Chapter Reveal: Deadly Premonitions by Kennedy Layne

We’re just over a week away from the release of the last book in Kennedy Layne’s Safeguard Series, DEADLY PREMONITIONS! You can get your hands on DEADLY PREMONITIONS on November 14th – and trust us, you don’t want to miss this one! Check out the first chapter below and preorder your copy now!

 

About DEADLY PREMONITIONS

Available November 14th

USA Today Bestselling Author Kennedy Layne brings the Safeguard Series to a stunning conclusion with your favorite characters that will have you staying wide awake until the very last page is turned…

The ominous knock on the front door in the middle of the night should have given Shailyn Doyle fair warning, but she answered it despite her palpable fear. Her past had finally come back to haunt her. It would be nothing more than her worst nightmares come to life.

Townes Calvert had been given a brief glimpse of nirvana before having it ripped from his grasp. He now has a chance to reclaim what was taken from him, but he must first hunt down the man responsible for murdering eighteen women and risk all that he loves.

Townes and Shailyn have no choice but to play a sadistic serial killer’s twisted game in their search to reclaim the love they had once been forced to sacrifice. They both have envisioned what could be…but will they end up with nothing more than deadly premonitions?

Add DEADLY PREMONITIONS to your Goodreads list here!

DEADLY PREMONITIONS releases November 14th, 2017 – preorder your copy now!

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Read the First Chapter

Pain unlike anything she’d ever experienced before radiated throughout her body. There were no tears. She couldn’t manage a single teardrop. A deathlike chill had settled into her bones, chasing away all other bodily functions.

She was paralyzed.

She was unable to move, to scream… or to hide.

She was at his mercy, of which he had none.

Shailyn Doyle gasped as her upper body came off the bed. She couldn’t suck in enough oxygen. Her vision had become blurry. She would certainly die this time.

Panic took hold as its tentacles slithered around her soul, slowly strangling what life was left within her.

Shailyn wrapped her fingers around her throat in desperation. She struggled to draw air into her lungs to the point that even she could hear the whistling rattle of her frantic attempt at breathing. Seconds ticked by until the terrifying nightmare slowly fragmented into bits and pieces, eventually fading into dust as the terror disappeared.

“Two hours,” Shailyn murmured to herself after glancing at the clock on her bedside table. The green illuminated numbers read three fourteen in the morning. “Progress.”

Shailyn tossed the heavy comforter and sheet to the side in acceptance. She wouldn’t get any more sleep tonight. What was noteworthy was the fact that the top sheet was dry. She hadn’t even broken a sweat in her throes of memories best forgotten. It was hard to be proud of that detail when she recognized her reaction for what it was— tolerance.

She swung her legs over the side of the bed. She recalled as a child always believing something or someone would reach out of the darkness and grab her ankles if she kept them dangling there long enough. She missed the days when the monsters had been nothing but a figment of her imagination.

Certain kinds of monsters were very real.

Shailyn automatically reached for the journal she kept on the bedside table, ignoring the slight tremor of her fingers. It was a byproduct of her time spent as a victim with a psychopath as her tormentor. She’d been left with a lot of daily reminders. That particular one didn’t rate high on the scale of her insecurities.

It wasn’t a conscious decision to write in her diary. It was a rote behavior after so many years of psychoanalysis. She didn’t even think twice about sliding the pen off the soft brown leather cover and setting the black ink to paper. Her psychiatrist had explained that keeping detailed notes of her dreams and reactions could render the next night a little easier and maybe even less intense. That had never been the truth as she knew it, but it did give her purpose.

She wrote down every facet of her nightmare underneath her last entry almost twenty hours earlier. There was no need for her to turn on a light considering she never slept in the dark anymore. As a matter of fact, every lamp and overhead light in this one-bedroom house was currently shining bright to keep the obscure shadows at bay.

It gave her a false sense of security. The dark represented the evil that crept in with the night.

She honestly didn’t care that the reassurance was a fabrication. The presence of the lights allowed her to physically walk through the rooms without hesitation.

Shailyn clipped the pen back onto the smooth jacket of her journal before setting both onto the nightstand. It didn’t take her long to cross the room and carefully draw the heavy curtain aside. Her bedroom was located on the main floor of the house, facing toward the front where a heavily armored, black government-plated SUV had been parked ever since Shepherd Moss had escaped from a federal prison.

Shepherd Moss— her own private monster.

He was a very special demon summoned from the depths of hell itself.

He was out there somewhere, biding his time as he savored her soul. Shailyn didn’t doubt that he was looking for her right this very moment.

After all, she was the only one who had ever gotten away.

Technically, that wasn’t true. She had not been able to work her way out of the restraints Moss had her bound in for three days. An Arthurian hero had found her instead, and her shining knight had refused to let her die. She barely recalled him arriving as dark as the night. His armor had been as rough as sackcloth, moving among the shadows as if they held no sway over him. He was the antithesis of her tormenter.

What did astound her was that the torture she’d undergone had only lasted three days.

A mere seventy-two hours.

How was that even possible when her time spent in that hellhole had seemed like an eternity of several lifetimes? Of course, the same thing could almost be said for the years she’d been in the witness protection program. Now those three hundred and sixty-five day spans seemed endless, consisting of nothingness. Was she actually awaiting Moss’ return with the promise of renewed torture?

She supposed she should be grateful. Eighteen women hadn’t been as lucky as her, but then again, what was so fortunate about living this so-called life she’d been given?

Shailyn let the curtain fall back into place, checking to make sure that not even a sliver of darkness was visible before she crossed the bedroom floor in her bare feet. The coolness of the hardwood didn’t bother her all that much, but wearing any type of shoe made her want to rip them off her feet and burn them. The scars on her ankles always became irritated when material rubbed against them for any period of time. She’d tried slip-ons in the past, as well as flip-flops, but those hadn’t worked either due to the damage done to the heels of her feet.

It didn’t take long for her to enter the living room and walk into the kitchen. The layout was simple, just as she liked it. The walls were devoid of pictures, there were no knick-knacks on the shelves or tabletops, and the few simple sticks of Ikea furniture had been rented with the house. It wasn’t like anyone questioned the way she lived, especially considering she never had any guests. No one was permitted to enter her home, though she did make an exception now and then to the U.S. Marshals who had taken up guarding her night and day since Moss had escaped federal prison. Why make any friendships when she would most likely be relocated sooner rather than later?

Groceries were delivered to a drop box on her front porch from the local store. She had access to the small area from inside the house. She could lock the outside access door to the box before ever opening the inside hatch. The delivery service was a special arrangement the grocery store provided for the elderly and shut-ins.

The Marshals vetted the designated delivery man and all the other employees of the friendly retailer. The grocery store tended to substitute their own brand a lot for other brand names, and they also charged a premium for nearly every item available through their service. Privacy apparently came with a price.

Shailyn hit the brew button, having already prepared the coffee maker three hours ago. She shivered slightly when condensation layered the sides of the glass carafe. Her feet were a little colder on the kitchen tile than they had been on the hardwood floor. The memory of a blue torch flame flashed across her mind’s eye.

She crossed into the living room and looked over at the bay window to ensure the drapes were closed like she’d left them. Her need for solitude had nothing to do with the fact that she was wearing a pair of flannel pajamas.

Everything was as it should be. She didn’t miss a step as she continued directly to the wall where her thermostat was positioned a little lower than eye level.

The digital numbers read seventy-two degrees. She didn’t care what digits were displayed and intentionally pressed the up arrow twice. Heat from the furnace had a tendency to rise from the vents, keeping only the upper half of the room warm while leaving the floors far too cold for her sensitive feet. Winters in Maine tended to get rather brisk, and this house wasn’t insulated properly. She honestly didn’t mind her electricity bill being higher. She always kept to her budget. It wasn’t like she spent her money on anything other than rent, utilities, and groceries.

She turned around to make her way back into the kitchen when the sight of her files on the desk caught her eye. The manila folder with ungraded essays sitting on top of the stack was crooked. She stopped walking, allowing her arms to drop to her sides, anticipating the assault.

Her heart stuttered in fear. Not because of death, but what came before it.

Everything on her desk had been perfect when she’d turned in for the couple hours of sleep she barely managed to obtain. She’d gotten into the habit of positioning items in a manner where only she would recognize if they’d been disturbed. And she was one hundred percent positive that the pile of schoolwork she’d been grading last night had been organized squarely in the left-hand corner. Not a millimeter had been out of place.

Okay. Ninety-nine percent sure, because one of the two U.S. Marshals sitting in the vehicle outside of her house had paid her a visit after noticing one of her two bulbs had burnt out on the porch. He had kindly replaced the lightbulb before rejoining his partner outside in the black sedan.

He could have easily bumped into the edge of her desk, causing the slight misalignment.

How many times had she overreacted over the years? Too many to count, that was for sure.

Shailyn bit her lip as she carefully looked over the living room for any other sign that someone other than the U.S. Marshal had been in her home. She cautiously put one foot in front of the other as she made her way through the entire house, eventually completing her search by returning to her desk after checking every room.

Nothing else was out of place.

“You’re losing your mind, girl.”

It was bound to happen, given the circumstances. She recalled a psychiatrist telling her that the average individual would have been institutionalized after suffering through the ordeal she’d been through. He couldn’t seem to accept that she was nothing extraordinary. She’d switched shrinks after that, going through a long line of men and women who had various opinions on how she should handle her future.

Shailyn gently rested the palm of her right hand underneath her breast on the opposite side. She had been left with a reminder that she would never have a normal life… at least, not the way she’d once envisioned.

The rich aroma of coffee filled the air, prompting her to return to the kitchen. She did stop briefly at the living room window and verify that the ever-present black sedan was still in position. Two silhouettes were easily discernible.

She thought about taking them out a thermos full of coffee, but a couple of things prevented her from doing so. For one, she didn’t go outside of these four walls any more than absolutely necessary. Two, she didn’t even own a thermos.

Shailyn pulled a single brown mug that had seen better days from the cupboard. The eighties-style porcelain dishes came with the rental house, allowing her to travel light when she had to move. Honestly, everything she owned fit in one suitcase and an oversized purse. She was a simple woman, really, even taking her coffee black without any further additions.

She sighed in resignation as she took her steaming coffee into the living room, snatching up the folder of essays that had given her more of a jolt than the caffeine in her coffee could provide. She looked forward to doing some mundane reading from the writing assignments she’d given her students taking the online course she taught to pass the time. It was also a way to make some additional money, though her students knew her as Ms. Rachel Smith.

Her online persona, as detailed in the course curriculum, featured a picture of a random middle-aged spinster freshly returned to the farm after retiring from some teaching position. She sometimes wondered about the identity of the woman in the photograph, considering the lack of a full-fledged backstory. WITSEC wasn’t that original when it came to assigning new identifications to their patrons. Ms. Smith was a retired teacher from Iowa. That was the best they could come up with.

Thud. Thud. Thud.

The essays scattered onto the hardwood floor as the papers fell from her lap, taking the manila folder with them. Each essay was now drenched in coffee as she scrambled to her feet and spilled her hot beverage all over them. Her first thought was that Shepherd Moss wouldn’t knock on her front door to gain entry. He would have just appeared behind her. Her second and most insightful deduction was that trouble had just landed on her front porch.

She quietly stepped over the wet papers and set down her coffee mug on the side table, not stopping until she reached her desk. One of those cheap buy-as-you-go cell phones purchased off the rack at the local drug store was tucked into the top drawer. She always made sure the device was charged and ready to go should she need to leave the property or contact the Marshals. It also came in handy when she needed to call 911… which had never happened in all the years she’d been in WITSEC.

Thud. Thud. Thud.

“Ms. Smith, it’s Deputy U.S. Marshal Sturridge.”

Sturridge was the Marshal who had changed her lightbulb a few hours ago, but she couldn’t fathom why he would need to speak with her at this hour. She quickly opened the top desk drawer and retrieved her phone, pressing in the three numbers without initiating the call. She rested her thumb on the button as she slowly made her way to the door to evaluate the situation further.

“What seems to be the matter, Marshal?” Shailyn asked with concern, but doing her best to keep her fear disguised. She tilted her head so that she could hear Sturridge’s reply through the heavy door. She left off that this wasn’t their usual procedure. Technically, the average WITSEC individual didn’t have two Marshals sitting outside of his or her home on a regular basis. They were all given new identities and then expected to adapt, as if their lives hadn’t been ripped out from underneath them in the most violent way imaginable. “Is everything okay?”

“Ms. Smith, there’s been a development. We need to take you down to the Bureau’s Portland Field Office as soon as possible.”

Shailyn swallowed back the lump of alarm that formed in her throat. Had Moss killed someone else she’d known in her childhood? He’d done that exact thing a couple of months ago, most likely trying to draw her out from under the concealment of her WITSEC identity. The U.S. Marshals Service had been very adamant that she follow their instructions down to the exact letter since Moss had escaped federal custody. She’d complied, but she wasn’t so sure she could continue to do so should he target her friends or family again.

Shailyn rested her forehead against the hard surface of the door and pretended for just a moment that this night was like any other. She’d get close to a couple hours of sleep, work for a couple more on the computer, and then maybe get a half hour rest before her day started with her schedule of online classes. The visual gave her the composure she needed before releasing all three security locks they had installed upon moving her into this house.

“My family?” Shailyn asked hesitantly after opening the door. Sturridge gave her an encouraging smile, though sadness was visible in his soft, brown eyes. He reminded her of those gentle cowboy giants Louis L’Amour had written about when her father had been a young man. She recalled her dad reading her books of the Wild West when she’d been younger, allowing them both to enjoy her bedtime stories. Sometimes she wondered if her father would have preferred a boy. “Are they okay?”

“Yes, ma’am, they’re all fine as far as I’m aware.”

“Then why am I needed at the Portland Field Office in the middle of the night?” Shailyn had once been the spontaneous type, living every second of every day like it was her last when she’d been younger. That day had arrived sooner rather than later, changing her outlook on the simplest of pleasures. “Am I being relocated again?” “

Ms. Smith, you—”

“Please.” The word was just short of a plea. She was only human, and a flawed one at that. “Just tell me.”

“Shepherd Moss killed an agent on the case yesterday.”

Shailyn wasn’t surprised. At least, she shouldn’t have been surprised. Her breathing faltered, though. Moss had targeted someone else, someone unrelated to her. She suspected that it wasn’t with no strings attached. She shouldn’t feel any guilt over the man’s predilection for torturing and killing people, particularly women. She’d done her part by sitting on that witness stand and testifying— no, reliving— every painful cut he’d sliced into her body. That included every burn he branded into her flesh, as well.

“I still don’t understand what that has to do with me, Marshal.”

Shailyn’s mouth had gone dry and she couldn’t even lick her lips to get the words out smoothly. Sturridge was glancing at his watch, as if they should be in a rush to get to the Portland Field Office. Since when had her activities ever been on such a tight timetable?

“Ms. Smith, the agent who was murdered had been assigned to watch over a woman by the name of Brettany Lambert. She was a childhood friend of yours, correct?”

Yes. Brett had been Shailyn’s best friend through elementary and middle school. A memory of them turning up the dial on her old boom box came to mind, along with a made-up game that kept them busy for hours. The first lyric to come through the speaker was what the boy she liked at the time was thinking of her at that very moment. They would each take turns, giggling their weekends away.

“Ms. Smith?”

Shailyn cleared her throat before nodding her agreement. She would go with Sturridge to the Portland Field Office, believing one hundred percent that she would be on a plane by noon. The U.S. Marshals and the FBI had been very cautious. It was their job to ensure her safety from the monster she’d helped put away. There had only ever been one man who’d truly given her that precious sense of security, and she hadn’t seen him once since the day she entered WITSEC.

This was her life now… being alone with only a suitcase to her name. She often wondered when the hand underneath the bed would finally grab her ankles and pull her into the shadows. What if she were to go into that hiding place voluntarily? Was that how she would find her freedom? Was death her only escape?

Or could she slay the monster before he was able to kill her?

*

He closed his eyes, reliving every second he spent in the company of Shailyn Doyle. Her unblemished flesh had been a canvas from which he had created something beautiful. He did design his masterpiece on her body, but only she had the pleasure of seeing his work every single day in the mirror.

He wanted her back.

He needed to finish the seminal work he’d begun.

Did the authorities not understand that he was the one in control? Had he not proven his dominance time and time again? His parting gift in Colorado he’d left for Townes Calvert should have gotten his message across.

Townes Calvert.

The only adversary who had ever lived up to his most exacting standards. The man’s personal interest in Shailyn Doyle would only make this game that much sweeter in the end. They would meet again soon, but he wasn’t ready to see his entertainment come to an end. He preferred the long game.

He rocked back on the wooden porch and listened to the crickets and frogs communicate in their harmonious languages. Mother Nature could end their conversations with a mere slap of her hand.

He recalled the enchanting screams that fell from Shailyn’s chapped lips— now that was his favorite melody.

 

About Kennedy Layne

Kennedy Layne is a USA Today bestselling author. She draws inspiration for her military romantic suspense novels in part from her not-so-secret second life as a wife of a retired Marine Master Sergeant. He doubles as her critique partner, beta reader, and military consultant. They live in the Midwest with their teenage son and menagerie of pets. The loyal dogs and mischievous cats appreciate her writing days as much as she does, usually curled up in front of the fireplace. She loves hearing from readers–find out how to connect with her at www.kennedylayne.com.

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Promo Blitz & Excerpt: The Last Crusader Kingdom and Helena P. Schrader

Historical Fiction
Date Published: August 2017
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An armed insurrection, a military occupation, and the dawn of a dynasty….
John d’Ibelin, son of the legendary Balian, will one day defy the most powerful monarch on earth. But first he must survive his apprenticeship as squire to man determined to build a kingdom on an island ravaged by rebellion. The Greek insurgents have already driven the Knights Templar from the island, and now stand poised to destroy Richard the Lionheart’s legacy to the Holy Land: the crusader foothold on the island of Cyprus.
Excerpt

 

The men who forced their way inside were dressed in chainmail from head to toe. They wore scull-cap helmets with heavy nose guards. Most terrifying of all, they wore surcoats with the arms of Jerusalem on them: they were the king’s men.
“Where’s Lord Aimery?” One of them barked at the servants.
“I’m here!” Aimery called from the floor above. Without hesitation the four armored men pushed past the frightened servants to the stairs at the back of the vaulted room. They pounded up to the next floor, and as they emerged out of the stairway, they found the Constable of Jerusalem hastily donning his surcoat while a young squire held his sword ready for him to take.
“Hold that, boy!” One of the king’s men shouted, springing to put himself between the squire and the constable. He pushed the squire backwards, pinned him against the wall, and wrenched the sword out of his hands with little trouble.
Meanwhile, the sergeant turned his attention to the Constable himself. “My lord, you are under arrest for high treason! Either you come with us willingly, or, we have orders to take you by force.”
Aimery de Lusignan was a handsome man in his early fifties. His shoulder-length, blond hair was somewhat disheveled and his face was sprouting the beginnings of a beard, but he had managed to pull on braies, hose and a gambeson over his nightshirt. He stood with his shoulders squared and his head held high. “The charges are false and slanderous!” he told the sergeant firmly. “I will defend myself before the High Court.”
“Maybe. For now you’re coming with us!” The sergeant answered bluntly, ominously lowering his hand to his hilt.
“Where are you taking me?” The Constable asked gruffly.
“To the royal dungeon, where all traitors are held! Now, are you coming willingly or must I use force?”
“Will you at least allow me to put on boots?” The Constable asked back in a voice that was edged with bitterness.
“No tricks!” the sergeant warned, drawing his sword for emphasis before nodding to Lord Aimery to get on with it.
The Constable walked across the room to where his knee-high boots were standing, the soft upper parts flopped over on their sides. He took the suede boots, sat on the nearest chest, and pulled them on one at a time. Then he stood and surveyed the room briefly; whether he was looking for a chance to escape or simply taking a last leave was unclear. The king’s men blocked the door, their swords drawn. They not only ensured he was trapped, they also kept his wife out. He could hear her anxious voice in the hall demanding an explanation. His squire was pinned against the far wall, his eyes wide with shock and disbelief.
“John, get word to your father of what has happened,” the Constable ordered the youth before walking briskly toward the men sent to arrest him. He allowed them to close around him as he passed out of the door. They clattered down the stairs and out into the street, leaving John and Lady Eschiva standing on the upstairs landing in horrified paralysis.
“Treason?” Lady Eschiva asked the squire. “Did I hear correctly? Champagne has arrested my lord husband for treason? But that’s not possible!” she protested at once.
“I’ve got to get word to my father at once!” John answered, his voice breaking with tension as the situation threatened to overwhelm him; he would not turn fourteen for another month.
“Mommy! Mommy! What are they going to do with Daddy?” It was the high pitched voice of eight-year-old Burgundia. Ten-year-old Guy pushed past her, protesting, “They can’t arrest, Daddy! He’s the Constable!”
Eschiva turned toward her children, but then stopped to look over her shoulder to her husband’s squire. “Yes, John, go to your father at once! If Isabella let this happen, he’s the only one who might be able to help us now!” 

About the Author

Award-winning novelist Helena P. Schrader offers readers tired of cliches and cartoons nuanced insight to historical events and figures based on sound research and an understanding of human nature. Her complex and engaging characters bring history back to life as a means to better understand ourselves.
Helena P. Schrader earned a PhD in History from the University of Hamburg with a ground-breaking biography of a leader of the German Resistance to Hitler. She has published numerous works of fiction and non-fiction since.
Her Jerusalem Trilogy, set in the Holy Land in the late 12th century, has won critical acclaim, including Best Biographical Fiction 2016 from Pinnacle, Best Christian Historical Fiction 2017 from Readers’ Favorite, Best Spiritual/Religious Fiction 2017 from Feathered Quill.
For details visit http://www.helenapschrader.com or follow her blog: http://schradershistoricalfiction.blogspot.com for updates on current works in progress, recent reviews and excerpts.
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Cover Reveal: Beneath the Lighthouse by Julieanne Lynch

Title: Beneath the Lighthouse
Author: Julieanne Lynch
Genre: YA Horror
Release Date: June 26, 2018
Cover Design: Sam Shearon 

 

Sixteen-year-old Jamie McGuiness’s sister is found dead. Sinking into a deep depression, he frequents the lighthouse where her body was discovered, unaware of the dark forces surrounding him.
When an angry spirit latches onto Jamie, he’s led down a dark and twisted path, one that uncovers old family secrets that destroy everything Jamie ever believed.
Caught between the world of the living and the vengeful dead, Jamie fights the pull of the other side. It’s up to Jamie to settle old scores, or no one will rest in peace—but, first, he has to survive.

 

Julieanne Lynch is an author of YA and Adult genre urban fantasy, crime and contemporary romance books. Julieanne was born in Northern Ireland, but spent much of her early life in London, United Kingdom, until her family relocated back to their roots.

 

Julieanne lives in Northern Ireland, with her husband and five children, where she is a full-time author. She studied English Literature and Creative Writing at The Open University and considered journalism as a career path. Julieanne has several projects optioned for film.

 


 

Julieanne is both traditionally and independently published.

 


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Book Tour: Haunting Magic by Neely Powell

About the Book

Title: Haunting Magic

Author: Neely Powell

Genre: Paranormal Romance

Fiona Burns, a witch who sees dead people, meets Hollywood producer Bailey Powers, who sees her as the next cable star—and a fake. Even so, she’s tempted by the dynamic producer in more ways than one. But she has a big distraction—a vicious curse on her family coven.

The ghosts of New Mourne warn of the return of the Woman in White, a vengeful spirit who claims the life of a Connelly witch from every generation. During the battle, Fiona unwittingly fuels the demonic forces, and black magic brings death and heartbreak to her family.

Initially a skeptic, Bailey is soon caught up in her supernatural battle with forces of evil. He’s also beginning to think Fiona can help him escape his haunting past.

With magic and mayhem at war and survival on the line, the Witches of New Mourne face a new challenge from their ancient foe. They discover that not all dark deeds are borne of the Woman but a demon who is bent on gaining the Woman’s powers for his own. Will another generation fall? Or does the curse end here?

Author Bio

Neely Powell is the pseudonym for co-writers Leigh Neely and Jan Hamilton Powell. The best friends met when they both worked at a rock ‘n roll radio station in Chattanooga. It turned out their husbands were long-lost high school buddies, and Jan and Leigh were both writing romantic fiction in their spare time. A partnership was born.

They tried writing fiction together for several years, but life and other adventures got in the way. Their friendship endured as they went on to individual careers. Writing as Celeste Hamilton, Jan published 24 romance novels for Silhouette and Avon Books. Her books appeared on the B. Dalton, Waldenbooks Romance, and USA Today bestseller lists before she left fiction for a career in corporate communications.

Links

Amazon

Amazon (Paperback)

Wild Rose Press

 

Giveaway

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Bewaren

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Release Day: Expire by Erin Noelle

 

 

 

 

 

Numbers.
They haunt me.
I can’t look into a person’s eyes without seeing the six-digit date of their death.
I’m helpless to change it, no matter how hard I try.
I’ve trained myself to look down. Away. Anywhere but at their eyes.
My camera is my escape. My salvation. Through its lens, I see only beauty and life—not death and despair.
Disconnected from all those around me, I’m content being alone, simply existing.
Until I meet him.
Tavian.
The man beyond the numbers.
How can I stay away, when everything about him draws me in?
But how can I fall in love, knowing exactly when it will expire?

 

 

 

PROLOGUE
Lyra

10.18.02
The intercom crackles loudly throughout the classroom, interrupting Ms. Sherman’s rather uninspiring Friday afternoon lesson on the life cycle of a star. Even though most of the students around me are furiously jotting down notes about nebulas, red giants, and supernovas, I’m half listening while I doodle caricatures of me and my friends in the margin of my notebook. It’s not that I’m not interested in the material she’s talking about. No, that’s not the case at all. It’s quite the opposite actually; science is my favorite subject, especially anything that deals with astronomy and the unknowns in our universe.
But with a dad who is a super-smart astronomer at Johnson Space Center—or NASA, as most people here in Houston call it—I learned about this stuff she’s teaching before I ever started kindergarten. Heck, just this past summer before fifth grade, Mama and I went to visit him at a planetarium in Hawaii, where he was part of a team that discovered eleven new moons orbiting Jupiter! If I don’t ace this test next week, I better not even go home. I definitely wouldn’t be able to be an astronaut then.  
“Ms. Sherman, can you please have Lyra Jennings gather her things and come down to the office? She’s leaving for the day,” the office lady who reminds me of Paula Deen—Mama’s favorite chef—announces through the ancient intercom system.
At the sound of my name, my chin jerks upward from my pencil sketches to the standard black-and-white classroom clock mounted above the projection screen. The hands read 12:45 p.m., nearly three hours before the end of the school day, when my parents are supposed to pick me up as we head out to Dallas for the weekend to celebrate my eleventh birthday. Ooh, maybe getting out of school early was my surprise they mentioned!
I’ve been looking forward to this day since we came home from this same trip last year, and I know my parents planned something special for this year. Every birthday, instead of having one of those silly kids’ parties with pointy hats and piñatas, they take me to the Texas State Fair. There, we spend the weekend riding as many rides as possible, stuffing our mouths with sausage-on-a-stick and fried Twinkies, playing games until we win the biggest of the stuffed animals, and laughing until our faces hurt and happy tears stream down our cheeks. Hands down, it’s my favorite three days of the year, even better than Christmas. And I really, really like Christmas.
Excitement jets through me as I stand up from my desk and hurriedly cram my spiral notebook and textbook into my purple paisley backpack. If we make it there early, I’ll be able to go swimming at the fancy hotel’s indoor pool before dinner.
“Sure thing,” my teacher calls out in response. “She’ll be right down.”
Hoisting the strap of the bag up on my shoulder, I turn to leave the room and my gaze meets Ms. Sherman’s. Her warmth shines in her bright amber-colored eyes, highlighting the numbers 051123 that I see imprinted in her pupils. The same six white numbers I see every time we make eye contact. The numbers I’m not allowed to talk about. The ones everyone thinks are all a part of my healthy imagination.
But they’re wrong. They’re all wrong.
The numbers are real, and they never change or go away. I only wish I knew what they meant. Mama and Daddy—who, by the way, are the only two people I know that have the same numbers—call it my special superpower, but I know they just pretend to believe me. I see the looks they share when they think I’m not watching. They don’t want me to think about all those things the doctors say about me. I may only be ten years old, but I’m 100% sure I’m not crazy, nor do I lie for attention. I’m an only child, for Pete’s sake; my parents are overly interested in my life. Though I do appreciate their support, even if they don’t understand.
“Have a nice weekend, Lyra. Don’t forget we have a test over CHAPTERs six through eight on Monday. Make sure you’ve read all the material,” she reminds me.
“Yes, ma’am. I’ll be ready,” I reply modestly, not sharing with her or the rest of the class I’ve already read through CHAPTER thirteen in the text, including answering the study guide questions at the end of each section. I may be an overachiever, but I’m not a brown-noser.
Luckily, school just comes easy for me, and my parents get over-Jupiter’s-moons proud when I bring home straight A’s on my report card. It reassures them that I’m normal and well adjusted. At least that’s what I heard Mama whispering to Daddy on the phone one night when she thought I wasn’t listening.
I mouth a quick goodbye to my best friend, Beth, who I pass by as I scuttle toward the exit. With her last name being Blackmon and mine being Jennings, we rarely get to sit near each other, as most of our teachers put us in alphabetical order. Beth’s numbers are 022754, and like Ms. Sherman’s, they light up vibrantly when she looks up at me and mouths the words Have fun before I slip out the door.
I never want to break the rules or get in trouble, so I somehow fight the urge to sprint down the deserted hallway and force myself to walk as fast as my long, skinny legs will let me. The swishing sound from my denim shorts rubbing together fills my ears, creating a soundtrack for my excitement. My cheeks ache from smiling so big while I drop off my folders and books in my locker then make a beeline to the front of the school, where my parents are waiting for me. This is going to be the best of the best weekends ever, one that none of us will ever forget. I just know it.
Only, when I swing open the glass door to the main office, expecting to see my favorite two people in the world, I’m surprised to find my Aunt Kathy standing there, her face puffy and pink, the corners of her mouth pointing due south. Our eyes meet, and I can barely see her numbers—123148—because of how swollen the lids are around them.
The fluffy white cloud of elation I floated in on disappears instantly as a dark fog of dread takes its place. Engulfing me. Swallowing me whole. She doesn’t have to say a word—I already know. Not how or when or where it happened, but deep in my bones, I know.
I was right. This will definitely be a weekend I’ll never forget, only it will be for reasons I’ll never want to remember.
“I’m so sorry, Lyra baby girl,” she cries. “I’m so sorry. They’re… they’re gone.”
gone.
        Gone.
                   GONE.
The word bounces around between my ears, getting louder each time it echoes. The first time, it freezes my movements. The second steals all the air from my lungs. By the third time, I’m pretty sure I have no pulse. I want to go, too.
Go.
       Going.
                     GONE.
With my feet stuck to the floor and my body stiff as a statue, Aunt Kathy rushes over to me and wraps her arms around my shoulders. Pulling me up against her chest as uncontainable sobs shake her body, she breaks down in front of the receptionist and attendance clerk, neither of who bother to hide their open staring. Numb, I stand completely still while she wails for several minutes, and I never once make a single sound or try to break free from the death grip she has on me. My thoughts race so fast they’re standing still.
I’m just… here. And my parents just… aren’t. And they won’t ever be again.
They’re… gone.
Climbing into the passenger seat of Aunt Kathy’s fancy sports car—a car I usually beg to ride in because there’s no backseat—I fasten my safety belt and then close my eyes as I lean my head back on the black leather, warm from the hot southern Texas sun. Even though it’s mid-October, I’m still wearing shorts and sandals, and just last weekend I went swimming at Beth’s house. But as I sit here and wait for my aunt to start the car, my teeth chatter loudly and my entire body trembles uncontrollably. My heart is frozen solid, but I’ve yet to shed a tear.
The phone rings and I jump, automatically looking at the caller ID on the screen, thinking… hoping… praying it’s someone calling to let us know this has all been a big mistake, that my parents are really okay.
“Hey, Mom,” Aunt Kathy answers after just one ring. We still haven’t pulled out of the parking space. “Yeah, I have her now. She’s safe and sound.”
My heart plummets even lower into my stomach than it was before as she pauses to listen to Granny Gina on the other end. Granny Gina is my dad and Kathy’s mom who lives in New Orleans, where she moved about five years ago after my grandpa passed away from lung cancer. Since my mom’s parents both died before I was born, she’s the only living grandparent I have, and luckily for me, she’s a pretty awesome one. But today, nothing is awesome. Not even close.
“I don’t know. She hasn’t said a word. I’m sure she’s in shock.” My aunt talks about me like I’m not sitting right here, as I finally feel the car jerk back in reverse.
Another pause. The car lurches forward into drive then we bounce hard as Aunt Kathy flies over a speed bump. I think I’m going to throw up.
“Okay, I’ll take her home so she can pack a suitcase of whatever she wants to bring, and then we’ll go to my place until you get here. You should be in about 5:00?”
Pack a suitcase of what I want to bring where? Where am I going? Why is this happening to me? I’m a good kid. I make good grades and I’m nice to people, even those people who everyone else makes fun of, and I listen to my parents and my teachers. What did I do to deserve this? Why me?
“Yeah, Mom, I know,” Aunt Kathy hiccups. She’s crying hard again. “I’ll take good care of her, and we’ll see you later. I love you.”
I keep my eyes screwed shut as she disconnects the call, scared she’ll want to talk if I open them. I don’t want to talk to her or Granny Gina or anyone but my parents. I want my mom and dad!
Thankfully, Aunt Kathy doesn’t try to talk to me as we drive, but when I feel the car come to a stop and hear the engine turn off, she gently taps my arm. “Lyra, sweetheart, we’re at your house. We’re going to go inside, and I need you to pack up a suitcase or two of the clothes and things you want to take to New Orleans. Whatever you need.”
“New Orleans?” My lids snap open and I whip my chin in her direction. I don’t even recognize my harsh, scratchy voice. “I’m going to New Orleans?”
“Yeah”—she nods sadly as she swipes at the black mascara streaks on her face with her thumbs—“with Granny Gina. After we take care of, uh, of everything here, you’ll go live with her there.”
Scowling, I cross my arms over my chest and grunt. “I don’t want to leave Houston, or my friends, or my school. Why can’t I stay here with you?”
“You know I travel with my job, Lyra. Sometimes I’m gone a week or two at a time, and there won’t be anybody here to stay with you. Granny Gina’s house has an extra bedroom, and since she doesn’t work, she’ll be able to better give you everything you need.”
What I need and will be better for me is my mom and dad. And my perfect birthday weekend at the fair.
She reaches out to attempt to soothe me with her touch, but I wrench away, banging my elbow on the car door in the process. The whack is loud, and the place I hit immediately turns red, but my brain doesn’t register the pain. I feel nothing. I’m broken.
I glance over at my aunt, and the tears spilling down her cheeks make me feel bad for acting the way I just did to her. What happened to my parents isn’t her fault, but I’m angry and this is all moving too fast. How am I supposed to pack up what I need in a couple of bags? I want to stay in my room, in my house, living with my parents.
“I know this is all unfair, baby,” she says through her sniffles, “and I can’t even to begin to understand what you’re thinking or feeling. I mean, I’m freaking the hell out and I’m a grownup who’s supposed to know how to handle these kinds of situations. All we can do is cling to each other as family and try to get through this together. Between me and Granny, we’ll do the best we can for you, and right now, we think the best thing is if you get your things and go stay with her.”
“How did they die?” I blurt out, completely off topic from what she’s talking about. My mind can’t stay focused on any one thing, but this is the question that keeps popping up. “I need to know how it happened.”
Swallowing hard, Aunt Kathy inhales a shaky breath through her nose and blows it out through her mouth, visibly trying to collect herself before she answers me. “It was a car accident,” she whispers after forever, barely loud enough for me to hear. “I don’t know why they were together in your mom’s car this morning or where they were going, but an eighteen-wheeler lost control and hit them. They were already gone by the time the first responders arrived.”
I nod, still unable to cry. I hear the words she’s saying, but they aren’t really registering. They make sense, but I don’t understand. It’s as if I’ve been swallowed up by one of the black holes Daddy taught me about and the darkness is sucking away my ability to think, to feel. All I hear is the word “gone” still replaying over and over and over.
“Okay. I’ll get my stuff,” I say flatly, finally opening the door and stepping out of the car.
My movements are robotic, and I can barely even feel the key in my hand as I unlock the front door to my house. Stepping inside, I’m overwhelmed by a combination of the sweet smell of my mom’s favorite vanilla cookie candle and the sight of my dad’s fuzzy slippers waiting by the coatrack—the slippers he puts on the minute he walks in the door from work every night. When I realize he’ll never wear those slippers again, nor will my mom ever be able to forget if she blew out the candle when we’re about to pull out of the driveway, an acute pain shoots through my chest and I stumble over to the staircase, grabbing the banister to keep my balance.
“I’m right here, Lyra,” Aunt Kathy murmurs from behind me as she slips her arm around my waist. “Let’s just get your things and head over to my place. Later, once we’ve had some time to deal with everything, we can come back to go through the house and all the stuff… if you want.”
Another nod and I let her guide me up the stairs to my room. I want to scream at her that there will never be enough time to deal with losing my parents, that I’ll never be able to go through their things, but I keep my lips pressed together and do as I’m told.
“Where do you guys keep your suitcases?” she asks, glancing around my room as if she’s doing an inventory of what I have. “I’ll go grab a couple while you start pulling out what you want to take. If you forget something, it’s no big deal, because you and Granny are going to be staying at my place for the next few days. I can just bring you back to get it, or I can even ship it to Louisiana if you remember once you’re there.”
“They’re in the storage cabinets in the garage,” I answer while walking over to my desk, my eyes locked in on a framed photo of me and my parents that sits next to my laptop.
“Okay, I’ll be right back.”
The thud of her heels on the hardwood floor grows quiet as she makes her way back down to the first floor, and just as I grab the picture and plop down on the chair, I hear her open the door to the garage. A few much-needed minutes by myself.
I gaze down at the photograph of the three of us from a day at the beach, me sandwiched between their cheerful, carefree expressions, and the first tear finally escapes. Once the dam breaks, I can’t stop the flow, and as I trace my finger over the outline of each of my parents’ faces, I cry for everything I’ll never have again. A supernova of tears.
Faces I’ll never see smile again.
Voices I’ll never hear say my name again.
Arms I’ll never be hugged by again.
A never-ending galaxy of love that I’ll never feel again.
It’s all just… gone.
After several minutes of vision-blurring bawling, I set the picture frame back upright on my desk. A hot pink heart drawn on my calendar with the words Birthday Weekend Begins written over today’s box catches my attention. I then notice the printed numbers next to my bubbly handwriting that read 10-18-02.
Snatching the picture up again, I stare directly into first my dad’s eyes, and then my mom’s. The numbers I see when I look people directly in the eyes only happens when I’m face-to-face with someone, never in photographs or through a screen or mirror. But even though I can’t actually see the numbers right now in the picture of my parents’ pupils, their numbers are forever etched in my brain from looking at them every day of my life. I used to think the reason they had the same numbers meant they were true soul mates, like God made them to match perfectly together, but now….
My gaze flicks over to today’s date of 10-18-02, then back to my parents’ faces, where I envision their numbers—101802.
My plummeting heart collides with my lurching stomach in an explosion of realization.
It’s my Big Bang Moment.

 


About Erin Noelle USA Today Bestselling Author

 

Erin Noelle is a Texas native, where she lives with her husband and two
young daughters. While earning her degree in History, she rediscovered her love for reading  that was first instilled by her grandmother when she was a young child. A lover of happily-ever-afters, both historical and current,Erin is an avid reader of all romance novels.

Most nights you can find her cuddled up in bed with her husband, her Kindle in hand and a sporting event of some sorts on television.

 

 

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