I allow Lacerde to dress me without turning to examine myself in the mirror. I don’t want to see how I look, how they’ve fashioned me. In my mind, I already see stains of blood on the muslin fabric of my skirt, dotting the white leather of my gloves. Lacerde adjusts my skirt and smooths my hair. Then, with a grunt, she bends down and buffs my new shoes to a gleam.
She opens the door for me so I don’t get my gloves dirty and leads me down the dark corridor. My dressing room is the only one in use. All the others are boarded up, so that no one will use them to hide.
I imagine what the Opera Hall must have been like years ago, when so many singers performed here together for more willing audiences. The corridors would have been filled with the sounds of laughter, rustling taffeta costumes, and a chorus of warm-up scales. Above, the audience would be straining to get inside the house, clinking glasses together at the theatre bar, speculating on the wonders to come.
If I strain my ear, I can still hear the echo of their merriment in the walls, obscured by the more recent cacophony of despair and pain. The smell of thousands of spellsongs, layered atop one another for centuries, lingers in the musty air. It’s been eight years since this place functioned as a real theatre, but the Opera Hall remembers.
We climb the stairs up onto the stage. Elene and Lord Durand, her newly elevated pet footman, stand together on the edge, shouting instructions down to the conductor in the orchestra pit.
Elene glances up and nods to Lacerde, who positions me at center stage without releasing me. It’s as if they think I will run, even though there is no where to go.
No one has dimmed the gas lamps that line the theatre’s aisles yet, so I have a full view. The theatre is much grander than our replica at the academy. The ceiling bears a centuries-old mural of Adela gifting the first mage with magic. The singer kneels beside the sacred pool, and the goddess rises from the water, her mouth open with song and her arms spread wide. Musical notes surround them, each flecked with real gold leaf.
Portraits of the three other goddesses border the mural. Odetta, the goddess of spring and renewal, wearing a silver mask that covers her eyes and cheeks, and holding a sparrow’s skeleton in her cupped hands. Karina, goddess of justice and winter, thin and draped in a linen sheath, with her arms wide. Marena, the autumn goddess of war, chin lifted proudly, staring down with her hypnotic purple eyes, bejeweled with human teeth.
Beneath, row upon row of tightly packed red velvet seats stretch back to the imposing black doors at the rear of the theatre. They’re made from mageglass, a material designed by the elementals: sand spun, dyed and hardened so that not even diamond bullets could shatter it. Hundreds of people will fill the house tonight. Dame Ava, the queen’s former principal, told me that sometimes there are so many that folk have to stand along the walls.
My knees start to shake at the sight. My mouth goes dry.
All these seats. All these people. My unshed tears blur the rows of red seats together, like a smear of blood.
Contemporary Romance / Holidays (Sweet and Clean)
From âMcKensieâs Christmas Giftâ in Christmas in the Rockies
The fog cleared from McKensieâs brain. âAnd knowing my aunt, she insisted you have the wedding here.â
âYeah. I thought about moving the location, but Shirley insisted we still have it at the hotel, and Oliviaââ
âWouldnât have wanted you to change a thing. I get it. Yes, youâll have it here.â McKensie prided herself on handling tense situations, a handy talent when managing a kitchen. She avoided looking at Cameron throughout her conversation with Julie and realized he hadnât moved, patient as ever. âWhen is the wedding?â
âThe week before Christmas.â
McKensie raised a brow and studied her friend. âThatâs fast.â
Julie shrugged. âWhen itâs right, itâs right. That reminds me, I have one more thing to ask Shirley about the food. Meet you in the foyer in ten, big brother.â She stopped at the door and pointed to McKensie. âI will call you tomorrow. We have so much to catch up on.â
Julie exited the office with as much excitement as she entered. McKensie replayed some of her last words over in her mind. When itâs right, itâs right.
From âA Snowy Falls Christmasâ in Christmas in the Rockies
Her breath faded into the crisp morning air. The stoneware mug cupped in her hands warmed her skin while the lavender tea blend stole away the frigid cold from within. She stood on the expansive deck overlooking the glistening waters of Winter Lake and contemplated her quiet return home.
The Snowy Falls Lodge stood tall and grand behind her, a landmark on the lake and in the quaint mountain village. Her grandmother would have said, âFor better or worse, it is now yours, Maura.â
Maura spent the first twenty-five years of her life in the spacious rooms and luxurious halls of the lodge that blended the design of a Scottish castle and Victorian cattle ranch. The idea might have resulted in a haphazard structure had it not been for a truly talented, though little-known, Scottish architect named Charles Mackenzie.
Five years ago, Maura did what no one ever expectedâshe left homeâand not because she didnât love the lodge or the village. Her father called her a dreamer. Her mother used the word âwanderer,â and her grandmother often said she was a seeker. Maura appreciated her grandmotherâs description best. What exactly Maura sought when she left Snowy Falls remained a mystery to everyone.
From âChristmas in Moose Creekâ in Christmas in the Rockies
The 4x4 careened to a stop and the driver waited in disbelief at the deplorable timing of Mother Nature. Moose Creek, Montana, had its share of wildlifeâbear, deer, elk, mountain lionsâbut in her thirty-three years, Saige Travers had never seen a moose on this mountain. Until today.
No one waited for her in her swank two-bedroom condo in Seattle except the goldfish her brother gave to her as a joke for her birthday. Sheâd needed a break from the city and the cataclysmic string of end-of-the-road relationships sheâd been in the past five years. More like dates, if she was going to be honest with herself.
Saige Travers didnât have time for relationships.
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Date Published: 11/17/2020
Six years ago, Anna Williams-straight-A student, cheerleader, and all-around golden child-vanished.
Ever since, her younger sister, Katie, has drifted through life, wracked with guilt, grief, and anger over Anna's unsolved disappearance. But when her own future reaches a breaking point, Katie takes the investigation into her own hands. She searches for answers in her sister's missing person's file and discovers that some questions aren't so easily answered.
Through police memos, interrogations, and excerpts from Anna's diary, Katie breaks down the carefully crafted façade Anna left behind and uncovers the dark truths of her life in the months before she vanished.
For readers of Courney Summers and Sarah Dessen, Fine is an unsettling, surprising, and ultimately hopeful mystery that will break your heart and put it back together again.
About the Author
AmyLea Murphy is the author of Fine, a young adult novel that blends the mystery of Sadie with the poignancy of Sarah Dessen. Inspired by Gayle Forman and Jennifer Niven, AmyLea enjoys writing about life-changing moments that unearth the resilient beauty of the human spirit in the hopes it empowers her readers to embrace life in all of its messiness. When she isn't writing, AmyLea can be found dancing and singing in the car with the windows down. She currently lives in Southern California with her husband and three children.
Damned When I Didn’t
I kicked my sneakers off near the kitchen stools and dropped my purse on the floor.
“What’s your problem?” Cole asked. He stood a few feet from me, eyes narrowed.
“Nothing.” I breathed in deep, trying to calm myself. The stench of cheap perfume invaded my nostrils. I covered my nose with my hand. “You reek of imitation lavender and…and…onions.”
Cole tossed his keys onto the counter. Obvious confusion flittered over his features only to be replaced with the realization that I was referring to the scents of the waitress.
“You’re one to talk!” he spit back. “You stink of Sport Goofy.”
“Sport Goofy, I mean Marcus, barely touched me.” Cole gave off such a strong odor, I was sure the waitress had put her hands all over him.
Cole stepped closer, placing his hands on the counter on either side of me, caging me in.
“And I barely touched her,” he growled. “When a human’s life force flows from them to us, our souls grow brighter and—”
“We smell like them,” I said, finishing his sentence. He’d told me that once.
“And because our senses become sharper, we know when our kind renews.” The blue in his irises was more pronounced than I’d remembered. I bit my lip to keep from asking him if that was because of my heightened vision or because he’d renewed, as he called it. “Now, do you want to tell me what’s really bothering you?”
I felt my face warm, and I had to fight to keep my gaze from traveling to his lips. Did I want to admit that I was irrationally jealous that he’d kissed another girl? Nope. So, instead, I said, “Her smell makes me want to puke.”
“Eau de Jock is doing the same to me.”
“You’re the one who called Sport Goofy,” I reminded him.
He smiled, clearly happy that I’d called Marcus by the nickname.
“You’re the one who pissed off the Queen of the Damned,” he countered.
I twitched a shoulder. “I still can’t stand how you smell right now.”
“Fine!” He grabbed me just under my butt and lifted me over his shoulder. I screamed. He held my legs, keeping me from falling.
“What are you doing?” I grabbed his waist from my upside down position.
“You think I smell?”
“Reek. And you said I do, too! Now put me down!”
“Let’s fix that.”
He marched to the bathroom with me slung over his shoulder. The next thing I knew we were standing in the tub. He continued to hold me like a sack of rice.
He slid me down his chest so I stood in front of him with his arms keeping me from moving.
He reached behind me.
I glanced up at the showerhead, then to the knob next to me. “You wouldn’t!”
“Want to bet?”
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Every word she speaks resonates through me. I don’t want to be like her father. I don’t want to lock her in a cage, but I have to. I can’t risk her leaving or someone getting to her. She’s reached a part of me no one ever has and as terrifying as that is, I can’t let her go. I won’t. I’ll kill, destroy, and hold her against her will if need be.
She is mine until death.
“Sleep, I will keep the nightmares away,” I whisper into her hair, my lips grazing her forehead.
“Will you ever let me go?”
“Untie you from the bed, yes. Leave me? Never. If you ever get away from me, I’ll hunt you down, find you and drag you back here. The day you signed your name on that contract is the day you became mine. I will never let you escape me. Never let you go.”
Silence settles over us, and even though she doesn’t say anything, I know she’s still awake. I ignore that fact and hold her until we both fall asleep, wondering if things have to change so much, or if I can keep her like this forever.
Luxor inhaled the crisp fresh air, the potent aroma of pine, and the thick smell of nectar. O Theós eísai ómorfi, she mumbled, a smile creeping up on her face. Everything was blanketed in darkness, but she continued to breath in nature as if it was her lifeline.
“Angel,” Hunter called out. “Angel, wake up.”
Where is he?
The forest came closer, overwhelmingly her senses. “Wake up.” A warm hand touched her face in the darkness, it’s spark jolting her.
Luxor flinched, her eyes snapping open, the darkness giving way to the last person she’d expected to see. Dressed in a hoodie covering his head, he sat on the edge of the bed by her side.
The room came into view; it was different than the last one. This one was a padded enclosure; walls and ceiling, the only thing that wasn’t was a metallic door, with a sliding opening.
“Hey, how are you?” His toffee eyes, usually full of life and effervescent, were a murky brown, matching his hoarse voice.
“What are yo—? How do you kno—?” Luxor struggled to form sentences. Her head pounded, as if skewers dug into her temples.
“I’m staging a loony bin break out,” he stated nonchalantly, his gaze fixated on the door. “I’m sure you’re capable, but it appears you’re all tied up at the moment.”
“How did… I don’t understand.”
Keys jangled at the door, and Luxor froze, expecting to be drugged, or gassed again. Still restrained, she wiggled her fingers. Hunter reached out, his fingers entwined with hers, and she winced. A burn struck her side and she bit the inside of her cheek to stop herself from yelping. Luxor leaned her head against his back, concentrating on her breathing. Instead of a nurse, a familiar lanky boy also in a hoodie stomped in.
“Castor, what took you so long?” Hunter moved forward, giving his brother a bro hug followed by a fist pump.
“How are we going to do this?” Castor said.
Before they could decide on a form of action, the door swung open, and sure enough a stocky woman, with oily slicked black hair and white uniform entered.
“What the hell are you doing in here? This is a restricted area,” she growled, waggling her fingers.
THE MISTLETOE TRAP
by Cindi Madsen Heart in the Game, #2 Publication Date: November 16, 2020 Genres: Adult, Entangled: Amara, Contemporary, Romance, Holiday
Amazon: https://amzn.to/2Iud6WL iTunes: https://apple.co/3lzWFq5 Kobo: https://bit.ly/3f3P6Wk BN: https://bit.ly/2KaKxxY Amazon CA: https://amzn.to/36wuHoE Amazon UK: https://amzn.to/3lujz21 Amazon AUS: https://amzn.to/2UrgTq9 Paperback: https://amzn.to/3nsE6Va
From the moment Julie sees her best friend, Gavin, in the airport, it’s like no time at all has gone by instead of months and months. No matter how long they’ve been apart, their relationship has always been steady, comfortable, and decidedly just friends. Even though their meddling parents have hung what seems like unlimited amounts of mistletoe everywhere she goes this holiday season, Julie knows some things will never change.
Gavin is well-aware his family’s wanted him and Julie to get together since forever, even though he’s been friend-zoned since they could talk—and he’s been happy to play that role. After all, as the new starting quarterback for the San Antonio Mustangs, he’s got enough on his plate without adding romance to the mix.
But between playing elves in the holiday bazaar to nights spent one-on-one watching rom-coms or soaking in their town’s hot springs, suddenly the “reverse parent trap” they’ve fallen into is actually starting to work. But this could be one scheme where letting themselves get trapped might be way too dangerous.
Each book in the Heart in the Game series is STANDALONE: * The Wedding Deal * The Mistletoe Trap
ABOUT CINDI MADSEN
Cindi Madsen is a USA Today bestselling author of contemporary romance and young adult novels. She sits at her computer every chance she gets, plotting, revising, and falling in love with her characters. She loves music and dancing and wishes summer lasted all year long. She lives in Colorado (where summer is most definitely NOT all year long) with her husband and three children. She and her family also take their Marvel addiction very seriously, as their one-eyed cat, Agent Fury, and their kitty named Valkyrie can attest.
Falling for HollyAn Angel’s Lake Novella by Jody Holford Publication Date: November 12, 2020 Genres: Adult, Small Town, Contemporary, Holiday, Romance
Read for FREE in KindleUnlimited: AmazonIn an effort to prove she hasn’t fallen into a rut, Holly Schwartz makes a list of five adventurous things she’ll do this holiday season. First on the list? A tattoo. Tattoo artist, Cash Jones is proud of his shop on the outskirts of Angel’s Lake. As someone who grew up fighting for every victory, he’s a bit of a loner. When Holly walks into his shop, both of them are caught off guard by the immediate, and powerful attraction. She’s looking for someone to help make her life more complete. He’s wary of letting anyone in. The more time they spend together, the more they realize that falling in love isn’t always a choice. The question is, what are they going to do about it?
About Jody HolfordI’m a mom and wife first and many things after. I’m a best friend and a regular friend. A daughter, sister, auntie, and a teacher. I am a book lover, a shopper, a pajama-wearer, movie-watcher, worrier, over-thinker, and a wanna-be-good-Samaritan. I’m a Gemini, a nervous talker, and an emotional writer. I am represented by Frances Black of Literary Counsel. Learn more at http://www.jodyholfordauthor.com/