Veiled Innocence by Ella Frank

veiledinnocence

Tick, tick, tock.

Time.

That’s all I have now.

A small room, a photograph, and time.

They want me to trust them and confess my sins.

They told me they wouldn’t judge me—they lied.

I thought we could convince the world that this wasn’t a crime.

We were wrong.

Time doesn’t stand still.

The clock keeps ticking, the world is unconvinced, and now…

Now he is gone.

review

“I never knew that I’d risk everything, even my freedom, just to touch someone. Just to touch you.”

Once in a blue moon, I find myself starting a book with absolutely no prior knowledge of its storyline or the themes in it, excited by the possibilities and lack of expectations, and while it is always a gamble, the mere fact that this particular book was penned by an author who has never let me down, made me feel like it was a safe bet from the very beginning. What I didn’t know was that this story would end up being my undoing from the moment I realised what it was about.

“Addison, it’s natural to form attachments to your teachers.”
“Is it natural to picture them f*cking you?”

Let it be known that nothing spikes my interest like a tale of forbidden romance between a teacher and a student, its inherent illicitness and lack of control being something I am inexplicably drawn to in the books I read, the greatest allure perhaps lying in the fact that, while morally despicable in real life, in fiction, we are allowed to mentally participate in these scenarios, and even root for them. But, as appealing as I find the mere idea of them, I personally also see them as extremely ‘hard sells’ in most cases. I honestly never know whether they would creep me out or make me tingle in all the right places, but I should have known that Ella Frank would have kicked it up a notch and set my skin on fire. This is a story that is so well-rounded, so masterfully assembled, every component fitting perfectly into the overall storyline and giving us one of the most intense, tantalizing, emotionally charged romances to feed our wicked fantasies.

“I looked at her—she looked at me. My ending, staring right at me from the very beginning.”

Grayson McKendrick is a history teacher, in his early thirties, a man whose past remains fairly elusive for the purposes of this story, apart from the fact that he has spent a large portion of his adulthood leading a rather nomadic life, traveling the world, until his father’s frail health brings him back home. He battles with conflicting feelings of anger and helplessness, expecting the worst to happen in the immediate future, but frustrated with himself for being unable to do anything to prevent it. His fairly quiet life comes to a standstill the moment a blue-eyed siren walks into his classroom and mischievously smiles at him, challenging his every resolve, his every belief, and from that moment onwards, Grayson’s life becomes a daily struggle to resist temptation and his body’s primal reactions to someone he knows he cannot and should not have.

“Temptation had come to visit, and her steely determination would likely destroy us both.”

Addison Lancaster is a popular girl, a high school senior whose traumatic past has cut her childhood short and made her into a woman who escapes her grief and overwhelming guilt by pursuing perfection and excellence in the things she can control in her life. But her pursuit of perfection is a race she can never win, her immaculate appearance only camouflaging the broken young woman hiding inside her, one in dire need of love and acceptance, but who only ever receives criticism and blame for the mistakes she never made. The Addison that the world sees is flawless, determined, ambitious, unemotional, a very different woman to the little girl still hiding behind her defensive walls. The only signs of her inner struggle are her little obsessive compulsions such as having to always hear the tick tock of a clock or her mental counting, acts that calm her nerves and warn off her anxiety when memories or external influences unsettle her.

“With him the ticking had stopped.”

When Addison lays eyes on her new history teacher, she is immediately attracted to him and she shamelessly pursues him any chance she gets. In a very rare reverse power dynamic in the context of a forbidden romance, young Addison is the one who sets the pace of their evolving relationship, her relentless determination to seduce him and make him admit his reluctant attraction to her is the element that makes this scenario so unique and addictive. Their age difference quickly disappears before our eyes, all we can see is the temptress rather than a woman half this man’s age, and as a result, their every interaction assumes an aura of delicious illicitness.

“I’ll teach you how to come with a man inside you. Not a boy, Addison, a man.”

But while Addison is the very thing that could destroy Grayson’s entire life, he is the first person in hers who manages to ground her, calm her nerves, make her feel safe and loved. No part of this taboo love affair is glorified or presented as the ‘the right way’ – we are continuously aware of how volatile and morally questionable this scenario is from the very beginning, and ultimately, the ending fits these given characters.

“You’re going to be the death of me.”
Life is full of ironies, because with him, I’d never felt more alive.

Do not be afraid by this book’s enigmatic blurb, do not be afraid to surrender your senses to this strikingly written love story that will ignite your every nerve ending and make you feel a myriad of different emotions. It somehow taps into all the taboos that make our kinks run rampant, and still manages to move us deeply and even shatter our hearts on occasion. I read this book in one sitting, in what felt like one single breath, and I adored every moment spent with Addison and Grayson. It has everything I always dream of finding in a forbidden student/teacher romance, but it is a love story first and foremost, and as such, I cannot recommend it enough to all the hopeless romantics out there.

“It wasn’t wrong. No—it was just misunderstood.”

5stars

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Bad For You by Abbi Glines

badforyouInnocence was never meant for the addictive…

Addiction was something Krit Corbin accepted as part of his nature a long time ago. He decided to embrace it and flip his finger at the rules. Women had always been the number one thing on his list of addictions. He couldn’t get enough. Being the lead singer in a rock band had only made access to his favorite addiction that much easier.

Being alone was the only thing Blythe Denton understood. The small town minister’s family that raised her hadn’t accepted her as their own. The minister’s wife had always made sure Blythe understood just how unworthy she was of love. When Blythe is sent away to college and given a chance to finally be free of living as an unwanted burden, she looks forward to having peace in her life. Being alone isn’t something that bothers her. She escapes reality in the stories she writes.

However, the ridiculously sexy tattooed guy who keeps throwing parties in the apartment above hers is driving her crazy. For starters, he doesn’t treat her like she would expect a guy with a different woman always hanging on his arm to treat someone as uninteresting as her. She looks nothing like the gorgeous women she sees parading in and out of his apartment, but for some strange reason he keeps showing up at her door.

During a party at his apartment, Krit’s new neighbor comes to the door with her long brown hair pulled up in a messy knot and a pair of glasses perched on her cute little nose. She wants him to turn down the music, but he convinces her to stay.

Krit Corbin may have just found his biggest addiction yet. And Blythe Denton realizes too late that she’s finally been claimed.

review

“From the moment you walked into my life, you have never ruined anything. You light up the things you touch.”

I won’t bore you by telling you again about my obsession with Abbi Glines’ books because I am pretty certain that even the camels in Timbuktu know about it by now and can recite my favourite passages, but I will tell you this – the more of her books I read, the more I am certain that we ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Ms Glines has a signature style, an inimitable voice drawing inspiration from a part of the world she knows best, and she is constantly titillating us with meant-to-be romances that we’re never quite certain whether they are designed to make our skin tingle in all the right places or cause our hearts to skip a few beats. But her voice keeps transforming, morphing, the ‘flavour’ of her stories reflecting an impressively prolific repertoire and her ever-changing taste. A master at creating dominant and possessive heroes who treat their leading ladies like princesses, she has once again given us a male character to lose our minds over and a heroine who will make you so protective of her, you might start growling at some point. The seventh book in the Sea Breeze series, this is a story that is so different from the others that it might as well be called a standalone novel. Superbly paced, heartbreakingly emotional, with just the right amount of sizzle and spice, I have loved this book on every single re-read and each time the same scenes managed to move me to tears.

“In my stories I could be beautiful. The prince would love me, and I would know how it felt to belong.”

Blythe is an orphan, raised by a pastor and his wife, in a house where she was never gifted with a kind word, a sign of affection or any positive affirmations. Treated as an unwelcome presence in the disapproving household she lived in, Blythe has grown into a woman who enjoys her own company, the stories she reads and writes, a woman who craves the freedom to be herself and asks for very little of others. She blossoms when even the smaller compliment is aimed her way, but two decades of being told she is an ugly, evil nuisance have conditioned her to believe she has very little to offer to others. Alone in a new city, finding love is the last thing Blythe hopes to find. And yet, her heart desperately aches to be claimed.

“Someone was bound to see the bad in me. They always had before.”

Krit is the lead singer of a local band, a man with a womanising reputation firmly based on facts, and he has no intention of changing his ways. Krit never connects with the women he sleeps with, he never makes false promises, never pretends that pleasure is not the only things he seeks from them. Raised to believe he is unworthy of love, he hides his heart behind a façade of carefree abandon, allowing very few people in his life to see the real him. Until a beautiful girl’s childlike joy catches his attention and then consumes his every thought from that moment on.

“How the f*ck was this girl alone? Where was the man hovering over her and protecting her from every bad thing that came near her?”

A beautiful friendship is born, one without pretences and where they are both unafraid to be themselves around each other, but they both secretly crave for more. Krit sees Blythe’s untouched innocence and kindness of heart and believes himself to be too jaded for a girl like her. As they spend more and more time together, he grows increasingly protective and possessive of her, but he is reluctant to claim her. Blythe’s isolated upbringing has made her utterly inexperienced in all matters of the heart, Krit’s mixed signals deeply wounding her, feeding her insecurities and warped image of herself. But she soaks up every little bit of attention he gives her, never asking for more, never demanding anything from him, cherishing his friendship and being willing to break her own heart in order to keep him as a friend.

“If you were lucky enough to have Krit Corbin in your life, you didn’t push him away. You soaked up every minute and made as many memories as you could.”

But when two people start living for each and every moment they spend together, it soon becomes impossible to keep denying their hearts. As Krit and Blythe’s relationship slowly changes, it becomes the very thing they have both always needed to feel complete. When life suddenly throws their young love curveballs, their worse fears have the power of either breaking them apart or making them stronger than they’ve ever been.

“Blythe made me feel whole inside. I’d never felt whole. There was always this emptiness. I had tried everything to fill that dark ache inside, but nothing had ever worked. Until Blythe smiled at me.”

Every aspect of this story tugs at our heartstrings, making us addicted to its every word and leaving us in a starry-eyed haze, wishing there were more pages to feed our addiction. Whether you’ve never read another Sea Breeze novel in your life or whether you’re a die-hard fan, you will love this book, there is no doubt about it. A beautiful story of friends turning lovers with two characters that we cannot help but adore, Ms Glines has truly outdone herself this time, making my heart, for one, a little terrified of what she has in store for us next.

“You don’t just fit into my world, Blythe. You are my world.”

5stars

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Read an excerpt
Buy book: Amazon US | Amazon AU | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | B&N
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Sea Breeze – Reading Order and Purchase Links
breathe2 because-of-low2 while-it-lasts2 just-for-now3
SometimesItLasts_large misbehaving3 badforyou HOLDONTIGHT 2

Breathe: Amazon US | Amazon UK
Because of LowAmazon US | Amazon UK
While It LastsAmazon US | Amazon UK
Just For NowAmazon US | Amazon UK
Sometimes It Lasts: My reviewAmazon US | Amazon UK
Misbehaving: My reviewAmazon US | Amazon UK
Bad For YouAmazon US | Amazon UK
Hold On TightAmazon US | Amazon UK (3 Jun 2014)

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Play by Kylie Scott

playMal Ericson, drummer for the world famous rock band Stage Dive, needs to clean up his image fast—at least for a little while. Having a good girl on his arm should do the job just fine. Mal doesn’t plan on this temporary fix becoming permanent, but he didn’t count on finding the one right girl.

Anne Rollins never thought she’d ever meet the rock god who plastered her teenage bedroom walls—especially not under these circumstances. Anne has money problems. Big ones. But being paid to play the pretend girlfriend to a wild life-of-the-party drummer couldn’t end well. No matter how hot he is. Or could it?

review

“Whatever you’re imagining, it’s bigger.”
“I’m not imagining anything.”
“I’m serious. It’s basically a monster. I cannot control it.”
“Malcolm—“
“You’re pretty much going to need a whip and chair to tame it, Anne.”

This book should come with a medical warning because I’m pretty certain that I strained a couple of stomach muscles while reading it! Who would have thought that a sexy rocker romance would also become one of the funniest books I have ever read? A love story first and foremost, this is a book that had me in stitches and made me devour its pages like I was starving for them. A brilliant sequel to an all-time favourite, this book can be summarised in one word – MAL.

“He’s kind of like a puppy on steroids. Doesn’t know his own strength.”

Mal Ericson is the ever-popular Stage Dive drummer, known for his easygoing personality and his filter-free mouth. He is the light of every party, the incorrigible flirt who sleeps with women but never dates them, but he is also the peacekeeper in the band, the one who injects humour into every situation and manages to diffuse tempers even when all they feel like doing is rip each other apart. But behind every did-he-just-say-that type of ‘Mal-inism’ hides a man who is a lot more profound and sensitive than he lets others believe. Mal is a man who allows very few people in his life to see past his comedic façade, until one woman catches his attention and completely throws him out of his element.

“Why does everyone insist on being heavy all the f*cking time? Life’s too short for all this over-sharing. You’re here. I’m here. We can help each other out and have a good time while we’re at it. That’s all that matters.”

Anne is a woman who has put her entire life on hold and her every dream aside to make sure her sister would not suffer the same fate. She is a born giver, someone who rarely says ‘no’ to people and who always puts the needs of those she cares for before her own. Her indiscriminate generosity and willingness to help others has brought her to the point of facing eviction, and yet she remains determined to make it on her own in life and keep caring for the ones she loves. When she meets Mal at one of the band’s many parties, she is starstruck by the object of her every teenage fantasy, but even more surprised by his obvious interest in her. And yet, as ‘crazy eyed’ as she gets around him, she does not fuss over him or indulge his antics, making her the perfect type of woman in Mal’s eyes.

The very next day, Anne finds herself with a new roommate, a pretend-boyfriend and more public attention than she ever bargained for. And that is when the Mal Ericson ‘one man show’ takes off and I seriously suggest warming those stomach muscles beforehand because every word that comes out of his mouth is hilarious.

“I’m not sure I can stick my dick in a woman who doesn’t even know who John Bonham is.”
“Stick your dick in?” … “Did you actually just say that?”
“Make love. I meant make love…of course. I would never just stick my dick in you. I would make mad passionate love to this sweet, sweet body of yours for days, no weeks. It would be beautiful, pumpkin. There’d be little angels, and birdies, and you know… all just hanging around, watching. Perverts.”

They pretend, they tease each other, they play the roles they’ve agreed on, but as their attraction grows and every touch, every kiss becomes more real, soon neither of them is faking their feelings anymore. And as one of them faces one of life’s cruellest heartbreaks, they are forced to learn very quickly what it means to be a couple, and that loving someone means no longer having to suffer alone.

A truly well-rounded and flawlessly written story of two complete opposites attracting and becoming each other’s unexpected happy ending, this is a book that I will want to re-read any chance I get. If I could have asked for one thing to make it even more perfect in my eyes, I would have wished for a heroine who made a man like Mal work a bit more for her affections, made him ‘sweat’ on occasion, and not always forgive his actions so easily, but when it comes to a book like this one, a book that you cannot help but thoroughly enjoy cover to cover, any wishful thinking is a pure act of reader’s greed. This is a splendid marriage of romance and comedy, a possibly even better book than its stellar prequel, and I would recommend it to anyone who likes their love stories with a side of giggles.

“Life’s a song, Anne. Let’s play.”

5stars

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Read an excerpt
✤ ✤ ✤
Stage Dive – Recommended Reading Order and Purchase Links
LICK_new play
Lick: My review | Amazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | B&N | Paperback
Play: My review | Amazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | B&N | Paperback
Lead: Amazon US | Amazon CA | B&N (29 Jul 2014)
Deep: Amazon US | Amazon CA (23 Dec 2014)
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The Author

Kylie is a long time fan of erotic love stories and B-grade horror films. She demands a happy ending and if blood and carnage occur along the way then all the better. Based in Queensland, Australia with her two children and one delightful husband, she reads, writes and never dithers around on the internet.

Connect with Kylie: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads
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COVER REVEAL: Unteachable by Leah Raeder

In August last year, I accidentally came across a book that changed my life. Okay, maybe that sounds a little dramatic but that book was the very reason I created the Six Stars of Excellence rating on this Blog. It set a new benchmark in my eyes. I was blown away by its spectacularly unique writing style, its evocative prose, the immaculate character development, its skilful tackling of a taboo romance that very few authors manage to pull off without alienating the reader, and a story that I still can’t get out of my head. That book was the beautiful Unteachable by Leah Raeder and if you follow me on social media, you’ll know that I haven’t stopped raving about it ever since. Well, traditional publishers eventually took notice of this self-published little giant and today Unteachable is being re-released by Atria!!! A stunning new cover that totally captures the spirit of the original one (still one of my favourite covers ever!), a new publisher, but the same heart-stopping story by an author whose shopping list is on my TBR list! I am so HONOURED to be sharing with you the ‘new’ Unteachable… ♥

Read my 6-star review

Unteachable_new

An edgy, sexy USA Today bestseller about falling for the one person you can’t have.

Maise O’Malley just turned eighteen, but she’s felt like a grown-up her entire life. The summer before senior year, she has plans: get into a great film school, convince her mom to go into rehab, and absolutely do not, under any circumstances, screw up her own future.

But life has a way of throwing her plans into free-fall.

When Maise meets Evan at a carnival one night, their chemistry is immediate, intense, and short-lived. Which is exactly how she likes it: no strings. But afterward, she can’t get Evan out of her head. He’s taught her that a hookup can be something more. It can be an unexpected connection with someone who truly understands her. Someone who sees beyond her bravado to the scared but strong girl inside.

That someone turns out to be her new film class teacher, Mr. Evan Wilke.

Maise and Evan resolve to keep their hands off each other, but the attraction is too much to bear. Together, they’re real and genuine; apart, they’re just actors playing their parts for everyone else. And their masks are slipping. People start to notice. Rumors fly. When the truth comes to light in a shocking way, they may learn they were just playing parts for each other, too.

Smart, sexy, and provocative, Unteachable is about what happens when a love story goes off-script.

excerpt

Room 209 was at the end of a hall, a huge window beside it like a portal straight to the sun. I spent a second soaking in the light, photons beaming through my eyelids. When I walked into the room my vision danced with microscopic explosions of blood vessels, a hazy red sparkle.

I saw him first.

I didn’t blink. Everything inside me came to a full stop. He wore pressed slacks and a collared shirt, clean-shaven, hair combed neatly, a silver watch gleaming on his wrist, but it was undeniably him. I knew those hands. I knew that mouth. I’d pictured that face, grizzly with stubble, his eyes half-shut, nuzzling at my neck as I lay in bed and got myself off.

I knew instantly, unequivocally. Evan Wilke. Starting his new job as a teacher at Riverland High.

My teacher.

10:15-11:45, Intro to the End of the World.

He raised his head and swept a generic, acknowledging smile over the room, starting with the far side. It took all of two seconds to reach me but I felt it coming like thunder, sensing my imminent doom and yet paralyzed, unable to run.

He reached me and paused. His face fell. Not into dismay—all expression went out of it. Shock.

A kid nudged me aside and walked in. I stood stupidly in the doorway. It felt like a series of small eternities, but it was only seconds.

Evan stared at me dazedly. I think he was confused. I don’t think he realized I was a student yet. I made myself step in and took the seat nearest the door.

His mouth opened slightly.

What did we do wrong, Your Honor?

I was eighteen. He wasn’t my teacher yet.

I drank. Everyone drinks.

He purchased alcohol for me. I lied about my age. Not his fault.

I rest my case.

My eyes were open, but I wasn’t conscious of having seen anything for a minute. A gray-out, Mom called it. You didn’t pass out but you just…weren’t there for a while.

The room was starting to fill up.

Evan shuffled papers around his desk. Then he stood there, staring at the surface, only his eyes moving, a rapid back-and-forth like REM.

Was this a dream? It felt distinctly nightmarish.

He straightened and walked toward the door, pausing beside me.

“Can I see you outside?”

Soft, discreet. No hint of emotion.

I stood without looking at him, feeling exposed. I hadn’t brought anything to this class. I thought I had everything I needed in my head.

He waited in the sun. Kids streamed past in and out of a bathroom. All their noise seemed fuzzy and far away, behind glass.

I’d imagined what I’d do if I ever saw him again. Rush into his arms. Apologize for skipping out. Touch his face. Kiss him, kiss him.

Instead we stood with two feet of solid sunlight between us.

“Maise,” he said.

My head rose as if his voice had lifted it.

“Is that your real name?”

“Yes.”

“I am so sorry.”

I wasn’t prepared for this. I’d expected anger. You lied to me. You ran off. “Why?” I said.

He only shook his head.

“I’m eighteen,” I said quickly. Darted a glance at the kids around us. No one seemed to see anything out of the ordinary—just a teacher talking to a student. “I was eighteen then, too. So—don’t, you know. Be sorry.”

“Are you okay?”

I think I’m starting to be. “Yeah.”

He rocked on his toes. It made him seem young. God, how old was he, anyway? I figured past his twenties, but I had no real fucking idea. Two feet of sunlight wasn’t enough to block out that suede smell, tame and subtle now, but unmistakable.

“I don’t know what to do,” he said. “You tell me what you want. You can transfer to another class. Or I can—I can submit my resignation, right now. I’ll do it. Just give the word.”

He was talking crazy, and it made my heart expand like a balloon. You’re guilty, I thought. Flustered. You know this will be a disaster if we pretend like nothing happened. Because you still feel something.

The warning bell rang. One minute.

Evan didn’t move. His gaze focused unerringly on me.

“You didn’t do anything wrong,” I whispered, conscious of the emptying hall. “And I don’t want to transfer to another class.”

“Maise,” he said. Just my name.

“And I’m the one who’s sorry. I shouldn’t have left like that.”

Thirty seconds. Lockers slammed. Footsteps hurried.

“I don’t know if I can do this,” he said.

“It’ll be fine.” I swallowed every bit of spit in my mouth to add, “Mr. Wilke.”

We were staring at each other when the final bell rang. Together, we walked back into class.

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The Will by Kristen Ashley

thewillEarly in her life, Josephine Malone learned the hard way that there was only one person she could love and trust: her grandmother, Lydia Malone. Out of necessity, unconsciously and very successfully, Josephine donned a disguise to keep all others at bay. She led a globetrotting lifestyle on the fringes of the fashion and music elite, but she kept herself distant.

While Josephine was trotting the globe, retired boxer Jake Spear was living in the same small town as Lydia. There was nothing disguised about Jake. Including the fact he made a habit of making very bad decisions about who to give his love.

But for Josephine and Jake, there was one person who adored them. One person who knew how to lead them to happiness. And one person who was intent on doing it.

Even if she had to do it as her final wish on this earth.

review

“It’s never too late to reach for happiness and no matter what life has done to you, it’s never too late to find it.”

I will start this review with the promise that reading it will not affect your enjoyment of this book in any possible way. One of the most striking qualities of this story is the sheer number of unexpected emotional reactions it evokes in the reader, page after page, scene after scene, and nothing in this review will rob you of any of those skin-tingling moments. But it might just give you an idea of why this was the KA book for me.

Starting a new Kristen Ashley book is always an emotional experience for me, her stories forever touching my heart and making my wildest fantasises run rampant. Each new book by this author seems to set a new benchmark for all the books I read after that, but never has it happened before that a story won’t let me write its review for several weeks after I’ve finished reading it because every time the story crosses my mind, I am overwhelmed by ‘book nostalgia’, wishing stories like that never had to end. I have loved and lived every single Kristen Ashley book I have ever read, but this was the most epic one of them all for me, the one that completely took my breath away and the one that will always represent ‘vintage KA style’ in my eyes.

“She wanted me for you.”

We meet Josephine ‘Josie’ Malone at one of the most trying moments in her life – at her beloved grandmother’s funeral. Josie has just lost the only family she had left, the woman who saved her from an abusive childhood by giving her a loving home, a place to belong to, a safe harbour, and by exemplifying the kind of woman Josie had always strived to become. At this moment of complete emotional loss and vulnerability, a man and his children standing near her grandmother’s casket catch Josie’s eye, their identity unknown to her but the intense pain in their eyes acting as a beacon to her own broken heart. The following day, her grandmother’s will is read and Josie’s world is suddenly turned inside out, its startling content leaving Josie torn between wanting to please her grandmother one last time and perplexed by the nature of her wishes.

“My most precious possession, the thing I treasure above anything else in this world … I hereby bequeath to …”

By all accounts, Jake Spear is a complete stranger to Josie but someone her grandmother not only seemed to hold in the highest regard, as her will shows, but also cared for deeply. A local entrepreneur and business owner, Jake’s business ventures vary greatly from one another, but his every action demonstrates that he is willing to do whatever it takes to provide for the three most important people in his life – his children. A former boxing champion and three-time divorcee, Jake is the very opposite of the type of man Josie has been pining for over the last two decades, his small-town lifestyle standing in stark contrast to the jet setting one that Josie has become accustomed to in her career, but she is strangely drawn to him. Having left home in her early twenties, determined to escape the memory of her past and reinvent herself, she has spent the last twenty years distancing herself from her emotions and looking after someone else’s needs before her own. But one look at Jake and his family, coupled with her recent loss and newly acquired responsibilities, and Josie cannot help but start questioning her choices in life and finding new definitions for happiness.

“…although it feels lovely you wish for me to have all kinds of beauty, I’m perfectly happy without it.”

After suppressing her own dreams for so long, and quashing every inborn instinct she has ever had to form a family, Josie is confronted for the very first time with the very real possibility of having everything she has always wished for, if only she is brave enough to grab it by the horns and never let it go.

“I’m fine with being alone. I want it to be that way. Honestly, I do.”

These characters might be slightly older and hence dealing with very different issues from the younger ones we typically encounter in KA books, but the intensity of their connection, the chemistry, and the passion between them are just as off-the-charts as always. If anything, their need for each other and desire to connect on all levels feels even more urgent and eager. There are moments that will have your heart racing, there are others that will make you melt from glee, and there will be moments when you will struggle to catch your breath.

“Every inch of you, outside and any way you can get inside, baby, physically or emotionally, is mine.”

This is essentially a tale of second chances at love, or first chances at love when deprived of true happiness until later on in life, and it tells the story of two people whose lives have taught them to recognise beauty once it comes along and to allow themselves to hold onto it, regardless of how undeserving of it they believe themselves to be. Every element of a KA book is present – her inimitable prose, her intense dialogues, her unmatched character development and ability to make the reader feel such a wide spectrum of emotions – but this story went beyond that for me, the honesty with which it was told touching me on a very personal level, and making me connect with the characters like never before.

“I’d give him anything. I’d give him everything. If I had the power, I’d give him the world.”

By the time you reach the end of this book, you’ll realise what a wonderful ‘full circle’ the author has weaved for us, showing us that every story, even the most ‘real’ and close-to-home ones, can become breathtaking fairy-tales. KA books should really have a separate rating scale as they truly stand in a book universe of their own, but if I had to pick an absolute favourite among them all, this book would be that book for me. I promise you, this story will mark you in the best possible way and if you’re anything like me, you’ll never fully walk away from it. Six Stars of Excellence and then some.

“I wanted you before I even knew you… You’re everything I ever wanted, darling.”

6stars

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This is the first book in a series of standalone stories with interconnected characters.

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Read a spoiler-free excerpt
The Author

k ashley_picKristen Ashley grew up in Brownsburg, Indiana, and has lived in Denver, Colorado, and the West Country of England. Thus she has been blessed to have friends and family around the globe. Her posse is loopy (to say the least) but loopy is good when you want to write.

Kristen was raised in a house with a large and multigenerational family. They lived on a very small farm in a small town in the heartland, and Kristen grew up listening to the strains of Glenn Miller, The Everly Brothers, REO Speedwagon, and Whitesnake.

Needless to say, growing up in a house full of music and love was a good way to grow up.

And as she keeps growing up, it keeps getting better.

Connect with Kristen: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads
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Black Box by Cassia Leo

BlackBox_UK1

Three fateful encounters…
Two heart-breaking tragedies…
One last chance to get it right.

Over the course of five years, Mikki and Crush cross paths on three separate occasions. Their first encounter changes Mikki’s life forever, but their second meeting leaves them both buried beneath the emotional wreckage of a violent attack. Mikki is left with more questions and grief than she can handle, while Crush is forced to forget the girl who saved his life.

Now nineteen years old, Mikki Gladstone has decided she’s tired of the mind-numbing meds. She books a flight to Los Angeles to end her life far away from her loving, though often distant, family.

Twenty-one-year-old Crush has always channeled his blackest thoughts into his music, but he’s never had great aspirations. He decides to fly to Los Angeles to record a demo of the only song he’s never performed in public; a song he wrote for a girl he doesn’t even know: Black Box. He has no expectations of fame and he’s never felt like his life had any purpose… until he meets Mikki in Terminal B.

When Mikki and Crush cross paths for the third time in Terminal B, neither has any idea who the other person is; until they slowly piece together their history and realize that fate has more in store for them than just another love story.

review

“I hate that you saved me. But, most of all, I hate that you love me because now I love you and I don’t know how to make it stop.”

It doesn’t happen very often, but once in a blue moon a book manages to grab me so fiercely that I not only end up spending the whole night enthralled by the story, unable to put it away, but I also cannot stop reflecting back upon it, and feeling the myriad of emotions that it stirred up in me from its very first page. Black Box is not a book about the rosy side of life, or perfect characters with perfect lives. This is a story about two damaged individuals whose fates keep touching at every crucial moment in their young lives, continually tying their destines to one another and making them each other’s lifeline. It shows how desolate, helpless, monochrome a person’s mind can become when filled with desperation, but it also gives us hope that that big, gloomy cloud does not have to determine the rest of a person’s life.

“Do you think saving someone’s life cancels out taking another person’s life?”

Mikki is a girl whose bipolar disorder coupled with recurring suicidal tendencies have made her determined that her only way to escape her unhappiness is by ending her own life. Crush is a young man whose unsurmountable guilt has emotionally isolated him from the people around him, convinced that no good deed could ever erase the burden of his past mistakes. They meet at an airport, headed for the same destination, but while Crush hopes the trip would help him escape all the pretences of his privileged life and find a new direction, Mikki dreams of finally putting a stop to her own suffering. It all might have started as a chance encounter, a cancelled flight leaving two lost souls stranded in the middle of a snow storm, but the more we learn about these two characters, the more we realise their whole lives have been leading up to this moment.

“Don’t tell me I don’t know you when I’ve spent the last three years trying to forget you.”

Over five short days, Mikki and Crush get to know each other and as their pasts unravel, we discover an astonishing puzzle of intertwined destinies where each piece shows the tremendous power of the human spirit and how inescapable fate can truly be. The time they spend together in their temporary little bubble gives them both an escape from their everyday lives, as well as forcing them to expose their demons and give each other a reason to seek the light at the end of the blackness of their own minds.

“I feel like I’ve known you all my life. I don’t want that feeling to go away. I want to know you all my life.”

This story deals with some very serious issues of mental illness, as well as the emotional repercussions of sexual abuse and bullying, but while those topics were handled with great care and accuracy, the overwhelming feeling this book leaves us with is one of hope and unwavering love. Mikki’s condition is not romanticised or trivialised to fit a stereotypical vision of a love story, but it is shown realistically in all its unpredictable ferociousness. It drives the story, it drives the characters and their actions, but it does not render them helpless. It only shows the true capacity of the human spirit and how much adversity a person is capable of coping with without breaking. This might be a story describing a grave human condition, but it is also a beautiful romance between two people who were born to save one another and whose connection is the very thing that anchors them to this life.

A tale of beauty born out of misery, of love conquering all, this is one of the most sensitively and candidly told stories I have ever come across and it has been a true privilege reading it.

“In the process of finding the girl I fell in love with three years ago, I found my best friend.”

5stars

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CRUSH

Three months before the flight

This is the fourth girl this month. I can tell by the way she leans her head against the inside of the passenger window with her eyes closed, arms folded protectively across her belly, that this is going to be easy. She’s going to make this so easy.

But it won’t be easy for me. It never is.

I pull into the parking lot of the fast food burger restaurant and she doesn’t open her eyes, but she reaches for the door handle as soon as I hit a speed bump. I slam on the brakes just as she flings the door open and juts her head out the car so she can vomit. A cool autumn breeze sweeps through the darkness of midnight and the sour smell of her sickness fills the inside of my car. I grab a bottle of water out of the cup holder and tap it against the side of her thigh. She turns her head lazily and stares at it with a vacant expression; bubbly drool dripping from the corner of her mouth.

“Sorry,” she says, grabbing the bottle. She swishes some around inside her mouth and spits out the vomit-laced water. She rinses a few more times before she takes a measured sip and tosses the half-full bottle into the empty parking lot.

“Are you okay?” I ask, knowing the answer to this question is fully dependent on whether she vomited enough of the tequila she was guzzling at Harry’s house thirty minutes ago.

She slams the passenger door shut and leans back, eyes closed, like she’s ready to fall asleep. I guess I can do it while she’s sleeping.

“No, I’m not okay.” She laughs a tinkling, annoying laugh that makes me instantly think this is a huge mistake. Then she turns to me and her eyelids slowly flutter open. She gazes at me with that heavy-lidded, come-hither look I’m so used to seeing. “Maybe you can change that.”

I’m counting on that.

I can’t remember her name. That’s all I can think as I reach for her hand and flash her a sly half-smile. I bring her bony hand to my lips and something about her seems off. The skin on her palm is too rough, calloused, like she’s been working on the docks for the past three years instead of ….

She bats her lashes at me as I kiss her knuckles and I try not to gag at the smell of her hand. It smells like lime and vomit. I carefully set her hand down in her lap and she instantly reaches for me with her other hand, her fingers locking around the back of my neck, pulling my face to hers with a desperate urgency.

She opens her mouth and her teeth bang against my upper lip. Ugh. This doesn’t feel right, but I have to do it. There’s no other way.

I let out a phony chuckle. “Slow down, sweetheart.”

Her other hand leaves her lap and both her arms are now locked around my neck, pulling me toward her. She wants it. She wants me. I’m not surprised. This is the moment I’ve been waiting for. I have no problem attracting girls. It’s getting them to leave me alone that I find much trickier. This has worked to my advantage for the past three years. When your mission is to get as many girls in the Boston area naked, this is a great advantage to possess.

She nips my bottom lip, a bit too hard, and I try to pretend-chuckle again, but I’m actually starting to get annoyed. This girl was quiet as a mouse at Harry’s parents’ house thirty minutes ago; now, eight shots later, she wants to f*ck me in the middle of a McDonald’s parking lot. This is too easy.

“Hold on. Let me at least park the car.” I murmur this as I gently pull away from her, then I drive the car around the back of the restaurant and park behind a dumpster shelter, which will hide us from the main road.

I reach for her face and her eyes widen as she pushes my hand away and climbs into my lap. She attacks my mouth and that’s when I know that this is not the girl I want. This can’t be her.

Her long, light-brown hair and the scar over her eyebrow, combined with the demure demeanor and the fact that she was born and raised in Brockton all made me think, This has to be her!

But a sick dread grows in the pit of my belly with each lascivious lick of her tongue, lapping across my lips as if they were covered in tequila. The hint of vomit on her cold, wet tongue is making my stomach roil; and I know. It’s not her. But I have to try.

My fingers find the bottom of her tight peach sweater and she flinches a little. I pull my head back to look at her face. Maybe I was wrong. But her face is slack with alcohol, except for a feverish need in her eyes. She smiles what is supposed to be a sexy smile, but it’s just clumsy.

I have to get this over with.

“Take off your shirt.” I pause for a moment, gauging her reaction. She looks a bit confused, so I add, “Please.”

She chuckles and she yanks off her sweater, revealing a light-pink, lacy bra and breasts that appear … wrong. It’s not just the fullness of her breasts, but there’s no tattoo over her heart. And that’s when my heart sinks.

Her hands reach for my face as she leans in to kiss me and I grab her wrists; turn my head to escape her vomit-breath. I swiftly grab her by the waist and hoist her back into the passenger seat.

“What’s wrong?” she asks in a small voice that reminds me of the girl she was before those eight tequila shots. The girl I mistook for someone more important.

The Author

cassia leo_picNew York Times and USA Today bestselling author Cassia Leo grew up in California and has lived in three different countries. She loves to travel and her dream is to one day score a record deal based on her awesome shower singing skills. She is the author of the Shattered Hearts series (RelentlessPieces of YouBring Me Home) and the Luke and Chase series.

Connect with Cassia: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads
The Giveaway

To win a Kindle Fire HDX or one of ten (10) Black Box Spoiler Alert Posters, please enter below. This contest is administered by Cassia Leo.

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Always by Kindle Alexander

always

Born to a prestigious political family, Avery Adams plays as hard as he works. The gorgeous, charismatic attorney is used to getting what he wants, even the frequent one-night stands that earn him his well-deserved playboy reputation. When some of the most prominent men in politics suggest he run for senate, Avery decides the time has come to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps. With a strategy in place and the campaign wheels rolling, Avery is ready to jump on the legislative fast track, full steam ahead. But no amount of planning prepares him for the handsome, uptight restaurateur who might derail his political future.

Easy isn’t even in the top thousand words to describe Kane Dalton’s life after his father, a devout southern Baptist minister, kicks him out of the family home for questioning his sexual orientation. Despite all the rotten tomatoes life throws his way, Kane makes something of himself. Between owning a thriving upscale Italian restaurant in the heart of downtown Minneapolis and managing his long-term boyfriend, his plate is full. He struggles to get past the teachings of his childhood to fully accept his sexuality and rid himself of the doubts brought on by his religious upbringing. The last thing he needs is the yummy, sophisticated, blond-haired distraction sitting at table thirty-four.

review

“… when kindred souls meet, they are destined to be together, always.”

Love is beautiful. Love is timeless. Love is love. You can package it whichever way you wish, but nothing can take away from the fact that finding true love is also one of life’s greatest and rarest gifts. And while love can sometimes be an illusive foe in real life, it is never scarce in fiction, an endless number of fairy-tale romances feeding the dreamers in all of us. But then once in a while a very special book comes along giving us one of the most beautiful love stories ever told, one that transcends time, distance, gender, religion, or current opinion on whom we should or shouldn’t love, and shows us the true meaning of love. This was that book for me. This was the book that fed my own hope. And this was the book that redefined love in my eyes.

“I don’t regret anything. You made me the man I am today.”

Avery Adams is the charming and confident grandson of a former US President, a prominent lawyer in his own right and a man with a bright political future ahead of him, but Avery is a man whose high profile life forces him to separate his public persona from his personal one. His love life is nothing more than a string of meaningless sexual encounters with men he rarely has any interest of seeing again. When he walks into a little Italian restaurant in the middle of Minnesota, he has no idea that night would become the most important night of his life.

“Any doubt or reservation Avery had been able to muster fled as he looked up into Kane’s blue eyes and realized he’d met his one. Kane was meant for him. A chance dinner at a Midwestern restaurant had produced his other half. Who would have thought?”

Kane Dalton is a successful restaurateur, a man who justifies his own lack of a stable love life by putting his work first, but his reasons for never truly committing to someone heart and soul can be traced all the way to the frightened eighteen-year-old son of a pastor whose family kicked him out when he told them he was gay, with not a dime to his name, and no one to call his own anymore. Kane does not hide his sexuality, but his father’s cruel parting words have never left him, making him believe deep inside that God condemns men like him and that happiness would never be given to someone who chooses to live their life in sin.

When Kane and Avery meet, the spark of electricity between them is unquestionable, their attraction palpable, but nothing about their first night together feels temporary or finite. Their personalities complement each other, their priorities in life are perfectly aligned, their feelings for one another mirror each other from the moment they lay eyes on one another, and there is no doubt in anyone’s eyes that they are each other’s true match.

“You have to feel it. I can’t be alone in this.”

This is a stunning love story that spans over four decades and it managed to move me profoundly at each pivotal moment in these two men’s lives. Their devotion and pure love for one another are the constant thread in the story, showing us how uncomplicated love can truly be when two people put each other first, always. Their story also shows how resilient and stubborn love can be, how important it is to accept ourselves before others can accept us, what the true meaning of family is, and how BEAUTIFUL life can be when the person standing beside you loves you unconditionally and supports everything that you are and everything that you do. Kane and Avery’s timeless romance, however, does not focus solely on them being a same sex couple – their love is and remains the focal point of the story until the very last page. I adored this book, I cannot remember the last time a story made me smile or cry so many times, its incredible pace being one of its greatest features. And while I plan on re-reading this book in the very near future, I must admit the ending was the only thing I did not fully connect with, for very personal and purely subjective reasons. I am not sure this was the ending this story needed, but I trust and admire this author’s talent enough to respect her choice.

Regardless of whether you’re a seasoned m/m reader or if you’re stumbling into this genre for the very first time, I urge you to give this extraordinary book a chance. I have no doubt whatsoever that it will leave you speechless. And on a personal note, I’m hoping that Oscar Wilde got it right when he said that “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life”, because with stories like these, I’ll never stop hoping.

“We’re gay, we’re in love, and we’re married. It’s not wrong. We’re not wrong!”

5stars

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If you found this review helpful in any way, I would be so grateful if you took the time to click on this link - it will take you to my Amazon review for this book where, at the bottom of the review, you can select ‘yes’ or ‘no’ where it asks you, “Was this review helpful to you?” – Thank you so much!

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deleted scene

“Honey, that was the clown company on the phone. They aren’t coming either. I think we just need to call this off,” Kane said, absently placing the phone back on the wall mount. Avery was packing the last of the hotdogs and chips into a grocery bag, not paying him any attention. Autumn and Robert were bundled up head to toe in their matching snowsuits and snow boots. They stood waiting by the back garage door, both children stood staring up at him and Avery. Uncertainty, as well as maybe some disappointment were clear in their eyes. Kane couldn’t help his small smile as he looked back at their children. Avery had even added decorative birthday party hats on top of their already tied hoods.

Today was their sixth birthday party, and a late in the season snow storm was just beginning to blow in. The giant tent, ponies, and caterer had already canceled this morning as the unexpected, unwanted storm began to build outside.

“We don’t need that stuff! We got this birthday party thing down! It’s not every day your children turn six years old!” Avery declared, grabbing the bag and the juice boxes, heading toward them. “We’re the Adams! We don’t need anything but ourselves to make this a great birthday party! Right?” No one answered as Avery walked past them and opened the garage door, letting the ice cold air in, chilling them all.

“Let’s go! Pile in the truck for birthday party time!”

* * *

“Incoming, Robert! Watch yourself!” Avery yelled, diving in front of Robert, taking him off his feet seconds before a snowball would have hit him squarely in the face. Avery tried for a tuck and roll, letting the next snowball hit him. That was one thing he’d taught Autumn – take no prisoners, and his sneaky little daughter had let Granddaddy Paulie and Kane distract Robert while she came in from the side.

“Are you okay?” Avery asked, looking down at Robert’s face, wiping away the snow that had landed there when they rolled.

“Yes! Thanks Dad!” Robert’s face beamed happily up at him. The moment stole his heart and he bent in placing a quick kiss on his son’s forehead.

“Good. Now we gotta get them back!” Avery started to stand, only to have Autumn suddenly jump on his back and the snowball in her hand smacked him in the face. She’d watched him pull that same move on Kane when they first got to the park today and now she was getting him back.

“We Win! Daddy, we Win!” Autumn yelled, and Avery took the moment for his own surprise attack, carefully flipping his daughter over and dabbing her with just a little snow in the face. Her grin matched Robert’s who was still down beside her. He quickly kissed her forehead and brought them both to their feet.

“I think we still won, right, Daddy?” Autumn asked. Her long blonde hair was slipping free of her hood, and her bright red cheeks glowed as she ran toward Kane and Paulie who were making their way back over to them.

“You did real good, baby. They never saw you coming!” Autumn launched herself into Kane’s arms, where he hauled her up, settling her on his side.

“I think Granddaddy Paulie needs to be on our team next time. Autumn doesn’t need any help planning her strategies out.” Avery laughed, as they met in the middle, close to the tent he had erected when they first arrived. The portable heater was keeping it warm, but so far they hadn’t needed the relief for anyone except Kennedy who hadn’t ventured out for the snow ball fight.

“Mom, are the hotdogs ready?” Avery yelled. She didn’t even lift the flap to respond, she just yelled back.

“If you like them black on one side, I’ve got them ready!” Autumn reached out for Avery and he took her as they made their way to the tent.

“I don’t like black on my hotdog,” she whispered in his ear. And the move Autumn had just pulled now made sense. Avery wouldn’t make her eat the hotdog, where Kane would make her at least take a bite. Robert was right there beside them, working hard to keep up in the snow. He slid his hand in Avery’s and tugged.

“I don’t like black on my hotdog either, Dad,” he said. They had double teamed him! He looked over his shoulder to see if Kane had heard any part of their exchange. Apparently he had because he was already shaking his head no. Now he was in a spot. Avery knew Kane wanted him to say they needed to at least try and eat the food, but his babies were only six-years-old one time in their lives. Ignoring Kane, he gave the declaration as he flipped open the tent.

“Mom, we are forgetting the dogs and going straight for the birthday cake!”

“Whatever they want, but get inside here quick and close that flap. It’s too cold out there.” Autumn and Robert both squealed in delight, dessert before lunch never happened! Avery held the tent open for Paulie as he ducked in, but closed it as Kane got closer.

“Don’t be mad,” Avery started. Kane had always watched their diets so closely. He knew those hotdogs weren’t just run of the mill, grocery store wieners. They were quite possibly handmade chicken hotdogs from a health food store Kane had found.

“You should have at least made them t…” Kane started but was stopped by Avery’s kiss on his lips.

“It’s their birthday.” Avery smiled at Kane’s slightly upturned face and leaned down to kiss Kane again.

“They’re kissing again!” Autumn called out and Avery looked down to see her face sticking out of the flap. Her hood was off, her hair a crazy blonde mess but her smile took his heart.

“Of course they are,” Paulie’s gravelly voice boomed out.

“Come on! This is the best birthday ever! Nonnie has the cake ready.” The last part came out as a squeal and the tent flapped shut.

“How could I say no to that? “ Avery asked, lifting the tent for Kane.

“You need to learn how,” Kane said, ducking under the flap. Avery made sure he hid as he slid his hand down Kane’s ass cheek, only to get the are-you-serious glare in return from his husband. But in his defense, there weren’t too many times Kane’s ass stuck up in the air like that without him being prepared for more. Avery shrugged and gave a chuckle as he followed Kane inside the warm tent.

The Author

Best Selling Author Kindle Alexander is an innovative writer, and a genre-crosser who writes classic fantasy, romance, suspense, and erotica in both the male/male and male/female genres. It’s always a surprise to see what’s coming next!

I live in the suburbs of Dallas where it’s true, the only thing bigger than an over active imagination, may be women’s hair!

Usually, I try for funny. Humor is a major part of my life – I love to laugh, and it seems to be the thing I do in most situations – regardless of the situation, but jokes are a tricky deal… I don’t want to offend anyone and jokes tend to offend. So instead I’m going to tell you about Kindle.

I tragically lost my sixteen year old daughter to a drunk driver. She had just been at home, it was early in the night and I heard the accident happen. I’ll never forget that moment. The sirens were immediate and something inside me just knew. I left my house, drove straight to the accident on nothing more than instinct. I got to be there when my little girl died – weirdly, I consider that a true gift from above. She didn’t have to be alone.

That time in my life was terrible. It’s everything you think it would be times about a billion. I love that kid. I loved being her mother and I loved watching her grow into this incredibly beautiful person, both inside and out. She was such a gift to me. To have it all ripped away so suddenly broke me.

Her name was Kindle. Honest to goodness – it was her name and she died a few weeks before Amazon released their brand new Kindle eReader. She had no idea it was coming out and she would have finally gotten her name on something! Try finding a ruler with the name Kindle on it.. It never happened.

Through the course of that crippling event I was lucky enough to begin to write with a dear friend in the fan fiction world of Facebook. She got me through those dark days with her unwavering support and friendship. There wasn’t a time she wasn’t there for me. Sometimes together and sometimes by myself, we built a world where Kindle lives and stands for peace, love and harmony. It’s its own kind of support group. I know without question I wouldn’t be here today without her.

Connect with Kindle: Website | Facebook | Goodreads
The Giveaway

To win one of the following prizes, please enter below. This contest is administered by Kindle Alexander.

Enter giveaway here…

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