Friday, 2 December 2016

Cover Reveal - The Reckoning by Holly Martin

Displaying hollymartin_thereckoning_ebook_final.jpg

The clock is ticking…

As The Sentinel, Eve knows she was created with a sole purpose in mind - to save the world from complete destruction. Over the past twelve months, she has trained to fulfill this prophecy. As Eve has grown stronger in her powers, so have the dangers around her. With threats coming from all sides, Eve has shown the ultimate resilience in survival, to live for this moment she was destined for.

Now that moment is almost upon her

But according to Eve's prophecy, she must find a way to work with her brother, Adam to ensure the world is saved.

As the end of days rapidly approach, Eve is threatened at every turn. Even those closest to her are plotting against her including some of her most trusted Guardians and friends.

But one constant has been her husband, Seth. Eve dreams of getting through this final battle to live a life that is normal where she and Seth and their friends and family will be free of danger.

But can she save the world and save herself? Or will her destiny be to save everyone else, and lose her life as a result, never knowing what it is like to live in peace with the one man she loves.

Will she even survive long enough to fulfill her destiny? Who can she really trust? And how will she find a way to work with her brother who hates her so much? What will she have to sacrifice to ensure that relationship?

Time will reveal all to Eve. But time is running out…


Holly Martin

Holly lives in sunny Devon in a little white cottage by the sea. She studied media at university which led to a very glitzy career as a hotel receptionist followed by an even more glamorous two years working in a bank. The moment that one of her colleagues received the much-coveted carriage clock for fifteen years’ service was the moment when she knew she had to escape. She quit her job and returned to university to train to be a teacher. Three years later, she emerged wide-eyed and terrified that she now had responsibility for the development of thirty young minds. She taught for four years and then escaped the classroom to teach history workshops, dressing up as a Viking one day and an Egyptian High Priestess the next. But the long journeys around the UK and many hours sat on the M25 gave her a lot of time to plan out her stories and she now writes full time, doing what she loves.

Holly has been writing for 7 years. She was shortlisted for the New Talent Award at the Festival of Romance. Her short story won the Sunlounger competition and was published in the Sunlounger anthology. She won the Carina Valentine’s competition at the Festival of Romance 2013 with her novel The Guestbook. She was shortlisted for Best Romantic Read, Best eBook and Innovation in Romantic Fiction at the Festival of Romance 2014. 



Blog Barrage - Ares (Guardians of Hades Series Book 1) by Felicity Heaton

Ares, book 1 in New York Times best-seller Felicity Heaton’s hot new paranormal romance series, Guardians of Hades, is now available in ebook and paperback. To celebrate the release of Ares and Megan’s romance, she’s holding a FANTASTIC GIVEAWAY and sharing sneak peeks of the book.

Enter the ARES international giveaway (ends December 11th) and be in with a shot of winning a $75, $50 or $25 gift certificate by using the Rafflecopter form at her website, where you can also download a 4 chapter sample of the novel: http://www.felicityheaton.co.uk/guardians-of-hades-ares-paranormal-romance-book.php

Here’s more about the book and the sexy Greek god hero and his heroine…
Displaying guardiansofhades-ares.jpg

Ares (Guardians of Hades Series Book 1)
Felicity Heaton
Prince of the Underworld and Lord of Fire, Ares was banished from his home by his father, Hades, two centuries ago and given a new duty and purpose—to keep our world and his from colliding in a calamity foreseen by the Moirai.

Together with his six brothers, he fights to defend the gates to the Underworld from daemons bent on breaching them and gaining entrance to that forbidden land, striving to protect his home from their dark influence. Caged by the manifestation of his power, held apart from those he loves by his own fire and starved of physical contact, Ares lives a cold existence driven by duty and the desire to return to his world.

Until his world collides with a daemon who steals his power and a mortal female who shatters the ice around his heart and awakens the true fire within him—a soul-stirring passion both dangerous and seductive.

Megan has wandered far from her home, driven from everyone she loves by the devastating realisation that she is different to them all. Unsure who to trust in the world, she keeps to herself, until a fateful stormy night brings a temptingly handsome warrior crashing into her life and into her heart—a warrior who seems to hold powers more frightening and marvellous than her own.
When the New York gate comes under threat, and Ares is put to the test, will he choose his duty and regain the power he needs in order to save his world or will he choose the desires of his heart and sacrifice his fire so he can be with the woman becoming his whole world?

ARES is available from Amazon Kindle, Kobo Books, Barnes and Noble Nook, Apple iBooks stores and other retailers. Also available in paperback. Find the links to your preferred retailer at: http://www.felicityheaton.co.uk/guardians-of-hades-ares-paranormal-romance-book.php


ARES – Excerpt
Megan kept her head down, using the hood of her coat to keep the rain off her face. She wasn’t sure why she bothered. The storm had already soaked her to the bone. Maybe she did it because the streets in her neighbourhood were pitch-black due to the power outage and she had already passed several unsavoury characters on her route from the bus stop to her apartment. The only light came from passing cars and the lightning forking across the heavy clouds.

She had never seen such a violent storm before and it unsettled her, bringing thoughts of Armageddon and the end of the world. A man passed her on the opposite side of the street, running hard through the heavy rain. He crossed the road further up, moving to her side.

She wrapped her arms around herself as he paused on the pavement and looked in her direction. When her manager had told her she could knock off early from her nightshift at the packing warehouse because of the power problems, she had thought it would be a good thing. Now she wasn’t so sure. She hadn’t considered how dangerous it might be to cross several blocks of New York in total darkness.

The man hadn’t moved.

She turned left down the next street.

It was a shortcut she often used on her way home. Normally, she only did it during the day when there were plenty of people around. It cut several minutes off her journey but it was also an alley. She quickened her pace until she was verging on jogging.

A creeping sense that someone was watching her washed over her and she glanced back into the darkness behind her.

Lightning split the sky and illuminated the main street.

Her heart jumped into her throat as shadows danced around. No sign of the man. She was just being paranoid again. He had probably stopped to figure out where he was going. It was easy to become disorientated in the darkness.

Her footsteps echoed along the alley, loud despite the thunder rolling overhead and the sound of rain battering the tarmac.

She turned to face forwards again.

Lightning flashed.

Her heart leaped into her throat.

An immense figure strolled towards her from the other end of the alley, long coat flaring out from his waist in the wind that gusted from behind her, pushing her towards him. His hand reached down to his side, she caught a flash of metal in the next lightning strike, and then he was running at her.

Chills erupted down her spine and over her arms.

“Move.” The word was a dark growl and her heart stopped dead.

Before she could convince her feet to do as he had ordered, he reached her. A bright burst of light illuminated his face, revealing chiselled features set into a black scowl and eyes that burned her with their intensity as they briefly locked with hers, and then he was running up the wall beside her and flipping over her head like some damned action hero.

He landed hard behind her and her heart exploded into action.

Megan whirled on the spot and brought her hands up in front of her, expecting him to attack her. Her dark eyes widened. The man from the street was there at the other end of the alley.

The larger man ran at him and she caught flickers of both men in the lightning strikes and another flash of metal. The slimmer male had a gun too. Her breath hitched and she tried to run but found that she couldn’t. Her legs refused to respond, no matter how desperately she tried to get them to work. The one who had spoken to her reached the smaller man and they both moved incredibly quickly, beyond humanly possible.

Was it the lightning causing them to look as though they were moving faster than her eyes could track?

It had to be.

They clashed and before either of them could fire their gun, they had both knocked the other one’s away. The big man drew two large blades from inside his long black coat, his broad back to her, and clashed again with the slimmer man. She only caught snippets of their fight as the storm raged above them.

Was it a gang fight, or perhaps a mugging?

Megan wasn’t sure what was happening but she knew what she should be doing. She had to run, or maybe call the police. She pulled her bag towards her and fumbled with it. She couldn’t see a damn thing in the darkness. Where was her phone?

Lightning flashed again and the slimmer man was only a few feet from her, his wet blond hair plastered to his forehead and dark gaze locked on her. The large man tackled him from behind and they rolled past her as she shrieked and leaped away from them, hitting the wall of the alley. Her legs trembled and her bag fell from her shoulder.

“It will take more than steel to win this fight,” the blond man snarled and she frowned at his accent. French?

A bright flash exploded overhead, the thunder rolling in time with it, and she flattened against the wall. Both men had found their feet and were fighting close to her, heading back towards the end of the alley in a flurry of kicks and punches.

She caught brief flickers of the blond man’s thin face as he fought the bigger brunet. Rain rolled down his cheeks and dripped from his small goatee. He didn’t look scared as he fought a man twice his size.

That man circled with him, his expression a picture of darkness and intent. Strands of his overlong dark hair had fallen down and were stuck to his sculpted cheeks. Not a trace of fear lined his features either.

If anything, both of them looked angry.

The Frenchman attacked with a burst of punches, landing a few despite how quickly the other man moved to evade them and then he was on the defensive as the big man swiped with his twin knives. He grunted as one of the blades sliced across his arm and the sickening tinny scent of blood instantly joined the smell of earth and ozone in the air.

He flipped backwards towards the mouth of the alley and came to a halt. He straightened, facing the larger man, and squared his shoulders. The lights in the alley blinked back into life and Megan looked at the street beyond him. They were back on there too. The dim alley lights shone down on the two men as they faced each other, both casual despite the fact they were in the middle of a fight, as if this was an everyday occurrence for them.

The Frenchman tipped his chin up and his eyes narrowed. “I have been waiting for this moment for a very long time.”

“Your death?” the larger man growled, his voice deep and edged with darkness. “You should have dropped in earlier. I’m always happy to send scum like you into the afterlife.”

The Frenchman’s thin lips twisted in a cruel smile. “It is you who will die here tonight.”

“We’ll see.” The larger man launched himself forwards, boots pounding the tarmac.

The blond man raised his hand and suddenly the big one was flying through the air towards her.

She dived out of his path and hit the wet ground hard. Pain blazed through her right shoulder and she curled up on her side, covering her head with her arms. The brunet hit the wall and shards of brick rained down on her. When everything went quiet, she gathered the courage to crack her eyes open.

The large man lay face down on the ground near her. Above him, there was a huge dent in the brick wall of the building. What the heck had just happened? Was he dead? Her hands shook with the thought of witnessing a murder. It wasn’t possible that a man could survive something like that, at least not without broken bones and a severe concussion, but then everything that had happened in the last few seconds seemed impossible.

Her gaze darted between him and the blond man. She had faced some dire odds in her life and survived, but something told her that she wasn’t going to survive this. She should have run when she’d had the chance. She didn’t want to die here tonight.

The large man snarled something dark and her eyes widened as he moved. His hands shifted closer to his elbows and he pushed himself up onto his knees. He shook his head, causing the long strands of his wet hair to caress his face, and then got to his feet.

How the heck could he move after that?

He shouldn’t even be conscious.

His dark eyes shifted to her and she swore red embers lit their penetrating depths. He stared at her for a few seconds, as though they were the only two in the world and there wasn’t another man in the street with them.

A man who wanted to kill him.

“You okay?” he husked and she swallowed and nodded. He nodded too and then did something that surprised her. He smiled, his sensual mouth curving into it and setting her heart racing. How the heck could he smile when he had just been tossed into a wall with such force he shouldn’t be standing right now and was bleeding? “Stay down. I won’t let him near you. It’ll be over soon and you’ll be safe. Understand?”

He growled like a feral beast before she could respond and launched his right hand forwards, as though throwing something at the other man. A bright fierce orb of fire burst from his hand and shot down the alley, blinding in the darkness. He turned and chased it. It exploded against a wall and another flash of fire followed it.

Megan couldn’t believe her eyes.

The large man dodged and air whooshed past her, ruffling her wet shoulder-length hair. Trashcans further along the alley exploded as though something had struck them. Was that what had hit the large man and thrown him into the wall?

She crept to that brick wall and crouched there, keeping as small as possible. Her heart pounded and eyes darted, trying to take in the fight as fear turned to fascination.

The brunet unleashed another swirling orb of fire from his palms and the Frenchman evaded it, rolling forwards in the alley. The man levelled another fiery blast at him, catching him this time and sending him spinning through the air. He landed hard on the tarmac and rolled.

Awestruck didn’t cover how she felt as she watched them now. Both of them had powers. It was incredible.

The big man pounded towards the other one and he disappeared, reappearing right in front of him. They clashed again and the sound of material tearing cut through the thunder rumbling across the city. The brunet leaped backwards, towards her, distancing himself.

“You’ll pay for that,” he growled and she looked at the Frenchman. He stood in the middle of the alley, black cloth dangling from one of his hands. Had he torn the man’s clothes?

The slim blond smiled, tossed the piece of material aside and crooked a finger. “Come and make me.”

The brunet charged and they clashed again, each throwing punches. Megan flinched with every heavy blow and vicious kick, fear slowly trickling back in to wash away her fascination. She had seen some brawls in her time, but nothing like this.

This wasn’t a brawl.

It was a battle.

The lights on the walls flickered, flashes of lightning causing them to stutter. She couldn’t tell who was winning. She hoped it was the brunet because she had the impression that he wasn’t out to hurt her. Not like the other man. There had been moments when he had looked her way, and each time there had been a look on his face that said she was next.

The Frenchman ducked to evade a punch and threw his palm at the larger man. Was he trying to push him over? Megan couldn’t see why he would want to do that and it was the only explanation she could find for him pressing his palm against the man’s chest.

The immense brunet flung his head back and threw his arms out at his sides as he roared in agony at the storm. The lights on the wall of the alley died as his garbled scream filled the night, battling the growling thunder. He fell to his knees and arched backwards, the Frenchman’s hand still pressed against his chest. Orange light shone from the point where they connected, illuminating the blond man’s face as he grinned.

“It was too easy.” He drew his hand back and stared at his fingers.

Something glowed in the centre of his palm, strange light illuminating threads that ran around the back of his hand. He turned his cruel gaze on the large man.

The man collapsed forwards, palms pressing into the wet ground, and the lights on the wall blinked back into life again. His big body heaved as he breathed hard and she frowned as she realised something.

He was shaking.

Flames flickered over the Frenchman’s hand and a fireball grew from the centre of his palm. He aimed it down at the other man.

In an instant, Megan knew what he was going to do and she couldn’t allow it to happen. She couldn’t let this man kill the brunet. She wouldn’t stand for it. Her gaze quickly scanned the dimly lit street and darted back again. One of their guns lay on the wet tarmac only a few feet from her. She reacted on instinct, pushing off the ground and running for it.

She scooped it up.

Raised it.

Fired.

A loud crack like thunder split the silence and she jerked back from the force of the recoil.

The bullet nailed the Frenchman in his right shoulder, knocking him backwards, away from the other man.

An unholy shriek pierced her ears, more like the sound a bird of prey would make rather than a man, and the Frenchman turned his gaze on her. Megan hesitated, fear washing through her stronger than ever and her heart smashing like a jackhammer against her ribs. Eyes that glowed ethereally locked on to her.

What was he?

He raised his hand, the light from the fireball casting dark shadows across his face. She didn’t hesitate. She lifted the heavy silver gun and took aim again.

The fireball exploded from his palm.


ARES is available from Amazon Kindle, Kobo Books, Barnes and Noble Nook, Apple iBooks stores and other retailers. Also available in paperback.

Find all the links, a fantastic 4 chapter downloadable sample of the book, and also enter the giveaway and be in with a shot of winning a $75, $50 or $25 gift certificate at her website: http://www.felicityheaton.co.uk/guardians-of-hades-ares-paranormal-romance-book.php


Books in the Guardians of Hades paranormal romance series:
Book 2: Valen – Coming in 2017

About Felicity Heaton:
Displaying felicityheaton.jpg
Felicity Heaton is a New York Times and USA Today international best-selling author writing passionate paranormal romance books. In her books, she creates detailed worlds, twisting plots, mind-blowing action, intense emotion and heart-stopping romances with leading men that vary from dark deadly vampires to sexy shape-shifters and wicked werewolves, to sinful angels and hot demons! If you're a fan of paranormal romance authors Lara Adrian, J R Ward, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Gena Showalter and Christine Feehan then you will enjoy her books too.

If you love your angels a little dark and wicked, her best-selling Her Angel romance series is for you. If you like strong, powerful, and dark vampires then try the Vampires Realm romance series or any of her stand alone vampire romance books. If you’re looking for vampire romances that are sinful, passionate and erotic then try her Vampire Erotic Theatre romance series. Or if you like hot-blooded alpha heroes who will let nothing stand in the way of them claiming their destined woman then try her Eternal Mates series. It’s packed with sexy heroes in a world populated by elves, vampires, fae, demons, shifters, and more. If sexy Greek gods with incredible powers battling to save our world and their home in the Underworld are more your thing, then be sure to step into the world of Guardians of Hades.

If you want to know more about Felicity, or want to get in touch, you can find her at the following places:



Thursday, 1 December 2016

Cover Reveal - Ever in the After: 13 Fantasy Tales by Various Authors

cover-reveal 


Hi everyone! 
Today, I'm so excited to share the wonderful cover, Ever in the After: 13 Fantasy Tales
This anthology of fantasy/SFF short stories has been put together in aid of Lift 4 Autism, and releases April 1st, 2017. 100% of the proceeds will go to Lift 4 Autism. 
So, let's take a look at the gorgeous cover! 

ever-in-the-after_cover_amazon 

Isn't it beautiful? The cover was designed and created by Stephanie Keyes, and it fits the stories in the anthology perfectly. About the anthology...
In Ever in the After, 13 authors come together to explore fantastical realms full of supernatural creatures, dark intrigue, and spells that may--or may not--be curses.

ever-in-the-after_cover_3d

This anthology features work by:
  • Melle Amade
  • Miracle Austin
  • J. A. Culican
  • Madeline Dyer
  • Jessica Hawke
  • Alaina Hebert
  • Elizabetta Holcomb
  • Stephanie Keyes
  • Christopher D. Morgan
  • Mandy Peterson
  • Alice Rachel
  • Cadence Rae
  • Jaqueline E. Smith
A must-have fantasy collection full of surprises, secrets, and strong teenagers who know what they need to do to succeed in these mystical realities.
Add Ever in the After: 13 Fantasy Tales on Goodreads now! 
Buy your copy of Ever in the After: 13 Fantasy Tales on April 1st, 2017!

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Release Day Post - On Thin Ice by Aven Ellis

Displaying Release day Banner.png

Holly Johansson knows some things in her life are certain after college graduation:

1.) It’s a long road to become a full-time author.
2.) She’ll need to work to pay her bills.
3.) And Dallas Demons superstar Matt Rhinelander will never return her feelings.

Holly knows her unrequited crush on the partying hockey player is ridiculous. There’s no way Matt would be attracted to a woman who prefers nights in watching TV or reading books when he’s known for his frequent bar hops and fast lifestyle. Obviously he would never see her as anything other than his teammate’s little sister.

Yet Holly is drawn to the other side of Matt—the man she knows has always been thoughtful and easy to talk to whenever she’s been alone with him. It is this Matt that fueled the crush Holly has on him. And she knows it will always be just that—a secret crush.

Or will it?

Because when Matt helps Holly through a crisis, her heart begins to believe that there might be feelings on his part, too. After a night of hard partying puts Matt in jeopardy with the Dallas Demons, can Holly be the one to save him? And when Matt admits he sees her as more than Nate Johansson’s sister, will it put both of them on thin ice?
Links



I live in the Dallas area with my family. I enjoy clipping out recipes I will never get around to trying, working out, and chatting with friends on social media. I’m a hockey nut (Go Stars!) and watch as much as humanly possible. I also love shopping and fashion and admit to being obsessed with whatever the Duchess of Cambridge is wearing. In addition to be obsessed with the Duchess, I’m equally obsessed with any show or cookbook featuring Gordon Ramsay.

Links


Website/Blog - http://avenellis.com/




Saturday, 26 November 2016

Chapter Reveal - On Thin Ice by Aven Ellis

Displaying Chapter Reveal Banner - CORRECT DATE.png




Holly Johansson knows some things in her life are certain after college graduation:

1.) It’s a long road to become a full-time author.
2.) She’ll need to work to pay her bills.
3.) And Dallas Demons superstar Matt Rhinelander will never return her feelings.

Holly knows her unrequited crush on the partying hockey player is ridiculous. There’s no way Matt would be attracted to a woman who prefers nights in watching TV or reading books when he’s known for his frequent bar hops and fast lifestyle. Obviously he would never see her as anything other than his teammate’s little sister.

Yet Holly is drawn to the other side of Matt—the man she knows has always been thoughtful and easy to talk to whenever she’s been alone with him. It is this Matt that fueled the crush Holly has on him. And she knows it will always be just that—a secret crush.

Or will it?

Because when Matt helps Holly through a crisis, her heart begins to believe that there might be feelings on his part, too. After a night of hard partying puts Matt in jeopardy with the Dallas Demons, can Holly be the one to save him? And when Matt admits he sees her as more than Nate Johansson’s sister, will it put both of them on thin ice?
Links


Chapter 1

The Game Plan for December 31st

√Come up with resolutions for the New Year.

√Finish chapter one of my debut novel.

√Put on a happy face and pretend I’m excited to go to the Dallas Demons New Year’s Eve party tonight.

√Get dressed and try to project confidence in an evening gown while pretending I don’t care I’m surrounded by the players’ wives and girlfriends who are practically supermodels.

√Refrain from staring at Matt Rhinelander like a lovesick tween from a Disney Channel show from across the room.

I furrow my brow as I stare at the list written in my Things To Do Today! planner. I absently tap a gold pen against my lips, knowing I can’t place the final checks next to the last three items on my list. I toss the planner aside and anxiously twist my long brown hair into a knot, securing it at the nape of my neck by shoving the pen in it.

Uggggggggggggggggh.

It’s already six o’clock.

And I’m still sitting on my bed with my computer on my lap.

I haven’t even showered yet.

And I have to say, my Harry Potter Ravenclaw T-shirt and yoga pants are way more comfortable than the cocktail dress hanging on the back of my door.

I would be much happier writing for Calla, the fairy heroine in my manuscript, than standing awkwardly in the corner of a party, trying to act like I belong. I’d rather stay here in my brother’s guest bedroom in Dallas than go to a New Year’s Eve shindig in ritzy Highland Park.

Besides, if I weren’t Holly Johansson, little sister of Demons superstar Nate Johansson, I wouldn’t even be invited tonight. Not that I want to be. I’m not into parties.

Or getting drunk.

Since graduating from Northwestern this past month, I’m focused solely on my post-graduate life.

Which means finding gainful employment.

Yes, I am working—and working hard—at writing my debut fantasy novel, but since that won’t even cover a ketchup packet at a fast-food restaurant, I need to get a day job. And since Dallas rent is more than I can afford, I’ll move back home with my parents in Minnesota after the holidays.

I sigh. So far my website, which I designed to offer editing and proofreading services, has gathered fewer clicks than I care to think about. I’ve already inquired at the local library in my hometown, and they don’t need anyone. And I’ve applied for entry-level jobs in all areas of communication in Dallas, Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Chicago. I’ve had some interviews. But no offers.

But the truth is, all I want to do is write novels. I know becoming an author is a marathon, not a sprint. Even if it’s my dream, I need a day job to earn money now and stick to squirreling away whatever free time I have for writing.

I glance down at what I’ve written:

Calla knew she shouldn’t venture across to the North Woods. That land was beyond Flagstone Forest. Fairies were feared there. Normally Calla would never dream of stepping over the line, but the towering redwood trees and waterfalls were so beautiful, and for some reason she couldn’t explain, she was drawn to enter it this December evening.

North Woods inhabitants considered fairies evil, but despite knowing the dangers, Calla flew across the boundary as if no one was there. She soared between the redwoods, hiding between leafy branches, admiring the beauty of the foreign land below her. She would simply take in the view, that was all. See if danger truly lurked there as her older brother often lectured. But she needed to experience this for herself. She would observe quietly from high above, then leave. Nobody would notice she had been there.

That was when she saw him.

“Holly?”

I blink as I hear Kenley say my name, followed by a rap on the door.

I quickly close my laptop. “Come in.”

My brother’s girlfriend enters, already dressed in a gorgeous black evening gown. She’s wearing a maxi dress, floor-length with spaghetti-straps, but embellished for formal wear with a sexy V-neck mesh insert. Her blond hair is long and flowing, her makeup soft and subtle.

As always, Kenley is stunning.

“Are you going to get dressed?” Kenley asks. “We’re going early so I can supervise set up of the dessert table.”

Kenley has a business called Confection Consultations , where she helps plan desserts for parties. She coordinated the display for tonight, so of course, she has to be there early.

But maybe this can be my out, I think hopefully.

“You can go ahead without me,” I say. “Obviously I’m not in New Year’s Eve form yet.”

Kenley cocks an eyebrow. “You promise you’ll show up later?”

Damn it.

“Uh,” I say, testing the waters. “I’m not a big party person. It’s the writer-recluse personality in me. And I have so much work I want to get done before I have a full-time job. It really makes more sense for me to stay home and work.”

Kenley studies me. “You know my mother will not allow you to skip out on this.”

Kenley’s mother is CiCi Hunter, who happens to be dating the owner of the Dallas Demons, Peter Deveraux. She is, in essence, the co-host of this holiday bash, an annual event thrown for the entire Demons organization.

There is no way CiCi would forgive me if I didn’t attend.

I push the laptop aside and stand up. “Okay. But this party only. I’m not going to the party at Harrison Flynn’s afterward,” I declare, referring to the after party being hosted by the Demons’ captain.

“I know you don’t like parties, and you’d rather be in your writing world,” Kenley says. “But sometimes it’s good to do something different. One night won’t throw you off your timetable, I promise. You can talk to me all night. And Lexi,” she adds, referring to her best friend who is dating the Dallas Demons’ producer. “You won’t be standing in a corner by yourself.”

My heart fills with gratitude for Kenley. I misjudged her in the beginning, fearing she was dating Nate for all the wrong reasons. I swallow down the shame I feel for treating her poorly. She is good for Nate, and I have to admit, she’s been good for me, too.

“How did I get so lucky that Nate fell for you?” I ask.

Kenley begins to blush. “Oh, stop it.”

“She’s telling the truth,” Nate says, grinning at us from the doorway and looking sharp in a black tuxedo suit.

“Nobody is luckier than me.”

I see the gaze exchanged between Nate and Kenley and I have no doubts of how much they love each other.

I clear my throat. “Okay, I’ll get ready, but only for this party. Nothing more.”

Nate smiles at me, his dark-brown eyes dancing. “I wouldn’t ask for more. It’s a miracle Kenley is prying you away from your laptop as it is.”

I grab a throw pillow off the bed and lob it at him. “Shut up.”He laughs and catches the pillow mid-air, like his famous in-flight puck grabs on the ice.

“Get ready,” Nate says, tossing the pillow back on the bed. “Don’t make me give you penalty minutes for being late. Earn enough and I’ll force you to go to Flynn’s party.”

“Okay, okay,” I say, laughing. “I’ll get ready.”

“I’ll leave my car keys on the countertop for you,” Kenley says, “along with the invitation. Directions are inside.”

“Thank you,” I say.

“You’re welcome,” she replies. “We’ll see you there.”

“Right?” Nate adds, eyeing me.

“Yes, yes, I’ll be there,” I reassure him.

After they leave, I get up off the bed, and Nate’s dog Marabou comes bounding into my room, his puppy tail wagging in excitement.

“I know, I’d rather stay at home and play with you,” I say, bending down and stroking his head with affection.

Because it’s true. I’m much better with animals and books than I am with people.

I close the door to my room, and my New Year’s Eve gown is hanging on the back of the hook, a reminder that I can’t escape tonight.

I sigh. At times like this, I wish I were normal. That I didn’t suffer from social anxiety in group situations. Nobody knows this secret. Not even Nate. He thinks it’s a writer thing, and that I’m shy, but it’s more than that.

In reality, I feel inadequate in party settings. Like I’m being judged. Like people know I’m only there because of Nate. I know they are all wondering how super-cool Nate Johansson has such a socially inept sister. I’m the picture in the Sesame Street bit where one of these things is not like the others.

The setting tonight will be worse than usual. Surrounded by women who are not only gorgeous—some of them actual models—but also supremely confident. Confident in being social, letting loose, and having fun at a party. In being able to date hockey players and interact in a high-profile scene.

While the mere idea of being at this party sends me into a mild panic. I’ll wait to hit full-blown panic until I get there.

It’ll be something to look forward to. I smile. Okay, despite having crippling social anxiety, I at least can joke about it, even if it’s only with myself.

Once I get to the party, though, the anxiety will kick in, along with the physical symptoms. I’ll start sweating. Oh, this ought to be lovely in an evening gown. Good thing I use clinical deodorant on nights like these. Nervousness will overcome me. I’ll shake. As soon as that symptom pops up, I’ll make sure I put down any drink I’m holding.

But the best is when my eye starts twitching and I look like my contact is stuck—entirely possible in my ongoing war with my contact lenses—and I take on a similarity to a certain cartoon character who is a sailor man.

Ugh.

I hold up the dress and carefully remove the plastic.

Kenley helped me pick out the one-shouldered silver gown by Laundry, and I have to admit it’s gorgeous. It is made of silver sequins, embroidered in an art-deco-inspired pattern, with a long straight skirt and slit up the side.

I study the dress, wishing it could give me some kind of superpower to be normal at the party. But while I could write this superpower into a book, it’s not going to happen in reality, so I hang the dress back up and head into the guest bathroom to get ready.

I turn on the hot water to the shower to let it warm up.

While I wait, I remove my tortoiseshell glasses and place them on the countertop, knowing tonight calls for contacts.

Maybe for once they’ll cooperate and I’ll be able to get them in without dropping one down the drain.

I quickly shower and wash my hair before stepping out into the now steam-filled bathroom. I wrap two towels around me, one for my hair to help soak up the water and keep the damp strands from my face and the other around my body.

I proceed to moisturize, deodorize, and blow out my long, brown hair with a big round brush. Once I’m primed, I zip myself into the dress.

Next step: contacts.

The one thing I’m in a love-hate relationship with. I wear my glasses all the time—hardly ever choosing these thin torture devices—but I feel like this dress calls for the contacts.

If I can successfully get them in, that is.

I mean, really, how hard can this be? In addition to social anxiety, I’m dealt the card of being utterly inept when putting contacts in.

Life is cruel.

I know I’m being dramatic, but I’m a writer. I think it’s in the writer’s handbook. The license to be dramatic.

I open the case. I pick one up and put it in my right eye, praying it doesn’t slide off into the corner. I blink a few times and holy shit, it’s in! I’ve successfully put in a contact before an event!

“Okay, down to the left eye,” I say to myself. I tip my finger into the left contact holder and go to lift it, and rip! It catches on my fingernail and tears in half.

“Damn it!” I yell. “Damn it, why? Why can’t I do this?”

Marabou barks in response. I’m lucky he can’t speak or he’d tell Nate I’m a loon who talks to herself.

I focus on my reflection in the mirror. My vision in my right eye is perfect, the left is completely blurred. So much for thinking I could skate by with one contact in. Too bad I’m out of replacements.

I take the lone contact out, conceding defeat. I put on my trusty glasses and scrunch up my nose. Not quite the look I was going for, but it will have to do. I grab my silver sequined clutch, and anxiety begins to build in my chest, knowing it’s almost time to leave. I rationalize with myself as I enter the kitchen and pick up the invitation and Kenley’s keys.

I’ll know people there. I know Kenley, Nate, Kenley’s sister and mom, and her best friend, Lexi. I hung out with all of them at the Dallas Demons Casino Night last month, and I did okay at that event. It helped that I was working as an operative to help get Lexi and Niko together, so I had a role to distract me, but still. I didn’t get twitchy until later in the evening.

I lock the door behind me and head to the elevator.

And I know Matt Rhinelander.

As soon as I think of him, my stomach does a loop-the-loop. Heat radiates across my cheekbones, and my throat goes dry.

I’ve known Matt for years now. He’s always been a teammate of Nate’s, from their start in Minnesota to when they were both traded to the Dallas Demons last summer.

Nate has brought him home for dinners, cookouts, and holidays when he couldn’t go back home to Wisconsin. He’s always been sweet to me, asked how I was doing and how school was going.

I know he was only being nice. A good guest.

And yet I have this stupid crush on him that won’t go away.I hit the down button on the elevator and close my eyes. The dumbest crush in the history of all crushes in the universe. Matt is never going to see me as anything other than Nate’s sister. Besides, he likes gorgeous girls who have no problem throwing down shots in a bar and dancing on tabletops.

I’m not his type.

Yet here I am. Dealing with stupid butterflies because I know I’ll see him tonight.

Ugh. I should stop the elevator. I should go home. I should— The chime of my Harry Potter ringtone fills the air of the elevator. I snap out of my thoughts and retrieve my phone from my clutch. It’s Nate.

God, he really could have a second career as a psychic.

“Hello?” I answer.

“Are you on your way?”

“Yes,” I say as the elevator doors open. “I’m in the parking garage right now.”

“You’re not bailing?”

I swear Nate knows me better than anyone.

“No. I considered it, though,” I admit.

“CiCi would send security out to retrieve you if you pulled that stunt,” he says, referring to Kenley’s strong-willed mother.

I don’t laugh. I could totally see CiCi doing that.

“No, I’ll be there in a few minutes.”

I hang up with Nate and make the drive over to Highland Park, an exclusive suburb of Dallas. My GPS helps me along, as Dallas is still foreign to me. Before I know it, I’m pulling up to a line of cars that are waiting for valet service in front of Peter Deveraux’s luxurious French-style estate.

I can’t help but laugh. Thanks to Nate’s hockey career, I’ve ended up in a completely foreign universe.

The car in front of me comes to a stop, and I see Demons’

forward JP Rochat step out of a sleek black Maserati. He hands his keys to one valet, while another runs toward me.

He opens my door and helps me step out into the freezing December night.

“Good evening, may I have your name, Miss?” he asks me. “Good evening, I’m Holly Johansson,” I say.

He picks up a walkie-talkie and repeats my name, and I know he’s having someone ensure I’m on the guest list, which is quickly confirmed.

“I’ll take care of your car,” he says, smiling at me. I drop the keys into his open hand and thank him. “Have a good evening, Ms. Johansson.”

Right. Good evening. I’m sure it will be great with sweating and twitching and panic, but hey, it’s New Year’s Eve and time to celebrate, right?

I so know how to party.

“Holly?”

I turn and see JP is waiting for me on the circular drive.

I smile. I met JP at Casino Night last month, and I have to say, he’s very handsome with his hazel eyes and dark hair.

Very sweet, too.

“Hi, JP, how are you?” I ask as I walk toward him.

I quickly realize these high heels are going to murder my feet tonight.

If I don’t fall flat on my face first, that is.

I concentrate on walking while JP waits, smiling brightly at me.

“I’m good,” JP says. “You look beautiful tonight, Holly.”

Heat rises again in my cheeks. “Thank you.”

We walk toward the estate, and as I see the swell of people outside the entrance, my social anxiety makes its first appearance of the night. I swallow hard. Maybe if I pretend I have a task like I did at Casino Night , I can be normal longer.

I’m a writer. I need to script something and act it out, and then I’ll be okay.

“Aren’t you cold?” JP asks.

I blink. “No. Why?”

“It’s thirty-five degrees out, and you aren’t wearing a coat.”

Ha! If he only knew I’d be sweating in about ten minutes, he’d understand why I don’t need to mess with a coat tonight.

“I’m from Minnesota, this isn’t that cold,” I say lightly.

Which is true. Compared to Minnesota right now, Dallas is practically tropical.

We step up to the sweeping entrance, and I’m surrounded by all kinds of people. I know this party is for everyone in the Demons organization, from ticket sales staff to players to the vice president of operations. Live jazz music floats through the air, and once I step inside, I’m greeted with soaring foyers and opulent marble floors. Servers walk around with trays of champagne and wine. There’s a coat check to my left, and I see a lavish buffet set up across the long hallway, complete with carving stations. The mansion is completely decked out for the holiday, too, with exquisite Christmas d├ęcor everywhere.

The halls are crowded with people celebrating as far as the eye can see.

So. Many. People.

I might set a new record for world’s worst panic attack.

People are talking and laughing around me. Drinks are being poured. A group is dancing across the marble floor in the living room at the end of the hall.

And I am frozen in place.

“Would you like a drink?” JP asks me.

My throat is going dry. Oh, shit. Shit. Symptom number one is already kicking in.

“Um, would you excuse me?” I say, realizing I’m about to hit complete panic very soon.

“Sure, of course,” JP says. “I’ll see you later.”

As I turn away, I see a group of players’ wives and girlfriends. They’re all gorgeous. Talking, laughing, being fun. Do I even know how to be fun?

Doubt riddles me. I see a familiar face from Instagram.

Her name is Lauren, and she’s dating the goalie. She has a modeling contract with a huge agency. I’ve seen her in magazine ads. She’s wearing a killer short dress that shows off her long, gazelle-like legs. Next to her, I see Kenley with Nate, laughing and talking with Niko, the Dallas Demons producer, and his girlfriend Lexi.

They aren’t freaking out about what other people think.

They aren’t feeling their chests grow tight in fear.

Why can’t I be normal? I know I’m being irrational.

But I’m powerless to stop it.

Sweat. Now I feel sweat.

The walls are already closing in, faster than usual. I need to regroup. I need air. My eyes dart around the room, like a secret agent looking for an escape.

I see it. A huge row of French doors that I know lead outdoors. I head to them on instinct. I’ll find a terrace or garden or pool on the other side. Some place where there won’t be as many people, I know that.

Sweat is starting to drip down my back. I’m burning up.

I feel like I might pass out.

I weave through the mass of people, feeling lucky that very few of the guests know who I am and I can retreat undetected. I reach the door handle and pop it open, greeted by a whoosh of cold air as I step into the dark Dallas night.

I find myself on a terrace overlooking a lush manicured garden, illuminated by strategically placed lights.

I shut the door behind me and draw a deep breath of air.

I’m shaking now. Every symptom is in play except for the eye twitch, which is going to happen any second. I fight back tears. I will not let my social anxiety be seen by anyone.

Nobody is here. I can collect myself. Then, when I’m calm, I can return to the party, talk to the people I need to talk to, and go home.

Shame fills me. Nobody can know about my problem.

Nobody would understand. People will think I’m insane.

But out here I’m alone.

My anxiety is my secret.

I’m safe.

“Holly?”

I drop my clutch.

I know that Midwestern-accented voice.

I find Matt Rhinelander emerging from the corner of the terrace, his blue eyes locked directly on mine.


I live in the Dallas area with my family. I enjoy clipping out recipes I will never get around to trying, working out, and chatting with friends on social media. I’m a hockey nut (Go Stars!) and watch as much as humanly possible. I also love shopping and fashion and admit to being obsessed with whatever the Duchess of Cambridge is wearing. In addition to be obsessed with the Duchess, I’m equally obsessed with any show or cookbook featuring Gordon Ramsay.

Links


Website/Blog - http://avenellis.com/