Monday, October 27, 2014

Mending Scars Chapter One

Chapter One

 I sat up in bed, waking from a nightmare. The air was sucked from my lungs, and sobs racked my body as images of Ryker being shot and the feel of his blood all over my chest and arms assaulted me. My heart pounded furiously against my chest as I screamed through choking tears. “No! Ryker! No!”
“Ky, look at me, baby,” a voice heavy with sleep urged. Firm, callused hands cupped my face and forced me to look into mocha-colored eyes filled with worry. Ryker.
Sighing in relief, tears trickled down my fevered cheeks as I clasped my hands over his. His thumbs moved beneath my palms as he stroked my skin. “Just another nightmare, Warrior. I'm right here. I'm not going anywhere.”
My grip tightened on his inked hands as my eyes ran over his face. My voice was weak and hoarse when I spoke. “It always feels so real.”
He brought his lips to my forehead and pressed a soft kiss there. My eyes closed as I enjoyed the tingle he still sent through me. I felt his breath against my face as he sighed, his voice softening with his reply, “I know, baby. I know.”
Even though a couple of months had passed, we both still had nightmares about the shooting. When we stayed the night in my own apartment, Kamden often woke us with his or vice versa. I didn't know when or if they would ever stop, but I hoped they eventually would. I didn't want to have nightmares for the rest of my life.
“Same one?” Ryker asked, brushing his lips across my skin again. His hands moved from my face down to my shoulders. My eyes opened and locked on his as he began to softly rub up and down my arms.
I swallowed deeply and cleared my throat. My voice was clogged with ragged emotion. “Yeah.”
An exact replay of the events of that night had become my worst nightmare—worse than the ones of Kaleb molesting me over the years, worse than the ones of the incident. Seeing Ryker get shot was unbearable, and having to relive it over and over again was agonizing.
My eyes fell to his chest. Bringing my hands up, I placed one over his heart and delicately traced over his scar with my fingers.
I still can't believe how close I was to losing him.
Another flood of tears burned my eyes, but I forced them back.
There's no reason to cry. Ryker's still here. He's still with you. Stop being weak.
Leaning in, I pressed my lips to his scar, letting them linger on his skin before pulling back and looking up at him.
Ryker cupped the back of my head and gently pulled my face to his.
My eyes fluttered shut, my stomach tightening as his mouth met mine. Every touch filled me with bliss, bringing me a happiness I still couldn't believe I had. Ryker was my remedy, the only one capable of washing away the taint from my nightmares, the only one able to take away the pain.
When our lips parted, he lay his forehead against mine. “I love you, Warrior.”
My heart warmed, chasing away the ugly, biting cold that crept in from the nightmare.
I don't think I'll ever get tired of hearing him say that.
My response was automatic, instinctive because of how much I felt for him, how real it was. “I love you, too.”
Ryker lay us back down and enveloped me in his arms. Draping my leg over his, I nestled into him and released a sigh of contentment. Being like that, warm in his embrace in bed, was my favorite place to be—my own personal heaven from the hell in my mind, keeping my demons at bay.
I yawned as my eyes became heavy. Ryker's fingers softly ran through my hair, and it didn't take long for him to lull me back to sleep.
I loved waking up in Ryker's arms. Even though I absolutely loathed mornings, seeing his handsome face the moment I woke up always made me smile.
He stirred, opening one eye as he gruffly murmured, “Mornin', beautiful.”
The grin I had spread wider, making my cheeks feel tight. “Morning, baby.”
Pulling me to him, he pressed his lips to mine. I had stopped trying to fight him on that, even though I was mortified by my morning breath. I thought it was sweet that kissing me was still the first thing he wanted to do when he woke up.
We had spent the night at his apartment, where we usually stayed on the weekends. I couldn't be at mine when Kamden drowned himself in alcohol, which was how he spent his Friday and Saturday nights. I had tried to stop him multiple times, but it only escalated things, especially with Ryker being so protective over me. I didn't want to watch the two men that I loved fight, so I let Kamden be—at least for the time being.
I hated watching Kamden burrow himself deeper into his hole. Even though therapy had helped in the beginning, he was slowly sinking into an all-consuming depression. I prayed I could bring him out of it, but I wasn't sure if I'd be able to. I'd still be buried in mine if it wasn't for Ryker.
The brush of his knuckles down my cheek brought me out of my thoughts. “Ready for breakfast?”
“Yeah. I want to check on Kamden first, though.” Turning away from him, I reached for my phone on the nightstand. I quickly dialed Kamden's number, but his phone went straight to voicemail.
Damn it.
I pulled the phone away from my ear before getting out of bed. “Went straight to his voicemail. I'm going to go over there and make sure he's okay.”
Ryker threw the covers off and slid to the edge of the mattress. “I'll go pick something up.” He stood and walked toward me, then wrapped his muscular arms around my waist. My hands wound around his neck as he dipped his head to kiss me again. When he pulled away, I was left in a haze from his kiss, as usual.
God, those lips.
Ryker smirked knowingly when our eyes met. He made me feel like a giddy school girl, even after being together for so many months, which may not have been long for most, but was sort of a record for us. Neither of us were relationship people, and I definitely never thought I would have a love like the one Ryker and I shared. Some things still took some getting used to at times.
I stepped around him, my face heating as I headed for the bathroom. I could hear him chuckling softly as he followed behind me, apparently amused by his effect on me. When we finished getting ready, Ryker and I left his apartment together. My place was only the next building over, so I walked there while he hopped in his truck and drove out of the parking lot.
I thought moving out of our old complex would help, but it didn't seem like it was. Kamden was still having trouble coping with killing Kaleb, no matter what I said or did. He had even started skipping his therapy sessions.
When I reached my apartment, I slid my key into the lock and twisted the knob. Anxiety knotted my stomach when I entered, worry for Kamden eating at me since he hadn't answered my phone call. “Kam?”
He didn't answer.
Probably passed out, wasted.
I made my way to his room, and the door was wide open. Kamden lay face down, wearing a muscle shirt and a pair of gym shorts. A half-empty bottle of Jack was tipped over on the floor beside the bed. Kamden's arm dangled over the side of the mattress next to it. “Kam?” I slowly crept toward him before sitting beside him.
No response again.
His mouth was wide open and drool dampened the pillowcase.
I gently shook him on the shoulder, but he didn't stir. I jostled him more forcefully, making his upper body shake. He grumbled obscenities and moved slightly, but didn't wake up. I continued to shake him, and he finally jerked awake, sitting up and roughly grabbing me by the forearm.
“Kam! It's just me—it's Kaiya!” My heart pounded as I attempted to pry my arm from his grasp, pulling at his fingers with my own. He squeezed my arm so tightly that I knew I was going to have bruises.
His glazed, bloodshot eyes darted over me before he let go. “Sorry,” he muttered, rubbing his hands over his face. I couldn't help but notice his stubble—it looked like he hadn't shaved in days.
I pulled my arm to my chest protectively and rubbed it with my other hand. Glancing down, I could see bruises from Kamden's fingertips already forming.
Shit. Ryker's going to be pissed.
When I looked back up at Kamden, he had his elbows on his knees, cradling his head in his hands. His eyes were closed, and his face was scrunched in discomfort.
“Let me get you some water,” I said as I stood. I walked to the kitchen and grabbed a water bottle out of the refrigerator before returning back to Kamden, who was still in the same position.
Sitting back down next to him, I nudged his arm with the water bottle and handed it to him. He took several slow sips before laying back on the bed and groaning.
“You need to stop drinking so much, Kam. I'm worried about you.”
“Don't worry about me. I'm fine,” he mumbled, draping his arm over his eyes.
I scoffed. “You are not fine. Look at you!” I gestured at him with my hands, even though he couldn't see me.
“Don't fucking start, Ky,” he growled in a combination of anger and irritation.
We'd had this conversation before, and I usually let it go because one, I was a coward, and two, I didn't want to fight with him. He had always been there for me, and I wanted to give him his space and let him cope in his own way like he had let me. But this was getting out of hand. “Kam, please talk to me. Don't shut me out.”
“Oh, so you can do it to me, but I can't do it to you?” He sat up abruptly and glared at me before pointing his finger in my face. “You're such a fucking hypocrite, Ky.”
I flinched, hating the way his words cut through me and impaled my heart. My eyes watered as I meekly replied, “Kam, I-”
He looked away from me, avoiding my gaze. “I think you should go.”
I was about to do as he said, but the stubborn side of me said fuck that. I swiped the few tears that had fallen down my cheeks and crossed my arms over my chest. “No.”
Kamden's head snapped to me, and his nostrils flared. “Get out, Kaiya.”
He may not have been yelling, but there was no mistaking the ire in his low tone. He was pissed off—really pissed off.
I swallowed the lump in my throat, and held my ground, maintaining eye contact as I repeated, “No.”
We stared at each other for what felt like forever until he finally sighed and dropped his head, grumbling under his breath.
Uncrossing my arms, I reached one hand toward him and linked our fingers together. “I'm here for you, Kam.”
After several seconds, he finally squeezed my hand back, but remained silent, almost as if internally debating whether or not to confide in me.
“Talk to me.” My tone was pleading, practically begging him to open up.
“I'm tired of talking—that's all the therapist wants me to do is talk, talk, talk. And for what?” He thrust our joined hands and his other arm forward as he spoke, the volume of his voice increasing with every word. “She doesn't understand shit. She doesn't know our family. She doesn't know what we went through, what you went through, so what's the fucking point?”
He was right—that's why I never went to therapy. A psychiatrist would never understand what I had experienced. But Kam and I had endured everything together and understood what the other had gone through.
“What if I go with you? Would that help?” I spontaneously spoke, then immediately regretted it.
Shit, why did I say that?
He brought his eyes up to mine, and the hope that lay beneath the drunken haze in them tightened my chest. I knew I'd do anything to help him if that glimmer meant I was getting my brother back. “You'd do that for me?” Even his tone was brighter, optimistic.
Yeah, I'm fucked.
I smiled softly. “Yeah, I would.” I squeezed his hand tighter.
“You hate therapists,” he remarked with a chuckle.
“I do,” I admitted with a shrug. “But I love you. And I'd do anything to help you.”
My words caused something amazing to happen—Kamden smiled. The first real one I'd seen since the shooting. Months had gone by since I'd seen his beautiful smile, the one that had gotten me through so many rough times. The one I missed seeing every day.
“I love you too, sorella.” Pulling me to him, he embraced me in a hug. I scooted closer on the bed and wrapped my arms around his waist. He smelt like liquor and sweat, but I didn't care. I was taking another step to getting my brother back.
“We'll get through this,” I promised.
I wasn't going to fail Kamden, just like he'd never failed me over the years.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Trifecta by Kim Carmichael's Blog Tour

Kim Carmichael is one of my fellow authors in the Hot Ink Press family, and I received an ARC of Trifecta in exchange for an honest review.

Two men. One woman. It could ruin a friendship, or bring a satisfying twist to their lives. Artist, Jason Morgan, is used to making magic on the canvas. Now he hopes to do it in the bedroom.

After a failed gallery showing, Jason decides the best way to cure his creative block is to act on his own personal fantasy, and enter into a sexual relationship with his two best friends.

From the time they were in elementary school, Russell Sinclair has been a willing participant in Jason's adventures, but this one goes to a new level. He's intrigued by the idea of sharing one woman, but is challenged by how to fit this three-sided relationship into his traditional life.

Lauren Redmond is no stranger to fantasy. As the aesthetic sales rep to the top Beverly Hills dermatologists, she is responsible for the majority of puffed lips and filled wrinkles in the greater Los Angeles area. She detours from her steady, secure path when she is offered the opportunity to live the dream with the two men who have occupied her heart since college. The fantasy fast becomes a powerful reality, and Lauren must decide if she is willing to give up everything she has worked for to have a bit of temporary decadence.

Trifecta explores the boundaries of love, relationships and convention.

My review: 4 stars

The concept of Trifecta intrigued me, so I was so excited to receive an ARC! I really enjoyed the story, but didn't feel the emotional connection between some of the characters like I would've liked. The romance between the three was steamy, but given that the book was basically had a threesome for every sex scene, I was expecting more steam. Don't get me wrong, the sex scenes were hot, but I was left wanting more.
I really enjoyed reading this story, especially seeing the relationship between Jason, Russell, and Lauren grow. Lauren is so lucky to live out a fantasy that many women have. There were some really sweet moments between the three, as well as some great drama. And I loved the ending-it was perfect!

Buy it here:

About Kim:

Kim Carmichael began writing eight years ago when her love of happy endings inspired her

to create her own.

A Southern California native, Kim's contemporary romance combines Hollywood magic

with pop culture to create quirky characters set against some of most unique and colorful

settings in the world.

With a weakness for designer purses, bad boys and techno geeks, Kim married her own

computer whiz after he proved he could keep her all her gadgets running and finally

admitted handbags were an investment.

Kim is a member of the Romance Writers of America, as well as some small specialty

chapters.  A multi-published author, Kim's books can be found on Amazon as well as

Barnes & Nobel.  From alcohol to makeup to infrared cameras and even scientific lasers

studying the atmosphere, Kim has worked in some aspect of sales and marketing for over

twenty years.

When not writing, she can usually be found slathered in sunscreen trolling Los Angeles and

helping top doctors build their practices.

• Hands On Me – Keith Publications – 9/12 – Part of the Tramp Stamp Line

• Closure – Hot Ink Press – 11/12 - Explores a second chance at a first love.

• Eternity – Keith Publications – 1/13 - My fallen cupid story.

• The Promise – Hot Ink Press – 2/13 - My sexy demon story.

• Interchangeable – Decadent Publications – 7/13 - Part of Decadent's 1Night Stand

Line.  Explores a M/F/M love story.

• Permanent – Book One of the Indelibly Marked Series – 10/13. Permanent was

chosen as a finalist in the Assent Publishing Great Romance Contest.

• Trifecta – Hot Ink Press – 12/13 – M/F/M – A traditional romance that just

happens to have three people.

Connect With Kim:


Sunday, September 8, 2013

Finding Kia Blog Tour and Giveaway!!!

Book Name: Finding Kia
Author: Airicka Phoenix
Publisher: Fire & Ash Publishing
Release date: August 20, 2013
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary Romance
Finding Kia Synopsis

“Maybe you should avoid me tonight.”
His arm slipped around my waist and I was drawn into his chest. “If I only have this one night with you, the last thing I’m going to do is stay away.”

Kia Valentines had always accepted the fact that she was a nerd, a nobody. It was a badge she wore with honor, until the day she saved Claudia DeLorenzo’s life and lost herself.

When offered the chance to shed her identity for a single night, Kia never believed it would change her life. It was one night. It meant nothing, or it shouldn't have. But that single night turned out to be her undoing when she finds passion in the arms of the one person she can never have.

Adam Chaves was more than just a gorgeous face, he made her laugh, but more importantly, when he looked at her, she felt like the most beautiful girl on earth. But Adam has no idea that Kia was the girl behind the mask and Kia has no intention of telling him. But a secret can only be kept if no one else knows about it. Claudia knows and she wants something Kia isn't willing to give in order to keep it.

Will Kia succumb? And just how far is Claudia willing to go to get what she wants?

“She’s talked about you, but she never warned me just how dangerous you were.”
Somehow, I really doubted he meant in a Charlie’s Angels, sexy in tights kind of way. “I am not dangerous!”
His brow lifted as his gaze darted to the binder drip drying in the sink. “Could have fooled me.”
This was so not the way I wanted him to remember me, like some clumsy whack job with balance issues. “Those were accidents.”
“And the restaurant?”
“Accident!” I was sticking to that story if it killed me.
The corner of his lips twitched. “Sure thing, nena.”
“Kia,” I corrected him. “My name—”
“I know,” he said. “I haven’t forgotten.”
Right. “You just called me Nena.” Yeah, I was so not impressed.
He rolled a pink tongue over his teeth. “It means baby in Spanish.”
Baby? He called me baby? Wait, what kind of baby? The hot, seductive sort or the, you need a diaper change sort?
He laughed. “Do you always think so hard?”
“Yes,” I said automatically. “I think. I’m a thinker.”
I frowned. “Why?” Better yet… “How?”
He grinned. “I’m a doer.”
Now, I'm not a contemporary romance fan, but I love Airicka Phoenix's writing style. She is great at painting a picture and conveying emotion, but Finding Kia is not one of my favorites from her, even thought her talent is still evident. The characters seemed too juvenile, even for a YA read - everything was overly dramatic, and didn't make sense to me as to why. But, then again, it is set in a high school.
I do admit, the modern Cinderella aspect of the story is cute, and I do love the main male MC, Adam, but Kia sometimes got on my nerves. She seemed overly critical of herself and lacked common sense - she refused to accept that Adam could possibly be interested in her, even though it was pretty obvious.
I continued to read just because I wanted to see Kia and Adam get a happily ever after. The book ends on a slight cliffhanger, but I really think it could've been just one book, especially since this one was so short.  I'm curious to see how this story will be drawn out into a series, since I can't really picture it having enough substance to spread over another one or two books.
My rating: 3 stars
Buy Finding Kia:

Connect with Airicka:

Twitter (@AirickaPhoenix) -!/AirickaPhoenix
Author Site -

Author Bio
Airicka Phoenix is the best-selling author of The Touch Saga, Games of Fire and Octavian's Undoing with short stories in Whispered Beginnings: A Clever Fiction Anthology and Midnight Surrender Anthology. She also writes adult paranormal & contemporary romance under her alter ego, Morgana Phoenix.

Finding Kia Giveaway

Monday, July 15, 2013

Release Day Blitz for Rock N Roll Promises by Ambear Shellea

Fulfilling a promise leads to searching her soul, her past, and the one night that changed her life forever...
 She meets Sebastian - tall, mysterious and handsome. Her one-night stand turns into a one-life exchange! The beginning of a new existence. Anna finds her new life holds more than even she knows. It promises rock n roll, sex, love,secrets and a new set of rules.  Her life has a different plan and yet another set of rules. Rules that she breaks. The creation of a whole new animal.

Amazon Buy Links:

Connect with Ambear:
The Pedalstem Lillie Series 

Monday, July 8, 2013

Fear of Falling Review and Promo!!

So, I was super excited to receive an ARC of Fear of Falling by S.L. Jennings for many reasons. First, I LOVE S.L. Jennings' Dark Light Series - both books in the series are definitely two of my absolute favorite books that I've ever read. Jennings' writing is unique and emotion-evoking, and The Dark Prince is one of only a handful of books that has made me cry; that's just how beautiful and deep her writing is.
I don't read too much contemporary for the fact that so many contemporary romances all sound EXACTLY the same to me, and don't pique my interest. Fear of Falling is not your typical contemporary, and it immediately caught my attention. If you haven't read the synopsis, here it is:
I can’t remember the last time I felt completely safe. Security seemed more like a luxury to me, reserved for those who were fortunate enough to have picture perfect childhoods. For those who didn’t bear the ugly scars that keep me bound in constant, debilitating fear. I’ve run from that fear my entire life. But when I met him, for once, I couldn’t run anymore.

He scared the hell out of me in a way that excited every fiber of my being. It wasn’t the tattoos or the piercings. It wasn’t the warmth that seemed to radiate from his frame and blanket me whenever he was near. It was just…him. The scary beautiful man that threatened to alter 23 years of routine and rituals, and make me face my crippling fear.

My name is Kami and I am constantly afraid. And the thing that scares me the most is the very thing I want.

***Inspired by true events***
Now if that doesn't intrigue you, then I don't know what will. Before I get to my review, here is a short excerpt and character collage to get your imagination going.
Handing her back the eReader, I let my fingers linger against her hand, brushing tiny circles against her knuckles. “Life may not be pretty, but it’s always beautiful. We may only see the ugliness on the surface. The shit that only the world chooses to notice. But, if we dig deep, if we get to the heart of life, where there’s no pain or fear, where we can just be who we are and love freely without judgment, it’s really beautiful.”
She cocked her head to one side and narrowed those dazzling green eyes. “There you go with the words, Blaine Jacobs. Always tempting me to break my own rules.”
“What’s the fun in following the rules?” I shrugged. “Breaking them has always been much more appealing, if you ask me.”
“That’s the problem; you may end up breaking me instead.” The slight smile on her lips didn’t match the intensity of her gaze. She was serious. She actually thought I had it in me to hurt her when all I wanted was to protect her.
“I could never break you, Kami. Not unless you wanted me to."

My review:
I don't want to give too much of the story away since it doesn't release for another week, but I will say this - it is a must read. Even though Kami's background is darker than most, the reader can still relate to her. Throughout the story I felt for her and wished for her to find the light in the darkness that has been overshadowing her whole life.
The true star for me was Blaine. I loved Blaine, plain and simple. He fights for Kami when she doesn't even want to fight for herself. He doesn't give up when the odds are against him. Oh, and did I mention that he's covered in tattoos and has a tongue-piercing? Yeah, he is. I told my hubby he needed to get his tongue pierced like ASAP after reading about Blaine ;P
Fear of Falling is rooted in pain and suffering, but it shows that love and happiness can still be found after tragedy. That even though life can be downright cruel, it can also be absolutely beautiful.
Let me end with one of my favorite quotes from Blaine <3:
"The storm doesn't last forever. It can scare you; it can shake you to your core. But it never lasts. The rain subsides, the thunder dies, and the winds calm to a soft whisper. And that moment after the storm clouds pass, when all is silent and still, you find peace."
4 stars
Author Bio:
Most known for her starring role in a popular sitcom as a child, S.L. Jennings went on to earn her law degree from Harvard at the young age of 16. While studying for the bar exam and recording her debut hit album, she also won the Nobel Prize for her groundbreaking invention of calorie-free wine. When she isn’t conquering the seas in her yacht or flying her Gulfstream, she likes to spin elaborate webs of lies and has even documented a few of these said falsehoods.
Some of S.L.’s devious lies:
Dark Light
The Dark Prince
Light Shadows (Fall 2013)

FEAR OF FALLING- July 18th, 2013
Meet the Liar:
Facebook Author Page (Giveaway going on right now!!!)


Friday, June 28, 2013

Branded Release Day Blitz!!!

Title: Branded

Author: Abi Ketner & Missy Kalicicki
Release Date: June 28, 2013
Genre: Mature Young Adult/New Adult, Dystopian
Blitz Host: Lady Amber's Tours
Book Description:
Twenty years ago the Commander came into power and murdered all who opposed him. In his warped mind, the seven deadly sins were the downfall of society. He created the Hole where sinners are branded according to their sins and might survive a few years. At best.
Now LUST wraps around my neck like blue fingers strangling me. I’ve been accused of a crime I didn’t commit and now the Hole is my new home.

Darkness. Death. Violence. Pain.

Now every day is a fight for survival. But I won’t die. I won’t let them win.
The Hole can’t keep me. The Hole can’t break me.
I am more than my brand. I’m a fighter.
My name is Lexi Hamilton, and this is my story.
Chapter One

I’m buried six feet under, and no one hears my screams.
The rope chafes as I loop it around my neck. I pull down, making sure the knot is secure. It seems sturdy enough. My legs shake. My heart beats heavy in my throat. Sweat pours down my back.
Death and I glare at each other through my tears.
I take one last look at the crystal chandelier, the foyer outlined with mirrors, and the flawless decorations. No photographs adorn the walls. No happy memories here.
I’m ready to go. On the count of three.
I inhale, preparing myself for the finality of it all. Dropping my hands, a glimmer catches my eye. It’s my ring, the last precious gift my father gave me. I twist it around to read the inscription. Picturing his face forces me to reconsider my choice. He’d be heartbroken if he could see me now.
A door slams in the hallway, almost causing me to lose my balance. My thoughts already muddled, I stand waiting with the rope hanging around my neck. Voices I don’t recognize creep through the walls.
Curiosity overshadows my current thoughts. It’s late at night, and this is a secure building in High Society. No one disturbs the peace here—ever. I tug on the noose and pull it back over my head.
Peering through the eyehole in our doorway, I see a large group of armed guards banging on my neighbors’ door. A heated conversation ensues, and my neighbors point toward my family’s home.
It hits me. I’ve been accused and they’re here to arrest me.
My father would want me to run, and in that split second, I decide to listen to his voice within me. Flinging myself forward in fear, I scramble up the marble staircase and into my brother’s old bedroom. The door is partially covered, but it exists. Pushing his dresser aside, my fingers claw at the opening. Breathing hard, I lodge myself against it. Nothing. I step back and kick it with all my strength. The wood splinters open, and my foot gets caught. I wrench it backward, scraping my calf, but adrenaline pushes me forward. The voices at the front door shout my name.
On hands and knees, I squeeze through the jagged opening. My brother left through this passage, and now it’s my escape too. Cobwebs entangle my face, hands, and hair. At the end, I feel for the knob, twisting it clockwise. It swings open, creaking from disuse. I sprint into the hallway and smash through the large fire escape doors at the end. A burst of cool air strikes me in the face as I jump down the ladder.
Reaching the fifth floor, I knock on a friend’s window. The lights flicker on, and I see the curtains move, but no one answers. I bang on the window harder.
“Let me in! Please!” I say, but the lights darken. They know I’ve been accused and refuse to help me. Fear and adrenaline rush through my veins as I keep running, knocking on more windows along the way. No one has mercy. They all know what happens to sinners.
Another flight of stairs passes in a blur when I hear the guards’ heavy footfalls from above. I can’t hide, but I don’t want to go without trying.
Help me, Daddy. I need your strength now.
My previous desolation evolves into a will to survive. I have to keep running, but I tremble and gasp for air. I steel my nerves and force my body to keep moving. In a matter of minutes, my legs cramp and my chest burns. I plunge to the ground, scraping my knee and elbow. A moan escapes from my chest.
Gotta keep going.
“Stop!” Their voices bounce off the buildings. “Lexi Hamilton, surrender yourself,” they command. They’re gaining on me.
I resist the urge to glance back, running into what I assume is an alley. I’m far from our high-rise in High Society as I plunge into a poorer section of the city where the streets all look the same and the darkness prevents me from recognizing anything. I’m lost.
My first instinct is to leap into a dumpster, but I retain enough sense to stay still. I crouch and peek around it, watching them dash by. The abhorrent smell leaves me vomiting until nothing remains in my stomach. Desperation overtakes me, as I know my retching was anything but silent. My last few seconds tick away before they find me. Everyone knows about their special means of tracking sinners.
I push myself to my feet and look left, right, and left again. Their batons click against their black leather belts, and their boots stomp the cement on both sides of me. I shrink into myself. Their heavy steps mock my fear, growing closer and closer until I know I’m trapped.
Never did I imagine they’d come for me. Never did I imagine all those nights I heard them dragging someone else away that I’d join them.
“You’re a sinner,” they say. “Time to leave our society.”
I stand defiant. I refuse to bend or break before them, even as I shiver with fear.
“There’s no reason to make this difficult. The more you cooperate, the smoother this will be for everyone,” a guard says.
I cringe into the blackness along the wall. I’m innocent, but they won’t believe me or care.
The next instant, my face slams into the pavement as one guard plants a knee in my back and another handcuffs me. A warm liquid trails into my mouth. Blood. Their fingers grip my arms like steel traps as they peel me off the cement. The tops of my shoes scrape along the ground as I’m dragged behind them until they discard me into the back of a black vehicle. The doors slam in unison with one guard stationed on each side of me, my shoulders digging into their arms.
Swallowing hard, I stare ahead to avoid their eyes. My dignity is all I have left. The handcuffs dig into my wrists, so I clasp them together hard behind me and press my back into the seat, unwilling to admit how much it hurts.
Did they need so many guards to capture me?
I’m not carrying any weapons, nor do I own any. I don’t even know self-defense. High Society frowns on activities like that.
The driver jerks the vehicle around and I try to keep my bearings, but it’s dark and the scenery changes too fast. Hours pass, and the air grows warmer, more humid the farther we drive. The landscape mutates from city to rolling hills. They don’t bother blindfolding me because they escort all the sinners to the same place—the Hole. Twenty-foot cement walls encase the chaos within. There’s no way out and no way in unless they transport you. They say the Hole is a prison with no rules. We learned about it last year in twelfth grade.
To the outside, I’m filth now. I’ll never be allowed to return to the life I knew. No one ever does.
“All sinners go through a transformation,” one of the guards says to me. His smirk infuriates me. “I’m sure you’ve heard all kinds of stories.” I don’t respond. I don’t want to think about the things I’ve been told.
“You won’t last too long, though. Young girls like you get eaten alive.” He pulls a strand of my hair up to his face.
Get your hands off me, you pig. I want to lash out, but resist. The punishment for disobeying authority is severe, and I’m not positioned to defy him.
They’re the Guards of the Commander. They’re chosen from a young age and trained in combat. They keep the order of society by using violent methods of intimidation. No one befriends a guard. Relationships with them are forbidden inside the Hole.
Few have seen the commander. His identity stays under lock and key. His own paranoia and desire to stay pure drove him to live this way. He controls our depraved society and believes sinners make the human race unforgivable. His power is a crushing fist, rendering all beneath him helpless. So much so, even family members turn on each other when an accusation surfaces. Just an accusation. No trial, no evidence, nothing but an accusation.
I lose myself in thoughts of my father.
“Never show fear, Lexi,” my father said to me before he was taken. “They’ll use it against you.” His compassionate eyes filled with warning as he commanded me to be strong. That was many years ago, but I remember it clearly. My father. My rock. The one person in my life who provided unconditional love.
“Get out,” the guard says while pulling me to my feet. The vehicle stops, and I’m jerked back to reality. The doors slide open and the two guards lift me up and out into the night. A windowless cement building looms in front of us, looking barren in the darkness.
The coolness of the air sends a shiver up my spine. This is really happening. I’ve been labeled a sinner. My lip starts to quiver, but I bite it before anyone sees. They shove me in line, and I realize I’m not alone. Women and men stand with faces frozen white with fear. A guard grabs my finger, pricks it, and dabs my blood on a tiny microchip.
I follow the man in front of me into the next room where we’re lined up facing the wall. Glancing right, I see one of the men crying.
“Spread your legs,” one of the guards says.
They remove my outer layers and their hands roam up and down my body.
What do they think I can possibly be hiding? I press my head into the wall, trying to block out what they’re doing to me.
“MOVE!” a guard commands. So I shuffle across the room, trying to cover up.
Five of us sit in the holding room. One by one, they pull people into the next room, forcing the rest of us to wonder what torture we’ll endure. An agonizing amount of time passes. I lean my head back and try to imagine a place far away. The door opens.
“Lexi Hamilton.”
A guard escorts me out of the room, and I don’t have time to look back. As soon as the door closes, they pick me up and place me on a table. It’s cold and my skin sticks to it slightly, like wet fingers on an ice cube. Then they exit in procession, and I lie on the table with a doctor standing over me. His hands are busy as he speaks.
“Don’t move. This will only take a few minutes. It’s time for you to be branded.”
A wet cloth that smells like rubbing alcohol is used to clean my skin. Then he places a metal collar around my neck.
Click. Click. Click.
The collar locks into place, and I struggle to breathe. The doctor loosens it some as I focus on the painted black words above me.
The Seven Deadly Sins:

Lust Blue

Gluttony Orange

Greed Yellow

Sloth Black
Wrath Red
Envy Green

Pride Purple

“Memorize it. Might keep you alive longer if you know who to stay away from.” He opens my mouth, placing a bit inside. “Bite this.”
Within seconds, the collar heats from hot to scorching. The smell of flesh sizzling makes my head spin. I bite down so hard a tooth cracks.
“GRRRRRRRRR,” escapes from deep within my chest. Just when I’m about to pass out, the temperature drops, and the doctor loosens the collar.
He removes it and sits me up. Excruciating pain rips through me, and I’m on the verge of a mental and physical breakdown. Focus. Don’t pass out.
Stainless steel counters and boring white walls press in on me. A guard laughs at me from an observation room above and yells, “Blue. It’s a great color for a pretty young thing like yourself.” His eyes dance with suggestion. The others meander around like it’s business as usual.
I finally find my voice and turn to the doctor.
“Are you going to give me clothes?” A burning pain spreads like fire up from my neck to my jaw, making me wince.
He points to a set of folded grey scrubs on a chair. I cover myself as much as I can and scurry sideways. Grabbing my clothes and pulling the shirt over my head, I try to avoid the raw meat around my throat. I quickly knot the cord of my pants around my waist and slide my feet into the hospital-issue slippers as the doctor observes. He hands me a bag labeled with my name.
“Nothing is allowed through the door but what we’ve given you,” he says.
I hide my right hand behind me, hoping no one notices. A guard scans my body and opens his hand.
“Give it to me,” he says. “Don’t make me rip off your finger.” He crouches down and I turn to stone. I don’t know what to do, so I beg.
“My father gave this to me. Please, let me keep it.” I smash my eyes shut and think of the moment my father handed the golden ring to me.
“It was my mother’s ring,” he’d said. “She’s the strongest woman I ever knew.” With tears in his eyes, he reached for my hand and said, “Lexi, you’re exactly like her. She’d want you to wear this. No matter how this world changes, you can survive.” I turned the gold band over in my palm and read the engraving.
You can overcome anything… short of death.
“You’re going to take the one thing that matters the most to me?” I say, glaring into the guard’s emotionless eyes. “Isn’t it enough taking my life, dignity, and respect?”
A hard blow falls upon my back. As I fall, my hands shoot out to stop me from smashing into the wall in front of me. The guard bends down and grabs my chin with his meaty fist.
“Look at me,” he commands. I look up and he smiles with arrogance.
“What the hell?” He staggers a step backward. “What’s wrong with you? What’s wrong with your eyes?”
“Nothing,” I respond, confused.
“What color are they?”
“Turquoise.” I glower at him.
“Interesting,” he says, regaining his composure. “Now those’ll get you in trouble.”
Reality slaps me across the face. I have my father’s eyes. They can't take them from me. I twist the ring off my finger and drop it in his hand.
“Take the damn ring,” I say. I walk to the door. He swipes a card and the massive door slides open to the outside.
“You have to wear your hair back at all times, so everyone knows what you are.” He hands me a tie, so I pull my frizzy hair away from my face and secure it into a ponytail. My neck burns and itches as my hand traces the scabs that have already begun to form. Squinting ahead in the darkness, I almost run into a guard standing on the sidewalk.
“Watch where you’re going,” he says, shoving me backward. His stiff figure stands tall and I cringe at the sharpness of his voice.
“Cole, this is your new assignment, Lexi Hamilton. See to it she feels welcome in her new home.” The guard departs with a salute.
“Let’s move,” Cole says.
I take two steps and collapse, my knees giving out. The unforgiving pavement reopens the scrapes from earlier and I struggle to stand. A powerful arm snatches me up, and I see his face for the first time.
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Author Bios:
Abi Ketner Is a registered nurse with a passion for novels, the beaches of St. John, and her Philadelphia Phillies. A talented singer, Abi loves to go running and spend lots of time with her family. She currently resides in Lancaster, Pennsylvania with her husband, triplet daughters and two very spoiled dogs.

Melissa Kalicicki received her bachelor’s degree from Millersville University in 2003. She married, had two boys and currently lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Aside from reading and writing, her interests include running and mixed martial arts. She also remains an avid Cleveland sports fan.

Abi and Missy met in the summer of 1999 at college orientation and have been best friends ever since. After college, they added jobs, husbands and kids to their lives, but they still found time for their friendship. Instead of hanging out on weekends, they went to dinner once a month and reviewed books. What started out as an enjoyable hobby has now become an incredible adventure.


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