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Monday, February 29, 2016

Book Blitz: "Rising Ridge" by Alexa Jacobs


Description


Rising Ridge
by Alexa Jacobs
Release Date: October 30th 2015

Summary from Goodreads;

Olivia Reynolds was free. Twenty years old, living in New York City, and having absolutely no idea what she wanted to be when she grew up, every day would be an adventure, or at least that was the plan. When a phone call from her brother lands her back in her home town, and dealing with an unexpected tragedy, she comes face to face her brother’s best friend Dean and realizes that the feelings she had buried long ago were still there. Dean Winston has lived with the fact that Olivia walked out of his life two years ago, and was never coming back. With her back in town, he struggles to be the friend that she needs him to be, and not the lover that she once wanted him to be. With lines between childhood friends and secret lovers once again blurring, Olivia must decide between the possibilities of her future and the ties of her past. Some strings just refuse to be cut.




Buy Links:
AmazonBarnes and Noble



About the Author


Alexa Jacobs was born and raised in the suburban outskirts of Baltimore, Maryland. She met her husband through friends in high school, and began what turned out to be a short lived career in the financial industry. With her first child, she became a stay at home parent and threw all of her energy into becoming the queen of Pinterest before Pinterest was a thing.

When her second child headed off to kindergarten, Alexa thought that it was time for a career change.

After a decade with at least one child underfoot 24 hours a day, it was time for her to discover who she was going to be when she grew up.

Turns out, she was a mom who sat by the window and cried the entire day on that first day of “freedom” from early parenthood.

A few months, and many kindergarten volunteer days later, she sat down at the computer and dusted off the rough draft of a story she had crafted years ago. That draft turned into her debut book, Rising Ridge.

Alexa is a member of the Romance Writers of America, and participates in many writer circle groups.


Author Links:
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Soundtrack


Chapter 1:  Feeling Good - Bassnectar Remix
Chapters 2 & 3:  The Funeral – Band of Horses
Chapter 6:  Tonight, Tonight – Smashing Pumpkins
Chapter 7:  Kinda I want to – Nine Inch Nails
Chapter 8:  I’d Rather be with you- Joshua Radin
Chapter 9:  Fly Away – Lenny Kravitz
Chapter 10:  Fade into you – Mazzy Star
Chapter 12:  The Story – Brandi Carlilie
Chapters 13 & 14:  Mr. Brightside – The Killers
          Stay the Night – Zedd & Hayley Willams
          Almost Lover – A Fine Frenzy
Chapter 21:  Whatever you like – Anya Marnia
Chapter 23:  Crash into Me – Dave Matthews Band
Chapter 24:  LA Woman – Brightside
Chapter 26:  All I wanted – Paramore
Epilogue:  She is Love – Parachute
Kitchen Music:  Give it Away – Red Hot Chili Peppers
          Dr. Feelgood – Mötley Crüe
          Everlong – Foo Fighters

Giveaway


Friday, February 26, 2016

Book Tour: "Girl of Myth and Legend" by Giselle Simlett


Description


Girl of Myth and Legend

Release Date: 12/29/15

Summary from Goodreads:
A girl with a past she tries to forget, and a future she can’t even imagine.

Leonie Woodville wants to live an unremarkable life. She wants routine, she wants repetition, she wants predictability. So when she explodes in a blaze of light one morning on the way to her college, it’s enough to put a real crimp in her day.

And things only get weirder…

Leonie learns from her father that she is last of the Pulsar, a phenomenally powerful member of a magical species called the Chosen. It will be her sole duty to protect the Imperium, a governing hierarchy, from all enemies, and to exceed the reputation of the Pulsar before her. So – no pressure there, then.

Leonie is swept away from her rigorous normality and taken to a world of magic. There, she is forced into a ceremony to join her soul to a guardian, Korren, who is both incredibly handsome and intensely troubled, a relationship for which ‘it’s complicated’ just really doesn’t cut it.

But Leonie is soon to learn that this ancient world is no paradise. With violent dissidents intent to overthrow the Imperium, and dark entities with their own agenda, she and Korren find themselves caught in a war where they will have to overcome their differences if they are to survive.

Dare to dream. Dare to hope. Dare to be a legend.

Book One in The Chosen Saga.


Book Trailer



CHOSEN GIRL OF MYTH AND LEGEND by Giselle Simlet from Red 14 Films on Vimeo.


About the Author


Giselle Simlett was born in England. She has studied Creative Writing at both Gloucestershire University and the Open University. She has a diploma in Creative Writing, Language and Literature and will soon complete her BA Hons Open Degree.

She does not as yet have a degree in the power and responsible use of magic, but she does have a young son, which amounts to the same thing.

She currently lives in Australia with her husband and son.

Author Links:



Book Tour Organized by:

Monday, February 22, 2016

Book Tour: "Champions at Fire's End" by Charlotte Jain


Description


Champions at Fire's End
by Charlotte Jain
Release Date: November 28th 2015

Summary from Goodreads:


Seventeen-year-old best friends, April and Kyle, are thrown into the final battle of the Titan and Olympian war. Locked into an endless struggle, the Immortals have finally reached a solution - bestow mortal Champions with control over the elements to wage their final campaign.

Bestowed with control over fire and water, April and Kyle were raised by Immortals with a single purpose - win the war. After finally uncovering the remaining Champions' identities, April and Kyle must launch themselves into their final battle for survival. Winner takes all. But the Immortals are growing restless, and time is running out.




About the Author


Charlotte Jain is an Arts graduate from Melbourne and the author of the Champions series. When not scrawling exciting YA tales filled with magic and adventure, Charlotte enjoys travelling the world and snuggling up on the couch watching movies.

Author Links:


Excerpt


We had planned for everything, except Kim. And everything had been running according to plan, until the most peaceful moment under dazzling, warm summer sun had been forever ruined by a single chance observation. Of a hairpin. April was worried, I could see it in her eyes, the way she stared at Kim with menace masked by a smile. She was biding her time, waiting for our battle to become a fair fight. Then Kim, and whoever the fourth champion was, wouldn’t stand a chance. I barely did. I gazed out across the sea of students, any of whom could be my final opponent. I glanced to Kim as she trudged her way back across the shadowed tree line towards waves of colour and chanting which she had so effortlessly created only hours before. Each step fell, heavier than the last, strain growing more evident across her face with every movement towards the exit. She believed she was all alone, and she was running.

I sprung to my feet and dived through crowds of bustling students, weaving in and out between waves of bright blue, green, purple and red. 

“Kim! Kim, hey, wait up!”

Her tiny body spun to face me as I caught her arm and let go. Deep hazel eyes greeted me, holding an uncharacteristic gloom over Kim’s usually rosy cheeks. Once perfectly straightened, sleek locks of chocolate brown hair hung in a stringy mess of tight curls, her features hunched and drawn. Kim’s air of strength and power melted away as she caught my gaze, leaving the dazzling blue and white outfit of half an hour ago seeming vacant and fragile.

“Kim, what’s wrong?” I asked, drawing her in closer.

“Nothing. I’m fine.”

Stubbornness burned to life and she twisted abruptly away to leave.

“Kim, please.”

My rough hands caught her hips gently. Standing there together, an uneasy yet calming peace fell between us. She just looked at me with those big brown eyes, their spark of hope dwindling and on the verge of collapse. Wishing that I could be that hope when everything around her crumbled. But knowing that I don’t think I could.

“Noah,” she stammered, “we’re not…” Kim drew in a steadying breath to gather herself. A single tear fell, the only tear I’d ever seen in Kim’s eyes. “Noah was the only thing I could count on, in that whole school. But at the drop of a hat, his go-to reaction is to hang me out to dry…” “You’re not alone, Kim.” I held a hand out, finally realising she was talking about more than simply not having a lunch date at school tomorrow. But I was taken aback by her rapid breakdown, and hit with sharp awareness that a life of learning to fight someone else’s war hadn’t left me with the social skills required to handle this particular situation. All I had was the best I could manage, trusting instincts that I’d tried to suppress.  “Come with me.”

Kim’s shaking hand met mine, her gaze holding firm.

“Where?” she hesitated.

“Do you trust me?”

Her hand closed firmly on mine. Then the swimming complex, with its joyous students and glittering colours, melted away into dusty darkness.

Kim recoiled in surprise. Her eyes darted, taking in every corner of our dingy new surroundings beneath the day’s fading light. Dark walls rose up around us. With sure footsteps, I walked between two dark green armchairs to a magnificent open fire in the wall furthest from us.

“Welcome to my lounge room,” I said, hesitant and suddenly self-conscious. “This is where I live.”

“What?” Kim spun around slowly, taking in the room, only to return her steely gaze to me after a moment.  

“I thought I was alone, too,” I lied. “Lost in a world that I had no chance of fitting into. Then there was you…”

“But you can do things?” she asked. “Things that aren’t possible?”

I nodded. “Like getting us here, instantly. Because it is possible.” I held out a hand for Kim to see. Shards of glittering blue light emerged, piece by piece, until a ball of shimmering, bright blue crystals danced within itself, ice cold. “It can be scary, though. I know. But you don’t have to be afraid.”


 Book Tour Organized by:


Friday, February 19, 2016

Book Tour: "Shardheld Saga" by Paul E. Horsman


Description


The Shardheld Saga
Release Date: March 2nd 2105
Red Rune Books

Summary from Goodreads:

When the young slave Muus picked up the blue shard, he couldn’t know it would change his life. Becoming the Shardheld finally freed him from his hated serfdom, but it bound him to a goal as awesome as it was dire. 

Hunted by false Jarl Rannar’s murderous soldiers, he started on a perilous journey through the snowy forests of the Norden to far away Falrom, the lost Burning Lands, where the mighty Kalmanir stone waited for him and the magic of the shard. 

Not only Muus was affected by the shard’s implacable will. His former master Kjelle, youthful heir to a rich mining estate; Birthe, teen widow, wisewoman and mighty huntress; little Hraab with his strange, unworldly wisdom; deposed boy prince Ottil, and many others followed him south. 

Afraid for the lives of his friends, Muus escaped all but the girl who loved him, and together the two traveled to fiery Falrom, seeking the Kalmanir before the enemy found them. Should Jarl Rannar gain possession of the shard, it would mean the return of the cruelly insane Gods Before and their world of primordial horror, and Muus was resigned to die to prevent that from happening. 

Meanwhile, his friends weren’t prepared to give up, either, and so the race was on. To Falrom!

Buy Links:


About the Author


Paul E. Horsman (1952) is a Dutch and International Fantasy Author. Born in the sleepy garden village of Bussum, The Netherlands, he now lives in Roosendaal, a town on the Dutch border with Belgium.

He has been a soldier, salesman, scoutmaster and from 1995 teacher of Dutch as a Second Language to refugees from all over the globe.


Since 2012, he is a full-time writer of epic light fantasy adventures for Y.A. and older. His works have been both trade published in The Netherlands, and self-published internationally.

Author Links:


Giveaway



Book Tour Organized by:


Book Tour: "A Family Like Hannah's" by Carol Ross

On Tour with Prism Book Tours.

A Family Like Hannah'sA Family Like Hannah's
(Seasons of Alaska #4)
by Carol Ross
Adult Contemporary Romance
Paperback & ebook, 384 pages
February 1st 2016 by Harlequin Heartwarming

Starting over is serious business

With her professional skiing career cut short by an accident, Hannah James is putting all her energy into transforming Snowy Sky Resort into something special. There's only one obstacle. Famous pro-snowboarder-turned-consultant Tate Addison has his own ideas about taking the Rankins, Alaska, lodge to the next level. But Hannah won't compromise her dreams. She gets that Tate is trying to create a stable home for his orphaned six-year-old nephew—a boy Hannah already adores. And if she isn't careful, she could also fall for the boy's too-attractive uncle. Is she risking heartbreak? Or do she and Tate really want the same things out of life?

The Other Books in the Series

Mountains ApartA Case for ForgivenessIf Not for a Bee


Carol Ross is the author of three books for the Seasons of Alaska series for the Harlequin Heartwarming line. She lives with her husband and one loveable miscreant of a dachshund in a small town in Washington close to both the ocean and the mountains. For a complete list of her books, giveaways, and other fun stuff stop by and visit her new website: carolrossauthor.com.

Website – Goodreads – Facebook – Twitter – Pinterest


Guest Post: "Love, Snow, and Hot Cocoa"

Sometimes when I start a story, it takes a while for a character to fully develop. Like a few pages. Or an entire chapter (or twelve). Yes, all right, sometimes they aren’t really “people” until I start working on the second draft.

But sometimes I get lucky. When I started writing this story, Hannah’s character was already sitting right beside me - telling me what she wanted to do, what she wanted to say – and what she likes. And Hannah likes hot chocolate. I think her affinity for this delicious treat is partially due to my own childhood passion and partially due to a backlash against the prevailing coffee obsession in this country. (Guilty as charged.) It might sound weird, but coffee just didn’t suit her personality.

When I started this story, I really tried to immerse myself in winter – the sights, sounds, smells, feelings, thoughts. And tastes. Definitely tastes. I spent a lot of time thinking about my own childhood love of snow. After a morning of skiing, sledding, snowball fighting (or regular fighting) with my siblings, my mom always had hot chocolate at the ready. And Hannah, with her adventurous, playful, fun-loving spirit, combined with her own love for snow, just had to be a hot cocoa drinker.

My mom’s cocoa was this homemade concoction that she’d formulate in huge batches. (I used to love to help make it because it involved the use of one of the most fun and fascinating of all kitchen tools - the sifter.) As I got older and friends would serve hot cocoa, or I would order it in restaurants, I was inevitably disappointed that it didn’t really taste like Mom’s.

Turns out, Mom’s recipe isn’t all that complicated. I think I just loved it because she made it – and because it reminded me of winter. Here it is - super easy and so nice to have on hand.

Mom’s Hot Cocoa Mix
3 cups powdered sugar
3 cups powdered milk
1 ½ cups unsweetened cocoa powder
1 Tablespoon cinnamon

Sift all the ingredients together. To serve: just mix equal amounts of mix and boiling water. Serve with marshmallows, whipped cream, a drizzle of chocolate syrup and/or a grated chocolate bar. Yum! Mix can be stored in an airtight container in the pantry or cupboard for several months.


Does anyone else make their hot cocoa this way? Is there a certain food or drink that screams winter to you? Or helps to take the edge off that winter chill?


Tour Schedule

Tour Giveaway


$50 Amazon eGift Card and an ebook of A Family Like Hannah's (open internationally)
Rankins' Alaska Prize Pack: signed copy of A Family Like Hannah’s, an infinity scarf, gray fluffy mittens, a tin of Starbucks hot chocolate, a coffee mug, and a sterling silver snowflake necklace. (US only)
Copy of A Family Like Hannah's (print if in the US, ebook if outside the US)
Ends February 26th

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Thursday, February 18, 2016

Book Tour: "The Greatest Prospector in the World" by Ken Dunn

Description


The Greatest Prospector in the World
Ken Dunn

Synopsis:
Laura Dunagan, was born in the gold prospecting days of rustic Alaska in the early 1900's. When Laura was 14 years old, her father was trapped under a mudslide while prospecting in a nearby river and died. Laura was forced to move to Chicago in the care of her rich Uncle Joe. Laura hated Uncle Joe because he forced her to leave the river, but also because he had left the family prospecting business to move to Chicago years before she was born.


Laura discovers that Uncle Joe made his fortune selling insurance and was the owner of the largest insurance company in Illinois. While wandering through the mansion one day, she found Uncle's Joe personal den. In it, she discovered an entire new life that would lead her to heights that she would never had realized panning for gold in Alaska. Uncle Joe used the 6 gold prospecting rules for safety to prospect new clients for his insurance company and in doing so, discovered the secrets to wealth in selling.


Buy the book:     Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository   


About the Author


Ken Dunn is one of the leadership training world’s up and coming great speakers and trainers. An incredible hunger to learn and teach others has led Ken successfully through five different professional careers in the past 25 years.


Ken began a policing career at the age of 18. He was involved in the policing world’s most exhilarating and challenging disciplines, including undercover drug and surveillance work, S.W.A.T. teamwork, aggravated child abuse, frauds, aggravated assaults, illegal weapons smuggling and homicides.


Today, Ken regularly speaks to groups in the direct sales, mortgage, insurance and banking industries. He uses humor and his own experiences to inspire audiences around the world. Ken lives in Toronto, Canada, with his wife, Julie, and children Matthew and Laura.


Connect with the author:   Website | Twitter | Facebook


Guest Post: "Nice Guys Don't Have to Finish Last"

Everyone Has Heard The Saying, “Nice Guys Finish Last.”

The fact is, that doesn’t have to be true. According to Professor Adam Grant, there are three types of people in the business world: Takers, Matchers and Givers.
Takers
  • Takers are people who strive to gain as much as possible while giving little to nothing in return.
  • These people are the top predators of the Givers and have very little regard for others’ well-being or success.
Matchers
  • Matchers are people who want everything to be fair and square. They have an “I help you, you help me” mentality.
  • These people make up the majority of people. They also strongly dislike Takers and will often try to get rid of them by spreading negativity about them.
Givers
  • Givers give as much as they can with little regard to what they will gain in return.
  • If you are a Giver, chances are you are the nice guy everyone loves, but if you aren’t careful you could get treated as a doormat.
There are three qualities that will make or break the Giver in the business world:
Lack of Assertiveness
  • Shy communicators get taken advantage of and they sacrifice their own values and expectations.
Solution: Become more assertive by negotiating and representing others’ interests. When you act on the behalf of another you can stand your ground.
Lack of Boundaries
  • People who can’t say no burn out.
Solution: Instead of taking everything on yourself, work collaboratively. By working with others everyone is contributing and bearing the load together. You must be able to distinguish boundaries between individual and collaborative work.
Lack of Perspective and Too Much Pity
  • People who lack the ability to take the perspective of others and pity them as opposed to empathizing with them will end up being exploited.
Solution: Be able to read others’ emotions by empathizing with them. This will prevent you from being exploited. You must be able to empathize with others to be a successful Giver. Be selfless not self-sacrificing.

Winston Churchill said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” You have to find that balance of giving selflessly and giving self-sacrificingly. You can be nice without neglecting yourself. Nice guys can finish first if they are smart.

Giveaway


Win 1 of 20 copies of The Greatest Prospector in the World
(USA & Canada)



Cover Reveal: "Adela's Curse" by Claire M. Banschbach

Today, we have the cover reveal for Claire Banschbach's new book, Adela's Curse.  First, a little bit about the author:

About the Author


Claire Banschbach was born and raised in Midland, TX, the fourth of eight children. She was homeschooled through high school and is now a proud member of the Texas A&M University class of 2014. She is currently working on her Doctorate of Physical Therapy at Texas Tech University Health Science Center. She continues to write in her spare time (and often when she doesn’t have spare time). She hopes her strong foundation in God will help to guide her writing. 

Contact Info

Description

A witch and her master capture a young faery and command her to kill their enemy. Adela has no choice but to obey. If she does not, they will force the location of her people’s mountain home from her and kill her. To make matters even worse, the person she is to kill is only a man struggling to save his dying land and mend a broken heart.

Count Stefan is a man simply trying to forget the woman he loves and save a land crippled by drought. When a mysterious woman arrives at his castle claiming to be a seamstress, he knows she is more than she seems.

Adela enlists the help of Damian, another faery, to try and delay the inevitable. He insists she has a choice. But with the witch controlling her every move, does she?


Sound Interesting?

And now for the cover!!!


Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Book Tour: "In Place of Never" by Julie Anne Lindsey


Description


In Place of Never
Release Date: February 2nd 2016
Lyrical Press

Summary from Goodreads:


Can the truth set her free?… 

A part of Mercy died the summer her sister tragically drowned. Now Mercy has a chance to discover if Faith’s death was an accident—or murder.  Her first step is to confront the lead suspects: a band of traveling gypsies—the last people who saw her sister alive. But Mercy finds an unexpected ally in Cross, the soulful musician in their ranks. He’s a kindred spirit, someone who sees into her heart for the first time in, well, forever. Yet stirring up the past puts Mercy in danger…

Suddenly someone is shadowing Mercy’s every move, making her even more determined to uncover the facts. With Cross by her side, she is ready to face it all, even if that means opening up to him, knowing he may one day leave her. What she discovers is a truth that rocks the foundation of her small river town—and a love worth risking everything for….



About the Author


Julie Anne Lindsey is a multi-genre author who writes the stories that keep her up at night. She’s a self-proclaimed nerd with a penchant for words and proclivity for fun. Mother of three, wife to a sane person and Ring Master at the Lindsey Circus, most days you'll find her online, amped up on caffeine and wielding a book. Julie started writing to make people smile. Someday she plans to change the world.
Julie is a member of the International Thriller Writers (ITW), Sisters in Crime (SinC) and the Canton Writer’s Guild.

Author Links:


Giveaway


Excerpt: Chapter 1


The Sideshow

Faith is dead.

The words had formed my first thought every day for three years. Strangely, on the anniversary of her death, my mind was blank.

My bedroom door stood open, courtesy of my little sister, Prudence, no doubt. This was her way of nudging me into motion. Muted shades of gray light filtered through rain-washed windows, barely enough to illuminate dust motes floating overhead. Time to face the worst day of the year.

Sounds and scents of breakfast climbed two flights of stairs and settled into my thoughts with an eerie echo. I pulled clothes from the pile and brushed my teeth and hair. These were the things I’d only begun to appreciate before everything changed.

Far too soon, my toes curled over the top step outside my room. I pulled in a deep breath and braced my palms against cool stairwell walls, dragging my fingertips over the grooves and planes in the wood paneling as I inched downstairs.

From the quiet hallway outside our kitchen, life looked surreal, like the setting for a play with actors in motion but no audience or script. Dad’s clothes were as neat as a pin, and his hair fell in the same schoolboy style he’d outgrown thirty years ago. The morning paper lay open in front of him, beside a full cup of coffee that had lost its steam. Pru stood at the stove shoveling eggs from a pan onto a plate. She, too, appeared ready for the day, if I ignored the tremor in her hand and the strain in her brow. She nearly dropped the plate when she turned from the stove.

“Mercy.” She pressed a hand to her heart and stumbled to the table with the eggs. “Why are you just standing there?”

Dad turned blank eyes on me, unspeaking.

I moved to the counter and filled Mom’s favorite travel mug with coffee, ignoring the palpable tension. In sixty seconds, I’d be out the door with my free, portable caffeine. 

Pru untied the apron from her waist and folded it on the counter. She stared at me. “Aren’t you eating?” 
I sealed the mug. “No.” I needed to be anywhere but here. 

Dad tensed. The paper crumbled around his tightened grip, but he wouldn’t get involved, especially not today. Today we’d pretend we were still a family. Three months from now, we’d do it again. 

Pru bit her trembling lip. “Mercy.” The word was barely audible, even in the quietest house on Earth. 

Something tore inside me, and I wavered, slowly sipping coffee until the bitter taste Mom had loved turned my stomach. 

Dad pressed the paper against our ancient Formica tabletop and lifted cold coffee to his lips. 

I settled onto a chair and tapped my nails over tiny flecks of gold and silver embedded in the table’s white surface. He and Mom had received the kitchen set as a wedding present from her parents. A grooved metal wrap curled around the table’s perimeter. My sisters and I had done homework at that table. Birthday cakes and Thanksgiving dinners were served there. When our family was whole, we’d played cards and board games together every Friday night. Family night. Lately, we were a family of ghosts, figurative and literal. 

The legs of Dad’s chair scraped over worn linoleum. He poured his coffee into the sink and freed his jacket from the chair back where he’d sat. He threaded his arms though too-large holes. “I’ll be home late.” 

Pru flopped her arms against her sides. “But you didn’t eat.”
He scooped his Bible and keys off the counter and pulled the front door closed behind him. 

Pru collapsed into the seat across from me. Bony elbows slid across the tabletop. “Please eat something.” 

“No thank you.” 

Her frown deepened. “No one eats around here. It isn’t healthy.” 

“We don’t sleep or talk either. At least we’re consistent.” A deep cringe pinched my heart. I’d promised myself not to provoke Pru. She was only a kid. The least I could do was use restraint and good manners. “Sorry.” 

I stared into her wide blue eyes, wanting to say a million things I couldn’t. “You didn’t need to make breakfast. It’s not your responsibility.” The word lodged in my throat, filling the space until air struggled past. 

“Sorry.”

Hurt welled in Pru’s eyes. “Whose responsibility is it then? Yours?” She stood in a burst of energy I couldn’t fathom, rocking her chair onto two legs before it settled with a thump. “I’m fifteen, not five.” Pru whirled through the room, dumping eggs in the trash and shoving dishes into the sink. Defeated by her loved ones before nine AM. It wasn’t fair. 

She turned on her heels and glared at me. “You’re leaving in six weeks. Then what?” She bit her bottom lip and scrubbed a plate hard. “You could at least pretend you don’t want to go. Even if it’s a lie.” 

“I’m not leaving. I’m going to college like everyone does.” 

Her weary eyes drooped at the corners. “Not everyone.” 

“Not Faith.” As if I needed the reminder. As if I didn’t think of that every day. 

She dried her hands and pursed her lips. “What are you doing today?” 

Thunder rocked the house. “I’m going out.” 

“Out where? There’s a storm. Besides, my friends are coming over for movies and popcorn. Why don’t you stay? Company could take your mind off…stuff.” 

Stuff. Right. 

“Me, Prudence, and the color guard?” I flipped a handful of sandy curls off Pru’s shoulder. “I’m not sure that’d be fun for anyone.” 

“Please.” 

“Can’t. I’m going to go see Mom and Faith. I’ll be home later.” Her doe-eyed expression stopped me short. Since when was Pru so needy? She’d certainly never needed me. Had she? Even if she had, what was I supposed to do about it? “If you want, you can come up to my room when your friends leave. We’ll eat cold pizza and drink warm soda after Dad falls asleep.” My throat constricted further with each word. Faith and I had spent many nights that way when Pru was small and sound asleep in her room next door. 

She paled. “Maybe.” 

I narrowed my eyes. “Maybe?” That was the best invitation I’d ever offered and she’d turned me down. Something was up. “Why? Do you have plans after Dad falls asleep?” 

“Maybe.” 

I sucked air. “You can’t go out after curfew.” 

She crossed thin arms over her chest. “I said maybe. Anyways, since when do you care? Is this a joke? You think you’re in charge?” 

My gut wrenched. Was I? Everyone ahead of me on the chain of command had either died or otherwise checked out. “You can’t stay out all night.”

She clenched her jaw. 

I grabbed my bag off the coat tree and secured it cross body before she lashed out. “I can’t do this right now. I’ll be home soon. I won’t interrupt your movie day, but I will look for you tonight.” 

Pru scoffed as I edged past her and out the door where Dad had disappeared minutes before. 

My muddy Chucks waited on the rack against the railing. 

Pru glared at me through the window. 

I couldn’t stay. I had to visit Mom and Faith before the storm washed the roads away. 

I gathered my hair into a knot as I sloshed through the rain toward the edge of town. Puddles splashed warm water onto my ankles. Raindrops swiveled patterns over my forehead into my eyes, blurring my vision and masking a hot tear of frustration on one cheek. The streets were empty of pedestrians. Cars with wipers on warp speed settled at stoplights or outside shops, collecting women in rain gear and children wielding umbrellas shaped like storybook characters. 

Dad’s car sat alone in the church lot. He dreamed of inspiring the town and he prayed fervently for a healing of our broken community. The concept was nice if you weren’t one of his forgotten daughters. 
I ducked my head and moved faster, dashing through the lot and across the intersection at Main Street. Soggy, wind-battered flyers waved from light posts on every corner. The annual River Festival returned this month, assuming St. Mary’s didn’t wash off the map before then. I tugged my hood over my ears and sloshed onto the sidewalk. American flags lined store windows. Support our Troops shirts and Uncle Sam bobbleheads monopolized every retail display in town. The Fourth of July fun was right on schedule, only a few days until the big parade and concert in the park. My family didn’t celebrate this weekend anymore. 

Several yards away, two guys took shelter under the awning outside our local honky-tonk. Their laughter broke through the drumming of rain on rooftops and pounding of truck tires through puddles. Both were tall, dark, and out of place in my town. Instead of jeans and boots, like cowboys or country singers, or the shorts and gym shoes of locals and tourists, this pair wore black pants and dress shoes. Their matching V-neck shirts were equally out of place in St. Mary’s, West Virginia. 

The broader one noticed me first. His smile vanished and his posture stiffened. He locked his wrists behind his back and nodded. The short sleeves of his shirt nipped his biceps. The ridiculous breadth of his chest 
tested the limits of the thin black material. His clothes probably hid the grotesquely oversculpted figure of a body builder. 

My feet slowed instinctively, weighing the merits of crossing the street to avoid them. Crossing meant moving away from my destination, staying meant eventually sharing a three-foot patch of cement with two guys already filling every spare inch. 

The leaner, younger-looking one turned his face toward me. Black ink crawled up his neck from the collar of his shirt to his earlobe. A scar pierced one eyebrow and a thin silver hoop graced the corner of his mouth. 

Dad wouldn’t approve. 

I rounded my shoulders, withdrawing into my hoodie and averting my eyes. 

The broad one whipped a hand out as I stepped onto their patch of cement. “Miss.” 

I jumped back, wrapping my fingertips around the strap of my bag. 

His enormous arm blocked my path. He clenched a mass of silk flowers in his fist. “For the lady.” 

“Uh.” I pulled in a shallow breath. “No thank you.” 

The younger one’s eyebrows dove together. “I think you’re scaring her.” His dark eyes settled on mine. His voice was deep and low. “Is he scaring you?” 

The big guy handed the flowers to his friend and stepped back, palms up.

The younger one offered them to me, extending his arm slowly as if being careful not to frighten a wild animal. “I’m Cross. This is Anton. Anton thinks he’s a magician.” 

I glanced over one shoulder at the church behind me before accepting the strange offer. A lifetime of forced manners pushed my name from my mouth. “Mercy.” 

Cross’s lips twitched. “He’s a lot to take in, but he’s a marshmallow.” 

I bit back an awkward smile as Anton protested the remark with a shove. “Mercy’s my name. It wasn’t an exclamation.” 

Cross relaxed his posture. “Good to know.” He shoved his fingers into his pockets. “Do you live here?” 

“Yeah.” A measure of unexplained confidence wound through me. “Not you, though.” I scrutinized their strange ensembles again. Their clothes were almost like costumes, or what I imagined a mortician would wear in the nineteen hundreds. “What are you doing here?” I sidestepped them, exchanging my view of the distant willows for a view of the church.

The low tenor of their voices collided as Cross said, “Visiting,” and Anton said, “Performing.” 

Cross narrowed his eyes at Anton. 

Interesting. A sign tucked into the corner of the honky-tonk’s window announced another round of live bands. Cash prizes and a guaranteed Nashville record executive in the audience meant lots of newcomers to St. Mary’s. Maybe these two were country singers. “Performing what?” 

Again with the twin speak, Cross answered, “Nothing.” 

Anton answered, “Everything.” 

I frowned. “Well, that’s cleared up.” I waved the bouquet. “Thanks for the flowers.” 

“You’re welcome,” they answered. 

Dad’s face appeared in the church window, and I darted into the rain. “I have to go.” 

I stuffed the flowers into my bag as I jogged away from the street of shops, closing the space between the willows and me. Thunder cracked in the distance. The storm was passing for now. I stepped into the pavilion outside St. Mary’s Cemetery with a sigh of relief. Willow trees lined our small town along the river’s west edge. Their craggy branches swept the earth with every gust of wind. The town cemetery stretched fingers of marble graves into the distance, marking lives lost in the mid-eighteen hundreds beside others lost in my lifetime. Two of those graves marked the lives of Porter women, Faith and Mary Porter. My older sister and my mother. 

When the drops thinned to sprinkles, I made my way up muddy paths to their grave sites, sliding down as often as I moved forward. Dad said he’d chosen the spots at the top of the hill so Faith and Mom could look over our town. If they truly had a view, theirs was perfect. 

The sopping earth squished under my weight as I left the path. A week of relentless rain had ruined the dirt roads and flooded the lowlands mercilessly. 

I knelt before the headstones. “Hi. I bet you didn’t think I’d come in the storm.” Tears burned my eyes. I’d come selfishly. “You’re the only one I can talk to.” 

I rubbed my wrist over each eye. “I am so amazingly sorry.” 

Wind beat against the trees, shaking limbs and freeing wads of green leaves from their branches. “The storm’s gathering again.” 

I wiped pine needles and dirt off Faith’s name. Wind tossed sticks and tiny American flags across the thick green grass. A batch of grave flowers rolled down the hill toward the river, reminding me of the ones in my bag.

“I have something today.” I unlatched my bag and pulled out the silk flowers. “Some very weird guys outside Red’s gave these to me. I think you should have them, Faith. I don’t bring you flowers enough. Maybe that’s why I ran into those two. You needed flowers.” I stabbed their plastic stems into the mushy ground and pressed the grass tight around them, anchoring them the best I could. 

“I miss you. I wish you knew how much. Dad’s still trying to save the town. Pru’s still pretending she’s like everyone else. The color guard’s coming over for popcorn and movies.” I rolled my eyes. “I think she’s planning to sneak out tonight, and I don’t even know if it’s the first time.” 

I settled in the wet grass and tilted my face to the sky. “I’ve never minded our summer storms. Remember when we used to dance in the rain until Dad begged us all inside? He’d laugh and say,” I mocked Dad’s deeper voice, “‘I guess the rumors are true. My girls don’t have the sense to come in out of the rain.’” 

A sound in the distance caught my attention. A rhythm. “Do you hear that?” Wind whipped through the trees, but the eerie sound of tinny pipes and organs floated to my ears. I rubbed my palms over gooseflesh-covered arms and an icy shiver slid down my spine. 

I stood on wobbly knees and moved to the hill’s edge. 

A line of black vehicles crawled along the river toward the campground. Each truck was marked with the symbol that once haunted my dreams. A fancy letter L, circled in curlicue lines and tiny words from another language. “The Lovell Traveling Sideshow came back?” 

After three years, it was back. 

I turned to my sister. “I bet they came for the River Festival. What should I do?” 

I sensed her presence and felt her voice in the wind, obscured by the ringing in my ears. My weary conscience screamed, “Leave it alone,” but my every curious fiber disagreed. 

I’d researched, cyberstalked, and obsessed over the Lovells off and on for two years before I backed off. I squinted at the caravan of trucks below. If one of them knew what happened to Faith, I needed to hear it. Maybe someone at their campsite could help me. 

Dad refused me the courtesy of knowing what happened to my sister. When I’d followed him through our home begging, he’d said I was too young. Faith was too young. I should pray for peace. I’d scoured the local paper and Internet for information. Three years later, the only things I knew for sure were Faith was dead and Dad blamed the Lovells. I’d heard him and Mom after Faith’s funeral. He hated them, but it didn’t make any sense. Faith drowned. Dad believed the Lovells contributed to Faith’s death somehow, despite the coroner’s accidental drowning conclusion. 

I looked over one shoulder at Faith’s headstone. “I’ve got to go. I’ll be back.” I rubbed wet palms against my jeans. My feet stumbled through the grass on autopilot. This was my chance. 

I sprinted toward home, formulating a plan. First, I needed a shower and change of clothes. Next, I needed a picture of Faith from that summer. The Lovells probably saw thousands of new faces every year and three years had already passed. Expecting them to remember one girl from a town as unremarkable as ours was asking the impossible. 

I slowed my pace on Main Street. Outside the honky-tonk, a fresh banner hung from the awning, a photo advertisement for the Lovell Traveling Sideshow. My mouth dropped open as my gaze swept over the ad. I missed the curb and planted one foot in ankle-deep runoff racing for the gutter. “Gross.” My palms hit the sidewalk, stopping me from a complete fall. The open flap of my bag dripped against my pant leg when I stood. I buckled the bag without looking, unable to drag my focus away from the banner. A woman covered in tattoos posed with a set of acrobats front and center. A shirtless strongman with a mask and endless muscles stood behind her. I tried to match Anton and his flowers to the masked man in the photograph. Was it possible? 

A man in tuxedo tails pulled fire from his hat and a woman in a ball gown swallowed swords. Animals in black tutus and studded collars pranced at her feet. Behind the others stood a brown-eyed guy with neck ink, a guitar, and a frown. Cross was a performer all right. He was one of them. A Lovell.