years later, she refuses to get attached to anyone, including friends. For the past decade, she has been able to remain unattached to any man, too worried about losing someone to get too close. Until Alexander Burnham walks into her life one night and changes everything. But he has issues of his own. And he’s keeping a secret that could change everything. Will Olivia let Alexander in enough for him to get close and protect her from a force threatening her very existence, or will she push him away, scared of letting Alexander in, in order to protect her heart? A Beautiful Mess is the first installment of a three part series sure to captivate the heart with a story of secrets, courage, and love. 


excerpt 
Olivia eyed Alexander as she tasted the delicious wine. “So, Antonio seems excited that you’re here with me. Any reason for that?” Alexander placed his wine glass on the table and grabbed Olivia’s hand. “To be honest, it seems we have a little something in common, Miss Adler. I don’t really do the relationship thing either. I like to fuck and leave all those emotional attachments out of it. I’ve certainly never taken a woman out like this before, apart from the obligatory charity functions I am expected to be at.” Olivia looked down, not wanting to hear what he was going to say next. She actually enjoyed spending time with Alexander and for once wanted more than just an occasional hook-up, but it sounded as though that was all he was interested in. But why the Red Sox game? Why the wine and dine? And why didn’t he make his move at Beer Works when Olivia made it rather clear that she wanted him to kiss her? Alexander continued speaking, breaking her away from her growing unsettled emotions. “But, there’s just something about you, Olivia. You make me want to break all my rules. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I’m beginning to not care.” Butterflies erupted in Olivia’s stomach at his words. She felt the same way. Looking up, she smiled as she met Alexander’s eyes. “That doesn’t mean that I still don’t want to fuck you senseless, Miss Adler,” he winked as the waiter arrived to take their order, leaving Olivia completely shocked. 


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Meet the Author
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T. K. Leigh, otherwise known as Tracy Leigh Kellam, is a producer / attorney by trade. Born and raised in New England, she now lives in Southern California with her husband, dog and three cats, all of which she has rescued (including the husband). When she’s not planted in front of her computer, writing away, she can be found running and training for her next marathon (of which she’s run over 15 fulls and too many halfs to count), or trying to convince her husband that it’s time to give yoga another try. Unlike Olivia, the main character from her debut novel, "A Beautiful Mess," she has yet to qualify for the Boston Marathon. 


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Release Day Blitz: All Good Things by Jodie Beau

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All Good Things by Jodie Beau is LIVE!!   
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All Good Things… are wild and free. This is going to be the best summer ever! Bonfires, pool parties, trips to the beach, throwing her arms in the air while riding down the open road in a convertible – she’s going to do it all.  Roxie has plans. It’s the last summer before college graduation. By this time next year she’ll be living in the “real” world; ie: paying bills, searching for a job that doesn’t require an apron, and maybe even sleeping on a bed that doesn’t turn into a couch. If there’s ever a time to be fun, irresponsible and reckless, it’s now. But things don’t always go as planned.  Before the summer has even started, Roxie makes a discovery that breaks her heart and shatters her confidence. Her hopes of having the Best Summer Ever go straight in the trash. Forget the beach. Forget the bonfires. Forget summer altogether.  If only her childhood friend, Jake, would let her be. His contagious smile keeps popping up and dragging her to every social event in Ann Arbor. Reluctant at first, his happy-go-lucky attitude becomes an addiction. It isn’t long before Roxie starts to wonder if her longtime friend might be the perfect cure for her heartbreak. This summer might be good after all. But All Good Things… must come to an end. **All Good Things is an NA prequel to the contemporary 2013 release The Good Life. The books can be read in either order, or as stand-alones.**

ABOUT JODIE BEAU

Jodie Author PicI'm a wife, mom, waitress, book nerd, Chapstick addict, and a really bad driver who still believes in happy endings and can't walk in high heels. Writing is what I do when I'm avoiding other things...like cleaning. I once had big dreams of being a Hollywood screenwriter. But then I met a boy and got distracted. Three years later we met another boy, this one even cuter. The three of us are now living happily ever after in the Detroit area. All Good Things is my second novel. And our house is kind of a mess!

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Excerpt Blast: The Deep End of the Sea by Heather Lyons

TheDeep End of the Sea Excerpt Blast

We are thrilled to share an excerpt for Heather Lyons'  THE DEEP END OF THE SEA! THE DEEP END OF THE SEA is a New Adult Fantasy set for release February 13, 2014 and definitely one you need to add to your TBR pile! 


   The Deep End Of The Sea - Front Cover    
About THE DEEP END OF THE SEA: What if all the legends you’ve learned were wrong? Brutally attacked by one god and unfairly cursed by another she faithfully served, Medusa has spent the last two thousand years living out her punishment on an enchanted isle in the Aegean Sea. A far cry from the monster legends depict, she’s spent her time educating herself, gardening, and desperately trying to frighten away adventure seekers who occasionally end up, much to her dismay, as statues when they manage to catch her off guard.  As time marches on without her, Medusa wishes for nothing more than to be given a second chance at a life stolen away at far too young an age. But then comes a day when Hermes, one of the few friends she still has and the only deity she trusts, petitions the rest of the gods and goddesses to reverse the curse. Thus begins a journey toward healing and redemption, of reclaiming a life after tragedy, and of just how powerful friendship and love can be—because sometimes, you have to sink in the deep end of the sea before you can rise back up again.  

Add The Deep End of the Sea by Heather Lyons to your TBR Pile---> Goodreads


 Excerpt: 
 I let it happen again. The temple settles into that stagnant silence I’ve long learned to loathe, and these are the most cohesive series of words I can string together for many long, desolate minutes. I let it happen again. Resolutions apparently mean nothing, even if crafted under the best of intentions. Had I not, just this very morning, recited a daily pledge held dear to my heart: I shall not let myself be used for death? And yet, a man is dead, and I was the weapon that slayed him. I move closer to where he now stands, forever frozen in terror, and press my shaking hand against his outstretched stone one. “I’m sorry,” I whisper, though he cannot and never will be able to hear my words. “So, so sorry.” His eyes, wide and mercifully detail free, offer me nothing in return. Once I commit his features to memory, I construct a life history with a name worthy of his sacrifice. Walt was single (I can’t bear the thought of spouses and children, thus my collection of singletons) and a bit of a daredevil when he wasn’t volunteering to teach literacy to adults in poverty stricken urban areas. He’d gone spelunking at least a half-dozen times, sky diving twice, and bungee cord diving off some crazy bridge in Colorado just once, on his thirtieth birthday. Walt liked to write poetry; how could he not, when his now-deceased parents had named him after one of the greats? Walt liked to talk about poetry, too, which means he needs to be with others like him. I strip off my flannel work shirt, down to a tank top, and get to work. Shoving stones around when half of one’s body is reptilian isn’t the easiest of tasks, requiring a great deal of precision and care. As I always tend to do when placing a new statue, I can’t help but flash back to the one and only time I’d broken one of my victims. I’d been tired—he’d snuck upon me when I’d been sleeping—and an overestimated shove sent poor Nikolaos face first against the temple floor. I’d spent most of that night collecting the pieces which once made a whole man, blubbering in misery. As penance, his head, missing an ear and part of his nose, still sits on a shelf in my bedroom. Treat us gently, I like to imagine him telling me nightly before I sleep. We deserve your care. I have not failed Nikolaos since. Over the ages, I’ve developed a routine to transfer the statues around the island that includes wrapping the bodies in a thick quilt before putting them up on casters. It takes a painstaking amount of time to shift them short or long distances, but each person deserves nothing less from me. Walt’s group sits just outside the temple. They are the philosophers of our island; it only seems natural they would find much to appreciate in both the sun and the stars. I struggle with his body over the stairs—they are tricky to maneuver for me even without hauling a two hundred pound statue—but eventually, I get him exactly where he’ll fit in best. “Ladies and gentlemen, this is Walt,” I tell the still faces forming a cluster near a non-functioning fountain. “His poetry is as beautiful as his namesake’s.” I angle Walt so his eyes face theirs. It’s late afternoon, and there is soft orange light filtering down upon their features. It’s a beautiful sight, which only saddens me, because all of that talk about death and beauty being intertwined is one of the biggest loads of crap I’ve ever heard. Death isn’t beautiful. Too often than not, it’s messy and brutal; even when done in sleep, there’s still that theft of breath, that failure of a heart. Death is an act of violence. I should know. I am one of the most prolific murderers in history. And I think about death constantly. I often wonder what my own death will be like, if I am ever blessed to embrace it. I’m not too picky in my imaginings; I’ll take any sort by this point. Logically, I’d prefer a less painful exit, but, knowing my luck, it’ll be as ruthless as once reported and still widely believed. It ought to be noted I have some of the most wretched luck to ever be doled out, so there is that. The sound of waves crashing against the shore sends my eyes to the horizon. I’ve tried to drown myself in those waters more times than I ought to admit over the years, but the sea always spits me back out. I’ve also tried overdosing on pharmaceuticals, stabbing myself in the chest and eyes (which was just as painful as you’d imagine), and throwing myself off a cliff. Melodramatic, yes, and all ineffective for an immortal cursed with impenetrable skin and a digestive system apparently filled with acid. Death is not my friend. At least, not yet.   


    
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About Heather Lyons:Heather Lyons has always had a thing for words—She’s been writing stories since she was a kid. In addition to writing, she’s also been an archaeologist and a teacher. Heather is a rabid music fan, as evidenced by her (mostly) music-centric blog, and she’s married to an even larger music snob. They’re happily raising three kids who are mini music fiends who love to read and be read to.


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Cover Reveal + Release Day Blitz (Excerpt) & Giveaway: Play Me by Alla Kar

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FINAL Cover_Play Me

Title: Play Me (Love Me #2)

Author: Alla Kar

Release Date: January 31, 2014

GenreContemporary New Adult

Series: Love Me Series (can be read as a Standalone)

Cover Photographer: Lindee Robinson Photography

Hosted by: Love Between the Sheets Promotions

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Synopsis

She’s his best play yet …  ROXANNE DEEDS thinks she’s far enough away from her past that her demons can’t come back to haunt her. With only one year left of college, everything looks like it’s falling into place—until Southern Arkansas University’s drool-worthy football running back crashes into her with no intention of letting go.  WESTON GARRISON knows two things in life. Sex and football. And he doesn’t plan on changing anytime soon—until he tears his hamstring a week before his first game, and his trainer is the one woman that he can’t seem to get enough of.  When Roxy’s past catches up to them, will their love be enough to save them both?   


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Excerpt

My fingers curl around the knob and I open it an inch. A soft sigh escapes my lips. Weston. “What are you doin’ here?”    Weston runs his fingers through his hair and kicks the door open with his good foot. Both arms cross over his chest as he leans against the doorjamb. “That depends on if you let me in or not.”    Why is he here? Heat swarms my cheeks remembering everything we just done in that bathroom. Could he embarrass me anymore? “Why would I let you inside? It’s in the middle of the night.” I give him a good once over. “And you’re drunk.”     He reaches down and digs into his front pocket. He pulls out my cellphone and dangles it in front of my face by two fingers. “This is the reason you’d let me inside.”    What? I slap my palms against my pajama shorts and realize I really don’t have my phone. Dammit. Weston hums underneath his breath as he brings my phone closer to his face. “Looks like someone has a new text message.”      “Give it back, Weston.”      The edge of his mouth pulls up slightly. “Let me inside and I will.”      “Why? What’s in here that isn’t out there?”      Something passes over his face that I can’t pinpoint. “Let me inside, Roxanne.”     I felt that in-between my legs. That word slipping from that mouth is more than I can take. Keeping my eyes on his, I take a step backwards while opening the door wider for him. Something appetizingly wicked heats in those brown eyes.    With the help of one crutch, he wobbles forward. I watch as he shuts the door and locks it behind him. His gaze rolls over my small apartment and then back to me.         Taking his bottom lip in-between his teeth he places one arm against the wall. “Is he here?”    What? Who? Leaning closer he presses his cheek against my own. “Is he here?”    “Is who here?”    A stern grip cups my hip and guides me until I’m pressed against the wall. A strong wisp of alcohol heats my face. He’s definitely been drinking but for some reason he doesn’t seem too drunk. “Don’t play with me,” he whispers against my mouth. Is Blake here?”    Blake? Why would Blake be here? “Weston you’re clearly drunk–“   A groan slips from his clenched teeth and he presses his hand tighter around my hip. “Is he here?”    There is a demanding tone in his voice that makes a side of me quiver. “No.”    Ten rough fingers grip the nape of my neck and force my mouth upward. “Was he here?”     My thighs turn to goop. If he wasn’t pressing himself against me I’d probably fall. “No,” I whimper out.    Lowering his mouth to my ear, he breathes in. “Did he kiss you?”    I bite my lip and close my eyes. I’m burning up … everywhere. A hard weight is pressing against my lower stomach and it is slowly eating me alive. I don’t lie. And it’s mostly because I want to see his reaction. This aggressiveness is searing underneath my skin. I want it.  “Yes, what’s it to you?”    There is a few short moments of silence. All I hear is his harsh breathing against my ear. Then he laughs. It’s a low chuckle that sets that fire ablaze inside of me. The hand on my hip lowers to cup my ass and the other slides up my throat to gently grip my neck. “You like him, Roxanne? You like the way he talks to you? The way he touches you?”    Anger rushes my throat and a painful lump beings to grow. Tilting my chin upward, I stare up at him. Those brown eyes bore into me and then lowering toward my lips. “Yes.”    Something wild darkens his eyes. He laughs beneath his breathe and presses the palm of his thumb against my bottom lip. “Does he touch you like this?” he whispers against my mouth. He squeezes my ass and presses me harder into him. And I feel exactly how excited he is pressed firmly against my stomach.      The truth is no one has ever made me feel this alive. Hormones that I haven’t felt in years are raging inside of me. “Answer me,” he hisses through his teeth.    No, he doesn’t.    Weston’s teeth grazes my bottom lip before he gently bites down. All my fingers clench into his biceps. “You’re drunk,” I whisper.    I can feel his growl surge through me. “Does it look like I’m fuckin’ drunk, Roxanne. Stop avoiding the goddamn question. Let me fuckin’ have you.”    Let me fuckin’ have you. Grabbing my back he pulls me closer so he can bury his face into my neck. My core is throbbing. I need this release. I need this friction.    “No, he doesn’t,” I whisper.    Weston squeezes me tighter and brings his lips to mine. “I didn’t think so.”    He watches me through hooded eyes while he drags the tip of his finger to the drop in the front of my shirt. Arching my back, I press my chest against him. My tender nipples rub against his hard chest and it makes my head dizzy. “I’m goin’ to show you how you’re supposed to feel when you kiss.”    God, I can’t think straight. Every atom in me is driving me toward him. Begging me to strip him out of those clothes and let him have his way with me. But everything is spinning in my mind. Ryan and Maddox. Weston’s reputation. One night wouldn’t hurt though, right? Just one night. But would one night be enough? Weston’s lips are hovering over mine as if he’s waiting on me to kiss him. To make the first move. I can already tell that there is no way one night will be enough. Those large hands. That full mouth. Tattoos and muscles. Can anyone say no to him?   


About the Author

Alla Kar is from the Deep South. She lives there with her husband, feisty Chihuahua and Pit-bull puppy. She loves YouTube, Hulu, alpha males, southern gentlemen and everything new adult. 
 
Facebook | Twitter: @allkar1 | Blog | Email


Giveaway

Cover Re-Reveal: Kylie Ryans Series by Caisey Quinn

The Kylie Ryans series has all new covers! 

Custom Photography by Lauren Perry of L. Perry Designs
Book Cover Design by E.M. Tippetts Book Design
Cover Model: Teale Murdock


THE KYLIE RYANS SERIES 

A girl with a dream and a guitar...
A troubled artist struggling to hold onto his career...

What they found was each other.



Girl with Guitar




Girl on Tour



Girl in Love 

Coming February 4th! 



*Titles are also available on iTunes & Kobo. 


*Special DELUXE EDITION paperbacks with bonus content will be available for a limited time at http://www.caiseyquinnwrites.com/store.html




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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Caisey Quinn lives in Birmingham, Alabama with her husband, daughter, and other assorted animals. She is the bestselling author of the Kylie Ryans series as well as several New and Young Adult Romance novels featuring country girls finding love in unexpected places. You can find her online at www.caiseyquinnwrites.com. 

Cover + Chapters Reveal: Before You by Amber Hart

Synopsis:

Some say love is deadly. Some say love is beautiful. I say it is both.

Faith Watters spent her junior year traveling the world, studying in exquisite places, before returning to Oviedo High School. From the outside her life is picture-perfect. Captain of the dance team. Popular. Happy. Too bad it’s all a lie.

It will haunt me. It will claim me. It will shatter me. And I don't care.

Eighteen-year-old Diego Alvarez hates his new life in the States, but staying in Cuba is not an option. Covered in tattoos and scars, Diego doesn’t stand a chance of fitting in. Nor does he want to. His only concern is staying hidden from his past—a past, which if it were to surface, would cost him everything. Including his life.

At Oviedo High School, it seems that Faith Watters and Diego Alvarez do not belong together. But fate is as tricky as it is lovely. Freedom with no restraint is what they long for. What they get is something different entirely.

Love—it will ruin you and save you, both.    

What other authors had to say:


"Beautiful and evocative!" ~New York Times Bestselling author Sophie Jordan
"Fresh and unique...will hook and hold you." ~Bestselling author K.A. Tucker


Add Before You by Amber Hart to your TBR PIle---> Goodreads



CHAPTER 1-4 REVEAL:



1
Faith


My closet is a place of secrets.
This is where I change into Her, the girl everybody knows as me. Searching through hanger after hanger of neatly pressed clothes, I find the outfit I’m looking for. A black knee-length pleated skirt, a loose-fitting white top, and two-inch wedge shoes. Looking good at school is a must. Not that I do it for me. It’s more for my dad’s reputation. I have to play the part.
I am stuffed into a borrowed frame. One that fits too tightly. One that couldn’t possibly capture the real me.
    “Faith,” my stepmom calls. “Are you joining us for breakfast?”
    There is no time. “No,” I reply, my voice carrying downstairs.
    I quickly dress for school, catching my reflection in the closet door mirror. Waking sun shines off my hair, highlighting a few strands brighter than the rest. Everybody has a favorite body part. Mine is my hair, which is the fiery-brown of autumn leaves. My best friend, Melissa, swears my eyes are my best asset.  Ivy-green, deep-set, haunting. Like they go on forever.
    Speaking of Melissa, her horn blares outside. Beep, beep, pause, beep. That’s our code. I race downstairs, passing my dad, stepmom, and little sister on the way out.
“Wait,” Dad says.
I sigh. “Yes, Dad?”
He glances at my outfit, pausing at my shoes. If it were up to Dad, I would wear turtleneck shirts and dress pants with lace-up boots forever. The perfect ensemble, it seems. As it is, I dress conservatively to protect his image. I’m eighteen. You’d think he’d stop cringing every time he saw me in anything that showed the least bit of skin.
“Hug,” he says, waving me over.
I hug him. Place a kiss on my five-year-old sister’s jelly-covered cheek. Then, grab a napkin to wipe the sticky jelly from my lips.
“Bye, Gracie,” I say to her. “See you after school.”
She waves a small hand at me and smiles.
    “Take this.” Susan, my stepmom, hands me a bagel even though I already declined breakfast. It’s poppy seed. I’m allergic to poppy seed.
    As usual, I don’t put up a fight. My frame feels especially uncomfortable at the moment. It’s always the same thing. I learned early on that it’s easier to go with the flow than to be different. Different is bad. Standing out attracts attention, something I try to avoid at all costs. Unfortunately, being the dance captain makes that more difficult. 
    “Have to go,” I say, shoving the bagel in my bag.
The screen door swings shut behind me.
    Melissa waits in my driveway. We live in a modest, yellow-paneled house in Oviedo, Florida. The majority of the people here are middle class. We fit in well.
    “What’s up?” Melissa smiles. “Took you long enough.”
    “Yeah, well, you try waking up late and still looking as good as I do,” I joke.
    Melissa whips her blond hair into a ponytail and puts her red Camaro in reverse, careful not to hit my Jeep on the way out. I have my own car, but since Melissa lives three doors down, we have a deal where we alternate driving to school. She takes the first month; I take the second, and so on. Saves gas.
    “You look smokin’,” Melissa says, lighting a cigarette.
    I roll my eyes.
“Liar.”
She’s always hated the way I dress.
    Melissa laughs. “Okay, true, the clothes need to go. But your hair and makeup are flawless. And no matter what you wear, you still look beautiful.” 
    “Thanks, you too,” I say, eyeing her tight jeans and sequined top. Melissa is effortlessly beautiful with her sun-freckled face and athletic build.
    “Prediction,” Melissa begins. This is something we have done since ninth grade: predict three things that will happen during the year. “Tracy Ram will try to overthrow you as dance captain, once again, but you’ll keep your spot, of course, ’cause you rock. You’ll quit dressing like an eighty-year-old and finally wear what you want to wear instead of what society dictates is appropriate for a pastor’s daughter. And you’ll come to your senses and dump Jason Magg for a hot new boy.”
    Melissa always predicts that I’ll dump Jason, has done since Jason and I began dating freshman year. It’s not that she doesn’t like him. It’s just that she thinks my life is too bland, like the taste of celery. What’s the point, she figures.
“First of all, I do not dress like the elderly,” I say. “And second, I don’t know what you have against Jason. He treats me nicely. It’s not like he’s a jerk.”
    “It’s not like he’s exciting, either,” Melissa says.
She’s right. What I have with Jason is comfortable, nice even, but excitement left a long time ago.
“Prediction,” I say, turning to Melissa. “You will not be able to quit bugging me about dumping Jason, even though last year you swore you would. Despite your doubts, you will pass senior calculus. And you’re going to win homecoming.”
Melissa shakes her head. “No way. Homecoming is all you, girl.”
I groan. “But I don’t want to win.”
Melissa laughs. “Tracy Ram would have a heart attack if she ever heard you say that.”
“Great,” I say. “Let her win homecoming.”
We grin. Melissa and I have been friends since kindergarten. Memories come to me suddenly. I’m in elementary school, and it’s sleepover night at Melissa’s. In my overnight bag, I carry a small stuffed bunny, my steadfast companion since forever. People would laugh if they knew, me carrying around a stuffed baby toy, but Melissa never tells. Fast forward to middle school. The braces on Melissa’s teeth are still so new that the silver catches the light from the fluorescent fixtures when she smiles. The headgear is huge, cumbersome, and no one lets her forget it. But I relentlessly defend my friend. She’s so beautiful, can’t they see? Sometimes I leave flowers stolen from a neighbor’s rose bush at her locker when no one is looking. That way people will know that she is loved. High school. Melissa and me, same as always.
“What do you want to bet?” Melissa asks.
Whoever gets the most predictions right wins.
“Hmm,” I say. “If I win, you have to quit smoking.”
Melissa almost chokes. “Pulling out the big guns, are we? Okay, then. If I win, you have to break up with Jason.”
“Deal,” I say, knowing that she won’t win. She never does.
Melissa purses her lips and gives me the stink eye. She knows I have a better chance.
“Faith, I will find a way to break you out of your mold,” she says.
I laugh, partially because of the determination in my friend’s eyes, but mostly because of the absurdity of her statement. Everybody knows that girls like me never break free.     




2
Diego


“Diego, vamonos.”
    I can’t help the frustrated sigh that escapes my lips, hurled at mi padre, my dad, like a gust of wind that threatens to flatten our house of cards. It’s my fault. I should have built something stronger with the cards I was dealt. But I didn’t. I didn’t know how.
“Go away,” I say. “Vete.”
I’m not planning to attend school today.
In fact, I didn’t plan to be in the States at all.
    “Vamonos. Let’s go,” mi padre repeats in his heavily accented voice, yanking me off of the couch. “You will not miss senior year.”
    He has this new thing where we have to speak English as much as possible now that we live in the States. I almost wish I weren’t fluent. Several trips to Florida, and I am. 
    With a grimace, I pass him, reluctantly moving toward my room. It feels like my feet are sinking, like I’m walking over sticky sand instead of thick, dirty carpet.
How did I get stuck in this place?
I open my dresser drawer and pull out faded jeans, a white T-shirt, and my Smith & Wesson.
    “No,” mi padre says, grabbing the gun.
    I take a step toward him, challenging. He does not back down.
“This is why we left,” he says.
Hypocrite. Under his bed is a similar gun, waiting. Just in case. But he’s also the one who taught me how to fight. I’m bigger than he is, but he has more experience. And the scars to prove it.
Not that I haven’t been in countless fights myself.
    “Fine,” I say through clenched teeth, and turn toward the bathroom.
    The hot water heater goes out after five minutes. The tiny two-bedroom apartment—this hole we now call home—is the only thing mi padre could afford. It’s not much, but it’s inexpensive. That’s all that matters. The plain white walls remind me of an asylum. Feels like I’m going crazy already.
Our jobs keep us afloat. They’re our life vests, our only chance of survival in a sea of ravenous sharks. Mi padre found a job with a lawn crew a couple weeks ago. Not many people would hire him with his scarred face and tattooed body. A restaurant offered me work part-time. Two shifts as a cook, one as a busboy. They promised a free meal every night that I worked. Couldn’t pass that up.
    “Don’t be late for school or work,” mi padre says as I step out of the house.
School’s only ten minutes away. I walk, staring at the graffiti-covered sidewalk that stretches in front of me like a ribbed canvas. Latinos roam the block. It didn’t take moving to the States for me to know that’s how it is. The gringos, white people, live in nice houses and drive cars to school while the rest of the world waits for a piece of their leftovers. I’m trying not to think about how screwed up it all is when a Latina walks up to me.
“Hola,” she says. “¿Hablas inglés?”
“Yeah, I speak English,” I answer, though I’m not sure why she asks since both of us speak Spanish.
“I’m Lola.” She smiles, sexy brown eyes big and wide. She reminds me of a girl I knew back home. Just the thought, the image of home, makes my guts clench.
“What’s your name?” she purrs.
“Lola,” a Latino calls from across the street. She ignores him. He calls again. When she doesn’t come, he approaches us.
One look tells me he’s angry. He has a cocky stance and a shaved head.
“Am I interrupting something?” he snaps.
What’s this guy’s problem?
“Yep,” Lola says, turning her back on him. “My ex,” she explains, brushing a strand of curly hair out of her face.
Perfecto. Just what I need. I didn’t even do anything. Not that I’m going to explain.
“She’s mine,” the guy says, staring me down. “¿Entiendes, amigo?”
    “I’m not your friend,” I say, gritting my teeth. “And you do not want to mess with me.”
    Lola is smiling. I wonder if she enjoys the attention. Probably. I’ve met too many girls like her. She fits the type.
    “You don’t know who you’re messing with,” he says, stepping closer.
    A few guys come out of nowhere, closing in on me. Blue and white bandanas hang from their pockets like a bad-luck charm. I know what the colors signify. Mara Salvatrucha 13 Gang, or MS-13.
I turn to Lola. Watch her smile.
    This is all part of the game. What I can’t figure out is if the guy really is her ex and she doesn’t care that she could be getting me killed, or if he sent her to see how tough I am, to help decide whether he wants to recruit me. 
    I turn to walk away, but someone blocks my path.
“Going somewhere?” another gang-banger asks.
    This whole time I’ve wondered if I’d end up fighting at school. I hadn’t thought about the fact that I may never make it in the first place. I silently curse mi padre for hiding my gun. He wouldn’t get rid of it completely, though.
    “What do you want?” I ask.
    The original guy laughs, looks me up and down. The number 67 is tattooed behind his right ear in bold black numbers. It only takes me a second to figure out the meaning. Six plus seven equals thirteen.
“What are those markings?” he asks, eyeing my tattoos.
    “Nothing,” I lie.
    If they wanted to fight me, they would’ve done it already. This is a recruit.
    “Where you from?” he asks.
    I don’t answer. Members of MS-13 stretch around the globe like fingers. They can easily check my past. I’m not gonna give them a head start.
    “Swallow your tongue?” one of the guys asks.
    I’m trying to figure out if I can win a fight against the five guys who surround me. I look for weak spots, scars, old injuries. I look for bulges that might be weapons. I’m a good fighter. I think I can take them. But at the same time, fighting will guarantee me a follow-up visit from MS-13.
    Just then, someone speaks behind us. “Is there a problem?” a police officer asks from the safety of his car.
    Everyone backs away from me.
“Nope,” one of the gangbangers answers. “We were just leaving.”
    “See you around,” 67 says, throwing an arm around Lola.
    I turn my back and walk the last block to school. The police officer trails slowly behind, like a hungry dog sniffing for scraps. He leaves as I enter the double doors.
    I think about what my dad said. Moving here will give you a brighter future.
His words sit heavily on my mind, like humidity on every pore of my skin. His intentions are good, but he’s wrong. So far, moving here has done nothing but remind me of my past.




3
Faith


“Hi, I’m Faith Watters.”
Those are the first words I speak to the new Cuban guy in the front office. He grimaces. He’ll be a tough one. I can handle it, though. He’s not the first.
I can’t help but notice that he looks a lot like a model from the neck up—eyes the color of oak, strong bone structure. Everywhere else, he looks a lot like a criminal. Chiseled, scarred body … I wonder for a second about the meaning behind the tattoos scratched into his arms.
One thing’s clear. He’s dangerous.
And he’s beautiful.
“I’ll show you to your classes,” I announce.
I’m one of the peer helpers at our school. It’s not my favorite thing to do, but it counts as a class. Basically I spend the first two days with new students, introducing them around and answering their questions. Some parents with kids new to the school voluntarily sign their students up, but it’s only mandatory for the international students, of which we have a lot. Mostly Latinos.
    This Cuban guy towers over me. I’m five six. Not tall. Not short. Just average. Average is good.
This guy’s not average. Not even a little bit. He must be over six feet.
    I glance up at him, kind of like I do when I’m searching for the moon in a sea of darkness.
“Looks like you have math first. I’ll walk you there,” I offer.
    “No thanks, chica. I can handle it.”
    “It’s no problem,” I say, leading the way.
    He tries to snatch his schedule from my hands, but I move too fast.
    “Why don’t we start with your name?” I suggest.
    I already know his name. Plus some. Diego Alvarez. Eighteen years old. Moved from Cuba two weeks ago. Only child. No previous school records. I read it in his bio. I want to hear him say it.
    “You got some kinda control issues or somethin’?” he asks harshly, voice slightly accented.
    “You got some kind of social issues or somethin’?” I fire back, holding my stance. I won’t let him intimidate me, though I’ll admit, he’s hot. Too bad he has a nasty attitude.
    The side of his lip twitches. “No. I just don’t mix with your type,” he answers.
    “My type?”
    “That’s what I said.”
    “You don’t even know my type.” No one does. Well, except Melissa.
    He chuckles humorlessly. “Sure I do. Head cheerleader? Date the football player? Daddy’s little girl who gets everything she wants?” He leans closer to whisper. “Probably a virgin.”
    My cheeks burn hot. “I’m not a cheerleader,” I say through clamped teeth.
    “Whatever,” he says. “Are you gonna give me my schedule or not?”
    “Not,” I answer. “But you can feel free to follow me to your first class.”
    He steps in front of me, intimately close. “Listen, chica, nobody tells me what to do.”
    I shrug. “Fine, suit yourself. It’s your life. But if you want to attend this school, it’s mandatory for me to show you to your classes for two days.”
    His eyes narrow. “Who says I want to attend this school?”
    I take the last step toward him, closing the gap between us. When we were little, Melissa and I used to collect glass bottles. Whenever we accumulated twenty, we’d break them on the concrete. When the glass shattered, the slivered pieces made a breathtaking prism of light.
I cut myself on the glass by accident once. It was painful, but worth it. The beauty was worth it. It’s funny how the bottle was never as beautiful as when it was broken.
You will not shatter me, I silently tell Diego. Somebody already did.
“If you don’t want to be here, then don’t come back,” I say.
    A taunting smile spreads across his face. My first thought is that he has nice teeth, but then I scold myself for thinking about him like that.
    “My name is Diego,” he says, like he’s letting me in on some kind of secret.
    “Well, Diego,” I say, “better hurry. Class starts in two minutes.” I step around him to lead the way.
While we walk to math, I feel Diego’s eyes on me. I don’t know what it is about him. All the other confident students had nothing on me, and I swear I’ve heard it all, but he seems different. He shines. In a dark way. When he looks at me, I get a tingly sensation, like I’m being zapped by electricity.
It doesn’t matter. He’s rude. And besides, I have a wonderful boyfriend. Jason. Think about Jason.
“Quit staring at me,” I say, glancing at him.
He laughs, and strands of black hair fall into his eyes. I imagine it’s a little like looking at the world through charred silk.
“Why? Does it make you uncomfortable?”
He’s messing with me to get under my skin, like a pesky little splinter.
It’s working.
“Yes,” I answer.
In his white shirt, Diego’s skin is dark. Perpetually tanned by heritage. 
I keep Diego’s schedule out of his reach. He inches closer, no doubt to grab it and run. I try to concentrate on the newly painted beige walls and tiled floors. Every few feet hangs a plaque about achievement or school clubs or tutoring programs.
When we come to the door, Diego rests an arm on the wall and leans toward me.
“I have a proposition for you,” he says in a sultry voice.
It’s hard to seem unaffected.
“I don’t do propositions,” I say dismissively.
He grins, his mouth arching up like the curl of a wave.
“But you haven’t even heard me out,” he says.
“Don’t need to.”
He ignores my comment. “What do you say we forget about this thing where I follow you around like a little dog? And when the guidance counselor asks, I will say you were superlative.”
“Big word,” I mumble. This guy did not do well on his entry exams, but he says things like superlative? What’s with that?
He glares at me; I sigh.
“You know, it wouldn’t kill you to drop the tough-guy act for two days. You’ll be rid of me soon.”
I turn to leave but Diego grabs my arm gently. My breath catches.
“It’s not an act,” he says, jaw hard.
I wave him away nonchalantly, like his touch didn’t just do all kinds of crazy things to my body—things that make me want to forget about the warning blaring in my mind.
I need to stay away from him.
I need to forget him.
Will you touch me again please?
I walk away. He watches me go.
“By the way,” I say as I flick a look over my shoulder at his hardened face, “I see right through you.”



4
Diego


She sees right through me? What does that mean? I wonder for the twentieth time as I enter the cafeteria. I managed to avoid my peer helper after my first few classes, rushing out before she could meet me. Did she really think I couldn’t get another class schedule? Maybe next time she won’t underestimate me.
A sweet smell hits my nostrils as I pass the fruit section. It smells like my peer helper, and I’m reminded of my disgust for her. She thinks she knows me, but she knows nothing. She’s a snob, trying to prove something. They’re all the same.
    Girls like her don’t know what it’s like to struggle, really struggle.
She’s probably never gone so hungry her stomach knots. Never roamed the streets wondering if she’ll have a safe place to sleep. With a face and body like hers, she’s probably never had to work for anything in her life. The people she represents, the life she lives, it’s all fake.
Javier, my cousin, warned me about her. She’s one of the Big Five, the ones who think they rule this school. Even with her perfect boyfriend and flawless life, she isn’t fooling me.
I hear Javier before I see him. “Diego, aquí.”
Through the crowd, I spot my cousin sitting with a group of Latinos. With his six-foot, two-hundred-pound frame, he’s hard to miss. I approach him. One of his friends mumbles something in Spanish about how tall I am.
“Hey, what can I say? They make ’em big in mi familia,” Javier says, laughing.
Truth backhands me. I realize now that I never actually thought I would see Javier again. After … after … no. I shove the thoughts away. Not here.
Not here.
“What’s up, ’cuz?” Javier says.
“Nada.” I force a smile, though my relief is real. It’s good to see family.
“¡Siéntate!” Javier says.
I sit. Sitting is usually an indulgence for those who can afford to relax. I pretend for a moment that I’m one of them. My cousin takes a minute to introduce his friends.
“Diego, this is Ramon, Esteban, Juan, Rodolfo, and Luis.”
Ramon and Esteban, with their slight overbites and similar features, must be brothers. Juan has a large head for his small frame; he’s covered in tattoos. Rodolfo has a smile full of white teeth and a dimple on the left side of his cheek. What happened to the other dimple? It’s as though God had an asymmetrical look in mind when He created him. Next to my cousin, Luis is the biggest. He has lots of freckles, splattered on his face like paint, seeping into his skin.
“Welcome to los Estados Unidos,” Juan says, biting into his burger.
“Gracias,” I reply.
My stomach growls, an animal hungry to live. Javier notices.
“Come with me.” He motions for me to follow him through the crowd.
As we walk to the lunch line, I spot my peer helper at a table, surrounded by her friends. There’s one of her kind at every school. The girl everyone hates to love and loves to hate. She’s probably been stabbed in the back countless times. Not that she would know, since everyone acts fake to her face. Her friends remind me of worker bees, buzzing for the queen’s attention. I wonder if she knows that the workers eventually kill the queen.
“When you get to the front, show them your student ID,” Javier says.
The guidance counselor already explained that I get one free lunch a day because of our low income. As we pass the food selections, I cannot believe the prices.
“Are they for real?” I ask. “Six dollars for chicken and fries?”
I have an image of Faith Watters taking out her designer wallet and easily paying for one of the pretentious lunches.
“Yep. Gringos,” Javier says, eyes hardening. He remembers what it was like in Cuba, the struggle.
Just by looking at the lunchroom crowd, it’s clear who the haves and have-nots are. Surprisingly, though, there are more Latinos than I expected. 
I grab a burger and make my way to the register. As I pull out my ID, football players in letterman jackets glance my way. Part of me wishes I had it easy like them: popular, at ease, able to pay for things.
I shouldn’t want to be like them.
I don’t want to be like them.
Yes, I do.
Some days.
The bigger part of me knows that a life like that will never happen for someone like me. It’s just the way things are.
I grab a water bottle and head back to the table with Javier. Do people here know that most of the world doesn’t get water from a bottle, but from a stream or river or muddy ground?
“So, you fittin’ in well?” Javier asks.
“Yep.” For the most part. No one has singled me out for being new.
“Latinos blend around here. One of the good things about Florida,” he says.
We pass a beautiful girl on the way back to our seat. I take a moment to look. She smiles.
“That’s Isabella,” Javier explains. “Sexy, but taken.”
“Too bad,” I say.
I’m not looking for a girlfriend, but it would be nice to have a little fun. I’m almost at the table when someone steps in front of me.
“What’s your problem?” my peer helper asks, one of her friends in tow.
Momentarily shocked by her boldness, I quickly regain my hard stance. Just like earlier, she doesn’t seem fazed by me. She’s either tougher than I thought, or she puts on a great front.
“I don’t know what you mean,” I reply. I try to feign confusion, but a smile creeps through.
“Oh, you think this is funny?” she asks, hands on her hips. For a second, she looks kind of beautiful, eyes hard and old. Wisps of hair fall out of her ponytail and around her face like angel feathers. 
“A little.” I grin.
She huffs. “You weren’t there to meet me after your classes this morning. If I report you, you could lose your chance to attend this school.”
Is she threatening me? “Like I said, I already have a mamá. I don’t answer to you.”
I hand my tray to Javier. He sets it on the table so I can deal with her.
“You’re being difficult,” she says.
“So are you.”
What is your weakness? is what I want to ask.
She doesn’t back down. “I’ll be there before the end of your next class. Don’t even think about ditching me again.”
I have to, don’t you see?
“I’m serious,” she says.
This girl is asking for it. I glance at her blond friend, who’s eyeing Javier, not paying us any attention. I wish my peer helper was as easily distracted.
Being tough does not scare Faith Watters. Time to change tactics. I relax and flash a grin.
“Mami, why don’t I help you loosen up a little?”
She blinks, but doesn’t show any outward evidence that my words have affected her. I move close, very close. When I look down at her, she doesn’t look away.
Her eyes remind me of stained glass, bright and cutting.
“We could have a good time, you and me,” I say, mischief punctuating my voice.
“I don’t think so,” she says coldly.
I will not let her upstage me. I give her a long, slow onceover. She dresses older than she is, like she doesn’t belong in high school. I wonder what makes her so uptight.
What are you hiding, chica?
I usually don’t have to try with girls. It’s one of the very few advantages life has thrown my way.
“Oh, come on. You might like Latino if you tried it,” I say, voice low. The guys behind me laugh, egging me on.
“When you’re done with him, I’m available, mamacita,” Juan says. “I don’t mind leftovers.”
She sneers. Good. That’s progress.
“Let me take you out,” I say.
I’m not really going to take her anywhere. I just want to make a crack in her icy shield.
Why do you have a shield, anyway?
“Why?” she asks suspiciously.
Because I know it annoys you when someone else has control. “Because it would be fun,” I say, bending close to her face. “And I can promise you one thing.”
She looks cautious.
It’s a look I know well.
 “What?” she asks.
That one night with me will relax you.
Girls like her love bad boys, whether they admit it or not. I imagine it’s similar to visiting a haunted mansion. Exciting, at first. One foot slips through the door, then the next. Heart hammers. Blood races. It’s a rush. A fix. Never knowing what’s around the next corner, through the closed door, beyond the shadows. Trying to find a way out. Not really wanting to leave. Wondering how close a person can come to danger before something bad happens. Looking for the moonlight at the end of the tunnel, an exit.
Sometimes there is no light at the end of the tunnel.
I can show her excitement like she’ll never experience with that boyfriend of hers.
But I don’t say any of those things. Instead I let my lips brush her ear lobe as I answer.
“That you will leave satisfied.”
 



Author Bio:



Amber Hart grew up in Orlando, Florida and Atlanta, Georgia. She now resides on the Florida coastline with family and animals including, but not limited to, bulldogs, a cat, and dragons. When unable to find a book, she can be found writing, daydreaming, or with her toes in the sand. She's the author of BEFORE YOU, AFTER US, ECHOES, and ECHOES' sequel (untitled as of yet). Rep'd by Beth Miller of Writers House. 

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Thursday, January 30, 2014

Release Blitz (Excerpt) & Giveaway: Love, Chocolate and Beer by Violet Duke

LCB Release
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Title: Love, Chocolate and Beer (Cactus Creek #1)

Author: Violet Duke

Genre: Contemporary Romance

Release Date: January 30, 2014

Series: Cactus Creek

Hosted by: Love Between the Sheets Promotions

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Synopsis

  Romance has met its most unlikely match-up… Luke Bradford is a chocolatier on a mission.  After moving his chocolate shop, and newly single life, to the quirky town of Cactus Creek, Luke wants nothing more than to devote all his energy into making his business a success—by taking the romance market by storm.  But his grand plans get thrown for a loop when he locks horns with the feisty beer-brewing beauty next door who calls his ‘romantic idealism’ a load of fairytale bull.  Soon, driving the woman sparking nuts becomes another wickedly fun priority he simply can’t get enough of.   In his defense, she’s addictively easy to incite…and plain impossible to resist. Beloved local brewmaster Dani Dobson is beyond riled up.  It’s bad enough the new shop owner in town comes locked and loaded with both a distractingly rugged charm and sexy flashing dimples, but the whole only-in-the-movies variety of romance he’s selling—the kind her world has been crushed by before—is really doing a number on her allergy to unrealistic clichés.  What’s worse, he’s created an annoyingly clever ad campaign that dubs ‘beer joints’ like hers as the “cave where romance goes to hibernate.”  The nerve of that man. Combustible chemistry or not, damn it, this means war.  The stakes…very likely, her heart.


Purchase Love, Chocolate and Beer by Violet Duke:

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Excerpt

  “Don’t you dare laugh at me, you ass!”  “I wasn’t laughing.  I was smiling.”  The glare Dani shot him could’ve leveled a city.  His hand halted an inch from sliding into her hair again, or rather, an inch from her now fully visible teeth.  “Why do I get the feeling biting a hunk of flesh out of me wouldn’t be beneath you”—Luke blinked, fascinated—“Did you just growl at me?”  While he was now showing her the same caution one would a feral cat, his heated gaze said he found her ferocity inexplicably sexy.  “Yes, I was smiling about your drought; so sue me.  I like the thought of you not remembering any kisses but mine.”  His eyes roamed her face.  “To hell with it, I don’t need all ten fingers…”  He caressed her cheek and she felt her eyelids drift closed at the touch. “Dani, you in there?” bellowed Javier, one of her cooks from the kitchen.  “Can you bring out the—”  His severed request morphed into a muffled howl, a high octave just below soprano.  “Never mind,” he reneged in a squeaking gasp of male agony shortly after. Dani winced, recognizing the audible footprint of Xoey’s handiwork.  The mental image of Xoey de-balling poor Javier threw Dani back to the here and now.  As reality rushed in, she could once again hear the bar noises sifting in under the door, smell the savory aromas from the grill, and see—even in the semi-darkness—that she’d been minutes from rounding a few of the bases with a perfect stranger. Avoiding his eyes, she fiddled with her bar apron.  “I should probably get back to work.” “Right, of course.”  He stood and helped her up.  “Sorry, I never lose my head like that.  Not sure what’s up with me...huh, that sounded a lot dirtier than I intended—”  He stopped and grinned when a ripple of amusement tinkled past her lips.  She couldn’t help but chuckle.  This was fun; he was fun.  As she rolled the liquor cart to the door, Dani racked her brain for a sexy comeback to keep the banter going.  Not exactly her forte.  Luckily, she was saved from making a conversational ass out of herself when he abruptly stepped in front of the cart and said, “I know you have to get back out to the bar but I’ll never forgive myself if I let you walk out this door without getting you to agree to have dinner with me.”  He cringed in sheepish male hindsight.  “Though I’d probably settle for at least getting your name.”   Right, names.  Or the lack there of, in their case.  The whole reason she’d stopped kissing him to begin with.  She stuck an awkward hand out in belated greeting.  “My name’s Danica.  But everyone calls me Dani.”  He intertwined his fingers with hers and drew her in close, turning an awkward moment into an insanely sexy one in a few seconds flat.  Lowering his head slowly as if to give her a chance to say no, he laid a soft, barely there kiss on her lips when she didn’t.  “Nice to meet you, Dani.”  His two dimples flashed as he said her name.  “I’m Luke.” Their magical, movie soundtrack moment was interrupted, however, by a dread-filled, hushed voice on the other side of the door.  “Dani?”  Javier’s whisper was tinted with panic.  “I’m really sorry but we need to get more coriander.”  A low murmur joined his.  “And cooking tequila too.” Dani screwed her eyes closed in embarrassment and called out, “I’ll bring them out, guys.”  She was barely through her sentence when she heard the two of them scrambling away from the door.  There was definite cursing in Spanish.  Along with some praying. The sound of lethal pointy-toe boots stomping after them was the obvious reason why.    “I really ought to get out there,” she groan-laughed.  “Cooking with one hand while protecting their crotch from Xoey’s wrath probably isn’t all that safe.  Or sanitary.” “As a protective guardian of the same anatomy, and an avid non-fan of any variety of jockstrap cuisine, you have my sincere appreciation.”  His earnest look caused another round of mirth to unwind through her.  “Just so we’re clear,” he added quickly, “you do know a kiss after a dinner invite is a universal ironclad yes, right?”   His tone was matter-of-fact, his eyes adorably optimistic. “That so?”  She let loose a grin and tossed out, “Did I agree to anything else?” “Just a few other things I won’t be able to stop thinking about until our date,” he teased right back. She stared at him for exactly one missed heartbeat before that whole bout of temporary insanity she’d been worrying about earlier flared up and caused her to do the most un-Dani thing ever.  She tackled him.  Well, she sort of just pushed him back into the storage room but in her mind it had been far more primitive.  Hands on the ridges of his torso, she tugged him in for one final kiss. And released him a long minute later with a whispered, “I’ll be thinking about those things too,” as she basically floated to the door. “Jesus Christ.”  Luke’s tortured breath trailed close behind her.  By the feel of the rustling at the small of her back, he was attempting to adjust the fit of his jeans.  When that resulted in apparent failure, he muttered in her ear, “You had to wait till after I finally got my soldiers to stand down from earlier, didn’t you?”  If there was a complaint in there somewhere, it was altogether undetectable.  And Dani was entirely unrepentant.

 
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About the Author
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New York Times & USA Today bestselling author Violet Duke is a former professor of English Education who is ecstatic to now be on the other side of the page writing wickedly fun contemporary romance novels. When she's not arguing with her story characters or feeding her book-a-day reading addiction, she enjoys tackling reno projects with her power tools while trying pretty much anything without reading the directions first and cooking 'special edition' dishes that laugh in the face of recipes. Violet lives in Hawai'i with her two cute kids and similarly adorable husband. Find the latest on her books and weekly giveaways at www.facebook.com/VioletDukeBooks

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